24 April 2007

Ribs N' Bibs

Rib tips from Ribs N' Bibs are so delicious that I once got caught standing in front of the fridge in my underwear eating them out of a paper bucket at 6:20 in the morning. I giggled, finished my beer, got ready for work, and all day I walked around smelling my fingers, nostalgic for the taste of barbecue sauce.
Just kidding about the beer part. But everything else is true.

I feel no shame about my early-morning indulgence...well, except the fact that I spent a large portion of with my fingers jammed up my nose. And enjoyed it, too. That’s kind of weird. I feel a little embarrassed about that. But who are you to say that you wouldn’t have the same problem? Stop being so judgmental. You’re probably picking your nose right now.

Getting back to ribs, I do wonder what percentage of people eat their leftover Ribs N’ Bibs while standing in front of their fridge in their underwear at 6 in the morning. I bet the number is higher than you think. I doubt that many people have the patience to wait until a proper rib-eating hour of the day to eat their leftover ribs, and then actually take the time to heat them up, let alone put on clothes first.

If you live in Hyde Park, you are probably familiar with the tantalizing aromas that waft from the hickory-burning fires at Ribs N’ Bibs. Their smokestack is but 1/10 of a mile from my house, and every time the wind carries that smell through my windows, I must exercise a considerable amount of restraint to not abandon my own cooking and follow my nose to the South Side Chicago landmark. I wish I could eat there more often! Regrettably, they don’t really serve vegetables, so I can’t justify eating there more than three or four times a year.

Celebrities have been visiting Ribs N' Bibs for years!

It took my husband and I a few years of living in Hyde Park before we ventured over to Ribs N’ Bibs because we had heard so many mixed reviews about it. We had heard that the large slabs of ribs are not the best that you can find in the city. But if you can find a few people to split a bucket of rib tips with, I think that you will be rather pleased. Elated. Addicted.
Rib tips are the tender ends of back or spare ribs that have been trimmed off to make the slabs rectangular. There is a satisfying amount of meat on each small bone, and the perfect amount of fat.
The pulled pork sandwich is a good deal, although I do find myself wishing for more meat on the sandwich. And I haven’t tried the chicken, but people tell me it’s delicious. Someday I will try it. I just can’t bring myself to order chicken when there is the option of rib tips or a pulled pork sandwich!

Good sauce. Good rib tips. Good pulled pork sandwich. Good chicken. Good smells. The only problem is that yesterday was Monday, and already I have had the best meal of the week. What is left to look forward to, if I have already eaten the best dinner of the week?
Why, leftovers, of course!

Ribs N’ Bibs
5300 S. Dorchester Ave.
Chicago, IL

I wish I owned a bib that said Rbn'.

07 April 2007

Parrot, Three Ways

Parrot with Artichoke, Sun-Dried Tomato, and White Wine

Roasted Parrot with Orange Blossom Honey Glaze

Parrot Baked in Coconut Curry Sauce

It is a sunny April morning in Chicago. The outside temperature is below freezing, but that doesn’t matter to me when I am snuggled up in my covers, delighted to be sleeping in past 5 AM.
I listen to the happy songbirds chirping outside, grateful that there are trees outside our bedroom window so that the birdies can hop around and awaken us with their melodies. Insert contented sigh.
Suddenly a deathly silence settles over the morning. Why did the little birdies stop their beautiful song?

“EEK EEEEEKKK EEEEEKK EK EKEK EKKKKKK!” The calmness is shattered. A flash of green darts past the window, and then another, and I know that the parrots have awakened. Once they are up, there will be no more cheerful warbling from the songbirds for the rest of the day...only the incessant squabbling of the wild monk parakeets that live in our neighborhood.

The parakeets are an amazing example of a transplant species that has flourished in an urban area. Originally from Argentina, the beautiful yet annoying birds were transported to the States in large numbers to be kept as pets. Difficult to train, unsatisfied owners released them into the wild, and their population has been growing in Hyde Park and the surrounding areas since the 70’s. Read more about them here and here.

