BBQ U, day 3 – hello Texas, and graduation

After Tuesday’s successful rib extravaganza, I was feeling a lot more confident about grilling, and J and I decided that we should divide & conquer with recipe preparation, if we were chosen to do any cooking.  Day 3’s theme?  Secrets of tailgating.

Day 3 menu:

  • Shrimp grilled on sugarcane with dark rum glaze
  • Fire-eater chicken wings
  • Scotch whisky-smoked salmon on a cedar plank with grilled mini-bagels
  • Burger bar:
  1.           Wagyu cheeseburger sliders
  2.           Lamb burgers with goat cheese
  3.           Barbecued pork burgers
  • Hill Country brisket with cola barbecue sauce
  • Wood oven mac and cheese
  • Smoked coleslaw
  • Smoked cherry crisp

J was pretty interested in the pork burgers with smoky slaw, mostly for the coleslaw recipe – he’s got more than a passing interest in coleslaw and has done some experimenting with recipes over the last few years.  (This year, we’re even growing cabbage to make that experimentation easier.) I was sort of tired, so I flirted with idea of not getting involved in one of the dish preparations and just watching everyone’s efforts instead.

J went off to start the pork burgers and slaw, teamed with a father & teenage son team from Colorado, while I stayed in my seat, listening to Steve.  Because it was day 3, Steve was throwing out all sorts of “extra” cooking projects for anyone who was interested, and brought out a special grilling rack for jalapeno poppers.  Suddenly I was much less tired.  One, because I love jalapenos.  Two, because we have quite a few of the plants growing in our garden and they produce a lot of peppers, and there is only so much salsa I am interested in making in a season.  Making a jalapeno popper appetizer would wipe out a large quantity of them without me mincing them to death.  My hand shot up.

I was joined by Larry from outside Fort Worth, TX, who was also part of a father-son team (although Larry’s son Bill was about my age) and as coincidence would have it, an avid jalapeno popper lover himself, with the grilling experience on this dish to boot.  My graduation from BBQ U was assured.

Because this was an “extra” recipe, there was nothing in our recipe binders about how to prepare them, but we were still given a tray of prepared possible ingredients including cheese, bacon and cilantro and a pile of whole jalapenos.  Larry & I quickly decided to use the corer that came with the grilling rack to hollow out the peppers, stuff them with cheese, cooked bacon & cilantro, and then grill them.  Bill lent a hand by heading outside to cook the bacon, while I chopped cheese & cilantro.  While we worked, we chatted about what we’d prepared so far – Larry & Bill had been on the team that did the clams the day before, which they chose because they had absolutely no experience with grilling seafood.  Other people had the same idea we did – try something new while the possibility of professional help was just a few feet away.

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The corer that came with the grilling rack had the unfortunate tendency to rip the jalapenos apart, so we decided because there were more peppers than space in the rack that we would split the torn peppers down the middle to create boats, filling those with cheese & cilantro and wrapping the bacon around them.  The only flaw in this plan is that there were no toothpicks available.  (Really.)  Larry’s solution was to put the ends of the bacon up near the tops of the pepper boats so that as the cheese melted the bacon would stick. We decided that any of them that didn’t look good would be eaten immediately, to cover out tracks.

We weren’t assigned a grill, so we took one of the gas grills that was unused and started cooking.

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The poppers cooked really fast, so we ended up lowering the heat and moving them around before Steve even got over to check on how we were doing.  As the cheese melted down into the vertical peppers, I stuffed more into the top.  The temperature on the patio was about 95 degrees and it was hazy because of the Colorado Springs wildfire, so that plus the heat from the grill meant that those peppers were not the only thing roasting.  And we struggled with the pepper rack, because the peppers kept tipping over, falling onto the grill & spilling ingredients because most of them did not sit low enough in the rack.  Still, Larry & I persevered:

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The experience did teach us that Larry’s method – creating boats wrapped with bacon, and secured with a toothpick (when available) was probably a better solution and also didn’t require another specialty grilling tool.  Not that having a lot of tools is ever a problem, in my opinion, except if you have issues with enough storage space.

We plated our finished product (after sampling several, “just to be sure” while we were out cooking, and also to make sure we got some, since we were attracting a lot of attention with this project) and put it out on the newly-expanded presentation table.

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Meanwhile, J had prepared the smoky cole slaw:

Smoky slaw on the smoker - photo courtesy of Rob Bass, Countryside Food Rides

Smoky slaw on the smoker – photo courtesy of Rob Bass, Countryside Food Rides

J, who can be critical of his own cooking, thought he might have used too much salt in the slaw.  If he did, I didn’t notice – it was really good.  At the time the dishes were presented, however, the pork burgers weren’t done.  The teenaged half of the father-son team J was working with could get grill marks on his food that were a work of art, (see the photos of the angel food cake from the day 2 post – that was all him) but they took a little bit longer to do.  No matter – it just meant that the burgers would still be warm when we were all picking from the display table.

