Summer of Salads, Chicken…

Smoked Chicken Salad REC

Prior to getting my smoker, Smoked Chicken would be something I would rarely get the opportunity to enjoy, but when I did…oh, I did!  So, this year when we picked up our portion of chickens from our friends in Hugo that raise & process them for us, I knew some of these little babies were going in the smoker!  We had a friend over the night we made them, and I had smoked three chickens, planning for dinner that night and then making BBQ Chicken sandwiches for a family get together the next day.  This friend, whom I treasure, loved the Chicken SO much I was worried he’d eat it all and I wouldn’t have any left for the next day’s festivities!  So awesome!

One thing I love to do when smoking or even baking my chicken, is to brine it the day before.  It helps to make the chicken much more tender and delicious!  The friend that does our chickens for us, shared the following brine recipe I highly recommend!

Brine

Brine Recipe:

Makes one gallon of brine.

3 lemons, cut in half

1 cup kosher salt

3/4 cup brown sugar

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons whole peppercorns

3 (I used roasted) Jalapeños seeds removed

fresh herbs…we used lots of lemon thyme, oregano, chives

if fresh is not available, use at least 1 tablespoon of dried basil, oregano & thyme

1 gallon cold water

Use a bucket or container large enough to hold the chicken and the brining liquid.  I actually used a pickle bucket for my three chickens, but if you have a large pasta pot, or even a roasting pan, you can use that too.  Just be sure to get most of the chicken submerged for most of the time.  If you need to go in and move the chicken around, that’s okay too.  Keep your chicken refrigerated & in the brine for 24 hours before cooking if possible.  Once you are ready to cook the chicken, rinse it well under cold water and then add your rub or other seasonings.  Dispose of the brining liquid and clean your hands, counter & etc. well!

chicken on the smoker

BBQ Rub recipe:

1/2 cup paprika

1/4 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons mustard powder

1/4 cup chili powder

1/4 cup ground cumin

2 tablespoons black pepper

1/4 cup granulated garlic

2 tablespoons cayenne  (be careful, if you don’t like spicy BBQ, then dial back on this amount)

Jack Daniel's chips

Oh my gosh, can I just tell you about these chips?!?!  A friend of mine recommended these Jack Daniel’s brand wood chips to me, when she heard about my smoker.  I didn’t try them until recently, when I made this chicken actually, and now I want to use them all the time!!! They are GREAT!  They are about twice as expensive as basic chips, but when you are making something special, splurge and get yourself a bag! 🙂

Assorted chips

These WESTERN® BBQ Smoking Chips were what I used initially and I really liked them.  They come in a wide range of ‘flavors’.  I bought this Variety Pack my first time out.

Okay, so I know this post is titled Smoked Chicken, and I realize that not everyone has a smoker.  So, I want to show you a couple of ways you can smoke, without the smoker!  First, I have this Mini Smoker Box from Williams Sonoma and I love to use it on my grill!  It holds a small portion of whatever chips you have, and takes about 5-10 minutes to start smoking, but it works great for steaks, fish, vegetables, burgers & other deliciuosness from your grill!  And, oh my gosh, I totally want this Cast Iron Smoke & Sear Station wouldn’t that be fun!

When I first bought my Western chips, variety box, it had a small smoker tray in it, made specifically for grills.  They have a great video you can watch that shows you how to use the chips here.  And if you don’t want to fuss with any of the above, you can also try using a couple layers of aluminum foil.  The chips may burn up faster, so have a couple back up packs on reserve.  If you are using a smoker, you’ll want to soak the chips before using them, but if you are just using them on the grill, you don’t need to soak them, unless you are grilling something that takes awhile to cook.

Okay, time to get back on track!  This post is supposed to be about #summerofsalads!  Ha! 🙂

Salad Fixin's

So for this salad, you’ll want to gather your favorite greens, and then chop up your Smoked Chicken.  I added Black Beans, fresh roasted Corn-cut from the cob, chopped tomatoes, red bell pepper, hard boiled eggs and finished the salad with a small sprinkling of Parmesan cheese & crumbled Blue Cheese!  (have I mentioned I am a cheese-addict?) Be careful how much Blue Cheese you put on; you don’t want to drown out that smokey Chicken goodness!  Add any combination of “salad fixin’s” you like!  It’s your salad silly!

Smoked Chicken Salad up close

Now look at that beauty!  I hope you’ll try some of my suggestions for “smoking” chicken on your grill soon!  Let me know if you do & share what you tried!

planes

Have a wonderful 4th of July & Happy Birthday America!

