Archive for the ‘Rhode Island’ Category

Nothing says summer here in New England like a lobster roll. But I don’t go to a clam shack to get one. The prices are ridiculous, the meat can be overcooked, and they often add ingredients I don’t want.

I start with fresh lobster. I get it from my lobster man buddy, Gary, just down the street at his dock in Tiverton, RI. Gary’s brother runs the Sakonnet Lobster Company on Sakonnet Point in Little Compton, RI. It’s just steps away from Saule, our rental property. (Check it out at http://www.sauleri.com)

 

A view of the Sakonnet River from the back of Gary's lobster boat, the Edna Mae

A view of the Sakonnet River from the back of Gary’s lobster boat, the Edna Mae

 

Once you’ve bought your live lobster, the next step is to cook it right. Some people steam and some people boil. I’ve always been a boiler myself. I fill a large pot half way-to-2/3’s with water and add sea salt. I bring it to a rolling boil before the lobsters go in. And then I do the math…

I boil my lobsters for 10 minutes per pound, for the first pound. Then I add 3 minutes per pound for each additional pound thereafter. For example, a 2 pound lobster should boil for 13 minutes and a 1 1/2 pound lobster should boil for 11 1/2 minutes. These times are for hard shell lobsters, if cooking new shell (soft shell lobsters) reduce the boiling time by three minutes.

 

Lobster catch LTL

 

A larger lobster is not always better. My uncle used to buy the largest lobster he could find, and it was impressive when he placed at the center of the dinner table. But the meat was like rubber. And personally, I felt bad for the old lobster that made it that far in life. His last days should’ve be in the ocean, not on a plate.

My maximum lobster size is 2 lbs. At that weight, you have the perfect ratio of meat-to-shell…with lots of delicious meat that is still sweet and tender. It’s perfect.

After the lobsters have been removed from the pot and have cooled for a few minutes, I get to work: cracking the claws and tail and removing every bit of beautiful meat I can find. Lobster lovers will tell you that the legs have some meat in them and that the tomalley (the green liver and pancreas) and roe (eggs) are delicacies not to be missed. For the purpose of making lobster salad, I don’t use these parts. But I do save the tomalley and roe for a separate treat…and I save all the legs and cleaned empty shells for lobster stock.

Cleaning lobster legs is easy: simply remove all the legs from the body and place them flat on a cutting board. Grab a rolling-pin, and one at a time, roll the pin over the lobster legs, starting at the claw end and working your way up. Like a tube of toothpaste, the meat will squeeze right out of the leg!

 

Lobster roll LTL

 

Now for the important stuff. What goes in a lobster roll, and more importantly, what doesn’t… I have very strong opinions in this matter.

First, there should NEVER be anything green in a lobster roll! No celery, no pickle, and it certainly shouldn’t be sitting on a lettuce leaf!

No paprika or Old Bay seasoning. A pinch of celery salt? Sure. Mayonnaise? Only Hellman’s. White pepper, not black, and just a touch. Salt? A pinch of Fleur de Sel. And the secret weapon to bring out all the flavors: the tiniest squeeze of fresh lemon juice…not enough to give it a lemon flavor…just to brighten the taste.

As for the roll, I prefer those long Martin’s potato rolls: soft and squishy straight out of the bag or for extra decadence: lightly grilled with a little melted butter brushed on.

 

A while ago, we were invited to a very cool retro summer party: cocktails and appetizers from the 60’s, and everyone contributed to the music by bringing in their favorite songs on vinyl. (I brought in a copy of the First Edition’s “Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was In)” featuring a very young Kenny Rogers. Very trippy.

We were also asked to contribute to the apps, so we brought waffle chips with clam dip. Clam dip is a classic, and it’s really easy to make. And the bowl was practically licked clean by our party-going friends!

image

2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
3 6-oz. cans of chopped clams, drained, liquid reserved from one can
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all the ingredients, except the clam liquid, in a bowl and mix well with a fork.

Add 1 tablespoon of the clam liquid and mix well. Keep adding the clam liquid until the dip reaches a consistency you like.

Serve with potato chips.

image

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.

 

image

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!

 

 

This past weekend, I was at the annual Providence Art Club Founder’s Day celebration, raising a glass in their honor. And I was again asked to create the drink we toasted the evening with!

