Sunday, January 8, 2012

Christmas Happenings in Virginia (and Smoked Trout)

Luckily this Christmas I was able to take over an entire week off.  So we packed up the car (mostly for Jackson), and made the trek back to Virginia to see my family.  My parents had gone to great lengths to clean and decorate the house.  They wanted Jackson's first Christmas to be perfect.

We had a nice, quiet, Christmas Eve and Christmas day with my parents.  Then my sister Erin, her boyfriend Erik, and their dog Lane joined us on Monday, to have Christmas with my mom's side of the family.

Jackson, in his stocking

We spent the rest of the week eating too much food, drinking great beers, and entertaining ourselves with a few activities.  The boys won Trivial Pursuit (for the 2nd year in a row), with the winning final question being about Ol' Dirty Bastard from the Wu-Tang Clan.  We all went snow tubing at a local ski resort, while Jackson hung out in the Lodge with the grandparents.

Can't tell if he's going for the chili-cheese fries, or the Fat Tire!

Yes, there was hardly any snow at the ski resort

Leah and I also took Jackson on his first hike.  A five miler in the George Washington state park.  

I miss the mountains
Leah got quite a surprise on the trip up, as she thought that she spotted a bear, so I turned around to check it out.  Sure enough, she was right!
Now including authentic blood stains!
On New Years Eve, we went to visit some of my VT friends that had rented a cabin in Front Royal.  We took Jackson on a cave tour at Skyline Caverns, then dropped him off and went to a wine tasting.
Jackson in his bear suit while caving
 Wine Tasting
For Christmas I managed to get a few things for the Big Green Egg, including a Virginia Tech Apron, grill grate gripper, insulated food gloves, and my favorite Bear Paws, which are both used to pull pork.  I also got my dad a plate setter for his BGE, so he can start trying out some smokes and using it for pizzas.  We broke it in my smoking a chicken and some trout, using alder wood chips.

The chicken was pretty simple.  I butterflied a whole chicken, coated it with butter and olive oil, then rubbed it down with a new spice rub from my sister.  It turned out juicy (as always), but I didn't pick up much of the rub.  I've run into this problem before with my chicken, and need to find a way to get more of the flavor into the meat...

The trout was just as simple.  I de-boned the filets, used a little salt and pepper, then covered them in lemon slices.  This was my first attempt at fish, and it turned out pretty well.  Next time just need to get some bigger fish!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Small Milestones (and Grilled Oysters)

It's been a big couple of days at the Wolford household.  First, on Monday night I got to see and hear Jackson's first confirmed laugh.  Conveniently, he was laughing at me changing his recently soiled diaper!  Second, yesterday Jackson had his first (2nd, 3rd, and 4th) roll.  Here's a video:

Jackson's second roll

I know to a lot of people this is a pretty small thing.  You always hear other people talk about how fast kids grow and change, but until you experience it first hand, it really just sounds cliche.

I was pretty frustrated for the first 4-5 weeks.  Mostly because I was inexperienced, and didn't have what Jackson needed (breastmilk).  Instead, it seemed most of my time was spent changing diapers, and taking him back to Leah for feeding.

But, in the last couple of weeks, I've been able to give him more bottles.  I've also gotten to keep him more myself, and spend more time with him in general.  At first, Jackson was for lack of a better phrase..."a blob."  But recently, he's starting to give feedback and show a little bit of personality....which has really started to be a lot of fun.

As I see him continue to grow and develop, I can honestly say that I'm getting more and more excited about all the small milestones along the way.

Now for the food...

Tonight I decided to try something a little different - grilled oysters.  I got a great deal on a couple dozen at Whole Foods, and used this recipe from Emeril Lagasse. 

Since I didn't have a shucking knife, I quickly threw them on the grill to open them up.  Then, I used a small knife/screwdriver (yes, I know...slightly ghetto) to shuck the oysters.  Next, I spooned on the spiced garlic butter/herb/Parmesan cheese  mixture, and put them back on the grill for 3 minutes.

They turned out to be pretty delicious, a nice change of pace from the BBQ and chicken that we've had lately.  Here's a picture of the finished product:

Pretty solid!

Time to go, Amazon just delivered enough diapers for a small army of babies, 516 to be exact!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cajun Brined Turkey (Thanksgiving)

Every Thanksgiving I always trek back to Virginia for a gathering at either my parents, or grandparents house.  With Jackson's arrival, this year was a little different.  Since babies take so much stuff (everyone says it, but they really do!), we thought it would be a great year to have family come to Birmingham.  So my parents, as well my sister Erin and her boyfriend Erik made the journey to Alabama.

