Gridiron Chef; we shopped, we chopped, we smoked, we seared.

Massacre (800x786)

Somehow … my brother met an incredibly bright woman.

Somehow … my brother realized she was Tier One Talent and that he had happened upon a gold mine.

Somehow … my sister-in-law answered yes to his proposal of marriage.

I believe she may have been clubbed over the head, dragged back to his cave and denied food and water until she agreed, but that’s just a theory. (And for proof as to why I developed this hypothesis, last week’s post gives a rough outline that might illuminate.)

Regardless, this lovely woman gave her husband a plane ticket for his birthday, sending him off to mess up other people’s kitchens for a long weekend. I owned kitchen number one, but before we could put any floured fingerprints on my counter tops, we first needed staples. Therefore, we went to the place where both my children’s college funds have been spent.

Whole Foods Market.

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Shopping with a chef is a heady experience. Shopping with a chef is an expensive experience. Shopping with a chef and no precise grocery list is a mistake.

My initial idea of arriving at the store for a “spontaneous” menu creation was born after a few weeks of seeing my email inbox overflow with my brother’s dazzling bill of fare ideas and the suggestion that I begin hunting down local food purveyors who could source out needs.

Huhu (800x640)Panic set in when I realized I was going to have to make some long term promises and exchange money under the table. We were probably better off not knowing who could locate Huhu grubs, boiled duck embryo and sheep back fat. Okay, I could locate sheep back fat, but it was still very much in use by its current owners, so I had to put the brakes on. Whatever was in the bins and behind the shiny glass cases at the grocery store would source our needs.Backfat (800x412)

While in the shop, a common occurrence was turning my back for thirty seconds and then pivoting to see my brother surrounded by people—both shoppers and stockers—who were wholly absorbed by whatever my brother held in his hand and the sagacious, culinary-infused words that came from his mouth. Within moments, folks were raising their hands to share a personal story—both ebullient and tear-jerking—of some meal that moved them. My sibling is a Pied Piper of the gastronomic world.

The plan was to purchase ingredients for two evening dinners. The cart held enough for two evening dinners and all the essentials needed for making our way through The Joy of Cooking twice. (Our chef is used to things coming into his kitchen by the forklift load.)Shop (800x568)

Once back at the ranch, it’s all business. Aprons donned, knives honed, hands scrubbed, patient prepped. (And by patient, I mean “deceased bovine.”)

We made steak fajitas. Except these didn’t taste remotely close to my original version—the one I’ve perfected over years and years of practice. Mine were no longer perfect. But the fact that I took mental notes and then called my brother because my mental notes had massive gaps in them means my steak fajitas will now be perfect again. That is, until he comes back to visit.

We pummeled avocados, chopped onions, diced tomatoes, gutted peppers, shaved cheese, seared skirt steak, shredded greens and peeled garlic. Bushels of garlic. There is no vampiric activity within miles of the house. In fact, we can’t even get Twilight to play on TV.

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But here’s the big chef secret free giveaway: VANILLA.

Yep, you read it right. The stuff we put in ice cream and cookies. The chef says to take about 1 ½ — 2 lbs of skirt steak and marinate it in the juice of four freshly squeezed limes (toss the lime halves in as well), 1/2 cup of olive oil, an entire head of garlic (don’t worry about chopping, just peel and smash each clove with the back of a knife), salt, pepper, oregano, and 1/4 cup of high-quality vanilla. Let it burble away for an hour on the counter or for the day in the fridge. Grill it. Slice it. Eat it. Beg for more.

The other big meal was an experiment that came to us on the fly. We were going to smoke short ribs, but decided to use a slightly unconventional wood. In fact, it wasn’t wood at all. It was PEAT. My favorite flavor in the world.

DSC09747 (800x450)Last summer, I got myself a birthday present. Two forty pound bags of peat. They arrived in two canvas sacks, housed within a large cardboard box and handed over by one irate UPS guy. “You shipped eighty pounds of dirt to yourself?” he asked me, rubbing his back.

“Yes. But it’s really old dirt,” I explained.

Then at Christmas, I received another eighty pounds of it. I didn’t order it. No one in my family ordered it. And I know the UPS guy didn’t order it. It was a mistake from the company. Thank you, Irishpeat.com. Sorry, UPS guy.

