Crock Pot Chicken Cacciatore

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In case you were wondering; Cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian. Cacciatore refers to a meal prepared “hunter-style” with onions, herbs, usually tomatoes, often bell peppers, and sometimes wine. Cacciatore is popularly made with braised chicken or rabbit. “Hunter-style” cooking boils down to a popular method of cooking – better known as one-pot method. It makes sense when you think about it – I just can’t see a bunch of hunters doing the dishes, can you?

When I hear the term “hunter-style”, I don’t envision modern men in bright orange vests traipsing through the woods with high-powered rifles. What springs to mind are fur-clad bearded men with bows and arrows. Maybe not cave men, but pretty darn close. Rugged men with large appetites. While my men might not be the most rugged of beasts, the large appetites are none the less apparent and in need of satisfaction. This wonderful dish, over a nice bed of pasta, does the trick.

By removing the skin from the thighs, it reduces the fat and greasy mess of chicken skin. By leaving the bones in, the flavor is intense (like a good bone-based soup) and the chicken holds its shape rather well. The end result are big, flavorful chunks of meat floating a nice tomato base.

Crock Pot Chicken Cacciatore
8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin removed
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced into strips
1/2 green bell pepper, sliced into strips
1/2 large onion, sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
salt and fresh pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh herbs such as basil or parsley for topping
1 lb linguine

Quick method: Season chicken with salt and black pepper and place in the slow cooker. Pour tomatoes over the chicken, top with onions and peppers, add oregano, bay leaf, salt and pepper, give it a quick stir and cover.

Set crock pot to LOW 8 hours or HIGH 4 hours. When the timer beeps, remove lid and keep the crock pot on HIGH one hour to help it thicken.

Better method but requires more prep:  Heat a large skillet over medium-high, lightly spray with oil  and brown chicken on both sides a few minutes, season with salt and pepper. Add to the slow cooker.

To the now empty skillet, spray with a little more oil and add onions and peppers. Sauté until juices release and the vegetables become golden, a few minutes.

Add to the slow cooker. Pour tomatoes over the chicken and vegetables, add oregano, bay leaf, salt and pepper, give it a quick stir and cover. Set crock pot to LOW 8 hours or HIGH 4 hours.

Once the chicken is fully cooked, make the pasta. Let the pasta cook al dente, drain well. Place on a large serving platter.

Remove bay leaf from crock pot. Taste sauce and adjust salt and pepper if necessary. Ladle chicken with plenty of sauce over the pasta and enjoy! (Don’t forget to pull out the bones – yeah, it’s a pain but bones add more flavor. Don’t want to mess with the bones? What can I tell you – use boneless thighs).

Crock Pot Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots

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The best thing about all these Crock Pot Suppers is that Kiddo has been the “cook”. All I need to is the planning and shopping, the rest is up to him. Which also explains the lack of step-by-step photos. He takes a few pictures for the blog, but not the details that I like to take. Oh well, if I have a choice between getting up early for pictures or letting Kiddo do it all – I’m getting a few extra winks.

We are taking a few days to get back to the basics of Mother’s Home Cooking. What could be more home-spun than a pot roast surrounded by chunks of potatoes and colorful carrots?

I used a nice waxy potato rather than a russet. Waxy potatoes hold their form better without turning completely to mush. Great for salads and long cooks.

Confession Time – Generally speaking, in the produce drawer of the refrigerator you will find whole carrots when recipes call for carrots. I like slicing, dicing or shredding as needed. This week, I was leaving Kiddo in charge of all the meal preparations.  While he knows how to slice, dice and shred, he is amazingly slow. So, I did something I’ve never done before – bought bags of already sliced and shredded carrots. The problem was, I didn’t tell him. Me bad. When it came time to cook, he looked in the produce drawer and did not see whole carrots. What he did see was an open bag of shredded carrots (remember the Quail with Vegetable Rice) – and did not see that further down was a bag of sliced carrots. He sprinkled shredded carrots into the pot. Oh my!

