Looking Back, Looking Ahead ‘09
12/10/09 - 05:08 Filed in: Retrospective | Grilling | Smoking
For the last 3 years I’ve ended the year with a blog containing several Top 5 barbecue related lists. Top 5 Cooks, Top 5 Things I’ve Learned, The Top 5 Mistakes Made, and my list of Top 5 Goals for the New Year. I’ve made a change to the format for this year. As I detailed in my blog entry Banner Year, I was lucky enough to have made some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten this year. Since these items were also some of my favorite foods ever, they would automatically have to be listed as the Top 5 cooks this year. There were a lot of other great meals I made that deserved so acknowledgment. So I am adding a category for “Top 5 New Items Cooked in 2009” for recipes using new foods or new techniques that turned out great.
Top 5 Items Cooked in 2009
Ham Steak in Tequila w/ Honey Lime Sweet Potatoes (05/27/09)
This is a no-brainer to head the list. Ham Steak is my favorite meal, but to my great surprise this was the best ham steak I’ve ever had. I never would have thought of marinating a ham steak, but it gave it even greater flavor and helped keep it moist. I also decided to make grilled honey lime sweet potatoes since grilling the ham steak was fairly straightforward. These sweet potatoes helped put this meal over the top. This meal was a total surprise, I knew I’d like it but this was ham steak taken to a new level. I never knew ham steak could be this good.
BANNER YEAR Blog Entry
OFF TO A GREAT START Blog Entry
HAM STEAK IN TEQUILA Pork Picture Entry
HONEY LIME SWEET POTATOES Veggies Picture Entry
Old Fashioned Pork Roast w/ Alton Brown’s Perfect Mashed Potatoes (07/14/09)
This was another meal that was a total “Out of left field” surprise. My TiVO decided to record an episode of Cooks Country based on other shows I’ve watched. I wasn’t even aware the America’s Test Kitchen folks had a new show. This particular episode made a slow cooked pork roast in the oven that was prepared much like you would do it on a smoker. I decided to try it on the smoker and I figured the smoke flavor would help it be even better. A great roast deserved great sides, and certainly not boxed potato flakes. I found a recipe from Alton Brown for Perfect Mashed Potatoes. When I carved the roast I expected it to be good, but once again this was beyond my wildest expectations. The mashed potatoes were the best I’d ever tried too. A total chance event resulted in one of the finest meals that I or any of my guests had tasted.
THE BEST PORK ROAST EVER Blog Entry
WHAT GOES AROUND COME AROUND Blog Entry
OLD FASHIONED ROAST PORK Pork Picture Entry
Orange-Pomegranate Rack of Lamb w/ Grilled Green Beans - (06/10/09)
This was another great meal that started off with no great expectations. I was given some racks of lamb as a thank you present. I decided to try to find a new recipe for these. I also decided this would be a great meat to serve with some grilled green beans. This is the third entry in a row to have the same story: Average expectation, but one bite changed the assessment to it being one of the best meals ever. The lamb was the most tender and flavorful lamb chop I’d ever tasted. The grilled green beans were better than any I’d ever tried. I really couldn’t believe the luck I was having this year.
ORANGE-POMEGRANATE RACK OF LAMB Lamb Picture Entry
GRILLED GREEN BEANS WITH LEMON OIL Veggies Picture Entry
Grilled Pizza - (05/16/09)
I love pizza and frankly I think grilling is the best way to make pizza. I love the thin crisp crust and the thin layers of fresh toppings. I don’t know why it took me a couple years to get back to making my own grilled pizza, but it did. This time around a couple things were different. In the time that had passed I’d found a good sauce to use. Even more importantly I was determined to make my own crust. I found a new cookbook for Pizza on the Grill that had a great recipe for grilled pizza dough. This years model of grilled pizza was certainly the best grilled pizza I’ve had. The only thing I would do differently was perhaps learn to make my own sauce to see if I can improve on a great jar sauce. But there have been no leftovers the 4 times I made it this summer, in fact the only complaint I got was I should have made more, which is a good sign.
