Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When Tomatoes and Dumplings Marry.......On a Sunday

I know, the title sounds ridiculous, but to my non-existent readers, don't turn away, you'll be missing the piece de resistance of this roasted tomato trilogy.  So, if you haven't guessed it, this last recipe will have roasted tomatoes in it, but it will also have one of my most favorite things in it as well, gnocchi.  For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of trying gnocchi, or just have never heard of the stuff, gnocchi is basically an Italian dumpling (hence where the dumpling part of the title comes into play).  They are made from a combination of potato, flour, and eggs.  Now I can go on and on about how light and pillowy and delicious they are, how they can be served with browned butter, or ricotta, or Parmesan, or tomatoes, ya, ya, ya, ya (actually maybe more like a Charlie Brown show, wah, wah wah, wah wah wah), but this time I'll keep it simple and just say they are damn good, and are not even that difficult to make, however, if you want to skip the trouble of making them, luckily they are pretty much available at most supermarkets.
When I was contemplating how to incorporate dumplings and tomatoes I think I was at the butcher (yes, he was open this time) and he was telling me how they had just got some very nice short ribs.  So I decided that maybe a short rib ragu would be a nice way to marry these two things. 
So, I don't know about all of you out there, but I am a big fan of making a nice Sunday dinner, therefore, this ragu was tackled for that very day, and well, it does take a little bit of time to make, but it is worth it, and I think my husband, who mind you has NEVER had gnocchi, would definitely agree.........

Short Rib Ragu with Gnocchi

4lbs Short Ribs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
8oz bacon diced
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions diced
4 cloves garlic minced
5 large carrots diced
4 cups roasted tomatoes
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup red wine
2 cups beef broth
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh oregano chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil chopped
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper

2 1/2lbs russet potatoes (usually two or three does it)
3/4-1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 extra large egg beaten

For the ragu, heat the olive oil in a large stockpot on medium high heat and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season the ribs with salt and pepper.  Brown ribs on all sides and set aside.  Drain any excess fat that is left in the pan and add the diced bacon.  Cook the bacon until crispy and remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Again, drain excess fat from pan and add the butter to the pan.  Once the butter is melted add the onions, garlic, and carrots.  Cook the vegetables until the onions are translucent and the carrots are starting to get tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the bacon, tomatoes, red wine and beef broth and bring to a simmer.  Add the bay leaves and then the reserved ribs.  Cover and place pot in preheated oven and cook until the ribs are starting to get tender, about 1 1/2 hours (I know this is long, but hey, put it in the oven, grab a beer, and watch a little Sunday football while its cooking......any men in the room will appreciate the smell of meat simmering).  Take the pot out of the oven and cook the ragu, uncovered, over medium heat for another 45 minutes, until the sauce is reduced and the meat is literally starting to fall off the bones.  Remove the ribs from the pot and place on a platter to cool until you can handle them without scalding the skin off your fingertips (this is something I failed to contemplate.......yah, painful).  Pull all the meat off the bones and return it to the pot.  Add the fresh herbs, salt and pepper to taste, and cream, give it a stir and your ready for dumplings.  This ragu goes really well with pasta as well if you're a little nervous about the gnocchi, and freezes well too, so you can make it ahead of time and freeze it.  It also gets a little better the next day, so don't be afraid to prepare it the day ahead.

Now for the gnocchi, which is not as daunting as it might seem, you just have to remember, feather light hands.  For me, baking the potatoes versus boiling them gives the best result, and the result you want to look for is a light, pillowy dumpling that does not fall apart when you put it into the water.  OK, here we go, its gnocchi time............
Rows of yummy dumplings
Preheat oven to 375 degrees, cook potatoes with peels on until incredibly soft, about an hour.  Once the potatoes are done peel them while they are hot, and place them into a potato ricer.  You can use a fork or a cheese grater for this step but I find a potato ricer gives the best results.  Rice the potatoes into a shallow dish, and allow them to cool just until the potato is comfortable to handle and is at a temperature that won't turn the egg into a scramble when you add it.  When the potatoes are cool enough, spread 3/4 cup flour onto your work surface and layer the potatoes on top.  Using a fork, fork the flour over the potatoes, incorporating it until it looks like a coarse meal.  Drizzle the egg over the top of the potato/flour mixture and fork again until the egg is incorporated.  Gather the dough together and with light hands gently knead the dough, adding enough flour to keep it from sticking to your work surface and your hands, until everything looks pretty well incorporated and the dough looks smooth.  You don't want to overdo the flour, this will make the gnocchi too dense and doughy, you want just enough to bind the potato.  The dough shouldn't feel like a stone, it should still have a lot of give to it.  Divide the dough into equal parts and roll into logs that are about an inch wide.

