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CHIVE BLOSSOMS

Posted: May 22, 2019 in Food, garden, pizza, Uncategorized
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This is the time of year when the chives in my herb garden are busting out with blossoms. Before they pop, I head out every few days and snip the larger ones off the chive plants with about 3 inches of the green stem, wrap them in freezer bags and freeze them.

 

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I use those blossoms over the course of the year on a variety of dishes, but they really shine on my signature marinated beef and chive blossom pizza. I just take a packet of chive blossoms out of the freezer, and sauté them lightly in olive oil and salt and pepper, then sprinkle them on the pizza before baking.

 

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

 

Pick 'em and freeze 'em in May!

Pick ’em and freeze ’em in May!

Chive blossoms not only add great flavor, but they look cool on the plate, too.  I’ll add them as a side to almost any meat dish, or chop them after sautéing and sprinkle them in rice or quinoa. Great for stir-frying.

 

This Saturday is the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby! It’s also the 2nd annual Boyz Weekend at our summer rental home, Saule. (www.sauleri.com) We’ll be mixing juleps and watching the race, just like last year.

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. Learning from one of my old radio buddies, my pal Rick O’B, I infuse mint into my simple syrup to take my cocktail to the next level. I use the standard ratio of 1 cup of clean, filtered water to 1 cup of sugar, using an organic product like Woodstock Farms Organic Pure Cane Sugar. I 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, I remove the saucepan from the heat, and throw in a handful of freshly picked mint leaves, stirring to make sure the mint gets in there, and then I leave the saucepan to cool to room temperature. Once it’s at room temp, I strain the simple syrup into a bottle with a tight sealing lid, and place it in the refrigerator to cool. It will keep for about a week.

An equally important ingredient for a perfect Mint Julep is the ice, specifically 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 an untreated canvas ice bag and bash them with a mallet to the perfect crushed size. Untreated canvas bags for crushing ice can be purchased online from bar supply companies for about $30. I got an untreated canvas tool bag (the exact same shape and size) at Home Depot for 3 bucks.

Da bag.

The next step is a little tougher: which bourbon to choose. The 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. If you’re a beginner, I suggest you 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? (Also, 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…and you can never go wrong with the classic Maker’s Mark. It’s always on sale around Derby Day.

Finally, 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.

 

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.

A nice selection of bourbons. This is an old photo: that Pappy Van Winkle is long gone…but I saved the bottle!

 

ST. LUCIA…LOOKING BACK

Posted: April 25, 2019 in Uncategorized
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Now that I’m home from my trip to St. Lucia, I’ve had a chance to think about the wonderful people I’ve met, and the unique experiences I’ve had.

My driver, Anthony, and I having one last sip of spiced rum before I headed to the airport to go home.

 

One of the smartest things I did was to hire a knowledgeable driver, Anthony, take me just about everywhere. Though I did rent a car for one day and took the winding, volcanic St. Lucian roads into my own hands, I stayed on the main drag, and I didn’t get out to mingle with the locals like I did when Anthony was by my side. Like many Caribbean islands I’ve been to, there’s quite a bit of poverty on this island. And people make a living any way they can. Sometimes it’s less than friendly. But for the most part, the people I met were grateful that I was there to appreciate their island and learn about their way of life.

I bought a conch shell from this fellow.

 

St. Lucia’s big crop and major export is bananas, most of which goes to the United Kingdom. You see huge banana plantations everywhere as you travel the main roads of the island. Their beer, Piton, stays on St. Lucia, which is too bad, because it tasted pretty good on those very hot days. And the big money, of course, comes from tourism.

Piton Gold has more alcohol than their regular beer. Works for me!

 

Chairman’s Reserve rum…the good stuff.

 

Bounty was good for mixing.

 

In some ways, St. Lucia is a few steps ahead in the tourism game. I’ve been to my share of tiny island airports, and some are dirty, hot, and completely disorganized. St. Lucia’s international airport is clean, air-conditioned, and the boarding of passengers was done in an orderly fashion.

The waiting area at the airport. There’s also a food court upstairs.

 

As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter how great the vacation was. If leaving the island becomes a nightmare at the airport, I will never return, and I won’t recommend it to anyone else, either. St. Lucia gets a big thumbs-up for that.

