Saturday, February 27, 2021

Italian Stuffed Bell Peppers


In my world of favorite foods, hot Italian sausage is a strong number two behind my beloved steak. And this is a very fun way to serve it up. Actually, there are two different ways to serve this up. With the first, you shave off the top of the bell pepper and use the lower body as a bowl (as pictured above). The second way to serve this is to cut the pepper from pole to pole. Then you lay the halves out flat, add the meat stuffing and serve them like open-faced sandwiches.

While the recipe calls for a cup of cooked orzo, sometimes I get lazy and don't want to go to all the effort of cooking just one cup of pasta. So I just grab a pouch of Uncle Ben's Ready Rice (it comes already cooked) and that shaves a good 10 to 12 minutes off of my prep time. You'll only need a cup, so you will have a little rice left over.

This recipe is meant to be served as an entree. So when you go to the grocery store, check out the green, red and yellow bell peppers. You want to buy the biggest, honkin' peppers they have, regardless of color. Go big and then go home.


4 big bell peppers, 1/2-inch trimmed off tops (see photo), core and seeds discarded
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 pound hot Italian sausage, bulk
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cooked orzo pasta
One 14-1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
2 cups shredded mozzarella  cheese
3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1/2 cup prepared pasta sauce
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper


  1.  Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large stockpot or Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and then submerge bell peppers. Cook until peppers just begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, remove peppers from pot, drain off excess water, and place peppers cut-sides up on paper towels. 
  2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350º.
  3. Heat 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until hot, about 1-1/2 minutes; add oil and swirl to coat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add sausage and cook, breaking it into small pieces with spoon, until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer mixture to bowl with orzo; stir in tomatoes, 1 cup cheese, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Place peppers cut-side up in 9-inch square baking dish. Using soup spoon, divide filling evenly among peppers. Spoon 2 tablespoons pasta sauce over each filled pepper and sprinkle each with 1/4 cup of remaining cheese. Bake until cheese is browned and filling is heated through, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Wine pairing: Chianti

Grogs and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Not Quite Bolognese

Back in April of 2017, I shared what is considered the official recipe for Bolognese sauce. It was penned by Marie Asselin based on the Academia Italian della Cucina recipe registered with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce. You can see it here:

The official sauce is created with essentially equal amounts of meat and vegetables, the former being ground pork and beef while the latter consists of carrots, onion, celery and garlic. It is cooked in a sauce that is comprised of white wine, crushed tomatoes and milk. The sauce is rich and delicious. But it is essentially neutral....a sum of the ingredients where no particular flavor or spice shouts out. If it were a car, it would be a tastefully understated, black Mercedes S-Class sedan. 

Now imagine if you were to change the sauce so it became a bright red, 12-cylinder Ferrari roadster. While that would make it not quite Bolognese, you would be creating a ragu based on the bones of Bolognese. Spicy. Hot. Extravagant. Much more meat-forward and swapping out a lot of ingredients to take the taste to a next level. Here's how I would do that:

4 ounces applewood smoked bacon, diced 
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound ground beef
1 pound of bulk, hot Italian sausage

2 tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 large rib celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
2 anchovy filets, chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds

1 cup dry red wine
1 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup beef stock
1 teaspoon of dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons Turkish oregano 
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

(NOTE: My tiny brain really dislikes the tedious task of dicing vegetables. If you are of like mind, do this: quarter the onion, cut the carrot and celery into thirds and leave the garlic cloves whole. Drop them in a food processor, where 2 or 3 pulses will give you a coarse chop equivalent to dicing.)

  1. Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, add bacon and cook until bacon is slightly crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and let it sit on paper towels.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the bacon grease. 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.
  3. In the same saucepan, add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and when simmering, add sausage. Stir and break up lumps. Cook until the meat has browned and the liquid has evaporated.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons butter to the sausage. When the butter has melted, add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and a good pinch of salt. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often. Return the bacon and beef to the pan and cook for another 5 minutes, until the vegetables have softened. Then add anchovies, red pepper flakes and fennel seeds.
  5. Over medium heat, pour the red 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).
  6. Add tomatoes and their liquid, tomato paste, heavy cream and beef stock. Crush tomatoes with a wooden spatula, then add rosemary, thyme, oregano and bay leaf. Then add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Stir to mix thoroughly. 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 beef stock. In the end, the sauce should be thick, more oil than water-based and thick like oatmeal. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
  7. After the 4 hour cooking time is up, add 3 tablespoons of butter and 1/3 cup of parmesan. Stir thoroughly until they have melted into the sauce. Toss sauce with cooked pappardelle noodles and serve with additional cheese for your guests to grate over the dish.

    Wine pairing: Brunello di Montalcino

Grogs and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Beef Tacos from Scratch


We love our tacos here in the Gruggen household. For the last 10 years or so, I've been lazy when it comes to making tacos. One pound of ground beef...three tablespoons of Costco taco seasoning...and one can of beer. Couldn't be simpler. But the taste is pretty pedestrian.

Way back in the 90's I used to make my taco meat from scratch. Ground beef and incredible mix of spices...half cup each of chicken broth and tomato sauce...and a splash of cider vinegar. So I started digging through Cook's Illustrated until I found my old friend. I made it this week and Becky and I were blown away by how much better it tasted.

When it comes to making tacos, I love Old El Paso Stand'n'Stuff taco shells.  They are made from yellow corn, which I consider a "must have" for a genuine taco experience. They are flat on the bottom so they do not tip over and heat evenly when I slide the shells with the meat into the oven. 

After the ground beef, the fillings are the fun part. Our preference: shredded lettuce, shredded Mexican cheese, Pico de Gallo salsa, hot sauce (Cholula for me and Sriracha for Becky), cilantro and sour cream. Whatever your topping preference, give this ground beef taco recipe a spin. It's greatness will be evident the second it hits your tongue.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons cider vinegar


  1. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, spices and salt; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. 
  2. Add ground beef and cook, breaking meat up with wooden spoon and scraping pan bottom to prevent scorching, until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, brown sugar, and vinegar; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently and breaking meat up so that no chunks remain, until liquid has reduced and thickened (mixture should not be completely dry), about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
  3. Spoon meat into the individual shells and then heat them for 5 minutes in a 350º oven. Then serve for people to add their favorite toppings.

Pairing: Cerveza

Grogs and Goldie, 1956