Saturday, December 31, 2011

Spaetzle with Kielbasa and Caramelized Onions

This is a recipe that appeared in the New York Times last week and I made it for dinner last night. It was absolutely delicious. This is one hearty dish, a sort of Bavarian, tomato-less lasagna for those cold winter nights. While the dish certainly matches up well with wine, I feel your taste buds would be better served to match it up with a Belgian Chimay ale.

This is a really easy dish to make. There are just 4 main ingredients in this recipe. The first is Kielbasa, that wonderful smoked Polish sausage that is seasoned with garlic and marjoram. It's already cooked, so all you will need to do is brown it. Next comes spaetzle, the German equivalent of pasta. Made with eggs, flour and salt, the Germans eschew the pasta word and refer to it as a dumpling. While the New York Times recipe called for making spaetzle from scratch, I have no patience for that so this recipe will be using spaetzle from a box (see photo at bottom of this post). You'll find it in the grocery store in the same aisle as pasta (Nicht pasta, Dummkopf. Dumplings, meine Damen und Herren!)

The third ingredient is onion. But you are going to turn the onion into little velvety pieces of heaven by caramelizing the thinly sliced pieces. They add incredible depth and sweetness to the dish. The crowning touch, the grand finale, is the Emmentaler cheese. I had never heard of it before this recipe and I was certain I would never find it in the cheese section at Cub I immediately searched the web for a substitute. I am here to tell you there is no substitute for this wonderfully nutty Swiss cheese. You must use Emmentaler. Low and behold, I found it on my first pass at Cub Foods!

This recipe serves six. Count on an hour to make it, from prep to finish. There's about 30 minutes of prep and 30 minutes of cooking in the oven, which gives you ample time to get those bottles of ale opened...perhaps even to down one to make sure the ale will taste OK for your dinner guests.

1 pound smoked Kielbasa, cut into 3/4 inch lengths
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
10.5 ounces spaetzle (one box of Maggi spaetzle)
1/2 pound Emmentaler cheese, grated
1/4 cup salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 375º.
  2. Fill a large pot (4 quarts or larger)with water and 1/4 cup salt. Bring to a boil. Add spaetzle when boiling and cook for 25 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil, then lightly brown the kielbasa until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Melt the butter in the skillet. Stir in the onion and thyme, and stir briefly to coat the onion with butter. Cook onion, without stirring, until dark brown, about 5 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and cook on low heat until very soft and caramelized, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons water and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Transfer onion to the same large bowl as the Kielbasa. 
  4. When spaetzle is done cooking, drain water. Toss the spaetzle and kielbasa in the bowl with the onions, and add 1/2 cup cheese and the pepper. Spread into a 2-quart gratin dish. Sprinkle the top of the casserole with the remaining cheese. Bake until golden and bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes.  

Pairing: Belgian Chimay Ale 


Monday, December 26, 2011

Eva's Swedish Meatballs

If you are from Minnesota, it is considered a criminal act if you dislike Swedish meatballs. For my son Patrick, there is no meal more greatly appreciated than Swedish meatballs served over dumpling egg noodles. That's what he ordered up for his birthday earlier this month and that's what I'm making for him again this Wednesday night.

This recipe is from my longtime friend, Eva Fisher. Eva is married to my gaming partner, John Fisher. In an act of cruel and unusual punishment, Eva set up John's Xbox Live gaming account and gave him the gamertag, "Fishlips". Your gamertag is what you go by in the gaming world and we must sit through untold mudslinging and ridicule every time we enter a new game lobby and and this new crew of gamers sees this guy named Fishlips. "OMFG, this dude's name is FISHLIPS!".

Eva's recipe serves six (her recipe yields 30 meatballs, so that assumes 5 meatballs per person). I recommend serving them over dumpling egg noodles. Eva also notes that when you are forming the meatballs, having wet hands or chilling the mixture slightly first, will make the task easier.

