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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

St. Patrick’s Day with a Southwestern Twist

St. Patrick’s Day with a Southwestern Twist

For St. Patrick’s Day last year, we covered the most delicious cupcakes in the history of chocolate. We’re going to go the savory route this year with brisket and pickled cabbage. Chef J is not known for being the most traditional lad around, so of course he is giving this meal a bit of a twist! Whether you see green in the form of shamrocks or cacti, Chef J’s Southwestern Brisket is sure to make you feel lucky. A jar of pickled cabbage is a good substitute for a pot of gold, right? Take it away, Chef J!

It’s almost that time of year again! That time when green starts making it’s way into fashion and people dig deep to claim some far removed Irish heritage. Ah, St. Patrick’s Day! Is it safe to assume we will all be celebrating this holiday by spending the day in church? Perhaps one might take advantage of the rare opportunity to enjoy a small glass of wine or break lent and have a bit of salted pork. Let’s face it: most of us here in the states really don’t know anything about St. Patrick’s Day. It has been given an entirely different definition than was intended, but that’s ok. It’s now an excuse to party. Is that such a bad thing? I argue that no, it is not. We all love a good reason to get together with friends and family to enjoy some food and drink. Let’s tape some cardboard shamrocks around the office, tint our cupcake frosting green, and do our best leprechaun impressions- it’s time to party!

The first St. Patrick’s treat I think about, after Jameson and Guinness (so, the third thing…), is corned beef and cabbage. Is it Irish? No (the demand for and production of corned beef was actually in part responsible for much of the devastation of the Irish famine). But is it delicious? You bet your Blarney Stone! You will find the internet littered with recipes for corned beef this time of year; it’s essentially a brisket that has been cured in brine for about 10 days, then boiled. You can also pick one up at the super market that is ready to go. Although I do occasionally get the craving for saltpeter, I usually prefer to enjoy my brisket in a more southwestern style.

Here is a St. Patrick’s Day recipe for delicious, tender brisket that you don’t need a week and a half to prepare.

Southwestern Brisket:

  • 3-4 lb. brisket
  • 1 TBS kosher salt
  • 1 TBS ground black pepper
  • 1 TBS ground mustard
  • 1 TBS brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin

Heat your oven or BBQ to 175.
Combine all spices and mix well.
Evenly coat the brisket with the spice rub.
Wrap the brisket tightly in several layers of plastic wrap. Then aluminum foil. Place it in a deep roasting pan to catch any juices that might escape.
Roast the wrapped beef for 6 hours.
Remove it from the heat and let it sit, while still wrapped up, for at least 30 minutes.
Get your oven or BBQ up to 375.
Unwrap the brisket carefully. Save the juices!
Place the brisket back in the roasting pan and pour the liquid over it.
Roast at 375 for 20 minutes, flipping it over every 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let it sit in a warm place for another 15 minutes before slicing.
A little spicy mustard or prepared horseradish will put this over the top!

Quick Pickled Cabbage:

  •  ½ head of cabbage (green or purple), thinly sliced and washed
  • 2 qts. water
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 TBS kosher salt
  • 1 TBS whole coriander
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 2-3 whole cloves

For this recipe you will need a very clean, heat proof container that can be sealed, leaving little to no room for air. I have found that the big pickle jar (the one on the bottom shelf at the super market) is the perfect size.

Combine all of the ingredients except for the cabbage and vinegar in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Cook until the salt has dissolved.
Pack half of the cabbage into the jar and pour the liquid over until it is just covered. Do your best to get about half of the spices in.
Pack the remaining cabbage in and pour the rest of the liquid over. If there is still a little room on top you can press more cabbage in or add more simmering water. You want it to come just about to the rim.
Cover the top of the jar with a few layers of plastic wrap and then screw the lid on tightly. The plastic will help to form an airtight seal.
Let the jar sit at room temperature until it has cooled. It can sit out over night.
Refrigerate after opening.

