Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mushroom Crostini

Baby, it's about to be cold outside. For the whole rest of the year. Wind chills in Minnesota are expected to drop to as much as 70 below in the next few days. Being Minnesotan means you just suck it up and and hunker down.

One of the greatest gifts to Minnesota cold is The North Face Thermal Ball jacket. Just introduced, it is a remarkable piece of technology. Here's a lightweight jacket (just 11 ounces!) that provides all of the warmth of my 650-fill Spyder down jacket. Nothing short of brilliant. No longer have to walk around looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow man from Ghostbusters.

Next on my list for staying warm are Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 winter trail shoes. These babies were made for sub-zero weather and all of the hazards of snow and ice. Best thing yet is their Quickfit lacing system, making them a breeze to slide on and off.

Third on my list for staying warm is a good Cognac. Sure, you can sip it by itself, but I love mine mixed in with a really strong brew of dark roast coffee. Now that's a little bit of heaven that makes your body feel like it's being warmed by the fires of hell.

Last on my list for staying warm is rib-sticking comfort food. Pot roast....braised short name it and I'll be cooking it. But before you do, I'd suggest preparing these little umami bombs for some delicious rib-stickin appetizers. The beauty of this mushroom puree that goes on the crostini is that you don't need fancy mushrooms. Plain old white button mushrooms will do. But if you feel so inspired, mix and match mushroom types to your heart's desire. Fire up that oven. Get cookin'. And stay warm. This Williams-Sonoma recipe serves 12.


For the crostini

1/2 cup olive oil
24 slices coarse country bread, each about 1/2 inch thick and 3 inches in diameter
1 garlic clove, halved

For the mushroom spread

5 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 pound fresh mushrooms of your choice, chopped
2 minced garlic cloves
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried)
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary (or 1/4 tsp dried)
1 tsp Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup, drained oil-packed sundered tomatoes, finely chopped, plus extra for garnish

  1. Preheat an oven to 350°F. To make the crostini, lightly brush olive oil on both sides of each bread slice. Arrange the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  2. Bake until the crostini are golden on the edges, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Using the cut side of the garlic, lightly rub one side over each slice of bread. Set aside. 
  3. To make the mushroom spread, heat 2 Tbs. of the olive oil in a large fry pan over medium-high heat. Add all the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, chopped parsley, thyme, rosemary, 1 tsp. salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more.
  4. Transfer the mushroom mixture to a food processor. Process until very finely chopped. With the processor running, add the remaining 3 Tbs. olive oil in a thin, steady stream, processing until the mixture is smooth and spreadable. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. 
  5. Spread each piece of bread with about 1 Tbs. of the mushroom mixture. Arrange on a platter and garnish each crostini with a sliver of sun-dried tomato.

Wine pairing: Pinot Noir

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Top Round Beef Roast

Tis the season. For family. Good cheer. Presents. And glorious holiday meals. When it comes to holiday meals, I'm an absolute fanboy of Prime Rib. And judging by the hits on my blog this week, so are my readers. In the last seven days, nearly 2,000 people have checked out my three recipes for making prime rib:

The way Costco prices their prime rib at this time of year, it is an absolute bargain...typically around $7.99 per pound. Buy the dry-aged prime rib at Lunds or Byerly's, it will set you back $26.99 per pound. Ouch. But there are other great beef roasts out there for around $4.99 per pound.

Specifically, check out any of these three beef roasts: Top Round, Eye of Round and Bottom Round. They are bargain priced and have that tremendous beef flavor that makes my mouth water. The difference is that none of these roasts have the delicious (fat) marbling found in rib roasts. So to make sure the meat is moist and at it's most flavorful, they need to be cooked medium rare. Cook them more than that and you have wasted your money.

My readers know I hate meat thermometers. I hate piercing my meat before carving. I prefer to cook by time. And so I am going to share with you Mark Bittman's absolutely foolproof method for cooking a perfectly done round beef roast. If you have an oven and can read, you are about to serve your family beef roast akin to a work of art.

There are two things you must serve with this roast. The first is real horseradish. Not a horseradish sauce, but real horseradish. The kind that unleashes every drop of mucus in your head. The second is a delicious au jus for dipping. Not just any au jus, but the very best. To me, there are iconic brands you never stray from. For Worcestershire, give me Lea and Perrins or give me death. For rib rub, only Famous Dave's will do. For au jus, only Johnny's French Dip Au Jus gets the job done. You'll find it in the condiment aisle.

One, 3-pound beef roast, top, eye or bottom round
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes


  1. Preheat oven to 500º.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil and red pepper flakes to create a paste. Rub paste all over roast. Place roast  in a roasting pan or cast iron skillet, fat-side up, and put in oven. Cook undisturbed for 15 minutes (5 minutes per pound).
  3. After 15 minutes, turn oven off. Do not open oven door. Leave roast to continue cooking, undisturbed, for 2 hours.
  4. After 2 hours, remove roast from oven. Slice and serve.

Wine pairing: Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Red-Cooked Beef Short Ribs with Daikon

Red cooking is a unique, Chinese method that brings extraordinary flavor to a dish. When using the red cooking method, meat is slowly simmered with soy sauce, sugar and aromatics like star anise and cinnamon. Unlike the lightning fast stir fry typical of Chinese dishes, red cooking is done low and slow. It's a braise in a wok, making the meal more stew-like.

Because it's a braise, you want to use a very fatty cut of meat like short ribs. If you try and use a leaner cut, your meat will be very dry and the dish a lot less flavorful. I prefer the boneless short ribs at Costco, which I bought two days ago for just $7.99 per pound. Buy your short ribs at Whole Foods and you'll be playing double that.

This is an absolutely brilliant recipe from David Tanis, City Kitchen column writer for The New York Times. Cook and prep time will run you a little under two hours...but what a wonderful way to wile away a chilly Saturday afternoon. This recipe serves four to six people.

