52 Foods Week Thirty: Spare Ribs

While strolling the Farmers’ Market a couple weeks ago, Jen issued me a challenge that spoke to both my pride and my appetite: “I’ve never been much into ribs before. Make me like ribs.”

We had just visited the Sunblest Orchards booth, where we picked up a jar of Apricot Diablo glaze—a tasty looking mixture of apricots with habañero and jalapeño peppers and other spices. One of the recommended uses was pork ribs, so we checked with Bledsoe Meats and scored their last rack of spare ribs.

Sunblest Apricot Diablo

Ribs, both beef and pork, have long been favorites of mine, but—an odd experiment with kangaroo aside— I’ve never attempted straight up BBQ ribs. For guidance I turned to Steven Raichlen’s How To Grill and followed his very detailed instructions for preparing pork spare ribs. I’d encourage anyone interested in grilling a wide variety of foods to pick up this book, as he covers all sorts of foods with many discussions of technique and excellent photographs demonstrating key steps. If I gloss over any of my prep steps, it’s only because I’m trying to exactly follow his lead, and you’d do better to go directly to the master than to work from my imperfect first attempt.

To begin, I trimmed the cap and rib tips from the rib rack. I also did my best to remove the membrane from the back of the ribs. When we ate the ribs, I discovered that I did not perfectly follow the line of the rib tips, and cut through a couple of them, leaving them on the rack. This isn’t really a problem, but as a matter of technique, it was suboptimal. In the future, I’m going to take a little more time with that step to get it down pat. I kept the rib tips and the cap and cooked them up the next day Vietnamese style.

Removing the Rib Tips

Following Raichlen’s advice, I submerge the ribs in apple cider and the juice of one lemon, covered them, and put them in the fridge for about five hours.


When the ribs were done marinading I patted them dry, then covered them with a spice rub of salt, garlic salt, paprika, cumin and cayenne. In the future, I would omit the salt from this, as the ribs came out saltier than I wanted. In general, I’ve discovered that I tend to underestimate the power of salt in my rubs. I’m working on it and the first step is acknowledging I have a problem. The ribs went back in the fridge, covered, for close to three hours.

Rubbed Ribs

When it came time to cook, I fired up the Weber with mesquite charcoal arranged for indirect cooking. I placed the ribs in the center of the grill, with the coals to either side, then threw a handful of soaked and drained pecan wood chips onto each charcoal pile. Pecan is one of my favorite cooking and smoking woods. I find that it is similar to applewood, but a little stronger. It shines in a 50/50 split with oak when we make our famous Thanksgiving turkey, and works well to add a sweet smokiness alongside any charcoal you prefer, or on its own if used in larger chunks.

On the Grill

Following Raichlen’s advice, I sprayed the ribs with more cider every 20 minutes.

Spray with Cider

I also added a little extra mesquite and pecan every hour to keep the heat and smoke going.

Add Coal Every Hour

As we reached the final 30 minutes of cooking, I covered the top of the ribs with a generous layer of the apricot glaze, kicked the smoke up a notch and closed the vents to let things get nice and smokey.

Applying apricot sauce

We set the table, basking in the evening heat and watched generous billows of pecan smoke escape the grill.

Last Hit of Smoke

After nearly three hours cooking, I pulled the ribs and sliced them into five manageable pieces.

Cutting the ribs up

We served them with some homemade corn slaw. Jen happily gobbled up her first set, and reached for seconds. Success!

Spare Ribs and Corn Slaw

Photos can be found here and here.

52 Foods Week Twenty Nine: Torpedo Onion

Scouring the Farmers’ Market for an interesting ingredient, we came upon the intriguing torpedo onions offered by Towani Organic Farm. Long and purple, torpedo onions are a milder onion with a hint of sweetness and a slightly garlicky flavor. Like other onions that have passed through my care, they looked like great candidates for grilling. We decided to pair them with some goat cheese and pancetta in a sandwich.

I began by trimming the ends of the onions and slicing each one in half lengthwise.

Trimmed and Halved

We brushed the insides with olive oil, and placed them cut side down on the Weber just to the side of the hot mesquite coals.

Torpedo Onions on the Grill

Meanwhile, I sliced up some Bledsoe pancetta and cooked it slowly on the stovetop.

Panned 'Cetta

The onions cooked about 15 minutes, ’til the edges were curled and starting to char. Then we flipped them. The cut sides had beautiful grill marks.

A Little Charring

We sliced some Octoberfeast Rillen Zelm bread on the diagonal, and brushed it with olive oil.

Sliced Bread

We put the bread directly over the coals to toast for a couple minutes on each side.

Toasted Bread

We pulled the bread and onions from the grill, and drained the pancetta. Then spread some Laura Chenel Chabis on each slice of bread.

Goat Cheese

We fanned the onions out and placed them on one slice and the pancetta on the other.

Sandwich Making

Finally, we stacked and skewered the sandwiches, sliced them in half and enjoyed them alongside some Oregon Pinot Noir. These were tasty sandwiches, and the onions really worked well with the goat cheese. The grilling had softened them nicely, but they retained some body. They had a nice balance of pungent and sweet flavors. I would dare say that in this sandwich the pancetta was almost an afterthought and could have been omitted entirely.

Grilled Torpedo Onion Sandwich

All the photos are here.

52 Foods Week Twenty Eight: Rabbit

To celebrate passing the Fifty Two Foods midpoint, yesterday Jen and I threw a little dinner party featuring the best recipes from the first 26 weeks. Since it was Bastille Day, I decided to include a surprise French dish of whole spit roasted rabbit. Though rabbit is a fairly ubiquitous game animal, enjoyed in much—if not all—of Europe, and not uncommon in the U.S. either, it has been forever tied with French cooking for me since seeing the fantastic rabbit skinning scene in Le Grand Chemin when I was young.

After a failed attempt to get a rabbit from Cache Creek Meat, I called a couple butcher shops and tracked down a three-plus pounds specimen at Ver Brugge in Oakland. My rabbit was raised by the Rabbit Barn in nearby Turlock, California. Ver Brugge has been my family’s go-to meat source for as long as I can remember. It was likely the source of 80% of the fish and meat I ate before age 18. Until the fantastic Laurelhurst Market opened, I spent many years in Portland chagrined at how often I had to visit grocery stores for meat rather than a true butcher.

The one time I cooked rabbit previously, Easter 2004, it came out a little dry. To avoid this fate, I planned to go with a one-two punch of a marinade for moisture, followed by a mustard paste while it cooked. For the marinade, I went with a slightly simplified version of fellow Reed alumni Steven Raichlen’s French Game Marinade from Barbecue! Bible Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades, Bastes, Butters & Glazes. The marinade is a mix of red wine, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, juniper, thyme, garlic, black pepper, clove, bay leaf and a splash of gin.

French Game Marinade Ingredients

I cooked the ingredients in a pot ’til boiling, then let them cool before pouring them over the rabbit in a large bowl.

Bringing to a Boil

As I prepped the rabbit, I was lucky to discover that it included the kidneys and liver. It only took a few minutes to realize that I should make up a little rabbit pâté.

Rabbit Liver

While the rabbit was marinating, I minced a shallot and chopped the rabbit liver into small pieces. Then I pulled out a jar of rendered pork fat I keep on hand.

Pork Fat

I placed about two tablespoons of pork fat in a small pan to melt.

Fat in a Pan

I threw about one tablespoon of the shallots into the pork fat and let them cook a couple minutes.


When the shallots became translucent, I added the liver and cooked it for a few minutes until it was done.

Liver and Shallots in Pork Fat

With the heat very low, I added a splash of cognac and a little fresh ground pepper and some salt.

Courvoisier Is Key

The cooked liver and shallots went straight into the food processor, where I added about two tablespoons of raw, unsalted pistachios.

Some Pistachios

I pulsed the liver, shallots and nuts then added a tablespoon of unsalted butter.

Blend with Butter

A few more pulses and the pâté was well blended. I put it in a small glass dish then placed it in the fridge for about 5 hours to come together.

Finished Rabbit Pâté

My beloved Beaker & Flask frequently features a fantastic rabbit dish where the rabbit is cooked with a nice mustard glaze. With this in mind I whipped up a paste that would stick to the rabbit giving it some extra fat to hold in the moisture while it cooked. I started with two tablespoons each yellow and brown mustard seeds as well as a tablespoon of dijon mustard.

