Crouton’s Sloppy Joes

Ditalini had a busy day planned and asked me to make dinner. She left a packet of Sloppy Joe mix on the kitchen counter, along with a pound of ground beef to thaw. I was underwhelmed by the idea of using a mix and decided to make my own Sloppy Joes from scratch. How hard could it be? Not hard at all, it turned out, and infinitely better than the package mix version.


Sloppy Joes w/green peas & antipasto salad


1 lb ground beef
1/4 large onion, diced
1 tsp minced garlic
1 small can (4 oz) diced Hatch chiles
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1 tbsp mustard
1 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
2 tsp brown sugar


Brown ground beef with the onion and garlic. Drain off excess fluid. Add other ingredients and mix well. Cook over medium heat until the liquid cooks down a little and the texture is right.


Most recipes call for a whole onion. The onions we had on hand were the softball-sized white ones. I thought that would be way too much, so I quartered one and saved three quarters for future use.

Ditalini came home from her busy day with a package of hamburger buns, a bag of potato chips, and leftover antipasto salad from a business lunch. She suggested having the chips with our Sloppy Joes, but I wanted something green and heated up some peas instead. I served the Sloppy Joes over heated buns, with the peas and salad on the side. It turned out to be a great TV tray dinner for a night with the new season of Veronica Mars.


Crouton’s Crockpot Venison Roast

Ditalini’s sister Gina Cannolini came to visit from Michigan, restocking our freezer with venison from our brother-in-law Lengua’s most recent hunting trip. Among the cuts were two bone-in roasts. I decided to look for a good recipe, and one titled “The Best Crock Pot Venison Pot Roast Recipe of All Time” caught my eye (and how could it not, despite the needless repetition of the word pot).


I modified the recipe slightly to make it my own, but not in any fundamental way, and I must give credit to its creator, Dustin Prievo.

Crouton's Crockpot Venison Roast

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 6-8 hours
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 2-3 lb venison roast
  • 6-8 small red potatoes, cut into halves
  • 2 doz peeled baby carrots
  • 1 large white onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 envelopes (1 box) Lipton Beefy Onion Soup Mix
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt & pepper


Pour water into the slow cooker or crock pot. Add onion and garlic. Place the venison roast on top, then sprinkle the onion soup mix (both packets) over everything. Put the potatoes and carrots on top, sprinkle with salt & pepper. Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook for six to eight hours on low.

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This really is an excellent recipe for what normally would be a dry and tough piece of meat, and I will definitely use it with the second roast. There wasn’t a hint of gaminess to the venison … the onion soup mix erased all traces of that. The meat itself was tender and moist, easily broken up with a fork.

I served the roast on a platter with the potatoes, carrots, and onion arranged around it. I didn’t add any liquid from the slow cooker … the roast and vegetables were moist enough without it.

Our venison roast was closer to two pounds than three, and had a large bone inside. We still had enough to serve four, with a little left over. I expect you’ll need a full eight hours to slow-cook a three-pound roast.

Ditalini points out that you can tell when something’s cooked by the smell. I hesitate to offer this as a tried and true kitchen technique, but she’s generally right. I was going to go the full eight hours on this recipe but she walked into the kitchen at the six-hour point and said “It’s done.” I poked the roast with a fork, and it was.

If desired, you can serve the roast as a stew. Remove the meat and vegetables as above, then pour the liquid from the slow cooker into a sauce pot, bring it to a boil, and add a little corn starch or flour to thicken it. Once it thickens, break up the meat and return it and the vegetables to the sauce pot, and serve in bowls.


Crouton’s (Easier) Beef Bourguignon

When you think beef bourguignon, you think Julia Child. But honestly, preparing the dish her way (which indeed I have done) is more of a lifetime culinary achievement than a practical everyday recipe, so when I found a small chuck roast in the freezer and had the bright idea to tackle beef bourguignon again, I went looking for easier recipes. I found one on the Woman’s Day website, adapted it to my own preferred methods and the ingredients I had on hand, and now share it with you. Unless you’re able to sample both dishes side by side, Julia Childs’ classic stew and this simpler version, you probably won’t be able to tell the difference. I couldn’t!

Crouton’s Easy Beef Bourguignon

Crouton's (Easier) Beef Bourguignon

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 4 hours
  • Difficulty: medium
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  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 slices thick bacon, cut in 1″ sections
  • 2 lb chuck roast, cut in 2″ chunks
  • small pack frozen pearl onions
  • small pack peeled baby carrots
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 3 cups Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • sliced fresh mushrooms
  • salt & pepper


Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven. Fry bacon over medium heat until just done (not too crispy!), remove and place on paper towel. Pour off all but 2 tbsps of oil & bacon fat, then add the chunks of beef, sprinkle lightly with salt & pepper, and brown on all sides. Remove the meat and place on paper towel with the bacon.

