Super Bowl Time is Time for Great BBQ Eats!

By the time February rolls around, so many of us who live where there are four seasons are fed up with being cooped up inside.  Around here, we call that “Cabin Fever” and it can really get to you.  Thank goodness there’s the Super Bowl to come along and give us an excuse to get outside, even if it’s just to cook a little bit.  Football and tailgating go together naturally and the Super Bowl and Super Sunday, accurately described as a national holiday because of all the parties, just begs for grills and smokers to be fired up!

I’m not going to lie – I’m a fan of the cocktail weenies and chili/grape jelly sauce but how many Super Bowl parties have a crockpot of these things simmering?  Most of them I’ve attended certainly have.  Why not get creative and wow your friends?  Using a grill and/or smoker, you can do just about anything that could be done on a stove top or your oven.  Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Jalapenos are one of my favorites.  And since my team is in the playoffs this year, I’m feeling generous so here’s my recipe that’s always been a huge hit!

Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Jalapenos

25 large jalapeno peppers, fresh
Whipped cream cheese (I like onion and chive and garlic mixed)
2 or 3 pounds sliced bacon
1 pound pepper jack cheese
50 medium shrimp, cooked, peeled
Your favorite BBQ rub/seasoning
Mild or sweet barbecue sauce

Start by slicing the jalapenos lengthwise and removing the seeds and veins.  If you prefer a hot pepper, leave some in as it’s the seeds and veins that add most of the heat.  Remove the stem but do not cut the top off as it is needed to retain the cheese filling.  Next, mix together the whipped cream cheeses and some of your barbecue rub/seasoning.  Using a spoon or a piping bag, fill each jalapeno “boat” with the cream cheese.  Next, lay a small slice of pepper jack cheese on top of the cream cheese, followed by a peeled shrimp.  Sprinkle some BBQ rub over this.  When done with the filling and toppings, wrap each pepper in a half slice of bacon and use a toothpick to hold in place.  Sprinkle with a little more BBQ rub.  I like to place all of these little gems on a shelf in a 250 degree smoker for about 45 minutes to get some nice smoked flavor on them.  After that, I either crank up the heat to 300 degrees for a half hour to brown and crisp up the bacon or remove and place on a hot grill to do the same.  If you don’t own a smoker, you can place them on a grill with charcoal offset from them and then if necessary, crisp the bacon by moving the peppers above the coals for a few minutes.  Either on a smoker or a grill, finish by lightly glazing with a sweet barbecue sauce that offsets and compliments some of the heat in the pepper.  One of my favorites is a charred pineapple sauce!  This is an absolutely tasty and addicting appetizer!

If jalapenos aren’t your thing, try something less complicated (or hot!).  I have had great reviews from just simply smoking a 2 pound bologna chub, adding some BBQ rub and sauce and then cutting into bite sized cubes.  Then there’s always chicken wings.  There are so many variations on this that the classic Buffalo style wing has been overshadowed.  If you are already a barbecue fanatic and cook pulled pork, show up at a party with pulled pork nachos!  Tortilla chips, pulled pork, a pepper jack cheese sauce and some barbecue sauce to top it off will have your friends in awe!

Hope you can enjoy some new and creative Super Sunday eats this year!  Enjoy the game and go Broncos!

Crockpot freezer meals reduce stress during busy weeknights

It’s the latest “big thing” and it’ll save you a lot of time on your busy family weeknights. Crockpot freezer meals are gaining popularity and with good reason. We all go through those rushed weeknight evenings – you get home from work after fighting rush hour traffic and the kids are hungry. You have a meeting in an hour and your kids have to get to practice. Later on, you plan to catch up on some laundry before checking the kids’ homework and getting them off to bed. I’m tired just writing and thinking about all that! What did we forget? Yep, that’s right – cooking a nutritious meal and cleaning up afterwards. How on earth do you make that happen? You could run to grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant but that gets expensive and is not always the healthiest option. The answer? Crockpot freezer meals!

What is a Crockpot freezer meal? We’ve all used our Crockpots to let meals cook while we’re at work. But be honest – are your weekday mornings any less rushed than your evenings? They aren’t in my house. Who has time to put together a good meal in the mornings, even if it is using a Crockpot? The answer is a pre-packaged meal you make yourself and freeze. Using quality ingredients like fresh veggies, lean meats and so forth, you can assemble your meal in a VacMaster storage bag and vacuum package it for the freezer. Google recipes that will work well as a Crockpot freezer meal and you’ll find enough recipes to last for months. Then just take a weekend day when time is more available and put them together. Label and freeze and your weeknights are now much less stressful! Keep in mind most recipes suggest using zippered freezer bags but those won’t last as long as a vacuum packaged meal will last and it won’t be long before they start forming ice crystals on your food. Use your vacuum packaging machine and your food will last five times longer. Simply thaw in the fridge the day before needed and cut open and dump the contents into your Crockpot. Turn it on and head to work. When you arrive home, you’ll smell a great, home-cooked meal already cooked for your enjoyment.

Another reason these Crockpot freezer meals are so popular is that they are lacking preservatives, salt, trans fats, refined grains, high fructose corn syrup and other chemicals you will find in pre-packaged commercial meals made to be cooked in similar fashion. Health experts recommend avoiding pre-packaged meals for just this reason. By preparing them yourself, you’re saving time AND eating much more healthy.

Here are a few sites that give you some recipe ideas for Crockpot freezer meals:

http://whoneedsacape.com/2012/11/crockpot-freezer-cooking/

http://www.sixsistersstuff.com/2012/09/slow-cooker-freezer-meals-make-8-meals.html

http://thedailysouth.southernliving.com/2012/09/17/freezer-cooking-make-ahead-slow-cooker-dinners/

A note here… on some veggies you find in these recipes, you will need to blanch them first before vacuum packaging.

