Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Adventures in Triple Layer Pumpkin Pie Making

It is officially the fall season, folks!  You know what that means.  Pumpkin galore!

When I was a kid, I wasn't very big on pumpkin.  There were plenty of opportunities for pumpkin pie, but I could never tolerate much of it without whipped cream.  I am of the belief that is sacrilege to serve pumpkin pie without whipped cream.  You've been warned!

We had the pleasure of meeting Bradley Ogden at his namesake Las Vegas restaurant before it closed.  We decided to have a nice dinner at his restaurant on our last day in Vegas, and we were drawn in by his cookbook.  No, we are still not ready to admit we have a cookbook addiction.  When we ordered the book through our waiter, we asked if Bradley was available to sign it.  It just so happened that he was in the kitchen that day, and he graciously agreed to sign our book!  He was a very nice man, and we thoroughly enjoyed our wonderful dinner.

Triple Layer Pumpkin Pie
Imagine my delight when I was thumbing through our newly purchased Holiday Dinners with Bradley Ogden cookbook, and I found a recipe for a triple layer pumpkin pie.  At that very moment, I knew it was ON!

I prefer not to serve any dishes to my guests if I haven't made the dish before.   Since we are hosting a big dinner next month, I knew it would be important to try this recipe out before the big dinner.  I am very glad I did.  This is a masterful recipe, and I feel that there were some very important steps and tips left out of the recipe.  Also, I tweaked it here and there.

If you're up for a challenge and want to see just how much of your hair you can pull out in one day, by all means, check out the unaltered recipe at this link.  Knock yourself out!

If you'd rather have someone vet the recipe and give you tips on making it absolutely perfect, keep on reading.  If you haven't gathered by now, I am very detail oriented.  I frequently add my own variations to the recipes I find.  I try to explain why each step is very important, and I try to let you know what will happen if you don't follow the instructions.

I know some people might find this more annoying than helpful, but I hope the majority of my readers find the details to be helpful!  I would also really appreciate it if people would share this recipe, and post in the comments when you have tried it out!  If you run across any recipes that make you want to pull your hair out, send them to me.  I might see if I can figure out how to "fix" them for you. 

There is a discrepancy in the cookbook that is sort of not listed on the above website.  In the book, it lists 1 teaspoon of the pumpkin spice in the custard layer ingredients list, but in the instructions it says to add 2 teaspoons.  If you look closely enough, you will notice the pumpkin spice ingredients create 4 teaspoons of the spice blend.  If you go off the instructions in the website above, you would only use 3 of the teaspoons.  It doesn't tell you what to do with the extra teaspoon.  Tsk on the editors who missed that!  It kind of drives me batty when recipes are not properly tested and written out.

Before you decide to take on this daunting task of a pie, there are some important things to note: 

