Instead of opening a nasty can of Manwich or other similar product, the classic Sloppy Joe sandwich is easy enough to make from scratch.

My version takes on a Mexican twist (hence the name Sloppy José), using seasoned taco meat and a great barbecue sauce. Putting them together with a sprinkling of Mexican cheese on a bun with lettuce and tomato makes for one sloppy but delicious sandwich!

sloppy jose

 

For the barbecue sauce…

2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons white vinegar
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
6 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

 

Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until the flavors have blended, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temp. If you store it in an airtight container in the fridge, it’ll stay good for a few months.

 

For the seasoned taco meat…

1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 Spanish onion, finely chopped
olive oil
2 lbs. grass-fed ground beef

 

Combine all the spice ingredients in a bowl.

Sauté the onions in a bit of olive oil until translucent. Add the beef and sauté until cooked, mixing in the spice mixture a little at a time until you’ve used it all.

 

For the sandwich…

Take some of the taco meat and place it in a small non-stick pan and heat on medium. Squirt in as much of the barbecue sauce as you like, mixing thoroughly. Sprinkle some grated Mexican cheese on top. (I like Cotija, which is like a Mexican feta, but a bag of mixed cheeses works great, too.) Mix thoroughly, letting it all melt together into one warm, gooey mess. Throw it on a bun. Add lettuce, tomato, avocado slices, whatever you like!

 

Here in Rhode Island, we have access to amazing seafood year-round. My friend Gary, is a lobster man. My neighbor farms oysters. And for anything else, I go to my friends’ farms: Simmons Organic Farm in Middletown, RI and Wishing Stone Organic Farm and Sweet & Salty Farm, both in Little Compton, RI…great places for veggies, bakery goods, pastured meats, yogurt, cheese, and more.
I was on a mission to find fresh mussels the other day, and in the process, stumbled upon fresh bay scallops, piled high on ice at a local farmers’ market. Unlike like the larger sea scallops or bomster scallops, bay scallops are small and sweet, about the size of a mini-marshmallow…hard to find and my absolute favorites.
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As far as I’m concerned, there is no better way to eat a fresh scallop than right out of the shell with just a little marinade on top, popping these beauties into my mouth literally as they’re still pulsing on the shell.
Scallops are a bit trickier to open and clean than clams or oysters (at least for me) but all it took was a little practice while sipping a Stoli Elit martini and I got the hang of it in no time.
There are two marinades that I use when serving up raw scallops. The acidity in these marinades will cook the scallop a little, like in ceviche, though eating them raw is perfectly fine if they’re super-fresh.
“MILLS TAVERN” MARINADE
The first place my wife and I ever had a raw scallop was at Mills Tavern, a highly rated restaurant in Providence, RI. Freshly shucked scallops (in large flat shells) were served on ice with a tangy red marinade. We never got the recipe from the restaurant, but this is our version of that marinade.
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Grenadine
1/2 teaspoon fresh finely grated ginger
2 teaspoons finely chopped scallions
 Combine all the ingredients and chill before using.
A trick I learned from the folks at Wishing Stone Farm, where they grow their own ginger roots: keep the ginger stored in the freezer. Most of us don’t use ginger all that much, but we want fresh ginger when the recipe calls for it. By wrapping it tightly in plastic and storing it in the freezer, it’s ready to use any time. Simply take the ginger root out, and grate it finely–no need to peel the skin–while it’s still frozen. It will be almost powder like, and it will blend beautifully into any recipe you’re using.
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ALZ CEVICHE MARINADE
My marinade is closer to a basic ceviche, using 3 kinds of citrus and some Asian flavors.
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh finely grated ginger
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion
2 small dried chili peppers, finely chopped
 Combine all the ingredients and chill before using.

