Thursday, May 30, 2013

"Cheater BBQ" - (Crockpot) Ultimate Cheater Pulled Pork with Cheater BBQ Slaw (for Memorial Day)

Date I made this recipe:  May 27, 2013 (Memorial Day)

Cheater BBQ – Barbecue Anytime, Anywhere, In Any Weather by Mindy Merrell and R. B. Quinn
Published by:  Broadway Books
ISBN:  978-0-7679-2768-0
Recipes:  Ultimate Cheater Pulled Pork – p. 54-55 and Cheater BBQ Slaw – p. 151

I just posted on Facebook that dealing with this spring’s weather is like listening to a James Taylor record that keeps skipping:  “Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain…and rain...and rain…and rain….”  If memory serves, Memorial Days are often rainy and overcast but yesterday took the cake – dark cloud cover all day and then rain…and rain…and rain.

Given the crappy spring weather we’ve been having, I didn’t even bother to actually find a recipe for grilling out, resorting instead to a book called Cheater BBQ that, just like the title says, allows you to barbecue anytime, anywhere in any (in climate) weather.  And so I dusted off the crock pot, added the ingredients and walked away and in 6 hours (or less), you have yourself a tasty barbecue without fighting raindrops and/or mosquitoes (with all this water, we are in for some kind of mosquito season in these parts).  Add an easy coleslaw recipe to the mix and aloha, we have dinner!

This recipe calls for liquid smoke and while I’ve seen in it various and sundry recipes, I’ve never used it before and have to say I don’t know where I come down on this item.  On the one hand, it sure smelled like barbecue in the house but not necessarily in a good way although perhaps I’m picky:  I want barbecue to smell more like the sauce, less like a smoky fire.  And then there’s the spice rub issue and again, I am torn.  Our pork butt was 2.5 pounds instead of the 5-6 pounds required and so I adjusted the seasonings accordingly but still tasted too much salt for my palate.  (You can insert the phrase “high maintenance” at any time during the course of this blog.) That said I have to tell you that cooking this sucker in a crock pot made the meat unbelievably tender and it “pulled” apart like nobody’s business.  So that was good and yet…I failed, and failed miserably, to see the attraction of pulling apart meat and fat and this is why I will never be even an honorary Southerner because I just don’t see the joy in it.  Hold the vitriol, but please pass the BBQ sauce!

Now in my book, you can’t have BBQ without a side and so I made the cole slaw.  It was quick and easy and what’s not to love about modern-day directions that tell you to basically buy and open a bag of premade anything?  I have quite the fondness for celery seed and this recipe contains a teaspoon of it so there it is – mix, stir, add – cheat!

And so on this Memorial Day, we did chores around the house, got in an indoor walk at a local mall, came home to some delicious vittles and reflected a moment or two on our veterans like my late father, who served oh-so-proudly in the Marine Corp in WWII.  And, of course, cursed the weather.  Dad would have because it would have interfered with planting his garden.  I just do it because well, why not?

“…and rain… and rain…and rain…and rain….”

Ultimate Cheater Pulled Pork – makes 12 to 14 servings
One 5- to 6-pound boneless Boston butt pork roast or same weight of boneless country-style pork ribs (We bought a 2.5 pound butt pork roast)
¼ cup Cheater Basic Dry Rub (p. 45 or see below)
½ cup bottled liquid smoke
Barbeque sauce of your choice (for their recipes see pages 38 to 43 or just use what you have on hand)

Cheater Basic Dry Rub (makes about 2/3 cup)
¼ cup paprika
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dry mustard

If using a larger pork roast, cut the pork butt into medium (2- to 3-inch) chunks.  (The ribs do not need to be cut up.)

Put the pieces in a large slow cooker (at least 5 quarts).  Sprinkle the meat with the rub, turning the pieces to coat evenly.  Add the bottled smoke.

Cover and cook on high for 5 to 6 hours or on low for 10 to 12 hours, until the meat is pull-apart tender and reaches an internal temperature of 190F.

Using tongs and a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a rimmed platter or baking.  Let rest until cool enough to handle.

