Blue Ribbon BBQ

May 7, 2010

Dry-Rubbed Ribs

Vegetarians be warned; this is not a post for the faint of heart.

Blue Ribbon Barbeque and I go way back. I first discovered it last year while out on a run in Arlington. I was intrigued by the sign, which promoted their BBQ as “real.” Coming from St. Louis, I’ve had my fair share of cooked meat. I’m no connoisseur, but I know good pulled pork when I see it. And while the fish here is phenomenal, the other meats leave something to be desired.

The menu seemed promising, so I got a group of my friends together. It was the end of freshmen year, and I was ready to smother the pain of finals with some dead animals.

But wait, there's more!

This wasn't even all of it...

I should tell you all, the portions are quite large. Last year, we ordered the supper for six and didn’t finish. There were eight of us. Eight male college students. We eat like it’s our job. They call it the supper for six, but they don’t specify. Six humans? Six grizzly bears? Six Cthulhus? I’m not sure.

Here are the contents…

1½ slabs of Memphis Dry-Rubbed Ribs
2 pints of Pulled Pork, Burnt Ends, Pulled Chicken, Beef Brisket or Hot Sausage.
2 Barbecued or Jamaican Jerked ½ Chickens
2 pints of Baked Beans
2 pints of Cole Slaw
6 pieces of Cornbread
6 Sandwich Rolls

There are also a myriad of sauces that range from mild to volcanic. For me the Blue Ribbon Gold Barbecue Sauce took the gold, followed by the chipotle mustard. All of my friends and I agreed that the pulled pork was by far the best. If you go, that’s what I’d recommend.

And the most essential part of any trip to Arlington ends with a visit to Boston’s premier frozen custard establishment: The Chilly Cow. Frozen custard is another Midwestern phenomenon that hasn’t taken off in other parts of the country. Much like Blue Ribbon, The Chilly Cow’s serving sizes are a bit warped. There’s kiddie (essentially a small), small (medium to large), medium (big), and large (gargantuan).

So here’s to PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals!


Pan-fried Chickpeas with Chorizo and Spinach

April 24, 2010

I know. I know. I get it. I’m a flaky, good-for-nothing butthead. But seriously guys, ME SO BUSY!!! Between the inexorable schoolwork and the fruitless job hunting, I’ve let the blog fall by the wayside. I haven’t even had a chance to cook, let alone flog.

Alright, enough with the apologies. Let’s get to the meat of this article. What meat you ask? Chorizo! Chorizo is a heavily seasoned, spicy sausage. It’s Spain’s answer to the Polish sausage. Most of the chorizo you’re gonna get is cured, so the sausage is ready to eat. But this is Chorizo, not some run-of-the-mill Slim Jim. It’s distinctive flavor (which comes from Pimentón—Spanish Paprika) adds incredible depth to a dull dish.

Fried Chickpeas and Chorizo! This recipe comes from Mark Bittman’s “The Minimalist” segment on “The New York Times.” This dish is pretty straightforward, and requires no extra seasoning, thanks to the deep flavor of the sausage. The crunchy breadcrumbs and crisp chickpeas contrast well with the soft spinach. The recipe only called for 4 ounces of Chorizo, so I had leftover chorizo to put in my eggs the next morning. As the Spainards would say, está para chuparse los dedos.

On the topic of Spain, I’ve decided to study abroad next year for both semesters. While there, I will flog about Spain’s food culture. My hope is to use my blog as a platform to discuss Spanish gastronomy, similar to David Lebovitz’s Parisian food blog. After all, I’m sure there’s a lot more to Spain than tapas…

Recipe courtesy of Mark Bittman’s The Minimalist (February 24, 2010)

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, as dry as possible. We will be shallow-frying them, and we want them nice and dry before adding them to pan
Salt and black pepper
4 ounces chorizo*, diced
½ pound spinach, roughly chopped
¼ cup sherry
1 to 2 cups bread crumbs, enough to cover the dish.

