Maybe you saw in the news recently that KFC just sold out (in just a few hours) of a firelog that contains the 11 secret herbs and spices of their original recipe chicken. Catch the story here: https://www.dailyrecord.com/story/money/2018/12/13/kfc-firelog-smells-just-like-its-fried-chicken-but-supplies-limited/2293216002/

It was just over a year ago where the nephew of Colonel Sanders himself revealed the 11 secret herbs and spices that made KFC‘s original recipe chicken a worldwide success. He claimed he worked for his uncle for many years and had to make huge batches of the seasoning mix.

Despite what they might say when asked, let’s face it: people just can’t get enough of KFC.

For me, going to KFC is a guilty pleasure. Although I’m a big proponent of grass-fed this and pastured that, my kryptonite is KFC’s original recipe chicken. There’s a KFC right next door to a local Home Depot in my area and my car literally drives itself to the pick-up window…I can’t help it. I justify the consumption of this heavenly grease by asking for no sides–no biscuit, no nothing. I get one breast and one thigh, and I drive off, steering my car with my knees as I indulge in my dirty secret, the hot grease dripping down my chin, a roll of paper towels at my side.

Making the KFC chicken recipe at home means I do have some control over product quality. I can use pastured or organic chicken. I can use clean oil. And I can oven-fry my chicken, meaning I fry it in oil until golden brown, then finish the cooking process in the oven.

I have to say, the recipe really works! Maybe if I placed the real KFC side-by-side with my home-made chicken, I’d notice a difference. But it was pretty damn close and absolutely delicious! If I could change one thing, I would use smaller chicken pieces next time. I used large pieces and the meat-to-breading ratio was off. Though it was mighty tasty, I was craving more breading per bite.

The recipe calls for all-purpose flour, but I used Cup4Cup gluten-free flour, and the results were excellent!

 

 

2 cups all-purpose flour (I use Cup4Cup gluten-free flour)
3 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon celery salt
1 tablespoon dried mustard
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons basil
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 egg
5 lbs. chicken pieces…your choice
oil, for frying

 

Combine the flour and the “11 herbs and spices” in a bowl. Mix well.

In another bowl, whisk together the milk and the egg. Add the chicken pieces to this bowl and let the chicken soak in it for 10 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour a couple of inches of the oil into a pan with high sides and heat it to 340 degrees, using a thermometer. Don’t fill it with too much oil, because oil expands when hot and it could spill over.

Take the chicken pieces and coat them with the seasoning mix one at a time, making sure you coat them well. Carefully place the chicken in the hot oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan…work in small batches. Too much chicken could cause the oil to spill over the top.

Fry the chicken pieces just until golden…no need to cook them all the way through. Place the pieces on a baking sheet lined with non-stick aluminum foil. When all the chicken has been fried, place the baking sheet in the oven and cook until the chicken pieces reach an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees.

 

 

Make a lot! Leftovers are great, and they re-heat really well in the oven! (Don’t use a microwave…the oven is best.)

It takes a few weeks for this limoncello recipe to be ready, so plan ahead!

 

It starts with beautiful lemons…

 

Many years ago, my wife and I visited the Amalfi coast, and we spent several nights on the beautiful island of Capri. On our last night, we dined at the historic Grand Hotel Quisisana, and our meal ended with a glass of the most delicious limoncello I ever had.

I asked the waiter if it was possible to get the recipe of the limoncello, and he made a big deal about the recipe being a “secret.” Though disappointed, I understood, and I left Capri thinking that I would never taste it again.

 

Sure, you can buy limoncello from Capri in a bottle, but what fun is that?

 

Two weeks later, now back at home, I was reading the latest issue of Conde Nast Traveler, and there in black and white, was the Quisisana limoncello recipe! WTF?

After making many batches of this limoncello, I started experimenting with other citrus, and the most successful by far was with grapefruit. Now I make a batch of each–lemon and grapefruit–every year. It’s important to use 100-proof vodka in this recipe. Most vodka is 80-proof, so you’ll need to go to a liquor store with a better selection to find it. Absolut makes a good one, as does Stoli.

