My raspberry plants are producing a ton of fruit, my mint plants are taking over the yard, and my neighbor has her little blueberry cart out by the street! It’s time to make mojitos!

Very often, I’ll use raspberries alone, but mojitos are even better when you combine the raspberries with blueberries. I have a few blueberry bushes in my yard, but it seems that the birds get to them before I even get a chance. Fortunately, my neighbor puts a little farm stand up in front of her home, so I stock up on blueberries, rinsing them and placing them in plastic bags that go in the freezer until I’m ready to make my mojitos….or smoothies, if I’m feeling particularly healthy.

Store-bought frozen fruit works well, too, so if you don’t have a farm stand down the road, don’t feel like you can’t make this fabulous cocktail. Just make sure you’re using organic fruit. Pesticides should never be a cocktail ingredients!  Once you make mojitos by the pitcher, you’ll never have them any other way. (Even if you’re drinking alone!)

 

The ingredients

 

Make ahead of time…
1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed lime juice
1 1/3 cups turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw is a common brand)

Mix both ingredients together, letting it stand at room temperature for a few minutes. I like to combine them in a Mason jar, then shake really hard until the sugar has dissolved. I keep it in the fridge, and it’s good for up to 3 weeks…ready to use any time. Shake it well again before using.

 

mojito pitcher

For the Mojitos…
1 cup sugar/lime mixture
1 cup mint leaves, packed
1/2 pint blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 pint raspberries (fresh or frozen)
3 or 4 cups white rum (I use Don Q Cristal rum)
3 or 4 cups club soda

Combine the mint leaves and 1/2 cup of the sugar/lime mixture in bottom of a pitcher. Muddle the mint up very well to release mint oils. Add the blueberries and continue to muddle.

Add the remaining sugar/lime mixture, rum and raspberries. Mix well. Just before serving, add the club soda and ice. Stir. Pour into tall glasses.

Or…for drinks one at a time, don’t add the club soda to the pitcher. Instead, fill a tall glass with ice. Fill it one-third to halfway with club soda, then top with the mojito mix. Garnish it with a mint leaf.

 

Cheers!

Cheers!

Soy sauce, citrus and honey is always a winning combination with chicken. The addition of star anise adds that touch of licorice without overpowering it. The sugar in the honey can make these thighs burn, so keep an eye on them. Using non-stick aluminum foil saves a lot of clean-up hassles later.

In the summertime, I like to cook these almost all the way through in the oven, then move them to the grill to give them that nice char and smokey taste right at the end.

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1 teaspoon ground star anise
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
1/4 cup fresh lime juice or lemon juice or combination
1/4 cup soy sauce (I use La Choy when I want it gluten-free)
2 tablespoons honey
8 chicken thighs (about 4 lb.), skin on

I have an old coffee grinder I use for spices, so I toss in a couple of star anise and grind them up. Then I measure out a teaspoon of that for my marinade. (If you don’t have a spice grinder, you can use a mortar and pestle.)


Combine the star anise, garlic, lemon or lime juice, soy sauce and honey. Pour it into a large Ziploc bag and add the chicken thighs. Squish it around to make sure the thighs are well coated. Marinate the chicken thighs for several hours, or even better: overnight.


Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. 


Cover a sheet pan with non-stick aluminum foil and place thighs skin-side up. Cook them low and slow for about 2 hours. Finish them on the grill or pop ’em under the broiler to get that tasty char. But be careful! They can burn quickly!

 

 

Don’t let the innocent photo fool you. This stuff is addictive, thanks to the addition of bacon and bacon fat! And the food processor makes this aioli light as a cloud. Spread it on burgers. Use it on a BLT. Goes great with tuna. Or just get some chips and use it as a dip. Inhale!

