McCormick’s Grill Mates American BBQ Pitmaster Class & Dinner!

I’ve written before that this blog was started first and foremost for me. It was always designed to be my online journal, a place to record my food and travel adventures. So when my little blog is seen by others and my work deems me worthy of being invited to special events like this one, well it’s just a little bit exciting for me!

I received an email a few weeks ago with a generous invitation to attend a special American BBQ pitmaster class and dinner, in celebration of and collaboration with McCormick’s and their new Grill Mates American BBQ sauces, seasonings, dry rubs and marinades. I was absolutely thrilled to attend, because properly done American BBQ meat is something I love to eat and there’s plenty of it around right now as it’s been gaining massive popularity in Melbourne (particularly at places like The Gem, Le Bon Ton and Nieuw Amsterdam), but I actually don’t have a heap of knowledge on how to do it properly at home.

We arrived at Beer DeLuxe in Hawthorn on Monday night for an evening presented by the McCormick Grill Mates range, which are finally making their way to Aussie shores. We were greeted with big smiles, some pretty nice aprons, and a warning that we’d be getting our hands dirty throwing some food together and eating a LOT of meat! Chef Eric Luhning, his wonderful BBQ cohort Cassie, and their assistant Kat from BBQ School gave us the heads up that one of the several courses of the night involved 16kg of brisket. THAT’S a party!

And as if all that wasn’t amazing enough, I was over the moon to realise that one by one, some of the amazing women I’ve become friends with through blogging were turning up too – Terri at Little Wanderings (and her lovely partner who really knows his way around a salad table), Tian at Eat More, Mon at Mon’s Adventure (and her very irresponsible photographer who you shouldn’t allow in your tent while camping) and Karma at Good Food Good Karma. Let the good times roll!

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Once we all got settled, we were introduced to pitmaster Eric, who gave us an education on BBQ, using some of the 6 BBQs set up for the night – from what equipment to use, how to heat your coals, what to wrap your meat in and how to measure the done-ness of your meat, he covered it all. We thankfully also all got sent home with recipes and further instructions, we got to enjoy the show instead of worrying about writing notes!

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After round one of fun learning time, we made our way back inside to watch our entrees come together, using the Grill Mates range. Before I go on, let me give you a quick rundown of the range (which will now be available at Coles and some independent supermarkets):
Slow & Low BBQ Rubs
– Tennessee Smokehouse
– Smokin’ Texas

Burger Seasoning
– All Star
– Jalapeño & Cheddar

Dry Marinade
– Chipotle & Roasted Garlic

Sauces
– Sweet Pepper Steakhouse BBQ Sauce
– Brown Sugar Bourbon BBQ Sauce
– Vintage Smokehouse BBQ Sauce

For our entrees, we used that Jalapeño & Cheddar seasoning on some chicken along with a little coriander, which was thrown on the grill and cooked up for our quesadillas, and we got the All Star seasoning in with some beef mince and onion for our sliders. I followed the suggestions on the menu above, and put some of the Sweet Pepper Steakhouse BBQ Sauce on the slider, and tried the other two out with the quesadilla.

Let’s pause here for a second and talk product:
1. That Jalapeño & Cheddar seasoning is seriously delicious. Oh wow… strong enough to give the chicken an amazing flavour, subtle enough to allow the chicken to still taste like, well, chicken – perfect! I’m also thinking it’d be a perfect savoury popcorn seasoning…
2. Vintage Smokehouse BBQ Sauce – this will now be the BBQ sauce against which all other sauces shall be measured. For me, it was the perfect, smoky BBQ flavour which you could use with just about anything. I love.

Ok, let’s move on to more food for now. We got a crash course on brisket preparation, being encouraged to lovingly and thoroughly rub that slab of meat with reckless abandon. Mon certainly seemed to enjoy herself under some very passionate guidance from Chef Eric…

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While the meat that Chef Eric lovingly started cooking at 9am for our 8pm dinner was pulled off the heat and brought inside, a men versus women salad challenge was going down. 3 on 3, taking turns to choose two ingredients each. I hate to betray my fellow ladies, who certainly gave it a good crack, but the boys smashed it with their choices which included charred corn off the cob, lime, coriander, fresh chili, tomato and red onion. Top notch salad, boys!

