Wednesday, July 27, 2016

5 Ways to Take Your BBQ from Meh to Epic

While July is National Grilling Month most people will keep firing up those grills all Summer long and we have some tips to take your barbeque to the next level:

1. Marinating is the technique of soaking food, especially meats, in a seasoned liquid before cooking. Like brining, it is commonly used to flavor foods and to tenderize tougher cuts of meat. The liquid used is a 'marinade' is often acidic with ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, or wine or an enzymatic such as pineapple or papaya juices. The acidic ingredient softens the food, allowing it to absorb the flavors of the sauce. Along with an acidic liquid, a marinade often contains oils, herbs, spices and vegetables to further flavor the food items. For cutting difficult vegetables like peppers, onions, carrots and celery, we highly recommend using a ceramic knife like the T-fal Zen. We are relative newcomers to ceramic knives, but are wildly impressed with the intensely sharp edge they maintain. Just remember to always keep the knife in a sheath to prevent chips and cracks.

2. The technique of rubbing meat almost always involves the dry heat method of cooking where almost no water based liquid is used in cooking. A spice rub is any mixture of ground spices that is made for the purpose of coating raw food before cooking. The food can be marinated in the spice rub for some time for the flavors to incorporate into the food or it can be cooked immediately after it is coated. The spices are usually coarsely ground. In addition to spices, salt and sugar may be added to the rub, the salt for flavor and the sugar for caramelization. If you wish to have a smoky flavor to your meat, but are using a gas grill, try substituting smoked salts like the ones from SF Salt Co. in place of the salt in your rub.

3. Smoking is the process of flavoring, cooking, or preserving food by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering wood. According to Andy Brunning in his book Why Does Asparagus Make Your Pee Smell?, “The compounds produced in the smoke are subject to a wide number of factors, such as the type of wood, the temperature and the amount of oxygen.” He explains that “Some compounds have been specifically highlighted as major contributors to the overall flavor and aroma of the meat. The compounds are generated by pyrolysis, which is the thermal decomposition of the organic compounds that make up the wood in the absence of an adequate supply of oxygen.” Over the years, we have tried many different types of wood for different flavors. Experiment to find your favorite.

4. Flavoring your grilled meats with barbecue sauce is a universal practice. There are thousands of recipes for homemade barbecue sauce. That is likely because everyone has a different preference for saucing their grilled proteins. The best homemade sauces usually start with vegetables that have been cooked to bring out their natural sugars: onions, peppers, and garlic are popular. (Here again, we recommend using the T-fal Zen or other ceramic knife.) Once the veggies are golden brown, it is time to deglaze the pan with broth, beer, wine or our favorite Four Roses Bourbon! If you decide to use a high-alcohol spirit, use extreme caution so as not to flambé your eyebrows.

Below is our recipe for awesome homemade BBQ sauce which we adapted from Chef Kevin Gillepsie’s fabulous cookbook, Pure Pork Awesomeness.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup Four Roses Bourbon
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and cook for 2-3 minutes and add in garlic and cook for another minute more. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and bring to a simmer and reduce until thick and light brown, about 15 minutes. You can store unused sauce in the refrigerator for up to a month or freeze for up to 6 months.

For those who like an extra kick to their Q, we sing the praises of Tabanero Hot Sauces. Tabanero is gluten free and low in sodium and has a unique flavor profile from the combination of key lime juice (in place of the vinegar used in other hot sauces), carrots, onions, garlic, red habanero peppers and agave nectar which is used to balance the heat of the habaneros and adds a hint of sweetness. And, while nothing can replace the intensely smoky flavors that come from cooking for hours over wood in a pit, you can replicate the taste by using chipotle or smoked-infused salts. We highly recommend the smoked salts from San Francisco Salt Company which are available in four amazing flavors: Cherry-Smoked, Alderwood-Smoked, Applewood-Smoked and Hickory-Smoked.

