Happy Birthday to Me!!

A little background

Traditionally my birthdays are fairly tragic… One year I wanted nothing more than to see a midnight showing of Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian”, and someone (who will remain nameless) instead through me a surprise party (not at the movie theater fyi) and invited 2 of my friends and all of his. He’s no longer with us. 😉 The following year, I took the reins of birthday shenanigans. Cooked a ton of food because about 30 friends RSVP’d, and only 4 people showed up…one was my boss. Mortifying.

That being said, the last few birthdays have improved dramatically! This year was especially eventful. My boyfriend, Justin, and I spent last weekend in New Braunfels to take in the pre-river season atmosphere and had a wonderful time. Yesterday we had a perfect meal at Uchiko! It was so delicious we saved our saki bottle as a memento.

But you’re here to read about the life of the Crappy Little Chuckwagon.

You CAN go home again

Chuck's Set Up

Chuck’s Set Up

I can tell you that my brisket is born of a long family tradition, but why take my word for it? Feast your eyes upon the inspiration for the Crappy Little Chuckwagon. My dad, Chuck (I know, right?), has built his BBQ empire from scratch. A barrel, an upside down cauldron, sheet metal, and several cinder blocks come together with home grown pecan logs and smoke to culminate in perfect tender meaty goodness.

The barrel has been welded into a traditional grill for direct heat grilling. The cauldron is where the smoke billows into the barrel for slow smoking with indirect heat. It was here that I learned the 2 part brisket process. 6 hours of smoking, and 6 hours braising. I use an aluminum pan and cover it with stock, tomato puree, vinegar, sugar, onion, and garlic. Chuck just throws it in the slow cooker. Same result, but in the CLK, we just don’t have the storage for a slow cooker when we have a perfectly good oven. 🙂

Not just good for a lesson or 2 in BBQ, Chuck also grinds his own pork for his signature “Three Stooges Sausage”; available in regular, jalapeno, and pan sausage. You can imagine the influence this had on the menu for The Crappy Little Chuckwagon. In this very back yard, I witnessed my dad smoke an entire pig stuffed with chickens that were stuffed with sausage and potatoes. For my birthday party, we had a smorgasbord of chicken, Three Stooges Sausage, squash, and asparagus.

The Spread

The Spread

Kind of a big deal

I’m not just saying this; I love the Dudley and Bob Show. Have listened to it every weekday morning since I moved to Austin 3 years ago. They’re funny, edgy, honest, neurotic, and more than a bid crazy in the very clinical sense of the word. Like family! 🙂

Hitting them up to be on “Snark Tank” (not to be confused with “Shark Tank”) just made good sense. When I heard from their producer, Daniel, asking if I could be on the show Wednesday, I’m not gonna lie, I peed a little. Pulling mental preparation from the years I spent looking over Chuck’s shoulder when he was the program manager at KRJH in Hallettsville, TX, and working through the night and early morning to make sure I had perfectly prepared Kolache Pork Burgers and Stuffed Texas Flatbread for them to sample… I’ll let you judge for yourself, but I think it went pretty well.

The Dudley and Bob Show

Now don’t worry. If you didn’t realize it was my birthday, I’ll accept sharing my Crappy Little Chuckwagon kickstarter page with gladness. The only thing better would be a donation in lieu of gifts. Xoxoxox!

We haven’t discussed the meat…

  The Launch Party

Being from Shiner, TX, cooking with beer has been a long standing tradition, and brining meat is a bit of a passion. “What’s a brine?” or “What’s the difference between a brine and a marinade?” always follow. Well since you asked, a marinade attempts to add moisture to meat by applying a fat of sorts (usually an oil), and then add flavor by including an acid (usually vinegar). I have 2 problems with this method. A) The oil will never truly penetrate the meat, only moisturize the outside few layers. B) If left in an acid based marinade for too long, you can actually ruin the integrity of your meat.

A BRINE, however, is much more scientific in nature. It’s a saline type of solution where the salt opens the pores of the meat and forces in the water; actually adding the perfect amount of moisture. While this process is occurring, you have a brilliant opportunity to add flavor to that moisture being injected into your meat. I love science.