Printer friendly recipes: SW Brisket with Pickled Cabbage

The Academy Awards: Celebrate with Oscar-worthy Red Velvet Cupcakes

The Academy Awards: Celebrate with Oscar-worthy Red Velvet Cupcakes

The Academy Awards are this Sunday, March 2nd. Chef J was going to give us a tutorial on how to dress up as the Oscar statue using only edible materials, but thankfully he decided the glitter would look better on cupcakes. Let’s all get sparkly with Chef J!

Are you ready for the fabulousness of the Academy Awards?! Do you love to see the creators of wonderful works of cinematic art celebrated? Are your knuckles white as you sit on the edge of your seat, waiting for the winners to be announced? Maybe you just want to see what all the beautiful people are wearing! And let’s not forget the speeches! Everyone loves a good acceptance speech. Whatever the draw is for you, the Oscars will surely sate your desire for Hollywood glamor. Personally, I rely on Netflix for my motion picture needs, I think everyone should win, and I wear my pajamas more often than an adult probably should. I do love acceptance speeches though…

For me, the Academy Awards are just a wonderful excuse to get friends and family together to eat, drink, and yell at the TV. It’s always fun to get everyone in on a pool for Best Picture. You can rotate who hosts the party each year so a different friend is responsible for the prize or have everyone throw in a couple bucks toward the purse. Or just gather around the tube with some champagne and scathing critique of Tinsel Town fashion. Whatever you do, make sure you have plenty of delicious treats! Since no one will be rolling out a red carpet for me any time soon I decided to make red velvet cupcakes this year (I eat my feelings…).

Red velvet cupcakes are elegant, yet loaded with sugary-sweet popular appeal – just like the Academy Awards!

Sprinkle on a little edible gold glitter and you’re ready for a real fancy-pants champagne jam!

Red velvet is thought to have received it’s name from the reddish hue produced by the mixture of acid from vinegar and buttermilk with old-style cocoa. Today most recipes call for the addition of red food coloring or beet puree to add the titular red. The amount of rouge in your cake is up to you, but keep in mind: after a few drops, you can really taste the food coloring. Experiment with it, but remember that taste is always more important than appearance!

Red Velvet CupcakesAcademy Award worthy looks.
2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
8 oz. butter, softened
1½ cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
8 oz. buttermilk
Red food coloring
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 TBS vanilla

Heat oven to 350°.
Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda together.
Cream the butter, sugar and salt and then add the eggs, one at a time.
Add the flour and buttermilk alternately, a little at a time.
Mix in the remaining ingredients; beat until smooth.
Pour into lined cupcake pans cook until they test clean; about 22 minutes.

1½ lbs. cream cheese, softened
4 oz. butter, softened
2 TBS vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
16 oz. cream
1½ cups powdered sugar

Whip the cream cheese and butter together with the vanilla and salt.
Add the cream and whip until fluffy.
Slowly add the powdered sugar and continue whipping until stiff.
Frost cupcakes and top with edible gold glitter for an award-winning effect!

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Embracing International Cuisine

Embracing International Cuisine

With the Winter Olympics upon us, we are given the opportunity to peer into the cultures and traditions of people from all around the globe.  We see all sorts of inspiring stories about athletes and their lives, providing a bit of human connection to such a grandiose event. You know what helps foster human connection better than almost anything else? If you said “food,” you’re absolutely right! Food brings people together around the world and is a social event in basically every culture.

Because the U.S. is such a melting pot, we have the privilege of having international cuisine at our fingertips at just about any moment. Whether you purchase something frozen from the grocery store, shop at your local deli for authentic cuisine, or decide to make something at home, you have access to more variety than you will ever have time to taste! We have Julia Child to thank for bringing international cooking into the homes of Americans when she exploded onto the culinary scene with accessible French recipes and techniques that could be duplicated in the home kitchen. Given the popularity today of cooking shows, blogs, and recipe forums, we now have an unlimited supply of internationally-inspired recipes that we can create and share with friends and family. We have entire grocery stores dedicated to bringing ingredients from faraway countries right into our backyards. Let’s utilize these resources and celebrate the international delights in which we are all capable of indulging.