 Cut dough logs into 1/2 inch pieces or dumplings and roll each dumpling down a floured fork.  I have seen other people just press a divot in the center, and this is a little less time consuming.  You are just adding texture to the dumplings so that all that saucy goodness will stick to them.  Once you have all your dumplings cut and ready, heat a pot of salted water on medium high heat.  Add the gnocchi to the water in small batches, cooking them until they float.  Once they start to float let me float for maybe 15 seconds then remove them with a slotted spoon and put them on your serving platter. 

After all these little babies are cooked just spoon the ragu over the dumplings and you're done.  Trust me, if you ever questioned whether heaven existed on earth, after eating this you'll know that heaven might just visit us all from time to time. 

Oh, and be forwarned, gnocchi may pop up on this blog again because quite frankly...........I love it, so freeze some of these little guys because you're gonna need them!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tomato Soup Reloaded

There are a select group of foods that when mentioned immediately take us back to childhood, and give us the ultimate sense of comfort.  For me, tomato soup fits in that category.  As a kid it was my favorite meal, accompanied of course, by delicious grilled cheesy sandwiches that were used for soaking up all that tomatoey goodness.  While I loved the tomato soup of my childhood, I distinctly remember it coming from a can in a strange solid mass, being diluted down with water.  Even though this strange solid mass was delicious (as a child, when honestly if you put ketchup on a cardboard box, I would have eaten it), I think it can be done better, and since this post was suppose to cover how to blissfully sacrifice our roasted tomatoes to the culinary gods, tomato soup seems to be an excellent form of sacrifice.  So here we go, into the comfort food zone...........................

Roasted Tomato Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 onions diced
5 large carrots peeled and diced
3 gloves of garlic minced
5 lbs Roma tomatoes roasted
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
4 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper

In a large pot heat olive oil on medium heat.  Add butter and melt.  When butter is melted add onions, carrots and garlic.  Sweat the vegetables until onions are translucent and carrots are tender, about 10 minutes.  Add roasted tomatoes, chicken broth, and one cup water, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon.  Cover and simmer until all the vegetables are tender and the flavors combine, about 20 minutes.  Once the vegetables are tender add the chopped herbs and cook for an additional 10 minutes.  Remove soup from heat and in small batches puree the soup in either a food processor, food mill, or blender.  To puree the soup I prefer to use a food processor because it gives the soup a slight chunky texture, but if you prefer a smoother soup use a blender, or if you want an even chunkier soup use a food mill.  Return the pureed soup to the pot and add as much of the reserved 2 cups of water to thin the soup to your desired consistency.  Add cream and simmer soup for an additional 5 minutes.  Add the salt and pepper, you can add more or less, depending on your taste.  I like to serve this soup with a garnish of fresh parsley, grated Parmesan, and some homemade garlic croutons.  Serve it alongside a toasted Gouda sandwich and voila, a little piece of childhood without that weird solid mass...........................

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Once Upon a Tomato...................

So I thought I would dedicate my next few posts to my favorite fruit, the tomato.  I can honestly say that if tomatoes some day cease to exist I think I would shrivel up and die, and outside of garlic, olive oil, and butter (I have to say it , YUMMMMM) they are what I cook with the most.  I was on my bus the other day, on my way to work, rocking out to a poorly selected Bon Jovi tune, reminiscing about eighties hair bands that I strangely adored as a kid when it hit me.........s$%!, tomato season is almost over!  I had a mission, find as many local tomatoes and preserve them for those long winter months when I am tomato-less (well, good tomato-less that is).  Now granted I am growing tomatoes in my little urban garden (yes, feeding my ego again) but my fat a@@ self has gone out, picked them all, and inhaled them (naughty, naughty).  So the next day it was off to my favorite produce market, to find tomatoes.................
I get to the market, and by the looks of it everyone else in town decided today was the day to go there as well.  The parking lot requires the ability to solve a rubix cube in order to park your car and being able to get to the produce itself requires a little tap dancing and some subtle squeeze and turn maneuvers. Why put myself through this?  Because it's a great market. 

Goodies at the market

Now you might ask how do you know you've found a good market?  You know you've found a good market if the produce is fresh, locally grown, it's affordable, and honestly I love a market with good people watching.  For me sometimes, the weirder, the better.  Anyway, in my book any market which supports your local small farmer is a winner, and this market definitely fits that bill.  It's a mish-mash of locally grown produce surrounded by canning jars and lots of old ladies, dressed like they stepped out of the 1940's, squabbling over grabbing the best pickling cukes, cabbages, apples and pears for preserving.  I have even heard a heated discussion between two ladies, cabbages in hand ready for throwing, about what recipe makes the best sauerkraut, awesome.... people watching at its best.

