Archive for the ‘Carnivore!’ Category

Chicken Rollatini was one of the first dishes I learned how to make back in my teenage days on Long Island, working at a local Italian restaurant called Pizza City East. (The original Pizza City was in Ozone Park, Queens.) It was a simple dish: a chicken breast rolled up with prosciutto and mozzarella, and baked in a mushroom cream sauce. My version these days substitutes ham for the prosciutto, provolone for the mozzarella, and an Alfredo-like sauce instead of  the mushroom cream sauce.

 

4 chicken breasts cut lengthwise to make 8 thin breasts, about 2 pounds
8 slices sliced ham
8 slices of provolone cheese
Remove the chicken tender portion of the chicken breasts and set those aside for another day.
I don’t like to pound out my chicken breasts. I like the texture of “real meat.” So I take a large breast, and slice it lengthwise to make 2 thinner breasts. I lay the breast down on the cutting board, add a slice of “real” ham (not the deli-sliced stuff, but a ham that I sliced myself), then a slice of provolone, and carefully roll it up, securing it with toothpicks. Sometimes it’s easier to roll the ham and cheese first, then wrap the chicken around it. Place the rollatinis on a baking sheet. Set aside, preferably in the fridge, until ready to cook.

Rolled and ready!

1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon parsley
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
Combine these ingredients in a bowl. Set it aside.
2 carrots
2 parsnips
2 celery stalks
1/2 medium onion
Olive oil
Peel and chop the parsnips and carrots into quarters. Peel and chop the onion in half. Chop the celery into quarters as well. Place all the vegetables on a sheet pan and drizzle olive oil over the top, tossing them in the oil. Roast the vegetables in a 400° oven until caramelized, and the  carrots and parsnips are fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the sheet pan from the oven and let the vegetables cool. Once the veggies have cooled, chop them finely with a knife or food processor. Set them aside.
3 cups your favorite rice, cooked
Cook the rice according to package directions. Once the rice is cooked, mix it with the chopped carrots, parsnips, celery and onion. Set it aside.
1 cup cream or half-and-half
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
salt and pepper
For the Alfredo-like sauce, heat a saucepan over medium heat, melting the butter and then adding the cream or half-and-half. Once it’s warmed through, add the cheese and whisk until it has melted and the sauce is smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Set it aside, to re-warm later.
Take the pan of rollatinis out of the fridge to warm to room temperature, and reduce the heat of the oven to 350°.
Drizzle a little olive oil over the top of the rollatinis and rub it in. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top and bake them for 30-45 minutes, until the chicken has cooked through.
To serve, remove the chicken rollatinis from the pan and plate on a bed of arugula (optional) with the rice on the side. Serve with the sauce.

I’ve got dozens of chicken wing recipes, but even so, sometimes I just want something different. I decided to take my favorite taco seasonings recipe and adapt it to chicken wings. Caramba! One of the tastiest wings I’ve made in a long time!

This is such an easy and delicious recipe to make, even for a crowd. At your next party, just double or triple the recipe, as needed. And it works with a whole chicken as well.

 

2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon pepper
avocado oil
4–5 lbs. chicken wings

Preheat the oven to 375.

Combine the salt, cumin, oregano, paprika, onion, garlic, and pepper in a bowl. Mix well.

Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spread the wings out on the sheet. Sprinkle the wings with the avocado oil and rub the oil all over the wings. This will help the wings cook evenly,  and it’ll help the seasonings stick to the wings.

Turn the wings bottom-side-up and sprinkle with the seasoning mix. Flip the wings over and sprinkle them again, coating them evenly.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes.

This is a great way to impress your guests at a holiday dinner or any big celebration.

Buying a large roast is not an inexpensive proposition, so I wanted to be as sure as possible that it was going to come out right. I got to work, researching recipes online and watching every You Tube video I could find. Every chef and home cook had their own ideas of spices and rubs, but the basic methodology was the same: start the roast at very high heat to form a delicious crust on the meat, then bring the oven temperature down and cook it more slowly to bring the roast to a perfect medium rare.

A big 10-lb. roast is going to cost around 150 bucks, so the first step is simple: don’t skimp by buying a cheap cut of meat. You will absolutely regret it. Get the best meat you can afford. The reward you’ll get when you slice it in front of the family, with all those “oohs and ahhhs” will totally be worth it!