But let’s get to the good stuff. The meat. The most tender pork imaginable, which had been marinaded with Chipotle & Roasted Garlic dry marinade was pulled and doused with BBQ sauce. A big, sexy lump of brisket, which had been paired off with the Smokin’ Texas BBQ Rub was sliced like butter. And the ribs, rubbed with the Tennessee Smokehouse, came out so tender that a knife wasn’t entirely necessary to separate them.

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Quick side note: I’ve also been reminded as I’m typing this that there was beer matching going on throughout the meal. Husband was the official beer taster, there was a pale ale, an IPA and a stout involved, and they were all very good I’m sorry I can’t tell you more – I’m not a beer girl, myself! He was also a happy man because he got the “money muscle,” that sexy bit of flesh below, all rendered and fatty and marvelous. Happy anniversary, love!

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Cassie and Kat kindly covered the table in deliciousness, and we just got stuck right into it…

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Not to state the obvious, but holy wow the food was INCREDIBLE!! Surprise dish of the night for everyone, I think, would have been the babyback ribs… I’m comfortable saying that they were the best, most magnificently cooked pieces of BBQ meat I’ve ever had the honour of eating.

As for the McCormick range that was used on the meat, A+. I’ll state the often unsaid obvious here, that when you’re invited to something like this, you’re usually a little skeptical about just how good the product is really going to be. Having tasted it myself,  I’ll quite happily join Burger Mary (AKA Jess Pryles) in endorsing this stuff, and I’m not even being paid to do it! The whole point of the range is to make American BBQ easier, less intimidating, more accessible and a little more entry level for us mere mortals who do not possess the mad BBQ skills of guys like Eric. Their aim is to take the really hard parts like making sure your proportions of seasonings are right and getting your apple wood chips to infuse smoke into your meat out of the process by ensuring that smoky flavour is already in the seasonings. And that’s something I’m all about – yes, it would be amazing to be a fully fledged pitmaster and do EVERYTHING from scratch, but the reality is that we don’t all have the time, knowledge or confidence for that. By having the right seasonings for the meat, you’ve already got a massive head start in making it all taste good, which means more people might be willing to give it a crack themselves!

After all of that, when a bleary eyed glance around the room showed the meat sweats and comas already kicking in, dessert was served – a cinnamon and chili BBQ brownie, which used some of the Grill Mates seasoning and was actually cooked using the BBQ! Amazing!

To cap of an amazing night, we were all spoiled with a gift box full of Grill Mates seasonings and sauces, and I was also lucky enough to walk away winning a shiny new Weber grill – cannot wait to get back from Japan so I can test this out!!! And thank you SO much McCormick’s – I honestly don’t win things very often/ever, so this was one hell of a prize for me, and such a great end to an amazing night!

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Cook this: coconut pumpkin soup

Remember that particular gem of a friend who I brunched with at Two Little Pigs and All Day Donuts a few weeks ago? That most brilliant lady who I’ve known for something like four years now, but somehow feels like a forever friend? Well not only does she know all the good brunch spots, she’s also pretty nifty in the kitchen – she produces wonderful food porn which frequently has me drooling over my phone, and her Bill Granger coconut pumpkin soup last week was no exception. She kindly passed on the recipe, which, as usual, I screwed around with a little to suit myself, and it turned out a damn good soup! I was really impressed at how easy it was (that’s usually a massive deterent for me making soup more often) and how much flavor it packed. I served it up with some home made Irish soda bread, and plan on making it again and again through out Melbourne’s upcoming winter. Enjoy!

 

Ingredients (serves 4):

– 1-2 tbsp garlic infused oil (I use this to keep it as FODMAPs friendly as possible – if your stomach doesn’t have issues with garlic, just use oil + 3 roughly chopped garlic cloves)
– 1 red chili, chopped
– 2 tsp ground cumin
– 1 tsp ground ginger
– 1 tbsp smoky paprika
– 1kg butternut pumpkin, peeled, de-seeded and chopped
– 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
– 400ml coconut milk
– 3 tbsp fish sauce
– squeeze of lime juice, to your taste
– fresh coriander leaves and bread to serve

Method:

1. Heat a large pot over low heat, and add the garlic oil, chili, cumin and paprika. Cook, stirring, for a minute or two, until the smells of the spices really come out.

2. Add the pumpkin and carrot, cooking for another few minutes, still stirring.

3. Add 6 cups of water (or vegetable stock – I prefer a stronger coconut flavour so I just used water), turn the heat up and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30min, until the veggies are soft and you can easily stick a fork into them. 

