Thursday, May 21, 2009

Just in time for Memorial Day, I offer you ribs

St-Louis Style Ribs.

The day of the Darlington Duel, we sent this little video over to Ken (the boy’s competition) to egg him on, in a healthy and gentle way of course.


We smoked our ribs (we've done this before, you can read about it here. Soak some wood chips (flavor of your choice) in a little beer and water. If you’re going to use a smoker, scroll down to about half way on this page to the “Do This” section, and follow steps 1 through 3, skip step 4, then go on to step 5. If you don’t have a smoker but are smoking the ribs via the gas or charcoal grill way, do include step 4. Skip step 9 and 10.

Steps steps steps. Yeah. Basically, your ribs are ready after 4 hours.

When ready, when the ribs have been hauled out and let to cool a bit, cut up and serve with the barbecue sauce of your choice. I always like to make a couple of different ones. I myself am a spicy barbecue sauce aficionado, but not everyone is, so I also make a sweet sauce, and have these handy in separate squeeze bottles.

Cheddar and Candied Bacon Cornbread.

I could dazzle you all and say I made the whole thing from scratch. However, I wont lie to you. I used the packets of Jiffy corn muffin mix that one can get for about 70 cents at the grocery store, and just doctored it up. How very Sandra Lee of me. It honestly doesn’t take that much more time, if any, to whip up a batch without the Jiffy boxes, but what can I say. I really don’t have an excuse for you.

Cheddar and Candied Bacon Cornbread - makes one 8 inch square pan or round cake pan

One box Jiffy corn muffin mix
One egg
1/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons of regular plain white sugar
½ cup cheddar plus a little extra to sprinkle on top
three strips of candied bacon, the David Lebovitz way, chopped up (save a little extra to the side to sprinkle on top)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Butter an 8 inch square or round cake pan, and line with parchment. Joe Pastry tells you how to do so the correct and nifty way right here. If you don’t have any parchment handy, you can generously butter the pan, flour it, covering all the interior surfaces, and tap out the excess over the sink.

3. Empty package of muffin mix into a large bowl. Add the egg, the milk, the sugar, and mix together. add the cheddar and gently mix together. add the chopped up candied bacon and barely mix together. let it sit for about 5 minutes before pouring into your prepared pan, evening out the top with a rubber spatula. I don’t remember which source I got it from (maybe an old Alton Brown episode), but letting the batter sit before pouring into the pan helps thicken it. You can really omit this step if you are on a time crunch.

4. Toss into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, at which point you haul it out. Sprinkle the reserved cheddar and candied bacon on top, and toss back into the oven for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool in pan before inverting pan onto a baking rack. Remove parchment (if used), flip it right side up, cut into pieces and eat.

Due to the addition cheddar, this cornbread is a bit cakelike, and is denser than regular cornbread.

And now let me tell you how amusing it was when I nearly burned down the house the night before while candying bacon. Actually it wasn’t that amusing. The house stunk of burnt caramel with a whisp of eau de bacon all night. I followed David Lebovitz’ s steps for candying bacon, but instead of paying attention to his recipe like a good girl, I added too much brown sugar, thinking more is better. i shoulda stuck with the old architecture adage "Less is More". I also stupidly didn’t bother to check it after a couple of minutes in, but just let it rip in the oven for 8 minutes before turning it over for another long 8 minutes. That batch came out black as onyx and totally inedible, as well as setting off the smoke detector. You live and learn. I started over, this time with 1 teaspoon of brown sugar evenly pressed into each slice of bacon, and flipped it every 2 minutes. I hauled it out when it looked like gorgeously glossy cooked bacon, not like the top of a black lacquered box. Let cool before chopping up or snacking on. Some of the pieces didn’t render out all their fat, so just cut those bits off and throw away (or eat when no one is looking so they can’t make you feel badly about eating candied bacon fat).

Friday, May 15, 2009

musings: the day my life changed

Once upon a time, a boy was watching TV in his living room while the snow softly fell outside his home in a quiet Baltimore suburb. While flipping channels, he stopped to watch the end of a NASCAR race being held someplace sunny and warm. Suddenly the screen showed a crash, with one car ending up head on into the wall, and the next thing he knew, the car’s driver was dead. The boy thought, “Hey! People die in this sport! I wonder what will happen next week?”. And so began that boy’s love affair with stock car racing.

That’s basically the gist of it, how the boy started watching NASCAR. I was with him that day when Dale Earnhardt died; we had comfortably ensconced ourselves on the sofa bed in our living room with the dog and multiple blankets. i don't mean to sound flippant, for someone did die that day in an awful way, but that really was the moment the boy's love affair with the sport began. For the longest time I couldn’t understand the boy's fascination with it at all. It just seemed so un-him. His reasoning was because during the football off-season there was nothing else to watch on Sunday, and hey did you know people can die??

