Monday, September 30, 2013

Smoked Pork Spare Ribs

Followers of this blog know that I ditched my smoker a few years back. It was a Weber Smokey Mountain Smoker and it required a lot of labor to smoke ribs. Charcoal, water pan, cooking grates and adjustable air vents...all had to be kept in perfect synch to make the smoking process come out right. Way too much work for me.

But I missed that taste of pork ribs slow cooked over hickory. My friends Ron Benza, John Ebeling and Jeff Pinkham were always posting about their smoking endeavors...and it started gnawing a little hole in my brain. I started researching smokers and after consulting with Jeff Pinkham, I decided to follow his lead and get a Cookshack Electric Smoker.

Their smokers are built like the Rock of Gibraltar. All stainless steel and the temperature is maintained by a computer controlled thermostat. No charcoal. No water pans. No vent management. All you need are two ounces of hickory and some meat. Plug it in, set the temp, seal the door and that's it.

On my maiden voyage, I smoked pork spare ribs. I was skeptical that just two ounces of wood would be sufficient, but it was the perfect amount of smoke in the meat. Now I followed the Cookshack recipe to a "T", which said to cook the ribs at 225º for four hours. I did that, but the ribs came out a little too rubbery for my tastes. I like my meat so tender that it literally falls right off of the ribs.

I talked to Jeff Pinkham about my results and he said I need to wrap the ribs in foil to achieve the tenderness I was looking for. I did some research online and found what many consider to be the bible of the smoking cognescenti. Jeff Phillip's book, "Smoking Meat" went into great detail on how to achieve the tender meat I so desired. He calls his method 3-2-1. Three hours of smoke, two hours in foil and another one hour in smoke.

So I tried that Saturday night and the ribs came out perfectly. The perfect amount of smoke and the most tender meat I have ever tasted. Nirvana. While you can serve them up with your favorite BBQ sauce, I find these ribs absolutely delicious as is. This recipe serves four.

 Now that I have conquered ribs, I will be moving on to beef brisket! Watch this space.....

2 racks pork spareribs
6 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 bottle Famous Dave's Rib Rub
2 ounces hickory
12 ounces beer


  1. Preheat smoker to 225º.
  2. Remove ribs from package and pat dry with paper towels. 
  3. Put 3 heaping tablespoons of Dijon mustard on the top each rack (bone side down). Spread mustard to coat entire top of ribs.
  4. Sprinkle Famous Dave's Rib Rub on top of mustard to fully coat the ribs.
  5. Place ribs in smoker. Add hickory. Close door and cook for 3 hours.
  6. After 3 hours, remove ribs and wrap each rack separately in foil. Before sealing foil, add 6 ounces of beer to bottom of each foil pack.
  7. Put foiled ribs back in smoker and cook for 2 hours.
  8. After 2 hours, remove ribs from smoker and toss foil. Put ribs back in smoker and cook for 1 more hour.
  9. Remove ribs from smoker and slice between each bone. Serve.

Wine pairing: A big, fruity Zinfandel

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Bargain of the Year for Lobster Tails

I was just paging through the latest Allen Brothers catalog. They have spectacular products, but their pricing is just outrageous. I stopped at their seafood page to calculate the cost of their cold-water North Atlantic lobster tails....and it came out to a jaw-dropping $69.98 per pound.

You can find lobster tails at Byerly's and Lunds for around $30.00 per pound. If you go to Costco on the weekend, they have fresh lobster tails for $19.99 per pound.

But for the best buy in lobster tails, head to the frozen food section at Costco. They are selling frozen lobsters in bulk....5 pounds of lobster tails per box. The tails are 8-10 ounces each and the cost of the tails? Just $15.52 per pound. And there's no easier way to cook them than by tossing them on the grill:

Gong Bao Chicken

I found this recipe in the New York Times this week. The recipe was created by British journalist Fuschia Dunlop. Her latest cookbook, "Every Grain of Rice" is all about simple, easy to make Chinese meals. Buy it here:

So I made this recipe last night and it was absolutely took me all of 20 minutes to prep and stir fry this dish. It's pure Paleo and an incredible blend of chicken, chiles, garlic, ginger and roasted peanuts.

One word of caution though. When you are heating the dried chiles in the first step, put a lid on your pan. I didn't and the vaporized oil from the chiles sent the two of us into massive sneezing attacks. Potent you have been forewarned. This recipe makes two servings.


For the chicken:
2 boneless chicken breasts (11 to 12 ounces total), with or without skin
3 garlic cloves
An equivalent amount of ginger
5 spring onions, white parts only
A handful of dried chiles (about 10)
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper
3 ounces roasted peanuts (see note)        

For the marinade:
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine (or use dry sherry or dry vermouth)
1 1/2 teaspoons potato starch or cornstarch

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon potato starch or cornstarch
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar (or use balsamic vinegar)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon chicken stock or water

  1. Cut chicken as evenly as possible into half-inch strips, then cut strips into small cubes. Place in a small bowl. Add marinade ingredients and 1 tablespoon water to bowl. Mix well and set aside. 
  2.  Peel and thinly slice garlic and ginger. Chop spring onions into chunks as long as their diameter (to match the chicken cubes). Snip chiles in half or into sections, discarding their seeds. 
  3. In a small bowl, combine the sauce ingredients.   
  4. Heat a seasoned wok or non-stick pan over a high flame. Add oil, chiles and Sichuan pepper and stir-fry briefly until chiles are darkening but not burned. (Remove wok/pan from heat if necessary to prevent overheating.) 
  5. Quickly add chicken and stir-fry over a high flame, stirring constantly. As soon as chicken cubes have separated, add ginger, garlic and spring onions and continue to stir-fry until they are fragrant and meat is just cooked through (test one of the larger pieces to make sure). 
  6. Give sauce a stir and add to wok, continuing to stir and toss. As soon as the sauce has become thick and shiny, add the peanuts, stir them in and serve. 

Wine pairing: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (try Seleni Sauvignon Blanc)

Fuschia Dunlop

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Roasted Cauliflower with Bacon, Olives and Thyme

What a spectacular Saturday it is today. It's a typical Minnesota day for early fall. The thermometer is at 62º. The sun is out. My son, Sean, is back for his first weekend since starting college at Iowa State. He's loving college and frat life. It's great to see him so happy.

The morning walk around Normandale Lake was simply beautiful. The geese are taking to wing and the lake is starting to fill up with mallards resting on their journey south. The dogs had an extra spring in their step as we passed the joggers who have traded in their tee-shirts for sweats.

Fall is my favorite time of year because of the food transition. The lighter meals of summer fade away and comfort foods start popping up on the menu. In honor of Sean's homecoming, I'm making him one of his favorites tomorrow....pot roast. To go with it, I will be making this Paleo-perfect side dish. This recipe is from the Peter Kaminsky and Marie Rama book, "Bacon Nation" and it serves four.

4 slices of thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/2 head of cauliflower, cored and cut into 2-inch florets
1/3 cup dry white wine
15 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/3 cup pitted , oil-packed kalamata olives
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper


  1. Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until just browned, but not yet crisp (about 5 minutes). Add the florets and cover skillet. Cook for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is browned.
  2. Add all other ingredients to skillet. Increase heat to medium-high and cover skillet.
  3. Cook for 5 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender but firm and all wine has evaporated. Serve.

Wine pairing: Pinot Noir

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Flank Steak Fajitas with Pico de Gallo

Jim Arnost's request last week for a cowboy rub spurred me on to research some more rubs. I decided I wanted to find a really good fajita rub for flank steak. My research led me to a fabulous rub recipe from Steven Raichlen, author of "Barbecue Bible: Sauces, Rubs and Marinades". I made it last night and it was absolutely spectacular....if I do say so myself. It put an awesome crust on the flank steak that was an explosion of Mexican flavors. We could not stop eating the meat!

I like to eat Paleo, so I like my fajitas very simple. While the soft flour tortilla is not Paleo, everything else in the fajita is. I simply complement the flavor of the meat with a spicy Pico de Gallo salsa: diced tomatoes, chopped onion, jalapeño, minced garlic, cilantro and a little salt and lime juice. Feel free to add cheese and your other favorite ingredients if you so desire.


For the Rub
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried cilantro
2  teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

For the Fajitas
10 soft flour tortillas
1 large flank steak ( 1 1/2 to 2 pounds)

  1. In a small bowl, combine all rub ingredients and mix well.
  2. Sprinkle rub generously over both sides of the flank steak. Press the rub into the meat and let it rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
  3. Prepare a grill for direct cooking over high heat. (Right before I toss the meat on, I throw a little mesquite on the coals for additional flavor).
  4. Put flank steak on grill and cover. Cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Flip steak and cover grill. Cook for 5 more minutes.
  6. Remove steak from grill and let rest for 5 minutes. Then slice as thin as possible across the grain (see photo above).
  7. Place meat and Pico de Gallo on tortilla. Wrap it up and bite. Welcome to heaven!


3 large tomatoes, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 jalapeños, diced (seeds removed)
1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped (use more if you are a cilantro fanboy)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste


  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix well and serve.

Pairing: Pacifico Mexican beer