Since Leah and I were hosting Thanksgiving, we were also responsible for putting together the menu for the meal.  We decided to do a few things different from the traditional Thanksgiving menu.  Leah took the sides - including chipotle smashed sweet potatoes, and atomic peas; and I took the turkey.

We've started recording Bobby Flay's Barbecue Addiction on the Food Network, where he uses every type of grill imaginable (including a Big Green Egg) and really wanted to try a recipe he recently featured for a Cajun Brined Turkey on the Big Green Egg.

All of the ingredients

Bobby's cooking has a large Southwestern influence, and this recipe called for a few harder to find ingredients to go into the handmade Cajun rub.  A trip to the local Mexican grocery store took care of the last ingredients (New Mexican Chiles, Chile de Arbol, etc.).

Apparently there is a difference between chili and chile powder. Chili powder is commonly found in grocery stores and typically includes Cumin, Salt, and Oregano among other things.  Chile powder is pure ground chiles.  Since this recipe called for New Mexican Chile powder, I bought whole  New Mexican Chiles, and used a food processor/coffee grinder to grind them into Chile Powder.  It smelled phenomenal!

New Mexican Chile Powder

Next, I put the turkey into the brine (salt, sugar, and half the spice rub among other things) for 24 hours.

In the brine

After 24 hours in the brine, the turkey was rinsed, patted dry, and left in the fridge to air out and let the skin crisp up/better take the rub.

All rubbed up and ready to go

I set the BGE up with the plate setter for indirect cooking at 350 degrees, using apple chips and chunks for added smoke.  I used a roast rack and a foil drip pan to catch all the runoff for the gravy. (which turned out great, it captured all the flavors of the rub in the gravy).

Two hours later, here's the finished product - 165 degrees in the breast, and 175 degrees in the thigh.


As you can tell from the video, it was incredibly juicy!  All of the reviews were great, so I think this will have to be a keeper.  Here's a shot of it carved for the Thanksgiving table.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Penguin's Arrival

So two more weeks have passed since I've written.  This time it's been for quite a good reason.

When I ended my last blog post, Leah and I were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our son, also know as the penguin, or "pengu".

Well, last Wednesday night (10/12) it all finally happened.  I went to an early dinner with my boss at 5 o'clock.  Leah was going to join us, but I found out that her friend Amy had flown in from Wisconsin to surprise her at dinner with Susan, one of Leah's other friends from Memphis.  I refer affectionately to Amy and Susan as "Salt-N-Pepa".

After dinner, I met up with Leah and company.  When I got to the restaurant I could tell immediately something was up.  Leah seemed uncomfortable, and had a look I had never seen before on her face.  Her friend Susan looked up and said "We're going to have a Penguin tonight!".  Then I thought to myself...Oh S&$%, this is going to happen tonight.

We made our way home, and started timing contractions (yes, there's an iPhone app for that).  A few laps around the block, and it was too uncomfortable for Leah to walk anymore.  Around 10:45, I called the doctor's office to let them know we would be coming in tonight.  As I was on the phone with them, her water broke.  Yep, this really is going to happen tonight.

I grabbed all of our bags for the hospital from the nursery (aka The Penguin Palace).  We got to the hospital at 11:15, and the contractions were still getting stronger and closer together.  It was killing me to see her in so much pain.  Around midnight, Leah got her epidural....I would have asked for it upon arrival!

She kept progressing until around 5 AM, when everything seemed to stall.  As it turned out, our son's head was too big, literally - just like his father.  Around 11 AM, after 12 hours of labor, her doctor called it - time for a C-Section.  I'm notorious for having a pretty weak stomach.  I passed out after seeing the birthing videos in Sex Ed during high school, and here I was about to see it first hand.

Luckily, I made it through.  The surgery was very quick, and before I knew it, I was looking over the top of the curtain at our son - Jackson Foster Wolford

The mask hides the fact that I was crying like a baby

Jackson was 7 lbs, 8 oz., 20-3/4" long, and scored two 9/10's on his APGAR test (which is very good, and uncommon for C-Section babies).  Leah did a great job, both throughout her pregnancy and labor, and blessed me with a happy, healthy, baby boy.

 Me and Jackson, proud as can be

We spent the next few days in the hospital, letting Leah recover, having friends visit, and getting to know Jackson.  My family made it in from Virginia, and helped welcome us home from the hospital on Saturday.

Jackson and his Grandma and Grandpa Wolford

So begins our journey as parents....

Jackson Foster (and his fauxhawk) after his first bath

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Catching Up...