  1. You will need to set aside a lot of time to make this pie.  I'm talking all day long!  If you follow my instructions and stay on top of things fairly quickly, you can make this pie in about 7 1/2 hours.  Fortunately it's not 7 1/2 hours of "active" time.  Even so, your pie will not be ready to eat in 7 1/2 hours since it needs to chill before serving!  It requires a lot of waiting time for things to get to the right temperature.  If you get the crust dough ready in advance, you can shave off about 1 1/2 - 2 hours off that big chunk of time.  The recipe below is for a double pie crust, so at least you will have a back up if something goes wrong with the first crust!  You can also make the pumpkin spice mixture ahead of time.  I also highly recommend reading this entire recipe before getting started.  It will help you prepare if you are able to imagine the process ahead of time.
  2. You will need a large food processor for this recipe.  Since the butter will be frozen, it will need something strong to help cut and break it down.  I also suggest cutting the butter into the 1/4 pieces well in advance.  You can put separate the pieces and place them on some wax paper on a cookie sheet, cover them, and freeze them.  I suggest giving them at least 45 minutes to freeze.  It will make it easier to break them apart and sprinkle them into the food processor.  If you work too much to break them apart, it will warm them up.
  3. If you do not have a KitchenAid stand mixer, be very careful with the speed settings on your hand mixer.  You will be whisking a lot of ingredients together for this recipe.  At the very minimum, you will need an electric hand mixer.  If you're feeling up for torturing yourself, by all means, whisk by hand!  Just remember that the medium setting speed on a hand mixer is much faster than medium speed on a KitchenAid stand mixer.  With the hand mixers, you have to watch the blade speed vs going by the marked speed settings.  If you have both a KitchenAid stand mixer and a hand mixer, I still recommend using only the Kitchenaid stand mixer just to make life a little simpler.  For this recipe, I have noted in my instructions when you should clean up your bowl and whisk for the stand mixer.  I also highly recommend using a spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl.  I included an Amazon link below for the best shape spatula for scraping the bottom of the KitchenAid bowls.  Yes, it does make quite a difference.  Every KitchenAid stand mixer owner should have one!
  4. You will need a very deep dish glass or ceramic pie pan for this recipe.  The recipe suggested using a 9-inch pie dish.  This pie will overflow even if you use a 9.5 inch pie dish!  If that is the only size you have, then you will need to set aside some of the pumpkin chiffon.  I am trying to find one that has a wavy edge.  I think a wavy edge will help give it a little extra room for the filling.  I think I need to see them in person before making a selection.  Once I find one, I'll come back and add it to the Amazon link below!
  5. Plunger measuring cup
  6. In order to make your life easier, I strongly recommend getting some of the pie crust bags.  The 14" would be good, though the 11" one will work out as well.  They cost less than $10 on Amazon (link is below), and they are wonderful!  Even though you are using a 10" pie plate, using the 14" pie bag would be good so you can trim off some of the crust.  If you only have the 11" pie bag, then you can take out a nice golf ball size chunk out of the crust before rolling it out.  Since most people don't have pie crust bags, Bradley Ogden's recipe doesn't call for the pie bags.  So this recipe does create a bit of extra crust.  If you don't take some of the crust out before using the 11" pie bag, it will end up a little too thick.
  7. I also recommend getting a squeegee measuring cup (pictured on the right, and link is in the Amazon list below).  These are really good for thick liquid measurements such as creams, honey, condiments, balsamic vinegars, syrups, thick oils, etc. Basically you move the plunger to the required measuring line, and you pour your ingredient into the cup.  There are two sets of lines and measurements marked on the cups.  One is for "liquid fill" and the other is for filling to the rim. With the latter, you can level the measurements from the top of the container.  They come in different sizes.  I have a small one for measurements up to 2 tablespoons, and it comes in very handy.  I genuinely love these tools!
  8. You will need an instant read probe thermometer.  Any type will do.  You absolutely should have at least one in your kitchen!
  9. Make lots of room in your fridge!  You will have two medium size bowls in your fridge at least for 20 minutes, and this pie does need to be chilled.
  10. On the brandy, unless it is an absolutely hard and fast "no no" for your personal beliefs, do not skip this ingredient.  It does make a huge amount of difference in terms of flavor.  If you are worried about alcohol content goes, there isn't a whole lot that will be left in the finished product.  For more details on alcohol content after cooking, visit this link.  First of all, the brandy portion of this recipe is baked for 30 minutes, so approximately only 35% of the alcohol will remain.  Mind you, that is 35% of the approximately 35-60% alcohol contained in 1 tablespoon of brandy - for the entire pie.  To start off, 1 tablespoon isn't even a shot, and it's not a lot of alcohol!  After it's all cooked, there would be 2.1 milliliters (approximately .42 of a teaspoon) of alcohol left in the pie, divided over 8-10 slices!  There is more alcohol in a single can of O'Doul's non-alcoholic beer than there would be in this entire pie!  Even the biggest lightweight on the planet isn't going to get any alcohol effects from this recipe!  The first time I made this recipe, I only had cognac on hand, and I didn't have access to my car at the moment.  So instead of using regular brandy, I used 1 tablespoon of Remy Martin XO Cognac.  Hey, it was all I had in the liquor cabinet!  That was a very expensive pie, but it was a fine tasting pie!  Since the Remy is a very strong cognac, the cognac flavor sort of overpowered the pie.  In my most recent attempt, I used a mid-range price bottle of brandy - E&J XO Extra Smooth limited release brandy.  This brandy in particular has 40% alcohol by volume, as did the Remy Martin XO Cognac.  For those of you who are wondering "So which should I use?  Brandy or Cognac?"  The only real difference between cognac and brandy is the region they are crafted.  All cognacs are brandies.  Much like champagne is only called champagne if it is crafted in the Champagne region of France, true cognacs are crafted in the Cognac region of France.  There, you even had an alcohol lesson today!  
  11. I substituted turbinado sugar instead of granulated sugar in the pumpkin custard layer.  It is in fact true that turbinado sugar is better for us.  I won't go into a diatribe about this, but I do suggest doing your own research about all of the ingredients and processes it takes to make granulated sugar.  My friends who know me well enough know that I am not one of those who gets blindly caught up in the "food should be healthy and organic" mindset.  Even with that in mind, I strongly suggest not substituting turbinado sugar for the egg whites and whipped cream portion of this recipe.  Turbinado sugar doesn't break down like granulated sugar does in cold ingredients such as heavy cream and egg whites.  You don't want a gritty chiffon or whipped cream.  If you are taken back by the high cost of turbinado sugar (you should be!), I suggest purchasing a large 6 lb bag of it at Costco.  Just the other day, I saw it there for just over $7.  It costs more than double that at the regular grocery stores!  If you don't have a Costco membership, you can purchase it for approximately the same price with the super-save shipping program at Amazon (when it is on sale).  If you really want to be cheap about it (Hi, mom!), you can pick up a couple of packets of it at your local coffee shop ;-)  You only need 1 1/2 tablespoons of it anyway!

