Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

The combination of sweet with a little heat is something I just can’t get away from. Whether I’m barbecuing, putting together a poke bowl, or preparing my favorite Asian recipe, I gotta have it.

I was looking back at a previous blog I had written about Korean barbecue, and I was really craving a lot of the flavors in my recipe…but quarantined here at home, I wasn’t about to go out to the store to buy the one key ingredient I didn’t have: a spicy sauce called Gochujang. So, I looked in my fridge for a reasonable substitute, and there, on the shelf, was a brand new bottle of Chinese chili garlic sauce. It was exactly what I needed.

 

Chicken was in short supply at the supermarket last week, but I got lucky: I showed up just as they were replenishing their stock, limiting purchases to 2 packages per customer. I grabbed the chicken leg quarters, because there was more meat per package…plus, the quarters have a drumstick and a thigh, my favorite parts of the chicken.

 

*Raw chicken hack*
Long before the corona virus, I kept disposable gloves in my kitchen to use whenever I handled raw chicken. I’ve got a special trimming knife that I use…and it goes right in the dishwasher after I’m done. (I don’t normally put knives in the dishwasher, but this inexpensive blade goes in.) I also use acrylic cutting boards, because they, too, can go right in the dishwasher to be sanitized. Doesn’t matter how much you scrub a wooden board, it will absorb odors and liquids and never get completely clean. I have two beautiful wooden boards in my kitchen, but they’re more for show than practical use. And then the gloves: I wear them while trimming the chicken, then toss them when I’m done.

 

The amazing sauce that I use here will last through the preparation of this dish and then some. Once you’ve mixed up a batch, it might be good to separate it into 2 bowls. Use one bowl to brush it onto the raw chicken. The other bowl will be untouched by anything that touches the chicken, so you can use it cooked or uncooked. As soon as the brush you’re using touches the raw chicken and then sauce, you can no longer use it uncooked. (Salmonella!) No licking the bowl by accident!

The extra sauce will be awesome if you want to brush even more sauce on leftovers.

 

More sauce than you need, but trust me: you’ll keep slathering it on more and more!

 

3 lb. package of chicken parts (I used leg quarters)
3/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup chili garlic sauce
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon granulated garlic

Combine everything but the chicken in a bowl and mix well, then divide them into two bowls…one to use with the raw chicken and one for later.

 

*Ginger root hack*
I love fresh ginger. But I never use it often enough. It gets moldy in my fridge and I have to toss it out. But I learned a trick from a local organic farmer who grows their own ginger–my pal, Liz, at at Wishing Stone Farm in Little Compton, RI: Put the ginger root in a plastic bag, and keep it in the freezer. When you need it for a recipe, take the frozen root out of the freezer and grate it–skin and all–according to your recipe. Then put the rest back in the freezer. An amazing trick that really works, and you’ll never peel ginger again!

 

Looks good, but it’s not cooked yet! Once it’s basted, fold the foil over the top of the chicken to make a packet.

 

Grab a baking pan, and tear a long sheet of aluminum foil, placing it over it. Place the chicken pieces on the foil bottom-side up. (I need to use 2 sheets of foil overlapping each other because my chicken pieces were larger.)

Brush the bottoms of the chicken pieces with the sauce, then flip them over and brush the tops. Be generous!

Wrap the foil around the chicken pieces to make a pouch, making sure the pieces are not sticking out.

Pre-heat the oven to the highest temperature it will go. When the oven is hot, place the pan with the chicken in the oven, close the door, and turn the oven down to 325.

Bake the chicken for one hour.

When the chicken is done, open the foil packet. It will look like this…

 

Carefully pour off the fat, then brush more of the sauce on the chicken, and place it under the broiler, watching it carefully so that the sugars in the sauce don’t burn. Broil it until it’s caramelized. (Another option is to light a charcoal grill and cook it on the grill rather than putting it under the broiler. It’s just a matter of how much time and effort you want to spend.)

 

I used a new sheet of foil and a new pan under the broiler.

 

Discard any of the sauce that touched the raw chicken. Use the “clean” bowl of sauce on the cooked chicken, if you want to add more.

Leftovers are awesome. Simply take the chicken out of the fridge, brush with more sauce, and place it in a 300-degree oven for about 10–15 minutes. It will take on an even darker color.

 

Leftovers the next day: I brushed more sauce on it before re-heating.

