Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Breakfast Potato Takes on Smoke!

The smoky deliciousness of breakfast potatoes!

 

Give It A Smoky Start

As with most breakfast potato recipes, this one has just a handful ingredients to make it oh so memorable at the breakfast table.  It starts with a key ingredient – smoked potato – which you can find the technique for on our previous posting.  This is a recipe that can certainly accommodate your specific preferences so alter it as you please.  For my rendition, you’ll need the following:

 

Gather These Ingredients:

  • 2 cups smoked potato cut into pieces no larger than 1 inch
  • 2 cups of chopped sweet pepper – I’m using red, yellow and orange for a pop of color
  • 1 Jalapeno pepper diced
  • 1 cup of rough cut onion
  • 1 Tablespoon oil – I’m using coconut oil for its high heat level
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil or flavored olive oil – I’m using a Tuscan flavor
  • 1 cup of ricotta cheese
  • 1 red tomato sliced into ¼ inch thick slices
  • Oven safe skillet

 

One Hot Skillet Makes It Easy

Be sure you’ve readied all the ingredients as this recipe can be completed quite fast.  Place your oven safe skillet over medium-high heat and allow to heat.  Add the tablespoon of high heat oil and move the pan around to ensure the oil coats the entire bottom surface.  Add the cup of chopped onion and allow to cook for 3-4 minutes.  You’ll know you’re ready for the next step when the onion becomes translucent.  Add the 2 cups of chopped sweet pepper and mix well.  Allow the vegetable mixture to cook until tender, about 8 minutes.

 

Adding Heat and Smoke

Once you see the vegetables take on a shine and tenderness, it’s time to add the diced jalapeno pepper, mixing well.  After just a couple of minutes, go ahead and add the 2 cups of smoked potato to the mixture.  Mix well and allow to absorb some of the existing cooking oil and moisture.  The colors will begin to blend as well as the flavors getting us close to the finished dish.

 

Mellowing Out the Boldness

To add another level of flavor, a tablespoon of flavored olive oil, I’m using a Tuscan blend, is incorporated to the vegetable mixture.  Once this has cooked for a few minutes, I add the cup of ricotta cheese in dollops to the skillet.  Using my spatula, I break this down with the heat to provide a creamy consistency.  The creaminess of the ricotta will help balance the boldness of the smoke and aide all the flavors to mellow.  After 5 minutes of medium heat, this pan will be ready for a quick trip to the oven to finish everything off.

 

The Spectacular Finish

After taking the skillet from the stove top, I place it in a pr-heated 350°F oven to finish.   This will only take about 10 minutes.  Remember, if using cast iron, this material will hold a lot of heat, so once the pan is removed from the oven allow the dish to sit untouched for about 5 minutes.  Then plate to your favorite platter.

I like to add sliced fresh tomato and a sprinkle of fresh parsley to the top.  This is a perfect dish for any type of eggs or served an accompaniment to sausage.  Of course, it can stand alone as well so feel free to treat is as its own meal.

Smoked potato from the charcoal grill with a medley of vegetables gets you to the perfect Smoked Breakfast Potato!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

BEECH IS CERTAINLY “GRAND” IN EUROPEAN SMOKER WOODS

The grand ole tree beech adds a very European flavor to smoked foods, especially sausage style products.
With 10-13 Beech varieties available throughout the world, this is a hardwood tree that can age to some 300 years.  Visually, they are quite impressive often with distinct “root feet” and gray, smooth bark.  The scientific name is Fagus Grandifolia but in North America we know this as American Beech.

I’m With the White Oaks

Beech is a relative to the White Oak hardwood family.  However, there is some differences in its performance as a fuel wood and flavoring wood.  Beech tends to hold more water or moisture than white oak and for that reason, you need to be sure you are using this for cooking when the level is closer to 20-25% or lower.  Anything higher will produce a brown smoke as the energy generated is used to evaporate the water.  Using Beech with a higher moisture level could produce some off coloring to the foods.

Cooking Specifics

Beech is a very easy hardwood to burn and produces a nice bed of coals.  It does not throw spark when it combusts so it is ideal for all types of equipment including fire pits and camp pits.  It has minimal aroma when burned but produces a balanced flavor profile to foods.

The MBTU level is considered high so know you will get a long cook time from this wood.

