Thursday, September 29, 2011

Surdyk's Fall Wine Sale

If you are a reader of this blog, you know the drill. Surdyk's has but a few killer sales each year and the fall one is on now through October 15. Their sale prices are outstanding and it's a great chance for you to stock up at rock bottom prices.

Their catalog is huge, so I've gone through it and compiled a limited list of good wines at good every day prices. Most of these wines will not knock your socks off...they simply taste good and represent a very good value. However, there are a few that will make you pause and say "wow"... I've highlighted those in yellow. To see their entire catalog, use the link at the bottom of this blog.

Best Buys in Every Day Wines

  • Zinfandel: N/V Rosenblum Vinter's Cuvee XXXII @ $8.49 (regular price $13.99), Bogle "Old Vine" Zinfandel @ $8.99 (regular price $12.99), Cline "Ancient Vines" Zinfandel @ $11.99 (regular price $18.99), Ridge Vineyard "Three Valleys Red @ $21.99 (regular price $27.99) Ridge Vineyards "York Creek" @ $23.99 (regular price $34.99)
  • Chardonnay: Kendall-Jackson "Vinter's Reserve" @ $9.99 (regular price $14.99), Chateau St Jean @ $10.99 (regular price $14.99), La Crema "Sonoma Coast" @ $13.99 (regular price $23.99), Rombauer @ $26.99 (regular price = $37.99)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: Chateau St Michelle "Indian Wells" @ $12.99 (regular price $18.99), Columbia Crest "Grand Estates" @ $7.99 (regular price $11.99), Franciscan @ $16.99 (regular price $24.99), Beringer "Knights Valley" @ $17.99 (regular price $27.99), Liberty School @ $9.99 (regular price $15.99) 
  • Meritage: Lyeth @ $12.49 (regular price $16.99), Columbia Crest "Walter Clore Reserve" @ $23.99 (regular price $37.99)
  • Merlot: Chateau St Michelle "Indian Wells" @ $12.99 (regular price $18.99), Bogle @ $7.99 (regular price $10.99), Chateau St Michelle @ $10.99 (regular price $16.99, Castle Rock @ $8.49 (regular price $12.49)
  • Pinot Noir: Montoya "Monterey" @ $10.99 (regular price $14.99), Castle Rock "Cuvee" @ $7.99 (regular price $11.99), A by Acacia @ $13.99 (regular price $17.99), Argyle Williamette @ $19.99 (regular price $29.99), Bogle @ $9.99 (regular price $17.99)
  • Sauvignon Blanc: Kim Crawford @ $12.49 (regular price $17.99), Silver Beach @ $10.99 (regular price $14.99), Whitehaven @ $13.99 (regular price $19.99)
  • White blend: Conundrum @ $18.99 (regular price $28.99) 
  • Port: Warre's Late Bottled Vintage @ $24.99 (regular price $32.99)
  • Belgian Trappist Beer: Chimay Grande @ $117.48 [case price, 750 ml bottles] (regular price $131.88)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Beef Stroganoff

This is another favorite comfort food in the Gruggen household. The recipe first appeared in 1861 in Elena Molokhovet's cookbook. Back then, in 19th century Russia, it was known as Beef Stroganov. In it's early days it was made with just beef, mustard, bouillon and finished with a small dollop of sour cream.

Beef Stroganoff became a worldwide sensation and you will find variations of it in every cuisine. In Japan it is served over white rice, while in Russia it is served over potato straws. Iranians also serve it over potato straws, but use whipping cream to make the sauce. In Brazil it is made with chicken and is called fricassee. In Nordic countries it is made with sausage and is called makkarastroganoff.

An important preparation note: we are going to pre-mix the sour cream before we add it to the dish as sour cream will curdle if added directly to hot liquid. I recommend that you serve this dish over buttered dumpling egg noodles, but also consider rice, warmed spinach or wilted arugula. This recipe serves 4.

