Don’t you just hate it when virtue has its rewards?

Howdy folks,

Back after another long break.  I’m really not very good at this whole blogging thing.  It’s been pretty rough with everything that’s been going on.  But since my project at work is now largely behind me, I should hopefully be able to spend a bit more time here.

As you might have read in the last post, I took part in a Paleo Food Challenge along with a bunch of people from Village Crossfit.  As I predicted, it wasn’t fun a lot of the time, but I have to say, I was pretty surprised at the results.

I’ll be honest, during that period, I was not very good about making working out a priority.  I was traveling a lot, and I didn’t get my act together to sign up again at Crossfit Mobile (partially because I started working a midnight-noon shift that didn’t jive real well with their class schedule).  Regardless, I should have done more.  However, I was pretty good about sticking to the diet rules.

I think I should probably take this opportunity to share my personal philosophy on paleo.  I figure I follow it about 90%.  I skip the processed food, the cereals, the grains, the dairy, etcetera.  However, I will still use a condiment like ketchup or mustard, and I don’t insist on organic, free range meat.  While I’d believe that eating grass-fed beef is probably better for you, I also would like to spend some of my free time NOT at the grocery store.  Also, when I would go out to eat (as I did a fair amount while working out-of-state), I just could not bring myself to be the guy asking the waitress if the salad dressing contained any canola oil.

Anyway, at the end of this challenge, despite the reduced gym schedule and less healthy food, I still lost 10 pounds.  I couldn’t believe it when I stepped on the scale.  And while I was happy to see that result, I was also a little disappointed.  I guess I was hoping that all this healthy eating was a load of hooey, and that it wouldn’t really make a difference.  Wrong.  Also, when I went on a little binge afterwards (burger, shake, queso, mmmm), my body let me know that it didn’t appreciate the sudden change.

paleo tree

Bonus poster my wife saw at her doctor’s office.  Intense!

So I think that from here on out, I’m going to try to maintain the paleo lifestyle 5-6 days a week.  I may have a beer after a rough Wednesday at work, and I might go to a Thursday happy hour, but I am going to try to maintain the gains I’ve realized.  And to keep me honest, I went and got a body composition test so I can check in a month or two to see if I can still improve.  I’m a huge nerd, so having numbers that I can through into a spreadsheet and create graphs is a huge bonus for me.  Oh, and I’ve also signed up for 5 days a week at the gym for the month of May.  I’m sure it’s gonna hurt, but let’s see where I end up June 1st.

Cheers!

 

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This is not gonna be fun…

Today marks day one of a forty day paleo challenge.  I cannot express how excited I am.  Because I’m not.  My favorite food is pizza, and based on the prohibition of flour and cheese imposed by paleo, I can have a pile of pizza sauce with veggies.  Woohoo.

To be clear, while I plan on following the spirit of paleo, I am not going to follow it to the letter.  My meat will not be organic, grass-fed creatures who were hunted down with sharpened sticks.  Nor am I going to seek out condiments (think ketchup, mustard, etc) that contain nothing but organic veggies and the sweat of angels.  But I am going to avoid grains, dairy, sugar and as much processed food as possible.

I am doing this because while I am pretty good about staying active, my diet is lacking in discipline.  I love pasta, rice, cookies, cheese, pizza, milkshakes, fried food, etc…  Done well, it’s delicious (and let’s face it, mediocre pizza is still pretty good).  But I’ve wondered if I could get better gains if I paired working out (currently a mix of running and Crossfit) with a seriously planned diet.  There’s a certain amount of vanity here, I’ll admit.  I think of the statements “bodies are built in the kitchen, not the gym” and that “gains are 80% diet based” and the like, and while I don’t quite believe it, what’s the harm in looking into it.

A bunch of the other people at Village Crossfit have also bought into this challenge, so hopefully the group as a whole will help keep me honest.  Also, there’s the 1 mile run + 50 burpee penalty for cheating.  So here’s hoping I’ll see some results in April.

