Tuesday, May 28, 2013

So, Neko! Let me tell you what I did yesterday...

This post is dedicated to the memory of my dear friend, Neko Hamlett.

Neko and I first got to know each other in 1999. I had just recently been hired by American Roamer (now Mosaik Solutions). Neko had long been a friend of the president of our company, and was just asked to join the team as VP of sales. It didn't take long for Neko and I to discover that we had a lot in common. We both loved darts (He was good at it, and I was good at making him look even better at it.), a good beer and a cigar (I didn't even know I had a passion for these until Neko introduced them to me. In fact, Neva says I was fairly virtuous...until I met Neko. I sure owe him a lot!), talking about how proud our wife and kids made us, and smoking (food)! It took a little while before we discovered the grilling part. One day I mentioned that my family loves for me to smoke our Thanksgiving turkey. Shortly after that, we were emailing before and after each holiday to find out what the other was going to smoke, and how it turned out. Neko went to be with our Lord during the Labor Day weekend in 2008. I was smoking a huge mess of ribs that weekend, and never got to tell him about them. I still love smoking meats (as well as all the vices he so wisely passed on to me), but there has always been something missing on holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day; holidays that require the use of a grill. This Memorial Day holiday I decided, what the heck! I might not receive a direct reply, but there is no reason for me not to let Neko know what I cooked for the holiday. So, Neko! Let me tell you what I did yesterday...

I hadn't smoked anything for quite some time. I've been itching to though. Plus, I needed to empty some space in the freezer. It didn't take long to decide I needed to smoke a turkey AND a boston butt. The next dilemma was figuring out what device I was going to smoke them on. Was I going to pull out the trusty Chargriller and smoke these the old fashioned way, with charcoal and wood chunks? Or was I going to crank up the Sawtooth pellet grill and slow smoke these items on the back deck? Both methods have their advantages. Nothing gives a good smoke ring and crust on a pork butt like smoking the old fashioned way. And you have to use the old methods if you want a smoked turkey that has that gorgeous mahogany skin. But...you have to really be prepared to dedicate your day to the grill. It is important to keep the smoke and temperature consistent, if you want your meat to come out just right. That's kinda hard to do if you have a lot of other things going on in your life that day.

Making life easier is what the pellet grill is all about. Other than occasionally checking the pellet level, these grill/smokers are about as "set it and forget it" as grills can be. You don't get the mahogany color on your smoked turkeys with a pellet grill, but that mahogany color comes at a price. While the turkey meat is juicy and flavorful, the skin gets so full of smoke it becomes acrid, and leathery. With a pellet grill, the smoke flavor of the turkey meat is still there, though as part of the background harmony, rather than the lead. However, the real treat with a pellet smoked turkey is the crispy, yummy skin. Who can argue with a turkey that looks like this?

 I thought about doing the pork on the Chargriller, and the turkey on the Sawtooth. My wife made some smart comment about me running back and forth between grills all day. I certainly did not want to create any unnecessary exercise for myself. That is NOT the purpose of a holiday. The pellet grill won!

The night before the great smoking event, I prepped my turkey. This year I found a commercial brine on clearance, that looked pretty good. It was mainly kosher salt, black and pink peppercorns, rosemary, and thyme. The next day, the real preparations began. I had to mix up a dry rub for the pork. Now, I live with a family of wusses (myself included). When we eat barbecue, we would much rather sink our teeth into something sweet and smokey, rather than spicy. My dry rubs have a tendency to be heavy on the brown sugar, and lighter on the salt and pepper.  This time my dry rub had brown sugar, smoked kosher salt, garlic salt, cumin, white pepper, dried red bell peppers that had been ground down completely, and finally, some dried tomato flakes that had been ground down. As you can see below, The tomato and red pepper gave the rub a nice red coloring.

Before rubbing the butt down, I mixed a bottle of pear hard cider and half a cup of vinegar, and injected all over the butt.

Next, I dried the turkey, oiled the skin, and sprinkled smoked salt and coarse ground black pepper all over the bird. Then, it was out to the pellet grill that was set on low/smoke which kept the temperature around 150 degrees, and produced ample smoke. It was a tight fit, but I got both pieces of meat, as well as a pie plate filled with water, herbs from the brine, and an apple, for moisture.

I kept the Sawtooth on the low/smoke setting for a couple of hours. I then cranked it up to medium, which got the grill to just above 200 degrees. This still produced a good amount of smoke, but kept the butt and turkey both at a good rate of cooking for producing moist and tender meat. For the first six hours, I sprayed the turkey and pork butt with a mixture of pear hard cider, vinegar, and water. After six hours, I turned the Sawtooth up just enough to get the temperature to 250 degrees, and started spritzing every half hour. After nine hours (just in time for supper) I had the golden brown turkey pictured earlier in this post. The pork butt needed another hour and a half to finish.

Neko, I don't want you to think we were total carnivores last night, without a hint of vegetables on our plates. As you can see below, I had a green vegetable...as well as some Loaded Potato Salad.

So, you've never had Loaded Potato Salad!?! Well! All you have to do is boil three pounds of red potatoes that have been sliced into decent bite sized chunks. While those are boiling (Don't forget that Anne Burrell says to always add enough salt to the water that it tastes like the ocean!), mix together a cup of mayonnaise, a cup of sour cream, one pack of ranch dressing mix, half a pound of crispy bacon all crumbled up, a half cup shredded cheddar, and about six green onions finely chopped. Stick the dressing in the fridge to cool. Once the potatoes are boiled til fork tender, drain and allow to cool just a bit. Mix them with the cooled dressing. If you can make the day before, it is better. That gives the ranch flavor some time to mellow a bit. It ain't your mother's potato salad, but it sure is good.

By the way, did you see the pink on the turkey meat in that picture. That's smoke! Once that bird hit the table, it didn't stand a chance. I was afraid things were going to break out into WWIII over the drumsticks. Fortunately, some last minute diplomacy prevailed.

