Posts Tagged ‘food’

For my family, a Caesar salad is the only salad to serve on special occasions. But it all starts with a little history…

If someone told me that the classic Caesar salad was invented in Tijuana, Mexico, I’d say they were crazy. But that’s one bizarre truth in the creation of one of the world’s most iconic salads.

Famous restaurateur, Caesar Cardini, ran a restaurant in San Diego back in the early 1900’s. But when Prohibition hit the states, he opened another location in Mexico…Tijuana, to be exact, luring many of the day’s Hollywood stars across the border. They could gamble in Mexico, and they could feast on food and alcohol at Cardini’s.

The story goes that one July 4th, they were running out of food, and thinking quickly, Cardini created a salad at the spur of the moment, using only the ingredients he could find in the kitchen. Having the chef assemble the salad tableside meant it came with a grand performance, and word quickly spread of the incredible “Caesar salad.” (Cardini named it after himself.) Cardini’s is still at its original Tijuana location, and they serve thousands of Caesar salads, with a flamboyant tableside show, to tourists.

Though Cardini didn’t believe anchovies should be in his salad (they say Worcestershire was used instead), anchovies were eventually added when his brother, Alex, tweaked the recipe years later. (The Worcestershire was removed.)

It needs to be said that raw egg yolks are used in Caesar salad, and if you’re not comfortable using them because of salmonella concerns, you shouldn’t. Sometimes coddled eggs (slightly boiled) are used. Some stores, though not many, sell pasteurized eggs in the shell. I haven’t had a chance to use them–or even find them. And now you can get liquid eggs, whole eggs that have been pasteurized and come in a carton. The problem is that you only need the yolks, and you can’t separate them from the whites. (Nonetheless, I gave it a shot and it wasn’t half bad. But far from the perfection of using real yolks. See the bottom of this blog.)

For many, including myself, it ain’t a Caesar without raw egg, so I’m willing to take my chances.

This Caesar recipe remains the best I’ve ever had.

 

The ingredients.

 

The first really important ingredient to get is a wooden bowl. No other bowl will do. We have an old wooden bowl at home with almost mystical properties that is used for nothing but our Caesar salad, and I have to say that it makes all the difference in the world.

 

The mystical wooden bowl. Years of Caesar salads have given it a special seasoning.

 

Once you have the bowl, what matters most is the freshest, best quality ingredients you can find: farm-fresh eggs, not supermarket ones…Parmigiano Reggiano, not generic Parmesan. The best quality extra virgin olive oil. Fresh lemon juice. Freshly cracked black pepper. High-quality anchovies. And organic Romaine lettuce. (Organic bibb or leaf lettuces make great substitutes.)

After that, it’s all about the love.

 

The process begins…

4 raw egg yolks
8 oz. good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
fresh garlic (optional…see below)
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
4 anchovies
the juice of 1 lemon
4 oz. grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 large heads organic Romaine lettuce, washed, stems removed, torn by hand

Place the egg yolks in the wooden bowl and whisk them until well mixed.

While whisking the yolks, pour the olive oil in the bowl VERY SLOWLY, whisking all the time, never stopping. Keep pouring the olive oil slowly until you’ve whisked all of it into the eggs and you get a beautiful emulsion.

Keep whisking and add the Dijon mustard, then the black pepper. You might need someone to hold the bowl for you as you whisk. Or…place a wet kitchen towel under the bowl to stabilize it.

In a separate small bowl, mash the anchovies with a fork–even better, use a mortar and pestle, if you have one. Don’t leave any chunks. Slowly add the mashed anchovies to the wooden bowl, mixing them in with the whisk to combine the ingredients. You want them to dissolve completely in the dressing.

Once the dressing has reached its desired consistency, add the lemon juice and whisk some more.

When it’s all mixed together, dip a finger in the dressing and give it a taste. Does it need more lemon juice to cut the oil? Slice a second lemon and add a little. Taste again. Enough black pepper? There should be enough salt from the anchovies and the cheese is still to come.

