Monday, August 11, 2014

Bacon Wrapped Chicken Lollipops

Have you ever been shown a picture that prompts your mouth to start drooling all over the place while your brain says, "Stop everything, I need to eat that!"  Well... May I present a tin of bacon-wrapped Chicken Lollipops, for your consideration?  Here:

If you're bored and tired of the same old Chicken Leg, but you love their sale price, why not jazz your legs up to "Competition Level?"

You will need:
  • Chicken Legs
  • Dry Rub; equal parts of
    • brown sugar
    • chili powder
    • salt
    • pepper
  • THINly sliced bacon strips
  • Your favorite BBQ sauce
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
First, a couple of words about knife safety and bacterial contamination...
Knife safety = Good!
Bacterial contamination = Bad!

This recipe requires a LOT of prep work.  Unfortunately, the more prepping you do, the more careful you have to be about cross-contamination, cutting yourself, etc, etc.  So, if you're right-handed, keep a super sharp knife, a delicious beverage, and a clean pair of needle-nosed pliers on the right-hand side of your cutting board.  Wash your hands, and take hold of the knife with your right hand.  Repeat after me:  "I will NOT touch any chicken with my right hand.  I will only touch my knife, my beverage, and my pliers with my right hand.  I will clean everything with anti-bacterial soap, using both hands, when all of my chicken is prepped and sitting in the pan."

Some of you may struggle with touching or handling raw meat.  This recipe is not for you!  If you're on the fence about it, just take a deep breath, grow a pair, and dive right in!

Now, put all of your chicken on the left side of your board, and place a clean roasting pan for collecting the legs, in the middle.  Begin!  Grab a leg with your left hand, place it on your board, and cut all the way around the bone, just above the ankle.

Use your knife to "shave" a flap of skin down and over the "hinge" of the ankle. 

Here's the fun part, use the pliers and slide one of the "jaws" into the trough that lies between the hinge points of the ankle, and wrestle the "sock" off of the bone.

While you still have the pliers in your right hand (You didn't touch the chicken with your right hand, did you?), grab and firmly tug out all of the white ligaments, and that little "spike" bone that we all find when we eat chicken legs.  There are 4 ligaments to yank, and that one bone to pull out.  This step isn't totally necessary, but if you're cooking in a competition, you'll score poorly if you don't do it.  Also, your family will appreciate the effort when they eat these, so your patience will be rewarded.  Don't worry if it takes you 20 minutes to prep your first leg.  You'll get faster, I promise!

Now, grab the meat of the leg in your left hand and anchor it to the cutting board,  Pick up a paper-towel with your right hand, and use it to grip the end of the bone.  Pull the bone up and around in a circle while anchoring the meat down to the board.  This will ball the meat up into a sphere and keep it collected so that it will stand up in the pan.

Now, go to the sink and wash your hands, knife, pliers, board, and wipe down the area around your cutting board with some anti-bacterial wipes.  Why wash now?  Cross-contamination... that's why.  You don't want to open your fridge, grab your bacon, or refill your beverage with chicken goo on your hands...

When things are clean, go get your pack of thin-cut bacon out of the fridge, and collect your dry rub.  Liberally shake your dry rub all over the meat portion of your lollipops (try to keep the bones clean).  Then wrap each one with one slice of bacon.  Line them up in the pan, and wash your hands, prep station, etc, for the last time.  Why "thin" bacon?  Well, thin bacon is more malleable, and it's easier to work with.  Also, it will add a hint of bacon flavor without overpowering the chicken.

Finally, wrap a small bit of foil around each bone, so they'll stay nice and clean during the cooking process.

Time to cook!  Personally, I prefer to smoke them at about 275 degrees for two hours, or until the inside of each leg touches 165 degrees. 

At 165, take out the pan and dip each lollipop into a mixture of 2 parts bbq sauce to 1 part cider vinegar.  No need to brush or mop the sauce on, just dip each leg and set them gently back into the pan.  Put the pan back into the smoker (or oven, grill, whatever you're using to cook) and bring the legs up to 175.  This will "set" the sauce into a nice flavorful coating that won't run all over the place.  Take the foil off of the bones while they rest for a few minutes, and serve.

Are these a lot of work?  Yes.  Is hard work generally rewarded?  YES!  I smoked these, using apple-wood.  You could certainly use the indirect method of cooking on a charcoal grill, or a (*sigh*) propane grill, too.  Just be sure to monitor the temperature of the legs.

Monday, August 4, 2014

What? Did you say, "TOFU Fajitas??"

*SIGH* Tofu.  Billions of Asian people who eat this stuff can't be wrong, can they?  There is a very small group of vegetarians who picket my castle door from time to time (they're harmless, really, being afraid of guns, too), demanding that I give Tofu a "Fair Shake."

My feeling is, if you have to work your butt off to mold Tofu into a shape that vaguely resembles a turkey, and if you have to infuse the tofu with turkey stock and other chemical additives to make it taste like turkey... Instead of a "Tofurkey" at Thanksgiving, WHY DON'T YOU JUST EAT SOME REAL TURKEY??

I digress.  I did my level best to construct an edible Tofu Fajita.  Before I tell you how I did it, we need to get some rules straight:
  1. Do not ever tell me, "It tastes just like chicken, you can't even tell the difference!"  If anyone ever tells you that after eating Tofu, they're lying to you, or they burned off their taste buds a long time ago.
  2. God gave us teeth for a reason.  Tofu requires no use of these teeth no matter what you do to it, so do not ever tell me, "The texture, it's just like chicken, you can't even tell the difference!"  If anyone ever tells you that, they're lying, or they've never actually bitten into a real chicken.
  3. I don't condone the use of Tofu.  Ever.  But if you're in a pinch, and you want to eat something that actually tastes good, and you need protein, and there aren't any chickens around... I'm your man.  

Keep this recipe handy.  If you're ever kidnapped by over-zealous hippies and dragged back to their commune, you'll need it... At least until they all close their eyes and hold hands to sing "Kumbayah" in a circle, affording you the chance you'll need to escape!

You will need:
  • Homemade Pico de Gallo
  • Homemade Guacamole
  • Grilled onions and Peppers
  • Flour Tortillas (Preferably homemade)
  • Two fresh Jalapenos
  • Three garlic cloves
  • Soy Sauce
  • Sriricha Sauce
  • Sesame Oil
  • 1 package "FIRM" Tofu

I cooked and assembled this recipe alongside some grilled chicken, so everyone who reads this can do their own comparison and make up their own minds about what they might like.  Each fajita (the chicken, and the tofu version) were identically assembled.

Be advised.  When the package says, "Firm," you should not expect any "Firmness" from the Tofu whatsoever.  You could literally suck the entire contents of this package down with a straw, and filter it through your front teeth on its way down.  It's a bit like jello that tastes like water and magnesium (only softer).  One "Benefit" of Tofu (they say) is that it takes on other flavors as you cook it!  I'll never understand that.  Personally, I'd rather eat "chicken" than "jello that tastes like chicken" but... we've already been over that.

Since this Tofu wasn't anywhere near "Firm" in my book, I placed the block on a stack of paper-towels and I put a heavy dessert plate on top of it and walked away for a few hours.  I managed to press a lot more water out of it, and it got firmer, but who are we trying to kid?  This stuff will never be so firm that you might have to cut it with a knife.  I daresay, that I could cut the firmest Tofu with a single Kleenex.  Do the best you can, and firm it up.  Then, slice it into hunks that might resemble slices of grilled chicken.

Dice your Jalapeno and garlic and saute them in a pool of sesame oil in a non-stick pan.  When the oil is good and hot and you've cooked down your veggies, add the tofu.  Liberally season with salt and pepper, and add some Sriracha and about a tablespoon of soy.  Toss the Tofu around in the pan, and stir-fry it until all four sides of each "plank" are golden brown.  The best you can hope for here is a moderately chewy outside, and a mushy gelatinized goo in the middle that tastes vaguely of garlic, jalapeno, and sesame.  Add about 1/2 cup of chicken stock if you want to add some chicken flavor, just don't do it when the hippies are watching because they might freak out.. Tell them to go and take a shower or something.  And tell them to USE DEODERANT this time!

Here is my finished Tofu, stacked inside a nice homemade flour tortilla, with some guacamole, fresh Pico, and some grilled peppers and onions.  Below, on the left, you'll see the identical dish, constructed with grilled chicken...

This is a lovely chicken fajita!  Something you could really sink your teeth into!  Lean, low in fat, high in protein, deliciously cooked over a wood fire and pulled from the heat at 165 degrees before being sliced and devoured.

Here, you see both fajitas, after I've taken a test bite out of them.  Ok, well, I admit to taking three or four test bites out of the real chicken one (on the right, in the picture) because it was absolutely delicious!  The Tofu fajita had the texture of a "mashed potato" fajita, only much softer.  It tasted of guacamole, fresh garden salsa, and it had a hint of "stir fry" aroma with the distant bite of Sriracha.

All in all, I have to say... the Tofu fajita wasn't too bad.  It was certainly "edible."  If you served me one, I'd eat it.  If you pulled the Tofu out, I'd still eat it, but I'd leave the Tofu on the plate.

I suppose Tofu has it's place in the world, but it's place is not at my house.  Whenever I mash it up against the roof of my mouth with my tongue to try to taste it, it splits all apart and goos up my whole mouth and I make this face... My wife calls it my, "Oops, someone just sneezed into my mouth and you might have to call 911" face.  Your mileage may vary!