How to throw the easiest rib party (no grill required)

Grill-less Ribs Party - Vegetal MattersWe celebrated a birthday in the house this weekend, and hosted a few friends to eat ribs on the deck. Besides planning out the party, my present was to actually be present for the whole thing and not hide in the kitchen finishing up tasks while our guests enjoyed bourbon punch without me. So I planned out a Southern menu where most everything is prepped in advance (and tastes better that way) for minimal stress and maximal birthday celebration.

The Menu

Appetizer

Drinks

  • Bourbon punch
  • White wine punch. I called this a sangria but revisiting now I don’t know if it qualifies. I added some peach schnapps and blueberries to white wine, and topped it with seltzer.
  • Assorted beers

Dinner

Dessert

  • Blueberry lemon pie with whipped cream (from Flour)

Notes

Overall, I was super please with this menu. Everything was meant to be prepared way in advance or just tossed together right before eating, so the majority of the work was done before noon the day of the party.

When I mixed the cheese dip by hand it was a little too textured for my tastes, so I threw it all in the food processor. I didn’t have harissa powder, so I used some spicy paprika.

I don’t have a blender, and didn’t want to go through the extra effort of blending the drinks when guests were here. I diluted it a bit by adding 2 cups to tea instead of one and then just served over ice.

I was limited with the ribs because we don’t have a grill, but I think these are probably the best ribs you can make without one. The meat doesn’t quite get to the fall off the bone texture, but they are still tender and flavorful, especially with the “sauce.” If you have a grill, Alton’s ribs are an excellent option. But really, I just want to buy a smoker. The beans and the ribs do have slightly different cooking times, but I put them both in the oven together at the ribs’ temp.

I’ve made the slaw and beans before, and both are real winners. Next time I will probably add a little more vinegar to the dressing for more zip in the slaw. And these baked beans are the bomb. My one fluke in all the planning was I forgot to soak the beans overnight, but right when I got up Saturday I boiled the kettle and poured that water over the beans and let them soak for an hour, then proceeded with the recipe. The dried beans stay nice and firm even after cooking for so long, and the sauce is just the right thickness. I used less bacon than was called for, and you could leave it out for a vegetarian side.

Even though this meal was Southern themed, I am a Northerner and I prefer some sweetness to my cornbread. Will declared this the best cornbread he’s ever had, and he is a more critical cornbread consumer than I am. Super moist from the zucchini with a toothsome crunch from the medium grind cornmeal and just the right sweetness. Heavenly with butter and mopping up the baked bean juices.

The only flaw in this plan is I don’t have  two ovens so the cornbread wasn’t ready right as the ribs were coming out of the oven. I sacrificed an earlier dinner time to have just from the oven cornbread on the table, but you could also make it the night before or in the morning if you aren’t making an oven hogging pie.

I think if I was doing this all over again the only thing I would change would be the pie. It was a whole lot of work (including making the crust the night before, rolling it out, chilling in the pan, blind baking, making the filling, and then finally baking the pie for an hour and a half), and I didn’t feel like I got the full return on my effort. I’m more of a cobbler/crisp fan anyways, and they are just so much easier.

Schedule of Events

Day before:
  • Pick blueberries (ok, you could just buy these, but there is a PYO farm a few miles from me and it is SO much cheaper)
  • Make rib rub
  • Soak beans
  • Shred slaw ingredients
  • Make slaw dressing
  • Make pate brisée (crust)
  • Mix corn bread dry ingredients
  • Make bourbon drink
Morning of:
  • Make beans (50 min on stovetop, 6 hours in oven at 225F)
  • Put ribs in oven (6 hours total, 4 at 200F, 2 at 175F)
  • Bake pie (chilled rolled crust for 30 min, bake bottom crust for 30 min, bake whole pie for 1.5 hours)
  • Make pimento cheese
  • Slice veg for serving with pimento cheese
Before dinner:
  • Bake cornbread (1 hour at 350F)
  • Reduce rib jus to make sauce
  • Dress slaw
  • Cut ribs and broil quickly to char

After dinner:

  • Whip cream for pie
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Last week I cooked…

This week I cooked... - Vegetal MattersGreek chopped salad. This is the salad I wait all winter to eat. Garden tomatoes, cucumbers, and oregano, with a pepper, olives, feta, chickpeas, and a simple dressing. Recipe forthcoming.

Herbed summer squash pasta bake (pictured above). I was debating between this and pasta with fried zucchini salad which I made last summer. The baked pasta was good, but was a bit too heavy for me. I’m glad I tried it, but the fried zucchini one is the one I’ll come back to every summer (just beware frying the zucchini takes a while, but it is worth every minute).

Grilled cumin-lime zucchini quesadillas. I liked that these called for fresh mozzarella (because I happened to have some), but I think it is too wet a cheese for ideal quesadilla making. But still, I liked the fun flavor combination to make vegetable quesadillas a little more interesting.

Kohlrabi salad. Kohlrabi is one of those vegetables that is so hot right now, and I’ve seen it in many a farmer’s market and blog but somehow it hadn’t made it to my table. Once again embracing farm stand impulse purchases I bought some last week without a cooking plan and was guided by Ottolenghi. My main problem was with some of the kohlrabi, which seemed to have been grown too long because they were super fibrous. The bits that were good are what I assume all kohlrabi is supposed to be like, nice and crunchy with a mouthfeel similar to celeriac, but tasting just like cabbage.  I threw a little cucumber in too, and loved the creamy dressing and crunchy veg topped with slightly sour sumac (plus the color contrast was excellent).

Fish-fragrant eggplant and Sichuanese chopped celery with beef. I’ve been waiting to make this eggplant recipe since I read Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper and I think I’ll probably make it once a week for the rest of eggplant season. It was incredible and brought out the absolute best qualities of eggplant – luscious texture and awesome flavor absorption. I even substituted water for the chicken stock as I was making this on the fly, and it was still everything I hoped for. And my undying love for eggplant shouldn’t overshadow the celery dish, which was crunchy, spicy, slightly sour and rounded out with just a little fat from the beef.

Bánh mì breakfast sandwiches. I made these while I was preparing for a special dinner party (more on that later). Simple ingredients, minimal effort, but such high return. The salty-fatty-spicy-sour-herbal flavor combo is just unbeatable. 

Last week I cooked….

This week I cooked - Vegetal Matters

A shorter cooking week than usual due to a long weekend. Easy weeknight meals with lots of produce are still the name of the game, followed by a happy break from the kitchen to taste my way through Brooklyn.

Roasted beer and lime cauliflower tacos. The rest of my beautiful purple cauliflower head went into this, plus a zucchini. I was working within the limits of my fridge so instead of the cabbage slaw I topped them with halved cherry tomatoes and chopped cucumber dressed with a little lime and salt, and a yogurt lime crema (pictured above).

Collards with peanut butter. Excellent recipe for the collard beginners, likely to win many converts.

The night before going away for a long weekend is usually a fridge clean out. For this one I crisped some bacon, removed it from the pan and drained off most of the fat. Then sauteed half an onion for a few minutes, followed by a clove of minced garlic and one chopped zucchini. When the zucchini was softened I added in about a can’s worth of cooked beans, returned the bacon to the pan and warmed everything through. Topped with an over easy egg for a little more substance.

Blueberry and cream cheese rye muffins. I loved the added nuttiness of rye flour. The blueberries and cream cheese made for a very moist muffin, great for consumption but not for prolonged storage. I knew they would develop a fuzz by the end of the week, so I froze a few to take on the bus ride. Defrosted overnight, and an excellent pairing with coffee grabbed at the station.

Not something I made, but super important: Absurd Fruit and Vegetable Gadgets and Their Useful Alternatives. Once a group that ate lunch at work brought one of those stupid round wedge and core devices….for a WATERMELON. I’m pretty sure they didn’t actually use it that day and now it’s just sitting in our kitchen in quiet reflection of its uselessness.

 

Collards with Peanut Butter

Collards with Peanut Butter - Vegetal MattersIf you ever want to push yourself out of your cooking comfort zone, try signing up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) share. Yes, they are an up front commitment, but in the ones I’ve participated in, the produce quality and variety has been unparalleled. It can be a confusing concept, mostly because there is no one set way that a farm runs their CSA. The basic parts are that you pay an amount up front, and then receive a quantity of produce weekly based on the size share you choose (a full share often serves a family of four for a week, but again, they vary). Some farms deliver or you pick up a box of produce each week, and you get what you get. Some have a point system, where you get a certain number of points to spend each week and each vegetable or bunch is assigned a value. Plus the CSA model now has branched out far beyond just vegetables. I’ve heard of meat, fish, bread, pie, and even ice cream CSAs.

The up front cost can be significant ( several hundred dollars), but if that isn’t in the cards for you there are other options. I participated in a workshare CSA, where in exchange for my weekly share I worked a full day on the farm. Some also have payment plans or accept SNAP benefits.

