Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Moinks & Beans...Even Better Than Pork & Beans!

Pork n beans. Moinks n beans. What?! Moinks? Never heard of them? Neither had I until about a year ago when we started getting more and more into this whole smoking thing. 

Moinks are pork meatballs, wrapped in bacon and smoked.  The name? I think it comes from the 'M' in Meatball and the 'OINK' in the pig. Moink.

Sunday's smoking consisted of ribs with pineapple jalapeno glaze, a simple on-sale salmon steak (only 1 because Mark won't eat anything that swims) and Moinks. While we ate the ribs that evening, the salmon was planned for a couple salads for work. The Moinks became an appetizer (mainly because we couldn't wait to try them!), treats for neighbors and the rest became dinner for another night. When we smoke, we make the most of it...you don't waste the smoke.

The beans? Lots of pineapple was left from the marinade and rib baste - jalapenos too - so both became part of the baked beans I'd planned as a side to the ribs. Because I bake my doctored up beans for at least an hour - sometimes longer, I even used the core of the pineapple in the beans instead of tossing it out. I learned that thrifty trick from Graham Kerr, The Galloping Gourmet, long, looooonnng ago. The pineapple core becomes tender when it cooks! A good tip for Asian stir fries, too.

The fresh pineapple added LOTS of sweetness (and a nice bit of tartness, too), so I didn't add the brown sugar or molasses I usually do, but I DID add just a little kick of bourbon and a little bottled barbecue sauce along with the jalapeno. The result? One that will be repeated! Often. 

In fact, my son-in-law wants me to bring a dish of them when I visit them in Michigan next weekend. Maybe we'll even throw a few Moinks on his smoker.  Why not?! They couldn't be easier.


  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 pound sausage meat, hot sausage if you wish...I wish!
  • 7 slices bacon, thin sliced bacon

Mix the pork and sausage well - it helps to let the meat come almost to room temp first. Shape golfball sized meatballs and set aside until all are done.

Cut the bacon strips in half and wrap a half slice of bacon around the circumference of each meatball. Secure with a toothpick or slide several moinks onto metal skewers. (If you use wooden skewers, be sure to soak those right along with the hickory chips for at least an hour so they don't burn.) Chill the moinks in the fridge until the smoker is ready to go.


Prepare the smoker as you normally would for whatever type of smoker YOU use. I like hockory chips for these, so soak them at least an hour ahead. When the smoker is to temp, scatter some soaked hickory chips on the coals.

Place the skewers of moinks on the grate, cover and smoke until cooked through and bacon is golden.

NOTE: You can do these on the grill, too. Be sure to keep the flame low and use indirect heat so the bacon drippings don't ignite. 

Pineapple, Jalapeno, Bourbon BBQ Baked Beans

Serves 8
  • 1 cup pineapple, fresh, diced small, core and all
  • 2 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, very finely diced - red or green
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 15 ounces black beans, drained
  • 28 ounces baked beans, do NOT drain
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce, hickory, bottled
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • 7 slices bacon, cut into thirds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine everything but the bacon and mix well. Pour into a large casserole dish and cover the top evenly with bacon.

Bake 1 - 1/2 hours or until the bacon is cooked, crisp and browned. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Red, Gold & Bleu Beets Ala Root 174

From haute cuisine to comfort food and even to country fair food, if you seek out the best of the best wherever it is, you just may be a foodie. For good or bad, the term denotes (to me at least) one who appreciates well-prepared, well thought out and presented, deliciously interesting foods. 
Which leads me to Root174. THIS is foodie paradise. The best part (well, except for the food!) is there are no pretensions whatsoever, just damned fine food prepared by damned fine people in a casual, comfortable and intimate space. If you haven't had the opportunity to get there yet, MAKE the time. Go. You will be dazzled.