1. Heat the broiler.

2. Put three tablespoons of the oil in an oven-proof skillet large enough to hold chickpeas in one layer over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add chickpeas and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until chickpeas begin to brown, about 10 minutes, then add chorizo. Continue cooking for another 5 to 8 minutes or until chickpeas are crisp; use a slotted spoon to remove chickpeas and chorizo from pan and set aside.

4. Add the remainder of the 1/4 cup of oil to the pan; when it’s hot, add spinach and sherry, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook spinach over medium-low heat until very soft and the liquid has evaporated. Add chickpeas and chorizo back to the pan and toss quickly to combine; top with bread crumbs, drizzle with a bit more oil and run pan under the broiler to lightly brown the top. This should take at most a minute. Mark says you can serve it either hot or at room temp, but I personally think it is far superior when served hot.

Yield: 4 servings. Great as a side dish or even a light main course.

*Note: I used the brand Palacio’s when choosing my chorizo. They carried it in spicy and non-spicy. Don’t be intimidated by the label—go with the spicy. The spinach and the chickpeas help to diminish the spiciness. I made the dish with someone with a low spice tolerance, and she was fine.


Bacon Ice Cream

January 14, 2010

If Morgan Freeman were a food, he’d be bacon. Allow me to explain. Morgan Freeman is virtually never in a bad movie. If you see Freeman’s name on a movie poster, odds are that his presence increases your critical perception of the film. He doesn’t necessarily have the starring role, but his presence legitimizes a film and gives it some credibility.

The same can be said for bacon. While bacon can be eaten on its own, more often it accompanies the main dish, upgrading it in some way. For example, think of all the foods you wrap in bacon: scallops, pork tenderloins, the infamous bacon behemoth. Then there are those ubiquitous bacon bits used to make salads more appealing to the carnivorous American diet. And what breakfast wouldn’t be improved with a little bacon? Just like the casting of Mr. Freeman, the utilization of bacon can turn the unremarkable into the unforgettable.

In case I didn’t make it clear in the first paragraph, I love bacon. I love it at breakfast with my eggs; I love it at lunch in my Quizno’s Subs; I love it at dinner wrapped around my main course or hors d’oeuvre. And after tonight, I can safely say I love in on my dessert.

After tasting my college-friend’s bacon peanut brittle, I browsed the web for other desserts involving bacon. The combination seemed at once totally farfetched and delicious. The salty and smoky and sweet combination was uniquely tasty.  That’s when I came across David Lebovitz’s recipe. I knew that I would enjoy it but was fairly positive that most of my dinner guests would write it off before giving it a try. More for me, right?

Mr. Lebovitz’s recipe was easy to follow and made for a delicious ice cream. I used Maple Bacon, which added another layer to the ice cream. He recommended candying the bacon in the oven with brown sugar, which I can safely is an olfactory wet dream./tour de force I placed the bacon on a cooling rack, which was on top of a baking sheet. That way the fat would drip off of the bacon and collect on the sheet below.

The ice cream itself was pretty easy to make, typical custard fare. Just remember to temper the yolks by gradually adding the hot cream mixture to the eggs. A sudden increase in temperature would cause the eggs to cook, so keep it nice and slow.

When it came time to try it, everyone (except for the vegetarians) took the smallest possible amount. They described it as “different, but in a good way” and “surprisingly delectable.” I have no idea what I would serve with this ice cream, but I would definitely make it again.

Bacon Ice Cream (adapted from David Lebovitz)

Ingredients For the Candied Bacon
Six Strips of Bacon
About ½ cup of brown sugar

Ingredients for the Ice Cream
5 egg yolks
3 tablespoons of salted sugar (if you only have unsalted, just throw in a pinch of salt)
¾ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon of maple syrup
2 ¾ cups of half and half
2 teaspoons of dark rum or whisky (After much taste-testing and deliberation, I decided on a nice scotch whisky)
¼ teaspoon of cinnamon
¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract

Making the candied bacon

1.)Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2.) Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Then place a cooling rack on a baking sheet.

3.)Evenly slab the six pieces of bacon on rack, and coat each piece with about 2 teaspoons of brown sugar.