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Here’s an old recipe that I brought back, since comfort food is the name of the game here in New England, where we’re getting nothing but cool temperatures and way too much rain. I think we’re going to miss spring entirely this year and go right into summer…

I like to think that I was the force behind my daughter’s sudden interest in cooking, but the fact is, it was probably the Food Network. Shows like “Chopped Junior” and “Kids Baking Championship” are her favorites, and I have to admit, watching a 9-year-old displaying knife skills better than mine does have me feeling somewhat inferior at times.

A gift of a kids’ cookbook from our friend, Stacey, was what finally got my daughter to ask if we could cook together. She chose the Shepherd’s Pie recipe. I never really analyzed my own cooking style until my daughter started reading the recipe step-by-step and I heard myself saying: “Oh, we can skip that…Oh, we don’t need to do that…Oh, let’s use another ingredient.” She’d look up at me and say: “But, Dad, the book says you have to do this.” Lesson one, kid: improvise to make the recipe your own.

Peeling potatoes without peeling your fingers!

Peeling potatoes without peeling your fingers!

The original recipe called for lamb. We used beef. The original recipe had a huge proportion of potatoes to meat. We doubled the meat and veggies.

Mastering knife skills.

Mastering knife skills.

3 lbs. potatoes (I like organic gold potatoes)
1 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper
2 lbs. ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped
4 carrots, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I use gluten-free flour)
1 cup beef broth
olive oil

 

Peel the potatoes just to remove any blemishes. (I like my mashed potatoes with the skin included.) Cut into smaller pieces and place in a pot of cold, salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until fork-tender. Drain the potatoes, and put them back in the pot. Add the milk and butter, add salt and pepper, and mash until smooth. Set aside.

Chop the onions and dice the carrots. In a large skillet, heat some olive oil, then add the onion and carrot. Cook over medium heat until the onions are translucent. Add the beef, and cook until it’s browned, breaking the meat up into small pieces. Add the tomato paste and flour, and mix thoroughly. Add the beef broth and mix again. Cover the skillet with a lid, reduce the heat, and let it cook for about 15 minutes, until the sauce in the pan thickens.

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Find an ovenproof pie pan or lasagna pan. Pour the beef and carrot mixture into the bottom of the pan and smooth it out. Add the mashed potatoes on top. Place in a pre-heated 350-degree oven and bake for about 20 minutes if the potatoes are warm–a little longer if they’ve cooled down–until the potatoes start to turn a golden brown.

Proud chef.

Proud chef.

Let the pan rest for a few minutes, then serve.

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I’ve always been fascinated by Korean barbecue. Every time I see it on TV or catch a recipe on an e-mail blast, my mouth waters and I say to myself that I’ve got to experience it some day. But the painful reality is: Korean barbecue can be really spicy…and I’m a total wuss.

Korean barbecue 101: Gogigui means “meat roast” in Korean, and it refers to the method of roasting beef, pork, chicken, and other meats. Meats can be marinated or not. Bulgogi is the name of the most common Korean barbecue. Meat is marinated with soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic and pepper, and then grilled. Galbi uses beef short ribs, and adds onions to the marinade. And the hot stuff is daeji bulgogi, because the marinade isn’t soy sauce-based, but based on the hot-n-spicy Korean chili paste known as gochujang.

All of the marinades looked delicious, but the hot one with gochujang would be my biggest challenge, so I decided to start there. I found a great recipe, and quickly realized that I would have to turn the heat way down if I was actually going to try to eat it! For example, the original recipe called for 2 tablespoons of white pepper. I totally left it out. And it called for a full cup of gochujang. Not only did I cut that part in half, I doubled many of the other non-spicy ingredients.

So is it authentic Korean barbecue? Probably not. But it’s my version of it. It’s got lots a flavor and still carries a bit of heat.

For gluten-free diets: finding GF hoisin and soy sauce is easy. Look for the La Choy brand. But I haven’t been able to find gochujang that has a GF label.

 

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3/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup gochujang
1/2 cup hoisin sauce (I use gluten-free hoisin)
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon freshly grated garlic (I use a garlic press)
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
4 lbs. chicken pieces

 

Pre-heat the oven to 500 or its top temperature.