 

avocado

 

3 avocados, seed removed and scooped out of their skins
6 strips of bacon, fried crisp, chopped and cooled…bacon fat reserved
juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs, room temperature
1 clove garlic
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt, preferably Fleur de Sel
Freshly grated black pepper

In a food processor, blend the avocados, bacon pieces, lemon juice and zest, eggs, and garlic. With the processor still running, add the bacon fat slowly, then add the olive oil. Add a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

You can substitute vegetable oil for the olive oil if you feel it’s too strong. But this is not for the weak!

Note: Yes, this baby uses raw eggs. If you’re queasy about that, there are raw egg substitutes in many supermarkets. I don’t use raw eggs often, but I do here…and in a really good Caesar salad.

Does anyone remember Art Ginsburg, also known as Mr. Food? His syndicated segments appeared on the news for almost 10 years. I met him back in 1993, and he was quite the self-promoter…but a really nice guy. Art passed away years ago, but I still have his old cookbooks, and his simple but perfect pesto recipe has been my guide for decades.
We eat a ton of pesto at home, and I’m amazed at how much my 10-year-old daughter loves the stuff. Most of the time, it’s simply mixed with pasta. But we stir it into tomato sauce and smear it on grilled chicken or beef as well.

The herb garden, with basil in the foreground. Happy cucumbers are growing on the trellis in the background.

 

Basil is the main ingredient in my pesto, and it’s growing rapidly under the summer sun in my garden right now. And that’s key to great pesto: when Mother Nature says the basil’s ready, be sure you have all the other ingredients and get to work!

Basil, ready to be picked.

 

Besides the fact that it tastes bad, the problem with store-bought pesto is that it’s expensive. Although homemade pesto isn’t cheap, you can still save a lot of money by making it yourself.
Some of my tips for saving money: buy good quality ingredients in bulk. My go-to olive oil is California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It gets high ratings, tastes amazing, and can be found in large bottles at most supermarkets and in quantity on Amazon.
There’s been a rash of articles about already-grated parmesan cheese that is 50% wood fiber. Stay away from that junk and buy yourself a nice chunk of the real deal: Parmigiano-Reggiano. Grate it yourself and taste the difference!
The most expensive (and questionable) ingredient in basic pesto is pine nuts. If you look on the back of the package (and you always should!) you’ll see that most pine nuts come from China. I don’t buy any food products from China…period. So sourcing “safe” pine nuts can be difficult. I make sure I’m getting quality pine nuts from Italy. They are expensive, but anything of high quality usually is.
One of the reasons you want real pine nuts and not some look-alike from China is something called “pine mouth” or “pine nut mouth.” A small percentage of people experience a reaction after eating pine nuts that makes their mouth taste like metal–imagine putting a handful of pennies in your mouth–and the taste stays in their mouths for a couple of weeks, ruining their taste buds for the foods they love. (Eventually, it wears off.) Some scientists say you get “pine mouth” by eating counterfeit pine nuts–varieties like those from China that are not the same species. Others say that you can get the reaction even from real pine nuts. Research on this continues, but all the more reason not to buy any foods from China and other questionable countries.
There are alternatives to pine nuts, and you’ll find many pesto recipes that substitute with almonds, pistachios or walnuts. I think those nuts change the taste of the pesto, plus they have a skin that leaves a gritty residue, which I don’t like. So I don’t use them. The one nut that I’ve found that does a pretty good job filling in for pine nuts is macadamia nuts, although they, too, are a bit gritty. They are less expensive and usually come from Hawaii. Just remember to buy raw, unsalted macadamias.
So here’s my sure-fire pesto recipe. I make massive amounts of it, store it in plastic storage containers with a tightly sealing screw-top lid, and put them in the deep freeze. They last all year, and thaw out easily.
2 cups fresh basil, packed down a little
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
When measuring the basil, I pick dry leaves from the garden and place them in a measuring cup, lightly packing them until I get 2 cups. Then I remove them from the measuring cup and wash them, tossing them in a salad spinner to dry. Then they go into the food processor.
Add the other ingredients in the food processor with the basil and let it rip!
 
