Monday, September 5, 2011

The times they are a changing..........

Sometimes life just gets in the way of things you want to do. This blog is a fine example of that. I enjoy writing my musings, observations, etc. However, the demands of work, family and life always seem to get in the way. I really long for the days when people could stop and take time to smell the roses. I'm not sure, exactly, when it happened but the times have changed and not necessarily for the better.

Gone are the days when you had an extra hour or two to do whatever you wanted. I remember when I could go fishing for a day and not feel guilty about it. Maybe it's the demands that a family and work life put on you. Gone (for me, at least) are a simple 40 hour work week. If I put in less than 50 per week, I feel like a lucky man. But even when I work 50 hours per week, there's still football practice for my son and soccer practice for my daughter (I got talked into coaching the team this year which is another blog entry altogether about coaching 15 girls under the age of 12). Add to all of that the demands of being a husband and work around the house and it's amazing I still have time to read a book.

Sadly, I don't have an answer on how to change this. Maybe we can't. But it doesn't mean we can't long for the good old days where we had time to enjoy friends and family, because in the end, that's all you'll be left with. They don't put luggage racks on a hearse. Enjoy the ones you're with. They won't be there forever.

I want to give a special shout out to a good buddy of mine, Tim. Today is his birthday and again, because life gets in the way, I can't be there to share it with him. But, he's one of my best friends and no matter where I go, I always cherish his friendship. He'll give you the shirt off his back and never ask for it in return. Happy Birthday, Old Buddy. One day, you and I will hit the road on the BBQ circuit. Just not today because as always, life gets in the way.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Maple Brined Smoked Turkey

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year. It's hunting season and eating season and I can do those two things with the best of them. Truth be told, I'm getting to the point where I'd rather make something than eat something and derive more pleasure from the compliments of those who eat the food I make than i do from eating the food I make. So, I was tasked to make the Thanksgiving turkey for the family this year. Oven-basted turkeys are fine and quite frankly, deep fried turkeys are fine as well but most everybody is doing those these days. I like to try and give them something different and smoking fits that bill.

One of the keys, in my opinion, in making a truly succulent, moist turkey is the act of brining the bird. Many do not use this step as most store-bought birds are already injected with a brine solution. I prefer not to use those birds but to buy birds without any brine and do it myself. This year, I wanted to go with maple. My good friends, Deb and Kent, gave me a large container of New Hampshire Grade A Maple Syrup, so I decided this year we'd go with a Maple Brine for the turkey. Here's the recipe I used for the brine:

1 gallon of cold water (or more depending on the size of your bird)
1 1/2 cups of kosher salt
1/4 cup coarse black pepper
8 cloves garlic, minced (the original recipe called for 1 1/2 TBS garlic powder but I always like to used fresh garlic whenever possible; I believe the taste is better)
1/4 small onion, minced (again, the original recipe called for 1/2 TBS onion powder but I like the real thing whenever I can)
2 cups pure Grade A maple syrup (the original recipe called for 1/2 oz maple extract; see above on why I use the real stuff)
2-3 bay leaves
2 cloves (or if ground, use to taste)

I simply put this all together in a container that will hold this and the bird. Prior to putting the bird in the brine, stir it up until the salt is dissolved in the water. Then you simply put the bird in the solution, making sure that the entire bird is submerged in the brine. You may need to use a heavy dish to keep the bird submerged but the key is making sure the entire bird is submerged. You can do one of two things at this point. If you have a container that is large enough to hold the brine and the bird and a refrigerator large enough to hold this, simply place the bird and brine in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours. If you're like me, you have too much stuff in your refrigerator already. I simply use a cooler large enough to hold the bird and brine and then dump a bunch of ice into the brine. This keeps the bird plenty cold enough to hold it for the 12 hour brining period without any fear of having the bird come down with any nasty organisms.

Once the 12 hour brining period is over, you'll want to thoroughly rinse the bird as well as pat it dry both inside and out. If you have the time, I like to air dry the bird as well for a 8-12 hour period inside the refrigerator. I simply place the bird on a rack and place the bird in the refrigerator. I feel like this helps the skin get crispy when being cooked and this helps with that as the smoking process will make the skin rubbery. Another step I like to do is to place pats of butter and some simple spices under the skin of the bird. The key is to add spices that will compliment your brine.