In a bowl, mix everything but the chicken pieces. Brush the sauce onto the chicken pieces, then wrap them in aluminum foil. (I like to tear a long piece of aluminum foil and lay it on top of a sheet pan. I place the chicken pieces on the foil, brush them with sauce on all sides, then fold the foil over the chicken, making one large pouch that holds all the meat.) Leave the pouch on the sheet pan and place it in the oven. Lower the oven temp to 350.

Cook the chicken for about an hour, making sure it’s almost completely cooked. Juices should run clear, not bloody, when you poke it with a fork.

Start a hardwood fire on your grill. Push the coals to one side of the grill so you have a hot side and a cooler side with no coals underneath it. Place the chicken pieces on the cool side of the grill (if you put it on the hot side, it will stick and burn), brush with more sauce, and put the lid on the grill, making sure you have the vents open for air circulation.

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See those 2 black bits in the foreground? That’s where the chicken stuck to the grill because I placed them over the hot coals. Don’t do that.

After a few minutes, lift the lid, flip the chicken pieces over, brush them with sauce again, and close the lid. Keep doing this until the chicken is nice and caramelized, with tasty grill marks.

If you want to serve some of the sauce on the side, it’s important to pour some of the sauce off and set it aside in the very beginning, so you’re not using the same sauce that the basting brush touched the raw chicken with.

 

 

 

 

I love fried chicken. And despite what most people think, fried food is really not that bad for you if you fry it properly. I use clean avocado oil every time, sometimes adding bacon fat or pork fat if I have it. And I get the oil to the right temperature: two key factors that will result in crispy chicken that isn’t bogged down with grease. What makes this recipe great is that I get all the benefits of crispy fried chicken without all the grease and without standing watch over it the whole time.

You can use any chicken parts for this recipe. Fry the chicken until it just turns golden brown and then finish it in the oven.

I use gluten-free flour (Cup4Cup is my favorite) for this recipe, and it works perfectly. If you’ve got someone you love who hasn’t had real fried chicken because they’re on a gluten-free diet, they will love this. If you’re not on a GF diet, feel free to use regular all-purpose flour.

 

10 lbs. large chicken wings or chicken pieces
Avocado oil, for frying

For soaking:

1 quart buttermilk
1 tablespoon hot sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot)

For the seasoned flour:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano

Open the bottle or carton of buttermilk and add 2 teaspoons of hot sauce. Close the container and shake to combine. Place the chicken pieces in a Ziploc bag, cover with the buttermilk, and seal the bag, letting the chicken soak in it for at least several hours. Overnight is best.

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Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, pepper, paprika, granulated garlic, onion powder, basil and oregano. Mix well.

After the chicken has soaked in the buttermilk, remove the pieces one at a time, leaving the buttermilk on them as you toss the pieces into the seasoned flour. Shake off the excess flour, and then set the pieces aside on a metal baking rack placed on a sheet pan.

If you’ve got the time, and want to make the chicken extra crispy, let the chicken pieces sit for an hour, then re-flour them before frying. If not, go right to the next step.

Pour the oil into a large heavy-bottomed stock pot to a depth of 1-inch. Heat the oil to 360 degrees on a thermometer.

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Working in batches, place the chicken pieces in the oil, being careful not to overcrowd them. Fry the chicken until it is golden brown on both sides, then place each piece back on the metal baking rack set on the sheet pan.

Once all the chicken has been fried, place the sheet pan in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until it’s fully cooked and crispy.

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Feast!

This weekend we celebrate Derby Day on Saturday and Cinco de Mayo on Sunday! The important thing is not to celebrate both on the same night…mixing margaritas and juleps is not an option!

I like a margarita that has a few, simple ingredients…and no sour mix. This is the one that hits the spot for me. My friends affectionately call it an “Algarita.”

 

3 oz. Patron silver tequila
1 oz. Cointreau orange liqueur
4 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 a fresh lime, squeezed

 

Place ice in a cocktail shaker and add Patron, Cointreau, pineapple juice and a good squeeze of lime juice from 1/2 a lime. Stir well, then pour it into a margarita glass (salt rim optional) and garnish with a lime wedge.

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, FLOOR!

This Saturday is the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby! It’s also the 2nd annual Boyz Weekend at our summer rental home, Saule. (www.sauleri.com) We’ll be mixing juleps and watching the race, just like last year.

The Mint Julep is such a perfect, classic and historic bourbon drink, it seems silly to wait until Derby day to have one. Of course, as any aficionado of spirits will tell you, there are as many right ways as wrong ways of making one.

The first step in my Mint Julep is making the simple syrup. Learning from one of my old radio buddies, my pal Rick O’B, I infuse mint into my simple syrup to take my cocktail to the next level. I use the standard ratio of 1 cup of clean, filtered water to 1 cup of sugar, using an organic product like Woodstock Farms Organic Pure Cane Sugar. I place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until just boiling. I’ve found that it needs to reach this stage for the sugar to really dissolve. As soon as it starts to boil, I remove the saucepan from the heat, and throw in a handful of freshly picked mint leaves, stirring to make sure the mint gets in there, and then I leave the saucepan to cool to room temperature. Once it’s at room temp, I strain the simple syrup into a bottle with a tight sealing lid, and place it in the refrigerator to cool. It will keep for about a week.

An equally important ingredient for a perfect Mint Julep is the ice, specifically crushed ice from clean, filtered water. Don’t even think of using tap water for any cocktail much less this one. Why ruin an expensive bottle of bourbon by going cheap on the ice? I make my own ice cubes, then put them in an untreated canvas ice bag and bash them with a mallet to the perfect crushed size. Untreated canvas bags for crushing ice can be purchased online from bar supply companies for about $30. I got an untreated canvas tool bag (the exact same shape and size) at Home Depot for 3 bucks.

Da bag.

The next step is a little tougher: which bourbon to choose. The explosion of choices on the bourbon market has made it all but impossible for the average imbiber to know which bourbon is best for their tastes. If you’re a beginner, I suggest you go to a trusted bartender and explain that you’re new to the bourbon world, and could you have the tiniest of tastes and sniffs of what he’s got at his bar. Chances are, you’ll get a sampling of some of the better known brands: Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, perhaps Buffalo Trace or Bulleit, and the standard Jim Beam. This is a very good start. If you have deeper pockets, go to the manager of a trusted higher-end liquor store and explain that you’ve had all the rest, now what does he think is the best? (Also, hinting to wife and friends that “I’m trying new bourbons” around your birthday or Father’s Day inevitably gets you a few bottles as well!)

My go-to bourbon for Mint Juleps is the very affordable Eagle Rare 10-year-old at $32.99 a bottle…and you can never go wrong with the classic Maker’s Mark. It’s always on sale around Derby Day.

Finally, a Mint Julep needs a metal–not glass– Julep cup. Made of pewter or aluminum, it frosts on the outside as you stir your drink, keeping your beverage ice-cold on even the hottest of days.

 

3 oz. bourbon
1 oz. mint-infused simple syrup
crushed ice
Julep cup
Fresh mint for garnish

Crush the ice and pack it into the Julep cup, even letting it dome slightly over the top. Don’t worry…the alcohol will melt it.

I like to add 1.5 ounces of bourbon, then the ounce of simple syrup, then another 1.5 ounces of bourbon on top. Break off a few mint leaves from the stem and push into the ice. Using a long spoon, stir the drink well. A beautiful layer of frost will form on the outside of the cup. Add more ice, if necessary, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

A nice selection of bourbons. This is an old photo: that Pappy Van Winkle is long gone…but I saved the bottle!