A great way to sample the fare of many different nations is to host an international potluck, and the Olympic events are a fantastic excuse to do so.

Have your friends and family each bring a dish inspired by a different country or by their own culture and let everyone enjoy the diversity of food.  You will experience the vast array of flavors that are spread across our world and get a taste for how different regions can create a variety of flavors, oftentimes using some of the same spices or other ingredients. We live in a diverse society and should take advantage of every opportunity we have to experience and understand all of the cultures that play into it – and food is a great place to start! Chef J has shared one of his favorite Russian recipes to give you a little inspiration.

Roasted Chicken and Eggplant
Pesto:Roasted Chicken and Eggplant

  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ cup toasted pecans
  • ½ cup packed fresh basil
  • ¼ cup packed parsley
  • 3-4 sprigs marjoram
  • 2-3 sprigs oregano
  • ½ cup shredded asiago cheese
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • Salt & pepper
  • 8 oz. olive oil

In a food processor, combine all ingredients except oil, and pulse until a paste is formed.
Slowly add the oil while blending.
Season to taste.


  • 1 eggplant, sliced into ½” rounds
  • Salt & pepper
  • Olive oil

Brush the eggplant with oil and season with salt and pepper.
Roast at 375 for 20 minutes.


  • 1 Chicken breast
  • olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

Season the chicken.
Sear on one side in a hot sauté pan.
Flip and move the pan to the oven. Cook until an internal temperate of 165 is reached, about 7 minutes.
Allow to rest for a few minutes.
Cut into bite size pieces

Pickled Onions:

  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp coriander

Combine all ingredients, except onions, in a small sauce pot and bring to a simmer.
Remove from heat and add the onions.
Pour everything into a zipper bag.
Squeeze out all of the air and seal.
Let it sit at room temperature until cool.
Refrigerate until needed.

Spread a bit of the pesto on a slice of eggplant.
Add a piece of chicken and a few pieces of onion.
Roll up and skewer with a toothpick.
Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Printer friendly recipe: Roasted Chicken and Eggplant

Super Bowl Party Appetizers – Empanadas, Sliders, & More

Super Bowl Party Appetizers – Empanadas, Sliders, & More

Well once again it’s time for the Super Bowl! And that means it’s time for a party! Monday is future-you’s problem; Sunday is all about football and food. And beer. And the commercials. And yelling; there seems to always be a lot of yelling. Honestly, I don’t really understand the football, but I’m a huge fan of greasy, fatty appetizers. I’ve never met a chicken wing I didn’t like. I eat chips and salsa for breakfast. Cold cuts wrapped in a tortilla, sliced and skewered with toothpicks: that’s my jam! (Some would argue that) other than the actual game, appetizers are the most important part of any Super Bowl soiree. As Benjamin Franklin so eloquently stated: “It’s not a party unless you leave with a tummy full of nachos!” He was a brilliant man. And those words are as true today as they were when he said them, which if I am not mistaken, was while riding a T-Rex through the jungle, leading the North to victory in the Civil War. Lucky for you I am not only an expert in the field of American history, but a skilled creator of easy appetizers! I present to you several options to enjoy while cheering your sportsball squadron toward the championship. Some of these are traditional; some are to be enjoyed while possibly wearing fancy pants.

Whatever the tone of your football festivity might be, appetizers will fuel the winning celebration or sooth the shameful losers in their mourning.

2 pounds ground beef
Salt & pepper
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
24 small buns (I prefer those soft, sweet Hawaiian ones)
4 TBS butter
Real American cheese, sliced and cut into quarters (optional – but, come on!)

