Saturday, November 18, 2017

Thanksgiving Menu 2017

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving. If you're a cook, it is the busiest cooking day of the year. Frenetic. Exhausting. But it is really rewarding to put together a meal of that magnitude.

I've been hosting Thanksgiving since 1984. Prior to that, my grandmother, Goldie, played host...but she suffered a stroke that year and I grabbed the baton.

I've cooked the turkey a million different ways. In the early days, I would use a cooking bag and use wine as the braising liquid. That made for a very moist bird, but I missed the beautiful golden skin that comes from roasting. There is a big divide in my family...some prefer white meat while others are strictly dark meat aficionados. So a few of times I just bought a couple of breasts and a plethora of legs. While that was functional, it lacked the aesthetics of a big, roasted turkey.

For the last few years, I've used convection roasting to cook my turkey. This year, I'm just going to roast it in the convection. I've always bought fresh turkey and I will do the same this year. I usually buy Butterball Turkeys at Costco because they sell them for a ridiculously low 88¢ per pound. But my favorite cooking magazine, Cook's Illustrated, just did a big taste test of turkeys. Butterball came in dead last.

This year, I followed their advice and purchased an organic, free-range turkey. Every one knows you should brine a turkey, but it is just a giant pain in the ass. I really hate brining. And then on Monday I opened up the latest Williams Sonoma catalog....and be still my heart. They were selling fresh, pre-brined, organic, free-range turkeys. So my 25-pounder delivers next from the farm.

The turkey will spend 4 hours in my oven. The first hour it will be cooking upside down on a roasting rack at 425º. That allows the slower cooking dark meat to get a head start. After 1 hour, I will keep it upside down but reduce the temp to 325º. (Note: You should keep the turkey upside down the entire time if it weighs more than 18 pounds. This will keep the breast meat really moist. If it weighs less than 18 pounds, you should flip it breast-side up after the first hour.) To ensure that the skin does not stick to the rack, line your rack with non-stick foil and punch about 20 holes in it so the juices can drain.

After four hours, I will tent the bird with foil and let it rest on the cutting board for 30 minutes before carving. This allows all of the juices to retreat from the surface and, through the magic of osmosis, redistribute the juices so that every bite is a little, moist taste of heaven.

Two legs are insufficient to please the dark meat lovers, so I will also roast 6 drumsticks. I just coat them with olive oil, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper...90 minutes at 350º will do the trick.

You can't have Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes. I'll use 5 pounds of russets with the skin left on. After they are cooked, my son Patrick uses his weight-room enhanced biceps to mash them up while mixing them with melted butter, warm cream and chives. Becky is making a sweet potato casserole and scalloped oysters...both dishes are her family's favorites.

I'll also make my enhanced stuffing (never inside the bird). I love Pepperidge Farm Sage and Onion Stuffing. I make a couple of bags just following the directions. To that I add hot Italian sausage and a mixture of sautéed onions, mushrooms, celery and garlic.

Dessert is courtesy of my mother-in-law, Joan. She bakes both pumpkin and apple pies. My dad always has a slice of each because he has proclaimed them as the "best tasting pies ever". Joan likes to give me cooking advice, so I just have her go sit on a chair in the backyard until we are ready to eat.

I'm serving two different wines this year. White lovers will be sipping on Josh Chardonnay. Red lovers will get to drink what I think is one of the greatest value wines of the year, McManis Petite Sirah. Both wines are screw tops so that I don't have to spend half of the afternoon with a corkscrew in my hand. I'll also make some hot chocolate so that Joan doesn't get too cold in the backyard while waiting for her invitation to re-join us for the family feast.

Now, as we all know, turkey gravy is the most important element of the Thanksgiving meal. I used to make it the old fashioned way....using the drippings and creating a roux after the turkey came out of the oven. But that makes it a frenzied task just as the whole meal is supposed to be coming together. Well, here is my favorite recipe for making gravy a couple of days ahead of time. You still use the turkey drippings, but are just adding them to your pre-made gravy. Easy peasy.

1 stick of butter 
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper
4 to 5 cups warm turkey stock
Turkey drippings


  1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour on the onions, stirring constantly, and cook until flour is golden to brown. Adjust heat so mixture does not burn.
  2. Gradually whisk in 4 cups stock until mixture thickens and is smooth. If it is too thick, add more stock. Cool, cover and chill.
  3. When ready to serve, reheat mixture over low heat, stirring. Scrape bottom of turkey pan and add drippings to gravy. Taste and adjust seasonings, then serve.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Crab Bombs

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and you know you'll need some appetizers to keep people occupied until it's bird time. Crab bombs are a perfect appetizer as they are light and refreshing and they will not fill your guests up. They only take about 5 minutes to make and then they are ready to go after a 30 minute turn in the oven.

