Smoking BBQ Experiment

Its February, its not too warm, its wet, so its hardly barbeque time is it? Wrong! At Christmas time, Jane was gifted some Amazon vouchers, and after some consideration and a lot of browsing, she had a brainwave. Something she was always wanted – after she and I watching hours of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on Food Network – was a BBQ smoker. The thought of smoking our own meat sounded a great idea, and something different from the normal BBQ turnout (in our house at least) of burgers and sausages. After more consideration, Jane plumped for the Mini Idaho Smoker BBQ (http://www.amazon.co.uk/vidaXL-Smoker-BBQ-Mini-Idaho/dp/B008R54VOG It seemed ideal for our first smoker. Big enough for our needs really, and nothing too expensive if it all went wrong!

We gave it a bash a few weeks ago with some marinaded chicken, which turned out well. But today we experimented again! Jane had bought a cheap beef joint (we weren’t ready to risk a more expensive bit of beef!) and with the weather forecast to be dry today, we decided to plough ahead. Jane had prepared a wet rub for the beef – there was hoisin, sugar, garlic, black pepper, soy sauce amongst the ingredients – we actually meant to go for it on Sunday, but as I was ill, we postponed it until today meaning it had a few days to really marinade. It smelled absolutely amazing – and that was before we got it in the smoker!

We prepared the coals this morning. We bought a chimney charcoal starter (http://www.amazon.co.uk/BBQMaster-Chimney-Charcoal-Starter/dp/B0030BN0DA/ref=sr_1_4?s=outdoors&ie=UTF8&qid=1392833635&sr=1-4&keywords=chimney) as we’d read that it really helped get the coals up to heat. If you’ve struggled getting your bbq up to heat then its a must. There’s no need for firelighters as you fill the pot with coals, then underneath the grill you stuff it with paper and light with a match. Once the paper takes light, its not long before the coals get going and within 20 minutes, they are glowing red-hot. On to the bbq they went, and before long, it was up to 400f. On went the soaked wood chips, then the meat. The smoker was, well, smoking! It wasn’t long before there was a glorious smell coming from it.

We had to heat a second lot of coals after about 2 – 3 hours, but after 4-odd hours of cooking time (and basting the meat with the remains of the marinade), the meat was ready. Would the experiment have worked? The outside of the joint was very crispy, but the flavour! Amazing! The inside of the joint was beautifully moist and juicy and incredibly flavourful. The boys devoured their share, so I think we can say it was a bit of a big success! I think we will learn some lessons – we should probably try to cook beef joints at a slightly lower temperature, probably somewhere about 325 – 350f and for slightly longer. But for a first attempt at cooking a beef joint in the smoker, it was a bit of a success.

Barbeque season starts in February for us!

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Pizza Time – Homemade Style

We’re taking it easy at home today on the last year – well with the exception of Jane. She’s been busy in the kitchen to get ready one of our favourite meals. We love to make our own pizza dough so we can put together our own pizzas. They really are lovely, and each of us can load them with our favourite toppings. I can already taste the pepperoni, salami, onions, sweetcorn & chillies on mine! The base is lovely and thing, the toppings thick. There’s a bit of work on preparing the dough – currently rising as we speak – but the fun part comes later. Spreading out the dough and topping them is a task the boys love. Its a real sensory experience for them, and they both love helping in the kitchen.

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They so enjoy getting their hands in the dough – its as much to feel what its like as much as it is preparing it for topping. Everything done in the kitchen has a dual purpose. The whole food preparation cycle is a sensory experience for the boys, but most of all they love getting their pizzas exactly as they like them. We know its something they love doing, and crucially they are keen to eat the end result! Well, if it means they’ll get a filling balanced meal – particularly Matthew who hasn’t been eating this week after being poorly, its all worth it. Roll on tea time!

Junior Coffee Time

Children don’t develop sophisticated pallets for a good few years – which probably accounts for kids meals in restaurants consisting of chicken nuggets, hotdogs & fish! Something that does take a while to develop a taste for is coffee. Its bitter taste is hard on taste buds that naturally prefer sweet flavours. Daniel – as you will probably know – is not like other children in many ways. He stands out due to him having Aspergers, but he’s not just another little boy. Oh no. Not our Daniel.

