St. Patty’s Day is this coming Wednesday, 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 package 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 usually 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 if you want 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 them coarsely. Place them 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 it 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 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.

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.

 

Happy St. Patty’s Day!

As the warmer weather slowly makes its way to New England, I start dreaming about the opening day of one of my favorite seasonal seafood restaurants: The Back Eddy in Westport, Massachusetts.

One of their best-selling appetizers is deviled eggs. Years ago, they would top those deviled eggs with raw tuna, and I ordered it every time I dined there.

But when they took that dish off the menu, I had to take matters into my own hands.

My version has none of the finesse of their original dish, but it has a lot more tuna and all the flavor…which works for me!

 

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6 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 cup + extra mayonnaise
8 oz. high quality raw tuna
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon chili oil
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
handful fresh spinach, or cucumbers (see below)

My favorite method of hard-boiling eggs is to put them in a pot of cold water. Turn the heat on high and bring it to a boil. As soon as the water boils, take the pot off the heat, and cover it with a lid. Let it sit for 15 minutes. Perfect eggs every time. Remove the eggs from the water and cool them in the fridge, or in a bowl of ice water if you’re going to be serving this dish right away.

Here in Rhode Island, very often I can get fresh tuna right off the boat. Ideally, they say you should freeze all raw seafood before eating it. In general, killing parasites requires freezing and storing fish at a surrounding temperature of -4 degrees Fahrenheit or colder for seven days; or freezing at a surrounding temperature of -31 degrees or colder until the fish is solid and storing at the same temperature for 15 hours; or freezing at a surrounding temperature of -31 degrees until the fish is solid and storing at -4 degrees or below for 24 hours.

That’s way too much of a hassle.

I find that I can get high quality tuna already frozen into convenient bricks at Whole Foods or on-line at websites like Vital Choice, one of my favorites for extremely high quality, responsibly sourced seafood.

 

I always try to buy responsibly sourced, fair trade seafood, like this beautiful ahi tuna.

 

If the tuna is frozen, I let it thaw a little. If it’s fresh, I place it into the freezer for about 10 minutes to firm up. That makes it easier to cube up. I slice the tuna carefully into the smallest cubes I can make. Once done, I place the tuna in a bowl and put it back in the fridge to continue its slow thawing until ready to use.

In a separate small bowl, I combine the soy sauce and the chili oil, and set it aside.

I finely chop the scallions, and set them aside.

Once the eggs have cooled, I peel them and cut them in half. I scoop out the yolks and place them in a bowl, starting with 1/4 cup of the mayonnaise, adding more if needed. I use a fork or whisk to get as many of the lumps out as possible. If I wanted to get serious, I could put them in a blender or food processor to make a creamy puree. An option is to place the puree in a piping bag and carefully squeeze it out into each egg half. I simply use a spoon.

Once all the egg halves are filled, I place them on a spinach leaf-covered dish and put them back in the fridge until ready to serve. Or, instead of the bed of spinach, I peel a cucumber and cut the ends off, then slice the cuke into 1/2″ thick slices. Using a melon baller, I carefully scoop out the seeds from the center to make a “cuke donut.” I use these as little stands to hold the eggs on the plate.

When it’s time to serve, I take the tuna out of the fridge, pouring the soy sauce/chili oil mix into the bowl with the tuna and I mix well. I let the tuna marinate for just 2 minutes, pouring off the excess marinade. I don’t want it to marinate too long, or it’ll get very salty.

I remove the plate of eggs from the fridge and carefully put a small spoonful of tuna on top of each one. I garnish with the sesame seeds and the chopped scallions and serve immediately.

 

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Back from a vacation down South, visiting some old friends. It was a blast, but nothing says “I’m home” like a favorite childhood dish I would eat as often as I could get my Mom and grandmother to make!

I think I spent half of my childhood in the kitchen, watching my Mom and grandmother make koldūnai (kohl-doo-nayh), the Lithuanian version of a pierogi, by hand, at lightning speed. They would roll a simple dough into a log about 1″ in diameter, then cut it into 1″ pieces, twirling each piece between their fingers to make a flat pancake, filling each with a small spoonful of meat or mushrooms, then fold it over, crimping the edges to make a crescent-shaped dumpling. It blew my mind that they could crank out over a hundred of these little masterpieces in no time, placing them on a cookie sheet and freezing them until it was time to cook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the main reasons why I prefer Lithuanian koldūnai over the basic Polish pierogi is the filling. For me, standard pierogi fillings like potatoes, cheese, and sauerkraut just don’t cut it. My Mom would mix ground beef with chopped onions sautéed in butter, a couple of eggs, and milk crackers soaked in milk. She’d add salt and pepper, then spoon that mixture beautiful beef blend into her koldūnai.

