Monthly Archives: February 2011

iGrill: A Glimpse of the Grilling Future

 

Toys are fun. Toys that can actually make your life easier, well…

iGrill

A FedEx box arrived. Everybody likes it when a FedEx box comes to their house. Especially, if it’s not even close to Christmas, your birthday or any other gift giving occasion. This being the end of February, it was to late for a Valentine’s Day whatever and a little on the early side for a vacuum packed corned beef and cabbage.

Once I tore into it, I discovered what could possibly be the coolest BBQ gadget of all time. The nice folks at iDevices had sent me the most talked about cooking tool at this years Consumer Electronics show. The iGrill. This would be fun.

Like every guy on the planet. I love to grill. It’s been said that the urge to grill is woven into the DNA of every man alive. I won’t dispute that. I know from my own personal experience that I can smell a grill being lit or a juicy burger cooking from a half mile way. And, once I smell that smell, the urge to participate is overwhelming.

The contents if the iGrill box is pretty simple. Thermometer unit, probe and a short instruction sheet. It doesn’t get any easier than that. Oh, they even include 4 AA’s in the box. What a pleasure not to have to root around in my kitchen drawer for batteries that still had some life in them.

iGrill

You’re looking at the whole thing right there. Simplicity.

Once unpacked, I was determined to put the iGrill through it’s paces. I thought about a roast of some kind for it’s maiden voyage. Maybe chicken. It probably should be something that didn’t need flipping or too much moving around on the grill. A beer can chicken would work great.

I downloaded the latest iGrill software from iTunes and was ready to check things out.

I seasoned up a 4 pound roasting chicken with some Memphis rub from a recipe in the BBQ Bible by Steven Raichlen. This is a fantastic mix of spices. Great on beef, chicken or pork. I thought this would give my chicken a little extra zip. You should try it.

Beer Can Chicken - Uncooked

I inserted the temperature probe into the breast making sure not to have it touching the bone. I found a can of Old Style. Opened it, drank half and used the remaining beer and can for the recipe.

I started pre-heating the grill and paired my phone with the iGrill base unit. A simple procedure. The phone found the iGrill with no problems. I placed the chicken on the grill and was ready to have some fun.

The iGrill’s phone interface is great. Simple to use and super easy to understand what’s going on under the hood of your BBQ.

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Check out the display options. From left to right. The first is what I called the master display. You have target temperature, current food temperature, a time until complete approximation and a graph on top of the temperature history. Lots of info. Next there is a traditional meat thermometer display. It has the temp in digital form and an old school thermometer reading that we all know and love. Lastly there is a timer. I wish it had the option of count up as well as count down. I like seeing how long something has been cooking, not just the time to completion.

As the cooking got underway, the temp started working it’s way up. Things were going great until I hit a small snag. I powered on my phone and couldn’t get the app to connect. It wouldn’t show any of the three screens above. I went out to the grill to check the base unit. It had the temperature displayed just fine.

My Bluetooth connection said it was working. I re-started my phone. After it finished re-starting the display came right back on and with the correct temperature. If I kept the phone on it was fine. If I turned the phone off without first closing the app and turned it back on again it was OK. But, if I closed the app, then turned off the phone. No connection. If I re-started the phone all was fixed and all of the up to date temp details were accurate.

iGrill

It’s a little glitch in the program. I’m not even certain if it might just be an isolated incident. In any event, it’s something that I am sure will get smoothed out in a future update of the software. And, the problem isn’t big enough to consider not purchasing the unit. Even with that minor blip, the operation of the device and it’s reporting of the temperature was right on. The convenience of not having to wonder what was really happening to your soon to be meal was liberating.

Beer Can Chicken

When my chicken reached my target temp I was ready to see if the internal temperature of my bird matched the what the device was reporting. After sampling a couple of different locations on the chicken with an instant read, I am happy to report that the temperature was right on the money.

