CANTONESE ROASTED CHICKEN

When I can’t get to Chinatown in Boston or New York, I cook my version of a recipe I discovered many years ago in “The Chinese Cookbook,” a wonderful source of information by former NY Times food critic Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee. I prefer using a whole pasture-raised organic chicken from my good friends at Fire Fly Farms in Stonington, CT (www.fireflyfarmsllc.com).

 

Cantonese chicken

 

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken, about 6 lbs, or 2 smaller chickens (pictured)

1 tablespoon Peanut oil

1 tablespoon Soy sauce

6 tablespoons Hoisin sauce

2 teaspoons Sesame Oil

4 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice powder

2 teaspoons Garlic Powder

2 teaspoons Salt

1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper

 

Remove all giblets from chicken. Rub the soy sauce all over the chicken. Then rub the peanut oil all over the chicken.

Combine Chinese Five Spice, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a bowl. Season entire chicken, including inside the cavity, with this mixture.

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Place chicken in a pan lined with aluminum foil (cleanup will be easier) and bake.

Meanwhile, combine hoisin sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl. When chicken is about 15 minutes away from being done, brush with hoisin/sesame oil mixture. Cook another 15 minutes until chicken has a nice dark glaze…do not burn!

 

Let rest about 15 minutes before carving.

 

MUSSEL FRITTERS

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. And that starts with a product called Drum Rock fritter mix. If you live in New England, you can find it in just about any seafood department at Whole Foods. If you live further away, you can check out their website (http://www.drumrockproducts.com/index.php) or try your luck with a local brand of 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

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 Drum Rock 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.

 

NOT MY MOM’S PORK CHOP

Pork chops were a favorite of mine growing up, but my Mom cooked them only one way: breaded and fried in a pan full of oil. They were good, but they were greasy, and my Mom was not big on seasonings. It was time to improve on the original.

chop 1

 

Ingredients:

2 Berkshire pork chops

1 egg

1/2 cup plain bread crumbs

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried parsley

1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

olive oil

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Set up 2 bowls. In one, crack and scramble the egg. In the other, combine salt, pepper, oregano, parsley, granulated garlic and onion powder.

Place an oven-proof pan on medium-high heat and add a little olive oil. Once the oil is hot, cover the pork chops in the egg wash and then coat with the bread crumb mixture. Place in the hot pan to brown and sear. Do this with both chops.

After a few minutes, flip the chops over in the pan and place the pan in the oven to finish cooking.

chop 2

Remember, good pork does not need to be cooked until well done!

 

 

 

THESE ARE THE BALLS!

There’s something magical about a simple plate of spaghetti and meatballs. When my parents took me to an Italian restaurant as a child, a plate of spaghetti and meatballs made me feel like the luckiest kid on the planet. And even now, when I prepare a plate of spaghetti and meatballs for my 7-year-old daughter, she can’t wait to sit down at the dinner table. She’s so busy shoveling the food into her mouth, she can’t even speak. I just get a quick thumbs-up between bites! meatballs

 

Great meatballs start with great meat. I always use 80/20 grass-fed beef. I don’t use a ton of breadcrumbs as filler. And the tomato sauce is homemade as well, from canned tomatoes. I start with the sauce…

 

B.F.I.M. SAUCE

Inspired by a lovely but large Italian lady I once knew, my Big Fat Italian Mama sauce is the best tasting sauce I’ve had anywhere.

 

Ingredients:

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, through a press

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

10 cups ground and peeled tomatoes…or 3 cans (28 oz.) tomatoes pureed in food processor

2 teaspoons each: dried oregano, basil and parsley

3/4 teaspoon each anise seed and fennel seed

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 bay leaves

1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste

1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

 

Heat olive oil in a large pot and add the onions. Cook until onions are translucent, then add the garlic. Stir for 10 seconds.

Add tomatoes and cook on high until orange foam disappears, stirring frequently. Don’t let it burn.

Add oregano, basil, parsley, anise seed, fennel seed, salt and pepper, bay leaves and tomato paste. Allow sauce to just come to a boil so that the tomato paste reaches optimum thickening power.

Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for at least an hour, until sauce reaches desired thickness. Stir often.

 

While the sauce is cooking, I start the meatballs…

 

THE BALLS

 

Ingredients:

2 lbs grass-fed ground beef

1 cup plain breadcrumbs (homemade are best)

2 tablespoons dried parsley

2 tablespoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon granulated garlic

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons salt

2 eggs, cracked and scrambled

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

 

Mix all the ingredients, except the olive oil, thoroughly but gently in a large bowl. Don’t overwork it.

