All posts by Annette

Casing the joint

Not for nefarious purposes. For food purposes, naturally, as if thought of anything else manages to penetrate this thick skull.

For awhile now – probably from just before I had to stop eating solid food – I’ve wanted to make my own sausage. Commercial sausage isn’t horrible in most cases, and the store-made sausage from Publix is generally better, but there’s just something special about making something from scratch on your own. It’s the same reason I bake and the same reason I have a (vegetable) garden when I have the chance: it’s about having something grow under your ministrations, as careful with your new creation, as tender (or firm) with it as you would be with a child. The goal is the same: to raise something – or someone – of which you can be justifiably proud, that will serve to nourish others in a variety of ways, both bodily and mentally.

But back to the sausage. Really, it isn’t difficult to do this on your own. A bit time-consuming, to be sure, and temperature control of the meat is important so as not to have the finished product separate into grainy bits when cooked. Casings aren’t even strictly necessary, since the meat can be formed into patties instead. Since we want to have the full experience, however, and since we do have a grinder/stuffer attachment for the trusty KitchenAid, we’ll be giving it a go and stuffing casings with whatever mixture appears on our radar. My mom loves sweet Italian sausage, so I’ve put that first on my list. Other variations will no doubt follow, and I have a sense that I’ll be foisting sausages off on random strangers just to get them out of the house.

If you’ve any interest in sausage, curing, or smoking, I’d highly recommend the book Charcuterie, published late last year. I ran across a mention of it on the eGullet forums about two weeks ago and finally broke down and ordered it last week. It’s a cookbook, how could I resist? An excellent addition to the library.

Now batting: S. Scampi

I decided to deviate from my sister’s request list for Thursday night. Not out of disagreement with anything she would like to see on her plate, of course. Only because while I was picking up a prescription at Publix, I decided to wander past the seafood case. Shrimp scampi with angel hair pasta and bruschetta popped into my mind while I was looking, and since I’m easily swayed by menu suggestions at the moment, I got a couple pounds of shrimp. When I told my sister – the same one tossing out the “can you make that”, the same one who refuses to eat any sort of meat on the bone – she informed me that she doesn’t eat shrimp with pasta. No problem, says I, ever amenable and flexible, we’ll just serve them separately, and you can have the shrimp by itself. Can’t eat it, she says. Too much butter. She also won’t eat bread because she’s trying to watch her carbs for the upcoming swimuit season. This from a girl who has an athlete’s body and weighs maybe 117 soaking wet.

So it will be something else for her. I just need to figure it out. In the meantime, my mom and my other sister will happily share the main dish, and if my brother wasn’t such a rube, he’d be here to enjoy it as well.

The finished products

The problem with not being able to eat is not being able to taste this stuff. When no one is around or immediately available, it’s impossible to get a victim to taste test it before anyone else eats it.

The ribs came off the smoker after about 4.5 hours.

The meat has pulled away from the bone.

I pulled a portion to look at before everyone was home/awake, to see how the first time rib smoking worked out for me. It worked: nice smoke ring.

More cuts, as the fam began arriving.

Nice and juicy.

And did I mention the zucchini gratin? Still bubbling, right out of the oven.

Dinner, anyone?

Smokin’

Pulled the slabs from the brine and gave them a quick shower.

The rub.

The rub has: salt, brown sugar, paprika, onion powder, cayenne, garlic powder, cumin, chipotle chili powder, black pepper, mustard powder.

The first slab received a massage of coarse-ground prepared mustard.

And then a generous dose of the rub.

The other two slabs received rub only, and all three are ready to go.

A couple of water pans under the grates, some nicely burning charcoal and some hickory on the fire, and the slabs go on the smoker.

Now, it’s just a matter of minding the temperature and being patient. The first will probably be much easier than the second.

Slabby

There’s nothing like a nice slab of pork.

Three slabs of ribs.

Membrane? Gone.

Into the brine for about an hour. Once done with this step, I’ll pull them out, give them a rinse, then sprinkle them with rub and let them sit for about another hour. And then? Smokin’ time.

Saucy

Today is smoking day. While the ribs will have a rub, there’s always the issue of sauces. For this, sauces go on the side, and whoever wants some can pour their own. For some people, that means out of a bottle from the store. For us, that means some homemade sauce. I had intended to make several different kinds, but the cupboard conspired against me. The sweet/smoky sauce is the winner in this race.

Some ingredients, but not all.

The beginning, before the ketchup goes in.

After the ketchup, and a few minutes simmering:

The sauce is sweet to start, and then finishes with a bite. I actually tasted it – the first tomato-based anything I’ve tasted in more than six months. No tongue burn (hooray) and I got exactly the sensation my mother did when she tasted it (hooray again). Progress.

