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!

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)

Tasty Beginnings

Recipe testing is a massive part of running a food based business and my favorite portion, to be perfectly honest. The hidden agenda behind nearly every chef’s tasting I’ve hosted was wanting to play with a new ingredient we’d found or try a strange cooking technique we’d read about. Menu planning is directly in line with recipe testing as far as importance, in fact it’s difficult for one to be successful without the other, and both are needed for a clear win. The Crappy Little Chuckwagon will be no different.

The Menu

My cooking is heavily influenced by Texas, and I plan on playing to my strengths. All my research begs the conclusion that less is more when it comes to food truck menus… so beef, pork, and vegetarian are what I choose for entrees, and I know I want a starchy side and a salad side. The beef is a no brainer – thick sliced Texas brisket in a smoky homemade BBQ sauce. It’s a bit of a family classic actually that’s been through several Imagetransitions before its final resting place of 50% smoking and 50% braising. In the best of all possible worlds, my pork selection would be ribs. However, in the best of all possible worlds I would also have limitless funds and resources. Being a not so perfect world, I have a spectacular recipe for a spicy pork burger. Ribs will come later.

The Challenge

You can’t just say “pork burger” and leave it at that. Here was my thought process. The large German and Czech populations in Texas have made kolaches and bread and butter pickles a staple at many meals, but how should they be served in the Crappy Little Chuck Wagon? I’ve already decided to test a kolache bun recipe for the spicy pork burgers. The sweet, buttery, flaky bread is a perfect medium for a spicy, juicy burger.

The RecipeImage

1 T. active dry yeast
1 cup of warm milk
1/4 cup sugar
3 cups of all-purpose flour
2 eggs
3/4 cup of melted margarine
1 teaspoon of salt

  1. In a large bowl, combine yeast, warm milk, sugar and one cup of flour. Cover and let it rise until doubled in size.
  2. Beat together eggs, 3/4 cup of melted margarine, and salt. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture and blend.
  3. Stir in about 3 more cups of flour, 1/2 cup at a time. The dough should be soft and moist. Mix using a dough hook until the dough is smooth and highly malleable, about 15 minutes.
  4. Cover the bowl and let rise until doubled in size—about an hour.
  5. After dough has risen, punch it down and pull 3 oz. dough balls.
  6. Place the dough balls on a greased baking sheet ½ inches apart, cover, and let rise again for another hour.
  7. Bake in oven at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown all the way to the pan. Allow the buns to cool slightly before trying to slice them in half.

Image

With our homemade kolache buns in place, I’m ready to build my CLCW burger. Pork is a brilliant start to a juicy burger, but I have a secret to share with you. If you add bread crumbs to your burger mix, the water in the meat mixes with the gluten in the bread crumbs to provide a nice uniform structure to the patty and a wonderful crunch off the grill. If you soak the bread crumbs in a liquid, when the burger starts to heat up on the grill, the liquid begins to steam out of the bread crumb, releasing moisture into the patty. If you soak the bread crumbs in Texas beer…that moisture release includes a punch of flavor. To reproduce the sweetness and texture of bread and butter pickles without the predictability of putting a pickle on a burger, I’ve perfected a pickled pineapple over the course of a summer. We have sweet, juicy, crispy, and tangy; what’s missing? SPICY!! Nothing beats homemade mayonnaise, and the only thing better than homemade mayonnaise is my garlicky, Sriracha aioli.

Two entrees are down with one to go before I tackle the side dishes. We’re already using homemade bread. What about a grilled Texas flat bread for our vegetarian entrée?! Hmmmnnnn…. Cannot wait to test that one.

A very humble beginning…

Hello Blog Readers!

This is undeniably the beginning of many firsts for me. In the past whenever asked “Do you blog?” or “Are you on twitter?” my response has inevitably been “I cook…?” Well here I am blogging, and please follow me on twitter @CLchuckwagon. Hahaha!

Why the sudden change of heart? In my 10 years cooking, I did manage to get a pretty neat cook book published, “Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens”, but for the most part I’ve been content to cook great food for other folks, drink some beer and wine, and make a little money here and there. I’ve been an executive chef, a pastry chef, a catering chef, a culinary professor, and even the director of food service for the public school system. Shouldn’t I know what I want to be when I grow up by now? Why don’t I own my own restaurant? With a cookbook, shouldn’t I have a cooking show or something? I mean everyone else does. :-/

The Book

Then it hit me. I do know what I want to be when I grow up… a freakin chef!  And of COURSE I’d love to own my own business. How can I combine the very best of me into a business that would flourish and continue to open up new revenue streams, creative outlets, and help me become an all around more productive member of society?

Let’s see I’m an experienced chef who’s expertise is cooking in crappy little kitchens, a published cookbook author, a Texas girl born on a pecan orchard who had the opportunity to raise cattle and pigs growing up, and has a very strong relationship with food and where it comes from. Chef, small space, Texas, local farmers…

Playing with my food

That’s it! A food truck is the ultimate expression of a Crappy Little Kitchen! I want to embrace that purity; to not only enhance my ability to cook gourmet meals despite great odds, but to take it on the road. I’m looking to purchase a truck or a trailer (whatever I find with the most personality), “slap a sink, a stove, and refrigerator against one wall”, (for CLK historical accuracy), and christen thee The Crappy Little Chuckwagon.

Now to find a suitable wagon… more on that later. 😀