Lured back for the crispy Brussels sprouts (that Chef and owner, Keith Fuller, cannot take off the menu for fear of a customer uprising), Mark and I grazed our way through a delightful meal. The menu tempted in so many directions, that I finally settled on a meal comprised of appetizers alone.  Well...and dessert.

We shared the heaping bowl of Brussels sprouts - the kitchen accommodated my gluten issues by using corn flour instead of wheat flour - with bacon. I don't know what else is in there, but the crispy leaves are simultaneously sweet and salty, crispy and soft and simply wonderful.

When Mark's hangar steak came, my other appetizers came, too. First was the chilled, smooth asparagus soup with a scoop of savory creme fraiche ice cream in the middle and garnished with crushed pink peppercorns. The color was gorgeous! The taste divine. Sweet and creamy fresh asparagus with the tang of creme fraiche and crunch and heat of the peppercorns was a beautiful start. Remember what I said about presentation and taste? No worries here.

Cream of Asparagus Soup with Creme Fraiche Ice Cream and Pink Peppercorns

Talk about presentation! The golden and red beet salad with honey cumin vinaigrette, bleu cheese crumbles and tiny watercress leaves was picture perfect and perfectly scrumptious. Although I'm not a vegetarian (bacon and I are BFF's), I could eat this as my main course any night of the week.

Beet Salad with Honey Cumin Dressing and Amish Bleu Cheese

Dessert? Yes, please. Although I looked at the flourless chocolate cake with beet ice cream longingly, I just couldn't tear myself away from the thought of an exotic sounding dessert with curry ice cream, coconut tapioca, roasted pineapple and crunchy cashews. That's exactly what I ordered because I knew I'd never have an opportunity to experience anything like it anywhere else. Am I ever glad I did! 

Curry Ice Cream, Coconut Tapioca, Roasted Pineapple and Cashews

Despite whatever you may be thinking, yes, curry most certainly DOES belong in ice cream! My tastebuds sang (and danced a bit, too, I'm sure) with the excitement of subtle, sweet spices and caramel-y sweet and tangy pineapple, smoothed by luscious coconut and made crunchy with cashews. If you see it on the menu, do not hesitate to order it...sublime.

I wish I could duplicate my dessert, but my skills are no match for the geniuses in the kitchen who came up with that one! However foolish, I did attempt to duplicate the beautiful beet salad. Here's the recipe for my version, but do yourself a foodie favor and get yourself over to Root 174 for the real thing. Oh! And don't miss one of Austin's awesome cocktails while you're at it!

 Red, Gold & Bleu Beets ala Root 174

  •  4 beets, 2 red, 2 golden - greens removed (saved for beet greens!), lightly oiled, wrapped in foil & baked at 400 degrees until a knife inserted slides in smoothly. Cool, remove skins, cut into medium dice
  • watercress, a few sprigs - tiny leaves removed for dish, larger pieces reserved for a salad
  • 2 tablespoons bleu cheese, my fave is buttermilk bleu cheese - use what you like, crumbled (if you're highly gluten-sensitive, you may want to use a different cheese)

  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/3 cup honey, I used organic orange blossom honey
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Arrange the beets decoratively on a plate. Sprinkle with watercress leaves and bleu cheese. Set aside.

Mix honey, cumin, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, orange juice, salt and pepper with a whisk until well blended. Drizzle over salad. Serve.

NOTE: If you wish, feel free to just toss the ingredients together and forget the presentation.  It will taste just as wonderful!

NOTE 2: My apologies to Root 174 for the inferior photos of their beautiful food. The cellphone just didn't cut it. The first photo is of my version, caught with a real camera in good lighting.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Buffalo Bleu Coleslaw

Whew! It's been a busy couple of weeks! There's hardly been time to cook, let alone blog about it. 

Tonight it was time to take a little break, sit back and chill, throw a couple of steaks on the grill and make the side dishes simple. So I did.

Every once in a while I post what I call a "quickie," and yes, this is one of them. It might have taken all of 2 minutes to put together a slaw that both Mark and I think is the best slaw I've ever made. 

