Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Weekend in New England (not by Barry Manilow)

It began like any other week here in Rhode Island. I worked during the day and communed with friends and colleagues in the evening. About Tuesday, I realized that I would be needed back here the following week (this week) so on a whim, I suggested to my foodie mother that she come spend the weekend with me here in Providence. After a bit of logistics we worked it out and her Friday to Monday plans were set. Clearing all of this on my home front was a touch uncomfortable but Lisa was ultimately OK with it. For the record, I miss Olivia terribly when we’re apart.

Now to the good stuff. Mom’s plane arrived uneventfully late Friday evening and we turned in rather quickly. Saturday morning we sprung up and we began our loosely sketched tour. Mom had heard from someone about the Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Mass and she was intrigued so that was our first destination. New Bedford is like many little nooks along the New England coast; a seaside community with a rich history. At the museum visitor’s center we are greeted by an older woman in National Park Service attire. She is enthusiastic to talk about this place. She points out that she is descended from generations of whaling. We learn that in the mid 1800’s New Bedford was the richest city per capita in the world. Apparently, in the pre-petroleum era, whale oil was used in every part of society. From gear lube to tonics and elixirs, this coveted prize cost the world whale populations to be decimated. Over 300,000 whales were killed at the hands of the New Bedford crews who at the time had little appreciation of their worldly impact. Fortunately, the whaling eventually stopped leaving New Bedford etched in history as a pivotal role player in the emerging modern world.

Today a walk down the cobblestone streets is reminiscent of an earlier time. The waterfront district has undergone a major renovation and people are milling about. The Cobblestone Restaurant is the perfect place to start the day for breakfast. Their Portuguese heritage is reflected in the Linguica and Chorizo offerings on the menu. We each enjoyed a variation of Eggs Benedict with these two sausages as well as perfectly sautéed onions and peppers. The Hollandaise dripped lazily over the poached egg and onto another delicious surprise. The Portuguese bread was a sweet and tasty treat that perfectly balanced its sugary pleasure with a savory tone. I liked this place a lot because my mother and I were not the only ones enjoying the made to order Bloody Mary’s.

With full bellies we meandered about the shops and galleries for a short time and on into the museum. They’ve done a nice job with this. Maintained by the National Park Service since 1996, there is a great movie detailing the history of New Bedford whaling at the entrance. There are also several full whale skeletons on display to help illustrate their massive size including the 2 that are suspended in the main chamber as you enter. Impressive. After leaving we checked out the Seaman’s Bethel on the next block. Apparently the seamen of the time were often an unsavory lot who were known to spend their entire paycheck (after up to 5 years at sea) in just a few days. While the Quakers that founded New Bedford accepted this, they could not stand idly by and watch this debauchery without doing something. So in the true spirit of “If we build it, they will come”, they built the bethel as a place of worship for the sailors. It was a hit and often filled with those looking for salvation. Moby Dick author Herman Melville who spent some time in New Bedford has his pew marked with his name.

With New Bedford in our rear view mirror, we realize that lunch is on the horizon. Even though breakfast had been substantial, several hours of walking had consumed those calories and we were hankering for more. We pulled into Federal Hill around 2 PM. Federal Hill is a nationally recognized Providence destination known for its nearly 40 restaurants and family friendly environment. Chronicled in every major food publication and acclaimed by the New York Times and Washington Post, the restaurants that line each side of the street on “The Hill” must be explored by any foodie dropping in to Providence.

Constantino's is really two places. On one side of the courtyard is their wildly upscale deli. It would be quite impossible from me to describe the immensity of the selections available but suffice to say that it would rival any deli I’ve seen in any major city. I especially enjoyed watching the guy feeding meats into the grinder in the unending production of their different sausages. Lining the periphery of this bustling establishment are tables. Diners can sit and enjoy the musings of the kitchen that is nestled in the rear of the building. My mother and I enjoyed several small plates from their antipasto menu. The flavors of the cheeses and sausages could not have felt fresher or more welcome. Our scallops were perfectly seared and if I had closed my eyes, I could have imagined grilling these little buttery delights right on the back of the fishing boat from whence they were caught. Peppers stuffed with meats and cheeses and a prosciutto that was so buttery, it practically melted as it passed my lips. Eating at a place like this makes you never want to enter a conventional grocer again.

Grinding their own sausage behind the deli counter

On the other side of the courtyard, I later learned, is a more traditional restaurant belonging to Constantino’s. I must remember to explore that next time. Moving on, we’re headed back to our hotel. I’m feeling a nap coming on and I enjoy answering that call. So far our plan is working out nicely but we’re really just getting started.

