Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

It’s Father’s Day and it’s a hot one here in New England. Time to make a delicious cold soup that always reminds me of my Dad…

It’s interesting that an Eastern European country that is as far north as Newfoundland has one of the most refreshing cold summer soups of any country in Europe. It’s a cold beet soup called Šaltibarščiai (pronounced shul-tih barsh-chay) and it’s classic Lithuanian cooking at its best.

No summer was complete without my Mom’s Šaltibarščiai on the table, and my Dad always insisted on eating it with boiled potatoes on the side. Now residing in an assisted living facility, my Mom has not had this soup in many years, so I made her a batch when she came to visit recently.

There are many different variations of this soup. For example, many Lithuanians today use keffir instead of buttermilk. My Mom insists buttermilk tastes better, and I have to agree.

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1 quart buttermilk
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
8 beets, cooked, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
1 scallion, finely chopped, greens only
salt
a pile of boiled potatoes (optional)

 

Pour the buttermilk into a large bowl. If it’s very thick, you can dilute it a bit with fresh water.

Peel and chop the eggs and toss them in the bowl. Peel, seed and chop the cukes…then into the bowl.

I love Love Beets, hermetically sealed cooked and peeled beets, ready to use, available in most supermarkets. (In the old days, my Mom would simply use canned beets.) I open a couple of packs of Love Beets, pouring the beet juice into the bowl. I chop the beets and add them as well.

Grab some fresh dill and chop it finely. Add it to the bowl. Finely chop the greens of one or two scallions and sprinkle some salt on them. Rub the salt into the scallions, mashing them a bit, softening them. Then add the to the bowl.

Stir everything together, put a lid on the bowl, and let it chill in the fridge for a few hours.

Remove from fridge, stir, and season with more salt if needed.

 

This is a great side dish for any special occasion. And you can substitute to suit your needs. Goat cheese not your speed? Try Gruyère or smoked gouda. Need it to be gluten-free? Use GF breadcrumbs. Don’t like mushrooms? Okay…I can’t help you there…

 

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1 package large white mushrooms
olive oil
1/2 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, through a press
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
fresh goat cheese
bread crumbs
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

 

 

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse the mushrooms in cold water to clean them. Remove the stems of the mushrooms and set them aside. Rub the mushroom caps with olive oil and place them on a baking sheet, open side-down, in a 400-degree oven for a few minutes.

In a pan, sauté the shallot and garlic in a little olive oil. Chop the mushroom stems finely and add them to the pan. Add the thyme and pepper flakes.

Reduce the oven temp to 350 degrees after removing the mushroom caps. Flip the mushroom caps over so that they look like little bowls. Break off a small piece of goat cheese and place it in each mushroom. Top each with the sautéed shallot mixture. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top and sprinkle parsley over that.

Return the baking sheet to the oven, cooking the mushrooms until they are lightly golden in color, and the cheese has melted.

 

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Mushroom myth: Soaking mushrooms in cold water makes them mushy. Not true! Alton Brown, on an old episode of “Good Eats” on the Food Network, showed that mushrooms do not soak up any water when left to soak for even 30 minutes. So use your mushroom brush…use your kitchen towel…whatever you like. But I prefer to get them clean simply with cold water.

 

 

I’ve got a pizza bucket list. I’ve been to Lombardi’s. Al Forno in Providence claims the rights to the first (and some argue the best) grilled pizza. Dying to go to DiFara’s in Brooklyn…Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. And I’ve tried going to Frank Pepe’s original location in New Haven, CT for years. Right off Rt 95, it’s easy to get to, in New Haven’s Little Italy neighborhood on Wooster St. The problem was, every time I stopped by, the line was down the street and parking was impossible. Take-out was not an option. My first visit had to be inside, at a table.

I never gave up!

My chance finally arrived recently, when my daughter and I were returning home to Rhode Island from a weekend in New York City. It was a cloudy Sunday afternoon. I found a parking space…we were third in line at the door…could we really be going inside Frank Pepe’s? Yes!!

 

Our booth was literally one step in and a step to the right. Boom. We sat. We looked around. We breathed it all in. It was loud. People were happy. They were eating pizza!

Soon it was our turn to order. I had no choice but to order a white clam pizza, the stuff of legend at Frank Pepe. That had to be my first bite there. My daughter ordered a large margherita pizza…and we were off!

 

 

We started by sharing a Caesar salad. Good…but not why we came here!

 

 

Soon, the pies arrived…the margherita came first, served on a large rectangular sheet pan, not the standard round pizza pan. And it was HUGE. We didn’t have a problem with that! It looked and smelled amazing. Moments later, our server brought out a metal frame that allowed for a second level of pizza…and my white clam pie arrived!

 

 

The white clam pizza is so simple: a thin crust, fresh clams, olive oil, some cheese, oregano. But the oven…that magical oven…is as much of an important ingredient as anything on the pizza itself. A coal-fired oven that burns hot and dry, not wet like a wood fire…an oven that dates back to 1936, when Frank Pepe moved from his original bakery location to a spot right next door, where it still stands today, at 157 Wooster St. That means my pizza “touched” every other pizza made at Frank Pepe’s…perhaps even a molecule of Frank’s first pie touched mine. Whatever…my first bite was pure magic. My daughter’s reaction to the margherita was the same.

 

 

 

The pies were huge, so we boxed up whatever we couldn’t finish and brought it home. When I asked my daughter what she wanted for dinner that night, she simply smiled and said: “More of that pizza!” I couldn’t agree more!

Frank Pepe’s now has 10 locations in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and their newest location: in my little state of Rhode Island. But for me, the only place to go is New Haven: the oven, the atmosphere…you can’t replicate that anywhere else.

 

That hook hanging from the ceiling holds the handle of the long pizza peel in the air so they don’t smack into it. (See the peels on the left.) The pizza oven is so deep, they can go about 4 pizzas deep at one time. It takes a real pro to keep them all cooking perfectly.

 

 

 

A side note: Frank Pepe originally opened a bakery in 1925 at 163 Wooster St., now doing business as Frank Pepe’s the Spot. When he got tired of baking and delivering bread, he decided he would start making pizza, so that his customers would come to him instead.

He sold that bakery to move in next door at 157 Wooster St., in 1936, and that’s been the location of Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana ever since.

Frank’s daughters bought back the bakery years later, and so now you can visit either location for a taste of history.

And Frank’s nephew, Salvatore, opened his own pizzeria: Sally’s Apizza, a must-stop for me the next time I’m passing through New Haven.

 

One of the most incredible dishes I’ve had on the beautiful island of Santorini, Greece, is lobster with pasta. It’s one of those dishes that takes time to prepare, because the pasta lobster sauce they make is a labor of love…time consuming, but so spectacular.

Cooked lobster LTL

I often have friends over for dinner, but when I prepared this dish for them recently, it was the first time they all licked their plates clean!

To try to copy that lobster sauce we had in Santorini, I started with a kick-ass lobster stock. It’s simple but flavorful:

 

clean, empty claws, tails and bodies from two 1-1/2 lb. lobsters (use the legs, too)
12 cups water
1/2 onion
3 celery stalks
1 carrot

Place all the ingredients in a large pot and set it on high heat. Crush the lobster shells (I use a potato masher!) Cook until the stock is reduced by half.

Strain the stock, discarding the lobster shells and veggies. Bring the stock back to the heat and reduce it until all you have left is 1 cup of intense stock.

 

 

Pasta with lobster sauce

Now that you have the stock, you can make the sauce!

 

1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
pinch of Italian red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon parsley
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup lobster stock
1/4 cup San Marzano tomato sauce (see below)
splash of white wine (I use Alice white Chardonnay)
salt and pepper
1/2 lb. cooked pasta

Add some olive oil to a pan and saute the onions until translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and cook for 10 seconds. Add the red pepper flakes and parsley.

Add 1/4 cup of the lobster stock and let it cook, reducing by half. Add the other 1/4 cup of lobster stock and then the tomato sauce. Let it cook for a couple of minutes and add the white wine. Cook for a few minutes more.

Cook the pasta and drain it even before it reaches the al dente stage. Place the pasta in the pan with the sauce, heating and coating it thoroughly. Serve immediately, with or without the lobster meat.

 

For the San Marzano tomato sauce: I pour a can of San Marzano tomatoes  into a food processor or Vita-Mix and blend until I get sauce. Pour into a pan and reduce over medium heat by half, until sauce has thickened.

Bulgogi is the name given to the most common form of Korean barbecue. Unlike the daeji bulgogi that I cooked in a previous blog, this one is not based on a chili sauce that can take the roof of your mouth right off.

I used chicken, though this would work with pork as well, and for the best flavor, it’s best to marinate the meat in the fridge overnight.

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2/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup chopped scallions
6 tablespoons sugar (I use organic cane sugar)
5 tablespoons fresh garlic, grated or through a garlic press
5 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon black pepper
5 lbs. chicken pieces (skin-on thighs work best)

 

Combine all the ingredients except for the chicken in a bowl and mix well.

Place the chicken pieces in a large Ziploc bag and pour the marinade in. Seal the bag well and squish it around to make sure the marinade makes contact with the chicken. Place the bag in a bowl (to prevent accidental leakage) and keep it in the fridge overnight. Squish the bag around every few hours to make sure the marinade does its job.

When ready to cook the next day, pre-heat the oven to 350 and remove the bag from the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Place the chicken on a sheet pan (discard the remaining marinade) and bake for an hour.

