Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photos by Dan Francis Photography
If your holiday menu is still at-large, this is one story you need to read. Meet David Baxter, he’s the key to your best holiday meal yet. During the week, he’s a State Manager with PMA/Washington National and travels between four states focusing on supplemental insurance. Arriving back in town on Thursday nights, Baxter shifts focus to his two other loves, family and food. Married to interior designer Ami Baxter, these two are a well-oiled machine in the kitchen and know the secret recipe for entertaining with ease.
Prime Rib Perfection
The perfect prime rib can be tricky, so before we share David Baxter’s recipes, we asked him to share a few of his grill master secrets. “The biggest thing I always make sure to do when grilling, is to bring the meat to room temperature before I put it on the grill. If it’s frozen or even somewhat cold, the meat won’t get as juicy,” said Baxter. “Also, this makes a big difference with the seasoning. When you put salt on the meat and put it right on the grill it does something different. But, when you season it and leave it, the salt will actually penetrate and can help break up the fat a bit. When you’re going to put something on the Green Egg, it pays to take your time. I always tell people to over-season since you will naturally lose a lot in the process of cooking.”
Big Green Egg Vs. Gas Grill
“The first thing we ever made on a Big Green Egg was chicken, and when we were done, I tried an apple pie on it,” said Baxter. “After that, I was hooked and we never went back to a gas grill. Our friends from Alabama, Anna and Dustin Harris, who used to live in Fargo, had three of these Big Green Eggs. At that time, I didn’t know anything about them. He showed me how he cooked brisket, an amazing breakfast entree and Boston butt which is like pork shoulder. So, he’s the one that actually showed me how much better it was than gas grilling.”
For Baxter, patience is a virtue that is required in the kitchen and especially while grilling up his masterpieces. “I think that if you master the low and slow concept on the Big Green Egg, and learn to be patient, that’s the best way to cook,” said Baxter. “A lot of people like to turn the grill on for five minutes and be able to throw their steaks on it. At the end of the day, if you want something that tastes amazing, it takes time. You can still cook fast things on it, but it probably takes about 15-20 minutes to be ready to grill. I like the Big Green Egg because it can keep everything at a constant temperature, very low, with consistency. After a while, it’s kind of like a Dutch oven with the added flavors built-in.”
Every good chef knows that creating over-the-top dishes requires proper seasoning and the perfect, complimentary garnish. To take his grilled carrots to the next level, Baxter relies on candied bacon for a little crunch and sweetness.
When it comes to prime rib, he is all for garnishes with a punch of flavor and varying textures. “Some people like mushrooms on steak, but I prefer them on prime rib with a bit of fried onion and coarse horseradish,” said Baxter. “To make the mushroom garnish, I just used a little bit of butter, oil and balsamic vinegar with about a 1/4 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce. Then I get the mushrooms hot and keep flipping them until they’re soft and just a tinge crispy.”
“Ami and I went to this place out in Nashville a month ago and they did a whipped feta honey and served it with warm, pita bread. We loved it and it has such a smooth consistency, so I thought it might be the perfect addition to mash potatoes. The pomegranate as a garnish and in the gravy gives you just a little bit of sweetness to compliment the savory.”
“For the gravy, I used Four Roses Bourbon, but the trick is to put the bourbon in after the onions start to carmelize, letting the alcohol burn off. You want the aged, oak barrel taste that bourbon has, not the alcohol taste,” said Baxter. “Then I start to dilute it down. When I did my carrots, I basically did a crudite putting it in boiling water for five minutes. So I kept that carrot water and used some of it to dilute the gravy. Also, when your prime rib is done, make sure to put a cast iron skillet under it to gather the drippings to include in your gravy. Another tip is to use cornstarch as a thickener, not flour. Cornstarch won’t leave a floury aftertaste and your gravy will stay clearer and more flavorful.”
Labor of Love
In their household, David Baxter does most of the heavy cooking, while his wife, Ami Baxter manages the sidelines, cleaning up after each course and often prepping and chopping ingredients. Even though she can hold her own in the kitchen, she prefers to take a backseat to allow David to run the show. “It’s a good trade-off, she doesn’t like to cook and I don’t like to clean,” laughed Baxter.
Ask Baxter his thoughts on altering recipes, and he’ll tell you that being precise is over-rated. “A lot of people look at a recipe and they have to follow it step-by-step. If I don’t have the exact ingredient, it challenges me to figure out another way. Baking is a science, but cooking is an art. When you’re cooking, the amounts don’t need to be perfect,” said Baxter. “I think really good cooks, over time, continue to change their recipes. I grew up watching both of my parents cook and my Aunt Kathy, who wrote a couple of cookbooks, would always spend time teaching me in the summertime. From this, I learned that I have to be patient and not afraid to fail. I’ve had plenty of things not turn out the first time. It just takes time to improve and learn what works and what doesn’t.”
Entertaining with Ease
Through trial and error, Baxter has learned to have a plan of attack when entertaining. “Figure out your menu in advance and make sure all of your ingredients are prepped and ready to use the night before,” explained Baxter. “You’ll notice some of the ingredients are repeated throughout each of the dishes, so you can multi-task the prep of those. The biggest reason why people get frustrated in the kitchen is that they waste too much time focusing on prepping and chopping for each dish, one at a time. The same goes for seasonings. I usually have mine measured out and ready to go before I start cooking.”
If you want to make sure everything is hot when you plate it, Baxter suggests knowing how long everything takes to cook and scheduling a time to work on them in order of cook time. “It also really helps to have someone help and hold you accountable for each dish. Ami and I make a good team that way, she makes sure I have the right ingredients and helps keep track of every step so each dish is hot and ready for plating at the same time.”
Get the Recipes:
Rosemary and Garlic-Crusted Prime Rib
1. 5lb bone-in prime rib – bring to room temp over 4-5 hours.
2. Heavy coating with a seasoning of your choice when prime rib is at room temp.
3. Fire-up Big Green Egg to 550 degrees with lump.
4. Add 4 blocks of wet hickory and let burn until heavy white smoke stops and grill hits 500 degrees again.
5. Put prime rib on indirect heat for 30 mins. Put a cast iron skillet below prime rib with 1/2” water to catch drippings.
6. Shut down all vents completely.
7. Let prime rib stay in the Big Green Egg until internal temp hits 135 degrees.
8. Pull off prime rib and let rest until internal temp hits 140 degrees (medium rare).
9. Garnish with horseradish, sautéed mushrooms, fried onions and Au Jus.
Pomegranate Au Jus
1. Sauté 1/4 cup of yellow onion and 1 clove of garlic with 1 tablespoon butter.
2. Add 1/4 cup of pomegranate juice, 1/4 cup of pomegranate seeds and 1 ounce of favorite bourbon. Reduce to simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Add in prime rib drippings (approximately 2 cups) with 1 cup of water and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Strain Au Jus through a filter.
5. Bring Au Jus back to a simmer and thicken with cornstarch. Add cornstarch until you feel the Au Jus getting ever-so-slightly heavier. It will continue to thicken on its own.
6. Remove from heat after 5-7 minutes of thickening. Set aside covered.
Whipped Feta and Honey Mash
1. Boil 9 large, peeled potatoes until cooked through.
2. In a separate bowl combine 1/4 cup of honey, 1 1/2 cup of feta, 2 tablespoons of butter, and 1/2 cup of cream cheese. Whip ingredients until the consistency is smooth.
3. Add in potatoes and blend until smooth.
4. Garnish with tarragon and rosemary.
Candied Bacon, Grilled Carrots
1. Peel 8 large carrots and trim tops.
2. Lay out 8 strips of applewood bacon on a cooking sheet with tinfoil. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and drizzle 1/2 tablespoon of sriracha over bacon – about 3 drops for each piece.
4. Bake at 325 until edges begin to crisp.
5. Quickly remove bacon from cooking sheet and transfer to a non-stick parchment paper until cooled. Then chop bacon into garnish size pieces.
6. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil and submerge carrots for 4-5 minutes until softened. Dry carrots thoroughly and toss in olive oil and salt.
7. Add carrots to high heat on Big Green Egg for 1-2 minutes on each side until grill marks form. Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
8. Cut carrots diagonally and garnish with candied bacon.
Grilled Zucchini & Summer Squash
1. Cut 2 medium zucchini and summer squash in half, lengthwise.
2. Toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper.
3. Add to high heat for 3-4 minutes each side until cooked through and grill marks form.
4. Remove from heat and diagonal cut. Garnish with Irish Cheddar Cheese.
Savoring the Leftovers
Baxter is known for honing his culinary skills while entertaining guests, but only his family knows how creative he can be with the leftovers. After you’ve made his prime rib perfection, you’re going to need a plan to make something spectacular, so not one single morsel goes to waste. We asked Baxter to offer up some culinary advice and one of his family’s favorite recipes for making good use of great prime rib.
Remnants of the Holidays
Baxter suggests saving the ends of vegetables that get chopped up, so they can be frozen and later made into vegetable broth. “When you’re ready to use them, throw them in a pot with some water, let them rest for four hours on simmer, then strain out the vegetable remnants,” said Baxter. “You can pretty much do the same for any chicken remnants and bones to make chicken broth.”
Fast Food at Home
The Baxter’s live an extremely busy life with their three children under the age of eight, Fuschia, Scarlett and Harrison. Ami Baxter owns her own Interior Design firm, while David Baxter is on the road for work, traveling Monday through Thursday between four states.
“When the kids get home, they don’t want to wait an hour or more to eat, so I like making a meal plan for the week,” said Baxter. “In our house, we love leftovers. When I get back into town for the weekend, I’ll plan out my meals, sometimes making a big pot of soup for them, chicken or lasagna. Then Ami and the kids will use those leftovers through Thursday night when I get home, then we do it all over again. If you cook prime rib on Sunday, you know that you can probably have two or three meals from the leftovers. We would then do stroganoff, beef stew and probably thin-sliced prime rib sandwiches.”
Leftover Prime Rib Stew
1. Trim 1 1/2 pounds of the leftover prime rib. Remove all the visible fat and cut into 1/2” chunks.
2. Heat a large skillet. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and the prime rib. Season lightly with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, about 3-5 minutes total. Transfer the meat to a plate.
3. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the skillet. Add 2 large diced carrots, 2 diced celery, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 large, diced potatoes, 1 medium, diced onion and cook until lightly colored, about 3-4 minutes.
4. Stir in the 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour. Add 1 cup of merlot red wine and simmer, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add 2 cups of beef stock, 4 fresh thyme sprigs and 1 bay leaf. Bring the ingredients to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the carrots and potato are fork tender, about 7-10 minutes.
5. Finally, add fresh peas and the prime rib along with any accumulated juices, cover and simmer until the meat is heated through, about 3 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.