Add a couple of dozen pearl onions and a dozen or more baby carrots to the pot, using the oil left from browning the bacon and beef. Lightly sprinkle with salt & pepper, then stir and cook on medium for a couple of minutes. Add the minced garlic. Add the tomato paste, sprinkle all with flour, and stir together. Now stir in the wine and beef broth. Add the bacon and beef, thyme and bay leaves. Stir, bring to a simmer, then cover the pot and place it in the hot oven. Cook covered for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, until beef is tender.

Take the pot out of the oven and set it on the stovetop, leaving it covered. Melt butter in a skillet and sauté the mushrooms, lightly sprinkled with salt & pepper. Add a little more minced garlic to the mushrooms, and when they’re done remove the cover from the pot (don’t forget it’s still hot from the oven!) and stir them in.

Serve with good crusty French bread and a salad.


Eleventh Rule of Cooking Club

It’s Paul Ryan’s fault.

The On On Gourmet Hash House Harriers met last night at one of Magret de Canard’s many casas to prepare and consume Portuguese food. Magret prepped and cooked the main dish, Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa, salt cod with onions and potatoes. Crouton deMenthe chopped cabbage, kale, and spinach for the caldo verde (green soup with linguica). Ditalini deMenthe and Anitra Spezzatino made an apple crisp desert. Assisting throughout preparation with slicing, dicing, and chopping were Hermana Gazpacho, Manzo Spezzatino, and Giacomo “Hercules” Mandriano.


Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa

Bread, cheese, olives, and lots of wine kept us happy during preparation and cooking, along with plenty of conversation and catching up (the last On On Gourmet cooking hash was way back in August, and some of us hadn’t seen each other since).


L to R: Anitra, Magret, Giacomo, Manzo


L to R: Hermana, Ditalini, Magret, Anitra

The Portuguese theme was the inspiration of Magret, who grew up with that nation’s cuisine, and everyone enjoyed the dinner. During preparation, Magret wound up throwing most of the recipes into the air and using her memories instead, and the consensus is she pulled it off.

The eleventh rule of cooking club is the result of a brief but heated discussion on the topic of why Donald Trump didn’t ask Congress for the money to build his wall during the two years he had Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, and was laid down in a most vehement manner by Giacomo, who provided additional persuasion via a threat to turn the entire pot of hot Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa over our heads). It is a fine rule indeed: it’s Paul Ryan’s fault, that vaguely Portuguese ass looking bastard.

Our next cooking hash will be at Hermana Gazpacho’s. Fancying a nice poutine, Crouton pushed for a Canadian theme, but was wisely overruled by literally everyone else, so we’ll be making something Italian (and gluten-free, gah) instead.


Venison Chili à la David Rainier

This, over the past year, has become my go-to chili recipe. It’s not the kind of chili that’ll win a Texas-style cookoff, but it’s rich in flavor, homey, and satisfying.


The Cannolis, Ditalini’s sister Gina and her husband Lengua, visited over Christmas, bringing with them venison from deer hunter country, upstate Michigan. The other day I pulled out a package of ground venison out of the freezer and decided to do something with it. Chili sounded about right, and I quickly found an interesting recipe on the net, attributed to an Alabama man named David Rainier.

His recipe called for four pounds of ground venison and the other ingredients were scaled accordingly, making a big batch of chili to serve 10-12. I had about a pound and a half, so I scaled everything back. His version called for liquid crab boil … that’s what caught my eye, by the way, and I’m glad it did … but all I had was a can of powdered Old Bay seasoning, so I substituted. What follows is my version of Mr. Rainier’s recipe, tailored to the ingredients I had on hand, which makes enough to serve 4-6.

Venison Chili à la David Rainier

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 1/2 lb ground venison (ground beef or cut-up pot roast works too)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced (optional)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 2 cans kidney beans
  • 3-4 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 dash cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 2 bay leaves


Heat olive oil in a heavy cooking pot and sauté garlic, onions and pepper until tender. Add venison and brown for 10 minutes over medium heat. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, kidney beans, chili powder, cayenne pepper, Old Bay, salt, garlic salt. Mix together and add bay leaves. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 2-3 hours.


