Sunday, 24 May 2009

Quick Smoked Ribs and Smoked Potato Casserole

We are finally having some decent spring weather. It's been a crappy one, to say the least, that when we got a hot sunny day, the only thing that needed to be done (apart from a swack of yardwork) was to smoke something.

After finding out that both my neighbour and I were each baching it this weekend, we decided to do a girls dinner. We each had been working for hours in our respective yards, that by the time we were ready for supper we were exhausted, starving, and did I mention exhausted.

I figured ribs would make for a good supper, but I hadn't planned ahead to get them on for a long, low and slow event in the smoker. At 4:00 p.m. I figured, ribs were still the desired grub, but would have to be creative to make them work - that is cooked in such a way that they would still be tender and have some smoke flavour in under two hours.

Because ribs have a tendency to dry out on the smoker if they are not spritzed, I figured I would start them out in foil so that they wouldn't lose all of their steam. After coating the ribs in a ancho chili dry rub, I wrapped them in foil and placed them in the smoker for 1.5 hours, at which time I removed them from the foil and placed them back in the smoker and dowsed with raspberry bbq sauce.

Now you might be thinking, what a waste to have something in the smoker wrapped in foil, unable to soak up the smokiness and flavour. All was not lost , as I put together a potato casserole to smoke alongside of the ribs. Plus, because the ribs were finished outside of the foil on the smoker, they did get a bit of smokiness.

I love this potato casserole for two reasons. First of all, its actually made from hashbrowns - which I know come from potatoes, but I'm not fully convinced they have the same nutritional value as a real potato and I always feel like they're trying to pull one over on me. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't prevent me from making it, it just cracks me up. I also love it as it reminds me of a 1960s housewife recipe which should be served alongside a bunch of hors oeuvres - each stuck with a toothpick. Again, this isn't a criticism, it's endearing.

Sticking with the lack of planning for this dinner, I quickly realized I didn't have all of the ingredients for this recipe, so I stared ad libbing. With a bit of improvisation and some borrowed cheese from my neighbour, I got a yummy potato casserole. In fact, it was so good, I'm going to replace the former recipe in my repertoire with this one.

So there it is, some quick smoked ribs that were super tender and tasty and an extra yummy smoked potato casserole.

Quick Smoked Ribs
2 racks meaty baby back ribs
1/2 cup ancho chili dry rub*
3/4 cup raspberry barbecue sauce*

Coat the ribs with the dry rub and let sit until tacky, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the smoker with cherry or apple pellets on high heat. Wrap the ribs in a double layer of foil and place on the smoker. Adjust the temperature to 325F. Let cook for 1.5 hours. Remove the ribs from the foil and place directly on the smoker. Glaze generously with the barbecue sauce.
*I use recipes for the rub and bbq from this

Ad Libbed Smoked Potato Casserole
6 cups hashbrowns, frozen
1 medium onion diced
1 can cream of celery soup
1 1/2 cup 1% cottage cheese
1 cup grated marble cheese, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix the hashbrowns, onion, celery soup, cottage cheese, and 1/2 cup of grated marble cheese. Place in disposable tin. Cover with remaining grated marble cheese. Smoke at 325F for 1.5 hours.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Sous Vide Spring Meal

I admit that chicken seems to appear much more often than other foods on this blog. It truly is a coincidence. Although I do like chicken, I don't rate it any higher than steak, baby back ribs, lamb chops or the like.

Today, the chicken had a purpose. It was my first foray into the world of sous vide. Time and location have not permitted me to blog on smoker cooking or pressure cooking, but given that sous vide is a form of cooking under pressure, I deemed it a reasonable substitute.

I'll begin first by telling you the menu - as that's how I'm going to group this post, and each has its own merit. Even if you aren`t interested in sous vide cooking, the other recipes are must tries.

1. Sous Vide Chicken with Wild Mushroom Sauce - a new form (for me at least) of pressure cooking.
2. Caramelized Asparagus - it's all about the cut and the taste makes it a whole new vegetable - a must try!
3. New Potatoes in Cream and Dill - it's spring and this is the dish you have to splurge on to make it so.

Sous Vide Chicken with Wild Mushroom Sauce

Sous vide is a relatively new term to me although its been percolating around North America for a few years. In Europe its been in practice much longer, just like traditional pressure cooker. Coincidence? It think not. The folks in mainland Europe seem to be several steps ahead in cookery preparation if you ask me.

I won't go into details on the concept, as there's lots on the web, and Thomas Keller recently published a cookbook that is exclusively dedicated to this process
Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide. I can't say that what I prepared is anywhere in this league, but it was my first kick and it tasted pretty good.

I took two bone-in, skin on chicken breasts and vacuum packed them into a foodsaver bag. I then heated a large pot of water to 150F and dropped the bags in and let them cook for 35 minutes. You could see the chicken cooking in the bags. The water wasn't boiling, but warm enough to do the trick. I did have trouble maintaining the temperature as part of tonight's cooking adventure was a coil-ring stove - I think a gas cooktop would be much easier to maintain a consistent temperature at.

After the chicken cooked 35 minutes, I cooled it in cold water and then placed in the fridge. This part is important as you don't want the food to stay warm in the bag too long as it will fester with bacteria in this perfect environment. (Again, refer to some of the good details out there on this).

When I was ready to get the chicken ready (about 1/2 hour later), I put it under the broiler for about 10 minutes to get the skin very crispy.

Wild Mushroom Sauce

While the chicken was cooking I prepared the mushroom sauce. Yummy. I had found some fresh shitake and trumpet mushrooms at the grocery. I cleaned them and sliced them up. I sautéed them until just starting to brown and added a bit of gravy mix (yes you heard me, gravy mix, I cheated, but it was well worth it and I make no apologies), and white wine. It was yummy.

Caramelized Asparagus
There are a few vegetables that have surprised me over the last few years as whole new creatures when cooked an alternative way. In the queue already were beets, cabbage and cauliflower. Today, asparagus entered the realm.

I like asparagus, but prepared in a new way created a whole new veggie. I sliced the spears on an angle into thin strips. Unfortunately the bunch I had in hand were somewhat wilty at the the tops (damn you commercial grocer) and I had to dispose of many of them. Normally this would be quite distressing if you were serving the whole spear (topless asparagus! unheard of), but for this rendition it works. You simply sauté them in a bit of olive oil and butter, season with salt and pepper, and let cook until starting to brown slightly.

New Potatoes with Dill and Cream

I never had this dish until I met my husband and his sister and aunt taught me to make it. And it is unbelievable. It has to be with new potatoes and it has to be with cream. I figure, new potatoes only come around once a year for a short time so splurge.

For this version I mixed it up a bit with the addition of garlic. First, you boil the potatoes until just starting to soften, then drain them. Then, almost in fettuccine alfredo style you melt some butter, add some garlic, then the cream and mix. Return the potaotes and a bunch of fresh dill and let simmer to thicken.

The key is to not serve right off the burner. Let the dish rest for a few minutes. The cream thickens more and the whole dish has a much sweeter, spring flavour.

All of these recipes are for two people.

Sous Vide* Chicken
2 chicken breasts, bone-in and skin on
Salt and pepper to taste
Rinse the chicken breasts and pat dry. Vacuum pack*. Bring a pot of water to 150F. Put the vacuum packed chicken breasts into the pot and let cook for 35 minutes. Try to keep the temperature constant. When done, if not finishing them off immediately, plunge into a ice water bath to cool down and then put in the refrigerator. This is important for food safety .

To finish: Place the chicken breasts on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, and broil until the skin is crispy. If they are completely chilled, you may have to bake for a bit to get them warmed through.

If you don`t have a vacuum pack machine, or to learn more about sous vide, read this post at blog

Pork is my Friend.

Wild Mushroom Sauce
1 .5 cups mixed wild mushrooms (e.g. trumpets, shitake)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
.5 cup water
2 tbsp brown gravy mix (see comments above)
1 cup white wine

Clean and slice the mushrooms. Heat oil and butter in a frying pan. Cook the mushrooms until just turning brown. Add the water and gravy mix. Stir to mix. Add the white wine and mix. Simmer until thickened.

Caramelized Asparagus
1 lb asparagus
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter

Slice the asparagus into thin strips at an angle. Heat the olive oil and butter in a pan. Add the asparagus and season. Sauté until the asparagus just starts to turn brown.

New Potatoes with Dill and Cream
6-8 new potatoes (they are naturally rather small)
2-3 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup cream
1 bunch dill, chopped
Salt and pepper

Slice the potatoes in half and boil until just tender. Drain. In the same pot heat the butter and add the garlic. Sauté for 1 minutes. Add the cream and stir. Add the potatoes and dill and swirl to mix. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes to let sauce thicken. Remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes before serving.