Four ingredients, easy to make. The toughest part is waiting for it to mellow a bit.

 

4 lbs. of lemons, but you only use the zest!

 

4 lbs. lemons, zest only
2 750-ml bottles 100 proof vodka
5 1/2 cups sugar
6 cups filtered water

Just the zest!

 

Peel the zest off all the lemons, making sure you don’t get any of the white pith that could make the limoncello bitter. Place all the zest in the bottom of a glass jar with a lid that can hold all the vodka.

Pour the vodka on top of the lemon zest pieces, seal the container, and keep it at room temperature for a week, swirling the jar around gently once a day.

 

Vodka and zest.

 

On the sixth day, combine the sugar and water in a pot over medium-high heat, and stir until all the sugar completely dissolves. Remove from the heat, cover, and let it thoroughly cool to room temperature (overnight is best.)

On day seven, strain the lemon zest, pouring the infused vodka into a clean glass jar. Discard the lemon zest.

Pour the sugar/water mixture into the vodka and mix well.

At this point, you can pour the finished product into bottles, but let it mellow for about a month before drinking.

 

I keep my limoncello refrigerated.

For my family, a Caesar salad is the only salad to serve on special occasions. It’s another great addition to our Thanksgiving and Christmas table. But it all starts with a little history…

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. Some stores, though not many, sell pasteurized eggs in the shell. I haven’t had a chance to use them–or even find them. 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 for 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, my wife 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. And organic Romaine lettuce, assuming there’s no recall like we’ve had recently. (Organic bibb or leaf lettuces make great substitutes.)

After that, it’s all about the love.

 

The process begins…

 

4 raw 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 organic 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.

In a separate small bowl, mash the anchovies with a fork–even better, use a mortar and pestle, if you have one. Don’t leave any chunks. Slowly add the mashed anchovies to the wooden bowl, mixing them in with the whisk to combine the ingredients. You want them 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 tartness of the 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 in our household that are allergic to garlic, so when family is here, we leave it out. The flavors of the dressing are so deliciously intense, you’ll be surprised how good it is without it!

 

 

 

 

 

I posted an Instagram photo of soup I made the other day, and had quite a few friends ask me what the recipe was. My little girl got hit with a cold the other day, and I knew only one thing would help: a bowl of my homemade chicken soup. But rather than adding pasta or potatoes, I decided to give it an Asian kick. It was simple, delicious, and soothing.

Making the ingredients for a great bowl of chicken soup, or wonton soup for that matter, takes a little time. But once you’ve got them, you can freeze them, so that putting them all together takes no time at all.

 

 

The key to a great chicken soup is making your own chicken stock. Let’s be honest, nothing out of a carton can possibly compare. For one thing, I buy the best quality pastured chicken I can get. Here in Rhode Island, that means buying from local farms like Pat’s Pastured in East Greenwich. They’re at my farmers market every weekend.

I prefer buying a whole bird, roasting it for dinner, then removing all the meat from the carcass before I start making stock. If I’m making fried chicken for dinner, I’ll cut the raw bird up into pieces, then drop the raw carcass into a pot to start the process. Either way–a cooked bird or raw bird works great. (Just remember that a cooked bird can have some salt on it, so you don’t want to add any.)

Making chicken stock is incredibly easy. It just takes time, which is an ingredient many people don’t have enough of. Honestly, though, if you’ve got time to binge-watch your favorite show on Netflix or watch a football game on a Sunday afternoon, you can make stock. If you can’t make stock at the same time you’re making dinner, simply put the carcass in a Ziploc bag and toss it in the freezer until you’ve got more time.

If you don’t want to deal with cutting up a chicken carcass, buy a pack of chicken parts. It doesn’t really matter what parts you use, as long as it’s something on the bone. You want all that good fat and gelatin.

Once you’re ready to make stock, fill a large pot with clean, filtered water. Drop in the chicken carcass or pieces. Chop an onion in half (you don’t have to peel it unless it’s dirty), 2 or 3 celery spears, and 2 or 3 carrots. (Wash the carrots well, or just peel them.) Everything goes in the pot. Turn the burner on high, and let it come to a boil. If it’s boiling too hard and spilling over, reduce the heat to medium.

