Sausage-Stuffed Pepper Kabobs

This is my entry in the Johnsonville® Kabob Creations contest. I stuff mini bell peppers with chunks of their chicken sausage to create a simple, quick and light summer dish that is perfect for the grill.

I made two batches of these kabobs. For the first I used the Three Cheese Italian Style, and for the other I used their Chipotle Monterey Jack variety. Both were good, but the chipotle version was the clear winner at our house. It just had a bolder flavor, and the added touch of spiciness was welcome.

Sausage-Stuffed Pepper Kabobs

The trick to these is finding mini bell peppers that are large enough to hold the sausage pieces without splitting. I was somewhat successful, but there came a time where I just had to make what I had work.

Ingredients
1 package (12 oz) Johnsonville® chicken sausage (any variety), sliced to 1"
8-10 Mini bell peppers, sliced to 1"
1 medium Red onion, peeled and quartered so that the petals are intact
2 tsp Your favorite BBQ seasoning (I used my Memphis-style rub)
2 Tbsp Honey
1 Tbsp Butter, unsalted, melted
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Canola oil cooking spray

Method
Note: If you use wooden skewers be sure to soak them in water for at least an hour before assembling your kabobs. This will help to prevent them from burning.

Whisk together the honey, butter and Worcestershire sauce in a small bowl and set aside.

Insert each piece of sausage into a ring of pepper as best you can. As the pieces of pepper get smaller you will have to trim the sausage pieces to fit. Some of the rings will split, but that's fine.

Sausage-Stuffed Pepper Kabobs

Prepare your grill for direct grilling at medium heat (300-325°).

Thread the wrapped sausage onto a skewer with a piece of onion between each. Repeat with the remaining sausage.

Sausage-Stuffed Pepper Kabobs

Spray all sides of each kabob with the cooking spray and grill them direct for about four minutes. Turn them over, brush with the honey mixture, and grill another 4-5 minutes.

Sausage-Stuffed Pepper Kabobs

Brush again with the honey mixture, then remove the kabobs from the grill.

Serve and enjoy.

Serving suggestions: I served mine on saffron rice with some grilled pineapple. They would also be great tossed into some simple butter and garlic pasta.

Disclaimer: This post is in partnership with Johnsonville®, but the recipe is completely my own.

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Candied Bacon & Praline Ice Cream

Earlier this month I posted my Pig Pralines recipe and I promised that they would be used in ice cream. Well, the time has come and here it is.

This is a serious experiment in porcine dessert indulgence. It's rich and creamy homemade vanilla ice cream with tidbits of pig candy and bacon-infused pralines riddled throughout. The savory, sweet and slight spiciness of the bacon are magical with the cool creaminess of the ice cream.

For the ice cream I used my old-school White Mountain ice cream maker and a really simple no-cook (some may say cheater) base recipe. You can use your favorite recipe in whatever ice cream maker you have.

Ingredients
3 cups Heavy whipping cream
2 cups Whole milk
1 can (14 oz) Sweetened condensed milk
2 Tbsp Vanilla extract (the real stuff, please)
7 slices Pig Candy, chopped
1 cup Pig Pralines, rough chopped

Method
Combine the cream, milk, condensed milk and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and whisk well until all of the ingredients are completely incorporated. Cover and refrigerate.

Prepare your ice cream maker and freeze the ice cream per the instructions.

Gently fold the bacon and pralines into the soft ice cream and freeze in an airtight container until it hardens (3-4 hours).

Serve and enjoy! I served mine with a drizzle of a homemade maple caramel and some additional chopped bacon and pralines.

Makes about 4 quarts

Candied Bacon & Praline Ice Cream

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Review: Kernel Season's

Recently I was approached by the folks at Kernel Season's and they asked me if I wanted to review a few samples of their popcorn seasonings. I'll be honest and say that at first I wasn't quite sure that my readers would be all that interested, that is until I saw their great array of flavors.