Packaged slaw mix, mayo, the sweet/tart balance of vinegar and sugar, Tabasco's new Buffalo Style Hot Sauce and bleu (or blue, if you prefer!) cheese tossed together in a hurry and ready to pile on plates. Yep, it's essentially Buffalo wing coleslaw. A little sweet, a little heat and a whole lot delicious!

Buffalo Bleu Coleslaw

  • 4 cups packaged coleslaw mix (or shredded cabbage if you're feeling all industrious)
  • 1/4 cup bleu cheese, crumbled - extra for garnish, if you wish

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce, the Buffalo Style Hot Sauce variety (it's relatively new...look for it in the hot sauce aisle!)
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Put the coleslaw mix into a large bowl. Set aside.

Mix the mayo, vinegar, sugar, Tabasco and salt together until smooth.

Pour the sauce over the slaw, sprinkle with bleu cheese. Toss gently, but thoroughly. Serve.

Garnish with extra bleu cheese crumbles, if desired.

NOTE: Use lite mayo and Splenda to lower the calories...beach time isn't far away!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Pittsburgh Cocktail Beat - We've Got It!

Recently, I was asked to do a guest post for the Blog section of the RhoMania website. What is RhoMania? The developer of the Grail app. The app is an interactive, digital list of ratings, reviews, tasting notes and other information to help discerning customers choose wines, beers and spirits while dining out...or in. Look for it in the App Store for iPhone, iPad or iPod!

Here's the guest blog post!

If the kitchen is the heart of a restaurant, the bar is its heartbeat. The hum and the buzz of the crowd and the simple syncopation of ice clinking rhythmically against it the sides of a shaker set the beat.  In Pittsburgh, that heartbeat is happening!
Pittsburgh restaurants and bars are stepping up their game and offering properly made classic and craft cocktails to appreciative cocktail fans (geeks?) across the town. We are becoming educated cocktail consumers who are looking for more than well liquors and sweet & sour mix…or in Pittsburgh tradition, a shot and a beer.  We’re looking for fine spirits, house-made syrups and fresh fruits. We’re looking for a big city cocktail experience in our own hometown.
Who knows best what makes Pittsburgh the new up and coming cocktail aware city that it is? Local bartenders and bar managers…with a few bar owners thrown in for a little flavor, that’s who. They are the ones with their ears to the ground to hear cocktail hoofbeats on the horizon. What do our local industry insiders have to say about how the current Pittsburgh cocktail culture came about, where it is now and where we’re going?
Embury, Pittsburgh’s Cocktail Genesis
Mike Mills behind the bar at Meat & Potatoes  Photo by Michael Basista
Mike Mills, Bar Manager for Meat & Potatoes in downtown Pittsburgh (aka, Mikey Flair) says, “Embury is the reason for what the scene is today – anyone who says anything else doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” Pretty strong words? Definitely. But Mikey’s opinion is one that echoes throughout the Pittsburgh cocktail world. 

Craig Mrusek ready to tend bar at Tender Bar + Kitchen

Craig Mrusek, of Tender Bar + Kitchen in Lawrenceville (aka Dr. Bamboo), says pretty much the same thing. He feels that, “Up until 5-6 years ago, the restaurant/bar scene in Pittsburgh was pretty static, then Embury opened in the Strip District.” Once this revered, now long lamented classic/craft cocktail bar opened, the cocktail scene here changed dramatically. It was Embury that planted the seed of cocktail expertise and appreciation. And it flourished.
The names behind the Embury legend? Spencer Warren and Freddie Sarkis. If not for these two classic cocktail aficionados and experts, the scene may never have been. Downstairs from the Firehouse Lounge, the space the Embury occupied was originally intended to be a dessert bar. For one reason or another, that concept never materialized. 

A serendipitous trip to New York and a visit to the cocktail lounge, Milk and Honey, soon changed Spencer’s vision from pastries to potables. Could Pittsburgh, long a shot-and-a-beer-town, come to love a grand cocktail, too? 

