Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Hard lessons of mastering a grill

Picking up right where I left off last time, we are still in National Barbecue month.

Light up the grill and pop open a brewsky!

My whole family enjoys cooking on grills. My brother practically grills dinner every night. Not sure if he REALLY loves grilling or hasn’t figured out how to use an oven yet, tsk, tsk.

We used to have huge family get-togethers that centered on a barbecue grill or pit. Tall tales were passed along by our elders as they downed tall brews. Seemed the more beers they drank the bigger that one fish, crab or hog (fill in the blank) was that got away.

Back in the day, my dad and uncle were cigarette smokers. They would be busy prepping the pig, rib or beef. They took special care in mixing the rub and massaging it into the meat. All while a cigarette hung from their lips, ash dangling from the cigarette. I would stare at them, hoping the ash didn’t fall in the food, and wondered how long the ash would get before it fell.

Thankfully, the ash didn’t hit the food, and both men soon quit smoking. And the meat would always be cooked to perfection. The ribs would simply fall off the bone. The brisket would stay tender and juicy. The roasted pig, cooked in a pit in the ground, always had the crunchy, toasty skin while the meat was moist and delicious.

They were my ultimate grill masters. I wanted to be just like them. I never had a problem when it came to mixing the perfect rub or making an awesome marinade. Grilling, however, was a whole different monster.

When I was old enough to get my first apartment, I bought a small round grill that fit nicely on the balcony. I bought charcoal, lighter fluid and stuff to make burgers. I didn’t know a thing about grilling and dumped nearly the whole bag of charcoal briquettes into the tiny grill. I squeezed on far more lighter fluid than needed, and nearly burned off my eyebrows when I lit the grill. At first, I thought I lit the balcony above me on fire. I also tossed the burgers on too soon. The flame was too intense and those suckers ended up burnt, dry and tasting of lighter fluid.

I spent a week scrubbing soot off the balcony. If memory serves, dad helped me repaint the patio. Of course he got a kick out of it at my expense.

Based on that experience I learned the proper way to light the charcoal. I learned it needed to burn for a while before tossing on the meat. I was careful and experimented until I got things just right.

I’m now a charcoal grilling beast!

So when I moved into my first house, I upgraded from charcoal to a gas grill. I didn’t know a thing about liquid propane.

Guess where this is going?

YEP! I turned on the gas and went inside to gather items, came back out and then pushed the ignitor button. The grill top had been closed the whole time.

KABOOM … POOF… HUGE BALL OF FIRE … hair singed on head and arms, and that grill could still be on the moon.

It didn’t take long for me to go back to the store to get a charcoal grill. Well after I nursed my wounds, that is.

Years later, I ended up working for a natural gas and propane company (go figure?) and learned about my error.

Of course my dad just laughed when I had told him what happened. He also reassured me the hair would grow back. However, he did confess that he prefers a charcoal grill because he had a similar experience with gas. Guess he didn’t know either and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Have a Mexican barbecue this weekend

May is upon us. It means the colder weather will soon be behind us (Are you listening Mother Nature, because lately you’ve been flipping the hot and cold switch far too often).

It also means Cinco de Mayo is around the corner and, better yet, it is NATIONAL BARBECUE MONTH!!

Heck yeah!

Likely two of my all-time favorite things food-wise (well besides my love of Latin food and sushi and just about everything else), Mexican food cooked on an outdoor grilling and served with a tall tequila-laden margarita.
I plan to make the most of this weekend’s Cinco de Mayo by grilling some skirt steak and a pork shoulder so I can make enchiladas, burritos and tacos, for like days and weeks to come.


I marinate the steak and pork the day before grilling so they can soak up some Mexican flavors. I typically use a taco seasoning pack, some mojo, lime juice, cilantro paste, a dash of apple cider vinegar, minced garlic, ground cumin and a spicy barbecue sauce that has either chipotle pepper flavor or jalapeno flavoring (or I add chopped jalapenos into the marinade) and some salt and pepper. I mix that all together and place the marinade into two zip lock bags, adding the steak in one and the pork in the other. Zip them shut and let them chill overnight or at least a few hours, if marinating the day of.