When I returned home and checked on dinner, I saw his mistake. No worried – I took the sliced carrots from the crisper, zapped them with butter, salt and a little garlic to serve alongside the pot roast. I wasn’t sure how the potatoes and roast would turn out with shredded carrots mixed in, but then there is a first time for everything. Oh my, the chunks of potatoes drenched in cooking juices from the roast and laced with shredded carrots were delicious!  As for the roast topped with shredded carrots – equally delicious. Just saying – sometimes a mistake is a good thing . . .

Crock Pot Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots
1 Small to medium size rump or chuck roast, about 3 lbs
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 yellow onion, sliced in slivers
1 stalk celery, sliced
2 or 3 medium to large size potatoes, cut into chunks
1 small bag sliced carrots
1 Can Beef Broth
1 envelope onion soup mix
1 envelope brown gravy mix
1 individual size serving apple sauce

Season roast with salt and pepper, sear well in a skillet with small amount of oil on all sides. While roast is searing, place onions and celery in the bottom of the crock pot.

Place roast in pot over celery mixture. Tuck potatoes around roast, then top with carrots.

Measure beef broth in a four-cup measuring cup. Add enough water to create 2 cups of liquid. Mix broth with onion soup mix, brown gravy mix and applesauce. Whisk to blend, then pour over roast and vegetables.

Set crock pot on low and let it cook for at least 8-10 hours. Longer is fine.

It’s Football Season – Spice Up Your Living-room Tail Gate Party!

Dallas Cowboys v Buffalo Bills

This week for our tail gate party, we’ve got a couple of hot dishes; a couple of cold dishes and just to round things out a bit, some spicy brownies. Who said Football Snacks had to be beer nuts and a six-pack? A little zig, a little zag and a whole lot of fun.

I like to serve things up during half-time if possible. Nuts and chips are fine during the game – my guys grab handfuls of whatever is in front of them and never notice a thing. Whip out the good stuff during half-time and suddenly I’ve got their attention. Or at least what is being served has their attention. I can always count on Kiddo to be surprised with quick a “Wow, this is good!”

Spice It Up Menu

Lip-Smacking Good Finger Foods
Bacon-Cheddar Jalapeno Poppers (Served Warm)
Jalapeno Cheddar Roll Ups (Served Cold)
Mexican Cups (Served Warm)
Red Pepper-Feta Cheese Roast Beef Finger Sandwiches (Served Cold)

To Satisfy That Sweet Craving
Mexican Spiced Brownies

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bacon-cheddar-jalapeno-poppersBacon-Cheddar Jalapeno Poppers
12 large jalapeno
8 oz. of bacon
1 cup of cheddar cheese blend (½ cup sharp cheddar & ½ of smoked cheddar)
1 (8 oz) cream cheese, softened

TO PREPARE JALAPENO PEPPERS: Remove the stems from the jalapenos. Cut jalapeno lengthwise and remove the membranes and seed.  You can rinse them off with cool water to help wash away the seeds if needed. (Leaving a few seeds here and there will bring a little more heat to the poppers). Set aside on a foil-lined baking sheet until ready to fill.

ON TO THE FILLING: Preheat oven to 450. Fry bacon crisp. When done, drain bacon of paper towels and let cool. When bacon has cooled, stack a few pieces up and dice into bits.

In a medium-sized bowl, add softened cream cheese, & cheddar cheese. Stir until creamy and then stir in bacon.

Stuff the jalapeno peppers with the cheese mixture and place on a foil lined baking sheet.

DOWN TO THE FINISH: Bake for 10-15 minutes. Let them cool off a bit and then get to popping!!!

