Thursday, June 2, 2011

Memorial Day Show (Beef Back Ribs and Dolmas)

Although this was a show dedicated to appetizers, I couldn't help but throw in a recipe for one of my favorite slowcooker gems, Barbecued Beef Back Ribs. I've had lots of back beef ribs and they ran the gamut from leather-on-a-stick to meltingly sensuous. I think think this recipe comes pretty damn close to the latter.
Slowcooker Beef Back Ribs

1 1/2 cups your fave bbq sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 tbls Cajun seasoning
12 oz strong beer or ale

Mix all ingredients in slow cooker and add
3 lbs beef back ribs. Stirring to coat.
Cook on low for 8 hours.

If you really want to put these over the edge, remove the ribs to a pan and keep covered in a low oven. Skim the fat off the resulting juice in the slowcooker (there will be quite a lot), then reduce it in a wide skillet and serve with the ribs.

When I think of dinner parties with courses and appetizers, my mind goes back to a Thanksgiving dinner I attended while I was living in East Lansing, Michigan. A woman whom I worked with at the Grande Gourmet, just the kind of shop you would imagine, asked if I had plans for Thanksgiving. As my family was going up north for the holiday weekend, I jumped at the chance when she told me she would be making a fancy cake enrobed in marzipan. (Pumpkin pie, indeed!) I was ready for her gathering along with some students from MSU that she had invited. What I wasn't ready for was the estate-like place they lived on. (It seems she worked at the shop as a hobby for lipstick money.) The drive in front of the the landscaped yard was more like an off ramp from the freeway. I half expected the butler to come to the door with a silver plate on which to place my calling card. Luckily, the stoner son answered the door saving me the embarrassment of fumbling around for my nonexistent card. I also wasn't ready for the classic hors d'oeuvre that I found on the side table.
In my very limited world, nobody except rich people and Lucy Ricardo (remember the episode in Paris?) ever ate escargot. Yet here they were. Not in the snail shells that you always see sold with them in the grocery store. No, these were served in crispy puff pastry shells. Buttery, garlicky and tender as could be, they were so delicious that I couldn't help but sampleone and then another and another... (Thanks in no small part to my stop in the son's room during a tour of the house.) Escargot in pastry shells has since been available to the masses via Trader Joe's frozen food appetizer section. Not bad either. But by all means, don't pass up a dinner invitation to a snazzy crib just because TJ's has escargot in the freezer. They sure don't have gourmet cakes coated in marzipan and they absolutely don't have appetite enhancers.
Something they didn't have on that hors d'ouerve table was dolmas which is fine since I have gotten to be quite a snob about my stuffed grape leaves. Don't get me wrong: if offered a canned dolma I'll gladly accept. That being said, since making my own I don't think anything comes close. If you've access to fresh grape leaves, by all means use them. If you must use the canned variety, put them in a large bowl, cover them with boiling water (making certain the water gets between the leaves), let set for 20 minutes, drain, rinse well in cold water and repeat the process once more to remove the salt. If you do have access the fresh grape leaves, make sure they have not been sprayed with insecticide, for starters. Also, get more than you are going to need, stack the extras in freezer bags and store in the freezer. This will eliminate the need for boiling fresh leaves in the first step to making dolmas the next time you want to make them as freezing them will breakdown cells making the leaves limp enough to roll.
For the fresh unfrozen leaves, put a few at a time into a pot of boiling water and leave them a few minutes until they become limp. Cut the stems and tough veins going just into each leaf out.

Vegetarian Dolmas

40-5- grape leaves
(fresh or preserved)
3/4 cup long grain rice
2-3 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
2 large onion, minced
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Large pinch of salt and several good grindings of pepper
5 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Juice of two lemons

Add rice to boiling water and stir to separate. Drain into a strainer and rinse with cold water draining thoroughly after.
Mix rice, tomatoes, onion, parsley, mint, cinnamon, allspice, salt and pepper together.
Placing a leaf stem-side down and vein-side up, place a heaping teaspoon full of filling in the center. Fold bottom up and over, bring sides over and roll up like a cigar gently squeezing rolled up leaf in hand to tighten and eliminate excess juice.
In a large skillet, line bottom with torn or smallish leaves placing a clove of garlic here and there.
Place finished dolmas closely together in skillet.
Mix the olive oil with 1/2 cup of water, the sugar and lemon juice and pour over dolmas. Place a plate over dolmas, put a lid on the skillet and simmer on a very low flame for two hours making sure that there is always liquid in the skillet or the dolmas will burn.
Cool and serve.

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