Posts Tagged ‘food’

I got my first restaurant job when I was 17, working at Pizza City East, just down the street from my childhood home in Plainview, NY. It wasn’t a great job, but I learned an awful lot about food preparation. It’s where I opened and tasted my first clam on the half shell. It’s where I had my first sip of espresso and cappuccino. And it’s where I learned a lot about how to make really good pizza. My buddy, Mel, and I worked the counter. Mel made the pies and I did the rest: sandwiches, espressos, clams, and eventually even cooked in the kitchen. We were 2 hard-working slobs in high school, but we bonded in a way that kept us friends to this very day, over 40 years later.

So you could say pizza was in my blood. For me, the true test of a great pie is a simple slice with only sauce and cheese. It’s not easy to get that right, despite how easy it may look.

And for me, there was no other pizza than New York style Neapolitan pizza, the classic round pie with thin crust. I have no doubt that it would be my choice for the classic question: “If you were stuck on a desert island, and you could only have 1 food, what would it be?”

But then I discovered Sicilian pizza: it was thicker, square, and was baked on a large sheet pan. The crust was crisp on the bottom, and light and airy inside. I thought: OK, I have room for 2 favorite pizzas. And then, believe it or not, I went to Uno’s…(Pizzeria Uno back in the day)…and I had my first pan pizza. It was thick like Sicilian, but somehow different, and heavier on the sauce. But absolutely delicious. I finally settled on 3 favorite pizzas.

Despite having 3 favorite styles of pizza, I always cooked a Neapolitan pie when I made pizza at home. Perhaps it was a bit easier, or perhaps I just never felt I really made the perfect pizza, and I needed to keep trying. In either case, it meant that after 40 years of making my own pizza, I finally made a pan pizza for the first time just last week. And it was good…really good.

 

The dough is stretched out and ready to accept whatever tasty toppings you like!

 

The dough…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores, or online. Using ready-made store-bought dough saves a lot of work, and it’s great, too. Ratios for my dough recipe depend on the humidity in my kitchen on any given day, but my basic pizza dough recipe is as follows:

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

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

Let’s talk pans. For me, nothing beats a real heavy duty cast iron pan for this recipe…and I’ve got a large one. I brush olive oil generously all over the inside of the pan–even on the sides–and then place the dough in the center. Slowly, using my fingertips, I spread and flatten the dough out from the center evenly all the way around. I keep spreading and stretching until the dough just starts to come up the sides of the pan. I cover the pan with a clean towel, and turn the oven on to 450 degrees.

Leaving the pan on the stove top while the oven pre-heats will help the dough rise again. Meanwhile, I get my ingredients ready for my pizza.

 

Crumbled sausage on top of the pizza.

 

White pizza…

 

3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
mozzarella
Parmigiano Reggiano
Provolone cheese
dried oregano
crumbled Italian sweet sausage

 

The first time I made a pan pizza, my daughter requested a white pizza. I minced a bunch of garlic and lightly sautéed it in olive oil, being sure not to burn it. I set that aside.

I grated mozzarella cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano, setting them aside. I also use sliced provolone.

And this time, my daughter asked for sausage on the pizza, so I got a few mild Italian sausages, cut open the casings, and crumbled the meat in a bowl, setting it aside.

The oven should be pre-heated in about a half-hour, so it was time to make the pizza. I removed the towel covering the pizza, and stretched the dough out a bit more. Using a spoon, I spread the garlic and oil mixture evenly on the dough. I layed down 5 or 6 slices of provolone. I then sprinkled the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, followed by the mozzarella. I crumbled the sausage meat over half the pie (I like my side plain), and then I finally gave the pizza a sprinkling of oregano.

The pizza went into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. I kept an eye on it to make sure it didn’t burn.

My first pan pizza: half sausage white pizza.

 

My second pan pizza was a classic tomato sauce recipe…

I use canned crushed tomatoes for my tomato sauce pizza.

