Grilled Garlic Shrimp with Spinach & Melon Salad

One of my favorite dishes to order along the Mexican Caribbean is Camarones Al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp) – big, sweet, freshly-caught shrimp simply sautéed in butter and garlic. When my dear wife found a deal on large grill-cut shrimp (deveined and butterflied with the legs trimmed off), I knew I had to come up with a version of this for the grill.

Because I knew my rendition could end up on the decadent side, I paired it with a light salad that makes good use of the tasty melons that are in season now.

2 pounds large, grill-cut shrimp
8 cups hot water
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons raw or brown sugar
Juice of 1 lemon, about 3 tablespoons
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons Chesapeake Bay Seasoning
4 cups ice

Combine the hot water, salt, sugar, lemon juice, garlic, and Bay seasoning in a large bowl and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add the ice and stir to cool the brine. Add the shrimp, stir, and move the whole works to the fridge for an hour.

While the shrimp are brining, put the sauce and salad together.

Spinach & Melon Salad
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

1 (6-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
2 cups melon, cubed or balled (honeydew in this case)
1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced

Whisk together the honey, vinegar, oil, and juices in a small bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stash in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

To serve, toss the spinach, melon, and onion together in a large bowl. Toss with three-quarters of the dressing and serve with the remainder for drizzling.

Garlic Butter Sauce
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lemon, about 3 tablespoons
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh herbs, minced (take your pick – thyme, chives, parsley, cilantro, and rosemary are all good here)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook until it stops foaming, about 2 minutes.

Add the olive oil, garlic, salt, herbs, and pepper. Cook another 2 minutes until you can really start to smell the garlic. Remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon juice.

Stash someplace warm while you heat up the grill and fish the shrimp out of the brine.

Set your grill up for a direct cook over medium-high (400°F) heat.

Drain the shrimp into a colander. Make sure the garlic sauce is just barely warm enough to be liquid, but not hot enough to cook the shrimp. One by one, grab the shrimp by their tails and dip them in the sauce. Lay the dipped shrimp out on a cookie sheet just like you’re making chocolate-dipped strawberries.

If you are feeling extra naughty, toss the shrimp back in the fridge for 20 minutes and dip them again. If not, save what’s left of the garlic sauce for serving at the table and move the shrimp to the grill.

Place the shrimp on the grate, close the lid to avoid flare-ups from the butter, and grill for 2 minutes. Try to flip the shrimp – as they cook they curl and become more three-sided than 2-sided (I ended up using a spatula to scoop them up and move them around) – and cook for another 2 minutes. Flip/toss/move again and cook until just pink and curled – about another 2 minutes.

Remove from the grill and drizzle with remaining sauce before serving.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
OMG these were good! We hit them so hard that there was quickly nothing left but shells and buttery grins. The brine plumped up the shrimp and made then extra sweet and tender, and the butter sauce added a ton of flavor while not covering anything up. Grilling them in their shells helped not only hold more fo the sauce, but kept the shrimp moist.

The salad was a great match for the shrimp – light and sweet with similar citrus flavors.

The Nutrition:
Not even going there with this dish.

ONE YEAR AGO – Not so Black, Plenty of Bleu, Redux

TWO YEARS AGO – Happy Holiday! – No Crust Coconut Pie


Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Salad

Our local farmer’s markets are just loaded with beets right now. To take advantage of them I’ve been making this roasted beet salad at least once a week.

2-3 bunches of beets
Baby lettuce or mixed greens
Goat cheese
Olive oil
Kosher or sea salt
Shallot vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Roasting the Beets
Roasting is not only dead-simple, but it also gives them a deep, rich, sweet flavor.

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Trim all but about an inch or so of greens off of beets and rinse/scrub to clean any dirt off of them. Lightly oil a shallow baking pan. Arrange the beets in the pan, drizzle with a little olive oil (use a  oil sprayer better coverage, for fewer calories) and sprinkle with salt. Give the pan a shake to coat the beets.