2 pounds boneless beef short ribs or chuck, cut in 1/2-inch strips
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sherry
2 teaspoons grated ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
2 small strips orange peel
4 dry red chiles
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons potato starch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water (optional)
1 pound daikon radish, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Cilantro sprigs
1/4 cup slivered scallions          


  1. Put meat in a medium saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, skimming off any foam. Drain meat in colander, discarding liquid.
  2. Transfer meat to medium bowl and season lightly with salt. Add soy sauce, wine, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, orange peel and chiles. Mix to coat and marinate 15 minutes.
  3. Put 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add sugar and stir until beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Add marinated meat and stir-fry 2 minutes. Add 2 cups water and bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until meat is tender, 40 minutes to an hour, adding water occasionally to keep meat barely covered.
  4. To prevent meat from overcooking, remove and set aside, then bring remaining cooking liquid to a rapid simmer over high heat and reduce to intensify color and flavor. (Or thicken sauce with potato starch.) Return meat to wok and coat with reduced sauce.
  5. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a separate pan over medium-high heat. Add daikon, season with salt and pepper, and stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes.
  6. Put beef in a serving dish and arrange daikon on a platter. Drizzle both with sesame oil and garnish with cilantro sprigs and scallions. 

Wine pairing: Rombauer Zinfandel

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Steak Roulade with Horseradish Crust

It's the it's time to step up your game in the kitchen. Today's recipe, from The Food Network, let's you do that. The flavors and presentation are stunning, yet the preparation is nowhere as complex as the end result would suggest.

Also, this recipe is easy on the pocketbook. The flank steak delivers huge beef flavor while costing but a fraction per pound compared to sirloin. Most of the other ingredients are waiting in your pantry.

We're talking about 45 minutes of prep and another 55 minutes of cook time (actually, 45 minutes of cook time and 10 minutes of rest before serving). It's a spectacular entree that will knock the socks off of your guests! This recipe serves four.


For the Steak
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, halved lengthwise and seeded
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek, white and light-green parts only, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
One, 2 1/4-to-2 1/2-pound flank steak, trimmed
1/2 pound sliced provolone cheese (about 8 slices)

For the Crust
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
3 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons drained horseradish
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper


1. Prepare the stuffing for the steak: Preheat the broiler and place the peppers cut-side down on a foil-lined broiler pan. Broil until the skin is charred, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with a plate and set aside until cool enough to handle. Peel the peppers with your fingers or a paring knife. If necessary, lightly rinse to remove any remaining skin and pat dry.

2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leek and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Let cool.

3. Gently pound the steak with the flat side of a mallet or heavy skillet until 1/4 inch thick. Lay out on a cutting board with the long side facing you and season with salt and pepper. Place the roasted peppers evenly over the meat, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Top with the cheese slices, then the leek mixture. Roll the meat away from you into a tight cylinder, tucking in the filling as you roll.

4. Make the crust: Mix the breadcrumbs, rosemary, parsley, horseradish, olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste in a medium bowl until moistened. Brush the steak roll with a bit of olive oil and press the breadcrumb mixture over the top and sides. Tie the roll with twine in three or four places, making sure it's not too tight (you want the crust to stay intact).

5. Place the steak roll on a rack in a roasting pan and roast until the crust is golden and a thermometer inserted into the center registers 130 degrees for medium-rare, about 45 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 10 minutes. Carefully cut off the twine, then slice the roll crosswise into 1-inch pieces. 

Wine Pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon

Best wishes to Kathy Pinkham for a speedy recovery!!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Potato Latkes

It's been a very nice Thanksgiving, spending cherished time with friends and family. Sean was home from Iowa State and and he, Patrick and I got to enjoy the launch of the next generation gaming consoles. The last time that happened was 2005...Sean was just 10 and Patrick was 8. The new Xbox One is astounding in both it's capabilities and gameplay. Sean and I are playing Call of Duty: Ghosts and Patrick is reveling in Madden and Dead Rising 3.

Sean loves college, but complains considerably about the food. So while he's home, I try and fill him up with all kinds of comfort food. When it comes to comfort food, it doesn't get a whole lot better than potato pancakes. Potato Latkes are super crispy on the outside but soft and moist on the outside.

Now if you want to save some time, or if you don't own a food processor, there's a real easy shortcut to making latkes. Simply buy yourself a couple bags of "Simply Potato Shredded Hash Browns". A bag is only 1 pound, 4 ounces and since you need 2 pounds, you'll need to borrow 12 ounces from bag 2. But it makes this recipe a breeze as it saves considerable time and labor.

2 pounds russet potatoes
1 small yellow onion
3 tablespoons matzo meal
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs, such as chives or parsley, for garnish

  1. Peel the potatoes and shred them in a food processor fitted with the shredding blade; transfer the potatoes to a large bowl as the food processor fills up. Repeat with the onion. Transfer the onion to the bowl with the potatoes and stir in the matzo meal, egg, baking powder and salt. 
  2. Fill a large skillet with 1/2 inch oil. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil is very hot but not smoking. To test if the oil is hot enough, drop a small piece of potato into the oil; if the potato sizzles steadily, the oil is ready. 
  3. Working in batches, scoop the potato mixture by 1/4-cupfuls and add them carefully to the skillet, flattening each latke slightly with a spatula. Fry, turning the latkes once, until golden brown and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Remove any loose bits of potato mixture between batches with a slotted spoon. 
  4. Serve the latkes immediately, or keep them warm in a 200º oven. Garnish with fresh herbs.