 

Tomato sauce pizza

1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
mozzarella
peperoni, sliced thin
dried oregano

 

I like my tomato sauce to be a little chunky for my pan pizza, so I bought a can of crushed tomatoes. I placed about a cup of the crushed tomatoes in a bowl and added a teaspoon of sugar, mixing it well. This cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, and makes the pizza even better! I spooned out the tomatoes onto the the pizza dough. I sprinkled the mozzarella over the sauce. I layed slices of pepperoni on half the pizza (like I said, I like my side plain!), and I gave it a sprinkling of oregano.

 

Don’t skimp on the peperoni!

 

The final product!

 

Delicious! Crispy crust on the outside, soft on the inside.

 

 

I’ve had a lot of pizza in my life. But truly great pizza? I can probably count that one 1 hand: Sicilian at Ben’s in the Village…Pizza Montanara at Pizzarte on W 55th…a coal-fired oven-baked clam pizza at Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, CT…Sicilian at La Piazza in my hometown of Plainview, NY…and now…my house!

When I was a kid, no visit to a Chinese restaurant was complete without an order of those sweet, greasy and radioactive red spare ribs. They came in that foil-lined bag that barely kept them warm until my dad got us home to devour them along with the other classics: fried dumplings, and wonton soup with fried wontons on the side. I still see those ribs on menus even today, and despite my cravings, I just don’t eat fire-engine-red-dyed food anymore.

Imagine my excitement when I saw a recipe for those classic spare ribs in a food magazine. I figured I’d just make them without the food coloring.

 

I let the meat sit in the marinade for an hour at room temp, then move it to the fridge.

 

I don’t think I’ve ever had all the ingredients to make a recipe exactly as written, and this was no exception. For one thing, the original recipe called for dry sherry. I didn’t have it so I used dry marsala wine. I didn’t even have the pork ribs, so I substituted a beautiful slab of grass-fed beef flap. The results were still delicious. But feel free to use pork ribs, as originally intended. And if you can’t find beef flap, a cut like skirt steak is a good substitute.

1/3 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons dry marsala wine
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or through a press
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
2 lbs. beef flap (skirt steak or hanger steak works, too)

To make the marinade, combine the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, marsala wine, garlic, sugar and Chinese five spice in a bowl. Mix well.

Trim the excess fat and silver skin off the beef flap, and if it’s thick, slice it lengthwise to make a thinner piece of meat about 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick.

Place the meat in the marinade, making sure it gets well coated on all sides. Marinate the meat at room temperature for about 60 minutes. If you have a thicker cut of meat, you can marinate it longer.

Drain and discard the marinade.

Heat a cast iron pan and add a little lard or oil. Place the beef flap pieces in the pan, searing well on one side before flipping over to the other. If the meat is thin, you can cook it to a medium-rare right there on the stove top. You might need to finish the beef in a 350-degree oven if you’re using a thicker cut.

The meat also cooks beautifully under the broiler or on the grill. If using the broiler, just watch out for flare-ups from the fat. It can get smokey. I literally picked up my toaster oven and moved it under the hood of my stove so that the smoke was sucked up and vented out. (The first time I broiled, my kitchen filled with smoke!)

 

 

To make the Chinese ribs with this marinade: simply place the ribs and the marinade in a Ziploc bag at room temperature for at least 60 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, and place the ribs on a baking sheet with a wire rack on top. Save the marinade…and baste the ribs with it every 30 minutes, turning the ribs over as you do so. Cook until the ribs are done, about 2 hours.

 

Buying a 10 to 12-pound roast is not an inexpensive proposition, so you want to be as sure as possible that it’s going to come out right. With a family reunion looming, 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 roast is going to cost you around 100 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.