Cheers, Shawn

My Oink Outing…

Recently, my husband & I signed up for a CSA with Natura Farms.  (more details on that in a future post) Yes, we have a pretty big garden of our own, but my husband had the opportunity to tour this farm, (located in gorgeous Scandia, Minnesota) and is doing some business with them already.  We were excited to not only support another local business, but have the opportunity to enjoy some things we weren’t already growing.  We usually amp up our veggie intake in the summer, but this summer, we are eating some nights, nothing but veggies!  It makes me realize I could really become a vegetarian.  But then I come to my senses…how could I not ever smell my most favorite smell, taste my most favorite food…wafting in from the grill, smoker or on a lazy weekend morning…the kitchen!  Yes, people, I am talking Pig.  Pork, glorious Pork!A friend recently posted a picture on my Facebook wall (not going to share that here, as some of you might get emotional once see how cute it was) of an adorable piglet, all pink & fuzzy.  The caption read “I love you!!!  Okay, now you can’t eat me.”  Ha!  I found the humor in it, and yes, for just the smallest of moments I thought “how could you eat something so cute?”  But that’s what makes my relationship with Pork so amazing; I can appreciate and adore the tiny precious little piglets, still a pretty pink color and all soft & fuzzy looking.  And I can appreciate the Sow, the Mama pig, who bravely bears (called “farrowing” in pig farming) those little piglets, that someday will grow to be somewhere around 270+ pounds that will eventually make it’s way to my dinner table, and finally my belly.  Until recently, I had no idea the steps involved.  That was, up until I went on my very first Oink Outing!

Last summer, some of my Minnesota Food Blogger friends (now officially known as the group Fortify) were posting pictures from their Oink Outings and I asked how I could participate in one.  Well, this spring I got an email asking if I was still interested (YES!) and what dates worked best for me (ANY!) in June.  So yes, this happened last month…and truthfully, I don’t know what happened to July…can someone tell me?  I had this awesome posting calendar all set up and the summer derailed me.  Anyway, hope you’ll forgive me and let’s talk some Piggy now!

Oink Outings, sponsored in part by the Minnesota Pork Board, brings together families & pig farmers, educating both on how pigs are raised and what Mom’s like me go through when choosing how & what to feed our families. For my Oink Outing, we were excited to partner with farmer Judy Bode’s farrow-to-wean pig farm, Rebco Pork and Executive Chef Bryan Schouten of Brackett’s Crossing Country Club.  My day began at Brackett’s Crossing where Chef Bryan prepared a mouth-watering Pork Carnitas Salad (isn’t that red taco shell gorgeous!) for our lunch and provided us with several recipes to take home and enjoy with our families. Chef Bryan was able to join us for the day, as we toured the gorgeous southern Minnesota towns of Courtland & Nicollet .  We made a pit stop on the way down, at Schmidt’s Meat Market where we were given the honor of seeing some of their huge smokers and product being prepared for the retail coolers out front.  I was even given a gift of their award-winning Raspberry Chipotle Bacon, which I used to make this Brown Butter Bacon Ice Cream.

      

From there, we moved on to the Bode family farm, home to Rebco Pork.  The Bode’s have 900 acres of farmland in the Courtland area.  In addition to their fifth generation pig farm, they also grow corn & soybeans.  I was very impressed with the measures they take to keep their pigs healthy; every employee showers as they enter the building, at the beginning of their shift.  They each have their own supplies for doing so, along with clothing & uniforms they must keep at the farm.  Everything gets washed there, to again protect the pigs.  So, we acted like employees, all though we didn’t shower, we did have to suit up…here’s a picture of our whole crew ready to enter the building!

First up on the tour was the farrowing barn.  Rooms where Sows were placed to give birth.  I couldn’t wait to see some of the piglets, sweet, pink & brand new!  Pig farming has changed over the years.  Technology has enabled pig farmers to know pretty close to when a Sow will be giving birth, so they can move her to the farrowing barn before her big moment.  That same technology has also enabled pig farmers to choose the type of pigs they raise; consumer demand dictates this mostly, but today’s pigs are leaner and tastier than they have ever been.  As we entered the first farrowing barn, the piglets were about three weeks old.  They’ll be weaned shortly from the Sow and headed to the finishing barns, on another part of the Bode family farm.  From their they will grow to be pushing 270+ and will shortly thereafter make it’s way to the grocery stores we all shop at.  The next farrowing barn we entered had Sows just about ready to give birth, and as my luck would have it, one was giving birth right as we came in!  I know the picture might be a little graphic, but how amazing is that!  It’s crazy to see the difference in size from those tiny little piglets and the Mama laying on her side giving birth to them.