So, I am wrestling my way through the market, my arms full of other crap I didn't need but had to have (cipollini onions, pears, plums, apples............have I told you lately that I am utterly ridiculous!) when I saw them (chorus please), Roma tomatoes.  I think I was almost at a dead run as I rushed to them, as if they were the last Roma tomatoes on earth, and quickly filled two enormous bags with tomatoes and headed home.

Canning is probably the most popular way of preserving tomatoes but I prefer to roast them.  I then just stick them in a bag or container and freeze them until I want to use them.  I prefer roasting because it brings out this amazing sweet flavor in the tomatoes, and since here in the states our tomatoes typically have a lower sugar content that in other parts of the world I think that roasting them makes up for that.  So, roasting first, then what to do with them later...........................

Oven Roasted Tomatoes

4-6 lbs Roma tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic grated (I use a microplane)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine olive oil, garlic and herbs in a large bowl.  Dried herbs are used here because fresh herbs burn due to their water content.  Add tomatoes and toss, completely coating all the tomatoes in the olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss again.  Pour tomatoes onto a rimmed baking tray (jelly roll pan works well, put you could use a shallow casserole dish) and bake the tomatoes until they look very shriveled and a their juices are reduced (about 1 1/2-2 hours). 

Now your ready to either freeze and cherish them or sacrifice them immediately to the culinary gods.  I think sacrifice is on the menu......

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pear Meets........Meat

So, I have had prosciutto wrapped around yummy melon many times, and seen it blogged about endlessly. While this delicacy is again another culinary treat given to us by my peeps (if you hadn't already  guessed....Italians) I wanted to change it up a bit..........
Now, in my previous post I mentioned that there would be apple and pear slaughter commencing soon, and this thought inspired this post.  Why not slaughter a pear in the name of prosciutto?  Understand this, I can think of a lot of reasons to murder for prosciutto, but this seemed very fitting given the time of year.  I also remembered that I had some fig infused balsamic syrup in my fridge that might be delicious with it, and with that, a fruit gave its life for meat :)

Pears and Prosciutto with Fig Infused Balsamic Syrup

Fig Infused Balsamic Syrup:
2 cups figs chopped
2 cups balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 Bartlett pears sliced
4 slices prosciutto, cut in half lengthwise

Combine all ingredients and heat over medium low heat until the balsamic vinegar is reduced and thickened, about 30-45 minutes.  Strain through a fine sieve to remove the chunks of fig and cool.  Refrigerate until use.
Now this syrup is great for drizzling on fruit or cheese, or using as a base for dressings.  My husband loves it with a little olive oil as a dipping sauce for bread.
To prep the pears just just wrap the slices in the prosciutto and then drizzle with the syrup, and you're done.  This would be good as an appetizer or as part of an antipasto plate, and I truly think that this recipe calls for one thing....... murdering all the pears you can get your hands on!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Great Pie in the Sky

As a kid I always remember gatherings with my mom's side of the family involving a pie at some point.  I think it was because my great grandmother always made them.  She literally had at least two or three of them sitting waiting for us when we would visit.  Her pie was the stuff of legends, and every time I make one I think of her..........the way she looked, the way her house smelled, and the fact she would always serve her pie with some fresh cream and a sprinkle of sugar.   She usually didn't traffic in any of the cream pie varieties.  She preferred the fruit pies, and of course mincemeat pie, which is, actually, kinda gross if you ask me (no offense if you love it).  That being said, when I decided to post a pie recipe I grew a little anxious, and quite frankly a little sad since that would require me to share her pie crust recipe, which was passed down to my mom, and then to me.  This crust was one of the first things I learned how to cook, and while it might be just pie to anyone else, it is sacred to me. 
But.....on the flip side it is delicious, and therefore worth sharing.  And I have to say it always results in the best pie crust (believe me, I've tried plenty), and since pie is generally overlooked in the culinary world I want to revitalize it, since it is fall and all the best apples and pears are just begging to be slaughtered in the name of....well.....pie!  And crisps, and cobblers, and tarts, and butters, and......I must stop myself for f#$! sake.
I however in this case decided to capitalize on the last of the local white peaches and blackberries that were at the market.........apple and pear slaughter will happen, oh yes, yes it will.