Cheater BBQ Slaw – makes 6 servings
½ cup white or cider vinegar
½ cup sugar
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
One 16-ounce bag slaw mix (about 8 cups lightly packed)

Combine the vinegar, sugar, mayonnaise, celery seed, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Blend well with a whisk or fork.  Add the slaw mix and toss to blend.  Chill before serving.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"France and its Cuisine" & "The Pooh Cookbook" (as in Winnie-the-Pooh) - Coq au Vin and Chocolate Honey Pie for our anniversary

Date I made these recipes:  May 19, 2013

France and its Cuisine (author unknown)
Published by:  Mallard Press
ISBN:  0-792-45227-5; © 1991 (and what do you know, that’s the year we got married!)
Recipe:  Coq au Vin (Chicken with Wine) – p. 86

The Pooh Cook Book (Winnie-the-Pooh) by Virginia H. Ellison; Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
Published by: Dell Publishing (a Yearling Special)
© 1969
Recipe:  Honey Chocolate Pie – p. 82

Yesterday, May 18th, was my 22nd wedding anniversary.  My husband, Andy, spent it in Wisconsin participating in a 100 mile bike ride called, somewhat appropriately, Arcadia’s Brute.  I, on the other hand, went to Art-A-Whirl in Northeast Minneapolis to look at art and buy yet another set of earrings.  I can’t help myself.

Yes, we’re talking romantic folks!  If there’s anything I’d say about a marriage lasting this long is that flexibility is key.  Sure, we spent the first couple anniversaries joined together at the hip but after that our independent spirits took over (we married when we were in our 30’s) and we decided that we didn’t need to be together on that exact day in order to have a meaningful celebration of our marriage.

The day after our anniversary, I cooked dinner but not until Andy got home from a model car show he went to earlier in the day and I came home from brunch with a friend.  Priorities, priorities!

Now you may be wondering what on earth a French dish was doing paired with a recipe from a Winnie-the-Pooh cookbook and so I’ll tell you that it all connects to our wedding and honeymoon.  At our wedding, my father-in-law read from Anne Morrow Lindberg’s Gift from the Sea.  The late, great Webster Martin had a wonderful reading voice and gave a thoughtful delivery of the section we chose.

And then my Aunt Mary, “Auntie Mare,” got up and with the straightest of faces intoned “This is a reading from Winnie-the-Pooh,” and then cracked up laughing.  I cannot recall exactly what the section of Winnie-the-Pooh was that we selected but I do recall we saw it on a greeting card and thought it made for a fun and different wedding reading.  I loved reading Winnie-the-Pooh as a kid although I was always afraid of the “heffalumps” until I was older and realized they were elephants. And so what the heck, you like something, you add it to your wedding reading list.

As to the honeymoon, Andy and I managed to score incredibly inexpensive airline tickets to Paris (much cheaper than any domestic flights) and so in another “what the heck moment,” we booked a flight to Paris, then took a train trip to northern Italy (Venice and Florence), another train trip through the Italian and French Riviera with a stop in Provence to visit a friend and then back up to Paris.  It was exhausting and crazy fun all rolled into one although sadly, we haven’t been back since.  And so we bien mange (eat well) at home instead.

Many of the recipes in the French cookbook sounded oh-so-tasty and I vacillated between a recipe for Chicken Stew Nicoise, a recipe with tomatoes, olives and white wine and the one I made, Coq au Vin, a heartier dish with mushrooms, pearl onions and red wine before deciding that red wine wins.  Plus, the weather was on the stormy side (a complete understatement for the deluge and flash flood I got caught in) and the heartier dish felt cozier than the other.  Plus I like red wine and hey, if you have to add three cups of wine to a dish, it should be something you like to drink, n’cest pas? (Isn’t it so?)

As to dessert, finding something to make from the Pooh cookbook wasn’t hard at all as this recipe combines my favorites – chocolate and honey (or, as Pooh would say “hunny”) with whipped cream thrown in for good measure.  The author cautions us that this is a very sweet pie but you know what, it didn’t taste that way at all.  We pronounced it a grand success.  And in keeping with our French theme, the French word for honeymoon is “lune de miel,” “miel” being the French word for honey (and “lune” is moon).  Go ahead and say it with me:  “Awwwww…..” 

Both of these dishes were very good (c’est tres bon) but I do have a major change I suggest making to the chicken dish and that is after baking it or simmering it for the required time (45-60 minutes), remove the chicken and simmer the remaining wine/mushroom/onion mixture for a good half hour to hour to reduce the sauce.  Our initial reaction to the dish, eaten straight out of the oven, was that it was okay but not grand as the wine sauce was too watery.  But then I reduced the sauce and it was much, much better. 

So that’s my anniversary dinner for me and my honey (“hunney”).  As Pooh always said “It’s so much more friendly with two.”

Coq au Vin (Chicken in red wine) – serves 4
¼ lb bacon, cut into cubes
2 T butter
3 lbs chicken pieces
12 small white onions, peeled and left whole
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bouquet garni (this is typically a mix of thyme, bay leaves, and parsley, tied together, usually in cheesecloth that you then submerge into the liquid.)
3 cups full-bodied red wine
3 T buerre manie (1 tbsp all-purpose flour blended with 2 T softened butter)
Salt and black pepper
Fried bread croutons (garnish)
Parsley (for bouquet garni and garnish)

Fry the bacon until it has browned and rendered its fat and, with a slotted spoon, remove from the pan.  Next add the butter to the fat and melt over a gentle heat.  When the foam subsides, add the chicken joints and fry until golden on both sides.  Remove them to a large flameproof casserole.  Fry the onions until a little brown and then lightly fry the mushrooms.

Add the onions and mushrooms to the casserole together with the bacon, garlic, bay leaves and bouquet garni.  Pour over the red wine and season with black pepper and a little salt.  Bring to a steady simmer over gentle heat.  Add pieces of the beurre manie until the sauce thickens, cover the casserole and continue cooking over a low heat OR place in moderate oven, 350F until chicken is tender – about 45-60 minutes.

Remove bay leaves and bouquet garni and garnish with fried bread croutons and chopped parsley.

Ann’s Note:  The sauce did not thicken like I wanted it to so after cooking for 45-60 minutes, remove the chicken, put the remaining wine/mushroom/onion mixture on the stove and simmer for an additional 30-60 minutes until the sauce is reduced.

Honey Chocolate Pie – makes a 10” pie
1 9-inch pie shell, uncooked
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
¼ cup butter (2 ounces)
1 14 ½-ounce can evaporated milk (Ann’s Note:  can sizes these days are 12 ounces)
½ cup honey
1 cup sugar
3 T cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, beaten
½ cup whipping cream

Buy a ready-made pie shell or make your own from any standard recipe or any of the piecrust mixes.  If making your own, line the pie pan with the pastry before starting the honey-chocolate mixture.

Melt the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler.  When melted, remove from the heat and blend in the evaporated milk, stirring all the time.

In a mixing bowl blend together the honey, sugar, cornstarch and salt.  Beat in the eggs.  Add this mixture to the chocolate mixture slowly, beating all the time.  Pour this filling into the waiting pie shell.  If you used a smaller pie shell like I did, pour the remaining mixture into ramekins.

Bake the pie uncovered for 40 minutes then cover it lightly with aluminum foil and bake it 20 minutes more until the top is puffed.  Cracks sometimes show in the center.

Cool for an hour then refrigerate.

Serve cold with whipped cream piled on it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

"Gourmet Gringo" (to celebrate Cinco de Mayo) - Mexican Gumbo

Date I made this recipe:   May 8th (for a belated Cinco de Mayo dinner)

Gourmet Gringo – Traditional Mexican Cooking for the American Kitchen by Mari Meyers
Published by:  Golden West Publishers
ISBN:  1-885590-16-4; © 1996
Recipe:  Mexican Gumbo – p. 70

Well Happy…let’s see, what are we up to here…Diez de Mayo everyone!  Yes, I realize that Cinco de Mayo (the 5th of May) has come and gone but I was just a little busy.  My husband was coming back from a trip to Salt Lake City on a late flight, the sixth and seventh were also busy and so that brings us to the 8th day of May to make the recipe and today, the 10th to post it. Besides, although the calendar may designate one day only for a country’s independence, you can’t tell me the celebrations don’t continue longer and if they don’t they should!  So I continued the celebration just a tad longer and the world didn’t stop spinning and that’s a good thing.  I would like to point out that “ocho” (eight) rhymes with “cinco” (five) and that just works so much better than the sixth (seis) and seventh (siete), am I right on this?

As to this cookbook, I purchased this book a mere week before the big event from Arc’s Value Village Thrift Stores in Richfield, MN and just hooted at the title and so of course it went in my basket.  And wouldn’t you know, the cookbook’s author is originally from “Scandinavian Minnesota” so when she says this cookbook is for gringos (Caucasians), she means it!

This brings me to the running joke about Minnesota spice a/k/a ketchup and how Minnesotans don’t have much of a flavor palate.  Recent studies have shown that although yes, certain ethnic groups shy away from spice more than others, an individual’s taste buds help determine whether or not spice (and by that I mean hot chiles) is a good thing or a bad thing.  My palate tends to shy away from heat and so color me surprised when I told my husband that I thought this gumbo could have been kicked up a notch or two.  He thought the flavor was fine.  I think we must have switched bodies overnight or something.

This recipe calls for you to roast and then chop a long green chili (also known as Anaheim) and I have to say that I think a bit of Serrano pepper, in addition to the Anaheim, would have made this dish more flavorful.  I could also see adding chipotle in adobo sauce as it would have added the zip I was looking for.  Let me just say that the fact that I was looking for a bit more heat shows you how far my palate has come.

But as the cookbook’s title says, the recipes in this book are intended for gringos and in 1996 when the book was written, it is likely that we weren’t as exposed to true Mexican flavors as we are now.  And so sad to say, the recipes were what they promised to be – something Caucasians could eat without fear of needing a fire extinguisher – but they were boring.  Sure, there were your classic enchilada recipes and your taco recipes (although, really - tacos?), and even a tossed fajita salad but in reading through them, they all seemed to be the same and that meant “meh.” Then there were the interesting ones – mole sauce served over fried chicken (that just seems wrong on so many levels) and a Mexican Hot Dish (you can tell the writer is from Minnesota from the use of “hot dish” alone) involving your standard MN casserole cream of “X” soups and water chestnuts.  I have never figured out what exactly the purpose of water chestnuts is but I don’t think I’m alone here in thinking that this ingredient is NOT Mexican!  And then we had that really popular old-standard Mexican favorite – pizza.  Ugh.  Gringa or not, I was not going to go there.

And so out of all the recipes, this one for “gumbo” seemed the most interesting but, call me picky, I still had issues.  First, has anyone else noticed that chicken has turned into just about the most boring meat available? Once upon a time, you could guarantee you got a farm fresh chicken, loaded with flavor, but today it has been engineered into nothingness.  I poached the chicken breasts as directed but they could have used some salt just to add something to that bland meat.  We need to fix this, stat!  And of course, since the chicken didn’t have any flavor, it follows that the poaching broth you are to use has no flavor, either.  I am not a person who salts food but I reached for the shaker when dining on this finished product.

Then there was the corn component.  Corn (maize) is king in Mexico and yet once again, the flavor has all but been engineered out of it.  Granted, I used frozen corn instead of fresh (seeing as how it snowed the week before, we are not yet even close to corn season) but it really serves no purpose and adds nothing to the dish.  And I’ve already told you how I felt about the chili.

So you might be right in thinking that I hated this dish except I didn’t.  But maybe after cooking and eating so many recipes for so many years, my palate has changed and my expectations are higher. Or maybe, because I’ve had really authentic Mexican food, I’m not willing to accept gringo substitutes anymore – quien sabe? (Who knows?)  I’d make this again but with tweaks here and there to see if I can’t improve things just a little.  And if not, oh well – the gringos in this household observed Cinco de Mayo even if it was a few days late!

By the way, the week before last, Andy and I ate at Homi (Mexican) Restaurant on University Ave and Victoria in St. Paul and it was very good.  We also recommend another authentic Mexican restaurant/grocery store – El Burrito Mercado – on St. Paul’s West Side for the real deal.

Mexican Gumbo – serves 4 to 6
1 to 1 ½ pounds chicken breasts
4 to 5 cups water
2 bacon strips, diced
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups diced zucchini
¾ cup tomato paste (6 oz)
2 cups (about 4 ears) fresh corn off the cob or 2 cups frozen
1 fresh long green chile (Anaheim), roasted, peeled, seeded and diced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup (about 2 ounces) cream cheese or cream
2 ripe but firm avocados, diced

Poach chicken breasts in water (to cover) until tender, about 45 minutes.  Remove chicken and set aside to cool before dicing (you should have two cups).  Reserve broth.

Saute bacon in an extra large (12-inch) skillet or a Dutch oven, then sauté onion and zucchini in same pan just until soft.  Add tomato paste, corn, diced chile, chicken brother, salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer 15 minutes.*

Just before removing from heat, add cream cheese or cream.  Serve immediately with diced avocado on top.

*Ann’s Note:  anybody notice the missing ingredient in these instructions?  If you said to yourself “But what about the diced chicken” you win the prize.  So I added it along with the other ingredients – tomato paste, corn, etc. – above. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

"The New Hamburger & Hot Dog Cookbook" - Chuck Wagon Western Bean (and weenie) Casserole

Date I made this recipe:  April 28, 2013

The New Hamburger & Hot Dog Cookbook by Mettja C. Roate
Published by:  Weathervane Books
©1965 (Hamburger) Part I through page 152; © 1975 (Hot Dog) Part II through Chapter XXI
Recipe:  Chuck Wagon Western Bean Casserole – p. 28

Okay, I know I’m a little weather obsessed, but when temperatures hit the high 70’s, then it’s about time we have some picnic food, am I right?  Right!  That said, I do believe I jinxed the weather by making this dish when the weather was warm two days ago, because today, May 1st, the day I am writing this recap, it is fixing to snow.  It is actually fixing to snow another 6 to 8 inches.  On May Day.  Nature hates us.

But for one, brief shining moment there, it seemed like spring and if you listened carefully, you could hear the “whoosh” of grills firing up all over the Twin Cities.  When you’ve had enough, you’ve had enough and we had had enough and so dam the torpedoes, the grills are coming out! (Well not my grill because it needs a few tweaks but you get my drift.)

Now silly me thought that a book featuring hamburger and hot dog recipes would somehow have one that combines hamburger and hot dogs but sadly, there was only one recipe that did so and it was a Hot Dog and Beef Loaf. One look at my husband’s face suggested no way was that gracing the dinner table.  It sounds like it is similar to a meat loaf but nuh uh, nope, he was not buying it.  I refrained from mentioning that there was a Jellied Hot Dog recipe that we could have, mostly because even I didn’t want to eat that thing. 

Part of the problem, if it is a problem, is that the hamburger section of this book was written in 1965 and the hot dog portion in 1975, so it sounds like these two sections were never meant to be together.  But some crafty marketing person at Weathervane Books did what many people do – throw the word “New” in the title and you have yourself a whole new product.  But this only solved part of the problem, right because I was still looking for a recipe using both meats. 

And so dear reader, I created my own version of Chuck Wagon beans using both hamburger and hot dogs and ta-dah – instant hit!  And it was so easy – make the recipe as directed and then fold in hot dogs (diced small so they fit in the casserole dish) and what the heck – throw some sliced hot dogs on top for good measure and decoration. 

The other reason I selected this recipe is for pure nostalgic reasons:  I cannot remember a potluck in my childhood that didn’t feature some sort of beef and bean bake.  My mother made doctored-up baked beans but never added beef and so getting this at a potluck was a real treat.  Several grocery stores now carry a version of this dish so if I need to satisfy my craving in a hurry, I just head right to the deli.  But if you want to take a moment to make a picnic in a bowl, this is the dish for you: it’s got ketchup, mustard, beans, hamburger and, compliments of Ann, hot dogs.  Perfect!

Now…if only I could do something about this weather…. (Breaking weather update:  It is now May 3rd and it is snowing.  That is all.)

Chuck Wagon Western Bean (and Weenie) Casserole – serving size not given
1 pound hamburger
1 #4 can pork and beans (*see notes below)
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 large onion
½ cup catsup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

*a #4 can is roughly equivalent to 5 cups. 
The author suggests variations as follows:
  • Substitute 1 #2 can butter beans and 1 #2 can pork and beans for the #4 can of pork and beans. (a #2 can is roughly 2.5 cups or 1 lb 4 oz.).  I used this substitution.
  • Substitute 1 #2 can black-eyed peas and 1 #2 can pork and beans for the #4 can of pork and beans.
  • Substitute 1 #2 can chicken peas and 1 #2 can pork and beans for the #4 can pork and beans.
  • Substitute 1 #2 can lima beans and 1 #2 can pork and beans for the #4 can of pork and beans.
  • Substitute 1 #2 can pork and beans and 1 #2 can macaroni and cheese for the #4 can pork and beans.
  • Substitute 1 #2 can pork and beans and 1 #2 can spaghetti for the #4 can of pork and beans.

Sauté the hamburger until quite brown and separated.  Drain off any excess fat.  Add the beans and the other ingredients.  Stir well, taking care not to mash up the beans in the process.  Place in a 1 ½-quart covered casserole dish in a preheated 350F oven for 40 minutes.