If you want your crab bombs to be decadent, buy enough Alaskan King Crab Legs to harvest a pound of meat from. While that will give you the best tasting crab bombs, it significantly adds to the upfront labor requirements. If you don't want to spend more than 5 minutes making these, just buy a pound of lump crab meat.

My only advice is that when you are mixing the ingredients and then forming them into little balls, don't mix so thoroughly that you break all of the crab meat apart. Ideally, you want your crab bombs to contain big chunks of crab. And if you want your guests to give this appetizer a perfect "10", you'll want to serve your crab bombs with St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail Sauce. It is the best cocktail sauce I have ever tasted and you can find it at my beloved Costco for $7.99.

1 pound of crab meat
1 egg, beaten
1 cup crushed Ritz crackers
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon of Old Bay Seasoning
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce


  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. Place crabmeat in a mixing bowl. Add crushed crackers, Old Bay Seasoning and parsley to the crab. 
  3. In a separate bowl, combine egg, mustard, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Whip with a whisk until smooth. 
  4. Pour egg mixture over the crabmeat and crackers and gently mix, careful not to break up large lumps of crabmeat. Mold into golfball sized balls and place on a cookie sheet. Then bake for 30 minutes. 

Wine pairing: If you've got your boss coming over for Thanksgiving dinner, best to trot out a bottle of Duckhorn Merlot Napa, 2012. Yes, it will set you back $88.99 at Total Wine....but that next promotion will be right around the corner. If it's just your cousins and those horrible in-laws that you are cooking for, a $10.99 bottle of Running With Scissors Merlot will still impress the ingrates.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Garlic Braised Beef Shanks in the Slow Cooker

Beef shanks are the Rodney Dangerfield of the butcher shop...they get no respect. You will usually find them in the meat section marked with a little sticker that says "Great for Soup." And they are great for soup! They are a mainstay of one of my favorite grogs4blogs recipes for Beef Barley Vegetable Soup:

But I am here to tell you that this cut of beef deserves a lot of respect. First, beef shanks are the baby brother of one of the greatest culinary delights of all-time: Osso Buco. The only difference is that Osso Buco is a 6" long section of beef veal bone while beef shanks are usually about 1" thick. I'm not a fan of how veal cows are raised and I actually prefer the fuller beef flavor of mature cows.

Beef shanks are portions of the leg. If you tried to cook them up fast, they would be inedible because the meat is comprised of tough muscle and tendons. But braise them in your slow cooker for 8 hours and all of the muscle and tendon are rendered into a "fall-off-the-bone" delightfully, tender meat. And talk about flavor...the bone and the marrow knock this cut right out of the park. And here's the best part: beef shanks sell for roughly $4.00 a pound. Cheaper than ground beef!

This is a great fall meal. It goes really well with potatoes or any whole grain. I made this last night and served it with hull-less barley. I also cheated and made a quick gravy using 1-1/2 cups of the slow cooker liquid mixed with 1 packet of Knorr Brown Gravy Mix....and it was f*cking awesome! This recipe serves four.

4 large beef shanks (roughly 4 pounds)
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups beef stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 anchovies, minced
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon rosemary


  1. Generously season shanks on both sides with the salt and pepper.
  2. Add two tablespoons olive oil to a large fry pan over medium high heat. When oil is shimmering, add shanks to the pan and brown them for 4 minutes per side. Then place shanks in your slow cooker.
  3. In the same pan, add 1 tablespoon of oil and the diced onion and garlic cloves. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are translucent. Then add onions and garlic to the slow cooker.
  4. Return the frying pan to the heat and add the beef stock, tomato paste and anchovies. Stir well and use a wooden spatula to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Then pour the mixture into the slow cooker.
  5. Sprinkle thyme and rosemary into slow cooker. Then cover, turn slow cooker to low and cook for 8 hours.
  6. After 8 hours, serve shanks with a little bit of slow cooker liquid poured over them....or you could make a cheater gravy with a packet of Knorr mix.

Wine pairing: This dish is deceiving. It uses an inexpensive cut of beef but it tastes very expensive in it's finished form. If you have a low balance on your Platinum American Express Card, you should pop for a Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Signature, 2014. It will cost you $69.99 at Total Wine but every single drop of this 94-point wine will be so worth it. If you're just $11 shy of maxing out your Discovery Debit Card, you can get a quite tasty Grayson Cabernet Sauvignon for $10.99.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Sausage and Pepper Sheet Pan Dinner

I have OCD. I like everything to have a pattern and structure. Everything should fit neatly into it's own little box. Growing up, my mother kept everything on track by always serving us our aluminum TV dinners at precisely 6pm. That schedule still governs my world today. I like my dinner precisely and exactly at 6pm.

Being retired, I have all of the time in the world to stay on that schedule. I love to cook and I just adjust my prep and cooking time to hit that goal each day. Today, Becky and I are going to Macalester to catch my son Patrick's last home football game of the 2017 season. That means we won't get back home until close to 5pm.