Neutral Ways

In my opinion, Beech is one of those hardwoods that is neutral when it comes to food pairing.  I have found the ability to cook vegetables, fish, meats, poultry, and even flavor seasonings and herbs with its flavonoids.  You really can’t miss with this choice.  Knowing it is a hot burning wood and makes a great bed of coals, you should attempt to get all the wood can give from a heat point of view.  Think about raking hot coals to one side of your equipment and cooking foods directly in the coals while the remaining fire cooks more traditional foods on the grate.   Remember, there is value in the wood through the entire stages of combustion.

My Tan Skin

Coloring to foods tends to be on the earthy palette side giving a very pleasant appearance.  Because this wood is so well balanced, you can select both sweet and savory ingredients without causing any muted flavoring.  This is true whether the wood is in chunk, chip or dust form.

This can be a harder hardwood to locate since it is more prevalent in the Northeast, especially New York State but if you can locate it, pick some up and enjoy the many benefits of this grand tree.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

STRAWBERRIES GET SMOKY FOR AN AQUA FRESCA COCKTAIL

The process of smoking strawberries for your summer cocktail is very easy. Merely cut your strawberries and place them on your grill to enhance their flavor than process into flavorful drink.
If you enjoy fruity drinks or smoothies, then the Smoked Strawberry Aqua Fresca is perfect!  Using seasonal fresh strawberries will bring this to the ultimate flavor height but any store purchased variety will work as well.  This is the perfect cocktail for a summer event or as a non-alcoholic refresher on an exceptionally warm summer day.  Get ready as we tell you how to do the smoking technique then construct this fabulous drink.

Strawberries Love Smoke

Start with strawberries that are at their peak.  Gently wash them and then trim the stem end.  I cut smaller strawberries in half and larger in quarters to ensure the smoke vapor can penetrate easily but you certainly can leave them whole.  In addition to the strawberries – at least one quart to produce enough liquid for a few drinks – you’ll need the following ingredients and materials

Ingredients & Materials:

  • 4 tablespoons sugar – reserve some extra in case you want to make this sweeter
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of fine or coarse sea salt
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Handful of fresh basil or mint
  • Ice cubes
  • Blender
  • Mixing bowl
  • Mortar & pestle (optional)
  • Sheet pan lined with parchment paper
  • 2 double filet wood chunks from SmokinLicious®
While you are getting the strawberries ready you can have your grill warming up.  Set all burners to medium-low and close the lid.

Gas Grilling With Wood Chunks

Cooking with wood chunks can be done on the LP Gas Grill by using the heat shields or diffusers, whose purpose is to ensure even heat output over the grill grate.  By keeping a medium-low heat on the burner containing 2 wood chunks from SmokinLicious®I’m using 1 ash and 1 cherry – you won’t get the wood erupting in flames but rather a slow combustion that releases plenty of wood-fired flavor.  While the wood heats up, I combine my strawberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, and a pinch of sea salt.

Get Ready For Juicy Bubbles

When you smoke strawberries on the grill, all the locked in pectin water will be released by the heat.  That’s why it’s so important that you line your sheet pan with parchment paper so you don’t end up with a hard to clean mess.

After mixing in the vanilla extract, sugar, and salt it’s time to spread the strawberries onto the lined sheet pan and place on the grill.  Once the pan is in place, turn off all the burners except for the one that has the wood chunks on the diffuser. Cooking time will be about 40 minutes with a grill heat of 300°F maintained with the lid closed and 1 burner lit.

Taste Is The Sweet Aroma

Whenever I smoke fresh strawberries, it brings the memory of my Mom making strawberry jam.  As the strawberries react to the smoke vapor, you will see the pectin release and a beautiful, thick glaze will form around them.  This is the stuff that will make an exceptional aqua fresca so be sure you don’t lose any when removing the pan from the heat.  You’ll see the finished strawberries take on a much darker coloring and reduce size slightly from the water loss.  Now get ready for the fun part – getting our drink together.

Strawberry Base

To start our drink creation, you will need a blender and I prefer a mortar and pestle for combining citrus and fresh herbs.  Add the smoked strawberries to the blender and the remaining sugar. You can add the lime juice and fresh basil or mint right to the blender or add to a pestle and combine with the mortar. Once combined, add to the blender. Process the mixture.  Add a few ice cubes and process again until a smooth mixture is revealed.  You may add lime juice, sugar and ice as you see fit at this point – the recommended amounts are merely a guide.

Creating the Ultimate Aqua Fresca

With our strawberry mixture completed, it’s time to combine everything into a refreshing drink or cocktail.  If making a cocktail, select your spirit of choice.  I recommend tequila, vodka, or rum.  Add some ice cubes to a glass.  If making the alcoholic version, add an ounce of alcohol to the glass. Pour in the strawberry mixture and stir.  Add a sprig of basil or mint to the glass and serve.

