Sunday, July 22, 2012

Too Much Zucchini? Try Enchiladas.

If you maintain a garden during the summer and happen to have made the decision to plant a few zucchini plants, then chances are it is coming in faster than you can handle. Or, perhaps you know or work with someone who keeps giving it to you ... either way, after frying it and using it in a few sautees you may feel like you're running out of options.

But alas -- there is a host of things that can be done with the tenacious zucchini, from pizza to calzones to pickling to pastas to veggie sandwiches.

Below illustrates is a great and simple way to enjoy them in enchiladas. As always, adjust portions as needed -- this will made about eight enchiladas.


- 1 package flour or whole wheat tortillas, soft taco size (burrito tend to be too large, giving you an excess of bread)
- 1 or 2 medium zucchini, cubed
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 cup black beans (drained)
- 1 avocado, cubed
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- Salsa verde

It's summertime and it's hot, so get a damn cold drink and preheat the oven to 425. Then, get a shallow baking dish and lightly coat it with olive oil to prevent sticking. Then, place a small amount (a 1/2 cup or so) of the salsa verde on the bottom of the pan, spreading it around.

Prep vegetables, keeping each separate. Remove tortillas from package, plate and heat in a microwave for 20-30 seconds, until they are warm and pliable (you could also use an oven or grill, just make sure you wrap them in foil if you do so to prevent hardening or burning).

Next, fill each tortilla by adding small amounts of cheese, onion, beans, zucchini and avocado. It's usually good to start with cheese and onion on the bottom, then add the rest of the ingredients except salsa and cilantro. Eyeball your portions, giving a decent amount of filling but taking care not to overfill the tortillas, as they will tear when you fold them.

Roll each tortilla by first folding the edges and then rolling it up so that the filling is trapped inside. Place each side-by-side in baking dish. When they are all in, top with salsa verde and shredded cheddar as shown below.

Place in the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes. Check periodically to make sure the tortillas start to become crispy but not burnt or hard. When finished, remove and let stand for 5 minutes.

Top them with chopped cilantro and serve with sour cream, hot sauce and perhaps some arugula or pea shoots (yes, try some different greens for a change).

Today's music: The Mars Volta

Technology: put down that smart phone and go outside. Go to the pool. Ride a bike. Do some yard work. Grill out. Or at least sit under an umbrella with a drink and enjoy the summer. If it's too hot outside, go in and cook something!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summertime Barbecue: Spare Ribs

Ribs are a great, simple and messy summertime dish that despite their simplicity can be tricky to do well. The most important ingredients is TIME.

When we get accustomed to grilling steak, pork chops, swordfish and the like, it's easy to get into the short-range grilling mindset. When it comes to ribs, often the task becomes an exercise in patience -- we feel that after 20 minutes the meat should be done ... but alas that is not the case here.

A large rack of spare ribs will need at least an hour+ (up to 90 minutes) on the grill at medium-high heat. Different grills vary, as do racks of ribs. If your grill burns very hot, this can be done largely hood-up, though lowering the hood for portions of the cook time can get things done faster. Further, because of the bone structure of spare ribs, using a meat thermometer is not completely reliable; in this case, simply find the thickest part of the meat, get the thermometer in there best you can (taking care not to push it all the way through, but get it settled firmly in the flesh), and keep an eye on it each time you flip the rack ... chances are, the temperature will read hotter on one side than the other. The lower temp reading will be closer to the truth.

This recipe is an easy one: a large rack of pork spare ribs, and a simple homemade barbecue sauce to baste with while grilling. If there is an off-the-shelf variety you like, it is easily substituted ... but seriously, don't you want to learn something new?

- One large rack pork spare ribs (7-10 lbs)
- Kosher salt and black pepper (moderate amount to rub into raw meat)
- Simple Barbecue Basting Sauce: 1 cup organic ketchup, 1 tbsp cider vinegar, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 2 tbsp mustard, 2 tbsp hot sauce (habanero or cayenne-based both work well), salt and pepper to taste (they will bind everything together). Adjust proportions accordingly if you like it spicier, or if you want to make larger or smaller amounts. This recipe works for the rack size we're using here.

Ribs tend to pair well with lighter side dishes, such as grilled asparagus, peppers, onions or other light fare. Light-bodied beer or cold white wine tend to be good accompaniments.


First, set rack out so that it reaches room temperature. Then, prepare sauce by combining ingredients into a saucepan on low heat. Mix well and stir occasionally until it starts to bubble.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Heat grill to medium-high heat. While that is working, coat the ribs with a small amount of salt and pepper, rubbing them into the flesh of the meat. When ready, insert thermometer in meat as directed above, and place on the center of the grill. Turn approximately every ten minutes or so. When grill marks start to appear, it's time to start basting.

With your pan of sauce at your side, use a grill brush to spread the sauce over one side of the rack, and after it's next turn, the other. Don't use it all at once ... keep enough to baste at least a few more times. Ideally, you want enough sauce left for a final basting right before the rack comes off the grill.

When do you know they're done? As stated before, meat thermometers aren't that reliable, though if you have one it's better than nothing. When done, the meat exterior will take on a slightly blackened, crispy quality, but not to the point of being burned through. And, taking note of the rack's weight and the temperature you're cooking at will give you a good sense of when it will be done. Here is a nice guide for different methods of checking doneness:

When done, remove rack from the grill and let stand for about 10 minutes. Then you're ready to pull one off and try it ... and if successful, another ... and another.