Light a hot grill and push the coals to one side of the grill. Place the chicken pieces on the cool side of the grill and close the lid, opening the vents. Every few minutes, turn the chicken pieces over so they get nice grill marks but
don’t burn.

 

 

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There are very few sandwiches more perfect than the BLT, and I would be a fool to try to improve on it. Freshly toasted bread, a slathering of mayo (Hellman’s only, of course), crisp lettuce, fresh juicy sliced tomato, and my own homemade bacon. What could be better?

I recently tried my hand at smoking and slow-roasting a huge slab of grass-fed beef brisket, and it came out beautifully. Rich and smoky, there was far too much of it for a mere mortal like myself to polish it off, even if I ate it for days in a row. So I cut the brisket into more manageable sized slabs, wrapped them and placed them in the freezer.

 

beef brisket

 

I took one of those slabs out of the freezer the other day, and noticed that, with the grain of the meat and fat, it resembled bacon. And then it dawned on me: I could slice it like thick-cut bacon, fry it in a pan, and make my own BLT with it: a Brisket, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich!

 

steakon!

 

The end result was fantastic. Quite different than the infamous BLT, but a beefy winner in its own right.

 

Alz BLT: Brisket, Lettuce and Tomato

Alz BLT: Brisket, Lettuce and Tomato

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

The asparagus bed is winding down for the season in the home garden right now. Like tomatoes, asparagus is at its very best at the peak of the season, and I don’t really want to eat it in the off-season, when it comes from South America, all dried up and tasting like twigs. So now is my last opportunity to gorge!
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want variety! It’s great straight out of the garden, or served raw in a salad. It’s delicious pickled, or simply tossed in olive and baked in the oven. But here’s a recipe that’s one of my family’s favorites…
4 mild Italian sausages, sliced into pieces 1/2″ thick
1 lb. penne pasta
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh trumpet mushrooms (white button mushrooms work, too)
2 cups fresh asparagus, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, passed through a garlic press
1 cup homemade chicken broth
6 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Have the pasta water boiling, and add the pasta, cooking until just a bit more undercooked than al dente.
Heat a large pan, and drizzle in some olive oil. Saute the sausage pieces until browned and cooked through, but not over cooked. Remove the sausages from the pan and place them in a separate bowl. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat left behind in the pan.
Place the pan back on stove and saute the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, and saute for 10 seconds. Add the sage, and saute for 10 seconds, stirring. Add the chopped mushrooms and saute for a few minutes, then add the chicken broth, and simmer until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Pour the contents of the pan into the bowl with the sausages.
Return the pan to the stove, add a little more olive oil, and on medium heat, saute the asparagus pieces. Cook them until they are al dente, not too soft. Once the asparagus has reached this stage, return all the contents of the sausage/mushroom bowl to the pan to heat through. Drain the pasta, and add it to the pan as well, combining all the ingredients. If it looks too dry, add a little pasta water to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
Make sure you serve this hot, with grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top, and drizzle lightly over the top with extra virgin olive oil.

 

CHIVE TALKIN’

Posted: May 24, 2018 in Food, garden, pizza, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

This is the time of year when the chives in my herb garden are busting out with blossoms. Before they pop, I head out every few days and snip the larger ones off the chive plants with about 3 inches of the green stem, wrap them in freezer bags and freeze them.

 

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I use those blossoms over the course of the year on a variety of dishes, but they really shine on my signature marinated beef and chive blossom pizza. I just take a packet of chive blossoms out of the freezer, and sauté them lightly in olive oil and salt and pepper, then sprinkle them on the pizza before baking.

 

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

 

Pick 'em and freeze 'em in May!

Pick ’em and freeze ’em in May!

Chive blossoms not only add great flavor, but they look cool on the plate, too.  I’ll add them as a side to almost any meat dish, or chop them after sauteing and sprinkle them in rice or quinoa.

 

When asparagus is in season, it’s time to gorge. I’ve got it growing in my yard, and the patch gets bigger and happier every year with minimal maintenance…definitely one of those veggies every lazy gardener should grow.

I love it raw, chopped into salads, pickled, oven-roasted, and in pasta dishes. This is a great side dish with any main course slab of meat.

 

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1 lb. fresh asparagus spears
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
salt and pepper

The easy way to trim asparagus spears is to grab the thicker end between two fingers and bend it. It will snap at the point where the tough part ends and the softer, edible part begins. Toss the bottoms into your compost pile.

Heat the butter and oil in a pan and then add the asparagus spears. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until al dente. You don’t want them mushy.

While the asparagus is still in the pan, sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, letting it melt a bit. Season with salt and pepper.

That’s it! With fresh garden asparagus, it’s all you need! I ate this batch right out of the pan!