 

The island is large, and most of the roads are well-paved, though they wind up, down and around the island’s mountainous terrain. It took 90 minutes to get from the airport to the property I was renting in Marigot Bay, and that’s only halfway up the island. If all you’re doing is going to one of the three Sandals resorts (all in the northwest part of the island, just past Castries…about 2 hours from the airport), then maybe that’s fine. But if you’re like me, and you want to get out and explore a bit, transportation, whether by car or water taxi, is a large cash-only cost, especially if you’re traveling solo with no one to share the ride.

A map of St. Lucia I brought from home. The orange highlighted roads were all the ones I traveled on my trip! A lot of driving! The pink highlight at the bottom is the international airport…the pink highlight on the left is Anse Chastanet…and the black writing further up on the left is Marigot Bay, where I stayed.

 

Eastern Caribbean coins, or EC, are used here. One US dollar = 2.7 EC dollars.

 

Most established restaurants and bars will have a good selection of booze to choose from. But unfortunately, they measure their shots here (a pet peeve of mine), so if you want a “real” drink, you’ll need to ask for a double. Sometimes, if you’ve befriended the bartender, they’ll start pouring more generously toward the end of the night. A good tip never hurts!

Driving is on the left-hand side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right. Concentrate! Don’t drink and drive!

 

The local restaurants often have some liquor to offer as well, but what they have varies greatly. Still, you can’t go wrong with rum. (Mt. Gay, one of my favorites, is available almost everywhere.) If you’re an adventurer when it comes to drinking, ask for “spiced,” which is a house-made spiced rum. They take a gallon jug, fill it with overproof rum, add some local sticks and twigs (probably cinnamon and other stuff), add some spices, and then something like grenadine to make it red and sweet. They pour it in a small cup for you to enjoy. It’s very strong, very sweet, and it burns all the way down…not that that’s a bad thing!

Local spiced rum!

 

The Rum Cave at the Marigot Bay Resort and Marina, a more luxurious choice for dinner and drinks, offered tapas and a nice choice of rums…even rum tasting sessions.

 

Drinking and driving, though discouraged with billboard ads, is not strictly regulated, and it’s not unusual for a driver to have a beer in one hand while steering with the other.

Another way to earn money: making charcoal to sell to hotels for barbecuing.

 

Many St. Lucians, like my friend, Anthony, see tourism as their way to make a living, so they welcome it. But in the beginning, as we were driving from the airport to my rental cottage, we passed many poor towns, with beat up old shacks on the side of the road. Trash was everywhere, including stripped cars and old trucks overgrown with grass, showing they’ve been there–and will be–for some time. It reminded me of Anguilla and a few other islands I’ve been to. Seeing some of these things was a bit disturbing in the beginning, but it’s also amazing how quickly I got used to it and almost ignored it after a while. Maybe that’s typical…or maybe that says something about us as human beings.

On the northern part of the island: the set-up for baking bread on the side of the road…a large drum, sheet metal, a wheel rim, and a few cinder blocks.

 

The roadside bakeries that I explored in the north and the south, were a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

That’s my buddy, Anthony, being served!

 

Bread baking on the southern part of the island: a homemade concrete stove.

 

A delicious Caribbean lunch from an out-of-the-way restaurant where only the locals go.

 

This lovely lady serves fresh-caught grilled conch in Gros Islet on Wednesdays and Fridays…and she sells out quickly. It was delicious!

 

The grilled conch, with rice and an onion-garlic sauce.

 

It’s good to visit some of these shacks–preferably with a local guide (like my friend, Anthony) who knows what he’s doing, and knows the people. They’re hard-working, and aren’t looking for a handout.

A voltage converter is mandatory. Most electrical outlets are 220 volts. (American flag optional.)

 

I passed dozens of small stands on the side of the road selling bananas, pumpkins, tomatoes, ginger, and other local produce. There were small food trucks, souvenir stands, and tiny little shacks that could barely hold 3 bar stools with signs that exclaimed: “Come in. Refresh Yourself!” Local spiced rum and other beverages were served inside.

One of the Pitons.

 

The very northern tip of St. Lucia. It’s a 90-minute ferry ride from here to Martinique.

 

Marigot Bay at sunset, from the balcony of Julietta’s restaurant. I had an excellent grilled mahi dinner here.

 

A little morning drizzle brings rainbows.