 

A perfectly cooked, perfectly delicious roast!

The second step is simple but very important: make sure the roast is at room temperature before cooking, and make sure the oven is really pre-heated properly to the right temperature before you put the roast in it. A cold roast will cook unevenly, and you won’t get that beautiful pink all the way through the meat when you slice it. It’ll be raw on the inside and overcooked on the outside. Take the roast out of the fridge for a good 2 hours before cooking…and if it’s frozen, back-time the heck out of it so that it’s truly thawed!

You can already see that back-timing is going to play an important part in a perfect roast. So, for example, if you want to be serving at 7PM, you need a half-hour (at least) for the meat to rest after cooking…about 2 hours of cooking time…and about 2 hours of bringing the roast to room temperature….give or take. Oven temperature settings vary, and roasts can be uneven. You’ll have to keep an eye on this thing.

That brings us to monitoring the temperature. If you have a basic meat thermometer, you’ll need to jab the roast a couple of times during the cooking process to know what temperature you’re at. I don’t like this method, because it means you’re pulling the roast out of the oven, dropping the oven temperature each time, and jabbing the meat, which releases juices every time you pull the thermometer out. I suggest investing in a probe that goes in the roast from the very beginning, and stays in the roast through the whole cooking process, monitoring the temperature the entire time. When the roast hits the perfect temperature of about 115 degrees, it beeps and lets you know it’s time to remove it from the oven. It’s practically foolproof.

The monitor I have is old school, as you can see, but it does the job. These days, you can get a wireless model that calls your phone when you’ve reached the ideal temperature.

 

My old-school monitoring system. I had it set for 120 degrees, but actually pulled the roast out at 115.

 

My old monitor still works like a charm. I use it at Thanksgiving to get perfectly roasted turkeys on a Weber grill, and it works great here as well. The probe goes into the meat, and it’s connected to a transmitter. It also has a receiver that can be as far away as 100 feet from the roast, and it will signal you when the desired temperature has been reached. That means you don’t have to stare at the roast all the time. You don’t have to open the oven door all the time. You can actually enjoy a cocktail in the company of your guests or family while the meat cooks.

2 onions
3 carrots
3 stalks of celery

When it’s time to remove the roast from the fridge to bring it to room temperature, roughly chop the onions, carrots and celery and place them on the bottom of a roasting pan. Lay the roast on top.

The rub that you use on your roast is really a matter of what you like. Use the herbs and seasonings you love, and you can’t go wrong. Here’s my recipe for a 10 to 12-pound roast…

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
2 tablespoons granulated onion
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

Combine these ingredients in a bowl. You want it to be like a paste or wet sand. If it’s too dry, add a little more olive oil. Dried oregano and thyme are usually fine the way they are, but fresh rosemary from the supermarket can be hard like pine needles. I either chop them really fine or I put them in a spice grinder. I have a small rosemary plant growing indoors by my window, so the needles are usually soft and wonderfully fragrant when I chop them up.

 

Seasoned and ready to cook!

 

Rub the seasonings all over the roast, making sure you get the bottom and the sides as well. Use it all up! You might think it’s too much salt, but remember: it’s a big hunka meat. Some of the seasonings will fall off. Be fearless!

To flavor the meat while cooking, I add a cup of red wine (optional) and 2 cups of beef or chicken stock in the pan with the vegetables. (In some cases, after the roast is cooked, you can use the juices at the bottom of the pan to make gravy. But give it a taste first. If you use a lot of salt on your roast, the juices could be too salty to use in your gravy. Gravy or not, a classic horseradish cream sauce on the side is a great choice. (The recipe is below.)

At least a half-hour before you want to start cooking, pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. You really want it hot to start. Roast the meat at 450 for 20 minutes, then turn down the heat to 325 degrees.

This is where many recipes tell you to calculate how much more to cook based on the size of the roast, etc. If you’ve got a probe in the roast, you can see exactly how the temperature changes over time. If you decide that you’re going to “wing it,” you can go by the general math of 15 minutes per pound of meat, including that first 20 minutes. So, if you have a 10-pound roast, multiply that by 15 and you get 150 minutes. Subtract the first 20 minutes from that, and you need to cook the roast another 130 minutes at 325 degrees. This is by no means a guarantee of success, but a very general guideline.