Bacon Burgers – The Next Level

Hello everybody,

Look at this!  Two posts within a 6 month period!  I’d better pace myself…

Actually, I’d better pick up the pace of my runs if I want to eat these burgers again.  These are absolutely delicious, but health food they ain’t.  Of course, if you’re looking for something to reward yourself for a new PR or a race finish, these might be right up your ally.

First off, I’m actually going to go off topic and brag a little bit.  Check out the results of my weekend DIY:
IMG_0001bI put in vertical dividers to give myself more storage above the fridge.  Although there was some trial and error (apparently it’s really hard to cut a straight line with a circular saw), it wasn’t too bad.  My inspiration came from here, and the author does a really good job of explaining the process.  I love it!  And it gave me the excuse to buy a few tools, although the fact that using my nail gun for the first time caused me to laugh maniacally is probably pretty strong evidence I should not be allowed to own one.

Anyway, I’m very proud of it, but really the only connection it has to the rest of the post is that it’s where I got the cutting board to chop the bacon.  As I’ve stated before, I love burgers, and this recipe is a doozy.  I made up the proportions, but the idea came from watching an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”.  It’s essentially a burger pan fired in bacon grease, how can you lose?

Bacon Burgers
(serves 2)

  • 1/2 lb ground beef (if you’re feeling decadent, go with 80/20, but feel free to go leaner)
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 strips thick cut bacon
  • cheese (your preference, but there are some big flavors, so I like a nice sharp cheddar)
  • bun of your choosing

As you can see, it’s not too complex a list.  I think the meat should do the talking, and in this case it’s a lovely duet of beef and bacon.  To start off with, add the first four ingredients in a bowl:
IMG_0002Season with 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of salt, but don’t over do it, we’ll be adding some more later.  Break up the beef and thoroughly but gently mix the ingredients.  I like using a disposable glove at this stage, as not only does it help avoid having to constantly wash my hands as I move from one task to another, but since my hands tend to be pretty warm, it helps keep the fat in the mixture from melting and sticking to my hands.

Cut the bacon into a medium dice.  It helps if you put it in the freezer for a brief time to firm it up:
IMG_0006Now comes the one piece of semi-specialized equipment: a ring mold/biscuit cutter (about 3″).  Now, if you don’t have one, don’t fret; you can use something like a tuna can with both ends cut off.  Just watch out for the sharp edges.  Also, buy biscuit cutters.  I like these a lot.  They sat on my wish list for about 2 1/2 years.  Boy I wish I had gotten them sooner.  Anyway, put your ring down on some parchment or wax paper, and press half of the chopped bacon into the mold:
IMG_0010Now take half of the beef mixture and gently press it on top:
IMG_0011It’s a fine line how hard you need to push.  You don’t want a super dense burger puck, but you don’t want it to fall apart either.  Try pushing with your finger flat and held together rather than poking at it.  Then, gently remove the mold (it may help to slowly turn the mold as you do so).  You’ll hopefully end up with something like this:
IMG_0013Beautiful, isn’t it?  Just stand and admire it in all its carnivorous glory.  Now snap out of it and make another one.  When that’s done, cover the meat and put it back in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.  An hour or two would be better.  It’ll help the flavors develop and keep the burger together when cooking.

As for cooking, this get messy, so I’d recommend doing this outside with a cast iron skillet on the grill (you need something to hold the grease).  Don’t forget to put the skillet on when you start the grill to avoid thermal shock issues.  I did 2 out of 3 burners on high for my grill.

