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Grilling, or, The Reason Why I’m Glad I’m No Longer In An Apartment

For exactly one year I lived in an apartment in the city. I was a less than a block away from a farmer’s market, three bars, two cafes, one coffee shop, a volleyball court, a park, a bike trail and a convenience store. It was pretty great.

Now I live in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, a nature preserve across the street, the closest business is three miles away and it’s totally cool with me. A big reason why? This thing:

Mmmmm......blackened meat.
Mmmmm……blackened meat.

I love me some charcoal grilling and in an apartment on the second floor, that’s a no-no.

Grilling is one of my favorite ways to spend time. I’m the kind of person that comes home and before they’re even out of their office clothes has a chimney full of coals lit. A nice day to me is just an excuse to stand over some grilled food, tongs in one hand and a drink in the other.

Since this isn’t one of those things where you can have any other opinion other than GRILLING IS AWESOME, I’m gonna share a meal made almost entirely on the grill. Like a lot of my recipes, this one has southwestern influences. Like your food to have some heat? This one will be for you.

    Grilled flat iron steak fajitas, corn salad with guacamole & chipotle aioli.

Tools:
Grill
Cast iron pan
Cheap red wine (for drinking, silly)

Ingredients:

12 tortillas
2.5 lbs flat iron steak
3 ears of corn
2 avocados
5 bell peppers
2 jalapenos
1 red onion
4 limes, zest of two limes
1 lemon
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch cilantro
1 egg
3 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced (usually found in small cans in your grocery store in the international foods aisle. You just need one can)
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp ground chipotle pepper
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning (for the veggies, you can use whatever seasoning you prefer)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 cups olive oil, divided
kosher salt
ground black pepper

See, it's not so many when you really look at it.
See, it’s not so many when you really look at it.

Serves: 6 really hungry people
Total Time: 7 hours

Directions:

1 – Marinade the meat.

In a zip lock gallon bag combine the juice of two limes, the zest of two limes, two cloves of garlic (minced), ground chipotle pepper, 1/2 tsp of salt, a half cup of olive oil and the flat iron steak. Mix it to combine and coat the meat. Put the bag in your refrigerator for no more than six hours.

FAST FORWARD SIX HOURS.

Remove the steak from your fridge, let it sit in the marinated mixture on your kitchen counter and let it come to room temperature. This is important so don’t forget. You don’t want to be grilling cold meat.

If you’re using a charcoal grill, you can light your coals. I use a chimney starter and it usually takes at least 30 minutes to get the coals white. While your coals are getting ready, you can prepare the rest of your meal.

2 – Make the aioli.

There’s a restaurant in my town that serves a grilled tuna sandwich with a chipotle aioli. After having it once, I became obsessed and whenever I visit this place it doesn’t matter what I order, I have to have the chipotle aioli with it.

Thankfully, it’s really easy to replicate at home. You don’t even need to date one of the waitresses and coax the recipe out of them like some people have been known to do from time to time.

In a food processor, add the mustard, one smashed garlic clove, chipotle chiles with one tsp adobo sauce, juice of half a lemon, one egg yolk and a pinch of salt. While you process the mixture, SLOWLY pour 1/2 cup olive oil* into the bowl. This should take multiple minutes. You’ll know you’re finished when you’re left with something that has the consistency of mayo.

If you don’t have a food processor, you can simply use a large mixing bowl instead. Mince the garlic instead of smashing it, and strongly whisk olive oil into the mixture a few drops at a time. If you go this route you don’t have to worry about the calories you’re soon to consume, because you’re about to have a 15 minute workout in your kitchen.

*While we’re on the subject of olive oil, can I simply say that ya’ll need to step your olive oil game up? I cook in many of my friends and relatives’ kitchens, and it’s a lock that I’ll see the same crappy bottle of olive oil that they’ve had for an entire year or more. If you’re a home cook, quality olive oil important. Buy only high quality olive oil, and never keep a bottle (stored in a dark area) more than six months. If your olive oil is older than six months, toss it and go get a new bottle. I like California Olive Ranch, and for the aoili part of the recipe I used their Miller’s Blend for the peppery note.

When your aioli is complete, store it in a covered container in your refrigerator.

3 – Make the guacamole

God, I freaking love guac. I’m not kidding when I say I make at least two batches a week. Often times it’s three. I consider it to be the ALMOST perfect (seriously? The browning?) food. You will never look in my fridge and not find limes, avocados, cilantro (or that cilantro oil paste that comes in the tube [seriously. It’s actually perfect for guac]), red onions and jalapenos.

