BBQ U, day 3 – hello Texas, and graduation

After Tuesday’s successful rib extravaganza, I was feeling a lot more confident about grilling, and J and I decided that we should divide & conquer with recipe preparation, if we were chosen to do any cooking.  Day 3’s theme?  Secrets of tailgating.

Day 3 menu:

  • Shrimp grilled on sugarcane with dark rum glaze
  • Fire-eater chicken wings
  • Scotch whisky-smoked salmon on a cedar plank with grilled mini-bagels
  • Burger bar:
  1.           Wagyu cheeseburger sliders
  2.           Lamb burgers with goat cheese
  3.           Barbecued pork burgers
  • Hill Country brisket with cola barbecue sauce
  • Wood oven mac and cheese
  • Smoked coleslaw
  • Smoked cherry crisp

J was pretty interested in the pork burgers with smoky slaw, mostly for the coleslaw recipe – he’s got more than a passing interest in coleslaw and has done some experimenting with recipes over the last few years.  (This year, we’re even growing cabbage to make that experimentation easier.) I was sort of tired, so I flirted with idea of not getting involved in one of the dish preparations and just watching everyone’s efforts instead.

J went off to start the pork burgers and slaw, teamed with a father & teenage son team from Colorado, while I stayed in my seat, listening to Steve.  Because it was day 3, Steve was throwing out all sorts of “extra” cooking projects for anyone who was interested, and brought out a special grilling rack for jalapeno poppers.  Suddenly I was much less tired.  One, because I love jalapenos.  Two, because we have quite a few of the plants growing in our garden and they produce a lot of peppers, and there is only so much salsa I am interested in making in a season.  Making a jalapeno popper appetizer would wipe out a large quantity of them without me mincing them to death.  My hand shot up.

I was joined by Larry from outside Fort Worth, TX, who was also part of a father-son team (although Larry’s son Bill was about my age) and as coincidence would have it, an avid jalapeno popper lover himself, with the grilling experience on this dish to boot.  My graduation from BBQ U was assured.

Because this was an “extra” recipe, there was nothing in our recipe binders about how to prepare them, but we were still given a tray of prepared possible ingredients including cheese, bacon and cilantro and a pile of whole jalapenos.  Larry & I quickly decided to use the corer that came with the grilling rack to hollow out the peppers, stuff them with cheese, cooked bacon & cilantro, and then grill them.  Bill lent a hand by heading outside to cook the bacon, while I chopped cheese & cilantro.  While we worked, we chatted about what we’d prepared so far – Larry & Bill had been on the team that did the clams the day before, which they chose because they had absolutely no experience with grilling seafood.  Other people had the same idea we did – try something new while the possibility of professional help was just a few feet away.

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The corer that came with the grilling rack had the unfortunate tendency to rip the jalapenos apart, so we decided because there were more peppers than space in the rack that we would split the torn peppers down the middle to create boats, filling those with cheese & cilantro and wrapping the bacon around them.  The only flaw in this plan is that there were no toothpicks available.  (Really.)  Larry’s solution was to put the ends of the bacon up near the tops of the pepper boats so that as the cheese melted the bacon would stick. We decided that any of them that didn’t look good would be eaten immediately, to cover out tracks.

We weren’t assigned a grill, so we took one of the gas grills that was unused and started cooking.

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The poppers cooked really fast, so we ended up lowering the heat and moving them around before Steve even got over to check on how we were doing.  As the cheese melted down into the vertical peppers, I stuffed more into the top.  The temperature on the patio was about 95 degrees and it was hazy because of the Colorado Springs wildfire, so that plus the heat from the grill meant that those peppers were not the only thing roasting.  And we struggled with the pepper rack, because the peppers kept tipping over, falling onto the grill & spilling ingredients because most of them did not sit low enough in the rack.  Still, Larry & I persevered:

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The experience did teach us that Larry’s method – creating boats wrapped with bacon, and secured with a toothpick (when available) was probably a better solution and also didn’t require another specialty grilling tool.  Not that having a lot of tools is ever a problem, in my opinion, except if you have issues with enough storage space.

We plated our finished product (after sampling several, “just to be sure” while we were out cooking, and also to make sure we got some, since we were attracting a lot of attention with this project) and put it out on the newly-expanded presentation table.

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Meanwhile, J had prepared the smoky cole slaw:

Smoky slaw on the smoker - photo courtesy of Rob Bass, Countryside Food Rides

Smoky slaw on the smoker – photo courtesy of Rob Bass, Countryside Food Rides

J, who can be critical of his own cooking, thought he might have used too much salt in the slaw.  If he did, I didn’t notice – it was really good.  At the time the dishes were presented, however, the pork burgers weren’t done.  The teenaged half of the father-son team J was working with could get grill marks on his food that were a work of art, (see the photos of the angel food cake from the day 2 post – that was all him) but they took a little bit longer to do.  No matter – it just meant that the burgers would still be warm when we were all picking from the display table.

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Hill Country brisket, smoked cherry cobbler

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Shrimp on sugarcane, fire-eater wings

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The Professor approves

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Salmon – about six different ways; these folks got really creative

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Shrimp close up

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Hill Country brisket that was every bit as tasty as it looks.

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Beer can chicken – another “extra” project

But before that could happen, we had to take our final exam, which consisted of Steve asking us one question before handing over our certificates. The beauty of this final exam was that if you didn’t know the answer, he gave you a hint or let one of your fellow classmates help you with the answer.  Do you know how much easier my high school science classes would have been if that had been allowed?

Our overall experience with BBQ U was fantastic – we met some really nice people and made some new friends, we learned some new information and tried cooking new things, and best of all, I was not the first person to flunk out of BBQ U.  We had a lot of fun and now understand how it is that people come back again and again to attend BBQ University – the resort is beautiful, the people who take class are interesting, and Steve changes it up every time so that you can always learn something new.

Of course, there is a dark side to attending a cooking class where so many grills and smokers are available to try, and you’re surrounded by people who are avid barbecue enthusiasts and want to debate the merits of a given grill with you.  Sometimes you come home from work a few days after the trip to find this on your sun porch:

Weber performer

Weber performer

Which then makes your deck look like this:

Grills on deckThanks to Stella Carolyn for allowing me to blog about my experiences.  If you have an overwhelming fascination with vegetables, you can find me over at Cocktail Farmers where I detail our aggressive suburban vegetable garden efforts and my struggle to unload our excess produce.  Or you can just keep reading here, because Stella Carolyn usually gets a fair amount of it and turns it into something amazing.

BBQ U, day 2 – teamwork!

After day one’s successful cooking and presentation, the stakes were higher for those of us who had yet to cook.  Part of the “graduation requirement” from BBQ U is that everyone participate in preparing and cooking at least one recipe.  J and I attempted to strategize the night before by reviewing the scheduled agenda.  Day 2?  Ribs!

Menu:

  • Grilled clams with Sambuca and Italian sausage
  • Mini chicken, bread, and cheese spiedini
  • Peking duck buns with pineapple salsa
  • Tandoori lamb ribs with herb chutney
  • Spice-rubbed baby back ribs with dark and stormy barbecue sauce
  • Brazilian rib roast with ember-charred salsa
  • Cajun grilled okra with smoky remoulade
  • Grilled angel food cake with fruit salsa and tequila-whipped cream

This is the point at which I confess that I do not grill.  At all.  I love to cook, I will help with endless amounts of prep, and will sous chef with the best of them, but I have totally abdicated all grilling responsibilities to J.  I have started the grill, though.  Twice.  So really, I was the personification of beginner in this class.  I can pretty much guarantee that everyone had more grilling experience than I did.  And charcoal grills?  Cooking over smoldering briquettes?  Sweet fancy Moses, that’s just crazy talk.  What do you mean I can’t just press a button and fire up the propane?

J does an excellent job grilling, but we’ve only prepared ribs once, and we were less than thrilled with how they came out.  So when we saw that day 2 was ribs, we were ready.  When Steve called for volunteers for the Tandoori lamb ribs with three herb chutney, our hands shot up.  And I immediately thought, “Please let the other two team members have rib-grilling experience, or we may very well be the first people to flunk out of BBQ U.”

Fate had it that we were paired with Charlie from Chicago, a third-time BBQ University attendee (and former chef & restaurant owner!) and Rob from Kentucky who writes Countryside Food Rides, both of whom love ribs and had extensive experience cooking them.  It felt a little bit like having barbecue Cliff notes, but I am not one to quibble.  This was increasing my chances of getting a diploma.  The magic fairies who do all the grunt work produced a tray full of covered dishes with pre-measured ingredients, and we began mixing the marinade and the chutney.  So much easier when it’s all measured out! image

Tandoori lamb ribs in marinade, ready for grilling

Tandoori lamb ribs in marinade, ready for grilling

We were ready in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.  (Sorry, bad pun.)  Steve decreed we would be using the Big Green Egg cooker, which J was delighted by as he has been trying to decide between an Egg and a Weber Performer.  Because then we could each have our own grill to cook on.  Or he could make twice as much at once. It keeps the heat out of my kitchen in the summer, which is all I care about!

Here’s where I found the only bad part of this class – once you start preping ingredients with your team & getting ready to cook, listening to Steve just doesn’t happen.  You’re so focused on what you need to do to get ready to grill, plus the noise of the other teams around you, that you can’t follow what he’s talking about.  Fortunately, he seems to impart all the really key information at the beginning of class, before he starts asking for volunteers to prepare the different recipes.  This is pretty much the only criticism I can come up with for this program, and it’s pretty minor.  (I also don’t know how you’d get around it.)

image Out to the grilling patio we went with our ribs.  Steve circled by with the members of the class who weren’t cooking to check the heat in the Egg and then said to me, “Ok, let’s have you put the grill grate in there.”  And I thought, “Hmmm…” because like I told all of you (but not Steve), I don’t grill.  (Well, I didn’t. Until right then.)  It’s running through my mind that the grill is hot so I need something to grab the grate with before placing it in the Egg, and as I’m processing this Rob jumped in and offered to do it, which then gave Steve the opportunity to suggest his special grill grabber tool.  This all took about 20 seconds, by the way, but it felt like 20 minutes.  It was just like school when the teacher asks you a question and you have no earthly idea what the answer is, and then the bell rings and you are saved.  The grate went in, the ribs went on, and we were off to the races: image image Lamb ribs take a bit of time, so we swapped off watching to make sure they weren’t burning with wandering around to see what everyone else was making.  It was quite the assortment: image image image We also got into a conversation about grills with several people – many people had Webers and were staunch advocates, several others had the Big Green Egg and sang their praises.  We spent some time debating the merits with the rest of Team Tandoori, all while the ribs cooked.  Several people wandered by as we were testing some of the ribs and were invited to sample to see how they were doing.  It was like a neighborhood barbecue, if your neighbors live all over the country (and all over the world; there were several folks there from overseas) and treat barbecue like a religion. When we were done, we brought the finished ribs and grilled lemon halves into the classroom for plating:

Tandoori lamb ribs with herb chutney

Tandoori lamb ribs with herb chutney

Sprinkled all around those ribs is minced cilantro, probably the only time that cilantro will be featured on this blog since Stella Carolyn hates it.  We put our finished product in with the rest of the dishes for the professor’s opinion.

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Grilled okra with smoky remoulade sauce & grilled corn

Grilled okra with smoky remoulade sauce & grilled corn

 

image image A funny thing happened on day two at lunch.  Rather than help themselves from the buffet, people were eating directly off the class-prepared display table.  We had figured out yesterday that what we made as class projects, because it was on a smaller scale, tasted much better.  So the buffet line was empty, and everyone was crowded around the class projects:

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Now, I am generally not a lamb person – offered the opportunity to have it and I will pass.  This might stem from childhood when my grandmother would occasionally cook a leg of lamb for a holiday, and serve it with mint jelly.  Still deep in nursery rhyme territory, I couldn’t help but associate dinner with Little Bo Peep’s lost sheep.  It was probably back then that I developed a slight aversion to the consistency of the meat & the taste.  But that was before.  These ribs were amazing – on their own, with the chutney – this non-lover of lamb had three ribs.  And we immediately made a plan to do this recipe at home over the 4th of July for my parents’ anniversary, it was that good.

