Last fall, I headed up to northern Wisconsin with My brother and some friends. During that trip, two of the bunch proposed a monthly cook-off. The original theme was simply ‘make Your s*** fancy.’ What can I say, it was a weekend of drinking, shooting and dirt bikes. The feast idea changed slightly after that and starting this past January, Fancy Feast had begun. Instead of making it a competition, it is a slightly less intense meal making endeavor. Four courses minimum, guests bring a bottle of decent booze as tribute, or declare themselves the next host/cook for the feast.
First up was My friend Keith, who made some beet and cheese appetizers that were quite good. Followed by a lobster and shrimp torta with lima beans, avacodo topped with seasoned cream cheese and an encrusted herby salmon bake. Then, He banged out a lovely candied bacon, puffed cream and brownie desert.
February went to My brother, Chris. Churning out seven dishes and various drinks. I did however neglect to catch a picture of the fresh pumpkin bread desert. Pictured are His mushroom soup, with leeks. Egg cooked in swirling water and hash, a topper variety plate, cold soba and soy sauce, what I think was a chorizo dish and meatballs cooked forever in a pho soup stock.
I called March’s meal. My theme was simply to do something different. So, no stir-fry. No grill, or smoker. No cajun spices, chili blends, sherry, or even soy sauce. I struggled a bit, making multi-course meals that come round after round doesn’t mesh particularly well with My laid back, ‘just throw some stuff together and hope it’s good’ cooking tendencies. I produced the minimum of four dishes. Bacon and baby lima bean soup, spicy sweet potato mash with roasted brocolli and pistachios on toast, fruit stuffed pork tenderloin roll and finished with citrus gratin. The desert was kind of odd honestly, but it had much potential to be delicious. Something to ponder on how to go about improving.
The tropical Minnesotan attic jungle is producing again this year. This orange was a pleasantly sour punch in the taste buds. The room was filled with a lovely citrus aroma when I peeled away the skin. Can’t wait for the rest to be ripe.
I have expanded the ‘tropical Minnesotan attic jungle’ again. I bought six new dwarf citrus trees from Four Winds Growers out in California. I probably shouldn’t have ordered them during the hottest time of the year thus far. The two younger trees arrived looking good. Some of the others seem to have suffered from the heat of being trapped in an unventilated box, inside a baking semi trailer for two and a half days. The little ones are a Valencia orange and a new Kieffer lime to replace My old one that had an unbeatable scale infestation. I aquired a second Improved Meyer lemon tree as well.
Due to many favorable reviews around the web, I also opted to get an Oroblanco grapefruit tree. They don’t get pink/red, but are said to be very pot friendly and unlike most citrus, doesn’t need a lot of summer heat to sweeten the fruit. Sounds like a no brianer to Me.
Then there is the Gold Nugget mandarin orange tree. Which is very bushy and compact, but has been in a state of perpetual drooping since it got here. It doesn’t appear to be dying, but has yet to show Me any signs of changing it’s current mood.
Rounding out the order is a Mexican Sweet lime tree, which does not look the greatest either. All of the most recently grown leaves are curled up really tightly. I am assuming for now that it was heat during shipping that caused these little trees to look so glum. They have been here for 10 days now and none of them look like they are going to die. Maybe they will bounce back after this 90+ degree weather passes. Hopefully I can take better care of these trees than I have with some of My older ones. Having ordered trees from the same grower a couple of years ago and gaining My own growing experience over the last few years, I believe that things should be ok. So long as I can keep the scale away from them.
Yes! This is it! The ribs I served for several years at gatherings of many varieties. This is a time consuming recipe, but it’s actually quite simple and pretty easy to accomplish. The seasoning is a pairing of sauce, dried herbs and spice blends that are available at most big box grocery stores. If You have eaten My ribs in the past, You were very likely devouring the following recipe..