Season the beef and spread it evenly over a parchment lined baking sheet. Place another sheet of parchment paper on top and press it down with another baking sheet.
Flip the meat onto your cutting board and cut into 24 squares – 6 columns lengthwise, four rows across. Use your finger to press a hole in the center of each patty.
Cook half of the onions in half of the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in a bit more salt and pepper.
When the onions start to turn translucent, place half the patties in the pan. Cover and cook for 4 minutes. Remove and repeat with remaining ingredients.
Top with cheese and cooked onion. Put them in the buns. Eat way too many. Repeat as necessary.
Artichoke Queso Dipappetizers queso dip
2 TBS oil
½ cup diced onion
1 cup finely chopped marinated artichoke hearts
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Juice of ½ a lime
1 oz. Tequila
1 cup cream
1 tsp cumin
½-1 tsp ground chile
1 tsp chopped oregano
½ tsp chopped thyme
1 tsp lime zest
2 cups shredded soft, melting cheese: Mozzarella, Oaxaca, Jack…
½ cup crumbled Cotija

Heat a large saucepan to medium, add the oil.
Sauté the onions until they begin to brown, add the garlic and artichokes.
When the artichokes have softened a bit add the lime juice and tequila.
Stir in the cream, and herbs and spices; bring to a simmer.
Slowly stir in the cheese. Season to taste.
Caramelized Onion & Chèvre Crepes
1 cup flour
A pinch of salt
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1 oz. melted butter

Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.
Let batter sit for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
In a hot, lightly oiled pan pour just enough batter to evenly coat the bottom.
Cook for 1 minute or until it starts to turn brown and set up. Flip and cook for another 30 seconds.

1 sweet yellow onion, finely sliced
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp red wine vinegar
Salt & white pepper
2 TBS port wine
2 oz. water

Toss the onion with the sugar and vinegar, cook over low heat until brown.
Season to taste and remove from heat.
Deglaze the pan with port and water; pour over onions.

Goat Cheese Filling:
8 oz. chèvre
4 oz. cream
1 tsp orange zest
Salt & White pepper
Caramelized onions

Combine all ingredients.
Spread 2-3 TBS in each crepe and roll up.

Pecan Gorgonzola Empanadas
1 small shallot, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup chopped toasted pecans
½ cup Gorgonzola cheese
1 tsp honey
Salt & pepper

12 – 3”x3” puff pastry squares
2 oz. melted butter

Heat oven to 375.
Combine all filling ingredients, season to taste.
Divide filling evenly onto pastry sheets.
Fold shut, crimp shut with a fork and brush with melted butter.
Bake for about 12-14 minutes or until golden brown.

Printer friendly recipes: Super Bowl Appetizers

Holiday Cocktails – Hot Chocolate, Pancake Shots, and More!

Holiday Cocktails – Hot Chocolate, Pancake Shots, and More!

Chef J wants you to make it through the holidays with a smile on your face! This week he shares some festive holiday cocktails that are sure to brighten up your party!

We’re on the home stretch toward the big holiday parties! Whether your celebrations are populated by hip friends in freshly pressed suits and little black dresses or extended family in terrible Christmas sweaters that aren’t being worn ironically, chances are the tie that binds is sweet, sweet liquor. It doesn’t matter if you’re hitting the eggnog bright and early or waiting for that final champagne toast: booze is what makes the party world turn. Holiday cocktails bring people together, coax strangers to mingle, and make your aunt’s “famous” casserole almost edible! Anthropologists believe that civilization started because of the discovery and production of alcohol; so the least you can do is put up with grandma’s never ending interrogation about why you aren’t married yet for one night!

Here are a few recipes for fun holiday cocktails that will surely liven up your party.

If you want to be extra festive keep a supply of holiday themed sprinkles, maraschino cherries (they come in red and green), grenadine, food coloring, whipped cream, maybe some fresh mint leaves, fresh berries, etc. The holidays need to be decorated; there is no reason to exclude your drinks. Mix a teaspoon of grenadine in some ginger ale for the kids (or champagne for the old kids) with a green maraschino cherry for flare. Shake some chocolate sprinkles over your hot cocoa to show them that you care. And a spoonful of cream will float on the top of most heavy liqueurs to give your shots a festive, snow-capped look.

A little razzle-dazzle will go a long way to secure your place as the greatest holiday party host of all time!