 

The home garden is already showing signs of activity. Overwintered kale and arugula plants are springing back to life, enough for a quick salad. Cool weather seeds that I’ve sown early: peas, turnips, radishes, broccoli raab, and others are sprouting. But nothing says the gardening season is here like my patch of homegrown asparagus taking off!

asparagus2013

Asparagus is really easy to grow. You just need the space, and the plants practically do the rest. Space them about a foot apart, and before you know it, you will have a vast network of tasty stalks sprouting through the soil every spring. They are so much better than anything you can buy in a supermarket.
In the start of the growing season, the stalks don’t even make it into the house. I cut them and just eat them straight out of the garden. Eventually, they make the move to the kitchen, where I love to simply place them on a baking sheet and drizzle a little olive oil over them. Salt and pepper…and then in a 400-degree oven until they’ve caramelized.

Sometimes I toss some tasty chives with blossom buds on top of the asparagus and roast.

 

Midway through the season, I have so much asparagus that I just don’t know what to do with them all. My friends don’t want anymore and I can’t bear to throw them into the compost pile. So I pickle them…a really easy process that ensures I’ve got delicious asparagus year-round.

PICKLED ASPARAGUS
Several bunches of asparagus spears
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups water
20 peppercorns
Garlic cloves, peeled
Salt (1 teaspoon per quart-sized Mason jar. Use less for smaller jars.)
Bring the vinegar, water, sugar and peppercorns to a boil. Set it aside.
Trim the bottom of the asparagus spears so that the spears are just slightly shorter than the height of the quart-sized Mason jar you will use. Or cut them into pieces that will fit smaller jars.
Pack the jars as tightly as you can with the asparagus spears. (They will shrink when processed.) Add the garlic clove and 1 teaspoon of salt to every quart-sized Mason jar…less for smaller jars.
Fill the jars with the vinegar mixture and seal.
Process the jars for 10 minutes. Let them cool before placing them in the refrigerator.

 

DOES YOUR PEE SMELL WHEN YOU EAT ASPARAGUS?

Asparagus has a sulfur-containing compound identified by scientists as methyl mercaptan. A colorless gas, this compound is also found in blood, feces, garlic, eggs, cheese and even skunk secretions. Another ingredient found in asparagus is asparagine. Present in foods like dairy products, seafood, poultry, fish and nuts, this amino acid is known to have a distinctive smell when heated. To metabolize both methyl mercaptan and asparagine, your body needs to break these compounds down and it’s this breakdown that’s responsible for your urine’s strange smell.

Since both methyl mercaptan and asparagine are associated with the sense of smell, there is debate over which ingredient is actually responsible for the asparagus-urine phenomenon. It could be one, or both.

Many people claim that, regardless of asparagus consumption, their urine does not smell. There are multiple theories about that as well. The first claims that everyone’s urine is in fact affected by asparagus, but only about half of the population have the specific gene that is required to smell the change. On the other hand, the second theory states that only half of the world’s population has the gene that’s required to break down the compounds found in asparagus and, if the body doesn’t break them down, no smell is emitted. In fact, one study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that only 46 percent of British people tested produced the odor while 100 percent of French people tested did. So whatever the reason, asparagus will forever be known as the vegetable that makes your urine smell strange.

 

ST. LUCIA…LOOKING BACK

Posted: April 25, 2019 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Now that I’m home from my trip to St. Lucia, I’ve had a chance to think about the wonderful people I’ve met, and the unique experiences I’ve had.

My driver, Anthony, and I having one last sip of spiced rum before I headed to the airport to go home.

 

One of the smartest things I did was to hire a knowledgeable driver, Anthony, take me just about everywhere. Though I did rent a car for one day and took the winding, volcanic St. Lucian roads into my own hands, I stayed on the main drag, and I didn’t get out to mingle with the locals like I did when Anthony was by my side. Like many Caribbean islands I’ve been to, there’s quite a bit of poverty on this island. And people make a living any way they can. Sometimes it’s less than friendly. But for the most part, the people I met were grateful that I was there to appreciate their island and learn about their way of life.