Peach and Blackberry Pie

Deliah Bystrom's Crust Recipe:
3 1/2 cups of flour
1/2 cup chilled vegetable shortening (I know, I know, not very foodie of me, but it makes the crust tender, believe me)
1 cup cold butter diced
1 egg lightly beaten
1 tablespoon white vinegar
5-6 tablespoons ice water

4 cups peaches, peeled and sliced
2 cups fresh blackberries
11/2 to 2 cups of sugar (you may need to adjust this based on how sweet the fruit is)
1/2 cup of flour
11/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter diced

2 tablespoons heavy cream
cinnamon and sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  For the crust place flour, butter, and shortening in a bowl.  With a pastry cutter cut the butter and shortening into the flour until it resembles a coarse meal.  You can use a food processor to do this but I prefer to do this by hand.  Drizzle the egg over the flour mixture and incorporate using a fork.  Add the vinegar and 3 tablespoons ice water and incorporate.  Add additional ice water a tablespoon at a time just until the dough comes together but isn't too tacky.  Divide the dough into two portions and pat the portions into two disks.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the filling, about 20 minutes.  You know that you'll have a great crust if you can see flecks of butter and shortening in the dough, if you see that you didn't over mix it and you deserve a glass of wine ;)

While the crust is resting combine the peaches, flour, sugar and cinnamon until well combined.  For the pie, don't choose fruit that is too ripe, it will make your pie too watery.  Pick fruit that is just turning ripe, you'll get the good fruit flavor without all the liquid.  If you're fruit seems a little lacking in the juice department cut back on the flour a little bit.  Now add the vanilla and the blackberries, stirring gently to prevent the berries from breaking up.  Set the filling aside
Take one of the pastry disks out of the refrigerator and place on a well floured surface.  Roll the dough out into an 18 inch disk, or until the pastry is about an 1/8th of an inch thick.  Trim the edges with a pairing knife and roll the pastry onto the rolling pin and drape over a 9-inch pie plate.  Trim the pastry so you have about an inch hanging over the side.  Fill the pastry with the peach filling, dot with butter and sprinkle with some additional sugar. 

Now take the second disk out and repeat the rolling process.  Drape the pastry over the filling and trim the edges to match the length of the bottom crust. To seal the crust grab the overhanging pastry and pinch it together.  Fold the pastry to form a simple ring around the pie and then either crimp the edges or use a fork to score the crust.  To crimp, simply put push the dough with your index finger between your other index finger and thumb.
After you have sealed the crust do a few small cuts on the top to allow steam to escape and brush the crust with the heavy cream.  Dust the crust with cinnamon and sugar, and then place the pie onto a cookie sheet (juice catcher).  Wrap the crust with foil, which helps prevent overcooking the crust before the filling is done, and place in the oven.  Bake the pie for about 45 minutes, remove the foil, then bake until the crust is golden and you can see the filling bubbling through the steam cuts, about another 20-25 minutes.

So if that doesn't give you pie fever I don't know what will!  Hopefully you take this crust recipe, and make it your own family secret.....and I am quite sure my great grandmother will be smiling at that.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Foodie's Day Out

So I was very lucky this past weekend because my dear husband let me have a "foodie day out."  This is special because I am allowed to go BY MYSELF, without my three year old.  Now don't get me wrong, I LOVE my little girl, but it is very difficult to relish in a foodie "festivus" (I love that word) with a three year old constantly asking you the following:
"what's that?", "can we go home?", "mommy can I go potty", "what are they doing?", "what's their name?", "mommy I want cereal", and so on, and so on, and so on...........................
So, to have a day out without that mind numbing torture is wonderful, and I took full advantage of it.  I wonder how my husband would feel if I had a foodie day in Paris..............Anyway, I went to a couple of my favorite spots in Portland and here's a photographic log of my short travels:

Bread at Saint Honore

My first stop was at Saint Honore Boulangerie, which is one of the most wonderful places on earth!  It is a french inspired cafe, started by master baker Dominique Geulin and his wife Stephanie.  They have an amazing assortment of bread, pastries, sandwiches and quiches all baked on site.  I love to go there and get great bread, an espresso, a naughty pastry, and sit outside and watch the world go by.

 I might as well tell you that during this little trip my a## did literally grow by the minute, so be forewarned.

