Archive for the ‘Rhode Island’ Category

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

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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.

We recently invited our closest friends, neighbors and family members to our home to celebrate life after my wife’s last year of health issues. (We are grateful the prognosis is good!) We called it our FLY party (F*ck Last Year!) and it was a huge success.

Pre-party prep!

We went all-out this time, taking our “usual” 100-person summer party to the next level, renting a large tent and tables…hiring a staff to serve food and drinks and clear the tables and park cars…hiring a bartender…enlisting the culinary services of Rocket Fine Street Food of Providence and bringing in the best shucking oysters in Rhode Island with 401 Catering and Events.

Unlike past years, where I would spend all day cooking a few appetizers and ran around cleaning the yard all night–barely chatting with the very friends I’ve invited–this time, we coughed up the extra cash to hire people to do the work, allowing us to actually be part of the party!

What a fun night! Great food and drink…great friends.

If you’re in Providence, look for the Rocket truck! Go to their website (www.rocketstreetfood.com) and check out where they’ll be on their calendar. It’s worth the effort.

If you’ve got a big event, and are looking for the best Rhode Island oysters, go with the guys that supply the best east coast restaurants with the best the Ocean State has to offer. No gig is too big! Max, Brian and their staff are professional and truly some of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. and they’re passionate about the quality of their oysters! Start here: www.401catering.com.

 

The definition of a consomme is: “a clear soup made with concentrated stock.” I might add “mind-blowing” to that sentence, especially with this recipe. The key to success– and this is crucial–is to use absolutely garden-fresh, in-season ingredients. If you try this with greenhouse or supermarket tomatoes, you’re just wasting your time.

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4 1/2 lbs. of fresh garden tomatoes (my favorite is the heirloom: Brandywine)
1 large bunch of fresh basil, leaves and stems
1 2-inch piece of fresh horseradish, peeled
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I use Alessi)
2 oz. vodka (I use Tito’s)
sea salt and pepper

 

Remove the core of the tomatoes, but leave everything else, including seeds and skin.

Put all the tomatoes, basil, horseradish, garlic, vinegar and vodka in a blender or food processor. You might need to do this in batches if your equipment can’t handle it all.

Process until you get a kind of slush.

Line a mixing bowl with a double layer of cheesecloth and pour the tomato slush mixture into it. Gather up the corners of the cheesecloth carefully, and tie them securely so you can lift the bundle up by the knot. Hang the bundle from a hook over a clean bowl in the fridge so that it catches the liquid that drips out, and leave the whole thing in there overnight. The liquid that drips out will be clear. (You can place an optional slice of beet in the bowl to add color, but I choose not to, because I think it changes the flavor.)

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

To serve, chill bowls (or in this case: the sipping glasses) in the fridge. When ready to serve, ladle out the consomme and garnish with a tiny basil leaf. A drop of excellent quality olive oil is optional.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

 

I tried using a synthetic cheesecloth for this recipe, and I found that it doesn’t filter out enough of the solids to make a clear consomme. You could use it along with real cheesecloth, just to use the stand, or just hang it all in real cheesecloth, as described in this recipe.

Every other year, the Master Gardeners of the University of Rhode Island host “Gardening with the Masters,” a tour which showcases over 2 dozen home gardens. Some big, some small, these gardens are the passion and obsession of 26 Master Gardeners in Rhode Island and nearby Connecticut.  This year, 14 gardens on the tour have never been on the tour before…including mine!

The Gardening with the Masters tour happens from 10AM to 4PM on June 24 and 25, rain or shine, so make plans to visit our area and get some great ideas and tips for your own home garden.

You’ve just got 2 weeks to buy your tickets online!

Your ticket to the event is a booklet that lists all the gardens on the tour, along with maps that help you get to each location. Tickets are $20 (good for both days) and can be purchased at: www.uri.edu/mastergardener up to June 15. They will be mailed out. Call 401-874-2900 for details.

I gave my garden the title of “Space, the Final Frontier,” because my particular garden challenges include managing an almost 2-acre yard backed by 6 acres of forest and protected wetlands. You’ll see stands of bamboo, fruit trees, native plants, a vegetable and herb garden, a greenhouse, and my wife’s art studio (http://farmcoast.com/blog/tag/bow-house-studio/) will be open to the public that weekend as well. We’re right down the road from historic Tiverton Four Corners, featuring shops, art galleries and restaurants.

URI Master Gardeners (and others who know their stuff) will be on site to answer questions about plants, composting, and good gardening practices.

Ask questions, bring your camera, bring a picnic lunch, take notes, but most importantly enjoy the beauty created in these gardens!

My garden and yard is accessible for the handicapped in most areas.

 

 

We stumbled upon the Grange one Sunday while looking for a place to have brunch. After a rich dinner the night before at Persimmon in Providence, RI, we really didn’t want to go the route of eggs, sausages, and other heavy stuff. What a great surprise to find a vegetarian restaurant with a great atmosphere and surprisingly flavorful food!

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My kale Caesar salad was super-fresh and absolutely delicious. But the real winner was the “carrot pastrami” reuben sandwich. Served on French rye, it’s got the kraut, Swiss and Thousand Island…but carrots filling in for the pastrami…and you just don’t miss it! Full of flavor and texture, I don’t know what they do to the carrots, but it rocks! My wife had the roasted veggie bowl: delicious and big enough to take half of it home to enjoy again.

Reuben sandwich with "carrot pastrami."

Reuben sandwich with “carrot pastrami.”

They’ve got a full bar for those that crave a cocktail…though their house-made juices are fantastic.

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We will be back!