Monday, March 29, 2010

It's Official: The She-Smoke Southern Book Tour

I've been hinting at this for months, and dates are now firm for the big book tour. Back in November I decided I'd only go to cities where I have relatives and friends. Once I realized just how many pins in the map that really meant, I scaled it down a bit. I'll be bringing along the whole fam damly, after all, on our first ever road-trip-longer-than-Portland.

You can watch me unravel right here on the blog during the tour.

Besides the TV appearances and book store events below, I'll be eating my way through some serious barbecue, and blogging about it. I promise to take drool-worthy pictures.

My first stop is Austin, a city that has, until now, eluded me. There is a Seattle-Austin connection and most of my friends have either lived there for a spell, come here from there, or have visited and loved it to pieces.

Here is the full schedule. It is also listed on the website.

April 14: AUSTIN, TX - Book reading and signing at Book Woman, 7pm. What better first stop on the tour than Austin's famous feminist bookstore.

April 20: ATLANTA, GA - TV Segment on Better Mornings Atlanta. Host Flip Fors and I will be talking barbecue, girl-style, in the wee hours of the morning (5-7am).

April 21: ATLANTA, GA - Book signing and barbecue event by A Cappella Books, hosted at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, 7pm. EAYC has a pit barbecue and bar. My kind of book event!

April 23: BIRMINGHAM, AL - TV Segment on Good Day Alabama, 7am. I'll be grilling on the roof of this Fox News affiliate LIVE.

April 24: BIRMINGHAM, AL - Book signing and cook out at Alabama Booksmith, 2pm. We'll be 'cuein' in the parking lot of Birmingham's premier independent bookstore. Cook out lasts until the food is gone. I'll read a short bit from the book as well.

I still may add one more book event at the end, and will update you if that happens.

Stay tuned for the *****SOUTHERN TOUR CONTEST***** to be announced later this week.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Food Poetry Friday: David Lee's Legacy of Shadows

I haven't posted a Food Poetry Friday entry for a while, but poet David Lee has been "in cue" for when I did. I had the pleasure of hearing Lee read at the Whidbey Island Writer's Conference years ago. Because of this, I always hear his voice when I read his poetry.

I like having David Lee in my head. He's funny, for one, and his voice is somehow familiar to me. He's like an uncle, or a pastor, or any Southern man telling a parable to illustrate a point. I know this man. I've grown up with many men like him. It's something about the rhythm and cadence of his voice.

I think in most cases, hearing a poet reading their own work brings it to a new level. They add pauses, pacing, impact to parts of the poem that we might not get at first reading on our own. Adversely, I don't usually like to hear novelists read their work. I want to make up the voices of characters. In the same way I never see a movie made of a book first. I want to read it and form the characters in my mind. Otherwise I'll see the movie actor's face instead of the one I invent by reading.

But poets are different. Poetry is more personal, like an imprint of a person, so hearing it from the source makes sense.

So what about David Lee? His poems tell a story. In A Legacy of Shadows he draws upon his pig farming days, giving us a shoulder view of his life in rural Texas. Some of the poems make me wince because of their stark brutality ("For Jan, With Love"). In most, either his characters are speaking in the run-on way we do, or he weaves conversations through the poems spilling over with character.

The 400+page book almost reads like a novel in verse. It's a poetry collection of his work previously published. At Whidbey, Lee read his poems like they are written; without commas or pauses, pretty much like a co-worker talking your ear off.

Perhaps you think a poem about pig farming for Food Poetry Friday is a bit of a stretch. But this is a barbecue blog. An' all thems pigs is grown for eatin'. 

Here's a portion of his poem, "Separating Pigs":

That one's going to be hard to catch
I can tell you now for a fact
he's one the fastest pigs
I ever seen
we'll have to get him in a corner
there he goes
get that othern, right there

I wisht I could find me a track
and race him
we'd win us some money
but it ain't one around here
State Legistlature wouldn't let us
race pigs anymore'n bet on horses
if they thought we's enjoying it

One of my favorite poems in the collection is "Fat", but I'd have to print the poem in its entirety, because I couldn't let go of a word. "Clean" is a hilarious poem about one of the town's many quirky residents. This collection is chock full of chuckles. Lee has been dubbed "The Pig Poet", but that hardly scratches the surface of his poetry. If you want to laugh, cry, squirm, and sigh in one sitting, check out David Lee.

