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Each Week, Aaron Weiss, the President of Weiss Meats, answers questions sent in by our customers in our newsletter. Below is the current question and answer as well as an archive of prior week's questions and answers.

Submit your own questions for Aaron to: askaaron@weissmeats.com


THIS WEEK'S QUESTION:

Hi Everyone! 

This week I wanted to use my space to wish you all a great Holiday Season. It's been a great year and the holidays are a perfect time to thank you all for your business throughout the year, and send you my hopes that you all have a wonderful time with family and friends this season. May God Bless all of you and keep you safe and well in the coming year! 

From me and all off us here at Weiss Meats, Thank You!

PRIOR WEEK'S QUESTIONS:

Q: Dear Aaron, I love the recipes you find. It's nice to have a quick way to find something new to try without having to search the entire internet myself. My favorites are the ones that I can put together quickly. Especially this time of year, I'm looking for fast and tasty for the kids.

Do you happen to know of any quick and easy recipes with minimal ingredients?

A: Thanks for the question. I think you might really enjoy some recent recipes released by Pillsbury. They are fast and - just  as important - they are easy to clean up after. You already love their biscuits and rolls, but you can do more with them than just bake them as a side.

 

Check out this link and this one.

Q:  Dear Aaron. I was looking to make something different for Thanksgiving this year.  I'm not opposed to making turkey, but we seem to have the same thing every year, and since we're only going to have 6 people this year instead of the normal huge gathering, I thought it might be nice to try something new. Any suggestions?

A: Thanks for the question.  There are definitely other routes you can take if you want something a little different. Here are a few ideas for you, but check our recipes this week for some other ideas and entire menus.

  1. Turkey Breast. Many people like to cook just the breast. It's normally the most popular part of the bird and it's less of an issue to clean up, with no bones to get rid of. You can even smoke it on your grill for a new taste.
  2. Drumsticks for everyone. Another option is cooking just the drumsticks so everyone can feel a little medieval. You can also go the route of roasting the breast AND a few drumsticks so you have something for everyone. This also allows you to control cooking times better.
  3. Turkey Enchiladas. This is always a great meal. Cooked in bulk in a huge pan, covered with great sauce and served up warm and begging to be devoured. Good choice.
  4. Pork Loin. Cooking a whole pork loin is a special thing. It's different than making chops in the same way that making a beef rib roast differs from grilling a few Delmonicos. Bone-in or bone out, there are many ways to prepare it.
  5. Rib Roast. SInce I mentioned it, this is another option. Rib roasts are a Christmas standby for many, but there's no reason you can't have it for Thanksgiving.

 

Whatever you choose to serve, do try our hot sausage stuffing in this recipe - it's excellent! And, of course, have a great Thanksgiving!

Q:  Hey Aaron, What exactly is a chicken tender? Are these just sliced up breasts? Do you sell them?

A:  As it happens, we actually have these on special this week. The chicken tenderloin is also called a chicken tender, chicken finger, or chicken strip. They are often included as part of the whole chicken breast, but they are popular by themselves as well.

They come from either side of the breastbone and due to lack of use of this muscle, they are very tender when cooked. While they and are very popular breaded (kids love 'em), they are a creat staple as they defrost and cook very quickly. They are also delicious and the perfect size for stir-fry, casseroles, soups, and wraps. 

TIP: The white tendon seen inside does not need to be removed, this will "vanish" during cooking.

Q:  Dear Aaron Were-ron, I had two questions: What is the trick to a great steak, and what is the best way to keep meat moist and tender?

A: Grrrrrr! Arrghhh! Awoooooo! [Looks at the moon and runs off].

 

Q:  Dear Aaron, I know there are a lot of recipes out there for cooking with wine, but other than beer battering things or cooking my hotdogs in it, what can you do with beer?

A: Thanks for the question. Aside from the obvious of drinking the right beer with the right meal (download this chart to learn how to pair beer with your meals), you can definitely use it to do a lot more than batter and boil. The right beer can even be used in desserts.

Here are just a few things you can do:

  1. Steam your shellfish in it. Crab and mussels are especially good when cooked this way.
  2. Marinade with beer. This helps to tenderize meats and impart great flavor.
  3. Use with ham and chicken dishes. Beer works well with these flavors.
  4. Try beer cheese soup! This is great in the fall and pairs well with a  good Bratwurst or Weiss' Own Kolbassi.
  5. Use it in place of the liquids in bread recipes for a great change of flavor.

Try this website and this one for some more tips and recipes.

