Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Texas Style Barbecue Sauce

Along with the smoked brisket, I'll be making my homemade BBQ Sauce. This recipe originally came from "The Best Little Cookbook in Texas" p.278. However, I've made enough adaptations over the years (in parentheses) that I now consider this my own recipe.

2-1/2 sticks butter/margarine (I use real butter)
4 cups sugar
2 Tbl garlic salt (I substitute 4 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed)
1 Tbl cayenne (I reduce to 1/2 Tbl of cayenne)
1 Tbl Tabasco sauce (I substitute Cholula and reduce to 1/2 Tbl)
2/3 cup vinegar (I use Cider Vinegar)
2/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 (14 ounce) bottles catsup (I use one 32 ounce bottle)
(I also add 1/4 cup liquid smoke)

Melt butter in large saucepan. Add all other ingredients and blend thoroughly. Stir while bringing mixture to a boil. Reduce head and continue to stir, cooking until thickened; cool. This sauce is best prepared a day or two ahead.
Yields 2 quarts (will keep a long time in the refrigerator, even longer in the freezer)

(Note, I bring it to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and let it simmer for several hours stirring occasionally.)

(You'll note that I reduced the amount of cayenne pepper and Tabasco/Cholula sauce. Personally, if it were left up to me I would leave the original amounts (perhaps even increase theamount). Unfortunately, a lot of my family and friends are wusses; so, I have to be careful how spicy I make it.)

Texas Style Smoked Brisket

For Sarah's wedding reception, I'll be smoking brisket.

I wasn't born in Texas (born and raised in California); but, I've been a naturalized Texas citizen since 1984.  In the time I've lived here, I've developed a deep appreciation for Texas BBQ.  If there is a food of the gods then this is it. It just doesn't get any better.

Before I continue, I should warn anyone who might be reading this: If you are one of those health weenies (er, I mean health conscience) then it might be best if you moved onto another blog to read.

This is a recipe for Smoked Brisket that I've perfected over the years. Some of it based on ideas I've gleaned from other individuals, and some of my own making.  

Following is my normal recipe; although, for Sarah's wedding, I'm going to try something different.  Rather than starting it in the oven the night before an finishing it in the smoker, I'm going to start it in the smoker the day before and finish it in the oven.  This is for convenience since I can't be messing with the smoker on the big wedding day.

First of all, there is some equipment and utensils you'll need.
  • Smoker. Personally, I like the, so called, water smokers which consist of an upright cylinder with a fire pan at the bottom, a water tray about that, and racks above that. Although other types of smokers would work just as well.
  • Wood Chunks. I like to use a combination of: Hickory, Mesquite, Pecan, and Fruit (Apple, Cherry, etc.)
  • Charcoal. There is a brand I get at Bar-B-Que Galore that is chunks of wood charcoal, not the formed briquettes (ala Kingston and other brands). I think it burns hotter and doesn't get smothered in ashes as much.
  • Roasting Tray. The aluminum kind like you roast a big Turkey in. You might need two of these depending on how many briskets you are smoking.
  • Beef Brisket (get the untrimmed kind, usually weigh about 8-12 lbs each)
  • Fresh Jalapeño Peppers (about 5-6 per brisket)
  • Whole clove of garlic
  • Limes (about 2-3 per brisket)
  • Apple Juice (I use the frozen concentrate)
  • (Optional) Fresh Rosemary (I have a bush growing in my back yard, so I cut off a small branch)

