Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Despite that corned beef is not an authentic Irish dish, it seems that everyone thinks they should eat it on St. Patrick’s Day. The phrase “corned beef” was actually coined by the British, and although the Irish were known for their corned beef throughout Europe in the 17th century, beef was far too expensive for the Irish themselves to eat and all of it was exported to other countries. Owning a cow in Ireland was a sign of wealth, and the Irish used theirs for dairy products, not beef.

The Irish ate pork, and a lot of it, because it was cheap to raise pigs, and they traditionally prepared something like Canadian bacon to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

In the 1900’s, when the Irish came to America, both beef and salt were more affordable, and the Irish, who lived in poor, tight-knit communities, often next to Jewish communities, bought much of their beef from Kosher butchers. And so many of the Irish learned how to corn their beef using Jewish techniques, but added cabbage and potatoes to the mix.

It takes about 3 weeks to make corned beef. But now that you know it’s not Irish anyway, that’s OK! Doing it yourself is not difficult, and you get a better quality product than that nasty slab from the supermarket that’s full of chemicals and preservatives.

Corned beef has nothing to do with corn. ‘Corning’ is a technique for preserving raw meats for long periods by soaking it in salt brine. This method was used in England before the days of commercial refrigeration. Back then, the large salt kernels used in the brine were called “corns.”

Brining is a time-honored way of preserving and it prevents bacteria from growing. Both pastrami and corned beef are made by this method. Both start with a brisket of beef. Corned beef is then cooked–usually boiled–and served. Pastrami is made when the brined meat is rubbed with more spices and smoked to add extra flavor. So corned beef and pastrami are the same meat, just treated differently.

Saltpeter is an ingredient that has been used in brining beef for years. It adds the traditional red coloring to the corned beef and pastrami meat. But since saltpeter can also contain carcinogens, I leave it out. The meat may not be the usual bright red color, but the flavor and texture of the meat will not be affected.

Brining the beef brisket

Brining the beef brisket

Step one: corned beef…

beef brisket (about 8-10 pounds)
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup warm water
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
3/4 cup salt
2 quarts water

Place the brisket in a large container made of non-reactive material, like glass or plastic.

In the 1/4 cup of warm water, dissolve the sugar, minced cloves, paprika and pickling spices.

Dissolve the 3/4 cup of salt in the 2 quarts of water. Pour in the sugar/garlic/paprika/pickling spices mix and stir everything together. Pour the mixture over the meat in the container. Make sure the meat is totally beneath the surface of the liquid. (You may need to weigh it down to do this.) Cover the container.

Refrigerate the container and contents for 3 weeks, turning the meat once or twice per week. At the end of the third week, remove the container from the refrigerator and take out the meat. Soak the meat in several changes of fresh cold water over a period of 24 hours to remove the excess salt.

At this point, if you want corned beef, prepare and cook it using your favorite recipe. But I’m all about the pastrami!

Step two: making Pastrami…

pastrami

 

Brined and rinsed corned beef brisket from above recipe, patted dry with paper towels
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic

Combine the coriander seeds, black and white peppercorns and mustard seeds in a spice grinder and grind coarsely. Place in a bowl. Add the salt, paprika, brown sugar and granulated garlic. Mix well.

Rub the mix into the brisket well, covering all sides.

Heat your smoker to 225 degrees and smoke for several hours using a less intense wood, like oak. When the internal temperature of the meat has reached 165 degrees, it’s done. It isn’t necessary to smoke pastrami as long as you would a regular brisket because the long brining time makes the meat tender.

It is very important that absolutely everything that comes in contact with the meat is very clean. (This includes your hands.) Also, make very sure that every inch of the meat reaches the 165 degrees before it is removed from the smoker. The corned beef is now pastrami.

Despite working in a pretty decent food town (Providence, Rhode Island), and despite being just an hour away from another decent food town (Boston, Massachusetts), when we want to go to a place where we park our car once and can easily walk to dozens of great eateries and bars, where each place is more creative than the next, and where genuine friendliness and enthusiasm for what they’re doing shows in every dish, the answer is Portland, Maine.

My wife and I visit Portland at least once a year and it’s amazing to see how many new restaurants have opened since our last visit. Every time we think we’ve crossed a few off our list, a half-dozen new ones show up! Last year, we hit 10 restaurants in 48 hours. This last visit, it was a mere 6 restaurants in 48 hours. I guess we’re getting older…!

solo2

Our weekend started on a Friday afternoon with a quick bite at Solo Italiano, near the water on Commercial Street. We really enjoyed a light-as-air Carpaccio di Tonno: thinly sliced yellow fin tuna with stracciatella cream, herb oil, and crispy onions. And after we were told that the chef at Solo won the World Pesto Championship, we had to have the Mandilli di Seta al Vero Pesto Genovese: house made silk handkerchief pasta in a traditional Genovese basil pesto…amazing! Solo has some great house cocktails to choose from, too. Definitely worth a return visit.

The bar at Solo.

The bar at Solo.

Our Friday evening dinner was at Hugo’s. Originally owned by chef Rob Evans, a three-time Food Network “Chopped” champion, Rob sold it a few years ago and now runs Duckfat, a small sandwich shop famous for its Belgian-style fries that are fried in duck fat. (Though it gets write-ups all the time, my experience at Duckfat was disappointing.)

hugosign

 

The folks that own the nationally acclaimed Eventide Oyster Bar now own Hugo’s (it’s next door) as well as The Honey Paw (next door on the other side.) For us, every visit to Portland must include this amazing restaurant trifecta on Middle Street, that, in fact, have connecting kitchens.

The connecting kitchens at Hugo's, Eventide, and the Honey Paw.

The connecting kitchens at Hugo’s, Eventide, and The Honey Paw.

 

Hugo’s is fine dining at its creative best. Though we hadn’t been there in over a year, Brian, a manager and our wine guru, immediately remembered us and greeted us with a hug, showing us to our seats and treating us to a glass of bubbly. He guided us through the wine list and offered us a bottles that were simply out of this world. Though we’ve done the tasting menu in the past, we decided to go a la carte when a beautiful fried whole black bass, with roasted mushrooms, cabbage and hoisin vinaigrette, was calling our name. After a few wonderful appetizers that included peekytoe crab, reblochon (a local cheese), and lamb tartare, we were ready for the black bass. Even our server, Patrick, was impressed with how well we devoured that fish right down to the bone.

Fried black bass at Hugo's.

Fried black bass at Hugo’s.

 

Polishing off that amazing black bass!

Polishing off that amazing black bass!

 

Paul, the bartender at Hugo's.

Paul, the bartender at Hugo’s.

 

Dinner at Hugo’s wouldn’t be complete without a discussion about bourbons with bartender, Paul, and he let me sample a couple of special bottles he had behind the bar. A great way to end a wonderful dining experience on our first night in Portland.

Bourbon tastings.

Bourbon tastings.

 

The next day, Saturday, our food adventures began with lunch. Don’t get me wrong: there are some great breakfast choices in Portland, like the Porthole (featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”) and Becky’s Diner. But when you’re in town to feast, you bypass the bacon and eggs.

Lunch was at Eventide, which shows up on every “best oyster bar” list, and the reason is simple: a nice selection of fresh oysters, a great bar, and creative side dishes that change all the time.

Oysters at Eventide.

 

The Eventide brown butter lobster roll is elevated to new heights when it’s placed on an Asian-style steamed bun. Blackboard specials change every week, and always include what’s right off the boat: from fried squid to pickled lox. If you’re less adventurous, you can’t go wrong with the buttermilk fried chicken bun, the house pastrami bun or their impressive fish sandwich.

Pickled lox (left) and the lobster bun (right.)

 

If you go to Eventide during peak hours, you can expect a wait. The place isn’t huge and it’s wildly popular. Give them your name, tuck yourself into a corner with a drink, and wait, knowing that it will all be worth it!

Real women in Maine shuck oysters!

 

We skip the usual cocktail sauce when at Eventide. Our favorite accoutrements are the pickled red onion ice (great for an oyster shooter!) and the chilera ice.

Before…and after.

 

After our leisurely lunch, it was time to walk off a few calories. Heading down Fore Street, we tucked into several art galleries and shops, slowly making our way across the center of town to the newly redesigned Portland Art Museum. By the time we stepped out of the museum, it was time for more food. Just a few blocks, and we arrived at Boda.

 

Labeling themselves as a “Very Thai” kitchen and bar, Boda delivers. Though we only had a few apps, like the apple and shrimp salad and a plate of authentic pad thai, it earned two thumbs up. A plate of fried quail…not so much.

The bar at Boda offers the standards (like my Chopin martini) and some interesting Asian herb-infused cocktails. Definitely worth a return visit, especially when Boda is open until 12:45AM, serving tasty skewers for the bar crowd.

A short stop at our hotel, and it was time for our Saturday dinner. We headed to what many claim is the best sushi restaurant in Portland: Miyake. We soon discovered that the label “best sushi restaurant in Portland” didn’t necessarily set the standard very high.

 

Though we found a beautiful bottle of sake on the menu that we’ve had before, the food was a disappointment. Having had a few great sushi experiences in my life, I wanted this place to be among them. But after trying 2 different 4-course menus that featured tastings of salmon, tuna, uni, duck, and even Miyake’s own farm-raised mangalitsa pork–a rare heritage breed–which, though fatty, was very dry…it’s safe to say that we won’t be returning to Portland, Maine for its sushi.

The sake, at least, was amazing.

In a town with many creative restaurants, this one didn’t cut it. Some locals told us that Miyake used to be better when they were in a smaller space. The move to a larger space meant a beautiful room, but the food suffered.

Our weekend ended with Sunday brunch. If we wanted a more typical Sunday brunch, we would’ve gone to Five Fifty-Five, where we’ve enjoyed dishes like lobster eggs Benedict in the past. But when we heard that The Honey Paw was now serving brunch, there was no question where we needed to go!

 

My kind of Sunday brunch: Asian fried ribs, pork and fried oyster pot stickers, a bowl of beef shank pho, and a breakfast sandwich with house made scrapple and egg on a kimchi croissant.

Beef shank pho.

 

The Honey Paw breakfast sandwich.

 

My wife took advantage of a full bar with creative cocktails. Unfortunately, I had a 3-hour drive home behind the wheel, so I had to refrain from the alcohol.

The bar at The Honey Paw.

While we dined at The Honey Paw, I ran next door to Eventide and ordered 2 of their buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches to go. Our 10-year-old daughter was not happy that we went to Portland without her this time, and we knew that bringing her favorite sandwiches home would help ease the blow.

 

We’ll be back to Portland this summer. Already counting the days. For other great places to dine in this town, use my search engine under “Portland.” And feel free to drop me a line with any questions about where to stay, eat, visit, etc…

Cheers!

 

I’m fortunate that I can buy my veal from a nearby farm where the animals are raised humanely. That makes for happier animals and incredibly flavorful meat…and no guilt about using it.

The subtle flavor of veal can get lost with heavy seasonings, so I keep it simple. The addition of veal bone broth amplifies the umami factor and keeps the meatballs from drying out.

img_0245

1 lb. ground veal
1 cup toasted breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1 egg
extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. pasta, cooked firmer than al dente
2 cups veal bone broth or stock
salt and pepper for seasoning
2 tablespoons half-and-half
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup of frozen organic peas

 

Make the meatballs: Combine the veal, breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, garlic, onion and egg in a bowl, mixing the ingredients thoroughly. Don’t over-mix.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil in an oven-proof pan, and form the meatballs one by one, placing them in the pan. Brown the meatballs on all sides over medium heat. Place the pan in the oven to cook the meatballs for 10 more minutes.

In a saucepan, heat the veal bone broth. Once the meatballs have cooked in the oven, transfer them to the pot of veal bone broth and cover with a lid, keeping the heat on low. If the broth doesn’t cover the meatballs, turn them every once in a while to keep them moist on all sides. Cook the meatballs in the broth for about 30 minutes, then transfer them to a large sauté pan.

Turn the saucepan with the veal broth on high and reduce it to about 1/2 cup. Season it with salt and pepper.

In a large pot, cook the pasta to a bit firmer than al dente in well-salted water. Drain and set aside.

In the large sauce pan with the meatballs, add the butter and the half-and-half. Add the reduced veal broth, the pasta, and the peas.

Gently mix the ingredients in the pan until the peas have warmed through and the sauce clings to the pasta. Serve immediately.

 

 

 

 

 

Once again this weekend, I’ll be at the annual Providence Art Club Founder’s Day celebration, raising a glass in their honor. The cool thing is that I got to decide what went in the glass!

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 the country even today.

Now through April 22, the Providence Art Club is featuring “Making Her Mark, the Women Artists of the Providence Art Club 1880,” an exposition featuring the works of the women artists that founded the art club over 130 years ago.

 

1

 

My wife is an artist member of the Providence Art Club. That’s how a zhlub like me got in! 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. This year, we’re expecting up to 150 people to be there for the celebration.