Nap behind me, it’s now about 5 PM and Mom has yet to see a beach in “The Ocean State”. Off to Narragansett. I wrote about Narragansett a couple of weeks ago and our experience at “The Coast Guard House”. About a 20 minute drive from the hotel we find ourselves perched up on the rooftop deck enjoying a beverage with an amazing view of the beach activity below. Directly beneath the restaurant, waves can be heard crashing on the rocks and the songs of the seagulls add punctuation to the wave’s crescendo. The sun is still high enough to feel warmth yet low enough for the reds and yellows to be glowing on the faces in the crowd. Tipping back my light and crisp Narragansett Lager, it is the perfect summer afternoon. Mom seems thrilled too. We discussed the rest of our weekend and looked forward to the dinner ahead.

Ending the afternoon in Narragansett

Mention Al Forno Restaurant to any New Englander and their eyes widen. This place is well known. Much like “The Hill”, Al Forno has been written up by every prominent food author and critic from coast to coast. They have been talked about on the Food Network and the owners have been guest chefs on Emeril Live. How exciting that a town the size of Providence can have more than one well known food destination. We purposely arrived late (about 8:45). Since they do not take reservations, wait times are often an hour and a half. The restaurant is unmarked and will elude the casual passerby. So we give the young doorman our name and head to the bar. We peruse the menu and enjoy some wine. 30 minutes later we were seated in a lovely courtyard next to a relaxing fountain bubbling away. The style in Al Forno is difficult to describe. The bar has an elegant design yet the wait staff is young and casually dressed. The décor is somewhat formal, as though it could easily be a “men must wear a dinner jacket” kind of establishment but it is far from that. Our server was wearing black shorts and a T-shirt and I was the only man in sight in a coat. Perfectly unpretentious.

The menu is a true tribute to simple Italian cooking. As I heard the owners explaining to Emeril on TV, it is the pairing of the best and freshest ingredients with simple but perfected techniques that make their restaurant so special. That could not be more true. All of their pastas are made in house daily. I have said before in other posts, fresh pasta wins me over every time. While there were fantastic menu offerings such as rabbit, scallops and veal, I wanted a simple pasta dish. Worth noting by the way that while there are certainly some pricy things on the menus, all of the pasta dishes are priced at about 20 bucks. Not bad.

For an appetizer, I enjoyed a Roasted Beet and Avocado salad. If this salad was trying to be subtle, it failed miserably. The rich creaminess of the avocado was so perfect with the earthy and sweet beet that it bordered on decadent. I could have eaten this as an entrée. But fortunately I did not. Next came my Potato Gnocchi in a Sausage Ragu. The Gnocchi were like little pillows of freshness. Like the prosciutto from earlier, they practically melted in mouth. The ragu had the flavor of sausage and tomato but little else was necessary. Perhaps a slight herb undertone but no heavy or complex flavors often found in Italian fare. The liquid was almost a tomato broth with the sausage being harmoniously surrounded, suspended even. This was perfection. It is one of their award winning dishes and is also featured in their new cookbook, “On Top of Spaghetti”. My mom ordered a Cavatelli with Prosciutto and Yellow Peppers in a Cream Sauce. Of course I had to taste. Another amazing dish. Interesting that the flavors mentioned in both titles on the menu were pretty much the only predominant tastes found. Homogenous, not muddy. In my opinion, this may be one of the best Italian restaurants I’ve ever been in. Sure there’s always a place for a hot Italian sausage smothered in peppers and onions atop a bun and served in waxed paper but this day pays homage to elegant simplicity.

Well, that was our Saturday. From whaling to fine dining, we stayed busy. Sunday morning we toured the mansions of Newport and had a sidewalk café lunch as the sky opened up and sheets of rain began to fall. Still recovering from the previous day’s meals, I spent the afternoon feeling like a fat cat on the porch after consuming a tad too much milk. We certainly drank in what Providence and its surrounding communities had to offer in the limited amount of time we had. As I dropped my mother at the airport on Monday morning, she tells me what a wonderful time she had. Reluctantly, she will be back at her desk filling prescriptions in Baltimore in just a few hours.

Exploring the cliffs of Newport

I am excited to preview the next post by saying last night was another colleague’s house and a 5 course meal prepared in about and hour. I tried some new things that again panned out and I can’t wait to share my new Creamed Pepper Sauce as well as my rendition of the aforementioned Beet and Avocado Salad.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Mission

I hereby swear that to the best of my recollection the following account is true and correct.