If you think you’ve “got it,” sprinkle in the Parmigiano Reggiano, whisking slowly. Then add the Romaine leaves to the salad bowl and toss gently to coat the lettuce.

When serving, top each salad serving with a little more cheese. Extra anchovies are optional.

 

 

If you’re saying “where’s the garlic?” …you’re right. Every good Caesar needs some. This recipe would use about 1 teaspoon of fresh, finely chopped garlic, added after the mustard. If I’m cooking alone, I always add the garlic. But we have people in our household that are allergic to garlic, so when family is here, we leave it out. The flavors of the dressing are so deliciously intense, you’ll be surprised how good it is without it!

 

 

 

 

Recently, I came across a recipe that is not a traditional Caesar, but is close enough for rock ‘n’ roll. It has several ingredients that a true Caesar wouldn’t include, like bacon and hard-boiled eggs, but there’s no denying it’s absolutely delicious, especially when you toast the croutons in the bacon fat!

 

1 large head of Romaine lettuce
1/2 lb. bacon, cubed
1 clove garlic, minced
2 anchovies
2 hard-boiled egg yolks
Juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon capers
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup (or more) freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Olive oil
Bread for croutons

Since the bread is the only non-gluten-free ingredient in the salad, if you want it to be gluten-free, just use GF bread, or skip it altogether. Chop the bread for croutons into small cubes. Set it aside.

Fry up half a pound of bacon, leaving the fat in the pan. Make sure the bacon is crispy. Chop it up and place it in a bowl on paper towels. Set it aside.

 

 

Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan in a convection oven and bake it at a low temperature, 150° or so, until it’s brown and toasted, tossing the cubes around every 10 minutes. Remove it from the oven and set it aside.

 

 

Take the pan with the bacon fat and heat it. Add the garlic. Fry the garlic for a few seconds, then add the croutons and toss them around until they’re cooked and the bacon fat has been absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat and place the croutons in a separate bowl.

Chop up the lettuce and place it in a large bowl. Set it aside.

Chop up the two hard-boiled egg yolks and placed them in a large wooden bowl, big enough for the salad. Add the juice of half a lemon, the Dijon mustard, and the capers.

Using a fork, squish the anchovy fillets on a cutting board into a paste and add them to the bowl.

Whisk everything together for a minute, then slowly add the olive oil in a tiny stream as you continue whisking, until you get the consistency of the dressing that you like. Season with salt and pepper. Add the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Whisk again.

 

 

Add lettuce to the dressing and toss with tongs. Then add the croutons and bacon bits to the salad and toss one last time.

 

 

Not a true Caesar, but delicious…and because hard-boiled egg yolks are used, there are no salmonella concerns.

 

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 folding 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 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 bolete heaven. (We call them baravykai.)

When they’re dried and rehydrated, 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, and 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 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.

My recipe follows. If you’re on a gluten-free diet, have no fear! That recipe is at the bottom of the blog.

 

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.)

 

duni 4

 

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 (a melon baller works great), 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. It’s faster with the traditional method.

 

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

 

If you need to go gluten-free…good news! You can still have your koldūnai! The mushroom filling is already gluten-free. For the breadcrumbs in the beef filling, I take slices of Udi GF bread, toast them, and zap them in a food processor. Excellent breadcrumbs! And I use store-bought GF mac-and-cheese.

 

GF Mac and cheese, with a little extra cheddar.

 

For a rustic dough, this recipe works great. (Thanks to my sister, who shared it with me.)

 

Excellent GF flours.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1 1/2 cups rice flour (I use Cup4Cup Wholesome Flour)
2 eggs
pinch of salt
water

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the eggs and mix. (I use my hands for this.) Slowly add water to the dough until it pulls from the sides of the bowl and makes a nice ball of dough. I cut the dough in half and use a well-floured rolling pin to roll it flat.

