T-Bone

This month’s meat CSA delivery included a couple of T-bone steaks.  As I pulled one out of the freezer recently, I realized I’d never grilled a T-bone for myself before.  Certainly, I’d eaten T-bone steaks, I’d just never bought one at the store.  Why not?

I know the reason why.  I have a little cheap streak that occasionally rears its head.  For example, when I was working construction as a kid I would buy warm 2 liter bottles of soda for $0.99 instead of a 32 oz fountain drink for $0.89.  I rode the bus long before I lived in a city where it was “cool” and practical.  I sometimes pull the stems off bell peppers in the grocery store so I don’t have to pay for them.  Mrs. Esquire is the same way.  When we traveled to China I couldn’t get her to stop bargaining over a $0.50 price difference so we could just get on with our day.  I guess we’re good for each other that way.

What does this have to do with the T-bone?  I think I’ve avoided T-bones because I couldn’t bring myself to pay good money for the bone.  Why pay for a steak with a bone in it when you can buy a rib eye or a New York strip?  But once again, that’s the great thing about a CSA.  It forces you to try different things.

And am I ever glad I grilled this T-bone.

This steak was great overall, but I’d forgotten how delicious the tenderloin section of the T-bone can be.  Just melt-in-your-mouth-delicious!  The best part?  I still have one more in the freezer!

As always, thanks for reading.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

It’s been awhile since I baked on my Big Green Egg.  I’ll admit, I didn’t come back to baking willingly.  Mrs. Esquire kind of pushed me towards making these cookies.  I’m so glad she did, though.  This is my new favorite cookie recipe.

I found the recipe on Take A Megabite.  The key to this recipe is the olive oil.   In the Esquire household we like olive oil on everything.  It works especially well for cookies on the BGE, leading to nice, crisp edges and light, fluffy cookie.

I prepared the batter per the recipe, the headed outside to the Big Green Egg.  I set myself up with batter and wax paper on the right side of the grill and cooling rack on the left side.  I set the BGE for indirect cooking (plate setter legs up) and put a pizza stone on the grill.  I warmed the grill (with the stone in place) to about 375.

Here are the cookies on the grill.  The first batch took about 20 minutes or so.  As a side note, you can see some collateral damage on my pampered chef pizza stone.  Two lessons learned on pizza night awhile back: 1) pampered chef stoneware is thinner than BGE stoneware, and 2) never set a room temperature stone on a 600 degree fire!

The cook time on the cookies shortened with each batch.  By the end I was pulling them at about 12-15 minutes.  The key is to just keep checking them.

The cookies had a nice, smokey flavor, as you’d expect from the grill.  They also had crispy edges and a light, almost cake-like texture.  They were quite unique, and really good.

I made a double batch of cookies, and good thing, too.  I absolutely pounded through them!  For the good of my waistline I need to use this recipe sparingly!

Recipe Recap (from Take a Megabite)

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-2 T milk, optional
  • 1 heaping cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Using an electric mixer, beat together the olive oil, vanilla, and sugars until it looks like wet sand. Add the eggs one at  a time and beat until mixed in completely. With the mixer on low beat in the flour mixture gradually until just mixed. Add a tablespoon or two of milk if the batter is too dry. If the batter is too wet, add flour a tablespoon at a time until handle-able.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Preheat Big Green Egg to 375, set for indirect cooking.  Place spoonfuls of batter directly on warmed stone.  Cook for 12-20 minutes, until top of cookie just begins to brown.

Barbecued Oysters

Point Reyes National Seashore is one of our favorite destinations for a quick Saturday getaway.  You can hike in the redwoods, on the beach, and through rolling meadows.  You can also find delicious fresh and local food.  On a visit to Tomales Bay a stop for barbecued oysters is a must.

If you plan ahead, you can reserve a picnic table right on the bay and spend the day grilling oysters (and anything else you bring with you).  The oysters come right from the bay.  Talk about farm to table!  Mrs. Esquire and I ate barbequed oysters one time in Tomales Bay but didn’t plan ahead.  This meant we paid $3-$4 per oyster to have them grilled and brought to our table, instead of the $1-$2 for fresh oysters to shuck and grill yourself.  It left me wanting to grill my own oysters.