So we smoked these beautiful grass fed short ribs for about three hours and then made a one pot meal by layering the ribs on the bottom, covering them with mirepoix, beer, beef broth and eventually adding potatoes and greens to finish. Click here for the full recipe.DSC09761 (800x540)

Lest it need to be spelled out, the grub was good. Damn good. What phrase is more potent than damn good that I can use to explain the awesome quality without offending sensitive ears? You’re right. There is none available.

But to sum it all up, we acquired, we cooked, we conquered. The kitchen, although scarred, is grateful to have been included.

Thanks, Bro.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Sibling revelry

My brother is a liar.

Not only that, he’s a cheat, he steals things and he smells like he’s been wrestling inside a giant vat of rotting fish.Liar (800x653)

Okay, maybe I should have put all of that in the past tense or surrounded it with quotes and introduced it with, I announced to my mom when we were nine and ten. But then that takes all the fun out of knowing his face will go beet-red when he reads this. And I’d almost give my left lung to be there when it happens because that opening paragraph is a form of payback for popping all my Barbie dolls’ heads off, supergluing them together and then using them as a makeshift whiffle ball for batting practice. Barbie (800x597)I might have misremembered some of those exact facts, but the end result was basically the same: I was miserable.

Except when I wasn’t.

And that “non-miserable” status was actually a much more frequent state of mind.

My brother was my roommate, my playmate, and a very convincing Frederick the Great whenever we played war, which happened repeatedly. We agreed to rotate the games we played: we could build stuff with sticks in the woods, sword fight with sticks in a field, or pile up sticks and attempt to light them on fire.

The alternative was that I could get chased with a stick if I didn’t agree to one of the prior games.salkville,shell&steve001 (622x639)

It was a rare day when we got to play house, but when we did, it was Little House on the Prairie where I got to be Ma and watch him play Pa. He built us a “log cabin,” fought off warring Native Americans who wanted to run us off our homestead, and started a smoldering fire on which I could cook him his grub. Still sticks, no matter how you look at it.

There was one thing we heartily agreed upon though, and that was food. Everything we did was centered around getting, sneaking, stealing, making, hunting, fishing or feasting on grub.

on ya bike...

on ya bike… (Photo credit: deer_je)

If we wanted to get up early to bike through the woods to arrive in time for sunrise on the lake, we first had to fill plastic bags with cereal, grab two spoons and strap a thermos of milk to the handle bars. We’d make a quick stop to pick blueberries en route, then it was breakfast on the pier.

If we hoped to act like all the folks with big RVs and fancy tents who arrived at the local campground down the street and who got to eat Toni’s pizza, drink orange Fanta and play pinball while listening to the jukebox, we first needed to put our allowance savings plan into action. If we couldn’t scrounge up enough quarters to cobble together the price of the entire event, we’d settle for just the pizza. We had to have that pizza.

How stealthily could we sneak a fistful of pre-breakfast Oreos out of the booby-trapped cookie jar on a Saturday morning? How many weeds would we have to pull in our ancient neighbor’s vegetable patch before she’d call us in for sizzling fresh perch, drowning in home-churned butter and yanked out of the lake not an hour before?

Angry squirrel

Angry squirrel (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

How many blueberries could we stuff down our gullets while slyly creeping through the woods, hoping to ambush preoccupied squirrels, engrossed in nut gathering? How many wintergreen leaves did we scarf down, pretending it was candy? How many winter snowfalls had us tearing open a package of Kool-Aid or Jello in order to open our own professional snow cone stand with us as our only customers?

Things haven’t changed greatly, although supposedly he’s a grown up. He pays most of his taxes. He drives a truck now instead of a bike. His three beautiful daughters cling to him like ring-tailed lemurs on a mighty oak, so I’m gathering either he’s learned how a bar of soap works or his children have no sense of smell.Chef (551x800)

He has an actual job that pays more than his childhood allowance. And as sad as he was to give up playing Charles Ingles, he refused to give up centering life around food. Somehow, he learned to read and write while I wasn’t looking. And apparently muscled his way through the Culinary Institute of America.

They call him “Chef.”

I call him lucky.

Yeah, maybe he no longer lies, cheats, steals or smells, but he still plays with sticks. He’s just swapped out those long, woody weapons for shorter, sharper blades.

Still sticks, no matter how you look at it.

~ShelleyBarrels (800x630)

*Next week, we’ll go shopping with our chef since he came out for a visit. And once we put the groceries away, chef and I did some sword fighting in the kitchen. Come back to see who wins.

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.