1730 hrs- Four men gathered at the dock knowing full well the gravity of the mission ahead. No one spoke of the possibility that we may fail, or even worse, not return. It didn’t matter that there was a rookie on this trip either because there were seasoned veterans on board. Brian had more experience than he wanted to share; experiences that can change a man. Just the week before, he’d taken sharp steel to the face yet was back on mission. It’s just the kind of men we are.

Easing down the river, we watched the last of civilization slip away behind us. The open ocean in front looked serene but the knowledge that the machinery of war lies just beneath the surface sends a shudder up my spine. We are all aware that the world’s largest submarine activity is based just up the shoreline.

1830 hrs- Our destination is upon us. We take careful measurements to ensure all is well. We want to stay on course. Deviation could mean failure. I am the first to grab my weapon and slip in the water. I’m not trying to be the bravest but I was eager. Unlike the first time, I don’t fear this. With no hesitation, 3 other men are right behind. We fan out in a familiar pattern and set to the mission. Like the last time, Tim was the first to strike. His victim fell quickly, probably unsure that he was even under assault until the last moment. It’s a fate that many more would share this night. In a short time, all of our weapons were in use and aptly hitting their marks. There were some worries about Ryan at first. He was the lone rookie in the group. There’s always a danger there. It was unspoken, but if he failed, the rest of us would have to hold up his end of the work and ensure his safety. We all had a first time.

2030 hrs- There were four of us still. Turning and heading home was welcome. We had succeeded. Unlike last week’s mission, there were no casualties this time. I feel guilty that I wasn’t around to help but I’m thankful that we all are safe this outing. So many lives ended this night. It’s difficult to explain the feelings. At the dock, we offloaded and headed our separate ways left to our own demons. Later, I would sleep well.


The weapons for the impending assault

OK, OK, OK… this was about clamming again. “Clam Assault II” to be exact. What fun. Its worth mentioning that just a few weeks since my first clamming, the water temperature has considerably improved and it was much more enjoyable. Like last time, the next night was a gathering and eating of the clams at Tina and Tim’s house. We also took the opportunity to welcome a new addition to our business team, Jason. Good guy.

Gathering with wine and food. Class act that Tina (with the finger)

So last time Tina and I decided on a Portuguese clam recipe. It was delicious and if you scroll down a bit, you’ll find it. This time, my wheels turned in another direction. I wanted the clams to be easy so I suggested that this time, we just pop them open with the grill. All seemed OK with this idea but the front that passed through the area and dropped record rainfalls that night made it quite challenging. I felt really bad too (seriously) since Tim was doing all of the grill work. He was getting soaked.

Tim on the grill in the rain. A true soldier

In the meantime, I set to the 2 sides. I made a very similar Orzo salad from the previous clam night. Tina asked me to. She is my boss, by the way. I had to swap out a few ingredients because of availability at the local market but the radishes worked well in the place of fennel. I love the versatility of cooking.

The recipe that I want to share in this writing was the kale. According to the crowd, this was a hit. When entering the market a few minutes before the dinner gathering, I had visions of prosciutto wrapped asparagus but there was no prosciutto or asparagus. Plan B. Look around. Sure why not try something new with an ingredient I’ve never worked with. Kale it is. To be fair, I’ve seen it worked with and I’ve been hankering to try so I feel pretty prepared to have a go. I thought it was spot on. While having a flavor all its own, I would place it alongside collards in flavor. The richness of the bacon, the sweet tomatoes and the buttery parmesan made a savory and flavorful accompaniment to the purity of the clams.

Kale notes: A lot of kale makes a small amount. A bunch will reduce to about 1/10th of its original size and serve about 2 as a side. I used about 4 bunches. Remove most of the stalk because they are a bit woody. I put the sugar down below as optional because I’ve heard these greens could be bitter. Ours were not and we did not use it.

