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Monday, March 30, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Ultimate Rib Showdown, Part 1

First things first. I have to do this because there are a lot of people out there who call something barbecue when they’re really missing out on the essential element of real barbecue. There are many different definitions and usages for the word “barbecue”. You may disagree with me, but here is the one I use:

bar-be-cue (bär'bĭ-kyū') (also spelled "barbeque”, “bar-b-q”, “bbq”, “’cue” or simply “Q”)

n.: Meat cooked in the heat and smoke of a wood or coal fire.
v.: A method of cooking meat over a wood or coal fire.

barbecue pork spareribs

I see a lot of recipes out there for “barbecue” ribs which call for slathering the ribs with barbecue sauce and then grilling them on a gas grill. Worse, there are so-called “barbecue” recipes which call for boiling the ribs first and then drowning them in sauce while baking them in an oven. I just think these are shortcuts to making tender ribs but cannot compare to the true taste of barbecue that only wood smoke and time can impart.

In order to test this theory, I made plans to cook pork spareribs using these three different methods, to see which one tasted better than the others. With the weather starting to warm up here in San Jose, I pitched our plan for the Ultimate Rib Showdown as a Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 event, and Foodbuzz accepted our submission! We invited FoodGal Carolyn Jung and Michael from Cooking for Engineers, along with their respective spouses, plus some other friends over to our house. Their job was to taste and score the ribs cooked with the different methods. Then we’d tally up the scores and see which one came out on top.

Which rib cooking method is the best? Boiled, grilled or smoked?

The Prep

On Friday night, I mixed together a rib rub using a recipe I found on Fine Cooking by Paul “the Barbecue Baron” Kirk. I deviated from the recipe a bit, using granulated garlic and onion instead of the garlic salt and onion salt that the recipe called for. I also prepared the barbecue sauce recipe found on the same page.

Saturday morning, we went to Costco to pick up ten slabs of pork spareribs. We got them home, and prepped them “St. Louis style” by pulling the membrane off the insides of the ribs, and cutting the flap meat and the rib tips off. Each slab was then cut in half. I coated six of the slabs of pork spareribs with the rib rub and set them aside.

The Cook

Two uncoated slabs went in a large stock pot, covered with water, and simmered them for 45 minutes. Then I pulled the ribs from the water and let them cool before coating them with the same rib rub as the others. At about 5 pm, I put the boiled ribs in a 350*F oven and baked them for one hour.

Boiled Ribs

boiled ribs

Four of the rubbed slabs went in my trusty Weber Smokey Mountain cooker, along with two more slabs prepared using my tried-and-true salt and pepper rub. I used mesquite lump charcoal for the heat and cherry wood for the smoke. The temperature in the WSM maintained a steady 250*F throughout the cook. I did not baste, turn or even peek during the entire 4 hour cook.

Pork Spareribs in the Weber Smokey Mountain

Pork Spareribs in the Weber Smokey Mountain

The remaining two rubbed slabs went bone-side down in the center of the gas grill, with only one side burner set to medium. This gave a constant 250*F temperature in the grill. For smoke, I used maple wood chips wrapped in a foil packet and placed over the lit burner. After two hours, I flipped the ribs over and replenished the wood chips.

Pork Spareribs on the Gas Grill

Pork Spareribs on the Gas Grill

To Summarize the Cook:

  • Eight slabs of pork spareribs were coated with the same rib rub recipe
  • Two slabs were boiled for 45 minutes, coated with the rib rub, then baked
  • Two slabs were grilled
  • Four slabs were smoked
  • Two slabs got my “salt and pepper” rub and then smoked

The Standard

I felt that this test of rib recipes needed a “standard” recipe. Something that represented what people could find if they went to a barbecue joint here in town. There aren’t a lot of barbecue joints here in San Jose, though. The most popular by far is Sam’s Bar-B-Que on Bascom Rd in nearby Campbell. But they didn’t have pork spareribs on their takeout menu.

Texas Smokehouse BBQ does sell pork spareribs to go. I checked them out on Yelp.com, where they have a solid 4-star rating. I’d never been there before but since it was closer than any other barbecue joint, I decided to try them out. I called them up and ordered a slab (with sauce on the side)for pickup at 3 pm.

The first thing I notice is that these aren’t St. Louis cut. They give you the whole slab, including the rib tips.

Pork Spareribs from Texas Smokehouse BBQ

Pork Spareribs from Texas Smokehouse BBQ

Finishing Up

The grilled ones came off first, at about 3.5 hours of cooking time. How do you tell when the ribs are ready? When you hold them with the tongs and they bend loosely, almost to the point of breaking.

Grilled Pork Sparereibs are Done When they Bend

Grilled Pork Sparereibs are Done When they Bend

Next came the smoked ribs. Four hours in the smoker leaves the meat with a nice red bark. The bones are starting to pull back and most of the fat has rendered off.

Smoked Pork Spareribs on the Weber Smokey Mountain

Smoked Pork Spareribs on the Weber Smokey Mountain

Last to come off were the baked spareribs. They certainly smelled good while they were roasting. Not much fat had accumulated in the bottom of the pan, since most of it was boiled off in the water beforehand.

Boiled and Baked Pork Spareribs Out From the Oven

Boiled and Baked Pork Spareribs Out From the Oven

The Freak Out

We cut each slab into individual rib portions and plated them up. Of course, we had to test each rib for “quality control” purposes. Each tasted different, but Annie noticed that something was not right. “It’s not salty enough,” she said.