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jalapeno-cheddar-roll-ups-c-img_8348-652x290Jalapeno Cheddar Roll Ups
8 oz Cream Cheese, softened
1 cup Sour Cream
1 15-oz can Refried Beans
1 15-oz can Diced Tomatoes With Green Chilies, drained
8 oz Monterey Jack/colby Cheese Blend
2.25 oz sliced Ripe Olives, drained and patted dry
6 Green Onions, sliced thin
½ Red Bell Pepper, diced
⅓ cup Chopped Fresh Cilantro
9 Jalapeno Cheddar Wraps or Large Tortillas

Soften cream cheese and place in large mixing bowl.
Add sour cream, refried beans, diced tomatoes with chilies, cheese, olives, green onions, bell pepper and cilantro and stir to combine.
Spread roll up mixture onto Jalapeno cheddar wraps to the edges.
Roll up very tightly, but carefully so the tortillas don’t tear and seal the edges.
Refrigerate a few hours or overnight.
To serve: Cut roll ups in 1 to 2-inch slices. Makes about 4 to 4 ½ dozen.

Helpful Hint: If you prefer, you can mix the cream cheese and sour cream with a mixer. Add refried beans and mix again. Then stir in tomatoes, cheese, olives, green onions, bell pepper and cilantro.

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mexican-cupsMexican Cups
1 box (9 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed to drain
1 can (10 oz) diced tomatoes with green chiles, undrained
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon taco seasoning mix (from 1-oz package)
40 to 45 nacho cheese-flavored tortilla chips
2 cans (12 oz each) Pillsbury® Grands!® Jr. Golden Layers® refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (20 biscuits)
1 cup finely shredded Mexican cheese blend (4 oz)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 30 mini muffin cups with Cooking Spray. Set aside until ready to use.

In large bowl, mix spinach, tomatoes, cream cheese, sour cream and taco seasoning mix; set aside.

Place about 20 of the tortilla chips in gallon-size resealable food-storage plastic bag; seal bag. Using rolling pin, finely crush to measure 1/2 cup. Stir crushed chips into spinach mixture.

Separate 1 can of dough into 10 biscuits; separate each biscuit into 3 layers. Place 1 layer in each of 30 muffin cups; using floured fingers, press dough on bottom and up side of each cup.

Fill each cup with about 1 tablespoon spinach mixture. Refrigerate remaining spinach mixture.

Sprinkle filling in each cup with about 1 teaspoon cheese. Bake 9 to 14 minutes or until edges of biscuits are golden brown. Cool in pan 5 minutes; remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool 5 minutes longer.

Repeat with remaining biscuits, filling and cheese, cooling pans between batches.

To serve, break each of the remaining 20 to 25 tortilla chips into 3 triangular pieces. Insert 1 triangle into each cup. Serve warm.

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Hush – don’t tell the guys, but finger sandwiches are all the rage at tea parties. What they don’t realize won’t hurt them, right?

red-pepper-feta-roast-beef-finger-sandwichesRed Pepper-Feta Cheese Roast Beef Finger Sandwiches
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
¼ cup Feta cheese crumbles
¼ cup finely chopped roasted red pepper, divided
10 slices white sandwich bread
15 thin slices deli roast beef

In a small bowl, combine cream cheese and cream. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add feta cheese and roasted red pepper, stirring until incorporated. Set aside.

Using a serrated bread knife, trim crusts from all sides of bread slices. Cut each slice into 3 rectangles, approximately 3 x 1½ inches.

Spread approximately 1 tablespoon cream cheese mixture onto each bread slice. Ruffle a slice of roast beef on top of half of bread slices. Top with another bread slice, cream cheese side down.

Garnish:
15 blanched long fresh chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped roasted red pepper

Garnish each sandwich by tying a blanched chive around it and topping with a piece of red pepper.

Notes:
• Cream cheese spread can be made a day ahead and refrigerated in a covered container. Let come to room temperature before spreading. Sandwiches can be assembled earlier in the day, covered with damp paper towels, placed in a covered container, and refrigerated. Garnish before serving.
• When trimming crusts from finger sandwiches and canapés, save the bread scraps to make bread crumbs. Just pulse them in a food processor, and then store in the freezer.

