Saturday, February 27, 2010

Dreaming awake, tweaming asleep, and memories of Tetris

It's been a strange week for me. So many factors have robbed me of sleep that I've spent most days in a near-hallucinogenic state of rummy bumbling.

Today, a lady selling Girl Scout cookies with her daughter, just outside the grocery store, said, "If you are wondering why your stroller is moved, it's because it started to roll in the street. We nabbed it in time."

"Thanks," I said. "I hadn't even noticed." She said that it was not only in a different spot than I'd left it, but turned the other way.

"You wouldn't make a very good eye-witness," she joked.

True. I nearly wore two different shoes on Tuesday.

My nights, on the other hand, have been far too awake. For one, baby girl has been waking up more times than I can count. Every time I'm just about asleep, she wakes up. It would feel like a form of torture if she weren't sweet as strawberry pie.

I've also been worried about one friend, and having a difficult time with another. I'm far too thin-skinned for personal disagreements or criticism. Now politics, philosophy, and barbecue; I love to argue the major and minor points and prefer it if the person opposite me has the opposite opinion. It's more fun that way.

But when it's personal my skin turns tissue-paper thin, and my insides become a bowl of twisty turny worms. Those worms won't let me sleep until they've worked their way out of my head and body.

Then there was the night I thought I'd brewed decaf Earl Grey tea. At 3:45am, eyes wide open, I made a promise to myself to drink less caffeine.

Lastly, we come to Twitter. Many of you know that I have a love/hate relationship with this "platform" of social networking. On one hand it's fun and so easy to meet people with your interests en masse. On the other it can feel so raw and exposed. Who are these people and why are they following me? How can I get to know anyone in 140 characters? It doesn't help that I've recently read Feed and Twitter seems far too near to the apocalyptic future of that novel.

Last night, however, I experienced a whole new level of sleep deprivation. I twittered and e-mailed for about an hour before bed. After a few baby wake ups we finally settled down to sleep. In half-sleep I dreamed in twitter. Tweets rolled past my eyes like a reader board. I never quite felt like I went to sleep.

In the morning I decided to call it Tweaming. Then it hit me. It's just like Tetris. Did you ever play Tetris? I played a lot of Tetris in college (sorry dad). Whenever I had a paper due, or an exam to study for, I'd procrastinate all night by turning and placing those geometric shapes into place, row after row. When I went to sleep, however, the shapes didn't stop. They continued to blip down in my mind, as if there were a screen just inside my eyeballs.

Eventually, I had to quit the game entirely. It became impossible to sleep. I'm not sure whether Twitter is quite as intense as Tetris, but I do know that tonight, no matter how much I want to tweet about tweaming, I'm going to bed.

Oh, the ribs. I did four different rubs, and finished them with a Blackberry-Chipotle barbecue sauce. I'll post the pics, rub review, and recipe tomorrow.

Sweet dreams.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Barbecue 101: Rib Cuts

In preparation for my Rib Class in March, I'll be focusing on rib basics for the Barbecue 101 series. If you are new to the blog, I have a series of posts for newbies to barbecue. If you ever have a question, or would like a topic covered, please ask.

Most people, when asked what their favorite cut of ribs is, will answer "baby back ribs." I think ad campaigns from companies like Chili's have more to do with this than actual knowlege of rib cuts. Just by mentioning Chili's, I'm singing while writing this post, "Gotta get me some baby back baby back baby back ribs!" 

When I'm asked what my favorite rib cut is, I say, "it depends." Before I expand on that, let's lay out the three basic cuts of ribs.

Baby Back Ribs (bottom in pic): The smaller back ribs from the top of the back rib cage.

Spareribs (top in pic): Taken from the large front ribs. A rack of spareribs is one side of the chest ribs.

St. Louis cut (center in pic): This is a tightly trimmed sparerib. The tapered tip is trimmed off, the upper section that includes bone and cartiledge from the sternum is removed, and the fat flap at the other end is removed.

