Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

I love onion dip, and really good onion dip is hard to find…you’ve got to make it. It’s not difficult to do, and it’s worth the effort.

I recently hosted a boys’ weekend at Saule, our rental home in Little Compton, Rhode Island, (www.sauleri.com. It’s listed at Home Away.com), and made a massive amount of this onion dip. It vanished. Great with chips or veggies.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced sweet onions
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
chopped chives, to garnish

 

In a saute pan over medium heat, salute the onions in the olive oil and salt until they are soft and barely caramelized, about 15 minutes. Remove them from the heat and set them aside to cool to room temperature.

In a bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients except the chives, then add the cooled onions and mix well.

Refrigerate the dip and stir again before serving. Sprinkle the chopped chives on top to garnish.

Not only is this Saturday Cinco de Mayo, it’s also the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby! Margaritas and Mint Juleps are two drinks I don’t want to mix, so I’m sticking with the julep this Saturday.

The Mint Julep is such a perfect, classic and historic bourbon drink, it seems silly to wait until Derby day to have one. Of course, as any aficionado of spirits will tell you, there are as many right ways as wrong ways of making one.

The first step in my Mint Julep is making the simple syrup. I use the standard ratio of 1 cup of clean, filtered water to 1 cup of sugar, but I use an organic product like Woodstock Farms Organic Pure Cane Sugar. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until just boiling. I’ve found that it needs to reach this stage for the sugar to really dissolve. As soon as it starts to boil, remove the saucepan from the heat, and throw in a handful of freshly picked mint leaves. Stir to make sure the mint gets in there, and then leave the saucepan to cool to room temperature. Once it’s at room temp, strain the simple syrup into a bottle with a tight sealing lid, and place in the refrigerator to cool. It will keep for about a week.

The next step is the tough part: the battle of the bourbons! The recent explosion of choices on the bourbon market has made it all but impossible for the average imbiber to know which bourbon is best for their tastes. My suggestion for this is to go to a trusted bartender and explain that you’re new to the bourbon world, and could you have the tiniest of tastes and sniffs of what he’s got at his bar. Chances are, you’ll get a sampling of some of the better known brands: Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, perhaps Buffalo Trace or Bulleit, and the standard Jim Beam. This is a very good start. If you have deeper pockets, go to the manager of a trusted higher end liquor store and explain that you’ve had all the rest, now what does he think is the best? Of course, hinting to wife and friends that “I’m trying new bourbons” around your birthday or Father’s Day inevitably gets you a few bottles as well!

My go-to bourbon for mint juleps is the very affordable Eagle Rare 10-year-old at $32.99 a bottle, or the classic Maker’s Mark.

Other ingredients for my perfect Mint Julep include crushed ice from clean, filtered water. Don’t even think of using tap water for any cocktail much less this one. Why ruin an expensive bottle of bourbon by going cheap on the ice? I make my own ice cubes, then put them in a canvas ice bag and bash them to the perfect crushed size.

And a Mint Julep needs a metal–not glass– Julep cup. Made of pewter or aluminum, it frosts on the outside as you stir your drink, keeping your beverage ice-cold on even the hottest of days. You simply need to have one to make the perfect Mint Julep.

 

So here’s my recipe…

 

 

3 oz. bourbon
1 oz. mint-infused simple syrup
crushed ice
Julep cup
Fresh mint for garnish

Crush the ice and pack it into the Julep cup, even letting it dome slightly over the top. Don’t worry…the alcohol will melt it.

I like to add 1.5 ounces of bourbon, then the ounce of simple syrup, then another 1.5 ounces of bourbon on top. Break off a few mint leaves from the stem and push into the ice. Using a long spoon, stir the drink well. A beautiful layer of frost will form on the outside of the cup. Add more ice, if necessary, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

 

Like any major city, our nation’s capital has no shortage of restaurants. It’s always a challenge to go through a variety of lists, from Trip Advisor to Open Table to Yelp, trying to find the handful of restaurants that will take our vacation to the next level.

In my experience, I’ve found that many websites with reviews can really be tricky. A person that gets one bad dish may give a restaurant 1 star. Someone who loves Burger King can give it 5 stars. So how do you know which reviews are real and which ones have an agenda? You don’t. You have to read…and sometimes read a lot of them…before you can make a decision.

