Jul 22, 2011

Not Your Typical Teenage Girl Birthday Presents

It was my daughter Kaleigh's birthday recently and her presents weren't necessarily those typical things that most teenage girls get like clothes, shoes, or shopping sprees.  I was looking for something special that no one else had and would represent her new passions for the outdoors.

When my son turned 12 I gave him custom handmade knife, actually I had two identical knifes made.  One for Brendan and one for me.  It represented both the passion and the time we shared and continue to share in the field.  It is something that when either of looks at our knife it is sure to stir those memories of enjoyable times afield.  Not that I need anything to stir up those memories, but these knifes focus those memories on our outings.

So with my daughter finally getting into the outdoors with more passion I felt it was time for her and I to have something to share that was related to our outdoor passions and pursuits.  So knowing my daughter I knew she would like something that she could show off and it had to be one of a kind just like her.

At first I thought this would be a daunting task, but through the course of catching up on many of the blogs I follow, the light bulb went on and I instantly knew what I wanted to do for Kaliegh's birthday present.  See my very first "They Have the Passion" blog post highlighted Joel and his blog  "A Year on the Fly" where Joel combines his passion of fishing and painting into a wonderful blog that highlights his art and I knew I just had to ask him to help me out with my idea.  I emailed Joe my request and I immediately got an excited yet somewhat nervous reply from him but I could tell he was hooked.  So I sent Joel a picture along with what I was thinking and Joel set off to do what he does, by the way did I mention that he does a dang good job at it.  Joel communicated back often showing progress and introducing some additional ideas and thoughts and the result was better then I imagined.

I don't remember telling Joel about the custom knifes I made for Brendan and I, but he must have sensed something because he also sent me an additional 8x10 print of Kaleigh's turkey so I too will always have that visual reminder available to me and for that I am super appreciative.  I could sense a little "what about me" going around the room so I'm certain that Joel will be hearing from me again in the future.

To say Kaleigh was excited and happy is an understatement.  She was grinning from ear to ear and I think I even saw a small tear role down her check but don't tell her that I noticed it. She mentioned that her two favorite gifts where her Turkey painting and her new Buck Commander DVD that her brother bought her.  I may have to buy her another copy of that DVD because I think she might wear this one out watching her favorites Chipper Jones, Luke Brian and Jason Alden.

I know how much the time spent in the field this spring meant to me and I only hope it means as much to her.  I am looking forward to getting her out in the duck blind and deer stand this fall so I can live and breathe ever single moment as she experiences the raw addiction to the great out outdoors and our sport of hunting.

Now I just need to find that special place to hang Kaleigh's painting so she will stop taking down Brendan's buck mount and putting up her big smiling face.

Now that's a nice fish

Seeing I haven't been fishing in a few weeks I have to live through those that have been on the water.  Capt Scottie and Dylan had booked a trip with Capt Blaine Anderson of Anderson Guide Service with the intention of learning live bait techniques for Striped Bass fishing and from the picutres that I've seen and the verbal recap of their trip, I'm going to say they learned plenty.

Scott and Dylan with a pair of linesiders
Both Scott and Dylan have been really getting into saltwater fishing over the past two years and most of that has been fishing for fluke, sea bass and scup with a little tinkering thrown in on the striped bass side.  One of Dylan's goals was to learn a little bit about live lining for stripers and as a graduation / Brithday present him and his dad would spend a morning with Blaine learning and catching.  Now I hope they learned enough to teach me because Dylan has now caught a bass bigger then me and it has been just exhausting listening to him remind everyone of his catch and fishing prowess.

Dylan's personal best linesider - 48inches

I'm happy for both of them as I'm sure this is a launchpad for great success in their saltwater adventures.  Stop by Blaine's blog to see more pics and read up on their outing.

Congrats on some great fish guys!

Jul 13, 2011

3 States and only 1 Keeper

I had the chance to take my daughter out to do some saltwater fishing for striped bass and fluke for the first time on a  friends boat this past weekend and we had a blast sharing the passion.  Capt. Scott and Dylan aka "Junior" met up with my Daughter Kaleigh and I at 3:30am at a local convenience store to gas up the boat and to get some starter fluid for the rest of us and then it was off to shore.

It is just over an hour drive to the boat launch in New London, CT so we have plenty of time to get all excited and to see some wildlife along the way.  They saw 3 deer, a fox and a skunk and I only saw the one deer.  Every time they saw something I was looking the other way and at one point Capt. Scott said "Don't know how you missed that one, it was looking right in your window".  So obviously I was the brunt of all jokes to start out the day.  No problem, I was planning on letting my fishing skills make up for it!