The other delicious stuffing, usually reserved for special holidays like Christmas Eve and Easter, was made from mushrooms. Italy may lay claim to the porcini, but the fact of the matter is, Lithuania is porcini heaven. And when they’re dried and reconstituted, their incredible flavor is so intense, you don’t need many of them to flavor a large amount of regular button mushrooms. We’d get our dried boletes from relatives in Lithuania every year. Mom would place a handful in some boiling water and let them steep until they swelled up and could easily be chopped and added to the other mushrooms. She’d then pour the mushroom liquid into the pan as well, not wasting a bit of that magical porcini flavor. The mushrooms were simply sautéed in butter, cooled, then used to fill the koldūnai.

 

I found that my Mom’s log method was too much work. I roll the dough out into a sheet with a rolling pin, then cut circles with a glass. Yes, that’s mac-and-cheese up front!

 

A few years ago, I decided it was time to try my hand at making koldūnai. As I recall, my Mom simply mixed water with flour to make the dough, kneaded it into a log, and off she went. I decided to go with the rolling pin and glass cutting method, because I found it to be a bit easier creating more uniform koldūnai.

The biggest challenges I had with making koldūnai was my own clumsiness and lack of experience. Once I got the hang of it, things moved along steadily, and it didn’t take long for me to make a decent batch–not all perfect, but not bad for a first try.

 

The rolling pin method.

 

This time around, I made four kinds of koldūnai: traditional (ground beef as well as mushroom) and non-traditional (mac & cheese and pulled pork.)  Patty’s Pierogis, a restaurant in nearby Fall River, Massachusetts, and featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” is where my daughter first had mac & cheese pierogis. She was instantly hooked and begs for them every year.

Here’s my beef recipe…

1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 pat of butter
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Finely chop the onion and sauté it in the butter until translucent. Let it cool, then add it to 1 lb. of thawed ground beef. Add the egg and the breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Mix the ingredients thoroughly and keep the meat in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

 

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

Two pots of boiling salted water: one for the meat-filled koldūnai, and one for the mac-and-cheese filled koldūnai…so I don’t get ’em mixed up!

 

In my childhood home, you cannot possibly serve koldūnai without sour cream on the side and without spirgučiai (spir-guh-chay), chopped and fried bacon and onions that are sprinkled on top.

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

In a large pan, fry the chopped bacon until it’s almost crisp. Never drain the fat! Add the chopped onions and cook until they are soft. Set aside.  (My Mom always kept a stash of spirgučiai in a container in the fridge, and sprinkled them on anything and everything.)

 

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Making the dough is simple.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup water

I don’t use salt in the dough because I boil the koldūnai in salted water later.

Combine the ingredients in a bowl, mixing with your hands. Keep adding flour in small amounts until the dough isn’t wet and sticky. When it forms a nice ball, remove it from the bowl and place it on a floured surface and knead it a bit more. Cut the ball into quarters, and work with these smaller pieces of dough.

For the rolling-pin method, roll each quarter out until the dough is about 1/8″ thick. Cut circles out of the dough using a cookie cutter, rocks glass, or whatever else you have handy. Add about a teaspoonful of filling in the center of the dough, then fold the edges over and pinch them with your fingers. Flip it over and pinch again, making sure none of the filling seeps out. A tight edge means the koldūnai won’t break open when you put them in boiling water.

 

Who knew a rocks glass had more uses than just to hold a great Manhattan?

 

Some stuffed with mac and cheese!

 

I recently discovered these “pierogi makers.” You lay the dough in them, add your filling, and then close them. They automatically crimp the edges for you. They work pretty well…sometimes.

 

I always double-check the crimped edges, because your koldūnai will fall apart in the boiling water if you don’t seal them well!

 

Place the koldūnai on a sheet pan dusted with flour, and when you’re done, place the sheet pan in the freezer.

 

Ready for the freezer!

 

Sometimes the chef gets punchy after making koldūnai all day long!

 

Get a large pot of salted water boiling. Drop the koldūnai in gently, being careful not to overcrowd them. If the dough is thin, the koldūnai will be ready when they float up to the surface. A thicker dough will need longer cooking. The best way to know if they’re done is by taking one out, cutting it open and having a look (and taste!)