Fast forward to yesterday. I visited a new (to me) fishmonger in the neighborhood.  What a great shop.  We will definitely be back!  The bins of oysters in the corner of the store caught our eye right away.  After some consultation, we settled on a dozen Drake’s Bay oysters.  Drake’s Bay is directly opposite Tomales Bay, on the ocean side of Point Reyes. Along with our oysters we bought an oyster shucker.

Neither Mrs. Esquire nor I had every shucked oysters.  Mrs. Esquire did the dirty work as I prepped the grill.  She did a great job!  After Mrs. Esquire finished shucking the oysters, I dropped a dollop of garlic parsley butter (recipe below) on each.

By this point, the Big Green Egg was warmed up to about 400 degrees, set for direct grilling.  I put the oysters directly on the grill.  Ideally, the oyster shells will be deep and will sit evenly on the grill.  Otherwise the sauce leaks out the side.  A few drips aren’t the end of the world, though.  A butter flare-up adds some nice smoke.

You can see that the butter melts nicely after a minute or two on the grill.  I grilled these guys for about five minutes total, until the butter started bubbling.  The oysters simmer in the melted butter.

The oysters were absolutely delicious!  What a special treat in the backyard.  We’ll probably mix this in as an appetizer during a future dinner party.  There a many recipes online for different sauces.  I may experiment in the future, but the butter sauce was really easy and really quick.  Thanks for reading!

Recipe Recap

  • 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp parsley
  • Juice from one lemon
  • Salt to taste
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • Cayenne to taste

Mix ingredients together in a bowl.  Place a small spoonful of butter in each oyster prior to grilling.

Vacation grilling

I’m back from vacation!  Thanks for coming back to me after my time away.

It turns out you can take the man away from his grill, but you can’t take the grill out of the man.  I had quite a few interesting grilling experiences while I was away.  While each one probably deserves its own post, I’m going to give you a few quick hits so I can clear my blogging brain and move on to bigger and better things!

We hung out for a week in rural England.  I’ve always enjoyed checking out grocery stores and food markets while I’m traveling.  Food is a window into culture!  Mrs. Esquire got a kick out of me checking out the butcher.

There’s a funny story behind this picture, though.  For the first few days, I couldn’t get over how expensive the meat was in England!  Eventually I realized an error in my pound/kg to dollars/pound conversion.  I multiplying by 2 instead of dividing by 2 when going from kilos to pounds, meaning all my numbers were 4 times too high.  I was not about to spend $40 a pound for fresh sausage!

I bought these pork chops at a little village market in England.  It was a very interesting cut – they left the skin on!  I trimmed the rind off the chop before eating, then threw the rinds back on the grill. My goal was to make chiccarones.  Unfortunately I was using a Weber.  I closed the vents in hopes that the rind would cook slowly for a good, long time.  It was a good idea but they didn’t really turn out.  Maybe I’ll keep an eye out for this type of cut and try the chiccarones at home, on my Big Green Egg.

This was Mrs. Esquire’s least favorite night of our trip – and it might have been my favorite.  Summer storms in Northern Minnesota can whip up in a flash and knock you on your backside.  For a California transplant, a good summer storm is an essential part of a trip back home!  We were watching the radar on this night, knowing that the storm was on the way.  We needed to make a judgment call: put the salmon on the grill and try to beat the storm?  Or wait it out and eat late?

As you can probably guess, we decided to go for it.  And, of course, the storm beat us.  What a fun time – grilling in the pouring rain, driving wind, and pounding hail!  There’s something so primal about cooking food over an open flame in the middle of a storm.  Of course, there’s also something primal about a new mother telling a new father not to run around in a lightening storm holding metal things.  So there were definitely two perspectives in our cabin regarding the awesomeness of this grilling adventure.

Looking at this picture makes me want to go back to Maine!  What a wonderful part of the country.  My takeaway from this grilling event?  Sure, you can create a gourmet meal with a fancy grill, special fuel, and lots of unique spices.  But if you have fresh scallops, olive oil, lemon juice and a mini-Weber, you can still cook up something special.

As the old saying goes, however, “there’s no place like home.”  After a long time away from my BGE I was suffering from separation anxiety.  So of course I took advantage of a laid-back weekend to smoke up a pork shoulder.  Here’s a little treat for you if you’ve never pulled pork.

My First Brisket

Memorial Day weekend I earned a long overdue notch in my barbeque belt.  I smoked my first real brisket.  I say first “real” brisket because awhile back I smoked a little hunk of brisket I picked up at the Marin Sun Farms butcher.  This time, though, I went all out.  I followed my rule of working with the whole cut of meat so I can learn what I’m doing.  I invited some folks over.  I even read up on authentic Texas sides and added those to the party.

