Monday, June 28, 2010

How to: Grill Ribs

I'm sitting here, eating strawberry ice cream, with a super-fun-weekend hangover.

Not that kind of hangover. Well, maybe a little.

I had a great weekend with family - filled with yummy food, good conversation, boat rides, and some serious ribs. Nathan and I hauled the pugs up north to my dad's lake house and spent Friday and Saturday with him and my stepmom Sandy. We ate, drank, laughed, and forced a swimming lesson on the pugs. On Sunday we went to oh-so-elegant La Belle Vie (sans pugs, naturally) with my mom, stepdad, brother, aunt, uncle and nana to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and life in general.

While La Belle Vie is always delightful plated perfection, on Saturday something truly miraculous happened. I learned to grill ribs.

Not buy grilled ribs. Not bake-broil-fake-some-good-ribs-because-I-don't-own-a-grill ribs, I learned the art of real deal ribs.

I can't tell you how exciting this is. Being married to a man from St. Louis, MO, and getting his nod of approval - and not just Nathan, but meeting my expectations as well - ribs are a favorite food of both of us.

How to Grill Ribs, ala my dad - Roger. Or "Rog" (pronounced Rodge) as we affectionately refer to him on occasion.

First, you gotta give them a bath in Italian dressing. Salt, pepper. Anything beyond that is up to you. Cook them low and slow in the oven until gray-brown and tender. When you're ready to grill, heat the coals in a charcoal grill using one of those little cylinder thingys so you don't have to douse them with lighter fluid. When the coals are lit, dump them in and spread them around. Add the ribs, and pour the dripping dressing over the ribs so the coals start smoking. Cover and let them smoke, leaving small holes for a little air escape.

After several minutes, see if they're getting brown on the bottom. If not, cover again and wait. When they do start to brown and crisp, flip and brown the other side. Cover. When the other side is ready, flip again and paint the top side with BBQ sauce. Cover. Keep monitoring the size of the air holes. Too much oxygen will cause the coals to flame up and burn the ribs. After several minutes, flip and paint the other side with sauce. Cover. Check after several more minutes. When ribs reach desired done-ness, remove from grill. Cover grill and close all air holes to put the flames out. Serve ribs with extra sauce, corn on the cob, corn bread, lots of napkins, beer and a hammock.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Biscuits for the Lazy

Well hey y'all. I made biscuits.
And they were gooooood.

I had some cute helpers...

And thank God for that because I am LAZY. I am so damn lazy. And thank God biscuits are easy. Lazy. First of all, I read tons of biscuit recipes. I did my research. I tested some out. That part was not lazy. I did not go out and get any Lily White flour or whatever the Southerners use. I did not make my own baking powder or whatever the non-lazy people do. I wanted to use what I had, which was regular ol' unbleached flour and regular ol' baking powder. This, I could argue, is simply practical for my life - not lazy.

I did not roll out the dough and use a cute little ring-shaped biscuit cutter to cut perfect biscuits. Also not lazy. I like slapping down imperfect balls of dough for a more rustic final product. Fully informed and deliberate decision.

Lazy is a weekend morning spent in bed until 11 then rolling yourself down to the kitchen, whipping up a batch of biscuits, and eating them all before returning to bed. Please don't judge me. I like my weekends. I like my breakfasts. I like my bed.

If you'd like to judge me on this little tidbit, however, please feel free: the reason my biscuits ended up being baked in a muffin pan is because I was too lazy to pull out the cookie sheet. I would have had to pull out like three extra pans from my drawer under the stove to reach it. Totally unacceptable.

They turned out fine, of course. Pan irrelevant. A handy tool you may want to enlist for your own biscuits is a pastry blender (see below). If you make pies - let me rephrase that - if you make your own pie crusts, you probably have one of these. Less effective substitutes (I've tried both) are forks, or a food processor. Eh. They're fine, I guess. If you're not lazy. If you ARE lazy, the forks are too much work and the cuisinart is too heavy and a pain in the ass to clean.

My mom is totally going to lecture me. I can't wait.

Recipe for Buttermilk Biscuits (adapted for the lazy), from The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook:

(By Christopher Kimball, the man behind Cook's Illustrated, so you know he's tried these a million which ways, done science experiments and probably sent them to the moon. So you know they're good.)

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 4 tbsp cold butter
  • 3 tbsp cold crisco
  • 3/4 cup of buttermilk

Heat oven to 425. In a large bowl, mix the first 4 ingredients. Add the butter and crisco, and cut and mix using the pastry blender, until the butter/crisco is about the size of small peas. You should be able to still see little chunks and the dough should resemble coarse meal. Using a spatula, stir as you pour in the buttermilk very slowly in a thin stream. The dough will come together, and feel free to start using your hands to get it to hold together. It will be wet and sticky. Take fistfulls and lay them out on a cookie sheet (or muffin pan, whatever you can find, you lazy bum!!), then transfer to the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes or a little longer until they are nice and golden. Serve hot with butter, jam, gravy, whatever you like.

