Years ago, I gave my self an important research project: Create your own version of the perfect espresso martini.

It took painstaking research, which required drinking many espresso martinis in many a bar on my travels.

My favorite version came from a bartender working at Knave, the lobby bar at the at Le Parker Meridien Hotel in New York City. It featured Coole Swan, an Irish cream liqueur I had never tried-or heard of-before. The bartender was nice enough to write down the recipe for me, but I guess I had a little too much to drink…because I lost it! So it was up to me to use those brain cells I didn’t fry and come up with my own combination.

A lot of mixing late into the night, and I came up with what I consider to be my perfect espresso martini. As the marines say: “There are many like it, but this one is mine.”

 

Alz Espresso martini

My espresso martini

 

 

3 oz. good quality vodka, like Belvedere
3 oz. freshly brewed espresso
1.5 oz. Kahlua
1.5 oz. Coole Swan

 

Chill your martini glasses. Pour all the ingredients into a large shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into chilled glasses.

This recipe makes 2 martinis. Let me tell ya…this tasted as good the first time as it did several martinis later! I’ve found that using a high-end vodka really does make a difference in the quality and taste of the martini…as does brewing your espresso just before assembling the drink.

My Mom loves that nasty, gooey cranberry log that oozes out of the can. It would hit the bowl with a splurt and would wiggle for about an hour. I’m more than happy to avoid that and make this delicious side dish, which has become mandatory at our Thanksgiving table every year.

image

 

 

 

1 medium-sized butternut squash, washed and peeled with seeds removed
Olive oil
Salt
1 cup fresh cranberries
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup pumpkin seeds or pepitas
¼ cup sesame seeds
¼ cup maple syrup, more if you like it really sweet

image

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Once you’ve washed, peeled and seeded the butternut squash, cut it into ½” chunks. Sprinkle a little olive oil and salt on them and toss them to coat. Then spread the squash cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden on the edges.

Remove the squash from the oven and pour the cranberries into the hot tray. Mix gently. Pour the squash/cranberry mix into a smaller, deeper baking pan.

Increase the oven to 425.

In a separate bowl, combine the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. Sprinkle the seeds evenly over the squash/cranberry mixture. Drizzle the maple syrup over everything and place the baking pan in the oven. Cook for another 20 minutes, until the seeds have roasted.

 

I’ve never been a huge fan of deep-fried turkey. Many years ago, when I lived in the Alabama, my friends went through the trouble of buying and setting up all the special frying equipment, and the turkey did taste pretty good. But it wasn’t exceptional, and it didn’t justify the expense or the clean-up afterwards. For me, nothing beats the taste of a grill-roasted turkey.

I get great results by cooking my turkey in my Weber grill. The standard Weber allows you to cook up to a 15 lb. bird–big enough for my purposes–and it comes out crispy, smokey and delicious. If you’re afraid to try this for the first time at Thanksgiving, wait a few months and buy a turkey on sale when you have the craving and try it out.

The charcoal chimney with hot coals awaits.

Although I’ve stopped using charcoal briquettes a long time ago, and now strictly use natural hardwood charcoal, this recipe works best with standard Kingsford briquettes. The idea is for the coals to cook slowly and evenly. Never use lighter fluid…always start the fire with a few pieces of crumbled newspaper under a charcoal chimney. And never, ever use a product like Match Lite, unless you like your food to taste like gasoline.

 

Needed:

Weber grill, with the dome top
Kingsford charcoal briquettes
Heavy duty aluminum pan (disposable)

 

Ingredients:

Whole turkey, up to 15 lbs., thawed and brined (see my previous blog about brining a turkey)
Olive oil (to rub on turkey)
2 yellow onions, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
½ lb. (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon pepper

 

Spreading the coals away from the center of the grill.

If you want stuffing, cook it separately.

Light 8 to 10 lbs. of charcoal in the grill…depending on the size of the turkey and how cold it is outside.

Remove the giblets from the turkey. Place the bird in the aluminum pan.

In a small bowl, mix the granulated garlic, onion powder, salt and pepper. Add any other seasonings you like.

Coarsely chop the onions and celery. Place them in a another bowl. Mix them with the melted butter and 1/3 of the salt/pepper/garlic powder mixture. Place a small handful of this “stuffing” mixture in the neck cavity of the turkey. Place the rest in the body cavity (where the stuffing would usually go.) You can fasten the bird with turkey skewers if you like. This “stuffing” is strictly to flavor the turkey…you don’t eat it!

 

The rubbed, stuffed and seasoned bird.

Rub the outside of the entire turkey with the olive oil and sprinkle the rest of the garlic/onion/salt/pepper mixture on the outside of the bird. Make sure you get the bird on the bottom as well.