Of course, when I’m talking about restaurants, I’m not talking about where to get a breakfast sandwich–although I will have that for you in this blog as well. I’m talking about a true dining experience, something that might cost you a lot of bucks but will give you happy, lasting memories.

We had 8 dinners in Washington DC, and because we arrived late on a Friday night, we decided to go to the restaurant located at our own hotel, the Westin in Georgetown. The house restaurant is called the Caucus Room, and being a hotel restaurant, we weren’t expecting amazing food, but we were expecting some food. A week earlier, we made a reservation for dinner at 8:15PM, and when we arrived, the place was empty except for one server who was cleaning up, the strong smell of ammonia in the air. We never got a call that our reservation was cancelled. Just an empty “sorry” from the server before he went back to wiping tables.

The fact that the Caucus Room, and its sister restaurant on the premises, Boveda, were dead–and I mean dead–the entire weekend we arrived, we pretty much decided our hotel was not a food destination. (And when we tried room service, not only was the food overcooked and dry, but it came in a large paper take-out bag. No real plates or utensils. This was the Westin’s new idea of “room service.” They called it  “Fork, Knife, Spoon,” or something dumb like that.)

 

Room service at the Westin Georgetown.

 

So with the Caucus Room closed, we started to walk the neighborhood and soon found the West End Bistro a couple of blocks away. If you “check in” on Facebook, you’ll see they call themselves West End Bistro by Eric Ripert…and although it is connected to the Ritz-Carlton hotel, clearly chef Ripert (of NYC’s Le Bernardin fame) scooted outa there a long time ago. However, we were hungry and we left somewhat satisfied. (I gave it a 3 out of 5.)

Saving ourselves for a Saturday morning brunch our first morning, we were off to explore the city, with a stop at the Navy Yard, where the huge amount of new construction reminded us of Boston’s waterfront: massive apartment complexes, beautiful walkways by the water, and many restaurants to feed those moving into a very dog-friendly neighborhood.

Recommended by our friend, Sal Liotta, the owner of the Back Eddy restaurant in Westport, Massachusetts, we made reservations for brunch at Waley’s in the Yard, as they call it, and we were not disappointed. My daughter went for the straightforward order of pancakes (though she said they were the best she ever had), but my wife and I shared a beautiful seafood tower (with cocktails, of course.) Excellent food, excellent service, friendly staff, excellent first meal of the day: a solid 5 out of 5.

The fabulous seafood tower for 2 at Waley’s.

 

Fiola Mare: Chef Fabio Trabocchi is a big player in the DC restaurant scene, owner of a half a dozen restaurants. We chose Fiola Mare because of its location on the water in Georgetown, and its seafood menu. The food didn’t disappoint, but the service was something out of a bad comedy. To our waiter, Miguel (who looked more like a Mikey), every dish we asked about was “fabulous” or “dazzling.” My wife was handed the wine list and three separate sommeliers swooped down on her within five minutes, asking if she needed help. She barely had time to turn the first page. I saw my favorite vodka, Stoli elit, on the menu, but at $26 for a martini (in a very small glass, I might add) I settled for Belvedere at $16. I also ordered 2 Manhattans. The first one arrived perfectly poured. The second one looked and tasted like they left out the vermouth. The lack of consistency with bar drinks would become my number one pet peeve on this trip.

A rich and delicious half-portion of the lobster ravioli at Fiola Mare.

So the food was excellent, but the service a laugh. And they did everything they could to rush us through our meal. We spotted that nonsense a mile away and let them know we’d be sticking around for a while. A very noisy atmosphere, but the food made us happy. Expensive. I give this Trabocchi cash cow 3 out of 5.

 

We had our disastrous room service food the next morning (as mentioned above), so after that we searched the neighborhood for local breakfast joints. There were three: the Uptowner Cafe, located directly across the street from the Westin hotel (meh)…the Fabulous Market and Cafe walking toward the Foggy Bottom Metro station (also meh)…and Aroma Cafe, a small sandwich shop on 24th between the other two, run by a lovely Asian couple that became our buddies for a few days. Fresh sandwiches, good coffee. Nothing crazy, but just what you want: a fresh bite of food before you get on the train and start your day. Thumbs up to Aroma Cafe.

