Saturday, December 01, 2007

Food—Philosophically.... Part 1

<--This is Miss B.. on a box!
(photo has nothing to do with the rest of the post!)

This post is not about madelaines, but spareribs..

The Mole that was featured as an idea for turkey left overs on Sonya blog,was actually served as part of Thanksgiving Day dinner.. (not the next day!)

It was part of a wonderful feast of food that included home made tortilla's, fresh roasted pepitas (ie, pumpkin/squash seeds)--as a garnish for the homemade pumpkin soup, heirloom tomato salad, and black beans, and salsa. All reflective of DIL and son's philosophy about the use of fresh, local foods. It was an impressive amount of cooking (and I ate a bit of everything!) and all of it was good--and much of it was spicy, hot and flavorful.

I love spicy/flavorful foods--they are a real change from most of the foods I at as a child.

As a child, was a picky eater--made worse because I seem to like all the foods my mother disliked, and to dislike all of her favorites. The vegetables I liked rarely made it to the table, and the vegetables that did make it to the table, were ones I disliked (and for the most, part still do!)

I love onions, she hated them!
I love nuts (and seeds) and she hated them.
She loves french cut green beans. They make me gag.
The list goes on.. and only rarely is there a food that we both liked.

It was not a match made in heaven.

My mother was a picky eater, too, (she is a bit less so now, but I suspect she still is reluctant to try new foods) I am less reluctant than I was as child to try new foods, but I am hardly an adventurous eater--and of the many of the new foods I do try, there are still ones don't like--(well I don't like enough to make for myself.).

But I love spicy food.
For most of my childhood, the basic (and often only seasoning) used were salt and pepper.

One very strong memory, though, is of spicy hot bar-b-q spare ribs.

I don't know who convinced my mother to first try bar-b-q ribs. I only know she did.

She rarely tried new foods and was very skeptical about spicy ones.. but somehow, some one
convinced her, and low and behold, She loved them.

And so started the great bar-b-q bake off—since not only did she like them, but so did my dad, and so did we kids, she realize she had found a winner.. a food we all liked (which guaranteed one night with out the dreaded whine “Do I have to eat it? I don't like it!” from some child (there were 5 of us!)

Well it was off look for a recipe... I am pretty sure, the original recipe came from Redbook magazine. My mother subscribed to Redbook, and no other womans magazine. She didn't always buy Woman's Day or Family Circle—these and others womans magazine I learn to read at relatives—and she owned, as best I can recall, only 1 cook book.

The recipe, perhaps from an article labeled “bar-b-q-ing with out a grill” featured what is now called “Carolinian” style bar-b-q .. The meat is slowly braised (boiled/steamed) in a spiced, lightly sweetened vinegar, then it is removed, let cool, while the sauce is reduced, and de-fatted.

Then the meat is reheated under a broiler--it only needs to be reheatd, because it has been completely cooked in the vinegar and spice mix. While reheating, it is glazed with the 'reduced sauce'.

Because it is fully cooked, it only needs to be lightly broiled, the meat doesn't dry out and glaze doesn't burn either, but just lightly caramelizes. The braised meat is seasoned through out. The glaze just adds another layer of flavor.

The recipe she found has a huge list of, what where to her, and us, exotic spices—Most were fairly common every day items in most kitchens, but not in ours.. Items like: garlic powder, cayenne, chili powder, as well as other exotic things like molasses, and corn syrup. Even apple cider vinegar was a new and different change from the standard white vinegar that was our household staple.

Each was purchased specifically for the ribs. Each was measured out.. the recipe was followed to the T—an other exceptional activity, since cooking with these spices was a totally new experience for my mother.

The meat—racks and racks of meaty spareribs (my dad was a butcher, and we never lacked for meat in my childhood) - were cooked covered, in a slow oven (about 250° F) for hours, then the sauce was poured off, chilled, de-fatted, and reheated, and reduced. As dinner time approached, the house began to smell wonderful! Under the stove broiler, the glazed meat got dark and crisp, it looked and smelled better than anything my mother had cooked before. Everyone was looking forward to the dinner.

The Ribs?
They were hotter than hellfire—especially to our palates-- so unaccustomed to spice food--but--and this is the best part--We devoured them.

With every bite, we took a swig of milk or soda or water, to help clear our palate... and then we ate some more! We complained “These are too hot to eat” and in the next breath, asked, “Can I have some more?”

The recipe was an absolute failure-- and a resounding success.
Even my mother ate them.

There were, in spite of our complaints about them being 'too hot', none left over. The bones of every rack were picked bare, the plates were wiped clean.

We sat back in our chairs at the end of them meal complaining about our seared tongues.. after having all but licked any remaining sauce of our plates!

We were bloated with food and fluid, and finally my mother spoke up.

NEXT TIME, she said, the next time, I am just going to use ¼ of the amount of spices called for!

And there was a next time, and with all the spice reduced, the ribs were flavorful, still a bit hot, but much milder.

Bar-b-q-ed ribs became one of my mothers signature dishes.. Everyone raved about them. Any time she made them, for parties or family get together's, they disappeared in seconds.

They were always flavorful, tender and moist--the meat falling of the bones. They were nicely spicy with out being searingly hot (after a while she realize it was the cayenne pepper, more than the paprika, or the chili powder that added the heat, and she used it sparingly.)

Everyone raved about my mothers recipe for ribs!

Those ribs were my first taste of hot spicy food.. and they created for me, a favorable associations.. for ever after, I felt confident saying.. “I like spicy food” and I went on from there to enjoy chili, and Indian foods, and Mexican foods, and all sort of other spice cuisines.

My palette is still tuned to milder (less heat) chilies and spices than hot ones--but good spicy food is flavorful, not just hot. And it is still a favorite!


Sonya said...

Mmmmm, spare ribs, my secret lover. The image of the swigs of milk - wonderful! Have you considered taking a memoir writing class? I always enjoyed workshops. Do it, do it Helen!

Anonymous said...

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