If you have a standard meat thermometer, you know that you can safely leave the roast in the oven at least an hour before taking the first temperature reading. Then play it by ear. (Like I said, you don’t want to be opening the oven door and poking the meat all the time.)

Although I had my probe set at 120 degrees, I took the meat out at 115, removing the roast from the pan, and placing it on a cutting board (or another clean pan.) Then I wrapped the roast with foil, and covered the foil with a clean bath towel, keeping all the heat in, letting the meat rest for AT LEAST 30 minutes. The meat inside continued to cook and reached a temperature of 130 degrees before it started to slowly cool down. (If you leave the probe in while the meat is wrapped, you’ll actually see the temperature rise.)

After at least 30 minutes of resting, I unwrapped the roast and started slicing!

This is where you can pour off all the pan drippings and make a sauce if your spice mix wasn’t too salty or strong. As I mentioned, the classic horseradish cream sauce is great to serve with it…

1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
6 tablespoons prepared horseradish (more if you like it!)
the juice of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Combine all the ingredients, mixing well. Keep this refrigerated until it’s ready to serve.

 

A previous family dinner with mac & cheese, salad, the amazing rib roast and lobsters from Sakonnet Lobster in Little Compton, RI!

 

I love these ribs. They’re one of the the first recipes I ever tried, and still one of my favorites. I’ll be making them again this weekend!
 
I like making these because you don’t need a grill or a smoker. They’re gooey, sweet and absolutely delicious!
 
 
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¾ cup soy sauce
 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
5 lbs. pork ribs
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 whole star anise
2 cinnamon sticks (3”)
1/2 cup honey
4 cups chicken broth
 
Mix the soy sauce and the hoisin in a bowl, and set it aside. These are the marinade ingredients.
 
If the ribs are large, cut them into individual pieces. If smaller, cluster 2 or 3 ribs together. Place them in a large pot. Cover them with water and bring it to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Drain.
 
Place the ribs on a baking sheet lined with non-stick aluminum foil or with a rack and coat them with the marinade. Let them sit for 10 minutes.
 
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the ribs on the baking sheet for 30 minutes.
 
While the ribs are baking, start the sauce in a large non-stick pan or pot that will hold all the ribs: combine the lemon zest and juice, star anise, cinnamon sticks, honey and chicken broth. Bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer.
 
When the ribs have finished baking, add them to the sauce pot and simmer (covered) for at least 15 minutes or until the rib meat is tender.
 
Turn the heat on high, uncover the pot and cook until the sauce is reduced to a glaze that coats the ribs. Be sure to reduce the heat as the sauce thickens or the sugars in the honey will burn! When the ribs are sticky and gooey, they’re ready.
 
Substituting grapefruit for the lemon works really well. And I like to switch the honey for maple syrup! Yum!
 

 

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.
Really excellent 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.
Although I started my jerky-making endeavors with beef, I later acquired some beautiful venison from friends and family; hunters that had extra meat they were willing to share. I quickly realized that venison was the ideal jerky meat: really flavorful, with a wonderful texture.

Beautiful venison.

But venison is not all that east to find, and farmed venison is expensive. So beef is still the best option for most people.
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!
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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)
1 cup soy sauce (I use La Choy)
8 lbs. raw, lean beef, like London broil, cut into 1/4″ thick diagonal slices, against the grain of the meat
Combine all the ingredients except the meat in a large bowl. Whisk it well. Place the meat in a large Ziploc bag, pour the marinade inside, seal it, and refrigerate it 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, and how thickly you sliced it.

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.

With Thanksgiving now just weeks away, I’d like to share my recipe for what I consider to be the perfect turkey.

I often get asked if I deep-fry my turkey for Thanksgiving. I think it’s way too messy and time-consuming for nothing better than an “OK-tasting” bird. I lived in the South for a few years, and my friends fried a turkey on several occasions. I wasn’t impressed.

First, you need to find a safe spot in the yard to blast the propane-fueled fryer so you don’t burn your house down. Then you need to stand outside and freeze your butt off while it fries, while your friends and family are all indoors having cocktails. Then you need to get rid of gallons of used oil, and clean up a huge mess at the end of it all. And through all this, you need to make sure the oil is at the right temperature so you don’t get a scorched turkey on the outside and a raw turkey on the inside.

