Healthy BBQ Side Dishes With A Twist – Cauliflower Steak

“Whoa, Bert…slow down. You mean to tell me that cauliflower belongs in BBQ?”

Absolutely, positively, YES. That’s EXACTLY what I’m telling you. 

Let’s face it…cauliflower is pretty good by itself. And studies show that it’s kinda good for you.  Considering it’s 98% water (you know, that best and safest drink on the planet?)…it’s VERY good for you. And it tastes as good as it’s seasoned. 

But the haters still don’t want to believe…

“Where does cauliflower fit into a grill? How’s it gonna take grill marks? Who’s really gonna eat that outside of vegetarians and vegans?”

Well, sweetheart, YOU’re gonna eat it. And it’s going to look good as well as taste good. And it actually fits very nicely into any grill. And it’ll be as good as the flavor of the wood smoke that you use for any other meat or vegetable. 

Now, most people see cauliflower as just a vegetable. Today, hardcore BBQ friends, we’re going to prove otherwise. 

Start by grabbing 8 of the largest cauliflowers you can find. You know, the huge ones, even in the organic section. Cut the sides off 6 of the cauliflowers lengthwise, about ⅛ of an inch off each side. After all, these will become steaks, and steaks are big and juicy, right? 

This should leave you with 2 whole cauliflowers and some great pieces. Those, we’re going to turn into cauliflower mashed potatoes, to continue the healthy streak we’re on. But we’ll get to that in a second. 

Spritz both sides of each cauliflower steak with olive oil. Then apply celery salt and pepper to both sides of each steak, and rub the spices in very gently. Keep in mind we’re going to treat this just as we would a beef steak, with a few modifications…

And now, slap them right on your preheated 350 degree grill for about 4 minutes total per side. Two minutes on the first side, then turn on that side 180 degrees for perfect grill marks. Flip sides and repeat the process, ensuring consistent grill marks on both sides. Once these are achieved, move quickly to the top rack of the grill to avoid burning and to add smoky flavor. DO NOT. I repeat, DO NOT leave them in the grill for more  than 2 minutes afterwards. You want something you can cut into, not try to pick through grates of a grill. Always remember, this is a steak and we must treat it as such. 

Now for the carne asada flavor. In a mortar or a food processor, you will have previously blended the following to taste (I didn’t use measurements because this is based on preference. As long as it tastes like steak, you’re good):

  • Cumin
  • Celery salt
  • Paprika
  • Dehydrated onions
  • Garlic powder
  • Avocado oil
  • Chili powder

Ensure that you have enough paprika and/or chili powder to achieve the desired steak color and taste.

Remove the steaks quickly and set them on a rack. Brush the carne asada flavor on all sides of the steaks. Serve immediately to maintain the tenderness of the steak. It should have a mouthfeel that suggests medium-well preparation.

Bon appétit!!

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15-20 minutes

Servings: 3 (Two ‘steaks’ per guest. Feel free to add more if you need to)

INGREDIENTS:

6 of the largest cauliflowers you can find – the larger the better!

For the ‘Carne Asada’ drizzle – blend and adjust the following to taste:

  • Cumin
  • Celery salt
  • Paprika
  • Dehydrated onions
  • Garlic powder
  • Avocado oil
  • Chili powder

DIRECTIONS: 

  • Preheat the grill to 300-350 degrees. You want it hot enough to leave
  • Cut ⅛ inch off the sides of each cauliflower, then halve them. This should leave you with 2 solid 1-2 inch steaks.
  • Dust with oil, celery salt and pepper.
  • Place steaks on a preheated grill, and heat directly for no more than 4 minutes total on each side. Every 2 minutes, rotate the steaks at 90 degrees to ensure proper grill marks and heat evenly.
  • Once you have finished directly heating the steaks, place them on the upper rack to allow them to absorb gentle smoke. Do not allow them to rest for more than 5 minutes because you don’t want to lose any firmness – you want to be able to cut them and get the full steak experience.
  • Remove steaks from heat and brush with the Carne Asada drizzle that we mentioned before.
  • Serve while hot and firm to the knife.

