Sunday, February 26, 2012

Best Buys at Surdyk's Spring Wine Sale

It's that time of year again. Surdyk's is having their spring wine sale. Every time a sale rolls out, I have detailed what I believe are the best buys. After doing this for many sales, I have found not a whole lot changes. Same old same old. Groundhog Day for fermented grapes.

So if you are looking to stock up on everyday wine, use last fall's sale as your guide. You can find my recommendations here:

In the interest of ensuring I do not die of boredom, I decided to present myself with a challenge. The challenge is this: I am going to throw a dinner party for ten people...a mix of friends and business associates. I am going to make an extraordinary dinner for these ten people. I need to buy a really good wine to go with the dinner, but because these people drink wine like they each have a hollow leg, I need to spend less than $20 a bottle.

So that is my challenge. Using the Surdyk's sale book, find the best dinner wine in each category for under $20. Here are the results:

  • ZINFANDEL: Buehler Napa. Regular price $24.99. On sale for $15.99.
  • CHARDONNAY: Sonoma Cutrer "Sonoma Coast". Regular price $25.99. On sale for $18.99.
  • CABERNET SAUVIGNON: Beringer "Knight's Valley". Regular price $27.99. On sale for $17.99.
  • SAUVIGNON BLANC: Kim Crawford. Regular price $17.99.  On sale for $10.99.
  • PINOT NOIR: Belle Glos "Meiomi". Regular price $29.99. On sale for $19.99.
  • SHIRAZ: Mitolo "The Jester". Regular price $21.99. On sale for $14.99.
  • MALBEC: Catena. Regular price $24.99. On sale for $17.99.
  • CHIANTI: Rocca della Macie Riserva. Regular price $28.99. On sale for $18.99.
  • MERLOT: Trefethen. Regular price $38.99. On sale for $19.99.
  • WHITE BLEND: Conundrum. Regular price $28.99. On sale for $18.99.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pan-Seared New York Strip and Arugula Salad

This is an extraordinary entree salad. It's healthy (completely Paleo), delicious and you can prepare the entire dish in less than 30 minutes (less than an hour if you add in pan heating time). It's a wonderful mix of flavors: perfectly cooked slices of steak with the peppery arugula, tangy cherry tomatoes...all complemented by a bigger-than-life mustard vinaigrette. This is no wimpy salad. Welcome to the bold and the beautiful.

This recipe is from Food and Wine Magazine. While their recipe calls for grilled steak, we are going to pan-sear ours. Pan-searing puts that incredibly crunchy, steakhouse crust on the outside of your steak...something you will never be able to do with a grill. Pan-searing is the preferred method of cooking steaks in the Gruggen household. If you were ever to do a side-by-side taste test of a pan-seared steak and grilled steak, I firmly believe you would choose the pan-seared every time. It's the closest you can come to a Morton's, Capital Grille or Smith & Wollensky in your home kitchen.

An hour before you start preparing the meal, take the steaks out of the fridge so that they come to room temperature before you toss them in the pan. For the cooking pan, I recommend cast iron (see note at the bottom of this blog). Second choice would be a steel pan... non-stick is strictly forbidden under any circumstances. When the steaks are searing on the stove top, expect have your fan on. This recipe serves 4 to 6, depending on how big you want the salads to be (it yields 4 really big salads for 4 people).

Ingredients for the Steak
3 New York strip sirloin steaks, 1 1/2 inches thick
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Ingredients for the Vinaigrette
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons drained capers
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients for the Salad
8 to 10 ounces arugula leaves
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
Kosher salt