Espresso and Naughtiness

 After my caffeine kick and a cellulite inducing treat I wandered across the street and found a jewel that I hadn't notice before, a local food  co-op that was stocked with every and anything local at really reasonable prices.  They had wonderful Oregon lamb, local eggs, and wouldn't you know it, local butter (which I bought since, you know, I pretty much bathe in the stuff).  I also was able to convince them to buy figs from me (I haven't told you about the gargantuous fig tree in my backyard which is both a blessing and a cluster f#$%, but that will come later)!  So there I was, butter and eggs in one hand and warm bread in the other and I still had one more stop to make......could this day get any better (oh, yes, yes it can)!
My next stop was City Market, which carries a little bit of everything that's wonderful.

Can you hear the chorus in the background.....I can

 This market has everything a foodie loves, freshly prepared meats, gourmet cheese, a good selection of local wines, local produce, fresh fish, and great fresh pasta from Pasta Works, which happens to be another one of my favorite foodie spots, but we'll save that for a later date.  When I got there they had something interesting sitting in the display case, something that was tauting me, Porchetta.  For those of you who don't know what Porchetta (pronounced Por-Ketta) is, it is basically a big piece of pig (with the skin still on) stuffed with sausage and herbs.  Another glorious culinary gift from the Italians.  However, that being said, it is a gut buster, but delicious none the less, so of course I had to get some of that!

Delicious fatty succulence!

So then, on to the salami and cheeses.........

Hungry anyone?
So I collected all my treasures and dragged my butt home.....  and on my way home I thought about how great this day was, the people that I talked to, the food I tasted, and the time I got to spend just being myself and enjoying my niche on this planet.  Everyone should have a day for themselves, to do what they love, to savour what's around them, and to just be........you
Then in an instant it seemed I was home, only to get out of the car and be greeted by my little girl with a "what are you doing?", "where did you go?", "what did you see?", "can we go to the park?".  Ah, I think I'm back in Kansas Toto.

My foodie day plunder

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ode to Summer..............Part II

OK, so I said that there would be two posts paying tribute to summer, so here ya go.  I was looking back at my last few posts and realized that there is no mention of any meat anywhere!  What has become of me!  Last time I checked I was as far from a vegetarian as one could be, but for some reason I seemed to have crossed over to the dark side (no offense to those vegetarians out there).  So, it seems very fitting that this second tribute to summer would center around barbecue.  Now I don't know about any of you out there, but the thought of flesh charred by an open flame dripping in barbecue sauce sends me to an unholy place.......my stomach just said HELLO!  Anyhoo, putting together a decent barbecue recipe was difficult, since the initial targeted piece of meat I had decided to char ended up being beyond my grasp.  I guess a little history is needed here.............
So, one beautiful sunny morning I had an epiphany!  I must do barbecue!  Now, bear in mind that this was on Labor Day, when everyone and their mother were BBQing, so it really wasn't that much of a stretch to think of it as a topic for discussion.  After much deliberation on what hunk of muscle I was going to experiment on I decided to go with brisket.  So I went to my favorite butcher and wouldn't you know it, he was closed (Duh, who works on Labor Day anyway?  The damn butcher should, that's who!)  Brisketless I trekked my way to the supermarket hoping to get lucky and well, I was s%$# out of luck.  So I perused the meat cabinet, searching for an alternate victim and there it was.  Now I had already told myself that I was not going to go with your garden variety steak, even though they are delicious.  I wanted a challenge, something I had never barbecued before, and the chosen victim was boneless beef country ribs (why in the f#&* are they called "country ribs"? I should ask my non-working butcher).  The great thing about country ribs is that they are a sizable chunk of meat, and they are very economically friendly, which at this time for me is an added bonus since I am economically challenged. 
So, I brought the ribs home, feeling a stupid sense of accomplishment for my find, and then it dawned on me, how in the hell do I cook these things.  I proceeded to rummage through my refrigerator and spice cabinets and found a beer, chili sauce, Sriracha, cumin and chili powder.  Putting all those things together and making ANOTHER trip to the market, I figured out how to char this newly found piece of meat.............

Barbecued Beef Country Ribs


I wanted to put a picture of a cute cow here
but that was just a little too blunt!
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Obviously rub the rub all over the ribs, coating them well, and refrigerate them overnight.  This step is highly difficult when all you want is charred flesh, damn it waiting all night is torture!  Anyway................

Barbecue Sauce:

1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup chili sauce
1/2 an onion minced (use a sweet onion if you can)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon Sriracha (you can modify this depending on how hot you like it, lava temp suits me well, so I add more)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
2 teaspoons dry mustard
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder

In a medium saucepan heat the oil over medium high heat.  Add the onion and saute until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients and simmer the sauce until slightly reduced, about 10 minutes.  Set sauce aside.  Now, a small rant about barbecue sauces, you can literally make thousands of different varieties of sauces, playing with heat, sources of sweetness (honey is delicious), adding in fruit (I've tried blackberries and peaches, both of which are delightful) or even roasted chilies (poblanos are a good) and by making them yourself you can control what's in them......don't look at the back of a bottle of generic barbecue sauce, its scary!  Hummmm, maybe a post just dedicated to barbecue sauces?

