Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas Dinner: Smoked Prime Rib with Au Jus, Cognac Carrots & Winter Greens

Christmas dinner is a time to bring in the big guns, and by big guns I mean prime rib, because Christmas should be about peace and not actual weapons. Still, prime rib is a hefty hunk of meat, so if your brother is really getting out of line...

Smoking prime rib is one of the most succulent ways to prepare this gorgeous cut and an easy way to not overcook it, which is the fear everyone has, right? They are all, 'OMG, this is such an expensive piece of meat and uncle Charles is already riding my butt about it being medium RARE!'

I've got your back, and have all the trimmings to boot in this post on Char-broil. Not only is smoking prime rib a cinch in the Big Easy (aptly named), my cognac carrots with currants might give you a teeny buzz to take off the stress induced by it being your turn to host Christmas. Add in some winter greens and not only is this meal healthy, local and seasonal, it's even gluten-free so you have the cave man, gluten free, and low carb dieters all covered and happy that they don't have to ruin their chosen eating plan. And for your guests that just eat, without a plan, like me, they'll be really happy you aren't preparing something weird for the part of the family on eating plans. Except for the vegans, but they'll be so thrilled that the carrots and winter greens don't have any bacon in them (though feel free to add bacon to the winter greens, because that would be delicious) that they will ignore the juicy gob of animal on the table.

Read the full post here in case you missed it in the above paragraph. Ask me questions at either place, but comments on She-Smoke get to me faster, to be honest, so if you have a question on Christmas Eve, I'd ask it here (but I'm taking Christmas and the day after that OFF from all things plugged in, except for maybe Facebook, which isn't even like being on-line because it's chatting with friends, so it's almost like a phone, right?). Hmm, I always get confused about punctuation outside and inside parenthesis. I'm going to leave that last really long sentence with a parenthetical aside as is, but feel free to comment about punctuation here as well.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Turkey, A Goose and a Ham Walked into a Smoker...

...and then into your mouth, people! Are you ready for Christmas? Do you feel like it came really really fast this year? It did! Thanksgiving was late and shrunk our whole holly jolly hang time.

Not to worry, my dearies. We're smoking up all kinds of roast beasts at Smokin' Pete's and all you have to do is Phone. It. In.

Succulent smoked prime rib, smoked goose that would make Dicken's drool, Hempler hams, spiral hams, and of course duck, duck, turkey!

Click on this dealy-doo to see the full menu:

And while you are at it, here's a little Who-Ville Vid of the Grinch stealing the roast beast to get you in the holiday mood.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Guest Post on Welcome to the Cookout and Why I'm So Short

If you haven't read Welcome to the Cookout, you should. It's a great site all about outdoor cooking full of information from novice to expert grilling by master "CB" Chef Barry. He's as awesome on the grill as he is tall. I come up to, like, his waist both figuratively and actually.

Of course I come up to a lot of people's waists, chests and armpits. Whenever I put on a hoodie in the rain the cottony touch and damp laundry scent reminds me of concerts I saw as a teen because I spent most of them with my nose smashed into the back of some tall person's sweaty outerwear. When I wasn't trapped into a stranger's armpit, I was able to see the stage only 50% of the time on the up part of the constant jumping I had to do to see around the giants that invariably muscled their way to the front row. Maybe that's why I didn't go to as many concerts as my classmates. You try jumping for three straight hours. Even with a teen body, concerts were marathon aerobic workouts that left me sore and spent the next day.

Grandma Alida, at 4 foot 9 is to blame. I think she started out at the towering zenith of 4 foot 11, but by her eighties her contents had settled a bit. She was cute as a button, though, as is my daughter whom I gave Alida as a middle name. (My pediatrician was startled when I jumped up and cheered after she'd said my kids were "average" height for their ages).

But enough about my shortcomings (snort, giggle) and back to Barry and grills and barbecue. Incidentally, Mr. Martin also created Our Community Table, a site all about our food system and how it's broken and how we can fix it, together, and who out there is walking the walk and who is stomping on us with their millions. I have meant to join in and contribute for a year, but I have so many irons in the fire, for now I have to simply be a fan. I'll get there, late as usual. Barry also wrote the bulk of these two books
  and , during his spokesman years with Char-broil so he has the creds to back up his on-line persona.

For a guest post on his site I wanted to write on a subject for beginners on the grill. I get a lot of questions about how to keep meat from sticking on the grill. This post takes on that question with an easy recipe for practicing the technique (while making dinner of course!)

The Mustard-Oregano Chicken Tenders recipe in the post is a great one for kids too. I see that Barry took his own, better photo for his website and watermarked my photos for me because he knows I can't figure out how to do that. And he has those nifty "PIN THIS" Pinterest button on all the photos. I've been meaning to Google "how to get pin this button on blog photos" to figure out what the deal is with THAT, but I'd have to get a day off for once in my life, people, so get off my back!

Whoa, didn't know I was going to get all tetchy on you, poor dearest reader (hi mom). Must be my Napoleon complex.

Just (please) go read the post on Welcome to the Cookout and say something nice, OK?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Virtual Bake Sale For a Good Cause This Thursday

I met some awesome food bloggers in September at IFBC, one of whom was Alice Bush who was a table mate at a dinner at Re:Public. We we wined and dined until midnight and had fun with a host from Urbanspoon, who organized the evening of sending out hoards of food bloggers in groups of 8-12 to restaurants all over Seattle and the Eastside.

So when blogger Alice Bush approached me about donating to an on-line bake sale to raise funds for a friend that was in desperate need of a costly operation, I didn't hesitate. For one, I love bake sales, and also because food bloggers are one of my tribes, my community. People talk a lot about the loss of community, that neighbors don't know each other, and I agree that it's a problem, but we also have new communities, virtual neighbors who gather and host things like virtual bake sales.

I've put up my book for the auction. There are lots of actual baked goods on the auction too. The auction runs all day Thursday, December 12th from 8am to 9pm, then items will be mailed out in time for the holidays. How easy is that? To read about her friend, and view the list of auction items, go to Alice's blog, A Mama, Baby & Shar-pei in the Kitchen.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Stock for Later

I don't know about you, but I always feel pressure to be the good little cook and make stock and soup after Thanksgiving. But turkey soup is the last thing I want to eat.

