Posts Tagged ‘food’

We’ve all got bottles of booze in our bar that probably haven’t been used in a while. Well, for me, quarantine time is the time to break them out and create! Let me share some of my favorite recipes with you…

When I go out to dinner (hoping I’ll be able to do that again soon), I’m always on the lookout for a great cocktail. These days, a great restaurant very often requires a great mixologist at the bar…not someone who can simply whip up a Cosmo, but someone who puts as much creativity in their drinks as the chef does in their dishes.

The classic negroni is made with gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. I love negronis, and this cocktail is inspired by them. It comes from chef Tony Maws’ restaurant Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s been a decade since we dined there but the drink remains a favorite of mine. When our server communicated to the bartender that I was willing to be his guinea pig for creative cocktails, I was served this one–so new at the time, they didn’t have a name for it. I took a sip and exclaimed: “Holy S*#t!” and the server laughed and said: “That’s as good a name as any!”

 

 

“HOLY S*#T!” COCKTAIL

1 1/2 oz. Bols Genever
1 oz. Gran Classico
1/2 oz. Punt e Mes

Add some ice to a cocktail shaker, and add the ingredients. Stir well. Strain into a rocks glass with one large ice cube.

 

Bols Genever is a Dutch spirit, the ancestor of gin, created from lightly distilled Dutch grains and a complex botanical mix. It’s made according to the original 1820 Lucas Bols recipe which stood at the basis of the cocktail revolution in 19th century America.

Gran Classico is an alcoholic aperitif/digestif created following a recipe dating from the 1860s. It’s made by soaking a mixture of 25 aromatic herbs and roots in an alcohol/water solution to extract their flavors and aromas. The maceration creates a natural golden-amber color, although many other producers, like Campari and Cynar, dye their product red.

Punt e Mes is a pleasantly bitter, slightly sweet red vermouth, the “baby brother” of Carpano Formula Antica. The formula was developed in 1870 in Antonino Carpano’s bar in Piedmont, and the distinctive 15-herb recipe is still a family secret.

 

 

If you didn’t quite kick your diet into gear with the new year, now’s the time to do it. Think about it: if you cut your calories in half, the food you have stashed away during quarantine will last you twice as long! (Sorry, I don’t have any tips on how to double your toilet paper.)
Sure, it’s even tougher to eat less if you’re stuck at home and binge-watching your favorite programs….or if you’re baking batches of cookies to kill time.
I started my diet on January 2nd of this year. Now, on March 18th, I’m 20 pounds lighter! I knew it would work if I stuck with it…and I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.
I had my cheat days…even cheat weekends. But the main thing was to return to the diet as soon as possible and stick with the plan.
My goal was to look better for an upcoming vacation: I was going to St John USVI on April 11th. My plan was to drop 21 pounds before then. The trip, had it not been for the Corona virus, would be 3 weeks away, and I’m just a pound away from my goal weight!
Now the trip has been postponed until November, but the diet continues. I need/want to lose more weight, and I’m more determined than ever to do it.
As much as I see friends posting all the baking they’re doing while they’re quarantined at home (my daughter just cooked up a huge batch of s’mores brownies!), my philosophy is different: this is the perfect time to go on a diet! If the food in your pantry is getting scarce too quickly, eat less!
Sure, I’m still cooking…I have to keep this blog going, after all! But always with portion control in mind.
If you’re ready to diet, here’s my blog about my diet…how I started, and how it’s gotten me to this point. I posted this earlier in the year…
Like many people, I’ve done my best over the last few years to avoid the obvious: I need to lose some weight. Every time I get my yearly check-up at the doctor’s, he tells me: “You need to lose at least 20 pounds.” I nod my head, as if I’m going to give it a try, then head straight for Fellini’s pizza in Providence, for a couple of slices. The next year: same thing: “You need to lose at least 20 pounds.” I nod….
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 62 in March of this year, and I have a 13-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.
With a trip to Florida in March and a trip to the Caribbean in April, I have two deadlines set in place for reaching weight loss goals. As I put it to my daughter: “I want to lose enough weight so that women won’t vomit when I take my shirt off!” (She responded with the typical teenage eye-roll.)

