Big Meats in The Cincy

Ohio exists somewhere in the middle – like between New York and Los Angeles. I know that because I am currently visiting Ohio where some of my people live.

I have learned a great deal during this visit…

1. A Ben-Gal is neither a tiger nor a football team. It’s a 26-year-old school teacher who allegedly had sex with an underage student

2. My niece and nephew need to be fed exactly when they are hungry. This can happen at any time without warning. Last night post-dinner and dessert I was ordered to make chocolate chip pancakes. Later, at 9:30pm, grilled cheese. I, of course, obliged.

3. The local seafood restaurant serves the ‘Catch of the Day’ that has arrived on a plane and was probably the catch of yesterday or the day before.

4. The theme song to WKRP in Cincinnati is stuck in my head – it began playing the moment I landed (oddly in Kentucky where the Cincinnati airport is?!) and will most likely not cease playing until I touch down in New York

5. I don’t know if there actually is a station called WKRP here – because my sister-in-law’s minivan only has Satellite radio – that how she rolls. In a minivan with satellite radio…I can open the rear side doors remotely!

6. My People like to make big meats.

7. I might actually like ‘The Other White Meat’

The other night for dinner, my brother prepared a 5lb Pork Loin. We decided upon Pork Loin because that’s what was on sale at the local Kroger. I was skeptical…It was delicious

Here’s what he did

1. Generously, season a large, at least 5lbs…the bigger the better…Pork Loin with Old Bay Seasoning, Bacon Salt, Garlic Salt (always Garlic Salt), Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper

2. Cover and leave in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours

3. About :30mins before grilling, remove the loin from the refrigerator and allow it to temporate. For those who don’t know…Temporate is a word brilliantly coined by a friend’s mother meaning bring to room temperature

4. Prepare charcoal grill for INDIRECT HEAT at approximately 375 degrees. Use medium chunks of applewood and hickory over the coals to create smoke…chunks need to be soaked for at least :30 minutes prior to putting on coals.) Put the meat in a rack over a pan and place 1/2 onion chopped, 2 smashed cloves of garlic and 1 1/2 cups of white wine in the base of the pan.

NOTE: The wine, onion, garlic and pork drippings will simmer under the meat during the smoking process – discard after cooking.

5. Place the Spice Rubbed Pork Loin in smoker pan on the grill, cover the grill and leave it alone for about 1 1/4 hours. It will smoke a good deal. Check occasionally – but you want the internal temperature to be 135 degrees before removing from the grill

NOTE: The USDA dropped the safe cooking temperature for Pork to 145 degrees in May of 2011. And, the Pork Loin will continue to cook even after its removed from the heat source.

6. Once the Pork has reached 135 degrees, remove it from the grill and let it rest, wrapped in aluminum foil for :25 minutes

7. Slice and serve

I have said many times that I don’t like pork. But, changing my mind is my thing….And, this pork was delicious!

The giant meat option is generally the opposite of my approach…But, there’s a lot more space in Ohio than in my apartment. And there are more people here to enjoy it. Thanks to my brother for opening my eyes to the marvels of the other white meat.

Now if I could just get that song out my head……”I’m at WKRP in Cincinnati….Cincinnati WKRP….”

Side Out Sides

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Destinee Hooker plays for the US Women’s volleyball team…At 6’4″ and 150lbs, she’s an intimidating presence on the team and one of the most talked about athletes at this Olympics. Destinee can jump 12 feet to attack a ball mid-arc.

It was the press coverage surrounding Destinee – well, actually, it was her name which I thought at first that I misheard – that made me tune-in to Women’s Volleyball the other day. I’m not well-versed in the sport. Outside of the accidental inclusion in a gym class game, my best experience comes from cringing when I remember the scene from Meet the Parents. During an intensely competitive game of pool volleyball, Ben Stiller’s character clad in ’70s Speedo slams a ball into the face of his fiancee’s sister breaking her nose just before her wedding. The cringing starts when Ben Stiller emerges from the dressing room in his Speedo and culminates with the super slo-mo shot into his sister-in-law to be’s face. OK…cringing now.

Pain is not really my thing and, as one of my friends aptly put it as we were watching the game (or is it a match in Volleyball???) ‘That looks like it really hurts’.

In addition to learning a good deal about Destinee and her fierce athletic ability, I also picked up a term or two while watching. Side-Out is when the serving team loses the point and must turn over the serve to the other team.