Don't get me wrong. I love left overs. I think I enjoy the first leftover turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving even more than the meal itself. I plan it out and make sure I have the appropriate roll, turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy so I can pile it high with full-fat mayo.

Last year I forgot to bring home gravy and I was so mad I almost drove to the restaurant to get some. Being that the day after Thanksgiving is one of only five days in a year we are closed, I didn't. This year I made sure gravy was in my take home box.

Turkey soup or anything with the word turkey in it is also the last thing my husband wants to see after he's smoked 140 turkeys. I've seen him give the stink eye to extra turkeys we didn't sell and when I reminded him that those birds are no longer living, or have heads to see his stink eye, he turned his surly gaze on me.

That's why I freeze stock for later. January is exactly the time that I want a big ol' bowl of home made turkey noodle soup. If you feel the same way, I give you a pass on living up to your own standards.

Freeze it baby.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Turkey Posts Round-up: Tips, recipes and links to all you need for the cooking on Thanksgiving

Here are posts I've done on turkey over the years and other great post by friends of mine. These are in addition to posts from this month, to help you search for answers and ideas in one place. We are up to our necks in turkey necks at Smokin' Pete's BBQ, so if you have an emergency turkey question, Butterball's got a Turkey Hot Line. Here are links to the following articles.

How to Brine a Turkey
About salt and how brines work
Feeding a Crowd: Math equations for food quantities
Tips on Smoking Turkey with BBQ Pitmaster and BBQ Crawl Host Diva Q
Recipe: Smoked Turkey with Sage Rub and Maple Butter Glaze
Recipe for cooking a turkey on the Char-broil oil-less fryer
Tea Smoked Chicken (for smaller feasts)
Links to other sites I like about turkey
A great post by Live Fire about Thanksgiving Dinner
A Big Easy Turkey recipe by Grillin' Fools
Turkey Breast recipe with Pomegranate Glaze by The Heritage Cook
Fabulous Grilled Carrots with Jack Daniel's Glaze by The South in my Mouth
Chef Christo's post about How to Carve a Turkey
Recipe: Chutney Lentils
Cowgirl Jeanie's Wild Rice Stuffing Recipe
Recipe: Huckleberry Pie
Recipe: To die-for Grilled Flourless & Cayenne Cake by A Bachelor and his Grill

And finally a post to remind ourselves, what it's all about.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cool Infographic on How to Carve a Turkey

There is a reason why you haven't heard the story of the first Pilgrim who carved the first Thanksgiving turkey. He completely botched it and everyone at the table said a Pilgrim's prayer of thanks that cameras and Pinterest weren't yet invented.

Carving a turkey has been the source of stress since the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth. Char-broil has put together an awesome info-graphic on how to carve a turkey. You can download the pdf, prop up your tablet right on the Thanksgiving table, and carve with confidence.

Click here for Six Steps To Carve a Perfect Turkey. There are also tons of Thanksgiving recipes on the site to give you inspiration, including Chef Cristo's post about carving a turkey for even more help on the subject.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Killing Two Birds With One Smoked Turkey On An Egg

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and what better time than to practice cooking a turkey...and to clean out the fridge. It is time, sister, to clean that thing out.

Think of all the people without kids who are coming over to your house in two weeks, looking for ice for their drink. I realize that they should be looking in the freezer, not the fridge, but go with me.

You know the kind of people I'm talking about - they have time to work out and clean their refrigerator on a regular basis. But they can't cook worth a bean so the task falls upon you, like you are some sort of expert on cooking the big American heritage meal just because you nursed your children. A little too long, in their opinion, but that is another story.

Here's a recipe that helps you clean out the refrigerator weeks before Thanksgiving and will give you a practice run so you can take Martha Stuart down on the day. I cooked this turkey on my Big Green Egg, but any smoker will do, though I do love the irony of cooking poultry in an egg.

Please don't limit yourself to the ingredient list below - that's what came out of my fridge. And no, I'm not showing you a photo of all the crap I threw out. Jonathan Bloom over at Wasted Food would have my head if he saw that shot. Hopefully this post will balance the scales so to speak. As long as you have the three flavor profiles of sweet, hot and zing, then you can add other bits in your collection of condiments that need to be used up and out.

While you are at it, you might want to take the refrigerator drawers out and clean underneath them. Yeah, those.

Incidentally if you have any spices that are older than ten years, throw them out. Or make a big pot of chili and use them, for gawd sake. I recently found some chili powder in my mom's house that was date stamped 1972. I was four when she bought it for some chili recipe that apparently has never been tried again. The cloves from 1978 were surprisingly still aromatic so she put them back in the drawer. Oi.

Recipe: Condiment Turkey

Some of these could be place in multiple categories, but you get the idea. The intention is not for you to use all of the items listed, but examples of what you could use.

SWEET: Teriyaki, Thai chili sauce, ketchup, roasted pepper soup, honey, jams
HOT: Hot sauces, salsa, wasabi paste (sparingly!)
ZING: Mustard, all varieties, barbecue sauce, tangy marinades, pickled beet juice

One turkey, 10-12 lbs, pre-brined. For info on thawing and brining, look at the blog post directly under this one.

Olive oil, canola or any vinaigrette salad dressing

Salt, pepper

1) Clean out the fridge. Throw away the nasty bits, but any ingredient that isn't growing new life forms or smells putrid can be set aside for your marinade. Use the dregs, the weird buys that you soon regretted, and the duplicate purchases. Be sure you have at least one from every category: SWEET, HOT and ZING.

2) Mix your condiment soup and set aside.
As you can see, before you mix the condiments, you can make a swirly art project first.
3) Rub turkey like a boxer after a match with oil or vinaigrette.
4) Slather on the condiment soup and let the birdy sit in her condiment spa while you make your fire.

5) Make an indirect fire with room for a drip pan in the middle or to one side. Make fire for a hot smoke of about 325 degrees.

6) For the egg, place the indirect plate upside down and place a drip pan inside it\. Once it reaches 325 degrees, place turkey sitting up on grates and put down lid. Leave it. The Egg will do the rest.

7) While the turkey smokes, finish cleaning your refrigerator thoroughly. Pull everything out, get in the nooks and crannies. That way you will only need to give it a quickie clean before Thanksgiving. Aren't you glad we're friends?

