The warmth of summer is fading, and I’m not complaining. My favorite things to cook are autumn and winter foods, and I’m scheming to bring exciting new flavors into the new season.
But we still have to eat between now and then, and the grill has been our BFF this summer, especially as we have challenged ourselves to elevate our home-cooked meals while so many restaurants were closed. Here’s a quick look back at some of the fun grilled foods I’ve put on my plate since I launched Comfort du Jour:
Before the sun sets on summer 2020, I’m throwing down a Mediterranean twist on simple grilled pork chops. I love the flavors of souvlaki, the Greek specialty that highlights the brightness of lemon and pungency of garlic, and is often applied to chicken or pork on skewers, so why not just skip chopping the chops into chunks and just marinate them as they are?
And tasty grilled meat deserves a fresh grilled side, so I have also whipped up a flavorful, healthy salad made with fresh summer tomato, crunchy red onion and marinated grilled zucchini squash. Here we go!
2 thick sliced, bone-in pork chops
4 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of one lemon
1 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar (or any white wine vinegar + pinch of sugar)
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used Greek Kalamata)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the salad:
1 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut lengthwise into wedges
1 medium firm tomato, cut into chunks
2 thick slices red onion, cut into chunks
6 Kalamata olives, drained and chopped
Dressing: 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp. white balsamic, a few shakes of garlic-pepper seasoning, 1/4 tsp. dried oregano, whisk in 2 Tbsp. olive oil.
Feta cheese, cut into cubes
Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
Take a walk through the slideshow for visual instruction, and refer to the notes below if you need them. Remember, you can download the recipe in PDF format to try it yourself, and please let me know how it comes out for you!
Season pork chops with salt and pepper.
In a glass measuring cup, combine lemon juice, vinegars, oregano, salt and pepper. Drizzle olive oil into the blend, whisking constantly, until mixture is emulsified. Stir in minced garlic.
Pour most of the marinate over the pork chops in a glass dish and set aside for 30 minutes. Turn once or twice during marinating time to ensure even distribution of flavor.
Pour the remaining marinade over the zucchini strips in another dish. Salt and pepper the zucchini and set those aside while you chop and prep the remaining salad ingredients.
Mix together the dressing ingredients and set that aside, giving the dried oregano time to hydrate.
Prepare grill and pre-heat to about 450° F (medium). Carefully place the pork chops over direct heat and sear each side about 1 minute to seal in juices. Then reduce the heat to about 350° F. The olive oil may cause flare-ups, so keep that cold beer in your hand to splash if necessary. Just kidding; either keep a squirt bottle nearby or use a grill tool to try to put out the flare or move the chops.
Continue to cook for about 10 minutes each side, or until juices start to run clear when pierced with a knife tip.
When you turn the chops, pile the zucchini onto the grill also, and turn them frequently to cook evenly and to get those beautiful grill marks.
Allow the finished chops to rest and chop the zucchini spears into bite-sized chunks. Immediately toss the grilled zucchini with the rest of the salad ingredients. Whisk the dressing briefly, then pour over salad and toss gently to combine. Scatter cubes of feta and fresh parsley over salad and serve alongside the pork chops.
Summer has a way of flipping mealtime upside-down at our house. My husband, Les, does a lot more of our cooking during the summer because the weather and extra daylight make it easier to use the grill or smoker, and the simple fact that he’s handling a larger part of our meals gives me more time to expand our library of recipes. With him in charge of cooking outside, it also means that I have a wider array of flavorful meats, cooked and ready to use in whatever dishes capture my imagination.
Something about the summer heat also makes me crave spicy foods in particular. It could be that my body is trying to calibrate to the external temperature or perhaps there’s simply a greater tendency toward adventure and new-ness while the sun is blazing. In either case, it’s hot in our neck of the woods and I’m cooking up some spice today in the form of pizza—not one, but two pies with all the flavors and vibrant colors of the Caribbean!
If you’ve ever grown a successful garden (meaning you actually harvested vegetables rather than merely feeding the neighborhood deer, as I have), you likely know that peppers love hot, sunny weather. Even if pepper plants seem to lag behind tomatoes and zucchini at the start of summer, they always catch up when the temperatures rise. That said, these brilliant bell peppers—which I picked from the produce department, not my pitiful garden—have earned a spot on my pizzas, just by being heat lovers themselves.
Onions are a no-brainer for pizza, and for these Caribbean-inspired versions, I’ve put a little caramelization on sliced red onions to heighten their sweetness and balance the jerk-fired flavors of the sauce and other toppings.
And of course, I couldn’t label these pizzas “Jamaican jerk” without the signature notes of allspice, hot peppers, ginger, thyme and scallion. I’ve incorporated all of the above, either in whole ingredient form or in sauce and seasoning, but gave each pie its own personality. The first is decidedly spicy and savory, featuring smoked pork shoulder, jerk rub, sweet and hot peppers and two kinds of onions. The other leans to the sweet-fruity-spicy side, with plump, juicy shrimp cooked in garlic butter, lime and cilantro—plus sweet and hot peppers, onions and a generous smattering of tropical grilled pineapple.
Put on some steel drum music, pour yourself a Red Stripe and join me for a taste of the Caribbean, Comfort du Jour style!
Sprinkle of fresh or dried cilantro leaves* (optional)
1 red bell pepper, cut into lengthwise slices
1/2 yellow bell pepper, cut into lengthwise slices
1 small red onion, sliced into rings
1 large jalapeno pepper (seeded), some diced and the rest sliced into rings
3/4 cup grilled pineapple chunks*
1/2 brick pepper jack cheese, freshly shredded*
Hot BBQ sauce for brushing pizza dough*
Dough of your choice – I recommend fresh dough rather than one of the pre-baked crusts. Some pizza restaurants will even sell you some of their pizza dough, so it’s worth asking!
Jerk seasoning – My go-to jerk seasoning is technically a wet rub that seasons the meat but also moistens it. If you have a dry or powdered seasoning, use less of it and mix it with a bit of canola or coconut oil before applying it to the meat.
Pepper jack cheese – For these pies, I used an 8 oz. brick of pepper jack, divided between the two pizzas, and I shredded it myself (not the bagged stuff). If you’re already having hot flashes over the other ingredients, you could cut out the pepper and use Monterey jack instead. You could also omit the cheese entirely, but I like the way it holds together the other toppings.
Cilantro – If you’re among the roughly 20% of people born with the “I can’t stand cilantro” gene, simply leave it out or substitute thyme or parsley. Here’s why you hate it, by the way.
Grilled pineapple – I grilled a whole cut-up pineapple because I had plans for multiple dishes. If you’re only making this pizza, I’d recommend getting a small container of pre-sliced fruit from the prepped-for-you section of the supermarket. 2 or 3 slices is all you’ll need. Used canned as a last resort.
BBQ hot sauce – Choose what you like, but consider the ingredients to complement the other stuff on the pizza. For example, there’s probably a better recipe than this one for a hickory-maple-chipotle-mustard BBQ sauce.
We found this one, which contains vinegar, onion, brown sugar and habanero (all of which are also in jerk seasoning), plus tomato paste, whiskey and ghost pepper. It echoed the topping flavors and was a perfect base for both pizzas, and another layer of wicked-good heat, which always makes Les happy.
Instructions – Jerk Pork Pizza
Preheat oven and steel to 550° F (see notes below for stone or pan baking)
Pull the pork apart into bite-size strips, and sauté them in a hot skillet with some olive oil, until edges are crispy. Then, toss them in jerk seasoning to coat thoroughly. Transfer the pork to a bowl.
Heat olive oil in the same skillet, and sauté onions and bell peppers until soft and lightly caramelized. Season with salt and pepper.
Shape pizza dough into 14-inch circle and place it on a greased pizza pan or flour and cornmeal-dusted peel, then brush on a very thin coating of BBQ hot sauce and season with more black pepper.
Sprinkle half of the pepper jack cheese over the dough, then top with pork, jalapeno, onions and peppers. Scatter the remaining cheese and sprinkle with all the scallions. Slide the pizza onto a hot steel or stone, about 8” from the top of the oven. Bake at 550° F for about 7 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and crust is nicely browned. If using a pizza stone, follow temperature instructions from the manufacturer. Some pizza stones may crack at this temperature.
If using a pizza pan, place the oven in the middle to lower third and allow more time.
Instructions – Jerk Shrimp Pizza
Preheat oven and steel to 550° F (see notes below for stone or pan baking)
Sauté the prepared shrimp in butter with the fresh garlic and cilantro, but only for about a minute, as the shrimp will cook further in the oven. Remove from heat, cut each shrimp in half if they are larger than a quarter, and squeeze a section of lime over them. Transfer to a bowl.
In the same pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté the bell peppers and onions until soft and lightly caramelized.
Shape pizza dough into 14’ circle and transfer to greased pizza pan or flour and cornmeal-dusted peel. Brush a light coating of BBQ hot sauce onto the dough, then sprinkle on half the cheese, followed by the onions and peppers, jalapeno, shrimp and pineapple bits. Scatter the remaining cheese over all toppings and slide the pizza onto a preheated steel, about 8” from the top of the oven.
Bake at 550° F for about 7 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and crust is nicely browned. If using a pizza stone, follow temperature instructions from the manufacturer. Some pizza stones may crack at this temperature.
If using a pizza pan, place the oven in the middle to lower third and allow more time.
