The big payback

There are favors, then there are the kinds of favors that save you $500 on car repairs. A friend did one of those sorts of favors for me and all he asked for was dinner. It was not a burger-level favor, so it required more than a burger-level dinner. After some debate and noting his and his wife’s preferences (they’re charter members of the Carnivore Club), I decided on the ever-impressive standing rib roast. With it, I made pan-roasted rosemary potatoes, asparagus salad with sesame dressing and green beans tossed in olive oil, ginger, garlic and shallots. A smooth Cotes du Rhone in the glasses.

I made a blueberry pie for dessert using blueberries I froze last summer. And there was the problem. In my speed to get things ready, I didn’t thaw them out first. Beneath the nicely browned crust was blueberry soup. But my friends poured it over vanilla coconut milk ice cream (purchased for the dairy-allergic Hub), and after a few accompanying sips of cognac and Godiva chocolate liqueur, we hardly noticed.

Messing up the pie really bugged me, so I consulted my neighbor, the Queen of Pie. She verified that not thawing – and completely draining – the frozen blueberries was likely the problem. She said I might even need to cook them down a bit before putting them in the pie, although I’d like to avoid that to keep the fresh flavor. I will retry the pie until perfection is achieved. It’s just how I roll.

A bouncing baby brisket

I was going through my box of recipes recently, and found a recipe for brisket. I’d clipped it from a magazine with some intention in mind, but I had never cooked it. In fact, I’d never cooked a brisket at all. I pulled out the recipe and decided to use it.

The first trial was finding brisket. It’s not a common cut in your average supermarket meat bin. I found one at a Harris Teeter, but it was very thin. Brisket I’ve eaten in the past was thicker. I moved on to The Meat House, where I had a choice between the flat and the tip, which was the thicker portion I was looking for.

Brisket is fairly fatty. I trimmed off what fat I could see (noting in the process that my knives badly need sharpening). I believe I would trim even more when I cook this again. Be ruthless. No matter how much you take off, there’s more fat in there.

Here’s the recipe, which was delightful. I can’t say where it came from, other than a magazine. I would add that I did not cook my brisket for four hours – three hours was enough. There’s nothing worse, to me, than an overcooked brisket.

GG’s Brisket

1 (4 pound) beef brisket

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons pepper

All-purpose flour

2 tablespoons butter or margarine (I used olive oil, worked fine)

2 cups strong brewed coffee

2 cups dry white wine

2 cups ketchup

Trim fat from brisket and discard. Sprinkle brisket evenly with salt and pepper, and dredge in flour. Melt the butter (or heat olive oil) in a large skilled over medium-high heat. Add brisket and brown on both sides. Transfer to a covered roasting pan.

Whisk together coffee, wine and ketchup. Pour over brisket.

Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 4 hours (I baked for 3) or until tender, basting occasionally with pan juices. Remove brisket, reserving drippings. Cut brisket with a sharp knife across grain into thin slices.

Strain the drippings and discard the fat and solids. Serve hot drippings with brisket.

Headed South

The pit was dug, the fire department appeased, a row of old theater seats set up for the all-night pitmasters, the wood burned down to perfumed embers. All that remained on the night before the final feast of the Southern Foodways Alliance’s annual  symposium was to add the future centerpieces of the meal: Cow heads. Pit-cooked Barbacoa de Cabeza, if it sounds better to you.

The leap from Mexican barbacoa to the South’s beloved barbecue is but a small one, and that was the point of the Oxford, Ms. event. The symposium, “The Global South,” showed once again that the South is not an easily characterized mass of fried chicken and pecan pie. As a talk by Tom Hanchett, historian of the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, N.C., put it in his talk, we’re more of a salad bowl than a melting pot. Vietnamese fishermen in Louisiana, Chinese grocers in Arkansas, Southern food embraces it all while allowing each to keep their own identities.

But what y’all really want to know is: What did the beef taste like? (No brains, just lovely cheek meat.) It was the smoothest, most tender beef I’ve ever tasted. The shreds sat on top of corn tortillas with a drizzle of crema and an avocado-tomatillo sauce. It was so good, I almost didn’t mind missing the tequila tasting (the line was too long), but considering my past history with the beverage, maybe that was good. There were lighted candles on the tables.

During the weekend, I also traveled culinarily to Florida with lunch by Miami chef Michelle Bernstein, a one-woman salad bowl herself who blends Argentinian and Jewish ancestry. Her lunch menu ranged from fried chicken to Shrimp and Sweet Potato Ceviche, something I think of as being very Miami but with the curve ball of the Southern spud.