8) Also, make stock while the turkey smokes. Use any "fresh" herbs that have cold-dried in your refrigerator or are still miraculously alive in your garden. Save the stock for the soup you will make with the turkey carcass because Martha Stuart can kiss your ass, thank you very much, and you can bring home the bacon and serve up homemade soups without ever having to wear prison orange. Even if it's the new black.

9) Smoke the turkey for approximately three and a half hours until the internal temperature reaches about 155 degrees in the thigh. It will reach the proper 165 degrees while it rests. Let turkey rest for approximately 20 minutes before slicing, because we want to let all those juices hovering at the edges to flow back into the meat.

While the turkey rests, give yourself a pat on the back. No one else is going to, right? Except me. Good job! What used to be all you were supposed to do for your job, cleaning and cooking and taking care of the kids, is now what you do around your money making job, your shift at your daughter's preschool and volunteer days at your son's school. You go to bed at midnight and hit snooze three times on the 6 am alarm.Yep, we've come a long way, baby.

But for now, at this moment, let your family ooh and aah. Enjoy what you've made. When dinner's over, place the leftovers in your sparkly clean fridge. You can make soup tomorrow.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Turkey Prep 101 Live on Char-Broil

I love talking turkey, as you may know, so I was thrilled to be asked to post an in-depth article about turkey preparation for Char-broil. If you've ever had questions about thawing a turkey, brines, and the best way to slather, rub and butter your bird before cooking it, this post is for you!

I'm also working on a post about doing a practice run before the big T-Day, so that you may work out any kinks without your mother-in-law breathing down your neck. I speak not of my own mother-in-law. She and I get along just peachy. Ever since we tried a complicated cheesecake recipe right after my son was born (and I recovering from a C-section), Thanksgiving has been a symbol of our bonding. If you are looking for a six hour cheesecake recipe, call me.

It doesn't hurt that we both enjoy a good bottle of wine. But I digress...

Click here to read the entire article. Please, please ask me questions, either on the Char-broil comments section or here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cognac Barbecue Sauce: Smokin' Pete's Get's Fancy

Most people think of barbecue as down home cooking that is at home in a park field or served outside of a barn. And they would be correct - the bulk of our catering business is outside in the summer. But we also cater weddings, black tie receptions, and fundraising auctions because succulent slow smoked meats do just fine next to white linen and china.

So when American NW Distributors approached us about creating a barbecue sauce with two really good bottles of Cognac, we were delighted. Rep Alan gave us two bottles to play with, most of which we used in the sauce. I saved a wee drappy, as my grandma used to say, to enjoy in a glass.

The first was an organic cognac made by Leopold Gourmel called Bio Attitude (so cool - I didn't even know there were organic cognacs on the market!). Their website describes it as "dawn on a spring day", which I love and agree with. It's delicate for a cognac, but with all the lovely nose tingling, tongue caressing that makes a cognac.

The second bottle, the Pierre Ferrand 1840 won Grand Champion for new products of 2012 by Tales of the Cocktail. Their distillery is a blend of original craft ways and modern technology. This photo from their website shows the aging casks. A deeper flavor than the organic Leopold, I didn't want to give this one up for the sauce. Both bottles, however, were wonderful.
From the Pierre Ferrand website showing their cognac aging in a variety of casks.
Our General Manager Bruce Calvert created this recipe. The cognac comes through nicely, and if you don't have anyone that objects, you can swirl a splash or two fresh at the end to give it a kick. He made the same base for each sauce and found they both had similar flavors, but the BIO Attitude was a little lighter in color.

Here is his recipe:

Cognac Barbecue Sauce
by Bruce Calvert

1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup minced garlic
1/2 cup Pierre Ferrand Cognac or Leopold Gourmel Bio Attitude cognac
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
3 oz brown sugar
1 Tbls molasses
2 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cups ketchup

Saute onion and garlic until transparent
Remove from heat and cool slightly, then puree in food processor or mill.
Add cognac and spices, bring back to a boil to evaporate alcohol.
Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes.
Cool in shallow pan before putting in bottle.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Smokin' Pete's BBQ featured in Haunted Washington

How great is this? Northwest author Adam Woog has included our ghost experiences at Smokin' Pete's BBQ in his new book, Haunted Washington. The section about us is titled "The Smokin' Ghost of Ballard" which I absolutely love.

Wong read my blog post about our ghost a few years back and contacted me to find out more. I happily told him some of the other experiences people have had at our place and then promptly forgot about it. As a writer I know that books take a long time to make, and most of them don't ever make it to print, so I was thrilled to see his book on my desk last week.

It's a great and timely read full of local ghost stories from all over Washington. You can read about the Red Lady who haunts the Sorrento Hotel, or about the creepy "Lady of the Lake" body found in Lake Crescent that had basically undergone saponification due to the high concentrate of salt and calcium in the lake. Ew, a soap mummy! There are so many more great stories and Woog's trademark Washington history throughout.

You can buy it on Amazon just in time for Halloween! And full disclosure, if you click on the link from my site, I think I can make, like two whole cents on it, so come on y'all, let's all get Julie some gumballs! I like gumballs...and ghost stories.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Coming up next: Lamb Skewers

I often have lamb on the brain, so when I was asked to write about lamb skewers on the grill by Char-broil, I jumped up and said, yippee! I'm also amazed how much darn traffic my lamb posts get. I must be linked on some Australian search engine somewhere because, seriously, I get better statistics on lamb posts than any other subject.

No complaints here. In my opinion it is one of the most under-eaten proteins. Keep your eye out soon for that recipe on Char-broil. In the meantime, you might like this recipe: Smoked Rack of Lamb with Blueberry Sauce & Pea Shoots. It's full of lamb and love.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Sneaking in my Husky pride, a mini contest.

I recently posted about tailgating on Char-broil. We've had some huge games if you are a Huskies fan, and you may notice something about the photos in my post, Tailgate Pulled Pork: Timing it so you don't miss any of the game (or party!). For all you that go to that post and read it, comment here about what you notice and you'll be entered to win an awesome, slightly used, Huskies T-shirt.

