Saturday, April 30, 2011

Grilled Lobster Tail

This is one of my very favorite meals. And what makes it great right now is that Costco is selling huge, succulent Brazilian lobster tails for just $19.99 a pound. I picked up two big tails yesterday that tipped the scales at 2 1/4 pounds, more than enough to feed a family of four. It was a balmy 64 degrees yesterday, which made it a great night to grill...and sip Conundrum while grilling (

The trick to great lobster is to grill it in the shell. It works the same way as a bone-in steak. When the lobster meat is cooked in the shell, the shell transfers incredible flavor. But it's not as simple as throwing a whole tail on the grill....that usually results in a charred shell, steamed and often undercooked lobster meat. The trick is to split the shell, exposing the lobster meat. Here's how to do that:

Split the shell in half

Now one side of the meat is exposed

A skewer ensures it won't curl on the grill

2 lobster tails, about 1 pound each
3 sticks of butter
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
(For a flavor boost, throw some mesquite on your charcoal)

  1. Fire up your grill. For charcoal grilling, you will use a full chimney of  hot coals, spread over half the charcoal grate for direct cooking. For gas, turn all burners to high.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the chives.
  3. Split each tail in half and skewer each half to prevent curling.
  4. Pour off 4 tablespoons of butter into a small dish. Brush the lobster meat with this butter.
  5. Put the split tails on the grill, flesh side down, directly over the coals. Grill for 3 minutes.
  6. Flip the split tails so that flesh side is up. Grill for 8 minutes. When the lobster is done, the shells will be a rich reddish-brown and the meat will be firm, juicy and coral white.
  7. Serve immediately with remaining butter.

    Wine pairing: A nice oaky Chardonnay. Try Chateau St. Jean or Kendall Jackson "Vinter's Reserve".

    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    Roasted Chicken Breasts

    This recipe is so simple. The only labor to speak of is the seasoning. Otherwise, all you are going to do is flip them twice while cooking. Pour yourself a glass of wine for your left hand, put a pair of tongs in your right hand and you are chef for a day! Serves 4.

    4 split chicken breasts (skin and bone included)
    4 tablespoons of olive oil
    2 teaspoons of  Kosher salt
    2 teaspoons fresh cracked pepper
    2 teaspoons rosemary

    1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees*.
    2. Rub each breast with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle each with one-half teaspoon of salt, one-half teaspoon pepper, one-half teaspoon rosemary.
    3. Place breasts on a roasting pan, skin side up. Slide pan into oven and cook for 10 minutes.
    4. After 10 minutes, flip breasts so they are now skin side down.
    5. After another 10 minutes, flip breasts so that they are skin side up again.
    6. After 10 minutes, remove breasts from oven (total cooking time is 30 minutes). Let rest for 5 minutes, then serve with your favorite vegetable.
    Wine paring: Pinot Noir (red) or Chardonnay (white)

    *This can also be done in a grill. Put all the charcoal on one half of the charcoal grate , so you have a "direct" and "indirect" cooking surface. Keep the chicken breasts on the indirect side the entire time (with the grill covered). No need to flip due to the convection effect inside the grill. Just make sure your grill is holding the 500 degree temperature throughout the 30 minutes.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2011

    Avoid Toxic Produce

    The web site did a very interesting article on chemicals and pesticides used to treat produce. Many of the chemicals penetrate deep into the fruits and vegetables, meaning that despite all your efforts of washing produce before you eat it, you are still going to get a healthy dose of bad stuff. You can reduce your intake of these chemicals by up to 80% if you buy organic. The following is a list of organic produce you should buy to cut your chemical intake:

    • Apples
    • Bell peppers
    • Blueberries
    • Carrots
    • Celery
    • Cherries
    • Collard greens/kale
    • Imported Grapes
    • Lettuce
    • Nectarines
    • Peaches
    • Potatoes
    • Spinach
    • Strawberries 

      On the other hand, some conventionally grown produce items have very low pesticide levels, making them a more acceptable choice. These varieties include:
      • Asparagus
      • Avocado
      • Cabbage
      • Domestic canteloupe
      • Eggplant
      • Grapefruit
      • Honeydew melons
      • Kiwi
      • Mangoes
      • Onions
      • Pineapples
      • Sweet corn
      • Sweet peas
      • Watermelon

      Tuesday, April 26, 2011

      A Simple Pasta

      Just four main ingredients

      My family took exception to the promotion of Marcella Hazan's World Famous Red Sauce. While they thought it was indeed tasty, they felt it had all of  the excitement of a math equation. If it came to a throwdown between Marcella and this recipe, they said this would win every time. Using tomato paste instead of whole tomatoes ramps up the flavor considerably and the sauteed garlic adds to the complexity.

