Posts Tagged ‘food’

When I first told my friends that I grew up in a Lithuanian family, that we only spoke Lithuanian at the dinner table, that I went to Lithuanian Saturday school for 8 years, that I was a Lithuanian boy scout…they looked at me with a bit of disbelief. On the surface, I looked just like any other American-born kid that grew up in the suburbs. But the home life was vastly different.

Few things were stranger to my friends than the food we ate. While all my “American” friends had PB&J’s for lunch, I had a liverwurst sandwich on dark Lithuanian bread. While my friends struggled with broccoli, I was force-fed beets. And while my friends ate macaroni with jarred tomato sauce, my Mom served us macaroni with sour cream and butter. (Nobody called it pasta back then.)

 

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Few things prove you are a true Lithuanian more than an appetite for herring. (Silke (sil-keh) in Lithuanian.) I loved it at an early age. Didn’t matter if it was in a cream sauce with onions, in a tomato casserole with chopped boletes, or perhaps my favorite: an appetizer my Mom prepared only twice a year when my Dad’s buddies came over to play rounds of bridge all night.

Years later, when I was just out of college and in my first years of radio, I shared an apartment with my college buddy, Don. One evening, I prepared this dish for him when he came home from work. We both had the next day off (smart move, considering the vodka!) and I explained to him my family history behind this strange-looking appetizer. (I don’t think he’d ever had herring before.) Though it looked bizarre, he knew he had to trust me when it came to food, and he popped one of those bites into his mouth. I could see he wasn’t sure whether he liked it or not…a moment of many sensations hitting him all at once…confusion in his eyes…do I spit it out or swallow it?…so I poured him the vodka. He swallowed the food…took a shot of the vodka…and instantly had a moment of clarity. It all came together. It was indeed magical. I’ll never forget that look on his face!

 

There are a few basic ingredients that make this appetizer work…

First and foremost, you need a bottle of good vodka in the freezer. Despite their lack of love for anything Russian, Lithuanians knew a good vodka when they saw one, and Stolichnaya has been the favorite for many years. Even now, with hundreds of vodkas to choose from, I still go to the red-labeled Stoli bottle for this dish. I find a space in the freezer…jam that bottle in there…and let it get nice and cold.

Obviously, good quality herring is essential. Though I can get them fresh when I’m back home on Long Island, the usual choice is from a jar. For me, there’s no better quality than Acme products out of Brooklyn, NY. (If you saw the episode of “Bizarre Foods America” with Andrew Zimmern where he visited a salmon processing plant in Brooklyn, that was Acme Smoked Fish.) You can find them in many supermarkets. The excellent Blue Hill Bay herring in dill sauce is an Acme product and can be found at Whole Foods.

Next: hard-boiled eggs that have cooled in the fridge. Get out the old egg slicer that’s been sitting in the kitchen  drawer for the last decade and use it for this appetizer.

Red onion, sliced thin. How much you use is up to you. But it’s gotta be red and it’s gotta be raw.

And finally, Lithuanian bread. Yes, there is such a thing. It’s easy to find in most Polish or German food stores in the New York area. I buy a loaf when I’m home and then keep it in the freezer to enjoy throughout the year. Lithuanian bread is like the lovechild of rye bread and pumpernickel, so either one of those will work in a pinch.

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To make the appetizer, simply place a small piece of Lithuanian bread, about 1 1/2″ square, on a plate. Place a slice of hard-boiled egg on top of it. On top of that, some red onion. Then finally, a piece of herring.

 

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Pop the whole thing in your mouth, and wash it down with a small amount of frozen vodka. No shots–this isn’t a frat house. Besides, you won’t make it to the end of dinner. Then again, you may not care at that point!

I never learned how to play bridge, but I’m sure my Dad would be proud that I remembered this treat.

I love onions! Raw, sautéed, caramelized, yellow, Spanish, Bermuda, Vidalia, Texas Sweets, scallion, pearl, Crimini, Walla Walla…they can do no wrong. In fact, my family gave me the Lithuanian nickname: “Ponas Svogūnas.” (“Mr. Onion.”)

I also love vodka martinis! So if I’m going to buy a top shelf vodka like Stoli Elit or Chopin, I’m not going to ruin it with jarred cocktail onions, brined with cheap vermouth, found in the bar mixers section of my local supermarket. Who knows how long those nasty things have been sitting on the shelf?

No, I’m going to make my own cocktail onions to enjoy a proper Gibson!

The Gibson martini is simply one with onions instead of olives, and the story of its origin is somewhat unclear. According to one story, it was invented by Charles Dana Gibson, who created the popular Gibson Girl illustrations. Supposedly, he challenged Charley Connolly, the bartender of the private club, The Players, in New York City, to improve on a martini. Connolly simply substituted an onion for the olive and named it after Gibson.

Another story claims a man named Gibson dropped an onion in his water-filled martini glass to differentiate between his own drink and that of his colleagues, who were imbibing heavily.

Some stories about the Gibson don’t even mention an onion. (?)

And yet another story, now considered the more probable one, is that the Gibson martini was invented at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco in the 1890’s by Walter D. K. Gibson. There is documentation as early as 1898 to back that up.

Whatever story you want to believe, the Gibson martini was originally made with gin, not vodka, but that’s strictly a personal preference–and I don’t use any vermouth. (I think the biggest injustice you can do to high-quality vodka is ruin it with low-quality vermouth. But that rule applies to any alcohol and any mixer. (It’s only as good as its worst ingredient!)

