Brisket Chili


Brisket + Chili = OMG

Brisket & chili are two of our favorite meals, so why not combine them to make one super favorite meal?  On a recent batch we discovered our new "secret ingredient" - brisket Au Jus.  That's right, brisket drippings.  We usually freeze a pound or two of the brisket flat for chili (like we do the venison) and now we’ve added cup servings of the Au Jus to the freezer vault. That stuff is like brown gold!

In a large pot, start by browning 1 pound of ground beef & 1 medium onion.
Then add the following:
2 cups of tomato sauce (see our recipe)
1 pound of cubed smoked brisket
1 cup of brisket Au Jus
1 can of Hunt's Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes
2 cans of Kidney or chili beans
2 cups of water (depends on how soupy you like it)
1 tablespoon of chili powder (to taste)
Simmer for a while so the ingredients can meld together & salt to taste.

We usually make a big pot & freeze half for easy meals later. 

tip:  Depending on how spicy you made your tomato sauce, the intensity of your chili powder & how spicy you like your chili, you may want to adjust the amount of chili powder.  We like the Medium Authentic New Mexican Red Chile Powder from the Sante Fe School of Cooking.



Summer Candy aka Figs


There's nothing better than a super ripe, squishy fig.  It's like eating candy right off the tree.  Unfortunately, everything in the animal kingdom knows this too. We've even seen a deer standing on her hind legs eating figs from the upper branches, but we still manage to get a few.

The internet is full of great fig recipes, but aside from tree snacking, this coffee cake recipe from Authentic Suburban Gourmet is one of our favorite ways to eat them.

Fig Coffee Cake

2 C. Flour
1 ½ C. Sugar
½ C. Butter, cut into small pieces
1 t. Baking Powder
2 Eggs, separated
¾ C. Milk
¼ C. Cream
2 t. Vanilla
2 C. Figs, cut into 8ths

Using a stand up mixer, combine the flour and sugar, then cut in the butter and mix with an electric mixer on low speed, until crumbly. Add baking powder, egg yolks, milk and vanilla. Beat until combined.

Whisk the reserved egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the batter.

Pour the batter into a greased 13 x 9 baking pan. Cover with the diced figs. Sprinkle the crumb topping (see below for recipe) over the figs. Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes.

Crumb Topping

1/3 C. dark brown sugar
1/3 C. granulated sugar
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
1/2 C. (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, melted
1 3/4 C. Flour

In a large bowl add the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, salt and flour and mix together. Then add the melted butter and stir together. You can use your hands to combine together and create the large crumbs.


tip: we quarter and freeze the figs on sheet pans before portioning and sealing them in foodsaver bags.


Fresh Peas


Purple Hull Peas

This is a #TBT post.  Back in 2012 we went to Tyler to check out their Farmers Market and we had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Bertha Johnson.  She was shelling & selling big bushel baskets full of her fresh peas that had been picked that morning.  She has since passed away, but she was so lovely & friendly that we never look at fresh peas without thinking about her.  Check out the video for her quick, easy, delicious recipe & cook up a pot in her honor.  We will. 


Cherry Bounce *UPDATE*


The Bounce is ready

After months of waiting, the cherry bounce we made in June is ready and I gotta say, it's amazing.  The flavor was smooth with a perfect cherry flavor, not at all like the cough syrup that I had envisioned.  We sampled it around Christmas and it was good, but decided to give it another month or so. It only gets better with age.

I personally like the whiskey version better (in the Maker's bottle), but that's probably because I like whiskey better than brandy to start with.  So now all I need to do is find a great cherry whiskey cocktail recipe.

I had planned to make a drunken cherry cobbler with the fruit after we drained off the liquor, but it was awful.  It was not at all like you'd think, they didn't even taste like cherries. Failed drunken cobbler plan aside, we will make another batch again...... soon.


Amy's Dip


SUPER fun cheesy BOWL dip aka "Amy's Dip"

OK, so we all know what bowl I'm really talking about, but since you can't even utter the words together without the National Football Boys hitting you up for some money, this is what we're calling it.  Besides, not getting sued by the NFL is one of my New Years resolutions.  Anyway,  if you need a super easy, yummy dip to take to a party where everybody is going to watch football, Amy's dip is a winner.  

1 cup mayo
8 oz cream cheese
2 cups shredded pepper jack
1/2 cup shredded cheddar
2 green onion chopped

Place all ingredient in a oven safe bowl & microwave about 2 minutes to heat and then stir all together
Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until bubbly and brown
Serve immediately

tip: if taking to a party, prep everything at home and bake/brown at the party.



BBQ Heaven


Camp Brisket 2016

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend Camp Brisket 2016 sponsored by Foodways Texas & Texas A&M, with about 50 other attendees from over 11 states ranging from serious amateurs (ME) to chefs looking to up their game. It was an awesome two day event packed full of some serious meat science, brisket prep/cooking, tasting, pit design and non stop info from a panel of bbq celebrity bad-asses, all with the constant smell of bbq smoke wafting about.  In short, IT WAS HEAVEN!

So after the event, the first question everybody asks me is "what's the secret" aka, the one thing that makes Aaron Franklin's and Russell Roegels' worthy of a presidential visit?  Well, that's like asking a photographer what lens he uses to get those great National Geographic shots. In short, it's really the whole combination of things; cook time/temp, pit design, resting & holding, wrapping vs unwrapped, prep/seasoning/trimming & meat grade.  If I were forced to pick just one thing that all these guys do, it's use good meat. I don't think anybody on the panel uses anything lower than Certified Angus Beef & most use Prime.  The old saying, "you just can't polish a turd" goes for meat too. I was told that Select grade has consistently finished last in every blind tasting put on by the camp.  

One of the interesting panel discussions was about pit design & good/bad smoke.  These guys really went into some detail about pit aerodynamics or the flow of smoke over the meat.   After some long conversations with Aaron Franklin & Wayne Mueller, I learned that my pit "baby got back" is due for some surgery.   Baby's problem is too small of an exhaust causing the fire to smolder and produce dirty smoke.  More on this topic in Franklin Barbecue- A Meat Smoking Manifesto.

My smoker "Baby Got Back" before surgery

Now, I could go on & on about this (just ask my wife), but in keeping with my other blog posts,  I'd rather share some pictures from the event & link to some other/better writers.

Speaking of links, this entry from the TAMU Agriculture & Life Sciences blog by Dr. Jeff Savell sums up the event.  Check me out on the front row, doing some learnin'. 

In all, I had a great time, learned a lot of stuff, ate BBQ and met a bunch of great people.  Thank you Foodways Texas and the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University for having me.  Especially, Davey Griffin, Ray Riley, Jeff Savell, & Marvin Bendele.  

Now for all the links:   Aaron Franklin, Arnis Robbins, Daniel Vaughn, Foodways Texas, 44 FarmsHomer Robertson, Jess Pryles, Kelly Yandell, Kevin Kolman, Killen's Barbecue, Pitt's & Spitt'sRobb Walsh, Rosenthal Meat Center,  Russell RoegelsSt Arnold Brewing, Wayne Mueller, Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker   If I've forgotten someone, please forgive me. 


Sausage balls to the rescue!


Sausage balls

OK, you've gotta take an appetizer to a holiday party & you have no idea what to bring. Here's one of our favorite quick & easy recipes from our friends Darr & Holly Oney.  The internet is full of sausage ball recipes, but this one is tried & true.

2 pounds of spicy sausage (we use our venison mix)
1.5 cups of Bisquick
4 cups of sharp cheddar cheese
3 tsp of minced garlic
1/2 cup onion (finely chopped)
1/2 cup celery (finely chopped)
 1 tsp of black pepper

Preheat oven to 375

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients and kneed with hands.  Form into 1" balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Make a bunch and freeze some in packs for later.

Bake at 350 - 375 for 18 - 25 minutes or until golden brown.

tip: add some chopped Jalapeños for a little more bite.





Basil, basil, basil


Save a little summer for later

Basil is the one thing in our garden that makes us feel like we have green thumbs. I mean, this time of year our plants look like small shrubs.   After making countless fresh tomato basil pasta dishes  & tons of pesto, it’s time to dry some for next year’s spicy tomato sauce recipe.  

