10/20/11


Righteous Ribs!




Our Search is Over: SuzieQue's BBQ & Bar

Thanks to a fellow Montclair, New Jersey resident, Melody Kettle, and her blog, Hot From the Kettle, we have discovered SuzyQue's. It's a really good barbeque joint just down the road from us. It’s in West Orange, New Jersey; and if you live in New Jersey you know that good — really good — slow smoked style barbeque isn’t on every street corner, like the Pizza Pie is in the Garden State. In fact, for really good barbeque in New Jersey it’s not too far-fetched to suggest that you really should go to New York City. That’s before SuzyQue’s, that is. The tectonic plates of the barbeque world have shifted in these parts.

SuzyQue’s is run by a very nice lady, the eponymous Suzy, CEH (Susan Hoffberg, Chief Executive Honcho). She’s the boss, the house mom, the muse, (the whip?). We say, the heart. She came to our table to greet us and we had a very nice chat. A most warm welcome. This joint has a down home soul, and we were made to feel right at home. 

The term “joint” really isn’t quite right. It’s a joint in the sense that it is the kind of place where you feel right at home, comfortable, happy to stay awhile. Lots of life going on. There’s a bar and the place looks like it can seat a big crowd. Our next time will be during the full swing evening dinner time when we expect the place will be rocking with lots of folks, chompin’, chewin’, chattin’, and sippin’ ”. There’s live music many evenings as well. Are you getting what kind of “joint” this place is? Décor-wise, goldilocks*** lighting; i.e., not too bright, not to dark; just right. Get it? Nice woody atmosphere: ample wood tables, solid wood chairs, lot's of dark wood interior trim.  Oh, do you get it? Smoked wood barbeque / woody atmosphere. (Cooky Cat amazes himself sometimes.) That’s what people in the corporate world call “synergy”. And, “maximizing the synergized analogs for exponentially geometric multiples of returns on investments”. (That one is for Suzy Herself and a little reference to past “corporate” days.)

***Goldilocks©, Cooky Cat original and exclusive usage  

But the place doesn’t smell to high heaven of wood smoke; just the parking lot.

The menu has most every type of smoked meat, an arms-length list of sides, lots of appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, entrees, burgers and sliders, “bar pies”, and desserts. For our first time we ordered the St. Louis style ribs. For us, it’s the gold standard by which all other smoked barbeque is judged. (Suzy suggested the “large” beef short rib since she got that we were "rib people", rib shack demographically speaking.)

Verdict: Top Shelf. Plenty of deep hickory smoke flavor, and a rub that adds flavor without calling undue attention to itself. Tender with just a little tooth. We like our ribs to bite back a little. (Not like those pussyfied Baby Back Ribs—not that there is anything wrong with that; some of Cooky Cat's best friends are real pussies. Baby Backs are strictly for the suburbanite neophytes. Just kitting. But, a little serious on that preference too.)

Now, it is a great debate among barbeque lovers whether to sauce or not. We like our sauce—if at all—at the table, please. SuzyQue’s is traditional in that respect. Smoker to table. Sauces on the side. 

Also, when it comes to sauces to accompany your barbeque, that is a subject by itself. And a very personal matter of taste. But, the really good ones are not that easy to find. (If there is a good barbeque sauce in a bottle, please enlighten us. Anyone? We thought not.) We like a straight ahead tangy style sauce and at the end of this piece you can look at something else we did on the subject. But the sauces at SuzyQue’s are each terrific. There are four, all house made, brought to your table in generous squeeze bottles. If you ask, you can also have a portion of house made habanero sauce.

Like we said, barbeque sauce is of course a personal taste kind of thing. Even whether ever to add any at all. We are content to enjoy good barbeque as is, sans sauce. But what kitty doesn’t like some sauce with that. And, the sauces at SuzyQue’s are each excellent, and each in its own way.

