Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Fine Art of BBQ: A Weekend In Memphis

I always believed that nobody could BBQ better than my brother Terry so I never took the time to learn.

Enter Lee Ann Whippen, The Queen of Q and Winner of Food Network’s Bobby Flay Throwdown” for best BBQ. I was first introduced to Lee Ann at Chicago Q – one of my favorite brunch spots in Chicago. I was so impressed that a woman could have a BBQ resume and Pitmaster title like she did I was suddenly on a mission.
I bought a smoker and although I did not like the fact that I had to constantly feed it with charcoal and water all day, the results were amazing.

I went to Memphis to learn more about BBQ. Weeks before I had met a Championship team from Ubon’s at the Chicago Restaurant show who inspired me even more.

I talked to a lot of the teams and met a judge who gave me the inside scoop on the politics of a major cookoff and, interestingly enough, also predicted the winner of this year’s cookoff: Yazoo's Delta Q…another woman who has obviously mastered the art of the Q and never looked back.

So what did I learn?

Filipinos cook it faster…

Why can they do a whole pig in 5 hours (over an open pit that’s why) and the rest of the world puts it on about 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon and takes it off about 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning? What happened to that low and slow wins every time?

I tasted it and have only one thing to say: Filipinos really know how to do the Q.

It’s Expensive…

Invest $25,000+ in equipment and $15,000+ just to be there and win bragging rights.

Is this big, fun loving family passionate or just plain crazy?

Timing is everything…

One Pitmaster told me that they hit all the marks and their timing was absolutely spot on. They didn’t make the finals.

So what is the recipe to a perfect Q?

Experience v High Tech…

You can buy the equipment that uses a microprocessor chip to calculate and control the pit temperature so that the selected meat temperature is never exceeded but no matter what you use, nothing can take the place of experience.

Like anything else, practice makes perfect. Know what looks, feels and tastes textbook.

What do the Judges know?

After awhile you learn that the judging process is so irregular it’s best not to devote too much emotion in the scores.

So I didn’t when both my favorite teams did not place.

What Are The Basics?

Sea salt, black pepper, red pepper, apple cider vinegar and dark brown sugar were the ingredients mentioned the most.

Where Do Pitmaster’s Go To Brush Up On Their Skills?

Many of them swore that going to Texas reminded them how little they really knew about smoking.

Central Texas will defiantely be on my next Q101.

What is The Best Cut of Ribs?
A loin back rib is KING. The loin back is from the backside which has less fat and much more meat.

Memphis Style?
Chefs rub the meat with spices and let them marinate overnight. It’s a dry cooking process as opposed to a wet one. If sauce is served, it is on the side.

The Secret to Cooking Ribs?

Dry rub then five hours on the smoker at about 225—250 degrees.

So what did I think when I tried it this weekend?

Although the meat was literally falling off the bone, I like Ribs better on the grill. Maybe because I grew up eating them that way.

Conclusion: Pork Shoulder for the smoker and ribs for the grill.

Bon Appetit!

Memphis...Fire Up The BBQ, Turn Up The Music and Pass the Oysters?

Memphis has deep roots in both jazz and Southern food.

When I was in Memphis, Lisa Marie Presley was there recording her new album at Sun Studios where her father recorded back in the 50’s along with Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. 

Any time of the day or night, you can wander down to Beale Street, an almost 2 mile stretch of blues clubs, and catch a live performance, order drinks from one of the many street bars, or hit up one of the area restaurants for BBQ coated in dry rub, fried Catfish or Chicken, hushpuppies, cornbread, grits and gravies. Memphis is a great taste of Southern.

Beale Street has an atmosphere that is absolutely New Orleans. I met two women on the trolley that go down to Beale Street once a week and have since their early twenties. One of them just turned seventy.Speaking of cars, we didn’t need a car in Memphis. The street car’s are $1 a ride and stretch from one end of the downtown to the other.

Traveling down to the Memphis World Championship BBQ Cookoff, I thoroughly expected to overload of BBQ. I did but I also had the best fried chicken I’ve ever had (Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken - Crispy and not the least bit greasy) and Chargrilled Oysters (Pearl’s Oyster House) that were so good, I had a second meal and ate the entire plate all by myself.