 

The finished product! The rice flour gives it a darker, grainier texture. A more rustic taste, but still delicious!

 

A newer, less rustic gluten-free version here…

These are also gluten-free, but I used a different recipe and a different brand of flour. I mixed 2 cups of King Arthur GF flour with one cup of water and 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum. Then I added more flour or water, depending what was needed, to get the right consistency. A very easy to work with dough!

 

 

Chicken Rollatini was one of the first dishes I learned how to make back in my teenage days on Long Island, working at a local Italian restaurant called Pizza City East. (The original Pizza City was in Ozone Park, Queens.) It was a simple dish: a chicken breast rolled up with prosciutto and mozzarella, and baked in a mushroom cream sauce. My version these days substitutes ham for the prosciutto, provolone for the mozzarella, and an Alfredo-like sauce instead of  the mushroom cream sauce.

 

4 chicken breasts cut lengthwise to make 8 thin breasts, about 2 pounds
8 slices sliced ham
8 slices of provolone cheese
Remove the chicken tender portion of the chicken breasts and set those aside for another day.
I don’t like to pound out my chicken breasts. I like the texture of “real meat.” So I take a large breast, and slice it lengthwise to make 2 thinner breasts. I lay the breast down on the cutting board, add a slice of “real” ham (not the deli-sliced stuff, but a ham that I sliced myself), then a slice of provolone, and carefully roll it up, securing it with toothpicks. Sometimes it’s easier to roll the ham and cheese first, then wrap the chicken around it. Place the rollatinis on a baking sheet. Set aside, preferably in the fridge, until ready to cook.

Rolled and ready!

1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon parsley
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
Combine these ingredients in a bowl. Set it aside.
2 carrots
2 parsnips
2 celery stalks
1/2 medium onion
Olive oil
Peel and chop the parsnips and carrots into quarters. Peel and chop the onion in half. Chop the celery into quarters as well. Place all the vegetables on a sheet pan and drizzle olive oil over the top, tossing them in the oil. Roast the vegetables in a 400° oven until caramelized, and the  carrots and parsnips are fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the sheet pan from the oven and let the vegetables cool. Once the veggies have cooled, chop them finely with a knife or food processor. Set them aside.
3 cups your favorite rice, cooked
Cook the rice according to package directions. Once the rice is cooked, mix it with the chopped carrots, parsnips, celery and onion. Set it aside.
1 cup cream or half-and-half
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
salt and pepper
For the Alfredo-like sauce, heat a saucepan over medium heat, melting the butter and then adding the cream or half-and-half. Once it’s warmed through, add the cheese and whisk until it has melted and the sauce is smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Set it aside, to re-warm later.
Take the pan of rollatinis out of the fridge to warm to room temperature, and reduce the heat of the oven to 350°.
Drizzle a little olive oil over the top of the rollatinis and rub it in. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top and bake them for 30-45 minutes, until the chicken has cooked through.
To serve, remove the chicken rollatinis from the pan and plate on a bed of arugula (optional) with the rice on the side. Serve with the sauce.
I’m planning a trip to London with my daughter this April, and we’ve got quite a list of things to do. One of the top things on my list is to pay a visit to the renowned Dukes Bar at the Dukes Hotel, where, as legend has it, Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels, not only came up with the phrase “shaken, not stirred,” but also created the now-famous Vesper martini. Once I heard that, it became a must-go-to destination on my trip. I’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, let’s enjoy a Vesper and its history, shall we?
At first, it seemed almost silly to try to make one…but the classic James Bond martini has always fascinated me. I’m not talking about the clichéd Sean Connery “vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.” I’m talking about the real James Bond martini, which appeared in Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel “Casino Royale” and only appeared in the 2006 “Casino Royale” motion picture starring Daniel Craig (the best Bond of all, if you ask me.)
Bondtini
To quote the novel:
‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’ ‘Oui, monsieur.’ ‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s (gin), one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.  Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?’ ‘Certainly, monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleasant with the idea. ‘Gosh that’s certainly a drink,’ said Leiter. 
Bond laughed. ‘When I’m … er … concentrating.’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.’ 
He watched carefully as the deep glass became frosted with the pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising of the shaker. He reached for it and took a long sip. 
‘Excellent,’ he said to the barman, ‘but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.’ 
Bond named this drink the Vesper martini, after the character Vesper Lynd, portrayed by Ursula Andress in the 1967 adaptation, and Eva Green in the 2006 adaptation of “Casino Royale.”
My first homemade version of this classic drink remained true to the measurements of the original, though I changed brands due to personal preference. In the novel, Bond just asks for “vodka.” (Of course, this was back in the 1950’s when we didn’t have hundreds of brands to choose from!) My choice for best-bang-for-the-buck grain vodka is Tito’s, made from corn. But an excellent choice for wheat-based vodka is Grey Goose.
Bond asks for Gordon’s gin. I’m partial to the floral notes of Hendrick’s. Again, in the 50’s, what good British agent wouldn’t drink Gordon’s?
And the original Kina Lillet had its recipe changed in the 1980’s to keep up with the times by reducing the quinine, which made it bitter. (Kina refers to the quinine, so it was removed from the label when the quinine was removed from the formula.) The French aperitif wine, Lillet, is today’s version: a blend of wine grapes, oranges, orange peels and quinine. Lillet is not a vermouth, though you’ll find it in the vermouth section of your favorite liquor store. With the rise in popularity of the Vesper martini, many bartenders and aficionados claim it’s just not the same without the original Kina Lillet formulation, and a search began to find a better substitute, one with a more pronounced quinine assertiveness.
ingredients again
Enter Cocchi Americano, an aromatized wine also found in the vermouth section of many liquor stores. With its quinine-forward recipe, Vesper fans claim it comes closer to the original Kina Lillet. Add a more London-style dry gin to the mix, like Bombay Sapphire, and you just about nail the cocktail Bond created all those years ago.
So…with measurements true to Bond, may I suggest two versions of the same cocktail!
My original, more floral, version…
3 oz. Hendrick’s gin
1 oz. grain-based vodka (like Tito’s or Grey Goose)
1/2 oz. Lillet
Combine these over ice in a cocktail shaker, and shake vigorously. Strain it into a chilled martini glass. I’m happy with a lemon peel or olives with this combination.
Bondtini2
Or…
The version closer to Bond’s original, which is equally wonderful in its own right: crisp and refreshing, a strong drink with a hint of bitterness from the quinine. Dangerously addictive!
3 oz. London dry gin (like Bombay Sapphire)
1 oz. grain-based vodka (like Grey Goose)
1/2 oz. Cocchi Americano
Combine these over ice in a cocktail shaker, and shake vigorously. Strain it into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a large, thin lemon peel.
With the rising popularity of the Vesper martini, and the use of Cocchi Americano instead of Lillet, the makers of Lillet now claim they “never removed” the quinine from their original recipe. Many feel this is an outright lie, (back-pedaling a bit, aren’t we?) because they themselves stated they changed in the formula back in the 80’s. A little too late now for them to re-formulate. Cocchi Americano has become the go-to with many bartenders (and myself) when recreating this classic cocktail. I no longer stock my bar with Lillet.

PICKLED BEETS

Posted: January 11, 2023 in beets, Food, pickling, Recipes
Tags: , , ,

Growing up in a Lithuanian family, there was a small group of foods that I had to love to survive, since they constantly appeared on the dinner table: potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, herring, and beets. Fortunately for me, I loved them all, despite my Mom’s desire to boil everything to death.

One of the many uses for beets, besides a cold summer soup and a hot winter soup, was pickling. Pickled beets are an excellent side dish for any hearty meat dish. (I love ’em with kielbasa!)  Store-bought pickled beets pack way too much sugar in every jar, so it was time to make my own.

A real time saver is a product called Love Beets, which you can find in any supermarket. If you use them, you can skip the roasting and messy peeling of the beets altogether.

This recipe makes one large Mason jar’s worth of pickled veggies.

 

beets

 

4 to 8 beets, scrubbed (your favorite variety)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 onion, sliced (or more, if you love ’em like I do!)
cauliflower pieces (optional)
fresh dill (optional)

 

 

Pre-heat the oven to 450. Wrap the beets in foil and roast them for about an hour, until tender. When they’re cool enough, carefully peel and quarter them. (If you’re using Love Beets, no cooking is necessary. Just open the package, and halve them if they’re small…quarter them if they’re larger.)

In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, garlic, sugar, peppercorns and salt. Bring it to a boil and simmer over moderately high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Let the pickling liquid cool to warm, about 15 minutes.

In a heat-proof glass jar or container, layer the beets, onions, and optional cauliflower. Pack them down a bit so there’s not a lot of air between them. Pour the pickling liquid in the jar, covering the veggies. Seal the jar tightly. Let it stand at room temp for 2 hours, then place it in the fridge overnight.

 

 

They stay fresh for a week, but they won’t last that long!

 

My daughter and I love any foods that are heavy on the garlic, so this is a special treat we make when diets don’t matter! It’s buttery, it’s garlicky, it’s carby, and it’s absolutely delicious!

I use 2 kinds of garlic in my garlic bread: fresh and granulated. I think it packs a garlicky punch even better than either one alone. And passing the fresh garlic through a press ensures that it will cook quickly and not leave you with that raw garlic taste in your mouth.

Although I love French baguettes, they’re too thin and crisp for garlic bread. I buy that long, soft, Italian loaf you can find in just about any supermarket bakery. When it bakes, the outside edges are nice and crispy, while the inside of the loaf stays soft…exactly what you want! The Italian loaf is big, so not only do I cut it lengthwise, I then cut each piece in half. This will make enough for us to enjoy one evening, and still store some in the freezer for a future craving.

This recipe makes enough for 1 garlic bread, 1 cheesy garlic bread, and also the bread you’ll be putting in the freezer for another time.

The delicious final product…but I digress…

2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter
2 (or more!) large cloves garlic, squeezed through a press
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon parsley
grated mozzarella cheese…a few ounces

In a bowl, let the butter soften to room temperature. Once it’s soft, squeeze the fresh garlic cloves through a garlic press and add them to the butter. Then add the granulated garlic, salt, oregano and parsley. Using a fork, mix the ingredients really well until you have a beautiful garlic and herb butter. (Once it’s mixed, I find it’s easier to spread with a spatula or the back of a large spoon.)

Spread the garlic butter evenly on all 4 pieces of bread you’ve cut. Use it all up! Going thin on the butter serves no purpose here!

Place one of the loaves on a baking sheet. Add the grated mozzarella to one of the other loaves, and place it on the baking sheet as well.

Regular garlic bread on the left, cheesy garlic bread on the right…ready to go into the oven.

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

With the other two pieces of bread, I simply put them together…with cheese inside or not…

…and wrap them in aluminum foil. I place that in a freezer bag and keep it frozen until we have another craving. When it’s time to cook, I pre-heat the oven to 350, and bake the loaf in the foil for about 25 minutes. I take it out of the foil at the very end and bake another 5 minutes to get it to crisp up.

Ready to be devoured!

With the oven at 400, I bake my garlic bread and cheesy garlic bread for about 10 minutes, or until the edges of the bread start to turn a golden brown and the cheese on the cheesy side starts to melt.

I cut each piece in half so my daughter and I share in the 2 breads. There’s never any leftovers!

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

So when I first posted my recipe of Portuguese kale soup, I was told by many Portuguese friends that my soup wasn’t authentic so I couldn’t call it that. Fair enough. After all, my soup has far less carbs (no potatoes or pasta), fewer spices, and it uses homemade stock instead of water. It may not be Portuguese, but it’s full of flavor.

 

My version of the classic Portuguese kale soup.

My version of the classic Portuguese kale soup.

 

4 cups home-made chicken or beef stock
4 cups water
1 cup lentils, rinsed in cold water
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, through a press
1 lb. Portuguese chourico, peeled and chopped into small cubes 
1 large bunch organic kale
salt and pepper

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

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

Wash and de-stem the kale, tearing the leaves into smaller pieces. Add the leaves to the pot and stir. The stems go in your compost pile. (You can also use them in a juicer.) Kale is always on the “dirty dozen” list of vegetables with large amounts of pesticides, so I always buy organic.

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

 

I’ve got dozens of chicken wing recipes, but even so, sometimes I just want something different. I decided to take my favorite taco seasonings recipe and adapt it to chicken wings. Caramba! One of the tastiest wings I’ve made in a long time!

This is such an easy and delicious recipe to make, even for a crowd. At your next party, just double or triple the recipe, as needed. And it works with a whole chicken as well.

 

2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon pepper
avocado oil
4–5 lbs. chicken wings

Preheat the oven to 375.

Combine the salt, cumin, oregano, paprika, onion, garlic, and pepper in a bowl. Mix well.

Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spread the wings out on the sheet. Sprinkle the wings with the avocado oil and rub the oil all over the wings. This will help the wings cook evenly,  and it’ll help the seasonings stick to the wings.

Turn the wings bottom-side-up and sprinkle with the seasoning mix. Flip the wings over and sprinkle them again, coating them evenly.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes.

This is my version of a holiday drink I was introduced to me by my mother-in-law from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

This classic is loaded with sugar. But then…so is everything else around the holidays!

Whiskey slush

9 cups water
2 cups sugar
4 “Constant Comment” tea bags
12 oz. frozen OJ concentrate
12 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate
2 cups whiskey (I use Crown Royal)
7-Up or Sprite

Boil the water and sugar, making sure the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and steep the tea bags in the liquid for 10 minutes. Discard the tea bags.

Add the OJ, lemonade and whiskey. Mix well, then pour it all into a freezeable container with a lid. Freeze.

To serve: Scoop the slush out of the container (it doesn’t freeze solid) and mix it in a tall glass with 7-Up.

If you’re concerned about all that sugar, you can use a sugar substitute in the mix, and diet soda at the end. Some stores also carry low-sugar juice concentrates. I haven’t tried any of these substitutions, because when it comes to the holidays, I go big or go home!

Pork is magical. And though I’ve loved pork chops and store-bought bacon all my life, it’s only been in the last decade that I’ve learned to appreciate other cuts of pork and how they’re prepared. Guanciale is one of those meats, and it’s a key ingredient to a classic Italian dish: pasta carbonara.

 

In the beginning, I could only find huge jowls that required cutting and weighing to mix with the right amount of cure.

Looking at carbonara recipes online, many said the same thing: “Though a genuine carbonara uses a cured cut of pork called guanciale, it’s hard to find. So use pancetta or bacon.” Although both pancetta and bacon meats are delicious (both come from the belly of the pig…bacon is smoked, pancetta is not) the flavor and texture is not the same as a pork cheek, or jowl…and that’s what guanciale is made from.
Many years ago, my search for guanciale started with a local restaurant, the Back Eddy in Westport, Massachusetts. Being a buddy of the owner (and bribing him with alcohol), I asked if he’d order me some jowls. He did, and that worked well for a while. But I didn’t want to keep bothering him every time I wanted more, so I eventually found my own source on line that supplied me with massive jowls weighing many pounds each, as in the photo above. They were good, but a pain to work with. Eventually, that company went out of business.
I finally found my go-to pork website: http://www.heritagepork.com. They sell a variety of pork products made from a heritage breed of pig known as Berkshire, also called kurobuta. It’s delicious with wonderful fat that’s healthy and full of flavor. And conveniently, they sell pork jowls in smaller, 2-pound packs.

Berkshire pork jowls with fresh thyme from the garden and the dry cure mix.

 

My curing process is simple: sugar, salt, peppercorns, and fresh thyme. I cure the jowls for about 3 weeks. I rinse them once they’ve cured, and pat them dry. They still need to cook, but they’re ready to use for carbonara, ragu bolognese, topping a pizza, or any other delicious recipe that comes my way…and they freeze really well.
Once I made my first batch, there was no turning back!
2 lbs. raw pork jowls
1/2 cup basic dry cure mix (recipe below)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
a handful of fresh thyme sprigs
Combine the basic dry cure mix, brown sugar, and peppercorns in a bowl. We’ll call this the cure.
On a large work surface, lay down several sheets of plastic wrap, overlapping each other to keep the cure from leaking through to the counter underneath. Sprinkle half of the cure onto the plastic wrap in an area where the jowls will lay. Scatter a half-dozen thyme sprigs on top of the cure. Lay the pieces of pork jowl on top of the cure and the thyme.

I place the cure and sprigs of thyme on a long sheet of plastic wrap.

 

The pork jowls go on top.

Then top the jowls with the rest of the cure, covering them evenly, and top with more thyme sprigs.

Press down on the jowls to really get the cure to stick.

 

Fold the plastic wrap over the jowls as tightly as you can, pressing the cure into the meat. If the wrap is loose, use more wrap to really tighten it up. Then place the entire pork-wrapped package in a container that will hold the liquid that will ooze out during the curing process.

Into a container with a lid and into the fridge.

 

Place the container in the fridge to cure for 3 weeks.
Every couple of days, flip the plastic wrap package over, so that the top is now the bottom. Then return it to the fridge. You want the cure to get at every part of the pork. Don’t pour off any liquid that forms…it gets kind of gooey, but it will help the curing process.

3 weeks later, it has transformed…

In about 3 weeks, the pork jowls will feel firmer. This is a sign they’ve been properly cured. Remove them from the plastic wrap, rinse them thoroughly under cold clean water, then pat them dry with paper towels.

They’re perfect…they just need a rinse.

 

Cured, rinsed and patted dry. Cut the guanciale into smaller pieces before freezing. A little goes a long way!

 

At this point, cut the guanciale into smaller pieces, wrapping each well and placing them in freezer bags. They will keep in the freezer for a long time.
Many guanciale recipes tell you to hang the meat in the fridge for at least a week after curing, but I haven’t really found the need to do that if I’m keeping them frozen. The drying process keeps the meat from getting moldy, but that’s only if you keep it at room temperature, which I don’t.

Always slice off a little to fry up a test batch! It’s all about quality control!

 

The Basic Dry Cure Mix
This basic dry cure mix is extremely simple, and you can cure many meats with it. But it does require a special ingredient: pink salt. This is not pink Himalayan salt. This is a very special curing salt that must be used in small amounts. (You can easily find it online.) It contains nitrites which will help preserve the meat and give it a good color. Many people get bent out of shape over nitrites these days, so you need to decide whether you want to use pink salt or not. I do, because I don’t eat pounds of guanciale like a lab rat. If you don’t use it, the meat will turn a bit gray–nothing wrong with it, just not an appealing color.
1 1/2 cups Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
1/2 cup organic turbinado  sugar
5 teaspoons pink curing salt
Combine these ingredients and mix well. Store the basic dry cure mix in a tightly sealed plastic bag in your pantry.
An important note: the reason I give the brand name for the salt is because all Kosher salt does not weigh the same! A cup-and-a-half of Morton Kosher Salt, for example, weighs more and will throw off the recipe.