Competition Barbecue is Big Time!

America has been in love with barbecue for decades.  It’s one of the few food types that is truly American.  Who doesn’t love the smell of smoke and brisket, pork or chicken wafting from a barbecue restaurant or someone’s backyard?  On any list of comfort foods, barbecue is right up there with any of them.

These days, barbecue has become big business.  Television shows like BBQ Pitmasters (new season has begun Sunday evenings at 8 PM CST on Destination America Network) and various programs that feature “que” on Food Network have done much to take the cuisine to new heights.  Suddenly, Americans, already enamored with competition in general, are in love with barbecue contests.  Did you know that there are close to 1,000 professionally sanctioned barbecue competitions all across the United States each year?  Add to that countless non-sanctioned contests for fun and bragging rights and a whole new culture has developed.

The largest sanctioning body in the barbecue world is located right here in Kansas City – the Kansas City Barbeque Society (http://www.KCBS.us).  I am fortunate enough to have been competing in these sanctioned events for almost eight years and, for the last year, have served on the Board of Directors for this great organization.  The KCBS has more than 17,000 members worldwide and countless others who compete in the approximately 400 events it sanctions in all corners of America.  KCBS has done much to promote competition barbecue and the cuisine in general through its educational programs, knowledge base, philanthropic efforts and marketing.  The organization is the go-to source for anything barbecue related, including recipes, competitions, education and history.

This weekend, the KCBS celebrates another year of successes and friendships during its annual meetings and awards banquet in Kansas City.  The banquet has been held in various cities such as Nashville, San Diego and Philadelphia for the benefit of all members but every other year, it comes back home to Kansas City.  This two day celebration of barbecue includes rules meetings, a contest organizer roundtable, meetings for contest representatives and certified BBQ judges, along with a board of directors meeting and culminating with a banquet and presentation of awards to the top teams across the country for the previous year.  It is truly a weekend that brings together the best names in the barbecue community to brainstorm, share ideas, best practices and plan to enable KCBS to promote America’s cuisine to new levels in the coming year.

If you have an interest in barbecue, whether it’s competing, judging or just cooking better barbecue, I urge you to take a look at the KCBS website and find them on Facebook.  If you want to see a fun glimpse into this event, check out live webcast video at http://www.wiredbbq.com. I personally believe that barbecue makes the world a better place.  And who wouldn’t want to be a part of something like that?

New Years Resolutions? Try Goals Instead!

Have you finished yet?  After all, it is January 3 already.  What are you waiting for?  Every year at this time, many of us have decided, at least in our minds anyway, that we are going to make important changes in our lives that are somehow going to transform us into happier, healthier, content and more prosperous people.  We’ll be better parents, spouses, friends, neighbors and employees/employers.  The problem is that rarely do any of these things ever happen.  By February, most New Year’s resolutions are long forgotten and we decide that either it’ll never happen or that we will try again next year.  This year is shot.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  We can successfully make the changes we want to see in our lives.  You first have to understand what a resolution really is.  It’s simply a formal expression of our intentions.  And you’ve probably heard that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  All of the good you want will never happen without action.  If you’ve already made your New Year’s resolutions, I challenge you to now take them a step further to better your odds of success.  If you’ve skipped it altogether, why not get started today?  After you make sure that each one is reasonable to expect, look at each resolution and be more specific.  In other words, make each resolution into a goal and start referring to them as such.  Permanently scrap the word “resolution”!  Much like the word “diet”, it has a bad stigma!  Both words set us up for failure.  Be specific too.  Maybe you want to become better at something you do as a hobby or even a career.  Many of us who cook barbecue for judges or customers might say “I want to produce better food.”  That’s fine, but you can do better.  You probably already do many things well but are lacking in other areas.  For me, I’ve always done well with most kinds of barbecue but ribs have been my downfall in competitions more than I care to admit.  So while I DO want to become a better barbecue cook, I first need to focus on where my shortcomings are.

One of the most important steps in achieving our goals is to write them down.  Just thinking about them and maybe talking about them won’t leave you happy with the results when you reflect back on them later.  Write down where you are now and where you want to be.  Between these two points on the highways that are our lives, we fill in action items that will help us reach our destinations.  They become the action plans that carry us to achieving what we first set out to do.

Now, make an action plan for each of your specific goals.  How are you going to get there?  What actions can you take to get you down the path to achieving your New Year’s GOALS?  Going back to my example of becoming a better barbecue cook by improving my ribs, I must first say that I am currently an average rib cook at best.  My destination might be being able to consistently receive high scores at competitions – or maybe just not have the neighbors raise their eyebrows and wonder where I learned to cook such awful slabs!  I can set aside a time to practice cook each week and try different methods and recipes.  I can sign up for a class and learn what people who are successful cooking ribs are doing.  Maybe the class isn’t reasonable and I’m better off finding someone to mentor and offer advice on my processes and recipes.  How about reading books, researching on the Internet and applying what I find to my methods and recipes?  The key is to take action!  Don’t just say “I want to become a better barbecue cook in 2013.”  Be specific.  Write it down.  Include action plans.  And while you’re at it, let’s add in some accountability!  How?  Tell others.  Share your goals and action plans with your family and friends.  If you publicly state what it is that you plan to accomplish in 2013, someone is bound to ask you about it at some point.  They will sort of hold your feet to the fire and if nothing else, you will feel guilty if you haven’t been true to your own word.

So start with barbecue … or whatever it is that you do, hobby, career or otherwise.  With a little success here, imagine what the changes you can accomplish in the truly important aspects of your life – those things you do that have an impact on the lives of others – your children, your wife or husband, people in need.  This is powerful stuff!  Don’t waste the new year – or even one day!