The drying process couldn’t be easier. I start by washing the plants with a moderately strong spray from the garden hose, then let them dry for a few hours.  Trim as much as you want to dry.  I dry mine on window screens set up on saw horses in the garage.  Use scissors to trim out all of the large stems and spread the leaves evenly on the screens. Turn once or twice a day for a few days. When the leave crumble easily, I transfer them to a large foil pan and crumble. Pick out the large stems and let dry for another day before transferring to a jar or ziplock.  Happy drying!

    tip: Use a fan to keep air moving to speed the drying.
    tip: Oregano can be dried the same way.


Grilled Okra

Second best way to eat fresh okra


What's the best way? Cornmeal battered & fried, of course.  But, who has time for all that.  Just throw 'em on the grill.

Pick a bunch while the grill is heating up, skewer, season & throw it on with your entree.  They usually take about as long as a steak or chicken breast.  Be careful turning so they don't slip off the skewers.


tip: to help seasoning stick, first drizzle with a little olive oil




Summer Pasta


  Spicy tomato basil pasta

In my book, two things go great with garden fresh tomatoes.  Number one is a big fat BLT with Wright's peppered bacon on grilled bread, but that's another post.  A close second is this lite summer pasta dish. BONUS: its a one pan meal. 

2 cups of dry pasta (penne or farfalle)
2 tbs of olive oil
2 tbs of lemon juice
4 medium tomatoes chopped
1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
red pepper flakes (to taste)
course ground black pepper (to taste)
parmigiano reggiano

Boil pasta like your Momma taught you.
While your pasta is boiling, prep all of your other ingredients.  I like to have everything portioned & ready since this cook goes down pretty quick.
Drain pasta and set aside
Return the pot to medium high heat and add the olive oil, red pepper flakes & about a cup of the chopped tomatoes
Stir constantly until the tomato is creamy in consistency. This usually takes about 1 - 1.5 minutes
Add basil and stir for about 30 seconds
Add pasta back and stir
Add remaining 3 tomatoes, lemon juice, mix & plate
Top with parmesan cheese & black pepper


tip:  I like to peel my tomatoes before chopping. If you have a gas cook top, remove the tomato stem & stick a fork in the end.  Hold over the flame, and rotate it until the skin loosens.  Easy peasy!







Homemade Blackberry Ice Cream


From berries to bowl


The blackberries are winding down but not before one last summer treat!  We’ve had cobblers, jelly, smoothies & plenty of berries straight off the vine to snack on, but today, in honor of National Ice Cream Day here’s a recipe we love for Blackberry Chip Ice Cream.  I’ll be honest, it’s not easy like the other recipes on here, but it’s worth the trouble. 


tip: I like to substitute shaved dark chocolate for the semi-sweet chunks.





Bourbon Slush


Our 4th of July starts with a 5th of Bourbon

Traditions are great, especially when they involve bourbon.  Every 4th of July, we have a bunch of family over to slip & slide, eat lots of bbq ribs, watch some fireworks and enjoy a big cup of this slushy goodness.  You need to get this in the freezer a couple of days in advance & keep stirring it to spread the love...uh...bourbon... thru the mixture as it freezes.  Perfect for a hot, hot day.

Bourbon Slush
Serves up to 10

3 cups bourbon
24 oz frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
12 oz frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
4 cups strong brewed tea
3 quarts water

In a 1-1/2-gallon pitcher, mix bourbon, juices and tea. Stir in water. Place in freezer. Stir after 8 hours. Continue to freeze & stir for up to 2 days. Defrost 30 minutes before serving. Stir and serve.

tip: beware of brain freeze




Cherry Bounce


Wondering what to do with left over cherries from a photo shoot?


A couple batches of Cherry Bounce sounds interesting.  We’ve never made it, but have heard tales of it’s tastiness & medicinal powers, so I reckon it’s worth a try.  

My wife’s side of the family is very familiar with it having come from the New Orleans area.  There, it’s made with small wild cherries called Black Cherries or Chokecherries.  I haven’t been able to source those, so we used dark red cherries & have our fingers crossed. 

Aunt Lorraine always made batches of Cherry Bounce for the holidays.  Unfortunately, there was never a written recipe.  From what we’ve been able to piece together, she used the wild berries from a bush in her yard, sugar, cinnamon & nutmeg - maybe a clove or two, no one can remember for sure.  She always used the cheapest Rye available & on occasion made a few batches out of some ...ummm.... “locally made” clear liquor.  My Mother-In-Law, Shirley, swears by its ability to completely arrest a cough & give you a good night’s sleep!

