Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Religious Experience

There is something very special happening this week . . . . It's something my family looks forward to each year. We literally count the days until this momentous occasion arrives. If you think I'm talking about Thanksgiving, you're wrong. It's the Iron Bowl, an important tradition dating back to 1893 when the University of Alabama takes on Auburn in football the Saturday following Thanksgiving, which I mentioned here. You see, Alabamians seem to be assigned a denomination by birth: Tide or Tiger fan. You're either one or the other and that's how you grow up. I was definitely raised Tide and football is gospel—the gospel according to Paul Bear Bryant that is. Perhaps one of the greatest coaches ever, he is revered on a saint-like level in many homes. Wally Butts, the University of Georgia coach from 1939 - 1960, said, "The definition of an atheist in Alabama is someone who doesn't believe in Bear Bryant." While some people have an altar to Jesus or the Virgin Mary in their homes, we have one to Bear Bryant. The objects that comprise it are the most coveted in my family. Those are the things we will surely fight over in the will, as they represent not only our proud Southern heritage but also my granddad, who may have been the most devout Alabama football fan that ever roamed the Earth and whom was deeply loved by all (kind of like Bear Bryant). And let's be honest, who doesn't want a Bear Bryant clock?!

They call the South the Bible Belt, but people may not realize the real religion in the region is football. Football in the South, not just Alabama, is something that crosses racial, political, and economic lines. Whether you're a judge or a janitor, come Saturday you're praying to the Lord your team wins, regardless of which, if any, House of the Lord you may visit on Sunday. And like any tried and true religion, there are time honored rituals to adhere to in the gridiron church, such as flags in your front yard, pets named after mascots, tailgating, and even tattoos. 

Football is truly a central part of the Southern culture that goes far beyond trash talking and sharing a flask of Jack in a parking lot before a game. A close second might be barbecue, drawing perhaps equal ardent devotion. People are just as passionate and narrow-minded, drawing well-defined lines in the sand. Grilled vs. smoked.  Pork vs. beef. Wet vs. dry. Tomato- vs. vinegar-based. Pulled vs. sliced. Your style of barbecue also seems to represent who you are and what you represent. We are long on memory in the South and honor tradition like it's an endangered species. While many consider a good burger the most American of meals, Southerners would claim barbecue. The people, the places, the rituals, the flavors are what make it such a deep part of the fabric. 

Another secure part of the Southern fabric is "Coke," which is the generic term for soda. If you say, "I'd like a Coke," someone will ask, "What kind?" The South is the birthplace of a number of "Cokes:" Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, Cheerwine, RC Cola, Mountain Dew, Root Beer, and Nehi, to name a few. Maybe because of our history in bootlegging we needed mixers? As a marketer, I've always been fascinated by brands, and I'd say it's safe to say that Coca-Cola is one of the strongest brands in the world. But the history behind it is pure Southern legacy. In the early 1900s, the Coca-Cola Company would give stores free custom-printed signs for their storefronts, as long as they agreed to an accompanying Coca-Cola logo. This business approach bought favor among the country store owners but also made the Coca-Cola brand ubiquitous in the South. It was one of the most powerful case studies in how to build brand loyalty, as well as become the generic term for the entire category. 

Since I live in Santa Barbara, there are a few facts to note here: 1) Most people don't even know what the SEC is; 2) On Saturdays, the locals are doing yoga and picking up organic sprouted beans at the farmers' market; 3) "BBQ" is Hawaiian and involves pineapple and a poppy seed dressing; and 4) People drink rooibos tea or an acai berry smoothie instead of "Coke." But what I have confirmed after 17 years is that you can take the girl out of the South but not the South out of the girl. 

So at some point in the midst of the SEC football season this year, I started to fall apart. I had to get back to my roots and get some barbecue on. And I figured this round should also have a good dose of Coke in it since I needed a "religious" fix.  When I found this recipe for Dr. Pepper Ribs, I wanted to do a Touchdown Jesus, but that's just tacky for a proper Southern girl. We're full of pride but frown upon flaunting.