 

Although the beaches on St. Lucia are open to the public, even those that belong to the fancy resorts, they often make access difficult for the regular folk that just want to spend the day there and go for a swim. At Anse Chastanet, one of the most luxurious resorts on the island, you can throw your blanket on the sand in a designated area for free. But a chair is $24 a day, and it’s positioned away from the hotel guests who are paying a pretty penny to be separated from the “riff-raff.” I also got approached by a local trying to sell me a variety of hiking and sailing packages, something that’s pretty common everywhere.

Anse Chastanet: visitors stay on this side of the bar. Still, could be worse, right?

 

Red snapper coconut ceviche at Anse Chastanet.

 

I’m not a cruise guy. I’m not an all-inclusive resort guy. I think most people who have been to St. Lucia have done one or the other. It’s a very limited experience. If you’re staying in a resort surrounded by barbed wire and you never leave, what difference does it make where you go?–St. Lucia, Jamaica, Cancun…it’s all the same. You don’t meet the people, apart from those selling souvenirs and duty-free liquor. And you don’t sample real St. Lucian food, a wonderful mix of French, East Indian, and British dishes, mixed with local mangoes, plantains, oranges, and root vegetables.

Enjoying a freshly opened coconut on the side of the road. First you drink the coconut water, then scoop out the soft meat inside.

 

Banana ketchup, which tastes more like banana mustard. I got hooked.

 

St. Lucia has many luxurious resorts where the rich and famous come to hide. But for me, the real St. Lucia is a get-out-of-your-comfort-zone island. That’s where the genuine island experience is.

 

 

ST. LUCIA…Day 5

Posted: April 10, 2019 in Uncategorized
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My driver and newest best friend, Anthony, was telling me about this woman who cooks the most amazing grilled conch. But she only serves it on Wednesdays and Fridays. And considering today is Wednesday, and my last full day on the island, it was imperative that I go and check it out.

 

 

He told me it would be unlike any conch I’ve ever had before… And he was right!

 

I think she marinated and then grilled it, but didn’t overcook it, so it was absolutely delicious with a little bit of a bite.

 

 

She served it with rice on the side, And then poured this amazing sauce made of sautéed onions and garlic over everything. It was fantastic!

 

It was a long ride from my comfortable little hut, but it was absolutely worth it.

 

On the way back, we stopped at another roadside bakery, where a woman was baking amazing bread.

That’s my buddy, Anthony, being served!

 

 

Flour, water, yeast, salt.  The natural warmth and humidity of the air was perfect for proofing the bread before baking.

The sheer ingenuity of the people on this island… Utilizing anything they can get their hands on. Really amazing.

 

And the bread was absolutely delicious!

ST. LUCIA…Day 4

Posted: April 9, 2019 in Uncategorized
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When I’m asked for my best advice for traveling, my top reply is: make friends with a local.  Nobody knows like someone who’s lived there all their life.

In the case of my driver, Anthony, he knew all the back roads to avoid traffic in the bigger city. He knew all the food places where the locals, not the tourists, eat.

And I noticed how the locals looked at me, giving me a thumbs up, when they saw that I was supporting one of their own.

Today’s island tour covered mostly the northern part of the country. We had lunch at a simple Caribbean restaurant, where I had delicious grilled chicken with salad, rice, potato salad, and noodles.

 

 

I grabbed myself another bottle of St. Lucian rum, this time a little less fancy than what I have been drinking before. But it totally works with a mixer.

 

I discovered something called banana ketchup, which I have to take home!

 

And in the heat of the day, I enjoyed fresh coconut water.  Afterwards, with a couple of swift moves of his machete, the gentleman split the coconut in half and made a makeshift spoon that let me scoop out all the soft interior meat. Delicious!

 

( Anthony is a great driver… But not the best photographer! )

 

 

ST. LUCIA…Day 3

Posted: April 8, 2019 in Uncategorized

So here’s the deal with St. Lucia: all the beaches are accessible to the public,  even the ones that have resorts built on them. So fancy places like Anse Chastanet do what they can to keep the so-called “riffraff” out.

The 2-mile entrance road to the resort is in ridiculously poor condition, to limit the number of cars entering the property.

Most of the people who can afford to stay at this resort fly in by helicopter. (They have the only helipad on the island.)

Others will pay big money for a water taxi that can deliver them right to the beach. But then again, you don’t get to use the part of the beach the hotel guests use. You use the more commercial side, where all the scuba boats and what-not go in and out all day.

