Personal, Uncategorized

Pork Side Ribs

Cooked up my first rack of side ribs this weekend. Not entirely sure why, but side ribs are much harder to come by around here than back ribs are. It also gave me a chance to try wrapping my smoker in the fibreglass welding blanket I recently bought:

The idea was to add extra heat insulation to keep the pit temps up when the weather gets cold or rainy. The extra length of blanket at the bottom would probably act as a good wind baffle for the intakes, too. Theoretically. Turns out it was quite mild on Sunday and the pit got so hot I had to take the blanket off anyway. I guess I’ll have to do another test soon.

Barbecue is an inexact science. Which is to say that these ribs turned out with a much darker bark than I was expecting, and I’m not sure why. I cooked these at around 275°F, which is quite a bit hotter than the 225°F I usually use to cook back ribs. I didn’t do this on purpose, of course—once the pit got too hot, I abandoned any attempts to get the temperature back down. So maybe the extra heat had something to do with it.

Or perhaps, the darker bark was a product more brown sugar. These ribs tasted sweeter than usual, so I may have used too much brown sugar in the rub. Like I said, inexact science (or human error).

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Stir-Fried Flank Steak and Watercress

Beef and watercress. I don’t know if my mom came up with this combination on her own, but she’s been making it for as long as I can remember. I have mouth-watering memories of it being even better as a left-over dish, the watercress having spent a night in the fridge absorbing all that delicious beefiness. This is my comfort food.

Years ago, my mother showed me how to make some of her staple dishes just before I moved away to go to school. The lessons were brief—I’m not sure if it was because I didn’t have the attention span for such things, or if it was because my mother was only interested in spending the minimal amount of time and energy teaching me how to survive before getting rid of me. Either way, I got the basics down and the recipe has evolved over the years since. This is my version.

Ingredients

(for 1 serving, all measurements approximate)

  • 1/4 – 1/6th of a typical cut of flank steak, depending on the size of a cut. I usually portion out a piece that is the size of large hamburger patty as 1 serving.
I usually cut something like this into 4-6 servings.

I usually cut something like this into 4-6 servings. Even if I’m making more than one serving at a time, I still cut the beef into these long sections so that the final pieces are the size and shape that I want.

Marinade

(for 1 serving of beef)

  • 1 Tbsp. light soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. peanut oil
  • 1 Tbsp. red wine
  • 1/2 Tbsp. corn or potato starch
  • 1/2 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. tarragon
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

Veg

(1 serving)

  • 1 bunch watercress
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • Some salt

Steps

  1. Mix all the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Ensure all the corn/potato starch is well mixed and not clumpy.
  2. Thinly slice (about 1/8th of an inch thick) beef. Make sure you’re cutting against the grain. This is very important to maintain tenderness of the beef.
  3. Put all the slices of beef into the bowl of marinade. Mix it up real good and let sit for a while. Depending on how much time I have on my hands, this could be from 30 minutes to overnight in the fridge.

  4. If you’re going to make a sandwich out of this, chop up the watercress. I don’t cut it if I’m just having it over rice.
  5. Chop up the clove of garlic and heat your wok or pan to medium-high (7/10 on my stove).
  6. Once the wok is hot, put 1/2 Tbsp. of oil in the pan and throw the garlic in.
  7. Add the watercress and season with salt.
  8. Saute watercress for 5 minutes or so, or until the watercress starts releasing a lot of water.
  9. Take the watercress out of the pan and set aside.

  10. Put the pan back on the heat at medium-high.
  11. Add 1/2 Tbsp. of oil into the pan.
  12. Add the beef (if there is a lot of excess marinade try to leave it in the bowl).
  13. Spread the beef out evenly across the wok and sear it.
  14. After a minute or so, turn the slices over and sear their other sides.
  15. After another minute or so, begin stir-frying until the beef is at medium doneness (or however done you want it).

  16. This step is optional: Just before the beef is done, take the watercress and add it back to the pan with the beef. Try not to get too much of the excess water into the pan. Stir briefly to get the beef juices/flavour mixed in with the watercress.
  17. Take beef and watercress and serve over Jasmine rice, or on a bun or however the hell you like it.

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Personal

Trouble is Brewing

My appreciation for good beer has grown by leaps and bounds ever since I got a taste of the fine brews over at Bellwoods Brewery. Most beer companies don’t really try to make anything interesting, they strive only to offend the least number of people possible (how else could you explain the fact that Alexander Keith’s is sold as an India Pale Ale? Sacrilege, I tell you). But at Bellwoods, they are experimenting and exploring and crafting. We once had a beer there that tasted like sourdough bread!

There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of access to really good beers here in Ontario. On our recent trip to Vancouver, that didn’t seem to be a problem (thanks, Peter). We sampled all kinds of delicious brews from all kinds of microbreweries I’d never heard of. But at the LCBO, there just isn’t a lot that gets me excited. Maybe the distribution system in Ontario is to blame. Maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough.

Either way, complaining gets you nowhere but angry. So I’m stepping up my home-brewing game. I’m hoping to brew batches of beer in time intervals that will provide me a constant stream of home-brewed goodness. Pictured above is the third one-gallon batch I’ve ever cooked up. Even the first turned out tastier than most of what can be found at the elceeb. So far, I’m brewing from kits, but I’ve already got the malts and hops for a SMaSH IPA waiting to teach me more about individual ingredients.

Cheers to beers.