Best Hot Chocolate Ever

  • 8 oz. milk chocolate
  • 4 oz. white chocolate
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup toasted hazelnuts, ground
  • 8 oz. cream
  • 1 gal milk
  • 4 oz. Frangelico (optional- can be added later)
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt

Melt the chocolate, sugar and cream together.
Heat the milk in a large pot. Add the melted chocolate mixture to the milk along with the hazelnuts; bring to a simmer.
Strain the hazelnuts out of the liquid and add the liqueur, nutmeg and salt.

Apple Cider

  • 64 oz. unfiltered apple juice
  • 32 oz. water
  • ½ lemon, sliced
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3-4 whole cloves
  • ½ cup honey
  • Brandy

Bring all ingredients, except Brandy, to a simmer. Let steep for at least 30 minutes (you can do this a day early and reheat to serve to get more spicy flavor). Serve hot. Season to taste with Brandy. Leave the Brandy on the side so the kids and drivers can have cider, too!

Pancake Shot

  • 1 ½ oz. maple whiskey
  • ½ oz. Irish Cream

Pour the whiskey into a shot glass.
Slowly pour the Irish Cream into it, the cream will sink.
Shoot it!

Christmas Mint Shot

  • ½ oz. Grenadine
  • 1 oz. Creme de Menthe

Pour the grenadine into a shot glass.
Carefully spoon the Creme de Menthe over the grenadine so that it floats on top.
(Peppermint Schnapps will work in place of the Creme de Menthe if you want clear/red instead of green/red).

Ginger Berry Tummy Tonic

  • 1 oz. Bourbon
  • ½ oz. Raspberry liqueur
  • 8 oz. Ginger Beer (non-alcoholic, “real” ginger ale)

Add the Bourbon and Raspberry Liqueur to a champagne flute or rocks glass.
Pour the Ginger Beer over it.
Serve chilled or over ice.
This one helps the ol’ tummy after a long night of stuffing your face with delicious holiday treats!

Do you have a favorite holiday cocktail? Share with us! No, really, share with us!
Printer friendly recipes: Holiday Cocktails

holiday cocktails

Thanksgiving Turkey – Tips for a Delicious and Juicy Turkey

Thanksgiving Turkey – Tips for a Delicious and Juicy Turkey

Thanksgiving is almost here! Are you as excited as we are? This week, Chef J shares a delicious and easy recipe to get that Thanksgiving turkey on the table. Check back next week for Chef J’s tips on carving your bird.

Turkey is my favorite poultry (as well as one of my favorite things to call bad drivers while I’m on the road…) so I take Thanksgiving dinner very seriously. Cooking a turkey and then carving that turkey can be very intimidating, especially if you have friends and relatives coming over that you would like to impress! Fear not!

With a few simple tricks you will end up with a delicious Thanksgiving turkey that your guests will just gobble up.

They will be stuffing themselves with your perfect poultry (Thanksgiving is also a great holiday for terrible puns, you jive turkeys!).

The most common problem people face on their plates is a dry bird- this doesn’t have to happen to you! For a moist turkey the key is time: take as much of it as you need. If you follow these steps, by the time you are ready to carve your Thanksgiving turkey you will have nothing to worry about. Brining the bird the day before will help it retain moisture, a little butter under the skin will add flavor and richness, and (most importantly) letting it rest before carving your turkey will keep all of the juices where they should be.

Brined Thanksgiving Turkey

As far as flavor goes, you can use whatever herbs and spices you like, but here is my favorite recipe:



  • 1 gallon of water
  • 4 cups kosher salt
  • 2 cups honey
  • ¼ cup peppercorns
  • 1 small bunch fresh rosemary
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 small bunch fresh sage
  • 1 TBS whole cloves
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 gallon cold water
  • Ice

Bring the first gallon of water to a boil. Add the remaining ingredients (except the cold water and ice!), lower the heat and let the mixture simmer for a few minutes until everything has dissolved.
Combine the hot brine with the cold water in a separate container; add ice until the mixture is cold.
Place your turkey into a container large enough to hold it and the brine, but small enough to fit in your refrigerator, positioned so that the drumsticks and cavity opening are facing upward.
Pour the brine over and into the bird, cover tightly, and refrigerate for 24 hours.
When your bird has been sufficiently brined, remove it from the liquid. Give it a quick rinse and pat it completely dry. Let it sit at room temperature while preparing the rub and heating your oven.

turkey sq 1


  • 4 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 TBS orange zest
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

Combine all ingredients.Gently rub the mixture evenly under the skin of the entire turkey.Heat your oven to 325.
Place the bird on a rack in a large roasting pan. Cover completely and tightly with heavy duty foil, tent it so that it is not touching the turkey.
If you have a thermometer that can stay in the turkey while in the oven this is the time to use it! Roast until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 in the thigh. You can estimate about 10 minutes of cooking time per pound, but this is really just a guess. The only accurate way to cook poultry is by temperature.
Pull it out of the oven and turn the heat up to 375. When your oven is ready remove the foil from the turkey (but save it for later!) and place the bird back in until an internal temperature of 170 is reached and the skin has browned up a bit.
If you like your turkey really brown you can help it out by brushing it with a bit of honey and finishing it with your oven on the convection setting.
Remove from the heat, cover with foil and let it sit for 30-60 minutes before carving.

Check back next week for the basics on carving your Thanksgiving turkey.

Printer friendly recipe: Brined Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe

End of Summer Tradition – Fajitaladas

End of Summer Tradition – Fajitaladas

I don’t know about you, but I always seem to have a hard time readjusting when school starts back up. I’m not the most organized person in the world, so dealing with drop-off and pick-up, homework and school events, I tend to slip in the dinner-cooking department! Fortunately for me, I have an awesome end of summer tradition that helps get me through those first couple weeks of school. Every year before school starts, I get together with my sister (who is a teacher and understands this pain far better than I do!) and a few of our friends for a few hours and cook up a storm to stock our freezers.  Everyone brings the ingredients for her signature dish, and we all work together to make enough batches to take home one of everything. Every year I make the same dish, my signature “Fajitaladas,” which are a yummy, freezer-friendly combo of fajitas and enchiladas. By the end of our cooking party, we each have an eclectic mix of five or six dishes to choose from when we run into the inevitable question, “What’s for dinner?”

Besides making lots of awesome food, this end of summer tradition gives us a chance to get some much needed relaxation and socialization, before jumping into the chaos of the school year.

To successfully pull off one of these parties, it helps to have a friend with a big kitchen and lots of workspace. If that is not an option, split up the tasks so you can work in assembly-line style and utilize each area to the max. Those disposable foil pans from the grocery store work fine for freezer storage (make your life easier by getting the ones with the lids), or you can use your own bakeware.

Over the years I have brought home delicious lasagnas, casseroles, pulled pork, and lots of Fajitaladas! Here is the simple recipe for my end of summer tradition dish! This is just my basic recipe, but it can be easily customized to your liking if you have other options on hand.

Fajitaladas Recipe

Makes one batch, serves 6-8end of summer tradition


  • 12 medium flour or 16 corn tortillas
  • 1-2 T olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 lb. steak or chicken, cut into strips
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 white or yellow onion, chopped
  • Fajita seasoning to taste
  • 1 16 oz. can enchilada sauce of your choice, or homemade
  • 2-3 cups Mexican style shredded cheese blend
  • Toppings of choice

If you will be eating right away, preheat your oven to 350 F.

In an oiled pan, sauté steak or chicken with fajita seasoning (taco seasoning works well, too) until browned on all sides. Add peppers and onions and sauté until meat is cooked through and onions are translucent. Set aside. If freezing, allow to cool completely before assembling. This can be done up to 3 days in advance.

Spread about ¼ cup of enchilada sauce in bottom of a 13” X 9” baking dish. This helps keep the tortillas from sticking to the pan. Lay out your tortillas on a flat surface and sprinkle a line of cheese down the middle of each. Divide veggie/meat mixture among tortillas on top of cheese. Roll each one up and place in baking dish, seam side down. Pour remaining enchilada sauce evenly over the top, and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

If baking immediately, loosely cover with foil and bake for 20-30 minutes, until cheese is bubbly. Uncover and place under the broiler for about two minutes to get that bubbly cheese nice and golden brown! Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve with sour cream, chopped tomatoes, black olives, salsa, onions…whatever you like!