I couldn’t wait to get home and try them in my own kitchen.

So this is what I did because I remembered every bite while I was eating them…

Start your grill and let the coals grey out. You will cook these oysters on very high heat.

Shuck the oysters.

Mix soft butter and sweet chili sauce. Cover the oysters.

Cook over high heat for about 3-4 minutes.

Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the oysters and cook a few more minutes until the cheese is brown and the oysters curl.

After thoughts:

These were DELICIOUS! I really liked the sweet chili sauce and am almost certain that is what Pearl’s used.

I put too much cheese on them. You want to just cover them.

These need to go under a broiler for a minute or two to brown the cheese. The grill just didn’t cut it.

The Urban BBQ Diet

Where can you get a sandwich that packs in as much protein and is served up on a mini-bun?

The Urban BBQ’s mini sandwich is just $3.00 a pop and is the best way that I know to keep on the healthy eating track.

I’ve lost 8 pounds since I made this my every day lunch.

Bon Appetit!

Farmer’s Market Saturdays

I really enjoy going to the Farmer’s markets on Saturday. I value the vendors as much as I do buying the just-picked fruits and vegetables.

Is it cheaper to buy at the Farmer’s market a friend asked me the other day? …

Absolutely. The produce is so much fresher (It doesn’t pass through that gigantic food chain) and it lasts for weeks as opposed to days.

I spoke to a vendor last year who had just picked his produce the day before it was sold at market. You can really taste the difference.

Farmer’s Markets…I say it’s like growing your own vegetables without all the work.

Last week, I discovered the guys from Cookies and Carnitas, a new vendor at the Green City Market.

They do a Roli Roti (the famous San Francisco Porchetta Sandwich maker) making them an instant hit.

Their pork had a bit more fat but so much more flavor.

Cookies and Carnitas chips are made from Nichols farm potatoes and are rendered in Becker Lane Bacon fat. I can’t imagine a more delicious combination.

Bon Appetit!

A Week of Healthy Recipes

Here is my meal plan from the week. All of these recipes were really good and low in calories and fat.

I’m eating healthy as I often do when the weather turns warm.
Sometimes if I plan my meals, I do much better. Other times however, I like to go and buy whatever it is that I am in the mood to eat that day.
Sometimes the best laid plans get sidelined by a dessert.
Bon Appetit!
Meatless Monday
I also made this when I smoked ribs and it is the perfect combination by itself or paired with pork.
Tomato Fruit Gazpacho
Adapted from Cooking Light

2 C finely chopped tomatoes
2 C finely diced honeydew melon
2 C finely diced cantaloupe melon
1 C finely chopped fresh pineapple
1 C finely diced nectarines (about 3)
1 C finely diced seeded peeled cucumber
1 C fresh orange juice (about 4 oranges)
½ C finely chopped Vidalia onions
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped

Mix and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve with French bread.

Tuesday – Chicken
Chicken with Clementine Salsa
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

4 5-ounce chicken breast halves
4 clementines, peeled, diced (about 1 cup)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1/2 cup finely diced celery
½ cup finely chopped bell or roasted peppers
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 serrano or jalapeno chile, seeded, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup fresh clementine juice (from about 6 clementines)

Place chicken breast halves between 2 sheets plastic wrap or parchment paper, spacing apart. Using mallet, pound chicken to a uniform 1/4-inch thickness.

Mix clementines and next 9 ingredients in medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Salsa can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover; let stand at room temperature.

Uncover chicken; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until slightly browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to platter. Add clementine juice to skillet; boil until reduced to 1/4 cup, stirring often, about 2 minutes.

Drizzle sauce over chicken. Spoon salsa over and serve.

Wednesday – Beef

Skirt Steak With Chimichurri Sauce

2 cups chopped parsley
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 pounds skirt steak

Light a grill. In a bowl, mix the parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and crushed red pepper; season with salt and pepper.