Today's host of Poetry Friday is Julie Larios, who happened to read at the same conference with Lee!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

When summer comes in March...

It was 70 degrees today. In Seattle. In March. At one point in my car I struggled to throw off my fleece jacket, getting all tangled up, because I was too hot.

It's no wonder I came home with a thick ribeye in the bag.

Summer makes me crave steak like no other time of year. I use my grills and smokers year round, but it's almost like summer air does something to open up the flavors of a steak. The warm spring air tonight had the same effect.

We loaded the lump charcoal in our trusty worn Weber and grilled meaty portabellos along with the ribeye. Both got a dusting of salt and pepper.

I drizzled the mushrooms with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I forgot that Eric is adamantly opposed to balsamic on grilled portabellos. He's not wrong; the vinegar overtakes the mushroom flavor, but they were still delicious. I made mine into a mushroom burger, on soft ciabatta bread, topped with this simple salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, and feta.

The flavors of the fresh salad and grilled steak topped with grilled mushrooms danced on my tongue. Baby girl couldn't get enough steak tonight. My goodness she's a carnivore. Mr. X was too busy running around the yard as this was our first outdoor dinner in Seattle of the year.

So how do you like your steak? I like them medium-rare, but don't want someone to interpret that as too rare in the middle.

My tip for grilling the perfect steak?

#1 Buy good meat. Fresh, natural, with plenty of marbling. The ribeye tonight was Painted Hills beef, one of my favorite brands, and one we use at Smokin' Pete's BBQ for our brisket.

#2 Preheat your grill. Whether using charcoal or gas, make sure those grill grates are good and hot before putting meat to heat.

#3 Seasoning...keep it simple. I'm a salt and pepper gal, straight up. A good steak needs little adornment.

Happy grilling and Happy Spring!

Monday, March 22, 2010

How does she do it all? She doesn't.

A while back a woman in a grocery store asked me if I knew anything about meat. She was looking for pork to make pulled pork.

"I'm going to put it in the slow cooker," she said. I knew telling her she should smoke her pork rather than crock pot it was going to go right over her head. Instead I smiled, and steered her out of the beef section. I showed her that they only had pork chops and pork tenderloin.

"You need pork butt, er that's the shoulder cut," I said, adding that she could get pork shoulder down the street at Cash and Carry. She said, "Maybe I'll just buy this sliced brisket and pass it off as pulled pork." I told her brisket was beef.

"Oh," she said, kind of sadly. She wandered off and I saw her reach for the nasty pre-mixed meat and sauce stuff that comes in a plastic tub.

What I should have done was give her directions to Smokin' Pete's to buy some pulled pork buy the pound, and told her she could have my book FREE, if she'd read it. But I was in a rush. I was working on this blog post about lamb, and while running around buying ingredients for it, baby girl fell asleep in the car. I'd rushed back to Smokin' Pete's, nabbed one of my employees to come with me to wait in the car with the sleeping babe, and had to get him back to finish opening the restaurant. I wish I'd had a moment to chat with the confused meat gal.

It gets complicated trying to raise two kids, run a restaurant, promote a book, and blog about it all. Sometimes people ask me, how do you manage it all?

I will first answer that question photographically. This is my laundry room:
Seriously and it's not that bad right now.

My second answer is quite simply that I don't. I don't make fabulous meals every night. I don't pickle or make jam. It is rare that my socks match or that my shirt is clean. Lately there have been some comments that you like to see my vunerability, my failures, my unbloggable meals. True, at least one of those comments was from my mom, who, by the way, takes bags of laundry from my house and returns them clean and folded. She's going for sainthood. Metta: Patron Saint of Laundry Piles and Pie.

