Friday, June 30, 2017

It's the Fourth!

I saw bunting on a neighbors front porch today; 3 drapes of red, white and blue in perfectly spaced semi-circles, fully deployed like patriotic stripper fans from a 50's burlesque show.

"Damn, John beat me..." I murmured, "looks like the casket flags are coming out early this year."

The Quinn house of Tiara Drive in Milwaukie, Oregon will not be outdone in decorating for the Independence Day celebration in our neighborhood.  We have index card sized flags planted around the front yard perimeter.  There is a garage sale find, sheet-sized, veterans burial flag that is tacked up under the gutters over the garage door.  The mail box is festooned with crossed flags on sticks.  A standard 3' X 5' flag on a piece of one-by is taped to the telephone pole on the corner at a 45 degree angle.  Bunting hangs under the two bedroom windows facing the street while 3 crepe paper rolls of our national colors wrap the clematis pole on the front porch.  I'm wearing a Hawaiian styled shirt with the Preamble to the Constitution printed on it worn only one day per year.

Damned if I'll be out done.

It's a friendly competition, but, the day has nothing to do with neighbors winning or losing.  The day is about love, friendship and gratitude for all who came before us as stewards of this great land we live in today.  We show our love for one another by preparing food, opening our home and providing the best hospitality we know how to offer.  Then there are the illegal fireworks in the street as darkness falls and guests carry camp chairs from the back deck to the front yard while a few cigar smoking dads referee the pyrotechnic display, keeping everyone reasonably safe.

I can't wait.

People who have attended past 4th of July celebrations ask if BBQ Pork Spare Ribs will be on the smoker, will Lisa make her famous Banana Cake with Whipped Cream frosting, blueberries for Stars and Strawberries for stripes on the flag, will Home made Garlic Dill Pickles be available?  Is anyone bringing Deviled Eggs, Watermelon, Solo Cups and Ice?  Should the kids bring their suits for the unheated Jacuzzi?  Yes, yes and a thousand times Yes, but, bring what you do best, I tell people.  OM-Gosh, the offerings are straight from the heart as our friends arrive with some predictable accompaniments and some straight from their childhood.

"This is my Aunt Rosalie's Potato Salad, it's the best you've EVER tasted.  I taped my name on the bottom of the bowl, see?" as she cautiously hoists the container over her head for proof.   Others still,

"We brought Jello shots.  These are Cherry Vodka, these ones are Cinnamon Vodka and these guys are Lemoncello...ya got room in the fridge for 'em?"

"Gluten-free Hot Dogs for my kids, hope that's OK..."

"I brought the lettuce and the ingredients for Caesar salad.  Can you help me with this and do you have a bowl?"  as my friend plopps a freshly dispensed paper shopping bag down on the kitchen counter.
"I've got it," I assure her, gently shepherding her out of the kitchen towards the patio, "Go get yourself a glass of Prosecco and find a seat at the Girls Table,"

The Fourth is unlike any other celebration in that people don't mill around waiting to be engaged. People arrive happy and in great spirits, like it's their home or we're related.  Complete strangers may loiter for up to a minute, but, will soon be in conversation with another guest.

"Let me get you a beer"
"What'd you say your name was?"
"How are you connected here; friend, family or from the parish?"
"Yeah, just put that over there on the food table.  Hell, that looks good, whad'ja make there!?"

It's better than a Christmas party.  The Fourth is a gathering of people with shared experiences, memories of summertime childhood bliss, home made treats, kids playing till sweat-dripped, moms clucking and whooping, dads always standing while telling lies and laughing.

Perhaps it's the informality of it all.

There is no dress code, china or cloth napkins.  You can talk, laugh and tell a story with a mouth full of food.  Kids are never told to eat all their vegetables or hold their fork a certain way.  Watermelon is supposed to drip on a child's belly and dessert is not saved for last.  It's OK to chase the chickens and if you fall through the hammock, the grass is soft underneath.  Say Please and Thank You. Yes, if we need a beer run, you can do it.

People on the Fourth of July are out-SIDE themselves with gratitude and hospitality, whether guest or host.  "How can I help" is an oft-used phrase, followed by, "Let me get that for you."  Women must love it.  It's like every guy is a co-host; clearing a stack of plates, picking up beer bottle tops, taking some trash out, topping off the Girls in the 'Mom Zone.'  The funniest damn thing when a guy slides in to provide a service, that the gals are beside themselves, like it's Mother's Day or their birthday. Jeez, are we that bad on other days?

I like the girls to be pampered a little, they're so appreciative of the smallest kindness in the company of other women.  If it was the living room on a Wednesday night and you brought her a glass of Pinot Grigio, no big deal.  In front of other women?  You just crossed the Sahara barefoot holding her wineglass only.
Do the same thing at Christmas?  Not that big of a deal, either.  It's to be expected, thank you very much, and now you may go away, we're talking.
On the Fourth, it's like I put a slug in a pinball machine and got 3 plays.
Somethin for nuthin.

