Review: Michael Symon’s Playing With Fire

The other day I sat down with legendary Chef Michael Symon and talked about my favorite subject: barbecue. Ok, not really, but it felt like I did after I read thru the Chef’s new cook, Playing with Fire. Full of techniques, recipes, pictures, and written very well, it got me jonesin’ to fire up my smoker and get to cookin’!

Many of the recipes in the book come from Mabel’s BBQ, Chef Symon’s BBQ restaurant outside of Cleveland, which is definitely on my bucket list. There’s a lot in here about techniques and mastering them. The recipes are all pretty straight-forward. Sprinkled throughout the book are ‘pitmaster profiles’, little sidebars highlighting BBQ pits around the US and their specialties. Good stuff, and you can sure bet there’s one near you that you need to visit (I’m a huge fan of supporting my local BBQ joints. Nothing wrong with chains, but make sure your neighborhood pitmasters get your business). Back to the book..

Introduction: I was going to skip this section. It talks about the different kinds of smokers and grills and such. I have over 20 grills and smokers, so I’m pretty up on that stuff, though there’s always something to learn no matter how long you’ve been at it. The section on fireplace cooking made me stop and pay attention. If you live in a cold place like Chef Symon (and I) do, being able to cook inside over a big open fire is a plus. If you’re new to the world of smoking and grilling, this section is a fantastic read.

The rest of the book is about recipes, and there’s a good amount of them, with great pictures and details. You’re sure to amaze your guests with everything from Playing with Fire. There’s a section on pork (hard-core great recipes, from my favorite, pork belly, to pigs ears, to cracklings to homemade bacon), beef (only seven recipes, but don’t let that bum you out. They’re all amazing, from pastrami (something I make often) to prime rib and rib eye), chicken (I cook a lot of chicken outdoors. This section of the book does not disappoint. It’s old-school favorites done right and done well), seafood (fish, shrimp and clams), lamb (not something I cook regularly, but this section will inspire me to do just that!), vegetables and sides (oddly my favorite section of the entire book. Not a lot of recipes, but those that are there are really great. Quality, tasteful dishes. Quality over quantity.), and last, sauces, relishes and rubs (darned near my favorite section too!).

I found that Playing with Fire really focuses on the important things in barbecue: technique, quality and flavor. Every dish in it is something special. At first I thought that it’s more for the hard-core barbecuer, but a novice can make anything in it too. Not many cookbooks can accomplish that.

Michael Symon’s Playing with Fire is a great book for anyone serious about barbecue. It rates very high on my ‘Mater Rater scale.

For more of my reviews of cookbooks available for the Amazon Kindle readers, visit Kindle Thyme.

Creamy Dill Broccoli Slaw

This creamy dill broccoli slaw is a wonderful spin on my favorite salad, creamy cucumber salad. Loaded with dill and a hint of lime, it has a great summer flavor with plenty of crunch to it. I added a few sliced fresh chili peppers and chives from our garden for garnish. Cilantro would also make a great addition to this slaw.
Creamy Dill Broccoli SlawYou can substitute ‘normal’ shredded cabbage for the broccoli if you wish. Broccoli slaw tends to stay crunchier longer than cabbage, which can get soggy in no time. If you do make this creamy dill broccoli slaw with cabbage instead, sauce only the amount of slaw you plan on serving. That way the leftovers won’t get drenched in sauce and become soggy.

Creamy Dill Broccoli Slaw
Author: 
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-8 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 1 bag (4 cups) broccoli slaw
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (I used slightly less)
  • Hot pepper, sliced, for garnish (optional)
  • Chives, sliced, for garnish (optional)
Instructions
  1. Place the slaw mix in a medium resealable container.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients except for the garnish. Add to the slaw. Cover and shake gently to coat.
  3. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Garnish with sliced pepper and chives, if desired.

 

Glazed Baked Mini-Donuts

Every few weeks Anita and I like to make something new and fun for her to take into work to share with her co-workers. This time we definitely tried something new for us, making baked mini-donuts. They turned out to be incredibly easy to make. We glazed some with a vanilla glaze and some with a chocolate glaze. Some got covered in sprinkles. Some didn’t. They were great and everyone enjoyed them!
We actually ended up make three dozen mini donuts because making three is actually just as easy as making one. Both glazes are simple to make. You can’t mess around once you start glazing the donuts, though. As soon as the glaze is ready start dipping those donuts! If you wait too long the glaze will set up and you’ll get nothing but donut sadness.

I used the 12-cavity mini donut pan made by Wilton.

