Posts Tagged ‘Food’

Time for Some Brisket and Chili

Original recipes included further below.

Sometimes things come last minute, other times it takes a bit of planning. For me, I find that I manage to make it a little bit of both. Last weekend I had a Saturday full of plans. The biggest project was repairing my mower that had a bit of trouble at the end of my previous lawn care session when it somehow decided to completely rip a wheel loose from the deck! A little investigation and I found that one of the other wheels was ready to do the same. All the parts needed to be purchased for repair before I could start, so a trip to Menards or Lowes was first on the list. The repair itself would involve some steel sawing, drilling and bolting, so I figured a good couple hours for the full repair plus a blade sharpening while I had things apart.

After repairing the mower, the grass was obviously waiting to be cut, so that would take a good hour and a half or two. I had some minor fence repair that had been bugging me, so that was another half hour. Clean out of the gutters would take another hour, if I tacked on sweeping up the sidewalk afterward. A bit of raking, some tree trimming, some minor deck repair, some garage clean up, a few other odds and ends, and I was looking at a full 8 hours so I knew I needed to get started if I expected to get some laundry done too.

Of course before starting all this, there is the requisite moment where I stand in front of the refrigerator with the door open and absent-mindedly stare at the stock of food while pondering what there possibly could be to eat. I happened to open the freezer and saw several packages of meat waiting for their turn to be used, and I had the bright idea that brisket would be just the thing for later. “I’ll smoke some brisket today!” I foolishly said to myself as I threw the 2 lb package into the fridge to thaw.

Yes, I know. Did I really think that frozen brisket was going to thaw by the afternoon just by putting it in the fridge? Well, I suppose I did at the time, but I didn’t give it the required amount of thought, I had stuff to do! Needless to say, the thawing time wasn’t nearly sufficient, and I still had frozen brisket by the end of the day. Not to mention, I had a few leftover items from my to-do list that I didn’t get done as well. But, I did have a fully wheeled mower and a fully cut lawn.

Thursday came around and the brisket was still sitting in the fridge. It was getting to the point where it needed to be used, but I kept forgetting. At 7:50 am that morning I remembered, and determined it HAD to be used that day. I needed to leave for work, but how can you cook a brisket without a good rub!? I grabbed the brisket out of the fridge and tore off the packaging…meat still looked good. Time to make the rub. I threw together some ingredients and coated the meat generously before covering it back up and shoving it back in the fridge. I wouldn’t make work by 8:00 like I was supposed to, but the rub was made.

Rub Mix
Measurements are VERY approximate
1/2 c brown sugar
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp cocoa powder

Rub into meat vigorously and completely cover brisket on all sides. Set in fridge for 8 hours.

Now with the rub in place, the plan should be to smoke the same day right? Of course! However, I worked late and didn’t get home until about 7:00 pm. The smoker hadn’t been used for a while, so I needed to do a little setup. I finally had the flames going and heating up the box a little bit after 7:30. Usually, I like to go for low and slow, so I got the smoker up to about 220 degrees and a batch of apple wood chips in the smoker box. Brisket, in, fat side up, middle rack.

Off and on I checked in on the meat for the next couple hours. When the apple chips were used up, I added a couple helpings of peach chips until the meat reached about 140 degrees. At that point I was going to let it go smokeless until 180 degrees. But now it needed a good mopping of additional flavor.

Mid-Smoke Baste
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp black raspberry jam
2 tbsp water
1 tsp orange marmalade
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp lime juice

Melt butter, add other ingredients. Warm in microwave and stir until all ingredients mix evenly.

At this point in the process it was getting quite late. I had to leave early in the morning, but this was important to get right. I basted the brisket once and turned it fat side down for the next 45 minutes at 250 degrees. Then another basting and back to fat side up for another 45 minutes at…300, because honestly, I did need to get to bed. Once the internal temperature was 180 degrees, I took it out to rest on the kitchen counter til it was cool enough to slice, then cool enough to put in the fridge. I finally finished at 1:30 am, and had some glorious smokey goodness.

