Saturday, April 29, 2017

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Sausage Gravy

I find most chicken recipes to be incredibly bland. I find this to be especially true when it comes to chicken breasts. Yes, they are healthy and yes, they are protein. But they are just slightly above cardboard when it comes to tickling my tastebuds.

So to make them tolerable for my palate, I like to grill them over lump hardwood charcoal. Charcoal is always a star when it comes to adding flavor. But still, they are not flavorful enough. Yet there is a very simple way to send grilled chicken breasts to the very top of the flavor chart...and that's thanks to breakfast sausage.

Oh gravy, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Serve this breakfast sausage gravy over your grilled chicken breasts and you will be hailed as one of the greatest culinary gods to ever walk the earth. You can ratchet that status up even more by adding some warm, fresh baked biscuits to each serving plate. Thou shalt dip.


For the Gravy
1 pound pork breakfast sausage
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2-1/2 cups half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

For the Chicken
4, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt and black pepper


For the Gravy
  1. In a large cast iron skillet over high heat, cook sausage until crumbly and well-browned (about 10 minutes).
  2. Stir in flour and cook, stirring frequently until pan drippings have absorbed flour (about 5 minutes).
  3. Gradually stir in half-and-half. Let mixture come to a slow simmer and cook, stirring frequently until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  4. Add spices, stir and keep warm.
For the Chicken
  1. Prepare grill for direct cooking over high heat.
  2. Season breasts with salt and pepper on both sides.
  3. Cook chicken breasts directly over hot coals for 4 minutes. Flip breasts and cook for 4 minutes more.
  4. Remove breasts from grill and tent them with foil, letting them rest for 5 minutes.
  5. Plate chicken breasts and pour sausage gravy over each. Then serve.

Wine pairing: A big, fruity Merlot. If you're really lucky, it will be a bottle of Columbia Crest H3 Merlot.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Chardonnay Crush

This is a glass full of spring. Make two of these, grab your best bud and then go sit on the deck and watch the sun set. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Two, 1-inch thick slices of cucumber
4 blackberries
8 mint leaves
1 cup of chardonnay
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Soda Water
2 mint leaves and four lime quarters for garnish

  1. Place 1 cucumber slice, 2 blackberries and 4 mint leaves into two 8-10 oz glasses. Muddle using a pestle.
  2. Add ½ cup of Chardonnay, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and a handful of ice to each glass. Stir using a cocktail spoon for 10 seconds or until drink is cold. 
  3. Top with ¼ cup of soda and continue stirring for 5 more seconds or until combined. Garnish with mint leaves and limes.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Grilled Pastrami and Swiss on Rye

Granted....on the surface, it seems pretty unremarkable that I am featuring what appears to be a very pedestrian sandwich on my blog this week. I had the same feelings when I ran across this recipe on Flipboard, one of my favorite iPad apps. Flipboard is an aggregator app. You list things that are of interest to you and it pulls all those relative stories from across the web into one neat package.

Food and Recipes are but two of the topics I have entered into Flipboard. And that is where this seemingly unremarkable recipe popped up. But I read it anyway and found it to be remarkable for two reasons. First, the recipe calls for making this sandwich using homemade sweet onion marmalade. The addition of that ingredient takes this sandwich to infinity and beyond.

But I am not the only one who found it remarkable....and hence reason number two. The readers of Sunset Magazine voted this as one of the top 50 magazine recipes of all-time. And you have to love the simplicity: rye bread (marbled, if you are lucky), pastrami, Swiss cheese, and onion marmalade. This Jennifer Brumfield recipe makes two sandwiches.


For the Onion Marmalade
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup Zinfandel

For the Sandwiches
4 slices rye bread
2 tablespoons softened butter
8 slices pastrami
4 slices Swiss cheese
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard


  1. Make marmalade: Melt butter with oil in a large heavy frying pan over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper, stirring well to combine. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have softened and browned, about 20 minutes. Add vinegar and wine. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and onions are soft and sticky, about 10 minutes. Let marmalade cool slightly.
  2. Make sandwiches: Evenly spread one side of each bread slice with 1/2 tablespoon butter. Spread unbuttered side of 2 slices with 1-1/2 tablespoons marmalade each, then top with pastrami and cheese. Spread mustard on unbuttered side of remaining 2 bread slices and place each, buttered side up, on pastrami and cheese-topped slices.
  3. Heat a large nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add sandwiches and cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides and cheese is melted, about 5 minutes total.

Wine Pairing: If it's good enough to go into your Onion Marmalade, it's good enough to wash down your sandwich! Zinfandel it is.

A tip of my hat to my Dad today, which would have been his 66th wedding anniversary. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Bolognese Sauce: The Real Deal

In September of 2015, we rented a villa in Tuscany along with our two favorite couples, Steve and Taffy Hirtz and Scott and Debbie Drill. It was a spectacular trip. One of the day trips we took was to Siena, an ancient Italian town first settled in 900 BC. Siena has an enormous plaza in the center of town which is used twice a year to run the Palio di absolutely insane horse race. Ten riders race bareback for three laps at full speed. It is not out of the ordinary for a jockey to rip a competitor from his mount and many of the horses cross the finish line with no rider. Fatalities, too, are not an uncommon occurrence.

Unfortunately, we were not there during race season. But we hit Siena on a beautiful, sunny fall day and started out with lunch at a spectacular outdoor cafe. I ordered Bolognese with Pappardelle. It was so unlike anything I had ever tasted in the U.S. I've tried a ton of different bolognese recipes and none quite compared to what I had in Siena.

I've got two bolognese recipes in this blog, but they don't hold a candle to what I ate in Italy that day. The ones I've tried in America tend to be tomato-oriented and overburdened with Italian herbs. What I had in Siena was totally different. It was first and foremost a meat sauce...all the other ingredients played a minor supporting role. But Bolognese isn't meat heavy. Bolognese is amazingly delicate, rich in umami, creamy and understated.

The recipe to make authentic bolognese is not difficult. The key is that under no circumstances can the process be rushed. The only way to get a sauce this rich is time. It takes a full four hours of simmering for bolognese to reach perfection. When finely dicing the vegetables, it is of great benefit to the sauce if the dice of all are the same, small size. As for the pasta, you need one that can handle the heft of the sauce. Pappardelle is a thick, ribbon-like pasta that completely complements the sauce. This is a Marie Asselin recipe based on the Academia Italian della Cucina recipe registered with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce.

2 + 2 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/4 pounds lean ground beef
1-1/4 pounds ground pork

4 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion, finely and evenly diced
4 small (or 2 very large) carrots finely diced
4 stalks celery heart (or 2 large celery stalks) finely diced
4 garlic cloves, very finely diced
4-1/2 ounces diced pancetta (¼-inch cubes)
Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup Chardonnay
2 cups whole milk
1 28 ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, diced (both the liquid and the tomatoes)
1 cup beef stock

3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup grated parmigiana-reggiano cheese

  1. Heat a 2 tablespoons olive oil over high heat in a large saucepan. When oil is shimmering, add beef. Stir and break up lumps. You want the meat to brown and the liquid to evaporate. When browned, remove beef and set aside.
  2. In the same saucepan, add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and when simmering, add pork. Stir and break up lumps. Cook until the meat has browned and the liquid has evaporated.
  3. Add the butter to the pork. When the butter has melted, add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and a good pinch of salt. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the diced pancetta and reserved beef and cook for a further 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened and pancetta is golden. 
  4. Over medium heat, pour the white wine into the sauce pan. With a wooden spoon, scrape all the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Push the meat all around to make sure you scrape it all off. By the time you’re finished, the wine will be evaporated (2-3 minutes). Be careful not to let the meat stick again (lower the heat if necessary).
  5. Add milk, diced tomatoes and their liquid, beef stock, 1 teaspoon salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Bring to a boil and then lower to the lowest heat and let simmer very slowly, half-covered, for 4 hours. Stir once in a while. If your sauce starts sticking before the end of your cooking time, lower the heat (if possible) and/or add a bit of stock. In the end, the sauce should be thick, more oil than water-based and thick like oatmeal. Adjust the seasoning one last  time – don’t be afraid of adding more salt (tasting each time you add some) as it is this recipe’s key seasoning.
  6. After 4 hours, add 3 tablespoons butter and 1/3 cup parmigiana-reggiano cheese. Stir thoroughly. Toss sauce with cooked pappardelle noodles and serve with additional parmigiana-reggiano cheese for your guests to grate over the dish.

Wine pairing: I strongly recommend what I consider to be not just the finest wine it Italy, but the finest wine in the world: Barolo. And the older, the better.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Grilled Miso Scallops

Miso is a Japanese soybean paste. While it seems pretty straightforward when it comes to ingredients: soybeans, salt and is incredibly complex when it hits your tongue. That's because those simple ingredients have been combined with aspergillus orzyae bacteria and aged for 3 years.

The end result is what many consider to be the very pinnacle of "umami", which the Japanese call the fifth taste (after salt, sour, sweet and bitter). Umami is described as savory. When miso is used as a marinade for the scallops, "savory" and "sophisticated" are likely the first two words you will well as "f*cking awesome". This Mark Bittman recipe serves four.

1/2 cup white miso
2 tablespoons chardonnay
1/2 cup minced onion
Salt and cayenne pepper
1-1/2 pounds scallops*
Juice of one lime

*See here for a quick primer on buying sea scallops:

  1. Prepare a grill for direct cooking over high heat.
  2. Put miso in a bowl. Add wine. Whisk until smooth, adding more wine if needed. Stir in onion, a pinch of salt and of cayenne. Combine scallops, let sit 10 minutes. 
  3. Grill scallops, turning once after 2  minutes. Grill for 2 minutes more. Sprinkle with lime juice and serve.

Wine pairing: Chardonnay. A Ramey if you are really lucky.