Saturday, May 31, 2014

Vietnamese Grilled Pork Chops

Throughout time, Vietnam has usually been occupied by some conquering, foreign entity. Given that they did not have to waste time on governing and politics, they devoted themselves to the fine art of cooking. We are all the better for it.

In 111 BC, the Chinese folded Vietnam into the Chinese Han Dynasty. China then continued to occupy Vietnam for the next 1,000 years. Vietnamese Lord Ngo Quyen decided enough was enough and he defeated the Chinese, making Vietnam an independent country in 938 AD.

They managed to stay independent until 1407 when those "rat's ass" Chinese came back in again. Vietnam pushed them out again and continued to enjoy independence until 1862. That's when France sent in large Catholic molesters militias to conquer the country. By 1887, the entire country was taken over by the French and renamed French Indochina.

The Indochina War, which took place between 1946 and 1954, saw Marxist-Leninist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh drive the French out. Upon doing so, he negotiated with the Geneva Convention to divide the country in two: the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (north) and the State of Vietnam (south).

Then Jane Fonda appointed herself Queen of the North and proceeded to invade South Vietnam. The U.S. government declared war on Jane Fonda, but she was too powerful. Accordingly, Henry Kissinger negotiated the Paris Peace Accords with Ms. Fonda and American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam in 1973.

Peace accords in hand, Jane invaded South Vietnam in 1974.  She crushed the opposing forces and combined the once separate states into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976. Tiring of the rigors of running the Communist country, she returned to the United States and utilized her great leadership skills to create exercise programs on VHS and Betamax tapes. Upon her departure, Vietnam embraced a free market economy.

Which brings us full circle because the Chinese are trying to invade Vietnamese territories again. Earlier this month they erected an oil well in Vietnamese waters. A Vietnamese fishing boat came too close to the oil well and was rammed and sunk by the Chinese Coast Guard. So now the two countries are engaged in a fierce battle and striving for South China Sea dominance by shooting Super Soakers at each other's ships.

I'm rooting for Vietnam. Vietnam is a country so high up the culinary food chain that it makes China look like it has just barely begun to crawl out of the primordial soup. Here is an excellent example:

4 bone-in pork chops, 1-inch thick
Juice of 2 limes
3 tablespoons fish sauce (Red Boat recommended)
2 garlic cloves, minced or squeezed through a press
2 Thai chiles, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon sugar

  1. Place pork chops in a zip lock bag large enough to hold them in a single layer. In a small bowl, combine lime juice, fish sauce, chiles, garlic and sugar. Pour mixture over chops. Seal bag and refrigerate up to 24 hours, occasionally flipping bag over.
  2. Prepare grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat. Remove chops from bag (discard marinade). Grill chops for 5 minutes per side, then let chops rest for 5 minutes. Serve.

Wine pairing: A big, fruit-bomb Zinfandel.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Charred Corn with Basil-Lime Butter

It's Memorial Day weekend and I'm spending the entire weekend cooking outdoors. Last night was mussels. Tonight I'm grilling up New York Strips with smashed red potatoes. And on Sunday, the best day of the year thanks to the F1 Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500, I'll be smoking ribs for six hours and will be serving them up with charred corn on the cob.

The trick to perfect charred corn is not to char the entire ear. You want half of the kernels charred and the other half  bright yellow. This will give you the perfect balance of sweetness and crunch. Then all you need is a brush or BBQ mop to coat the ears with the basil-lime butter mixture. I strongly encourage you to have an ice cold Pacifico on hand during the cooking process as it greatly enhances the experience. Happy Memorial Day to all!

4 ears of corn, shucked
2 teaspoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons melted butter
10 basil leaves, finely shredded
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup grated parmesan


  1. Prepare grill for direct cooking over high heat. Lightly rub cobs with oil and place them on the grill. Keep turning corn as some spots char to a rich brown.
  2. While corn is cooking, grab a small saucepan. Melt the butter. When butter foams, add basil and lime juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. When corn is done, remove from grill. Use a brush or BBQ mop to coat the corn with the basil-lime butter. Generously sprinkle parmesan over corn and serve.

Paring: There is nothing that pairs better with this corn than my favorite brew, Pacifico.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Grilled Mussels on the Half Shell

I love mussels. I especially love the mussels sold at Costco. Their mussels are huge and meaty and always incredibly fresh. Plus, you can get a five pound bag of mussels for about four bucks. My favorite way to eat them is to steam them in chardonnay:

Thanks to Jamie Purviance from Weber Grills, I now have a second favorite way to eat mussels. Just throw the mussels on the grill until they open. Yank the top shell away and sprinkle the meat with a little mixture made in heaven: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, butter, panko bread crumbs, garlic, salt and pepper. Toss them back on the grill until the cheese melts and you are good to go.

For making this recipe, it's really easy if you have a grill pan like the one pictured above. That way you can slide the mussels on and off the grill with one hand. You can obviously just set the mussels on the grill, but removing the individual shells can be a bit tedious. Also, if you like your mussels a little smoky, toss some mesquite on the coals when you re-heat the mussels in the half shell.


¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano® cheese
2 tablespoons panko
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt

24 large, live mussels, scrubbed and debearded*
2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley leaves

*Mussels bought at Costco are already scrubbed and debearded


  1. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350° to 450°F). 
  2. In a small bowl combine the topping ingredients and blend with a fork. 
  3. Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the mussels over direct medium heat, with the lid closed, until they open, 2 to 5 minutes. Transfer the mussels to a plate. Discard any mussels that have not opened. Preheat the grill pan over direct medium heat for about 10 minutes.
  4. When the mussels are cool enough to handle, pull away the top shell, leaving the mussel in the bottom half of the shell. Spoon 1 teaspoon of the topping on top of each mussel. 
  5. Place the mussels in a single layer on the grill pan. Grill over direct medium heat, with the lid closed, until the topping is bubbling, 2 to 5 minutes. Remove from the grill and top with the parsley. Serve immediately. 

Wine pairing: A nice oaky Chardonnay.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Cauliflower Rice

I had never heard of cauliflower rice until Tim Blackstone, one of the great trainers at CrossFit Edina, told me how he was making rice out of cauliflower. I found it fascinating and started doing a bunch of research out on the Interwebs.

After joining CrossFit Edina over five years ago, I switched to the Paleo way of eating. Paleo eschews carbohydrates and processed foods in favor of meat, vegetables, fruit and nuts...essentially eating like our caveman ancestors did. Between CrossFit and Paleo, I was able to drop 30 pounds and have kept it off.

So with Paleo lifestyle, rice became a no-no. Given my love of Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese dishes, I really missed the rice. But now, thanks to Tim, cauliflower rice fits the bill. It's delicious and incredibly healthy. It's also very easy to make in large batches and then just freeze the extra until next time.

The prep could not be any simpler. You simply use a food processor and pulse the cauliflower until it's the size of rice. Then there are two ways to cook it. Some like to sauté it in a fry pan with a little onion and garlic. But I prefer to spread it out on a baking sheet and heat it in the oven. Using this method, the rice is much drier and closer in texture to white rice.

1 head of cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 425º.
  2. Place the florets, a batch at a time, in food processor. Pulse until the cauliflower is evenly chopped and each piece is about the size of a grain of rice.
  3. Spread cauliflower rice on a baking sheet into a single layer. (Do not crowd the pan as it will cause the rice to steam and stay moist.)
  4. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring once.
  5. Remove, add salt and pepper to taste and serve. 

Pairing: The wine pairing should be associated with the entree. However, I find the cauliflower rice-making experience is greatly enhanced if it is executed while drinking a golden, oaky Chardonnay.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Korean Grilled Chicken

The grilling season is so short here in Minnesota. Because of that, I've become obsessed with cooking on the grill as much as possible. My favorite thing to grill is bone-in ribeye steak. But have you checked out the pricing lately?

The beef shortage is wreaking havoc on our wallets. Dry-aged bone-in ribeye is going for $28.99 a pound at Byerly's. USDA Choice was going for $14.99 a pound at Cub yesterday. Best bet these days is Costco, where you can get USDA Prime for $12.99 a pound.

While beef prices are this high, I've been working more chicken into my weekly menus. My favorite way to cook chicken is to convection roast it. Comes out just like those delicious rotisserie chickens at Costco. But one can't live by roasted chickens alone, so I turned to Bobby Flay to put a little variety in my chicken repertoire.

The cheapest way to make this meal is buy a whole chicken, butterfly it and then cut it into parts. If you don't want to do all of that work, you can buy whole chickens that the butcher has cut up. If you are partial to a certain cut, like breasts or thighs, then just buy 3 pounds of those. After you've grilled, you can serve the pieces whole or shred the meat to go in tortillas with some fresh veggies. This recipe serves four.

1 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 heaping tablespoon Korean chili paste (recommended: Kochi Chang)
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 green onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
1 (3-pound) chicken, butterflied, cut into parts


1. Whisk together the soy, vinegar, honey, chili paste, ginger and garlic in a bowl and divide the mixture in half. Add one-half to a large baking dish, then add the chicken, turning to coat. Cover and let the meat marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to 8 hours. Add the green onions, sesame oil, black pepper and sesame seeds to the remaining half of the mixture. Reserve it as a dipping sauce for the finished chicken.

2. Prepare grill for cooking over both direct and indirect heat. If using charcoal, hot coals are used under half of the grill and no coals under the other half. 

3. Remove the chicken from the marinade and put it over the charcoal, skin side down. Grill until the skin is golden brown and crisp, about 10 minutes. Relocate the chicken to the indirect heat zone, lower the cover and cook for 20 minutes more. Remove the chicken from the grill and serve.

Pairing: For white wine drinkers, choose a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Red lovers should opt for a big, fruity Zinfandel. But if it were my choice, I'd opt for an ice cold Korean beer.