It may not be the most awesome contest you've ever entered, but it's one of the easiest. Hopefully as easy as the Huskies will win this weekend.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Day Two at IFBC: Photography with the funny, easy on the eyes, demi-god of oozes, Andrew Scrivani

I've said it before, but when I started the journey of writing my cookbook, it never occurred to me that I'd need to become a photographer. You may notice there isn't a single photograph in She-Smoke, which also happens to be the single greatest critique of the book.

I'm learning that when writing about food on the web, the hook is no longer your opening sentence; it's the opening image. This post has little to do with the peppers you see above, but they are pretty eye candy to draw you in.

My range of emotions toward this need, nay, requirement, for me to produce better photos has been like the five stages of grief. I started out in denial (whatever, I'm a writer), to anger (I bet these food photographers can't cook their way out of a box of mac-n-cheese!), to now one of excitement to learn, to stretch out of my comfort zone, and to go shopping. Yeah, that's right. I'm pretty sure shopping is one of the stages of grief. If it's not it really should be.

I'm not blaming the equipment, I swear, but it's time I had some better tools. Sure, I can cook with crappy knives and pans, and even ingredients, but though I may be able to make a fine Tuesday night dinner with saltine crackers and canned tuna, it's not going to knock your socks off. Give me some fresh Ahi, however, and I might get an Oooh out of you. At least an Aaah.

Still, even with saltines and canned tuna (a.k.a. my Droid phone and point and shoot camera with the battery that pops out), the photo session with NY Times photographer Andrew Scrivani took me to a better place, photographically speaking, in less than two hours.

It's doesn't hurt that he's freakin' adorable. If day one of the International Food Blogger Conference had me wanting to kidnap Dorie Greenspan to bake me cookies, day two had me wishing I could be a fly on an everything bagel in Andrew Scrivani's food photography studio.

Thankfully he showed us a window into that studio so no one need go Kafka with poppy seeds.

By window, I mean no metaphor. He showed us an actual window around which he has built a white box on a table where he shoots most of his food. It's a southern facing window that lets in delicious natural light that makes food drip off the plate and into the photograph. The white box captures that light.

I think this week there will be a slight tick in white paint and plywood sales at Home Depots across the country.

That was my first takeaway from his session. The second was a heading in his presentation called, "Drips, Oozes and Pours." He talked about connecting to people's desire of food. I loved his example of a photo of an ice cream cone. Instead of taking the shot right after it was scooped, his photo was taken after the ice cream started to melt with a drip down one side. As he said, it makes you want to lick that drip, and then another. It brings you into the photograph.

He also noted that people are drawn to smoke and flames. That's good news for those of us in the barbecue and grilling world. We're already there.

Desiring to lick the ice cream cone leads to the third aha moment of his talk. There were lots of other great technical tips, trends, light management details which I will go back to in my notes, but he talked about thinking of every photograph with two frames; the main subject of the shot, the "hero", and the story framed around it. A photo of a grill is framed by the face of a well-known Cajun cook concentrating on the coals, a creme brulee is framed by a hand holding a spoon, and so on.

In other words, stepping back from the food to really plan the composition, the statement, or the art of the shot.

I tend to be too literal with food. I want the photograph to be true to what it tastes like, the ingredients, the cooking method, but that's what goes into the writing. The photograph is something else.

Incidentally, right after his talk I had to run to work and cater a wedding. This time, instead of photographing the pulled pork in a chaffing dish, something I've done dozens of times at events with the same completely underwhelming result, I took a photo of the bread with a cool shadow cast on the table from the pickle bowl. I took it with my phone camera, so it's not professional quality, but it's already an improvement in composition. It's not drippy or oozy, being bread, but a start.

I look forward to bringing you lots of drips, oozes and pours in the future.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Day One Takeaways from IFBC: Pirate gold

I'm attending the International Food Bloggers Convention this weekend, and while the gift bag booty from day one was a pirate-worthy haul, my takeaways do not come in a package or treasure chest.

The first three nuggets come from the opening talk by Dorie Greenspan. Dorie is the author of, count them, ten cookbooks, including one with Julia Child (me: genuflecting), and two with Pierre Herme' (pastry god of Paris). She has her own cookie company, lives in Paris and New York...she's nothing short of a food goddess, and the nicest, down to earth cooking and baking elf you ever met. Really. I want to take her home with me. She could bake cookies for me and encourage me to write that next book inside me, I'd made us jasmine tea... sigh. Aside from that little fantasy, here are three quotes I loved from her talk.

1) "Concentrate on the work." It's deceptively simple, but I for one get so disgruntled about the foodie world of hype and social media, and the overall noise of the web, that it often stops me from writing. All I really want to do is write, but sometimes it feels like it comes with so much baggage. I post something and then I have to put it on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, and oh I really should update the blog roll, and darn I really should comment more on other people's blogs, and, shit, this blogging is taking me away from working on my next book, that it weighs me down.

Dorie reminded us that all of that none of that really matters unless you are doing and loving the work. Right. Check.

2) "It's a great time to be a writer." Dorie talked about the power we have as writers today. We don't have to wait months or years for the validation of a small pool of publishers and editors, we can hit "publish" and immediately reach our readers (after spell check and lots of self editing). They in turn can respond right back. She talked about how there never used to be any money in food or writing and now both are sexy and can be a "real" job. With blogging we also have a way to reach and show traditional publishers our work in a way we never could before.

3) "Say Yes." One yes leads to another and when we are open to possibility, when we are in the realm of Yes, doors open. I know that is how I landed She-Smoke. I was in that sweet spot of Yes at the time, and a door presented itself. That door has led to so many others. I've been on NPR Seattle, I blog for Char-broil, and it's helped put Smokin' Pete's BBQ on a national map, or at least on a larger map than just Seattle. I could agree more. Of course you shouldn't undersell yourself, of course you shouldn't be a shill, but if it feels right, the details fall in line.
The next nuggets are more observations from the two sessions that followed, the live blogging event and the Taste of Seattle dinner reception.

4) Product sales start with story. Not exactly news, right? It's rule number one in marketing, but I got to experience the rule first hand in the Amazon live blogging event. We listened to 16 or so different vendors give a 2.5 minute presentation of their product. The idea was that we were supposed to taste, photograph and "live blog" about each product. You may read my tweets to see what I liked or wasn't overly wowed by, but no matter whether a product was my cup of tea, if I connected with their story, I went out of my way to want to like them. If they were just telling me why I should like them because of how great their product was, I lost my luster.