Wine pairing: I usually serve potato latkes with grilled pork chops, so my wine of choice would be a nice Syrah or Merlot.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Vodka Cranberry Sauce

Health care in this country is simply amazing to me. On Wednesday at 1:30pm, they removed vertebra C-6 from my neck and replaced it with a good vertebra from a dead guy. The operation was done by 3pm. At 5pm, after an hour in recovery, they brought me to my room. By 6:30pm, I was walking the halls with my rolling IV stand. At 9:30am the next morning my girlfriend picked me up and drove me home.

There are a couple things going on here that make this rapid recovery so remarkable. The medical side is fascinating. They made the smallest incision in my neck. You look at it and you think how in the heck did they get a vertebra out and back in through that tiny little incision? That minimal invasiveness makes it a lot less traumatic on the body, greatly aiding in a speedy recovery.

Secondly, I have to give a tip of the hat to CrossFit. I was in tip-top shape going into the operation, even doing the WOD the day before my surgery. Being in such good condition made the recovery portion of the ordeal a breeze. I was up and walking immediately and I'm about to head out right now for a brisk two mile walk around Normandale Lake. There's no doubt I'll be back at CrossFit in less than 10 days, modding my already modded workouts, of course.

While I thought I might have to take it easy over the holidays, I am set to party. I thought I'd let you join in on the fun by sharing by my Vodka Cranberry Sauce recipe. This is strictly an adult dish and it packs a keep this out of reach of the kids. And if you'd like it a little more potent, just lift your elbow a little higher during the vodka pour. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

One 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
1 cup cranberry juice
1 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup Vodka, chilled in the fridge
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange rind


1. Wash the bag of cranberries under cool water, and then throw them into a medium saucepan. Pour in the cranberry juice and maple syrup. Add the orange juice and orange rind (you could also do lemon rind and lemon juice - anything citrusy). Stir together and turn the heat on high until it reaches a boil and the berries begin to pop.

2. Turn down the heat to medium-low and continue cooking over the lower heat until the juice is thick, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Allow to cool, and then chill in the fridge until Thanksgiving dinner is ready. When ready to eat, add vodka to the sauce, stir and serve.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Portobello Mushroom Soup with Goat Cheese

I'm focusing on soup this week as there is going to be a lot of it in my very near future. For the last 16 years I've been waging an ongoing battle with osteoarthritis. First it claimed my right hip. Two years ago a deteriorated disk in my lower spine allowed a cyst to grow on my spinal cord. In the last month I've endured ferocious pain in my right shoulder and both of my hands are numb. But of course, that's nothing that eight Vicodin a day can't handle.

The shoulder pain is caused by the arthritis that has claimed vertebra C6 in my neck. The disk has deteriorated and slid into my spinal cord.  The surgery is really no big deal and I have no anxiety about it, but I do find the procedure incredibly interesting. To get at C6, they actually go in through the front of my neck. They move the neck muscles to one side and then move the esophagus and trachea to the other side. Now you can't beat good fun, can you?

Next they are going to remove C6, that stupid little vertebra who could not keep up his side of the bargain. This relieves the pressure on my spinal cord. Then they take a dead guy's bone from the bone bank and shape it to fit the space that C6 should have been filling. (This bone has no living tissue so there is no chance of rejection). Finally, they take a titanium plate (to complement the five pounds of titanium already in my hip, which has provided the TSA with copious amounts of wand practice) and fuse the new C6 with my old C7 so that everything is stabilized.

It appears that the only downside of Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion is from the moving of the trachea and esophagus. Most people have a sore throat and a "lump in the throat" sensation that lasts about two weeks. So that means lots of soup in my diet. So today, I'm going to share one of my favorite soup recipes. It's kind of like cream of mushroom soup taken to the power of 100. This Wine Spectator recipe has an incredible list of mouth started watering just by reading them! So make this soup. I will be doing that later this week. And see you later C6, you little piece of worthless sh*t...don't let my esophagus hit you on your way out of my neck.

2 slices apple-wood smoked bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
5 shallots, peeled and minced
1 1/2 heads garlic
1/2 medium leek, cleaned and cut into 1/2 inch slices
5 portobello mushroom caps, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 bottle Pinot Noir
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups cream
1 1/2 tablespoons of butter
4 tablespoons goat cheese
1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped
2 tablespoons prosciutto, finely diced
1 tablespoon black truffle, diced


  1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, sweat* the bacon, shallots, garlics and leeks until transparent, about 20 minutes.
  2. Add portobello mushrooms and continue to sweat until most of the moisture is out of the mushrooms.
  3. Add Pinot Noir and reduce wine by three-fourths.
  4. Cover mushrooms with chicken stock and reduce to a slow simmer, cooking for 45 minutes.
  5. Add cream and bring to a boil. Puree in batches in a blender, gradually adding butter.
  6. Season well and pass through a medium sieve. Adjust thickness with chicken stock, if needed.
  7. Divide among four bowls. Garnish with goat chives, chives, prosciutto and truffle.

*Sweating is cooking at low heat in a covered pan.

Wine pairing: Pinot Noir

What my new neck will look like.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mongolian Beef

Mongolia measures 603,909 square miles, making it the 19th largest country in the world. At the same time, it is the most sparsely populated country in the world. A mere 2.9 million people call it home....which is less than 5 people per square mile.

Mongolia contains very little arable land...most of it is simply vast, treeless plains. So there is not a lot to do in Mongolia except procreate. But given the sparse population, the Mongolians appear to have not mastered this form of recreation. The most famous person to hail from Mongolia was Genghis Khan. But that was some 700 years ago. So the lack of procreation appears to be holding back the chance of another hero warrior emerging as well.

The extreme Mongolian climate has a strong influence on local cuisine. Since nothing grows there, Mongolians subsist on a diet comprised primarily of meat and animal fats. Today's recipe is comprised of just that....meat and animal fat. But since few of us have animal fats in our pantry, we will substitute for that with a little bit of vegetable oil. Oh.....and because China lies to the south of Mongolia, we'll borrow a few scallions from them.

