Sunday, September 23, 2012

Smoked Chicken Wings and Tinkerbell Margaritas

Since our Big Green Egg, a wedding gift from my father-in-law, arrived, I've been scouring the internet for the perfect recipe for her maiden voyage.  A while back, I'd bookmarked this recipe for Spicy Smoked Chicken Wings at Ezra Pound Cake, a blog which should win all the prizes in the land for having the best name ever.  This seemed to me to be a great newbie recipe - a cheap cut of meat, a relatively short cooking time, and a temperature low enough for a new BGE, which apparently needs some low-temp runs under its belt before you can crank it up (pizza here we come!).

That recipe, though, calls for some oven time, which I'd failed to notice.  I was going to have dinner in the oven, so I wanted an all-BGE recipe.  I went back to the internet for help, learning once again what we all already know: the internet is your hysterical, paranoid aunt who, when she hears hoof beats, thinks neither horses OR zebras, but thyphoid-carrying zombie unicorns.  In ten minutes of looking at chicken wing recipes, I had learned that my skin would get rubbery, or stay raw, that the meat might be mealy if it's over cooked, or undercooked, that the texture will probably be awful - possibly mushy, maybe stiff, potentially foam core board-like. That chicken is the hardest thing to smoke on the planet.  And that we're all going to die.

I was very thankful that my test run was for an appetizer, not the main meal.  I did learn a few tips, though, reflected in the recipe below, and I decided to go forward and conquer, because I had four pounds of chicken wings in the fridge. (Spoiler alert: the wings were freaking awesome and no one has died.)

I did employ a certain approach that I highly recommend when trying new recipes or cooking methods for dinner guests: invite only your easiest friends and ply them with strong margaritas, just in case.  Drunk people will generally eat anything and be thankful for it.  In the method of Ina, I prepared a pitcher of this easy-cheater margs in the afternoon and popped it in the fridge to chill.

Tinkerbell Margaritas

2 cups good tequila (use good stuff, because you're using it generously with not much else....)
2 cups Santa Cruz Organic Limeade
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (this took me 2 oranges, because they were a bit old)

Combine, stir, chill, and serve straight up in tiny glasses.  Be careful: I call them Tinkerbell margaritas because they are small and fresh and pretty, but if you don't pay attention, they'll knock you on your rear like an angry Tinkerbell.

Smoked Chicken Wings

3/4 c medium-hot chili powder (I use Penzey's)
1 tsp crushed red chile pepper flakes
1 TBS smoked paprika
1 TBS dried oregano
4 lbs chicken wings with tips
1 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
4 TBS cornstarch
1 1/2 TBS butter or olive oil


Set a cooling rack on a baking sheet and set aside.  Combine chili powder, chile flakes, paprika and oregano in a small bowl.

Remove wing tips and pat chicken wings dry.  Coat with salt and pepper first and then your dry spice mix - you want a good, dense coating.  Dust the wings with cornstarch (I used a small sieve) on both sides - it should look like confectionary sugar on a cake, but don't eat it. 

Spread your wings on your prepared baking sheet; the cooling rack will allow air to circulate around the wings in the fridge.  These should chill at least 4 hours - overnight should be fine.

These guys above don't have their cornstarch yet - as soon as I took this photo, I realized I had forgotten something important.  No need to panic.

Prepare your smoker and get her up to about 325F (I used BGE lump charcoal and a mild wood chip blend).  As a newbie, I struggled with maintaining a steady temp (and yet no zombie unicorns attacked!), but I imagine you know what you're doing so that won't be a problem.  I let mine go about 35 minutes and then flipped them, upped the heat to about 350/375F and let them go another 30 minutes.

With about ten minutes to go, a few of the wings looked a bit dry-skinned, so I brushed them with a touch of butter.  Worked like magic.

These wings could be eaten with any manner of dipping sauces, like this one, any of these ones, or this one.  We ate them standing up around the kitchen island like animals with no sauce at all and they were awesome.  These could clearly be done on a regular old grill at 350 for an hour, flipped regularly.  You'll miss some smokey flavor, but I don't think you'd miss that much, so if you don't have a fancy Big Green Egg, don't fret.  Go for it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Technical Difficulties

I pulled down the brisket recipe - it appears I'm having technical difficulties for IE users -- the top two posts are combining into one.  Firefox users are fine, however.  I'll explore this with Blogger tonight and have the brisket back up for you ASAP!