 

Q:  Aaron, do you have any tips on how to cook a pork tenderloin so it stays juicy? I had one at a restaurant in Chicago that was killer, but I struggle with getting mine to keep from drying out.

A:  A great pork tenderloin is a wonderful thing when cooked properly. To get the best flavor and keep it juicy try these tips:

Most important tip: rest your meat for 10 - 15 minutes before serving so that the juices can reabsorb. If you cut too early the juices end up on the cutting board.

Marinade or brine. (Click here to see the difference) 

o Brine is a salty and flavorful liquid you soak the  tenderloin in overnight. It will absorb the flavor. Add brown sugar, a little apple cider, peppercorns and other flavors you like, not just salt. Also make sure you keep in the coldest part of your refrigerator and cover.

o Marinades are for the outside of the meat and don't penetrate as deep, lots of apple cider, orange juice, and other acids. Don't over marinate as this can actually toughen the meat.

Sear all sides in a hot pan (cast iron is my choice since you can move the whole pan to the over at the end).  Move the pan to the oven and roast for about 20 minutes, then remove and move to a cutting board to rest. You can deglaze the pan with a little white wine and add a few pats of butter for a nice sauce. Internal temperature should be 145 degrees before serving.

You can also broil your tenderloin in your oven instead of searing and roasting.  Time varies depending on your oven. As with roasting, use a meat thermometer and pull about 10 degrees before you hit your final temperature.  Rest meat nad check again before carving to make sure you hit 145.

Q:  Hey Aaron, can you tell me how to cook a roast? I hear lots of different things about how to cook them, but I figured you'd probably have the best advice on that.

A: Thanks for the question. This is getting to be the time of year when a good roast would hit the spot.  Most equate summer with grilling and BBQ, and fall with soups, roasts, and other comfort foods.
When it comes to roasts, there are two types of roasts and two techniques for each:

  1. Pot Roast: This uses a cut like chuck, brisket, top round, or bottom round. These cuts favor long, slow, wet cooking (braising). This will make your roast tender, juicy and they will be fully done throughout. (One note: Braising is not boiling - boiled meat is never a good idea unless we're talking about hotdogs. Even then, not so much.) 

    To properly braise, you will rub the roast with oil (canola works well here), salt, pepper, and garlic, then brown on all sides at high heat (cast iron is my choice for this). After that, you can move to a crock pot or put in an over. Either way, you'll want to include vegetables like onion, potatoes, carrots and celery, and add just enough liquid to come up the sides of the roast part-way. 

    I put the onions down first then the roast, then the potatoes, carrots and potatoes and add a bit of  French Onion soup mix and water (shake it up in a jar to combine first). I know a number of people who use Coca-Cola, which - believe it or not - is actually very tasty. Regardless of what liquid you use, the idea is to keep everything moist, but not to drown it. You can cook it all day at low heat if you like, but at least long enough that the roast falls apart when touched with a fork.
     
  2. Slicing Roasts: This can be Prime Rib, Beef Tenderloin, Sirloin, etc. The idea with these are that you are going to cook them so that you can slice off sections and the inside will be rare to medium rare. These will be roasted and cooked dry. They can be prepared on your grill or in your oven. You can have them on the grill the entire time, you can grill to start and move to the oven, or you can oven cook the entire time.

    Some like to start at a very high temperature for the first hour or so and then reduce the heat for the rest of the cooking time (this works especially well if you want rare or medium rare). Or you can cook low for a longer period of time (best for medium - medium well is usually a little too done for a good roast of this type). Click here to see what these look like.

    Any of these have the same beginning as the pot roast - rub with oil, salt, an pepper.

Our recipe section has recipes for both kinds of roasts - and more!Q:  This week I actually received three separate emails asking about pellet smokers. With it being Labor Day on Monday, I figured the timing was excellent!

A: For those unfamiliar, pellet smokers are a quick and easy way to get great smoked flavor at home. They use indirect heat to (essentially) braise the meat. Pellet smokers are nice for the home BBQ enthusiast because they require less intervention to ensure meats stay at a constant low and slow temperature and still produce great flavor.

Here is a great website that will tell you just about everything you'd want to know about pellet smokers.

If you'd like to compare different models, try this page on the same website which has a custom search feature .

Enjoy!

Q:  Hi Aaron,Lobster is one of my favorite things, but I'm always afraid I'll mess it up - I've had some really bad lobster before and I hate the idea of ruining it. Any tips?

A: You're not alone. Lobster is one of those things that, because it's so good when prepared well, many people are afraid to try cooking on their own. It's actually pretty easy to prepare - the main thing you have to watch for is not to overcook it or it will become rubbery and tough. 

