The Life, Death, and Life of the O-Grill

A portable BBQ grill I really like.

_images_ogrill_open.jpgThe Iroda O-Grill.

Back in May 2010, the first season I drove my “mobile mansion” north for my summer job, I stopped along the way to pick up a portable gas grill. I stopped at the Camping World in Junction City, OR — now apparently closed — for the night and shopped before they closed for the day. I wound up with an Iroda O-Grill: a small clamshell style grill with 225 square inches of grilling space that used a propane cylinder for fuel.

I soon grew to love the grill. It was easy to set up and store, easy to clean, easy to use, and easy to find fuel for. I’d fire it up, let it run on highest temperature for 5 minutes, and clean it with a wire brush. Then I’d turn it down to its lowest setting and grill whatever I liked: steak, fish, vegetables — even tofu. You had to cook on its lowest setting; the darn thing put out so much heat with the lid closed that anything higher than that would cook much too quickly.

I used it all that summer and the next. When I brought the RV back to Arizona for the winter of 2010/11, I even brought the grill home to my house. It was a hell of a lot easier to use than the big Jennaire grill my wasband had bought for the patio — a grill I never seemed to be able to light properly. The darn thing always started on the first button push. Always.

The summer of 2013 was summer #4 for the grill. Although it was just starting to show its age — mostly from the time spent outdoors at the Quincy golf course RV park where it was sprinkled on every night by the irrigation system — but was running perfectly well. That is until it caught fire while grilling up some brats.

The fire was hot and fierce. Water from my poor man’s hot tub nearby extinguished it. With a few twists, the gas can was removed and the danger was over.

Burned Grill   Burned Table
Death of the O-Grill (and the table it sat on).

But my O-Gill had so obviously grilled its last brat. The back of the grill surface was melted off and one of the legs was melted sideways so it didn’t even sit level anymore. Even the folding table it had been sitting on was pretty much destroyed.

I immediately looked for a replacement. Yeah, I know it had caught fire, but it had given me four solid seasons of grilling before that. I liked it. It was worth replacing.

A search online brought up more than just shopping results. It brought up the recall notice. From the notice:

Hazard: The regulator on the grill can leak gas which can ignite, posing a fire and burn hazard to consumers.
Incidents/Injuries: Uni-O has received 10 reports of grills catching fire. No injuries or property damage have been reported.
Description: This recall involves Iroda O-Grill models 1000 and 3000 produced before 2010. Some were also sold under the Tailgate Gear brand. Both models are lightweight, portable, clamshell-type propane grills with steel bodies, cast iron cooking surfaces, retractable legs and a handle. They can be used with either 1-pound propane cylinders or 20-pound propane tanks. The grills come in orange, red, green, blue, silver and black and have the words “O-Grill” stamped on the metal grill cover. Recalled O-Grills do not have ventilation slots in the regulator cover where the propane bottle screws in. Grills with ventilation slots in the regulator cover are not subject to the recall.

Oops.

The notice was more than 18 months old, but I figured that a replacement would be a heck of a lot cheaper than a new grill (which was now selling for $40 more). So I made the necessary phone calls. Eventually, I spoke with a very nice man who asked me some questions about the grill and promised to send me a new one. He even asked what color I wanted. (I picked red.) All he asked is that I send back the old grill in the new grill’s shipping box.

Done and done.

My New O-GrillMy new O-Grill looks a lot like my old one, but it’s red instead of orange.

The new grill, which arrived just yesterday, looks a lot like the old one, although there is a difference in the grill design. This one has a sort of barrier between the grill and the area behind it, near the cover hinge. It works pretty much the same, although I have to admit it doesn’t fire up on the first button push every time. (Not yet, anyway.)

I do recommend this grill. It’s great for camping or tailgating. Very portable and very easy to use. It makes a good complement to my Traeger by providing a quick and efficient way to sear the BBQ sauce on the ribs I’m always smoking.

Adventures in Cheese-Making

There’s a whole world to explore.

I started making homemade cheese in September 2013 and have been blogging about it periodically. If you’re interested in reading the other posts in this series, follow the Adventures in Cheese-Making tag. Keep in mind that the most recent posts always appear first on this blog.

I love cheese. I mean, who doesn’t?

I love just about any kind of cheese, but I especially love the soft mellow kind like bries. I like cheese that has a secret flavor you can taste only when you let it rise to room temperature before eating and eat it either alone or with a plain cracker. The hint of nuts or earthiness that lingers on your tongue after the cheese has been swallowed.

CheesemongerThere’s an excellent cheese shop not far from where I live: The Cheesemonger in Leavenworth. It — and the smoked meat house called Cured — is the only reason I go to that tourist town. I go early in the day, before the crowds arrive. I prefer taking my motorcycle, since there’s always motorcycle parking right outside Cured. I descend into the basement shop, make my way past the milling tourists nibbling on samples of cheddar and swiss, and find one of the many helpful counter people. Then I place my order, rattling off the names of the cheeses I like best: triple cream brie, morbier, butter cheese, and whatever blue-veined cheese behind the glass catches my eye. I whisper the secret password to get my local discount on checkout, leave a tip, and climb back out into the sunlight while the same milling tourists stand uncertain on how to proceed. In and out in a flash.

If you’re in the area and like cheese — again, who doesn’t? — I highly recommend a visit to this shop.

Anyway, my love of cheese got me interested in making cheese. This interest was fed by my attendance at a cheese-making class I took in early August. Yes, special ingredients and equipment was needed, but it wasn’t difficult to do. And it might be interesting. And heck — the end product was cheese.

It’s not as if this was brand new to me, either. Last autumn, I made yogurt. I’d had a great deal of success with that — so much, in fact, that I made all my own yogurt while I was living in my Arizona house. cheese-making was similar and certainly should be within my capabilities.

Yesterday, I made my first batch of “basic cheese.” Although I won’t be able to taste it for about a month, I also made ricotta cheese from the whey and got to taste that right away.

I realized that my cheese-making adventures were blog-worthy — certainly enough to document for future reference. So if you’re interested at all in making cheese, follow along with me as I take you though my learning process. I’ll write posts in this series as I find time and would certainly love to get comments from other folks exploring home cheese-making.

Me and My Traeger

I enjoy my first rack of ribs, smoked to perfection on my new grill.

Grilling has been a part of my life for the past 30 or so years. I had a grill in Queens (New York), New Jersey, and Arizona. Even when I lived just three months in Yarnell, AZ back in 1995, I bought a little hibachi and used it almost every evening to grill up some meat and vegetables over charcoals for dinner. My old RV had a built-in gas grill and when I got my new RV, the “mobile mansion” back in 2010, I bought a small gas grill to satisfy my craving for grilled food.

I grill year-round, several times a week.

About 10 years ago, I attended a cookout at Prescott’s Love Field airport. My host was cooking on a Traeger Grill. The benefit of the grill was clear: it was fed wood pellets — not gas or charcoal — and it automatically maintained any temperature you set it at. The fact that it was also capable of smoking meat made it something I wanted. Badly.

Time passed. I wasn’t in charge of procuring grills for my home. Someone else was. And he liked gas.

Whatever.

I did have a smoker for a while. I got it from a friend about eight to ten years ago, right before she moved to Colorado. I traded an old bird perch — she has a parrot, too — for it. It was a good-sized traditional smoker with an external firebox and smokestack. It worked well — on the few instances I took the time to use it. Smoking, you see, was all about time — time preparing the wood, time starting the fire, time getting it up to temperature, time checking the temperature, time adding the wood, time checking the temperature, time adding the wood, time checking the temperature — well, you get the idea. When I smoked something, I had to hang around and tend to the smoker. Getting a remote thermometer helped — at least I could monitor the temperature without going outside. But it was still a pain in the butt.

I gave away the smoker. I traded it for a new heating element installed on my hot tub. (Ironically, I gave away the hot tub, too. I traded it for some help moving furniture out of my house last month.)

I’m living in my RV again this summer, prepping to build a custom home on 10 acres of view property in Malaga, WA. That home is going to need a new grill. And this time, I’m in charge.

My Traeger GrillSo I bought the grill I’ve been wanting for the past 10 years. A Traeger.

I bought the “Junior.” It’s the second smallest model and it now comes with the same digital LED thermostat previously available only on the larger, more costly models. Not that the grill was cheap — it wasn’t. But the $50 rebate did help convince me to buy now.

After all, why the hell not?

I bought it at Stan’s Merry Mart in Wenatchee. (I love that store. It’s so funky-weird. Hell, just look at its sign.) Just the day before, a young sales guy had almost talked me into it. I left, thought about it some more, and came back to buy it. They loaded it into the back of my truck with a big bag of mesquite pellets and I drove it back to the Mobile Mansion.

The next day, I assembled it. (If you watch the time-lapse video here, see if you can see the mistake I made and fixed.) But I couldn’t use it that day — I was going to Wenatchee to meet someone new and watch him play softball. Over dinner, I told my new friend about my new grill. I invited him over for the christening celebration: two racks of ribs, smoked. We’d go for a helicopter ride while we waited for the ribs to finish cooking.

And that’s what we did.

Before he came, I prepped the meat by covering it with a mesquite rub. I prepped the Traeger by doing its initial start and seasoning the porcelain grill. Then I turned the thermostat to 250, which brought the cooking chamber up to around 225 — the recommended temperature. I put the ribs on the grill, closed the lid, and went about my business without having to check the temperature or add fuel even once.

Amazing RibsWhen we got back from our flight, the ribs were nearly done. They looked amazing. I made us some salad and corn on the cob, then brushed the smaller of the two racks with BBQ sauce and threw it on my old grill, set to high, to caramelize the sauce onto them.

The finished product was perfect.

What’s next? I’ve been thinking about salmon…

Root Vegetable Soup

All natural, easy to make, and sweet as candy.

Root Vegetable SoupI know winter is over, but that doesn’t stop me from making soup. Soup, after all, is comfort food, and we can all use a little comfort now and then — some more than others.

Today’s concoction: my root vegetable soup.

I came upon this recipe a while back by accident. I was making some other kind of soup and simply put too many vegetables into it. The vegetable flavor overpowered the intended flavor — and it tasted good.

Here’s how I made it today.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped.
  • 3 stalks celery, cut into 1/4 inch pieces.
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1/4 inch pieces.
  • 1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and then cut into 1/4 inch pieces.
  • 1 large parsnip, cut into 1/4 inch pieces.
  • 1 medium purple-top turnip, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces.
  • Water

You can also add or substitute in leeks (which I forgot to buy), yellow squash (in addition to or in place of zucchini), and other root vegetables. You don’t want to add vegetables that would take away that sweet taste, like peppers. Ick.

Of course, a real root vegetable soup would exclude the celery and zucchini. But I wouldn’t put potatoes in, even though they are root vegetables.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you can be as creative as you like here.

You can also make or buy pre-made meatballs to add to the soup during or after the cooking process. I admit I buy the pre-made chicken meatballs, sold in vacuum packs in the supermarket section when you can find chicken sausage, etc.

You’ll note that the recipe does not include any seasoning. I don’t think it needs it. The vegetables are extremely sweet and flavorful. You might try adding herbs like sage or tarragon if you like that flavor, though. I use salted butter and that’s enough salt for me.

Instructions:

  1. In a medium to large pot, melt the butter on medium to low heat.
  2. Add the vegetables. I added them one by one as I prepared them in the order listed above. Each time I added one, I stirred the pot to keep the vegetables covered with the butter.
  3. Gently sauté the vegetables for 5 to 10 minutes. Do not allow them to brown.
  4. Add enough water to cover all the vegetables.
  5. Bring contents of pot to a boil, then cover pot and turn down to simmer.
  6. If you’re adding meatballs, this might be a good time to do it.
  7. Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until all vegetables are tender.
  8. Serve hot and enjoy!

If you like a soupier soup, add more water up front. I like mine to be more of a bowl of vegetables with vegetable broth, so I minimize the amount of water. (You can always add water later; you can’t take it away.)

I also thought about pureeing the soup in a blender, but I don’t have a blender. (It broke last year and was never replaced.) That might be something to try once I settle down again and get a blender.

15-Bean Soup

No, not just 15 beans. 15 kinds of beans.

Bean SoupThe other day, I made 15-bean soup, a great, hearty dish, especially good on cold days.

One of my Facebook friends asked what recipe I used. I told her I made it up as I went along. Here’s the recipe as I remember it. (This recipe should also work well for pea soup; just use split peas instead of the bean mix.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag dried beans. I used 15-bean mix, but you might want to try a different mix. The problem with the 15-bean mix is that it includes black beans which, when cooked, make the soup dark and uglier than it needs to be. But it still tastes good. If the beans came with any sort of soup “flavor packet,” throw it away.
  • Ham hocks. I used a package of 3. Two of them didn’t have much meat on them, but the third had a lot of meat. You could, if you prefer, use about 1/4 pound lean, thick sliced bacon (cut into 1-inch pieces) or smoked sausage (cut into 1-inch pieces). Or you could leave this out entirely if you want a vegetarian soup.
  • 1 cup carrots, cut into 1-inch slices. I used baby carrots, halved.
  • 1 cup celery, cut into 1-inch slices.
  • 1 large onion, chopped.
  • 1 tsp dried thyme.
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon.
  • 1 tsp dried sage. (The sage I had at home had evidence of mold, so I didn’t use any.)
  • 2 bay leaves.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Instructions:

  1. Rinse the beans, then put them in a pot with enough water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Soak for an hour, then drain. Then return to pot, cover with water again, and allow to soak overnight.
  2. Drain the beans again, then return to the pot.
  3. Add 6-7 cups water and ham hocks and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer about 3 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent beans from sticking to the bottom of the pot. During this time, it may be necessary to skim some ugly foam off the top. I use a slotted spoon.
  5. Remove the ham hocks from the pot and set aside to cool.
  6. Add the vegetables and herbs to the pot and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer.
  7. Remove meat from ham hocks and return it to the pot. Discard fat, skin, and bones. (At this time, if there isn’t enough meat, you can add diced ham or something similar. I really like a meaty soup.)
  8. Continue simmering until vegetables are done.

Serve hot with some crusty bread.

I like a thick soup, so I usually just add 6 cups of water in step 3. If the soup seems to be too thick by step 5, I add more boiling water. The other day, I added about a cup to bring it up to 7 cups.

In all honesty, I’m clueless about herbs. I guessed on these and it tasted good.

I don’t know if it matters if you cover it. I covered it after step 6.

This soup freezes well. The recipe yielded about 3 quarts of soup; I divided most of it into pint-sized plastic containers, cooled it in the fridge, and then put most of them in the freezer. When I’m ready to eat the frozen soup, I can simply transfer it into a microwave safe dish and zap it on medium until done, stirring a few times along the way. Or let it defrost on the countertop and heat it on high until hot.

If you make it, let me know what you think.