No, thanks.

I get great results by cooking my turkey in my Weber grill. I’ve cooked it this way every Thanksgiving for about 30 years. The standard Weber allows me 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 when it really matters, buy a turkey right now, grill it, and bring a bunch of turkey sandwiches to work to share with your friends….then wait for their reaction.

Or be bold! Go for the gusto the first time around. I did it that way and I never looked back.

 

The charcoal chimney with hot coals awaits.

The charcoal chimney with hot coals awaits.

 

Although I’ve stopped using charcoal briquettes for basic grilling a long time ago, and now strictly use natural hardwood charcoal, this recipe works best with Kingsford briquettes. They burn slowly and evenly. I never use lighter fluid…I always start my fire with a few pieces of crumbled newspaper under a charcoal chimney.

The tools you need:
A Weber grill, with the dome top
Kingsford charcoal briquettes (don’t t use Match Lite or other pre-soaked briquettes)
A charcoal chimney, easily found at Home Depot or Lowe’s
A heavy-duty disposable aluminum pan
Ingredients:
Whole turkey, up to 15 lbs., thawed and brined (see my previous blog about brining a turkey)
Olive oil (to rub on the turkey)
2 yellow onions, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
½ lb. (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon pepper

 

Spreading the coals away from the center of the grill.

Spreading the coals away from the center of the grill.

 

If you want stuffing, it’s always wise to make it separately and 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.

If you brined the turkey first, you’ve already removed the giblets. If you’re not brining, go ahead remove the giblets from the thawed bird now. Place the turkey in the aluminum pan.

In a small bowl, mix the granulated garlic, granulated onion, salt, and pepper. (Definitely add any other seasonings you might like.)

Coarsely chop the onions and celery. Place them in a another bowl. Mix them with the melted butter and 1/3 of the garlic/onion/salt/pepper mixture.

Place a small handful of this onion and celery “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.

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 grill 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, 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 aluminum pan a bit.) Open the vents on the bottom of the Weber as well as the vents on the lid. It’s important to get air circulating!

 

My meat thermometer calls me from as far as 100 feet away! Time for a cocktail!

My old-school meat thermometer calls me from as far as 100 feet away! (Newer thermometers are wireless and talk to your smart phone.) Time to join family and friends for a cocktail!

 

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. The internal meat temperature should be around 165 degrees.

And believe it or not, a 15-lb. turkey will be cooked in about 2 hours!

If you’re using a meat thermometer (recommended), remove the turkey when it hits about 155 degrees, wrap it in foil, leaving the thermometer still in the bird, and let it rest at least 20 minutes. The temperature will go up a bit to 165 or even a little higher, before it starts going down.

 

Beautifully grilled, and perfectly cooked in less than 2 hours!

Beautifully grilled, perfectly cooked!

 

I get requests to publish my holiday recipes every year, so, with the countdown to Turkey Day already ticking, and all the Thanksgiving food magazine issues on the stands, let’s get it started…

No matter what method you prefer to cook your bird, brining it beforehand will make it so much tastier and juicier. You really need to try it…and it’s easy to do.

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

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

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

You must brine a thawed bird, so use your favorite method to thaw your turkey so that it’s ready on Thanksgiving morning. Brining can take 4 to 6 hours, so start early!

For this recipe, you’ll need a large pot to boil the brine ingredients, and then a larger pot to hold the turkey submerged in the brine. I use a turkey no bigger than 15 lbs. for two main reasons: there are only 3 people in our family, and the Weber grill I will later use can’t handle anything bigger.

 

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1 gallon of water
2 onions
3 carrots
3 stalks celery
1 cup Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal…see below)
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons whole allspice
4 bay leaves
1 gallon of ice water
14–15 lb turkey, thawed

Pour the first gallon of water in a large pot. Quarter the onions, carrots and celery (no need to peel them) and add them to the water. Add the salt, black peppercorns, brown sugar, allspice, and bay leaves. (I specify Diamond Crystal Kosher salt because all Kosher salt does not weigh the same! For example, Morton Kosher salt is much heavier for the same 1-cup measurement, so the brine will be saltier.)

