Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tri-Tip and Goat Cheese Open Faced Sandwich

If you are cooking for a crowd, this is a relatively easy way to feed them a spectacular, open faced sandwich. While any kind of beef would certainly do, I prefer the Tri-Tip cut because it is so flavorful, inexpensive and easy to prepare. Once you grill up the Tri-Tip Roast, these sandwiches come together in just a few minutes.

While you could certainly roast your own red bell peppers, I would recommend you buy them. Roasted bell peppers are sold in jars and you will typically find them in the same aisle as olives. The Tri-Tip Roast recipe is my own while the sandwich recipe comes from Williams Sonoma. This will serve eight.

Tri-Tip Roast (about 2.5 lbs)
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper

8 slices country bread
1/2 pound soft, fresh goat cheese
4 roasted bell peppers, sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup slivered basil

Directions for the Tri-Tip Roast

  1. Prepare coals. When coals are hot, spread them out on just one-half of the grill (so that you have both a direct and an indirect grilling surface).
  2. Rub roast all over with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Place roast on direct heat side (over the coals). Sear, with grill covered, for 5 minutes on each side.
  4. Move roast to indirect side. Cover grill and open vents. Let roast cook on indirect side for 15 minutes.
  5. Remove from grill, tent with foil and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice thinly across the grain. 

Directions for the Sandwiches

  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Arrange the bread slices on a rimmed baking sheet. Lightly toast the bread under the broiler on one side, watching carefully to prevent burning, about 1 minute.
  3. Turn the bread over, spread with the goat cheese, and top with the bell peppers and beef slices. Broil until the beef is warmed through, about 1 minute.
  4. While still hot, drizzle the open-face sandwiches with the vinegar, sprinkle with the basil and serve immediately.

Wine pairing: Pinot Noir

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Greek Quinoa Salad

If you have not climbed aboard the Quinoa bandwagon, you are surely lost and slowly dying in a vast, epicurean desert. The popularity of Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) has absolutely exploded. The proof of it's popularity is evident in the price of harvested has tripled in the last seven years. The average price of a ton of Quinoa is currently $3,500. Compare that to wheat, which fetches a mere $340 per ton.

Quinoa became a domesticated crop approximately 4,000 years ago in the Andean region of South America. While it looks like a grain that should be a member of the grass family, it is not. And therein lies the difference that makes Quinoa a nutritional powerhouse. While grain-like in appearance, it is actually a chenopod...closely related to species such as beets, spinach and tumbleweeds.

Quinoa is considered a proud member of the group loosely known as Superfoods. The seeds contain nine essential amino acids, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and iron. Protein content in the seed is very high...14%. It is gluten free and cholesterol free. It also tastes great, is very easy to digest and takes only 15 minutes to cook. Those attributes have contributed to it's exploding popularity.

Because it is so healthy, people who carefully manage what goes in their body have been swapping out grains and rice for Quinoa. Costco also just jumped on the bandwagon. For years, one of the most popular salads in their refrigerated section was Tabouleh, which is made with bulgur wheat. They just replaced that product with a new one called Quinoa Tabouleh. So now you get all of the health benefits of the olive oil, lemon juice, tomatoes and onions married with the nutritional value of Quinoa. It is a truly spectacular salad, so pick it up next time you are at Costco.

If you search my blog for Quinoa, you'll find a bunch of really delicious and healthy recipes. To that list I add today's recipe, a gem of a salad created by Sarah-Jane Bedwell. Enjoy the salad on it's own...or add a little shredded breast meat from a rotisserie chicken to make it an entree. Serves six.

2 cups water
1 cup quinoa
Pinch of salt
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup sliced carrots
1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/3 cup feta cheese
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 small avocado, diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano (Turkish oregano recommended)
1 tsp lemon zest


  1. Add quinoa, water, and salt to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Let quinoa cool to room temperature.
  2. In a large bowl, combine quinoa, tomatoes, cucumber, celery, carrots, kalamata olives, red onion, walnuts, avocado and feta cheese.
  3. To make the dressing, whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano and lemon zest in a small bowl. Pour dressing over the salad and stir until mixed well. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Then serve.

Wine pairing: Conundrum White Wine

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Weapon of Choice: Steamer

My choice for best steamer is old school...a simple bamboo steamer basket. This particular one from Joyce Chen is just $14.99 at Amazon. It consists of two stackable baskets of woven bamboo. I have found that each basket can hold 12-15 potstickers each, so whipping up a large batch for a family dinner or snacks is a breeze. The domed lid traps the steam, so your items cook faster (it only takes me about 8 minutes to steam a couple dozen potstickers).

You simply put the baskets in a pan of boiling water. The kind of pan does not can be a wok, a stockpot or a fry pan. While a lot of people like to suspend it over the water, I just set mine right in a fry pan full of boiling water. You choose what works best for you.

It's great for fish and veggies.  It's also a great way to heat up and moisturize a dried up bagel or several slices of day-old bread. Amazon carries a bunch of different models. Here's the link to the Joyce Chen steamers:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Vodka Cronic

Back in the 80's, the favorite place to hang for me and my peeps was The Loon Cafe on First Avenue. When it first opened, my offices were at the 1221 Building on Nicollet Mall...which made it a bit of a hike to grab a cocktail. But then in 1985 I switched jobs, and low and behold, I found myself in Butler Square...just steps from the Loon.

Back then the Loon was known as a "Fern Bar". It was funky, old and fit perfectly in The Historic Minneapolis Warehouse District. It was a really popular hangout for the advertising community. It also attracted a lot of lawyers and more than it's fair share of visiting athletes. If you stayed at the bar long enough, a limo would pull up to the front door and Prince would emerge, where he was quickly escorted to the "Up North Room" where he could enjoy his bowl of Pecos River Red Chili in private.

We had our own reserved area at the end of the bar, right by the entrance. The three owners, Tom, Mike and Bob would hold court on the other side of the bar at the opposite end. Kay was our favorite waitress, and she went on to become one of the owners. Karen was our mixologist of choice.

Our summertime choice of libation was the Vodka Tonic. Great stuff. However, I found the tonic way too sweet, so I had Karen make my Vodka Tonic with half tonic and half soda water. Thus was born The Vodka Sonic. I'm not quite certain how it came about, but then Karen started adding cranberry juice to the Vodka Sonic...thus was born he Vodka Cronic.

What a marvelous amalgamation of flavors. The crispness of the vodka, the muted sweetness of the tonic contrasting to the bitterness of the quinine and cranberry juice. Should summer ever arrive, make two of these, grab your loved one and head out to the deck. This cocktail is incredibly refreshing and an absolute taste treat on a hot summer afternoon.

20-ounce glass
2 ounces vodka
Club Soda
Cranberry juice
Slice of lime


  1. Fill glass with ice.
  2. Add vodka to glass.
  3. Fill the rest of the glass with 1/3 tonic, 1/3 soda and 1/3 cranberry juice. 
  4. Stir and garnish with lime.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Reading Produce Labels

Memorize how these three produce labels work and you will be one, well-informed shopper in the grocery store (click on the chart to make it bigger):

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Filet Mignontini

Before commencing this recipe, it is written that you must make martinis for yourself and your guests. These are to be consumed while you are preparing the "Filet Mignontini". Speaking for myself, I have an affinity for "Dirty Martinis". Belvedere is my vodka of choice as it is smoother than Ollie's bottom. To that I add a whiff of Martini and Rossi Extra Dry Vermouth, a little bit of olive juice and two olives. And, of course, shaken, but not stirred.

Okay, now you are half-way to heaven. It's time to get cooking on the other half. But don't close up your bar just yet. You are going to need it to create the marinade for the Filet Mignontini. Remember: The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.


For the Marinade
4 tablespoons gin
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon juice from a jar of green olives
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper

For the Steaks
4 filet mignon steaks, about 8 ounces each and 1 1/4 inch thick
8 green olives stuffed with pimentos
4 toothpicks
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 ounces blue cheese


  1. Prepare your grill for cooking over direct high heat.
  2. In a small bowl whisk all the marinade ingredients.
  3. Place the filet mignon steaks in a plastic resealable bag and add the marinade. Press air out of bag and seal tightly. Turn the bag several times and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  4. Skewer 2 olives onto each toothpick.
  5. Remove steaks from bag and let liquid drip away. Discard marinade. Let steaks sit at room temp for 30 minutes.
  6. Season steaks with salt and pepper.
  7. Cook steaks over direct high heat. For medium rare, cook steaks for 4 minutes on the first side, flip and then cook for 5 minutes more.*
  8. Remove steaks from grill and let them rest for 5 minutes. Crumble blue cheese over the top of each steak. Serve with a skewer of olives poked in the middle of each steak.

* If you like your steaks cooked to a different doneness, go here:

Wine pairing: A big Cabernet Sauvignon

Ollie, owner of the world's smoothest bottom,
hanging with the goons at noon at CrossFitMN.