This fabulous and very hearty recipe comes from Benny Lin, owner of the Pagoda restaurant in North Pole, Alaska. It serves two. I recommend serving this with sticky rice or cooked rice noodles.

1 (16-ounce) flank steak
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon ground garlic
3/4 cup (3/4-inch long) scallion slices, green and white parts
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 teaspoons soy sauce

  1. Trim the fat of the flank steak and cut into thin pieces against the grain. Marinate the meat for 1 hour in a mix of egg, cornstarch, and 2 tablespoons oil. 
  2. Heat up the wok with 3 cups of oil to 350 degrees F and add the cut up flank steak. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes, and then remove from the heat and drain well. Discard oil. 
  3. Heat the wok up again and add 2 teaspoons oil, ground garlic, all the cut up scallions, and the marinated beef. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Now add the sugar, black pepper, and soy sauce and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve .

    Wine pairing: A big, fruity Zinfandel

    Hatgal, Mongolia

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Steak Diane

 If you were talking Minneapolis fine dining in the last mid-century, there were two names that always rose to the top....Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale and Harry's. On January 8, 1978, Harry's burned to the ground in a spectacular four alarm fire. The corner of 11th and Nicollet has never been the same.

Charlie's was the composed and classy Cate Blanchett. Harry's was the flashy and brassy Cameron Diaz. I will never forget ordering Steak Diane at Harry's. Flambéed table side, it made for some of the best "food as theater" one would ever see. The showmanship of preparation was exceeded only by the taste of the food.

These dinosaurs are no longer around. Death by evolution, or in the case of Harry's, death by fire. The only restaurant left in Minneapolis that remotely resembles that kind of experience is La Belle Vie. Compared to Charlie's, Harry's and La Belle Vie, everything else is just a well-polished, third-world experience.

While the places we so loved may be gone, their food still lives on. This recipe serves two, but please exercise all due caution with the flambé...we don't need another four alarm fire for the history books.

4 (3-ounce) filet mignon medallions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 teaspoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup sliced white mushroom caps
1/4 cup Cognac
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup beef stock
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 drops hot red pepper sauce
1 tablespoon finely chopped green onions
1 teaspoon minced parsley leaves

  1. Season the beef medallions on both sides with the salt and pepper.
  2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meat and cook for 45 seconds on the first side. Turn and cook for 30 seconds on the second side. Add the shallots and garlic to the side of the pan and cook, stirring, for 20 seconds. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until soft, 2 minutes. Place the meat on a plate and cover to keep warm.
  3. Tilt the pan towards you and add the cognac. Tip the pan away from yourself and ignite the cognac with a match. (Alternatively, remove the pan from the heat to ignite, and then return to the heat.) When the flame has burned out, add the mustard and cream, mix thoroughly and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the stock and simmer for 1 minute. Add the Worcestershire and hot sauce and stir to combine. Return the meat and any accumulated juices to the pan and turn the meat to coat with the sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in the green onions and parsley. Divide the medallions and sauce between two plates and serve immediately.

    Wine pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Braised Chinese Chicken with Chestnuts

This is another simple Chinese recipe from Fuschia Dunlop (the dish is called "Ban Li Shao Ji"). I recently bought her new cookbook, "Every Grain of Rice" and am in love with exploring the recipes contained in this 350 page gem. So many of the recipes are Paleo, as this one is, so I feel like I have stumbled onto a real gold mine.

This recipe could not be any simpler. The prep time is about 5 minutes and then you've got just 15 minutes of simmering. The chestnuts, a native crop of China for centuries, bring a unique taste and texture to the dish. You can buy them cooked at your grocery store. You can also buy them raw at Whole Foods. If you do the latter, simply slice off the base and blanch them in boiling water for 2 minutes.

4 boneless chicken thighs (about 3/4 lb.)
2-inch piece fresh ginger
2 spring onions, white and green parts separated
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 1/2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons chicken stock
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
7 ounces cooked chestnuts
Salt to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (optional)*

*The original recipe does not call for red pepper flakes, but when I made this dish, I thought it tasted much better with some heat.


  1. Peel the ginger and cut into thick slices. Cut the whole scallions into 2-inch lengths.
  2. Cut chicken into bite-size pieces.
  3. In a wok or pot, heat oil and carefully add the chicken. Allow the chicken to sear untouched on one side until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip the chicken over and sear on the other side for another 3 minutes. Add the ginger and white scallions and sear for about 30 seconds. Splash in the Chinese rice wine and stir well.
  4. Slowly add the chicken stock and bring the liquid to a boil. Stir in the sugar, chestnuts and soy sauce. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. At the last minute, add the green scallions and cook for one more minute. Adjust the seasoning with salt and add red pepper flakes if desired, then transfer to a deep serving dish.

Wine pairing: Syrah

Monday, September 30, 2013

Smoked Pork Spare Ribs

Followers of this blog know that I ditched my smoker a few years back. It was a Weber Smokey Mountain Smoker and it required a lot of labor to smoke ribs. Charcoal, water pan, cooking grates and adjustable air vents...all had to be kept in perfect synch to make the smoking process come out right. Way too much work for me.

But I missed that taste of pork ribs slow cooked over hickory. My friends Ron Benza, John Ebeling and Jeff Pinkham were always posting about their smoking endeavors...and it started gnawing a little hole in my brain. I started researching smokers and after consulting with Jeff Pinkham, I decided to follow his lead and get a Cookshack Electric Smoker.

Their smokers are built like the Rock of Gibraltar. All stainless steel and the temperature is maintained by a computer controlled thermostat. No charcoal. No water pans. No vent management. All you need are two ounces of hickory and some meat. Plug it in, set the temp, seal the door and that's it.

