Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Standing Rib Roast? Seriously?

No, that wasn't tonight's evening sky, it was a couple weeks ago. But the feeling you get when you see a rainbow arch across your winter sky is like the feeling I had when I bit into my first nibble of my first attempt at a standing rib roast this afternoon.

Number One, I couldn't afford a standing rib roast. Number Two, I didn't know how to cook one. Number Three, wasn't about to ruin an expensive cut of meat with a culinary mishap.

But this year, things were different. Our Save Mart supermarket has been introducing a line of beef called Angus 43. It was heartbreaking when they stopped carrying Harris Ranch Beef (which is incredibly tasty) and I kind of sneered at the Angus 43 when they began advertising it. But when they offered boneless New York strip steak for the absurd price of $5.99/lb, I sprang for a couple ... and was pleasantly surprised. Tender, good flavor, okay. They've gradually reeled me in, and when they put standing rib roasts on sale for $6.99/lb, I began salivating and researching.

As it turns out, it is so dang simple to make that there is simply no reason to take the family out for a luxury dinner of prime rib.

We scored a little-ish 5-pound standing rib roast, let it sit on the counter for a couple hours to come to room temperature. I rubbed it with extra virgin olive oil, then seasoned the fat cap with salt, pepper, and finely ground garlic powder. It was already tied at the store, so I shoved it into the oven, ribs-side down in a shallow baking pan, for 25 minutes at 450 degrees. After that, with its now gorgeously browned exterior, it gets the temp taken back to 350 until the interior reaches 120 degrees. Then out it comes, gets wrapped in heavy duty aluminum foil, and "rests" for about 20 minutes while you get the rest of the meal finished.


Was that Christmas dinner? No, this is Christmas Eve Eve, and we're making a big homemade taco spread for Christmas. This was just for fun, a continuation of the kitchen experimentation of the weekend.

One last thing, about the internal temperature of the meat. We use a Taylor Meat Thermometer with a probe whose cord comes conveniently out the side of the oven door. Good for roasts, good for chickens in the oven, only about $20. An alarm sounds when the temp approaches 20 degrees of the desired temp, again (a bit more frantically) when the temp is 10 degrees off, and then beeps like a banshee when it gets to the proper temperature.

No, that wasn't the last thing. We got the roast with ribs attached, the whole thing tied up with cotton cooking string. Without the string, the ribs fall off. Without the ribs, you have to use a rack.

If you use a rack, you have to wash the rack, and you don't have the bones to gnaw as a snack the next day.

For your next birthday, ask for a standing rib roast to cook.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Clams and Calamari -- Christmas Cheer

Last Saturday, I was seized by a mood to create something, something new and exciting, something I've never tried before. I wanted to leap forward in the face of fear and conquer my inner scaredy-cat.

"Today is the day," I told myself before our exercise walk. "I am going to throw caution to the winds, not worry about the cost, not tremble at the thought of failure. I'm going to try to make my own fried calamari." And with that, I opened the freezer and brought out a bag of frozen calamari I picked up somewhere (can't remember if it was Sprouts or Winco) on a whim.

Bernie and I had tried fried calamari before; we bought a package of whole squids and it took forever and ja-pip to clean them. Deep frying them got us a ton of tasty morsels, but it was a spattery mess that had to be done outside and they were fairly greasy. Didn't want to do that again.

This bag of calamari was nicely cleaned and cut into rings and tentacles, much more appealing to work with. I put it on the counter to thaw and we took our walk down by the river with Ep (who is turning into a really good little dog). Upon return, we realized we had to go to the store for onions, among other things. At the store my mood overwhelmed me, and when we walked past the fish counter, I spotted a bag of Venus clams, all tightly closed.

Clams are another thing I'd never tried cooking, even though if I see "linguini vongole" on a menu, I'll order it before anything else. Clams AND fried calamari! Clear the kitchen, Sand is on a seafood rampage!

I did the mise en place thing and laid out my pans, tongs, olive oil, onions and garlic, cup of white wine (who knew I'd have that on hand?) as well as put some water on to boil for 2 ounces of angel hair pasta. I scrubbed my clams, sauteed my onion and garlic, added wine, cooked it a little, added my two pounds of clams and a little more water, and hey presto, ten minutes later was serving pasta and clams with a white wine and cream pan sauce.

It was good! Actually it was just about as good as any seafood pasta I've ever had.

But that was just the warm-up band, the main act was the calamari.

Once again I set out my implements: a dish of seasoned flour, a shallow bowl of almond milk, a fry pan with high-ish sides with a quarter inch of olive oil in it. Another dish with paper towels for the end result to drain. A spatula and a chopstick to turn each calamari piece.

Then: dump the calamari into the milk, dredge in the flour, fry two minutes on each side of rings (three on tentacles to get them crunchier) and there it is. Fried calamari, and I didn't have to go to San Francisco or Santa Cruz to get it.

Serve with tartar sauce or whatever. It's great. Delicious. Easy.

Successful Saturday, creative urges and seafood cravings satiated.

Merry Christmas to all!