After you have your bird ready for the smoker, I like to get a piece of cheesecloth that is large enough to cover the bird and then soak it in melted butter. If I know that people also like some spice with their smoke, I like to take 1/4-1/2 cup of tabasco sauce and mix it with the melted butter. Simply take the butter-soaked cheesecloth and drape it over the entire bird. This also works well to keep the skin of the bird crisp as well as add an additional flavor to the bird. I'm also a fan of placing bacon strips over the bird prior to draping it with the cheesecloth. In all reality, we're only limited by our imagination on what we can do to spice up a traditional turkey.

After I've put the amount of smoke that I desire on the bird, I simply remove from the smoker and place in a 325F oven to finish getting the bird to temperature (I take mine to 170F as measured in the thigh of the bird). This last step also serves well to finish crisping up the skin as I enjoy the skin as much as the meat. When you're done, you should find your bird will look just like any bird, but it will have a myriad of flavors that just can't be matched by simply placing it in the oven.

Now, I received many praises from the people who'd never had a home-smoked turkey but it was because of the moistness of the bird. They told me that they were hesitant at first because they believed the smoking process would dry out the bird. To be honest, I believe the brining process will lead you to make the most moist bird you've ever made. I've oven-basted, deep-fried and smoked turkeys and I would have to say that a brined, smoked bird will be as moist or more moist than any bird you've ever had. And even if you're not going to smoke your bird, I highly recommend brining your own bird. The taste dimension it adds will make you top turkey in your clan.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My favorite time of the year

I think if I was pressed to say what my favorite time of the year would be, I'd go with fall. Now, there's something to be said for spring because of the rejuvenation that occurs after winter. But, with fall, there are so many of my favorite things. Fall starts with the turning of the leaves, the beginning of football season and the fishing is excellent. However, the coupe de gras for fall for me is hunting. There is nothing I enjoy more than being out scouting some land or sitting in a tree stand with bow or gun in hand. Some of my best hunts have occurred when no game was taken. Being able to watch nature unfold around you with the animals unaware of your presence can be an extremely satisfying event. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all about harvesting animals because my family uses them for sustenance and there's nothing better than homemade venison sausage, jerky or steaks. If I can get a trophy to mount on the wall, that's an added bonus.

Unfortunately, due to moving from Indiana to Michigan this year, I was unable to bowhunt (which if I had to give up all other forms of hunting to do, I'd gladly do it). But, I am able to deer hunt this year during the gun season and will go out with my trusty muzzleloader. My wife's relatives have some land and so I was able to do some scouting before placing the treestands up with a buddy. Here are some of the sights I saw:

These rubs are located on a major deer path between the woods where the treestands are located and the bedding area the deer are using. When I saw these I figured there might be a decent deer in the area. I KNEW there was a real nice buck in the area when I saw this one:

Whether I harvest a large buck or not, I'm so looking forward to November 15th. There is no better time to be in the woods and I don't plan on missing out.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

May God Bless...........

My thoughts go out to all of those affected by the shooting at Fort Hood. May God be with those who were tragically taken from their families as well as those who were injured. My condolences go out to all affected.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 to catch, great to smoke

So, you've caught some salmon or perhaps found a great deal on them at the supermarket. Now, you've got to decide how to prepare them. There are many great ways to prepare salmon but I like smoked salmon the best for a couple of reasons. First, everything just tastes better smoked. Secondly, smoking salmon allows for a much greater ability to share with your friends and to do it over a long period of time. This method freezes extremely well and I think eating previously frozen smoked salmon actually makes this smoked salmon even better as it gives the smoke time to move throughout the fish and mix with the oils of the fish to provide an incredible smoke flavor in the fish.

