CHIVE TALKIN’

Posted: May 26, 2015 in Food, garden, pizza, Uncategorized
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This is the time of year when the chives in my herb garden are busting out with blossoms. Before they pop, I head out every few days and snip the larger ones off the chive plants, wrap them in freezer bags and freeze them.

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I use those blossoms over the course of the year on my signature marinated beef and chive blossom pizza. I just take a packet of chive blossoms out of the freezer, and sauté them in olive oil and salt and pepper, then sprinkle them on the pizza before baking.

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

Pick 'em and freeze 'em in May!

Pick ’em and freeze ’em in May!

Chive blossoms not only add great flavor, but they look cool on the plate, too.  I’ll add them as a side to almost any meat dish, or chop them after sauteing and sprinkle them in rice or quinoa.

 

Who says you have to cook a burger on the grill for Memorial Day? This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy clams…and without the clam knife! I always use hardwood charcoal.

Although I live on the opposite side of Rhode Island, I love visiting my friends at American Mussel Harvesters in North Kingstown. The quality of their seafood is second to none, which is why they supply so many area restaurants with their products. They feature “restaurant ready” mussels, meaning they’ve been cleaned and de-bearded. And their “restaurant-ready” clams mean they’ve been purged to perfection! (www.americanmussel.com) I use ’em whenever I can.

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A couple of dozen (or more) little neck clams, washed and purged
1 stick (8 oz) of unsalted butter
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

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The clams should be stored cold and dry until ready to use…not in water, not on ice. Place the clams in a bowl and cover with a wet dish towel in the fridge.

Because my clams have already been purged, I don’t have to do it at home. But here’s what to do if they haven’t been purged: Fill a large bowl with cold water, add sea salt and some corn meal to it, and mix it around. Add the clams to this bowl and let them purge in this liquid for at least an hour. They will suck up the corn meal and spit out sand and grit. After an hour, pour off the water/salt/meal/grit mix, and thoroughly wash the clams.

Start your hardwood charcoal grill and divide it in half: coals on one side, no coals on the other.

While the coals are heating up, grab a disposable aluminum foil tray and place it on a burner on your stove over medium heat. Add the butter, olive oil, parsley, oregano, basil, garlic and salt, and stir to combine. Once the butter has melted and everything has blended, bring the tray over to the charcoal grill and place on the side of the grill without coals. It will stay warm.

Once the coals are hot, just place the clams directly on the grill. (Use tongs, unless you want to remove all of your knuckle hair.) When they start to open, carefully flip them over, trying not to lose any of the precious juices inside the clam. Cook them for as long as you like, from raw, to more thoroughly cooked. As each one reaches its desired doneness, place it in the aluminum tray, making sure it gets swished around in the butter and herb mix.

When all the clams have been cooked and are in the tray, serve with on top of pasta…or simply eat with a fresh baguette. A glass of great white wine is a must.

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It’s hard to believe that the iconic F.A.O. Schwarz store in New York City is closing, due to rising rental costs. I suppose it’s not as hard to believe when you realize that it’s now owned by Toys R Us. They say they’ll move the store to Times Square or somewhere else in Manhattan where the rent is more reasonable, but it simply won’t be the same for many people, like myself, who grew up going to the store every holiday season.

The movie “Big,” starring Tom Hanks gave F.A.O. Schwarz global fame, when Hanks and Robert Loggia danced on the giant floor piano. Since then, lines were out the door every day for fans of the movie to get a chance to do the same.

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And several years ago,  I secured a reservation for a private tour of the store, led by one of F.A.O. Schwarz’s own soldiers. Before the store doors were opened for the day, we got to tour the entire store and dance on that famous floor piano before the crazy crowds made their way in. A wonderful memory we shared with our daughter and one I hope she’ll never forget.

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It’s not the holiday season. But if you’re in the New York area, you owe it to yourself to visit the original F.A.O. Schwarz location one last time before it goes away on July 15th. It’ll be a sad day for kids everywhere.

I love shrimp scampi, and had the need to satisfy my cravings the other day. But what started as a simple scampi recipe, turned into something a bit more. I may never make scampi the same way again!

