Grilled Pork Ribs

It’s official, summer is here and with it comes grilling season. Anything I can think of goes on the grill: salmon, vegetables, every cut of steak and chicken, sausages, hot dogs and, of course, hamburgers. I look forward to the long warm early-summer evenings all year long. I think the memory of them is what gets me through each winter.

We love to entertain in the summer, inviting friends and family to barbecue with us, sitting on the back patio watching as our kids play baseball or fly down the slip and slide. I like to keep the meals easy. I choose a cut of meat and prep it early in the day. I look for a vegetable in season that I can throw on the grill as well. Some of my favorite sides are asparagus, zucchini, onions and peppers or romaine for a grilled ceasar salad.

But I do have a tiny little confession to make: historically, I don’t handle the actual grilling of our food. I do the prep; the seasoning, the marinating, the chopping and then I hand the actual cooking off to my husband. He mans the grill and in a perfect world I lounge on the patio with a cold beverage while our meal cooks.

This has never actually happened before, but you never know, it could happen one day. These days my lounging looks more like dodging a stay nerf gun war as my boys run past me, or watching my daughter do a dance or gymnastics routine. ‘Mom, watch this, Mom! Watch this.’

But in the last year or so, I got it in my head I wanted to learn the art of grilling. I started with pizza and moved on to hot dogs and sausages before finally trying my hand at a few cuts of meat. Initially, it was a disaster. I torched a few dinners before I got the hang of it. But once I learned the secret of the grill: low and slow, there was no turning back.

Country style pork ribs are perfect for an easy dinner on the grill. The cut of meat is, confusingly, not from the ribs at all. These meaty, boneless strips are from the blade end of the loin, close to the shoulder. They can be slow-roasted until fork-tender or quickly grilled. A dry rub seals in flavor and ensures the meat is tender and flavorful. I am always drawn to a sweet and savory flavor profile and this dry rub is no exception. Brown sugar, smoked paprika, onion, garlic and a hint of cayenne combine to give these ribs big flavor. While the ribs grill on the barbecue, I like to baste them a few times with my favorite barbecue sauce. The result is a tender juicy cut of meat everyone goes crazy for. Some grilled corn slathered in a little butter and lots of salt and pepper and a big juicy watermelon are all you need for the perfect summer dinner with friends.

Grilled Pork Ribs

• 4 pounds country-style pork ribs

• 4 tablespoons brown sugar

• 2 tablespoons kosher salt

• 1 tablespoon black pepper

• 1 tablespoon smoked paprika

• 1 tablespoon granulated garlic

• 1 tablespoon onion powder

• 1 tablespoon mustard powder

• 1 teaspoon ground ginger

• 1 tablespoon dried parsley

• ½ teaspoon cayenne powder

• ½ cup prepared barbecue sauce

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay the pork ribs evenly on the baking sheet and set aside. In a small bowl combine the brown sugar, salt and pepper and all spices. Use a spoon to combine the ingredients.

Liberally cover the pork ribs in the spice rub making sure to massage the rub into both sides of the meat and on the sides. Let the meat marinate at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours or cover with foil and marinate in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours. Discard any remaining dry rub.

When you’re ready to grill, pull the meat from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature. Set your grill to medium heat (about 350 degrees). Place the ribs on the grill and allow them to cook for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. Turn the ribs halfway through the cooking time and baste both sides of the meat with barbecue sauce three to four times while they cook. When the internal temperature of the meat reaches 155 degrees, pull the ribs off the grill and cover with aluminum foil for 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Ribs serve 6 generous servings.

Roasted Tomato Pasta

I had a rare and blissful night last week where the only person who needed dinner at my house was me. My kids had bounced from one end-of-the-school-year party to another all afternoon and evening eating their weight in hot dogs and chips. They were so amped up on sugar and their new-found summer freedom they couldn’t be convinced to come in for a real meal. My husband was working late which gave me two options: make something special just for me or skip dinner altogether.

I finally corralled my kids inside, threw them into showers and settled them in front of a movie. I surveyed the kitchen for something to eat and was just about to pour myself a bowl of cereal when the pint of cherry tomatoes sitting on my kitchen counter caught my eye.

Instantly I knew I wanted to roast the tomatoes in a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If I had a loaf of sourdough bread, I probably would have just scooped the tomatoes onto toast and called it dinner. But I didn’t so I went to the next best thing, pasta.