Kale with Cherry Tomatoes and Parmesan

3/4 lb bacon diced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups cherry tomatoes
2 shallots chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped
2 red chile peppers chopped (seeds removed if you like less heat)
½ cup white wine
4 large bunches of Kale (each a bit larger than a basketball) stems removed.
Juice of a lemon
½ tsp sugar (optional if a bit bitter)
1 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese plus some for sprinkling

If you think you have a large enough pot, cool. Sorry for all of the basketball references but you need a pot big enough to put a basketball in and cover. In this large pot, begin browning the bacon over medium heat. Once crisped, about 4 minutes, remove bacon and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Drain all but a couple of tablespoons of the bacon grease. Add olive oil and cherry tomatoes and cook another 5 minutes. Add shallots, garlic and peppers. Cook 2 more minutes. Add white wine and begin adding kale working one bunch at a time. As the liquid from the leaves begins to steam off, the leaves will wilt quickly. Once reduced to half, add the next bunch and keep turning with tongs. In just a few minutes the leaves will completely wilt. Add the bacon. Add the lemon juice and sugar. Turn again and cook through for just a couple of minutes. Transfer to serving plate and cover with the parmesan.

Serves 8.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


This is bad folks. Real bad. For several weeks now I have been traveling back and forth between Rhode Island and Florida. What’s wrong with that, you say? Well this entire blog is based on provocative travel and food experiences yet it seems I can only talk about the amazing foodie culture around the Southern New England shoreline. I mean… geez… how many lobster rolls and clams can one man consume in the pursuit Maslow's self-actualization pinnacle. And with two more weeks here, there is no end in site. Any new blog reader would take a look and say, “That guy must live in Rhode Island”. I’m from Florida people! Oh well, I’ll just suffer through the myriad of dining experiences and make you put up with me writing about it –DON’T you move that mouse!!!!

Some experiences are timeless. After dining at the Mews Tavern in Wakefield, Rhode Island I decided I needed to know more about the history of the early American tavern. It appears that the first Taverns, called Ordinarys at the time, were actually mandated by the early Puritans. In the mid 1600’s gathering places were needed so communities had a sense of cohesion. Sometimes solutions are so simple. But of course one problem solved can often lead to a new problem. For reasons still a bit foggy to me, the Puritans had issues with drunkenness. And Taverns were the place for the seedier in the community to gather. Oh sure, there was mostly legitimate business conducted but much like today, there are always a few bad apples to spoil the bushel. So laws and fines were written to combat this moral debauchery. Laws like –“Only one tavern per town and near the court house”, blah blah blah.

An interesting character of the time was the Innkeeper. Apparently, some communities frowned on this person’s career choice. He was a lower class member of most towns. But the flip side of that is that he was often the most talked about and colorful character and he was well chronicled by sojourners. In a 1686 trip to Boston, one traveler from London writes about the Tavern and its proprietor:

"There was no one house in all the town more noted, or where a man might meet with better accommodation. Besides, he was a brisk and jolly man, whose conversation was coveted by all his guests as the life and spirit of the company."

Had I been alive in that time, I would have wanted to be an Innkeeper. So the evolution from there is rather natural and inauspicious. What we consider short car rides or even short plane rides could take days to accomplish back in the day and with no Motel 6 in sight, the colorful and sometimes dangerous Tavern was a watering hole as well as an overnight destination. They were found in every town no matter the size.

In the small town of Wakefield Rhode Island, a short drive from Providence, I found a wildly popular modern day Tavern. The Mews (as it’s called) serves fantastic pub fare with a page turning extensive menu. With no need for sleeping quarters any more, the space here is taken up by family tables and several bars throughout the maze of this structure. I believe there is even a wine bar on the upper level but I have not ventured up there.

The tradition of town gathering place could not be more true here either. You could miss Wakefield in a blink if driving by yet The Mews was disproportionately busy. As usual when eating alone, I headed to the bar to grab a drink and see the menu. Locals are friendly and conversive and I soon learn that this establishment is known for its unparalleled beer menu. So after ordering a local brew, I settled on a calzone in the fashion of a Philly Cheese Steak. This non traditional pairing of styles works perfectly together. Oh, I know there are purists out there that say a Philly Cheese is a Philly Cheese and a calzone is a calzone, but I say –Get a life!!!! This was damned good. The melted cheese over the tender shaved and peppery steak with sliced button mushrooms was quite reminiscent of several trips to Philadelphia. Then to have it wrapped up in a perfect calzone was just magical. I don’t say “perfect” lightly either. The crust had just the right thickness and crispness. It is made fresh daily and cooked in a wood fired oven. Unbelievable.

So heading back to my hotel, I imagined what it must have been like. Aside from the obvious modern conveniences, my night was like many nights experienced by other travelers dating back to the 1600’s here in New England. I am far from home, in unfamiliar territory, yet I find a place that is comforting and welcomes me. The food is fresh and the company hospitable. I enjoy my conversation and meal then head off to bed as the sun falls beyond the horizon.

