Thursday, January 28, 2016

Fall-to-Pieces Ribs

Ah, kale.
As I suspect you know about me, I’m the kind of person who gorges on kale shakes and soaked almonds and air for three weeks and then, on day 22, I ease off my cleanse with friends at a great bar over a platter of French fries and a platter of nachos and a glass of Zinfandel and a beer. Then, on day 23, at my parents’ house, I virtuously eat a bucket of mashed potatoes, a pork chop the size of my own head, and a very small regular-sized bottle of good chianti. On day 24, we braved 25 inches of snow to walk 34 blocks so that I could eat a Shake Shack fried-chicken sandwich and cheese fries and, because I am virtuous, have long, noisy slurps of everyone’s Heath Bar shake without being a glutton and getting one of my own. “You have a real letter-of-the-law approach to your cleanse being done,” Birdy observed mildly. She did not mention the breach of my alleged vegetarianism that I had taken up partly in solidarity with her and partly because of all the YouTube videos of goats laughing and cows talking existentially about death and marine mammals singing their babies to sleep.

Anyhoo. This is a recipe that is not new, but that I have never posted here, and it is time. Yes, in the spirit of renewed gluttony, it is time. It might be my best-ever recipe. If you like ribs, you cannot not like these ribs. They are even better than the other ribs I have written about, although they are similar. Annoyingly, Michael and Ben slop gloppy sweet barbeque sauce on them, and, sure, feel free. But they’re so good just how they are: dry-rubbed, long-cooked, and mopped with smoke-addled vinegar; not sweet or sticky, but salty, tangy, and falling completely and utterly off the bone into porky sheets and shreds. 

They taste like they spent time in a barbeque pit—but they didn’t. They just hung out in the oven for half the day while you more or less ignored them. In that way, this recipe is in the spirit of a slow cooker, without actually using one—and you get the guilty winter pleasure of having the oven on for hours and hours, warming your kitchen cozily.

Fall-to-Pieces Ribs
Serves 3-8 (depending on the gluttony factor)

A couple of things: baby back are fattier and cook a little more quickly (and sound somehow friendlier) but St. Louis ribs, which is what I’m using here, are meatier and possibly even tastier. I like them both—get whatever’s on sale, or whichever look better. If you have time—and I don’t imagine you do—coat these ribs with the rub, and then let them sit in the fridge for a day or two. I almost never plan that far ahead, but they’re even more insanely good that way. Finally: liquid smoke. I know it’s like the artificial flavoring of the barbecue world, but in its defense, it is a natural product, and it really adds a certain wonderful smoky something here. Also, it’s cheap. Get some!

This recipe can be very easily halved or multiplied.

2 large, meaty racks of baby back or St. Louis ribs (2-2 ½ pounds each)
1 tablespoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 teaspoon celery seeds
2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoons granulated garlic (aka garlic powder)
1/2 cup white vinegar mixed with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon liquid smoke

Make the rub: mash the celery seeds and salt together with a mortar and pestle until the celery seeds looked pretty powdery (or else use celery salt and cut back on the salt a bit). Add the paprika and garlic powder, and stir together well.

Lay each rack of ribs on a large, rimmed baking sheet (I put them on parchment for easier clean-up), then sprinkle them all over with the rub, massage it into both sides. Refrigerate them for a few hours (overnight is ideal) if you can spare the time, otherwise, go ahead and pop them in a 275 oven to bake for 3-4 hours (or 4-5 for St. Louis). The longer the better: you want all the fat and connective tissue melted so that the ribs are falling apart. If at any point the ribs seem to be browning excessively, turn the heat down to 250.

When you suspect that that the ribs are about an hour from being done, brush the vinegar mixture all over the ribs every 15 minutes or so.

When the ribs are truly and totally falling apart (try to lift the rack with a pair of tongs and see if it wants to come apart) they’re done. Use a sharp, heavy knife to cut the racks into individual ribs, give them one last brush with the remaining vinegar mixture, and serve with lots of napkins. (And, if people require, with bottled sauce. Sigh.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Crazy (Good) Latte

You'd drink that, right?
Okay, okay. It’s almost over. I’ll be back next week, soaking my feet in a tub of beer and melted cheese like a normal person. I promise. But I want to share one last weird thing, and it’s this not uncaffeinated morning beverage. As you may know, I’m a huge fan of the placebo effect. I feel like it works beautifully, even if I’m aware of it being the placebo effect, because my brain is excellent at making up its own crazy ideas and exuberantly disseminating them throughout my body. 