 5. To baste or not to baste… Allowing the meat to fully cook before adding sauce brings out its natural flavors and highlights the nuances of the smoke. However, basting meats (especially pork) in the goodness of your favorite concoction helps the meat retains its juiciness, lends a sweet spiciness and contributes to those caramely-crusty burnt ends that are so cravable. So the next question becomes what is the best method of basting: spray bottle, bulb baster, brush, or sauce mop?

While the spray bottle is certainly the easiest and least messy, it has many limitations. Your basting liquid must be thin and smooth to work properly; even ground pepper can clog the nozzle. A baster can be slow and drip excess liquid on the coals and again uses a thinner liquid to work properly. A brush works reasonably well to cover the full surface, but the handles are usually short making them difficult to use on large and very hot grills and they drip sauce everywhere! The same problems arise using mops with the added issue of the cotton catching fire while in use.

Alas, T-Fal to the rescue! They have developed a new barbecue tool that will up your grilling game to new heights. Their new Ingenio 2-in-1 baster and basting brush combines a bulb baster with a silicone BBQ brush which gives pit masters all the advantages of a baster and a brush with the added benefit that you can use a thicker sauce. This new invention even includes a built-in cleaning tool. This is a must-have for barbecue fanatics.


Lastly, as many Southerners already know, Big Red, America’s bestselling red soda, is the perfect complement to BBQ (especially if you add a splash of Four Roses Bourbon – just saying). Big Red is celebrating summer grilling season with 100 Days of BBQ contest which will continue until Labor Day on September 5th. Big Red will reward drinkers with a variety of BBQ-related prizes, including a 3-day trip to visit iconic BBQ joints in Austin, Texas as a grand prize. To participate in the nation-wide campaign, be sure to look for unique codes found under the caps and cardboard wraps of specially marked Big Red, Big Red Zero, Big Blue and Big Red Vanilla Float bottles and packs. Codes can be redeemed at for a chance to instantly win one of over 1,000 instant prizes and enter the “The Ultimate BBQ Tour Experience.”

But wait, to inspire all fans of barbecue and grilling, Big Red is offering a special prize pack of to one lucky We Like to Cook! reader including a Big Red Soda and Koozie, Weber’s New American Barbecue Cookbook and Meat Church's Honey Hog BBQ Rub which is excellent on everything from pulled pork to poultry and vegetables. Enter below for your chance to win!

Disclosure: While we received samples of various products for this post, all opinions herein are honest and unsolicited. 


Friday, July 15, 2016

Healthful Egg White Omelet

A single large egg is an abundant source of low-calorie protein, however the yellow center of the egg known as the yolk, contains 70% of your Daily Value for cholesterol. The egg white is the clear liquid found inside an egg which contains no cholesterol. Sometimes referred to as the albumin, egg whites protect the embryo in a fertilized egg and provide nutrients needed for growth and development. Egg whites are composed of approximately 10 percent protein and 90 percent water and provide more than 50 percent of the total protein found in an egg. A single egg white contains about 16 calories and 3.6 grams of high-quality protein.

We are sharing our recipe for an egg white omelet, yet we have discovered four great gluten-free frozen options from CedarLane: Green Chile, Cheese & Ranchero Sauce, Garden Vegetable & Mozzarella, Uncured Turkey Bacon, and Spinach and Mushroom. With 300 calories or less and around 20 grams of protein per omelet, the fast cooking time of about 4 minutes per omelet will make having a healthy breakfast doable when you don’t have time to cook.

2 egg whites
1 teaspoon water
1 slice part-skim cheese (optional)
½ cup fresh spinach, zucchini or other fresh vegetables
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Nonstick cooking spray

In a small mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites, water, and a pinch salt until frothy.

Lightly coat a non-stick skillet or omelet pan with cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Add the egg white mixture, swirling to evenly cover the bottom of the pan. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until set, using a rubber scraper to lift eggs up occasionally, letting runny egg flow underneath.