I bought a conch shell from this fellow.

 

St. Lucia’s big crop and major export is bananas, most of which goes to the United Kingdom. You see huge banana plantations everywhere as you travel the main roads of the island. Their beer, Piton, stays on St. Lucia, which is too bad, because it tasted pretty good on those very hot days. And the big money, of course, comes from tourism.

Piton Gold has more alcohol than their regular beer. Works for me!

 

Chairman’s Reserve rum…the good stuff.

 

Bounty was good for mixing.

 

In some ways, St. Lucia is a few steps ahead in the tourism game. I’ve been to my share of tiny island airports, and some are dirty, hot, and completely disorganized. St. Lucia’s international airport is clean, air-conditioned, and the boarding of passengers was done in an orderly fashion.

The waiting area at the airport. There’s also a food court upstairs.

 

As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter how great the vacation was. If leaving the island becomes a nightmare at the airport, I will never return, and I won’t recommend it to anyone else, either. St. Lucia gets a big thumbs-up for that.

 

The island is large, and most of the roads are well-paved, though they wind up, down and around the island’s mountainous terrain. It took 90 minutes to get from the airport to the property I was renting in Marigot Bay, and that’s only halfway up the island. If all you’re doing is going to one of the three Sandals resorts (all in the northwest part of the island, just past Castries…about 2 hours from the airport), then maybe that’s fine. But if you’re like me, and you want to get out and explore a bit, transportation, whether by car or water taxi, is a large cash-only cost, especially if you’re traveling solo with no one to share the ride.

A map of St. Lucia I brought from home. The orange highlighted roads were all the ones I traveled on my trip! A lot of driving! The pink highlight at the bottom is the international airport…the pink highlight on the left is Anse Chastanet…and the black writing further up on the left is Marigot Bay, where I stayed.

 

Eastern Caribbean coins, or EC, are used here. One US dollar = 2.7 EC dollars.

 

Most established restaurants and bars will have a good selection of booze to choose from. But unfortunately, they measure their shots here (a pet peeve of mine), so if you want a “real” drink, you’ll need to ask for a double. Sometimes, if you’ve befriended the bartender, they’ll start pouring more generously toward the end of the night. A good tip never hurts!

Driving is on the left-hand side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right. Concentrate! Don’t drink and drive!

 

The local restaurants often have some liquor to offer as well, but what they have varies greatly. Still, you can’t go wrong with rum. (Mt. Gay, one of my favorites, is available almost everywhere.) If you’re an adventurer when it comes to drinking, ask for “spiced,” which is a house-made spiced rum. They take a gallon jug, fill it with overproof rum, add some local sticks and twigs (probably cinnamon and other stuff), add some spices, and then something like grenadine to make it red and sweet. They pour it in a small cup for you to enjoy. It’s very strong, very sweet, and it burns all the way down…not that that’s a bad thing!

Local spiced rum!

 

The Rum Cave at the Marigot Bay Resort and Marina, a more luxurious choice for dinner and drinks, offered tapas and a nice choice of rums…even rum tasting sessions.

 

Drinking and driving, though discouraged with billboard ads, is not strictly regulated, and it’s not unusual for a driver to have a beer in one hand while steering with the other.

Another way to earn money: making charcoal to sell to hotels for barbecuing.

 

Many St. Lucians, like my friend, Anthony, see tourism as their way to make a living, so they welcome it. But in the beginning, as we were driving from the airport to my rental cottage, we passed many poor towns, with beat up old shacks on the side of the road. Trash was everywhere, including stripped cars and old trucks overgrown with grass, showing they’ve been there–and will be–for some time. It reminded me of Anguilla and a few other islands I’ve been to. Seeing some of these things was a bit disturbing in the beginning, but it’s also amazing how quickly I got used to it and almost ignored it after a while. Maybe that’s typical…or maybe that says something about us as human beings.