All food arises from culture and tradition, but barbeque is almost culture first and food second.  People across the south are exceedingly territorial about their barbeque.  But that is not to say that barbeque must be divisive.  Even a good Memphian would eat some vinegar-sauced pork when invited to a Carolinian’s backyard.  At its core, barbeque is about slowing down, taking your time, and spending time with others.  That’s true no matter what kind of sauce you use.

I wanted to capture both of these cultural features of barbeque – the socialization and the regional preferences – in my first brisket cook.  I accomplished the first by invited a few guys over to hang in the backyard.  Friend attendance was also necessary because of my first rule of learning barbeque (cook the entire cut).  I tried to respect regional preferences by building my whole menu from a great texas barbeque website: http://amazingribs.com/.  I prepared beans and potato salad from the recipes on that website.

I won’t get too much into my brisket process / recipes here, because I’m just a rookie finding my way.  I did have some interesting challenges to overcome, though.  First, a full packer brisket (in other words, the whole cut) is a pretty big hunk of meat.  It was too big for my Big Green Egg.

I overcame this obstacle by attempting to separate the flat from the point prior to cooking.  (I’m not going to define all these terms here.  You can read the technical stuff on www.amazingribs.com).  I know I ended up with at least some flat in my point, but I had a really hard time making this cut.  My piece of meat looked different than the pictures online!

With these two more manageable chunks ready to go, I gave the brisket a little trim and was ready to start with the rub.  I rubbed down the meat late Saturday night.

After rubbing I wrapped the meat back up and put it in the refrigerator.  I pulled it out again Sunday night to give it a simple injection of beef broth and a little more rub.

At last, the long-awaited hour arrived.  It was time to start smoking!  Here we are, all ready to go, with my temperature probes placed, my drip pans of beef broth and apple cider vinegar, and my hickory chips.

A note about the wood chips: I’m changing my strategy here.  I used to soak them and put them on top of the coals right before placing the meat.  I think both are bad ideas.  I confirmed through a little reading on the BGE forum that there’s no real reason to soak the chips for use in the BGE.  They won’t flame in the low-oxygen environment of the BGE.  I think placing the soaked chips on top of a fragile, low temperature fire has been giving me problems in the beginning of the cook.  For this cook, I ended up babying my fire long into the night.  (Speaking of “baby,” having an infant is great training for tending a finicky fire all night long.)

Here we are, meat on at 10:30 p.m., ready to go to bed for the night.  To be clear – as noted above, the meat went to bed, but I stayed up for hours.

I should have let myself relax.  As it was, I built in plenty of time and my meat ended up finishing way early.  I allowed for a 17 hour cook.  The point reached 200 degrees in about 10 hours.  Woah!  The flat finished in 13.  Luckily I was well equipped with heavy-duty aluminum foil, blankets, and a cooler, to keep those guys warm.

I was petrified of ending up with beef jerky.  Everything I read about brisket talked about how difficult it is and how it can easily dry out.  I feel I overcompensated with the drip pan, the thick fat layer, and the natural humidity of San Francisco.  Look at that pool of juice!

Before the guests arrived I pulled the point out to make burnt ends.  I sliced the meat into chunks and put the chunks in an aluminum foil pan with some fat (which I had reserved in the refrigerator) and some extra rub.  I lost track of how long I cooked them.  I’ll pull them a little sooner next time, though, as I they were a little heavy on the “burnt!”

After I pulled the burnt ends I threw the flat back on the grill for about five minutes a side, at 400.  I wanted to firm up the crust a bit and give it a nice shot of heat before I served it.  After I pulled the meat, it was finally time to slice!

My beef jerky worries were quite misplaced.  Between the moist San Francisco night air, the thick fat cap, the injection, and the drip pans, I probably overcompensated on the moisture.  I might try it without the drip pans next time.  But when you have people coming over and it’s your first time, the last thing you want is dried out meat!  I really enjoyed the final product, and I think others did too.  We had a great evening hanging out in the backyard.

