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Friday, August 31, 2007

Tailgating With the Parrotheads

Went to a Jimmy Buffett concert at the Mohegan Sun Casino last night and had a blast. We made sure to get there early to check out the freakshow that always accompanies a Buffett concert.

His fans are really dedicated. Many people set up tents and tiki bars in the parking lot, broke out their grills and blenders and chowed down on cheeseburgers and Margaritas.

Taking care to look for sharks!

For our own tailgate we opted for some beautiful wild Maine scallops and Gulf shrimp, which I marinated in lime juice, chipotle pepper and cilantro.

We ate them grilled with whole wheat tortillas, jicama salad and plenty of cold beer!

The concert was fantastic. Jimmy started with Willy Nelson's "On the Road Again", and went on to play a mix of new music and old standbys. The band was very interactive, and the crowd was into it. The crew had spent time in the parking lot earlier in the day filming the tailgate parties, and during the show they were projecting scenes from the parking lot onto giant screens throughout the arena.

A combination beer cooler and motorized scooter,
that just can't possibly be legal!

We rocked out to Brown Eyed Girl and hugged tight during Come Monday.... It was a great time for sure!

Thursday, August 23, 2007


I've always been facinated by stuffed foods such as spring rolls, filled pastas, beggars purses, etc. Something about biting through the outer wrap to discover what's hidden inside is fun for me. I was playing around with a sushi recipe and came up with this bite sized delight consisting of risotto wrapped in prosciutto. You can use any risotto recipe you like (I like mushroom and saffron), just let it cool to room temperature so the starches will firm up.

Place a square of plastic wrap in the palm of your hand,
then add a 2 inch square of thinly sliced prosciutto

Top the prosciutto with a tablespoon of risotto

Pull the corners of the plastic wrap together like a beggar's purse

Twist tightly to form a ball

Unmold onto a plate and repeat

I like to drizzle them with balsamic vinegar and top with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. Serve them as an appetizer for cocktail parties. Vegetarians could use braised whole spinach leaves instead of prosciutto for the outer wrap. You can also do this same dish Japanese style by using thinly sliced fish filled with sushi rice.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Prius Schmius

When I decided that I wanted a hybrid, it had nothing to do with my mode of transportation. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of the environment and I'm all over the alternative fuel issue. We have one VW diesel and are in the market for another, and we are trying to locate a local source of biodiesel fuel. IMHO, biodiesel is the best option for the short term as a realistic alternative fuel (after all, Rudolph Diesel originally designed his engine to run on peanut oil, and it was the big auto/ big oil industry that convinced him to alter his engines to run on petroleum). Hydrogen fuel cells requires too much infrastructure to be viable anytime in the near future, and from what I've heard gas/electric hybrids get crappy "real world" mileage ( I drive 30-40,000 highway miles a year and that is simply not the hybrid's forte). Chiko's Jetta TDI wagon gets a genuine 40 mpg, can haul a ton of stuff and when loaded with domestic biofuel is relatively non-poluting and will not support foreign terrorists (for the time being I'll stick to "no comment" when it comes to redneck boys who grow corn and blow up federal buildings). Enough of my alternative fuel rant, on to the Frankenstein monster that inhabits my deck.

I did not grow up in a "barbecue" tradition. We grilled regularly, but that was always direct heat applied to hot dogs, hamburgers and Italian sausage via a gas grill. About 10 years ago I was on a business trip in Florida and happened upon a place called Sonny's Real Pit in a strip mall outside Orlando. Slow cooked pork and chicken with just a dry rub and sauce served on the side... I was in heaven. Living in an apartment where a simple gas grill was something to be investigated by the major case squad, my opportunity to explore "true cue" was limited. I eventually acquired a Cameron's stove stop smoker as an interim step on my journey.

The Cameron is an indoor smoker that works quite well and I continue to use and endorse it to this day. It is essentially a "half pan" with a false bottom, a food rack and a tight fitting top. To utilize it, place finely chopped wood chips in the pan, cover the chips with the "false bottom", insert the rack and the food to be smoked (preferably in that order) and loosely place the top on the pan. Set over medium high heat until smoke emerges, then close the lid, reduce the heat to low and wait for the yuminess to occur. It works great for hot smoking things like fish, and I even managed to do slow cooked baby back ribs by pre-cooking them in the oven, smoking them in the Cameron, then finishing them under the broiler. For apartment living it was pretty damn good. Once we purchased our own home, I knew it was time to take the plunge.
While dear friends, who shall remain nameless, were purchasing high end gas grills that looked good but don't cook worth a damn, I invested in a $150 Charbroil Silver Smoker from Home Depot. This versatile horizontal offset smoker can do dual duty as a ginormous charcoal grill as well as a slow smoker.
How a horizontal offset smoker works

I grilled burgers and sausages in the main chamber and also made some passable barbecue, but I found that burning charcoal in the side smoker box was very unforgiving when it comes to maintaining the slow, steady heat needed for true barbecue.

My first attempt to simplify the heat regulation process was to place an electric hotplate in the side smoker box and use it to ignite/smolder my wood chips. This worked fairly well, but unfortunately my deck's electrical circuit is tied into my master bath and every time I wanted to smoke meat and my wife wanted to use her hairdryer we would trip the circuit breaker. It was also difficult to generate enough btu's to heat the main chamber on windy or cold days.

Next, I tried placing a small "tailgate" style propane grill into the side smoker box and used that to generate the necessary heat. Frankly, that worked very well, although the maximum amount of heat I could produce was limited due to the total btu's of the unit.

I used the aforementioned setup until just recently when I purchased a basic "el cheapo" gas grill from Wal-Mart, extracted the burners and regulators, and placed them inside my side smoker box (this required more than a little drilling and hack-sawing to accomplish). The results have been phenomenal. The side smoker box itself, with those two large Pratt and Whitney wannabe burners, gets to over 700 degrees without a problem.

I have actually placed a pizza stone in the side smoker box and used it to make bread and pizza due to the intense heat. The main smoking chamber can be readily maintained at a temp of 200-225 degrees thanks to the heat of the side box and a steel heat baffle to distribute the temps evenly.

Beef Brisket After Nine Hours at 225 Degrees

I call it a hybrid because when I want to grill for a large group I can still load the main chamber with charcoal and cook down a ton of burgers, and yet when I want to slow cook some a brisket, boston butt or even an underblade chuck roast, all I need to do is call upon the propane portion of the grill. The adventures of Jon and his Silver Smoker are many and varied. Stand by for details!

Ribs, Chicken and Pork Butt Taking a Smoke Bath