First, some history…

The Providence Art Club is the third-oldest art club in the United States. The Philadelphia Sketch Club was founded in 1860. New York’s Salmagundi Club, founded in 1871, came next. But they were both founded by an all-male board. The Providence Art Club is the oldest art club in the nation that also included women. And that was back in 1880! That’s especially huge when you see what’s going on in our country even today…and it’s even more special to me because my wife was elected president of the Providence Art Club  last year, making her only the second woman to hold that post in the club’s history!

 

 

1

 

Several years ago, they asked me to come up with a cocktail for their first Founders Day celebration. One hundred glasses were raised to honor the founding fathers of the Providence Art Club.

Silhouettes of past art club founders, influential members, and presidents line the walls of the Providence Art Club, so my wife came up with the name of the cocktail: The Silhouette. Little did she know that her own silhouette would grace the hallowed walls of the Providence Art Club this year!
In the past, I based my Silhouette cocktail on the Boulevardier, a delicious but strong drink that substitutes bourbon for gin in the classic Negroni. (See the recipe at the bottom of this page.)
But with my wife’s election as the new president at the art club, I thought a new Silhouette was in order, too…and it’s my own recipe for a cocktail I’ve made for many years. I call it Velvet Elvis. Keeping the silhouette theme, we decided to call it The Velvet Silhouette for this Founders’ Day celebration.
The Velvet Silhouette is my version of a fresh pineapple-infused vanilla vodka. (I use Stoli Vanil.) Here’s how it’s done…
Get a gallon-sized glass jar with a lid. Peel, core and slice the pineapple, and place all the pieces in the jar.
Pour in one 1.75l bottle of Stoli Vanil. Swirl to mix, then screw the lid on and keep the jar at room temperature for 3 weeks.
After 3 weeks, strain the liquid, making sure to squeeze out as much as you can from the pineapple pieces. Discard the pineapple and keep the Velvet Silhouette in the fridge until ready to serve. Serve it on the rocks, or as a martini, shaken in a cocktail shaker with ice.

Toasting at the Providence Art Club with the Velvet Silhouette.

 

The original Silhouette was mighty tasty, but a bit too strong for some of the senior art club members. Nonetheless, a favorite of mine. Here’s the recipe…
image
2 oz. Eagle Rare 10-year bourbon
1 oz. Antica Formula sweet vermouth
1/2 oz. Campari
2 shakes Regan’s orange bitters

In a cocktail shaker with ice, stir the ingredients and then strain into a rocks glass with one large ice-cube.

Garnish with an orange twist.

Cheers!

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

 

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

 

Just 30 seconds in boiling water is all it takes.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

stuffies

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Ready for the freezer!

 

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

 

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

This is a great appetizer when you’ve got guests visiting over the holidays. You can make the pesto ahead of time, and serve it in just a few minutes.

Chourico (or chorizo in Spanish) is as important to the Portuguese as bacon is to us Lithuanians. Here in Southern New England, they pronounce it “sha-rees,” not the exaggerated “chaw-reezo,” like you hear on “Chopped.”

I was joking with a friend the other day that if I won the lottery, I could buy a lifetime supply of chourico at my favorite store: Mello’s in Fall River, Mass. His response was: “Is there such a thing as a lifetime supply of chourico?!”

Good point!

If you’ve had really great chourico, you’re always looking for new ways to include it in your cooking. Arugula is one of the easiest greens to grow in the spring or fall garden. And it’s readily available in any supermarket produce section.

Inspired by chef Chuck Hughe’s recipe, this is a great chourico appetizer that’s really easy to make. Whip up the arugula pesto ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. Then when guests come, just slice the chourico, saute it in a pan until brown, and serve.

fullsizerender

3 cups fresh baby arugula
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup + one tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano or other good quality parmesan cheese
2 lbs. chourico, sliced into 1/2″ pieces

Combine the arugula, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and the 1/2 cup of cheese in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Set the tablespoon of cheese aside for garnishing later.

fullsizerender-1

Remove the casing from the chourico and slice it into 1/2″ thick pieces. Saute the chourico in a pan until both sides are caramelized and golden.