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
12 ounces small white button mushrooms, halved
1 pound beef tenderloin, cut into 1/2 inch long, 1/8 inch wide strips
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 cup beef broth
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup sour cream
16 ounces egg noodles, cooked, drained and tossed with 2 tablespoons melted butter


  1. Put sliced tenderloin in a bowl. Add soy sauce. Toss, cover with plastic wrap and marinate for 15 minutes to 1 hour.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering, but not smoking, about 2 minutes; swirl to coat pan. Add mushrooms and cook over high heat without stirring for 30 seconds; season with salt and pepper and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are lightly browned, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer to medium bowl.
  3. Return skillet to high heat, add remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil; swirl to coat pan. Place tenderloin strips in skillet. Using tongs, spread the meat into single layer, making sure that strips do not touch, and cook without turning until well-browned on first side, 2 minutes. Turn strips and cook on second side until well-browned, about 1 minute longer. Season with salt and pepper to taste and transfer to bowl with mushrooms. 
  4.  Add beef broth to skillet, scraping up browned bits on pan bottom with wooden spoon; simmer until broth is reduced to 1/4 cup, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer broth to bowl with mushrooms and beef, scraping skillet clean with rubber spatula.
  5. Return skillet to medium-low heat and add butter; when butter foams, add onion, tomato paste, and brown sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is lightly browned and softened, about 6 minutes; stir in flour until incorporated. Gradually whisk in chicken broth and wine; increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil, whisking occasionally, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes. Whisk liquid from mushrooms and beef into sauce and simmer to incorporate. Stir about 1/2 cup of hot sauce into sour cream, then stir mixture back into sauce. Add mushrooms and beef; heat to warm through, about 1 minute. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper and serve over buttered egg noodles.

Wine pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Merlot

Monday, September 26, 2011

Beef Jerky

A year ago at this time, my fellow CrossFitters and I attended a seminar hosted by the famous Food Nazis, Whole 9. While I did pick up some very useful knowledge, I was mostly horrified by their cult-like philosophy on how we all should eat. Think Jim Jones and his attractive assistant handing out cups of Paleo Kool-Aid. While no one was going to die that day, all followers would be condemned to a life of terminal food monotony. No pasta. No bread. No beer. No wine. Every meal a depressing descent into the yawning abyss of boredom.

I did, however, pick up useful information on how to properly stoke the furnace for my noon CrossFit workouts. The workouts at CrossFit can be really tough, especially those metcon nasties. I'm up before 6am each day and my first meal is at 6:15am. That meal consists of 2 strips of bacon, 2-3 servings of fruit and lots of water. Then it's off for my morning walk with my wife and dog. At 10am, it's time for meal #2. Following the Whole 9 regimen, I eat a salad, concentrated protein and fat in the form of a handful of nuts. And a lot more water.

The concentrated protein that Whole 9 recommends is beef jerky. But it has to be healthy beef sodium nitrites, no preservatives and no artificial ingredients. If you've ever shopped beef jerky, that's all but impossible to find. In fact, I could only find it at Whole Foods and you needed a second mortgage in order to buy it. But all that just changed in the last month.

Costco has always carried Oberto Beef Jerky, but it had all the bad stuff in it. But I am happy to report that Oberto just reformulated their beef jerky and all the bad stuff is gone. The new Oberto beef jerky is made from steak and it's all natural with no nitrites, no preservatives and no artificial ingredients. It's just pure beef jerky that will make the Food Nazis happy! Best of all, no second mortgage needed. Costco bundles two, nine ounce packs together for just $14.49. It's great stuff and you will be happy to have it in your pantry...and in your belly when it's time for the CrossFit Workout Of the Day.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Roasted Garlic

I was first introduced to roasted garlic in the spring of 1988. I was handling the advertising for the Krystal hamburger chain. They were headquartered in one of the the most beautiful southern cities, Chattanooga, TN. Ted Murphy was the Executive Vice President of Marketing and we were out for dinner. He had selected an old inn located just outside of the city.

We were having a couple of beers in the bar and he asked me if I had ever tried roasted garlic. I had not, so he ordered up two roasted garlic appetizers with the promise that I would love every bite but stink for three days. He was right on both counts.

The roasted garlic was mellow and had a delicious nutty flavor...not at all what I expected given my experience with raw garlic. As an appetizer, it came in a small, white ceramic bowl, drizzled with olive oil, accompanied by toasted French bread. You'd scoop out a clove or two, spread it on the toast like butter and have at it. It was indescribably delicious and I became instantly addicted.

That was the very first time I saw it as an appetizer. The second time was when I was dating Judy, who would later become my bride. We were having dinner in 1992 at a restaurant in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis, which was just behind our office building. (We met in the elevator of Butler Square, where we both worked. To clarify, we actually worked in the building, not the elevator.) The restaurant was Chez Bananas and they, too, had it as an appetizer. She devoured it as eagerly as I, so I knew at the very least I had a partner in stink.

