Saturday, May 30, 2015

My New Grill (with steak and arugula)

I got an early birthday present from my girlfriend, Becky, this week. A new grill! For the last 8 years I have been cooking on what is arguably the greatest charcoal grill ever made, The Weber Performer. But several winters back an 80-pound chunk of snow fell off the roof and bent my beloved grill. I had been limping along, making it work....but, alas, the time had come to move on.

So what grill does one get to replace the legendary Weber Performer? The answer is so simple....another Weber Performer! But when I got home and started playing with the grill,  I saw that Weber had made a bunch of brilliant changes. First, the grill was taller, making it easier to work on. The plastic work table had been replaced with a larger steel table.

The front of the table now has a removable timer. The rack that used to hold the  lid made the cover tilt over the work surface of the grill at a 45º angle, which made half of the grill inaccessible. Now that rack holds the lid at a 90º angle and the entire grill space is open. Everything I loved about the old performer is still there. Propane heat to light your charcoal. Under-the-table charcoal bin. One step cleaning of ashes. Etc.

But there were two, new improvements that blew me away. The first is the new, easy remove ash catcher. Before, you had to twist the handle to get 3 prongs to release. Then once cleaned, you had to get down on your knees to align the prongs to reattach it. Total pain in the ass. On the new grill, you just squeeze the handle and the ash catcher swings down and off. To reattach, you just squeeze the handle and swing it up into place. No need to get on your knees anymore! (at least not for your grill)

But here is my favorite new feature. It's what Weber calls their Gourmet BBQ system. The center of the grill comes out and there are a whole bucketload of accessories that can slide in there. Pizza stones. Woks. Beer-butt chicken holders. But my favorite is the cast iron searing rack. Nothing holds heat and sears like cast iron. You just center your charcoal in the grill and set the searing rack over them. And the pattern of the searing rack gives you perfect grill marks without having to rotate your meat!

So thanks to Becky for encouraging to move on to what is now, unquestionably, the world's greatest charcoal grill. As a small token of thanks I'm going to make her this Grilled Steak and Arugula Salad this week. This recipe serves four.

2 New York strip steaks, 12-16 oz each, 11/2 inches thick
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 tablespoons fresh cracked black peppercorns
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
8 ounces baby arugula
4 ounce chunk of Parmesan cheese


  1. Prepare a charcoal grill for direct cooking over high heat.
  2. Pat dry the steaks with paper towels. Brush the steaks lightly all over with the vegetable oil. Combine the kosher salt and cracked peppercorns on a plate and roll the filets on all sides in the mixture, pressing lightly to help the salt and pepper adhere. The steaks should be evenly coated with the mixture.
  3. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside.
  4. When the grill is ready, place the steaks on the grill. Cook them for 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare. Remove to a plate, cover tightly with foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing thickly.
  5. Toss the arugula in a large bowl with enough of the dressing to moisten; divide among 4 plates. Place several slices of steak on top of each salad. Shave the Parmesan onto each steak with a vegetable peeler, sprinkle with salt, and serve hot.

Wine pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pork Belly

I made my weekly trip to Costco last Thursday. It was the lead up to a big holiday weekend so I was fully expecting to snarf up some lobsters to grill over the weekend. But alas, the seafood stand was nowhere to be found. Time to execute Plan B.

I walked back and forth, surveying the fresh meat section. I was drawn to a cut of pork I had never prepared before...fresh pork belly. Pork belly is what they use to make bacon. To accomplish that, it is cured with salt and sugar and then smoked. Voila...bacon!

Costco sells full pork bellies. The one I bought weighed 11 pounds. But they are dirt cheap at $1.99 per pound. So I divided the pork belly into three pieces. I vacuum-packed and froze two of them for future use. I took the remaining piece and divided that up into 3 separate cuts for ease of prep and cooking.

I'm here to tell you that this recipe is spectacular. The fat cap melts away to make the underlying meat  incredibly moist and rich (make that really, really rich). I cooked it low and slow in a 250º oven for 3+ hours and then fried the fat cap for 10 minutes in a cast iron pan. You end up with a crispy top...essentially a rich cut of pork with crunchy pork rind on top. I served it with a spicy mustard sauce. This Cook's Illustrated recipe serves 8.

Pork Belly

1 (3-pound) skin-on center-cut fresh pork belly, about 1 1/2 inches thick
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
Vegetable oil


  1. Using sharp chef’s knife, slice pork belly lengthwise into 3 strips about 2 inches wide, then make 1/4-inch-deep crosswise cuts through skin and into fat spaced 1/2 inch apart. Combine 2 tablespoons salt and brown sugar in small bowl. Rub salt mixture into bottom and sides of pork belly (do not rub into skin). Season skin of each strip evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place pork belly, skin side up, in 13 by 9-inch baking dish and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours.
  2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Transfer pork belly, skin side up, to lightly greased wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Roast pork belly for 3 1/2 hours, rotating sheet halfway through roasting.
  3. Transfer pork belly, skin side up, to large plate. (Pork belly can be held at room temperature for up to 1 hour.) Pour fat from sheet into 1-cup liquid measuring cup. Add vegetable oil as needed to equal 1 cup and transfer to 12-inch skillet. Arrange pork belly, skin side down, in skillet (strips can be sliced in half crosswise if skillet won’t fit strips whole) and place over medium heat until bubbles form around pork belly. Continue to fry, tilting skillet occasionally to even out hot spots, until skin puffs, crisps, and turns golden, 6 to 10 minutes. Transfer pork belly, skin side up, to carving board and let rest for 5 minutes. Flip pork belly on its side and slice 1/2 inch thick (being sure to slice through original score marks). Reinvert slices and serve.