Years passed, and his fascination grew. I just didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand the appeal of a bunch of grown men flooring it and hanging a left; "This is boring as hell", I would think. The boy dragged j and I to an October 2006 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and I remember thinking DEAR GOD I hope I don’t get shown on TV or run into anybody I know, because that would totally tarnish my image and I would be mortified. And if asked what I did this past weekend, I WILL NOT mention that I sat on a hard metal bleacher seat sweating my ass off surrounded by a bunch of shirtless rednecks tossing back Bud Lights shouting WOOOOOO while watching cars flooring it and hanging lefts.

I’ve slowly grown an appreciation to it. I attribute this to all those Sundays i've sat on the couch in the living room, trying to tune out the TV while doing something else. A lot of it sunk in unwillingly, subconsciously. The next thing I knew, I was arguing with the boy about Hendrick, about Goodyear tires, about his love for Tony Stewart (whom he now dislikes), about his great love for Dale Earnhardt Jr (whom he now Despises with a capital D), etc… The big turning point for me, the moment I realized i was a fan, was that weekend last October when we camped in the infield at the Atlanta Motor Speedway and I suddenly got It. Hard to explain what that It is – it’s a combination of fierce fan loyalty, the bad boy image that some drivers have, and the sport being rather dangerous. Bad boys and danger are always appealing, are they not? That’s why chicks like guys with bikes; not only did your mother warn you against them, but they are so alluring and attractive.

Last Friday I found myself reading Wikipedia entries for about 4 hours straight – Wikipedia does have that ability to totally suck you in; you start reading one thing and next thing you know you know you’ve wasted a perfectly good afternoon. Except by the end of the afternoon I found myself knowing tons of NASCAR trivia. You know what’s the most fascinating thing to me about NASCAR from the beginning? It’s not the drivers (although I do have a soft spot for one or two of those bad boys). It’s drafting. And what the hell is drafting, you ask? It’s all about physics. i love math and physics. I’m not going to waste any of your time telling you all about it, but urge you to go to Wikipedia and look it up and find out who “discovered” it during a race. Drafting is also why geese fly in V-formation, something I’ve wondered about for years. I friggin’ love watching geese fly. I always wondered what they squawked on about, why they flew that way, and who designated the guy in front to be the leader. do they draw straws? did he lose a bet?

Anyway, I digress. You’re probably wondering what the hell any of this has to do with food. I’m getting there.

About a week and a half ago, our buddy Ken mentioned he’d be smoking a brisket that upcoming weekend, so the boy said he’d smoke a pork butt and maybe we could get together to watch the race being held on Saturday night (sometimes races take place on Saturdays due to holidays or whatnot). Somehow during the course of the week, the boys came up with the idea of having a “smoke-off”, and next thing I knew we were organizing a full on competition. It was dubbed the Darlington Duel, as there were two main contenders in the smoke-off (the boy and Ken), and the race was taking place in Darlington, SC. The boy planned on making Brunswick Stew (with pork butt and chicken) and St Louis-style ribs, while Ken would make beef brisket and turkey legs. These four items would pit against each other and a winner would be announced, with the prize being bragging rights. We invited several of our friends, with Ken and MA hosting the event at their place. The boys named their dishes after NASCAR phrases. NASCAR has its own special descriptive language – there are whole websites out there devoted to them. you go take a look-see through Google.

MA and I were later complaining about how the boys made up the menu and the wives ended up making all the side dishes. I found myself making two different barbecue sauces while stuck on a call at 2 am (I’m a firm believer in multitasking, plus it helped keep me awake), all while keeping an eye on the pork butt which was smoking away into the night. The sides were: corn salad, coleslaw, cheddar and candied bacon cornbread, a salad that one of MAs neighbors made with lettuce he’d grown in his yard. I also made David Lebovitz’s candied bacon ice cream, and the boy made Bananas Foster. I might have forgotten one or two of the side dishes, as there was a ton of food.

So who won, you ask? Let's watch this and see. The boy’s on the left, Ken in the middle, and MA reading the verdict.


I don’t have recipes for the beans, the brisket, or the turkey legs (those were Ken and MAs). and since this post is getting ridiculously long, i'll leave the cornbread and rib recipes for the next post.

Brunswick Stew:
Pretty much follow the recipe on that link (we did not use the vegetable gumbo mix), and tweak it at the end to get the heat you want. we tweaked it to get the layers of flavor that appealed to us, mainly more Worcestershire and added hot sauce.

we smoked a chicken to use in this recipe and injected it into the breast and thigh with a mixture of the juice of two lemons and about a half cup of olive oil. set your smoker to 225 degrees F, and soak some wood chips (flavor of your choice) in some beer of your choice (i think we used Guinness and Miller Lite because that's what we have on hand pretty much all of the time). rub any remaining lemon/oil mixture on the outside of the chicken (or just oil it if you ran out), and liberally salt and pepper it all over. when the smoker is ready, toss in the chicken to smoke for about an hour per pound. you'll want to take internal temperature readings; when the chicken is fully smoked, it should read 165 degrees F in the breast. we smoked this first and then removed it to rest on a cutting board, and smoked the pork separately. when the chicken is cool, pull the skin off and discard it, and with your hands, pull all the meat off of the bones into shredded bite sized pieces. set aside until ready to use in the stew.