And on the Fourth, people love the food, all of it.  There is no critque-ing, no down side, no 'hmm, that could have been done better."  It's all gone at the end of the night!  Complete disasters are consumed by rabid children fueled by over stimulation and 56 grams of sugar.  Remnant ribs are wrapped in aluminum foil to select friends at the end of the night, as a bootlegger might slip a flask into a clients jacket pocket with a wink and pat on the shoulder.  Should there be a dish that didn't sell as well, it is distributed into 'ToGo' plates and foil wrapped for guests to enjoy at a later date.  No harm, no foul.  But BBQ Pork Ribs?...

...they have to be spot-on!  I have done bowls with 'hot and 'mild' for the sauce, but, found that squeeze bottles do a more efficient job.  BBQ'd pork spare ribs, slowly cooked over mesquite charcoal, are the benchmark upon which all other ribs are judged, according to my children.  I even have a picture of my baby girl, Bonnie Belle, at 1 year of age in a high chair, holding a single rib, her face covered in sweet, sticky sauce and smiling like she just found a golden Easter egg.  Funny, each year as my boys grow up and move away, they ask the same thing:

"So, Dad, you're doin' ribs, right?"  Like I would order Subway for our BBQ or engage in some other sinful act.

"Ya damn rights, I'm doin' ribs!" I say as I shake my head wondering if somehow Newton's First Law is no longer valid, Portland isn't truly weird and that ketchup water is no longer an abomination.

Yes, ribs are the center of the menu, all 12 full racks of ribs, each rack possessing 13 bones.  All 156 ribs will be dry-rubbed, smoked to a cracked skin perfection and drizzled with a hot version of my personal, sweet sauce.  They will rest in the enameled Nesco warmer, it's cloth covered, 40's cord plugged into an outlet near the food table, steaming gently all day, getting more and more tender.

People will consume food and beverage the entire day.  We will laugh.  Children will play. Music will fill the air.  Ribs will touch their soul as no dessert ever can.

"Mr. Quinn," a Gabrish boy will tell me, "I came her for the ribs and they ROCK!"
"Dad, nice job.  These are just like I remember them, " a son will say.
"I don't normally eat meat, but, these are like SOOOO good," a young mom informs me.
"Dude...nice." a dad tells me, waving a shiny bone right before he flips it into the garbage can.

Informality. Meat. Bones. Fire. Smoke.

We have evolved in myriad ways, but, sweet meat on a smokey fire still stirs a shared primal, genetic hunger.

Give it a shot this year, smoke some Pork Ribs on the 4th of July and watch your world assemble, celebrate friendship and grow closer.

All with a sweet smile.

BBQ Pork Spare Ribs

1 full rack....Pork Spare Ribs, untrimmed

1 C. salt
2T. ....ground black pepper
2T. ....ground coffee, dark, fine
1T. ....smoked Spanish paprika
1T. ....chile powder, dark
1t. .....allspice
1t. .....cardamom
1t. .....tumeric


Unwrap the slab of ribs and place in your spotlessly clean kitchen sink.
Combine all spices for the rub in a mixing bowl with a whisk, transfer to a sheet of paper and pour into a large holed shaker.  Like what is called a 'dredge,' a large shaker.  You won't have to use all the dry rub on the rack.  It's more than you need, really.
Using tongs in one hand, hold the rack while you generously coat the exterior.  The rub will stick to your hands and make a mess if you're pawing them with a bare hand.  Just sayin'.
Set aside on a cookie sheet.

Go outside to your webber dome or whatever charcoal grill you have on hand.  Using only Mesquite Charcoal, make a stack and douse with fluid.  Ignite and let your fire rage.  Once the coals have gone to white, knock them down to an even layer and place the grill on to heat up and burn off any remnants from previous successes.  Give it a brush and place your ribs, meat-side up, on the grill. Cut the rack in half if need be, to fit in your smoker.  Cover and adjust the vents for passage of hot air circulation and smoke to escape.
If the fire gets too hot at first, choke it down or even sprinkle with water.  The smoking process for this should take 4 hours.  If your heat begins to die, push a stick of oak, cherry or any hardwood onto the coals and allow to ignite, then, cover and choke it down allowing the smoke to escape.
As the meat cooks, you will see the flesh receding from the tips of the bones.  That's a good thing.
When done, the bones will become flexible in the rack as you bend them with your tongs.


Remove and tightly wrap in foil to steam themselves for 30 minutes and become more tender.
Slice and serve with a light hand on sauce.

Sounds like tending a newborn, but, at least this project won't spit up on you!

We celebrate our Founding Fathers and the principles for which they dedicated "...our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor..."