Cream in your…guacamole?

So, when most of us have guacamole, there is some sour cream, some chips, and some tequila nearby. And the idea is that our guacamole is expected to be creamy, right?

So why do y’all look at me funny when I hit you with the sour cream and the tequila in the guac? All the traditionalistas can’t stand it…until they try it.

Allow me to drop the science on you.

Avocado, per The Flavor Bible, blends well with all of the ingredients required for wonderful guacamole. Sour cream is a recommended matching flavor for avocado. Not only that, one of the listed flavor affinities (comparable flavor groups) for avocado is avocado+jalapeño chiles+cilantro+cumin+garlic+lime+onion (which sounds eerily like the ingredient list for great guacamole).

And here’s where it gets good… Tequila is also a recommended matching flavor. Which means in a small amount, the brightness of the flavor will make your guac practically jump onto the chip!

So…open your minds, open your palates, and open your bowls…this recipe will make you rethink guac as you know it.

Prep time:15 minutes

INGREDIENTS: 

  • 5 large ripe Haas avocados

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced and pressed into a paste

  • ½ tablespoon coarse sea salt

  • ½ of a large red onion, roughly diced and divided into 2 piles 

  • 1 cup (8.0oz.) sour cream

  • 1 tablespoon (0.5oz.)  lime juice, freshly squeezed

  • 1 tablespoon (0.5oz.)  lemon juice, freshly squeezed

  • 1 shot of top-shelf tequila, preferably silver

  • 1 roma tomato, finely diced with the seeds and pulp removed

  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped with seeds separated

  • 1 cup freshly chopped cilantro

  • 2 teaspoons cumin powder

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Peel avocados and remove pits. Set aside in a large bowl or molcajete (the thing that the waiter crushes up your guac live at your table).

  2. In a separate mortar and pestle, place the minced garlic, one of the piles of red onion, and the seeds of the jalapeno. Crush the ingredients into a smooth paste with the sea salt. 

  3. Using a silicone scraper, scoop the paste into the bowl/molcajete with the avocados.

  4. Combine the avocados in the bowl with the remaining ingredients. Best practice is to use a potato masher, but you can use a food processor if you are pressed for time. 

  5. Cover with plastic wrap, placing the pits of the avocado inside and resting the plastic wrap on the guacamole to keep from browning. 

  6. Refrigerate at least an hour before serving to allow the flavors and the heat to meld. 

Jalapeño brine is your friend…ask your local chicken…

Hello all!

Apparently, there is a trend sweeping the nation for “hot chicken”, jump-started by our friends in Nashville. The hotter it gets, apparently, the better it tastes. So, in the spirit thereof, I searched for an ingredient to spark the flavoring process – because it’s never too soon to start flavoring, marinade or otherwise. Where do most of us look first for heat? Peppers, you guessed it. And the first pepper I think of when I think of heat – jalapeños. So I dashed to the fridge, I found a jar…with jalapeño brine left over. No peppers, just brine. Just. Brine. Hmmmmm… light flicks on and I grab the first chicken I see and lower it into the jalapeño bath:

The great thing about jalapeño brine is that you don’t have to add any more heat. You can just dissolve the sugar into it and brine your chicken for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Thank me later…

From the request lines…Chicken Marsala…with a twist…

I love my followers! Every once in a while, they give me direct inspiration for dishes that they want to see on the blog- and they toss me the occasional curve ball! Example: I just got a request for stuffed chicken Marsala. Sounds exciting to me! This is going to involve copious amounts of mushrooms, of course, in the true spirit of the dish…

First and foremost, you must have Marsala wine. NOT that bisulfate-laden swill they call cooking wine in the grocery store. I mean something you would actually consume yourself and/or feed to others. Without displaying the brand – take your butt to Total Wine and grab something like this:

And ensure that you have balsamic reduction, to counteract the sweetness. After all, you’re going to reduce an entire bottle of vino, and you don’t want all sweetness:

So when you start the reduction, along with the roughly chopped onions and mushrooms, it will start out looking like this:

We’ll come back to that.