So I have been roasting heads of garlic for years. I serve them as appetizers, as side dishes, as the main ingredient in garlic mashed potatoes...I even have a recipe for roasted garlic baby back ribs. But I'll save that for a later post.

This recipe works for a single head of garlic or a dozen...or anything in between. I'm giving you the recipe to make appetizers for four. Scale the recipe as you see fit.

4 heads of garlic
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Aluminum foil


  1. Preheat oven to 425º.
  2. Slice the top quarter off each head of garlic (see above photo).
  3. Place garlic heads on large piece of foil, sliced side up. Drizzle each head with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle each with Kosher salt.
  4. Fold foil over so that garlic heads are completely enclosed.
  5. Place foil on middle rack of oven and cook for 1 hour.
  6. Remove packet from oven, remove foil and serve roasted garlic heads with toasted French bread.
Wine pairing: Pinot Noir

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Beef Barley Vegetable Soup

This is another of my fall favorites. Hearty, delicious and a very healthy meal comprised of beef, vegetables and whole grain barley. To make this meal extra special, you'll need to make yourself a batch of Double Rich Beef Stock. It's easy to just takes a little time. Go here for the recipe:

You won't need many ingredients. The flavor of the stock is so incredible that it doesn't take much to make this soup a perfect 10. We are going to use the left-over beef from making the stock, so it's just a few veggies, the barley and some additional seasonings. I always present this meal accompanied by a loaf of warm artisan bread (roasted garlic or Kalamata olive ciabatta are my favorites). It is a mortal sin to serve soup without bread for dunking. (Do you wish to fry in the skillet of Hades?) This recipe serves 4, with a little bit left over for lunch the next day.

1 batch double rich beef stock (see link above)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium celery ribs, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds of cubed beef shank meat ( left over from stock, see link above)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup pearl barley
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper


  1. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven. When oil is shimmering, add onion and celery. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until vegetables are softened.
  2. Add carrots, double rich beef stock, beef, Worcestershire sauce and barley. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Cover and let soup simmer for one hour.
  3. Taste soup, adjust seasonings with salt and pepper, divide among serving bowls and serve.
Wine pairing: Syrah, Merlot or Pinot Noir

Monday, September 19, 2011

Double Rich Beef Stock

It's September and that means it's time to start cooking soup. Beef Barley Vegetable Soup is one of my very favorites. It's a very healthy meal:  just beef, veggies and whole grain barley. The foundation of great soup is a great stock. Greatness for me means a rich, deep beef stock that coats the tongue with an awesome, savory flavor. The stock should be a meal in itself.

I've tried making soup with store-bought stock and I've tried making soup with stock from scratch. While the latter came closest, it still did not do it for me. I lusted for something bigger...something that knocked it out of the park. And then I tried an experiment just for kicks: I made beef stock from scratch by replacing water with store-bought beef stock. Bingo! Beef stock made with beef stock. There was that incredibly rich beef flavor I was looking for. Excessive...yes. But let us not forget that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

I firmly believe you need the very best ingredients for a great end result. Not all store-bought beef stock is equal. I recommend you use Rachael Ray Stock-In-A-Box for the beef stock. It's rich, thick and tastes like it was made from steak. Really, good steak. 

So let's get started with how to make double rich beef stock and in a few days I will post my recipe for Beef Barley Vegetable Soup.

2 tablespoons olive oil
5 pounds of beef shanks
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup red wine
2 quarts of store-bought beef stock (Rachael Ray preferred)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to large bowl. 
  2. Brown meat and bones on all sides in 3 or 4 batches, about 5 minutes per batch, adding remaining oil to pot as necessary; do not overcrowd pot. Transfer browned meat and bones to bowl with onion.
  3. Add wine to empty pot; cook, scraping up browned bits with wooden spoon, until wine is reduced to about 3 tablespoons, about 2 minutes. Return browned beef and onion to pot, reduce heat to low, cover, and sweat until meat releases juices, about 20 minutes. 
  4. Increase heat to high, add beef stock, salt, and bay leaves; bring to boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer slowly until meat is tender and stock is flavorful, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Strain, discard onion and bay leaves. Remove meat from bone and discard bones. Cut meat into 3/4" cubes and reserve.
  5. Refrigerate stock in an airtight container.
  6. Before using, defat stock (after stock has been refrigerated, the fat hardens on the surface and is very easy to remove with a spoon). 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Panko Breaded Shrimp

Welcome to this week's edition of  The Cheater's Beat. If you have ever made Panko Breaded Shrimp from scratch, you, too, would embrace cheating. I've made this dish from scratch and it made me want to pull the hair from my head and hurl monkeys from my butt.

First, you need a surgeon's hands to butterfly the shrimp. Then you need a flour dip, an egg bath and a roll in the Panko bread crumbs. Then you let them air-dry on a cooling rack before you fry them, but only fry a few at a time in order to maintain a deep-frying oil temperature of 350º throughout the process. By the time you are done, your children will have celebrated 2 birthdays each and your kitchen will look like you were cooking during the last days of Pompeii.

Costco has allowed me to enjoy this dish with absolutely none of the hassle. Head over to the freezer section and you will find Kirkland Panko Breaded Shrimp. A 2.5 pound box will set you back $19.99, or roughly $7.99 per pound. There are 40-50 shrimp in the box, enough to make 8-10 entree servings...or a bucketload of appetizers for a large crowd. If there are just 2 of you at home, take out 10 shrimp and put the rest back in the freezer for future meals. And the beauty is, you just BAKE them in your oven. As in no prep work. Zip. Zero. Nada.

And these shrimp are absolutely delicious. A nice light, Japanese Panko crust on the outside and really succulent, tender shrimp on the inside. The box recommends that you cook them for just 14 minutes at 425º, flipping them at the 6 minute mark. I like my shrimp really crisp, so I cook them at the same temp for 18 minutes, flipping them at the 9 minute mark and then I let them rest on paper towels for 2 minutes before I serve them. That last step reduces the oil and really lets the Panko crumbs crisp up.

To cheat, or not to cheat, that is the question. I'll opt for the former, which also allows me to sit and have a nice glass of wine while dinner cooks.

Wine pairing: Riesling,  a fruity Pinot Grigio or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pot Roast

If there's one meal that says "fall" to me, it's pot roast. This is the ultimate comfort food. I've tried a zillion different recipes for it, but nothing beats the recipe I am going to share with you here. This recipe will give you a mouth-watering, beautifully moist pot roast every, single time.

Pot roast can't be hurried. You have to go nice and slow, braising the meat so that the collagen melts and the meat remains moist. We're going to cook it in both beef and chicken broth with a generous helping of vegetables for really rich flavor.

This is on the menu for Saturday night, mainly so that I have the time to manage the 4 hours of cooking time. I always serve this with buttered, dumpling egg noodles, but a lot of people like mashed potatoes with their pot roast. This recipe is a variation of one from my cooking bible, Cook's Illustrated, and serves 6 to 8 people. If you don't want to hassle with making your own sauce, skip step #3 and see my note at the bottom of this blog.

1 chuck-eye roast, about 31/2 to 4 pounds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped medium
1 large rib of celery, chopped medium
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
1 3/4 cup beef broth
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/4 cup dry red wine
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper


  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Thoroughly pat roast dry with paper towels; sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat oil in large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Brown roast thoroughly on all sides, reducing heat if fat begins to smoke, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer roast to large plate; set aside. Reduce heat to medium; add onion, carrot, and celery to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and sugar; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 1 cup of chicken broth, 1 cup of beef broth and thyme, scraping bottom of pan with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Return roast and any accumulated juices to pot; add enough additional broth to come halfway up sides of roast. Bring liquid to simmer over medium heat, then place large piece of foil over pot and cover tightly with lid; transfer pot to oven. Cook, flipping roast over every 60 minutes, for 4 hours.
  3. Transfer roast to carving board; tent with foil to keep warm. Allow liquid in pot to settle about 5 minutes, then use wide spoon to skim fat off surface; discard thyme sprig and vegetables. Boil over high heat until reduced to about 1 1/2 cups, about 8 minutes. Add red wine and reduce again to 1 1/2 cups, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 
  4. Using chef’s or carving knife, cut meat against the grain into 1/2-inch-thick slices, or pull apart into large pieces; transfer meat to serving plates with buttered, dumpling egg noodles and pour about a 1/4 cup of sauce over each serving.
Wine pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Pinot Noir

Note on Sauce: Making the sauce at the end can be time consuming and a bit of a hassle, especially if you have company. When I don't want to hassle with making the sauce from scratch, I will just use a high- end, packaged gravy sauce. My favorite is Knorr Classic Brown Gravy Mix from Germany. I can make it during the final minutes of cooking the pot roast. When I pull the roast out of the oven, the gravy is ready and I can just divide up the meat and serve. Cheating? But, of course. But, very efficient and easy.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Shrimp Scampi

I love this dish. I love it because of the clean, simple flavors. Butter, garlic, lemon and plump, wonderful shrimp. And I love that from start to finish, this dish only takes 10 minutes.

This recipe is from Cook's Illustrated. It varies from every other shrimp scampi  recipe by only one ingredient...Cayenne pepper. That one little ingredient gives this recipe a nice little kick. This serves four and I typically serve it with roasted asparagus and rice pilaf.

20 raw shrimp (21-25 per pound)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon dry vermouth
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper


  1. Heat 12-inch skillet over high heat until hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon oil and swirl to coat bottom of pan. Add shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until just opaque, about 1 minute; transfer to medium bowl. 
  2. Return empty skillet to medium-low heat; melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Off heat, add lemon juice and vermouth. Whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons butter; add parsley and cayenne, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Return shrimp and accumulated juices to skillet. Toss to combine; serve immediately. 
Wine pairing: A nice, oaky Chardonnay

Happy wedding day to my goddaughter, Alison Hirtz!

Romaine Lettuce and Vlasic Pickles

Yesterday was shopping day and we made our usual trip to Costco and Cub. Sadly, Costco was no longer selling their Garlic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The season is over. But I did manage to buy 30 bottles of the stuff over the summer, so I'm hoping that will tide me over until next June.

Every Friday I usually buy romaine lettuce at Costco. It is such fabulous lettuce and they always have it at Costco...and I just take it for granted. So I wanted to pause for a minute to remind my readers what a great deal it is. If you go to Cub, Byerly's or Lunds, you'll get three tiny heads of romaine with a lot of the thick green leaves on the outside for $3.99. At Costco, you get  six heads of romaine that contain only the best part, the heart, for just $4.29. For those of you without calculators, that's a per head cost of $1.33 versus 71¢.

The lettuce is organic, grown by Earthbound Farms in San Juan Bautista, CA. When they pick the lettuce, they strip the thick green leaves off right in the field and throw them on the ground to enrich the soil. This is great lettuce at a great price! Plus, there is an added bonus. Because the Costco romaine is just the hearts, which have firm young leaves, there is a much longer shelf life compared to the romaine with the thick green leaves. In some instances I've been able to get almost two weeks of shelf life from the Earthbound Farm lettuce.

I'm a huge pickle fan and I typically favor the homemade pickles one finds at farmers markets. Yesterday I found these pickles in the fresh produce section of Cub. They caught my eye because they are in jars that make them look homemade. The ones I bought were zesty garlic and they were labeled "Farmer's Garden" by Vlasic. I'm here to tell you that these are some of the finest pickles I have ever tasted. If you can find them at your grocery store, buy them! And eat as many as you want for each pickle contains zero calories. Yes, that's

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Homemade Tacos

I still feel guilty about the cheater meatball recipe, so I'm trying to allay that guilt by tossing in another homemade recipe. Go to your pantry and chuck those Old El Paso Taco seasoning packets. We are going to build these tacos from scratch.

First, a word about a key ingredient, oregano. There are two types of oregano, Turkish and Mexican. Turkish oregano is used in Mediterranean dishes like Italian sauces, Greek salads and Turkish kebobs. It has a sweet, strong flavor. What you want for this recipe is Mexican oregano. It is stronger and less sweet and goes perfect with spicy, hot, cumin-flavored dishes of Mexico. Any cook worth their weight will have both types in their pantry. If you don't have both, you can buy them here: .

Also, I like to make my tacos with organic ground bison. Organic bison meat has less fat (typically 10% or less) and is always drug and hormone free. If ground bison is not available, use organic ground beef.

This recipe is from my cooking bible, Cook's Illustrated and it serves four. If you'd like to subscribe, go here: .

Taco Filling Ingredients
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, well chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound organic ground bison
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Shells and Toppings
8 taco shells
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 small tomatoes, well chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
1 avocado, diced medium
1 small onion, well chopped
4 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
Tabasco Sauce


  1. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. 
  2. Add garlic, spices, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. 
  3. Add ground beef and cook, breaking meat up with wooden spoon and scraping pan bottom to prevent scorching, until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. 
  4. Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, brown sugar, and vinegar; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently and breaking meat up so that no chunks remain, until liquid has reduced and thickened (mixture should not be completely dry), about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
  5. Using wide, shallow spoon, divide filling evenly among taco shells; place two tacos on individual plates. Serve immediately, passing toppings separately.

Wine pairing: Zinfandel or Sauvignon Blanc, but I prefer El Pacifico Mexican beer with my tacos.

If you want to make your own home-fried taco shells, follow the instructions below. The taco shells can be fried before you make the filling and rewarmed in a 200-degree oven for about 10 minutes before serving.

3/4 cup corn oil
8 corn tortillas (6 inch)


  1. Heat oil in 8-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat to 350 degrees, about 5 minutes (oil should bubble when small piece of tortilla is dropped in; tortilla piece should rise to surface in 2 seconds and be light golden brown in about 1 1/2 minutes). Meanwhile, line rimmed baking sheet with double thickness of paper towels.
  2. Using tongs to hold tortilla, slip half of tortilla into hot oil. With metal spatula in other hand, keep half of tortilla submerged in oil. Fry until just set, but not brown, about 30 seconds.
  3. Flip tortilla; hold tortilla open about 2 inches while keeping bottom submerged in oil. Fry until golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes. Flip again and fry other side until golden brown, about 30 seconds.
  4. Transfer shell upside down to prepared baking sheet to drain. Repeat with remaining tortillas, adjusting heat as necessary to keep oil between 350 and 375 degrees.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Homemade Sloppy Joes

The change of seasons has been an abrupt one this Labor Day weekend in Minnesota. It was 46º on this morning's walk around Normandale Lake. The geese were moving at dawn and steam hung tight over the water due to the difference in water and air temperature....the water being much warmer than the air. We had our first fire of the season last night and the smell of burning oak was spectacular. And I already ordered and received my new winter trail shoes (Montrail AT Plus GTX). maybe I'm rushing it.

Time for some more fall fare. Yesterday we learned how to make cheater meatballs using Wee Willy's Spicy Italian Meatball Mix. Today we are going to do the opposite...we are going to make Sloppy Joes from scratch. This is a recipe I picked up from "Taste of Home" back in April of 1999. I started using this recipe when Sean was 4 and Patrick was 2. Today they are 16 and 14 respectively and will be in the same school tomorrow (Bloomington Jefferson High School) for the first time since grade school. So boys, these Joes are for you! This recipe serves 8-10 people.

2 pounds ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 celery ribs, chopped
1/4 cup chopped green pepper
1 2/3 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon A1 steak sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon paprika
8-10 hamburger buns, split, buttered and toasted

  1. In a Dutch oven over medium high heat, cook beef, onion, celery and green pepper until meat is no longer pink and the vegetables are tender. Drain excess fat.
  2. Add the next 10 ingredients (everything but the buns), mix well. Simmer on low, uncovered, for 35-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. To serve, spoon 1/2 cup of sloppy joe mixture onto each bun.
Wine pairing: Zinfandel or Syrah

Happy 59th to Jeff Pinkham!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Spaghetti and Meatballs

According to our local weatherman, meteorological fall starts on September 1st. Mother nature must have been listening as it was 95º last Thursday and it was a windy 56º on this morning's walk.  I always welcome the change in the weather as I'm able to shift gears and start putting some heartier meals on the table.

Tonight we are having spaghetti and meatballs. This meal has been a favorite of mine since I was a little kid. I can vividly remember being in the company of my grandfather, Frank J. Dunleavy, private detective extraordinaire, and he would take me down to 8th and Hennepin to have lunch at Cafe di Napoli. The restaurant opened in 1938 and made it all the way to 2005 before it closed.

Cafe di Napoli wasn't a gourmet experience, but it offered really good Italian food. My grandfather preferred the room with the giant Mount Vesuvius mural on the wall. I'd order my favorite dish, spaghetti and meatballs, and he would order his favorite dish, Crown Royal, rocks.

I am in possession of the actual Cafe di Napoli recipe for their meatballs. But I'm not going to share it with you as I found something I like a whole lot better. But I will come clean right now. When it comes to making meatballs, I am a bona fide, Tiger Woods cheater. I don't make my meatballs from scratch. I use Wee Willy's Spicy Italian Meatball Mix. Makes the best Italian meatballs I've ever tasted, bar none. You can get it here: . I buy a dozen bottles at a time to make sure I always have some in my pantry.

Making the meatballs is very easy. Letting them cool after cooking helps to make them nice and dense so that they do not fall apart during their extended simmer in the sauce. And the sauce takes on an extra richness thanks to the flavor from our roasted meatballs. This recipe serves six.

Ingredients for the Meatballs
1 pound mild Italian sausage
1 pound ground beef
1, 4.4 ounce jar of Wee Willy's Spicy Italian Meatball Mix
1 cup of water

Ingredients for the Spaghetti and Sauce
56 ounces of your favorite tomato sauce*
16 ounces spaghetti (Garofalo preferred)
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all meatball ingredients. Mix thoroughly by hand to create a large ball.
  3. Divide ball in half and roll into two smaller balls. Keep dividing subsequent balls in half until you have 16 meatballs.
  4. Put meatballs on a foil-lined tray and place in oven. Cook for 45 minutes. Remove and let cool.
  5. Put meatballs in a large pot or Dutch oven and cover with the 56 ounces of tomato sauce. Simmer for 45 minutes.
  6. Fill a large pot with water, add salt and bring to a boil. Cook pasta for one minute less than package instructions. Drain, add olive oil and toss to coat noodles.
  7. Divide spaghetti among serving plates. Top each helping of spaghetti serving with 2 meatballs, a generous ladle or two of tomato sauce and a quarter cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Serve.
Wine pairing: Nebbiolo, Sangiovese or Zinfandel

*Look, I already admitted that I'm a cheater...using a store-bought meatball mix. If you follow this recipe, you will become a cheater, too. If you feel bad about that, you can do penance by making a double recipe of Marcella Hazan's World Famous Red Sauce from scratch for this meal: . If you don't feel bad about cheating, then just grab your favorite store-bought sauce and go all in. We've all got a little Tiger in us.

P.S. Happy 59th birthday to Steve Hirtz!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Grilled Thai Steak Salad

This past week I had Mark and Mary Enger over for dinner, along with Steve and Taffy Hirtz. Mark and I met in the 3rd grade and have been friends ever since...52 years and counting. Mark lives in Portland, OR now and works for Kaiser Permanente. I'm a huge fan of Pinot Noir, especially the the ones from the Williamette Valley in Oregon. So this became a topic of conversation at our dinner.

I was horrified to find out that all these years I have been mispronouncing Williamette and Oregon. I had always pronounced Williamette as "Will yum ette". It's actually pronounced "Will am ette". And the Minnesotan in me always pronounced Oregon as "Or a gun". Imagine my horror when I found out the natives simply pronounce it as "Or gun". So after 59 years of pronouncing them both wrong, I am now able to speak like an Oregonian.

For our dinner that night, I used a Frankenrecipe. I took parts of different recipes and sewed them together. I used Sherlyne Hutchinson's marinade from" Grilled Thai New York Strip Steaks" and combined it with Amanda Hesser's salad dressing from "Beef Salad with Asian Dressing". It was delicious. Actually, beyond delicious. It was like climbing on a little Thai raft and paddling right up next to fantastic. This recipe serves 4.

Ingredients for the Steak and Marinade
1 flank steak (1 1/2 -2 pounds)
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon hot chili oil
10 cloves garlic, crushed

Ingredients for the Salad Dressing
3 tablespoons nam pla (Asian fish sauce)
1/4 cup peanut oil
2 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely minced

Ingredients for the Salad
10 ounces shredded red cabbage
10 ounces grated carrot
3 bunches green onions, cut in 1/2" pieces
1 bunch mint leaves, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped


  1. Put flank steak in a ZipLoc bag. Combine marinade ingredients in small bowl and stir to mix well. Pour over steak, seal bag and refrigerate for 6 hours.
  2. Prepare a charcoal fire for direct cooking over high heat.
  3. In a small bowl, combine salad dressing ingredients. Stir to mix well.
  4. Combine salad ingredients in a large salad bowl.
  5. When coals are hot, remove flank steak from ZipLoc bag and pat dry with paper towels. Place steak over coals, cover the grill and cook for 12 minutes (6 minutes per side). When cooked, remove steak from grill, tent with foil and let steak rest for 5 minutes.
  6. Stir dressing and add to salad ingredients in salad bowl. Toss and divide among serving plates.
  7. Slice steak across the grain in 1/2" strips. Place 3 or 4 slices on top of each salad plate and serve.
Wine pairing: Zinfandel