 

Sunday night’s dinner was a fun challenge. I had read good things about Tail Up Goat and simply made the reservation. (The name comes from islands where the goat and sheep populations are huge. As the saying goes: “Tail down, sheep. Tail up, goat.”)

Crudo and lamb ribs at Tail Up Goat.

 

A small, neighborhood eatery with loyal local customers, Tail Up Goat was fun, bright, and eclectic. Cocktails were again served in tiny glasses, but the food was interesting and challenging in a good way: bold flavors and spices on our lamb ribs with yogurt-za’atar onions on the side. The biggest negative was an extremely small menu. Two of the three main courses offered were for two people, so if you were dining alone, that gave you only one choice. 3 out of 5.

They put the “tini” in martini at Tail Up Goat.

 

We decided to go old school for dinner the next night, and by the recommendations of several friends, we dined at the very crowded, loud, and tourist-trappy Old Ebbitt Grill. Although the website talks a lot about the restaurant’s history dating back to 1856, and although the interior looks like a very cool old historic saloon, the fact of the matter is the Old Ebbitt Grill has only been in its current location since the 1980’s. So much for history!

But…the food was solid…straightforward roasted chicken, beef, pasta and sides. (Sadly, though, not one really good steak is offered on the menu.) However, I did finally get my first REAL martini of our trip!

A real martini filled to the brim at the Old Ebbitt Grill.

 

The Old Ebbitt Grill

I give the Old Ebbitt Grill a 3.5 out of 5.

We had our most disastrous dining experience the following night. Originally reserving a table at Le Diplomate, we made a last-minute change to dine at the highly rated Marcel’s by Robert Weidmaier. Expensive, snooty, and dripping with attitude.

There are very few restaurants where we’ve actually felt compelled to return a dish because it was so badly prepared. But my boneless quail didn’t look or taste like quail. In fact, the sausage-like roll they plated could have been any meat. And it was extremely salty. So…we had to say something and return the dish. Once we did that, our server took the plate away and didn’t come back–not to see if perhaps we’d like to try another dish, or if there was anything else he could do to make our experience better. No…he didn’t come back at all. Once we complained about the food, we were put on the proverbial sh*# list, and no one returned to our table until dessert was served. (We had ordered that in the beginning, so no contact needed to be made.) Only when my wife asked is she could have some tea did our server turn to me and ask if I’d like something to drink as well.

From the sommelier that kept telling my wife all of her wine choices were “dead,” to an expensive and very tough veal chop, to a fishy scallop plate and a disappointing foie gras appetizer, we stared at each other in total disbelief. How could this restaurant get such great reviews? If they were having a bad night, they were having a really bad night. And sadly, that meant so were we. A very expensive bad night. I really want to give zero out of 5.

 

On the menu at the Blue Duck Tavern.

 

Thank goodness we had what was probably our best dining experience the next night, at Michelin-star rated Blue Duck Tavern. Located in the Hyatt hotel that is literally across the street from our Westin hotel, the Blue Duck Tavern is huge, gorgeous, full of space and light, with a professional staff and knock-your-socks-off food.

 

 

The place was packed on a Wednesday night, and we were given a table right in the center of the party. Unfortunately, we struggled to hear each other and asked to be moved to a quieter table. They did so without hesitation and without attitude. Our server, Frank, was the pro you hope for when you come to a restaurant like this: knowledgeable about the entire menu, eager to recommend when asked, and offering tons of useful information to food fanatics like ourselves. He even gave us a tour of the restaurant and kitchen after we placed our order. This dude knew what we wanted!

 

Bone marrow with a pretzel crumble. OMG.

 

The foie gras creme brulee was an absolute knockout. The bone marrow with pretzel crumble was without a doubt the best I’ve ever had, and I’m a bone marrow freak. I have been spoiled for life. Of course, if you come to a place called the Blue Duck Tavern, you must have the Moulard duck breast…fabulous. And my wood oven roasted whole branzino in a sunchoke romesco sauce, all 1 1/2 pounds of it, was devoured by yours truly with only bones to show for it. My usually picky daughter had a feast with the charcuterie and cheese plate followed by a plate of rich ricotta gnudi.

