I don't know why, but I've been in denial about writing this entry. Maybe because there are so many things to talk about, not just recipes but also a very special phone conversation!!
FNBF is excited to have his first official share in Fire Island this summer. He invited me to spend a few days this week out there, off-peak. I'd never been to The Pines, so it was great to see what all the fuss has been about. Of course, being in The Pines on a brisk Tuesday, partly sunny Wednesday and cats-and-dogs Thursday probably bears no resemblance to being in The Pines on a sunny summer weekend, but I can imagine....
Being the thoughtful BF that he is, FNBF mentioned that our time in Fire Island would present a wonderful opportunity to knock out some of the grilling recipes in the book that are impossible to accomplish in a city apartment.
Well, he didn't have to tell me twice!
Barbecued Baby Back Ribs (p. 176)
I love ribs. LOVE. Ribs. And it's something that I would never think to make, so I'm thrilled that it's in the book and that I'm forced to take it on. I had some preparing to do, being that you have to make the Spice Paste and the All-Purpose Grilling Sauce in order to make the ribs (see below). So I made those in NYC and packed it all up in a thermal bag to haul out to F.I.
Once I got out there and saw the small Weber grill, I became concerned that I wouldn't be able to follow the recipe exactly, as the instructions say to use indirect heat, i.e. put the coals on one side of the grill and the ribs on the other. This grill didn't have enough room for that kind of separation. Also, I forgot to pick up an oven thermometer in the city.
But the universe provides! I found an oven thermometer at one of the mini-stores in The Pines, and as for the grill situation, I had an opportunity to Ask Martha herself about it!
As a subscriber to Martha's Tweets, I get texts from her all day every day, including a weekly message letting me know that her Sirius/XM radio show is about to air and encouraging me to call to ask her a question. Every time I've tried to call, I've gotten a busy signal. So I'd given up.
But there we were on Fire Island, and FNBF says, "You should call her." "Nah, I never get through." "Just try it!" So I tried again, and amazingly, after a short screening conversation with an assistant, there I was on the air, chatting with the Big M!!
She was great, so kind and confident and straight-forward. I told her my concerns, and she told me everything I needed to know to trouble-shoot the grill situation. I mentioned that I was cooking my way through her book and loving it. She wasn't surprised. :-) I didn't get a chance to plug this blog, mostly because she was very skillful at moving the conversation along. In the end, I was thrilled merely to have had a brief moment with her live on the phone. What a kick! Thanks, FNBF, for making me do it. (He thinks I'm going to become obsessed with talking to her and start calling her every week, etc., and he may be right.)
Minutes after the call, I was putting the ribs on the grill. It's a great thing that the recipe is so specific about the temperature and that I had an oven thermometer because the temperature inside the grill was so overly hot. Martha says to check the temperature after 20 minutes and that 275°-300° is appropriate, but our grill read 400°! Thankfully, she had told me that I could shpritz water on the coals to cool them down, which I did. And I also left the top of the grill partly open, and eventually, the temperature was perfect.
It's a somewhat long process (2.5 hours), with turning every half hour, but what a reward at the end!! One of the racks was doing exactly what she said it would (i.e. breaking a little in the middle when picked up with tongs), but the other one was rock solid. So we took one off and let the other one stay on another half hour. I think they were probably both done at the same time, and the reason it didn't bend was because there was a piece of meat across the top that was a little charred and wouldn't allow it to move. But no matter...
These ribs were AMAZING!! The spice rub gave them a crazy delicious taste, the grilling sauce was just right, and the slow cooking was unbelievably fabulous! Falling off the bone, tender but slightly charred, a little sweet, a little sour, a little spicy, a lot salty, oh dear Lord, were they good!
Martha says this recipe serves 4-6, but you will want to eat them all yourselves. We managed to finish the whole batch in one sitting, and even though we were stuffed, we would have eaten more.
Spice Paste (p. 173)
So easy and what incredible color this gives whatever it touches (including your hands and clothes). You could put this on shoe leather and it would make it taste great.
We just put it on the ribs, but I'm curious to see how this would taste on chicken or beef....
All-Purpose Grilling Sauce (p. 177)
This is basically BBQ sauce, but it's quite delicious. It has a great depth of flavor, and of course, as with everything in this book, it tastes very fresh and bright. And it's interesting to make it to see how those disparate flavors combine to make that BBQ sauce flavor. There's dark brown sugar, vinegar, onions, garlic, tomato juice, tomato sauce, molasses, chile powder, mustard powder, Worcestershire sauce, toasted cumin seeds, oregano, and a fresh jalapeño. Lots of ingredients, but lots of flavor! And for those of you who think, as I did, that putting a jalapeño pepper in there would make it spicy, it doesn't! (I removed the ribs and the seeds, for that reason.) It just deepens the flavor. And I hate peppers, but I can appreciate the taste in this sauce.
Herb Oil for Grilled Vegetables (p. 348)
Lots of fresh herbs and minced garlic floating in olive oil make for a beautifully flavored oil for grilling. This recipe goes a long way, and there was so much left over that I used it for roasting some vegetables when I got back to the city. It works great there too! All the bits of herbs brown in the oven, but the taste is amazing.
Spice Mixes for Grilled Vegetables (p. 348)
There are two mixes in the book for parboiled vegetables on their way to the grill: a Southwestern flavor mix and a fennel flavor mix. We tried both with some potatoes. It's tricky to get a lot of the spice to attach to the vegetables, so the flavor isn't very strong, but both lend a subtle and delicious undertaste to the potatoes. I wouldn't say one flavor is better than the other because they're both so different. I'm not a huge potato fan, so this probably won't get a lot of play in my life, but it was fun to try.
Grilled Asparagus (p. 349)
Nice on the grill. We didn't skewer them. They didn't get marked by the grill, but we didn't want to cook them to death, so maybe that's why. Delicious.
Grilled Corn (p. 349)
We tried this both ways, taken out of the husk and cooked in the husk. Two completely different experiences! Out of the husk, the corn was dried out and charred, and it was delicious, but a very unique taste sensation, made me think of Native Americans for some reason. In the husk, the corn was more typically luscious and sweet and juicy. I think there's value in both preparations, it just depends on what you're looking for.
Grilled Fennel Bulbs (p. 350)
These were parboiled, then covered with the herb oil. It think I parboiled them too long. They were a little soggy. Plus, they cooked upstairs on the duplex grill, so they didn't get any char going. Still, they tasted great.
Grilled Onions (p. 350)
Yum! Herb oil and fire make onions taste great! We enjoyed these with burgers the night before rib night. Delicious!
Grilled Potatoes (p. 350)
As I've stated before (and above), I'm not a huge potato lover, but these were nice. Boiled for about 15 minutes, maybe more, then rolled in oil and covered with the two spice mixes, these cooked perfectly on the grill. We used smallish new potatoes and left them whole. FNBF thought they came out perfectly.
Grilled Zucchini (p. 350)
These were almost a home run. Just a little overcooked, unfortunately. But they had that great lined pattern that grilled vegetables get. Should have taken them off when Martha said, but they stayed on too long. I'll take a demerit for that.
Until we eat again....
FNBF with Grilled Corn (two ways), onions, and zucchini. (The tomatoes weren't done a la Martha, since we wanted to slice them and put them on our burgers.)
FNBF enjoying the amazing ribs!
Close up on the ribs, with the potatoes, fennel, and asparagus.