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

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

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

Make sure the turkey doesn’t float up by placing a plate on top. Put the turkey container in the fridge (or a cold garage or basement) for 4 to 6 hours, flipping the turkey over in the container halfway through.

After 4 to 6 hours, drain the turkey, rinsing off any spices that stuck to it, then pat it dry with paper towels. Now it’s ready to cook, using your favorite recipe.

If I’m brining a turkey for Thanksgiving, I do the brining in the morning and the turkey is ready to cook by early afternoon. And grilling it on a Weber grill only takes a couple of hours. It’s fast, requires no basting, and is absolutely delicious! That’s next time…

I have to give credit for this recipe where it’s due. A few years ago, we traveled to Washington, DC, and one of our best dining experiences was at the Blue Duck Tavern, a stunning restaurant matched by its unique and beautifully prepared plates. (Along with Chef Jose Andres’ restaurant Jaleo, it is the restaurant I recommend to any friends in the DC area, and one I would go back to in a heartbeat.)

One of the most memorable appetizers I enjoyed was the roasted beef bone marrow, which had a delicious pretzel crumble on top. The moment I had a taste, I knew that I would have to recreate this for myself at home.

The bone marrow plate at the Blue Duck Tavern in Washington, DC. (Enough garlic for ya?)

Bone marrow played an important role in the evolution of early man. Perhaps that’s why some of us still have that primitive craving for it.

Early man had small teeth and ate anything he could lay his hands on, especially meat. But he was no hunter. Attracted by circling vultures, he probably scavenged the leftovers from a big kill such as an antelope left in a tree by a leopard, or a large animal such as a wildebeest that had been slaughtered by lions.

Because meat is relatively easy to digest and rich in calories and nutrients, early man lost the need for the big intestines of apes and earlier hominids. This freed up energy for use by other organs. This surplus of energy seems to have been diverted to one organ in particular – the brain. But scavenging meat from under the noses of big cats is a risky business, so good scavengers needed to be smart. At this stage in our evolution, a big brain was associated with greater intellect. Big brains require lots of energy to operate: the human brain uses 20% of the body’s total energy production. The concentrated calories and nutrition found in meat was responsible for an increase in the brain size of early humans.

But around two million years ago, telltale cut marks on the surface of animal bones reveal that early humans were using crude stone tools to smash open the bones and extract the marrow. Stone tools allowed early man to get at a food source that no other creature was able to obtain – bone marrow. Bone marrow contains long chain fatty acids that are vital for brain growth and development. This helped further fuel the increase in brain size, allowing our ancestors to make more complex tools. Many historians believe that the blunt force required to break bones with tools to extract the bone marrow was a crucial ingredient in the development of the human hand, and the unique dexterity it has over that of apes.

Of course, these days, we can simply go to our butcher and ask them to slice some beef bones for us so that we can enjoy the marrow like our ancestors did. It’s much more civilized.

My box o’ frozen bones. I ordered about 25 lbs. of marrow bones from Slanker’s, a grass-fed beef farm in Texas.

They key to roasting marrow bones properly is to keep an eye on them. The bones can go from frozen solid to blazing hot in no time, and that means the marrow can go beyond its rich, gelatinous perfection into a puddle of fat at the bottom of your pan in mere moments.

3 lbs. beef marrow bones (I like them sliced lengthwise)
3/4 cup finely ground salted pretzel sticks
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
olive oil

I keep the beef bones frozen, moving them to the fridge until I’m ready to roast them.

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Grind them up!

Place a handful of salted pretzel sticks in a food processor, and pulse them until the pretzels are ground fine. When you’ve got 3/4 cup of ground pretzel powder, move it to a bowl and add the parsley, onion, garlic and black pepper. No salt is needed if the pretzels are salted.

Lay the bones flat on a baking pan. If they wobble, place them on a layer of coarse salt to hold them steady. Sprinkle the pretzel mix on the bones, a little drizzle of olive oil on top, and place them in the oven.

Now you watch…there’s that one point where they go from “not quite yet” to perfection to “Oops! Too much!” …so be careful!

Perfection!

Some toasted bread on the side is all you need!