Update: looks like this is a known issue, which is a bummer.  I'm looking into Wordpress, but please do view this blog in Firefox, Chrome or Safari if you have the option!   The post below is still comletely buggered in IE.  So sad - such good brisket, and no way to start the New Year!

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Very Gentile - and Jet-lagged – Rosh Hashanah

UPDATED:   Let's try this again.  I saw this on Internet Explorer today, I browser I don't typically use, and the first two posts were all mashed and mingled -- it was no good at all.  Apparently, there are some known compatibility issues with IE and Blogger - news to me.   Hopefully this works today, but I'm already looking at migrating to Wordpress so I can avoid this type of shenanigans in the future.

I was driving us home Friday evening after we arrived home in LA after 20 hours of travel when I heard something on KCRW about Rosh Hashanah. “Oh shit!” I said, “It’s Rosh Hashanah tomorrow!”

“What’s that?” Felix could have been referring to Rosh Hashanah or to the car in front of us. We were tired.

“It’s the Jewish New Year!”

He was relieved or unconcerned, or both.
I managed to sleep a solid 11 hours Friday night and woke up at 6:30 in the morning. I was at Whole Foods by 7am getting milk for coffee and a couple of urgent basic staples to fill an empty fridge. Due to jet lag and general Whole Foods seduction, that included a bottle of dry Vermouth and a “new” ancient alcoholic beverage made from some sort of root and cloves, and three packages of gartisnal oat cheese and some hand-pulled mozzarella. I also bought my Rosh Hashanah brisket, well sign-posted in the meat section for the holiday.
About 4:30 or 5 that day, crumbling like a toddler who’d missed her nap, I asked Felix f we should really eat the brisket that had been cooking for 7+ hours or if we shouldn’t maybe go out for Mexican. I had just learned that Rosh Hashanah was not in fact that day but would start the following day. I was distraught. Felix was again unconcerned.

“We could have the brisket,” I said, “but it needs more time. I need more time. There’s stuff I need to figure out.”

“We’ve been eating out for two weeks.” It’s been more than that, really – I don’t think I’ve cooked since wedding week, a month ago.

“But Rosh Hashanah isn’t until tomorrow.” I was seriously distraught.

“We aren’t Jewish.”

Point taken. While I’d shared many a Rosh Hashanah with friends over the years, leaving me with many good memories and a fondness for the holiday, Felix – meh, not so much.

But I still wasn’t up to finishing the brisket in any meaningful way and I realllly wanted to eat it on Rosh Hashanah, because it would have just been weird otherwise. So, I defrosted a quart bag of this chili from the freezer, which was truly delicious and ready in ten minutes.

Sunday I was able to finish the brisket with the attention it deserved. I was still pretty disastrous – I’d been up since 3 that morning, when my body declared it was done sleeping. That being said, it was quite tasty and if I could do it in the state I was in this weekend, you can do it – make this tangy, tender brisket, maybe next Rosh Hashanah – but double check the date.

Please note that this brisket is inspired by my friend Nicole’s mom’s brisket, but I’ve made a bunch of tweaks and additions. As such, and given that we are not actually Jewish, I have no idea if it’s still fit for the holiday table, for if you're just paying homage to the Jewish New Year, it'll do nicely.

Wicked Delicious Brisket


4 large onions, sliced
6 cloves garlic, whole
20 sprigs of thyme
10 sprigs of marjoram
3 lb brisket, fat layer trimmed (but not obsessively so)
3 tsp salt, divided
2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
6 oz tomato paste
4 oz dry vermouth
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp (heaping) Dijon mustard
2 tsp cider vinegar
½ tsp Worcester sauce


Layer 2/3 of onions, all garlic, and ¾ herbs (give or take) in the bottom of a 7 or 5 quart slow cooker. (See oven instructions below*)

Using half of salt and all of the pepper, season the brisket and lay it on top of your pile of onions and herbs.

Combine remaining six ingredients and remaining salt in a small bowl – I used my 4-cup measuring cup. The tomato paste won’t want to combine with the vermouth, but with a little whisking, it will do what it is told. Pour the sauce on top of the brisket, making sure to cover the meat.

Top with remaining onions and herbs.

Set your slow cooker for 2 ½ hours on high followed by 5 hours on low.

