Yesterday was Grilled Lasagna day. It was an all day event, but so worth it!
I followed a recipe from the Big Green Egg cookbook. Reading this recipe was like reading the tax code. The recipe was three pages long on its own, and it included two internal references to other recipes in the book. In order words, one of the steps was “mix in the roasted red peppers (recipe on page 175).” So there’s no way I can replicate the recipe here. I’ll just give you the general idea.
This recipe called for an absolute bounty of yummy vegetables.
There they are, ready to be grilled! I had a great time shopping for these vegetables.
The first step was to prepare a roasted tomato sauce.
I started with two pounds of Roma tomatoes, plus a few tomatoes from our garden. I sliced the Roma tomatoes and tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper.
The tomatoes fired on the egg at 400 with garlic cloves roasting in olive oil.
Flip after a few minutes.
After the tomatoes cooled, I chopped them and simmered with garlic and some other spices. The tomatoes cooled, then I blended with fresh basil for a nice tomato sauce.
Next, I prepared a Mornay Sauce. This is a whole-milk based sauce with parmesan cheese. Yummy.
At this point, I’m about ready to be done with the stove! But there’s one more inside step: wilting some spinach.
OK, with all that work done, it’s time to head outside to grill some vegetables! I quartered all the vegetables, brushed with olive oil, and dusted with black pepper, sea salt, and garlic salt. Since the vegetables didn’t all fit on the grill at once, I started with the squash (since it would take the longest), and added the zucchini and eggplant.
I sliced all the vegetables. The peppers and mushrooms took their turn next while the squash kept cooking. After I grilled everything, I sliced it up and tossed it with the wilted spinach.
A quick side note here about grilling vegetables. The Big Green Egg cookbook tells you to peel tomatoes and peppers after grilling. I’m not a huge fan of the peeling. Part of the reason you grill the vegetables in the first place is to get the char, right? That said, you don’t want too much charcoal skin in your tomato sauce or your lasagna. So I take a middle ground on peeling. If the charred skin separates easily, I will go ahead and remove it. If not, the char goes right into the dish.
After you’re done grilling the vegetables, set the Egg for indirect cooking and reduce the temperature to 350.
Next, it’s time to layer the lasagna. I cooked my lasagna noodles a few hours earlier and kept them separated in a pan by lathering them in olive oil. We layered the noodles with vegetables, tomato sauce, and a ricotta / goat cheese / basil / thyme mixture. The Mornay sauce goes on top, with some mozzarella cheese.
After 45 minutes at 350, the lasagna is ready to eat! Yummy!
This was a grilling success. We actually had enough of everything to make a second mini-lasagna. I’ll be eating lasagna all week!
I’ve been semi-obsessed with honing my pork shoulder skills in the last few months. I guess part of me feels like I won’t be complete until I can consistently crank out a solid pork shoulder. Plus pulled pork is cheap and it always makes for good eating, so why not go for it?
But I think there’s more to my pulled pork obsession than my drive for legitimacy. I’ve been putting my pork shoulder on the Big Green Egg early in the morning, rather than late at night. I’ve come to realize that I derive perverse enjoyment from rising at 5 am on a Sunday to play with my Egg.
I’ve been an early riser since before I can remember. When I was a toddler, I would apparently get up before dawn and rummage through the bread drawer for stale hot dog buns. Later in my childhood, I would watch G.I. Joe at 6 am with the sound off. I had to be sneaky since I wasn’t allowed to watch that show. In middle school, I would wake up an hour early and read a book until it was time to get ready for school. In junior high, my dad would sometimes take us ice fishing. Even though I didn’t really like to fish growing up, there was something magical about waking up before dawn in the middle of winter and going ice fishing.
My early rising tendencies have continued into adulthood. In fact, I’ve started drafting this post in a hotel room in New Jersey at 5:30 a.m. because I’m all out of whack from taking the red eye yesterday and I can’t sleep. So when I have a free Sunday, I look forward to setting my alarm for 5:00 and puttering with my Big Green Egg. It’s just a part of who I am.
Last Sunday I gave it another go. My biggest challenge recently has been my fire. I’ve lost my fire a couple of times along the way each of the last two times I’ve smoked a pork shoulder. I finally got it right this time.
Previously, I was relying on a very detailed fire-building technique posted by a prominent BBQ blogger. To protect the innocent, I won’t name names here. Maybe I was doing it wrong. Maybe I missed a step. But for whatever reason, it just wasn’t working for me.
