Saturday, December 30, 2017

Caesar Salad: The Real Deal

In May of 2011, I posted a Caesar salad recipe that I had been using for years. And I was using it all the way up to the end of 2017, when I stumbled upon the original recipe for Caesar Salad. The Caesar Salad I had been making was heavy (2 egg yolks) and very garlicky (4 cloves of garlic). For Christmas dinner this year, I made Caesar Salad using the original recipe. It was light, zesty and very refreshing...a completely different experience.

The original recipe was created by Caesar Cardini. Most people think the salad originated in Italy. I know I was shocked to find that the salad was created in Tijuana, Mexico. Mr. Cardini opened his restaurant, Caesar's, in Tijuana in 1927. Tijuana was a popular destination then as many Americans crossed the border to escape Prohibition.

Caesar's became one of the most popular restaurants in Tijuana. And it's most popular menu item was the incredible Caesar Salad. It was a salad made with romaine lettuce, lots of anchovies and a surprise ingredient...lime juice. Yes, you read that right. I had been making Caesar Salad with lemon juice for the last 45 years. The original recipe used lime juice...and it absolutely transforms the salad!

The salad was served on a plate with several large croutons. There were no utensils accompanying the was meant to be eaten by hand like a plate of French fries. For the croutons, I find it best to use a baguette of crusty bread. A hard crust and chewy interior makes the best croutons. And they should be big. As you can see in the photo above, I cut a 1-1/2 inch slice from the loaf and then cut that into 6 large croutons after toasting the bread in a skillet. Each person should get 3 to 4 croutons on their salad. This recipe makes 4 side salads.


For the Croutons
1/2 baguette, cut into 1-1/2 inch slices
1 garlic clove, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

For the Salad
1 clove garlic, minced
8 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained and finely chopped
1 large egg yolk
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3/4 cup olive oil
1 head chilled romaine lettuce, leaves separated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Make the croutons. Rub bread with garlic. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add bread in a single layer and toast until crisp and golden, 2 minutes per side. Remove from heat, sprinkle with salt and Parmesan. Then cut into croutons.
  2. Make the dressing in a large wooden bowl. Use a spoon to mix garlic with anchovies to form a paste. Add egg yolk and squeeze lime over egg yolk and then stir to blend (the lime juice will partially "cook" the yolk). Add the Worcestershire, mustard, pepper and half of the grated cheese and mix to form a loose paste. Add olive oil in a slow, steady stream, vigorously stirring until dressing is thick and glossy, 2 minutes.
  3. Make the salad. Gently roll whole lettuce leaves in bowl with dressing until coated. Transfer to  salad plates and top with the remaining Parmesan and croutons. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pairing: Anchovies and lime juice make this salad very difficult to pair with wine. Any red is certainly off the table. Wine drinkers would best be served by selecting a very dry, white wine like Mer Soleil Unoaked Chardonnay ($19.99 at Total Wine). If you fancy beer, this salad goes great with a Belgian-style blond ale like Duval.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Spicy Roasted Chicken Breasts with Lime

Chicken roasted at very high heat is one of life's simple pleasures. And this is one of the tastiest and simplest recipes you will find. After you make the rub, this meal is on your plate in just 30 minutes.

The rub is spicy and is complemented perfectly by the lime juice. I like serving this with a neutral side, like Rice Pilaf. For roasting at high heat, I always use a cookie sheet with a screen as it allows the heat to circulate completely around the breasts.

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon smoked paprika 
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 whole skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts
2 limes, halved

  1. Preheat oven to 500º.
  2. Mix cumin, turmeric, paprika and salt in a small bowl.
  3. Rub the skin side of each breast with 1/2 tablespoon of oil.
  4. Use half of the rub on the skin-side of each breast.
  5. Place chicken breasts, skin-side down on rack and then slide them into the oven. Cook for 10 minutes.
  6. After 10 minutes, flip breasts so that the skin-side is up. Cook for 15 minutes more.
  7. Remove breasts from oven. Tent them with foil and let them rest for 5 minutes. Squeeze the juice of half a lime over each breast. Then serve with another half lime on the side.