I also discovered an unknown love for okra.  I’ve had it in soup but I had never had fresh okra until I tasted that dish put together by my classmates.  The smoky remoulade sauce was just the icing on the cake – I could not get enough of it.  I even got some from the buffet.  It was that good.

Day 3 – don’t mess with Texas, everyone’s all in, and graduation – maybe.

Team Tandoori – it was almost 100 degrees when this photo was taken

BBQ University, day one – you can use garden tools on your grill

Many thanks to my dear friend Stella Carolyn for letting me blog on her site about my recent trip to BBQ University.  My postings normally revolve around vegetables and our challenges with gardening, so it’s a nice change of pace to talk about cooking!

In January my beloved husband, Old McDonald, turned 40 and I struggled with what to get him for a special birthday gift.  He’s a big fan of Barbecue University on PBS, featuring Steve Raichlen, and last year while looking up a recipe we had seen on the show, I discovered that Steve teaches 2 sessions of BBQ U in person at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.  I called, and was able to secure us two spots in the class for this year’s second session, June 9-12.  I hadn’t seen too much on this program on the web – just one message board post dating back to 2010 from a guy in Chicago who had taken the class – so our expectations were pretty vague.  But hey, it was a vacation in Colorado involving live fire cooking, so how bad could it be?

Awesome, as it turned out.  First, the resort – the Broadmoor is a AAA, five-diamond resort.  We are very much the rustic-cabin-in-the-woods type of vacationers, so this is by far the nicest place we’ve ever stayed:

The Broadmoor

The Broadmoor

image imageThe event kicked off with a cocktail reception featuring food from a selection of the nine (!!) restaurants located on the Broadmoor properties, and a brief speech from our instructor, Steve Raichlen.  We met most of our classmates (57 in total, 9 of whom were women), and left the event just as the sun was setting over Cheyenne mountain, totally stuffed from all the good food.  While we were out, bags had been delivered to our room with our binders for “study” – the recipes that would be prepared each day.  Classes ran for three mornings, Monday – Wednesday from 9-12, at the Broadmoor’s Cheyenne Mountain Lodge:

The Lodge

The Lodge

Our classroom. If only college classes were held in places like this, I'd still be an undergrad.

Our classroom. If only college classes were held in places like this, I’d still be an undergrad.

Monday morning’s class kicked off with Steve talking about the history of live fire cooking and how it led to the evolution of man before moving on to man’s favorite food: meat.  He gave us some brief demonstrations on preparations (my favorite was “spatchcocking,” where you take a whole round chicken or duck and flatten it by removing the spine, cutting slits in the body cavity and tucking the leg bones into them, and tucking in the wings) before calling for volunteers to make each recipe.  Most of the teams ended up being between 2-4 people, who worked together to prep the food to be cooked and then took it out to be grilled:image image image image There were about 20 grills and smokers available for use, and depending on what you were cooking you would be assigned a smoker, a charcoal grill or a gas grill.  I should also mention that preparing the recipe – adding seasoning or creating a marinade – was supremely easy because just like a cooking show, all your ingredients were premeasured and sorted into prep bowls, then handed to you on a tray.  And clean up?  Just wipe off the table, stack the used dishes/knives/whisks in a black dish bucket by the kitchen door, and they all disappeared.  I want that at my house.  Every day.

Day one, the menu:

  • Buffa-que shrimp
  • Grilled meatballs with lemon dill sauce

  • Peppered tuna London broil with wasabi cream

  • Thai grilled game hens with mango slaw

  • Port T-bones on a shovel

  • The ultimate cheese “steak”

  • Tuscan grilled polenta and vegetable platter with balsamic soy glaze

  • Smoked crème brulees

Everything on the grill, from appetizers to dessert.  My favorite was the pork steak cooked on…..wait for it…..a shovel.  Really, see: image That to me is a showstopper.  Steve talked about making sure your shovel was properly sterilized, which makes sense if you’re us, and your steel shovels are usually used to shovel compost. And other organic matter that encourages plant and vegetable growth.  Ahem.

