Archive | June, 2012

Rub the Butt!

19 Jun

I was born and raised in the midwest.  My family has deep midwestern roots.  I grew up on midwestern type food.  I consider midwestern food to be “farm table” food, like roasts, late summer sweet corn, casseroles, and fresh vegetables (canned all winter long).  Wait…was that my moms 70’s housewife menu or midwest fare?  No idea, but it was all I knew!   So when I moved to the southeastern part of the country, I had a lot to learn about regional foods!

Barbecue in North Carolina is a regional food that I knew nothing about prior to moving to North Carolina. But there’s more.  Evidently it’s not simply “North Carolina” barbecue. There is western North Carolina barbecue and eastern North Carolina barebecue. Wow!  So much to learn!

Barbecue sauces and techniques vary in the great state of North Carolina. There is a red sauce, much like the barbecue sauce that I grew up with, resembling ketchup.  Then there is a vinegar based sauce, somewhat translucent, that is completely new to me. Growing up, the only time I even had barbecue sauce was when it was slathered on baked chicken or in a “sloppy joe”.  And it was always commercial bottled sauce.  So clearly my knowledge and experience was somewhat limited.  But that has certainly changed!

In North Carolina, the barbecue that I have become familiar with and started cooking is pulled pork. So I started at the beginning: the cut of meat to use. From my research, experimentation, and dining pleasure, I discovered that I needed to get a pork butt, with a six to eight pound butt being sufficient for my purposes.  As a true foodie, I have jumped on this bandwagon big time!  Something that starts out with a big butt is bound to be loads of fun!

Now that I had my butt, I was ready for the next step…giving it a good butt rub!  And that is what I did.  I love to cook from scratch, and I know enough about seasonings that I was able to get a solid dry rub together.  I used cayenne pepper, season salt, black pepper, chili powder, paprika, dry mustard, sugar, and a surprise ingredient!   I used a dash of instant coffee granules.  But don’t tell!  It’s my secret!

Another secret…I rub my butt the night before, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and toss it in the fridge.  The next day, 6 or so hours before I want to serve it, I unwrap the butt, set it in my big black cast iron skillet and put it into a 300 degree oven. I have also done the butt in my slow cooker, but like the oven for a better texture.  The grill is the best option though!  Afte, I simply use 2 forks to pull the meat apart, put it on a plate, and stand back!  Add baked beans, some crisp slaw, soft sandwich buns, and it’s barbecue time.  Well, at least my novice level type!  Make it and they will come!

Oh yeah…back to the barbeque sauce.  I am now a huge fan of the vinegar based barbecue sauce.  I have played with the following ingredient combinations to make my vinegar sauce: vinegar, mustard, ketchup, sugar, garlic, and some red pepper flakes.  So delish!  I like my barbecue sandwich wet and sloppy, so I drench it in the vinegar sauce,  toss slaw onto my sandwich, and don’t bother with a napkin till the end.

I would like to “hog” credit for developing these recipes and techniques, but truth be told I have had my wonderful companion Denis (thankfully a fellow foodie) in the kitchen too, contributing, tasting, and adding.  Credit also goes to both of our families, parents and kids alike, for offering up that coveted closed eye “moaning moment” when eating our barbecue.  The “food moan”, along with mouth stuffed muffled dinner conversation, is a positive sign.  At this point, I won’t attempt to catapult myself to any sort of barbecue aficionado status. But happily am on the right road.

Post Script:  A word to the singles out there.  This is not a good 1st date meal.  Like s’mores or ribs, barbecue just doesn’t work when trying to look cute.  1st date cute.  Nope!  Hold out a bit for this pulled pork barbecue.  This is a flat out down and dirty, sloppy, finger licking meal.  Know your dining companions before attempting this!

Appetizer in an Instant!

13 Jun

Need a fast appetizer?  Open your fridge, open your pantry, and start picking things out.  Arrange the food in a beautiful way onto a platter.  Add a little of this, a dash of that.  You now have an antipasto platter fit for any gathering.  And you will look like a hero in a snap!  Love that!

