Simply The Best – Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie

Pecan pie is best made simple and traditionally, without all that funk and improvisation. You can wow your friends and family with “chocolate,” “maple brandy,” and “so-on” variations, but in the end, the old-fashioned recipe wins favor. So here’s that recipe, time-tested and mother-approved.

Feel free to use a pre-made pie shell from your grocer. You can make your own pie crust if you’re bold enough, but either way works. Be sure to bake your shell beforehand (10 minutes at 400 degrees, a couple holes poked in it with a fork).

PIE FILLING:

2 cups of pecans, toasted, chopped into pieces
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¾ cup (light) corn syrup
3 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven (or reduce heat after baking crust) to 275 degrees.

Time-saver – toast the pecans while you pre-bake the crust. You only need 10-15 minutes to toast them. Once cooled, chop with a knife into small pieces.

Pecan Pie Ingredients

Melt the butter in a bowl, preferably set in a pan or skillet of simmering water. Once melted, remove from the water; add the brown sugar and salt until the butter is blended.

Add the eggs (beaten first), corn syrup, and vanilla.

Put the bowl back in the pan of simmering water, and stir it around until the mixture is hot to the touch.

Remove from the heat and blend with the chopped pecans. Mix well, and then pour it into the pie shell.

Bake on the low or middle rack for between 50-60 minutes (respectively). You’ll know it’s good when you press on it with a spoon, and it’s soft but set.

Remove from the oven and let it cool for at least 4 hours before serving. The heat will redistribute through the pie over that time. Cover it with some tin foil so nothing gets at it.

And that’s it! The result is a soft and smooth texture, sugary, but not overpoweringly sweet. It’s perfect!

Recipes – “The Simply Best” Dry Rub Ribs

Before I continue, I must admit I should have taken pictures. I should also admit (before my friend Jimmy says otherwise) these are not the best ribs in the world. Nevertheless, the satisfaction these ribs brought my friends was monumental, and my hands were too occupied to grab a camera. The recipe is easy if you have the time and ingredients. You need to prepare these a night in advance to do it right. The rest involves technique, and I cover that later.

“LOIN BACK” Ribs – “LOIN BACK” ribs are meatier than “BABY BACK” ribs, but both work.
1-2 cups wood chips (optional, read below)

BRINE (for every rack):
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup kosher salt
2 quarts water

DRY RUB SEASONING:
Paprika (4 parts, for color)
Chili Powder (2 parts)
Ground Cumin (2 parts)
Dark Brown Sugar (2 parts)
Salt (2 parts)
Garlic Powder (1 part)
Dried Oregano (1 part)
Ground black pepper (1 part)
Ground white pepper (1 part)
Cayenne pepper (Half-part)

For every rack of ribs, you’ll need to brine them in a solution of sugar, salt, and water for at least two hours. I prefer to use big Ziploc bags, but use whatever you like to submerge and refrigerate them in. Cut them in halves to save space. After two hours, remove them from the brine and dry with paper towels.

Seasoning is unique to everyone, so feel free to exercise some creativity with this part. Some people prefer spicy, some prefer sweet. No matter what you use, you’ll want to blend a few (or all) of the ingredients above to create your own special rub. You’ll want about ¼ cup of seasoning for each rack. Rub generously into the ribs, covering as much meat as possible.

Once seasoned, wrap the ribs in plastic wrap, tightly. I wrap them twice to prevent air from getting at them, and I even use a big Ziploc bag on top of that. Refrigerate overnight.

I grill my ribs. It’s not a difficult task, but doing it right requires some extra effort. Apart from a grill (charcoal preferably) you’ll want to consider wood chips. Most cooks agree that hardwood (like hickory, oak, or mesquite) chips add a nice, smoky flavor you want in your food. It’s not necessary, but you should consider it, especially if you use a gas grill (gas has no flavor). Soak your wood chips in cold water for at least an hour before using. Wrap in tin foil and perforate with modest openings on top to allow smoke to escape.

You’re ready to grill when the temperature reaches 350 degrees inside. If you don’t have a thermometer, wait until the briquettes have a thin layer of gray ash on them, and it’s difficult to hover your hand over them. Move them all to one side of the grill (away from the top lid vent) and keep your bottom vents open. Put your wood chips on top of the charcoals. Place your ribs meat-side down on the opposite side of the grill, right under the lid vent, away from the charcoals. You’ll begin to see; the ribs cook by convection, drawing heat and smoke up through the grill, over the ribs and out the top. It’s a beautiful process.

The ribs need between two and four hours to cook. Every half hour, flip and rotate their position. The temperature inside will drop over that time, so you may have to add more briquettes if it dips below 250 degrees. They’ll be ready when the meat pulls away from the bone.

Sauces and extra seasoning are optional at this point. Like the dry rub seasoning, I encourage you get creative. As is, your ribs will be flavorful, succulent, and the prize of any cookout. Enjoy!

Recipes – Spaghetti and Meatballs

Recipes - Spaghetti and MeatballsEveryone has a recipe for making Spaghetti and Meatballs. This is a tribute to all those families who have made this meal for generations. Special thanks to my father, who taught me this variation. The process is very involved, so be sure to have everything mise en place.

Tomato Sauce:
1-2 cans of plum tomatos (pref. San Marzano)
1-2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, minced
½ cup of dry red wine (pref. Italian Chianti)
¼ cup of sugar
Salt and Pepper (to taste)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced

Meatballs:
2 slices of toasted bread, crumbled
½ cup of buttermilk

1 pound ground beef
½ pound ground pork
¼ cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
3 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, minced
2 egg yolks
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon salt
Ground pepper
1-2 cups of vegetable oil

The tomato sauce should be prepared first, well in advance (some prepare it hours ahead), but at the very least a half hour before adding the meatballs. I prefer “whole peeled” plum tomatoes from San Marzano, but if you don’t have a food processor to cut them up, I suggest the “crushed” style.

Add the tomatoes into a 6-quart saucepot. Bring to a simmer, and wait for it to begin thickening, usually between 10-20 minutes. Add the garlic and basil. Add salt and pepper to taste, stir and simmer for a few minutes. Add the red wine and sugar, and stir occasionally for another 20-30 minutes. If you’re going to stretch out the prep-time, I suggest adding the red wine and sugar after an hour, and let it simmer for well over an hour before adding the meatballs.

Combine the bread and buttermilk in a bowl, stir with a fork, and let it sit aside, roughly 10 minutes.

Combine the meats, then the grated cheese, minced parsley, garlic, egg yolks, and salt in a bowl. Pepper to taste. Add the bread mixture and combine until evenly mixed. Shape mixture into 1- to 2-inch meatballs. Put on a plate, cover, and place in the fridge (if the tomato sauce is not ready yet).

Pour the vegetable oil into a skillet so there’s a modest amount to fry the meatballs in. Turn the heat to medium-high; it will take a few minutes to get ready. It’s great if you have a pair of tongs for this part. Fry the meatballs in batches, turning them several times to brown evenly on all sides. This process usually takes about 10-15 minutes per batch. Keep the oil sizzling, but reduce the heat if it begins to smoke. Transfer the cooked meatballs to a dish covered in paper towels to soak up any excess oil.

Bring a big pot of water to a boil for the spaghetti.

Once all the meatballs are cooked, discard the excess oil, but return the pan to medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and garlic, scrape up all the browned bits of meatball left in the pan (quickly, no more than a minute), and stir it into the simmering pot of tomato sauce.

Once that’s done, add the meatballs to the pot of tomato sauce and cover for anywhere between 10-20 minutes. That’s all the time you need.

Add your pasta of choice, along with a dash of salt. Usually takes around 10 minutes to cook al dente, drain, and place in a big bowl. Add some olive oil to loosen it up, and then serve as you like, topping it off with hefty portions of meatballs and tomato sauce. Add some of that grated Parmesan cheese to it, and you got yourself one of the best dinners around.

Recipes – “The Simply Best” Boneless Pork Ribs

“The Simply Best” Boneless Pork Ribs

Boneless Pork Bottom Ribs (country-style pref.)
Red Wine Vinegar

Pork bottoms and shoulders work best for this recipe. Marinade the pork generously in red wine vinegar for about 3 hours. Salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Brown the pork on all sides on med-high heat.

For every 2lbs of meat:

1 can (10.5oz) of French-onion soup
¾ cup of ketchup
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup of applesauce
3-4 tablespoons of Vermont Maple Syrup

Blend the ingredients together in a crock pot and set to low heat once you begin cooking the pork. Add the meat and coat on all sides. Cover and let cook on low heat for 8-9 hours. If desired, rotate the meat halfway through. Remove from the crock pot and let stand for a couple minutes before serving.

The result is flavorful, tender, and addictively good. The French onion soup complements the sweetness of the maple syrup, and works with the ketchup to give it a rich barbeque taste. Have them with baked potatoes and snap peas, and complete this hearty meal the right way.

Recipes – Spanish Tomato Turkey Chili

Spanish Tomato Turkey Chili

I learned the original recipe from my uncle in El Paso, but it’s open to improvisation based on your own tastes. When slow-cooked to perfection, this dish is absolutely amazing. And healthy; the low-sodium, low-fat ingredients are both light and hearty.

1 Pack of Ground Turkey
1/2 Bottle of Sundried Tomato Salad Dressing

Marinade the turkey for anywhere between 1-6 hours. The longer you marinade, the less clumpy your meat. Pepper to taste as you cook the meat. Brown the meat, and set aside once cooked to perfection.

2 cups carrots, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
1-2 tbsp of tomato paste (alt. 1-2 diced tomatoes)

Blend the carrots, pepper. onion and tomato paste, or chop finely and mix thoroughly if without a food processor.

1-2 cups chicken broth

Once the turkey is cooked, add to a 4-quart saucepot. Add the blended carrots, onion and tomatoes. Add 1 cup of chicken broth to the pan you cooked the turkey in to get a flavorful reduction, mix it around to get a nice reduction, and add to the saucepot. Add (as much as) another cup of chicken broth to the saucepot to almost cover the contents. Return to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.

1 cup of olives, chopped
1 cup of raisins
1-2 tbsp of chipotle pepper sauce (opt.)

Add the olives, raisins, and chipotle peppers, and simmer for an hour or longer.

1 can beans (black, kidney, or white)

Add the beans and simmer for an hour or longer.

Add dark beer or coffee to add extra flavor. Exchange 1/2 ratio of chicken broth and add to taste.

The key is to let this simmer (covered) for a while after everything is prepared. To thicken, let it simmer uncovered. This simple recipe has me satisfied on cold nights, and flavors up a nacho dish like you wouldn’t believe!