Archives for May 2014

How Butcher Block Is Made

How Butcher Block Is Made

A few years ago, when I started working for ButcherBlockCo., I had the privilege of touring the John Boos & Co. butcher block manufacturing facility in Effingham, Illinois. Seeing the process of how butcher block is made from start to finish was enlightening.  It felt a lot like making furniture by hand in a workshop, but on a much larger scale.

The process seems to be a wonderful balance of technology and science with craftsmanship and artistry, all working together to make these beautiful pieces of butcher block furniture come to life.

Here is my summary of How Butcher Block Is Made:

Harvesting Wood
Before the wood ever arrives at the manufacturing plant, individual trees are selected for harvest, encouraging forests to renew and regenerate themselves naturally. At the lumber mill, trees are cut into lumber for purchase and distribution. John Boos only buys wood from suppliers who are members of the National Hardwood Lumber Association, guaranteeing they practice responsible reforestation.
Drying Wood
When lumber arrives at the John Boos facility it is staged in their lumber yard.  Lumber is sorted, piece by piece, to gauge its grade using a “grader’s stick” to approve each board for processing. After lumber is inspected and graded it “rests” in an outdoor staging area for a few weeks as part of the first steps in the drying process.  Step two of the drying process is to transfer the lumber to gigantic, wood-fired kilns where it is dried for 18 to 28 days. The enormous kilns used to dry the lumber are heated by a boiler, which is fueled by sawdust and wood scraps generated during the process of making butcher block. After nearly a month of drying in the kiln, the cured lumber enters the start of the production process.
Production Process
All the lumber coming into the manufacturing plant is first planed and sanded to get a very flat and smooth work surface. Then it is immediately run through a glue line rip saw cutting the wood into 1.75 inch rails. Each wood rail is inspected and marked for defects using fluorescent markers, which are read by a computer to eliminate defective sections. Final rails are then sorted by grade, separating the premium rails to be used for kitchen countertops and high quality butcher block surfaces from the lower grade rails to be used for industrial countertops.
To make blended-grain butcher blocks, rails of varying length are finger jointed together, then laminated and glued side by side, hiding all finger joints. To make edge-grain butcher blocks, rails of the same length are laminated and glued together side by side, forming what then looks like a solid piece of butcher block wood. End-grain butcher block is characterized by its checkerboard appearance. This block starts with laminated edge-grain boards, that are glued and stacked on top of each other, then placed in a gigantic vice called a screw press, squeezing the wood and glue together. After drying, the block is set on end and the “ends” of the rails become the butcher block cutting surface, hence the term “end-grain.”
Finishing
All butcher block, be it blended, edge or end-grain, is then sanded down with 200 grit to provide a silky smooth cutting surface. It is then made into Boos Blocks, cutting boards, butcher block table tops, standard and custom countertops, etc.  Finally, all butcher block is finished with a treatment of food-safe mineral oil or board cream before it is allowed to leave the plant. It is packaged with care and shipped to consumers, restaurants and retailers all across the US.
Having seen how butcher block is made makes me appreciate all of the effort that has gone into what appears to be a relatively simple piece of wood.  I know I take great pride in displaying and using my John Boos butcher block every day!
BBQ Tips for Memorial Day

BBQ Tips for Memorial Day

BBQ season is officially here! Kick off summer this Memorial Day weekend with some awesome BBQ to share with family and friends. Master griller Chef J is back to share some important BBQ tips to make sure your weekend is as delicious as possible! Take it away, Chef J.

In my town, summer can fill people with dread. Temperatures will soon be in the mid-200s, leading to cranky, sweaty, dehydrated Phoenicians. On the other hand — there is a pool party every weekend, you can wear flip-flops anywhere, and BBQ. Sweet, smoky BBQ! This time of year is great for both those who have been eating salad all spring in anticipation of wearing a bathing suit, and those who just want an excuse to drink beer and eat meat.

We have already covered ribs and brisket in previous blogs. There are plenty of recipes floating around the internet and many more that have yet to be created, but let’s start with the basics.

