Divine Rack of Ribs

WIN_20160407_154543Nothing says “I love you” to the carnivore in your life like a well seasoned, slow roasted rack of ribs. My favorite carnivore has been working madcrazy hours lately. Hearty meals help keep him going. These ribs are a dining vacation… until it’s time to get back to work!

WIN_20160407_140526Ingredients (Serves 2 with leftovers)

1 large rack of pork baby back ribs (about 3 pounds)

For the brine:

3 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup sea salt

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds

4 whole allspice

4 whole black peppercorns

WIN_20160407_140651For the almost-dry rub:

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Directions

Step 1) Combine all brine ingredients in a saucepan and stir well. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat.

Step 2) Refrigerate brine until the brine is very cold. This can be done a day ahead of time, if you wish.

Step 3) Cut the rack of ribs into serving size lengths (I cut the rack into 4 pieces). Place the pieces in a gallon size zip-lock storage bag. Carefully pour brine into the bag. You don’t need to use all of the brine, but should add enough brine to the bag so that the ribs are covered.

Step 4) Set the bag in a large bowl (in case of leaks), and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 12 hours.

Note: If you need to store your ribs in the fridge for longer than 12 hours, remove them from the brine after 12 hours and simply store them in a fresh zip-lock bag.

Step 5) Remove ribs from brine and place on a baking sheet with shallow sides. The bones should be on the bottom, with the meat facing up.

Step 6) Place ribs in a preheated 300 degree oven and roast for 1 hour. While the ribs are roasting, combine the ingredients for the “almost-dry rub” and mix into a paste.

WIN_20160407_140920Step 7) After 1 hour of roasting, remove ribs from the oven. Carefully rub the “almost-dry rub” all over the tops of the ribs. Return the ribs to the oven for an additional 40 minutes, or until a meat thermometer measures an internal temperature (not right against a bone) of 180 degrees.

Step 8) Once the meat reaches a temperature of 180 degrees, reduce your oven temperature to 180 degrees (really… that’s not a typo) and return the ribs to the oven at this lower temperature for 20 minutes. The meat will become more tender during this time.

Step 9) Serve with your favorite side dishes, such as Great Grandma’s Baked Beans and Easy Peanut Cabbage Slaw. Enjoy!

 

How to Make Homemade Gravy

WIN_20151118_181452Easy peasy! Today’s post is more “technique” than “recipe”. If you’re roasting a turkey, baking a ham, or cooking any other large portion of meat in the oven, you may as well make homemade gravy! Let’s get started.

WIN_20151118_180101Ingredients (Makes 2 cups)

Drippings from roasting pan

1 tablespoon cornstarch

water

Directions

WIN_20151118_180349Step 1) After you remove your turkey (or other meat) from your roasting pan, scrape all of those funky looking drippings into a sieve placed over a saucepan (see photo). Discard the solids in the sieve.

Step 2) Measure the liquid from the drippings. You need approximately 2 cups for gravy, but you may not have two cups of liquid from the roasting pan. No worries! If you have one cup of liquid from the pan, add 1 cup of broth (chicken broth works for turkey drippings) or water. Make sure you don’t add more water than liquid from the pan. For example, if you only have 1/2 cup of liquid from the drippings, then you can add 1/2 cup of water or broth to make 1 cup of gravy.

Step 3) Bring your liquid to a gentle boil.

Step 4) In a small container (a coffee mug works well), combine 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of cold water. Whisk together until absolutely smooth… there should not be even one tiny little lump in the cornstarch mixture! Alternately, you could use a small plastic container with a tight fitting lid, and shake the cornstarch/water mixture until smooth.

WIN_20151118_181250Step 5) Slowly drizzle your smooth cornstarch mixture into the boiling liquid and stir! Keep stirring with gentle boiling until gravy mixture thickens. This should take about 5 minutes.

Step 6) If you want thicker gravy, use an additional tablespoon of cornstarch and repeat steps 4 and 5.

DO NOT ADD POWDERED CORNSTARCH DIRECTLY TO THE GRAVY WITHOUT FIRST BLENDING WITH COLD WATER. Seriously. You will end up with a weird, lumpy mess. I, ah, know someone who made this mistake once because she was, ah, in a hurry. Or so I’m told. It was gross. Or at least that’s what a little bird told me.  😉

You’ll notice that we didn’t add any seasoning to our gravy. This is because I’m assuming that the meat you roasted was seasoned, and those seasonings have already flavored your pan drippings. Taste your gravy. If it’s bland, add salt and pepper a PINCH at a time, tasting after each pinch. You can always add more salt and pepper, but once it’s in there, it’s in there. Don’t overdo it.

That’s all! Easy peasy!

Rosemary Lemon Roast Turkey

WIN_20151118_175731For many years, I was apprehensive about roasting a turkey. I’m not really sure why. The first year I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner in my own home, I ordered a turkey from a deli – precooked, with ready-made gravy on the side! At the time, it seemed like a brilliant idea. Now, I don’t understand what the fuss was all about.

Roasting a turkey is really, really easy. Before we get started, here are a few pointers. Other cooks may disagree – if so, please join the turkey conversation by posting a comment below!

  1. If there’s not a big price difference between fresh and frozen, buy a fresh turkey. They’re juicier, which is wonderful because roasting is a dry cooking process. I bought a fresh turkey at Aldi for 99 cents per pound.
  2. Unless you have 5 or 6 days to allow a frozen turkey to thaw in your refrigerator, you need to buy a fresh turkey. I have never… not once… seen a frozen turkey fully thawed after only 3 days in my refrigerator (which is what the directions on the turkey wrapping often promise).
  3.  Bigger is not better. If you’re feeding a lot of people, consider buying two small turkeys (10 – 12 pounds each) instead of one, massive bird. Smaller turkeys roast more evenly, and because they require less time in the oven, they are less likely to dry out.
  4. You don’t need a special roasting pan, a baster, a “turkey bag” (to cook a turkey in plastic??), or any other strange turkey paraphernalia. A 10 pound turkey will fit in a 9×13 cake pan. A larger turkey will fit on a jelly roll pan, or any baking sheet with sides at least 1 inch high.

