Friday, April 24, 2009

Which Ribs Would You Rather Eat?

Most of the time the Kitchen Genius and I are on the same page in the same cookbook in the kitchen, but every so often he does something that simply makes me shake my head. This week it happened again when he brought home a jar of “authentic” Chinese barbecue sauce to make some Chinese ribs.

I’m not going to name the brand here because I’m afraid they’ll sue me if they happen to have a “Google Alert” out on their name brand and read what I have to say about this product. (I know - paranoid, right?)

The sauce was as thick as mucus and florescent pink. Here’s a list of the ingredients: high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup water, salt, miso (water, fermented soybeans, rice & salt), modified corn starch, hydrolyzed corn protein, garlic powder and red (dye) # 3.

Is there anything in that list that sounds like real food? Like something you actually want to put in your body? Nope, me neither.

But KG dug in his heels and insisted that he wanted his ribs smeared with this viscous product. I let it go. He’s a big boy and I’m not the Food Police – plus we weren’t having the ribs until the following day.

The next day I was browsing through the May issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine and came across a recipe for “Pulled Pork with Strawberry Barbecue Sauce.”

AHA – a (kind of) pink barbecue sauce that was all natural. Excited, I called KG and tried to lure him over to my recipe, instead of that offensive jar of goop that I desperately wanted to throw in the trash.

Nothing doing. He said strawberry barbecue sauce sounded gross. You know what that means, don’t you? Yep, a throw-down.

Our son Tommy thought it was a fun experiment and agreed to be the judge. Before the ribs went into the oven, his comments were that my sauce tasted really good, but the stuff in the jar looked like candy. Uh, oh…

I spread half the ribs with the Chinese barbecue sauce in one baking dish and half with the strawberry barbecue sauce in another, using spoons to spread them both evenly over the pork. Cue scary music here…

Two hours later when I went back in the kitchen to take the ribs out of the oven, I noticed that the stainless steel spoon I used to spread the Chinese sauce was actually tarnished BLACK. See for yourself:

It was so shocking that I showed the two spoons to Tommy.

“Do you really want to eat something that would do this to a spoon?” I asked. “Think about what this must do to your insides!” (Not that I was trying to sway the judge, because that would be just plain wrong – and ineffective. Tommy simply shrugged.)

Here's the candy covered meat:

Here's my 100% natural strawberry covered ribs:

The results: Our poor son is a very nice boy who loves his Mama. He hemmed and hawed and wouldn’t commit to a winner. “They’re both really good,” he said many times, before finally admitting he liked the ribs with the Chinese sauce “a little bit better.”

That’s what I get for letting a 13 year old be the judge. As quirky as it sounds, the strawberry barbecue sauce really was tasty (and the offending jar has disappeared forever).

So which would YOU rather eat?

Strawberry Barbecue Sauce
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens magazine
Serves 4

2 cups strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
1/2 cup ketchup
1/8 cup cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 dashes hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a small saucepan. Cook over medium low heat for about 20 minutes, until strawberries are softened. Mash strawberries with potato masher.

To make ribs:
8 country style meaty pork ribs

Line bottom of baking dish with aluminum foil. Place ribs in pan and smother with half of the barbecue sauce. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours. Remove ribs from pan and slather with remaining sauce. Cook on the grill for about 5 to 7 minutes until nicely charred.

For a printable recipe click here

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Vermont Maple Cookies – A Favorite Childhood Recipe

Sorry to those who actually follow my musings that I’ve been so negligent about posting this month. I’ve had a crazy two weeks at work, and I’ve just been too burned out to spend one more second on my laptop than absolutely necessary.

And then there’s this: In the past month two of my editors from my journalism job have emailed me to say they loved my blog (Thanks Gwenn and Kathi!) As lovely as those words were to hear, that means they actually READ it too.

Which means it is impossible to sneak in a few posts in Bloggerland when I have deadlines looming (or overdue!) without getting caught by the folks who actually PAY me to write witty stories.

Then tragedy! When I finally found time to get back to blogging, I lost all of my photos from the past few weeks because my computer froze as I was uploading them. I know a more devoted blogger would have rallied, and headed right back into the kitchen, but not me. I considered giving up blogging entirely.

Because really, life is stressful enough. And knitting is better for the blood pressure and peace of mind. And my DVR is 90% full of recordings of television shows I used to love. The thought of knitting in front of the fire and catching up with Meredith and company on Grey's Anatomy seemed irresistible.

Thankfully, my Mom came to the rescue and brought cookies! And not just any cookies, but the Maple Cookies I loved as a kid.

These cookies are beyond YUMMY – and they smell like maple HEAVEN. When I was growing up my Mom made cookies for us almost every day, but she couldn’t always afford expensive ingredients like chocolate chips. We ate a lot of “brown cookies” made with molasses, brown sugar or maple syrup.

I must confess I don’t make those types of cookies (and haven’t eaten them myself since childhood) because it never occurred to me that my kids would like them. Um, I would be wrong. Yep, they loved them. We’ll be adding these to our regular repertoire.

It makes me want to test more of my childhood favorites on my kids….stay tuned…

The Recipe:

Vermont Maple Cookies
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons maple extract or flavoring (but not maple syrup, which isn’t potent enough)
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts

Mix shortening, sugar, and eggs thoroughly. Stir in sour cream and maple flavoring. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, soda, and salt; blend with wet ingredients. Mix in nuts.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of dough about 2” apart on greased baking sheet. Bake about 10 minutes, or until almost no imprint remains when touched lightly. When cooled, spread with maple butter glaze.

Maple Butter Glaze
Heat 1/2 cup butter until golden brown. Blend in 2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar and 2 teaspoons maple extract. Stir in 2 to 4 tablespoons hot water until icing spreads smoothly.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Daytrip to Boston

She wasn't the only one who slept the whole way home...

The past week has been more than exhausting. I’ve been buried with work and family obligations, but it hasn’t all been bad. I scored four review tickets to the Big Apple Circus in Boston last Saturday, so we made a day of it in the city.

The circus was simply incredible. The theme was “Play On!” and it was a fun tribute to music of all kinds. A tight rope walker from Germany named Sarah Schwarz plucked her rope in time to some cool guitar riffs before nimbly sliding aboard to do a sultry dance. My lame photo doesn't do her performance justice. I couldn't do her moves on solid ground, let alone on a rope.

Guiming Meng from China juggled ceramic vases and jugs and balanced huge pieces of crockery on his head while spinning around, lightning fast in 360 degree turns. Simply amazing...

Also from China, the Nanjing Duo were equally breathtaking. Zhu Zhengzhen did a graceful ballet en pointe on partner An Nan’s back, shoulders and finally his head.

We took our clown Tommy:

And our granddaughter Skylar.

Afterwards we met our daughter Julie and her boyfriend Gary for some dinner at G’Vanni’s Ristorante, our favorite restaurant in the Italian North End.

They have a special early bird price of two dinners and a bottle of wine for $30, so that’s what we ordered. (Just in case there is any question, the kids got free soda instead of wine.) I had an incredible veal saltimbocca with pasta:

The Kitchen Genius had some spicy mussels fra diavolo:

Afterwards we went to Mike’s Pastry for cappuccino and a box of cookies, because that's just what you do when you're in the North End. I promise the lines are worth it.

They were all ready for Easter.

KG's mother made a lamb cake every Easter, so he wants me to attempt one this year. I'm pretty sure it won't be this pretty:

After our sugar rush, we went to an Italian grocery store for some yummy food to take home. Bread...


And cheese...Oh my!

On the walk back to our car, we came across the end of the farmer’s market at Haymarket Square. It wasn't fancy or home grown, but the prices were so awesome we bought three bags of produce. Imagine 3 pounds of plum tomatoes for $1, two bunches of celery: $1, 5 green peppers, 3 heads of lettuce, 2 bunches of asparagus – yep all $1.

So this week’s meals are all about using up the produce, starting with a light and flavorful cream of asparagus soup that tastes like spring.

For more delicious soup recipes, head over to Kahakai Kitchen for Deb's Souper Sundays, a weekly roundup of yummy soups, "stoups" and stews. I joined in and I hope you do too!

Cream of Asparagus Soup
Serves 4

1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion (1/2 cup), diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 bunches asparagus
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup light cream
Salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Melt butter in Dutch oven. Add onion and garlic and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Wash asparagus spears, cut off woody ends, and discard. Cut off tips of spears and reserve. Cut the rest of asparagus into 1 inch pieces and add to sautéed onion and garlic in pan. Sauté asparagus for about five minutes. Add two cups chicken broth, salt and pepper, and simmer until asparagus is tender, about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, cook reserved asparagus tips in remaining one cup of chicken broth in small saucepan, about 5 – 7 minutes. Set aside.

Use immersion blender (or food processor) to blend soup smooth. Add light cream and asparagus tips and heat through, 5 – 10 minutes.

For a printable recipe click here