On the northern part of the island: the set-up for baking bread on the side of the road…a large drum, sheet metal, a wheel rim, and a few cinder blocks.

 

The roadside bakeries that I explored in the north and the south, were a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

That’s my buddy, Anthony, being served!

 

Bread baking on the southern part of the island: a homemade concrete stove.

 

A delicious Caribbean lunch from an out-of-the-way restaurant where only the locals go.

 

This lovely lady serves fresh-caught grilled conch in Gros Islet on Wednesdays and Fridays…and she sells out quickly. It was delicious!

 

The grilled conch, with rice and an onion-garlic sauce.

 

It’s good to visit some of these shacks–preferably with a local guide (like my friend, Anthony) who knows what he’s doing, and knows the people. They’re hard-working, and aren’t looking for a handout.

A voltage converter is mandatory. Most electrical outlets are 220 volts. (American flag optional.)

 

I passed dozens of small stands on the side of the road selling bananas, pumpkins, tomatoes, ginger, and other local produce. There were small food trucks, souvenir stands, and tiny little shacks that could barely hold 3 bar stools with signs that exclaimed: “Come in. Refresh Yourself!” Local spiced rum and other beverages were served inside.

One of the Pitons.

 

The very northern tip of St. Lucia. It’s a 90-minute ferry ride from here to Martinique.

 

Marigot Bay at sunset, from the balcony of Julietta’s restaurant. I had an excellent grilled mahi dinner here.

 

A little morning drizzle brings rainbows.

 

Although the beaches on St. Lucia are open to the public, even those that belong to the fancy resorts, they often make access difficult for the regular folk that just want to spend the day there and go for a swim. At Anse Chastanet, one of the most luxurious resorts on the island, you can throw your blanket on the sand in a designated area for free. But a chair is $24 a day, and it’s positioned away from the hotel guests who are paying a pretty penny to be separated from the “riff-raff.” I also got approached by a local trying to sell me a variety of hiking and sailing packages, something that’s pretty common everywhere.

Anse Chastanet: visitors stay on this side of the bar. Still, could be worse, right?

 

Red snapper coconut ceviche at Anse Chastanet.

 

I’m not a cruise guy. I’m not an all-inclusive resort guy. I think most people who have been to St. Lucia have done one or the other. It’s a very limited experience. If you’re staying in a resort surrounded by barbed wire and you never leave, what difference does it make where you go?–St. Lucia, Jamaica, Cancun…it’s all the same. You don’t meet the people, apart from those selling souvenirs and duty-free liquor. And you don’t sample real St. Lucian food, a wonderful mix of French, East Indian, and British dishes, mixed with local mangoes, plantains, oranges, and root vegetables.

Enjoying a freshly opened coconut on the side of the road. First you drink the coconut water, then scoop out the soft meat inside.

 

Banana ketchup, which tastes more like banana mustard. I got hooked.

 

St. Lucia has many luxurious resorts where the rich and famous come to hide. But for me, the real St. Lucia is a get-out-of-your-comfort-zone island. That’s where the genuine island experience is.

 

 

Easter Sunday nightmare at the airport: my wife is stuck in Florida, and it looks like she won’t be home until after midnight. So, our Sunday brunch as a family will have to wait until another time.

My daughter just got back from a little vacation of her own yesterday, so I figured this would be a good opportunity to cook whatever she wanted. (I already knew it was going to be this dish!)

 

Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Fettuccine Alfredo are my daughter’s two favorite pasta dishes. When she couldn’t decide which one she wanted for dinner one night, I decided that she’d get both! (Yes, I spoil her rotten!)

The addition of chicken and peas made for a more balanced plate. This is now one of my go-to dishes when guests arrive, since many parts can be prepared ahead of time. And the gluten-free version tastes as good the original!