The Bottom Line

If you like grilling and you like gadgets the iGrill is for you. It had a small hiccup in the Bluetooth handshake, but, I think that’s something that will get resolved quickly. The accuracy was great and the clear, readable displays let you “look under the cover” of the grill as it’s cooking. This would be perfect for monitoring something on the smoker. It seems the smoker is even more mysterious than the BBQ. I’m going to give that a whirl next. Can someone say pulled pork.

I know one gift giving occasion that is on the horizon that the iGrill would be perfect for. Father’s Day. And, it’s closer than you think…

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Taking Grilled Cheese To A Whole New Level

If you think you know all there is to know about the storied grilled cheese sandwich, think again. You don’t.

Grilled Cheese, Please

Everyone’s childhood has a grilled cheese memory or two floating deliciously around in it. If you don’t, you have my sympathies. You have surely missed a part of growing up that is hard to replace.

Grilled cheese sandwiches never used to come in the variety of shapes, sizes and tastes that they do today. Used to be, you had white bread (Wonder probably), you had two or three slices of American cheese (insert your favorite brand here) and a little butter. Those were the ingredients, period.

You heated a skillet, placed the sandwich in and flipped it a couple of times until it was golden brown. Then, instead of waiting for your masterpiece to cool to a tolerable temperature, you bit into it, burning either your upper lip, tongue, roof of your mouth or all three. That was the amazingly fantastic grilled cheese experience of my youth.

Suffice it to say, things are different today.The world of the once humble grilled cheese has been expanded to included some delicious creations. These are cheesy, gooey concoctions that back thirty years ago you could never have conceived of.

Here’s a brief example. My son (who is grown now) has grilled cheese memories different from my own. When he was young and still impressionable, I used to make him this grilled cheese sandwich we called mozzarella grilled cheese. That’s not the official name, just ours. It was a recipe by Mario Batali and included dipping the bread into an Italian style seasoned egg mixture before adding mozzarella and frying it in a skillet. In reality, it was almost more like a Monte Cristo than anything else. But, it was delicious. If you ask him about HIS grilled cheese memory, I would bet he would relate to you the wonders of the mozzarella grilled cheese.

James Beard award winning author and cheese expert Laura Werlin, has complied a cookbook that puts a new spin on an old classic. The fifty recipes that she has included in her latest work, Grilled Cheese, Please, are not only great dishes in their own right, but, in fact, childhood memories in the making for a whole new generation.

Of course, I had to give one of them a whirl (it’s my job). All of the recipes included were more than worthy of a test drive. But, one in particular captured my interest. The Camembert and Comte with Mushrooms sounded to mouthwatering to pass on.

This sandwich was easy to put together and had ingredients that were at my disposal.

Grated Comte Cheese

I used REAL French Comte in my version. For a hard cheese, it was super light and airy once it was grated.

Baby Bella Mushrooms

Baby bella mushrooms were the perfect texture and flavor for this dish. I think white mushrooms would have been lost in the nutty flavor of the cheese.

Mushrooms Cooked

WOW, they look pretty good after sautéing with some shallots, garlic and thyme. I can’t tell you how tempting it was to just eat all of the filling before constructing the sandwich.

Sandwich Before Cooking

Before it hits the heat.

Camambert and Comte with Mushrooms

My finished masterpiece in all of it’s runny, melty, cheesy glory. It was hard to wait the required five minutes before diving into this. I thought the timer was running in place a couple of times. Leaving the room made it easier. Laura may want to include that tip in the next printing.