One look at their list of flavors makes it very obvious that these aren't your average run-of-the-mill popcorn seasonings. With flavors like barbecue (hello!), buffalo wing, jalepeno cheddar, bacon cheddar, and pizza, how can a guy possibly go wrong?

They sent me four flavors -- barbecue, bacon cheddar, buffalo wing, and pizza. I tasted each flavor straight from the jar and I thought that they were all very true to their name, but of course the real test would be on popcorn. We tried them all in various batches of freshly popped corn.

I popped a few quarts of fresh corn using peanut oil. A great method is to heat the oil in a large pot, covered, at just over medium heat with just four or five kernels in the oil. Once those kernels pop, move the pot off of the heat for about thirty seconds. At that point pour in the corn (about 1/2 cup to 3 tablespoons of oil) and return the pot to the heat. Cover the pot with the lid tilted to vent some of the steam. Shake the pot on the burner every few seconds. Most of the corn will pop within about a minute or so. You'll know it's done when there are several seconds of silence between pops. When you reach that point, immediately pour the corn into a large bowl. Using this method you will notice that there are very few un-popped kernels and very little, if any, burned corn.

As I mentioned, we tried the seasonings a few times and we enjoyed each, with the exception of the buffalo wing flavor. That was just too potent, and the vinegar flavor shot straight into our nostrils in an off-putting way. It mellowed a bit as we ate it, but it was definitely our least favorite.

Our overwhelming favorite was actually a blend of the barbecue and bacon-cheddar. That was some serious cheesy, smoky and slightly sweet popcorn bliss. Blending flavors really is a great way to use Kernel Season's. You can create your own signature flavored popcorn with just a few shakes of this and that.

Oh, and don't stop at popcorn! These seasonings would be great on French fries, tater tots, baked potatoes, or anything else that could use a blast of flavor. I think that some homemade potato chips would be an outstanding canvas for these seasonings. Shoot, I'd bet that some would even be a great on meat headed for the grill.

Overall we really enjoyed the Kernel Season's product and I recommend them.

Disclaimer: The seasonings were provided to me free of charge for the purpose of this review, but the thoughts expressed are entirely my own.

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Pig Pralines

Here's a funky and piglicious twist on pralines. You'll see these appear in a supporting role in my upcoming Pig Candy Praline Ice Cream recipe, so I thought I'd share this recipe first as a bit of a teaser. I'm mean like that.

This is a very simple recipe. I just winged it and didn't use a candy thermometer. It's pretty hard to mess this up.

Ingredients
1 cup Pecan halves
1 Tbsp Bacon drippings
1/3 cup Brown sugar, golden/light
2 Tbsp Maple syrup (the real stuff, of course)
1/4 tsp Ground cayenne (optional, but recommended)
Pinch Chinese five spice

Method
Heat the bacon drippings in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat.

Add the remaining ingredients and cook until the sugar melts and comes just to a gentle boil, stirring constantly. Cook three minutes more, continuing to stir constantly.

Remove the pan from the heat and let the nuts cool in the pan, stirring occasionally.

Note: If the pecans are still sticky after they've cooled a bit, just toss them with a little more brown sugar.

Makes 1 cup.

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Competition BBQ, Pit Barrel-style
Photo courtesy of Noah Glanville, Pit Barrel Cooker Company

Last weekend I competed at the Northwest Ribfest across town in Meridian, Idaho. I hadn't competed since 2010 because, quite frankly, it had gotten to the point to where it was more drudgery than fun. Fortunately for me, like riding a bike, you never forget how to compete once you've done it a few times. This time out I had an interesting and very welcome twist.

Back in March I reviewed the Pit Barrel Cooker (here and here). Well, the founder and president of the company, Noah Glanville graciously offered to bring a load of four barrels all the way from the Denver area and hang out for the competition. I typically cook on my homemade Ugly Drum Smokers (UDS's), but I was very eager to cook an entire competition on the Pit Barrels. Noah had competed for the first time using his barrels just the weekend prior. He did very well for a first-timer, including taking eight place in pork among a very solid field of competitors. I was blown away, especially when he told me that he had never cooked a pork butt on a PBC before then.

