Month: May 2012

Memorial Day Weekend: Two Dinners by the Shore

Since I had to trot off to work on Sunday night, taking one good holiday evening away from me, I decided to go all-out on Friday and Saturday evening.

I had a plan.

FRIDAY

Grilled skirt steak and potatoes, salsa verde, simple salad, cold beer and wine

Six tomatillos, medium onion (quartered), red anaheim chile, two garlic cloves are coated in olive oil and salt and roasted in a 400F oven until browned, about 20-25 minutes. Once they cooled, they went into the blender with a big handful of cilantro, the juice of a lime, a splash of red wine vinegar, two tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

Easy dessert: Whisk together 8 ounces of mascarpone cheese and a little milk until smooth, then add 3/4 cup of store-bought lemon curd, a shot or two of limoncello and healthy teaspoon of lemon zest. Meanwhile, slice a store-bought pound cake into eight pieces, put them on a platter and splash a healthy amount of limoncello over them. Spread the lemon-mascarpone mixture over the sliced pound cake, top with variety of berries. Put it in the refrigerator to soak and set.

I then boiled large red-skinned potatoes sliced in half the long way, in salted water for 15 minutes. Drained and cooled, I put them on a platter, drizzled with olive oil and heavily seasoned them with salt and pepper.

With the skirt steaks on a half-sheet pan, I coated them with olive oil, salt and pepper, cilantro leaves, crushed garlic and ancho chile powder for a good massage and rest at room temp. Filled the chimney starter with natural wood charcoal and, once hot, poured them onto one half of the bottom grate of my old workhorse, a 22-inch Weber kettle grill. Replaced the cooking grate and brushed it clean, then dropped the steaks on the hot side until seared (4-5 minutes per side) then moved them to the cooler side grate to finish while I grilled the potatoes, cut side down.

Once the steaks hit about 120-125F on the instant read thermometer, I took the steaks off to rest 10-15 minutes while the potatoes finished and threw together simple salad of green leaf lettuce, chopped tomatoes, olive oil, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar.

Steak and potatoes: check. Salsa verde: check. Lemon-cream pound cake: check. Dinner: done.

At about 10 that night, after clearing dishes, cleaning up and saying goodbyes to our guests, I took the 6.5-lb. pork shoulder out from the icebox and liberally dry-rubbed it with a combination of ancho chile powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, ground ginger, ground allspice, salt, pepper, mustard powder and white sugar. Then I wrapped it snugly in plastic wrap and popped it back in to the fridge.Pulled pork sandwiches, vinegar slaw, key lime pie, cold beer, wine, grapefruit margaritas

SATURDAY, 9am

Pulled pork sandwiches, vinegar slaw, key lime pie, cold beer, wine, grapefruit margaritas

Pork shoulder (6.5 pounds) out onto the counter to loosen up and shake off the chill. I put about four cups of hickory wood chips into an old metal bowl and filled it with water until the wood was just submerged, soaking them for at least a half hour.  Meanwhile, out on the deck, surrounded with the adolescent potted herbs, I put about 15 charcoal briquettes into a chimney starter, balled up two sheets of the mostly useless daily paper and shoved them into the bottom, lit the paper and let ‘er rip.

When the charcoal was about three-quarters gray, I dumped it into the grill and shoved the hot coals to one side at the bottom of the grill. I added two handfuls wet wood chips and placed a disposable aluminum roasting pan onto the empty half of the bottom of the grill, replaced the cooking grate, and put the shoulder, fat side up, onto the opposite side, away from the burning coals and smoking wood.

Threw together an easy slaw of cabbage, onion, cider vinegar, sugar, celery seed, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, which I would stir every hour or so until dinner.

After about 45 minutes, I dropped three more briquettes, gave it five minutes to grab the heat with the lid off, tossed in another handful of soaked wood and closed the grill again. This process repeated itself over the course of about three hours. By then, the shoulder had a decent bark (dark, beyond-mahogany crust on the outside) and some of the fat had already rendered.

So, while the shoulder was cooking and the cabbage marinating, what else did I have to  do?

I made a key lime pie, something I can practically do with my eyes closed: whisk together the four ounces of fresh lime juice, six egg yolks, one can of sweetened condensed milk, pinch of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of lime zest, pour it into a graham cracker crust and bake it at 325F for about 20 minutes until barely set, cool it on a rack then chill it in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

Done? Almost.

The work of the smoke was complete. I took the shoulder out and put it onto a half-sheet pan lined with heavy foil. Wrapped the shoulder tightly with the foil and put the works into a 250F oven… for five hours. Now, it could cook in a temperature controlled environment and I could do other things. I could feel the Carolinas shudder, but this was New Jersey. Too bad!

Two more accompaniments remained: 1) A ton caramelized of onions; 2) The juice of eight pink grapefruits and four limes, because you can’t have grapefruit margaritas without them, along with blanco tequila, agave nectar, pinch of salt and a lot of ice.

About an hour before I rang the dinner bell, I took the pork shoulder out to rest, stirred the slaw one last time, and started slicing hard-rolls in half. Once the shoulder was cooled just enough to handle, I pulled out the bone and started pulling and shredding the meat into a bowl, kissing it with cider vinegar and some decent barbecue sauce.

On Monday, we went out.

Time for dirt and water

Despite the fact that the only outdoor space we can call our own is a concrete-and-brick terrace that loses sunlight by about one in the afternoon, I still got my hands dirty today.

The goal? To try — against abbreviated daylight and too much saltwater in the air — to grow an herb garden. I would never profess to have a green or even greenish thumb, so I picked a few plants the should do well with little sun and even less maintenance.

The rosemary, thyme and mint should be fine, I’m old. In fact, thyme and rosemary have always been successful here.

I am concerned about the basil, tender and fragile and needy.

I am also worried about the hot Spanish chiles. I thought I heard the plant laughing at my futility as I gently brought it to it’s final resting place, in a plastic planting pot about 1,000 yards from the ocean.

Don’t waste your time, amigo, the plant said.

Still, I am determined and damn near confident. Planting things calls for some measure of faith and hope, and can bring a sense of accomplishment, success, as well as some pretty fine-tasting meals.

The point of this exercise in potential futility two-fold.

  1. I want it to work. I need to know I can make something happen
  2. I need the herbs to make some decent meals even better

Among the hundreds of potential applications, here’s the plan:

  • Rosemary: Act as part of a chicken, lamb or pork marinade; stuffed into whole fish; on the coals and for brushing olive oil on steaks; chopped onto grilled flatbread
  • Silver thyme: Pressed onto steaks before grilling; chopped into no-knead bread dough; part of a rub for slow-cooked pork shoulder or brisket; anything chicken
  • Lemon thyme: Shrimp, scallops split-grilled lobster, roasted clams or oysters and firm-fleshed fish; butterflied chicken on the grill; roast chicken
  • Mint: As part of tomato-watermelon salads; drinks; with chiles in shrimp summer rolls; chopped with grilled peaches and whipped mascarpone and cream
  • Basil: Tomato dishes; caprese salads with local Jersey tomatoes and cucumbers; grilled pizza; pesto
  • Hot Spanish chiles: Sliced for roasted and stuffed mushrooms; chopped into melted butter for grilled seafood; part of marinades for slow-bbq ribs, brisket or shoulders; with mint and crushed cumin seeds as part of marinade for lamb

Chile peppers

BREAKING NEWS!

Dateline: 5.15.12 Belmar, NJ

Hed: Man moves forward, does something positive

Body: In shocking news today, I managed to move in a direction (any direction) after too many days-weeks-months-years of inertia.

For the first time in my life — and about two weeks before my 48th birthday — I applied for my first student loan. My apologies to all of those in favor of smaller government out there (is there really such a thing as small government?), but it’s a Federal Student Loan.

Now we wait and wonder: Why for?

Seems that the logical and least resistant path to career satisfaction will be found in a return to school for a second Bachelors degree, then maybe something bigger and with more meat. The goal? Unless the current networking schemes completely fail, and if the chosen new BA is not much more valuable than a worn out piece of spiral-bound notebook paper, there could be a path to teaching in the offing.

This is new ground for me in so many ways. After high school, I was lucky enough to be able to attend college without the burden of a student loan. Lucky in that my parents were able to help me pay for most of my tuition. Halfway through, I secured a part-time job in the sports department of a local daily newspaper and was able, at least, to start earning money for doing what I loved to do, pay for gas and tolls, food and some of my rent. I was lucky then, and I squandered the opportunity, wrapping up a fairly unimpressive degree after about eight years.

Now, it’s all me. Do or die. Failure is not an option. (Insert cliche here, whatever you like.)

I have been beating around the go-back-to-school bush for too long and just the thought of throwing it out was painful. The idea of teaching was spawned by the knowledge of my paternal grandmother, who overcame many obstacles to earn her degree from Hunter College, speak five languages, teach for 30 years and left her only grandson with an appreciation for literature and music.

It is time not only to pay back but put that passion to use.

Writing, my first true love has been a mean-spirited bitch as of late, and has kept me from earning a living, though I remain ever loyal to her nonetheless. I see teaching as something into which I can sink my teeth, something rewarding and somewhat selfless. And, for fuck’s sake, I might turn out to be good at it.

Writing will never die. My freelance work, my fiction, my means-to-an-end will be with me to the last.

Soon, I will be finished with a novel that has haunted me for three years, hidden under my pillow to wake me at night, hung like a weight on my shoulders as I ignored it in favor of fishing for another job.

Goes a little something like this:

“There is a pile of stones surrounding the grave, left by visiting loved ones, friends, fans and curious tourists. They sit, as they have elsewhere or million of years, stoic with a purpose: to honor the legend, the fiction, of the body buried below. The girl who people called Pelican Jones was no one special until she made a stand and died for it, at which point she became a star.”

See you around the sandbox.

Something wicked cool this way comes

Soon, folks, I’ll be a contributing sportswriter at RantSports.com, an edgy and growing sports website that promises to break stories as well as ground. Mostly, I’ll be lurking around the PAC-12 football teams, but you can be sure that if something else breaks, or catches my interest (football or otherwise), I’ll be all over it.

I am also the co-author of a novel that should be available in the next month or two through Amazon/CreateSpace. I wrote it with my father, Dave. It’s a thriller. In a nutshell, reporter stumbles on a scary plot cooked up by the President and, along with others in the White House, a few shadowy secret agents and a military legend, he helps to kill the plot before a lurking assassin kills the leader of the free world.

That’s all for now.