Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Starting in the mid 1700’s, sailors in the British Navy were given a daily ration of rum. They called it a “tot,” and the practice of daily “tot” distribution lasted for almost 200 years, until July 31, 1970. When it ended, not only were there many sad British sailors, but there was also a vast amount of leftover rum. Much of it was sold off at high prices because the taste was excellent and the methods of its distillation were no longer used.

It made sense. In the old days, when liquids were stored in wooden barrels aboard ship, water, beer, and wine would go bad very quickly. Only something with a much higher alcohol content wouldn’t spoil. Rum was the answer. And getting the sailors drunk every day kept them from deserting…it was good for morale!

But while the sailors drank rum, Royal Navy officers drank gin. The use of exotic spices in gin was made possible by imports from Africa and Asia. Gin’s prevalence around the world is largely due to the fact that sailors set foot in many new cities on new continents.

And though the British Navy stopped the practice of issuing alcohol to its sailors in 1970, the Royal New Zealand Navy abolished the practice as late as 1990!

Until my recent trip to New Zealand, I was not a huge fan of gin. I liked it. A gin and tonic was a nice refreshing drink on a hot summer’s day. And my fascination with the Vesper martini, a combination of gin and vodka, made me appreciate gin even more.

But it wasn’t until I went to New Zealand, and tasted their magnificent gins, in combination with delicious tonics only available in that country, did I really start to appreciate the subtle differences between them.

The first thing that caught my eye when I was served a sample of Roots gin, distilled in Marlborough, was the label: “Navy strength dry gin.” I asked what that meant. Well, for one thing, it had more alcohol. And the reason for that was surprising. Since gin, like rum, was stored in wooden barrels on ships, very often next to barrels of gunpowder, the gin had to contain enough alcohol so that if it spilled onto the gunpowder, the gunpowder would still ignite! Not enough alcohol in the gin would waterlog the gunpowder and make it useless. So tests were actually done by pouring gin on gunpowder to see what the minimum percentage of alcohol was required to keep the gunpowder burning. The answer was about 57%. Anything below that and the gunpowder would not burn. They coined the term “Navy strength.”

(Although the bottle of Roots gin above weighs in at 54.5%, it’s properly called “Navy strength.” In 1866, to keep sailors from getting completely hammered, the British Royal Navy reduced the alcohol content of the rum they were distributing to 54.5%. Hence, a new “Navy strength.”)

I was allowed to take only 1 bottle home from New Zealand, but, as you can see, it was not Navy strength. Still delicious!

The other advantage to a Navy strength gin is taste. If you’re not diluting it with water, not only are you getting more alcohol, but you’re also getting more of the herbaceous flavor you want in a gin.

Up until my trip to New Zealand, my experience with gin was limited to the usual list of suspects: Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, and Hendrick’s. I also more recently discovered Ford’s, a very nice London dry gin I use in my Vesper martinis.

But in New Zealand, many of the gins were floral and herb-forward, and I found that I like that. I like that a lot. For example, Victor, another Marlborough gin, was like “Hendrick’s on steroids.” I said that to my bartender at the Urban Eatery and Oyster Bar in Nelson, NZ, and she agreed. Delicious.

Although gins may vary in alcohol content, rules about serving liquor in New Zealand are very strict, certainly by US standards. For example, a “double” in New Zealand is 30ml. That’s 1 ounce! And that’s a standard pour for a cocktail. You can, I found out, ask for a “double-double.” And in that case, they would serve you a 1-ounce shot on the side with your drink, and you would have to pour it in yourself.

When I told the bartenders in New Zealand that we have 4-ounce martinis at any decent steakhouse in the US, and they realized that was 120 mls, their jaws pretty much dropped and hit the bar. One bartender gasped: “That’s irresponsible!” I told her that two of those drinks is widely considered the “businessman’s lunch” here in the states. She just shook her head.

Much to choose from at Kismet, my favorite bar in Nelson, NZ.

The phrase “proof” also has a very different meaning.

In the states, it’s pretty simple: it’s double the percentage of alcohol. So a bottle that’s 40% alcohol is 80 proof.

But the phrase “proof” comes from there British Royal Navy’s “proof” test. They would take the gin, pour it onto gunpowder, and if it ignited, that would prove there is sufficient alcohol in the gin. They would say that the gin was “gunpowder proof,” and it would be allowed onboard the ship.

So in the UK, a spirit with 57.15% is 100 degrees proof. A spirit with 40% alcohol is 70 degrees proof.

For me, it’s easier to simply remember to check the percentage of alcohol, and go from there.

One of the reasons I fell in love with New Zealand gin was because it was often served with East Imperial tonic, a New Zealand product not available in the United States. When the amount of alcohol you’re allowed in your glass is limited (by our standards, anyway), what fills the rest of it up becomes incredibly important. East Imperial is the best line of tonics I’ve ever tried.

Made in small batches like craft beers, East Imperial tonics make all the difference. The closest thing we have here in the states is the line of Fever Tree products. Before they came along, tonic was tonic, and we were perfectly happy with whatever we found in the supermarket or what came out of a squirt gun at our local bar.

It stands to reason that a great cocktail is the total sum of its parts: great gin, great tonic, great ice.

I was enjoying a few Roots and tonics at the Bamboo Tiger, a bar inside the D’Urville Hotel in Blenheim, NZ, when we felt earthquake tremors. (My first!) It only lasted a few seconds, and when the chandeliers stopped moving, everyone pretty much went right back to business!



Posted: March 13, 2023 in Uncategorized

I was in the supermarket the other day, and a pack of pork chops called to me as I walked by the meat department. I hadn’t had pork chops in ages, and it was time to try something new with them.

The balsamic vinegar used in this recipe is not the crazy expensive stuff. It’s the bottle you probably already have in your kitchen cabinet that costs about nine bucks.

The cool thing about this recipe is that you make it all in one pan, and on the stovetop.

4 or 5 bone-in pork chops
olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 large Spanish onion, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth (homemade is always best)
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Season the pork chops with the salt, pepper and thyme.

Add some olive oil to a large pan, and when it’s hot, sear the pork chops on both sides until they’re nice and brown.

Remove the pork chops from the pan and set them aside. Pour out the fat in the pan, add a touch of olive oil, and put it back on the heat. Add the onions, sautéing them for about 10 minutes until they’ve softened, and then add the garlic. Sauté a minute more.

Add the chicken broth, Dijon, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine.

Return the pork chops back to the pan, nestling them down into the sauce. Add any of the juices that may have collected when you set the chops aside.

Bring the pan to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover the pan. Let it cook for 45 to 60 minutes. I like to flip the chops about halfway through the cooking process.

To serve, remove the chops from the pan, and smother them with the sauce! You may want to reduce or thicken the sauce a bit, but I like it just the way it is!


Posted: March 7, 2023 in Uncategorized

My daughter wanted something special for breakfast a few Saturdays ago, and she brought a ready-to-mix box of Belgian waffle mix out of the cupboard. I read the instructions, and it required using the entire box, which made 10 gigantic waffles…way too much for us to eat in one sitting!


I figured there had to be a homemade Belgian waffle recipe somewhere online, and using ingredients I already had at home. The Food Network’s Alton Brown is usually my go-to source for recipes like this, and sure enough, he had a waffle recipe. But it used buttermilk and whole wheat pastry flour, neither of which I had in my pantry or fridge. Alton’s recipe would have to wait for another day.

I finally found one that used regular milk instead of buttermilk. I combined organic all-purpose flour with organic whole wheat flour; I like the richness in flavor whole wheat flour brings.

I try to always use organic unbleached flours, because wheat is another one of those crops that gets blasted with pesticides and chemicals in both growing and processing.


The Kitchen Aid might be overkill, but I don’t have a hand mixer!


*Separating eggs*
I like to take 2 small bowls and place them on the counter. I take an egg and crack it on a flat surface, which reduces the chance of a shell fragment getting into the egg. Going back and forth between eggshell halves, the yolk stays in the shell while the whites drip down into one of the bowls. The clean yolk goes in the other bowl. Repeat with the other egg.

It’s important to remember that you CAN have a little egg white with your yolk. It won’t hurt anything. BUT…you can NOT have any yolk with your egg whites! The whites will not whip up if there’s even the tiniest bit of yolk in them!

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs, separated
2 cups milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pre-heat the waffle iron, spraying it with cooking spray. (I like to use a high-smoking point oil like avocado oil.)

In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose and wheat flour, the sugar, baking powder, and cinnamon.

Carefully separate the eggs whites from the yolks, placing the yolks in a bowl with the milk, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Whisk until combined.

Place the egg whites in a bowl and beat with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. (I don’t have a hand mixer, so I used my stand mixer for this job.)


Add the yolk mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well.

Next, fold the egg whites carefully into the bowl. You should have a beautiful, light airy batter, that has a wonderful cinnamon fragrance.


Ready to fold in…


Pour the batter into the hot waffle iron (according to your iron’s directions.)



Serve the waffles immediately with butter, syrup, fruit, whipped cream, or anything else you love!

Chicken parmigiana, much like pizza, is a bit more difficult to make than you might think. Sure, there’s plenty of crappy chicken parm out there, made with processed frozen chicken cutlets, bad sauce and cheap cheese. But to make a really fantastic, mind-blowing chicken parm, that takes some practice!

The key to this recipe is simple: don’t skimp on the quality ingredients. And my recipe makes a lot. Trust me: you will want leftovers.

The recipes for my Italian bread crumbs and my “Don’t Call It Gravy” tomato sauce are at the bottom.


