Smoker cheats

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I love smoked food. I mean besides the flavor that smoking infuses into food the whole culture of sitting beside a smoker on a beautiful sunny day with a cold one in your hand enjoying the company of good friends and family can’t be beat. But here it is—- January in Canada and there is about a foot of snow on my smoker and another six inches on the ground AND—– IT’S COLD OUTSIDE!!!!!! Now if you read into this that, unlike my compatriots at Patrons of the Pit who see no problem with standing outside in sub-zero weather monitoring a smoker, that I am a warm weather kind of smoker guy you would be right— at least as far as my backyard smoker is concerned so when I found these “Smoker Cheats” that allowed me to smoke food in the winter while staying warm I was “over the moon”.

This first one is brought to us by the great King of Bam, Chef Emeril Lagasse, and it is just so simple to use.

Emeril’s Smoker Bag is simply that. A heavy duty “foil type” bag that contains the wood chips necessary to infuse your food, and your house, with the smell and flavor of wood smoke. I originally found these at, of all places, our local Home Depot in their BBQ accessories section and I loved them so much I bought a whole whack of em.

All you need to do with these is prepare whatever it is you are going to cook/smoke, insert it into the smoker bag and seal it up. There is a cooking time chart inside the bag package that makes this whole system nearly fool-proof.

The second “cheat” is one I posted here about a year ago but it is worth resurrecting it since it is such a dynamite product.

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This a Cameron Stove Top smoker and as you can see it is very easy to use, and clean up, and when you purchase it you even get a selection of wood chips to help get you started. Now mine has seen duty mainly for smoking Jalapenos and Garlic for my Chipotle Mayo (see sauces and dips) but it can be used for almost anything else you would use a regular smoker for. I say almost because it obviously isn’t big enough for a Boston Butt or a good size Brisket but if you wanted to smoke some chicken legs or breast or even some pork chops or veggies this is the baby to use indoors.

The last “cheat” is probably the simplest.

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All you need to do is soak whatever wood chips you are using and then roll them up in heavy duty tin foil until you have what loosely resembles an envelope. Poke some holes in the envelope to allow the smoke to escape, place the envelope in a corner of the oven or grill and “go to town” as they say.

Until next time…….. Happy smoking and

                      Bon Appetite

 

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Kitchen toys

Kitchen toys

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My earliest recollection of a specific toy I wanted was when I was perhaps 7 or 8 and the toy was a Tonka Dump Truck. You know, the kind big enough for a 7 or 8 year old to ride on but still small enough to bring in the house at the end of a busy play day and at the time the family was large and money was tight but my mother, bless her, found some way to finally get me one. It was the best toy I ever got—- THANKS MOM.

Now as we get older our taste in toys change depending on our likes and dislikes. In my case I went from Tonka toys to outdoor sports—- baseball, football and fishing with fishing dominating a lot of my youthful years. When I got married my “married” toys consisted of a BBQ, lawnmower and renovation type toys— the renovation toys being the latest Hammer Drill or Table saw and an air compressor and nail gun combination. Somewhere along the line I also had my computer building toys but that may be a post for another day.

These days my toys revolve around the kitchen and what can make dinner preparation easier and more fun. What I present to you today are three  kitchen toys I use quite often and would quite frankly not know what to do without.

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The black gadget on the bottom left of the picture is a French Fry cutter and has been such a great purchase. If you have purchased frozen french fries in the supermarket lately you will probably have noticed they can be costly. I purchased a bag the other day  for when I really don’t feel like going the deep fryer route and a 650 gram bag (that’s 22 ounces or 1.5 pounds) cost $6.95 whereas a 5 pound bag of potatoes is usually under $4.00. Now I don’t know about you but if it’s me I’m going the bag of potato route 95.5% of the time because I do have a fry cutter at home which cost me all of $21.00 about a year ago and the other great thing about the cutter is that it is dishwasher safe and comes apart very easy for cleaning.

Bottom right:

That curious round thing on the right side of the picture was a god send when I was operating the kitchen at the Veterans Service club a while back and we needed to save money. It quite simply is a Hamburger Press that is capable of making 1/4 and 1/2 pound patties. I found this one in our local BBQ supply store for around $18.00 and was so impressed with it I bought one for my son.

This little gadget may be a wee bit time consuming to use, however, when it comes down to a case of economics it’s a great addition to anyone’s kitchen arsenal. Just think about it. The Veterans club, prior to my arrival, was spending approximately $45.00 for a box of pre made burgers that, for one thing, contained MSG and for another fell apart on the grill and the box held 35 4 ounce burgers.

I found a local establishment that consistently sold 10 pounds of ground beef for between $21.00 and $24.00 and this gave me 32 5 ounce burgers and since I was using my burger recipe I could control what went into them but more specifically what didn’t and the Burger Press made the job that much easier and cost effective even taking into account my labor.

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That “fancy dan” gadget at the top of the picture is my old nemesis……  the Mandolin. It was the last kitchen gadget I used at the Veterans club before I switched jobs and it is the one that is responsible for putting a couple of stitches in my finger. Well, truth be told……. I was responsible because I wasn’t paying attention and did not have the safety guard in place but that’s a story for another time and place.

I love this piece of equipment even though it took a bite out of one of my digits because it can do so many things. It slices at different thicknesses, it has a shute where you can put cucumbers or zucchini and get the exact same slice each and every time, a pop up set of “julienne” blades and it even has a flip over “cheese” grader segment. I have used this for making onion rings, carrot matchsticks, potato chips and so much more………. yeah I know—- kind of sounding like a commercial….. and again it was inexpensive. Somewhere around the $25.00 mark.

If you don’t have one of these I would highly suggest you get one……. they are definitely a must have in your kitchen arsenal.

All of the items you see above are inexpensive but owe so worth the purchase for when you are making “simple but tasty recipes for the grilling season and beyond” and trust me you won’t regret the purchase.

So until next time………

                                      Bon Apettite

Paranoia or Healthy Self Doubt

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            So I have been in the new job for three weeks now and I’m starting to wonder if this job is a good fit for me. While I have had some positive feedback on the job I am doing there have been some comments like “you should be finished doing that now” or “this person will be watching your speed” and it’s these comments, not the positive ones that are causing me to question my choice of employers….. or Second Careers for that matter and I have to wonder if that is Paranoia or simply some Healthy Self Doubt if there is such a thing.

 Now as my wonderfully insightful daughter has pointed out on a few occasions “Dad, you have done less than a dozen shifts. You can’t be expected to be as good or as fast as those who have done this for years and since she got her smarts from me and her mother (she also got her good looks from her mother) I can’t fault her logic but this brings me to my point.

What is it with humans, especially Chefs and Aspiring Chefs, that make us so Paranoid?

I honestly think it’s really simple. We desire to create and cook the perfect meal and when it does not come out as we imagined in our head then we get down on ourselves and some of us even get depressed. No wonder the restaurant/bar industry has such a high degree of substance abuse.

So why do we do it if we know that bad results will send us into a funk? Well I liken this to something like GOLF. Golf is the game you love to hate…. especially after a lousy shot BUT make one really good one and you start to think you are the next Arnold Palmer. Cooking is very much like this. You make one lousy meal and you swear you will never cook again but when you make a really really good one all of a sudden you are the next SUSER LEE and you can’t wait for the next time you can get into the kitchen.

My next mission then, I guess, is to figure out “When does Self Doubt become Paranoia and how do we recognize the signs?”  

The answer to that question will have to wait for another day but in the mean time I’ll concentrate on doing the best that I can at work and also dig up a “simple but tasty recipe for the grilling season and beyond”.

Until next time……..

           BON APPETIT

Kitchen safety

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In my second career I’m learning a whole whack of new skills and I’m also getting a really good insight into how a REAL restaurant kitchen is operated. I kind of had an idea from all The Food Network shows I’ve watched over the years but nothing prepared me for the hustle and bustle of what really goes on behind the scenes.

Usually what one see’s in a restaurant is the host or hostess, the servers and the cooks if you happen to be in a place that has an open concept kitchen so you usually don’t think beyond that to the dishwashers or the prep guys. At least I didn’t until I started to work behind the scenes and boy am I glad I spent so much time in my kitchen here at home and have the kitchen gadgets that I do. Prep work is fast and furious and you need to know what you are doing.

Which brings me to the point of this particular post…. Safety in the kitchen.

One of the leading causes of injuries in a kitchen, whether it be a home kitchen or a restaurant kitchen is poor knife skills and although they do say that practice makes perfect, practicing poor knife skills will inevitably lead to perfect poor knife skills and more and more cuts. One of the people I work with is constantly cutting themselves due to poor knife skills and the sad part is that they don’t seem to retain the information on how to correct the problem. They seem to be destined to lose a digit at some point….. I just hope it’s not on my shift.

If you look at my hands, ESPECIALLY THE LEFT ONE, you will see how the fingers are curled back towards my thumb and if you look close enough you will see that the knuckles on my left hand are acting like a guide for the knife blade. Holding your product (whatever it is you are chopping) in this manner ensures that you WILL NOT cut yourself and with practice you can actually be looking at someone while chopping and still not cut yourself. This is called “cat hand” because it, well, resembles a cats hand when the claws are out.

The other thing you need to be comfortable with is the knife you are using. It doesn’t matter if it is a Paring knife, Boning knife or Chef’s knife if you are not comfortable with it or just plain scared of it you will cut yourself. You need to, literally, shake hands with your knife in a firm but relaxed manner and in doing this you will be in control of the blade at all times and if you practice the proper techniques your knife skills will become very good in no time at all.

So the thing to remember when you are creating “simple but tasty recipes for the grilling season and beyond” is to always practice kitchen safety.

Until next time………

            BON APPETIT

The Saga continues Part II

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In my last post on this topic I alluded to the fact that I really, really figured my age and lack of real kitchen experience would leave me out in the cold as far as my Second Choice Career was concerned (working in a real restaurant kitchen) and that as a result I would have to wind up doing something drastic like ——– sell my house.

For someone like me who suffers Depression this type of realization is one that can and does send me into a real deep funk because the main feeling that comes to the surface is one of complete and utter failure…. failure to my family and failure to me…. mainly failure to my family.

Well every once in a while the Stars align and they say “Today we like you” and that day for me was yesterday. I awoke with the same nagging doubt that no one will ever EVER hire me and as a result my taking early retirement has wound up selling my families future down the river.

I am here to tell you that, as Heath Ledger said in A Knights Tale—–“A MAN CAN CHANGE HIS STARS”, if you keep plugging away things will eventually come your way because as of yesterday I had not one BUT two jobs and they are both in the restaurant industry. The first is with a small chain that mainly does Chicken Wings while the second is the Prep Cook job I had applied for approximately 10 days ago and had pretty much ruled out of getting. I took the Prep Cook job.

To say that this happenstance sent my ego into orbit would be an understatement especially when it was on the verge of shattering and if it had, coupled with depression, I’m not sure it would have recovered.

My biggest challenge now, besides proving to the General Manager of the establishment that he made the right choice in hiring me, is to recognize that any misgivings or self-doubt I have is simply my inexperience talking and not depression raising it’s ugly head and besides……. It’s really tough to be depressed when TWO establishments want to take you on.

So until next time keep your chin up and keep smiling—– it could be worse.

                 Bon Appetit

The Saga continues

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It’s been a little more than 24 hours since I had my job interview for the Prep Cook position in one of our local restaurants and I am feeling more and more like I won’t get the job because of my age and my inexperience in a real restaurant kitchen.

I know it seems silly to feel that way after a mere 24 hours however, amongst other things, I suffer from depression. That’s a reality that I have just recently come to accept and I guess is one of the reasons I try so hard with my recipes. I don’t want to fail at those and add another piece to the “failure” pile which, by the way, my therapist keeps telling me is not as big as my imagination makes it out to be.

Imagination can be a wonderful thing. It allows us to use everyday items and transform them into a play toy that will keep us occupied for hours. It allows us to read a book and be transported to some mystical realm and it also allows us to create wonderfully flavorful dishes in the kitchen but imagination suffers when depression surfaces because the mind says “you can’t do this so don’t even try” and so you give up and if you let it then depression will certainly kill any New Beginning. The thing I have to remember is that I AM THE BOSS not the negative thoughts and as long as I keep that in mind I am well on my way to coming out on top in this particular battle.

