Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ribs and summer

My son has always loved barbecued ribs.

Whenever we go to a restaurant that serves ribs, it’s a safe bet that’s what Robert will order.

I’ve only tried to grill ribs at home a few times. They were awful and very tough the first time, but later attempts were better.

Now that Robert has shown such an interest in grilling, it was only natural that we’d be cooking ribs this summer! And when our favorite grocery story had baby back ribs on sale, I bought two racks for our experiment.

I had been reading the two cookbooks from Food Network stars Pat and Gina Neely. The Neely restaurant in Memphis, Tenn., is well known for its ribs, and the Neelys have several rib recipes in their cookbooks and online.

After some research, we decided on their Sweet Cola Ribs recipe, which Robert found on the Food Network website.

The recipe ingredient list, which includes items for both a dry rub and a barbecue sauce, is a little intimidating to me, but it didn’t bother him.

He assembled the dry rub and prepared the ribs early last Thursday morning while everyone else was away from home. It was nice to come home to the wonderful aroma left behind from the rub preparation and ribs in the fridge.

Robert and I approach this whole cooking thing differently. If you read my column regularly, you know that I very seldom follow a recipe; I make changes. Robert follows the directions exactly as written! For instance, I don’t particularly like cumin and would have left it out of the rub. Not him. It went in. And, truthfully, I didn’t notice the taste in the ribs, which is a good thing.

And when it came time to making the sauce, I told him I couldn’t imagine why we would need to simmer it for an hour and 15 minutes. He insisted we do it though because that’s what the recipe said. So while he was out back cooking the ribs for more than 90 minutes on the gas grill, I was inside doing other things and watching the bubbling sauce get thicker and thicker — just as it was supposed to do. So he was right on both counts.

We had a wonderful Thursday evening, going back and forth between the backyard grilling session and the indoor sauce making. The ribs turned out beautifully, I think, and were very tender and delicious. The flavor combination was a winner, and it was obvious that the ribs had both a rub and a sauce.

I look forward to having this recipe again and to seeing what Robert decides to try next!

Sweet Cola Ribs

Sweet Cola Barbecue Sauce:
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1 can cola
  • 1⁄2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1⁄2 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1⁄2 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1⁄2 tablespoon ground mustard
  • 1⁄2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Dry Rub:
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 racks pork spare ribs (about 3 pound each)
For the sauce: In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, add oil. Once heated, add the onion and garlic and sautee until tender. Add all the remaining sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered, stirring frequently, for 1 hour 15 minutes.

For the dry rub: Whisk all dry ingredients together in a small bowl. This can be stored up to 6 months in an airtight container.

For the ribs: Rinse and dry ribs. Place on a clean cutting board, pull off the membrane and trim the ribs of excess fat. Liberally season both sides of the ribs with rub. Wrap ribs with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 to 12 hours so flavors can permeate.

Preheat grill to 250F using hickory and charcoal. (We used our gas grill with indirect heat and had very good results.) Set up your grill for indirect heat.

Place ribs, meatier side down, on the grill away from the coals. Close grill cover. Cook the pork ribs for 1 hour 15 minutes; flipping several times for even cook. Coat ribs with Sweet Cola Barbecue Sauce* and cook for another 20 minutes.

*Reserve some of the sauce for dipping when the ribs are served.

Pat and Gina Neely from Food Network website

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Celebrate your graduate!

As graduation day approaches for so many high school students (including my own daughter, Anna), I thought it would be fun to share an adorable and easy cupcake idea.

It was Anna who first saw this idea several months ago on Pinterest, and we decided we should make them for her graduation.

It’s a very simple process.

For starters, you make a batch of cupcakes (we used a mix) and frost them. Then you place an unwrapped miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in the middle and top it with a square from a Hershey’s chocolate bar. Use a dab of frosting so the chocolate will stay in place. (Break the rectangular piece to make the square.) That makes the cap.

To make the tassel, put an M&M Mini in the middle of the chocolate square and use a tube of frosting to make the tassel strings dangle from the M&M.

You can adapt them as needed, of course. For instance, the frosting could be dyed the same color of the tassel — both to reflect the school’s color. And the tassel can be any color you like,

The cupcake holder can also vary to match school colors as well.

It’s fun to make your own goodies for special occasions, especially when they are this easy.

Graduation cupcakes

To make this dessert, bake and frost the number of cupcakes needed. Decide on colors.

Purchase miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, M&M Minis, Hershey bars (I bought the miniature bars) and a tube of colorful frosting.

Read the accompanying story for directions.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Jam with a kick

Friend Julia Newton and I were chatting the other day, and she told me about a new recipe she should send me.

She and her husband, Will, had been experimenting with strawberry jam and had made a batch mixing in sriracha chili garlic sauce. Sriracha is also known as rooster sauce. Julia said she enjoys the combination of sweet and spicy, and thought strawberries would be a good complement to the sriracha.

Sriracha is a type of hot sauce and features chili peppers and garlic. Julia said she buys it in the grocery store’s ethnic food section.

I asked Julia if I could share her recipe with my readers, and she agreed. I don’t cook with chilies at all, so it was nice to have a recipe that will give my readers more variety.

The Newtons did multiple taste testings, they said, before adding just the right amount of the chili sauce to a simple batch of strawberry jam.

Will said the end result is “warm, but not spicy.”

They have had their spicy jam on ice cream and shortcake as well as on steak and chicken.

They’ve already made 30 pints of strawberry jam this season — both the plain kind that we all like on toast and biscuits, and the new spicy version.

The Newtons do a lot of food preserving. In addition to canning tomatoes every summer, they also make pickles as well as their own cheese and sausage. Once blueberries and peaches are in season, they will be thinking of ways to preserve them as well.

“We’re all about eating local and in season,” Julia said.

Strawberry-Sriracha Jam
  • 2 dry quarts strawberries, rinsed, destemmed and quartered
  • 7 cups sugar
  • 1 pouch fruit pectin (such as Certo)
  • 6 tablespoons Sriracha chili-garlic sauce
Prepare strawberries. Mix with sugar in a large pot. Bring to a full, rolling boil. Add 1⁄2 tablespoon butter or margarine to reduce foaming. Add sriracha and pectin. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove form heat and ladle into sterilized jars. Cap and process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Use within one year.

Julia and Will Newton

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pineapple and chicken

We’re on a grilling kick at my house, largely because our son, Robert, has been trying new recipes and cooking for us.

Our latest experiment was an adaptation of a recipe I ran across for a grilled chicken sandwich. Robert said it looked like the chicken version of an aloha burger he loves.

So at lunch time one recent Friday, he and I went to the grocery store and got what we needed to make pineapple grilled chicken sandwiches.

I got frustrated right off the bat because my grocery store didn’t have the thin chicken breasts I had wanted to use with this recipe. They are perfect for sandwiches. I ended up buying boneless chicken breasts and pounding them to an appropriate thickness. (If you haven’t done this before, I put the chicken breasts in a gallon zippered bag and pounded them. I don’t have a mallet, so I used a can of vegetables, which I dented.)

I mixed the marinade in just a few minutes and poured it into the bag with the chicken, moving around the contents to make sure the breasts got covered with the thick sauce. The chicken marinated in the refrigerator all afternoon; when I got home from work, I flipped the bag so the marinade could evenly distribute.

Robert cooked the chicken on low heat on the grill, and at the point where he turned the breasts, he added pineapple slices to the grill. We had two for each chicken breast.

The original recipe suggested topping the chicken with Swiss cheese, but I used Provolone instead, along with the grilled pineapple. Instead of sandwich buns, we used multi-grain sandwich thins. Lettuce and tomato are also options.

This sandwich was delicious! The sweetness of the marinade gives the chicken a wonderful flavor, and the added bonus of a pineapple slice makes it even better. The chicken was so juicy that it ended up making a messy sandwich, but that’s OK.

We had leftover chicken, which would be delicious sliced in a salad or served in a sandwich.

Hawaiian Chicken Sandwich
  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (5-6 ounce)
  • 16 canned pineapple slices
  • 8 Sandwich Thins rolls
  • 8 slices Swiss cheese
  • 8 lettuce leaves
  • 8 tomato slices
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 2 cups pineapple juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger
Cover chicken with plastic wrap and flatten with mallet to about 1/2" thickness. In a small bowl, combine marinade ingredients. Place chicken in a container and cover with 3 cups of marinade. Cover and chill in refrigerator for 4 hours. Place pineapple slices in another container and add 1 cup of marinade. Cover and chill in refrigerator for 4 hours. Any remaining marinade can be heated on the stove top for 10 minutes over medium heat until thick and used for sauce on sandwich.

Preheat grill to medium heat. Remove chicken from marinade and discard marinade. Grill over medium heat for 4–6 minutes per side to 165°F. Remove pineapple from marinade, place on grill over medium heat and cook 2-4 minutes on each side. About 1 minute prior to removing the chicken from the grill, place a slice of Swiss cheese on top of each chicken breast and cook until melted.

Brush Sandwich Thins rolls lightly with oil and place cut side down to toast lightly. Spread the glaze that was heated from the remaining marinade on the inside of buns. Place lettuce on bottom halves of buns. Follow with chicken. Top chicken with sliced tomatoes and grilled pineapple. Add bun top and serve.

Sam’s Club

Notes: I varied this recipe, cutting back on the oil and soy sauce and also using the pineapple juice that was in the can of pineapple I bought. We did not have as much marinade, of course, but it was enough. We did not heat the marinade to use as sauce on the chicken; it was plenty juicy without it. And we did not brush the marinade on the pineapple. Also, we turned off the grill without heating the buns, so we warmed them in the toaster.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Strawberry cake so easy!

I got a call last week from Anne Sharpe, a loyal reader of my food column.

Anne had guests to cook for, and she wondered what I thought of a recipe idea she and her daughter had. Anne had made two-ingredient angel food pineapple cake some weeks back, and she wanted to try it with strawberries. She asked my opinion.

I told her to please try it and let me know the outcome. I wondered that night how the cake had turned out. I was so pleased when she called the next day with the results. The cake was delicious and a hit with her guests!

I couldn’t wait to make my cake and went home at lunch Friday and mixed it up.

Anne used a 15 oz. package of thawed frozen strawberries for her cake and added in a few fresh berries. I had a lot of strawberries in my refrigerator from a visit to a local strawberry farm earlier in the week, so I used fresh. I sliced enough berries to equal two cups. I poured them in a bowl and sprinkled about 1⁄8 cup of sugar over them, then mixed them up and let them sit. An hour later, there was plenty of gorgeous red juice with the fresh berries.

Using my mixer, I blended the berries and juice with an angel food cake mix. There were no other ingredients. I mixed for about two minutes and watched as the batter rose and expanded and turned a beautiful shade of pink!

The cake rose even more as it baked, but it did fall some once it cooled. I didn’t wait for it to cool before I tried it, though! It’s really good. Really, really good. I like it even better than the pineapple!

That night, I cut up more fresh strawberries and sprinkled them on top of individual servings, then put a dollop of low-fat whipped topping on for good measure. The dessert was a big hit with my family. We ate it with the berries and topping this weekend as well as without the toppings. It’s delicious both ways.

When I ran that first angel food cake recipe, I know there was a run on the grocery stores for angel food cake mix. I hope everyone has a mix in their pantry or can find a mix on the shelves because this cake is delicious and the perfect way to use those wonderful Wilson County strawberries!

Strawberry Angel Food Cake
  • Angel food cake mix
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries
  • 1/8 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice strawberries to measure 2 cups. Add 1/8 cup sugar and stir to blend. Let sit at room temperature for about an hour until juice has formed.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, mix cake mix with strawberries and juice for 2 minutes. Do not add any other ingredients.

I baked mine in a 13X9-inch dish, which I had prepared with cooking spray.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Cake can be served without topping or with fresh strawberries and whipped topping.

*The pineapple cake is basically the same. Instead of strawberries, add a can of crushed pineapple in its own juice (my readers have used both the 15.5 and 20 oz. sizes). Do not add extra sugar.