Here are a few tips that can help novices confidently host their own backyard BBQ, and maybe even give the most hickory-seasoned pro an idea or two.

Meat

The best advice for any cook, especially a budding backyard gourmand, is “don’t mess it up!” That might sound a little too simplistic, but the truth is that most ingredients are pretty good on their own. The best thing you can do to a quality piece of meat is sprinkle a little salt and pepper on it and not burn it. Fancy spice rubs and secret family recipes are fantastic, but the star is the meat. If you have a good butcher shop in your town (and you probably do) talk to the experts about what they have. Fortunately there is a growing trend toward local, natural ingredients — this is good if you like to tell your friends about how socially-conscious you are, but it’s even better if you enjoy eating really delicious food. You might be surprised by what you find in a real butcher shop. At my local shop I can get locally raised, all natural meat for the same price or less than the junk available at the supermarket.

Fire

There is really no debate BBQbetween gas or charcoal. Gas is efficient, cleaner burning, and faster. But charcoal is at least a million times better. If you want a clean, efficient, fast hamburger then you probably should eat a turkey sandwich. Smoke tastes good! Take the time to start a real fire. Hopefully you have access to a BBQ supply store that can help you pick out a charcoal or wood that add some authentic flavor to your food, otherwise there’s always the internet. Again, just like with all other ingredients, go for a more natural option. It’s not that hard to start a fire; you don’t have to buy briquets that are pre-soaked with lighter fluid. Take an old #10 can (like a giant coffee can), cut the top and bottom off with a can opener, place it on your grill, wad up an old grocery bag or some paper, put it in and light it on fire. Pile your charcoal or wood on top of that and in about 10-15 minutes you’ll have white-hot coals. There are a number of gadgets and products available to help you start your fire but try to avoid lighter fluid — it leaves behind a bad taste. If you are going to be BBQing something for a long time, like ribs or brisket, go with a milder wood like apple or pecan. If you want to add some smokey flavor to something that will only be cooking for a little while, like steak or burgers, try something bolder like mesquite or hickory.

Tools

Other than meat, fire, and something to contain it all, you will need a few other gadgets. Two good thermometers are important, especially if you are cooking things that require a slower and lower method — you want one to test the temp of the grill and one to test the meat. You will also want a pair of long-handled tongs; that giant fork that comes with all BBQ sets is not recommended since it will puncture the meat and cause it to lose juices. Get a heavy duty grill brush to keep things clean. Oh, and that coffee can method I told you about; there are fire starter cans that come with handles that are pretty handy to have around.

Patience

Grilling can be done relatively quickly, but real BBQ takes time. Beer and company help pass the time. If you are making ribs then be prepared for your day being spent at or around the pit. But patience is also required for even the smallest cut of meat. Letting your steak or burger rest for a few minutes after cooking and before eating or cutting will allow the meat to reabsorb the juices that are flowing around inside of it. If you cut a steak open right off of the grill it will lose all of it’s moisture — leaving you with a tough, dry dinner. Let your steaks rest for at least 5 minutes and let your brisket hang out for 20-30 before carving; keep them in a warm place, but not so hot that they over-cook.

The best part of any BBQ is the whole gang getting together, so don’t stress too much. Wanting to get everything right is one thing, but remember that a backyard cookout is about having fun with the people you care about! Ask mom to make her famous potato salad, put the beer on ice, skim the pool, and have a wonderful Memorial Day!

The Perfect Asparagus – Blanched and Sautéed!

The Perfect Asparagus – Blanched and Sautéed!

May is National Asparagus Month.  I am psyched!  Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables, and this is the time of year to enjoy it!  Along with tasting great, it does have some super health benefits too:
  • Low in calories
  • Contains no fat or cholesterol
  • Low in sodium
  • Source of fiber
  • Rich in Vitamins A, B, C and folic acid
  • Good source of potassium, iron and antioxidants
  • Provides more nutrients than most other vegetables

The perfect way to prepare asparagus is blanched and sautéed!

