Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Clever Hen - Great Gift Baskets for Your Barbecue Friends and Family

The Clever Hen Custom Barbecue Basket

The Clever Hen company got in touch to see if I'd like to try out their service. They'd send out a free basket if I'd write an honest review.

I often give BBQ gifts, since I have lots of friends interested in outdoor cooking. From experience, I know it can be hard to wrap up grilling or smoking presents and have them look pretty and special. I'd not thought of a basket, and I'm not that great on bows and getting such items looking nice like The Clever Hen did.

It was a nice surprise to come in and find this lovely basket waiting on me. It is, by the way, boxed well to mail. I opened the box to find all these nice barbecue products below.

The Jake's sauce and seasoning is their top seller, so they included those items. I mentioned that the cherry barbecue sauce looked interesting, so they included that. A surprise was a chili lime sauce (which sounds really good).

They included a couple of snacks (nice while grilling). The small bag was cherries and nuts. They knew the cherry sauce caught my eye, and the dried cherries and nuts were yummy. The larger bag is a Hunter's Mix which is like a party mix but with some heat. Again, that was really good.

Jake's Barbecue Sauce and Seasoning/Rub

You can get a better look at the Jake's products here. I can see why they are a company favorite. I tried Jake's on several grills. Very nice flavors. I'll post later on what I grilled and more about Jake's.

Who Would Like The Clever Hen?

The Clever Hen is a clever idea and has baskets for anyone. They have various themes. I got the barbecue basket, because that's my area - grilling. But, they have baskets for indoor cooks and ones just for fun snacks for those who can't cook at all.

Another really great feature is that you can customize your gift basket. So, if you have a family member or friends who likes cherries like I do, then you can select from the product line and get favorite flavors.

If you're stuck for a gift idea for a barbecue griller/smoker or just want to get something nice that doesn't take forever to put together (or looks a mess if you do it yourself), then The Clever Hen is perfect.

I loved the pretty basket and all the products so far. I still need to try out the cherry and lime sauces. Looking forward to that and will get back on those flavors.

I don't see how you could go wrong with The Clever Hen. It's a thumbs up from me, and the boys are loving the food I'm making with the sauces/seasonings. They even have a chat, so if you need help on picking items for your basket, you've got help on that too.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

How to Have a Super Popular Personal Blog - Thanks to Barbecue Master Fans

I Went Over 2 Million Blog Viewers Last Night

I knew I had close 2 million visitors to Barbecue Master, but I was surprised when I crossed that big mile marker sometime last night.

First I want to thank everyone who has supported my grilling and smoking blog, because I would not have 2 million hits if people weren't coming to visit. I am humbled and thankful to have touched so many people and to have had so many of you reach out to me too.

My Blogging Story

Barbecue Master was first set up at the request of an online magazine owner who sold out. Trust me, I would not have named myself Barbecue Master, Barbecue Mistress would have sounded worse though. I had in mind something more girly like Grill Girl which I've used some, but Barbecue Master just stuck.

I had a blog that had a few posts to defunct online magazine links. I could have abandoned ship at that point, but I thought to myself: "Self. Family and friends ask you grilling questions, and your boys will grow up and want to know how to do some of these grill and smoker things."

It seemed a good idea to post my outdoor recipes, tips, and reviews. It would save having to type up emails every time. I could send over a link about "whatever" dealing with outdoor cooking. If someone asked a question not already answered or asked for a barbecue recipe not up, I could post it and then have it ready when needed.

So, this little (now big) blog had very modest roots.

When Did Barbecue Master Blog Take Off?

I honestly can't say when my blog went from having a few visitors now and then to a whole lot. It wasn't overnight. I just continued to write (and from the heart), and the blog numbers just continued to grow.

At some point years ago, I began to get companies asking if I'd review their products. Interesting. I'd not thought about that. I decided that could help small companies, but I had one rule: "I'm going to be honest." And, I have been.

Bigger companies began to contact me as well, and I'd check them out as well as long as they didn't expect a glowing PR piece. If the stuff is great, I'll say. If it's good, I'll say. If it's awful, I hate to, but I say. I don't want to ruin any readers dinner. So, I have to say what I think (although tastes do differ).

Yes. I Am a Writer.