Wine pairing: You need a Zinfandel to stand up to these spices. If you have a close friend in the wine industry, see if they can score you a Turley Zinfandel from the Paso Robles Uberroth Vineyard. It's a 95-point wine that will set you back $48. If Santa left you only coal in your stocking, Rosenblum Zinfandel Vinter's Cuvee is a heck of a bargain at $7.99.

Merry Christmas to All!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Cincinnati Chili

Back in the late 80's and early 90's, I handled the advertising account for Valvoline. Their headquarters was in one of the most beautiful towns I have ever visited: Lexington, Kentucky. But in order to get to Lexington, you had to fly through Cincinnati. Since the little commuter planes that flew into Lexington were kind of few and far between, I was forced to spend a lot of time in the Cincinnati airport.

It's in the Cincinnati airport that I discovered one of the quirkiest regional mash-ups in cuisine. Their regional specialty was Cincinnati Chili....a mix of chili and buttered spaghetti noodles. I always ordered what was called 4-Way Cincinnati Chili: spaghetti, chili, onions and cheese. They had a 5-Way, but not being a bean fan, I never ordered it.

The chili is not really a Tex-Mex type of chili. Rather it has a distinct flavor and bit of sweetness to it, thanks in part to brown sugar and cinnamon. But it is incredibly delicious and once you have it, I can guarantee that you will be making this dish at least a couple of times per month.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups tomato sauce
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef

1 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons melted butter

1 yellow onion, chopped fine
16 ounces shredded cheddar cheese


  1. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook onions until soft and browned around edges, about 8 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, chili powder, oregano, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and allspice and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in chicken broth, tomato sauce, vinegar, and sugar.
  2.  Add beef and stir to break up meat. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until chili is deep brown and slightly thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. 
  3. While chili is simmering, cook spaghetti to al dente and when done, toss with butter.
  4. Season chili with salt. Serve with spaghetti noodles on the bottom, topped with chili, onions and cheese.

Pairing: If you insist on drinking red wine with this, I would recommend a Malbec from Argentina. But when it comes to chili, an ice cold beer is a match made in heaven. Make mine a Pacifico.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Belgian Ale, Beef and Onion Stew

This dish is considered the national dish of Belgium. What's really odd to me, is that they always serve the stew with French fries. But Belgium is also credited with the creation of French fries, so I guess you should serve your two most popular culinary gifts to the world along side of each other.

This dish is also considered the national dish of France. In France it is known as Carbonnade Flamande....and they, too, serve it with French fries. As a life-long Minnesotan who has endured 65 years of arctic winters, I'm of the firm belief that you serve stew in a big soup bowl with a warm loaf of crusty French bread.

The dish is quite simple. The basics are ale, beef, onions and broth. The key ingredient here is the ale....and it must be Belgian. Fortunately, Belgium is considered the ale capital of the world and they brew over 1100 different versions there. You want a dark, very strong ale for your stew. My two favorites for this recipe are Trappistes Rochfert 8  and Chimay Grande Reserve.

This recipe is ridiculously easy to make. Brown the beef...cook the onions....then add the ale and broths. But there is one thing that I am fanatical about when I make stew. I want the sauce in my stew to be substantial. If it's watery, it's soup...not stew. So I always use a starch to thicken my stews. Not flour or cornstarch...because that takes chemistry. I cheat and pour in potato buds, 3 tablespoons at a time, until I get that thick, stew consistency I like. No chemistry. No cold water. Just old fashioned potato buds. How's that for simple?

3-1/2 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1" cubes
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium yellow onions, halved and sliced 1/4" thick
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons of flour
3/4 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup beef broth
12 ounces Belgian dark ale
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Potato buds

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 300 degrees. Dry beef thoroughly with paper towels, then season generously with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat until beginning to smoke; add about one-third of beef to pot. Cook without moving pieces until well browned, 2 to 3 minutes; using tongs, turn each piece and continue cooking until second side is well browned, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer browned beef to medium bowl. Repeat with additional 2 teaspoons oil and half of remaining beef. (If drippings in bottom of pot are very dark, add about 1/2 cup of above-listed chicken or beef broth and scrape pan bottom with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits; pour liquid into bowl with browned beef, then proceed.) Repeat once more with 2 teaspoons oil and remaining beef. 
  2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to now-empty Dutch oven; reduce heat to medium-low. Add onions, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and tomato paste; cook, scraping bottom of pot with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits, until onions have released some moisture, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are lightly browned, 12 to 14 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour and stir until onions are evenly coated and flour is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in broths, scraping pan bottom to loosen browned bits; stir in ale, thyme, bay leaves, vinegar, browned beef with any accumulated juices, and salt and pepper to taste. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to full simmer, stirring occasionally; cover partially, then place pot in oven. Cook for 2 hours.
  3. Discard bay leaves. Thicken sauce, if desired, with potato buds. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Wine pairing: This is hearty stew with big flavor. You're going to need the same in a big red wine. The list could be endless here: Barolo, Amarone, Bordeaux ...but to keep in simple I would opt for a big Syrah. Tops on my list would be a Plumpjack Syrah....94 points and $60 a bottle. If you still have a lot of presents to buy, get a McManis Petite Sirah. You just might pick it over the Plumpjack in a blind taste test and it will only set you back $8.99.

Me and Goldie, 1956.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Sparkling Water

I have always been a huge fan of sparkling water. I started drinking it in the last century. The first sparkling water I was drawn to was Gerolsteiner, imported from Germany. I switched alliances back in 2001 when I joined Costco. Costco did not sell Gerolsteiner, so I bought their featured brand, Pellegrino, imported from Italy.

For the last 16 years, I've been buying a case a week from Costco. I go through the it was water. I drink 3 liters per day. And last spring I came across a product that made me rethink my consumption of sparkling water.

There are two basic problems when it comes to Pellegrino. It is bottled in Italy. It weighs a lot. So each case must be shipped to the Eden Prairie Costco....across Europe....across the Atlantic...and then half way across America. That makes it expensive...about $1.25 per liter bottle.

The same weight issue causes another problem. A case weighs almost 40 pounds and I have to carry it to my car and then carry into my office once I get home. Every week...52 times each year....a little over a ton a year. The gods gave me a finite number of heartbeats and I began to ponder that I might be wasting a lot of them carrying water.

I live in Bloomington, MN. The city takes great pride in the fact that that they just won the National Tap Water Taste Test contest, as judged by the American Water Works Association. We do have great tasting tap water. If only they would carbonate it before they sent it through my faucets!

When SodaStream was first rolled out, it was sold with syrup for people to make "pop" at home. I didn't pay any attention to it as I don't like soft drinks. But Williams Sonoma had a vision that the technology could be used by sparkling water aficionados to make sparkling water at home. So they came up with a product called "The Penguin". It is sold exclusively through Williams Sonoma.

My wife, Becky, bought me one for my birthday and I have been smitten ever since. I simply fill up a one liter bottle with the country's best tasting tap water, slip it into The Penguin and press the beak down twice. Voila....instant sparkling water!

You have total control over how much effervescence you add to the water. The CO2 cartridge used to charge the water runs $14.99. Each cartridge holds enough CO2 to make 60, one-liter bottles of sparking water. So the cost per liter is just 25¢...compared to Pellegrino at $1.25 per liter. Given that I consume 3 liters per day, I'm saving $3.00 per day...almost $1,100 per year. Best of all, I'm not wasting my finite number of heartbeats schlepping 40-pound boxes of water all over town.

The Penguin costs $159 at Williams Sonoma. It comes with one CO2 cartridge and two, 1-liter bottles. I bought extra bottles so that I just need to make sparkling water once per day. Once my cartridge is empty, I take it to Best Buy and exchange it for a full one for $14.99. Target and Sears also exchange cartridges. A new cartridge runs $30...but when you exchange them, you just pay $14.99 (the price of the gas).

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Potato Casserole

I've had my fill of turkey. I had it for dinner Thursday, lunch on Friday and dinner Friday night. Enough already. What I'm really hungry for is a Kirkland Spiral Ham.

And the best thing to serve with ham is a potato casserole. This particular recipe is from Keri Venuti, who runs a gas station in Boulder, Utah. It's a casserole often referred to as "Funeral Potatoes". And while she does make them for funerals, she also makes them for weddings, birthdays, potluck dinners.....and she also served them for Thanksgiving!

What attracted me to her recipe is that the casserole is made from hash browns. God, how I love my hash browns! And to the hash browns she adds every blue-collar delight known to man....onions, butter, sour cream, cream of chicken soup, cheddar cheese and corn flakes! This casserole is decadent. But I think the reason they call it "Funeral Potatoes" is because, after you eat it, you'll think you've died and done gone to heaven.

1, 30-ounce package frozen shredded hash browns
9 tablespoons butter
1/2 yellow onion, diced
3 cups corn flakes, lightly crushed
2 cups sour cream
2, 10-1/2 ounce cans cream of chicken soup
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups grated cheddar cheese


  1. Set hash browns on counter for 1 hour before preparing this dish.
  2. Preheat oven to 350º.
  3. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently until translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. In a small saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Once melted, combine butter and cornflakes in a small bowl.
  5. In a large bowl, combine sour cream, remaining butter and cream of chicken soup. Add salt, onions, grated cheese and hash browns and stir to combine. Transfer to a 9" X 13" baking dish.
  6. Top casserole with corn flake mixture. Bake for 50 minutes and then serve.

Wine pairing: If it's ham and potato casserole, a Merlot will perfectly fit the bill. If you're rolling in the dough, you'll choose Wine Spectator's number one wine of the year: Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley Three Palms Vineyard, 2014. At Total Wine, that will set you back $84.99. If you're more frugal but still like a big bang for your wine buck, grab a Cloud Break Merlot for just $8.99.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Thanksgiving Menu 2017

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving. If you're a cook, it is the busiest cooking day of the year. Frenetic. Exhausting. But it is really rewarding to put together a meal of that magnitude.

I've been hosting Thanksgiving since 1984. Prior to that, my grandmother, Goldie, played host...but she suffered a stroke that year and I grabbed the baton.

I've cooked the turkey a million different ways. In the early days, I would use a cooking bag and use wine as the braising liquid. That made for a very moist bird, but I missed the beautiful golden skin that comes from roasting. There is a big divide in my family...some prefer white meat while others are strictly dark meat aficionados. So a few of times I just bought a couple of breasts and a plethora of legs. While that was functional, it lacked the aesthetics of a big, roasted turkey.

For the last few years, I've used convection roasting to cook my turkey. This year, I'm just going to roast it in the convection. I've always bought fresh turkey and I will do the same this year. I usually buy Butterball Turkeys at Costco because they sell them for a ridiculously low 88¢ per pound. But my favorite cooking magazine, Cook's Illustrated, just did a big taste test of turkeys. Butterball came in dead last.

This year, I followed their advice and purchased an organic, free-range turkey. Every one knows you should brine a turkey, but it is just a giant pain in the ass. I really hate brining. And then on Monday I opened up the latest Williams Sonoma catalog....and be still my heart. They were selling fresh, pre-brined, organic, free-range turkeys. So my 25-pounder delivers next from the farm.

The turkey will spend 4 hours in my oven. The first hour it will be cooking upside down on a roasting rack at 425º. That allows the slower cooking dark meat to get a head start. After 1 hour, I will keep it upside down but reduce the temp to 325º. (Note: You should keep the turkey upside down the entire time if it weighs more than 18 pounds. This will keep the breast meat really moist. If it weighs less than 18 pounds, you should flip it breast-side up after the first hour.) To ensure that the skin does not stick to the rack, line your rack with non-stick foil and punch about 20 holes in it so the juices can drain.

After four hours, I will tent the bird with foil and let it rest on the cutting board for 30 minutes before carving. This allows all of the juices to retreat from the surface and, through the magic of osmosis, redistribute the juices so that every bite is a little, moist taste of heaven.

Two legs are insufficient to please the dark meat lovers, so I will also roast 6 drumsticks. I just coat them with olive oil, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper...90 minutes at 350º will do the trick.

You can't have Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes. I'll use 5 pounds of russets with the skin left on. After they are cooked, my son Patrick uses his weight-room enhanced biceps to mash them up while mixing them with melted butter, warm cream and chives. Becky is making a sweet potato casserole and scalloped oysters...both dishes are her family's favorites.

