Friday, June 29, 2012

Brick Barbecue Pit Ready for Summer

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. Been very busy teaching summer classes. But speaking of summer, last week was the solstice, and it sure feels like it! We've been getting over 100 for the last several days. My dear husband, Daniel, managed to get the brick barbecue pit in working order just in time for outdoor cooking weather. It came with our house, but was in a state of disrepair. The grill grate and firebox door were extremely rusted, and some of the mortar was cracking, with bricks coming loose.

Here it is now all fixed up! Daniel cleaned it all out, got some mortar to fix all the cracks, put the loose bricks back into place, and  replaced the door and grate.

We got the new grate at Academy Sports. They have a good section of outdoor cooking equipment, including a replacement grate that fit perfectly.

Here is the replacement door Daniel made. He really outdid himself with this! It's made of a piece of sheet metal he cut to size, and then added hinges, a handle, a latch, and even adjustable air vents made of metal disks (now that I think of it, I'm not sure what those were originally supposed to be, but he'd know!) that swivel over holes he drilled in the sheet metal. The whole thing is painted with heatproof grill paint (he later painted the big door on top with the same paint after scraping the rust off).

He even drilled a hole through the mortar so I can slip in a thermometer to read the internal temperature. It's actually a deep frying thermometer with a long probe, but it seems to work fine for getting at least an estimate of the temperature. The end of the probe sticks out right next to where the meat goes.

Here I'm getting it fired up for its first use after being repaired! So far I've been using a mixture of wood and charcoal. I let it burn a bit to preheat the smoker and wait until the flames die down a bit before adding the meat.

Here's the first thing we cooked in it, two whole chickens. I brined them overnight, and then rubbed them with Penzey's BBQ 3000.

And here they are when done! Don't they look great? I inserted my probe thermometer into the middle of the breast of the largest chicken, and set it to 155 degrees. Using the other thermometer sticking through the bricks, I kept the temperature in the smoker around 300 - 350 degrees, and they took about 2 1/2 hours to cook, with another 20 minutes or so resting time. Cooking this way isn't very exact. The important thing is to get the meat up to the right temperature so that it's done but not overcooked, but the time this takes can vary depending on the size of the meat, the temperature in the smoker, and probably lots of other variables. That's why you can't really go by time, you have to go by the internal temperature of the meat, which is why having a probe thermometer is so handy.

The chickens ended up cooked all the way through, but still moist and juicy and not dried out at all, with great smoky flavor. I'm really looking forward to cooking all kinds of things in here in the future, maybe some barbecue brisket or pork shoulder or ribs, or even Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas ham. I bet I could even throw some ripe jalapeno peppers from my garden in there to make chipotles.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Firefly Moon

It's always fun to go away on vacation and come back to see the big difference in the garden. When I look at the garden every day, I don't notice the changes as much as when I'm gone for over a week. It turns out we didn't get any more rain in May after that rainy weather at the beginning of the month, which is a shame. My in-laws had to water the garden a bit in our absence.
The esperanza by the porch has really taken off.  It's covered in clusters of yellow flowers now. The hummingbirds really love it.

I've got several lantanas in my yard that are in full bloom now too. Lantana is a really good native plant to grow. Hummingbirds and butterflies really like the blossoms, and then it gets berries on it that provide food for birds. It also blooms right in the heat of summer.

I was surprised to see how much my basil transplants grew while I was gone. They're ready to plant in the garden. I think I will put them in the spot where my garlic is now, after I harvest it.

I managed to get a picture of one of the hummingbirds as I headed out to the garden, when she landed on the top of my bamboo bean tepee.

Here is the garden now, a thick jungle of tomato plants! That rain really did it some good. Can't wait to harvest some tomatoes.

I went ahead and uncovered the squash, because it looked like it was about to bust out of the floating row cover on its own. I hope I wasn't too early, because it doesn't have blossoms yet. I'm not sure how many Jarrahdales ended up sprouting, or if they're all Kamo Kamo. I was surprised at the spines this variety of squash has on it. All squash has prickles of some type, but while they're more like stiff hairs on a lot of squash, this one has little thorn-like things.

The San Juan melons are growing too, but they're still behind the other cucurbits, since I kind of planted them late as sort of an afterthought.

The Rattlesnake pole beans are climbing up the poles and are starting to get blossoms on them. I hope they really are as heat tolerant as people say, so I can get some beans on them. I'm out of seed for them.

It won't be long now before I can harvest some ripe tomatoes, but it looks like I've got some rogue tomatoes, in addition to the rogue peppers I already mentioned. These tomatoes are growing in a patch that's supposed to be all Spear's Tennessee Green, but they're clearly some kind of red cherry (some of them are almost ripe!). It's hard to tell how many rogue tomatoes I have, since the plants are all tangled together. Next time I'm putting up tomato cages.

This is what Spear's Tennessee Green is really supposed to look like, a large, green-when-ripe tomato. I think this one here is almost ripe, because it's turning more of a yellow-green than the others. I've never grown a green-when-ripe tomato before, so I haven't learned yet what they look like when ripe.

It's about time to pick some peppers too. The Emerald Giant peppers are living up to their name, getting nice and big. I'm going to wait until they start to turn red to pick them, mainly to see how big they can get. Besides, ripe peppers taste better anyway.

The Lemon Drop peppers are starting to ripen too, turning bright yellow. I can already tell I'm going to get a lot of them. I found a recipe for hot sauce I plan on making from them, and maybe I'll dry the rest, which I think is the traditional thing to do with them in their native Peru.

The luffa gourds and Boothby's Blonde cucumbers have grown up to the top of their supports, and the cucumbers are starting to get little fruits on them.

Finally, the garlic is starting to dry down and get ready to harvest. I already harvested Lorz Italian. Unfortunately, all I got were small bulbs about the same diameter as a quarter. I'm not surprised since I'm sure transplanting them from the old house was a big setback. After doing all that work, I think this time I will try keeping them for planting stock for this fall. I was told that they'd work fine for that, though I am wondering how well such small cloves would do. Oh well, it's worth a try, and maybe this way I won't have to buy as much seed garlic this year, though I probably will buy some just in case.