  Super Fine Texas Brisket

You’ve seen the menu, but now we’re down to the nitty gritty of preparation. As you’ve heard, I grew up in Shiner, (was even Miss Shiner 1995) and so I’m partial to using Shiner Beer…however, I won’t commit to a particular ale until the endorsement deal comes down the pipeline. 😉 When buying a brisket, it’s definitely cheaper per pound to buy them with the fat cap on, but I find that once I’ve trimmed half its weight in fat… you haven’t lost any money in the end just buying a pre-trimmed brisket.

Brined and Seasoned and on the Grill

Brined and Seasoned and in the Smoker

1/2 quart hot water

1 c kosher salt

1 c dark brown sugar

2 quart cold, dark beer

1/2 quart ice

  1. Heat the water, salt, and sugar and stir until all is dissolved. Remove from the heat.
  2. Add beer and ice. When completely cool, cover your trimmed brisket. Leave refrigerated and in the brine for at least one day. I prefer two.

10-15 lb of smoking chips soaked in water (I like mesquite)

1/4 c chili powder

1/4 c smoked paprika

3 T garlic powder

3 T onion powder

3 T cumin

even coating of kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

  1. Season both sides of the brisket with your spices. I like to spray the seasoned brisket with a pan spray to make the spice rub stick. When putting it on the grill make sure that the fat side is up, so that as the fat drips down, it’s basting itself.
  2. Smoke steady for 3 hours, making sure the fire doesn’t get too hot.

disposable metal roasting pan

35 oz tomato puree

1 quart beef stock

1 yellow onion, quartered and peeled

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 c dark brown sugar

1/4 c rice wine vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Place the well smoked brisket in the pan and cover with all the ingredients. Cover with foil and braise in a 250° oven for another 3 hours.
  2. Carefully (as it will be extremely tender) take the brisket out of the liquid to rest. Strain out the onion, garlic, and as much fat as possible from the cooking liquid. Add it to a sauce pot over a low heat and reduce by half. Season to your tastes with salt and pepper.
  3. Thickly slice the brisket and serve with the sauce.

  Fancy Kolache Burger

The pork burgers begin as pork carnitas (chunks of pork that are inexpensive and have the perfect fat content for ground meat) that are brined in pineapple juice and then freshly ground. I went all in and bought a grinder. Gotta spend money to make money is what I say. It’s a small time home grinder, but that why I’m on Kickstarter. I’m a poor kid! Burgers are grilled to order, topped with jalapeno pickled pineapple and Sriracha aioli, and sandwiched by freshly baked kolache buns (you already have that recipe).

8 lb pork carnitas

1 quart pineapple juice

¼ kosher salt

The Old Grind

The Old Grind

¼ c sugar

1 quart ice

  1. Heat the pineapple juice, salt, and sugar and stir until all is dissolved. Remove from the heat.
  2. Add the ice. When completely cool, cover your carnitas. Leave refrigerated and in the brine for one day.

1 pineapple, trimmed and cored

½ water

3 T kosher salt

3 T sugar

1 jalapeno, sliced in half lengthwise

  1. Heat the water, salt, sugar, and jalapeno and stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from the heat, and slice the pineapple into ¼” thin disks.
  2. Let cool slightly, and cover your sliced pineapple. I like to leave one jalapeno half in the middle the cored pineapple for good measure. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

blender

4 egg yolks

4 garlic cloves

¼ c Sriracha sauce (that’s right, I didn’t stutter.)

2 T of rice wine vinegar

2 c olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put yolks, garlic, Sriracha, and vinegar in the blender and puree until smooth.
  2. While on low, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the running blender. Once the sauce thickens into a thick orange mayonnaise, it’s done. Depending on the olive oil, you may not need the entire 2 cups.
  3. Season to your tastes with salt and pepper.

Fire up your grill to a medium heat! Rinse the pork and pat dry before running through a meat grinder with a course grinding plate. If you grind the meat too finely you may risk over cooking and drying out your burger.

It was a Mighty Party!

It was a Mighty Party!