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 78 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 last year, 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.

My stir-fry has chicken breast, broccoli, white rice (Uncle Ben’s), some onion, and my “Chinese 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 beef bouillon when I cook it. (I use Better Than Bouillon.)

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…all OK within reason.

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, and rarely sits in my home freezer. I don’t put sugar in my coffee, and I don’t drink juices or soda. 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 slab I was eating before.
Having a deadline or a goal really helps. As I said, trips to Florida and the Caribbean, where I’ll be showing my gut to the world, is plenty of incentive. So I made a decision back before the holidays that I would start on January 2nd.
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 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 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!

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. Of course, that still counts in my 1500-calorie-a-day plan. So that means I 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 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.
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. Then, as you get comfortable and progress, start making better and healthier food choices. Anyone who starts a diet by chewing celery after a lifetime of steak and potatoes is going nowhere!
After I reach my goal weight, which is my wedding weight of 217 pounds (that’s a 21-pound drop), I can choose to continue my diet or go 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’ll feel like I’m cheating!)
What I’m learning with this diet, as I cook healthier, measuring how much fat I put in a pan before frying…cutting my huge steaks into smaller pieces and trimming off the fat…is that I never want to go back to my old way of eating again. I can still eat anything I love…just a little bit less.

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 for very rare occasions.
Good…
Boiled Shrimp is our friend at just 80 calories for 4 ounces, and lots of protein.
A hard-boiled egg, which I love, is just 78 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, it will tell you just how many calories you’ve burned. You can subtract that from your daily calorie count.
You WILL lose weight if you diet without exercise. You WILL lose weight FASTER if you diet AND exercise, assuming you don’t gorge after your workout. You will NEVER lose weight eating the same junk, thinking you can “work it off.”
As I write this blog, it is Day 17 of my diet and I’ve lost 9 pounds! But for the last couple of days, my scale has been holding steady, teasing me…taunting me!  I know I’ve got to keep doing the right thing…and that’s going to get me through those days until I step on that scale and see that downward movement again.
I can do it! So can you!

In these crazy times, our supermarkets are running out of everything from toilet paper to hand sanitizer. But probably the one thing we can stock up on is corned beef and cabbage!

St. Patty’s Day is this Tuesday, and supermarkets are full drumming with packages of processed corned beef in preparation for the big celebration. Too bad corned beef isn’t an authentic Irish dish!

The phrase “corned beef” was actually coined by the British, and although the Irish were known for their corned beef throughout Europe in the 17th century, beef was far too expensive for the Irish themselves to eat and all of it was exported to other countries. Owning a cow in Ireland was a sign of wealth, and the Irish used theirs for dairy products, not beef.

The Irish ate pork, and a lot of it, because it was cheap to raise pigs, and they traditionally prepared something like Canadian bacon to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

In the 1900’s, when the Irish came to America, both beef and salt were more affordable, and the Irish, who lived in poor, tight-knit communities, often next to Jewish communities, bought much of their beef from Kosher butchers. So many of the Irish learned how to corn their beef using Jewish techniques, but adding cabbage and potatoes to the mix.

It takes about 3 weeks to make corned beef. But now that you know it’s not Irish anyway, that’s OK!  Doing it yourself is not difficult. It just takes time to get a really delicious slab of beef.

Corned beef has nothing to do with corn. ‘Corning’ is a technique for preserving raw meats for long periods by soaking it in salt brine. This method was used in England before the days of commercial refrigeration. Back then, the large salt kernels used in the brine were called “corns.”

Brining is a time-honored way of preserving meat and it prevents bacteria from growing. Both pastrami and corned beef are made by this method. Both start with a brisket of beef. Corned beef is then cooked–usually boiled–and served. Pastrami is made when the brined meat is rubbed with more spices and then smoked to add extra flavor. So corned beef and pastrami are the same meat, just treated differently.

