Sweet and Smoky Baby Backs from Deen Bros. Good Cooking, Premier Issue 2010

This afternoon marked the last recipe that I’m making from the Deen brothers magazine for this challenge (though I know I’ll be making many more dishes, new and repeats, for months to come). I saved the baby backs for last for several reasons. The first and foremost is that pork ribs are my favorite meat. Even as I type that, in the back of my mind I picture a perfectly cooked, medium-rare headed towards rare rib-eye saying, “Are you sure?” But for today, yes, I’m sure.

The second reason is that this recipe will herald the official start of my summer grilling. Even though I use the grill all winter (it’s so great to live in the south), the smoker box sits idle and so there’s a little cleaning to be done the first time it’s opened in the spring, as it was today.

When I lived up north, barbecue was something you did and covered everything from chicken to steak. When I moved to North Carolina I learned that down here barbecue is a specific grilled dish; pork shoulder that is slow cooked on a charcoal grill, then pulled apart and served with either a ketchup or vinegar based sauce (depending upon which side of the state you live). So, please understand that this afternoon I GRILLED baby back ribs.

Also be advised that gas grills don’t live at our house. Never have and hopefully never will. I can’t figure out why someone would bother grilling with gas. Doesn’t the broiler in the oven do the same thing without the hassle of going outside? I like the almost musical sound that the charcoal makes when it clinks together; the smell of the various wood chips used as aromatics; keeping track of the temperature by opening and shutting the door (instead of turning a knob); the whole experience. I’m pretty bummed that the recipe actually talks about using a gas grill.

I did make a pretty silly (and almost injury-causing) mistake, to be honest. While adding charcoal to the smoker box, I leaned over and my hair (thank goodness just my hair) touched the hot box. I knew this because of the immediate sizzling sound and disgusting burnt hair smell that suddenly wafted around me. This isn’t good news at any time, but a burned spot in the front of my head three days before Easter could be downright embarrassing. Thank goodness I have bangs and will be able to rectify the situation pretty easily. How dumb though.

Since I am such a rib fan, I was curious to see how this recipe stacked up against the others I’ve used. When it comes down to it, there are many combinations of spices and herbs that can be used, but the main batch never change. The same goes with the mopping sauce, which some use and some don’t. The Deen brothers do and I was moping my ribs every 15 minutes as instructed.

It was a big “huh” moment when I saw that the last ingredient on the list was “Prepared brown sugar or honey barbecue sauce.” I suppose Jamie and Bobby Deen feel that the most important taste comes from the rub and mopping sauce, which is why they allow us to use our own favorite.

For me, the barbecue sauce is the final exclamation point to ribs and so have as much importance as the rest of the ingredients. In addition, I believe that sauce shouldn’t be served WITH the ribs, but should be cooked on them, caramelizing the sugars to a sticky, crispy wonderfulness. So, for this last recipe, I departed from the instructions and did a final grilling over the coals with the barbecue sauce slathered all over my tender smoked ribs.

Everyone in the family loved this recipe, including our little one, though I had to cut off the outer edge because it was too spicy for her. The ribs were tender and moist with great flavor and the perfect amount of smokiness. It’s hard not to love ribs and these didn’t disappoint.

So, for the final time, here is the recipe for another outstanding dish by the Deen brothers. Thank you to them and to Hoffman Media for allowing me to post these recipes.

Sweet and Smoky Baby Backs
Makes 10 to 12 servings

6 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
3 tablespoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons onion powder
3 tablespoons celery seed
3 tablespoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons chili powder
4 racks pork baby back ribs (about 8 pounds)
Moppin’ Sauce (recipe follows)
Prepared brown sugar or honey barbecue sauce

1. In a small bowl, combine salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, celery seed, cumin, oregano, paprika, and chili powder. Reserve 1/4 cup salt mixture for Moppin’ Sauce.

2. Rinse baby back ribs and pat dry. Remove thin membrane from back of ribs by piercing it with a sharp knife and pulling it off. Rub remaining salt mixture on both sides of each rib rack. Wrap ribs in heavy-duty plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.

3. Let ribs stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling. Remove plastic wrap.

4. Spray grill rack with nonstick nonflammable cooking spray. Place a sturdy drip pan under grill rack of one side of gas grill. Preheat opposit side to medium-high heat (350 to 400).

5. Place rib slabs, meaty sides down, over drip pan. Cover with grill lid and cook for 1 hour, basting ribs with Moppin’ Sauce every 15 minutes. While basting, rearrange rib slabs as necessary to avoid burning. Grill rib slabs, covered, for 1 1/2 longer, or until meat is tender, basting them with Moppin’ Sauce every 15 minutes.

6. Remove ribs from grill and let stand for 10 minutes. Serve ribs with your favorite barbecue sauce.

Moppin’ Sauce
Makes about 4 cups

2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
1/4 cup reserved salt mixture

1. In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, water, and salt mixture. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until mixture is combined. Keep warm over low heat.

Note: To maximize grill space, stand ribs up in a stainless-steel rib rack.

Reprinted with permission from the Deen Bros. Good Cooking and Hoffman Media (www.hoffmanmedia.com).

Black Forest Cheesecake Trifle from Deen Bros. Good Cooking, Premier Issue 2010

An early Easter dinner deserved a special dessert and the Black Forest Cheesecake Trifle looked so beautiful, I decided to make it without even thinking things through. Things like the fact that it’s just about impossible to find fresh cherries, which are called for in this dessert, in late March.

Even though I couldn’t find fresh berries, I decided to move forward with the dessert anyhow and go with frozen cherries instead. The good news about that was that they were already pitted. I cut them while they were still frozen so it wasn’t a messy job at all.

The Mousse for this dessert needs to be made the night before serving so it has time to set. The funny thing about the Cheesecake Mousse is that there isn’t any cream cheese in it at all. It used cheesecake-flavored pudding mix. It tastes good, but if I did this again, I’d add a little lemon to the mixture to give it a little zing like real cheesecake does. The cheesecake pudding just doesn’t have that on its own.

Once the mousse is made (be aware that it should be made the night before so it has a good amount of time to set up) and the cake is done, it’s a simple matter of putting the dessert together. Any large bowl will do, but a clear one (an official trifle bowl if you can get one) is perfect so the layers show through.

I don’t know what the photographers did to make the mousse layer come out so white, but the cheesecake pudding is decidedly yellow and even with the 4 cups of whipping cream, there was a cream color to my mousse, not such a beautiful stark white like their picture (which looks like plain whipping cream).

I served this alongside the Dreamy Orange Mousse Cake and Pistachio and Orange Butter Cake and this was by far the winner. It’s rich, moist, tasty, gorgeous. I did just use cherry juice instead of kirsch since we have a 4 year-old in the house and it was still incredible. This is a wonderful, wonderful dessert.

Black Forest Cheesecake Trifle
Makes about 12 to 15 servings

1 (18.25-ounce) box devil’s food cake mix, baked according to package directions
2 tablespoons kirsch or other cherry-flavored liqueur, divided
Cheesecake Mousse (recipe follows)
2 cups pitted fresh cherries, cut in half and divided
1 (14.5-ounce) jar milk chocolate ice cream topping
2 cups sliced almonds, toasted
Garnish: sweetened whipped cream, whole fresh cherry

1. Cut cake into 1-inch pieces. In a large trifle bowl, place half of cake pieces in bottom of bowl. Sprinkle with 1 table kirsch. Spread half of Cheesecake Mousse over cake. Top with half of cherries and sprinkle with half of almonds. Repeat procedure with remaining cake, kirsch, Cheesecake Mousse, cherries, ice cream topping, and almonds. Cover and chill overnight.

2. Before serving, garnish with sweetened whipped cream and whole fresh cherry, if desired.

Cheesecake Mousse
Makes about 5 cups

2 (3.4-ounce) boxes instant cheesecake-flavored pudding mix
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup sour cream

1. In a large bowl, combine pudding mix and sugar. Add cream, milk and sour cream; beat at medium speed with a mixer until soft peaks form. Cover and chill overnight.

Reprinted with permission from the Deen Bros. Good Cooking and Hoffman Media (www.hoffmanmedia.com).

Pistachio and Orange Butter Cake from Deen Bros. Good Cooking, Premier Issue 2010

I’m seriously thinking that I should have looked into butter futures before beginning this magazine challenge because of the amount that I’ve used. I know the Deen family is infamous for their love of butter and, let’s face it, butter does make everything taste better, but oh, my goodness. The pounds I’ve gone through is amazing.

