Preparing the Grills

I do my grilling over charcoal or wood, as opposed to gas. I’m not really a snob about it, I get the appeal of gas – it’s convenient, it’s cleaner, it takes less time. Still, the ritual of preparation has always been a part of what I enjoy about cooking.

(In the early days, when cooking was unusual for me , I’d make a point of offering small portions of each ingredient to the little spirits that live in my hearth, hoping they’d help with even cooking. It typically worked, but of course, so does practicing the craft until you have less need of supernatural assistance.)

Working with the fire goes something like this: I’ll haul two grills into the driveway, a large Brinkmann and a Weber kettle. Two chimney lighters get filled with Cowboy Charcoal, and I’ll tear some paper from the charcoal bag to stuff under those chimneys. The chimneys go onto the Weber, over the ventilation holes, and I light them up with a match or butane lighter.

While the coals are catching, I scrape the Brinkmann grill and empty the old ash from the bed. That goes directly into the trash bin, which is why my garbage can is streaked with white and grey most of the time.

I’ve come to recognize the signs of lit coals – if the smoke is very slow, the coals probably haven’t caught yet and the paper fuel is just smoldering. That will happen if I’ve wadded up too much paper into too compact a ball, or if the wind isn’t sufficient to really catch it. On a good day, the smoke will come out of two or three areas of the chimney, indicating several lit sections, and within ten minutes the air above the chimneys should be shimmering with heat.

At that point I’ll bring out my oven mitt, tongs, spatula, meat thermometer, and grill spray. Once the coals are ready to go (usually for my purposes, this means there’s medium levels of ash on the uppermost coals and the bottom coals are bright orange) I’ll dump them into the Brinkmann bed. Again, for my purposes, I usually want between two and four dozen coals.

Using a three-tined garden tool, I scrape the coals into a bed about one square foot in diameter. If I’m grilling indirectly, make that two beds, one on each side of the grill. Once it’s heated for a minute or two, I’ll either spray it with the aerosol (Weber makes a version that’s safe to use over live fire. Don’t use regular spray!) Or, if I’m working with meat, I’ll take a chunk of the fat from the meat and use tongs to rub that all over the grill instead.

After that it’s just a question of standing over the fire with a drink in hand, watching and waiting. Most often I’ll close the lid to increase the heat, unless the items need a lot of attention. My flank steak’s the worst for that – between the fats, the marinade, and the proximity of the heat, it causes a lot of flare-ups which are part of the charm.

How do you prep for outdoor cooking? I’m always curious about other people’s food.

The Nocker Chef: Thanksgiving 2013

SO … last year, I decided to assume a new persona while cooking the Thanksgiving feast.

There’s a roleplaying game I’ve always loved called Changeling: The Dreaming. Elevator speech: Faeries are alive in the modern world, though they’ve taken on Changeling human forms to avoid detection. Each type of faerie has its strengths and weaknesses. I’m going to pull from the White Wolf Wiki:

Nockers are the artisans among the Kithain, able to craft the stuff of dreams into whatever they desire. Their creations are always flawed, however, and their knowledge of this curse makes them irritable and quick to anger. Nockers are master artisans. Their skill and inventiveness are legendary; so is their cynicism and bitterness. Typically, they are highly critical of their rulers and eminently sarcastic to the people around them. Most nockers dislike having to deal with “imperfect” things, including people.

I never played a Nocker, but always wanted to – specifically, a Nocker Chef. Someone with every gadget under the sun you’d need in a modern kitchen, and with the temper of your modern celebrity chefs.

I gave into the temptation and tweeted all day. I think I got more attention on Thanksgiving 2013 than I ever have before, and Jenn Brozek suggested I should collect the tweets for posterity.

So why share it now?

Well …

Easter is coming.








I think we’ve ALL had enough.

FAMISHED: The Cookbook – Sweet and Sour Pork

I love Chinese food like the sun loves the Earth – I want to keep it ever close to me, never let it go. Sadly, my wife doesn’t share my lust for Chinese – or at least, she wants to be sure it’s good Chinese, which is difficult to find in our immediate orbit.

ssporkThen last night, she asked if I could come up with a sweet and sour pork recipe.

Can I? CAN I?

I don’t know if I even repeated the question before I was in the grocery store for fixings.

That said, I’m a bigger fan of Sichuan than Cantonese dishes. I like heat, whereas she wanted something sweeter than my typical fare. I checked a few online resources before finding Bee’s advice at Rasa Malaysia – using plum and worcestershire sauce in place of the glommy staple of orange juice. I didn’t have any plum sauce on hand, so I substituted chili paste which would add some sweetness while also adding the spice I crave.

Here’s the recipe, in order of prep work and suggested timing. Stir fry is always tricky at first. Just remember, when cooking the vegetables, the densest materials go in first, followed by those which are more delicate (such as mushrooms) or which you want to stay crunchier (celery, asparagus).

  • 1 lb pork tenderloin (cut into 1″ cubes)
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • garlic & ginger to taste

Mix all ingredients and marinate, refrigerated, for 1 hour.

  • 4 Tbsp water
  • 4 Tbsp ketchup
  • 2 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 Tbsp chili paste (I use sambal olek)
  • 1 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar

Whisk all ingredients together for the sweet and sour sauce.

  • 1/2 red pepper, cut into 1″ strips
  • 1/2 green pepper, cut into 1″ strips
  • 1/2 onion, cut into 1″ wedges
  • 1 lb asparagus, cut into 1″ diagonal … stalk things
  • 3 ribs celery, cut into 1″ diagonal slices
  • 1 can water chestnuts

Heat wok over screaming high heat until water flicked into the surface sizzles and evaporates.

