Fireworks and beer

Celebrate the Fourth of July with the perfect brew

Do you remember what you had planned for the Fourth of July last year? That’s a trick question. We both know you had absolutely nothing planned. The 2020 Fourth of July took a hit just like everything else last year.

Actually, that said, my family was preparing for my dad’s 70th birthday, as he was born on July 5. It was supposed to be the first time we got together as a family, albeit outside and socially distanced, since the world came to a halt in March 2020.

I was looking forward to having a beer with my dad, and it was off to a good but very brief start when the skies opened up and thunderstorms took over. Hey, we tried. But Covid-19 won in the end. In hindsight, I suppose it was predictable.

This year, we’re all overdue for a party. I know my dad is.

With last year behind us and a light visible at the end of the tunnel, this year feels different. I don’t think people are going to be attending the same old Fourth of July cookout this year. This is the year to take things up a notch.

I mean, bring the burgers and dogs, but let’s also throw a couple T-bones on the grill in honor of what we missed out on last year. I think we should all be allowed to have an extra-large ice cream sundae on the Fourth this year too, or maybe an ice cold root beer float.

That goes for beer too. Don’t hold back on your beer choices this year. This is the year to wait in line for the beer you want. There. I said it.

Here are three beers that will help you celebrate the Fourth of July.

Combover IPA by Schilling Beer Co. (Littleton)

You should probably just go to Schilling for the Fourth and have some delicious pizza by the river as you drink amazing beer. You can’t beat the view. You can’t beat the pizza. And you can’t beat the beer. This is your quintessential American IPA: supper hoppy, bursting with notes of citrus and pine, and, maybe surprisingly, a little hint of strawberry. I would wait in line for this beer.

Seize the Bean Coffee Milk Stout by Throwback Brewery (North Hampton)

I know, it’s super hot and who wants a rich, creamy stout when the sun is cranking? Well, sometimes when the sun goes down on the Fourth of July, people light fires and then enjoy toasted marshmallows and smores. And I think this brew would go absolutely perfectly with a summer bonfire on the Fourth. This is rich, decadent and full of chocolate and coffee flavor but relatively low on alcohol, which makes this just slide right down.

Tie Dyed Dry-hopped Pale Ale by Great North Aleworks (Manchester)

I’m legitimately scared you are going to drink too much of this. It’s got the hop character that beer drinkers these days love but in a package that is just so much more palatable and drinkable. I hadn’t had one of these in a while and cracked one open recently, and I said to my wife, “I could drink a million of these.” I didn’t and I’m not going to, but I think you’ll appreciate how this beer combines big hop flavor with an easy-drinking brew.

What’s in My Fridge
Naughty Nurse by City Steam Brewery (Hartford, Conn.)
I went to my cousin’s wedding a couple weeks ago and it was just so hot and humid. It’s the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in a suit — and I didn’t even wear a tie. It’s an understatement to say I was thirsty. The Naughty Nurse is an amber ale — and can I just say amber ales are underrated as a style — and this was both refreshing and flavorful. It’s got a little caramel sweetness and a little bitter spice in a very sessionable package. Cheers!

Tim and Amy Dally

Tim and Amy Dally of Milford are the owners of Tim’s Drunken Sauces & Rubs (967-4242, timsdrunkensauces@gmail.com, find them on Facebook), a food trailer they launched in the spring that specializes in barbecue items like ribs, pulled pork and beef brisket, in addition to other options like burgers, tacos, Philly cheesesteaks, loaded fries, fresh-squeezed lemonades and fruit smoothies. They also offer their small-batch sauces and rubs, many of which will incorporate alcohol, like their signature maple bourbon sauce. Find them at 244 Elm St. in Milford most Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tim’s Drunken Sauces & Rubs also appears at local breweries like Able Ebenezer Brewing Co. in Merrimack and Spyglass Brewing Co. in Nashua, and has a few public events scheduled this month, including Ashland’s Independence Day Celebration on July 3 and the annual Twilight at the Currier block party at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester on July 17.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

Tim: My probe thermometer.

Amy: My burger spatula. It’s a nice wide one, so you can get right under there. If I don’t have that, it’s not coming out right.

What would you have for your last meal?

Tim: Hibachi.

Amy: Definitely Italian. Something with cheese and sauce and pasta, [like] chicken Parm or eggplant Parm.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

Tim: Jade Dragon and Golden Koi [in Milford].

Amy: Pastamore [in Amherst]. It’s family-owned, and probably the most authentic Italian food that we have found since moving here, other than in Boston. They’re really great people and their food is great.

What celebrity would you like to see ordering from your food trailer?

Tim: J. Lo [Jennifer Lopez].

Amy: For me, it would have to be Gronk [former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski].

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

Tim: The brisket. We’re doing both plates and sandwiches, and we sell it by the pound.

Amy: Mine is the pulled pork macaroni and cheese burrito, and I dip it in the maple bourbon sauce. It’s fantastic.

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?

Amy: In all honesty, I would say food trucks, just from all of the people that have reached out to us. … There are so many places in New England where food trucks are a thing, and New Hampshire is finally getting on that bandwagon.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

Amy: Lasagna. I do a meat lasagna with Italian sausage in it, and my kids love it. It’s their favorite.

Tim: Hibachi. I make my own teriyaki sauce and everything.

Smoked baked great northern beans
Courtesy of Tim and Amy Dally of Tim’s Drunken Sauces & Rubs

1 bag great northern beans
1 red onion
1 pound bacon
3 garlic cloves
¾ cup maple syrup
¾ cup bourbon
½ cup molasses
½ cup apple cider vinegar
5 cups barbecue sauce
6 tablespoons ketchup
6 tablespoons tomato paste
7 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Pork belly (cut into 1-inch cubes; about 5 to 10 cubes)
5 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon cayenne powder

Rinse beans. Add six to eight cups of water to a saucepan and bring to a rapid boil. Boil for two minutes. Remove from heat and cover. Drain beans and rinse. Add six cups of water to the saucepan. Add beans and simmer on low to medium heat with lid tilted until desired tenderness. Cook the bacon and set aside. Drain the grease out and add the pork belly. Dice the onions and cook for 5 minutes. Add the diced garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add 6 cups of water, along with the maple syrup, bourbon, molasses, apple cider vinegar, barbecue sauce, Dijon mustard, ketchup, tomato paste, paprika, dry mustard and cayenne powder. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add cooked bacon and place in smoker for 3 to 5 hours at 250 degrees.