I've been writing professionally for thirty years but just on the side. My work has been for newspapers, magazines, and businesses. This is good preparation for blogging, but blogging is a totally different world. I "voice" as needed for professional projects, but you hear my real voice - southern drawl and all here on Barbecue Master.

After several years of blogging with Barbecue Master, I began to get emails about professional barbecue writing. I wrote about the field and did top pick grills and smokers a couple of years, and I wrote a barbecue history piece for the North Carolina hotel travel book (one of my all-time favorite pieces). I have also guest blogged for some big names like K-mart, Sears, Arby's, and McCormick's.

Am I Rich from Blogging?

People often think or even ask if I'm rich.

That's a BIG no. I teach which people know is not a top paying job. I write but only a few projects as I won't take more work than I can do well with my teaching job.

I do have a very successful blog, but I'm not backed by any companies and don't sell anything. Blogging is maybe $70 to $80 per month (for those wondering) - and that's with big visit numbers. I'm not complaining. I just hate for anyone to jump into blogging thinking that they will get rich. A few do - but a very few.

Barbecue Master is still where I share with family, friends, and people online who enjoy my blog. I have more traffic, but the heart of Barbecue Master is still where it started. It's my hobby. It's where I let my hair down and relax.

Excuse My Brag Post

I'm really not one to brag, but I was excited and wanted to share my 2 million milestone but mostly to have a chance to thank everyone who made this moment happen.

It never crossed my mind that I'd be able to (hopefully) help so many people and have the chance to try so many new grilling products (thanks also to the companies that trust me to try out their various products and say what I really think).

Tonight I'll go to sleep with a smile. It's been a rough year, but tonight is one I will cherish. I'm so glad I kept my Barbecue Master blog and kept true to my idea to help others with outdoor cooking (even the huge number of people I didn't know would need or want my help).

Thanks again and happy grilling, smoking, or barbecuing. Every single one of you who stopped by built this blog. Bless you.  


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Nonni's Biscotti Bites - Great Snack While You're Waiting for Foods to Grill or Smoke

Nonni's Biscotti Bites - An Old Favorite and Two New Flavors

I was excited when I opened the box above to find Nonni's Biscotti Bites. They are now my favorite biscotti cookies after an earlier sample. These too are free samples to see what I think of the retro Almond Dark Chocolate and two new flavors: Double Chocolate Salted Caramel and Very Berry Almond.

You may wonder what a barbecue blogger is doing with biscotti cookies. Well, it can take forever to finish up meat especially when it's slow smoked like a brisket or pork shoulder. I don't feel like cooking meals all day while making the main dinner or holiday meat.

Sure, I may grab a sandwich or some of Lance's nab crackers, but I always get a craving for something sweet. When playing with fire, candy bars, ice cream, and many other sweet treats get really messy. And, I get messy grilling anyway.

I find the biscotti especially in these great bite sizes just perfect for a little sweet pick-me-up as I man (woman) the grill or smoker. Huge flavor. No mess.

Some of you may know I had a blood clot earlier this year and also that I'm working this summer, so I'm been struggling to catch up on my blog foods and gear. I had to bump these up, because the box was on the table calling my name.

All three flavors were fabulous. Nonni's really does make the best biscotti I've ever had. While I adore chocolate and caramel, if I had to pick, I guess I'd go with the Very Berry Almond. I've always loved fruity sweet treats.

If you've never had biscotti, they are crisp cookies. Lots of people like them with coffee or milk. I'm not a dunker, so I like mine straight up.

These were really yummy to eat as I made Brunswick Stew the other night. That takes several hours. No. I did not eat all three bags. Each has five servings of around five cookies. That would be a pig to eat 15 cookie servings even though I could have.

I did have a couple after too. These make a good dessert. They are not too sweet, heavy, and rich for after a big barbecue throw down. Just a little treat to end a wonderful meal. 

If you've never had Nonni products, then I highly recommend them. I love the sweet crunch and every flavor I've tried so far has been great.

If you have problems finding some of the different foods like these (which are in many grocery stores), then you can get them through Amazon.

Monday, July 14, 2014

How to Make Brunswick Stew (mine is with smoked chicken)

Dinner Last Night - Homemade Brunswick Stew with Smoked Chicken
One of my co-workers invited me over for a Brunswick Stew party. I usually associate that with fall, but it was so yummy that I've had it on my mind all week and decided I needed to make up a pot.

