Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

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!

If you want to know the measure of a truly great pizza, you gotta go bares bones and order a simple cheese pizza. It’s tough to hide behind a classic combination of dough, sauce and cheese. It either rocks or it sucks.

There are few foods that people take as personally as pizza. Tell someone your pizza place is better than their pizza place, and chances are you’ll start a fight. Well, my pizza place is better than your pizza place, because I make it at home. Besides, I can run faster than you.

I’m not going to say that much of the pizza that I’ve tried here in Rhode Island is mediocre, but I will say that I was born in Brooklyn and grew up working in many New York pizza places in my youth. So, yes, I do have a very strong opinion on what I think makes a good or bad pizza. And, alas, I’ve tried, but a good gluten-free pizza is not yet within reach. The frozen ones you get in stores are passable, but making one at home has been nothing short of a disaster…and don’t even talk to me about using cauliflower!

My homemade pizza is all about the basics. The better quality my original ingredients are, the better my pizza will be:

 

More cheese = better pizza, right?

 

 

The dough…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores,  or online. Ratios for this 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 tepid water
1 tablespoon salt
1 packet Italian pizza 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 at room temp for 2 hours, punching it down after that, and letting it rise another 2 hours again.

The sauce…

I’ve written an earlier blog about real and fake cans of San Marzano tomatoes. I feel that San Marzanos make the best sauce, but not all cans of San Marzanos are created equal. The only way you can be guaranteed you have a real can of these beauties, grown in volcanic Italian soil in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, is by the D.O.P. designation on the can. (D.O.P. stands for “Denominazione d’Origine Protetta,” and signifies that it’s the real deal.) Anything else that says San Marzano may not be.

San Marzanos are so amazing, that all I do is puree them in a food processor, pour the sauce into a pan, and let it reduce until it has thickened. No spices or additions of any kind.

 

Simple and delicious.

 

The cheese…

I don’t need to go super-fancy with mozzarella di bufala (cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo) …but I don’t use the mass-produced supermarket stuff, either. Fresh mozzarella, found in most supermarkets, is how I roll.

 

The toppings…

Most of the time, I go plain cheese. But when I do decide to add toppings, one of my favorites is my marinated beef tenderloin and fried chive blossom pizza. I marinate and grill a piece of beef tenderloin, slicing it thin. And in the springtime, when my chive plants are budding like crazy, I snip the blossoms before they open and place them in Ziploc freezer bags to use all year-long. When it’s time, I grab a handful of the blossoms and fry them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and sprinkle them over the top of the beef tenderloin pizza. A touch of Fleur de Sel on top seals the deal.

 

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

 

The oven…

Many professional pizza ovens reach a temperature of 1000 degrees. My home oven only reaches 500, but it does the trick. I do use a pizza stone, and place it on the center rack of the oven, and let it heat up thoroughly (about an hour) before sliding a pizza onto it for cooking.

 

Thick pan pizza, which is easy to create at home if you’ve got a cast iron skillet, is a completely different animal, and the subject of another blog.

 

My favorite pizza?

I haven’t been to every pizzeria on this here planet, but I’ve been to a few, and for my money, the best pizza I’ve ever had is something called pizza montanara. They take the pizza dough, stretch it out, then fry it in olive oil for a minute so that it puffs up like a beautiful pillow, then they add the sauce and mozzarella di bufala on top and place it in a wood burning oven to cook. Garnished with a basil leaf, it is absolute pizza perfection, and my favorite place to get it was Pizzarte on West 55th St. in Manhattan. However, recently, much to my dismay, they took it off the menu. (But I’ve heard that you can still special order it.)

The original location of Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana in New Haven, CT, is the home of the clam pizza, a very different and very delicious pie. And locally, in my neighborhood of Southern New England, I’ve had excellent pizza at Al Forno in Providence, RI, the restaurant that started the grilled pizza craze…and Fellini Pizzeria, on the east side of Providence, RI and in Cranston, RI, home of a wonderful New York-style thin crust pie.

The “paste” used in this dish is really more like a citrusy pesto that you smear all over the meat before cooking, preferably the day before. The citrus flavors work really well with the pork, and the initial high-heat cooking really gets the fat crispy and delicious. I used a pork loin here…but this is fantastic on a pork belly! Don’t use a pork tenderloin, but it’s very lean and will dry out.

image

 

1 pork loin, about 8 lbs. (I use Berkshire pork)
zest of 2 oranges
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
3 cloves garlic, through a press
1/4 cup olive oil

 

In a food processor, combine the orange and lemon zest, the rosemary, sage, salt and pepper, and garlic. Pulse the processor just to mix, then turn it on and add the olive oil slowly, in a stream, until you get what resembles an oily pesto.

Score the fatty side of the pork loin with a knife in a diamond pattern. Rub the paste on all sides of the pork, but especially into the cracks of the fatty side.

Lay the loin down on a rack, raised off a sheet pan, fatty side up. Place it in the fridge, unwrapped, overnight.

The next day, about an hour before cooking, remove the loin from the fridge and let it come back to room temperature.