Featured photo: Tim and Amy Dally – Tim’s Drunken Sauces & Rubs

Home-cooked Italian

Tammaro’s Cucina coming to Litchfield

Donna Tammaro and her daughter, Lindsey Russo, quickly gained a following among family and friends last year for trays of their homemade Italian dishes, starting with Russo’s lasagna before expanding to others like meatballs, chicken alfredo, stuffed shells and eggplant Parmesan. The feedback was so positive that it inspired them to pursue opening their own restaurant, where they’ll soon be offering a variety of scratch-made options to the public for the first time.

Lasagna from Tammaro’s Cucina. Courtesy photo.

Tammaro’s Cucina, on track to open later this month in northern Litchfield, is expected to feature a diverse menu of homemade Italian dishes cooked to order, plus a case of take-and-bake pasta trays, pastries and other options. Many of the dishes are named after and use recipes from multiple family members, including MaryAnn Tammaro — Donna’s mother and Russo’s Nana — as well as Russo’s aunt and even a few of her cousins from overseas in Italy.

While cooking most of the meals out of MaryAnn’s home kitchen in Manchester, Donna Tammaro and Russo looked for potential restaurant locations over the course of several months. A friend eventually tipped them off earlier this year about a small space on Charles Bancroft Highway in nearby Litchfield that would soon become vacant.

Tammaro’s Cucina will feature salads, soups and a few Italian hot subs like chicken Parmesan, meatball, and sausage, pepper and onion. But the stars of its menu will be the pasta dishes, from Russo’s meat or cheese lasagna to chicken penne broccoli alfredo, shrimp scampi, chicken ziti broccoli in a garlic wine sauce, and a five-cheese tortellini. Each will be served with two pieces of garlic bread, made with Tammaro’s own garlic butter in house.

“Some dishes will have other sides you can choose,” Russo said. “We’ll have risotto, ricotta mashed potatoes, broccoli, mixed vegetables and mozzarella sticks for sides. … We’re also going to be doing cheese and pepperoni Sicilian pizzas.”

A few pasta dishes, Tammaro said, will likely be cooked in half trays ahead of lunchtime and available out of a grab-and-go case. Several homemade desserts are also expected, including cannolis, lemon or blueberry ricotta cake, tiramisu and assorted Italian cupcakes and cookies.

Half- or full-sized trays of any of the menu’s pastas will be cooked to order too, feeding about six to eight or 12 to 16 people, respectively, according to Russo.

Potential specials may include Italian meatloaf with ricotta mashed potatoes, or items traditionally served around the holidays like pizzagaina.

“Pizzagaina is a meat pie with Italian cold cuts and fresh ricotta and Parmesan cheese,” Tammaro said. “It’s absolutely out of this world. … My mother used to make one that was so huge.”

While they expect to offer mostly takeout and delivery, Russo said there will be a few tables inside for customers to dine in, as well as outside the restaurant in nice weather.

Tommaro’s Cucina
An opening date is expected in the coming weeks. Call, email or follow them on social media for updates.

Where: 469 Charles Bancroft Hwy., Litchfield
Anticipated hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
More info: Follow them on Facebook @tammaroscucina4 or on Instagram @tammaroscucina, email tammaroscucina@gmail.com or call 377-7312

Featured photo: Penne with meatballs from Tammaro’s Cucina. Courtesy photo.

Handcrafted deliciousness

A new handcrafted chocolate and confection shop in Bedford is offering everything from specialty barks and all kinds of flavors of truffles to peanut butter cups, honey caramels, fudge and a line of sugar-free products sweetened with monk fruit.

Sweet Boutique, housed in the former Triolo’s Bakery space on Kilton Road, also roasts its own nuts, produces its own caramel corn in several flavors, and will have colder options like fruit smoothies, acai bowls and gelato cookie sandwiches throughout the summer. A two-day grand opening celebration is set for Saturday, July 17, and Sunday, July 18.

Sweet Boutique. Courtesy photo.

The shop is run by Michael Pais and his partner, Lynn Mackenna, a chocolatier with more than three decades of experience working at the former Willey’s Candy Shop on Salisbury Beach.

Pais, who oversees the shop’s sugar-free products, said the pair had discussed opening a shop together over a period of a few years, looking at potential locations in New Hampshire and Massachusetts before eventually coming across the Kilton Road storefront last fall.

With a retail store downstairs and a production area upstairs, Sweet Boutique can craft just about any kind of chocolatey treat imaginable. Some products will start with original recipes that Mackenna has brought from Willey’s Candy Shop, dating back to its opening in 1913, while others come from her experimenting and tinkering with different flavor ideas.

“I’m always trying to come up with something new. My brain just keeps on going and doesn’t stop.,” she said. “The honey caramel is something that I completely did myself. A lot of the truffles, the barks and the creams are my own creations.”

Some of the chocolates are pre-bagged, but you can also create your own customizable boxes.

Sweet Boutique. Courtesy photo.

Spanish peanuts are roasted in house and used in several items, like the peanut caramel corn, multiple flavors of the chocolate peanut butter cups, and the peanut butter fudge.

The idea to introduce smoothies and bowls, Pais said, came about when he and Mackenna tried to think of ways to supplement what might otherwise be a slower summer season.

“We had always thought we were going to do something,” he said. “We were talking about some type of frozen dessert. Then Lynn said why not go with the acai bowls and smoothies, because they are pretty popular right now, especially with the younger crowd.”

They also make other cold items like chia seed pudding parfaits, gelato cookie sandwiches with flavors like vanilla bean and pistachio, and their own take on a healthier type of banana split.