Braising Liquid

4 tablespoons canola oil
2 bay leaves
1 bottle of beer (I prefer an IPA or even a Lager will work)
1 medium onion sliced
3 cups beef broth
2 cups water
salt and pepper to taste

To braise the ribs, heat the oil in a medium pan on medium high heat.  When the pan is very hot brown the ribs on both sides, being careful not to crowd the pan.  When the ribs are browned, add the onion and the beer and deglaze the pan (deglazing for anyone who doesn't know, is just using a liquid to get all those yummy brown bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan).  Bring the beer to a simmer and simmer the onions in the beer for about 5 minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a soft boil, about another 5 minutes.  Add the ribs, cover, and braise until they are fork tender, about 1 1/2 hours. 
Once the ribs are done braising, remove them from the pan and immediately smear the prepared barbecue sauce all over them (this is strangely therapeutic), take them to the grill and grill for about 4 minutes per side (caramelization achieved!), then baste again right before serving and then.........it's feasting time........... I love bringing out the Tyrannosaurus in myself!
On a side note, this sauce and rub combination works on all cuts of meat, and in retrospect while this was delicious I maybe would have used bone-in ribs to help retain the moisture in the meat, but it sure is nice not to have to deal with those pesky bones!  Sounds so grotesque in a carnivorous way :)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ode to Summer........Part I

For the love of Mike, is anyone out there????????

Anyway............for anyone out there who might be listening, the days are already getting shorter here and the evenings are already showing their early chill, so I can can definitely tell that fall is here and summer is, well, on its way out.  So I thought I would dedicate my next two posts to lady summer.  Now let it be said that summer is not my favorite time of the year, sweating like a dog in heat while squeezing myself into a swimsuit (my child happens to be a water bug) is really not my idea of a good time.  I especially looked Shamu-rific this summer, so the thought of finally being able to disguise myself in over sized sweaters is especially appealing.  However, summer does bring out the best produce and therefore the most variety in fresh food available.  So I had to think about what sort of food epitomizes summer.  Of course barbecue came to mind (coming soon to a blog near you), but so did a great salad, using locally grown, very fresh produce.  But I didn't want to put together something involving lettuce, because let's face it, you can get great lettuce in the fall.  Then I remembered that I do love to add fruit to my salads and on one of my foodie outings (which I will tell you about later) I found some great nectarines and these wonderful locally grown Persian cucumbers.  Then light dawned on marble head, and I realized that quite possibly nectarines and cucumbers might be great bed fellows, and a recipe was born.............

Nectarine and Cucumber Salad with Fresh Mint

4-5 large nectarines sliced
1 large cucumber thinly sliced
1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons fresh mint chopped

In a small bowl whisk the vinegar and olive oil together until well emulsified.  Add the sugar, salt, and pepper and set aside.  In a large bowl combine the nectarines, cucumber, and red onion.  Drizzle the dressing over the nectarine mixture and toss gently to coat.  Sprinkle the chopped mint over the salad and toss again.  Let it sit for about 15 minutes to allow the flavors to combine before serving. 
Honestly, I ate this for dinner, all by itself, with a good piece of crusty bread smeared with great brie while I watched the sun go down in my backyard.  It was heavenly, and reminded me about all the things I love about summer, and will miss in the dead of winter! 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pasta By Any Other Name.......Isn't Pasta

OK, so I read somewhere that if one is trying to cut carbs that spaghetti squash is a perfect substitution for pasta.  Firstly, why anyone would want to cut carbs is beyond me, hence why I am starting to look more like Jaba the Hut every day.  And secondly as an Italian, I have a real problem with the notion of substituting perfectly delicious spaghetti for......not spaghetti.  So therefore, in my universe there is no "substitution" for pasta.  Pasta is pasta and spaghetti squash is, well, a vegetable.  But, this ridiculousness did inspire this post, and I do so happen to have a s*!@ load of spaghetti squash from my own little urban garden (garden is an over statement, but I felt like feeding my ego). 
And let's face it, spaghetti squash may not be pasta, but it is delicious in its own right!  So, to give spaghetti squash its due love, here's a quick little recipe involving this tasty goody.  Oh, and a shout out to all you vegetarians, I don't do it much, but here's one for ya!

Spaghetti Squash with Tomatoes and Basil

1 large spaghetti squash halved and seeds removed
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter (yummm)
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon mascarpone or heavy cream
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 teaspoon salt (I prefer kosher)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place squash rind side up in a glass baking dish and add a small amount of water to the pan.  Place the squash in the oven and bake until tender, about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile in a heavy skillet on medium high heat add the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter.  Melt the butter and add the chopped onion and garlic.  Cook the onion and garlic until tender, about 5 minutes, then add the diced tomatoes.  Cook the tomatoes, onion and garlic until the sauce starts to thicken, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the mascarpone, and fresh herbs, cook for about an additional 3 minutes.  Add the salt and pepper and set aside.  Once the squash is tender scrape the flesh out of the rind into a colander.  Now, I found that the squash does release a fair bit of liquid after being cooked, which you don't want to ruin your perfectly delicious sauce with all that water, so allowing it to drain for about 5 minutes will prevent this devastating event from occurring!  After allowing the squash to drain, put it into a serving bowl and toss with the remaining tablespoon butter and salt and pepper to taste.  Poor the reserved sauce over the squash and top with a little freshly grated parmesan cheese and dinner is served. 

Now I know, I have once again, presented a recipe dripping in butter and mascarpone, but the reality is that tomatoes and butter were meant for each other, and separating them is really a form of cruel and unusual punishment.  So, I will try in the future to think of something that lacks butter (why would I do this?) so my health conscience readers will be satisfied (who am I kidding, no one is reading this f*#$%&*@ blog anyway).  Anyway, it might do me some good, I am expanding in my chair as I write this thing..............

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Summer Gem=Corn

So here I am posting my fourth post, still no readers other than the fam, so again I have to say, "is anybody out there, anyone at all?"

 Anyway, I was trying to think of something to blog about, since that is the point of this silly website and thought of corn, it's in season, it is of course delicious, and well people do tend to struggle with it.  Now bear with me because I am about to go on a tirade.  The majority of my experiences with corn have come from the cobs boiled in water and then me proceeding to wrap my mouth around it, practically administering the Heimlich maneuver while munching all those tasty yellow jewels off, completely covering my face in butter and salt and pepper (breath).  The other unfortunate experience I have had with corn is your typical frozen corn zapped into submission.  So I told myself, "there must be more to corn than this!"  And thankfully of course there is.  So this weekend, I traveled to my favorite produce market and gathered several ears of locally grown corn and decided to embark on a corn journey, where it would take me I didn't know, but I would come out of it alive, and well, sick of corn at the end, but oh well, it's for humanity damn it!!!!!  Well it would be if there was anyone reading my blog.
Now I feel that this journey deserves a descriptive since the process was just as wonderful as the resulting meal so forgive me but I always find myself reveling in the magic of cooking, and what it invokes in oneself..........
So there I was, preparing my corn dish (which I will reveal shortly), in my refrigerator box of a kitchen with my little girl giggling and dancing to a well chosen CD of Billy Holiday's greatest hits, a glass of wine in one hand and a knife in the other, when I realized the moment that I was in.  I had the front door open, which allowed the glow of the sun setting to filter in, the smell of yummy goodness in the air (butter and Mirepoix, which I will explain later) and I had an epiphany.  Cooking isn't necessarily all about how good the meal is (although this is a bonus) but about the memories it creates and evokes.  Some of my fondest memories as a child were from times around the dinner table and in the kitchen learning how to cook from my mother, grandmothers, and great grandmother.  It is these memories with friends and family that make cooking such a joy, and it is not the meal we remember but the process by which that meal came our way.   But anyway, away from this sentimental b#$#&&%&, on to the foodie stuff.........Here it is, the result of corn obsession.

Fresh Summer Corn Soup

1 lb Bacon diced
4 tablespoons butter
2 large yellow onions diced
4 large carrots diced
5 celery stalks diced
6 cups whole milk
3 cups half and half
6 ears yellow or white corn
5-6 medium Yukon gold potatoes diced
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

