Saturday, July 18, 2009

Grilled Rib Eye Steaks

I don't eat steaks very often, so when I do, I want really good ones.

A lot is being written lately about the right way to raise beef cattle for health, sustainability, and humane treatment of the animals. If you live in the Twin Cities, and want beef you can trace back to the farm, I've found no better than Clancey's Meats & Fish in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis (I don't believe they have a website, but see reviews and directions here). They are truly artisanal in every way.

However, they're not actually my favorite butcher shop in Minneapolis. That honor (such as it is) goes to Everett's Foods & Meats on the east side of Minneapolis just off 38th & Cedar (see reviews and directions here). Why do I love Everett's so much? Maybe it's the 1950's nostalgic feel of the place. Maybe it's the fact that they dry-age their beef to perfection. Maybe it's their incredible house-made sausages and bratwurst and other cured meats. Maybe it's the fact that their prices are working-class-southeast friendly - I bought 2 12-oz. rib eyes there for $15 and change, total.

Clearly, it's all of this, and one thing more: I have absolutely loved every single cut of meat of every kind I've ever bought from Everett's. For my 40th birthday I hosted a man-feast for 11 of my closest guy friends and relatives. We bought a dozen 1-lb. porterhouse steaks from Everett's for the event - the king cut of beef. They were sublime. Everett's brats and Polish are absolutely old-world in their depth of flavor. I've purchased countless steaks there, and the occasional tenderloin for special occasions. Always perfect.

Unless you're a vegetarian, having a favorite neighborhood butcher shop is one of the great pleasures in life. I don't live in Southeast anymore, but mine is still Everett's.

Grilled Rib Eye Steaks
(serves 1 per steak)
10-12 oz. rib eye
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 medium clove of fresh garlic, peeled, the end trimmed off, and quartered

Buy the steaks a day or two before your event. Salt both sides with a generous sprinkle of Kosher salt. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 18 hours.

Place the olive oil and garlic in a blender or food processor and puree. Remove steak(s) from the fridge, take off the plastic wrap, and place in a sheet pan, and rub all over with the garlic/oil mixture. Allow to sit for 60-90 minutes at room temperature.

Meanwhile heat the grill to high - preferably mesquite charcoal. I mean fiercely hot. Serious violence must be done to the steaks. When the grill is near its maximum heat and the steaks have marinated and come up to room temperature, put the steaks on the grill. Allow a good crust to form - 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the steaks and cook the other side. You can cook them as done as you like, but medium-rare is the way to eat these babies.

Transfer hot steaks to warm plates and allow to rest for a couple minutes while you load up the plate with yummy stuff like potatoes gratin, sauteed or creamed spinach, or homemade macaroni and cheese. When you cut into the steaks, the juices should run into the other stuff on the plate. Now you're living!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Oysters Three Ways

I love oysters. And I love to come up with creative ways to prepare them. When my friend Martin called this week saying he was in the mood for oysters and martinis, my brain went to work.

I bought two-dozen oysters: 8 Malpeques, 8 Kumamotos, and 8 Blue Points. I wanted preparations that would bring out the natural character of each of these wonderful varieties. The recipes are below.

A couple points on oysters. First, find a brilliant, fantastic, exceptional source. In the Twin Cities, I only trust fresh oysters from Coastal Seafood. Find the supplier in your city that gets the very freshest, and is 100% reliable. I've never been sick from a bad oyster, but I know people who have, and it's really not fun.

Second, buy them the day you're going to eat them. See point #1.

Third, use a stiff brush and scrub them all over under cold running water. Don't submerge them. The shell is the serving vessel, so you don't want mud, seaweed, or other unpleasantness clinging to them. Be sure to put a mesh over your drain - a lot of shell chippings and other nasty bits will come loose.

Fourth, if you don't know already, take the time learn how to properly shuck an oyster. It's really worth doing - it's not hard once you learn, and it's a lot more fun than you'd think. Watch this video, read this posting, and find someone you know who's done it before to help you.

Malpeque Oysters Old School
(8 oysters)
8 dashes Tabasco Sauce
2 tsp. horseradish
1/2 lemon

Spoon about 1/4 tsp. fresh horseradish onto each oyster. Shake on a dash of Tabasco. Squeeze the juice from the lemon over all. That's it. The Malpeques are meaty and briny. They love this traditional combination of flavors, standing up well to the boldness of these ingredients.

