Back in the Saddle-Part 1
11/02/15 - 08:04 Filed in: Lessons Learned
This 2 part blog entry will cover several topics all in one cook. Many folks tell me they like looking at the big meals I show on this site, but they could never do that themselves. This blog will let you in on some of my thought processes and planning that go into a multi-item cook. Believe me, if I can do it anyone can do it. This entry will also discuss my return to the grill after a long absence. It will talk about the rather unusual circumstances where the meal was planned around the side dish, not the main dish. It was an ambitious meal where 5 items were baked, stir fried or smoked on my 3 Eggs. I will describe some of the steps I took to help make it all come together. Last but not least: I will talk about one of the best dishes I have ever made, which just happens to be a side dish. As I mentioned earlier, it was so good I planned this meal starting with this side dish and picked the other items to go with it. I will write it in two parts. Part 1, which you are reading now, will describe the lead up and planning for the cook. It will also cover the items I made ahead on Friday night. PART 2 will cover the main cook on Saturday, including a last second change I made which made a big difference in the outcome.
Background: For reasons I have discussed elsewhere in this year’s blog, this summer was a lost summer when it comes to grilling. Starting in September I had made a few things, but I wanted to get back to grilling in a big way. I was hoping that my Big Green Egg dealer’s Fall Customer Appreciation Days on Saturday September 12 would help give me some inspiration to get reacquainted with my grills. Eric and Cindi Mitchell were there cooking for the event. If Eric’s name sounds familiar, he is the author of the SMOKE IT LIKE A PRO Big Green Egg cookbook which came out this past spring. I had written a very enthusiastic blog entry about it and had originally planned to enjoy the summer grilling my way through this book. This wasn’t to be, but now I plan to try things from the book in the fall. As usual Eric and Cindi were making a wide variety of items which were grilled, smoked, deep fried, stir fried and baked on their two Eggs. As I will describe in a second, they more than inspired me. One of the things they made was so good I knew I HAD to make it next weekend. One of the desserts they made this day also became the dessert I was going to make.
Summer Succotash - Background: There were two sets of Eggs cooking items for the Fall Customer Appreciation Days, so I was bouncing back and forth sampling the wares. About midway through the event I wandered over to Eric and Cindi’s area and found small cups of diced food. I wasn’t so sure what it all was, but it looked like corn and possibly some other veggies. Despite the fact it was “just veggies” I gave it a try. For me veggies are a “necessary evil” and I like them a whole lot better when they are grilled or smoked. I took my first bite, not expecting a whole lot. I was treated to a burst of many wonderful flavors. In addition the the veggies, I was pretty sure I could taste bacon too. The bottom line was this dish was amazing. I told Eric and Cindi this was the best veggie dish I had ever had. After a few more bites, I changed that to it being the best dish of any kind I had. I had planned on getting out to the grill the next weekend and I knew what I had to make.
Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies - Background: As I was getting ready to leave the dealer event my dessert for the next weekend was revealed to me. Eric and Cindi had whipped up batch of cookies. They looked like oatmeal raising cookies, but were CRANBERRY OATMEAL COOKIES. I had seen them in SMOKE IT LIKE A PRO and they neatly solved a problem for me. My dad hates raisins and cranberries sounded like a tasty substitute that my dad likes. I now had two items picked and I had sampled versions made by the person who’s recipe I was using. How cool is that? How often does that happen? I knew I had two winners on my hands if I did my job of following the directions right.
Mega Meal - Choosing the Rest: I decided I would do everything for this meal on the grill. I already had dessert and one of the sides. Unlike most meals, I was not in the position of picking the main dish and pairing it with sides. I had a totally amazing side and as far as I was concerned it was the feature item of this meal. I wanted to pick something to compliment the Summer Succotash. There were two other considerations. There was only one of me cooking so I had to pick items I could pull off alone. The normal procedure for these meals is I collect my dad and bring him over to my house about 3 hours early. I set him up with a movie, which he watches while I get the meal ready. I really didn’t want to pick something low and slow with a long cooking time. I wanted to pick something I could put on the Egg just before I picked him up or just after I got back. The CyberQ WiFi would be able to watch the Egg for me during the half hour I would be gone. The second consideration was that this was my first large scale grilled meal since Easter. I wanted my return to grilling to be fun, not stressful. So I wanted to pick items that were relatively easy to do. Since I already had two dishes from SMOKE IT LIKE A PRO I looked there first. I quickly found the recipe called SMOKED HAM which was a perfect fit. It involved applying a sweet and spicy glaze to a cooked and smoked ham and reheating it on the smoker. It took about 2 hours to cook and was very easy to prep. As soon as I had selected the ham I thought of SMOKED SWEET POTATOES. A five minute prep and then set them on the smoker and forget them. From making them before I knew they went great with a ham recipe like this and they could fit on the same Egg I was smoking the ham on. I also knew the Sweet Potatoes took around two hours which was similar to the ham. For the bread I wanted to try some Hawaiian rolls. My go to source for baking recipes is the KING ARTHUR FLOUR WEBSITE and I quickly found the recipe HAWAIIAN BUNS. A week ahead of time I had all of the items picked for my return to grilling. Everything seemed like it went well together and I was excited at the prospects for this meal.
Pre-Planning: At first my plan was to make everything on Saturday. But honestly I kept thinking this might be a bit too ambitious, particularly where I was a bit rusty from half a year of inactivity. So I started exploring options to spread the cook out a bit by making some items ahead. I had already decided the rolls and dessert could be made ahead of time. Originally I was planning to make the baked goods earlier in the day. While they were on my baking Egg I could do the prep for the ham and sweet potatoes. During the two hours the ham and sweet potatoes were smoking I would do the prep for the stir fried SUMMER SUCCOTASH. This spread the load across all 3 Eggs. My baking Egg would handle the two baked items and with a baking temperature of 350 degrees (!77C) for both items I could use the DigiQ pit controller to mind the baking Egg so I could focus on other things. Two things still bothered me: The SUMMER SUCCOTASH was a quick stir fry and I had to figure out how to cook this and get the ham carved. The other thing that kept coming back to haunt me was the idea that this might be too ambitious for me to do in one big single-day cooking session. Hobbies are supposed to be fun right?
Solution: The solution to the overly ambitious cook aspect was to make the baked goods ahead. Looking at the recipe it said the buns would last for 3 days. If I made them the same day, I would not be able to pull off serving them warm on Saturday. So making them ahead on Friday night really didn’t hurt anything and helped spread out the load. The cookies would also be fine made the night before. In looking at the two recipes the HAWAIIAN BUNS were not particularly difficult to make, but they did have a long prep time with a two hour and then a one hour rise before you baked them. It made sense to start these first. During the HAWAIIAN BUNS two hour rise time, I would do the prep for the CRANBERRY OATMEAL COOKIES. I would bake the cookies on the Egg during the one hour rise. This really simplified Saturday for me and was something I could do Friday night right after suppertime.
Friday Night - Setup and Pre-Flight: Right before supper I went out to the Eggs to clean them, restock the charcoal, set up the Adjustable Rigs on two of them and get the DigiQ partially set up. I would be using the baking Egg in a couple hours, but I was going to set up all 3 Eggs. This is a habit I developed for large cooks, early morning cooks or cooks with complex grill set ups. Doing this part ahead of time gives you the ability to absorb extra time required due to unexpected surprises. Although I wear rubber gloves when handling the charcoal, I always seem to get charcoal dust on my hands no matter what. Doing all of the Eggs at once, I get dirty all at once. I often stock and light the first Egg I need to use first and while it is coming up to temperature I do the other Eggs. This allows me to keep an eye on the first Eggs start up and make sure I get my cook off to a good start. This night I didn’t need to light the baking Egg for a couple hours, but it still made sense to do all 3 Eggs the night before. One of the things I needed to test was my setup using the Adjustable Rig for smoking the ham and sweet potatoes. Both items needed to fit so they could share the Egg. Here is where pre-flight testing proved beneficial. My original plan was to place the oval pizza stone at Level 1.5 (1.5 inches or 3.75 cm above the fire ring), a shelf with a shallow foil drip pan at Level 3, a shelf for the Sweet Potatoes at Level 4.5.and using the Rig Extender to hold a shelf for the ham at Level 7.5. Only one problem: this setup didn’t work in two different ways.
I brought the baked potato holder out and discovered there wasn’t enough room to fit the sweet potatoes between the shelves at level 4.5 and 7.5. That was bad enough, but even worse the ham didn’t fit with the shelf at Level 7.5. I had put the still wrapped ham in another plastic bag and brought it outside so I could try the set up. I found the lid didn’t close with the ham at Level 7.5. The dome hit the ham way before the lid was closed. This meant the ham and sweet potatoes would have to share a shelf. Only one problem: The lid still didn’t close with the Rig Extender removed and a shelf at Level 6. This meant I wold have to be able to fit both the ham and sweet potatoes on a shelf at Level 4.5. There is less room available on a D-shelf at that level and you also have the side rails of the Adjustable Rig to contend with. It was a tight fit but it did work. If you haven’t figured it out by now: this is a good thing to know ahead of time so you can have time to adapt and not delay your meal. You do not want to discover this AFTER the Egg is heated. It is difficult working with hot girl grates and you run the risk of losing your heat. Plus the extra air you have let in may result in the grill running way too hot once it recovers. By pre-flighting the setup I was good to go on Saturday. At the proper time I simply walk out to the Egg and light it.