There are several recipes online - all of them have 3 things in common:  cherries, sugar & hootch. The last ingredient is usually either Brandy, Vodka or the cheapest Rye Whiskey you can find. From there, the recipes start to differ using various amounts of the 3 main ingredients & some add spices like cinnamon sticks, slices of whole nutmeg, cloves, just like Aunt Lorraine did.  There’s even a recipe from Martha Washington available because apparently George liked to have a flask or two on hand.

So, we decided to look at several recipes & meld them together to make our own combination. We stuck to the “family brew” and used spices, but a lot of recipes don’t. We had enough cherries to make 1.5 batches.  We made a full recipe of the Whiskey & cut things in half for the Brandy recipe and have stored them away in a cool dark place until Fall.

Should be ready in time for the cough & cold season aka “The Holidays”!


Looks like Cocktail Onions for us


Onion Crop Fail


Not sure if it was the super wet spring, overall lack of sun or what, but our onions barely got bigger than a quarter.  So, how to salvage our harvest?  How about some classic Gibson Martinis with this recipe for Cocktail Onions from Saveur:

1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1⁄8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
3 sprigs thyme
2 cups dry vermouth
1 cup white wine vinegar
1⁄2 cup sugar
1 tbsp. kosher salt
10 oz. white pearl onions, peeled

Place peppercorns, nutmeg, and thyme in a 1-qt. sterilized glass jar; set aside. Bring vermouth, vinegar, sugar, salt, and ½ cup water to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan over high heat, stirring until sugar and salt dissolve; add onions, and cook for 1 minute. Transfer onions and brine to jar and seal with lid; let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before using.


Crappie time, not what it sounds like.


Crappie season is here, my favorite fishing of the year.  A good angler can catch them all year, but since we're talking about me, the spring spawn is it.  

Nothing beats a good ol' fish fry, but this Parmesan Grilled Crappie recipe is a close second. It's delicious and super easy.  Starting to see a theme here?

2 super fresh, right out of the lake crappie fillets
a couple pats of butter
fresh grated parmesan cheese
Lowry's Seasoned Salt or Tony Chachere's
juice of 1/2 lemon
a handful of julienne peppers and onions

Fire up the grill and let it warm up while prepping the fish.  Fold a sheet of aluminum foil in half and form an envelope. Pour enough lemon juice in the foil to cover bottom and put fillets in. Place a few pats of butter on top of each fillet and sprinkle each with seasoning. Add peppers and onions, then completely enclose fillets by folding over all edges. Grill for 5 minutes per side. Drain juices, serve over wild rice & top with parmesan cheese.

tip:  change it up a little by spooning in some salsa  and top with some crumbled cotija.






First Up in the Garden     

Biggest gardening commitment ever!   I mean, what else takes three years before you can even have a taste? (ok I cheated and tasted)  But the payoff is incredible and a bed can last 20-30 years.  To me, homegrown asparagus is on the same level as homegrown tomatoes - both taste 100 times better than store bought.  Once you’ve had it fresh from the garden, everything else is a disappointment. Period.

The garden prep & waiting is a pain, but other than pulling weeds and making sure they get plenty of water, asparagus is pretty easy to manage.  Year 3 is when the magic happens! This is the first year you can really harvest (more than just sneaking a few).  You'll have 4-6 weeks to make every asparagus dish you can imagine.

This is our 4th year and we'll have 6-8 weeks (usually starting mid-March) or until the plant starts producing spears smaller than a pencil. The photo above is towards the end of last year's harvest - notice the small ones I should  have left but couldn't help myself.

I know there are probably some really good recipes out there, but so far we just eat them fresh out of the garden or bundled & grilled with a little salt, pepper & olive oil.  Sometimes I splurge & wrap them in bacon.  Delicious!

For some FAQ's about asparagus check out TAMU horticulture.



Papa Bud’s Gumbo


Chicken Andouille Gumbo

Several years after we were married, my father-in-law H.T. “Bud” Lewis,  entrusted me with his version of the Louisiana staple, chicken andouille gumbo.  This ain’t your fancy-schmancy many ingredient type gumbo - it’s your born & raised in small town Louisiana type gumbo. Very few ingredients. He told me that the only two secrets to a great pot of gumbo are:  don’t burn your roux and get your andouille from Jacobs because the sausage is where all the flavor comes from. Grocery store andouille just doesn't cut it.   