Light up the grill and cook the pork until the internal temperature is at least 165 degrees. Cook the steak to your liking, which for me means medium rare.
When the pork is ready, I like to hand pull the meat apart. I use the pork to make pulled pork tacos topped with spicy chipotle barbecue sauce (I use Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Chipotle sauce) and cole-slaw.

I slice the steak into thin strips and use that for burritos or enchiladas. I stuff the burritos with the steak, grilled onions, cooked black beans, Mexican white cheese and slices of avocado.
My side dish is Mexican street corn. I saw this on a show once and had to give it a shot. This is not my own recipe but the typical ingredients you will see in most recipes you find.

Grill four ears of corn on the grill, turning often for even char and cooking. Mix together half cup mayonnaise, one and a half cups of sour cream and a quarter cup of fresh chopped cilantro.
When you pull the corn off the grill, slather it with the mayo-mix, add a squeeze of lime juice then top it off with grated Parmesan cheese.

Another side option is skewered grilled shrimp basted with cilantro and garlic sauce. Take some lemon juice, olive oil minced garlic and finely chopped cilantro and mix it together. Let the shrimp sit in the mixture for a while before grilling. Keep basting the shrimp as it cooks for awesome flavoring. Spice it up with some hot sauce, if that is your thing.

Both sides are scrumptiously awesome.

Finally tie the whole meal together by making a pitcher of margarita. You need lime juice, tequila, triple sec (or any other orange flavored liqueur) margarita salt, glasses or just one big straw.

MIX AND DRINK. That is all you need to do.

That just takes care of this weekend. National Barbecue Month is going to keep me busy.

I get a hankering for a slab of ribs whenever I start cleaning my grill for the season. I can picture those ribs being served with a side of fresh made potato salad.

Hmmm, sounds like my next foodie column is already a work in progress.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Songs for us foodies

“On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese
“I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed….”

Ah, all the old and mostly lost (thank goodness) nursery rhyme songs about food from my youth. That one was a classic and I can still recall all the lyrics even today. If you listen to the rest of the song the meatball rolled on the floor, out the door, into a bush and turned into mush that the songwriter apparently TASTED.
The rest of the meatball eventually grew into a tree the next summer all covered with beautiful moss and spewing forth big meatballs and tomato sauce.

It sounds like this song writer might have tasted a few magic mushrooms, if you ask me.

But a huge bowl of spaghetti with meatballs all covered in Parmesan cheese would really hit the spot right now.
The music industry has a long history of songs inspired by food or about food that people may not realize. Many food songs are geared toward children.
Growing up I can recall a ton of children’s songs that were used to teach us basic things like counting or our ABCs. Most of them centered on food and the importance of eating fruits and veggies. I grew up singing the “Ice Cream Song” and the “Apple and Banana” song. I learned all about the letter C from the Cookie Monster on Sesame Street. A lot of these songs were played during kindergarten and the first year or so of elementary school.

They molded me into being the foodie I am.

My all-time favorite childhood foodie song was from the 1934 classic film, starring Shirley Temple called, “Bright Eyes.” In that film Temple sings “On the Good Ship Lollipop.”

I mean, come on — sweet tooth NIRVANA — look here are some of the lyrics:

“On the Good Ship Lollipop
It’s a sweet trip to a candy shop
Where bon-bons play
On the sunny beach of Peppermint Bay
Lemonade stands everywhere
Crackerjack bands fill the air
And there you are
Happy landing on a chocolate bar”

Hello, Who doesn’t want to land on a chocolate bar? I have a huge fear of flying but if I knew I would be crash landing on a chocolate bar at a place where bon-bons play and the beach tasted of peppermint, I would punch my ticket and fly first class.
There are also plenty of foodie songs geared toward older listeners

I loved listening to Elvis Presley on my dad’s eight track tape player (right now, millennials are scratching their heads). He had a food inspired lullaby called, “Cotton Candy Land,” where every star is a candy bar and the moon is a marshmallow dream.