An antipasto platter is a quick and lovely appetizer.  A great addition to any get together.  Think easy finger food.  Tasty tidbits.  Savory bites.  Succulent scents and vibrant colors.  It is a relaxed and rustic, yet somewhat sophisticated appetizer or first course.  Antipasto means “before the meal”, so it need not be large.

The secret to a good antipatso platter is the presentation.  Organized chaos.  Anyone can do it.  And you will always be party ready if you keep the right staples in the fridge and pantry.  Here is a super easy list to pick from, so keep these things handy and you are always party ready!

  • Marinated artichokes
  • Assorted olives
  • Rustic bread (store in the freezer)
  • Lunch meat-a nice variety
  • Roasted and/or marinated peppers
  • Variety of cheeses
  • Roasted nuts
  • Grapes
  • Assorted crackers
  • Mushrooms
  • Cherry tomatoes

And don’t forget to keep cocktail size napkins and toothpicks in the cupboard as well.  These items can be easily assembled and will make a wonderful presentation to any party.   So open your door, welcome your friends, and relax. You are always ready for a party!

Quick antipasto platter

You can’t beat a beet!

12 Jun

Beautiful roasted beets!

I have always enjoyed beets.  But for some reason, I have totally gotten into them lately.  Maybe its just that they are in season, inexpensive, and just so darn delicious!  They are amazing grilled.  Roasted in the oven makes them sweeter!  They can even simply be boiled, cooled, peeled, sliced, and chilled.  They can then be enjoyed in a salad.

First, let’s chat about the nutritional value of a beet.  Beets are a root vegetable like a carrot.  They are in season right now.  They contain significant amounts of folate and vitamin C.  Beets are also rich in niacin, vitamin B6, iron, potassium and magnesium.  In other words, beets are loaded with vitamins and minerals.  And bonus!  The red color is a fabulous antioxidant!  (Gentle reminder…antioxidants are great for cell rejuvenation, which can help our organs function better and keep wrinkles at bay!).

Now, onto getting the beets from the garden or market to the table.  If you grab beets in the grocery store, look for firm round beets with nice green stems and leaves.  When you get ready to cook them, wash them up and cut off the greens.  Do not throw those greens away though!  Chop them up and toss them into a salad.  If a salad is not on the menu that day, wrap the greens in a damp paper towel and put them in the fridge.  They will make the most flavorful addition to your next salad!  Promise!

OK.  Back to cooking the beets.  The beets can be peeled, cut into quarters, and spread out onto a baking sheet.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil on then, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss into a 400 degree oven until tender, about  35-45 minute, depending on the size of the beet.  Check doneness with a fork.

Beets are also fantastic on the grill.  Simply grill them on a little pan or some foil.  Again, just wash, peel, and quarter them, add a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss them on.  Close the grill lid and let the grill do its job.  I have also tossed beets onto the grill in a pouch made from tin foil.  I literally made a loose pouch around the beets out of tin foil and placed on the grill.

Beets with crumbled goat cheese and walnuts.

I have served beets right off the grill.  I have also added a little crumbled goat cheese and walnuts over the top of warm beets.  I have taken leftover beets and added them to a cold lettuce salad.  Some mandarin oranges are also a great addition to a salad of greens and beets.  Sweet surprise…I have gotten fresh ravioli stuffed with beets at the farmers market.  3 minutes in boiling water, a little parmesan cheese or a simple white sauce over the top, and call it a big huge yum!

Any way you cook them, beets are packed with flavor, nutrition, and antioxidants.  As you can see below, I have grilled them with summer squash.  The colors together are fantastic and make a beautiful presentation.  Get creative or go easy and simple.  Any way you decide to prepare beets, it will be a winning dish.

Simple Grilled Beets! Yum!

Egg off!

10 Jun

At the farmers market the other day, my darling significant other Denis and I got some free range eggs and some quail eggs.  The quail eggs were a novelty, not really necessary, but we just had to try them.   The farm fresh free range eggs were from the most charming farmer, a lovely shade of brown, and they were  not the least bit uniform in size.  Just like nature intended!

We decided that a taste test was in order!  We had to see if there was a taste difference between the eggs.  Organic versus store bought (aka factory eggs in my book).  We had already prepared the quail eggs, so it was just between the white store bought and the free range eggs.