 

 

We’ve all got bottles of booze in our bar that probably haven’t been used in a while. Well, for me, quarantine time is the time to break them out and create! Let me share some of my favorite recipes with you…

When I go out to dinner (hoping I’ll be able to do that again soon), I’m always on the lookout for a great cocktail. These days, a great restaurant very often requires a great mixologist at the bar…not someone who can simply whip up a Cosmo, but someone who puts as much creativity in their drinks as the chef does in their dishes.

The classic negroni is made with gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. I love negronis, and this cocktail is inspired by them. It comes from chef Tony Maws’ restaurant Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s been a decade since we dined there but the drink remains a favorite of mine. When our server communicated to the bartender that I was willing to be his guinea pig for creative cocktails, I was served this one–so new at the time, they didn’t have a name for it. I took a sip and exclaimed: “Holy S*#t!” and the server laughed and said: “That’s as good a name as any!”

 

 

“HOLY S*#T!” COCKTAIL

1 1/2 oz. Bols Genever
1 oz. Gran Classico
1/2 oz. Punt e Mes

Add some ice to a cocktail shaker, and add the ingredients. Stir well. Strain into a rocks glass with one large ice cube.

 

Bols Genever is a Dutch spirit, the ancestor of gin, created from lightly distilled Dutch grains and a complex botanical mix. It’s made according to the original 1820 Lucas Bols recipe which stood at the basis of the cocktail revolution in 19th century America.

Gran Classico is an alcoholic aperitif/digestif created following a recipe dating from the 1860s. It’s made by soaking a mixture of 25 aromatic herbs and roots in an alcohol/water solution to extract their flavors and aromas. The maceration creates a natural golden-amber color, although many other producers, like Campari and Cynar, dye their product red.

Punt e Mes is a pleasantly bitter, slightly sweet red vermouth, the “baby brother” of Carpano Formula Antica. The formula was developed in 1870 in Antonino Carpano’s bar in Piedmont, and the distinctive 15-herb recipe is still a family secret.

 

 

In these crazy times, our supermarkets are running out of everything from toilet paper to hand sanitizer. But probably the one thing we can stock up on is corned beef and cabbage!

St. Patty’s Day is this Tuesday, and supermarkets are full drumming with packages of processed corned beef in preparation for the big celebration. Too bad corned beef isn’t an authentic Irish dish!

The phrase “corned beef” was actually coined by the British, and although the Irish were known for their corned beef throughout Europe in the 17th century, beef was far too expensive for the Irish themselves to eat and all of it was exported to other countries. Owning a cow in Ireland was a sign of wealth, and the Irish used theirs for dairy products, not beef.

The Irish ate pork, and a lot of it, because it was cheap to raise pigs, and they traditionally prepared something like Canadian bacon to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

In the 1900’s, when the Irish came to America, both beef and salt were more affordable, and the Irish, who lived in poor, tight-knit communities, often next to Jewish communities, bought much of their beef from Kosher butchers. So many of the Irish learned how to corn their beef using Jewish techniques, but adding cabbage and potatoes to the mix.

It takes about 3 weeks to make corned beef. But now that you know it’s not Irish anyway, that’s OK!  Doing it yourself is not difficult. It just takes time to get a really delicious slab of beef.

Corned beef has nothing to do with corn. ‘Corning’ is a technique for preserving raw meats for long periods by soaking it in salt brine. This method was used in England before the days of commercial refrigeration. Back then, the large salt kernels used in the brine were called “corns.”

Brining is a time-honored way of preserving meat and it prevents bacteria from growing. Both pastrami and corned beef are made by this method. Both start with a brisket of beef. Corned beef is then cooked–usually boiled–and served. Pastrami is made when the brined meat is rubbed with more spices and then smoked to add extra flavor. So corned beef and pastrami are the same meat, just treated differently.

Saltpeter is an ingredient that has been used in brining beef for years. It adds the traditional red coloring to the corned beef and pastrami meat. But since saltpeter can also contain carcinogens, I leave it out. The meat may not be the usual bright red color, but the flavor and texture of the meat will not be affected.

Brining the beef brisket

Brining the beef brisket

Step one: corned beef…

beef brisket (about 8-10 pounds)
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup warm water
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
3/4 cup salt
2 quarts water

Place the brisket in a large container made of non-reactive material, like glass or plastic.

In the 1/4 cup of warm water, dissolve the sugar, minced cloves, paprika and pickling spices.

Dissolve the 3/4 cup of salt in the 2 quarts of water. Pour in the sugar/garlic/paprika/pickling spices mix and stir everything together. Pour the mixture over the meat in the container. Make sure the meat is totally beneath the surface of the liquid. (You may need to weigh it down to do this.) Cover the container.