Uh oh.

Remember when I said that I deviated from the recipe by using straight granulated garlic and onion instead of the garlic salt and onion salt that the recipe called for? Well I forgot to add back the missing salt. So the rub ended up being unbalanced on the sweet side.

Annie freaked out. “You didn’t put any salt?!”

“The recipe doesn’t call for salt!”

“There’s no way that a meat recipe doesn’t have salt.” She looked the recipe up and noticed that the ingredient list said garlic salt and onion salt and celery salt. “There is salt in this! You just didn’t add it! We can’t serve this! It won’t taste good! You just screwed up your own showdown! Aaaaah!”

“Stop being so negative! It’s done, so what can we do to fix it?” I grabbed the canister of Morton’s table salt. “Let’s just salt it now with this.”

“No, let’s use the kosher salt instead.”

So we sprinkled all our slabs with kosher salt, covered the platters with foil, and hoped for the best.

The Set Up

Before the guests arrived, I set out the four platters of ribs, and labeled them A, B, C and D:

Ultimate Rib Showdown: Pork Spareribs Cooked Four Ways

Ultimate Rib Showdown

When everyone had arrived and were all ready to eat, I explained to them what we were about to do. Each person would get a plate, a pencil, and a scoring sheet.

(I made this scoring sheet up based on my research into how barbecue competitions are judged and scored.)

Ultimate Rib Showdown Scoring Sheet

They were here to taste and judge four ribs, cooked with different styles. I didn’t tell them which rib was cooked with which style. And then, we all got to eating and scoring.

Scoring the Pork Spareribs

 Scoring the Pork Spareribs

The Comments

When everyone had finished scoring, we could relax and start talking. I revealed which ribs were cooked which way:

A. Grilled
B. Texas Smokehouse BBQ
C. Boiled and Baked
D. Smoked

The Texas Smokehouse BBQ ribs were a dead giveaway because they were obviously a different cut, and also there was only one slab’s worth of ribs on the platter instead of two. Interestingly, everyone agreed that the Texas Smokehouse ribs were not very good.

Some people thought that the grilled ribs were boiled, and vice versa. Either the tenderness of the grilled ribs threw them off, or the flavor on the boiled ribs fooled them.

People were surprised when I revealed that all of my ribs were coated with the same rub. The ribs tasted differently, depending on how they were cooked. They thought I used different rubs for the different methods.

Nope.

The Results?

When all was said and done, we went inside to eat the rest of the meal, including a fantastic cornbread made by Annie (which we will blog about in another post), a sublime potato salad made by Carolyn, a wonderful bean salad by our friend Betty, and two awesome pavlovas by our friend Felicia. Not to mention the ethereal 2004 Two Hands Bella’s Garden Shiraz brought by Manuel. We had a great time just talking about food and life in general.

Midway through the meal, I tallied up all the scores. I’m happy to say, there was a clear winner and a clear loser. In fact, the scores fell pretty much in line with what I expected. Although, two of the scores were closer than I would have thought.

So, which rib won the Ultimate Rib Showdown? Does Smoked stand out above the rest? Did Grilled burn the competition? Or will Boiled and Baked put out the others’ fires?

You’ll have to read our next post to find out ;-)

Aloha, Nate

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Hungry for more FoodBuzz fun? Click below:

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Chinese New Year Cioppino Hot Pot

Getting Buzzed at the Fabulous Food Festival

Getting Buzzed at TomatoFest

Getting Buzzed at Tokkuri Tei (Honolulu)

Continue Reading: "Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Ultimate Rib Showdown, Part 1"...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Our Blog is Growing

This is what our backyard garden looked like a few years ago.

raised garden beds

In previous years, we had made raised garden beds along the side fence to grow our tomatoes. But when Annie got more serious about growing many different varieties of heirloom tomato plants, we needed more space. So I built three more raised beds on top of the existing yard. It took a lot of time, sweat, and more bags of compost than I can count, but we eventually had space for more tomatoes as well as other veggies and herbs.

Right now, our blog is a little like the garden in this picture. It needs room to grow. To do that, it will take some time and sweat, but not so much posting. Here’s what I mean by this analogy:

From Simple to Serious

It’s been a little over a year since the “Spring is Coming” post announcing that we were getting more serious with this blog than we had been before. And we certainly have gotten serious. Our writing has improved, our photography has improved, even our blog design has improved over the past year.

Our monthly blog visitor count has improved as well. Since we started counting visitors, this blog has now reached the 300,000 page view mark. That might not seem like much to some, but for us it is an exciting milestone.

On top of that, our subscriber count has reached 500. (You like us, you really like us! :-D ) I guess we must be doing something right.

Getting Even More Serious

But I believe the blog has outgrown its platform. We’ve been running on Blogger/Blogspot since the beginning. It has been adequate but there are things I want to do with this blog that just can’t be done on Blogger. The time has come (actually, the time came a while ago) to move over to our own domain, running WordPress.

I’ve been wanting to make the move for many months now. But we had so many recipes and foodie experiences to share with you that I just didn’t have the time to set aside for migrating over. I lose enough sleep as it is, just working on regular posts.

Finally, I’ve decided that if I don’t do it now, I’ll never get around to it. There are templates to test, designs to tweak, and over 350 posts to sift through, reformat, and republish. It’s a hefty job, but I believe it’s for the best.

