Fire & Ice

I don’t know why, but I get tapped for grill duty at every family cookout.Unlike the bright red I desire in a steak, I like my burgers cooked a heretical medium-well, crispy on the outside, cooked through in the middle.  And medium-well burgers are a mortal sin to 99% of food folks.

So, I possess no burger cred.And I don’t even like grilled hot dogs.  I’m a steamed girl.So, there’s no frankfurter cred, either.

But still, every cookout finds me standing over fire, attempting to resist smoke inhalation-induced swoonage.  No matter what, a smoky cloud envelops me like a meat-accented shroud.Because of the ongoing grill-induced trauma, the foods I’ve picked for a 4th of July cookout don’t need an attendant; just a little prep.  This also means they can be put together well in advance.

Piggy pocketspork pockets1 small boneless pork shoulder (5 pounds or so)

3-4 pounds small red skin or Yukon gold potatoes

1 bag undressed coleslaw from the produce department

2 sweet onions, thinly sliced

½ cup beer (your choice, darker beer has stronger flavor)

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

Heat grill to 275-300.

Cut pork and unpeeled potatoes into 2-inch cubes.  Put all the cubes into zip-top bag.  Whisk together beer and mustard.  Season.  Pour beer mixture over pork and taters.  Close and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.  When ready to make packets, divide into 10 equal portions.

Cut ten large pieces of foil (about 14-16 inches).  On one half of the foil, scatter ¾ cup dry cole slaw.  Sprinkle with pinch of salt & pepper.  Lay a couple slices of onion over veg.  Top with one portion of pork and potatoes.Seal packs and cook on heated grill for one hour.  Serve them closed so guests can open their own packets.

Mexican street corn

Stir together sauce:street corn cream¾ cup mayonnaise

¾ cup light sour cream

3 cloves of garlic, minced

Juice of 1 lime

Salt & pepper 

Refrigerate covered, up to a few days, until ready to serve corn.mexicorn

10 ears corn, cut in half

20 bamboo skewers, which have been soaked in cold water overnight

Chili powder

1/3 cup cilantro leaves

1 cup crumbly cotija cheese

Skewer each piece of corn. 

When the pork has been cooking almost an hour, move packs to warming area of grill.

Place corn on hottest part of the grill and cook 15-20 minutes, turning frequently to lightly char all sides.When cooked, paint mayo-sour cream over corn, then sprinkle with chili powder, cotija and cilantro.  Serves 10-12.

Served right out of the blender, this next treat is a soft serve dead ringer for Disney’s Dole Whip.  As popsicles, they are terrific, but if you have the palate for it, the added jalapeño makes it a unique sweet/heat frozen confection.

Pop-goes the firecracker-siclesdolesicles

8 cups frozen pineapple chunks

2 8-ounce tubs frozen fat-free Cool Whip

2 teaspoons vanilla

Pinch of salt

Jalapeños (optional)

Rum (optional)

Let pineapple and whipped topping sit out for 10 minutes to soften slightly.Place topping into the blender bowl first.  Add pineapple and salt.  Blend until almost smooth.  At this point, you can add the jalapeños, then continue blending until smooth and silky.

For cocktails instead of popsicles, blend in the rum, approximately 8 shots.  Then serve in 8 tall chilled glasses.Otherwise, pour mixture into 12 popsicle molds and allow them to freeze solid.  Can be kept frozen for up to a week.

With this holiday cookout menu, you can get everything ready days before the shindig. This means that when your guests arrive, your work is done, and you can enjoy your own party without all the smoke and the need for periodic resuscitation in the form of handsome paramedics bearing oxygen.  Can you say out-Martha-ing Martha?

Yay, go you!

Quick!  Where the hell are those charcoal briquettes!

Thanks for your time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Dreams

Did you ever have one of those dreams where you’re in a bakery or candy store surrounded by treats?  And you can’t decide what you’re gonna start with?  And right before you take the first bite you wake up?

Yeah, that happened to me.  I was sitting at a table in Chapel Hill, looking down at eight different gorgeous sweet treats.  Only this time, nobody was shaking me awake to take out the dog, or catch the school bus, or get ready for work.

