Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vern's Special Barbecued Chicken Seasoning Mix

It's hot. It's the middle of Summer. So what better time to take a break from knitting and talk about a fun Summer activity. Barbecue! That's right. In the middle of Summer there is no better way to enjoy a sunny afternoon than a barbecue and there is no better barbecuer than my Dad!

I often talk about barbecues because Southern Californians love to barbecue. It's a fun and relaxing way for friends and family to congregate and enjoy leisure time together whether in a backyard, at a park, or at the beach. When my parents first moved to Santa Barbara, California, back in 1960, they had the good fortune to move next door to the King family who had six children and a large extended family who all loved to laugh and have a good time and there was nothing the King family loved more than getting together for barbecues. It wasn't long before my family was being included in these get togethers and that is how my Dad learned how to barbecue California style.

For those of you who may not know how to go about cooking barbecue, I would like to share with you this truly American classic pastime. And, like most things, it makes a world of difference if you are taught by the very best. Meet my dad, Vern, who is a world class barbecuer and he is going to take you through all of the steps of cooking a barbecue, including sharing his own special seasoning mix for chicken.

*NOTE * If you "click" on any of the following pictures in this post they will enlarge and that will make it easier for you to see the images that are clustered together in the collages.

Advance Preparation ~ Gather necessary Implements

The day ahead of your barbecue is a good time to make sure you have everything you need, i.e. wood, charcoal briquettes, chicken, and seasoning mix.

Pictured above are the things that can, and probably should, be done a day in advance:

A. Mix seasonings and/or prepare a marinade. My Dad makes a special seasoning mix for barbecue chicken (heretofore never shared) that I have included at the end of this post.

B. Chop wood into small chunks. A mixture of oak wood and pieces of oak bark make the best combination. Other hard woods that can be used to barbecue are apple wood and hickory. But, for a distinctive Southern California style barbecue flavor, you need oak wood which is sold in cords or in small quantities from a local woodcutter.

C. Gather the tools you need to grill safely, i.e. long tongs, meat thermometer, and leather gloves. This is also a great time to clean off your grill.

D. Prepare the Chicken. Purchase a small chicken - preferably less than 3 lbs. If you are cooking for a group you can cook as many as 3 or 4 small chickens on the spit at a time. I find that the organic chickens are more flavorful and generally smaller and I highly recommend using them if possible. Cut off all excess fat. Using kitchen twine or strong string tie the wings and legs to the body of the chicken to prevent them dangling loose when it is turning on the spit.

Build the Fire Bed

This method of building a fire bed can be used to barbecue any type of meat and can be used whether cooking meat on a spit or a flat grill. When tri-tip is cooked this way it is referred to as "Santa Maria Style" barbecue.

The pictures above show the various layers used to build the fire bed, which are as follows:

Layer 1: Wads of news paper
Layer 2: Small pieces of wood kindling
Layer 3: Oak bark pieces
Layer 4: Chunks of oak wood
Layer 5: Oak bark pieces

The charcoal briquettes are technically layer 6, but they will not added until the fire has burned down for approximately 20 minutes as explained more fully below.

When building your layers make sure to leave an opening in the center for air to circulate. This is referred to as creating a chimney effect in the middle of the fire.

Getting the Fire Ready for Cooking

It takes about 30 minutes for the fire to burn down to embers and be ready for cooking. Chickens take about 1 hour to cook. Therefore you want to start your fire about 1 hour and 30 minutes before you want to serve your meal.

The pictures above show how to manage the fire from start to finish as follows:

A. My dad does not use any lighter fluid. He simply uses matches to light the news paper which catches the kindling and then the wood on fire. In the upper left picture you can see my dad using a hair dryer to create a back draft. He does this to causes the fire to burn hot and fast.

B. After the fire has burned for about 20 minutes my dad adds the charcoal briquettes which burn down to embers very quickly. Approximately 10 minutes after adding the briquettes the fire will have burned down to embers and be ready for cooking. The middle picture shows my dad adding charcoal briquettes to the fire which, at this stage, should still be burning hotly. The reason my dad adds briquettes is to help the wood embers hold enough heat for the full hour required to cook a whole chicken.

C. When the embers are beginning to show a white ash and the flames have died the fire bed is ready to begin cooking. The lower left picture shows what the embers look like when ready.

From start to finish the the fire preparation time is approximately 30 minutes.

Barbecuing the Chicken

A chicken cooked on a rotating spit takes about 1 hour. This barbecue process combines both smoke and heat to give the meat a wonderful flavor while keeping it moist and juicy.

You can see in the pictures above that my dad closes the barbecue lid to keep the smoke inside. He occasionally checks to make sure the chicken is rotating and the fire is sufficiently smoky. If the fire is not sufficiently smoky he adds a few small pieces of bark around the outer edges of the coals to increase the smoke.

In the upper right corner picture you can see that my dad has fashioned a iron drip pan set below the chicken and above the embers to catch the dripping fat. If you don't have something to keep the fat from dripping onto the embers the fat will cause the embers to flame and can cause the chicken to catch on fire. If the chicken should catch on fire keep a can of beer handy to pour on the chicken to put the flames out.