Spencer Warren of Embury fame

Spencer put the plan into motion, but he gives full credit to Freddie for taking Embury to the next level. Freddie insisted on classic cocktail recipes incorporating housemade syrups, fresh fruits and top shelf liquors. Freddie had tended bar in cities known for their cocktail culture and believed Pittsburgh was ready – we just needed a little encouragement and education. He was right. 
Little by little, Pittsburgh began to get into the cocktail groove. Late at night after finishing their own shifts at other bars across the city, bartenders began to frequent Embury where Freddie freely dispensed cocktail information and education along with the drinks.  And little by little, those bartenders began working, and learning, next to Freddie themselves. 
Because of Mr. Sarkis, most of today’s well-trained creators of classic and craft cocktails earned their stripes at Embury. Many have gone on to run their own bar programs at other establishments in the city: Mike Mills – Meat & Potatoes; Craig Mrusek and Nathan Luchansky – Tender Bar + Kitchen; Marie Perriello, April Diehl and Lynn Thomas – Acacia; Maggie Meskey and Summer Voelker;  – Harvard and Highland; Sean Enright and Allie Contreras – Bar Marco…and the list goes on and on. 
Although Embury’s doors closed in 2011, Craig believes the renowned bar “still casts a long shadow in the town.”  What’s Embury’s legacy? Spencer believes, “That’s for other people to determine.” It definitively has been. Embury was the seed from which Pittsburgh’s cocktail culture sprang, without it we might still be ordering a shot and a beer. 

Where does that leave us today as far as the classic cocktail bar or lounge goes in Pittsburgh? In Mr. Mills’ opinion, “Tender & Acacia – that’s it right now.” 

Ahhhh…Acacia. What’s the mystery behind the nondescript, speakeasy-ish bar on Carson Street in the Southside? Just the reincarnation of the venerable Embury! 
Spencer did some traveling after Embury closed to research (tough job, huh?) cocktail lounges in cities across the country known for the best of the best. Upon his return to Pittsburgh, he once again gathered some of the most talented barkeeps in the ‘Burgh. Combine that talent with a cool, comfortable atmosphere, excellent spirits, house-made syrups, fresh herbs and fruits, cocktails ON TAP and you have cocktail magic and an unforgettable evening of cocktail-ery.  

The glories of Acacia that exist behind the door

What about the food at Acacia? Forget about it. It’s cocktails ONLY...for now.
Tender Bar + Kitchen
The other cocktail/bartender-driven spot in town that Mike cited is Tender Bar + Kitchen in Lawrenceville. Tender is at the vanguard of the cocktail driven establishments WITH FOOD.

Jeff Catalina and Marie Perriello teaching Gin Class at Tender

Like Mr. Sarkis at Embury, Jeff Catalina is another cocktail visionary who came to Pittsburgh to seek new opportunities.For 7 years he lived in Chicago (home now to Freddie Sarkis and his own cocktail establishments), before setting his sights on the ‘Burgh.
Why Pittsburgh? Jeff, “Saw the right talent to develop the right concept…the opportunity in Pittsburgh for success.” Thus he opened Verde Mexican Kitchen + Cantina. And, yes, it was/is a resounding success. Mr. Catalina’s instincts were right on. Then an opening arose for the type of classic American cocktail lounge that he’d come to know – and love - in his travels.
An elegant former bank on a Lawrenceville corner offered yet another Pittsburgh opportunity. The space and history predetermined the theme of Tender as Jeff named it “Tender” in honor not only of the barTENDERs who would create cocktails within the space, but in homage to the building’s history of handling legal tender. He believes one should, “Respect the history of the space you occupy.”
Notice that “Bar” precedes “Kitchen” in the name – just a clue as to what is found inside. Cocktails come first. So primary are the drinks that Jeff gathered quite a few top notch bartenders under one roof.  Remember the bounty of bartenders that blossomed from Embury? You’ll find many of them right here along with the pick of non-Embury bartenders both from our town and from elsewhere.
Don’t let the emphasis on cocktails fool you, though. Some of the finest regional “small plates” cuisine to be found in Pittsburgh is right at the bar (or tables, if you prefer). Expect to find delightful interpretations of lobster rolls, beef on weck, deviled eggs, sliders, shrimp n grits and many others. Desserts, too, are original variations on classics. Both cocktails and cuisine here are serious fun!  

