Sometimes... just every once in a while, it's perfectly acceptable for the meat portion of a dish to take a back seat to the rest of the group and just provide a tasty backdrop for the rest of the action.
I know... I've walked right up to that line of heresy and I'm dangling my big toe over it... but hear me out first.
One of my favorite dishes when the weather takes a cold turn is Braised Cabbage and Noodles. This is supposed to be an old Polish peasant dish, but since I don't know any old Polish peasants, I'll just have to content myself with knowing that it's a darn good feed, regardless of it's pedigree.
Here's where it all starts:
1 big ol' head of cabbage, cored, and chopped into about 1" pieces 1 big ol' yellow or white onion cut however you like 1 pound of bacon (home made or store bought. either is fine) about 2/3 of a big bag of wide egg noodles, depending on how many noodles ya want 1-2 tablespoons oregano, to your liking dill weed to taste couple of teaspoons of chopped garlic half cup of white wine salt and pepper to taste
Get your biggest wok or pan. Assuming you don't own a Chinese restaurant of have a wok big enough to stir fry a large cow, that is. Generally, electric skillet or wok sized is fine. Just needs to be big enough to hold that head of cabbage.
Start the water for the noodles boiling before anything else. It takes longest.
Cut the bacon strips into 1" pieces, more or less and toss em in the pan over medium heat. Cook bacon until just done. No need to get it crispy unless you just want to. When done, remove the bacon to a side plate.
Chop the onion however you like and toss it and the garlic in the pan with all them bacony drippings. Also add a pinch of salt to help soften the onion. Careful not to let the garlic burn.
When the onion is soft, toss in the cabbage, wine, oregano and dill weed. Cover and cook on medium low for 5-10 minutes, stirring now and again to keep from sticking.
When the noodles are done, drain and toss in the pan, stirring everything up well. When all the flavors have had time to get acquainted, dish it up and chow down.
The bacon provides a nice smokey backdrop for the tartness of the cabbage and the sweetness of the onions. The garlic... well, hell... it's garlic... nuff said. The herbs do their part too. If you don't overcook it, the bacon and onions are still a little chewy, the cabbage has just a bit of crisp to it, and the noodles are silky smooth and chewy.
There's meat, to be sure... and more than enough as it turns out. With nearly every bite, you get some meat, some vegetation, and a noodle or two. Any way you slice it, it's a great dish, not only from a prep perspective, but it serves very nicely, and it reheats like you wouldn't believe.
I'd also recommend some Beano or a similar gastric abatement, unless you're up for a rousing game of 'Name that Tune' with the family.... or you have an urge to 'hot box' someone near and dear......
Or at least that's what the song says... And so life imitates art yet again.
While surfing for a couple of new chicken recipes this last weekend, I happened to see a link for Braised Beef Short Ribs.
Now I have to admit... I've always been a rib snob. If it's ribs, it's pork... end of discussion.
But I had to check myself when that thought started bouncing around my head. If it wasn't a good dish, why, oh why is it one of those culinary staples that every big chef seems to dredge out now and then? Not to mention a whole lotta average joe cooks like me.
So, armed with that thought, next time I was at the grocery store I grabbed some up.
Today was a work from home day (yeah... the job allows that now and again), so I thought I'd give it a shot for lunch. And if it worked, I'd see about adding it to the dinner menu. So I found a couple of recipes on Epicurious.com, picked the simplest one, and started in.
Heated up the pan with some bacon drippings almost smokin hot. Tossed the ribs in some flour to coat, and worked up a nice pan sear on the ribs. (Note: Next time I'm gonna S&P the ribs before I flour em. I think that'll add another depth of flavor)
While this was going on, I coarse chopped an onion and some rosemary, and added some finely chopped garlic to a baking dish. Recipe called for carrots and celery also, but I didn't have any. I did add some dried celery flakes to compensate.
Got the oven up to 350, packed the ribs on top of the foliage and covered with foil. Added a couple cups of beef stock to jumpstart the melting process as well. Into the oven for a long cook.
Two hours later... it was lunch time. No, I don't mean it was noon... I mean it was lunch time... the aroma had done got my belly all riled up and snarling. As a buddy of mine sez, "mah big guts was eatin mah little guts". So I pulled the pan and did a little tenderness check.
Tender enough. And I was hongreeee.
Strained off the foliage and juice back into the searing pan, and reduced by about 2/3rds. Thickend with just a touch of slurry, and poured back over the ribs that had been resting on the side.
Dished a few up and took the plunge. Nice... very rich from all the collagen and connective tissue in the ribs. Nice base of flavor from the pan sear... Good taste of sweetness from the onion. The melted fat and gelatin from the bones added a really nice velvety texture to the sauce.
Next time, three hours in the oven. They were very tender at two hours... but at three they should be really fork tender.
All in all, this took a whopping 15 minutes of actual hands on work while I was on a conference call. Who says meetings are a waste of time? With the long cooking time, this is definitely a weekend dish, or something to cook if you're home for the day or home early. You could also use 1 cup stock and 1 cup wine if'n you wanted for a little more French flavor to the dish.
As for effort... virtually none. Taste? I'd give it an 8/10, simply because I didn't have the nice assortment of veggies as the base, and because it really needed to cook another hour to really develop the flavor. Maybe add some fresh basil to complement the rosemary as well. But other than that, all that was missing was some smashed taters to soak up that wunnerful gravy.
This one goes on the dinner menu, even if it's just for me and momma. Picky kids can just fend fer themselves....
This post isn't about the food... the recipe... the technique or any of that stuff.
This one is about passing on your enthusiasm and passion for all of that stuff.
Lotsa times when we're fully engaged in the kitchen, working our mojo on all that delectable food-to-be... we get tunnel vision. Or at least I do. And it's not just cooking... when I'm heads down, fully into what I'm doing, I'm not really a pleasant person to be around. Communication is relegated to short grunts and vacant looks. I gots my mojo working... I'm in the zone... I'm firing on all cylinders... I got mah groove thang on.... etc. Which isn't a constructive environment in which to pass on some of these hard learned lessons, or even the simple ones.
Cut to tonight.
It was a 'fend for yourself' night around our house, which means leftovers, cereal, or frozen dinners. For all intents, the cook was on strike.
Until the cook got hungry, that is.
I'd gone to the store for the weekly provisioning earlier this afternoon, and decided to tackle something I'd always loved to eat, and was too afraid to try to cook.
Don't laugh.... it's one of those things we all share. For some people, it's frying an egg... for others it's baking bread...
It's that fear that you're sure you'll positively screw up if you try it, no matter how simple it is. I've had a few of those in my life, and so far, I've conquered them all: learning to ride a motorcycle and pulling a 5th wheel RV, to name a couple.
So, I got my batter dry ingredients together in the bowl, got out my favorite whisk, took a deep breath, made a plea to the culinary gods to watch over and protect this poor fool, and started in. Just then, I heard a small voice ask "What are you doing?"
Enter the 4 year old into my culinary odyssey. And it's not just the question... it's how she asks it... each word gets a progressively higher pitched note which is just cute as heck.
So I tell her daddy is making mushrooms. Which of course I could have told her daddy was making hooberdygoobers for all the difference it woulda made... she's not really up on the more esoteric foodstuffs yet.
But, not daunted by her lack of comprehension of what dad's doing or even talking about... she showed that rare courage possessed only by small children and drunken fools.
She jumped right in.
She placed her little step stool in front of the counter, took the whisk firmly in hand and proceeded to stir the dry goods all up.
It actually took me a second to grasp that she was cooking.... albeit on a very minor scale... but she was doing it! Not that this was her first time helping dad piddle around in the kitchen, but this was her first time taking the initiative to help and doing exactly what needed doing.
She even battered the shrooms up once I'd mixed in the wet stuff.
Of course she flipped out when it came time for the shrooms to hit the hot oil... but we're gonna work on that one next. She wasn't through playing yet.
While they were draining and cooling off a bit, I put some ranch dip in a ramekin for my dippin pleasure. Whilst I was plating my fungal feast, I was completely unaware that my tiny helper was already helping herself to the dip, sans shrooms.
Note to self: TWO bowls of dip....
So how were they?
I'm pleased to announce that yet another fear has been conquered, much to the satisfaction of mah belly. The shrooms were awesome. Almost as good as some of the best ones I've ever had. Not the best... but damn good. Especially for a first effort.
So what's the point of this inane narrative?
I dunno... I guess it's to remind those cooks who aren't as confident in their ability as others that it all starts somewhere. Do a little research... ask a few questions... and take the plunge. Julia Childs burned more than a few dishes before she got it right... so why should we be any different?
And also... take the time to step out of that zone (assuming you're a one-track person like me) and help instill your passion for whatever you're doing in the next generation. They may like it, they may not. But if you don't show them, they'll never know.
It's like what they say about life... it's not always the destination... sometimes it's the journey itself.
Or, more importantly... sometimes it's just your traveling companion......
At least that's what a couple of chickens did on my rotisserie last night. Started off with a couple of young fryers, slipped them on the spit, trussed em up a bit to hold em together, and set everything in motion.
Shook on a little dry rub, garlic powder, olive oil and lemon juice, and let the old spinning wheel spin.
For a long time, it seemed like....
Actually, about two hours by the time everything was done. Generally, for rotisserie work, I use my gas grill, simply because I like the stable heat platform. However, I do cheat a bit. I have a nice little stainless steel bowl I keep in one of my grill drawers, right along side a couple bags of apple, mesquite and hickory chips. Tonight it was apple chips.
I toss a big ol' handful into the bowl, set it directly over one of the burners and I get a nice even, light smoke while the gas is doing it's heat thing.
Couple hours later, off they came for a little rest and rejuvenation while I fixed some sides. Some down home whipped taters (whipped with 1 whole stick of butter and heavy cream), a little gravy from the juices, and some green beans, and taters with some spiral sliced honey ham leftover from the other night, topped off with a pinch or two of chopped garlic.
In case you haven't noticed, I reuse a lot... not very much goes to waste around our kitchen.
Carved up the birds, dished up the sides, and had a nice dinner. The chicken was crispy on the outside with a nice tang of smoke, and the rub and seasonings. Inside, it was so juicy I almost wore a bib. The best part was after the carving, picking over the carcass for all the little juicy bits, 'specially those little oyster bits on the back... luv those.
Don't have a rotisserie? Not a problem.The only thing the rotisserie does is keep the juices fooled about which way is out. You can (and I routinely do) get the same results just grilling with indirect heat and turning it a couple of times.
Sometimes it's easier if you cut the backbone out and butterfly the bird. Takes up more room, but it cooks a bit faster, and it don't roll around on the grill. Plus, the amount of surface to grill contact is quite a bit larger, so you get more crispy delectable skin.
So all you really need is some indirect heat, some chicken, and an appetite. The rest is just variations on a theme.
Okay, here's the deal.... my oldest and I are always sorta joking about someday opening a restaurant, and whenever a new effort in the kitchen works out beyond our wildest expectations (or is at least a pleasant surprise), we joke that it's "going on the menu".
Well, tonight was one of those nights, and all the more surprising because it wasn't a magnificent main course... it wasn't a stellar side dish... it wasn't even a delectable dessert.
Of all things, it was a lowly sauce.
Of course, a lot of folks will tell you that the sauce can make or break a meal. And in this case, it made it... in spades.
It all started with having to move two loads of furniture out of my garage to an in-law's.
I hate moving. I'd rather burn it or have a garage sale than move it. And if it ain't even mine, that's just insult to injury. Bright spot was, I reclaimed about a third of my garage back, so now I can get my bike in and out a little easier, and I can get to the freezer and the garage pantry a little easier.
So... after all the moving was done, I'm hot, tired, smelling a wee bit funky and hungry enough to eat the next door neighbor's cat. So on the way back home, me and the boy drop by the store and pick up some gorgeous t-bone steaks. 'Bout an inch and a quarter thick with a pretty generous piece of tenderloin on the cut, and nice marbling all around.
Wife already had spuds in the oven, so I got home, cleaned up, and hit the kitchen. Salted, peppered and slathered the steaks with a little olive oil. Grilled them bad boys up nicely, and jacked up the heat on mine at the last minute to get a little Pittsburgh sear on it, and pulled them all to a pan to rest.
Meanwhile, I took a skillet, and added a fair spoonfull of some bacon drippings and got it all het up. Then I added a can of chicken stock, couple spoonfuls of minced garlic, some very finely chopped mushrooms, a little basil and ground sage, and a couple spoonfulls of my favorite store bought marinade, in this case,Dale's Steak Seasoning. Then I reduced it to a third, then used a hand blender to smooth it all up. Put it back in the pan and added 1/4 cup of heavy cream. Whisked it all together, added the little bit of steak juice that accumulated in the pan, and served it as a side for dipping.
Wow... it was freakin good. Tart and a slight salty tang from the marinade, a little earthy from the 'shrooms and sage, mellow and rich from the cream. The oldest daughter poured hers over her steak, and then decided Dad had the right idea with the dippin' sauce. Better coverage.
Didn't take any pictures, because let's face it... we've all seen a great steak, and a picture of sauce is about as exciting as watching paint dry. But the sauce is awesome, and I just wanted to share it if'n anyone was interested.
I'm a combination Software Architect / Business Analyst. Plus, I have a real love for lighthouses, hence the name. I learned how to eat as a young boy, and learned how to cook shortly after that.
It's a vicious circle...