Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Summer Simplicity

As the days get warmer, the call of the cookout beacons. Here in the states the All-American cookout, seems to always include the ubiquitous hamburger and hot dog.
There is something wonderful about a summer day filled with swimming and cool drinks and a juicy burger or dog, coming together in memory making alchemy.
The simplicity and innocence of the experience can be marred when you think of the fear of not knowing what is in that burger or tube steak, and all the thoughts of ammoniated by-product fillers and radiated nitrate filled nether parts ground into pink slime and stuffed into a quasi-tube form. It makes me shudder, when I think of it, my degree in Biology, doesn't seem to help qualm my fears either.
Nevertheless, we can enjoy these foods without fear and regret. By understanding the origin of your food and how it was handled. One way is to buy quality meats from a trusted source. Buy meat that has been sold at a higher standard of quality checks and regulations than set by your government.  Buy local, buy fresh, buy organic. Head over to your local butcher and ask questions about farm origin, who he buys from, does he grind his own, meat grading, and fat and filler content. If he has an issue answering any of these question, head on down the road. Don't buy meat prepackaged or frozen, more then likely it came frozen from an industrial style factory that would never have the consumer best interest in mind.  
Get hands on! Buy loose unpacked ground beef and make your own patties. There are more and more health food stores like Sprouts than can provide great quality options, and are great at answering questions.
The hamburger is simply not just a hockey puck of ground beef. There are many things to consider fat content, texture of grind, mixes of different cuts not only from beef but of pig, lamb, chicken and turkey, also fillers and spices. Your meat purveyor or butcher can customize a grind and mix for you, usually at the same price as the market value of the meat or you can get the burger you want and mix in a bowl at home.
I like to use a fat content of 20%-30%, for a juicy succulent burger. I like to hand pack them into burgers that are not too thick, since these larger burgers don't seem to cook to the proper temp before they fall apart and dry out due to being on the heat for so long.
Different cuts of the beef lend themselves to a greater array of beef flavors. for example, brisket, loin, and skirt steak grind mix lend the perfect melt away fat of the brisket, the meatiness of the loin, and the beefy flavor of the skirt steak.
A mix of meats such as adding ground pork or lamb to a beef burger, provides more of a gamier more, robust flavor profile to my burger. Each of these meats can stand alone as healthier options alone.
Don't just season the outside of your burger, the goodness comes from within. While mixing your ground meat add the spices and seasoning to the meat. these flavors will meld with the meat prior to cooking and will flavor it when cooking. You also use less spices, due to the excess not falling off or burning away, while cooking. I let my sides, condiments/cheese, cooking method and type of meat dictate what spices I use. For example if I intend to use BBQ as a condiment when making my burger I can add more pork to the meat mix and use a BBQ rub as my spice. If I intend to put some charred green chiles and jack cheese on my burger I will use garlic and cumin or green chili powder in my burger mix. Mushrooms I will add some lamb, rosemary, finely dices red onion and a dash of red wine vinegar to my burger mix, the possibilities are endless! Not to forget those veggies, a stemmed balsamic marinated portabello mushroom spiked with garlic shards topped with Gruyere is the best grilled sub for meat ever, I could eat these everyday!
When it comes to the (as one of my chefs used to call it) Tube Steaks or as we like to call them here in the states…Hot Dogs, I tend to always go kosher and in its natural casing. Kosher hot dogs seem to come from cleaner establishments and tend to be less processed and have less fillers and less nasty bits that make up the dogs composition. My favorite tubesteak is in the form of linked sausages. When I buy sausages, I usually conform to the same standards I have ground meat, since it is essentially the same thing in a natural casing. The casing is quite important in my opinion, one it proves that the texture is meaty and thick enough that it would need it or it would fall apart from being to juicy (which is a good thing) as opposed to the cheap pink fingers of meat paste that we tend to try and pass as a hot dog. The second is that that casing crisps up and provides that wonderful snap when biting into it. Try making an Italian with grilled onions and bell pepper topped with provolone and banana peppers or something as crazy as a bacon Sonora dog. You can go wrong with the American mustard and relish. I am a Chicago dog fan myself with the addition of celery salt, pickle spear, tomatoes, sport peppers and diced onion.

Now get out there and grill up some summer memories for your family and friends…and ladies the grill is as much your domain as it is his so show him what you can do! Dont forget to comment or ask me questions, recipes or hints on how to make your summer a lot more yummy!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Smoking Summer!

Here in Arizona we are already expecting *100F weather for the next week or so. The Pool has been cleaned and ready to go. The BBQ is always at the ready and the cover has been dusted and folded up until the end of the summer (or the next haboob!) I have a stack of dried aged mesquite, just need to stock up on some Lump Charcoal and Hickory, buy some pig, and we are off to a great summer!
During this season, the only way to deal with the festering inferno I call my home state, is to make good food, cranks the tunes, and stay cool in the pool. That is why for the next couple of months I will be focusing on some great ways to take your  hot cooking adventures outside, Keep the cool stuff inside and give you some great tips on seasonal fruit and veg to make summer, from  bummer to a yummer!
Lets focus on some things you will need to make this summer great!
The BBQ, the pit, the grill, the beast, fire cooker, barbie, asadero, smoker, or hibachi, what ever you call it, humans have been cooking over flames since the dawn of time.
Now I know there are rabid aficionados (myself included) that would say that grilling is not BBQ, and others (including myself) who could talk your ear off about open pit smoking, offset smoking, cast iron v.s. rolled steel, to sauce or not, vinegar or tomato or both, pig v.s. beef or both, baby back, short ribs whole hog or Boston butt. The maddening schools of cooking outside can turn your brain inside out, and will never be settled as long as humans exist.
My thought is if you are cooking with passion and enjoying what you are doing and you are not eating processed, fast food and celebrating your food culture and others, then all the better. I have many opinions and have studied the art that is BBQ. I will and can give pointers and tips on how to smoke, grill, BBQ, purchase equipment and wood throughout the summer. Ask me anything!
I think if you haven't been out to the back of the house to see what you got back there or if it works now is the time. Check your pit to make sure it is clean enough to eat something cooked in it, make sure nothing is living in it;) next once it is clean make sure it works and will continue to throughout the season. If you are using gas (LP(propane) or NG) make sure you have no leaks in your gas lines. Best way to check is get some soapy water and a pastry brush and brush your lines with the soapy water while the tank or the line is attached and turned on, if you see reoccurring bubbles you have a small leak and you should repair or replace your lines, also make sure your burners and venturi in the grill are clean and unobstructed and light and stay lit properly.
If you are using a charcoal pit make sure you didn't leave any old ashes in it, if you did, clean them out and make sure rust hasn't affected the integrity of your pit.
Once clean, to insure against rust on the inside season your grill. spray the bottom and lid of your grill lightly with veg oil and turn the burners on high and close the lid and allow to heat and smoke but not burn. This will provide a thin layer of burned in oil that provides rust protection and seals the metal.
Make sure you make yourself an outdoor kitchen set up of sorts, so that you wont have to run in and out of the house for this and that. small tables for prep, Chairs for relaxing, maybe even a radio or ice chest for  tunes and refreshment. Make yourself ready and comfortable and enjoy being outside.  Make sure you are stocked up on charcoal, wood, gas tanks are full, and proper utensils are within reach, also keep a small extinguisher at the ready, near the grill, just in case.
Now that you are ready, begin to think of the wonderful meals you will cook and go make them happen! Tune in for great recipes and ideas coming your way right here, and don't forget to ask how, what and where to get great food ideas.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

try try again!

So it has been awhile since my last blog, so those who were asking, sorry it took so long. I have been battling a virus in our family and it overtook our daughter and put her in the hospital, she is doing better. Since then, I was taking one of those silly Facebook quizzes about how many of the 100 food you should eat before dying, and I was proud to say that I have had the wonderful opportunity to try 94 of the 100. it got me thinking about food culture and the fact that I am always preaching to continue the traditions and family recipes, but never thought that it can also hinder you if you stay in that food culture comfort zone.
Many of my family and friends grew up eating home cooked meals that were of the all American meat and potato, casserole and pot roast. These meals are wholesome and comforting and way better for you than the processed fast food, boxed, preserved, chemical ridden frankenfood that a lot of us eat today. But The comfort of that food may lull you into a zone in which you think all food is weird or foreign, and you end up eating in a cycle that only allows you to eat different variations of the same ingredients.
I was one of those kids growing up who ate anything just to try it. I experimented with different foods and flavors and did not feign from food that were different in color, texture, smell, or shape. I loved mixing my sodas, and cereals, or even mixing different things into my cottage cheese and yogurts, from fruits to salsa, to skittles. I loved the mix of salty and sweet, sour and sweet, and even spicy and sweet long before I knew the cultures that thrive on them. I was the kid that noticed that the different leaves in my salad tasted different depending on shape and color, and how much sweeter ripe fruit was or how wonderful the smell of fresh cut cilantro smelled, and how it reminded me of fresh cut grass.  I was the "what the heck is that?!? I must try it!!!" kid.
I haven't changed much. I have been blessed to have been able to travel extensively and eat and study food cultures in many places, and much to my chagrin I never get tired of it, although it has bit me hard a couple of times in the digestive track area, but that is part of the adventure.
We must find our own food cultures and welcome and partake in others cultures. I have heard that the one thing that will unite us in the end is a well cooked meal and how universally it makes us feel. It can sustain and comfort us. Joy and excitement. Intoxicate with contentment and makes us feel at home no matter where we are. It can qualm the bitterest of enemies, and make you fall in love.
So get out there before it's too late, and start your adventure and taste life one mouthful at a time....
Keep it real, keep it fresh and keep it sustainable!

Chef Dave