Saturday, June 28, 2014

Watermelon and Tomato Salad

I have been retired for nearly four years now. The best part about being retired is that "every day is Saturday". But to keep your mind active in retirement, it is important to have interesting and compelling activities to fill up your day. While CrossFit and video games are the center of my universe, they did not adequately fill up my day. So I returned to a hobby I had started when my first son was born: watermelon carving.

I had just started my company when Sean was born and money was a little tight. Accordingly, I tried to save money using left-over watermelon rinds as disposable diapers. They were sturdy and had enough capacity to hold the remnants of four or five poop sessions. However, the rest of the family tired of having watermelon for every meal so I abandoned the practice.

I started this cooking blog when I retired and was so inspired by my Weber Performer Grill that I created the charming little sculpture shown above. 

Steve and Taffy Hirtz (aka Staffy) are two of my closest friends. I was there at the hospital when their son was born and the birth inspired me to create this piece of art, which I called "Damian: The Omen":

Damian owns the CrossFit gym where I train. There is another trainer there that inspired me to create "The Blackstone": 

Every Friday, we have a Team Workout of the Day. My usual partner inspired this carving, which I titled "Bob, My Delicate Flower":

The joy of having this hobby is that I always have a massive quantity of watermelon on hand. And while most people think of watermelon as a standalone fruit, I am going to share one of the most incredible salad recipes with you that I have ever tasted. It is essentially summer in a bowl. You will be astounded by the flavors!

The recipe was created by Alex Guarnaschelli. The key here is to use cold watermelon and room temperature tomatoes. While the acid/sweet combination is spectacular, the contrast in temperatures makes the salad especially refreshing. This recipe serves six.

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 large beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
4 strawberries, hulled and cut into small pieces
1 cup cubed watermelon

  1. Whisk the balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl. Taste for seasoning: add salt and pepper. Set aside.
  2. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and slice beefsteak tomatoes. Arrange in a single layer and season with salt, pepper and sugar. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with half the dressing. Add the tarragon and strawberries; toss.
  3. Divide the tomato mixture among plates. Drizzle with more dressing and top with the watermelon. Serve

Wine pairing: A big fruity Sangria

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Chicken Kabobs with Thai-Chile Plum Glaze

Last week I talked about the Coleman All Natural Chicken Breasts that I bought at Costco. So I made last week's recipe on Tuesday night. And tomorrow I'm making one of my all-time favorites, Nana Benza's Lemon Chicken: .

The box I bought contains about a dozen chicken breasts, so I have enough in stock to make a bunch of meals. I was cruising through my latest cooking magazines and came across this fabulous Thai recipe for chicken kabobs in Eating Well. The Thai secret of blending heat, salt and sweet takes what is a relatively mild cut of meat to all new heights. Sriracha, fish sauce and plum preserves combine to make the glaze incredibly complex and incredibly delicious.

I would recommend that you serve these kabobs up with some basmati rice and then make yourself a nice crisp salad with this world-class Thai Fish Sauce Vinaigrette: This recipe serves four.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
1/2 cup plum preserves
2 teaspoon sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon fish sauce


  1. Prepare your grill for direct cooking over high heat.
  2. Prepare sauce: Heat oil in a small saucepan. Add garlic and ginger, stirring often until they brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in preserves and cook until dissolved, about 2 minutes. Add sriracha, cook 30 seconds more. Remove from heat and add fish sauce. Stir.
  3. Thread chicken pieces onto skewer. Place skewers on grill. Cook for 2 minutes, then generously brush glaze over the chicken. Cook for 2 minutes more. Flip skewers over and cook for 2 minutes. Brush glaze over chicken, then cook for 2 minutes more. Remove from grill and serve.

Wine pairing: A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Chicken Paillards with Tomato-Olive Relish

The price of protein is at an all-time high. As people are eschewing processed food and are embracing healthier eating, the demand for protein has gone crazy. I always shop for my protein at Costco as they always have the lowest prices and freshest product (the latter due to the extraordinary turnover in inventory).

I was looking back at an old post I did about one of my favorite recipes, Straccetti Con Rughetta ( I wrote the post in October of 2010 and noted at the time that Costco was selling beef tenderloin at $7.99 a pound. This week Costco is selling beef tenderloin at $19.99....and that is still the cheapest game in town!

There is hope on the horizon, however. First, there is a large inventory carryover in the corn market and 2014 is expected to yield record crops. Corn has dropped from $6.00 a bushel down to $4.00. That means that the food needed to fatten cows, pigs and chickens will cost the producers less, which hopefully translates to lower protein costs.