Making it is quick and easy.

In a medium sized bowl add:

• 1/4th of a red onion, finely diced
• 1/2 jalapeno with the stems and seeds, minced
• 1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped, or one tablespoon of that cilantro paste (no, go ahead and use it, I won’t judge. Seriously, the stuff is great)
• the juice of one lime
• 1/2 tsp ground cumin
• 1/2 tsp kosher salt
• 1/4 tsp black pepper
• 2 avocados

The order here is relatively important. You want to add the avocados last to minimize the exposure to air.

Use a fork (or a mortar, ideally) and mash your ingredients. You want it mixed well, creamy but still a bit chunky.

Put it in a AIR TIGHT container that just barely holds all your guac. Again, less air the better. Into the fridge it goes.

4 – Prepare your veggies.

This step is easy.

Julienne your bell peppers and remaining jalapeno and red onion*. Put them in your cast iron pan, drizzle them with a tablespoon of olive oil, add a pinch of kosher salt and a tablespoon of your favorite seasoning. I like Old Bay so I use that. Toss them around and these are ready.

*Reserve about half a bell pepper and half a jalapeno. Dice these and save them in a bowl. They’re going in your corn salad.

5 – Shuck the corn

Shuck your corn cobs, lightly coat them with olive oil and sprinkle on some kosher salt.  Like almost everything else, you’re going to be grilling your corn. Some people prefer to leave the husk on the corn. I’m not one of those people. I grill them directly over the coals until about 20% of the kernels are good and brown.

IT’S GRILLIN’ TIME, PEOPLE.

Here’s about where you should be at:

Wait for it...
Wait for it…

6 – Grill the corn.

Take a look at a picture of the grilled meat at the top of this post. Notice how I’m using a two-zone grilling setup? That’s what you want. Organize your coals so only one half of the bowl is filled. If you’re using gas, only light half the burners.

Using paper towels coated in olive oil and tongs, wipe the grates with olive oil.

Place the corn on the grates, directly over the coals. You’re going to rotate them every minute or so until the coals start to turn dark. Grilled corn is awesome.

When the corn is done, remove them and cover the grill to let it heat up. Bring them in to cool.

7 – Grill everything else.

Place the steak directly over the coals. Place the cast iron pan with your veggies on the side of the grate without coals. Occasionally toss the veggies with tongs.

After four minutes, flip the steak. Splash the veggies with your remaining half of a lemon and bring them in.

BE CAREFUL WHEN HANDLING THE CAST IRON PAN. I have a pair of industrial work gloves that I use when grilling. Use whatever you can to help you safely move your food around the grill.

After the four minutes are up, your steak should be a nice medium rare. Bring the steak inside.

8 – Tent your steaks in tinfoil.

One step a lot of people skip is they immediately dig in to their steak after grilling. You need to let it rest for a few minutes to retain much of the juices. I usually wrap my steaks in foil to keep them warm.

9 – Mix the rest of your corn salad.

Remember the diced pepper and jalapeño you kept in a bowl? To that bowl you’re going to add your no-longer-hot-but-still-warm grilled corn.

Using a knife, carefully remove the corn kernels by standing the cob up and slicing them off vertically.

Add them to the bowl of diced peppers and jalapeños, along with 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp olive oil, the juice of half a lime and a pinch of kosher salt.

10 – EAT ALL THE FOOD.

YOU'RE DONE. EAT UP.
YOU’RE DONE. EAT UP.
NOTE: The Author does not endorse the use of sour cream. That is his brother.
NOTE: The Author does not endorse the use of sour cream. That is his brother.

On being ‘locked in’.

This will be brief.

On Twitter tonight there was a discussion of whether or not an athlete performing really well for a stretch was something that could be contributed to a guy actually feeling hot.

ESPN’s Keith Law is one of my favorite guys to follow. He gives you sports analysis from a smart, objective take. Tonight, predictably, he came down on the side that hot streaks were a result of normal randomness, citing a lack of evidence to the contrary. MLB pitcher Brandon McCarthy, another really smart guy, came down on the other side. “Feeling hot” or “Locked in” is a legitimate thing that comes and goes and it absolutely affects on the field performance.

The two (and a lot of others) got into a back and forth for a couple hours and looking at it from the outside it felt like mommy and daddy fighting. I want them to agree on everything all the time, but of course that isn’t going to happen. But I thought it was fascinating to watch, the analyst going strick science, the athlete saying he’s wrong but without any kind of irrefutable evidence.

Here’s my own take: being hot exists. Being “dialed in” is absolutely a thing. I don’t know how or why it happens, but there are times where you just feel like failing is impossible. If you’re an athlete and you’ve had a stretch or even just a game where you had the feeling, you’re probably nodding along. I still remember the few occasions it happened to me like they were yesterday. It’s bittersweet; you beat yourself up wondering why you can’t feel like that all time.

Conversely, I know exactly what it feels like to go cold. Baseball was my sport and pitching was what I was best at. But I know the terror of being on the mound and having absolutely no idea where the ball is going to go when you release it. I remember a specific game when my catcher popped out for a mound visit and I had to tell him I basically forgot how to pitch. Right there, that game I went from being an all-conference guy to someone who just picked up a baseball for the first time.

I don’t know why these things happen. The brain is weird.

Chicago: Day 6

This weather can kiss my fucking ass.

My (our) reward for setting up the show and being the grunts for the duration is leaving in the morning on the last day. We get home to EC while the final day of the show is just ending. It feels so goddamn great. I’d have left days ago if I could, so any second spent here is one I’d rather be spent on my couch or in my office. That asshole bitch piece of shit mother-nature had other plans.

We’re stuck here another day and night. That means another day of grunt work, and instead of leaving the take-down to a couple local sales people, they’re heading home and we get the honors. Honestly, though, it’s preferable to driving home to what we thought we were going to. It looks like it’ll be hellish. If I wasn’t going to be able to drive home tonight, an extra day is a small price to pay for not having to worry about losing your life in a fucking blizzard.

***

I don’t like to give off the impression that I like people. My close friends and coworkers know otherwise, but if people think that their presence is bothering you, they don’t start in with stupid conversation to fill time when they’re around you, and I love that. But every once in a while I’ll meet people and it’s pretty great. Today was kind of cool:

• the guy on the barstool next to me while I waited for my dinner takeout. He was in town for the same reason I was, was also from Wisconsin, knew my boss and others I worked with, and holy shit: his cousin was my 7th grade social studies teacher and 8th grade football coach hella many years ago.

• the pretty gal I got to know when we hung out and drank wine on the couches in my hotel lobby while waiting for other people. She, again, was here for the show, was from South Wales, and accents are officially the best.

• and my dumb weekend crush.

This show is conducive to people watching. The overwhelming majority of the time you’re standing around, looking at your phone or laptop or finding some way to keep busy. The men check out the women walking around the floor, the women check out the men AND the women (“She should NOT be wearing that skirt at her age.”) For me that means a couple hours a day I’m cooking and serving. But the rest of the time I’m in a chair in the back on my phone, or out front demoing our products for the public. It’s here where I’m inevitably gonna find myself looking next door at the girl demoing the blender and serving greek yogurt and smoothies.

***

“…a type more Greek than Italian.”

I don’t know why that quote from The Godfather went through my head every time I found myself looking at the beauty next door, but it did. She was setting up when we were and ever since has seemingly had my role: not a salesperson but the one who’s making the food and bringing people into to the booth with demos. I may or may have may not made a comment to my friend Jamie about how she was about the prettiest girl I’d seen this weekend and she more or less shamed me into going over and talking to her. So I did.

She’s from NYC and she’s the video director for her company. She hates her tiny apartment but loves her job. She basically has brown eyes you get lost in because while she’s talking that’s pretty much what happened to me and I can’t remember a whole lot else.

So sticking around another day won’t be so bad.

Dinner:

Where: Mother Hubbard Sports Bar
Kind: Hole in the wall (OR SO I THOUGHT) sports bar
Crowd: Out of town business dudes
Atmosphere: Awesome. May as well be your neighborhood pub
Food: Sausage and pepperoni pizza
Drink: Bulleit Rye old fashioned neat, sweet no fruit; Makers Mark double, neat
Verdict: Pizza was fine but not a place I’d go to again, even if it was EC. HOLY FUCK, THE DRINKS. This is a text-book case of never judge a bar by its cover. Most specialty drinks I’ve come across this week are in the $9-$11 range. My two ran me $30. Holy ish.

I’m blaming the boss; he recommended the place.