  1. Pre-heat oven to 450º (rack should be in the center) and place empty cooking pan on center rack.
  2. While pan is heating, prepare vinaigrette. Combine all five ingredients, whisk and set aside.
  3. Rub olive oil on the top of the steaks. Sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.
  4. After pan has heated for 30 minutes at 450º, turn a burner on top of stove to high. Using an oven mitt, remove pan from oven and place on burner. Sprinkle a little kosher salt in pan. Let it heat for five minutes.
  5. Drop steaks, seasoned side down onto pan. Make sure steaks do not touch each other. Do not move steaks once they hit the pan.
  6. Sear for exactly 5 minutes. While side 1 is searing, sprinkle exposed tops of steaks with olive oil, salt and pepper.
  7. After 5 minutes, flip the steaks in the pan and place the pan in the oven. Follow these times exactly:  for medium rare, remove pan after 5 minutes; for medium remove after 7 minutes.
  8. Remove the steaks from the pan, place them on a cutting board and tent with foil. Let them rest 5 minutes.
  9. Divide arugula and cherry tomatoes between serving plates. Sprinkle each with a little Kosher salt.
  10. Slice steak on the diagonal and divide among serving plates.
  11. Whisk vinaigrette and drizzle over each plate of steak and salad, then serve.

Wine pairing:  A big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon

Here's a primer on the best pan for pan-searing:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Weapon of Choice: Pots and Pans

To be a good cook, you have to have the right tools. I consider my knives to be my most important tools ( ). Number two on my list of critical tools would be pots and pans. And for this I have a clear favorite: All Clad.

The most important attribute is for a pot or pan to heat evenly. If it doesn't do that well, it's a failure. All Clad pots and pans achieve even heating through tri-ply construction. The center layer is made of aluminum, which is an excellent conductor of heat but highly reactive to acidic foods. The top and bottom layers are typically made of stainless steel. Stainless steel is non-reactive to acidic foods and while less conductive than aluminum, it helps to modulate the heat. The top of the All Clad line (Cop-R-Chef) uses stainless steel for the inside, an aluminum center and then copper on the outside...copper being a better conductor of heat than stainless steel.

When you pick up an All Clad product, you can just feel the quality. It has a great feel in the hand and each piece is perfectly balanced. The lids all seat tightly and do a fabulous job of holding the heat in. The pans feature steel handles that stay cool to the touch during cooking.

All Clad is pricey, but very well worth the money. They last a lifetime....all of my pots and pans are over 25 years old and are just as good as the day I bought them. If you are just starting out, I would recommend you get three pieces as your foundation....a 10" fry pan,  a 4-quart sauce pan and a Dutch oven. These three pieces will cover about 90% of your needs and you can add on from there. If you'd like to check out All Clad products, Williams Sonoma has a pretty good selection in their stores. If you are ready to buy, has some excellent pricing on All Clad products.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Amavi Syrah

With famous brothers like Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir stealing all of the headlines, one does not hear much about Syrah. I've always been a big fan of Syrah for it's earthy and meaty flavors. But the general public has not gotten on the bandwagon, which helps to keep demand and therefore, pricing, low.

Amavi Syrah is from the Walla Walla Valley in Washington. I'm currently drinking the 2008 vintage and it is a fabulous wine for only $20. Wine Spectator gave it 92 points...which makes that $20 price point an incredible bargain.

This wine is 100% Syrah and has been aged in French oak barrels. Pour it in a glass and you'll smell leather and spice. On the tongue, there's no mistaking dark red and blue fruit flavors, a bit of earthiness and and a subtle hint of licorice. This is a very big red for very little money. Grab a bottle and pour yourself a glass. After your first sip, I think you will agree with me that something tasting this good should have set you back a half a Benjamin.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pho Bo

Pho Bo, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Few meals generate the love in the Gruggen household like Pho Bo. While Pho Bo (pronounced "Fuh Bow") is also known as Hanoi Beef Noodle Soup, it is really more like a salad over which is ladled the world's most incredible broth.

Pho is a Vietnamese soup that originated in Hanoi in the 1920's and is typically made with beef (Pho Bo) or chicken (Pho Ga).While it was a well-kept secret for decades, Pho exploded in popularity in the 70's as many refugees fled Vietnam after the victory of the North Vietnamese. As these refugees moved to Paris, western Canada, Texas, Florida and California, they brought their Pho recipes with them and it caught on like wildfire. 

There are hundreds of different recipes for Pho. Indeed, there are dedicated Pho restaurants that offer all of the variations on their menus. I have tried many of them and they are all excellent. The one I am going to share with you today is one I have modified from Gourmet Magazine. I love this recipe for two reasons. First, it is incredibly simple and can be prepared in a very short period of time...less than 30 minutes. Second, it is absolutely delicious. No, beyond delicious. It's a little bit of heaven.