“It’s a banana split that I’m making out of superfruits … and then maybe with a yogurt topping, some granola, nuts and whipped cream,” Mackenna said.

During holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter, Sweet Boutique plans to offer all kinds of unique seasonal candies and chocolates. Pais said there are also opportunities for local businesses to order customizable chocolate molds for company events or fundraisers.

Sweet Boutique

Where: 21 Kilton Road, Bedford
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (hours may be subject to change)
More info: Visit visitsweetboutique.com, follow them on Instagram @sweetboutique_chocolates or call 222-1521

Featured photo: Sweets and candies from Sweet Boutique. Courtesy photo.

The Weekly Dish 21/07/01

News from the local food scene

From vine to glass: Get your tickets now for the next session in the Walks in the Vineyard series at LaBelle Winery’s Amherst location (345 Route 101), scheduled for Sunday, July 11, from 11 a.m. to noon. Wine educator Marie King and vineyard manager Josh Boisvert will lead attendees through a fun and educational walk through the vineyards, focused on the life cycles of the vines. You’ll learn how the wine you enjoy in your glass starts as grapes on vines, and also get a chance to taste four LaBelle wines throughout the session. The event is the second of a four-part series — no previous attendance or prior knowledge of wines are necessary. Tickets are $27.25 general admission per person, including taxes, and reservations are suggested. Visit labellewinery.com.

Taking flight: After about four and a half years in downtown Nashua, The Flight Center Taphouse & Eatery has expanded to a second location in Manchester and added a new speakeasy concept. The new spot, which opened June 23 in the former British Beer Co. at 1071 S. Willow St., features a dining room and bar with brick-oven pizzas, sandwiches, appetizers and dozens of craft beers on tap one one side. The other side, facing away from the main road, is home to a 1920s-inspired speakeasy-style bar called The Lost Luggage that features a craft cocktail menu of its own, according to Flight Center owner and founder Seth Simonian. The starting hours of operation are Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, from 4 to 11:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, from 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., but will likely be adjusted in the near future. Visit flightcenterbc.com or find them on Facebook @flightcentermht.

Powder Keg Beer Festival to return: Following its cancellation in 2020, the 9th Powder Keg Beer Festival will return this fall, with a scheduled date of Saturday, Oct. 2, at Swasey Parkway in Exeter, according to a press release issued on the event’s website and Facebook pages. “Even though it will be modified, we are excited to offer the Powder Keg after taking a year off,” Exeter Parks & Recreation executive director Greg Bisson said in a statement. While chili will not be served as in past years, the festival will welcome a variety of local food trucks alongside the more than 200 local beers, ciders and hard seltzers that will be available to choose from. VIP admission will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by general admission from 2 to 4 p.m. Tickets will go on sale Aug. 1 and will be $35 per person, or $10 for designated drivers. Visit powderkegbeerfest.com.

Combating hunger: Grow Nashua, an organization focused on creating urban vegetable farms in the Gate City, has become one of 50 nonprofits across the country to launch a mobile app designed to direct home and community gardeners to donate a portion of their freshly grown produce to support hunger relief efforts, according to a press release. The Fresh Food Connect mobile app coordinates donations from the gardeners to local nonprofits working to address food insecurity at the local level. Gardeners who download the app can easily arrange for extra produce to be picked up from their doorstep or delivered to a local organization providing free groceries. According to the release, Grow Nashua is also expanding to three locations with Fresh Food Connect’s help, where growers can give their extra veggies. Visit grownashua.org/share.

Cool off with spritzers

A crisp bubbly drink in red or white

Spritzers are quite common in Europe, where their name began as Gespritzer, a noun derived from the German past participle of spritzen, or “to squirt.”

Popular in central Europe, spritzers have gained worldwide attention as ready-mixed in cans, with their low alcoholic and caloric content. They are the perfect afternoon beverage for a hot summer day for anyone wanting relief from the hot sun without the prospect of dulling their senses or imbibing unnecessary calories.

Spritzers should not be confused with wine coolers, which contain fruit juice and sugar, or sangria, which lacks carbonation but also contains a fair amount of carbohydrates. Spritzers should just be a simple combination of wine and carbonated water or club soda, with perhaps a slice of orange, served in a tall glass of ice. Both the wine and the soda should be well-chilled.

Originating in the 19th century, spritzers were traditionally made with white wine, but a full-fruited red wine can also be employed. Your imagination should be your guide, but remember, keep it simple! We bought our own SodaStream sparkling water maker a couple of years ago. I daily thank the esteemed scientist Joseph Priestley, who in his limitless energy discovered many gases, including oxygen and nitrous oxide, but most importantly invented carbonated water. Keeping a bottle of the sparkling water in the refrigerator makes preparing a spritzer an exercise of just a minute!

We have two spritzers to try. Our first is made with an imported Chablis. Antonin Rodet 2019 Chablis (originally priced at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets at $28.99 and reduced to $13.99) is in my estimation an excellent selection of a white wine for a spritzer; others include sauvignon blanc and riesling. Some acidity in the wine is important, as it works with the sparkling water to quench one’s thirst. Our wine comes from Chablis, in the far northern regions of Burgundy. Produced from the chardonnay grape, it is bone dry while not harsh, steely with mineral notes but not austere. It is rich, but not buttery like California chardonnays. Its color is the lightest of straw with a slight green cast. It has a tart lime-like nose, with an even yellow plum and minerality to the tongue; this is not the chardonnay that many would disdain. It is a perfect wine to mix with sparkling water for that thirst-quenching beverage.

Our second spritzer is made with Australia’s Limestone Coast Greg Norman Estates 2015 Reserve Shiraz (originally priced at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets at $49.99, reduced to $19.99). It is the perfect fruity-red wine for a spritzer! This vintage has been rated in the top 10 percent of all wines from this region. Like a rich Australian grenache, this shiraz has abundant fruit with soft tannins. It has a rich, dense red color, with bold plum fruit to the nose and palate.

This is a wine that, if you take advantage of the price and purchase several to set some aside, will cellar well for several years to come, netting repeated summers of red, healthy spritzers. Like the Chablis, this red should also be chilled prior to mixing.

So cool off this summer with some healthier alternatives, spritzers made with excellent red and white wines, crisp and clean, low in alcohol and calories! Simple to make with a 2:1 ratio of wine to sparkling water, poured over a tall glass of ice. Add a slice of orange for additional fruit and vitamin C!

Grouse

As I left the house for my weekly outing to the flea market, the nightingale-like voice of my wife called out after me.

“Don’t buy anything stupid!”

This advice seemed misguided to me for two reasons: (1) buying something stupid is the whole point of a flea market, and (2) after 19 years of marriage, the idea that I could refrain from that kind of stupidity is optimistic to the point of fantasy.

To my credit, I kept a cool head for the first 20 minutes or so of browsing. But then I found this beauty — a tapered glass decorated with a grouse. You can tell, because it is labeled as such: “Grouse.”

In much the same way as some people talk about making eye contact with a puppy at an animal shelter and instantly bonding, the Grouse Glass and I shared an instant emotional intimacy. It fluttered its way into my heart.

Which is how Grouse Glass came home with me. Now, at this point, you are probably expecting a rambling story about my spirited defense of Grouse Glass to my wife, or a pun on the fact that “grouse” rhymes with “spouse,” but you will be disappointed, because I snuck it into the house when she was busy and hid it in with the other glassware in our dining room. Now, Grouse Glass is mine and I am its and a practical matter needs to be sorted — to wit, what to drink from it.

A brief internet search for grouse-themed cocktails was unexpectedly successful. As it turns out, there are a number of whiskeys named after grouse — Famous Grouse, Naked Grouse, etc. — largely connected to the image of tweedy aristocrats shooting them. In consequence, there have been a number of cocktails named after them.

I took a recipe that was weird as snake sneakers to begin with and started playing with it. I ended up with something that is solidly good but that no self-respecting grouse would have anything to do with.

Grouse With No Self-Respect

This is based on a drink called the Dirty Bird. I have made a great number of changes and substitutions. Clearly the Grouse is not the only one lacking in self-respect.

Ingredients:

2 ounces Doritos-infused Irish whiskey (See below. No, really. It will be OK.)

¼ ounces dry sherry — I used amontillado

1/3 ounce fig syrup (see below)

3 dashes (30 drops) cardamom or Angostura bitters

1 dash (10 drops) Tabasco sauce

Mix all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until thoroughly chilled and a little diluted.

Pour everything, including the ice, into a chilled Grouse Glass. If you do not have a grouse glass, a rocks glass will do.

Garnish and serve on a plate with Fig Newtons.

OK, you’re going to have to have a little faith on this one.

The original recipe called for infusing a grouse-named whiskey with kettle corn. I tried it — and it was fine — but it was understated, and this does not seem to be an understated drink. I got to thinking, “The corn idea is solid, but is there a way of giving it some oomph?” Hence, the Doritos.

Stay with me; we’ll get through this together.

The fig syrup is the secret star here. The whiskey hits your palate first, followed by the — believe it or not — somewhat subtle Doritos flavor, but the fig aftertaste is what makes this drink really interesting. It leads to a second sip, then a third. The bitters keep it from being too sweet, and the Tabasco adds a tiny amount of zing that keeps it from tasting a little flat.

Self-respect is overrated.

Doritos-infused whiskey

Combine one 1-ounce packet of Nacho Cheese Doritos and 6 ounces of Irish whiskey in a small jar.

Seal and store someplace cool and dark for one week, shaking it twice per day.

Strain and bottle it. (Don’t stress about how little whiskey you end up with. You like whiskey; it turns out that Doritos like whiskey. They deserve a little something for the sacrifice they have made.

Fig syrup

Combine two parts fig jam to one part water in a small saucepan over medium heat.

Boil until the jam is as dissolved as possible. Depending on what brand of jam you are using, there may or may not be chunks of fig left, after it is syruped.

Strain and bottle. Don’t worry about any tiny fig seeds — that’s what helps keep this figgy — but actual chunks of figs would probably be off-putting in the final cocktail.

Featured photo: Grouse. Photo by John Fladd.

Paula Norena

Nashua couple Paula Norena and Jonathan Laureano opened Tostao’s Tapas – Bar (170 Main St., Nashua, 577-1111, tostaostapasbar.com), a downtown eatery offering authentic Spanish tapas and cocktails, in the spring of 2019. Natives of Colombia and Puerto Rico, respectively, Norena and Laureano took over the former WineNot Boutique space in late 2018, installing a brand new kitchen and creating a menu that borrows styles from Europe and across multiple Latin American nations. Popular items include the beef, chicken or cheese empanadas, the paella, the coconut shrimp, and arepas, a dish popular in Colombia and Venezuela that Norena described as similar in appearance to a pancake, but made of corn.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

The tongs.

What would you have for your last meal?

Bandeja paisa. It’s a traditional plate from Colombia with rice, beans, egg, pork belly, chorizo and corn cake. It has everything on one plate.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

Casey Magee’s [Irish Pub in Nashua]. Their chicken wings are great.

What celebrity would you like to see coming into Tostao’s Tapas – Bar?

I would say maybe Marc Anthony. I love his music, so that would be nice.

What is your favorite item on your menu?

I love steak, so my favorite thing would be the carne asada. I also love the ribs sancocho, which is a special that we throw on the menu in the wintertime. I can eat it every day.

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?

Right now, I see that empanadas are everywhere. We didn’t used to see them in every restaurant but now everybody seems to have them. … We have Colombian empanadas on our menu, which has a dough that is made of corn.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

Jonathan loves lasagna, so when I get to cook for my family, I like to do a homemade chicken lasagna.