After pulling me away from the piglets, we moved to a different area of the facility; the gestational barn.  This is where the pregnant Sows are kept until they are ready to move to a farrowing barn.  I have to admit, it was difficult for me to see the Sows, lined up, all inside cages.  Of course I thought it would all be “Wilbur-like” and they’d be roaming free, eating grass and hanging out with the ducks, geese and other barnyard animals.  But there’s good reason they aren’t.  First, we can go back to the strict measures the Bode’s take to ensure their pigs stay healthy.  Free roaming pigs can pick up all sorts of diseases from just roaming about outside.  In this environment, everything is monitored; from the water they drink, to the feed they get.  Also, they are protected.  Pigs, believe it or not, can be a lot like humans, behavior-wise.  If they were left in an environment where each pig can freely eat what & when they want, bigger pigs can bully smaller pigs and they end up not getting what they need nutritionally speaking.  So for what they are trying to do, provide healthy, nutritious Pork to families all over the country, Rebco Pork & the Bode family are doing an incredible job!

The day came to close and as I drove home from my tour, I was happy to have learned as much as I did.  It’s good to know where your food comes from.  We should all learn that someday!

So let’s talk about some of my favorite ways to eat Piggie meat!  My most favorite Pork product is Bacon.  Ah, Bacon.  What ever would I do without Bacon?  I am also not a Bacon snob.  I like any Bacon… Although I am not sure I can stomach any of the “Bacon” themed crazy products out there right now. (see below) But I will eat it in salads, on Panini’s (if you don’t own a Panini press-get one), in pasta, dipped in chocolate (aka “pig-lickers”), try it in braised Mustard Greens, Kale or Swiss Chard, I’ve put it in ice cream (see above), I’ve put it in cookies.

Someday I hope to get Bacon Roses for Valentine’s Day…who wouldn’t love that!  Hint-hint…

Since getting my smoker for Christmas we’ve smoked Ribs (see previous blog post here) and just this past weekend, finally smoked myself a Pork shoulder for pulled Pork.  I will admit, it didn’t go as well as I had planned (we ended up putting it in the oven inside for another hour + to cook) but in the end, what resulted was the most incredible, juicy, tender pulled Pork!  My husband’s comment (after it was all said and done) “this was pretty good, but if you tried my pulled Pork recipe from work, it would curl your toes”.  Uh, really? I asked why he’s never brought home any samples???  Tease.

A note about cooking pork; most people kill it.  And I don’t mean in the good way…to safely eat Pork, you need to cook it to an internal temperature of 145 degrees.  (unless it’s ground Pork, which should be 160) LET IT REST before slicing into it and you should have a juicy, delicious piece of Pork!  If you want/need more info on cooking with Pork, check out the Minnesota Pork Board’s website HERE.

      

And my other favorite way to eat Pork is slathered with Mustard (Dijon & whole grain), chopped garlic, olive oil & tons of fresh Tarragon (ok in the winter it’s dried from my garden) you have to try it this way!!  We usually either bake these in the oven or sauté them.  In the summer, definitely throw them on the grill.  We also usually do this on Pork chops, but it would be incredible on a gorgeous Pork tenderloin or roast.  (salivating just thinking about it) And for another idea with Pork tenderloin, check out my Rhubarb Beer Jam post from last month.

So yah, there’s no chance of becoming a vegetarian with all the delicious Pork available today!   Thank you to the Minnesota Pork Board, the Bode family of Rebco Pork, Chef Bryan from Brackett’s Crossing and Oink Outings for letting me participate!  Eat Pork people!!

UPDATE ON THIS POST:

Just wanted to be clear, the thoughts expressed above are my own…since taking this tour, I have read & watched articles & videos on both “sides” of pig farming.  I have no answer to solve the problem faced by consumers & farmers today. The farm I visited was very clean and appeared to really care about their pigs.  I was compensated for my time (as I did take an entire day off of work to go) but I still wrote what I wanted to.  If given the choice, I would buy the best meat available to me; free range pigs and all.  We each do what we can, to feed our families in the responsible way we see fit.  Thanks for reading 🙂

Oh yeah baby, it’s Smokin’ time!

Hi friends!  Okay, so after letting my Christmas present sit in our family room, taunting me, for 4+ months, I finally hauled it outside and gave it a go!  I have always loved smoked & grilled food….that wicked smell lingers on your hands and in my most recent experiences, in your hair and clothes!  I hated to wash it away…..

