Whenever I serve these tuna tacos to friends, I always get requests for the recipe. It requires a bit of setting up, but you can put it together right before serving to your guests…or yourself.

I use sushi grade tuna for this dish, which is easily found in small frozen “bricks” at Whole Foods or similar stores.

For the Marinade…
6 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon pepper oil

The topping…

¼ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
Chopped fresh scallions

Other Ingredients…

½ lb sushi grade raw tuna, chopped into ¼-inch cubes
Tortilla chips
Finely chopped scallions
Assemble…

Make the topping in a bowl first, and place in the fridge. Mix marinade ingredients in a separate bowl. Chop tuna into ¼-inch cubes, and marinate in soy/oil mix for just 10 minutes, then drain. Keep it cold!

Just before serving, take a tortilla chip, place 1 tablespoon of tuna on top, top this with ½ teaspoon sour cream mixture, and garnish with chopped scallions.

Eat these quickly, before the tuna makes the tortilla soggy!

 

Brining, the process of letting a hunk of protein soak in a salt solution for a few hours, is a great way to add flavor and moisture to any cut of meat. I brine these wings for 3 hours before using a sweet and spicy rub. They can be grilled or roasted in the oven.

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The brine…

1/2 cup Kosher salt
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 whole bay leaf
2 quarts water

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat until the sugar and salt dissolve. Remove from heat, and let it cool to room temperature.

The rub…

1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup sweet paprika
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated onion
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

Place 3 lbs. of chicken wings in a Ziplock bag and pour the cooled brine into the bag. Place the bag in a bowl to prevent leaks and place in the fridge for 3 hours.
After 3 hours, remove the chicken from the brine and dry with paper towels. Discard the brine.
Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl and sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the rub, tossing to coat the chicken well. Place the bowl with the chicken in the fridge until ready to cook.
About 30 minutes before cooking, remove the bowl from the fridge and let the chicken come to room temperature.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 or light a grill.
Toss the chicken with some more of the rub, if you like, then place the pieces on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until done. Lower oven temperature if it starts to burn.

If grilling, cook over medium heat, turning frequently to prevent burning. Cook until the wings are done.

 

A WORD OF THANKS!

Posted: June 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

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Though it may sound Japanese, the word “saganaki” refers to a small frying pan used in Greek cooking. The most famous of these dishes, simply called saganaki, is a fried cheese, often flamed at the end with a little ouzo.

Shrimp saganaki is one of my favorite Greek dishes, and it usually involves cooking shrimp in a tomato-based sauce with plenty of feta cheese sprinkled in. It’s a simple yet fantastic dish if the ingredients are fresh. Doesn’t hurt to be sitting in a taverna on the beautiful island of Santorini while eating it, either!

Graviera cheese

Graviera cheese

I had a slab of Graviera cheese from my most recent trip to Santorini, and decided to recreate shrimp saganaki using that instead of feta. It was pretty damn amazing…

Melty, gooey, delicious!

Melty, gooey, delicious!

 

300 g grated Graviera cheese
1 can (28 oz) whole tomatoes
1 lb (about 24) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 medium onion, chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, through a press
pinch red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons Ouzo
salt and pepper

 

Peel and de-vein the shrimp. Squeeze the juice of  1/2 of a lemon on to the shrimp and toss. Set aside.

In a large pan, saute the onions in the olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and cook for a few seconds more.

Crush or puree tomatoes and add to the pan. Add red pepper flakes, dill and oregano, and salt and pepper. Add Ouzo.

Let this sauce cook down for a bit until all the flavors have blended together.

Pour a layer of the sauce on the bottom of a metal broiler-proof pan. Lay the shrimp in a single layer into the sauce. Cover the shrimp with the rest of the sauce and sprinkle the grated Graviera on top.

Place the pan in the broiler and cook until the cheese is brown and bubbly.

shrimp saganaki

 

 

Greek cuisine is some of the most delicious food I’ve ever eaten. It rivals Italian and French cuisine, yet has nowhere near the fan base. It’s the same with Greek spirits. The island of Santorini offers many wonderful choices, and it would be a sin not to taste them all!

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The island of Santorini is magical. But just as wonderful as the white buildings stacked on the cliffsides of this island are the people, and the native food and drink they offer. One such place is the Hatzidakis winery in the town of Pirgos.

