Saturday, June 30, 2012

Nam Tok (Thai Grilled Pork Salad)

In my next life, I want to be a chef in Thailand. I just love the incredible sweet/sour/hot combinations prevalent in Thai food. During the eleven years that we had our business downtown, I loved to eat at Sawatdee, which is without a doubt, the best Thai restaurant in Minneapolis. Out the back door and through the alley, my lunch there was always the same....a spicy squid salad with a fresh vegetarian spring roll.

This Nam Tok recipe, which appeared in the Wall Street journal (my very favorite newspaper), is the creation of chef Johnny Monis and his wife, Anne Marier. It hits every single note of Thai greatness. Salty fish sauce, lime juice, heat from chili paste, shallots, mint, scallions and cilantro. To cleanse the palate during the meal, I recommend serving the salad with a side of sticky rice:

This recipe calls for roasted rice powder. It will tell you how to make it. I shop at a number of Asian specialty stores online and have quite a bit of it on hand. So if you have access to the pre-made powder, use that. Otherwise just follow the simple instructions to make your own. This recipe serves four.

4 well-marbled pork shoulder steaks (1/4-inch thick, about 1 pound total)
5 tablespoons fish sauce (Red Boat recommended)
1/4 cup raw rice (jasmine or sticky)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon Thai chili paste
1 shallot, peeled and sliced thin
1 bunch scallions, peeled, trimmed and sliced thin
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 cup mint leaves
1 small head of green cabbage, cored and cut into quarters
1/2 English cucumber, sliced into rounds

  1. Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium. Rub pork steaks with 2 tablespoons fish sauce and set aside. 
  2. Place raw rice in a small sauté pan set over medium-low heat. Toast rice until lightly browned, shaking pan occasionally to ensure even toasting, 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Using a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle, grind rice into a coarse powder.
  3. Grill pork until just cooked through and browned, 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, whisk together remaining 3 tablespoons fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chilies. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  5. Slice pork against the grain into thin, wide strips. Pour runoff pork juices into dressing. 
  6. In a salad bowl, toss pork with shallots, scallions, cilantro and mint. Add 1-2 tablespoons toasted, crushed rice and toss to combine. Dress with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat salad.
  7. Serve pork salad with cabbage wedges, cucumber slices and extra dressing alongside, for dipping. Sprinkle extra rice powder over top. 

Pairing: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. If you'd like to try something different, pair this dish with Singha Thai beer.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Weapon of Choice: Citrus Juicer

Back in the late 80's, a friend turned me onto a book called "Fit for Life". One of the main premises of the book was starting each day with significant helpings of high-water content fruits and vegetables in the form of fruit juice. I embraced the book and went from 193 pounds down to 177 pounds and was a hardcore juicer for years. I also went through a lot of different juicers.

Fast-forward to 2012 and you'll find that we have two heavy duty juicing machines in our home. Both are made by Breville. The Breville Juice Extractor doesn't get used as much as it used to as we have embraced the Whole 9 concept of eating whole fruits and vegetables to realize the benefit of the fiber. But we still use the citrus juicer for marinades and Judy's incredible Key Lime Pie.

The Breville 800CPXL Citrus Juicer (pictured above) is built like a Sherman tank. It's made of professional-grade stainless steel and has an industrial-grade motor...this beast tips the scales at 15+ pounds. It comes with two different filters that let you choose between high or low pulp for your  juice. This beast will turn out juice faster than any other citrus juicer on the market...and extract every single drop from your fruit. But greatness comes at a will set you back $200. It's available at both and Williams Sonoma.

Because it is not used every day, it does not warrant regular counter space. For light duty juicing, I don't want to always haul a 15-pound appliance out of storage, so I also own a hand juicer...the Chef'n Juicester Citrus Juicer. This little sweetheart of  a juicer weighs just ounces and is 2" X 3" X 7". It has two different reamers on the top, a small one for limes and lemons and a big one for oranges. While it takes a little elbow grease to use it, it works really well. It's a breeze to clean and then I just toss it back in the drawer. I also find the measuring marks on the base to be incredibly handy. This little gem will set you back $12.49 at Check it out here:

Saturday, June 23, 2012


I'm a huge fan of tabbouleh. But there appears to be two distinct camps when it comes to making tabbouleh. Members of the first camp prefer a "bulgur wheat forward" recipe. In their eyes, it is a grain side dish and the vegetables play but a minor, supporting role. Members of the second camp prefer a "vegetable forward" recipe...there's only a smattering of bulgur wheat in the salad.

This recipe from Cook's Illustrated (to subscribe go here: strikes the perfect balance between the two camps. It has a perfect blend of veggies and bulgur wheat to create a substantial salad. Add a little protein like chicken or shrimp to the top of the tabbouleh and you have yourself a complete entree salad.

In previous recipes, I was always instructed to plump up the bulgur wheat with boiling water. That is not the case here. Remarkably, this recipe uses tomato and lemon juice to plump up the bulgur boiling water required! This fabulous yet simple recipe serves four. It makes for a spectacular dish on a warm summer night.

3 medium tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup medium grind bulgur wheat
1/4 cup lemon juice
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
2 scallions, sliced thin


  1. Toss tomatoes and 1/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Transfer to fine-mesh strainer, set strainer in bowl, and let stand for 30 minutes, tossing occasionally.
  2. Rinse bulgur in fine-mesh strainer under cold running water. Drain well and transfer to second bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 2 tablespoons juice from draining tomatoes. Let stand until grains are beginning to soften, 30 to 40 minutes.
  3. Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice, oil, cayenne, and 1/4 teaspoon salt together in large bowl. Add drained tomatoes, soaked bulgur, parsley, mint, and scallions; toss gently to combine. Cover and let stand at room temperature until flavors have blended and bulgur is tender, about 1 hour. Toss to recombine, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Wine pairing: A nicely chilled Pinot Gris

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Spicy Latin Chicken Wings

I came across this recipe in Wednesday's New York Times. It's remarkable for it's  roast the wings in your oven for one hour, toss them in a bowl with the sauce and serve. That's it.

The source for my chicken wings is one of my favorite stores, Costco. They sell their chicken wings under their own brand name, Kirkland. Kirkland Chicken Wings come in 10-pound bags and sell for $19.99. That's just $1.99 a pound. Kirkland wings are all natural and contain no steroids or hormones.

They come packaged with an ice glaze, which ensures that the wings don't get freezer burn while they sit in your freezer (as it is highly unlikely you are going to cook up 10 pounds of chicken wings at once). You cook the wings from frozen, so you need not bother with thawing.

This is on the Gruggen menu card for tonight's dinner. I'm serving it up with some Mexican Dirty Rice and a Caprese salad. (I had to work the Caprese salad into the menu to take advantage of the incredibly fresh and gorgeous basil blooming in Judy's garden.) This recipe serves four as dinner or more as appetizers.

3 pounds chicken wings
Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
2 tablespoons minced chipotle peppers in adobo (or substitute chili powder)
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup fresh lime juice


  1. Preheat oven to 375º.
  2. Arrange chicken wings on two baking sheets (works best if you have a wire rack over the baking sheets, but it is not necessary).
  3. Sprinkle wings with Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.
  4. Place wings in oven and roast for one hour.
  5. Combine olive oil, garlic, chipotle peppers, cumin, cilantro and lime juice in a small bowl. Whisk to mix well.
  6. When wings are done, remove from oven and put them in a large bowl.
  7. Whisk sauce again and pour over wings. Toss wings thoroughly to coat with sauce.
  8. Divide among plates and serve.

Pairing: El Pacifico Mexican beer

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Smoked Bacon and Arugula Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette

I'm a dyed-in-the-wool arugula lover. I buy it by the truckload. I can't get enough of that peppery unlike any other lettuce. Arugula was originally grown in the Mediterranean region, namely Morocco, Portugal, Lebanon and Turkey. Today, the arugula you find in your local grocery store is from Mexico and California. Not only is the taste of it extraordinary, it is uncommonly rich in both vitamin C and potassium. But you'll need to eat it quickly as it does not have a very long shelf life. (One of the reasons I shop on both Mondays and Thursdays is to ensure we have fresh arugula.)

The only thing that tastes better than arugula is bacon. But then bacon tastes better than everything. (I came across a new product yesterday...bacon flavored olive oil. I thought that was just about the dumbest thing I had ever seen. To get that flavor, I'd use olive oil and real bacon.) So what we have here is a nice little Paleo salad that marries the two best flavors in the world....arugula and bacon. And to top it all off, you're going to make the vinaigrette with bacon drippings! Bacon. Shout it out! This recipe serves four.

6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup chopped shallots (about 2 large)
1 teaspoon Dijon or stone ground mustard
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
12 ounces hardwood smoked bacon
10 ounces arugula
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper


  1. Combine vinegar, shallots, mustard and olive oil in a small bowl. Whisk and set aside.
  2. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium high heat until crisp. Transfer to paper towel. Keep bacon drippings warm over low heat.
  3. Put arugula in a large salad bowl.
  4. Crumble bacon and add to arugula.
  5. Add two tablespoons of bacon drippings to vinaigrette. Whisk and then pour over salad. Toss salad and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Wine pairing: Pinot Noir (a wine the gods created just for bacon)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Quinoa Salad with Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Black Olives

I first noticed quinoa (pronounced "kin-wah") at Costco a little over 4 years ago. I picked up the package to read the nutrition label and was pleasantly surprised. While I had expected to see something tantamount to rice, bulgur wheat or other common grain, it turns out that quinoa is a bonafide protein superfood.

Quinoa is an ancient grain which was of great importance to the pre-Columbian Andean civilizations.  Now embraced by vegans worldwide as an important source of protein, it is also an excellent source of dietary fiber, phosphorous, magnesium, iron and manganese. It has a slightly nutty and chewy texture, somewhat reminiscent of a good al dente pasta.

We've been eating it in the Gruggen household for several years now, often substituting quinoa for rice and potato dishes. I happened to be surfing this week for new quinoa recipes and came across one from one of my favorite chefs, Bobby Flay. I made it tonight and it was excellent...a perfect blend of flavors and textures.

One strong word of advice: use good, imported nicoise or kalamata olives sold in a glass jar. Do not use any domestic olives...and woe be to you if you dare get your black olives out of a can. Good imported olives will add just the right piquancy and brightness to this delicious salad. This recipe serves six. While this salad can be served warm, tonight was a hot night, so I made it an hour ahead of time and served it at room temperature.

Ingredients for the Vinaigrette
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey (vegans use sugar)
1 tablespoon mustard, stone ground preferred
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Ingredients for the Quinoa Salad
4 cups chicken stock (vegans use vegetable stock)
2 cups quinoa
2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme
16 spears of asparagus, trimmed
Olive oil, for brushing asparagus
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 cup of pitted, imported nicoise or kalamata olives
4 ounces goat cheese (vegans use soy cheese)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil


  1. For the vinaigrette: Combine the vinegar, honey and mustard in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth.  Add the olive oil and whisk until emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste and whisk again.
  2. For the quinoa salad: Bring the stock to a boil and add the thyme. Stir in the quinoa, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. 
  3. Preheat a grill or broiler. Brush the asparagus with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. If grilling, grill on all sides until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. If broiling, place directly under broiler for 5 minutes. Remove from the grill or broiler and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. 
  4. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl, fold in the asparagus, olives, goat cheese and basil. Add just enough vinaigrette to moisten the salad; don't make it too wet. Serve.

Wine pairing: Viognier, Pinot Gris

Quinoa is readily available at Costco and