In honor of Destinee and all of the US Volleyball players – especially the men’s beach volleyballers – I am featuring a delicious and easy side dish:

Toasted Corn

Put 4-5 medium sized ears of corn in a large stock pot and fill with water

Put the pot on the stove top with the burner on ‘high’

Add 1-2 pats of butter and a healthy splash of milk

When the pot comes to a boil, turn the heat off and cover the pot

After 12 minutes, remove the lid and extract the ears of corn

Allow the corn to cool slightly

Heat a tsp of Olive Oil in a large frying pan or cast iron skillet

While the oil is heating, carefully slice the kernels off of each cob and transfer to a bowl.

When the oil is just shy of smoking, add the kernels

Stir occasionally as the kernels toast in the Olive Oil

Once toasted to taste – Anne Burrell says ‘Brown Food is Good Food’ and I agree – remove from the pan and serve.

Enjoy! and….Go USA!

You Will Never Be Gymnast Meringues

The morning of the tryouts for the swim pre-team was a rare, cold, rainy June morning. I was 6 and would need to just swim one lap of a 25 yard (not meter, yard) pool in order to earn my spot on the team. I stood at the side of the pool shivering as my goosebumps grew goosebumps from both the cold and my own nerves. By the time it was my turn, I could barely breathe. I jumped in and began to swim as my peers and my mother looked on. As cold as the air was, the water was colder and my red and white speedo swim suit did nothing to insulate me. My teeth were chattering and as I turned my head to take a breath I took in a mouthful of water and started to cough.  Gasping for air, I grabbed for the ladder about 3/4 of the way down the length of the pool and ended my swimming career.

I wasn’t ever meant to be a swimmer and decided later to have a go at diving. Not surprisingly, this also turned out to be a challenge for my lanky 10-year old body. The most common thing I heard following any one of my very low degree of difficulty dives at a meet was ‘Fail Dive’. When I finally quit the diving team two-years later, my coach smiled and thanked me.

These failures at water sports were painful – but, I really wasn’t all that disappointed. Gymnastics – that was my passion, my everything. Every four years when the summer Olympics start I am reminded of my experience with competitive gymnastics. I was 11 and had convinced my parents to send me to Murial Grossfeld’s Academy for Gymnastics summer camp in upstate NY. Before Bela Karolyi there was Murial Grossfeld. Murial was known as ‘The Tyrant of Girl’s Gymnastics’ and once told a 12-year old: ‘Don’t be a lady on that beam! Be an animal!’. She was a big deal in the sport for Americans. After a week of intensive 8-hour days training on all the apparatus, each student was granted a ‘hearing’ with Murial. My meeting with Murial was the most important moment of my life. I entered the room and was completely in awe of her. Even though I had been at Murial’s camp all week, I had yet to be in her presence. I walked in slowly and sat down as she directed. Ms Grossfeld looked at my skills evaluation report that lay on the desk in front of her and then looked up at me. Sigh. Pause. And then….’You will never be gymnast. Find something else.’ And that was it. My gymnastics dreams shattered in two terse sentences.

In spite of my shattered dreams of Olympic gold, my passion for the sport did not diminish. I love gymnastics and will spend the next 14 days glued to the television watching the US Women and Men perform.

Tonight is the Olympics opening ceremony. I am gathering with friends to watch and have been charged with bringing dessert. In an effort to make something patriotic, I am preparing Red, White and Blue Chocolate Chip Meringue cookies. The recipe below is a tweak on Claire Robinson’s from the Food Network. These are so easy – just a little time consuming.

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F.

In a large bowl, using a hand beater, or, better yet, a KitchenAid Mixer with the whipping attachement, beat 4 egg whites, 1/4 tsp cream of tarter, a pinch of salt and 1/4 tsp vanilla until soft peaks form. Divide the egg white mixture into thirds. In the first third, gradually add 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until the sugar dissolves and stiff peaks form – about 3 minutes.

Remove the white meringue mixture from the bowl.

In the second third, gradually add 5-7 drops of red food coloring and 1/4 cup of sugar. Beat until the sugar dissolves and stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes.

Repeat this process with the final third using 5-7 drops of blue food coloring and 1/4 cup of sugar.

Into each color,  gently fold 1/3 cup of chocolate chips.

Drop the batter onto silicone mats or parchment lined baking sheets (will need 2) with a teaspoon, spacing at least 2 inches apart.

If you’re not putting in chocolate chips, you can use a pastry bag to make prettier meringue cookies. Bake until the meringues are dried through, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The cookies will remove easily from the parchment or silicone mat when ready. And their red, white and blue color will be the perfect dessert for any Olympics themed event.

I have long since accepted that I will “never be gymnast” and I did eventually ‘find something else’. The kitchen is my stadium and the stove top, my torch. And instead of being adorned in gold medals, I’m surrounded by copper pots.

Go Team USA!