I like each cut for different reasons. At Smokin' Pete's BBQ, we smoke spareribs. Big and meaty, they satisfy that need to chomp into meat on the bone. They also don't dry out as quickly and can "hold" their temperature better, which is very key in our business. Barbecue restaurants must always keep just ahead of the demand. If too many ribs are ready, then they will get overcooked or dried out before consumed. If you fall behind, you are out of something on the menu.

If I were out there on the competition circuit, I'd choose the St. Louis cut. More manageable to eat, they are also more consistent across the rack. The individual ribs on a sparerib rack vary in size and texture; the tip ribs are small and angle away, and at the other end the last big bones have a fat connector that cuts the meat in half. It's all tasty, but if you are turning in a competition "box", you want all six judges to have the same experience.

St. Louis cut ribs are 2-3 times more expensive than the larger spareribs, but if you want to impress some barbecue lovin' guests, serve these.

Baby backs, to me, are the party ribs. They are the original finger food. While I tend to want my spareribs smoked with a simple rub, sauce on the side, I get creative with mops and finishing sauces on babybacks. That tender meat tastes good dressed up, and is best served hot off the grill.

Up next we will talk about dry rubs, mops, and finishing sauces. Before that, first read here how to remove the membrane on your ribs

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Novel Dating: When do you say "I do"?

I'm dating a novel idea. At first we just flirted. I'd jot down notes, a character sketch, a conversation. But then I'd think of it for no reason. A scene would pop in my head right in the middle of chopping an onion or folding laundry.

It kept calling.

Now it's more than a flirtation. I've written a first chapter and started a second. It is at this point of dating that I get scared, filled with doubts. Are we meant for each other, this novel and I? Can we make it through the hard times? Can I pull it off, and is this novel idea worthy of all the late nights, early mornings, and the hard work it takes to make a relationship strong?

Truth be told, I've never gone all the way with a novel. I've gotten close. I've learned from each unfinished piece, and that's part of why I didn't close the deal with those past darlings. I outgrew them. Or we drifted apart. I typically would then retreat to writing that was less of a time committment - short poems, picture book texts, non-fiction articles - telling myself that the demands of work and kids meant I wasn't ready for a relationship.

I have less time than ever for a novel in my life...and yet my main character won't stop talking to me.

So I ask you, my writing community, how do you know if it's the one? How do you know when to say "I do"?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lamb Comparison: American vs New Zealand, grain fed vs grass

I know this gorgeous weather is not helping our friends up the road for the Vancouver Olympics, but the sunshine, cherry blossoms, and crocuses poking their heads up in the garden makes me feel like shaking the winter off the Weber to do some grilling.

I went on a quest to do a side-by-side comparison of American grain fed lamb, New Zealand lamb, and American grass fed lamb. American lamb used to be far more expensive than New Zealand lamb but recently I've noticed American prices being the same or less. The animals are larger, fattier, and have a much milder flavor that their down under counterparts. Last week we ate some American grain fed lamb that was so mild it tasted like beef. It got me thinking about this blog post. The problem for me is that American grain fed lamb doesn't taste the same as the full flavored lamb I ate as a kid.

Today I wanted to see how the small local farms' pastured lamb, a growing market, compares to the other guys. I'd much rather buy fresh lamb, grown near my home, than frozen packets that travel across oceans, but I also want a product that tastes good.

I'm a bit of a lamb cheerleader. In part it's because we rarely serve it in the restaurant, so it's a change from my usual barbecue bounty. But the real reason is because I think the lamb industry has the opportunity to be responsible. It has never been a huge industry here in the US - we only consume about 1.2 pounds per capita each year as compared to about 61 pounds of beef and chicken each. Rather than join the "big bad raise 'em big and pump 'em full of drugs to keep 'em alive" beef, pork and chicken industries, lamb could take a stand.