Birdy's the kind of person who sits after dinner shredding a clementine peel into a million tiny pieces, and you don't think anything of it until later you go to clear the table and see this. It's like a performative speech act, in citrus.
So. Does the latte really give you enough good, clean energy to bounce off the walls and skip into the library and concentrate on your work? And then not even be tired later? Yes. Or: I’m convinced that it does, and so it does. Plus, it’s creamy and a little bit sweet and deliciously bitter, with just the barest whiff of green tea’s driftwood-and-rotting-seal-corpse aroma. And there is caffeine in it. The “good kind.” Or whatever.
I got the idea for the latte from this book The Plantpower Way, which I checked out of the library and which stars a large and lovely Los Angeles houseful of vegan ultramarathoners who are so fit and attractive that you kind of meanly want to send them a package of anonymous Ding Dongs in the mail. Because you’re small like that. But I like looking at the book and getting healthy ideas and acute house envy from it. Plus, whenever the kids feel like I sound nuts on my cleanse, I can read aloud sentences like, “Optimize the many benefits of kale by massaging it with loving intentions,” and then they realize that there’s a solid tradition of vibrant craziness supporting my dietary choices, and that my outbursts—“This green olive is the most fantastic thing I have ever eaten!” or “But I can’t culture the cashews until the rejuvelac is done fermenting!”—are relatively benign, or at least have some context.

p.s. I wrote this!

"No, actually, this. I mean, that green olive was great, but *this* is the best thing I have ever eaten." Miso and avocado on a rice cake with a squeeze of lemon. Right? (Okay, it's no brown-butter lobster roll, but it is seriously good.)

Crazy (Good) Latte
Matcha is a powdered Japanese green tea with reputed health benefits. I hate it, but love how it makes me feel. You could substitute a cup of brewed coffee for the matcha and water, and, yes, this would be a morally inferior drink, but you’d still get all the wonderful nutrients from the date, nuts, and cocoa. Or use just water and call it “hot cocoa” and it will be delicious.

1 heaping tablespoon cocoa powder (Or cacao, if spelling it that way and spending a thousand extra dollars on it makes you feel happy. I actually bought some, and it made me feel like a Portlandia character, yes, but not especially happy. But now I sound like my dad, who says things like, “As far as I can tell, the organic apples taste exactly the same.” I think there may indeed be health benefits to cacao's rawness.)
1 pitted date (decadent!)
1 heaping tablespoon raw almonds or raw cashews, ideally soaked in water overnight
1 teaspoon matcha (powdered Japanese green tea)
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
A few drops almond extract (optional)
1 cup freshly boiled water

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend on high until fully blended and frothy, about two minutes, if you blender can take it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Clean Green Soup

Thank you so much for your interest in the cleanse. (Maybe I should have started this post “Dear Sirs.”) I won’t go on at length about the details of it, because if you’re going to follow one in an orthodox way, you should probably check a book out of the library or sign up with a website or something. But I will explain my interest, in part to dispel any misconceptions about what I think a cleanse is or can do. For me, the idea is not really to detox in some magical way, whereby, thanks to a few days of snorting cayenne or whatever, my cells release all their ancient heavy-metal alchemy experiments and my colon suddenly disgorges piles of decades-old shit it’s been hoarding in its nooks and crannies. No. It’s more about resetting my baselines with regards to my many dietary passions, which include, but are not limited to, bread and cheese, buttered toast, coffee with half and half, chips and crackers, pizza, cheese without bread, and alcohol in all its many lovely forms. I love these foods passionately and do not wish to permanently stop consuming them. But come the end of December, I need to take a break so that, later, I can really appreciate one glass of pinot noir and two lovely pieces cheese, rather than drinking the whole barrel and eating the entire wheel and then scrounging around for more. And also my horrible old-lady acne, and how it goes completely away while I’m eating like this. And also energy, which I enjoy buckets of. Sigh.

Thee years in, though, I have a few tips to share:
  •       Coconut cream (the kind you buy in a can at Trader Joe’s) actually does a decent job of lightening your horrible not-coffee drinks, such as Tee-cino or Roastaroma. Decant the can into a mason jar, and keep it in the fridge.
  •       Have on hand an exciting little snack that you love (this year it is Trader Joe’s Truffle Marcona Almonds) and a little something lovely that you can pour an inch of into a wine glass at the end of the day (Red Jacket Tart Cherry Stomp from—prepare to cash out your retirement fund—Whole Foods).
  •      Pan-fried chickpeas make salads, and life, way more festive.
  •      Raw cashews are your friend, especially if you soak them. I’ve made, like, a million versions of this "cheese", served it with these crackers, and have been completely satisfied.
  •      A little square of dark chocolate never killed a person. 

Look, it’s not for everyone. As Ben put it, “I think the only cleanse I could really handle would be designed by the good folks at Frito-Lay.” And I know you know this, but if this is all driving you crazy, click on the recipe index and find one of the many molten-cheese or molten-pork recipes that are lying around here. There are plenty, I promise.

Clean Green Soup
Serves 1

I wanted to call this “Smooth Green Soup,” to alert you to the fact that it’s really a smoothie masquerading as soup, but then it sounded too much like what my kids used to call, with respect to prunes and bran cereal, a “pooping food.” It is surprisingly savory and rich and delicious and, whether or not the energy comes from my head and what it thinks this food is doing for me, the energy comes. I really don’t presume you have sauerkraut lying around, but oh, if you do, it’s so good in here. I bet that other pickled things would be good too, but I haven’t tried. And if you’re eating dairy, a little spoonful of plain yogurt would be a lovely garnish.

1 cup newly boiled water
1 tablespoon mellow miso
¼ cup sauerkraut or 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 smallish handful each: spinach, arugula, chopped kale (3 handfuls of one type is fine; watercress would be great too)
2 tablespoons almonds, soaked in water for a couple of hours or overnight
½ an avocado
1 small, leafy celery stalk, chopped
1 garlic clove
Salt to taste

Put everything in your blender and blend until blended. (That is such a terrifically terrible sentence that I’m leaving it.) But I do mean really, really blended. Taste and add more salt if it needs it.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

(Clean Clean) Blueberry Pie Smoothie

Last night I dreamed that I went to the kids' school and a gorgeous, glowing teenager ran up to me to ask me about my skin and why it was so pretty. Since usually my dreams involve the wrong subway and the wrong-size token and me with a stump for a hand, and since my waking life actually involves skin that looks like a fossilized elephant's leg that got turned into a pot holder, I took this to be a good, if ridiculous, sign about the state of my psyche.

Oh, it is hard for me to move on from gravlax. Because it was the holidays! And it was the best! And I wanted it to get cold, and now it is finally cold, only the kids are back at school and my all-cheese diet has come to a sorry end, so where’s the fun in that? Just cold work days? Please. Plus, longish-time readers may know that this is the brutal, boring three weeks of my life called The Cleanse. No coffee, alcohol, dairy, sugar, meat, or wheat. Just mugs of seaweedy green teas and frothing cashew whatevers that are terrible, terrible, terrible, until they’re suddenly not, and then you worry about the kind of person you’re becoming. The kind of person who likes a nice hot drink that tastes like tilapia and the swamp in which it laid its eggs. The kind of person who says things like, “Oooh, maybe I’ll treat myself to a date!” which Birdy cannot stop making fun of me for, because that is a thing I actually said. 

Remember this old friend?

The children turn cruel and unhelpful, feeling, as they do, abandoned to their hot buttered rye toast and maple-glazed donuts and clothbound cheddar by their usually fun and food-loving mother-turned-nun. “Want some FETA on your salad?” Birdy asked last night, like a naughty baby. “Want a bite of my ICE CREAM?” Yes. And yes. But no. I nursed an inch of cherry juice in a wine glass and admired my own energy level, which, I’m sorry to report, is high. “Eat this,” Ben said, pushing a candy cane into my face. “Eat it.” Who are these people? But when I threaten to cheat, they turn encouraging, so I know they’re on my side. Deep down, at least.

Alarmingly named "kelp noodles" with veggies, cilantro, and a Trader Joe's salmon burger, cut up so it looks fancy.

Oh, clean eating. It’s kind of great. I kind of hate it. I might write more about it, depending on your interest. Because there are actually clean things I can get away with feeding the family, such as rice-noodle soups and grain bowls and cashew cheese (!). And it’s all very high-fat and umami, laced as it is with nuts and avocado and coconut oil, with nutritional yeast and miso. As far as self-created problems go, it’s an excellent one.

A bad picture of last night's excellent dinner: rice with fried chickpeas, roasted chipotle-lime butternut squash, arugula, and pumpkin seeds. The sauce is tomatillo salsa whirred in the blender with cilantro and raw cashews, and it might be the best sauce I ever made. Just saying.
Meanwhile, this smoothie. It is simply fantastic, cleanse or no. It actually tastes startlingly like blueberry cheesecake, but then again the last normal thing I ate was a 9- by 13-inch casserole of artichoke dip on New Year’s Eve, so I may not be the best judge. Still, it is rich and creamy, tangy and nutty and deeply satisfying. I really think so. The particular regimen I follow has you drinking a smoothie for breakfast, hence all the fat and protein. If you were going for a lighter snack-type thing, you could eliminate some of the nuts.

Ben's bowl had more romaine lettuce than anything else, but hey, he was satisfied! Just kidding. He ate an entire package of deli turkey afterwards.

Happy new year from my cold, clean world where you feel the exact same way all day long from morning to night. Sigh.


The greens turn things a little browner, if you know your color mixing. 

Blueberry Pie Smoothie
Makes 2 servings

If you have a high-powered blender, definitely add the greens. We just got one, and I can’t believe the extent to which greens disappear into a smoothie. Otherwise, add the greens only if you don’t mind the flecks. The dates are for sweetness; add a different sweetener if you prefer.

1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup almond milk, coconut milk, or normal milk like a normal person
A tablespoon or two of toasted pecans (optional)
¼ cup almonds, ideally soaked in water overnight and then drained
1 heaping tablespoon almond butter
Pinch of salt (if the almond butter is unsalted)
1 tablespoon vanilla (Turns out, I am the kind of person who sneaks booze into my smoothie.)
The juice and grated zest of half a lemon
2 pitted dates
A small handful of spinach or kale (optional)

Put all the ingredients in a blender jar and whir them together until smooth, 1-2 minutes.