Saturday, March 26, 2016

Tuna Salad Composée

Back in July of 1990, as the United States and it allies were amassing a million troops for Operation Desert Shield, I decided to subscribe to the New York Times so I could get a better perspective of the conflict. I was glad I did. While my local paper might contain a story or two about what was going on, The New York Times would dedicate multiple pages and dozens of stories to developments in the Middle East.

After Operation Desert Storm ended in February 1991, I continued to subscribe to the paper. I enjoyed the broader world view that the NYT provided...but I was particularly interested in their Wednesday edition. Every Wednesday, they publish an entire section dedicated to all things about food, wine and dining.

Many of the recipes that are posted on my blog come from the Wednesday edition of The New York Times. Today's recipe does as well. Tony Cecchini's tuna salad recipe is so unique...quite unlike any other tuna salad you've tasted. Tuna. Fresh herbs. Pepperoncini peppers. Smoked almonds. Plus olive oil, balsamic vinegar and two types of mustard.

But first, a word about the tuna. You must use a tuna packed in olive oil. Olive oil preserves the natural flavor of the fish. Tuna packed in water is a mess. Water leeches all of the flavor out of the tuna. I'm really picky about my tuna and only buy one brand, Cento from Italy.

In canned tuna taste tests, this brand always ravages the competition. It is the most extraordinary tasting tuna. In my 63 years on earth I have not found another brand that comes close. Cento is a top quality Italian supermarket brand offering a wide range of gourmet products. And their tuna is to die for. It's available at Whole Foods and Amazon. I buy mine at Amazon. A case of 24, 5-ounce cans costs $58.65....that comes out to a bargain price of just $2.44 per can.

We tried this recipe last Monday and absolutely loved it. The pH of this meal tends to be more on the acidic side, so it is best served on some type of bread. If you are serving this dish as an entree, use flatbread. If you are serving it as an appetizer, choose crostini. To make crostini, thinly slice a baguette. Brush the bread slices with olive oil and slide them into a 375º oven for ten minutes.

Note: This salad can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

10 to 12 ounces good-quality solid tuna packed in olive oil, well drained (reserve oil)
2 scallions washed, trimmed and chopped fine
6 pepperoncini peppers, stems removed and julienned
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
¼ cup smoked almonds, chopped roughly
¼ cup good-quality olive oil (start with the oil the tuna was packed in)
1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice or more to taste
¼ to ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  1. Mix all the ingredients well with a fork in a medium-size, nonreactive bowl. Taste and adjust the lemon juice and pepper.
  2. Serve on flatbread or crostini toasts.

Wine pairing: For those who prefer reds, a Rosé or Côte du Rhône will do nicely. White wine drinkers should opt for an unoaked Chardonnay.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Pasta Pizza Pie

What's not to love about a mash-up of two great and pasta? If you have young kids, they will be drawn to this meal like octogenarians to Juan Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth. It's appeal is universal...satisfying... and it is so incredibly delicious.

What I'm going to share with you today is a recipe for a Sausage and Pepperoni Pasta Pizza Pie. But, as we know, the combinations of ingredients for pizza are infinite. So this is just a basic outline. If you're into Supreme Pizza,  Four Cheese Pizza or Margherita Pizza, just switch up the ingredients to suit your own tastes.

And almost any type of pasta will do. I prefer penne with ridges as it does the best job of getting coated with the sauce. But you can easily substitute macaroni, rigatoni or whatever your heart desires. This recipe serves six unless you have two ravenous college boys, like I do, in which case it will only serve four.

1 pound of bulk, hot Italian sausage
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (24 oz) jar spaghetti sauce
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil
8 oz penne pasta
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
sliced pepperoni


  1. In a large skillet, brown sausage over high heat, breaking it up into small crumbles while it cooks. Drain and set aside.
  2. Return skillet to heat and cook onions and garlic until they are translucent (about 5 minutes).
  3. Heat a large pot of water to a boil. Add penne and cook until al dente (about 1 minute less than the instructions on the package). Drain.
  4. Put drained penne in skillet with onion/garlic mixture. Put sausage back in the skillet as well.
  5. To the skillet, add the spaghetti sauce, diced tomatoes, pepper flakes, thyme, oregano and basil.
  6. Turn burner to medium high heat and cook for 5 minutes, thoroughly stirring once a minute.
  7. Preheat broiler.
  8. Top pasta with shredded cheeses and then add pepperoni on top.
  9. Place under broiler for 3-5 minutes (until cheeses are melted).
  10. Serve.