When the coals in the grill have ashed over, spread them to the outside edges of the Weber equally. Put the cooking grill rack in place. Place the aluminum pan with the turkey in the center of the grill, keeping it away from the direct heat of the coals. If you’re using a meat thermometer (recommended), insert the probe into the thickest part of the breast, being careful not to hit the bone. Place the lid on the grill. (You may need to bend your pan a bit.) Open the vents on the bottom of the Weber as well as the lid. It’s important to get air circulating!

 

My meat thermometer calls me from as far as 100 feet away when the turkey reaches the optimum temperature that I pre-set. Time for a drink!

No basting is necessary.

Now here’s the tough part: DO NOT OPEN THE GRILL TO CHECK ON THE TURKEY! (If you must look, shine a flashlight into the vent holes on the lid to take a peek at the pop-up timer, if there is one.) The whole point is to keep the heat inside the kettle. You’ll know your turkey is done when no more smoke or heat rises from the grill, and the turkey inside stops making sizzling noises.

Remove the turkey and let it rest at least 20 minutes before carving.

 

Beautifully grilled, cooked to 180 degrees in less than 2 hours!

The Thanksgiving countdown has begun! No matter how you like to cook your Thanksgiving turkey: on the grill, deep-fried, or the standard oven-roasted method, brining the bird before you cook will give it a lot more flavor and will keep it from drying out.

My brining method takes about 6 hours. If you do it in the morning, you have plenty of time to cook the bird in the afternoon.

Brining is a simple process of soaking a hunk of protein in a flavored salt solution before cooking, resulting in a much more juicy and flavorful final product.

It’s basic high school science: the brine has a greater concentration of salt and water than the molecules of the protein (in this case, a turkey) that is soaking in it. By simple diffusion, the protein molecules suck up the salty water and retain it. When you cook the meat, some of the water evaporates, but the meat still has far more moisture in it than it would have without the brine soaking, and you get a moister, delicious bird.

Some people use giant syringes to inject their turkeys with crazy solutions, but I think that the old way is still the best way when it comes to brining. Get a big pot, fill it with the brine, and soak the bird in it. Done.

Here’s my tried-and-true turkey brining recipe. Once the brining is done, you can cook the turkey whatever way you like best. I use a method where I grill it inside a Weber grill with charcoal. It comes out smokey and absolutely amazing. I’ll have that info in the next blog.

 

1 gallon of water
2 onions
3 carrots
3 stalks celery
1 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1.5 teaspoons whole allspice
4 bay leaves
1 gallon of ice water
14–15 lb. turkey, thawed

Pour the first gallon of water in a large pot. Quarter the onions, carrots and celery (no need to peel them if they’re clean) and add them to the water. Add the salt, peppercorns, sugar, allspice and bay leaves.

Let the pot come to a boil for a few minutes. Remove from the heat and let the brine cool down to room temperature.

Remove the giblets from the turkey and place the bird in a container just big enough to hold it and 2 gallons of liquid.

Pour the now-cooled brine over the turkey, then pour in the gallon of ice water.

Make sure the turkey doesn’t float up by placing a plate on top. Put the turkey container in the fridge for about 6 hours, flipping the turkey over in the container halfway through.

Drain and rinse the turkey with cold water, pat dry with paper towels, and then cook it using your favorite recipe.

Next time: cooking your turkey on a Weber grill in a fraction of the time.

This is a great appetizer when you’ve got guests visiting over the holidays. You can make the pesto ahead of time, and serve it in just a few minutes.

Chourico (or chorizo in Spanish) is as important to the Portuguese as bacon is to us Lithuanians. Here in Southern New England, they pronounce it “sha-rees,” not the exaggerated “chaw-reezo,” like you hear on “Chopped.”

I was joking with a friend the other day that if I won the lottery, I could buy a lifetime supply of chourico at my favorite store: Mello’s in Fall River, Mass. His response was: “Is there such a thing as a lifetime supply of chourico?!”

Good point!

If you’ve had really great chourico, you’re always looking for new ways to include it in your cooking. Arugula is one of the easiest greens to grow in the spring or fall garden. And it’s readily available in any supermarket produce section.

Inspired by chef Chuck Hughe’s recipe, this is a great chourico appetizer that’s really easy to make. Whip up the arugula pesto ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. Then when guests come, just slice the chourico, saute it in a pan until brown, and serve.

fullsizerender

3 cups fresh baby arugula
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup + one tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano or other good quality parmesan cheese
2 lbs. chourico, sliced into 1/2″ pieces

Combine the arugula, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and the 1/2 cup of cheese in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Set the tablespoon of cheese aside for garnishing later.

fullsizerender-1

Remove the casing from the chourico and slice it into 1/2″ thick pieces. Saute the chourico in a pan until both sides are caramelized and golden.

