Thursday, May 31, 2012

Loss and barbecued ribs…really?

It seems a bit odd to talk about the death of a family member and barbecued ribs in the same breath, but as food bloggers, that’s what we do, isn’t it? Food goes right along with happiness and everyday life just as much as it goes along with sadness and tragedy. I won’t pretend like I’m going to transition from death to ribs seamlessly, so this will be a two-part post wrapped into one, with no attempt to link the two.

Part I:
My grandma passed away on Friday. She was 90, although according to her, she was perpetually 39 (and had naturally brown hair). She had a very short illness and left us much more quickly than any of us could have imagined. And while I’m relieved that she wasn’t long-suffering, I’m also kicking myself for not seeing her more during these last years. I can offer no good excuses for my lack of visits, just life and laziness, really. I’m sure this feeling of regret is a fairly standard reaction to the loss of a loved one, wishing you had given more now that you don’t have a chance to anymore.

But in her last days, I was able to spend time with her, and on her last night, my cousin and I gave her a very fitting sendoff, in a way only we could (in that obnoxious granddaughterly way). For that, I’m glad.

Part II:
As promised, there is no transition here, although my grandma did recently tell my dad she loved his barbecued ribs. That’s as good a reason as any for a post, I suppose…

I’ve been meaning to post these ribs again for a long time. See, I’ve already blogged about them here, but since my prior post was lacking an actual recipe and included photos that are incredibly embarrassing, it needed revamping. And chances are, since that post was only about a month into my blogging adventure, you probably didn’t see it anyway (unless you were my mom or one of the nine incredibly awesome people that threw me a bone with a comment on such a horrible post). So, here’s the new and improved version. I think it’s a little better…

This has become our go-to rib recipe and the results are perfect every time.

Barbecued Pork Ribs with Spicy Barbecue Sauce

1 3-lb rack of pork ribs
pecan wood chips, soaked in water (optional)

Spice rub:
onion powder
garlic powder
ground mustard
chili powder
cayenne pepper
ground chipotle pepper

1 6-ounce can tomato paste
3 ounces cider vinegar
8-10 ounces water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 -1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 -1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper 

For the spice rub:
Mix equal parts of each ingredient together. (For these ribs, 1 teaspoon each yields about the right amount of rub. Make a bigger batch to have leftovers.)

For the sauce:
In a small saucepan, whisk all ingredients together and bring to a simmer. Let simmer and reduce to a consistency you like. (I like it on the thinner side.) 

For the ribs:
Trim excess fat from the ribs and remove the membrane from the underside. Sprinkle the spice rub generously over both sides of the ribs and rub in. Keep ribs in the refrigerator until ready to grill. (I usually do the rub several hours in advance.)

If using wood chips, place in a smoker box and into grill. Heat the grill to 325 degrees F.

Place ribs meat side up on grill over indirect heat and don’t touch them again for 90 minutes. After 90 minutes, glaze both sides of the ribs with sauce, starting with the rib side, and ending with the meaty side up again. Close the grill and let the ribs finish cooking for 15 more minutes.

Transfer the ribs onto a baking sheet and cover with foil for 30 minutes. When ready to serve, cut between each bone. Serve with extra sauce on the side for dipping.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Comfort food craving: Spicy Tomato Fennel Short Ribs

Being on vacation has a way of making you crave home-cooked comfort food, even while you’re sampling new cuisine and tasting amazing flavor combinations. By the time we got home from our trip I was channeling my inner 1950’s male and just wanted baked potatoes, pasta, meatloaf, and roast chicken…basically, anything meaty and starchy.

And thanks to my doting daddy dearest, our first night home we got just that. Meatloaf and baked potatoes, all packaged up and ready to eat. How did he know that was exactly what I wanted? Might have had something to do with the text I sent him while we were driving towards home. Something like, “Mmmmmm…birthday meatloaf?” Subtle, huh? (I feel the need to note here that my mom replied to my text, “Dream on.” Thankfully she was not in charge of the meatloaf making.)

Because of a very busy first week back and my current penchant for meat and potatoes, things have not been very exciting in the kitchen. Although my mental notebook is full of things from our trip to experiment on and I hope to get to those soon. My taste buds have been inspired by Navajo dishes (hello fry bread and honey!) and New Mexican flavors. My kitchen is now stocked with fresh peppers and their dried counterparts; I will master authentic red chile sauce…someday.

Until then, more comfort food...

Spicy Tomato Fennel Shorts Ribs over Pasta

1 1/2 pounds boneless beef short ribs
1 large fennel bulb, diced
1/3 cup chopped shallots
4 garlic cloves
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup white wine, divided use
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
fennel pollen (optional)
canola oil
parmesan cheese shavings
cooked pasta

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
Trim fat off of short ribs, then season liberally with salt, pepper and fennel pollen (if using). Coat lightly with flour.
Heat a drizzle of canola oil in a large Dutch oven until very hot. Sear all sides of short ribs until browned, then remove from pot and reserve.
Sauté fennel and shallots in the same pot. When bottom starts to brown, deglaze with 1/2 cup of white wine. Cook until soft, add garlic and cook for 30 seconds more.
Stir in tomatoes, sauce, remaining 1/2 cup of wine, red pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper. Place short ribs in the sauce mixture and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook in oven for about 3 hours, until fork tender and falling apart.
Remove short ribs from sauce and pull apart. Serve over pasta with sauce and parmesan cheese.

If you’ve got a comfort food craving, this dish has you covered. The short ribs are ridiculously tender and the sauce is rich and flavorful with hints of anise and spice. Don’t shy away from this because the weather is getting warmer… although to look at this meaty pasta dish you’d think it was a bit heavy, the tomato-based sauce actually lightens things up a bit. I would happily eat this one year-round.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Back from vacation and Strawberry-Amaretto Tart

We’re back from our two-week road trip. I can say that now without talking about rabid dogs or worrying about burglars

Coming back from vacation is rough.  You almost need a transitional vacation to ease back into the real world where people actually expect things of you and your only task of the day isn’t to climb to the top of a mountain. (And then go have a well-deserved beer.) I know, I know…poor me. There probably won’t be a whole lot of sympathy coming my way for this one, huh?

Settle's picture time!

To recap: 3200 miles, five national parks, four states, and a partridge in a pear tree. A lot of driving, a lot of hiking, and somehow we managed to squeeze in a lot of relaxation. If the spot that you keep thinking about is your favorite, I can say without a doubt that Zion National Park takes that honor. What I’d give to be back here:

Or to hike to the top of this again:

Okay, maybe I don’t want to hike up there again. That’s Angel’s Landing and something to the tune of 5 miles and almost 1500 feet in elevation gain. It involved hiking on a ridge so narrow that chains are installed along the way to keep hold of. I’m not going to lie…that one hurt a little.

The funny thing is that Zion is one of those places that you can’t exactly put your finger on as to why it’s so magical. It just is. Sitting on a huge expanse of grass, relaxing at the base of these enormous formations is inspiring and breathtaking. In fact, I just described my most favorite moment in the park. Not hiking to the top of one of these beastly rocks, but sitting in its shadow. It was truly amazing.

Onto Bryce Canyon, a whole different kind of incredible. This is one of those places you really have to see to believe, but this is what we spent a lot of time looking at:

The hoodoos are aplenty in this canyon, but the real fun starts when you actually make your way out ONTO them. We were perched out on our own little (actually massive) hoodoo. Completely alone, completely quiet and spectacular. Sigh.

Next stop: Capitol Reef. From what we had read, we weren’t expecting a lot from this park. Lesson of the day: don’t believe everything you read. Capitol Reef did not disappoint. It is full of incredible washes and changing scenery at every turn.

It’s also home to Cassidy Arch, as in Butch Cassidy. Apparently the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang hung out down in the Grand Wash. That little blue speck on top of the arch is me.

Natural Bridges involved more climbing than I care to remember right now. The fairly cranky ranger that warned us of the hikes being “not good” wasn’t too far from the truth. Don’t get me wrong; the bridges are amazing, but the getting back up isn’t.  

Two very quiet days were spent in Monument Valley, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Basically, we just sat on our balcony are stared at these sacred sandstone buttes in the middle of Navajo Nation. Sunrises fit for a postcard:

Not a bad way to spend our birthdays…

Okay, okay…enough of the trip photos. Onto the good stuff…food! This dessert should help ease us back into reality. (Or maybe a little nip off the ol’ Amaretto bottle would do the trick.)

Strawberry-Amaretto Cheesecake Tart with Almond Crust

1 1/2 cups slivered almonds
1 1/2 cups walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tablespoon Amaretto

2 small eggs (or 1 extra large)
4 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces chopped strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon Amaretto
1 tablespoon heavy cream

3 ounces chocolate (I used 60% bittersweet cacao)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon Amaretto

For the crust:
Finely chop almonds and walnuts in a food processor. Add sugar and pulse to combine.
Cream butter in an electric mixer. Add nut mixture and Amaretto. Mix until well combined.
Press into a 9” tart pan with removable bottom. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Press down on crust with back of a wooden spoon, then bake 13-15 minutes more, until set. Let cool completely.

For the tart:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth.
Pour into cooled tart shell.
Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes, until set. Remove from oven and let cool slightly, then transfer to refrigerator to cool completely.
Do not glaze until completely cooled.

For the glaze:
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over low heat. Whisk until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is smooth.
Pour immediately over cooled tart and spread with an offset spatula. Let set for a few minutes before cutting.
(Depending on how much space you have between the tart and the top of the crust, you may have some glaze leftover.)

This tart is as much about the crust as it is the filling. It’s thick, chewy and nutty, but cuts the richness of a typical cheesecake. The strawberry and Amaretto flavors are subtle but come through just enough for a hint of sweetness. If you’re expecting a standard graham cracker crust, this one probably isn’t for you.

**Don’t forget to enter my giveaway, open through 5/18, for a chance to win a $50 grocery store gift card. Enter here.**

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cooking under pressure, a breakfast scramble and grocery card giveaway

Long title, huh? But they all have something in common…

I recently attended the Safeway Culinary Kitchens Search for Our Next Chef regional cook-off event in San Francisco where four contestants tried to cook their way into the final. At the final cook-off, the winner will be given a full-time job in the Safeway kitchens and their skillet meal will be turned into an actual product sold through Safeway’s Open Nature product line. I’d say that counts as cooking under a bit of pressure, wouldn’t you? Especially when you have Le Cordon Bleu Executive Chef Mike Weller looking over your shoulder, like this.


Just watching this made my hands sweaty. Not only were the contestants cooking under Chef Weller’s stare watch, but also Safeway Culinary Kitchens Executive Chef Jeff Anderson’s. And then more nail biting as the dishes went to the judging table where they were dissected and evaluated. Again…gulp. I’ll stay in the comfort of my own kitchen, thank you very much.

In the end, Chanda Clark’s chicken creole dish impressed the chefs and got her the win. You can read more about the cook-off and my interview with Alex Guarnaschelli, who will be one of the final judges, here.

Onto the breakfast scramble. Before I start raving about this dish and these products, let me first be clear that I was NOT compensated for this post. I just happen to really, really like them.  I’ve been a fan of Open Nature products since I attended the product launch last year, so I was happy to try out this recipe developed by Executive Chef Jeff Anderson.

This was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in a long time, and the flavor of the Andouille sausage was perfect with just the right amount of kick to it. We will definitely be making this again.

Open Nature Andouille Sausage Breakfast Scramble with Pesto

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Servings: 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon garlic, freshly minced
2 Open Nature™ Andouille Sausage, cut into small dice
1 tablespoon Open Nature Pesto Sauce
4 O Organics™ Eggs
1 tablespoon finely sliced scallions
2 cups Open Nature Hash Brown Potatoes or oven roasted potatoes (optional)

Heat olive oil in medium skillet; add garlic and diced Andouille sausage. Cook until hot.
Scramble eggs, add to the pan and cook until it reaches your own desired degree of doneness.
Stir in pesto and allow to warm briefly.
Serve over freshly prepared hash browns or oven roasted potatoes.
Top with scallions.

Notes: I used only 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic and extra pesto to taste.

Now for the good part: the giveaway! I have two $50 grocery store gift cards to give away, good at any Safeway Companies stores in the U.S. or Canada (Safeway, Vons, Pavillions, Genuardi’s Dominick’s Carrs, Tom Thumb, or Randalls). Giveaway will run through midnight PST on Friday, May 18 and I’ll pick a winner at random. Winners must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address.

To enter (come back and leave a separate comment for each entry):
  • Tell me if you think you could handle the pressure of a cooking competition.
  • Check out the Open Nature products and let me know which one looks good to you.
  • Tweet the following: Enter to win a $50 grocery gift card #giveaway from @tastytrials here:
  • Follow @tastytrials on Twitter
  • Pin this post.

Disclaimer: Safeway Companies provided gift cards for this giveaway, but I was not compensated monetarily in any way. All opinions are my own. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Happy Birthday to us and Sangria

It’s birthday time!

Andy and I are birthday celebrators. None of this, “I’m getting old and I want to ignore my birthday so please don’t make a big deal of it” business. We say: Bring on the big deal! That means whole birthday weeks and lots and lots of celebrating.

With our birthdays only two days apart, there is a fair amount of hoopla. Since my birthday is on Cinco de Mayo (making Andy’s on Tres de Mayo, which doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it), I believe that sangria is a proper way to celebrate. (Never mind the fact that I think any occasion at any time of the year is better off with sangria. This time it actually makes sense.) Last year, I shared my favorite sangria recipe of all time and I wanted to keep the yearly tradition going. Also, testing sangria recipes does not hurt my feelings.

For this year’s extravaganza, we will be heading off for a birthday road trip, although Andy doesn’t want me to say that because of the would-be burglars. So, burglars be warned, I’ve set up booby traps all over the house for you. It will be like Home Alone all over again and we know how that ended for Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, so don’t even think about it. (Although that means I’m Macaulay Culkin, which is unfortunate for me.) But seriously, we do have a house sitter and a rabid dog. Okay, maybe we don’t have the rabid dog…or do we?

No, I haven’t been sipping the sangria yet…why do you ask?

White Wine-Berry Sangria

1 bottle dry white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
1 cup lemon-lime soda
1/2 cup raspberry vodka
1/4 cup brandy
chopped strawberries

In a pitcher, combine wine, soda, vodka and brandy.
Put a few raspberries and a small handful of chopped strawberries into the bottom of each glass and muddle. Fill glass with ice, then top with sangria and a few blueberries. Stir.

This is a party in a glass and since it’s my birthday, I can say silly things like that. Just drink a couple of these and it won’t sound so silly anymore. It’s tart and sweet and goes down easy. Perfect for any celebration, especially a Cinco de Mayo birthday…

Since you can never have too many sangria recipes, I made three more! Check out these other fruity cocktail concoctions I made with options for classic red wine with citrus, white wine with pear, and rosé with limoncello sangrias. Click here for my recipes, pictured above.