Couch Day 2013: With Jambalaya and Board Games

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When we sent out the invite for this year's Couch Day celebration, a friend of ours had the audacity to ask if we were going to be replacing our couches soon, since it's been like eight years. Umm, of course not. That's why we picked brown couches in the first place. They show no stains and looked old from day one! 

This year's event had some first-timers, a new menu, red pants (see photo above) and more board games than I cared for. But, overall, it was a deliciously tiring day, like always, that stirred in me (and I hope everyone else) a deep appreciation for our lovely couches -- couches that provide so much for us, and ask for so little in return. Oh, Couch Day, you get me every time!
Our recent Texas travels inspired me to make jambalaya. I wish at the end of this post, I could share a recipe with you, but, I combined like three recipes to make this, and don't recall what I did. But it turned out pretty good. And we did end up adding a whole smoked chicken to this dish, which proved to be a great idea. 
Shrimp and scallions went in during the last 20 minutes. 
There was a lot of chopped salad.
Our friend got us a wood bingo set for Christmas, and he insisted we finally break it in. I hadn't played bingo since high school, when the old aunts in the family would bring out the Armenian version at family gathering. It was as boring as I had remembered.
And there was Jenga.
The tradition of photos on the porch lives on...
Viva el dia de sofá!


Baba Ganoush

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When it comes to dips, especially Mediterranean ones, this is my favorite. As an Armenian, I am not sure why it took me so long to make baba ganoush. I figured it would be tedious. But, after I made this recipe once, I was hooked and we had it almost weekly for a good part of the summer.

The most difficult part is being patient while the eggplants brown on the grill. This is a great dish to make the day before. The flavors really come together nicely overnight. And the next day, there's no waiting!
Burnt Eggplant with Tahini adapted from www.bonappetempt.com
Serves 2-4

2 medium-sized eggplants
1/2 cup tahini paste
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice (or more to taste)
2 garlic clove crushed
nice handful of parsley, chopped
a little olive oil to finish

salt and pepper
flatbread or baguette, to serve

1) On a grill (or stove top) brown your eggplants until the skin is burned, turning frequently. When done, take off heat, and cover with a plastic bag. This will make peeling the skin easier. 

2) When cool enough to handle, peel and scoop the flesh into a colander. If there are too many seeds at the center, discard some. Leave to drain for at least 30 minutes. (I skipped this step several times and didn't notice a difference.)

3) Chop the eggplant flesh roughly and transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Add the tahini, water, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and some salt and pepper; mix well with a whisk. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

4) Before serving, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle paprika on top.

This dish keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days.


Austin Town

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What can I say about Texas, besides... I don't like it. I know, I know, there are people who live there, by choice, and love it. But, I wonder about those people, including our friend Tillman.

This was our second, and hopefully final trip to visit her, and we had a great time! But, let's get serious, I want to spend my vacation days in Hawaii or Pt. Reyes, not Austin. You hear, Tillman?! Move back and we'll go to Hawaii, where it's pleasant hot.

Despite our general dislike of the entire state, Austin is fun (sigh), and we ate and drank and sweated a lot. Below are some highlights...
Look at them clouds!
 Crab and shrimp queso.
 Drinks and pretzels with beer cheese at Easy Tiger.
 Tacos and more queso.
 My favorite meal was at Contigo. Pretty drinks above and delicious appetizers below.
Exploring Wimberley.
The Blue Hole. On this day, it was contaminated with poop from nearby ranches. So we weren't allowed to swim, but Tillman really wanted to.
 My favorite photo of the trip.
 Oysters, girlie drinks and eating outside in the rain.
The homestead, and evil cat #2. We did not become friends.


Pork Party Resurrected: Starring Ribs

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This pork party happened in July. I thought I'd better get this post up before summer was officially over. We hadn't had a real pork party in a few years, the last few times, it's been combined with our beloved Couch Day celebrations. Inspired by an issue of Saveur magazine, the husband and I grilled up what seemed like 100 racks of ribs and asked our friends to bring the sides. Hence, the rebirth of the pork party.

There were two types of rubs - the husband cooked up Memphis-style ribs served with a honey mustard sauce, and I tried something new, Cambodian ribs. I really wanted my ribs to be better, but, it in the end, it was nice to have the variety and guests seemed to enjoy them both.

Along with ribs, we had braised pork tacos and I made a delicious lavender thyme vodka lemonade. It was so tasty and refreshing, I've made it a couple of times since then.

I took some photos before the guests arrived, and then, well, I was busy sweating near the three grills we had going.
 Prepping the flower centerpieces.
 Ribs ready for the marinade.
Lavender thyme simple syrup in the making.
The scene. Luckily, our friends took some photos, otherwise they would be no proof this party ever happened.
Rib ecstasy. 
Leftovers plate, the day after.
I don't recall there being watermelon.

Chrong Chomnei Jrok Oeng (Cambodian-Style Ginger Lemongrass Baby Backs) via Saveur
Serves 4-6 

2 racks (3 lb.) baby back ribs
⅓ packed brown sugar
⅓ cup fish sauce
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tbsp. canola oil
14 cloves garlic, peeled (10 whole, 4 minced)
4 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 shallots, sliced
1 (4″-piece) ginger, peeled and sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp. lime juice
3 fresh red Thai chiles, sliced
½ carrot, julienned

1. Place ribs in a roasting pan. Purée brown sugar and 3 tbsp. fish sauce, plus soy sauce, oil, whole garlic cloves, lemongrass, shallots, ginger, salt, and pepper in a food processor until smooth; rub paste over ribs. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

2. Bring minced garlic and remaining fish sauce, plus granulated sugar, lime juice, and 1 cup water to a boil in a 1-qt. saucepan. Remove sauce from heat and stir in chiles and carrots; let cool. Heat a charcoal grill or set a gas grill to high; bank coals or turn off burner on one side. Grill ribs until slightly charred and tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. If the outside starts to burn before the ribs are fully cooked, move them to the cooler section of the grill and continue to cook until tender. Rest ribs 20 minutes; slice into individual ribs. Serve with sauce.

Vodka Lavender Thyme Lemonade via Saveur
Serves 4-6

¾ cup sugar
¼ cup dried lavender
1 bunch thyme
4 cups sparkling lemon soda
1 cup vodka
½ cup lemon juice
Thin-sliced lemon wheels, for garnish

Boil sugar and ¾ cup water in a 2-qt. saucepan until sugar is dissolved. Add lavender and thyme; let herb syrup cool and then strain into a pitcher filled with ice. Stir in sparkling lemon soda, vodka, and lemon juice, garnish with sliced lemons.