The hills we see from our backyard are normally lush and green this time of year. My wellies should be parked next to the back door, not cooped up in a box in my closet.
See, California is in a tough spot. We are in an awful drought. Last year was the driest calendar year in California since records began in 1849, and hardly a drop of water has fallen this year. Salmon can't spawn in the dry rivers, thousands of acres of farmland can't be irrigated due to the light Sierra snowpack. It's bad. I'm practically doing a rain dance daily.
With this dry weather, has also come ridiculous warmth. It's strange, but it's almost like summertime.
With this beautiful (albeit unwanted) weather, Mr. McCormick started itching to get back out to barbecue. The Brinkmann has been cooped up in the garage for months because we thought it would be raining all winter. But with this 70 degree sunshine, why not have a wintertime barbecue?
Two years ago, we moved into a home with a yard, which meant we could get a grill. Not just a little portable version, but a real, honest to goodness man grill.
It was up to Mr. McCormick to choose the outdoor cooking tool of his choice. I figured he would go with the standard charcoal options, but instead, he pointed at a large smoker.
Mr. McC: "We should get that one."
Amelia: "What is that? A smoker?! What are you going to do with that?"
M: "Smoke things! All kinds of things. Like ribs, and brisket ..."
A: "You mean, with wood chips?"
A: "But we can still grill stuff, right? Like if we wanted just grilled chicken breasts or eggplant?"
Thus began our grilling/smoking journey. Mr. McC has always been our outdoor cook, but with our Brinkmann Smoke'n Pit he has stepped it up a notch. It's been a terrific two years of entertaining friends and family with recipes like:
And that doesn't even include the stuff we have just grilled.
When we started menu planning for our wintertime barbecue, I turned to the best place for inspiration when you want to fire up the charcoal, Green Egg, propane, smoker ... whatever you have.
This book is the best. If you love to barbecue, pick it up.
Streetcar Dogs with Red Pepper Relish
Bobby Flay is a New York guy, and as such, knows a good hot dog. This relish sounded like a perfect summertime (wintertime) accompaniment.
For the relish
3 red bell peppers
6 garlic cloves, roasted and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
For the hot dogs
8 all-beef kosher hot dogs
Freshly ground black pepper
8 hot dog buns
Make the relish ahead of the dogs to let it cool to room temperature before serving.
Heat your grill to high for direct grilling. Brush the bell peppers with canola oil and grill, turning, until charred all over, about 10 minutes. Remove to a bowl, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes.
(This is after letting them sweat for 10 minutes.)
Peel (or don't, I like the char for more flavor), seed, and thinly slice the peppers.
Combine the bell peppers, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and chopped parsley in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Cover and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving.
When ready to cook the dogs, brush them with oil and season with black pepper. Grill until slightly charred and golden brown on all sides, about 8 minutes.
(Or more like 4 minutes in this inferno.)
To serve, spread the bottoms of the hot dog buns with mustard, top with a hot dog, and top with red pepper relish. Garnish with parsley.
Oaxaca Burgers with Pickled Habanero Onions and Mole
I still can't consistently say "Oaxaca" correctly, but I know that any time I see this central Mexican region listed on a menu item, I will love it.
The mole and pickled onions for these burgers are a bit time intensive, but worth it. Make a day ahead if need be.
Pickled Habanero Onions
3/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 5 limes)
3/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons fine sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 habanero chile, seeds removed
1/2 large red onion, in 1/8 inch slices
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
(Be sure to make this 4-48 hours in advance.)
Combine the lime juice, vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and habanero in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar is disolved, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
Put the red onion slices in a small bowl or canning jar.
Pour in the warm vinegar mixture, add the oregano and cilantro, and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate, stirring the mixture a few times for at least 4 and up to 48 hours.
(16 hours into the pickling process.)
1/4 cup slivered raw almonds
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 small Spanish onion, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cup pureed plum tomatoes
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus more if needed
Scant 1/4 cup pureed canned chipotle in adobo
2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon New Mexican chile powder*
1/2 teaspoon chile de arbol powder*
1/4 cup chopped mango
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup crushed blue corn tortilla chips*
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon maple syrup
3 tablespoons molasses
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 ounce semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
*I used regular chile powder and plain tortilla chips
Put the almonds in a medium saucepan over medium hat and toast, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden brown. About 5 minutes. Remove to a plate.
Increase the heat to medium-high, add the oil and heat until it begins to shimmer. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato, chicken broth, chipotle and chile powders. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes.
Add the mango, raisins, tortilla chips, and almonds and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
Carefully transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until smooth. Return the mixture to the pan over high heat. Add the honey, molasses, syrup, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and chocolate and cook until reduced to a sauce consistency, about 10 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper. Serve, or let cool and refrigerate for later use.
1 1/2 pounds 80 percent lean ground chuck
2 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and pepper
1 cup grated Manchego cheese
4 hamburger buns, split
Pickled habanero onions (recipe above)
Mole (recipe above)
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
Form meat into 4 uniform patties, no thicker than 3/4 inch. Then make a deep depression in the center of each with your thumb.
(This is an amazing step, one that Mr. McC swears by to keep burgers juicy.)
Grill the burgers until cooked to medium, about 4 minutes per side. During the last minute of cooking, add the Manchego to the burgers, close the cover, and cook until the cheese is melted.
Grill the buns, split side down, until toasted, about 30 seconds.
Remove the burgers to the buns and top each with a dollop of mole sauce, some of the pickled habanero onion and a slice of avocado.
(Add a margarita on the side if you feel so inclined.)
I could get used to this wintertime barbecue thing. What a killer meal.
We had good friends come over to taste test and all of these flavors, plus Bobby's guacamole. I wouldn't skip a single element, they all layer together perfectly.
However, the burgers were the standout of the day, due to the creative Manchego, mole and pickled onion combination. Those onions were so crunchy and had a nice kick.
If you need a Super Bowl menu that will impress, just make all of the above. So, so good. And I'm excited to have plenty of mole left over to play with this week.