Take the burgers out about 15-20 minutes before you slap them on the grill.  Sprinkle some more salt and pepper on the beef.  Now, the burgers are still pretty delicate, so I like to invert them so the bacon side is up, and the beef is on the paper:
IMG_0017This way, I can slap the bacon down on the skillet.  Is your skillet nice and ripping hot?  Let’s get cooking!  As just stated, take the burgers and put them bacon side down in the skillet.
IMG_0018Close the lid and let them cook for about 4 minutes.  Then flip them.  Be careful at this stage.  There’s a LOT of spitting bacon grease, and some bacon may be sticking to the pan.  Use a metal spatula and make sure you get separation from the skillet before you flip.  If the grease has not spread evenly, aim for a nice wet spot to cook the beef side (I did say it wasn’t health food!).
IMG_0021IMG_0022Cook for another 4 minutes on high.  If you want to add cheese (and who doesn’t?) do it about 2 minutes after flipping.  This is also a good time to put your bun cut side down on the upper rack or over the unlit portion of the grill to toast.

Then simply remove from the skillet and place on a bun with your favorite condiments (this would go really nicely with some caramelized onions and garlic).IMG_0026And a quick note on cleaning the skillet: while the grease is still hot (but not spitting), thrown some kosher salt (maybe around 1/4 cup) in the pan and sweep it around.  It will help soak up the grease and help clean the skillet as well.

Enjoy!

Have Crossfit, Will Travel

Good morning everybody.  Again, a long hiatus from blogging, but I’m back!  I can’t believe my last post was back around Thanksgiving.  There’s been a lot going on since then.  My wife and I bought a new house (which we love), and work has been going absolutely bonkers, sending me to Mobile, AL for around 4 weeks, which brings me to the subject of todays post.

One thing I’ve discovered about Crossfit is that it’s quite easy to keep your workout routine going when you travel.  Not as easy as running, where all you need to do is remember your shoes, but from my limited travels since I started doing Crossfit regularly, most gyms are pretty happy to have you drop in.

In both Denver and Mobile, I was able to contact a local gym, and drop in for workout with nothing more than a class fee and signed waiver.  Now of course, you can use the gym provided by most hotels, but those vary wildly in quality, and I’ve never seen serious free weights available (probably a liability thing).

Crossfit Mobile has a really nice facility, and the coaches were very welcoming.  And as strange as it may sound, there was something about doing the warmups and WODs that was comfortable.  Like I wasn’t away from home.  Don’t get me wrong, burpees are still no fun, and squat-snatches should be abolished by law, but there was something about the loud music and clashing of barbels that made me feel like I was back at my home gym, Village Crossfit.

My wife has descibed that for her, it’s comforting to know that as a Catholic, she can go to mass pretty much anywhere in the US, and the format will be close to the same, as will some of the prayers and music.  And she has mentioned that she really likes this, as wherever she goes, there’s her faith to bring her back to something familiar.  Now, I’m not trying to suggest I’ve adopted Crossfit as a religion (although there are often invocations of a higher being, such as “Please God, no more double unders”), but I think I may understand a bit of what she was saying.  The workouts might not be comfortable, but it helps bring you back when you’re away from home.

New Fall Treats!

After a few days of 70° temperatures with 110% humidity, the weather here in Houston has finally decided to act like November.  You know, kind of on the cool side.  Enough that I can break out my favorite sweater (which I rock in true Colorado style with shorts and flip-flops).  I’m actually headed back to the homeland next week for Thanksgiving, and I’m drooling over the upcoming gastronomical extravaganza.

I don’t know about you readers, but one of the things I love about the food at Thanksgiving is the traditional roles family members fill in making it.  My mom always makes the turkey and stuffing (and quite honestly, most of the other food as well), my aunt makes the mince pie, and me, I make the pecan pie and do a lot of dishes.  Although, since getting married, my wife has taken over the pecan pie making (hers is better).  But since I still love to make desserts, I’m now responsible for the Wednesday night treat.  Last year it was a Cranberry Shortbread Tart, and this year I’ve been tasked with making this Bourbon-Caramel Pumpkin Tart.  Oh darn.

