Saturday, June 25, 2022

Reverse Sear, Smoked Tomahawk Steak


The Tomahawk Steak has become my favorite thing to grill this summer. These steaks are everywhere. Both Costco and my local grocery store have them on display. It features my favorite cut of steak, the Bone-In Rib Eye. And it makes it all fancy by frenching the bone.

The meat typically runs about 3-inches you can't just cook them up like a regular steak. Meat this thick needs to be cooked low and slow, so that the entire steak is gently brought up to 125º at the same time. While you can certainly do that in an oven, using a pellet smoker to bring it up to temperature infuses the meat with incredible flavor, thanks to the smoke from oak and mesquite.

To ensure that the steak cooks evenly, I put it on the kitchen counter a good 5 hours before my cook. If you leave it in the fridge, the cold center is going to throw off all of your cooking. You want the entire steak at room temperature before you hit the smoker.

Salt it generously when you take it out. Hit both sides and the outer rim with the salt. Then season it again with salt and pepper right before it hits the smoker. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding the bone. This is a precision cook and you are going to pull the steak at precisely 125º.

Once you've hit that temp, you are going to sear the meat. Remove the steak and crank up your smoker to high, then sear 4 minutes per side over the fire box. If your smoker doesn't get over 500º, then use your grill or a cast iron pan on your stovetop to sear. Rest the steak 10 minutes, where it will gently raise the temp to a little under 135º, a perfect medium rare.... then start cutting off your little slices of heaven.

1 Tomahawk steak, 2-1/2 to 4 pounds
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper

  1. Five hours prior to cooking, remove steak from refrigerator and place on a wire rack over a sheet pan or foil. Salt generously on all 3 sides. Let steak come to room temperature.
  2. Pre-heat your pellet smoker to 225º approximately 30 minutes before you cook. I use oak and mesquite use whatever you choose.
  3. Right before you put the meat in the smoker, season it again with the salt and pepper. Insert meat thermometer in the steak and place in smoker. 
  4. Depending on the size of your steak, it should take  about 30 to 60 minutes to hit the 125º temperature goal. When it does, pull steak, tent with foil and let it rest while you crank up your smoker to high.
  5. When your smoker is at 500º +, place steak directly over fire box and sear 4 minutes per side. 
  6. Pull steak and tent with foil. Let it rest 10 minutes, then slice and serve.

Wine pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Spicy Grilled Pork Kabobs


Don't let the ingredient list intimidate you. This is a really easy, really quick recipe....perfect for a weeknight dinner. While the marinade ingredient list is indeed long, there's really no work involved. It's a simple "dump everything in a food processor" and pulse until it's liquified. The marinating time is just 30 minutes, which is all the time you need to get a ripping hot fire on your grill. And then just 6 to 8 minutes to cook it all up.


For the Pork
1-1/2 pounds pork tenderloin, cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
Kosher salt

For the marinade
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 bunch cilantro (include stems)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 garlic cloves
1 jalapeno, seeds and stem removed
1 teaspoon honey
1-1/2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoons coriander seeds

For Serving/Garnish
1 small red onion, sliced
1/2 bunch cilantro
Lime wedges

  1. Season pork chunks lightly with kosher salt and put it in a Ziplock bag.
  2. Put all marinade ingredients in a food processor and pulse until liquefied. Pour marinade over pork and seal bag. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. Prepare grill for direct cooking over high heat.
  4. Thread pork onto skewers, leaving a little space between the chunks. Grill directly over high heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Then flip and grill for another 3 to 4 minutes. Meat should be browned all over and charred in spots (cooked to medium with no pink).
  5. Serve the pork with cilantro sprigs and onion slices on top and lime wedges for squeezing.

Wine pairing: Zinfandel

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Gỏi gà (Vietnamese Chicken Salad)


This is a great weeknight meal for those times you don't feel like cooking. If you do want to cook, grilling up a couple of chicken breasts is no big deal. An easier option would be to just grab a rotisserie chicken and shred up some breast meat. My local grocery store, Jerry's, makes it even easier. Whenever they have leftover rotisserie chickens, they cut each of them up into 8 pieces and sell them the next day as oven roasted cold chicken. 

