We have been on a cooking tear lately: beef short ribs, Chinese chicken wraps, tons of BBQ (more on that later), oh so much. Last Friday night, we entertained friends from Miami, so, playing to the crowd, I made a magnificent pot of sublimely smoky Cuban black beans with pork, Arroz con Pollo, and an avocado-mango salad that, were it the last food you ever tasted, would guarantee a happy deliverance from this mortal coil. (That was my Alexandre Dumas sentence du jour.) The spanakopita above was similarly wonderful. How many times have you been to a Greek Restaurant (most of which have about as much relation with Greek food as Mars does with Jupiter) and had a soggy pile of spinach and phyllo that the chef had the nerve to call Spanakopita? Well, it can be an absolutely superb bite of buttery, crunchy phyllo, salty feta, and slightly bitter spinach with just a hint of mint. That’s what I’m talking about, dog! The recipe was from America’s Test Kitchen 2011, Mediterranean Specials, which is available on Amazon Prime, or you can watch the video here. It takes a little time to put together, but it is oh, so worth it.
For beating the heat in the summertime ATL, nothing succeeds quite as well as a cold bowl of fresh gazpacho, which is a Spanish tomato soup made of chopped peppers, onions, cucumbers, garlic and sherry vinegar. Many of the recipes you find will include green bell peppers, but this is one ingredient I do not like in my gazpacho. It’s too bitter and doesn’t complement the acidic tomatoes like sweet red and yellow peppers. Most recipes also call for some degree of blending after you’ve chopped all the veggies. This one (from Cooks Illustrated) was a pure chop but after some experimentation, Kristin and I both agreed that blending about half of the veggies gives you just the right texture, and it saves a ton of time on the chop! Here’s a quick tip: always chop peppers and tomatoes skin side down. If your knife isn’t razor sharp, you’ll crush the tomato before it cuts, so placing the skin side against the cutting board gives you a chance to slice through the meat before you cut the skin. (That sounds kind of violent, doesn’t it?) Have fun. Eat well. 🙂
Oh, I love me some ribs, dog. And ribs really aren’t too hard to BBQ, so we eat a lot of ribs. Start with a good dry rub, or buy pre seasoned racks like these babies from Costco. If you have a grill with a smoker attachment, you can really spread out the racks and not have to babysit too much. If you’re on a charcoal or gas grill, you can heat one side (or pile the charcoal there) and use a metal box that holds the hardwood chips for you, or just wrap the wood in foil and poke a few holes in it. I really love mesquite but any good hardwood will do. Keep the grill around 250 degrees, and keep the smoke coming. The smoke gives it that beautiful red exterior and the awesome flavor. Now, here’s a great secret: You don’t have to completely cook the ribs on the grill, which can take many hours. If you smoke them for about two hours, that’s plenty, and then you can remove the racks, wrap them individually in several layers of foil, and pop them in a 300 degree oven for two or three hours until the meat gets very tender. Sometimes it takes longer, but the point is, they get all the flavor from the smoking. After the meat is tender, remove them from the oven and put them into a large paper bag, or wrap them in towels to help trap in the heat and the steam. I usually let them cool down this way, refrigerate, and then eat them the next day. You’ll have some serious, melt in your mouth ribbage!
I recently found this recipe as we were clearing out our unused cook books. We have too many, and, alas, we are no longer accepting applications for new ones. Having cooked my way through college (Taco Stand and DePalma’s, Athens, GA, woofwoofwoof), I can humbly say that I am a darned good cook. Where I found this chicken piccata recipe, I don’t know, but it holds the title of Worst Recipe, Ever in the Smith household. After styling the plates, Kristin and I sat down, took a bite, and quickly agreed that it 1) tasted like bile; and, 2) made better trash than dinner. Walker says that it should be “Eu de chicken barf”