Refrigerate the container and its contents for 3 weeks, turning the meat once or twice per week. At the end of the third week, remove the container from the refrigerator and take out the meat. Soak the meat in several changes of fresh cold water over a period of 24 hours to remove the excess salt.

At this point, if you want corned beef, prepare and cook it using your favorite recipe. But I’m all about the pastrami!

Step two: making Pastrami…

pastrami

 

Brined and rinsed corned beef brisket from above recipe, patted dry with paper towels
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic

Combine the coriander seeds, black and white peppercorns and mustard seeds in a spice grinder and grind coarsely. Place in a bowl. Add the salt, paprika, brown sugar and granulated garlic. Mix well.

Rub the mix into the brisket well, covering all sides.

Heat your smoker to 225 degrees and smoke for several hours using a less intense wood, like oak. When the internal temperature of the meat has reached 165 degrees, it’s done. It isn’t necessary to smoke pastrami as long as you would a regular brisket because the long brining time makes the meat tender.

It is very important that absolutely everything that comes in contact with the meat is very clean. (This includes your hands.) Also, make very sure that every inch of the meat reaches the 165 degrees before it is removed from the smoker. The corned beef is now pastrami.

 

Happy St. Patty’s Day! Celebrate safely!

Pork tenderloin is a lean cut of meat that can dry out easily when roasted. It’s usually just a couple of inches around, and over a foot long…a shape that can easily go from juicy to overdone in just a few minutes if you’re not watching it carefully.

I usually cook my pork tenderloin much like I would a pork chop: In one bowl, I’ve got a couple of eggs, scrambled. In another, a mixture of flour with whatever seasonings I like. Cutting the tenderloin into 3 or so pieces to fit the bowls, I coat them in the egg wash, then dredge them in the seasoned flour before browning on all sides in a heated pan with pork lard on the stove top. Then into a 325-degree oven until the temperature just reads 145, letting the meat rest a few minutes before slicing.

But it was time for a change. This recipe really is based on what I had in the fridge and pantry at the time, and it just rocked!

I chose chickpeas as my starch. I don’t worry too much about carbs, as long as they’re good ones and in moderation.

I always use organic kale. Kale is one of the most heavily sprayed veggies out there. You don’t need pesticides in your soup!

 

soup1

 

1 1/2 lb. pork tenderloin, cut into 1/4″ thick medallions, then cut in half
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 pint veal stock or chicken stock (homemade is best)
1/2 cup white wine (I like an un-oaked Australian chardonnay)
1 pint water
large pinch of bouquet garni
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 head organic kale, cleaned, stems removed, and chopped

 

 

Slice the pork tenderloin into 1/4″ medallions, then cut each medallion in half. Set aside.

In a bowl, add the flour (unseasoned). Set it next to the pork.

Heat a heavy skillet big enough to hold all the pork. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil or pork lard. Drop the pork pieces in the flour, coating them well, then shaking off the excess. (No egg wash needed.) Place them carefully in the pan and brown them on both sides. They don’t need to cook all the way through.

Leaving the pork in the pan, add the onions and stir, cooking for a couple of minutes. Then add the carrot and celery slices, stirring again. Sprinkle in the garlic salt and pepper, stirring again.

Add the stock, the wine, and the pint of water. Bring it to a boil and let it simmer for a few minutes, stirring gently.

Add the chick peas. Then add the kale, a handful at a time, waiting for the greens to wilt into the soup before adding another handful. Do this until all the kale is in the pan. Add the pinch of bouquet garni. Bring the soup to a boil again, then reduce it to a medium-low simmer, uncovered.

The soup is ready when the veggies are tender, about 15 minutes. Keep an eye on it, and if the liquid has evaporated and it looks too thick, add more water, bringing to a boil with each addition, then reducing the heat.

Taste for seasoning before serving.

 

soup2

 

It was cold day, and I was craving comfort food. I didn’t want to go to the store, so I looked in the pantry and fridge for tasty ingredients, and went this route. There are many similar versions of this dish out there, using different cuts of chicken–or a whole bird cut up. I just happened to find a great deal on organic drumsticks at the store, so I went with that. But you should use any cut of chicken that is your favorite.

 

 

It takes about an hour to prepare this dish from start to finish, so it’s something you could even cook on a weeknight…and it’s certainly easy enough to double the recipe if guests are coming over.

 

It starts in the pan!

 

Traditionally, this is cooked in a large cast iron skillet, started on the stovetop, then placed in the oven. I choose to cook mine in a baking pan that fit my smaller convection oven, so I started everything on the stovetop, then made the transfer to the baking pan.