Gooey, cheesy, orgasmic.

Gooey, cheesy, orgasmic.



6 Chicken breasts, the best quality you can get your hands on
Italian bread crumb seasoning (see recipe below)
3 eggs
olive oil for frying
“Don’t Call It Gravy” tomato sauce (see recipe below)
Fresh mozzarella cheese

Thaw the chicken breasts. Lay them flat on a cutting board, and you’ll see where the chicken tender is on the side of the breast. Cut the tender off and set aside, leaving the breast which is thinner at one end and thicker at the other. Slice the breast in half lengthwise at the thicker end, keeping the knife level, so that you wind up with 2 pieces of breast meat that are the same thickness, but one will be a longer piece (the bottom) and one about half its size (the top part you sliced off.) Do this with all the breasts.

By slicing the breasts lengthwise into evenly thick pieces, it will take the same amount of time for them to cook. (I prefer not to pound the hell out of the chicken breasts until they’re flat as a pancake.)

Pour the olive oil into a large frying pan. Next to the pan, set up two bowls: one with my Italian bread crumb seasoning and in the other: crack the eggs and whisk them.

Now it’s your standard breading procedure: chicken meat in the egg, then in the breadcrumbs, coating well. Shake off the excess and place carefully in the pan of olive oil when the oil comes to temperature for frying.

Fry the chicken in the oil until it’s golden brown. You want it cooked all the way through, but not overcooked. Place the fried chicken pieces on paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Do this with all the chicken. The fried chicken at this point is delicious all by itself: chop it and use it in a salad, or make a chicken sandwich. (By the way, if there’s breading left over, use it on the chicken tenders you cut off. My daughter gets these instead of store-bought chicken tenders, and she loves them.)

Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Ladle out enough sauce to create a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the sheet. Place the fried chicken breasts on top of the sauce. Cover the breasts with more sauce, then place pieces of sliced fresh mozzarella on top. Sprinkle the top with a little oregano.

Place the baking sheet in a pre-heated 350 degree oven and bake until the cheese has melted and just starts to brown. Serve it with pasta.



It’s not hard to make a good tomato sauce. But it takes a little work to make an amazing tomato sauce. Honed from a recipe handed down by a friend-of-a-friend’s Italian grandma, it is one very important part in two of my favorite Italian comfort food recipes: my meatballs…and my chicken parmigiana recipe.


1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
10 cups ground and peeled tomatoes…or 3 cans (28 oz) tomatoes (real San Marzanos preferred)
2 teaspoons each: dried oregano, basil and parsley
3/4 teaspoon each anise seed and fennel seed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves
1 small can (6 oz) tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar, optional

Heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the onions. Cook until onions are translucent, then add the garlic. Stir for about 10 seconds.

Add the tomatoes and cook until the orange foam disappears, stirring frequently.

Add the oregano, basil, parsley, anise seed, fennel seed, salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Stir to combine. Add the tomato paste, stirring well. Let the sauce just come to a boil (which helps the paste thicken the sauce), then reduce it to a simmer, and cook uncovered for at least an hour, stirring constantly, until the sauce reaches the consistency you like.



This is the one part of the recipe (other than the optional pasta) that keeps this dish from being gluten-free. So I use gluten-free breadcrumbs, even if I don’t need to. I buy a loaf of Udi’s frozen gluten-free bread, toast the slices, and them put them in a food processor. I dare you to tell the difference between these and breadcrumbs with gluten!


1 Udi’s loaf, toasted and ground into breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1/4 teaspoon black pepper


Combine all the ingredients well.

On my recent trip to the northern half of New Zealand’s South Island, I made it a point to try as many foods as I could, from simple cafes to pubs, from farm-to-table fine dining to roadside shacks. On my journey of over 1000 miles, here are some of the best plates I enjoyed.

The market fish crudo at Urban Eatery and Oyster Bar in Nelson. The market fish of the day was warehou, a delicious fish I had on several occasions in New Zealand. Plated with scorched cream, orange segments and curry leaf oil, this was the only dish of my vacation that I had twice. The cream was so good, you were glad they served it with a spoon!

Troy’s line-caught Grouper “wings” at Saint Clair Family Estate in Blenheim, Marlborough wine country. One of the great discoveries of this trip was how many wineries had their own fantastic restaurants! Nestled among the grapevines were outdoor tables, plus plenty undercover inside. Meaty and delicious and on-the-bone, these grouper wings, on a spicy tomato salsa with coriander and lime, were just amazing! Had I stayed in Marlborough longer, I would have come back for these again!

Baked Mills Bay (Havelock, NZ) mussels with tamarind mayonnaise, Sichuan chili oil, and chives at the Boat Shed Cafe in Nelson, NZ. It’s literally a boat shed, a tiny place serving up great food on the Nelson waterfront. I had these for lunch, and they were out of this world! And these bad boys were big…because that’s the way they grow ‘em here!

