Weeknight Cooking: Grilled Chicken with Cherry Cola BBQ Sauce REDUX

When this month’s Magazine of the Month, the July 2008 edition of Bon Appetit, hit the shelves, CC and I both looked inside and zeroed in on the same page: Mixed Grill with Cherry Cola BBQ Sauce.

Now there are many, many ways in which CC and I differ in our cooking techniques. The biggest one to note in this case is CC actually likes to spend hours of elaborate cooking while I like to simplify.

Case in point, I have turned the Mixed Grill with Cherry Cola BBQ Sauce recipe into a Weeknight Cooking segment! Behold: the REDUX!

And now for the confessional portion of this post. I have a guilty pleasure in the kitchen. It’s probably not something I should admit to, but I just can’t help myself. When I want a meal out quickly, and it involves grilling meat, there is one man that I turn to, one who never fails, one who is a lean, mean, grilling machine.

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Oh, George. You rock my world.

I love my Foreman grill. In fact, I’m thinking about starting a whole George Foreman category for this site – that’s how much I love it.

For my birthday last year, I bought myself one of the new “G5 Next Grilleration” grills with 5 removable plates. I love it. The plates can be popped right off and tossed into the dishwasher. If you use a George Foreman, something with removable plates is the deal.

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The only thing I’m not sold on is the whole “5 plates” that it came with. Truth be told, I only use the two grilling plates so I think I would have been just as happy with a cheaper model. To anyone who wants to pick up an affordable George, there’s a Next Grilleration 4-Burger Grill with Removable Plates available on amazon.com for only $40 plus tax and shipping. (The link goes to the grill on the amazon.com page if you’re interested.) If you want your George to be a little more classy in the “Platinum” look, you’re going to have to shell out $75. In my opinion, do your wallet a favor and settle for white – this way you can pay more for good food.

I wish I had taken more pictures of this and I’m not sure why I didn’t. Sorry. Since I was only cooking for two, I pulled out two boneless skinless chicken breasts and thawed them. While they were thawing, I put together the BBQ sauce. This is what takes the longest, because it will need time to simmer in the pot and thicken.

Cherry Cola BBQ Sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 12-ounce bottles (ketchup-style) chili sauce
1 12- to 13-ounce jar cherry preserves or jam
1 cup cherry cola (regular, not diet)
1/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon (or more) hot pepper sauce

The directions from epicurious.com – it’s pretty straightforward:

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until golden, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and stir 1 minute. Stir in chili sauce, preserves, cherry cola, brown sugar, and vinegar; bring to simmer, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered until reduced to 4 cups, stirring often to prevent scorching, about 50 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper and more hot pepper sauce, if desired. Transfer to bowl and cool completely. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Basically saut̩ the onions and garlic, then toss in the rest of the ingredients except for the hot pepper sauce, then stir it up and simmer until it is a nice saucy thickness Рabout an hour.

I forgot the hot pepper sauce, but it was still good. This sauce is pretty forgiving in terms of eyeballing ingredients and adding more or less of the ingredients you like. I eyeballed the jam, adding a little more than it called for. Go ahead and play around with it. Also, because I was making sauce for only two chicken breasts, I cut the sauce in half. That needs to simmer for about an hour, and it will get a nice thick texture.

I debated doing the rub and in the end I went with it. I’m so glad I did – the rub is the spice and salt needed to contrast with the sweet sauce. It’s really easy, too.

In a small tupperware container, I mixed together the following spices for the rub:

Spice rub:
2 tablespoons smoked paprika or hot smoked Spanish paprika
2 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
2 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In hindsight, this was a lot of rub for only two chicken breasts. Next time I will cut the spices in half.

After my chicken thawed, I patted it dry with some paper towels, then I set it down on a plastic cutting board. To spread the spice rub on, I just took a little bit of it in my fingers, sprinkled it on the chicken, and then rubbed it around. The spice rub coated the chicken nicely and stuck on there just fine. So if you’re a first time spice rubber (okay, that came out a little weirder than I intended) never fear – the spices will stick, even though you’ve patted your chicken dry.

I then threw the chicken breasts on my George, which was set for medium. The lid was closed so I could get the spicy flavors of the rub into the chicken first. After about 5 minutes, I opened the lid and started basting with the sauce. The lid stayed open after that, and both sides got basted so it did get slightly messy – but that’s what the drip pan and dishwasher safe plates are for! As long as you aren’t glopping it on it won’t be a huge disaster – so don’t go crazy!

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So there it is on the George, cooking away. Periodically we would flip them over and baste with a little more sauce, but after the sauce starts going on, the chicken only takes another 10 – 15 minutes more to cook.

I was really, really pleased with the outcome. The mess the whole dish makes is minimal and, with clean up, there’s not a lot of effort going on here. To make it feel even more like an outdoor event, we took our meals to the patio and ate them with a side of sweet corn and leftover cherry soda. Now that I’m looking at the picture, I think cornbread would have rocked with it. Hrm. Next time…

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It’s (pseudo) BBQ, ya’ll!

Strawberry Granita

No BBQ is complete without a really great dessert. Search your feelings, Luke. You know it to be true.

The problem with producing the perfect BBQ dessert is that, 9 times out of 10, preparing the rest of the BBQ takes so long that the dessert ends up being an afterthought: store bought ice cream, store bought popcicles tasting faintly of sugar water and, the worst offender of them all, brownies made from a box. Why do that to yourself? After going the extra mile for some amazing grilling and accompaniments, the lasting impression of your BBQ shouldn’t be store bought anything.

Your dessert problems are solved, people: I have discovered BBQ dessert awesomeness.

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A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a magazine called “Tastes of Italia”. The cover had a picture of a raspberry granita on the front. The name is something I only remembered from college and associated with a cheap alcohol drink at a bad party. (Note to college party goers: Regardless of how many ditsy drunk girls tell you it tastes good, it doesn’t.) Although the dessert does not call for alcohol, nor does it contain any of the things I remembered in the drink, I passed the recipe by.

The next time I flipped through the magazine, I stopped at the article and looked at it again, then reluctantly decided against it. I’m not sure how many times I flipped through the magazine and followed the same pattern, reluctantly looking at the recipe, but at one point I decided to just go ahead and give it a shot.

It’s easy, involves the decadence of fresh fruit, and is cold – the perfect way to wrap up a BBQ. Aside from the impressiveness of having a fresh fruit dessert at your table, it’s perfect for those who aren’t as gifted at baking. How I handled the dessert portion is that I prepared the granita right before worrying about the rest of the BBQ food, then threw it into the freezer to chill. The dessert prep takes 15 – 20 minutes total, and that includes clean up.

The recipe can be made with many different fruits – raspberries, blueberries, etc. If you use raspberries, my recommendation would be to strain out the seeds after pureeing. For watermelon, omit the lemon zest. The original recipe called for raspberries, but strawberries happen to be cheaper right now so I grabbed those instead.

Strawberry Granita
2 cups pureed strawberries
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 rounded tablespoon of lemon zest

Wash your berries, cut the tops off (for strawberries), and toss those beautiful babies into your blender.

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Put the puree in a large pot along with the water, sugar and lemon zest. Turn your burner onto medium-low and cook long enough so that the sugar crystals dissolve. Remember to use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides, so you don’t miss sugar crystals that need to be mixed in. The cooking process only took a few minutes for me – the mixture was a nice lukewarm temperature when it was ready.

Pour the mixture into a glass baking dish and set it in your freezer. Let it chill for a couple of hours. The recipe says two hours, but mine took about three.

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When it is frozen, it will be a soft-frozen, much like a sorbet. Take a fork and run it through the granita, breaking it up. It will look grainy.

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Serve cold. I thought it tasted a lot like a fresh and frozen Strawberry Julius, but the AwK admin thought it tasted like pure win.

Want to spruce it up a bit upon serving? The “glasses” you see in the photo are actually plastic. I picked them up for a couple of dollars each in my local grocery store’s picnic section: They are kid-tested, dishwasher safe, and AwK approved.

Happy BBQ’ing.