image

MANLY MEAT SAUCE

Pasta with meat sauce is one of the easiest things to make, yet few people do it. This sauce is really rich with flavor, and once you put all the ingredients together, it requires nothing more from you than an occasional stir every now and then.

image

 

Ingredients:

 

1/4 cup olive oil

3 strips bacon, finely chopped, raw or pre-cooked

1 onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon garlic salt

2 lbs ground beef (I use grass-fed beef)

2 cans (28 oz each) whole tomatoes

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

2 tablespoons dried parsley

2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon anise seed

1 teaspoon fennel seed

2 bay leaves

1 small can (6 oz)  tomato paste

image

 

In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add the bacon. Once the bacon is sizzling, add the onions and cook until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic salt and mix. Add the ground beef and cook until it has browned.

Pour the 2 cans of whole tomatoes into a food processor and blend until chunky…or go the old-fashioned route and simply squeeze the tomatoes with your hands, breaking them up. Pour the contents of both cans into the pot and stir well. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the orange tomato foam disappears.

Add the oregano, basil and parsley and stir. Add the salt and pepper and stir. Add the anise seed and fennel seed and stir. Throw in the 2 bay leaves and stir. (I think you get the idea, there’s a lot of stirring going on!)

When the sauce starts to boil, add the tomato paste and stir well. Let it come up to a boil again–the paste thickens best at high heat–then turn the heat down to a simmer and cover the pot.

Let the sauce simmer for several hours. Whenever you walk by, give the sauce a good stir.

Serve over pasta, with some grated Parmiggiano Reggiano.

image

 

 

 

image

KILLER HOLIDAY EGGNOG

Let’s face it: there’s no such thing as healthy eggnog. This recipe kicks ass but is also a heart attack in a glass.

My buddy, Rick Sammarco, a former bartender at Mill’s Tavern in Providence, RI, credits his father, Al, for this eggnog. The original recipe calls for a lot more of everything. I’ve cut it down to a “more reasonable” size. It’s been so long since I bought ice cream, that I didn’t even know that the standard half-gallon size was replaced by a 1.5 quart size!

A word about salmonella: most cases are caused by raw chicken, not raw eggs. Eggs you get in the supermarket are washed so the chance of salmonella, found on the exterior, is minimal. (The inside of the egg is sterile.) Plus, you’re dumping a lot of booze into this drink and that will kill bacteria. In fact, some recipes say to make your eggnog weeks in advance to “sterilize” the drink.

 

image

 

Ingredients:

 

1.5 quarts vanilla ice cream (I use Breyer’s)

1 pint half and half

15 whole eggs (raw)

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

 

At least 3/8 cup of each:

spiced rum (I use Capt. Morgan)

whiskey (I use Crown Royal)

brandy (I use E&J)

 

Let the ice cream soften 1 day in the fridge. Mix ice cream, eggs, vanilla, half and half in a blender.

Add spices and liquor. Blend until it’s frothy.

Taste, and add more cinnamon and nutmeg if you like.

After fully blended, let sit in fridge 12-24 hours for flavors to blend. Even longer is better.

 

 

VENISON STEW WITH PUFF PASTRY

A couple of years ago, when I received a shipment of venison from my father-in-law, an avid hunter that lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I knew that although I could certainly use beef for this dish, it would be absolutely stellar with venison. And I knew that I couldn’t miss with a local brew from my buddy Sean Larkin of Revival Brewing Company (www.revivalbrewing.com) with his Double Black IPA…

image

 

 

Ingredients:

Olive oil
3 red onions, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons butter, plus extra
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
10 oz baby bella mushrooms, chopped
3 lbs venison, cut into 3/4″ cubes
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
2 bottles (24 oz) Revival Brewing Company Double Black IPA, with a swig for the cook
3 tablespoons flour
12 oz freshly grated cheddar cheese
1 1/2 pounds store-bought puff pastry (all butter is best)
1 large egg, beaten

image

 

Pre-heat the oven to 375.
In a large oven-proof pan, heat a few tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onions and fry gently for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat up and add the garlic, butter, carrots, celery and mushrooms. Stir well, then add venison, rosemary, a pinch of salt and about a teaspoon of pepper.
Fry on high for about 4 minutes, then add the beer, making sure you take a swig for luck! Stir in the flour and add just enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer, cover the pan with a lid or foil, and place in the preheated oven for about 1 1/2 hours.
Remove after 1 1/2 hours and stir. Put it back in the oven and cook another hour, until the meat is cooked and the stew is rich, dark and thick. If it’s still liquidy, place the pan on the stove top and reduce until the sauce thickens. (You don’t want a soupy stew or you’ll get soggy puff pastry later.) Remove the pan from the heat and stir in half the cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside to cool.

Depending on whether your puff pastry comes in sheets or a block, you’ll need to use a rolling-pin to get it into sheets about 1/8″ thick. Butter a good-sized pie dish or an oven-proof terrine. Line the dish with the sheets of pastry, letting the pastry hang over the sides. Pour in the stew, even it out with a spatula, and add the rest of the grated cheese on top.
Use another 1/8″ thick sheet of pastry (or a couple if they’re not wide enough) to cover the top of the pie dish. Lightly crisscross the top with a knife, then fold over the overhanging pieces of pastry over the lid, making it look nice and rustic. Don’t cut or throw any of the pastry away! Use as much as you can, since everyone will want some.
Brush the top with the beaten egg and then bake the pie on the bottom of the oven for about 45 minutes, until the pastry has cooked, and it’s beautifully puffed and golden. Serve with a side of peas (and beer!)

image

 

image

LAMB CHOPS WITH A HONEY MUSTARD GRAPEFRUIT GLAZE

True: the inspiration behind this dish was a conversation I had with friends, talking about our early childhood days. Someone brought up the name Shari Lewis, and her famous puppet Lamb Chop. Next thing I knew, I was grilling the critter in my yard.

This is a great grilled lamb recipe that doesn’t need any marinating before cooking.

image

 

 

Ingredients:

 

1/2 cup Dijon mustard (I like Maille)

Zest of 1 grapefruit

1 teaspoon grapefruit juice

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

 

In a bowl, combine mustard, grapefruit zest and juice, thyme, and honey, garlic salt and pepper. Mix well.

Pre-heat a hardwood charcoal grill.

Grill the lamb on all sides first, then start brushing the mixture on them, flipping them, brushing again, and grilling. Keep doing this until you’ve used up all the mixture and the lamb is cooked to proper doneness. Don’t overcook it!

 

The lamb chops I buy come in a rack like the one below. They are pre-cut, so you just thaw them and go through each one with a knife to get mini lamb porterhouses. I like to grill them on all sides before I start brushing the sauce on them.

imageimage

image

IT’S A PUMPKIN PIE, CHEESECAKE, TIRAMISU…THING

This past Thanksgiving, I couldn’t decide what to make for dessert. So I combined several traditional desserts in one: pumpkin pie, cheesecake, and tiramisu. The challenge was to make it gluten-free, since my wife is sensitive to gluten. Rather than using the traditional lady fingers used in tiramisu, I used a gluten-free product that replaces graham crackers. And though it can be presented in a trifle bowl, I made individual servings.
image
Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, softened
1 can (15 oz) prepared pumpkin
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
4 teaspoons pumpkin or apple pie spice, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
1 cup strong brewed coffee, room temp ( I use espresso)
1 box (22 oz) graham crackers or gluten-free substitute

image

In a large bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Set aside.
In another large bowl, combine cream cheese, pumpkin, milk, brown sugar, 2 teaspoons pumpkin spice, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat with mixer until well blended. Fold gently into the whipped cream.
Pour the graham crackers into a food processor and process until you get very fine crumbs. Pour into a bowl.
In a separate small bowl, combine coffee, and remaining pumpkin spice and vanilla. Pour the coffee mixture into the graham crackers a little at a time, and mix with a fork, until it resembles wet sand.
In each glass, alternately layer the pumpkin cream and the graham cracker mix. Serve with a little extra whipped cream on top, or with ice cream on the side.

MUSSEL FRITTERS

December 2nd is National Fritters Day!

Clam fritters, conch fritters, lobster fritters…I suppose you could fritter anything. But the first time I had them with mussels, I knew that I would never fritter my life away with any other!

It was a fall afternoon in Newport, Rhode Island, at the Newport Yachting Center’s annual Oyster Festival. We’re gorging on freshly shucked oysters and clams, boiled shrimp, and…what have we here? I had never heard of a mussel fritter before, but Wendy, the lovely lady behind the counter, convinced me that her secret recipe would knock my socks off. I took one bite, then another, then another…there was no turning back.

They couldn’t be easier to make, but it is crucial to have the right fritter batter. Here in Rhode Island, that starts with a product called Drum Rock fritter mix.

fritter ingredients

 

If you’re using fresh mussels, be sure to clean them well and remove the beards. Steam them in a pot over a small amount of water. As they open, they will release their flavorful juices and you want to save every drop of that broth for the fritters. Here in New England, frozen mussel meats are available in some seafood stores. All you need to do is thaw them, steam them saving the broth, and you’re ready to go.

 

Ingredients:

 

1 lb Drum Rock fritter mix (or other brand)

2 cups cooked mussel meats

1/2 cup mussel broth (saved from steaming mussels)

1/4 to 1/2 cup good quality beer, such as Sam Adams Boston Lager

Peanut oil for frying

 

Be sure to let the batter rest. If you're waiting for guests to arrive, just cover the batter bowl with a moist towel and it will keep for several hours at room temperature.

Be sure to let the batter rest. If you’re waiting for guests to arrive, just cover the batter bowl with a moist towel and it will keep for several hours at room temperature.

 

Steam mussel meats until just cooked. Remove mussel meats, and reserve 1/2 cup of the broth. Pulse mussel meats in a food processor, but leave chunky…or chop by hand.

Put fritter mix in a large bowl. Add mussel meats, mussel broth, and beer. Stir gently until just mixed. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes and do not stir again.

Using a thermometer, heat oil to 350 degrees, and using a small spoon or scoop, drop fritters in hot oil, turning gently, cooking 3 to 4 minutes until golden.

Drain on absorbent paper, and season with salt and pepper immediately. Serve right away!

IMG_3043

 

The perfect dipping sauce for these mussel fritters is made from two ingredients: mayonnaise and Ponzu sauce, which is a citrus-based soy sauce. Combine both ingredients in a bowl. How much you use of each is a matter of personal preference. I usually use a ratio of 4 parts mayo to 1 part Ponzu.

 

Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain

MUGARITZ, SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN

Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain

Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain

Mugaritz is one of the top restaurants in the world: ranked #3 or #6, depending on who you ask. And I’m just a guy with a blog. But on a recent trip to San Sebastian, Spain, my family and I had a chance to dine there.

The main kitchen from outside.

The main kitchen from outside.

The dishes that acclaimed chef Andoni Luis Aduriz created were some of the most original we’ve ever enjoyed. There was a flow to our experience…a reason why one dish followed another. It was like a concert, with Aduriz at the helm as director and composer.

Mugaritz has about twenty tables. And one seating. You are there for the night. Well over twenty courses, small bites to be sure, but all intense and rich with flavors and textures that complimented each other.

The kitchen at Mugaritz.

The main kitchen at Mugaritz.

Every table got a private tour of the kitchen. And though we didn’t meet chef Aduriz, we did get to talk with his second in command: chef Ramon Perise.

Mugaritz, as Perise explained it, has three kitchens: a lower level for preparation…a middle kitchen on the main floor for cooking all the food, plating it and making it look beautiful…and then an upstairs kitchen, the laboratory, where they come up with their newest creations.

Hangin' with Ramon Perise.

Hangin’ with Ramon Perise.

With our kitchen tour, we saw the chefs setting up rows of small iron bowls on wooden stands: individual mortar and pestles for each person in the dining room. It was going to be a dish that was served to everyone at the same time, no matter where they were in the course of their meal. So when we finished our kitchen tour, we sat down, and the mortar and pestles were brought out.

Inside the iron bowl were some wet and dry ingredients: what looked like corn nuggets, a colorful cube of gelatin and other ingredients. We were instructed to grind up what was in our bowls with our personal pestle. The entire restaurant was filled with a ringing sound, like church bells going off somewhere in the distance. For a few precious minutes, every patron shared this special perfectly choreographed event as we ground up the contents of our bowls. They called it the “linking dish.”

Then, one by one, the grinding stopped. The iron bowls continued to ring for a few seconds until the sounds faded away into silence, replaced by the low murmur of conversation. And we all went back to our meals.

The linking dish.

The linking dish.

Our sommelier, Guillermo Cruz, was a bright, knowledgeable and enthusiastic young man that offered us thrill rides in a glass, including a much-needed digestivo half-way through the meal so that we could continue our dining experience!

A grappa-like Fillaboa digestif from Gallicia that was made from the local Albarino grapes. Helpful in making room for more food!

A grappa-like Fillaboa digestif from Gallicia that was made from the local Albarino grapes. Helpful in making room for more food!

As chef Perise said to us (paraphrasing): “When you leave this place…and weeks afterwards…you’re not going to remember the food. But you’re going to remember the emotions you had and the feelings you had when you were here. And that’s what we’re working for.”

Shaved ice cream with cheese: one of many desserts.

Shaved frozen apple with cheese: one of many desserts.

Could there have been too many dishes? Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? Is less really more?

These burning questions can only be answered with another visit to Mugaritz. I hope it’s sometime soon!