The Night Before
  1. Trim the fat off of the brisket leaving about a 1/4" layer across the top. There is also a big chunk of fat in the side of the brisket which should be removed as much as possible.
  2. Half the Jalapeño Peppers and remove the membrane and seeds, then cut into strips about 1/4" wide and 1" long. It works best if you make them triangular shaped so that they are pointed on one end.
  3. Separate the garlic into individual cloves and slice them up into small strips about 1/8" wide and 1" long (or the length of the clove).
  4. Take a paring knife and make a slit in the brisket about 1-1/2" deep and stick a slice of Jalapeño Pepper and a slice of garlic in the slit. Repeat this all over the brisket (top, bottom and sides) making the slits about 2" apart.
  5. Put the brisket in a roasting pan.
  6. Cut the limes in 1/2, squeeze the juice over the brisket and rub it in with your hands working it into the slits. Then put the lime halves on top of the brisket.
  7. Put the roasting pan in the oven and set the oven to 250 degrees F and leave it in the oven all night.
The next morning
  1. Put the chunks of wood into a bucket of water to soak.
  2. Get up early and prepare the smoker. Light a fire in the fire pan using starter fluid. Wait until the flames die down and the charcoal is covered with a light layer of ash.
  3. If using a water smoker, once the flames have died down, put the water tray in the smoker, add the apple juice and rosemary branch, then fill the water tray up to the top with water. Then insert the other trays in the smoker.
  4. Transfer the brisket to the smoker (carefully) and close the smoker. I like to have the meat in the smoker by 8:00am so that it smokes all day.
  5. Add some water soaked chunks of wood on top of the charcoal and close the smoker.
Throughout the day
  • Check the smoker every couple of hours,
    • add more charcoal as necessary
    • add more water soaked wood chunks as necessary
    • add more water to the water tray as necessary
  • Try to keep the temperature inside the smoker at around 200 - 300 degrees F
  • Around noon, it's time to start slicing off chunks of meat to taste (gotta make sure it's good)
Other things to smoke
As long as you have the smoker going, you can add other things to smoke along with the brisket.
Things I've tried smoking (and liked):
  • Sausage. (Kielbasa or similar), smoke these about 4 hours
  • Hot links, smoke these about 4 hours
  • Snow Crab legs, smoke these about 2 hours
Things I've tried smoking (and didn't like so much):
  • Cheese. Warped in foil poked with holes (turns into a gooey mess)
  • Shrimp. (shells stick to the meat and are difficult to remove)
  • Salmon. (I don't particularly like salmon, so I don't know why I thought I might like it smoked)
  • Chicken. (ended up tough and dry)
Serve this with my Texas Style Barbecue Sauce. Invite a bunch of family and friends over and prepare to feast.

Texas Smokin' Chili

Sarah is getting married on Saturday.  Wedding guests start arrviving tomorrow; so, I'm going to make my award winning(*) "Texas Smokin" chili

(*) awarded for being the best tasting chili at the 2008 Grapevine ward chili cookoff

8 pounds ground meat, browned and drained
3 28-oz cans diced tomatoes
1 onion, diced and sauteed until caramelized
2 cups water
1/2 cup masa harina (Or a cup of finely crushed tortilla chips, cut back on salt a bit)
4 Tbl smoked paprika
2 Tbl regular paprika
2 Tbl chili powder
1 Tbl thyme
1 Tbl salt
1 Tbl ground cumin seed
1 Tbl garlic powder
1 Tbl dried crushed cilantro leaves
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp oregano
2 chipolte chili peppers (smoked jalapeños), crushed up


Throw everything into a large crockpot and cook for several hours until you're ready to eat it. Top with grated cheese, sour cream, and, if desired, diced raw onion. For a real treat, put some frito's in the bowl first and pour the chili on top for Frito Pie.

  1. The secret ingredients are the smoked paprika and chipolte (smoked jalapeños) which give the chili a slighty smoky flavor.
  2. I used whatever ground meat I could find in my freezer, which was mostly hamburger, but also included some chicken sausage. It's a great way to use up meat in the freezer.
  3. Regarding heat level, I thought it was mild, my wife thought it was spicy; so, we'll call it medium spicy
  4. You could probably add some beans in place of some of the meat; although, traditionally, when serving Texas chili, the beans are cooked separately and served along side.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Crystal ball - part duex

I blogged earlier about how I was going to order a crystal ball from a web site that specializes in metaphyiscal paraphanalia (it's like an online Diagon alley). Well, my crystal ball arrived last night - literally, the UPS driver didn't deliver it until about 7:00pm.