Some experiences are timeless.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


These scallops from Coast Guard House were perfect

OK people, I have to begin with an apology. Now as you know, I want to come to you every writing with witty prose about my culinary adventures and how I’ve adapted them into a spectacular recipe for your consideration (I say consideration because in the 5 months I’ve been writing this blog, I have no evidence anyone has actually COOKED one of my recipes). Well, this writing has no recipe and, in fact, the place I am going to mention had moderately good food, at best. But this place was about elegant ambience combined with a seafaring casual rooftop deck for cocktails that is rivaled by only a few places I’ve ever been.

There are many things right about “The Coast Guard House” in Narragansett, RI. Their Day Boat* menu is touted as first class and my meal reflected that. From the roof top deck, the cool New England ocean breeze was a lovely accompaniment to our cocktails. Our conversation was punctuated with the sounds of waves crashing over the rocks below. The sun sinking in the west left the eastern sky full of magentas and pinks and purples that would leave any artist wanting to capture this majesty.

The Coast Guard House has a rich history dating back to the turn of the last century. In the 100 plus years that this place has been around it has been battered by hurricanes and ravaged by fire, yet it remains. Narragansett itself is a little known gem. At one time Narragansett and Newport were parallel cities when it came to attracting the affluent New Englanders in the summer months. The Narragansett Pier and Casino were bustling with activity. As time wore on, however, Newport has taken over most of the tourist duties leaving the pristine beaches and quite communities around Narragansett an unguarded but special secret.

It was a breathtaking place to enjoy the company of my friends Michele and Tom. Michele has a cute little bungalow home in Narragansett just a few minutes from the beach. Starting with a glass of wine at her house, we planned on hitting a little shack near the beach for a famous local lobster roll. If you like lobster and have never had a New England lobster roll, you need to stop what you are doing, get a plane ticket to any coastal city in New England (Boston and Providence have decent air fares), and find a seaside hut whose menu is in the old press board style. There you will be able to order a lobster roll that will make you think Jesus is coming (Christian reference –rare for me). They are a non pretentious offering, similar to a crab or Tuna salad with a few vegetal offerings (celery, onion….etc) and mayo served on a plane white hot dog bun. The lobster, though, is usually so pure and fresh and … well… decadent that it shines through like in no other sea food salad I’ve ever tasted. OK Now, since those folks who have never had a lobster roll are on their way to the airport at the moment, I’ll continue on with my story for the rest of you that have.

Today was a Tuesday and the lobster shack that Michele wanted to take me to was closed on Tuesdays. Of course we were in the parking lot when we found this out. Bummer. Well we had passed The Coast Guard House a ways back and we were going to have cocktails on the deck after dinner so why not give dinner a go there. OK the plan was set. Back to The Coast Guard House it was then. We had an “in” at the restaurant too. It turns out Michele’s niece waits tables on the upper deck. This young, cute 18ish girl had one of the richest bronze tans I’d ever seen on a blond girl. It was quite evident that she took great pride in her tanning skills. She had been having a bad day but seemed happy to see Michele and I found her to be lovely. She recommended we eat downstairs in the dining room since the bar menu was more limited. So after our cocktails and conversation, Michele, Tom and I headed downstairs for dinner.

Now as you may know I typically only write about positive stuff because I hate being critical but I do need to be fair. Michele ordered the lobster ravioli and Tom ordered seafood pasta. Neither dish looked all that special and I tasted Michele’s ravioli. It tasted as though Chef Boyardee had a go at lobster ravioli. Sorry Coat Guard House but this wasn’t all that good. Perhaps had I paid a few dollars for it in a can from the local grocer, I would have felt different about it. Conversely, my scallops were obviously fresh and sweetly delectable. They were also huge and the accompanying braised potatoes and micro greens were an earthy treat. We also had a few steamers (steamed clams) and the accompanying grilled bread dipped in the clam broth was just heavenly. So, if YOU decide to check this place out, I recommend that you ask your waiter what came off the boat fresh that day and stay away from the pasta dishes. The service was also a bit slow. And it wasn’t very busy.

So mentioning the bad with the good was cathartic. I’ll have to remember that for the future. Other than this night, my week did not have any outstanding gastronomic adventures. I drove north from Rhode Island to the Maine/New Hampshire border. I had never been in to Maine before so I crossed the bridge in Portsmouth just to say I’d been. I hear there are a few quite spectacular offerings in Portsmouth and I’ll give them a go next time I’m there but I didn’t this visit. I ate at a Mexican place downtown that was yummy but I don’t think writing about the delicious Tamale I had would be all that special. I do have some recommendations for next time though. It looks as though I will probably be returning to Portsmouth in a few weeks for another assignment.

