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Watermelon Cooler


DIFFICULTY: 1 of 5 (5 being hardest)

I was never much of a beer or wine drinker. I prefer cocktails. And while I admire the skill set required to make the amazing cocktails that are cropping up around the world, I unfortunately do not possess that skill set. I use whatever ingredients I have lying around to make drinks. I employ simple techniques. The inspiration for this cooler is agua fresca, the fresh fruit juice drink found on Mexican menus. It has spectacular flavor. I’ve always loved the taste of watermelon, especially with some added acidity to spark it up. Grapefruit juice and lemon juice are just the thing here. For the liquor, I prefer white whiskey. People always ask me, “Are you a brown liquor man or a white liquor man?” I’m usually a brown liquor man, but here I like the whiskey white so that it doesn’t darken the drink. If you can’t find unaged white whiskey, use white rum or silver tequila.

Ricotta-Stuffed Poblano with Summer Vegetable Succotash

DIFFICULTY: 3 of 5 (5 being hardest)

Poblanos are like the Russian roulette of peppers. You can get one as mild as a bell pepper and another as hot as a jalapeño. Either way, a ricotta stuffing improves them. The milk fat in the cheese mellows the tannic, astringent quality of mild poblanos and cools down the spiciness of the hot ones. I roast the poblanos, then core them and trim them so they lay flat, like a thin sheet cake. That allows you to stuff and roll the peppers jelly-roll style into a neat looking roulade. Underneath the roulade rests a quick sauté of ripe summer vegetables including corn and summer squash. Beneath that sits one of my favorite sauces ever, roasted tomato sauce. I learned it from Jordan Davis, my old sous chef at Woodfire Grill. He would roast summer tomatoes in the wood-burning oven and then pass them through the food mill to create a rustic tomato sauce with awesome fire-roasted flavor but none of the bitter black flecks. As a whole, the dish puts the spotlight squarely on ripe summer vegetables. It makes a great vegetarian entrée if you use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.

Chonchos in Ponchos

DIFFICULTY: 1 of 5 (5 being hardest)

These are my gringo Mexican pigs in a blanket (choncho means “chunky” or “chubby”). I brought them to a Cinco de Mayo party one Sunday, and they disappeared in seconds. It’s a very highbrow recipe that starts with Pillsbury crescent roll dough. You know it’s classy when you start with that! Just slit some smoked sausages, stuff them with Jack cheese and jalapenos, and then wrap them in the dough. Brush with garlic butter and bake the little piggies. A final sprinkling of cheese and smoked paprika is the gourmet touch. Viva Mexico!

Grilled Flank Steak with Chimichurri

DIFFICULTY: 3 of 5 (5 being hardest)

It’s almost comical how much I love steak. At Woodfire Grill, we inevitably have little scraps of beef left in the kitchen at the end of the night. Whoever is working the grill knows that they have to grill these scraps and give them to me. I could eat steak every day of the week. You won’t see me rushing to buy a filet mignon. I like steak with texture, like flank steak. The more work a muscle does, the more flavorful it gets. The flank or abdomen of a steer does a mountain of work holding up this half-ton animal and helping it walk. Flank has an intensely beefy flavor and a satisfying chew. Plus, it’s one of the less expensive steak cuts. But it’s critical to remember that flank overcooks really fast. If this cut goes past medium-rare, it’s completely inedible.

My favorite complement for grilled steak is chimichurri, a sort of Argentine vinaigrette with lots of herbs. I make mine a little differently than most people do. Argentineans just combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. I like to keep the vinegar away from the herbs until the last minute so that the herbs stay bright green and highly aromatic. I was a little concerned that South Americans wouldn’t like it because it’s not traditional. But one of my cooks at the restaurant is from South America, and when he tasted it he said, “This is light years better than the classic version.” To me, that’s a thumbs-up.

Sautéed Wild Salmon with Peas and Mushrooms

DIFFICULTY: 3 of 5 (5 being hardest)

In 2006, when I was cooking at Fife restaurant in Portland, Oregon, the area was just getting national recognition for its amazing local food. Wild salmon, mushrooms, hazelnuts, and ultra-fresh vegetables are iconic Northwest ingredients. This dish combines them all. I take a classic approach with the fish: It’s sautéed and finished with browned butter and lemon juice. That technique is as old-school as it gets. I cook oyster mushrooms in brown butter, too, just enough to bring out their floral aroma.