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1 lb. wild-caught American shrimp, peeled and de-veined
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons parsley
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons Spirgučiai (see below)
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, sliced
oregano, for sprinkling

 

Thaw the shrimp under cold water. Place in a colander to drain.

Spirgučiai is a Lithuanian favorite: chopped bacon and onions, fried until crisp and usually sprinkled over anything and everything in Lithuanian cooking. I always have some in my fridge, already prepared and just waiting to be used.

In a saucepan on medium heat, combine the butter, olive oil, parsley, garlic salt, oregano, onion, pepper and Spirgučiai.  Heat only until everything melts and combines. Don’t let it burn.

In a small sheet pan lined with foil, lay the shrimp in a single layer and cook them halfway in a pre-heated 400-degree oven to remove the moisture from the shrimp.

Take the pan out of the oven, and drain off the moisture, if any. Pour the butter mix from the saucepan all over the shrimp and toss to coat. Return the shrimp to the oven for a few minutes, until they’ve heated through and are almost completely cooked. (Careful: never over-cook shrimp!)

Take the pan out of the oven, and place pieces of mozzarella on top, garnishing with a little oregano. Set the oven on broil and cook until the cheese has melted.

Slice with a spatula and serve on top of pasta, making sure you get some of that buttery scampi sauce.

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As a low-carb option, you can serve this on broccoli or roasted spaghetti squash.

I love avocado, and I’m always trying to find new ways of using it. This recipe is simple, low-carb, gluten-free, and really delicious. I prefer using ground chicken over ground turkey, which can dry out.

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1 lb. ground chicken
1 ripe avocado, sliced into small cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

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Combine the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly but carefully so that you don’t squash the cubes of avocado. Form the meat into burger patties. It will be sticky, but just make sure you get the avocado evenly distributed. Chill the patties in the freezer for about 10 minutes before cooking to firm them up.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a little oil in an ovenproof pan, and place the burgers in it when hot. Let the burgers sear on one side, then flip them. Place the pan in the oven to finish cooking.

Serve with a slice of bacon and Awesomesauce! (http://wp.me/p1c1Nl-gT)

It also makes a great breakfast sandwich: bacon, lettuce, tomato, a fried egg, and the chicken avocado burger!

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The inspiration for this sauce was my attempt to replicate the “Shack Sauce” they use at Shake Shack , a high-end burger joint owned by restaurateur Danny Meyer. Since it opened in New York City’s Madison Square Park in 2004, Shake Shack has expanded to many other locations around the world.

I don’t know if I captured the Shack Sauce secret. But I do know that my Awesomesauce makes every burger I grill taste amazing. It’s also fantastic for shrimp, crab or lobster salad…a dip for veggies or boiled shrimp…a dressing for tacos…and great on salads.

Awesomesauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 tablespoon dill pickle relish
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Pinch cayenne pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Mix well. Refrigerate covered for a few hours to blend the flavors.

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San Sebastian, Spain is one of the major food meccas of the world: wonderful shops, pintxos (tapas) bars, and some of the top restaurants On earth, all on the north coast of Spain in Basque country, off the Bay of Biscay, just a stone’s throw from the French border.

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Pintxo bars are everywhere, especially in the old part of town where the narrow streets are for pedestrians only, and many bars specialize in just a few prepared foods, like the beautiful sautéed fresh mushrooms, above.

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Some joints, like Cuchara de San Telmo, jam every night until they literally run out of food.

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Clearly, we couldn’t get enough of the mushrooms!

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No shortage of fantastic Basque cheeses and charcuterie in local San Sebastian shops, either.

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Not all the best pintxo bars are in old town. This one, Restaurante Ni Neu,  is just across the waterway from the classic Hotel Maria Christina.

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Need a break from all that rich food? Craving a burger, a salad and a beer? Head down the boardwalk on La Concha Beach for the Wimbledon, a tennis club that has a great pub open to the public.

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Many great family-run restaurants. Often, like with Munto and Egosari, you’ll find the first floor is all about the pintxos, and the second floor has a more formal dining area where you can sit down to a wonderful meal. Others, like Astelena, are finer dining experiences. And Narru has indoor dining as well as al fresco dining with a view of La Concha beach.

