Monday, August 3, 2015

Bob's Low Country Boil

Probably one of the best family-style meals just has to be a "Low Country Boil." If you have a 30 quart turkey fryer laying around then you are on your way to having everything you need to make a Low Country Boil. My brother Bob lives in Mississippi and has become famous for his seafood boils. To create a Bob's Low Country Boil, depending on where you live you can use just about any local seafood ingredients, but the most common ingredients are:
1 package Zatarain's or Old Bay Crab Boil seasoning
15 quarts water
4 pounds snow crab legs
5 ears corn on the cob, cut in half
2.5 pounds baby red new potatoes, cut in half
Smoked beef sausage, Andouille or Boudin cut into 3 inch pieces.
1.5 pounds sweet onions (Vidalia) onions, peeled and quartered. 
2 pounds shrimp, deveined shell on
A "Boil Master" is in charge of making sure the ingredients go into the pot in the proper sequence and controls the timing of the steps.
Regional variations determine the type of seafood used. If you live in Maine, you could have a lobster boil, if in Maryland a blue crab boil might be in order. However, when in Maryland "crab boil" is not typically used. They will steam the crab in a mixture of water or beer mixed with vinegar. Louisiana boil includes shrimp, crab and crawfish. 
There are a number of side dishes and condiments that may accompany this meal including but not limited to cole slaw, fresh baked rolls, hot sauce, melted butter, cocktail sauce and lemon wedges.
No matter where you are, a low country boil is an event! This is a chance to bring together family, friends and community!
Fill a stockpot half full of water (about 15 quarts). Add the salt, Zatarain's Crab Boil Seasoning packet and to the water and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes to the pot. Allow the water to return to a boil and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the onions and sausage. Bring the water back to a boil and cook for 15 minutes. Add the corn, bring the water back to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are done. Add the shrimp, bring the water back to a boil and cook until the shrimp turn pink, about 3 minutes. Remove all ingredients with a slotted spoon or drain in a large colander. Line a large table with newspaper or butcher paper. If you want to be clean and proper you can serve your food on a nice platter, but if you want to do it the right way, grab a bucket or a cardboard box and dump your boil right on the table and enjoy the feast!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bagels and Lox Platter

I can’t believe I’ve never heard of a bagel and lox platter before. In my family is most certainly was not on my list of family comfort food. For some people bagels and lox is a must have for Jewish holidays. We will frequently have bagels and cream cheese, or bagels and a schmear (Yiddish for a spread of cream cheese, usually on a bagel). One day while having breakfast at a restaurant, the people at the next table were served a "Lox and Bagel Platter". I asked the waiter to bring me a menu. 
The menu called it a "Lox Platter". The menu description said that it was "Lox Platter... Fresh smoked salmon (Nova) with a toasted bagel and cream cheese, served with thinly sliced tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and capers". 
The next weekend my wife and I went out and had the "Lox Platter" at a different restaurant. The presentation was not as fancy, but the taste was amazing. I just had to have it again. 
For the 4th of July I decided I just had to get a Lox Platter. I called around and discovered that a "Lox Platter" to serve 8-10 people was about $110.00. For real? It was decided that we would make out own platter. How hard could it be?  
So I did a little research and put together my shopping list. 24 ounces of lox, tomatoes, English cucumbers, fresh dill, red onion, capers, cream cheese, chives, and bagels. So it was the 4th of July weekend. After shopping at the grocery store, my total cost for the "Lox Platter" ingredients was $27.00. How long would it take me to assemble this platter? I wondered.
My son's fiance was over for the day and I recruited her to assemble the platter while I took photographs. For each step I had to convince her to concentrate on presentation. Each thin slice of salmon had to be folded in half and laid out on the edge of the platter until the entire platter was covered. Remember, we eat with our eyes first. As you can see in the picture above, we had to fix the circle of lox to be more symmetrical.
We could have just cut the cucumber into slices, but running a vegetable peeler down the sides, alternating peeled and unpeeled slices make for a great presentation. Once the peeler is done, It's time to cut the cucumber into thin slices and arrange them around the lox.
Now doesn't that look nice? Now it's time for thinly sliced medium sized tomatoes that have been cut in half and placed around the platter overlapping the cucumbers Keep your circles tight, you're not finished yet.
You're going to need some diced red onions. Place a large pot of water on the stovetop and bring to a boil. Cut off each end of the onion and chop into small dice. Placed the diced onions into a fine strainer and set to the side until needed. You're going to need a large bowl filled with water and ice for rapidly cooling the onions (shocking), once they are blanched.
When the water is boiling, set the onions into the water for 2-3 minutes so the onions are tender. Remove the strainer and place it into the ice water. This will stop the cooking process and set the color. Once the onions are cold, pull the strainer from the water and allow to drain. Once drained put in a bowl and refrigerate until needed.
Fill a small bowl with cream cheese and chives and place in the center of the platter. Garnish the platter with fresh dill and add a dollop of chilled red onions around the plate. Place an assortment of bagels that have been cut in half or quartered on a plate next to the lox platter.
To assemble, spread a schmear of cream cheese and chives on each side of the bagel. This is the glue to hold your other ingredients. Place a slice of lox on the bottom layer of cream cheese, followed by a slice of tomato, a couple of cucumber slices, a dollop of red onions and some capers on the top layer of cream cheese and chives. Press the two halves together and you've got a lox appetizer. Enjoy!