I will stay on track by making a sheet pan dinner tonight. All of the ingredients go on a sheet pan and you just slide it into a hot oven. In just 30 minutes, everything is cooked and ready to eat....just add mustard. It's the perfect meal for the control enthusiast who is short on time and needs to meet an all-important imaginary goal.

4 sweet Italian sausages
1 large orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
1 large green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
4 hoagie rolls, for serving


  1. Preheat oven to 425º and line sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2. Toss the sliced onions with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place them exactly on the left side of the cookie sheet. Toss the sliced peppers with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place them precisely in center of the sheet pan. Place the sausages, with great precision, to the right of the peppers.
  3. Slide sheet pan into the oven and cook for 30 minutes on the button.
  4. After 30 minutes, place each sausage in hoagie roll and top each with peppers and onions.

Wine pairing: One could make an excellent case that this meal would be great to wash down with a pilsner....and I would not argue. But the wine lover in me would feel compelled to combine sweet Italian sausages with Chianti. That's what they would do in Tuscany. If it's Saturday night and you just got paid, snarf a bottle of 2014 Antinori Marchese Chianti Reserva. That will drain $39.99 from your wallet when you check out at Total Wine. If you didn't get paid and have to stop by Payday America for a quick loan, let them know you will need $8.27 to buy a bottle of Ruffino Chianti.

Me and the ultimate control enthusiast, 1956

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Pasta with Garlic, Lemon, Capers and Tuna

I stumbled upon this Danette St. Onge recipe earlier in the week. I'm not sure why it caught my eye, as I'm usually on the hunt for beef recipes. But I happen to love all the ingredients in this dish. I saved the recipe and then made it for Becky and I last night. It was so light and refreshing and we both loved it!

The ingredients are so critical, so please read this before you start cooking. First, the pasta. Any short pasta like fusilli, rotini or penne will work. Just make sure it is a semolina based pasta. My favorite short pasta is the Barilla Collezione Artisanal Collection Penne, which I buy on

Next up are capers, which are actually hand-picked flower buds. Often sold in brine, those are just little green vinegar bombs. Instead, buy capers that are packed in sea salt. Rinse them under cold water and you will be amazed by their intricate flavor.

And now the most important ingredient...the tuna. Do not, under any circumstances, use tuna canned in water. That stuff tastes like wet cardboard. You need to buy a good Italian or Spanish tuna packed in olive oil. My favorite is Cento, which I buy by the case at Once you taste it, you will never be able to eat any other canned tuna.

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons salt-packed capers, rinsed
1/2 cup white wine
12 ounces of tuna canned in extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
16-ounces of short pasta

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and then add pasta. Cook to al dente, drain and put into a large bowl.
  2. In a medium skillet, gently heat the oil, half of the garlic, red pepper flakes and capers until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  3. Add wine and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 1 minute.
  4. Add tuna with it's oil and the butter to the skillet. Sauté until butter has melted
  5. To the large bowl with the pasta, add the skillet contents, remaining raw garlic and lemon zest. Mix all of the ingredients thoroughly. Season with sea salt to taste and add a generous grind of black pepper. Mix again and serve.

Wine pairing: This meal would be great with a big oaky Chardonnay. But I'm a red lover, so I'd opt for a nice fruity Merlot. If you're having special people over, point your Bentley towards Total Wine and get a Rombauer Merlot for $39.97. It's one of the most extraordinary wines you will ever taste. If you're still saving up to buy that Bentley, set the Nav system on your Toyota for Total Wine and grab a Columbia Crest Grand Estate Merlot for $6.97. It's a heckuva wine for under seven bucks! 

Me and Goldie, 1956

Monday, October 16, 2017

Baked Chili Macaroni and Cheese

I really dislike macaroni and cheese. In my youth, my mom did not like to cook. But knowing she was responsible for feeding my sister Kathy and I, she would often reach for a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. It was a single pan affair and apparently pasta, powdered cheese, margarine and milk ticked all her boxes as a complete meal. Oh, the horror.

I have been an adult now for 47 years and I am here to tell you that not once in that time period has one forkful of Macaroni and Cheese ever crossed my lips. But I was cruising the Interwebs last week and came across a recipe that caught my eye. Well, the photograph caught my eye, truth be told. The recipe was for a one-pot Chili Mac and Cheese dish.

As a general rule of thumb, I dislike one-pot recipes as they are full of shortcuts and compromises. I'm retired and having a crapload of time on my hands, so there is never a need for shortcuts when it comes to cooking. But the photograph looked really good to me and I thought: What if I were to create the meal as a casserole? For that, I turned to the one recipe that my mother made that I actually enjoyed as a kid.