Pairing: Chianti Classico

Happy birthday to my goddaughter, Alison Wirth!

Alison with her Uncle Dirtball, circa 1977.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Blue Cheese Burgers with Red Wine Onions

I've been grilling like a mad man this week. On Tuesday I grilled burgers. Thursday I made Thai Steak Salad. Last night was lobster tails grilled over mesquite and tonight is steaks with Lone Star Rub. We've had an extremely warm March and hailing from Minnesota, I have to say I am a big fan of global warming.

When it comes to burgers, I'm a huge proponent of grinding your own beef. I just pick a nice fatty cut of chuck roast in the meat department at Costco and grind it with my food processor. Because I have complete control of what goes into my ground beef, I can cook it to medium rare. If you buy store-bought ground beef, you are obligated to cook it to well done for safety reasons.

Be sure to grind it coarse. And when you form the burgers, just lightly hand pack them. If you compress the meat, you'll lose all the juiciness that makes a burger great. This is a Jamie Perviance recipe and it serves four.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, cut into thin half-moons]
½ cup dry red wine
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1½ pounds ground chuck (80% lean)
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
4 ounces blue cheese
4 soft hamburger buns, split


  1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and brown for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook another 5 minutes. Add the wine, thyme, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, and simmer until the liquid cooks off and the onions are fully softened, about 10 minutes, stirring often.
  2. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat (400° to 500°F). 
  3. Mix the ground chuck, paprika, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper, and then gently form four patties of equal size, each about ¾ inch thick. With your thumb or the back of a spoon, make a shallow indentation about 1 inch wide in the center of the patties to prevent them from forming a dome as they cook. 
  4. Grill the patties over direct medium-high heat, with the lid closed, until cooked to medium doneness, 9 to 11 minutes, turning once. During the last 30 seconds to 1 minute of grilling time, place an ounce of blue cheese on each patty to melt, and toast the buns, cut side down, over direct heat.
  5. Build each burger on a bun with a patty and caramelized onions. Serve right away.

Pairing: Just about any red wine will do. Pinot Noir goes really well with the blue cheese. But if I'm eating a burger, I'll just reach for my favorite ice-cold pilsner.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Grogs' Top Ten Grilling List

With the snowpack all but gone in Minnesota, it's grilling time on the Grogs' deck. I've fired up the grill twice in the last week to cook steaks over charcoal and mesquite. But being a charcoal griller, I'm in the minority as 67% of grillers cook over gas. Yes, gas is quicker and easier....but I am madly in love with the taste that charcoal imparts to my food.

I use a Weber Performer for grilling. It uses a small propane tank to light the charcoal, which makes getting a fire going a breeze. For years, I have lusted after a Kalamazoo grill. These are the Rolls Royce of grills...and are priced accordingly. They average about $15,000.

What makes them unique is that they are a triple fuel grill. You can grill with wood, charcoal or gas.....or any combination of the three. Like the Weber Performer, you can use the propane burners to get your charcoal going. While these grills are awesome, at the end of the day, the food that comes off of the $15,000 Kalamazoo grill will taste identical to the food that comes off of the $400 Weber grill.

Rumor has it that Weber has taken notice of the margins at the high end of the market and are going to roll out a more moderately priced version of the Kalamazoo grill called the Weber Summit Charcoal Grill. That's supposed to happen next month, so I will keep you posted when I learn more.

Today's list features my top ten grilling meals....the ones I enjoy eating the most. It's actually a top twelve list, as two of the items are carried over from my all-time favorite top ten list of two weeks ago: the Cajun Pork Chop and Grilled Lobster Tail.

This time I will confess to a very favorite grilling recipe: Bone-In Ribeye with Lone Star Rub. This is my very favorite meal of all time. If I were on death row and scheduled to be executed the next morning, this would be my final meal. Nothing else comes close. So here you go:

Swordfish Steaks with Jalapeño Mint Sauce