Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Get Your Grill On

Ah, yesssss.  ‘Tis Summah time, and the livin’ is easy.  Or should be, lest you  raise a sweat and begin to, shall we say, *glow* in the summer heat and humidity.

OK, true confessions time.  This has been, for the second year in a row, an uncommonly cool and cloudy summer here in SoCal.  NOT THAT I’M COMPLAINING.  Not at all.  I tend to get cranky when the temperature gets too much above about 85°, and downright surly and churlish (LOVE that word) when it approaches triple digits.  So mid-seventies to low eighties is just ducky by me.  Granted, my roses look a bit forlorn and ratty, they do like their hot days and clear nights, and my tomatoes were damned slow to set and ripen, but me, I’m diggin’ my very cool Left Coast Summer and hope it lasts.

The rest of you, especially those in the middle of the U.S., babe, I feel for ya.  I see the news reports, and, having spent my early years in Chicago, and having visited the South and D.C. in the summer, I sure don’t envy you.  And I hope all y’all get some relief soon.  I’d love to send you my marine layer.  Some screwy weather going on for sure…

Anyway, for most of us, even those of us still sleeping under a blankie (with two hermetically attached fuzz bombs), in Mid-July, Summer certainly means grilling, because who the heck wants to turn on an oven, or heat up a range-top when the mercury’s about to blow out the top of the thermometer like it used to in the Loony Tunes.  (Do they still even PUT mercury in thermometers any longer?  I’d bet not….hazmat and all that stuff…but again, I digress.)

No single day, of course, speaks more to grilling and cooking outdoors than the 4th of July.  Here’s what went down in the little kitchen, and the larger patio, for that commemoration of our Independence.  As you can guess by the header shot, there was an adult beverage (or 2….maybe 3) involved and these guys made an appearance….

Those were some really cool, vintage biplanes that buzzed my house about 5 times as I was babysitting the coals and grilling the meat.  I live quite close to a regional airport, and there was a holiday gathering at a local park celebrating the "Rosie The Riveters" from WWII, and these guys did a flyby.  As I said, they buzzed directly over me about 5 times, and even shot smoke trails out their tail ends.  VERY cool !

But back to the food.

One of the most famous, “indigenous” California dishes is something called “Santa Maria BBQ”.  Now, it’s NOT BBQ in the “Southern” sense of the word.  No long, slow smoking.  No pits, nor pitmasters.  No sauces, and only a very simple rub.  No laborious, prolonged mopping, none of that.  It’s cooked fast and hot, usually over red oak coals.  The cut of meat is a tri-tip roast, which can be easily found in most, if not all, SoCal MegaMarts.  A tri-tip roast is, not surprisingly, a triangle-shaped cut of beef from the bottom sirloin area of the cow.  That’s the butt end, for those of you not up on your beefy anatomy.  So it’s a tough cut, full of muscle that works hard.  It’s also very reasonably priced, and very flavorful.  Santa Maria tri-tip BBQ is legendary in CentCal.  Much like lobster rolls in the Northeast, and gumbo in New Orleans, it’s a signature dish in Central California.

Several years ago, I visited an acquaintance who actually lives in Santa Maria (which is about 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara).  I kept hinting, and hinting, and hinting, and maybe not so much hinting as, let’s just say, STATING how much I’d like to taste authentic Santa Maria BBQ.  My acquaintance (who is no longer an acquaintance, for what I think will be obvious reasons) didn’t get my subtle, and not so subtle, clues.  Her rationale…."oh, they have that EVERYWHERE” ?!?!??  Well, yeah, but not where *I* live.  We ended up eating at Marie Callender's (which is fine, but I got one 2 blocks from me, where I don’t have Santa Maria BBQ) and having 5-layer dip from the grocery store.  Truth !  Pre-prepared 5-layer dip from the MegaMart.  Yikes.

I did not visit said (now) ex-acquaintance again.

But I did search out the definitive recipe for Santa Maria BBQ tri-tip myself, and I’ve made it every 4th of July for the past 4 or 5 years.  It’s delicious, and you’ll love it.  But first we need to make some potato salad to go with it.