 

Now that the chicken has seared, we start the veggies.

 

I’m on a diet, so calories matter. Chicken drumsticks aren’t all that bad in the calorie count: about 100 calories for a medium-sized drumstick (whatever medium is)…and that’s with the skin on. No need to get into exact gram weight measurements here, but the real calories come later when you add a starch to the dish. It does go really well with pasta, rice or potatoes. (My choice would be fresh Italian bread to really sop up the sauce!) But alas…I had none of those. Just a salad on the side. I’ll bring the bread out once my diet’s over.

I go with organic ingredients whenever possible, especially kale, which is on the “Dirty Dozen” produce list almost every year. (Along with strawberries, potatoes, apples, and others, kale is one of the most heavily sprayed produce items you can buy. I always go organic.)

 

If sodium is not a problem for you, add more olives!

 

3–4 lbs. organic, pastured chicken drumsticks (about 12 medium)
salt, pepper and paprika
olive oil
2 small yellow onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, squeezed through a press
1 teaspoon each: dried oregano, parsley, and thyme
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock (homemade is best)
dry white wine (optional)
1/4 cup olives, sliced in half (I like green olives from Greece)
4 cups organic chopped kale (optional)

 

Pre-heat an oven to 350 degrees.

Season the chicken drumsticks with salt, pepper, and a bit of paprika.

Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a hot pan. Add the chicken to the pan, and sear the drumsticks on all sides, getting them nice and brown. It’ll take about 10–15 minutes.

Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and add the chopped onions to the same pan. Let them cook for a few minutes until they’re translucent, then add the garlic. Let the garlic cook for about 10 seconds, then add the oregano, parsley, and thyme. Now add the tomato paste and stir it all around, cooking it for just a minute to caramelize it and give it more flavor.

Pour in the can of tomatoes and the chicken stock, stirring well. (A splash of wine is optional at this point.) Add the olives and let the sauce cook for a few minutes.

 

The sauce is all happy, and ready for the baking pan.

 

Pour the sauce into the baking pan. Add the chicken drumsticks to the pan, nestling them in the sauce. (I like to roll them around in it to cover all sides.)

Place the pan in the oven to cook.

After 30 minutes, remove the pan from the oven, and remove the drumsticks from the sauce, moving them onto a plate.

 

It looks like a lot of kale, but it withers down. Remember: go organic!

 

Take the kale and place it in the baking pan, tossing it around in the sauce. The sauce is hot, so the kale will start to wither and meld into the sauce in about a minute.

 

The kale’s withered down, and the chicken goes back in.

 

Now return the chicken drumsticks back to the baking pan, nestling them in the sauce again. Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes. Turn the oven off and let the pan rest in the oven until you’re ready to serve.

 

Turn the oven off, but keep the door closed to keep the chicken warm.

 

Where’s that bread?…

 

 

Back in the 80’s, I worked at a radio station in Mobile, Alabama. My New York buddies thought I was crazy to move to the South, but that’s where the job was. When they realized that I was only a 2-hour ride from New Orleans, I wasn’t so crazy after all! What a great town. I spent every possible weekend there: the food, the music, the people…

When I moved to Rhode Island, I really missed all the fun of the Big Easy. So I decided to have a Mardi Gras party every year. I’d invite 80+ people, and I cooked all of the dishes myself. (Not bad for a single guy!) I made all the classics: red beans and rice, crawfish etouffe, gumbo, Cajun chicken (see my previous blog for the recipe), and, of course,  jambalaya.

 

image

For the seasoning mix:
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

 

I find it easier to measure and chop all the ingredients before I start cooking.

I find it easier to measure and chop all the ingredients before I start cooking.

 

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions, in all
1 1/2 cups finely chopped celery, in all
1 1/2 cups good quality chopped ham
1 1/2 cups chopped andouille sausage (Here in RI, I use local Portuguese chourico from Mello’s in Fall River, MA)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot)
3/4 cup tomato sauce made from pureed whole tomatoes
2 cups uncooked rice (I like Texmati brown basmati rice)
3 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
1 lb. peeled and de-veined wild-caught American shrimp

 

image

Over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan. Add 3/4 cup of the onions and 3/4 cup of the celery. Cook until the onions are translucent.

Stir in the seasoning mix, then the chopped ham and the chourico, and then the cayenne pepper sauce. Cook until the onions are a dark brown, about 20 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the remaining 3/4 cup of the onions and celery. Cook about 5 minutes.

Open a can of whole tomatoes and puree them in a food processor to make sauce. Add 3/4 cup of this and cook for about 5 minutes.

