Food, Wine & Just Good Living With SaucyJoe

It started with a love of food, wine & fun and blossomed into a maddening pursuit of the best recipes, techniques, grills, smokers, wines, crafted beers, rubs, marinades and sauces... We do more than play with our meat though -- we review and discuss all things cooking, drinking, reading, laughing and living at SaucyJoe's.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

USB Desktop Smoker

There's a story making the blog rounds about how to make an electric cooker powered by your PC using 30 USB connections and the guts of four USB cup warmers (see inset photo). That got the smoker in me thinking that this would be perfect for a desktop sized electric smoker.

Just place a lunch sized portion of meat or veggies in the smoker when you get into work. Add wood shavings that you ground up in the pencil sharpener (oak, pecan and alder wood sticks provided) on top of the heating element and seal up for a four hour smoke.

Be the envy of all your coworkers! Just make sure that IT doesn't catch you! They'll wait until 11:30am and confiscate your computer, smoker and your cooked lunch. Sneaky bastards!!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Comfort Food Revisited

I tried a recipe I found in the last couple of pages of the September issue of Bon Appetit magazine. I was drawn in by its' comfort food appeal and sold on it when I found out that I have to grill the chicken. Bonus!

I grilled the chicken breasts low, slow and smokey! I had a foil pack full of soaked mesquite wood chips smoking during the whole cooking process and that gave the chicken some additional flavor. I held off from using the full four cups of whipping cream. I didn't want the gang feeling heavy and sluggish after the meal, so I used one cup of whipping cream and three cups of skim milk. I didn't notice a lack of flavor at all. The richness of the Fontina and Cheedar Chesse made up for any loss.

I poorly timed this recipe and thus didn't find much comfort in the cooking process. My suggestion is to plan and prep ahead of time. Cook the chicken earlier in the day, dice it up and give it a minute in the microwave before adding to the dish. The broccoli can be cut earlier in the day and cooked the same time as the pasta. Make sure not to overcook the crisp-tender broccoli. I overcooked the broccoli and it disintegrated when I mixed well. Unless you can keep up with the blow and go demands of this recipe, I'd have all of your prep items done and just waiting until you need them. Peaceful cooking and comfort food go well together. This one will be a regular in the cooking line-up so I think practice will make it much easier. Ooops! Forgot to mention that I skipped on the Chives. I wasn't going to push it with the kids! I'm sure it would add a subtle flavor that I'd like to try sometime.

Prep: 40 minutes (mine was more!)
6 servings

-1 pound skinless boneless chicken breasts
-olive oil (for brushing)
-2 heads of broccoli, cut into florets (about 5 cups)

-2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
-2 tablespoons all purpose flour
-4 cups whipping cream
-1 cup grated Fontina cheese (about 4 ounces)
-1 cup grated cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
-1 pound pasta shells, freshly cooked
-1/2 bunch fresh chives, chopped

The Work:
Prepare barbecue (medium heat). Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Bursh both sides with olive oil. Grill untill cooked through, about 6 minutes per side. Dice chicken and set aside. Cook broccoli in medium pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about three minutes. Set aside.

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually mix in cream. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add both cheeses and stir until sauce is smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Carefully add pasta, chicken and broccoli to sauce; mix well. Garnish with chives and serve.

Clean Up:
You'll be using most of the burners for this one and at least two big pots. We had a big splash when the pasta was added, thus stovetop clean-up. thanks Ski for cleaning up the cheese puddle!! The finished product does leave a gooey pan after you've stored the leftovers - if you have them. You'll have additional plates from the grilling, plus the tongs. The happiness of comfort food is that people are happier and willing to help with cleanup... unless they've eaten too much and are snoozin' on the couch.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Comfort Food Season

Alas, school is not out forever. The kids started back to school recently and with that came the return of comfort food. Those things that soothe the re-entry to regiment. Pot Roast and Mashed Potatoes were on the menu Sunday followed by hearty burgers and fries the next day.

