Monday, February 21, 2011

On Our Grills February

It is time for the monthly "On Our Grills" where a group of slightly imbalanced fools brave culinary adventurers take on 4 mystery ingredients.  The only rule is that the protein component must be cooked with some sort of live fire (grill, smoke, fire roast, etc).   The idea is to push our comfort zone, try new things, and compare notes on how we each approached the challenge.   February's challenge ingredients are:

lamb chops
napa cabbage
blood orange
elbow macaroni

I struggled with coming up with a menu that went together because napa cabbage is naturally used in Asian dishes and lamb chops seem anything but.  I thought about using the orange to make a marinade for the chops or a vinaigrette for a napa slaw.   I would never do well if this was a timed contest because it took me about 3 hours to finally decided what to make.

Blood Orange
I decided on a orange salad that Sam & Meakin of My Carolina Kitchen brought to our blogger get together last spring.   It is a simple mix of blood orange, thin sliced red onion, olives, feta cheese, and a vinaigrette.  Since this salad is sweet and tart, I made a vinaigrette to match.

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, ground to paste
2 pinches salt
black pepper
1 Tbsp agave nectar
3/4 cup olive oil

Alexis and I gobbled this down while the rest of dinner came together.  

Elbow Macaroni
This was the component that I just "mailed in".   I simply cooked the noodles, tossed them with jarred sun dried tomato pesto, and feta cheese.

Lamb Chops
I choose to use loin chops instead of the rib chops that most people associate with "lamb chops" because I wanted to be different than everyone else.  It was a strategic decision.  (<---He's lying, it was the only kind of chops they had for sale.)   I consulted Derrick Riches from for some general ideas for cooking times and flavors.  I marinated them for an hour in a mix of olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, and oregano.   I grilled them over direct heat at 400f for 5 minutes per side until they were an internal temp of 140f.  

Napa Cabbage
This was the shocker for us.  I went with a recipe for Napa Cabbage Gratin from Slashfood SOLELY because it was the first napa recipe that was not an Asian slaw, salad, or spring roll.   This turned out to be the star of the meal, a total surprise for us.   

Napa Cabbage Gratin
adapted from Slashfood
3 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 head napa cabbage, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp nutmeg, fresh ground
2 Tbsp sherry
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup half and half
3/4 cup smoked manchego cheese
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 425f.  Melt butter and saute onions until translucent (about 5 minutes).  Add the napa cabbage and sherry, cover with lid and cook 7-8 minutes. 

Add the nutmeg, half and half, and about half of the cheese, tossing with tongs.  Season with salt and pepper - I just used a couple of pinches of each.  Cover and let simmer for a for more minutes.   I think part of what made this dish so great was the manchego cheese.   It was a batch that I cold smoked at Christmas and has aged very well.  

Divide the mixture into 3 gratin dishes.  Mix the remaining cheese and bread crumbs together and use this mix to cover the gratin dishes.  Bake until the top is golden brown, which was about 35 minutes for us.

This was a probably my favorite challenge meal yet because we were 4 for 4, firing on all cylinders.  I found out that I actually LIKE lamb when I make it instead of eating it at a restaurant.  The salad was as good as when Sam made it and the napa gratin was crazy good.  

Check out the other participants below to see what they came up with using these same 4 ingredients.

Grill Adventures by Broadcast Marc
Grill Adventures by broadcastmarc was started in March of 2010. I started the BBQ thing when I was 30, before that we ate a lot outside. had fun, but when the kids came into our life we started serious cooking. Most of it is really healthy I think). The grill has a special place in my heart because we love to do things outside. Everything I make is an adventure, and sometimes we use the books. We try to grill as much as we can year round.
Marc's February Challenge Recipe:

The BBQ Grail
The BBQ Grail website was created in 2007, initially to document the author’s quest to find the perfect backyard BBQ experience. Since that time The BBQ Grail has become one of the more popular BBQ blogs on the internet and is listed as one of the top BBQ blogs.
Larry's February Challenge Recipe

Bob’s Brew and ‘Que
Bob started Bob’s Brew and ‘Que in August of 2009 with the intent of sharing his views on food and drink. Originally focused on BBQ and Homebrew, it was inevitable that the influences of his upbringing in the San Francisco Bay Area and it’s wealth of ingredients as well as his heritage as an American of Japanese ancestry would help focus his blog, as it has his approach to food and drink.
Bob’s February Challenge Recipe

No Excuses BBQ
The No Excuses BBQ website was started in January of 2009 as a way to record the author's goal of cooking outdoors at least once a week throughout the year and showing the results to the world. Somewhere along the way things got out of control...
No Excuses BBQ’s February Challenge Recipe

Grilling with Rich
I am a young person breaking into the great world of barbecue. I enjoy everything about barbecue from the culture to the food. I am just a regular guy trying to have fun and enjoy the food and the process of cooking the food on the grill.  At Grilling with we go beyond just the normal cooking adventures and dig deeper into the large world of BBQ’ing, both professionally and for amateurs. Grilling with Rich focuses on the adventures of a regular guy and his quest to understand and learn as much as possible about the BBQ world.


  1. Glad you liked the orange salad Chris. It looks gorgeous with the blood oranges. I've only used napa cabbage in slaws. Looks like I'll have to give your gratin a try if it's as "crazy good" as you say. (smile)

  2. As one of the other slightly imbalanced fools... er, brave culinary adventurers, yeah, that's it... I have to say that you hit it out of the park with this dish.

  3. I would love to try that Napa Cabbage dish...the problem as you say with sudden challenges is that we want to think about it, and it takes me an afternoon of mulling over what I have to make that final decision.

    I would never make it on one of those high stress 'you have thirty minutes to cook something' they have so many other ingredients we do not see to use...

  4. I loved the salad Sam brought as well. Looks like you did a great job on the entire meal. As fast as you're expanding your cooking skills, you may have to quit your day job.

  5. You rose to the challenge with this fabulous spread, Chris. That salad looks like an interesting combination of flavors - I always love that. The cabbage gratin sounds like a different and yummy preparation. Funny enough, I bought some lamb chops the other day and searched your blog for ideas - you had NO lamb recipes a few days ago.

  6. I swear you're going to be on Food Network before you know it...and I'm going to be able to say "I knew him when". This all looks wonderful Chris. I'm a big cabbage fan and want to try this gratin dish. The lamb looks wonderful and yes, I would have gobbled up that salad too. I've made it and it's goo-od!

  7. Outstanding stuff Chris, yes, loin chops, just to be different. Haha. Stupid elbow macaroni

  8. At first I was afraid that you couldn't add any seasonings because they would count as ingredients. HEY -- I like that version better. More of a challenge!

  9. If you like Chris's adventure don't forget to check out the others!!

  10. Don't you love it when a food challenge presents itself and you end up with a real winner, like in the case of this napa gratin? This does look like a 4/4 Chris. I love it all, the blood orange salad, the lamb, the gratin, and definitely the macaroni:)

  11. Chris, you nailed the 4 ingredient challenge. Love the napa cabbage, love the salad. The meat? That goes without saying, that I love that too.

  12. Great job Chris. I don't think you mailed anything in. I'm glad you're part of the "challenge"

  13. I made Sam's orange salad when I was living the island life. the blood oranges adds a whole new layer to this terrific choice. I would have had trouble with the cabbage as well (although smoked cabbage just came to mind).

    A great post, dinner and a wonderful group of bloggers!

  14. Your combos are brilliant!! I feel like I need to participate in something like that in order to hone my recipe development skills!

  15. You always come up with some great ideas for this Chris! I love the gratin - I'm always looking for new ways to make cabbage. And the blood orange salad sounds sensational!

  16. I've bookmarked this post - I can't wait to try the napa cabbage gratin - I never would have tried had you made it look so good!

  17. I love the idea of the napa cabbage gratin...never thought to use it that way! I love your monthly challenges. You all come up with some amazing dishes! I wish my Chris would eat lamb, I actually really enjoy it when cooked right!

  18. What?!? You cold-smoked your own Manchego Cheese?? Be still my heart! And then you glossed over that like it was nothing...details! I want details! The cabbage dis is on my list - thanks! xo, Nan

  19. Wow...this look fabulous.....very nice!!! sorry for the late reaction..was a week off with no WiFi in the whole area....great job...

  20. Who started the four ingredient challenge and can other folks still get in?

  21. @Kevin it was started by Larry from The BBQ Grail (site listed in the post) and he runs the group. You can contact him directly through his blog.

  22. I think the whole meal looks delicious. I love that the cabbage dish was the star of the show - I like it when the unexpected happens.


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