Wow, over two weeks since I've written!  It's been a busy couple of weeks, but as I got home and finished the day's work, put a pork tenderloin on the grill, and enjoyed a beer....I decided it would be a good time to catch up, so let's see what has happened....

I spent all of last week in Greenville, SC at a training class for work.  It was a great opportunity to catch up with other salesmen from around the US, and see people that I talk to everyday, but rarely get to see in person.  Busy, but fun week.

The Hokies took one on the chin from Clemson.  Quite possibly the most difficult Hokie football game I have watched in a while.  We looked absolutely terrible on offense, hopefully we can regroup like usual and work our way into the ACC Championship game for a rematch against Clemson.  That would also mean I could win back the Clemson shirt that I had to buy for a co-worker....and will also have to wear for a day at our regional meeting in November.  Gag...


When I got back from Greenville, Leah took me to go see Moneyball, the movie adaptation of the Michael Lewis book. The book is one I read years ago, and has always been one of my favorites.

 Numerical Data Crunching + Baseball = My Heaven
It's true story about the Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane, who was the first to use a numerical approach to dispel years of baseball myths about put together a winning baseball team.  Leah actually enjoyed the movie (whether she was lying or not, I couldn't tell).

Oh yeah....still no baby!  I think Leah and I are both ready for him to be here.  I even pulled out all the stops and made "Labor Inducing Eggplant Parmesan."  My mom passed along a recipe from a restaurant in Georgia that claims to have had over 300 women go into labor within 48 hours of eating their eggplant parm. 

Although Leah said it was better than Gianmarco's (the best Italian restaurant in Birmingham), 48 hours came and passed without any luck.  Less than one week until the official due date, so the next blogpost could very well be saying he's here!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

(Former) Fat Boy

"How much do you weigh?" my father asked.  It was a simple question.

"Honestly, I don't know," I responded.  Embarrassingly, I really didn't know the answer. 

"Go step on the scale," my father prompted.

We were in the middle of loading everything I owned into the moving truck.  I'd just graduated college, and spent the last few months enjoying the summer.  But, now it was time for me to move to Greenville, SC to start my first grown-up job.

I walked into the house, and stepped on the scale.  It read 225 pounds...

While I've never considered myself to have been in great shape, I'd never been outright fat

That's me second from the left...with the belly and the nice manboobs

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cedar Planked Tilapia

Leah is vegetarian, kind of.  She'll eat some fish, and shrimp, but that's it.  Usually it's not an issue if we eat out at a restaurant, or even cook at home.  But it severely limits our options when it comes to grilling something that both of us will enjoy.  I'll grill a delicious piece of animal flesh, and she'll have a veggie burger....yuck.

Nothing like overpriced soy shaped into a burger that is supposed to taste like chicken!

So help me, if our son is a vegetarian, I'm seriously going to have a come apart.  Anyways...
Like I said, one of the few things she'll eat is fish, specifically Tilapia.  So last weekend, I wanted to cook dinner for her, and had been waiting to use some cedar grilling planks that I had picked up at a local grilling store.  Grilling planks are pieces of untreated wood, that you soak beforehand, and cook the meat (usually fish) directly on.  As they heat up, they'll smoke lightly and transfer that flavor to the fish.  But, because they're soaked, the planks also steam the fish and keep it tender as it's being cooked.

For this recipe, I soaked my cedar planks in some cheap white wine.   You can also use beer, or water.  The tilapia was seasoned with a sample of Dizzy Pig's Swamp Venom rub.  

The corn was boiled for a half hour and then seasoned with Tony Chachere's.  We haven't been thrilled the last couple of times we've grilled corn, so we decided to try a new method that we picked up from a local seminar given by Chef John Henry.  Boiling it in the husk cooks the corn, and then when it's placed on the grill, it steams inside the husk.

Chef John Henry's brisket was so good, even Leah loved it! (seriously)

Set the Big Green Egg up for direct grilling at 400 degrees.  Next, place the planks on the grill and let them heat up a few minutes on each side, this also seasons the planks.  Once the planks start to smoke and crack, it's time for the fish.  Cook the fish until it lightly flakes, which shouldn't take more than 10 minutes.

Both the Tilapia, and the corn turned out great.  The fish was slightly smoky, and the Tsunami Spin seasoning was delicious (I might have to get a full bottle...*cough*Christmas present*cough*).  John Henry's corn on the cob method worked well, as it didn't dry out or need any extra butter.

Finished product, with Quinoa and green beans.

The Karjala beer is from Finland, courtesy of our friend Mary.