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Hill Country brisket, smoked cherry cobbler

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Shrimp on sugarcane, fire-eater wings

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The Professor approves

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Salmon – about six different ways; these folks got really creative

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Shrimp close up

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Hill Country brisket that was every bit as tasty as it looks.

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Beer can chicken – another “extra” project

But before that could happen, we had to take our final exam, which consisted of Steve asking us one question before handing over our certificates. The beauty of this final exam was that if you didn’t know the answer, he gave you a hint or let one of your fellow classmates help you with the answer.  Do you know how much easier my high school science classes would have been if that had been allowed?

Our overall experience with BBQ U was fantastic – we met some really nice people and made some new friends, we learned some new information and tried cooking new things, and best of all, I was not the first person to flunk out of BBQ U.  We had a lot of fun and now understand how it is that people come back again and again to attend BBQ University – the resort is beautiful, the people who take class are interesting, and Steve changes it up every time so that you can always learn something new.

Of course, there is a dark side to attending a cooking class where so many grills and smokers are available to try, and you’re surrounded by people who are avid barbecue enthusiasts and want to debate the merits of a given grill with you.  Sometimes you come home from work a few days after the trip to find this on your sun porch:

Weber performer

Weber performer

Which then makes your deck look like this:

Grills on deckThanks to Stella Carolyn for allowing me to blog about my experiences.  If you have an overwhelming fascination with vegetables, you can find me over at Cocktail Farmers where I detail our aggressive suburban vegetable garden efforts and my struggle to unload our excess produce.  Or you can just keep reading here, because Stella Carolyn usually gets a fair amount of it and turns it into something amazing.

BBQ U, day 2 – teamwork!

After day one’s successful cooking and presentation, the stakes were higher for those of us who had yet to cook.  Part of the “graduation requirement” from BBQ U is that everyone participate in preparing and cooking at least one recipe.  J and I attempted to strategize the night before by reviewing the scheduled agenda.  Day 2?  Ribs!

Menu:

  • Grilled clams with Sambuca and Italian sausage
  • Mini chicken, bread, and cheese spiedini
  • Peking duck buns with pineapple salsa
  • Tandoori lamb ribs with herb chutney
  • Spice-rubbed baby back ribs with dark and stormy barbecue sauce
  • Brazilian rib roast with ember-charred salsa
  • Cajun grilled okra with smoky remoulade
  • Grilled angel food cake with fruit salsa and tequila-whipped cream

This is the point at which I confess that I do not grill.  At all.  I love to cook, I will help with endless amounts of prep, and will sous chef with the best of them, but I have totally abdicated all grilling responsibilities to J.  I have started the grill, though.  Twice.  So really, I was the personification of beginner in this class.  I can pretty much guarantee that everyone had more grilling experience than I did.  And charcoal grills?  Cooking over smoldering briquettes?  Sweet fancy Moses, that’s just crazy talk.  What do you mean I can’t just press a button and fire up the propane?

J does an excellent job grilling, but we’ve only prepared ribs once, and we were less than thrilled with how they came out.  So when we saw that day 2 was ribs, we were ready.  When Steve called for volunteers for the Tandoori lamb ribs with three herb chutney, our hands shot up.  And I immediately thought, “Please let the other two team members have rib-grilling experience, or we may very well be the first people to flunk out of BBQ U.”

Fate had it that we were paired with Charlie from Chicago, a third-time BBQ University attendee (and former chef & restaurant owner!) and Rob from Kentucky who writes Countryside Food Rides, both of whom love ribs and had extensive experience cooking them.  It felt a little bit like having barbecue Cliff notes, but I am not one to quibble.  This was increasing my chances of getting a diploma.  The magic fairies who do all the grunt work produced a tray full of covered dishes with pre-measured ingredients, and we began mixing the marinade and the chutney.  So much easier when it’s all measured out! image

Tandoori lamb ribs in marinade, ready for grilling

Tandoori lamb ribs in marinade, ready for grilling

We were ready in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.  (Sorry, bad pun.)  Steve decreed we would be using the Big Green Egg cooker, which J was delighted by as he has been trying to decide between an Egg and a Weber Performer.  Because then we could each have our own grill to cook on.  Or he could make twice as much at once. It keeps the heat out of my kitchen in the summer, which is all I care about!