Noah arrived Friday afternoon (after a 13-hour drive with only a short nap along the way) and we set-up for the traditional cook's potluck. Noah brought tri-tip and chicken and cooked it all in the Pit Barrels. The three barrels cooked enough meat to serve about 80 people. The meat was outstanding as always, so we had some seriously happy eaters.

Competition BBQ, Pit Barrel-style

I always enjoy changing things up a bit at each competition. I don't think that I've ever cooked the same way twice, and this was certainly no exception. I had cooked three of the four competition meats (chicken, pork ribs, pulled pork, and brisket) on my barrel at home, but I had never done a brisket. Brisket is widely considered to be the most difficult of the competition meats to cook, so I was a bit concerned.

In addition to using new competition cookers, I decided that I was going to stay true to the vertical cooking method of the PBC and hang all four meats. As if there weren't enough variables, I also decided to cook Cornish game hens (12 halves) for my chicken turn-in. Although I had cooked a bunch of chicken on the barrel, I'd never cooked hens. All of this variation caused me to pretty much throw my entire known timeline out the window. Noah's experience the week before really helped provide some valuable reference points as we guesstimated the new timeline. We were almost literally making it up as we went along.

Competition BBQ, Pit Barrel-style
Photo courtesy of Noah Glanville, Pit Barrel Cooker Company

As for the cook, I was amazed at how smoothly it went given that I was rusty. Things just fell into place and the timing was right on the money, with the exception of starting the chicken a little late, which rushed the first turn-in box prep.

I wish that we had taken a picture of the chicken box. I was able to fit seven whole leg quarters in the box, and it really looked great. The flavor and juiciness were outstanding, as Pit Barrel chicken always is.

The ribs were really good, and it showed in the scoring. I hung three racks of St. Louis spareribs for two hours, wrapped them in foil for a little over an hour, then glazed them on the grate that's included with the Pit Barrel. Like the chicken, I wish that we had taken a picture of the finished box.

As for the pork, my family said it was some of the best that I've ever cooked. That amazed me since it was only the second time that I'd cooked a pork butt in the barrel. It was eight pounds raw and it took five hours to cook, which included wrapping it in foil and finishing it on the grate. The crust (bark) was outstanding and the texture was dead-on.

Competition BBQ, Pit Barrel-style

We hung the brisket (about 11 pounds trimmed) in the same barrel as the pork and it was done in less than six hours (also wrapped and finished on the grate). I was tending other things and forgot to check the temperature as often as I should, so it overcooked by a few degrees. The color and tenderness were great, the flavor was good, but it was a touch dry.

Competition BBQ, Pit Barrel-style

Noah and I sampled, analyzed and discussed each meat as I was cutting, boxing and turning in. We were very pleased with the results and we thought that we had a good shot at some calls to the stage during the awards ceremony. My family was there sampling and offering moral support. Our girls really dig hanging out at competitions and they are great cheerleaders.

After the cook Noah cleaned and re-boxed the three cookers that we used. He very graciously gave a cooker to each competitor that took first in a category, and one to the overall grand champion. Cooks really love extra spoils like that, and I thank Noah for offering them. He is a serious class act, and I'm blessed to call him a friend.

In the end we took 10th in chicken, 7th in ribs, 10th in pork, and 14th in brisket among a strong field of 25. It was a solid showing and I was very happy with everything that I turned in. The Pit Barrel Cooker is no joke in competition! I had a great time hanging out with Noah and I certainly appreciated all of his help and company.

I still consider myself to be in Brett Favre-style retirement from competition, but I really did enjoy seeing my friends and being in the familiar competition environment. That's the part that I'll always love. There are no people like barbecue people.

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