Let it go for at least an hour, two is better. If it looks like too much water has evaporated, simply add more. How intense you want your stock is really up to you. You can reduce it like crazy to make something very concentrated, or you can cook it down to a point where it’s user-friendly right away. The best way to know is to taste it along the way.

When making your stock, feel free to add any other ingredients you like. But I stick with only the onion, carrots, and celery–avoiding garlic, salt, bay leaves, and other flavorings–adding them only when I use the stock at a later time in a particular soup or recipe.

Once the stock is done, I let it cool a bit before I strain it and pour it into individual plastic containers with tightly sealing lids. (Don’t use glass if the stock is going into the freezer!) Then it’s off to the freezer until I need to use it in a recipe.

When it’s time to make soup, I run the frozen container under warm water, and drop the frozen “block of stock” into a sauce pan, adding a little water to it, and setting the burner on medium to thaw. Then it’s time to decide on what I want to put in my soup. Most of the time that simply means using whatever I’ve got in my fridge.

When I made my almost-instant wonton soup the other day, I had some carrots and kale in the fridge. I peeled and thinly sliced the carrots, and I removed the stem from the kale before chopping it up. I dropped the veggies in the soup and brought the heat up to high to get it to a boil.

If I’m using potatoes, I usually peel and chop them into small cubes and add them raw to the boiling stock. If I’m adding chicken, I usually choose already-cooked chopped breast meat. And if I’m using pasta, I use dry or pre-cooked, but I only add the pre-cooked pasta at the very end to avoid it turning mushy. When making chicken noodle soup, I add a pinch of salt and, for flavor, a pinch of dried bouquet garni to the pot.

With my wonton soup, I skipped the pasta and potatoes, because I had a package of dumplings in my freezer. A half-dozen of them, still frozen, go right into the boiling water. They’re fully cooked in about 5 minutes.

 

These dumplings were delicious in my soup.

 

Once the dumplings are cooked, the soup is done! I turn the heat off, and add a couple of drops of sesame oil to the soup, mixing it in well.

Once I’ve placed the soup in the bowl, a few splashes of soy sauce, and it’s ready to serve.

 

 

This is my version of a holiday drink I was introduced to by my mother-in-law from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I knew I was marrying into the right family after one sip!

This classic is loaded with sugar. But then…so is everything else around the holidays!

Whiskey slush

 

9 cups water
2 cups sugar
4 “Constant Comment” tea bags
12 oz. frozen OJ concentrate
12 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate
2 cups whiskey (I use Crown Royal)
7-Up or Sprite

Boil the water and sugar, making sure the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and steep the tea bags in the liquid for 10 minutes. Discard the tea bags.

Add the OJ, lemonade and whiskey. Mix well, then pour it all into a freezeable container with a lid. Freeze.

To serve: Scoop the slush out of the container (it doesn’t freeze solid) and mix in a tall glass with 7 Up.

Now that I’ve shared details of my love affair with pork jowls, aka guanciale, in my earlier blog,  it’s time to use them in a classic recipe.

Fettucini alla Bolognese is my daughter’s go-to dish when we visit one of her 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 I tried my hand at Bolognese at home. The dish isn’t difficult, but like many great dishes, it depends on the best quality ingredients you can get your hands on.

Much like meat loaf, I like to use a combination of ground beef, ground veal and ground pork. But I don’t sweat it too much if I don’t have all three, substituting a little more of one or the other, depending on what’s in my freezer at the time.

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 grass-fed beef from local farms. Guanciale, a cured pork product that comes from the cheek (jowl) of the pig, is something that I prepare myself. I buy the Berkshire pork jowls raw and cure them at home. (That’s another blog!) If you can’t get your hands on guanciale, a nice slab of bacon will do the trick.

The rest of the ingredients are organic, when available.

This recipe probably feeds a dozen people. I make a lot at once because it takes time to put it together and let it cook on the stove, and it freezes really well. I place leftovers in tightly sealed single-portion containers in the freezer and then re-heat them when my daughter gets the craving.