Spicy Mustard Sauce

2/3 cup Dijon mustard
1/3 cup cider vinegar 
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 

  1. Whisk all ingredients together in bowl.

Wine pairing: Pinot Noir

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Artisan Bread for Dummies

I don't typically eat a lot of bread. But I can't imagine diving into a delicious bowl of soup without a hot loaf of bread as my wingman. But alas, I'm not a baker. In fact, I hate baking. I hate all of the chemistry involved. Until now.

Let me introduce you to Soberdough Brew Bread. They have made it insanely easy to bake a fresh loaf of jaw-dropping artisan bread. And all you need to make it is one bottle of beer and an oven.

For eight bucks, you get a one pound bag of ingredients. You throw it in a bowl, add one bottle of beer and then mix by hand until there is no dry mix remaining. Throw it in a loaf pan and slide it in the oven and you are done.

As of now they have 9 different flavors. I'm particularly fond of Rosemary, as well as Roasted Garlic. It's also really fun to experiment with different types of beer to manipulate the flavor. When you use an IPA in place of a pilsner, the hops completely changes the taste of the bread. They even have a special web page dedicated to different brews to try:

Give Soberdough a shot. It's the easiest way on earth to become a world-class baker. It's fun. It's simple. It's delicious. Go here to see their entire site:

One, 16 ounce bag of Soberdough bread mix
12 ounces of beer


  1. Preheat oven to 350º and grease a 9" X 5" bread loaf pan.
  2. Add bread mix to a large bowl. Pour beer into mix.
  3. Stir by hand until there is no dry mix left in bowl.
  4. Pour batter into loaf pan and smooth.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes*. Let cool for 15 minutes before slicing.

*For a golden, buttery crust: Pour 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the loaf with 5 minutes left in bake time. Then finish baking.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Grilled Thai Shrimp

Besides being very passionate about cooking, I am also very passionate about video games. But lately there has been very little to be passionate about in the video game world. We are in the very early stage of the next generation consoles and there are very few games to play out there.

To pass the time I've been playing Halo: The Master Chief Collection. The game disc contains all of the Halo games, including the original, Halo: Combat Evolved, from 2001. That game brings back a lot of cherished memories. It was a multi-player, first-person shooter set far into the future.

In 2001, gaming over the Internet on your Xbox was still two years away. So in order to play multi-player, you had to all be in the same room and play on a split screen. Sean was six at the time and Patrick was four and we'd throw in cousin Ryan to round out our teams. Weekends were made much more fun by this and we'd often play for 4 to 5 hours at a time. So it's kind of fun for me to be playing  the game again that really started a family tradition.

So while I'm playing my retro games waiting for Halo 5 to come out in the fall, here's a little Thai to tide us all over. This recipe serves four.

1 pound raw shrimp (15 to 20 count per pound) peeled,
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 lime), plus lime wedges for garnish
1 teaspoon Sriracha
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 Thai chile, sliced thin
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

  1. Put the shrimp into a glass bowl. Whisk the remaining ingredients in another bowl and pour 2/3 of it over the shrimp. (Reserve the remaining marinade to brush on the shrimp during grilling.)
  2. Marinate the shrimp for just 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare your grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat (350º to 450º).
  3. Place the shrimp on skewers. Grill shrimp for 2 minutes on each side while brushing with the reserved marinade.
  4. Remove shrimp from grill and serve with lime wedges.

Wine pairing: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. A Kim Crawford if you're lucky.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Cowboy Pork Chops

I had never paid a lot of attention to pork chops in my early days of cooking. But that all changed back in the 80's when I took my first bite of JD Hoyt's Cajun Pork Chops. Absolutely life changing. I went from full-time steak guy to the guy that only ordered pork chops at JD Hoyt's.

Cajun is still my very most favorite way to grill up pork chops: But I've come across zillions of great grilled pork chop recipes, most of which I have written about in this blog. I'm going to share another here today from Jamie Purviance.

First, let me share a little bit about pork chops. I only use center-cut rib chops. I like my chops to have a bone for the flavor it imparts and also for the ability to pick up the bone and gnaw the remaining meat. Center-cut chops also have decent marbling.....for fat equals flavor.

And I like my chops to be at least an inch thick. That makes them nice and juicy when cooked to medium rare (145º) or medium (150º). The old advice of cooking pork to 165º is dead and gone. It's the "steak" from pork, so why would you cook it to well done? I like to throw in a little mesquite while I'm grilling these chops, but that's just me. This recipe serves six.


For the Cowboy Paste
2¼ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon chipotle or ancho chile powder
½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano leaves, crumbled
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

For the Chops
6 center-cut pork rib chops, each about 8 ounces and 1 inch thick


  1. In a small bowl mix the salt, pepper, paprika, onion powder, chile powder, oregano, cayenne, and garlic powder. Add the oil and vinegar to the bowl and stir to combine.
  2. Spread the paste on both sides of each pork chop. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 6 hours. Allow the chops to stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes before grilling.
  3. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350° to 450°F).
  4. Grill the pork chops over direct medium heat, with the lid closed for 8 minutes, turning once. Remove from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve.

Pairing: I would pair this with a Malbec, Syrah or Zinfandel. But if I were making this tonight, where it's going to be 81º in Minneapolis, I would pick an ice-cold pilsner.