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They don’t have a fancy tasting room. They don’t do tours. They don’t have an amazing view of the water or the island. They don’t even hold regular visiting hours. They simply have the best wine on the island.

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And that’s exactly why you need to go. Haridimos “George” Hatzidakis is all about his grapes. Ask anyone on Santorini what the best wine is, and you will get “Hatzidakis” as the answer every time.

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Sure, there are huge wineries with tasting rooms that overlook the water. That’s where the tour buses take the cattle that arrive in Fira on cruise ships. Why would you want to hang with them?

Hatzidakis wine is about the soil, the grapes, the climate. It’s also about the passion of the handful people who work hard to make it.

hatz grapes

You can’t find Hatzidakis in the United states (unless you look in my wine cellar, because we bring home as much as we can!!) Much of it is scooped up and exported to France…and much to our happy surprise, we’ve had a bottle of the Hatzidakis Assyrtyko in Paris at Le Baratin.

hatz cave

But for the most part, you’ll have to go to Santorini to experience the magic of this incredible wine. And that’s not a bad thing. Because the wine is much like the people of Santorini: beautiful and worth every bit of travel hassles to get there.

Aside from wine in Santorini, our most recent visit a few years ago introduced us to a local drink called Raki. Kind of like grappa on steroids, it’s the national drink of Turkey, popular here as well, and often served as a digestif before dinner. It’s a drink that can definitely get you in trouble.

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Also new (to us) in Santorini was Red Donkey, a locally brewed beer. It was a welcome treat on those very hot and dry summer days on this beautiful island. Unfiltered and delicious.

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As for local foods, nothing is better than a salad featuring the sharp tang of Santorini tomatoes. Much like the grapes of this island, the tomatoes grow in volcanic soil. Rain is scarce, and so the tomatoes, like the grapes, stay small but intense, bursting with flavor.

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Capers and caper berries, stuffed into empty plastic water bottles, are sold on the side of the road by local farmers.

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Perhaps the most unlikely food item we have to bring home from Santorini is what they call “fava,” but it’s not the bean we usually associate with that name. Originally, broad beans were used in this dish, but quickly it changed to a type of yellow shelled lentil that is much smaller and flavorful than its American counterpart. The lentil is smaller and the art of turning this simple gem into a sublime porridge is worth learning.

As common in Santorini as pasta is in Italy, grains of fava have been found in archaeological sites in the ancient city of Akrotiri (on the southern side of Santorini) dating as far back as 3500 years ago. Every taverna on the island offers their own version of fava, and though the differences are subtle, they can be significant.

Proud of his fava.

Proud of his fava.

 

Most recipes start with the dried lentils, which are washed thoroughly. They are added to a pot of fresh water and then boiled until the water reduces and the lentils slowly absorb the liquid and soften into a porridge. Often chopped onion is added to the pot of water in the very beginning, so that it completely dissolves and flavors the fava. Some recipes call for a subtle mixture of local dried herbs, similar to oregano and thyme, to be wrapped in cheesecloth and added to the pot to infuse flavor.

Like making a great Italian tomato sauce, cooking fava is a labor love. It requires low heat and constant stirring to make it perfectly smooth. Often it is pureed in a blender at the end.

When the fava is ready to serve, the toppings can vary. Thin slices of red onion and a liberal drizzle of Greek olive oil are common. Sometimes it is topped with locally harvested and brined caper berries or caper berry leaves, or a few kalamata olives.

On our recent trip to Santorini, our most memorable fava dishes were a simple, rustic version with onion, capers, olive oil and a side of lemon at Dimitris in Amoudi, and a light-as-a-cloud creamy fava topped with caper berry leaves and olive oil at Roka in Oia.

The fava at Dimitri's, on the water in Ammoudi.

The fava at Dimitri’s, on the water in Ammoudi.

We bought our fava from several people, including this beautiful ageless woman, who remembered us from our previous visit.image

I have no doubt that she’ll still be here on this magical island on our next visit as well!

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We were recently invited to a very cool retro summer party: cocktails and appetizers from the 60’s, and everyone contributed to the music by bringing in their favorite songs on vinyl. (I brought in a copy of the First Edition’s “Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was In)” featuring a very young Kenny Rogers. Very trippy.

We were also asked to contribute to the apps, so I brought waffle chips with clam dip.

