rub me the right way

Last weekend may have been the unofficial start of Summer, but in my mind it actually began a few weeks ago. You see for me the early days of Summer have less to do with the calendar and more to do with rediscovering life outdoors. It’s little things like; starting each day off with coffee on the deck, my vegetable garden being fully planted and prospering, the remaining school year being counted in weeks rather than months and the grill and smoker working overtime churning out something delicious nearly everyday of the week. Yeah, it’s definitely the little things that best tell the story of the season for me.

My husband received an offset smoker as a birthday gift about a year ago and has been on a mission to become the ultimate backyard smokin’ guru ever since. He spent last summer perfecting smoked chicken and ribs— he modified the firebox, researched optimal fuel types and temps, watched countless hours of BBQ Pit Masters and collaborated with yours truly on marinades, rubs and sauces. We spent a considerable amount of time developing a wet rub that was initially our go to recipe for ribs, but after giving it a try on chicken it ended up our go to recipe for just about everything. Shrimp, ribs, chicken, pork roast… it’s a winner every time.

Basically all a rub consists of is ground spices, sugar and salt, pretty simple. Rubs are typically massaged into the meat and then allowed to sit for a few hours so that the flavors can permeate. Our recipe starts out pretty much the same as all the others but then we add a twist— apple cider vinegar. You see we wanted to develop a rub recipe that would ensure the meat would stay moist during its long cook on the smoker, would provide plenty of flavor and would work to tenderize and “flavorize” the meat rather quickly. (While we always plan our smoking adventures well in advance we’re not always so quick on the fire building prep and execution!) In the past I’ve used balsamic vinegar as a quick marinade for grilled pork chops— the acids in the vinegar help to tenderize the meat in a very short amount of time and keep it moist while it cooks. Balsamic is a pretty strong flavor, but I thought apple cider vinegar would achieve the same results with a much more appealing profile. We mixed together our spices, added brown sugar and kosher salt, poured in the vinegar, blended until it was a watery paste and schmeared it all over the meat. Holy moly it was amazing!

And as they say… the rest is history.

Best Ever BBQ Wet Rub
This rub works well on everything. Seriously, everything.

rib rub2

1 tsp. smoked paprika
1-2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. Chinese Five Spice
2 tsp. ground cumin
3 tsp. kosher salt
3 tsp. garlic powder
5 tsp. brown sugar
5 tbsp. raw apple cider vinegar

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Schmear all over the meat and allow to sit for a few hours before smoking or grilling*.

*Because of the brown sugar in the rub be sure to grill the meat slowly over a medium-low flame to avoid charing.

a winter’s night turkey burgers

Theres nothing like a classic all beef burger to make you feel indulged and satisfied. I’m not talking about some slapped together fast food number (blech, never!) but a nice juicy hand-formed burger cooked medium, with just the right meat to bun ratio and topped off with a delicious bit of cheese. And I love the way burgers taste when they’re cooked outside on the grill, it’s a flavor I’ve never been able to duplicate in my kitchen. (Grilled blue cheese burgers with caramelized onions and Dijon mustard happens to be one of my all time favorite indulgences!) All that being said, in our house good ‘ol classic grilled hamburgers are strictly warm weather fare. There’s no way I’m standing at the grill on a cold dark winter’s night just for a couple of burgers (not even blue cheese ones) and that goes double this Winter. Imagine if for some crazy reason I did decide to brave the cold darkness in an attempt to grill up a few burgers— I would still need to climb over and trudge through three feet of frozen snow just to get to the grill! Nope. Sorry. Not happening… However, since burgers are such a great hectic weeknight meal I realized I had to find a solution to my weather-bound limitations. I happen to love Salmon burgers and would happily eat them on a regular basis, but my family— not so much. I like veggie burgers as well but try as I may to get my recipe perfect, they always seem to wind up a big crumbly mess. And frankly, I’m not so sure my family would be knocked out by the “perfect” veggie burger either. They do however happen to be fans of turkey burgers, which is quite fortunate since I just happen to have a killer turkey burger recipe that actually works better in a skillet than on the grill.

Let me begin by saying that a turkey burger will never satisfy the way a beef burger does. I know this. I acknowledge this. I agree with this. But… What turkey may lack in decadence it totally makes up for in versatility. Ground turkey is a bit like tofu in that it really takes on whatever flavors you add to it beautifully. In fact ground turkey is my go-to protein for many of the dishes I make; Turkey Shepherds PieTurkey & Bean ChiliTurkey Meatloaf with Salsa and Old School Turkey Sloppy Joe’s just to name a few. So the idea of a souped-up turkey burger seemed like a no-brainer to me, particularly one that incorporated all the cool weather flavors I love most; Tart apple, aged cheddar cheese, fresh garlic and sage with just a hint of maple syrup. Sounds kinda crazy, right? It is, in the most wonderful and yummy of ways. And while it won’t ever replace the taste of a freshly grilled beef burger, it has quickly become a Greco family favorite.

Apple, Sage & Maple Turkey Burgers
These burgers totally taste like cool weather to me. A bit of tart apple, aged cheddar and fresh sage with a hint of maple syrup. Yup, frosty winter nights all the way…

replacement

2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. fresh sage leaves, minced (about 3 large leaves)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. raw apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. real maple syrup
1/2 a medium green apple, finely grated
1 lb. ground turkey
4 brioche rolls
4 slices cheddar cheese, for garnish
sliced tomatoes and fresh spinach, for garnish
Maple-Dijon sauce (see recipe below)

  1. In a small bowl mash together the garlic, sage, salt and pepper to form a paste. Add the apple cider, maple syrup and grated apple and mix well.
  2. Knead the garlic mixture into the ground turkey and form into 4 patties (they will be very soft and kinda wet, not to worry). Allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to give the flavors a chance to meld.
  3. Heat a non-stick griddle or skillet over medium heat, lightly oil and add the burgers. Carefully transfer the burgers to the griddle and cook until firm, cooked through and lightly browned, about 6 minutes per side. Serve on rolls with cheddar cheese, a slice of tomato, fresh spinach leaves and a schemer of maple-dijon sauce.

Maple-Dijon Mayonnaise
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. real maple syrup

  1. While burgers are resting mix together the yogurt, mustard and maple syrup and chill until ready to use.

‘baby daddy’ bbq ribs

Last night I had a dream about pulled pork. Actually it was kind of a nightmare. I was in some sort of cooking competition and when it was time to serve my dish to the judges I couldn’t find two forks to shred the meat and all I had was paper plates to serve it on. Crazy right? I guess that’s what I get for watching Chopped before bed.

Actually I’ve had barbecue on my mind lately. As you’re aware last weekend was Father’s Day. I asked my children’s father what he would like me to make for our Father’s Day dinner, but he said he was busy with his UPS route that day… so I asked my husband instead. (Ba-dum-bum-CHING! My husband loves when I make that joke.) Seriously though, when I asked my dear husband what he would like for dinner he requested barbecued ribs. Okey dokey, then ribs it would be.

I happen to be a true barbecue lover. I can’t think of a more satisfying summertime meal than finger-lickin’ sauce-covered chicken, ribs or pulled pork with a side of corn bread, some salad and sweet watermelon for dessert. But what I don’t like is commercially produced barbecue sauce full of high fructose corn syrup, liquid smoke and caramel coloring. No thanks. I have found bottled sauce that has a more “natural” list of ingredients, but I usually end up doctoring it up a bit to fit my tastes. So… why not just make my own. It’s super easy, just ketchup (the kind without high fructose corn syrup), a bunch of spices and a little cooking. Yum!

Okay, so back to those ribs. There seem to be as many ways to cook ribs as there are people who like to eat them. You can smoke them, slow cook them, grill them, boil them (bletch) and even fry them. They can be marinated, dry rubbed or simply slathered with sauce. The possibilities are endless! The recipe I use calls for marinating, slow roasting and then finishing them with sauce on the grill. Sure this may require a few more steps than some other recipes, but the total lack of conversation at our Father’s Day dinner table told me it was totally worth it.

Barbecued Ribs
I took all the heat out of this recipe because I wanted it appeal to my kids. 
If you prefer spicy feel free to kick it up with some cayenne pepper in both the marinade and the sauce.

4 lbs. pork spare ribs

For the marinade:
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. Spanish paprika
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp. key lime juice
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp. brown sugar

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and give a quick whisk to completely blend. Add the ribs, turning to coat well, cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Place the ribs in a non-stick roasting pan and add enough of the marinade to just cover the bottom. Cover with foil and cook for 3 hours, flipping halfway through.
  3. At this point the ribs should be just about fully cooked and ready for a quick finish on the grill. Baste the ribs with the barbecue sauce and grill until the sauce begins to caramelize, about 5-7 minutes per side. Serve with additional barbecue sauce on the side and some hot sauce for anyone who wants their ribs a bit spicy.

Homemade Barbecue Sauce
This sauce is super simple to throw together and much tastier than store-bought. It can easily be doubled or made spicier and it’s just as delicious on chicken or fish.

For the barbecue sauce:
1 1/2 cups ketchup
4 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. key lime juice
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
3 tsp. smoked paprika
3/4 cup water

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens, about 25 minutes. Set aside.

*adapted from saveur

All Dressed Up

I am always looking for ways to take the everyday and make it special. Sometimes I do this purely out of necessity (I’m a busy girl after all!) and sometimes it’s just because making a dish entirely from scratch isn’t dramatically better than tweaked up store-bought. I’ll make fancy from scratch frosting to go with boxed cake mix and homemade butter for store baked bread. Even something as simple as a pre-made fruit platter looks fancy when served in a pretty bowl with a few snips of fresh mint on top. I’m all for minimal effort, maximum impact.

As you know by now I love salad. I eat it nearly everyday, especially since I’ve begun harvesting it from my own garden, and I serve it anytime we have a sizable gathering. And what could be easier than a homemade dressing to fancy-up any otherwise ordinary tossed salad. Sure it’s easy to buy a bottle of dressing at the store (actually I usually serve something store-bought alongside my homemade for those “afraid of the unknown” guests) but homemade salad dressing is crazy easy to throw together and much tastier than pre-made.

In the past I’ve made a simple mustard vinaigrette and a garlicky pesto dressing, but having recently made hummus I really wanted to find another use of that container of tahini I had sitting in my refrigerator. Voilà… Lemon, Tahini & Garlic Dressing was born.

Lemon, Tahini & Garlic Salad Dressing
This was delicious drizzled on salad but I imagine it would work as well on a hummus and falafel pita or even steamed greens. And feel free to decrease the garlic and up the honey if a sweeter, milder dressing is what you prefer.

4 tbsp. tahini
3 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. water
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 tsp. honey
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil

  1. Whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, water, vinegar and honey. Add to this the garlic, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Drizzle in the sesame oil and whisk everything together until it is thoroughly blended.
  2. Adjust the salt and sweetness to your taste, adding a splash more water if you prefer a thinner dressing, and chill for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors meld. Allow it to come to room temperature before serving.

*adapted from eating well