While many Pho Bo recipes call for cooking thinly sliced sirloin in the broth, I prefer a shortcut. I go to the deli section in the grocery store and buy thinly sliced, eye-of-round roast beef. I find this advantageous for two reasons. First, the meat is already cooked so I can skip that step in my Pho Bo preparation. Secondly, a commercial slicer yields perfect, paper-thin slices of beef, which is very difficult to do freehand with a knife.

If you've ever been to a Pho restaurant, you will often find Sriracha sauce on every table. I am here to tell you do not use it with this recipe. The flavors in this broth are delicate and nuanced. To destroy these flavors with Sriracha is a sin of the greatest magnitude. You will be struck dead by lightning in your very kitchen and your surviving family members will wander the earth, naked, damned for all eternity. 

This recipe serves four, but that it is not enough to satisfy the appetites of our two, teenage boys. They require seconds, so if your situation is like mine, you might want to up the ingredient list by 50%. But be advised, this soup is all about the freshest ingredients and must be consumed immediately. It will not keep under any circumstances. Serve this soup in big, wide bowls.

Ingredients for the Broth
6 cups beef broth
2 (1/4 inch thick) slices of ginger 
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup Asian Fish Sauce (Red Boat preferred*)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Ingredients for the Soup
12 ounces thinly sliced, cooked roast beef (eye-of-round preferred), cut into 1/2 inch wide strips
8 ounces dried, flat rice noodles
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
1/2 cup  fresh minced scallions
1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs, chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1 jalapeño pepper, sliced very thin
Lime wedges

  1. Make the broth: in a 2 quart saucepan, bring broth, ginger, star anise and cinnamon to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove ginger, star anise and cinnamon stick. Add ground pepper and fish sauce. Cover and keep over low flame until ready to serve.
  2. Place rice noodles in a large bowl. Bring 8 cups of water to a boil and then pour water over noodles. Let noodles soak until softened, about 10 minutes. 
  3. Drain noodles and divide among 4 serving bowls. Divide beef among serving bowls. Then divide sprouts, scallions, cilantro, mint, basil and jalapeño among serving bowls.
  4. Ladle broth into each of the 4 bowls and then serve with lime wedges (for squeezing into the soup).

Wine pairing: Domestic Sauvignon Blanc 

Surviving family members of Pho Bo Sriracha users

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ropa Vieja

Ropa vieja is Spanish for "old clothes". That is also the name of this wonderful dish which originated in the Canary Islands. The story behind the name is about a very poor man whose relatives were coming to visit him for a family dinner. The man was so poor that he could not afford to buy enough food for the dinner. To remedy the situation, he went into his closet and gathered some of his old clothes and imbued them with his love. When he cooked his old clothes, his love for his family turned them into a wonderful beef stew.

This recipe is the Cuban version of Ropa Vieja. It is one of the most popular dishes in's basically a spicy stew made of shredded flank steak in a tomato sauce base. It is a wonderful blend of flavors: bell pepper, garlic, onion, cumin, jalapeño, tomato, flank steak and the crowning glory at the end...chopped pimiento-stuffed Spanish olives. It's meant to be served with white or yellow rice (to offset the heat)...but you can skip the rice if you want to go Paleo.

This recipe is very easy as you are basically going to toss all of the ingredients in a slow cooker. They'll cook for 8 hours at which point you shred the beef and mix it back into the sauce while adding the olives. If you like your food with a little heat (as I do), do not discard the seeds from the jalapeños...mix them right into the sauce. If you are not a fan of hot food, toss the jalapeño seeds when you are slicing the peppers.

This recipe from Food Network Magazine serves 8 people. If you are serving 4, just cut the recipe in half. While you could feasibly pair it with Sauvignon Blanc or Zinfandel, I strongly encourage you to pair it with beer...a good Mexican beer to be exact. I like a pale, light-bodied lager with Ropa Vieja. El Pacifico is my favorite.