It's a little difficult to wrap myself around comfort food right now since I usually associate it with cooler weather and it's 102+ this week, but you go with the flow. Need to find some cool comfort for all of us as we make it through the first week of school and homework. Ugh!! Brain food may be more in order. Updates to come!!

Good Luck to all of us ... parent, teacher and student!!!!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I just can't talk to my Wife about wine.

Our SaucyJoe's wine expert David Borzo sent us the first of three articles that will post here first and then mosey on to SaucyJoes Wine Picks section.

I love a good wine tasting. I love the exploration of new wines and old, noting the quality of the wine as it rises or falls over the course of an evening. I love the wide variances and balance between fruit and tannins. I love the imaginative pairing of wine and foods, and just sitting around sharing thoughts and impressions on the noble grape with fellow wine lovers. I subscribe to the idea that Wine tasting – as they say about life – should be viewed as a journey. Wine is to be savored, enjoyed, and appreciated as you go. Take the good with the bad, and that’s why I love a good wine tasting. In fact, I think that’s what I want on my tombstone when the time comes:
“He may not have been rich and famous, (or very good looking for that matter), but he sure Loved a good Wine Tasting”

OK, but tasting is only half the fun, and not really the real challenge. With the enjoyment of the evening also comes a serious social responsibility. You know what I’m taking about; it’s the “Winespeak”. You need to be able to share your thoughts, and have a discourse on the wine with your fellow travelers. There needs to be a verbal accompaniment to the ”oooohs” and “aahhhhs” that rise from the tasting table as the evening progresses.

And here is where I usually get in to trouble: It’s the Winespeak that often elicits snickers and comments from my fellow travelers. And it particularly bugs my wife. She just doesn’t buy it - doesn’t think that all the elements and nuances that we talk about are really there. And if they are, she doesn’t want to talk about it anyway. B-o-r-i-n-g.

OK, I’ll admit it. Sometimes I may use some non-specific or vague terms to describe wine as I taste. Sometimes it makes perfect sense to me, but to no one else. As my tasting and cellaring experience has evolved, I have become more and more comfortable using those dreaded Winespeak terms that we all see in the wine magazines. I started using terms like focused, earthy, herbal, refined and crisp. Not the most outrageous of terms, but to my wife, these descriptions were starting to sound a little pretentious, or even downright silly. My terminology was often more of a subject of ridicule than sharing or understanding. (“HOW am I funny? Am I here to AMUSE you”?)

I faced some serious grilling from my better half in regards to my Winespeak. She would ask: “How can wine, A LIQUID mind you, be ‘dusty’ ”? I don’t know, that’s just the sense that I get when I tasted it. “What do you mean ‘Shoe Leather’? What does Shoe leather taste like”? I don’t know, it just hit me that way. “Black licorice? You always say that!”
( I did go through a “black licorice” phase, I will state for the record).

I think I really hit a low point (or maybe a high point) with her at one tasting with a particularly old Zinfandel that was WAY past its prime. It had a really pungent aroma, “Whoa” – I said. “This bouquet is pretty scary – I first thought ‘barnyard’. No – no - more than that – it’s ‘dirty diapers’”. I got several “eewwws” and a couple of “gross!” comment from the group, but I stuck to my guns. “Dirty diapers” was the only way to describe that wine’s bouquet. It was scary.

Of coursed my wife couldn’t help but chime in with “I don’t recall you changing so many diapers that you would be so familiar with that terminology”. Good one, I had to admit. To Myself only.

Fortunately the wine settled down over the next several minutes and its noxious bouquet diminished a little as it got some invigorating swirling and plenty of oxygen. And thank God the wine tasted better than the first impressions that it gave.