1 whole chicken (some in the family insist on using a hen)
1 large onion diced
1 stick of andouille from Jacobs sliced in poker chip size pieces.
1/2 cup of crisco shortening
3/4 cup of all purpose flour

Put a washed, trimmed chicken in a large pot & cover with salted water.
Boil until done, then remove to a sheet pan to cool.  
Set pot with remaining water/stock aside.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, debone & shred into bite sized chunks.  Set aside.  Discard the bones and skin and weird junk.

Next -and this is important because things move fast from here on out - prep & measure the rest of your ingredients.  

Over medium/high heat melt the shortening in a high sided cast iron pan (Wagner #8 works for me) then add about 1/2 cup of flour.  Stir the mixture constantly.   Initially, you are looking for the consistency of runny peanut butter like you’d get at the health food store.  If it’s too runny, slowly add the remaining flour until it thickens.  It will thicken as you cook too, so be careful not to add too much.  Too thick, add a little more shortening.  It’s not the end of the world.  Stir like a maniac to keep it from burning but get it as dark brown as you are brave enough to go.  Something like Pantone 725U.  

As soon as it’s as brown as you’re willing to risk it, turn off the heat & stir in your onions to cool it off a bit, add your sliced andouille and stir it around. 

Dump everything into your pot of chicken water, dip some out & swish it around in the cast iron pan to get all of the roux then dump that into the pot, too.  Let it simmer & thicken for a while. No firm rule here, but probably around 30 minutes will do.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. 

About 30 minutes or so before you want to eat, add your boiled chicken.  Also, right before serving, spoon off any grease/fat on the surface and salt to taste.  Serve over rice with a nice slice of french bread. Filé powder optional.

I can’t tell you how much it makes since the chicken & sausage vary in size.  It does freeze well though & like most soups, it tastes better the next day.  

tip:  I don’t eat the sausage skin & sometimes I peel it off before slicing, but that’s up to you.  The casing probably adds some good smokey flavor.



Bet You've Never Seen a Smoker Like This


We just call 'em Slim Kents®


What do you do if you're a retired engineer that loves hunting & smoked meats?  Well, you smoke a lot of meat.  I always know something magical is happening down the street when I smell that hickory smoke wafting through the neighborhood. 

Doctor Who has a phone booth & my neighbor Kent has a magic freezer.  OK, maybe it's not magic, but it is awesome. It's actually an old upright freezer converted into a super efficient low temp smoker, perfect for jerky, sausages and snack sticks.

I happened to catch Kent after a recent Turkey hunt making some of his delicious snack sticks.  Let the sampling begin!

Kent's Mad Gobbler Turkey Sticks:

Apx. 80% Wild Turkey Breast
Apx. 20% Pork Butt
3% To Total Meat Weight Of  Diced Jalapenos
AC Legg Cajun Jerky Seasoning Blend 132
Base Heat:  Red Oak (Coals Only)
Smoking Woods:  Pear And Hickory

Some of the other treats from Kent's magic freezer include smoked sausage, summer sausage, jerky and snack sticks.

Cold Day, Hot Chili


Smoked Venison Chili


If you've read my previous posts, you'll notice I like easy recipes.  Our chili is literally a dump together recipe and, just for the sake of argument, let's just say we all agree on the great bean debate and move on to the rest of the ingredients. 

Remember the tomato sauce recipe and smoked venison that I posted earlier, well, that's the core of this chili. Since you already have those in the freezer ready to go, this recipe will be a snap!

In a large pot, start by sauteing a medium chopped onion until soft. Then add the following: 2 cups of tomato sauce, 1 pound of smoked venison, 1 can of Hunt's Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes, 2 cans of Bush's Kidney beans, 2 cups of water & 1 teaspoon of chili powder.  Simmer for a while so the ingredients can meld together & salt to taste.  That's it.  Done & easy.

Serve over a pile of Fritos or a slice of cornbread, top with cheddar cheese and pair with a cold bottle of beer.

tip:  Depending on how spicy you made your tomato sauce, the intensity of your chili powder & how spicy you like your chili, you may want to adjust the amount of chili powder.  We like the Medium Authentic New Mexican Red Chile Powder from the Sante Fe School of Cooking.