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

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel



I always get a big belly chuckle when I see an Ina Garten recipe. I am compelled to stop and sing "Ina Garten da Vida". This will give away my age, for "Inna Gadda da Vida" is an ancient hit from the group, Iron Butterfly. I was 16 when it was released in the summer of 1968. It was so different from any other song I had ever heard. It is generally regarded as the first "heavy metal" rock song ever made and introduced a whole new genre to popular music. It sold over 30 million records worldwide....and was the number one selling album in 1969. It outsold every record in the history of recorded music to that time.

The song was written by Iron Butterfly vocalist Brian Ingle and was originally titled "In the Garden of Eden". Drummer Ron Bushy kept track of the group's recordings and wrote it down as "Inna Gada da Vida" because he could not understand the words that Brian was singing. The record company kept the name because they thought it sounded exotic.

Back in the late 60's, many of the rock songs were longer as they included instrumental solos, typically done by the lead guitarist. Iron Butterfly turned the world upside down by having an extended drum solo in the middle of the song. The song clocked in at 17 minutes long, so you would never hear it on the top 40 stations in Minneapolis in 1968. 

For that, you had to tune in to 92.5 on your FM dial to KQRS, a station which featured long format rock 'n' roll. I loved long format rock 'n' roll and got a job as a disc jockey hosting that format at KSTC while attending the College of St. Thomas my freshman and sophomore year (1970 and 1971). My DJ name was Christian Faust. My boss told me I had the perfect face for radio. My sign-on song every Wednesday night at 6 pm was Hush by Deep Purple and I signed off at midnight with a Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum. And I played Inna Gadda da Vida with great frequency. No better time for rock music than late 60's and early 70's.

My high school buddy, Steve Anderson, and I went to see them in concert in 1968 at the old Minneapolis Convention Center for $3 a ticket. I recall that I wore yellow polyester bell bottoms with a wide-collared purple shirt...portending the very birth of the fashion icon that I have become today. But that is another story for another time.

So that is why I always have to sing "Ina Garten da Vida" every time I see her name. She is one of my very favorite cooks and Becky and I have never been disappointed in a single recipe she has published. This classic Italian recipe is from her 2016 cookbook dedicated to her husband, "Cooking for Jeffrey". It is an incredible melding of flavors and your dinner guests will be absolutely delighted with this culinary trip through The Ina Garten of Eden.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1-1/2 pounds bulk hot Italian sausage
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup half & half
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound rigatoni
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add fennel and onion and saute for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add sausage and cook for 7 minutes, crumbling it with a fork until nicely browned. Add garlic, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper and cook for 1 minute. Pour in wine and bring to a boil, then add heavy cream, half & half and tomato paste. Bring back to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until sauce has thickened.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 2 tablespoons of salt and cook the pasta to al dente. Drain and add the pasta to the sauce, stirring to coat the pasta. Cook for 5 minutes over low heat to allow the pasta to absorb the sauce. Off heat, stir in 1/2 cup of Parmesan. Serve in shallow bowls with remaining Parmesan on the side.

Wine pairing: Chianti