food ethics, recipe box

Texas Barbecue

There’s nothing like a few years of eating vegetarian to bring out the deepest seated affection for succulent steaks, burgers, bacon, and, of course, barbecue. I still like to distance myself from the whole this-is-the-flesh-of-a-real-animal thing but, then again, I always did even before I went vegetarian. In truth, I think the violence of eating is something that humans are alone in having to grapple with and it will always affect some more than others. It’s both the blessing and the curse of modern society that the majority of people in the developed world are detached from the way their food is grown. In the United States especially people don’t know and, I think, don’t really care where their food comes from.

My turn to vegetarianism in college wasn’t really as deep and meaningful as all of that though. I eased into a vegetarian diet slowly. There were a lot meats (and meals made with meat) that I simply didn’t like the taste of. The ones I did tended to challenge my culinary talents to the point that the list grew smaller and smaller. Plus, meat is expensive.

My trials in the kitchen and with becoming a financially independent adult coincided with an academic environment in which ethics, philosophy, and politics took center stage. And so, before long Luke and I decided we would be fine eliminating meat – – as well as our contribution to the bloody side of corporate agribusiness – – from our diet all-together. And we were.

While we never intended to approach our new dietary choice like zealots, the surprising resistance to vegetarianism by a handful of family members and friends did imbue our lifestyle with a certain degree of fervor.

And then, this last Spring after a long day’s work in the garden, we both ordered bacon cheeseburgers at The Cheesecake Factory like it was nothing at all. A very fitting turn of events given the nonchalance of our journey towards a meat-less diet years before. That was the spark too. Suddenly we craved burgers and bacon like it was no one’s business. We began a quest for the best burger in Durham and did our best to make up for all the cholesterol we had avoided in the previous 5 years.

I still dislike the same meats as before. Pork? No thanks. Rib-eye steak? Nah, that’s alright. Carnival turkey leg? Umm, eww.

But I digress. This post is about Texas barbecue. I. love. Texas. Barbecue. Yes, I had forgotten about it for a while there but the weakness is back in full force. Though I only discovered recently how important the Texas part is in Texas Barbecue. I’m a Texan and as far as I’m concerned barbecue means brisket. My understanding though is a regional one for sure because Luke didn’t even know what brisket meant. I’ve asked around at work too. Co-workers, customers, vendors… I’ve found a total of 2, yes two people who knew what brisket is.

I thought, surely these people have had brisket but maybe they just call it something different. So, I asked around and did my google-ing until I’d determined where the best barbecue place in Durham is and I gave it a go. There was only one option: barbecue. By the pint. Yes! I was ready. Imagine my surprise when I got home and saw this:

In case the picture doesn’t do it justice, let me say it looked gross. Very, very gross. Luke was all, “what did you get???” with a great stink-eye expression. To be fair, it was edible… we got it once again a week later. Buttt, not exactly gooood…. and not what I would consider real barbecue.

So, without my beloved Railroad Barbecue nearby, I had to take matters into my own hands. Its hard to make great brisket without a smoker or a grill but I found a great way to approximate the real thing in the oven. And because I believe in sharing the love, I’m gonna walk you through it here so that you can make your own.

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 tbsp ancho chili powder

1 tbsp salt, I like fleur de sel

1 tbsp garlic powder

1 tbsp onion powder

1 tbsp ground black pepper

1/2 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tbsp white sugar

2 tsp Colman’s mustard powder

1 tsp cayenne pepper, optional

1 tsp oregano, optional

1 bay leaf, crushed up as finely as possible

a 4 pound-ish beef brisket with a nice layer of fat about 1/4 inch thick.

a big cast iron skillet with a lid or a dutch oven

a handful of carrots, optional

2 cups beef stock (or beer) and about a cup or so of water

3-4 tsp liquid smoke

3-4 tsp Worcestershire sauce

*This recipe can be easily expanded or reduced. The photos below are from a 2.25 lb brisket I made the other night and just halved the other ingredients.

What you’ll do:

1. Preheat your oven to 350.

2. Make a dry rub by combining the first 11 ingredients (the cayenne pepper and oregano are optional). You can buy barbecue rubs in the store already mixed together but I think this combo not only tastes way better but is super easy too.

3. I like to rinse the brisket under cold water and then pat dry before rubbing it well with the spice mix. Be sure to season the brisket well on both sides and on the edges and use your hands to really massage it in. You shouldn’t have any of the rub left over.

4. Transfer the brisket with the fat side up to your cast iron dutch oven or skillet and roast in the preheated oven uncovered for 1 hour.