With that said, this is slow cooking! It’s very simple, but since You are cooking at low temperatures, it takes a while. Barbecue is different from grilling in that You tend to use indirect heat. Many hours will pass by once the actual cooking commences and every 20 or 30 minutes, You’ll be adding wood to the coals, flipping racks and spreading thin layers of sauce! One must have the dedication to give 4 to 8 hours of loving to Your ribs for them to acheive that highly desirable, fall off the bone texture. As such, I have divided this up into two recipes that have the same seasoning arrangement. ‘The Way of the Food Junky’ delivers the afore stated texture, as well as that lovely smokey flavor. Taking 5 to 8 hours depending on the temperature in Your smoker/grill and the thickness of the meat being used. ‘The Slacker’s Attempt’ is done at higher temperature in the oven, which means it cooks through in 3 or 4 hours, but brings forth tougher meat. Both do taste quite good of course!!
Ingredients(listed per 1 rack of pork spare ribs with the cartilage tips not trimmed):
1.5 tbsp – Garlic Granules
3 tbsp – Chili Powder Blend(the kind for making chili!)
3 tbsp – Ms. Dash Lemon Pepper Blend(or 2 tbsp of regular lemon pepper)
2 tbsp – Dried Thyme Leaves
2 or 3 tbsp – Dried Terragon Leaves
2 tbsp – Freshly Ground Peppercorns(the multi colored peppercorn blends will add a lot more depth than just black pepper)
Salt to taste, although, I’ve rarely ever salted this recipe…
3/4 of a cup or so of BBQ Sauce, We all have our favorites, or hate the stuff. This recipe is based on the thick midwestern, tomato based sauces. I use Ken davis, which is from Minnesota and Sweet Baby Ray’s, which I beleive is from Illinois.
The Way of the Food Junky: The First Method
Baking sheet with raised edges that is large enough to hold Your rack of ribs. A Very sharp knife for slicing. A brush, fork or spoon for spreading sauce. Smoker or large grill(You don’t want your ribs near the coals). with enough of a tasty hardwood(cherry and hickory are My main choices) or charcoal(1 to 1.5 standard bags), to keep a decent temperature for 6+ hours. If You are using charcoal, You shall also require chips/chunks of one of the afore stated woods, along with a large bowl or 1 gallon bucket, with water high enough to cover the wood chips.
Get Your smoker or grill started. I tend to start large in My modest smoking pit. If using a regular grill however, You’ll be needing a very small pile of coals. The desired temperature is about 260F, starting a little hotter than that won’t hurt at all. I would avoid going over 300F for any period of time when Your cooking. While the fire burns out and becomes coals to cook with, You’ll be seasoning Your meat.
On Your baking sheet, lay the ribs in-side up(the bones should be curved like a shallow bowl). Evenly spread half of everything EXCEPT the sauce across the ribs, press or pat them in a bit, so the herbs don’t just fall off and flip the rack over. Spread the remaining herbs and spices over the top side of the ribs and press them in a bit as well.
Once You’ve got coals instead of flames, it’s time to get smokin’
If using a smoking pit, simply place Your ribs on the rack and close the lid. For charcoal users, You’ll need to soak the wood chips in water for an hour or so before use. Add wood/charcoal to the coals as needed to maintain the desired temperature of 260F or so. When adding to the coals, it’s best to spread them out a bit and put the fresh stuff centered on top. This will get the new stuff burning and formed into coals the fastest, as well as add a perch for the wet wood chips, thus protecting the coals. Some put the chips in foil, I just lay it on the top in a fist sized lump. Every 20-30 minutes, You’ll need to add another fist-full of wet wood chips to the top of the coals, so as to keep the smoke billowing out.
Continue this cycle: flipping the ribs before adding more charcoal and wood chips, every half hour or so until the meat seems fully cooked, but not yet tender. On a hot summer day, this can be done in about 4 hours, however, on a cool spring or fall morning, it will likely take 6 or more hours to get it cooked through. Then, You want to start brushing on the sauce in thin layers, while continuing the flipping and adding to the coals cycle, adding sauce every time You flip the ribs. Keep it up until You can wiggle the bones away from the meat. Remove from the grill and let the rack rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
The Slacker’s Attempt: The Second, Shorter Method
A baking sheet with raised edges and a sharp knife for slicing. An oven safe bowl with 1 or 2 cups of red wine or sherry and an equal amount of water. A brush, fork or spoon for spreading sauce.
Prep: Preheat Your oven to 400F. Season the ribs as described in the prep section above.
Put the bowl containing the watered down wine on to the bottom rack of the oven. Place the pan laden with ribs middle rack of the oven and immediately lower the tempurature from 400 to 300. Bake for an hour and start flipping them every 30-45 minutes for an additional 2.5 hours. The meat should be just about cooked to the bone at this point. If it doesn’t feel cooked, then let it bake a while longer. Sauce the bottom of the ribs first, then flip and sauce the top side. Place the ribs back in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Remove from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
All cooking times will vary depending on the tempurature, thickness of meat and bones, etc…
On a regular grill, such as a Weber, You’ll want to shove the coals off to one side and place the meat on the rack as far away from the heat as possible. If You can’t manage to cook without burning the edges, You may want to consider starting the ribs on the grill. Using very little charcoal, but a lot of wood in a short period of time, say 45 minutes to an hour. Then place the ribs in the oven at 260F to actually cook them. This will give You a nice smokey essense and reasonable control over the texture of the meat. This is also the best method for those who live in the north. Trying to smoke food in temperatures under 20F tends to give a more jerky-like texture. As well as force You to use 3 or 4 times the amount of charcoal.
I use to peel the membrane off of the under-side of the ribs, but in the last couple years, I have swayed away from this. Leaving it in place does reduce the thickness of the smoke line(the red’ish color in the outer sections) in the meat and thus decreases the smokey flavor slightly, but it makes it a little easier to control the texture by holding in more moisture. It’s a preference thing that I don’t think makes much of a difference.
Using the ‘Slacker’s Method’ You can also achieve that succulent, fall off the bone texture. Instead of cooking at 300, lower the temperature to 260 and add an hour or two to the cooking time.
This recipe is actually pretty tasty without the sauce, so long as You don’t burn the spices and herbs during cooking. This will make it a bit bitter. It’s better to use fresh herbs if You’re going this route though.
This Year was My second mandarin orange harvest. Eleven times more fruit than last year’s haul, which was one orange. The tree that gave Me that orange, gave three this year, in an escalating size range of two, to nearly four inches in diameter. They were VERY sweet and not particularly acidic. The largest one however was quite bland in flavor, I think I picked it too late? My other satsuma tree gave Me eight little oranges. I picked them in varying lengths of time after turning bright orange. Today, I picked the last five, about a month later than I think I should have. Quite a day, plucking fresh oranges from a tree when it is 7 degrees(F) outside..
The fruits from this tree were far more acidic and powerful in flavor, but not as sweet as the ones from it’s sister. They are the same age and from the same source, but I planted them in very different soil mixtures, to see what would work better. I can only assume that this, is what caused such dramatic variation in the experience delivered to My taste buds.
Having also plucked the last meyer lemon, there is just one fruit left growing in My tropical Minnesotan attic jungle. It is the first grapefruit from My nearly six year old ruby red tree.
There is nothing like freshly harvested food. It has been great to experience the cycle of these trees and of course, reap the rewards! I can’t wait to see what I get next year.
Thanksgiving, the gathering of foods and families that many of us look forward to year after year. Followed by Turkey Day, which is the Saturday following the traditional American holiday, as observed by My family and a few friends. While others are still picking over their left-overs, We proceed to make another whole Thanksgiving style meal. This works for us, since Thanksgiving is often done at other relatives houses and many have 2 or 3 gatherings to attend on the ‘Thursday of Fattening.’ Fortunately, just about every one in our extended family is a cook. There are a few chefs as well, so no matter who’s home You go to for the holidays, the food is always amazing!
On Thursday, I woke up, plucked My second of the five lemons from My little tree and the one next to it dropped down into the pot below. So I brought two lemons with, as My contribution to the feast to be enjoyed. As such, We rounded up the immediate family and headed across town to My Aunt and Uncle’s, where We consumed a delicious meal. Anchored by a fresh turkey, as juicy and tender as can be, wonderfully done. Happily, They already had a bit of a citrus theme going. My Uncle rapidly applied one of the freshly picked lemons to the asparagus He had going, then placed nice, thin slices into water goblets, to be filled with sparkling water, using the last bits to garnish the asparagus. It went well with the sweet potato and pear casserole type thing and it’s very citrus laden flavor.