Fifteen minutes later I had a pot of spaghetti noodles tossed with tangy and bright roasted tomatoes. A big pile of chopped basil from the pplant growing on my patio and swirl of goat cheese made for a decadent but light dinner. A little glass of red wine and eating my dinner in (relative) peace outside in the warm evening sunshine made my simple meal absolute perfection.

Roasted Tomato Pasta

  • 8 ounces spaghetti noodles
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 heaping tablespoons (or more) chopped fresh basil
  • 2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. While the oven preheats, start a pot of heavily salted water to boil over high heat. When the water boils, cook spaghetti to package instructions (about 8 minutes). Drain and set aside.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the tomatoes evenly on the tray. Mince garlic and sprinkle over the tomatoes. Toss the tomatoes and garlic in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes begin to burst and are very fragrant.

In a pot, combine the cooked spaghetti and roasted tomatoes, scraping the pan to add the juices and garlic. Toss gently to combine. Mix in chopped basil and goat cheese. To serve, portion the pasta onto a plate. Garnish with any leftover basil and goat cheese as well as a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Hummus with Jalapeño Pesto and Marinated Olive And Feta Salad

Almost like clockwork, every spring, I forget we ever had winter at all and decide with unrelenting enthusiasm that the only things I want to eat are fresh vegetables and berries, preferably grown in my own garden or picked up at the farmer’s market during one of our leisurely Sunday strolls. I look forward to the farmer’s market (and my favorite fruit stand) opening all year long. In the 13 years I’ve called Yakima home, it’s been a regular weekend tradition and somehow signifies to my brain ‘summer is just around the bend.’

This idea, of course, is ridiculously preposterous for multiple reasons, the main one being my garden is hit and miss on its very best year, not to mention not too much is harvest-worthy in May and June. But never mind that. My point is that my adoration for our wonderful agriculturally rich Valley goes into overdrive and only ramps up each month as the sun stays out a little longer, growing and ripening all my favorite things that grow in the dirt.

And while I wait for lovely produce to become readily available, I’ll make batch after batch of easy and delicious hummus. This hummus is smooth and hearty all on its own, perfect for dipping vegetables or pita. Typically made with garbanzo beans, hummus is a versatile Middle Eastern dip and a wonderful canvas to add additional flavors. The cilantro jalapeno pesto I’ve included here is bright and flavorful without being overly spicy. You can add as little or as much of the pesto to the hummus and save the rest for another time. Paired with the smokey, salty and rich olive and feta salad, these dishes can be served together as a hearty appetizer or separately.

One of my favorite ways to serve hummus is to spread it evenly in a shallow dish. I pile toppings high and make sure to have lots of bread for dipping. Last year I was on a cucumber and tomato salad kick but this year my go-to is this olive and feta salad.

Sometimes I’ll toss salad greens like peppery arugula and spinach with a little olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice. I garnish the entire dish with the salad greens and call it dinner. With a bottle of crisp buttery chardonnay and a loaf of crusty bread, this dinner is the perfect late spring, eat on the patio, watch the sun set behind Mt. Adams meal I can think of.

Hummus

• 2 (15-ounce) cans garbanzo beans

• ½ cup fresh lemon juice

• ½ cup tahini

• 1/3 cup olive oil

• 3 cloves garlic

• Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper

Drain the garbanzo beans, reserving half a cup of the liquid. In a food processor, combine the garbanzo beans, reserved liquid, lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, garlic and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Mix for a minimum of 2-3 minutes. Add an extra splash of water or lemon juice if the hummus is too thick. When the mixture is very smooth, turn the food processor off and scoop hummus into a bowl. Taste and add an additional pinch of salt if needed.

Cilantro Jalapeno Pesto

• 1 bunch cilantro

• ½ bunch parsley

• 2 green onions, trimmed into 1-inch pieces

• 1 jalapeno chili, stem and seeds removed

• 1/3 cup olive oil

• 2 cloves garlic

• Juice of 1 lime

• Salt

Combine the cilantro, parsley, green onions, jalapeno, garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to break the herbs and vegetables down. With the processor running, pour in the olive oil and lime juice. When the mixture is well-combined, using a rubber spatula, transfer to a small bowl. Taste and add additional salt if needed.

