Major Grey’s Ribs

The first time I ever tasted pork and mango on the same plate was at a restaurant in Charlottesville, VA back when I was in grad school.

The restaurant is long gone, but the memory of that combo has stuck with me longer than some of my graduate courses. I have tried a lot of chutney-infused marinades and glazes over the years, and paired them with various cuts of pork, but this one is a real winner around our house. It’s also incredibly simple!

3 lbs “country style” pork ribs, sectioned
6 tablespoons Major Grey’s mango chutney
1/2 cup white wine

Whisk together the chutney and white wine, and then divide in two equal portions. Place one portion of the chutney/wine mixture in a deep glass bowl and add the ribs. Make sure the ribs are thoroughly coated and set aside for at least one hour.

While the ribs marinade, place the remaining portion of chutney and wine in a sauce pan and heat over a low flame. Reduce to about 1/2 its volume. This portion will be your finishing glaze.

You could prepare the ribs a number of ways…I suppose. But come on: if you are going to make ribs, shouldn’t there be a grill involved here?

Once your coals are ready, place your ribs on the grill and cook for about three minutes, covered. Rotate 180° and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, depending on the heat of your coals, covered. Rotate 90° and cook for 2-3 minutes, then flip to cook the final side for the same length of time, covered. Some quick math here: your total cook time is 9-12 minutes.

As a finish, rotate your ribs one final time, “pretty” side up. Glaze the top side liberally with your wine/mango reduction and grill for a final minute or so (again, covering the grill to control the heat).

Note that “country style” ribs are not technically ribs–they are a loin cut. The cook time above assumes you are using these meaty, boxy “ribs.” If you are using an actual pork rib, you should adjust your time accordingly.

Transfer to a serving dish and let rest for a couple of minutes before serving.

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Senegalese Chick Peas

Yet another recipe disclaimer: I have no idea if what I am presenting here is in fact a Senegalese dish. Why, then, call it Senegalese chick peas?

The blame/credit goes to Marie-Claude Mendy, chef at Boston’s Teranga and two-time finalist (and one-time champion) on Food Network’s Chopped. On the episode in which she won (“Thyme Flies”) Mendy presented an appetizer dish of Korean-style short ribs marinaded in her “secret ingredient”: a puree of bell pepper, scallions, garlic, parsley, and cilantro. According to Mendy, this marinade is used in all kinds of Senegalese dishes and is the taste of her childhood and home.

Boy did that sound good to me–a Senegalese chimichurri!

Mendy doesn’t give the ratios for this marinade, so I just winged it:

Senegalese Marinade
1 cup cilatro, chopped
1 cup parsley, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic
4 scallions, whites and greens, chopped
1 green bell pepper, medium sized, chopped
1/3-1/2 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons salt

Place all of your ingredients, and about a 1/4 cup olive oil into a blender. Puree, drizzling in additional olive oil until you have a pesto-like texture. And that’s it!

For the actual chickpea dish, it’s as simple as this:

Senegalese Chick Peas
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 cups cooked chick peas
3 tablespoons Senegalese marinade

Heat your oil in a frying pan and add your cooked chick peas (if you are using canned chick peas, make sure you drain and rinse thoroughly). Toss the chick peas in the olive oil for a few minutes on medium, then lower your heat and add the Senegalese marinade. Simmer for about five minutes, then serve with rice.

This dish does require another truth-in-advertising disclosure. It is not a Josh-friendly dish. In fact, it’s probably one of his least favorite. His little sister, though, absolutely adores it and will eat piles of these bright and tasty garbanzos. Hey, every once in a while I have to cook someone else’s  favorite dish too, right?

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Josh and His Dad Experiment: Mustard

I was listening to The Splendid Table last week–yes, I am an NPR food geek, so much so that I have even called into the show (you want to hear me talk about tripe with Lynne Rosetto Kasper?) Anyway, Noelle Carter was on, talking about preparing homemade mustard, and I thought I would give it a try. As I have explained before, I have a major spice surplus problem in my household. I don’t have a lot of call for brown mustard seeds, and this experiment seemed like a good idea for using them up.

Noelle Carter’s straightforward approach involves soaking the mustard seeds for 24-36 hours in some liquid, both to activate the seeds and to aid in the grinding. I had learned an Indian technique for preparing mustard seeds that involved dry roasting them in a pan until they literally start to pop like kernels of corn. I figured this would be a nice way to both mature the flavor of the seeds and speed up the soak time.

Josh and I thought about what kinds of food we would like to use this mustard on and decided that we should make something to go with grilled bratwurst or grilled sausages. Thinking about sesame seed rolls and sausage-friendly spices led us to the following combination.

