Monday, March 24, 2014

Summertime Blues Barbecue Sauce

Have you ever had a song that gets stuck in your head for an entire day? Every year, during the month of April as I'm pacing back and forth trying to release the caged rat within, the song that sticks in my head is Summertime Blues. I'm not talking about the 50's Eddie Cochran or the 60's version by the Who, I'm talking about the acid rock version by Blue Cheer. This year is no exception.
Lake Michigan 2014
I just can't wait to put this year's brutal Midwest winter behind us. To celebrate the arrival of spring and summer it's time to uncover the grill and give it a good spring cleaning. A clean grill is essential to a good barbecue. Once the grill is clean head off to your favorite barbecue store and stock up on charcoal, smoke chips, starter, or propane.
It's burger time. Can you smell that?
With over 80 inches of snow this year, it was one of the worst winters in history. "Why do we live here?" I often ask myself that very question. Because the other seasons are so beautiful, as is winter if it is a short one. The season I like the most is barbecue season. Generally it runs from early to mid April until mid October and sometimes into November, depending on your addiction to barbecue, or outdoor cooking.
This looks like a good starting point
Every year my goal is to perfect my own signature barbecue sauce. There are so many sauces on the market to choose from. Which one is your favorite? Pick up that sauce and look at the ingredients in it. The list is generally in order from most to least. Those first few ingredients are the main components in your favorite sauce. I looked at almost every sauce on the market and found most of them have very similar ingredients.
A little honey should sweeten things up a bit
Let's look at the first six ingredients in the following example: Water, tomato paste, sugar, distilled vinegar, brown sugar, lemon juice. 
As you can see the ingredients so far are not bad. Now grab another brand and check their ingredients as well:  
High fructose corn syrup, distilled vinegar, tomato paste, pineapple juice concentrate, natural smoke concentrate, water. 
It's just my preference but I prefer the taste of real sugar over corn, or fruit syrups. Once you get past the main ingredients you come to the additives that either enhance the flavor or preservatives that make it shelf stable, for months or even years. 
Some Chili sauce sounds like a good idea
Making your own sauce is not as hard as it sounds. If you make it in small batches and use it fast (a couple of days) you won't have to worry about adding preservatives.
Now for that smoky hickory flavor
A dollop of tomato paste
My cousin, a former chef, worked in a restaurant specializing in fall-off-the-bone ribs. He really likes Open Pit brand barbecue sauce as do many other people. The Open Pit was a starting point for his own signature sauce. When he finished I had no idea that Open Pit was the main ingredient. From there the recipe is simple, a little of this, a little of that, taste and continue. In my test the sauce was very thin. Do I add more chili sauce, ketchup, or tomato paste?
Caramelize them onions. Oh yeah!
Meanwhile I'm cooking up some Valida onions in butter to add some texture to this sauce. How about some garlic? What do you think?

But now the sauce is a little too red. I know... Brown sugar or Molasses. Either one will do the trick. I think I'll go with the brown sugar this time.Pure cane sugar or Molasses next time. For now some garlic and onion powder and maybe a touch of heat from red pepper flakes. What am I going to put this on?
Ribs of course

Maybe it's chicken I crave
Well I've got the entire summer to figure it out. What do you like to barbecue? I love the regional differences in sauces. If you have a family barbecue sauce recipe that you would like to share, just post it in the comment section below, or join this blog upper right above. 
As my brother down south says "ya'll put some south in your mouth."           

© TMelle 2014

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Corned Beef, Reuben Sandwiches & St. Patrick's Day

It's that time of the year again. Time to get your Irish on. St. Patrick's Day in Chicago. On the Irish side of the family it is in our blood and a part of who we are. In Chicago it's also a big deal. Every year when I get an ad from the local grocer that corned beef is on sale I know what we have to do. Make corned beef and cabbage, or as my wife calls it "New England Boiled Dinner."
Thin sliced corned beef
That means going to the store and buying corned beef. There are many brands to buy out there but in Chicago it's Ray Harrington's, or Vienna brand, flat cut corned beef briskets are the best.
Add some Baby Swiss Cheese
While I love a
New England boiled dinner as much as the next guy, to me it's really all about what you make with the left-overs. Corned beef sandwiches, Reuben sandwiches, or corned beef hash.
Russian or 1000 Island Dressing

I really do love a good Reuben when I can. It's really a very simple thing to make. 
Add some dressing
Corned beef, very thinly sliced

Swiss cheese
Rye bread, seeded, unseeded, or marble rye bread
Russian Dressing, or 1000 Island

Butter, for grilling

Deli-style Dill pickles, quartered
Add some Sauerkraut

If you have a meat slicer use that to cut the corned beef, otherwise you can buy some thinly sliced at your local deli while picking up your Swiss cheese. 
Butter the bread generously

Lay the sliced rye bread on a clean work surface and spread 1 side of each slice with some of the Russian dressing. Layer 1/2 of the slices with some of the corned beef. Divide the sauerkraut evenly over the meat, then top the sauerkraut with the slices of Swiss cheese. Place the remaining bread slices on top, dressing sides down, and set aside.
Place sandwiches on griddle
Heat a large heavy skillet or griddle over medium heat. When hot, place the sandwiches on the hot pan or griddle, buttered sides down, and cook until crispy and golden brown (about 3-4 minutes). Turn the sandwiches over to cook on the other side until golden brown, crispy, and the cheese is melted, 3 to 4 minutes longer.
Looking good

Transfer the sandwiches to a cutting board and cut in half on the diagonal. Place on plate and serve with dill pickles, Cole slaw, and potato chips.

Now where are those chips?
My wife prefers potato stix to chips so if you prefer those enjoy. If you're not into sauerkraut just make a plain corned beef on rye. 
Corned beef piled high with mustard of course
If you're looking for an Irish soda bread recipe, check out my previous post at
What to do with the left-overs?
So what do I do with all the left-overs? Corned beef hash!
Corned beef hash ingredients
Have a great St. Patrick's Day. Get your Irish on!