I was awake and got to partake.

But before I take a bite, I should probably go back to the very beginning.

Chef James Clark is executive chef of the Crossroads Restaurant in the beautiful and historic Carolina Inn on the campus of UNC.  I met him right after he started there.  I can truthfully say that his friendship is one of the best things to have come from writing this column.

He has three main characteristics that make him particularly well-suited to his position.

1.) He is a nurturing host.  It all boils down to his desire to take care of people.  He observes his staff and guests with a paternal eye.  He desires to bring the best out of his employees by teaching and encouraging, rather than shaming and berating.  Toward every hotel and restaurant guest, he strives to exceed all of their desires and fulfill wishes they didn’t even know they possessed.

I have never left his kingdom without being full of delicious food, and delighted by the way that he can always add one more element to my time there that is both a complete surprise to me and just the right thing to make a visit unforgettably special; it’s Chef James’ modus operandi

Image result for chef james clark

Madison Clark, and dad James.

2.) He is a good old Southern boy.  With all his heart he loves the food and culture of the South.  Chef reveres the creativity and skill of the generations before him.  He honors their history by getting the very best local ingredients, manipulating them with talent and a sense of history, and coaxing out the very best of each component.

3.) The man’s a world-class, classically trained chef.  Once you’ve learned and studied all the rules, then if you have the expertise and imagination you can play with them.  And Chef James has lots of fun in the kitchen.  He takes a common, old-fashioned recipe, elevates the ingredients and procedure, and turns out an homage to classic Southern fare.

But don’t confuse classic with stuffy.  Chef James may be a dignified executive chef, but from him, you’ll get absolutely no love for swank and pretense.

His take on Eastern NC bbq is a perfect example.  The plate comes with an old-school, pointy-topped vinegar bottle of sauce.  There’s pork, but a perfectly seared and juicy tenderloin.  The cole slaw is a bright yet sweet slaw of spiral cut veg.  Sous Chef Jonathon James’ take on cornbread is a delicious, sweet, zippy corn pudding.

Corn Poblano Pudding

corn puddingCorn Base:

1 Cup Fresh Corn                                                                                             

1 Cup Whole Milk                                                                                             

Caramelize corn in a hot medium sauté pan, deglaze milk reduce by a ¼. Blend on high until smooth but some of the texture of the corn remains

Pudding:

1 ½ Cup Corn base    

1 Poblano Pepper, roasted (charred skin and seeds removed, then diced)

8 Eggs

1 Cup Heavy Cream   

2 Tablespoons Chili Powder 

1 ½ Cups Cheddar Cheese (grated)  

¾ – 1 Cup Corn Muffin Mix (*Debbie here—I would go with something like Jiffy)                                                                                        

Salt & Pepper To Taste

Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with the cast iron vessel you are using to bake pudding in so it is hot when time to bake. Spray vessel well and bake approx.. 15 minutes. Top should bounce to the touch.

There just isn’t enough room in this piece to tell you all about Petey and Debbie’s excellent adventure.  So next week  I’ll write more tales of our night, including the world’s greatest pasta course, how I ate some of each seafood that arrived at our table, and what I did with all those desserts (and no, I didn’t leave Petey for all that sugary bounty—he’s sitting here right next to me).

 

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See?  He’s just fine.

Thanks for your time.

 

A Kernel of Truth

Originally published in the Herald-Sun 12/19/2012.

At our house, we are huge fans of carby comfort food.

We have a repertoire of dishes, everything from blue box mac, to an invented dish we call a ‘pasta toss’ (pasta, usually with sautéed veg and lots of lemon and garlic).

When Petey is saving lives at Duke, my baby and I dine alone.  On those nights we love nothing better than to get into our jimmies, and hop onto the couch with a couple of plates of steamy noodle goodness.  Then we dine, while watching a cinematic classic like, “Super Lobster Versus Mega Kitten”.

One night, prowling the Food Network website, I came upon a picture of a pasta dish with corn and green onions.

It looked fresh and light, yet luxurious.  Crazy gorgeous.  It made my stomach rumble.

I copy/pasted the illustration, and emailed it to The Kid, who was ensconced upstairs in the fortress of solitude, with various beeping and blinking devices.

It was given a thumb’s up.  We decided to create our own corn and pasta dish.

We immediately started making plans.

For pasta, we decided on parpadelle.  It’s as long as spaghetti, but as wide as an egg noodle.  The good stuff is as silky as a French nightgown.  It’s eggy and yummy.

For flavoring and fat in which to saute, we decided to go with pancetta.  It’s Italian.  They make it with pork belly, which also makes our American bacon.  It’s cured and rolled. But unlike bacon, which is smoked, pancetta is never smoked, but flavored with peppercorns and other herbs and spices, like rosemary and juniper berries.

Although I am an onion lover, my child is not, so instead of green onions for our dish, we would stir in a handful of fresh chopped parsley.  This would give us both color and fresh bright flavor.

As for our star of the show, corn, a trip to the farmers’ market presented us with a myriad of choices.  We settled on some beautiful sweet juicy ears still in their pale green silky robes.

Some stuff about fresh corn:

As soon as the ear leaves the stalk, the sugars in those sweet kernels start converting to starch.  In two days, about 80% of the sugar has mutated.  So, only buy fresh corn on the day you will use it.  And don’t buy it if it’s been languishing at the grocery store for days. The way to get the tastiest corn is to get freshly picked.

Otherwise, buy frozen.

Don’t be ashamed to be seen in the freezer aisle.  IQF, or individually quick frozen vegetables is the way most veg are prepared these days.  They’re cleaned and frozen as quickly as possible, sometimes within minutes, in buildings just feet from the fields in which they grew.  I promise they will be fresher than the sad, middle-aged specimens declining in your supermarket veggy department.

To shuck corn, quicker and cleaner; drop each ear into boiling water for a count of fifteen.  This will make the silk practically jump off the corn.  To completely eliminate the mess and bother, make the kids do it–outside.

To get the kernels off the cob, just hold the cob upright on a cutting board, and cut down with a sharp knife, turn it, and repeat.  After kernels are removed, scrape down the cob with the back of your knife, to get the juice.

Some folks swear by resting the cob on the opening of an upright bundt pan.  The theory is all the stuff goes only into the pan.  It never works for me.  It is a messy job, no getting around it.  I suggest a drop cloth, and a shower after.

Once we had our components, we set about making our newest pasta toss.  It was a blast conspiring together to create this new recipe.

Happily, all the fevered intrigue paid off.  It’s the perfect, yummy plate to devour while watching “Grizzlygator versus Colossal Hedgehog 2”.  This time I hear it’s personal.

Summer Corn & Parpadelle

Serves four as a side dish, or two as a main.

1 lb parpadelle

¼ lb thick sliced pancetta, cut into cubes

2 cloves garlic, peeled, and smashed, or thickly sliced

6 ears fresh corn, cut from cob (or 12-16 ounces frozen shoe peg, if fresh is not available)

1 shallot, diced

1/3 cup white wine

1 cup chicken stock

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

2 T butter

1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Salt and pepper

Set a very large pot with heavily salted water on to boil.  When it boils, add pasta and cook ‘til al dente. 

In a large heavy skillet, cook pancetta until completely browned on medium-low, and remove from pan. Turn up to medium, and put garlic in.  Cook until lightly golden and fragrant.  Remove and discard. 

Put shallots into skillet, and cook until softened and lightly translucent.  Add corn with juice.  Cook until the liquid is almost gone, and add wine, and stir to coat everything.  When wine has evaporated, add chicken stock, and turn up to medium-high. 

Let it bubble away to thicken, while paprpadelle is cooking.  When the consistency is right, turn off heat, and stir in cheese and butter (called mounting).

When the noodles are done, don’t strain them, remove from water with tongs or a large slotted spoon, and add directly to sauce.  Add parsley, and toss everything together.  If the sauce is too stiff, add a little pasta water to thin it.

Check for seasoning, plate, scatter top with pancetta bits, and serve. 

The Kid called this past weekend, and told me next week’ll be finals for food and wine compatibility class.  The directive is a dish that pairs well with a chardonnay.

Guess what recipe my child is choosing to make for the exam?

Thanks for your time.