Place the chourico on a plate, topping with some of the pesto. Sprinkle a touch of the grated cheese to garnish. Serve immediately, while the chourico is still hot!

 

fullsizerender-3

 

If someone told me that the classic Caesar salad was invented in Tijuana, Mexico, I’d say they were crazy. But that’s one bizarre truth in the creation of one of the world’s most iconic salads.

Famous restaurateur, Caesar Cardini, ran a restaurant in San Diego back in the early 1900’s. But when Prohibition hit the states, he opened another location in Mexico…Tijuana, to be exact, luring many of the day’s Hollywood stars across the border. They could gamble in Mexico, and they could feast on food and alcohol at Cardini’s.

The story goes that one July 4th, they were running out of food, and thinking quickly, Cardini created a salad at the spur of the moment, using only the ingredients he could find in the kitchen. Having the chef assemble the salad tableside meant it came with a grand performance, and word quickly spread of the incredible “Caesar salad.” (Cardini named it after himself.) Cardini’s is still at its original Tijuana location, and they serve thousands of Caesar salads, with a flamboyant tableside show, to tourists.

Though Cardini didn’t believe anchovies should be in his salad (they say Worcestershire was used instead), anchovies were eventually added when his brother, Alex, tweaked the recipe years later. (The Worcestershire was removed.)

It needs to be said that raw egg yolks are used in Caesar salad, and if you’re not comfortable using them because of salmonella concerns, you shouldn’t. Sometimes coddled eggs (slightly boiled) are used. Many recipes contain a variety of egg substitutes. But for me, it ain’t a Caesar without raw egg, so I’m willing to take my chances.

The Caesar salad that I compare all others to is the one my wife first made me when we were dating. I don’t want to say that it convinced me to marry her, but it certainly factored into the equation!

The ingredients.

In presenting this Caesar salad recipe, she reminded me that she had promised the friend who first made this recipe for her that she would never reveal all of its secrets. But the great thing about recipes is that one slight change is all it takes to make someone else’s recipe your own…and that’s exactly what I did. No promises broken!

The first really important ingredient to get is a wooden bowl. No other bowl will do. We have an old wooden bowl at home with almost mystical properties that is used for nothing but our Caesar salad, and I have to say that it makes all the difference in the world.

 

The mystical wooden bowl. Years of Caesar salads have given it a special seasoning.

Once you have the bowl, what matters most is the freshest, best quality ingredients you can find: farm-fresh eggs, not supermarket ones…Parmigiano Reggiano, not generic Parmesan. The best quality extra virgin olive oil. Fresh lemon juice. Freshly cracked black pepper. High-quality anchovies.

After that, it’s all about the love.

The process begins…

4 egg yolks
8 oz. good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
4 anchovies
the juice of 1 lemon
4 oz. grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 heads Romaine lettuce, washed, stems removed, torn by hand

 

Place the egg yolks in the wooden bowl and whisk them until well mixed.

While whisking the yolks, pour the olive oil in the bowl VERY SLOWLY, whisking all the time, never stopping. Keep pouring the olive oil slowly until you’ve whisked all of it into the eggs and you get a beautiful emulsion.

Keep whisking and add the Dijon mustard, then the black pepper.

Add the anchovies, mashing them with the whisk as you combine the ingredients. Don’t leave any chunks of anchovy. You want it to dissolve completely in the dressing.

Once the dressing has reached its desired consistency, add the lemon juice and whisk some more.

Whisking slowly, sprinkle in the Parmigiano Reggiano.

When it’s all mixed together, dip a finger in the dressing and give it a taste. Does it need more lemon juice to cut the oil? Slice a second lemon and add a little. Taste again. Is the tanginess of cheese dancing on your tongue? If not, grate more and add a little more. Enough black pepper? There should be enough salt from the anchovies and cheese.

If you think you’ve “got it,” add the Romaine leaves to the salad bowl and toss gently to coat the lettuce.

When serving, top each salad serving with a little more cheese. Extra anchovies are optional.

 

If you’re saying “where’s the garlic?” …you’re right. Every good Caesar needs some. This recipe would use about 1 tablespoon of fresh, finely chopped garlic, added after the mustard. If I’m cooking alone, I always add the garlic. But we have people allergic to garlic in our household, so when family is here, we leave it out. The flavors of the dressing are so deliciously intense, you’d be surprised how good it is without it!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

image

 

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.)

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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

 

image

 

 

 

 

Fettucini alla Bolognese is my daughter’s go-to dish when we visit one of our favorite Italian restaurants,  Il Corso, on W 55th St. in New York. But we only go there once a year, so it was about time that I tried my hand at Bolognese at home. The dish isn’t difficult, but like many great dishes, the better the quality of the ingredients, the better the result.