What it Means

What this means for the blog is, posting frequency here will drop off to one or two a week. But no way are we shutting down. I will still moderate and respond to reader comments. We also have a very exciting event in the works coming up, so watch for that next Monday!

I will of course keep you updated on our progress. But if you haven’t already subscribed to our blog, do so now by clicking on either of these Subscribe via RSS or Subscribe via Email links.

Do Us a Favor?

I would like to ask a favor of you. One of my main concerns for the new blog is to make it user friendly. The easier it is to find what you’re looking for on our site, the happier you’ll be. So if you want to help beta test the design once it’s semi-ready for rollout, would you please click here to enter your name on our signup form.

I am hopeful we’ll be able to go live with the new site within a month. Until then, you’re welcome to peruse our Categories list over on the right sidebar. Who knows? You may find a recipe you’d like to try!

Aloha, Nate

Continue Reading: "Our Blog is Growing"...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Easy Sautéed Brussels Sprouts Recipe

I don’t understand what all the fuss is about brussels sprouts.

I’ve never had brussels sprouts until Annie cooked them for us recently. But all I heard about brussels sprouts before then was how much people hated them. I wondered why, since it seemed to me that they were just a strange looking little cabbage ball that grows on a stalk. What’s not to love?

The other day, Annie picked up a stalk of brussels sprouts at the farmer’s market and brought it home. First she cut the sprouts off the stalk. She then cut each sprout in half and washed them.

IMG_2223

Annie wanted to make a quick veggie side dish for dinner, so she chopped up some garlic, heated a little oil in the non-stick pan, and fried the garlic until it became fragrant. Then she tossed the brussels sprouts in and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Brussels Sprouts Sautéed with Garlic

Brussels Sprouts Sautéed with Garlic

She sautéed them over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the brussels sprouts started to caramelize. Then she just served it up.

Brussels Sprouts Sautéed with Garlic

Brussels Sprouts Sautéed with Garlic

That’s all there is to it. It’s so simple, quick, easy, and deeeeelicious! Because of the caramelization, the brussels sprouts take on a sweet, almost nutty flavor. That combined with the fragrant garlic makes for a really yummy dish.

I think that most people don’t like brussels sprouts because they’ve only had (over)boiled ones. If you overcook any cabbage, they’ll lose their beautiful green coloring, turn a nasty yellow, and give off an unpleasant sulfur odor. The best way to cook brussels sprouts is to cook them fast so they don’t lose their flavor and turn into disgusting blobs.

So, if you say you hate brussels sprouts, or have never eaten them before, I do encourage you to give this recipe a try. You won’t be sorry!

This post was submitted to this week's Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Anna of Anna's Cool Finds.

Aloha, Nate

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Hungry for more quick veggie dishes? Click below:

Stir-Fried Green Beans with Savory Tofu and Peanuts

Bittermelon and Shrimp in Black Bean Sauce

Roasted Aioli Potatoes Recipe

Vegetarian Chap Chye (Stir-fried Mixed Vegetables)

Five Quick Asian Dishes: Steamed Shiitake Mushrooms with Bok Choy and Fatt Choy

Continue Reading: "Easy Sautéed Brussels Sprouts Recipe"...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Barley and Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard

Barley and Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard

In a time when the economy has been a challenge for most everyone, I’ve been reading about different suggestions on how to live more frugally. One way is to cook at home more. Well, I’ve always done that and I’ve always tried to be smart about buying produce in season (which are normally on sale and also fresher) and stocking up when meats go on sale.

But I also firmly believe that eating cheaply doesn’t mean giving up on flavor or variety. I think that if we all just chose to cook more from scratch and use less processed or packaged foods, we’d be able to stretch our money further and also live a healthier life.

Delicious, Healthy, Filling and Cheap

This barley and lentil soup with Swiss chard is a great example of tasty frugality. It makes a huge batch and leftovers are even more tasty the next day (soups always taste better the next day!). The barley and lentils in the soup give it a lot of flavor and depth and make this soup so hearty that the soup can stand alone as a one dish meal.

Barley and lentils are seriously cheap! A package of each will make you many meals and fill you up. On top of that, they are whole grains so they are so good for you as well. Delicious, healthy, filling, and cheap—how can you go wrong with that?

Carrots, Onions, Lentils and Barley

Carrots, Onions, Lentils and Barley

Eat the Rainbow

Swiss chard is pretty reasonable right now at the stores. I got myself 2 bunches of Swiss chard (organic, no less!) for only $1.50 a bunch. I really love Swiss chard in soups. They are so tasty and hold up so well under all that boiling and simmering. On top of that, the color of all that Swiss chard makes the soup look so lovely and appetizing.

I normally try to get the more colorful chards (reds, or rainbows) because they’re so pretty and ok, so healthy also (trying to eat all the colors of the rainbow is supposed to be good for you). But really, I just love how pretty it makes my soup—you have to eat with your eyes too! Even though the original recipe only called for half a bunch of chard, I couldn’t help myself and used up both bunches! Feel free to use as much or as little as you like but I would say at least one bunch is needed.

Rainbow Swiss Chards

Rainbow Swiss Chards

The recipe calls for some chicken or vegetable broth but I’ve been using turkey broth for mine. I don’t know how many of you still have a turkey carcass in your freezer from Thanksgiving. If you do, this is a great time to take it out and make some broth!

We just happened to have made two turkeys this year, once on Thanksgiving (and the carcass was quickly used up for turkey jook), and another one later, nearer Christmas when we made it for a church gathering. That carcass has been sitting in our fridge for many months. So I decided to boil that baby up for this soup.