2 c fine bread crumbs

enough dark beer to moisten the bread crumbs

2 eggs

ground pork

  1. Combine. Cook a tablespoon size dab of your pork mixture to taste and see if any salt is needed. Season accordingly. Portion your ground pork into 8 oz patties (you can use a ½ cup measuring cup to portion out the meat if you don’t have a scale).
  2. When the grill is nice and hot and you’ve brushed it clean, place the patties on the heat at least 2 inches apart. Close the lid and cook for 5 minutes. Then give them a quarter turn. Close the lid again and cook for 4 minutes. Turn them over and cook for 2 minutes with the lid closed. Give them a final quarter turn and close the lid for 2 minutes.
  3. Take them off the grill to rest. This will give you a perfectly medium burger, but no worries, after the resting they’ll be completely juicy yet done through.
  4. Serve with pineapple and aioli sandwiched by a kolache bun.

  What have we learned?

You could do all that…or you could just let me. Check out my Kickstarter.

The Menu

We’ve practiced, tasted, tweaked, and finally perfected every element of the Crappy Little Chuckwagon’s first menu! For your edification:

Menu

Click to enlarge

Our practice run for the entire menu will be this weekend. One of my very best friends has moved back after almost 2 years! We’re having a huge bash for her this Saturday, and I’m taking the opportunity to launch the entire menu along with the Kickstarter campaign. What we have to glean from this is not only a great big CLK food love fest with pictures to prove it, but food cost.

The Cost

Bringing in more money than we spend is literally the bread and butter of a successful business. The upfront and fixed costs (such as the Chuckwagon itself, a grill, a fridge, the conversion to propane, mobile food business license, etc) are what we are budgeting to be covered by the Kickstarter campaign. After that, what comes in must surpass what goes out.

Beef brisket is a great example. In a grocery store, it will cost around $3 per pound while wholesale we can get it closer to $1.75. You still can’t look at it cut and dry, however. Two pounds of brisket after cooking becomes 1.5 pounds of brisket, so you have to calculate the cost per pound of post cooked product, and then mark it up to ensure there is an actual profit! Sounds fun, right?! :-/

The Party$2 Cup Cakes for Charity

I much prefer the scientific method to the mathematical…and I know where there’s a party. 😉 SO! Each menu item, brisket and all, will be brought out this weekend and documented very closely. The labor time necessary, the cost of raw materials, the yield of those materials after cooking, and the number of servings produced by the finished product will all be calculated first hand.

Once rubber hits the road, there will be other elements to consider such as viable competition, supply and demand, and market factors which will affect pricing, but for all intents and purposes…by this time next week, I’ll be able to tell you what we’re charging! 😀

The Launch

Being that a great many of my friends will all be in the same place exactly 3 days after my Kickstarter project begins, eating all of the Crappy Little Chuckwagon viddles…I’m just gonna make it official. May 1st marks the beginning of my Crappy Little Kickstarter campaign, but this Saturday will be the official launch party. 🙂 Watch the sky for fireworks!!

Shall we dance?

On the side!

You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and I don’t plan on having any. 🙂 Side dishes are often my very favorite part of the meal, in fact if we’re talking cheese grits, macaroni and cheese, fried potatoes, or a good Caesar salad, I’ll go ahead and just have that. All of that. Hahahaha! It can become a cheese and carbohydrate massacre to be certain, but you can’t be profitable while trapped in a box. The Crappy Little Chuckwagon needs sides that break these boundaries and change the way folks view BBQ side dishes.

The 3 main dishes that we have tested, tasted, and approved are fairly monotone in color. As juicy and saucy as it is,  my Smoked Brisket is brown, despite it’s pink smoke ring. The Sweet & Spicy Pork Burger has a beautiful red sauce, a vibrant yellow pineapple, and toasty bun, but they come together with a very similar color pallet. My Texas Flat Bread is golden and crispy and stuffed with brown and red hues. We need green!!

Onto the drawing board

As usual…I have needs. I want 2 side dishes (remember that less is more. Too many choices will ruin the food truck ordering experience) that must be:

  • Brilliant green to pop next to their Earth colored counter parts
  • One starchy for the traditionalists
  • One light and refreshing for nutritionists
  • As bold in flavor as any entrée they may be accompanying

It just so happens that I have 2 perfect side dishes in mind. They’re classics from “Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens,” but don’t worry. I’ll throw you these recipes for free. 😉

On the plate

Over the weekend, my friend Justine had a group of us over to grill some pork loin. Perfect opportunity to dust off these recipes and make sure they’re still as good as I remember.