Potatoes (I used small Yukon golds), celery, red onion, mayo (Best Foods/Hellman’s only, please, and don’t talk to me about Miracle Whip), dill pickle relish, yellow mustard, parsley, a hard-boiled egg and of course, S&P.

Peel and quarter the potatoes and dump them into a pot.  Cover them with salted water by about an inch, and bring to a boil.  Cook those babies until they’re just tender, which should be about 10-12 minutes.  Start checking at 10, you don’t want them mushy.

SUPER-STAR TIP ALERT !  Put a sploosh of regular white vinegar (not even a tablespoon, just literally a sploosh) into the water.  It’ll keep the potatoes firm, and they won't get that “fuzzy” texture on the surface.  It’ll also lend a hint of a nice acid tang to the finished salad.  Trust me on this one, it’s a tip you’ll use over and over again.

Drain the ‘taters, and let them sit in the strainer until you need them.

Chop up the celery and the onion into fairly small dice.  I don’t like them pureed, or too finely minced.  I like to taste my celery and onion, so about 1/8 to 1/4-inch is good for me.

Oh, and yes, I had to deal with the faces of the sad, starving Vulture Dogs:

“HELLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOO nice Mazzie !  We heard you chopping celery.  *WE* like celery.  Got any for us???   Pleeeaaaasssseeeee?????  We may, could possibly, be starving.”

Yeah, I’m a patsy.  In to the Princess Bowls (for the Princess-I dogs)…

…went  copious amounts of chopped celery.   This celery was a larger dice than what I put in the salad, FYI.

Lulu likes celery.

Rosie likes celery so much, she pulled the discards out of the trash can in the nanosecond it was left unguarded, and proceeded to scarf them down, too.



OY !  And it’ll actually get worse in a bit !  KIDZ !!!!

Back to the salad….chop up the egg too, again into about 1/4-inch dice.  I almost didn’t use the egg, I’m not a HUGE fan of hard-boiled egg, and I thought, meh, I’ll just leave it out.

I’m glad I didn’t.  It ended up absolutely MAKING the salad, and I think it was what has been missing from other potato salads I’ve made recently.  Use the egg(s).  You won’t regret it.

In a bowl (I used the one I ended up serving from, why dirty another one, right?), mix together the mayo, relish, mustard, finely chopped parsley (this you DO want to mince to teeny bits), and S&P.

Then dump in your cooled potatoes, chopped celery, chopped onion and chopped egg.  Stir around to mix, and taste to adjust seasonings.

I added some fresh peas that needed to be used.  No cooking, just added them raw.  I love raw peas.  They taste like “green” to me.  I don’t know that I’d be able to identify them as peas if I tasted them blindfolded, but I’d know they were green.  Very green.  Love them.

Chill (both you and the salad) until you’re ready to eat.  This was a GREAT potato salad.  Very classic, and just what I wanted.

On to the star of the production; the tri-tip.

What we got?  Well, there’s the tri-tip roast, obviously.  (Check out that price.  That was over a 3 pound hunk of meat for $7.77.  There was some waste, but still….tri-tip’s a good deal-io !)  And we got salt, whole peppercorns and garlic.  We’ll need some oil, too, but it didn’t get included because I’m an airhead sometimes.

We’ll also need some of these…

…red oak (or any oak) would be better, and more traditional, but hickory will suffice.  PLEASE don’t use mesquite, it’s overpowering (as I found out last year).  We’ll also need a grill rig, some charcoal briquettes and a chimney starter.

Bash up the garlic just to get it started.

Then plop it into a blender or a mini-processor with the whole black peppercorns, a good amount of salt and some olive oil.

Blitz that around until you get something that resembles a coarse paste.  It’ll still be pretty runny from the oil, but don’t worry.

The tri-tip, like most of the “cheaper” cuts, will have one fatty side and one not-so-fatty side.


Pat the roast dry with paper towels, and trim any large, obnoxious hunks of fat or silver skin off of the roast.  On the fatty side, score the fat layer with a sharp knife, trying not to cut into the meat.  I didn’t do such a great job of that, but you get the drift.

Oh…and see that pile of fat and other stuff off to the top left corner of the board?  Guess which BAD DOGS snarfed that out of the trash can when I took a potty break and ATE IT ALL !  I was SO happy no one got the whoopsie tummies that night.  That was about a quarter of a pound of pure beef fat  !  Again I say, KIDZ !!!!!