Here’s How To Do It

Ingredients
4 Tbsp., butter, at room temperature
1 shallot, small, chopped fine (about 2 Tbsp.)
1 clove garlic, minced
8 oz., white or brown mushrooms, stems removed, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 tsp., sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
2 tsp., fresh thyme, chopped fine
1 baguette, cut crosswise into 4 (6 inch wide) pieces
6 oz., Camembert cheese, sliced 1/4 inch thick
8 oz., Comte cheese, grated coarsely (or Gruyere, Swiss or fontina)
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Method
Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallot and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook for about a minute more. Be careful the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are soft, 3-5 minutes more. Turn the heat up to high and add the sherry vinegar. Cook until most of the vinegar has boiled away and mushrooms start to caramelize, 1-2 minutes. Add the fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Stir through and remove from heat. Transfer the cooked mushroom mixture to a plate. Wipe out skillet with a paper towel. Don’t wash it.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the microwave or a small pan. Cut each baguette piece in half lengthwise. Take out a small amount of the soft center of the bottom pieces of bread to make a well. Place baguette pieces crust side up on a work surface. Spread with some of the melted butter. A pastry brush worked great for this. Turn the bottom pieces over, now the crust side is down. Divide up the mushroom mixture between the four baguette bottoms and spread on bottom halves of baguette. Next, place the Camembert slices on top of the mushrooms. Finally, top the whole thing with the grated Comte. Place the top half of the baguette on the sandwich.

Heat the same skillet you used for the mushrooms over a medium-low heat for a couple of minutes. Place the sandwich in the skillet. I did mine bottom side first. Cover and cook for 5-6 minutes. Check a couple of times to make sure that they are getting golden brown and not burning. Turn the sandwiches over and press each one firmly with a spatula. Cover and cook 3-4 minutes more until they are golden brown and the cheese has melted. Turn one more time, use the spatula to compress the filling again. Cook for one additional minute or until cheese has completely melted. Remove from heat. Wait 5 minutes. Cut in half and serve.

You really need to watch these after the first flip. I had to dial down my heat a little to keep them from burning before the cheese melted all the way. That’s just common sense cooking though. Nobody’s going to just walk away from a skillet of cooking sandwiches, right?

You can also use a sandwich maker for these. Just follow the directions that come with your particular model.

Makes 4 sandwiches

Recipe: Camembert and Comte with Mushrooms, Laura Werlin, Grilled Cheese, Please. Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Camambert and Comte with Mushrooms

The Bottom Line

This book is fun! There are so many great recipes in this little treasure that you’ll want to make them all. The photographs taken by Maren Caruso are fantastic too. They really add to the spirit and feel of a great cookbook. The recipes are easy to make and for the most part the ingredients are readily accessible. It’s the kind of book that will have you making brand new, grilled cheese memories for your entire family!

Grilled Cheese, Please

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Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Author: Laura Werlin
Pages: 184
ISBN: 1449401651

 

Just in case you missed it, here are some other cookbook reviews we recently posted:

Steaks and Texas Go Great Together
How To Make Red Beans and Rice
A Monday Dish That’s Great Any Day
RV Cooking: The Possibilities of an Endless Road


National Cherry Month, But, Where Are The Cherries?

Honestly, this post was supposed to turn out differently. National Cherry Month, easy, quick post. Great, enticing cherry photo. So what happened? NO CHERRIES!

That’s right. February, designated as national cherry month by who knows what group, person or organization has one major flaw in it. There aren’t exactly tons of cherries grown and available here domestically in the middle of winter.

Why didn’t the powers that be give the noble and deserving cherry a month it could be proud of, say like July? An actual time of year when lots and lots of cherries are grown, harvested and eaten. The National Cherry Festival is held each year in July. I mean, this is easy, right?

So, instead of a great, mouthwatering image of a huge bowl of ripe cherries, you’re stuck with this. Sorry, not my fault.

Without further adieu (or ranting), here’s a list of some cookbooks that feature a bunch of things you can do with cherries (if you’re lucky enough to find some). You may want to bookmark this post and check it out again this summer when you actually have some cherries to work with (oh, was that ranting again or just sarcasm, sorry)..

Very Cherry Cookbook

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Published back in 2006, Michigan author, Judith Bosley has assembled a nice collection of 60 cherry based recipes. She’s from Michigan and they know their cherries in that state. In fact, the National Cherry Festival is held each year in Traverse City Michigan. Check out Judith’s recipe for Frozen Cherry Salad. That one sure sounds different.

The 50 Best Cherry Recipes

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When there’s a cookbook out there that’s titled, The 50 Best Cherry Recipes, it’s kind of hard not to include that. That title in itself is a big, bold statement. I’m not trying to call out author, Barbara Morgenroth. But, that’s a title is just asking to be challenged. This book is only eighty pages long, so, you’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if you think it’s contents lives up to it’s name.

Life’s Little Cherry Cookbook: 101 Cherry Recipes

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The third and final entrant in our cherry cookbook roundup is entitled Life’s Little Cherry Cookbook: 101 Cherry Recipes. Over twice as many tempting cherry recipes as the “50 best” book. Are there really that many more things you can do with cherries?

Frankly, I was a little surprised at how few cookbooks there were on this single subject. I had thought, there would be a lot more our there than there is. It’s not like we’re talking about some exotic, impossible to obtain food here. It is cherries after all.

I wonder how many books are dedicated solely to the majestic crown pork roast. You’ll have to wait until March 7th to find out.

You can click on any of the book covers for additional information or to purchase that book.

It’s President’s Day, Eat Like The Commander in Chief

I realize that for most of us dining in the style and elegance afforded the nations Chief Executive isn’t something that is within out grasp. But, all is not lost. Now you can enjoy the next best thing (kind of).

Here’s a collection of cookbooks that will help you chow down like the leader of the free world.

Presidential Cookies: Cookie Recipes of the Presidents of the United States

Do you have a Presidential sized sweet tooth? Here’s a collection of some of the best cookie recipes from the White House. This guide to cookie baking goes all the way back to George and Martha! I wonder what flavor the Father of Our Country liked for milk dunking? I also wonder if that’s even an appropriate to ask question!

First Ladies Cookbook: Favorite Recipes of all the Presidents of the United States

I didn’t think First Ladies had to cook. It must be recipes before they were spoiled by the White House dining staff. I’m trying to envision Abigail Powers Fillmore scurrying around the kitchen whipping up a nice Prune Pie. When she was First Lady, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was pretty much of a mess. I think “disrepair” might be the right word. I’m guessing no robot coupe or immersion blender to work with back then.

The White House Family Cookbook

Henry Haller, the former Executive Chef at the White House gives us a nice assortment of recipes that our first families have enjoyed. He was the kitchens main man for five Presidents. That’s an amazing run considering the shelf life of most Washington insiders. Yeah, I think he qualifies as an insider. He’s cooking food for the President for crying out loud.

The White House Cook Book (1887 Edition)

And finally, this classic collection of White House cuisine. The Original White House Cookbook. Originally published way back in 1887, this book was the how to manual for anyone who aspired to cook for or host dignitaries of all stripes. Party planning, recipes and detailed prep instructions make this a must have if you are even thinking about being D.C.’s top chef.

There’s some very presidential cooking resources here. Why not try your hand at whipping up a feast even our Commander in Chief would be proud to enjoy.

You can click on any of the book covers for additional information or to purchase that book.

Ideas In Food: Food+Science=Delicious

There seems to be a fine line between really enjoying the deliciousness of cheese and feeling guilty about it.

Ideas in Food

Here’s a little quiz to get things started. What do David Chang, Michael Ruhlman and Michael Anthony all have in common? Answer please. If you guessed that they all have great things to say about Aki Kamozawa and Alex Talbot’s new book, Ideas in Food, then give yourself a gold star or a pat on the back. Your choice.

This little gem is packed with all of the food science any budding culinary chemist could dream of. We’re talking REAL explanations to some of the kitchen’s most intriguing questions.

The first part of the book is written with the amateur cook (like me) in mind. Part two, focuses on topics that food professionals will find useful. I mean, I would love to attempt a recipe that has Methocel 50 or kappa carrageenan in it, but, I’m not sure if either of those things are legal in the state where I reside.

That being said, I decided to turn my attention to something a little more pedestrian.

The section on dairy was intriguing. Maybe I could make something from this part of the book. I like cheese. Hey, homemade mozzarella. That could be cool. But, wouldn’t you know it, I had just run out of rennet. Damn it! A few more pages, then, out jumped something with some real potential, macaroni and cheese.