Triple Layer Pumpkin Pie

Grocery list:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 sticks of unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup sour cream (remember, 8 fluid oz = 1 cup)
~2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar (2 tablespoons sugar + 1/3 teaspoon of cinnamon, mix)

2 1/4 cup of heavy cream
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon brandy or cognac
2 cups of pureed pumpkin
1/3 & 3/4 cup of packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons of granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoon of turbinado (sugar in the raw) sugar - though this can be substituted for regular sugar
1 envelope (1 tablespoon) of unflavored granulated gelatin

Ingredient list:

Pie crust
3 cups all-purpose flower
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon cinnamon sugar
12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces and frozen
1 1/4 cups sour cream

Pumpkin Spice Mixture (yields 4 teaspoons, more info on pie dusting later)
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Pumpkin Custard
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon brandy or cognac
2 teaspoons Pumpkin Spice Mixture (above)
1/2 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
1/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons turbinado sugar (granulated sugar can be substituted)

Pumpkin Chiffon
1 envelope (1 tablespoon) unflavored granulated gelatin
1 1/2 cups canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
4 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons Pumpkin Spice Mixture (above)
3 large egg whites
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Whipped Cream
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar 

For the pie crust: 
    1. Pulse the flour, salt, and cinnamon sugar together in the food processor until combined.

    2. Scatter the pieces of frozen butter over the top of the flour mixture (see image to the left).

    3. Pulse until the butter is the size of large peas, approximately 20 pulses (see image to the left).  Remember, a "pulse" is about 1 second on, and 1 second off.

    4.  Add the sour cream and pulse until the dough forms one large ball.

    5.  Divide the dough into two pieces.  If you want, you can use a kitchen scale to try to even the two sides out.

    6.  Put the two mounds of dough on top of sheets of plastic wrap (I recommend the Glad Press & Seal wrap), and flatten each into 4 inch wide disks.