I use grass-fed ground veal that I get down the road from a local dairy farm: Sweet & Salty Farm in Little Compton, RI. I use ground Berkshire pork, full of “good fat.” And I use guanciale, a cured pork product that comes from the cheek (jowl) of the pig. I buy the Berkshire pork jowls raw and cure them myself. The rest of the ingredients are organic, when available.

FullSizeRender

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
1 stalk celery, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 lb. ground veal
1 lb. ground pork
1/2 cup finely chopped guanciale
1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
1 cup ground tomatoes
1 cup milk
1 cup white wine (I use an un-oaked chardonnay like Alice White)
1 lb. pasta, cooked (I use Garofalo gluten-free pasta)

 

Place the olive oil and butter in a large sauce pan with a heavy bottom over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Keeping the heat on medium, sweat the veggies and allow them to get soft but not brown, about 10–15 minutes.

Turn the heat on high and add the guanciale. Stir it around to keep it from sticking. Let the guanciale cook for a minute, then add the veal and the pork, constantly stirring until the meat browns.

Once the meat has browned, add the tomato paste, ground tomatoes, milk and wine. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a medium-low, and let it simmer for 60–90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Traditionally, ragu Bolognese is served by placing a portion of cooked pasta in a pan, and adding just enough sauce to have it cling to, not drip from, the pasta. It’s not soup!

 

It’s hard to believe the weather we’ve had here in Rhode Island. Though we’ve had some cool temperatures at night, daytime highs have stayed in the 70’s for the last few weeks. Vegetables as well as flowers have thrived.

With cooler, windier and rainier weather now here, I thought I should go out to the garden and take some photos of what’s blooming before it all finally goes away for the season.

Globe amaranth, or gomphrena.

 

Mandevilla has a southern exposure in front of my wife’s art studio, but it will go in soon and join the other houseplants for the winter.

 

Petunias, sown from seed in early spring.

 

One of many dahlias, which will be dug up soon. I store the tubers in the garage for the winter, then start them in pots in the spring before planting in the garden.

 

Impatiens never lasted this long! A perfect spot, hidden from the sun and wind.

 

Nasturtiums. Though they’re annuals, these peppery-tasting edibles do re-sow themselves.

 

A lone rose.

 

Gazania loves the warm sun.

 

Calendula self-sows every year. Another edible.

 

Galliarda, with a friend.

 

Rudbeckia. It comes back every year.

 

 

TUNA TARTARE

Posted: October 24, 2017 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

Tuna season is back here in New England. I go to the Aquidneck Farmers Market just outside of Newport, RI on weekends and get my fresh seafood from The Local Catch, because I want local, sustainable seafood. (www.thelocalcatch.com)

For me, the only way to eat tuna is raw, and not just sushi or sashimi. Most restaurants serve tuna seared on the outside and raw on the inside, and you can tell the quality of the tuna just isn’t there. It usually needs to be drowned in soy sauce to have any taste at all.

So finding different ways to marinate quality tuna at home is a great way to get my fix.

The first step is to get the best quality tuna I can afford. That means buying it in season from local fishermen, and buying more than I need. When I find a really nice large slab of tuna, I take it home and cut it into individual portions (about 1 lb. each), wrap them well and freeze them for future use.

Even though tuna rarely has parasites, I don’t usually eat it fresh off the boat. Maybe I’m a little paranoid, but I like the idea of freezing it for about a week. Technically, you need to freeze fish at a temperature of -4°F (-20°C) or below for 7 days, for parasites to be killed. (In the United States, this is required by law of all fish served at sushi restaurants, with tuna being the only exception.) My freezer doesn’t reach -4°F, so maybe I’m wasting my time. But freezing the tuna also makes it easier to cut into small cubes.

Most marinades or ceviches feature lemon or lime as the citrus component. I really enjoy the freshness of grapefruit, and it really works here. This recipe was literally created by opening my fridge and pantry, and grabbing whatever looked good.

fullsizerender-10

1 lb. excellent quality raw tuna
juice of 1 grapefruit
1 teaspoon grapefruit zest
2 teaspoons low-salt soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon wasabi powder
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (I use Fleur de Sel)
1 tablespoon chopped scallions, green part only
sesame seeds (optional)
cubed avocado or plain guacamole

 

If you’re starting with frozen tuna, allow it to thaw just enough that you can cut it into small cubes easily. Place the cut tuna in a bowl and keep it in the fridge.

In another bowl, combine all the other ingredients, except the sesame seeds and avocado. Pour these ingredients onto the tuna and mix well. Put the tuna back in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour.

When you’re ready to serve, use a slotted spoon to place the tuna on a plate, to keep it from being too runny. Top with a sprinkling of sesame seeds, if you like, and serve with fresh cubed avocado, or even plain guacamole.

fullsizerender-6