I had a breakthrough when I attended EggtoberWest. First, the folks at EggtoberWest filled my BGE with way more charcoal than I usually use. This was an eye-opener. Of course it makes sense – I was losing my fire because I wasn’t using enough charcoal. So this time I piled the charcoal in, all the way to the top of the fire box.
(Sorry, I didn’t take any pictures of the fire building process. Not on my radar screen at 5:00 a.m.)
Second, I received some good advice from my new friends at Dixie Q. It seems like everyone recommends starting your fire in the middle of your pile of charcoal. This is what I was doing. However, this technique caused problems for me because the fire would burn through the coals in the middle of the egg before it reached the coals on the edges. No good. The folks at Dixie Q recommended splitting one fire starter into four small chunks and placing the chunks in a diamond formation in the charcoal. Another brilliant idea.
In the end, my fire performed admirably for a nice, long, 12 hour smoke! My pulled pork was better than ever.
I’m still not ready to post details about technique, although I’m honing in a good North Carolina-style product. I will give you a “recipe recap” on my fire building technique, though!
A good, solid fire is very important when smoking low and slow. Here is my fire building technique.
Start by giving your BGE a good, thorough cleaning. Remove all the old charcoal from the fire box and clean all the ash out of the bottom of the BGE. But don’t stop there. If you haven’t done so recently, you should remove the fire ring and the fire box from the BGE and clean out any charcoal that was stuck between the firebox and the walls of the egg. You want maximum airflow for this fire. (Note: check out the components of the BGE here if you’re unclear about the difference between the “fire box” and the “fire ring.”)
After you reassemble your egg, fill the fire box to the top with charcoal. Open the bottom vent. Split one BGE fire starter into four pieces and place them in a diamond formation in your charcoal. Light the fire starters.
After the fire starters have been burning with a high flame for a 5-10 minutes, and when the charcoal near the fire starters begins to burn, put the Plate Setter in place and close the top of your Big Green Egg. Wait for the temperature to rise to about 200 degrees. When the temperature reaches 200, start closing the bottom vent and top vent gradually as the temperature continues to rise. Stabilize the temperature at 250. Then . . . wait.
After the temperature has been stabilized at 25o for 10 minutes or so (one suggestion is to wait until the outside of the BGE begins to feel warm), you’re ready to go. Open the lid, add wood chips if you so desire, place the grill on the plate setter, and you’re off and running.
No pictures tonight, just straight facts.
Tonight was my second opportunity to grill steak on the cast iron grill. Last weekend’s steak was good. Tonight’s was mind-blowing.
If the seasoning of one meal on the cast iron grill makes this much of a difference, I can’t wait to taste my food after using the cast iron grill for a year.
The tip I garnered from tonight’s steak is pretty simple and common sense: buy your steak thick with a good bit of fat. I chose a thick New York Strip tonight. I picked a steak with a nice rim of fat along the edge, but minimal marbling through the middle. The Whole Foods butcher offered to cut my steak into two so it would be thinner. I declined.
The thickness and fat are very important. The thickness allows you to grill the steak long enough to garner some serious char from the cast iron grill without overcooking your steak. The fat provides some flare-up to give your steak that quick-fired flavor. I used Montreal Steak seasoning, which I absolutely love. Every bite of the steak was delicious, with the still-hot char coloring the flavor of the beef. Steak heaven.
So EggtoberWest had its commercially-intended effect on me. I bought four new things: two new side-wings for the Egg, a cast iron grill, and a raised grill extender. I used three of the new toys tonight.
First, the new side wings. These are awesome. They look great and they are so functional! Before I bought these, I was constantly juggling my food and tools. No more – plenty of room now!
I also used my new cast iron grill tonight. The cast iron grill is best used for short and hot grilling. Tonight was steak and grilled onions – the perfect opportunity. The grill did its job. Solid grill lines, delicious quick and hot cooking, and a great final product.
One tip I picked up at EggtoberWest – set the cast iron grill crosswise on top of your porcelain coated grill. This will prevent vegetables and other small items from falling through the grill.
So for tonight, I fired the egg up to 550. I put the onions on first, grilling them for about 12-14 minutes total. The steak stayed on for 8 minutes – 2 minutes then flip, twice on each side. Flipping twice allows for criss-crossed grill marks if you want them.
I’m very happy with the new cast iron grill. A delicious dinner on a night when I was home alone!