for the pulled pork used in the stew, get yourself a pork butt, approximately 3 lbs or so (it will reduce in weight while cooking; you might have a hard time finding less than a 5 lb pork butt; if that's the case, smoke it all and have pulled pork sandwiches for leftovers). cover it liberally with the dry rub of your choice - we make up a mason jar of this Magic Rub and use that liberally. make up a batch of this East Carolina mop toss that into your smoker which has been preheated to 225 degrees F. this took about 10 hours. every couple of hours, baste the meat with the East Carolina sauce using a pastry brush or one of those fancy food mop things. the meat is ready when it reaches about 190 degrees F. Let it rest before shredding with two forks and saving 1 lb of it for the stew.

i know i linked a lot to that Amazing Ribs website, but that site more than any others out there on the innernets have helped us become better smokers. it'll teach you a lot about the fine art of smoked food.

cheddar and candied bacon cornbread and st louis-style ribs will follow in another post.

UPDATE 2:15 am, 5/16: so i feel like an idiot, or at least have very poor memory. earlier tonight i went to see a movie with the boy and afterwards a quick dinner before i hopped onto the first of several conference calls tonight (off topic, i need to find a new job - these late night calls are killing me). while at dinner, i proudly told the boy about this post, and he said, "But that time we were on the sofa bed and it was snowing outside, that's not when Dale died. That happened two years before". so duh, i'm dumb. how come i can take two perfectly separate memories and smoosh them into one without realizing it? anyway, it was a Daytona 500 that we watched that day and maybe i confused those days because Michael Waltrip also won on that day, except that day it was more like the Daytona 100 because of rain delays or something. anyway, carry on. i'm done here for now.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

come rain or shine...

taste of alpharetta is tonight! it poured down rain during last year's event, but we still went, and i'm glad we did, because we got to sample some really great local restaurant fare. i hope the weather lets up a bit by this evening. so be prepared, wear your rain boots and bring your big ass golf umbrella. mine's the one with the cigars all over it.

located at old milton parkway at wills park.

in other news, i need to blog about the darlington duel which took place this past weekend. what is the darlington duel, you ask? it was a smoke-off between the boy and our friend Ken. and by "smoke-off" i mean, Who made the best smoked food. stay tuned; i need to organize my thoughts and photos from that party, and i'll post about it soon.

Monday, May 4, 2009

so what's for sunday lunch?

chicken caesar bacon sandwich on ciabatta.

i made this before (i've actually made it a few times since i wrote about it, right here). every once in a while you want a gourmet sandwich for lunch and there's really no point in paying someone else for it if you've got some time to kill and a hungry boy in the living room.

i've made a couple of changes to the original recipe, which is one of the Barefoot Contessa's. the boy prefers asiago to parmesan, so asiago goes on here. also, i mince the sundried tomato and sprinkle that on my half of the sandwich (the boy doesn't much care for them). whole sundried tomatoes tend to be chewy, so it's easier on the eater to not have to struggle with their sandwich. i also just pan fry some regular bacon on low, turning every once in a while, until crisp. the first time i made this sandwich i used some hickory smoked bacon because that's what i had on hand, but the friend i made the sandwich for pointed it out immediately and said that next time she'd prefer it without. it's up to you to decide which kind of bacon you want to use, or if you'd prefer to just cook up some thinly sliced pancetta, as the Barefoot Contessa does.

the ciabatta i buy from our local Kroger bakery are huge, so this recipe serves 4. i had my portion with a glass of wine. hey, it's sunday, and i went for a run this morning (a short run, as the humidity is pretty high, but i ran nevertheless).

Caesar Club Sandwich (adapted from Barefoot Contessa At Home)
Serves 4

2 split chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices bacon
1 large clove garlic
2 tablespoons parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 large ciabatta bread
a few handfuls of baby arugula
3 to 4 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped up into tiny bits
a wedge of asiago cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan skin side up. Rub the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until cooked through (internal chicken temperature should be around 145 degrees F). Cool slightly, discard the skin and bones, and slice meat thickly. Set aside.

3. In a large frying pan, cook your bacon on low, flipping from time to time until cooked and crispy. Set aside to drain on paper towels, then cut each piece in half.

4. Place the garlic, parsley, anchovy paste, mustard, lemon juice, and mayo in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until smooth. Set aside.

5. Using a vegetable peeler, cut slices of asiago cheese so that you have long thin slivers of it. use as much as you want of this - asiago is a less in-your-face cheese than parmesan, but you can use parmesan if you'd like - the boy just happens to like asiago.

6. Slice the ciabatta in half horizontally and separate the top from the bottom. Toast the bread in the oven, cut side up, for 5 to 7 minutes; cool slightly. Spread the cut sides of each piece with the dressing. Place a couple of handfuls of the arugula on the bottom piece of bread (to cover) and then layer in order: the sun-dried tomatoes, shaved asiago slices, bacon, and sliced chicken. sprinkle with salt and pepper and finish with another layer of arugula. Place the top slice of ciabatta on top and cut in half crosswise, then cut each half into two. serve at room temperature.