Cover the pan with a layer of aluminum foil and seal tightly. Put the pan in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Check beets and give pan another shake. Roast until beets and tender and pierce easily with a fork (about another 20-30 minutes).

When done, remove pan from oven, uncover, and let cool for 30 minutes.

Peel the beets under cool running water, using your hands to slip the skin off. Use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to trim off any remaining stems or bad spots.

I was able to score both red and yellow beets (which have a slightly sweeter, more buttery taste). When cleaning them, try to keep the two separate and be careful with the red beets as they will stain everything.

Slice the beets and refrigerate until you are ready to use them.

Shallot Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium shallot, quartered

Put the salt and shallot in a food processor and give it a whirl until the shallot is minced. Add the vinegar and let stand for 15 minutes – this is very important as this macerates the shallots and makes the sweet instead of sharp.

After the shallots and vinegar have rested, add the mustard and pulse to combine. With the processor running, pour in 2 or 3 drops of the oil, then continue pouring the oil in a thin stream until all the oil is emulsified into the vinaigrette. Taste and season with pepper and more salt if needed.

Composing the Salad
Because the beet juices will make everything a unappealing purple if mixed,  this is a some-assembly-required salad. Arrange a layer of greens on a plate (fresh baby lettuce from our bowl on the deck, in this case). Top with sliced beets and crumbles of goat cheese. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and serve.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
The sweetness of the beets plays nicely with the sharpness of the greens and cheese, and the vinaigrette does great job of blending the two.

This is a really versatile salad. It works as a first course, but also stands up well to almost any meat you want to pair with it. I’ve served it alongside scallops and steak and it held it’s own with both. Add some slivered almonds or cashew halves to this and I could see it as a light lunch too.

The Nutrition:
With a tablespoon of vinaigrette, this salad is only 4 Weight Watcher’s points and 150 calories.

ONE YEAR AGO – Kindle Here I Come!

TWO YEARS AGO – Cherry-Glazed Chicken


Scallops with Capers & Brown Butter Sauce

Scallops, bacon, capers, lemon juice, bacon grease, and butter – how can you go wrong with that?

1 pound sea scallops
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 slice bacon
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons capers, drained

Pat scallops dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, fry bacon until crisp. Remove bacon and set aside to cool.

Drain off all but a teaspoon of the bacon grease and add olive oil. Heat until the oil begins to ripple, but not smoke. Turn pan to coat evenly. Add scallops and sear about 2 minutes on each side. Don’t overcook. The scallops should have a nice crust on each side while still being translucent in the center. Move scallops to serving plate and keep warm.

Reduce heat to medium and melt the butter in the same pan you cooked the scallops in. Crumble the bacon, add it to the butter, and cook until the butter stops foaming. Add the garlic and continue cooking until the garlic and the butter just begin to brown, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and capers.

Spoon sauce over scallops and serve.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
This dish keeps your tongue dancing – between the smokiness of the bacon, the salty tang of the lemon and capers, and the sweetness of the scallops. It could be a little overwhelming, but the nutty brown butter makes it all work together nicely.

Due to some bad cooking instruction from the original recipe (that I am still just a little ticked off about), I did not get as good a sear on my scallops as I would have liked. I have adjusted this recipe so that your oil doesn’t burn before the scallops are done (grrrrrrrrr…).

The Nutrition:
Scallops are only 1 point and 30 calories per ounce, butter on the other hand… If you split this recipe between 2 people, each serving is 415 calories and 10 points per serving. Not bad if you serve it over some mixed greens or my rocking beet salad (recipe coming). But if you want to put it over pasta, I’d add some peas and divide it over 4 servings.

ONE YEAR AGO – Badly Bungled Black ‘n’ Bleu Bon Voyage

TWO YEARS AGO – Italian Beef


1st Carnitas of the Year

It’s been waaaaay too long since I’ve made up a batch of carnitas. I do love those melty bits of tender pigginess, and they really don’t take that long to make, so I have no excuse for this being the 1st batch of 2012.