Sunrise over Fishers Island NY

We were on the water and headed out of the launch at 4:45am and off to see if we could scare up a few linesiders or some blues.  The ride out was flat calm and we were at Race Rock Lighthouse in Long Island Sound just as the sun was coming up making for a wonderful sight.  We were greeted with 4 other boats like us trying to get in some early fishing before the fleet arrives but we found very little tide and no fish to speak of.  There were a few birds working, but not aggressive and once or twice we'd see a fish under them.  We decided not to pull wire and went with the spin casters instead and not even a sniff.  That was ok, because none of the other boats were having any luck either.  We gave it 30-40 minutes and decided to head out around to the South side of Fishers Island and setup for some fluke fishing.

Captain Scott fishing as the sun rises over Fishers Island

Junior enjoying the Sunrise

A Lone fly fisherman working the waters around Race Rock Lighthouse

We got positioned for the first drift and I was showing Kaleigh how to work the reel and teach her to keep the rig on the bottom and withing 5 minutes she was hooked up with the first fluke of the morning.  She wasn't overly excited, well actually she didn't look excited at all but that was probably because she is not a morning person and seeing it was still a couple hours earlier than her normal wake up I couldn't blame her.   Kaleigh was back in the water and had another fish on just minutes after the first.  I could start to see a little smirk growing.  Both fish were short and had to go back.  We continued on the same drift and finally Junior hooked up and of course Kaleigh hooked up again.  This time the smirk on her face was bigger and she just nodded my way and gave me a blink of the eye and then she started in on Junior about helping him catch some fish.  She didn't even ease into it, she hit him with both barrels right off the bat.  Her only goal on this trip was to out fish Junior and she was definitely on her way.  At one point it was Kaleigh with 3 and the rest of us with 1, but still no keepers.

Kaleigh with one of many Fluke she caught this day
Another short fluke headed back to the water

Kay with a black sea bass

We continued working different drifts trying to find some keeper fluke but it just wasn't happening.  Seeing we were in NY waters the legal minimum length for a fluke was 20.5 inches and we threw back some 19.5 and even a 20 inch fish.  We also landed some porgies and small black seas bass and they were also released to grow up.  The only constant was Kaleigh was hammering the fish every drift while the 3 of us worked like dogs to land a few fish.  

We decided to pick up and move over to Rhode Island waters just off Misquamicut Beach and as we were motoring east we noticed a fin in the water and it turned out to be a Mola Mola (Ocean Sunfish) and we tried to circle in closer for a better look and some pictures but he was shy and down he went.  Very cool sight to see as it was a first for all of us.

Rhode Island Shore line

We setup the for the first drift at our new location and Junior was on the bottom and hooked up before we could even reach the bottom.  Talk about lucky.  Well this drift it looked like, Scott Junior and I were going to catch up to K has she seemed to be in a little slump.  I think she was just a little out of whack from the bumpy ride over to the new grounds.  Our plan seemed to be working though as we hooked up a couple times each without Kaleigh catching anything.  We needed an advantage to try and make up the ground on the numbers but it didn't last long before Kaleigh was back at it and yanking up fish off the bottom one after the other again.

We landed some nice sized black sea bass but the season in Rhode Island didn't open until the next day so back in the drink they went.  The porgies were getting bigger as well but I wasn't in the mood to spend the afternoon filleting a bunch of fish for a little snack so back they went as well.  At one point all four us were hooked up and landing fish, but all the fluke were short and I mean real short 12 to 15 inches were coming over the rail often.  Rhode Island's minimum length on fluke is 18.5 inches the same as Connecticut so we thought for sure we could get some keepers here but it just wasn't happening.

Me holding One of Kay's black Sea Bass - She took this photo

Editorial rant - feel free to ignore this paragraph:  One of the most STUPID things about the fishing regulations in the Long Island sound is that each state as different size limits, seasons and creel limits and you have to follow the rules of the waters you are fishing, but you also need to make sure that those fish kept also meet the rules of any waters you will be motoring through including your home port.  So keeping a legal fish in Rhode Island at say 19inches will get you in trouble when in NY waters or keeping more than te 3 fish that Connecticut allows when back in port, even though RI allows you 7 fish will most certainly get you a ticket.  No walls, nets or boundaries to stop the fish from moving through the different state's waters.  All the same dang fish so why don't the adjoining states get on the same damn page and make it easy for us fisherman to understand and do the right thing.  You almost need a lawyer on retainer when out fishing the LIS.  It is a freaking JOKE!  Ok, editorial rant off.

Capt Scott with the day's only keeper at 20.5 inches

Well we continued to just hammer fish every drift over in Rhode Island and all were short until finally Capt Scott sets the hook on a fish that would prove to be our only keeper and sure enough it was and measured just over 20.5 inches keeping us legal everywhere.  The ride back to the dock was a little bouncy as the wind kicked up and the boat traffic was high, especially with New London Sailfest going on.   There was plenty of folks out enjoying one of the best days we will see all summer as the beaches we rode by were packed, with plenty of boats out fishing, sailing or just cruising.

My daughter couldn't stop taking about her first saltwater fishing trip and hasn't given Junior a rest in reminding he that she whooped him up.  I'm sure Junior is planning a rematch and I know Kaleigh will be more than happy to give him one.

Junior and Capt Scott hooked up - guess what it was?

Capt. Scott enjoying the ride back to the dock

Kay and I  - wait who is driving the boat?

One of the things I like about living in Connecticut is the close proximity to the ocean which opens a whole new door to outdoors while offering up lots of great opportunities to share the passion.

Jul 5, 2011

Lip Smackin BBQ

Nothing says the 4th of July like fireworks and BBQ!  We had plenty of both this weekend and the BBQ was all home made by yours truly.  We weren't going to let a little rain wash out our chance for enjoying the 4th with a cook out consisting of Pulled Pork, Brisket, baked beans, cornbread, potato salad and corn on the cob.....Lip Smacking good. I am not a competition BBQ'er so there will be no secrets given out in this post - just some sharing of things I learned and enjoy that hopefully give you something to try or a place to start with your own BBQ.

My WSM ready for action

I've always enjoyed cooking, almost as much as eating and getting into smoking some delicious BBQ was just the next step in my food travels.  I always enjoy something cooked over a charcoal or wood fire and just thought doing my own BBQ was too much so I limited myself to a gas grill and a charcoal grill - well until about 8 years ago when I ventured into smoking with the purchase of my first smoker -  Weber Smokey Mountain Bullet (WSM).  I went with the WSM based on the success that a friend had getting started and both of us owe that start to a website called The Virtual Weber Bullet which claims to be the source for WSM cooker information and discussion on the web.  I'd have to agree that it is.  This forum is loaded with great information on the WSM and other weber products but also has great information on how to get started, meat selection and prep to a great forum loaded with recipes of all kinds.  It's a must stop for anyone that plans on cooking on a grill or smoker.

Baby Backs on the WSM

I tell people that my WSM is like a ronco product - set it and forget it, but it is a little more involved than that.  Every time I do some BBQ I am really amazed at well it holds temps and how easy it is to operate.  All my BBQ is done on a WSM only because I can't afford one of the giant offset smokers.....YET!

The big three were on the menu for this weekend, pork butts, brisket and ribs.  All good BBQ starts out with a good piece of meat and I'm lucky to have a couple of local meat packing operations near by so finding those good pieces of meat isn't difficult.  I prefer bone in Pork Butts, whole briskets and Baby back ribs.  My family prefers spare ribs over baby backs so they win out most of the time.

14lb brisket lightly trimmed and ready for mariunade

16lbs of bone in Pork Butts ready for Rub
I've tried many different prep methods, rubs, sauces and wood when I first started out and it didn't take long to find a combination that everyone liked and it is still my go to plan when I am not in the mood for trying somethign new or being creative, but the nice thing about doing your own BBQ is you can make it the way YOU like it and make it better.

My BBQ rub on the left, Old No.2 on the right

Now that you have a good piece of meat you need a good rub and a good rub starts with good spices.  I've done the whole grind your own spices, but I'm fortunate enough to live just 20 minutes from the Spice Mill so I can swing in and pick up what I need or have some custom blends made for me at anytime.   When I first started I used a Basic Rub right out of Steven Raichlen's "How to Grill" book and over the course of the years I still use the basics of this rub but have adjusted it to my family's taste.  I like more of  sweet BBQ and don't like the heavy spicy seasoning which is easy to do if you are doing everything yourself.  I have and still purchase rubs from others and one of my all time favorites for brisket is Old No. 2 from TexasBBQRub.com.  I've gotten so addicted to this rub on my brisket that I refuse to try and duplicate it and won't smoke a brisket without it anymore.  Matter of fact, I need to stock up on this soon.

Ribs being prepped, slathered in Mustard and then sprinkled with rub

Pork Butts ready for a rest in the fridge

With the meat and rub all squared away I think about any prep work to the meat.  I am on the light trim train.  If I have a good piece of meat, then I do very little trimming and when I do trim it is only to make things consistent.   Some folks don't do anything but add rub and slap it on the smoker while others get creative with liquids and such from injections to wet rubs.  For me I again keep it simple here.  I do marinade my brisket for 8-10 hours in a liquid consisting of red wine, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and spices and I will never do a brisket again without letting it soak in this bath of goodness.  For my butts they just get a light coat of yellow mustard and a generous blanket of rub and wrapped up in plastic for a rest in the fridge.  My ribs get the same treatment as the pork butts.

After the rest in the fridge I remove the brisket and let it sit at room temp for an hour or two and then lightly coat it in some more Worcestershire sauce and then coat it in Old No2. rub.  The pork butts and ribs get un-wrapped and another generous sprinkle of rub.  Now everything is ready for the smoker.

Brisket all coated up in Old No.2 and ready for the smoker

Butts are ready for the smoker

I only use lump charcoal in my WSM.  Many folks will use standard old briquettes from Kingsford or Royal Oak in their smokers even thought many people claim you can't tell the difference between hardwood lump charcoal and briquettes I'm convinced I can so why change.  I prefer Wicked Good Lump charcoal but have used others like Ozark Oak and  Nature's Own Lump Charcoal.  What you use may depend on what you can get locally but many of the lump charcoals out there are available for purchase over the internet.  For a great review of the different brands check out the lump charcoal review on the Naked Whiz website.  There is some great stuff to be learned on this site.  I use a method I learned from the virtualweberbullet.com known has the Minion Method which starts with a full load of unlit charcoal and smoking wood in which you had some light charcoal to prior to assembling the smoker and it will run for hours - depending on the charcoal normally 10-12 hours straight.

Now good BBQ needs time to cook at a low temp - normally in and around the 225 degree mark so plan accordingly as low and slow is the theme with good lip smacking BBQ.   When smoking brisket and butts together it can take anywhere from 14 - 18 hours so I usually and doing my smokes over night and to do so either I stay up awake all night or invest in some tools like the Maverick ET-73 remote thermometer from Maverick Industries.  This little device is a life saver and makes getting some sleep possible on an overnight smoke which allows me to monitor the meat and smoker temps from inside my bed.  Setting a hi/lo temp alarms for the smoker will ensure I get woken up if things get out of whack.  Of course for some staying up all night and tending the smoker is part of the fun.  Me I like my sleep so I am refreshed when I put the feed bag on.

Finished Brisket with point removed - Point goes back on the smoker

Finished butt ready for a rest in the warm cooler
As far as smoking wood goes, I've have oak, mesquite, apple, cherry, pecan and hickory on had at all times.  For pork I prefer the fruit woods which will be a combination for cherry and apple.   For beef I prefer the hickory and a little mesquite but be care with it.  This is another great thing about doing your own BBQ as you can control the level of smoke and the flavor as well.  I've had BBQ in some restaurants that were just not edible because of the overpowering smokey flavor.

Sliced brisket - the picture doesn't do it justice

Brisket point shredded and soaked in Sweet Baby Rays

Pulled pork ready for the table

During the smoke I will rotate the meat and use a mop or spray to keep it moist and add flavor.  This can be something simple like some apple juice or another crazy concoction that you come up with.  Pork butts get cooked to an internal temperature of 195degrees while brisket goes for a 205degree temp.  For ribs it's all about the tear test, no temps taken here.  When the meat is done I make sure it gets a nice little rest wrapped all snug in aluminum foil and some liquid, usually what ever I was using during the cook, and then off to rest in a warm cooler.  You can hold butts and brisket fro 2-4 hours like this but make sure you stick a probe in in to keep track of the temp as they cool down.  This is a good article on holding, storing and reheating BBQ

Baked Bean sauce waiting ready for the beans and the pulled pork

Homemade Carolina mustard sauce

When you are ready to eat just open up the cooler and have at it.  I like to add a little liquid and some additional rub to my pulled pork as it sits in the pan but you can get creative with some finishing sauces as well which will add some additional flavor.  I don't eat my BBQ on anything other than a plate and a little dipping sauce on the side.  The meat and the rub should speak for itself so why cover it up with bread and sauce.   I prefer a Carolina Mustard sauce on my pork and Sweet Baby Ray's on my beef.  There are plenty of recipes out there for sauces so experiment and find something you and the family like.

Great place to start Basic BBQ Rub
Found in Steven Raichlen's Book How to Grill
1/4 cup Paprika
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
3 TBS Kosher Salt
3 TBS coarse black pepper
2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 tsp Onion powder
2 tsp celery seeds
1tsp Cayenne Pepper

Since I started making my own BBQ I am really reluctant to order it when out and about unless it is truly a BBQ pit because I like it the way I like it and I am afraid of being too critical when I eat someone's BBQ.  The one thing I truly love about making my own BBQ is that you can truly creat something you and the family enjoy, over and over and over again.

If you like BBQ and haven't tried making it yourself, then use the links in this post and get started and you will never look at BBQ the same way again.