It came in a cool red box. Below are some pictures I took today over lunch. The image in the crystal ball is inverted; so, I inverted the images so that the reflection would be right side up.

This is the street in front of my house, my back yard, and some iris blooming in the front yard.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pad Thai

Linda works one day per week (usually) on Thursday's.  As such, I am responsible for cooking dinner on Thursday.  Mind you, I do contribute on other days as well.

Yesterday, I decided to make Pad Thai.  As I often do, when I have a hankering for something, I lookup several recipe's on the internet and then combine them into my own recipe.  So, here is my recipe for Pad Thai

  • 2 Tbl liquid tamarind
  • 2 Tbl fish sauce
  • 2 Tbl palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 1 Tbl rice wine vinegar

Marinated tofu
  • 6 oz extra-firm tofu, not silken
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tsp chinese five-spice powder

Pad Thai
  • 4 oz rice stick noodles, soaked in warm water (about 1 hour)
  • 1/2 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 Tbl soy sauce
  • 2 Tbl oil (peanut, canola, etc.), divided
  • 2/3 cup green onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 2 whole eggs, beaten
  • 2 oz mung bean sprouts
  • 3/8 cup chopped peanuts

  • 1/3 cup green onion, sliced
  • 1/8 cup chopped peanuts
  • 1 oz mung bean sprouts

  1. Marinade the tofu in the soy sauce mixture for, at least, 4 hours (up to 12 hours)
  2. Soak rice noodles in warm water (for about 1 hour), then strain
  3. Mix together sauce ingredients and set aside
  4. Dry shrimp and then lightly toss with 1 Tbl soy sauce
  5. Heat wok, when hot put 1 Tbl oil in wok 
  6. Put marinated tofu in wok and lightly brown, gently tossing so as to not break up too much, remove when done
  7. Add shrimp to wok and lightly toss until done then remove and add to cooked marinated tofu
  8. Add 1 Tbl oil to wok
  9. Add garlic and onion and lightly toss for about 15 seconds
  10. Add egg and scramble in wok
  11. Add soaked rice noodles and sauce and toss to get everything coated
  12. Add remaining Pad Thai ingredients and toss to get everything coated with sauce
  13. Add reserved tofu and shrimp and toss to incorporate into Pad Thai
  14. Remove Pad Thai to a platter
  15. Sprinkle with garnish ingredients
  16. Serve and savor its deliciousness

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Casting our pearls before swine

To be honest, I'm having a difficult time getting all worked up in righteous indignation over HBO Big Love's plan to depict the LDS temple ceremony. First of all, it's already out there for anybody who's really interested. Just google and a few clicks and you'll find pictures, and even the text of the entire endowment ceremony. And the reality is, it's been available to anyone who was interested for decades. When I first joined the church - way back in college (way way back in college) - I went to the public library looking for books on mormonism. Lo and behold, there was an anti-Mormon book in the library that included the entire temple ceremony.

Now, I do concur that there is a difference between having it available in some obscure media that few are even aware of verses blasting it out to the masses on a cable TV network. And, I think it shows a tremendous lack of respect on the part of HBO to make light of things we consider very sacred.

But, the temple ceremony is more than just funny underwear, odd clothing, words and a few hand gestures. It's being in a beautiful room with others all dressed in white. It's the quiet whispers. It's waiting in the chapel for the session to start in quiet contemplation. It's sitting in reflection in a beautiful celestial room at the conclusion. It's the whole experience. There is no way they'll be able to duplicate that experience on a TV show. What will be depicted on Big Love will be a pale imitation - distorted and out of context. True, a few of our pearls have been cast before the swine - but we still have the pearl necklace held tightly against our bosom.