It was a weekend so we could have a leisurely breakfast.  The next morning Denis came over for breakfast.  We sat on the screen porch sipping coffee and perusing a couple of newspapers.  We also chatted about the best way to prepare the eggs for a pure taste.  The decision was made.  Fried, over easy, in really good butter.   But please don’t judge the methodology!   It was in the name of science!  Really it was!!

I got my cast iron skillet out and melted the butter in it.  Whole grain bread was toasting.  Fresh berries were glistening from being freshly washed.  The eggs sat on the counter.  When the butter was just right, a wee bit browned and bubbling, we tossed 2 brown eggs and 2 grocery store eggs into the pan.  Delicately.  Because every one knows that fried eggs are about the perfect yolk.  Heaven forbid a yolk break!  We took a deep breath in and let the aroma of the eggs sizzling twang our buds!

The whites of the eggs were firm, the yolks delightfully jiggly.  Time to get them out of the pan and onto our plates!  Toast and summer fresh berries accompanied our eggs.  We dug into the eggs with robust curiosity.  There was a clear front runner in my opinion, but I waited for my sweet Denis to voice his opinion.  It took one bite from each egg for a clear winner to emerge.  The satisfied moaning from a bite of the brown egg spoke volumes!

The brown free range egg had an amazing flavor all its own.   The white store egg was flat with the butter taste being more dominant than the egg itself.  Yup, the brown egg was fantastic!  And no one was more surprised than me to discover the taste difference.  I am now a convert.

For the record, I didn’t even finish the white egg.  As a budget minded single mother, I am always conscious of my food dollars.  And if I am baking, the white store bought eggs will be fine.  But from now on, when I want to splurge on an egg featured in a meal, I will definitely spend the extra money on the brown farm fresh eggs.  Hands down!


Lovely poached quail eggs!

Quick and Easy!

3 Jun

I realize that some people feel about cooking the way that I feel about balancing a checkbook.  I would rather do anything but that!  Bring on the shortcuts!  Here is the good news for people who don’t like cooking.  There are shortcuts to making a good healthy meal!

Grilling is a snap, and clean up is a breeze.  A good meal can be prepared quickly if you throw most of it on the grill.  Don’t have outdoor grilling space?  Those table top/counter top models work great too.  Start looking for one on sale and snap it up!

Now comes the easy part.  Here is a quick, easy, and nutritious meal.  Simply salt, pepper, and season some fresh chicken breasts with your favorite spices.  Rub it in, drizzle a bit of olive oil on it, and let it sit for a moment.  Take some fresh vegetables, a yellow squash for example, and cut it in half down the middle.  Salt and pepper it.  Set that aside.

Grab some minute rice and vegetable stock (always keep some yummy chicken and vegetable stock in your pantry).  Toss equal parts of stock and rice, preferably brown, into a sauce pan and fire up your stove top.  Get that cooking.  Light your grill.  Toss your chicken on when your grill is good and hot.

There are a couple of easy ways to cook vegetables on the grill.  Making a dense vegetable, like beets or onions may take a bit more time than other vegetables, and a foil pouch helps it steam quickly on the grill.  Making a foil pouch is just like it sounds.  Take some tin foil, put your vegetables on it, add some olive oil or a tiny bit of butter.  Sprinkle your favorite seasonings lightly over it.  Now crimp a piece of foil on the top.  Make sure the pouch is good and sealed.  Now toss it on the grill.

Making a juicier vegetable, such as summer squash, is also super easy.  When your chicken is about done, simply toss it on the grill.  Let it grill and get some good grill lines on it.  That only takes a couple of minutes if your grill is at around 400 degrees.  Turn it once.  Now its done.  Yup…it is that easy!

Pull all of your food off the grill.  Stir your rice.  Plate up.  A quick fresh dinner is now ready for 1, 2, or 10!  It

grilled chicken!

is that easy!  I use a gas grill for ease of starting, and I love cooking with gas.  But any grill will do.  As I said, even an electric table top model is a snap to use for quick meals!  So if you do not like cooking but want a simple fresh meal, toss your food on the grill and you will have a nutritious meal in no time!