 

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 you invest 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 can actually enjoy a cocktail in the company of your guests 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 stalk 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
1/2 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup granulated garlic
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried rosemary

 

Combine these ingredients in a bowl. You want it to be like a paste or wet sand. So if it’s too dry, add a little more olive oil. Dried oregano and thyme are usually fine the way they are, but dried rosemary is like pine needles. I take the 2 tablespoons of rosemary and put it in a spice grinder and grind until it’s more like a powder, then use it in this recipe.

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! It’s a big hunk meat. Some of the seasonings will fall off. Be fearless!

 

To flavor the meat while cooking, I add a cup of red wine and 2 cups of beef 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 my seasonings were just too strong (and too salty) for this, so I chose to go with a classic horseradish cream sauce instead. 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 meat thermometer, you know that you can leave the roast in the oven at least an hour before taking the first temperature reading. Then play it by ear.

For me, using the probe, although I had my beeper set at 120 degrees, I took the meat out at 115, removing the roast from the pan, and placing it on a cutting board. 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.

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 crazy. As I mentioned, I chose to go with a classic horseradish cream sauce instead…

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 ready to serve.

 

For our family reunion, the roast was just one part of our meal. Surf and turf with amazing lobsters from Sakonnet Lobster in Little Compton, RI!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You might be thinking of eating more healthy fruits and veggies in 2019, and organic is usually the way to go. But considering the price difference, it’s not always easy to simply buy organic over non-organic produce. Although I tend to buy mostly organic products, there are times when I think it’s not all that necessary. By the same token, there are times when it is absolutely necessary.

organic

Despite the organic label… despite the fact that produce has been triple washed or whatever other nonsense they claim, I always wash my produce before eating. And I store it in a new, clean plastic bag or container in the fridge, recycling the old clam shell container.

I try to avoid any produce from Mexico or South America, where they’re allowed to use pesticides banned long ago in the United States. I don’t even trust the organic products from those areas. (Hey, if they tell you not to drink the water when you vacation in Mexico, why would you want them to water your produce with it?)

And I buy seasonal organic produce from my local farmers whenever possible.

Here are a few of what are known as the “dirty dozen:”

Strawberries: Always go organic. Non-organic strawberries are bathed in pesticides and no amount of washing with water will remove them. There’s no way I’m going to put that in my daughter’s smoothie.
Speaking of strawberries, the greens on each fruit are totally edible, and you won’t notice them at all if you’re using them for smoothies. Just wash the fruits and then throw the whole thing into your blender.
I usually buy a large quantity of organic strawberries when they’re on sale, wash them thoroughly in cold water, and then freeze them in small bags to use for smoothies later.

Apples: Always go organic. I have two apple trees in my yard and I know what a nightmare it is to keep the bugs away from them. The only way you can do that is by spraying the living hell out of those trees. Unfortunately for me, the days of going to an orchard with the family and picking our own apples are long gone, because I know what they have to do to make them look pretty on the branch.

Potatoes: Always go organic. These are sprayed heavily as well. And then there’s the added bonus of spraying the harvested potatoes afterwards to prevent them from sprouting while in storage.

 

Since the US Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t do its job to let you know about pesticides in your food, groups like the EWG, the Environmental Working Group, do it for them. Other produce that falls into the “dirty dozen” category, as listed by the EWG: celery, peaches, bell peppers, spinach, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, kale, collard greens, zucchini, lettuce, and blueberries. Always buy organic versions of these if you want to avoid ingesting pesticides. Remember, washing the fruit does not wash off the pesticide!

 

Fruits with skin you peel: bananas, oranges and other citrus, melons, etc…I’m OK with non-organic, but I wash the outside thoroughly before cutting into the fruit, and I don’t use the skin. If I need the zest of citrus for a recipe, I use organic…but those can be hard to find.

“The clean fifteen,” meaning produce you can buy that is not organic (according to the EWG): onions, sweet corn (which I totally disagree with, thanks to Monsanto’s Round-Up ready crops), pineapple, avocado, asparagus, frozen sweet peas, mango, papayas, eggplant, cantaloupe (domestic), kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, and mushrooms. I would still keep my purchases to produce grown in the USA. Pesticides that are banned in the USA are still used in other countries.

Here’s some technical labeling info you may or may not know…

Natural: This is a marketing word – not a scientific label. The FDA requires only one natural ingredient to be present for an entire product to be labeled “natural.” This means that as long as a company has one natural ingredient despite multiple harmful chemical ingredients, they can still call the product natural. (As my buddy, Lee, a PhD in Chemistry once told me: “Hey…cyanide is ‘natural!'”) So always read the label!

USDA Certified Organic: Product labels that feature this term are manufactured by operators who comply with annual inspections, as well as random checks, to ensure they’re adhering to the USDA’s organic standards. This includes, among many things, a three-year process to properly fortify the farmland. It’s also important to note that many local farmers that do adhere to “organic” standards can’t afford the fee to apply the “organic” label to their products. So, talk to your local farmer about it.

Here are a few permutations of the USDA’s “organic” label:

    • 100 percent organic: Product must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients. Products may display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.
    • Organic: Product must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Remaining product ingredients must consist of non-agricultural substances approved on the National List or non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form, also on the National List. Products may display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.
    • Made with more organic ingredients: Products contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients and product label can list up to three of the organic ingredients or “food” groups on the principal display panel. For example, body lotion made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients (excluding water and salt) and only organic herbs may be labeled either “body lotion made with organic lavender, rosemary, and chamomile,” or “body lotion made with organic herbs.” Products may not display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.

    Of course, all this assumes honest labeling on packaging. Bottom line: read labels, ask questions, and support your local farmers.

     

     

    Beef flap or flap steak is a cut from the lower sirloin. It’s a long, thin cut that resembles skirt steak or hanger steak, though they come from a different part of the animal.

    You can stuff and roll a beef flap, as I did in a previous blog, but it’s really hard to beat the flavor of a slab of beef that was simply marinated and thrown on the grill.

    Though the beef flap is a relatively thin piece of meat, I carefully butterfly it by slicing it lengthwise with a sharp knife, to get 2 thinner pieces that really absorb the marinade.

    grill3

     

    1 lb. (or more!) beef flap steak, sliced lengthwise
    2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (red wine vinegar works just as well)
    4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    1 teaspoon oregano
    1 teaspoon parsley
    1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
    1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
    salt and pepper

    rill2

    To make the marinade, combine everything but the beef in a bowl and whisk to mix thoroughly. Place the beef in a large Ziploc bag and add the marinade. Squeeze the bag so that the marinade reaches every part of the beef. Squeeze the air out of the bag, zip it tightly, and place it in a bowl (in case of accidental spillage) in the fridge. Let it marinate overnight, squeezing the bag every few hours to let the marinade do its job. Remove the bag from the fridge about an hour before grilling so the meat comes to room temperature.

    Light a hardwood fire. When the coals are really hot, place the steak on the grill and sear each side. Then flip to sear the other side. Flip again to get those fancy diamond marks on the beef. Then flip again.

    grill1

    The meat has little fat, so it should be nicely seared on the outside, but still medium-rare on the inside. Let it rest before slicing. When slicing, cut the beef on an angle against the grain.

    Although my daughter goes crazy for my Ragu Bolognese, pasta with meat sauce is one of the easiest things to make, with ingredients you probably have in your home. This sauce is really rich with flavor, and once you put all the ingredients together, it requires nothing more from you than an occasional stir every now and then.

     

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    1/4 cup olive oil
    3 strips bacon, finely chopped, raw or pre-cooked
    1 onion, finely chopped
    1 teaspoon garlic salt
    2 lbs. ground beef (I use grass-fed beef)
    2 cans (28 oz. each) whole tomatoes
    1 tablespoon dried oregano
    1 tablespoon dried basil
    2 tablespoons dried parsley
    2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon black pepper
    1 teaspoon anise seed
    1 teaspoon fennel seed
    2 bay leaves
    1 small can (6 oz.)  tomato paste

    image

     

    In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add the bacon. Once the bacon is sizzling, add the onions and cook until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic salt and mix. Add the ground beef and cook until it has browned.

