Archive for May, 2010

Ribs, the OTFP Way

Posted in Uncategorized on May 26, 2010 by otfp

Summertime is my favorite time of year.  Unfortunately, we’re still a long way from summer on May 25 here in northern Illinois.  But, sometimes we have some flashes of some real summertime weather in May, and when that happens, you have to ride those times as far as they’ll go.  We’ve had a spell of 90 degree heat here, and of course, the first thing we think of is not cooking inside, where the house will become hotter than it already is.

One of our favorite ways to cook is grilling, and though I admit I don’t grill quite so often in January as I do in June, I am a year round griller.

I sort of want to save some of this info for a future chapter of ‘things you should have in your kitchen’, but if any of my small but (hopefully) faithful fan base is in the market for a new grill, I cannot recommend highly enough a Weber Genesis-series gas grill.  They aren’t especially cheap but this falls into the category of price=quality.

I am sure there are more than a couple die-hard charcoal grillers out there.  Let me assure you: I used to live and die by charcoal until I got my Genesis back in 2004.  I like the charcoal flavor, but as a trained professional Taster, there are some things that aren’t good about charcoal-cooked meat.  The good parts of that flavor are replicated perfectly by a gas/lp grill after it has a few meals on it, an thus, taking that into account and combining it with the added convenience of fire-and-forget lp, I doubt seriously my return to charcoal.  Anyhow, I use a 2004-vintage Weber Genesis Silver B model gas grill to do my at-home grilling.

Ribs…  You can buy 2 kinds of ribs in most places: beef or pork.  I always choose pork because they tend to be softer and more flavorful.  Beef is almost always tougher, more prone to drying out, and because they are bigger, harder to cook in quantity sufficient for a family of six.  99% of the meat I buy I get from Costco because prices tend to be a little bit lower and the overall quality of the meat is roughly a billion percent better than what I can get at the local Jewel/Albertsons or Dominick’s/Safeway.  I often say that Costco is the next best thing to having your own herd of livestock.

So, here’s what you need to do ribs, OTFP.




Baking pan (pyrex is best but metal works too)

At least 3 or 4 hours

Basting brush


1 or more slabs of pork ribs

Sea salt

Sarawak black pepper, ground

1 clove garlic per 2 slabs

About 16 ounces of Sweet Baby Rays Original Barbecue Sauce

Serves 2-3 per slab for light eaters.


Preheat your grill to about 200F.  Anything higher than 220F is too hot and will dry out the meat.  Less than 200F will require more cooking time.

Fill the baking pan about half full of water.  Half empty, if pessimism is your thing.

Season the ribs with salt, pepper, and garlic to taste.  I find that half a clove is about perfect for a full slab, but your mileage may vary.

Ribs must be cooked indirectly or you will burn the undersides and dry the meat out.  This is great if you want flavorful pork jerky on the bone, but I’ve never met anyone that wanted that end product.  I cut each slab in half because that’s what fits best on the grill.

Place the baking pan of water directly over the heat source.  This will buffer heat transfer and add humidity to the cooking chamber.  Place the ribs so that they are centrally located between two low heat sources.  If you have a 3-burner grill, keep the middle burner unlit and cook in the middle.  If you need to use charcoal, prep the grill as though you are cooking a roast, with two fires, and get regular Kingsford charcoal (blue bag).  It lights easily and burns very evenly.

The first hour is low maintenance.  After one hour, turn the ribs 180 degrees to ensure even cooking.  Make sure the baking pan still has water in it.  Same thing with the second hour, but you may want to turn them every 20-30 minutes if you know your heat sources are unevenly hot.  The bones should ALWAYS face down.

If you’re running 220, the third hour is going to be where the most cooking happens.  Again, you should be turning the ribs every 20-30 minutes and watching to verify that the baking pan remains full of water.  If the pan goes dry, the ribs are going to dry out and you’ll see shrinkage of the meat at the ends of the bones.  The juiciest ribs will pull back only about 1/4” from the edges of the bones.  Any more shrinkage than that means your fire was too hot.

The fourth/final hour is where the basting happens.  You should slightly increase the heat for the final hour to about 275F, or simply add about 2 briquets of charcoal (no lighter fluid) to each fire.  Once the charcoals start to burn or the grill heats up to about 275, baste lightly with SBR’s sauce.  Again, turn the ribs every 20 or so minutes, and reapply the sauce at each interval.  If you do this right, there’s almost no shrinkage due to moisture loss, and the sugars in the sauce don’t burn or become bitter from overheating.

Serve with your favorite side dishes.  Our family favorites are a mustard potato salad, applesauce, and a salad.


Landshark Lager

Posted in Uncategorized on May 19, 2010 by otfp

I saw this on the store shelf last summer for the first time. I immediately passed judgement on it and dismissed it for the following reasons: Good beer never comes in clear glass bottles because light destabilizes the aromatics in good beer. Good lagers can’t come from hot places, they come from cold places, like Germany. Anything with the Margaritaville name on it is going to be overpriced and lack substance, just like a Buffett concert.

You might be thinking, “Hey! I like Jimmy Buffett!”

Oh, so do I—in small doses. But certainly not if the entry price is a smooth $100 a head. I have to be having a lot of fun if I am going to fork over a benjamin just to walk in the door. Fun. I’m talking real fun. Free drinks and joints, and a free t-shirt. Maybe bikini babes, too, for a hundred bucks. I mean, seriously. What are we here for?

But then my buddy came home from Iraq and insisted that before we fired up the grill, we had to find this beer. So we headed down the street to the local Binny’s and he grabbed a sixer of this stuff. He was paying, so I figured, I wasn’t going to be out anything if it was terrible.

And the surprising thing is, it really wasn’t bad. It was like what Corona would be if it didn’t skunk when the fridge light shone on it. And it was refreshing, very complimentary with the mango-habanero burgers my buddy had grilled up.

So why am I talking about something that happened a year ago? Without that day, today wouldn’t have happened the way it did.

Today was about 80 degrees here, and it’s the first really nice day in May. So of course, I scrapped our plan for fettucini alfredo and picked up a bunch of brats to grill. And they were decent brats, but again, not the point of this story. To wash the brats down, I grabbed a sixer of Landshark Lager.

You know what? I can honestly say this beer is better than it was the first time I had it. Fresher, for one. The guy at our store told me the shipment had just arrived, but also, it has a fuller flavor, with hearty malt high notes and just the right level of bitter hops to clip off the end. Completely void of any off (skunk) flavors, it is very refreshing and drinkable. These flavors would go well with any sort of grilled sandwich, including the habanero burgers or the brats, but also with grilled seafood. In fact, I think it would probably go better with the seafood, but on a hot day, if the beer is cold and refreshing, I don’t think many will argue about what’s on the grill.

As a beer snob, is Landshark “good”? This question is too subjective. It’s not good like good beer from craft breweries around the world, no. It’s not good in that sense. It’s not good like the macrobrew helles you’ll find in Bavaria. But sometimes what you want isn’t especially good. That area is where Landshark fits perfectly. Lots of beers are more ‘good’, but not too many are ‘better’ on certain days. Just like Buffett.

Changes in latitude, changes in attitude…

Stuff You Should Have in Your Kitchen, chapter 1

Posted in Uncategorized on May 16, 2010 by otfp

I need to explain something about my personality: I hate replacing stuff. Hate it. I research the hell out of everything that I buy about 99% of the time just to make sure that I won’t need to buy it again down the road. The other 1%, I make sure that it won’t matter.

This is not the cheapest-per-incident scenario, though. I mean, I spent $100 on cooking utensils. Yep, spoon, ladle, soup strainer, fork, spatula. A hundred bucks. That’s some serious scratch for most people. And it was for me, too. But here’s the thing about spending big bucks smartly… If you buy the right thing the first time, you can amortize the cost of whatever it may be over the useful life of the item. I might’ve spent $100 on 5 tools, but I will never – seriously, never – need to buy those tools ever again. They are 1-piece (no seams), stamped 18/10 stainless steel utensils from All-Clad. I’ll use them for 50 or 60 years. There’s a good chance that my grandkids will be using those things when I’m pushing up daisies out on the Back Forty. Break the $100 down on a per-meal basis, and you’re counting fractions of fractions of a penny. Each tool costed about $20, but turns out to be practically free.

Here’s a couple rules I use for identifying the right instances where spending more on something is probably a good idea:

1 – Frequency of use.

If I’m going to use something every day, or several times per day, the item has to be sturdy enough to handle that. Things that are used in the kitchen are subjected to the most extreme conditions in any house. They’re put in fire, water, acidic environments, alkaline environments, refrigerated environments…

Your kitchen tools need to be able to take that kind of abuse. Most plastics, even modern silicone plastics, will not stand up to this type of abuse for too long, and that plastic will eventually end up in a landfill someplace.

2 – Few or Zero moving parts.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. A seam, hinge, swivel, weld, or other joint is automatically the first thing that’s going to break. Fewer unions between parts reduces the opportunities related to incompatible materials down to zero. But, if you have to have some joints, there’s a good chance that buying the product that’s made of the BEST material available is going to be the cheapest option over the life of the product, which is likely to be longer than your life. Not to be macabre about it, but it’s true.

My mom has a spatula in her kitchen that she received for her wedding. It’s got a stainless steel paddle riveted to a stainless stem, riveted to a rosewood handle. This is quality construction of quality materials. Rosewood has a high silica content and is highly rot-resistant, and good stainless never rusts. She might hand that spatula down to a grandkid.

I had a nice, very flexible steel spatula with a silicon covering on the paddle. The silicone was a nice touch; it made the spatula safe to use on the non-stick cookware I was using at the time, and was easy to clean. But it began to crack after a few months in service, which rendered the whole tool uncleanable and unsafe. I paid extra for that silicone coating and that spatula has been sent off to a landfill somewhere. Perfect case of too many ill-assembled parts, and the cost versus benefit ratio on that spatula was not favorable.

3 – Cleanability.

Cutting boards, basting brushes, sieves, sifters, and graters are all places where bacteria can get trapped and grow. It’s important to recognize that not all of these items are created equal. Rust on the screen of a sieve or sifter gives opportunity for a tetanus infection. Rancid oils or bacteria trapped under the binding on a natural or synthetic basting brush can introduce bacteria to your food. This can be harmful. Same thing with cutting boards. I won’t get into the wood vs. plastic debate here, but I will say that wood is technically not a cleanable surface due to inherent porosity and thus is not allowed in a commercial food production facility. Bottom line, make sure you can clean your tools because dirt on the tools can mean dirt in your food.

So that’s my philosophy on value. It makes good sense to spend a lot of money on certain things, but you have to know how to choose them! Remember, the best tools are made from few parts, what parts they have must be well-assembled and sturdy, and the tools must be cleanable. Spend money on these sorts of tools, and you’ll have the best chances of never needing to replace them.

Kids won’t eat their veggies!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 12, 2010 by otfp

Kids and vegetables. They go together like BP and the Louisiana bayou.

Kids won’t eat them because most people don’t take the time to make them taste good. Vegetables don’t make themselves taste good because, well, let’s face it, it’s not in their best interest to be eaten.

Here’s the thing, though.

You CAN make them taste good. It’s not really that hard, either. And it only takes a little more effort and some dedication to make them awesome, as I discovered this past weekend. I recently got my kids to eat 2 types of squash, eggplant, and kalamata olives all in one go. Seriously.

The other day my stepson mentioned that he wanted to try ratatouille. Maybe I’m an ignorant American, but I had no clue what the hell he was talking about. I’d seen the movie, thought it was interesting, funny, endearing… Essentially, everything we’ve come to expect from Pixar, on the whole. And I’d been vaguely curious about the dish that gave its name to the movie, but I have this problem: I was born in the 70s and I forget to use the internet to find answers to questions about half the time. Sad but true. So I had no idea that it is a vegetarian dish. I also had no idea that it was delicious, or that it was, despite being very time-intensive, really easy to make.

My wife, however, was born in the 80s and she does not suffer from this affliction. She heard her son’s comment and immediately ran to the computer to find a recipe, which she found on a website called She printed it up and handed it to me to take to the grocery store.

The recipe (again, from is below. I love that CP included a list of gear with the recipe, because if you don’t have a blender or a food processor, you’re going to have a problem with this recipe. I don’t know how the French peasants made this without that crucial bit of equipment.

Ratatouille (Confit Byaldi)


1 chef’s knife, Santouku knife, or Chinese cleaver
1 cutting board
1 mixing bowl
1 large frying pan or sauté pan with fitted lid
1 spatula
1 blender or food processor
1 fine mesh sieve
1 12-inch casserole dish or 8×8-inch baking dish with at least 1 inch sides
1 BBQ lighter or long match


2 cups of dry red wine
3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
1 medium Japanese eggplant (aubergine)
1 medium carrot
1 medium yellow squash
1 medium zucchini
1 cup roasted bell peppers in oil
1 cup of olives
1 rosemary stalk (approx 1ft.)
1 yellow onion
1 shallot
5-7 cloves of garlic
1 can of whole tomatoes (16oz.)
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

(Note: Try to select vegetables that are about 1in. in diameter.)

Prep work:

1 – Wash the vegetables. Dry thoroughly. Slice into 1/4in, thick rounds.
2 – Wash and peel the carrot. Slice into rounds as thinly as possible.
3 – Drain the roasted bell peppers and slice into 1/4in. thick strips.
4 – Drain the olives and pit if necessary. Roughly chop.
5 – Remove and save the tip of the rosemary stalk for garnish. Strip the leaves from the stem and mince the leaves finely. Discard the stem.
6 – Clean and thinly slice the onion and shallot.
7 – In the mixing bowl, finely crush the tomatoes using your hands.
8 – Clean and roughly chop the garlic.

I doubled it because I figured it wasn’t going to be enough, and it’s out of order. The first step should be to make the sauce. It takes so damn long that you can execute all the prep-work for the veggies (cut up 2 zucchinis, 4 yellow squash, 2 eggplants, and 2 carrots – all in 1/4” slices) and drink the half of the bottle of wine you didn’t use in the sauce while it’s cooking down. Doing it this way would be a much better use of time. And heck, who doesn’t feel better after sucking down 2 glasses of cabernet?

Also, a mandolin would speed the cutting if you are not expertly skilled with a french or santoku knife. I am not. Every time I think I might be, I manage to remove skin from one or more of the fingers on my left hand. I don’t even have a mandolin, though, so I go slow with a french knife. It’s more time to combine drinking and sharp objects, so win-win.

Here’s CP’s steps for the sauce:

1 – Sautee the onion and shallot slices in one tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Cover and let steam until just translucent. Remove lid and add both the garlic and the minced rosemary leaves.

2 – Using medium or medium-low heat, cook the aromatics until they caramelize and turn light brown. Stir often.

3 – Add the olives and roasted bell peppers. Continue cooking until the onion and shallot slices become a rich, golden brown. Stir often and keep an eye on the stove. It’s easy to burn the aromatics during this stage.

4 – Raise the heat to medium or medium-high. Immediately deglaze the pan with the red wine. Once the wine comes to a boil, remove from the heat, ignite the surface of the wine with your lighter, then replace on the heat. The flames will fade once most of the alcohol has been burned off. Let the wine reduce until almost gone.

5 – Add the tomato puree and let come to a boil. Drop the heat to medium or medium-low and let simmer until reduced by half.

6 – Remove from heat and let cool. Puree in blender until smooth, then pass through the sieve to remove any woody bits. Set aside.

Here’s what you should do while the sauce is getting saucy:

1 – Wash the vegetables. Dry thoroughly. Slice into 1/4in, thick rounds.
2 – Wash and peel the carrot. Slice into rounds as thinly as possible.
3 – Spread the vegetable slices out onto the cutting board. Season both sides of each slice with a little salt and pepper. Make sure you do this before moving on to any other step. Let the vegetables rest on the cutting board until you’re ready to use them. Place the oven rack in the middle of your oven and heat the oven to 350ºF.

Then, once the sauce is cool enough to work with, do the following:

1 – Spread a 1/2in. layer of the sauce evenly across the bottom of the casserole dish. Save the remaining sauce for plating, or possibly making another confit byaldi later if you have enough left.

2 – Arrange a single layer of overlapping vegetable rounds across the top of the sauce. You should sink each round about halfway into the sauce. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top.

3 – Roast at 350ºF until the vegetables are tender. Should take about an hour. Some recipes, including Chef Keller’s, call for covering the vegetables with parchment or tin foil to prevent browning and cooking at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. I like the extra caramelization the vegetables and sauce get, so I dispense with this step. I compensate by roasting the vegetables for less time under higher heat, preserving the color of the vegetables. You should play with both methods and choose the one that tastes best to you.

4 – Plate in a small pool of the reserved sauce. Garnish with a rosemary sprig. I prefer to make a meal of it as is. However, it’s great with grilled or roasted chicken, or on top of pasta.

Serves 2-4*

*- No, it probably serves 6 or so, especially if the ratatouille is served with pasta, chicken, or something else. We served ours straight up and I can easily make another meal out of what’s left over. Two more if I grill some chicken or boil up some pasta. For the record, my family includes 4 boys, ages 12, 7, 5, and 4, plus my wife and I. This recipe makes a lot of food. I don’t want to call out a stranger, but there’s probably a reason the panda is chubby. Portion size, homes. It’s about portion size.

So anyway, that’s how I got my entire family to eat a vegetarian meal without complaining.