Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chicken and Goat Cheese Tacos with Roasted Tomato Garlic Salsa

My wife is a fanatic for goat cheese...she has yet to meet a single morsel of goat cheese she doesn't like. And the goat cheese in this recipe is the absolute crowning touch to this great amalgamation of flavors.

Chicken tends to dry out on the grill, especially over high heat. That's why we're going to use chicken thighs, a dark meat with loads of moisture that will stand up to the fiery heat of the coals.

The salsa itself is a thing of greatness. We're going to grill the vegetables for the salsa over high heat until they are charred and softened. Then we'll whip them together in the food processor to create a salsa unlike anything else you've ever tasted before.

This brilliant recipe was created by chef and author Jamie Purviance (shop for his books here: Serves four.

Ingredients for the Salsa
2 medium ripe tomatoes
1/2 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 medium red bell pepper
4 scallions, root ends trimmed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons minced chipotle chiles in adobo
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Ingredients for the Rub
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Ingredients for the Tacos
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 4 ounces each)
1 tablespoon lime juice
8 small flour tortillas (6 inches)
1/2 cup crumbled fresh goat cheese


  1. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat (450° to 550°F).
  2. Lightly brush the tomatoes, onion pieces, bell pepper, and scallions with oil. Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the vegetables over direct high heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until they are charred all over and tender, turning as needed. Remove the vegetables from the grill as they are done. The bell pepper will take 10 to 12 minutes, the tomatoes will take 6 to 8 minutes, and the onions and scallions will take 2 to 4 minutes. Place the bell pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. In the bowl of a food processor or blender, process the tomatoes, onion, garlic, chipotle chiles, and lime juice until smooth. Season with salt. Pour the salsa into a bowl and set aside.
  4. In a small bowl combine the rub ingredients. Lightly brush the thighs on both sides with oil and season evenly with the rub.
  5. Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the thighs over direct high heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until the meat is firm and the juices run clear, 6 to 8 minutes, turning once or twice. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool.
  6. When the thighs are cool enough to handle, cut them into 1/3-inch pieces and put them in a large bowl along with 1/3 cup of the salsa. Remove and discard the stem, skin, and seeds from the bell pepper. Chop the pepper and scallions and add them to the bowl; toss to combine. Season with salt and lime juice.
  7. Heat the tortillas over direct high heat just to soften them, 30 seconds to 1 minute, turning once.
  8. Lay the tortillas in a single layer on a work surface. Evenly divide the cheese and the chicken-vegetable mixture among the tortillas. Fold up the tortillas and serve with the remaining salsa.
Wine pairing: Zinfandel, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or El Pacifico Mexican beer

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Jeff Pinkham's August Salad

For connoisseurs of home grown tomatoes, August marks the start of the great harvest. But even if your tomatoes are store bought, you will love this salad.

Jeff Pinkham and I were best buds while we attended Southview Junior High in Edina. We shared a love of Schwinn Varsity racing bikes, guitars, music and all of the other things that teenage boys love. We even performed together in the junior high talent contest singing "Blowin' in the Wind". I had not seen him in over 40 years and we had a wonderful opportunity to have dinner together a month ago.

Yesterday I was going to cook a dinner of chicken wings, fresh Minnesota corn and a Caprese salad. Then Jeff posted a photo of this salad on Facebook. It looked outstanding and I had all of the ingredients, so I jettisoned the Caprese salad and made this salad instead.  I loved it. It's simple, healthy and fresh. Serves 4. Thanks, Jeff!

Salad Ingredients
2 large tomatoes*, diced
1 medium onion, diced
20 basil leaves, torn into bite size pieces
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

Dressing Ingredients
1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2/3 cup of olive oil


  1. In a large bowl, combine all salad ingredients. Toss.
  2. In a smaller bowl, add vinegars, salt and pepper. Slowly add olive oil while whiskng so that vinaigrette emulsifies.
  3. Add half of the dressing to salad in the large bowl. Toss salad and taste. If desired, add more dressing to taste.
*When you dice the tomatoes, do not remove the seeds and jelly. The seeds and the jelly are where all the flavor is...they contain three times more of the super-delicious glutamic acid than the flesh does.

Wine pairing: Pinot Grigio

Grilled Cajun Pork Chops

Back in the late 80's, a new restaurant opened up in the historic warehouse district in downtown Minneapolis that changed my entire perspective on pork chops. That restaurant was J.D. Hoyt's Supper Club. The number one featured item on their menu was a Grilled Cajun Pork Chop. Now I'm a steak guy through and through, but once I tasted these pork chops at J.D. Hoyt's, that is all I ever ordered every time I went there.

The restaurant is still open and is still one of my favorite downtown destinations. If you go, eat on the old side (to your left) with the low ceilings and the big red booths. The new side (on your right) is a later expansion that lacks the gritty, old school, supper club feel. The old side is much more colorful as the strippers on break from the Deja Vu club next door sit at the bar and pound cocktails. Makes for a very eclectic crowd...bankers and lawyers in suits, pro athletes and strippers.

I do not have their recipe for Grilled Cajun Pork Chops, but I have been working for years on coming as close as I can to what I taste in their pork chop. And this recipe is pretty darn close, if not spot on. This recipe serves 4 and I always serve it up with hash browns. Enjoy!