*The fat on the brisket is really important here because it not only gives the brisket a better flavor it keeps it from drying out while you cook it.

5. By now you’re going to be enjoying the most incredible aromas wafting from your kitchen. Add the beef stock (or beer) and enough water to fill the skillet or dutch oven with about 1/2-1.5 inches of liquid. Add the carrots, if using. (I usually toss in a handful of baby carrots because its easy.) Use a little less water if you’re not using carrots. Add the liquid smoke and Worcestershire sauce.

* Beef stock makes the brisket taste a little more like pot roast, beer gives it a slightly different flavor. I haven’t tried using wine yet but I’ve read that some people like to use beef stock and then substitute dry red wine for the water.

6. Lower the oven to 300, cover your cast iron with a tight fitting lid, and continue cooking for 3ish hours. At the 3 hour mark you’re probably good to go but if you’re not ready to eat yet just turn the oven off but leave the cast iron inside for however long. I’ve left it for a few hours and it was still ah-mazing.

7. I like to scrape the fat off the top before cutting and serving but its really up to you. Be sure to cut across the grain and top with some of the juice from the pan.

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dramatic macaroni and cheese, the receipe

I told you this was hedonistic. But oh-so-delicious!

Ingredients:

16 oz elbow macaroni, or whatever pasta you fancy (I like ancient harvest quinoa rotelle & it is gluten free)

1/4 c. butter, plus another melted tablespoon of butter for the topping

1/4 c. all purpose flour (regular or the Bob’s Red Mill gluten free version)

1/4 tsp. each: dried thyme, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce

1/8 tsp. white pepper

3 c. each: milk and shredded sharp cheddar cheese with about 3/4 of a cup set aside for the topping (I like to mix a small block of cabot seriously sharp cheddar and a vermont extra sharp white cheddar)

1 pinch of nutmeg

1 tsp. each: salt and dijon mustard

~ 8 oz. sour cream

~12 oz. cottage cheese

~ 1/2 c. bread crumbs (or crushed Glutino crackers)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta for 8 minutes. Meanwhile, melt 1/4 c. butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When it gets foamy, mix in flour and stir for about 3 minutes. Add thyme, cayenne, and white pepper. Then whisk in milk until smooth. Bring to the edge of a simmer.
  3. Right as your milk mixture is reaching a simmer add the nutmeg, Worcestershire, and salt. Simmer on medium-low heat for about 8 minutes, whisking regularly.
  4. Turn heat off. Add ~2.25 c. of the shredded cheese and stir until melted. Add Dijon mustard.
  5. Lightly oil or grease a 9×13 casserole. Add cooked pasta and pour the milk/cheese mixture over the top. Add the cottage cheese and sour cream. Mix these all together.
  6. Toss the bread crumbs (or crushed crackers) with the tablespoon of melted butter. Sprinkle over the top of the casserole. Cover with remaining cheese.
  7. Bake uncovered until bubble and slightly browning or about 20-30 minutes.
  8. Enjoy!
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totally baked.

When it comes to cooking, and baking in particular, I do everything like I’m killing snakes. It’s hard to bake just one thing when there are so many things I’ve never made, or made well. So I’ll have these days where that is all I do: bake a pie, bake bread, bake three different kinds of cookies, bake some kind of gooey, delicious, candy-bar… and so on. Fortunately, I managed to get in one last hurrah before Luke took an unexpected gluten-free turn towards good health.

And what did I bake??

The pie was the best, by leaps and bounds. Seriously. No competition. I really surprised myself with this one.

The bread was, eh. Ok. Actually it was quite a success but I just don’t like challah bread that much.

The cookies were good as long as we’re not talking about the snickerdoodles. The others though were fantastic. I got all three recipes from the Back in the Day Cookbook by Cheryl & Griffith Day, who I adore. On the left hand side of the platter is a batch of their ‘chocolate dreams’, the snickerdoodles are on the right, and in the upper right-hand corner are some of the ‘mexican hot chocolate shortbread’ cookies. Oh the mexican shortbreads! They are dangerously wonderful! The chocolate dreams were exactly as described – soft in the middle, slightly crisp on the edges, and very, very rich chocolatey. For me, too chocolatey. But I already know I’m weird in not being a huge chocolate fan.

The PB&J bars were also inspired from Back in the Day. They were okay. Luke and I both felt there was too much jam in the center though. Secretly, I though they were going to be the best but life is always full of surprises.

*And did I mention I’m the best boss ever because who do you think got to enjoy the other 8 dozen cookies not photographed above?? Yeah, I don’t know how to put this but I’m kind of a big deal. People know me.

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