The Beatles’ classic hit, “Strawberry Fields Forever” was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It was inspired by Lennon’s childhood memories of playing in the garden of a children’s home in Liverpool called Strawberry Fields. I used to play to this album on my brother’s record player (again millennials scratch). I could picture running through miles and miles of strawberries.

It wasn’t until I was older and watched the music videos (thanks to YouTube, millennials do understand this) and read the lyrics that I realized this song was likely more about the Beatles on a psychedelic trip than a field of sweet red fruit.

The disco, punk rock and grunge eras of the late 1970s through 1990s typically used food references to mean something other than food. Warrant’s “Sweet Cherry Pie,” is not about pie, for example. Same can be said for many hip hop songs.

But there were many songs made that were true foodie songs.

ZZ Top sang about TV dinners, “I like the enchiladas and the teriyaki too. I even like the chicken if the sauce is not too blue.”

Okay the blue sauce doesn’t sound appetizing but back in the day TV dinners were da bomb.

There is even a song that is just about eating pizza and tacos at the, “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” which sounds like a great place.

The best of all the Southern foods are beautifully articulated in the Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried.”
“You know I like my chicken fried and a cold beer on a Friday night,” the song starts. And continues to talk about pecan pie, sweet tea and homemade wine.

Best food song ever!

And there are just as many songs about the perfect libations that should accompany every great meal. But that is a whole other article.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Hankering for hogfish at the Hogfish B&G

I’ve been craving a perfectly fried hogfish sandwich, the one you can only get from the Hogfish Bar and Grill in Stock Island, Florida.

You’ve never heard of hogfish? You’ve never been to the Hogfish Bar and Grill? You are truly missing out!

Listen, this place is worth a weekend trip just for the ambiance, but when you add in the fresh seafood, it is a must do destination if you’re planning a trip to Key West.

Stock Island is a slip of land that serves as an entry-way to Key West and hosts some of the last commercial fishing fleets on Safe Harbor. The seafood at the Hogfish is literally hook-to-cooked, and outside patio dining allows you to take in the breathtaking scenery and sunshine.

The hogfish is a funky looking sea creature with a long “pig-like” snout. It uses this snout to root up crustaceans from the ocean’s sediment. Crustacean is the hogfish’s main diet. Because of its funky snout it is rare to hook a hogfish on a regular fishing line. Most hogfish are caught by spearfishing.

While the hogfish is not the prettiest thing on the outside, it is the inside that matters when it comes to taste and texture. Hogfish fillets are white like scallops because of their clean diet. The meat is mild and perfectly flaky once fried. Hogfish is often called the fillet mignon of fish. Even folks who shy away from fish are likely to enjoy it.

At the Hogfish Bar and Grill you can have your sandwich served fried, grilled or blackened. The sandwich is served on Cuban bread and the fish is smothered with Swiss cheese, onions and mushrooms.

It is mouth-watering good! I’m seriously considering the 12-hour drive (one-way) just to sink my teeth into one. I might as well call in sick for the rest of the week and go ahead and gorge on the rest of their awesome menu.

The fried hogfish tacos are great, but the blackened tuna tacos are out of this world fabulous. The grill has the best smoked fish spread in all of the Florida Keys (actually they have the best smoked fish spread I’ve ever tasted anywhere) and delicious soups and chowders. One of the cooks hails from New Orleans, so when you order a po’boy or gumbo it is the real deal.

If you manage to catch a few yellowtails or other fish during your trip, the diner will even cook your fresh catch of the day!
This place is where the locals go to eat, and it stays free of all the kitschy tourist stuff you find in most Key West eateries.

If I had to compare it to places I’ve discovered here in Georgia I would say the Hogfish Bar and Grill is like the Sunbury Crab Co., Old School Diner and Hunter’s CafĂ© in Shellman Bluff all rolled into one.

All these places feature down-to-earth friendly people, eclectic decor and ambiance and fresh seafood.
In other words, you’ll be sure to savor the BEST SEAFOOD EVER at Hogfish. And if you have any room left make sure you try a REAL KEY LIME PIE. You won’t be disappointed.

Do you ever find yourself craving that one place you used to visit often? Drop me a line and let me know. I might go check it out during my next food excursion. Email me at: pattyjane65@aol.com

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Living the spud life

Let’s talk about the diversity of a potato.