My mom used to make Joey's Italian Goulash when I was little. It was actually more American than Italian, thanks to the hamburger...but I really liked it. Over time, I re-did her recipe and it is now one of my family's favorites:

So I used that recipe as the structure for my Baked Chili Macaroni and Cheese. And I simply swapped out the Italian ingredients for Mexican ingredients. And to give it an authentic chili taste, I turned to another favorite blog recipe of mine, The Loon Cafe's Pecos River Red Chili. I think that it is, perhaps, the greatest and most pleasingly complex spice mixture in all of Chilidom.

So on Sunday, Mac and Cheese was back on the Gruggen menu. And I'm here to tell you it was absolutely fabulous. Now granted, the ingredient list puts this dish in an entirely different galaxy than Kraft Mac and Cheese. And be forewarned, the recipe makes a double batch....I actually used two, 13" X 9" baking dishes. And I had enough cheese in there to fill a wheelbarrow. So we had dinner for four last night and polished off a baking dish. And it was so good, we're having the second baking dish tonight. Mac and Cheese! Shout it out!

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound Chorizo Sausage
1 pound ground beef

1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced

Four, 4-ounce cans of mild green chiles, diced
1, 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1, 14.5 ounce can of tomato sauce
3 pounds of shredded Mexican cheese, divided

4 tablespoons smoked paprika
2-1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2-1/2 teaspoons of chili powder

16 ounces elbow macaroni


  1. Pre-heat oven to 350º.
  2. In a large skillet, brown sausage and ground beef in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Use spatula to break meat into small crumbles. When browned, place meat in a large bowl.
  3. In the same skillet, add another tablespoon of oil and then onion and red bell pepper. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes, and then add to the meat in the large bowl.
  4. Add the chilis, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and 1 pound of cheese to the bowl. Then add all of the spices to the bowl.
  5. Cook macaroni to al dente in a large pot of water. Drain in a colander and add macaroni to the large bowl.
  6. Using a large spoon, thoroughly mix all of the contents in the large bowl. Then spoon the mixture into two, 13" X 9" baking dishes. Top each dish with 1 pound of cheese. Cover tightly with foil and slide the baking dishes into the oven.
  7. Cook for 45 minutes. Then remove foil and cook for 15 minutes more. Remove from oven and serve.

Wine pairing: Becky's cousin, Linda, joined us for dinner last night and brought a 94-point wine along. The wine was Unanime, a fantastic Cabernet/ Malbec blend from Argentina. What a treat! But if you're making this for a regular weeknight dinner, try a Trapiche Malbec Oak Cask...just $7.79 at Total Wine.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Prime Rib: Cooking with Fire

If you read my Roast Chicken blog that I posted yesterday, you will know that I have abandoned convection cooking. From here on in, I'm just using the heat of the oven to cook my foods. My oven is gas, so the source of that heat is fire.

This recipe is very simple and follows a similar methodology that I used for Roast Chicken. You are going to start cooking the meat at a very high temperature and then turn the heat down to gently finish cooking the roast. All you need to do this is an oven and a calculator. Well, that's not quite true, because I also use Lunds & Byerly's Dry-Aged Beef Seasoning...a spectacular combination of gray sea salt, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, basil, fennel and lavender. You can order it online from their web site:

This recipe works for both bone-in and boneless prime rib roasts. You are first going to blast the roast with heat, 500º for 15 minutes. Then you turn the oven down to 325º and cook it based on the weight of your roast and the desired level of doneness you want. Here are the cooking times for the different levels of finish:

Rare: 11 minutes per pound
Medium Rare: 13 minutes per pound
Medium: 15 minutes per pound

Here's an example of how it works. You bought a 6-pound roast and want to serve it medium rare. You heat the oven to 500º. First, cook the roast for 15 minutes at that high heat level, then turn the oven down to 325º. Then cook the roast for 78 more minutes at that lower temp (6 pounds X 13 minutes).

Using this recipe with my new oven has yielded perfect results every time. And, just as I discovered with my chicken, cooking the roast in this conventional manner yielded juicier meat than when cooked with a convection oven. For the purposes of sharing the recipe, I will use a 5-pound roast as an example. But you can buy whatever size suits your taste and adjust your cooking times accordingly.

One, 5-pound prime rib roast
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Lund's & Byerly's Dry-Aged Beef Seasoning

  1. Remove roast from refrigerator and let it sit on the counter for at least 3 hours prior to cooking.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 500º.
  3. Rub roast with oil and season generously with Dry-Aged Beef Seasoning.
  4. Put roast on a roasting rack/pan and slide into the oven. Cook for 15 minutes.
  5. After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 325º and cook for 65 minutes (5 pounds X 13 minutes for medium rare). Do not open oven during the entire cooking process.
  6. When the 65 minutes is up, remove roast from oven, tent with foil and let roast rest for 20 minutes. Then carve and serve.

Wine pairing: If you want to hang out with the big dogs on the porch, grab a Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa...yours for just $53.99 at Total Wine. Or, if it's your day to run with the chihuahuas, you can get a 90-point Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington state for just $6.97.

Me and Goldie, 1956


Friday, October 13, 2017

Roast Chicken: Cooking with Fire

My 60" Wolf range died last summer. It had horrible reliability, due mostly to the fact that it had a computer inside that was very poorly designed. The Wolf range was a dual fuel model, meaning that the stove burners were gas and the ovens were electric. The ovens also had a convection feature. The combination of very accurate electric heat and convection made roasting food a charm in the Wolf.

I replaced the Wolf with a Capital Culinarian. It is a purely mechanical stove and it only cooks with gas. But when I tried my Wolf convection roasting recipes on the Capital range, they did not work so well. After several failures, I decided to abandon the convection mode and cook only by traditional methods: Cooking with Fire.

The Capital ovens are gas, so fire is what is used to heat the oven. So I decided to embrace that fire and change my recipes to cook with it. The beauty of writing this blog over the last seven years is that I have all of my favorite recipes in one place. And that is why I am adding this roast chicken recipe to this body of that I will always have it in the same place as all my other favorite stuff.

This recipe is from Cook's Illustrated. It is incredibly simple and it yielded what Becky called "the best roast chicken I have ever tasted". You roast the chicken at a high temperature for 35 minutes, then turn the oven off and let it sit in the heat for another 35 minutes. The chicken cooks in a pre-heated cast iron pan. The pan cooks the thighs more quickly, so that the entire bird is at the ideal temperature at the end of cooking. The first 35 minutes turns the skin a golden brown while the second 35 minutes gently cooks the chicken, resulting in one of the juiciest chickens I have ever tasted. It became quite obvious to me that the convection cooking method robbed the bird of it's moisture.

One, 3-1/2 to 4 pound chicken*
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper


  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Place a 12" oven proof skillet on the rack and heat oven to 450º. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Rub entire surface with oil and sprinkle salt and pepper on the bird.
  2. Transfer chicken, breast side up, to pre-heated skillet in oven. Roast for 35 minutes (*roast for 40 minutes if your bird is larger than 4 pounds)
  3. After 35 minutes, turn off oven. Do not open oven door! Let the chicken cook for another 35 minutes.
  4. Transfer chicken to carving board and let chicken rest for 15 minutes uncovered. Then carve and serve.

Wine pairing: Roast chicken is one of my very favorite meals and I like to enjoy it with Pinot Noir. If it's a special dinner, get yourself a bottle of Domain Drouhin Pinot Noir. That will set you back $42.99 at Total Wine. If you are bargain shopping, choose a Cupcake Pinot Noir for $7.99...but let it breathe for 30 minutes before you pour.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Wrath of Canh

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to Canh. If you were to name this soup in the American vernacular, it would be "Vietnamese Meatball Soup". But my blog title is "The Wrath of Canh". So why is Canh pissed off? Because Pho, Canh's big brother, gets all of the attention when it comes to Vietnamese soup.

But making really good Pho is laborious. We're talking lots of hours in terms of getting the broth right and hand assembling the ingredients. And that's why Canh is pissed off. This soup is every bit as delicious as Pho, but it comes together in just about 30 minutes. So yes, Pho is the flashy big brother that wows the fans, but if you want a great Vietnamese soup that makes for a quick weeknight meal, look no further.

I made this last Wednesday for Becky and our friend Steve Hirtz. The recipe belongs to Soben Pin. I found it in the latest edition of "Milk Street" magazine. Milk Street was founded by Christopher Kimball, the former editor of Cook's Illustrated. Cook's Illustrated was recently acquired and the new owners dispatched Mr. Kimball, who fortunately decided to take his bat and ball and find another ball field to play on. Welcome to Milk Street.

The flavors are spectacular! A triumphant reunion of Vietnam's best: fish sauce, ginger, garlic and lime juice. The addition of the peppery watercress is pure genius. And oh, those meatballs! The trick to the meatballs is to make them ahead of time and then chill them in the fridge...that way they will hold together when you cook them in the soup. But frying or roasting them is always an option as well.

1 pound of ground pork
6 scallions, white parts finely chopped, green parts thinly sliced and reserved separately
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons fish sauce, divided
4 teaspoons grated ginger, divided
Kosher salt and ground white pepper
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 quarts chicken broth
1 bunch watercress, cut into 1-1/2" lengths

  1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with kitchen parchment and mist with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, combine the pork, scallion whites, egg white, 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce, 2 teaspoons of the ginger, 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon white pepper. Mix with your hands. Lightly moisten your hands with water and form into 20 balls, each about a generous tablespoon, and set on the prepared baking sheet. Cover and refrigerate.
  2. In a large Dutch oven over medium, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons ginger and the garlic, then cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the broth and bring to a boil over high. Reduce to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the onion is fully softened, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the meatballs, bring to a simmer over medium-high, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook undisturbed for 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in the watercress and remaining 2 tablespoons fish sauce. Let stand until the greens are wilted and tender, about 1 minute. Stir in the lime juice. Taste and season with salt and pepper, then stir in the scallion greens.