I'll also make my enhanced stuffing (never inside the bird). I love Pepperidge Farm Sage and Onion Stuffing. I make a couple of bags just following the directions. To that I add hot Italian sausage and a mixture of sautéed onions, mushrooms, celery and garlic.

Dessert is courtesy of my mother-in-law, Joan. She bakes both pumpkin and apple pies. My dad always has a slice of each because he has proclaimed them as the "best tasting pies ever". Joan likes to give me cooking advice, so I just have her go sit on a chair in the backyard until we are ready to eat.

I'm serving two different wines this year. White lovers will be sipping on Josh Chardonnay. Red lovers will get to drink what I think is one of the greatest value wines of the year, McManis Petite Sirah. Both wines are screw tops so that I don't have to spend half of the afternoon with a corkscrew in my hand. I'll also make some hot chocolate so that Joan doesn't get too cold in the backyard while waiting for her invitation to re-join us for the family feast.

Now, as we all know, turkey gravy is the most important element of the Thanksgiving meal. I used to make it the old fashioned way....using the drippings and creating a roux after the turkey came out of the oven. But that makes it a frenzied task just as the whole meal is supposed to be coming together. Well, here is my favorite recipe for making gravy a couple of days ahead of time. You still use the turkey drippings, but are just adding them to your pre-made gravy. Easy peasy.

1 stick of butter 
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper
4 to 5 cups warm turkey stock
Turkey drippings


  1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour on the onions, stirring constantly, and cook until flour is golden to brown. Adjust heat so mixture does not burn.
  2. Gradually whisk in 4 cups stock until mixture thickens and is smooth. If it is too thick, add more stock. Cool, cover and chill.
  3. When ready to serve, reheat mixture over low heat, stirring. Scrape bottom of turkey pan and add drippings to gravy. Taste and adjust seasonings, then serve.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Crab Bombs

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and you know you'll need some appetizers to keep people occupied until it's bird time. Crab bombs are a perfect appetizer as they are light and refreshing and they will not fill your guests up. They only take about 5 minutes to make and then they are ready to go after a 30 minute turn in the oven.

If you want your crab bombs to be decadent, buy enough Alaskan King Crab Legs to harvest a pound of meat from. While that will give you the best tasting crab bombs, it significantly adds to the upfront labor requirements. If you don't want to spend more than 5 minutes making these, just buy a pound of lump crab meat.

My only advice is that when you are mixing the ingredients and then forming them into little balls, don't mix so thoroughly that you break all of the crab meat apart. Ideally, you want your crab bombs to contain big chunks of crab. And if you want your guests to give this appetizer a perfect "10", you'll want to serve your crab bombs with St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail Sauce. It is the best cocktail sauce I have ever tasted and you can find it at my beloved Costco for $7.99.

1 pound of crab meat
1 egg, beaten
1 cup crushed Ritz crackers
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon of Old Bay Seasoning
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce


  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. Place crabmeat in a mixing bowl. Add crushed crackers, Old Bay Seasoning and parsley to the crab. 
  3. In a separate bowl, combine egg, mustard, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Whip with a whisk until smooth. 
  4. Pour egg mixture over the crabmeat and crackers and gently mix, careful not to break up large lumps of crabmeat. Mold into golfball sized balls and place on a cookie sheet. Then bake for 30 minutes. 

Wine pairing: If you've got your boss coming over for Thanksgiving dinner, best to trot out a bottle of Duckhorn Merlot Napa, 2012. Yes, it will set you back $88.99 at Total Wine....but that next promotion will be right around the corner. If it's just your cousins and those horrible in-laws that you are cooking for, a $10.99 bottle of Running With Scissors Merlot will still impress the ingrates.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Garlic Braised Beef Shanks in the Slow Cooker

Beef shanks are the Rodney Dangerfield of the butcher shop...they get no respect. You will usually find them in the meat section marked with a little sticker that says "Great for Soup." And they are great for soup! They are a mainstay of one of my favorite grogs4blogs recipes for Beef Barley Vegetable Soup:

But I am here to tell you that this cut of beef deserves a lot of respect. First, beef shanks are the baby brother of one of the greatest culinary delights of all-time: Osso Buco. The only difference is that Osso Buco is a 6" long section of beef veal bone while beef shanks are usually about 1" thick. I'm not a fan of how veal cows are raised and I actually prefer the fuller beef flavor of mature cows.

Beef shanks are portions of the leg. If you tried to cook them up fast, they would be inedible because the meat is comprised of tough muscle and tendons. But braise them in your slow cooker for 8 hours and all of the muscle and tendon are rendered into a "fall-off-the-bone" delightfully, tender meat. And talk about flavor...the bone and the marrow knock this cut right out of the park. And here's the best part: beef shanks sell for roughly $4.00 a pound. Cheaper than ground beef!

This is a great fall meal. It goes really well with potatoes or any whole grain. I made this last night and served it with hull-less barley. I also cheated and made a quick gravy using 1-1/2 cups of the slow cooker liquid mixed with 1 packet of Knorr Brown Gravy Mix....and it was f*cking awesome! This recipe serves four.

4 large beef shanks (roughly 4 pounds)
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups beef stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 anchovies, minced
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon rosemary


  1. Generously season shanks on both sides with the salt and pepper.
  2. Add two tablespoons olive oil to a large fry pan over medium high heat. When oil is shimmering, add shanks to the pan and brown them for 4 minutes per side. Then place shanks in your slow cooker.
  3. In the same pan, add 1 tablespoon of oil and the diced onion and garlic cloves. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are translucent. Then add onions and garlic to the slow cooker.
  4. Return the frying pan to the heat and add the beef stock, tomato paste and anchovies. Stir well and use a wooden spatula to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Then pour the mixture into the slow cooker.
  5. Sprinkle thyme and rosemary into slow cooker. Then cover, turn slow cooker to low and cook for 8 hours.
  6. After 8 hours, serve shanks with a little bit of slow cooker liquid poured over them....or you could make a cheater gravy with a packet of Knorr mix.

Wine pairing: This dish is deceiving. It uses an inexpensive cut of beef but it tastes very expensive in it's finished form. If you have a low balance on your Platinum American Express Card, you should pop for a Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Signature, 2014. It will cost you $69.99 at Total Wine but every single drop of this 94-point wine will be so worth it. If you're just $11 shy of maxing out your Discovery Debit Card, you can get a quite tasty Grayson Cabernet Sauvignon for $10.99.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Sausage and Pepper Sheet Pan Dinner

I have OCD. I like everything to have a pattern and structure. Everything should fit neatly into it's own little box. Growing up, my mother kept everything on track by always serving us our aluminum TV dinners at precisely 6pm. That schedule still governs my world today. I like my dinner precisely and exactly at 6pm.

Being retired, I have all of the time in the world to stay on that schedule. I love to cook and I just adjust my prep and cooking time to hit that goal each day. Today, Becky and I are going to Macalester to catch my son Patrick's last home football game of the 2017 season. That means we won't get back home until close to 5pm.

I will stay on track by making a sheet pan dinner tonight. All of the ingredients go on a sheet pan and you just slide it into a hot oven. In just 30 minutes, everything is cooked and ready to eat....just add mustard. It's the perfect meal for the control enthusiast who is short on time and needs to meet an all-important imaginary goal.

4 sweet Italian sausages
1 large orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
1 large green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
4 hoagie rolls, for serving


  1. Preheat oven to 425º and line sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2. Toss the sliced onions with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place them exactly on the left side of the cookie sheet. Toss the sliced peppers with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place them precisely in center of the sheet pan. Place the sausages, with great precision, to the right of the peppers.
  3. Slide sheet pan into the oven and cook for 30 minutes on the button.
  4. After 30 minutes, place each sausage in hoagie roll and top each with peppers and onions.

Wine pairing: One could make an excellent case that this meal would be great to wash down with a pilsner....and I would not argue. But the wine lover in me would feel compelled to combine sweet Italian sausages with Chianti. That's what they would do in Tuscany. If it's Saturday night and you just got paid, snarf a bottle of 2014 Antinori Marchese Chianti Reserva. That will drain $39.99 from your wallet when you check out at Total Wine. If you didn't get paid and have to stop by Payday America for a quick loan, let them know you will need $8.27 to buy a bottle of Ruffino Chianti.