On my maiden voyage, I smoked pork spare ribs. I was skeptical that just two ounces of wood would be sufficient, but it was the perfect amount of smoke in the meat. Now I followed the Cookshack recipe to a "T", which said to cook the ribs at 225º for four hours. I did that, but the ribs came out a little too rubbery for my tastes. I like my meat so tender that it literally falls right off of the ribs.

I talked to Jeff Pinkham about my results and he said I need to wrap the ribs in foil to achieve the tenderness I was looking for. I did some research online and found what many consider to be the bible of the smoking cognescenti. Jeff Phillip's book, "Smoking Meat" went into great detail on how to achieve the tender meat I so desired. He calls his method 3-2-1. Three hours of smoke, two hours in foil and another one hour in smoke.

So I tried that Saturday night and the ribs came out perfectly. The perfect amount of smoke and the most tender meat I have ever tasted. Nirvana. While you can serve them up with your favorite BBQ sauce, I find these ribs absolutely delicious as is. This recipe serves four.

 Now that I have conquered ribs, I will be moving on to beef brisket! Watch this space.....

2 racks pork spareribs
6 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 bottle Famous Dave's Rib Rub
2 ounces hickory
12 ounces beer


  1. Preheat smoker to 225º.
  2. Remove ribs from package and pat dry with paper towels. 
  3. Put 3 heaping tablespoons of Dijon mustard on the top each rack (bone side down). Spread mustard to coat entire top of ribs.
  4. Sprinkle Famous Dave's Rib Rub on top of mustard to fully coat the ribs.
  5. Place ribs in smoker. Add hickory. Close door and cook for 3 hours.
  6. After 3 hours, remove ribs and wrap each rack separately in foil. Before sealing foil, add 6 ounces of beer to bottom of each foil pack.
  7. Put foiled ribs back in smoker and cook for 2 hours.
  8. After 2 hours, remove ribs from smoker and toss foil. Put ribs back in smoker and cook for 1 more hour.
  9. Remove ribs from smoker and slice between each bone. Serve.

Wine pairing: A big, fruity Zinfandel

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Bargain of the Year for Lobster Tails

I was just paging through the latest Allen Brothers catalog. They have spectacular products, but their pricing is just outrageous. I stopped at their seafood page to calculate the cost of their cold-water North Atlantic lobster tails....and it came out to a jaw-dropping $69.98 per pound.

You can find lobster tails at Byerly's and Lunds for around $30.00 per pound. If you go to Costco on the weekend, they have fresh lobster tails for $19.99 per pound.

But for the best buy in lobster tails, head to the frozen food section at Costco. They are selling frozen lobsters in bulk....5 pounds of lobster tails per box. The tails are 8-10 ounces each and the cost of the tails? Just $15.52 per pound. And there's no easier way to cook them than by tossing them on the grill:

Gong Bao Chicken

I found this recipe in the New York Times this week. The recipe was created by British journalist Fuschia Dunlop. Her latest cookbook, "Every Grain of Rice" is all about simple, easy to make Chinese meals. Buy it here:

So I made this recipe last night and it was absolutely took me all of 20 minutes to prep and stir fry this dish. It's pure Paleo and an incredible blend of chicken, chiles, garlic, ginger and roasted peanuts.

One word of caution though. When you are heating the dried chiles in the first step, put a lid on your pan. I didn't and the vaporized oil from the chiles sent the two of us into massive sneezing attacks. Potent you have been forewarned. This recipe makes two servings.


For the chicken:
2 boneless chicken breasts (11 to 12 ounces total), with or without skin
3 garlic cloves
An equivalent amount of ginger
5 spring onions, white parts only
A handful of dried chiles (about 10)
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper
3 ounces roasted peanuts (see note)        

For the marinade:
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine (or use dry sherry or dry vermouth)
1 1/2 teaspoons potato starch or cornstarch

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon potato starch or cornstarch
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar (or use balsamic vinegar)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon chicken stock or water

  1. Cut chicken as evenly as possible into half-inch strips, then cut strips into small cubes. Place in a small bowl. Add marinade ingredients and 1 tablespoon water to bowl. Mix well and set aside. 
  2.  Peel and thinly slice garlic and ginger. Chop spring onions into chunks as long as their diameter (to match the chicken cubes). Snip chiles in half or into sections, discarding their seeds. 
  3. In a small bowl, combine the sauce ingredients.   
  4. Heat a seasoned wok or non-stick pan over a high flame. Add oil, chiles and Sichuan pepper and stir-fry briefly until chiles are darkening but not burned. (Remove wok/pan from heat if necessary to prevent overheating.) 
  5. Quickly add chicken and stir-fry over a high flame, stirring constantly. As soon as chicken cubes have separated, add ginger, garlic and spring onions and continue to stir-fry until they are fragrant and meat is just cooked through (test one of the larger pieces to make sure). 
  6. Give sauce a stir and add to wok, continuing to stir and toss. As soon as the sauce has become thick and shiny, add the peanuts, stir them in and serve. 

Wine pairing: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (try Seleni Sauvignon Blanc)

Fuschia Dunlop

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Roasted Cauliflower with Bacon, Olives and Thyme

What a spectacular Saturday it is today. It's a typical Minnesota day for early fall. The thermometer is at 62º. The sun is out. My son, Sean, is back for his first weekend since starting college at Iowa State. He's loving college and frat life. It's great to see him so happy.

The morning walk around Normandale Lake was simply beautiful. The geese are taking to wing and the lake is starting to fill up with mallards resting on their journey south. The dogs had an extra spring in their step as we passed the joggers who have traded in their tee-shirts for sweats.

Fall is my favorite time of year because of the food transition. The lighter meals of summer fade away and comfort foods start popping up on the menu. In honor of Sean's homecoming, I'm making him one of his favorites tomorrow....pot roast. To go with it, I will be making this Paleo-perfect side dish. This recipe is from the Peter Kaminsky and Marie Rama book, "Bacon Nation" and it serves four.