Don't worry. I haven't forgotten about the pork butt. Here is a picture of the finished product.

The bark isn't as dark and thick as it would have been with the Chargriller, but it was far from being a disappointment. In fact, I had some of the pork for lunch today, with my left over potato salad. All I can say is I am glad my office has a door on it. That pork resulted in some sounds that some might deem inappropriate for an office setting. I am definitely going to have to use the hard cider as an injection again. I don't know that I could pick out the pear flavoring, but there was something about the cider, that made this meat scrumpdillyicious.

Well, that's pretty much all there is to say about my weekend, Neko. Something tells me you fixed them one heck of a barbecue on the other side of those pearly gates. One day, you'll have to tell me all about it...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Happy St. Fergie's Day!

What the heck is St. Fergie's Day? I can't believe you would ask such a question. Surely you have heard of St. Fergie, and are wholeheartedly celebrating his feast day! Well! Bless your heart! I guess I'll have to tell you the legend of St. Fergie.


The Legend of Saint Fergie

Many centuries ago, when the Romans still occupied Britain, there lived a young lad by the name of Ferguson. Ferguson had many dreams of becoming a person of importance. Perhaps a warlord, or king. Or maybe even a bishop in the Christian church. That seemed to be all the rage these days. Ferguson had a best friend named Patrick. Really, Patrick was Ferguson's only friend, so he got the title of best friend automatically. Patrick was an alright kind of guy, but he had a knack for stealing the limelight just when it seemed things were going well for Ferguson.

One fine summer day, Ferguson and Patrick were walking down the path to the local pond. Ferguson turned to Patrick and said, "Paddy. I can't wait until tomorrow."

"I know, Fergie," Patrick replied. "I'm so jealous. I can't believe that tomorrow you'll be on a ship sailing for Rome. What are you going to do when you get there?"

"I think the first thing I'm gonna do is sit down and have a giant bowl of Fettucine with the Pope. I'm gonna tell him 'Siri,' thats short for Siricius, you know."

"Is it now?" replied Patrick.

"Siri, I'm getting pretty tired of boiled beef up there in Britain. How about you send some pasta, and maybe a pepperoni pizza with extra cheese home with me. You do that, and I guarantee the number of converts will double in that area!"

"You've gotta be kidding me?"Patrick said incredulously. "I've never heard anything so ridiculous."

"Paddy," said Feruguson, "why do you always have to be harshing my mellow?"

The conversation continued on, but that isn't really important. A couple of days later, as Patrick was sitting outside of his hut, celtic raiders from the Isle of Ireland pillaged the village and took him as a slave. As they hauled him off, his father, Seamus cried after him. Then he looked over at Colin, the father of Ferguson, and said, "At least your Fergie escaped this fate."

Colin replied, "Fergie who?"

Patrick was herded with many other boys his age onto a ship, and thrown into a holding cage below. As he looked up from stumbling into the cage his eyes fell upon his best friend, Ferguson. "Fergie! What are you doing here? You're supposed to be on your way to Rome."

Forlornly, Fergurson looked at Patrick and answered, "I know. I got to celebrating a little too hard the other night. Not only did I lose all of my money, but I missed the ship to Rome."

Patrick could only look at his friend, Fergie, shake his head and sigh.

Several years later, Patrick and Ferguson were still slaves, acting as shepherds for an Irish warlord. While out in the fields one day, Patrick and Ferguson were discussing an opportunity that had arisen that would allow them to escape and return to their homeland. A ship was docked at the nearby port, and it was headed for London. From there, it would just be a few days journey by foot back home.

"It's agreed," Patrick said. "We'll meet at the great oak at the bend of the main road when the moon is at it's peak."

"Sure!" replied Ferguson. "Now run along, Paddy my boy, and get our things gathered up!"

As Patrick ran off, he turned around and yelled, "Be careful, Fergie! There are some mighty dark storm clouds on the horizon!"

Ferguson continued tending the flock of sheep as the sky got darker and darker. Soon the rain began to pour down. Ferguson decided to leave the sheep and go ahead and head to the great oak tree. AFter arriving, he hunkered down and began to wait...and wait...and wait...

Finally, Ferguson decided he needed to see how high the moon was (Yes, he is really going to check the moon in the middle of a downpour. Did I ever mention just how dumb this guy really was?). He stepped out from under the great oak, and looked up into the sky from whence the torrents of rain were originating.

BAM! ZOT! Ferguson was toast.

Not too much later, Patrick came up to the great oak. He was having a hard time seeing anything since there was no moonlight to illuminate the path. He hoped Fergie would get there on time, despite the lack of a moon. Strangely, Patrick noticed a smell of cooked meat coming from somewhere. This was making him very hungry, but he knew he had to keep his mind focused on the escape. Presently, Patrick realized Fergie might not come at all. He was just going to have to leave his friend. As he gathered the belongings, he made a mental note to learn more about roasting meat. Somebody was having a fine dinner tonight.

As Ferguson slowly opened his eyes he could hear a constant ringing in his ears, accompanied by the chirping of little birds. Then he realized that daylight was piercing the cracks between his eyelids. "Holy &#$%^!" (That's ancient Gaelic for "Oh! My Lord!" Honestly!) "I hope I haven't missed the boat!"  With that, Ferguson slowly rose, and started towards the port, slowly gaining strength as he recovered from the shock of the previous night.

Ferguson ran and ran until he could see the ship. It was still docked! However, just as he reached the ship, the gangplank was raised, and a loud blast emitted from the smoke stack. Brokenhearted, Ferguson looked up and saw his best friend, Patrick waving from the deck with a leis around his neck, and sipping on a mimosa. Ferguson ran to the ticket agent and asked him, "When's the next ship to London?"

"That would be two days following the next full moon." was the reply.

"How much is a ticket?"

"That would be $25, sir."

"$25 dollars!?! I don't have that type of money! I'm a slave!" Ferguson suddenly realized that was probably not the best piece of information to divulge at the moment.

"I've got a ship," spoke a deep husky voice behind him. "and it will only cost you a Thomas Jefferson."

