Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memorial Day Food

I have a soft spot for the Navy, because my dad was a Sailor, and one of my oldest friends (and the MOH at my wedding) and her husband are also Sailors, and I am grateful to all of our men and women of the military. I took a few moments yesterday on Memorial Day to remember them, as well as the fallen men and women who have made is possible for me to have three day weekends with friends and family!

I spent yesterday with my husband and friends playing Mystery Express, Ticket to Ride, and Puerto Rico and eating Pioneer Woman's big fat bacon sliders and a (slightly) modified version of her bacon-wrapped jalapeno thingies. We also had chips, rotel, guacamole, mimosa fruit salad, and Ben & Jerry's ice cream, thanks to Mai-Li.

Darren helped me put together the sliders on Sunday evening. We were expecting people to come over around 2:00 pm, and I wanted to make sure we had plenty of prep time so we would have plenty of time to play games with our guests. I read PW's recipe last week and decided that they would make the perfect Memorial Day burgers. For once, I more or less followed the recipe. I started with 4 pounds of ground beef and added some pepper and season salt and mixed it all together.

Then I rolled the meat into 24 balls.
I sliced up two fresh jalapenos to tuck under the bacon jackets of six of the burgers. All of the burgers were wrapped in a piece of bacon, cut in half.
Wrap 1/2 slice of bacon around the burger, joining the ends on the bottom, and then wrap a second 1/2 slice at 90 degrees to the first slice. Place the burgers on a broiler pan. Line the bottom with foil for easy cleanup!
Continue wrapping in bacon until all of the burgers are done.
I put toothpicks to mark the ones with jalapenos. I put these in the refrigerator until about 20 minutes prior to cooking on Monday.

Before cooking, I brushed the burgers with barbecue sauce. I forgot to take a picture of this step, and then cooked them at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. They looked delicious when they came out of the oven, and we served them on dinner rolls.

I did a terrible job of documenting the process of making the stuffed jalapenos, but I took pictures of the finished product.

Seeded jalapeno halves are filled with cheesy delicious filling and wrapped in bacon secured with a toothpick.The filling is an 8 oz. box of cream cheese softened and mixed with 4 oz. of shredded jack cheese. I made some without bacon for those crazy people who don't love pigs. They are cooked for 20-30 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. YUM!

I hope you had a great Memorial Day with family and friends, and I hope you took a moment to remember our fallen.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Pork Chops with Mashed Potatoes (and Potato Pancakes from the Leftovers)

I love pigs. I know I am getting repetitive, but I cannot escape my love of pigs. Fortunately, Darren loves them, too. If only I could get him to say "y'all" and "fixin' to", I might convert him to a Southerner. I know I've got a hold on his taste buds...

Pork chops are one of my favorite pig parts. I love them fried, grilled, baked, cooked in mushroom sauce, and on biscuits. Darren likes pork chops, too, and he especially likes them fried, so I decided to make him some. They were delicious!

I began the meal by cutting up a bunch of new potatoes into pieces and putting a big pot of salted water on to boil.
I start the pork chops by making my flour mixture. I mix some flour with salt, pepper, cayenne, and paprika. I mix them in a plastic bag for easy cleanup. I also add pepper and cayenne to my milk wash.
Then I mixed the spices into the flour by shaking the bag and gave the milk wash a whisk. This time I used boneless pork chops this time, but bone-in will work, too.
Dredge the chops in the flour, then coat with milk, and then back into the flour. Set them aside on a plate.
Darren found these cute plates in the dollar bin at Michael's.
Heat up about 1" of oil in a heavy skillet. I have a "chicken fryer" packed in a box somewhere, so I'm just using a regular skillet for this one. Apparently I got distracted and forgot to take pictures of the cooking steps.

I cooked the chops over medium heat for about 6 minutes per side. The day I cooked these, I heard on the news that the USDA now recommends cooking pork to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, due to improved handling, transport, storage, etc. That means a little pink in your pork is okay! I didn't actually use my meat thermometer on these, but I did cook them for about 6 minutes per side until they were golden brown, and I drained them on paper towels.
While I was finishing up the pork, Darren was working on the mashed potatoes. We boiled them until they were fork tender. I think it was about 10 minutes... Then drained them well and put them in a bowl to mash.
To the potatoes, we added about 3 or 4 tablespoons of butter and 1 cup of sour cream. This is a lot of potatoes, because I made extras to try out potato pancakes another night. I'll get to those next. Serve the pork chops with the mashed potatoes (and a green vegetable if you are being healthy).
Thanks to Darren for this last picture.

Then a night or two later, I decided to try my hand at potato pancakes. I had never made them before, although I think my mom used to make them when I was a kid. I looked up some recipes online and then combined the things I liked with what I actually had on hand in the kitchen.

First, I beat two eggs in a mixing bowl.

Then I added the left over mashed potatoes and mixed them with the eggs.
Then I added 1 cup of grated cheese and some extra pepper and cayenne. And mixed all of that together. It seemed a little thin to me, so I also added about 1/4 cup of flour. Then I formed potato patties that were about 4-5 inches across.
Then I fried them over medium heat in a skillet with the bottom just covered with oil and added more oil as needed between batches.
Cook until golden brown on both sides. These were served with a salad, as they were just an experiment. I might plan on making extra mashed potatoes in the future to make these again.
Let us know if you try any of these recipes.

I'm having some problems with the printables, but I'll get those up later today, I hope.

UPDATE: Links to printable recipes for pork chops and potato pancakes are now working. Enjoy!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Chicken Fajita Burritos

Darren grew up in the Southwest, so eating food wrapped in a tortilla is for him like eating lima beans cooked with pork is for me. His mom always says you can wrap anything in a tortilla, so today I'm sharing my recipe for fajitas.

I have been working on my fajita recipe since my grandmother gave me a stove-top grill for my first apartment in 1997. I don't think I ever cooked anything for her before she passed away several years ago. That's a shame, but I have put that little stove top grill to good use. I like to think she'd be pleased. She made a delicious apple cake with caramel icing. Maybe one of these days, I'll get around to sharing it on here.

Since I've been making fajitas for nearly 15 years, I'd say I've got a pretty good handle on them at this point. At least, I make fajitas that Darren and I both like. His mom likes them, too. I don't eat tomatoes, but if you like them, feel free to add them to the recipe.

I used to make my fajitas on a stove-top grill, but lately, I've been using a griddle. I like the higher sides of the griddle, as I tend to make a mess when I cook. I like to make my spice mixture first. I mix salt, pepper, chili powder, and several kinds of ground chilies in a gallon ziplock bag with a bit of vegetable oil. I actually do this twice, because I like to marinate my meat and vegetable separately. I have no explanation for this.
Then I chop up some bell peppers and onions and slice some chicken (or beef, but usually chicken).
I add the veggies to one bag and the meat to the other, and let them stand for at least 20 minutes.
I start the veggies on the griddle over medium heat and cook them until the onions start to become transparent and the peppers begin to brown. I stir them often.
Then I push them to one end of the griddle and add the meat.
Once the meat has browned on both sides, I mix it with the veggies.
I always look for the largest slice of chicken and cut into it to make sure it is done. Then I serve up the fajitas on flour tortillas. For this particular meal, we used giant burrito-sized tortillas because we already had them on hand.
Add refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, salsa, cheese, and whatever toppings you'd like.
Then roll it up and dig in! Darren's burrito would barely close, but that's okay!
Darren likes to pile everything in his burrito, and I like my guacamole on the side, because I like the cold guacamole to contrast with the hot burrito. Eat them however you see fit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rib Rub

I'm Southern, and we love our pigs. In fact, there's a little joke about it:

Q: What parts of the pig are edible?
A: Everything but the squeal!

We even have a grocery store chain named after pigs, and I am the proud owner of two Piggly Wiggly T-shirts. Some people even believe that bacon is a vegetable. Well, not really, but add a little bacon/salt pork/fat back to your next pot of beans, greens, or cabbage, and you're well on the way to some tasty vittles. Also, real barbecue is made of pigs. I'm sure to get some flak for that one, but it is fact. Beef doesn't have the same fall-apart-goodness that pork has. FACT.

About a year ago, Darren decided that he wanted some ribs, and as a die-hard Southern (who happens to have lived in several regions of the country at this point), I assure you that you cannot get good Southern barbecue in Southern California. In the two years we lived there, we tried chains and local places, including Jay Bee's, a joint that was featured on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Don't get me wrong, Jay Bee's sauce tasted really good, but the meat didn't have that fall-apart-goodness that I was craving. The closest we found was at the Mississippi Picnic in LA, which is an annual event that occurs in September, so we decided we would have to make our own. I had never cooked ribs before, so I looked to the internet for some guidance.

The original recipe I started with was courtesy of Jamie and Bobby DeenPaula Deen's boys. I thought they couldn't steer me wrong because I trusted in their Southernness, but I thought their rub had entirely too much cumin and not enough heat or depth. I have come to the conclusion that BBQ is a deeply personal thing. One day, I hope to ask Lewis Grizzard about it in heaven. He knows that it's a sin to serve sorry barbecue.

Over the last year, I have combined bits and pieces of many other people's rub recipes and come up with something that Darren and I both enjoy, and a cooking method that makes the ribs super tender. The primary secret to making good BBQ is low and slow. If you need some elaboration on that, cook your BBQ very slowly at a low temperature.

I will share my recipe with you, but I urge you, with all of my BBQ-loving heart, to take it and make it your own. And to share the fruits of your labor with family and friends. That's what BBQ (and food in general) is all about to Southerners, food brings families together.

My rub has brown sugar, salt, pepper, chili powders, cayenne, lemon zest, and some other stuff. Gather up all of your ingredients, a set of measuring spoons, and a 1/3 c. measuring cup.
I like to mix all of my ingredients in a plastic bag so I can knead it to evenly mix the spices.
 Then I shake, mash, pinch, knead, etc. to mix everything together. Make sure you break up any clumps of brown sugar or lemon zest.

I think this could be stored in the refrigerator for a week or two, but I always use it the day I make it. For ribs, I normally use baby backs, because that is what is easy to find in our local store, but today, I am using spare ribs.

I rinse the ribs in cold water, remove the membrane from the back side, and trim away any big chunks of fat. Then I pat them dry with paper towels.
Next I score the meat and sprinkle on some liquid smoke, from a couple of teaspoons to a couple of tablespoons, depending on the size of the ribs.
This slab of ribs was gigantic, so I also cut it into two pieces. And laid each piece on a double thickness of heavy duty aluminum foil.
Then I put a handful of rub on each piece and smeared it around, adding more as necessary.

It already smells really good! I also put some rub on the backsides, because I had plenty to use. Then I wrapped them up in their foil packets and placed each on a foil lined baking sheet. Let them stand for 2 hours or more before cooking. If they will be standing for more than 2 hours, place them in the refrigerator.
I tend to err on the side of caution with foil when making ribs, because the sticky, gooey rub is not easy to clean up, especially not once it mixes with the meat juices and fat. Save yourself some time and energy, and cover the baking sheets with foil. The packets almost always end up leaking.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the ribs in the oven and set the timer for 5 or 6 hours depending on the size/thickness of the ribs. I suggest 6 hours for a large slab like this. At this point, open a packet and check the temperature with a meat thermometer. It should read around 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Put them back for additional time, if needed.

If the ribs are done, open the packets and fold back the foil, and put the ribs back in the oven for 20-30 minutes. This will help them form a nice crust on the outside.

Remove the ribs from the oven, and let them stand about 10 minutes before cutting into portions and serving.
Now go make some barbecue, and bring your family and friends together.

Also, if you are traveling through the South/Midwest, here are some BBQ places that I am either a fan of or would like to try and become a fan of: Country's BBQ in AL, Little Dooey in MS, Ubon's in MS, Pappy's Smokehouse in MO, Sprayberry's in GA, The Rendezvous in TN, and Leatha's in MS. According to Lewis Grizzard, when you walk into a BBQ joint, the more the people look alike, the better the BBQ will be. I'd hazard that family tradition just might have something to do with good food. ;)

I'm sure there are dozens of other places, especially those that are of the hole-in-the-wall variety that have mastered the art of BBQ. Let me know if you have a suggestion of where to get the best BBQ in your area. Maybe one day, I'll go on a pig tour.