Wine pairing: This is a spicy soup and it begs for a big, fruity Zin to offset it. If you feel like splurging, it honestly doesn't get any better than a Rombauer Zinfandel. A bottle of that perfection will set you back $27.97 at Total Wine. But if you are saving up your hard earned dollars to buy a Lamborghini, pick a Rosenblum Zinfandel Vinter's Cuvee that will only put a $7.99 dent in your wallet.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Creamy French Mustard Chicken

I am glad to see September go. It's typically a month I love, but this year I hate it. I had to say goodbye to a very dear friend. It was a friendship spanning 47 years. I met Taffy when she was still in high school. But the friendship was not just for me. Taffy married my best friend. And Taffy's best friend is now my wife. I hang out at Taffy's son's gym all week long. I am the godfather to her daughter Alison. And my wife is godmother to her daughter Ashley. She was connected to my life in 360 degrees. I mourn her. I miss her. And life will never be the same.

So all I can tell you is hug your friends. And it seems especially appropriate to cook some comfort food. This Christine Gallary recipe fills the bill.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup diced shallots (2 medium shallots)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Coarsely chopped fresh parsley, for serving

  1. Preheat oven to 400º.
  2. Heat the oil in a large cast iron or oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Meanwhile, pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken skin-side down and cook until the fat is rendered and the skin is crisp and golden-brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a large plate. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan.
  3. Add the shallots to the pan and cook over medium heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the wine, scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, and cook until evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in the broth and whole-grain mustard and bring to a simmer. Return the chicken skin-side up, and add any juices accumulated on the plate to the pan.
  4. Braise in the oven uncovered until the chicken is cooked through and reaches an internal temperature of 165°F, about 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken with tongs to a platter. Place the pan over medium-high heat, whisk the smooth Dijon mustard into the sauce, and simmer until reduced slightly, about 2 minutes.
  5. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream. Taste and season the sauce with salt and pepper as needed. Serve the sauce with the chicken ( recommend you serve it underneath the chicken to keep the skin crisp) and garnish with parsley.

Wine pairing: A dish this refined is best complemented by a Petite Syrah. If it's a special occasion, head to Total Wine and grab a Puccioni Petite Sirah Dry Creek for $39.99 (not sure why they chose to spell Syrah with an "i"). If you are more budget-minded, let me advise you to buy what I consider one of the best bargains in the wine industry... a McManis Petite Syrah. It will only set you back $8.99 but it tastes like it should be priced at $89.99.

My wife Becky with our dearest friend, Taffy Hirtz.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Pan Seared Pork and Peaches

The autumnal equinox was yesterday...but you wouldn't have known it in Minneapolis. Temperatures soared into the upper 90's with dew points in the upper 70's. Thankfully, we've got a big storm front coming through on Sunday night that will return us to more fall-like temperatures.

The autumnal equinox also marks the waning days for stone fruit. We've enjoyed an abundance of peaches, nectarines and plums this season. But they will soon be disappearing from our grocery stores, so grab them while you can.

I came across this recipe from the New York Times several weeks back. It is a delightful marriage of pork and peaches...and it is really easy to make. All it requires is a cast iron pan or griddle and a good ventilation system. If you don't have a good vent hood, just take your cast iron outside and plop it on a hot grill.

Francis Mallmann developed this recipe and he calls it the "uncertain edge of burnt". The pork will develop a deep, burnished crust and the peaches will turn a deep, dark brown. And you will find that it tastes so good that you will have to force yourself to stop eating....several times, most likely.

2 pounds boneless pork butt, butterflied and trimmed
10 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher Salt
Fresh ground pepper
6 fresh peaches, skin on, cut in half and pitted
4 tablespoons butter, diced


  1. Put the pork on a work surface and, using a meat mallet, pound to an even thickness of approximately 3/4 of an inch. 
  2. Combine the garlic, rosemary and 6 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl, mixing to make a rough paste. Season the pork aggressively on both sides with salt and pepper, then spread half the garlic mixture over one side and half on the other side.
  3. Place a large cast-iron pan or two-burner griddle over the heat and allow it to get hot. If using a stove or gas grill, then lower the heat to medium after your pan is hot.
  4. Brush the pan or griddle with the remaining olive oil, allow it to heat until it shimmers and is almost smoking, then place meat on the hot surface and cook, without touching, until it forms a good crust, approximately 10 minutes.
  5. While the meat cooks, surround it with the peaches, cut side down, and dot the fruit with the butter. (If you’re using two cast-iron skillets, place the peaches in their own oiled pan.) Let them cook for approximately 5 minutes, or until they are soft and slightly charred. Transfer to a platter and tent with foil to keep warm.
  6. When the meat is well browned on the first side, use tongs to turn it over, and cook in the remaining butter for another 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the meat to a carving board and allow it to rest below a tent of foil for approximately 5 minutes. Slice the meat and serve with the peaches.