4. Take the pot off the heat to cool for 10 minutes, then purée (I like my Big Foot, which you can see below; a food processor or blender will do the job perfectly well, too) until smooth.

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5. Stir in the coconut milk, fish sauce, and as much salt, pepper and lime juice as you like the taste of.

6. Re-heat over low heat to bring it back up to a warm enough temperature to enjoy, sprinkle with a little fresh coriander and serve with toasted bread.

Cook this: lamb & apricot tagine

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You know the whole conundrum of a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear? I’m not a girly girl with a crap load of clothes, so that doesn’t happen so much to me. My thing is that I have bookshelves (yes, plural, see below for the bulk of my collection) full of cook books and no idea what to cook. A lot of the time, I buy cook books because a) I like the pretty pictures, and b) I love to read different recipes, because I feel like it’s one of the best ways to learn about other cultures. Staring at the ridiculous amount of cookbooks I have after buying yet another one last weekend, I decided to start picking a book out each week and finding a random recipe to cook. This week, I plucked out Delicious: More Please cook book by Valli Little, food editor of Delicious magazine, which has been sitting on my shelf for literally years, after mum gave it to me for Christmas like five years ago.

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This book is beautifully photographed and laid out, in seasons – as in, here are some autumn recipes, using what’s actually in season. I love that concept. And the recipe for the lamb and apricot tagine jumped out at me again, like it did the first seven times I flicked through this book. It looked so rich and thick, a perfect dish now that the weather is getting colder. So why has it taken me so long to actually make this dish? Because, honestly, the very long list of ingredients and lack of 1., 2., 3. method really put me off. I really hate recipes that have the method written out in long paragraphs – I just want dot point steps!

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Anyway, it got me thinking about not only how many great recipes I haven’t bothered trying because they seem too hard at first glance, and also how many recipes other people gloss over for the same reason. For that reason, I decided to re-write this recipe to something a bit more simple and easy for a real person in a real kitchen to cook, using mostly ingredients already around the house. Because let’s face it – when you have to buy a stupid amount of ingredients like obscure spices that you’re only even going to use for the one dish, you may as well just go and order the dish at a restaurant, where it’s going to be quicker and cheaper. I don’t think my pared down version has lost too much – it was

Here’s my version of Valli Little’s lamb and apricot tagine (enough to serve 4) – hopefully it’s simple enough for you guys to try too, because it’s actually not as hard as it looks and a really delicious autumn meal!

 

Marinade for lamb
– 1 garlic clove, minced
– 1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated
– 1 heaped tsp cumin powder
– 1 heaped tsp sweet paprika
– sprinkle of salt
– 3 tbsp olive oil
– 500g diced lamb

1. Combine everything but the lamb in a larger plastic container into a paste.

2. Add the lamb to the container, mix the paste through until it’s well coated, and let it marinate away in the fridge for an hour or so.

 

Cous cous
– zest of 1 orange
– 2 tbsp golden raisins
– 1 tsp cumin powder
– 1 tsp sweet paprika
– 1 cup cous cous
– 1 tsp butter
– 1 tbsp toasted slivered almonds (optional)

While the tagine is finishing up in that last 10 – 15 minute simmer, prepare the cous cous:

1. Heat a small saucepan over low/medium heat, and add the zest, raisins and spices, and cook gently for a minute or two, until you can really smell it.

3. Add 1 cup of water, bring the the boil, then take the saucepan off the heat.

4. Stir in the cous cous, cover, and sit aside for 5 minutes.

5. Add the butter and work it through/fluff the cous cous up with a fork. Mix in the almonds if you want them, and it’s ready to go with the tagine!

 

The rest of the tagine
– olive oil
– 20g butter
– 1 onion, chopped- 1 x 400g tin chickpeas , drained
– 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
– 2 cups beef, lamb or vegetable stock
– 1 tbsp honey
– ½ cup dried apricots, cut in half
– toasted sesame seeds and coriander to serve (optional)

1. Heat a large pot over high heat and drizzle in a little olive oil. Cook the lamb in batches if the pot isn’t big enough to cook it all at once, just sealing it off/browning it. Then remove it from the pot and set aside.

2. Keep the pot on over medium heat and add the butter. Once melted, add the onion and cook, stirring, until it softens a little (around 5 minutes).

3. Put the lamb back into the pot and stir it into the onion. If you like extra spices/have them around, like cinnamon, chilli, ras el hanout, add in a little of them here, too.

4. Next, stir in the chickpeas, tomatoes, stock and honey – you should have enough liquid in the pot now to just cover the lamb. If you need more, add more!

5. Bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partly covered, for 45 minutes.

6. Uncover and simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

7. Last step of the simmering process – add the apricots, and simmer/stir for another 10 – 15 minutes.

8. Sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds and fresh coriander leaves on top, and serve with cous cous. Enjoy!
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Eat here: Yu-U, Melbourne (Japanese)

Yu-U
137 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

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Monday generally isn’t anyone’s favourite day of the week. It’s not winning any awards in popularity contests. There aren’t many things that can redeem a Monday either, especial after a particularly pleasant weekend. Unless you’ve perhaps got a nice dinner lined up after a long day at work with some very lovely ladies, to celebrate a particularly fabulous woman’s birthday. Thank goodness for that; Monday was a rough one this week!

So, four ladies met at the entrance of an alley way in Melbourne’s CBD on Monday night to dine at Yu-U, one of the city’s best kept dining secrets. But it’s Melbourne, so it couldn’t stay secret for too long; no good food here ever does. The birthday girl chose this one, based on a recommendation from another friend, which was lucky – we’d never have known it was there, otherwise. It’s got a tiny, smaller than A4 sign above a utilitarian metal door built into the wall of Oliver Lane, which kinda pales in comparison to the signage of neighbours Lucy Liu and Coda. Down the stairs we went, to find ourselves in a little Japanese den of calm vibes and good smells wafting from the kitchen. We all agreed that with so many places being “no reservations” and a mad rush to get in and find a table, it was a really nice change to be able to book in advance and calmly head in and get settled at your own leisure; it’s a far more pleasant start to the meal!

I’m not going to bother with a legit blogger blow by blow of each course, because between the four of us, there were quite a few. Let me show you, instead…

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Kingfish and Yellowfin tuna sashimi on the left (the tuna, wow… it was like butter, it just melted in your mouth), and one of the day’s specials, a perfectly cooked eggplant smothered in sauce and walnuts. I can only dream of making vegetables taste this good, it was one of my favourite dishes of the night.

 

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Up top we’ve got the pork gyoza (delicious) and the unagi kabayaki (teriyaki grilled eel).
Bottom left is the ika itame – pan fried calamai and asparagus with yuzu citrus mayo, and bottom right is the zaru udon – cold organic udon noodles served with a dipping sauce. I loved the noodles, they were surprisingly good served cold with the dipping sauce!

 

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We also got some yakitori chicken skewers, chef’s choice of mix. Plain, simple, good food – the chef was making them to order in the centre of the seating “area,” using a paper fan and all.

 

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The Angus beef scotch fillet with mushrooms and a thick dashi sauce. I loved this one, the sauce was fantastic and it was a pretty decent sized serving.

 

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And finally, and probably my favourite despite not being able to have too much (apparently garlic and onion no longer agree with my stomach, but that’s another story), was the duck and eggplant. Wow. Seriously, these people can do the most mind blowing things with eggplant, I can’t even tell you… the duck was perfect, too, really got me thinking I’d like to try cooking it at home (note to self).

So, there’s the food. It wasn’t cheap, but it was, I believe, worth the money. The service was impeccable; no glass was left under half empty at any point, we were walked through the menu and our options, advised on how many dishes we were best to order for our group, and it was all done with a smile. It was the perfect spot for a Monday night dinner party, I honestly couldn’t pick a fault with Yu-U, and will absolutely be back again. If you can find it’s hidden entrance, hopefully you’ll give it a try too 🙂 Oh, and while we’re talking Japanese food, guess who’s going to Tokyo in October?! WOOO!!!

 

Yu-U on Urbanspoon

Eat here: Yummy Yummy Dim Sum, San Francisco, USA

Yummy Yummy
758 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, USA

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Our first day in San Francisco was a pretty big one; Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, Ghiradelli, Lombard Street.. There was a lot going on. Except for food.

We’d had a bit of a situation the night before at the airport, flying to the city from LAX, which necessitated dinner being a bag of Bugles just before boarding. Breaky was provided by the hotel and eaten on the run in transit to Alcatraz, and lunch was a quick seafood cocktail at Fisherman’s Wharf. Come dinner time, it was decided that a proper sit down meal was needed, and we figured the best place to find something delicious and at a decent price would be Chinatown – that’s always the place to check first in these situations!