Take Sahale Snacks.

I've seen these many times in stores, and even tried and like them. Price and the fact that they are more of an adult rather than kid snack has been why I've passed on purchasing them since. But hearing about the hiking trip with nothing but freeze dried food and sawdust energy bars that started the idea of the company made me give these guys a second look. Knowing that they were local, hearing first hand from one of the founders instantly made me want to support them. I do happen to like sweet and salty nut snacks in general, so it's not a huge stretch for me, but learning that one of the founders also obsesses about cinnamon? I'm in.

Remind me to read #4 when I'm launching my future food product line, OK?

5) Lastly, I was blown away that the actual chefs came to Taste of Seattle Friday night reception. Well-known Seattle chefs and restaurant owners served us little plate after little plate of delicious dishes.

I own a restaurant and have a family, and I know how many of these events you can do in a year, and how much work they are. I know how you wish you were home instead, because you are always pulled in so many directions and never enough in the direction of home. Seeing Ethan Stowell, who is opening yet another restaurant in five days, Eric Bahn of Monsoon, and other restaurateurs and chefs dishing up these fabulous creations, and not just sending in the staff to plate up 300 sea scallops or spicy tuna rolls, amazed me.
Alder smoked scallops by Boka Restaurant

I have been on the other side, handing out the little plates and let me tell you, we don't really care. I mean of course we care, the people are our customers or potential customers without whom we wouldn't be in business, but the reality is that after awhile, the faces, the people eating, they all become the same group chomping, slurping, snorting and talking with mouths half full. I hope that other attendees appreciate how special it was to have the real owners and chefs come on a Friday night, while their restaurants went on without them, to give up their family time or TV time or payroll time or hang time at someone else's bar. It was a gift. Pure gold.

I for one felt a little guilty from the day one pirate-y haul. But mostly I felt happy and full.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

IFBC here I come!

I can't believe it's almost here - the International Food Bloggers Conference! When I heard that it would be in Seattle, it was of course a no-brainer to sign up, but that seemed ages ago. A summer season of catering ago. Now it's less that one week away and I can't wait.

A few highlights that I'm looking forward to, or curious about:

Live Food Blogging with Amazon Grocery. We'll be tasting foods and blogging "speed dating-style." With only 2.5 minutes to taste and 2.5 minutes to blog, it should be a good exercise for someone like me who holds on to posts for months without publishing.

A session on Food Photography with New York Times photographer Andrew Scrivani. He's also doing a session on post-production photo editing that I will have to miss as I'm catering a wedding that night. Se la vie!  As you may know, I've vowed to step up my photography this year. I think I've made progress, but have a long way to go.

A number of technical sessions that I need on building traffic and whether or not to switch to Wordpress. I know not having a designated URL and staying in the .blogspot group greatly lessens my exposure in the blogsphere. I haven't had, or haven't made the swaths of time that is required for me to do big technological changes. (Right now I have to get my laptop to recognize wi-fi, and fix my darn camera. I've been hamstrung all summer by technical difficulties). So these sessions will be good for me and kick my butt into making all this technology work together.

And though I'll miss a number of sessions on Saturday evening because of our catering, it's probably for the best: I usually get overwhelmed by the amount of information at a conference. A little break will do this girl some good.

I'll be doing some "live blogging" or nearly live during the conference to give my thoughts on various sessions. What I'm really excited is to see my good friends Barry Martin, of Our Community Table and Welcome to the Cookout! and Jane Bonacci of The Heritage Cook. Both are way beyond me in food blogging and wonderful people. I met them via the Char-Broil All-Stars.

If you are one of the 320 attendees, say howdy!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Live on Barn Goddess BBQ Radio tonight!

I'll be talking live with Lori Frazee, the host of the blog radio show Barn Goddess BBQ & More. Lori interviews barbecue personalities all over the US. She is also a pitmaster and barbecue caterer so I'm sure we'll have lots to gab about.

The show goes live at 5 pm PST, so have a listen, and call in with questions if you can!

My husband will be on a catering tonight so my original plan of sneaking off to do the interview while he minded the home front has been foiled. I'll be picking up a video for the kids today as a result so they can stay occupied during the interview. Wish me luck they don't join us!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Labor Day Menu: Grill Roasted Chicken with Sage, Butter & Wine Sauce

I cannot believe it's almost Labor Day. No way is it almost Labor Day. I still haven't posted the promised whole pig smoke bonanza promised in July! Sigh. I want to show it in part via video and I'm slow at these things. And, I know you've heard the whine before, but I'm a barbecue caterer, people! Summer is the Superbowl. A really really long Superbowl before we all blow out our knees and fall back to the B leagues or whatever it is in football.

I really shouldn't speak in football analogies. I'll only embarrass myself.

Lucky for you, you get this TIMELY post for Labor Day. I wrote it for Char-broil a while ago. They are smart and give me deadlines well ahead of the actual publish date.

An even though I cooked it months ago, I'm still thinking about this chicken. Chicken on the grill, slathered in sage and drizzled with a shallot, butter white wine sauce. Mmm. Finished indirectly on my grill, it stayed so moist that it melted in my mouth. I'm just going to have to make it again. For Labor Day! Read the recipe here.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Heavenly Halloumi - True Grilled Cheese

Grilled cheese is a staple at our house. If the cobbler’s children have no shoes, then the caterer’s kids have a sorry selection in the refrigerator. During the busy times it’s often down to a few questionable gallon Ziplock bags of leftovers, a plethora of strange condiments, and the ever staple brick of Tillamook cheddar cheese. The cheese is the refrigerator’s saving grace, really.

But of course that grilled cheese isn’t really grilled, is it? Sure, you can grill bread and cheese with some success, but I’ve found our flat top cast iron pan gives better results than any outdoor grill.

That’s why I love Halloumi. It’s the cheese you grill! Hailing from Cypress, it requires no preparation. No oil, no salt, and with so much flavor you really need not fuss it up with spices. Just slice and throw it on the grill. Serve it warm with a spritz of lemon, or top a summer salad like I’ve done here. 

I added our first-of-the-season red pepper from the garden (that’s a big deal in Seattle!), avocado and arugula. A simple balsamic vinaigrette or yogurt dressing pairs nicely with it.

And guess what? The kids loved it. Things are looking up for our refrigerator. And fall is just around the corner. That’s when this mama really starts cooking. No really. In summertime, when we are cooking for hundreds to thousands of people each week, it means at home we allow a fair amount of take out or ready- made foods from our local PCC deli, but come fall this caterer remembers just how much she likes to cook. Especially at home.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Seafood Fest Recipe: Eric's Mussels in Smoked Tomato Sauce with Fennel Relish

Ballard Seafood Fest, where we've had a booth the past two years, has one opportunity for bragging rights - the seafood entry. It's not blind like barbecue competitions. 2-3 judges from the Chamber walk around and taste each booth's seafood entry. You get to talk to them about it and hope for that prize - Best of the Fest.

I really thought Eric's entry was going to win this year, He did local mussels, served with a smoked tomato sauce and shaved fennel. Not only did everyone who ate it love it, the judges were licking their plates and kept asking questions. I don't know who won, only that we didn't get a ribbon. We were so slammed with caterings in addition to the fest, that none of us made it to the awards.

Many have asked for the recipe, and I noodled it out of Eric. You know how tight lipped he can be! The key is to smoke the tomatoes. Mmmm.

Eric's Mussels in Smoked Tomato Sauce, topped with Fennel Relish

6 Roma tomatoes, cut in half, lengthwise
Kosher salt
1 fennel bulb, 1/4 shaved thin, rest of bulb diced.
1 small onion
1/2 cup olive oil
2 lbs mussels, cleaned
lemon zest from 2 lemons
Salt & pepper


1) Shave a portion of fennel bulb and save some of the fennel greens. Set aside.

2) Cut Roma tomatoes in half, lengthwise, and salt. Place on rack face up and smoke for 3 hours. Any mild wood will do.

3) Saute onions, olive oil and diced fennel bulb. Add smoked tomatoes and simmer for 2 hours.

4) Make fennel relish with shaved fennel, fennel greens, lemon zest, fresh lemon juice, olive oil and salt & pepper.

5) Add mussels to tomato sauce and steam for 5 minutes until they open. Top mussels with fennel relish.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Coming up: Chef Eric's Secret to Smoking a Suckling Pig and Seafood Fest!

Next week I'll post a tutorial on smoking a whole pig. Not a big ol' hog, but a suckling pig under 35 lbs. My husband Eric has a pretty unique way of doing whole pigs. He says someone surely has done it his way, but I've never seen it, so I'm calling it a secret until proven otherwise.

Before that post, we have a huge weekend coming up which includes the Ballard Seafood Fest! Smokin' Pete's will be in booth F22. We'll serve pulled pork & chicken sliders, plus Mussels in a Smoked Tomato & Fennel Sauce and a new seafood item this year - New England Clam Cakes. I won't be posting that recipe. That one really is secret. But I will post the mussel recipe. I'll sneak that in before the pig tutorial.

But don't just read about it, if you are local, come to Seafood Fest and try it. F22, on Leary Way off Market Street, between the Kiwanis and the cranky New Orleans Cookery guys. Hope to see you this weekend!

Friday, July 5, 2013

And the winner is....

Happy 4th of July! Well, happy day after. It's 11 am and I'm still in jammies. Not that we had a "rager" last night, just a busy day. While Eric slung ribs at the restaurant, I grilled veggies, made slaw, slathered chicken, and picked up socks. He came back earlier than I thought he could and clean up and weed-whacked the backyard.

It was our first backyard barbecue with guests since we moved! Both the Char-broil Infrared and the Big Green Egg were used, so we covered the charcoal and gas bases.

On the menu was grilled chicken, burgers, steaks, grilled veggies, plus all the other accompaniments. Not a speck of smoked meats, potato salad, or traditional coleslaw (mine had golden raisins, almonds, collards, and was dressed with a mustard vinaigrette). What can I say, we get enough of that on a daily basis.

What did you all cook for the 4th? How about YOU, Shane Conrad? Because you are our winner! My daughter blindly picked your name out of a bowl. Congratulations!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Seven Secrets of a BBQ Restaurateur and One Not-secret BBQ Sauce Recipe

If you know me, you know I'm a talker. My report cards in school without fail said, "Julie is a good student but she talks to much in class."

I still am a good student and I still talk too much. That's just who I am. So in my latest post for Char-broil, as a Char-broil All-Star, I got to dish up secrets of of running a BBQ restaurant. I wanted to go to eleven, so I could say it. You know. These go to eleven*. But they stopped me at seven. Something about the fact that most people won't read past three paragraphs.

That just makes me want to put the really good stuff at the bottom where only those listening get a chance for a prize. Hey, there's an idea.

Click here to read the entire post, and all seven secrets of a BBQ Restaurateur. One of my secrets involves cleaning smelly grease traps.. And yes, I always have to check the spelling of restaurateur.

If you simply want a BBQ Sauce Recipe that rocks and can be changed according to what is in YOUR refrigerator, right now,, not that. Nothing moldy. You should really throw it out, but that other thing, yeah that bit of jam and the Thai chili sauce next to it would work.

Right. The barbecue sauce recipe. Just one click away. Right in time for the 4th of July. Barbecue sauce is one of the easiest things in the whole barbecue world to make. It cracks me up how people guard their sauce recipes with such ferocity. Totally smoke and mirrors, pun intended. It's the one thing about owning a BBQ restaurant that, once you have a sauce you like, really doesn't give you trouble. It doesn't show up late to work, it doesn't require a permit, it doesn't even clog up the grease trap. Sauce graciously accompanies your smoked meats each and every day without complaint. I really love barbecue sauce.

My next post will be a series on smoking a whole pig so come back soon!

Pssst. Down here. If you were listening, you know that by reading to the very very end of this blabbering post, you get a chance to win something. Here is the contest: In the comments below, mention what the * indicates in this post, and say something that you liked about either the "Seven Secrets" post or the "Barbecue Sauce" post on Char-broil to show me you've read one of them. That will enter you into the contest, and let me tell you, it will be a small pool of contestants so you have an excellent chance of winning. I will draw out of a hat one name of one entrant who will win (drum roll please): 1 rib rack, a tin of Smokin' Pete's BBQ Rib Rub, a signed copy of She-Smoke, a Smokin' Pete's BBQ T-shirt and one action figure or creature from my kids' toy bin. That's quite a haul. Don't tell my kids about that last bit. Contest ends on midnight, July 4th. Good luck!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Three tips for grilling fish

It's definitely fish grilling season because the salmon have started to run! I love grilling fish, but it's definitely the protein that causes the most anxiety for people. For one, it's expensive and (hopefully) wild. There is a certain pressure to perform when handling $15/lb fillet that has a limited availablity, right?

Fish is also more delicate than a big thick steak or hamburger, so people are afraid to grill it. Here are three of my top tips to success on the grill with fish.

1) Buy good, wild fish. When purchasing, make sure the eye is not cloudy, nor should the flesh feel overly tacky. Check that the bones aren't pulling away from the flesh in spots - that's an indicator that it's been sitting for awhile. Starting out with a good product means much less work in the cooking process. You don't need a ton of seasoning or sauces because the fish is good on its own.

2) Oil the fish, not the grates. That said, make sure your grill is well-seasoned and well pre-heated before starting. Give your fish a light coating of high-heat oil like canola.

3) Grill flesh side down first and let the fish tell you when to flip. Really. The fish will tell you when it's ready. Place the fish, flesh side down and leave it. When the fish gently releases from the grill it means the collogen has started to release, and the fish will release from the grilll. Too early and it will stick.

Enjoy the tips, and if you want more or have a question about grilling fish, just ask me in the comments. I answer back.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Smokin' on my Big Easy: a video post

I'm having a lot of fun with my Char-Broil electric smoker named The Big Easy, so much so that I was inspired to make a video. When it first arrived at my doorstep, I harbored doubts of The Big Easy's smokability. It was, after all, electric. But as you will witness in my goofball video, this baby brings it. I've decided she's a she. As for names, I'm thinking Bertha or Betty or She-easy. I'll take suggestions. You do all name your grills and smokers, right?

I'm writing a full post about smoking a whole picnic pork shoulder for Char-broil, but until then, check this out!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Come see Lynnae Oxley before her britches get too big

We've got a great class coming up this Sunday at Smokin' Pete's BBQ. Two of my favorite west coast barbecue people are joining me for a Backyard BBQ & Grilling Class. There still are a few spots open in the afternoon class, by the way, so if you are interested, sign up, why don't ya! It's only $100 for a fun-filled four hours of instruction, including dinner. You won't walk away hungry for food or inspiration, I promise you.

My fellow instructors are far beyond me but I'll enjoy basking in their limelight while humbly talking about rubs, meat prep, and mops. Barry "CB" Martin, aka Chef Barry is an amazing outdoor grillmaster. He's not too shabby cooking indoors either when the wife lets him in, but he's known for his outdoor chops on the barbie. He can grill and talk at the same time, for one, which is hard enough for me to do, but Barry can actually entertain you while grilling, on a TV show in a hurricane, for instance. He's that kind of guy.

Ms. Lynnae Oxley is the pitmaster of Sugar's Barbecue in OR, a competition team with plenty of ribbons and ridiculously large trophies. Seriously, the trophies barbecue comps are huge. They look like some male pre-teen with a lego fantasy designed them. I think there is some sort of formula in which the size of the trophy increases by a factor of 2.0795 to the average gut size of the competitors. But I digress...

Lynnae and I met through the writing of She-Smoke. I asked the president of the PNWBA what women BBQ'ers I should talk to for some of my She's Smokin' side bars, and he immediately said, "You have to talk to Lynnae!" So I tracked her down and did. She tells a great story of her very first Weber kettle that she bought at a garage sale for $10.

Over the years we've met, kept in touch and do the usual of "liking" things each other says on facebook. But beyond that I have a true respect for this woman and what she does. She's a pitmaster for her competition barbecue team and a caterer dedicated to quality barbecue. Her hard work has paid off because she just got filming for the upcoming season of BBQ Pitmasters! I can't wait to see her on the show.

This class might be the last time we get her, seeing as how her britches might be getting mighty big with all that TV fame. For those of you still sitting on the fence, you could say, "I knew her when..."

Monday, May 13, 2013

Coming up next: Barbecue Sauce and 7 Secrets

Two Char-broil posts of mine will be up soon. The first is an easy barbecue sauce you can customize according to your pantry and fridge. The next is 7 secrets of a Barbecue Restaurateur. Yep, I'm giving away all my secrets! Stay tuned for those two posts.

In the meantime, if you haven't signed up for our Grilling & Barbecue Class at Smokin' Pete's BBQ on June 2, do it now! It's a great class to take with a friend, or buy as an early father's day present (or a late mother's day present).You won't find any other class for four hours, three instructors, and lunch for $100. It's going to be a blast. To register click here.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Cinco de Mayo Skirt Steak Adobo

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Here's an easy, healthy recipe that is a snap on the grill.

Skirt steak became the darling of the beef world in recent years because of its affordability and full flavor. Not the most tender of cuts because it is so lean, it is important to cook it hot and fast to seal in what juices it has.

Recipe: Cinco de Mayo Skirt Steak Adobo

Adobo PasteEvery family makes their Adobo a little differently. It really can be any spice mixture and oil, sometimes vinegar, to marinate a piece of meat. This paste is made of olive oil, 1 tablespoon each cumin, coriander, and chili powder, plus 1 teaspoon each of dried ground garlic, kosher salt and turmeric.

1. Generously rub paste all over skirt steak. Let sit at room temperature for 45 minutes to an hour to let paste set into the meat.

2. Pre-heat gas grill on high, or make a hot charcoal fire with three layers of charcoal.

3. Once grill is fully hot, place skirt steak in center for about five minutes, then flip for another five minutes, then flip again for 1-2 minutes on each side. I know I often say "flip only once!" but skirt steak and other really hot and fast grilled meats are the exception.

4. Pull skirt steak while it is still rare or just a shade past and let it rest a good 10 minutes to medium rare. An easy way to rest meat on a gas grill is to simply turn off the heat and rest meat on the upper rack, if you have one.

