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.

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it’s my party + i’ll grill (flank steak) if i want to…

Happy unofficial start of grilling season! The weather here in the Northeast keeps fluctuating between Africa hot and turn the heat back on cold, but the calendar reads June so it must be time to break out the grill tongs and light up the Weber.

We use our grill to make dinner nearly every night when the weather is warm. From burgers and grilled veggies to beer can chicken and steamed shellfish with grilled bread. If we can grill it we usually do. The thing about making dinner on the grill is that it turns an otherwise rather solitary and sometimes mundane task into lovely “this is what I love about warm weather” time. The dog and kids running around the yard, my husband and I relaxing with a glass of wine, the last rays of sunshine filtering through the trees… Ahh it’s all good.

Grilling for your family is pretty easy and low pressure, but grilling for a crowd is a different can ‘o beans all together. Suddenly you have to worry about everyone liking what you serve, the amount of time away from your guests cooking is going to require and will there be enough for everyone. After years of trial and error my husband and I have settled on two never fail recipes for our summertime parties; the first one is Barbecued Ribs. My rib recipe is easy to make, seriously delicious and can feed a crowd in a flash. Throw in a pot of my Smokey Baked Beans and some Homemade Cornbread and your guests will never want to leave! Our second no fail party pleaser (and truthfully the one we rely on most often) is marinated flank steak. I like to serve flank steak because its perfect for sandwiches, salads or just on its own and it takes almost zero time on the grill (which means less chance of an overzealous cook incinerating it).

I’ve been playing with my marinade recipe for years and I finally got it to where I think it’s perfect enough to share with you. (See how much I care about you!) The marinade is fairly simple; soy sauce, garlic, lemon juice, brown sugar— but the impact is major.  And if the scant leftovers are any indication of how much the crowd likes it… well then we’re clearly onto something good.

Grilled Marinated Flank Steak
Be sure to throw the onions and garlic from the marinade in a pan on the grill and serve them along with the sliced meat. They’re delicious!

flank steak

3 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2/3 cup olive oil
1 1/3 cup lemon juice
1 1/3 cup soy sauce
8 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
6 lbs. flank steak

  1. In a large bowl with a lid, add all the ingredients and stir with a fork being sure to break up any brown sugar lumps. Taste the marinade and make any seasoning adjustments needed then add the flank steak.
  2. Press the layers of steak down so that they are fully submerged in the marinade, cover and refrigerate overnight. (Rotate the meat, top to bottom, at least once.) In the morning drain off the marinade but be sure to keep all the onions and garlic, you’ll want to heat them up to serve along with the meat.
  3. One hr. prior to grilling remove the container of flank steak from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature on the counter.
  4. Heat the grill. Place the steaks on the hot grill and allow to cook 4 to 6 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Check for doneness with an instant read thermometer (medium-rare is between 125-130°F.) Transfer steak to a cutting board and let rest for at least 5 minutes.
  5. Slice thinly across the grain at a slight diagonal and serve along with the cooked onions from the marinade.

nana’s sweet apple + chicken curry

jim+nanaMy husband comes from a long line of stovetop dusting, dialing for dinner, non-cooks. This is not a criticism, rather a statement of fact. If pressed they can all whip up a perfectly fine meal, they just would rather not. However amidst all the pizza, McDonald’s and chicken rondelets of his childhood one truly from scratch meal does proudly stand out in his memories:
his grandmother’s curry.

I too happen to love curry and have made more than a few versions over the years. My husbands reaction to my curry however is always the same… sheer delight that curry is for dinner followed quickly by disappointment that it’s not like his grandmother’s. She traditionally makes curry with the leftover lamb or pork roast from a holiday dinner, to which she adds sweet apples, onions and a little bit of spice. I’m from the coconut milk, peanut, cilantro school of curry— which I imagine is why we’re at a curry crossroads. I’ve asked her for the recipe before, in fact we spoke about it before I attempted my version, but she says she doesn’t really have one. She’s been making her curry for so long that she just knows when its right. Oh well.

The other day I was reading the food section of the paper and lo and behold there was a recipe for Sweet Apple Curry which sounded exactly like the curry my husband’s childhood memories were based on. The article claimed that as far a curries go this recipe was totally inauthentic, but absolutely delicious nonetheless. Naturally I headed straight to the store and set about attempting to duplicate his Nana’s beloved recipe.

I’m not a big fan of lamb and pork just didn’t seem right to me, so I used chicken thighs instead. I served it on Jasmine rice just like she does and I kept it fragrant, flavorful and mildly spiced. Seriously I pulled out all the memory triggering stops on this one and I’ll give you one guess how it turned out… A total success! My other half said it was the closest thing to his Nana’s that he’d ever had. Quite the compliment indeed! Just like the article said; inauthentic but delicious.

So if you know Ginny and love her famous post-holiday curry, rest assured that her recipe (or at least an approximation of it) can now live on…

Sweet Apple & Chicken Curry
This is a sweet and mild curry, however if you’re like me and enjoy a little kick in everything you eat add a few diced chilies for garnish.

nanas curry2

3 ribs celery, diced
2 large onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, grated
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
3 lbs. boneless/skinless chicken thighs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. pink salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
6 tbsp. olive oil, divided
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. mild curry powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 cup flour
3 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp. corn starch
1 tbsp. cold water
Jasmine rice, for serving
minced fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)
diced chilies, for garnish (optional)

  1. Trim the chicken and cut into bite-size pieces. Place in a quart-size ziploc bag, along with 1/2 cup of flour, salt and pepper. Seal and shake to coat evenly. Set aside.
  2. Dice the celery and onion and grate the garlic, set aside. Peel and core the apples and cut them into medium-size chunks. Set aside in a separate bowl.
  3. Heat the oil, 2 tablespoons at a time, in a pot over medium heat. Working in batches, add the coated chicken and cook until lightly browned on all sides; transfer to a bowl.
  4. Melt the butter in the pot you just finished browning the chicken in. Add the celery, onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have become transparent. Add the apples and stir to incorporate; cook for another 5 minutes, then add in the curry powder, cinnamon and cumin. Cook for 2 minutes, until the spices become fragrant.
  5. Sprinkle the apple mixture with a 1/4 cup of flour and stir to incorporate. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the broth along with the chicken pieces and any accumulated juices. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a simmer. In a small dish mix together the corn starch and cold water. Add it to the curry mixture and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through.
  6. When finished, remove the pan from the heat and let sit for a several minutes before serving. Serve over hot Jasmine rice and garnish with diced cilantro and diced chilies, if you like.

*adapted from the washington post