3 pounds flank steak
28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
6 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 medium jalapeño peppers, sliced*
3 bell peppers, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
6 tablespoons chopped, pimiento-stuffed Spanish green olives plus 2 tablespoons of brine from the jar

*For more heat, use seeds. For less heat, discard seeds.


  1. Combine, tomatoes, ketchup, vinegar, garlic, cumin, jalapeños and salt in a slow cooker. Add steak, bell peppers and onion. Toss to coat. Cover and cook on low, undisturbed, for 8 hours.
  2. Remove steak and shred the meat with two forks (you can also slice it into long, thin pieces with a knife). Add the meat back to the sauce, then stir in the olives and olive brine. Let rest for 5 minutes.
  3. Divide among serving plates and serve.

Pairing: Ice cold beer

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Corned Beef Hash

Oh, how I love this meal. Good, old-fashioned, stick-to-the-ribs food. Great for breakfast (toss a few fried eggs on top!), lunch or dinner. It's really easy to make and always a big crowd pleaser.

When I make corned beef for dinner, I always cook up more than I need for the meal so that I have plenty left over to make this hash the next day. And it doesn't have to be corned beef...this recipe works just as well for any kind of leftover beef or pork....heck, I've even made turkey hash with Thanksgiving Day leftovers. If the meat you use is lean, add a little extra fat to the recipe in the form of extra butter or olive oil.

You can make this recipe super simple if you buy Simply Potatoes Diced Potatoes (see picture at bottom of this page). They come in 20 ounce bags and they are set to go...just open up a couple of bags and fry 'em up. If you are going to dice your own, you'll need 40 ounces of potatoes...about 4 large russet potatoes.

This recipe serves six to eight people. I recommend cooking it up in a giant cast iron skillet ( If you have leftovers, just nuke 'em in the need to re-fry them. And while this meal certainly pairs up well with Zinfandel, I would strongly recommend downing it with a nice, crisp bottle of Pilsner beer that you've cooled in a vat of ice. Yum!

16 ounces diced, cooked corned beef (cut into 1/2 inch cubes)
2 bags Simply Potatoes Diced Potatoes (40 ounces total)
1 large onion, diced
1 large red pepper, diced (core and seeds removed)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon hot sauce

  1. Melt butter in a very large skillet over medium high heat.
  2. Add diced onion and red pepper. Cook until soft (about 6-8 minutes).
  3. Add garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  4. Add the potatoes and stir. Using the back of the spatula, gently pack the potatoes into the pan and cook, undisturbed for 3 minutes.
  5. Flip the hash, lightly repack it into the pan and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Repeat the flipping process several times until the potatoes are well browned, 12 to 15 minutes.
  6. Add the corned beef, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Stir and then repack the hash into the pan. Cook for 3 minutes.
  7. Flip the hash, lightly repack it into the pan and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Repeat the flipping process several times until the corned beef is hot, about 6 to 9 minutes.
  8. Divide among serving plates and serve.

Pairing: I recommend an ice cold Pilsner lager. If you would rather have wine, choose a nice, fruity Zinfandel.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Corned Beef Alert!

It's back! After a 10 month absence, corned beef briskets are back at Costco. These briskets come from that famous Irishman, Sy Ginsberg, who creates these masterpieces in that famous Irish city, Detroit, MI.

These briskets are incredible and have the perfect ratio of fat to lean meat. They cook up better than any other brisket I have tried and the consistency from brisket to brisket is amazing. Sy has his own, proprietary pickling that I am really fond of.

If the past is my guide, these briskets will only be at Costco through the end of March. Be like Grogs and stock up now....I've already got four in the freezer. (They are in heat-sealed vacuum bags, so you can just pop them in the freezer.) At just $3.99 per pound, these are a true bargain. In a few days, I'll post my favorite Corned Beef Hash recipe ( In the meantime, there's always my traditional (and super-easy) St. Patrick's Day recipe:

1 Corned Beef Brisket (any size will do)


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Place brisket, fat side up, in a Dutch oven (large pan with a lid). Add enough water so that half of the brisket is submerged in water.
  3. Cover top of Dutch oven with foil. Place lid over foil. Place in oven and cook for 2 1/2 hours.
  4. Remove brisket from Dutch oven. Slice and serve.

See the full recipes here: