I love fried chicken. And despite what most people think, fried food is really not that bad for you if you fry it properly. I use clean avocado oil every time, sometimes adding bacon fat or pork fat if I have it. And I get the oil to the right temperature: two key factors that will result in crispy chicken that isn’t bogged down with grease. 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!

This weekend we celebrate Derby Day on Saturday and Cinco de Mayo on Sunday! The important thing is not to celebrate both on the same night…mixing margaritas and juleps is not an option!

I like a margarita that has a few, simple ingredients…and no sour mix. This is the one that hits the spot for me. My friends affectionately call it an “Algarita.”

 

3 oz. Patron silver tequila
1 oz. Cointreau orange liqueur
4 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 a fresh lime, squeezed

 

Place ice in a cocktail shaker and add Patron, Cointreau, pineapple juice and a good squeeze of lime juice from 1/2 a lime. Stir well, then pour it into a margarita glass (salt rim optional) and garnish with a lime wedge.

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, FLOOR!

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!

 

The home garden is already showing signs of activity. Overwintered kale and arugula plants are springing back to life, enough for a quick salad. Cool weather seeds that I’ve sown early: peas, turnips, radishes, broccoli raab, and others are sprouting. But nothing says the gardening season is here like my patch of homegrown asparagus taking off!

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Asparagus is really easy to grow. You just need the space, and the plants practically do the rest. Space them about a foot apart, and before you know it, you will have a vast network of tasty stalks sprouting through the soil every spring. They are so much better than anything you can buy in a supermarket.
In the start of the growing season, the stalks don’t even make it into the house. I cut them and just eat them straight out of the garden. Eventually, they make the move to the kitchen, where I love to simply place them on a baking sheet and drizzle a little olive oil over them. Salt and pepper…and then in a 400-degree oven until they’ve caramelized.

Sometimes I toss some tasty chives with blossom buds on top of the asparagus and roast.

 

Midway through the season, I have so much asparagus that I just don’t know what to do with them all. My friends don’t want anymore and I can’t bear to throw them into the compost pile. So I pickle them…a really easy process that ensures I’ve got delicious asparagus year-round.

PICKLED ASPARAGUS
Several bunches of asparagus spears
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups water
20 peppercorns
Garlic cloves, peeled
Salt (1 teaspoon per quart-sized Mason jar. Use less for smaller jars.)
Bring the vinegar, water, sugar and peppercorns to a boil. Set it aside.
Trim the bottom of the asparagus spears so that the spears are just slightly shorter than the height of the quart-sized Mason jar you will use. Or cut them into pieces that will fit smaller jars.
Pack the jars as tightly as you can with the asparagus spears. (They will shrink when processed.) Add the garlic clove and 1 teaspoon of salt to every quart-sized Mason jar…less for smaller jars.
Fill the jars with the vinegar mixture and seal.
Process the jars for 10 minutes. Let them cool before placing them in the refrigerator.

 

DOES YOUR PEE SMELL WHEN YOU EAT ASPARAGUS?

Asparagus has a sulfur-containing compound identified by scientists as methyl mercaptan. A colorless gas, this compound is also found in blood, feces, garlic, eggs, cheese and even skunk secretions. Another ingredient found in asparagus is asparagine. Present in foods like dairy products, seafood, poultry, fish and nuts, this amino acid is known to have a distinctive smell when heated. To metabolize both methyl mercaptan and asparagine, your body needs to break these compounds down and it’s this breakdown that’s responsible for your urine’s strange smell.

Since both methyl mercaptan and asparagine are associated with the sense of smell, there is debate over which ingredient is actually responsible for the asparagus-urine phenomenon. It could be one, or both.

Many people claim that, regardless of asparagus consumption, their urine does not smell. There are multiple theories about that as well. The first claims that everyone’s urine is in fact affected by asparagus, but only about half of the population have the specific gene that is required to smell the change. On the other hand, the second theory states that only half of the world’s population has the gene that’s required to break down the compounds found in asparagus and, if the body doesn’t break them down, no smell is emitted. In fact, one study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that only 46 percent of British people tested produced the odor while 100 percent of French people tested did. So whatever the reason, asparagus will forever be known as the vegetable that makes your urine smell strange.

 

ST. LUCIA…LOOKING BACK

Posted: April 25, 2019 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

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.

 

 

Easter Sunday nightmare at the airport: my wife is stuck in Florida, and it looks like she won’t be home until after midnight. So, our Sunday brunch as a family will have to wait until another time.

My daughter just got back from a little vacation of her own yesterday, so I figured this would be a good opportunity to cook whatever she wanted. (I already knew it was going to be this dish!)

 

Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Fettuccine Alfredo are my daughter’s two favorite pasta dishes. When she couldn’t decide which one she wanted for dinner one night, I decided that she’d get both! (Yes, I spoil her rotten!)

The addition of chicken and peas made for a more balanced plate. This is now one of my go-to dishes when guests arrive, since many parts can be prepared ahead of time. And the gluten-free version tastes as good the original!

 

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Start with the chicken…

The breading for the chicken uses gluten-free bread that I’ve toasted, crumbled and put into a food processor to make breadcrumbs. (I use Udi’s frozen GF bread, found in any supermarket.) I get a lot more flavor this way than using store-bought breadcrumbs from a can. I add gluten-free flour to it to lighten it up. Cup4Cup is by far the best GF flour I’ve tried.

If you’re not on a gluten-free diet, simply use regular breadcrumbs and all-purpose flour in the same proportions.

1/2 lb. chicken breasts, cut into 1″ pieces
1 egg, scrambled
1/2 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
1/2 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
3 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
olive oil, for frying

Scramble the egg in a bowl. Cut the chicken into pieces, and add them to the egg, making sure they get evenly coated. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the bread crumbs, flour, parsley, oregano, basil, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Fill a pan with about an inch of olive oil. Heat to medium-high, for frying.

In batches not to overcrowd the pan, take the chicken pieces out of the egg and toss them in the bread crumb mixture, shaking off the excess. Place them carefully in the hot oil and fry on both sides until golden. Since they’re small pieces, they should cook all the way through easily. Drain on a plate covered with paper towels. Do this with all the chicken and set it aside. Try not to eat it all before you make the rest of the dish! (This chicken can also be eaten as is–these are my daughter’s favorite nuggets–or used with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese to make a delicious chicken parmigiana.)

 

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The carbonara factor…

Many recipes for Spaghetti alla Carbonara use pancetta or bacon. But the original recipe calls for guanciale: cured (but not smoked) pig jowls, or cheeks. It’s easy enough to find in a good Italian food store, but I cure my own. I buy raw heritage Berkshire pork jowls from a farm that raises the pigs humanely, and cure the jowls for about 3 weeks in a combination of salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves. Then I rinse them, pat them dry, and cut them into portion-sized pieces, wrapping them individually and freezing until I need them. It’s a lot of work, but to me, totally worth it.

3 oz. guanciale

If the guanciale is frozen, let it thaw just a little, then cut it into the smallest cubes you can manage. Place it in a pan and cook them until they’ve browned and crisped beautifully. Keep an eye on the pan, as guanciale can burn easily. Use the fried meat bits for this recipe and save the fat for flavoring a future dish! Set aside.

 

The Alfredo sauce…

Despite what you get in crappy restaurants like Olive Garden, Alfredo sauce should not be runny or soupy. It should cling to the pasta and be rich in flavor. When making this dish gluten-free, I use Garofalo gluten-free pasta exclusively, because it tastes just like real pasta. (Believe me, I’ve tried every GF pasta out there.) I buy mass quantities at Amazon.

If you’re not on a GF diet, simply use your favorite regular pasta.

1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
Fleur de Sel or sea salt
1 lb. pasta, fresh or dried
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
freshly ground black pepper

 

Put 2/3 of the cream and all the butter in a large saucepan that will later accommodate all the pasta. Simmer over medium heat for less than a minute, until the butter and cream have thickened a bit. Turn off the heat.

Drop the pasta in a bowl of boiling salted water. If the pasta is fresh, it will take just seconds. If it’s dry, it will take a few minutes. (Gluten-free pasta takes a little longer.) Either way, you want to cook the pasta even firmer than al dente, because it will finish cooking in the pan with the butter and cream. Drain the pasta immediately when it reaches that firm stage, and transfer it to the pan with the butter and cream, tossing the pasta gently for a few seconds to coat.

Turn the heat under the saucepan with the pasta on low, and add the rest of the cream, all the Parmigiano Reggiano, and a bit of pepper (no salt because there’s plenty in the guanciale and cheese.) Toss briefly until the sauce has thickened and the pasta is well-coated.

 

At this point, you don’t want the pasta to get to dry, so you add…

1 cup of frozen peas

…tossing gently to warm them through. Also add the cooked guanciale at this time.

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Plate the pasta in a bowl or dish and serve the chicken alongside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing up in New York, we just called them chili dogs. But when I moved to New England, they called them Coney Island dogs. Here in Rhode Island, they’re hot weiners. In fact, the Olneyville NY System restaurant has made it to “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri, “Bizarre Foods” with Andrew Zimmern, and even won the 2014 James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award.

A weiner. All that. Because it is all that.

Nothing beats going to the Olneyville NY System in lovely Olneyville, RI. But if you’re not fond of having your dogs lined all the way up the cook’s hairy arm…or if you’d rather just enjoy them at home…it’s really not that tough to do. You may not have the atmosphere that only a 70-year tradition can bring, but it’ll be pretty damn tasty nonetheless.

Of course, you can buy a packet of their special spices, but that’s cheating, isn’t it?

 

My chili sauce adds a few ingredients that you won’t find elsewhere. That’s OK. Yours should, too.

1 lb. ground beef (I use grass-fed beef, no leaner than 80/20)
2 strips bacon, finely chopped
1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
8 hot dogs
8 hot dog buns
shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
chopped Vidalia onion (optional)
celery salt (optional)

I like to put the dog under the broiler to melt the cheese before I use the other toppings.

 

Leave the bacon grease left over from frying the bacon in the pan. Turn up the heat, add the ground beef and cook it all the way through, crumbling it up as much as you can. Add the chopped bacon to the pan and mix well.

In a large saucepan, pour in the can of tomatoes and chop them up with a spatula. Add the Worcestershire, onion flakes, garlic, mustard, black pepper, and chile powder. Mix well. Let it come to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the cooked beef and bacon to the sauce. Keep chopping and breaking down the tomatoes every time you stir the sauce. (A potato masher works well for this, too.)

Cover the pot and let it simmer for at least an hour, stirring often.

What kind of hot dogs you should use for this is a matter of personal preference. The folks at Olneyville use their own special brand of all-beef dog. I love the pork hot dogs I get when I go home to Long Island and stop by the Forest Pork Store in Huntington, NY. It’s yet another amazing food store where my Mom would always go to buy cold cuts, especially liverwurst, and their delicious hot dogs and cocktail franks. They’ve been in that location for a long time, and it’s a must-stop when I go home to visit my Mom.

Ultimately, you should pick the hot dog you like! Being a native New Yorker, if I don’t have any of the Forest Pork Store dogs in my freezer, I go to the supermarket and buy the foot-long dogs from Nathan’s. Classic!

Boil or steam the dogs, place them on the buns (On your arm or not is up to you! Don’t blame me for any third-degree burns!) And pour some of the chile sauce on top. Sprinkle some of the cheddar cheese on top, and put the sandwich under the broiler to melt the cheese.

Then add the chopped Vidalias, and celery salt (optional, but I use ’em both!)

 

 

Well, it’s good to be back home after a nice getaway in St. Lucia. Please check out my previous blogs for my day-to-day adventures. I’ll have more to say in a future blog.

One of the first things I needed to do when I got home was to have a look at food items I needed to re-stock…and bacon was high on the list!

