Tag Archives: main course

i want my baby back ribs

15 Mar

Growing up, dinner at Tony Roma’s was reserved for only very special occasions. Nothing says “Happy Birthday” quite like saddling up to a sticky vinyl booth for a rack of baby backs drenched in tangy bbq sauce. Toss in a loaded baked potato, bib, and wet nap, and you’ve got a 5-star dining experience.

As a San Franciscan foodie, I would be scorned for my love of Tony Roma’s non-organic, ketchup-bottle sauced ribs. They will forever remain my dirty little bbq secret.

Hit with a baby back rib craving, I turned to Food Network genius Alton Brown for a suitable stand-in for my prized Tony Roma’s racks. Instead of a wet rub, Alton recommends a brown sugar, salt and chili dry rub, followed by a white wine and vinegar braise.

I opted to infuse my ribs with the dry rub overnight for extra flavor. The 2.5-hour braise in foil resulted in a falling-off-the-bone tender rack — exactly the texture one dreams of. Finally, a reduction of the braising liquid yielded a lovely deep brown bbq sauce, perfect for a finishing glaze.

These ribs have a sweet and tangy flavor, surprisingly reminiscent of Chinese spareribs. As expected, Alton has perfected a flawless technique for succulent baby back ribs… damn good eats!

baby back ribs
ribbed for your pleasure

* 2 whole slabs pork baby back ribs

Dry Rub:
* This recipe makes several batches of dry rub. If more rub is needed, it can be extended by any amount, as long as the ratio of 8:3:1:1 remains the same.
* 8 tablespoons light brown sugar, tightly packed
* 3 tablespoons kosher salt
* 1 tablespoon chili powder
* 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
* 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* 1/2 teaspoon jalapeno seasoning (I omitted)
* 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning (I omitted)
* 1/2 teaspoon rubbed thyme (I substituted dried thyme)
* 1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Braising Liquid:
* 1 cup white wine
* 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
* 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
* 1 tablespoon honey
* 2 cloves garlic, chopped

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In a bowl, combine all dry ingredients and mix well. Place each slab of baby back ribs on a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, shiny side down. Sprinkle each side generously with the dry rub. Pat the dry rub into the meat. Refrigerate the ribs for a minimum of 1 hour. In a microwavable container, combine all ingredients for the braising liquid. Microwave on high for 1 minute.

Place the ribs on a baking sheet. Open one end of the foil on each slab and pour half of the braising liquid into each foil packet. Tilt the baking sheet in order to equally distribute the braising liquid. Braise the ribs in the oven for 2 1/2 hours.

Transfer the braising liquid into a medium saucepot. Bring the liquid to a simmer and reduce by half or until of a thick syrup consistency. Brush the glaze onto the ribs. Place under the broiler just until the glaze caramelizes lightly. Slice each slab into 2 rib bone portions. Place the remaining hot glaze into a bowl and toss the rib portions in the glaze.

zuni’s roast chicken with bread salad

9 Mar

I’m a chicken hater. Correction — was a chicken hater. It’s been about six years since I last touched a piece of raw chicken. My aversion to fowl began on the job, when I worked for an ad agency making TV commercials for a chicken farm. Let’s just say I was forced to watch one too many PETA videos during a lunch meeting where I was served a lukewarm chicken breast.

Slowly but surely, I’ve been coming around to the idea of cooking my winged friends once again. For my first endeavor, Zuni Cafe’s famous Roast Chicken with Bread Salad. It’s an epic recipe spanning two days and 1,200 words. Go big or go home, right?

I procured a 3.5 lb organic bird, herbs, Acme bread, arugula and zante currants from the new Haight Street Whole Foods store, which by the way, is the most questionably placed location. I won’t lie, Day 1 of the recipe was tough. I gagged a bit while shoving my fingers between skin and breast forming seasoning pockets for the herbs. I also plucked a few unsavory stray feathers.

Day 2 was all about the bread salad. That thing was a pain in the ass, but worth every step in the end. I had to draw myself a chronological checklist to organize the process (see below the recipe). In my opinion, the bread salad upstaged the bird itself, though J assured me the chicken was a succulent masterpiece of its own.

All in all, it was a highly successful reentry. Kudos to Zuni for the epic recipe.

Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad
from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook (via the Today Show)

For the chicken:
* One small chicken, 2-3/4 to 3-1/2-pounds
* 4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long
* Salt
* About 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
* A little water

For the salad:
* Generous 8 ounces slightly stale open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
* 6 to 8 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil
* 1-1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
* Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
* 1 tablespoon dried currants
* 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, or as needed
* 1 tablespoon warm water
* 2 tablespoons pine nuts
* 2 to 3 garlic cloves, slivered
* 1/4 cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions), including a little of the green part
* 2 tablespoons lightly salted chicken stock or lightly salted water
* A few handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens, carefully washed and dried

Seasoning the chicken (Can be done 1 to 3 days before serving; for 3-1/4- to 3-1/2-pound chickens, at least 2 days)

Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Be thorough-a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown.

Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove and herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.

Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper {we use ¾ teaspoon of sea salt per pound of chicken}. Season the thick sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone, but don’t otherwise worry about seasoning the inside. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Starting the bread salad (Can be done up to several hours in advance)

Preheat the broiler.

Cut the bread into a couple of large chunks. Carve off all of the bottom crust and most of the top and side crust. Reserve the top and side crusts to use as croutons in salads or soups. Brush the bread all over with olive oil. Broil very briefly, to crisp and lightly color the surface. Turn the bread chunks over and crisp the other side. Trim off any badly charred tips, then tear the chunks into a combination of irregular 2- to 3-inch wads, bite-sized bits, and fat crumbs. You should get about 4 cups.

Combine about 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the Champagne or white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about 1/4 cup of this tart vinaigrette with the torn bread in a wide salad bowl; the bread will be unevenly dressed. Taste one of the more saturated pieces. If it is bland, add a little salt and pepper and toss again.

Place the currants in a small bowl and moisten with the red wine vinegar and warm water. Set aside.

Roasting the chicken and assembling the salad

Preheat the oven to 475. Depending on the size, efficiency and accuracy of your oven, and the size of your bird, you may need to adjust the heat to as high as 500 or as low as 450 during the course of roasting the chicken to get it to brown properly. If that proves to be the case, begin at that temperature the next time you roast a chicken. If you have a convection function on your oven, use it for the first 30 minutes; it will enhance browning, and may reduce overall cooking by 5 to 10 minutes.

Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle. Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.

Place the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over — drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking. Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes. Total oven time will be 45 minutes to an hour.

While the chicken is roasting, place the pine nuts in a small baking dish and set in the hot oven for a minute or two, just to warm though. Add them to the bowl of bread.

Place a spoonful of the olive oil in a small skillet, add the garlic and scallions, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until softened. Don’t let them color. Scrape into the bread and fold to combine. Drain the plumped currants and fold in. Dribble the chicken stock or lightly salted water over the salad and fold again. Taste a few pieces of bread-a fairly saturated one and a dryish one. If it is bland, add salt, pepper, and/or a few drops of vinegar, then toss well. Since the basic character of the bread salad depends on the bread you use, these adjustments can be essential.

Pile the bread salad in a 1-quart baking dish and tent with foil; set the salad bowl aside. Place the salad in the oven after you flip the chicken the final time.

Finishing and serving the chicken and bread salad

Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Leave the bread salad to continue warming for another 5 minutes of so.

Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting oven, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.

Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings.

Set the chicken in a warm spot and leave to rest while you finish the bread salad. The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.

Set a platter in the oven to warm for a minute or two.

Tilt the roasting pan and skim the last of the fat. Place over medium-low heat, add any juice that has collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape to soften any hard golden drippings. Taste-the juices will be extremely flavorful.

Tip the bread salad into the salad bowl. It will be steamy-hot, a mixture of soft, moist wads, crispy-on-the-outside-but-moist-in-the-middle-wads, and a few downright crispy ones. Drizzle and toss with a spoonful of the pan juices. Add the greens, a drizzle of vinaigrette, and fold well. Taste again.

Cut the chicken into pieces, spread the bread salad on the warm platter, and nestle the chicken in the salad.

Checklist for Day 2:

Broil bread
Mix vinaigrette
Dress salad
Soak currants

Preheat oven
Warm pan
Put in chicken
Warm pine nuts, add to salad

Wash and dry arugula
Saute garlic and onion
Add currants and stock to salad

Flip chicken
Put salad in oven
Flip chicken

Rest chicken
Swirl drippings
Add drippings to salad
Add arugula
Add vinaigrette

thai turkey burgers

13 Feb

Healthy cooking has never been my forte. I am capable of eating a pat of butter with no bread. I’ll lick the mayonnaise spoon. If I fry bacon, I’m saving that precious fat to cook asparagus later.

