Winter Preserves Pork Ribs

There is a reason why humans invented the preservation methods of drying, candying, smoking, freezing, and keeping foods in airtight jars.  Of course, we all know it was to extend the life of foods a little beyond the growing season and to prevent starvation during the dormant months. The other motivation was to keep foods so they could be transported from an entirely foreign climate which would allow people to enjoy pineapples, and cloves, and even herring when they had no way of harvesting those foods themselves.

            When I travel, I am always picking up interesting dried herbs and spices, dried fruit, potted meats, and fruit preserves.  It is a luxurious feeling to know I have exotic hard spices or a glistening jar of preserves in the pantry, but sometimes, those “special” items get passed over when I am cooking because they require a little bit of imagination or preparation such as toasting and grinding.  Also, it is true that people just don’t eat so many jams and jellies as they used to even though we still love the idea of them.  Rather than waiting for the odd piece of receptive toast, this type of recipe is a great way to use those gems.
            My intent today was to use a good quantity of my pantry items with pork ribs as the vehicle. The recipe is then easily adaptable to your own pantry.  If you think of your basic barbecue sauce you usually take a base like tomatoes, contrast it with mustard and vinegar, and then add a few spices for flavor.  With that formula in mind, I made ribs that were akin to the sticky Chinese style, without replicating that icon.
Spice Mix
2 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced or 1 tbsp. dried
Artisinal salt to taste
Grind the following in a spice grinder:
½  tsp. each of cardamom, cloves, dried peppers, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, yellow mustard seeds,  black mustard seeds, and star anise (I also added a Tunisian specialty of dried bitter orange blossoms.  If you want the extra orange essence, you can add some orange zest.)
Mix all spice ingredients together.
½ cup black sesame paste
½ cup orange or lemon marmelade
1/3 cup tomato vinegar or ketchup
1/3 cup soy sauce
Stir spice mix into marinade ingredients.
Dice 1 large onion.  In a deep baking dish, layer chopped onions and rib sections that have been covered on both sides with the marinade mixture.  Intersperse so the onions touch all sides of the pork.  Pour 1 cup water around the side of the meat.  Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 300 degrees for two to three hours or until the meat is completely tender.  Uncover for the last 30 minutes to reduce the liquid and caramelize the meat.  If the cooking liquid is still watery, remove the meat and reduce the liquid in a saucepan on the stovetop until it thickens.
In a small foil pan or open topped foil packet (approx.. 6” square), combine ½ cup black or green tea, ½ cup dry rice, and ¼ cup brown sugar.  Place in the bottom of a barbecue with a lid.  Heat barbecue to medium heat.  When tea mixture begins to smoke, add ribs for approximately 15 minutes or until they have taken on a subtle smoky flavor.  Remove ribs to a platter.    When cool, discard tea packet.
 Spicy, bright, sweet, smoky.  Very nice for a winter Sunday supper.  What’s in your pantry?

Sesame Seed Cookies

Do you like tahini?  Many years ago now (well, I was still in the morning sickness stage with my Gabe, who is 22),  we had breakfast with some of our best friends, the Bryants, at a little hippie café in Seattle.  I ordered Tahitian Toast with a glass of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.  I think I expected it was going to involve pineapple in some form, but it was two thick, moist slices of French toast with a slathering  of tahini in the middle, like a French toast sandwich.  With maple syrup drizzled over the top and the tart citrus juice on the side, I fell in love with the bitter nuttiness of tahini and sesame seeds, in general.  I always have French toast with tahini now and freshly squeezed citrus when I can get it, which these days is pretty often.

Sesame seeds are next in the ingredient line-up (see Cookies Till They Come) and I didn’t want to hide them.  I wanted them to be toasted and slightly bitter in a crispy cookie.  This recipe is by Martha Stewart.

Sesame Seed Cookies
Yield 48
o   1 cup all-purpose flour
o   1/2 teaspoon salt
o   1/2 teaspoon baking soda
o   8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
o   1 cup packed light-brown sugar
o   1 large egg
o   1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
o   1 cup hulled sesame seeds, toasted
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line four baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside. Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda, and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, and beat until combined. Add reserved flour mixture, and beat until combined. Add toasted sesame seeds, and beat until incorporated.
  3. Using a spoon, drop cookie batter, about 1 tablespoon at a time, onto prepared baking sheets, allowing at least 2 inches between cookies for spreading.
  4. Bake until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from oven, and cool on a wire rack.
These are a little chewier than crisp.  They are simple, but the flavor is fantastic:  buttery, toasty, bitter and the seeds crunch in little bursts in your mouth.    I would always prefer these now to peanut butter cookies.

Rethink Candied Yams!

            Why is it so challenging sometimes to just try a completely new recipe?  I consider myself to be an adventurous eater, but then I’m sometimes surprised at the recipes I just don’t try.  What is the worst that can happen?  I did try this, though, and I was rewarded.  I’ve been a little off cauliflower since I moved from Kathmandu where I think I ate cauliflower every single day for five years.  Yet I tried this and loved it.  We had it with crispy, caramelized roast chicken and baked potatoes with bacon, chives, and crème fraiche.  The salty, peppery, slightly sweet, nutty combination was a great companion to the meal.  I think it could work the same for a roast turkey.  Consider it.

Roasted Cauliflower with Date Syrup
from Bon Appetit, October 2011, pg. 24
1 head of cauliflower (about 2 lbs.) cored and broken into flowerets
2 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup tahini
2 Tbsp. (or more) date syrup, maple syrup, or honey
2 tsp. (or more) lemon juice
Sea salt
Preheat oven to 400 to 500 degrees.  Place cauliflower, olive oil, and salt and pepper in a plastic storage bag and shake to coat.  Roast, until browned and tender, about 30 minutes.
Transfer to a mixing bowl.  Drizzle with tahini, syrup or honey, and lemon juice.  Adjust seasoning with the addition of salt and pepper.  Turn out to a serving plate and drizzle with more olive oil and lemon juice, if desired.