Wine pairing: Seared pork and peaches would be begging for a Merlot to hang around with. If it's going to be a special dinner, I'd grab a Rombauer Merlot. At Total Wine, that would set you back $39.99. If you are bargain shopping, Columbia Crest Grand Estate Merlot is a phenomenal choice for just $6.97.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Spicy Cucumber and Fennel Salad

I'm a huge fan of flank steak. Nice, lean cut of meat with a really big beef flavor. And I think my favorite way to prepare it is "Thai Flank Steak". You just marinate the flank steak for 6 hours. The marinade consists of 4 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon of chili oil and 10 cloves of crushed garlic. Grill it for 4 minutes per side over hot coals and welcome to a little bit of Thai heaven, served medium rare.

I made that dish for Sean, Becky and I on Monday night. It's always a huge hit. I typically serve it with Basmati rice. But Monday was hot and humid, so I decided to try a new salad recipe I found on Flipboard (one of my favorite iPhone apps). Flipboard is an aggregator app. You tell it everything you like and it creates a daily magazine of all your favorite topics. So I get my daily fill of Formula 1, video games, automobiles, Apple news and most

Beverly Scofield created this recipe and I think it is brilliant. Delicious, fresh cucumber with the crunch of fennel and it's taste of licorice. And despite the heat in the vinaigrette, this salad is so incredibly refreshing...especially as a complement to grilled beef. This recipe comes together very fact, just seconds, if you have a mandolin.


For the Salad
1 large English cucumber, sliced very thin
1 fennel bulb, sliced very thin
1 tablespoon fennel fronds, chopped

For the Vinaigrette
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar


  1. Add vinaigrette ingredients to a small bowl. Stir thoroughly.
  2. Place cucumber and fennel in a salad bowl. Add vinaigrette and stir well. Place salad on serving plates and sprinkle each salad with chopped fennel fonds. Serve.

Wine pairing: Thai Flank steak and Spicy Cucumber and Fennel Salad? Grab a big, fruity Zinfandel. A Rombauer, if you are really lucky.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Perfect Hash Brown Potatoes

My idea of a perfect dinner is quite simple. Grilled ribeye steak, hash browns and a Caprese salad. Becky and I are devoted hash brown lovers. In my early days, I would grate my own hash browns from whole potatoes. They tasted great but it was much too laborious. So then I started buying Simply Potatoes. They, too, tasted great. The only problem is that they are sold fresh and have a very limited shelf life.

These days, I buy my hash browns at Costco. Costco sells an 8-pack of Golden Grill Hash Browns for around 12 bucks. The potatoes are dehydrated, so they have a "use by date" equal to a nuclear half-life. Which means we can have hash brown potatoes whenever we feel like it. You just open the spout and fill the carton with hot tap water....and 10 minutes later you are ready to fry up those spuds. Easy peasy.

Making perfect hash browns requires copious amounts of fat. Sure, you could use oil or butter, but both of those ingredients burn at higher temperatures. So my fat of choice is also another Costco staple. It's ghee...also known as clarified butter. You get the great butter taste but your hash browns will not burn because ghee will not burn.

While you can cook hash browns in just about any pan, my weapon of choice is the work horse of my kitchen...a cast iron pan. But to make perfect hash browns you need a cover, so I bought an aftermarket glass pan cover to go with my cast iron pan. It serves two important purposes.

When you cook with a cover, a lot of steam is generated by the moisture released from the potatoes. The cover lets you harness the steam to cook the middle layer of the potatoes. And that is how you end up with crispy hash browns on the outside and soft, delicious potatoes on the inside. And the glass cover lets you see how your taters are progressing. If you have to pop the cover to check on your hash browns...all the steam is lost. As for seasoning my hash browns, I like to keep it simple...just a little Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper when I flip the potatoes.

1 carton of Golden Grill Hashbrowns
Hot tap water
4 tablespoons ghee
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper


  1. Fill the carton with hot tap water and seal carton. After 10 minutes, pour the contents of the carton into a strainer.
  2. Heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the ghee.
  3. When ghee is melted, add hash browns. Press them down into an even layer and then cover pan. Cook for 5 minutes.
  4. After 5 minutes, flip hash browns and season with salt and pepper. Cook the potatoes uncovered  for 2 minutes more. Then serve.

Wine pairing: Rib eyes and hash browns? Grab a Cab!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Farfalle with Sriracha Crab Sauce

This is a recipe I've been making for almost 25 years. It's a favorite in the Gruggen household. It's simple to make and has just five sublime ingredients: pasta, butter, crab, garlic and Sriracha. I first posted this recipe in 2010 in the very first month of my food blogging. I am re-posting today because over time I have tweaked the ingredient list.

Back in 2010, I thought butter was butter. But in reality, there is butter and then there is Kerrygold butter. Kerrygold butter is made in Ireland and sourced from grass-fed cows. It's paleo and has a high fat content...hence it's nearness and dearness to my heart. I buy it at Costco. And I love the taste of it.

I also get my lump crab from Costco. I like the lump crab because it helps make this a really quick weeknight dinner (from start to finish is under 15 minutes). If you want to make this dish super-rich and amp it up to a "guests for dinner" meal, you can use Alaskan King Crab meat. It does add quite a bit of work, though, as you will need to remove the meat from the leg shells.

Back in 2010, Tabasco was my "go-to" hot sauce. These days I prefer Sriracha. I find it be be a little hotter than Tabasco and it has a lot more depth of flavor. Truth be told, you can use any hot sauce that wets your whistle....but I'm reaching for Sriracha when I open my pantry door.

Also, make sure you use a high quality semolina pasta for this dish. Whole wheat pasta would taste terrible with this combination of ingredients. This recipe serves four.

1 pound of lump crab meat
8 ounces of butter (2 sticks of regular butter or 1 stick of Kerrygold)
10 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons of Sriracha (or more to taste)
16 ounces of Farfalle 
3 tablespoons of salt
1 tablespoon of olive oil (garlic olive oil if you have it)

  1. Fill a large pot with water. Add 3 tablespoons of salt and bring to a boil
  2. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.
  3. When the butter is melted, adjust temperature to medium and add minced garlic. Saute until garlic is fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  4. Adjust temperature to low. Add crab and Sriracha to garlic/butter mixture. Heat for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
  5. Add Farfalle to large pot and cook until al dente (about 1 minute less than what the package calls for).
  6. When cooked, drain pasta and toss with olive oil. Divide into serving bowls or plates.
  7. Place a giant helping of the hot crab sauce on top of the Farfalle on each bowl or plate and serve.

Wine pairing: The heat of this recipe makes it ideal for either a white or red wine. If you prefer white, choose a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. If you are a red lover, grab a Zinfandel....a Rombauer, if you are really lucky.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Chicken with Roasted Garlic Pan Sauce

When my Wolf range died last April, I had to forego roasting chickens for over two months. This was difficult for me as I think roast chicken, fresh from the oven, is one of life's great pleasures. And nothing could be simpler: a chicken, some olive oil, salt and pepper.

I could not be happier with my new Capital Culinarian range. It's purely mechanical...there are no electronics. Just fire and gas valves. But it has forced me to learn how to cook on the stovetop all over again. Making the switch from closed to open burners is a very big leap.

On the left is a closed Wolf burner. The photo on the right is the open Capital  burner.

Most consumer stoves used closed burners. They are simple and incredibly easy to keep clean. Open burners are most common on commercial stoves (the ones they cook on in restaurants). They have a much higher heat output but they are difficult to keep clean. The first time I used the open burners, I was absolutely blown away by the heat output. I was burning and overcooking a lot of food.

On my old Wolf, it would take about 5 minutes to bring 3 cups of cold tap water to a boil. On my Capital, it takes only 60 seconds. When I cook stir fry with these new open burners, the wok gets so hot you can't hold a wooden spoon with your bare hand over the have to wear a cooking glove.

Fortunately, there has been no learning curve for the new oven. The Wolf was electric and the Capital is pure gas. Other than that, the ovens cook identically. Which means that I can get back to roasting my beloved chickens. And I did just that last Thursday night, testing out this new recipe I discovered in Food and Wine magazine. I happen to love roasted garlic and the roasted garlic pan sauce made this a "Winner Winner Chicken Dinner".

One 4-1/2 to 5 pound chicken
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked pepper
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise

1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1/2 cup minced yellow onion
1/2 cup minced green pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
Pinch of dried thyme
2 tablespoons water


  1. Preheat convection oven* to 325º. Rub olive oil over the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in an ovenproof skillet along with the head of garlic, cut side down. Roast chicken for 90 minutes. Transfer chicken and garlic to a cutting board and tent with foil. Pour pan drippings into a heatproof bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, in the skillet, heat the tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion, green pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the wine, bay leaf, thyme and the reserved pan drippings. Squeeze the roasted garlic into the sauce and bring to a boil over high heat, then simmer over moderately low heat until slightly reduced, 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Transfer to a blender, add 2 tablespoons of water and puree until very smooth. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
  3. Carve the chicken and transfer to a platter. Serve with roasted garlic pan sauce.

*If you do not have a convection oven, use a conventional oven at 425º for 75 minutes.

Wine pairing: A big, fruity Merlot!