Ferguson rolled his eyes as he turned to speak to the man behind him. "They don't make two dollar bills anymore!"

"I'm talking about a nickel, you dumb@$#!" (That's Norse for "Silly little man!")

"Oh. Sorry." Ferguson apologized. "I'll be glad to board your ship." Ferguson couldn't help noticing that there wasn't much too the vessel. It looked like a giant row boat, with a sail in the middle.

"Say hello to your fellow shipmates!" bellowed the sailor, as he gave Ferguson a hearty slap on the back. " This is Erik, Lars, Olaf, Bjorn, Frank, and Goober. Just grab you an oar, and let's get going. Time's a wasting!" With that, they pushed off and set sail. "By the way," the man said. "My name is Lief, Lief Erickson. We're going to America!" Ferguson did not know where America was, but he had a funny feeling it was going to be a very long time before he got home.

The voyage took six years, but during that time they stopped in New York, catching a performance of Cats on Broadway, as well as spending some time in New Orleans, celebrating Mardi Gras, and learning how to make jambalaya. Along the way, Fergie befriended a giant python named Perthy. Finally! they made it to London. After several days journey, Ferguson began to recognize the rolling green hills of his home. His first stop was the birthplace of Patrick, his friend. Ferguson knocked on the door. A much older Seamus came to the door. "Fergie, my lad! How are you?"

"Doing well, Mr. Seamus. Is Patrick in?"

"No, me boy. Patrick left a few months ago, headed back to Ireland. Said he had a vision, or something like that."

Ferguson's heart sank with the news. "Oh. So sorry to bother you."

"No problem at all, Laddie. Make sure to go see your father. He's been pining for you all these years."

Ferguson walked down the lane to the little cottage he had spent many of his childhood years wishing belonged to his dad. Then he walked behind, and knocked on the door of the little shack that was home. "I told you I don't want to buy one of your dag blasted vacuum cleaners!" Boomed a voice from within. Suddenly the door opened and Ferguson's father, Colin, stared him in the face. "Well! Out with it! What do you want to sell me?"

"Nothing," Ferguson replied. "It's me. Fergie. Your son!"

"Fergie who?"

After some time, Ferguson earned enough money to catch the next flight to Dublin International. Once he landed, he was surprised to see his friend, Patrick waiting at the gate for him.

"Fergie, my friend!" Patrick cried as he gave Ferguson a great bear hug. "I thought I would never see your face again."

"You're looking well, Patrick." observed Ferguson. "What have you been up to?"

"Oh, nothing much. Just converting the odd pagan to Christianity," Patrick said with the wave of a hand. "Oh! I almost forgot. I made bishop."

Presently, the two friends were walking down the lane towards the village where they had been enslaved so many years before, when a small girl came running up.

"Father Patrick! Father Patrick!" she called out, as she approached the two men.

"Calm down, my child," Patrick answered, as the girl caught her breath. "What is it you wish?"

"Father Patrick. I just don't get this whole trinity thing. How can God be three things?"

"Let me handle this one, Patrick," Ferguson said as he kneeled to the little girl's level. "You see, Princess, God is the Father. However, because he is all powerful, he is also his own son."

"So God's father is himself. Really!" The girl rolled her eyes. "I can't wait to hear the rest."

"God is also a ghost!" Ferguson exclaimed with a sense of excitement in his voice.

"So...God's dead."

"No! No!" Ferguson cried out. "He is a LIVING God!"

"But you just said he is a ghost," replied the little girl. "So which is it? Is he a God or a ghost?"

"Yes!" replied Ferguson.

The little girl looked up at Patrick, and whispered loudly, while acting like Ferguson couldn't hear. "So, who is this freakazoid (Irish for "Sweet little man") you picked up at the harbor!?!"

Patrick knelt down and picked a clover from the side of the road. "See this little shamrock?" he asked the girl. "God is like this shamrock. The shamrock is one plant, but it has three distinctive parts. In the same way, there is only one God, but he has three distinct manifestations."

"Oh." exclaimed the little girl. "That makes sense. Let me go tell Mum and Dad." With that, she turned and skipped off.

"A shamrock! Really!" Ferguson retorted incredulously. "You tell the girl that God is like a friggin little weed, and you expect her to figure out the Trinity!?!"


The two walked in silence until they reached the great oak tree. "Ahh!" sighed Patrick. "Do you remember this spot, Fergie?"

"Oh! I remember the spot, alright." Ferguson curtly replied.

"I can still remember the wonderful smell of roasted meat,"Patrick exclaimed with his eyes shut and taking a deep breath.

"Uh, Patrick."

"Yes, Fergie."

"That was roasted Me."

Patrick looked at Fergie for a couple seconds. "Oh." The two companions continued walking to town.

As they entered the town, masses of people ran out to the street tossing thousands upon thousands of shamrocks on the two travelers. "Blessed is he who explained the Trinity!" they all cried out. Ferguson simply slunk his head down and grumbled. Once again, Patrick stole the show.

Patrick and Ferguson decided to stay overnight at the local inn. As Ferguson sat in his bed, he thought about his entire life. Every time, things were getting ready to look up for him, there was Patrick, ready to steal the show! The longer he thought about it, the angrier Ferguson got. Ferguson knew that he had to take control of the situation, or forever live in the shadow of Patrick. Then it struck him. Ferguson had an idea so brilliant it could not fail. Perthy! Ferguson opened his satchel and pulled out his old friend, Perthy the python.

"Perthy, old buddy, old pal!" he said with an excitement in his voice that had not been there for years. "You are my ticket to fame!" At daylight Ferguson would sneak and loose Perthy upon the streets of the village. Snakes had never inhabited the isle of Ireland. The people would see this creature as Satan himself, and there would be Ferguson to save the day! Ferguson the Magnificent would forever live in the legends of Ireland! Ferguson blew out the candle by his bed, and laid his head down, satisfied with the scheme he had conjured.