Season the skirt steak with salt and pepper and grill over a hot fire until the meat is charred on the outside and rare within, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a carving board and let rest for 5 minutes. Thinly slice the steak across the grain.
Serve right away, passing the chimichurri sauce at the table.
Thursday – Pork
Asian Pork Chop
1 tbsp Black Bean Sauce with garlic
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp fennel seeds

1 pork chop (bone in)
Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 450 degrees. In a bowl, combine bean sauce, sesame oil and fennel seeds.

Season both sides of the chop with salt and pepper.

Spread bean mixture on both sides.

Bake 10 minutes, turning once, until cooked.

Friday – Fish

Maple Soy Salmon
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (NOT pancake syrup!) or honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
2-3 cloves minced garlic
12 ounces fresh salmon

Combine the first 3 ingredients in a gallon-size ziploc bag, shake it up, and then add the salmon. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for an hour, turning after half an hour. Pour the salmon and the marinade into a baking dish and bake in a 350 degree oven, covered with foil, for 15 minutes. The salmon is done when it flakes easily at the thickest part. Enjoy!
Makes (4) 3 ounce servings.
Saturday – Chicken
Chicken Vesuvio
2 large potatoes , quartered 
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (3 lb.) broiler fryer chicken, cut up
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup small peas

In 12” ovenproof skillet, heat oil and whole garlic over medium high heat 4 to 5 minutes till garlic is golden. Remove from skillet. Add potato and cook 15 minutes or until golden, turning often. Remove and pat dry.

Add chicken, skin side down, to hot oil. Brown slowly over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Turn chicken skin side up and season with oregano, garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Add wine to skillet and return potatoes and garlic to skillet.

Place skillet in 400 degree oven and bake, uncovered, 25 minutes or until chicken is done. Add peas with 5 minutes left on the timer.

Makes 4 servings.
Sunday – Fish

Scallops and Capellini

1 pound sea scallops, quartered if large
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 fresh tomato, quartered
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped green onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 small dried chipotle chile with seeds, stemmed and chopped
Fine sea salt
1/2 pound capellini

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a large shallow glass or ceramic baking dish, toss the scallops with the oil, wine, tomato, green onions, garlic and chipotle. Season with salt and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the oil is sizzling and the scallops are firm.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the capellini until just al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain; transfer to a serving bowl.

Add the scallops and their juices, toss well and serve immediately.

Detroit: Michigan Avenue's New Spots

I haven’t been to Detroit for a long time but was fascinated by this month’s Food and Wine feature on the new restaurants on Michigan Avenue in Detroit. Made me want to take the first flight in just to check them out.

This cake recipe is from Jessica Hicks of Astro Coffee.Grinding whole almonds makes such a difference instead of using store bought almond flour.

I loved the flavor of this cake. I would grind the almonds down more than I did so the cake has a finer texture.

I would also use a little more confectioners’ sugar in the glaze as mine was a bit thin.

Almond Cake With Lemon and Crème Fraiche Glaze

1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the pan
1 cup unsalted raw almonds
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup instant polenta
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon minced rosemary
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup crème fraîche


1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Make The Cake 

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter an 11-inch springform pan.

Spread the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 4 minutes, until they are slightly fragrant. Let the almonds cool completely, then coarsely chop them. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until they are finely ground but not pasty.

In a large bowl, whisk together the ground almonds, flour, polenta, baking powder, rosemary, lemon zest and salt. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk, combine the eggs and sugar and beat at medium-high speed until tripled in volume, 10 minutes. With the mixer at low speed, add the crème fraîche, then drizzle in the melted butter just until incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg mixture into the dry ingredients in 3 batches. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make the syrup

In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar and lemon juice and boil for 5 minutes. Let cool.

Set the hot cake on a rimmed baking sheet and pour the syrup evenly over it. Let the cake cool completely. Remove the side and bottom of the pan and transfer the almond cake to a platter.

Make the Glaze

In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, crème fraîche and lemon juice until smooth. Spread the glaze all over the top of the cake. Let stand until the glaze sets slightly, then cut into wedges and serve.

This was an instant hit on the menu at Slows BBQ.