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San Sebastian is home to many of the world’s finest restaurants, including Arzak, rated the #8 restaurant in the world. Here’s the gazpacho at Arzak…

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And an incredible plate of fish, served on a clear dish so you can see the video of ocean waves crashing on the shore on the iPad the dish is served on!

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The talented Elena Arzak was named best female chef in the world in 2012.

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At the #3 spot on the top restaurants of the world, there’s Mugaritz, another amazing dining experience.

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One incredible dish after another. An experience hard to put into words, but I tried. Read about it here: http://wp.me/p1c1Nl-vn

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The “Linking Dish,” one of the most memorable moments of the evening at Mugaritz.

And no evening was complete without a tour of the kitchen…

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Just a short drive from San Sebastian, we visited the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, a day trip I highly recommend. Even if you’re not an art fan, the architecture of this building is out of this world.

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And the bistro at the museum, where we had a wonderful lunch, was worth the price of admission.

On the way back from Bilbao, we stopped at the small village of Getaria, where we visited the hard-to-find mountaintop vineyard of Bodega Elkano. The Zimmerman family has made the wonderful wine known as Txakoli here since 1830, and we visited with Mr. and Mrs. Zimmerman, neither of whom spoke any English. Fortunately, my Spanish was up to the task! (They do have a son and daughter, both of whom do speak English, but they weren’t in the area at the time of our visit.)

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They welcomed us with open arms, and it was one of the most awesome experiences I’ve had in my travels.

We had dinner back down by the waterfront, at the port of Getaria, at Restaurante Kaia-Kaipe. Excellent seafood.

Back at San Sebastian, we spent our days burning calories at La Concha beach…IMG_9451

…and visiting what is considered the oldest hilltop water ride in the world at the park at Monte Igueldo, just a short and fun funicular ride up the mountain.

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Of course, the view doesn’t suck, either.IMG_9453

Amazing food and drink, a beautiful beach, wonderful friendly people, world-class dining, down-and-dirty bar hopping, art appreciation, a world-class aquarium…San Sebastian has it all. This was our second trip in 10 years. And one of the very few places I’ve ever been to where I started talking about coming back while I was on the plane going home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If there’s a dish that my Mom made all the time, but I didn’t appreciate until I got older, this is it. Stuffed cabbage, cabbage rolls, or balandėliai, as we say in Lithuanian, was a staple in our home and one of my Dad’s favorite foods. 

I had seen my Mom make these beauties so often in my childhood, I didn’t even need to check online recipes out for guidance. That doesn’t mean I make them exactly like Mom, but my version came out pretty damn good. I think Mom would be proud.

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4 strips of bacon, chopped
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 lb. ground grass-fed beef
1 lb. ground pastured pork
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1 large head cabbage
1 pint homemade chicken stock
750 mg diced tomatoes (1 Pomi container)
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion

Chop the bacon into small pieces and fry them until crisp. Finely chop the onion, and add it to the bacon in the pan, cooking until the onions are translucent. Add the salt, pepper and garlic. Mix well, and remove from the heat. Let it cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the beef, pork, breadcrumbs, eggs, and cooled bacon and onion mixture. Place in the fridge to firm up.

Let a large pot of salted water come to a boil. Core the cabbage, leaving the leaves whole, and carefully immerse the head of cabbage into the hot water. Little by little, the outermost leaves of the cabbage will come off the head, and you can remove them with tongs, so you don’t burn yourself with the hot water. Set the leaves aside to cool, and continue doing this until you can no longer remove leaves from the remaining head of cabbage.

Remove the remaining head of cabbage from the hot water, and using your hands or a knife, break it into flat pieces. Line the bottom of a roasting pan with the pieces. These will keep the stuffed cabbage from burning and sticking to the bottom.

Time to roll the stuffed cabbage. Take the meat out of the fridge. Lay a cabbage leaf flat on the counter, and add some of the meat mixture inside. Roll the cabbage around the meat, folding the sides in as you go, much like a burrito. You might need to slice away the thickest part of the leaf stem to make rolling easier. Lay the stuffed cabbage in the roasting pan on top of the leftover cabbage pieces. (Unlike Mom, I don’t use toothpicks to hold the stuffed cabbage rolls together.)

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Continue stuffing and rolling the cabbage leaves until you’ve got a pan full of them, shoulder-to-shoulder.

In a blender, combine the chicken stock, diced tomatoes, thyme, salt, pepper, garlic and onion. Pour this mixture over the top of the cabbage rolls in the roasting pan, covering them.

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If you have leftover cabbage, you can place another layer of them on top. Otherwise, cover the roasting pan with foil and place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Cook for an hour.

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After an hour, remove the foil and cook further for another 45–60 minutes.

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Recovered from Derby Day’s mint juleps just in time to celebrate Cinco de Mayo tomorrow? Here’s my favorite margarita recipe.

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ALGARITA:

3 oz. Patron silver tequila
1 oz. Cointreau orange liqueur
4 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 a fresh lime, squeezed

Add ice to a tall glass and add Patron, Cointreau, pineapple juice and a good squeeze of lime juice from 1/2 a lime. Pour into a margarita glass (salt rim optional) and garnish with a lime wedge.

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, FLOOR!

The Kentucky Derby revs up this Saturday at 6:24PM Eastern, and I’ll be watching. Not because I’m a huge fan of the horses, but because it gives me an excuse to sip on Mint Juleps!

The Mint Julep is such a perfect, classic and historic bourbon drink, it seems silly to wait until Derby day to have one. Of course, as any aficionado of spirits will tell you, there are as many right ways as wrong ways of making one.

The first step in my Mint Julep is making the simple syrup. I use the standard ratio of 1 cup of clean, filtered water to 1 cup of sugar, but I use an organic product like Woodstock Farms Organic Pure Cane Sugar. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until just boiling. I’ve found that it needs to reach this stage for the unbleached sugar to really dissolve. As soon as it starts to boil, remove the saucepan from the heat, and throw in a handful of freshly picked mint leaves. Stir to make sure the mint gets in there, and then leave the saucepan to cool to room temperature. Once it’s at room temp, strain the simple syrup into a bottle with a tight sealing lid, and place in the refrigerator to cool. It will keep for about a week.

The next step is the tough part: the battle of the bourbons! The recent explosion of choices on the bourbon market has made it all but impossible for the average imbiber to know which bourbon is best for their tastes. My suggestion for this is to go to a trusted bartender and explain that you’re new to the bourbon world, and could you have the tiniest of tastes and sniffs of what he’s got at his bar. Chances are, you’ll get a sampling of some of the better known brands: Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, perhaps Buffalo Trace or Bulleit, and the standard Jim Beam. This is a very good start. If you have deeper pockets, go to the manager of a trusted higher end liquor store and explain that you’ve had all the rest, now what does he think is the best? And of course, hinting to wife and friends that “I’m trying new bourbons” around your birthday, Father’s Day, or the holidays inevitably gets you a few bottles as well!

A key ingredient for a perfect Mint Julep is crushed ice from clean, filtered water. Don’t even think of using tap water for any quality cocktail much less this one. Why ruin an expensive bottle of bourbon by going cheap on the ice? My fridge filters the water before making ice, so I put them in a canvas ice bag and bash them to the perfect crushed size.

And a Mint Julep needs a metal–not glass– Julep cup. Made of pewter or aluminum, it frosts on the outside as you stir your drink, keeping your beverage ice-cold on even the hottest of days. You simply need to have one to make the perfect Mint Julep.

So many choices...

From left to right: the now hard-to-find Eagle Rare 17-yr-old, Bulleit, Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, and the now impossible to find Pappy Van Winkle 15-yr-old.

 

ALZ MINT JULEP

 

3 oz. bourbon (my go-to these days is Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel)
1 oz. mint-infused simple syrup
crushed ice
Julep cup
Fresh mint for garnish

Crush the ice and pack it into the Julep cup, letting it dome slightly over the top. Don’t worry…the alcohol will melt it.

I like to add a jigger of bourbon (1.5 oz.), then the shot of simple syrup (1 oz.), then another jigger of bourbon on top. Break off a few mint leaves from the stem and push into the ice. Using a long spoon, stir the drink well. A beautiful layer of frost will form on the outside of the cup. Add more ice, if necessary, and garnish with a sprig of mint.