Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Our second foray into smoking meat.

This past weekend we smoked an 8 pound, bone-in pork shoulder.

This smoking adventure actually started Saturday night and went on until Sunday afternoon.  An 8 pound pork shoulder takes about 12 hours to cook and we didn't want to have to get up at 4 A.M. to start, so we had the brilliant idea to do it all night.

We started out by buying the shoulder Saturday morning and covering it in mustard and a BBQ rub (I don't remember which one exactly).  We wrapped it in Saran wrap and let if sit in the fridge until midnight.

At 11:30 P.M. (after watching a very exciting end to the NASCAR race at Bristol and not watching a horrible Chiefs game) we started getting things ready.  Brian got the smoker up to temp (225 degrees), the hickory wood chips soaked and in the pan, and the meat unwrapped.  I got the mop sauce ready.

This time we used a can of beef broth, garlic powder, mustard powder, olive oil, and little bit of Worcestershire sauce.  I mixed it together in a sauce pan and let it simmer for about 20 minutes to blend all the flavors.

At 12:30 A.M. we put the meat on.  From our experience with the chicken and brisket being a little dry, our goal was to make sure the water tray was full the entire time and to use the mop sauce once every hour.  Of course that meant Brian and I had to take turns getting up throughout the middle of the night to mop the pork and check the temperature, but the end result was totally worth it!.

After the pork was smoked for about 9 hours, we took it out of the smoker, wrapped it in foil and put it in the oven preheated to 225 degrees.  We chose to do this so that the outer "crust" of the meat would soften up while still staying very moist.

At 12:30 P.M. we were finally up to temperature- 180 degrees.  Things smelled wonderful, but we still had some work to do before we could eat.  We needed to "pull" or shred the pork.  The pork was so moist and juicy it just fell right off the bone.

Our first meal with the pork was a traditional pulled-pork sandwich topped with coleslaw.  It was amazing!

We have a couple of things we would change for next time- it probably isn't necessary to use the mop sauce every hour (if we decide to do it over night again), and we will wait until the pork reaches a higher temperature (190) and then let it sit for an hour so the fats continue to break down.  Oh, we will also soak the meat in a brine.  Don't get me wrong, it was still awesome, these are just some things we want to try for next time.

Since we had so much pork still left to eat, we made pork fajitas for dinner.  They were the best fajitas we've ever had.


Then on Monday we made pork gumbo.  Usually you think of shrimp, sausage or chicken gumbo, but with our pork it was sooooo goooood.  I'm so glad there is a ton of leftovers to eat all week.  You can find the gumbo recipe here.

We still have some pork left, but I have plans for that.  Is it bad that I already want to make more?

Besides cooking the pork we got started on a few other projects around the house such as the landscaping around the patio/deck and building the "mini-patio" (the pad for the stairs leading off the other side of the deck).

We also made a list of all the other things we want to accomplish before winter (and probably won't happen now that we have to watch NASCAR and Chiefs), but I don't want to distract you from thinking about pork.

So go eat some bacon already!

Which, by the way, we are going to try to smoke one of these days.....

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Kuh Why Eee

Fun Friday Feast is Cancelled this Week

I know everyone was really looking forward to FFF, but I just wasn't able to cook dinner on Friday before work.

I had hives!  Have any of you ever had hives?  It is one of the most awful things I have ever experienced.  I can't really compare them to anything, because I don't remember having chicken pox as a kid and I have never had poison ivy.  I imagine they are as itchy and painful as poison ivy, but without all the oozing puss.  They actually covered my entire body (literally, you name it, there was a rash there), even my freaking scalp!

Here is a pic of my legs Friday morning (see the redness on the inner thighs?).  Sorry, it's kind of weird.  My whole body looked like that.