Glazed Baked Mini-Donuts
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 dozen
 
Ingredients
For the baked mini-donuts
  • 1 cup cake flour, sifted
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • Non-stick spray
  • Mini donut baking pan
For the vanilla glaze (makes enough for 12 mini-donuts)
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 small pinch Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk or half-and-half
For the chocolate glaze (makes enough for 12 mini-donuts)
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons unstaled butter
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup (you might need a bit more)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Instructions
For the baked mini-donuts
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Spray the donut pan with non-stick spray.
  3. In large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.
  4. Stir in the the buttermilk, egg and butter until just combined. The dough will be slightly sticky and thick.
  5. Place a slightly heaping tablespoon of dough into each donut cavity. Spread it out evenly with your finger to fill the circle.
  6. Bake 6-7 minutes or until donut tops are spongy. Cool in pan for 3 minutes then transfer to cooling racks. Apply glaze only after donuts have cooled completely.
For the vanilla glaze (makes enough for 12 mini-donuts)
  1. Place all ingredients into a small shallow bowl and whisk until smooth.
  2. Dip cooled donut bottoms (the smooth side) into the glaze and transfer to a cooling rack to set.
For the chocolate glaze (makes enough for 12 mini-donuts)
  1. Place all ingredients into the top of a double-boiler over low heat with 1" of water in the bottom pan.
  2. Stir and melt completely. The mix should look shiny. If not, add a bit more corn syrup and stir.
  3. Dip cooled donut bottoms (the smooth side) into the glaze and transfer to a cooling rack to set.

Kentucky Kernel ‘Fried’ Chicken using the Vortex

I make a habit of checking out the fried chicken coating mixes at the grocery store. Sure, I can make my own, but there are so many great commercial mixes out there that I just can’t pass them up. I prefer to ‘fry’ my chicken on my Weber Performer using a Vortex insert. I get that perfectly juicy, crunchy skin, crazy good fried chicken flavor without all of the oil. Kentucky Kernel’s seasoned flour is a perfect mix of herbs and spices, making for some of the best tasting chicken I’ve ever had.
Any cut or cuts of chicken will do, but I think that ‘fried’ chicken on the Vortex is best when you use bone-in, skin-on pieces. For me that’s either split chicken breasts or thighs. No matter what you use, you’ll get very juicy tender meat and crispy skin and that’s what you’re here for. Make sure, though, that you don’t over-batter the thicken. You aren’t frying in oil. More is definitely not better when it comes to the batter. Just enough to coat the chicken is all you’ll need.

I like to brush my chicken (very lightly) with just a bit of oil just before I pull it off the grill. It gives the skin that last little special crunch.

Also try my copycat of the crazy-good fried chicken from Church’s, also made using the Vortex!

Kentucky Kernel 'Fried' Chicken using the Vortex
Author: 
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 servings
 
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Fire up your Kettle grill with the Vortex loaded with charcoal. Don't start cooking until the coals are all lit and starting to ash over.
  2. Rinse the chicken and pat dry.
  3. Pour the seasoned flour mixture into a pie pan or shallow bowl.
  4. Coat chicken completely in the mixture.
  5. Transfer chicken to the grill along the edges, skin-side up.
  6. Cover and cook for 45 minutes, turning the lid 90 degrees every 15 minutes.
  7. After 45 minutes lightly brush the chicken with a little vegetable oil. Use caution as the grill will be hot.
  8. Cover and cook another 15 minutes or until the chicken hits 160 F.
  9. Remove and let rest and come to 165 F before serving.

Garlic and Herb Marinaded Chicken on the Char-Broil Big Easy

Weber has a line of marinade mixes that you add juice to that are really, really good. And they’re perfect for flavoring chicken before cooking it on the Char-Broil Big Easy. I picked up a package of each and used them to marinate my favorite, split chicken breasts. The garlic and herb marinade is mixed with lemon juice to produce wonderfully seasoned chicken. A hint of garlic, a hint of lemon, and a mix of earthy herbs.
Since the Big Easy cooks at a high temperature you do have to watch that your chicken doesn’t char. One way to help prevent that is to not use marinades containing substances that might burn, like sugar or honey. The other is to rinse the chicken before cooking. Now, you’re going to lose a bit of flavor doing that, but if like me you’re going to remove the skin before eating, it really doesn’t make that big of a difference.

Weber makes all sorts of great flavored Just Add Juice marinades. I’ve also made chicken marinaded in their fantastic citrus herb marinade.

Love your Big Easy as much I love mine? Check out my Big Easy Add-Ons page and my free Big Easy eCookbook!