4 center cut pork chops, 1 1/2 inches thick
1 teaspoon Lawry's seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 large chunk hickory wood
1 large chunk mesquite wood


  1. Prepare a charcoal fire for direct grilling over high heat.
  2. Combine all spices and mix well. Coat chops with spice mixture.
  3. When coals are white hot, add hickory and mesquite to coals.
  4. Place chops on grill over coals. Cover and cook for 5 minutes per side.
  5. When done cooking, remove chops from grill, tent with foil and let them rest for 5 minutes. Then serve.
Wine pairing: Zinfandel

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Grogs' Little Helpers

I was talking with Damian Hirtz, owner of the CrossFit gym that I belong to, during yesterday's  WOD (Workout Of the Day). He had just made Grilled Thai New York Strip Steaks with Lime Sauce the night before. He had the job of cutting the jalapeƱos for the recipe. The oil from the peppers stayed on his hands and, of course, that oil eventually made it's way to his eyes. If you've ever had pepper oil in your eyes, it hurts like crazy. Just ask the idiots who the police have had to incapacitate with pepper spray.

To avoid getting pepper oil in my eyes, I always cut peppers while I'm wearing vinyl foodservice gloves. That way my skin never comes in contact with the pepper. I buy them in the foodservice section at Costco. They sell for $8.99 and you get 2 boxes of 100 200 gloves total. I also use them when I'm handling and cutting meat. That way I'm not constantly having to wash my hands as I move from one prep chore to another. I can just peel off the dirty gloves and toss them.

Cutting boards are a leading source of contamination in food prep. I used to have the traditional wood cutting board, but I hated the constant cleaning. So years ago, I switched to flexible plastic cutting boards. I'd kept six of them in my drawer in different colors. I'd use the red ones to cut meat and green ones for fruits and veggies. The boards were 15" X 12". Cleaning them was still a hassle, so I started slipping them into the dishwasher to automate the process. Problem was, they were too big.

My wife solved that problem with a really cool Christmas gift. She had gone online and found a product called Chop Chop Junior. These are small, flexible, plastic cutting boards that measure 11.5" X 7.5". I keep 10 of them in the drawer and just grab them as I need them. The minute I'm done, I just toss them in the dishwasher and grab a new one. Thanks to these little gems, I have not cleaned a cutting board in years. If I need a bigger cutting board, I just lay four of them out together. 

If you'd like to not clean a cutting board again, you can pick these up at The Restaurant Store: . They come two to a pack for $2.59. If you buy 3 or more packs, the cost is just $2.20 per pack.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pappardelle with Hot Sausage and Cream Ragu

Here is what we are having for dinner tonight. This is a delicious, straight-forward red sauce made especially rich by the addition of cream. Make sure you use heavy whipping milk or half & half allowed. While I prefer the wide surface of pappardelle pasta so the red sauce can coat as much noodle as possible, feel free to substitute your favorite pasta. Do not use whole wheat, however, as the taste clashes with tomato sauce. This recipe is a variation of one created by Emeril Lagasse* and it serves 4.

2 pounds of hot Italian sausage, casing removed
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
2 (28-ounce) cans of diced tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon fennel seed
2 cups heavy whipping cream
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 pound pappardelle pasta
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Add one quarter cup of salt to a large pot filled with water and bring to a boil.
  2. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then add sausage and onion. Break up sausage with a wooden spoon. Cook until sausage is cooked through and onions are soft (approximately 8 minutes).
  3. Add the garlic, basil, tomatoes, wine and fennel seed. Bring to a boil then simmer (uncovered) for 30 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Add pappardelle to large pot of boiling water and cook for one minute less than timing noted on package. When cooked, drain well, toss with remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and divide between serving plates.
  5. Remove tomato sauce from stovetop. Add cream to tomato sauce. Stir to mix and ladle sauce over pasta. Sprinkle each serving with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

Wine pairing: Nebbiolo, Sangiovese or Zinfandel

* Emeril's recipe calls for 1 pound of sausage and 1/4 pound pancetta. It does not include fennel seed or heavy whipping cream. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Grilled Shrimp Tacos

This is what I am making for dinner tonight. It's a favorite recipe from Cuisine at Home magazine   ( It's a refreshing take on tacos and a very healthy meal. Total prep and cooking time runs about 30 minutes and this recipe serves 4. Enjoy!


For the Tacos
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 pound shrimp*
8 flour tortillas

For the Chipotle Sauce
1/2 cup sour cream**
1 1/2 teaspoons minced chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

For the Red Slaw
4 cups shredded red cabbage
1/2 cup sliced scallions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

  1. Prepare a charcoal fire for direct cooking over high heat. If using a gas grill, turn burners on high.
  2. Prepare shrimp marinade by combining lime juice, olive oil and chili powder. Add shrimp and marinate for 20 minutes.
  3. Combine all Chipotle Sauce ingredients.
  4. Combine all Red Slaw Ingredients.
  5. After shrimp has marinated for 20 minutes, put shrimp on skewers and grill for 3 minutes on each side (6 minutes total).
  6. Divide shrimp and red slaw among 8 tortillas and then drizzle each with chipotle sauce.
Wine pairing: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a really cold bottle of El Pacifico Mexican beer.

*I use a size that yields 21-25 pieces of shrimp per pound
**The recipe says you can use either mayonnaise or sour cream. I hate all things mayo. You choose which you like best.