Waiting is the Hardest Part

All that's left is the waiting. Which for a little dog like Mr Puffy is the hardest part.

Vern's Special Barbecued Chicken Seasoning Mix

1/2 cup (heaping) ordinary iodized salt
1 tablespoon (heaping) black pepper
1 tablespoon (level) "all purpose seasoning salt" (made by Lawry's or McCormick preferably)
1 tablespoon (level) garlic salt
1 tablespoon (level) onion powder
1 teaspoon (level) paprika
1 teaspoon (level) monosodium glutamate

Combine all seasonings. This formula makes a large quantity of seasoning mix. You will only use a fairly small quantity each time to season a chicken (around a teaspoon per chicken) so this mix will keep for years. Toss some of the seasoning into the bird cavity and sprinkle a small quantity evenly over a slightly damp chicken just before cooking. The quantity of seasoning is to be varied to suit one's taste.

I hope this doesn't sound too complicated. It really is fun and even if it it isn't exactly perfect the first time you will laugh and have a good time regardless. I guarantee it!

Stay cool and, until next time, be well, love well, and happy barbecuing.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Add Color To Your Summer ~ Knit a Baktus Scarf!

I'm wearing the popular Baktus scarf which is all the rage with knit bloggers this season. But mine has a Southern California twist. Instead of using the recommended sock weight yarn I substituted a bulky weight cotton boucle yarn to create a Summer Accessory perfect for those cool and often foggy mornings that Southern California is well known for.

The Baktus scarf is one of those amazing free on-line knitting patterns that catches fire on the Internet and pretty soon everyone has knit one. There are now many shapes and sizes of the Baktus scarf to be found in blogland. Some are striped, some are solid, some are small, some are large, some have added doodads and doohickeys and the marvelous thing is that they are all as unique as the knitters who knit them! The following are links to some of my favorite on-line knitters ~ check out their beautiful and creative interpretations of the Baktus Scarf ~ and be inspired to knit your own...... Smoking Hot Needles, Frosty Lily, Hobby Gasa, Heges Hobbykrok, A Black Pepper, Mustaa Villa, Maanel, and Emma Bee.

Since this project is designed to show off hand painted yarns, I thought I would give you my tip for knitting with multiple skeins of hand painted yarn.

Knitting Tip No. 7 ~ Knitting with Hand Painted Yarns

The nature of hand painted yarns is that each skein is slightly different in color. For this scarf I used 2 skeins of yarn, one of which had decidedly more dark pink in the colorway. The issue then becomes how to change to a new skein without having the difference in color being noticeable. The conventional wisdom is that you should always knit from both balls of yarn at once (i.e. knit 2 rows from one skein and then switch to the second skein and knit the next two rows and keep switching back and forth between the two skeins every two rows). While this technique does blend the skein colors well, I personally like the visual interest that results from using different colored skeins. Therefore I knit from one skein until I'm close to the end of that skein and only then do I begin alternating rows with the second skein in the aforementioned rotation. If you look at the pictures above and below you can see that one end of the scarf has decidedly more of dark pink which begins just before the halfway point. I like this result because I believe it best shows off the uniqueness of hand painted yarns.

Particulars: Baktus Scarf (free pattern) courtesy of the very talented Strikkelise; 2 skeins Araucania Pehuen (purchased at Strands Studio in San Clemente, California); US 10.5 needles. This is a very easy pattern suitable for a knitter who has a basic understanding of the knit stitch and can perform simple increases and decreases. Dimensions: 52" long and 11" at widest point

Out and About in San Clemente, California

All of today's pictures are taken at the San Clemente Farmer's Market and Craft Show and, as long as I'm all dressed up in my new scarf, I thought it would be fun to show you a bit of the market which is held on Avenida Del Mar the first Sunday of each month.

Every Sunday from 9am to 1 p.m. there is a Farmer's Market but on the 1st Sunday of each month they also have a craft show. Wandering around the market is one of our favorite ways to wile away a Sunday morning while in San Clemente. More specifically, I'm referring to Steve and myself. Mr Puffy refuses to join us because they don't sell milk bones.... *le sigh*

I love being surrounded by the fragrance of fresh produce and the hub bub of a market square and seeing all the crafts of the local artists.

Pictured above is the work of Ivan the glass blower who does beautiful work and is always adding new designs. We have several of his pieces in our place in San Clemente and they have become gifts for family and friends too.

We will next be in San Clemente over Labor Day weekend for San Clemente's first annual Jazz Festival on Saturday, September 5th, 2009. Steve loves jazz music and is quite impressed that this sleepy little surf town is attracting jazz greats Patti Austin, Dianne Reeves, and Joe Sample and who knows what other surprises! Proceeds support San Clemente beaches and recreation so I hope they have a great turnout.

Make sure you take the time this Summer to enjoy the various activities in your local community and, until next time, be well and happy knitting!