Try this link and pick the method you like best.  

Grilled or broiled are two of the best methods for great flavor and appearance.


Q:  
Hi Aaron. Can you tell me the best mushrooms to serve with  a good steak (grilled or cast iron seared)?

A: Hi, thanks for the question. Mushrooms are always a welcome visitor on the plate when steak is in town. So, really, it all depends on your mood, and whether you're looking your looking to "rhyme" or "compliment." By that I mean, are you looking for something that's going to have a similar, meaty flavor, or do you want something that's going to have a flavor that will bring out different qualities of the steak. By itself, a good steak will have sweet and buttery undertones and that indefinable "meatiness" that we all love. These flavors change based on how long and how fast you cook the steak.

Here are some favorites:

1. Grill a full portabella cap for each steak. Drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper and garlic powder and grill along with the steaks for the same amount of time so that much of the natural water evaporates. Serve the steaks on top of the mushrooms to catch any juices while you rest your steak. This gives you a bite of mushroom with every bite of steak.

2. Sautee sliced mushrooms (white, baby portabella, shitake and others make a good mix) with thin sliced shallots in butter, adding salt and pepper to taste. Add diced fresh green onions to brighten it up and poor this mixture over your steaks. just before serving.

3. If you are cooking your steaks in a cast iron, you can also fry your mushrooms in the drippings while your steak rests. Try adding a couple of tablespoons of good red wine (never use wine you wouldn't drink, since this step concentrates the flavor) to deglaze and allow to thicken until dark and delicious.

This is a pretty simple side dish, and small changes will give you a lot of variety. here are some things you can experiment with adding to change the flavor profile: lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, heavy cream (use sparingly and at the end), bourbon, and of course garlic and onions.

Experiment and enjoy! 

This week, it's not a question, but a huge thank you! You voted us Best Family Owned Business in Pleasant Hills, and I couldn't be more humbled and happy! What's so special about winning this award is that our customers vote for us. Everything we do has one focus: to make shopping with us a great experience. I appreciate that not only do you choose to shop with us when there are other choices, but that you notice the little things we do to show you how much we value your business.

Thank you again, for being a menber of the Weiss family of customers. We're looking forward to your next visit!

Q:  Hi Aaron, I've been trying to do new things when cooking out this year rather than being a Grill Zombie and doing the same stuff I did last year - I even went out and picked up my first charcoal grill to enjoy the flavors you don't get with propane. With that in mind, I had a charcoal question: is there any benefit to using natural charcoal or making your own, or are briquettes just as good? Is it easy to make your own charcoal?

A: Thanks for the question! Yes, I think there is a flavor benefit to using natural charcoal, whether you make it yourself for pennies, or buy it already made.  Briquettes are convenient and, can even be found in "match lightable" varieties, but there is definitely a different flavor when you compare briquettes to real charcoal - especially since some of the cheaper varieties use a lot of wax and other chemicals. Of course there are a few briquette varieties that are better than others that give you a better flavor, but there are also a lot of purists who only use real charcoal.

As to making your own, charcoal is essentially baked wood. Almost all of the moisture has been removed, so what you are left with is a very hot burning fuel. It's not terribly difficult to make, but you should check your local ordinances first to verify open fire rules. Also, make sure you use only good hardwoods - softwoods such as pine will impart a resin-like flavor to your food. Of course, real charcoal can be bought as well if you prefer not to make it on your own.

Here is a link to a site with some basic instructions on making your own charcoal. If you do choose to make your own, play it safe - fire is involved and you shouldn't play with fire unless you take all necessary precautions. Weiss' didn't create the page in this link, so engage in this activity at your own risk.

Q:  Mr. Weiss:

Because you have awesome prices on beef, we grill steaks about 2 or 3 times a week in the summer. Our favorites are your Porterhouse and the Bone-on Rib-Eyes. As you might imagine, we end up with more bones than even the dog can handle. I was wondering - can you make stock with leftover beef bones?

A: Thanks for the question. 

Yes, grilled steak bones are perfect to include when you make beef stock! You can toss your leftover bones into zip-top bags and save them in your freezer. Once you're ready to make stock, try this process.

NOTE: You'll want some nice marrow bones too, but the steak bones will add another layer of great flavor.

Q:  Dear Aaron, what are the best toppings or sauces to use on a grilled steak?

A: That really depends on what you like and what kind of steak you're prepapring. Honestly though, if you have a good cut of meat, no sauces should be required. Adding toppings can get in the way of the flavor of the beef in my opinon - if I'm eating a steak, I want to taste the steak.

That being said, I understand folks do like variety at times. If you add anything, I think it should be something simple that enhances the deep, rich taste that comes from a well grilled cut of beef. 

Best Choices:

  • A simple pat of whipped or garlic-herb butter is probably the only thing I would add. Either will work well to ramp up the natural "beefiness" of a good steak.
  • Sautéed onions and mushrooms are also a nice option that marry well with the flavors.

Other Options:

  • Bleu Cheese has a rich, tangy, earthy flavor that compliments steak.
  • Brandy-Peppercorn Cream sauce is a traditional sauce served over steak.
  • touch of basic lemon-basil pesto or a bit of high quality salsa can add a nice note of freshness to a good flatiron steak.
  • Crab and béarnaise sauce are also an option. This is called an "Oscar Style" Steak.

As to bottled steak toppings, they can easily overpower anything they cover. They are best avoided or used very sparingly.

Grill on!

Q:  Hey Aaron, have you ever heard of "white" BBQ Sauce? Do you know what it's made with? Is it any good?

A: A southern favorite, white BBQ sauce is born from mayonnaise rather than tomato or mustard. It also is often made with vinegar and horseradish. It's popular in the south, but has started to gain followers further north in recent years. Most fans of it say it;s best when served on chicken, others say pork ribs are the best marriage.

If you'd like to try it out, this receipe came highly recommended by a friend who proclaimed it "the best."

Q:  Hey Aaron, can you tell me what I need to know to serve the right wine with the right meat? Are there any tricks to it?

A: Thanks for the great question! 

Learning how to pair wine with food takes patience, practice, and - if you want to be an expert - training. A true wine expert (called a Sommelier) participates in very specific training.

When you pair wine with food, the idea is to have the two complement each other in such a way that your wine and food bring out and enhance unique characteristics of each other. When done properly, a good pairing can change the flavors in surprising and delicious ways.

While I am not a Sommelier, I can give you some basic tips and point you toward some resources that should be helpful to you.

  • Hot and Spicy: Rieslings, which are made from a grape originally grown in Germany, have a slight sweetness that offset the spice in Indian and Asian dishes.
  • Cheesy: Rosé is a dryer wine with the fruity taste of a red and the acid of a white, so it works well with almost anything that is heavy on the cheesy goodness.
  • Extra Salty: Sparkling wines like Champagne or Spanish Cava (lesser known, but an excellent wine) have a muted, subtle sweetness making them a great companion to salty meals.
  • Barbeque: Barbeque is delicious, and has a lot of flavors going on. To cut through the tangy, spicy sweetness, try pairing with a Shiraz (Syrah) or other bold flavored wine.

For more info, you can try this chart.

You might also enjoy these links:

http://www.matchingfoodandwine.com/ 
http://www.mastersommeliers.org/Pages.aspx/About-CMS-Overview
http://www.spanishwine.com/information-wine/what-is-cava-wine/

Q:  Hey Aaron, I was wondering if you can tell me why the packaged meat in the grocery store looks so red? Do they dye it that way?

A: That's a great question! I've heard many people speculate on this topic, offering theories from the use of special dyes and chemicals, to setting up special lighting in the meat case. I can't say that someone hasn't tried these methods, but really, the answer is more simple than that.

To understand why these pre-packaged cuts look so red, the first step is to understand how meat departments work at many modern day grocery store chains and "mega stores" (you know, the ones where you can buy your car tires, a new coffee table, and the week's groceries all at the same time).

To cut costs, many  large grocery store chains and "mega stores" now utilize centralized meat cutting and packaging. What does that mean? Simply put, instead of cutting the meat onsite and upon request for each customer, most of the large stores sell meat that has been cut and packaged offsite "assembly line" style. This move to large scale meat production provides a huge quantity of pre-packaged, case-ready meat which can be shipped all over the country from central hubs. These processing hubs are either owned by the store, or are independent suppliers who sell to a number of different regional and local chains.

So, what does all of that have to do with the hyper-red color you see in the display case? Because it takes time to process and ship the meats, and stores know consumers don't buy meat that looks dull and brown, large distributors have created methods to keep their meats looking fresher longer. One such method is flushing meat with Carbon Monoxide gas. Beef processed this way looks even brighter red than it would when freshly cut and remains that color far longer than normal. This gives the processing hub more time to get the product to the store, and the store more time to display the product in their meat case.

The beef we cut for you in our store (if not used soon after purchase, or put in your freezer for long term storage), will start to turn brown in a just few days.  By comparison, pre-packaged beef treated with Carbon Monoxide can remain cherry red and "fresh looking" for weeks - well past it's actual freshness date.
 
Because we believe that fresh is best,  we cut our meats fresh to order and even make our own ground beef right in our store.  We take pride in doing things the "old fashioned" way and in knowing the meat you purchase from our store is top quality, fresh, delicious, and still priced well below what you'd pay at the grocery store. You can find more information on this topic in an independant article here.

Q:  Aaron, It's about time to start grilling again! What should I do to get my gas grill ready?

A: Yes, finally the weather seems to be whispering it's time to grill again. Of course, some of us grill all winter and shovel a path in the snow to our gills before our cars!

Regardless, this is a great time of year to do an inspection and deep cleaning of your grill, which is sure to see more use in the coming months.

Here are some basic tips for you:

  • Wash your grill with dish soap and hot water. It's best to avoid chemical cleaners (like oven cleaners) since these can strip the paint or damage stainless steel. It's better to use a little elbow grease to get at tougher stains rather than rely on chemicals. I find a fresh Brillo Pad works wonders.
  • Same for the inside - scrape with a grill brush and scrub well to remove any grease, char and corrosion. For heavier cleaning, you can add ammonia and water to a spray bottle, spray the inside well, and cover. Let it sit for at least an hour and you'll find the grease will wipe away much easier. Repeat the process if needed.
  • For grates that have a heavy baked on grease layer, you can soak them in a combination of water and ammonia (do this outside), then scrub with a Brillo Pad and rinse.  This helps loosen up any caked on food and grease.  Do be sure to rinse well to remove any ammonia before cooking, and don't mix ammonia with any other household cleaners.
  • Check screws, valves, hoses, wheels, etc.  Anything that is loose or badly rusted should be replaced. Gas leaks are bad news, so make sure to check your lines well. Spraying the hoses with soapy water and watching for bubbles is the traditional way to look for leaks.
  • Don't forget to clean the drip pan and make sure it's not rusted out or damaged - if it is, you'll want to get a new one.
  • Check your burners and burner covers for corrosion or any uneven flames. If needed, clean or replace them.
  • Don't forget to check your tank. Nothing spoils a grilling session faster than running out of gas. I like to keep a spare on hand so I can quickly switch out a tank if I need to. It's an initial investment to buy a second tank, but much easier to rotate out when a tank runs dry than have to stop and run out in the middle of a cookout.

HAPPY GRILLING!

Q:  Hi Aaron! Here's my question - If I left meat thawing on the counter too long, can I just cook it longer, or should I throw it out?

A: Throw it out! Meat that sits at a temperature 40-140 degrees for longer than 2 hours grows bacteria very quickly. While proper cooking kills most of the bacteria, it doesn't destroy the toxins and spores bacteria produce - both are to be avoided.

My first piece of advice is not to thaw meat on your counter. A lot of people do this, I know, but the safest way to thaw your meat is in the refrigerator. Meat should always be kept below 40 degrees when you are thawing it.  It is OK to let your meat sit briefly just prior to cooking so that it can lose its chill, but you should proceed immediately to cooking at that point.

For more info on safe thawing practices, read these tips from the USDA here.

Q:  Hi there Aaron!  With it being Lent, my family is eating a lot more fish. I was wondering if you could help me learn if there is a trick to know when the fish is done. Sometimes it seems like I'm overcooking it.

A: The simplest tip for fish is to stop cooking just as it moves from translucent and becomes white. A lot of people try to cook it until it is flakey (which is how you want it on your plate), but that's just a bit too long. Like all other meats, fish will continue to cook for a couple of minutes after you remove it from the heat.  Even if you are battering your fish, the easiest thing to do is to cut one open and look at the center to ensure it's white all the way through  -  at that point you know it's done.

The USDA recommends a final internal temperature of 145 degrees for fish.

Q:  Dear Aaron, My son loves roasts, but I want to do something a little different for his birthday.  Do you have any suggestions for something a little different we could try?

A:  A great roast is always a good thing, isn't it? One suggestion to try would be to make a stuffed roast. For that application, a nice flank steak always works well since it takes well to long slow cookingand has rich flavor that roast lovers are looking for. This recipe looks like a good one to try. Enjoy!

Q:  Dear Aaron, Which is better for a good stew, Top Sirloin or Boneless Chuck?

A: Personal preference has a lot to do with what you choose to use for your stew. Generally though, you get better results with meats that have some fat and a good deal of collagen (connective tissue).

The collagen leads to tough meat when cooked fast and hot (grilled), but becomes very tender and flavorful when braised for stews. This is because the connective tissues break down during long, slow cooking and helps give stew that full, thick texture and taste that makes us all love it so much. In this case, a nice boneless chuck roast will give you great results. Just ask your meat cutter to cube it for stew.

Q:  Hey there Aaron! A friend of mine got a vacuum sealer for Christmas and I've been thinking about getting one. Are they worth it? Any suggestions?

A:
That's a great question! The answer to this depends on a few things. Simply put, vacuum sealers can be a great investment - if you actually use them. It all depends on how much meat and other perishables you buy at once, and how long it takes you to go through them. Keep in mind that aside from storing meats and vegetables, these can also be great for storing other perishables (such as grains, nuts, seasonings, and cereals ) for extended periods.

If you shop a couple of times a month and don't keep your meats in your freezer for more than a few months, and go through your dry goods quickly, you probably won't notice much of a difference. On the other hand, if you buy a lot of things in bulk and stock up for months at a time, there is no question that  vacuum sealing will improve the taste and quality of what you freeze and stock in your pantry. It's also a great investment if you use it to pre-portion items, pack foods for camping, hunting and fishing trips, and if you use the "quick-marinate" feature.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Look for a unit that uses rolls of "cut as you need it" plastic rather than pre-sized bags. This is cheaper, and allows you to only use the amount and size you need.
  2. Look for a unit that can be used with wet foods. Some units are damaged by wet meats and marinades. Even if you get a wet use unit, it's still a good idea to at least partially pre-freeze your meats when possible - this will help you get more air out and get a better seal.
  3. Look for a unit with a hose attachment.  This allows you to use the unit with jars, regular zip top bags, and more.  You'll get much more use (and therefore value) out of your unit if you can use it to suck the air out of perishables stored in regular bags and jars between uses.
  4. Consider making precooked meals and storing them vacuum sealed. These "ready meals" are convenient, healthy, take up very little space, and are easy to prepare as a "boil in the bag" or microwave meal for a fraction of the cost of similar prepackaged products. These work great for elderly relatives and kids too.

Q:  Dear Aaron, I've heard that cooking with a wok (stir fry, etc.) is a healthy and easy way to cook if you live alone and make smaller portions.  Any tips on what kind of wok to buy?

A:
Thanks for the question.  Wok cooking is probably one of the easiest ways to cook and you can definitely control portions, cook quick, and get great flavors. I can give you a few basic tips:

  1. Buy a carbon steel, flat bottomed wok.  These work best, can handle the high heat needed for wok cooking, and are much less expensive than nonstick varieties.
  2. Go for at least a 14" wok so that you have room to cook larger meals when needed.
  3. Cut your meats into thin slices so that they cook evenly and get a nice crispy layer on the outside.
  4. Season your wok before cooking your first full meal in it and make sure to oil it well  - especially in the beginning until it's properly seasoned. 

Here is a great page with some more tips on selecting and seasoning your new wok.  Enjoy!

Q:  Hi Aaron, Can you give me some tips on cooking a rack of lamb?

A:
Thanks for your question! Lamb is a favorite dish of many, but it is easy to overcook. Here are some suggestions:

  • Almost every cook will tell you that the most important thing when making a rack of lamb is to cook it rare or medium rare. This allows for the subtle flavors to come through.
  • Pair your lamb with herbs like fresh rosemary, parsley and garlic - season with salt and pepper.
  • Try a coarse mustard as a rub for your lamb - this will give you a nice flavor combination.
  • You can marinate your lamb overnight in the refrigerator to allow the meat to absorb the flavors.
  • Cook lamb fat side up and score the fat to allow it to drain away and self-baste.

For another method, watch the master of no-nonsense, flavorful lamb - Gordon Ramsay. Check out his simple, short video here.

Q:  Hey Aaron, Thanks for your tips - I've found them very helpful. I had a question I wanted to ask. What are some tips you have for making tender beef stir fry? Is there a best cut of beef? Does it have to be cut a certain way?

A:
Stir fry, when prepared correctly, is tender and flavorful. Most chefs prefer to use flank steak, which should be cut thin and across the grain. Another important step is to marinate the meat first. This will impart great flavor and will also help keep your beef tender and moist during cooking.

A simple marinade of 2 parts soy, 1 part pineapple juice, minced garlic, and fresh minced ginger has a great Asian flavor and will tenderize the meat naturally. Marinade in your refrigerator for at least two hours prior to cooking (a zip top bag is perfect and allows easy turning for even coverage).

If you want your meat pre-cut for stir fry, just let us know and we'll be happy to do so!

Q: Dear Aaron, what's the difference between Ground Round, Ground Chuck, and Ground Sirloin?

A:
The simplest answer is that they are ground beef from 3 different sections (as shown below), but there are other differences too.

 

 

  • Ground Round is the leanest of the three with less fat content and is best for applications like tacos, enchiladas, spaghetti sauces and similar recipes. It's also great for a lean burger.
  • Ground Sirloin is the next leanest cut and more flavorful, allowing it to better stand on its own as a burger. It has a lower fat content than Ground Chuck which makes it a welcome addition to chili and meat sauces as well.
  • Ground Chuck has a higher fat content and is prized for yielding moist and juicy burgers. This is also the recommended cut for meatloaves and Salisbury steak.
  • Ground Beef is a mixture of different cuts selected to give the best general purpose combination of texture, flavor and juiciness, and can be used for any of the above applications.

We grind our own beef right in our store and are also always happy to grind any cut of beef for you. Of course, we NEVER add any fillers to our ground meat!

Q: Hey Aaron, I've learned a lot from reading your columns and I was wondering if you could help me out with a question I've had for a while.  What's the difference between roasting and broiling? Are they the same thing, or different?

A:
Thanks! I'm glad to hear the tips are helpful.

Roasting and broiling have some similarities but, they are also very different methods of preparing your meats. The main similarities are that both are dry cooking methods, and typically, both happen in your oven, although roasting can be done outdoors with the right equipment. Roasting is probably one of the oldest cooking methods known to man.

Let's start with roasting. Roasting is a method of cooking where the meat is basted in fats or oils - normally its own. This allows for the formation of a crisp outer layer and a tender and juicy inside.  It's also a slow method of cooking - typically taking hours. Roasting can be done on a spit (or rotisserie), where the meat is slowly rotated and juices run over the surface - crisping it, or in a pan where you baste the outside regularly to keep it moist (think roasted turkey or roasted chicken).

Broiling is essentially upside down grilling. The meat sits on a rack that allows the fats to drain away while heat comes from above. This is a great way to prepare meats if you want a similar result to what you get from your standard outdoor grill. It's a fast cooking method, so you have to keep a constant watch over your meats to make sure they don't burn or get overcooked.

Both methods work well, but yield different results. Normally, roasting is used for larger sections or larger and tougher cuts of meat (whole chickens, legs, roasts, etc.) and broiling is good for smaller, more tender sections (steaks, chops, etc.).

Q: Hi Aaron. What advice do you have for a quick meal that doesn't taste like a quick meal if I forget to thaw something out for dinner?

A: Great question! As busy as we all get, this can happen to the best of us.
 
One thing every kitchen should have is a good pressure cooker - it can save the day in these situations. There are many recipes that work well in a pressure cooker, and you can often get that "all day" cooked taste in an hour or less. The most important thing is to remember to brown the meat first (as you would when using a crock pot), since once you lid up the pressure cooker, you won't get any browning - just rapid wet cooking.

Here is a simple recipe you can throw together in just over an hour:

Take a beef roast and thaw it in your microwave for about ten minutes. Meanwhile, chop a large onion, some carrots and some celery. When the meat is semi-thawed (about the best you're going to get in ten minutes), add it to a very hot pressure cooker and turn the meat about once a minute to sear each surface. Add in your vegetables, a packet of dried French onion soup mix - or your favorite spices - along with about two cups of liquid (beef stock is a good choice since it will help add a slow roasted flavor). Cover and seal, and reduce to medium heat (refer to the book that comes with your pressure cooker for more detailed cooking and safety information). Adjust the heat as needed so you get a slow steady "rattle" rather than a continuous "hissing" from the pressure release cap, and cook for about an hour once it reaches temperature. You'll end up with a great, flavorful roast that tastes like it's been slow cooking all day long.

Q: Hi Aaron, I hope you can help me with my question. What's the best way to get a lot of flavor throughout a chicken when roasting it?  I've had some really good chicken at restaurants, but when I try to roast one at home, it seems all the flavor is in the skin, and it's bland once you get to the meat. What am I doing wrong?

A: That's a great question. To get the best flavor, you should employ four techniques together. They will result in a great, extra-juicy and flavorful bird. Here's the secret in four parts:

  1. Ask for a roaster when you come in to our store. Not all chickens are created equal. There is a huge difference between a Roaster and Stewing chicken - the former is a young and flavorful bird between 3.5 - 5 lbs., and the latter is an older hen between 5-7 lbs. A Stewing chicken is best cooked long and slow in a stock pot. A Roaster is what you want for peak tenderness and flavor when roasting.
  2. Brine your bird before roasting. A simple mix is: One gallon of cold water, 1/2 cup of kosher salt (the larger crystals make a difference), and 2/3 cup of light brown sugar. Whisk the mixture, then lower in your bird. Brine in your refrigerator for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight. You can add other spices like peppercorns, and herbs like sage and thyme, for more flavor. Rosemary is also a really nice compliment to chicken. A brined bird will be moister and the flavor will be absorbed into the meat.
  3. Rub your bird well with oil and seasonings. Kosher salt and pepper are a minimum, but one of the best rubdowns for chicken is Herbes de Provence. Of course, you can also just use a mix of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (Remember the ballad?).
  4. Fill the cavity with aromatics instead of stuffing. Rough chop some celery, onions, garlic, fresh parsley and fresh rosemary, and wrap in some cheesecloth. Tie closed, then fill the cavity with the bundle. Remove the bundle with tongs and discard before carving and serving. This gives you flavor that permeates from the inside out.

These tips should help you to roast a bird to rival any you get in a restaraunt.

Q: Dear Aaron, I wanted to thank you for including the Diabetic Recipe in your newsletter last week. It's nice to have some recipes that are OK for Diabetics. Will you continue to have these in future newsletters?

A: Thank you for your email! Diabetes has become a very common condition with so many relying on fast food and on-the-go meals these days. We have always felt that home cooked meals with superior quality ingredients makes a big difference. While these recipes are not a replacement for advice from your nutritionist, we felt it was important to offer some lower carb choices for our friends who look for those options. We will continue to offer great recipes from our kitchen and yours, and around the web. Because we received so much positive feedback on last issue's recipe, we will continue to showcase a diabetic freindly recipe in each full newsletter.

Q: Hey Aaron, I was wondering if you know a good way to keep a gas grill from flaring up and burning my meats? I like the convenience of gas, but if I'm cooking a really juicy steak, sometimes it can be a pain.

A: Gas grills are notorious for this. Even with the burner guards, it's a constant battle to keep from charring things sometimes when the drippings get near the fire. I found a great and simple modification that you can make to any grill, on the cheap, that should be really helpful to you. Just click here to learn how to eliminate your flare ups for good.

Q: Hi Aaron, I recently had a delicious salt crusted fish at a restaurant. Is there an easy way to do that at home?

A: Salt crusting is a time honored technique that results in superior taste, texture and very moist fish when properly done. Believe it or not, it's actually very easy.  I found a great video that also includes a preparation for a delicious Beurre Blanc Sauce that takes it to the next level.  If you scroll down under the video, there is a chart that shows you how much salt to use for the size of your fish. Enjoy!

Q: Hi Aaron, last weekend we had a grilled turkey breast that was excellent. Not dry and super juicy.  Any tips so that I can recreate this on our home gas grill?

A: Turkey meets grill can be amazing - or dry and disappointing. Here are the methods I use to keep things moist and tasty:

  1. Soak the breast for at least 4 hours in a good, flavorful brine or marinate.
  2. Start out with a very hot grill and add the turkey breast meat side down for five minutes to get the grill marks, then flip bone side down and immediately reduce the heat to medium.
  3. If you want some good smoky flavor, you can also add some water soaked wood chips wrapped loosely in a foil pouch (apple is good, but so is mesquite)
  4. Cook it for just about a half an hour or until a meat thermometer reads 100 - 105 degrees.
  5. Move the breast to a foil pan, add in about a cup and a half of turkey or chicken stock and seal with foil. Also discard the wood chips
  6. Turn the flame off under the pan and turn your flame on low on the other side of the grill.
  7. Cook for another half an hour or so until it reaches a temp of 163 degrees.
  8. Rest for about 10 minutes before serving (you want a final temp of 163 degrees).
  9. Result: moist, tasty and tender turkey breast.

Q: Hi Aaron, My wife and I bought our first home last week and the first thing I want to do with the summer here is get a nice gas grill.  As you might guess, after buying the house I have a limited budget. Can you recommend the best one for under $500?

A: Congratulations on your new home! As to the best gas grill, a lot of that depends on personal preference and what you plan to do with it. You'll want something that's good for every day grilling, but also large enough to accommodate family and friends coming over. I did a little looking around online and this list seems to have some great options to choose fro