We opted not to participate in the cooking on day one, preferring to get a better look at what everyone else was doing.  This turned out to be great because not only were we able to listen to all of Steve’s instructions, suggestions & cooking ideas, we could follow him around as he checked on all the recipes on the grill.

Grilled poblano peppers

Grilled poblano peppers

Peppered tuna London broil

Peppered tuna London broil & the “ultimate” cheese steak

Thai grilled game hens

Thai grilled game hens

Grilled meatballs. Anything is possible with the right equipment!

Grilled meatballs. Anything is possible with the right equipment!

Steve is very big into presentation of the food you prepare, so we were encouraged to artistically arrange our finished recipes using the serving dishes provided.  It was also a good reminder for me, because I tend to plate whatever I’ve prepared and not think too much about making it look pretty, because I’m usually hungry or pretty tired by the time I’ve finished some interesting recipes.

The first day’s results set the standard for the next two days:

Tuscan grilled polenta & vegetable platter

Tuscan grilled polenta & vegetable platter

Pork T-bones, post-shovel

Pork T-bones, post-shovel

Thai-grilled game hens, now with mango slaw

Thai-grilled game hens, now with mango slaw

Meatballs

Meatballs

The final spread

The final spread

And how did it taste?  Well, it was fabulous.  Since each team was preparing recipes that would serve only 4-6 people and there were more than 60 people who needed to eat, the Broadmoor chefs cooked the same recipes on several additional grills around the corner from where we were all working.  The giant kettle grill featured above, as a matter of fact.  So good.  And once again, all the dishes just disappeared, as if by magic.  That alone is worth the price of tuition, in my opinion.

Next time – day 2 – the Big Green Egg and we cook Tandoori lamb ribs with three herb chutney with two guys who totally know what they’re doing.

Audience Participation

Ok, here are the bullet points:

1.  No baby yet.  I am due today.  My daughter was born on her due date (Only 4-5% of babies come on the actual due date) and I don’t think we’ll get that lucky again.  I am scheduled to be induced on Tuesday morning if the boy hasn’t arrived before then.

2.  As a result, I am exhausted.  I have two more testing reports to write for work and then I’m done.  I may or may not go into work tomorrow for a few hours just to wrap up- it will depend on how I feel (and if the baby comes tonight).

3.  Also, as a result, I haven’t meal planned at all for this week.  As in ordered spicy Chinese food last night (and took a long walk at the zoo today) and had carrots, celery and dip tonight.  Since I haven’t planned, I have made THREE trips to two different grocery stores in as many days.  So we have staples- milk, eggs, cheese, cereal, etc.- but no real ingredients for meals.  It means that I sort of wandered aimlessly through the grocery stores, picking up and putting down various items.  I had forgotten how much prepared or just-add-water food there is out there (and was reminded of the long-running joke in my house growing up, based on an old Sally Forth comic strip, “Do you want something from a bag or from a box?  From the freezer or the fridge?”).

4.  The best part of my wanderings is that I found this:

Yes, you’re reading it right.  Chocolate goat cheese.  I was curious enough to spend $8 on it.  I tasted it and it’s smooth, creamy, tangy and sweet, all at the same time.

My problem?  I have no idea what to do with it.  A google search yielded a few ideas- goat cheese canapes, truffles and frosting- but these do no appeal.  So this is where you all come in.

What would you do with it?  Let me know in the comments and maybe I’ll try it.

Decisions, Decisions

I’m having a friend over for lunch and general merriment tomorrow.  She’s my friend with the garden.  She’ll be bringing a pear and feta salad with balsamic dressing.  What should I make for lunch to go with it?  Vote here:

We’re also debating cooking.  We were thinking about croissants but without a sheeter, it’s more work and time than we’re willing to devote.  So what should we make/do instead?