Friday, August 30, 2013

End of Summer BBQ

Is it just me or has time been speeding up exponentially with every passing day? I feel like I blinked and summer is "over" with Labor Day just a few days away.  I look at my daughter and think, "Wasn't I just holding you in the hospital after you were born? Now you're a do-it-yourself-get-into-everything toddler, forming sentences, asking questions and throwing (occasional) tantrums.  How are you growing up so fast?!?!?"  It is true that time flies when you're having fun. And life couldn't be more fun for me right now. I love my life and wouldn't trade it for anything. I have an amazing and supportive husband, a crazy awesome daughter, an unbeatable extended family, in-laws and friends, a roof over my head, and good food in my tummy.

Speaking of good food in my tummy (and Labor Day for that matter), I couldn't resist sharing this group of recipes with you.  They are some of my favorite things I have made not only this summer, but during the past few years.  They have quickly become some or favorite family dishes.  Throw one of these awesome items on your Labor Day BBQ or picnic menu and you will have no problem extending summer by at least one more weekend! 

Mama's Dry-Rubbed Ribs (printable recipe)
(adapted from Dave Leiberman)

So, I had a great paragraph here raving about these ribs and even educating everyone about the different styles of BBQ, and then I made a critical blogging error in which I cut the paragraph to paste it below the photo, but then got distracted and didn't actually paste it.  By the time I realized, I had already copied something else and Blogger had already auto-saved the post.  Undo wasn't an option anymore.  In my head came my best Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation as I said "Daaaaaaamn!"  Ooops, you live and learn.  I now have auto-save turned off, but I am just too lazy to try to remember ever last word of my brilliance :-)

Anyway, these are called "Mama's Dry-Rubbed Ribs" because my mom was the first person to make them in our family, and now I'm a mom and I make them.  Plus, you can just tell they're made with love, which is truly a meal from Mama.  I like these ribs because they are foolproof, easy to make, really flavorful and juicy, and are fall-off-the-bone tender.  I like to think of these as a "clean eating" rib.  As in, your face is clean.  As a Memphis-style dry-rubbed rib, sauce is usually served on the side with these, which means you don't have to end up with a face full or BBQ sauce if you don't want to.  So go ahead, come to Mama.

These ribs were cooked in the oven, then basted with BBQ sauce and thrown on the grill to get some char.  In this case, a messy face is mandatory.

2 lbs. baby back ribs
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
4 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. dry oregano
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
3 T. vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Combine everything except for ribs and oil in a small bowl.
Remove the membrane from the bone side of the ribs.  If you have an awesome butcher, just have him/her do it for you.  Otherwise, it is really easy:  just grab one end of the membrane with a paper towel and rip the silver skin off.

Rub the ribs with the vegetable oil and then sprinkle with the reserved rub mixture evenly on both sides.  Give your ribs a massage (they deserve it), and work the rub into them.  Put the ribs on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Bake until they have reached tender perfection on the inside, but are getting crispy on the outside.  This will take from 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

After the ribs are cooked, you have several options.  These babies are multi-purpose!  In the past, we have made them an hour or two ahead and just covered them loosely with foil while we prepared the rest of the meal.  We have also prepared them a day or two ahead, then dumped the individual rib pieces into a huge electric roaster that had been fitted with a rack in the bottom and a little bit of water underneath to keep them warm for an all-day party type buffet.  We always have BBQ sauce on the side.  We just haven't been able to totally crack the case on our favorite sauce recipe, so for now, let's just say you better have Sweet Baby Ray's on the table.  We have also basted the ribs with BBQ sauce and put them on a charcoal grill just to get that flavor and char we all love (see photo above).

Roasted Potato Salad (printable recipe)
(adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe)

This photo really doesn't do justice to this potato salad.  After I wrote the post, I realized I had only one picture ever taken of this salad, even though I've made it about a dozen times since.

Besides the fact that I am not a huge fan of traditional potato salad, there is one major problem with taking potato salad to cookout or picnic: it has to be kept cold.  Depending on your party location, this may not be the easiest task.  This recipe aims to solve that problem in delicious fashion.  I have never really like mayonnaise (gasp!), so traditional mayonnaise-based potato salad always turned me off regardless of its temperature.  I set out to find a way to start making a version of potato salad that I could live with, and that I wouldn't have to worry about refrigerating come party-time.  I found one on that seemed like a good place to start.  I made some tweaks and came up with perfect combination of crisp, silky, sweet, tangy and bacony deliciousness that is my roasted potato salad.  Give it a try and I promise, you'll be happy you veered from your run-of-the-mill potato mush.
1 lb. red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 lb. sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
9 T. plus 2 T. olive oil
3 T. white wine vinegar
2 1/2 T. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 T. honey
1/2 tsp. tabasco
9 T. olive oil
6 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
4 cups arugula or other favorite green, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine potatoes and sweet potatoes with 2 T. olive oil on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Throw that bad boy in the oven and let 'em roast for about 15 minutes.  Give 'em a shimmy shake (i.e. turn them over) and cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the potatoes have reached crispy perfection.  Note:  If you don't want to turn you oven to 400 because say, it's 90 degrees out or something, you could just cut the potatoes in half/quarters, brush them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill them until they are tender, then cut them into smaller pieces.  You could also peel, cut and boil them until tender, but then that just feels a little too old-fashioned doesn't it?