I’ll end this post where I stared: waxing philosophical on the culture of barbeque.  I enjoy watching the show BBQ Pitmasters, which runs during the summers on some random cable channel.  I’ve learned a ton from the show.  However, I’ve begun to notice a difference between the “competition barbeque” techniques used on the show and the “backyard barbeque” techniques I read about online.  For one, the cook times are much shorter on the professional circuit.  That probably has something to do with practicalities of running a restaurant (where these Pitmasters hone their trade) and the time constraints of barbeque competition.  As a result of the shorter cook time, and the need to differentiate your product, competition barbeque is much more complicated.  These cooks are constantly mopping, saucing, wrapping in aluminum foil, and glazing.  It’s not easy!

I decided tonight that’s not my endgame.  I’m never going to be a competition cook.  I’m never going to open a barbeque restaurant.  I enjoy learning new skills, practicing a craft, relaxing in the backyard, and enjoying good food with friends.  If I can keep from taking myself too seriously, I will have a lifelong hobby I can enjoy with friends and family.  So I’ll keep watching my barbeque shows with an evening beer, but I’m not going to take notes.  And I’ll keep working on my techniques, but I’ll always make sure I enjoy what I’m doing.  Most of all, I’ll keep cooking because I enjoy it and because I enjoy sharing it with friends.  Here’s to barbeque!

Four Dishes, One Egg

I sometimes dream about my ideal backyard.  I would love to have a full outdoor kitchen.  Besides a functional sink, prep area, and storage, it would be equipped with a variety of grills.  I’d need a Weber, a big fancy smoker, a Large Big Green Egg, and an Extra Large Big Green Egg.  I often describe this future outdoor kitchen to Mrs. Esquire and she always has the same response.  Who is going to eat all this food?!?!  (The answer, of course, could be you, gentle reader.  Move to San Francisco if you don’t live here already.)

In reality, however, it doesn’t take much to bring my large Big Green Egg to capacity.  This is especially true when I’m making foods with varying cook times and which require lots of flipping or stirring.

On that note, I’m pretty proud of a recent four course meal I prepared on the BGE.  The meal included potatoes and onions, zucchini and squash, ribeye steaks, and halibut steaks.

The “order of operations” was the subject of much discussion and debate as I warmed up the grill.  A few considerations: the steaks needed to be directly on the cast iron grill.  The potatoes needed the longest cook time, and the zucchini and squash were the quickest.  The fish was in tinfoil and was the only part of the meal that didn’t need attention while on the grill.

I began with the potatoes and onions.  These potatoes actually took awhile – perhaps because I raised them and perhaps because I cut them into fairly large chunks.  I pulled them after almost 40 minutes and wrapped the stones in tinfoil.  They redware really retains the heat.

As the potatoes cooked I prepared the rest of the dishes.

Look at those beautiful ribeyes from Marin Sun Farms!

Here’s the Halibut.  As a side note, I usually don’t buy fish steaks like this but they were the best thing my fish guy had on hand.  I was actually surprised and how great they tasted!

And now, for the fun part!  Luckily I had a great wing man and photographer for this cook (no offense to Mrs. Esquire or women in general).  I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Whew!  Lots of involved maneuvering over a 500 degree fire!  We had a great time with it, though.  There’s something very satisfying and primal about preparing four dishes over an open flame.  I’ll close the post out with more pictures.

Pork for All

I have to chime in on the recent gay marriage amendment in North Carolina.  Unfortunately, I’ll always feel a pang of sorrow and shame when I whip up my Carolina-style pulled pork sauce.  I truly believe that gay marriage is our generation’s civil rights movement.  Someday we will look back on this era and wonder how we could have condoned such overt discrimination, using the power of the majority to strip rights from the minority.

Of course, North Carolina is not alone.  California passed Proposition 8 four years ago.  That law has been overturned at the district court level, however, and has begun the long road to eventual Supreme Court review.  I hope Minnesotans look deep within their hearts before voting in November on the gay marriage amendment in that state.

On a brighter note, I have continued to revise my carolina sauce from the recipe I outlined here.  I used the information and inspiration I gathered during my recent trip to Charlotte in tweaking the recipe.  During a recent cook, I changed three things: 1) I used more liquid in the drip pan; 2) I used a 2-1 mixture of apple cider vinegar to white vinegar in the sauce; and 3) I cut the heat in half.  I also gave myself the time to reach 200 degrees and then allowed the meat to rest for two hours wrapped in heavy duty tinfoil and towels and placed in a cooler.  I was really happy with the results.  Way better than my last pull.  I’m looking forward to trying it again, soon!  Pulled pork for all!