Right off the bat, I’m going to preface that this recipe is a bit involved.  But it can be broken out into several stages.  Also, since it needs to chill for at least 4 hours prior to service, it’s a mandatory make-ahead item.  But it’s not all that difficult to make.  I found the biggest pain to be the dead time with the oven.  Do I shut it off?  Leave it on?  You don’t want the oven temp dropping too much, but I don’t want to waste electricity either.  Such problems.

Step 1: The Candied Pumpkin Seeds

These are pretty easy.  Also, pumpkin seeds go by the name “pepitas” if it’s easier to find them that way.  I found these in the bulk dry goods section, where one finds various nuts and grains in dispensing bins.IMG_0846Mix the ingredients together and spread onto some parchment paper.
IMG_0847It’s a little sticky, but not too much trouble.  Then you bake, and they look like this:

IMG_0851Once the sugar hardens, break them into small groups.  I picked up the whole piece of parchment into sort of pouch, and squeezed repeatedly to break them apart.  The hardest part is not eating all of them before you add them to the tart.  These can be stored in an air-tight container up to 24 hours ahead of time.

Step 2: The Crust

The crust is made in the food processor, which is a lot easier than cutting the butter in by hand.  It’s the standard “pulse until resembles coarse meal” deal, and I forgot to take pictures.  But after you put it together, you chill it for 30 minutes before rolling it out.  It’s been awhile since I’ve rolled out pastry dough, and I didn’t do a great job at it.  Even though this recipe doesn’t call for it, I’d recommend you roll it out on wax paper/parchment paper/plastic wrap.  If you are the dough fu master and can roll it out on the “lightly floured surface” they call for, and can lift it into the pan, my hat is off to you.  Mine tore asunder.  But no one was looking (save for the dog), so I just patched it together.  I think it made the crust a bit tough, but that’s why one practices, right?IMG_0852And after baking:IMG_0859

Make sure you dock the crust so it doesn’t puff up too much.

Step 3: The Caramel

Let’s take a look at the ingredients:IMG_0848Butter, brown sugar, bourbon and cream.  What’s not to love?  You melt the butter and sugar, add the cream, and then add the bourbon.  It took longer to make than the recipe called for, but that might also be the stove.  Next time, I would cook it a bit longer, both to get a bit darker color like the recipe showed, and to get a bit better final consistency.  Even after time in the fridge, it was a little soft.  Remember that caramel can be a little tricky.  You don’t want the sugar to burn, but if you overmix, you can end up with a hard, crystalline mess.1D37599C-631E-4215-A044-13254D10C778

I got about a cup of a caramel, and spread about 1/3 of that into the cooled crust:IMG_0862I found the easiest thing to do was to use a combination of spatula and tilting the pan.

Step 4: The Filling

Any filling that starts with cream cheese is ok in my book.35B00D87-61AF-475C-92FA-188FB77D200BYou mix it all together with the paddle attachment and pour into the crust:IMG_0863Then bake until firm and no longer “wet” looking.  It will still jiggle a bit when you shake the pan.IMG_0864

Step 5: Assembly

Phew, hang in there folks, almost there.  Once the filling cools for about an hour, you can assemble the final product.  If needed, heat the caramel in 20 second bursts in the microwave to make it pourable.  Top the filling, and add the pumpkin seeds (if you have any left).IMG_0866And as much as you want it RIGHT NOW, you need to put it back in the fridge for 4-24 hours.  It’ll be worth it.
IMG_0867Just look at that!  It’s definitely a bit different from your average pumpkin pie (not that there’s anything wrong with pumpkin pie).  It’s creamy, rich, and the pumpkin seeds add a nice crunch.  Next time, I would cook the caramel a bit longer, and roll out the crust on something that would allow easier transfer to the pan, but as far a flavor is concerned, it’s a keeper.

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s Peanut Butter Cupcake Time!

Hello folks,

Last weekend, my lovely wife made several types of cookies to take in to her new coworkers, and it made me realize that I haven’t made any kind of dessert in awhile.  Well, we can’t have that now can we?  Luckily, I usually have a few recipes bookmarked that fall squarely in the “sinful” category.  So without further ado, here are some Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes, courtesy of Annie’s Eats.