Ora King salmon, edamame beans, confit garlic, pickled daikon, fried wakame, lemongrass and lime dressing. Also from the Boat Shed Cafe in Nelson. I ate my weight in Ora King salmon on this trip, partly because it’s hard to find in the United States and partly because it’s so damn good! I’ve had it raw, smoked, and cooked. This was my favorite version of all that I had tried.

My first dish in New Zealand, and a sign of great things to come. A delicious fish with the texture of mahi mahi: it’s called tarakihi, with fried artichokes, almond, fennel, olive and ruby grapefruit at Hopgood’s & Co. in Nelson, NZ.

No, I didn’t just eat seafood! Of course, you have to have the incredible pastured grass-fed lamb when you come to New Zealand, and this was my favorite roasted version of it, offered at the beautiful Black EstateVineyard in North Canterbury, NZ. BBQ Wash Creek (Canterbury) lamb, smoked eggplant, carrot tops. The bean side dish was delicious, with varieties I’ve never had before: BBQ Little Owl beans, honey and sesame. Another amazing vineyard that not only has fabulous wines, but serves beautiful local food.

Thanks to my friends at Firefly Farms in CT, who just posted a reminder that now is the time to start prepping your brisket for corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day!

Before every St. Patty’s Day, supermarkets are full of packages of processed corned beef in preparation for the big celebration. But, interestingly, corned beef isn’t really an authentic Irish dish.

The phrase “corned beef” was 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. That’s what we have today.

It takes about 3 weeks to make corned beef. Doing it yourself is not difficult. It just takes time.

Corned beef has nothing to do with corn. ‘Corning’ is a technique for preserving raw meats for long periods by soaking it in a 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 pink coloring to the corned beef and pastrami meat, a bit more appetizing than the gray color it tends to have if you don’t use it.

Saltpeter can also contain carcinogens, so there’s always talk of avoiding it. It’s found in pink curing salt, which is used in small amounts during the curing process. (Not to be confused with Himalayan pink salt, which is just plain salt.) Since I only make my corned beef once a year, I’m OK with it either way. The general rule of thumb is only 1 teaspoon pink curing salt per 5 pounds of meat.

I get grass-fed brisket in 10-pound slabs, but use whatever size you find comfortable. Just don’t go too small, or the brine will make that tiny piece of meat extremely salty.

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
1 teaspoon pink curing salt (optional)
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 (and optional teaspoon of pink curing 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. I place a couple of plates on top, which pushes the meat down into the brine.) If there’s just not enough liquid, double the recipe, leaving out the pink salt the second time. 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 12 hours to remove the excess salt. I add ice to the water to keep the meat cold.

At this point, if you want corned beef, most people boil it.

I prefer to lay some aluminum foil down on a sheet pan. Then I coarsely chop carrots, onions, and celery, placing them in a single layer on the foil. Then I lay my brisket on top of the veggies, and wrap the meat tightly in the foil. I place the baking pan in a pre-heated 350 degree oven and cook for about 3 1/2 hours. (That’s for an 8-pound slab of meat. The cooking time will be less for a smaller cut.)

If you want to make pastrami, there are more steps to take…

Step two: making 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 them coarsely. Place them in a bowl. Add the salt, paprika, brown sugar and granulated garlic. Mix well.

Rub the mix into the corned beef well, covering all sides.

Heat your smoker to 225 degrees and smoke the meat for several hours. (My wood of choice is always hickory.) 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 more tender, and you’ll be steaming it next.

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.

Delis that serve pastrami go one step further: they steam the meat so that it becomes incredibly tender and easy to slice. I place a baking pan with boiling water in the center of a 350° oven. I put a grate on top of it, placing the pastrami on top of the grate. Then I invert a bowl over the pastrami to keep the steam in. I will cook it this way for at least an hour to steam the meat before slicing and serving.

I Have the Cure

Posted: February 19, 2023 in Uncategorized

Home from New Zealand now, and it should be no surprise that I timed my vacation so that this lovely pork belly would be perfectly cured by the time I got home!

Urban Eatery, Nelson, NZ

Posted: February 19, 2023 in Uncategorized

Urban Eatery and Oyster Bar gets my award for best overall restaurant in Nelson, and the best I’ve had on my entire trip! Great food, excellent cocktails, and wonderful people that let this annoying American sit at the bar at his own special seat! Great atmosphere. It has it all.

Wafu Bistro Sushi

Posted: February 19, 2023 in Uncategorized

I’ve had a lot of sushi in my day, and this is some of the best ever. Wafu Bistro in Nelson, NZ.


Posted: February 19, 2023 in Uncategorized

Kismet is the best bar in Nelson, NZ. Nick and Ara are passionate about the cocktails they serve, and it’s fun to watch masters at work! Great people, too.