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


Friday, October 13, 2017

Roast Chicken: Cooking with Fire

My 60" Wolf range died last summer. It had horrible reliability, due mostly to the fact that it had a computer inside that was very poorly designed. The Wolf range was a dual fuel model, meaning that the stove burners were gas and the ovens were electric. The ovens also had a convection feature. The combination of very accurate electric heat and convection made roasting food a charm in the Wolf.

I replaced the Wolf with a Capital Culinarian. It is a purely mechanical stove and it only cooks with gas. But when I tried my Wolf convection roasting recipes on the Capital range, they did not work so well. After several failures, I decided to abandon the convection mode and cook only by traditional methods: Cooking with Fire.

The Capital ovens are gas, so fire is what is used to heat the oven. So I decided to embrace that fire and change my recipes to cook with it. The beauty of writing this blog over the last seven years is that I have all of my favorite recipes in one place. And that is why I am adding this roast chicken recipe to this body of that I will always have it in the same place as all my other favorite stuff.

This recipe is from Cook's Illustrated. It is incredibly simple and it yielded what Becky called "the best roast chicken I have ever tasted". You roast the chicken at a high temperature for 35 minutes, then turn the oven off and let it sit in the heat for another 35 minutes. The chicken cooks in a pre-heated cast iron pan. The pan cooks the thighs more quickly, so that the entire bird is at the ideal temperature at the end of cooking. The first 35 minutes turns the skin a golden brown while the second 35 minutes gently cooks the chicken, resulting in one of the juiciest chickens I have ever tasted. It became quite obvious to me that the convection cooking method robbed the bird of it's moisture.

One, 3-1/2 to 4 pound chicken*
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper


  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Place a 12" oven proof skillet on the rack and heat oven to 450º. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Rub entire surface with oil and sprinkle salt and pepper on the bird.
  2. Transfer chicken, breast side up, to pre-heated skillet in oven. Roast for 35 minutes (*roast for 40 minutes if your bird is larger than 4 pounds)
  3. After 35 minutes, turn off oven. Do not open oven door! Let the chicken cook for another 35 minutes.
  4. Transfer chicken to carving board and let chicken rest for 15 minutes uncovered. Then carve and serve.

Wine pairing: Roast chicken is one of my very favorite meals and I like to enjoy it with Pinot Noir. If it's a special dinner, get yourself a bottle of Domain Drouhin Pinot Noir. That will set you back $42.99 at Total Wine. If you are bargain shopping, choose a Cupcake Pinot Noir for $7.99...but let it breathe for 30 minutes before you pour.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Wrath of Canh

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to Canh. If you were to name this soup in the American vernacular, it would be "Vietnamese Meatball Soup". But my blog title is "The Wrath of Canh". So why is Canh pissed off? Because Pho, Canh's big brother, gets all of the attention when it comes to Vietnamese soup.

But making really good Pho is laborious. We're talking lots of hours in terms of getting the broth right and hand assembling the ingredients. And that's why Canh is pissed off. This soup is every bit as delicious as Pho, but it comes together in just about 30 minutes. So yes, Pho is the flashy big brother that wows the fans, but if you want a great Vietnamese soup that makes for a quick weeknight meal, look no further.

I made this last Wednesday for Becky and our friend Steve Hirtz. The recipe belongs to Soben Pin. I found it in the latest edition of "Milk Street" magazine. Milk Street was founded by Christopher Kimball, the former editor of Cook's Illustrated. Cook's Illustrated was recently acquired and the new owners dispatched Mr. Kimball, who fortunately decided to take his bat and ball and find another ball field to play on. Welcome to Milk Street.

The flavors are spectacular! A triumphant reunion of Vietnam's best: fish sauce, ginger, garlic and lime juice. The addition of the peppery watercress is pure genius. And oh, those meatballs! The trick to the meatballs is to make them ahead of time and then chill them in the fridge...that way they will hold together when you cook them in the soup. But frying or roasting them is always an option as well.

1 pound of ground pork
6 scallions, white parts finely chopped, green parts thinly sliced and reserved separately
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons fish sauce, divided
4 teaspoons grated ginger, divided
Kosher salt and ground white pepper
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 quarts chicken broth
1 bunch watercress, cut into 1-1/2" lengths

  1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with kitchen parchment and mist with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, combine the pork, scallion whites, egg white, 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce, 2 teaspoons of the ginger, 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon white pepper. Mix with your hands. Lightly moisten your hands with water and form into 20 balls, each about a generous tablespoon, and set on the prepared baking sheet. Cover and refrigerate.
  2. In a large Dutch oven over medium, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons ginger and the garlic, then cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the broth and bring to a boil over high. Reduce to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the onion is fully softened, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the meatballs, bring to a simmer over medium-high, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook undisturbed for 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in the watercress and remaining 2 tablespoons fish sauce. Let stand until the greens are wilted and tender, about 1 minute. Stir in the lime juice. Taste and season with salt and pepper, then stir in the scallion greens.

Wine pairing: This is a spicy soup and it begs for a big, fruity Zin to offset it. If you feel like splurging, it honestly doesn't get any better than a Rombauer Zinfandel. A bottle of that perfection will set you back $27.97 at Total Wine. But if you are saving up your hard earned dollars to buy a Lamborghini, pick a Rosenblum Zinfandel Vinter's Cuvee that will only put a $7.99 dent in your wallet.

Me and Goldie, 1956