GRILLED PIZZA FRIDAY Blog Entry
PIZZA PERFECTION Blog Entry
GRILLED PIZZA v2 Pizza Picture Entry
Herb Roasted Turkey - (11/26/09)
For the last few years now I’ve been making a brined and smoked turkey which my guests felt was the best turkey they’d tried. The trick was trying to improve on it, without messing things up. I found a couple new additions to try this year, which did have the end result of making a great thing even better.
IN SEARCH OF TURKEY PERFECTION Blog Entry
HERB ROASTED TURKEY Poultry Picture Entry
Top 5 NEW Items Cooked in 2009 This list represents items that are new to my repertoire: food types I haven’t made before, new methods of preparation, items I’ve never made on the grill before etc. I had a very good year and the new versions of old favorites that by default made my Top 5 list above were going to crowd some other deserving meals off of the list. So a bit of a cheat, but these items deserve some recognition.
Brazilian Stuffed Roast w/ Alton Brown’s Perfect Mashed Potatoes (07/18/09)
This recipe takes a prime rib roast and adds new flavors to every bite by stuffing it with various vegetables , meats and cheese. It was cooked on the rotisserie which made for a very moist and tender piece of meat. Prime rib is great by itself but the slow roasting and the fillings really take it to a new place. Alton Brown’s Perfect Mashed potatoes were the perfect accompaniment to this wonderful roast. They played a part in enhancing 3 meals on this list, and though they are not grilled or smoked they really enhanced every meal I used them in.
BRAZILIAN STUFFED ROAST Beef Picture Entry
Flat Iron Steak Salad w/ Alton Brown’s Perfect Mashed Potatoes (04/29/09)
This was another case of Kismet. I’ve been trying to make more salads and this recipe for a steak salad was both colorful and tasty. Where the kismet came in was with the flat iron steak. The day before I was to grill it, I found an article about the perfect things to do in grilling this type of steak. Although I have made this type of steak before, this version was quite a bit better due to the last minute tips I found on the web. The grilled peppers were a perfect compliment to the steak, and were very colorful to boot.
FLAT IRON STEAK SALAD Beef Picture Entry
Grilled Meatball Sub - (06/16/09)
This was a case of I didn’t know I wanted to make this right up until I saw the recipe. More accurately until I saw the grill tool that the recipe was for. I got a mailing from Williams-Sonoma on a meatball holder for grilling meatballs. There was a companion recipe for meatball subs that used cheese and a spicy BBQ sauce. I’d never thought of meatballs being made on the grill. But there is an old saying that if something is good, it is going to be even better grilled or smoked. The meatballs sub was a rather pleasant surprise. The meatball holders were perforated and the fat drips out and gets turned into smoke which then flavors the meat giving them a taste you don’t get cooking them indoors. The second surprise was the Williams--Sonoma BBQ sauce. I usually associate store-brand BBQ sauces with being somewhat mild and timid in flavor. This sauce was certainly an exception to this with a bold, spicy and smokey flavor I was not expecting. These were really good meatball subs and totally different from any I’ve ever tried.
GRILLED MEATBALL SUB Sandwich Picture Entry
Cedar Planked Chicken - (08/09/09)
I picked up some cedar planks which were on special in early August for end of season clearance. They were less than half price and so I didn’t let the fact this store was declaring the grilling season over depress me. I still plan to grill year round. I first made some cedar-planked salmon, which I really liked, but I came across a recipe for cedatr-planked chicken I liked even better. The recipe turned out a chicken with and Asian influenced flavor. It is easy to make and I’ve made it half a dozen times now. This meal, which was one of the best of the year, also involved one of my biggest mistakes of the year. See item 3 in the Top 5 Mistakes not to repeat. Fortunately while the original plank didn’t survive, the chicken lived to be cooked on another plank.
