When it comes to grilling, lamb is often overlooked. Some people think the taste of lamb is too gamey. The really good lamb, grass-fed Australian or New Zealand lamb, can have that taste. Most American lamb is a bit milder, so give that a try. Even so, I like to mix 1 lb. of ground lamb with 1 lb. of ground beef (I like grass-fed beef.)

Don’t wait until summer to make these burgers! If you’re a hardy soul like me, you’re grilling in the dead of winter. But these burgers are just as tasty if you pan-sear them and finish them in the oven.

 

lamburger

 

1 lb. ground lamb
1 lb. ground beef
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons extra Virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons minced Spanish onion
2 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon each fresh parsley, mint, and dill, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 large clove garlic, squeezed through a garlic press
1 scallion, finely chopped, green part only
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions. Cook until browned, about 6 minutes. Transfer the onions to a plate and let them cool.

In a bowl, mix the onions, the lamb, beef, mustard, parsley, mint, dill, oregano, cumin, garlic, scallions, salt and pepper.

Form the meat into slider-sized patties. Place them on a baking sheet covered with non-stick foil, and place the baking sheet in the fridge.

Don’t let the lamburgers get too cold in the fridge…just enough to firm the meat up a bit. If it gets too cold, give it a few minutes at room temp to warm up again.  Grill the burgers until cooked to medium.

If you’re cooking indoors, heat some lard or avocado oil in an oven-proof pan. Sear the burgers well on both sides, then place the pan in the oven to finish cooking.

Place the burgers on slider buns with lettuce and tomato, and smear the bun with the feta cheese dressing or tzaziki. Recipes for both are below.

 

My recipe for feta cheese dressing works really well with lamburgers. If you’re skipping the bun and serving the burger with a salad, you might want to try my tzaziki recipe.

Feta Cheese Dressing:
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1  cup mayo
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce, like Franks Red Hot
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4–5 oz. crumbled feta cheese

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate. If you can wait a day, it’s even better.

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Tzaziki:
1 pint plain yogurt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dill weed
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 English cucumber, peeled and grated
Salt

Combine all the ingredients, except the cucumber, in a bowl.

With the cuke: peel it, then finely grate it into a bowl. (If you’re using a regular cucumber and not an English cuke, scoop the seeds out of it before grating.) Add a pinch of salt and let it sit for a few minutes. Then scoop out the mashed cucumber with your hands and squeeze as much liquid out of it as you can. Add the cucumber to the bowl with the other ingredients. Mix well. Discard the cucumber liquid.

Cover and refrigerate the tzaziki. Again, if you can do it a day ahead, it’ll taste even better!

 

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For me, fine spirits are the best gift for the holidays. You can go with some aged rums…sipping tequilas…or classic cognacs. And then there’s the whole list of liqueurs…sweets for the end of the meal or a key ingredient in a flavorful cocktail. Here’s my list of favorite bottles…

Kelt XO Cognac: What makes this cognac special is that it leaves the Cognac region of France in barrels and gets loaded onto ships that travel the world for months at a time. The barrels of cognac mellow, as they slowly rock back and forth in the ship’s hold out in the open seas, much like they did hundreds of years ago before we loaded pallets of product onto cargo planes. The ships then return to Cognac, where the spirit is unloaded and bottled. The result is an exceptionally smooth cognac that is still my favorite to date. What’s really cool is that each bottle has a summary of what ship it was on and where it traveled. The VSOP is great, but the XO is outstanding. They say it makes a difference if the ships go around the world clockwise or counterclockwise! …I haven’t noticed.
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum: If you’ve got a friend that likes sipping rum, this takes it to a whole new level. Made in Venezuela, it has a sweetness that you won’t want to mix…on the rocks is perfect. I have turned more friends on to this rum in the last couple of years than any other spirit I’ve discovered. Thanks to Jeff and Geremie, owners of Fluke Wine, Bar & Kitchen in Newport, Rhode Island, for giving me my first sip of this wonderful rum years ago.

Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia tequila: I am not a fan of Jose Cuervo tequila in general. If all you want is a reposado or anejo, there are so many other better ones out there: Don Julio, Don Eduardo, Corazon, and Sauza Tres Generaciones just to name a few. And for silver, nothing beats Patron. But this top-of-the-line Cuervo is excellent, and you pay the price for the designer box as well as the tequila. Worth every penny.

 

St. Germaine: A sweet liqueur crafted from hand-picked Elderflowers that grow in the Alps, and featured in an excellent house drink called The Elixir at Cooke and Brown Public House in Providence, Rhode Island. It features Irish whisky, St. Germain, honey, lemon and bitters.

 

Bols Genever: First made in Holland in 1575, this is the stuff the British fell in love with, tried to copy, and then shortened the name of their resulting product and called it “gin.” But it’s better than gin. Many a great cocktail starts with this key ingredient. One of my favorites is a take on the classic Negroni: Combine 1.5 oz. Bols Genever, 1 oz. Gran Classico, and .5 oz. Punt e Mes. Serve in a rocks glass with a nice, big ice cube.

Coole Swan: This is the magical ingredient in my own espresso martini. (See my blog for the recipe: https://livethelive.com/2017/11/19/my-espresso-martini-2/) Imagine a Bailey’s that tastes like melted vanilla ice cream, and you have an idea of the flavor of this terrific cream liqueur. You will never drink another espresso martini as long as you live!

 

Rumchata: Horchata is a very popular drink in Hispanic countries. It comes from many ingredient combinations, but one of the most popular is rice, vanilla and cinammon. Imagine a liquid version of rice pudding. So if you add rum to it…you get a liqueur unlike anything you’ve had before. Very tasty.

 

Castries: This creamy liqueur takes its name from the capital city of the island of St. Lucia….and it surprises me that it took this long for someone to come up with a peanut flavored liqueur. Sure, there are other nut liqueurs: almond liqueurs, like real Amaretto (not Disaronno, which is made from peach or apricot pits)…and hazel nut liqueurs like Frangelico. But this one is very different. It’s creamy, not clear, and quite delicious.
Sortilege: This liqueur made from Canadian whisky and maple syrup is the definition of liquid dessert. It’s hard to describe how good this stuff is. All I can say is: once you open it, it will vanish very quickly. I haven’t poured it on pancakes yet, but some hungover morning I will!
Cheers!

Stuffies, or stuffed clams, are a very personal matter here in Southern New England. There are as many stuffies recipes as there are chowder recipes, and everyone thinks they’ve got the best one. Most stuffies that I’ve had in restaurants, like most meatballs I’ve had, have too much bread and not enough of the good stuff.

 

I use medium-sized clams for this recipe and not the traditional quahog, a large clam often used in chowders that I find to be too chewy. Dropping the clams in hot water in the beginning helps make opening the clams a lot easier.

 

Just 30 seconds in boiling water is all it takes.

 

This recipe requires quite a bit of fresh sage, which can be expensive off-season. I grow sage in my garden, then snip a ton of it at the end of the growing season, placing it in freezer bags and squeezing all the air out. I will even measure out 1 1/4 cups of fresh sage leaves (what I need for each batch), then place that amount in the freezer bag, so I don’t need to measure later.

 

Freezing the sage makes it easier to chop finely later on.

 

I use Portuguese chourico (since I live near Fall River and New Bedford, Massachusetts, the Portuguese capitals of America), and I think their flavor is best.

This recipe makes a lot of stuffies, but they freeze well so you can have them when you want.

This recipe is gluten-free…and you’ll never be able to tell the difference! But if that doesn’t matter to you, use toasted Portuguese bread instead of gluten-free bread.

 

stuffies

 

 

4 dozen medium neck clams
1.5 pounds chopped chourico, skin removed (I use Mello’s from Fall River, Mass.)
3 onions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped
3 cups frozen or fresh corn kernels
3 cups toasted and coarsely ground bread (I use Udi’s Soft & Hearty Whole Grain bread to keep it gluten-free)
3/4 cup chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tablespoon dried)
1 1/4 cups chopped fresh sage (don’t use dried)
Salt and pepper
Butter
Sambal chili paste
Mayonnaise

In a large pot of boiling water, drop the clams in, about a dozen at a time. Remove them after about 30 seconds, before they open. Place them in a bowl to cool. Do this with all the clams.