Fortunately, I started curing a beautiful slab of Berkshire pork belly a couple of weeks ago, and it was ready for the smoker today. With the doors open here at home, I can smell the hickory wood wafting through the yard. Hope I’m making the neighbors jealous!

Let’s face it: there are few foods as magical as bacon. Add bacon to just about any dish you’re preparing, and it elevates it to incredible new heights of flavor. The BLT is possibly the greatest food combination ever invented: just a few simple, fresh ingredients, when placed together, transforming into one of the greatest sandwiches on planet Earth.

BLT wraps: home-cured and smoked bacon, local farmstead romaine, home garden tomatoes.

 

If I’m buying bacon, I go on-line to Burger’s Smokehouse, a family run business in Missouri that has made great bacon for decades. The prices are good, and they include shipping. (www.smokehouse.com) I buy in quantity and freeze what I don’t need right away. My favorite is the thick-sliced country bacon “steaks.”

But nothings beats making your own.

Bacon comes from the pork belly, and they’re easy to find in any good butcher shop. But to get something a notch above, I’ll buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire pork, from Heritage Pork International. (www.heritagepork.com)  I follow the simple curing techniques outlined in “Charcuterie,” a great book written by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

To cure bacon, all you really need is salt and sugar, and what they in the curing biz call “pink salt,” which is not to be confused with salt that happens to be pink, like Himalayan salt you would find in a gourmet store. Pink salt is bright pink to let you know that it’s a special salt that should only be used in small quantities for curing. The reason is: nitrites. Nitrites delay the spoilage of the meat, and help keep the flavors of spices and smoke. They also keep the meat nice and pink instead of an unappetizing gray. That’s good. But nitrites can break down into nitrosamines, which have been known to cause cancer in lab animals. But let’s face it: you would need to eat a ton of cured meat to really worry about this. (I buy uncured deli meats and hot dogs at the supermarket, because processed meats are a different story. But since I know exactly what goes into my own bacon, I’m not worried about the level of nitrites.)

To make the basic dry cure:

1/2 lb. kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar or turbinado sugar
1 oz. pink curing salt

Mix the ingredients well. An important note: all salts do not all weigh the same, so go by the weight and not a cup measurement. I keep this basic dry cure stored in my pantry, ready to use when I need it.

When it’s time to be making’ the bacon, I combine the above rub with other ingredients to make my bacon rub.

 

My bacon rub:

1/2 cup basic dry rub

1/2 cup brown sugar or turbinado sugar

1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

 

Mix these ingredients well (yes, there’s quite a bit of sugar there, but I like my bacon a little sweet!) Rub it generously all over the pork belly.

I have a large plastic container with a lid that fits one slab of pork belly perfectly. I place the belly inside it, put the lid on, and place the container in the fridge. The pork belly stays there for at least a couple of weeks, maybe three. I flip the belly every few days. You’ll see that the salt will draw moisture out of the meat and form a brine. This brine will continue to cure your pork belly, so leave it in there. Just flip it, put the lid back on the container, and back in the fridge.

In two or three weeks, once the pork belly has been cured, wash the brine off the meat, and pat it dry with paper towels. Now it’s time to cook. You can simply cook the pork belly at 200 degrees for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. I place the pork belly in a digital smoker, which allows me to set an exact temperature. I smoke it at 250 degrees for 2 hours, using hickory chips.

 

 

 

Bellies in the smoker

Bellies in the smoker.

 

 

Smoked bacon

Smoked bacon!

That’s it. You have achieved bacon!

The reward is so worth the effort. Just remember that you still need to slice the bacon and fry it. Don’t eat it straight out of the smoker. That first slice you cut off your bacon and toss in a pan to lightly fry for a few moments will be the best bite you’ve ever had in your life!
And if you’re making one slab of bacon, why not make it three or four? It freezes well. And…you will eat it. You know you will!

Frying in the pan!

Frying in the pan!

ST. LUCIA…Day 5

Posted: April 10, 2019 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

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! )