 

 

My first attempt at homemade cocktail onions was not a success. I bought pearl onions and did what the package instructions said: I dropped them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then moved them to ice water to let them cool. Then a gentle squeeze on one end of the onion would make it pop right out of its skin. Easy, right?

Well, it didn’t work out that way. For one thing, the onions got soft…not what I wanted. I had to cut one end of the bulb with a knife. And even then, when I squeezed the onion, the part that popped out was about half the size of the original onion…there was a lot of waste.

 

 

After brining, they tasted OK, but they never had that crisp bite I wanted. They were mushy. I realized that boiling was not the way to go.

 

A lot of waste.

 

I knew there had to be a better way. Then I discovered already peeled pearl onions at Whole Foods. I have to be honest…I won’t use any other onions now. They’re big, plump, and exactly what I want. Some might say they’re too big…but I don’t have a problem with that.

 

Sure, these are much larger than the onions you find in a jar. But tell me how that’s a problem!

 

1 lb. pearl onions, peeled, ends cut off
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2  cups water
3/4 cup sugar (I like turbinado sugar)
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt (per quart-sized Mason jar)
2 cloves garlic

Combine the white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, and peppercorns in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring it to a boil, making sure the sugar dissolves completely. Remove it from the heat.

 

 

Slice the ends off the onions.

I’ve found that if I allow the brining liquid to get inside the onions, especially these larger ones, they’ll get tastier faster…and who doesn’t want that? So I take a thin metal or bamboo barbecue skewer and push it through the center of the top of the onions, all the way through the center of the bottom of the onions. Now there’s a little “tunnel” for that brine to get in, and it can work its magic from the inside out!

Not skewering the onions simply means it’ll take longer for that brine to seep in…but that’s perfectly fine if you want a not-so-briny onion.

 

 

In a quart-sized Mason jar, add the teaspoon of salt and garlic cloves. Pour a little of the hot vinegar liquid in the Mason jar to dissolve the salt. Add the onions to the jar, as tightly as you can, then fill the jar to the top with the vinegar liquid.

Screw the top of the jar on tightly, and turn it upside-down a couple of times to mix everything together. If it looks like the level of the liquid has gone down a bit, open the jar and top it off with the vinegar liquid, then re-seal it.

Let the jar cool to room temperature, then move it to the fridge. You can use the onions as soon as the craving hits you, but they’ll taste better if you give them a few days to a week.

 

 

Cheers!

THE DIET RETURNS!

Posted: January 3, 2022 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,
“You’ll never out-exercise a bad diet.”
That’s not my quote…but it’s absolutely true.
I re-started this diet couple of months ago, in early November, to counteract the weight gain that I knew would happen with the upcoming holidays. I decided I would not punish myself for over-eating during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the new year, if I just stuck to this diet on the days in between. And it really did help.
My weight this morning was exactly what it was in the beginning of November. That may not sound like a success, but had I not dieted in between the holidays, I would easily be 10 to 15 pounds heavier right now.
But now, it’s time to get back to it, and lose some real weight. This diet has been extremely successful for me in the past, and as long as I stay with it, it will succeed for me again this year!

I started in 2020 at 238. I got down to 213! But the key was to write everything down: my weight, and exactly what I ate. It takes determination, but it works.

After seeing my blog posts featuring ribs, pastas with cheese, huge roasts, and cheesecake, I had several friends ask me how I didn’t weigh 500 pounds! My answer was simple: I cook everything. I just don’t eat everything. That’s what this diet is all about. I might cook a large portion, but I eat a small amount of it, portion out the rest of it, and put it in my freezer for another day. I also share it with family and friends, who are more than happy to oblige!
When I was young, I was rail thin and could eat anything I wanted without gaining a pound. When I got older, my metabolism slowed down, but my love of food did not–in fact, it probably increased, as I learned how to cook really well.

OMG…that was one skinny dude!

Now, here I am, writing a food blog. I travel for food. I plan six meals ahead at any given time. I’ll be 64 in March, and I have a 15-year-old daughter. Do the math, and you’ll realize, like I did, that I need to take care of myself to be around for as many of her upcoming life events as possible.

My version of lox and bagels: home-cured wild-caught Alaskan salmon, whipped cream cheese (fewer calories), onions, capers, and toast pieces. Lots of tasty bites here. (A sliced, hard-boiled egg would only add 70 calories.)

There are a million diets out there, and everybody claims they have the secret to weight loss. But no matter what diet you’re on, what it really boils down to is the simple mathematical equation of calories in…versus calories out.
My buddy, Lee, a PhD in chemistry, and someone that dropped 50 pounds a couple of years ago, told me about an article written by an engineer that lays out the basics. You can find it here:
As he states, losing weight is simply thermodynamics: you need to eat less calories than your body burns every day. If you do that, you will lose weight. Those diet pills that claim to burn your body fat, allowing you to lose 17 lbs. in a week, are about as believable as that con man, Dr. Oz, himself. You didn’t gain the weight overnight. So anyone that tells you you can lose it overnight is full of it.

My stir-fry has chicken breast, broccoli, white rice, some onion, and my “Asian Mix” of flavors: soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chili garlic sauce, and sesame oil. My trick to add flavor to the rice without calories is to add homemade chicken broth instead of water when cooking.

There is a way to find out approximately how many calories a day your body uses to maintain its weight. It’s called the basal metabolic rate, or BMR. In my case, I need about 2500 calories per day to maintain my weight. So, like my friend Lee, I chose a diet where I eat no more than 1500 calories daily…a deficit of 1000 calories per day.
At the end of 7 days, I have eaten 7000 fewer calories than my body uses. Since about 3500 calories make 1 pound, I should be losing 2 pounds per week, according to this math.
Now, there are many variables to this, but basically this thought process holds true.
And the best part is: is doesn’t matter what I eat. If I want to eat bean sprouts, great. If I want Taco Bell, fine. As long as I don’t go over 1500 calories a day, it doesn’t matter what I put in my gut. This is really helpful for people like me, who get bored of eating the same old stuff day after day–a sure-fire way to give up on a diet. Carbs, fats, meat, dairy–even alcohol…all OK within those calorie limitations.

Fish is an excellent source of protein, and I never ate enough of it. Now, I make a bowl of tuna poke pretty often, and it’s absolutely delicious!

My buddy, Lee, is a diabetic, and stays away from carbs. He eats lean meats, seafood, and vegetables. That’s how he lost his 50 pounds. His son, on the other hand, lost weight by eating mostly fast food, but still counting the calories and not eating more than 1500 of them per day. He also lost 50 pounds.
I’m not a big junk food person. I don’t buy cookies, cakes or chips. Ice cream (my kryptonite) is a rare treat. I don’t put sugar in my coffee, and I don’t drink juices or soda. And I don’t like beer! But my biggest weight-gain mistake was thinking I could use unlimited amounts of so-called “healthy fats” in my recipes. I was pouring olive oil over everything…spreading pork leaf lard everywhere…and buttering my butter! Now I measure everything, drastically reducing my fats, and I can’t believe how many calories I’m saving!

Sprays can be extremely helpful in keeping your calories low. Just be careful: they say “zero calories,” but that doesn’t mean you can spray a ton in your pan! Regulations allow them to say “zero” if a single serving is less than 1 calorie. That’s why a single serving here is a spray of about 1/5 of a second! (Seriously!)

Portion control is essential. I’ve found that I really don’t have to change many of my recipes in this livethelive blog, which is all the food I love. I just have to control my portion sizes. For example, a ribeye may be a delicious source of protein, but it’s also loaded with fat. (That’s why it tastes so good!) So now I only eat a small, 4-ounce serving at mealtime, not the 12-ounce (or larger!) slab I was eating before.
In 2020, when I started my 1500-calorie-a-day diet, I was bloated from alcohol, salt, fat, and simply eating too much rich food. But once the diet really started rolling, I could step on the bathroom scale and see the bloat was diminishing, and rather quickly. At this point, it’s easy to deceive yourself in thinking that this is “real weight,” when it’s not. It’s just your body reaching its natural plateau. But that’s OK. When you see the weight go down, even by a tenth of a pound a day, it gives you the incentive to continue.
After about a week of bloat loss, the real diet and weight loss began.
The human body is full of constant change. So even once I started and steadily maintained my 1500-calorie-a-day diet, Lee told me not to expect to be dropping 2 pounds per week like clockwork. Some weeks, my body will retain more water, perhaps from eating too much salt. Some days, I’ll go to the bathroom more, some less. My bathroom scale itself may be off by a little, too. So what I see when I step on the scale needs to be taken with a grain of salt (pardon the pun.) On any given day, my weight can actually be plus or minus 2 pounds (or more) of what my scale shows.

Find a protein drink or bar you like. It can really help when the cravings get bad. But make sure you choose one that is low in sugar!

The secret of this diet (or any other diet for that matter) is persistence. Don’t give up because your scale hasn’t moved. Your body is going through changes–big changes. And if you maintain your diet, you will see results eventually…the keyword being: eventually. Over the course of a month or two, you will see significant results.
The secret for me is to find the food I like and then eat it in reasonable quantities. Variety is also really important, or I’ll get bored and give up. Other than avoiding too much salt, I have few dietary restrictions. So I’m able to eat whatever I want within my calorie guidelines.
So as you read this blog this year, you’ll see that many of my recipes haven’t changed, with the exception, perhaps, of fats used in cooking, because that’s one of the top calorie culprits. It doesn’t matter if you’re using butter, bacon fat, or healthy olive oil, all fats have a lot of calories, whether they’re healthy or not.
Another key to my diet’s success–and this is the one that everybody hates!–I weigh and write down EVERY SINGLE MORSEL OF FOOD I EAT EVERY DAY, and then calculate how many calories that entails. Not everyone can be this anal, but I have no problem with it. Once I set my mind to it, it just comes naturally. I have a date book where I write my morning weight every day, and then everything I eat that day, with individual and total calorie counts. (Counting calories is easy, now that we all carry phones that let us simply Google that information.)
Using a simple digital kitchen scale (one that weighs ounces and grams) is KEY to making sure you’re not overeating. Buy one immediately! If you think you can simply eyeball measurements, you’ll find that you are WAY OFF!

Yes…I write it ALL down!

Fortunately for me, even alcohol can be included in this diet. That’s not to say that I’m boozing it up! I only allow myself alcoholic beverages on Friday and Saturday nights. At 100 calories for a 1.5 ounce shot of 80-proof booze, I can have 2 3-ounce martinis for a total of 400 calories (without olives.) Of course, that still counts in my 1500-calorie-a-day plan. So that means I have to eat less…which can get me a little loopy on weekends! But as long as I’m not driving, that’s not a problem! Drinking alcohol also gives me the munchies…so I have to be very careful with that.

Having a seat at great bars, like the world-famous Bar Hemingway at the Ritz in Paris, is a passion of mine. My diet still allows me to sip a fine cocktail without guilt! I choose drinks that are low in sugar.

Follow this diet and you, too, will succeed. It doesn’t matter if you need to be gluten-free or not. It doesn’t matter if you’re avoiding carbs or not. It doesn’t matter if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or a total carnivore. Keto, Atkins, whatever. What matters is counting your total calories per day…and sticking to the diet every day…no cheating. No business lunch excuses, breakfast buffets, and 48-oz. steaks.
And no “rewarding” yourself with treats because “you did good” for a couple of days. Those things need to happen every few weeks, not every few days.
A great tip is to start by eating everything you love, even if it’s not really good for you, just in smaller quantities. Don’t eat real junk food, but worry about total calories first, not whether what you’re eating is “health food.” (Like my buddy, Lee’s, son who still lost weight eating Taco Bell.) Your first goal should be to limit calories. Get a feel for it. Then, as you get comfortable and progress, start making better and healthier food choices. Let’s be honest: anyone who starts a diet by chewing celery after a lifetime of steak and potatoes is going nowhere!
After I reached my goal weight last year, I went back to my daily intake of 2500 calories to maintain my new weight. (That’s still fewer calories than I was consuming every day before I started the diet, but after 1500 a day, it felt like I was cheating!)
What I learned with this diet, as I cooked healthier, measuring how much fat I put in a pan before frying…cutting my huge steaks into smaller pieces and trimming off the fat…was that I never want to go back to my old way of eating again. I can still eat anything I love…just less of it.

I cut the middle out of my bagel and weigh it!

That right there, after cooking, is 90 calories. Nothing brings the flavor like bacon!

My breakfast sandwich: the bottom of an everything bagel, a strip of bacon, and a fried egg. 349 calories, including a tablespoon of butter! A sprinkle of everything bagel seasoning adds flavor and just a couple of calories.

WHAT I’VE FOUND….
Bad…
1 tablespoon of butter has 100 calories. I used to load my 400-calorie everything bagel with 300 calories of butter…and then I had breakfast! A tablespoon of whipped butter has only 50 calories, so I use that instead.
Same thing with mayonnaise. I love Hellman’s. But it’s got 90 calories per tablespoon. Enter Hellman’s Light: 35 calories and I can still indulge!
Cheese is not a dieter’s friend. It’s a calorie and salt nightmare. And light cheese tastes like crap. So I stick to small amounts of lower calorie cheeses, like feta (70 calories per ounce) or whipped cream cheese (40 calories per tablespoon), and save pizza and pasta dishes for very rare occasions.
Good…
Boiled Shrimp is our friend at just 80 calories for 4 ounces, and lots of protein. Shrimp cocktail makes you feel like you’re splurging, but it’s low in calories if you go easy on the cocktail sauce.
Lobster, too: super-low calorie. Just go easy on the butter!
Raw oysters: packed with protein and a ridiculously low 10 calories, on average, per oyster. Eat all you want, but go easy on the cocktail sauce.
A hard-boiled egg, which I love, is just 70 calories…an excellent protein bomb that fills you up. (And don’t worry about the cholesterol unless you’re eating a dozen a day!)
You can still have bacon! My thick-cut bacon is 90 calories a slice after frying. Now I have one slice for breakfast instead of six! (Read the package.)
A diet saves you money! I can’t believe how much less food I buy at the supermarket! Sure, I’m buying more veggies, but a steak that used to be one meal is now three! As a nation, Americans eat way too much food, and what we eat is mostly unhealthy. A diet that focuses on veggies and lean proteins is good for any body. Michael Pollan’s quote is more valuable now than ever: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
A successful diet is all about being creative. I can’t have a BLT in the usual sense anymore, and that’s my all-time favorite sandwich. But I can have BLT lettuce wraps that drastically cut the calories and still satisfy my cravings.

My BLT. Limiting the bacon and mayo makes it diet-friendly.

Adding that strip of toasted bread really adds to the flavor and texture!

Of course, any exercise you do in addition to this diet is only a bonus. If you use a treadmill or stationary bike, the digital readout will tell you just how many calories you’ve burned. You can subtract that from your daily calorie count. But, that being said, one of the biggest diet mistakes people make is to over-estimate how many calories they’ve burned during exercise.  If you’re guessing…you’re WRONG! Guaranteed, you burned FAR LESS than you think you did!
I know the health clubs may not want me to say this, but you DON’T have to exercise to lose weight. Reducing your caloric intake alone–if you reduce it enough and for long enough–WILL make you lose weight. Exercise alone WILL NOT.
Here are my calorie charts from last year. You may not like all the foods I’ve got listed here, but I think it’s a good start. As I mentioned earlier, you can pretty much Google the calorie count of any food. That’s basically what I did….and I read a lot of labels!
One last tip: There will be times where the bathroom scale will be teasing you, taunting you: where your weight won’t budge for several days at a time. Don’t let this get to you! Your body is still changing for the better! This is where you need to be strong! Keep doing the right thing, and you will see that at the end of a couple of months, when you chart your progress, you really did lose almost 2 pounds a week.
I’ve done it before!  I’m gonna do it again! So can you in 2022!

There’s something magical about a simple plate of spaghetti and meatballs. When my parents took me to an Italian restaurant as a child, a plate of spaghetti and meatballs made me feel like the luckiest kid on the planet. And even now, when I prepare a plate of spaghetti and meatballs for my daughter, she can’t wait to sit down at the dinner table.

 

meatballs

 

Great meatballs start with great meat. I always use 80/20 grass-fed beef. I don’t use a ton of breadcrumbs as filler. And the tomato sauce is homemade as well, from canned tomatoes. I start with the sauce.

 

 

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

 

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

Add the tomatoes and cook on high until the orange foam disappears, stirring frequently. Don’t let it burn.

Add the oregano, basil, parsley, anise seed, fennel seed, salt and pepper, bay leaves and tomato paste. Allow the sauce to just come to a boil so that the tomato paste reaches optimum thickening power.

Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for at least an hour, until the sauce reaches the desired consistency. Stir often.

 

While the sauce is cooking, I start the meatballs…

 

 

2 lbs. grass-fed ground beef
1 cup plain breadcrumbs (gluten-free breadcrumbs work well, too)
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs, cracked and scrambled
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Mix all the ingredients, except the olive oil, thoroughly but gently in a large bowl. Don’t overwork it.

Make the meatballs.

Pour some olive oil a medium-hot pan (don’t let it burn), and place the meatballs in the pan, searing them on all sides until brown.

When the meatballs are nice and brown, place them into the pot of sauce, making sure they are covered. Pour all the little bits and the olive oil from the pan into the sauce as well! Great flavor there.

Cover the pot and cook the meatballs in the sauce on low for a few hours.

Serve the meatballs and sauce over your favorite pasta, and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

 

Making this dish gluten-free is easy: use gluten-free pasta and use GF breadcrumbs in the meatballs. I prefer to buy gluten-free loaves of bread, like Uni, toasting them, letting the slices cool, then tossing them in a food processor to make breadcrumbs. The flavor is as good as regular breadcrumbs, and way better than that pre-packaged stuff!

 

It’s a little chilly outside today. Sometimes, only comfort food will do: a warm bowl of beef stew or chowder…Shepherds Pie with buttery mashed potatoes…a big bowl of pasta…you get the idea. But the same goes for cocktails. And nothing gets me warm and fuzzy like a classic Scorpion Bowl!
Most of the recipes for a Scorpion Bowl I found on-line don’t match the one that I’ve been using for many years. This recipe comes from a bartender (whose name I can’t remember–too many Scorpion Bowls, I guess) from a long-gone Chinese restaurant, China Garden, that was in Warwick, Rhode Island. A car dealership now stands in that spot. This is the best Scorpion Bowl I’ve ever had…and continue to have!
Make sure to use top shelf booze for this or you’ll be a “Suffering Bastard” the next morning! (A little Chinese restaurant drink humor…)

Look carefully, and you may see the flame coming out of the volcano! Hope I don’t need to tell you not to drink the 151 while it’s lit! And yes, it’s an old photo: Disaronno Originale hasn’t been called Amaretto di Saronno for a long time!

2 oz. light rum (I use Don Q silver)
2 oz. dark rum (I use Mount Gay)
1 oz. gin (I use Bombay Sapphire)
½ oz. brandy (I use E&J)
½ oz. Disaronno Originale
½ oz. Cointreau
6 oz. Pineapple juice
6 oz. Orange juice
½ oz. Bacardi 151 rum for the little cup in the volcano

In a blender half-full of ice, add all the alcohol, except the 151 rum. Add the pineapple juice and the orange juice.  (Use less if you like it stronger.) Give the drink a quick 1-second pulse in the blender, and pour it with all the ice into Scorpion Bowl or a very large glass or bowl. If you do have a Scorpion Bowl with the volcano in it, add the 151 rum to the bowl in the volcano. If not, you can mix the 151 into your drink.

Don’t drive!

This is a great way to impress your guests at a holiday dinner or any big celebration.

Buying a large roast is not an inexpensive proposition, so I wanted to be as sure as possible that it was going to come out right. I got to work, researching recipes online and watching every You Tube video I could find. Every chef and home cook had their own ideas of spices and rubs, but the basic methodology was the same: start the roast at very high heat to form a delicious crust on the meat, then bring the oven temperature down and cook it more slowly to bring the roast to a perfect medium rare.

A big 10-lb. roast is going to cost around 150 bucks, so the first step is simple: don’t skimp by buying a cheap cut of meat. You will absolutely regret it. Get the best meat you can afford. The reward you’ll get when you slice it in front of the family, with all those “oohs and ahhhs” will totally be worth it!

 

A perfectly cooked, perfectly delicious roast!

 

The second step is simple but very important: make sure the roast is at room temperature before cooking, and make sure the oven is really pre-heated properly to the right temperature before you put the roast in it. A cold roast will cook unevenly, and you won’t get that beautiful pink all the way through the meat when you slice it. It’ll be raw on the inside and overcooked on the outside. Take the roast out of the fridge for a good 2 hours before cooking…and if it’s frozen, back-time the heck out of it so that it’s truly thawed!

You can already see that back-timing is going to play an important part in a perfect roast. So, for example, if you want to be serving at 7PM, you need a half-hour (at least) for the meat to rest after cooking…about 2 hours of cooking time…and about 2 hours of bringing the roast to room temperature….give or take. Oven temperature settings vary, and roasts can be uneven. You’ll have to keep an eye on this thing.

That brings us to monitoring the temperature. If you have a meat thermometer, you’ll need to jab the roast a couple of times during the cooking process to know what temperature you’re at. I don’t like this method, because it means you’re pulling the roast out of the oven, dropping the oven temperature each time, and jabbing the meat, which releases juices every time you pull the thermometer out. I suggest investing in a probe that goes in the roast from the very beginning, and stays in the roast through the whole cooking process, monitoring the temperature the entire time. When the roast hits the perfect temperature of about 115 degrees, it beeps and lets you know it’s time to remove it from the oven. It’s practically foolproof.

 

My old-school monitoring system. I had it set for 120 degrees, but actually pulled the roast out at 115.

 

The monitor that I have is old-school, but it still works like a charm. I use it at Thanksgiving to get perfectly roasted turkeys on a Weber grill, and it works great here as well. The probe goes into the meat, and it’s connected to a transmitter. It also has a receiver that can be as far away as 100 feet from the roast, and it will signal you when the desired temperature has been reached. That means you don’t have to stare at the roast all the time. You don’t have to open the oven door all the time. You can actually enjoy a cocktail in the company of your guests or family while the meat cooks.

Other monitors are totally wireless. You stick a probe in the roast, and it calls your cell phone when the meat is done. Pretty cool. Amazon’s got whatever you need.

2 onions
3 carrots
3 stalks of celery

When it’s time to remove the roast from the fridge to bring it to room temperature, roughly chop the onions, carrots and celery and place them on the bottom of a roasting pan. Lay the roast on top.

The rub that you use on your roast is really a matter of what you like. Use the herbs and seasonings you love, and you can’t go wrong. Here’s my recipe for a 10 to 12-pound roast…

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Kosher salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
2 tablespoons granulated onion
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped

Combine these ingredients in a bowl. You want it to be like a paste or wet sand. If it’s too dry, add a little more olive oil. Dried oregano and thyme are usually fine the way they are, but because rosemary can be hard like pine needles, I either chop them really fine or I put them in a spice grinder. I have a small rosemary plant growing indoors by my window, so the needles are soft and wonderfully fragrant when I chop them up.

 

Seasoned and ready to cook!

 

Rub the seasonings all over the roast, making sure you get the bottom and the sides as well. Use it all up! You might think it’s too much salt, but remember: it’s a big hunka meat. Some of the seasonings will fall off. Be fearless!

To flavor the meat while cooking, I add a cup of red wine (optional) and 2 cups of beef or chicken stock in the pan with the vegetables. (In some cases, after the roast is cooked, you can use the juices at the bottom of the pan to make gravy. But give it a taste first. If you use a lot of salt on your roast, the juices could be too salty to use in your gravy. Gravy or not, a classic horseradish cream sauce on the side is a great choice. (The recipe is below.)

About a half-hour before you want to start cooking, pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. You really want it hot to start. Roast the meat at 450 for 20 minutes, then turn down the heat to 325 degrees.

This is where many recipes tell you to calculate how much more to cook based on the size of the roast, etc. If you’ve got a probe in the roast, you can see exactly how the temperature changes over time. If you decide that you’re going to “wing it,” you can go by the general math of 15 minutes per pound of meat, including that first 20 minutes. So, if you have a 10-pound roast, multiply that by 15 and you get 150 minutes. Subtract the first 20 minutes from that, and you need to cook the roast another 130 minutes at 325 degrees. This is by no means a guarantee of success, but a very general guideline.

If you have a standard meat thermometer, you know that you can safely leave the roast in the oven at least an hour before taking the first temperature reading. Then play it by ear. (Like I said, you don’t want to be opening the oven door and poking the meat all the time.)

Although I had my probe set at 120 degrees, I took the meat out at 115, removing the roast from the pan, and placing it on a cutting board (or another clean pan.) Then I wrapped the roast with foil, and covered the foil with a clean bath towel, keeping all the heat in, letting the meat rest for AT LEAST 30 minutes. The meat inside continued to cook and reached a temperature of 130 degrees before it started to slowly cool down. (If you leave the probe in while the meat is wrapped, you’ll actually see the temperature rise.)

After at least 30 minutes of resting, I unwrapped the roast and started slicing!

This is where you can pour off all the pan drippings and make a sauce if your spice mix wasn’t too salty or strong. As I mentioned, the classic horseradish cream sauce is great to serve with it…

1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
6 tablespoons prepared horseradish (more if you like it!)
the juice of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Combine all the ingredients, mixing well. Keep this refrigerated until it’s ready to serve.

 

A previous family dinner with mac & cheese, salad, the amazing rib roast and lobsters from Sakonnet Lobster in Little Compton, RI!

Fettucini alla Bolognese has been my daughter’s favorite Italian dish for years. And since today’s her birthday, I decided to make a large batch of it over the weekend.

The recipe isn’t difficult, but like many great dishes, it depends on the best quality ingredients you can get your hands on.

I like to use a combination of ground beef, ground veal and ground pork in my Bolognese recipe. But I don’t sweat it too much if I don’t have all three, substituting a little more of one or the other, depending on what’s in my freezer at the time.

I use humanely raised grass-fed ground veal that I get down the road from a local dairy farm: Sweet & Salty Farm in Little Compton, RI. I use ground Berkshire pork, full of “good fat.” And I use grass-fed beef from local farms. Guanciale, a cured pork product that comes from the cheek (jowl) of the pig, is something that I prepare myself. I buy the Berkshire pork jowls raw and cure them at home. (That’s another blog!) If you can’t get your hands on guanciale, a nice slab of bacon will do the trick.

The rest of the ingredients are organic, when available.

This recipe probably feeds a dozen people. I make a lot at once because it takes time to put it together and let it cook on the stove, and it freezes really well. I place leftovers in tightly sealed single-portion containers in the freezer and then re-heat them when my daughter gets the craving, adding it to freshly cooked pasta.

How much pasta you make with this dish depends on how many people you’re going to serve.

 

 

 

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped guanciale or bacon
1 lb. ground veal, 1 lb. ground pork, 1 lb. beef (or any combination to make 3 lbs.)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, squeezed through a garlic press or thinly sliced
1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
6 cups ground tomatoes
2 cups whole milk
2 cups white wine (I use an un-oaked Australian chardonnay, like Yellow Tail)
salt and pepper
pasta, cooked (regular or gluten-free )
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Place the olive oil and butter in a large sauce pan with a heavy bottom over high heat. Once the butter has melted, add the guanciale or bacon, letting the fat render out. When it’s almost brown, add the veal, pork, and beef, stirring constantly. Make sure the meat is broken down into small pieces and completely browned.

Add the finely chopped onion, carrots, celery and garlic, stirring well. Sweat the veggies for a few minutes, letting them get nice and soft. (Here’s a tip: rather than wasting time chopping all the veggies finely by hand, toss large pieces into a food processor–the onion, carrot, celery and garlic cloves all at the same time–and pulse until they’re finely chopped.)

Add the tomato paste, the ground tomatoes, milk and wine, stirring well. Allowing the sauce ito come to a boil will activate the tomato paste’s thickening power. Let it boil for a minute, then reduce the heat to medium-low, and let it simmer for at least a couple of hours, stirring occasionally.

 

Add the ingredients one step at a time until the sauce comes together: 1) guanciale, 2) meat, 3) veggies), 4) tomatoes.

 

You don’t want the sauce to be runny, and you definitely want to give it enough time on the stove top for the flavors to blend and for the alcohol in the wine to evaporate.

Carefully give the sauce a taste, and season it with salt and pepper.

Traditionally, ragu Bolognese is served by placing a part of the cooked pasta in a pan, and adding just enough sauce to have it cling to, not drip from, the pasta. It’s not soup!

Top it with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

 

 

 

If you really want to impress your guests for the holidays, try curing your own salmon!

I love salmon in all forms. If it’s high quality wild-caught Alaskan salmon, I love it pan-sautéed, raw (as in sashimi), smoked, and cured.

The best smoked salmon uses the gentle process of cold smoking. It’s something that the average homeowner can’t really do successfully, so I simply buy cold-smoked salmon when I crave it. I’ve made hot-smoked salmon at home with some success, but the fish is so delicate, you really have to keep an eye on it. It takes no time for a juicy, perfectly smoked piece of salmon to turn into a dry, overcooked hockey puck.

Curing, which is how you get Gravlax, is really quite simple. You just need to have enough patience to wait a few days before you can eat it.

There are many gravlax recipes out there.  Some use peppercorns, fennel, caraway, even Aquavit in the curing process.  My opinion is: if you’ve got a beautiful piece of fish, why mask the flavor of it? I go with the simplest recipe possible, featuring just 3 ingredients that cure the salmon: salt, sugar and fresh dill.

The first step, of course, is to get the right piece of salmon. What you want is that beautiful, vibrant, orange wild-caught Alaskan or Pacific salmon that costs more than you thought you were going to spend. Wild-caught means the salmon has eaten the foods it loves, a balanced diet consisting of bugs, fish, shrimp, and small invertebrates. A natural diet gives the meat of the fish that beautiful color and incredible flavor. What the salmon eats is very important because you are eating the salmon! Wild-caught salmon is high in Omega-3’s…the good fats.

 

A beautiful piece of wild-caught salmon laying on a bed of the cure.

 

I avoid Atlantic salmon at all costs. Unfortunately, most restaurants on the east coast serve Atlantic salmon because it’s less expensive. There’s a reason for that. Atlantic salmon is farmed in the USA, Canada and Europe, which means the fish are kept in crowded underwater pens and are fed food pellets that contain a number of nutrients and additives. Often, farmed fish are treated to prevent sea lice, and are given antibiotics to prevent diseases caused by their tight living quarters. They’re also given pellets to color the meat orange, because the natural color of farmed salmon is actually an unappetizing gray. When you buy Atlantic salmon in the fish store, you can spot it a mile away, because it’s got that weird zebra-striped orange and white, with a tinge of gray, and its flavor is bland and lifeless. Farmed salmon is much lower in Omega-3’s.

If it doesn’t say wild-caught Alaskan or Pacific salmon, it isn’t!

Previously frozen vs. fresh fish matters less than where it came from and how it was raised.

2 lbs. wild-caught salmon, skin on, pin bones removed
1/3 cup (50g) Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
2/3 cup (160g) sugar
1 large bunch fresh dill, washed

 

If your fish monger hasn’t removed the pin bones from your salmon filet, you’ll need to get a pair of long-nose pliers and remove them. It’s not the worst thing in the world to leave them in there, but you really don’t want to be spitting bones out later.

The reason I mention that I use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt is because all Kosher salt does not weigh the same. Morton Kosher salt, for example, is much heavier by volume, so it weighs more even though you’re using the same cup measurement. In the case of Diamond Crystal, 1/3 cup weighs 50g. Same rules apply to the sugar.  Go by the weight, not the cup measurement. This is really important point to keep in mind when you’re curing anything, fish or meat.

Get a non-reactive tray long enough to hold the salmon filet. I prefer glass.

Mix the salt and the sugar together, and sprinkle half of it evenly on the bottom of the tray. Lay the piece of salmon down on the cure, skin side down, and cover the top of the salmon with the rest of the cure evenly.

Lay the sprigs of dill on top of the cure, covering the entire piece of fish. It might look like overkill. It’s not.

 

 

Cover everything with several layers of plastic wrap, pushing it down and tucking it into the corners for a tight fit.

 

 

Find a flat board or something similar (I used a clear plastic tray) and lay it on top of the plastic wrap.

 

 

Add heavy weights on top to press down evenly on all surfaces. I used cans of tomatoes.

 

Side view.

 

Place the tray in the fridge for 48-72 hours.

After 24 hours, remove the plastic wrap and, tilting the tray, baste the dill-covered salmon with the brine juices that have formed. Put clean plastic wrap on top, add the weights, and put it all back in the fridge for another 24 hours. Repeat that process at the 48-hour mark, if needed. If it’s cured, it’s time to eat!

 

 

You’ll know the fish is fully cured when the thickest part of the filet is firm to the touch.

Unwrap the salmon, discarding the salt and sugar brine and the dill. Rinse the filet under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.

I don’t like a ton of chopped dill imbedded into my gravlax as some do, but if you do, finely chop a bunch of new fresh dill, spread it out onto a board, and press the salmon into it flesh-side down.

To serve, place the gravlax skin-side down on a board. With a long, sharp narrow-bladed knife, slice the fish against the grain, on the diagonal, into thin slices. Serve with mustard-dill sauce, chopped onion, capers, hard-boiled egg, bread…whatever you like.

Refrigerate any remaining gravlax immediately, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 2 weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is my version of a holiday drink I was introduced to 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 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!

My Mom’s birthday was a couple of days ago, and even though she’s not with us anymore, I think a lot about the family favorites she used to cook. If there’s one dish that my Mom made all the time but I didn’t appreciate until I got older, this is it. Stuffed cabbage, cabbage rolls, or balandėliai, as we say in Lithuanian, was a staple in our home and one of my Dad’s favorites. 

I had seen my Mom make these beauties so often in my childhood, I didn’t even need to check online recipes out for guidance. That doesn’t mean I make them exactly like Mom, but my version came out pretty good. I think she would’ve been proud.

image

2 full strips of bacon, chopped
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 lb. ground grass-fed beef
1 lb. ground pastured pork
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1 large head cabbage
1 pint homemade chicken, beef or veal stock
750 g diced tomatoes (1 Pomi container)
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion

Chop the bacon into small pieces and fry them until crisp. Finely chop the onion, and add it to the bacon and rendered fat in the pan, cooking until the onions are translucent. Add the salt, pepper and garlic. Mix well, and remove from the heat. Let it cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the beef, pork, breadcrumbs, eggs, and cooled bacon and onion mixture. Place it in the fridge to firm up.

Let a large pot of water come to a boil. Core the cabbage, leaving the leaves whole, and carefully immerse the head of cabbage into the hot water. (I use two sets of tongs to handle the cabbage.)

Little by little, the outermost leaves of the cabbage will come off the head, and you can remove them, setting them aside to cool. Continue doing this until you can no longer remove leaves from the remaining head of cabbage.

Remove the remaining head of cabbage from the hot water, and using your hands or a knife, break it into flat pieces. Line the bottom of a roasting pan with the pieces. These will keep the stuffed cabbage from burning and sticking to the bottom. If you need more to line the pan, use the smaller or torn pieces of cabbage.

Time to roll the stuffed cabbage. Take the meat out of the fridge. Lay a cabbage leaf flat on the counter, and add some of the meat mixture (about 1/4 cup, depending on the size of the cabbage leaf) inside. Roll the cabbage around the meat, folding the sides in as you go, much like a burrito. You might need to slice away the thickest part of the leaf stem to make rolling easier. Lay the stuffed cabbage in the roasting pan on top of the leftover cabbage pieces. (Unlike Mom, I don’t use toothpicks to hold the stuffed cabbage rolls together.)

Continue stuffing and rolling the cabbage leaves until you’ve got a pan full of them, shoulder-to-shoulder.

In a blender, food processor, or whisked in a bowl, combine the stock, diced tomatoes, thyme, salt, pepper, garlic and onion. Pour this mixture over the top of the cabbage rolls in the roasting pan, covering them.

If you have leftover cabbage, you can place another layer of them on top. Otherwise, cover the roasting pan with foil and place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Cook for an hour.

After an hour, remove the foil and cook further for another 45–60 minutes.

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Really delicious and an instant flashback to great memories of dinner at home….thanks to Mom.