    7.  Wrap up the dough disks, and refrigerate one of the doughs for 1 hour.  (Tip: you can put the other one in the freezer for up to a month.  The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to two days.  When using the frozen dough, let it thaw completely on the counter before rolling it out).  This is the 1st part where you get to take a 1 hour break!

    8.  When you are ready to bake your crust, take it out of the fridge and set it on the counter for 10 minutes.

    9.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

    10.  If using a pie crust bag:
    Pie crust rolled out in the pie crust bag
    1. If using the 11" pie bag, take out about a golf ball size amount of dough from the mound of dough.  If using the 14" pie bag, skip this first step.  I do recommend using the 14" pie bag instead.
    2. Lightly flour the inside of the bag - top and bottom.
    3. Put the dough inside the bag and zip it up.
    4. Roll out the dough, and be sure to spread the dough all the way to the edges of the bag (see image to the right).
    5. Unzip the bag, and carefully loosen the edges of the dough from the bag, and peel off one side of the pie bag from the dough.
    6. Place your pie pan centered and upside down on the rolled out dough. 
    7. Flip the pie pan and dough over.
    8. Remove the pie crust bag from the dough.
    9. Spread out the pie crust in the pie pan, and make sure the dough is evenly placed around the edges of the pan.  
    10. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, spread out the dough where it is about 1/2 an inch larger than the edge of the plate.
    11.  If not using a pie crust bag:
    1. Lay the prepared dough on a lightly floured work surface.
    2. Roll out the dough outward from the center into a 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick.
    3. Loosely fold the dough into quarters, and gently transfer it to the 10 inch pie plate.
    4. Unfold the crust and gently press it into the pie plate, letting the excess hang over the pie plate.
    5. Using a sharp instrument, trim off the excess dough to about 1/2 inch larger than the edge of the plate.
    12.  Tuck the excess 1/2 inch of dough underneath itself to form a neat, even edge that sits on top of the pie plate.

    13.  Press a decorative trim into the edge of the pie.  You can use a fork to make some impressions, or you can use the back of a butter knife to make a rope-like impression.

    Pie beads in the pie, ready to be baked.
    14.  Line the pie shell with a double layer of aluminum foil and fill with pie weights, old (uncooked) beans, or (washed) pennies (see image to the right).  You will find a link for pie beads in the Amazon list below.

    15. Bake the pie crust for 15 minutes.  Hint: you will want to get started on the custard right after you put the pie in the oven.

    16.  Once the 15 minutes are up, remove the crust from the oven and remove the weights and foil.  Since the pie beads will be hot, be sure to pour them into a temperature safe bowl or colander so they can cool off.

    17.  Continue to bake the crust until light golden brown and crisp, approximately 5 minutes longer.
    Fair warning: the crust will likely bubble up in the last 5 minutes of baking time.  You can use a fork to stab some steam holes into the crust before or after it is done baking, and be careful to encourage it to settle down to an even layer.  Don't put your hand right over the steam holes!  For the most part, it will settle down fairly nicely on its own - after the steam holes have been vented.

    18.  Place the pie plate on a cooling rack while assembling the custard.  Keep the oven on.

    Before mixing the spices
    For the pumpkin spice mixture: (you can also do this step in advance)

    1.  In a small bowl or ramekin, combine all of the ingredients for the spice mixture.

    2.  Set aside.
    After mixing the spices

    For the pumpkin custard:

    1.  While the pie shell is baking, put the eggs into your mixing bowl and lightly beat them with a fork (if you haven't beaten them yet).

    2.  Add the cream, brandy, and 2 teaspoons of the spice mixture to the eggs.

    3.  Whisk until combined.

    4.  Using a spatula, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all of the ingredients are incorporated (pictured on the left).
    5.  Add the pumpkin, brown sugar, and turbinado sugar to the mixture.

    6.  Whisk until combined.

    7.  Using a spatula, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all of the ingredients are incorporated (pictured on the right).  Notice it is a little darker and more "pumpkin" colored now.

    8.  Using the spatula to stir while scraping the bowl, pour the pumpkin custard into the warm pre-baked crust (pictured to the left).

    9.  Bake until the edges of the pie are set, and the center of the pie registers at 175°F on an instant read-thermometer.  This should take about 30 minutes.  If you do not like dark golden crusts (I don't!), you can use a pie shield (pictured to the right, listed in the Amazon link below).
    Hint: While the pie is baking, this is the 1st part where you will want to wash your mixing bowl and whisk. You don't want that pumpkin custard mixture to get caked on.

    10.  Remove the pie from the oven, and set it on a cooling rack to cool it to room temperature.  This should take approximately 1 hours (pictured to the right).  It will be a bit darker than before, and it will largely resemble the pumpkin pies you are familiar with.  This is the part where you can take a break!

    11. Refrigerate while you are preparing the chiffon layer.

    For the pumpkin chiffon layer:

    1.  In a small sauce pan, combine the gelatin and 1/4 cup cold water.

    2.  Let it soak (without heat) for 5 minutes.

    3.  While the gelatin is soaking, put a separate medium sauce pan over medium-low heat, and whisk together the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, egg yolks, and 2 teaspoons of the pumpkin spice mixture.

    4.  While stirring constantly, bring it to a simmer.

    5.  Once it has started to simmer, remove it from the heat, and transfer to a medium sized mixing bowl.  You are going to be adding 3 whipped egg whites to it, so make sure you use a large enough bowl for this task.

    6.  Place the gelatin sauce pan over low heat until the gelatin is completely melted.  After about half a minute or so, you can stir it gently to encourage the gelatin to melt.  This will take approximately 1-2 minutes.

    7.  Remove the gelatin from the heat.

    8.  Add the gelatin to the chiffon mixture, and stir until thoroughly combined.

    9.  Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator until the mixture is just slightly set, and the center jiggles just slightly when shaken.  This will take 15-20 minutes.  You do not want to let it sit too long, otherwise it will become too firm.  It will be relatively forgiving in this regard.  You just don't want to let it sit in the fridge for hours on end.

    Note: You are going to come back to complete the chiffon layer.  For now, there are a few more steps that need to be done quickly while the chiffon layer is firming up.

    For the whipped cream layer:

    1.  Pour the whipped cream into your mixing bowl, and whisk it on medium speed until small (not medium or large) bubbles form.  This will take approximately 30 seconds.  

    2.  Increase the speed to medium-high speed, and sprinkle in the granulated sugar.  Continue to whip until the cream thickens and forms stiff peaks.  This will take approximately 2 minutes.

    3.  Set aside 1/4 cup of the whipped cream, cover it, and refrigerate it.

    4.  Transfer the remaining whipped cream to a separate bowl, cover it, and refrigerate.
    Hint: you will need to quickly wash your mixing bowl and whisk again.

    For the remaining portion of the chiffon layer:  (see the section below titled "If you prefer to cook your egg white meringue")

    10.  Pour your egg whites into your mixing bowl, and whisk the egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy.  This will take approximately 1-2 minutes.

    11.  While the mixer is running, sprinkle in the granulated sugar, and increase the speed to medium-high.  Keep whisking until stiff peaks form.  This will take approximately 1-2 more minutes.

    chiffon layer, before egg whites and whipped cream are added
    12.  Hopefully your chiffon will be done gelling up by this time (see image on the right).  Remove the chiffon layer and the baked pumpkin pie from the refrigerator.

    **12.  Using the whisk, stir about 1/4 of the whipped egg whites into the chiffon mixture to lighten it.

    13.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the remaining egg whites and reserved 1/4 cup of whipped cream until no white streaks remain.

    After the chiffon layer has been added to the pie
    14.  Spread the chiffon mixture onto the prepared pumpkin pie, mounding it slightly in the middle.  Depending on the size of your pie pan, you may have some overflow.  Considering there is one more layer to this pie, you might need to set some of the chiffon mixture aside (see image to the left).  Another option is to chill the pie very well before you add the whipped cream layer.  I highly recommend doing this since it helps "set" the layer in order to prevent it from overflowing when you add the whipped cream on top.

    15.  Gently spread the whipped cream attractively over the top of the pie.

    16.  You can either lightly dust the pie with some cinnamon or you can create another 1/2 batch of the pumpkin spice mixture.  Since it is going on top of whipped cream, you can probably skip the salt.

    17.  Cover with a dome cover or cake cover, and refrigerate for a few hours before serving.  You can serve it immediately, but the chiffon layer will run all over the place.  It is much more attractive if you serve it cold.  It must be refrigerated at all times since it has uncooked egg whites in the chiffon layer.  This brings me to the final hint.

    If you prefer to cook your egg white meringue:

    1.  Place a thick glass, medium size bowl over a sauce pan of barely simmering water, and add the egg whites and sugar.  (See Further explanation below*)

    2.  Lightly whisk until the egg whites register 140°F on an instant-read thermometer or they are hot to the touch.

    3.  Pour the hot egg white into your room temperature mixing bowl.

    4.  Whisk on medium-high speed until doubled in volume and stiff peaks form.  This will take approximately 1-2 minutes. 

    5.  Add to the chiffon layer per the instructions above.**

    *Further explanation:

    This process creates a double boiler, and it is used for putting indirect heat on ingredients that need to be cooked with a hot steam.  It helps ensure the ingredients will not scorch or burn.  Since you want the steam to heat the bowl, do not let the water touch the bottom of the glass bowl.  You will want to use a glass bowl that can fit inside the pan and form a seal over the top of the pan.  Holding the bowl over the heat would be a very bad idea!  Using a metal bowl would require a lot more stirring since metal doesn't conduct heat as evenly as glass does. 


    I hope you enjoy the recipe!  I promise you, it is an absolutely divine pie!  It really is worth all the effort.

    Monday, October 1, 2012

    The Sacredness of Everything Barbecue

    As a born and raised Texan, certain things are sacred to me.  No, this isn't a pro-NRA post nor some diatribe about Republican ideology.  In fact, I break almost every single stereotype about Texans - except for one: my shameless, undying love of all things barbecue and meat.  For those with Jones disease, my heart genuinely aches for you and your body's inability to tolerate beef and cow's milk products.  I will grill a steak and a jalapeno popper in your honor, and I'll try to keep my audible enjoyment to a bare minimum.  I cannot make any grandiose promises, but I'll do my best.

    There is so much that can be said about good barbecue food.  When I hear someone say "We're barbecuing!  We've got some hot dogs, hamburgers and ..." it's like hearing nails scratch on a chalkboard, I swear.  Call it a grill-out, a cook-out, a burger/weenie roast, or whatever else you want to call it.  Just please do not call it a barbecue just because you are cooking it on a "barbecue grill."  Barbecue is something that takes lots of time and patience.  It involves barbecue sauce (*gasp*), a rub, and a grill and/or a smoker (if you're good at it).  Sure, it's perfectly okay to have hamburgers, hot dogs or even fajitas with your other barbecue food.  Some kids are finicky eaters, and sometimes you need veggie burgers for the vegetarian crowd.  That's fine.  Please, for the love of everything that is pure, holy, and sacred (i.e. barbecue), do not call it a barbecue if it doesn't involve barbecue sauce!  Don't try to get cute either and say "we put barbecue sauce on our burgers!"  Nice try.  It still doesn't count!

    Some of you may wonder "Since you're a Texan and you're living in Seattle, where do you find good barbecue?"  The answer is simple: my back yard.  Seattle's barbecue scene is notoriously mediocre.  Every time a new place pops up, the general consensus is "Yeah, I tried it.  It was totally ... decent."  It saddens me on a very profound level.  One of these days, I just might open up a barbecue restaurant here in Seattle in some form or fashion.  Who knows. 

    I'll share with you my one and only means of survival in the land that is completely devoid of good barbecue: my dude.  He has participated in some Kansas City Barbecue Society competitions, and he's won!  Of course he and his team would spend ~$20k to win $5k.  His brisket and ribs (similar to the picture above) are simply awesome.  He went through over 90 briskets before arriving at the absolutely perfect brisket recipe.  That's a lot of brisket meat!  His barbecue sauce is superb.  I'm actually going to be bottling and selling it, but we'll see how that goes.  I'll keep you posted when we do!

    This dude knows his barbecue.  It's practically his food opus.  I always make sure to accommodate his barbecue making endeavors by chilling a few glass bottled Mexican Cokes, helping out with the sides and sauce, doing any grocery runs, etc. I make him cheesecake; he makes me barbecue.  It's a winning deal.  He's not from Texas (or the South, period), but he knows his stuff. 
    He knows his ingredients.
    He knows how select the perfect cut of meat.
    He knows how to smoke meats.
    He knows how to perfect a rub.
    He knows how to make a damn fine barbecue sauce.
    He knows how to keep me from begging to fly home for some good barbecue.

    Sure, barbecue is a shamelessly high caloric meal.  We take healthy foods such as zucchini or jalapenos, and we stuff them with foods that make your arteries clog with joy.  That's right, those are bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers pictured to the left.  Of course they're awesome!  They're wrapped with bacon!  Look, you know what you're getting into when you show up for a barbecue at my home.  I'll usually offer some grilled veggies and fruit as the only compensatory low(ish) calorie food on the menu.

    I stumbled across this article the other day.  It's called "Slim Down Your Barbecue Sides."  I feel the title should be changed to "How to Practically Ruin a Barbecue."  Now before I disect this article, I have one disclaimer: I realize these articles are geared towards those that are trying to lose weight, be healthy, and make lifestyle changes.  More power to you if you are!  I know it's difficult, and kudos to you for deciding to take your life back.  If you are struggling with your weight and being healthy, I have an even better suggestion: don't go to a barbecue.  It's not going to be good for you.  If you simply must go for social purposes, eat before you go, load up at the veggie tray, and control your portions.  That is how you survive a barbecue without your stretchy pants.  Though I do agree with a few of suggestions they had, they suggested some ridiculous things such as:

    1. Instead of coleslaw…Swap cabbage for broccoli, which has more than twice as much vitamin C and three times as much protein as a serving of cabbage. Just make sure you choose a slaw recipe without mayonnaise for the best results.  Though I've never personally been a big fan of cole slaw, I know some people who would stab you with their fork if you tried to substitute regular cole slaw for broccoli slaw.  I love broccoli and all, but don't mess with the cole slaw.
    2. Instead of macaroni salad…Trade this dish for a quinoa and vegetable salad. A cup of the ancient grain has 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. Plus you’ll get a healthy dose of manganese, magnesium, and folate to boot. Not ready to give up pasta completely? Opt for whole-wheat varieties instead of ones made with white flour.  Again, I'm not a big fan of macaroni salad, but to trade macaroni for quinoa?  Quinoa is alright, but it's not an acceptable alternative to macaroni salad!  Gross!  Also, wheat pasta in a macaroni salad?  Please don't ruin the macaroni salad!  If you're worried about grains, just bring a loaf of bread instead. 
    3. Certainly the most egregious of suggestions: Instead of bottled marinades…Packaged marinades and dressings can carry more than 20 percent of your recommended daily sodium intake in a single serving. Fresh herbs like basil, parsley, mint, and rosemary pack flavor without weighing down your dish with additional fat, sodium, or calories. Plus many herbs actually serve up antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, O’Shea says.  I know they said "marinades and dressings," but were they slyly suggesting to get rid of barbecue sauce?!  Do *not* do this to people.  This goes back to the "Please do not call it barbecue" argument as stated above.  Make your own sauce.  When I ever get my dude's barbecue sauce on the market, buy an artisinal sauce!  For the love of everything that is pure, holy, and sacred (i.e. barbecue), do not say "I put some rosemary sprigs on the ribs instead of the sauce.  S'cool, right?"
    4. Instead of sugary soda and alcohol mixers…If you’re planning on indulging in a cocktail, skip the soda and brightly colored juices. “Use your calories on your meat and side dish; don’t also spend them on liquid calories,” O’Shea says. Try water with lemon and cucumber, an herbal iced tea with lemon and mint, or sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice.  They get only half-credit for this one.  As I mentioned, there isn't a better drink to pair with barbecue than an ice-cold glass bottle of Mexican Coke.  When you spend all day slaving over a smoker or a grill, you earn it.  Blueberry mojitos are another favorite alcoholic drink to pair with barbecue.  Of course ditching alcohol is a great way to save calories, so that's why I say they get half-credit for this one since they are absolutely right in this regard.  Stay hydrated, by all means.
    As I mentioned, they did have a few good suggestions:
    1. Instead of pie…A seasonal solution to your sweet tooth: grilled fruit. Throw peaches and pineapple on the grill, and serve them with one small scoop of ice cream. A slice of peach pie can set you back more than 300 calories, where a serving of grilled peaches and a scoop of fat-free frozen yogurt comes to only about 160.  Yes!  Grilled fruits are awesome!  You can put a nice minty glaze on them, or sprinkle some cinnamon on them.  If you have a rotisserie, shove a cinnamon-coated pineapple on it and slice away!  Recoat with cinnamon after you slice away pieces, and keep it rotating on the grill.
    2. Instead of creamy chip dips…Replace sour cream- and mayonnaise-based dips with homemade salsa, guacamole, or Greek yogurt mixed with herbs. Two tablespoons of chip dip runs at about 60 calories and 5 grams of fat, where salsa carries only 35 calories per half cup and no fat. Likewise, guacamole—in moderation—fills you with healthy fats and at 40 calories for two tablespoons.  Veggie trays are great at barbecues, and there are tons of great, healthy dip recipes out there!  Experiment!
    3. Instead of potato chips… Food Should Taste Good chips are made with quinoa and flaxseed, which provide a dose of fiber and protein you won’t find in a bag of Ruffles. “I don’t feel so guilty about eating them,” says O’Shea. For an even healthier dunkable snack, station chopped carrots and peppers near the chips and dip, which will encourage you—and your guests—to grab for nutrient-rich veggies instead of fat-filled chips.  Though there is a certain level of nostalgia that goes with eatting Ruffles (they have ridges!) at a backyard barbecue, I've had some of the Food should Taste Good chips, and they're not too shabby.  Personally, I save my calories for the grilled foods.  Veggie trays are a great appetizer!  Grilled veggie skewers are even better!
    4. Instead of traditional potato salad…“Focus on recipes that use dressings made with olive oil and vinegar instead of mayonnaise,” O’Shea says.  If creaminess is a must, substitute Greek yogurt for up to half the mayonnaise in the recipe—you shouldn’t be able to taste the difference.  I've never been a big fan of potato salad since it contains so much mayonnaise.  After about 3 bites, I'm done.  I know the majority of people wouldn't even consider it to be a real barbecue if it didn't have potato salad, and they just might try to stab you with a fork if you didn't offer a potato salad.  My dude does a great bananas and spuds potato salad.  The name freaks people out, and some people don't like it since it's not your stereotypical potato salad.  It involves blanching bananas, and it's not a typical mayonnaise based potato salad.  It's really good, and it's very different.  You'll either like it or hate it.  I like it because it's creative and different!
    So get out there and grill up a barbecue feast!  You'll know it's a successful barbecue when everyone is sitting down at the table, they've got both of their hands holding some pork ribs up to their mouth, and the room is completely silent - except for some sounds of food-joy.  That, folks, is what a good barbecue is all about!