A few months ago, Jane bought a Nescafe Dulco Gusto coffee machine (https://www.dolce-gusto.co.uk/EN/machines/piccolo-genio/Pages/manual.aspx). I uses small pods to make a whole range of coffees from espresso through to sweet mocha to hot chocolate. Its a brilliant thing, and I’m now addicted to mocha! Daniel saw the machine of course, and his natural curiosity got the better of him, and as usual he was full of questions about it. He took one look at one of the coffees Jane had – caramel latte machiatto (lovely!) and announced he wanted to give it a try!

Now, this sparked a bit of a debate between Jane & myself. Should we really be letting a six-year old have a mug of coffee, with all that caffeine? Daniel is highly strung as it is, and adding caffeine to the mix was a real consideration. He’s always agitated, and never stops. He can get really animated and overly excited from time to time. After consideration though, we decided to go for it, and let him have a mocha. We thought that the sweet flavour, and creamy texture would appeal to him. We did wonder if like many things, he would like the thought and look of it, but once he tried it, he’d think again.

We needn’t have worried about that! He loved it! Instantly he wanted another! We explained to him about the caffeine (he knows he’s not allowed to drink full caffeine cola) and that two much would really make him hyper. I think he took that on board, as when he does have a coffee (still relatively rare) he won’t have another that day. We did suggest to him he not go into school and tell his teacher that he had coffee with his breakfast!

Still, its good for Daniel to try new things when it comes to food. As far as I’m concerned, eating is quite possibly life’s greatest pleasure, and there are so many flavours out there to experience. Daniel loves the sweet/bitter taste of mocha, and I think he also feels quite grown up drinking coffee. Water remains his drink of choice – or fizzy orange – but I suspect he is the only coffee drinker amongst his peers. Like most things, drinking coffee in moderation shouldn’t cause him any real problems. Like anything, its when you take too much then that’s when the problems arise.

Daniel is enjoying his new flavour. No doubt it’ll pass and he’ll move on to something different. But for now, make it another mocha!

Fussy Eater Surprises

At the start of the week, the boys (under supervision!) prepared steak casserole for cooking in the slow cooker (https://theworldofneil.wordpress.com/2013/02/23/slow-cooked-steak-casserole/) They love being involved in the kitchen – a sensory thing I suspect – and preparing our casserole in particular. The potatoes and carrots are always chopped up “rustic” style, which adds to the casserole I think, but they are happy and content that they are helping. The great thing about it is that once chopped up, it all goes in the slow cooker and can (almost) be forgotten about.

What is quite surprising over the whole thing is Matthew. Matthew is a very fussy eater, and in true ASD style can’t have the constituent parts of a meal mixed up. That way he’s able to eat one thing, and one thing only, at a time. Nor does he like wet food. When we have a roast, he tends not to cover it in gravy, preferring to have it dry so he can see what he’s eating. When I encountered the recipe for the casserole, I must admit that the motivation for cooking it was down to self interest. I love steak, and a thick stew sounded lovely. I did think Daniel would also like it, as he tends to be a bit of a human dustbin at times, although he has definite likes and dislikes when it comes to food. He likes meat though, so I went for it.

The great thing about the casserole is that it can be loaded with veg. The boys and I put in half a dozen carrots for starters. We often put in peas and sweetcorn too. Its a brilliant way of getting veg into them, not that they take much encouragement. I do limit the veg to ones I know they’ll like. We’ve had leeks in the house this week, and while I like them, after explaining to Daniel that they’re basically a mild onion, he said he wouldn’t really like it, so it was a no. The casserole does have onion in it, but its finely chopped, so even Matthew will eat them.

The first time we made it, it turned out beautifully. Thanks to the stock pots – we tend to use the Knorr ones (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Knorr-Stock-Pot-Beef-Pack/dp/B007XR1R64/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1383893241&sr=8-2&keywords=knorr+stock+pots), although the smaller Maggi ones (http://www.maggi.co.uk/Range/Stock-Pots/) we used last time do a great job too. I have to admit that I was sceptical the first time I saw them advertised, but they do give a lovely meaty flavour to the casserole. That aside, I was apprehensive when I put Matthew’s bowl in front of him. Even though he was involved in the preparation, his distaste for mixed up wet food meant there was no guarantee he’d like it – or eat it. To my surprise – and delight – he loved it.