Lay the slice of cheese and the fresh vegetables (we used squash blossoms) onto half of omelet, fold over, and slide onto a plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve with sliced tomatoes, strawberries or other favorite fruit.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Quick Six Marinated Skirt Steak

Life gets busy, especially in the summer with everyone racing off in different directions. The notion of meals that can be made with six ingredients and ready in six minutes sounds too good to be true, so when we were asked to review Stuart O’Keefe’s new cookbook, The Quick Six Fix: 100 No-Fuss, Full-Flavor Recipes - Six Ingredients, Six Minutes Prep, Six Minutes Cleanup, we couldn’t refuse. O’Keefe advocates having a Quick Six Fix Pantry filled with must-have ingredients and additional items that are nice to have on hand. The idea is that staple items can be combined with fresh ingredients to create inventive dishes with a minimum of fuss and prep time.

The recipes are easy to follow and offer a joyful approach to quick, simple cooking that incorporates the modern need for speed in the kitchen but doesn’t compromise on flavor. The pages are filled with neat little tips on streamlining the cooking process, and ways to de-stress in the kitchen along with beautiful photos of the prepared dishes. The recipes are nicely varied with lots of meatless options and twists on tradition. Many of the recipes can be made with leftovers rather than requiring a separate trip to the grocery store.

There is something in this well-organized book to please everyone who likes maximum flavor, nutrition and presentation. There is gorgeous color photography accompanying, every recipe in categories ranging from breakfast, salads, soups and pasta to fish, chicken pork, beef, sides and sweets. We tried two of the recipes from the collection: Cider-Braised Chicken and Port-Marinated Skirt Steak. The skirt steak was a big hit and will definitely be added to the family repertoire. As O’Keefe states, the marinade is the key to this delicious dish. We adapted our recipe a bit from his which you can find here.

1½ pounds skirt steak, sinew and fat removed
½ cup soy sauce, low sodium preferred
½ cup port wine
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a Ziploc bag, combine steak, soy sauce, port, balsamic vinegar, and chili flakes. Marinate for at least 20 minutes. In the meantime, light a grill or heat up a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat.

Remove steak from the bag and pour the remaining marinade into a wide saucepan and reduce over high heat for about 5 to 10 minutes, or until thickened.

Place the steak on your grill or hot pan and let cook for 3 to 5 minutes each side. Set the meat aside on a plate under tented foil and let rest for 5 minutes to allow the steak’s juices to retreat.

Cut the steak in thirds, with the grain, then slice meat against the grain into ½” strips. Drizzle with reduced marinade and garnish with freshly chopped parsley or chopped green onions.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Making Your Own Yogurt at Home

In the late 1970s, my Mom received a Salton yogurt maker as a Christmas gift. I remember thinking at the time what an ironic gift as she detests yogurt, however, Dad loved it and would eat it every morning for breakfast given the option. Thus that little 5-cup appliance became the workhorse of the kitchen for many (many) years. We lived in the boonies which at the time made shopping for fresh yogurt a chore, but with the purchase of one container of plain yogurt and a large box of instant nonfat dry milk, Dad had yogurt for at least a month or longer.

Recently a friend told me she had made yogurt and was in love with the taste and texture. She had made her batch using the oven light to keep the yogurt incubate the cultures overnight. Brilliant. Dom eats the small fruit-on-the-bottom cups of yogurt for breakfast each day and I like to use yogurt in smoothies; that’s a whole bunch of little yogurt cups… So I got online, did a little research and decided to try my own.