The color and fragrance of freshly-made pesto is hard to beat! For me, a bowl of pasta with pesto is real comfort food.

I love the combination of tomato sauce and feta, and this dish, served over some pasta, will have you licking the plate.

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8 oz. (or more!) feta cheese
1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes, ground into sauce
1 lb. (about 24) wild-caught American shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 medium onion, chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, through a press
pinch red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fresh dill
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon Ouzo
salt and pepper

Peel and devein the shrimp. Place them in a bowl and squeeze the lemon juice over them and toss to mix. Open the can of tomatoes and puree it in a food processor.

In a saucepan, heat the olive oil. Sauté the onions until they’re translucent and then add the garlic. Sauté the garlic for 10 seconds, until fragrant, then add the red pepper flakes, dill and oregano. Add the tomato sauce, and cook over medium heat until the sauce has reduced a bit and isn’t watery. Add the Ouzo carefully–keep away from open flame! Add salt and pepper to taste.

Line a sheet pan with foil and pour a thin layer of the tomato sauce on the bottom. Lay the shrimp down in one layer on the sauce, and then cover the shrimp with the rest of the sauce. Crumble the feta cheese with your fingers and sprinkle it all over the top.

Bake in a pre-heated 350-degree oven until the shrimp has cooked through and it’s nice and bubbly. Serve over pasta or with a side of your favorite veggies.

Out on the North Fork of Long Island, there’s a steak restaurant called the Elbow Room. It’s nothing fancy…old school cooking. But they’re famous for their steaks because of a super-secret marinade. Ages ago, I spotted a newspaper article that claimed they found out what that secret marinade was, and they published it. Whether this really is the official Elbow Room marinade or not, I have to say it’s pretty darn tasty and it makes for a delicious steak on the grill.

 

 

My biggest concern with the marinade was the salt factor, since it uses soy sauce. But the ribeye I had was almost an inch-and-a-half thick, which meant that it could sit in the marinade for a long time…my ribeye sat in it for 8 hours. If you choose to use a thinner cut of meat, you might need to reduce your marinating time.

The recipe uses a product called Gravy Master, available in most supermarkets. Look for it in the section where you find gravies and instant potatoes.

 

1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Gravy Master
2 large Vidalia onions
2 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons celery seed
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

 

Combine the onions and garlic in a large food processor and purée. Add the remaining ingredients and run the processor until it’s smooth and sort of resembles root beer (below.)

 

Marinate the beef in the marinade overnight, or for as long as possible. The thicker the cut of meat, the longer you can marinate it.

Looks delicious, but it hasn’t been cooked yet! Straight out of the marinade.

 

Light the grill. I prefer pure hardwood charcoal because that’s where the flavor is. If I’m just cooking one steak, I get my camping grill out. It lights quickly and easily, and it doesn’t waste a whole lotta charcoal.

Always use a charcoal chimney, never lighter fluid…unless you like the taste of petroleum products in your food.

 

Pure hardwood charcoal gives you a hot fire. I like to sear the beef really well on both sides, then move the steak to a cooler spot on the grill and close the cover. I’ll let the beef cook until it gets to a perfect medium-rare.

 

If you try this marinade on burgers–and it’s great on burgers–simply brush the burgers with the marinade as you place them on the grill. Go easy or you’ll get a very salty burger.

 

Marinated grilled ribeye with a side of fried rice…an easy combination of veggies and rice leftovers I had in the fridge with a dash of soy sauce.

 

 

 

Just because you’ve got a garden full of fresh veggies, it doesn’t mean you have to gorge on nothing but salads! Sometimes, a refreshing cocktail is just what you need after a long day of yard work. This one fits the bill!;

 

 

4 fresh cucumbers, peeled and seeded
Small ice cubes
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons granulated organic cane sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup vodka (I like Tito’s)
1 oz. orange liqueur (I like Cointreau)

 

Peel and seed the cucumbers. Coarsely chop them and then purée in a food processor until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Or, if you have one, use a juicer. Set the cucumber juice aside.