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

 

duni 4

 

 

 

By the way…I have tried making these with gluten-free flour, but with limited success.. The dough needs to have elasticity to stretch and seal properly, and it kept falling apart in my hands. But there are many GF flours out there, and one may just do the trick. If you need to be on a gluten-free diet, you can still enjoy koldūnai by using GF flour for the dough and GF breadcrumbs in the beef. (I buy a loaf of frozen Uni gluten-free bread, toast it, then pulse it in the food processor until crumbly. Works great and they taste great, too.)

 

 

 

 

You’d think it would be Cinco de Mayo, but February 22nd is National Margarita Day.
My personal recipe uses no sour mix…just 4 basic ingredients. I still have a small stash of the HoneyBells mentioned here, but the original recipe, below, uses pineapple juice, orange juice, or a combination of the two. Cheers!
Every year around January, we get a shipment of Cushman’s HoneyBells. They look like fiery red bell-shaped oranges, but they’re not really oranges at all, and their season is very limited.
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HoneyBells are a unique natural hybrid of Dancy Tangerine and Duncan Grapefruit. The plants are grafted to a sour orange root-stock, and when the tree reaches maturity, it looks just like a grapefruit tree…but with oranges growing on it.
I usually make my signature margarita with pineapple juice. But when I get those HoneyBells in the mail, my recipe takes on a new twist:
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2 oz. Patron silver tequila (3 oz. is even better!)
1/2 oz. Cointreau orange liqueur
4 oz. pineapple juice, orange juice or a combination (or fresh-squeezed HoneyBell juice, when in season)
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
Fill a cocktail shaker or tall glass with ice and add all the ingredients. Stir vigorously. Pour into a large margarita glass. Garnish with a lime wedge. Salt optional.
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 Either way, it’s a great way to celebrate National Margarita Day! Cheers!

Few dishes scream out “comfort food” like meatloaf. My Mom’s meatloaf was awesome, and she’d cut a huge slab of it onto my plate, with fantastic butter-loaded Pennsylvania Dutch egg noodles on the side. I couldn’t stop eating it.

I never thought of making meatloaf when I moved away, because it gave my Mom something special to make for me when I came home to visit. She was thrilled that there was a dish she could make that I would devour every time, without hesitation. (The others were her roasted lamb and Lithuanian pierogis called koldūnai (kol-doon-ay).

But now that my Mom has passed away, I’ve taken meatloaf matters into my own hands. I never got my Mom’s exact recipe. But I had an idea of what went into it, so I gave it a shot.

The standard mix for my Mom’s meatloaf was one-third each ground beef, pork and veal. I go 2/3’s beef and 1/3 pork instead, unless I can get my hands on humanely-raised veal from a farm down the road. My Mom used Lipton onion soup mix in her meatloaf. I chose to stay away from packaged ingredients which have chemicals and preservatives. And instead of layering slices of bacon on top as many people do, I fry and chop the bacon and mix it into the meat, giving my meatloaf delicious smokey bacon goodness in every bite!

To keep this dish gluten-free, I use GF breadcrumbs. I buy loaves of Udi’s frozen gluten-free bread, toast the bread slices, then put them in a food processor to make great-tasting bread crumbs that have all the flavor of regular bread crumbs, without the gluten.

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4 strips bacon, fried and chopped
1 yellow onion, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
pork fat or olive oil
2 lbs. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup ketchup
2 eggs

Fry the strips of bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan and chop it fine. Set it aside.

Keeping the rendered bacon fat in the pan, sauté the onion with it until translucent. Add the salt, pepper and garlic. Set the pan aside, letting it cool to room temperature.

In a bowl, combine the meat, bread crumbs, ketchup, bacon, eggs, and the sautéed onion mixture. Form it into a loaf and place it in a loaf pan. Bake at 350 for about an hour.

Delicious, caramelized meatloaf. Leftovers are always welcome!

I love fried chicken. But what makes this recipe great is that I get all the benefits of crispy fried chicken without all the grease and without standing watch over it the whole time.

You can use any chicken parts for this recipe. Fry the chicken until it just turns golden brown and then finish it in the oven.

I use gluten-free flour (Cup4Cup is my favorite) for this recipe, and it works perfectly. If you’ve got someone you love who hasn’t had real fried chicken because they’re on a gluten-free diet, they will love this. If you’re not on a GF diet, feel free to use regular all-purpose flour.

 

10 lbs. large chicken wings or chicken pieces
Avocado oil, for frying

For soaking:

1 quart buttermilk
1 tablespoon hot sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot)

For the seasoned flour:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano

Open the bottle or carton of buttermilk and add 2 teaspoons of hot sauce. Close the container and shake to combine. Place the chicken pieces in a Ziploc bag, cover with the buttermilk, and seal the bag, letting the chicken soak in it for at least several hours. Overnight is best.