If you are a frozen drink person, add more ice during the blending stage to thicken this up and make a milkshake like consistency.  This is so refreshing and so fitting for the warmer months.  Enjoy the Smoked Strawberry Aqua Fresca your way as you stay cool this summer season!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

LEARN WHAT THE SMOKE COLOR MEANS WHEN COOKING WITH WOOD

Smoke has many colors and they all mean something special when cooking- learning what they mean could increase your culinary results!
You smell it before you see it!  The aroma of foods being cooked outdoors.  When those foods involve cooking over wood – hardwood to be specific – well, it’s a flavor experience that is in a league of its own.

Today, instead of concentrating on the cooking technique of wood-fires, let’s examine the smoke vapor.

Does the color of the smoke being produced mean anything for flavor outcome?

The quick answer: absolutely!  Let’s take a closer look at the finer points of smoke vapor colors.

From Black to Nearly Invisible, The Language of Smoke

There are four basic attributes to smoke when it leaves equipment: volume, velocity, density, and color.  It is the combination of these attributes that reveal so much about the color of smoke vapor or gas produced from combusted wood.

Black Smoke = No Oxygen

Black smoke is unattractive, highly dense, consisting of large particles, and the key sign that the wood is starved for oxygen.  When air intake is left uncorrected, this black smoke vapor can turn foods acrid, bitter, and sooty.  Certainly, this is not the goal of wood-fired cooking!  Don’t cook with smoke that is black in color.  Learn how to control air intake and exhaust for proper air flow and the best smoke vapor infusion for great flavor.

Gray/Brown Smoke = Poor Wood Quality

You understand air flow, the balance needed between air intake and outtake.  Despite you optimal setting of air flow, you still find gray to brown smoke color occurring.  What happened?

Often, this boils down to a case of poor wood choice.  Gray or brown smoke occurs when there is a mixture of moisture and hydrocarbons.  Bark on woods can stimulate brown smoke as this is the driest and most impure part of the wood.  You can also see gray to brown smoke color when there are other stimulants on the wood.  It may be that something dripped on the wood, was deliberately applied to the wood, or was part of the wood’s manufacturing process if the wood is a bye-product from another process.

White Smoke = Initiation of Heat

Virtually all solid materials exposed to combustion emit white smoke.  This means heat is being stimulated to the wood and drying it out.  Remember, moisture is water and when heat finds water it has to induct it to produce steam.  This takes energy from the fire or ignition and can stall full stages of combustion.  Once moisture is evaporated you will observe white smoke to transition to a clearer color, hopefully the infamous blue.  For longer, lower temperature cooking, wait for the white smoke stage to pass before adding the food to the grates.  For hotter temperature cooking like burgers, steaks, etc., go ahead and add to the grates even with white smoke present.  The abundance of aromatics at the white stage will allow for flavor to permeate shorter cook items.

Blue Smoke (or nearly invisible) = Holy Grail

Keeping in mind that you don’t always need an invisible or blue smoke to have a flavorful wood-fired cooking event, this is still the goal when cooking with wood for many hours.  Blue or invisible smoke means that full combustion has occurred to the wood and the lignin compound is releasing the smoky aromatic that will stick to moist food surfaces.  Take advantage of this pristine stage and get cooking for the best wood-fired flavors.

Finding the Perfect Wood with the Perfect Moisture Level

As a final note, don’t be fooled into thinking that using dry wood will save time on waiting for the fire’s heat to evaporate excess water and get to the flavoring.  There is extensive research demonstrating that the ideal smoke composition containing flavor stimulating compounds called carbonyls and phenols is in hardwoods that have a higher moisture rating not the 10% or less that is considered seasoned wood.  Use caution when making the wood purchase.  Knowing key details about the wood prior to purchasing will help to achieve the smoke color that produces maximum flavor.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

TOP 10 VEGETABLES TO COOK IN HOT EMBERS

Ember cooking can be done in a cask iron plan, fire box and even in a Hibachi! Try this unique cooking method to add a flare and unique tastes to your outdoor grilling and cooking!
I want to be perfectly clear – this is not cooking over hot flame or direct flame.  This is cooking after the wood and/or charcoal has burned down in to very hot coals; when the coals develop a white-gray ash coating. THIS is the time to ember or coal cook these select vegetables.

