Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Come for Cocktails and Fancy Dinner in the Backyard - Part II

For the main dish for Saturday's dinner party, I chose to cook the thyme glazed baby back ribs from Michel Richard's "Happy in the Kitchen." It's a gorgeous book, but I'd never cooked from it before, so I had no idea how accurate or comprehensive the recipes were. I did a Google search to see if anyone else had made it, and came up with one entry on a blog called Little Bouffe. Ms. Bouffe suggested glazing the ribs with something a little more substantial than honey and thyme, and I agreed that that sounded like a wise idea - so I planned a modified version with the ribs poached and then glazed in the oven with a tangy bbq-like sauce.
Vande Rose Baby Back Ribs
I procured some some lovely (as lovely as meat can be!) ribs from Hamilton's Meats, eight full racks to be precise, and portioned them out into three pieces per rack. I decided as I put them in my giant pot (I used the enamel pot that came with my Ball canning set - with a thick diffuser underneath it) that I had enough with the eighteen portions I made from six racks, especially considering that two guests were vegans, so I saved two of the racks in the fridge still wrapped.
Poaching the ribs
I then poured in the ingredients for the poaching liquid - enough water to cover the ribs, three pounds of honey, an entire bunch of thyme sprigs, coriander seeds, a tablespoon of pepper flakes, two tablespoons of pepper corns, loads of salt, 5 or 6 bay leaves, 2 roughly chopped onions, five leeks and several carrots - and turned the heat up to get the water going. It was a lot of liquid, and I knew it would take a while to come to temperature. The instructions said to bring it to a very low simmer and cook for 45 mins. I was busy doing other things, but kept checking it periodically - at exactly 12:45, it started to bubble, and I turned the heat to medium low to keep it to a low simmer, and made a mental note that at 1:30 it would be time to turn it off (the instructions say to let the meat cool in the broth, rather than taking it out.) The instructions also say to let the ribs cook until the meat is tender, but not yet falling off the bone.


I couldn't see in the pot because of all the seasonings in the poaching liquid, and when I pulled the first piece out to check on it after turning off the heat 45 minutes later, it disintegrated before my eyes. I started fishing around in the pot, and discovered that a good amount of the meat had completely fallen apart - nothing like feeling that graveyard of bones clinking around at the bottom of the pot. I then started pulling the intact pieces out in order to stop the cooking and survey the damage.

The two sheet pans of meat I pulled out were missing most of their end bones, and what was left was a little tattered. I salvaged the best ones - which amounted to about half - and sent James to the store for more meat. Luckily I still had those two extras - and plenty of time to poach more. I left the second round in the poaching liquid to cool - as per the instructions - and then had a momentary panic attack a couple of hours later, when I realized the poaching liquid was still very hot and thought surely the new ribs had met the same fate as the old. Luckily they had not. It turned out, in fact, that the pieces I salvaged were more tender and a little more tasty - clearly there is a happy medium in there somewhere.

My glaze was made with more honey, red wine vinegar, ketchup, soy sauce, apricot jam, worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, thyme and a couple of smashed but intact garlic cloves - based loosely on the recipe supplied by Little Bouffe - I brought it to a boil and simmered it for about 20 minutes, and then put it in a bowl for use basting the ribs. I glazed them about four or five times during the 30-40 mins they spent in the oven before serving (at 350 degrees.)

Sadly, I didn't get any photos of the cooked ribs or the salads because I was too busy getting everything on the table, but the recipe for the potato salad is here (and it's delicious) and the green salad was based on this one but I subbed pine nuts for the cheese and left out the prosciutto, since we were entertaining vegans (they eat honey, so they had firm tofu glazed with the sauce.) The salad was further enhanced by the addition of arugula from our friend Jora's garden - the sharp flavor was a nice match for the sweet stonefruit. (Incidentally, these stonefruit salads seem to be popping up everywhere lately - I just had a good one for lunch yesterday at Wet Stone, a winebar in Bankers Hill, and we also enjoyed a nice one at COCO 500 in San Francisco - more on both of those adventures coming soon!)
Blackberry Caipirinhas
Before dinner we poured Blackberry Caipirinhas (pronounced cay-pur-een-yas) based on a pineapple version I tried a few weeks ago at a garden tour and tasting at the Mistral herb garden at the Loews Coronado Resort (more on that also coming soon.)

The most basic recipe is to muddle your fruit (any fruit, really) with a little sugar and a generous squeeze of lime juice in the bottom of a glass, top it up with some Cachaca (pronounced ca-sha-sa) and sip away. Since I was making a pitcher, I did it a little differently.
Blackberry Caipirinhas and Champagne
I made two cups of simple syrup (boiling 2 cups each of sugar and water until dissolved) and squeezed about six cups of lemon juice and two cups of lime juice and mixed the two together with the simple syrup and about 1 cup of plain water. When I was ready to serve, I stirred in a bottle of the Leblon Cachaca and added some torn mint leaves. The blackberries and the muddler were on the table, so everyone could mash a couple up in the bottom of the glass, fill with ice, and top with the cocktail. I've also made a good version of a margarita with a similar method - based on a Hungry Cat recipe. That formula can be found here. These can also be made to taste - depending on how sweet or how strong you like your drinks.

Notes and recipe links:
Cachaca is a Brazilian distilled spirit made from sugar cane, about the same strength as vodka - with a little bit of a sweet flavor to it. The most common brand I've seen is Leblon - which is finished in Cognac casks for a little extra flair. It's what we were served at Mistral, and what they have at BevMo - it should be reasonably easy to find.

The sparkling wine we served was Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, which we try to keep on hand (not too difficult since they ship it to us monthly!) We also had a magnum of Roederer, which I like pretty well for a good medium priced sparkler. Other inexpensive favorites are Piper Sonoma, Gloria Ferrer, and Schramsberg - though it's a little more. Dampierre Champagne is also very nice if you can find it - we've had it out at restaurants, but I have yet to see it in a store - might want to keep an eye out for it at the local specialty wine shops.

For a close approximation of the rib recipe, see this entry on Little Bouffe - the original recipe is printed here on Serious Eats. Sam from Becks and Posh has also written about cooking from Michel Richard's Happy in the Kitchen on her blog here.

More Caipirinha recipes (and even an instructional video!) can be found on the Leblon website.

Coming up - the Ajoblanco (chilled Spanish garlic and almond soup), Gougeres and Banana Cream Pie!


  1. So sorry we weren't at your dinner party - but, we did think of you as we played "hooky" on Monday and scored a lunchtime reservation at Central - Michel Richard's new DC restaurant (winner of James Beard's Best New American Restaurant this year) -- it was fantastic -- come visit and we'll take you guys there! For the record, I would have chosen your backyard dinner party over any silly meal out!

  2. Looks like you set out quite the spread! I'm sure your guests felt like royalty!

  3. What a feast! Everything looks beautiful and delectable. I am anxiously awaiting the banana cream pie recipe!!

  4. Loved the blackberry caipirinha recipe. Can't wait to try it out myself. Linked to this via my cachaça blog.

  5. "anonymous" - we missed you! Next time we were saying we'll set empty places at the table and pour a little out for our "homies" - we'll make a video for you.

    Erinn - thanks! it was a lot of fun

    Ali - it's coming! ;-)

    Phil - Thanks! A cachaca blog? I will have to check it out. I have almost a whole bottle left over, so I'll have to try some of YOUR recipes!

  6. What lovely party Ms Q! I haven't even HEARD of Wet Stone - where've I been??? I ADORE Coco500 though - can't wait to hear about your visit there.

  7. You have a very nice blog

  8. I made those ribs for my birthday last year and they were delicious! That's a gorgeous book, I really need to cook more from it...

  9. I had a neighbor make us Caipirinha cocktails about a month ago. They were amazing! I tried to replicate it last week but needed a proper recipe. Off to check your link... :)