    Pour the 2 cans of whole tomatoes into a food processor and blend until chunky…or go the old-fashioned route and simply squeeze the tomatoes with your hands, breaking them up. Pour the contents of both cans into the pot and stir well. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the orange tomato foam disappears.

    Add the oregano, basil and parsley and stir. Add the salt and pepper and stir. Add the anise seed and fennel seed and stir. Throw in the 2 bay leaves and stir. (I think you get the idea, there’s a lot of stirring going on!)

    When the sauce starts to boil, add the tomato paste and stir well. Let it come up to a boil again–the paste thickens best at high heat–then turn the heat down to a low simmer and cover the pot.

    Let the sauce simmer on low heat for several hours. Whenever you walk by, give the sauce a good stir.

    Serve the sauce over pasta, with some grated Parmiggiano Reggiano.

     

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    CHIVE BLOSSOMS

    Posted: May 22, 2019 in Food, garden, pizza, Uncategorized
    Tags: , , , , ,

    This is the time of year when the chives in my herb garden are busting out with blossoms. Before they pop, I head out every few days and snip the larger ones off the chive plants with about 3 inches of the green stem, wrap them in freezer bags and freeze them.

     

    image

     

    I use those blossoms over the course of the year on a variety of dishes, but they really shine on my signature marinated beef and chive blossom pizza. I just take a packet of chive blossoms out of the freezer, and sauté them lightly in olive oil and salt and pepper, then sprinkle them on the pizza before baking.

     

    My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

    My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

     

    Pick 'em and freeze 'em in May!

    Pick ’em and freeze ’em in May!

    Chive blossoms not only add great flavor, but they look cool on the plate, too.  I’ll add them as a side to almost any meat dish, or chop them after sautéing and sprinkle them in rice or quinoa. Great for stir-frying.

     

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

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

    sloppy jose

     

    For the barbecue sauce…

    2 cups ketchup
    3/4 cup water
    6 tablespoons white vinegar
    6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
    6 tablespoons brown sugar
    3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
    1 tablespoon chili powder
    2 teaspoons salt
    2 teaspoons black pepper
    1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

     

    Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until the flavors have blended, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temp. If you store it in an airtight container in the fridge, it’ll stay good for a few months.

     

    For the seasoned taco meat…

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

     

    Combine all the spice ingredients in a bowl.

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

     

    For the sandwich…

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

     

    Here in Rhode Island, we have access to amazing seafood year-round. My friend Gary, is a lobster man. My neighbor farms oysters. And for anything else, I go to my friends’ farms: Simmons Organic Farm in Middletown, RI and Wishing Stone Organic Farm and Sweet & Salty Farm, both in Little Compton, RI…great places for veggies, bakery goods, pastured meats, yogurt, cheese, and more.
    I was on a mission to find fresh mussels the other day, and in the process, stumbled upon fresh bay scallops, piled high on ice at a local farmers’ market. Unlike like the larger sea scallops or bomster scallops, bay scallops are small and sweet, about the size of a mini-marshmallow…hard to find and my absolute favorites.
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    As far as I’m concerned, there is no better way to eat a fresh scallop than right out of the shell with just a little marinade on top, popping these beauties into my mouth literally as they’re still pulsing on the shell.
    Scallops are a bit trickier to open and clean than clams or oysters (at least for me) but all it took was a little practice while sipping a Stoli Elit martini and I got the hang of it in no time.
    There are two marinades that I use when serving up raw scallops. The acidity in these marinades will cook the scallop a little, like in ceviche, though eating them raw is perfectly fine if they’re super-fresh.
    “MILLS TAVERN” MARINADE
    The first place my wife and I ever had a raw scallop was at Mills Tavern, a highly rated restaurant in Providence, RI. Freshly shucked scallops (in large flat shells) were served on ice with a tangy red marinade. We never got the recipe from the restaurant, but this is our version of that marinade.
    3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
    2 tablespoons Grenadine
    1/2 teaspoon fresh finely grated ginger
    2 teaspoons finely chopped scallions
     Combine all the ingredients and chill before using.
    A trick I learned from the folks at Wishing Stone Farm, where they grow their own ginger roots: keep the ginger stored in the freezer. Most of us don’t use ginger all that much, but we want fresh ginger when the recipe calls for it. By wrapping it tightly in plastic and storing it in the freezer, it’s ready to use any time. Simply take the ginger root out, and grate it finely–no need to peel the skin–while it’s still frozen. It will be almost powder like, and it will blend beautifully into any recipe you’re using.
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    ALZ CEVICHE MARINADE
    My marinade is closer to a basic ceviche, using 3 kinds of citrus and some Asian flavors.
    1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
    1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
    1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
    2 tablespoons soy sauce
    1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon peanut oil
    1/2 teaspoon honey
    1 1/2 teaspoons fresh finely grated ginger
    2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion
    2 small dried chili peppers, finely chopped
     Combine all the ingredients and chill before using.

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    Here’s an old recipe that I brought back, since comfort food is the name of the game here in New England, where we’re getting nothing but cool temperatures and way too much rain. I think we’re going to miss spring entirely this year and go right into summer…

    I like to think that I was the force behind my daughter’s sudden interest in cooking, but the fact is, it was probably the Food Network. Shows like “Chopped Junior” and “Kids Baking Championship” are her favorites, and I have to admit, watching a 9-year-old displaying knife skills better than mine does have me feeling somewhat inferior at times.

    A gift of a kids’ cookbook from our friend, Stacey, was what finally got my daughter to ask if we could cook together. She chose the Shepherd’s Pie recipe. I never really analyzed my own cooking style until my daughter started reading the recipe step-by-step and I heard myself saying: “Oh, we can skip that…Oh, we don’t need to do that…Oh, let’s use another ingredient.” She’d look up at me and say: “But, Dad, the book says you have to do this.” Lesson one, kid: improvise to make the recipe your own.

    Peeling potatoes without peeling your fingers!

    Peeling potatoes without peeling your fingers!

    The original recipe called for lamb. We used beef. The original recipe had a huge proportion of potatoes to meat. We doubled the meat and veggies.

    Mastering knife skills.

    Mastering knife skills.

    3 lbs. potatoes (I like organic gold potatoes)
    1 cup whole milk
    4 tablespoons unsalted butter
    salt and pepper
    2 lbs. ground beef
    1 onion, finely chopped
    4 carrots, diced
    2 tablespoons tomato paste
    2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I use gluten-free flour)
    1 cup beef broth
    olive oil

     

    Peel the potatoes just to remove any blemishes. (I like my mashed potatoes with the skin included.) Cut into smaller pieces and place in a pot of cold, salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until fork-tender. Drain the potatoes, and put them back in the pot. Add the milk and butter, add salt and pepper, and mash until smooth. Set aside.

    Chop the onions and dice the carrots. In a large skillet, heat some olive oil, then add the onion and carrot. Cook over medium heat until the onions are translucent. Add the beef, and cook until it’s browned, breaking the meat up into small pieces. Add the tomato paste and flour, and mix thoroughly. Add the beef broth and mix again. Cover the skillet with a lid, reduce the heat, and let it cook for about 15 minutes, until the sauce in the pan thickens.

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    Find an ovenproof pie pan or lasagna pan. Pour the beef and carrot mixture into the bottom of the pan and smooth it out. Add the mashed potatoes on top. Place in a pre-heated 350-degree oven and bake for about 20 minutes if the potatoes are warm–a little longer if they’ve cooled down–until the potatoes start to turn a golden brown.

    Proud chef.

    Proud chef.

    Let the pan rest for a few minutes, then serve.

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