I would have to agree with her that some of the terms that you read in the wine magazines seem preposterous. I either admire the writer’s incredible tasting abilities, or I greatly admire their gift for fiction, I’m not sure. But a quick look at a few pages of one of these magazines makes you wonder. Like one writer who reviewed a Cabernet Sauvignon with “hints of Mocha Toast”. OK, believable. Not too wild. But in another review from this same writer, and on the same page, another Cabernet suggested to him “Mocha-infused Toast”. What’s the distinction there? Was it a typo?

And then in going over just two full pages of wine reviews, I found the following Blackberry references to describe several different wines, reviewed by several different writers:

Juicy Blackberry
Ripe Blackberry
Crushed Blackberry
Velvety Blackberry
Chubby Blackberry
Vivid Blackberry
Blast of Blackberry
Blackberry Jam
Wild Blackberry
Dried blackberry
And Just plain ol' Blackberry.

Sooner or later I fully expecting to see “Mouth puckering Barn-yard Blackberries that stand firm on the finish” or “Elements of Blackberry Pampers, framed with velvety character and a long finish”. But even without those additions, that’s quite a lot of different blackberry distinctions. I can’t help but wonder if we are really supposed to be able to distinguish between them all, or if it’s just the writer employing artistic license. I guess I WANT to believe, but sometimes it is hard to buy it all.

So today I continue to be a little self-conscious about Winespeak, especially out in public, where I don’t have the friendly confines of our little tasting group, and my wife’s biting remarks. Having spent countless hours tasting with friends over the last 20 years, I continue to work hard at trying to describe, distinguish, and categorize the wine I taste. Do I always successfully relay what I’m trying to say about the wine? No. Have I always made sense to all the members of the wine group? Hardly.But I always go with my impressions, good or bad, and hope to make the connection.

And I still say call it dirty diapers if it’s dirty diapers.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

BBQ, Wine & The Good Life With SaucyJoe

Beer Can Chicken a Summer Favorite!

Well it's summer here in Eastern Iowa with 99 degrees and 90% humidity, and it's hard to get out and stand over the grill (even with beer in hand!). So the smoker definitely comes in handy because it doesn't require as much tending, and beer can chicken becomes the ideal summer meal. 'Cause it is EASY to cook.


1 Whole chicken, preferrably a roaster (no, not rooster!)
3 Tablespoons of your favorite chicken rub. I used Famous Dave's Country Chicken Rub.
2 Teaspoons of Cayenne Pepper
1 12 oz Can of Beer (your choice) Also, some folks use a 16 oz tall boy for bigger chickens)
1/4 cup olive oil. I used chili pepper flavored olive oil


- Remove the chicken from the wrapper
- Rinse well with cold water
- Cut off the fat and skin at the butt end of the chicken. Remove any gizzards, livers or neck from the cavity.
- Soak in a brine solution for at least one hour. The brine I used was made with cold water, 1/2 cup Kosher salt and 1/2 cup sugar. I placed the chicken in the sink and filled with enough water to cover the chicken.
- Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse and pat dry.
- Mix 2 tablespoons of dry rub, 1 teaspoon of Cayenne pepper and the olive oil.
- Brush the mixture over the interior cavity and the exterior of the chicken.
- Discard half of the can of beer (I'm sure you can figure out a way to do this!)
- Cut additional holes in the top of the can using a church key
- Add the remaining rub and Cayenne Pepper to the can. It may foam over. Don't worry. Be happy.
- Sit the chicken on top of the can forming a tripod with the can and the chicken's legs.
- Place a small potato in the top of the chicken's neck to prevent steam from escaping.
- Tuck the wings up over the legs.
- Place in the smoker and smoke for 3 hours at 220-250 degrees or,
- Place on the grill on indirect heating (not over the coals or active burner and grill for 1 1/2 hours at 320-350 degrees.
- Go back inside where it is cool!
- The chicken is done when the juices from the thigh run clear.
- Be careful removing from the smoker or grill. Everything is HOT, especially that can of beer!

When this is done, you will have a truly moist flavorful chicken sensation. It doesn't take much effort, and it's damn near impossible to over cook a beer can chicken.