As Ferguson slept he started to hear voices in his dreams. They were voices of terror. The voices were screaming about a horrible beast. Something about Satan visiting the village.

Oh, crap! (That's Irish for "Oh, Crap!") Ferguson suddenly realized those voices weren't in a dream. They were coming from outside his window. Ferguson bolted out of bed, and grabbed his satchel. Upon opening it, he realized Perthy was not there. Ferguson ran out of his room, down the stairs, and out the door of the inn. There was Patrick running after Perthy.

"Remove thyself from this village, foul beast of Hell!" He cried out with indignation. "Be gone with thee, oh Satan!"

Suddenly, there was a loud bang of thunder. BAM! ZOT! Perthy was toast.

"Nooooooo!" screamed Ferguson as he came running up to the still smoking lifeless python.

"But Ferguson," replied Patrick. "It was a beast from the otherworld. It had to be vanquished."

"You idiot!" yelled Ferguson. "I was supposed to vanquish the snake! All my life you have stolen the spotlight from me. For once, I had a foolproof plan. I was going to be the star! Don't you ever sleep late!?!"

"Fergie, my poor friend, Fergie," Patrick said, shaking his head, with pity in his eyes. "You always were a day late, and a dollar short."

"All hail Patrick the snake killer!" The crowd cried out. The church bell began to peel. "Ireland will never suffer the evil of snakes again!" the people cheered.

"You fools!" Ferguson cried out, as he grabbed a stone from the road. "Ireland never had snakes before!" With that, he threw the rock at the wall of the church. Suddenly, the crossbeam holding the ringing church bell snapped, and the massive bell came flying out of the tower.

SPLAT! Ferguson was a pancake.

The crowd went deathly quiet, as they all stared at the arms and legs extending out from underneath the bell.

"All hail Fergie the blessed!" someone in the crowd yelled out. "He stopped the bell from killing us all!"
"All hail Fergie the bell killer!" crowd joined in.

"Father Patrick. Father Patrick." Patrick looked down to see the little girl tugging at his robes.

"Yes, my dear."

"You know that freakazoid didn't really stop anything, don't you?"

"Shut up, you little brat!" (That's Irish for "Bless you, my child.") Patrick's staff swiftly made contact.

WHACK! The little girl was flying.


There you have it. The legend of St. Fergie. I promise, every bit of it is true. I suppose you are wondering how to celebrate the feast day of St. Fergie. Well, fortunately, you have the Great Food Junkie to set everything straight for you.

The feast day of St. Fergie is always the day after that of St. Patrick. After all, that scoundrel, Patrick was always stealing Fergie's thunder. Since Patrick was kind enough to point out for us that Fergie was always a day late and a dollar short, one always celebrates St. Fergie's day by eating the leftovers from St. Patrick's day. After all, it would be heresy to actually spend any money in celebration of this venerated saint.

I suppose you are wondering how the Great Food Junkie celebrated the feast of St. Fergie. Well, we had a nice roasted pork tenderloin (in honor of St. Patrick's obsession with roasted meat), along with some fried cabbage. Let me tell you, it was awesome. It is amazing how sometimes the simplest foods make the best meals. For the roasted pork tenderloin, I just took a 2lb tenderloin, rubbed it with a mixture of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and powdered thyme. I let it refrigerate overnight, browned all sides in a skillet, then placed in a baking dish with 1/2 inch of water. The tenderloin baked covered at 350 degrees for 55 minutes. Wow! it was fantastic.

For the cabbage, I fried a pound of chopped bacon until it was very crisp. Then I sauteed an onion in the bacon fat for 5 minutes. I added 2lb cole slaw mix (shredded cabbage and carrots), the bacon, and salt and pepper. I let that cook covered until the cabbage was tender. Now, doesn't that look good.

So, the next time you celebrate St. Patrick's Day, please...I beg of you...don't forget to celebrate the feast of St. Fergie, patron saint of those who are a day late and a dollar short...

...and little kids who don't know when to keep their mouths shut!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

I haven't been lost...just eatin' a whole lot!

I feel like I've let my readers (all two of you) down. I went the entire month of February with nary a post. I am sure some of you went back and re-read the book of Revelations in the Bible...just to make sure this wasn't one of the signs of the apocalypse. I assure you, it is not...at least I don't think it is. I remember something about the seven churches of asia...the false prophet...the beast...the whore of Babylon... Nope, no mention of the Great Food Junkie.

Speaking of "women of ill repute (not necessarily in Babylon), do you remember the movie "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"? Do you know how long it took me to realize the people who printed the movie posters didn't misspell warehouse?  I'll admit, I have rarely been the brightest bulb in the pack.

However, I digress.

Anyway, we have a little catching up to do. I believe I ended my last post with some mention of taking a bite out of Bambi. That's exactly what I did. I had a coworker come up to me and mention that he had too much deer meet, and was wondering if I might like some roast. Well, I never cooked deer in my life. The benefit to that is that if I really screw it up, the family will think that's just how deer is supposed to taste, and I am without shame. The next day, the friend showed up with five deer roasts. Now I was looking at five hunks of meat, and I had no idea how to cook it. I figured it would be good cooked slowly in a slow cooker, but I wanted to grill it. After some research and recipe hunting, I decided to treat Bambi just like I treated my dear friend chuck in the previous blog post. I mixed up the same marinate, with perhaps a bit more brown sugar, and marinated two roasts. I then wrapped them in bacon, and threw them on the grill. The results were deeeeeelicious!

 The bacon did a great job of keeping the lean deer moist. The only problem was the roast on the right. Not having ever cooked deer before, when I pulled it out, I thought it was the most beautiful roast I had seen. I wasn't sure what the significance of it being labeled "neck" was, but I was sure it was something special. What is special about it is that friggin huge bone running right through the center of the roast, making it one beast to slice.