Saltpeter is an ingredient that has been used in brining beef for years. It adds the traditional red coloring to the corned beef and pastrami meat. But since saltpeter can also contain carcinogens, I leave it out. The meat may not be the usual bright red color, but the flavor and texture of the meat will not be affected.

Brining the beef brisket

Brining the beef brisket

Step one: corned beef…

beef brisket (about 8-10 pounds)
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup warm water
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
3/4 cup salt
2 quarts water

Place the brisket in a large container made of non-reactive material, like glass or plastic.

In the 1/4 cup of warm water, dissolve the sugar, minced cloves, paprika and pickling spices.

Dissolve the 3/4 cup of salt in the 2 quarts of water. Pour in the sugar/garlic/paprika/pickling spices mix and stir everything together. Pour the mixture over the meat in the container. Make sure the meat is totally beneath the surface of the liquid. (You may need to weigh it down to do this.) Cover the container.

Refrigerate the container and its contents for 3 weeks, turning the meat once or twice per week. At the end of the third week, remove the container from the refrigerator and take out the meat. Soak the meat in several changes of fresh cold water over a period of 24 hours to remove the excess salt.

At this point, if you want corned beef, prepare and cook it using your favorite recipe. But I’m all about the pastrami!

Step two: making Pastrami…

pastrami

 

Brined and rinsed corned beef brisket from above recipe, patted dry with paper towels
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic

Combine the coriander seeds, black and white peppercorns and mustard seeds in a spice grinder and grind coarsely. Place in a bowl. Add the salt, paprika, brown sugar and granulated garlic. Mix well.

Rub the mix into the brisket well, covering all sides.

Heat your smoker to 225 degrees and smoke for several hours using a less intense wood, like oak. When the internal temperature of the meat has reached 165 degrees, it’s done. It isn’t necessary to smoke pastrami as long as you would a regular brisket because the long brining time makes the meat tender.

It is very important that absolutely everything that comes in contact with the meat is very clean. (This includes your hands.) Also, make very sure that every inch of the meat reaches the 165 degrees before it is removed from the smoker. The corned beef is now pastrami.

 

Happy St. Patty’s Day! Celebrate safely!

Pork tenderloin is a lean cut of meat that can dry out easily when roasted. It’s usually just a couple of inches around, and over a foot long…a shape that can easily go from juicy to overdone in just a few minutes if you’re not watching it carefully.

I usually cook my pork tenderloin much like I would a pork chop: In one bowl, I’ve got a couple of eggs, scrambled. In another, a mixture of flour with whatever seasonings I like. Cutting the tenderloin into 3 or so pieces to fit the bowls, I coat them in the egg wash, then dredge them in the seasoned flour before browning on all sides in a heated pan with pork lard on the stove top. Then into a 325-degree oven until the temperature just reads 145, letting the meat rest a few minutes before slicing.

But it was time for a change. This recipe really is based on what I had in the fridge and pantry at the time, and it just rocked!

I chose chickpeas as my starch. I don’t worry too much about carbs, as long as they’re good ones and in moderation.

I always use organic kale. Kale is one of the most heavily sprayed veggies out there. You don’t need pesticides in your soup!

 

soup1

 

1 1/2 lb. pork tenderloin, cut into 1/4″ thick medallions, then cut in half
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 pint veal stock or chicken stock (homemade is best)
1/2 cup white wine (I like an un-oaked Australian chardonnay)
1 pint water
large pinch of bouquet garni
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 head organic kale, cleaned, stems removed, and chopped

 

 

Slice the pork tenderloin into 1/4″ medallions, then cut each medallion in half. Set aside.

In a bowl, add the flour (unseasoned). Set it next to the pork.

Heat a heavy skillet big enough to hold all the pork. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil or pork lard. Drop the pork pieces in the flour, coating them well, then shaking off the excess. (No egg wash needed.) Place them carefully in the pan and brown them on both sides. They don’t need to cook all the way through.

