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.

Puff Pastry with Havarti, Prosciutto and Asparagus

I am officially the mom of big kids. My youngest ‘graduated’ from preschool last week and will attend kindergarten with her brothers at their elementary school in the fall. To say she is excited and ready would be an understatement.

For seven straight years I’ve had at least one preschooler. Most of that time I was also holding a grumpy toddler or wrangling an infant car seat while also attempting to get my preschooler to school. I was the mom with the spilled coffee and spit up on her shirt, just trying to make it through the day hour by hour. Those were some wild years and at times I thought they would never end.

And now suddenly here we are. On to the next season of life. It seems like all those hard and beautiful days were over in the blink of an eye. The more seasoned moms in my life constantly remind me that time only speeds up. I believe them.

I am looking forward to summer break, to soaking up time with my three wild and crazy big kids. I won’t think too much about kindergarten but instead try and squeeze every drop of fun out of our days together. I’m sure as the dog-days of summer catch up to us, school and structure won’t seem like such a bad idea.

After preschool graduation we had a little celebration. I whipped up these special puff pastries stuffed with cheese and prosciutto and thin pieces of asparagus. The buttery and flaky pastry with a rich and savory filling was out-of-this-world delicious. Puff pastry can be found in the freezer section of your local grocery store, usually near the frozen desserts. Simply allow the pastry to thaw on the counter or in your refrigerator until the dough is very cold but not frozen anymore. We made a big bowl of fruit salad to go along with our pastries but this dish could easily be served for lunch or dinner alongside a simple green salad. Served warm or at room temperature, you can swap the filling for whatever kinds of meat or cheese you prefer. Brie, smoke gouda or sharp cheddar are lovely cheeses to try as well.

 

Puff Pastry with Havarti, Prosciutto and Asparagus

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, cut into 9 squares
  • 4-5 slices Havarti cheese
  • 1 package prosciutto
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unfold puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Lightly roll out the pastry so the dough is even and has no creases. Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 9 squares.

Rinse asparagus and pat dry with a paper towel. Select the thinnest spears and cut them in half. Discard the bottom half the spears and set the tops aside.

To make the puff pastries, layer half a slice of cheese, one slice of prosciutto and two to three spears of asparagus diagonally on the puff pastry. Fold two corners over the filling. Place the pastry on the baking sheet and continue until all nine puff pastry squares have been filled.

In a small bowl, whisk an egg with a splash of water until well combined. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the pastries with the egg wash. Sprinkle the pastries with salt and pepper and bake for 25 minutes.

When the pastries are golden brown and the cheese is bubbling and melted, they are finished baking. Allow them to cool on the sheet for a few minutes before serving.

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.

A Darn Good Veggie Sandwich

I know a vegetable sandwich doesn’t exactly scream exciting, but hang in here with me for a moment.  The secret to this sandwich is the absolutely delicious and slightly decadent herbed goat cheese spread you make. Excellent on this sandwich, you can find many other ways to use it. Case in point: the day I put this recipe together, we had steak for dinner. Guess what was out of this world delicious as a dollop on our steaks? Herbed goat cheese spread. It was great on our baked potatoes and my kids used it as a dip for their cucumbers too. I’m telling you, if you don’t want to make the sandwich, no problem, but don’t skip the spread. You’ll find lots of uses for it.

But back to the recipe, personally, I love a good sandwich. And this one checks all the boxes: crunchy, creamy, full of flavor and good for you.  Toasted sourdough bread is liberally spread with herbed goat cheese spread. From there, layers of thinly sliced red bell pepper, shredded carrot, sliced English cucumber, tomato, radish and spinach leaves get piled high. A generous sprinkle of black pepper and the sandwich is complete. Of course, you could swap out vegetables for what you have on hand or are in the mood for. Just slice your vegetables thinly so they are easy to layer. And if you need a little turkey or chicken thrown in to make those vegetables a little more appetizing, by all means, do it.

I signed up with Pacific Northwest Fresh a few weeks ago. Locally owned here in Yakima, each week Pacific Northwest Fresh delivers a box of produce right to your doorstep. During the warmer seasons all the produce featured in the weekly boxes comes from family-owned farms from the Yakima Valley. With the flexibility to sign up week to week as well as choose from three different sized boxes, I look forward to Thursday’s when I know my box will be delivered.

These weekly deliveries are accomplishing two important things for me: the first is that I’m eating more local fruit and vegetables and the second is I’m forced (slightly) out of my comfort zone by having ingredients on hand that I wouldn’t necessarily choose at the grocery store. (Anybody have a good collard greens recipe??) It’s just the nudge I need to experiment with new flavors.

Darn Good Veggie Sandwich

  • 2 slices sourdough or multi-grain bread
  • Spinach
  • English cucumber
  • Carrot
  • Red Bell Pepper
  • Radish
  • Tomato
  • 4 ounces plain goat cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced
  • 1 tablespoon basil leaves, minced
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

In a medium bowl combine goat cheese, heavy cream, parsley, basil, and lemon zest. Use a spatula to stir ingredients until they are well-incorporated. Sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper. Taste to make sure you like the flavor and add more salt or herbs if desired.

To make the sandwich, start by thinly slicing the vegetables so they are roughly the same thickness. Consider shredding the carrot with a box grater.

Toast the bread. Spread the herbed goat cheese liberally on both sides of the bread. Layer the vegetables on one piece of bread. Sprinkle with black pepper and top with the other slice of bread, goat cheese side down. Press gently down on the sandwich to help combine the ingredients and using a sharp knife, slice the sandwich in half.

Store the remaining goat cheese spread in an air-tight container in the refrigerator to up to 3 days. This recipe will make up to six sandwiches or ingredients can be stored in the refrigerator to make one sandwich at a time.

Strawberry Shortcake

When it comes to dessert I will always always choose something with berries or citrus. Apple pie? Berry Crumble? Lemon bars? Sorbet? Yes, please. I can guarantee, left to my own devices, dessert will always be of the fruit variety.

Unfortunately, I stand alone in my preferences when it comes to my family. I live with four other people who will always always choose something decadently chocolate. Preferably with peanut butter, if possible.

As we head into Mother’s Day weekend, I thought it only fitting to offer a treat for all the mothers out there who regularly give up their preferred treats in the name of love. If you, like me, love all things fruit, then this dessert is for you. Lightly sweetened shortcakes with a hint of lemon are a cross between a biscuit and a sugar cookie. Light and fluffy with a crisp top, you could make these decadent shortcakes and call dessert finished. But topped with juicy berries and a dollop of whipped cream and the dessert goes from great to amazing.

When I was a kid, growing up in Spokane, we would regularly trek to Greenbluff, an agricultural community north of town full of u-pick farms and fruit stands to pick strawberries and raspberries. We ate strawberry shortcake for dinner during those glorious few early summer weeks when strawberries were in harvest and our kitchen counter overflowed with berries. My mom would mix up Bisquick biscuits and make homemade whipped cream and we would sit on our deck with big bowls in front of us. Maybe that’s why I love fruit desserts so much.

As an ode to all the mothers out there and because summer is just around the corner, stop in at the Farmer’s Market starting up this Sunday downtown and pick up a few pints of strawberries if you can find any. (It might be a little early). Make this strawberry shortcake for the mom in your life and if you can, serve it up in a big bowl and eat it outside, enjoying every moment of this glorious weather our Valley gets. Happy Mother’s Day!

Strawberry Shortcake

For the Shortcake:

• 3 cups all-purpose flour

• Zest of 1 lemon (about 2 teaspoons)

• 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

• 1 ½ tablespoons baking powder

• 1 teaspoon kosher salt

• ¾ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

• 1 ½ cups heavy cream

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the fruit:

• 1 pound strawberries and blueberries (or any combination of berries)

• 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the Whipped Cream:

• 2 cups heavy cream

• ½ cup powdered sugar

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Wash and cut up the fruit. In a large bowl toss the fruit in the 2 tablespoons of sugar and set aside. To make the whipping cream, combine the cream, powdered sugar and vanilla in a stand mixer and whip until stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To make the shortcakes, combine the flour, sugar, lemon zest, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Using a wooden spoon, mix well. Add the butter to the bowl and using a pastry knife, two forks or clean hands, gently mix the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is pea-size chunks. You want to be able to see the butter still. Create a small well in the center of the bowl and pour in the heavy cream and vanilla. Gently stir to combine and form a dough. When the dough has just barely come together, turn it out onto a floured surface and shape into a square about ¾ inch thick. Cut into 9 generous squares.

Transfer the shortcakes to a lined baking sheet and chill for 20 minutes in the refrigerator. While the shortcakes chill, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake the shortcakes until they are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool.

To assemble, slice the shortcakes in half. Place the bottom of each shortcake on a plate. Top with a generous scoop of fruit and a dollop of whipped cream and put the top half the shortcake back on. Serve immediately.

Pineapple Cucumber Salsa

This time of year, I crave fresh bright flavors. Sweet pineapple and cool crunchy cucumber combine to make the most delicious salsa. I like to make a big batch and store in my refrigerator all week for snacking as well as an easy topping for grilled chicken or fish. One of my favorite and easy dinners is simply marinating wild Alaskan salmon in store-bought teriyaki sauce. Grill on the barbecue for about 10 minutes until just barely cooked through and easily flaked with a fork. Top the salmon with a generous scoop of the pineapple cucumber salsa and serve over rice. Last week I made barbecued pulled pork in my instant pot. The kids ate theirs on a bun but Aaron and I piled our pork with the pineapple cucumber salsa and a few pickled jalapenos. It was so good!

As with just about every recipe I offer, this is one you can tweak and change to meet your preferences. When I first started making this salsa, I used mango, which is yummy and wonderful, and I highly recommend. I often use frozen pineapple in place of fresh, just leaving the frozen fruit out on my counter to thaw. If you don’t have an English cucumber, just use a regular one. Cut the vegetable in half and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Dice up as called for and you’ll never know the difference. Add more or less jalapeno, depending on how spicy you like your salsa but don’t skip the cilantro and lime zest, that’s what brings all the flavors together

Pineapple Cucumber Salsa

·         2 cups fresh pineapple, diced into ½ inch pieces

·         2 cups English cucumber, diced into ½ inch pieces

·         1 cup red or yellow bell pepper, diced into ½ inch pieces

·         1 large shallot, minced

·         1 jalapeno, seeds removed, minced

·         1 bunch cilantro, minced

·         2 limes, zest and juice

·         Salt and pepper

In a large bowl combine the pineapple, cucumber, bell pepper, shallot and jalapeno. Stir gently. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the zest and juice of both limes as well as the cilantro. Stir gently again and garnish with coarse sea salt.

Store leftover salsa in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. Serves 6-8 people.

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.