Saturday, June 27, 2015

Thai Chicken & Rice Noodle Salad

Two weeks ago I featured a charred squid dish that was the creation of Pim Techamuanvivit and Mike Gaines. They are the two chefs that run Khin Kao restaurant in San Francisco. They pride themselves on authentic Thai food (they disdain the "tyranny of peanut sauce") and they have hit another home run with this chicken and noodle salad.

The key ingredient here is the fish sauce. And as I have campaigned for years, you owe it to yourself to have a gazillion bottles of Red Boat Fish Sauce in your pantry. It is made in the tradition of a fine wine, aged in barrels for a year. There is nothing else like it when it comes to fish sauce.

8 ounces rice noodles
3 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 jalapeño or other small, mild chili, roughly chopped
1 birds eye chili or other small dried, red chili, torn
1½ poached, roasted or grilled skinless chicken breasts
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small English cucumber, thinly sliced
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
½ cup roughly chopped cilantro
½ cup roughly chopped mint
½ cup roughly chopped Thai or other basil


  1. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Boil noodles until tender but still al dente, 3-4 minutes. Drain and run noodles under cold water to cool. Toss noodles dry and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, make the dressing: Place ¼ cup fish sauce, sugar, lime juice and both chilies in a blender or food processor. Blend until chilies break up and sauce looks uniform. Set sauce aside. Shred and roughly chop chicken into bite-size pieces.
  3. In a large bowl, toss shredded chicken with cooled noodles, shallots, oil, cucumbers, tomatoes and herbs. Toss in dressing until well incorporated. Taste and add more fish sauce or lime juice as needed. Serve at room temperature or cold.

Pairing: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Monday, June 22, 2015

Italian Volcano Lemonade

While I have this listed as "Old Fashioned Lemonade" in a much older post, I've decided to re-post it as "Italian Volcano Lemonade" as that is what everyone is plugging into the search engines leading to my blog. If you shop at Costco, you know they sell two, 1-liter bottles of organic Italian Volcano Lemon Juice for $7.99. It's actually 100 % juice...not from concentrate...from fresh Italian lemons.

So rather than having to juice lemons to make lemon juice, you can get yours by just pouring it from the bottle. Best lemon juice ever and the quickest way to make old fashioned lemonade. If you want to go old school, don't buy this product and just juice some lemons.

2 cups Italian Volcano Lemon Juice
5 cups cold water
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt


  1. Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher and stir until sugar and salt are dissolved.
  2. Pour into individual serving glasses filled with ice.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Jalapeño and Bacon Cheeseburgers

This spectacular recipe was created by three cooks: Norman Hamilton, Rick McMillen and Larry Okrend. Their recipe was so good that it won Weber's Best Burger competition in 2013. And grilling this burger over charcoal takes the taste to even greater heights. But before I get into the recipe, let me take a moment to talk charcoal.

There are two basic types of charcoal out there: lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes . Lump charcoal is that wild blonde you dated during your freshman year at college. It burns fast and red hot and it's all over in a flash. Charcoal briquettes are your mom. They burn steady and even and they are with you for the long haul. To be the consummate charcoal griller, you actually need to have both.

Lump charcoal is made by stacking logs in earthen pits and covering them with dirt and steel. The logs are lit on fire and the oxygen-starved fire will burn for several days. The low level fire burns off bark, sap and other impurities. When the fire goes out, what is left is pure carbon: lump charcoal.

The advantages of lump charcoal are two-fold. It gets very hot very fast, which makes it perfect for cooking items like steaks and burgers. It's higher cooking temperature is going to give you a much better sear. The other advantage is that it leaves very little ash behind. Because ash yield is only 5% of original volume, you don't have to empty that ash catcher very often. The downside to lump charcoal is that it loses heat quickly after it reaches it's peak temperature.

Charcoal briquettes are a mixture of soft coal, mineral carbon, limestone, powdered lump charcoal and cornstarch. The soft coal and mineral carbon add substantial longevity to the burn. The limestone creates the white ash and the cornstarch holds everything together. Kingsford is the most popular maker of briquettes and I use Kingsford Competition Briquettes for my extended grilling chores.

The advantages of charcoal briquettes are also two-fold. Their uniform size make grilling with them very predictable. Their chemical composition makes them burn longer and provide more even heat over the entire cooking period. The only downside to briquettes is that they leave a lot of ash behind. Ash yield is 35% of original volume, so you'll be cleaning that ash catcher after 2 or 3 uses of charcoal briquettes.

As I mentioned earlier, I truly believe you need to have both. Quick-cooking, sear-loving food like burgers and steaks beg for lump charcoal. Slower cooking items like roasts, ribs and whole chickens are much easier to do when using the long, steady heat of briquettes. And don't even dare ask me about using lighter fluid or lighter fluid infused briquettes. The only time you use those items are when your guests have asked for a little taste of Chernobyl. Buy yourself a Weber chimney to get your coals going!

Okay, let's get back to this award-winning burger recipe. You had darn better well grill this over lump charcoal. And if it were me, I would buy a chuck roast and grind my own meat in a food processor. This means you have had chain of control over your ground chuck and can cook it to medium rare if you so desire. If you buy store-bought ground meat, which consists of many parts from different animals, you are obligated for safety's sake to grill to medium well done (165º). This recipe serves four.

4 slices bacon
1 jar (12 ounces) sliced, pickled jalapeños, drained
1-½ pounds ground chuck
4 ounces of goat cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1-½ teaspoons kosher salt
8 thin slices pepper jack cheese
4 hamburger buns, split


  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp, 10 to 12 minutes, turning occasionally. Drain the bacon on paper towels. Roughly chop the bacon into ½-inch pieces. 
  2. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat.
  3. Roughly chop half of the jalapeños and set aside the remaining sliced jalapeños. In a large bowl gently mix the ground chuck with the roughly chopped jalapeños, the goat cheese, the garlic, and the salt. With wet hands, gently form four loosely packed patties of equal size, each about ¾ inch thick. Don’t compact the meat too much or the patties will be tough. Using your thumb or the back of a spoon, make a shallow indentation about 1 inch wide in the center of each patty. This will help the patties cook evenly and prevent them from puffing on the grill. 
  4. Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the patties over high heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until cooked, (10 minutes), turning once. During the last minute of grilling time, add two slices of cheese to each patty to melt and toast the buns, cut side down, over direct heat. 

Pairing: An ice cold pilsner.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Charred Squid in Chili-Garlic Sauce

For years, I have been using grape seed oil for my sautéing and frying. It has a very high smoke point, which made it a logical choice. A couple of weeks ago I decided to use it as the oil in a salad dressing I was making. It tasted awful and it made me want to hurl monkeys from my butt. So I did a little research and found that grape seed oil does not age well. It's fine when it's fresh, but not so much when it's not.

Damian Hirtz turned me on to this little gem. It's Avolio Avocado Oil and it's available at Costco. It's incredibly healthy for you and it has an even higher smoke point than grape seed oil. Best of all, it does not turn bitter as it ages. I've been using it as my "go-to" oil ever since and I am never going back to grape seed oil.

Today's recipe is from chefs Pim Techamuanvivit and  Mike Gaines, who run Khin Kao restaurant in San Francisco. Pim calls this Thai dish "kick you in the face spicey" and believe me, it is all that. But it's also incredibly delicious and refreshing. I recommend serving it with a little sticky or basmati rice to offset the heat. Their recipe serves four.

5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1½ bird’s eye or other hot chilies, stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
Juice of 1½ limes
5 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil
2 pounds whole squid, cleaned
1 cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup toasted and finely chopped peanuts


  1. Use a mortar and pestle or a food processor to crush garlic, chilies and sugar to a coarse paste. Transfer to a small bowl, then stir in lime juice and fish sauce. Set aside.
  2. Heat half the oil in a cast-iron or other large, heavy pan over high heat. Once oil is shimmering hot, sear half the squid, turning frequently, until surface browns on all sides and squid just cooks through, about 3 minutes total. Repeat with remaining oil and squid.
  3. Transfer squid to a serving plate and spoon sauce over top. Sprinkle with cilantro and peanuts. Serve.

Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Sesame Crusted Chicken

Last week, I wrote about my new Weber Performer charcoal grill. One reader asked me why I did not look at the Big Green Egg. But, as a matter of fact, I did. I liked what I saw with the Big Green Egg. And if you didn't have the space for a smoker and a grill, the Egg makes a lot of sense, for it can do both. And so if someone were to ask me what to get if they can only have one outdoor cooking system, I would tell them to get the Egg.

But from my point of view, it is a compromise. The Weber Performer is a dedicated charcoal grill. It's designed to one thing: cook food over charcoal. It does that job better than anyone else around. You can cook your meat in a $15,000 Kalamazoo Charcoal Grill and do the same in a $99 Weber Kettle....and they will taste exactly the same.

But when you have a cooking system that both grills and smokes, there will be compromises. Sure, it will get the job done, but it will not do it with the precision of a purpose-built piece of equipment. It's like all-season tires, which I like to refer to as "no-season tires". They are a big compromise, coming nowhere close to the capabilities of separate summer-performance tires and winter snow/ice tires.

But if you can only have one, the Egg is a good choice. But the best choice, if you have the room and the bank account, is to have a dedicated charcoal grill AND a smoker. There's a lot of truth to the old carpenter's saying of "the right tool for the job".

So now I'm going to leave the world of grilling and take you to the world of sautéing. This is a throwback recipe from the early 80's, but it has always been one of my favorites. The recipe was created by Pierre Franey and it appeared in his book "60-Minute Gourmet". I like it because it only takes 15 minutes, it's incredibly easy to make and it's supremely delicious. This recipe serves eight.

8 skinless chicken breasts
Kosher Salt
Fresh ground black pepper
3/4 cup sesame seeds
7 tablespoons butter
Juice of half a lemon

  1. Place each chicken breast half between slices of wax paper or plastic wrap. Pound lightly with a mallet until the breast is of uniform thickness. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Dredge the pieces on all sides in the sesame seeds.
  3. Heat three tablespoons of the butter in a large, heavy skillet and add the breasts in one layer. Cook five minutes on one side. Turn and cook on the second side five minutes. Then transfer them to a heated serving dish.
  4. Heat the four remaining tablespoons of butter in a skillet and add the lemon juice. Swirl the butter around until it is hazelnut brown. Pour this sauce over the chicken breasts and serve hot.

Wine pairing: A big oaky Chardonnay