So I'm in a bit of a quandry (which incidentally rhymes with laundry). I need some advice. I have a very special guest coming to cook and photograph with me on Thursday. She's a rock-star blogger, but also a mom and writer and all around busy gal.

How real do I keep my house? My first instinct is to stay up all night the next two nights and scrub the begeebles out of it, plant annuals, and re-caulk the kitchen sink.

But we have a catering every day this week except Thursday, I have to get the February books to the accountant before the excise tax is due, and I'm really stinkin' tired. Even if I wanted to put on a Martha Stewart face, I'm not sure I have the time to pull it off.

My house is very, very real, people. Should I call in professional help? Stop blogging and start cleaning? Or just hope she is fine with taking only close-ups of the food. Really tight close ups.

Sigh. At least most of the cooking will be outside.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day: Some other sites with Smoked Corned Beef Recipes

I had every intention of smoking a corned beef for St. Patrick's Day and posting it here. Somehow I lost a week. It just vanished and yesterday I realized my little project wasn't going to happen.

There are lots of people who have their s--t together more than I. They post ahead. They plan out their blog and stick to their plan. My excuse is that I run a restaurant and have two small children. The best laid plans get swallowed up with last minute caterings, runny noses, and the need to make an expoding volcano now, right now!

So I bring you a little list of folks who HAVE smoked corned beef and can tell you all about it. By the way, you do know that corned beef is brisket is pastrami, right? All the same cut, just different processes. Smoking a corned beef, then, makes it a sort of hybrid between the Irish delicacy and the Texas one. Tex-Ire, or Tex-Land. Whatever. It's delicious.

BBQ Addicts has an excellent post complete with step-by-step up close pictures.

Here is a website of all the things that interest the person that hosts it. From motorcycling to photography to....smoked corned beef. Nice set of instructions.

BBQ Guru on has a simple recipe using an already corned beef.

And finally, here is a yummy picture on Flickr.  Enjoy. Wear green! Drink beer! Smoke that thang!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Yes, but is it bloggable? Israeli cous cous and the cranky chef

One of the pitfalls and pluses of writing a food blog is that every meal that gets made is categorized: bloggable and non-bloggable. Pitfall, because sometimes the family doesn't want to wait to eat while mom photographs their plate. Plus, because there is always a meal being cooked and therefore always a blog post in the making.

Not every meal is bloggable. The other night I had big plans with my stuffed smoked chicken thighs. I pounded them out, stuffed them with cheeses and herbs, rolled and skewered them. They fell apart and were a complete mess. In the end I breaded and fried the little buggers. Tasty, but not bloggable.

I'm pretty spoiled living with a chef. I can bring home ingredients A, B & C, and sort of waive them under his nose. Then I walk away. In a short while I hear chopping, sizzling, and aromas wafting into the livingroom. I've succeeded: he's inspired and I'm off dinner tonight.

The other night I brought home some Israeli cous cous, carrots, broccoli, and Mahi Mahi.

Have you tried Israeli cous cous? I love the giant balls. They look so gorgeous on the plate, and are hearty enough to stand up to a meaty fish like Mahi Mahi, or a big fat steak.

My kids love the balls because they are fun to eat. They roll. You can throw them. As for that last quality I must say the larger balls are much easier to clean up than regular cous cous, which also gets thrown and squished and dropped at the dinner table.

When my husband threw down the plates of this dinner on the table, I immediately said, "Oooh, that looks beautiful. Let me take a picture for the blog!"

He shot back a disgruntled face and sneered, "Can't we just eat dinner? Must I be a blog whore?"

Blog whore. Harsh but warranted, I suppose. I resisted posting this for a week, but then I saw the photo today, and remembered how delicious that meal was, and how pretty it looked. See?

I can't give you the recipe because I didn't want my head bitten off at the time. Israeli cous cous, however, steams in the pot just like the smaller stuff. It just needs a little more time. Add in a pat of butter and some fresh herbs and serve it with any main dish.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rib class photos and a class I think you would enjoy

Here are a few shots of last night's rib class. What a blast! 30 students and a crew to help me from the amazing Pacific Culinary Studio. All of the photos with me are with funny expressions, red eyes, my head down, or the dreaded double chin shot. The first is me answering a question right before we started plating up the ribs. 

Here is the fabulous owner Lindalee. She and her husband run a first rate kitchen and wine shop too.

A shot of the grilled pineapple and jicama that went into the Island Slaw.

By the way, a really great class of theirs on March 17, that still has openings is by organic farmers Mark and Patricia Lovejoy, from Garden Treasures Farm. Here is the info:

Class Title: Know Where Your Food Comes From Organic Food: What Do You Pay For
Wednesday March 17, 6:30-8:30 $15

Garden Treasures is an organic farm located in the Stillaguamish Valley just north of Marysville off of Highway 530—the road to Arlington and Darrington. Mark and Patricia Lovejoy purchased the farm in 2004 with an eye to creating an easily accessible venue for organic food. They established their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program) in 2007. Garden Treasure’s has partnered with Pacific Culinary Studio to bring you a local drop point for your weekly CSA pick up. In this class Mark will discuss farming and marketing of organic food in the Snohomish County area. Mark has offered CSA at Garden Treasures for three years and has seen the program grow and seen the changes that having a constant source of flavorful, nutrient dense vegetables and fruits makes in his customers.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rib class is sold out!

Tonight I'll be teaching all about ribs to 29 students at the Pacific Culinary Studio. It's sold out, thanks to this article in the Everett Herald. I will enlist someone in the class to take photos. I'm hopeless. Last summer I managed to take about 4 shots from over 100 caterings. I bring the camera, but then get busy and by the time I remember to take photos, the food is half devoured.

In other news, we are working on a Southern book tour in April. I will post what is confirmed later this week. Very exciting. I decided to only go to cities where I have relatives and friends. I have such a huge family that can't even get to all the places. I'd be on the road for months! This way, a) We have a place to stay and b) I know someone will show up to the book events :).

Must now go make my monster pack-out list for tonight's class.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rib Wrap Up: Mopping and Saucing

Now for the fun part for this rib class series. We've chosen our rib cut, removed the membrane, and given the ribs a generous coating of dry rub. Now it's time to get our smoke on and slow cook those babies to a  tender goodness.

The ribs shown in the picture had different rubs, but the sauce was the same. I "doctored" our Smokin' Pete's BBQ sauce by adding half a can of finely chopped chipotles, a jar of blackberry "All Fruit", and a half a can of orange soda to thin it down and give it a little secret something. It's easy to take a simple barbecue sauce and use it as a base for a more unusual sauce like this Chipotle-Blackberry sauce.

As for smoking the ribs, here are a few tips.

1) Make your fire low and indirect, and Get Your Smoke On.

For charcoal, get coals hot to ash grey, then pile them up tight on one side. On the side with no fire, add a drip pan with some liquid. Add wood chunks or chips on top of the fire and close the lid. Once smoky, add ribs to the indirect side of the grill, and close the lid.

For gas, preheat all burners on high with the lid down for 15 minutes. Add wood during this time, either in a smoke box, or in a foil pouch with holes that sits directly on the flame.  Once preheated and smoking, turn down one or two burners, and leave one burner on low. Place ribs on indirect side and close the lid.

2) Aim for an internal grill temperature of 200-225 degrees.

3) Mop with a simple apple juice in a spray bottle, or thin mop sauce. You may skip this step.

4). Most racks will take 6-8 hours. To tell if ribs are done, the rack should bend easily but not "break" or fall apart.

5) If you want "wet" ribs, in other words sauce on 'em vs sauce on the side, brush on sauce in the last 30 minutes of your cooking time.

6) Let meat rest 15 minutes before serving. Serve with sauce on the side.

Dig in and eat those bones with your fingers. Ribs are meant to be messy.

For those of you considering taking the Rib Class at Pacific Culinary Studio, we are almost sold out. I'll repeat the class in September.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

When Pickles Get Wicked

I have always been decidedly in the sour-kosher-dill pickle camp.

Until now....