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Bake the pork loin at 450 for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 and cook until the pork reaches a temperature of 140 degrees (light pink). Let it rest for 15 minutes before serving.

 

image

 

Calamari is the official appetizer of the state of Rhode Island. And for good reason. Squid means big business, and what we catch in Rhode Island accounts for up to 50% of the east coast’s quota every year! Squid have a lifespan of 12 to 18 months, reproduce twice a year, and can be caught year-round, with very few catch limitations, making it lucrative for fishermen.

Great fried calamari is an art form. It may seem like a simple dish, but to make it light and crispy, you need to be on your game. That’s why it can be a real hit-or-miss item on most restaurant menus. And there’s nothing worse than getting what would have been a great plate of calamari had the chef not decided to pour sauce all over it, turning the crispy cephalopod into mush.

What makes great fried calamari are three basic elements: it needs to be wild-caught in the US (preferably Rhode Island!)…properly cleaned…it needs to be fried at the right temperature for the right amount of time so that it’s perfectly cooked and not greasy…and the coating needs to be light and crispy.

 

calamari

 

1 lb. wild caught cleaned squid (thaw if frozen)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1  teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup milk
1 large egg
oil, for frying (I use avocado oil)

Thaw the squid and slice them into bite-sized pieces. In a bowl, whisk the milk and the egg together. Toss in all the squid pieces into the bowl to coat. Place the bowl in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

In another bowl, combine the flour, oregano, paprika, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Set it aside.

Fill a large pan halfway with oil…or use a deep fryer if you have one. Heat the oil to 350 degrees.

Working in small batches, remove the squid from the milk and egg mixture, letting some of it drip off, then place the squid in the flour mixture and toss to coat. Shake off any excess flour and place it immediately into the hot oil. Fry the squid until it’s golden brown, about 4 minutes. Serve it immediately with tartare sauce, tomato sauce, hot peppers, whatever you like. (But keep the sauces on the side for dipping.)

About the oil: I cook almost exclusively with olive oil. But for hot frying like this recipe requires, I go with avocado oil, which can take higher temperatures.

Winter is here. It’s time for some serious comfort food.

Years ago, when I received a shipment of venison from my father-in-law, an avid hunter that lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I knew that although I could certainly use beef for this dish, it would be absolutely stellar with venison. I’ve made it several times since then, with beef or venison, with delicious results!

 

image

Olive oil
3 red onions, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons butter, plus extra
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
10 oz. baby bella mushrooms, chopped
3 lbs. venison (or beef), cut into 3/4″ cubes
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
Salt and pepper
24 oz. of your favorite lager or stout
3 tablespoons flour
12 oz. freshly grated cheddar cheese
1 1/2 pounds store-bought puff pastry (all butter is best)
1 large egg, beaten

 

Pre-heat the oven to 375.

In a large oven-proof pan, heat a few tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onions and fry gently for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat up and add the garlic, butter, carrots, celery and mushrooms. Stir well, then add the venison, rosemary, and a teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

Sauté on high for about 4 minutes, then add the beer, making sure you take a swig for luck! Stir in the flour and add just enough water to cover. Bring it to a simmer, cover the pan with a lid or foil, and cook it in the pre-heated oven for about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove it from the oven after 1 1/2 hours and stir it a bit to combine all the flavors. Put it back in the oven (covered) and cook another hour, until the meat is cooked and the stew is rich, dark and thick. If it’s still liquidy, place the pan on the stove top and reduce it until the sauce thickens. (You don’t want a soupy stew or you’ll get soggy puff pastry later.) Remove the pan from the heat and stir in half the cheese. Taste it to see if it needs seasoning, but remember there’s more salt coming when you add the rest of the cheese. Set it aside to cool.

Depending on whether your puff pastry comes in sheets or a block, you’ll need to use a rolling-pin to get it into sheets about 1/8″ thick. Butter a good-sized pie dish or an oven-proof terrine, like the one in the photo above. Line the dish with the sheets of pastry, letting the pastry hang over the sides. Pour in the stew, even it out with a spatula, and add the rest of the grated cheese on top.

Use another 1/8″ thick sheet of pastry (or a couple if they’re not wide enough) to cover the top of the pie dish. Lightly crisscross the top with a knife, then fold over the overhanging pieces of pastry over the lid, making it look nice and rustic. Don’t cut or throw any of the extra pastry away! Find a way to use as much as you can, since everyone will want some.

Brush the top with the beaten egg and then bake the pie on the bottom of the oven for about 45 minutes, until the pastry has cooked, and it’s beautifully puffed and golden. Serve with a side of peas (and beer!)

 

 

 

 

Shrimp with an orange sauce is something you see on every Chinese restaurant menu. I didn’t have oranges, but wanted a citrus kick to my sweet and spicy sauce. I went with grapefruit and I never looked back!

Although I call this recipe “Asian shrimp,” I never buy my shrimp from Asia! Only wild-caught American shrimp will ever do. When you realize just how nasty Asian shrimp can be (farmed in over-crowded conditions, swimming in their own filth and fed chemical food pellets and antibiotics) you’ll never eat it again.

Green beans looked good in the produce aisle, so I used them, but feel free to substitute with broccoli, asparagus, or any veggies you like.

Chili garlic sauce and hoisin sauce can be found in most supermarkets, in the international foods section.

As long as you use gluten-free soy sauce and hoisin sauce (the brand La Choy is GF), this dish is gluten-free!

 

image

 

For the rice:

1 cup cooked basmati rice (I use Texmati brown rice)
2 cups seafood stock (I use homemade shrimp and fish stock, but vegetable stock will work)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 scallions, finely chopped

 

For the veggies:

1/2 Vidalia onion, finely chopped
1 lb. fresh green beans, washed and cut into 1/4′ pieces
1 teaspoon soy sauce
splash of peanut oil

 

For the shrimp:

2 dozen thawed, peeled and de-veined wild-caught USA shrimp
1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
juice and zest of 1 grapefruit
splash of peanut oil

 

Making your own seafood stock is easy: just peel the shrimp you’re going to use in this recipe, and place the shells in a saucepan full of water. Let it boil until you’ve reduced it to 2 cups. Strain out the shells and discard them. Then use the stock to cook your rice, according to the package directions. Once the rice is cooked, toss in the chopped scallions, mix well, and set the rice aside.

Add peanut oil to a hot pan and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the green beans and cook them until they’re al dente. Add the soy sauce, stir, and then pour the contents of the pan into the rice. Mix well.

Using the same pan, add a little more peanut oil and sear the shrimp on both sides. Don’t overcook them! Push the shrimp to the sides of the pan so that a circle remains in the middle. Add the chili garlic sauce and hoysin sauce and stir them together, then blending in the shrimp until the shrimp are covered with the sauce. Add the grapefruit zest and juice and stir until everything is combined and the sauce has thickened just a bit.

Pour the contents of the pan into the rice mix and combine. Add more soy sauce to the rice, if you like.

I rarely order beef at a restaurant, because I can usually make a better steak at home. For one thing, I use humanely raised grass-fed beef, something few restaurants offer. And I can cook it for less than a third of the price of a steakhouse. Granted, most steakhouses dry-age their beef, a time-consuming process of taking slabs of beef and keeping them in a fridge for weeks until a certain amount of moisture is sucked out of the meat, intensifying the flavor. I can do that at home in my fridge, but it takes a lot of time and effort.

There is one steak that I couldn’t match for the longest time, and that was the Capital Grille’s bone-in Kona crusted dry-aged NY strip. I would have dreams about that steak! It was time to find a way to make something that would satisfy my craving for that amazing steak at home.

Looking at a variety of coffee rub recipes on-line, I started the slow and steady process of combining ingredients in just the right proportions, tasting as I went. What I came up with really accentuated the flavor of the beef I was cooking, better than I had imagined!

img_0100

 

3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground coffee (use your favorite)
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

 

Combine the ingredients, mixing well, and keep them in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.

When using, sprinkle the seasoning liberally on both sides of the steak before cooking. Searing a steak on all sides in a cast iron skillet and then finishing it in the oven is a great way to cook a slab of beef, but let’s face it: nothing beats the grill!

img_0104

 

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.

 

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. But 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.)

 

Just out of the smoker! Diamond-shaped slashes in the fat allow more of the rub to penetrate while curing.

 

To make the basic dry cure:

1/2 lb. kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar or turbinado sugar
1 oz. pink curing salt

Mix the ingredients well.

An important note: all Kosher salts do not all weigh the same! The two largest brands, Morton’s and Diamond Crystal, for example, are very different (Morton’s is heavier), so always go by the weight and not by a cup measurement.

Once the dry cure is mixed, I keep it stored in my pantry, ready to use when I need it.

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

 

My improved bacon rub:

1 cup basic dry cure (above)
3 tablespoons Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal in my recipes, for consistency)
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion

Mix these ingredients well. Rub it generously all over the pork belly. I like to slash the fat side of the pork belly with a knife, to make sure the rub permeates the meat.

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 brine. This brine will continue to cure your pork belly, so leave it in there. Just flip it, push the belly down into the liquid, then put the lid back on the container, and back in the fridge.

 

Pork belly in…bacon out!

 

In two or three weeks, once the pork belly has cured, rinse the belly with cold clean water, and pat it dry with paper towels. Now it’s time to cook. You can simply cook the pork belly at 200 degrees for about 2 hours…or smoke it. I place the pork belly in a digital smoker, which allows me to set an exact temperature. I smoke it at 250 degrees for at least 2 hours, using hickory chips.

 

 

Smoked bacon

And now it’s bacon!

That’s it. You have achieved bacon!

The reward is so worth the effort.
Smoking the pork belly won’t necessarily cook it all the way through, so you still have to slice it and fry it before eating. (Would you eat a raw package of bacon from the store? …Exactly!) 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 two or three? It freezes well. And…you will eat it. You know you will!
Frying in the pan!

Frying in the pan!

 

Slicing the bacon up for freezing.