Ingredients for the Meatballs
1 1/2 cups torn white bread
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound ground veal
1/4 pound ground pork
1 egg
1/4 cup parsley, chopped fine
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter

Ingredients for the Gravy
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 beef bouillon cube
1/2 teaspoon powdered instant coffee
1 1/4 cups boiling water


  1. Soak bread in cream for 5 minutes
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet and saute onions until they are soft.
  3. Combine beef, veal, pork, cream-soaked bread, onion, egg, parsley, salt, pepper, ginger and nutmeg. Mix thoroughly until well combined.
  4. Shape into 1 1/2 inch balls.
  5. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the same large skillet and then brown meatballs in skillet. When they are browned, remove meatballs and set aside.
  6. Bring 1 1/4 cups of water to a boil. Add bouillon cube and 1/4 teaspoon powdered instant coffee. Wait until both are dissolved.
  7. To make the gravy, melt 2 more tablespoons of butter over medium heat in the same skillet you used to brown the meatballs. Then stir in flour.
  8. Slowly add bouillon/coffee mixture, whisking as you add the liquid. Cook and stir until gravy thickens and bubbles.
  9. Add meatballs back to skillet. Cover and reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes. Stir every 10 minutes.
  10. Divide meatballs among serving plates and serve.

Wine pairing: Merlot

John and Eva Fisher

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Costco That Stole Christmas

I just got back from my Thursday Costco shopping trip and I am saddened to report that this beloved store of mine has been bitten by the greed bug. I bought some Alaskan King Crab for tonight's dinner ( I'm used to paying $14.99 a pound for crab, but alas, no. Costco's Christmas price is $19.99 per pound.

The same greed bug has infected the meat department. I'm used to paying between $5.99 and $7.99 a pound for prime rib. The new Christmas price is $9.89! I stopped at Cub Foods after Costco and Cub had it for $8.49 per pound. Now $9.89 a pound is still a heckuva lot cheaper than Byerly's $26.99, but it's the idea of a Christmas price hike that I find especially irksome. Bah humbug.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Weapon of Choice: Nut Chopper

'Tis the season when a lot of recipes call for chopped nuts. If you've ever tried to chop nuts with a chef's knife, you know a lot of those nuts end up shooting across the room like they were expelled from a Glock. Make the job easy by reaching for your apple corer. It's fast, easy and it makes your nut chopping so much more manageable. And, you won't be taking out any family members with that errant pecan. :-)

Prime Rib by Ann Seranne

As an addendum to my prime rib recipe, I recalled a "really old school" prime rib recipe I had read in the New York Times about a year ago. I did some research and tracked it down. The recipe was created by Ann Seranne back in 1966. It is, without a doubt, the easiest and most foolproof recipe for medium-rare prime rib.

This recipe is for a bone-in rib roast. You are going to leave the bones intact. You bring the roast to room temperature, roast it in a 500º oven for a brief time, then turn the oven off and let it sit for 2 hours. That's it. You're done.

One, 2 to 4 rib, prime rib roast, weighing 4 1/2 to 12 pounds
Fresh Ground Pepper

  1. Remove the roast from the refrigerator 2½ to 4 hours before cooking and let it come up to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
  3. Place the roast in an open, shallow roasting pan, fat side up (bone-side down). Sprinkle with a little flour, and rub the flour into the fat lightly. Season all over with salt and pepper.
  4. Put the roast in the preheated oven and roast according to the roasting chart below, timing the minutes exactly (the timing works out to 15 minutes per rib). When cooking time is finished, turn off the oven. Do not open the door at any time. Allow the roast to remain in the oven until oven is lukewarm, for two hours. The roast will still have a crunchy brown outside and an internal heat suitable for serving as long as 4 hours after removing from the oven. Makes about 2 servings per rib.

    Wine pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon, Amarone or Barolo

Prime Rib (New School and Old School)

Jim Arnost wrote and suggested I post a Prime Rib recipe in time for Christmas. I anguished over this as there are a million different ways to cook prime rib. It's a huge piece of meat that without the proper technique, it's all too easy to finish with a perfect crust on the outside and everything on the inside is raw. I decided to go ahead and do the post and I will cover my two favorite ways to cook prime rib. One is New School, using a convection oven to great advantage. The other is Old School, simply using a regular oven. If you want to grill, see my note at the very bottom.

Prime rib is one of my very favorite meals. Absolute nirvana. I make it a lot during the year and it is always on the table for Christmas Day dinner. Christmas Day dinner is always the same. Roasted prime rib with horseradish and au jus. Roasted baked potato ( And Caesar Salad from scratch (

Prime rib at Christmas can be an expensive proposition. If you head to Byerly's and opt for dry-aged, it will set you back $26.99 a pound. If you go to Costco, you will find spectacular USDA Choice prime rib roasts for somewhere between $5.99 and $7.99 a pound. Costco is where I always get my prime rib roasts. There is so much marbling in the Costco roasts that it makes no sense to opt for more expensive roasts. The taste difference between a $26.99 per pound dry-aged roast and $5.99 USDA Choice roast is so small as to be insignificant. Buy the cheaper cut and splurge on an extra special bottle of wine!