Silhouettes of past art club members line the walls of the Providence Art Club, so my wife came up with the name of the cocktail: The Silhouette. I decided to base my cocktail on the Boulevardier, an awesome drink that substitutes bourbon for gin in the classic Negroni.
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!

As a kid, I used to read the side of a cereal box as I ate my breakfast. Nowadays, I tend to read the back label from my booze bottle as I take a sip.
There seems to be a lot of confusion about the spelling of whiskey and/or whisky, but the use of the letter “e” (or the lack thereof) is not random. Here’s the best explanation I’ve found…
whiskeywhisky
The spelling whisky (plural whiskies) is generally used for those distilled in Scotland , Wales , Canada , and Japan. Whiskey (with an e; plural whiskeys) is used for the spirits distilled in Ireland and in the United States. The BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) in 1968 specified “whisky” as the official U.S. spelling, but allowed labeling as “whiskey” in deference to tradition.  Most U.S. producers still use the “whiskey” spelling, though as you can see, Maker’s Mark chooses not to.
International law reserves the term “Scotch whisky” to those whiskies produced in Scotland. Scottish law specifies that the whisky must be aged for a minimum of three years, in oak casks. Whiskies produced in other countries in the Scotch style must use another name. Similar conventions exist for “Irish whiskey,” “Canadian whisky,” and “Bourbon whiskey.” In North America, as well as in Continental Europe, the abbreviated term “Scotch” is usually used for “Scotch Whisky.” In England, Scotland, and Wales, the term “whisky” almost always refers to “Scotch Whisky”, and the term “Scotch” is rarely used by itself.
And while we’re on the topic, what is bourbon?
Bourbon is a type of whiskey.
Today, ‘bourbon’ has a specific legal meaning that has little to do with its geographic origins. That definition, now federal law, has existed in its present form only since about the end of the 19th century. According to federal law, bourbon must be at least 51% corn, distilled at less than 160 proof, and aged for at least two years in new, charred oak barrels. (There are some other requirements, but those are the main ones.) Bourbon also must be made within the United States. In other words, a foreign product that meets all the other requirements still cannot be sold in the U.S. as bourbon.
Contrary to popular belief, there has never been a legal requirement that bourbon be made in Kentucky, which is why most Kentucky producers call their product “Kentucky Bourbon.” 
Still confused? My advice is to sit back with your favorite glass of whisky, whiskey or bourbon…and just enjoy. Cheers!

These pancakes, based on a recipe from chef April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig and The Breslin in NYC), are made from fresh homemade ricotta cheese. Light as air…and really delicious! I’ve made a few batches of fresh ricotta cheese in my day, but when the family has a craving for these pancakes at the last minute, a good-quality store-bought ricotta cheese will do.

 

 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use Cup4Cup GF flour if I want to make these gluten-free)
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups milk
2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup fresh ricotta

 

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In another large bowl, whisk together the milk, ricotta,  and egg yolks. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

In a large stainless steel bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, but not dry. Fold gently into the batter.

Spray a non-stick griddle with a little cooking spray and drop about 1/4 cup of batter per pancake. Cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes per side, until golden and fluffy.

pancake

December 30 is National Bacon Day!

Sometimes the happiest of cooking accidents happen with bacon. My original plan was to make Chinese-style honey ribs for dinner. But instead of pulling a nice rack of ribs out of the freezer, I accidentally took out a slab of pork belly. I only realized my mistake when I thawed it and started cooking it, so I decided to continue the process with the pork belly instead. The results were pretty damn tasty.

image

 

Marinade:
¾ cup light soy sauce
6 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
5 lbs. pork belly
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 whole star anise
2 cinnamon sticks (3”)
1/2 cup honey
4 cups chicken broth
image
Mix the marinade ingredients. Set aside.
Cut the pork belly into pieces that are about 3 inches square. Place them in a large pot. Cover therm with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Drain.
Place the pork belly pieces on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. Coat them with marinade. Let them sit for 10 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the pork belly pieces on the sheet pan for 30 minutes.
While the pork belly is baking, start the sauce in a large non-stick pan or pot: combine the lemon zest and juice, star anise, cinnamon sticks, honey and chicken broth. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
When the pork belly pieces have finished baking, add them to the sauce pot and simmer (covered) for at least 15 minutes or until meat is tender.
Turn heat on high, uncover pot and cook until the sauce is reduced to a glaze that coats the ribs. Reduce the heat as the sauce thickens to avoid the sugars in the honey from burning. When the pieces are sticky and gooey, they are ready!
Let a piece of pork belly cool…then slice to desired thickness and fry like regular bacon. Makes an amazing omelet!
image

This is my version of a holiday drink I was introduced to by my mother-in-law from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I knew I was marrying into the right family after one sip!

Whiskey slush

 

9 cups water
2 cups sugar
4 “Constant Comment” tea bags
12 oz frozen OJ concentrate
12 oz frozen lemonade concentrate
2 cups whiskey (I use Crown Royal)
7Up or Sprite

Boil the water and sugar, making sure the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and steep the tea bags in the liquid for 10 minutes. Discard the tea bags.
Add the OJ, lemonade and whiskey. Mix well, then pour it into a freezeable container with a lid. Freeze.
To serve: Scoop the slush out of the container (it doesn’t freeze solid) and mix in a tall glass with 7 Up.

I think half my childhood was spent in the kitchen, watching my Mom and grandmother make koldūnai (kohl-DOO-nayh), the Lithuanian version of a pierogi, by hand at lightning speed. Some Lithuanian cooks make the dough, roll it out into a large flat sheet with a rolling-pin, then cut circles out with a glass or a cookie cutter. But my Mom and grandmother used a different method: they’d roll the dough into a log, cut it into 1″ pieces, and then twirl each piece in their hands to make a flat pancake that they would then fill with a spoonful of meat or mushrooms. It blew my mind that they could crank out over a hundred of these perfectly shaped dumplings in no time, placing them on a sheet pan and freezing them until it was time to cook.

One of the main reasons koldūnai beat pierogis every time is the filling. My Mom would mix ground beef with chopped onions sautéed in butter, a couple of eggs, and milk crackers soaked in milk. She’d add salt and pepper, then take a spoonful of the raw meat mixture and plop it in my mouth. “Enough salt?” she’d ask. I loved the taste of the raw beef like that…probably why I always order beef tartare when I see it on a restaurant menu.

The mushroom filling was usually reserved for special holidays like Christmas and Easter. Italy may lay claim to the porcini, but the fact of the matter is, Lithuania is porcini heaven. They’re called baravykai (buh-ruh-VEE-kayh), and when they’re dried and reconstituted, their incredible flavor is so intense, you don’t need many of them to flavor a large amount of cheaper button mushrooms. We’d get our dried boletes from relatives in Lithuania every year…the real deal. (They’d even have a radiation-free certification sticker on the bag, thanks to Chernobyl!) Mom would place a handful of the dried mushrooms in some boiling water and they would rehydrate, nice and plump, and could then easily be chopped and added to the other mushrooms. She’d pour the mushroom liquid into the pan as well, not wasting a bit of that magical porcini flavor. The mushrooms were simply sautéed in butter, cooled, then used to fill the koldūnai.

Basic Polish pierogi fillings include sauerkraut or potatoes with cheese. There’s no question the Lithuanians got this round.

koldunas-dough

It was time to try my hand at making koldūnai. As I recall, my Mom simply mixed water with flour to make the dough, kneaded it into a log, and off she went. My challenge was a bit more daunting: I needed to make them gluten-free as well. My sister, whose family lives the GF lifestyle, told me that they simply exchange all-purpose flour for gluten-free flour and it works fine. I had my doubts and first tried a recipe I found online that used a slurry of cottage cheese, eggs, and milk with the flour, but I found that it was overkill. The dough was very sticky and hard to work with. So I tried the simple recipe of water and flour (a half-cup of water for every cup of gluten-free flour) and it worked well.

Wearing disposable nitryl gloves was a stroke of genius. Not only were my hands protected from the sticky dough, it seemed that the dough didn’t stick to the gloves. I poured a cup of GF flour into a stainless steel bowl, added a half-cup of water to it, and mixed it around with my hands until it formed a ball of dough that pulled away from the sides of the bowl cleanly. (Sometimes a little more water or flour would be needed.)

I dusted a board with more flour, and moved the flour from the bowl onto the board. I kneaded it into a long log, about a foot long and 1 1/2″ thick. I cut it into 12 equal pieces, about 1″ wide.

Taking one cut piece, and using my thumbs, I twirled the dough around, flattening it into a small pancake, the way I remember my Mom and grandmother used to do it.  I placed a teaspoon of filling in the center of the pancake, then folded one side over so that it met the edges of the other side. I pressed with my fingers to make the two halves stick together and formed a seal.

 

The beef filling. I decided to wear gloves soon after this photo.

The beef filling. I decided to wear gloves soon after this photo.

The biggest challenges I had with making koldūnai was my own clumsiness and lack of experience. But once I got the hang of it, things moved along steadily, and it didn’t take long for me to make a couple of dozen. I placed them on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil (you can also use parchment paper) and placed them in the freezer to harden. Once hard, they go in freezer bags until ready to boil.

I made 3 types of koldūnai: mushroom, beef, and mac-and-cheese (by my daughter’s request.)

koldunai

The mushroom filling was nothing more than chopped button mushrooms combined with chopped porcinis that had been rehydrated, all sautéed in butter. The mac-and-cheese filling was a gluten-free mac-and-cheese dinner out of a box.

gf-mac

For the beef filling…

1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 pat of butter
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I use gluten-free)
1/4 cup milk

 

To make the breadcrumbs, I took a couple of slices of whole grain gluten-free bread and toasted them. Then I ground them up in a blender or food processor. The taste is far better than store-bought GF breadcrumbs, which usually are rock-hard rice nuggets.

I finely chopped the onion and sautéed it in a little butter until translucent. I let it cool, then added it to 1 lb. of thawed ground beef. I added the egg, the breadcrumbs, and the milk. I seasoned it with salt and pepper, and I mixed everything thoroughly, keeping the meat mixture in the fridge until I needed it.

 

Two pots of boiling salted water: one for the meat-filled koldūnai, and one for the mac-and-cheese filled koldūnai.

Two pots of boiling salted water: one for the meat-filled koldūnai, and one for the mac-and-cheese filled koldūnai.

No Lithuanian koldūnas recipe is complete without spirgučiai…

1 lb. bacon, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped

In a large pan, fry the chopped bacon until it’s almost crisp. I don’t drain the fat, but you can if you’re a wuss. Add the chopped onions and cook until they are soft. Set aside. These are called spirgučiai, (spir-guh-chay) and they are sprinkled on top of the finished koldūnai, just before serving. (My Mom always kept a stash of spirgučiai in a container in the fridge, and sprinkled them on anything and everything.)

duni 4

Once you’ve made the koldūnai, it’s up to you if you want to cook them right away or freeze them for later. Either way, when you’re ready, get a large pot of salted water boiling. Salt, just like when boiling pasta, is essential in giving the dough flavor.) Drop the koldūnai in gently, being careful not to overcrowd them. If the dough is thin, they will be ready when they float up to the surface. A thicker dough will need longer cooking. The best way to know if they’re done is by taking one out, cutting it open and having a look (and a taste!)

You can serve them straight out of the boiling water, but dropping them in a pan with a little butter to lightly sauté them a bit before serving is really the way to go.

When plating, sprinkle generously with spirgučiai, and serve with sour cream.

Enjoying each variety of koldūnai on a cold winter's night with friends.

Enjoying each variety of koldūnai on a cold winter’s night with friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s face it: there’s no such thing as healthy eggnog. This recipe kicks ass but is also a heart attack in a glass.

My buddy, Rick Sammarco, a wicked talented bartender, credits his father, Al, for this eggnog. The original recipe calls for a lot more of everything. I’ve cut it down to a “more reasonable” size. It’s been so long since I bought ice cream, that I didn’t even know that the standard half-gallon size was replaced by a 1.5 quart size!

A word about salmonella: most cases are caused by raw chicken, not raw eggs. Still, many people worry about it. You are adding a lot of booze to the mix. Some recipes tell you to make your eggnog weeks in advance to “sterilize” the drink. I’m not sure that works. Look…if you’re really worried about it, maybe this drink isn’t for you. I use a raw egg in my Caesar salad dressing and in other recipes, so I’m willing to risk it here.

eggnog

 

1.5 quarts vanilla ice cream (I use Breyer’s)
1 pint half and half
15 whole eggs (raw)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
At least 3/8 cup of each:
spiced rum (I use Capt. Morgan)
whiskey (I use Crown Royal)
brandy (I use E&J)

 

Let the ice cream soften 1 day in the fridge. Mix ice cream, eggs, vanilla, half and half in a blender.

Add the spices and liquor. Blend until it’s frothy.

Taste, and add more cinnamon and nutmeg if you like.

After it’s fully blended, let it sit in fridge 12-24 hours for flavors to blend. Even longer is better.