Have a great Fourth,
Take care, God bless and remember,
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends, 
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Nice Butt!

"Dad, lookit!"  my daughter alerted me as we scanned the meat section for something compelling to prepare for dinner.  Siobhan and I were picking up a few things at our neighborhood supermarket, when a questionable word was discovered printed on a meat package.  I was flipping through packages of chuck roast like a red meat Rolodex, looking for a super-marbled piece as BabyGirl ran her finger over ridged slabs of back ribs in the Pork section.

"Dad," she whispered, "it says 'Butt', seriously, lookit!"  Siobhan, eyebrows raised and smirking, looked as if a rude joke was being played and had slipped pass the meat department's packaging censors.  Lips curled in, she stiffled a belly laugh and giggled while holding her breath, letting it go in muffled bursts.  

"See?!"  she pointed while spelling out, B-U-T-T, "why would anyone eat a pig's butt?!"

We giggled and re-spelled the word, saying aloud, "BUTT!"

It took a few seconds for me to leave the 4th grade and resume Dad composure, informing Siobhan that it actually is a 'meat term' for a pork shoulder.

"Baby, it's called a 'Butt Roast' and don't ask why.  It musta been a long time ago before the word 'butt' became another term for your 'nalgas.' "
"Ya know, like these cheeks," my index finger pointed to puffed cheeks in my face, "and those cheeks," sticking my rear end out.

"Da-aaa-duhh, stop!  That's embarrassing...!" she admonished me while slapping my hand and quickly glancing to ensure we were not being watched.  Weeks shy of 10 years old, embarrassment is becoming a nearly fatal, female emotion.

The lesson began with why I like shoulder cuts of meat.  They have great fat content which makes it juicy, it feels 'round' in your mouth and kinda coats it. When you slow-cook a shoulder in the smoker or oven, alot of the fat melts away, leaving a perfect balance of protein and flavor.  I pointed to the ivory hued fat cap that will be trimmed a little and the white lines in the flesh.  All that will baste the meat, just like the turkey at Thanksgiving, I explained.  This is what we use for the pulled pork sandwiches and the same cut I use for sausages, I concluded.

"Let's get one and do something with it," I suggested, "pick one out, baby."

She looked, pretending to exercise discriminating selection, finally returning to the one she first touched.  I picked it up and concurred it would do just fine.

Bonnie-belle looked up to me with a guilty grin and an Irish twinkle in her eye.  With excruciatingly perfect timing, she said,

"Nice Butt, Dad!"

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

1     Pork Butt roast, boneless, about 7 lbs
4T  Kosher salt
2T  Black Pepper, ground
1T  Cayenne, ground
1T  Smoked Spanish Paprika
1T  Coriander, ground
1t   Allspice, ground
1t   Ginger, ground  (my mouth is watering already!)

Place the shoulder/butt on a sturdy sheet pan with 1/2 inch sides and set aside.  The butt seems to be split in two with the bone removed.  No joke.

Measure all spices and combine in a bowl, whisking gently to blend thoroughly.  Place the spices in a shaker of sorts, sprinkling the exterior and interior of the meat till all spices have been used up.  DON'T use you hands to rub the spices in!  What happens is that your hands get wet, the spice blend sticks to them and you lose alot of seasoning because you now have red, salty goop on your hands.  Use a shaker to apply all your spices on the meat.

Next, place the seasoned meat in a pre-heated, 200 degree oven (no fan), preferably at 9:00 or 10:00 p.m.
Kiss the handle of the oven door good night and crawl into bed with a good book.
When the chickens start to fuss in the morning ( 6 or 7 a.m.), the pork should be done AND the house will smell like a rib joint.  A long, thin knife should pass through with ease.   The pork should have a bit of a crust on it, but, don't despair, as the interior is super moist and tender.

Remove from the oven with caution.  There will be rendered fat on the bottom of the sheet pan, so, be careful not to spill-zy.  Let cool for 30 minutes.  For best results, move the pork to a large mixing bowl and begin shredding with two forks, one in each hand.  Place some shreds on a piece of bread for the first person fortunate enough to witness your creation; squeeze bottle of BBQ sauce providing some extra luvin'.  Once completely cooled, place the meat in Sharpie labeled and dated, 1 qt. freezer bags for later use.  Frozen, this will keep for months and be a great 'dinner to the rescue' meal.

I wish you the best in this very do-able venture.  Add condiments at meal time to make it a Cuban, Mexican, Asian or just good 'ol BBQ dish.

Take Care, God Bless and Remember,
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends, 
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"



Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cooking at the community college...#3.."It's just a burger."

Bun, beef patty, LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle), choice of cheese.
The American Hamburger, it's pretty straight-forward, right?  I mean, you can't screw it up; it's a slam-dunk...

