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One of the best things I brought back with me from my trip to Japan, oh so many years ago, was a love for a dish called Tonkatsu. A very simple preparation of a pork cutlet, pounded thin, dredged in flour, dipped in egg, and rolled in Panko bread crumbs. Then deep fry!
I had been to Napa several times and yet I had never actually taken the time to walk through the town itself. Always being en route to the next winery for some fabulous wine tastings never lent itself to “in town” wanderings. What a lovely little town it is. And one of the great finds there was this lovely fish-centric (surprise) restaurant, Fish Story (http://www.fishstorynapa.com/).
Soups are one of the best things you can serve on a date! Why? Well, they are easy to make and easy to eat with little or no mess. You can make them Gluten free, dairy free, and even go Vegan if the need arises (why God why!?!). They slow simmer, so the aroma will permeate the place and smell frickin awesome! And it leaves your hands free to do other things when your date arrives…
So here is a simple dish I did the other day that turned out fantastic and my lady loved it too! She is dairy and gluten free and so is this soup. You can feel free to tweak it however you wish. The measurements aren’t exact, but more of a guideline to help you out. All I can say is, EXPLORE!
BEAN AND GREENS SOUP
16 oz. of dried white or navy beans, soaked over night and rinsed (you can use canned if ya like)
1 small onion, chopped fine
2 carrots, chopped fine
2 celery stalks, chopped fine
1 large batch of collard or mustard greens, chopped
8 cups or so of chicken broth
1 tbsp of tomato paste
1/2 cup of bacon or Canadian bacon, chopped
2 cups of cooked chicken, chopped
2 tbsp of chopped garlic
3 bay leaves
1 tsp of tarragon
1 tbsp of vinegar
1 tbsp of sugar
Olive or grapeseed oil
salt and pepper
green onions, chopped for garnish
In a large pot over med high heat add some oil and brown the bacon
Add the garlic and saute for a minute or two
Add the onion, carrot and celery. This is also known as a mirepoix (Meer-Uh-Pwah) and is the basis for much of French cuisine. Add a little salt here too, it draws out the moisture. Saute for about 5 minutes
Add the tomato paste. Stir to incorporate the paste all over.
Add in all the other ingredients and bring to a boil. Then drop the heat and let it simmer for as long as you like.
Garnish with the green onion and prepare for some tasty kisses!
So my lovely lady decided she would like some chicken and some apples and what could I do with that? I had never actually combined the two before. So I slapped on my Iron Chef hat and went to work. Meat and fruit is, of course, a classic combination, but I simply had not combined the two til last night. And what a wonderful revelation it was. SO frickin easy and soooo frickin good! Get to it!
2 chicken quarters (separated)
1/2 an onion, chopped
4 apples (any type will do. Explore!), skinned, cored, and chopped in large chunks
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1-2 tbsps of vinegar (apple cider vinegar recommended)
sugar, a light sprinkle
salt and pepper
olive or grapeseed oil
-Heat oven to 400 degrees
-In a heavy saute pan, over med. high heat, add oil
-Salt and pepper then sear the chicken on both sides til brown
-Remove chicken, add vinegar to pan to deglaze
-Add onions, saute for about 3 minutes
-Add garlic and apples, saute for about 5 minutes
-Add chicken back to pan
-Sprinkle sugar lightly over the top
-Place pan in oven and bake til done, 20-30 mins (til chicken temp hits 170 degrees)
-Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes
-Den EAT dat beeatch!
Oh oh oh where to begin. Let me first throw out a little of my BBQ background, so you will know I am not just some random knucklehead enamored of what Anthony Bourdain called one of the 13 places to eat before you die. I am from Houston. Period. So that should tell you all you need to know about me and BBQ. But I have eaten BBQ all around the globe. I LOVE it! All kinds of BBQ, from savory, fat dripping Texas brisket, to North Carolina pulled pork sandwiches and vinegar and mustard based sauces. From Korean Bulgogi to Aussie Kangaroo steaks. From broiled spare ribs in Amsterdam with a strange Hoisin/Kecap Manis flavored sauce to succulent Lechon Asada in Puerto Rico that borders on a religious experience. Bottom line, if it’s meat over flame, I’m in!
So when it comes to American styles, I have tried it all. I am partial to the dry smoky mesquite Texas style and the savory sauce on the side that I grew up with. The brisket in Texas is unmatched so far in my book anywhere on the planet. The pork ribs there are also top notch. I am over all partial; however, to the sweeter smoky sauces that I find in the Memphis and Kansas City styles. Which will lead me to Oklahoma Joe’s, located in Kansas City.
Not much to look at from the outside. Just an old gas station/convenience store. The pumps still work and the tiny market has the requisite knick knacks you would expect to see in any centrally located corner stop. But this little hole in the wall hides an amazing culinary gem. As soon as you walk in the door, you know there is something special here. For one thing, there is a pantload of people here. Not just the random batch of road warriors you find en route to places unknown. No, these are destination folks. They have come with one thing in mind BBQ! And they will not be disappointed. Oh, and they might fill up on gas as well.
Now for the food. I grabbed myself a heapin helpin of brisket, ribs, and sausage (my own personal holy trinity). As a side note, the only place I have ever found all three to be spectacular on one plate is, of course, Texas. The first thing, as always, that I look for is simply, does it look like it’s going to taste damn good?!? I will say absolutely yes for the ribs! So that’s where I start digging in. I take a sip of water, steady myself, prepare, and then attack! I bite into my first Oklahoma Joe’s rib. My mouth explodes in happiness and thanks me for being alive. The rib is “soft tear” away from the bone, not quite “fall off” tender, with just enough give to allow a nice soft chew down. The flavor is exquisite! Just the right amount of savory, smoky and salty with just a hint of sweetness on the back end. I am in heaven. This is without a doubt one of the finest ribs I have ever tasted.
I am reminded of a few other times when I have felt this way. Once at a West Houston cookoff, once at the Pork Pit in Montego Bay Jamaica, and several times at the altar of my own Texas sized smoker after a nice 12 to 16 hour slow smoke. The spice is the key for these, and most ribs I have ever experienced. The perfect blend that just makes your mouth melt. My mouth is watering yet again as I write this. Though it was a perfect flavor bomb, I will say that after a bit, the saltiness of the rub started to become a tad overbearing. But the accompaniment of 2 types of BBQ sauce cut right through and melded perfectly for me. I like big bold flavors, but someone a tad more dainty might balk a bit. And I would call them a BBQ wussy and throw a pickle at them.
There is another key factor that puts ribs like this over the top. Just what are the ribs basted with? In my case, I use an orange and pineapple juice mix to dab over the meat from time to time to add just that hint of sweetness to cut through the salt and add some nice moisture. In Oklahoma Joe’s case, I am not sure, but whatever they are doing, I pray they keep it up!
As for the rest of the plate, sadly, I can only say it was adequate. Being a brisket snob, I have a pretty darn high standard and I can only say it wasn’t met here. I just did not get the bold flavor and smoky hit I expect from the meat. Same for the sausage. I have never found sausage outside of Texas that has truly impressed me. It is not to say that the brisket and sausage were bad. Oh no far from it. I am sure many people would rave about it. I will say that it was tasty for sure, just not something I would rave about. The sauces were good and did their job well; one sweeter and one spicier as is the norm. I found that a combination of the two worked well for me.
So in conclusion, I will say absolutely, get thee to Oklahoma Joe’s! Grab a serious rib, slather on some fine BBQ sauce, and thank the meat Gods that you are alive. But then again; if you don’t say thanks aloud, your mouth will do it for you.