Get it While They’re Fresh

My dear wife rounded up these astonishingly fresh veggies at out local farmers market and put together this stunning appetizer tray. The taste was pure summer goodness.

Blanched Beans and Baby Carrots

2 pounds baby carrots (The real thing, right from the ground. Get the colorful heirloom varieties if you can find them.)
2 pounds fresh green beans

Fit a pasta strainer into a large  (8-12 quart)  pot. Fill with lightly salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Place 6 cups of ice in a large bowl and fill with just enough water to float the ice.

Wash the carrots and trim the ends. DO NOT PEEL. Wash and trim the beans.

Blanch the carrots in the boiling water for about 2-3 minutes, depending on size of carrots and how crunchy you like them. Remove the carrots from the heat (This is where the strainer comes in handy. If you don’t have one use a big slotted spoon to remove the carrots). Drain and put the carrots into the ice water.

Return the strainer to the pot and add the grean beans. Blanch for about 2 minutes. Remove the beans from the heat, drain, and add the beans to the ice water.

The cold water stops the cooking and keeps the veggies tender-crisp. Pour the beans and carrots into a colander. Drain well, then stash in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. Then just toss them on a simple platter and let the beautiful colors shout “SUMMER!!!”

We served these with store-bought hummus and homemade green goddess dressing on the side.

Memorial Ribs

Much of what I know about making ribs I owe to “Car Wash Mike” McKernan and his postings on the Big Green Egg forum. Mike recently passed away, and while I never met the man, I thought it fitting to join the rest of the Eggheads in smoking a batch of baby backs in his honor.

I started with 3 racks of baby back ribs. These were a little smaller than the ones I usually get from Costco, and looked to already have had the membrane removed. I rubbed both sides of each rack with Dizzy Pig’s Dizzy Dust about 2 hours before they went on the smoker.

I set up my Big Green Egg for an indirect cook at 250°F – filling the firebox with lump charcoal and using an inverted plate setter to diffuse the heat and a drip pan with a little water in it to catch the fat.

I lit the charcoal just in the center, and once the temperature hit 300°F in the dome, I tossed in a a couple of chunks of crab apple for smoke. I added the plate setter, drip pan and  grate, then adjusted the vents until the temperature settled at 250°F.

I arranged the ribs bone side down on the grate, then closed the lid and let the BGE do it’s magic for an hour. I flipped the ribs bone side up, and let them go for another hour. I flipped them back bone side down and let them go for another 2 hours.

After the ribs had been on 4 hours total, I started checking for doneness. Ribs are generally done when a full slab will almost fold in half and start to crack when you pick up one end with a pair of tongs. These weren’t there yet, but the meat had really started to pull back from the end of the bones and it looked like it wouldn’t take much to pull a bone right out of the ribs.

Hmmmm…

I flipped a rack over and discovered that the bone side was covered with that membrane that I’d thought had been removed. Oops. It was all brown and crispy now. I grabbed one corner with the tongs and pulled it off – underneath was the juiciest rib meat I’ve ever seen.

I lifted the end of the slab and it almost fell apart. These ribs were well done and it had only been the membrane that was holding them together. I quickly removed the membrane from the other 2 racks and moved all of them off the Egg and onto a jelly roll pan. I sauced them on both sides with a little Sticky Pig Barbecue Sauce and told our guests we’d be eating a little sooner than expected.

The lesson? There are a lot of great teachers out there. Take their advice, but don’t be afraid to make your own mistakes and then pass the experience along.

Buffalo Chicken

I make a version of this chicken and veggie recipe about once a week while we’re getting nice, fresh veggies out of the garden. Once you get it set up on the grill, the components of this dish all work together really well – the chicken juices flavor the veggies while the veggie pan protects the chicken from direct heat.

To make this dish even more conevenient for the summer, I like to do 2 birds at a time. It’s not really much more work, and you end up with plenty of leftovers for no-cook lunches. This time I also bumped up the spice by saucing the birds with Suck Creek’s Original Hot Wing Sauce at the end of the cook.

The Veggies
6 small Yukon gold potatoes, quartered
1 small yellow squash, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh ground back pepper to taste

Lightly oil a 9×13 baking pan. Add the veggies, drizzle with olive oil, season with the salt and a couple of grinds of pepper.

The Birds

2 3-5 pound roasting chickens
4  tablespoons olive oil
2 to 4  tablespoons of your favorite barbecue rub (I used John Henry’s Pecan Rub)
1/2 cup Suck Creek’s Original Hot Wing Sauce

Spatchcocking is easier than it sounds – place the bird in front of you, breast side down. Butterfly the bird by cutting up through the backbone with either a pair of kitchen shears or a sharp chef’s knife. You can repeat this to remove the entire backbone, but I generally don’t.