Pittsburgh reflected in the door of Meat & Potatoes
Meat & Potatoes 
In Downtown Pittsburgh, probably the current height of craft cocktails is found at Meat & Potatoes in the O’Reilly Theater. 
Since opening in 2011, Chef Rick DeShantz has wowed his dining audiences with a stellar dining experience. 

It wasn’t long until M & P began to be recognized not just for its exciting and creative menu, but for some of the most excellent classic and craft cocktails to be found anywhere. Yes, Mikey Mills heads up a bar program here that more than just keeps pace with the cuisine.  

Just a couple years after opening, Meat & Potatoes is almost ready to launch its newest (ad)venture, Butcher and Rye. And hold onto your barstools, ladies and gents….this new cocktail-driven, carnivore-pleasing spot across from Heinz Hall is about to rock the cocktail world. 
Butcher & Rye - Coming Soon!
While the emphasis at Meat & Potatoes is first and foremost on the food, the focus at Butcher and Rye – even though the name begins with ‘Butcher’ -- will definitely be on the cocktails. With shelves behind the downstairs bar soaring 2 stories high, the focus will be on whiskey, classic/craft cocktails and barrel-aged cocktails. One mighty tall ladder will allow the staff of bartenders and barbacks to reach even the topmost of liquors. Kind of gives a whole new meaning to top shelf liquors, doesn't it? 

In addition to the downstairs bar, walk two flights of stairs…and a few steps more…to a second, more intimate and comfortable bar lined with banquettes. There will even be a small kitchen area behind the bar to whip up batches of fresh syrups, shrubs and bitters right on the spot. Railings allow a birds-eye view of everything from top to bottom happening in B&R. Great people watching!
Where will the ‘Butcher’ part of the name come from? Charcuterie. As finely crafted as the cocktails will be, the small plates available to accompany the liquid delights will be as visually tempting as they are delicious. Detail oriented pates, tartares, rillettes, salumis and all variety of Chef Rick’s creations will be beautifully presented. 
Like Spencer Warren and Jeff Catalina, Chef Rick, Mike and Tolga Sevdik (another of the owners and the manager of M&P) are regularly found in NY, Chicago, L.A., Vegas, the Bourbon Trail – anywhere and everywhere new inspiration can be found to bring the best of the best to the ‘Burgh. 
Acacia – Redux
Maybe you picked up on the earlier hint…Acacia is moving into its next planned phase. From the very beginning, the owners of Acacia have planned a slow rollout of their casual theme, space and focus. Walls will be coming down, an open kitchen will be installed and sometime later this year fabulous eats will be available to accompany your cocktail.

A stunning presentation of Justin Severino-crafted charcuterie

The man behind the menu will be none other than Pittsburgh’s own, highly-regarded, multiple award winning Justin Severino. Expect the same quiet, jazzy, comfortable space that is Acacia now…only with the addition of exquisite charcuterie and other small plates. Stay tuned for more details as they develop! 

And Spencer? He’s off again traveling and learning, listening, absorbing and immersing himself in the cocktail world about the country. Only good things for Pittsburgh will be coming from the souvenirs of cocktail knowledge he will bring back to his home town. 

