Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Doin' the Wheat Free Mambo

Paul and I got invited to brunch this past Sunday, the kind where we all bring something wonderful. Being an artiste, I prefer to decide on what to bring based on inspiration. Mac and cheese isn't a normal brunch dish, which makes it appealing to me, and I recently saw a recipe for mac and cheese with pancetta! Now that got my motor running! Throw in the fact that Boudin SF is serving mac and cheese with crab and I'm clicking! There's just one glitch - one of our party can't eat wheat. At all. Since nine years ago I was doing the wheat free mambo myself (and man did I get tired of it), it was no problemo.

You will also notice there is no cheddar cheese in this recipe. That is because sharp, aged cheeses are a major migraine trigger for me and many others. Therefore I play around with non-aged cheese like jack, fresh goat, feta, fresh mozzarella. Sonoma pepper jack is a real fave of mine currently.

Here's my wheat free version of mac and cheese for a party. You can reduce the fat by using 2% milk instead of whole, and substituting neufchatel cream cheese for the mascarpone. Goat cheese has fewer fat grams and calories than most cheeses and adds a nice tanginess. This dish serves 10.


4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided
4 ounces sliced pancetta (Italian bacon), coarsely chopped (sliced 1/8 to 1/4" thick)
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/8 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup white rice flour
3 1/2 cups (or more) whole milk
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated pepper jack cheese
1 cup fresh goat cheese, broken up into chunks
1 - 8 ounce container mascarpone cheese (Italian cream cheese)
1/2 cup crab meat (optional)
1 pound brown rice penne pasta or other gluten free pasta such as quinoa

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and brown until crisp, about 6 minutes. Add onion, saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add crushed red pepper and garlic and stir 1 minutes. Stir in 3 tablespoons butter, melt, and add rice flour, stirring 1 minute. Gradually whisk in 3 1/2 cups milk, simmer until thick and coat back ot spoon, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in all 3 cheeses. Whisk in remaining milk - sauce should be pourable but thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

I made the sauce the night before and cooled it down fast before refrigerating by scraping sauce into a steel bowl and setting the bowl in a bath of ice water. After cool, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Bring back out when ready to use and let come to room temperature for no longer than an hour.

Preheat oven to 350°, butter a 13x9x2 baking dish. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender - do not overcook!!! Drain well, pour pasta back in pot and add sauce, stirring to coat thoroughly. Pour mixture into baking dish and if using, press tablespoonsful of crab into the mac mixture - don't mix it in. Bake 30 minutes or until bubbly and a little crusty.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

You Don't Have to be Southern to BBQ Pulled Pork

As a kid in Central California, what I now know to be grilling we used to call barbecue. We used Grandma Brown's charcoal grill; kindling and newspaper was our method for getting the coals going. I was never much good at the process and my firebug brother Steve loved to poke kindling in the coals and get his own little fires going. Sweet. We grilled hamburgers, chicken and steak, a little boring, really. Browning marshmallows over the coals was cool though. I/we were clueless about real barbecue.

Off and on I get a yen for a real smoker, not our gas grill, and I almost bought a medium sized one this summer. Then the fires started raging across California and I decided to stay with our safe, less polluting, old and delapidated gas grill. You see, for the last five years, occasionally I have been smoking pork shoulder for get togethers and you can't really get a good smoke on with a gas grill. I get hickory chips, soak them overnight, then place then in foil packets which are placed on the hot rack. They eventually get hot enough to burn and preferably smoke, and transfer smoke flavor to the meat. It's really not a great solution, but so far it's what I've got. This pulled pork recipe is from Cuisine at Home, a magazine to which I used to subscribe. I'm overrun with magazines and it was time to thin the herd so I cut this one out. It's a good one, though, with lots o' pictures! Here's my version; I've only changed it a little from the original. A warning: this pork is so good your guests will squeal for more!

Get a nice pork shoulder, about 8 pounds, preferably bone-in (also known as Boston butt). DO NOT BUY an expensive cut like pork loin! It will be a disaster, as in dried out and awful. You need the tough, fatty shoulder to slowly cook, render out the fat and melt the connective tissue. Yum! Now that we've settled that, rub all over with the following ingredients that you have just mixed together:

1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup chili powder (I use Grandma's, but if you have a preference, go for it)
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried thyme
1 T smoked hot Spanish paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne

Just so you know, I don't want to spend the money for dried oregano and thyme - the bottled herbs lose their "poop" after a while. I go out to my herb garden and cut off a bunch and mince the leaves. And no I don't measure. Ok, how about a small handful in total?

The night before, take a bag of hickory chips and dump the them in a big bucket of water. Wet wood smokes, which is what you want!

Heat up both sides of your gas grill nice and hot and work the hot grates over with the metal bristle grill brush I'm positive you have hanging in your garage! Make up two foil packets with a couple of pieces of foil big enough to accomodate piles of chips, say 12 x 12". Partially close the packets to hold in the chips than place them on one end of your grill. Keep that end lit, turned to about medium-low, and turn off the burner on the other side.

Place your lovingly dry-rubbed, beautiful pork shoulder on the unlit side of the grill. Close the lid and let the indirect heat and smoke do their work. Turn the meat once every hour, letting it cook for about 3 1/2 hours. Replenish packets with more chips as needed. Now here's where we really deviate from smoke purists again: WRAP THE PORK IN FOIL. Yes, I mean it. This keeps the juices in so the meat is moist. Let it cook 2 more hours over indirect heat then bring it inside and let it sit, still foil wrapped, for 30 minutes. Unwrap and pull the meat apart into chunks and strips; I use a couple of forks until it's cool enough to just use my hands. I also scrape off any fat that didn't melt away and discard it. Note: the crunchy caramelized bits on the outside of the pork are to almost die for (don't want to die yet)!

Now, what is barbecue without sauce??? I have always used the Root Beer BBQ Sauce that was in the article. It's so good I can't bear to use anything else. So here goes:

While the pork is smoking, reduce 2 liters of root beer in a large sauce pan over medium heat. It always takes me over an hour. And you want to reduce it down to one cup, so when you start getting close, really keep an eye on it. I just pour the root beer into a pyrex measuring cup to check, if still to much, pour it back in the pan and keep cookin'!

Add the following to the root beer and simmer for 20 minutes:

1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup yellow mustard
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T Tabasco
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper

After simmering, stir in 2 T unsalted butter, to just plain make it better.

Before I bid you farewell, permit me a rant. For heaven's sake don't use an off the shelf two liter plastic bottle of root beer, which I used to do. That and other sodas are sweetened with the evil HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, an ubiquitous evil in our processed food supply. It's basically addictive because it doesn't satisfy the urge for something sweet, it stokes it. It is much more closely linked to diabetes than cane sugar. In my most recent batch I used a six pack of Thomas Kemper root beer, which is sweetened with cane sugar. Yes, it's more expensive, and I choked on it, but I used it anyway. By the way, it's really delicious. One last thing, ketchup has the deadly HFCS also; but the organic version doesn't, so I use the organic. Enough ranting - wow your friends and enjoy this amazing dish!