Archive for the ‘Southern New England’ Category

Clam fritters, conch fritters, lobster fritters…I suppose you could fritter anything. But the first time I had them with mussels, I knew that I would never fritter my life away with any other!

It was a fall afternoon in Newport, Rhode Island, at the now-defunct Newport Yachting Center’s annual Oyster Festival. We’re gorging on freshly shucked oysters and clams, boiled shrimp, and…what have we here? I never heard of a mussel fritter before, but once I took a bite, there was no turning back.

They couldn’t be easier to make, but it is crucial to have the right fritter batter. And that starts with a Rhode Island product called Drum Rock fritter mix. If you live in New England, you can find it in just about any seafood department at Whole Foods. If you live further away, you can check out their website (www.drumrockproducts.com) or try your luck with a local brand of fritter mix.

fritter ingredients

 

If you’re using fresh mussels, be sure to clean them well and remove the beards. Steam them in a pot over a small amount of water. As they open, they will release their flavorful juices and you want to save every drop of that broth for the fritters. Here in New England, frozen mussel meats are available in some seafood stores. All you need to do is thaw them, steam them saving the broth, and you’re ready to go.

For the fritters:
1 lb. fritter mix
2 cups cooked mussel meats
1/2 cup mussel broth (saved from steaming mussels)
1/4 to 1/2 cup good quality beer (I use Sam Adams Boston Lager)
Avocado oil or lard for frying (I don’t use canola or vegetable oils)

 

Steam the mussel meats until they’re just cooked. Remove the mussel meats, and reserve 1/2 cup of the broth. Pulse the mussel meats in a food processor, but leave ’em chunky…or chop by hand.

Put the fritter mix in a large bowl. Add the mussel meats, mussel broth, and beer. Stir gently until just mixed. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes and do not stir again. (If you’ve got guests coming, you can prepare up to this part ahead of time, covering the bowl with a wet towel, and leaving it at room temperature.)

Using a thermometer, heat the oil in a deep pan to 350 degrees, and using a small spoon or scoop, drop the fritters in the hot oil, turning gently, cooking 3 to 4 minutes until golden.

Drain them on paper towels, and season with salt and pepper immediately. Serve right away!

 

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An easy, delicious dipping sauce:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Ponzu sauce

The perfect dipping sauce for these mussel fritters is made from two ingredients: mayo and Ponzu sauce, a citrus-based soy sauce. Combine both ingredients in a bowl. Keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

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For me, fine spirits are the best gift for the holidays. You can go with some aged rums…sipping tequilas…or classic cognacs. And then there’s the whole list of liqueurs…sweets for the end of the meal or a key ingredient in a flavorful cocktail. Here’s my list of favorite bottles…

Kelt XO Cognac: What makes this cognac special is that it leaves the Cognac region of France in barrels and gets loaded onto ships that travel the world for months at a time. The barrels of cognac mellow, as they slowly rock back and forth in the ship’s hold out in the open seas, much like they did hundreds of years ago before we loaded pallets of product onto cargo planes. The ships then return to Cognac, where the spirit is unloaded and bottled. The result is an exceptionally smooth cognac that is still my favorite to date. What’s really cool is that each bottle has a summary of what ship it was on and where it traveled. The VSOP is great, but the XO is outstanding. They say it makes a difference if the ships go around the world clockwise or counterclockwise! …I haven’t noticed.
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum: If you’ve got a friend that likes sipping rum, this takes it to a whole new level. Made in Venezuela, it has a sweetness that you won’t want to mix…on the rocks is perfect. I have turned more friends on to this rum in the last couple of years than any other spirit I’ve discovered. Thanks to Jeff and Geremie, owners of Fluke Wine, Bar & Kitchen in Newport, Rhode Island, for giving me my first sip of this wonderful rum years ago.

Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia tequila: I am not a fan of Jose Cuervo tequila in general. If all you want is a reposado or anejo, there are so many other better ones out there: Don Julio, Don Eduardo, Corazon, and Sauza Tres Generaciones just to name a few. And for silver, nothing beats Patron. But this top-of-the-line Cuervo is excellent, and you pay the price for the designer box as well as the tequila. Worth every penny.

 

St. Germaine: A sweet liqueur crafted from hand-picked Elderflowers that grow in the Alps, and featured in an excellent house drink called The Elixir at Cooke and Brown Public House in Providence, Rhode Island. It features Irish whisky, St. Germain, honey, lemon and bitters.

 

Bols Genever: First made in Holland in 1575, this is the stuff the British fell in love with, tried to copy, and then shortened the name of their resulting product and called it “gin.” But it’s better than gin. Many a great cocktail starts with this key ingredient. One of my favorites is a take on the classic Negroni: Combine 1.5 oz. Bols Genever, 1 oz. Gran Classico, and .5 oz. Punt e Mes. Serve in a rocks glass with a nice, big ice cube.