Leaving the pork in the pan, add the onions and stir, cooking for a couple of minutes. Then add the carrot and celery slices, stirring again. Sprinkle in the garlic salt and pepper, stirring again.

Add the stock, the wine, and the pint of water. Bring it to a boil and let it simmer for a few minutes, stirring gently.

Add the chick peas. Then add the kale, a handful at a time, waiting for the greens to wilt into the soup before adding another handful. Do this until all the kale is in the pan. Add the pinch of bouquet garni. Bring the soup to a boil again, then reduce it to a medium-low simmer, uncovered.

The soup is ready when the veggies are tender, about 15 minutes. Keep an eye on it, and if the liquid has evaporated and it looks too thick, add more water, bringing to a boil with each addition, then reducing the heat.

Taste for seasoning before serving.

 

soup2

 

It was cold day, and I was craving comfort food. I didn’t want to go to the store, so I looked in the pantry and fridge for tasty ingredients, and went this route. There are many similar versions of this dish out there, using different cuts of chicken–or a whole bird cut up. I just happened to find a great deal on organic drumsticks at the store, so I went with that. But you should use any cut of chicken that is your favorite.

 

 

It takes about an hour to prepare this dish from start to finish, so it’s something you could even cook on a weeknight…and it’s certainly easy enough to double the recipe if guests are coming over.

 

It starts in the pan!

 

Traditionally, this is cooked in a large cast iron skillet, started on the stovetop, then placed in the oven. I choose to cook mine in a baking pan that fit my smaller convection oven, so I started everything on the stovetop, then made the transfer to the baking pan.

 

Now that the chicken has seared, we start the veggies.

 

I’m on a diet, so calories matter. Chicken drumsticks aren’t all that bad in the calorie count: about 100 calories for a medium-sized drumstick (whatever medium is)…and that’s with the skin on. No need to get into exact gram weight measurements here, but the real calories come later when you add a starch to the dish. It does go really well with pasta, rice or potatoes. (My choice would be fresh Italian bread to really sop up the sauce!) But alas…I had none of those. Just a salad on the side. I’ll bring the bread out once my diet’s over.

I go with organic ingredients whenever possible, especially kale, which is on the “Dirty Dozen” produce list almost every year. (Along with strawberries, potatoes, apples, and others, kale is one of the most heavily sprayed produce items you can buy. I always go organic.)

 

If sodium is not a problem for you, add more olives!

 

3–4 lbs. organic, pastured chicken drumsticks (about 12 medium)
salt, pepper and paprika
olive oil
2 small yellow onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, squeezed through a press
1 teaspoon each: dried oregano, parsley, and thyme
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock (homemade is best)
dry white wine (optional)
1/4 cup olives, sliced in half (I like green olives from Greece)
4 cups organic chopped kale (optional)

 

Pre-heat an oven to 350 degrees.

Season the chicken drumsticks with salt, pepper, and a bit of paprika.

Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a hot pan. Add the chicken to the pan, and sear the drumsticks on all sides, getting them nice and brown. It’ll take about 10–15 minutes.

Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and add the chopped onions to the same pan. Let them cook for a few minutes until they’re translucent, then add the garlic. Let the garlic cook for about 10 seconds, then add the oregano, parsley, and thyme. Now add the tomato paste and stir it all around, cooking it for just a minute to caramelize it and give it more flavor.

Pour in the can of tomatoes and the chicken stock, stirring well. (A splash of wine is optional at this point.) Add the olives and let the sauce cook for a few minutes.

 

The sauce is all happy, and ready for the baking pan.

 

Pour the sauce into the baking pan. Add the chicken drumsticks to the pan, nestling them in the sauce. (I like to roll them around in it to cover all sides.)

Place the pan in the oven to cook.

After 30 minutes, remove the pan from the oven, and remove the drumsticks from the sauce, moving them onto a plate.

 

It looks like a lot of kale, but it withers down. Remember: go organic!