Garlic and Herb Marinaded Chicken on the Char-Broil Big Easy
Author: 
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2-4 servings
 
Note: I prefer to rinse the marinade off the outside of the chicken since it will tend to burn. The meat has already absorbed the flavors of the marinade.
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Place the chicken into a resealable bag or container.
  2. Add marinade to taste. Toss to coat.
  3. Seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, turning occasionally.
  4. Fire up your Big Easy.
  5. Transfer the chicken to the Big Easy basket.
  6. Cook for approximately 20 minutes per pound or until it reaches 165 F as checked in several places.
  7. Remove and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Crispy Smoked Smashed Potatoes

I have a rule about firing up my Weber Smokey Mountain Smoker: never leave any empty space. The fire’s already going, might as well smoke as much as you can. I had a few corned beefs smoking, which meant I had some room left over, so I threw on a bag of red potatoes. After a few hours the potatoes were tender, ready for step 2: smashing. Later, when it was time for dinner, I placed the smashed potatoes onto a super hot griddle along with a little oil to crisp them up. Man, were they every delicious! Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, with a hint of smoke. A great side dish.
I like my crispy smoked smashed potatoes topped like I’d top a baked potato: butter, sour cream, chopped crispy bacon and green onion. Anita, on the other hand, keeps hers simple by squirting them with a good dose of ketchup. No matter what you put on yours, you can’t go wrong. The smoke adds a nice different flavor that you just won’t get from the oven.

Also try my grilled Hasselback potatoes!

Crispy Smoked Smashed Potatoes
Author: 
Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Ingredients
  • Red potatoes (try to use ones that are roughly all the same size)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Your favorite potato toppings
Instructions
  1. Fire up your smoker for smoking at 250 F. Use a lighter fruit food such as peach or apple.
  2. Toss the potatoes with a bit of oil. Season well with salt and pepper.
  3. Place potatoes on the smoker and smoke until tender, 1-2 hours depending on size.
  4. Remove potatoes and let cool slightly.
  5. Place potatoes onto a cutting board or solid flat surface. Take a large skillet (cast iron works great for this) and gently push down onto the potatoes, flattening them out.
  6. To crisp the potatoes, add a little oil to the skillet you just used and place over high heat (I put the skillet on my grill).
  7. Add the potatoes and crisp on one side, 5-10 minutes. Flip and crisp the other side.
  8. Serve hot with your favorite toppings.

Pool Room Bologna Burgers

Back in my college years I spent (too much) time at a local pool hall. It was quite the dive and that’s putting it pretty nicely. But I loved it. It was smoky, greasy, and definitely not fru-fru. Beer, pool and a simple menu that fit the atmosphere perfectly. Now, the menu might not have included pool room bologna burgers, but it should have. These are the perfect no-frills sandwiches. Don’t be shy with the Pool Room sauce, either. It’s got a nice kick and it’s messy. Remember my motto: messy is tasty.
Make sure you have plenty of Pool Room sauce on hand. Slather up the bologna slices and buns real good. The biggest mistake would be to not achieve proper sauce dripping. It has to run down your chin, all over your hands, and down your arms. That’s why you don’t serve pool room bologna burgers with napkins – you’d need 40 of them. Grab a roll of paper towels instead.

Also try my fried BBQ bologna sandwiches. Bologna on a burger or sandwich is a beautiful thing!

Pool Room Bologna Burgers
Author: 
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 2 thick slices bologna
  • Ross' Pool Room Hot Bologna sauce
  • 2 hamburger buns
  • 2 slices American cheese
  • White onion, sliced thin
  • Ripe tomato, sliced thin
  • Iceberg lettuce
Instructions
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.
  2. Add the bologna slices and sear on both sides.
  3. Slather with the sauce and brown on both sides.
  4. Toast buns if desired.
  5. Slather buns with more sauce.
  6. Add the bologna, cheese, onions, tomato and lettuce.
  7. Serve with paper towels (or napkins, in a pinch)

Blue Cheese Vinaigrette

Wedge and Cobb salads are always my favorites. I can throw either one together in no time at all with a variety of ingredients, whatever I have on hand. If I’m in a hurry I might grab a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing out of the pantry, but if I have a spare minute or two I like to make my own. Like this blue cheese vinaigrette. Easy to make using ingredients I almost always have on hand. It packs that nice blue cheese twang, along with a little hit of mustard. It was perfect on my simple wedge salad.I like to use smoked pepper and salt when making this blue cheese vinaigrette. It adds a nice unexpected flavor. Subtle but definitely different than ‘normal’ salt and pepper.

Blue Cheese Vinaigrette
Author: 
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 1/2 cups
 
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup blue cheese, grated or finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Whisk together the cheese, vinegar, and mustard.
  2. While still whisking add the olive oil.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.