Stir in the rice, mixing well. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 12 minutes.

Add the chicken stock, stir well, and bring it all to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, over very low heat until the rice is tender but firm, about 15 minutes.

Remove the cover, toss in the shrimp, stir, then put the cover back on and cook for 5 minutes more.

 

Sometimes it’s hard to get wild-caught American shrimp at my local seafood store or supermarket. But for me, buying tiger shrimp or other Asian products is not an option. Once I learned about how they are farmed, I decided I’d never eat those shrimp again!

When I find wild-caught American shrimp locally, I buy extra to keep in the freezer. For many years, I bought my shrimp online from http://www.cajungrocer.com. Not only will you find shrimp there, you’ll find many other Cajun classics: King cakes, Turduckens, andouille and alligator sausage, even live crawfish. And the price of their shrimp, even with shipping, is the same as the nasty Asian shrimp you buy in the store. Make some room in your freezer, order large to save, and stock up on the real deal!

 

It’s Fat Tuesday! Laissez les bon temps roulez!

I lived in Mobile, Alabama back in the late 80’s, and if you asked the locals, they’d quickly tell you that Mardi Gras originated in Mobile, not New Orleans.

Joe Caine paraded through the streets of Mobile dressed in a Native American costume in 1868, and is credited for our current way of observing the Mardi Gras celebration. Of course, it’s hard not to think of New Orleans when you hear the phrase “Mardi Gras,” and I spent many a weekend on the streets and bars of the Crescent City back in the day.

It was then that I fell in love with Cajun food, and needed to learn how to cook it myself. I bought cookbooks by two of the greats: Justin Wilson and Paul Prudhomme. I learned about layers of seasoning, and often I’d use those ideas in my own dishes.

When I moved to Rhode Island in 1990, I had yearly Mardi Gras parties at my house, and I cooked massive batches of these Cajun chicken breasts, using a spice mix I learned from my cooking experiments. They’re so good, my daughter asks for them all the time.

Double-dipping in the seasoned flour is a messy step, but it makes them extra crunchy and flavorful.

 

fullsizerender-8

 

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon gumbo file (file powder), optional
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenders or breasts
4 eggs
oil for frying (I like using avocado oil and some pork fat for flavor)

 

Cut the chicken breasts into manageable pieces. If they’re thick, slice them horizontally to make two thinner breasts. A thick piece of chicken won’t cook all the way through.

Combine the flour, salt, paprika, onion, garlic, basil, white pepper, cayenne, black pepper, thyme and gumbo file in a bowl. Mix well.

I like to separate the 4 eggs, placing 2 eggs in 2 separate bowls. This keeps the first bowl “clean” and not gummed up with flour. You’ll see what I mean once you start, because it’s a bit messy. So, crack 2 eggs in the first bowl and the other 2 eggs in the second bowl. Scramble them up and put the bowls on either side of the seasoned flour bowl.

Pre-heat a pan of oil or a fryer to 350 degrees.

Dip the chicken in the first egg bowl and then the seasoned flour mixture. Shake off the excess flour and dip the chicken in the second egg bowl, making sure the flour is covered by egg. Then dip the chicken back into the flour for a second coat. Carefully place the chicken in the pan. Fry the chicken until it’s cooked all the way through and golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

 

Nothing like a hot, fresh batch!

 

If you need to feed a crowd, just double or triple the recipe. I used to make a 10x batch for my Mardi Gras parties!

 

 

Through years of tireless experimentation, I’ve come up with a barbecue sauce that I feel is the best I’ve ever made. Granted, everybody has their favorites, but I prefer a slightly sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. Unless I’m making a classic pulled pork sandwich, I usually avoid vinegar-based sauces.

What makes this sauce special is the citrus. I originally used lemon juice for this recipe and it was good. Lime juice with lime zest was better. I also tried oranges, tangerines, even Meyer lemons. But my breakthrough happened on a day when I was craving barbecued chicken and all I had in my fridge was a grapefruit. I thought: how bad could it be? Turned out to be the perfect foil to the sweetness of the brown sugar and ketchup.

My favorite chicken pieces are the leg quarters: thigh and drumstick all in one. Chicken breasts, even on pastured birds, are pretty flavorless and dry, so I pass on them for the darker meat that’s juicy and fatty. (Honestly, I find it hard to trust anyone that won’t eat meat off a bone.)