To serve the hummus and pesto, make an indentation in the center of the hummus. Spoon the pesto into the indentation and swirl gently. Serve with toasted baguette, pita bread or tortilla chips.

Marinated Olive and Feta Salad

• 1 tablespoon cumin seeds

• 2 teaspoons fennel seeds

• 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

• 3 cloves garlic, minced

• 2 teaspoons lemon zest

• 1 ½ cups olive oil

• 2 cups mixed Greek olives (drained and pitted)

• 8 ounces feta cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes

• 1/3 cup minced parsley, basil and cilantro (you can use any fresh herbs you prefer)

Place the cumin seeds, fennel seeds and red pepper flakes in a small skillet. Heat gently over medium heat for a minute or two, stirring once until the seeds are fragrant and lightly toasted. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Add the garlic, lemon zest and olive oil. Stir to combine. Add the olives and feta to the bowl and gently stir. Add the fresh herbs and gently stir one more time. Cover with plastic wrap and store up to three days in the refrigerator.

Pork Ragu with Pasta and Arugula

The irony of posting this recipe and these words is I need this reminder the most these days. A new Yakima Magazine is out on newsstands around town. The issue is all about home and this is my ode to life at home and around the table.

One of my favorite quotes from my favorite cookbook Bread and Wine is: ‘life at the table is life at its best.’ When I think about my life, my friends and family, the community I’m part of; so much of it revolves around the table. It might be the kitchen table or an outdoor table on the back patio. It might be bar stools pulled up to the kitchen island and for many years it was a smattering of high chairs and booster seats, plastic dishware and what felt like an endless number of spills and cleanups. The table, the décor, the set-up and how clean the house is doesn’t matter a bit. It’s the sitting down together; the pause in busy and chaotic days, to recharge, connect, eat, and hopefully laugh a little.

I think it goes without saying I love to cook. I find immense pleasure in the rhythm of mixing and chopping. I love the creativity of it as well as the physicality of working with my hands. But when I get down to the heart of why I cook, it’s to bring people together. I love the sounds and smells, I love the chatter at the table and the inevitable silence when chewing starts. My tangible gift to the people at my table is the meal but my hope is that it feeds so much more than their bellies.

I’ve been gathering people to the table for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid I insisted on baking cookies for friends. In college, I made pots of spaghetti for my roommates and made a Thanksgiving turkey for 20 friends in the very small cramped rental house I lived in. Any excuse to cook and eat with the people I love are my best moments, my favorite memories.

We can all relate to the busyness and chaos of daily life. Entertaining can feel stressful and overwhelming. Maybe cooking isn’t your thing. Maybe due to your family’s work and activity schedule, weeknight dinners seem impossible. And I’m here nodding in agreement to all of it. It is all those things.

But I think we should keep trying. And I think what helps is to have a few ‘go-to’ recipes in your back pocket. Pork Ragu is one of those timeless, eat any time of year, incredibly forgiving recipes you can go back to over and over again. I’ve adapted this recipe from a cookbook called Dinner: A Love Story and I don’t think there could be a more appropriate title or sentiment for what I’m trying to achieve. Pork is cooked in the oven (or crockpot) for hours in wine and herbs until it literally falls apart making a savory flavorful sauce. Ladled over pasta and topped with peppery arugula and a sprinkle of salty parmesan cheese, this dish is delicious enough for a fancy dinner party and easy enough to throw together on a Tuesday morning before work and eat quickly between soccer and piano practices.

 

Pork Ragu with Pasta and Arugula

  • 1 boneless pork shoulder OR pork butt (about 2 ½ to 3 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup red wine, plus more as needed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce (this is completely optional, adds a smokiness to the dish)
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 pound pasta
  • 6 ounces arugula
  • Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Add oil and butter to a large oven-safe pot and heat over medium heat until the butter melts. Pat the pork dry with paper towels and liberally salt and pepper both sides. Add the roast to the pot, browning it on all sides, turning occasionally so the meat is seared evenly, 5-8 minutes.

Add the onion and garlic to the pot, stirring for a minute. Add the tomatoes, wine, hot sauce, thyme, oregano, fennel seeds and bay leaf and stir until the mixture begins to boil. Cover and put the pot in the oven. Every hour or so, remove the lid and turn the pork over in the liquids. No matter what size pork you use, make sure the liquid covers at least a third of the meat. Add more wine if needed.

