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Thursday, May 31, 2012


In my travels, I have learned this simple fact the hotter the climate, the spicier the food. It took me a while to understand why people who are hiding from the heat and trying to stay cool and refreshed would want to recreate the sun's surface in their mouths. As I tried more and more spicy foods, I realized I sweat more, I drank more and I was more refreshed from the endorphin rush in the sweltering energy sucking heat. This is the exact thing I should have been doing to cool down and keep myself hydrated during the summer inferno. Humans find amazing counter intuitive ways to survive. We as a species are amazing!
Here in Arizona where I call home, it is set to be a blistering *112F by days end, and every year at this time I question if this place should be condemned as uninhabitable for human existence. Nevertheless, I call it home and can and will find ways to keep cool. One way is to through some cool foods that keep you from slaving over the flames by preparing cold foods that not only stimulate your taste buds but can help lower that core temp. It is amazing that mother nature knows what we need during this time by providing some awesome seasonal fruits during this sweltering season in the form of juicy fruits and crisp veggies. 
Foods in the calescent areas of the world are spicy but usually not hot in temperature. Most of these foods blend the sweet and cool, with the spicy heat. The perfect balance of the two can play a gastronomic jig on your tongue that will have you begging for more. Here in the states the mix of salty, spicy and savory and sweet fruits have not ingrained themselves in the culinary repertoire of most Americans, but we are coming around to these delights. Here are some great ideas you should try poolside or in your home;

Melon and Prosciutto- try cantaloupe cut into thin wedges and wrap with a thin slice of prosciutto, it is mind blowing!

when I lived in Mexico and Central America, during the summer heat there was always an abundance of tropical fruits mixed with lime or lemon juice and sprinkled with salt or mouth melting chili powder or a mix of the two. Try Cold watermelon cubes and jicama cubes tossed with lime juice and chili powder and sea salt. also works with mango and papaya.

Strawberries with vanilla ice cream topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar glaze, cinnamon, and a dash of salt.

Spinach salad topped with cubed peaches Gruyere cheese dollops and a lime juice, cilantro, olive oil vinaigrette; Place juice of 6 limes with 1/4 bunch of chopped fresh cilantro in your blender and blend until thin paste slowly add oil to your blender with a dash of salt and pepper until emulsified consistency of dressing, serve immediately.

Pears, strawberries and bacon fruit salad
cube pears and strawberries into large chunks and mix in dollops of marscapone cheese and bacon crumbles-mmmm

Now get out there and make yourself a cool drink and one of my favorites listed above, and as always if you need help preparing any of these or need more ideas or recipes feel free to ask in the comment section below, and as always…

Monday, May 21, 2012

Check out my rack!

Continuing on with my BBQ theme for the summer, I though I would give you some tips on how to save your some money on some of my favorite eats! Ribs!!!
I continue to see people go to these national BBQ chains and pay as much as $20-$30 for a rack of ribs when you can head on over to your meat purveyor or butcher or even your local grocery story and buy a full rack of pork spare ribs at a fraction of the cost. Now I know, you are probably saying "Chef Dave, I don't have to cook them or prepare them, or I don't even know how to cook them!" well, if you have read my blog before, you know that I am trying to get you out there cooking quality food for your family with quality products for the betterment of your health and wallet, and get you and your family to have a great time doing it. Build yourself some memories by creating a family food culture and you will inexplicably change the palates and hearts of your family for generations.
Now lets talk about these precooked, vacu-packed ribs you are paying out of the wazoo for…First most of these ribs are prepared with a solution or a curing brine full of nasty things that make you think you are are eating the most juiciest ribs you have ever had. These preservatives are not even close to the fat rendered low and slow cooked BBQ ribs that burst with REAL and natural flavor of the pork and smoke and spices. We all are coming to think that good cooking is fast cooking, that a rib sandwich made of quasi-meat and who knows what else from that clown infested drive through is what BBQ should taste like, and my friend it is a sad day when we pass this ignorance to our children. we can do better for them and for us. Let me get off my soap box and get to the real thing.
Pork spare ribs come in a variety of ways at your local meat purveyor. Thanks to a great song and a horrible product in my opinion that establishment that sells "chili", everybody is hog wild over baby back ribs, but IMHO there is more meat for your money with a pork spare rib rack. The spare ribs can come as such or labeled as "St. Louis" Style. St. Louis style is a cleaned up, tip trimmed, fat trimmed version of pork spare rib racks. It is a bit more labor intensive for the butcher and in turn costs a ton more for the same cut of meat. With a little know how and a sharp knife you can have your self a st Louis style rib or if your like me and love those rib tips  keep them on there along with the fat that will render during the cooking process and make those ribs fall off the bone juicy. If you would like to make this style rib rack, hit me up in the comment section for more details on how to complete this task.
When you have your ribs in front of you washed and patted dry, you will find that there is a thick skin like membrane on the back side of the ribs. this membrane will shrink up and turn to inedible leather if left on and prevents any rubs and spices to permeate the meat. It will have to be removed. The easiest way to do this is, take a dull blunt object like the handle end of a metal table spoon and insert it between the membrane and the rib meat on one of the last ribs in the rack. gently pull up until you can take a paper towel and grip it with your hand, and slowly peel it away, until all of the membrane is removed.
Now that your ribs are ready for some flavor, here is where you differentiate what region or style you would like to have your ribs. If you are a Texas style BBQer, you are gonna go for salt and pepper only, smoked slowly over mesquite wood. if you are a st. Louis style you are gonna rub and sauce over maple or apple, if you are a Kansas City style you are gonna dry rub and mop and indirect smoke low and slow over Hickory. a simple dry rub you can make at home in bulk that works well with both chicken and pork is as follows:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup paprika
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
Smoke your ribs at *225F-*260F from 3-6 hours making sure they reach a temperature of *145F
Once they have reached this temp, take them off the grill and use what we call in the business as the "Texas cheat", by placing them in aluminum foil and pouring a couple of ounces of apple juice or water and then wrapping them tightly for an additional hour. This will provide the moisture and the juiciness of braising to your ribs.  or you can return to the grill after saucing with your favorite sauce to caramelize the sugars in the sauce. watch carefully as not to allow them to burn. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes once off the grill and cut between ribs to serve. Mix it up and try Teriyaki rib with Japanese spices or even Mexican spice rubs with a mango salsa. Serve with your favorite sides. Don't forget if you need ideas or have questions don't forget to ask in the comments below. And also don't forget to…