4.) Cook bacon for about fifteen minutes, until golden brown and crisp. The sugar should have caramelized on top of the bacon by this point.

5.) Once bacon has cooled, finely chop the slices into bacon bits. Store in refrigerator.

NOTE: It’s good to make extra, because you’ll find yourself snacking on the bacon throughout the custard-making process.

Making the ice cream
1.) Place 1 ¼ cups of half and half in a large bowl , and place this bowl in an ice bath (a larger bowl filled with ice).

2.) In a medium sized bowl, stir together egg yolks until they are fully blended.

3.) In a 2 or 3 quart saucepan, melt butter under moderately heat. Then add brown sugar, maple syrup, and remaining half and half and stir until smooth.

4.) Gradually whisk this mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks. If you notice any brown sugar pebbles, feel free to pick them out.

5.) Once blended, pour the contents of this bowl back into the saucepan. Under moderately low heat stir the contents of the saucepan until the custard is thick enough coat the back of a spoon and stay in place even when you draw a line with your finger through the middle of that film of custard. When doing this step, make sure to constantly scrape the saucepan with a heatproof spatula, that way you don’t end up with cooked eggs on the bottom of the pan.

6.) Once sufficiently thickened, the custard should be poured into the large bowl. At this point you should add the cinnamon, vanilla, and liquor. Stir the contents until cool. At this point, you should churn the ice cream. Add the candied bacon about five minutes before the churning process ends.


Thanksgiving Dinner, observed

January 8, 2010

My most recent Thanksgiving dinner proved mildly disappointing. The hosts—a couple of my parents’ college friends—took an untraditional route by serving Swordfish and Brussell Sprouts. Don’t get me wrong—I love swordfish—but Thanksgiving is Turkey Day, not Fish Day. Call me sentimental if you want, but a Thanksgiving dinner without dishes like sweet potato or stuffing or cranberry sauce just seems wrong.

Turkey-less and dejected, my family and I decided that we would have a real Thanksgiving dinner when we got back to St. Louis. I’d like to share with you a couple of the recipes that stood out to me during our feast. Each of these dishes changed only slightly, and yet they all seemed wholly different. In many cases, the revamp was the result of a simple, one ingredient addition, but it made all the difference in the world.

First, we had what I think was the most delicious gravy, ever. The gravy is made in the roasting pan for the turkey, so it gets to absorb all those juices that got caked on to the bottom of the pan. The key was the recipe’s call for a half cup of dry vermouth, which added great depth and flavor. I found myself taking more turkey for the sole purpose of ingesting more gravy.

The "Orange Bowl"

The sweet potatoes were phenomenal as well. What made them stand out was their presentation. By serving the sweet potato in hollowed out orange halves, you end up with a beautiful dish that keeps the potatoes nice and citrusy.

Cranberries, not just good for craisins

Also, the cranberry sauce got a nice upgrade with pomegranate seeds. They added a natural sweetness and a great crunch. I used half a pom, and kept the other half for myself… don’t tell anyone.

I guess there are two lessons to be learned here. First, meet your guests expectations. For example, if you’re known for your amazing hamburgers and you host the annual fourth of July party, don’t serve Jambalaya. The second lesson is that there is always a easy and simple way to upgrade even the most institutionalized dishes. Just because something is a common dish doesn’t mean that the recipe is set in stone.

Gravy (makes about two cups) Adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook
The pan used to roast the turkey (keep all the juice in the pan, you’re gonna be using it)
½ cup flour
½ cup vermouth
1 ½ cups of Turkey Stock (you could prepare it yourself using the giblets or just use chicken broth, which is definitely easier)
Fine Sea Salt (I just used kosher salt)
Ground Pepper

1.) Pour drippings from the roasting pan after roasting the turkey into a liquid measuring cup. The fat will rise to surface and separate from the turkey juices.
2.) Separate the fat from the drippings. Keep the drippings in the measuring cup, but place the fat in another container, reserving a ¼ cup of the fat for the roux.
3.) Place that quarter cup of reserved fat in the roasting pan.
4.) Place the pan over two burners and turn the heat to medium.
5.) Stir in the flour and cook, stirring the roux constantly for about 3 minutes.
6.) Add the vermouth and stir to scrape up the browned bits from the pan bottom.
7.) Add enough stock to the drippings to make 2 full cups and add this to the pan.
8.) Cook, stirring frequently until the gravy thickens. This took me about 8 minutes, but all stovetops are different.
9.) If needed, add more stock to thin out the gravy. Add the pepper and salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Sweet Potatoes (serves eight) (adapted from Barefoot Contessa: Parties!)