No matter what level of choice you have in your CSA, there is a high likelihood that you will end up taking home a vegetable you’ve never cooked with (and how fun!!!!!). Obviously the internet is an endless source of recipes, but I still love having cookbooks around from trusted sources that I can turn to when confronted with a mystery vegetable. Chez Panisse Vegetables, Vegetable Literacy, and How to Cook Everything are all great references.

When I was doing the workshare I brought home some collard greens which I had never eaten, and the only dish I knew of involved a ham hock and a very long cooking time which is not really my weeknight style. I flipped through How to Cook Everything, which had a quick stir fry with collards and tahini, but suggested peanut butter as a substitution. Weird, but SOLD. What resulted was a dead simple dish with a great peanut sauce that coats the greens with a nutty richness. I loved collards at first bite and have made this many times over. I may need a shirt that says “Eat More Collards” to go along with my “Eat More Kale” one….and maybe one for every other vegetable while we’re at it.

Collards with Peanut Butter

Serves 4 as a main, 6 as a side.

If this sounds weird to you, just think of it as a peanut sauce that you make in the pan. Serve atop brown rice or as a side dish. Especially excellent with rice and soy marinated tofu.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup onion (about a ¼ of a large one)
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ¼ cup vegetable stock or water, plus more if it is dry
  • 1 lb collards, washed, large stems removed, and roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons smooth natural peanut butter (or other nut butter, or tahini), but I’ve use chunky in a pinch too
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoons lime juice

Heat the oil in a large deep skillet or pot with a lid over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until softened.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2 minutes until it is slightly colored and fragrant. Add the collards, stock/water, peanut butter, salt, and pepper and stir everything up. Cover and cook until they are wilted, about 5 minutes. Uncover, and cook at a low bubble for 5 minutes more. If the pan looks dry add more stock/water, but you want to have a thicker sauce. Finish with the lime juice, stir, and serve.

Last week I cooked….

Last week I cooked - Vegetal MattersLast week I was overwhelmed, but this week embracing farm stand and garden produce and thoroughly enjoying that time where you feel like you’re in the thick of summer but there is still so much more of it to be enjoyed.

Grilled shrimp marinated in garlic, olive oil, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and smoked paprika (pictured above).

Black bean and corn burgers over salad with lime cumin vinaigrette. These stayed together really well (I pan fried them), and were extra wholesome over greens.

Sesame peanut garlic scapes with noodles and spicy cucumber salad dressed in garlic chili paste mixed with some rice vinegar and soy sauce, finished with cilantro and sesame seeds.

Marinated green beans to bring to a work barbecue. This is always and forever my favorite cookout salad because it is best put together the night before, nice and crunchy, and doesn’t wilt when outside for a bit. This time I made it with half wax beans and it was so pretty.

Yogurt with raspberries and granola. I made this batch with a mix of honey, maple, and agave to sweeten (cleaning out almost empty bottles from the pantry…),with ginger as the spice and coconut flakes.

Purple cauliflower and kale quesadillas. I still have the other half of this magic cauliflower…what else will I make?!

Potato salad with celery and garlic scapes dressed in a mustard vinaigrette (to go with lobsters eaten down the Cape #SUMMER).

Red wine and berry sorbet. 10/10 for easy summer dessert. I used a shiraz instead of the pinot noir, and a mix of strawberries, raspberries, and a little bit of rhubarb cooked down with sugar (leftover from making these last week). I skipped the straining step, and just blitzed two-thirds of the mixture in a food processor before freezing because I don’t minds seeds/berry bits in the slightest. Next time I may see if I can get away with a bit less sugar and more wine.

Not a thing I made, but a very important thing to read: the summer issue of Gout, which does the absolute best job of making fun of food trends.

Purple Cauliflower, Kale and Feta Quesadillas

Purple Cauliflower, Kale and Feta Quesadillas - Vegetal MattersI went to visit a nearby farm stand (Foppema’s, if you happen to live in central MA) this week on a hunt for garlic scapes and green beans. They grow a really impressive array of vegetables and fruits, and I had to do a few laps before deciding what should come home with besides my sought out items. They had a beautiful pile of cauliflower in white, yellow, orange, and then one single, strikingly vibrant purple head. I already had plans for some feta and kale quesadillas for dinner, but as I turned over ideas for my magic cauliflower these charred cauliflower quesadillas came to mind and a hybrid dream was born. (The kale I picked up from a different farm I visited last week for raspberry picking. And did I mention I work on a farm? I may have a problem.) Thus the Vera Bradley of quesadillas in all its purple and green glory was born. I spend so much time anticipating the greatness of summer produce and planning meals, that I sometimes forget how great it is to pick up whatever looks good and see what happens. These quesadillas are seasonal and spontaneous cooking at its finest, and could be easily adapted with whatever must-have farm stand produce or garden bounty end up in your kitchen.

DSC00925 Purple Cauliflower, Kale and Feta Quesadillas - Vegetal Matters

Purple Cauliflower, Kale and Feta Quesadillas

Serves 4

I really cleaned out the cheese drawer with this one and used a mix of Monteray Jack, Mexican blend, and manchego. If I was buying cheese specifically for this, I would just buy a block of Monterey Jack. You could certainly use any color of cauliflower, but purple is pretty darn fun.

  • 8 oz cauliflower (which was half a medium head for me)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, dividing
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 jalapeño
  • 4 oz kale, finely chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon chives or scallions
  • ½ a lime, juiced
  • 2.5 oz feta (about ½ a cup)
  • 8 oz shredded melting cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 8 10″ flour tortillas

Separate the cauliflower into large pieces (about 1.5-2″) and coat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt. Heat a cast iron (or other heavy) pan over medium high heat. Add cauliflower and the jalapeno to the pan, and char for about 10 minutes. They should be slightly blackened but not soft. Remove from the pan and allow to cool slightly. Then chop the cauliflower into ½” pieces and mince the jalapeño.

In the same pan heat the other tablespoon of olive oil and add the kale. Toss to coat in oil, and cover with a lid. After  minute uncover and toss, and then cover for 1 minute more. The kale should be bright green, shiny all over and just cooked through.

If you are serving these all at once, turn on the oven to 200F and place a baking sheet in these before you start the final assembly.

Toss cauliflower, jalapeño, kale, chives, feta and lime juice in a bowl. Put that same pan back on the heat over medium (no oil necessary) and bring on over your filling, shredded cheese, and tortillas. Place a tortilla in the pan, and allow to head for a minute. Flip it over, sprinkle with an eighth of the cheese, a quarter of the filling, and another eighth of the cheese (so a quarter of the cheese per quesadilla). Place the second tortilla on top, and check the bottom one for char. When it is lightly toasted and the cheese is melting, flip the quesadilla. Cook for another 2 minutes, and then remove from the heat and into the oven if you are keeping them warm.

For serving: I happened to have half a head of red cabbage and some sour cream as well, so I kept the green and purple theme going and went with Smitten Kitchen’s slaw and crema as suggested here. I barely strayed from those recipes, except perhaps with less precise measurements.

 

 

 

Last week I cooked….

This week I cooked - Vegetal MattersSummer cooking can be paralyzing. We wait all year for the glut of food coming out of gardens and farmers markets in the Northeast and opportunities to cook and eat it outside. Now that it’s all here, it is so hard to pick just the right recipes to make the absolute best use of the moment. I save recipes for salads, grilled things, and produce heavy dishes all winter long, but now that it is the time to use them I want to do it all but at the same time just do the most simple thing to highlight the bounty. I’m trying not to overthink my cooking, and remember the January day long and cold ago when I resolved to embrace simplicity. Now is most definitely the time to do so, so more time can be spent soaking up glorious weather, ice cream cones, berries from the pick your own farm up the road, and reading in the grass.

Potato and chorizo tacos inspired by Mexico: The Cookbook, rice with diced tomatoes and chipotle in adobo, black beans, guacamole, and lime crema for simple but satisfying entertaining.

Saag paneer. I think I always make this recipe in the beginning of summer when greens are plentiful. I used a fifty-fifty mix of chard and collards instead of spinach, and I think most mild greens would work here.

Big salads with lots of lettuce from the garden, beans from the freezer, and lemon vinaigrette.

Chorizo and potato frittata, with more salad. I just used the shallots and parsley with lemon juice and olive oil to dress the salads. Cooking the potatoes beforehand made this way easier to put together than a more traditional tortilla, and also I would eat two planks of wood if there was chorizo in the middle.

Burgers with bleu cheese. There was only 93/7 lean/fat beef at the store which would have made for dry burgers, so I added a minced slice of bacon in for each patty. These were the highlight meal of the week by far. Juicy, flavorful burgers that were perfected with bleu cheese, sauteed red onion, a slice of lettuce and a Dijon-mayo mix.

Rhubarb cream cheese hand pies to bring to various Fourth of July celebrations. Labor intensive, but perfect and adorable tiny, portable pies.

Whole wheat raspberry and ricotta scones. These are beautifully mottled with raspberries and so moist from the ricotta.

Pasta with pesto, feta, cherry tomatoes, and sauteed kale that took almost no time to put together on a rare weekday off spent at home.