Open the clams with a clam knife over a bowl with a strainer, making sure you save all the liquid from the clams. Put the clam shells to the side. Throw away any broken shells, and wash the empty shell halves thoroughly, making sure there are no broken pieces.

 

I use a strainer to keep the sediment away from the clam meats.

 

Take the clam meat pieces out of the strainer, leaving the clam juice behind in the bowl. Move the clam meat to a cutting board or food processor and chop them to medium-fine. Set them aside.

I pour the clam juices carefully from the bowl to tall drinking glasses, being careful not to let the sediment get in. Then, after some time, I pour off the clam juice from the glasses, leaving even more of the sediments behind. I find that the tall glasses make it easier to see the sediments, and maximize the amount of clam juice I get.

 

I let the clam juices sit in their tall glasses for a while, so that even more sediments get left behind.

 

In a large frying pan, add the olive oil, onions, and chourico and cook them on medium heat for a few minutes. Add the oregano and sage and cook a few more minutes. Add the corn and cook a few more minutes, a little more if the corn was frozen. Add the chopped clams and stir, cooking for a few more minutes. Add the breadcrumbs a little at a time until you have a nice balance of bread and other ingredients. Add the clam juice a little at a time as well, so that you can add all the breadcrumbs, but the mix isn’t runny. There’s lots of flavor in the clam juice, so use as much as you can! Season it all with salt and pepper.

Remove the pan from the heat and fill the empty clam shells with the stuffing.

At this point, you can freeze the clams. I put them on small sheet pans in the freezer until they harden, then I wrap them 6 at a time, and put them in freezer bags. Keep them frozen!

 

Ready for the freezer!

 

To make the aioli, mix the mayonnaise and Sambal in a bowl, to taste. Sambal is hot, so a little goes a long way. Keep it covered and refrigerated.

 

When you’re ready to bake, remove the clams from the freezer and place them on a sheet pan in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Top each clam with a small ¼” square piece of butter. Bake them about 15 minutes, until the clams are sizzling and light brown. Top each with a small dab of aioli.

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 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.

Like hot dogs and Slim Jims, jerky is one of those “mystery meats” we love but don’t really know how it’s made or what part of the animal it comes from. It’s also the only thing my nieces and my co-workers want for Christmas this year, so I’m making huge batches!
Really excellent beef jerky is a rare treat, and once you have it, you will never go back to that rancid, preservative-filled dog meat you find in a bag at the supermarket. And the best part is: it’s easy to make.
Shop around for a really nice slab of London broil or similar cut. You don’t need to buy an expensive piece of grass-fed beef, but the better the meat, the better the jerky. Remove all the gristle and fat that may be on the meat and then slice it against the grain and on a diagonal, into 1/4″ thick slices. Toss all the meat in a Ziploc bag. Once you’ve done that, all you need to do is make the marinade, marinate the beef overnight, and then dry it the next day. Your final product will be a flavorful beef jerky that is so good, you’ll find it very hard to stop eating it…or to share it.
If you use gluten-free soy sauce and teriyaki sauce (La Choy is the brand I use, found in any supermarket), this recipe can be considered gluten-free. Be careful: regular soy sauce, and even some tamari sauces, have wheat in them. Read the label!
I just received a nice slab of venison loin from my brother-in-law, the hunter. Venison jerky is next!
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1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated garlic
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh minced peeled ginger
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup teriyaki sauce (I use La Choy brand. It’s gluten-free.)
1 cup soy sauce (I use La Choy brand. It’s gluten-free.)
8 lbs. raw, lean beef, like London broil, cut into 1/4″ thick diagonal slices, against the grain of the meat
Mix all the ingredients except the meat in a large bowl. Place the meat in a large Ziploc bag, pour the marinade inside, seal it, and refrigerate overnight. Squish the bag around once in a while, to make sure all the meat surfaces make contact with the marinade. Keep the bag in a bowl to prevent any accidental spillage in your fridge!
The next day, pour off the marinade and discard it. Using a food dehydrator, dry the meat by laying strips in a single layer. You can also dry them in a 140 degree oven on racks slightly elevated off a baking sheet. Drying could take several hours to half a day, depending on how dry and chewy you like your jerky.
Jerky in the dehydrator.

Jerky in the dehydrator.

This recipe makes a lot of jerky, but it stores really well in the freezer. I put small amounts into individual freezer bags, then place all of them in one large freezer bag. Thaw as needed.

It’s all about the salt.

I fell in love with Fleur de Sel, the rare hand-raked salt, years ago. I’ve got high blood pressure, and unfortunately, I need to limit my intake of salt. So my discovery of “finishing salts” allowed me to cook completely without salt until the very end, where I can then sprinkle just a few crystals of this moist, hand-harvested miracle on my plate, enjoying every tiny burst of salty ocean flavor without a lot of guilt.

Inspired by an episode of “No Reservations” where Anthony Bourdain journeyed to Brittany, my wife and I dreamed of traveling to what is arguably the epicenter of Fleur de Sel production, the small town of Guerande, France. Located on the Atlantic coast in the Pays de La Loire region just south of Brittany, it’s about a 5-hour drive from Charles de Gaulle airport outside of Paris.

A salt flat in Guerande

 

Some of the articles we read about the medieval town of Guerande said it was too touristy, but we found that it had a lot of charm: the perfect combination of old and new, with many interesting shops and eateries inside its ancient walls. Built in the 15th century and fortified in the 19th century, the surrounding wall around Guerande is one of the best preserved in all of France.

The salt marshes outside the city walls have been around a long time…the last of them built around 1800. Salt production here declined soon after, because salt was available more cheaply from salt mines. But you gotta love foodies…the influence of chefs and food lovers around the world have brought back the demand for this very special product. Salt workers now harvest about 15,000 tons of cooking salt a year, and about 300 tons of the very precious Fleur de Sel.

 

Worth its weight in gold!

 

The process is simple: the ocean tides bring the salt water in and channel it into shallow pools where the water then evaporates, leaving behind the beautiful sea salt Guerande is known for. When just a few inches of water remain, a salty crystalized film floats on the surface of the water. This is very gently hand-raked and produces the much sought after Fleur de Sel. Traditionally only women were allowed to rake this salt because it was believed they had a gentler touch.

Driving through the salt field was a wonderful experience. The roads are narrow, and wind almost endlessly through these flat marshes where salt workers spend their days raking, gathering and then bagging their precious harvest. You can stop anywhere along the way to buy your salt directly from these salt workers, which we did. It was easy to get carried away…we brought home over 20 lbs. of salt! Of course, we shared it with friends.

 

Harvesting and selling salt in Guerande is a family affair.

 

One taste of Fleur de Sel, letting it gently melt on your tongue, and you’ll know what the big fuss is all about.

Our Fleur de Sel journey did not end in Guerande, however. After a couple of nights in that region, we headed south to the island of Ile de Re, just off the coast of La Rochelle, France. Connected by a 3km bridge, Ile de Re is a beautiful world unto itself, with an intricate network of bicycle paths that allow you to travel safely from one end of this flat island to the other, enjoying beautiful views as you ride through vineyards, salt marshes, beaches and small port towns.

As in Guerande, not only can you sample the local salt, but also the abundant supply of incredibly fresh seafood, especially their famous oysters. The salt flats seem somewhat newer in Ile de Re, but still very much a large part of the local economy. The salt itself differs in only the most subtle of ways from its Guerande counterpart and I would find it difficult to say which I liked better.

 

Ile de Re is long and flat, so many of the salt pools are larger than those in Guerande.

 

It may seem a bit silly to travel all this way for something is simple as salt. But it’s a journey I’m very happy I made…and will gladly make again.

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.

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.

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

Alz Espresso martini

My espresso martini

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

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

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

Increase the oven to 425.

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

 

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

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

The charcoal chimney with hot coals awaits.

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

 

Needed:

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

 

Ingredients:

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

 

Spreading the coals away from the center of the grill.

If you want stuffing, cook it separately.

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

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

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

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

 

The rubbed, stuffed and seasoned bird.

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

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

 

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

No basting is necessary.

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

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

 

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