4 slices of thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/2 head of cauliflower, cored and cut into 2-inch florets
1/3 cup dry white wine
15 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/3 cup pitted , oil-packed kalamata olives
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper


  1. Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until just browned, but not yet crisp (about 5 minutes). Add the florets and cover skillet. Cook for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is browned.
  2. Add all other ingredients to skillet. Increase heat to medium-high and cover skillet.
  3. Cook for 5 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender but firm and all wine has evaporated. Serve.

Wine pairing: Pinot Noir

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Flank Steak Fajitas with Pico de Gallo

Jim Arnost's request last week for a cowboy rub spurred me on to research some more rubs. I decided I wanted to find a really good fajita rub for flank steak. My research led me to a fabulous rub recipe from Steven Raichlen, author of "Barbecue Bible: Sauces, Rubs and Marinades". I made it last night and it was absolutely spectacular....if I do say so myself. It put an awesome crust on the flank steak that was an explosion of Mexican flavors. We could not stop eating the meat!

I like to eat Paleo, so I like my fajitas very simple. While the soft flour tortilla is not Paleo, everything else in the fajita is. I simply complement the flavor of the meat with a spicy Pico de Gallo salsa: diced tomatoes, chopped onion, jalapeño, minced garlic, cilantro and a little salt and lime juice. Feel free to add cheese and your other favorite ingredients if you so desire.


For the Rub
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried cilantro
2  teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

For the Fajitas
10 soft flour tortillas
1 large flank steak ( 1 1/2 to 2 pounds)

  1. In a small bowl, combine all rub ingredients and mix well.
  2. Sprinkle rub generously over both sides of the flank steak. Press the rub into the meat and let it rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
  3. Prepare a grill for direct cooking over high heat. (Right before I toss the meat on, I throw a little mesquite on the coals for additional flavor).
  4. Put flank steak on grill and cover. Cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Flip steak and cover grill. Cook for 5 more minutes.
  6. Remove steak from grill and let rest for 5 minutes. Then slice as thin as possible across the grain (see photo above).
  7. Place meat and Pico de Gallo on tortilla. Wrap it up and bite. Welcome to heaven!


3 large tomatoes, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 jalapeños, diced (seeds removed)
1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped (use more if you are a cilantro fanboy)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste


  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix well and serve.

Pairing: Pacifico Mexican beer

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Bone-In Rib Eye Steak with Lone Star Rub

 I got an email from Jim Arnost this week. Jim and I go way back to Chuck Ruhr Advertising in the early 80's. Jim is a very successful ad guy who has made the transition from print and broadcast to the digital age. Like me, Jim is a hard core carnivore that likes his animal flesh just lightly cooked over a very hot grill. Jim was looking for a bone-in rib eye recipe with a spicy cowboy rub.

I much prefer dry rubs to marinades as a way of adding flavor to meat. Marinades barely penetrate the surface of the meat, so any flavor they impart is strictly on the surface. Dry rubs give you an intensely flavored, absolute work-of-art crust. The fire caramelizes and concentrates  the spices of the rub. According to Adam Perry Long, author of "Serious Barbecue", the blueprint for a great dry rub is: Color base + Salt + Sugar + Flavor + Heat.

If you live in the Twin Cities, my favorite place to buy a bone-in rib eye is Byerly's or Lunds. They carry dry-aged, bone-in rib eyes that are to die for. The dry-aging does an incredible job of intensifying the beef flavor. If you are cooking dry-aged steaks, I highly recommend cooking them to medium rare so you can experience the maximum amount of flavor that such a great cut of meat can offer.

The Lone Star Rub recipe is from Jamie Purviance, a great chef who has written many of the most popular cookbooks put out by Weber Grills. I added a small bit of sugar to make sure the rub meets Chef Long's blueprint. This recipe serves four. My favorite side dish for these steaks is Hashbrowns O'Brien.


For the Lone Star Rub
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons pure chile powder
1-1/2 teaspoons granulated onion
3/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the Steaks
4 dry-aged, bone-in rib eyes, 12 to 16 ounces and 1-1/2 inches thick
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 limes, cut into wedges


  1. In a small bowl combine the rub ingredients.
  2. Allow the steaks to stand at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before grilling. Lightly brush or spray both sides of the steaks with the oil and then evenly coat with the rub, gently pressing the spices into the meat. 
  3. Prepare grill for direct cooking over high heat.
  4. For medium rare*: place steaks on grill, cover grill and cook for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, turn steaks over, cover grill and cook for 4 minutes more.
  5. Transfer steaks to a work surface and tent with foil. Let steaks rest for 5 minutes, then serve with lime wedges.
*If you like your steaks cooked to a different degree of doneness, use this guide:

Wine pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Farro Nicoise

I'm a huge fan of Salad for two ingredients. The first is eggs. I'd rather have a colonoscopy than eat eggs. The second is potatoes. Most Salad Nicoise recipes call for 10 small red potatoes. That's a lot of not-so-good-for-you carbs...for a salad.

Enter Mark Bittman, acclaimed chef and food writer for The New York Times. He created a healthier version of the salad by swapping out the spuds with whole-grain farro. Farro is rich in cyanogenic glucosides that stimulate the immune system, regulate blood sugar levels and lowers cholesterol. They also reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. And farro makes the salad rich in fiber instead of starch.

Yes, Mark left the eggs in the recipe, which I just omit (because it's easier than a colonoscopy). For the canned tuna, I prefer Cento. Best tasting canned tuna ever! You can find it in a yellow can at Whole Foods or at And for the olives, use either nicoise (recommended) or kalamata. Do not use regular black olives, which are simply green olives that have been artificially ripened with chemicals. This recipe serves four.