Then there's the veggie part. Since I'm already being lazy by not cooking, I add to my laziness by buying shredded cabbage and carrots. That means my vegetable knife is only needed for slicing red onion and chopping cilantro.  Now that's easy!

The only difficult ingredient in this recipe is the fried shallot, which is an important pantry item if you are big on Vietnamese cooking. Actually fried shallot or fried red onion will work...readily available online or any Asian grocery. Now these are not the breaded variety like French's Fried Onions. They are made by simply frying the raw vegetables in hot oil. That is actually easy to do if you are so inclined. They add a delicious crunch to the salad. But again, I prefer the lazy way, so I buy mine in bulk from


For the Salad
1/2 medium red onion, cut into thin slices
2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 pound boneless chicken breasts, cooked, chilled and shredded
1/2 medium green cabbage (about 20 ounces), shredded
1 large carrot, shredded or julienned (4 to 6 ounces)
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, stems and leaves, chopped
3/4 cup fried shallots

For the Dressing
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large lime, juiced (2-1/2 tablespoons of juice required)
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar

  1. Pickle the onion. Combine red onion and rice vinegar in a bowl. Mix well and let sit for 15 minutes.
  2. Place pickled onion in a large salad bowl and discard leftover rice wine vinegar.
  3. Add all other salad ingredients to bowl and toss.
  4. Make the dressing. Combine all dressing ingredients in a  small bowl. Whisk to mix throughly until all sugar is dissolved.
  5. Pour dressing over salad and toss thoroughly to mix. Then serve.

Wine pairing: Sauvignon Blanc

Friday, June 3, 2022

Emily Blunt's English Roasted Potatoes


I became a big fan of Emily Blunt after I saw her in the remake of "Mary Poppins". Loved her in "A Quiet Place" and A Quiet Place 2". Imagine my surprise to learn that Ina Garten loves Emily Blunt for her English Roasted Potatoes Recipe. You will, too.

Bloggers Note: For those of you subscribed to my blog, I apologize that you were sent the recipe again. However, the original post became corrupt and I had to rewrite it. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Kosher salt
3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut to 1-1/2 inch dice
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Coarse sea salt
Minced parsley

  1. Preheat oven to 425º.
  2. Bring a large pot of water with 2 tablespoons kosher salt to a boil.  Add the potatoes, return to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 8 minutes.  Drain the potatoes, place them back in the pot with the lid on, and shake the pot roughly for 5 seconds to rough up the edges.  Carefully transfer the potatoes in one layer to a baking rack set over a sheet pan.  Set aside to dry for at least 15 minutes.  (They can sit at room temperature for several hours or in the fridge for up to 6 hours.)
  3. Pour the oil onto another sheet pan, tilt the pan to distribute the oil, and place the pan in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until the oil is smoking hot.  Transfer the potatoes carefully into the oil ( use a large metal spatula) and toss them lightly to coat each potato with the hot oil. Lower the oven temperature to 350º. Roast for 45 minutes to one hour, turning the potatoes occasionally with tongs, until very browned and crisp on the outside and tender and creamy inside.
  4. Transfer to a serving platter, sprinkle generously with 1½ to 2 teaspoons sea salt and parsley and serve hot.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Grilled Picanha Roast


Picanha...the cut of beef that made Brazil famous. It's actually what we in the states call a top sirloin roast. But in the states, we trim off that marvelous fat cap, which is truly a crime against humanity. In Brazil, it's left on and what it does to the flavor of the beef is beyond description.

Brazilian steak houses take the Picanha roasts and cut them up into steaks. The steaks are then threaded on a very long skewer and cooked over a wood fire. If you've been to Fogo de Chao Steakhouse, you've seen the waiters walking around with these imposing swords of Picanha steaks and then slicing the steaks off the skewer at the table for the customer. 

It's high drama and the steaks are certainly delicious. However, I prefer to grill my Picanha roast intact. A hot sear on each side and then a low and slow indirect cook. What happens to the taste of the meat is magical. You get a fantastic sear on the meat and fat cap sides and then that fat cap gets a chance to partially melt into the meat.

