Saturday, February 20, 2016

Hunan Beef

There are thousands of recipes for Hunan Beef out here on the InterWebs. But there is one by Ann Mendelson that does something out of the ordinary. Her recipe adds cumin to the mix, a spice rarely used in Chinese cooking.

For those of us in the United States, we were first introduced to the spice by Spanish and Portuguese immigrants (who fortunately got in before Donald builds his wall). Cumin is used extensively in Spanish and Portuguese cuisine. Heck, it's now so ubiquitous that you'll find it in every taco you buy at Taco Bell.

When added to this beef dish from the Hunan province, it dramatically alters the flavor profile. The heat of the chiles and the bite of garlic are still there, but the cumin gives the recipe incredible depth and sophistication (which are attributes absent in all 2016 presidential candidates).

Hunan Beef is typically served with sticky rice, which helps to mitigate the heat (and there will be heat!). But you can keep it Paleo by serving it over stir-fried veggies. And while you could certainly use any kind of steak, I recommend boneless beef short ribs because of their huge, beefy flavor. This recipe serves four.

1 tablespoon medium-dry sherry or vermouth
½ teaspoon salt
teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon potato starch or flour
12 ounces boneless beef short rib 
1 ¾ cups peanut oil
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
2 fresh red chilies (tien tsin or Thai red chiles), seeded and finely chopped
2 to 4 teaspoons dried chili flakes
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 scallions, green parts only, finely sliced
1 teaspoon sesame oil

  1. In a bowl, mix the wine, salt, soy sauces, potato starch or flour and one tablespoon water. Cut the beef across the grain into thin slices and add to marinade.
  2. In a wok or large non-stick pan, heat peanut oil over medium-high heat to about 275 degrees. Add beef and stir gently for two to three minutes, then remove from oil with a slotted spoon and drain well.
  3. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of oil in wok. Over a high flame, add the ginger, garlic, fresh chilies, chili flakes and cumin and stir-fry briefly, until they are fragrant. Return beef to the wok and stir well, seasoning with salt to taste.
  4. When beef is sizzling and fragrant, add scallion greens and toss briefly. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil. Serve.

Pairing: For white wine lovers, choose a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It goes really well with the heat of this dish. Red wine lovers should opt for a big, fruity Zinfandel.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Grogs' Top Ten List

I love to cook. My kitchen is my happy place. A nice glass of wine and my stove burners at full tilt is such a great way to mark the end of the day. In the last 5+ years, I've posted 398 recipes. And while I love to cook for people, I decided to go through my blogs and pick my 10 favorite meals. These are the meals that I love to make and get immense joy out of eating them. They are in no particular order as they are all my favorites.






Thursday, February 11, 2016

Penne d' Allessandria

This recipe is a true Gruggen family favorite. I cut it out of a magazine ad for an extra virgin olive oil (I think it was for Bertolli) sometime in the last century. And for the last 25+ years, I've been making this at least once a month. It's the dish my oldest son Sean requests every time his birthday rolls around.

I've been making it so long that the recipe is fully engrained in my brain. I was going to write down the steps last time I made it, but then I remembered I had started a notebook back in the late 80's and the recipe was captured therein.

Of the hundreds of recipes I've shared in this blog, this is the one I make the most. Why it has taken me nearly six years to finally share this one is bizarre. But better late than never. Once you try this recipe, I guarantee you will be back to make it again. The recipe serves six very hungry athletes. 

The meal is quintessential northern Italian. Well-browned hot Italian sausage. Sweet roasted bell peppers. Fennel. Basil. Garlic. Turkish oregano. And penne cooked to a perfect al dente. Combine it all together and serve in individual bowls. And the coupe de grâce: a generous dusting of aged Parmigiana Reggiano. Buon appetito!