I apologize that I don’t have photos of all the steps.  In fact, I have nothing at all for the filling.  It’s been so long since I’ve done this that I’m out of practice.  But here’s the dry ingredients:IMG_0779And the various stages of the cake batter:

IMG_0780Mixing away…

IMG_0783Now we start getting to assembly:

IMG_0784To note, I think that this batter would be stretched to make the 24 claimed.  I made 23.  Of course, maybe I just snitched too much dough.  Don’t worry about filling up the cup all the way.  I just made sure to add enough batter to sort of ooze over the peanut butter ball before baking.

And then we move on to the peanut butter cream cheese frosting.  Yeah.  That’s happening.IMG_0785

To frost, I would use a pastry bag, or a ziplock bag with the corner cut off.  I accidentally cut off too much, so it came out kind of in a blob.  Oh darn.

IMG_0816

And here is the finished product.  They were a big hit at work.
IMG_0788

They we’re delicious.  Rich and smooth and not too sweet.  Will definitely make again.

What’s SUP?

Hello avid readers!

Seriously… hello?  Anyone still out there?  Well, I can’t blame you for not hanging around while I do nothing.  Life just seems to get in the way.  Or perhaps I just haven’t been using my time as efficiently as I should.  In any event, I haven’t posted in a long time, but here we go!

This weekend, my wife and I headed down to Bayou Vista, TX for a little Stand Up Paddleboarding (often abbreviated as SUP).  This was her first time, and my second.  I had gone down to the same place a couple of months ago with my friends to give it a shot.  I’ll admit, I was a bit apprehensive to try it.  Last year, I tried surfing for the first time when visiting my sister in San Diego, and it was incredibly difficult.  I think I was able to legitimately “surf” on perhaps two of my attempts, and I feared SUP would be much the same.  Luckily, it wasn’t.

We rented our boards from an establishment called Paddle Monkeys.  For anyone in the Houston or Galveston area, I would recommend them.  It’s run out of a house on one of the inlets.  You have to really look for it or you’ll drive right by.  But after finding it, it was just a matter of signing the paperwork, getting a 5-minute brief on the basics, and off you go.

The inlet is a perfect place to try for the first time because the water is so calm.  This last time, it was like glass.  There’s not a whole to learn about SUP before you try it.  You start out sitting on your knees on the board, and then using your paddle sort of like a walking stick, you stand up.  That’s the trickiest part.  The board will wobble but I think it probably feels worse than it is.  I actually think it’s easier to sort of hop up on both feet at the same time rather than go one at a time.  You get less rocking back and forth as you shift weight.  Then you sort of wiggle your feet out until you have a solid base (or as solid as you think you’re going to get), and you start paddling.

Much like riding a bike, it’s easier once you start moving.  Having some momentum seems to stabilize the board.  Or perhaps it just distracts you.  In any event, we quickly got the hang of paddling, and headed down the inlet.

Now, while Bayou Vista is a good place to try SUP for the first time, it’s now what I would call a scenic destination.  However, in place of scenery, there is a bar (Louis’ Bait Shack) to reward you if you paddle far enough.  We actually went past it a ways, and then came back taking advantage of the current.

Feeling confident in our newfound mastery of SUP, we decided to try out a variation: SUP Yoga.  Now, I have all the flexibility of a tire iron.  I’ll bend, but it takes a lot of coaxing.  And wouldn’t you know it?  I fell off.  And lost my Maui Jim sunglasses in the process.  Now, had I been smart, I would have a) brought a cheap pair of sunglasses that I wouldn’t mind loosing, or b) used one of the floating sunglass straps available at Paddle Monkeys.  The moral of the story: don’t be stupid like me.