How much pasta you make with this fish depends on how many people you’re going to serve.

 

 

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped guanciale or bacon
1 lb. ground veal
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. beef
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, squeezed through a garlic press or thinly sliced
1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
6 cups ground tomatoes
2 cups whole milk
2 cups white wine (I use an un-oaked chardonnay like Yellow Tail)
salt and pepper
pasta, cooked (regular or gluten-free )
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Place the olive oil and butter in a large sauce pan with a heavy bottom over high heat. Once the butter has melted, add the guanciale or bacon, letting the fat render out. When it’s almost brown, add the veal, pork, and beef, stirring constantly. Make sure the meat is broken down into small pieces and completely browned.

Add the finely chopped onion, carrots, celery and garlic, stirring well. Sweat the veggies for a few minutes, letting them get nice and soft.

Add the tomato paste, the ground tomatoes, milk and wine, stirring well. Allowing it to come to a boil will activate the tomato paste’s thickening power. Let it boil for a minute, then reduce the heat to medium-low, and let it simmer for at least 90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

 

Add the ingredients one step at a time until the sauce comes together: 1) guanciale, 2) meat, 3) veggies), 4) tomatoes.

 

You don’t want the sauce to be runny, and you definitely want to give it enough time on the stove top for the flavors to blend and for the alcohol in the wine to evaporate.

Carefully give the sauce a taste, and season it with salt and pepper.

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

Top it with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

 

 

 

Pork is magical. And though I’ve loved pork chops and store-bought bacon all my life, it’s only been in the last decade that I’ve learned to appreciate other cuts of pork and how they’re prepared.

Over the years, I’ve learned to cure and smoke my own bacon, from heritage breeds like Berkshire. I’ll make my own pork sausage on occasion. But the need to make a classic Italian dish, genuine spaghetti carbonara, required that I learn how to cure an unusual cut of pork I’ve never used before.

 

In the beginning, I could only find huge jowls that required them to be cut and weighed to mix with the right amount of cure.

Looking at carbonara recipes online, everyone said the same thing: “Though the genuine dish uses a cured cut of pork called guanciale, it’s hard to find so use pancetta or bacon.” Although both pancetta and bacon meats are quite tasty (both come from the belly of the pig…bacon is smoked, pancetta is not) the flavor and texture is not the same as a pork cheek, or jowl. That’s what guanciale is made from. So I needed to find a source.
I started with a local restaurant, the Back Eddy in Westport, Massachusetts. Being a buddy of the owner and chef (and bribing them with alcohol), I asked if they’d order me some jowls. They did, and that worked well for a while. But I didn’t want to keep bothering them every time I wanted more, so I eventually found my own source on line that supplied me with massive jowls weighing many pounds each, as in the photo above. They were good, but a pain to work with. Eventually, that company went out of business.
I finally found my go-to pork website: http://www.heritagepork.com. They sell a variety of pork products made from a heritage breed of pig known as Berkshire, also called kurobuta. It’s a delicious breed with wonderful fat that’s healthy and full of flavor. And conveniently, they sell pork jowls in 2-pound packs.
My curing process is simple: sugar, salt, peppercorns, and fresh thyme. I cure the jowls for about 3 weeks. I rinse them once they’ve cured, and pat them dry. Then they’re ready to use for carbonara, ragu bolognese, topping a pizza, or any other delicious recipe that comes my way…and any extra guanciale freezes really well.
Once I made my first batch, there was no turning back!

Pork jowls with a good sprinkling of the cure, ready to be wrapped.

