Summer Favorites

If you are a regular reader of this blog, thank you.  Sometimes my daily or weekly food projects aren’t much more complicated than “hey, I smoked this tasty chicken,” so I don’t always do a full blog post on everything I make. I do not post often enough, so I thought I would remedy that by sharing with you some of the foods that have been pleasing crowds at Casa de Starbright all spring and summer long.

Also, if you are so inclined, I encourage you to check the links on the right of this page and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, which are updated far more often.

First up is the old standby: beer-can chicken. I do this all the time. It takes only a couple of hours to smoke, and every time it’s perfectly juicy and tender. if you have a vertical smoker like I do, you don’t even need one of those fancy racks … just manipulate an empty aluminum can snugly into the inside the bird, make sure you can see the tab through the top (see picture below) and then when you set the whole thing on your smoker you can work the chicken’s legs around so it’s sitting up on the can. Then you fill up the can with the liquid of your choice (pretty much anything except really strong liquor as that will just be a fire hazard), coat the outside with a dry rub and a bit of oil, and smoke it til the internal temperature is at least 160.

beer can chicken

This is the chicken I smoked on the Fourth of July, alongside a homemade pastrami brisket (just a corned beef brisket coated in brown sugar, black pepper, coriander and paprika, and then smoked), and a foil packet full of garlic, onions and other items.

I usually have a packet of something random smoking alongside of my meat. If I have a few extra cloves of garlic or jalapeno peppers, those will always get smoked. Sometimes if I have a huge surplus of onions or other fruits I will smoke those for a BBQ sauce, and sometimes I will also smoke the sauce ingredients with the meat the sauce will be used on, which is always delicious.

Here, I smoked a nice rack of baby back ribs … this is the “after” photo when they came off of the smoker, and before smoking they only had a very basic dry rub. On the top rack of the smoker I had a few small foil packets, containing red onions, whole heads of garlic, and two ripe peaches.

baby back ribs

After about an hour I took the fruit, onions and garlic off the smoker, and put it all in a pot on the stove with a large can (14 oz.) of crushed tomatoes, 2 cups apple cider vinegar, 2 tbsp. kosher salt, 2 tbsp. brown sugar, and 1 tbsp. each of black pepper, oregano, paprika, cumin and chipotle chili powder. The smoked peaches and onions had the same smoky flavor as the ribs, so it wasn’t too sweet, and the sauce complimented the meat perfectly.

ribs with peach BBQ sauce

And a couple of days later on some BBQ chicken breasts, served with roasted corn and some warm greens.

peach BBQ sauce with chicken

Of course, one cannot forget the cocktails! Homemade tepache is getting to be one of my favorites … it’s so simple, it’s delicious and unique … and it impresses the hell out of your friends when you tell them you just made your own alcohol.

tepache

Check out my first blog post here about tepache, back when I was just discovering it, but know that this is just as adaptable as any fermented drink like beer or kefir … adapt it to your tastes and style. I’ve tried it with a whole pineapple (you can re-use that boozy fruit later) or just the core and peel, and I’ve also added whole peaches to the mix. Te-peach-e is definitely something you should try.

I’ve also tried making it in my Korean fermenting crock, and lately with my new Farmcurious airlock cap set (see below), and if you are into fermenting at all, I would definitely recommend one of these cap sets. It makes fermenting anything really simple.

tepache fermenting

Of course man cannot live by meat and boozy fruit alone, so we must also make somewhat healthy snacks. I guess. Sorta healthy. It has fruit in it.

I subscribe to a number of websites wherein people send me samples of things. Like, all the time. At any given moment I have no less than a dozen sauces, glazes, toppings, jams, jellies, pickles, and various other things in jars, most of which I have not made myself. One of those jars happened to contain a salted caramel sauce for desserts, so I decided to see what it could do with some grilled fruit.

Grilled fruit skewers

Pineapples and blueberries happened to be both ripe and in my kitchen, plus a single slightly underripe peach. They made very lovely skewers, and were topped with the salted caramel glaze right at the end for a little extra sweetness. It was perfect.

Grilled pineapple and blueberry skewers

I also got to enjoy a number of awesome food festivals so far this summer, including a Greek festival  … where I may or may not have bought a hunk of homemade feta cheese the size of my head. There were no witnesses who are talking. However, I did entertain my guests with many, many, many feta cheese dishes for the next few days, including this  … well, can you even call this a “recipe” or a “dish”?

Slice a watermelon. Crumble some really good feta on top. The end.

watermelon feta

Seriously, that’s really all there is to it, and I could totally eat that entire plate right there. The slightly salty flavor of the feta is so perfect with the melon. I have also seen a number of variations on this dish, but all of them seem way too complicated to me. One called for freezing the slices of feta, then coating them in breadcrumbs and frying them, then serving those fried cheese squares in the most picturesque, Pinterest-worthy plating with the perfectly molded hunks of watermelon you’ve ever seen.