But I digress….

Put the meat into a heavy-duty zippy bag, and pour the garlic paste in on top of it, trying to get it onto both sides of the meat.  Close up the bag, and do your best impression of a masseuse (or masseur) and make sure that hunk ‘o’ tri-tip gets evenly coated with the peppery-garlicky-salty-oily goodness.  You can do this up to the day before, but give it at least an hour before cooking.

If you’re going to marinate it more than 2 hours, stash it in the fridge, but give it a little rub every so often, just so’s it knows you still like it.  2 hours or less, just leave it on your counter (unless it’s 110° in your kitchen….then use your judgment).  In any case, allow the roast to come to room temp before tossing it on the grill.

Meanwhile (back at the ranch, where this technique originated….cattle ranches were plentiful in the old days around Santa Maria), take those wood chips and dump them into a deep bowl.

Then cover them with water and let them soak for about an hour or so.

You may need to use something to weigh them down to keep them all under water.  You could use a plate, or the bottom of a bucket works too !

Now’s the time to make that delightful adult beverage.  Mine was a “Sea Breeze”.  Vodka, grapefruit juice and cranberry juice.  Nice and refreshing on a hot Summer’s day.

Now is also the time to get your briquettes going.  Shove a piece of newspaper (or a brown paper grocery bag) into the bottom of your chimney starter, make sure all the vents in the bottom of the kettle are open, as is the one in the lid.  Light the paper on fire with a BBQ match or long-nosed lighter, and let the coals get nice and hot.  Wait until the flames shoot up through the top of the chimney.  This’ll probably take about half an hour.

Good time to sit on the patio, nursing your adult beverage, babysitting the fire and the Fuzz Bombs, who are hell-bent on exploring the hole in the back fence that lets them escape into the neighbor's yard.  Again I say, KIDZ !!!!

Hard to see, but there are flames licking up over the top layer of briquettes, and as you can see, they’re starting to ash over.

About the time your “Sea Breeze” looks like this…

…your coals should be ready.

Drain your wood chips (be smart, don’t do this over a drain….home plumbing really doesn’t like to have wood slivers going through it.  I dumped the water over the lawn….).

And then pull the roast out of the zippy bag.

Spread (carefully, use an oven glove of some ilk….) the ragin’ hot charcoal over only half of the bottom grate of the grill.  And then sprinkle the drained wood chips over that.

Put the cooking grid on the kettle (again, carefully, those coals are HOT and you do have fine hairs on your fingers….that will singe…), slap the lid on the kettle for a couple of minutes and let the cooking grid get hot.

Then, take your roast and sear it, fat side down, directly over the flames, with the lid off.

The flames will probably lick up at the surface because of the dripping fat.  Be prepared to move the meat to the cool side of the grill to control the flames, and have a squirty bottle of water close by to quench any big flare-ups.

The fat will probably get a good char on it, but not to worry.  That’s part of the process.  You’ll need no more than 3 or 4 minutes to get to this:

Then flip it over to the lean side, and sear again directly over the coals.  Again, 3 or 4 minutes, max, and again, no worries about a little charring.

Then move the roast over to the cool side of the kettle, and slap the lid on, again with all the vents open.

I like to put the lid vent directly over the meat; this will set up a convection that draws the smoke over the meat out to the vent.

Start taking temps of your roast with an instant-read thermometer after literally, another 4 or 5 minutes.  That fire is HOT, baby, and the cooking goes FAST.  For a “rare-ish” medium-rare, you’re going for 125° internal temperature, which will take you no more than 20 minutes.  For the “medium-ish” medium-rare, 135° is your goal, which boosts you up to around 25 minutes.  But seriously, check after the first 5.  Both last year, and this year, I hit close to 140° after only about 10 minutes and as a result the roast was a bit overdone.  Still tasty, and still tender, but not what it could have been.  I’d have been happier with it a bit pinker.

When it hits your target temp, set it on a platter, and cover with foil to rest for about 10 minutes.  LET IT REST, that’s critical.  Carry-over cooking goes on, and the juices retract back into the roast, so they don’t spill all over when you carve it.