Cooking chicken in the oven before putting it on the grill has several advantages. I don’t have to stand over the grill, constantly worrying about the meat burning or the fire going out. I can simply set a timer when I need to brush on the barbecue sauce or remove the chicken pieces. And the chicken cooks evenly…one piece won’t be burned while another piece is undercooked. Cooking them low and slow in the oven keeps the chicken juicy and tender. And I’m assured that my chicken is thoroughly cooked…no worries about salmonella.

I pre-heat the oven to 350 just to get it nice and hot. I line a sheet pan with non-stick aluminum foil, placing the chicken pieces on it. I rub each piece with a little olive oil, and season them lightly with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. The chicken goes into the oven and I immediately lower the temperature to 200 degrees.

While the chicken is cooking, I combine all the barbecue sauce ingredients in a sauce pan, bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer, letting it cook for about 20 minutes, until it has thickened. Then I turn the heat off and set the pan aside.

I’ll bake the chicken for about an hour, taking the sheet pan out of the oven to brush the barbecue sauce on the pieces before returning to the oven again, now bringing the temperature up to 300 degrees. (Because there’s sugar in the barbecue sauce, I don’t want to crank the heat or it will burn.)

Taking the chicken out of the oven and brushing it with sauce.

 

In 30 minutes, I take the sheet pan out a second time, and brush the sauce on the chicken pieces again…then back in the 300-degree oven for another 30 minutes.

Once the chicken’s back in the oven, it’s time to start the grill. For projects like this, I like to use a small grill I bought for our family camping trips. It’s like a mini-Weber, and it grills enough food for 4 people easily, without wasting charcoal like a larger grill would.

These small grills are just 20 bucks, and they save you a ton of otherwise wasted, unused charcoal.

 

I use a smaller charcoal chimney for this project, and I use charcoal briquets, not hardwood, because I want an even fire. The coals are ashed over in just 10 minutes.

Out of the oven and onto the fire! The grill grate was nasty and rusty, so I just grabbed a clean one I had handy and popped it right on top. (I hate scrubbing grills!)

 

Once the chicken has cooked its total of 2 low-and-slow hours in the oven, I bring the pieces outside. I spread the coals evenly on my little grill, and place the chicken pieces on it, flipping the pieces so that both sides get nice and smokey with a little bit of char…about 5 or 10 minutes per side will do the trick.

Getting that char on the chicken is key to making it taste like it’s been on the grill all the time.

 

The chicken goes back to the kitchen, and while it’s still hot, I brush with the barbecue sauce one last time before serving.

 

 

Perfectly done…perfectly delicious!

 

Here is the magical barbecue sauce recipe…

1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
Juice and zest of 1 grapefruit
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce, like Frank’s Red Hot
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
(no salt)

Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan. Bring it to a boil and then turn it down low, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes, or until slightly thickened.

 

 

My buddy, Lee, and I had a discussion the other day about fresh versus frozen beef served at fast food restaurants.  What’s the big deal about fresh beef? Does it really make a difference?
Doing a little research, I found that the answer to that question is: yes and no.
Wendy’s claims their beef has always been fresh, since they first opened in 1969. Never one single frozen patty. Because the meat is fresh, it comes from local farms in North America and is delivered in refrigerated trucks to your local Wendy’s restaurant. They claim the flavor of fresh is better than the flavor of frozen.
They also go on to say that because their beef is fresh, it doesn’t come from “cheaper, far away places,” like Australia.
My experience with both Australian and New Zealand beef, shipped frozen, is that it is of very high quality. Where most American beef is fed corn, grains, antibiotics, and who knows what….beef from New Zealand and Australia is grass-fed.
Wendy’s claim that their beef was never frozen is really more of a marketing ploy to try to appeal to people who want to think they’re eating healthier food. The fact of the matter is, a properly frozen greasy burger is just as bad for you as a fresh one.
Giving in to Wendy’s ad campaign (and their taunting on Twitter),  McDonald’s brought in the fresh meat Quarter Pounder. (The rest of their burgers are still frozen.) Again, this really has nothing to do with good health. It’s strictly good marketing.
Personally, if my meat is going to be sitting around for more than 24 hours, I would rather keep it in a freezer, not a fridge, to reduce the possibility of contamination.

I like the taste of the Quarter Pounder Deluxe, though it isn’t a very big burger for the $7+ I paid for it.