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pollo by the pool

Since we just celebrated Cinco de Mayo or the celebration of the victory at the battle of Puebla (in Mexico and not Mexican Independence day) This shared Mexican and American holiday brings up a wonderful culture of Mexican cuisine, and since my theme this summer is outdoor cooking, I think Pollo, chicken in Spanish, has a proper place in Grilling Epicness.
Many of us fear two things when cooking chicken; Burning with fires caused by dripping fat, or , not cooking enough and giving all your family and guest salmonella.
I think these two go hand in hand due to the unlucky few who make these easily corrected mistakes when cooking chicken on the grill.
When getting your charcoal or gas grill ready, make sure you cook chicken by the indirect heat method, meaning not putting your chicken right over the heat source. "But Chef Dave what about those beautiful grill marks that look so appetizing?!?!" Do not fret Mr. have to have all your food look like it came from the pages of Gourmet or Food Arts, you can still sear those grill marks into your chicken on the hot side and move it to the indirect side to finish cooking and soaking up that grill flavor (smoke if you are using lump charcoal and wood chunks, which I highly recommend) This cooking method give you the safe oven method and the yumminess of cooking over flames all the while keeping the dripping fat from igniting and turning your chicken into a scorched yet raw piece of carbon.
Now on to the flavor! There is a reason everything nondescript and bland tastes like chicken, because to me that's what chicken tastes like if cooked without a little help from herbs, spices and marinades.
Poultry that has to stand up to a high heat and retain moisture and has a low fat content like a most white meat on poultry could benefit greatly from a soak in a brine. This not only helps to keep the moisture in the meat in but also allows it to be flavored from the inside out through osmosis.
Many have been jumping on the brined turkey bandwagon during thanksgiving, but never stop to think that the same process can help the chicken they eat all year round.  The wonderful thing is they have been grilling chicken and grilling it over mesquite and other woods in Mexico for years! And this Pollo preparada is some of the best chicken I have ever eaten. Now the Mexican grilled chicken joints are national chains here in the US from this same age old process, you can make this amazing chicken right on your grill with some simple steps.
The Brine; I use this formula, adjust the amount ratios based on how much chicken you are cooking and make sure the chicken parts are completely submerged
one part apple cider vinegar
two parts orange juice (cheap stuff is fine)
one part lime juice
3 parts cold water
half part salt
add adobo powder*, cumin, cut limes halves, black peppercorns, and garlic powder to taste.
Allow to soak in the refrigerator, in an airtight container (I like to use freezer bags with a container underneath to prevent leaks) for a minimum of 6 hours
*adobo powder is a seasoning mix of spices and salt that is readily available in most supermarkets, Goya makes a great version that contains cumin. Can be used with seafood, fish and pork also, usually yellow in color

Grill until the meat is firm and has reached an internal temp of  *165F, I prefer to buy chicken on bone with skin intact for more flavor but with the brined chicken even boneless skinless breasts stay moist.
Serve with corn tortillas and a mango or a green tomatillo salsa!
So lively up your pain old chicken and enjoy the summer sun, PROVECHO! (enjoy in Spanish)
If you need any assistance with cooking or for more detailed recipes and questions feel free to ask in the comments below, and remember…KEEP IT REAL, KEEP IT FRESH, AND KEEP IT SUSTAINABLE!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Steak to my heart!