Spread the bird open like a book and locate the keel bone that sits between the breasts. Nick it with a knife to get it to open up, but don’t cut all the way through. Flip the bird over and press down on the center of the bird until it lies flat.

Clean and rinse the chicken, then pat it dry. Rub both sides of the bird with olive oil and season with the rub, making sure to work some under the skin.

The Cook

Set your grill up for an indirect cook over medium heat (350°F). On the Big Green Egg I use the plate setter to diffuse the heat and set the pan of veggies on top of that. Then put the grill grate on top of the pan and put the chickens, skin side up, on the grate.

Close the lid and cook the chicken and veggies for 30 minutes. Give the veggies a stir and flip the birds over.  Cook for another 30 minutes, then start checking to see if everything is done. The veggies are done when they are tender. The chicken is done when the juices run clear and the the temperature has reached 160°F in the breast and 180°F in the thigh.

The veggies will most likely be done before the birds. Pull them if they finish first and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm. When the chicken is just about done, baste both sides with the sauce. Cook 15 more minutes, and baste again. Cook until the birds are done (about 1 1/2 hours total cooking time) and baste one last time before removing from the grill.

Remove the birds to a cutting board and let them rest for about 10 minutes. Quarter the birds for serving.

New Deck!

Not exactly a food post, but we live and cook outside as much as we can. Our old outdoor space was a modest-sized slab of concrete on top of our potting shed. To give us a little more space and a nicer place to entertain, we decided to deck the slab – bumping it out and adding a privacy wall and new stairwell.

As you can see, Bella the Big Green Egg has a nice new home in the corner with a great view and it’s own matching chaise, so I’ve got a place to relax while supervising those long cooks.  Wow, life is tough.

Mixed Berry Pretzel Icebox Dessert

Hats off to Noble Pig for their Mixed Berry Pretzel Icebox Dessert! I had all but forgotten this childhood treat until I spotted the recipe on their blog. I sent it to my dear wife and she made a gluten-free version for us.

The original recipe makes a 9×13 pan. This version is downsized to an 8×8 pan, perfect for a smaller dinner party or as a “just us” dessert for the week.  She made half the crust, but the full cream cheese topping as listed (because who can ever get enough cream cheese goodness?!).  She also used just one box of jello and half of the fruit (about two cups total, it doesn’t have to be exact).

Crust

1 cup finely crushed pretzels (used Glutino)
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling

8 ounces cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
7 ounces plain thick Greek yogurt (regular yogurt will be too thin)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (3 ounce) packages strawberry gelatin
8 ounces frozen sweetened sliced strawberries, thawed
1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Grease an 8×8 baking pan. Finely crush the pretzels in a food processor. Add the sugar and melted butter and pulse until combined.

Press the pretzel mixture into the baking dish. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack.

While the crust is cooling, use a stand mixer on medium speed to beat the cream cheese and sugar together until well blended. Fold in the yogurt and vanilla. Spread the filling over the cooled pretzel crust. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.

In a large bowl, dissolve the gelatin in 1 cup of boiling water. Let the mixture cool until it begins to get syrupy, about 15 minutes. Stir in the fruit and pour over cream cheese filling. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. We made this the day before and let it set up overnight.

We served this last weekend and everyone wanted the recipe. Thanks Noble Pig!

Carnitas with Pickled Onions

Ah, carnitas – those melty, tender, bits of pig cooked in its own juices.  I do love them and continue to refine my recipe. This version uses slightly larger chunks of pork shoulder than I normally use, then simmered in citrus juice until the fat renders and the meat starts to get all brown and crispy. The pickled onions are a common Mexican garnish and really add a tangy compliment to the meat.

Carnitas

2 boneless pork shoulder roasts (aka Boston Butt), about 14 pounds
Juice of 3 oranges (about 1 cup)
Juice of 2 limes (about 4 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin

I set my Big Green Egg up for an 8 hour cook over indirect heat at 300°F. I used the plate setter with a trivet on it to diffuse the heat and keep the bottom from burning.

While the BGE was heating up, I cut the pork into big (4-inch) chunks, discarding any nasty pieces of connective tissue, but keeping all of the fat.

I combined all of the ingredients into a 12-quart Dutch oven, put the oven on the grill and let it simmer for an hour.  I gave it a stir and then let it go for another hour. I kept checking and stirring once an hour until most of the liquid had evaporated and the pork had started to fry in its own fat (about 5 hours).  Then I checked it every 15 minutes to make sure it was getting crispy, but not becoming dry or burned. Total cook time was just over 6 hours.

Pickled Onions

1 red onion, halved lengthwise, ends removed, and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
Salt and pepper to taste

I put the onions in a saucepan, added just enough water to cover, and boiled until tender (about 1 minute). I remove them from heat,  rinsed with cold water, and drained.

I put the onions in a plastic container, added the lime juice and vinegar, and seasoned to taste with a couple of grinds of black pepper and about a teaspoon of kosher salt. I sealed the container and stored it in the fridge for about an hour before serving.

Ricotta Frittata

The only thing better than bacon and eggs? Bacon and eggs blended with creamy ricotta cheese, of course.

6 eggs
5 strips bacon, diced
1 small bunch fresh parsley, diced (about 4 tablespoons)
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a medium skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the cooked bacon to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoon of the bacon drippings from the pan into a pint jar and refrigerate (see In Praise of Bacon Grease for uses).

In a medium bowl, combine the bacon, eggs, ricotta, parsley, cream, salt, and a couple of grinds of pepper.

Pour the egg mixture back into the skillet. Cook the frittata on the stove top over medium heat until the eggs start to set, about 5 minutes. Top with the Parmesan cheese. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until firm, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Apricot-Glazed Pork Chops with Peanut Noodles

I had such luck with the Cherry-Glazed Chicken that I thought I would continue with the meat-meets-sweet-spicy-and-savory theme. The noodle dish is a great complement to the chops and is quick and easy to make.

Apricot-Glazed Pork Chops

6 boneless pork chops
1 (10 ounce) jar apricot jam
2 apricots, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce or gluten-free Bragg’s Aminos
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger

Mix the jam, soy sauce, vinegar,  sweet chili sauce, garlic, and ginger in a sauce pan over medium heat until blended (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool.

Put the chops in a zip-top bag and cover with the marinade.  Toss to coat. Squeeze the air out of the bag, seal it, and put it in the fridge to marinate for at least 4 hours, overnight is better.

Set up your grill for a direct cook over medium (350°F) heat.

Remove the chops from the marinade. Save the marinade into a small saucepan. Add the apricots and and bring to a boil over medium heat. Let boil for about 3 minutes, until the marinade has thickened to the point that it will coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Pour off 1/2 cup of the marinade to use for basting the chops. Save the rest to pour over the chops when they are done.

Season the chops on both sides with a little salt and pepper.

Grill the chops 10 minutes on one side, flip and grill another 5 minutes on the second side. Brush with marinade and grill for 5 more minutes. Flip, brush, and grill another 5 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the pork hits 140°F.

Remove the chops from the grill and let rest 5 minutes. Drizzle with the reserved marinade before serving.

Peanut Noodles

You can put it together in advance and stash it in the fridge. Just take it out early so that it comes to room temperature for serving.

2/3 cup peanut butter (natural if possible)
1/4 cup soy sauce or gluten-free Bragg’s Aminos
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons honey
1 – 2 teaspoons sriracha sauce
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger

3/4 pound dried spaghetti (use corn or rice noodles to make it gluten-free)
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips
1/2 cup snow peas
3 tablespoons sesame seeds

In a blender, combine peanut butter, soy sauce, water, garlic, vinegar, sesame oil, honey, pepper flakes, and ginger. Blend until smooth (about a minute) then pour into a large bowl.

Cook the pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente (if you are going to let this sit in the fridge, shorten the cooking time for a little firmer pasta). Drain into a colander and rinse with cold water.

Add the pasta, veggies, and sesame seeds to the dressing. Toss to combine.

Happy Holiday! – No Crust Coconut Pie

I’m the only gluten-free member of my clan. For family gatherings (like this upcoming 4th of July weekend), my dear wife makes this pie so we can all have dessert and I won’t feel left out. Ain’t she the best?

This is adapted from Penzeys One, Volume 3, Issue 6, 2009.

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted
2 eggs
1  1/3 cup sugar
1  1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup flour (we used Pamela’s Ultimate Baking & Pancake Mix)
2 cup milk
3 cup shredded coconut (we like natural, unsweetened)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix well. Pour into an ungreased 9-inch pie plate (this dessert doesn’t need a pie crust- it makes it’s own) and bake at 350°F until browned, about 35-45 minutes.

Let cool before slicing. Run a thin knife around the rim of the pie plate before cutting.

Have a fun 4th!