And it was delicious! We brined our turkey so the broth was so flavorful without having to add any additional seasonings. And the extra turkey meat played nicely with all the other ingredients as well. Of course, if you are wanting it to be totally vegetarian, go ahead and use vegetable broth.

For the broth, I would say make sure you have more than the recommended 10 cups in the recipe. The barley and lentils make this soup very thick and without the extra broth, this would almost be a stew.

I adapted this recipe from Epicurious and I must say the little flavor additions really do make this soup spectacular. The toasted cumin gives it depth and warmth. The hit of dill at the end brightens and adds a green herbal flavor which contrasts nicely with the rest of the ingredients.

So, do try this soup out while the weather is still cold enough for you to want to curl up to a nice, hearty, warm cup of lovely flavors (can I ever use enough adjectives? ^_^). And be grateful that cheap foods can be delicious and easy to make!

Barley and Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard


adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onions (1 large)
1 cup chopped celery (about 3 stalks)
1 1/2 cups chopped peeled carrots (about 2-3 carrots)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
10 cups (or more) low-salt chicken or vegetable broth, or turkey broth
2/3 cup pearl barley
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
2/3 cup dried lentils
8 cups (packed) coarsely chopped Swiss chard (1 large bunch)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
salt and pepper to taste

Method

1. Heat oil in heavy large nonreactive pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery, and carrots; sauté until onions are golden brown, about 10 minutes.

IMG_7912


2. Add garlic and stir 1 minute. Mix in cumin; stir 30 seconds.

IMG_7915


3. Add 10 cups broth and barley; bring to boil. Reduce heat; partially cover and simmer 25 minutes.
4. Stir in tomatoes with juice and lentils; cover and simmer until barley and lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.
5. Add chard to soup; cover and simmer until chard is tender, about 5 minutes.

IMG_7918


6. Stir in dill. Season soup with salt and pepper.
7. Thin with more broth, if desired.

Serve up and garnish with more dill, if desired. Don’t forget to save some for the next day as the flavor improves overnight.

Barley and Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard

Barley and Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard

Enjoy!

Cheers, Annie

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Hungry for more soup recipes? Click below:

Cream of Corn Soup Recipe

Kabocha Squash with Spinach in Coconut Milk

Pork and Daikon Soup with Red Dates and Carrots

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon

Pork and Eggplant Soup with Tomato and Shiso

Continue Reading: "Barley and Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard"...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Two Corned Beef Hash Recipes

Updated March 17, 2009

Originally posted April 8, 2007

What to do with all those leftovers from that Corned Beef dinner?

I know what you’re thinkin’:

Corned Beef Hash with Fried Egg

Corned Beef Hash with Fried Egg

We took half of our leftover corned beef and diced it up. Peeled and diced a couple of potatoes (since we mashed the boiled potatoes to make colcannon instead). Diced up a couple of peeled russet potatoes. Sliced up one onion.

Heated up some oil in my trusty cast iron skillet. First I fried up the onion until it was soft and translucent. Then I tossed in the potatoes, seasoned with salt and pepper, and let those sizzle in the pan until they started to brown.

Next I added the corned beef and mixed it in to distribute evenly. I didn’t want to turn it too much because I wanted the bottom part to get all nice and carmelized-crusty (“carmelusty?).

“Carmelusty” Corned Beef Hash

“Carmelusty” Corned Beef Hash

Removed the corned beef hash from the pan and then fried a couple of eggs. Topped the hash with the eggs, and this became dinner for the kids.

The kids? Well then what did the adults eat?

Adult Food

In our Corned Beef post, Annie talked about how the only corned beef she knew about growing up was corned beef hash in a can. Her Mum would mash it up, mix it with egg, and fry it with shallots. So we wanted to recreate the dish using our real corned beef.

First thing we did was to thinly slice up four shallots.

thinly slice up four shallots

Next, we took half the corned beef and finely minced it. I’d say it came to about two cups of corned beef.

finely minced corned beef

We beat together five eggs, then added the corned beef to the eggs. We also took a little chile pepper from our garden, sliced that up thinly, and added that to the corned beef and egg mixture.

minced corned beef and beaten eggs.

This time, we used a non-stick frying pan. Started off by frying the shallots in a little bit of oil until they began to turn brown. Then we poured the egg and corned beef mixture on top of it. (Five points for spotting the chile pepper!)

IMG_2411

We fried this until the eggs were cooked through and lightly browned. Then plated it up. I guess I would call it a “corned beef egg fu yong”, except without all that gloppy fu yong sauce. Annie calls it an "omelet thingy". Obviously, and advanced culinary term. ;-)

Corned Beef Egg Fu Yong / Omelet Thingy

corned beef egg fu yong

So there you have it. Two quick and easy recipes using leftover corned beef. Which one tastes better?

Honestly, I like them both. The corned beef hash is great, with the carmelusty fried potatoes and beef. The corned beef egg fu yong is also pretty tasty, with all that yummy fried egg plus the nice chili pepper bite.

I hope you get to try these recipes out yourself!