Is there anything better than the smell of a good steak searing and smoking away? There are very few smells that can melt my heart, and steak has this mystical hold over mine.
I am a strong believer in the philosophy that the meat should speak for itself. What I mean by this is no BBQ, steak, or marinade sauces need apply when enjoying a good steak. Even a heavy rub can ruin or cover the gory that is the god given natural flavor of the meat! (sorry for all those veggies that read, this one is gonna be brutal for you)
Man has been smoking meat over open flames for hundreds of thousands of years, and I think we really have not been able to fulfill our carnal desire for better than the combination of meat, flame, and smoke. The years and evolution of flavoring our meat with sauce, and spices does well to satisfy that urge somewhat but the fulfillment of desire by this age old combination has yet to be toppled.
That being said, lets get to the three main ingredients, MEAT, FLAME, AND SMOKE;
I will speak of beef in this blog, but many of these same methods and ideology, can be applied to most meats and game, including Pork, Fish steaks, wild game, elk, moose, deer, bear, and all the likes of meats that can be identified as steaks that lend well to a good searing and smoke.
There are many different types of steaks that come from the bovine, and many have sworn a blood oath to one or the other claiming that theirs is the best for the grill. I will share with you my opinion, and why. It is my opinion and I suggest going out and trying many different cuts and see what your mouth and belly declare is the best.
My choice for the best steak on the grill is the grass fed Ribeye steak bone in. It is also known as the Delmonico Steak.
First lets start at the actually cut and marbling before I get on my soap box. The ribeye comes from between rib 6 and 12 and is a cut well known for lacy marbling as well as white cap fat.
Look for a steak that is well marbled with small streaks of fat that is laced between the muscle fiber. This fat renders into a liquid keeping the meat moist and flavorful. It also keeps the fibers of the meat separated into a looser bound steak making it more tender and in turn easier to eat. This cut also tends to have larger pockets of fat known as white caps. This type of fat usually does not entirely render or melt into the meat but does provide flavor just as would the bone if attached. Many do not like having to cut around big hunks of fat in the middle of their steak but I find these fat caps usually help to make a fork tender steak and removing the fat easily with the fork is worth the flavor pay off.
Now I step onto my soapbox….the organized industrialized meat products that we find in many grocery stores rarely if any resemble the way meat tasted, or was raised and ate what it used too 100 years, less than that 50 years ago. The natural state and diet of a meat animals has drastically changed in that time to consist of feedlot, over-drugged, corn only fed, and frankly abused and mistreated animals in my opinion. Bovine are natural grazers. They are naturally made to forage and thrive on grasses and wild grains. Much of the flavor comes from an animals terroir and affects on its fat contents and flavor are drastically changes if the diet changes, especially and adversely, if that diet consists of an un-intended and un-natural diet. I am also a believer that the stress in an animals life also adversely affect the end product. The most flavorful and most health benefitting beef products I have tasted have been from grass fed, non stressed animals. The marbling is incredible and more yellow in color, and renders much more easily with much less white cap fat. It is worth the extra cost knowing your animal will taste better living a healthier, more environmentally sound, and less stressed sustainable life.
The flame I feel should also have a less processed flavor to it. If you use cheap chemical filled, lighter fluid soaked charcoal, guess what that steak will taste like? Yep, like you dipped it in a gas can. I like to use natural wood lump charcoal started in a chimney starter without the use of any type of fuel excellerant except newspaper. It light relatively quickly and evenly to red embers, and lump burn a little hotter than briquettes. Smoke would come from water soaked wood chips placed on the hot embers to smolder and smoke. Different breed of trees provide different flavored smoke. I am a fan of mesquite for a more bold peppery smoke that lends itself well to southwestern flavors and also Applewood and Hickory for a more silky almost sweet and savory flavor traditionally used in slow and low BBQ. You can mix it up or try different variations of the many types of wood and soaking liquid, like rum, whiskey, and wines added to the water.
To create those restaurant style sear marks point one tip of the steak in the direction of the front corner of your grill and once seared  make a quarter turn to face the opposing front corner, flip and repeat. Also depending on the thickness of your steak you may want to create a indirect heat area on your grill or a safety zone where you can move the steak in case of a flare up or to finish cooking to your desired doneness. and NEVER, I REPEAT NEVER CUT INTO YOUR STEAK TO CHECK FOR DONENESS!!!!, Always check the doneness of your steak by touching the center of the steak to check for firmness. The firmer the more done and cooked it is.
Make sure you allow your steak to rest  for a time on the plate off the grill. when fibers in meat are hot they tighten up and squeeze all the juices and moisture out. Allowing your steaks to rest, allows those fibers to loosen and in the interim suck up some of juices lost on the plate, making for a more moist and tender steak. There are many cuts of steaks and many ways to prepare them, if you would like to know more or have a question feel free to comment below for recipes and side ideas or if you need help finding a meat purveyor in your area, let me know. The only dumb question is the one that is never asked. Now get out there and make your family and friends proud!