Eddie Harris and Ellis Marsalis have a song on their album "Homecoming" called Out of this World. I think the album and the song are the perfect description of the food from this weekend.
There were a couple of goals we needed to keep in mind with our cooking at this gathering. Although we wanted fabulous food, we didn’t want to spend all day indoors making the food. The first priority was to spend time outside on the dock, in a boat, or on the porch. We also had two young boys to feed. And although they are omnivorous, this wasn’t the place for fussy-time consuming food.
Since Bob was our host – he put the menus together. Of course, part of the get-together tradition is bringing something from home to share with the group. The “from home” component is usually a secret – and so it’s always interesting to see how it will blend in with the set menu.
The first day – there was a lovely cold chunky chicken salad with grapes awaiting us for lunch. That night – we kind of kicked around what to do for dinner. Chris wasn’t there yet – and it was kind of a catch-as-catch can meal. We took inventory numerous times and finally settled on (pre-made) whole-wheat pasta with frozen broccoli, garlic, and red-pepper flakes. Although it was quick and easy (and not entirely from scratch) – it was delicious. Of course – the fact that we were sitting on the deck – looking out at the river and the night lights of Brockville, Canada could have added just that special touch of flavor.
Day two – we knew Chris would be arriving – but not ‘till midnight or later. So he missed out on the fantastic ribs Bob had pre-cooked. And let me tell you. These were A-1 ribs. He’d smoked them during the week. Prior to smoking – the ribs were coated with a dry-rub – that among other things had a little bit of brown sugar, salt, and cayenne. As they cooked, he slathered them with a vinegar mop (‘cause he was also making a Carolina-style pork butt). When he warmed them up that night – he added some Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Sauce – spiked with honey, plus had it on the side as a dipping sauce. It caramelized nicely on the ribs – and added just enough zing to make your eyes light up. (Of course, we were eating pork – so you know my eyes were already twinkling.) I have no idea what side dishes we had that night – the ribs and the HOMEMADE MILE-HIGH blueberry pie just overwhelm my internal memory card.
The blueberries were superb – and it’s amazing they made it into the pie. They were big, juicy globules of delight. Sweet with a bit of tart. SpecificKidlet2 is a huge fruit eater - and how she managed to keep him from devouring this whole bucket of berries is beyond me. Mrs. Specific seemed to think she should have cooked them down slightly before putting them in the crust – as the finished filling was a little bit loose – but I think the fact that we were eating the pie while it was STILL WARM might have had something to do with the runny goodness. It’s a good thing Chris showed up when he did. ‘Cause I don’t think we could have waited much longer to indulge. As it is, I think the boys wanted to claim child abuse as we sent them to bed without dessert. (However, who can complain about blueberry pie for breakfast?)
Saturday morning Chris unloaded his bounty from home. And what a wealth of goodness he brought. If you go over to Metro Farming, you’ll see the haul.
For breakfast Saturday morning we had real New York bagels topped with a cream cheese & pimento stuffed green olive spread and cracked black pepper. I was dubious about the olive/cream cheese combo – until I stuffed it in my face. Generally I think it’s rude to make pig snorking sounds as you eat – but I really wanted Mrs. Specific to know she had an instant convert.
Snack-time that night was a platter full of anti-pasta goodness. Sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil drizzled with olive oil from the amazing Cherry Popper concoction Chris brought in his basket of goodies. The poppers were hot cherry peppers stuffed with sharp provolone cheese and prosciutto ham. They were in a large glass jar filled with good olive oil, additional sweet and hot peppers, and fresh Oregano and Basil from his herb garden. Nestled into this bounty were little nuggets of pepper-crusted dry salami. Mmmm-mmm. For my minor contribution I added freshly roasted North Carolina peanuts from Wilson United Methodist Church.