 

Wood fire roasted whole branzino.

A great wine selection, wonderful house cocktails, assistance without attitude…it’s everything you want in a fine dining experience. I can’t give them another Michelin star, but I give the Blue Duck Tavern a solid 5 out of 5.

 

 

Washington DC is chef Jose Andres’ playground. Sure, he’s got restaurants all over the country, but he’s got a dozen of them in DC, all very different from one another. There’s his Michelin-star rated Mini-Bar, Peruvian with Asian and Spanish accents at China Chilcano, heavy-duty Eastern Mediterranean at Zaytinya, and more. I opted for his straightforward Spanish tapas restaurant called Jaleo. We were in Madrid just a few years ago and we loved everything we ate. We were hoping to rekindle some of that “foodie love” and Chef Andres did not disappoint!

 

 

Jaleo is a lot of fun. It’s loud in many ways: the crowd, the crazy, bright colors and architecture, and the bold flavors on the menu. This is a place you bring your friends. Small plates mean you can share or not…but you can try many, many dishes and flavors all night long. We devoured plates of jamon Iberico with Manchego cheese, as well as a salami made with the same jamon. Two types of calamari: fried in olive oil and garlic, and sauteed with white beans. Crazy “liquid olives” inspired by legendary chef Ferran Adria. Grilled asparagus. Chicken fritters. Shrimp fried in olive oil and garlic. Grilled quail with a rosemary sauce (done perfectly–are you listening, Marcel’s?) And an Iberico tenderloin with blue cheese sauce. Yes…we ate it ALL.

 

The Iberico ham, salami, and manchego cheese.

 

The mind-boggling “liquid olives.”

 

We love Spanish wines from Rioja, which made it an easy choice at Jaleo. And I went over the top with the best gin and tonics I’ve ever had. I will never drink it any other way than Jose’s Choice: Hendrick’s Gin, Fever Tree tonic, lime and lemon, juniper berries, and a verbena leaf.

Jaleo gets a 5 out of 5 for sheer fun, great food and atmosphere, super-casual.

 

Out last dinner was right before we hopped on our plane homeward. We had a late flight, so we stopped by Nobu, which happened to be just a block from our hotel, for their Friday happy hour.  This location was the newest in the vast Nobu empire, and the space was huge, clean, modern, classy. It was a good time to go: though the menu was small, there were plenty of tasty bites to choose from, including a Wagyu beef dumpling with foie gras. We were even able to choose a dish or two from the main menu. Tasty food beautifully prepared, and a perfect non-bloating dinner before getting on a plane.

The bar at Nobu.

 

Of course, we had more than just dinners in Washington, DC. Twice we dined in museum cafeterias. Both times, the food was mediocre at best…but we weren’t expecting much more than that at a museum anyway. Once we dined from a food truck. OK food, too.

We were craving Chinese food, so I did a little research and found a place called Chinatown Express. Although the name wasn’t inspiring (think Panda Express–gack!) the food was excellent. When we saw the lovely ladies making dumplings by hand in the front window (“on the spot,” as the sign says), we knew it was the perfect authentic Chinese restaurant we were looking for.

We feasted on roasted duck, fried and steamed dumplings, chicken fried rice, wonton soup, and lots more. 4 out of 5 for authenticity.

 

Just a few doors down, on a day when my daughter and I had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, my wife returned to 6th Street to slurp down ramen noodles at Daikaya. She said it was so good, she’s been spoiled for life. Walk in for the ramen, or go to their restaurant for everything but the ramen. And yes, they fly in their noodles from Japan every day! 5 out of 5 for the ramen.

Daikaya.

 

And speaking of the Hard Rock Cafe, I’ve created a monster. I took my daughter to her first Hard Rock last year, when we went to Universal Studios in Orlando. Since then, the big question wherever we went was: “Is there a Hard Rock here, Dad?” So this one was her fourth.