UP IN FLAMES Blog Entry
CEDAR-PLANKED CHICKEN Poultry Picture Entry
Grilled Beef & Veggie Stew - (07/29/09)
I’ve been trying to do more grilled veggies for a few years now and really got into it in a big way this year. What better end product for grilled veggies than a soup or stew. I did so many grilled soups this year they rated their own new section. The best of the lot in my opinion was this Grilled Beef & Veggie stew recipe. I actually assembled the recipe from several sources and it had a unique and excellent flavor. The heat of the grill caramelizes the veggies and the smoke adds an additional great level of flavor. Every grilled soup I have made is head and shoulders better than any canned soup you’ll ever find.
SOUPS ON! Blog Entry
GRILLED BEEF & VEGGIE STEW Soups & Stews Picture Entry
Top 5 Lesson Learned, Re-Learned or Reinforced Nothing Beats Experience This year I had many more opportunities to grill and smoke and I took advantage of them. I’ve been trying to force myself to do more on the grill and smoker, and this year it really started happening. One of the things that helped was having a certain base level of experience that I gradually kept adding to by trying new things. Once you have done something a few times it becomes second nature. This year I was regularly adding a second or a third grilled item to my meals. I was usually comfortable enough with the basics of the main course, so I could focus more on the sides where I was still gaining knowledge. I also have become so used to my smoker I rarely have to run out and adjust the temps. I just have a gut instinct now for where to set the vents and I am usually pretty close to the mark. So by all means keep trying new things and keep pushing yourself. The things that were once hard start to become easier and become almost second nature.
BANNER YEAR Blog Entry
OFF TO A GREAT START Blog Entry
The Right Tools Can Make All the Difference
Now I will admit I am a gadget guy, I’m a sucker for a good gadget. But the right gadget or in this case grill tool, can make all of the difference in the world. This year I bought several tools that allowed me to make new types of foods on the grill. They weren’t cheap, but if you plan to get a lot of use out of the item in question the cost of ownership comes down fast. Three items come to mind this year, plus a 4th item I have been using for 6 years now.
The first new item was a wire mesh grill pan with a lid. The one I have and is from William-Sonoma. It is made of stainless steel and should last a long long time. This tool has allowed me to make some great grilled salads and I don’t think I could have had the same results without it. The second item was the meatball holder for the grill, an item I never knew I needed until I saw it. In fact I never would have considered making meatballs on the grill at all until I saw this device. The last item was a flexible grill basket for grilling loose items and a great way to make more of those veggies I was trying to do. What caused me to buy this item was my first attempt at grilled Honey Lime Sweet Potatoes. Strangely the recipe by Williams-Sonoma, who sells grill baskets, did not mention using a grill basket. As soon as I saw they expected you to turn about 36 potato wedges in less than a minute, I knew there was no way to do that in the real world. Without a grill basket that is.
THINGS REALLY PANNED OUT Blog Entry
ANOTHER NEAT GADGET Blog Entry
The last item which I have been using for 6 years now is remote read grill thermometers. They came to mind the other day when I was thinking that my food comes out consistently correct when I use the temperature probes. It occurred to me that when using the remote read thermometers the worst thing I could do is undercook something which is fixable. I could never overcook a meal while using them.
REMOTE POSSIBILITIES Blog Entry
It Pays to Discover the Cuisine of the Rest of the World
Getting tired of the same old ,same old? Try some grilled or BBQ’ed foods from around the world. I wrote a blog this year about my discovery that I loved some of the grill fare from around the world. Several of the authors that I like are adding more recipes for regional favorites from around the world. I love the new and different combinations of flavors and new methods of preparing some of these dishes. I’ve also changed in that instead of skipping past the international recipes in search of food from the good old US of A, I actually head for the international recipes first to see what exciting meals I have to look forward to. I find I am a big fan of spicy Moroccan and Tunisian dishes as well as the Asian combinations of spicy and sweet. I wrote a blog about my gradual move into more international foods this summer which I will link to below. One of the things I am most excited about is the almost unlimited amount of options this has just opened up for me in terms of things to try.