Fresh Shrimp

I spent a spring break in Mexico about 100 years ago. My friends and I had rented a small apartment on the beach. Nestled between two big high rise hotels in Mazatlan, our condo faced the ocean and provided us with incredible sunsets daily. The other perk to our beachfront location, was the proximity to the locals selling their wares on the beach each morning. Every day at 6:30am we would wake to a shrimper screaming up to us: ‘Fre-esh Shri-imp! Fre-esh Shri-imp!’.

I’ve never really liked cooking shrimp dishes as main courses. My rule of thumb was never serve food you can count. I’m not sure why, but I think I have a subconscious fear of starvation – I mean, there was always more than enough food in my life…but, food I can count makes me nervous.

That said, I’ve recently been playing around with lemon shrimp and pasta dishes. Here’s the latest recipe that I’ve liked….With only one pot and one pan being used, it’s also tiny kitchen friendly….

Summer Shrimp & Pasta

Put a large pot of water on high and toss in a palmful of salt. This will be for the pasta. I like to use angel hair…but any  pasta will work. That’s tri-color rigatoni in the photo – it was delicious and also really pretty.

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil and 2 tbsp of butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add 1 diced shallot and 2 cloves of garlic minced. Saute, stirring occasionally until fragrant (about 3-4 mins). Add 1lb cleaned, completely peeled shrimp. (Some people like to leave the tails on…not me).

Fresh shrimp can be pretty expensive, but I’ve found that frozen shrimp is just as yummy. Lately I’ve been buying my frozen shrimp at Gourmet Garage on West 66th St.

Add the zest of one lemon and the juice of 2 lemons. Saute until the shrimp is completely cooked – about 6 minutes stirring occasionally.

Remove the shrimp from the saute pan and place aside

Drop 1lb of pasta into the boiling water and cook just shy of the time on the box directions.

Add 1/2 cup of white wine – any dry white wine will do – to the saute pan. Stir with a wooden spoon –  the wine will help to lift all of flavor off of the bottom of the pan.

Add 1 package of frozen peas to the saute pan. Add salt and some pepper – to taste.

The peas will steam quickly in the lemon juice and white wine – about 2 minutes

Stir in 1/4 cup of cream and 4 pats of butter. This will help to thicken the sauce. You may want to add 1/4 cup or less of the pasta water to the sauce at this point if you think you may not have enough or just to thin out the sauce.

Remove the saute pan from the heat and re-add the cooked shrimp. Drain the pasta and add to the saute pan. Pull the pasta through to distribute the shrimps and sauce.

Transfer to a serving bowl. At this point add some halved cherry tomatoes – it’s prettier with the red of the tomatoes. Garnish with parsley and serve.

It’s a quick and easy pasta dish perfect for a lovely ladies dinner. Perhaps I’ll invite my friends from the Mazatlan trip….just don’t tell them it’s not fresh shrimp!

Happy Pixies in My Kitchen

By far my favorite thing to cook when I was little was Ronnie Rooster’s Cinnamon Toast. I got this recipe from my very first cookbook: The Happy Pixies’ Cookbook. The recipe was exactly what one might think it would be, but I still followed the directions – carefully pre-heating the oven, placing white bread on a cookie sheet, smearing each slice with softened butter (this was pre-microwave, when butter had to be softened by leaving it out on the counter and then…waiting), sprinkling with brown sugar and then sprinkling again with cinnamon.

In just a few minutes under the broiler I had perfectly toasted, buttery, sugary delights!

I made the Ronnie Rooster Cinnamon Toast all the time and often tried different takes on it. If we didn’t have brown sugar, I found that regular sugar worked nicely as well. If you lightly toasted the bread without anything on it first and then added the butter and toppings, the heat of the toast would help to melt the butter and you didn’t have to wait for it to soften on the counter. I even got a little indulgent a few times and did a second layer of butter/brown sugar/cinnamon and re-toasted.

Sometimes getting a recipe right is like working your way through a maze where the dead-ends are just dishes that aren’t yet perfect. And, even though I had strayed from the original recipe, I always kept the book out while preparing the toast.

Everyone has her own comfort food – the one thing she craves when feeling down. For me, that was always Ronnie Rooster’s Cinnamon Toast.

There are things you need if you want to create in the kitchen and there are things that you just don’t really need anymore. I gave away almost all of my cookbooks last year as part of the downsizing of my life. If I need a recipe, I can find it online. Actually, I can find 1,000 variations in most cases. And, living in a small apartment, I love that the Internet doesn’t take up any physical space.

I know by heart how to make Ronnie Rooster’s Cinnamon Toast. And yet, when recently sorting through what to keep and what to give away, I decided to keep my tattered copy of The Happy Pixies’ Cookbook. I like knowing that there are always happy pixies in my kitchen.