So my friends if like me you suffer from depression, anxiety or any of the myriad of Mental Health issues that we still don’t talk about openly then I suggest you do what I need to do—- lean on family and friends, remember I am the boss and fight to get better —– after all you and I are worth it.

Until next time………….

Bon Appetit

A new beginning

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I retired from my job with the Federal Government after 35 years of service. What the job was is of no importance. What is however, is the fact that I survived 35 years of political bureaucracy with my sanity intact.

When I retired I thought “this is pretty sweet I don’t have to get up early and I can do what I want.” Well 1 ½ years later and I am getting pretty antsy to do something other than sitting around and mucking about on my computer.

So what do you do when you need to find work, so you can salvage what sanity you have left, and there simply is nothing in the field you spent 35 years in? You look for something you can do and in my case……. that’s cooking.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been sending out my Culinary Resume to any and all Restaurants, Cafes or Delis who are looking to hire kitchen help and who are not necessarily looking for someone who has professional restaurant kitchen experience.

Now anyone who has ever looked for a job can relate to the depressing feeling you get when you send out a whole whack of resumes and get no replies but when you happen to be a 57 year old who has no professional experience that feeling deepens a bit.

Well “lo and behold” didn’t one of the places I sent my resume to call me for an interview for the job of Kitchen Prep. This particular restaurant is a chain but it is a chain with a difference…… they do things FRESH and they actually care about the customer experience. It also helps that I have eaten in this establishment and I LOVE IT.

My interview, the first in 35 years, went very well and although the G.M. said that he had two other candidates to interview I feel very good about the whole experience and I think I have a better than average chance, even at my age, to get a second chance at another career that I know I will just love and one that will allow me to eventually produce “simple but tasty” dishes for the paying public.

I would also like to point out that the absolute stunning photo attached to this post is the work of the VERY talented photographer Suzanne Witkin of Los Angeles. Kudos for the picture oh and….. I will keep you up to date on my progress in my new career.

 Bon Appetit

Grill pan

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When I originally went looking for a Grill Top to be used on my stove I went with a 10” Cast Iron because not only did it give me the grill marks I wanted on my meat or vegetables but it could also be put right into the oven to finish off whatever I was grilling.

After a few uses I decided it was not the right fit for me so I gave it to my son and it has enjoyed a happy home since that time. What I bought instead was a dual purpose Grill Pan where one side was a Grill and the other is a Flat Top and this combination is just perfect since not only can it be popped in the oven to finish off the grilling but when it’s not being used for grilling you can turn it over and use the Flat Top side to make eggs, pancakes, hash browns  and even sandwiches. Just remember to place it on two burners and turn the burners to the same heat level otherwise you will get uneven heat distribution.

My big caution is NEVER and I mean NEVER put it in the dishwasher or you can say bye bye to Mr. Grill Pan. Simply wash it with mild soap and water, dry and wipe some Olive Oil on it to help protect it.

If you happen to purchase one of these must have kitchen gadgets then I hope you find many “simple but tasty” dishes for it.

Bon Appetit

Stove top smoker

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Anyone who knows me knows I’m a kitchen guy. Not the stand around in the kitchen with a beer in my hand yapping about sports or politics (although I have been known to do this) but more the stand around in the kitchen with a beer in my hand to develop a recipe and what do I need to pull it off.

When developing a recipe or simply planning dinner it’s not all about the ingredients—- okay,okay it’s 95% about the ingredients—- but it’s also about what kitchen gadget or utensil to use and I JUST LOVE MY KITCHEN GADGETS so what better way to kick start the Kitchen Gadgets category of my blog than my most recent purchase…. my Cameron Stove Top Smoker.

            This gadget is great for those times when you only wish to smoke a small amount of something or you simply don’t wish to fire up the big boy and I’ve found this was perfect for when I smoked some Jalapenos so I could make some Chipotle Mayo (see Sauces and Dips) and to put a light smoke on some pork chops before finishing them off in the oven but this great gadget can also be used without wood chips and the possabilities are restricted to your imagination.

Whatever you use it for I’m sure that just after one use you will be hooked and you will be looking for reasons to use it to create “simple but tasty” dishes.

                             BON APPETIT