Before you can have great shrimp cocktail, you have to do 2 things: buy the right shrimp and cook the shrimp the right way. The right shrimp is nothing less than wild-caught American shrimp. If you’re buying shrimp from Asia, your supporting a system that uses slave labor, where shrimp are fed chemical pellets and swim in feces. If it doesn’t say wild-caught American shrimp on the package or at your local seafood store, it’s crap. Give your store owner hell for selling it.

Cooking shrimp the right way is something I learned living in the South. My wonderful friends and neighbors taught me many things about food, and the right way to cook shrimp is near the top of the list.

Shrimp was never meant to be cooked to death. It doesn’t matter if you start with fresh shrimp, store-bought shrimp, or even frozen shrimp…the same rules apply: 1) Season your water. 2) Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let it get happy for 10 minutes. 3) Drop in the shrimp and raise the heat. 4) Remove the shrimp AS SOON AS the water returns to a boil.

The seasoning for the water, commonly called shrimp boil, makes or breaks the flavor of your shrimp. For years, I used Zatarain’s Crawfish, Shrimp and Crab Boil in a bag. And it was good. But at some point, I realized I had to get serious and make my own boil.

2 quarts water
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 lemon, squeezed, then drop the lemon in
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon brown mustard seed
1 teaspoon dry thyme

Combine all the ingredients in a 4–6 quart pot. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, put a lid on the pot, and let it simmer for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, remove the lid and pour in your shrimp. (I prefer unpeeled.) Stir well, bring the heat back up to high, and remove the shrimp AS SOON AS it returns to a boil! The shrimp are cooked! Done!

Strain the shrimp and place them in a bowl with crushed ice on the bottom. Add more crushed ice on top of the shrimp, and place the bowl in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

 

Freshly shucked oysters and clams, or in this case, beautiful boiled wild-caught American shrimp, all call for an equally amazing cocktail sauce…and this sauce kicks butt! And it features a key ingredient that you might not expect: vodka. The small amount of vodka in the mix makes the cocktail sauce easy to scoop even when stored in the freezer. Just scoop out what you need, let it thaw, and put the rest back in the freezer until next time.

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2 cups ketchup
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Frank’s Red Hot, or other hot pepper sauce
5 grinds of fresh black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon good quality vodka, like Tito’s

Combine all the ingredients. Store in a tight plastic container in the freezer.

It’s National Bacon Lover’s Day!

 

And who doesn’t love bacon? …Especially when you can slather it on anything with this fabulous aioli!

Don’t let the innocent photo fool you. This stuff is addictive, thanks to the addition of bacon and bacon fat! And the food processor makes this aioli light as a cloud. Spread it on burgers. Use it on a BLT. Goes great with tuna. Or just get some chips and use it as a dip. Inhale!

 

avocado

 

3 avocados, seed removed and scooped out of their skins
6 strips of bacon, fried crisp, chopped and cooled…bacon fat reserved
juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs, room temperature
1 clove garlic
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt, preferably Fleur de Sel
Freshly grated black pepper

In a food processor, blend the avocados, bacon pieces, lemon juice and zest, eggs, and garlic. With the processor still running, add the bacon fat slowly, then add the olive oil. Add a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

You can substitute vegetable oil for the olive oil if you feel it’s too strong. But this is not for the weak!

Note: Yes, this baby uses raw eggs. If you’re queasy about that, there are raw egg substitutes in many supermarkets. I don’t use raw eggs often, but I do here…and in a really good Caesar salad.

Years ago, I gave my self an important research project: Create your own version of the perfect espresso martini.

It took painstaking research, which required drinking many espresso martinis in many a bar on my travels.

My favorite version came from a bartender working at Knave, the lobby bar at the at Parker New York, the former Le Parker Meridien Hotel in Manhattan. It featured Coole Swan, an Irish cream liqueur I had never heard of before. The bartender was nice enough to write down the recipe for me, but I guess I had a little too much to drink…because I lost it! So it was up to me to use those brain cells I didn’t fry and come up with my own combination.

A lot of mixing late into the night, and I came up with what I consider to be my perfect espresso martini. As the marines say: “There are many like it, but this one is mine.”

 

Alz Espresso martini

My espresso martini

 

 

3 oz. good quality vodka, like Belvedere
3 oz. freshly brewed espresso
1.5 oz. Kahlua
1.5 oz. Coole Swan

 

Chill your martini glasses. Pour all the ingredients into a large shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into chilled glasses.

This recipe makes 2 martinis. Let me tell ya…this tasted as good the first time as it did several martinis later! I’ve found that using a high-end vodka really does make a difference in the quality and taste of the martini…as does freshly brewing your espresso just before assembling the drink.

 

Here in New England, oysters are plentiful. We don’t just slurp ’em down: we go out and dig our own…we have our favorite buck-an-oyster bar for any given day of the week…and we debate over the best variety, from east coast to west, north to south.

 

oysters

Fresh oysters deserve an amazing cocktail sauce, and my recipe kicks butt: lots of horseradish, lots of flavor, and a secret ingredient: vodka. Not only does it give it a kick, it keeps it from freezing solid, so I can keep the cocktail sauce in the freezer until I need it.

2 cups ketchup
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Frank’s Red Hot, or other hot pepper sauce
5 grinds of fresh black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon good quality vodka, like Tito’s

Combine all the ingredients. Store in a tight plastic container in the freezer.

 

Fresh shucked oysters with pickled red onion ice.

Freshly shucked oysters with pickled red onion ice.

 

When I’m in Portland, Maine, I visit one of the best oyster bars in the country: Eventide. Besides some wickedly creative dishes, they consistently have a fantastic variety of fresh oysters to choose from. And they offer a variety of “accoutrements” to go with them: anything from a red wine mignonette to kimchee ice. My favorite is the pickled red onion ice. All you need is a shot glass with a freshly shucked oyster inside, a half-shot of chilled vodka on top, and some pickled red onion ice, and you’ve got the best oyster shooter on planet Earth. I even suggested the shooter to the manager at Eventide. It has yet to make it to the menu. (But I remain hopeful!)

 

An oyster shooter with pickled red onion shaved ice. Bottoms up!

An oyster shooter with pickled red onion ice. Bottoms up!

 

I’ve managed to come up with a pretty good version of the pickled red onion ice at home, and I serve it alongside my cocktail sauce.

2 large red onions
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

 

Peel and quarter the onions. Drop them in a medium-sized pot and cover with about a quart of water. Bring it to a boil and cook it down until it has reduced to a cup of concentrated onion water after straining.

Bring the strained onion water back to the stove, and on medium heat, add the sugar and vinegar, stirring. When the sugar dissolves, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature before pouring it into a container and placing it in the freezer.

When it’s time to eat oysters, remove the block of red onion ice from its container, and, using a fine metal grater, shave the ice over the top of the freshly shucked oysters and devour immediately!

 

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Sausage is something most home cooks don’t even try because of the amount of work it needs: grinding the meat with that perfect fat-to-lean ratio…keeping everything on ice…buying a sausage stuffing machine and the casings to go with it.

It’s a big hassle, requiring some special equipment and a lot of time. And the clean-up is a pain.

Here’s a ridiculously easy method I discovered that allows me to slap together some very tasty sausage in just minutes. I prefer to use ground pastured Berkshire pork for this, because it’s humanely raised and absolutely full of flavor. But any good quality ground pork will do. I’ve found that most ground pork is already pretty fatty: usually a 70/30 ratio…and that’s perfect for this recipe. (By the way, if you don’t eat pork, I would venture a guess and say that 70/30 beef would work just as well with this recipe.)

If you’re watching calories, like I am, you know that fat is the biggest killer. But you’ll find that a well-cooked sausage patty renders out a lot of fat, and if you go one step further and really give it a squeeze between paper towels after cooking, you’ll find that 1 gram of cooked ground pork = about 2 calories. Compare that to bacon, where the fat doesn’t render out as quickly: 1 gram of bacon = 5 calories. All that porky sausage goodness for fewer calories! It’s not diet food, but hey…

 

Delicious homemade sausage.

 

 

1 lb. ground pork (the best quality you can get)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon sage
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 egg

 

I like to combine the salt, pepper, sage, rosemary and thyme in a bowl first, mixing them together well. That way, when I’m seasoning the pork, it’s all evenly distributed.

 

All the seasonings mixed together.

 

Combine the pork, the seasonings and the egg in a bowl and mix well. Place the bowl in the fridge for at least 15 minutes to let the meat rest. Overnight is even better. (Do it the night before, and you’ve got it all ready to cook the next morning with your eggs!)

 

The sausage mix has rested overnight. Time to cook!

 

In the morning, if you’re not sure if you’re going to like the pork the way you’ve seasoned it, simply grab a pinch of the  meat off and fry it in a pan to taste it. If you like what you have, fry away. If not, season the meat a little more before making the patties. These are your sausages, after all!

 

A 1/4 cup measure makes it easy to make equally-sized sausage patties.

 

I like to use a 1/4 cup measure to scoop out sausage patties. Once I’ve got them all made, I heat a pan over medium-high heat. No oil is necessary, because the pork has plenty of fat!

 

Once the patties are in the hot pan, I squish them down flat.

 

Once I’ve placed the patties in the hot pan, I squish them down with a spatula, and cook them on one side until it’s nice and crusty. Then I flip them, squish them down again, and continue cooking all until they’re golden brown on both sides. Remember: you’re starting with raw pork, so make sure it’s cooked all the way through.

 

They look like they’re done!

 

Delicious, and no casings to worry about. The patties freeze well, whether you freeze them raw or cook them a bit first. If you’re going to freeze them, place them on a sheet pan and pop that in the fridge for about an hour, until the patties are frozen solid. Then place them in a freezer bag or container. That way, the patties won’t stick to each other.

 

Ready for the freezer!

 

When cooking them straight out of the freezer, I like to drop the frozen patties into a non-stick pan and I add just a touch of water. I put a lid over the pan and let it cook for just a minute, flipping the patties and cooking for a minute more, to thaw them out. Then I remove the lid off the pan, and let the patties cook all the way through. The water will evaporate, and the patties will have enough fat in them to cook without adding any more.

PRETZEL BREAD

Posted: August 2, 2020 in Food, Recipes, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

As much as I’m a fan of sourdough–or any great bread for that matter–pretzel bread has a special place in my heart.

Making pretzel bread at home had one major stumbling block for me: the need for lye,  which has nasty corrosive qualities that I don’t want to deal with in my kitchen. Even special baker’s lye was not an option. So when I found a pretzel bread recipe that used baking soda, a much milder and safer alkaline ingredient that I could simply pour down my drain after using, I knew it was time to bake.

 

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½ cup water
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, softened
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 egg, separated
Cooking spray
¾ cup baking soda
Kosher salt or pretzel salt for sprinkling

Combine the water, milk and butter in a glass container and microwave about 45 seconds to melt the butter and warm the milk. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, yeast, salt and egg yolk. Slowly add the milk mixture and mix until the dough comes together. If it seems too dry, add small amounts of water. Knead the dough until it is smooth and springy, about 5 minutes.

Place the dough in a bowl sprayed with cooking spray. Flip it over so all sides get oiled, and then wrap the bowl with plastic wrap. Place in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about an hour.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Turn out the risen dough on a floured surface and divide it into equal pieces. You can make 15 small slider-sized buns, 8 burger buns, 8 hot dog buns or any other shape you like. Once all the pieces have been rolled, cover them with a clean dish towel and set them aside to rest.

While the dough is resting, heat about 12 cups of water in a large pot. When it comes to a gentle boil, carefully pour the baking soda into it. It will foam and bubble vigorously.

Add the rested pieces of dough to the simmering water and poach them for about 30 seconds and then flip them over for another 30 seconds. Don’t overcrowd the pot; you may need to do this in batches.

With a slotted spoon or spatula, lift the poached buns onto a Silpat baking sheet (or a baking sheet sprayed with oil, then sprinkled with cornmeal.)

Froth the egg white with a fork, then brush each bun with the egg white.

Using a sharp knife, make a few slits on the top of the buns, about ¼-inch deep. Sprinkle them with Kosher salt, then bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.

The heat of the summer always has me craving a cold beet soup my Mom made…

It’s interesting that an Eastern European country that is as far north as Newfoundland has one of the most refreshing cold summer soups of any country in Europe. It’s a cold beet soup called Šaltibarščiai (pronounced shul-tih barsh-chay) and it’s classic Lithuanian cooking at its best.

No summer was complete without my Mom’s Šaltibarščiai on the table, and my Dad always insisted on eating it with boiled potatoes on the side.

There are many different variations of this soup. For example, many Lithuanians today use keffir instead of buttermilk. My Mom always insisted buttermilk tastes better, and I have to agree.

 

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1 quart buttermilk
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
8 beets, cooked, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
1 scallion, finely chopped, greens only
salt
a pile of boiled potatoes (optional)

 

Pour the buttermilk into a large bowl. If it’s very thick, you can dilute it a bit with fresh water.

Peel and chop the eggs and toss them in the bowl. Peel, seed and chop the cukes…then into the bowl.

I love Love Beets, hermetically sealed cooked and peeled beets, ready to use, available in most supermarkets. (In the old days, my Mom would simply use canned beets.) I open a couple of packs of Love Beets, pouring the beet juice into the bowl. I chop the beets and add them as well.

Grab some fresh dill and chop it finely. Add it to the bowl. Finely chop the greens of one or two scallions and sprinkle some salt on them. Rub the salt into the scallions, mashing them a bit, softening them. Then add them to the bowl.

Stir everything together, put a lid on the bowl, and let it chill in the fridge for a few hours.

Remove it from the fridge, stir, and season with more salt if needed before serving.

 

Really refreshing!

 

I love watermelon margaritas, especially when they’re made with the sweetness of fresh watermelons.

 

All you need.

 

Many recipes add a lot of sugar: sugar on the rim of the glass as well as sugar in the margarita itself. I think that a ripe watermelon and the Cointreau add enough sweetness, so I leave any extra sugar out of my recipe.

 

4 cups cubed, seeded watermelon
4 oz. (or more!) tequila (I like Patron silver)
3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
1 oz. orange liqueur (I like Cointreau)

 

 

Combine the watermelon, tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur in a blender. Process until it’s smooth. Pour it into margarita glasses filled with ice. Garnish with a lime wedge.

 

Watermelon margarita, aerial view. (No drone required.)

 

 

What did a girl from Michigan, with family in the Upper Peninsula, have in common with a guy who grew up on Long Island in a mostly Jewish community? Well…smoked whitefish, for one thing!

Growing up in NY, I was introduced to smoked whitefish, herring, and lox at an amazing deli just down the road from my parents’ house. My wife’s family from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, meanwhile, caught the whitefish, herring and salmon and smoked it themselves.

My Yooper father-in-law showed me how to properly remove the meat cleanly from the smoked whitefish, and then, when he wasn’t looking, I took his recipe for smoked whitefish salad and I tweaked it.

Smoked whitefish may be a bit hard to find, and it could get expensive if you buy it from your local deli. But sometimes big membership stores like BJ’s will sell whole smoked whitefish. (They also sell already-made whitefish salad, but don’t buy that…it’s all mayonnaise and fish leftovers.)

 

Remove every bit of meat. Double-check for bones!

Remove every bit of meat. Double-check for bones!

 

1/2 whole smoked whitefish, meat removed
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped Vidalia onion
1 tablespoon capers, finely chopped
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped
Freshly ground pepper
Pinch of sea salt (I like Fleur de Sel)

 

Remove the meat from the smoked whitefish carefully, making sure all the small bones have been removed. Double-check to make sure you’ve done this really well. Place all the whitefish meat in a bowl.