Ideally, you’ll have two days to do this – the flavor and tenderness really will be the better for it. At this point, you’ll transfer the whole mess to a baking dish, let it cool a bit, and move it to the fridge overnight.
Remove the chilled brisket and onion goo from the fridge about 2 hours before you’re ready to eat, so that you can make the sauce and have it re-heated in time for dinner, including buffer time for getting your sauce tasting just right.

Separate the meat from the goo. Slice the meat in ¼ inch slices, wrap it in foil and return it to the fridge while you work on your sauce.

Pull out all of the herb stems and then run all of the tomato/onion mixture and juices through either a food mill or a food processor. If you use a food mill, which I did, you’ll lose some solids and may want to return the sauce to a small saucepan and reduce it a bit more, to thicken the sauce and concentrate the favors. If you use a food processor, your sauce will have a bit more body because you’ll have retained all of the solids. Either way, put your blended sauce in a pot and heat it up so that you can tweak the salt and pepper and make any other modifications you feel it needs (too sweet? Add a little more vinegar and/or mustard. Too tangy? Add a touch more cinnamon, etc.)
When you’re ready to reheat your brisket, you’ll pop the sliced meat in a baking dish and pour the sauce all over it, making sure to work it in between the slices. If your sauce is already warm or hot, it won’t take that long to get this heated through and bubbling.

Preheat your oven to 325 F and bake, covered with foil, 25 – 35 minutes, until bubbling and well-heated though.

Alternate Oven Directions

The first time I made a similar recipe (using chuck instead of brisket, but otherwise the same) I did it in the oven. It was before I had the world’s most amazing slow cooker – but it worked absolutely fine, if it was maybe slightly more demanding of my attention.

Preheat oven to 350.

Make sauce as directed and pour 1/3 in to the bottom of a 7 or 5 quart heavy pot with a tight fitting lid. Layer onion, garlic and herbs with meat as directed, topping the beef with the remaining sauce, instead of the full recipe of sauce.

Bake at 350 F for one hour. Give the onions a stir, topping the beef again with some onions and juices. Reduce heat to 275 F and bake for 3 more hours. Brisket should be easily pierce-able with a fork – if not, continue baking at 275 and check every 30 minutes until it is. When it’s fork-tender, proceed with chilling, sauce-making and finishing as directed above.

I see no reason why you couldn’t do the first stage of the process two days in advance, making this a great make-ahead dinner party main dish.
I served this with a fingerling potato, grilled artichoke heart, and arugula salad with Dijon mustard vinaigrette, which made a great pairing for an everyday meal.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I Now Pronounce You...

So that’s what I’ve been up to.

I’m sorry to have abandoned Wicked Delicious for so long, but it’s been busy around here.  We lost our wedding venue back in the late Spring and planned a wedding in 48 days – I said to a friend at one point that I felt like I was starring in a reality show that was the hell spawn of The Amazing Race and Say Yes to the Dress. 

It could have been an absolute disaster, but we were exceptionally lucky: a snazzy little hotel called Hotel Erwin in our neighborhood was available on our non-negotiable wedding date, August 18.  It has a rooftop bar overlooking the Pacific, a brand new chef who, like me, believes that cake pops are an abomination, and an event coordinator who felt like our fairy godmother.  Michal, our savior-coordinator, and Chef Larry Monaco dove in like champs – more than that, they dove in like good friends.  They were committed heart and soul to our happiness and our success.   Through Michal, we found our wedding planners – again, savior-planners – who, without judgment or visible fear, pulled off our wedding in roughly seven weeks.  Katie and Dee at No Worries Event Planning allowed us to focus on the good stuff, spending time with our family and friends, and managed all of the tedious details.

We ended up with exactly what we wanted: a union of not just the two of us but of our family and friends as well. And not just a wedding day but a wedding month, really.  We had picnics and beach trips and family meals and community dinners with people we love from around the world.   Our friend Brad officiated, our friend Kristian DJ’d, apprenticed by our friend and ring-bearer Billy, and our friend Trip managed crowd control and toasts and transitions.   We were stood up for by my sister and Felix’s brother and our friends, Arlo and Pee.

I’m sure I’ll share more details as time goes on, particularly since so many of our wedding presents are kitchen-oriented (a Big Green Egg from my father-in-law!).  For now, we’re honeymooning in Italy and celebrating the wedding of good friends from Los Angeles here in Tuscany. Photos, of food and ancient Italian things and happy celebrants, to follow in the weeks to come.

Ciao – I’m off to an all-wild boar dinner in the Umbrian countryside!