Herb Potato Salad

Herb Potato Salad

Red potatoes, large…………………………………… 5 (about 2 lb)

Sea salt…………………………………………………… to taste

Fresh cilantro, chopped……………………………… ¼ c

Mayonnaise…………………………………………….. ¼ c

Basil pesto, store bought……………………………. ¼ c

Red onion, small dice………………………………… ¼ c

Black pepper……………………………………………. to taste

  1. In a large pot, cover the potatoes with water and place it over a high heat. When the water has begun to bubble, add 2 T of sea salt to the water and allow the potatoes to simmer until just tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain them and put them in a large bowl to refrigerate.
  2. When the potatoes are cool, carefully cut each potato into large cubes. Place the cilantro, mayonnaise, and pesto into your blender and puree til smooth. Add your herb mayo and diced red onion to your diced potato and fold them together. You don’t want to break down your potatoes too much, so be gentle! Taste the potato salad to see if you need more salt or pepper.
  3. Pile high on a serving platter, and wrap tightly to refrigerate until you’re ready to serve ice cold.

Roasted Poblano Slaw

Olive oil………………………………………………….. 3 T

Poblano peppers……………………………………… 3

Red cabbage, shredded…………………………….. ½ head

Green cabbage, shredded………………………….. ½ head

Limes, juiced……………………………………………. 4

Rice wine vinegar……………………………………… ¼ c

Honey……………………………………………………. 1 T

Ground cumin, spice…………………………………. 1/2 T

Olive oil………………………………………………….. 1/2 c

Green onions, chopped……………………………… 4

Carrot, peeled and grated………………………….. 1 large

Sea salt…………………………………………………… to taste

Black pepper……………………………………………. to taste

  1. Preheat your oven to 500°. Place the poblano peppers on your baking sheet and lightly drizzle olive oil over them. Roast them in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until they have begun to blacken and blister all over. Remove them with your tongs and Roasted Poblano Slawplace them in a mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow them to sit this way and steam.
  2. Once the peppers are cool, pull off their tops and allow the seeds and juice to spill out of the top. Carefully peel off their skins, and don’t rinse under water while doing this,  or you’ll lose too much flavor.  Once they are peeled, dice them into a medium dice.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the lime juice, vinegar, honey, cumin, and ¼ cup of olive oil. Toss together with the cabbage, roasted poblano, green onion and carrot. Taste at this point and season as needed with salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container, and serve ice cold.

To recap:

When people walk up to the window, we will ask, “Cow, pig or flatbread?”

Depending on what they say, we’ll either plate up thick sliced Texas Brisket in a smokey homemade BBQ sauce, Sweet & Spicy Pork Burger with pickled pineapple on a kolache bun, or Grilled Texas Flat Bread stuffed with grilled mushrooms and Chipotle tzatziki.

Then we ask, “Tater or slaw?”

The response will then either be an Herb Potato Salad or Roasted Poblano Slaw.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Yummy

For the Vegetarians

In a chef’s head

Pig, cow, duck, and all their tender inner (delicious) workings are constantly on the mind and preferably tongue of most chefs. The perfect preparation, how you had it in San Francisco, what you read about it in Food Art, and the bacon design of your next tattoo (time to get off the pot Chef Marcus) are just some of the topics that rattle around bar stool conversations. With so much thought and energy dedicated to meat and its cookery…chefs often fully disregard the possibility of meatless dishes.

In a chef’s experience

In the 1st restaurant I ever worked, where eventually I was promoted to sous chef, the menu was very concise in order to accommodate a very modest dining room. We could seat about 30. 🙂 Along with the small dining room came the very 1st professional crappy little kitchen that I ever worked. It had 1 crappy stove, the dish machine shared a workspace with the salad station, but worst of all there was ZERO storage. If it wasn’t on the menu at that moment, we didn’t have it in the kitchen. Thus it was an absolute nightmare for someone to come in and demand an off menu dish.

