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