So let’s talk about my smoker:  I have a Masterbuilt Cookmaster propane smoker.  The hubby got it from Gander Mountain.  It has three shelves and overall seems well made.  Somehow in the time we had it inside, the front door seems to have warped, but I can probably bend it back into place.  Anyway, I am happy with the results I have experienced so far.

So, some of you know I am a Gemini.  What does that have to do with this post?  Well, it’s my excuse for why it took me so long to get this smoker in action.  We had a really mild winter here in Minnesota, so I realistically could have gotten out there a month or two earlier.  The one side of me (Gemini connection coming now…) wanted to start right away, just throw a bunch of stuff in there and go!  But the other, more responsible side (if you are Gemini, or know one, you’ll get this part) said “hold your horses girl, we gotta do a little research first…”.

I had to get a Barbecue cookbook, and thanks to Mike DeCamp, Chef de Cuisine at La Belle Vie in Minneapolis for his recommendation, I purchased “Peace, Love and Barbeque ~Recipes, Secrets, Tall Tales and Outright Lies from the Legends of Barbeque”, written by Mike Mills.  You can find it here on Amazon.

I had to get at least four different kinds of wood chips.  I’m starting with Apple, Cherry, Mesquite & Hickory.  I bought a combo pack of Western brand chips at my local Gander Mountain.  I read smoking blogs and websites (see below) and finally thought I felt like I knew what needed to be done.

Using a smoker requires patience, organization & persistence.  My first experience I learned alot about what you needed to do with the chips, trial by error….I had to replace the chips four different times because they kept burning up right away.  What’s that, you need to soak the chips?   For longer than ten minutes?  Uh, okay…

Yeah, so I was as ready as I was gonna be.  I thought I would start easy, with pork spare ribs.  We make ribs at home often and have a dry rub we’ve used for a long time.  But I wanted to try something different, so I made the “Magic Dust” rub I found in my cookbook.

Magic Dust ~taken from “Peace, Love and Barbecue” written by Mike Mills

1/2 cup Paprika

1/4 cup Kosher salt

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons of mustard powder

1/4 cup chili powder

1/4 cup cumin

2 tablespoons black pepper

1/4 cup granulated garlic

2 tablespoons cayanne pepper

This will make about 2 1/2 cups which you should put in a tightly covered container.

I started by cutting down the rack to more manageable size pieces.  They suggest you remove the membrane from the back of the rack but after attempting to for several painstaking minutes, I decided to skip that part.  (I’ve always left it on when cooking my ribs previously and it never bothered me) I then slathered the ribs with the dry rub and let that marinade for a couple of hours.  In hindsight, I would have let it marinate a bit longer……yet they were still amazing!

Ok, ribs cut down, check.  Dry rub marinated for two hours, check.  (here comes first mistake) Wood chips (I used Apple wood this time) soaked, check.  (only a short time….definitely do longer next time) Smoker heated up, check.

Let’s do this!  I placed the ribs on the racks inside the smoker, which was set at 200 degrees…for the moment…closed the door and took a deep breath.

According to the smoking chart I received with my smoker, I was to smoke the ribs, at 200 degrees, for 2.5-3.5 hours.  One important thing I learned from the cookbook and all the websites & blogs I have read, was that you needed to check the smoker every twenty or so minutes during this process.  In other words, don’t plan to watch a movie or mow the lawn…you are on stand-by.  This also doesn’t mean opening the smoker door, but checking that the temperature and visually noting the smoke level.  This is where I started to have my first challenges.  It was a bit of a breezy day, so I feel like I struggled with the temperature for those 2+ hours.  I also noticed that after only about fifteen minutes, there wasn’t any smoke coming out.  In that short amount of time, the wood chips had already burnt up.  This is what happens when you don’t soak them long enough.  After replacing them FOUR times, I decided that next time, I would soak them for at least four hours…if not longer.  I also wanted to wrap them in aluminum foil to help keep them from burning too quickly.  Speaking of foil…I also made a note that next time I would try to wrap the ribs in foil for the first hour…don’t get me wrong, these ribs turned out great, but this would help them to be a bit more tender.

I did make a little basting liquid, basically of the rub and water, and gently coated the ribs each time I went in and checked the chips.  After the 2+ hours, the ribs were finally done!

I served them with your basic baked potato and corn.  The ribs were the star of this dish!  They turned out such a beautiful color too….I love smoked meat!

In my next post, I will share with you my first attempt at smoking a whole chicken!

Until then,

Shawn

Helpful blogs & websites on Smoking:

http://dadgumthatsgood.com/

http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/

http://www.smoker-cooking.com/