Combine all the other ingredients with the fish, mixing thoroughly using a fork. (Try not to mush it up too much!)
Serve with crackers, or my favorite: a toasted everything bagel from New York!
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Here’s a shot of the real deal straight out of the smoker, at a fish store in Mackinaw City, Michigan, on the way to the in-laws’ house in the Upper Peninsula. Man, that was some good eatin’!
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I have to give credit for this recipe where it’s due. A couple of years ago, we traveled to Washington, DC, and one of our best dining experiences was at the Blue Duck Tavern, a stunning restaurant matched by its unique and beautifully prepared plates. (Along with Chef Jose Andres’ restaurant Jaleo, it is the restaurant I recommend to any friends in the DC area, and one I would go back to in a heartbeat.)

One of the most memorable appetizers I enjoyed was the roasted beef bone marrow, which had a delicious pretzel crumble on top. The moment I had a taste, I knew that I would have to recreate this for myself at home.

 

The bone marrow plate at the Blue Duck Tavern in Washington, DC. (Enough garlic for ya?)

 

Bone marrow played an important role in the evolution of early man. Perhaps that’s why some of us still have that primitive craving for it.

Early man had small teeth and ate anything he could lay his hands on, especially meat. But he was no hunter. Attracted by circling vultures, he probably scavenged the leftovers from a big kill such as an antelope left in a tree by a leopard, or a large animal such as a wildebeest that had been slaughtered by lions.

Because meat is relatively easy to digest and rich in calories and nutrients, early man lost the need for the big intestines of apes and earlier hominids. This freed up energy for use by other organs. This surplus of energy seems to have been diverted to one organ in particular – the brain. But scavenging meat from under the noses of big cats is a risky business, so good scavengers needed to be smart. At this stage in our evolution, a big brain was associated with greater intellect. Big brains require lots of energy to operate: the human brain uses 20% of the body’s total energy production. The concentrated calories and nutrition found in meat was responsible for an increase in the brain size of early humans.

But around two million years ago, telltale cut marks on the surface of animal bones reveal that early humans were using crude stone tools to smash open the bones and extract the marrow. Stone tools allowed early man to get at a food source that no other creature was able to obtain – bone marrow. Bone marrow contains long chain fatty acids that are vital for brain growth and development. This helped further fuel the increase in brain size, allowing our ancestors to make more complex tools. Many historians believe that the blunt force required to break bones with tools to extract the bone marrow was a crucial ingredient in the development of the human hand, and the unique dexterity it has over that of apes.

Of course, these days, we can simply go to our butcher and ask them to slice some beef bones for us so that we can enjoy the marrow like our ancestors did. It’s much more civilized.

 

My box o’ frozen bones. I ordered about 25 lbs. of marrow bones from Slanker’s, a grass-fed beef farm in Texas.

 

They key to roasting marrow bones properly is to keep an eye on them. The bones can go from frozen solid to blazing hot in no time, and that means the marrow can go beyond its rich, gelatinous perfection into a puddle of fat at the bottom of your pan in mere moments.

 

3 lbs. beef marrow bones (I like them sliced lengthwise)
3/4 cup finely ground salted pretzel sticks
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
olive oil

 

I keep the beef bones frozen, moving them to the fridge until I’m ready to roast them.

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.

 

Grind them up!

Place a handful of salted pretzel sticks in a food processor, and pulse them until the pretzels are ground fine. When you’ve got 3/4 cup of ground pretzel powder, move it to a bowl and add the parsley, onion, garlic and black pepper. No salt is needed if the pretzels are salted.

 

 

Lay the bones flat on a baking pan. If they wobble, place them on a layer of coarse salt to hold them steady. Sprinkle the pretzel mix on the bones, a little drizzle of olive oil on top, and place them in the oven.

 

 

Now you watch…there’s that one point where they go from “not quite yet” to perfection to “Oops! Too much!” …so be careful!

 

Perfection!

 

Some toasted bread on the side is all you need!

 

If you’re cooking gluten-free, try Snyder’s of Hanover GF pretzels. They are awesome…you’ll never know the difference.