It can be cooked in a pan, on a griddle, or even in an oven on sheet pans for hundreds at a time in a commercial catering setting, however, the BEST way of course, is on a grill.  And by 'grill' I mean on a grate with fire underneath scoring lines onto our ground beef burgers.  A charcoal fire, propane gas or wood are all good heat choices, but, it usually comes down to 'what's available...'
It's a simple, American classic meal, but, like America, we all have our own perspective as to what's "just a burger."

"So, can I get just a regular hamburger?  I don't see it on the order form.  You've got these burgers with names on them and ..."  The young student stood there across the griddle from me attempting to make sense of too many choices. The three guys behind him rocked on their heels waiting for Justin to get with the program, so, they could get  their orders in.  Maintanence workers, bus drivers and custodians have a small window for lunch at the Community College.  

"Dude, what do you mean by a regular burger?  I mean, just like meat and a bun?  No LTOP, fries, cheese...? I asked him, "Everbody has their own idea of 'regular.'

Justin, all of 18 years old, proceeded to answer a lightening round of burger accompaniment questions for his order.
"lettuce?"  I asked.
"Yes." he confirmed.
"No, they're disgusting."
"Yeah, but, not too many..."
"On the side, I don't like them to get hot from the burger..."
"Ummm, yeah, cheddar and two strips of bacon, not too crispy."
"Hmmm...yeah.  Where's the ketchup?"
"behind you at the condiment station; pour as much as you like.  It is part of a student's Food Pyramid,"  I concluded.

Justin stepped back from the sneeze guard, grabbed a tray and wandered over to the condiment oasis, filling 2-oz plastic cups with ketchup, ranch dressing and yellow mustard.

The three workers waiting, had their burgers already sparked, since I saw them walking up.  Their baskets lined with checkered paper and buns toasting.  Each flipped their order forms into the clear, plastic receiving bucket and stepped back.

"Kelly, what's up man?  How's Maintanence treating you today?" I asked.  He's an impressive man;  black and shiny as a lump of coal and all of 350 lbs if he's an ounce.  His hair is closely cropped and has a face as round as a cast iron skillet.   Swollen jowls push his thumb sized earlobes out to about 45 degrees from vertical.  He doesn't smile.

"Fine...I can't stand managing people though," he grumbled, "Hey, I heard from one of my guys that you'd do a fried egg on a burger if I ask.  'Zat true?"
I told him hayul yes I'd do a fried egg, but, it's a buck upcharge.  He just nodded to confirm the addition for over-medium with a runny yolk.  Game on.

"First time I had an egg on a burger was 1988 in Corvallis at Squirrel's Bar and Grill.  The Squirrel Burger had a thick slice of ham, LTOP and egg on a burger eyes rolled into the back of my head!"  I mused to Kelly and anyone there listening. The audience nodded in unison and began telling stories of the Best Burger they'd ever had...

"Man, I used to work on a road crew, way back, an there was a place out by Estacada that did a burger with BBQ sauce and a boneless, breakfast pork chop WITH fried egg on a toasted big-ass bun an a pile of fries...don't know how they stayed in business givin that much food away..." Kelly reminisced in a soft voice, slowly shaking his head.

"Dude!  Have you ever been to Killer Burger?  Those guys rock!" another customer called out while watching the process, "they put bacon on EVERY burger and even say so on their chalkboard.  I've had everyone of 'em on the menu; the Jose Mendoza is my favorite."
The fellas all nodded in unison turning to one another to confirm that was the one with Pepper Jack cheese, Roasted New Mexico Green Chilies and bacon with a schmeer of smokey house sauce.

"They got  one called, 'The Bender' which comes with sliced and battered, deep fried Jalapenos and Sriracha red chile sauce with two strips of bacon and Tillamook cheddar...if you're hung over, it's the cure!"  exclaimed a uniform clad driver from the bus line, "I'm just sayin' that's what I've been told..."

The guys started chuckling, knowing we've all been in that state of rescue.

"Funny how we all have different tastes on what should go on a burger," I observered while adding cheese to patties, "the lettuce provides a crunch, the tomatoes keep it juicy, onions provide a mild heat and pickles give a vinegary, acidic zing, keeping everything lively on the palate.  It gets us ready for another bite!"

I called to Justin that his burger was coming up, reaching over to pull a basket of fries out of the oil.  He stepped forward to gather his creation.

"Dude, here's your regular burger: patty, LOP, cheddar and two bacon with fries..." I said while wearing a grin as I passed it over to his hungry hands. He returned the smile.

"Maybe you could like call this like 'The Justin' burger?"

Kelly stood behind him, rolled his eyes and barely broke a smirk.  As the kid walked away, Kelly said.
"that boy has got some livin' and learnin' ta do..."

"Guys, you're all up here..." I said pushing their baskets forward as three large men crowded the window for one.

"Regular burger!," said one, "ain't that the shit?!" as they laughed, thanked me and went back to work.