WORLD CLASS GRILLING Blog Entry
The iPhone Makes a Great Grilling Accessory
This is a hold over from last year, but if anything with the dawn of the App store it is even more true this year. As I said last year I’m not suggesting that you run out and get an iPhone just to use for your grilling, but if you have one take advantage of its features to help make your hobby easier. I have written several blog entries this year about cooking or BBQ related apps I’ve added to my iPhone. There are enough of these that my iPhone has a whole home screen dedicated to just cooking apps.
THE IPHONE - BBQ BUDDY - COOKING HOME SCREEN Blog Entry
THE IPHONE - BBQ BUDDY - LOCAVORE APP Blog Entry
THE IPHONE - BBQ BUDDY - GROCERIES APP Blog Entry
THE IPHONE - BBQ BUDDY - GRILL GUIDE APP Blog Entry
THE IPHONE - BBQ BUDDY - FROMAGE APP Blog Entry
THE IPHONE - BBQ BUDDY Blog Entry
THE IPHONE - BBQ BUDDY - PT. 2 Blog Entry
Get to Know Your Grill (or Smoker) This has been on the list every year, but every year I come up with new reasons it still needs to be there. Knowing the behavior of my grill and smoker has helped me with my quest to do more multi-item cooks. Something I did in a big way this year. It also helped me grill new types of food with great success. The lessons I learned about my grill last Winter, helped me a week ago when the temps started suddenly falling mid way through a cook. I knew to look to see if the propane tank was less than 1/2 way full and indeed it was. That is okay in the Summer, but not in the Winter. This lesson from last Winter helped keep a cook on track. As for the smoker: I realized when I made this years Thanksgiving turkey that I rarely have to run out to the smoker anymore to make little adjustments. I just know instinctively now where to set the vents for a particular set of weather conditions. This is something that only came over several years time and many cooks, but the journey was worth it. The extra time gained not having to run out to the smoker all the time has given me more free time to make a second item on the gas grille such as grilled veggies for a side dish. So learn as much as you can about your grill or smoker, you will be repaid many times over for your efforts.
Top 5 Mistakes Not to Repeat Leave Enough Time for Prep This item is a staple on this list, appearing there every year. While I am getting better at it, I am still suffering occasional bouts of not leaving enough time. Making two or three items on the grill or smoker has improved my planning. In fact the key to doing multiple items is good planning. No matter how hard you try you can’t be two places at once such as in the Kitchen and out at the grill. Multiple items have helped me in my planning and these days what tends to trip me up is the unknown. For example: This Easter I made a butterflied boneless leg of lamb. When it came time to trim the fat, a 15 minute task took me nearly an hour. When using knives, or working around hot flames, it doesn’t pay to rush. So now if I am dealing with something new I am purposely budgeting even more time.
Before You Start Make Sure You Have Everything While there is no excuse for this, I must admit this one bit me not once but three times this year. They weren’t quite the same issue but they all had a similar solution: Check ahead. One time I thought I had a particular dry spice key to a recipe in the cupboard and I found out I didn’t just as I started the meal. The second time I started cooking and got 2/3 of the way though mixing the ingredient and I found the supermarket hadn’t given me one of my bags of groceries. The last time I pulled out some ribs only to find they had spoiled. All 3 episodes resulted in a last minute runs to the store and could have ruined the meal. All three could have been prevented if I had checked my inventory a little sooner.
Grills Run Much Hotter in the Hot Weather I was making cedar planked chicken on a 90 degree (32 C) day. I put the plank on the grill to heat it and I ran in to take care of something in the Kitchen. Outdoor air temps affect the pressure of the propane. The hotter the air temperature is, the hotter the grill can get. On the day I made the cedar planked chicken my grill temps were about 200 degrees (111 C) higher than in the 70 degree (21 C) weather. Even though I returned to the grill in the proper amount of time, the grill temps were so much hotter the plank was actually starting to turn black on the top side. I flipped the plank and just as I went to add a piece of the chicken, one corner of the plank had a flame lick out. This flame travelled in a line around the plank and when it completed the trip around the perimeter, the entire plank burst into flames. Fortunately I saved the chicken, and all that I lost was the hour I had to wait to soak another plank. But it could have been much worse if I had actually put the chicken on the plank - it took 5 seconds from ignition to fully engulfed.
Even If You Think You Know the Recipe, Read It Again This one turned out to be a non-event, but it just as easily could have been a problem. I was making some grilled tuna as well as a grilled potato packet. For the potato packet the potatoes and herbs are direct grilled in a foil packet where they actually steam cook. I was familiar with the potato packet recipe, having made it several times so I looked at the ingredient quantities, but not the directions. About 3/4 of the way through cooking the fish on high heat I had a sudden scary thought. I was cooking these potatoes on high heat, just like the fish and I suddenly wondered if the potatoes were supposed to be done on medium heat. I ran in and checked the recipe and fortunately high heat was the correct temperature. But 3/4 of the way through the cook is not the time to be checking this for the first time - I should have skimmed the recipe directions before making it.
Be Sure to Make Enough This is a good problem to have, but can also be embarrassing at the same time. Actually this year was an exceptional year for me and I was having difficulty coming up with a 5th item for this category, so this is a bit of a stretch but here goes: This year the first time I made grilled pizza for my parents I made enough dough to make two pizzas. After all we have two pizzas when we go out for pizza and my parents bring some home. I thought about making more, but I didn’t Well I didn’t and we blew through the pizza. My father who tends to be critical absolutely loved it, in fact he said he had no criticisms. Then a minute later he said actually I do: Next time make more. It was a bit embarrassing as people wanted more but were being polite.
5 Goals for Next Year Continue to Try New Things I want to continue to expand my grilling horizons and actually I now hope this is on my list every year. Working from home gave me more chance to grill during the week as well as on the weekends. I continued grilling more veggies and this year I started adding these veggies into soups and salads which I had never made before. I also started making many types of quesadillas and kebabs this year. I also noticed that without thinking about it too much, I had discovered the wonders of world cuisine. This last item, in and of itself, will give me lots of new things to try.
Continue to Make More Breads & Rolls to Accompany My Grilled Food This year I got comfortable with hamburger and hot dog rolls and I took a stab at kaiser rolls and rye bread. I want to continue to learn more about kaiser rolls and rye bread. I want to come up with a great rye bread to go with my smoked pastrami. I also want to continue to make hamburger and hot dog rolls and I hope that they will become second nature to the point where I will just make the rolls instead of buy them at the store.
Start Making Desserts This is a holdover from the past two years that I let slide. I’m not sure why I have been postponing this, nerves probably. But I have been using fruit in some of the other things I have been making recently and this has gone well, so perhaps next year I will finally make this happen.
Experiment with Appetizers This is another holdover from last year, but I think the reason I didn’t get to it was I was still getting comfortable doing multi item cooks. I am getting more comfortable with the planning needed to cook multiple items, so I feel appetizers will be happening soon. That and a couple of the cookbooks I’ve recently purchased seem to have some great appetizer recipes.
Continue to Try to Improve As I was writing this blog entry I realized just how great a year this was. As I was recapping how this year brought me some of the best meals I have ever made, I also realized I was lucky and I don’t want to start taking things for granted. It would be real easy to say I’ve got this or that down pat and stop trying. I wrote a blog recently about trying to improve on a Thanksgiving recipe that had turned out the best turkey I’ve ever had. It was scary trying to improve on something that was great to begin with and run the risk of making things worse. It was worth the effort and I just hope that I never give up trying to improve on what I am doing. I don’t want to get obsessive about it, but I don’t want to give up on it either.
Thanks for reading my blog. Anyone who has made it all the way through this deserves more than just my wishes for a Happy New Year in 2010, but I am afraid that is the best I can do. I’ll also wish that we all have a great year pursuing our grilling and smoking hobby.
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