July 24

Pulled BBQ Chicken

I was tempted to use this recipe as the subject of one of my cooking videos, but because I’m using a slow cooker I figured it wouldn’t be quite as much fun. I mean, who’s going to watch four hours of chicken breasts slowly coming up to temperature?

Slow cooking is often dismissed as “not real cooking”, but I disagree. It’s just another way to get the job done. Just like there’s no one way to write a story, there’s no one way to cook a meal. I’ve been using a slow cooker for many years and made many fine meals with the old girl.

Last weekend I picked up some boneless chicken breasts that were on sale and decided I’d try my hand at BBQ pulled chicken. I haven’t made this before and thought it might be fun. And unlike some of those cooking blogs that make you read through 1,000 words of backstory before getting to the point, I’ll give you the recipe, then show you the process. This is what I used to make this specific batch:

Pulled BBQ Chicken

  • 3 lbs of boneless chicken
  • Seasoning – salt, pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder
  • Chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 cups of vegetable stock

Sauce

  • 3/4 cup Catsup
  • 3/4 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 TB Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/4 tsp of dry mustard
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • Hot sauce to your liking

As I always say, you can customize either recipe (chicken or sauce) to your liking.

First, I chopped up a couple of Vidalia onions. I love the sweetness of them and they add a little body to the final dish.

Chopped onions in slow cooker

Then I seasoned the breasts and added them. If I had thought ahead I would have seasoned the meat the night before and let it sit in the fridge overnight. The dry rub is a great way to get flavor into something bland like chicken breasts, but they really need to sit for at least twelve hours for the seasoning to penetrate.

Seasoned chicken breasts in slow cooker

I then added about 1 1/2 cups of homemade vegetable stock. I would have added beer, but I was out. I’ve also read that adding Dr. Pepper (soda) is good. After that, I put the lid on, set the heat on low, and let it do what it does for about three and a half to four hours. Surprisingly, the breasts were ready to go at about the three and a half hour mark.

(A note here about the chicken: I’m partial to dark meat. It’s has more flavor than the white meat due to the fat content. Also, this means that it’s harder to overcook the dark meat. However, the breasts were on sale and, well, I can be cheap.)

I pulled them out and used a couple of sturdy forks to shred ’em. It’s the hardest part of the recipe, but also the most rewarding when finished.

Shredded, cooked chicken in a bowl

I also used a colander to drain away the cooking liquid and retrieve those wonderful onions.

Cooked onions in colander

Then they all went back into the slow cooker. Now, for the sauce…

Homemade bbq sauce in Ball jar

I made this the other night so it could chill in the fridge and allow the flavors to mingle. Unfortunately, it turned out to not be quite enough. The thing is, chicken breasts tend to be a dryer meat, so when I added the sauce to the slow cooker, the chicken meat sort of absorbed it.

Quick thinking saved the day. Not mine. My partner’s. She suggested I make more. I quickly dumped all the ingredients into a saucepan, turned the heat to medium, then kept stirring with a whisk until it was thick and bubbly…about ten to fifteen minutes. I added the extra sauce to the chicken in the slow cooker and let it simmer over low for another hour.

Despite the small miscalculation, the BBQ pulled chicken turned out to be quite nice.

BBQ Pulled Chicken

Next time I’ll make more sauce before I begin. And I think I’ll add some horseradish to it. But hey, that’s how it goes in the kitchen. It’s all about creativity and trying new things, or trying old things in new ways.

I hope you give this a try. It hits all my favorite notes – fun, easy, and allows us to be creative.

Enjoy!

RB

January 22

Cooking as Art

I believe that any act that involves creative thinking can be considered art, and cooking is no exception.

I’ve always likened cooking to my other bad habit – writing. With writing, I take a plot, a setting, a couple of characters, mix them all together and see what happens. Oftentimes, it’s something good. Occasionally I have to throw it in the trash and move on to the next project.

Cooking is the essentially the same thing. I take a handful of ingredients, toss them in a pot, add heat and seasonings, and hope that it’s edible. Oftentimes, it turns out tasty. Occasionally I have to throw it all in the trash and promise myself I’ll never do that again.

In both cases, it takes creative thinking to get things to turn out the way I want them.

I’m not a professionally-trained chef, although I did work in the kitchen in a couple of restaurants back in the day. I learned to cook through necessity. I was a bachelor for a while, living alone in a one-room efficiency. I had a tiny dorm fridge, a tiny gas range, and a toaster oven. Not much to work with, but living alone and trying to make ends meet on minimum wage meant that I needed to get creative. Besides, eating out three meals a day was far beyond my means.

My first meals weren’t much, but they kept me from starving. My go-to dish was boxed mac and cheese with a can of tuna and half a can of sweet peas. Arguably healthy, definitely filling. I found out that I could double the recipe and eat off it for a couple of days. There was also grilled cheese sandwiches and bowls of tomato soup. The soup was canned, but I’d get creative with the grilled cheese. Sometimes it was American or Cheddar, maybe a Gouda if it was on sale. I also learned that I could melt butter, mix in a few herbs, then chill it and have herbed butter. That was a game changer.

After a while I discovered that the women I dated really appreciated it when I cooked. Like, REALLY appreciated it. I got some recipes from coworkers, my mom, and even broke down and bought my first cook book. It’s been thirty years now, but I still have my dog-eared copy of the Fannie Farmer cookbook. Easy to follow recipes, good info about the basics…it basically was my starter cookbook.

And yes, my ability to cook is what endeared my partner to me. Our first official date was me cooking her Chicken Chablis. I also helped that she can’t cook. At all. And yes, she’ll be the first to admit it. In fact, after her two attempts to return the favor, we both agreed that she’s no longer allowed anywhere near the kitchen unless she acting as a taste tester. It’s really for the best.

As a side note here, I do want to lodge an official complaint against some of the professional chefs out there. There’s a divide between chefs and home cooks. I’m in the latter category, obviously, but I want to state that I take offense when I watch a cooking show and hear the chef say something like, “Oh, that’s something a home cook would do.” As if I’m some moron who has trouble boiling water or something. No, I didn’t go to culinary school and I have’t worked in a Michelin Star restaurant, but I believe I’m damn good in the kitchen. I can pull random items out of the pantry and make a tasty meal out of it.

Sure, I occasionally used canned soup as a base for meals, and I also use a slow cooker a couple of times a month. But I also get compliments from the people I share food with. I get asked to make things for events, like office parties and holiday get-togethers. It seems to me that if people are asking me to cook for them, then I must be doing something right. Right?

At some point in the near future I plan to start uploading some cooking videos to my YouTube channel. Nothing fancy. I plan on sharing recipes that I enjoy making, stuff that’s fun to make and reasonably healthy. I’ll share tips, things I’ve learned, and hopefully inspire others to try their hand. I don’t expect to offer any revolutionary advice or insight…this is going to be like my podcast, a labor of love and a creative outlet.

As I wrote above, anything that makes you think creatively is an act of art. Doesn’t matter if you’re cooking dinner for your family or writing the next Great American Novel, creativity is creativity.

RB

December 29

Plans for the New Year

I’m not a fan of new year resolutions. In my opinion, why wait for a calendar event to do something positive in your life? It’s like saying, “I’ll start that new project on Monday” or “I’ll stop drinking on Friday.” Why not do it right now? Why wait?

With that said, I’m not against setting goals and deadlines. What’s the difference, you ask? To me, a resolution is something like, “I’ll start working out three days a week starting January 1st.” A goal is, “I’m going to lose twenty pounds next year.” Maybe I’m arguing semantics, but I see a difference between the two. One is setting a start point, where the other is setting an end result. It doesn’t matter when you start or how you get there, as long as you arrive.

My goals for the next year are as follows:

My main goal is to finish editing my novel and get it published. The draft has been tweaked over the past few months, but I’ve been focusing on other projects because I wanted to get some time away from the story. I spent months working on the first draft and I felt like I was no longer seeing the story, just words on a page. Now that I’ve gotten some perspective on the beast, I’m ready to dive back in.

Next, to keep my creativity podcast going and to increase the number of listeners. I’ve developed a small group of listeners, which is fine, but I feel my podcast – which focuses on inspiring and motivating people to explore their creativity – could be reaching a broader audience. It’s a labor of love and, really, it doesn’t matter if I have ten listeners or ten thousand. If I can inspire just one person, then I’m happy.

I’m going to complete and publish a second short-story collection. I was inspired by one of the people I follow on Twitter who posts cool little vignettes. I asked if I could use some as story prompts and she approved…and yes, I’ll be giving her co-author credit and a cut of any profits. I plan to complete ten stories based on her posts.

I’m going to also start publishing some cooking videos on my YouTube channel. Nothing fancy. It’s just that I enjoy cooking and see it as another way to be creative. I plan to share some simple recipes that can feed two or more, some tips, and things that I’ve learned as a self-taught home cook. Back in my bachelor days I learned to cook by necessity. It was far too expensive to eat out all the time, so I started experimenting with cooking simple things on the tiny gas range in my tiny, one-room efficiency apartment. There were more misses than hits, but eventually I began to grasp the fundamentals and upped my cooking game. In fact, I started cooking for some of the women I knew at the time and, well, eventually married one of them. Or it may be more accurate to say she married me. I think it was the chicken and mushrooms in a white wine sauce that sealed the deal.

And in between all that, I’ll continue to post on this blog, make music, write in my journal, draw, take photos, and explore the world of creativity.

Most of all, I want to continue to motivate and inspire other creators. I’m not talking about being a social-media influencer or anything like that. I want to be someone who quietly helps others. I spent many years working in solitude with very little encouragement or support from the people around me, and I hate to think that there are other people out there going through the same thing. I want to change that for them, I want them to feel like they can accomplish anything, can try anything, and that they do so without embarrassment or self-doubt.

I hope you have lofty goals for 2020 and beyond. Remember, don’t be afraid to be creative or to be your true self. Enjoy life, embrace opportunity, and above all, be kind.

RB