The parakeets are harmless, as there are no wheat fields or vegetable crops to which the birds pose a significant threat. They are a welcome splash of color during our drab winters, and I give the little boogers credit for surviving our tough winters. But come springtime, their inconsiderate clamor really gets on my nerves. If I wanted to feel like I lived in a zoo, I would work at a junior high. Oh wait, I already do. Ummmm.......

Just like the seventh graders I teach, the parakeets get rather ruffled when I tell them shut the hell up because they are annoying the shit out of me, and then they only squawk louder.* But I am smarter than my seventh graders. I know how to outwit them. I can’t just tell them to be quiet and expect them to mindlessly obey me. I need to find a reason for them to be quiet.
The reason is fear.
Fear that I will eat them.

Therefore, I have prepared three recipes with which I can threaten the parrots and strike fear into the cores of their hollow little bones. The first three photographs above have been printed out, laminated, and glued to the end of three long sticks.** Next time the green devils start up their hullabaloo, I will choose one of the three sticks, dangle it off my back porch, and wave it front of their beady little eyes so they can get a close look at their future.

I don’t think the birds are smart enough to know that the photographs are chicken meat, or that I have no intention of capturing them and eating them. As long as they are afraid, they will be stunned into silence, and I will have my peace and quiet.

Message for PETA: Stay away, I’m only joking! I would never eat a parrot or a seventh grader!

Roasted Parrot with Orange Blossom Honey
~adapted from Charlie Trotter, friend of birds
1 cup orange blossom honey
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 3-4 pound parrot (or a few small parakeets, whatever you can catch)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

The honey glaze creates a deliciously crispy skin. Even if you don't eat the skin, prepare it this way, and the meat underneath remains moist and flavorful.

Place honey and stock in small saucepan and whisk over medium heat for 5 minutes, until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place bird in roasting rack in a roasting pan and season with salt and pepper. Generously brush the glaze all over the parrot and roast for 45 - 60 minutes, or until the juices run clear (if using smaller birds, less time will be needed). Brush on additional glaze every 15 minutes during the roasting. Remove from oven, let rest for 10 minutes, then carve.

Parrot Baked in Coconut Curry Sauce
~adapted from Cooking Light Magazine

1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons red curry paste
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless parrot breast halves
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 small yellow squash, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup diagonally cut green onions
4 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
4 lime wedges

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Combine first 4 ingredients in a bowl, stir with a whisk and set aside.
Pound parrot breasts into even thickness between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Sprinkle salt and pepper evenly over bird.
Spread out 4 (16x12-inch) sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil. In the middle of one sheet, place 1/4 of the the vegetables (not the cilantro or lime). Lay 1 parrot breast half over the vegetables, and cover with 3 tablespoons of the coconut mixture. Fold foil over the bird and vegetables; tightly seal edges.
Repeat with remaining sheet of foil.
Place packets on a baking sheet. Bake for 22 minutes, remove from oven, and let sit for 4 minutes. Unfold carefully to avoid being burned by the steam. Sprinkle with cilantro and lime, over a bed of jasmine rice.

Parrot with Artichokes and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
~Fancy Toast original recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 cup white wine

1 pound parrot tenders (or chicken tenders)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 oz. jar artichokes
4 oz. sun-dried tomatoes, sliced thinly
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper the parrot tenders on each side.
In a Dutch Oven or a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
Cook the chicken until just browned, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from pan and set aside on a plate.
Add the shallots to the now-empty pan and cook until tender, about 4 minutes.
Add the garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the wine and scrape off any browned bits from the bottom.
Return the bird to the pan, along with the artichokes and tomatoes.
Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the bird is cooked all the way through, about 10 minutes.
Remove the parrot/chicken from the pan and tent with foil to keep warm. If the sauce is too thin, increase the heat until the sauce thickens to the desired consistency.
Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.
Spoon sauce and vegetables over the bird. Sprinkle with parsley.

*Disclaimer #1: Lest you think I am a disgruntled and frustrated teacher, I want you to know that I have never told any my students to shut up, or that they were annoying the shit out of me.
**Disclaimer #2: Lest, you think I am crazy, I didn't really print out those photographs and laminate them and glue them to the end of three long sticks. I hope you believe me.

04 April 2007

Mandoline Chronicles, Cont'd

February, 2007.
Purchase mandoline slicer.
Fail miserably while trying to slice cabbage.

March, 2007.
While practicing mandoline skills, accidentally slice finger. Note to self: always use hand guard.

April, 2007.
Become proficient at slicing cabbage with mandoline slicer!
Celebrate by moving on to fennel.

You may remember a distraught post in February when I was desperately seeking online instructions on how to use my new OXO mandoline slicer to shred cabbage. The post sparked a list of comments with people either voicing similar frustrations or offering tips about how to use the mandoline. Contributing to the comments were two employees of OXO, including the president of the company himself. The OXO folks showed genuine concern for the customers who were unsatisfied with their product, gave some suggestions for proper usage, and then posted information about contacting OXO for mandoline lessons.

I would like to say thank you to everyone who offered advice, and thank you to the people at OXO for making the effort to reach out to your customers and make sure we are happy with your product.

I would also like to say that while I am still not a mandoline expert, slicing is getting easier after heeding the advice from readers. After a few months of practice, and only one injury, which was due to my own carelessness, I can now shred cabbage! It turns out I was doing it all wrong. Only an idiot like me would grab the whole head of cabbage and just start slicing it whole. The secret, unbeknownst to me the time, is to cut the cabbage into quarters and then start slicing with the cut side against the blade.

If you reached this post because you did an online search for tips about using a mandoline, I have compiled everyone’s suggestions into a brief list that will save you the time of going through the comments on the other post. If you have anything to add or change, let me know and I will revise the list.

One more thing…Gretchen, the first of the OXOs to respond to the post, has a beautiful 2 ½ year old boy who has recently been diagnosed with a cancer called Neuroblastoma. Liam will have to go through some aggressive treatment with a relatively long recovery period. His family is chronicling his story at Prince Liam the Brave. Visit their site if you have a moment. Or many moments, because you will want to keep reading on and on about this amazing little person and what he and his family are going through. Oxo created a donations page if you are interested in helping the family.

Tips for Using a Mandoline Slicer
1. Experiment with different types of pressure. Vegetables like cabbage will require a lighter touch, while other vegetables like carrots need heavier weight.

2. Keep the pressure consistent as you slide the vegetables through the blade, even though it goes against your instincts to force your hand quickly towards such a sharp edge.

3. Wet the panel that the vegetable slides along. Some vegetables are inherently moist, and they self-lubricate the panel with each swipe, but other foods are drier and may not glide as smoothly towards the blade.

4. If the hand guard is difficult to control, purchase a fish fillet glove at a sporting goods store, or any glove that will protect your fingers against the sharp edge.

5. If you are slicing cabbage (this is the information I was searching for a few months ago), cut the cabbage into quarters and slice the cut side against the blade. If you are slicing fennel, cut off the bottom, slice the bulb in half, and then slice.

Olive Oil Poached Salmon with Fennel-Orange Relish

The pieces of fennel from the above photos were used in a fennel-orange relish, which garnished a filet of olive oil poached salmon. I know it sounds odd to poach something in olive oil, but it results in a wonderfully delicate and tender texture. Supposedly, when you submerge the fish in the oil and cook it at a very low temperature (low enough that you can stick your finger in the oil and hold it there!), not much oil is absorbed by the fish. Instead, the olive oil seals in the flavor and the moisture.