Pittsburgh - Some Serious Cocktail Chops
From the beginnings of Embury, Pittsburgh’s cocktail environment has continued to grow and expand. Quality cocktails are now found all over the city. Most bars and restaurants are striving for a better – and much appreciated - customer experience. Why? We, as cocktail consumers, are better educated today than we were in dark, pre-Embury days. WE have higher standards for our cocktail experience and we expect the spots we frequent to be on their cocktail game.
Just as our local bartenders and bar owners travel the country looking for the best of the best, we too travel the city in search of the finest cocktail in town. These oases of liquid refreshment, old or new, create an environment for the success of all establishments offering quality craft cocktails. Excellence breeds excellence. That excellence has earned Pittsburgh some serious cocktail chops thanks to Embury and those who worked there. And to those who, as a result, came to appreciate one damned fine cocktail. Cheers Pittsburgh!


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fellow Food Bloggers and Cocktail Cohorts - The Brunch

Occasionally - not always - some of the best plans are hatched among friends around the bar. As I recall, the idea arose around a discussion of tiki drinks, which led to building the perfect pina colada, which led to the question, "Have you ever had a grilled pina colada?" Which naturally then led to the next question, "When are you going to have US over for brunch?!" Thus the plan AND the brunch was born.

Bloody Mary Bar - Just the beginning!                 Photo credit - Jenn Tkocs & Michael Scotto
Dessert was already set...grilled pina coladas, of course. And Bloody Marys because, in my humble opinion, there is no brunch without bloodies. Two kinds actually - a standard one for non-adventurers, and a not-for-the-faint-of-heart version kicked up with reconstituted dried guajillo peppers and chile de arbol peppers, fresh garlic and jalapenos, mesquite smoked salt and some other fun stuff thrown in for good measure. Okay...drinks and dessert are set, what else? (Imagine the thrumming of fingertips on tabletop while pondering the question....) 

Smoked Pork Belly on the left, Grilled Paiche on the right - both with ALL the fixings!                Photo credit - Jenn Tkocs & Michael Scotto

Photo credit - Jenn Tkocs & Michael Scotto
Breakfast tacos! (NO! I just realized I forgot to make dippy eggs! Drat.) Sans the dippy eggs, we managed to make do with roasted mojo pork, grilled paiche fish (the fishmongers behind the glass at Whole Foods assured me it was a mild, sweet and delicious pick - and it was on sale!) and smoked pork belly that I'd rubbed the night before. Mark got up early to get it on the smoker by 6:00 a.m.

With breakfast tacos, naturally there were black beans, jalapeno coleslaw, cilantro lime crema and pickled red onions as traditional accompaniments. A huge coconut rum fruit salad filled in the holes...oh, and a batch of key lime coconut bars, too.  

Sure food is important at a brunch, but with the cocktail geeks and bartenders in attendance, there must be fabulous cocktails! And there were. Each guest was requested to bring the requirements for his or her favorite or signature cocktail. Boy oh BOY, did they come through! 

Michael with Blackberry Mezcal Julep   Photo credit - Jenn Tkocs & Michael Scotto

Jenn and Michael (of the blog 101 Achievements fame) made a variation on a julep...made with mezcal (instead of bourbon) and blackberries along with the required julep ingredient, mint. Smoky, sweet and minty with a kick. Marvelous.

Tiki Max in the midst of the 1934 Zombie creative process!   
Photo credit - Jenn Tkocs & Michael Scotto

Max and Chip (of RhoMania) brought some amazing rums and homemade syrups they magically turned into classic tiki drinks. Max's authentic tiki mugs were the icing on the cake...or the lime in the coconut? Max made not just any old Zombie, but the original 1934 Zombie recipe using hand-cranked crushed ice, no less. Next up was the 151 Swizzle!

Dave and Gail discussing proper Mai Tai preparation.   Photo credit - Jenn Tkocs & Michael Scotto  
One beautifully garnished Mai Tai Photo credit - Jenn Tkocs & Michael Scotto


That wasn't the end of the tiki drinks, folks. Fellow former mixology classmates, Gail and Dave, created Mai Tais that were simply out of this world. The making of the tiki drink for them was just a warm up for their tropical themed wedding in LESS THAN A MONTH. Awwwwww. Mark and I already have our tropical attire ready to dance at their wedding.