However I am a simple girl. Like my adorable niece right here. All she needs is some fruit to match her outfit, and look at that smile! She doesn’t even need the cheese! (But don’t omit the cheese unless you are also a baby.)

Moxie

This summer, I also started cooking with orzo for the first time, and I think it is going to be my go-to starch for cold salads from now on. Orzo is actually made of barley, so it’s extremely healthy for you. It also cooks up in no time, chills really quickly, too, and then takes whatever flavor you give it. And it holds its own with hearty veggies. What more can you ask for?

Orzo salad

This tasty salad is a 1-lb packet of orzo, boiled about 6 minutes in salted water, then cooled, and tossed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, green peas, diced carrot, sautéed yellow squash, sliced red onion, and bits of leftover pastrami.

Summer grilling experiments

I have a fantastic outdoor cooking system that grills and smokes over charcoal or propane heat. That means I have great ways to cook almost anything. In addition to the posts I have already shared with you, where I discovered the ease of making my own delicious nitrate-free bacon and impeccable home-smoked pastrami, I played around with a few other great recipes this summer.

One of my favorite smoker recipes is a beer-can chicken, and I have made them several different ways. They’re great with any type of beer, but they’re also very good with any liquid inside that beer can. I made a sangria chicken, which was tasty but red wine isn’t a very strong flavor compared to the wood smoke and chicken so the flavor wasn’t very strong; as well as a mimosa chicken with chardonnay and orange juice. But by far the best beer-can chicken I’ve made so far was with teriyaki sauce and pineapple juice in the can, and sliced pineapples stuck to the outside of the bird. Fantastic!

The next time I made a beer-can chicken, I just added coarsely-ground kona coffee to the beer (in the can) and stuck bacon slices on the outside of the chickens. The coffee actually brewed inside of the cans! That was a great one.

Another excellent recipe is poulet yassa, a wonderful Sengalese/ West African chicken dish made by marinating the chicken in lemon juice, mustard (it’s better when you use your own homemade mustard), oil, onions, vinegar, chili peppers and other spices. Try this easy recipe here, then grill it or cook it in a stovetop skillet.

Of course, summertime grilling doesn’t have to be all about meat. Dry-roasted corn is one of the best party snacks you can make, and it’s as easy as stripping the fine hairs from between the corn and the husk and placing the ears directly on the grill. Watch it carefully for flame-ups, and then consume as a healthy snack or as an ingredient in a fabulous corn dish like this one.

For an impromptu cookout, my favorite way to add flavor and pizzazz to regular veggies (like asparagus and portabella mushrooms) is to just add a little salad dressing, preferably a homemade vinaigrette. I also like to experiment with the variety of sauces and savory jams that I always seem to have in my refrigerator, and add them to plain ol’ chicken breast.

Mimosa-mesquite smoked chicken

I’ve been experimenting with the concept of beer-can smoked chickens lately, because they’re delicious and easy to make, plus they provide for an extremely tasty stock once the tender, moist meat is all gone.

The idea is basically to oil and season the outside of the chicken, then sit it upright, stick a beer can up its you-know-what, and sit it vertically on a smoker while the liquid inside the can keeps the meat and the inside of the bird nice and moist. It’s excellent when made with beer (although ironically, it’s better with a cheap, domestic Bud Light sort of beer than it is with a dark and strong Guinness type), and it’s delicious with a sweet fruit juice, so I decided to combine the two ideas and use a more concentrated orange juice with a cheap chardonnay.

I found that the easiest way to prepare the chicken is to sit it on top of the beer can (in this case, an empty one), then season and oil the outside of the chicken. Once the chicken has been moved to the smoker, you can add the mimosa mixture or other liquid through the top of the cavity — you’ll actually be able to look inside the top of the chicken and see the beer can inside.

I smoked it over soaked mesquite wood chips, for 3-4 hours or until the chicken has reached an internal temperature of at least 165. Once the bird is cooked, it’s best to let it rest (put it in a big pot and cover with foil) to let the juices redistribute.

The meat is EXTREMELY tender and juicy. Plus, once the chicken has been picked clean of the meat, the carcass will make a smoky and delicious stock. I just put the whole carcass in a crock pot (or in a gallon-size freezer bag to make into stock at a later time), cover it with water and a few spices, and let it simmer until all of the meat has come off of the bones. This is an excellent way to use any chicken or turkey carcass, and it’s even better when the meat has been smoked!

beer can chicken recipe card