But there are bargains to be had in the world of protein. Costco routinely sells whole chickens for $1.09 a pound. So for less than $4.00 you can buy a whole chicken, roast it and likely get 2 meals out of it. If you are into organic, Costco sells Coleman Organic whole chickens for $2.49 a pound.

And then I'll share a little secret that Damian Hirtz, owner of CrossFit Edina, turned me on to. When you're at Costco, head to the freezer section. In the freezer aisle, Costco is selling Coleman Natural Chicken Breasts. For $16.99 ($13.49 on sale), you can get 4.5 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts that are individually wrapped to prevent freezer burn.. Coleman does not use antibiotics, hormones or steroids and their chickens are fed an all-vegetarian diet.

There a a million different things you can do with chicken breasts. I'm going to share one of my favorite Jamie Purviance chicken breast recipes with you. It's incredibly simple. You just grill up four chicken breasts and top them with a fantastic tomato-olive relish. It's fast. It's easy. And it's a magnificent explosion of flavor that is unexpected in the context of a boneless, skinless chicken breast.


For the Rub
1 tablespoon ground fennel seed
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Chicken
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, about 6 ounces each
Extra-virgin olive oil

For the Relish
¾ cup ¼-inch-diced tomato
⅔ cup ¼-inch-diced celery heart with light green leaves
½ cup kalamata olives, rinsed and cut into ¼-inch dice
½ cup green olives, rinsed and cut into ¼-inch dice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
 ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Kosher salt
1 lemon


  1. In a small bowl combine the rub ingredients.
  2. Remove the tenders from the underside of each breast (save for another use). One at a time, place each breast, smooth side down, between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pound to an even ¼-inch thickness. Lightly brush the chicken with oil and season both sides with the rub.
  3. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat (450° to 550°F).
  4. In a large bowl combine the relish ingredients, including salt to taste.
  5. Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the chicken, smooth side down, over direct high heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until no longer pink, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn over and grill just to sear the surface, about 1 minute. Transfer the chicken, with the first grilled sides facing up, to a serving platter or individual plates. Spoon the relish over each piece and squeeze fresh lemon juice on top just before serving.

Wine pairing: A big, oaky California Chardonnay.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Beef Satay

As it is with most Asian dishes, the vast majority of the time expended is in the prep. Once the prep is done for this recipe, you will only need 4 to 6 minutes of grill time. If you don't have a grill, fire up your broiler. Now Beef Satay is so darn delicious by itself, you could skip the Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce. But if you strive to achieve culinary nirvana, you'll want to take the time to make the sauce.

While just about any cut of beef will do, my two favorite cuts for this are New York Strip or Flank. The key to Beef Satay is to keep the strips nice and thin. After you put them on the skewers and dip them in the marinade, they should look just like this:

I've found that six-inch skewers work best. If you're using wood ones, remember to soak them in water for 30 minutes before you thread the beef on. I like serving this dish up with Basmati rice and Asian Cole Slaw ( As an entree, this recipe will serve 4 to 6 people.

Ingredients for Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup hot water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons Sriracha Sauce
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 clove of garlic, pressed or minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 scallions, white and green parts, sliced thin

Ingredients for Beef Satay
1 1/2 pounds New York Strip or Flank Steak
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons Sriracha Sauce
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4 scallions, white and green parts, sliced thin


  1. Prepare a grill for direct cooking over high heat.
  2. Prepare the Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce: Whisk the peanut butter and hot water together in a medium bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients. Set aside.
  3. Freeze the steak for 30 minutes (this makes it easy to slice the steak very thin). 
  4. Combine the soy sauce, oil, Sriracha sauce, brown sugar, cilantro, garlic, and scallions in a shallow glass baking dish; set aside. Remove the steak from the freezer and slice each piece across the grain into 1/4-inch-thick strips. Weave the meat onto individual skewers. Dunk the meat end of each skewer in the marinade to coat; lay the skewers in the shallow dish. Refrigerate for exactly 1 hour.
  5. Spread the skewers out over hot cooking grate and grill, uncovered, until meat has cooked through and is lightly charred around edges, about 4 to  6 minutes, flipping them over halfway through grilling time. Serve immediately with peanut sauce. 

Wine pairing: White wine lovers should choose a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Red wine folks should pick a big, fruity California Zinfandel.