Here’s where I found the only bad part of this class – once you start preping ingredients with your team & getting ready to cook, listening to Steve just doesn’t happen.  You’re so focused on what you need to do to get ready to grill, plus the noise of the other teams around you, that you can’t follow what he’s talking about.  Fortunately, he seems to impart all the really key information at the beginning of class, before he starts asking for volunteers to prepare the different recipes.  This is pretty much the only criticism I can come up with for this program, and it’s pretty minor.  (I also don’t know how you’d get around it.)

image Out to the grilling patio we went with our ribs.  Steve circled by with the members of the class who weren’t cooking to check the heat in the Egg and then said to me, “Ok, let’s have you put the grill grate in there.”  And I thought, “Hmmm…” because like I told all of you (but not Steve), I don’t grill.  (Well, I didn’t. Until right then.)  It’s running through my mind that the grill is hot so I need something to grab the grate with before placing it in the Egg, and as I’m processing this Rob jumped in and offered to do it, which then gave Steve the opportunity to suggest his special grill grabber tool.  This all took about 20 seconds, by the way, but it felt like 20 minutes.  It was just like school when the teacher asks you a question and you have no earthly idea what the answer is, and then the bell rings and you are saved.  The grate went in, the ribs went on, and we were off to the races: image image Lamb ribs take a bit of time, so we swapped off watching to make sure they weren’t burning with wandering around to see what everyone else was making.  It was quite the assortment: image image image We also got into a conversation about grills with several people – many people had Webers and were staunch advocates, several others had the Big Green Egg and sang their praises.  We spent some time debating the merits with the rest of Team Tandoori, all while the ribs cooked.  Several people wandered by as we were testing some of the ribs and were invited to sample to see how they were doing.  It was like a neighborhood barbecue, if your neighbors live all over the country (and all over the world; there were several folks there from overseas) and treat barbecue like a religion. When we were done, we brought the finished ribs and grilled lemon halves into the classroom for plating:

Tandoori lamb ribs with herb chutney

Tandoori lamb ribs with herb chutney

Sprinkled all around those ribs is minced cilantro, probably the only time that cilantro will be featured on this blog since Stella Carolyn hates it.  We put our finished product in with the rest of the dishes for the professor’s opinion.

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Grilled okra with smoky remoulade sauce & grilled corn

Grilled okra with smoky remoulade sauce & grilled corn

 

image image A funny thing happened on day two at lunch.  Rather than help themselves from the buffet, people were eating directly off the class-prepared display table.  We had figured out yesterday that what we made as class projects, because it was on a smaller scale, tasted much better.  So the buffet line was empty, and everyone was crowded around the class projects:

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Now, I am generally not a lamb person – offered the opportunity to have it and I will pass.  This might stem from childhood when my grandmother would occasionally cook a leg of lamb for a holiday, and serve it with mint jelly.  Still deep in nursery rhyme territory, I couldn’t help but associate dinner with Little Bo Peep’s lost sheep.  It was probably back then that I developed a slight aversion to the consistency of the meat & the taste.  But that was before.  These ribs were amazing – on their own, with the chutney – this non-lover of lamb had three ribs.  And we immediately made a plan to do this recipe at home over the 4th of July for my parents’ anniversary, it was that good.

I also discovered an unknown love for okra.  I’ve had it in soup but I had never had fresh okra until I tasted that dish put together by my classmates.  The smoky remoulade sauce was just the icing on the cake – I could not get enough of it.  I even got some from the buffet.  It was that good.

Day 3 – don’t mess with Texas, everyone’s all in, and graduation – maybe.

Team Tandoori – it was almost 100 degrees when this photo was taken

BBQ University, day one – you can use garden tools on your grill

Many thanks to my dear friend Stella Carolyn for letting me blog on her site about my recent trip to BBQ University.  My postings normally revolve around vegetables and our challenges with gardening, so it’s a nice change of pace to talk about cooking!

In January my beloved husband, Old McDonald, turned 40 and I struggled with what to get him for a special birthday gift.  He’s a big fan of Barbecue University on PBS, featuring Steve Raichlen, and last year while looking up a recipe we had seen on the show, I discovered that Steve teaches 2 sessions of BBQ U in person at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.  I called, and was able to secure us two spots in the class for this year’s second session, June 9-12.  I hadn’t seen too much on this program on the web – just one message board post dating back to 2010 from a guy in Chicago who had taken the class – so our expectations were pretty vague.  But hey, it was a vacation in Colorado involving live fire cooking, so how bad could it be?

Awesome, as it turned out.  First, the resort – the Broadmoor is a AAA, five-diamond resort.  We are very much the rustic-cabin-in-the-woods type of vacationers, so this is by far the nicest place we’ve ever stayed:

The Broadmoor

The Broadmoor

image imageThe event kicked off with a cocktail reception featuring food from a selection of the nine (!!) restaurants located on the Broadmoor properties, and a brief speech from our instructor, Steve Raichlen.  We met most of our classmates (57 in total, 9 of whom were women), and left the event just as the sun was setting over Cheyenne mountain, totally stuffed from all the good food.  While we were out, bags had been delivered to our room with our binders for “study” – the recipes that would be prepared each day.  Classes ran for three mornings, Monday – Wednesday from 9-12, at the Broadmoor’s Cheyenne Mountain Lodge:

The Lodge

The Lodge

Our classroom. If only college classes were held in places like this, I'd still be an undergrad.