When it comes to beef, fat equals flavor, so a Picanha roast is one of the most flavorful roasts you can buy.  The roasts are not very large, usually 2-3 pounds each and therefore not terribly expensive. However, they are not easy to find. Costco has them once in a blue moon. You can special order them from your butcher.  Finding them online is a breeze....I've had good luck with both Snake River Farms and Porter Road .

1 Picanha roast, 2 to 3 pounds
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

  1. Prepare your grill for 2-zone cooking; a high-heat side and an indirect side.
  2. Two hours prior to cooking, remove roast from refrigerator and set on a wire rack. Coat both sides with the olive oil and and season generously with salt and pepper.
  3. When coals are white hot, set roast over coals, fat side down and grill covered for 5 minutes.
  4. Then flip steak and grill covered for 5 more minutes.
  5. Transfer steak to indirect heat side of grill, fat side up. Close the dampers on your grill so that you are maintaining a grill temp of 275º. Grill for approximately 50 more minutes. Use a meat thermometer to check temperature of meat in the thickest area. Pull the roast when you hit 125º. Tent the roast with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Slice and serve.

Wine pairing: A Malbec from Argentina

Image from

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Chipotle Sloppy Joes


Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved sandwiches. Ever since I was an adult, I have loved YouTube star "Sam the Cooking Guy". So imagine my delight this week when Sam came out with a brand new cookbook "Between the Buns" entire book dedicated solely to sandwiches.

I find Sam interesting because he has a really dry sense of humor, swears like a sailor and is a brilliant cook. He owns a slew of restaurants in San Diego, but he does all of his YouTube videos on his home patio. He primarily cooks on an EVO flat top grill....which is something like giant, upside down cast iron pan, albeit 36" wide.

If you have time, check out his YouTube videos. If you like sandwiches, snarf yourself a copy of "Between the Buns". And enjoy his take on Chipotle Sloppy Joes. Becky, my son Sean and I did last Wednesday night and they were awesome! (served chili-lime Tater Tots on the side)

1 tablespoon olive oil 
1/2 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 pound ground beef
1 large garlic clove, minced
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
6 ounces tomato paste
1 cup really good beer
4 chipotle peppers, finely minced
4 hamburger buns

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and bell pepper and cook for 3 minutes. 
  2. Then add ground beef and cook until no red remains. Add garlic and cook for one minute.
  3. Season with salt and pepper. Then add Worcestershire, tomato paste, beer and chipotles. Mix throughly and then let simmer over medium low heat for 10 minutes until thickened.
  4. Serve on hamburger buns.

Pairing: An ice-cold Pacifico

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Hot Dogs with Pico de Gallo


I've never lost my love for a good hot dog. Still make them for lunch these days. I can remember when my boys were little, we'd always arrive at the Minnesota State Fair at the crack of dawn....and a foot-long hot dog smothered in onions and yellow mustard was what we always had for breakfast.

There's a company here in Minnesota that opened it's doors 20 years before I was born. And they started making the most incredible hot dogs....I've yet to find a dog that is even close. Ambassador Old Fashioned Wieners are my all-time favorite. They call it a Scandinavian-style hot dog. It has a very unique, slightly sweet favor. It's made with beef and pork and then wrapped with natural casings and smoked over hardwood for hours on end.

The recipe I'm sharing today is from The New York Times. Their recipe does not call for Ambassador Old Fashioned Wieners. But if I were the author, I would tell you to make sure you use this wiener. It has an incredible taste and the perfect "snap" when you bite into it. As anyone from Minnesota will tell you, the best complement to a fresh and vibrant Mexican salsa is a Scandinavian hot dog.


For the Pico de Gallo
2 firm tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced
1/2 small white onion, diced
2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/cup cilantro leaves with stems, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice, plus more to taste
Kosher salt 

For the Hot Dogs
4 hot dogs
4 hot dog buns
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

  1. Combine all of the Pico de Gallo ingredients in a medium bowl. Season with salt and mix well. Add more lime juice and/or salt to taste. Set aside.
  2. Prepare a grill for direct cooking over medium heat.
  3. Butterfly the hot dogs: Slice them in half lengthwise without cutting all the way through, then open them so they lay flat. Place them on the grill, cut-side down, and cook until grill marks appear, 3-5 minutes. Then flip the dogs, so that the casing side is down, and cook until casing deepens in color, 2-4 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, open hot dog buns and spread mayo on the cut sides. Grill, cut-side down, until toasted, 1-2 minutes. Then flip the buns and grill for 1 minute.
  5. Place the grilled dogs in the toasted buns, cut-side up. Then pile the Pico de Gallo into the butterflied opening. Serve with remaining salsa on the side.  

Pairing: An ice cold Pilsner

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Refried Fried Chicken


I love fried chicken. But I'm really picky about how and when it's served. It's gotta be fresh out of the oil....piping hot...and that chicken skin better be friggin' potato chip crisp. Miss out on any of those and it's game over.

I have a confession to make. In all my years in the kitchen, I have never, ever attempted to make fried chicken. I just look at a fried chicken recipe and my eyes glaze over. Way too tedious. Way too much work. Way too much to clean up. And I know my very best effort would not hold a candle to KFC on their worst day.

But, I'm just not a fan of the fast food dining experience. The ambience of a restaurant with furniture, floors and walls that can all be hosed down each evening leaves me wanting. Not a fan of their wine list, either. So how do I get that fresh oil taste, piping hot and potato chip crisp chicken at home? I cheat.

Say hello to my little friend.....the air fryer. It makes refried chicken at home so stinking easy. So here's how I accomplish this. I just go buy whatever fully cooked, fried chicken I feel like eating that night. Then I take it home and toss it in the fridge.

One hour before Becky and are I going to eat, I spread the chicken out on a platter and let it come to room temperature. Then into an air fryer (with a light spray of oil) for 5 minutes. Then flip the chicken pieces over and air fry them for another 5 minutes. All done. 

A bucket of really good fried chicken
Spray cooking oil

  1. One hour prior to eating, remove chicken from fridge and spread out on a platter so that it comes to room temperature. 
  2. Take 6-8 pieces and spread them out on the bottom off your air fryer. Do not crowd the pieces and they should not touch. Give them a light spray of cooking oil.
  3. Close air fryer and cook chicken for 5 minutes at 350º (no preheating necessary). After 5 minutes, flip pieces, add a light spray of oil and cook for another 5 minutes at 350º. Then serve.

Pairing: Champagne*

* I know things. And one of the things I know is that you will be absolutely blown away by the pairing of champagne and fried chicken. At first blush it seems illogical. But I guarantee that once you try it, you will be a convert for life. I have never cared for champagne, but what it does paired with fried chicken is astounding.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Smoked Beef Round Roast with Zip Sauce


Round roasts come from well-exercised muscles in the cow. While big on taste, they contain little or no marbling. So you have to be careful cooking these cuts, for they become very tough and chewy if overcooked. You can use any of the three beef rounds: Top Round, Eye of Round or Bottom Round. While all are delicious and relatively inexpensive, I prefer Top Round as it is the most tender.

After applying olive oil and seasoning to the roast, you are going to set it directly on the grates after your smoker is heated to 225º. The rule of thumb here is roughly 30 minutes per pound. But I would encourage you to use a meat probe during your entire cook. That way you will hit the perfect temp and never have to open the smoker during your cook. Insert the probe into the thickest part of the meat and then pull your roast at 120º. After resting and searing, your roast will be at 125º....a perfect medium rare.

Zip Sauce is a regional specialty. It was first used in the 1940's by Lelli's Inn, an Italian restaurant in Detroit. It's a simple, butter-based sauce that takes inexpensive cuts of beef to a whole new level. Splash some on your smoked top round roast and you and your guests are in for a total drool fest! Pass the bibs, please.


For the Roast
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 pound Top Round beef roast

For the Zip Sauce
8 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

  1. Combine first 5 ingredients to create a rub. Mix thoroughly.
  2. Rub roast with olive oil, then massage rub into the roast.
  3. Let roast sit at room temperature for 1 hour. 
  4. Preheat smoker to 225º. Insert probe into thickest part of roast and place roast on smoker grates*.
  5. Cook roast for approximately 2 hours, until the probe shows a temperature of 120º.
  6. While the roast is cooking, combine all Zip Sauce ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a bare simmer, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm until ready to serve.
  7. Pull roast from smoker, tent with foil and let roast rest for 10 minutes. While it's resting, heat a cast iron pan on your stovetop over medium high heat. Then unwrap roast and sear on all sides until browned, about 4 minutes.
  8. Cut roast into thin slices and serve with Zip Sauce.
*I use a pellet smoker and prefer a mix of pellets that contain both hickory and oak. Feel free to choose whichever wood you prefer for smoking beef.

Wine pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Cooking With Fire


Every year, they come out with a new list: "Best Charcoal Grills of the Year!". And year-in and year-out, the Weber Kettle is always at the top of the list. Deservedly so. It is an awesome charcoal grill. Earlier this year, I got an email that had a list of "The Best Charcoal Grills of 2022". No surprise, the Weber Kettle was at the top. But second on the list was a grill I had never heard of....the PK 360. They praised it to high heaven but relegated it to second choice because it was so much more expensive than the Weber (Weber Kettles start at $119 while the PK 360 is $999). But the review had an interesting line in it: "The PK 360 is the only charcoal grill that is a true upgrade from the Weber Kettle". Wow.

I've been cooking on Weber Performers since 2008. I love the grill, but over time it deteriorates, requiring replacement of the parts to keep it running. Of particular concern is the 3-blade mechanism that is part of the "One Touch" cleaning system. It is made of a very soft metal that is susceptible to warping...especially if you are cooking with lump charcoal. Once a blade warps or bends, you can neither use the "One Touch" to clean the grill nor seal the bottom vent.

The Weber's Achilles Heel

So to clean the kettle, you have to remove both sets of grates and manually sweep the ashes into the slots. Royal pain. And if that wasn't bad enough, you can't close the bottom vent after a cook. So instead of being able to re-use a lot of the charcoal for your next cook, it all burns up because the air vent is open.

But my most hated task is removing the ash catcher from the kettle. You can only do this if you are on your hands and knees. Hands and knees are a breeze when you're 6 months old....but not so much when you're pushing 70. Once you have removed and emptied the ash catcher, good f*cking luck getting it back on. Again, you are on your hands and knees and have to align 2 pins, which never align, while squeezing the handle. It is my most dreaded moment of cleaning and I'm happy to inform you that I will never be doing it again. Good riddance, oh nastiest of chores. I'm movin' on up.

After I explained my PK 360 dreams...and the fact it is the grill of choice for all the top competitors in the Steak Cook-off Association to my wife, she agreed to buy it for me an early birthday present (thank you, Becky). It arrived last week and I assembled it yesterday. I am completely devoid of any mechanical skills, but it was a breeze to put together...only taking about 20 minutes. What a magnificent piece of equipment! The grill is manufactured in Little Rock, Arkansas.....which also happens to be where our new puppy hails from. The first PK was manufactured in 1952, which means PK and Grogs are both celebrating their 70th this year.

Two of my favorite things from Little Rock, Arkansas

The grill is made of cast aluminum (as in it will never rust). It operates like a clam shell and the marine-grade stainless grates offer 360 square inches of cooking area. There are four adjustable vents and all can be reached while standing, thanks to the thoughtful engineering that went into the bottom of the grill.

The two oblong metal pieces in the bottom of the grill are ash roofs. The bottom vents are controlled by two dials on the front of the grill and the ash roofs prevent ash from blocking the vents. You just lift them out when you want to clean the grill. But see that round disk in the back with the little handle on it? That, my friends, is called an ash plug and it keeps the ash hole covered until you are going to clean it. The best part of cleaning the PK 360 is that you get to do it standing up...because you have an ash hole! You simply grab a brush, remove the ash plug and sweep the ashes down the ash hole. You hang a bucket under the ash hole and it just takes seconds to clean the grill.

So my new PK 360 got it's first cook last night. A couple of things stood out to me. First, the grilling surface is about 2" higher than the Weber, which makes it easier to work on. And the PK has four vents compared to the Weber's two. With all four vents open on the PK, the fire registered 167º hotter than it ever did on the I was able to cut down on the sear time for my rib eyes. When I moved the steaks to the indirect side for their 5 minute finish, I closed the bottom vent under the meat and closed to top vent over the hot charcoal. I was using oak chunks for flavor and manipulating the vents in that manner really infused the meat with a big smoke flavor. 

I am absolutely thrilled with this new grill. I'm sure the Weber will continue to reign as the best charcoal does a great job and represents a terrific value. But I really like this second place grill. More control with 4 vents. Easier to clean....while standing! Because I was able to shut down the vents right after cooking, I will be able to re-use the charcoal for my next guess is that about 70% of the charcoal can be used again. Because it does burn so efficiently, the people in the user forums say they can get by with a half dozen cooking sessions without cleaning the ash out of the grill. So, yep.....movin' on up!

Rib eye steaks from Grogs' PK 360 cook number one

Friday, April 15, 2022

Easter Ham (Stupid Simple Recipe)


It's Easter on Sunday. Time for another family meal. You better have a Costco membership card in your wallet...otherwise you will miss out on one of the greatest epicurean delights known to modern man. Kirkland ham. Bone-in and spiral sliced. Pre-cooked. Hickory smoked. I'm here to tell you it is the greatest ham you will ever taste.

Not only is the taste of this ham astounding, the price will absolutely blow you away. It's just $3.29 a pound. Cheaper than ground beef. Cheaper than wieners. Cheaper than that 47-week supply of Kirkland toilet paper. You've gotta be plum crazy not to take advantage of this. The world's greatest ham at the world's greatest price.

The ham also comes with a package of glaze. My advice.....throw the glaze away the minute you get home. The pit master has put the absolutely perfect amount of hickory smoke in this ham. The glaze is over-the-top sweet and detracts from hickory greatness.

So let's tick off the boxes. World's best tasting ham. World's cheapest ham. And now for the's easiest recipe.

One Kirkland spiral sliced ham (7-10 pounds)
Aluminum foil
1 cup water


  1. Remove ham from store packaging and wrap tightly in aluminum foil.
  2. Add water to bottom of slow cooker, then add ham and cover.
  3. Turn slow cooker to high for 1 hour, then low for 8 hours.
  4. When done, remove foil and serve.

Wine pairing: The sweet and salty taste of ham goes best with a fruity wine. My first choice would be a Rombauer Zinfandel. I think it is truly one of the world's greatest wines and at $29.99 from Total Wine, just as much as a bargain as the Kirkland ham. If you are hosting your beer-swilling in-laws for Easter, grab a Rosenblum Zinfandel Vinter's Cuvee. It's just $7.99 a bottle. And while your in-laws may not appreciate the wine, you will. It's a really good wine at a really good price point.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Italian Pot Roast (Tócco Roast)


When I started a new job with Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhart back in 1985, I was given the chance to join a country club. I am a horrible golfer and have no patience for the game, so the opportunity to parade my limitations in front of my fellow members had little appeal. I was, however, an avid pheasant hunter. A new private hunting club had just opened in Prior Lake, MN. I asked for permission to join and became one of the original members of the Minnesota Horse and Hunt Club.

The club house was a big, hewn log structure which featured an enormous river-rock fireplace. I fell in love with the look and the next two homes I built embraced that hunting lodge look...lots of wood and river-rock fireplaces. Wood-burning, of course. Fires were a nightly routine and accounted for my annual purchase of 10 cords of firewood. My two sons loved the nightly ritual and called them "roar fires" from the sound of 15 oak logs simultaneously catching fire.

Winter is coming...

So for 42 years I have been utilizing wood-burning fireplaces. When the pandemic hit, Becky and I started to think about how we could update the space that we now quarantined in daily. A lot of the space had been re-purposed. The boys' mudroom was now serving as a 2nd pantry for all my pasta and canned goods inventory. I had built a special concrete deck in the garage that accommodated 5 cords of firewood, but now it was used for an additional freezer and refrigerator. There was simply not enough space for all my cooking paraphernalia and food inventory.

So we hired an architect/designer to help us switch the house from a family oriented hunting lodge to a contemporary, empty nester retreat. The focus would be on the two things we did most in our and watching movies/streaming TV shows. Going forward, it was incredibly fun. A whole new color materials.

But there was one issue that was extremely difficult....the elephant in the Great Room. Continue with the 42-year tradition of wood-burning fires or switch over to a more contemporary gas fireplace? That was quite a difficult that I wrestled with endlessly for 2 months. I'm OCD and the thought of breaking a 42 year-long pattern was hard.

The big pros for staying with wood were the incredible smell and crackling wood. A "roar fire" every night in your living room! But then there were the cons. Collecting 140 pounds of firewood every morning, often in the cold and snow. Burning all that wood required a massive fireplace cleanup every Sunday....a half ton of logs gives off a shitload of ash. Fuel cost per fire runs about $20, but each fire only lasts 90 minutes. So you have an operating cost of about $14 per hour.

With my 70th birthday just over the horizon, simplicity and convenience won out. A modern, linear gas fireplace was the choice. No more hauling wood each morning. No weekly cleanups. Fires on demand with the push of a button. Same amount of heat, just no smell and crackle. Many days we just keep the fireplace going all day because the operating cost is just 19¢ per hour. So we've had it for 2 months now and we could not be happier with the decision. But we can still scratch the wood burning itch. We bought a Solo Stove Yukon for outdoor, much to the joy of my 25-year wood supplier, I'm still buying my firewood by the truckload.  (summer is coming....)

Liguria is a region in northern Italy that gets little attention from the culinary world. It's big brother, Tuscany, gets all of the accolades. But I stumbled across this Laurel Evans' Tócco Roast recipe that is an entirely different take on pot roast. In Liguria, they use a sauce very similar to Bolognese to braise the beef in. This results in an incredibly rich dish....the meat draws the flavor from the sauce and the sauce benefits from the flavor of the roast. 

When cooked, it is used in one of two different ways in Liguria. Most often, it is used as a stuffing for making beef ravioli. But my favorite is to slice it very thin and serve it over pappardelle with a generous helping of that extraordinary sauce. This recipe takes awhile, for it calls for at least a 4-hour braise. But I found a way to make that an easy step. Once I slide it into the oven, I grab the fireplace remote, turn on the fire and settle in for a 4-hour nap. And there is no ash to clean up when I awake (-:

1/3 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds of chuck roast, well marbled
1 large celery stalk, finely minced*
1 medium onion, finely minced*
2 large carrots, minced*
3/4 cup dry white wine
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup beef broth, plus more as needed
1 bay leaf
1 sprig rosemary
5 sage leaves
16 ounces pappardelle, cooked al dente

* Instead of mincing by hand, drop them all in a food processor and pulse until finely minced

  1. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with hot water. 
  2. Set aside to rehydrate for 30 minutes.
  3. Strain and finely chop the mushrooms; reserve ½ cup soaking liquid.
  4. Preheat oven to 200º.
  5. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat.
  6. Add the meat and cook, turning occasionally, until well browned all over, about 10 minutes.
  7. Season meat with 1/4 teaspoon salt, lower heat and add vegetables.
  8. Sauté, stirring often, until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
  9. Add mushrooms, the mushroom soaking liquid, wine, ½ teaspoon salt, tomato paste, broth, bay leaf, rosemary and sage. Bring to a boil.
  10. Cover Dutch oven tightly and place in oven. Cook for 4 hours, turning the meat every 30 minutes. If liquid evaporates, add broth.
  11. Remove pot from oven. 
  12. Remove roast from the pot and tent with foil.
  13. Discard bay leaf and rosemary. Taste sauce and add salt if necessary. If sauce is too watery, reduce over medium heat until desired consistency is reached.
  14. Slice pot roast very thin, place slices over pappardelle and then dress with sauce. 

Wine pairing: Brunello di Montalcino