Now, as far as the chicken to stuff, I chose to use the breasts and thighs, if for no other reason than their superior surface area and general tenderness. The catch: I removed the thigh bone, and left the rib bones in the breast. Why one and not the other, you ask? Well, if you leave the bone in the breast, it will improve the moisture, and it also keeps you from over-processing the meat. Removing the bone from the thigh enables you to roll the stuffing, also to preserve moisture. As shown:

As you can see, the breast is close to still being whole, so that all moisture will be kept inside the meat and the skin will keep the stuffing from spilling. You can use toothpicks or twine to bind- I just chose not to.

And the thighs, with bones removed, roll around the stuffing quite neatly.

Speaking of stuffing…simple. In your food processor, pulse walnuts, spinach, and Asiago cheese. This stuffing will not interfere with the sweet tang of the Marsala. Promise!

You don’t even need to add oil to this, as the walnuts provide enough. And their muted nuttiness balances the Marsala for the chicken.

After the sauce finishes reducing and thickening (after about 45 minutes on high heat) it should look something like this:

Notice how the mushrooms have soaked in the flavor, even as they shrink during the cooking process. They will be juicy with Marsala in each bite.

While I waited for the sauce to reduce, I browned the chicken, skin side first, in a cast-iron skillet and then sent to the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius). As you can see, the breasts opened some, but the stuffing didn’t move:

As it sits gently in the Marsala bath atop Mount Mushrooms:

And, a close-up of a stuffed thigh:

Shrimp Risotto, Part 2 – Love it when a plan comes together…

So…if you remember the last post, we got quite excited about the prospect of trying risotto for the first time. So much so that we pulled out the pressure cooker to make shrimp stock fresh for the occasion. We were then left with 3 pounds of shrimp awaiting the privilege of being seared for pleasurable consumption. But never fear, we have an answer for that! Brine your shrimp under ice in a mixture of sea salt, sugar, quartered lemons, water and white wine until time to sear. This will guarantee you the plumpest, juiciest shrimp for any recipe for which you choose to use them. Just remember to bury them under ice and cover them in the fridge until time to toss in the pan.

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All you need is about 20-30 minutes for that brine, which will give you time to make some creamy goodness called risotto…

Speaking of which…here’s some excitement for you:

Finely dice one large onion and quarter a small box of mushrooms as shown:

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You’ll need these to establish taste. Take the mushrooms and saute gently, in a pot with olive oil and butter, to get your flavor base started. Once they are gently browned, remove the mushrooms and replace with the onions. Watch these closely until they brown, and then add  to the pot 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice. (Note: it’s GOT to be arborio rice, because it has the necessary starch presence to absorb the shrimp stock – of which we’re about to use a LOT. ) Make sure you stir the rice and onions constantly – and DO. NOT. LEAVE. Because they will burn on you, and you don’t want that.

Once you smell the warm nuttiness of the rice, grab that 6 cups of warm shrimp stock we talked about in the previous post. One cup at a time (and ONLY one cup at a time), gently introduce  5 cups of the stock into the pan and keep stirring until each cup of liquid is absorbed into the rice. It should look fluffy and creamy at the same time at this point.  Re-add the mushrooms, and remove from the heat at this point. Take the remaining warm cup of shrimp stock, and add 1/2 cup of heavy cream. The heat should temper the cream so that it doesn’t seize. Add to the risotto. The results are spectacular. Watch it breathe:

And lest you think we forgot about those shrimp – grab a handful of those out of the fridge and towel-dry them before you throw them into the pan for a quick sear. Look at how plump the brine keeps them:

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And now, I can say that I had real-live shrimp risotto. It was everything that the readers told me it would be. Creamy, gentle, and almost buttery with the tenderness of the shrimp. Plated:

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Shrimp Risotto, Part One

NO, this is not going to be a post extolling the virtues of a pressure cooker…

Okay, I’m lying.

But it is also going to be a shout singing the praises of risotto!