Stuffed cheese arepas (corn cakes)
From the kitchen of Paula Norena of Tostao’s Tapas – Bar in Nashua

2 cups pre-cooked white cornmeal
4 ounces part-skim mozzarella, cut into 8 cubes
2½ cups lukewarm water
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup vegetable oil, or as needed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir water and salt together in a large bowl. Add the cornmeal into the water until a soft dough forms. Divide the dough into 8 golf ball-sized balls and pat each into a patty. Place a cube of mozzarella in the center of each patty. Fold the dough over the cheese to cover it. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat until simmering. Cook the corn patties until golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side. Bake the patties until their edges are crisp and golden, about 10 minutes.

Featured photo: Paula Norena of Tostao’s Tapas – Bar in Nashua

The Weekly Dish 21/06/24

News from the local food scene

Greekfest Express coming to Manchester: Volunteers and members of Assumption Greek Orthodox Church (111 Island Pond Road, Manchester) are preparing to host a modified version of Greekfest, its popular two-day Greek food festival typically held in late August. Greekfest Express, a revised one-day drive-thru version of the festival, is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 28, according to information from the church’s most recent online newsletter. The menu will feature many of the same Greek dishes that have been staples at previously Greekfest events, as well as at the church’s drive-thru food festivals held at the church over the past year — attendees can expect pastichio, half-roasted chicken, Greek meatballs, gyro plates, and desserts like baklava and loukoumades (fried dough balls). More details are expected to be posted online soon. Visit foodfest.assumptionnh.org.

Beer & Wine: There’s a new local spot to get your favorite craft beers, wines and meads. Beer & Wine Nation opened on June 12 in Merrimack’s 360 Shopping Plaza (360 Daniel Webster Hwy.), according to a press release. The store features one of the largest selections of beer, wine and cigars under one roof in the area, including more than 2,000 craft and domestic beers, and more than 1,300 wines from around the world. There are also more than 300 ready-to-drink canned cocktail varieties and canned natural and organic wines, plus a selection of regularly stocked beers, wines and meads from New Hampshire. According to the release, the owners of Beer & Wine Nation have also been operating the Quick Stop at the Crossroads Mall in Londonderry for the past decade. They plan to open a second Beer & Wine Nation store in North Conway and to offer delivery services out of the Merrimack store soon. Visit beerandwinenation.com or follow them on Facebook and Instagram @bwnmerrimack to keep up with new product arrivals.

Farm-fresh produce: Groh Farm (135 Temple Road, Wilton), a biodynamic farm in western Wilton, held the grand opening of its new farm store on June 20, where you’ll find a variety of greens, peas, turnips and other produce. According to executive farmer Julien Brooks, the store is open regularly on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The site was the first location for the Temple-Wilton Community Farm and is now under the direction of Matt Pearson, a biodynamic farmer with three decades of experience. “It’s been over a year of work, but now we’re finally producing enough to sell,” Brooks said in an email. Other produce that will be available seasonally will include French breakfast radishes, cucumbers, peppers, heirloom and mixed cherry tomatoes, summer squash, and various herbs and edible flowers. Additionally, Brooks said the farm is launching a food trailer called Homegrown, which will be sourcing foods from different parts of New Hampshire, serving hot meals and some deli-style options. The food trailer will be operating on Saturdays only. Groh Farm also joined the roster of the Milford and Peterborough Farmers Markets last week. Visit grohfarm.com.

Ribs!

Local experts discuss the delicious variations of this BBQ favorite

Nothing says summer barbecue quite like a plate of melt-in-your-mouth pork ribs, and while it may take another year before the return of Merrimack’s Great American Ribfest, there are still restaurants, food trucks and trailers all across the state serving up ribs in a variety of styles. The options become even more customizable if you’re grilling or smoking ribs at home.

“Ribs are what I think of when I think of barbecue. They’re one of the most well-liked foods and tend to be what’s going to lure people into the hobby,” said Jayna Todisco Coulon, a member of the Northeast Barbecue Society and founder of A Mazie Q, a New Hampshire-based barbecue competition team. “A rack of ribs has all the things you want. It’s a finger food that’s not going to give you any issues with dryness or anything if you cook it correctly.”

From the types of cuts available to the regional styles and cooking methods associated with ribs, local barbecue experts and butchers discuss this staple’s many variations and provide their own tips and tricks for how to cook them yourself.

Pork barbecue ribs from Georgia’s Northside in Concord. Photo by Matt Ingersoll.

Cuts and styles

When it comes to pork ribs, depending on where you go, you’ll encounter either baby backs or spare ribs — the difference between the two is where they are on the animal’s body, said Dan DeCourcey, an award-winning competitive barbecuer and the owner and pitmaster of Up In Your Grill, a food trailer and mobile caterer based in Merrimack.

“Spare ribs are going to be on the front, on the belly. They are going to be flatter and meatier, and they also tend to be fatter,” DeCourcey said. “The baby backs are near the loin area. They are smaller and more curved, and they tend to be leaner because they are not on the belly side. … The baby back ribs basically connect to the spine, and the spare ribs connect to the breast bone.”

You might come across the term “St. Louis-cut ribs” on restaurant menus too — DeCourcey said this refers to spare ribs that have the cartilage tissue connecting to the breast bone removed, resulting in a more uniform rectangle-shaped cut that can be easier to grill or smoke.

One rack of ribs will generally have around 12 individual bones, and some restaurants will give you the option to order them by the full rack or half rack, as well as third or quarter racks.

How the ribs are sauced and rubbed is going to vary depending on that regional style of barbecue. Kansas City style, for instance, is characterized by a much thicker and sweeter sauce, usually containing ingredients like molasses, brown sugar or honey, as well as sugar in its rubs. Memphis and Texas styles are more known for their dry rubs — the difference there being that Texas is much more narrow with their ingredients, while rubs in Memphis will be more complex.

“Down in Texas, they love salt and pepper and just keeping it really simple, whereas Memphis might have more paprika and cumin and all sorts of other stuff going on,” DeCourcey said.

Over at KC’s Rib Shack in Manchester, owner and co-founder Kevin Cornish said he considers his pork spare ribs to be more of a Memphis-style.

“There are certainly some places in Memphis that will sell their ribs sauced, but Memphis style is definitely known for a dry-rubbed, seasoned rib,” Cornish said. “We cook what we call untrimmed spare ribs, so we serve the whole rib together rather than a St. Louis cut.”

