Eccentric, Eclectic California Culinary


Gangsta Grillz


Cowboy-style Calabasa Cappuccino

Thirst to imbibe a velvety mug of October?  After that Halloween cookout, you surely want to stay awake and fully digest that slab of sirloin.  With a little creativity, you can lay down some al fresco barista skills and capture a cup of fall with some gourmet pumpkin-infused perk.

This time every year, The Man (in this instance, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz) starts rolling out his holiday drink line up.  Eggnog and gingerbread lattes.  Peppermint Mochas. And at Seattle’s Best (which the man also owns), Pumpkin Crème Lattes. All the marvelous tongue  titillating tastes of fall and winter infused into your daily demitasse, warming you up when you need it most. As a perk purist, I’m far from a fan of flavored coffees, aforementioned caffeine delivery service serving bean-soaked silt in siren-emblazoned Venti cups—and as an equally fusspot foodie and kitchen minimalism-monger who always prefers letting flavors speak for themselves, I honestly equate the idea to drowning a really rank meatloaf in a bottle of Heinz.  Yet the sound of sweet, savory holiday cheer-filled caffeinated excellence seemed hard not to love.  What I didn’t love, however: the sugary syrups used to give them those flavors.  No thanks.

But last winter, I stumbled upon my solution completely by chance: the Fall Harvest Pumpkin Spice Roast at Stew Leonard’s (which also seems to be Connecticut’s only place to score tri-tip).  I’m not going to lie; my pretentious palate almost got the best of me when I paused to ponder whether this farm fresh labyrinth chock full of cheeseball animatronic animals and ambient aromas of actual cheese could possibly purvey palatable perk.  Should I really buy coffee from the Disneyland of dairy stores?  Given it was cheap enough and I still had stockpiles of Lavazza sitting at home in case it didn’t work out, I figured it was worth a shot—so upon arriving home, I immediately dropped two of them, steamed some milk and free-poured a wet cappuccino.

Words cannot describe that pure sensory-orgasmic bliss in that cup.

Ground on Setting 6 in my Baratza burr grinder, this blend yielded bodied, smoky espresso with a rich crema and smooth acidity—a harmonious cornucopia of infused, intrinsic flavors rather than the sugar-coated mask which follows flavor syrups. Suddenly, flavored coffees didn’t seem so bad.

From feathery lattes to Americanos to cappuccinos garnished with nutmeg or graham cracker dust, the possibilities are ethereal and endless.  For an added boost, I recommend a hint of vanilla essence.  (A pump of Monin and Torani sugar free vanilla syrup will suffice.  For those on the Left Coast, I reccomend The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s no sugar added French Vanilla Deluxe powder).  To take your calabasa capp a little more hardcore, Torani offers a Pumpkin Pie syrup in sugar free and filled varieties. And if you really like to live dangerously, dump some shots over milk into your morning breakfast  cereal.  Whole grain, granola or quinoa-based bowls are probably best  for tolerating the tangy flavor (i.e., pairing with Lucky Charms probably isn’t a good idea).

Stew’s isn’t the only place selling pumpkin spice roast, but I can’t imagine there being one much better.  Despite the bag being emblazoned with a straw hat-sporting man-boy milking a smiling cow, their roasters are as serious as quadruple bypass you’d need from some of the store’s other offerings—even if they are clad in red crew neck sweatshirts straight out of a bad ’80s flick. They have three locations in the New York metropolitan area (South Norwalk, Danbury and Yonkers) and a fourth further into Connecticut.  Slave to the Grind in Bronxville and Coffee Labs in Tarrytown, a stone’s throw from Halloween’s hometown of Sleepy Hollow, are also rumored to stock a similar blend to get in spooky spirits.

My only complaint?  It’s only offered three months out of the year,  leaving me craving it for the rest!

Take a shot for yourself:

You will need:
Espresso-ground coffee
Milk of your choice
Bottled water (Purified water like Aquafina or Dasani has less mineral content and blends better than spring water)
Vanilla flavor essence (optional)
Portable espresso maker (like this one, sold at REI) or Moka pot
Battery-operated milk frother (Bodum’s Schiuma Turbo runs about $10)
Frothing pitcher (a stoneware cup can suffice)
Frothing thermometer
Cup or mug (8 or 12 oz. best)
Spoon (for foam)

Start by heating the milk. Place half-full pitcher on grill (raised to provide medium heat) and warm to 135-40ºF, pulsing at regular intervals with the frothing wand.  As milk nears proper temperature, prepare the espresso to allow for minimal sitting time. To serve, pour 1-2 shots into cup and top half with milk, using spoon to hold back foam, then fill remaining space with foam.

If you don’t want to invest in the necessary doodads, the Pumpkin Spice blend makes a mean cup of cowboy coffee which could be the base for a much easier-to-prepare caffe au lait.

Backhead compatible? Indeed, my java juggernauts!  On oil-fired locomotives equipped with damper-typed firedoors, place espresso-producing apparatus on ledge of door for fastest results.  Tallow trays and hydrostatic lubriactors work equally well—and double as great cupwarmers.


CBH in Wine Enthusiast

Phil’s Shrimp Shiskies recipe ran online at Wine Enthusiast Magazine, along with a shameless plug for backhead cooking and the CBH!
(For full article text, see

Cowboy Hibachi Clam Chowder

When Phil Reader and I first designed my Cowboy Hibachi three years ago, I immediately envisioned just one thing: dutch oven clam chowder.  At long last, with a new Lodge No. 10 dutch oven and a labor day weekend cookout providing the perfect excuse to experiment, the dream finally became reality–and the result was well worth the wait.

It may seem nothing short of sacrilege to take a grilling rig built on a cattle ranch in California and convert it for cooking meet without feet.  From first weld, my hibachi was destined for drastically different surroundings: the family beach house in the Hamptons.  My family has maintained a summer residence here for four generations, and while we never wrangled cattle, we’ve fished our fair share of shellfish for many waistline-expanding clam bakes. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s home to the first and oldest-operating cattle ranch in the entire United States, Deep Hollow Ranch in Montauk—est. 1658 and still going strong.

Paying homage both to familial and Hamptons heritage, I deviated from CBH design norm and styled my grill with a touch of nautical flair.  The base (very) features a lip to roughly resemble an old whaling pot, once as common a sight in Sag Harbor as “citiot” Manhattanite tourists today.  The dutch oven hangers were made with round stock rather than square to appear as fish hooks, and instead of horseshoes for handles, mine has dock cleats.

Everette and owner/chef Jamie of Mommylou's Cheesecake perform the official taste test

My calling as a chowder cook came naturally.  Throughout my youth, I watched in awe as my grandfather, a military man with an exceptionally hearty appetite after long famished years in German POW camp, would wander out at morning low tide wielding his trusty clam rake and Seahawk inflatable rowboat, returning with weighted down swim trunks brimming from the pockets with quahogs. Chowder lunches were a regular ritual, and I’ve been hooked on New England-style variety ever since. As a college student in San Luis Obispo, however, I had an epiphany upon my first bowl at what would become a regular pilgrimage: Splash Cafe.  A single spoonful from that sourdough bread bowl instantaneously redefined my definition of clam chowder, and from that moment on I’ve been determined to crack their covert recipe.

At least as far as I’m concerned, Splash (though closely tied with Steamer’s of Pismo and Bosco’s Bones & Brew in Sunol) bowls the best chowder on the planet.  Right Coasters find it rather bizarre when I tell them the best New England clam chowder I’ve had is from California.  But from Portland, Maine to Montauk to the Gold Coast of Connecticut, I’ve slurped not a single serving that can measure up, no matter how many native New Englanders can spoon from the same crock and claim it excellent.  Maybe my palate was just spoiled in San Luis Obispo.  Even despite all my youthful years of chowder chowing at Gosman’s Dock, a personal favorite, even theirs just doesn’t cut it.  Once you go Splash, you just never go back.

Their secret recipe remains a closely guarded one, and inherently immune to the constant courtship of food magazines hankering to break it.  Nevertheless, after much research, I sourced the best sounding ingredients from a half-dozen recipes and decided to take a stab at adapting my own.  Mind you, it’s still no Splash, but I must say the taste comes close, and it sure beats the steamer water 9/10 restaurants call “clam chowder” by 150% (at least IMHO, anyway).  Those used to the latter may find it a bit heavy, so “cup” portions are best, especially for first-timers–and don’t even try and justify it into your diet.  In any case, I no longer need to wait until the next person airmails me another birthday package from Pismo on dry ice.  If only my grandfather was still here for the taste test!


(*at a loss for a better name, I’ve named it for the horse show going down the weekend I first cooked it, always good reason to avoid area restaurants and keep it real in the backyard)

Yields approx. 4 small bowls or 5-6 “cups”


3 cups fresh minced clams

1 cup (full 8 fl. oz. bottle) of clam juice

1/2 quart heavy cream

1/4 oz. Worcestershire sauce

1-1/2 red potatoes, diced

1/2 white onion, diced

1/2 stalk celery, diced

2 strips low-sodium bacon, diced

1 tablespoon chicken stock

1/2 oz. granulated garlic

1/2 oz. pepper

1/4 oz. sea salt

2-3 tbsp. corn starch

1-1.5 oz. fresh Parmesan cheese, thinly-sliced or grated

Parsley for garnish (optional)


Prepare ingredients as indicated and set aside.  In a large greased frying pan, begin to fry the bacon; when partially cooked, mix in onions and saute until bacon is lightly crisp but onions have not begun to brown.In dutch oven (or pot), add mixture to the remainder of the ingredients sans the cream and Parmesan cheese and bring to near boil.  Check and stir regularly.  Once bubbles begin to appear, add the cream, stir, and follow with the cheese.  Continue to check and stir regularly until clams appear cooked and potatoes have softened (approx. 30-45 minutes).  Add corn starch to thicken as needed, one tablespoon at a time. Remove from heat, taste and add further seasoning, if necessary. (With this recipe, I find it’s best to be a minimalist and add as you go.  A catch of clams is never the same twice: you may have to work with bland batches, but don’t needlessly drown a good batch–let the flavors speak for themselves!)  Ladle into cups or bowls, garnish and serve.

—E . J.  K E L L E Y

We’re slowly building steam!

Welcome to Backhead BBQ, the new online home of the original Cowboy Hibachi Grill and The Iron Horse Chef – born and bred at Santa Margarita Ranch on California’s bucolic Central Coast.

While we press stories, recipes and more, please enjoy Jeff “Grumps” Badger in the pilot episode of Iron Horse Chef:

~The Crew