5 large sweet potatoes
4 large oranges
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
¾ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1.) Halve 4 oranges and juice them, reserving a ½ cup for the potatoes.
2.) Bake potatoes for about an hour until very soft and tender (check with a knife)
3.) When ready, take potatoes out of the oven and scoop out the insides (you can wait for them to cool), placing them in a bowl
4.) Add the OJ, cream, butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinammon, salt, and pepper. Using an electric mixer, beat the potatoes until this is all combined.
5.) Place potato mixture into the hollowed-out orange halves. Dot with marshmallows if you want. Then place in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until heated through.

I had more potato than orange bowls, just FYI.


Turkey Omelets

December 2, 2009

Hey there. It’s been a while. Hope you are still out there, whoever you are. Hope your Thanksgiving went well.

As I self-proclaimed foodie, I was looking forward to the obscene amount of cooking and eating that would take place over Thanksgiving. So imagine my surprise when I discover that Thanksgiving dinner would consist of some sautéed red potatoes, brussel sprouts, and Swordfish. No Turkey, no stuffing, no gravy, no yams, no cranberry sauce. I would happily pick swordfish over turkey 364 times out of 365; call me old fashioned, but I like turkey on Turkey Day. But since we weren’t hosting, all meals were out of my hands.

Perhaps the biggest bummer was that there were no leftovers. We always enjoy trying to come up with uses for that leftover Turkey. One tradition is to make Turkey Omelets the next morning. Ever since I was twelve or so, I’ve helped make the “morning-after” meal. And so determined was I to continue this gastronomic tradition, that I actually went out with my dad to purchase some turkey.

We got a ¾ pound slice of Boar’s Head roasted Turkey and a jar of Hienz gravy. While this was definitely less satisfying using our own, it got the job done. The omelets turned out pretty well, reminding us of heartier, more traditional Thanksgivings.Somehow, I doubt Swordfish omelets would've been a good subsitute...

Turkey Omelets
Makes about 4 omelets

10 eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream (or milk if you’d rather)
some salt and pepper
butter for pan
¾ pound of shredded Turkey (light and dark, it’s all good)
1/2 cup of gravy, reheated

1.) Mix eggs, cream, salt, and pepper until mixture is blended.
2.) In separate bowl, mixed pulled-turkey and about a 1/3 cup of gravy together. Do this gradually, as the ratio isn’t exact, sometimes more or less gravy is needed. You want the turkey to be fairly wet with gravy.
3.) Heat butter in a skillet at medium-high to high heat (scrambled eggs are done at very low heat, but omelets are done at high heat).
4.) Place a quarter of egg mixture into pan, piercing any air bubbles that build under the omelet.
5.) After about a minute or so, place some turkey on the omelet, about 1/3 of the way over. Be careful not to over stuff the omelet, as this makes the flipping part particularly difficult.
6.) here’s the trickiest part—flipping the omelet. If you have a spatula, here’s your time to use it. Take on end of the omelet and flip it over onto the other half, so you end up with a half circle shape.
7.) Drizzle gravy on top of omelet.


Inglourious Burgers

September 7, 2009

Excuse the lack photos, the camera memory card is M.I.A. at the moment. I’ll update the entry with some photos  in the next few days. Sorry!

STEAMED BURGERS (AND HOW TO STEAM FOOD WITHOUT A STEAMER)

I know how this must look. I write a post extolling the virtues of grilling, and now this?!? Well, read on and see just how much of a foodie phony I really am.

