Saturday, August 30, 2014

Grilled Pork Chops, Brined in Crispin Hard Cider

Damian Hirtz, the man who owns my CrossFit gym, turned me on to one of summer's greatest pleasures: Crispin Hard Apple Cider. Served ice cold, it refreshes the palate far better than any beer can. There are different flavors out there and most of them are sweet. I don't like sweet, so I buy Crispin's Classic English Dry Cider It's crisp and smooth and very dry. So dry, in fact, that you will never have to urinate after drinking a glass or two.

So I love Crispin and I love pork chops. Pork is a very mild meat and I find it is always enhanced by brining. Fruit based brines always work well with pork, so why not try a little Crispin for my pork chops? Marriage made in heaven. Now when I'm done grilling, I like to add a little glaze. I usually add a balsamic glaze, which I typically make by reducing a half-cup of balsamic vinegar  to a quarter cup. But Costco came to the rescue with a new product they started carrying: Blaze Graze. They've taken Modena Balsamic Vinegar and reduced it to a glaze for you. Just pop the top and pour!

4 thick-cut, bone-in pork chops
1 1/2 cups Crispin Dry Hard Cider
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
5 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon juniper berries
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 chunk hickory wood


  1. Place pork chops in a resealable bag, along with the cider, sugar, brown sugar, salt, thyme, bay leaves, ground mustard and juniper berries. Tightly seal and squish around to combine. Place in the refrigerator for 3 hours.
  2. Remove pork chops from refrigerator about 30 minutes before you're ready to cook them. Discard brine and pat meat dry using a paper towel.
  3. Light a chimney full of charcoal. When coals are white hot, spread them on the coal grate and add hickory chunk.
  4. Rub chops with olive oil. 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 with balsamic glaze (optional).

Wine pairing: A big, fruity Zinfandel

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Easy Blender Salsa

I struggled mightily with how to title this recipe. This recipe has a lot going for it. First, it's a great salsa...the kind you would find in that little dive taco bar run by Carlos and Alejandra. True restaurant quality. Second, it's fresh...made with raw ingredients. Third, it's easy. Ridiculously easy. Toss everything in a blender and you have a stunning salsa in less than 60 seconds.

In order to get the most people to try it, I have opted to focus on how easy it is to make it. But please be advised that it is a fresh-made, restaurant quality salsa. It's just that it is ridiculously easy to make. So that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

You will note in the ingredient list there is one item that is not fresh and that would be one can of diced tomatoes. Now you could grab any can of diced tomatoes and that would certainly do the trick. But if you want your salsa to be the pinnacle of salsaness, you need the gold standard of canned tomatoes: Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted diced tomatoes. These are extraordinary.

1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
2 fresh tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, or a handful
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
Juice of 1 lime
1 jalapeño, seeded and veins removed (optional)

Really Easy Directions
Add all ingredients to blender and blend on low until well combined. Serve.

Pairing: My fave, Pacifico.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Slow Cooker Sesame Chicken

This recipe is so simple that a two-year old could make it blindfolded. It requires absolutely no cooking skills. It's this simple: put a slow cooker on your counter and add the ingredients. Turn crockpot on.

There. That wasn't too tough for you, was it? I didn't think so. So now you can prepare this delicious dish from scratch, impress every one in your family and all you need are the culinary skills of an invertebrate.

If you are eating Paleo, you can serve the sesame chicken over arugula, spinach or quinoa. If it's been a heavy CrossFit day for me and I want to replenish my carbs, I'll serve it over sticky rice: This recipe from Family Fresh Meals serves four to six people.

2 pounds boneless/skinless chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
1 cup honey
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 3 Tablespoons water
Toasted sesame seeds

  1. In a large bowl, combine onion, garlic, honey, soy sauce, ketchup, olive oil and red pepper. 
  2. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper, to taste. Place chicken thighs into a slow cooker. Add honey mixture and gently toss to combine. Cover and cook on low heat for 3 hours and 30 minutes.
  3. Remove chicken from crock pot with a slotted spoon, leaving sauce behind. Dissolve 2 teaspoons of cornstarch in 3 tablespoons of water and pour into crock pot. Stir to combine with sauce. Replace lid and cook sauce on HIGH for ten more minutes until the sauce has thickened.
  4. Cut chicken into cubes and return to slow cooker. Toss chicken in pot to mix with the sauce.
  5. Serve over rice and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. 

Wine pairing: Sauvignon Blanc (preferably from New Zealand)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Vietnamese Shrimp

Readers of this blog know that I am a huge Costco fanboy. I shop there religiously. Every single week. The quality of their food is extraordinary. And when it comes to protein, no one can touch their quality/price relationship.

There are a lot of food fuckwads bloggers out there that scream  "DO NOT BUY COSTCO SHRIMP AS IT IS FARM RAISED IN ASIA!!!". To that I reply, "why yes, it is farm raised in Asia".  And while there are indeed horror stories about farm-raised shrimp in Asia, Costco is not part of that equation.

Back in 2005, Costco asked the World Wildlife Fund to build a consensus for environmental and social standards for responsibly farmed seafood. Those standards were established and handed over to the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, a non-profit that manages farm certification programs.

Costco fully supports those standards and requires that each of it's farm-raised seafood suppliers become fully certified through the ASC. Costco has also developed very strict quality and freshness standards and every shipment of shrimp is tested to ensure that it meets those standards.

Besides having all of those assurances, I buy Costco shrimp because it tastes great. I buy their shrimp frozen. It is sold under the Kirkland Signature brand, which also lets me know that it is considered a product of the highest quality at Costco.

The shrimp comes in all different sizes and it also comes raw or cooked. I always buy raw (so that I can choose the level of doneness). I always buy the 21-25 pieces to the pound size as those are nice, big plump shrimp. I usually have 3 bags on hand in my freezer and when I want one I pop it in the fridge overnight to thaw.

Costco sources their shrimp from farms in India, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Whenever I get a bag of Kirkland shrimp from Vietnam, I always make this recipe (which serves four). It's just my way of showing my tasty little shrimp friends that you can go home again. 

1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds extra large shrimp, peeled and deveined (Costco shrimp come this way)
3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Combine the fish sauce, dark brown sugar, crushed red pepper flakes and water in a medium bowl and whisk until brown sugar is dissolved.
  2. Heat the vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a few minutes more. Do not brown.
  3. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the shrimp. Cook, stirring frequently, until the shrimp are just barely pink and still translucent in spots, a few minutes. Add the fish sauce mixture, turn heat down to medium, and simmer until shrimp are cooked through, a few minutes more. (Note: the sauce will be thin.) Off the heat, stir in scallions and cilantro. Serve immediately with jasmine rice.

Wine pairing: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Grilled Swordfish Tacos

Who doesn't love a good taco? The key to a good fish taco is to use a meaty, substantial piece of fish. So we'll skate past all of the light, flaky fishes and head for swordfish. Not just a cut of swordfish, but swordfish steaks. Big, huge, honkin' swordfish steaks. Fire up the grill and off we go. This Cook's Illustrated recipe serves six.

 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup orange juice
6 tablespoons lime juice (3 limes)
2 pounds skinless swordfish steaks, 1 inch thick, cut lengthwise into 1-inch-wide strips
1 pineapple, peeled, quartered lengthwise, cored, and each quarter halved lengthwise
1 jalapeño chile
18 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro, plus extra for serving
1/2 head iceberg lettuce (4 1/2 ounces), cored and thinly sliced
1 avocado, halved, pitted, and sliced thin
Lime wedges


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil, ancho chile powder, and chipotle chile powder in 8-inch skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and some bubbles form, 2 to 3 minutes. Add oregano, coriander, garlic, and 1 teaspoon salt and continue to cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds longer. Add tomato paste and, using spatula, mash tomato paste with spice mixture until combined, about 20 seconds. Stir in orange juice and 2 tablespoons lime juice. Cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly mixed and reduced slightly, about 2 minutes. Transfer chile mixture to large bowl and let cool for 15 minutes.
  2. Add swordfish to bowl with chile mixture, and stir gently with rubber spatula to coat fish. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.
  3. Open bottom vent on your grill completely. Light large chimney starter mounded with charcoal briquettes (7 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
  4. Clean cooking grate, then repeatedly brush grate with well-oiled paper towels until grate is black and glossy, 5 to 10 times. Brush both sides of pineapple with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Place fish on half of grill. Place pineapple and jalapeño on other half. Cover and cook until fish, pineapple, and jalapeño have begun to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Using thin spatula, flip fish, pineapple, and jalapeño over. Cover and continue to cook until second sides of pineapple and jalapeño are browned and swordfish is done, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer fish to large platter, flake into pieces, and tent with aluminum foil. Transfer pineapple and jalapeño to cutting board.
  5. Clean cooking grate. Place half of tortillas on grill. Grill until softened and speckled with brown spots, 30 to 45 seconds per side. Wrap tortillas in dish towel or foil to keep warm. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
  6. When cool enough to handle, finely chop pineapple and jalapeño. Transfer to medium bowl and stir in bell pepper, cilantro, and remaining 4 tablespoons lime juice. Season with salt to taste. Top tortillas with flaked fish, salsa, lettuce, and avocado. Serve with lime wedges and extra cilantro.

Pairing: If you are going to drink wine, I would recommend an unoaked Chardonnay. But my first choice would be an ice-cold Pacifico!