Still, it was a good time.  Despite being October, it was probably 90 degrees out, and you work up a sweat paddling.  It does a nice job of working your arms, shoulders and core.  I’d imagine that any sort of destination SUPing would leave you pretty wrung out.  And that’s where the beer comes in.  This place didn’t mind to have two swimsuit clad, dripping (we both fell in attempting yoga) individuals walking in and ordering some beer.  And as we sat outside looking over the water with Shiner in hand, we agreed that there were a lot worse ways to spend an early-autumn Saturday.

CrossFit – The Kool-Aid Is Good

Greeting all!

I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to get around to doing a post about CrossFit.  I’ve been going to Village CrossFit here in Houston since March, and I’ve really enjoyed it.  Then again, given my glacial pace of posting, I suppose it’s not too surprising.  But anyway, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

I was first introduced to CrossFit by my flying instructor several years ago.  When I looked it up, I have to say, I wasn’t impressed.  The workouts looked so short.  I was used to going to the gym for 45 minutes to an hour, and here you were looking at 10, 12, and 15 minute workouts.  So I didn’t give it much thought for a while.

Fast forward to last year.  I went to a free class at CrossFit Hoboken, and I thought I was going to die.  I hadn’t had my body feel that wrung out in years, and the actual workout lasted all of 16 minutes.  Unfortunately, with my work schedule, it wasn’t possible for me to attend on a regular basis.  But I would still occasionally look on the main CrossFit website for inspiration when I felt my workouts were getting stale.

After moving to Houston, I did a quick search for CrossFit gyms, and wouldn’t you know it, there were about 5 gyms within 5 miles.  And there are a whole lot more scattered around Houston.  All of the gyms offered the opportunity to come in for a free class, which I really appreciated.  While all of them seemed nice, Village CrossFit made the strongest impression.  Mostly I spend the day after the free class limping around feeling like I had literally been beaten.
finished-a-crossfit-wo-baby

Seriously.  But apparently I’m one of those stupid people who just heads right back to the abuse (see my posts regarding the CO Tough Mudder and the NJ Tough Mudder).  Oh, and for added stupidity, I attend the 5:00 class.  As in 0500.  As in o-my-god it’s early.

I go the god-awful early class primarily because if I went to an afternoon class, I’d probably end up canceling for both legitimate (had to stay late at work) and non-legitimate (I want to go home and eat cheesy poofs) reasons.  Also, you have to cancel at least 3 hours in advance, so unless I want to get up at 2 am to cancel the class, I gotta go, or I’m out the money.

And speaking of money, I will say this: CrossFit is expensive, but for me, it’s worth it.  I like how I don’t have to think about the workout.  I show up, and someone tells me exactly what I’m going to do.  I also like the small class set up.  Competition fuels performance.  For example, last week, the coach yelled “Don’t let her beat you out the door” while we were doing some SDHPs, so I really poured it on to finish my set before heading out for the 400 m run.  50 feet later I almost collapsed.  I had nothing left in the tank.  I don’t think I can really push myself like that without some help.

Anyway, if you’ve considered trying CrossFit, go for it.  Most places will let you try out a class or two for free, and once you go for a couple of weeks, I’d give better than 50/50 odds you’ll get hooked.  Unless your workout has burpees.  I hate those so much.

Catch you next time.

Cold Brewed Iced Coffee: The No-Sweat Morning Pick-Me-Up

I’m a coffee drinker.  It took me awhile to develop the habit, but I am now well and truly hooked.  In fact, a while back I decided to take a 2 week break from coffee as I felt I was overly addicted.  While at least it’s not to the point that I get a headache or anything when I shut off the coffee intake, I was certainly more zombie-ish in the morning than usual.  And cranky.  So I’ve made peace with my addiction.  When I moved down to Houston and away from my beloved coffee maker, I got myself a Keurig.  I love it.  For one person, I think makes a lot of sense.  It’s so easy, and I like getting to try all the new flavors.  I’m particularly looking forward to seasonal flavors this winter.  Of course, with the heat index breaking 100 degrees here on almost a daily basis, hot coffee has its drawbacks.  Enter iced coffee.