Let’s get started!

WIN_20151118_131852Ingredients (Serves 8)

1 small, fresh turkey (10 – 12 pounds)

2 lemons

6 sprigs of fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon salt

WIN_20151118_1336221/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons butter (not margarine), melted

Directions

Step 1) In the kitchen sink, remove your turkey from the wrapping. Find the bag of giblets and remove it from your turkey. Check both ends of your turkey for that bag of giblets!

Step 2) Rinse your turkey with cold water on the inside and the outside. Lift the turkey and turn it upside down to drain for a moment. Pat the turkey dry with a clean kitchen towel (and put that towel immediately in the hamper, so you don’t accidentally use it for anything else).

Step 3) Place your turkey in a pan or on a roasting sheet. Rub salt and pepper onto the skin.

Step 4) Poke a few holes with a paring knife in each lemon. Insert rosemary sprigs into several of the holes in each lemon, as shown.

WIN_20151118_133827Step 5) Insert one of the rosemary lemons completely inside of the turkey. Rest the other rosemary lemon near the opening of the turkey cavity.

Step 6) Coat the outside of your turkey with melted butter. Don’t use so much butter that it drips all over the pan (try to avoid that), but make sure at highest part of the turkey is covered. The butter will spread down the sides of the turkey as it roasts, sealing in flavor and giving the turkey skin a golden color.

Note: We are buttering our turkey skin instead of basting. It’s easier and prevents the meat from drying out. A buttered turkey will have a slightly darker color than a basted turkey (or a turkey in a bag), and the skin will be crispy. The end result is delicious!

Step 7) Showtime! Place your turkey in a preheated, 325 degree oven on the lowest rack possible. Your turkey needs to slowly roast until a meat thermometer poked into the thickest part of the turkey (but not against a bone) registers 165 degrees. Your turkey might have a little red timer attached (see photo) – this timer will pop out when your turkey is done. It’s STILL a good idea to check the temperature. Your turkey needs to reach 165 degrees in order to prevent food-borne illness!

How long will your turkey need to roast? That is the million dollar question! Every turkey and every oven is a little bit different. At 325 degrees, a 10 – 12 pound turkey will require approximately 3 hours of roasting time. Check your turkey after 2 1/2 hours, but don’t open the oven door before then!

Step 8) Let your roasted turkey rest on the countertop for 15 minutes before carving. A “tent” of aluminum foil (just a very loose covering of foil) can be used to prevent heat loss, but that’s not entirely necessary.

Enjoy your roasted turkey!

PS  – Don’t wash that pan! In our next Crowded Earth Kitchen post, we’ll show you how to make gravy with the drippings on that turkey pan!

Roasted Root Vegetables and Root Vegetable Bisque

picture132 (2)During a recent visit to my favorite food co-op, I spotted a ten pound bag of locally grown organic carrots.  Then I discovered a smaller, three pound bag of squatty little yellow carrots, which I just had to try.  The celeriac smelled wonderful, the parsnips felt fresh, and who can resist beautiful red beets?  Before I realized what I had done, I was on my way out of the co-op with 20 pounds of root veggies.

I don’t think it’s possible to have too many root vegetables.  Root veggies are among the most economical ingredients available in the produce section of any market.  They’re a versatile addition to many meals, and hearty enough to hold the starring role in a vegetarian or vegan dinner.  Root vegetables are generally low in calories, are full of fiber, and offer up a host of antioxidants, essential minerals, and vitamins such as A, B complex, and C.  Today, we will enjoy root vegetables two ways.  First, we will prepare a simple roasted root medley.  Second, we will make broth from the peels, which will serve as the base for a delicious bisque.  Waste not, want not!

picture123Ingredients (makes 4 hearty servings of each dish)

6 large or 8 small orange carrots

3 yellow carrots

3 parsnips

3 red beets

1 celeriac

3 tablespoons olive oil

dash salt, pepper

1 cup red lentils

4 cups water

1 tablespoon salt-free seasoning blend (I like “Forward!” from Penzeys)

1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

Directions

picture127Step 1) Wash all root vegetables carefully, as we will be using the peels!

Step 2) Peel carrots, parsnips, and beets.  Trim the “lumpy and bumpy” surface off of the celeriac, until you are left with what looks like a smooth, white beet.

Step 3) Place all peels and trimmings in a picture129pot with 4 cups of water.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for one hour.

Step 4) After one hour, strain broth through a sieve, and discard the peels into your compost bin.

Step 5)  Return broth to the pot and add picture124lentils.  Simmer until lentils are soft, about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Step 6) While broth is simmering, cut all root vegetables into 1 inch chunks and place in a  plastic bag.  Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the bag.  Add a dash of salt and pepper.  Carefully shake the bag to picture126evenly coat the vegetables.

Step 7) Use remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to grease a large baking pan.  Spread vegetables onto the baking pan, and roast in a 400 degree oven for 30 – 40 minutes, or until slightly browned on the outside and soft on the inside.  Stir after 20 minutes.

picture130Step 8) Transfer 4 cups of roasted root vegetables to the pot with the broth and lentils.  Arrange the remaining vegetables on a serving platter.

Step 9) Use an immersion blender to puree your pot of broth, lentils, and root vegetables.  Season with salt-free seasoning blend and coarse ground black pepper.  Enjoy!