Brunswick Stew is a an east coast (mostly southern) dish. There are a lot of different stories about how it got started. Most say that Brunswick Stew originally had squirrel and any other meat available and a hodge podge of vegetables tossed in (just depending on what was on hand). The stew was made in huge black pots over wood fires and stirred with big paddles.

Today the stew usually has chicken and/or pork butt or pork shoulder and often smoked meat. The common vegetables are tomatoes, corn, lima beans, and potatoes. There are, however, a lot of variations. I've never tasted two Brunswick Stews that tasted the same (or had exactly the same ingredients).

I decided to start my stew off with smoked chicken, since I have a new smoker that I've been playing with. I seasoned the chicken breasts with Jake's Righteous Rubs from the Clever Hen (a space that sells wonderful grilling gift baskets with your picks of items - and kitchen baskets too) and some butter (for extra moisture).

Getting the Chicken in the Smoker with My Super Glove

I loaded up the smoker (well not really loaded but enough chicken to make a big pot of stew) and set the electric smoker temperature and went to the store to pick up the other items I needed. The store is just a mile away, so this was not a long journey, although in a small town you can end up chatting for a good length of time. The chicken was on low and slow and took around three hours, so I had plenty of time.

After the chicken was done at 165 degrees - the recommended safe temperature for chicken, I began putting my Brunswick Stew together.

Pouring in the Ingredients for the Brunswick Stew

The stew can be done outside as in the old days or with a gas blower stool (whatever that thing is called). Since it was in the 90s outside, I decided to do my stew (other than the chicken) inside on the stove.

How to Make Brunswick Stew

1. Cook, grill, or smoke your meat. I used five quite large chicken breasts. Then, I let it cool and shredded the chicken.

2. Put about 4 to 6 cups of broth or water or a combination in a large pot. I think mine was a 12 quart pot, and it was about half full. I used water, because I forget to get broth. If you cook the chicken inside, you can use the broth where you boil the chicken. Just skim off some of the fat.

3. I peeled and cut up six medium sized potatoes in bite sized chunks and put those in the water.

4. Next I added two can of petite cut tomatoes. The size was around 14 ounces per can. Then I topped that off with a little can of tomato soup (5 ounces) just because I had it and don't ever eat tomato soup. One of the boys must have stuck that in my cabinet.

5. After that I added 3 cans of small lima beans and 2 cans of corn (the dry kind in kernals). These cans were all standard in that 14 ounce range. The IGA here does not carry bigger cans.

6. The last thing I did was season. I added salt, pepper, black sea salt, Lowry's seasoning salt, and a bay leaf. I also splashed in a few drops of Cholula hot sauce. I probably went a teaspoon or less on the sprinkle seasonings, and my son said I could have gone heavier on the seasonings. People can always add those at the table though. If food is over-seasoned, there's not much you can do about that.

I set the temperature between low and medium. Stoves vary. You just want a slow simmer and no boiling or the foods kind of turn to mush.

The pot of stew was on for around three hours - long enough for me to be starving with smelling that wonderful smell of Brunswick Stew.

Oh Boy. The Brunswick Stew is Ready to Eat.

I had a bowl of the stew which you can see at the top of the post and then put it away for the evening. Today, I packed up stew for my mom and Harry and for my son, Eli.

Couldn't Find my Bowls with Tops but CoverMate Stretch Covers Had Me (or Really the Stew) Covered

Where my containers go, I do not know. Probably the same place my tools go. I think I'm down to just a screwdriver and a hammer.

Fortunately I remembered that I had CoverMates in the drawer. They stretch and bend to fit most any size or shape bowl. They can be used in the microwave and can also be washed and used again.

I packed up the Brunswick Stew with these handy bowl covers and made my deliveries. Of course, I still have stew left, so I'm set for a couple of days on dinners.

If you decide to make Brunswick Stew, remember that this is a very forgiving and versatile recipe. You can use various meats and vegetables. I'm sure you could scale down the amounts as well, although I've never in my life seen a small batch of Brunswick Stew. It's just too yummy to make a tiny little pot of it.