It all made such a big hit on Matthew that he will often ask if we can have steak casserole. Jane doesn’t like steak, so its basically a meal for the boys of the house. I always involve them in the preparation (this time around, I didn’t do any of the preparation, other than put the ingredients in the slow cooker (its a Breville one we have – its brilliant http://www.breville.co.uk/products/slow-cookers-and-steamers/slow-cookers/vtp185-cream-collection-slow-cooker.html) and season and thicken it at the end. But Matthew will devour it, which has been the biggest surprise of all. His fussiness has prevented him from trying a lot of foods, so when he asks for something to be made, or smells in and rubs his stomach, its a bit of a breakthrough for him.

He still won’t mix his foods though. Steak casserole is fine, as he sees the ingredients in the constituent parts before they go it to the pot. He knows that’s how a casserole is made and presented. Its like seeing a school friend out of school. They are fine in class, as that’s how things should be. See them out of school, and its an alien concept to show friendship. A casserole is supposed to have steak, veg and potatoes mixed together in a gravy!

It was a real surprise he liked it so much, but a welcome one. A casserole (thanks in part to the amount of veg we put in!) will do the boys and I two good size meals, so its quite a cost-effective meal. We probably eat for maybe £1.50 a head or less when making it. I see no need to go for higher grade steak, and we often pick it up in the reduced pile at Asda. It’ll either go straight into a casserole, or in the freezer. I had decided against high grade steak in the event the boys didn’t like casserole. That’s not a concern now, but as they love it with basic stewing steak, there’s no point in changing. We’ve got something an ASD boy likes, so let’s just keep it that way,

Food, Glorious Food

I love food. Its one of life’s greatest pleasure to enjoy well prepared and presented food. In that regard, I got lucky just over 10 years ago. I met Jane. Jane is a trained chef, and does it show! I’m not saying we spend a lot on food – we don’t. We’ve had to tighten our belts like many people in the country, but Jane’s ingenuity in the kitchen means we have a really varied diet. As a bit of a cooking novice – I can cook a bit as you can see ( https://theworldofneil.wordpress.com/2013/02/23/slow-cooked-steak-casserole/) but I’m not anywhere near Jane’s league when it comes to creativity in the kitchen.

We’ve had some amazing meals come out of the kitchen. I remember when she bought a pork fillet joint (I think it was in the reduced pile in Asda – I can’t remember the last time we paid full whack for anything other than chicken!) – now me, I’d probably just put it in the oven without doing anything to it at all. But Jane had me slice up some apples, tenderise the meat, line it with the chopped apples, roll it, then tie it up. The flavour was amazing! To Jane, it seemed a simple thing to do, but to me, it was a huge leap to use the apples!

Pork, lamb, fish, steak, vegetarian options, the are all turned out, beautifully cooked, and presented. Jane makes sure we don’t just eat well, but we’re having healthier options. When we have homemade pizza, we make fresh dough (well, Jane does!) and pile them high with veg! What’s even better is when we roll them up before cooking, then slice them when they’re cooked – delicious!

Lately though, we’ve been trying new meals. Today was one of those days. Jane found a recipe for stromboli. She prepared the dough – enough for 4 1lb strombolies. 1 with ham, 1  with ham & sweetcorn, 1 with chicken & pesto, 1 with chorizo and chillies (for me!) They were amazing. Half of one was enough, but we all loved them, particularly the boys. Matthew asked if we could have the leftover tomorrow night. Of course! Daniel wanted a slice for his packed lunch at school! Of course!

Its great that we’re able to eat so well, and try new things. That’s all down to Jane and her magic touch in the kitchen. This isn’t about gender stereotyping, its just that Jane is a million times better at cooking than I am having had the training and having worked in catering for 20 years. All that training certainly shows. Thanks Jane, you’re a fab cook!