PA Eating: All-American Grill-Out

We’re sneaking up on the next big summer holiday (hello, fireworks!), and I’ll be returning to Pennsylvania once again for a swimming-and-cooking extravaganza with my family. I just realized I neglected to share the final installment of our kitchen adventures from my last visit, and you don’t want to miss any of these recipes. They’re delicious and easy, perfect for summery cave people. (You can find my other Pennsylvania recipe recaps here and here.)

Speaking of… here are two of my favorite grok-ians now, posing with our feast. That’s my dad (a.k.a., Sky Guy) and my niece Pepper… with cucumber salad, fennel slaw with mint, cabbage and bacon sauté, and slow-grilled baby back ribs. (All recipes below.)

Here’s a close-up of the ribs. I’ve always shied away from trying to make them myself – seemed too intimidating. But my mom’s method was dead easy. If you have a grill and foil, you’re in business.

The fennel slaw was a neato change of taste: light, fresh, creamy, and unfamiliar without being weird.

Down-home cucumber salad made with homemade mayo.

Shredded cabbage sautéed with bacon, salt, and pepper. Simple, hearty, super yummy.

Here’s my plate, and yes, my glass of wine.

Easiest EVER Baby Back Ribs
No sauce, no fuss… just delicious, tender, meaty flavor.

rack of baby back ribs
garlic powder
whatever other spices you want to throw in there

1. Heat gas grill on high heat until very hot. approximately 10-15 minutes.

2. Sprinkle ribs generously with the seasonings, patting the spices into the meat with your hands. Make sure the ribs feel loved; this will make them tender. (You know, I generally like tons of spices on just about everything, but my dad seasoned the ribs with the three basics (salt-pepper-garlic) and they were excellent just like that. You do what you like.)

3. Place the foil-wrapped ribs on the grill and close the lid. Reduce the heat to its lowest setting, and forget about the ribs for roughly two hours. Seriously. Don’t lift the lid of the grill. Don’t disturb the foil packets. Just let those little piggies roast.

4. When the time is up, let the ribs rest in the foil for about 15 minutes, then unwrap and cut. Pick up with greedy fingers and gnaw.

Fennel Slaw with Mint
1 fennel bulb
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 garlic clove, crushed or minced

1. Make the vinaigrette: Place the lemon juice, garlic, mustard, salt, and mint in a blender; pulse briefly to combine. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until the ingredients are combined. Like homemade mayo, this is an almost emulsification – take your time drizzling in the oil and you will be rewarded with a creamier vinaigrette.

2. Prepare the fennel: Wash the bulb and fronds, then slice the fronds off the top. Chop up some of the green frilly stuff and set aside. Then slice the fennel bulb very thinly. We used a mandoline but decided that was too thin. I think somewhere between shaved and 1/4-inch slice is where you want it to be… again, this might require patience. Find your Zen slicing place.

3. Toss the slaw: Mix with the dressing with the fennel, and stir in the chopped fronds. Allow the flavors to meld for at least an hour. Serve cold or at room temperature. YUM! This holds up in the fridge well for two days so you can enjoy it at multiple meals.

‘Just Eyeball It’ Cucumber Salad
My mom’s been making this cucumber salad FOREVER, and because of that, it tastes like summer to me. There’s no real recipe – just a list of ingredients and your taste buds. Be bold! You can do it.

cucumbers, sliced thin (half moons!)
white onion, sliced thin (again with the half moons)
fresh parsley, chopped
homemade mayo
salt, pepper, garlic powder
splash of vinegar (not technically paleo, may be replaced with lemon juice)

NOTE: I usually use the ratio of 3 cukes to 1/2 onion. Also, the photo above shows a lot of dressing. I make mine less saucy; you make it the way you like with the instructions below.

1. Place cucumber, onion, and parsley in a bowl.

2. Add mayo. Begin conservatively – I put in about a 1/3 cup to start. Stir gently and add more mayo gradually until the cucumber slices are lightly coated.

3. Add a splash of vinegar or lemon juice. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Stir and taste. Trust yourself – this is the art part. You can do it! 

If it’s too acidic, add a little more mayo.
If it tastes flat, add a little more salt.
Consider more parsley.

This salad doesn’t hold up super great; the dressing gets too thin after about 24 hours. If I make this for dinner one night, I try to eat the remainder for lunch or dinner the next day. The beautiful thing about this recipe is that it’s so easy to make a one-person serving: one cucumber, a little piece of onion, a spoonful of mayo, and you’re in business.

Smokey Cabbage Sauté
This is another of my mom’s creations, so no defined recipe. But easy ingredients and technique.


head of green cabbage, sliced thin-ish
one white onion, sliced into thin half moons
a few strips of bacon (pork or turkey)
coconut oil
salt, pepper, garlic powder

1. Cook the bacon: If you’re using pork bacon, cook in a pre-heated pan, then drain most of the fat from the pan and use the remaining drippings to cook the onions. If you’re using turkey bacon, preheat the pan, add about 1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil, then fry the bacon ’til crisp. Use those drippings to sauté the onion. When the bacon is the way you like it, set it aside and move onto the onions.

2. Sauté the onions: Cook the onions in the hot pan until very soft and beginning to get nice brown spots.

3. Chop the bacon into bite-sized pieces and return to the pan.

4. Add the cabbage: Put the sliced cabbage into the pan, put a lid on it (PUT A LID ON IT!), and let the cabbage steam for a few minutes… like, maybe 3-4. Remove the lid, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Stir-fry vigourously.

5. Check for shininess: This dish tastes best when there’s a reasonable amount of fat in it. If there’s not enough, the cabbage will steam, not fry. Find your personal balance between way-too-greasy and way-too-bland but checking for shininess. There should be a slight sheen on the veggies and they should be getting carmelized. If they’re not a little shimmery, add another 1/2 to 1 tablespoon coconut oil. Against, trust yourself and your tastebuds.

6. Check the seasonings again: Give it a taste test to see if it needs more salt, pepper, or garlic powder. Salt content should always be checked mid-way through cooking and close to the end to get seasoning balance right.

Cook. Eat. Love.

I’m excited to once again join the punk rock foodies on Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.

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17 Responses to “PA Eating: All-American Grill-Out”

  1. girlblake says:

    Those baby backs look delish! As does everything else, of course. I can actually make these ribs for W because they're nightshade-free! I smell some grilling in my future…

  2. Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Awesome! Be sure to let me know if you try them!

  3. Melissa says:

    Holy Yumness! I've been trying to get more veggies in and you know this is the place I come for recipes.

  4. Lydia says:

    That fennel salad looks amazing. Yay for cool summer vegetable options!

  5. Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Hi, Melissa! Now is such a great time for veggies. The cabbage is SO yummy.

    Lydia, try the fennel salad and lemme know what you think. I liked it, but I wanted a touch my zing. Maybe I should've added more salt or something. Anyway… send thoughts if you've got 'em.

  6. AllieNic says:

    The cabbage saute looks SO tasty! I have a weakness for all things bacon…

  7. Lydia says:


    I'm going to see if there's fennel at the Farmer's Market on Saturday. If there is, I'll report back!

  8. Erin says:

    Wow, these all look AMAZING – I look forward to trying each of these!

    Quick question – how many days do you think homemade mayo would last in the fridge?

  9. Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Homemade mayo will last 1-2 weeks after the expiration date on the egg you used to make it. I either write on the container with a Sharpie or put a note on my calendar when it's time to toss it. You'll be able to tell from the smell and a tiny taste if it's still good.

  10. shopannies says:

    sounds delicious

  11. Diana says:

    This looks awesome. Do you have any directions to cook the ribs in the oven….we only have a charcoal grill and I don't think I can keep the grill hot that long. Hope you have had a lovely weekend!

  12. Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Hey, Diana! I think you can totally do the ribs in the oven. I'm making this up, but I think it will work. Brown the rack of ribs on your charcoal grill, then wrap in foil and roast in a 325F oven for 2-3 hours. If you try it, write back and let me know how they come out. I've used this grill-oven technique for pork shoulder, and it works great, so I'm pretty confident it will work for the ribs.

  13. […] Grilled chicken with pesto, cucumber salad, roasted […]

  14. Brooke says:

    Do you spray the foil with cooking spray?

    • Mel says:

      No cooking spray necessary — ribs are generally fatty enough to avoid sticking issues. And most cooking spray includes non-natural ingredients that make me shy away from it.

  15. […] eat fennel? I didn’t even know what it was until a couple months ago when I decided to try this recipe for fennel slaw  from The Clothes Make The Girl. I’m hooked on it and have made it 2 […]

  16. […] with some pan fried chicken and a lemon mint sauce. Remember how I said I’m addicted to that fennel slaw recipe? I just made the dressing for that but used it on here instead. It was light and refreshing […]

  17. […] and berries with whipped coconut cream from Well Fed, and I contributed roast parsnips and creamy cucumber salad. Paleo brunch Saturdays are my favorite because we get to sit around and talk about how our week […]

  18. PambelaB says:

    I agree that the fennel slaw could use some zing. It looked oily so I added chopped celery to bulk it up. Maybe next time I’ll add more fresh mint, garlic, lemon zest (I can see a lot more zesting now that I have a microplaner!) and maybe paleo mayo instead of oil? I made the cucumber salad using fresh dill rather than parsley. LOVED.

  19. […] (Picture from […]

  20. Heather says:

    I made the smoke cabbage saute tonight and it is SO GOOD! I am happy to have leftovers to bring this week to work. I love how I feel when I eat paleo and I love that the recipes you share are delicious. Thanks!

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