She’s also been to the Hard Rock in the Cayman Islands and the one in New York City, which is located in Times Square (but the original was on West 57th.) The food at every Hard Rock is the same, so no review for that. It’s what you’d expect. But we always tour the entire restaurant after our meal, talking about music, bands and videos. It’s one of the few times that Dad, being the rock jock full of information for almost 4 decades, is actually cool.

 

One last note on inconsistent drinks: I mentioned earlier that it’s a pet peeve of mine that was tested several times during our vacation. Our Westin hotel didn’t even have a lobby big enough for a bar, so a couple of nights we went across the street to the Fairmont hotel, which had a large, spacious lobby and plenty of seating around the bar to sit, relax, grab a bite or have a cocktail. I kept it simple both nights, requesting a Blanton’s on the rocks. The first night, my drink was properly served in a rocks glass with a nice, large cube…a good pour for the money.

The second night, I literally received 1/3 of the drink I got the night before. When I posted my complaint on Twitter, Fairmont Hotels quickly replied, offering me a free drink if I returned. Sadly, I was home by then.

 

 

All in all, a great trip to Washington DC, with some wonderful experiences and some disappointment. But like with any trip, you’ll always increase your chances for success with a little research!

 

 

 

Washington DC is an incredible city, and if you’re willing to walk–a lot–there’s a lot to see. In our 7 days, we visited 17 museums and 14 monuments. You could say we were on a mission: my wife, the artist, needing to visit every art museum in town, and my 11-year-old daughter, learning about history in school, needing to feed the brain with endless historical information.

 

The National Air and Space Museum

 

All of the museums associated with the Smithsonian are open every day of the year except Christmas, and admission to all of them is free. Once you realize how amazing that is, you don’t complain about the $15 fried chicken plate at the cafeteria. They have to make their money somehow!

 

The National Portrait Gallery holds the official portraits of all the Presidents of the United States, as well as some portraits of First Ladies. Most notably, they recently installed the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama. Incredible to see them in person!

 

Loved this piece…

 

The toughest ticket to get, by far, is getting into the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The reason is that, unlike all the other Smithsonian museums, there really is an actual ticket you must have to get in. They limit the number of people who can visit every day, and you have to work a bit to be one of the lucky ones. It’s worth the effort. An architectural marvel with three stories underground and three above, the museum starts with the first days of slavery and brings you to current times. Along the way, it’s an incredible emotional ride.

Lucky tickets!

So if you want to get into the National Museum of African American History and Culture, here’s how to do it: First, they offer tickets online months ahead of time. Go to their website:(https://nmaahc.si.edu/visit/passes) to find out more. Or…the day you want to go, get on your computer at 6:30AM! Tickets are distributed in half-hour time slots for the day. And they sell out FAST. Or…your third chance to get a ticket is to walk up to the museum entrance on Madison Drive and get on a special line every weekday at 1PM, where they hand out a limited amount of tickets for that day and time. (They don’t offer these tickets on weekends.) We missed out on the first two possibilities, so we walked up and stood on line at 12:15PM and were handed tickets almost immediately for that day. We got lucky.

 

The Capitol, at one end of the National Mall.

 

As for monuments, there are plenty of them to see as you walk the National Mall, and my daughter wanted to see them all! The weather wasn’t cooperating much on our spring trip, raining sideways at times, but we powered through and saw just about all of them!

One of the Presidential helicopters flying past the Washington Monument.

 

The Lincoln Memorial.

 

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

 

The Korean War Memorial…one for my Dad.

 

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Awe-inspiring.

 

The words of FDR at his memorial.

 

If you’re interested in touring the White House, you can only get in with passes through your local Congressman’s office requesting passes way ahead of time. We were happy to simply see it from the outside. We just headed for Pennsylvania Avenue.

 

The National Zoo, a part of the Smithsonian, has free admission as well. Being a New York boy who grew up on the Bronx Zoo, I wasn’t hugely impressed by the National Zoo. But, I did see the pandas, and that made the trip worthwhile!

Tian Tian, the male, enjoying his bamboo snack.

 

 

Finally, when visiting Washington DC, skip the rental car and be sure to use the Metro.  It’s a great, cheap way to get around town. It sops close to most of the museums, though you’ll need to walk a bit for the monuments and memorials.