To me, ground turkey meat is a bizarre health food invention — a tasteless pink goop that cooks up to the texture of styrofoam. The only way I know how to make this paltry poultry bearable is by masking its shortcomings with tons of fresh herbs and fish sauce (umami!).

I can’t figure out where we found this recipe originally, but I believe it was called “Thai Turkey Burgers” due to the combination of basil, cilantro and fish sauce. We ended up adding mint along the way to punch things up further. It’s like a patty version of laab/larb, a Thai dish where ground meat is served in lettuce cups.

I like eating these Thai Turkey Burgers over a bed of quinoa salad, but they’d be equally great on a traditional hamburger bun with all the fixings. Don’t forget the mayo!

thai turkey burgers
the healthiest thing i know how to cook

* 1 lb ground turkey (don’t use super lean or burgers will be too dry)
* 1/2 medium onion, diced very small
* 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
* 1/3 cup basil, chopped
* 1/3 cup mint, torn
* 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
* 3 tablespoons fish sauce (I like the 3 crabs brand)
* 1 egg, beaten
* Vegetable oil

Place turkey in large mixing bowl; add onions, cilantro, basil, mint, garlic, fish sauce and egg. Mix with your hands until just combined — do not over mix.

Scoop 1/3 cup of turkey mixture and form a ball by passing back and forth lightly in your hands. Set aside and repeat with remainder of mixture. Should make around 10 miniature patties, around 3″ in diameter once flattened.

Heat a skillet over medium heat; add enough vegetable oil to coat bottom of pan. Add meat balls to pan and flatten into patties by pressing lightly with your fingers. Cook for around 4-5 minutes on each side taking care to flip and adjust heat when first side is browned. Cook in batches, if not all fit in your pan at once. Serves 3-4.

quinoa two ways

11 Feb

I don’t know how many times I’ve accidentally given a lecture about quinoa. First off, no one seems to know how to pronounce it properly. No, it’s not QUEE-NO-AH, it’s more like KI-NWA. After that, I tend to launch into quinoa’s historic context as the “mother of all grains,” how it was the sacred food of the Incas, and the fact that it provides all of the essential amino acids of a complete protein.

Usually people let me finish my rant before they declare, “oh yeah, I’ve tried that before and it tastes like birdseed.”

Yes, it can have that crunchy texture, but if you cook it properly with lots of flavors, it can serve as the base for a hearty vegetarian main course, or refreshing grain salad similar to tabouleh. Here are two of my favorite ways to cook quinoa.

#1: main course
quinoa with mushrooms and peppers

adapted from bon appetit (photo above)

* 1 cup quinoa, rinsed thoroughly in cold water
* 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (salted water also works, but will be more bland)
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 1 1/2 cups onion, diced
* 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
* 1 garlic clove, chopped
* 1 8-ounce package sliced crimini (baby bella) mushrooms
* 6 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, sliced
* 3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
* 1 cup dry white wine
* Sprig of flat leaf parsley, chopped
* Grated Parmesan cheese

Bring 2 cups of chicken broth to boil in medium saucepan. Add quinoa, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until tender and water is absorbed, about 13 minutes. If there is left over water, drain it off.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until onion begins to brown, 5 minutes. Add garlic; stir 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and thyme. Saute until mushrooms are tender, 6 minutes. Toss in bell peppers; sauté for another minute or so. Add wine; stir until wine is reduced and liquid is syrupy, 2 minutes.

Mix quinoa into mushroom mixture and add parsley; season with salt and pepper. Pass cheese separately. Serves 4 as a main dish.

#2: side dish
mediterranean quinoa salad

a chef crissy weeknight special

* 1.5 cups quinoa, rinsed thoroughly in cold water
* 3 cups salted water
* 1 pint of grape tomatoes, halved
* 4 oz of feta cheese, crumbled or cut into tiny cubes
* handful of kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
* handful of fresh mint, torn
* handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped

dressing:
* juice of 1-2 meyer lemons (taste as you go)
* 2 tablespoons olive oil (approximate, taste as you go)

Bring 2 cups of salted water to boil in medium saucepan. Add quinoa, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until tender and water is absorbed, about 13 minutes. If there is left over water, drain it off. Cook quinoa in a medium mixing bowl.

Once quinoa has cooled to room temperature, add the rest of the ingredients. Toss with the  dressing — no need to mix the oil and lemon juice together first. Taste and add more oil and lemon juice accordingly. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or chill for a few hours to let the flavors develop. Serves 6 as a side dish.