 

Take the kale and place it in the baking pan, tossing it around in the sauce. The sauce is hot, so the kale will start to wither and meld into the sauce in about a minute.

 

The kale’s withered down, and the chicken goes back in.

 

Now return the chicken drumsticks back to the baking pan, nestling them in the sauce again. Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes. Turn the oven off and let the pan rest in the oven until you’re ready to serve.

 

Turn the oven off, but keep the door closed to keep the chicken warm.

 

Where’s that bread?…

 

 

Back in the 80’s, I worked at a radio station in Mobile, Alabama. My New York buddies thought I was crazy to move to the South, but that’s where the job was. When they realized that I was only a 2-hour ride from New Orleans, I wasn’t so crazy after all! What a great town. I spent every possible weekend there: the food, the music, the people…

When I moved to Rhode Island, I really missed all the fun of the Big Easy. So I decided to have a Mardi Gras party every year. I’d invite 80+ people, and I cooked all of the dishes myself. (Not bad for a single guy!) I made all the classics: red beans and rice, crawfish etouffe, gumbo, Cajun chicken (see my previous blog for the recipe), and, of course,  jambalaya.

 

image

For the seasoning mix:
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

 

I find it easier to measure and chop all the ingredients before I start cooking.

I find it easier to measure and chop all the ingredients before I start cooking.

 

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions, in all
1 1/2 cups finely chopped celery, in all
1 1/2 cups good quality chopped ham
1 1/2 cups chopped andouille sausage (Here in RI, I use local Portuguese chourico from Mello’s in Fall River, MA)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot)
3/4 cup tomato sauce made from pureed whole tomatoes
2 cups uncooked rice (I like Texmati brown basmati rice)
3 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
1 lb. peeled and de-veined wild-caught American shrimp

 

image

Over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan. Add 3/4 cup of the onions and 3/4 cup of the celery. Cook until the onions are translucent.

Stir in the seasoning mix, then the chopped ham and the chourico, and then the cayenne pepper sauce. Cook until the onions are a dark brown, about 20 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the remaining 3/4 cup of the onions and celery. Cook about 5 minutes.

Open a can of whole tomatoes and puree them in a food processor to make sauce. Add 3/4 cup of this and cook for about 5 minutes.

Stir in the rice, mixing well. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 12 minutes.

Add the chicken stock, stir well, and bring it all to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, over very low heat until the rice is tender but firm, about 15 minutes.

Remove the cover, toss in the shrimp, stir, then put the cover back on and cook for 5 minutes more.

 

Sometimes it’s hard to get wild-caught American shrimp at my local seafood store or supermarket. But for me, buying tiger shrimp or other Asian products is not an option. Once I learned about how they are farmed, I decided I’d never eat those shrimp again!

When I find wild-caught American shrimp locally, I buy extra to keep in the freezer. For many years, I bought my shrimp online from http://www.cajungrocer.com. Not only will you find shrimp there, you’ll find many other Cajun classics: King cakes, Turduckens, andouille and alligator sausage, even live crawfish. And the price of their shrimp, even with shipping, is the same as the nasty Asian shrimp you buy in the store. Make some room in your freezer, order large to save, and stock up on the real deal!

 

It’s Fat Tuesday! Laissez les bon temps roulez!

I lived in Mobile, Alabama back in the late 80’s, and if you asked the locals, they’d quickly tell you that Mardi Gras originated in Mobile, not New Orleans.

Joe Caine paraded through the streets of Mobile dressed in a Native American costume in 1868, and is credited for our current way of observing the Mardi Gras celebration. Of course, it’s hard not to think of New Orleans when you hear the phrase “Mardi Gras,” and I spent many a weekend on the streets and bars of the Crescent City back in the day.

It was then that I fell in love with Cajun food, and needed to learn how to cook it myself. I bought cookbooks by two of the greats: Justin Wilson and Paul Prudhomme. I learned about layers of seasoning, and often I’d use those ideas in my own dishes.