I mean there are red potatoes, Yukon gold (fancy term for yellow), russets, white and even purple varieties. Literally there are thousands of varieties.
And just think of all the possible yummy foods you make with potatoes. French fries, mashed, scalloped, twice baked, hash brown, potato salad and even soup recipes come to mind when contemplating how to plate up tubers.

And let’s not forget how vital potatoes are in making vodka and other alcoholic beverages.

Cheers to that!

But did you know spuds are used in a variety of other ways?

According to the International Potato Center (yep a real organization with a website), potato starch is used by the pharmaceutical, textile, wood and paper industries as an adhesive, binder, texture agent and filler.
Some of these companies make wood products containing potato by-products.
That gives new meaning to the term home-fries doesn’t it?

Those potato peels we often discard are biodegradable and companies are now using them as a substitute for plastics in such things as disposable plates and utensils.
If it were up to me I’d add bacon to that and make those plates edible too, further eliminating any waste.

In Canada potato peels are fermented to produce fuel-grade ethanol.
I wonder if that keeps the car engine from SPUDdering!

Okay, I’ll stop with the bad puns, for now. Let’s get back to food shall we?

Any potato variety works when making French fries. A trick I learned from Guy Fieri (no I don’t know him personally. I just happen to watch all his shows on Food Network), is to cut the potatoes into fries and toss them in a bucket or bowl of cold water for at least an hour. This removes excess starch from the spud, preventing them from sticking together while they fry. It also makes for a crispier fry.

I find that red potatoes stand up better in soups and stews. They will soak up the flavors, but not fall apart.
I like using Yukon and russet potatoes when making mashed. After boiling I add some butter, heavy cream (instead of milk), a little bit of sharp cheddar, chives and a dollop of sour cream and mash away.

They are hard to find, but if you can get purple potatoes and you have a mandolin in your kitchen, you can make some truly amazing potato chips.
I leave the peel on and ALWAYS use the mandolin guard to avoid slicing my fingers. The kitchen mandolin is a great tool, but that blade is no joke and completely unforgiving. But it creates uniform and thin slices, perfect for homemade chips. After frying I prefer to sprinkle the chips with Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning. It make the chips stand out and pop with flavor.

My out-of-the-box potato creation is a layered chili potato. I cook this a lot when I have leftover chili.
I’ll bake a few potatoes the night before making this recipe and let them chill overnight in the fridge. The next day I cut the potatoes into half-inch thick round wedges and fry them until they are crispy. I place some olive oil in my cast iron skillet. I lay down a layer of the fried potatoes, top with cheese, chili and bacon bits. Then add the second layer of potatoes and repeat. Place that in the oven at 375 degrees and cook for about 15 minutes.

It warms the heart and fills the belly for sure. What’s your favorite tater recipe?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

That’s a wrap

Some of the best foods come in wraps. We typically call them burritos, but don’t limit your thoughts to merely Mexican food.
Although that is my favorite one-handed grab-and-go meal; tangy and spicy beef, chicken or bean (or a combo with all three) beautifully wrapped in a flour tortilla, a perfectly bundled package of yumminess.

But the wonderful thing about a burrito is that you can turn just about anything into one. It’s all about the wrap.
Whether it’s a flour, wheat, spinach or corn tortilla, once you place food in the middle and fold, you’ve got a burrito.
There are hundreds of possibilities. I love making scrambled eggs with spinach, hash brown potatoes and crispy bacon for breakfast. You lightly heat the tortilla on a flat skillet, fill with all the breakfast goodies, fold and eat.

Lightly heat a tortilla on one side. Once warm turn to heat the other side while sprinkling the top with a little cinnamon and sugar. Remove the tortilla from the heat. Add sliced pieces of pre-cooked pancake, top with a smidge of syrup and fold.
Completely scrumptious!

Instead of a boring Ceasar salad on a plate, place sprigs of Romaine lettuce sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and cooked chicken in the middle of a spinach tortilla. Top the salad with your favorite dressing and fold.
Healthy, quick and delicious.