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If the Mexican Spice Brownies seem familiar; they were featured in my Cinco de Mayo Three Course Celebration. So why feature these brownies again? We’re talking football and guys. Guys will never admit in front of other guys that a slice of cake is what they crave – but pass a plate of brownies and it’s “don’t mind if I do.” Add a little heat and suddenly these are Manly Brownies!

Mexican Spice BrownieMexican Spice Brownies
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
3 cups white sugar
6 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons ground Mexican cinnamon (canela)
1/2 teaspoon ground Pequin Chile pepper or Cayenne Pepper
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12×15-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving about 3 inches of paper overhanging 2 sides to use as handles. Set aside.

Place the butter in a microwave-safe bowl, and cook on Medium until the butter is about half melted, about 1 minute. Mash the butter with sugar until well combined, and stir in eggs one at a time, incorporating each one before adding the next. Mix in vanilla extract.

Sift the cocoa, flour, cinnamon, pequin pepper, salt, and baking powder into a bowl. Sprinkle in any salt caught in the sifter. Mix the flour mixture into the butter mixture, stirring to blend well, and pour the batter into the prepared baking pan.

Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan, and use parchment paper handles to remove the brownies for slicing.

Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork Sandwiches

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There are a number of reasons why people start blogs . . . it’s a creative outlet that doesn’t require much in the way of discipline. Having attempted to write a fictional novel based on fact, I can attest first hand that unless you can lock yourself away in a study someplace, it’s easy to become distracted and wander off. Blogging, sharing recipes or thoughts of the moment – whatever – can be accomplished despite the distractions and demands of life in general. You can wander off, returning when ready and pick up where you left off.

What drove me to blogging in the first place was the realization that sooner or later life was going to end. I know, it sounds a little twisted. A few years back – maybe five or six years ago – I was sick. It was my second go-around with Pneumonia. My beautiful family had to fend for themselves. While Kiddo had a basic understanding of cooking, so much of what I did was either inspired by a box filled with scraps of paper (recipes) or locked away in my head. It struck me that should something really happen to me, Hubby and Kiddo might starve. Okay, they really would not starve, not as long as pizza and fast food joints existed. But a treasure trove of recipes and family traditions might be lost. And the stories that go along with them.

The first task was to organize the recipes in shoe boxes, then to write down those little secrets locked away in my head; taking the time to measure as I went along. The evolution began – first with files stored on my laptop of recipes; postings to face book to share with other members of my family – my sisters scattered across the western states and cousins around the world. Most recipes sparked a memory. Memories I wanted to share. Blogging seemed the next logical step in the evolution process.

Since then, I’ve discovered a wonderful world of short story tellers, photographers, like-minded people and a common thread of family bonds. What a wonderful time to be alive!

What does any of that have to do with Pulled Pork Sandwiches? Nothing.

It’s odd the things you remember for no reason at all. The first time I had a Dr. Pepper was at the movies. Now it’s the only soft drink I like with warm, buttery popcorn. Dr. Pepper, movie theaters and cooking . . .

One final note; the original recipe called for a Pork Rub or your favorite seasonings. I started to create a rub and then I realized here was a great opportunity to just let Kiddo go and do his own thing. He did – and what a great rub! The meat was so flavorful – he really knocked it out of the ballpark on this one! So my hat is off to Kiddo – great rub!

Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork Sandwiches
3-4 lb Pork Loin Roast
Pork Rub as needed or your favorite seasonings*
12 oz Dr Pepper
Barbecue Sauce to taste
Crusty Buns

Season pork with your favorite rub on all sides.

Place pork roast in slow cooker and pour in Dr Pepper.

Cook on low 10-12 hours.

Drain most of the liquid, and use tongs to shred pork.

Add barbecue sauce to taste (a whole bottle if you like)

Stir well and reduce temp to warm for serving. Serve on buns.

* Kiddo’s Rub
1/2 Tablespoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1 Teaspoon Mesquite Seasoning
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Sugar

In a small bowl, combine spices. Rub into pork. Let rest 30 minutes to soak in the spices before placing pork in crock pot.

San Francisco Pork Chops

san-francisco-pork-chops

My favorite city in the world is San Francisco. I’m not big on cities in general, but if I had to pick just one place, it would be San Francisco. The first time I heard the lyrics “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear a flower in your hair” was on a school bus, driving through the Haight. Beautiful flower children stopped our bus, handing out flowers and beads while the radio played the 1967 hit by Scott McKenzie.

I have always had fond memories of San Francisco. Fog horns and big ocean liners. The cry of sea gulls. Waves crashing against jagged rocks. But it was at that moment, way back when , that my heart was forever stolen by the city by the bay.

As a teenager, and into my early twenties, I loved to head to the city. Walk along Fisherman’s Wharf (back then, pier 39 with all its tourist traps did not exist), pick up a warm loaf of fresh sourdough bread, jug of wine and steamed crab. Build a fire on the beach to keep warm (the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco – famous words NOT uttered by Mark Twain), sip the wine, eat the bread and suck down the crab meat. Life was so simple.

valentines-day-san-francisco

I remember many moons ago, Hubby and I had a romantic Valentine’s Day Weekend in San Francisco. We stayed at the Sir Francis Drake. It’s one of those old hotels. We had a fire escape just outside our sitting room window. I climbed out onto the landing and sat for the longest time, eyes closed, listening to the rhythm of the city. The clanging and banging and sirens seemed a strangely beautiful symphony to my ears. Hubby thought I was nuts. All he could hear was the noise of a city and not the rhythm of its beating heart.

San Francisco Pork Chops
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 (3/4 inch-thick) boneless pork chops, trimmed
1/4 cup beef broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
Green Onions for garnish

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Brown chops in hot oil, about 5 minutes per side; remove pork to a plate, reserving oil in skillet.

Cook and stir garlic in reserved drippings until fragrant, about 1 minute. Whisk beef broth, soy sauce, brown sugar, 2 teaspoons vegetable oil, and red pepper flakes in a bowl, dissolving brown sugar. Return pork chops to skillet and pour soy sauce mixture over the chops. Bring sauce to a boil, cover skillet, and reduce heat to low. Simmer chops until tender, 30 to 35 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking.

Transfer chops to a serving platter and keep warm. Whisk cornstarch and water in a small bowl until smooth; stir into pan juices and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.

Cut pork chops into 1-inch or so thick slices for serving. Spoon sauce over chops and garnish with green onions just before serving.

Simple Salad

italian-salad-with-home-made-dressing-12-30-2012-1

Often, when sharing a recipe, I will end by saying serve with warm bread and/or a simple salad to complete the meal. No biggie – everyone knows what a simple salad might be. The reality of a simple salad is just what the name suggests – some mixed greens, tomatoes and whatever else you feel like tossing into the mix.

Sometimes we will serve a simple salad alongside the main dish instead of a vegetable dish or as a way of adding color to the plate. More often than not in our house, a simple salad is the conclusion to supper. Call it European style dining if you like, having the salad at the end of the meal does two things – it allows you to have the hot foods while they are still hot, and it’s a refreshing end. Cool, crisp – perfect.

I am sure everyone has their own take on a simple salad. Here is mine.

Simple Salad
1 Package Mixed Green Salad
2 Green Onions, Chopped
1/2 Cucumber, sliced
3 or 4 White Mushrooms (button mushrooms), sliced
Grape or Cherry Tomatoes, handful
Garlic Croutons, if desired

Toss mixed greens with onions in a large salad bowl.  Tuck cucumber slices around outer edge. Sprinkle sliced mushrooms and tomatoes on top of greens.

Serve salad on chilled plates, sprinkle with croutons (if using) and a selection of dressings on the side.

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say . . .

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Sunday Night Green Bay Packers took the field. That meant grilling up bratwurst with caramelized onions while listening to my crazy husband scream at the TV set. I truly don’t understand how getting so worked up that the veins in your neck look like they are about to explode can be considered relaxing. I guess it’s a guy thing.

Back in January 2015, I shared my take on Bratwurst in beer. Ever since then, whenever I cook up Bratwurst in beer; I feel just a little bit hurt. There was a comment on my posting I had not expected. Someone made the comment that said I was WRONG and proceeded to provide a link from my post to theirs, the correct way to cook up bratwurst. It hurt my feelings.  I didn’t delete the comment. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Yet it still hurt.

First of all, there is no such thing as a wrong way to cook something. The way one person makes a salad might not be how you make a salad, but that does not make their salad wrong. Just different. I’ve had people say “great post. I like mine with (whatever)” to which I often reply “great idea, I’ll have to try that next time”. Those are exchanges with respect for one another.

Being constructive is also different. Say I was baking bread and the bread turned out as hard as a rock. I might share the experience and ask for advise. That’s fine. I need help. However; I would expect any responses to be next time try this or this is what works for me. (When I complained about cutting butter into flour for biscuits, it was suggested that I use a food processor fitted with a blade – that’s advise – and it was appreciated).

There are recipes and postings for beets and Brussels sprouts and all sorts of things that I personally would never eat. I don’t like beets or Brussels sprouts. Still, I’ll read the post and in the end “like” it. No comments such as “Yuck!”. Why like the post if i don’t like the dish? Because someone took the time to share something they like. It might be well written or beautifully photographed or mean something to them and their family. Maybe it’s mom’s recipe or grandma’s or Uncle Ned’s – it doesn’t matter. Realize it or not, every recipe, every photograph or story or whatever is a little piece of someone brave enough to open up and share. That alone should be admired, appreciated and respected.

I’ve decided to re-post the recipe to reclaim it. This is MY recipe for Bratwurst – Hubby loves it, Kiddo loves it and I enjoy it. If you don’t like it, fine, don’t make it but don’t tell me something my family enjoys is WRONG.

BratwurstBratwurst in Beer with Grilled Onions
1 Package Johnsonville Bratwurst
1 Onion, sliced
1 Bottle of Beer – enough to cover Bratwurst (1 bottle of is enough for 1 package of 5 bratwurst)
1 Package Sandwich Rolls

Pierce Bratwurst to allow fat to drain and beer to soak into meat. (A thin fork, cocktail pick or cake-tester works fine – remember, you want the fat to seep out, the beer to soak in and the bratwurst to retain its flavorful juiciness).

Place Bratwurst in a large pot. Cover with beer let Bratwurst soak in beer for about 45 minutes.
While bratwurst are soaking, thinly slice onions. If desired, place a few sliced onions into the pot with the bratwurst, reserving the majority of the onion for “grilling” in a pan.

Saute onions with a little butter over medium-low heat until golden, about 20-30 minutes.

Heat a gas grill for about 10 minutes or so to get it good and hot. Turn heat on under pot of soaking bratwurst to low and let simmer while grill heats.

Remove bratwurst from liquid. Grill to sear outside, turning as needed, about 5 to 6 minutes per side.

Spread mustard or favorite condiment onto bun. Top with bratwurst and onion.
Serve with French Fries or warm German Potato Salad

Let Bratwurst soak in beer for about 45 minutes. Turn on the heat, then let them simmer for about 10 minutes prior to grilling

Slice one onion. If desired, toss a few onion slices into pot with soaking bratwurst. Set aside until ready to grill in a pan. About 35 minutes into bratwurst soak, begin grilling onion.

Add a little butter or margarine to the pan, grill onions over medium-low heat until nicely browned, about 20 minutes. Stir often to prevent burning.

Remove bratwurst from beer after about 45 minutes. Place on a hot grill to finish. Grill bratwurst about 5 minutes per side, just enough to get the outer skin to char a little and blister.

While bratwurst finish on the grill, remove onions from heat and set aside until ready to use.

Place grilled bratwurst on bun smeared with desired condiment (mustard or deli style brown mustard are excellent choices). Add grilled onions, serve and enjoy.