Saturday, August 25, 2012

Slow Cooker Chinese Short Ribs

There are days where I like nothing better than laboring for hours in the kitchen to put together a new and exciting meal. There are also days that I don't want to spend a lot of time cooking...and this recipe fits that bill to a "T". We're talking 10 minutes of browning and then toss everything into a slow cooker and walk away. If you are feeling exceptionally lazy, you can even skip the browning part.

This is a really easy dish with great Asian flavors. The meat melts on the bone during the eight hours it braises in the slow cooker. Once you've turned your slow cooker on, the only other things required to complete the meal are white rice and a full glass of wine. If you want the meal to be completely Paleo, skip the rice and serve the short ribs with a side of of Asian Cole Slaw: This recipe serves four.

8 short ribs (about 3 pounds)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup honey
3 star anise
1, 3-inch piece cinnamon
5 nickel-size slices of fresh ginger
1/2 large yellow onion, cut in 1/4 inch slices (or 6 scallions, chopped)
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
Cilantro or chopped scallions for garnish


  1. Add peanut oil to a large skillet and turn heat to medium high. Working in batches, brown short ribs on all sides. Put browned ribs in slow cooker.
  2. Add soy sauce, honey, anise, cinnamon, ginger, onion slices and peppercorns to slow cooker. Stir, cover and turn slow cooker to low. Cook for 8 hours.
  3. After 8 hours, taste sauce and add salt if necessary. Divide ribs among serving plates, add garnish and serve.

Wine pairing: If you prefer white wine, try a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. If you prefer red wine, try a fruity California Zinfandel.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Barley, Celery Root and Mushroom Salad

I was born when Harry Truman was POTUS. Dinners were old school back then. When "Give 'Em Hell Harry" sat down for dinner each night in the White House, his dinner always had three distinct parts. Meat. Vegetable. Starch. Being a product of that era, that's a formula I bought into.

But if you visit some of the trendiest and most popular restaurants these days, they have a whole new spin on that formula. The protein is still there, but the side dish is typically a fusion of vegetables and starch. But the "starch" these days is a highly nutritious and healthy whole grain of some sorts.

It's taken me a bit to catch on, but catch on I have. A couple of fine examples are the quinoa based salads I've posted in the last several months: Quinoa, Red Pepper and Cucumber Salad ( and Quinoa Salad with Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Black Olives (

The recipe I am going to share with you today is by Melissa Clark. I cut it out of The New York Times last spring and just got around to it now. This is an intensely flavored dish. It rates high on the umami chart thanks to toasted barley and roasted mushrooms. And it meets our criteria of a fusion whole grain/vegetable/fungi dish that is very healthy and good for you.

Because of the intense flavors, it needs strong companion on the protein side. I would recommend  serving this incredible salad with slices of a pan-seared or grilled New York Strip steak. Please note that if you toast the barley in advance, the time needed to prepare the salad is less than an hour (and most of that time is waiting for stuff to boil or roast). The recipe serves four as a side dish.

1 cup pearl barley
1 large celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper
Kosher salt
1 pound mixed mushrooms, like cremini, oyster and hedgehog, cut into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped celery leaves
1/3 cup celery stalk, finely diced
3/4 cup parsley leaves


  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Spread the barley grains on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant and golden, 20 minutes. Then set aside.
  2. Increase oven temperature to 400º. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the celery root with 2 tablespoons oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. On a separate baking sheet, toss the mushrooms with 1/4 cup oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Roast both, tossing occasionally, until golden and tender, 15 to 20 minutes for the mushrooms, and 30 to 40 minutes for the celery root. Transfer to a large bowl. 
  3. Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring 10 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil. Add the barley and simmer until tender, 45 to 50 minutes; drain. Add to the mushrooms and celery root. 
  4.  In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, scallions, celery leaves, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Whisk in 3 tablespoons oil. Toss the vinaigrette and diced celery stalk into the salad. Coarsely chop 1/4 cup parsley leaves and add to the salad. Toss in the remaining whole leaves, tearing larger leaves into smaller pieces. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wine pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Spicy Glass Noodles with Crispy Pork

This is a quick, healthy meal I found on The Thai name of the recipe is  "Yum Woon Sen". While their recipe called for this as a side dish, I have beefed up the ingredient list to make it an entree for four adults.

This dish has all of the great tastes of Thai cuisine. The dressing is the epitome of Thai simplicity: lime juice, fish sauce, soy sauce, Sriracha sauce and sugar. The glass noodles, also known as cellophane noodles, bean threads or saifun, are incredibly soft and chewy...a terrific contrast to the crispness of the pork and vegetables.

This dish can be served warm or chilled. If you prefer the latter, refrigerate everything for 15 minutes before adding the dressing...which makes it a perfect meal for a hot summer night!


For the Dressing
4 tablespoons lime juice
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons fish sauce (Red Boat recommended)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Sriracha Sauce (or more to taste)

For the Main Dish
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
One, 6-ounce package glass noodles (saifun)
1 bunch scallions, sliced into thin rounds
1 bunch roughly chopped cilantro
1 bunch torn mint leaves (no stems)
1 jalapeño, halved, seeded and then finely minced
4 tablespoons chopped peanuts


  1. Make the dressing: Combine lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk until sugar dissolves. Set aside.
  2. Heat a large pot of water. When water boils, remove pot from heat and drop glass noodles into water. Let noodles sit in the hot water for 15 minutes, then drain and put noodles in a medium bowl. Add a little bit of dressing to noodles to keep them from sticking.
  3. Add canola oil to a large skillet. Add the pork and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to break the pork into tiny crumbles. Cook pork for another 3-5 minutes, until the pork turns deeply golden brown and crispy. Drain pork and put pork in a new large bowl.
  4. To the pork bowl, add the scallions, cilantro, mint and jalapeño. Add 3/4 of the dressing and toss.
  5. Divide the glass noodles between 4 serving bowls. Divide the pork/vegetable mixture between the 4 bowls, placing it on top of the noodles. Top each dish with 1 tablespoon of the peanuts and a little extra dressing and serve.

Wine pairing: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Butterflied Chicken

"Necessity is the mother of invention"

Butterflied chicken is not my favorite way to cook a chicken. Convection roasting is actually my favorite way to cook a chicken. But in July of 2012, which was the hottest July on record in Minnesota, Butterflied Chicken became a necessity. Bear with me while I explain.

Every day in July, we had a high temperature above 80º. We had a bucketload of days that were above 100º. Even with the air conditioning on, it became a challenge to keep the house cool. The last thing I'm going to do is fire up an oven to roast a chicken and raise the temperature in the house. So July of 2012 saw a record number of days in which I cooked our meals on our Weber Performer.

Now it's easy enough to roast a chicken on a charcoal grill. You just need 110 minutes of free time...20 minutes to get the charcoal going and 90 minutes to roast the chicken on indirect heat. The problem is, I am "pattern man" and I only have 60 minutes to get dinner on the table at precisely 6:00 pm each weekday evening. The reason I only have 60 minutes is that me and my video gaming peeps hook up for 2 hours of killing every day from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. That leaves me just 60 minutes to prepare dinner.

So during July of 2012, my family was missing the taste of roast chicken. So, by necessity, I searched out a way to cook a whole chicken on a grill in less than 60 minutes. Thanks to Cook's Illustrated, the answer was quite simple...Butterflied Chicken. You simply cut the backbone out of the chicken and flatten the bird. Check this out:

Once you've flattened the bird, it cooks directly over the coals in just 30 minutes...15 minutes per side. But because we are cooking over direct heat, the bird will dry out if cooked au naturel. That's easy to remedy...brining the bird for 2 to 4 hours prior to grilling solves that problem.  This is a fast and easy way to cook a whole chicken in less than an hour and it serves four.

1 whole chicken, 3 pounds
6 tablespoons salt
6 tablespoons sugar
Fresh ground black pepper


  1. Dissolve salt and sugar in 1 quart cold water in 2-gallon zipper-lock plastic bag. Add chicken; press out as much air as possible from bag and seal. Refrigerate until fully seasoned, at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours.
  2. Light large chimney starter filled 3/4 full with charcoal (4 1/ 2 quarts should be about 75 briquettes); let burn until all charcoal is covered with layer of fine gray ash. Build single-level fire by spreading coals evenly over bottom of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and heat until grate is hot, about 5 minutes. Use grill brush to scrape cooking grate clean. Grill is ready when coals are medium-hot. 
  3. Meanwhile, remove chicken from brine, dry thoroughly with paper towels and season with pepper to taste.
  4. Place chicken, bone-side down, on grill rack. Set rimmed baking sheet or large pan on top of chicken; put 2 bricks in pan. Grill until chicken is deep brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Using tongs, flip chicken skin-side down. Replace sheet pan and bricks, and continue cooking 12 to 15 minutes more.
  5. Remove chicken from grill, then cover with foil and let rest for 10 minutes. Carve and serve.

Wine pairing: Pinot Noir or Syrah

Here are me and my peeps taking out the enemy.