A New Approach to Ribs

Granted, it's been a quiet year for the blog so far. We continue to spend most of our time on home maintenance and aren't really doing anything interesting in the kitchen. But with the summer cook-out season in full swing and Independence Day right around the corner, I decided to share the secret to perfect ribs. And it's not the grill.

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Shooting Star Pie

It's officially barbecue season, and nothing tops off an afternoon of grilled meat quite like a home made pie. I've been working on my pie decorating skills, using cookie cutters to cut shapes into the top crust of my pies. For Memorial Day, I tried something different.

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Perfect Pesto

We were both driving home from our separate jobs in our separate cars when we both heard the same story on NPR and both had the same thoughts about dinner tonight. With the abundance of fresh basil this time of year and the rising cost of pine nuts, on this evening's program they featured a recipe for Pistachio Pesto . It was presented by the author of an Italian cookbook, and even though we disagreed with her about basil (she says it's sweet when it's really a bitter) and olive oil (she says it's fruity when it's actually nutty), we trusted her on the whole pistachio as a substitute for pine nuts thing.

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What to Do When the Fishmonger Won't Fillet Your Fish, and How to Prepare Fava beans

There is nothing better than fresh food, especially fresh fish. This weekend we took the drive down to the HMart in Ellicott City with a good friend to visit their seafood counter for some fresh tilapia. The fish was beautiful, as usual - plump and clear-eyed and silver. And the really nice thing about the fish counter at the HMart is that they will clean it up for you and even offer several levels of cleaning. We usually go for gutted, scaled, and filleted and end up with pristine fish. At this week's visit, we were informed that the trained professionals do not fillet tilapia. They did do a fine job of the rest of the cleaning, though, and packed our fish in ice for us for the long drive back to Harford County.

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Jerked Pheasant

What I like best about my current life is all the people from other countries I've met. My counterpart and I have met people from all over the world. The cultural exchange is really an amazing experience sometimes. We recently had lunch with a former colleague from the Islands who gave us a wonderful explanation of Jerk. It turns out it's easier than you think, but it's all about technique.

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A Primer on Fiddlehead Ferms

Since I first learned they are edible, I have long been fascinated with fiddlehead ferns. We find them at the Wegman's quite often, but usually in a dreadful state, and my counterpart has been reluctant to deal with them. Then, while he was visiting the Pittsburgh office of his employer, he posted a photo of his dinner one night that included fiddlehead ferns. I stepped up my campaign, and last night I got them.

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With Gareth telecommuting to Pittsburgh and the warm weather upon us, grilling season is in full swing. The remote work schedule allows him to perform some amazing feats of slow cooking over the course of the afternoon. Today, while I was toiling away int he office, he smoked up the grill and turned an average pork loin into a very tasty ham.

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Perfect Pork Ribs

The best part of summer holidays - aside form the sunshine and hot weather - is the prominent role of the grill. In the days beforehand, you can find some really excellent deals on meat. For Memorial Day, we were back in Wisconsin and returned with some brats. For Father's Day, we scored some serious duck breast. As Independence Day approached, we picked up an amazing load of ribs.

A small sampling of  our recent rib purchase, pre-seasoned and ready to grill

Just in time for your Independence Day cook out, here is the best pork barbecue sauce ever, followed by some basic grill instructions.

For the Sauce, you will need




White Wine Vinegar

Apple Juice

1 Lemon, Juiced

2 Jalapenos, Coarsely Chopped

Golden Raisins

All you need for perfect sauce

You will also need a blender. My counterpart is partial to the immersion blender.

In your blender cup, add several handfuls of raisins and the 

jalapenos and blend until thick and coarse. 

Raisins and jalapeno make a sweet-spicy pork glaze

Proceed to add in small quantities the remaining ingredients, blending and tasting until you have a smooth sauce that is spicy and tangy and sweet.

Blend well

Prepare the Grill

My counterpart is also partial to the charcoal grill, and the small ones work out well for us.

First, line the grill and the lid with heavy duty aluminum foil. This will help conduct the heat and will make clean up much easier.

Line the grill with foil and crease it

Also line the lid

Using more foil, create a small shallow pan for water. This will create a water bath that will help control heat levels and prevent the meat form drying out. You can also purchase these in the store in packages of 3 for about $2.50, but it is also pretty easy to make your own.

Fold in the edges of your foil to create a rim

Fold up the edges again making a wider fold. These are your sides.

Pinch the corners together

Here is your water bin

Place it inside the grill on the lower grate and add water.

It really holds water

To protect the flavor of the meat, start the charcoal in a separate fire-safe container, like a charcoal chimney pictured below. 

To prevent the lighter fluid from tainting your meat, start the charcoal outside the grill

Let the lighter fluid burn off and the fire die down and then add the smoldering coals to the grill.

Hot coals but no flame

To get a nice smoke, ad some wood chips. If you have trees in your yard, select some green branches as they will create a highly desirable smoke that will add to the flavor of the meat without burning too hot and charring the exterior. Wood smoke contains some trace minerals, like chromium and iron, which are transferred to the meat while it smokes. Smoking the wood also releases the naturally-occurring sugars, called cellulose, which mingle with the rendering fat and help form the meat glaze.