The meat is done when it starts falling apart probably around 4 hours. If you pierce the meat with a fork and it starts to fall apart, remove the pot from the oven. Remove the pork to a cutting board and shred it with two forks. Stir the shredded meat back into the pot.

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain the pasta when the noodles are still a little bit firm. The sauce will finish softening the pasta without the noodles becoming overcooked and too soft.

To serve, ladle pasta onto a plate. Top with pork ragu sauce. Place a small handful of arugula on each plate and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. The arugula will slightly wilt from the heat of the sauce adds a wonderful fresh flavor to the dish. Serves 8.

*To make this dish in a crockpot, sear the pork in a pan on the stove over medium heat. Once the meat is seared, add all ingredients and the pork to the crockpot. Cook on low for 8 hours. Shred the meat and return to the crockpot. Turn the heat off. Serve immediately.

Sesame Noodle Bowl

Well it’s been a hot minute hasn’t it?

Right on cue I hit that every three-month or so slump of losing my creativity. I couldn’t think of anything to cook. I had no words to write. Post-vacation blues probably had something to do with it. The never-ending cycle of dishes from feeding five people three times a day might have a little something to do with it too.

I did however get the Faux Martha’s new cookbook, The Minimalist Kitchen and What’s Gaby Cooking. I’ve thumbed through both cookbooks, marking recipes. I think they’re just the shot of new energy and inspiration I’m needing.

In the meantime there’s always this sesame noodle bowl. Which is SO easy and delicious and the perfect canvas for tons of veggies and any kind of protein you like. I cooked a whole chicken in my instant pot and shredded it for this recipe but seared salmon, flank steak or crispy tofu would all be delicious.

Will you judge me if I admit I’ve made this recipe three times now? I’ve used different noodles each time and added different combinations of toppings. I think it’s my new stand-by. I can’t get enough.

Sesame Noodle Bowl (recipe adapted from the cookbook Chloe Flavor)

  • 10 ounces noodles (you can use phad thai rice noodles, udon, soba or spaghetti)
  • 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • ¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha (use as little or as much as you like, this gives the sauce a kick)
  • 4-6 ounces cooked chicken, diced (about 2 medium chicken breasts)
  • Green onion, slivered
  • Chopped cilantro (optional)

Cook noodles to package instructions. When cooked, drain water and set aside. In a blender or food processor combine sesame oil, vinegar, peanut butter, brown sugar, garlic and sriracha. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute.

In a medium bowl combine noodles with cooked chicken. Pour the sauce over everything and gently mix until the sauce is well-incorporated. Garnish with slivered green onion and chopped cilantro.

This dish can be served warm or cold. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.

*The top photo shows this recipe made with rice noodles and chicken. The bottom photo shows the same recipe with udon noodles, carrots, broccoli and snap peas.

Spring Salad Flatbread

As the weather begins to shift, my taste buds seem to be doing the same. I don’t want the soups and roasts that sustained us through the winter. I’m ready for fresh, light and bright flavor.

A friend of mine visited a few weeks ago and as our kids ran through the house laughing and playing, we decided we should probably feed them (and ourselves) at some point. I started rummaging through my fridge looking for things the kids would want to eat. I pulled some naan bread from the freezer and we made the kids easy cheese pizzas. Naan bread, if you aren’t familiar, is a Middle Eastern flatbread similar to a pita bread. It is soft and chewy and makes an excellent pizza crust stand-in. You can certainly make it at home but you can also buy it at your local grocery store in the bakery section. I typically keep a package in my freezer for quick meals when we need them.

We eat a lot of pizza at my house. It seems to be our go-to meal. I’m sure it has something to do with having three young kids in the house but I also like experimenting with flavors and ingredients. I’ve been dreaming about an wood fire pizza oven. We’re planning on updating our patio space a little but my husband wants a Traeger. Which, in all fairness, I could probably make some mean pizza on that too. We’ll see. It’s fun to dream about summer nights spent outside. Pizza oven or not.

I decided to take a stab at an artichoke and lemon flatbread recipe I had bookmarked as a light dinner for my friend and I. We devoured our dinner, loving the bright lemon finish with the tangy artichokes and creamy mozzarella. I set out to tweak the recipe until I got it ‘just right.’