7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
40 ounces of hot Italian sausage links
1 large yellow onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 16-ounce jar of roasted red bell peppers, drained and chopped.
1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon Turkish oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 pound penne pasta
Salt and pepper
Fresh grated Parmigiana Reggiano cheese

  1. Cut sausage links into roughly 1-inch pieces (leave casings intact). Heat 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and sauté sausages in 2-3 batches in a large Dutch oven. The sausages should be well-browned. When sausages are done, place in a bowl and keep warm.
  2. Cut the onion from pole to pole. Then lay each half flat on a cutting board and slice into half-moon rings.
  3. Add half-moon onion rings to Dutch oven and sauté until onions are limp and translucent (about 5 minutes). 
  4. Add chopped peppers and garlic to the onions in the Dutch oven. Stir for 2 minutes. Then add red pepper flakes, fennel, basil, oregano and thyme. Stir for 2 minutes, then cover and remove from heat.
  5. Boil a large pot of water and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Follow instructions on the package to cook penne al dente (usually about 10 minutes).
  6. Five minutes before pasta is done, return Dutch oven to burner and add sausages. Raise heat to medium high and stir frequently to get everything hot again.
  7. When pasta is done cooking, drain pot and add the penne to the Dutch oven. Add 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil to Dutch oven. Stir to combine ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve in individual pasta bowls and top each serving with freshly grated cheese.

Wine pairing: Brunello di Montalcino

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Chicken Schnitzel with Lemony Herb Salad

After revision hip surgery last October, I was obligated to become a resting, listless Jabba the Hut for two months. Add to that the mandatory, hearty winter meals and endless temptations sent by my Laithwaite Wine Club, a few pounds snuck onto my body. Ok. Quite a few pounds.

So in the spirit of getting ready for speedo season, I decided to shed those pounds. I'm back in the gym and made the required changes in my diet to facilitate my goal. No more wine on weekdays and all meals consist of protein and vegetables only. 

As a devout student of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who dedicated his life to good food and drink, I was worried about the pronounced onset of foodstuff boredom. Fortunately, I have found enough variety in my daily menus to eliminate any threat of weariness...and I've managed to drop five pounds in week one. And boy, did that wine taste f*cking great last night.

Today I'm going to share with you a Melissa Clark recipe that I made yesterday for supper. It was an absolutely awesome meal, in large part because of the incredible vinaigrette and the crispy chicken schnitzel.  Fortunately, for me and you, Austrian chef Mario Lohninger imparted this schnitzel wisdom to Melissa:

"The secret, he said, is to trap air in the crust when you cook the meat by moving and shaking the pan. After dipping the veal in flour, egg and bread crumbs, he put a cutlet in the skillet, swirling it so the hot oil undulated over the cutlet in waves. This motion creates steam that lifts the crust away from the meat, allowing the bread crumbs to crisp without sticking to the veal in a gummy mass."

And he was right. By moving the pan back and forth and thus, the oil across the top of the chicken, I ended up with a crisp, light schnitzel with a crust that rose like a soufflé. It was spectacular on the tongue and surprisingly easy to prepare. Try it. You'll like it. Melissa's recipe serves four.

6 anchovy fillets
1 small garlic clove
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil,
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups panko or other unseasoned bread crumbs
½ cup flour
teaspoon cayenne
teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Vegetable oil, for frying
5 ounces arugula or mixed baby greens
2 cups soft herb leaves, like a combination of mint, tarragon, basil, parsley, cilantro, chervil, chives (try to use at least 3 kinds)
1 scallion, thinly sliced, including greens


  1. Mince anchovies and garlic and mix with a large pinch of salt until you get a rough paste. Put it in bowl and whisk in the lemon zest, juice and another pinch of salt and some pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil.
  2. Place eggs in one shallow dish, bread crumbs in another, and flour mixed with cayenne and nutmeg in a third. 
  3. Place breasts in a plastic bag and use a meat hammer to pound the breasts to a uniform thickness. Season chicken breasts generously with salt and pepper.
  4. Heat 1/8 inch oil in a large skillet. While oil heats, dip cutlets one by one into flour (shake off any excess), then into eggs (ditto) and finally into the bread crumbs, taking care not to handle chicken more than necessary (hold meat by ends).
  5. When oil sizzles when a pinch of bread crumbs is thrown in, add a chicken cutlet (or two if your skillet is large, leave plenty of room around them). Swirl pan so oil cascades over top of cutlet in waves. When bottom is golden brown, about 3 minutes, flip and brown the other side, swirling pan (swirling helps create air pockets, giving you lighter schnitzel). Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking platter or baking tray and sprinkle with more salt. Repeat with remaining chicken.
  6.  Toss salad greens and herbs with just enough anchovy-lemon dressing to lightly coat them. Divide salad on serving plates and top with schnitzel. Drizzle with more dressing and garnish with scallions. Serve.

Wine pairing: A big, fruity Merlot.

Happy 21st birthday to my son, Sean. Have fun in Amsterdam!