3/4 cup brown mustard seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup water, for soaking
An additional 3/4 cup- 1-1/2 cup water
2-3 teaspoons tumeric (optional)

Place the mustard, sesame, cumin, and fennel seeds in a hot, dry frying pan. Allow the seeds to roast until they start to pop open and color. Lower the heat if the seeds start to smoke. Transfer the seeds to a glass bowl, and add the salt and 3/4 cup water. Let the seeds stand for around two hours.

Transfer the seeds to a blender or a food mill and add an additional 3/4 cup water. Begin grinding the seeds, adding additional water as needed. Noelle Carter says that water yields a more pungent product, but you could certainly swap out liquids here–vinegar or wine, for instance. Your finished product should be relatively smooth with a coarse texture. If you want something more golden than brown, add in the tumeric to your liking.

Transfer to a sealed container and store for several days to allow the flavors to merge and mellow–Noelle Carter recommends a week.

The finished product passed the taste test, though we are still waiting for it to age thoroughly. If we were to do it again, I might consider adding the seeds to roast in the following order: mustard seed, cumin seed, fennel seed, and sesame seed, based on how long each seed needs to roast. I would also probably add a little acid to the liquid–maybe lemon or lime juice?

So I’ve taken care of my mustard seed problem, but now we have a heck of a lot of mustard kicking around the house. I am thinking this stuff might work well as a marinade for a pork loin. We will keep you posted!

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Chile Verde

I first had chile verde at The Loop in Manitou Springs, Colorado. We have visited this little artsy town just outside of Colorado Springs many times over the years, and we will usually have dinner at The Loop at least one night each trip. I had never heard of chile verde before stepping foot in that restaurant, and now forever after this dish is connected in my mind with the sights and sounds of winter in southern Colorado.

When I decided I would try to do it at home, I did what I am sure most of us would do. Google it! This raises an interesting question: Is there really such a thing as an original recipe? I would argue that every recipe is passed down or passed along in some way or form, then modified and altered by whomever is stirring the pot. It’s that challenging balance between getting a dish right–recognizable to the eye, nose, and tongue as the thing you’re after–and making a dish your own. Hopefully, if you are trying out these dishes, you are playing with them as you go.

So, back to chile verde. What I discovered poking around online was that there seem to be two clear camps: the “chile only” variety and the tomatillo versions. From my memory, The Loop serves up a tomatillo version, so I went in that direction. There also seemed to be some raging debate over which chiles to use–green chiles being cited by some as the only proper choice (and given the preferences of southwestern cuisine understandably so), while others favored jalapenos. I chose to use a poblano instead, mostly to keep the heat to a minimum, while still maintaining a bit of a bite tucked away in the background.

And here’s the version I threw together:

3 lb pork loin
dredging flour, seasoned with salt and black pepper
3-4 tablespoons of oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup white wine
2 cups chicken broth
1 lb tomatillos, quartered
1 poblano pepper, diced
1 cup cilantro, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt

Heat your oil in a stainless steel pan. Cube your pork into large, yet still fork-size pieces. Dredge in your seasoned flour and brown your pork in small batches. Set aside your pork. Add the chopped onion and salt to the hot pan and cook the onions until they start to brown. Add in the chopped garlic and cook for another minute. Add the white wine and deglaze the pan.

Transfer the pork, the onion/garlic/wine deglaze and the rest of the ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Prior to serving, give the dish a good stir–the tomatillos will fall apart when you do this. Some recipes call for blended tomatillos but why dirty another piece of hardware when you don’t need to, right?

Adjust your salt and serve with warmed corn torillas as your starch.

This is another great winter meal–especially if you are eating it in Manitou with a snow-topped Pikes Peak off in the distance. It ended up tasting pretty close to how I remember this dish, and since that’s what I was after, I couldn’t have been more pleased.

And if you make this dish, please let me know how you modify it to make it your own!

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Pasta e Fagioli

OK, so I have taken a lot of heat (mostly from my mother) for daring to claim that I make a tastier meatball than my mother. So here’s a dish to make amends: my mother’s pasta e fagioli recipe. Truth be told, I have avoided making this meal for years for one simple reason: I can’t ever seem to get close to the taste that I grew up eating at my mother’s table. So, here it is, in all its simple glory:

1 lb dry great northern beans
8 cups water
1/2 lb ditalini
2 cups (more or less) simple tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt
Parmesan cheese & red pepper flakes, to taste

Cook your great northern beans in about 8 cups of water. There’s two things my mother insists on: first, do not salt the water (it will make the beans tough); second, do not soak the beans overnight or “quick soak” them in boiling water. Just cook in the 8 cups of water until soft, which may take well upwards of two hours. When I asked her why she never soaks her beans, her answer is simply: “because we never did in Italy.” Once your beans are done, keep them simmering in the bean broth while you cook your pasta. I used a slow cooker on the beans, and it worked out well: started them in the morning and they were ready for the rest of the dish by the time I got home from work. You definitely want to cook the beans with quite bit of water, since that will be the base for the rest of the dish. It’s not exactly a soup (it falls into a category of dishes called a minestra), but you definitely want to have a brothy final product.

Salt your pasta water and cook your ditalini until it is just barely al dente–it will finish cooking in the final phases of the dish. Drain your pasta and add it to the beans and water. Continue to simmer.

Now add your tomato sauce to your liking–around two cups, more or less. Often, my mother would simply use up whatever leftover sauce she might have in the freezer. Getting the right amount of sauce in this dish is critical. Too much, and you loose the brothy flavor that makes this dish what it is. You want a pinkish/orange color, not red. My sister, I recently found out, literally adds tablespoons at a time until her eye registers just that perfect shade of pasta e fagioli that we grew up eating.

Let the dish simmer for another five minutes or so to allow all of the flavors meld. Plate in shallow, wide bowls and serve with grated Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes.

This is a great winter dish, and when I served it up recently, Josh gave it the highest compliment I can think of. He declared it tasted almost as good as his Nana’s.

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Chorizo con Huevos

Breakfast for dinner is always a great idea, I say. This dish–chorizo mixed with eggs and fried tortilla strips–I’ve made for dinner far more often than I have for breakfast. When the kids were younger, the everything-mixed-in-one-pan quality of this dish was kind of a turn off, but somewhere over the past year I have won all three of them over.

As with many meals, there’s some pretty heated debate in our household over what is actually the star of this dish. Clearly not the eggs–note it’s chorizo con huevos, and not the other way around. But is it the chorizo, or those super-tasty fried tortilla strips? In the name of authenticity, I suppose I should note that while I have ordered chorizo con huevos at a number of hole-in-the-wall restaurants and taquerias in my area, I have yet to find a place that adds in the fried tortilla strips. I got the idea  off of the back of a bag of locally made tortillas, but honestly, I question my memory on this one–it could be that I misread or misremembered what was really a recipe for chilaquiles. No matter, though– it’s the way we make chorizo con huevos in our household, and it’s how we love them.

As with caldo verde, this is a meal that my father ate growing up–and one that he insists is really a Portuguese dish that somehow worked its way down from East Cambridge to Mexico in the late 1930s.

Canola oil for frying
6 corn tortillas, cut into strips (about 1-1/2″ x 1/2″)
8 ounces chorizo, removed from casing and crumbled
8 eggs, beaten
Salt, to taste
Salsa picante

Heat up 2″-3″ of oil in a heavy bottom, deep pan (I use a cast iron chicken fryer–great for these sorts of things, and a great way to work on your forearm strength). Add in your tortilla strips and fry them until they are golden and crispy. And please–if you are balking at the deep frying here, should you really be making chorizo con heuvos in the first place? (I don’t think you are going to find this meal on anyone’s list of “heart healthy” dishes!)  Transfer your fried tortilla strips to paper towels or a brown paper bag to absorb the excess oil. Salt while hot, and then set aside.

In a separate frying pan, cook the chorizo crumble until it is browned. Add the beaten eggs to the cooked chorizo and let stand for a minute or so. A note on seasoning: you will want to add some salt to the eggs, but be careful–depending on your brand of chorizo, and how aggressively you salted your tortilla strips, you might need to go a lot lighter on the salt than you think. When the eggs have started to cook to the bottom of the pan, begin to scramble the mixture together. Cook to your preference–I normally go pretty soft on my scrambled eggs, but with this dish I tend to cook them a bit more fully so that the tortillas stay crunchier in the next step.

When your eggs are cooked, remove from heat and add in the tortilla strips, combining thoroughly.

I always serve this dish with refried beans and rice. Oh–and don’t forget to bring a bottle of salsa picante to the table as a condiment.

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Golden Nugget Pie

OK confession #1: this recipe has been sitting in my draft folder for weeks, and with my holiday lag is writing, I am only now getting back to it. But does that mean it is too late for me to share this pumpkin pie variation, what with the holiday season long gone?

Not in the least.

You see, I have a deep and abiding respect for pie. Just ask my family–for years, I have insisted on a birthday pie in place of cake. Not too many nights ago, I spent the better part of an hour driving around our metro area in search of something resembling a pie shop (we failed, I am sorry to say). And pie for breakfast? No problem.