If you've never made ribs or if you're a Smoke Master and are already thumbing your nose down at me, you have to trust me on this one. This is a good recipe. A golden recipe. An easy, no fail recipe. An indoor recipe. A recipe your friends will marvel over your cooking prowess. Seriously. You'll be the the Nick Saban of ribs, which is the absolute highest honor—if you're a Tide fan (which is the greatest birthright of all).

Roll Tide Roll!

Dr. Pepper Ribs
from The Homesick Texan

For the rub-
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 tsp chipotle powder
1/2 tsp allspice

For the glaze-
2 cups plus 1/4 cup Dr. Pepper
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup yellow mustard
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp molasses
2-4 tsp chipotle powder (which gives a smoky not so spicy note)
2 racks of spare ribs or St. Louis ribs

1. Coat the ribs with the rub, wrap in plastic and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. 
2. Heat oven to 300 degrees and bring the ribs to room temperature.
3. In a foil-lined large baking or roasting pan, arrange the ribs with the meat side up, pour in 1/4 cup Dr. Pepper, cover pan tightly with foil and place in the oven. 
4. Meanwhile, place all the remaining glaze ingredients in a pan, bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes, until thick and syrupy. 
5. After an hour and a half, take the ribs out of the oven and spread some of the glaze on each side of the racks. Place back in the oven, meat side up and cook uncovered for 30 minutes. 

6. After 30 minutes, take out the ribs and spread more glaze over them and cook for 30 more minutes or until the ribs are desired tenderness. 
7. At this point, take the ribs out of the oven, spread more glaze on them and then cook each side under the broiler for approximately 4 minutes. 
8. Divide and serve—with plenty of napkins! 

Friday, November 16, 2012


Good lord. I'm supposed to be talking about this right now: 

But this is what I'm eating right now: 

I know, it's only 11:07 am, but God Almighty am I HUNG-OVER. Man, was last night fun though! It was the Paskin's Annual Thanksgiving Dinner, which they host one week before Turkey Day each year. 

They provide the turkey and everyone brings a side dish (sweet or savory). Unfortunately, I found a bottle of bourbon at some point, hence the greasy cheeseburger and fries. I'm just grateful I stuffed myself with a ridiculous amount of delicious food in the process or I'd really be hatin' it today. 

To add some color, last year there were 48 pounds of turkey, 42 pounds of ham and 67 side dishes and desserts. If you leave hungry, it's your own fault. It's one party that I am very grateful to make the invite list! Not only is it super fun—and filling, it kind off kicks off the holiday season. 

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It's the most food-centric of holidays, so of course I love that, but what I love more is celebrating the many things in my life I'm grateful for. I know it sounds like a bunch of crap, but it's true: I love my family! I do actually count them as a blessing in my life. And friends are the family you choose, so having a Thanksgiving celebration with that particular family is really special to me. So, Mike and Sarah, I have two things to say to you: 
1) "Thank you for hosting such a wonderful event!" and
2) "I'm sorry I drank all your Maker's Mark and wouldn't leave your house until like 1:40 AM."

While I love the traditional dishes of Thanksgiving (stuffing or mashed potatoes, anyone?), I thought I'd mix things up a little this year and bring something atypical. I'm glad I did because this dish was awesome and a fabulous compliment to turkey. 

The red quinoa and toasted walnuts give this dish a wonderfully nutty, earthy quality, while the roasted carrots and dried cranberries add the perfect sweetness. The mix of spices lends an exotic note to it—and make me want to get on a plane and jet off to Morocco. I would highly recommend you make this for your own Thanksgiving celebration next week, but if it's not quite traditional enough to make the cut, then by all means make it the next day to enjoy with your leftovers. 

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. May you have much to be thankful for this year! 

