Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Balsamic vinegar-cocoa nib glazed oven ribs

This was some good stuff, my friends. I encourage you to make these ribs along with my preceding recipe for goat cheese/vidalia onion laced grits. Maybe for Easter dinner this coming weekend? I based these ribs somewhat on this recent recipe from the New York Times, but it departs in a couple key places, as you'll see. I used 2 pounds of ribs here; this serves 2 people happily. If you're having company, double the amounts called for in the rib sauce. For the ribs themselves, you should increase to at least 5 pounds for 4 people. For the grits, you can just straight double the amount called for in the recipe. Anyway!Get you some baby back ribs and lay them out on a long sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil...Salt and pepper them on both sides, then drizzle on 2 tablespoons olive oil.If you made the grits before, you should have some baby vidalia onion greens left over. Slice them in half, long ways, and lay out over the ribs, along with 4 cloves of garlic, slivered. If you don't have the green spring onion tops, you can use small bunches of chive instead.Now let's pack 'em up right. Fold the long end of the foil over the ribs...And crimp the edges down to form a packet. A packet of ribs! Put in a big pan and roast at 350 for 30 minutes, then turn the heat down to 250. They will cook for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours, so you've got some time on your hands now.Here's how to make the sauce: measure 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar, put in a pot and bring it to a boil, allowing it to reduce slightly for a minute or so over high heat.Stir in 3 tablespoons dijon mustard and 1 cup white wine until smooth, then add in 1/4 cup ketchup and a couple dashes tabasco. Let it all come to a simmer. Now! You need some cocoa nibs. I bought these on impulse a while back at the DeKalb Farmers Market. They weren't expensive so I didn't worry that I had no idea what to do with them.They are the crunchy hulls of the cocoa bean. I nibbled on one raw--they're not bitter, as you might expect from unsweetened cocoa.I seriously can't believe the flavor though--it adds something deep and smokey to the sauce! I ended up putting them in granola this week too--the texture is awesome. I can see a lot of potential uses for them so get ready to see them again in the next month or so.I used about 1/4 cup for the sauce and smashed them with a rolling pin to break them down a bit.Add the cocoa nibs into the sauce along with 1/2 cup brown sugar. Here's where you can use up the rest of that baby vidalia onion.Dice the white bulb from 1 small baby vidalia. If you don't have no baby vidalia onions, just substitute with 2 big shallots, diced. Add it to the sauce and bring it all to boil, then turn down to simmer for 30 min, stirring occasionally.When the ribs are done they should be soft and pulling off the bone. Get them out of the oven and unwrap.Lay them out on a baking sheet and let them cool for just a couple minutes.After the 30 minutes of cooking, your sauce should be reduced and pretty thick. Baste the ribs on all sides with the sauce. You can broil them for a few minutes, or I like better to turn the oven up to 475, let them cook in there for 5 minutes, then re-baste them and cook for a few minutes more so the sauce really gets all into everything.They're so good. It's a deep flavored sauce and the meat is so tender. All you need now is a scoop of goat cheese grits...And the ribs on top. Total heaven. Enjoy!

Goat cheese grits with baby vidalia onions

These really were made to go with the recipe that follows for balsamic-cocoa glazed oven ribs--they are a match made in heaven! Start your grits in a mixture of 1 1/2 cups water, 1/2 cup milk, and 1/2 cup white wine. Combine in a pot with 2 tablespoons butter. And bring it to a boil.You need some grits! Not the instant kind--get real, slow-cooking grits.You need 1/2 cup. Doesn't look like much, does it? But it will end up as enough for a side for 2-3 people. Amazing.Slowly whisk the grits into the boiling water-milk-wine mixture.It will seem pretty liquidy even after incorporating it all in. But that's OK.Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened. It will take about 30-40 minutes, but doesn't require psychotic attention so you can concentrate on doing other things. Voila. Pretty much done here.Meanwhile, you can get the seasonings together. I had a bunch of baby vidalia onions--they started showing up in markets not long ago down here in Georgia. I love their flavor; they aren't so sharp like scallions. If you can't find baby vidalias specifically, you can use spring onion. It has three parts--the white bulb, the long middle white part, and the green tops.Cut apart all three, and slice the middle white part into thin rings.Set aside the sliced white rings and reserve about 2 tablespoons of the green ends for the grits as well (you can use the bulb and the rest of the greens up when you make the ribs).And get some goat cheese!You need about 2 ounces (that's half of the small cylinder package above).Your grits are done, so turn them down to low and stir in the goat cheese until it all melts in...And add in the white thin rings of the onion, plus salt and pepper to taste.And finish them up with a sprinkly of the greens on top. Creamy and delicious. Lonely though--they really want some ribs on top...Ahhhh. There we go.It's amazing you know--but this is really just the same thing as a classic polenta with a slow-cooked meat ragu on top. Southern American or Southern Italian--really, what's the difference? :)

Monday, April 04, 2011

Spring green vegetable soup

Here's a spring green vegetable soup for you--creamy, full-flavored and perfect for an April evening. It's fast to put together, and you won't believe how many vegetables I managed to fit in here. Check it out: broccoli, spinach, carrots, potatoes, onion and garlic! First, I just want to note--the amounts are very flexible! If you have a little less broccoli or a little more spinach or one fewer carrot, do not worry about it. It all gets blended up together and will taste great no matter what. Start by prepping all your vegetables. Chop 3 small heads of broccoli, including the stems (peel them first)...And roughly chop 1 small onion (or, because I actually had really big onions, use 1/2 of a large onion). Depending on how much you love it--smash and peel 3 to 6 cloves of garlic. Peel and chop 2 medium carrots into small chunks. And about 2 cups total of peeled, chopped Yukon Gold potatoes. Combine 1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.And add in all those gorgeous vegetables. Saute together in the butter and olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add in 3 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. The baking soda addition is taken from Cook's Illustrated--apparently it works to break down the broccoli and brings up the vegetal flavor. Bring it all to a simmer, cover and cook for 25 - 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Since we have a few minutes to spare, you can make some croutons for the soup! At least that's what I did anyway. I had a bunch of ends of bread in the freezer and I had let them get a bit stale. Cut them into cubes... And toss them in a big bowl with olive oil (at least 2-3 tablespoons) and salt and pepper.Add some fresh parmesan cheese... And spread out on a baking sheet. Let them bake at 300 until crispy, stirring them around occasionally. It will probably take about 10-15 minutes but keep an eye on them because they can burn easily.After 25-30 minutes of cooking, all your veggies should be quite soft. Add 2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock for a completely vegetarian version) and bring it up to a simmer again. Remember your big pile of spinach?Chop it up--should be more or less 2 cups worth. Add to the pot and let it wilt for about a minute or so into the hot soup. And now get your beloved immersion blender (seriously, from a totally non-gadgety person,this is the best gadget ever)and puree it all up together!This is optional but I added in 1/2 cup shredded cheese--this time it was a combination of jack and gouda.Puree again after adding in the cheese...And it really looks pretty, doesn't it? Taste and add salt and pepper, then serve with a handful of the croutons and a spoonful of Greek yogurt.