SuzyQue’s House Made Barbeque Sauces (quoting SuzyQue's menu)

Vinegar Base: Memphis style sauce with vinegar base using molasses as a sweetener.

Orange Habenero: Orange Juice, Vinegar and habanero chili’s combine for a sweet, sour and spicy flavor.

Molasses Base: Robust molasses based sauce with dried fruit, tamarind and a big bold flavor.

Tomato Base: Kansas City style thick tomato based sauce with sugar, vinegar, and spices.

And, if you like it HOT, ask for the habanero sauce. But, you gotta ask.

We found ourselves experimenting with combinations. It’s so personal we won’t venture a recommendation. Just to say they all stand up on their own. (OK, if we had a choice we would go for the Tomato Base; but, with a dash of the Orange Habanero.) And, here’s a tip, just don’t eat that corn bread plain, sauce it! And, the beans. And, . . . 

Oh, SuzyQue’s, see you soon!






10/13/11


FingerLimes
 
Flavor


When you talk about things in their general or abstract sense that can take a lot of words. Being first and foremost an intellectually lazy pusser, Cooky Cat will now give you the Q & D (quick and dirty) on a key pillar culinary concern, Flavor. Otherwise this could turn into a book-length piece, and the next thing you know he will have to become an expert on grass fed beef and such exotica as finger limes. That’s to name just a few of the thousands of subjects that could fit in the umbrella of flavor. So we’ll be brief.

First let’s get the technical points. Taste—what the tongue does—has five distinct components:  

Salty
Sweet
Sour
Bitter
Umami 

(We think it is arguable that the American diet is overly salty and sweet. If that is so, then perhaps there needs to be balance with more sour and bitter? And, if you have lived for more than a few generations, you undoubtedly are aware that the taste of things has been falling. Discuss amongst yourselves.)

What’s that umami? If you are not familiar with umami (a Japanese term meaning pleasant savory taste), it refers to savoriness or deliciousness. The fifth taste; recently arrived, and still not fully understood. Evidently the factor for umami in foods is salts of glutamic acid, known as glutamates. In a Japanese store recently we came upon a small bottle labeled “Umami”; whad’ya know, good old MSG. Umami rich foods are things like broths, tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese, concentrated sauces. Mother’s milk is also rich with umami. Oh, mama!

Now, when we talk about flavor, that is the sensory impression based on a combination of taste and smell. It’s the signature flavor that makes something taste like what it is in itself, it’s essential signature; for instance, how the taste of an anchovy fillet is different from that of an apple, to draw a sharp distinction. Closer together, honey versus maple syrup. Still closer, clover honey versus tupelo or orange blossom. 

As you may know Cooky Cat is all about cooking that lets the inherent flavor of the ingredients speak for themselves. For example, broccoli: steam until tender, a little butter and salt . . . serve it. You want it fancy on Delancy? Ok, some velvety lemony hollandaise. Less fancy, sauté with garlic and olive oil. Of course, there is room for interesting combinations of ingredients. That’s where the magic and alchemy comes in. But, by and large, he isn’t too much for culinary extravaganza and bringing in wild pairings. Piled high stunt foods? Cake in the shape of anything other than a cake? NO WAY! (There's a bakery near us that is featured on one of those trendy cake shows. The line of customers can be a block long. Just how good can a muffin be?) No cats with dogs for him. Cats with mice, now you’re talking. He might be tempted by anchovy ice cream, but what cat wouldn’t be tempted by anchovies and cream. But, in combination, certainly not! Cooky Cat would only give it a sniff. 

When we talk about the total impression of a particular dish, what makes it good, the total gestalt is the result of the combination and balance of tastes and flavors and such things as texture/mouth feel, color, shape, size, portion, even temperature. And, then there is personal taste. Our friend as a boy used to like carrot sticks with yellow mustard. He would even sometimes add a dash of prepared mustard to chicken soup. Go figure.

So what makes for a good dish? All you really have to do at least is to follow a decent recipe. The work of choosing which elements and in what proportions is done for you. Now there are countless recipes for any single item. Our suggestion is to compare a few and see how they differ and decide where your preferences lie. Also, if you want to take away or add some elements according to taste. That’s for the cooks. The chefs, the ones who create the recipes, they are the few. 

But here are a few of the secrets to being a good chef. Great is where Cooky Cat resides and you will have to get to that level on your own. He can only do so much. Besides, he likes the room at the top.

If you want to cook like a chef, you just need to look within, Grasshopper. First, you know what you like taste-wise. And, you know what things taste like. Think like a painter. Imagine a culinary palette. You have tastes and flavors, textures, colors, shapes. Start somewhere and just see what comes to mind to add in and pair with it. Let’s say pasta, that’s easy. Or, is it? What kind of pasta shape? A sauce? What would you like? Ok, a cream sauce. Add some cheese in that sauce? Or maybe later, right on top as you serve it. How about a vegetable? What do you like? Broccoli? OK. Like how? Plain or maybe sautéed with olive oil and garlic. Do we serve the broccoli on the side or mixed in? Now, anything to go with that? A salad, of course. What to put in it? The dressing? Hey, that pasta dish is a little starchy/cheesy. Maybe a salad with a dressing with some zing. You know what our friend would say? Mustard! 

So it goes. See what you have on hand and go from there. Cooking to a recipe is fine, but the action in a good creative kitchen is usually based on what is good from the market and at hand in the pantry.

Don’t miss nutrition. Nutritionally, a meal, or the sum of meals for the day, should have variety and pay attention to some generally accepted notion of what food groups to be sure to include on a daily basis. 

Cooky Cat loves food. But, let’s get real here. Food, bottom line, is about nutrition. Certainly it is more; especially in its social and community associations. But, food as entertainment, that has reached excessive levels, and on that Cooky Cat has to say Basta! Perhaps it’s from mama admonishing about all those people starving in other parts of the world to guilt you into liking you food and finishing what’s on your plate, but the idea of people sitting around debating the merits of the terroir characteristics and flavor of something like the flesh of some hapless slaughtered beast versus some other just seems like things have gone too far off from center. Enjoy your food; but, COME ON. Foodies are especially fond of discovering the differences among food stuffs. Some recent culinary deconstructions: coffee, olive oil, chocolate, cheese, sea salt, vinegar. Wine, of course as ever. Now even water! COME ON!

A most recent revelation has been the idea of mixing in fruits in savory dishes. This is certainly not new in culinary history, but Cooky Cat has turned his attention in that direction. Could it presage a trend? Watch and see.

Here is a recipe for Lamb with Quince and Honey. The honey to balance the tartness of the quince. Notice the complexity of spices. Right there is a good example of checking in with your own preferences to see what to eliminate if you want. The dish will work with just the three main ingredients, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. You will notice that the recipe is for a Moroccan tagine. Use a classical clay tagine if you have one, or if you must have one. But a good braising pot will do the trick. (Not to diss the tagine. The traditional Moroccan cookware is fabled for how it adds flavor to dishes. Just don't let not having one keep you from preparing this dish, or anything else called a "tagine" recipe.)

Fall is quince season. Get going. (We just got some right off the tree at the farmers market and they have the most exquisite perfume.)


And, speaking of pasta in a creamy cheese sauce . . . COME ON!

10/12/11

Polish Dill Pickle Soup!

Polish Dill Pickle Soup
Bumper crop of mom’s recipe homemade dill pickles this summer,
Sitting lonely in the back of the fridge.

What to do?

Carrots, celery, leeks, garlic, pickles — All chopped up fine and nice.
Potatoes, cubed.
Chicken broth and pickle juice 2-3 to 1 ratio (per your taste).
Cook it up.
Thicken will flour/water slurry 
Chop some fresh dill. Some? Lots!
Dollop of sour cream, please.
Like mama said,
Eat your soup!