Not only is it super fast, it is almost fool-proof, which is great for me given I am not patient in the kitchen! Here is the quick and easy way to make perfect asparagus! 

Selecting
  • Look for firm, straight, and THIN stems with good green color. 
  • Tips should be green or purplish in color with CLOSED tips.
  • Try and prepare asparagus the same day you purchase it, to help retain the best flavor and tenderness. 
Prepping
  • Wash stalks in cold water. 
  • Snap off the woody ends or trim about 1 1/2 inches from the bottom of the stalks.
Blanching
  • Blanching is a cooking method in which food is cooked for a short time in boiling water then immediately cooled in an ice water bath. It works great for asparagus because it helps preserve the flavor, crisp texture, and bright green color. Blanching is used to slightly cook the asparagus and sautéing is used to finish the cooking.
  • In a large pot, add water, a little salt and bring to a boil.
  • Prepare ice bath in a bowl filling half way with water and ice.
  • Place asparagus into boiling water and cook for 2 minutes!  Do not over cook.  You will be tempted, but don’t. (Small thin stalks take 2 minutes, large thick stalks take up to 4 minutes). The stalks will turn BRIGHT GREEN  and be crispy.  
  • With tongs, remove asparagus and immerse in the ice water bath for 1 minute to stop the cooking.
  • Remove asparagus from ice bath and place onto a paper towel.
Sauteing
  • In large fry pan melt 2T butter.  Add seasonings of garlic, pepper and some lemon juice.
  • Gently add the blanched asparagus to the pan.
  • Sautee for 2 minutes.
  • Serve and enjoy.
blanching and sauteing asparagus
Please share with us your perfect asparagus recipe!
Looking for more love of asparagus, read how Asparagus has been treasured throughout history  

 

Mother’s Day – Creating and Sharing Bonds

Mother’s Day – Creating and Sharing Bonds

Mother’s Day is this Sunday and my family has even more to celebrate this year as my sister has joined the motherhood club!  I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world to come from such a close family. Besides some typical rocky times during our teenage years, my siblings and I have always been extremely good friends—the “hang out because we want to, not because we have to” kind of friends—and, especially as adults now, are all very close with our mom.

When I became a mom just over eight years ago, one of the best parts was seeing how proud my family was of me. My son was born on my own birthday and I was not exactly thrilled about that. But when I saw the tears in my mom’s eyes and she said, “It is so awesome that we both had babies on the same date,” my perspective changed immediately; my bond with my mom changed with it.  No longer was I just her daughter or even friend; I was now part of an exclusive club, and I could tell by the look in my mom’s eyes that membership was something special. I could now tap into a side of my mom that I had never explored before, asking her questions about diapers and feeding schedules, or just sitting back and listening to her tell stories from when my siblings and I were babies. Without becoming a mother myself, I never would have had the opportunity to talk with my mom about these things; a huge aspect of her identity would have been completely lost on me since I couldn’t relate. Becoming a parent, however one chooses to do so, immediately provides common ground among other parents.  This is kind of hard to explain because this shift isn’t really visible to others, but it is almost like having an inside joke with an old friend. Except the other person doesn’t have to be an old friend, and the joke isn’t always funny. I discovered that secret inner *thing* with my mom, with the understanding looks and the knowing sighs.

My siblings also looked at me differently for a while. My brothers both cried like babies (sorry, guys) and my sister looked like she was in shock and thought I was the strongest person in the world. It was great to feel so impressive! Although becoming a parent did change me in some ways, I didn’t think it really affected my relationships with my siblings, since they couldn’t relate on that level. As the years have gone by, I have watched them grow into the most amazing aunt and uncles a kid could ask for. When my sister had a baby girl a few weeks ago, I saw those same looks of wonder on my brothers’ faces, and realized I had the look, too. I finally saw what they saw eight years ago, and it was incredibly moving. I watched my sister morph into the most powerful woman on the planet, even if just for a short time. I watched my brother-in-law melt with emotion as his entire world shifted gears, forever changed. Every time I see one of them holding Piper, I get a rush of pride that I can’t believe other people have felt for me, too. I now exchange knowing looks with my brothers, each of us trying to choke back tears. Mother's Day - Piper

But I get a bonus that my brothers just can’t understand: I now get to share with my sister what I have been sharing with my mom all these years. I get to share a secret bond that she didn’t even know existed, and I couldn’t be happier to welcome my sister to this club. My sister and I, along with our wonderful mom, are now bonded in a way that we never were before; we are all moms! It is such a crazy and exciting feeling to know that each of us has experienced the joy/pain/pride of entering into the world of motherhood. And someday, if and when our kids become parents, my sister and I will finally understand just how much this has meant to our own mom.

So, this Mother’s Day, take some time to celebrate all the moms in your life and recognize the special bonds we share.

I know I’m looking forward to my eighth Mother’s Day and my family can’t wait to help my sister ring in her first!Mother's Day

Cinco de Mayo – Watermelon Shrimp Cocktail and Easy Margaritas

Cinco de Mayo – Watermelon Shrimp Cocktail and Easy Margaritas

Cinco de Mayo is almost here! Chef J is back with some more great recipes to help you get your celebration started!

Cinco de Mayo is often thought of as Mexico’s Independence Day, the day we call in sick to work, and a holiday meant for drinking lots of margaritas. In truth, it’s only two of those things. Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th; Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of Mexico’s victory over the French during The Battle of Puebla. It’s a real underdog story, so you should definitely look it up on Wikipedia. These days Cinco de Mayo is a more general celebration of Mexican heritage. One of the best things about living here in Phoenix is the vast amount of Mexican culture we have; it’s a beautiful thing to live in a city where the average bar has at least 12 different kinds of tequila and you can’t turn around without running into the most amazing carne asada burrito you’ve ever had. San Francisco has some wonderful, hip food trucks that can please the most discerning of palettes; Atlanta fed me some of the best cheesy grits I’ve ever tasted; Chicago can serve up the pinnacle of late night urban-chic comfort food while drinking you under the table. But Phoenix is the best place this side of the border to find la auténtica comida Mexicana!

But of course there is always room for a little inventiveness. Since spring in Phoenix is more like summer on the surface of the sun, we’re going for something cool and refreshing. We are lucky to have some great food popping up this time of year and I want to eat all of it! We have watermelon and strawberries coming in, chiles and limes almost all the time, and surprisingly, we actually have a sizable shrimp industry. Strange, I know. So whether you will be enjoying your Cinco de Mayo in the pool, on the porch, or hiding from the sun in the sweet air conditioning, have a fun and safe holiday!

Cinco de Mayo is a great opportunity to celebrate with delicious food and drinks!

Watermelon Chiptole Shrimp Cocktail

  • 1 TBS vegetable oilCinco de Mayo Shrimp Cocktail
  • ½ cup chopped red onion
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 cups watermelon, chopped + juice
  • 2 roasted red peppers, chopped
  • 2-3 chipotle peppers in adobo
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp lime zest
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 TBS cornstarch w/ 1 TBS water
  • 2# shrimp, cooked

Heat up a large sauce pot and add the oil. When it is hot, add the onion.
When the onion starts to brown, add the garlic and spices and reduce the heat to medium-low.
After a few minutes, when the garlic has softened a bit, add the watermelon, red peppers, and chipotle and raise the heat back up to medium.
Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the lime juice, zest, and season to taste.
Stir in the cornstarch slurry and let it simmer for another 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and chill.
Serve with boiled or grilled shrimp.

Super Easy Margarita

  •  2 qts. cold water
  • 8 oz. lime juice
  • 8 oz. agave or honey
  • 8 oz. tequila
  • 2 oz. triple sec
  • 2 cups fresh, frozen strawberries

Mix all of the liquids.
Adjust for sweetness/alcohol content.
Pour over a few frozen strawberries.
Add salt if you want. It’s your margarita!

Printer friendly recipes: Cinco de Mayo Celebration