1 cup farro
1 pound green beans, trimmed
3 anchovy fillets
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more if needed
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 2 lemons, plus more if needed
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon capers
1 6-ounce can good tuna in olive oil
1/2 cup parsley leaves
Ground black pepper
3 ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
4 hard-cooked eggs, halved
1/2 cup niçoise or kalamata olives


  1. Put the farro and a large pinch salt in a medium saucepan with water to cover by about an inch. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the farro is tender but still has bite, 20 to 30 minutes. Add water if necessary to keep the grains covered; if any liquid remains by the time the farro is tender, strain it out. 
  2. Meanwhile, bring another medium pan of water to a boil and salt it. Add the green beans and cook until bright green and crisp-tender, 2 minutes or so, then plunge them into a bowl of ice water or run under cold water to cool them. 
  3. Put the anchovies, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, mustard, shallot and capers in a food processor and purée. Chop the tuna and parsley by hand and mix them in. (Alternatively, add the parsley to the food processor and pulse to chop, then add the tuna and pulse, once or twice, to blend. Don’t purée the tuna but chop it well.) The mixture should be pourable; if it isn’t, add lemon juice, olive oil or water to thin a bit. Add pepper, then taste and adjust the seasoning.Toss the farro, warm, with about half the dressing. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and pile it on a platter. Arrange the green beans, tomatoes, eggs and olives around the farro, as artfully as you like. Drizzle the remaining dressing over them and serve.Toss the farro, warm, with about half the dressing. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and pile it on a platter. Arrange the green beans, tomatoes, eggs and olives around the farro, as artfully as you like. Drizzle the remaining dressing over them and serve. 
  4. Toss the farro, warm, with about half the dressing. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and pile it on a platter. Arrange the green beans, tomatoes, eggs and olives around the farro, as artfully as you like. Drizzle the remaining dressing over them and serve. 

Wine pairing: Sauvignon Blanc or rose´ Champagne.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Classic Lettuce Wedge Salad

I don't want any vegetables, thank you.
I paid for the cow to eat them for me.
-Doug Coupland-

This is just about as simple and old school as it gets. Quarter a small head of iceberg lettuce....slather it with blue cheese or ranch dressing...then sprinkle with bacon. This was the "go-to" salad of the 1950's supper clubs. It's also one of the few salads that my younger son, Patrick, gets exited about.

Sean, my oldest son, pounds down vegetables like there is no tomorrow. For lunch each day, he likes nothing more than a paleo-perfect steak salad. Arugula is his lettuce of choice. But when it comes to Patrick, he simply replies that he "hates all green food".

There are two salads that Patrick will eat...Caesar and this Classic Lettuce Wedge Salad...the latter being his clear favorite. This salad tastes fantastic and it will take you all of two minutes to make the four salads.

I recommend you buy a small head of iceberg lettuce. Make sure it is incredibly firm to the touch. For the bacon, I buy Kirkland Crumbled Bacon at Costco. It comes in a 20 ounce bag and is incredibly moist and delicious. For just $12.99, I always have a large supply of crumbled bacon in my fridge. For the dressing, I prefer blue cheese, but Patrick likes his with ranch.

1 small, firm head of iceberg lettuce
1 bottle blue cheese dressing
12 tablespoons crumbled bacon bits
Chopped chives (optional, depending on your guests' viewpoint of green food)


  1. Wash and thoroughly dry lettuce. Cutting from pole to pole, slice the head into four separate wedges. Place wedges on four small salad plates.
  2. Pour ample amount of dressing over each wedge.
  3. Sprinkle with bacon and chives (optional). Serve.

Wine pairing: Pinot Noir

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cafe di Napoli's Spaghetti Sauce and Meatballs

My earliest memories of Cafe di Napoli are courtesy of my grandfather, Frank J. Dunleavy. When I was born, he was a dick. A private dick, that is. He was founder and the sole employee of the Frank J. Dunleavy Detective Agency. His mother, Bridget, was a police officer...a pretty rare job for a young Irish woman in the early 1900's. He followed in her footsteps and became a member of the Minneapolis Police Department early in his career.

While on the police force, he served as body guard to Mayor Hubert Humphrey. He often accompanied Humphrey for lunch at Cafe di Napoli. The iconic restaurant had opened in 1938 on 8th and Hennepin. Frank liked it so much he started  taking me there when I was a little kid. We'd go for lunch, but my grandfather would never order a meal. It was Crown Royal on the rocks for him. I asked him why he never got the spaghetti like me, and he said he "couldn't eat because he was on duty".

At Cafe di Napoli, he used to tell me stories about when he was on the Minneapolis police force. One day he and his partner were on foot patrol in downtown Minneapolis when they got a call about a commotion over on Marquette Avenue. When he and his partner got there, they found a dead horse in the middle of the street. He said neither he nor his partner knew how to spell Marquette, so they dragged the horse over to 1st Avenue to fill out the police report.

Me, Frank and my sister Kathy, circa 1958

As you can tell from the photo, Frank had a girth of some significance. This was attributable to a complete abstinence of any sort of athletic endeavor and a diet which consisted primarily of Crown Royal and butter. While his consumption of Crown Royal was the stuff of legend, not a single morsel of solid food ever crossed his lips unless it had been slathered with butter. My grandfather was probably  the greatest butter cognescenti of all-time...he makes Paula Deen look like an absolute rank amateur. At no time, however, did I personally observe him putting butter in his Crown Royal.

The best part about Cafe di Napoli was their spaghetti and meatballs. My grandfather's good friend and fellow Crown Royal aficionado, Halsey Hall, estimated that the cafe served 2,284 miles of spaghetti each year. I was quite impressed with Halsey Hall, as he, too, never ate while on duty. Between he and Frank, I'll bet the cafe served 2,284 miles of Crown Royal each year.

So here it is, from my childhood to you, the original Cafe di Napoli recipe for their spaghetti sauce and meatballs. The exact same recipe I started marveling at 56 years ago. Cheers, Frank!