The Metro: super easy to use, super cheap.

 

JUSTANOTHERRIB RECIPE

Posted: April 4, 2018 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Sometimes, only ribs will do.

The classic “Adams Ribs” episode of M*A*S*H is one of my favorites. Hawkeye’s speech about the city of Chicago said it all: “Chicago. Hog butcher for the world. Toolmaker. Stacker of wheat. Player with railroads and the nation’s freight handler. Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders. Sandberg knew, Radar. Spareribber for the universe! Maker of meat on a bone! The home of the pigsicle! Give me your tired, your poor… your cole slaw.”

There’s a million ways to make great pork ribs….and only a few ways to really ruin them. So, yeah, here’s another rib recipe. But it’s good.

I like using Berkshire pork St. Louis style ribs. They’re fattier than beef ribs, so I don’t have to worry as much about them drying out. I always remove the skin on the back of the ribs before rubbing them down with my spice rub.

Rubbed-down ribs. I let them sit for an hour at room temp before smoking.

8 to 10 lbs. pork ribs
spice rub (see below)
barbecue sauce (see below)

 

Spice rub

2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon salt (I like using fine sea salt)
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon celery seed (not celery salt)
1 tablespoon granulated onion

 

Combine all the spice rub ingredients. I like to grind the celery seed in a spice grinder before mixing with the others, so that I don’t get crunchy bits.

If the pork rib slabs are long, cut them in half so they’re easier to work with (and so they fit in the smoker!)

Rub the ribs with the spice rub, and place them in a 250-degree oven or smoker. Place a pan of water underneath to keep them moist and to catch any grease that drips down. I use an electric smoker, so during those 3 hours of cooking, I add hickory chips once an hour.

After 3 hours of smoking with hickory chips. I place one rack on top of another, brushing them with sauce, then wrapping them in foil.

 

While the ribs are cooking, it’s time to make the barbecue sauce. I like a citrus-based, sweeter sauce, and this time, I had some mandarin oranges in the kitchen. But you can easily substitute regular oranges, lemons, limes or even grapefruit for this recipe.

1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup mandarin orange juice (or other citrus juice)
zest of 2 mandarin oranges (or other citrus)
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon hot sauce (I like Frank’s Red Hot)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Brushed with sauce before wrapping in foil for the last 2 hours of cooking.

 

Remove the ribs from the smoker, place them individually on a piece of aluminum foil, and brush them with the barbecue sauce on all sides. Wrap them completely with the foil and place them on a baking sheet in a pre-heated 250-degree oven. Cook for 2 hours more.

Why cut them into individual ribs when you know you’re going to eat the rack anyway?

 

 

 

 

 

The classic French Ratatouille uses eggplant, peppers, wine and herbs. Mine does not. So maybe it’s not ratatouille but a distant cousin. The taste, however, is awesome, and I like to use it in many ways.

Veal and pork meatballs with ratatouille, smothered in mozzarella cheese and baked!

4 strips bacon, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium green zucchini, diced
1 cup broth veal broth (although beef or chicken broth works fine)
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes
salt, pepper to taste
granulated garlic, to taste
olive oil

 

Using a large pan, heat a little olive oil and toss in the bacon. Cook it until crisp, then add the onions. (Don’t remove the bacon fat!)

Sauté the onions until translucent and then add the zucchini. Season with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic.

Once the zucchini has softened just a bit, add the broth and the diced tomatoes, mixing well.

Cook over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated and you have a nice, thick ratatouille.

It goes great with a delicious pan-seared steak!

 

 

 

The original recipe for this white bean soup used bits of bacon. But it just so happened that I was planning on slow-cooking a pork shoulder in my smoker today. When the smoked pork met the white bean soup, it was a match made in pig heaven!

2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 smashed garlic clove
3 cans (15 1/2 oz.) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, 1 1/2 cups reserved
40 oz. veal bone broth (or chicken broth, if you prefer)
1/4 teaspoon bouquet garni
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Bacon fat and/or olive oil
A slab of slow-cooked smoked pork shoulder, pulled and shredded

 

In a large heavy saucepan, sauté the onion, fennel, and garlic in bacon fat or olive oil until they are tender, about 8 minutes.

