Smoked Pork Spareribs (with some sauce, too)

DSC_0009I never really had excellent barbecue until I moved out of the Pacific Northwest for a while.  While going to graduate school in Nevada, I was educated regarding my ignorance of this fine branch of Americana cooking by my colleagues.  The pulled pork and smoked ribs that we were able to get at the local Gate’s Barbecue was unlike anything I had really ever experienced growing up.  Sharp, sometimes sweet flavors from the rubs that they used combined with clean sharp flavor of smoke to make an unforgettable combination.  Sadly, I moved away a never really thought to try and emulate these flavors myself.  A couple of years ago that changed…… 

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Tagine of Clams with Olives and Chilies

Tagine of clams, olives, and chiliesSteamer clams, like the ones pictured above, are a nostalgic food for me and I typically associate them with summer.  You see, summer was the time that my family often spent time camping on the west side of Puget Sound on a body of water called Hood Canal.  Gathering and eating various forms of seafood was always a part of the experience and I spent many happy hours sifting through the beach gravels in search of various types of clams.  We would then take them back to camp, clean them up, and have them steamed with garlic butter, or toss them in the cioppino pot simmering on the fire.

Although a lot can be said for the merits of eating succulent, sweet clams like Manillas or littlenecks with nothing more than a well-seasoned butter sauce, there are simply other things to do with clams.  In this dish, the clams are bathed in a rich and very slightly spicy tomato-based sauce.  Cumin and garlic are accented by the fresh flavors of the red bell pepper and the lightly simmered poblano chili.  … 

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Shrimp Pad Thai with Chicken Sateh

DSC_0076Something that the rest of the country may not know about the Pacific Northwest is just how abundant Thai food is here.  I am not sure why, but the population here has embraced the flavors of southeast Asia with gusto.  Even in my medium sized city, I can choose from about 12 different Thai restaurants that are within 10 miles of my house…and I don’t live in town.  With so many options to choose from, the quality of food that these establishments kick out is usually pretty good since competition is a bit stiff.  One item that is always on the menu is some variant of Pad Thai.

I am really not clear why people here developed such a fever for Thai food; maybe it’s the dismal weather.  I do have a vague recollection of Thai food becoming common place some time in the late 1980’s.  I do know that pad thai was a staple food for me in college, as it was very cheap and highly available in Seattle.  And honestly, there is a lot to love about pad thai.  The fried rice noodles are satisfying, filling, and have a delightful sweet and sour flavor.  The chili and fish sauce accent both the sauce in which the noodles are cooked and the stir-fried ingredients in the dish.  And what a great variety of ingredients there are; you typically get your choice of meat (shrimp, chicken, pork, beef) to go with the array of vegetables and tofu that the cook selected.

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Mapo Tofu

Ma Po TofuSunday’s lunch was a big pile of Sichuan-style food.  Yay!  This main dish is what we cooked to accompany the Dan Dan Noodle, that I mentioned earlier.  Mapo tofu is pretty much a classic.  Hot bean paste is cooked together with ground pork and a grip of oil to really develop some spectacularly rich flavors.  Tofu and, for my version, leeks and mushrooms are simmered in the infused oil and chicken stock to blend and further develop the flavors.  One of the things that I really respect about this tofu dish is that it makes no attempt to be vegetarian.  The originator obviously recognized that, if heavily spiced tofu was good, the same tofu cooked in meat sauce would be better.  The end result is a dish that is very much comfort food.  It is rich, big, and you don’t have to eat a ton of it to fill up…. 

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Lamb and Pork Kefta with Cilantro Dressing

DSC_0046Most people like meatballs.  In fact, I was at Barnes and Noble the other day and found a book devoted entirely to the subject of cooking tasty meatballs of different types.  While I recognize the role of the meatball in providing another way to get meat into someone’s mouth, I don’t believe that you should subject someone to bland food.  Because of the this, the meatballs that I tend to make are a variant on kefta; a spiced ground meat mixture.  Although it is common to see kefta threaded onto skewers and grilled, simmering them in a broth is a good way to cook them as well and leaves the meat nice and moist.  For our meal, we served them over some couscous and with a side of Zucchini and Artichoke Hearts with Charmoula.

There are probably as many different spicing schemes for kefta as there are cooks.  I tend to favor cumin, coriander, and onion as the primary flavors in mine, with the white pepper providing a little bit of heat.  This dish is a little unusual for me in its lack of chili, which I tend to put in most food.  For the meat, I like the taste of lamb, but find that it can be a bit dry if used by itself.  Adding some ground pork really helps out by providing some fat…. 

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