Thursday, August 12, 2010

Smoked Pulled Pork and East Carolina BBQ Sauce

Today begins a marathon of cooking, most of which I hope to try to capture on this blog. My niece Hillary is visiting with her boyfriend Tiziano and his younger brother Valerio. Yes, Tiziano and Valerio are Italian and are in the States for the month of August. So rather than spending the entire visit in Hillary's hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, they decided it would be fun to come south for a couple weeks. They'll begin by visiting my daughters Emma and Rachel in Washington DC for a week, and then will head to North Carolina for a week.

It just so happens that during the visit, Tiziano will celebrate his 21st birthday, so in true Tiki style, Doug and I have decided to throw a 21st birthday party in his honor, featuring our takes on some classic Southern recipes. Because Valerio is a vegetarian, we have tried to include as many vegetarian options as possible.

Now before y'all get all Mason Dixon on me, I admit that Doug and I are both Yankees, so these recipes will reflect our Yankee sensibilities on what we love about southern cuisine. I have been living in the South for 25 years, so I must have picked up a few things here and there, so I don't wanna hear yer bitchin'!.

Here is the proposed menu for Tiziano's Southern BBQ:

Pulled Smoked Pork with East Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina BBQ sauces
Smoked Beef Brisket
Cold Boiled Peel and Eat Shrimp
Mama Ozzy's famous Smoked Gouda Mac 'n' CheeseCornmeal-Crusted Tomato Pie with Lemon Thyme and Basil
Cole Slaw
Potato Salad
Deviled Eggs
Red Velvet cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing
Banana Pudding
Sweet Tea
Sweet Tea Martinis

Thats a LOT of food, but we anticipate being inundated with hungry college students, so I think it will all get eaten.

In order to get everything done, I am starting 5 days in advance to give myself a chance to relax... the heat index is supposed to be 107 today so I need to pace myself.

First thing up will be the smoked pulled pork. Pulled pork is a southern classic, and I really love this recipe from Alton Brown (of Food Network fame). It involves brining the pork in salt water and molasses and is really delicious. The pork needs to brine for at least 12 hours before it hits the smoker (where it will slow cook for another 12-14 hours over hickory wood chips). Once it is smoked and "pulled" it can be frozen and reheated. What follows is Alton's recipe with, as always, my variations:

Smoked Pulled Pork
(serves 10)
3/4 cup molasses1 1/2 cup Kosher salt
2 quarts bottled water
6-8 pound pork shoulder

1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp coriander
1Tbsp chipotle chili powder
1Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp Paprika

In a large stock pot with a cover combine all brine ingredients and stir until salt is completely dissolved. Make sure to use bottled water; tap water often has a funky "chemical" taste. Add pork shoulder to brine, cover and place in the refrigerator for 12 hours.

After 12 hours, remove pork from brine, and pat dry with paper towels. Combine cumin, fennel and coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle and coarsely crush the seeds. Combine freshly ground spices with remaining rub ingredients and mix well. Rub spice mix all over the outside of the pork.
Out of the brine, the pork shoulder gets a spice rub before hitting the smoker.

Place pork in smoker and smoke over hickory wood chips at about 210 degrees until pork easily falls apart (this takes about 12-14 hours in my smoker, but most smokers vary).

My apologies to the neighbors for filling the neighborhood with
the aroma of delicious, succulent, slow-smoking pork

Remove pork from smoker and allow to cool for about an hour to let the juices redistribute. Pull pork apart using two forks. Serve with the sauce of your choice.

East Carolina BBQ Sauce:

2 cups cider vinegar
2 Tbsp crushed red pepper
2 cloves minced fresh garlic
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp freshly ground Black Pepper

Combine all ingredients except black pepper in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, then remove from heat and allow to cool. Add Black Pepper and mix.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tomato Spaghetti Carbonara

We are in the "dog days" of summer where its too hot to do (or for that matter cook) much of anything. But nevertheless, Doug and I were still hungry. After a quick inventory of the fridge, pantry, and garden, we decided to do something with the dozens of vine-ripened tomatoes we have been accumulating.
This pasta dish is an oldie and definitely a goodie. My girls refer to it as simply "bacon pasta", but in truth, its is sort of an Italian fusion between creamy bacon-flavored Spaghetti Carbonara and spicy and bright Pasta Putanesca. This pasta is a real contradiction, its both hearty and very light and fresh, summery and bright, but with a deep undertone. Yeah yeah yeah... enough of the foodie-speak, its delicious and more importantly easy and comes together in about half an hour. What's that you say? You hate anchovies? Anchovies are delicious so get over it! Don't be scared by the addition of anchovy paste; "fishy" is the last thing this dish is. Because the anchovies are cooked in bacon fat, they disintegrate and add a nutty, salty depth to the bright tomatoes.
This dish can be made in winter too, on those dreary days when you really need a blast of comforting sunshine. All you need to do is substitute good quality canned tomatoes for fresh tomatoes.

Tomato Spaghetti Carbonara

(serves 4-6)

1lb dried spaghetti

6 slices bacon
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 tsp anchovy paste
1 medium onion diced
3 cloves minced garlic
3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (preferably roma); or good quality canned tomatoes
1/4 cup dry vermouth
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
8 fresh basil leaves, chopped
grated parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large, covered pot of water to a boil. While water is heating, in a large deep skillet, fry bacon until crisp, remove bacon from fat and drain on paper towels. Add red pepper flakes and anchovy paste to hot bacon fat and cook 30 seconds until anchovy paste is browned and dissolved. Add onion and garlic, saute until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and vermouth and salt, and cook over medium high heat to reduce some of the liquid.
At about this point, your water should be boiling, cook pasta until al dente, and drain. Add pasta to tomato sauce and toss to coat. Crumble bacon into pasta, add olive oil and basil and toss. Let pasta sit 5 minutes to allow pasta to absorb the sauce. Serve with freshly grated parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Peanut Butter Brownies and Brown Sugar Bourbon Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Tomorrow we are celebrating my friend Lynn's birthday. His actual birthday was on Monday, but Lynn and his wife Kiki will be passing through Durham after a week's vacation at the lake and our friend Brian is throwing a party.
A couple years ago, I made these brownies for Lynn as a birthday gift and they were so good he got up in the middle of the night to wolf them down, smacking his lips so loudly that he woke up his wife. Now THAT'S a compliment!
These are extremely easy brownies to make because I start with a store-bought brownie mix. I am really impressed at how good some of the commercial baking mixes have become, and when you are crushed for time, if a product is good, why not take a short cut here and there?

I am a fan of the Ghiradelli chocolate chocolate chip brownie literally tastes home made. I top the cooled brownies with a simple peanut butter cream cheese icing, and then gild the lily with a thin layer of ganache. And, then just because its a special occasion I decided to make the Brown Sugar Bourbon Vanilla Bean Ice Cream we made for July 4th.

This recipe for Brown Sugar Bourbon Vanilla Bean Ice Cream was inspired by another food blogger, Lucy Baker on the website: Serious Eats. I have made a couple modifications to the recipe in the interest of simplifying the technique and adding an extra ooomph in flavor. All I can say is WOW. If you like boozy ice cream (like me), you will love this.

Peanut Butter Brownies
(makes one dozen very rich brownies)

1 commercial brownie mix (I like Ghiradelli)
4oz. cream cheese, room temperature
4 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (4 oz.) creamy peanut putter (not organic, which is far too oily)
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 1/3 cup heavy cream1 cup (8 oz.) coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (or chocolate chips)

1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 Tbsp water

Prepare brownies according to package directions, bake and cool completely. In a large bowl combine cream cheese, butter and peanut butter, cream with an electric mixer until fluffy and smooth. Add confectioner's sugar and cream with mixture until smooth. Spread peanut butter icing over brownies in pan.

Place heavy cream in a small sauce pan and heat on high heat until cream begins to bubble. Remove from heat and add chocolate mixing with a whisk until chocolate is completely melted and ganache is glossy. Pour ganache over frosted brownies in pan and spread until smooth.

In a small bowl, combine confectioner's sugar and water, mix until smooth. Place icing in a ziploc plastic bag and snip a small hole in the corner. Pipe icing across ganache in stripes about 1 inch apart. drag a toothpick or skewer through icing in alternate directions to create a marbled appearance.

Refrigerate until ganache is set, about 4 hours.

Once ganache is set, with a sharp knife cut brownies into squares and serve with ice cream.

Brown Sugar Bourbon Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
(makes about 1 quart)

1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups half and half
one vanilla bean
7 egg yolks
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup Bourbon
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
in a large glass bowl combine cream and half and half. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape seeds into bowl with cream, add empty bean pod. Microwave on high power for 3 minutes, then cover and let steep 20 minutes.
Meanwhile in another large bowl combine egg yolks, brown sugar and salt. Whisk until well combine and slightly fluffy.
After steeping, remove bean pod from cream and microwave again for 1 minute on high to reheat cream. While whisking the egg mixture, carefully add about 1 cup of the hot cream to temper the eggs, then return tempered eggs back to bowl of hot cream, constantly whisking until well mixed.
Return cream/egg mixture to microwave and heat on high for 1 minute. Stir mixture with a wooden spoon. Return to microwave and heat on high for 30 seconds, then stir thoroughly with wooden spoon. Repeat this step, microwaving for 30 seconds, then stirring until mixture coats the back of the wooden spoon (and your finger leaves a well-defined path in the mixture when drawn across the back of the spoon). Add Bourbon and vanilla extract and stir. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold. Process cold mixture in an ice cream maker until set. Transfer to a chilled container and freeze until firm (overnight).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Queen Anne "Cherry Garcia" Frozen Custard

I love cherries.
Growing up in northern Michigan we used to drive to the northwestern part of the state near Traverse City where there are enormous cherry orchards (hence the reason Traverse City hosts the National Cherry Festival each summer). We would drive to the "pick your own" cherry orchards, pick up a couple buckets and a ladder and head out to the orchards where the trees were heavy with fruit. We'd pick for a couple hours to fill the buckets, but I usually just ate more cherries than made it into the bucket

Usually we would pick black cherries which my mom would pit and freeze, but occasionally we would pick the blushi
ng yellow Queen Anne cherries. The difference between a black cherry and a Queen Anne cherry is amazing. Queen Anne cherries are crunchy and much sweeter and slightly more tart than the black cherries. Needless to say they never lasted long in my house.

I am delighted that you can now find these once uncommon cherries in the grocery store in summer. Back in July, Doug picked up a giant carton of them at Costco and we had been eating them as fast as we could, but there were still quite a few left so we decided to make them into ice cream before they spoiled. We decided to make an adult version of the Ben and Jerry's classic Cherry Garcia. This recipe is the result and I think it is terrific. It is very fragrant with Kirsch (cherry brandy) and almond extract and tastes like a frozen, boozy, chocolate-covered cherry.

A couple words about the ice cream:
1. To keep the cherries from freezing into rock hard chunks of cherry flavored ice, I cook them in sugar to soften them, then let them soak in Kirsch.
2. This is a really easy and fast microwave-based method for preparing the custard. I think it is nearly foolproof.
3. The cherries and chocolate need to be very cold when folded into the freshly prepared ice cream or else they will melt the ice cream and sink to the bottom.

4. I like booze as much as the next drunk, but avoid the temptation to add more Kirsch than indicated in the recipe or your ice cream will not set up!

Queen Anne "Cherry Garcia" Frozen Custard

2 cups Queen Anne Cherries, pitted and coarsely chopped
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup Kirsch (no more than this or ice cream will not set up)
1 4oz. bar good quality semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 egg yolks
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half and half
½ tsp almond extract

Combine chopped cherries and ¼ cup sugar in a small saucepan and let macerate 20 minutes. Cook cherries until boiling, then remove from heat, add Kirsch and let cool. Strain cherries, reserving liquid. Place cherries in a container add chopped chocolate pieces and refrigerate until cold.

Combine cream and half and half in a large glass bowl and microwave for 3 minutes on high power. Meanwhile combine egg yolks and ¾ cup sugar in another bowl and whisk until well combined. While whisking eggs, gradually add ½ cup of hot cream to temper the eggs, then gradually add egg mixture back into glass bowl with the remaining hot cream, constantly whisking until well blended. Return egg/cream mixture to microwave and cook on high 1 minute. Stir. Microwave 30 seconds on high, stir, then 30 seconds again and stir. Mixture should be slightly thickened and should coat the back of a wooden spoon. Add reserved cherry juice/kirsch and almond extract to custard base, mix and refrigerate until cold.

Process chilled custard base in ice cream maker until set. Fold in reserved COLD cherries and chopped chocolate. Freeze until firm.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mexican Lasagna and Creamy Saffron Rice

My friend Kiki and her husband Lynn (happy birthday Lynn!) are enjoying a week of vacation with her sister Lisa's family at the lake. I have to admit I'm more than a little jealous. Still, when Kiki wrote to ask me for my recipe for Mexican Lasagna I was happy to comply. Its an extremely comforting dish, perfect to make ahead of time, then spend the entire day on the lake with a cooler of beer and margaritas and still be able to stumble home at suppertime for something cheesy and yummy.
This dish was originally my recipe (via my friend Bethany Pluymers) for chicken enchiladas, but making enchiladas was too much of a hassle and a number of years ago I thought, "what the hell, I'm going to make this lasagna style". I loved the result... it still had all the flavor of the original, but could be assembled in 30 minutes, refrigerated and baked just before dinner.
In honor of my friends I am posting the recipe here today... sorry no pics since I am not making it today, but maybe Kiki will send some photos from the lake.

Mama Ozzy's Mexican Lasagna
(serves 8 hungry people)
1 pack of soft corn tortillas (about 12)
1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed and chopped (reserve carcass for chicken stock for another dish)
1 lb Monterrey Jack Cheese shredded
1 lb sharp Cheddar Cheese shredded
2 cups sour cream
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp ground Cumin
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 medium onion finely diced
2 green jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper
Creamy tomato salsa
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion chopped
2 jalapenos peppers seeded and chopped (optional)
1 can peeled crushed tomatoes
Juice of 1 lime
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup chopped Cilantro.
In a large bowl combine all the filling ingredients and mix with your hands until well-blended. In a 9x13 baking pan, put down one layer of tortillas, overlapping as necessary. Top with ½ of filling. Put down a second layer of tortillas, and top with remainder of filling. Top with third layer of tortillas.
Prepare cream salsa: In a large skillet saute onions and jalapenos (if using) in olive oil until onion is soft. Add canned tomatoes and lime juice, bring to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes to reduce some liquid. Add cream and return to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Pour salsa carefully over lasagna.
At this point the lasagna can be covered with aluminum foil and refrigerated. When you are ready to bake, just remove the foil from the top of the pan and bake at 350 until bubbly (30-45 minutes).
I like to serve this with Creamy Saffron Rice and ice-cold mexican beer.

This is a variation from my friend Kiki.  Rather than starting with a rotisserie chicken, place 2lbs of uncooked chicken (I prefer thigh meat) in a pressure cooker, season with 1 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon and 1/2 tsp salt.  Add 12 oz. India Pale Ale beer and 1/2 cup water.   Pressure cook for 30 minutes, cool and shred chicken.  Absolutely Delicious!
Creamy Saffron Rice
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups long grain rice
1 tsp salt
large pinch of Saffron threads
2 Tbsp honey
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 cup sour cream
4 green onions, chopped
In a medium saucepot combine chicken stock, rice, salt, saffron, honey, and cinnamon. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling stir rice, cover with a lid, and remove from heat. Allow rice to steam for 30 minutes. Once rice is tender, stir in 1 cup sour cream and green onions. Season with salt and pepper.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Smoked Corn Chowder

We are having a very strange summer in Durham, NC. For days at a time the temperature hovers at or around 100 degrees with heat indices over 110, and then a cold front comes through and it feels like we are back in northern Michigan. This weekend has been gloriously overcast, cool and rainy, which is a rare treat in the dog days of summer.
So with such beautiful cool weather, its no wonder we started craving a comforting bowl of home made soup. This corn chowder is just the ticket. Originally, the recipe came from the legendary Silver Palate cookbooks from Julie Russo and Sheila Lukins. But I have been making this soup for decades and as a result it has evolved. I love it because it is extremely flavorful and comes together in under an hour (outside of smoking the corn).

You don't have to smoke the corn, but it really enhances the flavor of the bacon, and we are always looking for an excuse to break out the smoker. Also the addition of honey to the broth adds a hint of sweetness that greatly enhances the natural sweetness of the corn. I personally like the simplicity of this soup, but you can add roast chicken for an even heartier version. Serve this soup with a good loaf of bread slathered with butter and a simple green salad for a quick and satisfying dinner.Special thanks to Doug for executing the soup perfectly, he was sous chef, chef, dishwasher AND fabulous hand model for the photos! Who says it's hard to get good help these days?

Smoked Corn Chowder
(serves 6-8)

8 ears of fresh sweet corn, smoked over mesquite, kernels cut from the cob (about 4 cups)
6 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch lengths
4 Tbsp butter
1 large onion, chopped to a medium-small dice
2 stalks celery finely diced
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
6 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
4  tsp kosher salt
3 medium russett potatoes, scrubbed, unpeeled, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 cup heavy cream
3 Tbsp honey
1 large red bell pepper, cut into medium dice
6 green onions, green and white parts chopped
3 Tbsp minced fresh Parsley or cilantro
freshly ground black pepper

Grated sharp cheddar or pepper jack cheese (optional garnish)

Smoke corn on the cob according to smoker directions (about one hour).  Cool corn and cut from cob.  (alternatively non-smoked corn fresh or frozen can be used, about 4 cups).

In a large heavy soup pot, fry the bacon pieces over medium high heat until they are browned and most of the fat has rendered, but bacon is not completely crisp. Add chopped onions and and celery and saute over medium high heat until onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add butter and allow to melt. Add flour and stir to make a roux. Cook flour mixture for 3 minutes. Add thyme, cayenne pepper, stock and diced potatoes and salt. Stir mixture to dissolve roux into the stock, bring soup just to a simmer, reduce heat to medium low, cover pot and cook until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Add cream, honey, corn and red pepper. Stir to mix, then cover and cool over medium heat for 1o minutes. Just before serving add chopped green onion and minced herbs. Adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with grated cheese if desired.

Variations: If you like the soup a little spicier, I sometimes add a single, seeded, finely chopped jalapeno pepper with the onions. For a heartier soup add some chopped roast chicken.