The easiest one to head off at the pass was, “I’m a vegetarian. What do you have that I can eat?” Ask any chef and they’ll tell you the same, half of these people end up ordering the fish or the chicken anyway because lots of people suck. Hahaha! BUT, I always found coming up with new and exciting vegetarian dishes to be quite a stimulating challenge. All the vegetarian entrees in “Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens” are those vegetarian dishes from my restaurants.

Why would I waste this experience? What a shame to fritter away that expertise? I’ll be cooking in the ultimate crappy little kitchen with a petite menu to match, so one of the 1st thoughts that I had when developing said menu was, “I should give a vegetarian option. It is Austin after all.”

In a chef’s process

As I’ve said before, beef brisket on the menu is a no brainer. It bursts all the Crappy Little Chuckwagon parameters. Last week we dealt with a pork selection, and knocked it out of the park by deconstructing what is beloved by all Texans, the kolache.

What does all this mean for my vegetarian entrée? What are our parameters?

  1. Has to be vegetarian… obviously. My go to, spotlight veggie is the mushroom. For myself, I love a splash of Worcestershire sauce, but that doesn’t work here. For those of you who don’t know, the secret ingredient of Worcestershire is anchovy. While it might seem funny to sneak vegetarians (real vegetarians– not those sucky fake ones) little fishes, it is unethical and I won’t do it.
  2. Must be hand held, but can’t be a repeat. I thought about grilled Portobello sliders. With a hamburger on the menu, I’d really rather not have another sandwich let alone a tiny burger. Plus I tried it, and the Portobellos didn’t shrink enough on the grill to be a slider; they just looked like mushroom burgers. :-/
  3. Has to be accessible and sound delicious to everyone. What is a popular food truck item that I can recreate in my own crappy
    Grilled Texas Flatbread

    Grilled Texas Flatbread

    little image? Hmmmmnnnn…

While I’m making homemade kolache dough for our burger buns, why not see if we can roll it out and throw it on the grill?! While I worked at The Grape in Dallas, we made a grilled Tuscan flatbread  It was essentially pizza dough that we grilled before service. When an order came in, we topped it, flashed it in the oven, and sent it on it’s merry way. Texas flatbread really has a nice ring to it. Sure enough the soft and pliable dough rolled out and grilled perfectly. The beautiful circles with flawless grill marks looked remarkably similar to pita bread, which is a much better idea than a topped flat bread giving us the need for a crappy little oven.

Grilled Texas Flatbread

Grilled Texas Flatbread

My Texas Flatbread needed a filling, and using the pita/gyro as inspiration, I sautéed diced yellow onion with garlic, dried Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper. Once brown I added a ton of chopped mushroom (cremini and Portobello), turned the heat up slightly, and seasoned with a bit more salt and pepper. Typically a Greek style gyro would have a meat filling and a sauce called tzatziki. It’s a very refreshing sauce made from yogurt, cucumber, and lemon, so to adapt it for my Texas flat bread, I made it with yogurt, chipotle, and lime. Add fresh cherry tomatoes and spinach (instead of romaine lettuce) and we have a winner!! Just needs bacon… Hahaha, but I’m not wrong! Maybe as an add on option?

The chef’s menu

As I’ve said before, I freakin love this process. You start with ideas that roll around in your head like powder kegs ready to explode into something more. In the kitchen you break down the ideas to see what works, how it could be better, and can it make more sense. Can we make this more cost effective without sacrificing quality? Can we make this taste better without hurting food cost? This is the nuts and bolts of a successful food business; the very beginning of a continuous progression of change and improvement as a chef hones their craft and becomes one with their space.

As for my space, the Crappy Little Chuckwagon is on the horizon. Each day I feel her coming closer, and you can plan on May being a big, BIG Crappy Little Kitchen month! Now that the menu is tested and planned, I enter the design phase. You faithful CLK followers will be the 1st to see the menu, along with it’s maiden voyage next month as we raise money to begin our Crappy Little Culinary Journey. I’m so happy to have you with me.

Stuffed Texas Flatbread (vegetarian)

Stuffed Texas Flatbread (vegetarian)