Barbecue pulled pork, topped with creamy coleslaw wrapped in a corn tortilla and then grilled in a flat pan until lightly brown is far better than having the pork on a bun.

Cook a hamburger patty. Once done chop it into small chunks. Place the meat on a flour tortilla, top with lots of cooked bacon and cheddar cheese. Fold the tortilla tightly and deep fry until the tortilla is crispy and light brown.
Best burrito-berg ever!

Cut your favorite candy bar in half (lengthwise). Freeze the candy overnight. Wrap each half in a tortilla. Drop it in a deep fryer for a bit. Place it on the plate and sprinkle the top with cinnamon and sugar (powdered sugar works good too) for the best dessert burrito.
I could probably turn any meal into a burrito. Especially if I have to eat on the run. The secret is keeping all the good stuff inside the tortilla.

I like to make sure the ends are properly tucked and folded preventing any spills.
With your tortilla stuffed with goodies, place your hands at the 3 and 9 position (like o’clock) of the tortilla and fold them toward the center. Fold the tortilla over the fillings and tuck as much food under the filling as possible. Before making the final fold, tuck each corner toward the center one more time. Finish rolling the tortilla toward the end.

Done right all the good stuff stays inside.

Eating should be an enjoyable experience. Go ahead and play with your food. Experiment and explore your taste buds.
I’m heading into the kitchen now. Going to take my leftover mac-and-cheese, top it with bacon. Wrap it up and fry it for lunch.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Which came first the chicken or the beer? Who Cares when serving this great recipe

The first time I heard of beer-can chicken, I thought, “Why in the world would you sacrifice a can of beer in that manner?”

I mean, it’s bad enough you’re wasting precious beer but shoving the can up the bird’s innards too, jeepers!

Well a few years later and a bit wiser when it comes to food, I must confess that if you’re going to sacrifice a brew, this is likely the best thing to use it for. And if you don’t feel comfortable sticking an aluminum can up the bird, they now have cooking kits you can use.
I’m a purist though. Just give me a good can of beer and that will do. No fancy equipment required.

Beer-can chicken is actually easy to make. You marinate the chicken however you wish. Open a can of beer and pour 1/3 of it into the roasting pan. Place the open can in the center of the roasting pan and slide the chicken on top of the can. I like roasting my chicken anywhere between 375-400 degrees and usually 90 minutes does the trick (it depends on the size of the bird).

If you don’t want to pour some of the beer into the roasting pan, just drink a third of the beer, if you have self-control. I don’t, so it’s usually one can of beer for the bird and one can for me.

The beer keeps the chicken moist and imparts flavor. This same technique can be done outside in a covered gas or charcoal grill.
I’ve found that darker beers or stouts are great for making barbecue flavored beer can chicken. It adds a woodsy flavor profile that blends well with the smoke from the grill and the barbecue sauce.

When I make my rosemary and garlic beer can chicken, I rub the bird with butter (on the skin and pushed under the skin), the herbs and spices, but I also add sprigs of fresh rosemary and a few whole garlic gloves into the can of beer. The beer steam blends with the herbs and spices and that gets infused into the meat.

If you don’t want to use beer, you can substitute chicken broth. My friend used a blend of chicken stock and orange juice, which was fantastic.

But you can’t call that beer-can chicken! That would be more like chicken-broth/orange juice chicken, cooked in the fancy equipment pan thingy.

Some people call beer-can chicken, drunken chicken and I can live with that.

But for me drunken chicken is when I cook chicken on the stove top, douse it with some bourbon and light it up, creating a thick sauce on my bourbon glazed drunken chicken.

I have, on occasion, used a spray bottle filled with bourbon to make my oven drunk beer-can chicken. Same steps as regular beer-can chicken but every 15 minutes I open the oven, carefully slide out the bird, spritz the chicken with the bourbon (then spritz my mouth with the bourbon) and place it back in the oven to continue cooking.

That’s my bourbon sprayed beer-can chicken recipe. I think I’ll call that two-sheets to the wind drunken beer-can chicken from now on because by the time it’s done I am usually done too.

Anyways give beer-can chicken a try and let me know how it tasted.