I used to make iced coffee with instant coffee and cold water.  Simple enough, but shockingly bitter.  Then I ran across this recipe for Cold Brew Irish Coffee, which introduced me to the idea of cold brewing.  By the way, if you’re thinking about making the above recipe, I’ll warn you that while it’s good, the end product tastes more like coffee-infused whiskey than whiskey-infused coffee.  It’s strong.  Anyway, cold brewing looked easy enough.  You basically just steep the grounds for a long time at cold temperatures, strain, and you’ve got your coffee concentrate.

Most of the recipes I found for cold brew coffee recommended a 4:1 or 4.5:1 ratio of water to coffee by weight.  Lacking a scale, I went looking for volumetric ratios.  I found a reference to 1:1, but it failed to specify if the coffee is in bean form or grounds.  That said, I decided to try a few ratios.  I just got a bunch of mason jars, which seemed a perfect vessel for my experiments.Iced Coffee - 3 jars

Note: flourescent pink labels are optional, but recommended.

If you can’t read the picture, I went with a 1:1, 1:1.5, and 1:2 ratio of coffee to water.  In each case, I used 1/2 cup of grounds (which by the way, are recommended to be on the coarse side), and the appropriate amount of water. I mixed it up last night, and pulled it out this morning.  Then it was just a matter of filtering out the grounds .  I used a very fancy tool to accomplish this:Iced Coffee - FilterYep, it’s a paper coffee filter in a pint glass.  Oh, and a rubber band.Iced Coffee - FilteringObserver the goodness at the bottom of the glass.  I got 1.5 oz, 4 oz and 6 oz of concentrate from the respective mixes.

Now be warned, this stuff is pretty bitter.  If that’s how you like your coffee, by all means, down the hatch.  For most people however, this is the time to dilute with some ice-cold water.  I’d start with a 1:2 ratio of concentrate to water, and then adjust it your tastes.  I think my go-to mix will use the 1:2 ratio to make the concentrate, and then dilute 1:1 with water.  But I’d encourage you to find what works for you.  I think that this morning I ended up drinking about 6 cups of coffee (or 3x my normal).  But it was for science.  And I’ve got another couple batches steeping.  One is my new normal, and one is that plus some vanilla extract.  We’ll see how it turns out.

Iced Coffee - End ProductFor the hard-core enthusiast, you can even make the cubes out of coffee so as not to dilute the flavor. 

For those of you who like iced coffee, I think this is just as good as anything you find at a coffee chain.  And while I haven’t run the numbers, I’m guessing it’s a lot cheaper.  So enjoy your caffeine fix without the heat until the weather turns back to the cool side.  Which around here might be December.

 

Summer Cooking – Grilled Pork Loin Chops

Hello all,

I wish I could say that my absence is due to the fact that I was called away to perform a functionality audit of a top secret facility housing dinosaurs, but that’s just not the case.  Anyway, I’m back!

One thing that I miss here at my new digs is easy access to a grill.  I love grilling.  The food is incredibly varied, and I do believe there is something satisfying about the nature of cooking food over flame.  It’s very caveman.  I also love that there are no dishes to clean, and how in the summer, it keep excess heat from inside your home.  I grew up grilling year round, and it would always confuse when people thought it was odd that I was out grilling chicken or steak while it was snowing.  You just have to be a little more vigilant in how you rest the meat, but otherwise it’s no different than cooking on the 4th of July.  To be honest, when I moved to my first apartment after college, I was kind of stumped on how to do a simple preparation of chicken without a grill.

Anyway, here in Houston, I am not allowed to have a grill on my apartment’s deck.  Some fire code nonsense.  There are several charcoal grills scattered around the complex however, so I’ve been using those.  Now, I’m sure there are plenty of grill aficionados out there that will disagree with me on this, but I have to say: charcoal is stupid.