The universe laughs at us, not with us

I am convinced of this: that the universe, while generally a well-functioning, smoothly oiled engine, has, at its controls, a group of monkeys who delight in picking out someone at random and resetting the clocks that run certain areas of their lives. The effect of this is to dash to bits any semblance of timing in certain circumstances for that person – not every arena, of course, as this would cause the person to go crazy as they moved through time, forever just out of sync with the rest of the world. No, I believe it’s done just to slightly throw off that person so that What Might Have Been is tossed into their faces as much as possible. Think of anything in life. The relationship that does not bloom because the other party became involved with someone “Just recently, and s/he’s a good match, but if I’d met you first, we surely would have gotten together,” they say, and clearly they mean it. The job that isn’t won because the candidate interviewed several days prior fit the bill and was offered the job. “But,” they say, and clearly they mean it, “if we had been able to interview you first, we’d have offered it to you instead.” The comeback that dies on the lips because the clever retort does not come to mind until hours or days later. “But,” they say, when others are told about the incident, and clearly they mean it, “that would have been a good one and would have put someone in their place.”

Examples of this bad timing abound, and devious monkeys are as good an explanation as the serendipitous nature of life. It’s difficult not to be just a little bitter and angry about these things from an emotional standpoint, while at the same time understanding intellectually that we don’t all move along the same strand. It’s where the real battle lies.

Menus, dictated

I tend to work with FoodTV on in the background. For awhile, when it was rerun after rerun, I had switched over to watching all the Law & Orders that were on various channels throughout the day. Now that I’ve caught up on those, it’s back to FTV.

The other day, Everyday Italian is on when one of my sisters breezes through. She stops for a moment, points to the tv, and says, “Can you make that? Let’s have that for dinner.”

“That” happened to be chicken cacciatore.

“Surely, ” says I. “When?”

We all compare schedules and decide that Thursday is best. Since my little brother has forgotten the cardinal rule – sponge off your family as long as you possibly can before moving out – and is leaving for Orlando on Friday, we’ll consider it a going-away dinner for him. Piece of cake, I think, and start putting together my recipe and my grocery list.

So I invite a dear friend over, and that makes five total for whom I’m cooking. That turns into six when one of the girls invites her boyfriend, then seven when the other invites hers, then eight when my mom informs me she’s invited a friend of the family.

No problem.

The boyfriends also brought along their respective dogs – three, total.

Have I mentioned yet what a madhouse it is when the family starts getting together?

So, Thursday’s menu was: chicken cacciatore, risotto with parmigiano-reggiano, steamed broccoli, and salad (which my sister made).

No photos of this one because I was running out of gas by the end and they were all hungry. The reviews were excellent, and one day I’ll be able to actually eat the food I’m cooking. One of my sisters took some of the chicken to work, where her boss termed it (and I quote) “Fucking kick-ass chicken”. I’ll put that one in the plus column. She also received a request from one of her coworkers to bring some in. At least the letovers won’t go to waste.

For tomorrow: barbeque sauces, the rub for the ribs, and some fresh foccacia. Sunday: an hour or so in the brine for the ribs, and then we be smokin’!

The new joint

There used to be a little Chinese restaurant down the road from here. It was in a rather unfortunate location, with bad access unless you were heading the right way on the street. The building sits back a bit from the main road, is not very large, and is there alone, with no supporting characters to help it along. Every time we would drive past the place, it was deserted.

Now, however, the parking lot is busy during the day and packed in the evening. The place is no longer serving up Chinese food, though. It has been converted to a Latin-inspired place called La Puerta Plata (The Silver Door). We decided to stop off there and pick up some food to see how it was – and if it justified the traffic the place seems to get.

The menu is not very large, but has enough of a selection that I wouldn’t walk out immediately were I there to eat. The menu is in Spanish with some English translations, although some of those translations leave a little room for improvement – simply translating something as “meat” for instance, is not helpful to someone who does not speak Spanish, like my mother. I walked my mother through the menu, from the stew (with chicken, beef, plantains, and potatoes) to bistec y cebolla (steak and onion). She wasn’t very interested in the stew made with goat or the seafood items, which consisted mostly of shrimp (or shrimps, as the menu said, translating literally from camarones). We settled on the steak and onions and an order of chuletas (pork chops), with an order of stew. The entrees come with a choice of white or yellow rice, red or black beans, and salad, or plantains and salad. We opted for the salads and one of each of the rice and beans.

The food is not spectacular, but is serviceable. The steak was a bit overdone, and the chops uninspiring, although my mom perked those up a bit with a little of one of the hot sauces that I have (Blind Betty’s Pineapple Pizzazz). Both the rice and beans was standard fare, not bad, but not great. Since I couldn’t actually taste the other food, I did have a small taste of the broth of the stew. It had a curious undertone to it, most likely the result of so many ingredients and seasonings in it. It didn’t help that it was more soup-like thatn stew-like – Rachael Ray would probably term it a “stoup”, halfway between a soup and a stew.

Overall? The place most likely will not be given another chance by the family, but I’ll probably try something when I can eat again, just to make sure they’re given a fair shot.