Me and the ultimate control enthusiast, 1956

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Pasta with Garlic, Lemon, Capers and Tuna

I stumbled upon this Danette St. Onge recipe earlier in the week. I'm not sure why it caught my eye, as I'm usually on the hunt for beef recipes. But I happen to love all the ingredients in this dish. I saved the recipe and then made it for Becky and I last night. It was so light and refreshing and we both loved it!

The ingredients are so critical, so please read this before you start cooking. First, the pasta. Any short pasta like fusilli, rotini or penne will work. Just make sure it is a semolina based pasta. My favorite short pasta is the Barilla Collezione Artisanal Collection Penne, which I buy on

Next up are capers, which are actually hand-picked flower buds. Often sold in brine, those are just little green vinegar bombs. Instead, buy capers that are packed in sea salt. Rinse them under cold water and you will be amazed by their intricate flavor.

And now the most important ingredient...the tuna. Do not, under any circumstances, use tuna canned in water. That stuff tastes like wet cardboard. You need to buy a good Italian or Spanish tuna packed in olive oil. My favorite is Cento, which I buy by the case at Once you taste it, you will never be able to eat any other canned tuna.

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons salt-packed capers, rinsed
1/2 cup white wine
12 ounces of tuna canned in extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
16-ounces of short pasta

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and then add pasta. Cook to al dente, drain and put into a large bowl.
  2. In a medium skillet, gently heat the oil, half of the garlic, red pepper flakes and capers until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  3. Add wine and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 1 minute.
  4. Add tuna with it's oil and the butter to the skillet. Sauté until butter has melted
  5. To the large bowl with the pasta, add the skillet contents, remaining raw garlic and lemon zest. Mix all of the ingredients thoroughly. Season with sea salt to taste and add a generous grind of black pepper. Mix again and serve.

Wine pairing: This meal would be great with a big oaky Chardonnay. But I'm a red lover, so I'd opt for a nice fruity Merlot. If you're having special people over, point your Bentley towards Total Wine and get a Rombauer Merlot for $39.97. It's one of the most extraordinary wines you will ever taste. If you're still saving up to buy that Bentley, set the Nav system on your Toyota for Total Wine and grab a Columbia Crest Grand Estate Merlot for $6.97. It's a heckuva wine for under seven bucks! 

Me and Goldie, 1956

Monday, October 16, 2017

Baked Chili Macaroni and Cheese

I really dislike macaroni and cheese. In my youth, my mom did not like to cook. But knowing she was responsible for feeding my sister Kathy and I, she would often reach for a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. It was a single pan affair and apparently pasta, powdered cheese, margarine and milk ticked all her boxes as a complete meal. Oh, the horror.

I have been an adult now for 47 years and I am here to tell you that not once in that time period has one forkful of Macaroni and Cheese ever crossed my lips. But I was cruising the Interwebs last week and came across a recipe that caught my eye. Well, the photograph caught my eye, truth be told. The recipe was for a one-pot Chili Mac and Cheese dish.

As a general rule of thumb, I dislike one-pot recipes as they are full of shortcuts and compromises. I'm retired and having a crapload of time on my hands, so there is never a need for shortcuts when it comes to cooking. But the photograph looked really good to me and I thought: What if I were to create the meal as a casserole? For that, I turned to the one recipe that my mother made that I actually enjoyed as a kid.

My mom used to make Joey's Italian Goulash when I was little. It was actually more American than Italian, thanks to the hamburger...but I really liked it. Over time, I re-did her recipe and it is now one of my family's favorites:

So I used that recipe as the structure for my Baked Chili Macaroni and Cheese. And I simply swapped out the Italian ingredients for Mexican ingredients. And to give it an authentic chili taste, I turned to another favorite blog recipe of mine, The Loon Cafe's Pecos River Red Chili. I think that it is, perhaps, the greatest and most pleasingly complex spice mixture in all of Chilidom.

So on Sunday, Mac and Cheese was back on the Gruggen menu. And I'm here to tell you it was absolutely fabulous. Now granted, the ingredient list puts this dish in an entirely different galaxy than Kraft Mac and Cheese. And be forewarned, the recipe makes a double batch....I actually used two, 13" X 9" baking dishes. And I had enough cheese in there to fill a wheelbarrow. So we had dinner for four last night and polished off a baking dish. And it was so good, we're having the second baking dish tonight. Mac and Cheese! Shout it out!

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound Chorizo Sausage
1 pound ground beef

1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced

Four, 4-ounce cans of mild green chiles, diced
1, 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1, 14.5 ounce can of tomato sauce
3 pounds of shredded Mexican cheese, divided

4 tablespoons smoked paprika
2-1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2-1/2 teaspoons of chili powder

16 ounces elbow macaroni


  1. Pre-heat oven to 350º.
  2. In a large skillet, brown sausage and ground beef in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Use spatula to break meat into small crumbles. When browned, place meat in a large bowl.
  3. In the same skillet, add another tablespoon of oil and then onion and red bell pepper. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes, and then add to the meat in the large bowl.
  4. Add the chilis, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and 1 pound of cheese to the bowl. Then add all of the spices to the bowl.
  5. Cook macaroni to al dente in a large pot of water. Drain in a colander and add macaroni to the large bowl.
  6. Using a large spoon, thoroughly mix all of the contents in the large bowl. Then spoon the mixture into two, 13" X 9" baking dishes. Top each dish with 1 pound of cheese. Cover tightly with foil and slide the baking dishes into the oven.
  7. Cook for 45 minutes. Then remove foil and cook for 15 minutes more. Remove from oven and serve.

Wine pairing: Becky's cousin, Linda, joined us for dinner last night and brought a 94-point wine along. The wine was Unanime, a fantastic Cabernet/ Malbec blend from Argentina. What a treat! But if you're making this for a regular weeknight dinner, try a Trapiche Malbec Oak Cask...just $7.79 at Total Wine.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Prime Rib: Cooking with Fire

If you read my Roast Chicken blog that I posted yesterday, you will know that I have abandoned convection cooking. From here on in, I'm just using the heat of the oven to cook my foods. My oven is gas, so the source of that heat is fire.

This recipe is very simple and follows a similar methodology that I used for Roast Chicken. You are going to start cooking the meat at a very high temperature and then turn the heat down to gently finish cooking the roast. All you need to do this is an oven and a calculator. Well, that's not quite true, because I also use Lunds & Byerly's Dry-Aged Beef Seasoning...a spectacular combination of gray sea salt, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, basil, fennel and lavender. You can order it online from their web site:

This recipe works for both bone-in and boneless prime rib roasts. You are first going to blast the roast with heat, 500º for 15 minutes. Then you turn the oven down to 325º and cook it based on the weight of your roast and the desired level of doneness you want. Here are the cooking times for the different levels of finish:

Rare: 11 minutes per pound
Medium Rare: 13 minutes per pound
Medium: 15 minutes per pound

Here's an example of how it works. You bought a 6-pound roast and want to serve it medium rare. You heat the oven to 500º. First, cook the roast for 15 minutes at that high heat level, then turn the oven down to 325º. Then cook the roast for 78 more minutes at that lower temp (6 pounds X 13 minutes).

Using this recipe with my new oven has yielded perfect results every time. And, just as I discovered with my chicken, cooking the roast in this conventional manner yielded juicier meat than when cooked with a convection oven. For the purposes of sharing the recipe, I will use a 5-pound roast as an example. But you can buy whatever size suits your taste and adjust your cooking times accordingly.

One, 5-pound prime rib roast
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Lund's & Byerly's Dry-Aged Beef Seasoning

  1. Remove roast from refrigerator and let it sit on the counter for at least 3 hours prior to cooking.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 500º.
  3. Rub roast with oil and season generously with Dry-Aged Beef Seasoning.
  4. Put roast on a roasting rack/pan and slide into the oven. Cook for 15 minutes.
  5. After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 325º and cook for 65 minutes (5 pounds X 13 minutes for medium rare). Do not open oven during the entire cooking process.
  6. When the 65 minutes is up, remove roast from oven, tent with foil and let roast rest for 20 minutes. Then carve and serve.

Wine pairing: If you want to hang out with the big dogs on the porch, grab a Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa...yours for just $53.99 at Total Wine. Or, if it's your day to run with the chihuahuas, you can get a 90-point Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington state for just $6.97.

Me and Goldie, 1956