28 May 2009

A New-to-Me Cooking Experience: Ribs

I feel like I should preface this post by saying I have no opinion on ribs. I don't know if they should be only smoked, or roasted then smoked, or parboiled then grilled, or steamed then grilled with smoke. I don't know if they should only have a rub and no mop sauce, or a rub with mop sauce, or a rub with a mop sauce and a bbq sauce. I am not going to argue with you. I am not even going to present an argument to you. I am just going to tell you I made ribs for the first time in my life. My dad told me that they were The Best Ribs He Has Ever Eaten. (I think it deserved caps, it was said in caps!) My brother-in-law, who might be more of a rib connoisseur than my dad, said they were some of the very best ribs he has ever eaten (less caps-worthy, but still high praise). My sister was also very happy with the less typical (for our family) bbq dinner. She had a couple servings, so I think she must have loved them too. At least when L comments on this entry, she won't ask me when I am going to make these ribs for her. :)

We started with pork spare ribs (yet another topic I am unwilling to argue about - I thought I liked baby back ribs better, then I had spare ribs last night and they were delicious, so I straddling this fence as well). We started with about 4.5 pounds, and I wish that we had started with more like 6 pounds for the number of people who were eating. We also grilled some steaks so people had the option of ribs or steak - and unfortunately my dad only got one bone worth of rib. So maybe I should correct his praise to read The Best Rib He Has Ever Eaten. The recipe I found for my first attempt at ribs naturally came from Epicurious, my favorite recipe source on the planet! It was easy to follow, used ingredients that I think most people who like to cook have on hand, was simple to prepare and, most importantly, turned out the most delicious, finger-licking-good ribs.
The recipe starts with mixing up a spice mixture to create a rub, which I generously spread over all sides of the ribs. The ribs are covered and go into the refrigerator to marinate in the spice mixture for as long as possible. We only had about 4 hours of marination, and I think the ribs would have been even more special if I had rubbed them the night before serving. About 3 hours before you are ready to eat, the ribs are steamed in the oven until the meat is tender and pulling away from the bones. The steaming liquid is really important, and I think imparts a lovely flavor to the meat. It is a combination of cinnamon, apple cider vinegar, onion and apple cider (I subbed apple juice since we didn't have apple cider on hand). After the ribs have spent a couple hours in a low and slow oven, you pull them out to cool slightly before grilling them. While grilling, you liberally douse them with a sweet and sticky mop sauce that puts the ribs over the top. There is lots of sugar and alcohol in the mop sauce, so I fought a few flare ups, but the caramelized brown spots were divine. Definitely try this recipe, you won't be disappointed.

I have added my changes in red - the only changes I made were due to subs for ingredients we already had on hand.

Thanks to my mom for taking the pictures!

Brown Sugar and Bourbon Ribs from Epicurious.com
by Ted Reader
Be sure to remove (or score) the membrane on the underside of the ribs so that the seasonings can penetrate and fully flavor the meat. Even better, ask the butcher to remove the membrane. What to drink: Kenwood Vineyards 2003 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($17).
Yield: Makes 4 servings

Basting sauce
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 cup apple butter (used homemade apple sauce instead)
1/4 cup bourbon whiskey
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons apple cider (used apple juice instead)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon (packed) golden brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (used about 1 teaspoon sweet paprika to avoid any heat issues with family)
2 2- to 2 1/4-pound racks baby back pork ribs (used spare ribs)

1 large onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
6 thin rounds peeled fresh ginger (omitted)
1 1/4 cups apple cider

For basting sauce:
Whisk all ingredients in medium bowl to blend.

For ribs:
Mix first 7 ingredients in small bowl. Using small sharp knife, loosen membrane from underside of each rib rack and pull off (or score membrane). Rub 1 tablespoon seasoning mix into each side of each rib rack. Place ribs in large roasting pan. Cover and chill at least 6 hours and up to 1 day.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Lift ribs from pan. Scatter onion, cinnamon stick, and ginger in pan. Pour in cider. Return ribs, meat side down, to pan; cover pan with foil. Roast ribs until meat is tender and begins to pull away from bones, about 2 hours. Uncover; cool at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Grill ribs until heated through and slightly charred, about 5 minutes per side. Brush generously on all sides with basting sauce. Grill until sauce becomes sticky glaze, about 3 minutes longer per side. Transfer rib racks to cutting board. Cut racks between bones into individual ribs. Arrange on platter and serve, passing remaining sauce separately.

25 May 2009

Some of my Favorite Spring Things (Part 2 of 2)

If asparagus doesn't trip your trigger and make you ready to put away the winter sweaters and bring out the tank tops, strawberries must do the trick! We are very lucky in Ohio to have a long strawberry season, so this is just the first of many strawberry dishes. I always want to try new strawberry desserts, but for me, strawberries are oftentimes just an excuse to eat shortcake. I realize I have blogged about my love for sweet, ruby red strawberries in the past, so I won't beat a dead horse. So instead I will dedicate this post to one of the most singularly delicious shortcake recipes I have ever come across!

I found it while browsing Epicurious for a new recipe to make for a dinner to share with my parents. I served my parents pan fried walleye with roasted potatoes and a green bean and cucumber salad. The food was tasty and all, but the real winner from the dinner was the Strawberry Shortcake with Grand Marnier Strawberry Compote with Chantilly Cream.

The shortcakes were tender and just sweet enough with the most delightful hint of lemon and buttermilk. The strawberries were delicious with the infusion of orange that the liqueur contributed. It was also incredibly easy to throw this dessert together. I used a pastry cutter to mix the shortcakes together and had the dough chilling and strawberries mascerating before my parents arrived. After dinner all I had to do was whip the heavy cream (which took about 10 seconds because it is so thick and luscious! I love Snowville Creamery!!!) to make a sweet topping.

Shockingly enough, I made no substitutions to the following recipe found at Epicurious.

Strawberry Shortcake with Grand Marnier Strawberry Compote and Chantilly Cream

Chef-owner Michael Mina of Michael Mina restaurant in San Francisco created this recipe for Epicurious's Wine.Dine.Donate program. He recommends using local strawberries whenever possible.

Yield: Makes 8 servings

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
2 tablespoons baking powder
Pinch (1/16 teaspoon) kosher salt
1/2 cup cold butter (1 stick), cut into chunks
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1/2 cup cream, plus more for brushing
Finely grated zest from one lemon

Grand Marnier Strawberry Compote
4 pints strawberries, stems removed and quartered
1/2 cup Grand Mariner
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Pinch (1/16 teaspoon) kosher salt

Chantilly Cream
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

Make Biscuits:
In large bowl, sift together all-purpose and cake flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Use pastry cutter or fork to blend in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.
In medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk and cream, then whisk in lemon zest. Add liquid mixture to dry mixture, stirring with fork just until dough forms.
Turn dough out onto floured work surface and knead gently just until dough holds together, about 10 turns. Place dough on plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
On floured work surface, pat out dough to 1/2-inch-thick round. Using 3-inch cutter, cut out biscuits. Transfer to ungreased baking sheet, brush lightly with cream, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes, then transfer to rack to cool.
Make Compote:
In large mixing bowl, combine strawberries, Grand Mariner, 1/4 cup sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Mix gently, taste, and add more sugar if needed. Let stand at room temperature until juices form, at least 30 minutes.
Make Chantilly Cream:
Chill medium mixing bowl and whisk in freezer for 10 minutes before beginning. In chilled bowl, whisk cream until it begins to foam and thicken. Add sugar and continue to whisk just until soft peaks form. Do not over-whip.
To Plate:
Cut biscuits in half horizontally and place each bottom half in wide bowl or on plate. Divide compote among bowls, spooning strawberries onto biscuit bottoms and pouring some juice into each bowl. Top each shortcake with Chantilly Cream and biscuit top.

23 May 2009

Some of my Favorite Spring Things (Part 1 of 2)

Asparagus. How I love asparagus.

During its peak, the flavor says pure springtime sunshine. I love the early spring farmers' markets where I am eagerly anticipating anything locally grown that is green - usually asparagus is the first green vegetable to show up in my market bag. I know that asparagus is available year round, but I genuinely believe that this is a vegetable that both tastes better and has a better texture when purchased locally and in season. Besides, it is radically less expensive when it is purchased in the spring from a farmer who grew it in a neighboring community, which means I can eat that much more of it!

The first time I saw asparagus at the market this spring, I purchased several pounds because I was feeling greedy and excited for spring. My first batch was roasted in a hot oven, after being drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. After inhaling the roasted asparagus, I wanted to make something more unusual and also utilize some pantry/freezer ingredients that I have had on hand for awhile. I had some delicious locally made sweet Italian chicken sausage and some dehydrated wild mushrooms to be used, and I noticed a large bag of Arborio rice that had been sitting around longer than I care to remember. Immediately a plan started to form in my mind for a springtime risotto with asparagus, mushrooms and chicken sausage. Of course, I turned to google, which did not let me down. I was directed to a lovely website called Simply Recipes and Elise's wonderfully written recipe for Italian Sausage and Mushroom Risotto.

Her recipe did not call for asparagus, but I immediately knew that the green vegetable would enhance the dish and make it a tiny bit healthier. Of course anytime I add a vegetable to a rich, starchy meal, I feel slightly less guilty about eating seconds! I did make a couple changes based on what I had on hand, such as subbing dried mushrooms for fresh (I rehydrated them in a mixture of boiling chicken stock and Marsala wine - another substitution because I didn't have any Madeira wine on hand). I added the reconstituted mushrooms to the onion and rice mixture instead of the sausage mixture. Also, I blanched the asparagus in salted, boiling water before stirring it into the risotto at the very end of cooking. Finally, I skipped the addition of parmesan or asiago cheese at the end, and instead stirred in about 1/2 cup of heavy cream (also local!) that I had in my refrigerator.

Instead of posting a recipe, I highly recommend visiting Elise's website at Simply Recipes to check out her instructions - then you, too, can make adjustments based on what you have on hand.

21 May 2009

Another Family Recipe- Peppers and Eggs

Even though many of my foodie tendencies stem from my mom's encouragement and example, I have quite a few foodie loves that come straight from my dad. The dish I am sharing today for the Family Recipes: Memories of Food, Family and Fun blog event that is being hosted by Laura of The Spiced Life and HoneyB of The Life and Loves of Grumpy's Honey Bunch (HoneyB is hosting this month so be sure to visit her site to check out the round up!) comes straight from my dad. Now I should be clear that my mom always prepares this dish for my dad, but it is forever linked to my dad and his side of the family. According to my dad, this is a traditional dish that he grew up eating with the Italian side of his family. I have never really found anyone else who eats this dish, so I have no clue if it is something unique to my dad's family alone, regardless it is delicious. I think I am the only kid in my family who adores this meal, so my dad and I usually chow down on it together.
Peppers and Eggs are the perfect way to use up a bountiful bell pepper crop in the summer. In fact, I very rarely eat this dish during the winter months. It is a warm weather food to me despite the fact it requires turning on the stove - normally a no-no for me in the summer. The most important part of this dish is the pepper strips. My dad prefers mostly green peppers, but I like throwing some red or yellow bell peppers in for color and additional sweetness. You cook the heck out of the peppers. I realize this goes against your foodie instincts (mine too!) but it brings out a subtle sweetness and the most delicious flavor. The peppers end up with the texture of roasted peppers, but they are sweeter and softer without the hassle of removing the skins. You also need good olive oil, lots of eggs and some crusty bread to sop up all the tasty juices. This is one of my most favorite meals ... in fact I love it so much that I didn't take the time to take a picture of the finished product the first time around, so you are seeing pictures of my leftovers. This is one of the few egg dishes that I love left over. The eggs absorb the sweet pepper-infused oil and take on an entirely new flavor profile.

Peppers and Eggs
serves 2-3

3-4 large bell peppers, cut into strips
4 whole eggs
4 egg whites (I sub some egg whites to try to make it healthier)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Over medium low heat, add the olive oil and peppers to a sautee pan. Cover and cook until the peppers and very soft and look like worms (that is according to my mom). Stir the peppers occasionally. This make take about 15-20 minutes. Drain off some of the olive oil - to taste/to save calories. Beat the eggs and pour over the peppers, cook until the eggs are scrambled and cooked through. Serve with lots of crusty bread and plenty of salt and pepper.

Green Pepper on Foodista