Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ribs. Chicken. Jalapenos.

There wasn’t much in the culinary aspect of this past weekend that would be deemed particularly exotic or adventuresome. It was all rather straightforward. At the same time, it was wholly satisfying. Anticipating decent spring-type weather to start the Spring League season here in Chicago, Joe and I lured the Martin-Lee family up to Lincoln Square for dinner Friday night at Los Nopales. We were seated right away at 7 pm. Pretty cool. They even made room for Akira to squeeze in when he found out we were there and demanded a seat. It’s BYOB, so we brought a six pack each of Pacifico and XX. They were nice enough to provide limes, so we opened our beers and ordered some guacamole. I realize that the Scrumptulescence team hasn’t posted about Los Nopales yet. I’m hoping if I foot the entire bill for Joe to get a good sampling of their menu, he will agree to do a write up about it in his true Crazy Nomad style. Trust me when I say this: It is a small family owned Mexican restaurant, where they use fresh ingredients and basic techniques to make delicious food. I once asked what was in their guacamole. It’s so good, I had to know the secret. Turns out they just make it fresh to order, and only put in 4 things besides the avocado. I think they might be on to something. Anyway, our table had tacos, mainly. Tacos al pastor, Chorizo tacos, and Tilapia tacos. Akira had the carne asada / chile rellenos combo, and Thor had a combo plate with some other stuff, like a taco, an enchilada, and maybe a tamale. I don’t remember. Everything was great, it came out fast, and we topped it off by splitting a slice of tres leches cake. Everyone should try this place.

Saturday morning brought the first day of spring league, and a gorgeous 70+ degree day. This is a food blog, so I won’t go into much detail, but my team won. Our household is split over 3 teams. The other teams in the household did not win. Such is life. My team played early games, so I went home to get the gas grill going and threw together a basic cookout meal to celebrate the nice weather. Not a lot of people, nothing special food-wise, except it was all pretty good. It started off with some guacamole prepared by Angela (which was excellent) as well as some weak salsa prepared by me. The main courses were chicken thighs marinated in mojo criollo, some excellent bratwursts provided by a certain someone’s special someone, a few chicken andouille sausages by Amy, and a grill full of red peppers, zucchini, and portabella mushrooms. Nothing special, but everything was pretty good.

Sunday was the big day. Meal # 3 on the Weber Smoker. Dragged Joe with me to Costco where I purchased six racks of baby back ribs, along with some asparagus and pita chips. Then I took a quick trip to Family Fruit Market to pick up a few more fixin’s. Then I prepared the ribs. A quick rinse in water, followed by a quick rinse with vinegar. A light coating of mustard, a thicker coating of spice rub. Start the fire in the smoker, get the smoke moving. Throw on all six slabs on 2 levels.

While the ribs were cooking, I made hummus, Grandma’s pasta salad, and BBQ sauce. I also sliced open some fresh jalapeños, pulled out the ribs and seeds, stuffed them with chorizo, and wrapped them in bacon. Call it an amuse bouche if you want, although I might have to shoot you if you do. As people started arriving, the double batch of hummus disappeared rather quickly. I kept everything else in reserve. After 3+ hours on the smoker, including a top and bottom rack swap, one flip, and a few spritzes with cranberry juice and olive oil, the ribs were done smoking. I was able to send Ruby the dog in to distract everyone while I took the ribs off, covered them in foil, and hid them in the oven. I put the stuffed jalapeños and 1.5 pounds of fresh Italian sausage on the smoker. Then I fired up the gas grill and covered it with 2 pounds of asparagus that had been tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper, and cayenne (thanks boss). When it was time to put everything on the table, this is what it looked like.

Everything is pretty identifiable. The BBQ sauce is a little shadowed, but it looked like BBQ sauce. The potato chips are jalapeno crunchers. Great BBQ food. The wine is Casillero del Diablo Carmenere from Chile. Great casual red wine. You might not buy it because of it’s price. Trust me, it’s worth every penny.

Closeup time. The pasta salad is very basic. I actually didn’t put enough mayo in, but I knew the crowd would like it better with less mayo. I just used Grandma’s recipe, but instead of the rainbow rotini, I used a very nice imported whole wheat pasta that somehow avoids the graininess of most whole wheat pastas.

Grilled asparagus. So easy, so good.

The smoker has a lot of fire left in it even after 3+ hours of cooking time. Stuffed, wrapped jalapenos and Italian sausage seemed like good things to throw on while the ribs rested awhile. The Italian Sausage was tasty enough, but the flavors were a little too subtle to stand up to the ribs and the jalapenos. The jalapenos were really good. A could of guests said they were the best thing they’ve had that I’ve cooked.

How was the main event? Pretty good. I need to work on the fire control a little bit. They might have been a little overdone in places, but overall, flavor and texture were good. I didn’t sauce them at all, preferring to let the guests add sauce for themselves. People seemed to like them. I thought they were pretty good. Definitely be making them again pretty soon, I would say. Here are a couple of slabs, before I sectioned them for easier eating.

I have to say, it was a pretty good culinary weekend, and the food was appropriate to the weather. Now that we’re supposed to drop into the 40’s this afternoon, I need to start thinking about braising and stewing again, until it’s time for spring to come back. Hopefully mid-April.

Oh, who were the guests? The roommates minus the new guy. One brand new (and fantastic) ultimate player who is also a roommate girlfriend. The Russells, the Martin-Lees, some tall guy from Indiana, puppy Ruby, and her owner. Three of those people just kind of showed up and were fed. If you’re feeling left out, you shouldn’t. I generally don’t make too many phone calls for these things. Just call if you sense there might be something cooking.


pbgipper said...

The Ribs I had were very good and not overdone at all. I also liked the fact that they didn't need sauce. I may now have to change my top five list of things BK makes with brunch still holding #1 down. Oh, and the wife is already negotiating to hire hime full time.

Bryan said...

Yeah, brunch can be pretty good. Are you talking about when I made biscuits and gravy, hash browns, bacon, scrambled eggs, and cinnamon rolls? That was cool.

pbgipper said...

yes, yes, i am.

Whitney said...

I miss you guys.


Whitney said...

Gentlemen, read this:

Try not to weep.

B, when we rule the world and open a joint, the above story will be laminated and posted over your bar-b-q pit.

Ian said...

Someone should tell whitney to include the whole link next time. Slacker. Can't even cut and paste the whole thing.

I'm about 30 seconds of staring at those photos away from ditching my job and everything else and moving back to Chicago. Seriously. Looks way too tasty.