Smokeshow Barbeque in Concord, which is all about Texas style, according to owner Matt Gfroerer, offers smoked ribs cooked low and slow with sauces on the side.

“A lot of places will do a rib plate, but what we do is we weigh everything out as close as we can and you pay [for] exactly what you get,” Gfroerer said. “You’ll find that more in Texas as well.”

Georgia’s Northside, also in Concord, nearly always has pork ribs that can be ordered from of its “Meat & Three” menu, according to chef and owner Alan Natkiel. In Londonderry, Greg LaFontaine of the Smoke Shack Cafe said his pork ribs are seasoned St. Louis cuts that can be ordered as a half rack or full rack.

Simple spare ribs recipe
Courtesy of Kevin Cornish of KC’s Rib Shack in Manchester

1 full rack of untrimmed spare ribs

For the dry rub:
3 Tablespoons brown or white sugar (or 1½ Tablespoons of each)

1½ Tablespoons kosher salt
1½ Tablespoons paprika
1½ Tablespoons coarse grind black pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder

For the barbecue basting spritz:
3 cups apple juice
1 cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup barbecue sauce
Season your ribs generously on both sides with rub, shaking off the excess. Cook in a preheated 250-degree smoker, or in the oven on a wire rack over a sheet pan. Cook for about two and a half hours. At two and a half hours, spritz the top, then spritz every half hour until ribs are done (about three and a half to four hours). Ribs are done by testing the tenderness of the meat — you can do this by twisting between the third and fourth largest bones. The meat should begin to release easily from the bones. Finish off on the grill for a few minutes, adding sauce if desired, or cut up and serve as they are with sauce on the side.

Picking your meat

If you want to cook your own ribs, local butcher shops and some livestock farms will sell them by the rack or the pound — and there are indicators you can look for before you buy.

“Like any meat, you want to try to find the right marbling. Big giant monster chunks of fat are going to be too much,” DeCourcey said. “It’s also nice if the bones of St. Louis ribs are straighter … because it makes it easier to cut.”

Todisco Coulon said one of the biggest things she looks out for in ribs are called shiners, or exposed bones as a result of the meat being trimmed down too much.

“You want a meatier rib,” she said, “because a bone sticking out is going to disintegrate when it cooks, and so you’re not going to get as much meat.”

All racks of ribs will start out with a thin membrane on their underside, and there are different schools of thought for either removing it or leaving it on before you cook the meat.

“I generally find that they have a better bite if you pull the membrane off,” DeCourcey said. “The easiest way to do it is you use a butter knife, get a little bit under a corner and then use a paper towel and peel it back. You get better at it over time. Sometimes they are difficult and other times they’ll just come right off at once and you feel like a pro.”

Cornish, on the other hand, said he now likes to leave the membrane on the rib.

“I totally am a firm believer that it helps the rib retain moisture. I think we were peeling it off and it was just another place for moisture within the meat to escape,” he said. “I find that, after it’s cooked for three and a half hours in the smoker, you really don’t notice it’s there.”

Some brands of Cryovaced ribs, like Chairman’s Reserve, are sold with the membrane already pulled off. The Prime Butcher, with separately owned locations in Windham and Hampstead, sells both baby back ribs and St. Louis-style ribs produced by this brand.

Butchers will also sometimes sell pre-marinated or pre-rubbed racks of ribs, or you can get your own customizable rub or marinade to save on prep time.

“If you can imagine it, we can do it,” said Billy Steeves, store manager of The Prime Butcher’s Hampstead location. “We also run a smoker here three days a week, usually on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, so we’ll sell ready-to-eat smoked half racks and full racks.”

If you regularly buy pork, beef or chicken, you may have noticed a sharp price increase lately.

A wide-scale labor shortage in the meatpacking industry caused by the pandemic, along with high feed costs, are among the factors to blame, Steeves said.

“Ribs have really been climbing in the last six weeks to two months now,” he said. “We’re up probably 60 to 70 percent. It’s a big number, but ribs are still one of the cheaper things you can buy. … St. Louis [ribs] are usually pretty significantly cheaper than baby backs.”

Fire it up

Ribs from the Smoke Shack Cafe in Londonderry. Courtesy photo.

A good basic rub to use if you’re starting out with ribs, according to Cornish, is equal parts salt, pepper, paprika and either white or brown sugar, and about half the amount of garlic powder and onion powder.

“A lot of times I’ll tell people to take this wherever they want to go with it,” he said.

But you don’t need too many diverse ingredients for the rub to do its job — Todisco Coulon said it’s a good idea to taste-test it for sweetness. If it’s too sweet, it can burn too quickly and leave the ribs with a bitter taste, in which case you’d want to cook at a bit lower level heat.

“I would rub it down 20 minutes to an hour in advance,” she said. “It will look like the rib will have absorbed the rub. It will almost look wet to you, and that’s when you know you’re ready.”

You don’t need a smoker to produce great flavor and texture in your ribs, either.

“If you know your way around a gas grill, you can actually pull off some pretty darn good ribs, especially if you start to incorporate things like smoke tubes or smoke boxes,” DeCourcey said. “You can buy wood pellets, throw them in the smoke tube and then chuck them on the edge of the flame, and they’ll smoke. … Or you can even take tinfoil, throw some wood chips in there, wrap them up and poke holes in it.”

DeCourcey said an approach to ribs that’s geared toward beginners is known as the “3-2-1 method,” or cooking low and slow at around 220 to 225 degrees for a total of six hours.

“It’s three hours in the smoke chamber, then you wrap the ribs in foil and put them back in for two more hours,” he said. “Some people like to add some pats of butter, maybe a little honey or a few tablespoons of apple juice, and basically that creates a braising liquid inside the wrap.”

After the two hours wrapped in foil, the meat should start to pull back from the bone and be very tender. The final step of the 3-2-1 method involves applying a slather of barbecue sauce and cooking unwrapped again, this time for one final additional hour.