What is interesting about all of this is the lack of outcry from non-Mormon's. Try depicting sacred parts of Islam and there would likely be a tremendous amount of righteous indignation with much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth - and not just from muslims. The same would be true for the Eastern religions.

But Mormon's - in fact, Christians in general - are fair game. It's like white guys being the only ethnic group you can poke fun at without being accused of being bigoted. Christianity in general and Mormonism specifically are the only religions you can poke fun at without being accused of being disrespectful. We're the fall guys. We're the plunky side kicks who are constantly running into walls and having pies thrown in our faces. If you're a white Mormon guy - well then there is absolutely no hope - we might as well walk around with a jester hat and a sign on our back that says "kick me".

So, when we are kicked. we can allow ourselves to get all worked up about it - but in the end, it won't change anything. Or, we can just shrug our shoulders, say "whatever" and move on with our lives. I opt for the latter.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Corning the beef

Saint Patrick's day is coming up next week on March 17th.  Traditionally, we have corned beef and cabbage on or around this day.  This year we decided to do something a bit different, we are making our own corned beef.

Linda was inspired by a recipe in the 2009 Spring Entertaining edition of Cooks Illustrated magazine.  I was inspired by an Alton Brown episode.  So, the question was:  Which recipe would we use?

Making corned beef is really pretty simple.  There are two basic methods:  
  1. A wet method where the meet is soaked in a brine with herbs and spices for a week to 10 days.  This is the method that Alton Brown used.
  2. A dry method where the meat is coated with a rub consisting of salt with herbs and spices for a week to 10 days.  This is the method that Cooks magazine used.
Other than wet vs dry, the biggest difference in the two recipes was the amount of herbs and spices.  Cooks magazine used 
  • salt
  • black peppercorns, cracked
  • dried thyme
  • ground allspice
  • paprika
  • bay leaves
Alton Brown included all of these, except the paprika, with the addition of
  • sugar
  • saltpeter
  • cinnamon
  • mustard seeds
  • whole cloves
  • juniper berries
  • ground ginger
According to the Cooks magazine, the taste testers liked the red color that the saltpeter imparts - but did not like the chemical aftertaste.

Both recipes called for a 4-6 pound piece of beef brisket.  Unfortuantely, this is not the time of year to buy brisket.  Memorial Day is when beef brisket tradionally goes on sale here in Texas - since it is the meat of choice for BBQ.  So, my choices were limited.  I couldn't find a single brisket that was in the 4-6 pound range - all of the briskets I found were either much larger or much smaller.  So, I opted for two smaller briskets - one about 2 pounds and the other about 3 pounds.

Having two briskets opened up a new possibility - I could try both recipes.  I started with the Cooks magazine recipe and mixed together
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 Tbl ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbl dried thyme
  • 2-1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1-1/2 tsp paprika (I used a smoked hot paprika)
  • 2 bay leaves
I started grinding my own pepper using the pepper mill; but, my hand was getting tired.  So, I used about half fresh ground and half pre-ground black pepper.  Also, I picked the bay leaves fresh off of our bay laural tree; so, I couldn't crumble them.  Instead, I chopped them up finely with a knife.

Using a digital kitchen scale, I measured how much the rub weighed and then reserved 40% of it in a separate bowl.  The other 60% I rubbed onto the 3 pound brisket, after poking a bunch of wholes in it with a meat fork.  I then put it in a 1 gallon zip lock bag and squeezed out as much air as I could.

To the reserved 40% rub, I added
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 5 juniper berries
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
I used the blender to grind the mustard seeds, cloves, and juiper berries and then added the other spices (including the reserved rub) to the blender to mix it all together.  I then rubbed this onto the 2 pound brisket, after poking it with holes, and put it in a 1 gallon ziplock bag.  This isn't quite like Alton Brown's recipe - since he used the wet brine method; but, I figured it should be very similar

Now my two briskets are sitting in our refrigerator - corning as we speak.  I will note that the additional spices in Alton Brown's recipe smelled more like what I think of with corned beef.  Not saying the Cooks magazine recipe won't be good - but I expect Alton Brown's version to taste more traditional.  Anyway, time will tell - I can't wait until this weekend when we can feast on our corned beef.