Mustard Seeds and Dijon

I mixed these with a tablespoon each of butter and salt, and two tablespoons each of olive oil and Herbes de Provence for a thick, flavorful paste.

Herb and Mustard Paste

I let the rabbit marinate for five hours, turning it about once an hour. When it was ready for cooking, the wine had turned it a lovely purple.

Five Hours in the Marinade

I brushed off the juniper berries and peppers, patted the rabbit dry, then spread the spice paste all over it.

Herb and Mustard Pasted

The rabbit was now ready to go on the spit. I speared it then secured it compactly in the center.

Securing the Rabbit

I prepared the Weber for indirect heat with two piles of Lazzari mesquite charcoal, and set the rabbit turning on the rotisserie. The Weber rotisserie is absolutely one of the coolest cooking accessories I have ever purchased. I use it all the time, with all manner of meats, and it never fails to deliver an amazing meal. It’s worth every penny if you have a Weber kettle grill.

Rabbit on the Spit

To bump the flavor up another notch, I added some pecan wood chips periodically as the rabbit cooked, lightly smoking it.

Pecan Chips Over Mesquite Charcoal

I pulled the rabbit after two and a half hours, removed it from the spit and let it rest about 10 or 15 minutes before enlisting Leon, the purveyor of amazing bacon, to carve it up.

Rabbit Resting

Rabbit Liver Pâté:

1 rabbit liver, chopped
1 tbsp. minced shallot
2 tbsp. pork fat
1 pinch fresh ground pepper
1 pinch salt
1 splash cognac
2 tbsp. unsalted pistachios
1 tbsp. unsalted butter

Sautée shallot and liver in pork fat. Reduce heat to low, add cognac, salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and place in food processor. Add pistachios and pulse until well mixed. Add butter and pulse again to combine.

Place in small dish. Chill for at least 5 hours before serving.

Spit Roasted Rabbit:

1 rabbit
For Marinade:
3 cups red wine
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. gin
2 tsp. juniper berries
2 smashed cloves garlic
2 tsp. black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
For Paste:
2 tbsp. yellow mustard seed
2 tbsp. brown mustard seed
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. Herbes de Provence
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tbsp. salt

Combine marinade ingredients in a pot. Bring to a boil then cool to room temperature. Pour marinade over rabbit in a non-reactive container. Cover for 5 hours, turning rabbit as needed to cover evenly.

Mix paste ingredients in a bowl until well blended. Remove rabbit from marinade and pat dry. Cover all sides with paste.

Thread rabbit onto spit and secure tightly in center. Tie legs together if necessary. Cook over indirect heat for two and half hours. Add pecan chips and mesquite as needed to maintain smoke and heat. Let rest 10 minutes before carving.

Finished Rabbit

All the photos can be found here.

52 Foods Week Nineteen: Spring Onions

When it’s sunny out, it’s a shame to be inside cooking. I much prefer to use our Weber grill, even if it requires a little more work. I’ve loved grills ever since I was a child, when the time spent lighting the coals and making sure that everything was cool afterwards made a simple meal of hamburgers seem like an epic endeavor. There are few times I won’t choose the grill as a cooking option when the weather allows it, and there are few things that I can’t find a way to grill. This week’s food, spring onions, were straightforward enough—all they needed were a couple slices, a bit of oil and about 10 minutes to be soft, sweet and charred—but I wanted to go beyond just the onions and cook the entire pizza that we put them on à la Weber.

I began with a bunch of spring onions from Good Humus in Capay, CA. Spring onions are somewhere around the half-way point in onion growth, more obviously onions than their green counterparts, but still endowed with tender and flavorful shoots. Their appearance at our markets seems a touch haphazard, but as long as they’re around, I’ll buy them. I washed and trimmed each end of the spring onions and sliced them lengthwise, arriving at approximately foot long halves.


I tossed the trimmed onions in a mix of olive oil and balsamic and red wine vinegars, then let them soak in it for about 10 minutes.

Dressing with Oil and Vinegar

While the spring onions marinated, I threw a patty of Italian sausage on the grill. While this sausage, from the Nugget, was decent, it was called “hot” but tasted “mild” to me.