I’ve made this chili at least a dozen times now and have never added green bell pepper: I don’t think it needs it.

This chili is surprisingly rich. Not sure if it’s the Old Bay or what, but it was great, even if far from traditional. We served it with cornbread made from the standard recipe that comes on the cornmeal box, improved upon with diced Hatch chilis and shredded cheddar added to the mix just before baking.


Clam Chowder

This is a second-generation DeMenthe family recipe, passed down by my father, Chateaubriand deMenthe.  He made clam chowder every Christmas Eve and we carry on the tradition. Merry Christmas to you, dear readers, from Crouton and Ditalini!

clam chowder

Clam Chowder

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 2 hrs
  • Difficulty: medium
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  • 1/2 lb bacon
  • 4 carrots
  • 1 med onion
  • 3 or 4 potatoes
  • 1 cup celery
  • 12 oz frozen shrimp (51/60 or 41/50 count, peeled & deveined, no tail)
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 can white cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 can minced clams, w/juice
  • 1 can sliced mushrooms
  • 2 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp thyme


Fry bacon and crumble; set aside.  Chop carrots and onion and puree in a blender, adding a small amount of water.  Cube potatoes, dice celery, and sauté in the bottom of a large pot with the pureed carrots and onions, adding a little bacon grease, until potatoes and celery are cooked but still firm.  Add other ingredients, except the bacon and thyme.  Simmer (don’t allow to boil) for at least 10 minutes.  Add thyme.  Add bacon just before serving, and serve the chowder with good crusty bread or freshly made biscuits.


We doubled the recipe to prepare the pot of chowder in the photo.  To double or triple, double or triple all ingredients except salt, which you should add to taste.

Looking for a good pre-chowder appetizer?  Try boiling large shelled shrimp in beer, water, and Old Bay Seasoning, serving with sliced lemon and cocktail sauce for dipping.


Crouton’s Beef & Guinness Stew

We had the richest, beefiest stew at a friend’s home last winter. She told me it was beef & Guinness stew and that I’d find the recipe on line. I pulled a big chuck roast out of the freezer the other day and decided to make it myself. Perhaps I chose the wrong recipe, because I wound up modifying it to make it taste as good as my friend’s stew. Since I modified the recipe I started with, I’m calling this one my own … trial and error, baby!

What trial? What error? When I looked up recipes I found three, each one slightly different. All three called for beef, onion, carrots, and Guinness, but then one added some beef stock while another added chicken stock. I chose the “pure” one, the one that called for Guinness alone. When the stew had simmered a couple of hours I tasted it and found it decidedly non-beefy. I added a can of beef stock, and while I was at it, three small cut-up red potatoes and one sliced parsnip. The result was, as I’d hoped, rich and beefy tasting, one of the best stews I’ve made.

Crouton's Beef & Guinness Stew

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 3 hrs
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients, beef & Guinness stew (Phone photo: Paul Woodford)

Ingredients (less beef broth, potato, and parsnip, which I added later)

  • 2 lb rump or chuck roast
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • salt & pepper
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree or paste, dissolved in 4 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/4 cups Guinness
  • 1 1/4 cups beef broth
  • 4 large carrots, sliced
  • 3 small red potatoes, cut into 1″ squares
  • 1 parsnip, sliced
  • sprig of fresh thyme
  • chopped parsley, for garnish


Trim beef of fat and gristle, cut into large pieces. Mix flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a bowl and dredge the beef so it is lightly coated. Heat a couple of tbsp olive oil in a skillet and brown the beef on all sides, about ten pieces at a time. Remove the already-browned beef as you brown fresh batches.

Beef & Guinness stew

The stew, before I added beef broth, potato, and parsnip

Reduce the heat in the skillet, add the onions, garlic, tomato puree, and browned beef to the skillet, cover, and cook gently for five minutes. Transfer the contents of the skillet to a casserole and pour half the Guinness into the skillet. Bring Guinness to a boil and stir to dissolve the caramelized meat juices in the skillet. Pour over the meat, along with the remaining Guinness and beef stock. Add the vegetables and thyme. Stir and adjust seasonings. Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat, or in a 300°F oven until the meat is tender, 2 to 3 hours. Garnish the beef with parsley and serve.

Beef & Guinness stew

Beef & Guinness stew


Crouton’s Pasta alla Puttanesca

This is my interpretation of spaghetti alla puttanesca (whore’s spaghetti), a simple yet robust pasta dish that’s easy to make with around-the-house ingredients (well, our house anyway). Don’t be squeamish about the anchovies … they add flavor to the dish, but without the strong salty taste people associate with anchovies on pizza. You can make the sauce with or without tomatoes. If you want to make a fancier meal, serve it with salad on the side.


Crouton's Pasta alla Puttanesca

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30 min
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 2 cans rolled anchovies w/capers, drained (or flat anchovies and capers
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • pinch of dried basil (or 1 tbsp chopped fresh)
  • pinch of dried oregano (or 1 tbsp chopped fresh)
  • pasta (your choice)
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)


Drain the anchovies. In medium frying pan, heat butter and olive oil. Add garlic and anchovies, sauté lightly. Break up and mash anchovies as they cook. When garlic and anchovies are ready, add tomatoes (with juice from can) and spices. Let sauce simmer for about 20 minutes. Boil pasta in separate pot, drain. Return pasta to pot. Add the sauce and toss until the pasta is coated. Serve with crusty French or sourdough bread and freshly-grated Parmesan.


Ditalini and I have prepared this dish with all kinds of pasta. If you don’t like tomatoes, just leave them out.


Ditalini’s Gazpacho

Ditalini’s adaptation of a recipe from a New York Times cookbook:


Ditalini’s gazpacho w/garnishes

Ditalini's Gazpacho

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 1 hr, plus refrigeration
  • Difficulty: medium
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  • 2 small cucumbers (1 1/2 cups when peeled & chopped)
  • 4 ripe tomatoes (3 cups when peeled & chopped)
  • 1 red onion (1 cup when peeled & chopped)
  • 2 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups finely diced red & green peppers
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 egg yolk
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 cup tomato juice (can substitute Bloody Mary mix for a slightly spicier taste)


  • small toasted croutons
  • chopped red & green peppers
  • chopped onion
  • chopped, peeled tomatoes
  • chopped cucumber
  • chopped avacado
  • chopped bacon
  • small cooked & peeled shrimp


Peel cucumbers and cut in small cubes. Peel, core, and seed tomatoes, cut in small cubes. Peel and chop onion.

Place cucumbers, tomatoes, and onion in a food processor. Add garlic, peppers, vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, egg yolk, salt, pepper, Tabasco, tomato juice or Bloody Mary mix. Blend well. Pour mixture into a bowl or pitcher and refrigerate until chilled.

Serve in chilled bowls with garnishes on the side.

Note: peeling & seeding tomatoes is big, messy work, and there are probably canned alternatives. Some people (Philistines, no doubt) may be tempted to substitute tomato juice.


Tenth Rule of Cooking Club

Less is more.

When we planned our August culinary trail, we decided on salad Niçoise and cold soups, appropriate to a hot summer in the Southwest (gazpacho, Vichyssoise, cold ramen, and so on). The menu evolved as the date approached, but in the end we stayed pretty close to trail: our dinner last night started with French onion soup (hot, of course), gazpacho, and a light dessert of grilled pineapple slices topped with Mascarpone cheese and drizzled with port wine. And it was all fabulous. Here’s the photographic evidence:


Preparing the French onion soup: Giacomo “Hercules” Mandriano, Magret de Canard, Anitra Spezzatino

Anitra took charge of preparing the French onion soup with the assistance of Magret and Hercules. Since she didn’t want to cook all day beforehand, she brought along an Instant Pot, which, once the onions were sliced, made quick work of the soup.


Onions in the Instant Pot

Ditalini prepared the gazpacho at home beforehand, with the able assistance of daughter Escargot. There are two pitchers of gazpacho in the photo, one slightly spicier than the other. It was a draw which one everyone liked more.


Gazpacho with garnishes

Magret’s contribution was dessert. Manzo, Hercules, and Crouton attended to the grilling.


Grilling the pineapple slices

Trail began with the French onion soup, and thanks to Magret here’s a photo of us about to head on-out.


On On: Manzo & Anitra Spezzatino, Hercules, Crouton & Ditalini deMenthe.

We took our time with each course, with much talking and sharing of stories, and halfway through the gazpacho we all realized we were getting full. Good thing we skipped the salad Niçoise … no way we’d have even made it to the gazpacho course. Fortunately, Magret’s grilled pineapple dessert was light, and we managed to finish trail by 10 PM.

Thus, Rule #10: less is more (or in other words: a light repast, in the right company, is as filling as a heavy one).

The next On-On Gourmet hash will be in October, with trail starting and ending at Magret’s house. Since she’ll have just returned from vacation in Lisbon, we’re marking trail in accordance with Portuguese hash tradition.