That all sounds so yummy, you wouldn’t think we’d have room for dinner. WRONG. It was the night that we crossed the boarders – and had a North Carolina night. I was feeling slightly silly – for only have brought the peanuts – but my other offering to the weekend turned out to be a hit – and frequently used.
I brought the hosts “A Love Affair with Southern Cooking” by Jean Anderson. This is the most delightful book. Not only is it full of southern recipes, but it is matched with reminiscences on southern food, and southern food products too. Interested in the origin of Little Debbie cakes? Cheerwine cola? Kentucky Fried Chicken? This is the place to get the story.
I used it to make “Bar-b-que coleslaw" to accompany our pulled pork sandwiches. The coleslaw was great – as it is a marinated vinegar version which skips the gloppy mayonnaise/Miracle Whip debate all together. We also had the amazing handmade cavatelli (pictures in yesterday's post) which benefited from Chris’ garden – and a plunder of items from the Philly Italian markets. Besides oil cured olives there were lovely smoky sardines, tomatoes, garlic, and fresh herbs. It was a perfect summer sauce. Light, flavorful and colorful – with the tomato chunks intact. Mmmm. It might SEEM like an odd accompaniment to pulled pork, but let me tell you. No one skimped on their serving size – nor going back for seconds or thirds. Of course – we were all trying to save a little corner of our stomachs for the peach bumble made by Mrs. Specific. (A bumble is closely related to a cobbler or crumble.)
Sunday morning we finished off the last of the bagels – and continued on with the water fun. For dinner that night (after the daring water rescue) we had chicken jambalaya. It was a quick and easy thing to throw together since Bob had pre-poached the chicken earlier in the week and reduced the stock. I played sous-chef and diced the trinity – then stepped back as the shredded chicken, broth, patty-pan squash (courtesy of Chris), and tomatoes were melded into a wonderfully satisfying mixture of spicy goodness. It’s amazing that any of the smoked sausage or shrimp actually made it into the pot – as there were many hands dipping in to taste ithem before they went in, “just one more time!” The recipe we used was a combo from the Jean Anderson book – and something Bob had earmarked on-line. (And much better than I was expecting – as I had seen a box of Zatarain’s Jambalaya on the counter when I first arrived – and had been trying to tell myself that IF Bob was going to use that as his base for this recipe, I would just shut my mouth and drink more of his beer. However, it was a needless worry, as the whole meal was from scratch.)
Our dessert also came from “A Love Affair” and I think we are all now smitten with the coconut sweet potato pudding made with fat, sugar, more lovely fat, and another scoop of sweetness.
And now I must revisit the pulled pork. Mmmm – smoky, tender, long shreds of pork (which I like better than chopped) with just enough vinegar bite to keep you awake. Although Bob isn’t southern, I’m sure no one down here south of the Mason-Dixon line would kick him out of their kitchen or ban him from their smoker if he offered to contribute this to the table.
And then there was the beer. Homebrewed beer. Award winning beer. There were three delightful choices. A Belgian ale, an IPA, and … (a pilsner?) I’ll have to get THE SPECIFICS from him. I can however tell you that they were all uniformly delicious, cool, frosty, and thirst quenching. And clearly good enough to put water rescues on hold. <huge smile> (And now I have the specifics to share!) There was an American Cream Ale, brewed to historic strength and hop levels suggested by records from breweries before prohibition, an IPA with hops from the Pacific Northwest, and an experimental Imperial Stout which included some "Kafe" malt, roasted to match a coffee-like flavor profile. (The Imperial Stout was my favorite!)
I’m sure there are many more lovely things we nibbled on and that graced our plates. I’m only sorry that I can’t send you all a sample – and that you weren’t there to gain the full ambiance of sunsets, laughter, music, love, and friendship. My best piece of advice is if you’re ever invited to one of our gatherings – you better jump on the invite, like a chicken on a June bug!
How fitting that I write this on “Food Wednesday”? Go – find your favorite recipe – steep yourself in it’s history and taste love.