I first went to our local PCC, because I read that they had local pastured (100% grass fed) lamb from Umpqua Valley. (I often buy lamb at farmer's markets, but none were open near me this time of year on a Thursday.) I picked a lower cost shoulder blade chop ($6.49/lb) because I wanted a cut that would have some marbling and muscle to give it more flavor. I also didn't need to buy three costly racks of lamb for this experiment.
On to Fred Meyer/Krogers where they sell American grain fed lamb at rock bottom prices. It begs the question, how did lamb get so inexpensive? Demand hasn't risen much since the 1990's, and some grids I checked have it going down a bit. Grain prices haven't decreased, and fuel is sky high. So how is it that I can buy American lamb at $4.99/lb? There is always a cost, you just might not be the one paying for it. Someone paid for that cheap t-shirt from China. Maybe it was a child working in desolate conditions, or it was paid for in damages to the environment, but there is always a cost. In the case of this particular lamb, it may be the farms themselves taking the hit in their effort to stay competitive.

Finding New Zealand lamb was a problem. Two stores I went to no longer carried it. Luckily I asked the fabulous folks at the Ballard Market meat department. If you live in the area, they are a great resource and give the same kind of service as the old butcher shops that have waned away. They love talking meat and smile wide when you ask them to slice off a two-inch T-bone. They told me to go to a competitor - Trader Joes.

Trader Joes in Ballard did have New Zealand lamb, though not the same shoulder chop. I had to purchase a better cut, a loin chop, at $9.49/lb.

On to seasoning. I kept it simple to keep the meat unfettered. I hit the cuts with a little lemon, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper, then let those marinate for a few hours. (Little El needed some playtime. She looks angelic here, but by a few minutes later she'd torn up a coloring book, covered her hands with ink pen, chucked her water off the table, and had begun to draw on the table.)

I grilled the steaks on the Weber for about 5 minutes each side with a hot fire, then raked the coals to one side and finished them indirectly, with the lid closed. I had more than enough meat for my experiment, so I rubbed half with some of my Cocoa Bliss rub (it's in the book!).

Now for the test. Clearing my pallet with bread and water between each, I dove in. It was absolutely clear. The American grain fed lamb was mild leaning toward bland. The texture and taste was almost that of beef. The New Zealand - perfect. It had the full flavor of my childhood. It was also so tender it melted in my mouth, but that was in part because it was a better cut.

The American grass fed from Umpqua Valley? Excellent! Though not as full flavored as the New Zealand, it tasted like lamb. Imagine that! The meat was tender, moist and delish.

Now it's your turn. When was the last time you ate lamb? Was it American or New Zealand, grain fed or grass? What is your favorite cut to prepare, and how? I welcome your comments!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rib Class: March 10 at the Pacific Culinary Studio

Wednesday, March 10, 6:30-8:30 $45

Come learn all about smoking ribs slow and low. I'll be teaching a two-hour class at the beautiful Pacific Culinary Studio in Everett. For only $45 it's a deal for a class that includes dinner! We will start with the basics, like how to remove the pesky membrane, how to make a dry rub and apply it, fire and smoke techniques for all fuel types, and finishing sauces. Whether this is your first time or you just want to improve upon your ribs before the summer season hits, this class is suitable for all levels. Learn more about class registration here. Hope to see you there!

Monday, February 15, 2010

National Barbecue News - New Review for She-Smoke

It's always exciting getting a book review, but when I saw my book in the National Barbecue News, I did a little piggy dance. I particularly like that the review states, "Written under the guise of a introduction to barbecue for women, She-Smoke is an outstanding book for anyone. Author Reinhardt comes with ready cred as a barbecue restaurant owner and a KCBS sanctioned judge. As far as I can tell, she doesn’t miss a single detail in an evidently well thought-out book." You can read the entire review here. I love that I'm in company with Republic of Barbecue, the book I reviewed last week below.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Book Review: Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket

In Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket, Elizabeth Engelhardt and her team of University of Texas graduate students tell the story of barbecue in Central Texas. A self-described “potluck”, they invited as many folks as they could to tell their stories without trying to define, argue about, or judge barbecue. Their interviews with restaurant owners, sausage makers, wood suppliers and customers give us a circular view around the pit. In one essay, we read how Billy Inman and father Francis run the Inman’s Ranch House today versus the “cowboy-and-horse days”, in another we read how grad student Carly Kocurek struggled doing that interview because it reminded her of the small town Texas life she left, having never fit in.

Part of what I love about barbecue is that it is more than just food; it is a story. By sheer virtue that it takes so darn long to cook, it becomes and event that we share with others. Republic of Barbecue records those stories, histories and quirky details that make a potluck “greater than its parts”. I particularly enjoyed essays like, “The Feminine Mesquite”, about female pit masters, and the open discussion of race and Austin gentrification by Ben Walsh of Ben’s Long Branch Barbecue. Full color photos fill in the faces and places around the pits.

The authors balance heavy hitters like Ruby’s Barbecue and Kreuz Market with humorous sidebars like a pie chart of pies, and a list of “Foreign Barbecue” that includes joints from China to…California. They garnish this rich feast of history with current topics such as sustainable forestry and a discussion about how modern technology, or “techno-cue”, is debated, dismissed, or in some cases, kept a secret.

This is not a cookbook, or a road book of the best Central Texas barbecue joints, but Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket is a must-read for anyone interested in the people, places, and stories of barbecue. Anyone can write a recipe, but what I want to hear is the story behind that recipe. I want to know about the people that cook a particular dish, the family lore. This book delivers that story.

Buy this to keep next to your favorite cookbooks. While you wait for that brisket to tender up in the smoker, open to any page and sample from the stories like you would a dish at a potluck. You'll find some to your liking, some not so much, but plenty to keep you satisfied and coming back for seconds.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Superbowl Sunday: Simple Smoky Onion Dip

Here is an easy smoked onion dip that will make you eat way too many chips. I like to smoke onions when I'm smoking other things, but if this is all you are making, smoke extra onions to use in sauces, on sandwiches, or mixed in with other vegetables to infuse smoke flavor to your dishes.

Smoky Onion Dip
from She-Smoke: A Backyard Barbecue Book

Two medium onions, skins removed and halved
1 cup mayonaise
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Smoke onions for about 1 hour or more. Remove and finely chop in food processor or by hand. Mix in remaining ingredients. For a variation, add 3 tablespoons horseradish.

Superbowl Sunday: Pesto Piggy Wraps

Game days are the perfect excuse to exersize your smoker in the winter. All that cheering and beer lifting requires some protein with those chips and dips. Here is a smoked appetizer I  like to make, named by my son as Piggy Wraps. It takes three of my favorite flavors: sausage, pesto and bacon, all wrapped together.

The recipe follows. While you are smoking these tasty little piggies, throw on two onions, peeled and halved, in the smoker, to make the next recipe on my list: Smokey Onion Dip.

Pesto Piggy Wraps
makes approx. 36 appetizers


2 lbs pork sausage, uncased
5 T. pesto
1 egg
1/3 cup fine bread crumbs or pancake mix like Bisquick
2 packages of bacon, sliced down the middle.

1) Make a low fire in a charcoal, wood or pellet smoker, or preheat an electric smoker. Target temperature - 225-250 degrees.

2) Mix the sausage, pesto, egg and breadcrumbs/pancake mix together. Roll into 1 oz balls and wrap each one with a half a slice of bacon. Place on an old pan that can get "ruined" for the smoker, or use disposable foil pans.

3) Put wood on your heat source and Get Your Smoke On.

4) Place pans on smoker racks, indirectly from the heat source and smoke for 45 minutes.

Next up: Smoky Onion Dip