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Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, pepper, paprika, granulated garlic, onion powder, basil and oregano. Mix well.

After the chicken has soaked in the buttermilk, remove the pieces one at a time, leaving the buttermilk on them as you toss the pieces into the seasoned flour. Shake off the excess flour, and then set the pieces aside on a metal baking rack placed on a sheet pan.

If you’ve got the time, and want to make the chicken extra crispy, let the chicken pieces sit for an hour, then re-flour them before frying. If not, go right to the next step.

Pour the oil into a large heavy-bottomed stock pot to a depth of 1-inch. Heat the oil to 360 degrees on a thermometer.

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Working in batches, place the chicken pieces in the oil, being careful not to overcrowd them. Fry the chicken until it is golden brown on both sides, then place each piece back on the metal baking rack set on the sheet pan.

Once all the chicken has been fried, place the sheet pan in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until it’s fully cooked and crispy.

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Feast!

CHIMICHURRI

Posted: February 12, 2021 in beef, Food, grilling, marinade
Tags: , , , ,

Chimichurri is a garlicky, herby green sauce usually used with grilled meats. This pesto-like condiment originated in Argentina and is also commonly used in Nicaragua and Uruguay. Though some recipes include cilantro, many people insist the original is made only with parsley. To pack an extra punch, chimichurri also makes an excellent marinade for grilled meats.

My buddy, Lee, a chemist and avid chimichurri fan, is the inspiration for my version of this sauce. It’s incredibly easy to make. Just make sure to use fresh ingredients, and it’s always a good idea to wash all the veggies before using, even if you’re going organic.

 

chimi

 

 

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 cup water
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3–4 tablespoons fresh oregano, leaves only (or 1 tablespoon dry)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon crushed bay leaf
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place all the parsley and the water in a food processor and begin to chop, pulsing for a second at a time. When the parsley is in small pieces, stop pulsing and add the remaining ingredients, except the vinegar and olive oil. Start the processor on a full run now, and slowly pour in the vinegar, then the olive oil. Try not to make it too smooth…leave some tasty bits. Allow it to rest for at least 30 minutes, but overnight in the fridge is best.

I marinated 2 grass-fed beef ribeyes in chimichurri overnight, simply smearing the meat with the sauce, and placing the ribeyes in a resealable plastic bag in the fridge. The next day, I let the beef come to room temperature and I wiped the marinade off. I discarded the marinade, then I re-seasoned the beef with a little salt and pepper and pan seared them, finishing them in a 350-degree oven until medium-rare. A little dipping of fresh chimichurri on the side.

 

Grass-fed beef ribeyes with chimichurri

Grass-fed beef ribeyes with chimichurri

 

Lots of fresh parsley is key!

 

I recently saw a chimichurri recipe that included avocado, and thought: now that sounds tasty! It’s not the classic recipe, of course, but it is delicious! I can see this stuff used as a dip for veggies or chips. The fresh lime juice keeps the avocado from browning.

 

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano, or 1 teaspoon dry oregano
1 Hass avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
Kosher salt

In a medium bowl, whisk the olive oil with the lime juice, garlic and a pinch of salt. Stir in the parsley and oregano and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Fold in the avocado and season with salt.

 

Avocado chimi. Chunky and tasty.

 

The chimichurri can be refrigerated for up to 4 hours.

It’s National Pizza Day!

If you want to know the measure of a truly great pizza, you gotta go bares bones and order a simple cheese pizza. It’s tough to hide behind a classic combination of dough, sauce and cheese. It either rocks or it sucks.

There are few foods that people take as personally as pizza. Tell someone your pizza place is better than their pizza place, and chances are you’ll start a fight. Well, my pizza place is better than your pizza place, because I make it at home. Besides, I can run faster than you.

I’m not going to say that much of the pizza that I’ve tried here in Rhode Island is mediocre, but I will say that I was born in Brooklyn and grew up working in many New York pizza places in my youth. So, yes, I do have a very strong opinion on what I think makes a good or bad pizza. And, alas, I’ve tried, but a good gluten-free pizza is not yet within reach. The frozen ones you get in stores are passable, but making one at home has been nothing short of a disaster…and don’t even talk to me about using cauliflower!

My homemade pizza is all about the basics. The better quality my original ingredients are, the better my pizza will be:

More cheese = better pizza, right?