 

The Rules of Ember and Ash Cooking

The essence of using all that the wood can give for cooking. That it was ember or coal cooking is.   I want to be sure there is no misunderstanding on what is needed to do this type of cooking safely and effectively.

Rule #1: If going with all wood for the coals, only use hardwood and clean hardwood at that.  You’re going to lay foods into this material so I believe it should be clean and mold free with moisture level 15-20%.  If higher, it will simply take longer to get to the coal stage.

Rule #2: Again, if using all hardwood, try to limit the bark or go bark-free if possible to reduce the potential for mold spores that can be released into the air.

Rule #3: Have everything ready before you start.   You’ll need an ash-coal hoe, fire gloves, and small coal shovel at the ready.  I would also have tongs for those times when you don’t bury your foods completely in the coals but rather lay them which requires turning of the vegetables.

Rule #4: Equipment wise, you can use a charcoal grill that has fire brick added for insulation, a clean fireplace (I prefer an outdoor unit), a clean fire pit, or an open pit built in a safe area with brick or gravel as the base to protect the fire from spreading.

 

Hot Embers Birthed in One Hour

On average, it will take about an hour to move a small fire from flame to hot ember.  Depending on whether you elect to use charcoal or wood will determine the amount of time the fire needs to burn down – an all charcoal fire will be 30-45 minutes; all hardwood fire about 45-60 minutes.  Remember, charcoal produces heat and little smoke, whereas hardwood, produces heat, smoke and specific aromatics and flavorings in that smoke.  At the ember-coal level, both have equal carbonization and act similar for this method of cooking.

Using approximately 8 lbs. of charcoal or 10 lbs. of hardwood, or any combination of the two, light a fire in the equipment of your choice.  Let the fire completely burn down until only hot coals remain.  Rake the coals to produce a thick even bed.  Then select your favorite vegetables from the ones listed below, and you’re on your way!  Always keep a small fire going for additional hot coals if doing large amounts of vegetables.

 

Vegetables That Love Hot Coals

Here are the top 10 vegetables to introduce to the hot embers for fantastic flavor:

Asparagus         Broccoli          Cauliflower        Eggplant

Garlic        Leeks         Gourds (squash, pumpkin)

Onion       Peppers       Potato

If you want minimal monitoring to the actual cooking process, then place the selected vegetables into the bed of coals and then shovel hot coals and ash over the top so that the entire vegetable surface is covered in embers.  Leave untouched until tenderized, which will be 45-60 minutes depending on the vegetable selected.   Otherwise, you can set vegetables within the coal bed and turn them during the cooking process to ensure even char.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Flank Steak Pinwheels with Ember Roasted Asparagus

Flank steak pinwheels with ember roasted asparagus – just one of the wonderful ways to use fresh asparagus this season.

Great recipe idea with the use of Ember cooked Asparagus and Flank Steak.  While the pinwheels can be cooked on the Charcoal/LP-Gas grill or even in the oven!

Ingredients:
  •         Ember cooked Asparagus (see previous blog)
  •         2-3 lbs of Flank Steak
  •        4 oz of Spinach leaves
  •         Olive Oil or Pesto
  •         4 oz of Mozzarella cheese
  •          Pepper and Sea Salt for taste
If grilling on Charcoal or LP/Gas grill use Double Filet Wood Chunks to add some additional flavor!

Preparing the Flank Steak

The ideal is to pound out the flank steak with a meat mallet to help tenderize it.  I like to coat my flank steak with olive oil, fresh ground pepper and kosher salt and place in plastic wrap to marinate for at least 6 hours but I prefer marinate overnight.  Once marinated, I can begin to assemble with the other ingredients.

Assembling the Pinwheels

Lay out the flank steak and place the spinach leaves overlapping them as you go.  Now take the halved asparagus stalks and layer them next.  Last, load on the mozzarella cheese and then season with salt and pepper.  Remember, if the mozzarella is not fresh, it will have some salt to it so be careful when adding additional salt. Now, staring on the long end of the steak, begin rolling inward, tucking in the filling as you go.  Once completely rolled, take 6 inch lengths of pre-cut meat twine and tie around the rolled flank steak about every 2-inches.  These sections will become the individual serving sizes.  Cut the steak between the twine ties and lay each cut piece of steak on a baking sheet.

Cooking the Pinwheels

Cook the pinwheels on a baking sheet or pan for approximately 30 minutes.  Flank steak will render a lot of juice so you may want to use a roasting rack in the pan.  Once the mozzarella cheese becomes golden brown, you’ll be ready to remove from the oven.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes then serve.

Serve!

This is just one combination of flavors that work well with the flank steak and ember roasted asparagus.  Other winning combinations include artichoke heart, roasted red peppers, kale, even quinoa if you want to added a grain texture.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

KIWIFRUIT GETS SMOKY FOR A FLAVOR BOOST

Add a new twist to your kiwifruit by cold smoking it to enhance its wonderful sweet flavor.

Kiwifruit is now in season!  It’s time to use this potassium, vitamin A, C & E enriched fruit in your favorite recipes.   How about doing something to up the flavor level a bit?

Packed with more vitamin C than an orange and as much potassium as a banana, Kiwifruit, more commonly called kiwi, is also a fiber powerhouse.  I’m going to take this creamy fruit favorite to a new flavor level by cold smoking it.

The Ease of Hand Held Food Smoking

To do this technique, you’ll need a hand held food smoker, SmokinLicious® Minuto® Smoking Wood Chips in size 6, 8 or 10, a lighter, a sheet pan, a food bag large enough to go over your sheet pan, and a cable tie.  Then gather together the number of kiwifruit you’d like to infuse with smoke vapor, and have a knife and cutting board available.

Let the Smoke In

Simply cut your kiwifruit in half to allow the smoke vapor to penetrate the fruit flesh.  As kiwifruit is covered by a brown, fuzzy skin, you will need some of the fruit’s meat exposed to get real smoke flavor incorporate.  Otherwise, leaving them whole won’t bring much of a smokiness to the fruit meat.

What I love the most about cold smoking with a hand held food smoker like The Smoking Gun™ Smoker, is how fast this flavoring can be done to any food, beverage, liquid, spice or herb item.  After cutting me kiwifruit in half to allow for maximum penetration of the smoke vapor, I place the cut halves on a sheet pan.  I then slip a food bag over the sheet pan.

A Pinch of Hardwood Is All It Takes

Time to prepare The Smoking Gun™ Smoker or other hand held food smoker you might have.  I take just a pinch of Alder Minuto® Smoker Wood Chips and place in the bowl of the food smoker.  I insert the tubing into the food bag, about ½ way back and gently draw in the end of the bag around the tubing.  I’m now ready to turn the food smoker on and light my Alder chips.

A Cloud of Smoky Goodness

Once the smoke is dispensing at a good rate into the food bag, turn the hand held food smoker off and remove the tubing, cinching the food bag tight.  I attach a cable tie to the end to keep it closed tight.  Here’s a tip: have your cable tie pre-looped for easy application and less chance for any leaking smoke vapor.

Allow the smoke vapor to remain in the bag until dissipated.  If you want an extremely light smoke flavor, then feel free to release the smoke vapor as you see fit.  For me, I will patiently wait for it to clear before releasing the cable tie on the bag.

Containment Is Key

Not only are hand held food smokers, like The Smoking Gun™ Smoker easy to operate and extremely fast at infusing smoke flavor, they generate a lot of smoke that can be easily capture.  Although I’ve used a food bag over a sheet pan, feel free to place the kiwifruit on a plate fit with a dome cover or simply use plastic wrap.  Anything that can trap the smoke is ideal.  You will see as the smoke is produced, it will travel throughout whatever container your using covering the entire food surface.  Although this looks like a huge amount of smoke that would potentially produce strong or bold smoke flavor, I remind you that I am using a very mild hardwood – Alder – to infuse smoke flavor to the kiwifruit.  I highly recommend whenever doing a fruit item – go with a milder hardwood for the infusion process.

15 Minutes to Smoky Goodness

This simple method of using a hand held food smoker with SmokinLicious® Minuto® Smoking Wood Chips in Alder to add a mild smoky flavor to seasonal kiwifruit takes just 15 minutes.  All of the nutritional benefits remain in this healthy fruit; rich in potassium, vitamins A, C, and E, as well as fiber.  Think about all the things you can do with this super fruit: add it to a smoothie, cut it up for fruit salad, pair it with a grain like quinoa, rice, or farro, or simply enjoy it as is.   For me, I’m thinking of entertaining so I will start with a cocktail recipe.

Did you like this idea?  If so, leave us a comment and let us know what you would love to see next.  Be sure to follow and subscribe to us as we bring you innovative ideas for adding wood-fired flavoring to all types of foods.  Check in next for my Smoked Kiwi Caipiroska, a flavorful cocktail featuring kiwifruit, mint and vodka.