Let me start by saying I love cookbooks. I will sit and leaf through cookbooks for hours, especially if there are pictures involved- plotting, planning meals and generally getting stoked on food. I have no qualms about taking on complex recipes, they are a fantastically fun challenge to me. That is the lure of cooking in my eyes, the discovery of new and different flavors and combinations. I relish in the creativity, ingredients and process of meals that consume my afternoons. One of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday is with my husband, chopping vegetables, sipping champagne, cooking something tasty and chatting. It's relaxing to me. In fact, I become quite an anxious girl if I'm NOT doing something in the kitchen. Even more fun is when we find the time to fire up the barbecue and have a few friends over to enjoy the sunny weather, great conversation and, of course, some darn good food.
Speaking of all things BBQ, charcoal, wood chip and grill...
I was recently sent a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Smoking Foods to read, review and enjoy. It is written by Chef Ted Reader, a man GQ Magazine describes as such:
"His pyrotechnic charm and fearless culinary spirit makes Ted Reader the Crazy Canuck Barbecue Kingpin"
Wowza. Now that's got to mean this guy knows what he's talking about right? Right!
I'll admit, I was a little taken aback by the thought of actually attempting to smoke something myself, but I finally mustered up the lady courage to give it a fighting try. This book is a great introduction to smoking foods, both on a small and grand scale. The recipes are easy to follow, clearly described and ridiculously mouth watering- LITERALLY. As I was reading through it I started to salivate at the thought of "Prime Rib with Whiskey Mist & Hot Horseradish Mustard" and "Georgia Peach-Dunked Smoked Chicken Thighs with Potato Chip Crust." Or how about the "Smoked Lamb Ribs with Garlic Ginger Lemon Soy Baste" that is slowly, seductively cooked for 5 hours? This cookbook/users manual/encyclopedia of knowledge is chalk full of great tips, techniques and food ideas, all based around the Art of Smoking.
Ok, first off... Smoking is the process of flavoring, cooking, or preserving food by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering plant materials- most commonly wood. Sounds easy enough. As Reader puts it, "Many people out there are under the impression that smoking is a lot harder than it actually is." This is true. At first I thought to myself, good gracious, how am I going to do this? But after reading chapter 2, Smokers and How They Work, I felt a little more at ease with my capabilities. The act of smoking food is almost as old as time, why shouldn't I be able to figure it out?
After learning about the different types of smokers that are on the market, Reader's information made it clear that I am a "Novice". A backyard enthusiast, a weekend warrior, a damsel of indirect heat. For my type, someone just beginning to explore the radical realm of smoke, Reader recommends the charcoal kettle grill technique. I roll the Weber out onto the patio enthusiastically and get my tongs ready.
"Smoking in one of these units is accomplished by using indirect heat; charcoal is placed on one side and food on the other side... A water pan needs to be placed to one side of the lower grate (charcoal tray); disposable aluminum pans from the supermarket work well. The water pan serves two purposes: it catches meat drippings and adds humidity to the cooking chamber. Hot charcoal is placed in the kettle next to the water pan and the temperature is controlled using the air vents on the kettle's base and lid... Smoke production is achieved by using good-quality hardwood lump or briquette."
It's actually really quite simple. Reader's descriptions, directions and tips make smoking a snap. He thoughtfully explains each step of the process, often with a sense of humor that everyone can appreciate. He shares very useful information on all different styles of smoker units, opinions on what type of woods and charcoal to use, safety advice, problem-solving and some really great food preparation tidbits that come in handy. I really enjoyed chapter 7- Brines, Marinades and Cures for it's incredibly useful info on the do's and don'ts of marinating. Especially learning that "keeping meat in a marinade longer isn't going to help-- it's actually going to make it worse." Who knew? I always thought the more the better, but that is not the case because at a certain point the marinade draws out the moisture from the meat, creating a tough and grainy texture. It's little educational gems like this one that make The Complete Idiot's Guide to Smoking Foods such a great investment for anyone that's interested in becoming a smoking pro.
Some of the additional topics included in the contents of this BBQ master's book: A Brief History of Smoking, The Current Smoking Craze, Smokers and How They Work, Fuel + Wood = Smoky Deliciousness, Ted's 10 Commandments for Smoking Foods and Layering the Flavor. Also, there are pages and pages of recipes for everything from BBQ sauces to Smoked Macaroni-n-Cheese.
As a highlight, I'd like to point out that the last chapter, Weird and Wonderful, made me a very happy lil' smoker. Reader includes some his wackiest and wild smoker recipes that are, indeed, wonderful. The "Pulled Pork and Cheese ABT's" (Atomic Buffalo Turd) may sound a bit odd, but it's a scrumptious jalapeno stuffed with cheese and wrapped with bacon- yum!! My husband would love the "Smoked Fois Gras Terrine" which is cold-smoked over oak, a rich buttery delight. And then there's the "Smoked Ice Martini", a concoction that contains smoked frozen ice cubes and a bacon garnish. Yes, you heard me, smoked ice. Last but not least we have the "PB&J Plank-Smoked Twinkies with Chocolate-Marshmallow Topping, a surefire hit for every lil' smoker at heart. As Reader states, "Be sure to make extra-- most people can't stop after just one!"
Overall I've learned a lot by reading The Complete Idiot's Guide to Smoking Foods. Ted Reader has done a great job of blending his passion with fun and useful information, opening the door to backyard enthusiasts everywhere to try smoking something, anything! At this moment, I find myself prepping for tonight's meal, a recipe from Reader: "Smoked Prime Rib Demi-Glace Burgers with Smoked Garlic and Onions." As a surprise to the hubby I've gathered all of my ingredients, got the charcoal kettle going and will soon enough (patience, Reader says, patience...) be munching on this outstanding smoked smile inducer.
Thank you, Chef Ted Reader, for teaching this gal how to get Smokin'.
(photos and recipe to follow in next post- this burger needs an entire article to itself!)