Here’s what I learned:
  • You can use any type of milk (unpasteurized, whole, 2%, skim or nonfat dry milk) with the exception of ultra-pasteurized.
  • The milk is heated to 180° Fahrenheit to kill off any wild bacteria, yeast or mold spores that would compete with your yogurt cultures and denature proteins in the milk to bind with caseins to create a firmer, thicker yogurt curd.
  • The heated milk should be held at 180°F for 30 minutes. This is the most important step in creating the creamy consistency and texture you want for your yogurt. I did this by keeping it in an oven pre-heated to 180° F.
  • Allow the milk to cool to 115°F since this is the ideal temperature at which yogurt cultures reproduce.
  • Skim the ‘skin’ from the surface of the cooled milk. This step is actually optional but most people dislike the texture it adds to the finished product.
  • When the milk has cooled to the proper temperature, stir in your yogurt culture. You can use a powdered culture for a particular strain or a high quality commercial yogurt that has “live active cultures.” Add roughly 1 tablespoon of starter for each quart of milk (1/4 cup of yogurt for a gallon of milk).
  • Pour your yogurt into glass jars you wish to store the yogurt in.
  • Maintain the temperature of the jars between 100° and 115° for 5 to 10 hours. To accomplish this, I allowed the oven to cool with the door open while the milk was cooling (remember I left the milk in the oven at 180°F for 30 minutes), then I placed the jars in a pot of water that was 115°F. I placed the pot in the oven with the oven light on and left the pot in the oven overnight.
  • You can test the yogurt at any point by tasting it. It should have the consistency of panna cotta, showing a nice separation when you dip into it with a spoon. Out of curiosity, I tested the mixture at the 3-hour point. A more solid mass was developing at the center, but the yogurt was still very loose. At the 10-hour mark, the yogurt was fully developed. 
  • The finished yogurt will have likely have a watery liquid that rises to the surface. This is milk whey which can either be stirred back into the yogurt or can be drained for a thicker finished product. Add the whey to your favorite smoothie recipe.
  • If you like your yogurt even thicker, you can strain it further to make a Greek-style yogurt by carefully scooping the set yogurt, being careful not to break up the curds, into a colander lined with cheesecloth. Allow the yogurt to drain over a dish until it reaches the consistency you prefer.
  • Refrigerate for at least two hours to allow the yogurt to set completely. It will continue to thicken and achieve that stark white opaqueness you are looking for. 
  • Don’t forget to set aside enough yogurt as starter for your next batch of homemade yogurt!

The newly made yogurt was begging to be eaten which provided me the perfect opportunity to try Setton International Foods new Pistachio Berry Blend made with tart cherries and cranberries, roasted almonds, cashews, and of course, pistachios. A match made in heaven! The dreamy, creamy yogurt, crunchy nuts and chewy berries will most definitely be my new breakfast addiction.

While we received a complimentary sample from Setton International Foods, Inc., all opinions are honest and unsolicited. 


Monday, June 6, 2016

Grilling Gaucho Style - Churassco on the Deck

Our two guys are home from college for the summer; you know what that means? Meat. We are cooking lots and lots of meat, making this the perfect opportunity for us to explore the art of churrasco (Brazilian barbecue.) In Southern Brazil, varieties of meats, pork, sausage and chicken are cooked on a "churrasqueira" which is a purpose-built grill with supports for spits or skewers.

We recently received a review copy of Churrasco: Grilling the Brazilian Way, the new cookbook by Evandro Caregnato, who help to open the original Texas de Brazil restaurant in 1998, and is now Culinary Director of the chain’s more than 40 locations. His book provides an insider’s perspective on the gaucho (cowboy) culture of Brazil, and the hardcore barbecue cooking they enjoy on the other side of the equator.

Chapters explaining the culture of Brazilian gauchos and the churrascaria barbecues they love are included in addition to chapters featuring traditional recipes for grilled meats like pichana, flap meat, and chicken legs as well as authentic chimichurri, signature side dishes and even instructions for Brazilian drinks chimarrão and caipirinha. The Brazilian pronunciation guide and glossary are extremely helpful, and the drool-worthy photos help to tell the tale of the churassco lifestyle.

While most of the book’s recipes and techniques are better suited to cooking on a larger scale, we adapted several recipes with good results. We assembled a makeshift churrasqueira on the deck by stacking bricks and a grate atop a kettle grill to achieve the height (approximately 12 inches above the charcoal) to keep the meat from the flames.

Using flat iron steak, Dom prepped the meat by patting it dry with paper towels and cutting it into strips about 2 inches thick and 6 inches long. The strips were folded in the shape of a C and skewered using a stainless-steel skewers. He applied kosher salt to lightly cover all sides of the meat. We recommend doing this over the sink or a cutting board.

Once the coals were ready (glowing a little with minimal black smoke) we rested the meat on the grill and cooked the steak. Once the meat was nicely browned and slightly charred, Dom checked the inside which was medium with a hot pink center.

According to Caregnato, gauchos usually don't worry about the internal temperature of the meat if the meat has not reached the desired level of doneness, they place it back on the skewer and continued cooking.

We served the steak with grilled onions and charred broccoli and thoroughly enjoyed our churassco experience!


Sunday, May 29, 2016

When in Rome - Cook!

“What are you going to do with those fish?” asked the fishmonger in the tiny alimentary near our apartment. “Cook them” was the guarded response. “Why cook when there are so many magnifico ristoranti in Roma?” almost chiding. “Because we like to cook!”

That exchange is not atypical for us. When we travel to other cities and countries, we rent apartments with usable kitchens so that we have the opportunity to cook with local ingredients. Yes, the food in Italian restaurants is delicioso, but that is in part because the ingredients they are using are fantastic to begin with. You can make Fettuccini alla Carbonara in Atlanta with freshly collected eggs and homemade pasta, but it still will not rival that made in Italy.

While vegetables such as chicory and artichokes have the same names, they might as well be a completely different species, so distinctive are they in their look and flavor.

And, the cheese…

Branzino  or “spignola” is a silver-skinned fish found in European seas and saltwater lakes, which has a firm, white, delicate-flavored flesh and few small bones. It is a prized ingredient in Italy because it is so easy to prepare and yet so delicious. Julia Child once said, “great ingredients, simply prepared are always best.” Truer words were never spoken!

Fresh Branzino, cleaned, skin on (about one per person for a meal)
2 lemons, sliced
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 500°F. Wrap a baking dish or roasting pan in aluminum foil. Drizzle a little olive oil on the pan and spread to evenly coat. Lay the fish on the tray without overlapping. Fill the cavities with sliced lemons, drizzle more olive oil over the fish. Sprinkle salt and freshly ground pepper on top of the fish.

Place fish in the oven and roast until the skin of the fish is dark brown and the flesh of the fish is an opaque white. Remove the tray from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving. It is best to serve right from the tray for presentation as the fish is delicate and may break apart if moved to a serving dish. Serve with roasted potatoes and sautéed chicory. Buon appetito!


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Twist 'N Dip at Einstein Bros. for Summer Fun

Bagels are universally loved. Soft, doughy bread slathered in cream cheese… What’s not to like? Bagels, which originated in Poland, are a basic roll-with-a-hole design which is hundreds of years old and allows for more even cooking and baking of the dough. The hole, as it turned out, also made it easy to store and sort the bread as they could be threaded on dowels or string which also made for easier handling and transportation.

This summer Einstein Bros. is introducing a new way to enjoy the traditional bagel. With a revolutionary perforated design, the Twist ‘N Dip bagel can be torn into bite size pieces and is perfect for dipping into two of 16 flavors of their signature “schmear.” I couldn’t wait to try this new twist on the old classic so I headed to my local Einstein Bros. to try one.

It had been a while since I actually went inside, as I usually opt for the drive-in window. The shop was brightly lit by the morning sun which made for a welcoming glow. The girl at the counter was very friendly and clearly excited about the new addition to the menu. She excitedly reminded me that I could choose two flavors of cream cheese. Since I usually just opt for the reduced-fat plain, I asked which flavor was her favorite and she enthusiastically responded: Garden Veggie. So I went with Garden Veggie and the very seasonal Strawberry both of which also have 25% less fat than their regular double-whipped shmears.

The bagel was indeed easy to twist apart and “dip” into the cups of schmear. Because the cream cheese is a bit thicker than ordinary “dips,” it tends to be a bit messy, so I grabbed a knife to appear more lady-like. I have to admit, it was fun to rip the bagel apart and have two different flavors to play with! And as an added bonus, for every Twist N’ Dip sold, Einstein Bros. Bagels will donate a bagel to someone in need.

Between now and July 31, Einstein Bros. is inviting fans to show off their Twist ‘N Dip moves by posting a photo or video that captures how they Twist N’ Dip on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #TwistNDip. Winners will be selected weekly to receive cool prizes such as Six Flags prize packs, summer swag and even FREE bagels for a year.

AND, because we know our readers will want to get in on the Twist ‘N Dip fun, we have some fantastic offers for you too!
  • AND, last but not least, you can enter below to win an Einstein Bros. Summer Swag Kit which includes a frisbee, lip shmear, koozies and carabiners!!

While we received gift items in exchange for this post; writing and photos included herein are original and the opinions are honest and unsolicited.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Yebo Beach Haus' Watermelon Fennel Salad

Out with the old, in with the new. That seems to be the current trend for Justin Anthony who has replaced two of Atlanta’s disused restaurants and remade them in his image. After opening Cape Dutch in the former Woodfire Grill space late last year, Anthony has done the same with his “Yebo” concept.

While his original Yebo officially closed at Phipps Plaza, Anthony and his team opened their new Yebo Beach Haus a more upscale atmosphere which incorporates elements from the Hamptons and Venice Beach. Anthony’s wife, Kelly, revamped the restaurant space previously occupied by Coast Seafood & Raw Bar to include white-washed walls, dark cherry wood-stained floors, and driftwood décor to create an elegant seaside feel.

The grand opening event was the hottest party in town as the restaurant was packed with friends and fans waiting to get a sneak peek at the new digs. Yebo meaning ‘yes’ is an affirmation in South Africa, and this was certainly the vibe as drinks were flying from bartenders’ hands and plates of red bean hummus served atop carrot and cucumber slices, seared tuna with nori sheets, shiso leaves and wasabi aioli, spicy curried chicken skewers, peppadew fried mac & cheese, and langoustine ceviche with yuzu chili sauce (all items from the new menu) disappeared within seconds of leaving the kitchen.

Our favorite dish of the evening was a watermelon and fennel salad with feta cheese and oranges. In celebration of National salad month, we are thrilled that Yebo Chef Philippe Haddad was willing to share the recipe our readers.
Photo Credit: Phase3PR

Watermelon, cut into 4 - 1” slices
½ cup Feta cheese crumbled
1 small fennel bulb, shaved
4 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
4 teaspoons Balsamic glaze (vinegar reduction)
2 oranges segments, supremed
Citrus vinaigrette

Citrus vinaigrette:
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup orange juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
¼ cup vinegar (white balsamic or champagne)
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon honey
2 garlic gloves, minced
Kosher salt and white pepper to taste

Cut the rind off the watermelon and then cut the melon slices into 5” round circles. Place in the center of a chilled plate. Drizzle vinaigrette over watermelon.

Toss shaved fennel, mint, feta cheese and orange supremes in the vinaigrette and toss lightly to coat. Pile the fennel salad on top of the watermelon slices. Drop balsamic reduction (artistically) around the watermelon on plate. Dive in!

Cooking is sharing – Life is Beautiful!” ~Chef Philippe Haddad

While we attended the Yebo Beach Haus opening celebration free of charge, we received no additional remuneration and the opinions herein are honest and unsolicited.   

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