For the Sauce
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup salad (vegetable) oil
1 pound coarsely ground beef
1/2 cup of chopped onions
12 ounces tomato paste
5 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf

For the Meatballs
1 pound ground beef
1 egg
1 cup very dry bread
1/4 cup diced onions
1/4 cup of bread or cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper


For the Sauce

  1. Brown garlic in oil for 15 seconds. Add beef and onions and brown thoroughly.
  2. To the ground beef mixture, add tomato paste, water, salt, sugar, pepper and bay leaf. Simmer over low heat until thick, about 75 to 90 minutes. Stir regularly to prevent scorching.
For the Meatballs
  1. Combine ground beef, egg, dry bread (which has briefly been soaked in water and squeezed), onions,  bread or cracker crumbs, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. 
  2. Roll into golf ball-sized balls. Brown in a greased pan or in the oven.
  3. Add meatballs to the sauce for the last 20 minutes of cooking.
  4. Serve over spaghetti.

There have been numerous people who have questioned the authenticity of this recipe. I received an email from a follower yesterday telling me that she had tried the sauce recipe and it was horrible. So I tried it this morning and I concur. The above recipe is horrible and it is not at all what I remember from Cafe di Napoli. Hence, I have put hash marks through the entire recipe.

I got the Cafe di Napoli recipe from the book "Minnesota Eats Out". This 2003 book by Kathryn Koutsky is available at Amazon ( I'm not sure where Kathy got the recipe, but along with my readers, I, too, question it's authenticity.

If you are looking for a good red sauce recipe, here are two of my favorites. The first is from Melissa Clark: . The second is from Marcella Hazan: .

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Bacon, Arugula and Pear Salad

"I think what we are seeing 
here is Weiner's second coming."
Carlos Danger

I was in the ad biz for 34 years. We always considered it cheating if you used a puppy or a baby in your ad to get attention. It simply meant the creator of said puppy/baby ad was so shallow and superficial that they were unable to create an interesting way to engage the reader.

This bacon, arugula and pear salad is also cheating. It is the culinary equivalent to having both a puppy and baby in the same ad. Actually, it is the culinary equivalent of having two babies and three puppies in the ad.

First, you have his royal majesty, the King of Umami...bacon. Then you're throwing in the greatest peppery lettuce of all-time...arugula. Umami and pepper are then boosted to new heights with the addition of sweet summer fruit...Anjou pears. Toss in the acidic perfection of balsamic vinegar and then smooth everything out on the tongue with one of the most spectacular cheeses on planet earth...Gorgonzola.

So make this recipe. These ingredients represent the the All Star Cheating Team! It's Anthony Weiner meets Tiger Woods meets Jesse James meets Kristen Stewart meets Arnold Schwarzenegger meets Bill Clinton. A randy bunch, no doubt, but your tongue gets to have all of the fun. This recipe makes six, side-dish servings.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 slices bacon, cut into bite-size pieces
2 ripe pears (Anjou or Bosc)
5 ounces arugula
6 very thin slices of red onion, separated into rings
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 ounces Gorgonzola cheese
Fresh ground pepper to taste


  1. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar and salt. Whisk to mix and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove from skillet. Drain on paper towels. Set aside. Add pear slices to drippings in skillet; cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly browned and tender, stirring occasionally. Keep warm.
  3. In a large salad bowl, combine arugula, onion slices, and dressing. Gently toss to coat with dressing.
  4. Divide arugula mixture among six salad plates. Arrange pears on top. Sprinkle with bacon, pine nuts and Gorgonzola cheese. Add fresh ground pepper to taste.

Wine pairing: Rombauer Zinfandel

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Summer in a Bowl

Tomato, Stone Fruit and Fresh Mozzarella Salad

I love Honeycrisp apples. Created at the University of Minnesota in 1960 and released to the world in 1991, I find it to be the most spectacular apple in the world. It's a unique blend of sweet and tart...and it has a firmness that gives it a very long shelf life.

The very best honeycrisp apples I have eaten are locally grown. They start to show up on grocery shelves in September. Come November, the honeycrisps you buy come from southern climes. Now, at the height of summer, the honeycrisps in the store are usually from Argentina or Chile. They are not very good, so at this time of year I switch to nectarines.

The nectarines of July are magnificent. They are unbelievably sweet and much more than peaches. They are so juicy, in fact, that I eat them by slicing off slivers of the fruit with a sharp knife. Eat them by hand and you'll end up with a face and shirt drenched with nectarine syrup.

To me, nectarines were always a standalone food be eaten and enjoyed all by itself. This belief was altered by Stephanie Izard two weeks ago. That's when I discovered this recipe she created. She calls it "Summer in a Bowl". In the words of those brilliant songwriters Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, I call it "f*cking awesome".

Stephanie has created a sort of Frankensalad, taking body parts from both the panzanella and caprese salads and sewing them together. Make sure the nectarines and plums are ripe and full of juice. Make sure your mozzarella is should be very tender to the touch. Her recipe will take you about 15 minutes to make and serves four to six people.

1 cup roasted and salted pistachios, roughly chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons honey
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2¼ cups roughly torn bread
1¼ pounds heirloom tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 ripe nectarine, cut into wedges
2 ripe plums, cut into wedges
10 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
8 basil leaves, roughly chopped


  1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make vinaigrette: In a medium bowl, whisk together pistachios, lemon juice, honey and 4 tablespoons oil until well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  2. Make croutons: Toss bread with remaining oil and season with salt. Spread croutons in a single layer on a baking tray and bake until golden, 12-15 minutes.
  3. In a bowl, toss tomatoes with stone fruit and season with salt. Divide mozzarella slices among plates and season with salt and pepper. Top with fruit mixture, drizzle with vinaigrette and garnish with basil and croutons. Serve immediately.

Wine pairing: Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc