Event 8 - Barbecue in February

by Dave MichelFebruary 26, 2015

This posting is for the "Barbecue, In Minnesota, IN FEBRUARY?" event.

Thursday, February 26, circa 7:00 AM (the day before the event)

This blog entry will be more or less in real time. Yesterday I smoked a test rack of ribs. Today, I got up early and got the first of the pork butts in the Weber - the second one will go in this afternoon. Later today I'll be making coleslaw and potato salad for the event tomorrow. The pulled pork will be finished off in the oven tomorrow while the ribs are smoked and after I've baked pies. Oh, yeah - I still have to get pie plates.

By the way, pork butt is sometimes referred to as pork shoulder, which is actually a bit more descriptive a term. "Butt" is the name of the barrels that the pork shoulders were shipped in, and became synonymous with the cut of meat. Most butchers still call it "butt" (maybe because it's fun to say).

Thursday, February 26, 9:40 AM

There have been a couple of cancellations, I've been updating the web site, managing email and setting up this blog (I took some pictures that will be coming soon to a blog near you), But I'm still in my PJs, and I gots to get a move on if I will gets done whats I need done today.

Thursday, February 26, 12:38 PM

All cancellations have been filled again. Free food is still popular Wink But I'm behind schedule after visiting Text Study with Don Luther, Chuck Lutz and Jeff Barber (amongst others) and running out to buy pie plates. I've got to at least get the second pork butt in the Weber and finish the potato salad and biscuits today.

Thursday, February 26, 7:20 PM

I got both pork butts smoked today, and am 90% done with the potato salad, but that's all so far. A haircut and a retirement party (no, not mine) took up a chunk of the afternoon. I'll finish the potato salad tonight, and possibly the buttermilk biscuits, but the coleslaw is going to wait until tomorrow, along with ribs, pies, cleanup, setup and errands. Can I do it? Maybe. Probably. But for now, I'm beat.

Friday, February 27, 5:51 AM

Woke up with clarity this morning that the oven is today's resource constraint, since I need to do biscuits, pies and pulled pork so they're done by 5 PM. But before I get going on that, I thought I'd post about the way I've been smoking in a standard Weber kettle. This is all inspired by Alton Brown's use of a PitmasterIQ temperature control unit that I saw on his Good Eats show on Netflix. It seemed so obvious, practical and, well, geeky, that I had to try it. It really works, and is one of the highlights of my whole sabbatical.

Click for larger image

I took a bunch of photos yesterday as I was setting up for smoking the pulled pork. When I started, it was 0 degrees outside (the temp on the right). Outside temperature seems to make no difference to the smoking process.

Click for larger image
Click for larger image

Click for larger image

This is about five or six hours' worth of charcoal. The hickory chunks are for flavor. The white block on the right is a parafin starter. No lighter fluid in the kettle, please. I found during testing that it is supremely important to light the minimum number of coals, otherwise the kettle can go into thermal runaway (getting hot enough that air is drawn in through leaks in the kettle and the control unit can't stop it). This happened to me yesterday with the second butt, when I added more charcoal to the already hot embers. I needed to douse about 2/3 of the fuel with water to get back to manageable temperatures (i.e., cool enough that the PitmasterIQ could regulate).

Click for larger image

Here's the main unit - a PitmasterIQ 110. The temperature probe clips to the grill inside the kettle (I cut a small slit in the lip of the kettle for probe leads). The box contains the electronics as well as a fan that pumps air through the tube to a silver manifold that covers one of the grill vents. All other vents are closed or blocked with metal duct tape. The unit regulates temperature by adjusting the flow of air to the inside of the grill. Basically, it turns your kettle grill into a quite accurate oven. In fact, the temperature inside the grill is more stable and accurate than our nice Jenn-Air (no knock on the Jenn-Air, which is a really great oven).

Click for larger image

Since barbeque is all about managing temperature over time, I've got a wireless dual sensor thermometer that gives me the temp of both the air in the grill and the food. I just twist-tie the transmitter to the PitmasterIQ.

Click for larger image

Lit and ready to go. Three temperature sensors: the thermometer has the sensor in the food and the sensor to the right that measures air temperature in the kettle, and the PitmasterIQ has the sensor closest to you clipped to the grill.

Click for larger image

The haze of smokey goodness. This will be done smoking when the food probe reads 150 degrees, about five and a half hours. I finish it off in the oven the day of the event.

Click for larger image

I can monitor the temperature of the food and the smoker in the comfort of a warm home. This thermometer allows you to set temperature alarms - I've got the food alarm set to 150 degrees.

Friday, February 27, 9:19 AM

Biscuits done. Pies in the oven. Gonna start on ribs. After they're in the smoker, make coleslaw. Pork butts go in the oven a bit before noon. Looking OK so far.

Saturday, February 28, 8:19 AM - Aftermath

Click for larger image
Click for larger image

Sorry for the radio silence - got stuck in the moment there (for about 24 hours). So much for this being a real time blog posting. The event went really well. Both pork butt and ribs finished right on time (Friday at 5 PM). I was guesstimating on both, since I've never finished a pork butt in the oven the next day after smoking and refrigeration, and I've not done five racks of ribs simultaneously. Cole slaw and pecan pie were hits, and the meats turned out really well. Plenty of food for leftovers and gifts (even after the party crashers Tongue Out).

Click for larger image
Click for larger image

Once again, a really fun mix of people, with Lutheran clergy strongly represented. There were some beer connoisseurs in attendance, with Bob Wertz bringing in a large bottle of sour beer. I'm not a beer drinker myself, but my first reaction on tasting it was, "I could cook with this". It had a nice vinegary timbre to it.

This is probably the event I've looked forward to the most food-wise, just because of (recent) prior success smoking in the winter. True to form, most of the salmon, pork butt and ribs I've smoked this month were done in single digit weather. Barbecue in February really works. Who knew?

Click for larger image
Click for larger image
Click for larger image

Tags:

Cooking | Sabbatical

Event 7 - Poulet rôti, pas dans le style Akroyd

by Dave MichelFebruary 24, 2015

The Poulet rôti event (roast chicken) was a hoot. A great group of people, a lot of stimulating conversation, and lots of Oscar opinions. Culinarily, the food was good, but two chickens take a lot longer to cook than one - dinner was about an hour later than I planned. Just another example of a smaller test run not providing reliable results with final quantities. Ya don't really know until you do it the way you're really going to do it.

Click for larger image

The surprise hit was the Spicy Brussels Sprouts with Mint, a recipe I just stumbled across on the Food and Wine web site. I hadn't practiced this one, but it came out beautifully. The only divergence from the recipe was that the Brussels Sprouts needed a bit of steaming to get to a crunchy doneness after charring. Oh, and next time I'll make sure to turn on the fan before sauteing the Rice Krispies and cayenne (there was a palpable zip in the air, and a few coughs and wheezes). Kris said this was the first time she's ever liked Brussels Sprouts, and then had seconds. Mighty tasty.

 

Click for larger image

I'm back to hitting .333 with Almond Cake. This time it was underdone and didn't come cleanly out of the pan after cooling. It still tasted great, though, so I served it in individual ramekins with lingonberry sauce and called it "Almond Cake Cobbler". Then I forgot to serve the Dunn Brothers coffee I'd already made. Sheesh.

Click for larger image
Click for larger image

Honestly, though, the highlight of this meal was the conversation. Four hours flew by before we knew it (as Jan said when we realized the time, it was a "school night"). Thanks for a really nice time, Kristi, Tom, Patsy, Jeff, Jean and Jan.

Click for larger image
Click for larger image

Sausages! Part Deux

by Dave MichelFebruary 19, 2015

My first attempt at making sausage went well, but presentation left a bit to be desired. I had a hard time getting a consistent girth on the links.

Click for larger image

Once I figured out a few details and got the hang of it, the presentation side improved. Don't be afraid of using a lot of water when sliding the casing on the stuffing tube, and using the larger diameter tube definitely works better than the small one I tried with the Andouille. You can also adjust sausage size as you go by adjusting the pressure on the casing as it is metered out during stuffing.

Click for larger image

Here are the final results of a batch of Italian sausage before making into links. Kris and I had a nice dinner of sausage and peppers that evening, along with a lovely Robert Hall Paso Robles Cabernet that someone brought to a prior event (thanks, whoever you are!)

If there's any general lesson learned during this sabbatical, it's that practice really does help make things better. And everybody likes sausage - especially Sadie.

Click for larger image
Click for larger image
Click for larger image

Tags:

Cooking | Sabbatical

Event 6 - Jambalaya, Fish a la Creole, and Red Beans and Rice

by Dave MichelFebruary 16, 2015

Mardi Gras was a special evening. It was the first large group event (19 guests), it was where I first served homemade sausage, and we sang love songs since it was Valentine's Day (thanks, Patrice, for bringing songbooks and leading). I was also able to play my sabbatical bass for a sabbatical event Smile

Click for larger image

Click for larger image
Click for larger image

Anna and Kris came up with expert decorations while keeping it simple. Even the Naked Lady was festooned with beads.

Click for larger image

We've hosted Mardi Gras parties before, so the food was pretty much a known quantity. The homemade Andouille was in the jambalaya, with another portion fried to top the red beans and rice, along with chopped green onions. The fish creole is always a hit. The only thing that didn't come out as anticipated was my first attempt at cooking a large quantity of rice in the crock pot - it was done nicely about two hours late. I just made a large-ish batch the regular (20 minute) way in a 5 quart pot, and that lasted the evening. I baked my first King Cake for this event, with a cinnamon nutmeg raisin filling (Kris decorated).

A lovely time was had by all.

Click for larger image
Click for larger image
Click for larger image
Click for larger image
Click for larger image
Click for larger image

 

Event 5 - Eggs Benedict and Popovers

by Dave MichelFebruary 16, 2015

The "sabbatical hump event" was Brunch (Some Assembly Required), and my guests took the assembly required part pretty seriously. My in-laws not only attended, but came a day early to assist in getting ready with some deep cleaning and organization. Naomi and Steve whisked hollandaise and cleared tables. And the Millers were their regular, encouraging selves as I tried to keep up the appearance of being in control of the menu.

Click for larger image

This was my first solo event, as both Anna and Kris had church responsibilities that morning. For the smorgasbord part of brunch, I set out smoked salmon, Norwegian cream cheese (Snøfrisk), bagel chips (Norwegian bagels and lox - get it?), as well as some crackers, and Jarlsberg and Tilamook cheeses.

I have a suspicion I'll be smoking salmon pretty often when I'm done with this sabbatical. It's economical (comparatively), fun, and really tastes good. A great addition to a party. I'll have another blog entry sometime that just concentrates on smoking food in a regular Weber kettle (here it is).

Click for larger image

I had hoped to have the Hollandaise done before the guests arrived, but it was not to be. Not to worry - this was a very social group. The eggs benedict came out well, though I found out later that afternoon that many of the eggs had lost a bit of their whites due to sticking to the ramekins I used in the water pan. The flavor and texture of the Hollandaise was really good. I tried popover recipe #5, and we had some nice tasting dense, creamy and crunchy things that instead looked like muffins. Everyone was very encouraging. I hung my head, muttering, at least inside. I talked with Kris Potter about my popover travails, and she asked if I had all the ingredients at room temperature. I didn't, so that may be the next thing to try, even though popovers aren't on any more sabbatical menus. Steve Staruch said that he makes them in regular muffin tins, which I'd love to pull off myself some day.

We chatted until well after 1:00, on subjects as diverse as worship pacing, (lack of) silence in our culture, music, old cars and home repairs. Then, I had to get my head around getting ready for Mardi Gras later that same day.

Click for larger image
Click for larger image
Click for larger image

Event 4 - Pork Chops in Sage Cream Sauce

by Dave MichelFebruary 15, 2015

The "I Thunk This Up Mahself" event was to feature recipes that I developed. But I pored through all my notes and recipe books, and couldn't find my Pork Chops in Sage Cream sauce recipe. We think it might be written in some cookbook somewhere. In any case, I often made up variations every time. I ended up starting with a similar recipe from Organic Valley.

Click for larger image

This is an easy and classy recipe with Crimini mushrooms and wine that just has a classic feel to it. Add sauteed green beans, a salad and a wild rice casserole done beforehand, and it's a nice, manageable meal for eight, especially since I could do the chops and sauce in one pan. Great company and conversation, too, even if I didn't go to Luther College.

Back in the day when I was developing my own recipe, I made a roux and I braised the chops in the sauce as it thickened. Making a true cream sauce not only enhances the flavor and texture, but kept the chops nice and tender.

 

Sausages!

by Dave MichelFebruary 11, 2015

Today was my first attempt at sausages. I was planning on trying sausages later in March, doing homemade Italian sausage for the "I Left My Heart..." event, but I felt a little creative so I gave some Andouille a shot. I figured that if it turned out, I'll use it in Saturday's Jambalaya. Well, I haven't smoked it yet (that'll be later tonight), but it sure tastes good already [See the Mardi Gras blog post for results - Ed.]. I used Emeril's Andouille recipe, which I'd say is another keeper.

In my tradition of having something go wrong, the cheap but highly-rated food grinder I bought on Amazon clogged numerous times. The last time it clogged, I had a hard time taking it apart because my hands were covered with extruded meat. As I was trying to unscrew the die plate holder with mongo pressure, the suction let go and the whole (plastic) apparatus hit the floor, breaking a big chunk out of the hopper. A few minutes later, after a one star review on Amazon and a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond for a cast metal replacement grinder, I came up with what you see here. Yum!

Event 3 - Fajitas, Mexican Rice and Catfish Ceviche

by Dave MichelFebruary 11, 2015

The South of the Border event was with the Olsons (Kris's mom's side of the family). Maggie was the first to really work the reservation system as I envisioned it, identifying who would be coming to a meal and coordinating with other family members.

Click for larger image

This was a sabbatical event where much of the menu was familiar to me. It was great to be able to relax a bit with dishes that I knew would work well. The four new recipes for this dinner were Pico de Gallo (which is really very simple), Mexican Rice, Tres Leches Cake, and Alton Brown's Catfish Ceviche. I've made fajitas and guacamole numerous times before. Much of this meal was make-ahead, so I could save my wild-eye, hair-on-fire look for subsequent events.

On the day of the event, I started with the ceviche, which takes around eight hours to marinate. The fajitas also needed to marinate, so they were next. I had to work fast because I had not made Tres Leches Cake before, and it needed to refrigerate for at least three hours before serving.

Click for larger image

I started on the cake around 1:30. The light, fluffy batter filled about 3/4 of the 9 inch pan we had. I popped it in the oven and continued with prepping vegetables. After about 15 minutes, I smelled a bit of a burnt smell from the oven. It looked like the cake was erupting and a slow lava flow was crawling out of the pan and dripping onto the floor of the oven (sorry, I don't have photos [an audio recording would be even more entertaining - Ed.]). I turned off the oven, removed the cake pan, and while things were cooling I read the recipe as carefully as I should have before I started. I guess I missed that it needs a 10 inch round cake pan. Then I got a tape measure and found that the pan I was using was actually an 8 inch pan. And I should have used all-purpose flour, not cake flour. Oops - never assume, right?

Click for larger image

After a quick trip to get the right pan and some more sugar, the cake came out fine (I'll work on presentation next time). Roger liked it enough that I sent some back with him.

Everything else went without a hitch. I was particularly pleased with the Mexican Rice, which had a great flavor and texture. Even though nothing in this meal was terribly spicy, I was surprised how many jalapenos I went through. I was glad I had frozen a quart ziplock's worth last summer with peppers from our CSA share.

 

Oh, No - Another Learning Experience!

by Dave MichelFebruary 10, 2015

"Oh, No - Another Learning Experience!" was the bumper sticker on the SUV I followed home from Whole Foods today. I was looking in vain for garlic chives ("don't carry it anymore") and vegan bread ("you mean 'certified vegan'?") This is how many of my cooking projects go, at least a little bit. Truth be told, I substituted regular chives for garlic chives in the Szechuan Salmon, and it still tasted good. But I'm not sure I'm up to baking my own vegan bread, though I might try it just to see.

These first couple of weeks (I'm counting the last week of January) have been filled with learning experiences. I've tried three different popover recipes - Alton Brown (not enough lift), another one that was awful enough I threw out the recipe, and the official Osterizer recipe my mom uses (see tennis-ball-sized results on right, with a cork for scale). I've got until Saturday to find a way to Popoverville (and Eggs Benedictburg). [More than three recipes have been tried, and the event has already happened. I still haven't gotten the results I want, so I think it's me (technique). I'm not giving up though - updates forthcoming as I experiment more.]

Happily, there have been more surprising successes than setbacks. Pretty much everything done using the grill as a smoker has so far been fantastic IMHO, including smoked salmon and pulled pork (watch out, Barbecue People). The Mexican rice recipe I used last Saturday was a real keeper - great texture - and the rice was just as good the next day. And my family, our guests and the dog have all been very well behaved and appreciative. 

But right now, I have very little energy left for yet another learning experience in the kitchen. So I'll just have some Oreos and think about something other than food for a while.

 

 

Event 2 - Pistachio Crusted Szechuan Salmon with Oriental Vinaigrette

by Dave MichelFebruary 9, 2015

I facetiously called this event "Norway's Szechuan Province", since the main dish is an interesting mashup of Atlantic salmon and East Asian flavors (both Sichuan and Japanese). Throw in boiled potatoes, an Asian-inspired stir-fry salad and traditional Norwegian desserts, and you've got a whole lot of tasty confusion.

Around 4:00 pm, Kris suggested that I make a checklist again, and I realized a couple of steps in that I would have some previously unanticipated resource issues - not enough burners on the stove (I needed two simultaneous pans going for salmon for nine). I quickly rearranged the order of things, making the potatoes first, the salmon second, and the stir-fry salad last. Since the sauce for the salmon is made in the pans, I could plate the salmon and then make the sauces and stir-fry salad at the same time. It worked great, actually, with the potatoes staying nice and warm in their pan.

Click for larger image

The guests had the same kind of reaction Kris and I did when we first had this salmon dish at Tour de France so long ago - what a great combination of flavors.

Click for larger image

Rosettes and Almond Cake both came out well (the second time around - I guess that's why I'm practicing).

The only thing I'd change about this meal is to somehow get the pistachios to adhere better to the salmon. I recall a lovely, delicate and crunchy crust at Tour de France. Maybe next time I'll do an egg white wash to see if that could take the pistachio texture to the next level.

About the author

Dave

Dave is a recording engineer, musician and software developer in Minneapolis. He's found that a cooking sabbatical is more work than normal life.

Month List