Our classroom. If only college classes were held in places like this, I’d still be an undergrad.

Monday morning’s class kicked off with Steve talking about the history of live fire cooking and how it led to the evolution of man before moving on to man’s favorite food: meat.  He gave us some brief demonstrations on preparations (my favorite was “spatchcocking,” where you take a whole round chicken or duck and flatten it by removing the spine, cutting slits in the body cavity and tucking the leg bones into them, and tucking in the wings) before calling for volunteers to make each recipe.  Most of the teams ended up being between 2-4 people, who worked together to prep the food to be cooked and then took it out to be grilled:image image image image There were about 20 grills and smokers available for use, and depending on what you were cooking you would be assigned a smoker, a charcoal grill or a gas grill.  I should also mention that preparing the recipe – adding seasoning or creating a marinade – was supremely easy because just like a cooking show, all your ingredients were premeasured and sorted into prep bowls, then handed to you on a tray.  And clean up?  Just wipe off the table, stack the used dishes/knives/whisks in a black dish bucket by the kitchen door, and they all disappeared.  I want that at my house.  Every day.

Day one, the menu:

  • Buffa-que shrimp
  • Grilled meatballs with lemon dill sauce

  • Peppered tuna London broil with wasabi cream

  • Thai grilled game hens with mango slaw

  • Port T-bones on a shovel

  • The ultimate cheese “steak”

  • Tuscan grilled polenta and vegetable platter with balsamic soy glaze

  • Smoked crème brulees

Everything on the grill, from appetizers to dessert.  My favorite was the pork steak cooked on…..wait for it…..a shovel.  Really, see: image That to me is a showstopper.  Steve talked about making sure your shovel was properly sterilized, which makes sense if you’re us, and your steel shovels are usually used to shovel compost. And other organic matter that encourages plant and vegetable growth.  Ahem.

We opted not to participate in the cooking on day one, preferring to get a better look at what everyone else was doing.  This turned out to be great because not only were we able to listen to all of Steve’s instructions, suggestions & cooking ideas, we could follow him around as he checked on all the recipes on the grill.

Grilled poblano peppers

Grilled poblano peppers

Peppered tuna London broil

Peppered tuna London broil & the “ultimate” cheese steak

Thai grilled game hens

Thai grilled game hens

Grilled meatballs. Anything is possible with the right equipment!

Grilled meatballs. Anything is possible with the right equipment!

Steve is very big into presentation of the food you prepare, so we were encouraged to artistically arrange our finished recipes using the serving dishes provided.  It was also a good reminder for me, because I tend to plate whatever I’ve prepared and not think too much about making it look pretty, because I’m usually hungry or pretty tired by the time I’ve finished some interesting recipes.

The first day’s results set the standard for the next two days:

Tuscan grilled polenta & vegetable platter

Tuscan grilled polenta & vegetable platter

Pork T-bones, post-shovel

Pork T-bones, post-shovel

Thai-grilled game hens, now with mango slaw

Thai-grilled game hens, now with mango slaw

Meatballs

Meatballs

The final spread

The final spread

And how did it taste?  Well, it was fabulous.  Since each team was preparing recipes that would serve only 4-6 people and there were more than 60 people who needed to eat, the Broadmoor chefs cooked the same recipes on several additional grills around the corner from where we were all working.  The giant kettle grill featured above, as a matter of fact.  So good.  And once again, all the dishes just disappeared, as if by magic.  That alone is worth the price of tuition, in my opinion.

Next time – day 2 – the Big Green Egg and we cook Tandoori lamb ribs with three herb chutney with two guys who totally know what they’re doing.

Odds & Ends (or, Is It Summer Yet?!)

Every year around this time, the May-Almost-June-Wait-It-Is-June! time, I think to myself, “Next year I’ll organize better and will be able to spend these last weeks of the school year clearing out my files and cleaning up my office.”  This has yet to happen since I have almost no control over the amount of testing that I have to do at the end of the school year but I keep hoping.  As a result, I haven’t been blogging or really doing much of anything.  I have to say, I have been working out (hello double jogger!) but that’s really the only “extra” thing.

So, I give you a few odds and ends from the last month.

I had a birthday.

My HipstaPrint 973539269_4G. helped my mom to pick out the cake and, of course, needed some treats for herself and her brother, too.