For those that have followed other adventures of ours, the boat is scheduled to be back in the water after a couple of months of repair. As usual, I will be weekending in Florida before returning for another fun filled week in Rhode Island. All of the kids are scheduled to be visiting this weekend so that will be nice too and we’ll have something fun to do. So until next time… ciao

*Day Boat refers to the notion that the fish caught are directly from the docs that “day”.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sunday Morning

I love Sunday mornings. Who doesn’t? In the new house I seem to be developing a Sunday morning pattern. I get my coffee, grab my laptop and head onto the back porch. In the good ole days, I might enjoy the Sunday paper out there but now I peruse the World Wide Web for the news as well as the occasional food blog. It’s quite peaceful. We have a small alligator that I’ve seen lurking around the canal and there are always birds just waking as the sun peaks over the trees on the other side of the lake. Now a non-Florida lake dweller might think this alligator is quite daunting (he’s in the 4-5 ft range I’m guessing), but he blends in nicely to the morning serenity. He’s quite shy. He does go the other way if he sees you coming or he just slips beneath the surface. Short of putting my hand directly in his mouth, he does not make me nervous.

So as I sip and read the blogs, my mind wanders as to what will end up on the table. There is inspiration everywhere but this day I find something I’ve had before and it sounds like the perfect way for a day to begin. A couple of my favorite blogs mention eggs fried in olive oil. Oh I so love eggs fried in olive oil. They epitomize a yummy everyday decadence. The rich complexities of the olive oil combines so harmoniously with the simple and luscious flavor of perfectly seasoned eggs that I’m not sure why this isn’t a menu item at every breakfast nook in the country. Well it’ll just be our little secret then, right?

Now these eggs are not just for breakfast. Here they are served over a pasta. I’ve not made this version before but I have played with others. The rich yolk flowing over ribbons of noodle that I twirl onto my fork is welcome on my tongue. I briefly contemplate something of this nature but I decided that if eggs in olive oil were simple, then the rest of my breakfast should be equally as simple. So after drinking in the rest of the morning news as well as my coffee, into the house I went. I left a Cormorant sunning himself on our dock.

Now I’m not the only mouth in the house to consider. Lisa and Olivia have stirred awake by now. Olivia is enjoying her nutritional staple, chocolate milk, while staring bleary eyed at one of her favorite Noggin shows (something about pets saving other pets). 4-5 cups of this a day with a princess shaped vitamin and she continues to grow. Lisa enjoys breakfast but is such a picky eater that there are only a few things in my breakfast inventory that I can pull out. I’m on my egg mission and I need to find something that others will enjoy too. This is my dilemma at most meal times in the house by the way.

So after some careful consideration, my menu is loosely set. I think I want to serve my egg over some grits. Not just any grits though. Since the eggs are a succulent touch, I want a more flavorful and savory expression. Looking in the fridge, I settle on some heavy cream, spring onions and fresh parmesan cheese. Oh I do love it when a plan comes together. Lisa will eat the grits, I think and … Olivia? Hmmmm. OK some discussion with her and she only wants the mini frozen pancakes from the freezer. Not exactly blog worthy, but hey… it’s my life.

I began the grits pretty much the same way I always do. I start with 3 parts liquid to 1 part quick cooking grits. This usually yields a slightly thicker consistency that I can add other things to. For example a cup of sour cream or a cup of cheddar cheese both have different but delicious results. Lisa has an affinity for my cheese grits. This time, though, I think I’ll add the cream at the end to finish off the perfect texture. The technique worked like a charm. This took an already yummy base for many potential dishes and lifted it into a new realm. One worthy of eggs fried in olive oil.

For the eggs, I have a goal every time I make an egg for myself. I like every bit of the white cooked but every bit of the yolk to run. This is an almost impossible balance and I have varying degrees of success with this. If you like them this way too, I have some useful tips. First off, I never leave the egg unattended. Next, learn your stove settings. It’s the perfect medium high temperature that yields the desired yolk effect. If you have a gas stove, you’re ahead of the curve but I do not. Then there’s a new little trick that I would love to think I invented but I’m sure this is a well known tidbit. It’s just that no one showed me. I spoon the hot olive oil over the top of the egg as the bottom cooks. Only do this a few times. This seems to make the perfect sunny side up egg. As an aside, adding an egg to hot olive oil will cause some popping so be careful. Yet another reason not to cook naked (that brings a funny story to mind but I’m not going there).

So putting it all together resulted in more than I’d hoped for. It was fantastic. The bright flavors of the spring onion and salty nuttiness of the freshly grated parmesan lifted little clouds of creamy grits to gastronomic nirvana. Then atop each cloudy bite was the sunny colored glaze of the yolk. Let me say, friends, that success is sweet. I can’t wait for a house guest to share this with. Would you like to come over for breakfast? Well, you are always welcome. Thank goodness I don’t cook naked.

I so love Sunday mornings.

Eggs Fried in Olive Oil with Creamy Parmesan Grits

For the grits:

4 tbsp melted unsalted butter
Slightly less than 1½ cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup quick cook grits
6 oz heavy whipping cream
About half a cup of grated parmesan cheese
2 spring onions (scallions) finely chopped

In a measuring cup add the butter and fill with water to equal 1½ cups. Season the water with salt (about a tablespoon) and a few cranks of pepper. Bring to a boil. Add the grits and turn heat to low. Cover. After just a few minutes the grits are done. Add the cream and stir. Remove completely and keep covered. When plating, place a good sized dollop of grits in the center of a plate and sprinkle some parmesan cheese and spring onion atop before topping with egg.

For the eggs:

6 eggs
¼ cup olive oil divided (approximately)
Salt and pepper to taste

I recommend 1 egg at a time but I imagine 2 would be fine. I also serve this 1 egg per serving but doubling for the heartier appetite should work well also. In a sauté pan add enough olive oil so that when the egg is inserted, the oil will splash over the white shoreline of the egg just a tad (I rather like that visual). For sunny side up, cook for a minute or two depending on the heat. Towards the end, turn the pan slightly to gather the olive oil to one side and gather with a spoon to baste over the egg. A few times should do the trick.

To plate, place atop the parmesan grits and sprinkle with a bit of good kosher salt.

Serves 6

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Corn and Smoked Chicken Soup -A Scrumptious Accident

A lucious and tasty soup

It all started with the corn. It’s one of the few foods Olivia will eat. I have described her “tootsie roll” diet in the past and its only getting worse. I’m not completely sure why she continues to grow. Nevertheless, I bought 8 ears of corn still in the husk for the holiday. It was meant for the grill and we had houseguests. Days later and after everyone had departed, it remained uncooked and destined for the garbage. In fact, throwing it away was my plan when I removed it from the fridge. But somewhere on the path to the garbage can I thought better. So I put the convection oven on 350 and popped in the unshucked ears. They still looked perfect by the way; I just figured they’d never get used.

After proper roasting and shucking, I cut the corn from the cob on 6 of the ears. 2 Ears ended up being consumed conventionally by Lisa and Olivia with a bit of salt and butter. The remaining corn yielded about 3 cups. So into a plastic container and into the fridge. Fast forward another 2 days. I have that corn on my mind as I enter the market. I’ve gone to such trouble for this $1.50 worth of Native American gold that I’m determined to make this one of the stars of tonight’s dinner. Still, I have no recipe in mind as I enter.

Having no earthly clue what I’m going to make, my vision turns to creamy and sweet but the end result winds up being brothy and smoky. More on that in a minute. So I picked up up what I thought I needed and headed home. I’ve been home a full 2 weeks now and the pantry was getting a bit bare. I haven’t been home for 2 weeks in a row in I don’t know how long; maybe a couple of Christmases ago.

Satisfied with my haul, I put it away and set to preparation. I still wasn’t completely sure what I was going to make. So I gathered the ingredients I thought I wanted onto the counter and sort of meditated with them for a while. We were one. I realized now that I wasn’t quite feeling the heavy cream that I bought. But I love heavy cream, I told myself. How was I going to achieve creamy without cream? Then the bulb began getting somewhat brighter. Still unsure of the final prep, I had enough of an idea to begin.

After 1 hour under the hood, perfectly smoked chicken

Thinking that soup wasn’t going to be hearty enough, I fired up the grill to smoke the chicken I bought. Thighs for me and skinless, boneless breasts for Lisa (she won’t eat dark meat). Once the chicken was going, my attention turned to the indoor portion of my little experiment. In my big pot I started by sweating the onions, garlic and tomato then adding a home made chicken/vegetable broth that can be seen here. In with the corn. After proper herbage and seasoning, I rummaged through my spices to make sure I wasn’t missing anything critical. I decided chili powder was an interesting direction. In fact, the 3 secret spices I chose shaped this fantastic soup (OK not so secret… see the recipe below).