Drain and rinse the cannellini beans, reserving 1 1/2 cups for later. Pour the beans in the saucepan.

Add the veal (or chicken) broth, the bouquet garni, and the salt and pepper.

Simmer for 15 minutes, then turn the heat off and let it cool for 15 minutes.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender, until smooth.

Return the soup to the pot and add the reserved beans. Heat for 10 minutes, and then taste it, adding more salt and pepper, if needed.

To serve, place a mound of the pork, cubed or pulled, in the center of a bowl. Pour the soup on top, and drizzle with a touch of extra virgin olive oil. Chopped scallions, or fresh chives, or parsley on top never hurt!

 

 

Yes, you can. Wouldn’t make sense to write a blog about it otherwise, right?

They key ingredient in making a good fritter batter is beer. But up until recently, there weren’t many gluten-free beers to choose from…and the ones that were out there tasted like crap. All that has changed.

Now you can pretty much find a gluten-free craft beer in every state, and there are several regional gluten-free beers as well. Easy enough to find: just go to a good beer store and ask. They almost always carry a couple of brands.

Gluten-free beers can be divided into 2 types: truly gluten-free: brewed with gluten-free ingredients and safe for Celiacs to drink…and gluten-reduced: beers that are brewed with ingredients containing gluten, then had an enzyme added to reduce  the gluten. These are fine for those, like my wife, that have an intolerance to gluten, but are not Celiac. Read the labels!

 

The beer that I used for my recipe is a beer that they say  is “crafted to remove gluten,” meaning there’s still a small amount left in there.

Ultimately, if gluten is not an issue for you, follow the recipe at the bottom of this page. It’s my original, and not only uses a tasty lager full of gluten, but also a special fritter flour, which can be found in many stores.

However, if you have to “live the gluten-free live,” and you’ve told yourself you can never have another fritter, I have good news for you: you can…and they’re delicious! This is a large batch, so feel free to reduce it if needed.

 

In making this recipe, I tested 3 types of gluten-free flour: Cup4Cup all-purpose flour, Bob’s Red Mill GF Baking Flour, and a Canadian brand (not available here yet.) Cup4Cup (far left) was the clear winner for taste and texture of the fritter.

1 lb. all-purpose gluten-free flour (I like Cup4Cup)
2 lbs. frozen or fresh mussels
1/2 cup (or more) gluten-reduced lager beer (I use Omission)
oil for frying (I stay away from canola, but use what you like)

 

Pour an inch or two of water in the bottom of a pot, and place a strainer on top. Pour the mussels, fresh or frozen, onto the strainer and cover the pot. Set the heat on high and steam the mussels until they’re cooked, about 5 minutes. If you’re using fresh mussels, throw out any of the ones that didn’t open. Frozen mussel meats (without the shell) are also available in many areas. They work with this method, too.

 

Steamed New Zealand green-lipped mussels. Available frozen in many stores. Get the plain ones, not the ones that already come with sauce.

Remove the meats from the mussels, and toss them in a food processor. Give them a quick chop…not too fine, because you want to see and taste them in the fritter.

Save the “mussel juice,” the water in the bottom of the pot. It’s got lots of mussel flavor.

Place the flour in a large bowl. Add the chopped mussels. Add a 1/2 cup of the mussel juice and a 1/2 cup of the beer. Mix thoroughly, using a fork or your hands, until you get a batter that’s a bit gooey, but not really wet. You might need to keep adding small amount of broth, beer or flour to get just the right consistency. Once you’ve done that, let the batter rest for 10 or 15 minutes. Keep it at room temperature, and do not stir again! If you need to wait a while before frying, cover the bowl with a wet towel.

In a heavy pan or a fryer, heat the oil to 350 degrees.

 

Once the oil is hot, take small meatball-sized globs in your hands and gently drop them into the oil. Don’t fry too many at once or the oil temperature will drop too quickly. Fry them until they’re golden brown and cooked all the way through. Drain the fritters on paper towels, and season them immediately with salt and pepper.