Roasted Carrot and Red Quinoa Salad
from Food & Wine

2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 bunches of baby carrots (about 1 1/2 lbs)
Freshly ground black pepper
7 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup red quinoa
2 cups water
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
5 oz mixed salad greens
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk the paprika with the turmeric, cumin, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, cayenne, cardamom and 1 tsp each of salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, toss the carrots with the onion and 2 Tbsp of the oil. Add 1 Tbsp of the spice mix and toss to coat. Spread the vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes, stirring once or twice, until tender. 
2. Meanwhile, spread the walnuts in a pie plate and bake for about 7 minutes at 400 degrees until golden. Let cool, then coarsely chop. 
3. In medium saucepan, combine the quinoa with 2 tsp of the spice mix and the water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is tender, about 17 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a ford and let cool slightly. 
4. In a large bowl, whisk 2 Tbsp of the oil with 1 Tbsp of the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Add the salad greens and toss to coat. Spread the greens on a large platter. In the same bowl, whisk the remaining 3 Tbsp of oil with the remaining 1 Tbsp of lemon juice and the zest, mustard and and 1 tsp of the spice mix; season with salt. Add the quinoa, walnuts, cranberries, parsley and roasted vegetables and toss well. Spoon the quinoa salad on the greens and serve.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Eating Forever

Michael Pollan forever changed the way we think about food when he cited seven words in his book In Defense of Food: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complex and confusing question of what humans should eat to be maximally healthy. A little meat won't kill you, although it's better approached as a side dish versus a main, and it's better to eat whole fresh foods rather than processed food products. 

It's been a few years since it was published but its influence persists. However my attitude was reinvigorated after reading this recent article about people from a small island in Greece who seem to literally forget to die. Their diet follows closely with Michael's mantra. It made me once again think about food, my health and our society. So I'm recommitting to Meatless Mondays, proving to myself that meat really can be just a side dish and how much I really do enjoy eating my veggies. 

This dish is great for a cold Fall night, and wonderful when entertaining, as you can assemble it ahead of time and then just pop it in the oven when your guests arrive. All you need is a salad and a bottle of red wine to complete the meal. It's been my "go-to" dish this Fall, making it for at least a half-dozen occasions. It's easy enough to whip up and drop off at a friend's house as a surprise dinner and it's so comforting and delicious they'll praise you for it. It also happens to be healthy if anyone cares. And people always tell me they hate licorice and therefore won't eat fennel. Well, guess what? I hate licorice but that doesn't mean you don't like fennel. 

It actually cooks down into this caramelized mess of goodness. You add in the onions and the radicchio and you end up with this rich and earthy mixture. Add in the gooey ricotta and Fontina and the fresh parsley and you're pretty much golden. If I could eat like this every night, I wouldn't want to die either. 

I'm also going to follow closely the other tips for "healthy living" from these islanders:
1) Take more naps
2) Have more sex
3) Drink less soda
4) Drink 2 - 4 glasses of wine a day, preferably with friends
If that isn't the secret to a happy life, I don't know what is! 

Ricotta-and-Fontina-Stuffed Shells with Fennel and Radicchio
from Food& Wine

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 lbs fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
2 medium heads of radicchio (10 oz total), chopped
12 oz jumbo pasta shells
2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
6 oz Italian Fontina cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs, beaten
3 cups marinara sauce (I like Rao's jarred sauce)
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a deep, large skillet, melt the butter in the oil. Add the fennel and onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until lightly browned, about 15 minutes; add water as needed to keep the vegetables from scorching. Add the radicchio and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes, adding water as necessary. Scrape the vegetables into a bowl and let cool.
2. Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and cool under running water. Pat the shells dry. 
3. Fold the ricotta, 1 cup of the Fontina and the parsley into the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the eggs.
4. In another bowl, mix the marinara sauce with the heavy cream. Pour 1 1/2 cups into a 9x13-inch baking dish. Stuff each shell with a slightly rounded Tbsp of the filling and nestle the shells in the sauce as close together as possible. Drizzle 1 cup of the remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of Fontina. 
5. Bake shells for about 40 minutes, until golden. Let rest for 15 minutes. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Seven Minutes in Heaven

So did you survive Halloween? Are you candied out today? If so, you should whip up this soup for supper tonight. And I do mean whip it up, as in "in a jiffy." It's called 7-Minute Soup. I may or may not have played the game Seven Minutes in Heaven when I was a teenager, but when I saw this recipe I thought I would actually be in heaven in seven minutes if it were really true. 