Coat wok with sesame oil and cook pork tenderloin until done through, about 3-5 minutes.

Remove pork and add vegetables in the order listed, each for 1 minute’s time – garlic and ginger, peppers, onion, asparagus & celery & water chestnuts (so the aromatics for 4 minutes total, peppers for 3, onion for 2, etc) stirring constantly.

Add pork back to wok with vegetables and mix in sweet and sour sauce, stirring to coat. Serve immediately with crispy chow mein noodles and scallions to top. Jasmine rice is your best choice for a serving bed, as it holds tighter to the sauce than noodles.

Beginner’s Mind: My Own Recipe

It’s established that I adore cooking, but I’ve always been a recipe man. I like to have things written down and planned out.

Oddly enough, it was my day job in software quality assurance that made me question that – a teacher who told us “Step by step removes your curiosity and actually makes your testing less intelligent. It dulls and blinds you.”

I realized that I agreed, for the most part. So, armed with two books – Tom Colicchio’s Think Like a Chef and Page and Dornburg’s The Flavor Bible, I braised bone-in short ribs for the first time last spring. However, I didn’t write anything down, and so the resulting deliciousness was not repeatable – until last night!

So now, I’ve, um … well, I’ve given you a step by step recipe. Which you should totally deviate from!

Famished: The Ribs
Serves 2-4

2 lbs bone-in beef ribs
2 Tbsp ground fennel
2 Tbsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground ginger
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 cup olive oil
1 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sake (rice wine)
Juice of 1 orange

Step One: Preheat the oven to 325°.

Step Two: Blend all the spices and garlic together into a flavoring rub (using your fingers works best).

The rub should be well-blended by hand. You may want to dice the garlic more finely.

The rub should be well-blended by hand. You may want to dice the garlic more finely.

Step Three: Trim away any excessive fat caps or cartilage from the ribs, and rub the meaty sides with the spice mixture. It’s not necessary to rub the bone.

Hee hee hee. Rub the bone.

The ribs have been rubbed, for right or wrong.

The ribs have been rubbed, for right or wrong.

Step Four: Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof Dutch oven, large enough to hold all the ribs at once.

When the oil is shimmering, place the ribs in the oil, meatiest side down. Allow them to sear on all sides. Again, it’s not necessary to sear the bony side.

DO NOT overcrowd the pot when searing! The meat will steam, rather than sear. Sear in batches if need be.

It's not necessary to be brown all the way through. We're looking for a nice, crisp sear on the main portion of the meat, not to cook it through.

It’s not necessary to be brown all the way through. We’re looking for a nice, crisp sear on the main portion of the meat, not to cook it through.

Step Five: Remove the ribs to a plate and pour the broth, sauce, sake and orange juice into the pan. Use a spatula to scrape up all the delicious brown bits.

Step Six: Replace the ribs in the Dutch oven and check the liquid levels. You want the liquid to be almost, but not quite, covering the ribs. I put the ribs meaty side down this time – I’m going to try the other way next time. It’s possible the fat will baste the food more effectively that way, but it’s also possible that the meat will dry out.

Liquid should never cover the food entirely when braising!

Liquid should never cover the food entirely when braising!

Step Seven: Cover the Dutch oven and put it in the regular oven for 1 hour.

Step Eight: Check liquid levels. The fat should be beginning to add to the liquid, so you may be fine. Add broth and sauce as necessary and cook for another hour.

The completed ribs. Note the "jacket" of cartilage around some of the bones - this was unappetizing, and I'll probably trim them more effectively next time.

The completed ribs. Note the “jacket” of cartilage around some of the bones – this was unappetizing, and I’ll probably trim them more effectively next time.

Step Nine: When ready to eat, the meat will be falling off the bone. You should be able to slide them cleanly out with a minimum of effort.

Save the bones for art projects! Amuse your friends! Terrify your enemies!

Save the bones for art projects! Amuse your friends! Terrify your enemies!

I served these once with wild rice and blanched green beans, and the following night with pan-roasted brussels sprouts and rotini pasta. Since the meat itself is so thick and creamy, you want to have vegetables with some crunch to them and a carbohydrate that will hold onto the sauce and work as a delivery mechanism.

Oh, and one more nice touch – if you’re cooking on a snowy day, take the orange peels, fill them with birdseed, and set them outside.

Sing, O bird, of the mighty Simurgh!

Sing, O bird, of the mighty Simurgh!



FAMISHED: The Cookbook – Honey Jack Kansas BBQ

Honey Jack Kansas* is adapted from the Sweet-And-Smoky BBQ Sauce from Steven Raichlen’s great book, Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades.

It went well with braised chicken thighs** on a pretzel roll with homemade Carolina slaw.

2 cups ketchup
3 Tbsp firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/8 cup honey + 2 Tbsp
1/8 cup molasses + 1 Tbsp
1/8 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp Jack Daniels whiskey
1 Tbsp chili arbol powder
1 Tbsp whole-grain mustard
1/2 Tbsp liquid smoke
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
Coarse salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine all ingredients in a heavy, nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Note the ketchup will spit.

2. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until dark and thick, about 30 minutes. Stir at every bubble.

4. Transfer to clean jars and refrigerate, or mix immediately with meats. Will keep a few months.

* – Honey Jack Kansas is also the name of my next Weird Western character.

** – Salt and pepper 2 lbs chicken thighs.
Sear in Dutch oven stovetop.
Remove thighs, add 1/2 shredded Spanish onion, sautee till translucent.
Deglaze pan with chicken broth, scrape up delicious brown bits.
Add thighs, cover Dutch oven, put in oven at 325 degrees for 90 minutes.
Shred thighs with forks, cover in BBQ sauce, return to oven (uncovered) 10 minutes.

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