I love almost everything about Northern California. The food, the wine, the outdoors, the Bay, the City – it’s all great.
Today, though, I’m thinking about food. Our eating habits have transformed in the four years we’ve lived in San Francisco. We expect nothing less than the best when we eat at restaurants – a subpar dinner out is a wasted food opportunity. At home, we eat fresh vegetables from our CSA and our garden.
Without a doubt, Northern California has a leg up (or several legs up) on Minnesota in the local agriculture department. We have access to delicious local food all year long. However, there’s one Minnesotan fresh food I miss dearly: apples.
If you’ve never had a Honeycrisp from a Minnesota orchard you haven’t experienced the upper limit of what an apple can be. There’s simply nothing better. Back when we lived in Minnesota, Mrs. Esquire would host an apple party each fall. We’d meet our friends at the apple orchard, pick some apples, and then return to our apartment for apple desserts.
Mrs. Esquire and I were reminiscing about those good old apple days while we sat at EggtoberWest. We decided to stop at our favorite Dixon farm stand on the way home from Sacramento and pick up some apples. Sunday night, we grilled up an old fashioned apple feast.
The large pie pan is holding an apple cake. One of the small bowls contains simply seasoned apples, the other is filled with filling for a small pie. The crust for the pie is above.
I started my applicious grilling with the apple cake. With the plate setter down, I grilled the cake for about 18 minutes at 425. I came out perfect! The edges turned crisp and the bottom didn’t burn.
Next I moved on to the bowl of apples and apple pie. I kept the egg cranking at about 425 and threw on the two bowls of apples and the bottom crust of the pie. After about 8 minutes I dumped the pie filling into the bottom crust and placed the top crust on top. I pulled the bowl of apples after about 20 minutes total. During the middle of all this our friends arrived and I threw on some collard greens and sliced tomatoes in the mexican redware. I lost track of my egg and the time a little bit and my temperature dropped. I’m not sure exactly how long I left the mini pie on the grill. But when it was done, it was delicious! The crust turned crispy and brown, and the filling was scrumptious. A victory!
I’ll definitely be baking with apples again!
Apple Cake (adapted from a submission to Sunset magazine by reader Peter Zensius of San Francisco)
3 tbsp. butter; 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar; 1/8 tsp cinnamon; 1 sweet apple, peeled, sliced, and cored; 3 large eggs; 1/4 tsp. salt; 1/2 cup each flour and milk; 1 tbsp. each lemon juice and powdered sugar
Melt butter in frying pan. Add brown sugar and cinnamon, swirling to combine. Stir in apple and cook until starting to soften, about 3 minutes. Transfer to an egg-safe pie pan.
Whirl together eggs, salt, flour, and milk until smooth. Pour over apple mixture.
Set Big Green Egg for indirect cooking. Preheat to 425 degrees. Cook for approximately 16-18 minutes, or until edges begin to brown and middle is cooked through.
We had a great time at EggtoberWest yesterday! It was my first cooking festival. I’d never prepared food for strangers like that. Nor have I ever spent so much time talking to strangers about what I do on my Big Green Egg. In another setting I might have been intimidated. But the people at the festival – attendees and hosts alike – we’re so fun and laid back, it was easy for a novice like me to fit right in.
Mrs. Esquire prepared some signs for our tent, so BBQ Esquire was well represented.
As noted on the sign, I prepared my Belgian Beef Stew, from the Big Green Egg cookbook. It was fun to talk people through the process – grilling the bacon, sauteing the vegetables, browning the beef, and simmering in the beer (you’ll have to buy the cookbook for the full recipe, sorry).
The stew was generally well received. One skeptical gentleman asked my why I would bother making a stew on the Big Green Egg, since the pot has a lid. It was a good question. I told him the bacon, vegetables and beef saute in an open pan, which allows the flavors of the BGE to do their work. Also, I like doing it because it’s a challenge. It’s just fun to cook a stew on a grill!
After the stew was gone I grilled some beets and turnips in my redware. Folks really liked those, too!
All in all, it was a great event! A big thanks to the folks at Sierra Select Distributors for hosting! Mrs. Esquire and I hope to return next year!
I’m so excited about this weekend! I’ll be attending EggtoberWest in Sacramento! EggtoberWest is a Big Green Egg celebration festival. I’ll have my own tent and Big Green Egg all day Saturday. I’m planning to cook my beef stew as well as turnips and beets on my Mexican redware. I’ll try to post during or soon after the event!