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2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
3 6-oz. cans of chopped clams, drained, liquid reserved from one can
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all the ingredients, except the clam liquid, in a bowl and mix well with a fork.

Add 1 tablespoon of the clam liquid and mix well. Keep adding the clam liquid until the dip reaches a consistency you like.

Serve with potato chips.

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As a kid, I always knew my grandmother loved me. After all, she told me that every time I visited her on Saturday afternoons. She lived in Queens, NY, and we’d visit after sitting through 5 long hours of Lithuanian school in Brooklyn every Saturday morning.

By the time we got to my grandmother’s house, it was mid-afternoon, and I was starving. She’d greet me with a smile and a kiss on the forehead, and she’d proudly put a plate full of koldūnai (Lithuanian pierogis, usually stuffed with meat instead of potatoes or sauerkraut, and way better) in front of me, steam rising off the freshly-boiled koldūnai, with spirgučiai (fried bacon and onion bits) generously sprinkled on top, and a dollop of sour cream on the side.

There were times when I could eat 20 of them. However many I had, it seemed that she still had more, and I never thought for a moment about where they came from. I guess I knew that she made them, but I never really thought about what that meant.

Now I cook for my 8-year-old daughter, and the other day, she asked for one of her favorite dishes: ham and cheese croquettes. It’s a long and messy process to make them: boiling and mashing potatoes, chopping up slabs of ham, grating piles of cheddar cheese, mincing onions. Then rolling the croquette filling in flour, egg and breadcrumbs before frying them.

Whether I make six or sixty, the kitchen is trashed afterwards, so I went with the larger number…62, to be exact. (They freeze well.)

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It’s not hard work, but it’s tedious. After making 30 croquettes, my back was aching from standing hunched over the kitchen counter. And I was only half done. I tried pulling up a stool, but that didn’t help, so I popped a few ibuprofen and kept going, finally frying that last croquette, turning the heat off the oil, and standing back to see a kitchen counter covered in egg, flour, breadcrumbs, and mashed potatoes. The cooking was done but the cleanup was just beginning.

My daughter stepped off the school bus at the end of the driveway, and I greeted her with a kiss on the forehead, telling her I loved her. We walked back to the house, and I asked her about her day, all the time knowing that I had a special treat waiting for her that I couldn’t wait to show her.

We walked into the house and she saw the trays of croquettes. I placed a couple of them on a plate and she sat down, eyes wide open, and took her first crunchy bite. The heartfelt “Mmmmm” that came from deep inside her gave me a real sense of satisfaction. My hours of work had paid off with one simple bite. Few things could’ve made me happier at that moment than the smile on her face.

And then I thought of my grandmother.

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What I did that day, she did for me every Saturday without fail. And she was a lot older than I am now.

She loved me, alright. Funny how it took almost 40 more years for me to realize just how much.

Nothing says summer here in New England like a lobster roll. But I don’t go to a clam shack to get one. The prices are ridiculous, the meat can be overcooked, and they often add ingredients I don’t want.

I start with fresh lobster. I get it from my lobster man buddy, Gary, just down the street at his dock in Tiverton, RI.

A view of the Sakonnet River from the back of Gary's lobster boat, the Edna Mae

A view of the Sakonnet River from the back of Gary’s lobster boat, the Edna Mae

The next step is to cook it right. I use sea salt in a large pot of boiling water. I make sure the water is at a rolling boil before the lobsters go in. And I cook them for no more than about 8 minutes.

Lobster catch LTL

After the lobsters have been removed from the pot and have cooled for a few minutes, I get to work: cracking the claws and tail and removing every bit of beautiful meat I can find. Lobster lovers will tell you that the legs have some meat in them and that the tomalley (the green liver and pancreas) and roe (eggs) are delicacies not to be missed. For the purpose of making lobster salad, I don’t use these parts. But I do save the tomalley and roe for a separate treat…and I save all the legs and cleaned empty shells for lobster stock.

Lobster roll LTL

Everyone has their own opinion about lobster rolls: what goes in ‘em…and perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t. I am no exception. For me, no veggies whatsoever: no chopped celery, no lettuce, no pickle. No paprika or Old Bay seasoning. A pinch of celery salt? Sure. Mayonnaise? Only Hellman’s. White pepper, not black, and just a touch. Salt? A pinch of Fleur de sel. And the secret weapon to bring out all the flavors: the tiniest squeeze of fresh lemon juice…not enough to give it a lemon flavor…just to brighten the taste.

I prefer those long Martin’s potato rolls: straight out of the bag or lightly grilled with a little melted butter brushed on.

 

When asparagus is in season, it’s time to gorge. I’ve got it growing in my yard, and the patch gets bigger and happier every year with minimal maintenance…definitely one of those veggies every lazy gardener should grow.

I love it raw, chopped into salads, pickled, oven-roasted, and in pasta dishes. This is a great side dish with any main course slab of meat.

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1 lb. fresh asparagus spears
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
salt and pepper

 

The easy way to trim asparagus spears is to grab the thicker end between two fingers and bend it. It will snap at the point where the tough part ends and the softer, edible part begins. Toss the bottoms into your compost pile.

Heat the butter and oil in a pan and then add the asparagus spears. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until al dente. You don’t want them mushy.

While the asparagus is still in the pan, sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, letting it melt a bit. Season with salt and pepper.

I ate this batch right out of the pan!

 

 

Skip the necktie. If your dad’s a foodie, he wants something cool this year! All of these ideas have been rigorously tested by our panel of experts (OK, just me), and get a big thumbs up.

Masterbuilt Electric Digital Smokehouse: I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to grilling. I refuse to use a gas grill because I think there’s no difference between that and my kitchen stove. I use real hardwood charcoal, with real smoke and real flavor. But when it comes to smoking meats, basic smokers require constant maintenance so that the temperatures don’t fluctuate. With an 8-year-old daughter to take care of, that’s something I don’t have time for, especially if I’m cooking something low and slow for about 12 hours. So I have a digital smoker. I plug it in, set the time and temperature, and then periodically add wood chips through a side drawer to smoke the meat. I can literally set it and forget it. I have it cook through the night, so I wake up to a beautifully smoked slab of meat in the morning.

Cognac! How can you go wrong with booze for Father’s Day? But if you’re looking for something really special to give Dad (or your favorite blogger), it’s Kelt XO. What makes Kelt XO special is that before bottling, they place the barrels of cognac on board ships that sail the world for months at a time. During this time, the cognac gently rocks back and forth in the barrels, slowly acquiring a smoothness you can’t find in other spirits. Each bottle even comes with a tag that tells you exactly what ports around the world your cognac has been to. At most high-end liquor stores.

jack daniels

Jack Daniels smoking chips: Whether you have a smoker or not, these chips will make anything you cook taste better. Made from the old oak barrels that they use to age Jack Daniels, you get a serious hit of whiskey in every bag…and in your food. Simply toss a handful of chips you’ve soaked in water for about a half hour, and they will infuse the food on your grill with flavor. You can also use them dry, on charcoal or gas grills.

Cookbook favorites: “Jamie at Home,” by Jamie Oliver (a great combination gardening/cookbook), “Charcuterie,” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (the best book on how to cure and smoke meats), “Barbecued Ribs, Smoked Butts, and Other Great Feeds,” by Jeanne Voltz (my absolute barbecue Bible!), and “Martin Yan’s Feast: The Best of Yan Can Cook” by Martin Yan (the authority on Asian cooking.)

Redi-Check Remote Cooking Thermometer: Even someone who has barbecued all their lives runs the risk of burning or undercooking a roast or a large bird. Opening the grill and jabbing the meat with a thermometer several times causes the juices from the meat to run out, leaving it dry…and every time you open the grill, you lose precious heat. This is the better solution: You stick the needle into the roast or bird and leave it in there the entire time it cooks, so no juices leak out. You plug it into the monitor which then calls you when the meat is ready (from as far as 100 feet away!) You set the time or temperature, and then get to join your guests for the party.

smoking gun

 

Smoking Gun: There are times when you don’t need a full-on smoker. All you want to do is smoke a small piece of fish or a hunk of cheese.  You simply take some of the finely ground wood chip powder (comes with the gun) and place it in the pipe-like bowl. Light it, and the Smoking Gun will blow that smoke through a hose into the Ziploc bag where your piece of fish is waiting for its magical transformation to smoky deliciousness.

Mason jar cocktail shaker: A fun new way for Dad to make his martini. http://www.masonshaker.com

mason jar, baking steel