Olive Oil Poached Salmon with Fennel-Orange Relish
~adapted from Bobby Flay

4 salmon fillets, skin removed
Salt and pepper
2 cups pure olive oil*

Fennel & Orange Relish:
Pinch of saffron (I omitted this for financial purposes and it still tasted delicious)
1 head fennel, outer layer removed, halved and thinly sliced (yay, mandoline!)
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
Salt and pepper
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 oranges, segmented
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (can also be used for cocktails)
1 tablespoon honey
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons fennel frond

Season salmon on both sides with salt and pepper. Place in a large high-sided sauté pan and cover with olive oil.
Turn the flame to medium and let the salmon gently poach in the oil until just cooked through, 15-20 minutes. The oil’s temperature should be below the boiling point. You should be able to keep your finger submerged in the oil for a few moments.
Remove the salmon from the oil and drain on paper towels. Serve with the fennel-orange relish and top with a fennel frond.

Fennel-Orange Relish:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place saffron in a small bowl and cover with a few tablespoons of hot water, let sit 5 minutes to bloom.
Combine the fennel, 3 tablespoons of the oil and the saffron, along with the soaking liquid in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a roasting pan and roast until just soft, stirring occasionally, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cook slightly then transfer to a large bowl.
(Since I omitted the saffron, I just drizzled the fennel slices with oil and roasted them almost dry. They browned a little bit but I think it enhanced the flavor of the relish.)
Stir in the red onion, oranges, pomegranate molasses, honey, lemon, parsley and season with salt and pepper.

*The oil can be re-used. Since the cooking temperature is so low, the oil's structure does not break down. I plan to recycle mine. I'll let you know if everything I sauté tastes like salmon.

01 April 2007


No-Bake Oatmeal Chocolate Fudge Cookies

A few years ago, I was walking down the street with my good friend Emily, and I said to her, “Emily, I want you to know that our friendship has reached the level in which my love for you is unconditional. So at this point, you can’t f--- it up, no matter what you do.”

Tears gathered in her big, brown eyes, and she said, “Really? That’s the sweetest thing anyone ever said to me.”

A few months later, we were sitting around doing nothing, our favorite activity at the time, and Emily said to me, “Erielle, remember that one time you said my love for you was unconditional? Well, is it really? I mean, what would you do if I killed Nate?” (Nate was my fiancée then. She didn’t have a reason for which she would kill him, she was only pondering the nature of unconditional love.)
I thought about this for a moment, and I said, “Well, I guess I wouldn’t love you anymore.”
We both concluded that perhaps my love for her was not unconditional after all.
After this realization set in, she asked, “So...what if Nate killed me? Would you still love him?”
I thought for another minute. “I’m sorry to say this, Emily, but I think would still love him. I’d be really mad at him, but I unfortunately I would probably still love him. Even if he was in jail and I couldn’t have his babies.”
Emily sighed. “Wow, that’s true love.”
“Yes, I suppose it is,” I agreed.
As the meaning of unconditional love became clear to us though this hypothetical series of wrongdoings, we realized we were hungry from our session of profound thoughts. What could we make to eat?

The answer was obvious: No-Bakies! No-Bakies are oatmeal-chocolate-peanut butter cookies that don’t require baking. They contain wonderful ingredients but lack the permanent chemical bond between them that is created by baking. Just like our friendship, wow!

Was Emily upset that I rescinded my proclamation of a few months earlier? At first, I thought she understood. But today, as I look closer at the No-Bakie recipe that she had written out for me on that fateful day, I realize that she must have been angrier than she let on, having written comments such as:
“Erielle is a big fat slob. Hate her.”
“Tickle her and provoke her.”
“Give blank stares often.”
“Poop on your mom.”

Emily’s No Bake Fudge Cookies of Love
1 stick butter
2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cup quick oats

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add next four ingredients and heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil for one minute, then remove from heat. Stir in peanut butter and oats.
Drop mixture by the spoonful onto a sheet of waxed paper, parchment paper, or aluminum foil. Allow no-bakies to cool until firm, approximately 20 minutes.