Cooking will be straight forward; although, I'm going to use the method in Cooks magazine.
  1. rinse the meat and pat dry 
  2. boil in water, covering the meat with about 1 inch of water (at least 8 quarts) for 2-3 hours
We've always cooked the cabbage and new potatoes along with the meat, adding them during the last 30 minutes of cooking.  But, the Cooks magazine testing noted that doing so makes it difficult to judge when the vegetables are done.  So, they recommend boiling the corned beef then removing it to a platter in a warm oven and cooking the vegetables in the reserved liquid.

Cooks magazine also seprates the vegetables into category 1 and category 2 - with the category 2 vegetables being added 10 minutes after the category 1 vegetables were started

Category 1 vegetables
  • carrots
  • rutabagas
  • turnips
  • new potatoes
Category 2 vegetables
  • boiling onions
  • green cabbage
  • parsnips
  • brussel sprouts
I'm not a big fan of rutabagas or parsnips; but, I do like a good turnip once in a while.  I like brussel sprouts - but it seems like overkill to have brussel sprouts with cabbage.  So, we'll probably just stick to our traditional cabbage, new potatoes, and carrots - with the possible addition of turnips (gee, I wonder if any in our garden will be ready by then?)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Compost bin

oI ordered a compost bin today from www.CompostBins.com

Dimensions:  30L x 30W x 34H inches
Material:  100% Recycled Plastic Resin
Cubic Feet:  14.7
Weight (lbs.):  19

Cost was $99.99 with free shipping.  But, I googled the company name to see if there were any promotions, and found a promotion code for $10 on orders over $75.  So, I got it for $89.99 (total, no sales tax or shipping fees)

According to their shipping estimate, it should arrive on Wednesday, March 11th. Interestingly, I could have paid extra for 2-day expidited shipping - which had an estimated shipping date of Thursday March 12th [huh???]

I'll be setting it up in the front next to the gate and near the vegetable garden with a metal trellis (which I already have) in front. I'll plant some sort of vine plant to grow on the trellis - I'm thinking of Jasmine or something similar.  I still have my composting area in the back yard which I use for overflow in the event this fills up.  It will primarly be filled with yard waste (leaves, weeds and plant trimmings), pond waste, and kitchen vegetable waste.  I use a mulching mower on the yard; but, I do put the bagger on the mower when mowing around the swimming pool - so there will be a few grass clippings.  Oh, and all of the rabbit poop from the bunny will go into the compost.

I may install a couple of drippers from my drip irrigation system to help keep the compost moist - but I'm going to wait and see if that's a problem.  If we're continually adding fresh vegetable waste, the moisture in the plant material may be enough to keep the compost moist.

I'm excited about my new compost bin.  I'll have a lot of yard waste when I start cleaning up the back yard in prepration for two weddings coming up this spring.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Politically incorrect

I'm probably going to get hammered for this; but, I thought it was pretty funny. 


Monday, March 2, 2009


Saturday Linda and I went to Marshall's Feed - a new store in town - and bought some plants for our garden: Tomatoes, peppers, and some herbs. It's a bit too cold to plant them outside just yet; so, I have them under a florescent light along with some seeds we planted: Beans (pole and bush), squash, watermelon, okra, & peppers. I just wish I had planted the seeds a couple of weeks ago.

A cold front moved through the area this last weekend - got down into the upper 20's at night. I checked the garden this morning - and all of the plants seem to have fared OK. The red lettuce looks a little wilted - but not too much, and I'm sure it will bounce back once it gets a little warmer. Our average last frost date is mid-March; so, (according to the weather forecaster I was watching) this may be our last freeze of the season.