Whisk together the white wine vinegar, mustard, honey and Tabasco in a small bowl.  Gradually whisk in the 9 T. olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, combine potatoes, sweet potatoes, bacon and arugula (sometimes I use mustard greens, sometimes spinach, sometimes kale, just use whatever you have on hand or what is cheapest at the grocery store - they're all good!).  Toss salad with enough dressing to coat.  I usually just dump it all in, but that's just how I roll.  Taste for seasonings and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

This dish can be made up to 2 hours ahead.  Just cover it and let it stand at room temperature.  Enjoy!

Summer Vegetable Gratin (printable recipe)
(adapted from America's Test Kitchen) 

Yeah, yeah, I know...yet another recipe from America's Test Kitchen.  I can't help it.  I have an addiction.  To things that taste good.  Get over it.  This recipe is definitely on the tedious end of the spectrum, but it is so worth it in the end.  I started making this recipe a couple of years ago, mainly because there is an awesome "tomato guy" at the Brookfield Farmer's Market.  I don't like raw tomatoes, but his varieties of hydroponically grown fruit just look too good to pass up.  They're so pretty, I wanted to showcase them, instead of chopping them up in a salsa or cooking them into a soup or marinara where their beauty would be unrecognizable.  This is the perfect dish to highlight summer vegetables and is pretty much one of the most delicious vegetable side dishes that will ever cross your lips.

Again, an old picture which really doesn't do this dish justice.  It is seriously delicious and is so much prettier than this photo would suggest.

6 T. extra-virgin olive oil

1 lb. zucchini
1 lb. yellow squash
2 tsp. table salt
1 1/2 lb. ripe tomatoes (3 to 4 large), sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 med. onions, halved lengthwise and sliced thin, pole to pole
3/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. fresh thyme, minced
1 slice high-quality white bread (think bakery style bread, not Wonder loaf)
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
2 med. shallots, minced

Start by taking the ends off your zucchini and squash, then slice them into 1/4 inch slices.  For best results, try getting zucchini and squash that are relatively similar in diameter.  Toss the slices with 1 tsp. salt in a large bowl, transfer to a colander and set it back over the bowl.  Let stand until about 3 tablespoons of liquid have been released, about 45 minutes.  Arrange the slices over a triple layer of paper towels, then cover with another triple layer of paper towels.  Press each slice firmly to remove as much liquid as possible.

Place tomato slices in a single layer over a double layer of paper towel.  Sprinkle evenly with 1/2 tsp. salt and let stand for 30 minutes.  Place another double layer of paper towel over the tomatoes and press firmly to dry them.  (I did mention this recipe was tedious, right?)

While you are waiting for the zucchini, squash and tomatoes to release their liquid, you can work on the onions.  Heat 1 T. oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat.  When it starts to shimmer, add the onions, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and dark golden brown, which will take about 20 to 25 minutes.  Set onions aside.

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat to 400 degrees.  Brush a 9x13 baking dish with 1 T. oil and set it aside.

Combine garlic, 3 T. oil, remaining 1/2 tsp. pepper and thyme in a small bowl.  In a large bowl, toss the de-liquified zucchini and squash with half the oil mixture, then arrange in the prepared baking dish.  By arrange, I mean dump it in and push the slices around so they're in an even layer.  Arrange the carmelized onions in an even layer over the squash.  Place tomato slices slightly overlapped in a single layer on top of the onions (this is where you want to make it look pretty).  Spoon the remaining garlic-oil mixture evenly over the tomatoes.  Bake until vegetables are tender and tomatoes are starting to brown on edges, 40 to 45 minutes. 

Are you still with me?  Hang in there!  We're almost done!  Just when you think you can take a break, it's time to make the crumb topping that will get sprinkled on top of your masterpiece in a few minutes.  Process the bread, torn into quarters, in a food processor until coarsely ground.  You should have about 1 cup of crumbs.  Combine the bread crumbs, remaining 1 T. oil, Parmesan and shallots in a medium bowl.  Set aside until your little beauty is ready to come out of the oven.
Pull the baking dish from the oven - careful now, it's hot!  Increase your oven to 450 degrees.  Sprinkle the bread-crumb mixture evenly on top of the tomatoes.  Put it back in the oven and bake until it is bubbling and the crumb topping is lightly browned, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Remove the deliciousness from the oven and let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving.
Dig in!  It's been a long day :-)

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