Marie, Gail, Dave - Where was Brian?!
Photo credit - Jenn Tkocs & Michael Scotto

What did our Acacia bartender guests, Marie and Brian, make? Absolutely nothing. On their day off, we guaranteed them they wouldn't be making drinks for anyone, it was their turn to be served! Maybe the drinks made for them weren't as wonderful as what they normally make for us, but we tried our darndest. If nothing else, a good time was had by all in the sunshine and the breezes under the big umbrella with full bellies and drinks in each of our hands. 

Photo credit - Jenn Tkocs & Michael Scotto

Grilled Pina Colada

Makes 4

  • 1 fresh pineapple, outside removed, cored and cut into 3/4" slices
  • 1 cup coconut flakes, toasted
  • 1 cup caramel topping, good quality (I prefer Richardson's)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup rum, Meyers dark rum, coconut rum, whatever kind you prefer - I used Kraken spiced rum this time!
  • 4 scoops ice cream, Talenti's coconut gelato
  • fresh whipped cream

Melt together caramel topping, butter and rum in a small saucepan until well combined.  Set aside.

Grill pineapple slices on both sides until caramelized and have nice grill marks. 

On a pretty plate, place a slice of pineapple, scoop gelato into center of ring, top with whipped cream, drizzle with caramel and sprinkle with toasted coconut.  AWESOME!

Spicy Szechuan Smoked Pork Belly

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns
  • 2 small green cardamom pods - find these at Penzey's in the Strip District
  •  1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 3 pound VERY lean pork belly (yes, I know this is an oxymoron)

Put the black and Szechuan peppercorns and the cardamom pods in a small coffee or spice grinder - or just crush them with a mortar & pestle. Remove to a small bowl, add the salt & sugar and mix well. Set aside.

Score both sides of the pork belly in a diamond pattern. Rub the peppercorn mixture evenly onto both sides of the meat. Use ALL of the rub. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. An hour before you're ready to smoke, take the meat out of the fridge to bring to room temp.

Prepare smoker as you normally would and soak smoker chips for at least an hour in water (wouldn't sake be nice instead of water?!) - I like hickory for this dish.

Once the smoker is ready to roll, unwrap the pork belly and place it on the smoker. We smoked this for about 4-5 hours - how long yours takes depends on you and your smoker.

Remove from heat when done, let rest 15 minutes and slice against the grain.

Serve on tacos or just by itself. Serve for breakfast or dinner. 
You will LOVE this one!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bloody Maria - Verde-Style

Those of you who have been following Dinner Plan-it for a while, know of my penchant for Bloody Marys. Those of you who just stumbled upon this blog also now know of my not-so-secret favorite cocktail!  Blame it on my Uncle Harry who mixed these vodka concoctions for weekend brunches back in the 50's (yes, I was way too young to be drinking them...but those sneaked sips had me hooked!) and served them with my very first ever Eggs Benedict. The man could COOK!  And he mixed a mean cocktail.  (He also made one refreshing ADULT snowball in the summer with shaved ice, sloe gin and chocolate syrup, too...that's for another post...maybe in the heat of July or August.)

A while ago, my Restaurant Week post prominently featured a Bloody Maria from Verde Kitchen + Cantina.  I have to tell you this is THE best in the city.  Smooth yet with a kick of heat and subtle undertones of mysterious Mexican peppers, Verde's version is divine. Like all of my favorite Bloodies, Verde's is a homemade mix.  What makes their Bloody so special? Hannah, Verde's lovely bar manager, shared with me the secret of a couple of the ingredients - fresh garlic and dried guajillo peppers.  Could I duplicate their subtly spicy red magic?  I gave it a try.