If freezing, cover tightly with plastic wrap and top with foil or the lid to your dish. When you are ready to cook, allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator, remove plastic wrap (don’t forget this part – melted plastic wrap does not go well with these flavors!), put lid back on or cover with foil and follow baking instructions above, but allow to bake for 45 minutes to an hour.

So if you don’t have an end of summer tradition, try this one.  If you have a fun end of summer tradition to share with us, we would love to hear from you!

Printer Friendly Recipe: Fajitaladas Recipe






Meatless Monday Pizza Party

Meatless Monday Pizza Party

Chef J is at it again – this time sharing perfect pizza dough to satisfy any crowd!

There is a common belief that you can’t please everyone. This is correct about 99.99% of the time, and can be especially hard if you practice the growing trend of Meatless Mondays. But there is one delicious exception: Pizza! Pizza might be the pinnacle of cuisine. I doubt that there will be anything anytime soon that can knock that marvelous, cheesy circle off the throne. And though you can have it delivered in under an hour, there is a better way!

Pizza is incredibly easy to make for Meatless Monday – anyone can do it!

Doing it yourself is not only rewarding (you’ll love bragging to your friends about it!), it tastes better, it’s healthier, and it’s something that the whole group can get involved in. Everyone at the party can build their own and it’s perfect for the kids! We’ll go step by step through the process; from dough to done.

The trickiest part is the dough.

People new to the world of home-made pizza are always nervous when it comes to making the glutenous foundation of their next great meal. Fret not; here are a few simple steps that will guide you to your new pie.

The Sponge:meatless-monday-sponge
The sponge will start the process of activating the gluten- giving the dough a nice chew. It also develops the flavor by allowing the yeast to bubble and play.

Mix together in the largest bowl you have:
2 cups water
1 pound high gluten bread flour
1 TBS yeast

Don’t mix it up too much- it should look like lumpy pancake batter. Loosely cover and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours.

The Dough:meatless-monday-mix
This is the part that people tend to get a little scared about. It’s not going to work if you follow a recipe to the letter; you have to go with your gut on this one (it’s all going to your gut anyway!).

Pour the sponge into a mixer with a dough hook. Add:
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp salt
1 TBS yeast

While your mixer is on low, slowly add more flour, about ½ a cup at a time, letting each addition incorporate. Continue until it starts pulling away from the sides of the mixer. It should be a little sticky. If you are not sure, err on the side of being too wet. Keep kneading it for another 10 minutes.

Put the whole mess back into that giant bowl and loosely cover again. The dough needs to rise now to allow the new flour to absorb the liquid, the new yeast to bubble up, and all the gluten that was just worked up to relax. This will take a few hours at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator. If you really like a yeasty dough then let it hang out in the fridge.


After a while you will see your dough double, triple, or quadruple in size – so keep an eye on it! Punch it down when it starts to crawl out of the bowl. Do this twice. After the second beat-down, when the dough regains its strength and has risen again, it is ready to be formed.

Heat your oven to its hottest setting, 450-500 on convection, with a pizza stone or cast iron pan.
Generously flour your work surface and move some or all of your dough there.

Form the dough into a round lump. Starting from the middle, gently flatten and stretch the dough while rotating it to keep it round. Add flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Don’t beat yourself up if it looks more like a puzzle piece than a circle; it takes a bit of practice (it will still taste good!).

If you are using a pizza peel to shovel the pie onto your stone or pan, it is important to move the dough onto that before you start topping it, and make sure you have a healthy spattering of cornmeal between peel and dough. If you are hosting a party, have everyone put their dough on a piece of parchment paper before they start adding all of the goodies; this will make it a lot easier and cleaner to get them into the oven.