To a large glass pitcher, add the mint leaves, sugar and lime juice. Muddle the ingredients so that the mint leaves release their oils. Add 3/4 cup (at least) of the cucumber juice. Add the vodka and Cointreau. Muddle again briefly.

Fill tall drinking glasses with ice cubes. Strain the cocktail into glasses. Garnish with a cucumber spear or mint.

I’ve got two methods for cooking pork chops, each depending on the thickness of the chop. If the pork chop is thin, I got for high heat over hardwood charcoal, flipping the meat often so that it cooks all the way through without burning. The famous Cope Chops are perfect for this method. (https://wp.me/p1c1Nl-1xU)

Cope chops.

 

 

But if I’ve got a thicker chop, I like to brine it first, so that it retains its moisture during a longer cooking process. I brine the chops for a couple of hours, then light a fire using charcoal briquets, which will give me a steadier, longer-lasting flame.

Nice, thick chops!

 

Making a brine is easy, and it adds wonderful flavor to the chop. I use a smaller batch of the brine I use on my Thanksgiving turkey.

2 quarts water
1 onion
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
1/2 cup Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole allspice
2 bay leaves
2 quarts ice water
2 to 4 thick-cut pork chops

 

Pour the first 2 quarts of water into a large pot. Quarter the onions, carrots, and celery (not need to peel them) and add them to the water. Add the Kosher salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice, and bay leaves. (A note on the Kosher salt: different brands have different weights. For example, Morton Kosher Salt is heavier than Diamond Crystal, so you’ll be adding more salt with the same 1/2 cup measurement.)

Boil for a few minutes, then remove from heat to cool.

 

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

Once the brine is at room temp, add the 2 quarts of ice water, and drop in the pork chops. Make sure they stay covered with the brine. Let the chops brine for about 2 hours.

The chops are in there!

 

After 2 hours of brining, rinse the chops under cold water, and pat them dry with paper towels. Discard the brine.

Light a fire using charcoal briquets. While the fire is heating up, make the rub for the pork chops.

 

1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

 

Combine the salt, garlic, onion, brown sugar and pepper in a bowl, and then season the chops liberally on all sides with the mixture.

Pork chops with the rub. I love grilling some Vidalia onions, too.

 

Let the chops rest at room temperature while you’re waiting for the grill.

Once the coals are ready, I establish a hot side and a cool side on the grill. I sear the chops on the hot side of the grill, being careful not to burn them. (The sugar in the rub may char a bit, but that’s OK.)

 

Once you’ve got a nice sear on all the chops, move them to the cooler side of the grill, and close the lid, making sure there’s air circulating so you don’t smother the fire.

Having a meat thermometer is handy, because although you want pork to be cooked thoroughly, you don’t want to overcook it. You’re looking for a temperature of 160 degrees for pork. Once you’ve reached that, you remove the chops from the grill, put them on a plate, and cover them with foil to rest for about 15 minutes. During that time, the interior temperature of the chops will rise to about 170, before slowly cooling down.

Removing the chops and letting them rest gives you enough time to throw some tasty veggies on the grill. I like to simply rub them with olive oil, and any of the pork rub that may be left over, tossing them over the hot part of the coals until just cooked.

 

 

By the way, when using a meat thermometer, be careful you don’t do something dumb, like I did. I didn’t notice that I had it on a Celsius setting, instead of Fahrenheit. So I couldn’t understand why my chops were “only” at 60 degrees after a long time of cooking! (That’s 140 Fahrenheit!) I caught my mistake in time, fortunately not cooking the crap out of my chops!!