We took the same approach we usually take – if it looks super busy with heaps of locals, it’s probably good. This place seemed pretty popular, and not another backpack or tourist in sight. Looked a bit sketchy from the outside, sure, but the food…

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For around USD$30 (including tip) we feasted on BBQ pork, pot stickers and the most insanely oversized pile of house fried noodles I have EVER seen in my life! Having unwittingly yet comfortable ordered enough food for 3, we nommed our way through some of the best Chinese either of us have had in a very long time. Oh, and we got complimentary fortune cookies at the end of the meal, too! Not sure how accurate mine was though..

Looks can be deceiving; if you’re in San Francisco and looking for something other than burgers and fries, hit up Yummy Yummy!

Eat here: Banh Xeo Nem Cuon, Hanoi, Vietnam

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Let’s be honest – I have absolutely no idea what this place was actually called. I just know that the banh xeo I had here was delicious! Sib and I stumbled on it by chance, as we did with almost everything in Vietnam given that we couldn’t speak the language or read any of the signs. We actually passed this place one night, on Hang Bo St on our way to a market, and thought it looked pretty cool. When we passed it again the next night, again by chance, we decided to stop and eat!

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It was a lost crispier and thinner than the more cakey versions we’d tried in Hoi An; full of flavour, though. There was just this one old lady running the show, with younger girls/her minions running around dishing out her cooking to the hungry crowd gathered under her roof. It was one hell of a show, so crazy and noisy and a lot of fun! I’m glad I actually got a photo of the sign/address, so when I go back to Vietnam, I’ll be able to go back!

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Eat here: Le Bon Ton, Melbourne (American/BBQ)

Le Bon Ton, Collingwood, Melbourne
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IMG_4189.JPG The guys behind Mexican eatery Chingon (delicious tacos) decided to up the game earlier this year, and opened New Orleans-style super-club/Absinthe and oyster saloon/smokehouse/place of deliciousness, Le Bon Ton. While it’s been open for quite a while now, it was only over the weekend that I finally had the chance to go and eat there. It was well worth the wait. Taking up residence in the old Glasshouse Hotel on Gipps St (just off Smith), the interior is beautiful – exposed brick walls, warm wooden tables and a gorgeous bar in the centre of the front room make you instantly feel like you’re meant to be there. The dining room behind the bar is enormous, and the courtyard/beer garden out back where the smokers reside is a really lovely space. Once we got past that, the next few things we noticed were the fantastic and attentive service, as well as the music. Husband and I are both pretty big fans of Trombone Shorty and Rebirth Brass Band, and we were absolutely stoked to hear them as part of the playlist for the night! But the food. The good stuff. We decided to skip the bread rolls and salads and all that extra stuff and cut to the chase – we ordered The Smoker’s Lot, the meat platter. With a side of fries. Because you can’t go wrong with meat and deep fried potatoes. Upon reflection, the fries were simultaneously both not needed and completely necessary. That aioli was something creamy and delicious, and the chips were perfect – no soggy, undercooked chips, none burnt, either. The seasoning was particularly good. Didn’t need them because the meat filled us up more than enough, but I’d still order them again because they were so good! IMG_4192.JPG It’s not often you find this in a Melbourne restaurant, but that meat platter is fantastic value at $49.00 – we were too full to walk after the meal, which consisted of a jalapeno and cheddar hot-link sausage, half a chicken basted in apple BBQ sauce, a pile of Otway Ranges pulled pork shoulder and another pile of grain-fed Riverina Angus beef brisket. I know that Le Bon Ton has taken a bit of flack from people saying it’s not authentic New Orleans, it’s overpriced, whatever. I’m going to put it out there – this was the best meat I’ve had in any restaurant that I can ever remember, hands down. The sausage was oozing cheese and was so tasty on it’s own that it needed no sauce. The chicken was cloud white and tender, smothered in rich BBQ sauce. The pulled pork was perfect, with just enough sauce and super soft, and the brisket was absolute money. It was moist, tender, required no knife. The fatty parts that I’d normally cut away were saved until last, literally melting on my tongue. Holy wow… IMG_4194.JPG Maybe I’ll find that things are done a little bit different in New Orleans when I visit in January. Maybe this is more Texas than Louisiana. Call if whatever you want – at the end of the day, it was just a damn good feed, well and truly worth the money, and I can say with certainty that I’ll be back.

Le Bon Ton on Urbanspoon