My in-laws will be coming into town tomorrow to celebrate an early Easter with us since we’ll be in Washington, D.C. for the official weekend. I decided to make the Pistachio and Orange Butter cake to serve as dessert the first night they’re here and the Black Forest Cheesecake Trifle as the dessert with our early Easter meal.

I’m a pistachio lover, but just for pistachios as a nut. I don’t care for pistachio ice cream or pudding. It’s the same with bananas and cherries. I like the fruit, but not the flavoring in other products. So, I was interested to see how this cake would taste and had my first a-ha moment when I read the instructions and saw that the pistachios aren’t actually baked INTO the cake, but instead are sprinkled at the bottom of the pan with a butter and brown sugar crumble so once you flip the tube pan over, there they are. This is a butter cake with orange and pistachio flavoring crumble.

As with all the other dishes in this magazine, this one is easy to make and comes together quickly. I was a bit surprised at how thick the batter was but it rose as it baked and came out of the oven perfectly done. My only problem was when I tried to remove it after the ten-minute sit on a cooling rack. The butter and brown sugar had turned into crumble and wanted to bond with my pan more than with the cake. As a result, I don’t have the beautiful uniform colored cake that is in the magazine picture. Mine is more molted looking.

The other thing that happened during baking was that the topping “bled” down into the cake so you can see the darker striping, which is a bummer. I’m glad that this is for family because I don’t think I’d have ended up serving it to guests at a dinner party the way it looks. I’m not sure if excess buttering and flouring of my tube pan would have made a difference, but I did hit it pretty hard with the spray.

As far as flavor goes, both my mother-in-law and I decided that it’s an incredible butter cake. Very moist and rich, but also light as a result of using cake flour vs. basic unbleached flour. However, neither of us could detect enough orange in the cake to be able to say it was in there. If we hadn’t known it should be, we’d have never guessed. The pistachios added crunch and an extra flavor, but again, the main taste of them came from what was sticking in the frosting, not from the ones that were in the streudel type topping at the bottom of the pan. This could be because most of the pistachios stayed in the pan.

I don’t know that I’d make this again even though it was good. A butter cake is a butter cake is a butter cake and the special extras that this should have provided just didn’t come through, unfortunately.

As an addendum to this review, it’s almost noon on the day after having served this cake for dessert. Large amounts seem to have disappeared over the course of the morning; I’m guessing along with many cups of coffee. I know I had a piece with my morning coffee and it was excellent. Maybe it’s the situation in which this cake is served. Several hours after dinner with coffee, or in the morning with coffee. Either way, with coffee is a wonderful way to eat it.

Flounder with White Wine Sauce from Deen Bros. Good Cooking, Premier Issue 2010

Our family is going to have a two-week long Easter celebration this year. It will start on Sunday when my in-laws come to visit for a few days. Then we head up to Washington D.C. to spend Easter weekend with my aunt and return home in time for my father to come visit his grand daughter the week after Easter. Knowing that meals here on out will get complex and somewhat heavy, I decided to go with a lighter and more healthy fare tonight, feeding the family fish; in this case Flounder with White Wine Sauce.

Not only is it a healthy dish, it’s also simple and fast. I love the fact that the whole thing is done in a throw-away container so there’s no extra clean-up. It’s always my favorite kind of meal. My only complaint with this meal (and with the two grilled sandwiches, by the way), is that being a charcoal griller, I think it’s a tremendous waste of time and charcoal to heat a grill for a 10 minute cooking job when the grilled item is wrapped up in foil and won’t get any of the benefits of the grilling flavor. For this recipe, I think the oven works best.

The flavors in this are simple and since the flounder is a non-fishy tasting fish, they work well together. I like the touch of wine and the little bite that the capers provide even though I’m not a big fan of capers. I will use less butter next time. A tablespoon in each packet is an awful lot. I think half that would do the trick and provide just as much flavor.

This is a very good recipe and we enjoyed the flavor very much, so it’s hard to say something that might be construed as negative, but I do want to mention that rather than follow the exact formula, I’d suggest laying out each fillet on the foil, then just dabbing and sprinkling and splashing a little of each ingredient rather than measuring out exactly a tablespoon or teaspoon. I know the brothers had to put down ingredients and list out amounts, which is why I don’t want this to come across as negative feedback. I hope you understand what I’m trying to say.

It’s a great recipe and the fish, as with just about every dish I’ve made in this magazine, is wonderful.