My next great adventure in cooking is a program called eMeals. This is a neat little program, and the perfect solution for the family that raises their utility bill by standing in front of an opened refrigerator for three years, wondering what to make for supper. The result is usually, ordering pizza. With eMeals you are emailed meal plans for the entire week. Depending on the subscription level you choose, you can either have just dinner plans emailed to you, or every meal of the day. Not only are you given a menu, but you are given a shopping list as well. To make things even easier, you can indicate what store you do most of your grocery shopping at, and Emeals with customize the meal plans to use ingredients known to be carried at that store.

After doing eMeals for a couple weeks, we decided our grocery bill was a little higher than it used to be. However, we figure that we are coming out better in the long run, because knowing each night what you are going to eat, significantly reduces the pizza orders, and trips to restaurants. Here are some of the things we have eaten.

This is a creamy cheddar cauliflower soup. I wasn't sure at first, how it would taste, but the whole family scarfed it up. One of the tricks I used, was using yellow cauliflower. It helped intensify the cheesy look to the soup.

This is dirty rice and peas. Okay, there is absolutely nothing special about the peas, but the dirty rice reminded me of the stuff I used to get with my chicken and biscuits at Bojangles. I know I'm dating myself by mentioning that restaurant.

This was one of the best meals by far. It is a crispy baked Parmesan chicken breast. What is it the teenage girls say? OMG! The recipe didn't call for buttermilk, but I did marinate the chicken breast in buttermilk all day, while I was at work. The crispy topping was absolutely to die for. I know, the chicken in the picture doesn't look very crispy. That's because there was a whole lotta juicy topping surrounding the chicken that I just couldn't let go to waste...unless it was going to my waste. The other miracle on the plate is the carrots. The main flavorings for the carrots were brown sugar, butter, and ginger. The miracle is that Joseph actually ate them. He ate cooked carrots! THAT is a sign of the apocalypse!

Finally, this is cranberry chicken, with stuffing and sour cream green beans. The chicken, once again, was out of this world. the glaze is a combination of California French Dressing, Onion soup mix, and whole cranberry cranberry sauce. It is one of those recipes that you initially look at warily. Cranberry sauce and onion soup mix...really! Then, you are surprised with one of the best chicken dishes you have ever eaten. Unfortunately, I can't heap the same praise on the green beans. That is one of those recipes that looks great on paper, but reality is something completely different. You see sour cream, french cut green beans, and Parmesan cheese on the ingredient list, and think, "This has got to be a winner!" Guess what!?! You really can ruin a perfectly good batch of green beans.

My final adventure involved "Bring your favorite soup to work" day at ... that's right. Work! I had no idea what to bring. Then I went to Beverly's office. Whenever you are in doubt, just go to Beverly's office. She will tell you what to do...or where to go. I didn't want to make my world famous Jose O'Shea's Green Chili. We would have a chili cook off soon, and just like you can't wear the same prom dress twice, I certainly couldn't cook the same chili twice. In all honesty, if I were to really bring my favorite soup to work, it would be a package of chicken ramen. I wasn't sure how well that would go over with the other folks.

Well, Beverly, being the great and wise guru that she is, suggested I try to make the white bean chicken chili that is served at Ruby Tuesday's. That's exactly what I did, and it must have been a success. I barely had enough left for one bowl that the kids could share at home. Anyway, it has been a while since I've posted a recipe on my blog. Here is my recipe for White Bean Chicken Chili. Once I come up with a regular chili recipe that I think is a winner, I'll have all the colors of the Mexican flag.


White Bean Chicken Chili

Six cups cooked and diced chicken.
Six cups chicken broth (boil a whole chicken with some veggies to get both your broth and the cooked chicken. It will be much better than any broth you buy at the store, AND you will save money.)  
2lb bag of Great Northern Beans (soaked according to directions on bag.)
2 medium onions chopped
2 roasted jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced.
1 large Chile Pasillo (or Poblano) roasted and diced
1 small bunch of cilantro
2 tsp ground Cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can Rotel (diced tomatoes and green chilis)

Roast the pasillo and jalepeno peppers by placing them on a baking sheet, and spraying them with cooking spray. Then put them under the broiler, and allow the skin to blister and char. Watch carefully. You want the peppers roasted, not burnt. You will need to turn the peppers, so all sides can get charred. Take the peppers out of the broiler, and immediately place in a plastic storage bag, or other air tight container. Allow to sweat and cool. When the peppers are cool enough to hold comfortably, the skin should peel off easily.

Place all of the ingredients, except the cilantro, in a slow cooker, and cook on low for 10 to 12 hours. Chop the cilantro, and add during the last hour of cooking. Towards the end, you will want to salt and pepper to taste. I like to add some adobo seasoning. Adobo seasoning is an all purpose seasoning blend most Mexican cooks have in their pantries. It adds a nice flavor to many things. If you want your chili to be a little thicker, take a couple cups of beans out in the last hour, and mash them. Stir the mashed beans back in with the rest of the chili.

Serve with a dollup of sour cream and a little bit of shredded cheddar, or other favorite cheese.


I'll try not to stay away so long next time. I promise. St. Patrick's day is coming around the corner. It is one of my favorite times to celebrate. I found a good recipe for smoked corned beef. I might just give it a try...and write about it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Great Food Junkie Starts 2013 With More Grillin and Chillin!

I know many of you have gone into a deep depression because I haven't written as much lately. It is not because I have become a lazy, no good, sloth, who just lays around all day trying to do as little as possible. However, I'm sure some people think that is one of my life goals. Nope! Trust me when I say there has been a whole lotta cooking going on at the GFJ's house. After all, when you get cooking gadgets for Christmas, you have to try them out. I'll get to those in a bit.

It didn't take long before the GFJ grew tired of all the Christmas food. There is only so much turkey, ham, and assorted sweets a person can handle. So, I went out to the freezer in the garage and started to peruse the shelves. It was only a moment when my eyes landed upon the last of our chuck roasts. Hmmm! Chuck roast sounds good, but I don't really want to break out the slow cooker and have to cut and peel a bunch of potatoes, carrots, and onions. There had to be more to the life of a chuck roast than being stuck in a slow cooker. The poor thing just sat there. Staring at me. A tear fell from its eye.

