Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I hope every one has had a wonderful holiday season this year, I know I have. The last three months have absolutely flown by, partly because we quite literally had one get together after the other. It all started with Thanksgiving and ended the day after Christmas, but it's a short break before the festivities of ringing in the New Year. We are having some family over to play some Wii and maybe watch a movie this year. I am planning on some finger foods, not sure what yet, but I will be sure to get the posted next week. I also received some new kitchen and gadgets that I can't wait to get to use and show them off to every body.

Now what post a couple of days before New Year's would be complete with out at least talking about one's New Years resolutions? Yes, I have made New Year's resolutions for my time in the kitchen as well as for the blog.

1. Be more adventurous in recipe selection!
2. Look for healthy comfort food alternatives.
3. Try new recipes on the grill.
4. Shake it up with mixed drinks and cocktails.
5. Do more recipes that my little girl can help with.

So there it is, my short list of goals for 2011! It's simple enough so I should be able to actually accomplish most if not all of them. Well I hope every one has had a Happy Holidays and I wish you all a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Ugly Drum Smoker Build!

I have spent the last year researching how to build a smoker that would give me steady temperatures and be capable of doing an eight to ten hour cook with out being forced to add more fuel. Now I could spend some serious money on a Weber Smokey Mountain or a Traeger, but I really wanted something that I built. The plans I found were to build a smoker that has affectionately been named the Ugly Drum Smoker or UDS for short. I visited such sites as The Pickled Pig, the BBQ-Brethren, and recently the BBQ Central; all these sites are loaded with information on building this smoker. I must have spent months crawling through all the posts with ideas that have succeeded and ideas that have failed in the attempt of building one of these smokers. In the end I decided to try and keep my build as cheap and simple as possible.  So I stuck to the basics and even borrowed from a commercially built unit known as the Big Drum Smoker.

The toughest part of this whole project was tracking down a food quality 55 gallon drum and it took a better part of a year to get one, so be prepared for a long hunt. I finally landed a barrel that had contained honey at one point in it's life and at the time I found it, it was being used as a trash can with barrel liners. In fact when I got it home, you could still see some of the honey residue inside of it. The barrel was lined with a tan epoxy and there is two ways to go about removing it. The easiest would be to take it to a body shop and pay to have it sand blasted inside and out, a few have even then had the body shop powder coat the outside for them. The cheapest way is to load it up with wood and burn it out, which is the technique I chose. Before I lit my fire I drilled four 3/4" hole around the bottom for intakes. It's important to do this before the burn as it will guarantee plenty of airflow for a good hot fire.  I used this as an opportunity to burn up all the limbs I had collected from my yard over the last year as well as an oak log that was had been a yard ornament with the families last name carved into it. I did two burns that totaled 6 hours and this was enough to burn off all the paint from the outside of the drum, but I still had a fair amount of the liner left inside. I used a 3M Rust and Paint Remover drill attachment wheel that I found in the paint removal aisle at Lowe's. It took me about an hour to remove what was left of the liner as well as some rust that had formed from it's previous life.