 

 

 


There’s no problem with your bird, she said to me
Just go low and slow to cook it perfectly
A few choice seasonings end up deliciously
There must be 50 ways to roast your chicken…
There’s nothing better than a whole roasted chicken. Simply season it, pop it in the oven and go low and slow. No maintenance, and you’ve got a great bird in a couple of hours. 
Once you go with humanely raised pastured chicken, you’ll never go back to supermarket chicken again. The flavor is fantastic, and you’ll devour it right down to the bones, which you can use to make the best home-made chicken stock or soup you’ve ever had. Nothing goes to waste.
I roast at least one chicken every week, so to change it up, I’ve come up with many different rubs and sauces over the years. All of the rubs are sugar and gluten-free preparations. 
Chicken with Rosemary and Lemon
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The lemon serves double-duty in this dish. You use the zest to season the outside skin, then you place the remaining cut up pieces inside the carcass to flavor from the inside out.
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons salt
zest from 2 lemons, using a micro plane zester, the leftover lemons quartered
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
In a bowl, combine the rosemary, garlic, salt, lemon zest, and pepper. 
Thaw a bird, remove the giblets, and rub it all over with olive oil. Shove the quartered lemon pieces into the carcass of the bird. Season the bird inside and out with the rosemary seasoning mix.
Place the bird on a pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil in a pre-heated 450-degree oven. Cook for 10 minutes at this temperature, then reduce to 275 degrees and cook low and slow until done.
Tarragon Chicken
I love the taste of chicken seasoned with tarragon. Careful with this, or you will accidentally devour your fingers!
1 tablespoon dried tarragon, crumbled into a powder
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
olive oil
In a bowl, combine the tarragon, garlic salt, salt and pepper.
Thaw a bird, remove the giblets, and rub it all over with olive oil. Season the bird inside and out with the seasoning mix.
Place the bird on a pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil in a pre-heated 450-degree oven. Cook for 10 minutes at this temperature, then reduce to 275 degrees and cook low and slow until done.
Italian Chicken
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The darker color of the bird comes from rubbing it first with balsamic vinegar, then olive oil, before coating it with Italian seasonings. Don’t use the fancy, expensive balsamic. The bottles that go for about 9 bucks in the supermarket work well for this recipe.
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
Thaw a bird, remove the giblets, and rub it all over with the balsamic vinegar. Then rub it all over with the olive oil. Season the bird inside and out with the seasoning mix.
Place the bird on a pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil in a pre-heated 450-degree oven. Cook for 10 minutes at this temperature, then reduce to 275 degrees and cook low and slow until done.
My Grandma’s Chicken
My grandmother would cook chicken thighs low and slow all Saturday morning, knowing that I was coming over for lunch after Lithuanian school. The meat just fell off the bone, and I couldn’t stop eating it. This recipe is so simple and works just as well for a whole bird. Every time I make this, I think about those days at my grandmother’s house.
Lawry’s Seasoned salt
Olive oil
Thaw a bird, remove the giblets, and rub it all over with olive oil. Season the bird inside and out with the Lawry’s Seasoned salt.
Place the bird on a pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil in a pre-heated 450-degree oven. Cook for 10 minutes at this temperature, then reduce to 275 degrees and cook until done.
If you’re using chicken thighs, like my grandmother did, make sure they have the skin on and the bone in.

I love watermelon margaritas, especially when they’re made with the sweetness of fresh watermelons. Florida watermelons have made their way into stores, and it was too big of a temptation not to buy one.

 

All you need.

 

Many recipes add a lot of sugar: sugar on the rim of the glass as well as sugar in the margarita itself. I think that a ripe watermelon has enough sweetness, and I leave any extra sugar out of my recipe.

 

4 cups cubed, seeded watermelon
1/2 cup (or more!) tequila (I like Patron silver)
3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon orange liqueur (I like Cointreau)

 

 

Combine the watermelon, tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur in a blender. Process until it’s smooth. Pour it into margarita glasses filled with ice. Garnish with a lime wedge.

 

Watermelon margarita, aerial view. (No drone required.)