Pour olive oil a medium-hot pan (don’t let it burn), make the meatballs, and sear them on all sides until brown.

When the meatballs are nice and brown, place them into the pot of sauce, making sure they are covered. Pour all the little bits and the olive oil from the pan into the sauce as well! Great flavor there.

Cover the pot and cook the meatballs in the sauce on low for a few hours. Pour over pasta, and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

 

GARDENING SEASON HAS BEGUN: THE BASICS

Here in New England, it’s time to seriously think about what to plant in your garden. I’ve already sowed peas, arugula, radishes, broccoli raab, and turnips back on St. Patrick’s Day. They can be sown in the garden now, as soon as the soil is workable. Simply, that means you take a handful of soil and squeeze it. If it stays in a hard, wet clump, it’s too wet and not ready. If it crumbles apart, get gardening!
That doesn’t give you a green light to plant all your veggies, however. Many need to wait until temperatures get much warmer.
I’m currently taking courses at the University of Rhode Island to get my certification as a URI Master Gardener. Gardening can be as simple or as complicated as you choose to make it, and if you’re starting out, the task of deciding where to put your garden may not seem like an easy one. It varies with every home, every yard. But there are some basic things to keep in mind, and all of it is common sense. Do you have any common sense? Good. Then you should be fine…
Greenhouse greens

Greenhouse greens

You want your garden to have all the benefits possible for the best chance of success. Just remember this easy acronym: LSSDA. OK, it’s not that easy, but I couldn’t figure out how to spell anything with those letters.
Location: You need to decide if your garden is going to be something you want to see every time you look out your window, or view from your deck as you smoke your cigar at the end of a satisfying gardening day…or something that is more practical than beautiful, and therefore something that you might want to have on a side of the house where it doesn’t block an already enjoyable view.
Sun: Where you put your garden must depend on the sun. You may think you have the perfect place for a garden bed, but if it doesn’t get a full day’s sun, you can pretty much forget about growing those amazing tomatoes you drool over when you go to the local farm stand. You can always shade your garden if there’s too much sun…it’s highly unlikely you’re going to set up a bank of klieg lights if you don’t have enough.
Size: In the beginning, this may be tougher than it seems. If you’ve got an old-fashioned garden envisioned in your mind, with long rows of veggies 2 or 3 feet away from each other, you’re going to need a huge space, which means huge work. If you go with the method that I suggest: small (8-foot by 4-foot) raised beds with intensive planting, not only are you going to need a lot less space, you’ll find that you’re requiring a lot less work to get the same results. I use the Square Foot Gardening method originated by Mel Bartholomew many years ago, and I’ve never had a reason to change. I get the most food in the least amount of space. (www.squarefootgardening.com)
Distance: This means the distance from all those tools and your water source. Sure, you may be pretty damn excited about your garden in the beginning, and you’ll happily drag water 400 feet to your remote garden location…until about June. Then you’ll start making every freaking excuse under the planet to avoid watering or working in your garden…and that kind of defeats the idea. Unless you have some motorized means of hauling all of your tools and buckets out there, try to locate your garden near a garage or shed and a water source so you spend more time in your garden and less time going back and forth to your garden.

Access: Make sure you pick a place that you can easily get to. If your garden requires that you go through an archway or similar structure, you may not be able to fit certain tools, bags of peat moss, wheelbarrows, or even your own fat ass at certain times.

These are the basics to setting up properly. I have 6 raised beds that measure 8-by-4 feet, giving me a total of only 192 square feet, and yet I grow more veggies in that space that my family of 3 can possibly eat. The idea is to get more vegetables per square foot of gardening space, not per plant. When you plant things closer and more intensely, you will get better results with less work and cost. And if you can time it so that you have new plants ready to take the place of those that have been harvested, you’ve got more harvests in even the shortest of seasons. But that’s a discussion for another time.

“AUSSOME” AUSSIE MEAT PIES IN BOSTON

It’s interesting how we sometimes stumble upon great food finds. After taking our daughter to the Boston Museum of Science on a recent Saturday, we decided to eat at a small family run Italian restaurant in a blue-collar neighborhood in East Boston, one that was featured a few years ago on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri. It’s called Rino’s Place, and we’ve been waiting for the opportunity to try the food there for a long time.

Rino’s Place opens at 3PM. We got there at 3PM. The line was out the door and down the street, with a 3-hour wait. (They don’t take reservations for parties smaller than 6.) I don’t care how good the food is supposed to be…I’m not going to wait 3 hours to eat pasta. So, disappointed, we drove off, hoping to perhaps visit Rino’s on a less popular weekday some other time.