This is the aftermath of biscuit breakfast, about 47 seconds later....

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Nothing Fancy

My farmers market finds from the weekend did not go to waste. I used my heirloom tomato, sourdough baguette, potatoes, scallions and strawberries for a simple Tuesday dinner. Nothing fancy. Just fresh and delicious. Yumazing, actually. Fresh and simple usually trump fancy, in my humble opinion.

It's admittedly a little cliche, but Nathan and I adored Cafe Lalo when we lived in NYC. I only say cliche because a.) they hock their own merchandise all over the place, and b.) on unabashed display in the front window are photos of scenes from late-90's-Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks-romantic-comedy, You've Got Mail, that took place at Cafe Lalo. You know... when she goes and sits alone with a rose and book waiting for her secret mailer guy to show? That place. With the twinkle lights and the windows and whatnot. You remember.

Annnnywho, my point is that no matter how much Lalo seems like a recipe for a tourist trap, - besides, we pretty much were tourists anyway, having only stayed a short while - we loved it for so many reasons.

Such as: introducing us to the simple-yet-genius combo of grilled sourdough + heirloom tomato + swiss cheese.

So, a quick trip to the store to grab a block of swiss solved my dinner puzzle yesterday, along with a few snipsnipsnips from my herb garden to sass up the potatoes. Staples like butter, salt and pepper were crucial for overall execution, and we had the strawberries for dessert.

To recreate the meal for yourself after a trip to the market, all you need are the ingredients mentioned above and a stovetop/broiler.

Recipe for Grilled Swiss & Tomato on Sourdough:

Slice a sourdough baguette to desired length and slice in half, cut side up. Lightly butter and place under a heated broiler for a few minutes, just until the edges crisp slightly. Remove and top with heirloom tomato slices, a small amount of salt and pepper, and then top with swiss cheese. Place back under the broiler until the cheese is nice and melty and the corners of the bread are golden. Easy peasy.

Recipe for Farmers Market/Herb Garden Potato Salad:

Get a pound or so of little new potatoes at the market and wash the dirt off. Boil for several minutes until a butter knife can slide through. Drain and set aside. Then heat a tbsp of butter in the same pan and add a handful of chopped scallion, the white and green parts. Saute until softened just a little, and then add the potatoes back to the pot. Add more butter if you'd like, and smash with a wooden spoon so the potatoes are about halved, not totally mashed. Stir to incorporate the scallion, then sprinkle chopped herbs of your choice. I used basil, parsley and chives, and it was pretty outstanding. Stir in salt and pepper to taste. I'm a butter freak so I like to maybe even add a wee bit more here. Serve warm. Don't forget the strawberries for dessert; this is their season to shine.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

More Peas Please

Because it's pea season, and because they're just so damn cute, I'm back with another good pea dish.

This past weekend was another round of Saturday farmers market followed by Sunday cooking with Mama Bette. Truthfully, I did not get any peas, although I was tempted. I got all kinds of other Great Stuff, including strawberries and new potatoes, but this weekend the process went a little something like this: I made plans in my head to be gourmet-extraordinaire with my finds, I picked out some Great Stuff, and then it sat on my counter all weekend because I went to my mom's house and we used her Great Stuff.

Two things: one, fresh garlic smashed with new potatoes is so good you will feel like you never actually knew what garlic tasted like, and two, peas + peas + peas = yumazing.

By the way, I've decided "yumazing" is my new catchphrase. If you know of anyone else who currently uses it as their catchphrase, please let me know. I'll be thoroughly disappointed, but I'd rather know than not know. Also, if you actually think it's obnoxious (like I think "Yum-O" is obnoxious) let me know, because I think it's kind of cute, but again, I'd rather know these things. Thanks.

Moving on, here's the recipe for Three-Pea Toss adapted from The Splendid Table's How To Eat Supper cookbook:

  • 1 cup of sugar snap peas
  • 1 cup of snow pea pods
  • 1 cup of baby peas (frozen is fine, or hand-shelled if you're slightly insane)
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1/3 cup of salted, roasted whole almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 1 generous tbsp of fresh chopped mint leaves
  • A generous pinch of sugar
  • 2 tbsp XV olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste

First, prepare all the ingredients, string and wash the sugar snap peas, and set aside. Heat a wok on high heat and swirl the olive oil in the bottom. Toss the onion, sugar, salt & pepper for about a minute. Next, toss the sugar snap peas for about 30 seconds, then add the snow peas and cook for 30 more seconds. Last, add the frozen peas and cook until thawed, about 30 more seconds. Continue tossing while you turn off the heat and add the mint and almonds. Toss together and transfer to a serving bowl.