 

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Start with the chicken…

The breading for the chicken uses gluten-free bread that I’ve toasted, crumbled and put into a food processor to make breadcrumbs. (I use Udi’s frozen GF bread, found in any supermarket.) I get a lot more flavor this way than using store-bought breadcrumbs from a can. I add gluten-free flour to it to lighten it up. Cup4Cup is by far the best GF flour I’ve tried.

If you’re not on a gluten-free diet, simply use regular breadcrumbs and all-purpose flour in the same proportions.

1/2 lb. chicken breasts, cut into 1″ pieces
1 egg, scrambled
1/2 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
1/2 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
3 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
olive oil, for frying

Scramble the egg in a bowl. Cut the chicken into pieces, and add them to the egg, making sure they get evenly coated. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the bread crumbs, flour, parsley, oregano, basil, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Fill a pan with about an inch of olive oil. Heat to medium-high, for frying.

In batches not to overcrowd the pan, take the chicken pieces out of the egg and toss them in the bread crumb mixture, shaking off the excess. Place them carefully in the hot oil and fry on both sides until golden. Since they’re small pieces, they should cook all the way through easily. Drain on a plate covered with paper towels. Do this with all the chicken and set it aside. Try not to eat it all before you make the rest of the dish! (This chicken can also be eaten as is–these are my daughter’s favorite nuggets–or used with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese to make a delicious chicken parmigiana.)

 

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The carbonara factor…

Many recipes for Spaghetti alla Carbonara use pancetta or bacon. But the original recipe calls for guanciale: cured (but not smoked) pig jowls, or cheeks. It’s easy enough to find in a good Italian food store, but I cure my own. I buy raw heritage Berkshire pork jowls from a farm that raises the pigs humanely, and cure the jowls for about 3 weeks in a combination of salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves. Then I rinse them, pat them dry, and cut them into portion-sized pieces, wrapping them individually and freezing until I need them. It’s a lot of work, but to me, totally worth it.

3 oz. guanciale

If the guanciale is frozen, let it thaw just a little, then cut it into the smallest cubes you can manage. Place it in a pan and cook them until they’ve browned and crisped beautifully. Keep an eye on the pan, as guanciale can burn easily. Use the fried meat bits for this recipe and save the fat for flavoring a future dish! Set aside.

 

The Alfredo sauce…

Despite what you get in crappy restaurants like Olive Garden, Alfredo sauce should not be runny or soupy. It should cling to the pasta and be rich in flavor. When making this dish gluten-free, I use Garofalo gluten-free pasta exclusively, because it tastes just like real pasta. (Believe me, I’ve tried every GF pasta out there.) I buy mass quantities at Amazon.

If you’re not on a GF diet, simply use your favorite regular pasta.

1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
Fleur de Sel or sea salt
1 lb. pasta, fresh or dried
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
freshly ground black pepper

 

Put 2/3 of the cream and all the butter in a large saucepan that will later accommodate all the pasta. Simmer over medium heat for less than a minute, until the butter and cream have thickened a bit. Turn off the heat.

Drop the pasta in a bowl of boiling salted water. If the pasta is fresh, it will take just seconds. If it’s dry, it will take a few minutes. (Gluten-free pasta takes a little longer.) Either way, you want to cook the pasta even firmer than al dente, because it will finish cooking in the pan with the butter and cream. Drain the pasta immediately when it reaches that firm stage, and transfer it to the pan with the butter and cream, tossing the pasta gently for a few seconds to coat.

Turn the heat under the saucepan with the pasta on low, and add the rest of the cream, all the Parmigiano Reggiano, and a bit of pepper (no salt because there’s plenty in the guanciale and cheese.) Toss briefly until the sauce has thickened and the pasta is well-coated.

 

At this point, you don’t want the pasta to get to dry, so you add…

1 cup of frozen peas

…tossing gently to warm them through. Also add the cooked guanciale at this time.

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Plate the pasta in a bowl or dish and serve the chicken alongside.