Dr. Pepper Ribs

I have a confession to make: I am afraid of our grill. I never used to be, but then again, I'd never attempted to light it myself before - my dad or Josh always lit it and I'd tend to the food on it thereafter. But about a month ago, Josh found himself late coming home and I was left to start the burgers.

I made my way outside, turned on the gas and fiddled with the knobs before lighting my long match to toss into the pit. After striking the match and before I could even blink, a fierce, billowing ball of flame erupted from the grill - quite literally blowing up in my face. Terrified, but miraculously with enough sense to shut everything off, I flew into the house and into the bathroom, convinced that I would find a reflection of someone without eyebrows and eyelashes. The person staring back at me had a halo of charred hair around her forehead, crispy eyebrows and raw red burns on the tip of her nose and across her chest. I was not going to be bald and eyebrow-less, but I was in pain and traumatized, so amid the acrid smell of burnt hair I stood in the bathroom and sobbed.

I'm fine, but I will never light the grill again. To wrap up a long story, these ribs were slow cooked and later broiled in the oven, in my kitchen, where it's safe and I understand how everything works. Marinated for 6 hours in Dr. Pepper, they turn out moist, sweet yet savory, and it's entirely possible that you won't even miss the grill.

You will need:

1 rack of baby back ribs, back membrane removed
1 liter Dr. Pepper
Garlic powder
Salt and pepper
Your favorite barbecue sauce

Rinse off your ribs, pat dry and season both sides with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Place ribs in a deep roasting dish and pour in enough Dr. Pepper to cover the whole rack (I used the entire liter). Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. When you're ready to cook the ribs, drain off the liquids and pat the ribs completely dry. Dry the roasting pan as well, and add a wire roasting rack to the pan. Place the ribs on the roasting rack, cover the pan tightly with foil, and place in the middle of the oven. Cook for 2 hours.

Remove the foil after two hours and brush generously with barbecue sauce. Set oven broiler to low and broil ribs for approximately 8-10 minutes, or until the barbecue sauce begins to caramelize and brown. Remove and allow ribs to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Homemade Butter

A while back, before I joined Weight Watchers (weren't expecting that revelation, were you?), and deep in the midst of diet research, I came upon something called the Vice Diet. The diet's creator promised that by cutting out the one food item you love and therefore eat more than recommended, you could lose staggering amounts of weight.

Hmm, I thought. What would be my vice?

The answer hit me like a ton of bricks: cheese, you dummy.

Well, that will never work, I thought as I pushed it away. What would be my second vice?

That answer was even worse: butter, you dummy.

So the Vice Diet isn't for me. Granted, I've cut back (severely) on both items, but I still eat them in moderation. And I've lost 5.6 pounds since the first of February. So pfffft to you, Vice Diet.

As usual, I digress. I learned that I could make butter in a stand mixer, but then my brother texted recently that he'd made it in a mason jar with marbles, and I simply couldn't put it off any longer. Let me tell you: you've never had butter unless you've had it from your own kitchen. If I could get fresher cream it would amp the awesomeness even further.

You will need:

A stand mixer
6 cups heavy cream
2 tbs kosher salt for salted butter, or whatever additions you desire (think cinnamon, strawberries, garlic, etc)
Ice water

Using the paddle attachment of your stand mixer (it will be difficult to remove the butter clumps if you use the whisk attachment), beat the cream on medium high speed. When the cream forms stiff peaks (like whipped cream), you're halfway there. Continue beating. The cream will become clumpy and grainy and you'll wonder if you're doing something wrong, but just keep going. Resist the urge to scrape down the bowl - when it's ready it will scrape away from the bowl. Once the mixture starts sloshing and splattering, it's a sure sign that the butter is ready, as that means the liquid has separated from the fat.

It is important to remove as much liquid as possible from the butter solids, as it can quickly turn your butter rancid. To do so, set a mesh strainer over a deep bowl and strain the liquid from the butter solids, squeezing to remove as much liquid as possible. Add ice water in small amounts to rinse the butter solids, squeezing after each addition. When the strained water runs clear, you have removed all of the buttermilk.

Store in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator for no more than 2 weeks.

February Daring Baker's Challenge: Panna Cotta

Q: What could be more indulgent than a dessert comprised nearly entirely of heavy cream?

A: A dessert comprised nearly entirely of heavy cream, with added sugar and hot fudge, served from a champagne flute and enjoyed after an extraordinarily decadent 3-course dinner at home.

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

Well, I forgot about the cookies. And I used a David Leibovitz recipe. Whoops.

Otherwise, thank goodness this challenge came around when it did, because we decided to cook at home this year on Valentine's Day, and I had no idea what to make for dessert. Chocolate was a given, but if I made cake, we would be left with far too many leftovers - plus I have issues with eating my weight in cake batter. Panna cotta also requires (or rather, demands) vanilla beans instead of extract, and I happen to be fascinated with vanilla beans. Sold!

Since it would be just the two of us, I divided the following recipe in half (but stuck with one whole vanilla bean), and the panna cotta mixture still divided perfectly among 3 champagne flutes (kindly ignore the price tags on my champagne flutes). I topped each flute with an espresso hot fudge sauce. While the pudding and the sauce were lovely and a perfect end to an indulgent meal, I think I finally understand what people mean when they say something is “too rich” – I couldn’t finish my glass. This summer, I’d love to experiment with different toppings, like fresh berries or peaches, and serve dessert in smaller cups.
You will need:

4 cups heavy cream (my heavy cream carton yielded only half of this, so I topped it off with skim milk and the results were fine)
½ cup sugar
2 tsp vanillia extract, or one vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 packets powdered gelatin
6 tbs cold water

Heat the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. If you are using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds from the bean into the cream and add the bean pod. Cover, and let infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the bean then rewarm the mixture before continuing. Lightly oil eight custard cups with a neutral-tasting oil, or spray lightly with cooking spray.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized bowl and let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Pour the very warm panna cotta mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Divide the panna cotta mixture into the prepared cups/glasses, then chill them until firm, which will take at least two hours. Cover with plastic wrap if not enjoying immediately after they have set.

Top with desired garnish - some ideas are:

Hot fudge
A mix of white and semisweet chocolate chips
Caramel sauce
Macerated berries
Grilled peaches
Candied nuts
Go crazy! Here's the link to the original post.

Spicy Grouper Sandwiches and my Blog-o-versary!

Today marks one full year of blogging for me. In the last year, I have improved my writing skills (tremendously), my photography skills (slightly), made new friends, and pushed myself into sharing my kitchen stories both of triumph and of failure with the public. I've shared recipes and picked up new tricks and hints along the way, and I'm so happy to look back on the past year and wonder with excitement where things will go from here. I am making a point to blog more often, to find something special in everything I cook and share it with you. Until I have a new camera/a better lit kitchen, I ask you to bear with me when the pictures are less than gorgeous!

Just...thank you, thank you for sticking around for the last year.

On to the recipe! I was without dinner ideas tonight, so after an early dismissal from work (snow leaves Nashville debilitated), I slowly perused the grocery store waiting for the proverbial light bulb to go off. It happened at the fish counter - fresh grouper? Grouper sandwiches? Yes please!

I'm avoiding excessive calories/fried foods lately, so I simply sprinkled on a little panko for crunch before baking the fillets, and didn't miss the fry factor at all. Served up with a little lime-cilantro tartar sauce, and this was a quick, warming dinner for two on a snowy evening.

You will need:

2 grouper fillets
Cajun seasoning (I used Zatarain's)
2 tablespoons Panko bread crumbs
Rolls of your choice
Sliced tomatoes, red onions, lettuce - toppings of your choice

For the cilantro tartar sauce, you will need:

2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 green onion, chopped, white and light green parts only
1 clove garlic, grated
Zest of half a small lime
Juice of half a small lime
Pinch salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Season the fish with cajun seasoning, then sprinkle with a small amount of Panko on each side. Spray a roasting rack with nonstick cooking spray and place fish on rack. Cook without flipping 5 minutes, then turn on the broiler. Broil until Panko starts toasting, about a minute, before flipping and toasting Panko on the opposite side.

Combine all tartar sauce ingredients in a small bowl. To assemble sandwiches, spread tartar sauce on buns, add toppings and fish.

Homemade Chicken Stock

One of the things that always held me back from making homemade stock was the perceived waste of food. Sure, the chicken and bones could already be considered trash, but to add perfectly good carrots, celery, garlic, onions and tomato into a pot of boiling water, just to throw them away afterward, was off-putting. After a few runs with homemade stock, however, it was clear by the sad, wilty state of the veggies that they most certainly did have their place, and were well-used in the creation of the stock.

What's the difference between stock and broth? Broth is made with just meat, whereas stock incorporates bones as well. In my opinion, stock is always richer. Whenever I roast a chicken or cook chicken on the bone, I freeze the bones in a Ziplock for a pot of stock down the road. Along with meat, the more bones you have, the richer your stock will be.

You will need:

Various leftover chicken pieces, such as whole carcasses, necks or giblets. Freeze these as you go along until you have enough for stock - a good rule of thumb when collecting various parts is to essentially collect a bird's worth (two wings, two legs, two breasts, etc). You can also start with fresh chicken meat - for example, you can use breasts and when the stock has finished cooking, shred them for chicken salad or pulled barbecue chicken.
1 whole onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic, whole
5-6 whole carrots, cleaned but not peeled, cut into chunks
Leaves and top part of stalks from one whole celery bulb (use the natural indent as your guide as far as where to cut)
Stems from one bunch parsley, tied with kitchen string if you wish
One tomato, quartered
Water, enough to cover
3 tablespoons salt
Palmful whole peppercorns
1/4 tsp turmeric (mostly for color - a little goes a very long way)

The directions couldn't be easier: add your chicken pieces, vegetables, herbs and seasonings to a large pot and fill with water. Heat over medium to medium-high heat for an hour to an hour and a half (do not boil). Taste and adjust seasonings (usually only salt) if necessary. Strain out solids by pouring the stock over a colander fitted over a second large pot. Discard solids and allow stock to cool completely to room temperature before storing. Tip: placing the room-temperature pot of stock in your fridge overnight will cause all the fat to rise to the top, making it very easy to skim off.

To store: chicken broth will last indefinitely if properly stored in the freezer, or up to three days in the refrigerator. To store for a prolonged period of time, a pressure canner is essential (water bath canning will not suffice to kill any bacteria for the storage of meat or meat-based broths). The best reference and tutorial for pressure canning can be found at the Ball website. The idea of pressure canning scared me to death for the longest time, and the first time I tried it I stayed far away from the kitchen lest the device explode as I feared. Of course it never did - modern canners have an extremely low chance of exploding due to their safety features.

Reheat broth before canning in hot Mason jars, then process according to the low acid directions - 20 minutes for pints of broth and 25 minutes for quarts.