2 lbs. raw pork jowls
1/2 cup basic dry rub (recipe below)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
a handful of fresh thyme sprigs
Combine the dry rub, brown sugar, and peppercorns in a bowl.
On a large work surface, lay down several sheets of plastic wrap, overlapping each other to keep the cure from leaking through to the counter underneath. Sprinkle half of the salt mixture onto the plastic wrap in an area where the jowls will lay. Scatter a half-dozen thyme sprigs on top of the salt mixture. Lay the pieces of pork jowl on top of the salt mix and thyme, then top the jowls with the rest of the salt mix, covering them evenly, and top with more thyme sprigs.
Fold the plastic wrap over the jowls as tightly as you can, pressing the salt mix into the meat. If the wrap is loose, use more wrap to really tighten the salt cure around the meat. Then place the entire pork-wrapped package in a container that will hold the liquid that will ooze out during the curing process. If the plastic wrap still isn’t too tight around the jowls, weigh it down with something heavy to press down on the pork. You really want the salt to make contact with the meat. Place the container in the fridge to cure for 3 weeks.
Every couple of days, remove the weight off the jowls and flip the plastic wrap package over, so that the top is now the bottom. Add the weight and return it to the fridge. You want the cure to get at every part of the pork. Don’t pour off any liquid that forms…it will help the curing process.
In about 3 weeks, the pork jowls will feel firmer. This is a sign they’ve been properly cured. Remove them from the plastic wrap, rinse them thoroughly under cold clean water, then pat them dry with paper towels.

Cured, rinsed and dried guanciale. Cut the jowls into smaller pieces before freezing. A little goes a long way!

At this point, you can cut the jowls (now officially guanciale!) into smaller pieces, wrapping each well and placing them in freezer bags. They will keep in the freezer for a long time.
Many guanciale recipes tell you to hang the meat in the fridge for at least a week after curing, but I haven’t really found the need to do that if I’m keeping them frozen. The drying process keeps the meat from getting moldy, but that’s only if you keep it in warmer temperatures.
The Basic Dry Rub
Every good cure starts with a good dry rub. This one’s extremely simple but requires a special ingredient: pink salt. This is not pink Himalayan salt. This is a very special curing salt that must be used in small amounts. It contains nitrites which will help preserve the meat and give it a good color. Many people get bent out of shape over nitrites these days, so you need to decide whether you want to use pink salt or not. I do, because I don’t eat pounds of guanciale like a lab rat.
1 1/2 cups Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
1/2 cup organic turbinado  sugar
5 teaspoons pink curing salt
Combine these ingredients and mix well. Store it in a tightly sealed plastic bag in your pantry.
Note: the reason I give the brand name for the salt is because all Kosher salt does not weigh the same! A cup-and-a-half of Morton Kosher Salt, for example, will weigh more and will throw off the recipe.

Let’s face it: there’s no such thing as healthy eggnog. This recipe kicks ass but is also a heart attack in a glass.

My buddy, Rick Sammarco, a wicked talented bartender, credits his father, Al, for this eggnog. The original recipe calls for a lot more of everything. I’ve cut it down to a “more reasonable” size.

A word about salmonella: Many people are concerned about it, and you need to decide what works for you. Some recipes tell you to make your eggnog weeks in advance to “sterilize” the drink with all the booze you’ve added to it. I’m not sure that really works. Look…if you’re really worried about it, maybe this drink isn’t for you. I use raw eggs in my Caesar salad dressing and in other recipes, so I’m willing to risk it here.

If you’re lucky, some stores–(though very few of them, and none near me)–sell pasteurized eggs. They say the taste is a bit funky, but that it does remove the salmonella.

eggnog

 

1.5 quarts vanilla ice cream (I use Breyer’s)
1 pint half & half
15 whole eggs (raw)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
At least 3/8 cup of each:
spiced rum (I use Capt. Morgan)
whiskey (I use Crown Royal)
brandy (I use E&J)

 

Let the ice cream soften 1 day in the fridge. Mix the ice cream, eggs, vanilla, half and half in a blender.

Add the spices and liquor. Blend until it’s frothy.

Taste, and add more cinnamon and nutmeg if you like.

After it’s fully blended, let it sit in the fridge, covered, for at least 12-24 hours for the flavors to blend. Even longer is better.

 

 

I love my onions! Raw, sautéed, caramelized, yellow, Spanish, Bermuda, Vidalia, Texas Sweets, scallion, pearl, Crimini, Walla Walla…they can do no wrong. In fact, my wife and daughter gave me the Lithuanian nickname: “Ponas Svogūnas.” (“Mr. Onion.”) I answer to it proudly.