I usually make a double batch of carnitas using two pork shoulder roasts (Boston Butt), but I had some really good results last year by switching to a single batch made in my Emile Henry Dutch oven. It just seemed to cook more evenly and had a better ratio of crispy bits to tender chunks.

8 pounds pork shoulder roast
Juice of 3 oranges (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon achiote oil

Set your grill up for a 5 hour cook over indirect heat at 350°F. On the Big Green Egg I used an inverted plate setter with a trivet on it to diffuse the heat and keep the bottom from burning.

While the grill is getting up to temp, cut the roast into 3 to 4-inch chunks, discarding any stringy connective tissue, but keeping all of the fat.

Combine all of the ingredients in a Dutch oven, and stir to combine. Cover the oven with a lid and set it on the grill. Let it simmer for an hour. The orange juice should be bubbly and the fat in the meat should have started to break down.

After the fat has started to render, you need to reduce the liquid and crisp up the meat. Remove the lid and let it simmer for another hour. Keep checking and stirring once an hour until most of the liquid has evaporated and the pork has started to fry in its own fat (about 3 hours total).

Start checking the meat every 15 minutes to make sure the meat is getting crispy, but not becoming dry or burned. Total cook time for this batch was just over 4 hours.

Of course, you need a proper beverage to go with carnitas. My dear wife’s Sangria fit the bill nicely – cool and refreshing and it really complimented the richness of the carnitas.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Oh my, these were gooooooood – crispy and tender and juicy. I’m finding that the more I pare back the ingredient list, the better this dish becomes. Not that this dish needs any more added fat, but the achiote oil added a nice, round earthiness. I might go with lime and orange juice next time to add a little more citrus bite.

The Nutrition:
Carnitas will never be diet food. Four ounces is 5 Weight Watchers Points and 190 calories, so use it sparingly.

ONE YEAR AGO – Belizean Grilled Shrimp



Hula Whirl Chicken

It seems that to make it big in the cooking world you’ve got to have some kind of catchy cooking style or some signature ingredients. Emeril is bamming his “essences”. Bobby Flay has chipotles. Rachel Ray has her EVOO. And Paula Dean has got butter more than covered.

Me? I’ve got what my dear wife calls my “whirly sauces.”

A lot of my recipes rely on marinades that I assemble on the fly in the food processor (AKA “give them a whirl”). Sometimes they are just simple, herby vinaigrette-style concoctions that use acid, oil, and spices to flavor the food. But I also like to make sauces that do double duty as both a marinade and a baste or finishing sauce.

This recipe started out as Huli Huli Chicken. I wanted to amp up the flavors, so I switched out the ketchup for sweet chili sauce and I tweaked the recipe a bit. Here the whirly sauce starts as a marinade, gets amended with some other goodies, and then gets reduced down for a glaze.

12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/4 cup sweet chili sauce
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
1/4 cup raw or brown sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon ground ginger
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon orange or lemon juice
1 tablespoon Sriracha Rooster sauce

For the baste:
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple
1/4 cup sweet chili sauce
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce

Put the garlic in a food processor and pulse until the garlic is minced. Add the sweet chili sauce, teriyaki sauce, raw sugar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, orange juice, and Sriracha and give them a whirl until they are well-combined.

Put the chicken in a zip-top bag and cover with the marinade. Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal. Turn to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, overnight is better.

Set your grill up for an direct cook at medium-high (400°F) heat.

Drain chicken and reserve marinade. Pour the marinade into a small sauce pan and add the crushed pineapple and a 1/4 cup of both the sweet chili sauce and the teriyaki sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and cook until the sauce has reduced by half (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat. Pour half the sauce off to baste the chicken with. Refrigerate the other half to serve with the finished chicken.

Grill the thighs for about 3 minutes on one side. Flip and baste with the reserved marinade. Repeat until the thighs are crispy on the outside and at least 180°F on the inside (about 10 to 15 minutes total). Serve with the other half of the reserved pineapple mixture.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
This was a tasty dish with a nice mix of sweet and savory, but it was lacking something (no, not the ketchup). I think using teriyaki cut some of the salty tang of the soy sauce in my original version. I’d add a 1/4 soy sauce to this mix and bump the heat up with more Sriracha and/or chili garlic paste.

The Nutrition:
Two thighs with 2 tablespoons of sauce are only 277 calories and 7 Weight Watchers points.

ONE YEAR AGO – Great Grate Upgrade

TWO YEARS AGO – Recipe Revamp – Grilled Swiss Steak


Tri-tip Steak Salad

This meal was the perfect storm – I had just finished reading Ruhlman’s Twenty, my new High-Que stainless grill grate had just arrived, and my dear wife wanted a salad for dinner.

Stand back, I’ve got this covered…

The Meat
1 tri-tip roast
3-4 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine the salt, garlic, and pepper in a small bowl and rub it into all sides of the roast. Go heavy, you want a nice, salty crust on the roast.

Let the roast sit at room temperature while you set up the grill for a direct cook over high (700°F+) temperature. Once the grill is ready, insert your cooking grate and let it sit for 15 minutes to make sure it is nice and hot.

Put the roast on the grate and sear for a minute on each side (tri-tips are typically thick enough that there are 3 sides), then cut the heat to 550°F by closing the draft vents and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes on each side until it reaches 130°F internal.

Remove from the grill, let rest for 10 minutes before slicing across the grain into thin slices.

Lemon-Pepper Vinaigrette, Caesar variation adapted from Ruhlman’s Twenty
6 tablespoons lemon juice
2 large egg yolks
4 large garlic clove, smashed with the flat side of a knife
2 anchovies, or 1 teaspoon of anchovy paste, or 1 to 2 teaspoons of Thai fish sauce
1 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds romaine lettuce, chopped
1 dozen cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese, in vinaigrette
Assorted herb snippings (whatever your wife brings you – fennel and chives, in this case)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, for topping
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

While the roast is resting, make the vinaigrette and assemble the salad.

Put the garlic and salt in a blender and pulse to mince the garlic. Add the lemon juice, egg yolks, tarragon, 1 tablespoon of the cheese, and anchovies. Blend to combine. With the blender running, pour in 2 or 3 drops of the oil, then continue pouring the oil in a thin stream until all the oil is emulsified into the vinaigrette. Taste and season with pepper and more salt if needed.

Toss the lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs together in a bowl.

Assemble the plate with a layer of salad, a drizzle of vinaigrette, some Parmigiano-Reggiano, and top with slices of tri-tip.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Grilled meat and a fresh salad – I can see some version of this showing up on our dinner table a lot this summer. The tri-tip was very tasty with a charred, salty crust and a juicy medium-rare interior. Ruhlman’s dressing recipe makes a very light, lemony caesar that paired perfectly with the rich, meaty tri-tip.

The Nutrition:
6-ounces of tri-tip is 9 Weight Watchers points and 390 calories. The salad is free, so go light on the vinaigrette and it’s a decent meal.

ONE YEAR AGO – The Perfect Margarita

TWO YEARS AGO – Spicy Mango Shrimp


Luxury Stainless Cooking Grid

The fine folks over at High-Que cut me a sweet deal on their new Luxury Stainless Cooking Grid for Large Big Green Egg in exchange for my honest opinion. I was very excited when it showed up at my doorstep over the weekend.

First impression – this baby is huge! Just picking it up is a 2-handed operation. While it’s only 18 1/2-inches across, the same as my current grid, the individual rods are a heavy-duty 3/8-inch in diameter, making it whopping 3/4-inch thick. And at 14 pounds, this grid is almost 10 pounds heavier.