I cannot take credit for this recipe (as much as I'd like to). This recipe comes from a friend in Alaska that I met on the Bradley Smoker forum. One of the things on my bucket list is to join him up in Alaska, catch some salmon up there and make this recipe with fresh Alaskan salmon. In the interim, I'll just have to continue making it with Lake Michigan salmon.

Now that you've caught your salmon, how do we go about preparing it for the smoke? You can smoke the fish whole if you desire or you can give this a try. I like this method quite a bit because it allows people to eat it without having to mess with the entire fish. First, you'll need to fillet the fish (if you've bought the fish at the grocery store, chances are you've bought it already filleted.

Now, if your trays in your smoker are large enough to handle the fillets, you could definitely smoke the fillets in this state and you'll still have some great smoked salmon. I like to take it a step further to make it easier to get as little or as much as a person would like. Additionally, I like to leave the skin on the fish while smoking but this is not a necessity. If you do leave it on, make sure you scale the fillets or you'll have scales on the meat. While this won't ruin the meat, why deal with scales if you don't have to? Also, you'll want to take the time to get as many bones out as you can as there is nothing worse than having to remove bones while you're eating the fish. The bones are large in this fish and are easily removed. I use my wife's eyebrow pluckers (when she's not looking anyways) and they're easily removed. Most salmon bought at the grocery store is usually de-boned as well.

Here's how I cut up the salmon:

I try to cut up the salmon in strips around 1/2" wide but it isn't an exact science. I just do it this way for ease of eating. You can cut it up anyway you'd desire and still have an excellent product. I leave the skin on because I believe the meat will stay more firm in this state but again, if the skin's not on, you'll still be fine. Now that you've gotten the fish in the form you'd like to smoke it in, you're going to need the ingredients for the brine. This recipe calls for very basic ingredients. Here's what you'll need for this recipe:

1 gallon cold water
1 quart teriyaki or soy sauce (sometimes I feel a little dicey and go 1/2 teriyaki and 1/2 soy)
1 cup pickling salt
2 Lbs brown sugar
2 Tbsp garlic powder
3 Tbsp cayenne pepper

Now, you can add whatever spices you think will add to the flavor of the fish. I've found that 3 Tbsp of cayenne gives it enough kick to satisfy my taste but not too much that the kids won't eat it. Sometimes, I'll leave the cayenne out and add some diced jalapenos for the heat. You're only limited by your imagination on what you can add to this to make it your "special" recipe.

Take your ingredients and place them in a container large enough to handle the fish and the brine. I like to mix up the brine with a handheld electric mixer because it can take a while for this to mix well in the cold water. Once you've got the brine mixed up, simply place the fish in with the brine like so:

After you've got the fish in the brine, you want to let it sit in the brine from 12-24 hours. I usually try to time it so it sits in the brine from 12-18 hours. I then like to place a plate or some other item on top of the fish so that it ensures the fish is completely submerged in the brine. I'll then put the fish into the refrigerator (She Who Should Be Obeyed mandates that I use a different refrigerator than the one in the kitchen) and let it sit soaking up the brine. You can also put the fish in a cooler with the brine and add ice to keep it cold if you desire.

When the designated time you've decided to soak the fish in the brine has come, you'll want to pull the fish out of the brine and have it sit so that it forms a pellicle. This is really nothing more than a glossy shine and the fish will feel tacky on touch. Sometimes my fish will get a pellicle that is easily discernible and sometimes it won't. Generally, this process takes anywhere from 2-4 hours. I simply place the fish on a drying rack and then will turn the fish over a couple of times to help with the process. You want to avoid the pieces touching if you can as this will help with the pellicle forming process. You can also use a fan to aid in the drying process if you desire. The only thing to be concerned about at this point is that the fish isn't in warmer temps so long as to spoil the fish.