I don’t like charcoal.  I don’t like the time it takes to prepare it, I don’t like maintaining the fire, and I dislike the lack of control.  Gas/propane is so much easier, and quite frankly, I see no difference in the taste.  Now, if we are talking barbecue (which I learned in college here in Texas is something VERY different from grilling), I see the logic of charcoal (sort of). But at that point, you are cooking with the smoke, not from the heat of the combustible fuel, but I digress.  Some people out there will say that it’s just because I lack the skill to prepare and maintain a multi level fire, and that charcoal is just as good or better than gas for all things grilling.  Perhaps I do lack the skill.  Or perhaps I just want to be able to walk outside, turn some knobs and hit a button, and be rewarded with controllable heat that I don’t have to shovel around like a 19th century stoker.  But in any case, I’m dealing with it, although as you can tell from the rant above, not exactly gracefully.

Summer Cooking - Grill KitThis is my grilling kit.  I throw everything I can into a big Tupperware container to make it easier to haul things to the grill.  At any given time, it has charcoal, newspaper, chimney starter (not pictured) and lighter inside.  And then there is enough room to throw in any meal-specific items like tongs, spatula, the food itself (little Tupperware containers are your friends) and, of course, beer.  Beer just tastes better with flame nearby.

Summer Cooking - Chimney StarterHere’s my chimney starter.  Great invention.  If you are forced to grill with charcoal, I’d recommend coughing up the $20 to get one.  It makes the process a lot easier.  Basically you fill the thing with charcoal (I like the natural lump charcoal because I think it starts faster and lacks the chemical tang of Kingsford, although I must admit I smile every time I smell said tang in the air at the beginning of summer), stuff newspaper in the bottom cavity (it works better if you spritz the newspaper with cooking oil – Thanks Alton Brown!), and light the newspaper.  You should have usable heat in about 15 minutes.

 

Summer Cooking - Chimney Starter LitOooo….fire…..

Shake out the coals and arrange as you see fit.  Be careful not to burn yourself.  I’ve singed off more hair than I care to remember.

I did one of my Costco runs today to restock my freeze.  I get a bunch of steak, chicken, pork and whatever else looks good, and then I spend an hour or so cleaning and prepping all of it.  It’s a pain to trim the fat off 5-10 steaks, and then 4 pork tenderloin, and then a dozen lamb chops, and then blah blah blah… but it’s worth it.  All I have to do is grab the item out of the freezer, put it in the fridge, and 24-36 hours I have a thawed piece ready for cooking that I don’t have to bother with trimming or portioning on a weeknight.

Anyway, I picked up some pork loin chops.  These are pretty lean, and they have a reputation for drying out quickly, so I decided to go for a quick brine to try to infuse some more moisture.  To be honest, the amount of time they were in the brine (about 90 minutes) is probably not enough to really give them an infusion, but alas, I failed to plan appropriately.  It’s been a long week.  Here’s what went into it

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup watered down bourbon (this can be found the morning after you’ve had friends over when you didn’t feel like cleaning up the night before)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

I’d recommend upping all the spices (but not the salt).  It imparted some flavor, but it needed a good deal more.  Mix it all up in a container big enough to hold it and the meat you plan to brine.  Add the meat, and let brine for 1-24 hours.

Summer Cooking - Brining

For the cooking, I went 5 minutes per side over direct heat on the grill, then 5 minutes on indirect heat, and then a 5 minute rest for 20 minutes totally.  I would give you a low-med-high setting for the heat but alas, charcoal doesn’t come with settings.

Summer Cooking - Loin ChopsGrilling away over indeterminate heat.

Summer Cooking - BeerI cannot stress enough that beer makes grilling better.  In fact, it makes damn near everything better.

The pork was nice and juicy, but as I mentioned before, needed more assertive flavors.  It probably would have benefitted from some more acidic components as well.  I’ll know for next time.

I hope to be updating a bit more frequently, and to hopefully guilt myself into writing another post, tune in tomorrow for a grilled dessert!