      16 ounces of spaghetti (Garofalo preferred)
      3 ounces of tomato paste
      3 cloves of garlic, minced
      3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
      2 tablespoons salt

      1. Fill a large pot with water, add salt and bring to a boil.
      2. Cook pasta for one minute less than package instructions.
      3. Put olive oil in a large pan on your stove. Turn heat to medium. Add garlic and saute until garlic softens, about 2 minutes.
      4. Add tomato paste. Whisk to combine oil and tomato paste.
      5. When pasta is cooked, drain pasta and add pasta to pan. Toss to coat pasta with tomato/olive oil mixture. Plate and serve.

        Wine pairing: Nebbiolo, Sangiovese or Zinfandel

        Monday, April 25, 2011

        Weapon of Choice: Knives

        Like most cooks, I've got lots of knives. But if forced to, I could easily get by with just three. Pictured above are the three knives I would take with me if I were going to live on a desert island for a year.

        My "go-to" knife for 95% of my cutting and slicing is the middle knife. It is an 8" Shun Santoku Classic Hollow-Ground Chef's Knife. It is the best feeling knife I have ever held. It's perfectly balanced, weighs 7.8 ounces and it works better than every other knife I have tried. The hollow indentations (kullens) reduce drag, allowing me to slice incredibly thin and what I slice does not stick to the blade. The Pakkawood handle is shaped like a "D" sits flat against my palm but is rounded under the joints in my fingers for a really sure grip. If someone put a gun to my head and said you only get one knife, this is the one I would choose. Every time.

        The next knife I use most often is the bottom one. It is a 6" Shun Classic Utility Knife. While I only use it for about 4% of my cutting and slicing, it really excels at fine cuts of vegetables. I can take a regular clove of garlic and slice it into ten paper-thin slices with this knife. Typical of the Shun knives, it has perfect balance and holds an edge forever. The Pakkawood handle also has a "D" shape for an exceptionally good grip. It's a featherweight, tipping the scale at only 2+ ounces.

        The knife on top is my big boy, an 11" Zwilling J.A. Henckels Chef's Knife. This is the knife I use for butchering, de-boning chicken and cleaving through lobster shells before grilling. Not many people perform these kinds of cutting tasks today, so it can be hard to source a knife like this. This monster weighs in at nearly 11 ounces and it's all business.

        My knives are all hand washed, they never see a dishwasher. This goes a long way toward preserving the fine wood handles and helps the blades hold their edge. To keep my knives sharp, I use the Chef's Choice Edge Select Pro Electric Sharpener pictured below. Go here to see it in action: . I purchased all three of these knives at Willams Sonoma:

        Saturday, April 23, 2011

        Fast Pantry Dinner: Tuna & Whole Wheat Pasta

        This is a really simple dish that can be put together quickly with just 3 items from your pantry: canned tuna, whole wheat pasta and olive oil. While whole wheat pasta is terrible with red sauce, it's nutty flavor is a nice complement to the tuna and olive oil. Any canned tuna will do,  but I heartily recommend imported tuna in olive oil. The taste difference is remarkable. Cento is my preferred brand and it consistently comes out on top in competitive taste tests. It's available at Whole Foods and This recipe serves 4 (allow one, 5-ounce can of tuna per person).

        4, 5-ounce cans of tuna in olive oil
        16 ounces of whole wheat spaghetti (Garofalo preferred)
        1/4 cup of of olive oil plus 1 tablespoon
        1 tablespoon salt

        1. Fill a large pot with water. Add salt and bring to a boil.
        2. When water comes to a boil, add spaghetti and cook for one minute less than package instructions.
        3. Take a small saucepan, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and empty contents of tuna cans into saucepan (This assumes you are using oil packed tuna. If you are not, drain tuna first).
        4. Spread tuna in pan and gently heat over low heat.
        5. When pasta is cooked, drain water and then toss spaghetti with 1/4 cup of olive oil. Divide spaghetti among plates and top each spaghetti serving with warm tuna.

        Wine pairing: Pinot Noir

        Thursday, April 21, 2011

        Marcella Hazan's World Famous Red Sauce

        Just four simple ingredients

        Marcella Hazan is the author of "The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking", which is considered the bible for Italian cooking. Her simple red sauce has been the subject of thousands of food blogs. Because it is so simple and so incredibly delicious, I am compelled to throw my hat in the ring.

        The beauty of this sauce is that you only need four ingredients. And see that onion on the right? No mincing. No chopping. You are simply going to peel it, cut it in half to help flavor the sauce and then discard it. This recipe is sufficient to sauce one pound of pasta.

        28-ounce can of good quality whole tomatoes
        5 tablespoons of butter
        1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
        1/2 teaspoon of salt

        1. Heat a heavy sauce pan over medium heat
        2. Add all ingredients and bring to a simmer. Turn heat down to maintain steady simmer.
        3. Cook, stirring occasionally for 45 minutes.
        4. After 45 minutes, discard onion.
        5. Toss pasta with sauce and serve or simply spoon over your pasta.

        Wine pairing: Nebbiolo, Sangiovese or Zinfandel

        Marcella Hazan

        Wednesday, April 20, 2011

        Wild Boar Ribs

        A couple of months ago I ordered up some wild boar bacon from Buffalo Gal here in Minnesota. My family went crazy over the rich, full flavor of this bacon. Because the bacon purchase had triggered a family discussion of perhaps buying me a larger pedestal, I decided to buy some more Buffalo Gal products. I ordered up bison brats, bison flank steak and some wild boar ribs.

        Yesterday I decided to cook up the ribs. I was simply going to use my recipe for oven-roasted baby-back ribs...until I opened the package of ribs up. They were incredibly lean, with no fat. If I oven roasted them I would end up with roasted bones and wild boar jerky. Meat this lean had to be braised. So that's what I did and they turned out great. The recipe below serves four. See the links at the bottom of the page if you want to purchase any of the products.

        For The Ribs
        2 racks of wild boar ribs
        4 heaping tablespoons Dijon mustard
        1 bottle of Famous Dave's Rib Rub (5.5 ounces)
        Aluminum foil

        For The Braising Liquid
        12 oz beer
        4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

        1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees
        2. Lay out 2 oversize pieces of aluminum foil that will completely enclose the rib rack when folded back over the ribs.
        3. Place one rib rack on each piece of foil, silver skin side down. Pat racks dry with paper towels.
        4. Put two heaping tablespoons of Dijon mustard on each rib rack. Use your hand to smear the mustard to coat the entire top of ribs.
        5. Sprinkle Famous Dave's Rib Rub generously over the mustard to fully coat the ribs.
        6. Fold the 4 sides of the foil up around the ribs to hold the braising liquid.
        7. Pour 6 ounces of beer under each rib rack. Then add 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire to the beer in each foil packet.
        8. Fold the foil tightly around the ribs, crimping the ends to ensure no moisture escapes.
        9. Place the ribs on a baking sheet and place them in the oven for 2 hours.
        10. After 2 hours, remove ribs from oven and remove foil packets from the baking sheet.
        11. Turn on broiler and move cooking rack to highest position.
        12. Remove ribs from foil packet (be careful, steam will be very hot). Place ribs back on cooking rack, mustard side up, and put under broiler for 3-5 minutes, until ribs are browned.
        13. Slice between each rib and serve ribs on a platter.
        Wine pairing: Zinfandel

        Wild boar ribs:
        Famous Dave's Rib Rub:

        Tuesday, April 19, 2011

        A Really Spectacular White Wine

        This is an absolute gem from the people at Caymus. And what makes it a gem is that it is a very complex blend of five different white grapes. While blends are quite common in the world of reds, white blends are less common, let alone five different grapes. The five grapes are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat Canelli,  Sémillon and Viognier. It has a deep gold color and a bouquet that  can best be described as apricot. It's bright and  very fruit forward, but not in the sense of a Sauvignon Blanc as there is a really nice oak finish to it. I highly recommend it...and it's under $20. Enjoy.

        Monday, April 18, 2011

        Grilled Corn on the Cob

        Much like grilling brats, my take on grilling corn has evolved. When I first started grilling corn, I'd get the nice dark, toasted kernels, but the corn would not be completely cooked. That didn't taste very good. So like I do my brats, I cook the corn first and then use the grill to finish the corn and give it those delicious, dark toasted kernels.  (Note: The sugar in the water transfers to the corn and aids in the caramelization on the grill.)

        4 ears of corn, on the cob, stripped of husks and silk
        1 tablespoon of sugar

        1. Fill a large pot with water, about 3/4 of the way up. Add sugar.
        2. Fire up your grill.
        3. Bring water to a boil, then add corn. Boil for 10 minutes.
        4. Remove corn from pot and put on the grill over direct, high heat. Turn the corn frequently until all sides are toasted, about 5 minutes.
        5. Then butter the corn and top with a light dusting of shallot salt:

        Longer Lasting Bananas

        Want your bananas to last longer? Toss them in the fridge. As a banana ripens, it gives off ethylene gas that aids in ripening. Cool temperatures slow down the production of the gas. However, cool temperatures cause the cell walls of the peel to break down. The end result? The peel will turn dark more quickly, but the banana inside will last five days longer than if you stored them at room temperature.

        Sunday, April 17, 2011

        A Wine Memoir

        I'm currently taking an 11 week course on food writing from the New York Times. There are just 10 of us in the class and the lectures and assignments have been very informative and fun. Our instructor is excellent. The breadth and depth of his work is remarkable. For week two of the course, we were required to create a food related memoir in 500 words or less. Here is my assignment.

        My First Time

        It was a business dinner with four associates at my favorite restaurant, D’Amico Cucina. November, 1998. I had been eating there for thirteen years. I had always ordered a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with every dinner I ate there. First, I did that because I am pattern man. Second, because that was the only wine category that I considered myself somewhat knowledgeable (and that’s not saying much).

        The five of us had all decided to order the braised short rib. As I gave the waiter my Napa Valley selection from the wine list, he stopped me and motioned for the sommelier to come to our table.

        Bill Summerville was the new sommelier at D’Amico Cucina. He had just come on board three weeks earlier from La Belle Vie in Stillwater. He introduced himself and I gave him my wine selection. He paused and then asked “Have you ever had an Italian wine?”

        My experience with Italian wines consisted of watery Chiantis in straw-wrapped bottles during my college days. I told Bill that I knew nothing about Italian wines. He went on to explain that his expertise was Italian wines and that he had spent the entire summer in Italy learning about the wines of the Piedmont region. He had just stocked the restaurant’s cellar with a large quantity of Piedmont’s best and he asked us if we would let him select the wine that would best complement our meal. “If you like big California reds, you will love Barolo.”

        He brought a 1971 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Speciale and a candle to our table. I had never heard of Barolo. He opened the wine and poured a small amount in my glass. I tasted it and was quite disappointed. It was very tight and showed none of the fruit that a big Napa Cab would have. Bill explained that it needed to decant for a good 30 minutes before the 27 year-old wine would open up. He decanted the wine and used the candle as a light source on the neck of the bottle to ensure that all of the sediment stayed in the bottle.

        After we had finished our salads and Chardonnays, dinner came. Bill came over and poured the Barolo. I was used to the dark red color of a Cabernet. The glass of Barolo was almost like ink…a blue-black that turned orange close to the rim. I took a taste and was astounded. I had never tasted a wine like that in my life. Bold fruit…a trace of prune…smoky dried mushrooms…old leather…and an incredible chocolate aftertaste that refused to leave my tongue.

        I was absolutely stunned, as were my four associates. We were all grinning ear-to-ear, but no one was grinning more than Bill, for he knew that he had just given five men the most incredible wine experience of their lives.

        From that day forward, I became a Barolo collector. The Barolos in my cellar are my most prized and cherished wines. Thank you, Bill, for changing my life that day.

        Grilled Brats

        Snow is finally off the deck, so it's officially time to fire up the grill. In my early days, I'd just rip open a package of brats, toss them on the grill until they were cooked. That resulted in good brats. Later on I started a 2-step process. First, I would gently simmer the brats in beer and then finish them on the grill over charcoal and mesquite. That resulted in great brats.

         I recommend you use Johnsonville Beer 'n Bratwurst (see package at bottom of this post). And a brat is not properly finished unless you've smothered it in Silver Spring Beer 'n Brat Horseradish Mustard, available at Costco or online:

        5 uncooked brats
        1 medium onion, chopped
        2-3 bottles of beer (enough to cover all of the brats)
        2 teaspoons dried rosemary
        5 bratwurst buns
        1 chunk of mesquite

        1. Place uncooked brats in the bottom of a  medium to large pot. Add onions and rosemary to the pan.
        2. Add enough beer to completely submerge the brats and the onions. 
        3. Bring beer to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer brats, uncovered for 20 minutes.
        4. While the brats are simmering, fire up your grill.
        5. Remove the brats from the pot after 20 minutes. They are now fully cooked and only need to be browned on the grill. Toss the mesquite on your coals. Cook the brats over direct heat, covered, turning frequently until they are thoroughly browned, about 5 minutes.
        6. Remove the brats from the grill. Put them in the buns. Throw in some drained onions from the pot and slather with mustard.
        Wine pairing: Zinfandel or your favorite brew

        Tuesday, April 12, 2011

        In Praise of Shallot Salt

        I found this salt in a Penzey's catalog a little over a year ago. I bought a small bottle to try it and it blew my entire family away. The taste of this fine, powdery salt is unlike anything we have ever tasted. The delicate flavor of shallots dances ever so lightly on the tongue. (You will not believe how it transforms fresh corn on the cob...a little bit of butter...a little bit of shallot salt...a little bit of heaven.) It can be bought at any Penzeys retail store and it's also available online here: . I started playing around with it in different recipes and managed to score one that has become a family favorite:

        Shallot Rice
        2 cups of white rice
        2 medium shallots, finely minced*
        2 tablespoons olive oil
        3 tablespoons of butter
        2 teaspoons shallot salt
        2 1/2 cups of water

        1. Melt butter in a small pot. Add shallots and stir until softened, about 3 minutes. Add rice, olive oil and  shallot salt. Stir to coat rice.
        2. Turn burner on high and add water.
        3. When water boils, turn burner to lowest setting. Cover pot and set timer for 15 minutes.
        4. At 15 minute mark, turn off burner. Leave pot in place for another 15 minutes.
        5. Uncover pot, fluff rice with a fork and serve.

        *In lieu of shallots, you can substitute 2 tablespoons of dried chopped onion. If you do, just add all ingredients in number 1 and move on to number 2.

        Sunday, April 10, 2011

        Grilled Chicken Breasts with Roasted Garlic Butter Mushrooms

        It's been awhile since I posted. I just returned from a really nice family vacation in Florida and then I had three writing assignments due for my New York Times Food Writers School. I'm taking the 11 week course to improve my craft and I'm really excited to be learning from my instructor, Andrew Collins.

        When I returned from Florida, the snow was off my deck, so time to fire up the grill. This is a really easy recipe and will work for both charcoal and gas grills as you cook over high heat on either type of grill. The trick here is to pound the breasts flat into a consistent shape so that they all cook identically on the grill.

        Grilled Chicken Breasts
        4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
        2 teaspoons kosher salt
        2 teaspoons fresh cracked pepper
        4 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce (I prefer Lea & Perrins)
        1 gallon Zip Lock bag (or 2 pieces of plastic wrap)

        1. Place a chicken breast in the Zip Lock bag. Use the flat side of a meat mallet to pound it flat (see photo at the bottom of this post). Repeat with the other 3 breasts.
        2. Fire up your grill. If you are using a gas grill, put all burners on high. If you are using charcoal, you want your charcoals glowing white hot and spread evenly across the grate.
        3. Gently sprinkle salt and pepper on the "up" side of the breasts. Place them on the grill with the "up" side down. Grill for 4 minutes. While grilling, sprinkle the now "up" side with salt and pepper.
        4. After 4 minutes, flip the chicken breast. Splash each breast with 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce. Grill for 4 more minutes.
        5. Remove from grill and serve.

        Roasted Garlic Butter Mushrooms
        1 pound Cremini or white mushrooms
        2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
        6 garlic cloves, minced
        2 tablespoons EVOO
        3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
        2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
        1/2 teaspoon salt
        1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

        1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
        2. Toss mushrooms with capers, garlic, EVOO and salt and pepper. Place mushrooms in a shallow baking dish (see photo). 
        3. Top mushrooms with butter. Place in oven and roast, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
        4. Remove from oven, add lemon juice, stir and serve.
        Wine pairing: Pinot Noir or Merlot

        Your flattened chicken breasts should look like this: