Category Archives: Recipes

Five Buck Banquet

While I certainly prefer that the animals I eat be raised on pasture instead of crammed into factory farms and inoculated with chemicals, the current realities of economics and availability dictate that I still buy most of the family’s meat in the grocery stores. That meat seems to have become noticeably more expensive, but yesterday I spied such a swell bargain in the corner of one of an H.E.B. store’s meat coolers that I wanted to share.

It was a pile of smoked turkeys, vacuum-packed and fully cooked. These 12 and 13-pound birds, originally priced at $2.49 a pound (or about $30), were on sale for $5 apiece. At that rate, my first suspicion is, what’s wrong with them? I noticed the birds on top bore labels with an expiration date of Jan. 2 – and this was on Jan. 4. There was the answer to my question. But something made me dig down to the bottom row, where all the turkeys carried an expiration date of Jan. 25. Score.

Long, long ago in a faraway place up north, I might’ve returned as the triumphant tribal hunter with, say, two or three ruffed grouse or fat rabbits. These days, triumphant hunting means a $5 turkey.

I had never re-heated a smoked turkey, as up until now I have always done my own turkey smoking. I preheated the oven to 325 degrees, snipped off the netting and vacuum-wrapping, and placed the smoked turkey on a rack atop a roasting pan. The bird was nicely colored with grill marks, had a tight, intact skin and a cavity full of juice and congealed fat from its smoking. I poured the juice and about a cup and a half of water into the bottom of the pan, covered everything under a loose tent of aluminum foil and heated the 12.6-pound turkey in the oven for about two hours, until a meat thermometer sunk into one of the thighs registered 145 degrees. (During the last 15 minutes I took the foil off, in order to crisp up the skin a bit.)

I had my doubts, thinking that the turkey might come out pretty dry, best used for additions to other dishes. But no, whomever smoked all those birds for the grocery chain did a pretty good job. Nothing fancy such as sliding herbs and butter under the skin, but the meat was very moist and really tasty. I would bet, from the juiciness, that those birds were brined – soaked in a salt-based solution for several hours, a process I promise to detail sometime soon.

I made a nice flour-based gravy out of the pan drippings, and we dined like plutocrats on holiday last night.

This particular turkey was very stout and meaty for its size, and even had plentiful portions of meat running along the back. Between four of us, we probably ate no more than a third of the bird, if that, leaving enough for at least three more meals – say Turkey Tettrazinz, maybe a Turkey Pot Pie and certainly some hot turkey sandwiches made delicious on our panini grill.

Still, there remained an exceedingly meaty carcass, reminding me that there were yet more meals to coax from our once-feathered friend.

Home-made Turkey Broth
I filled a large pot with water, dumped the carcass, other turkey bones and skin into the water, added two stalks worth of sliced celery and a very large handful of fresh chopped oregano and Italian flat-leafed parsley, probably two to three tablespoons of kosher salt and one tablespoon of black pepper and, finally, about a teaspoon of Old Bay Seasoning, which consists mostly of celery salt and cayenne pepper.

I brought the pot to a boil, then let it simmer for between two and three hours. At bedtime, I turned the fire off. The pot still was very warm the next morning. After taking the kids to school, I strained the bits and bones out of the broth and had enough for three freezer bags with about 8 cups in each, and a fourth bag with probably 16 cups. As you might expect, I froze them.

These will become the basis of four or five meals. They will make some terrific sauces for rice or pasta dishes, and the large bag will form the foundation of some really good soup.

All told, we will have gotten perhaps eight meals out of that one turkey. At five bucks, that is a penny-pincher’s dream.

Also posted in Meat

Pulled Pork Infused With The Essence Of Rain

My young kids are at that age where, if you tell them the hunk of meat you are about to cook is a “Boston butt,” it’s the most hilarious news they have ever heard uttered. Even when you tell them it is not a pig butt.

The Boston butt is a pig shoulder. It is full of fat and gristle, attached to that shoulder bone, and you have to smoke it for hours in order to render it properly, but if you do, it is exceedingly delicious, especially shredded and placed on a very large bun, topped with a hot vinegary sauce and some coleslaw like they do in Oconee County, South Carolina.

Pig's foot has not yet become a delicacy at the One Acre RanchSo you have to plan, and commit a block of time to the meat. This particular pig shoulder weighed 8 pounds, so I figured 1.5 hours per pound or 12 hours of smokin’ time.

Saturday evening, I mixed together:

Ingredients (everything is “about”):

→ About 3/4 cup chili powder
→ About 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
→ About 1/4 cup adobo powder
→ About 1 Tablespoon cayenne pepper
→ About 1 Tablespoon cumin
→ About 1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
→ Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
→ 1 hilarious Boston butt

Method:

Trim heavier chunks of fat from the pork. Then truss it up a little with kitchen string, because otherwise this cut might fall into pieces on the smoker. (If you find you’re out of kitchen string, go out into the garage and find the roll of thick orange monofiliment that you use in the weed wacker. Rinse it well in hot water just to make sure it doesn’t have garage cooties and then truss up the pork with that. Don’t take any pictures though, because the result is pretty home-made looking.)

Mix spices well in a small bowl. Pat and rub the mixture into the meat, on all sides. Wrap the meat in aluminum foil and keep in the refrigerator overnight. Remove the pork the next morning about an hour before the fire is ready in your smoker.

I got up about 5:30 and got the smoker going in the dark, using my trusty baseball cap headlight of course. You’re generally advised to shoot for a temperature of about 225 degrees, although the meat will come out just fine if you cook it a little hotter, and I did – mostly at about 275 – in order to shorten the meat wait a little. Some people will tell you to go light on the smoking wood in order not to give the dark outer crust too bitter a taste. However, I find that you can pretty much substitute as much pecan wood as you want for charcoal. It’s flavorful, but never bitter in my experience. I alternated between adding another pecan log and adding a generous mittenful of mesquite charcoal.

A pork shoulder takes a long time to cook. Sometimes it seems to not be making progress, just sitting there at the same temperature for hours. Don’t worry, it’s actually doing fine, just relax. My plan had been to sit out there most of the day, sipping some mildly alcoholic drink and listening to some tunes courtesy of the new outdoor stereo I rigged up using my cell phone as a receiver.

Plans go awry.

After two months of pretty much not even a spit, the sky blessed us for a second day in a row and just opened up. Once in the late morning, and again in the late afternoon, it rained so hard that water blew in through the firebox vents and drowned the fire down below 150 degrees. Both times I was able to go out in the downpour, add dry wood and stir up the hot! charcoal remaining at the fire’s center. The rain’s efforts notwithstanding, I still was able to finish the meat (use a meat thermometer and don’t take it off until it’s been cooking awhile at 190 degrees plus a little bit, but if it’s hitting near 200 you better take it off quick) by about 5:15 p.m., for an overall cooking time of about 11 hours.

Then it was time to put the meat into a large pan, and do the pulling part. You pull the shoulder bone out, then take two big forks and use them to shred the meat apart. There is a lot of meat in an 8-pound pig shoulder, so it’s going to take you maybe 20 minutes to get this done. You can sample the meat while you’re at it, to give yourself some energy.

Don’t forget to mix up the sauce on the stove:

Carolina Barbecue Sauce:

→ 1.5 cups cider vinegar
→ 1 cup dark brown sugar
→ 1 stick of butter
→ 3 Tablespoons dark molasses
→ 2 Tablespoons dry mustard
→ About 1 Tablespoon of cayenne, more or less depending on how hot you like it.

Method:
Mix all the ingredients in a medium sauce pan over medium heat and bring it to a low boil. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Thicken it a little by mixing about 2 Tablespoons of corn starch in a like amount of cold water, and then adding that mixture to the sauce. Stir it in well, for another minute or two.

Then, assemble the sandwiches. Pile the pork on the bun, drizzle the sauce on top, and then add a thin layer of coleslaw on top of that.

This is seriously good eating.

You’ll wind up with a lot of pulled pork, so invite some friends and family over to help you devour it or, as an alternative, you can mix the leftover sauce with the leftover meat and pack small portions into freezer bags, then freeze it for later.

Summer Smoke

The start of the fig harvest, the tail end of the tomato harvest and grocery stores full of plentiful cheap chicken can make weekend menu decisions easy. Just make sure to cook that chicken thoroughly, especially if, like us, you aren’t lucky enough to live within reasonable driving distance of a free-range poultry farmer. And if you do, cook that chicken thoroughly anyway.

Chicken thighs are my favorite part of the bird. For this recipe, I remove the skin to cut down on the fat and allow the marinade to better reach the meat.

You're not a clown; don't eat clown food.Smoked Chicken
with Fig Sauce

Ingredients:
→ 8-10 chicken thighs, rinsed, skins removed

(For the marinade)
→ 1 cup soy sauce
→ 1 cup cider vinegar
→ 1-3 garlic cloves, mashed
→ Juice of 1 lime

(For the sauce)
→ 20 fresh figs, rinsed and halved
→ About 1/2 cup sweet onion, minced
→ About 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
→ 1/2 cup dry white wine
→ 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
→ 1/4 cup chicken or beef bouillon
→ 2 tablespoons butter
→ 1 tablespoon olive oil

Method:
Arrange the chicken thighs in a shallow pan. Mix marinade ingredients well in a small bowl. Pour over chicken. Cover and refrigerate at least a half-hour.

Fire up the smoker. You want to shoot for a temperature of about 250 degrees. If you can achieve that by cooking indirectly with a Weber or other grill, that can work, too. Once the fire has reached the desired temperature, arrange the chicken thighs on the smoker, shut the cover, make sure the fire burns at a fairly constant heat, and relax. This will take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and 45 minutes, depending on your fire. Turn the chicken after about a half-hour.

Once the chicken is done, you can make the sauce while the meat cools. Melt the butter and pour the olive oil into a non-stick skillet on medium heat. Add the basil and onion, stirring with a wooden spoon until the onion just starts to soften. Add the figs, and allow them to braise a little before stirring. Keep stirring occasionally until they soften. Add the wine and vinegar. Stir and scrape the spoon along the bottom of the pan to loosen any of the good flavor bits therein. Once the sauce begins to bubble up, add the bouillon. Keep stirring until the sauce thickens.

Serve the chicken with rice, and spoon the sauce over both. If you have fresh garden tomatoes to slice, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and serve as a side dish.

Simple & tasty.

Also posted in Garden

Ketchup With Those ‘Maters

A few bags of “fresh” Sicilian tomato sauce still sit waiting in the freezer, packed from last year’s garden largess, and I’d already frozen a batch of ragu sauce, perhaps blasphemed due to the four or five smoked pork ribs thrown in the pot just to see what.

Pre-assembled Ketchup KitYet the maters kept marching through the back door. So this time it was ketchup. Why not? I thought. It has to be better than the reconstituted plasticized red sugar-salted goop from the food factories.

Especially Tom’s Blue Ribbon Redemption ketchup, shored up with oven-roasted vegetables, fresh herbs and spices and a couple of smoked serranos thrown in for just a little bite.

You start with 10 pounds of garden tomatoes, however, good food takes time, and it took me several simmering hours before the resultant crimson glory boiled down to the kind of thick consistency to which I felt the family was accustomed and deserved.

Tried some on hot dogs wrapped in sourdough bread. It was worth the wait!

Tip of the hat to Tom out in the Sound at Tall Clover Farm.

Also posted in Garden