Sausage Patty on the Grill

I pushed the nicely browned sausage patty over to a cooler area to finish cooking, and added the spring onions to the grill, directly over the mesquite coals. There were some flames as the oil dripped, and the onions sizzled nicely.

Grilling the Toppings

After about 10 minutes, I pulled the onions off. One of them was still flaming on the cutting board—more delicious char.

Flaming Onion

The sausage continued to cook, and Jen began putting together the rest of the pizza. We used a cornmeal crust (also from the Nugget). First came a sauce she cooked up mixing tomato paste, olive oil, garlic, red wine and Italian seasoning.

Pizza Crust with Sauce

Next came some nice, low-moisture mozzarella.

Adding Mozzarella

I chopped up the spring onions and we added those to the pizza. We had a bit more than we needed, so we enjoyed a few straight. The grilling had made them sweet and melty, and the charred bits were just a little crispy. Looking back, the pizza could even have stood on its own without the sausage. The onions really had great flavor and richness thanks to the oil, vinegars and grill.

Spring Onions on Pizza

Finally, we removed the sausage from the grill, crumbled it, and placed it atop the spring onions.

Sausage on Pizza

We placed the pizza (in a Lodge skillet) on the grill and let it cook for about 25 minutes, until the cheese was melted and began to turn golden at the edges. It was a delicious dinner, but I did burn my mouth a little on the hot mozzarella, so exercise caution and patience if you make this yourself.

Finished Pizza

All the photos are here.

52 Foods Week Eighteen: Raisins

What can I say about raisins? They are delicious and ubiquitous. Once, in Kindergarden or maybe earlier, we made raisins by setting grapes out in the sun in the morning. By the end of school, we had raisins. I can’t recall anything about how they tasted, but I distinctly remember being impressed both by the sun’s capacity to transform a grape into a raisin while I learned to enumerate barnyard animals and by the ability, as a child, to make food.

So raisins might be the first thing that got me cooking. That’s fitting in a way, because I continue to be impressed by all that raisins can do. I put raisins in my oatmeal. I’ve used them to stuff a turkey. One of my favorite uses of raisins is in Moroccan Tagine Chicken, where they come together with honey and at least a half-dozen spices for a spicy and sweet dish. I adapted this for this for grilling by using the sauce as a marinade for thin, quick-cooking pieces of chicken.

To make the marinade, I began with golden raisins from Neufeld Farms Dried Fruits, in Kingsburg, a Farmers’ Market mainstay that offers dried versions of nearly every fruit imaginable. Their raisin selection alone has five or six options. I covered 1 cup of raisins with 2 cups of water, and cooked them in saucepan
over medium heat.

Cooking Raisins

While the raisins cooked, I pounded chicken breasts—four pounds of them— to a thickness of about 1/2″.

Pounded Chicken

After the raisins had plumped some and the water was reduced by about half, I puréed the raisins with the water in a food processor.

Raisins in Food Processor

I then returned the mixture to the saucepan and prepared a Moroccan spice mix (Ras-el-hanout) of salt, pepper, cayenne, cumin, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, allspice and cloves. I started with this recipe, but added additional cayenne, cumin, black pepper and coriander.

Spice Mix

I mixed the spices into the raisin purée, then added another cup of water and an additional 1/4 cup of whole raisins.

Adding a Few Whole Raisins

I let this cook over low heat for about 30 minutes before stirring in a two tablespoons of olive oil and leaving it to cool for another 20 minutes or so. I poured it over the chicken, making sure each piece was well covered.

Chicken in Marinade

I let the chicken marinate for about two hours, before cooking it on a hot grill, about five minutes on each side.

On the Grill

It came out tender, slightly sweet and richly spiced, with a nice kick from the cayenne. All four pounds were devoured very quickly.

Grilled Moroccan Chicken:

4 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 1/4 cup
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground clove
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 cups water

Cook 1 cup raisins and 2 cups water over medium heat until raisins are plump and water is reduced by about half. Purée raisins and water, then return to saucepan. Add spices to raisin purée with additional 1/4 cup raisins and 1 cup water. Cook approximately 30 minutes. Add olive oil and let cool.

Pound chicken breasts to 1/2″ thickness. Cover with marinade. Let sit 2 hours. Grill over high heat for 5 minutes each side.

Grilled Moroccan Chicken

More photos are here.