You should be watching Archer

If you made your way here via my Twitter feed you already know Archer is probably my favorite thing on TV. It’s brilliant, profane, offensive and the funniest thing on television, and it’s not close.

I was late to Archer. I didn’t start watching on a week to week basis until season three when the first two hit Netflix. I think I watched every episode in two days.

Anyway, I bring this up for two reasons:

1 – A new episode of Archer is on right now, I can’t watch it until later, and my Twitter timeline is blowing up. I closed it to write this post.

2 – Youtube suggested I’d like a video, “Archer – The Best of Pam Pt. 1”. Some national hero went through the first three seasons of Archer and made compilation videos for the best of Pam and Cheryl, two of the show’s best characters (they’re all amazing).

Here’s the 2nd of the three videos. I chose it instead of the 1st because by this time Pam’s become a fully fleshed out character. There’s some spoilerish stuff but it doesn’t matter because all you’ll remember is that Archer is hilarious and you need to watch it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCG6xGGMEwc&w=560&h=315]

Get yourself an immersion blender.

1 – I was really, really late to guacamole because I’ve always been lukewarm on the avocado. I’m a texture guy and it wasn’t until I started making my own guac with a consistency I liked that I really became obsessed.

It actually started last summer. I was watching a food network episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and Michael Symon professed his love for a version of guacamole that had sage, blue cheese and bacon. Blue cheese and bacon? SOLD. I found a copy-cat recipe online, whipped up a double-batch and brought it to a birthday party. It was gone in under an hour and I had a new go-to for ball games and other get togethers. Traditionalists scoffed. I pushed back. How could adding bacon and blue cheese to anything be bad?

That said, there were problems. I often play fast and loose with my ingredients. A dash of this, a pinch of that. That looks like a [tablespoon/cup/ounce]. When playing around with something that had about 15 ingredients, the final outcome never tasted consistent.

The second problem was I finally tried a version that didn’t have all those extra ingredients and it blew me the hell away.

2 – I’ve mentioned a few of my favorite kitchen items in the past, but never the one that I’ve found the most useful in the past year. Immersion blenders are awesome. They’re powerful, versatile, efficient, easy to clean and store. The good ones will replace your regular blender and food processor. You’ll use them when you want to puree sauces or smooth out your soups. For example, when I’m making tortilla soups I like to use whole tomatoes instead of crushed. They go in the pot to cook and I use the immersion blender to smooth everything out.

I bring this up because it also helps make hella good guac.

Like I said, I’m very big on texture and consistency in my food. Sliced or chunky avocado is a non-starter for me. If it’s smooth and creamy? Now I’m on board. It’s with that in mind I give you my method of making quick and easy traditional guac that you’ll end up making all the goddamn time. I sure as shit do.

Ingredients:
2 avocados
1/4 red onion, roughly chopped
1/2 jalapeno
juice of one lime
1 tbsp cilantro
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper

I generally buy double what I need, make a batch on Sunday, saving the onion and jalapeno, and make another in the middle of the week. I go through a lot of this stuff.

1 – Put everything in a bowl:

guac1

2 – And use your awesome immersion blender to mix it until you get the consistency you like:

guac2

I don’t know enough about guac to say whether or not this is normal, but I think this stuff is best the next day (or even the day after that) provided you kept it in an air-tight container. The ingredients have had time to work together and the jalapeno has opened up. It just seems more flavorful.

But yea, I’ll go through two of these batches a week, putting it on sandwiches as a spread, or used as a garnishment for soups. Of course I’ll wolf down a bowl with pretzels. Hell I’ll eat it with a spoon. I brought some to a movie night with friends a couple weeks ago. It went from sitting on the counter to sitting in a friend’s lap as they ate it all. It’s so freaking delicious.

3 – If an immersion blender seems like something you’d find useful, this is the one I have. It comes with a variety of attachments and bowls, including the one above I used to make the guac. I can’t imagine you’ll be disapointed in it.

The best bacon you’ve ever made

I had my dual burner non-stick grill pan for six years, and I’ve used it more than any other tool in the kitchen. I think so much of it I bought ’em for friends and family. It’s quick and easy to clean, it doesn’t warp and it cooks incredibly well. But what I love most about it? It’s a bacon-cooking machine.

I used to suck when it came to frying bacon. It didn’t cook evenly, curled and I would end up with burns from grease spattering. Then, a couple years ago, I started making bacon in the oven on my grill pan, and all it did was easily make the best bacon I’d ever tasted.

After some trial and error I decided this was best method:

(note: oven temps vary. You may have to use a little trial and error too.)

1 – Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

2 – Line your sheet with bacon, either across the grill marks or with them. It doesn’t seem to matter.

bacon1

3 – When the oven is up to temperature (my oven takes about seven minutes), pop it in the oven.

4 – Set your timer to 18 minutes. This is probably the max if you want firm, crispy bacon. I like mine just a shade under this and I’ll generally take the bacon out of the oven with a minute to go.

When you do so it looks like this:

bacon2

5 – Transfer the bacon to paper towels…

bacon3

6 – …and transfer the grease to a mason jar for storage in your fridge.

bacon4

7 – INJEST BACON.

bacon5

When you’re done, wait until the pan is okay to touch and give it a quick cleaning. Since the surface is non-stick the clean-up is a brease.

Pick yourself up one of these awesome little bacon machines here.

Thoughtful writing regarding Newtown

Everyone has weighed in on what happened last Friday in Newtown, and I don’t have any kind of unique perspective or insight. Even if I did, it’s probably been written elsewhere and done-so more eloquently. Here is some excellent reading if you’re so inclined.

• A food blogger across the pond weighs in on her native country.

• Actually, yes, now is the time to talk politics.

• “The people who fight and lobby and legislate to make guns regularly available are complicit in the murder of those children.

• Drew Magary says Down with Big Gun.

All of these should be read, the New Yorker piece in particular. They say all that I want to in a much better way.

Some last minute Thanksgiving advice

Thanksgiving is, without a doubt, my favorite holiday of the year. Next to the NFL draft, it may just be my favorite day, period. As someone whose two favorite things are cooking and sports, of course it is. Many of my favorite meals and memories have come on this day. From the good (virtually every dinner my late grandpa made), to the disastrous (my mom’s first introduction to a convection oven – R.I.P. good turkey that day) to the horrifying (you made duck, aunt Cindy? REALLY?).

But last year’s Thanksgiving was exceptional, a revelation, a masterpiece. It couldn’t have gone any better and left all of us wondering why we hadn’t thought of it earlier and it was because of two words:

Thanksgiving lunch.

As much as I try and help on Thanksgiving, I’m usually pretty useless; my grandpa used to own the kitchen when he cooked and now my mom’s got it handled. I ask what I can do, I get a shrug and and a shoo. Last year was no different with one exception: my mom had enough of daytime cooking and missing all the good football. She got up at the crack of dawn to put the turkey in. She made sides the night before. She started a loaf of bread in the morning and finished the potatoes when the turkey came out. At 11:30 am. Thanksgiving dinner turned into Thanksgiving all-day buffet. And it was AWESOME.

Guys, I know it’s last minute, but if you have the ability to do so I implore you to give it a shot. You’re going to love grabbing that first plate of turkey and stuffing and settling in to watch Houston vs Detroit at 12:30pm ET. THAT’S STILL MORNING FOR MOST OF YOU GUYS.

And then? Have a nap! Have a drink or two!! Before you know it the Patriots will be playing the Jets and it’ll be time for SECONDS (or thirds, ya’ll).

Anyway, it’s been a great year. I’ve got hella amounts to be thankful for. So, with a deep breath (seriously, this is a big deal), I’m gonna share a recipe that’s been the centerpiece of every (good) Thanksgiving I’ve ever been apart of: my grandpa’s dressing.

It’s always the first thing people go for when the meal starts, particularly the stuffing that comes out of the dead bird’s ass. It’s so good. My family may disagree with me, but I like to think my grandpa would want this recipe shared with others. It’s too good to keep in the family.

Dressing – (20 lb turkey)

3 qts bread crumbs
5 cups chopped celery
3 cups diced onion
1 1/2 tbsp sage
3/4 tbsp salt
3/4 tsp white pepper
1.5 cups butter
2.5 cups chicken broth (3 cubes)

Directions:
Melt better & sauté onions and celery in it.
Add spices.
Add to bread crumbs & pour the broth over the top. Mix.

Cool stuffing for at least 3 hours before using to stuff turkey.

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone.

Rachel Maddow is the best

Video pretty much speaks for itself.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVwXA7sHUlE&w=420&h=315]

She’s 100% right, of course. We need Republicans and conservatives to wake up and accept simple things, such as math and science. The country only progresses forward with solutions to serious problems when that happens.

GOP, you’re on the clock.