So the doctor prescribed me a large dose of steroids and some anti-itch medication (Benadryl does not work- even 4x the recommended dose, nor do any other allergy meds).  Unfortunately the doctor sent the script to the wrong pharmacy Thursday night so I had to wait until Friday afternoon to start taking the meds (the hives started appearing Tuesday night while I was at work and progressively got worse).  I actually had to go in to work on Friday because Shanon wasn't going to be there, and it really sucked at first.  I got my meds, and after about 3 hours, the antihistamine and steroids kicked in and I felt like a million dollars.  Finally no more itching and burning!  Yeah!  I hope this never, ever comes back again.  But considering I can't figure out what caused it, it may just happen.

Okay, so enough of my bitching (although you would be too if you had hives).  Let's talk about Nine Inch Nails!  It was awesome!  This concert was better than the With Teeth concert we went to a few years ago (2005 I think).  We had amazing seats.  I was wondering if I would regret not getting GA floor seats (since the last concert we went to the seats weren't so great).  But not at all!  We were towards the right side of the stage if you are looking at it, about 10 rows back, in the first row of seats on the lower level.  I guess that's what you get for being a member of the fan club (don't worry, it's free).

We were only smart enough to have Brian's cell phone to take pictures with.  Next time I won't worry about getting frisked and having something taken away; that seems to only happen out at Sandstone, or whatever it is called now.

Here are some of the pics:

The rest can be seen here.

This is the set list from that night:

Letting You
March of the Pigs
Head Down
The Frail
The Wretched
Gave Up

Me I'm Not
Great Destroyer
Ghosts 17
Ghosts 28
Ghosts 19
Ghosts ??

Greater Good
Terrible Lie
The Big Come Down
Ghosts 31
Head Like A Hole

Love is Not Enough
God Given
In This Twilight

I think it lasted a little over two hours.  On the last tour he didn't even do an encore.  I am sure all the people sitting around us were jealous because of all the fun we were having; we were singing along to all the songs, cheering, and jumping up and down like crazy teenagers (we always do; of course three 24 ounce beers always help).

We wish we could go to another one this year.  We'll just have to hope for another tour in a few more years.

Now we just have to look forward to Coldplay in November at the Sprint Center.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

We are no longer virgins.

To smoking meats, you dummies!

Before we went to Las Vegas we bought a gas smoker, and Sunday was the first time we were able to try it out.  For our first time I think it went extremely well.  We cooked a 5 pound chicken and a 2.5 pound brisket.

Our set-up:

I know there are smoking purists out there that would laugh at us for using a gas smoker, but I think it did a great job, and there seems to be a lot less baby-sitting than a traditional wood smoker.  I'm sure once we have this gas smoker down, we will probably look into a wood smoker.  But for now, this will cook all of our awesome smoked meats!

The brisket:

First Brian covered it with a light coating of mustard, so the rub would have something to stick to. Next we used one of the many BBQ rubs we have received as gifts over the years (I think people were trying to tell us to start smoking meats).  Brian also cut deep slits into the brisket to help it soak up all of the smoky flavor.  Next time we are going to try putting garlic cloves in those slits for added flavor.

The chicken:

For the chicken I rubbed a garlic/thyme/rosemary/BBQ salt/butter mixture under the skin.  It smelled awesome even before it was cooked!

We used mesquite wood chips for the flavor.  We ended up going through the whole bag you see in the picture.  I guess we will need to buy this stuff in bulk!

We put the meat into the smoker at a temperature of 225 degrees.  Let the smoking begin!

We were expecting the meat to cook for about 5 hours to reach their ideal temperatures.

In the mean time, Brian decided that cooking meats wasn't enough to do on a Sunday, so he built the base to hold our enormous umbrella on the new patio (on the deck it was actually anchored into the deck).  It took him no time to build, and it looks great and serves it's purpose.

To go with our dinner of smoked meats we made up a fruit salad, grilled corn on the cob, and invited our friends, Frank and Lynn, over to be our guinea pigs for the smoked meat.  We told them ahead of time that they needed to be brutally honest about the meat so we would know what to do better for next time, which I think they did.

The meat that we thought was going to be done around 5 P.M. ended up taking until about 7 P.M. to get up to temperature (or as close as we were going to let it get).  The chicken got up to 165 degrees and the brisket to 173 degrees.