"Please, Sir," it begged with hands clasped. "Don't let me become another pot roast. I have so much more potential."

How could I, the Great Food Junkie, ignore such pleading. I gently picked up the poor sap, and stroked his packaging with my hand. "Come with me, Chuck!" I exclaimed. "You were meant for much greater things. Together, we can make your dreams come true."

I new what I had to do. I had to figure out some way to grill the chuck roast. After all, what says I love you to a piece of meat like a grill? I found a good marinade recipe that included barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce, minced garlic, and sliced ginger. I didn't have any teriyaki, so I did the next best thing. I added a little Irish whiskey. I mixed it all up, and poured it over my chuck roast. Then it sat in the fridge for the better part of a day.

However, I knew Chuck couldn't make this journey to greatness alone. He was going to need a faithful sidekick. It had to be something complimentary, but not overpowering. I put my thinking cap on and came up with new potatoes, skewered and grilled, right alongside Chuck. I went to the store and picked up the potatoes, bamboo skewers, and then it hit me. Bacon! These potatoes need to be intertwined with bacon. The wife looked at me and said, "You need to get thick sliced. The other will just fall apart on the grill." This was indeed going to be a glorious day. I had just been given permission to spend money on thick cut bacon.

When we got home, we rubbed the potatoes in olive oil and pink Himalayan salt. Then we skewered them, intertwining them with the thick cut bacon. Then, for added measure, Neve took each skewer and wrapped an additional slice of bacon around the potatoes. However, this presented us with a dilemma. We had a few slices of bacon left...but, not enough to save for another meal. Well! Surely Chuck would need the proper outfit for his adventure to greatness. So Chuck came out of the marinade, got a quick dry off, a rubdown with Santa Maria seasoning, and a nice new set of bacon clothes. Then it was out to the grill!

Chuck and his new friends on an adventure
 Those cool things Chuck and friends are sitting on are called GrillGrates. They are anodized aluminum, and have high ridges. They sit directly on your existing grates, or can be used as replacement grates. The nice thing about them is that the ridges get extra hot, providing excellent searing and grill marks, while the juices drip into the deep spaces between the ridges. The juices sizzle and evaporate, creating more flavor and moisture for the meat, and preventing flare ups. You absolutely must check them out at www.grillgrate.com. They are one of the best improvements you could make to any grill.

After about an hour, Chuck and friends reached the pinnacle of success. I truly believe they achieved a personal nirvana. And I was frickin' hungry!

 It wasn't long before The Great Food Junkie had also reached Nirvana. Chuck was a perfect medium pink in the middle, and his sidekicks, the potatoes and bacon, were spectacular.

Chuck and friends in all of their glory

The adventures with Chuck the roast were just the beginning for the GFJ. If you'll remember, I mentioned a couple Christmas gifts that had to be tried out. The GFJ's wife received a set of tortilla shell pans. You know you've seen the commercials on TV. "Make your own taco salads!" It really is a simple concept. You place burrito size tortillas in these pans, bake for 10-12 minutes, and Presto! You have perfect tortilla shell bowls for a taco salad.

 They don't taste quite as good as the fried shells you get at the restaurant. Can anything really taste better than fried? However, they really are tasty and crispy. In fact, they hold their crisp well enough to fill with chili mac...twice.

The other device was something the wife and I bought each other for Christmas. I saw one of those "does it work" segments on the news, and it featured the Yonana. What is a Yonana? It is a device that takes frozen bananas and other fruits or additives, and makes them into a dessert very similar in texture and taste to soft serve ice cream. If you are wanting a healthy alternative to ice cream, or even if you could care less about the health aspect, and want to try something new, you have to check this thing out. The treats that come from it are spectacular. One of the best things is that it isn't frozen cream. It is frozen banana. That means your ice cream doesn't melt! The pictures below, do not do this thing justice at all. The first was a raspberry, blueberry, and strawberry yonana. It tasted great! However, nothing puts a damper on eating dessert like fighting tons of raspberry seeds. Oh well. The second was a yonana made with a tropical fruit blend of strawberries, mangos, and pineapple. That was an absolute hit. The key is to get your bananas as ripe as you can before freezing. The blacker the peel, the better the banana. This ensures your bananas are providing the maximum sweetness, while not overpowering the dish with their own flavor.

 I think the Great Food Junkie has made up for his lack of communications in this entry. He is going to sign off before your snoring gets too loud for the neighbors. I hope you all have a wonderful new year, and I look forward to all of our 2013 food adventures. Until next time, when the GFJ takes a bite out of Bambi, Goodbye!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Great Food Junkie Wishes One and All a Very Merry Christmas!

Were you starting to think that the Great Food Junkie was going to play the part of Ebenezer Scrooge this year? I know my readers are completely heartbroken that they haven't heard from me since just after Thanksgiving. I promise that I had always intended to write something for Christmas. I even have a few pictures to show you. The Great Food Junkie has been busy cooking this Christmas. Unfortunately, He didn't always remember to take pictures.

Christmas has always been the holiday most associated with traditions. For me, that has held true this Christmas season more than most. This holiday has been about traditions my family has practiced for years, reviving even older traditions, and starting new ones. There were times I thought Topol was going to come around the corner, singing "Traditions!"

Let's start with orange slice cake. Orange slice cake has been one of those traditions that has been in my family for many years. Apparently, the tradition started for us around 1973. It was at that time that my mother was first introduced to this delight. She asked for the recipe, and finally received it in May of that year, as we were preparing to move. Orange slice cake is one of those desserts that can easily be mistaken for a fruit cake. If you are one of those who comes across an orange slice cake, and mistakes it for a fruit cake, you are certainly going to miss a wonderful treat...unless you are love fruit cake...then hopefully, you are delighted to be introduce to a new treat.