Use the grilled onion recipe with the hot sauce and beef broth on other sandwiches as it really had a wonderful flavor.

 I used Applewood Smoked Bacon and coupled with the smoked Gouda, it made a positively winning burger combination.

Smoked Gouda and Bacon Burgers With Sweet BBQ Sauce

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
One 1-pound onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup Frank’s RedHot or other hot sauce
1/4 cup beef broth
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Eight 1/2-inch-thick slices of firm white bread
8 slices of thick-cut bacon
3 ounces smoked Gouda, shredded (1 cup)
1/4 cup Sweet BBQ Sauce
2 pounds ground beef chuck (20 percent fat), formed into 4 patties the same size as the bread slices

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the sliced onion and a pinch of salt, cover and cook, stirring a few times, until the onion is crisp-tender and just turning translucent, 5 minutes. Stir in the hot sauce and beef broth and remove from the heat. Season with salt.
Heat a large griddle. Spread the butter on 1 side of each bread slice and griddle buttered side down over moderate heat until toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer the toasts to a plate. Add the bacon to the griddle and cook over moderate heat until crisp, about 4 minutes per side; drain on paper towels. Wipe off the griddle.
Season the beef patties with salt and cook on the griddle over moderately high heat until medium-rare, about 2 minutes per side. Top each burger with 1/4 cup of smoked Gouda and cook until the cheese melts, 1 minute.
Set the burgers on the unbuttered sides of 4 toasts. Top with the bacon, onion and Sweet Barbecue Sauce. Close the burgers and serve, passing more barbecue sauce at the table.
You can make this recipe for Sweet BBQ sauce or you can cheat like I did and use Ubons BBQ Sauce.
Sweet BBQ Sauce

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup apple juice
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until richly browned, about 20 minutes. Add the butter and melt. Add the ketchup, brown sugar, apple juice, lemon juice, ginger and molasses. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced to 2 cups, about 25 minutes. Transfer the sauce to a blender and puree. Season with salt.

Two New Treats...and both of them Italian

It’s so much fun to stumble upon ingredients and these two just happened to be Italian.


If you are sweet on cherries like I am then the Italian Amarena Fabbri brand is totally worth the extra money. They were so delicious on this bowl of homemade vanilla ice cream. These amarena cherries are honestly the most enjoyable I’ve ever had.

I know people that swear by them. They are the only cherries they will use in a mixed drink and recommend they always be used in place of ordinary candied cherries.

Spicy Taralli:

A snack food of Italy like a breadstick or a pretzel, taralli can be sweet, savory or spicy. These Tatalli were spicy with a little red pepper flake in them. I bought these from the gal at Crumb Bakery at the Green City Market.

The package mentioned that it would be good with a glass of wine so the power of suggestion forced me to open a bottle of my favorite red. How's that for an excuse?

Bon Appetit!

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Rainy Memorial Day? Move It Indoors…

I don't know if it's going to rain for Memorial Day. They keep changing the forecast but don’t cancel your annual BBQ because it’s raining. Move it indoors.

I made this DELICIOUS Veal Chop tonight and it was cooked in my Le Creuset grill pan. Cast iron does an amazing job of evenly distributing heat so that everything is cooked perfectly.

Heat the pan on high with a little oil, sprinkle the 1” Veal Chop with ground sea salt and pepper and put it in the pan when it is almost smoking. I cooked it for 4 minutes on each side.

Honestly, this was as good as the Veal Chop I had at Ruth Chris’s recently and pay a small fortune for. Most Ruth's Chris Steak Houses use grills burning at approx. 400 degrees. The signature 'crust' is a combination of higher heat cooking and thicker cuts of meat. This is the same method I used earlier this month to cook the perfect 2” steak.

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Beale Street and BBQ

Thursday, May 17, 2012

We're Off To The Memphis World BBQ Cookoff

Here’s some of the best BBQ we’ve pulled off the grill and to celebrate?

Ubon’s BBQ Sauce in a perfect Bloody Mary.

Stay tuned because we’ll be sharing all the secrets that we learn from the best BBQ chefs in the World.

Bon Appetit!