No matter. I rented a 4WD and took the road in. I snorkeled ( it’s supposedly some of the best on the island, but it was a rainy and cloudy day) and had a wonderful lunch on the beach.

Red snapper ceviche with coconut and St. Lucian shrimp quesadillas!

My original plan was to have dinner at their sister resort, Jade Mountain, which is located directly above, up another crazy treacherous road. But I decided that having dinner and cocktails and then driving in darkness was probably not a smart idea.

I made it back to my little eco-hut in Marigot Bay long before sunset.

ST. LUCIA…Day 2

Posted: April 7, 2019 in Uncategorized

BD392CCB-AE62-4F0C-A6DC-A7CB9FD9D1E6The Rum Cave at the Marigot Bay Resort and Marina:  A decent selection of rum. But many fun tapas to enjoy.

Took a taxi instead of walking the very long and steep uphill back to my hut. Worth every penny!

ST. LUCIA…Day 1

Posted: April 7, 2019 in Uncategorized

Straight from the airport, my newest best friend in St. Lucia, Anthony, my driver, took me to this roadside bakery with fantastic bread baked in a wood-fired oven. Sliced open, a little butter, and a little cheese in that still warm bread made a fantastic gooey sandwich!

The bread was so good that I literally had another bun  with salted butter as my dinner!

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St. Patty’s Day is this Sunday, so supermarkets are full of packages of processed corned beef in preparation for the big celebration. Too bad corned beef isn’t an authentic Irish dish!

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 adding 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 really delicious slab of beef.

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 meat 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 then 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.

 

Happy St. Patty’s Day!

I live one town over from Fall River, Massachusetts, and just down the road from New Bedford, Massachusetts, two thriving proud Portuguese communities. My daughter is in middle school, and she’s taking mandatory Portuguese language classes. We’ve got dozens of authentic Portuguese restaurants in the area, and even a well-stocked supermarket with its own bacalhau (salt cod) room: Portugalia Marketplace, in Fall River.

So when I first posted my recipe of Portuguese kale soup, I was told by many Portuguese friends that my soup wasn’t authentic so I couldn’t call it that. Fair enough. After all, my soup has far less carbs, fewer spices, and uses homemade stock instead of water. It may not be Portuguese, but it’s full of flavor.

My version of the classic Portuguese kale soup.

My version of the classic Portuguese kale soup.

4 cups home-made chicken or beef stock
4 cups water
1 cup lentils, rinsed in cold water
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, through a press
1 lb. chourico, peeled and chopped into small cubes (I use Mello’s, out of Fall River, Mass.)
1 large bunch organic kale
salt and pepper

Add the stock and water to a large pot. Heat until boiling. Add the lentils.

In a saucepan with a little olive oil or bacon fat, saute the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic for a few minutes. Add the chopped chourico and saute a few minutes more. Add the contents of the saute pan in the pot.

Wash and de-stem the kale, tearing the leaves into smaller pieces. Add the leaves to the pot and stir. The stems go in your compost pile. (You can also use them in a juicer.)

Cook the soup until the lentils are al dente. Taste and season for salt and pepper before serving.

 

 

My Portuguese pal, Paula, has a great soup recipe that has been passed down from her Mom. Her Mom even adds chicken feet to the stock, which Paula chooses to leave out. Like most Portuguese soup recipes I’ve seen, there’s a ton of carbs: often potatoes with pasta with a lot of beans. But it is good!

Paula’s Portuguese Soup

3 cans garbanzo beans
2 cans white cannellini beans
1 can pink beans
1 fennel bulb
Large bunch of kale
5-6 potatoes
1 cabbage
2 sticks hot chourico
Beef ribs
1 cup dry macaroni (elbows)
Red crushed pepper wet-optional

Drain and puree 3 cans of garbanzo beans in a food processor. Put the puree in a large pot with about a gallon of water.  Chop the chourico, and add it to the puree along with the ribs. Boil for 20 minutes. Chop the fennel bulb and cabbage into 2 inch squares.  Add the fennel and cabbage to soup and boil for 30 minutes.  Add the chopped kale, and boil for 30 minutes. Add the cubed potatoes and before the potatoes are done, add the remaining drained cans of beans. Add macaroni and cook for a short time at the end.