Second impression – look at how solid and shiny it is. This is one seriously well-made grid.  They tell me it’s made from 304 stainless steel, which is very strong and corrosion resistant. I’m no metallurgist, but it sure looks like it can take anything I can throw at it.

The grate also features a hinged access door, meaning you can add smoking wood or extra lump charcoal without removing the grid from the grill. This is a great feature when you’re doing longer cooks.

I figured the best way to put the grid to the test was to see how well it seared a tri-tip roast. At  2 1/2 pounds, the tri-tip is a big hunk o’ meat cut from the bottom of the sirloin that really lends itself to being cooked hot and fast like a steak.

I let the roast sit at room temperature while I got the Big Green Egg up to a roaring 700°F. When the BGE was up to temp I put in the High-Que grate and closed the lid.  Almost immediately the dome temperature dropped to 500°F. I know some of this was from having the lid open, but put a good share of the drop was also from adding the cold grate.

I let the BGE come back up to 700°F, about 15 minutes) and then let it set for another 15 minutes to make sure the grate was nice and hot.

How hot was it? When I put the roast on it squealed! Not the usually sizzle of meat on the grill, but a higher, almost metallic sound of all that heat pouring out of the grate and into the roast.

I let each side sear for a minute (tri-tips are typically thick enough that there are 3 sides), then cut the heat to 550°F by closing the draft vents and cooked it for another 3 minutes on each side until it was 130°F internal and had a lovely crust on the outside.

You’ll have to wait for the upcoming Tri-tip Steak Salad post for the full recipe, but the tri-tip ended up with a crisp, charred crust and a tasty medium-rare interior.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
There are a lot of reasons to like this grate, but the big reason for me is its thermal mass. Searing meat or veggies creates a nice brown crust via the Maillard reaction, and that creates a ton of flavor. This grid has the meat-searing mass to hold and deliver hold a lot of heat so you get some seriously deep sear marks without over-cooking the food.

Yes, High-Que grid is pricey, but considering that my first porcelain enameled steel grid didn’t even last a year before it cracked and rusted, and my second stainless grid is only 3 years old and has failed welds and is starting to corrode, I think the investment is well worth it.

Spinach & Tomato Quinoa Salad

A big challenge of going gluten-free has been finding products that are naturally gluten-free. There are now (thankfully) lots of products that have been made gluten-free, but that involves some processing. Quinoa is a South America seed that is a naturally gluten-free alternative to couscous or bulgur wheat. It’s light and nutty and has a little crunch to it. It works really well in this salad from Fitness & Feta that my dear wife whipped up to go with our planked salmon.

Extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup cooked quinoa
4-5 big handfuls of baby spinach
2 handfuls of grape tomatoes
4-5 scallion, washed & sliced
Spices to taste:  sea salt, ground pepper, parsley, thyme, basil, or mint
Tiny pinch of nutmeg
Fresh lemon juice or rice vinegar

Gently heat extra virgin olive oil in a large pan. Add the garlic and saute for a minute. Add the cooked quinoa,  stir, and cook until it is heated through.

Add the baby spinach leaves, tomatoes, and scallions. Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, then sprinkle with nutmeg and other herbs. Stir to mix, then sprinkle with lemon juice or rice vinegar and stir.

When the spinach begins to wilt remove from heat and serve.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
This was a very nutty and satisfying side dish that paired well with the salmon. While there’s just a pinch of nutmeg in it, it really stands out and adds a lot to the flavor. This dish is also a great chance to use your fresh herbs. I think we’ll be eating a lot of quinoa salads this summer.

The Nutrition:
A 1/4 cup serving of quinoa is only 1 Weight Watchers point and 172 calories. Plus it’s high in protein and loaded with magnesium.

ONE YEAR AGO –  1st Sweet Corn

TWO YEARS AGO – Memorial Day


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