Thanks to the classic Brady Bunch episode in which young Peter tries to imitate Humphrey Bogart, I can hardly imagine eating pork chops without applesauce. My husband, Les, and I recently had an online happy hour with some friends in Raleigh and we were shocked to learn they had no recollection of the episode. Just in case you missed it as well, this should help provide a little context, and, in honor of Father’s Day, some good advice from one of America’s favorite TV dads about the importance of being yourself.
With or without the pop culture reference, there’s no question that pork chops and applesauce make a great combination. They were a frequent menu item at my grandmother’s house for Sunday supper. The applesauce was always homemade, as my grandparents had a small tree in the side yard that was prolific with small, greenish apples during the late summer. She’d send me and one of my cousins out there to pick up apples that had fallen, and she’d wash them and cut out any bad spots, then throw them into a pot—peels, cores, seeds and all. When they were cooked and tender, she’d scoop them into her Foley food mill and call in the kids to crank the handle. The food mill had a spiral blade that pressed the cooked apples through a mesh strainer, while keeping all the unwanted peels and parts behind. We’d sweeten it to taste and flavor it up with cinnamon, and it was just about the best thing ever. To this day, my cousin, Brad, and I are convinced that these adventures laid the groundwork for our passion for food.
As much as I’d love to have Gram’s Foley food mill, I must admit that Les has found another really easy way to make homemade applesauce from scratch, and I’m grateful that he’s willing to make it several times a year on request. We always have some on our Thanksgiving table, and if we time it right, enough leftover to enjoy on latkes during Hanukkah. All you need is a slow cooker and a potato masher, and of course, fresh apples.
Gram usually did her pork chops in a cast iron skillet with a simple gravy, but I’m elevating them today with a quick and easy brine. We want to enjoy them on the grill, and the brine ensures the meat will stay moist and flavorful. I’ll top the chops with the easiest chutney you’ve ever heard of, and it really pulls the whole meal together.
Ingredients – the pork chops
4 bone-in loin end pork chops
1 cup coarse kosher salt (do not use iodized table salt)
1 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
1 Tbsp. dry mustard powder
2 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cups ice cubes
1 medium onion, halved and sliced lengthwise into crescent shapes
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. homemade applesauce
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
The brine recipe has been my go-to since I first saw Alton Brown make it on Food Network. Brown sugar and dry mustard bring a terrific balance of sweet and savory. If you wanted to echo the apple flavor, you could swap in some apple juice or cider in place of some of the ice, but I usually use it exactly as ordered. Don’t brine your chops longer than two hours, or they will be too salty.
Instructions for brining
Heat the cider vinegar in a small sauce pan until hot.
In a large glass bowl, combine the salt, sugar, peppercorns and mustard powder. Pour in the vinegar and stir to dissolve the other ingredients. Give it 10 minutes to mingle the flavors, then add ice cubes and stir until they are melted. If brine isn’t completely cool, refrigerate before proceeding.
Place the pork chops in a gallon size zip top bag and pour the brine over them to cover completely. Squeeze out as much air as possible, seal the bag and refrigerate for two hours. I usually place the zip bag inside a container large enough to hold the brine, just in case the bag springs a leak (which is always possible when using bone-in meats). Turn the bag over halfway through brining time for more even flavoring.
Ingredients – the applesauce
9 large apples*, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
1/2 cup brown sugar (either light or dark)
Juice of 1/2 large lemon*
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Consider mixing together a few different varieties of apple, for more interesting flavor. Choose apples with a firm texture, such as Granny Smith, honeycrisp or fuji. Varieties with a “mealy” texture, such as red or golden delicious or McIntosh, are not the best for applesauce.
The lemon juice helps to prevent browning of the apples as they begin to cook and soften, and the acidity gives a nice tart balance to the sweetness of the applesauce. In a pinch, a couple teaspoons of bottled lemon juice can be substituted here, but fresh is always better because it’s pure and doesn’t contain weird preservatives.
You’re going to love how easy this is!
Place all apple chunks into the slow cooker, toss chunks in the lemon juice and sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon. Give it a good stir to mix everything up and cook on low setting for about 8 hours or overnight.
In the morning, use a potato masher to break up any pieces still large enough to stand out. We enjoy having a few chunks, but that’s just how we roll. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate.
Instructions – the pork chops and chutney
Remove chops from brine mixture, rinse under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
Grill the chops. Les seared them for 30 seconds on both sides, then reduced the grill temperature to low, cooking to medium well (about 150° F). I know we’ve all been told that pork must be cooked all the way to well done, but this is OK because they will continue to cook during a 5-minute rest inside.
Make the simple chutney. I sautéed the onions in olive oil until they were softened and lightly caramelized on the edges. A quick seasoning of salt and pepper, and at the last second, I opted for a quick shake of dried thyme leaves. Then, stir in applesauce and cider vinegar. Mix until heated through.
This chutney will connect the dots between the savory pork chops and the sweet applesauce—an easy little Comfort du Jour twist to a classic “pork chopsh and appleshaucsh.”