In my reckoning, pumpkin pie is the orange-headed stepchild of the pie world. Honestly, it’s not my favorite pie, but certainly it is worthy of a place at the table beyond those six weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Yes, I know–pumpkin is a late fall/winter squash, so of course pumpkin pie is going to make the rounds in November and December. But given the shelf life of a winter squash, I say there’s plenty of January and February out there that could use a little pie to cheer it up.

The only problem is: if you are going to try to avoid the canned puree, finding a sugar pie pumpkin beyond the holiday horizon may be a little tough. But then again, there’s no rule or law that says you have to use pumpkins to make pumpkin pie. Come to think of it, there probably is a law to that effect somewhere, but never mind that. What we’re really after here is a squash pie.

I am fortunate enough to have a farmer’s market with a wide variety of squashes throughout fall and winter. Butternut squash would be an easy to find and easy to use substitute, which had been my plan, but then I came across these little, squat things called Golden Nuggets. They look like mini-pumpkins, inside and out, and as it turns out, they have a creamy, sweet flesh that works wonderfully in a pie.

Pumpkin pie is basically a custard with pumpkin added. If you can make a custard, you can certainly make a pumpkin pie. That said, my proportions may look a bit off here, but here it is:

3 cups of cooked golden nugget squash
3 eggs, beaten
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Halve, clean, and bake the squash until soft (see this butternut pecan soup recipe for more on this technique). Let cool, then scoop out the flesh. Puree in a blender or food processor and set aside.

Combine the rest of the ingredients except for the eggs in a sauce pan. Heat over a low flame. This is one of the few dishes where I actually use a thermometer. When the milk has heated to about 110 degrees, start to temper the beaten eggs, adding a tablespoon at a time of the hot milk. Continue this process until you have introduced about 1/3 of the total liquid. You can now add the egg and milk mixture back into the sauce pan and continue to heat.

Stirring constantly, watch your temperature and let the mixture rise to just under 140 degrees. Your custard will not have set at this temperature, but the mixture will start to thicken considerably and get a satiny texture. Remove from the heat and add the squash puree, mixing thoroughly.

Now add the mixture to a pie shell and bake at 400 degrees. Check to see if your pie has set after 25 minutes, and continue checking every five minutes until cooked through. You want a firm custard texture that will hold up when sliced, but you want to avoid overcooking.

Confession #2: You probably noticed that there’s no pie shell recipe, huh. Truth be told–I’ve never made my own pie crust. Maybe I will by the end of this year, but for the time being I use the refrigerator-section version of prepared pie crusts (the one you roll out into your own pie pan).

The Golden Nugget pie came out quite nicely, I thought, and Josh and I agreed that it was a perfectly appropriate breakfast food.

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Caldo Verde, Two Ways

This soup has lots of history. I think I first made it while I was still an undergraduate– if not, shortly after graduating. The original recipe came from Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, the first cookbook I ever bought. The sausage should be a dead give-away that I’ve altered the recipe somewhat, but certainly this dish can be made meatless and just as yummy.

More history: Madhur Jaffrey lists this soup as Indian–from Goa, to be more precise. When I mentioned it to my father, though, thinking that I was introducing him to an exotic soup from the East, he said: “Oh. That’s Portuguese Soup. My mother made that all the time when I was a kid. But where’s the linguiça?” Go figure. My sister makes her own version of this soup with linguiça, based on a recipe that she got from our Uncle Charlie, but I prefer andouille, even if it is less authentic.

Even more history: If you have watched as much Little Bear as I have over the past dozen years, I am sure you will remember the episode where Mother Bear explains to Little Bear that he was “cooked on cupcakes.” All three of our kids were cooked on kale. Throughout each pregnancy, my wife’s only true craving was for this soup. A heck of a lot better for you than pickles and ice cream, that’s for sure–and much tastier too, I would guess.

So, why caldo verde two ways? The original version of this soup calls for a puree, which is the way that Josh and his sister like the dish. My wife and our oldest child, however, prefer it chunky (as did my Uncle Charlie, by the way). Me–well, it depends on the night; I have even been known to split the difference and mix half of each in my bowl. It’s not a big deal, really, to make this dish two ways to meet everyone’s tastes–the only extra step, other than blending, is that I have to brown the andouille in two batches–a smaller dice for the pureed version, and a larger chop for the chunky.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
8 cups kale, washed and chopped
3-4 small potatoes, cut into bite-size cubes (about 4 cups)
2-3 teaspoons salt, depending on how salty your sausage is
8 cups water
3 links andouille sausage (about 1/2 lb)

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over a medium heat. Add the onions and salt, and cook until the onions start to color slightly. Add the garlic and saute for a few seconds. Next, add the kale and cook until the kale reduces to about a quarter of its original volume. Add the cubed potatoes and saute for a couple of minutes. Add water and raise heat to high. Bring to just under a boil, then lower to a simmer and cover.