And this, my friends, is Santa Maria Tri-Tip BBQ:

Traditionally, it’s served with pink beans (“pinquitos” in the local vernacular), which are seasoned with a spicy tomato sauce, bacon and ham.  Then there's salsa and either tortillas (to make soft tacos) or garlic bread.  I opted for the tortillas, and some fat, “knob” onions that are usually seen in Mexican roadside or street food stalls, grilled and served with tacos.

The torts (corn, and sadly store-bought, there was a lot goin’ on that day, too much so to make from torts scratch) and onions were thrown onto the cooling grill while the meat was resting.

I did make a salsa from scratch, nothing special, but it was good (canned tomatoes, a can of Ro-Tel, some onions, garlic, cilantro and a jalapeno) and I attempted (again) those infamous beans.

Full disclosure….I have never made a batch of “Santa Maria Beans” I like.  Maybe because I never DID get a chance to actually taste them *IN* Santa Maria (so I had a benchmark), or maybe I just have a bum recipe(s).  Or maybe I just mucked them up this time (I think I used too small a pan to cook the beans, hence they remained hard and chewy….).  But they sucked.  Big time.  So there’ll be no pics or directions for those, not until I perfect them.  And I will.  Perfect them, that is.  I’ll conquer you yet, Santa Maria Pinquitos !

In the meantime, here’s the recipes for the tri-tip and the potato salad.  Grill On !

Ultimate Tri-Tip, Santa Maria Style
Adapted from the Los Angeles “Times”, date unknown, written by Russ Parsons
Serves 4 to 6

6 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4C olive oil
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 to 2&1/2 pound tri-tip roast, with thin fat layer

In a blender or mini-food processor, combine garlic, oil, salt and peppercorns, and blitz to a coarse paste.

Pat the roast dry with paper towels and trim any excess and large chunks of fat or silver skin.  Score the fat layer, trying not to cut into the meat, with a sharp knife.  Put the meat in a heavy-duty zip top bag, and scrape the paste into the bag.  Seal, pressing out the air, and rub the paste around so it’s evenly distributed over the meat.  Marinate the meat for at least an hour.  If marinating more than 2 hours, place in refrigerator (can go overnight).  Remove roast from refrigerator 1 hour before cooking to allow it to come to room temp.

About 1 hour before cooking, start a fire on a kettle grill using 1 chimney full of charcoal briquettes.  Put 1/4-pound oak or hickory chips in a deep bowl, cover with water and weight to ensure they stay submerged.  When the flames have subsided and the top layer of coals is ashed over, carefully dump the briquettes into a mound on one side of the grill, and spread out to an even layer.  Drain the wood chips and scatter them over the coals.  Put the cooking grid on the grill, cover and let the cooking grid heat up for a couple of minutes.  Make sure all of the vents (on the bottom and in the lid) are open.

Sear the roast, fat side down, over the hot coals, with the lid off, for about 3 or 4 minutes, then flip and sear the lean side, again about 3 or 4 minutes.  Don’t worry if some charring develops.  When the lean side is seared, move the roast over to the cool side of the grill, cover and let cook until the interior temperature reaches 125 for rareish medium-rare and 135 for mediumish medium-rare (anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes).  CAVEAT !  Start checking the internal temperature after the first 5 or so minutes.  Depending upon your grill and how hot your fire is, the internal temp may rocket up way faster than you think !

When you reach your target internal temperature, remove the roast to a platter, tent with foil and let rest for 10 minutes.  Slice against the grain, with the knife held at a sharp angle to give wide, thin slices.  Serve with grilled garlic bread, (or tortillas and salsa) and Santa Maria pinquito beans.

Classic Potato Salad
Adapted from “Saveur” June/July 2011
Serves 4-6

2 pounds small Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
scant tablespoon white vinegar
2 ribs celery, chopped
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons dill pickle relish
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

Put potatoes into large pot and cover with salted water by 1-inch.  Add a scant tablespoon of white vinegar.  Bring to a boil over high heat, cook until just tender, about 10-12 minutes.  Drain and reserve.   In a bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, relish, mustard, parsley, salt and pepper.  Stir in potatoes, onion, celery and eggs.  Stir to blend, and adjust seasonings.  Chill until ready to serve.

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