Our finished products:

The meats were very good, but there are some things we would change for next time.  The white meat on the chicken was a little dry (the dark meat still very moist), so we think the chicken needs to come out of the smoker at about 160 degrees (it always cooks a little longer after you take it off anyways).  Otherwise the chicken was great.  We will keep doing different variations of a butter-under-the-skin rub.

The brisket was flavored very well, but we think it was a bit on the dry/tough side.  The main reason we think it was like this is because we only let it get to 173 degrees.  We also did not marinate the meat beforehand, which I think would have drawn in more moisture. From what we have read, it also needs to be at 180 degrees before the fat starts to break down and become tender.  The plan for next time is to get the brisket to 180, take it out of the smoker, wrap it in foil and set it in a cooler for and hour or two to continue to stay at 180 and keep breaking down the fat.

An overall change for next time to help keep the meat moist is to use our mop sauce more frequently.  We used a beer/herb butter mop sauce about every hour.  You want to keep the mop sauce very basic so it doesn't mask the flavor of the smoke and meat.  Next time we will do the mop sauce every 45 minutes. Finally, now that we know how long these guys take in our smoker we can do a better job with our timing (in relation to dinner time and the meats being done close to each other).

Overall I think we were successful.  It was a lot of fun doing all the prep-work, watching the meat cook and then having an awesome meal at the end.

I think this Sunday we are going to attempt pork shoulder (to make pulled pork sandwiches).  I honestly cannot wait!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Polihali Beach

Fun Friday Feast

After eating out all weekend in Vegas, it's nice to come home this weekend and eat a bunch of home-cooked meals. We will be eating dinner on our friends' dime Saturday because they are getting married, but on Sunday I think we are going to try smoking some sort of meat in our new smoker on our new patio.  I'm sure you will see a blog about it in the near future.

For this Friday Feast I made Southwestern Pasta Bake (courtesy of Rachael Ray, can you tell I like her recipes?). We have never had this before, and I haven't actually tried it yet, so I hope Brian likes it when he comes home tonight for dinner.

Southwestern Pasta Bake

* coarse salt
* 1 lb penne rigate or cavatappi pasta
* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-size pieces (6 oz. each)
* 1 tablespoon ground cumin
* 1 tablespoon ground coriander
* 2 tablespoons chili powder
* coarse black pepper
* 1 large yellow onion, chopped
* 3 garlic cloves, chopped
* 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
* 2 cups milk
* 3/4 lb sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
* 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
* 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
* 14 oz. can of fire-roasted tomatoes

1. Preheat the broiler to high and position the rack 8 inches from the heat.
2. Bring a large pot of water to boil; salt the boiling water and cook the pasta until slightly undercooked—a little chewy at the center.
3. While the water is coming to a boil, preheat a large skillet over med-high heat with the vegetable oil.
4. Season the chicken with cumin, coriander, chili powder, salt, and pepper; add the seasoned chicken to the hot skillet and cook 4-5 minutes or until lightly browned.
5. Add in the onions, garlic, and jalapeno peppers; continue to cook 5 minutes.

6. While the chicken is cooking with the onions, make the cheddar sauce.
7. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour to it.
8. Cook 1-2 minutes over medium heat, then whisk in the milk.
9. When the milk comes to a bubble, stir in the cheese, cilantro, parsley and fire-roasted tomtatoes with a wooden spoon.
10. Season with a little salt and pepper; remove cheese sauce from heat.
11. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and add back into the large pot.
12. Add in the contents of the chicken skillet and all the cheddar sauce; stir to combine.
13. Transfer mixture to a baking dish and place under the broiler to lightly brown.

Looks yumm-o!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Water World

Weekend in Vegas

We were in Las Vegas from last Friday afternoon until Monday morning. We had a lot of fun, but we decided that it probably isn't necessary to go back any time soon. I don't really feel like rehashing every detail of the trip, so I will give a rundown of the highlights (and low-lights in some cases- FU Dan Marino!).

We stayed at Hooters Hotel and Casino. It's only one minute off the strip, across the street from MGM. It was very cheap, and there were no kids in the pool.