5. Slice on the diagonal and serve with Mexican Rice (recipe follows), a simple salad, tortillas and your favorite salsa.
Mexican Rice
1/2 cup olive oil
1 small or 1/2 large onion, diced
2 cups of rice
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup salsa
Additional spices if you like it hot
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Get your pot hot, add oil (hot pan, cold oil!). Once hot, saute onion until clear. Add rice and stir a few times. Add chicken stock and salsa, stir.

Turn down to simmer and put a tight fitting lid. If your lid isn't tight, you can wrap a towel around it and tie it on top. Right before you serve, sprinkle in some Parmesan.

Tip: Get rice really close to done before you grill the skirt steak so it can all come up at once for dinner.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Backyard Barbecue Class, June 2

Photograph of Barry CB Martin aka Chef Barry host of Welcome to the Cookout!Photograph of Lynnae Oxley - leader of Sugars Championship BBQ TeamPhotgraph of Julie Reinhardt author of She Smoke and co-owner of Smokin' Peat's BBQ Joint.

Want to hone your barbecue skills? Come join me and two amazing teachers - Barry Martin and Lynnae Oxley - on June 2 at Smokin' Pete's BBQ
Chef Barry is a grilling master, long time grill spokesman, and has been on myriad cooking shows, most recently a series of spots on the Weather Channel. Lynnae is the pitmaster of Sugars Barbecue and will be on the upcoming Barbecue Pitmaster's television show.
We have two sessions, a morning and afternoon, both of which will serve a meal at the restaurant. We'll go over all the basics of hot and fast grilling and slow and low barbecue to help you wow your friends and family at your next barbecue. 
Please check out the full website with bios, class info, and the registration form. It's only $100 for a four hour class with three instructors and lunch! We wanted to make it easy for you to sign up. So sign up! If you can't come, do tell your friends in the greater Seattle area about it. We're smokin' for ya!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Shrimp on the Grill

Having come back from a trip to Jacksonville, Florida, communing with the folks at Char-broil, this week was all about catching up on sleep. I had early flights both ways and lost nearly two full nights of shut eye. I'm not someone who can go to bed early on command, nor am I disciplined enough to get my work done ahead. It's 2 am or bust for me the night before any trip.

Suffice it to say, some of the household chores didn't get done this week. I needed an easy dinner and what better inspiration than Florida! We ate so well there, but my favorite meal was grilled shrimp served with cheesy grits at a local seafood restaurant. So after playing in the park late, because it was sunny, and you have to maximize your exposure to the sun when it shows up in Seattle, I bought a mess of shrimp at one of my favorite local fish stores, Wild Salmon Seafood Market. My kids were thrilled as they love pretty much anything from the sea  - even octopus and eel - so shrimp on the grill needed no upselling.

I cleaned them, but left the shell on because my kids think peeling shrimp is fun. I then doused them with a little of Girard's Champagne dressing. Love the stuff. I am usually a make-your-own-dressing girl, but I always have a bottle of Girard's in the fridge for a quick salad or marinade.

I fired up my TRU-Infrared Char-broil grill, given to me because I blog for them, but also a grill I truly love. It's just too easy and with the infrared design, nothing falls through the grill grates. These shrimp can be grilled on a skewer, but really, it's just an extra step.
Go ahead if you like the aesthetics of a skewer, but my family eats shrimp so fast, skewers just get in the way. Three minutes or so on each side and dinner's ready.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Squid Sausage: One of many takeaways from the Char-Broil gathering

You might wonder why there is a bowl of lemons at the start of this post, when I've teased you with squid sausage in the title. The reality is that my photo of the squid sausage wasn't up to par. It's a new par, a far higher bar than my previous one in selecting what photos are worthy of posting. And this bowl of lemons is about the only photo that passes from my two-day Char-broil All-Star gathering in Jacksonville, Florida. Barely.

I do so love lemonade. And while the reality that my photography wasn't cutting it in this image heavy brave new world produced a fair amount of uncomfortable stomach acid, I know that good lemonade is a mixture of acidic lemon and lot's of sugar.

There was plenty of sugar at the Char-broil All-Star gathering this year. We meet with the Char-broil team to learn from each other, discuss the new product line, and to grow as bloggers. The sugar is we do all of the above with lots of amazing food, a good deal of colorful liquids to wash it down, and belly laughs through every meeting. I come away with inspiration and both new items in my toolbox, and sharper tools.

"Sharper" is a key word, because this year's gathering focused primarily on photography and being on camera. We all have different talents - angles from which we come to this place of food blogging. Mine is writing and being in the barbecue food business. Others are amazing photographers who are also talented home cooks, or award-winning barbecue competitors. But let's face it, the web is a noisy place -  a buzzing hive, an ocean of fish - and one of the best ways for a writer to be heard is to wave a big pretty image flag to catch the hive's attention, a visual hook to reel in the fish.

So my first takeaway this year was going to a "Photo 101" class with some of the best photographers in our group. I can't wait to put all that I've learned into some photo practice. Just the simple instruction of lowering my camera from where I was previously holding is huge, but I also got tips on setting up a mini food "studio." Nothing fancy. A few lights with a white board to diffuse reflections when taking night shots. Doh!

What about the squid sausage? We have a little cooking competition each year too. A mini "Chopped" with mystery ingredients and a time limit. This year it was naturally seafood-heavy with squid, shrimp, Grouper, sun dried tomatoes, a blood orange, collard greens and chocolate. Lemon, oil, seasonings and assorted herbs were stocked at all stations. I was lucky to be teamed with Christo of Chez What? He's the only real chef among us and won by a landslide last year.

The squid sausage, 100% Christo, should have won. It was amazing. I intend to recreate it in a blog post. Stuffed with grilled shrimp, shaved chocolate, finely chopped sun dried tomato, thyme and Italian parsley with a white wine and blood orange vinaigrette, we finished it off on the grill (a Tru-Infrared grill, of course). But the competition this year was also weighted with the name of our dish, the final photo, the team other words, all the parts that go into a good blog post. And the victors, who name themselves Diva Q and The Dame, knew how to sell the whole package.

So I leave you with a two photos of the squid sausage. They were taken in almost dark, with a Droid. They are blurry. But you can see the original photo, and how through cropping and post editing, I've at least improved them.