Orange slice cake is a wonderful mixture of chopped orange slice gummy candies, dates, coconut, and pecans, covered in a scrumptious orange juice glaze. If the orange slice cake has not been sliced yet, do not fear. It is still easily identifiable...even if still covered. It will be the cake causing the greatest sag in the table. I do like to some times refer to orange slice cake as "How many calories can you pack into one cake" cake. Quite simply, the cake is super rich, super heavy, and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. But, it is one of the greatest pleasures you will ever taste.

Do any of you GFJ readers remember spiced gum drops? They were these little brightly colored gummy candies coated in sugar crystals. One of my memories as a kid in the seventies was my mother making gum drop cookies for Christmas. I wanted to make some for Christmas so I called my mother and asked for the recipe. Much to my dismay I was informed that she threw that recipe away because she was tired of hearing my brother and I complain about having to cut gum drops. Apparently, complaining was another holiday tradition my brother and I participated in. Fortunately, there is a thing called the internet. A quick search brought up the recipe at the Taste of Home website. I tried it out, and the results immediately took me back to my childhood. Fortunately, it didn't take me back so far I ended up in a scary pair of plaid bell bottom pants.

Pictured with those cookies is some apple cider. That is one of my new traditions. I've drunk apple cider many times, but have never really made it. I took a gallon of apple cider and poured it into my slowcooker, set on high. Into the cider, I put two cinnamon sticks, ten whole cloves, six allspice berries, one inch of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced, and a thinly sliced orange. I let it steep on high for about two hours, then set the slow cooker to warm. This will definitely become a new Christmas tradition. As the picture shows, it is great chilled as well.

Another new tradition is pimiento cheese wafers. For many years, I have cooked cheese cookies, which are a simple mixture of rice crispies, cheddar cheese, butter, flour, and a touch of cayenne. This year I tried something different. It was my wife's fault. She came home from her office Christmas party talking about these wonderful pimiento cheese cookies her coworker brought. She asked for the recipe. We waited, and waited. Being somewhat impatient, I once again decided to turn to my friend the internet. I found a good looking recipe. Of course, once I had bought all of the ingredients, the coworker emailed her recipe...which was nothing like the one I was using. Oh well. Below are the results.

I followed the recipe, but something tells me they could have baked for at least another five minutes. They just didn't crisp up as much as I liked. However, my son seems to like these even more than the regular cheese cookies. According to him, Rusty and T-Bone are great fans as well. Apparently, I have just created a new Christmas dog treat.

The final tradition is brunch. For about ten years now, our family has enjoyed brunch on Christmas morning. It's not a fancy brunch. Simply a breakfast casserole, and one or two side items. Unfortunately, the casserole this year is one of those things I never got a picture of. It is like the orange slice cake, in that it has very little redeeming value other than absolute great taste. Take twelve slices of bread and cut it into cubes. spread half the cubes in the bottom of a greased 13x9 baking dish. Then sprinkle on a pound of cooked crumbled breakfast sausage. Cube one pound of Velveeta cheese and evenly layer about two thirds over the sausage and bread. Layer the remaining bread, followed by the rest of the cheese. In a bowl beat nine eggs, three cups milk, a teaspoon of mustard, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Poor the egg mixture over the other ingredients in the baking dish. Cover, and allow to chill overnight. When ready, bake uncovered at 350 for one to one and a half hours, until a knife inserted comes out clean. Like I said, it has little redeeming value, but it sure tastes great!

I just have one tradition to go. I have my black eyed peas and ham hock ready for New Years Day. So what traditions do you have for the holidays? Please share.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Little Thanks Is Better Late Than Never

I know it seems a little strange that I am just now doing a Thanksgiving related post, but I do have good reason...I promise. It all started the weekend before. Our Boy Scout troop always has a special campout in Missisippi. The boys and their families come down for a weekend of fun and fellowship. It all culminates in a huge Thanksgiving feast on that Saturday night. We gather around, say a prayer...

...and eat!

This is one of my favorite times of the year. I'm one of the cooks for this event. It is hard work, cooking an entire weekend for over seventy people, but it is an experience I wouldn't give up. I can't think of a better way to show my thanks to all of the boys for all of the hard work they put into making the troop as great as it is, and to their families for putting their faith in me and the other leaders to help turn their boys into great leaders.

The other reason I go on this campout is my son, Joseph. I am so thankful for him and to him.

What I am not necessarily thankful for is the stomach bug Joseph brought home with him from the campout. Not only did it keep him home from school for two days, it jumped to his sister, then to me. A little more about that later.

The holiday started out well. The wife and I took Wednesday off. It was to be a day of preparation for the holiday. Well, it ended up being a day of babysitting. A coworker of Neva's needed us to watch her granddaughter for the day. It certainly wasn't how I planned the day, but it was loads of fun. I'd love to show you a picture of the little princess who gave me my grandpappy fix, but I don't have permission. It was certainly an unplanned day that I am greatful for. Then came Thursday...

I am downstairs at 6AM, getting the Turkey on the grill for smoking. I get the turkey started and set the alarm for two hours later. The couch sure looks like a good place to lay down for a couple hours. Two hours later I wake up with the realization that my wonderful children have passed their stomach bug on to me. This Thanksgiving, I am truly thankful for the couch in the living room. It proved to be a comforting place to spend the day.

Fortunately, things started looking up some the next day. Not enough for me to join the early, early shift with hotdog sales a Lowes (sorry, Danny and Jeff), but at least I was no longer needing to keep close to a certain room. It's a good thing my energy was coming back. I would need it the next day.

Saturday came. It started out with two people in the house. Sissy had spent the night at her best friend's house, while Joseph spent the night with Sissy's boyfriend. I know those are strange arrangements, but they are certainly preferable to Sissy spending the night at the boyfriend's house! By Saturday evening, the house went from two people to six. Yes, the Strickland population was multiplying like rabbits. We found ourselves suddenly with three teens and one just past his teens sleeping that night...boys downstairs, and girls upstairs.