Meanwhile,  my wife, the artist, was scanning the neighborhood and found an interesting art gallery, Atlantic Works, nearby. We decided to check it out. There wasn’t much to see, but the ladies that ran the joint told us that Rino’s, in their opinion, was good but overrated. The exposure Rino’s got from DDD was so huge that they even bought the convenience store across the street from the restaurant and converted it into a bar for those that chose to wait for their tables. Total cash cow.

Just down the road from the Atlantic works, the ladies told us, was a funky little joint that made authentic Australian meat pies. That sounded good. They said it was tucked away inside a funky old marina that featured bizarre metal sculptures on the roofs of the buildings. That sounded intriguing. Off we went.

photo

A few lefts and rights…a little loss of GPS at one moment…and we arrived at the Boston Harbor Marina. Definitely the slow season, as many of the boats were still shrink-wrapped, but you could see this place had potential in the summertime, with huge metal sculptures of fish and mermaids on the property. And sure, enough, tucked away in a far corner was KO Catering and Pies, our Aussie meat pie joint.

pie2

It was cold and windy outside, but some brave souls were sitting at the picnic tables outside, enjoying their meals. We chose to buy a bunch of frozen pies and take them home to re-heat.

They were awesome: beef with cheese, braised lamb shank, beef stew…all surrounded by some of the most delicious and flakiest pie crusts you ever bit into.

more pie

KO has another location in south Boston as well. Either one is worth a visit. Start here: http://www.kocateringandpies.com

AGING SPIRITS IN OAK BARRELS AT HOME

Used to be that only the big distilleries were able to age their finest spirits in charred oak barrels. But now, there’s a movement goin’ on…and hand-crafted oak barrels are available to aficionados at home.

Companies like Redhead Barrels (www.redheadoakbarrels.com) are offering oak barrels for aging that range in size from 1 liter to 20 liters. And that’s where this enthusiast comes in: with a 1-liter barrel, I’m able to age my favorite spirit–vodka, rum, whiskey, bourbon, anything–in just a few weeks, elevating the flavors to levels previously unknown. For example, they claim that Crown Royal will age to Crown Reserve in 14–15 days! Imagine what it can do for any spirit–or wine–you choose.

wood

My  1-liter barrel arrived with the spigot and bung separately. The instructions say that curing the barrel is necessary before using it. You do this by rinsing the barrel out a few times to remove any loose pieces of wood chips or splinters that may still be inside. You hand-turn the spigot into the barrel until it fits snugly and you place the barrel in your sink on the included stand. You fill the barrel with very hot water…and watch. Some barrels are totally watertight and will not leak. Others may take literally a few days of repeated fillings with hot water before it thoroughly seeps into the wood, expanding it to seal the barrel.

Once there are no leaks, you are ready to go. Simply empty the water out of the barrel and fill it with your favorite spirit. Because there is more wood surface area to less liquid, as compared to the large barrels companies like Jack Daniels use, your alcohol will age faster…in weeks instead of years. Once you’ve aged it as much as you want, you simply pour it into a bottle to stop the aging process. Rinse the barrel out thoroughly, and you are ready to age yet another spirit.

I chose to age a favorite cocktail that I first savored at the Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland, Ohio, the brainchild of the insanely talented chef Jonathon Sawyer. The call it a Negroski, their take on a Negroni. It features equal parts Campari, Cocchi sweet vermouth, and OYO stone fruit vodka. They make large batches of it and keep it in a barrel until they serve it. So enamoured my wife and I were with this drink, that I begged the bartender to give me the recipe. He did, and though I could easily find Campari back home, I went on an internet search for the Cocchi vermouth (found it at http://www.drinkupny.com, a great wine and spirits website) and the OYO stone fruit vodka (an Ohio product that I finally found at http://www.thepartysource.com.)

Doing the math, equal parts of each ingredient meant 1 1/3 cups of each to make a quart…which fit perfectly in my 1-liter barrel. Once I corked the top with the bung, it was time to let it age.

A slight daily rotation of the barrel gently rocks the liquid inside, exposing it to the barrel’s charred wood interior, giving it more flavor. And at the end of   a week, I was ready for my first tasting: the wood had a subtle influence, rounding out the flavors. I wanted a little more, so I waited another week.: even better, but not quite there. It took a total of three weeks before the drink reached its flavorful peak.

I poured some of the drink into a cocktail shaker with ice, stirred briskly with a spoon, and strained it into a martini glass, garnishing with a twist of blood orange peel. Delicious!

cask

What’s next for my little wooden cask? Perhaps some of my Krupnikas (http://wp.me/p1c1Nl-lq).