Next, your choices will be between bone-in and boneless. In the old days, I always opted for the former. But ever since I got a convection oven, I have gone with the simpler boneless cut. If you opt for bone-in, you'll have to do a little butchering before you cook the roast. You will need to cut the chine bones from the roast and then tie them back together (or have your butcher do that for you). A little bit of a hassle, but not insurmountable. The bone-in cut will have more flavor, but it is not a huge difference, especially if you are convection roasting. To keep things simple, I'm using boneless for both of my recipes.

There are three essential items when I make prime rib. First is the seasoning for the roast. I use Byerly's Dry-Aged Beef Seasoning. It's available at Byerly's, Lunds and online for $7.49 ( If you don't have it, use an equal blend of Kosher salt, fresh ground cracked pepper, thyme and rosemary. While it's not the same, it will do (the Byerly's seasoning just plain kicks ass). The second essential item is a good horseradish. Don't buy a creamy sauce. Buy real horseradish. And finally, you need a great au jus for dipping the meat in. Everyone in my family is a meat dipper and Johnny's Au Jus is the absolute best.

Finally, you will need a roasting pan with a rack. As this roast cooks, it gives off a lot of fat and you want that fat to drain away. A rack elevates the meat and and ensures that the every single square inch of the prime rib gets roasted. Not just roasted, but actually develops a beautiful, mouth-watering, golden crust. All right, enough discussion. Let's get cooking. These recipes serve 6-8 people (the larger roasts serve more people).


A convection oven greatly speeds up the cooking process and puts a restaurant-quality crust on your prime rib roast. It's the easiest way to cook your prime rib and will deliver perfect results every time you make your roast.

1 boneless prime rib roast, 4-6 pounds
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4-6 tablespoons Byerly's Dry-Aged Beef Seasoning 

  1. Two hours before cooking, set roast on counter and allow it to come to room temperature.
  2. Thirty minutes prior to the start of cooking, pre-heat oven. Set to Convection Roast (325º).
  3. Liberally coat roast with olive oil. Rub oil over entire surface.
  4. Sprinkle seasoning all over roast until well coated.
  5. Slide roasting pan into oven and cook for 21 minutes per pound. In my oven, this timing yields a finished roast that is medium rare. Your oven cooking times will vary. 
  6. After cooking is done, remove roast from oven and pan and place on cutting board. Tent with foil and let roast rest for 15 minutes.
  7. Slice across the grain and divide among serving plates.


Using a regular oven, this is the way our mothers made prime rib. First, you are going to brown it in a pan on top of your stove then slow cook it in a 200º oven for an extended time. This can be a bit laborious, so make sure you check out the much easier "Prime Rib by Anne Serrane" on the next blog.

1 boneless prime rib roast, 4-6 pounds
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4-6 tablespoons Byerly's Dry-Aged Beef Seasoning 

  1. Two hours before cooking, set roast on counter and allow it to come to room temperature.
  2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200º.
  3.  Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until just smoking. Sear sides, top and bottom of roast until browned, 8 to 10 minutes total.
  4. Transfer roast, fat side up, to roasting rack and sprinkle Dry-Aged Beef Seasoning generously over roast. 
  5. Roast until meat registers 110 degrees with a meat thermometer, about 3 hours.
  6. Turn off oven; leave roast in oven, opening door as little as possible, until meat registers about 120 degrees for rare or about 125 degrees for medium-rare, 30 to 45 minutes longer. 
  7. Remove roast from oven (leave roast on roasting rack), tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 45 minutes. 
  8. Adjust oven rack about 8 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Remove foil from roast, form into 3-inch ball, and place under roast to elevate fat cap. Broil until top of roast is well browned and crisp, 2 to 8 minutes.
  9. Transfer roast to carving board. Slice across the grain and divide among serving plates.
Wine pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon, Amarone or Barolo

Note on Ovens: Oven cooking times vary substantially. If you want your roast to be precisely the way you like it, use a meat thermometer.

Note on Grilling: If you have a Weber Kettle, you can use the New School recipe. Set up your grill for indirect cooking and keep the roast on the indirect side. Because Weber Kettles create a convection oven effect, the recipe will turn out identical as long as you maintain that 325º temperature.

Note on 3rd Method, "REALLY OLD SCHOOL". Check this out:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Grilled Pork Chops with Arugula and Grapes

Here's a recipe from that will make you wish that you have a grill pan on Santa's list ( My good friend Ron in San Francisco just went from house to condo which also necessitated a move from backyard weber grill to grill pan....and he is loving his!

This recipe is really simple, 100% Paleo (if you forego the gorgonzola) and contains the Gruggens' favorite leaf vegetable, arugula. Arugula has a rich, peppery taste. It has such a strong, exceptional flavor that it is truly one of a kind for a leafy green. It is also incredibly rich in vitamin C and potassium. It's simply amazing that something that tastes this good is also good for you!

This recipe will take only take 25 minutes from start to finish...about 15 minutes of prep and 10 minutes cooking time. Clean up is a breeze as well, especially if you have a Scanpan non-stick grill pan. This recipe serves four.

1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 pork chops (about 5 ounces each)
3/4 cup red seedless grapes, halved
4 heaping cups baby arugula
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola


  1. Combine the shallot, vinegar, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil, starting with a few drops and adding the rest in a steady stream. 
  2. Put the pork chops in a shallow dish and season all over with salt. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon thyme and 3 tablespoons of the dressing. Coat the pork and set aside to marinate for 5 minutes.
  3. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill the pork until cooked through but still moist, 4 to 5 minutes per side. 
  4. Add the grapes and arugula to the remaining dressing and toss to coat. Transfer the pork chops to a serving platter or individual plates; top with the salad and sprinkle with the gorgonzola.

Wine pairing: Bordeaux, Barbera or Zinfandel

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Weapon of Choice: Cast Iron Pan

I would never consider a kitchen complete without a huge honkin' cast iron pan. In fact, I own two of them. I've had them for over 25 long that the company that made them, Wagner, is no longer in business. Fortunately, a company named Lodge is still around and turning out great cast iron pans.

The beauty of a cast iron pan is it's ability to hold heat. Once you've cranked the flame up to high and let the pan heat up, this pan will hold the heat no matter how cold a piece of meat you throw on it. This makes cast iron pans perfect for searing meat. It's my pan of choice for  searing steaks ( and seafood (

Cast iron pans just get better with time. The cast iron will become totally non-stick within your first several uses.  For cleaning, you just hose them down with water and wipe them not use soap or abrasives.

I recommend that you buy a big one...both of mine are 13 1/4" and tip the scales at 9 1/2 pounds each. Amazon sells this size pan (pre-seasoned, no less) for just $31.99: ( And check out the 700+ reviews while you are there!

Cast iron pans never wear out, so if you find one you like at a garage sale or on e-bay, grab it. Doesn't matter if it's rusty and can restore it to perfect condition with only about 30 minutes of work. And if you happen to find a Wagner or a Griswold, do not let it go! They are worth big bucks in the collector market.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Korean Short Rib Soup

"Too much of a good thing can be wonderful."
Mae West

Like all cooks, I tend to go through periods of obsession. I become fixated on a particular ingredient or taste and find myself making meals around the object of my obsession. Lately it's been short ribs. Last week I made braised short ribs. Then I was going to make beef vegetable soup out of beef shanks...but Cub was out of beef shanks. So I bought short ribs and made the most incredible soup from them...but I will save that for a future post.

I was just surfing the web last week looking for short rib recipes when I came across this gem on I made it for dinner last night and it was a huge hit with the family. Both boys had enormous second helpings! And the meal was incredibly easy to make as the soup is cooked in a slow cooker.

If you are a fan of Pho Bo, the Vietnamese soup made with beef and rice noodles, you will love this soup. It's a lot like Pho Bo but with a Korean flair. The flavors are deeper and there is a hint of heat from the sambal oelek. But the crowning glory is the short ribs. They simply melt in your mouth after braising for eight hours in this incredible broth. Short ribs! Shout it out!

So grab your slow cooker and get cooking. While the recipe does not call for browning the short ribs, I always brown my meat before sliding it into the slow cooker. I like the flavor boost that browning provides. This recipe will serve six of your soon-to-be best friends.

Soup Ingredients
5 pounds beef short ribs
4 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sambal oelek (or chili garlic paste/sauce)
2 tablespoons dark (toasted) sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced (separate whites and greens)

Noodles and Garnishes
14 ounces rice noodles
1 carrot, grated
1 small Kirby cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, torn
3 limes, cut in wedges


  1. (Optional) Brown short ribs in a large skillet over high heat. Then place them in the slow cooker.
  2. Whisk together the broth, soy sauce, sugar, ginger, chili paste, sesame oil, garlic, and scallion whites. Pour over the ribs. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.
  3. About 10 minutes before serving, put the rice noodles in a bowl with boiling water to cover. Soak until tender and pliable, about 10 minutes.
  4. Divide the noodles among 6 large, shallow bowls and ladle the broth from the slow cooker over the top. (Cut the meat from the ribs if desired.) Divide the meat evenly among the bowls. Garnish with the carrots, cucumber, cilantro, lime wedges and the remaining green parts of the scallion (and more chili paste, if you'd like more heat).

    Wine pairing: Zinfandel

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Midnight Pasta

This recipe from David Tanis appeared in the New York Times last week. I liked the look of it, so I made it for the family Thursday night. It was fantastic! The concept is simple. It's late at night and you're hungry. Not just hungry...starving. Nothing quite fills the bill like a fresh plate of pasta with a few high quality ingredients: olive oil, fresh garlic, capers and anchovies. This recipe serves four. If you want to make it for two, just cut everything in half.

1 pound spaghetti
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, chopped
8 anchovy filets, chopped
2 tablespoons capers, chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes


  1. Put the spaghetti in a large pot of well-salted rapidly boiling water and cook for one minute less than package instructions.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, warm the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute, without letting it brown. Stir in the anchovies, capers and red pepper and cook for a half-minute more, then turn off the heat.
  3. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Pour in the garlic mixture and toss well to coat. Serve with grated Parmesan if desired. 

Wine pairing: Pinot Noir

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Easy Sauce and Gravy Thickener

I like my sauces and gravies thick. They should easily coat a spoon. There are lots of ways to thicken up a sauce or gravy. Arrowroot, baking soda, corn starch, flour, etc. But they all involve a bit of chemistry and they need to mix with something (like butter or water) before you use them.

I found the easiest way to thicken a  sauce or gravy is to use potato buds. Just pour them in and stir until you get your desired thickness. There's no pre-mixing...they go right into the sauce or gravy. They are neutral in taste, so they do not alter the flavor. This is an item that no pantry should be without.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Roasted Turkey Legs

Ours is a divided nation. Always two sides to every issue. The same holds true when I host Thanksgiving (as I have done for the last 27 years). You got your white meat folk and your dark meat folk. They just want it their way. Period.

And if you are a dark meat aficionado, you only care about one thing as you go through the serving line: you want a turkey leg on your plate. The rich, dark meat of the leg is exquisite. The leg sticks out from the body of the turkey and gets a 360º roast as a result. The skin is crisp and the meat that lies below is moist and succulent. Like melt in your mouth succulent.

But someone screwed up when they designed the turkey. That frigtard went and made it a biped. You invite 20 people over for Thanksgiving and 10 of them will be dark meat lovers. How do you divide 2 legs among 10 dark meat lovers? Tapas? Whiskey tango foxtrot: no one wants tapas at Thanksgiving.

So I solve the issue every year by buying a dozen turkey legs and roasting them up in the oven. Then I have turkey legs up the wazoo and everyone is happy. The white meat folk gots their white meat. The dark meat folk gots their legs. All god's chillun be happy.

Roasting turkey legs is insanely easy. This makes it a great meal to have any time of the year...not just for Thanksgiving. Turkey legs are especially popular with kids. Not only do they taste great, you don't need utensils. You get to eat them like a caveman.

As an added bonus, turkey legs are dirt cheap. You get a lot of meat for not much money. This recipe serves 4 and can easily be scaled up or down...the cooking time remains the same.

4 turkey legs
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil on each leg and rub oil over entire leg.
  3. Place legs on a roasting pan or rimmed baking pan. Sprinkle each with salt and pepper.
  4. Place pan in oven and roast legs for 1 1/2 hours. 
  5. When done cooking, divide among plates and serve.

Wine pairing: Pinot Noir or Merlot

Another design flaw that was 
subsequently fixed: the biped dog.