This weekend I wanted to use some of that glorious meat in another application; slow-cooked chili. Most of the time when I am cooking, I don’t use hard-set recepies and go from a general idea, then pick elements here and there that feel right to go with it. I wasn’t under pressure to get this meal completed, so I took my time and thought out the ingredients.

Slow Cook Brisket Chili
5 strips of smoked bacon
Cook up the bacon in a frying pan until it is just shy of crispy. Remove bacon and set aside.

1/2 c. chopped celery
1 c. chopped red pepper
1 1/2 c. chopped red onion
5 cloves garlic, chopped.

Sweat the vegetables minus the garlic in the hot pan with the bacon fat until onions are almost translucent. Add the chopped garlic on top and continue cooking for several minutes.

In large crock pot add:
2 tbsp olive oil
28 oz can (1) crushed tomatoes
27 oz can (1) red kidney beans
15 oz can (2) black beans
16 oz can (1) cannellini beans
12 oz can (1) tomato paste
6 oz smoked brisket, chunked or cubed
5 slices of bacon (cooked above) chopped
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground mustard
6 ground allspice berries
1/2 tsp hickory smoke flavor
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp Better Than Bouillon, Beef
2 cups water
1 cup apple juice or apple cider (optional)
Vegetables and garlic (cooked above)

If I had it available, I would have added:
1 tsp ground fennel seed

Set crock pot on high, uncovered for about an hour. Covered on high for another hour. Then covered on low for another 4-5 hours. Total of 6-7 hours in the crock pot...stirring occasionally.

So what was the end result of a messy mix of some half-baked planning and some reckless spontaneity? Hopefully a bunch of halfway decent meals. I got some positive reviews from the wife, and she had the suggestion that I share…so…here ya go! Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of the process, so you will just have to imagine how tasty it looks.

The Thirteenth Option

The other day my wife and I decided to go out for a dinner at the local Lone Star Steakhouse. This was the first time in quite a while we had been tempted to go to that particular place. There were several reasons for our absence, but since the recent revamping of their menu, and quasi-update to the decor, we decided to give it another shot.  There were quite a few very interesting new things to try, the prices were better and overall it was a very enjoyable meal out on the town.  We were finishing our dinner and the glasses of tea were getting very nearly empty when something happened that I found completely derailing to my inane dinnertime banter. It kicked off a bit of self psychoanalysis that completely preempted our crucial discussion of whatever our cat was doing just prior to leaving the house.

A waitress (not our own) was passing by, carrying a stainless steel pitcher. She stopped by our table, gesturing with the pitcher towards my one-third filled glass of tea in the universal gesture of “would you like a refill?”. She supplemented her motion with the fairly simple question “you had regular tea, right?” 
Believe it or not, I froze for a moment while I had to process her question. I verbally stumbled for a moment, and then replied in a way that she didn’t understand at all.  But before I get into that, I need to supply a little back-story.

Unbeknown to me previous to this fated evening, Lone Star had augmented their menu of drinks to include several fancy flavored iced teas.  As our waiter was running through the list of flavors, I practically pounced when his list reached “Blackberry”. I didn’t really care what else was on the list, I would float away on a river of blackberry iced tea and would be unnaturally happy for doing so. On hearing the list of flavors, my wife, also pleased by the options, changed her drink order from water to Prickly Pear Iced Tea. I will freely admit, prickly pear cactus as a flavor was quite intriguing to me, but not enough for me to change my order. Besides, it would be very simple just to try a little of my dinner-mate’s drink without losing any precious blackberry.

As dinner went on, I was provided with an additional glass of my chosen beverage before even half of my wife’s was gone. By the time the meal arrived, hers was also ready for a refill. A manager that brought the meal noticed the empty prickly pear glass and said she’d get it filled right away. However, our waiter efficiently noticed the same thing as well and in no time at all, my wife had two new glasses of prickly pear iced tea that she could never possibly finish. Being the chivalrous gentleman that I am, I kindly offered to help with one glass and we both spent the remainder of the meal happily sipping on the cactus flavored goodness. 