Aloha, Nate

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Hungry for more recipes using leftovers? Click below:

Spam Fried Rice

Hot Sour Gai Choy Soup with Roasted Pig's Feet and Duck Heads

Turkey Jook

How do You Top Mum's Popiah? With Kuih Pie Tee

Leftover Turkey Omurice

Continue Reading: "Two Corned Beef Hash Recipes"...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Corned Beef, Carrots and Colcannon Recipe

corned beef, carrots and colcannon

All my life growing up, my mom would make corned beef for us out of a can. Corned beef was like Spam, except it was beef instead of pork. To me, corned beef was something you’d fry up with some egg (like an omelet) and then sandwich between two slices of buttered bread with a squirt of ketchup. It was delicious. That was the only corned beef I knew. I never knew any other kind existed.

The first time I had real corned beef was in Hawaii, when I was with my dear friend, June. She had invited me to her house for some corned beef and cabbage. I was happy to have it, and was expecting what my mom had made me all my growing up years.

A Real Surprise

So consider my surprise when I was presented with this big chunk of beef which was then thinly sliced and served with boiled carrots, potatoes and cabbage, with a mix of two mustards to schmear on said items.

Real Corned Beef

Real Corned Beef

I didn’t quite know what to expect of its flavors because boiled foods have never appealed to me. But I must say, that that meal was a delightful surprise. I enjoyed every bite.

Failing Under Pressure

The next time I had it was at Nate’s home. He told me he was going to make corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day. And after having experienced the wonders of this simple meal at June’s, I was glad to go over to his place to have some. Imagine my surprise when I saw him cubing the corned beef and throwing it into a pressure cooker along with the carrots and potatoes to cook.

Somehow, cutting up the meat into cubes caused all the flavor to be released into the liquids, leaving the corned beef bereft of taste. Texturally, it wasn’t very appealing either. And the potatoes and carrots were pressure cooked to death. Since we were dating at the time, I think I tried to be polite about the dish. I did not enjoy it but I ate it anyway.

Now if this had been my first experience with corned beef, I probably would never have wanted to eat it again. I decided that the first chance I got, I would boil it the way June did it and let Nate have a taste. Nowadays, boiling our corned beef is the method of choice.

A New Way to Enjoy Cabbage

The one thing I’ve never really enjoyed about corned beef and cabbage was the boiled cabbage. The carrots and the potatoes were fine because they absorbed all those wonderful flavors from cooking in the briny broth. But the boiled cabbage was always just soggy and limp, and it’s no wonder that that was always one of the last things that got finished up.

I decided this year that I would try a new way of cooking cabbage. As I looked up corned beef recipes, I came across this Irish dish called colcannon. It calls for potatoes to be boiled and cabbage to be shredded and then steamed, and then both ingredients to be mixed together with some milk and seasonings.

I didn’t know how well this combination would work, but many reviewers highly recommended it. I decided to tweak the recipe a little bit by still boiling my potatoes in the pot with my corned beef, but instead of steaming the cabbage, I decided to sauté it with butter (because, you know, butter makes everything better!).

The results? Smashing! Cabbage was no longer the last thing to go. As a matter of fact, it is so good, I could eat this all on its own, even without the corned beef. I would eat three helpings of this if not for the fact that the butter and potatoes would just go straight to my hips.

So here I offer you an easy to prepare St. Patrick’s Day meal. I hope you give colcannon a shot. It is a simple and tasty dish that would make a great side any time of the year, but especially now when cabbage is so cheap.

Corned Beef Recipe

Buy any size corned beef that you like. We prefer the larger sized ones so that we will have enough leftovers to make corned beef hash (that’s another post). Having tried some corned beef made from leaner cuts of beef, I would suggest sticking with the point cut of the brisket. Most of the fat is boiled off, but enough is left to keep the meat tender.

Either freshly corned beef, or cryovac’d corned beef is fine. If you get the cryovac’d corned beef, simply follow the instructions on the packet. With a freshly corned beef, all you have to do is put it in a large pot and completely submerge the meat in water. Make sure that your pot is large enough to hold not just the beef but also the carrots and potatoes you will be adding later. Bring it to a boil and then cover and let it simmer for three to four hours depending on how big your cut is.

Meanwhile, prep your carrots. Try to choose fatter carrots for this cook. Peel four to five large carrots and cut them in half or thirds, depending on how big your carrot is. In the last hour of your cook, add the carrots to the pot with the corned beef.

Peel your potatoes, about one large potato per person (I recommend Russets). Add the potatoes in the last half hour of your cook. If you really don’t have the space in your pot, finish cooking your beef and carrots, remove them to rest in a warm oven, and then cook the potatoes in the broth.

Colcannon Recipe

adapted from Epicurious. Makes six to eight servings

six to eight large Russet potatoes, peeled
1 to 1-1/2 cups scalded milk
1 medium head cabbage, cored and shredded
4 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Boil potatoes in the corned beef broth. (if you’re making this dish on its own, just use salted water.)

2. While potatoes are boiling, heat a large saute pan and melt butter in it over medium heat.

3. Once butter has melted, throw in the shredded cabbage. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Saute the cabbage until cabbage is soft but not browned.

5. When potatoes are tender, remove from water and place into a large bowl. Mash the potatoes or run them through a ricer. Add one cup of milk, and cabbage. Combine well. If the potatoes are dry, add more milk until you get a nice, creamy consistency.

Mashed Potatoes and Cabbage for Colcannon

Mashed Potatoes and Cabbage for Colcannon

6. Taste and season with more salt and pepper. (Don’t skimp on the salt and pepper. The pepper really brings this dish alive.)

Colcannon

Colcannon

Feel free to spice this colcannon up if you want. We were thinking we might try it next time with some mustard seed or dill seed.

Serve this up alongside the corned beef and carrots. Don’t forget to serve it with some Dijon mustard and sweet honey mustard on the side.

Corned Beef, Carrots and Colcannon

Corned Beef, Carrots and Colcannon

Enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day meal!

Cheers, Annie

PS: Besides the corned beef, there’s another reason I really love St. Patrick’s Day. Can you guess what it is? ^_^


This post was entered in the March Potato Ho Showdown roundup, hosted by Krysta from Evil Chef Mom.













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Friday, March 13, 2009

Blueberry Muffins Recipe

Blueberry Muffins

These days, I don’t bake as much as I used to. I just can’t afford the sugar and calories anymore. At least while I was a graduate student living in a graduate dorm, I could always pass out my baking to all the hungry students and not eat them all myself.

These days, I’m being more careful to only bake when I have an occasion to bring them somewhere or when I have people over. Otherwise, being a stay-at-home mom, these baked goods somehow find their way into my hands and quickly into the safest place possible (my tummy! ^_^).

So even though I love to bake, I’ve resigned myself to doing it occasionally rather than as often as I would like. Last night though, I really wanted to bake even though I had no reason to (seriously, do we ever really need a reason?) nor any occasion for it!

Luckily for Nate, I decided to bake some blueberry muffins. I mentioned after dinner that I was feeling very much like baking something and I said, “How about some blueberry muffins?” You should have seen his eyes gleam when I said that. He absolutely loves blueberry muffins and remembers how, before he met me, he used to make them from a box and devour them all. I, of course, have much higher standards than baking from a box!

Now, it’s been a really long time since I baked blueberry muffins and I don’t even recall where my last recipe was from. Thankfully, this is when cookbooks come in handy. I referred to two different trusted cookbooks—Beranbaum’s Bread Bible (I guess muffins are a quick bread) and The Best Recipe (Cook’s Illustrated’s cookbook). Both recipes sounded good with one ingredient that was different—one used sour cream, the other yogurt. As fate would have it, I actually had both handy that day. Decisions, decisions…

So ok, I’m partial to Beranbaum. Everything that I’ve tried from her cookbooks have turned out fabulous and never so sweet as to get my teeth grating. So I decided she won the coin toss this round. I baked up her blueberry muffins recipe. And it was delicious! Crusty on the outside and tender and soft on the inside. And bursting with blueberries with a slight lemon tang that perfectly accentuated the blueberries and sour cream.

Blueberry Muffin Bursting with Blueberries

Blueberry Muffin Bursting with Blueberries

Blueberry Muffins Recipe


adapted from “The Bread Bible” by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Makes 6 large muffins (unless you’re [and it’s “you’re” not “your”—the English teacher in me cringes at how often this is now common usage] like me and have to just bake up a dozen because you’re pake and since you have the oven on, you might as well utilize it as much as you can [and the English teacher in me is cringing at my super run-on sentence])

Ingredients
(at room temperature)
4 Tbsp (2 oz) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
zest of 2 large lemons (see our video “How to Zest a Lemon” on YouTube!)
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
about 1 cup (135 g) bleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp (2 g) baking soda
1/4 tsp (2 g) salt
1/3 cup (80 g) sour cream
3/4 cup (100 g) blueberries, frozen or fresh (I used frozen)

Topping (I omitted and still tasted excellent):
3/4 tsp sugar
grated nutmeg, for dusting

Method
1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar, and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla.

Butter and Sugar Ready to be Creamed

Butter and Sugar Ready to be Creamed


3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Spoon half the flour mixture and half the sour cream into the batter/sugar mixture and fold in with a rubber spatula until flour has mostly disappeared. Repeat with the remaining flour and sour cream, folding in just until the flour disappears.
4. Fold in the blueberries gently.
5. Fill the muffin pan (or ramekins or custard cups) almost to the top. Batter will be somewhat stiff (especially if using frozen blueberries).

Blueberry Muffin Batter in Cups

Blueberry Muffin Batter in Cups

6. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until the muffins spring back when pressed lightly in the center with a fingertip and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
7. Unmold muffins and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Blueberry Muffins Cooling

Blueberry Muffins Cooling

When the timer went off and I asked Nate to check to make sure the blueberry muffins were done, he opened the oven and exclaimed, “Oh maaan! They look soooo good!” And they were. Nicely domed and perfectly golden. Nate could barely contain himself. I’m surprised he didn’t grab one right off the muffin pan when they came out. He actually had enough restraint to take some pictures before diving into one.

Blueberry Muffin Made from Scratch

Blueberry Muffin Made from Scratch

Well, he polished off two blueberry muffins that very night! And my kids had one each for breakfast this morning. It is definitely a winner of a recipe. But I can’t help wondering if the other blueberry muffins recipe would have been better or just as good. After all, those people test all their recipes a gazillion times…surely it must be just as good (and yes, they did try sour cream and they still claimed that yogurt was better).

So I have to do a bake-off and try the other recipe. It shouldn’t be too hard to do since I have yogurt on hand and even though I doubled the recipe this time, I’m only left with three more blueberry muffins (I shared some with my neighbor). And yes, I do have more blueberries (I have a bag of frozen ones handy that my kids like to snack on, and it turns out they are great for baking muffins too!).

So stay tuned to my next “baking-for-no-other-reason-other-than-plain curiousity” and if you’re in my neighborhood, drop by for a taste! In the meantime, enjoy Beranbaum’s blueberry muffins recipe!

Cheers, Annie

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Quick and Easy Pasta With Light Cream Sauce Recipe

Farfalle with Asparagus, Spinach, Mushrooms and Sausage

Farfalle with Asparagus, Spinach, Mushrooms and Sausage

I was having a meal with friends a while ago at Pasta Pomodoro. My girlfriend ordered their Penne Portobello and told me it was one of her favorite dishes. I asked for a taste and decided that I could probably make this at home.

I had already been making pasta dishes that I learned from Fine Cooking Magazine based on their “Cooking Without Recipes” article titled “How to Make a Light, Creamy Pasta Sauce” (Fine Cooking, Issue number 50). So I had the right building blocks to figure out how to make Penne Portobello myself.

For the pasta, I’ve used penne as well as farfalle. You are totally free to interchange them as you please or use any other shape of pasta.

Quick and Easy Pasta Recipe

This recipe is a quick and easy dish. From start to finish, I can normally whip up this meal in half an hour or less. Basically, while your pot of water is boiling for the pasta, you can be prepping all the ingredients and when you put the pasta in to boil, you can start to cook the sauce. Once the pasta is done, all you have to do is incorporate the pasta in the sauce and add a little cream and that's it, you're ready to eat! Easy huh?

And the ingredients that go in the sauce is really up to you. In this one, I am going to use mushrooms and (because I do like lots of veggies), I also add onions, bell peppers, asparagus, sundried tomatoes, and spinach. I find that any combination of these veggies (other vegetables I've used include zucchini, peas, cauliflower and fresh tomatoes) make a really yummy pasta.

You can also vary your protein. I normally try to go with two different types of meat to complement the rest of the ingredients. Sometimes, I will throw in some bulk Italian sausage (about 1/2 lb) and some kielbasa sausage or bacon. At other times, I've just used chicken and sausage or made it a seafood dish by adding shrimp. When I use shrimp though, I keep it more simple—just a veggie or two and let the shrimp be the star. Play around and find your favorites!

Linguine with Pancetta, Zucchini, Shallots, and Homegrown Cherry Tomatoes

Linguine with Pancetta, Zucchini, Shallots, and Homegrown Cherry Tomatoes

The Trick to Tasty Pasta

The trick to making your pasta sauce taste really yummy is to give it a nice liquid ingredient. I always keep a bottle each of dry and sweet vermouth in my pantry (they last a lot longer than a bottle of opened wine as they are fortified) and they really add a delicious flavor component to the finished dish as well as in helping to scrape up all the nice brown bits while cooking. Other liquids you can choose to add include chicken stock, marsala wine, brandy, vodka, and clam juice. After adding your liquids, you do want to reduce it to really give it a punch.

Right at the end is when you add the cream (and not too much--about 1/2 cup is plenty) to enrich the sauce and give it some body. It won't make the sauce so thick and heavy the way a lot of cream sauces are in restaurants but it will give your pasta a more luxuriant mouth feel.

Finally, don't forget to toss all the ingredients together and add final touches like grated cheese or leafy herbs to add one more layer of flavor to your final pasta dish.

Penne with Sausage, Spinach and Mushrooms

Penne with Sausage, Spinach and Mushrooms

How to Boil Pasta

One word on boiling pasta. Growing up, my mom used to boil pasta in a medium sized pot and add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of oil. I didn't know any better for a long time and did the same. After watching Food TV and also reading cookbooks, I've come to realize that how you cook your pasta is KEY to how the whole dish will taste.

If you plan to cook the whole pound of pasta, you will need:

  • a big pot of water (4 quarts).
  • to salt liberally (at least 2 Tbsp--I never bother to measure, I just taste my water, if it tastes like the sea, you've salted it enough).
  • to forget the oil. Oil does nothing for the pasta.
  • to stir the pasta several times through the cooking time-this helps ensure the pasta doesn't clump together.

And when it's cooked through (follow cooking times on the package but also bite into it to make sure it's cooked through), save a cup of the water and drain. Do NOT rinse in cold water. The saved water can be added if the pasta starts to clump a little (I use this more when I'm making spaghetti or other noodle pasta, I don't need it as much with farfalle).

Save a Cup of Pasta Water

Save a Cup of Pasta Water

Brighten Up the Flavors

One final trick—soy sauce. Yes, soy sauce. Right at the end, I always add a bit of soy sauce to my sauce. You won’t notice it but it will brighten up all the other flavors because of its umami. If your sauce still doesn’t come alive after that, you can do my second trick and add a bit of lemon juice. That always works for me. But try the soy sauce trick first. You’ll be amazed.

Farfalle with Mushrooms and Sausage in a Light Cream Sauce

adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine

Ingredients
1 lb farfalle (bowtie) pasta (I’m partial to Barilla brand pasta)
4 qts water
2 Tbsp salt

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lb bulk sweet Italian sausage or 1/3 lb bacon, sliced to cubes
1/2 lb polska kielbasa, large diced
1 onion, diced
1 cup asparagus, sliced on a diagonal (about 8 spears)
2 cups sliced mushrooms (I used baby bellas this time but you can use white button or portobellos or even shiitakes if you want)
1 bell pepper (any color you like), diced
2 large handfuls of spinach (about 1 bunch or 2 cups baby spinach)
1/4 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (the ones packed in olive oil), make sure to get some of that oil into the pasta too (it adds a lot of flavor)
1 tsp Italian seasoning (or combination of your choice of dried herbs)
1/2 cup dry vermouth (sweet vermouth will work too)
1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste and don’t forget the dash of soy sauce (about 1 Tbsp)
Garnish: grated Parmesan and chopped parsley

Method:
1. Bring water to boil in large pot. Add salt and throw in pasta. Give it a stir every so often while cooking. Follow timing on your pasta box. Check to make sure pasta is done. Drain pasta and do not rinse in cold water.
2. While water is boiling, prep ingredients and start cooking. Add pasta to cook as you continue to make your sauce.
3. In a large stainless steel pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add bacon or Italian sausage and sauté till bacon is slightly crisp or sausage is halfway done. Add kielbasa sausages and continue to cook till lightly browned.
4. Throw in diced onion and sauté till onions are soft. Add Italian seasoning and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Toss in the asparagus, mushrooms and peppers. Sauté for 1-2 minutes till mushrooms start to wilt.
6. Add sundried tomatoes.
7. Add vermouth and chicken broth. Bring to boil and then simmer till reduced by about half.
8. Throw in the spinach now and let it wilt in the sauce.
9. Add cooked pasta to sauce and toss around to coat pasta. Add in heavy cream and additional flavorings (like soy sauce or lemon juice) and toss. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Farfalle with Asparagus, Spinach, Mushrooms and Sausage

Farfalle with Asparagus, Spinach, Mushrooms and Sausage

Plate up and garnish with parmesan cheese and parsley. Sometimes, the pasta is so flavorful already that I omit this step.

If you want to spice up your pasta, feel free to add some dried red chili flakes or Tabasco to your sauce.

Enjoy!

Cheers, Annie

This article was entered into the Presto Pasta Nights roundup, hosted this week by Ben of What's Cooking

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Broiled Salmon Collar Recipe

Updated March 9, 2009

Originally posted July 16, 2007

You guys know about our favorite fishmonger in the whole world right? His name is Pat and he runs Mission Fresh Fish out in San Leandro. You can find him at several farmer’s markets around the Bay Area. We’ve talked about him a lot on this blog. See, his fish is truly the best I’ve come across. And this is one of the things I get the most from him—salmon collars.

Salmon Collars – Cut From Right Behind the Gills

Salmon Collars – Cut From Right Behind the Gills

I first came to know of salmon collars when I started visiting Pat’s booth at the Saratoga Farmer’s Market. The salmon collars were packed in ziplock bags and put next to all the fish bones and other ‘scraps’ leftover from his filleted fish. One of his staff recommended the salmon collars to me as the cheaper alternative to buying his salmon fillets. They told me that it was just as delicious if not more because of all the fat on it. So much fat, it’s almost like having salmon toro!

Get the Right Kind of Salmon

So I came back home that first time with a bag or two of the salmon collars and prepared them as they said—just salt and pepper it then broil. And it was the most delicious thing. This is when I had my epiphany. Salmon can taste so amazing when youget the right kind. And this was the right kind—wild King Salmon. I cannot go back to any store bought salmon anymore (the variety of salmon really counts and King Salmon is truly KING among the salmons).

And Pat sells his salmon collars at the most reasonable price. Would you believe that he charges only $4/lb for these salmon collars? Yes, you heard me right—only $4/lb. These days, when I go to get them, I come back with at least 5-8 lbs each time. I freeze them in bags and go through them in about 2 weeks.

Easy Prep, Intense Flavor

Prepping the salmon collars is so easy. I just cut each salmon collar into three parts—the two side fin parts and I’m left with one small steak piece.

Three Pieces of the Salmon Collar

Three Pieces of the Salmon Collar

I lay them all out on a baking tray (wrap the tray in foil for even easier clean up) and salt them with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper on both sides.

Salmon Collars Laid on Baking Tray

Salmon Collars Laid on Baking Tray

If you want them to taste more intense, leave the salt on for about 30 minutes before you broil the salmon. This technique is the Japanese way of cooking fish “shioyaki” style. And it’s really delicious.

I once made this dish for a catered dinner and someone asked me what I had seasoned the fish with. She could not believe that all it was was salt and pepper. It’s the fish, people! If it’s good fish, it tastes so good that you don’t really need anything else. Plus, salt done right can be the most amazing flavor component. You don’t need much of anything else.

Fifteen Minutes and Done

I then turn my oven to broil and set the rack at the highest level, closest to the broiler. Pop in the fish, leave the oven door slightly ajar and set the timer for 7 minutes (please check on yours as different ovens have different broiler intensities—I did this at a friend’s house once and it browned a lot faster). Basically, you want the fish to brown and get some nice charring (not burning!) before flipping them over.

Once the timer beeps, turn fish over and broil for another 6-7 minutes (normally shorter time because fish is warm and oven has gotten hot too) or until it is a nice golden brown with bits of darker charred color.

Broiled Salmon Collars

Broiled Salmon Collars

Remove from oven. Plate up and make a pig of yourself sucking up the succulent fish and all that tasty, oily yumminess!

Broiled Salmon Collars

Broiled Salmon Collars

If you’ve never had salmon collars, you need to make a point to get yourself to your nearest fishmonger and ask them for it. If you’re in the Bay Area, find out which farmer’s market Pat is at that is closest to you. Just don’t buy him out—save some for me! Don’t forget—Wild King Salmon is the way to go. Everything else just doesn’t come close.

Broiled Salmon Collars with Rice and Stir-Fried Veggies

Broiled Salmon Collars with Rice and Stir-Fried Veggies

Cheers, Annie

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