The most ubiquitous grilled meal is the burger. Some freaks like me grill peaches and eggplants, but everyone grills their ground beef. Well, the other day I picked up the August issue of Saveur magazine. The issue boldly proclaimed itself to be “The Burger Bible.” As a quasi-agnostic, I figured that this magazine would be the closest I would ever get to actually reading The Book. One method they described in the magazine is steaming. This allows for the patties to cook in their own juices, creating an incredibly moist burger. This technique was popularized in Connecticut and perfected by a place called Ted’s Restaurant. Oddly enough, the man running the Meriden-based restaurant is a guy named Paul. Go figure.

This method of cooking burgers may not have caught on in other parts of the country, but I was ready to give it a try. The only steaming I’ve done consisted of some broccoli and carrots, so I figured this would be a great learning experience.

I suppose a real-deal steamer would be ideal, but I wasn’t ready to drop any money on supplies that I may or may not use again. So I took the magazine’s advice, using a large wide-bottomed pot and some cleaned tuna cans.

Just as a quick side note: cleaning the tuna cans was a long, arduous process. I dishwashed them but the tuna smell remained, so I let them sit, each can filled with white vinegar. Only after a second dishwashing did the “Eau de tuna” capitulate to my efforts.

The other tool I needed was a rack to fit in the bottom of the pot. I don’t own any circular wire racks, and didn’t want to buy any. So I scoured the house for something that would double for it. That’s when I found the aluminum pie pan. Poking a bunch of holes in the bottom would allow the steam to come up from underneath the pot to cook the meat, thus simulating that wire rack.

After placing a ½ inch of water in the pot, I brought the water to a boil over medium high heat. Meanwhile, I packed the ground meat into three tuna cans and sprinkled some ground pepper and kosher salt on top. I filled other tuna can with thick slices of cheddar. I arranged the cans on top of the perforated pie pan, covered the pot, and then let it steam for about 10 minutes.

I was greeted by a mushroom cloud of water vapor when I uncovered the pot. The cheese was delightfully gooey, and the burgers were immersed in their bubbling juices. Yum!

The hardest part of this entire process: getting the burgers out of the cans. Getting the cans out of the pot was easy; just use tongs. The issue was wedging the butter knife under the beef to release it. I poured the molten cheese on top of the burgers and sprinkled a few thin slices of red onion on top. A dollop of ketchup and French’s mustard and I was good to go!

My mom liked the perfect shape of the burger, but I found it off-putting. The perfectly circular and symmetrical patty was too twlight-zoney for me. It’s like if you saw a real person with a Barbie Doll’s unattainable proportions.

Appearance aside, I found the burger to be just as juicy as the magazine claimed. I didn’t really season the burger that much or doll it up with stuff. It’s simplicity amplified the burger’s natural flavors and allowed the molten cheese to really shine. The cheese was amazingly gooey. Normally people throw cheese on the burger right before the burgers are done (or worse, as they’re bunning the meat). This melted cheese was so good that I can’t imagine preparing a burger’s cheese any other way. My only issue is that the burger lacked the texture and grill flavor I so closely associate with my burgers. Understandably (yet disappointingly), the slightly charred exterior of a grilled burger was absent from my steamed one. While this burger was tasty, the next time I get that craving for ground beef on a sesame bun, I’ll be using my grill.

So there! In the end, the grill won out! So I’m not a total hypocrite.

STEAMED BURGERS (makes three burgers)

What tools you need

-4 5-oz cleaned tuna cans (washed as many times as necessary to remove tuna odor)
-Large wide-bottomed pot (I used our stock pot)
-A circular rack that fits inside the pot (see above for alternative “rack”)

Ingredients
1 lb Ground Beef
Cheese of your choice (I used Cabot’s Sharp White Cheddar Cheese)
Any toppings you desire

Place rack in pot, fill pot with about a ½ inch of water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Meanwhile, press meat into three of the four tuna cans. They should be about ¾ full. Then place thick slices of cheese into the remaining tuna can.

Place these cans inside the pot, cover, and steam for about 12 minutes. Remove cans (tongs might help here) and place burgers in buns (shoehorning a butter knife under the meat to remove it).

Top meat however you like and dig in!