The only negative of frozen beef can be the texture if it is not frozen properly. If you don’t place the meat in a freezer that’s cold enough, the beef doesn’t freeze quickly, and can form larger ice crystals that will change the texture of the flesh when the meat thaws.
If you’re not sure whether the quality of frozen beef is any good, simply ask your friendly neighborhood farmer…or hunter. My in-laws hunt deer and bear, and they process the entire animal, freezing the various cuts and putting them in a deep-freeze to enjoy later. I can tell you that when I’m allowed to share in the bounty, the frozen meat is absolutely delicious.
So my research tells me that fresh or frozen doesn’t matter. Go with quality, go with price…or go with what you think tastes better.
Whether you should go with meat or not…is another topic altogether. Plant-based burgers are all the rage, now that Burger King has introduced the Impossible Whopper.
But from a health standpoint, is it any better? Not really. Check the nutrition information below and you’ll see that most fast-food burgers are pretty similar when it comes to fat and calories. Even the plant-based ones aren’t healthier.

It tastes like a real burger…an overcooked, very dry real burger.

It all boils down to what your feelings are about eating meat. If factory farming makes you cringe (and it should), go with a plant-based burger. But remember this: If you’re going vegan because you don’t want to kill animals, many creatures, from ground birds to moles and voles, to rabbits to foxes, are killed by vegetable harvesting machinery. Unless you’re growing your own, or getting your veggies from a local farm that doesn’t use machinery, you’re substituting the life of one animal for another.

Burger King’s “real” Whopper.

As for fast-food flavor…my vote goes to McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Deluxe (not the plain one.) The beef patty is juicier because it’s thicker, so it doesn’t dry out like either Whopper. And it’s cooked to order. Both Whoppers are frozen patties that have liquid smoke added to simulate a grilled flavor, and have fake grill marks painted on them before cooking. The Dave’s Single from Wendy’s, the original fresh beef burger, is good, but small, like the Quarter Pounder, and greasier.

Dave’s Single from Wendy’s.

IMPOSSIBLE WHOPPER: (from Burger King‘s website)
Calories (Kcal): 630
Fat (g): 34
Cholesterol (mg): 10
Sodium (mg): 1080
Carbohydrates (g): 58
Fiber (g): 4
Sugar (g): 12
Protein (g): 25

Impossible Whopper: mayo, tomatoes and pickles keep it from being a dry brick.

REGULAR WHOPPER: (from Burger King‘s website)
Calories (Kcal): 660
Fat (g): 40
Saturated Fat (g): 12
Trans Fat (g): 1.5
Cholesterol (mg): 90
Sodium (mg): 980
Carbohydrates (g): 49
Fiber (g): 2
Sugar (g): 11
Protein (g): 28

The Whopper.

QUARTER POUNDER WITH CHEESE DELUXE: (from McDonald’s website)
Calories (Kcal): 650
Fat (g): 39
Saturated Fat (g): 15
Trans Fat (g): 1.5
Cholesterol (mg): 110
Sodium (mg): 1180
Carbohydrates (g): 44
Fiber (g): 3
Sugar (g): 11
Protein (g): 32

Quarter Pounder with Cheese Deluxe.

 

DAVE’S SINGLE: (from Wendy’s website)
Calories: 570
Fat (g): 34
Sat Fat (g): 13
Trans Fat (g): 1.5
Cholesterol (mg): 100
Sodium (mg): 1080
Carbohydrates (g): 38
Sugar (g): 8
Fiber (g): 2
Protein (g): 29

Dave’s Single was good, but quite greasy.

 

 

After tasting all these burgers, my choice is to go back to a humanely-raised grass-fed burger, but for that, I have to go to my own kitchen. I can’t get it through the window of my car.

 

PAN PIZZA, TWO WAYS

Posted: February 9, 2020 in Food, pizza, Recipes, restaurants
Tags: , , ,

Well, I posted my blog about pizza last week, not realizing today is National Pizza Day! So let’s talk pan pizza this time…

 

I got my first restaurant job when I was 17, working at Pizza City East, just down the street from my childhood home in Plainview, NY. It wasn’t a great job, but I learned an awful lot about food preparation. It’s where I opened and tasted my first clam on the half shell. It’s where I had my first sip of espresso and cappuccino. And it’s where I learned a lot about how to make really good pizza. My buddy, Mel, and I worked the counter. Mel made the pies and I did the rest: sandwiches, espressos, clams, and eventually even cooked in the kitchen. We were 2 hard-working slobs in high school, but we bonded in a way that kept us friends to this very day, over 40 years later.

So you could say pizza was in my blood. For me, the true test of a great pie is a simple slice with only sauce and cheese. It’s not easy to get that right, despite how easy it may look.

And for me, there was no other pizza than New York style Neapolitan pizza, the classic round pie with thin crust. I have no doubt that it would be my choice for the classic question: “If you were stuck on a desert island, and you could only have 1 food, what would it be?”

