Jerky Journey | A Prologue

Rogue Pepper is stoked to bring you the start of a new series by Chris, Stephanie’s brother and resident cured meat enjoyer.  Fellow carnivores, let’s show him some love, as he embarks on a very important journey near and dear to our hearts. . .

Once in a while in life, you get the opportunity to take on what seems like an insurmountable challenge.  In mythology and fiction, it usually takes the form of someone having to travel away from their home to battle a surreal ferocious beast to save their loved ones.  They embark on what is known as the Hero’s Journey, with many obstacles and lessons that have them coming out as a stronger, and often better, person than they were at the beginning of their journey.  This series is going to be an account of the Hero’s Journey that I am about to take on, but instead of battling the minotaur, I am going to have the unique challenge of cracking the mysterious longingly missed, but not forgotten, beef jerky recipe of my Grandfather.

chris the jerky noviceWithout a little bit of background information that sounds like it would be a pretty lame, not to mention tame, adventure.  So before we get to the Holy Grail I am chasing, I will give a little background on my culinary experience or lack thereof.  I in no way consider myself a cook.  I of course enjoy food a lot, and even though I do consider myself a sandwich connoisseur of sorts, I don’t really know much outside of the absolutely basics.  By basics I am truly referring to the ABSOLUTE basics.  For example, I know we usually need to cook meat before we eat it, and I know that it is prudent to add some sort of spice to it prior to cooking.  Beyond that, anything I do in the kitchen is an experimentation that has equal chances of ending in a passable meal or an inedible mess.  Needless to say, I will be doing a lot of research before my first attempt into this strange world of jerky, and there will definitely be a lot of trial and error.

gramps the jerky masterNow that my introduction is out of the way, let’s take a look at the real star of this show and the whole reason I am doing this, the delicious beef jerky.  My Grandfather, who passed away in 2012, was world famous for making his beef jerky.  This might sound like an exaggeration, and in part it is, but in our family, this was one of the best treats we could hope for.  The first thing we would do when we got to my Grandparents was go straight for the cabinet and look behind the giant industrial size roll of plastic wrap just hoping to find a Ziploc bag of this delectable culinary delight.  If we got lucky, you’d find a couple bags of the jerky, and could grab a few pieces for your pocket before going back outside to unload the bags from the car.  It was a very familiar sight to see our father carrying the laundry basket that, to this day he uses as a suitcase, while gnawing on a piece of jerky.  This jerky was loved so much by our family it was not uncommon and totally acceptable that my father and I would get a coffee can filled with the stuff as a Christmas present.

It goes without saying that this is not your everyday convenience store jerky.  This beef jerky is so thinly cut that it often had holes in a piece.  It was spiced and seasoned in a way that it was salty and savory, but with just enough sweetness, that it melded together in a symphony of flavors that all complimented each other without any one of them being overpowering.  More often than not, Gramps would garnish the jerky with whole peppercorns right on top which, in my opinion, only added to the euphoric tastes.

I have never had any other jerky, beef or otherwise, that has ever achieved the same heights.  This isn’t without searching.  I have tried many of the mega mart and convenience store jerkies but expecting those to compete is like eating at McDonalds and expecting a $40 hamburger.  I have tried family, friends, and other smaller vendor’s homemade smaller batch jerkies and though they can sometimes come close, none of them ever seem to get ever seem to get the flavoring and cut quite right.

My sisters and I always joke that I should get a dehydrator and try to figure out what we need to do to replicate our Grandfather’s beef jerky.  Partly for ourselves, well mostly for ourselves, but also for the future generations.  I can’t imagine a world in which my nephew never knows the tastes of this perfect jerky.  So to my delight, I got a dehydrator from them for my recent birthday, and I am finally ready to take on the challenge so that the recipe isn’t lost forever.  I’m hoping that with some research and hard work, I can figure out this riddle of jerky alchemy in such a way that my Grandfather would be proud to say that this isn’t his batch of jerky but his Grandson’s.

Wish me luck!

Kitchen Jackpots 02

Once again we’re dolling out high-fives for the little triumphs that go down in the kitchen, so let’s celebrate another round of kitchen jackpots:

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ONE: an organized fridge or pantry

Who has two thumbs and slight OCD tendencies? THIS GAL.  I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I put a little too much thought and effort into having things just right, which usually ends up with Ryan getting unfairly yelled at for not following my system.  I solemnly swear there’s a method to the madness that is fridge and pantry organization.  When everything thing has its place, you can find what you need easily, and proximity / frequency of use are considered it makes your entire kitchen and cooking experience that much better.  Please tell me I’m not the only kook that feels this way!

TWO: sticking to a plan

We grocery shop every weekend religiously, it’s oddly one of our favorite errands.  Sometimes we hit the market without much forethought, but those are not generally our most successful excursions.  We end up buying what we already have, don’t need, or don’t use. . . and this always results in spending too much money.  What serves us much better is trekking to the store, list at the ready, backed up by a solid meal plan.  Our list tends to start with weekly staples (i.e. bananas, eggs, mushrooms, sweet potatoes) and get rounded out by whatever we need for specific meals that week.  We’re most successful when the meal plan is a solid balance of weeknight favorites we make often (like chili, breakfast for dinner, steak + veg, zoodles) and trying out a new recipe or two.  Leaving options open for a Chipotle or Whole Foods hot bar night are also factored in.

THREE: zero food waste

Going hand in hand with a good plan, is the fantastic feeling when we aren’t wasting food.  This goes for leftovers that become lunches to take to work, produce that’s used before it starts growing funky bits, and never having to smell something before we’re willing to eat it.  Not only does this mean we’re saving money instead of throwing it quite literally in the garbage, but we’re also eating food when it’s at it’s best – fresh, ripe, and delicious.

FOUR: perfectly cooked protein

Before we cooked as often as we do now, I always followed the “cut it down the middle to check” method of seeing whether or not my meat was done. Presenting a chicken breast cut in half just doesn’t have the same appeal as an intact bird fully cooked and full of confidence. While I don’t always get it right, when I manage to time things perfectly to have a just right chop or juicy pink steak, a pat on the back is sure to follow.  Bonus points if you get it right when you’re playing host to others.

As they say, you can’t win if you don’t play. . . so we’re off to the kitchen with fingers crossed for more jackpots!

Denver | LoDo Low Down

In mid-June I was invited to speak at a digital marketing event in Denver.  This gave me the opportunity to combine a few of my favorite pasttimes:

English: Front exterior of Union Station in do...

  • Exploring a new city
  • Advancing my career
  • Getting the heck out of Phoenix in the Summer

As this was my first trip to Denver, and I didn’t have any friends or colleagues in the area, my approach to exploring the city was entirely unorganized.  What ended up happening was a 36-hour trip that resembled a less-debauched version of Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover.

Since the hotel I was booked in was just down the block form the conference venue, there was no need to rent a car.  This meant that my travels were restricted to walking distance, mostly around the Union Station and LoDo* areas.  Here are some of the highlights.

*Lower Downtown

Ink Coffee on Cadence

After a 5am flight and a hour long coach ride from DIA to Union Station, I headed out on foot to see what I could find on the mile or so stroll to my hotel.  While much of the Union Station neighborhood is clearly in a rampant state of growth and on-going construction projects, I was able to find a path down Cadence that led me to Ink Coffee.

Inside, Ink Coffee looked like the kind of place you’d see in the brochure for a new residential development.  Very modern, slightly upscale but not off-putting for a potential neighborhood place. If I wasn’t looking forward to dropping my carry-on at the hotel, I could easily see myself sitting here for a while and reading through some kind of slightly-serious book while taking notes in a crisp new Moleskine.

As for the beverage service, I saw good reviews about their White Chai, so I got the Ginger Spice White Chai to take on my walk-about.  Not knowing how long it would be until I got breakfast, I didn’t want anything too serious, and this frothy, smooth drink had just enough tang to keep things interesting as I headed out.

Caution: The Earl @ Lucky Pie

Caution the Earl beer at Lucky Pie LoDo DenverCaution: The Earl paired with Duck Confit Poutine

That afternoon, I sent out a tweet about meeting up for beers or tea before my presentation, and got a great tip from some locals about an earl grey craft beer that might be found somewhere around town.  Taphunter to the rescue, I was lucky to discover that Caution: The Earl was on tap at nearby pizza “bar” Lucky Pie.

Caution: The Earl was thoroughly an experience worth searching out.  Described as an “English Mild” in the menu, this drink smells exactly like an expertly brewed cup of Earl Grey as you lift it to your mouth.  The best way I can describe the mouth feel is something like a Boddington’s pub ale, but less malty and more crisp.

If I was a more experienced craft beer drinker, I could probably talk about how the bergamot in the earl grey interacts with the brewing process and provides lift without distinctly floral notes, but really I’m just guessing.  Bottom line, if this is on sale somewhere near you, go out and try it.  You might be drinking your regrets, but Caution: The Earl won’t be one of them.

Euclid Hall Sausage

Bourdin Noir Sausage at Euclid Hall LoDo DenverHouse-Made Bourdin Noir Sausage with Kennebec Fries and Crazy Mountain Amber Ale

At most marketing conferences, the organizers provide a box lunch and everyone sits around massive tables, either making awkward small talk, or sitting far too close together and never once speaking.  Looking to avoid this conundrum, I headed out and made my way to Euclid Hall, just off campus from University of Colorado Denver. The lure here was a recommendation about house-made sausages that were can’t-miss (plus the ability to take off my lanyard and get some fresh mountain air).

As advertised, the sausage at Euclid Hall did not disappoint.  On any other day, I might have gone for two or three of their house-made sausages on offer, or the pad thai pig ears, duck confit poutine and brat burger.   As it was, I had a presentation yet to give, so I opted to just go for the Boudin Noir, mainly because the menu said “avec curry e aubergine” and I was intrigued.

The sausage comes with a tour of various mustards, ranging from sweet to spicy to coarse.  In the end, I ran out of sausage before I could firmly decide which mustard paired best with the Bourdin Noir, so a return trip is probably needed for research purposes.

Pigtrain Coffee Shop & ACME Burger & Brats

Pigtrain Coffee ACME Burgers Denver Union StationThe delicious wing of Union Station: ACME Burgers and Pigtrain Coffee

Even though the coach depot is underground and not inside Union Station, this 100 year-old building is not to be missed.  The station itself brought back memories of some of my favorite train stations in Europe, and I was sort of blown away that such a great, curated place existed and most of the Denver locals I talked to seemed to dismiss it’s appeal.

Just inside the front doors, Pigtrain Coffee has a stunning 270-degree coffee bar set-up.  While the staff seemed a little disorganized about their pour-over program, the product I ultimately received was well above commuter quality, and helped improve the hour long wait I had after I missed the first coach back to DIA.

Equally fulfilling was the classic-style burger I got from ACME Burger & Brats.  Similar to some of my favorite Phoenix burgers, ACME’s offering was low on frills, high on quality ingredients and well-seasoned.

Between the ambiance of the train station, the awesome burger and unexpectedly cool coffee bar, I would highly recommend checking out Denver Union Station if you’re in town.  Or if you live there.  Or if you just have several hours to kill between flights in Denver.

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Also in LoDo, I enjoyed my time at Backstage Coffee, Sam’s No 3, and Illegal Pete’s.  For more on those spots, check out our Instagram.  I’m sure I barely scratched the surface, and with all the construction going on, this neighborhood is going to be a great destination for future trips away from the desert.