Mac and cheese is one of the headliners of the comfort food category. Is shares a prominent spot right up there with meatloaf and apple pie. I figured if something that is already great could be improved with a little food science, then this book would be a winner.

My adventure into the science of mac and cheese was about to begin. All of the necessary components were procured and ready to roll.

The first thing that was unconventional about this recipe versus the standard M & C recipe was that it called for soaking the dry pasta for an hour rather that adding pasta that had been previously cooked by boiling it. So, one pound of dry pasta.

Uncooked macaroni

There are three, count ‘em, three, different types of cheeses in this version.

Shredded Pepper Jack Cheese

Pepper Jack.

Shredded Parmigiano Cheese

Parmigiano.

And, sharp cheddar. When cooked together these three offer a nice balance of cheese flavors.

The directions were right on the money. Assembly was a snap. Here’s a picture of the casserole before it went under the broiler.

Uncooked Mac and Cheese CasseroleFinished Lemon Chess Pie

Now, look closely at the two images above. The one on the left is my yet to be broiled mac and cheese. The one of the right is a Lemon Chess Pie that I baked a few weeks ago. There is definitely a certain similarity there…

Anyway, under the broiler, five minutes. Actually mine didn’t make it the full five. I had to take it out about 3 minutes in to it. It did brown up really nice though.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Now that is a handsome batch of mac and cheese! It looks great and all, but, the real proof is in the taste.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

What? Did you think that it wouldn’t end up being killer? Please…

The recipe has some cayenne pepper in it. It really brings up the flavor in the whole dish. A real adult mac and cheese. That’s not to say that your kids won’t like it, but, it will make you sit up and take notice.

Here’s how to do it:

Ingredients
1 lb., dry pasta
2 1/2 quarts, water
8 Tbsps., unsalted butter (plus some additional to butter the casserole dish)
12 oz., evaporated milk
3/4 tsp., sea salt, fine
1/2 tsp., cayenne pepper
10 oz., Cheddar cheese, grated (they suggested sharp)
10 oz., pepper Jack cheese, grated
2/3 cup, fresh bread crumbs, coarse ground
1/2 cup, Parmigiano cheese, grated
3 Tbsps., unsalted butter (for melting)

Method
In a large bowl soak pasta in water for about an hour. Stir every so often (I stirred every fifteen minutes). Drain after one hour. Pre-heat broiler on low. Butter a 3 quart baking dish.

In a 3 quart pot, over medium heat, add butter (8 tbsps.), evaporated milk, salt and cayenne. When the butter melts and the milk just starts to steam, start adding the Cheddar and Jack cheeses. Do this just a handful at a time so the cheese has a chance to melt and incorporate evenly. I had my cheese warmed up to room temperature before adding.

When all the cheese has been added and the sauce is nice and evenly melted, add the soaked pasta and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Stir. The mixture will start to thicken as it heats through.

Transfer the mixture to the buttered baking dish and spread it out evenly. In a small bowl mix the Parmigiano and the bread crumbs together. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the macaroni. Drizzle with melted butter.

Place on middle oven rack, center under the broiler. Broil for 5 minutes. Really keep your eye on this when it goes in. Once it starts to brown, it goes quickly. When the topping is brown remove from oven and cool 5 minutes.

Serves 4 as an entrée or 8 as an appetizer or side dish.

Recipe: Macaroni and Cheese, Aki Kamozawa and H Alexander Talbot, Ideas in Food, Clarkson Potter Publishers

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

The Bottom Line:

Aki and Alex have written a fantastic book. it’s obvious when you read through it that great attention has been paid to every detail. It’s cookbook/textbook, which makes for an excellent read. The recipes are well constructed as you would expect, but, more importantly they’re not  crazy difficult to execute. This marriage of detail and simplicity makes for a super delicious combination. I’m dying to try something from the Liquid Nitrogen section. I think that may still be a little ways off for me.

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Publisher: Clarkson Potter
Author: Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot
Pages: 320
ISBN: 0307717402