Place the chourico on a plate, topping with some of the pesto. Sprinkle a touch of the grated cheese to garnish. Serve immediately, while the chourico is still hot!

 

fullsizerender-3

 

It’s hard to believe the weather we’ve had here in Rhode Island. Though we’ve had some cool temperatures at night, daytime highs have stayed in the 70’s for the last few weeks. Vegetables as well as flowers have thrived.

With cooler, windier and rainier weather now here, I thought I should go out to the garden and take some photos of what’s blooming before it all finally goes away for the season.

Globe amaranth, or gomphrena.

 

Mandevilla has a southern exposure in front of my wife’s art studio, but it will go in soon and join the other houseplants for the winter.

 

Petunias, sown from seed in early spring.

 

One of many dahlias, which will be dug up soon. I store the tubers in the garage for the winter, then start them in pots in the spring before planting in the garden.

 

Impatiens never lasted this long! A perfect spot, hidden from the sun and wind.

 

Nasturtiums. Though they’re annuals, these peppery-tasting edibles do re-sow themselves.

 

A lone rose.

 

Gazania loves the warm sun.

 

Calendula self-sows every year. Another edible.

 

Galliarda, with a friend.

 

Rudbeckia. It comes back every year.

 

 

Years ago, before Alex & Ani founder Carolyn Rafaelian bought Sakonnet Vineyards in Little Compton, its success at creating quality wine was mediocre at best.
I heard stories that the grapevines on the property were there just for show. The story goes that the land was contaminated, and they couldn’t use it for winemaking. So despite having this magnificent piece of property, just about all of their grape juice was imported from South America.
To me, that defeated the purpose of going to a local vineyard. You expect them to grow the grapes and then use those grapes to make their wine.
Fast forward years later, the property is now called Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards, and their website claims that they make their wines from the grapes they grow on their land. Is this truly the case? Or is this a bunch of BS? It’s hard to really know for sure.

The tasting room is full, especially on rainy days!

That issue aside, the vineyard seems to attract a lot of tourists, especially on rainy days when there isn’t a whole heck of a lot to do in Little Compton. Sampling a variety of wines, even if they’re not really that great, is better than sitting at home and watching television.
The property also has an outdoor stage for mellow concerts when the weather is cooperating. (They were denied a permit to have a larger concert venue established on their property, because of the traffic and noise it would create. The town of Little Compton has had a bug up its ass lately…just ask the folks trying to get the historic Stone House open again.)
And there is a café, which is open seven days a week through Columbus Day…and weekends through the winter months.
That’s good to know, because there isn’t a huge choice of places to dine nearby. There’s a luncheonette and pizza joint in Little Compton Commons, and there’s a grill and sandwich place at Tiverton Four Corners. But that’s about it.
The café at Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards serves up a tasty menu of freshly prepared sandwiches, flatbreads, salads and more. At a recent lunch, my daughter and I enjoyed their steamed pork dumplings as a starter. My daughter chose the Sakonnet Club, a turkey and ham sandwich on sourdough. I went with the Grilled Tuscan, which featured Genoa salami, capicola and soppressata and mozzarella on sourdough, all freshly made and grilled to melt the cheese. The table next to us had a bachelorette party, and all the gals there had different flatbreads, which looked really delicious…something to keep in mind for our next visit. Our sandwiches came with a light salad and a bag of chips on the side.
I had a glass of mediocre Albariño with my lunch, but it served its purpose.
All in all, a really nice lunch, and other things on the menu that I am looking forward to trying in the future.
I didn’t taste more than one wine at the vineyard that day, so in all fairness, I need to make a return visit for that purpose. But for me, the best wines in the area are located down the road at Westport Rivers. Although they don’t have the beautiful room and property that Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard has, they more than make up for it in the quality of their wine.

I’ve known Plum Pt. Bistro owner Ralph Conte for about 20 years now. Back in the day, Ralph owned Raphael Bar Risto in Providence. At that time, it was not only the best restaurant in town, but The Tunnel Bar at Raphael’s was also the hottest singles bar in town.

My buddy, Charles, and I would spend every Friday and Saturday night there, from dinner until closing, chatting with the ladies, sipping cocktails, and enjoying incredible food. As much as that kind of lifestyle can take its toll on your health, so can running a restaurant like that. And after a number of years, Ralph decided to close the doors on our beloved restaurant.

I was heartbroken, not only because it was a favorite hang out of mine, but it was also where I met my wife!

Fast forward a half a dozen years later.

Restaurants are in Ralph’s blood, so it was no surprise that he opened a smaller, family-run establishment, this time far away from the noise of Providence. Plum Pt. Bistro in Saunderstown became an instant hit with the locals and there’s rarely any empty seat in the house no matter what day you go.

Plum Pt. Bistro is smaller and more manageable than the old Raphael’s, and Ralph has his family to help him. His wife, Alyssa, daughter Zoe, and son Raphael, all work at the restaurant. The result is a comfortable atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re home. Ralph’s skills with Mediterranean flavors has not diminished in the least.

Although I love many of the standards that are on their menu, I always look to the blackboard first for the night’s specials. On a recent trip, there was fresh locally caught striped bass, tuna, and black bass. The tuna tartare was sensational. The whole fried black bass, served in a lemon butter caper sauce, with fresh seasonal vegetables and potatoes on the side, was the best whole fish I’ve had in many years. My daughter devoured the fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta cheese, sitting on a bed of beautiful marinara sauce. And her favorite regular dish on the menu is the potato gnocchi with pesto. My wife had the lettuce wraps, which were surprisingly fresh and tasty, dipping them in the Asian-style peanut sauce on the side. And a beet salad was raised to the next level by adding a perfectly cooked marinated steak to it.

My whole fried black bass, before I devoured it.

 

Plum Pt. Bistro has great bartenders that will make you your favorite cocktail, or create a new favorite for you. My buddy, Skip, from the Raphael days, still works for Ralph behind the bar. And they have a decent wine selection, too. Reservations are highly recommended. You need to call them since they don’t offer reservations online.

Plum Pt. Bistro is on the mainland of Rhode Island, right at the end of the Jamestown Bridge…just a stone’s throw from Wickford. Absolutely worth the trip if you’re spending any time in Newport. Cross the bridges and get some amazing food! Hey…I live on the other side of the state and it’s worth the trip for me!

 

I get a lot of travel and food magazines, and for whatever reason, when they talk about where to stay in Providence, The Dean Hotel seems to be everybody’s new favorite. When they talk about where to get a great cocktail, The Dean is listed again. (I did notice that the cocktails article info was submitted by someone who has a financial part in the operation of the hotel…a bit suspicious.)

But, nonetheless, I decided it was time for me to check it out for myself.

Those of us that have been in Rhode Island for some time might remember what was previously at The Dean’s address back in the day: the legendary Sportsman’s Inn, a roach-infested whorehouse, to put it plainly. As as one reviewer put it: “Don’t go there without antibiotics!”

So The Dean is a serious improvement! I was told that to keep its historical value, The Dean had to leave the tiny hotel rooms exactly the same size as they were before. The result is a very cozy room that is clean and modern…just really small…as is the bathroom. But it’s got everything you would need to spend the night here, no complaints.

My small but very clean room at The Dean.

 

The Dean has many of the amenities you’re looking for in a nice city hotel: valet parking, a coffee shop (Bolt Coffee) for your morning wake-up, a very good cocktail lounge (The Magdalenae Room), a restaurant (Faust) and Boombox, a karaoke bar. Okay…in all honesty, I was glad to hear that the German food of Faust is being replaced this fall with the truly creative food of one of Providence’s best: north. (www.foodbynorth.com) And as long as I don’t have to hear the karaoke bar when I’m trying to sleep, I can deal with that.

I had dinner elsewhere in town the night I stayed at The Dean. (Faust was already closed.) But I did stop by to have a cocktail–or three–at The Magdalenae Room. The choice of spirits is limited, but the essentials are there. A nice chat with the bartender who knew his drinks and knew his way around Providence. Even someone like me that has lived here for almost 30 years learned a few things! (Was it the best crafted cocktail in Providence? That honor still remains with The Eddy.)

All in all, my experience at The Dean was a good one. I don’t know if it deserves all the attention it’s been getting in those magazine articles I’ve read, however. But it’s clean, it’s not expensive, and when north opens up, it can very much be an ideal one-stop in Providence.