I don't want it to sound like I am complaining. I am certainly not. While having four youngun's at the house is certainly tiring, it makes me feel special. Our house is not neat by any means. In fact, I think we have the market cornered on dust bunnies. Let's just say it is very...VERY...lived in. Fortunately, there is something in our house that can be found in even more abundance than the dust bunnies and cobwebs. It is love. I am truly thankful for that love. It is amazing what your kids' friends are willing to overlook when they feel the love and comfort of family in the house. So I would like to say a special thanks for my kids...all four of them.

The weekend ended with lots of Christmas decorations inside and out. It was certianly a strange Thanksgiving holiday for me, but all in all, one I will remember fondly. It is amazing how God can turn a potential disaster into something special. Thanks.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Embrace Life! Take Chances! Eat something you can't pronounce!

All to often, we humans have a tendency to stick with what's safe. We were all brought up eating a certain type of food, and we rarely try to venture away from those dishes and foods that make us comfortable. This is too bad. There are so many tasty adventures waiting and waiting for someone to partake of them.

It just so happens that one day I was riding with Neva, taking Christina to driving school way out in Germantown. On the way out, we passed the Cordova International Farmers Market. I vaguely remembered reading an article in the Commercial Appeal when this market first opened. I convinced Neva and Christina that we needed to stop there on the way back home. Most people think of just a few things when they think of Memphis Culture; blues, rock & roll, and barbecue. All three of these are definitely core parts of Memphis culture. What many people don't realize (including native Memphians) is that Memphis and the surrounding suburbs have a very large and diverse immigrant community. In recent years, this has been reflected by the opening of an international farmers market on Winchester, followed by it's slightly larger sibling, the Cordova International Farmers Market (CIFM). I know I am a little late to the game of trumpeting about this place, but better late than never.

The CIFM is on Germantown Parkway, in the location that housed the old Seesel's supermarket. When you first walk in your jaw immediately drops. If only every supermarket could have a produce section the size of this one. Wow! Walking through all of these fruits and vegetables immediately becomes an adventure. You find your self surrounded by fruits and veggies you are very familiar with, as well as some you may have never heard of. Have you ever heard of a pomelo? I hadn't. They look like deep green grapefruit. Come to find out, pomelos are actually a much older form of citrus than grapefruit. In fact, grapefruit are a hybrid of pomelos and oranges.

What about chinese okra? Let me warn you, they look nothing like the okra we are used to here in the south. It turns out they aren't even remotely related. Chinese okra are diced, and used as a green vegetable filler in Chinese dishes. If allowed to grow to maturity, they become extremely fibrous and are used to make loofa scrubbers.

The entire produce department is like this. One amazing item after another. And the prices! You will be hard pressed to find better prices anywhere. On a funny note, after seeing "Made in China" for so many years on so many products purchased in the US, it was refreshing to see Chinese Eggplant: A product of the United States of America.

This market doesn't just end with the produce. It has a wonderful fresh fish and seafood department. One of the first things you see when approaching this department is rows of tanks, full of live catfish and tilapia. I did notice that some of the seafood seemed frozen. Is seafood still considered "fresh" if it is frozen at the sight of capture? Either way, it still looked wonderful, and there was definitely a fresh fish odor about this section, which is always a sign of good quality.

The meat section did not seem quite as large as some of your larger supermarkets, but it had a very wide variety of products. Chicken feet anyone? How about bull's um, unmentionables. While the beef selection was not as large as most supermarkets, it was certainly high quality, and at a fabulous price. The CIFM had some1"-1.5" beautiful ribeye steaks for $5.59/lb. That is only $1 more than I bought my chuck eye steaks (the poor man's ribeye) at Kroger.

Once you get past the meat section, you get to the rest of the market. At first, it resembles the rows of packaged goods we are accustomed to getting at a supermarket. However, if you are willing to be adventurous  don't shun this part of the market. Each aisle contains food from a specific country, or area of the world. There is food from Japan, Korea, Mexico, Brazil, the Caribbean, Europe, India, and much more. It is fun walking up and down these aisles, seeing how different, yet the same, we are with other cultures. Our family has already fallen in love with Mexican Cokes and some flavored water drinks from Singapore.

Needless to say, I could not leave the CIFM empty-handed on my first trip. Upon stopping, I already had something on my mind to make. I had been wanting to make a ratatouille. The name sounds fancy, but it is a simple French vegetable stew/casserole. It is hard to say which it is because ratatouille is one of those dishes that is made in a variety of ways, and everyone swears that his/her recipe is the true version. Some people sauté ratatouille, some stew it in a pot, and others bake it. The version I chose was a baked version. Christina and I quickly walked through the produce section again and picked up some red and green peppers, yellow squash, zucchini squash, onion, garlic, Italian parsley  and some of the most beautiful purple and white variegated eggplant. The recipe called for skinned, diced, and seeded tomatoes as well. That's what canned tomatoes are for!

I diced all of the vegetables, and minced the garlic and parsley. I then sautéed the eggplant, onion, and garlic until the eggplant was nice and tender (about 10 minutes). At the last minute, I added some of the parsley. I oiled my lasagne pan with olive oil, then spread the eggplant mixture across the bottom. I sprinkled that layer with salt and parmesan cheese. Then I layered the red and green onions, followed by another sprinkle of salt and parmesan, as well as more Italian parsley. The next layer was the yellow squash and zucchini, followed by...I think you know. The final layer was the canned diced tomatoes, followed by the salt, cheese, and parsley. By the time I was done, I couldn't add another layer of anything in that dish. I baked it at 350 for one hour, and ended up with this.

It is certainly colorful. I paired this ratatouille with some nice marinated pork loin chops for a healthy, but VERY tasty supper.

It looks even tastier once you've taken a spoon and mixed all the vegetables together. I love how it retained the bright colors. I wasn't sure how the ratatouille would be taken, since Joseph is not a fan of half the vegetables in the ingredient list. Suffice it to say there was only enough left for Neva and I to take a small amount in our lunches the next day. I would call that a hit.

Christina and Neva have already made a second trip to the Cordova International Farmers Market. I look forward to going there on a regular basis myself. I hope to see you there some time.