If you’re cooking gluten-free, try Snyder’s of Hanover GF pretzels. They are awesome…you’ll never know the difference.

Let’s face it: there are few foods as magical as bacon. Add bacon to just about any dish you’re preparing, and it elevates it to incredible new heights of flavor. The BLT is possibly the greatest food combination ever invented: just a few simple, fresh ingredients, when placed together, transforming into one of the greatest sandwiches on planet Earth.

 

BLT wraps: home-cured and smoked bacon, local farmstead romaine, home garden tomatoes, always Hellman’s mayo.

 

If I’m buying bacon, I go on-line to Burger’s Smokehouse, a family run business in Missouri that has made great bacon for decades. The prices are good, and they include shipping. (www.smokehouse.com) I buy in quantity and freeze what I don’t need right away. My favorite is the thick-sliced country bacon “steaks.”

But nothings beats making your own.

Bacon comes from the pork belly, and they’re easy to find in any good butcher shop. But to get something a notch above, I’ll buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire pork, from Heritage Pork International. (www.heritagepork.com)  I follow the simple curing techniques outlined in “Charcuterie,” a great book written by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

To cure bacon, all you really need is salt and sugar, and what they in the curing biz call “pink salt,” which is not to be confused with salt that happens to be pink, like Himalayan salt you would find in a gourmet store. Pink salt is bright pink to let you know that it’s a special salt that should only be used in small quantities for curing. The reason is: nitrites. Nitrites delay the spoilage of the meat, and help keep the flavors of spices and smoke. They also keep the meat nice and pink instead of an unappetizing gray. That’s good. However, nitrites can break down into nitrosamines, which have been known to cause cancer in lab animals. But let’s face it: you would need to eat a ton of cured meat to really worry about this. (I buy uncured deli meats and hot dogs at the supermarket, because processed meats are a different story. But since I know exactly what goes into my own bacon, I’m not worried about the level of nitrites.)

 

To make the basic dry cure:

1/2 lb. kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt)
1/2 cup light brown sugar or turbinado sugar
1 oz. pink curing salt

Mix the ingredients well. An important note: all salts do not all weigh the same, so go by the weight and not a cup measurement. (Morton’s Kosher salt, for example, is heavier than Diamond Crystal.) I keep this basic dry cure stored in my pantry, ready to use when I need it.

When it’s time to be makin’ the bacon, I combine this dry cure with other ingredients to make my bacon rub.

 

My bacon rub:

1/2 cup basic dry cure
1/2 cup brown sugar or turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion

 

Mix these ingredients well (yes, there’s quite a bit of sugar there, but I like my bacon a little sweet!) Rub it generously all over the pork belly.

I have a large plastic container with a lid that fits one slab of pork belly perfectly. I place the belly inside it, put the lid on, and place the container in the fridge. The pork belly stays there for at least a couple of weeks, maybe three. I flip the belly every few days. You’ll see that the salt will draw moisture out of the meat and form a gooey brine. This brine will continue to cure your pork belly, so leave it in there. Just flip it, put the lid back on the container, and back in the fridge.

In two or three weeks, you’ll be able to tell the pork belly has cured because it feels firm. Wash the brine off the meat well with cold water, and pat it dry with paper towels. Place the belly in the fridge for an hour or so and it will develop a tackiness to the touch. This is a thin layer of proteins known as a pelicle, and it helps the smoke stick to the meat.

Now it’s time to cook. You can simply cook the pork belly (without smoking it) at 200 degrees for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. But this isn’t bacon…it’s pancetta.

I place the pork belly in my digital smoker, which allows me to set an exact temperature. I smoke it at 250 degrees for 2 hours, using hickory chips. Now it’s bacon.

 

 

 

Bellies in the smoker

Bellies in the smoker.

 

 

Smoked bacon

Beautiful bacon!

 

That’s it. You have achieved bacon!

The reward is so worth the effort. Just remember that you still need to slice the bacon and fry it. Don’t eat it straight out of the smoker. That first slice you cut off your bacon and toss in a pan to lightly fry for a few moments will be the best bite you’ve ever had in your life!
And if you’re making one slab of bacon, why not make it three or four? It freezes well. And…you will eat it. You know you will!

Frying in the pan!

Frying in the pan!

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 it 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!