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And Nobody Got Food Poisoning

A couple of weekends ago, we had some people over. Fourteen actually, if I’m not mistaken. I hadn’t planned on having such a big group over, but things just kind of happened. In my experience, people don’t typically say no to free BBQ, unless they’re vegetarians. Most of my friends are not vegetarians. So, a lot of people wound up showing. I also hadn’t planned on having this large of an audience for the first time I’d ever cook BBQ for people other than myself and Katie. I had cooked some ribs for my parents the weekend before, but that doesn’t really count—if I’d served them a boiled leather boot, they would have smiled politely and told me it tasted “nice”.

I attempted to slow smoke a pork butt roast and a couple racks of pork back ribs. I say “attempted” because pork shoulder is not something I had ever cooked before. I say “attempted” also because it came out pretty dry. Made an attempt, didn’t clear the bar. I think the problem was the timing of it all. I didn’t have enough time to get the roast through the stall, the point in which the fat and connective tissue in the meat is rendering and melting down, so the meat didn’t make it to that point of falling-apart tenderness.

The stall. (via amazingribs.com)

The stall. (via amazingribs.com)

Anyway, lesson learned. Big hunks of meat need big hunks of time.

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Somehow the above snap was the only one taken of the night. People were too busy eating ribs, I suppose. The ribs were good, I got a lot of positive feedback on them. Ribs, I got locked down. Pork shoulder, needs more practice.

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Personal, Uncategorized

De-clutter

Three barbecues on a condo deck is far too many. At least, that’s the way Katie sees it. We could have so much more room for niceties like actual furniture and decor and guests. In her opinion. I, personally, am more than willing to add a few more grills and pits in various gas-, charcoal- and wood-burning configurations to the collection, but maybe that’s being silly. (At least until the house I live in comes with a proper yard, at which point in time all this will make perfect sense).

But for now, I’ve conceded. We spent a bit of time over the weekend taking pictures and writing descriptions of old barbecues and bikes, and posting them all up on craigslist. We waited for the ensuing onslaught of ridiculous emails that such an activity inevitably brings. Someone emailed Katie with an offer that was $5 under her asking price. Age old tactic of starting low and bargaining up to the true goal—$2.50 under asking. The sneaky bastards.

This could be yours for $50. But not $45.

This could be yours for $50. But not $45.

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I Am The Greatest, I Was The Greatest

Last night I watched the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, Muhammad and Larry. Here is a film about a man over-the-hill, clinging to a quickly dimming greatness. Even if you’re not a boxing fan (I am not), it’s hard not to feel sad when footage of the actual fight is shown—footage showing even Larry Holmes not wanting to continue on with the one-sided fight.

Muhammad and Larry is in some ways an interesting contrast to Thriller in Manila, which portrays Ali not as a tragic hero, but instead as an egotistical, vindictive man caught up in a bitter rivalry with Joe Frazier. From this perspective, it is the greatness of Frazier that we watch slip away as he barely loses a second rematch against Ali.

But I suppose there are a million stories like these—in sports, in life. The pursuit of greatness is perhaps what drives us all.. but that greatness is fleeting, isn’t it?

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Chasing Horizons

I’ve got about a week left until I’m out of a job. On Monday, I gave my two-week notice of resignation, and I don’t even have another job lined up yet. I’m not usually like this. I don’t usually like it when things are so… undefined. But I figured maybe it’s time to take a bit of a risk. The worst thing that could possibly happen is I come crawling back to corporate life and get another soul-crusher of a job.

Well, that’s not entirely true. The worst thing that could happen is I could contract flesh-eating disease and die a horribly slow and painful death, but at least my soul would be intact.

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Bought/Sold Out

“I’ll give you one guess how many people actually give a shit about that,” said my boss. He was looking over my shoulder as I filled out a form on my computer. It was sent to me by our new overlords, Bigcorp.com (not the company’s real name). “ZERO. No one’s ever going to look at it, trust me.”

The company I’ve been employed by for the last four years was recently bought out. It was purchased by a big company. One of the biggest in the world, actually. The form I was filling out was sent to me through the company’s vast email system, from a person I’d never spoken to or even heard of before. She was in the marketing department, she said, and she needed the form back in two days, so she would know where our product fit in with the rest of Bigcorp.com’s offerings. I dutifully filled it out, at least to the best of my ability. Half of the terms that we would now use to describe our software were completely foreign to me. I had to email the mystery sender of the form for clarification on a few of the categories from which I was expected to select.

“I’ll have to look into those,” responded the mystery woman. “Stay tuned!”

That was the last I heard from her, which is now about a month ago. So much for that due date. At least people at Bigcorp.com seemed cheerful.

Now, this has not been a unique experience. Various people I don’t know have emailed me from who-knows-which office of Bigcorp.com telling me that something needs to be done by this day or that week, or that I really must send a pertinent piece of information to so-and-so. And then I never hear from them again. It’s like the company is so big that shit just gets lost in the cracks. The company is huge! Someone else will get around to it. I guess. This same sort of zero-shits-given attitude is spreading to the rest of the people I work with, I can already tell. It’s like a cancer, but instead of attacking your healthy cells, it attacks your sense of purpose in life and makes you lazy. It makes you cheerful, but lazy. Everything is just a little bit too comfortable.

There seems to be a certain kind of anonymity that comes along with working at a super-huge-mega-corp—dealing with faceless emails from people in other timezones doesn’t exactly engender close personal ties. And does that anonymity breed a certain kind of lackadaisical attitude toward doing your job? I don’t know. Maybe. Meh, who cares.

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