I also love my vodka martinis! So if I’m going to buy a top shelf vodka like Stoli Elit or Belvedere, I’m not going to ruin it with cheap vermouth, especially that nasty stuff they use to brine supermarket cocktail onions that come in a jar that’s been sitting on the shelf for about 10 years.

My first attempt at homemade cocktail onions was not a success. I bought pearl onions and did what the package instructions said: I dropped them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then moved them to ice water to let them cool. Then a gentle squeeze on one end of the onion would make it pop right out of its skin. Easy, right?

 

 

Well, it didn’t work out that way. For one thing, the onions got soft…not what I wanted. I had to cut one end of the bulb with a knife. And even then, when I squeezed the onion, the part that popped out was about half the size of the original onion…there was a lot of waste.

 

 

After brining, they tasted OK, but they never had that crisp bite I wanted. They were mushy. I realized that boiling was not the way to go.

 

A lot of waste.

I knew there had to be a better way. Then I discovered already peeled pearl onions at Whole Foods. I have to be honest…I won’t use any other onions now. They’re big, plump, and exactly what I want.

 

Sure, these are much larger than the onions you find in a jar. But tell me how that’s a problem!

 

Once that time-saving ingredient was in my possession, I took my own pickled asparagus recipe (https://livethelive.com/2018/05/16/pickled-asparagus-the-new-season-has-begun-4/) and used it with onions. Awesome results!

 

 

 

1 lb. pearl onions, peeled
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2  cups water
3/4 cup sugar (I like turbinado cane sugar)
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt (per quart-sized Mason jar)
2 cloves garlic

 

Combine the white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, and peppercorns in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring it to a boil, making sure the sugar dissolves completely.

In a quart-sized Mason jar, add the teaspoon of salt and garlic cloves.

 

Pour a little of the hot vinegar liquid in the jar to dissolve the salt. Add the onions to the jar, then fill the jar to the top with the vinegar liquid.

Cover the jar tightly and turn it upside-down a couple of times to mix everything together.

 

Let the jar cool to room temperature, then move it to the fridge. You can use the onions as soon as the craving hits you, but they taste better if you give them a few days.

 

 

 

Man, that’s a loaded blog title if I ever saw one! Years ago, I read an article about how a Thanksgiving stuffing recipe credited to Marilyn Monroe was discovered. Apparently, she could cook–and she was good in the kitchen as well. Wha! (Thanks. Drive safely. Try the veal.)

Dated around the time she was married to baseball great Joe DiMaggio while living in San Francisco, it was decided that the recipe was authentic for, among other reasons, its lack of garlic, which DiMaggio reportedly despised!

I tried the recipe years ago and tweaked it, adding garlic, of course. This makes a family sized platter of stuffing. Using a food processor to chop makes things much easier.

 

image

 

20 ounces sourdough bread (gluten-free bread will make this stuffing totally GF)
1 lb. chicken livers
1 lb. ground beef
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 stalks celery, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups chopped parsley
4 eggs, hard-boiled, chopped
1/2 cup chopped prunes or raisins
2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 cups chopped walnuts, pine nuts or roasted chestnuts…or a combination
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
4 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoons salt, plus more to taste
2 teaspoons black pepper

 

Break the sourdough into pieces and soak them in a large bowl of cold water for 15 minutes. Wring the excess water out over a colander and shred the bread into pieces.

Boil the chicken livers for 8 minutes in salted water, then chop them into small pieces, placing them in a food processor and pulsing until you get smaller pieces.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown the beef in the olive oil, stirring occasionally. Break up the meat into small pieces.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sourdough, livers, ground beef, celery, onions, parsley, eggs, prunes or raisins, Parmigiano Reggiano and nuts, tossing gently to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine the rosemary, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper and scatter over the stuffing mixture. Mix again. Taste and adjust for salt.

Refrigerate, covered with foil, until ready to bake.

To bake: Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Cook 1 hour with foil on top. Remove the foil and cook for 1 hour more at 300. Keep an eye on it. Ovens vary, and you want it out of the oven before it gets too dry. If it does get dry, sprinkle a little chicken stock or water on it, cover with foil, and heat for 10 minutes.