© TMelle 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Branding Your Meat with Fancy Grill Marks for the 4th of July

I think that my interest in outdoor cooking began as a young boy when my father encouraged me to join the Boy Scouts. It was in the scouts that we were taught to survive in the wilderness, also known as the local forest preserve. They didn't actually teach us survival skills, instead to be resourceful. I actually enjoyed gathering my food from coolers and making my own meals. At the time, little did I know that learning to cook outdoors was actually preparing me for my adult obsession with barbecue.
It's really not that hard to do. Trust me.
Getting those fancy, great looking grill marks on steak, pork, fish,  or poultry will amaze your friends and family. To get the grill marks is not as difficult as it may seem. To put those marks on the protein you're cooking requires a clean, hot, well oiled grill and an attention to detail.
After about 15 minutes your grill should be hot enough (550°F) to start the process of making steakhouse grill marks in your very own backyard. Oil the grill grates using a set of tongs and an oil dipped paper towel. I have superimposed a clock on the grill hood to make the concept easier to understand. Lay your protein on the grill in the 10:00 o'clock position and close the hood for about 4 minutes.
To be quite honest, I almost never put any emphasis on grill marks. First, they don't have much effect on taste, and second, the supplied steel grate that comes with most charcoal kettles just doesn't get the job done very well. If you have a gas grill or ceramic cooker, you're probably good to go, but for us kettle owners, it's nice to have the replacement heavy duty cast iron grates or the aluminum raised rail grill grates. Both will get hotter than the regular grate and retain heat longer, which is helpful in getting that deep sear. Always buy a steak that is 1 inch thick when going for grill marks.
With a gas grill, the extreme heat of a grill grate will certainly leave a mark on the protein that you are grilling. I usually use the two zone cooking method. Initially I will turn both burners on to high and close the hood, allowing the grill to get roaring hot. After about 15 minutes, turn one burner off (indirect) and leave one burner on (direct). You are now ready to place your meat, chicken, or fish on the direct side (hot) of the grill. Using a paper towel soaked in canola oil generously oil the grill grate. Brush oil on the first side of the protein. When placing the oiled side of your steak, chicken or fish on the hot side of the grill (direct), it should be in the 10:00 o'clock position and sizzle immediately as the meat comes in contact with the hot grill.
When 4 minutes have passed, using your tongs, gently lift one side of the steak from the grill. It should release from the grill easily. If not, wait until it does. Now turn the steak to the 2:00 o'clock position and allow the steak to cook another 4 minutes. Turn the steak over to cook side two.
If you did it right, when you flip the steaks to side two, you will see it. Those fancy, schmancy grill marks. See, that wasn't that hard. Cook side two for another for another 3-4 minutes until it is medium rare 135°F), or medium (140°F). If you like it medium well, or well done you should be ashamed. When your steaks are done, remove them to a warm platter, cover with foil and let rest for five minutes. During this time the steaks will continue to cook about 5 degrees and the juices will redistribute in the steak, or other protein.
Let's chew the fat! In my family the fat on a steak was called "grizzle". We didn't eat the grizzle because it looked bad and it was grizzle. Always trim your steaks, leaving a small amount of fat on them. Once you cook side one of a steak, using metal tongs, hold the steak up on the side and cook the fat on the edges. When the fat is cooked all around the steak, cook side two of the steak. The crispy thin layer of fat becomes like crispy bacon. Yummy.

Plump, juicy chicken! When cooking chicken or pork chops, you can use a brine to make them juicy and tender. While there are many brine recipes out there, a good all-purpose recipe is to use 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of Kosher salt, and a half cup of sugar. I like to use brown sugar over granulated sugar. You could also replace the water with buttermilk if you like. Refrigerate the brining chicken or pork for at least 1-2 hours before using. Pour out the brining liquid.
You can mark your protein the day before you need them. You just need to change your cooking times, so that the protein is not completely cooked on day one. Cook them until partially cooked, remove from the grill and let rest. When using this method it is very important to properly cool the meat in a timely manner so that it is safe. It has to be chilled to 41 degrees or below. When it is time to cook the meat again you must make sure the temperature gets up to at least 165 degrees. 
Chicken resting
Grilling fish is only slightly more difficult. The grill must be hot and well oiled and the fish must be dry and then well oiled to keep it from sticking to the grill. Place the fish on the grill until it releases from the grill on it's own. Its not always perfect with fish so don't be discouraged. If it looks like it is sticking, just give it a few more minutes. It is also important not to over oil the fish. If you add too much oil the heat from the grill will cause black smoke which will make the fish look black, not burnt just black. This happens with any protein. Just remember, a little oil can go a  long way!
Fish resting
When it comes to marking your meat, hamburgers are the easiest to do. You must have a hot grill, well oiled hamburger, a good hamburger seasoning, and don't walk away from the grill. Timing is very important.
Where did I put that cheese?
Oh! There it is.
Even something as simple as a "wrap" looks better when you add those simple grill marks to it. What else looks good with grill marks on it?
Please send me pictures if you tried to make anything that was grilled or marked on the 4th. Why not sign up to follow the blog on the upper right corner, or leave a comment below. Is anybody out there?
Pork Chops
© TMelle 2015

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Afternoon Delight - High Tea

I’m not talking about the 1976 #1 song made famous by the Starland Vocal Band. For some people, the traditional British Afternoon Tea, is a way of life that has been going on since the mid 1800’s. In the United States we call it High Tea.  I was introduced to the concept in the middle 1980's.
While I would sneak into my local McDonald's for an afternoon pick-me-up, some people, more affluent and sophisticated people were enjoying an afternoon cup of tea.
It's not just a cup of tea that I'm talking about, in a world I never knew existed before, I'm talking about waiters in tuxedos serving guests seated at lace covered tables with pure white linen napkins, and a multilevel tiered assortments of biscuits, scones, crumpets, dainty one or two-bite finger sandwiches, and decadent one or two bite pastries.
One year, way back in the middle  1980s, or the decade of big hair bands, I was able to take my mother to the Palm Terrace at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, where we enjoyed their version of High Tea. To say that Mom was in heaven would be an understatement.
Drinking tea from what I would call miniature fine China tea cups, with my pinkie finger extended to heaven, as if that were the way to get in, is not my cup of tea. I'm more of a big mug in hand kind of guy.
High tea is to many people an afternoon delight. It was during a High Tea that I enjoyed my first crumpet and a scone. The crumpets were served with gourmet jams, preserves, and whipped butter. The  crumpets were similar to an English muffin and the scones were like sweetened country biscuits that reminded me of Irish Soda Bread. The next level was finger sandwiches, filled with cucumbers, radishes, egg salad, tuna salad, and ham salad, just to name a few. For the sweet tooth, there was an assortment of miniature pastries. It was here that I enjoyed my first petit fours.  Petit fours are miniature, decorated bite-sized cakes.
It was at High Tea that I realized that this was a life style that I could get accustomed to. I often wish that I had been born rich, instead of so damned good looking. LOL! There's another first, I used LOL for the first time. The tea that was served was a house blend that I really didn't care for. I'm more of a Lipton green or black tea kind of guy. My choice for gourmet tea is English Breakfast Tea.
Why not whip up a batch of your favorite egg salad, chicken salad, tuna salad. or lobster sandwich filling, grab some good sturdy bread and relax. Make a pitcher of ice tea and relax poolside. It's tea time!
Lobster rolls
© TMelle 2015