While the soup is cooking, cut your sausage into bite-size pieces (to your liking) and brown in a frying pan over medium heat. Keep your sausage pieces small enough to fit on a spoon, but by all means go larger if you are wanting a more hearty soup. If you plan to make the soup as a puree, though, I suggest a fine dice over larger chunks.

For the puree version: When the potatoes are tender, blend the soup in small batches (careful, as always, blending a hot soup!) then return to your soup pot. Add the diced, cooked sausage and simmer for another five or ten minutes. Adjust your salt and serve hot.

For the chunky version: When the potatoes are soft to a fork but not quite fully cooked, add your chopped, cooked sausage. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Adjust your salt and serve hot.

Do I have to suggest a crusty loaf of bread with this dish, or is that just too obvious to mention? Enjoy.

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Beet and Arugula Salad

The idea for this side dish came from one of those rare nights out when my wife and I manage to score a babysitter and we can head out for a grown-up dinner. One of our favorite places to eat is a little place called Wahoo. Their seared ahi tuna is amazing, as are their scallops (my wife gets the scallops piccata pretty much every time). They also have a really lovely beet and arugula salad. I am not sure I could get the whole family to eat seared ahi, but this is one salad I could get all three kids to enjoy.

So here’s our at-home rendition Wahoo’s beet and arugula salad–there’s not a lot of measuring going on in this simple side dish, so feel free to adjust to your tastes.

5 handfuls of arugula, washed and dried
4-5 small, cooked beets (pickled or fresh), sliced
1/4 cup crushed walnuts
1-1/2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon basil pesto
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
salt to taste

Create a bed of arugula on a serving plate, then arrange the slices of beets in a single layer. I have used both pickled and plain beets for this salad, and we like it equally well both ways. If you are using fresh beets, boil them in their skins until tender; cool, peel, and slice. Sprinkle crushed walnuts and feta cheese evenly.

Whisk together the pesto, olive oil, and vinegar. Warm slightly and drizzle over the salad. If you do not have any basil pesto kicking around, be creative. My wife subbed out 1/4 teaspoon of coarse mustard not too long ago for a tasty alternative. Salt to taste, and serve.

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Thinking Soup

Just about every weekday, my cell phone rings at 3pm. The caller ID tells me that it’s my wife, but I know that it’s really Josh, who has just been picked up from school. Here’s one of the calls I recently received:

“Hey poppa, what’s for dinner?”

“Don’t know, Josh. Got any suggestions?”

“Yah. I was thinking soup.”

Good call. Since we live in the south, our fall comes pretty late in the year. Last week was the first time it’s gotten down to the 40s at night (and that has been unseasonably cold). As I’ve mentioned before, Josh is a huge fan of soups, and to be honest: when the air starts to crisp, so am I.

I didn’t have time to swing by the store to get anything to honor Josh’s soup request. Instead, I had to make do with what I had in the pantry. I usually have a can of great northern beans and a couple of potatoes kicking around. What I came up with was a garlic white bean soup:

1-1/2 cups cooked great northern beans (or other white beans)
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 cups cubed potatoes
3-4 large cloves of garlic, minced
3 cups water
3 cups chicken stock (or water, if you prefer)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot. Add the onions and saute until they start to color slightly. Josh loves the taste of onions, but he is not really a fan of them in soups if he can see them on his spoon or feel them on his tongue. Cooking down the finely chopped onions has two goals then: color and camouflage.

Once the onions have colored, add the garlic. Saute for a few moments–ideally, you will get your garlic to “nutty” without going all the way to “bitter and brown.” Add the potatoes, water, stock, and salt. Bring to just under a boil and then lower to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes, then add your beans. A note on beans: by all means use dried beans instead of canned, if you have the time. If you do choose to use canned beans, drain and rinse them thoroughly. I find that’s a big help in eliminating any “tinny” taste. Continue simmering until the potatoes are fully cooked, about another 15 minutes. Add freshly ground pepper to taste, and adjust the salt, if needed.

It’s a pretty crummy picture, I know, but a very tasty soup, particularly when you have next to nothing in the pantry. The only thing I would add, next time, is a nice, crusty loaf of bread to go with it.

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