The dough…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores,  or online. Ratios for this recipe depend on the humidity in my kitchen on any given day, but my basic pizza dough recipe is as follows:

4–5 cups 00 flour
1 cup tepid water
1 tablespoon salt
1 packet Italian pizza yeast
a squirt of extra virgin olive oil

I mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer, then slowly add the water as it mixes. After the ingredients are well mixed, and the dough pulls from the side of the bowl, I remove it to a floured board, where I knead the dough by hand for another 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, shaping it into a ball. I rub a little olive oil over the ball of dough, place it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, and let it rise at room temp for 2 hours, punching it down after that, and letting it rise another 2 hours again.

The sauce…

I’ve written an earlier blog about real and fake cans of San Marzano tomatoes. I feel that San Marzanos make the best sauce, but not all cans of San Marzanos are created equal. The only way you can be guaranteed you have a real can of these beauties, grown in volcanic Italian soil in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, is by the D.O.P. designation on the can. (D.O.P. stands for “Denominazione d’Origine Protetta,” and signifies that it’s the real deal.) Anything else that says San Marzano may not be.

San Marzanos are so amazing, that all I do is puree them in a food processor, pour the sauce into a pan, and let it reduce until it has thickened. No spices or additions of any kind.

Simple and delicious.

The cheese…

I don’t need to go super-fancy with mozzarella di bufala (cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo) …but I don’t use the mass-produced supermarket stuff, either. Fresh mozzarella, found in most supermarkets, is how I roll.

The toppings…

Most of the time, I go plain cheese. But when I do decide to add toppings, one of my favorites is my marinated beef tenderloin and fried chive blossom pizza. I marinate and grill a piece of beef tenderloin, slicing it thin. And in the springtime, when my chive plants are budding like crazy, I snip the blossoms before they open and place them in Ziploc freezer bags to use all year-long. When it’s time, I grab a handful of the blossoms and fry them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and sprinkle them over the top of the beef tenderloin pizza. A touch of Fleur de Sel on top seals the deal.

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

The oven…

Many professional pizza ovens reach a temperature of 1000 degrees. My home oven only reaches 500, but it does the trick. I do use a pizza stone, and place it on the center rack of the oven, and let it heat up thoroughly (about an hour) before sliding a pizza onto it for cooking.

Thick pan pizza, which is easy to create at home if you’ve got a cast iron skillet, is a completely different animal, and the subject of another blog.

 

My favorite pizza?

I haven’t been to every pizzeria on this here planet, but I’ve been to a few, and for my money, the best pizza I’ve ever had is something called pizza montanara. They take the pizza dough, stretch it out, then fry it in olive oil for a minute so that it puffs up like a beautiful pillow, then they add the sauce and mozzarella di bufala on top and place it in a wood burning oven to cook. Garnished with a basil leaf, it is absolute pizza perfection, and my favorite place to get it was Pizzarte on West 55th St. in Manhattan. However, recently, much to my dismay, they took it off the menu. (But I’ve heard that you can still special order it.)

 

The original location of Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana in New Haven, CT, is the home of the clam pizza, a very different and very delicious pie. And locally, in my neighborhood of Southern New England, I’ve had excellent pizza at Al Forno in Providence, RI, the restaurant that started the grilled pizza craze…and Fellini Pizzeria, on the east side of Providence, RI and in Cranston, RI, home of a wonderful New York-style thin crust pie.

Instead of opening a nasty can of Manwich or other similar product, the classic Sloppy Joe sandwich is easy enough to make from scratch.

My version takes on a Mexican twist (hence the name Sloppy José), using seasoned taco meat and a great barbecue sauce. Putting them together with a sprinkling of Mexican cheese on a bun with lettuce and tomato makes for one sloppy but delicious sandwich!

sloppy jose

 

For the barbecue sauce…

2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons white vinegar
6 tablespoons apple cider 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.

 

For the seasoned taco meat…

1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 Spanish onion, finely chopped
olive oil
2 lbs. grass-fed ground beef

 

Combine all the spice ingredients in a bowl.

Sauté the onions in a bit of olive oil until translucent. Add the beef and sauté until cooked, mixing in the spice mixture a little at a time until you’ve used it all.

 

For the sandwich…

Take some of the taco meat and place it in a small non-stick pan and heat on medium. Squirt in as much of the barbecue sauce as you like, mixing thoroughly. Sprinkle some grated Mexican cheese on top. (I like Cotija, which is like a Mexican feta, but a bag of mixed cheeses works great, too.) Mix thoroughly, letting it all melt together into one warm, gooey mess. Throw it on a bun. Add lettuce, tomato, avocado slices, whatever you like!

 

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. Great with chips or veggies, it’s perfect for Super Bowl munching.

 

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 pan over medium heat, sauté 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.