When I moved to Rhode Island in 1990, I had yearly Mardi Gras parties at my house, and I cooked massive batches of these Cajun chicken breasts, using a spice mix I learned from my cooking experiments. They’re so good, my daughter asks for them all the time.

Double-dipping in the seasoned flour is a messy step, but it makes them extra crunchy and flavorful.

 

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1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon gumbo file (file powder), optional
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenders or breasts
4 eggs
oil for frying (I like using avocado oil and some pork fat for flavor)

 

Cut the chicken breasts into manageable pieces. If they’re thick, slice them horizontally to make two thinner breasts. A thick piece of chicken won’t cook all the way through.

Combine the flour, salt, paprika, onion, garlic, basil, white pepper, cayenne, black pepper, thyme and gumbo file in a bowl. Mix well.

I like to separate the 4 eggs, placing 2 eggs in 2 separate bowls. This keeps the first bowl “clean” and not gummed up with flour. You’ll see what I mean once you start, because it’s a bit messy. So, crack 2 eggs in the first bowl and the other 2 eggs in the second bowl. Scramble them up and put the bowls on either side of the seasoned flour bowl.

Pre-heat a pan of oil or a fryer to 350 degrees.

Dip the chicken in the first egg bowl and then the seasoned flour mixture. Shake off the excess flour and dip the chicken in the second egg bowl, making sure the flour is covered by egg. Then dip the chicken back into the flour for a second coat. Carefully place the chicken in the pan. Fry the chicken until it’s cooked all the way through and golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

 

Nothing like a hot, fresh batch!

 

If you need to feed a crowd, just double or triple the recipe. I used to make a 10x batch for my Mardi Gras parties!

 

 

You’d think it would be Cinco de Mayo, but February 22nd is National Margarita Day.
My personal recipe uses no sour mix…just 4 basic ingredients. I still have a small stash of the HoneyBells mentioned here, but the original recipe, below, uses pineapple juice. Cheers!
Every year around January, we get a shipment of Cushman’s HoneyBells. They look like fiery red bell-shaped oranges, but they’re not really oranges at all, and their season is very limited.
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HoneyBells are a unique natural hybrid of Dancy Tangerine and Duncan Grapefruit. The plants are grafted to a sour orange root-stock, and when the tree reaches maturity, it looks just like a grapefruit tree…but with oranges growing on it.
I usually make my signature margarita, the Algarita, with pineapple juice. But when I get those HoneyBells in the mail, my recipe takes on a new twist:
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2 oz. Patron silver tequila (3 oz. is even better!)
1/2 oz. Cointreau orange liqueur
4 oz. pineapple juice (or fresh-squeezed HoneyBell juice, when in season)
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
Fill a cocktail shaker or tall glass with ice and add all the ingredients. Stir vigorously. Pour into a large margarita glass. Garnish with a lime wedge. Salt optional.
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 Either way: with HoneyBells or with pineapple juice, it’s a great way to celebrate National Margarita Day! Cheers!

Through years of tireless experimentation, I’ve come up with a barbecue sauce that I feel is the best I’ve ever made. Granted, everybody has their favorites, but I prefer a slightly sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. Unless I’m making a classic pulled pork sandwich, I usually avoid vinegar-based sauces.

What makes this sauce special is the citrus. I originally used lemon juice for this recipe and it was good. Lime juice with lime zest was better. I also tried oranges, tangerines, even Meyer lemons. But my breakthrough happened on a day when I was craving barbecued chicken and all I had in my fridge was a grapefruit. I thought: how bad could it be? Turned out to be the perfect foil to the sweetness of the brown sugar and ketchup.

My favorite chicken pieces are the leg quarters: thigh and drumstick all in one. Chicken breasts, even on pastured birds, are pretty flavorless and dry, so I pass on them for the darker meat that’s juicy and fatty. (Honestly, I find it hard to trust anyone that won’t eat meat off a bone.)