As much as I love to make my own pizza crust when I have the time, for this recipe, the naan bread works beautifully. Artichokes marinated in olive oil (store bought in a jar), goat cheese, mozzarella and a heavy sprinkle of lemon zest create the foundation for the flatbread. When it comes out of the oven bubbly and cheesy, you pile an arugula salad tossed in lemon juice and lots of black pepper high on the pizza. The combination of the lemony greens with the artichokes and tangy goat cheese is essentially spring in a bite. Even better, if you have the ingredients on hand, this quick meal comes together in 15-20 minutes including prep and cooking.

Spring Salad Flatbread

  • 1 Naan flatbread
  • 4-6 artichoke pieces, slightly drained, rough chopped
  • 1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 lemon (you will need the juice and zest)
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups arugula
  • Coarse salt and ground black pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Place the naan bread on a baking sheet or metal pizza pan. Spread the artichokes evenly across the flatbread. Sprinkle the cheeses, basil and red pepper flakes evenly over the flatbread. Zest half the lemon and sprinkle lemon zest on flatbread. Set lemon aside. Cook the flatbread for 10-12 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the cheeses are bubbly and melted. While the flatbread cooks, make the arugula salad. In a small bowl toss two cups of greens with lemon juice (squeeze the lemon over the greens) and a generous sprinkle of coarse salt and pepper.

When the flatbread comes out of the oven, pile as much (or little) of the salad onto the warm pizza. Slice and enjoy.

Lemon Tahini Caesar Salad

It’s official. I’m ready for spring. I’ve got patches of green grass in my yard and tulips sticking an inch or two out of the ground in my flower beds. There’s a seed catalog on the table next to my bed and I’ve started making notes on what I want to grow this year.

I’m thinking lots of tomatoes and basil, zucchini, bell peppers of every color, lots of herbs and my favorite: giant sunflowers, dozens of them if possible.

I think all this dreaming of spring got started when we ate dinner at my sister-in-law’s house over the weekend, she made the most quintessential spring meal. We had barbecued salmon and a shaved Brussel sprout salad with the biggest fruit salad I’ve ever seen. For dessert she made a lemon tart that just screamed summer days and warm evenings on the patio. We savored that lovely meal and talked about summer plans. We dreamed about hot summer days spent at the pool and fun hikes to take the kids on.

I know I’m jumping the gun a little, but a girl can dream…right? With all that talk of spring, I was in the mood for something light and refreshing. I am always looking for way to convince (trick?) my kids into eating more greens and this salad did just that.

Mixed greens and spinach are dotted with homemade sourdough croutons and a dash of grated parmesan cheese. The Caesar dressing is quick and easy to put together. It’s just tahini, which is a sesame seed paste, fresh lemon juice, a little Dijon mustard and a hint of garlic. The dressing is fresh, light and full of bright lemon flavor.

Lemon Tahini Caesar Salad with Sourdough Croutons

Croutons

  • 2-3 cups cubed sourdough bread (cut 4-5 slices of bread into 1-inch cubes)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher sea salt

Salad

  • 5 ounces mixed salad greens (spinach, kale, romaine…whatever you like)
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

Lemon Tahini Dressing

  • ¼ cup tahini
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Fresh ground black pepper

To make the croutons, preheat oven to broil. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the cubed bread evenly in one layer on the tray. Drizzle with olive oil and sea salt and toss well to combine. Put the tray in the oven and toast the bread until golden brown on all sides, stirring the bread at least once so that the croutons cook evenly. This is a fast process, don’t walk away from your oven or the croutons will burn. About 2 minutes on each side.

For the dressing, mix the tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, Dijon mustard and salt in a jar. Stir until well-combined. Slowly add the water until you get your desired texture. I like a thinner dressing so I add the full 2 tablespoons of water. Stir in black pepper to taste.

To assemble your salad, combine the salad green, parmesan cheese and croutons in a large bowl. Drizzle the salad with dressing. I used about half the dressing and saved the rest in the refrigerator for another day. Toss gently. Garnish with a lemon wedge (squeeze lemon juice over individual salads). Salad serves 4-5 side salads or two generous dinner salads. A piece of grilled chicken or salmon on top the salad would make a complete and delicious meal.