See, before a couple of days ago,  I had never experienced the creamy bowl of heaven that is risotto (done correctly, of course). And I got royally ribbed by a couple of my off-line followers for waiting so long before having it – much less posting about it. BUT…they never told me how much fun it is to make with fresh (super fresh) shrimp stock! And what’s the best way to get shrimp stock quickly? Using a pressure cooker, of course! (Note: if you don’t have a pressure cooker in your life, do yourself a favor and get one. You’ll thank me later, I promise.)

For the shrimp stock, I shelled 3 pounds of Argentine red shrimp. I chose this particular breed due to its size (which meant sizable shells to boil out the shrimp essence – yes!) and meaty texture, that would stand up to a quick brining. So, the shrimp stock ingredients included:

  • Shells, legs and tails from 3 pounds of shrimp as described;
  • 12 fl. oz of Chardonnay;
  • 4 lemons, quartered
  • One large bell pepper, roughly diced;
  • One large sweet onion, roughly diced;
  • 20 cups  (160 fl. oz) of water;
  • 1/4 cup  (2 oz) sea salt;
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz) sugar
  • Olive oil, as needed…

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the olive oil in the pressure cooker until shimmering, almost sizzling;
  2. Saute the pepper and onion, stirring gently, until translucent and fragrant;
  3. Add the shrimp shells and saute until gently browned, releasing the flavor;
  4. Place all other ingredients into the pressure cooker and bring to a gentle boil;
  5. Seal the pressure cooker and bring to pressure according to manufacturer directions;
  6. Allow the stock to cook under pressure for 15-20 minutes, and then quickly cool by placing the pressure cooker in a sink full of chilled water;
  7. Once the stock has cooled, strain the liquid into a bowl using a sieve lined with cheesecloth.

Yields 12 cups of super-concentrated stock that you can freeze for later usage. But, for the sake of this conversation, extract about 6 cups of stock for our fabulous risotto, which is coming up in the next post!

Pineapple Ribs…

Yes, you read that right.

Bored with the typical heavy, sweet sauces that we like to put on our ribs…I decided to do something totally different and not add any sugar or extra salt to the sauce I was going to create/use. In short- it only took 4 ingredients:

3 cups (24 fl. oz) pineapple juice

2 cups (16 fl. oz) agave nectar

1 cup (8 fl. oz) high quality tequila

1 cup (8 fl. oz) lime juice

Set all these to a rolling boil and allow for at least 2 hours for reduction into a glaze that you can brush on two racks of ribs. Now as for those ribs, at 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) they will caramelize nicely after 2 hours when you cover them with the following:

  • Lemon powder
  • White pepper
  • Cilantro
  • Thyme
  • Celery seeds (NOT celery salt)
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Cumin (will add an additional smoke to the flavor

For absolute best results, take these ingredients and relieve some stress by mixing them with a mortar and pestle. Cover your racks of ribs thoroughly with this blend and allow to air-dry in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before you commit them to the oven. You can opt to grill them if you choose, as well.

Once the time is up, you should remove the ribs from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes before you slice them into individual ribs. The glaze should also be ready at the same time (best practice is to start the heat on both simultaneously).

The results:

Musings…cutlery, part deux

“You should not have any special fondness for a particular weapon, or anything else, for that matter. Too much is the same as not enough. Without imitating anyone else, you should have as much weaponry as suits you.” -Miyamoto Musaashi, The Book of Five Rings

This quote from one of the greatest swordsmen accurately parallels the warrior’s blade preference, with the feeling I have about my cutlery. I collect those weapons that suit me. I think all chefs feel this way. There is no other piece of equipment that translates a chef’s soul, as does his/her favorite knife. That said, one cannot have enough favorite knives in one’s collection, because that soul can express itself through slicing and dicing.

Pertinent example: I have a favorite knife that I use for cutting up home fries and vegetables.It’s the knobby-handled Global, fifth from the left. With that, I make home fries that turn out like this:

But recently, when in my local Sur La Table, I ran across a Wusthof with which I got to practice on a potato – blade and results attached:

I can’t wait to get hold of some potatoes and render them into home fries with this.

So you see, the spirit of the kitchen warrior can manifest itself through many blades. But the soul of the warrior will always pour through the cuts as long as the weapon of choice is suitable to YOU.