Kumamoto Oysters Japanese Style
(8 oysters)
6-8 shiso leaves (shiso is a Japanese herb that tastes vaguely like cumin), cut into tiny shreds
1+ tsp. wasabi paste
3 scallions, trimmed and minced fine - all of the white plus 1/2" into the green part
2-3 drops soy sauce per oyster

Top each oyster with a bit of shiso and scallion, and 1/8 tsp. (i.e., a small amount) of wasabi paste. Dribble each with 2-3 drops of soy sauce.

I invented this recipe for a bachelor party several years ago. The milky, creaminess of the Kumamotos loves the earthiness of the shiso. The scallion and wasabi add a little brightness. Kumamotos aren't as briny as some oysters, so the little hit of soy adds further depth, plus some salt. This is a nearly perfect way to eat raw oysters.

Blue Point Oysters Southwestern Style
(8 oysters)
2 T minced red onion (minced very small)
2 T fresh raw sweet corn cut from the cob, carefully cleaned of silk and bits of husk
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 T fresh lime juice
~1 tsp. chili powder (see the note in this posting for my homemade chili powder)
8 cilantro leaves

I love broiled oysters. They don't really cook - just get warm. This combo had a slightly funky fragrance, but tasted fantastic.

Combine onion, corn, garlic and lime juice in a small bowl. Stir well and let marinate for 30 minutes 0r more while you shuck the oysters.

Heat the broiler to high. Cover a small sheet pan with foil, then pour in about 1/2 cup or more of kosher salt or rock salt. This will form a bed for the oysters preventing them from tipping and spilling their juices. Carefully place the oysters on the salt, keeping them from spilling their liquor.

Spoon a half-teaspoon or so of the marinade onto each oyster. Sprinkle a couple pinches of chili powder over each. Broil for 1-2 minutes until just warm. The won't brown or bubble - just get a bit hot on top. Remove from oven and top each with a cilantro leaf.

The Bombed Goose
Mix 2 shots Bombay Sapphire gin and 2 shots Grey Goose vodka in a martini shaker with ice. Shake (don't stir), pour into a martini glass, add 2-3 olives.

This, for me, is the perfect martini. Exceedingly smooth, icy cold, it pairs wonderfully with oysters.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thai Holy Basil Fried Rice with Calamari

We all have foods that we love dearly, and then there are foods we would make our last meal. On Top Chef this season (a show which I watch obsessively), one of the challenges near the end was to prepare for some celebrity chefs what they would desire for their last meal. Carla Hall, one of my favorite contestants, cooked for the wonderful Jacques Pepin. His requested "last meal" was squab and fresh peas. Comfort food for him. After Jacques finished the meal she had prepared for him, he said, "I think I could die happy after that." I actually cried! For me, that moment was so magical, I can't imagine having Jacques Pepin say those words about something I'd my opinion she won the competition right there.

So, what would my last meal be? Thai holy basil fried rice with calamari. Comfort food for me.

I love Thai food, and grew to love this dish eating at the King and I restaurant in Minneapolis. Their version of this dish can be ordered with beef, chicken, fried tofu, or calamari. I absolutely love the latter. You can prepare this dish with any of these proteins. I challenge you to try it this way!

You can find jasmine rice, frozen cuttlefish, fresh Thai basil, fresh Thai chilies and fish sauce at most Asian markets.

By the way, this dish is smoking-hot, fired up by Thai chilies. You can adjust the heat in your preparation of the garlic-red pepper paste.

Thai Holy Basil Fried Rice with Calamari
(serves 2-4)
1-2 T. canola oil
8 oz. cuttlefish (bodies and tentacles), bodies cut into rings, bony cartilage removed
~1/4 c. garlic-red pepper paste (see below)
1 qt. freshly-cooked jasmine rice
1 bunch Thai basil, leaves pulled from stems (but not chopped)
fish sauce and soy sauce to taste

Cook about a quart (finished volume) of jasmine rice. (See this posting for my technique for cooking rice.) Heat a wok over high heat. Working quickly, add the oil, cuttlefish and garlic-red pepper paste and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes to cook the fish about half-way. Add the rice and stir to mix. Stop stirring, and allow the rice to brown a bit. Scrape it loose, stir up, and repeat 2-3 more times, until there's a moderate amount of browned rice in the mix. Add the basil leaves, and pour in about 2 T of fish sauce and 1 T of soy sauce. Stir well (still over high heat). Taste for saltiness. Add more fish sauce if needed. Cook for a couple more minutes to reduce liquid, stirring every 30 seconds or so. Serve piping hot.

Garlic Red-Pepper Paste
2 T canola oil
1 head of garlic, separated, peeled, and each clove halved or quartered depending on size
1 whole red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2" dice
red Thai chilies to taste, stems removed, cut in half

The heat all comes from the Thai chilies. I use about 16-18 in mine, which is intolerably hot for most people; you can use as few as 4 or 5, and as many as you dare! Be very careful working with Thai chilies - they are the second or third hottest chilies on Earth, depending on who you ask. Their oil is exceedingly hot, and will burn your eyes, nose, mouth, or other sensitive parts.

Place all ingredients in a wok on low heat, and slowly roast for about an hour to 90 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Everything should be soft and well-cooked, and the garlic turning brown. Place in a food processor and puree. Freeze any unused paste for up to 6 months.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Caper-Ranch Dressing

Sometimes a moment of inspiration is all that's needed to make something ordinary become something special. Last night I served my chicken and dumplings to friends (recipe here), and wanted to serve a fresh salad with it. Vicki asked for ranch dressing, and as I had buttermilk in the fridge I thought, OK. But I wanted something with a little more zip - a little more tang than a normal ranch dressing. Then it came to me: capers.

It came out great. Here you have a brand new recipe for a great summer dressing. I served this with a salad of organic red-leaf lettuce, red onion ribbons, roma tomatoes, and radish slices.

Caper-Ranch Dressing
1/3 c. mayonnaise (I use Hellman's)
1/3 c. + 2 T buttermilk
1/2 tsp. fresh minced dill weed
2 tsp. capers, chopped
pinch onion powder
fresh ground pepper
pinch of salt

Whisk together all ingredients. Adjust salt as needed. Serve immediately, spooned over salad.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Turkey Sloppy Joes

Sometimes a good ol' fashioned Sloppy Joe is just the thing for summer. We had these with chips, pickles and lemonade. Life is sweet!

You will notice a lot of approximations in the measurements in this recipe. This is because Sloppy Joes are all about hooking into childhood flavor memories. Everyone's "ideal SJ" is personal and slightly different. It's about that perfect balance of salt, sweet, tang, and spice. I found myself doing a lot of adjusting to get the flavors "just right". You should do the same - start with lesser amounts of the strongly-flavored ingredients, taste frequently, and adjust to your liking.

Also, my wife eats no beef or pork, so I make them with ground turkey. You can use ground beef, of course - it's the traditional protein - just omit the cooking oil.

Turkey Sloppy Joes
(serves 3-4)
1/2 lb. ground turkey (I buy Jenny-O 7% fat)
1 T light olive oil or canola oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
~1/2 c. ketchup
~1 tsp. prepared yellow mustard
~1/2 tsp. Worchestershire Sauce
~2 T brown sugar
dash soy sauce
2-3 dashes paprika
dash or two of ground celery seed
dash Tabasco Sauce (optional, to taste)
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Brown the turkey in the oil over medium heat, breaking the clumps into small pieces. When the turkey is nearly done, add the onion and garlic. Continue to brown and cook over medium heat until the onions are well-browned and partially carmelized, at least 15 minutes. Add about 1/4 c. of water, and loosen all of the browned bits from the bottom and sides of the pan.

Add all remaining ingredients except salt, and stir well. Heat until bubbly. Taste a small spoonful, and adjust flavors as necessary, adding salt if needed. I prefer a fairly sweet SJ, and added a fair amount of brown sugar. I also ended up adding a dash of cider vinegar to amp up the tang just a bit.

Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes to marry the flavors. In the mean time, toast onion buns (or whatever type of bun you prefer) under the broiler or over a grill. Serve immediately!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Grilled Salmon Dijon

I find this recipe to be counter-intuitive - mustard with salmon? - yet it is utterly delicious. My cousin, Jack Riebel, is the Executive Chef at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. On a family reunion a couple years ago, he pulled together this dish to feed 35 adults in short order. It was quick, easy, and amazingly good.

Grilled Salmon Dijon
(serves 4-6)
2 12-16oz. salmon filets, with skin on one side, boned
small jar of coarse-ground mustard
small bunch of fresh Italian parsley
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves pulled from the stems
small bunch of fresh cilantro, rinsed well and leaves pulled from the stems
about 1/2 c. dried breadcrumbs
olive oil for drizzling
1/2 lemon

Lay the salmon filets skin-side down on a double-thick layer of aluminum foil, crimped around the edges, or on cedar planks. Slather each filet with mustard to coat all over. Mince the herbs together and spread all over the filets, pressing into the mustard. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs, and drizzle with olive oil. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the grill. Put the salmon on the grill, cover to hold in heat, and cook until just done in the thickest part - cooking time will vary with the thickness of the fish, heat of the grill, and pre-cooking temperature of the fish. Allow to rest for 5 minutes, then spritz with juice from the lemon and serve.

This dish is great with roasted new potatoes (recipe here) and a salad of spring greens.

4th of July Fireworks

I wanted a little something to eat before the fireworks last night, so I threw together a quick little smokin' hot snack.

I had a little of my pulled pork left in the fridge (recipe here), so I nuked it for 40 seconds to warm it up. Meanwhile, I rubbed a fresh jalapeno with a little oil and charred it all over on the gas grill (you can use the flame on a gas burner as well). After it was well-charred, I cut off the cap and minced the pepper. I also lightly toasted a couple of corn tortillas by tossing them into a hot, dry frying pan over medium-high heat, flipping once.

To serve: put some pork on each of the two tortillas, scoop half of the minced jalapeno onto each, squirt each with a wedge of lime, then dollop some Frontera Grill Habanero Salsa onto each. Ate 'em with a G&T, heavily limed. Kaaaa-BOOM!

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Ahhhh, summertime! What is more summery than lemonade? The brightness of real lemons can almost be forgotten with so many artificial lemon concoctions around, but these two delights are worth the time and effort: limoncello, and homemade lemonade, or lemon slushes.

Limoncello is the lemon-flavored liquor made in Italy, especially in the Naples region and southward. I've always had it served ice-cold, stored in the freezer. The high alcohol content prevents it from solidifying. I have no idea if this is traditional in Italy, but we'll be there later this summer on vacation, so I'll find out.

I've tasted several Italian limoncellos, and have had Buca di Beppo's house-made limoncello as well. I found this recipe on the internet (after rejecting many I didn't trust!), and have made it a couple times, so I know it works, and is just as good as the others I've tasted. I hope you enjoy!

8-10 lemons, scrubbed and toweled dry (preferably organic to minimize pesticides on the peels)
750ml bottle of 100 proof vodka (it's traditional to use grain alcohol, but I prefer this "lighter" version; also, grain alcohol is illegal in Minnesota)
3 c. water
3 c. sugar

Using a vegetable peeler, carefully peel all of the zest off of the lemons. Try not to get any of the white pith. Place the peels in a quart jar. Fill the jar to the top with the vodka (you won't use the whole bottle). Cover tightly, and store in a dark, cool place. Each day, shake the jar once.

Steep the peels for at least a week, and up to 2 weeks. To complete the recipe, make a syrup out of the water and sugar by heating both in a saucepan until hot and the sugar is completely dissolved. Be careful to clean any crystals from the edges of the pan and dissolve them into the syrup. Cool.

Strain the lemon-infused alcohol into a bowl with a pouring spout. Pour in the syrup, and stir together. Find attractive glass bottles with cork stoppers and fill them with the limoncello, using a funnel if necessary. Store in the freezer until served.

Fresh Lemon Slush
Now you have a bunch of peeled lemons. What to do? Juice them all, of course, and make lemonade! It takes waaaay more sugar to make lemonade than you'd think. I used about 2-1/2 cups for my last batch...maybe more. Keep adding sugar and tasting until the sweetness seems right to you. Be sure to completely dissolve all of the sugar you've added between tastings.

You can now add water to make lemonade. Or, you can add about 2/3rds of the water you'd add to make it drinkable, and use this concentrated lemonade to make lemon slushes. Fill a blender half-full of ice cubes, pour in chilled lemonade concentrate, and puree. Yuuuuummmmy! I won't suggest adding rum or vodka, since you already have a bunch of limoncello in the freezer. :-)