I toasted a few dried guajillo peppers in a dry skillet, covered them with water and simmered until they softened. After the guajillos were cooled and moved to a big glass bowl, I tossed in a few cloves of garlic, some jalapenos, lime AND lemon juice, celery ribs, cumin, mesquite smoked salt (my new find!) along with a few other goodies and let it mellow out overnight in the fridge. How did it turn out?

It was WONDERFUL!  Did it match the sublime Verde version? Nope. Is it one of my best homegrown versions? Absolutely! I'll be making these regularly for brunch at home, but I'll STILL be looking forward to Sunday, Bloody Sundays at Verde.

Oh! Here's a little preview of coming attractions...I served these at a fun brunch on our deck last Sunday to some food blogger friends and cocktail cohorts. Recipes for Szechuan Smoked Pork Belly and Grilled Pina Coladas coming up! Soon. 

Bloody Marias - Verde-Style

  • 2 T. wheat free Tamari - or soy sauce if gluten isn't an issue for you
  • 2 ribs celery - sliced thinly across
  • 2 garlic cloves - smashed, left whole
  • 1 large jalapeno - sliced thinly
  • 2 t. mesquite smoked salt
  • 2 t. cumin
  • a handful of cilantro leaves
  • a large dried guajillo pepper - broken into large pieces (you can find these in the Mexican section of Giant Eagle or (more fun!) Reyna's in the Strip District)
  • the juice of 1 lime
  • the juice of 1 lemon
  • a bottle of high fiber V-8 - I think it gives a better mouthfeel and substance to the mix

Start by toasting the dried chile in a dry skillet (I love cast iron for this) over medium heat. When it smells warm and toasty, cover with water, bring to a boil, lower heat immediately and simmer until it is soft and pliable. Remove and cool.

In a large glass bowl, add all of the above ingredients along with the toasted and softened guajillo pepper pieces. Stir and refrigerate overnight, covered.

The next day, remove the solids from the liquids with a large slotted spoon or spider and squeeze all the liquid from the solids letting the liquid fall back into the bowl. Once all the solids have been removed you have Bloody Mary or Bloody Maria base! Transfer to a glass or plastic pitcher and refrigerate until cocktail time. 

Assembly: In a pint glass or Mason jar, pour 1 1/2-2 ounces of mezcal, tequila or vodka - whichever you prefer (I like smoky mezcal in a Bloody Maria). Add the Bloody Mary base 2/3 of the way of the glass, add ice to the top and garnish with fresh lime. Stir gently. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Black Rice Blueberry & Jalapeno Salad

Now that grilling season is here, an arsenal of side salad recipes is something we all need. Once we've had potato salad a dozen different ways or pasta salad until we never want to see another dried noodle as long as we live, what's left? Well, there's this little number for starters.

Like a little black dress, this is one is suitable for all events. Dress it up fancy or or dress it down casual - the finest filet or  the most basic burger - Black Rice Blueberry & Jalapeno Salad is just right for any occasion. This lovely little basic black salad might have just a little more elegance than potato salad. Maybe it has just a little more pizzazz.

With blueberries in season and a BIG bag of black rice in my pantry (thank you Costco!), it only seemed natural to devise a way to use them together. Sweet blueberries balanced against tart fresh lime and vinegar and a contrast of chewy, toothsome rice and crisp green onions and red slivers of jalapenos gave nice textural interest as well as some pretty amazing flavor.

The simple, basic black salad is always in good taste...and it tastes good!

Black Rice Blueberry & Jalapeno Salad

  • 2 cups cold, cooked black rice - don't substitute white rice (cold, cooked brown rice would work just fine - just wouldn't be nearly as dramatic!)
  • 6 green onions, root end removed and sliced thinly well into the green
  • 1 red jalapeno - or green if you can't find a red one, stem and seeds removed, sliced very thinly
  • 1 cup blueberries, washed and dried
  • 1 t. Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • the juice of 1 lime
  • 2 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 3 T. olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix gently, but well. Serve chilled or at room temperature.