Among the rest of the meal, was a ginger, orange chutney sauce. A nice suprise, as I loathe the canned cranberry sauce so many of us encounter on such a day. This may have looked like something similar, I assume it had cranberry as well, but was so much more. Thanks, given.
My Mom did all of the cooking for Turkey Day this year. Brining and then smoking the turkey, as has become the method for Us. Proper mashed potatoes, boiled, buttered and hand beaten to a chunky, but mashed state, skin on. Homemade gravy, thick and delicious, to tie everything together. The traditional green bean casserole, with crunchy fried onions atop of it. Along with one of Her best recipes, STUFFING, or dressing as some call it. Piles of intentionally stale, dry’ish wheat bread and cornbread, a mound of chopped mushrooms, onions and celery, many bowls worth of stock(or broth?) and several handfuls of herbs, mixed up and baked.. Then, two pies emerged, can’t leave with out a slice of that in My belly, right? Pumpkin, or apple? Both? Yeah, yummy stuff!
I know that having such fruit trees around is normal for many people, but this is Minnesota! One must grow citrus in pots and haul them indoors for the winter. Thus, I am that odd guy who has ‘the glow’ of an artificial sun beaming out of My attic windows for a large part of the year.
Three years in and I am still learning how to keep all these little trees happy, with mixed success. My ‘Improved Meyer Lemon’ tree is not looking the greatest, yet it has 5 little lemons that are ripening, in this, it’s first year of fruiting. Well, there are only 4 now…
A while back, I started buying fruit trees. It started with a Dwarf Fig, Carmine Jewel Cherry and some Blueberries. Rapidly followed by a plethora of Citrus varieties! This being Minnesota, I put the Cherry and Blueberry Plants in the ground and planted everything else in pots to bring in for the winter. Oddly enough, winter never REALLY showed up this year, which left my Cherry and Blueberries exposed. Sadly, they were eaten down to stubs at ground level by some ravenous rabbit-like creature! Not sure if they will grow back, but for fledgeling deciduous trees/shrubs in this kind of winter, I’m not sure they would take anyways… Time will tell I guess.
On the other hand, thus far, the Fig tree has defied deaths calling. Indoors, amongst the Citrus trees. My neighbors probably think that I’m growing other things in the attic from the artificial sun that’s beaming out of all the windows in the evenings.
For now there are 10 Citrus trees in My ‘Tropical Minnesotan Attic Jungle’ . 2 Keiffer Lime trees that are 2 and 4 years old, the older of which is now flowering for the first time. 2 Moro Blood Orange Trees which are also 2 and 4 years old. 2 and 3 year Mexican Sweet Limes, that, I’m not doing justice to, they’re yellowing and sad looking. 2, 5 year old Owari Satsuma Mandarins, one of which gave Me My very 1st orange this past December!
There is also a 3rd year Meyer Lemon that is growing 9 little lemons for the 1st time, unlike all the others, the lemon gives TWICE a year, instead of just once.. I’m struggling a bit keeping the lemon tree happy tho. Lastly is the 5 year old Ruby Red Grapefruit tree, which I almost slayed with water when I got it..
I swear, CITRUS TREES HATE WATER!! I learned this as I watched My beloved grapefruit tree drop 2/3rds to 3/4ths of it’s leaves before I re-potted it in a better draining soil mix. It’s bouncing back and is currently covered with wonderfully aromatic blossoms.
December to February is Bloom season for all citrus that I’m aware of, and what a great time to have an indoor forest! The house is graced with a really nice conglomerate of scents from the numerous varieties of fruits being spawned.
I’ve certainly got more trees than I need, but I’ll be acquiring more this spring! I plan on getting Trovita Oranges and Oroblanco Grapefruits. Hopefully, that will satiate My ‘need’ for citrus trees. .. … Because I feel the ‘need’ to dive into nut trees, cherry trees, apple trees and, well, clearly I need to move out of the city!