These sweet and spicy Wickles have turned me over to the dark side.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Rib Rubs: A review and notes on making your own

Last week I talked about rib cuts for a "Barbecue 101" post. Today we get to see those ribs with some rub on them. I picked up a few commercial rubs at the grocery store to compare to each other. To be honest, there weren't many choices. Here in Seattle, Tom Douglas has a near corner on the rub market.

I get a little jealous. Especially when see that the jar of homemade rub I left at my mom's house is untouched. She goes through her Tom Douglas rub, however, as if it were fairy dust.

I recall the conversation went something like this:

"I like it on everything," she said.
"Mom, it's just spices, salt and sugar. You can make it yourself, or here, why haven't you tried the rub I left last time?"
"I didn't know if it was old."
"Old? I just made it, last week, in your house. How could it be old?"
"Well, I didn't know if it could go bad."

This from a woman whose dried Marjoram in the back of the cupboard there, is probably going on twelve years.

Sigh. It's the packaging. It's really great. See?

He's expanded into sauces and marinades, too. I'd never tried his Smoky Barbecue Rub (mom and dad like the Salmon Rub), so I decided to finally try it. I also grabbed a bag of old school Lysander's rub to compare.

Before you apply a rub to your ribs, first read this post about removing the membrane.

To apply a rub, grab a handful and sprinkle it from about 12 inches above the meat surface. This will give you a more even coating. Be generous. Do not massage the spice into the meat. Pat it lightly and let it sink in on its own.

Now for my review.

The Tom Douglas rub was, dammit, excellent. The smoked paprika gives it an extra flavor level and a deep red color. It applied well and, while it contained some brown sugar, wasn't overly sweet.

I could tell by looking at the Lysander's that it was going to be too salty. It even states on the packaging to "Not coat the meat", so there you go. I did a light dusting with it. It smelled like bullion. Old bullion. Am I just like my mother?

We should talk about salt. Some say any salt in a rub dries out the meat. Here are my thoughts.
#1. I've done side-by-side comparisons with salt vs. no salt rubs on brisket and pork butt and did not find the salt rub meat to be drier. See #3 how I feel about salt in a rib rub.

#2. Use kosher salt in rubs. It's less dense, ergo, there is a lesser chance of oversalting. In all my rub recipes, I use kosher.

#3. The larger the cut of meat, the less you need be concerned with salt. The inverse is true as well. The surface of a brisket or pork shoulder is quite minimal to the overall meat quantity. A little too much salt on the bark isn't going to ruin it.

Ribs, however, are another story. A rub covers quite a bit of the surface area, and most of the meat will be touched by the rub. Go light on salt for ribs and smaller cuts of meat.

Making Your Own Rub
It is ridiculously easy to make your own rub. I shouldn't say this, as I plan to launch a line of rubs someday. For now, we sell our rub in the most hokey of hand made packaging. Don't look too closely or you will see that my cut lines aren't always straight. Cut lines? Yep, I use a paper cutter to trim each hang tag. I print them on our computer, and never can remember which way I'm supposed to put the paper in for the printing on the other side. Do I flip? Do I turn? Darn! I messed up another piece of cardstock. And so it goes....

Making a rub yourself is as easy as going to your local bulk foods store, or restaurant supply store like Cash and Carry, to buy larger quantities of spices. The cost of spices decreases dramatically with volume, and once you get the rib bug, those 4 oz spice rack containers aren't going to do it for you.

Here is one easy ratio you can use: mix 2 parts assorted spices to 1 part salt/sugar. Or you can buy my book (grin) for rub recipes. Or read any number of barbecue books with rub recipes. The key to making your own is to start simply, and add in one flavor at a time.

How long to leave on a rub before cooking?
Minimum two hours, maximum one day. My opinion.

What's next? Fire up your smoker, girl, and get those ribs smokin' slow and low, indirect from the heat source. Choose a wood to your liking and Get Your Smoke On. Hickory is nice, or a blend of hickory and a fruit wood. Aim for a temperature of 200-225 degrees.

Next post will be about mops and finishing sauces. Tune in soon!