Friday Night - The Cook: The rest of the night went well and was pretty much free of surprises. I did the prep for the HAWAIIAN BUNS and got the dough into a dough-doubling pail which I placed in my unheated oven. I always turn the oven light on when I do this for two reasons. The first is to add a little heat to the oven cavity to help with the rise. The second reason is so I can see the dough-doubling pail is in the oven. This way I won’t forget and start pre-heating the oven several hours later. I cleaned up my baking prep area and set up and gathered the ingredients for the CRANBERRY OATMEAL COOKIES. I filled the dishwasher and got load of dishes going. Then I went out and lit my baking Egg and set up the DigiQ to control it for a cooking temperature of 350F (177C). I headed back inside to make the cookie dough. The pit controller really helps simplify the prep process. If you set things up properly you can light the Egg and go in and do your prep without having to keep one eye on the grill. When you head out to the grill 30 or 40 minutes later, you know it will be where you want it.
I had timed things so the cookie dough would be finished and dropped onto the cookie sheets when the first rise of the HAWAIIAN BUNS was done. This is when my one surprise of the evening occurred. Although I used a cookie scoop the size called for, I was ending up with many more cookies than the recipe called for. I was going to have to make at least two more trays of cookies, possibly a third. So I made a quick change in plans. Once I saw I would need multiple rounds of baking, I ran out and put the first two trays of cookies on the Egg, before doing anything about the rising dough for the HAWAIIAN BUNS. I set a timer to remind me to go out and swap the trays of cookies midway through their baking time. After I got the remaining cookies dropped onto pans, it was time to pull the first round of cookies. I went out with 2 new trays and brought the 2 trays of baked cookies in. Once again I set a timer to remind me to swap the position of the cookies. I put the first round of cookies on a cooling rack and the removed the risen dough for the HAWAIIAN BUNS from the unheated oven. I punched the dough ball down, divided the dough into 16 pieces, rolled them into balls and placed them in a 9”x13” (23x33cm) baking pan. This went back into the unheated oven to rise for an hour.
By moving up the start time for the first two trays of cookies I was able to make up for having to do 3 rounds of baking for them. When the final tray of CRANBERRY OATMEAL COOKIES was done the HAWAIIAN BUNS had completed their one hour rise and it was time to bake them. I brushed them with the egg wash and brought them out to the Egg. When I came back into the house I knew it was mandatory that I have one or more Quality Control samples of the CRANBERRY OATMEAL COOKIES. I was a bit worried because of the difference in yield I had vs the recipe, but I had nothing to worry about. These cookies were delicious and had an interesting texture: a bit chewy on the inside with a nice crunch. The flavor was every bit as good as oatmeal raisin cookies. I went out to the Egg armed with my Thermapen about 5 minutes early to check on the HAWAIIAN BUNS. They had a little time left to go and I stayed out there to keep and eye on things. When the buns reached 190F (88C), as measured by the Thermapen, I took them off the Egg. and brought them in to cool. After 5 minutes on a cooling rack I separated the buns from each other. During this 5 minute rest, I emptied the dishwasher and threw on another load of dishes.
The first night of this multi-item, multi-day cook went well. If you plan things well you will easily achieve good results. By doing the baked goods the night before, it made my Saturday easier and more stress free. The extra time I gained on Saturday gave me time to analyze the cook before I started. This extra analysis resulted in my making a last minute change to my approach. This one change made a world of difference in achieving the best possible results. Day 2 will be covered in PART 2 of this blog.
RELATED LINK Here is a link to Part 2 of this Blog Entry and the related and newly added Tip entry. There are also links to the Photo Entries for the items I made for this cook.
BACK IN THE SADDLE - PART 2
MULTI - ITEM COOK TIPS
HAWAIIAN BUNS Photo Entry.
CRANBERRY OATMEAL COOKIES Photo Entry.
SUMMER SUCCOTASH Photo Entry.
SMOKED HAM Photo Entry.
SMOKED SWEET POTATOES Photo Entry.
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