The dipping sauce recipe I have listed at the bottom is not gluten-free. But most tartare-type sauces usually are, and are equally delicious.

Of course, you can make fritters with anything, from mussels to shrimp to lobster!

 

You’d never know they were gluten-free!

 

Here’s the original recipe, full of glorious gluten!

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)
Oil for frying (I don’t use canola oil)

 

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!

 

IMG_3043

 

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.

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! (If you’re dying to have it on St Patty’s Day anyway, just buy yourself a supermarket slab this time, then make your own when the craving hits again.) Doing it yourself is not difficult. It just takes time…and you get a better final product.

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 its 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.

Few slabs of meat are as amazing as a pork butt or shoulder, rubbed with a special dry rub, then slow-smoked for 8 hours (or more), pulled and slathered with amazing barbecue sauce. It takes time, but it’s not really that hard to do.

 

My electric smoker allows me to set the time and temp and walk away.

 

 

 

First, get a hunka pork. The kind of pig I get matters to me, and so I buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire (also known as Kurobuta), from a farm that raises them humanely. I’m willing to pay the extra bucks to get better quality meat.

But going to a supermarket or butcher shop for pork is what most people do. The names of the cuts of meat can be a bit confusing. Despite its name, pork butt is not from the back-end of the pig.  (The term “butt” referred to the barrel the meat was stored in when the only method of preservation was salting the meat and storing it in barrels.)

The pork butt is actually the shoulder of the pig. The pork shoulder picnic is a lower cut of the same area. These cuts can also go by the names Boston shoulder roast, Boston butt, Boston roast, shoulder butt, and shoulder-blade roast. Whatever the name, these are all nicely marbled hunks of meat that usually weigh in anywhere from 6 to 8 lbs, and are easy to find. Barbecue fanatics claim the bone-in pork butt is more flavorful, but boneless will work, too.

Once I’ve got my slab of pork, I need to season it. I’ve found that a simple rub is the best way to go for the sauce I’m going to use later.

After 8 hours in the smoker, the rub makes a crust on the meat that is just fantastic!

BASIC DRY RUB

1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup paprika
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon onion powder

Place all the ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake it up to blend.

Once I’ve made the rub, I generously sprinkle it all over the pork, and rub it in really well. I have a digital smoker at home, which allows me to set the temperature to cook and smoke my pork butt. I place the pork butt on a rack, put a drip pan with water underneath it to catch the grease, and set the smoker for 250 degrees. I cook the pork at 250 for about 6 to 8 hours, and then add hickory chips to the smoker and smoke the butt at 250 for at least another 2 hours. The marbled fat in the pork butt slowly melts over time and the pork becomes incredibly tender and flavorful.

I remove the pork butt from the smoker and let it rest, covered with aluminum foil, for at least 20 minutes before pulling it apart with a couple of forks, shredding it into beautiful meaty bits.

While the pork is cooking and smoking, there’s plenty of time to make two other very important parts of this recipe: a vinegar-based barbecue sauce, and the cole slaw.

Slaw on the side or on the sandwich…up to you!

 

BARBECUE SAUCE

2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
6 tablespoons white vinegar
6 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

 

Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until the flavors have blended, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temp. If you store it in an airtight container in the fridge, it’ll stay good for a few months.

COLE SLAW

My unusual cole slaw recipe uses an interesting ingredient: pickle juice! Just a splash of juice from your favorite jar of pickles is all you need.

 

1 package of cole slaw veggies
splash of pickle juice
1/4 cup mayonnaise (more to taste)
teaspoon celery seed (not salt)
salt and pepper

There are no real specific measurements for cole slaw, because I’ve found that some people like it dry, others wet…some peppery, some not. Play around with it and make it your own. I prefer a more mayonnaise-y cole slaw, and usually err on the wet side.

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients. Cover it with plastic wrap and chill. When ready to use, re-mix it, and taste for seasoning before using.

OK…time to make that sandwich!

You can either go Carolina style and place the cole slaw right on top of the pulled pork in the bun, or simply serve the slaw on the side. No rules!

Whether you go through all these steps yourself or not, it’s nice to appreciate a labor of love that is worth every bit of time and trouble invested in it.