I live in a neighborhood where kids basically bus in to trick-or-treat and people totally trick their houses out, looking like set designs for big-budget Hollywood horror movies. I easily go through 20 lbs of candy on Halloween. I usually invite a few friends over to help with the candy distribution as it can get pretty intense at times. But it's tough to have a sit down meal when the doorbell is constantly ringing with clever and adorable costumed kids waiting to dig their hands into an enormous bowl of candy. 

As the 85 degree weather cooled down to a pleasant 67 last night, I thought soup and salad may be a good option to fuel my fellow candy dealers. I also thought it would be easy to make (in only take seven minutes) ahead of time and reheat and serve when the crew got ready to eat, but would also stand up to the interruptions of trick-or-treaters. Plus, I'm a competitive dork so I had to see if it could really be made in seven minutes.

OK, first of all, here are the basic ingredients, which are all off the shelf. You essentially take prepared foods, blend them together to make soup and add some lovely garnishes. I know it's called 7-Minute Soup, but it should actually be called Cheater's Soup or Lazy Man's Soup. I'm certainly not going to complain about that because, in truth, that's my kind of cooking—as long as it's good. If it's fast and easy but tastes like crap, I won't eat it—and I certainly wouldn't serve it to friends.

Therefore the first test was can I really find food heaven in seven minutes? In truth, it took me 9 minutes and 27 seconds to make the soup.

But, I think if you had all the food prepped and didn't take pictures for a blog, you could definitely hit the 7 minute mark, which is kind of incredible! I wanted to be more realistic and start the timer from scratch, but let's be honest, if you can whip up a soup in less than 10 minutes, you're going to be fist-bumping me. Let's not squabble over details. A 9 minute and 27 second soup is ridiculous. Rachel Ray and her (fake) 30 minute meals can stuff it. 

That brings us to the second test: palatability. No matter how fast or easy it may be to make, is this even worthy of eating? Well, let me assure you, I'm very picky. I would rather starve than eat a bad meal. If something doesn't taste good, I'll just throw it out. If company is on the way, I'd have no qualms calling for pizza. It was good. I'll say that. But it wasn't great. It had a rich and flavorful base but it needed some acid to round it out. I added the juice of half of a lemon and maybe 3 Tbsp dry white wine and it did indeed provide a needed dimension to the soup, which then transformed it into great. The added drizzle of olive oil and splash of hot sauce before serving solidified the grade of an easy A. That means rave reviews and second helpings.

I served it with a simple kale salad with apples, goat cheese and candied pecans, which was the perfect balance to the rich soup. I love a nice culinary character foil when needed. This is it. And we all know how crazy good kale is for you. If you don't, check this out. 

So all said, I do think this qualifies as Seven Minutes in Heaven. If your mate or crush wants to hole up in a closet for seven minutes after eating this awesome soup, I would totally understand it. And a new definition of "kiss the cook!"

Happy November! 

7 Minute Soup: Creamy Piquillo Pepper and Chickpea Soup with Chicken
adapted from Food & Wine

1 cup drained piquillo peppers plus 1/4 cup cut into thin strips
3/4 cup (7 oz) hummus
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cooked brown or white rice (I'm lazy so bought this from my neighborhood thai restaurant)
1 cup shredded rotisserie chicken
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly squeeze juice from 1/2 lemon
3 Tbsp dry white wine
Olive oil and hot sauce to garnish

1. In a blender, combine the whole piquillos with the hummus and stock and puree until smooth. 
2. Transfer the soup into a medium pot. Add the rice, chicken, lemon juice, and wine; and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. 
3. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with the parsley, sliced piquillos, olive oil and hot sauce. 
Yields: 4 servings