Pizza Explosion

The minute I saw the Bacon Explosion, I knew I had to try it: bacon, Italian sausage, more bacon, smoke - what's not to like? But the more I thought about it, the stranger it seemed. I like Italian sausage, but I don't usually think of it as something to throw on the smoker. I grill it or saute it or bake it or use it to top pizza. And that's what led me to what I have humbly named the Pizza Explosion - an inside-out, smoked log of oozing pizza goodness.

Is it overkill? Absolutely! But it's also a fantastic treat, and not at all difficult to make, with a little time and patience. Give it a try the next time you fire up the smoker - it'll make a fine appetizer, and the leftovers are outstanding scrambled with eggs or spread over (recursion alert!) pizza.

1 lb bacon (you'll need ten slices)
2 lbs bulk Italian sausage (hot or mild)
1/4 lb pepperoni
1 cup pizza sauce, plus more for garnish
2 cups shredded mozzarella or Quatro Formaggio
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, plus more for garnish
2 Tbls Italian seasonings, or to taste
1 tsp crushed red pepper (optional), plus more for garnish
On a baking sheet lined with wax paper, weave the bacon strips into a five by five lattice, making sure that there aren't big gaps between the pieces. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out how to make this work: lay out the horizontal strips, then fold back every other strip, and put down one vertical strip. Reverse the polarity (flip the folded strips back down, flip the unfolded strips in the opposite direction), lay down another vertical strip and repeat until your lattice is finished. (Sorry I don't have pics of this process - didn't want to get bacon on the camera.)

Sprinkle half the Italian seasonings on top of the bacon lattice.

Next, spread the sausage evenly over the lattice, taking care not to stretch out the bacon strips. You may want to pat the sausage out on a separate baking sheet, then transfer it to the lattice. Make sure the sausage is a uniform thickness, so it will cook evenly.

Now, top the sausage with the pepperoni, overlapping slices for good coverage, and spread the sauce atop the pepperoni. Scatter the cheese in the center of the meat, avoiding the outer inch on either side (you don't want the cheese to ooze out during cooking). Sprinkle the remaining Italian seasonings and crushed red pepper on top.

Slowly roll the slab - this is where the wax paper comes in handy - taking care not to trap air inside. Your log will look something like this:

Smoke that log at 225F until the internal temp reaches 165F - about three hours, give or take - then let it rest for a couple of minutes before slicing into 1" portions. Your cooking time will depend on the thickness of the log, the starting temp of the log, and your smoker's temp. You could probably cut the time in half by squishing the log flat and upping the smoke temp to 275F.

Serve with warm pizza sauce, grated parmesan and crushed red peppers (or whatever you like on your pizza).

I suspect that you could construct the log a couple of days in advance, and refrigerate it until you're ready to smoke it. You could also grill or bake it, but what's the fun in that?

Pollos Mutantes

Pollos Mutantes is our current favorite treatment for chicken breasts - sweet, spicy and smokey, with a solid Southwest tang that pairs well with corn, beans and rice and grilled vegetables. I cooked it so often last summer that I eventually made the spice mixture one of my stock rubs, ¡Tres Mutantes!

Make sure to go heavy on the rub - you'll get a nice crust, and a burst of flavor. And do let the chicken rest for a couple of minutes after grilling, so your bird will be juicy and delicious.

Leftover Pollo Mutantes makes great sandwiches and salads, and surprisingly good soup - I usually make twice what I think we'll eat, just to have some on hand.

This recipe also works well with fish, though you may want to cut back on the amount of rub for small filets or mild fish such as Tilapia.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 Tbl olive oil
2-4 Tbl ¡Tres Mutantes! rub
1 lime
Brush chicken breasts with olive oil, then season heavily with ¡Tres Mutantes! and drizzle with half of the lime juice.

Cover and let rest for 30 minutes, for the flavors to intensify.

Grill over high heat for a few minutes per side, then allow to rest, loosely covered, for 5 minutes.

Top with more lime juice and serve immediately. Garnish with sour cream, cilantro, jack cheese - whatever you like. Nice with beans and rice and tortillas or chips. Better yet with fresh sweet corn!

¡Tres Mutantes!

Much as I enjoy the Tri-Wizard rub - especially on tri-tips and steaks - I've found that I consistently add a few more spices when I'm preparing chicken and fish. After a while, I put together a big batch of this mutant Tri-Wizard mixture, so I could have it on hand all the time.

¡Tres Mutantes! is a savory Southwestern blend with just the right kick to liven up grilled chicken or fish. A pinch or two really pumps up a pot of black beans or pintos, and it's outstanding mixed with melted butter and lime juice and slathered on roasted corn on the cob. I sprinkle ¡Tres Mutantes! on potatoes, and stir it into mayo for a sandwich spread or quick dipping sauce for veggies or fries.

3/4 cup Tri-Wizard rub
1/4 cup ground cumin
2 tsp ground chipotle (or more, to taste)
Mix well and store in a covered container - an empty spice jar with a “shaker” lid is ideal. ¡Tres Mutantes! rub keeps indefinitely.

Shake your pickles!

Few things are as satisfying as the tart crunch of homemade dill pickles - bursting with garlic and spices and fresh cucumber flavor, these easy pickles take only 5 minutes to prepare, though they do need to sit a week in the fridge to reach peak flavor. Four-year-old Miles enjoys helping to make - and eat! - these pickles, and he has invented a little song to sing as he shakes them to distribute the spices:

This recipe is adapted from Homesick Texan; I've added mustard seed and pepper flakes, for a little extra zing, and streamlined the process a bit.

1/2 cup white vinegar
2 TBL kosher salt (or non-iodized table salt)
1 TBL whole black peppercorns
1 TBL whole coriander seeds
1 TBL whole yellow mustard seeds
1/2 tsp pepper flakes, or to taste
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped coarsely
6 Kirby cucumbers, sliced in half lengthwise
Combine the vinegar and spices in a 1-quart pickle jar. Shake vigorously to dissolve salt, then add garlic, dill and cucumbers, wedging the slices back-to-back. Add cold water to cover by at least 1/2", cover and shake again to distribute the spices.

Refrigerate for six days, shaking daily while singing.