Coole Swan: This is the magical ingredient in my own espresso martini. (See my blog for the recipe: https://livethelive.com/2017/11/19/my-espresso-martini-2/) Imagine a Bailey’s that tastes like melted vanilla ice cream, and you have an idea of the flavor of this terrific cream liqueur. You will never drink another espresso martini as long as you live!

 

Rumchata: Horchata is a very popular drink in Hispanic countries. It comes from many ingredient combinations, but one of the most popular is rice, vanilla and cinammon. Imagine a liquid version of rice pudding. So if you add rum to it…you get a liqueur unlike anything you’ve had before. Very tasty.

 

Castries: This creamy liqueur takes its name from the capital city of the island of St. Lucia….and it surprises me that it took this long for someone to come up with a peanut flavored liqueur. Sure, there are other nut liqueurs: almond liqueurs, like real Amaretto (not Disaronno, which is made from peach or apricot pits)…and hazel nut liqueurs like Frangelico. But this one is very different. It’s creamy, not clear, and quite delicious.
Sortilege: This liqueur made from Canadian whisky and maple syrup is the definition of liquid dessert. It’s hard to describe how good this stuff is. All I can say is: once you open it, it will vanish very quickly. I haven’t poured it on pancakes yet, but some hungover morning I will!
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.

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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.

 

 

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.

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!

Here in New England, the best brand of chicken salad you can buy is called Willow Tree. It’s been here for over 50 years, and people crave it like crack. But I don’t like anything whose ingredients are a well-kept secret, so my task was to make something that was a reasonable Willow Tree facsimile. I got close…real close! As always, I use pastured chicken and organic veggies when possible. I found that boiling the chicken breasts in stock instead of water keeps the meat more flavorful.

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1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
4 pints salt-free chicken stock (I use home-made)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I live on Hellman’s)
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons finely chopped Vidalia onion
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

 

Heat the chicken stock in a large pot. Bring to a boil and add the chicken breasts. Bring to a boil again, then simmer uncovered for about 7 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot with a lid, and let the breasts sit in the pot for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the breasts to a cutting board and allow them to cool. Save the chicken stock for another use, like soup. (See below.)

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, celery, onion, brown sugar, granulated garlic, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly to combine.

When the chicken has cooled, shred the breast meat into bite-sized pieces and then transfer it into the bowl with the mayonnaise mixture. Mix thoroughly and chill before serving.

I love my chicken salad on a Martin’s Long Roll.

 

BONUS: I don’t waste the chicken stock left over in the pot. I chop some carrots, celery and onion and throw it in there. I reserve some of the chicken breast meat–just a bit–and throw it in there, too. I add a little salt and pepper, and a pinch of dried Bouquet Garni. I bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the veggies are al dente. Pasta or potatoes optional.

Makes an awesome chicken soup!

 

 

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the dining experiences I’ve had at Persimmon’s former location in Bristol, RI. But it was clear that the place was too small. The opportunity to buy the former Rue de L’Espoire at 99 Hope Street on the east side of Providence came up, and James Beard nominee (for best chef Northeast) Champ Speidel and his wife, Lisa, went for it. It’s just what they (we) needed!

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The space holds almost 3 times more people, and the vibe is upbeat and exciting. The dining experience rivals the best of New York City. But there’s no stuffiness here. This is fine dining they way it should be: small plates with incredible flavors, all while you enjoy the company of friends in a casual atmosphere. The suits are here…but no one feels out-of-place in a pair of jeans.

Oysters 3 ways.

Oysters 3 ways.

My wife and I sat at the chef’s table (a front-row view of the workings of the kitchen) and enjoyed small plate after small plate of incredible bites: from deviled quail eggs with sturgeon caviar to crispy chicken skin. Oysters 3 ways: fried, raw, and chips were mind-blowing. Pasta carbonara with earthy black truffles was the carbonara I’ve always dreamed about. Tempura rock shrimp weren’t heavily battered, but lightly crisp with a highly addictive sauce. Boneless stuffed chicken wings, deconstructed, re-constructed and filled with Asian flavors, was an unexpected hit out of the park.

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Watching chef Champ at work was a real treat. It was great to talk to him, his wife, Lisa, and their enthusiastic staff. We learned a lot.
I’ve always told my friends that Persimmon in Bristol was Rhode Island’s best restaurant. Now, in its new Providence location on Hope Street, just a stone’s throw from Brown University, it has truly arrived. http://www.persimmonbristol.com