When it came time to drill the holes for the cooking grate I had to do a little math to find out how far down to put the cooking grate. What you want is to have the cooking grate 24 inches from the bottom of the charcoal basket, with 2 inches below the charcoal basket for ash buildup. My barrel was 34 inches tall, so I did some simple math and came up with having a cooking grate 7 inches from the top of the drum.
For my charcoal basket I took the lid from an old Brinkmann bullet that I had now sitting around. I drilled out the bottom and the sides with a 1/2 inch drill bit, this should allow the ash to fall away and good air flow to feed the fire. The sides I drilled with the same size drill bit as the bottom, it may need more holes for better ventilation but I will see how this works out. I also used the legs from the body of the old smoker to hold the now basket up off the bottom giving it a clearance of 2 inches. I plan on adding an 18 inch pie pan underneath the basket and attach it to the basket to aide in ash removal after the cook.
In effort to keep the cost down I used stainless steel caps as a means to control the intakes. As you can see I put a 1-1/2 inch machine screw with two nuts to act as a grab handle to remove the cap if more air is needed. This may be revised with using some black pipe nipple's, nipple cap's, and a ball valve for better air control.
When it came time to drill the holes for the cooking grate I had to do a little math to find out how far down to put the cooking grate. What you want is to have the cooking grate 24 inches from the bottom of the charcoal basket, with 2 inches below the charcoal basket for ash buildup. My barrel was 34 inches tall, so I did some simple math and came up with having a cooking grate 7 inches from the top of the drum. I used 1 1/2 inch x 1/4 inch stainless steel bolts with lock washer and nut to rest my cooking grate on. I scavenged a cooking grate from an old 22 1/2 inch Weber kettle that I had lying around. As you can see it was a bit rusty, so to fix that I heated it up in the gas grill and hit with my BBQ steel bristle brush. After it was free of rust and as much gunk as I could scrape off I sprayed it with Pam in preparation for seasoning it.
     Seasoning is an important step, the better seasoned a smoker is the more flavor you food will have. Now I'm not talking about having a pit or a grate that is so disgusting your spouse or kids would not eat out of it, but you do want the pit to be good a greasy. The seasoning process is as easy as spraying down the inside of the cooking chamber with Pam or covering with any cooking oil, then start a basket of charcoal as if you were going to be actually cooking. Then let the pit come up to cooking temperature 225º-275º F. Be sure to throw quite a few chunks of wood on there, like hickory, to help the seasoning process.
   My extra's to this grill include a 6 inch piece of 2 inch conduit for a stack as well as a coat hook to the under side of the lid, which gives me a place to hang the lid while tending to the pit. I have plans to put a handle on the lid as well as two handles on the side of the body to make it easier to move around. I also have plans for adding a table to the side so I have a place to set things while I'm cooking. The paint is flat red Rust-Oleum 2000º High Heat Paint, that I picked up from Autozone. It took me two cans to paint the drum, but I also was forced to paint outside which is always makes painting with a rattle can difficult.

The thermometer required a 7/8 inch hole drilled just below the cooking grate, and is held in place with a nut and washer that attach to the back of the thermometer. This was the last hole I drilled because I wasn't quite sure where I wanted it. There are some who like the thermometer on the lid as appose to the side, which I found out from later cooks was because there is some big temperature differences when cooking in cold and windy weather. I have not had the opportunity yet to cook on a day where the temperatures got above 50º and the wind was not blowing. I will be sure to update you when some warmer weather comes along and I can get a better idea on how even the temperatures will be.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Minestrone Stew

I've decided to try and make an effort to use my slow cookers more this winter, so I pulled out the one slow cooker cook book I have and dusted it off. The cook book is titled Best of Country Slow Cooker Recipes and looks like it was put together by the Crock Pot brand. But it's full of all kinds of different recipes and a few have you cooking things I wouldn't have thought of trying in a slow cooker. Here in Missouri we had a decent cold spell a couple of weeks ago and I was in the mood for something to really warm us up. I found the a recipe for minestrone stew, which made me laugh because of a Mickey Mouse  Club House episode where Minnie fixers her Minniestronie Stew; and all those with toddlers that watch it probably know the exact episode I'm talking about. My little girl liked it, so I would call it kid approved.
1 pound ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1 can (19 ounces) ready-to-serve minestrone soup
1 can (15 ounces) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) stewed tomatoes
1 can (11 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
1 can (4 ounces) copped green chilies
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

In a skillet, cook beef and onion until meat is no longer pink; drain. Transfer to slow cooker. Add the remaining ingredients; mix well. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours or until heated through. Yield: 8 servings.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Peanut Butter Fudge

This was my first attempt at peanut butter fudge and it came out perfect. It was soft, creamy, and absolutely delicious. I have prepared chocolate fudge before and I have learned a couple of lessons from past failures. The first lesson is to use a timer to keep track of the seven minutes, or you can use a candy thermometer if you have one. The next lesson is to use either a wooden spoon or a metal spoon to stir the sugar, evaporated milk, and butter mixture; a plastic spoon will melt and become part of the fudge. Go ahead, ask me how I know!

4 cups white sugar
1 cup ligh brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 (12 fluid ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (7 ounce) jar marshmallow creme
1 (16 ounce) jar peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Grease a 9x13 inch baking dish.

2. Ina medium saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, brown sugar, butter and evaporated milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 7 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in marshmallow creme until well incorporated and melted. Stir in peanut butter and vanilla until smooth; spread in prepared pan. let cool before cutting into squares.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Sugar Cookies

I always have fond memories of my Mom making sugar cookies for Christmas and how much fun they were to decorate, so I just had to be sure and continue this with my family. While my little one is still to young to do to much, she did help dump the ingredients in the mixer and cut out the cookies with the cookie cutter. She is destined to be my little helper in the kitchen for sure.  I also got a little creative with the decorating and let my often under used art abilities loose.
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups whit sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs adn vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour or overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 400º F. Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on undgreased cookie sheets.

3. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely. (I actually had to cook mine for ten minutes to be able to scoop them off the cookie sheet.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Layered Mexican Chicken

This past year I have been pretty focused on losing weight and getting in shape. To do so I tortured my self with eating a lot of grilled chicken breast and I have found my self no longer able to eat plain grilled chicken. So the hunt was on to find a possible replacement and I happened across this Weight Watchers recipe for Layered Mexican Chicken. I knew once I read the ingredients and the amount this recipe makes it would be perfect for cooking, cutting into proper portions, and freezing up for meals on the go.

1 spray olive oil cooking spray
2 pound uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast
30 oz canned black beans, rinsed and drained
3 cups fat-free sour cream
2 cups shredded reduced-fat Mexican-style cheese, divided
8 oz chopped green chilies, two 4-oz cans
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper
12 medium corn tortillas, cut into 2 inch strips
1 cups slasa, mild, medium, or hot

Preheat oven to 350º F. Coat lasagna pan with cooking spray

Place chicken in medium saucepan and fill with enough cold water just to cover chicken. Set pan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat o medium and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes; drain. When chicken is cool enough to handle, cunt into 1-inch pieces.

Transfer chicken to a large bowl and add beans, sour cream, 1 cup of shredded cheese, chilies, cumin, and pepper; mix well and set aside.

Arrange half of tortillas in bottom of prepared lasagna pan, overlapping pieces to cover surface. Top tortillas with half of chicken mixture, layer with remaining tortillas and then top with remaining chicken mixture. Sprinkle with remaining cup of cheese.

Bake until filling is bubbly and cheese is melted, about 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing into 12 pieces. Serve with salsa on the side.

POINTS Value: 6
Servings :12

Thursday, December 9, 2010

BBQ Mesquite Pork Tenderloin

I was at the grocery store looking over the small selection of whole pork tenderloins and was left with a choice between purchasing a seasoned prepackaged tenderloin or a plain one to do with as I please. I decided to give the seasoned tenderloin a shot as I have never just picked one of these up before, mainly because it's always fun to try a new recipe or rub every time I grill. This particular tenderloin was labeled as BBQ Mesquite which complimented the pork very well, and the meat was very tender and juicy. Now I know this isn't a new recipe, but I just had to share my experience trying a piece of meat packaged in seasoning. I'm afraid that I do not recall the name on the package, but I found this one at Target so it is very possible it was done on site. Now one thing to keep in mind when purchasing meat that has been seasoned by the store is when was it seasoned. Because if there is a high salt content in the rub it could dry out the meat, so be sure to check expiration dates closely and keep your eyes open for a date of preparation.

I cooked this tenderloin on my gas grill indirect at 400 degrees F for approximately 45 minutes, flipping after 20 minutes.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Creamy Cheesecake

For Thanksgiving I was put in charge of making a dessert and as our family loves cheese cake it was a perfect time to try this recipe from Carries Sweet Life. It's a no bake cheese cake that is so smooth and light it will be sure to please. My whole family loved it and I will definitely be preparing this recipe again in the future.

1 graham cracker curst
1 pkg. cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
8 oz. sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla
8 oz. Cool Whip

Whip all ingredients until smooth.

Spoon into crust

Chill at least 4 hours before serving.

Graham Cracker Crust

1-1/2 cups crushed graham crackers
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted

In a small bowl, combine the crums and sugar; add butter and blen well. Press onto the bottom and up the sides of an ungreased 9-in. pie plate.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes before filling, or bake at 375 degrees F for 8-10 minutes or until curst is lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack before filling.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Citurs & Salsa Roast Pork

It's starting to get pretty cold around here and with the sun setting so early I want recipes that have me indoors cooking instead of running in and out tending the food on the grill.  I found this recipe from Cambell's that is loaded with flavor. I used some one inch thick pork chops as I was only cooking for two, which still leaves plenty of left overs. I served with with mashed potato's and whole kernel corn.

1 jar (11 ounces) Pace Chunky Salsa
1 cans (11 ounces) Mandarin orange segments, drained
2 (1 pound each) pork tenderloins
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 lime, cut into wedges

Heat the oven to 425º F. Stir the salsa and oranges in a small bowl

Place the pork into a 3-quart shallow baking pan. Rub the pork with the oil. Pour the salsa mixture over the pork.

Bake for 35 minutes or until the pork is cooked through. Remove the pork from the pan and let stand for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve with the lime.
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