This brings us back to my moment of mental incapacitation. When the kind waitress stopped by to pose her question and fill my glass with tea, my brain tried to determine what the correct answer was and it had an hour-glass moment. The simple question of “you had regular tea, right?” shouldn’t really be that difficult to answer, but I might as well have had a “Loading…” sign over my head like a lagging computer.
Ahhh, Vacation! by Chris O'Brien - Ellipsis-Imagery, on Flickr
I ordered blackberry tea, so that is technically what I had. But, I switched and was now drinking my wife’s extra prickly pear tea. I never really ordered it and our waiter didn’t know I switched, and she wasn’t our waitress. How were either of them to know? On the other hand, I could have just had her fill it up with regular tea at this point and drank that instead.  In reality, this girl didn’t really care what I ordered, she saw an empty glass and thought she had the right stuff, so she was going to fill it.
Why was I hesitating?
Trying to pick the “correct answer” was more difficult than I anticipated. So what were my options here?

  1. Answer directly: “No, thanks though!”

  2. Answer directly but tell her what I actually had ordered: “No thanks, I ordered blackberry tea””

  3. Answer directly but tell her what was in my glass: “No thanks, I have prickly pear tea””

  4. Answer her implied question of “do you want me to pour this in your glass?”: “Yes thanks!””

  5. Answer her implied question, but explain anyway: “Yes! I had a different flavor, but regular is fine.””

  6. Answer the larger question if I actually wanted any more to drink: “No thanks, I’ve had enough””

So there are six options…and each one could have led with a positive or a negative response, so that’s twelve.  The way my brain works, I had to pick the “correct” one. I had to pick the one answer that was the most precise.  The problem was, they were all fairly similar, if spoken correctly.
She stood there patiently as the gears of my mental engine clicked, sputtered and coughed. I turned the key and cranked the cranial starter again and again as the minutes ticked by, the poor girl’s arm weakening and lowering from the weight of holding the full pitcher as I stumbled through my intellectual stall.   Ok. It wasn’t really that bad, but it is pretty crazy how long a couple seconds can feel in that kind of scenario.

Of course what really happened is that I paused thoughtfully for a moment, selected the right answer and calmly replied.
Nope. I panicked.
“Uhmmm……” I eloquently replied, “I had the cactus one”
“The what?!”
At that moment, I realized that it was very possible that this poor girl probably had no idea that prickly pear was supposed to be a cactus flavor instead of some sweet tree fruit.
I had fumbled, but I tried to recover.
“The prickly cactus tea…”
Blank stare. Another fumble.
“Err…the prickly pear cactus tea”
She paused, very bewildered, clearly wondering what I was really drinking.
“Um…I don’t know what that is…”
She sheepishly shuffled away.

If I hadn’t been a complete socially inept buffoon and had I selected any of the other twelve answers, we could have avoided some unpleasant awkwardness, and we both could have gone on happily with our respective days.  Somehow though, I had managed to pick the thirteenth option from the list…the one that makes practically no sense at all. A mild case of internal panic kept me from just being conversational and answering a simple question.

I know others can relate to that feeling as well, but I seem to have a close personal relationship with the awkward, paralytic pause over the inconsequential. 
I need time to process! 
Is it a matter of being slow? 
Is my cpu missing a core or duo? 
Or am I just getting old?
Actually I know it’s not age since I have been this way ever since I can remember. I remember thoughtfully filling out long essay questions on tests with simply six or seven words.  Each word carefully chosen to say exactly enough to be correct, but not an extra word more. 
Precision should be efficient! 

Precision in conversation though can be quite annoying. The pause for thought breaks up the flow and can be awkward. For some reason, I feel the need to divine exactly the correct words. Typically I don’t find them, so it comes out awkward anyway! You’d think at some point I’d try to give up on precision and just say stuff. You might think that is what I’m doing here by writing this, but, no. You’d actually be laughing at how long ago “the other day” (from the start of this story) has turned into….so, I won’t tell you. I’ll give you a hint though, it wasn’t this week.

One day I hope to master this thing you humans call “conversation”. 
Clearly I still have a bit to learn. 
Latest lesson: when someone offers to refill your tea, just say “yes”.

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