We walked up and down the strip a lot looking at all the different casinos. Here are some of our favorite things:

The Lion Habitat at MGM.

Boobies everywhere (this set happened to be at Treasure Island).

Beer pong at the cheapest casino on the strip, O'Sheas. They had $2 Miller Light and $4 well drinks.

The strip at night. It kind of reminded us of Times Square- lots of lights, lots of people, but much farther spread out.

The fountains at the Bellagio dancing to music. This was probably our favorite thing to see on the trip.

Eating wings at Dan Marino's is a very bad idea. Or any food at Dan Marino's for that matter. The worst restaurant ever. The excuse the manager gave for why the wings were so awful, "Some people like them, some people don't" (in a Mexican accent of course).

The coolest hotel on the strip, the Luxor. They have elevators that ride at an angle.

More boobs.

Hungover Brian watching the Nascar race after a night of heavy drinking at the Bobby Slayton comedy show. It was very good (from what we remember...).

Glass ceiling at the Bellagio. This place was packed with people. It was a very fancy hotel.

The buffet at the Flamingo. Yummy. They had a sushi station!

Lots of live flamingos at the Flamingo Hotel.

Of course we had to go to the Nascar Cafe on our way to downtown Vegas.

Freemont Street in downtown Vegas. The whole ceiling lights up at night playing different videos. This is considered old Las Vegas, and Binion's is where they hold a lot of the famous poker tournaments. There were a lot less people here than on the strip, and the beers were cheaper.

Our favorite neighbors Niki and Dusty who put up with us on the whole trip. They look happy because they know the trip is almost over (just kidding). We had a lot of fun with them.

Well, that's it. It was a good time, and it was fun to go with friends. I think anyone who reads this post should start thinking about going on some sort of group trip, like a cruise in the next couple of years. I know it would be a blast!

Update: Go here for all the pictures.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Patio Project- Week 4

The patio is done!

Well, the hard part is at least.  We will still be adding a water feature (small pond/waterfall) and landscaping around the patio and deck, as well as a pergola over one corner of the patio (the corner farthest from the deck).  But besides all that- we are done!

The last weekend of work actually started on Wednesday. Brian had a lot to do this day if we had any hope of getting the patio laid before our mini-vacation the following weekend. First he finished the patio edging (the 4x4s surrounding the stones). This was time consuming work (which started the previous Sunday), as it involved a lot of leveling and the annoying task of notching the timbers. Next Brian put down landscaping fabric and then created the leveling system for the sand. One board was installed temporarily along the ground (to be removed and filled with sand later) along with a longer board that would be pulled across the edging to create a level surface.

Thursday, two tons of sand were dumped in our driveway which Brian hauled into the patio that night.  Next he leveled the sand, which took well past sundown. He wanted to get it all finished so we would be able to pick up the stones on Friday.

I didn't have to work on Friday so in an effort to get more done, Brian took a half day off and we went to pick up the stones and bricks from Home Depot.  This was not fun.  We needed 186 large stones and 136 small bricks.  The large stones were over 20 lbs each! It took us three different trips (using the Jeep and a trailer) to get it all.  It really, really sucked.  But it probably wasn't as bad as hauling four tons of gravel and two tons of sand.

Our goal for Friday had been to just get the bricks, but that was done fairly early and we wanted to get a head start on laying the stones (we had heard that Sunday would be the hottest day of the year).  Brian actually trusted me with the stone/tile saw, so I cut stones while Brian laid them.  It took us about 3 hours to get all the stones put into place.

We still had to fill in the cracks with sand and rent the compacter again to make sure the stones were set, but that was easily done in a couple of hours on Sunday.

Edit by Brian: Courtney says this was easy because she wasn't dragging around a 300 lb vibrating plate compactor!

It's such a relief to be done.  Brian tells me this was the most back-breaking thing he has ever done, so I guess I'll trust him on that. ;)

Head on over here for more pictures from last week. I'm sure we'll keep updating you on our other smaller projects as we get them done.

This weekend we are taking a well-deserved break and heading out to Las Vegas!