Other optional techniques you can apply to your ribs include what’s called a binding agent, or an ingredient like mustard that you can add to help your rub stick on to the meat. Adding a spritz of something like water, apple juice or apple cider vinegar periodically as the ribs are cooking can also help them to further retain more moisture, Gfroerer said.

“You can follow the 3-2-1, but then there’s a million variations thereof,” DeCourcey said. “It’s such a rough guide … and after a while you start to learn what to look out for.”

Are they done yet?

You can generally tell when ribs are ready when they gently pull away from the bone. If you use a thermometer, the internal temperature should be around 200 to 205 degrees.

“What I’m looking for is how they feel when I pick them up and how much the meat recedes from the bottom bone,” Todisco Coulon said. “Ribs that fall off the bone are overdone.”

Cornish said he’ll often twist between two of the larger bones on the rack as a test.

“If I feel that the meat is starting to kind of separate and pull apart, then I know it’s pretty close to done,” he said. “You want it to basically come clean off the bone when you take a bite.”

Then there’s the “bend test,” which involves either picking your rack of ribs up either on the end or in the middle, or taking a pair of tongs and lifting it from one side of the rack.

“You want it to bend nicely. If it doesn’t bend enough, it’s underdone,” DeCourcey said. “If the meat starts to crack a little bit, it’s probably just about right.”

But as DeCourcey has discovered, some of his customers prefer fall-off-the-bone ribs.

“Even with some of my regulars, I’ve learned that they like fall-off-the-bone, and if I know they’re coming, I’ll leave some on for them for a little longer,” he said.

Where to get pork ribs

This list includes local restaurants where you get a ready-to-eat plate of pork spare ribs or baby back ribs, as well as catering companies available for hire that offer ribs on their menu. For the at-home barbecuer, local butcher shops, farms and corner markets selling ribs by the rack or by the pound are included here as well. Do you know of another local business not on this list? Let us know at food@hippopress.com.

603 Smoke’n Que (603bbq.com) is a Merrimack-based barbecue catering company offering a variety of smoked meats, including St. Louis-cut ribs.

The Alamo Texas Barbecue & Tequila Bar (99 Route 13, Brookline, 721-5500, alamobarbecue.com) offers half racks of baby back ribs that come with two sides and either traditional or candied jalapeno cornbread.

Arnie’s Place (164 Loudon Road, Concord, 228-3225, arniesplace.com) offers dry-rubbed, slow-cooked St. Louis-cut spare ribs, available in quarter-rack, half-rack or full-rack sizes and served with cornbread and your choice of two additional sides.

Backyard Brewery & Kitchen (1211 S. Mammoth Road, Manchester, 623-3545, backyardbrewerynh.com) offers baby back ribs in its house “bar-b-brew” sauce, served with fries and a pickle slaw.

Big Kahunas Smokehouse (1158 Hooksett Road, Hooksett, 935-7400, nhkahuna.com) offers smoked pork ribs, available in half-rack or full-rack sizes, with your choice of two sides and a signature sauce like spicy Caribbean barbecue, pineapple habanero or Bali sweet soy sauce.

Boogalow’s Island BBQ (boogalowsbbq.com) is a Danville-based food truck and mobile catering service offering a variety of authentic Jamaican and backyard barbecue options, including dry-rubbed and slow-smoked pork ribs.

Border Brewery & Barbecue (224 N. Broadway, Salem, 216-9134, borderbrewsupply.com) offers St. Louis-cut ribs over smoked bacon macaroni and cheese on its barbecue menu.

Brookford Farm (250 West Road, Canterbury, 742-4084, brookfordfarm.com) offers pasture-raised pork spare ribs that can be purchased at the farm store or online.

Brothers Butcher (8 Spit Brook Road, Nashua, 809-4180; 142 Lowell Road, Hudson, 577-1130; brothers-butcher.com) offers plain or chipotle barbecue baby back ribs that are priced by the pound.

CJ’s Great West Grill (782 S. Willow St., Manchester, 627-8600, cjsgreatwestgrill.com) offers a one-pound rack of smoked barbecue ribs that’s served with fries, coleslaw and baked beans. The ribs can also be ordered as part of a barbecue combo sampler plate, along with your choice of smoked brisket, pulled pork, barbecue chicken or beef tips.

Concord Beef & Seafood (75 S. Main St., Concord, 226-3474, find them on Facebook @concordbeefandseafood) offers marinated and unmarinated baby back ribs, sold by the rack.

Derry Restaurant & Pizza (111 W. Broadway, Derry, 432-2107, derryrestaurantandpizza.com) offers half racks or full racks of barbecue baby back ribs. They can also be ordered as part of a combo plate with barbecue chicken breast.

The Flying Butcher (124 Route 101A, Amherst, 598-6328, theflyingbutcher.com) has a wide selection of pork options available for purchase, including baby back ribs.

Gauchos Churrascaria Brazilian Steakhouse & Butchery (62 Lowell St., Manchester, 669-9460, gauchosbraziliansteakhouse.com) offers a variety of meats, including full racks of baby back ribs, that can be ordered online. Orders placed before noon will be ready for pickup or local delivery that day beginning at 4 p.m.

Georgia’s Northside (394 N. State St., Concord, 715-9189, georgiasnorthside.com) offers barbecue pork ribs served with three fresh market sides that change daily, as well as add-on sauce options like barbecue, smoked jalapeno mustard and Parmesan peppercorn ranch.

Grill 603 (168 Elm St., Milford, 213-6764, grill603.com) offers St. Louis-cut ribs on its dinner menu, dry-rubbed with its signature spice blend, slow-smoked and served with house macaroni and cheese and fresh coleslaw.

Heritage Corner Market (1380 1st New Hampshire Turnpike, Northwood, 942-9963, heritagecornermarket.com) has various cuts of pork available for sale, including marinated ribs.

Hickory Stix BBQ (hickorystixbbq.rocks) is a Londonderry-based food trailer and mobile catering service offering multiple barbecue options, including half-rack or full-rack-sized St. Louis-cut ribs.