Once the pellicle forms and you're ready to start the smoking process, follow this procedure with the smoke rolling the entire time:

100°-120°F for 1-2 hours, then increase to
140° for 2-4 hours, then increase to
175° for 1-2 hours to finish

Use the longer times given for thicker/higher oil content fish. As a general rule, the higher temp you use or the longer you hot smoke, the more the meat cooks the oils out, however, the meat becomes dryer/tougher in the process. The times used are guidelines and I like to inspect the fish to determine when to increase the heat. You really have to try hard to ruin the salmon and leaving them at these temps for a longer period of time will not destroy the fish so if you get sidetracked, don't worry because chances are that your fish will still turn out excellent. The one thing you do want to watch for is if you're doing fish of different sizes. During this smoke process, the steelhead were smaller fish than the king salmon, so you want to watch the smaller fish more closely as they'll get done sooner. Additionally, if you've got a place that's hotter than another in your smoker, you'll want to rotate the fish so that you get some uniformity in temps when smoking. You may find that your fish is developing white "boogers" (didn't want to make this too technical) when smoking. This simply means that you're smoking the fish too hot/too fast. Back the temp off a little and you'll be fine. The boogers won't hurt but will make the final product a little less appealing to they eye but not the palate.

After all of this is complete, you should end up with a delicious treat that looks something like this:

I like to remove the skin after the fish has been smoked because my family prefers not to have the skin on and it makes the skin removal extremely easier after the smoking process than before.

This doesn't take a whole lot of work but the results will make you a hero in the eyes of your friends and family. It does come with a word of caution: If you make this, you won't like the taste of store-bought smoked salmon anymore as this will blow any store-bought smoked salmon out of the water.

Obviously, you can smoke this with any type of smoker, although temperature regulation may be more difficult with a stick smoker versus other types. If you don't have a Bradley Smoker, I highly recommend you take a long hard look at them. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bradley Smokers are as close to set it and forget it as you can come. They're perfect for smaller smokes and extremely easy to use. I'm not employed by Bradley and I don't get any type of remuneration from them but I am a huge fan of theirs and believe that if you're new to smoking or you're looking for an easier way to smoke your food, this is the way to go. Additionally, if you're in the market for one, I would only go one place to purchase one: The owners are friends of mine through a smoking website and I've found no one else that provides the type of customer service that they provide. They are a delight to deal with and will give you a great deal to make your smoking process as economical as possible. I will only recommend items and businesses that I would recommend to my family and I guarantee that Yard and Pool will satisfy every smoking need you could have with regards to Bradley Smokers!

I hope you enjoyed this post.....I'm really excited about this time of year. Thanksgiving is coming up soon and that means smoked turkey. Deer season is right around the corner and that means smoked venison sausage. Please check back often as there will be some great recipes to be found!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

There is nothing better........

In my humble opinion, there is nothing better than taking wild game (either animal or fish) from the land or the water to the dining table. I'm a person that enjoys many outdoor activities but my heart belongs to hunting and fishing. Now that I'm living up in Holland, MI, I'm excited about the many outdoor activities that this locale will offer.

This past weekend, I had an awesome opportunity to get out on Lake Michigan with my brother and a friend. The weather was absolutely perfect for November 1st and the fish did not disappoint us. Altogether, we had 8 fish on and were able to boat 4 of the 8. We caught 2 steelhead, a king salmon and a lake trout. The lake trout was out of season so it had to be returned to the water but I was able to keep the steelhead and king salmon as long as I promised to make some smoked salmon. Please enjoy the pics and prepare for a great recipe and way to make smoked salmon!

Here's the lake trout that had to be returned....I'll be back for him when the season opens again. What a beautiful fish and a great fight!

Here's my brother with one of the steelhead that is now being prepared for the smoker!

This last pic is a shameless plug of a picture of the largest walleye I've ever caught. This was actually the very first fish I caught while fishing Devils Lake in North Dakota.

I hope these pics will hold you until my next post, either tonight or tomorrow, on what I believe is the best way to make smoked salmon. It's an excellent recipe and a great way to make a favored treat that is not only delicious fresh but just as good when it's frozen, making this treat an excellent option when you've got some salmon that you're trying to figure how to prepare. Stay tuned for the next post........I promise you won't be disappointed!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I'm back, baby!

My life has been kind of tumultuos lately and now I find myself living in Holland, MI. Life has settled somewhat, so it is with great pride that I will begin posting again on a regular basis. I hope you continue to follow my isn't much, but it sure is fun!