In a large stockpot cook the bacon on medium high heat until crispy.  Remove bacon from pan and drain off any excess fat from pan.  Melt the butter and add the onions, carrots and celery.  Cook the veggies until tender on medium heat (8-10 minutes).  Now, for those of you who have heard of Mirepoix but don't know what the hell it is your about to get schooled.  A Mirepoix is another genius French culinary invention that is a combination of chopped onions, carrots, and celery.  It is the base for almost all soups, stews, broths, and sauces.  So there, if ya didn't know, you learned something new today.  It is very important here to note that it is really important not to brown the veggies.  Letting them sweat allows for their natural sweetness to cleanly flavor the soup, so damn it don't brown them!  I always dreamed of being a drill sergeant.  Anyway, while the Mirepoix is sweating you can prep the corn.  Now for several years removing corn from the cobs with a utensil other than my mouth proved to be daunting.  Picture a woman, with corn shit all in her hair and face, cursing like a sailor while attempting to shave corn kernels into set receptacle.  After much trial and error and a little research I have found that the best way to accomplish this ridiculous goal is to place the cob on a clean kitchen towel and to cut the kernels off with a sharp butcher knife.  The towel here serves two functions, one is collects all the corn kernels and makes it easy for dispensing into your chosen receptacle and two, limits their travel .  Once you have removed the kernels, save the cobs, your gonna need them.  Place the kernels into the pot and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.  Once the corn is tender add the milk, half and half, and cobs to the pot.  Bring to a soft boil and reduce to a simmer.  Add the potatoes and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.  When the potatoes are tender remove cobs and salt and pepper to taste.  Right before serving add the chopped parsley and bacon and voila, your done!! You can add additional herbs to this soup if you're an herb nut....... thyme would be lovely.  So modify away until your little heart's content.
Oh, and on the subject of modifying, I made a Mexican themed version by simply omitting the potatoes and bacon, and replacing them with some diced roasted Poblanos, diced chorizo, black beans, a little cilantro and some chipotle chilies for some heat.  Topped with shredded cheddar and it's delicious!
Other dishes to consider for fresh corn are black bean and corn salad, corn pudding, or a delicious corn saute with of course corn, a little bell pepper, onion and basil!  OK, I could go on and on but this post is turning into a novel, so my apologies.  But hopefully I have inspired you to create your own corn "festivus"(courtesy of Jerry), and as always, bon appetit!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

On the Cheap and Easy

So, I know I haven't posted in a few days but I really don't have any readers yet, so who's gonna notice?  But I will persevere, and I will continue to blog away, venting random foodie factoids until my little heart's content.  But I have to say, is anybody out there?  Well, on to this post.......

As a busy mother of a three year old sometimes I just want to sit my fat a$$ on the couch with a good glass of wine and really not cook an elaborate dinner, call me crazy, but sometimes everybody needs a little "Bachelor Pad" therapy (I know, I know, tacky, so very tacky).  So on those nights when I am feeling a little lazy I reach for my old standby.  This recipe got me through college, without it I would literally not be here!  Well, maybe I'd be here but considerably thinner.  I love this recipe because it's ridiculously easy, ridiculously good, ridiculously cheap and can be transformed into something even greater and more posh if your foodie heart desires it.  So anyway, on with the show!

Spaghetti with Garlic and Parmesan

1/2 lb spaghetti
4-5 garlic cloves minced
2 tablespoons good olive oil
3-4 tablespoons good salted butter (you can add more if you are a butter nut job like myself)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan (again, if you want more, go for it!)
Kosher salt
Black Pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a full rolling boil, add a small handful of kosher salt to the water (this is VERY important, it flavors the pasta.....I don't know how many times I have seen people ruin good pasta by not salting the water..... SALT THE F&*&%&& WATER PEOPLE...... I think I was slightly mean there, oh well)  Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente (8-10 minutes, but this will vary depending so many things I will not go into, so just check the pasta every few minutes).  While the pasta is cooking add the olive oil and butter to the pan and heat on medium heat until the butter has melted.  Now the addition of olive oil is important because it helps prevent the butter from browning or burning.  Add the garlic and cook until the garlic has softened, about 3 minutes.  Drain the pasta, reserving about a 1/2 cup of the pasta water.  Add the pasta to pan, remove from the heat and toss to coat the noodles.  Add the cheese and toss the pasta again, adding the pasta water to loosen the spaghetti.  Salt and pepper to taste and voila, dinner is served!!

I really like to add things to this recipe.  I have added roasted chicken and sauteed spinach.  I have also added sauteed cherry tomatoes and fresh basil.  You can add Mascarpone to make a creamy sauce, really the possibilities are endless.  This recipe to me epitomizes the essence of Italian cooking, which is essentially taking really three or four simples ingredients and creating a masterpiece.  They are literally the best at doing this, and I can safely say that it is a true art form.  The key to this art form is knowing how much of each ingredient to use but most importantly to use good quality ingredients, hence this is where the foodie comes into play.  So anyway, hopefully this recipe finds its way to you, and hopefully on those nights when you need a little "Bachelor Pad" therapy, you'll be able to enjoy it and still be able to have great food along with it.