J&B Butcher (259 E. Main St., E. Hampstead, 382-0999, jandbbutcher.com) offers several cuts of pork, including racks of baby back ribs that are sold by the pound.

KC’s Rib Shack (837 Second St., Manchester, 627-7427, ribshack.net) offers third-rack or half-rack-sized pork spare ribs, available with cornbread and two additional sides of your choice. The ribs can also be ordered as part of a combo plate with pulled pork, barbecue sausage chunks, Texas beef brisket or bone-in chicken breast, as well as in bulk, by the half rack, third rack or full rack.

Lemay & Sons (116 Daniel Plummer Road, Goffstown, 622-0022, lemayandsonsbeef-bbq.com) offers a variety of fresh meats, including ribs, out of its specialty store, The Steak Out.

McKinnon’s Market & Super Butcher Shop (236 N. Broadway, Salem, 894-6328, mckinnonsmarkets.com) offers a wide selection of meats for sale, including baby back ribs.

Messy Mike’s Barbecue & Catering Co. (messymikesbbq.com) is a Derry-based mobile food trailer and catering service offering multiple slow-cooked barbecue options, including St. Louis-cut ribs available in half-rack or full-rack sizes. Find them most Thursdays through Sundays, from 11 a.m. until they are sold out, in the parking lot of Rockingham Acres Greenhouse (161 Rockingham Road, Derry).

Mike’s Meat Shoppe (1009 Upper City Road, Pittsfield, 435-0002, find them on Facebook) offers several cuts of meat available on any given day, including full racks of spare ribs and baby back ribs.

Mr. Steer Meats (27 Buttrick Road, Londonderry, 434-1444, mrsteermeats.com) offers a variety of specialty meats for sale, including house marinated and baby back ribs

Paradise Farm (468 Center Road, Lyndeborough, 345-0860, paradisefarmnh.com) offers a variety of pasture-raised pork products, including spare ribs. Find them at the Milford Farmers Market every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 300 Elm St.

Parker’s Maple Barn (1349 Brookline Road, Mason, 878-2308, parkersmaplebarn.com) offers a half rack of maple baby back ribs that’s served with two eggs, home fries and toast.

Porkside Farm (10 French Pond Road, Henniker, 748-3767, porksideathenniker@gmail.com) offers a variety of its own pork products, including spare ribs. Find them at the Concord Farmers Market every Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to noon near the Statehouse on Capitol Street. Phone or email orders are also accepted.

The Prime Butcher (201 Route 111, Hampstead, 329-7355; 58 Range Road, Windham, 893-2750; primebutcher.com) offers multiple cuts of pork, including both baby back and St. Louis-cut spare ribs, sold by the pound either marinated or unmarinated.

R & J Texas-Style BBQ on Wheels (183 Elm St., Milford, 518-0186, rjtexasbbqonwheels.com) offers a variety of barbecue options, including racks of ribs with your choice of sides.

Ranger’s BBQ (rangers-bbq.com) is a Nashua-based food trailer and mobile catering service offering a variety of slow-cooked barbecue options, including dry-rubbed ribs that come in quarter-rack, half-rack or full-rack sizes, served with your choice of a side and homemade sauce. When they’re not catering for a private event, Ranger’s BBQ can be found on Daniel Webster Highway in Nashua, near the Tyngsboro, Mass., state line, on weekends.

Smoke N’ Butts BBQ (smokenbuttsbbq.com) is a mobile food trailer and catering service specializing in smoked meats, including dry-rubbed pork spare ribs, available in quarter-rack, half-rack or full-rack sizes. Find them on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, outside of The Farmer’s Wife (20 Main St., Candia).

Smokehaus Barbecue (278 Route 101, Amherst, 249-5734, smokehausbbq.com) offers half- or full-sized slabs of baby back ribs, that come with bread and your choice of two sizes, like collard greens, hush puppies, french fries and macaroni and cheese.

Smoke Shack Cafe (226 Rockingham Road, Londonderry, 404-2178, smokeshackcafe.com) offers St. Louis-cut pork ribs that are available in half-rack or full-rack sizes, each of which comes with your choice of two sides. The ribs can also be ordered as part of a combo plate with another meat, like brisket, pulled pork, pulled chicken or Italian sausage.

Smoke Shack Southern Barbecue & Ice Cream (146 King St., Boscawen, 796-2046, ss-bbq.com) offers quarter-rack, half-rack or full-rack-sized baby back rib plates that are served with cornbread and one or two additional sides. The Smoke Shack also operates concessions at New England Dragway (280 Exeter Road, Epping) and New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1122 Route 106 N, Loudon).

Smokeshow Barbeque (89 Fort Eddy Road, Concord, 227-6399, smokeshowbbq.com) offers slow-smoked pork ribs, with three different sauces available on the side and additional sides available a la carte.

Tim’s Drunken Sauces and Rubs (timsdrunkensauces@gmail.com, find them on Facebook) is a mobile food trailer offering a variety of barbecue options, including ribs. Find them at 244 Elm St. in Milford most Tuesdays through Sundays, as well as at a few local breweries.

Up In Your Grill (upinyourgrill.com) is a Merrimack-based food trailer and mobile catering service specializing in a variety of meats, including slow-smoked Kansas City-style baby back ribs. When he’s not catering or prepping for a private event, Up In Your Grill owner and pitmaster Dan DeCourcey posts on social media where he’ll be vending roadside. Dates vary — follow him on Facebook @upinyourgrill for updates.

Wicked Good Butchah (209 Route 101, Bedford, 488-5638, wickedgoodbutchahnh.com) offers a variety of specialty cuts of meat, including baby back ribs.

The Wine’ing Butcher (16 Sheep Davis Road, Pembroke, 856-8855; 28 Weirs Road, Gilford, 293-4670; 81 Route 25, Meredith; wineingbutcher.com) offers a variety of specialty cuts of meat, including tender baby back ribs.

Featured photo: Ribs from the Up In Your Grill food trailer, based in Merrimack. Photo courtesy of Dan DeCourcey.

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