Cooking chicken in the oven before putting it on the grill has several advantages. I don’t have to stand over the grill, constantly worrying about the meat burning or the fire going out. I can simply set a timer when I need to brush on the barbecue sauce or remove the chicken pieces. And the chicken cooks evenly…one piece won’t be burned while another piece is undercooked. Cooking them low and slow in the oven keeps the chicken juicy and tender. And I’m assured that my chicken is thoroughly cooked…no worries about salmonella.

I pre-heat the oven to 350 just to get it nice and hot. I line a sheet pan with non-stick aluminum foil, placing the chicken pieces on it. I rub each piece with a little olive oil, and season them lightly with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. The chicken goes into the oven and I immediately lower the temperature to 200 degrees.

While the chicken is cooking, I combine all the barbecue sauce ingredients in a sauce pan, bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer, letting it cook for about 20 minutes, until it has thickened. Then I turn the heat off and set the pan aside.

I’ll bake the chicken for about an hour, taking the sheet pan out of the oven to brush the barbecue sauce on the pieces before returning to the oven again, now bringing the temperature up to 300 degrees. (Because there’s sugar in the barbecue sauce, I don’t want to crank the heat or it will burn.)

Taking the chicken out of the oven and brushing it with sauce.

 

In 30 minutes, I take the sheet pan out a second time, and brush the sauce on the chicken pieces again…then back in the 300-degree oven for another 30 minutes.

Once the chicken’s back in the oven, it’s time to start the grill. For projects like this, I like to use a small grill I bought for our family camping trips. It’s like a mini-Weber, and it grills enough food for 4 people easily, without wasting charcoal like a larger grill would.

These small grills are just 20 bucks, and they save you a ton of otherwise wasted, unused charcoal.

 

I use a smaller charcoal chimney for this project, and I use charcoal briquets, not hardwood, because I want an even fire. The coals are ashed over in just 10 minutes.

Out of the oven and onto the fire! The grill grate was nasty and rusty, so I just grabbed a clean one I had handy and popped it right on top. (I hate scrubbing grills!)

 

Once the chicken has cooked its total of 2 low-and-slow hours in the oven, I bring the pieces outside. I spread the coals evenly on my little grill, and place the chicken pieces on it, flipping the pieces so that both sides get nice and smokey with a little bit of char…about 5 or 10 minutes per side will do the trick.

Getting that char on the chicken is key to making it taste like it’s been on the grill all the time.

 

The chicken goes back to the kitchen, and while it’s still hot, I brush with the barbecue sauce one last time before serving.

 

 

Perfectly done…perfectly delicious!

 

Here is the magical barbecue sauce recipe…

1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
Juice and zest of 1 grapefruit
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce, like Frank’s Red Hot
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
(no salt)

Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan. Bring it to a boil and then turn it down low, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes, or until slightly thickened.

 

 

The original recipe for this white bean soup used bits of bacon. But it just so happened that I was planning on slow-cooking a pork shoulder in my smoker today. When the smoked pork met the white bean soup, it was a match made in pig heaven!

 

2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 smashed garlic clove
3 cans (15 1/2 oz.) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, 1 1/2 cups reserved
40 oz. veal bone broth or chicken broth (homemade is best)
1/4 teaspoon bouquet garni
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Bacon fat and/or olive oil
A slab of slow-cooked smoked pork shoulder, pulled and shredded

 

In a large heavy saucepan, sauté the onion, fennel, and garlic in bacon fat or olive oil until they are tender, about 8 minutes.

Drain and rinse the cannellini beans, reserving 1 1/2 cups for later. Pour the beans in the saucepan.

Add the veal (or chicken) broth, the bouquet garni, and the salt and pepper.

Simmer for 15 minutes, then turn the heat off and let it cool for 15 minutes.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor, until smooth.

Return the soup to the pot and add the reserved beans. Heat it for 10 minutes, and then taste it, adding more salt and pepper, if needed.

 

 

To serve, place a mound of the pork, cubed or pulled, in the center of a bowl. Pour the soup on top, and drizzle with a touch of extra virgin olive oil. Chopped scallions, or fresh chives, or parsley on top never hurt!