My HipstaPrint 973539269_3For my birthday I got this cookbook (can’t wait for some time to try something!) and these lovely prep bowls as well.  We promptly used them to measure M&M’s for cookies.

My HipstaPrint 973539269_2Which we made and ate pretty quickly.   So quickly, in fact, that I couldn’t even get a photo.  But here’s the clean-up.

My HipstaPrint 973539269But what am I cooking, you ask?  Well, the level of my cooking has gone way, way down.  So many reports to write, so little time at home…  So today I threw a cut of pork into the slow cooker, added a bottle of oh-so-bad-for-you BBQ sauce (first on the ingredient list? High Fructose Corn Syrup!  It wasn’t my usual sauce, what can I say?) and let it cook for about five hours.  Shredded it with forks, threw it on a roll, added some pickles as a “vegetable” and called it a night.  Delicious, easy and maybe better than fast food.  Maybe.

My HipstaPrint 973539269_5So this is the state of my life these days.  I am longing for the lazy, long days in July in August, when I can blog, cook and hang out with my kids to my heart’s content.   I know that summer will FLY by this year because it always does and because it’s on the shorter side due to a number of snow days.  But that’s ok.  I can’t wait!

Hang with me until then, won’t you please?

A Lot Like Love

Cooking, for me, is a lot like dating.  You don’t always know what you’re doing when you start but by the end, if you’re lucky, you’ve fallen in love and you’re left with something comforting and warm.  Take my friends, C. and C., for example.  They started dating and they knew they liked each other. That like quickly turned to love and soon they were living together.  Yesterday they took the next step and became engaged.  It’s a sweet love story and one about which I am super thrilled.  They’re my age and it’s a second marriage for one of them which, for me, makes it so much sweeter and more genuine.  Something about knowing what you want and getting it, makes me so happy.

Anyway, I was cooking tonight and thinking about them and realized that the food I was making was something like their story (hey, it’s a cooking blog, stick with me through the strange parallels!).  I had an idea in my head of what I was making but then I sort of went with the inspiration and ended up with such a delicious dish that I wish I had measured and photographed all the way through so that I could share it with you in more detail.  A lot like falling in love:  by the time you remember to take photos, your partner is there, on one knee proposing.  Or something like that.

Balsamic Honey Chicken

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts

olive oil – just enough to coat the pan lightly

butter,  just a pat or two

balsamic vinager- maybe a 1/4 cup?

honey- about 1/8 of a cup- maybe more

chicken broth- maybe 1/2 cup

Directions

Season your chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Heat the olive oil and butter on medium high heat in a saute pan.  Place the breasts in and brown on each side.  Turn heat down to medium, add the chicken broth and cook until just cooked through.  If you have thicker cut chicken breasts, they will take longer.  Take out the chicken breasts and put them on a plate to rest.  Turn the heat back to medium high and add the balsamic and honey.  Whisk together and let it reduce until syrupy.  To be really decadent, add one small pat of butter as well.

photo 1Even more perfect for me is that I had this glorious jar of honey, just begging to be used.  It’s from Georgia and my friend C. of the aforementioned newly betrothed bought it for me when she was there.  Could it be more pretty?

photo 2Slice your chicken breasts.  Maybe more neatly and more uniformly than I did.

photo 3Return them to the pan and coat them in this amazing sauce.  Let them heat back up over low heat.

photo 4I served mine with a side of steamed broccoli and some leftover pea risotto.  It was unexpectedly delicious, warm and comforting.  Much like love.

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Kiss Me, I’m (1/4) Irish!

Living in Boston means that St Patrick’s Day is a true holiday. There’s the parade in Southie, the green beer everywhere and the long standing tradition of corned beef and cabbage. I’ve heard, though I am not sure it is true, that there are more celebrating the day here than in Ireland itself.

In my younger, before children days, I’d go my favorite Irish bar, conveniently located a block from where I lived at the time. The Hippo and I spent many an afternoon there, talking with Mike, the older Irish bartender, who would tell us we were too pretty to put up with crappy guys or that we were too cute to stay single for long. St. Patrick’s day there was like any other day but more crowded and more green.

Now that I have two kids, three jobs, two pets and assorted other responsibilities, my bar days are pretty much over.  I am ok with this, as I never really took to green beer anyway.  I’ll be spending the day of the parade at the ballet (talk about a 180!).  Tonight, however, I celebrated through food, making corned beef and my own version of colcannon.  I share it with you in case you, too, have moved past your green beer days.

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Corned Beef and Colcannon, 1/4 Irish style

Corned Beef

1 first cut brisket (I use the Wellshire Farms one) with the seasoning packet

Enough water to cover

1/2 cup brown (or dijon but brown is better) mustard

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup water

Directions:

Throw the corned beef along with the seasoning into a slow cooker. Cover with hot water so that the meat is submerged by about an inch.  Cook on high for 8 hours.  Take it out and put it on a sheet or broiler pan.  Let it start to cool a bit and heat your oven to 350.  In a small saucepan, combine the mustard, water and sugar.  Cook over medium high heat for about five minutes, so that it starts to reduce a bit.

photo 2Brush some over the top of your meat and put the meat in the oven.  Cook for about half an hour, basting every five to ten minutes.  Take the meat out and let it rest for about five to ten minutes before slicing.

Colcannon (sort of)

Ingredients

4 potatoes, peeled and sliced into even pieces

1 stick of butter (yes, I said a stick)

2-3 tablespoons sour cream or plain greek yogurt

1/2 onion, chopped

3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped

several handfuls of fresh spinach, washed and dried

Directions

Place potatoes into a saucepan and cover with water.  Add a generous amount of salt.  Boil over high heat until potatoes are soft.  Drain and add the potatoes back to the pot.  Mash them.

In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft, taking care not to let the garlic burn.  Add the spinach and mix until it wilts.  Dump the whole thing in with the potatoes and mix well with a large spoon.  You may need to add a bit of milk or more butter or sour cream/greek yogurt to get the texture you like.

photo 1We also made brownies, at the toddler’s request.  photo 3They were great- fudgy and sweet and just the right amount of crunch on the top. We used this recipe.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Don’t forget to wear green and be safe!!

 

Copy Constant

One of my favorite people in the world writes one of my favorite food blogs in the world, The Hungry Hippo.  Her resolution for 2013 is to make more of the recipes from the cookbooks she owns.  These are cookbooks I love and I will sit for hours and browse them when I visit her (I can do this because she’s the one playing with my kids while I do).  She posted this recipe a few weeks ago (from a Parisian cookbook, no less!) and I could not wait to try it.

Broccoli and Cauliflower Gratin

Ingredients:
2 cups of broccoli
2 cups of cauliflower
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons of flour
1 1/3 cups milk (I used whole)
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup cheese (according to the Hippo, the recipe called for gruyere, she used 1/3 C cheddar, 1/3 C parm and I used what I had in my fridge.  I think it was jack and cheddar, maybe?) plus some extra for sprinkling
about 1/4 cup bread crumbs (I used panko)
salt and pepper
sprinkle of nutmeg (I skipped this)

Directions

Wash and chop your veggies into same size florets.

IMG_4732 Put some water on to boil and once it has come to a rolling boil, add the florets.  Cook them for 1-2 minutes.  Take them out immediately- you don’t want them to get mushy, just slightly less crisp.  IMG_4734Set them aside and work on the sauce.  Melt the butter in a saucepan.  When it has melted, add the flour and whisk together, letting it cook for a minute to get the raw flour taste out.  Slowly whisk in the milk and let it thicken. Take your pan off the heat and add the egg yolks one at a time, whisking while you do.  Try to avoid making scrambled eggs in your sauce.  Add the cheese, again, whisking while you do so that it will melt evenly.  Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg (if using).

IMG_4736I used ham in mine, even though the Hippo did not.  I cubed a ham steak.

IMG_4733Then I added it to a hot frying pan to brown and crisp it over medium high heat.

IMG_4735Butter a casserole dish and add your veggies.

IMG_4737Sprinkle the ham around to fill in the spaces.

IMG_4738Pour your sauce over this.

IMG_4739Mix your breadcrumbs with some of the cheese and sprinkle on top.

IMG_4740Bake at 400 until the top is golden brown and it’s heated through and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

IMG_4741This could be a side dish but with the added meat, it can also be a lovely main dish.  The egg yolks add a silkiness to the sauce that isn’t there in a basic white sauce.

IMG_4742It was good for a cold night.

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Comfort

Over the last week or so I’ve been craving comfort food.  For me, that means things like mashed potatoes, stews, soups and sugar.  Lots of sugar.  More on that later.

To be comforting, I made the Braised Short Ribs from Dinner: A Love Story, my new favorite cookbook and website.  They were delicious and may make it into the comfort food rotation.IMG_4415I also did my holiday baking.  That fulfilled the sugar needs.  This year rather than making for individuals, I made for groups.  That is, I brought cookies of all kinds to the guidance department meeting, biscuits and scones to the elementary team meeting and cookies and bars to the front office.  I tried Ina Garten’s Chocolate Chunk Blondies which were so. good.

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I also made Walnut Snowball Cookies.  Which were also full of buttery, sugary goodness.

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All in all, it was a week of comfort food.  I am now on vacation so will try to get a few more posts up- a tip on pomegranates and a yeast-free pizza dough.

Until then, I hope you are enjoying your holiday season.

Love Story

When I started my pre-doctoral internship, I did it at a site an hour and fifteen minutes from my house.  I figured I could do anything for a year.  In the end, I worked there for over three years and it was one of the best experiences of my life.  What I learned both professionally and personally has stayed with me over the years.  I could go on and on but what I want to tell you about now is one of the people I worked with there.

J. was the other predoctoral intern with me.  I met her for the first time on the day we both went for a tour.  My first impression was that she was gorgeous and clearly incredibly smart.  As the months went by, we became closer and closer and I began to admire her even more.  She was a mother and had given birth to her son at a young age. She was blessed with supportive parents and while her child’s father did not stay in her life, she raised her son and graduated from high school, college and graduate school (predoctoral internship, remember)?
J. was (and still is) kind, compassionate, smart, loving and always ready to see the best and have faith in  those around her.  She will always give those in her life second and third and fourth chances and will always encourage them to do their best.  As you can imagine, this can be both a positive and negative quality.

When I knew her best, J. was involved with a man she’d met a few years prior.  Their relationship was difficult with extreme highs and lows.  They became engaged a few months after I did and they were guests at my wedding.  J. and I began to lose touch after that when she left our common workplace.  We spoke a few times and through our emails and facebook, I saw that she had broken her engagement, met someone new and moved across the country after marrying him.  From all that I can tell now, this was the best decision she ever made.

She and her new husband are incredibly well suited, incredibly happy and, I must say, incredibly beautiful.  J. has found a happy ending to her love story.

But nothing in life is that cut and dry, black and white.  While she’s happy now, she could only get there by taking the path she did.  Her relationship with her former fiancée was difficult but had some good points as well.  One of them was this stew.  She posted about it on Facebook recently and it looked so good that I immediately emailed her, demanding the recipe.  She responded with some guidelines and I went to work.

I cooked a dish that I have never eaten.  I have no idea what it should look or taste like but it did end up being delicious.  I used J’s guidelines and searched the internet for cachupa rica.  This is what I ended up with- the wrong kind of corn (couldn’t find samp so had to use hominy), no plantains but, in the end, still delicious, filling and hardy.  Good for a cold day.  Plus, it made me think about J and her love story the whole time.  Made me happy.

Cachupa Rica (with deepest apologies to all Cape Verdens everywhere)

Ingredients

6 cups golden samp (I used plain hominy because I couldn’t find samp)

4 cups of beans (I used canned kidney and pinto)- You could use dry and soak them with the samp beforehand.

Meats of your choosing.  I used:

chicken thighs (about 4-6 boneless, skinless)

bacon (I used a package)

Chorizo sausage

country stye pork ribs

1 large onion

Lots of garlic

2 peeled carrots, cut into chunks

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

between 6-10 cups of chicken broth

Directions:

I made it all in one pot.  J. makes it across several.  Because I used canned hominy and beans, I didn’t need to cook them separately.

Start by chopping up your bacon and browning it in a large pot.  Take out the bacon once it is crisp and add your sausage (chopped).  Let that brown up as well and then take it out and set it aside with the bacon.

Season your chicken with salt and pepper.  Add them to the pot with the bacon/sausage fat and brown them as well.

Once they’re brown on each side, set them aside with the bacon and sausage.

Finally, brown your short ribs in the pot.

It’s a lot of meat.  (insert dirty comment here)  Now, chop up your onion and garlic and brown it in the pot with all the fat left from the meat.  Maybe not all.  Maybe drain a bit of the fat, leaving about a tablespoon.

While the onions are cooking, peel and roughly chop your sweet potato and carrots.

Add them to the onions and let them brown a bit as well.

Once the veggies have started to soften and brown a little, add the hominy.

Add the beans and meats back in and then cover the whole thing with chicken broth.  Let it simmer over lowish heat for a long time.

J.  suggests making a sofrito of onion, garlic and tomato paste which you can then add for more flavor.  She also suggests a bay leaf or two (removed before serving) and some coriander.  Not my favorite flavors so I left them out.  J. also reminded me that if you were using samp and dry beans, you’d want to let them get good and tender (about an hour) before adding the veggies and meats back in- otherwise they’ll get too soft and be mushy.

Serve with lots of broth.  Mmmm.

J also suggests frying some of it the next morning (minus the broth), letting a good crisp form on the hominy/samp, and serving it with fried eggs.  I could see that being delicious.

A Tribute To Julia, Part II

This post comes to you courtesy of my partner-in-crime (or my wonder twin, depending on how you view our partnership!) at my workplace.  She and I conspired over the summer to celebrate Julia Child’s 100th birthday with good food and wine.  I posted about it here and here.  Now, I give you her post about her cooking experience.  Thanks, C.!!

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In the movie, “Julie and Julia”, the character of Julie describes a dinner party where her mother made boeuf bourguignon for a dinner party.  She remembers her mother saying it was like Julia was in the kitchen with her, on her side, cheering her on as she made the signature dish.  After last week, I know exactly what she’s talking about in that scene.

For many years, I have dabbled in cooking.  I watched my mother make her own pasta sauce without a recipe, and then as an adult, recreated her sauce simply by remembering what was laid out on the counter while she cooked.  Mine is a bit different than hers, but everyone who’s eaten it loves it.  I’ve watched the Food Network ad nauseum and tried to recreate recipes seen there.  I have cookbooks about chicken, baking, pasta, “old fashioned cooking”, vegetarian dishes (which reminds me, I love that spinach and rice casserole from Moosewood), and countless others. I am in no way a professional cook; I wouldn’t even call myself a semi-professional amateur, but I know my way around a pantry.  I daydream in Williams-Sonoma.

So when I realized that this year was the 100th birthday of Julia Child, I felt compelled to mark this occasion.  StellaCarolyn has already written here about our continued bonding over her Julia mementos, and I knew she would be the perfect co-conspirator.  I texted her in the middle of a family emergency (hers, not mine) and told her to think about it.  She just replied, “Absolutely in.  We’ll talk.”  My darling partner decided for me what I would cook—the grande dame, boeuf bourguignon.

The reason is this: many years ago, an ex with a gift for gift giving gave me the combination of Julie and Julia and Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Which scared the crap out of me.  A few years later, another more casual ex and I decided we would start cooking the recipes.  I got as far as the roast chicken and a perfect soft boiled egg before putting him (and the book) aside.  My darling, who believes in me like no other, was convinced that the boeuf was the only way to go for this dinner.  So, Stella and I planned, and I went shopping.

I bought the recommended red wines.

And lots of amazing groceries at Whole Foods. I even consulted the butcher counter about a good substitute for the bacon, and was not disappointed with the pork belly.

I read the recipe again.  And again.  And again.  And I discovered something quite interesting about Mastering the Art of French Cooking:

The cookbook is REALLY EASY to follow, once you understand the organizing principle.  Which is, the left hand column is the ingredients, laid out in the groupings and order in WHICH YOU NEED THEM, not in one grand master list.  The right hand column are the exquisitely written steps to Les Trois Gourmandes recipes.  The special educator in me studied the format, studied the lists, and realized, “I can do this.”

And even if it isn’t perfect, no excuses, don’t apologize.

I woke up really early the day of the cooking, eager to get chopping.  Realizing I was about 4 hours ahead of schedule, I made some copies and watched Season 1, Episode 1 of The French Chef, read the paper, and drank coffee.  Finally, I started chopping.  I pulled out all my great prep bowls, and my needing-to-be-sharpened santoku, and within half an hour, the recipe was laid out in a neat grouping on my counter.

At noon, the cooking began.  I chopped, blanched, then sautéed the pork belly.

The beef was dried,

and browned in batches.

Vegetables browned,

and then all combined with wine and stock to begin the initial cooking.

While that all bubbled away, I prepared the braised onions

and the sautéed mushrooms,

which I could have eaten straight out of the pan.  I have been doing this wrong for years.  Never again.   Cleaned the house, set the table, and finally checked on the stew.

Now, here’s the step where I yelled at the ghost of Julia watching over my shoulder.  The step requires that you drain the beef out of the casserole and strain out the sauce into a sauce pan, wash out the casserole, and return the beef to it while you simmer the sauce to skim off the fat.  Draining the beef and sauce into the pan was easy enough, but that cassrole was the temperature of the surface of the sun, so washing it was really challenging.  I decided to begin skimming and wait for it to be a more reasonable degree of hot.  Which, actually made cleaning it out really easy.  I returned everything to the pan, with the onions and mushrooms (picture 9), and let it cool until my guests arrived, where it would resimmer just before serving.

StellaCarolyn, her husband, and another couple arrived at our house, SC with dessert and sparkling wine, couple number two with more wine.  We had brie and pate while I reorganized the stew, and finished the boiled potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts.

We served ourselves, and then conversation briefly stopped.  It had been a success.  We toasted Julia, and her inspiration and her legacy, and toasted the good friends around the table.  We ate every last bit of dinner.  SC assembled the bombes des trois chocolates, which has been previously described.

Julia was definitely with us this night.  Julia, who loved a good meal, with people she loved.  Who brought this beautiful world of food to American women and convinced us, in words and grainy black and white tv, and later, better, clearer color tv, that this world was ours to explore.  All we needed was a good knife and the right skillet, some friends and some good French wine.  And she’d be with us as we went.

Happy Birthday, Julia.  It was a pleasure celebrating with you.