But then I discovered Sicilian pizza: it was thicker, square, and was baked on a large sheet pan. The crust was crisp on the bottom, and light and airy inside. I thought: OK, I have room for 2 favorite pizzas. And then, believe it or not, I went to Uno’s…(Pizzeria Uno back in the day)…and I had my first pan pizza. It was thick like Sicilian, but somehow different, and heavier on the sauce. But absolutely delicious. I finally settled on 3 favorite pizzas.

Despite having 3 favorite styles of pizza, I always cooked a Neapolitan pie when I made pizza at home. Perhaps it was a bit easier, or perhaps I just never felt I really made the perfect pizza, and I needed to keep trying. In either case, it meant that after 40 years of making my own pizza, I finally made a pan pizza for the first time just last year. And it was good…really good.

 

The dough is stretched out and ready to accept whatever tasty toppings you like!

 

The dough…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores, or online. Using ready-made store-bought dough saves a lot of work, and it’s great, too. Ratios for my dough recipe depend on the humidity in my kitchen on any given day, but my basic pizza dough recipe is as follows:

4–5 cups 00 flour
1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 tablespoon salt
1 packet Italian pizza yeast or regular dry yeast
a squirt of extra virgin olive oil

I mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer, then slowly add the water as it mixes. After the ingredients are well mixed, and the dough pulls from the side of the bowl, I remove it to a floured board, where I knead the dough by hand for another 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, shaping it into a ball. I rub a little olive oil over the ball of dough, place it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, and let it rise for 2 hours, punching it down after that. I roll it back into a ball, cover it, and let it rise another 2 hours again.

Let’s talk pans. For me, nothing beats a real heavy duty cast iron pan for this recipe…and I’ve got a large one. I brush olive oil generously all over the inside of the pan–even on the sides–and then place the dough in the center. Slowly, using my fingertips, I spread and flatten the dough out from the center evenly all the way around. I keep spreading and stretching until the dough just starts to come up the sides of the pan. I cover the pan with a clean towel, and turn the oven on to 450 degrees to pre-heat.

Leaving the pan on the stove top while the oven pre-heats will help the dough rise again. Meanwhile, I get my ingredients ready for my pizza.

 

Crumbled sausage on top of the pizza.

 

White pizza…

 

3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
mozzarella
Parmigiano Reggiano
Provolone cheese
dried oregano
crumbled Italian sweet sausage

 

The first time I made a pan pizza, my daughter requested a white pizza. I minced a bunch of garlic and lightly sautéed it in olive oil, being sure not to burn it. I set that aside.

I grated mozzarella cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano, setting them aside. I also use sliced provolone.

And this time, my daughter asked for sausage on the pizza, so I got a few mild Italian sausages, cut open the casings, and crumbled the meat in a bowl, setting it aside.

The oven should be pre-heated in about a half-hour, so it was time to make the pizza. I removed the towel covering the pizza dough, and stretched it out a bit more. Using a spoon, I spread the garlic and oil mixture evenly on the dough. I layed down 5 or 6 slices of provolone. I then sprinkled the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, followed by the mozzarella. I crumbled the sausage meat over half the pie (I like my side plain), and then I finally gave the pizza a sprinkling of oregano.

The pizza went into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. I kept an eye on it to make sure it didn’t burn.

 

My first pan pizza: half sausage white pizza.

 

My second pan pizza was a classic tomato sauce recipe…

I use canned crushed tomatoes for my tomato sauce pizza.

 

Tomato sauce pizza

1 cup crushed organic tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
mozzarella
peperoni, sliced thin
dried oregano

 

I like my tomato sauce to be a little chunky for my pan pizza, so I bought a can of crushed organic tomatoes. I placed about a cup of the crushed tomatoes in a bowl and added a teaspoon of sugar, mixing it well. This cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, and makes the pizza even better! I spooned out the tomatoes onto the the pizza dough. I sprinkled the mozzarella over the sauce. I layed slices of pepperoni on half the pizza (like I said, I like my side plain!), and I gave it a sprinkling of oregano.

 

Don’t skimp on the pepperoni!

 

The final product!

 

Delicious! Crispy crust on the outside, soft on the inside.

 

 

I’ve had a lot of pizza in my life. But truly great pizza? I can probably count that on one hand: Sicilian at Ben’s in the Village in NYC…Pizza Montanara at Pizzarte on W 55th in NYC…a coal-fired oven-baked clam pizza at Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, CT…Sicilian at La Piazza in my hometown of Plainview, NY…and now…my house!