Spread on a bit of sauce and top with veggies, cheese, whatever you want! Since we’re talking Meatless Monday, some of my favorite veggie toppings are corn, olives and squash.

Throw the pizza into the oven and give it about five minutes, until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbly. Depending on the size of the pie and how much deliciousness you have piled onto it, the cooking time will vary. Limiting toppings will help the pizza cook evenly and quickly. When it’s done make sure to let it cool a bit before digging in – we’ve all burned the roof of our mouth due to pizza impatience!

The best part is you don’t even need to tip! How’s that for Meatless Monday?!
Printer Friendly Recipe: Perfect Pizza Dough
More from Chef J: BBQ Beef Brisket, Hibiscus Margaritas, Ginger Citrus Grilled Scallops


Our Annual Theme Party!

Our Annual Theme Party!

July 4th, 2003 is when it all began.  The family reunion that year was loosely themed a Hawaiian party. You know, wear your Hawaiian shirt and call it good.  All of our kids were playing outside enjoying the warm, balmy July day, when they came running in the house to show us their “costumes.”  They had raided the neighbors garden, pulling out every green leafy flower in their flower beds, and had pieced together hula skirts for all of the kids…The Annual July 4th Family Reunion Theme Party was born!

This year will be our 10th anniversary, having enjoyed a different theme party each year, without fail. It has brought our extended family closer, with  brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, cousins and neighbors all looking forward to the annual theme party. (Needless to say, the neighbors are forever honorary guests having sacrificed their flower garden year one).  Each year it seems the party gets more extravagant, as we have become pretty efficient at planning, organizing and partying.  What all the theme parties have in common is:

  1. They are held during the July 4th holiday weekend
  2. Awards are given for best costumes in a variety of categories
  3. The house is decorated in theme, inside and out
  4. And best of all, the food must match the theme party!

My brother reveals the “theme” for the party two months in advance, giving the competitive members of the family (namely me) enough time to research, craft or purchase their unique costumes.  Menu planning starts a few weeks in advance as we collaborate, via email, on the various dishes and accompanying delights that fit our theme party.  Decorations are purchased a week in advance. Finally, on the day of the event, we pull it all together including decorating and cooking for up to 45 people!

One of my favorite theme parties was our Bug Party.

If you think about it, you can just imagine how creative the food choices could be.

My sister-n-law created a Caterpillar Cake from two chocolate bunt cakes sliced in half, then pieced together to make an s-shape.  She used frosting to glue it together, alternating chocolate and vanilla frosting for each segment of the caterpillar.  Then we had a blast decorating with dots, candy corn legs, and Oreo eyes (see feature photo above). The buffet table was draped with a table cloth made from red and white picnic pattern with ants on it.  Our centerpiece for the dinner table was a bowl of gummy worm apples.  And finally the hot dog and hamburger buns where garnished with some plastic beetles, spiders and flies.


The most visually interesting dish, and the yummiest of all, was the Dirt Cake, complete with gummy worms!

Here is our tried and true Dirt Cake Recipe:


1 package Oreo cookies

1/3  cup butter or margarine

1- 8 oz container softened Cream Cheese

1 cup powdered sugar

3.5  cups milk

2 – 3.5 oz packages French Vanilla Pudding

1- 12 oz container Cool Whip



Smash Oreo cookies until very fine.  We use a zip-top bag and a rolling pin to smash.
Mix butter, cream cheese, and sugar in a medium bowl.
In a large bowl combine milk, pudding and Cool Whip and mix together.
Combine pudding mixture and cream cheese mixture.
Layer in glass baking dish starting with cookies, then cream mixture. Repeat layers.
Garnish with gummy worms.
Chill until ready to serve.

I am heading off to our 10th Annual Family Reunion Theme Party now.  The theme this year is “Heroes and Villains.” Stay tuned for more stories.  And enjoy your fourth of July!

Printer Friendly: Dirt Cake

Need some more inspiration for your get-together? Check out these fabulous recipes: Grilled Scallops, Amaretto Spice Cupcakes, Smoked Brisket