Remove leaves

Add the top grate and cover until some smoke has built up inside the grill.

Mmmmmmm smoke

Grilling the Meat

Place your meat in the cool end of the grill, away from the direct heat of the charcoal and over the water bath. 

Have a spray bottle of apple juice on hand. This will keep the meat moist and will also help a nice grill glaze form on the meat. Place the cover on the grill and relax.

The best grill results come from slowly cooking the meat over low heat. Periodically, you will want to check on things to add more wood chips, moisten the meat with apple juice, and to make sure that there are no flames.

While cats are very good at detecting when meat is ready to eat,

we still recommend the meat thermometer

As the meat is smoking, you will also want to introduce the sauce. My counterpart gets good results from using a squeeze bottle he picked up at the green Bay 


 Supply store, but you can also use an old ketchup or mustard bottle that has been well cleaned.

Smoke the meat until it is heated through. The most reliable method of determining this is still the meat thermometer.

If you are grilling vegetables, use a separate grill. The grills we used can be found at Wal-Mart and run about $10.

Cut the ribs apart and serve with more sauce.

A Maryland Tradition

One of my favorite afternoons during the year is the annual crab feast at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum. Held in July, it always seems to fall on one of the hottest weekends of the year. But, it matters not - Baltimoreans still come out for an occasion that is consistently satisfying. Held in the museum itself, the feast includes an unlimited amount of steamed crabs, plus sandwiches, salads and sodas. It's BYOB for adult beverages.

We have been regulars at this event for several years since another couple invited us to join them a few years ago. They bring their little girls along, mostly for the museum. Over the years, though, they have developed a proficiency for the Maryland tradition of picking crabs. You have not really picked crabs until you've been able to teach a child how to do it. I started picking crabs with their oldest. Now seven, this year she graduated from claws to full-blown crab-picking when she successfully pried apart the shells covering the crab's body. I got her younger sisters - age 5 and 3 - started on the claws. All three girls approach the claws with much enthusiasm, whacking their wooden mallets until the shells gave way and the claw meat could be picked out with their tiny fingers. It is not just about the satisfaction of being allowed to bang on the dinner table. While that is certainly an attraction, these girls are also fairly serious about the crab meat.

About an hour into the feast, the museum, provides rides on some old Baltimore streetcars. The cars have been restored and retain the advertisements from their era. The museum has restored cars from several generations, including one of the first cars they ran over 100 years ago to one of the last cars during the 1960's. A small line of track runs about a mile up the road. With bells ringing a driver provides historical details about the car, as well as the city during the time the car was on the rails.

Our favorite is one of the original streetcars. Made of wood, its benches run the width of the car without a center aisle. The sides are open for people to enter. As the car runs up the track, the evening breeze flows through, providing some gentler after-dinner relief. At the end of the line, everyone stands up and pulls the back of their bench over so that all the benches face the opposite direction. We all sit down again, and the streetcar heads back to the museum.

An ice cream truck arrives to provide a free cone for all. This tradition was started about five years ago when the crab feast fell on the birthday of one of the board members. It added to the festivities, so they kept it, along with a sheet cake decorated with the museum in sugar icing.

There is also a live band - a local act that plays top 40 from the seventies and eighties. There is definitely singing along, and even dancing, provided it is not too hot. This weekend, it was 103 in Baltimore. The band played a short set to a small crowd before everyone retreated indoors.

A silent auction of Baltimore memorabilia and a 50-50 raffle complete the evening.

The Baltimore Streetcar Museum is small and tucked away near the Baltimore River at the end of Falls Road where it empties into the city. It preserves the history of Baltimore's old streetcars and the impact they had on the city's growth and development. If you are in the area, it is worth visiting.

The Crab Feast is held every year in July.

Hot Dogs

I was over at my brother-in-law's house the other night for a summer favorite - hot dogs with all the fixings. They were cooked out on the grill and decked out with everyone's favorite condiments. Gareth's brother likes the traditional Chicago style - onions, tomatoes, mustard and cucumber, stating that if you ask for ketchup on your dog in Chicago, they give you a ketchup packet. His wife likes ketchup and pickle relish a classic combination (even in Chicago). Gareth likes ketchup and onions on his dog, but is also open to suggestion. He tried the tomatoes and cucumbers on one of his and thought it worked out pretty well. As for me, I am a cheesedog fan. I put two slices of American cheese in the bun and then put the hotdog in. I hold the bun closed for a couple of minutes so the cheese can melt a little. Then, I add ketchup and pickles like my sister-in-law.

As for the dog itself, Gareth and I are not entirely in agreement. He likes a smoked sausage while I prefer an all-beef dog in natural casing that you get from a meat shop. Given our options out in suburbia, a Hebrew National kosher all-beef dog is usually the best bet for me and my tastes. Although, I also have a tendency toward the Oscar Meyer cheese weenie despite my aversion to their weenies without cheese.

The smokes sausage we had the other night was pretty good once I got mine tricked out. So was the company.