Once the soup and chicken were completed, the last of the bulb kicked in. While the thighs were perfect, I decided the chicken breasts were too dry. So I chopped then into bite size pieces and added to the soup. After simmering and reducing another half hour, I had my final result. This soup was lusciously perfect. A combined smoky, spicy broth filled with roasted corn sweetness in every spoonful. For the top I chopped some fresh cilantro and chives and then sliced some fresh avocado. The herb and buttery addition was a final touch of bright flavor. This was an accidental masterpiece that will go into my arsenal of “impress the company” recipes. While not too similar, there were undertones of my time in Louisiana with the smoky sausage and chicken Jambalayas.

Now if we back up and think of all of the steps here, this is a complex recipe. Slow roasted corn and smoked chicken before it’s even “soup yet”. Still I think there are some good shortcuts to be found. For the below chicken dry rub, use whatever you find in your local market. There are several national brands. I used one I picked up at a BBQ place in Memphis but any will be fine. Also, the smoking process which sounds daunting to those who never have done this, is so simple it’s sinful. If smoking is completely out of the question, then I guess you could substitute with a liquid smoke to achieve the desired flavor. For the smoking wood, I keep some hickory soaking during the summer months on the back porch (OK so I just started this practice but go with it). Changing the water every few days means I am prepared to smoke with fresh hickory at any given moment. And then there’s the corn. Bagged frozen corn would be fine. I use that often in recipes. It’s the sweetness we’re shooting for. As for prep time, I went from ground zero to soup in about an hour and a half with plenty of couch time while things were cooking. I must say that I left it on simmer for another hour until Lisa got home from work and I liked how the flavors developed even better as it continued to concentrate. I think this would be a perfect and welcome dinner or entertaining meal any night of week.

Well here ya go:

Corn and Smoked Chicken Soup

Smoked Chicken (on the grill)

3 skinless and boneless chicken breasts
Your favorite dried spice mixture for outdoor grilling
Salt and pepper

Prepare the grill. Gather charcoal to one side and light (if using gas, light only one side of the grill). Place your favorite smoking wood (I used Hickory) that has been soaked in water for at least an hour over the hot part of the grill. If the wood is too small and would fall through the cracks, place them on a piece of aluminum foil.
Liberally coat the chicken with your seasoning mix and salt and pepper. Place on the grill as far away from the heat source as possible. Close the lid and walk away. Do not be tempted to open the lid to check on the bird parts. Let the smoke do its job. After an hour, remove the chicken and set aside.


2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium white onion chopped
4 cloves garlic peeled and chopped
1 large tomato chopped
3 cups corn (frozen is fine)
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth (or half of each)
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper (add as much as you like to desired spiciness)
¼ cup chopped cilantro plus more for each dish
Chopped chives and avocado slices for garnish

In a large pot over medium high heat add the oil. Add the onions and sweat them until translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and tomato and cook anther 7 minutes. Add corn, broth, chili powder, smoked paprika, cayenne and cilantro. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Allow to reduce over medium heat for about 45 minutes. Slice the chicken breasts into small cubes and add to the soup. Continue to cook another 10 minutes. Now I served at this point but I found that after cooking over a low heat for another hour, the flavors were more intense and even better. You chose. I would not let the soup reduce to more than half of the original amount.

In a serving bowl ladled with soup, sprinkle some chopped cilantro and top with a few slices of avocado and chives.

Serves about 8.
Enjoy. Ciao.
**NOTE- I never mention salt or pepper, do I? OK here's the deal there. I tend to librally salt throughout the cooking process at different times. The perfectly seasoned dish will require no table salt yet the specfic salt flavor should not overwhelm. I seasoned this dish at several points.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Good Week and Hummus

My new favorite snack

Everyone had a nice holiday, I trust. So very sorry I haven’t written in a bit. I try a couple of entries a week but with the holiday and family in town, time just escaped me. I feel compelled to tell everyone about my little snack. Frankly it wasn’t very difficult and almost unworthy of mentioning. Still, I found this to be such a silky and rich snack, I have to share.

It all started as I was digging about in the pantry for something “different”. Does anyone else do that? I mean, rummage through what you know you have just looking for that new concoction. Well I do. So, I stumbled across a bag of dried Chickpeas. I remembered picking those up a while ago for that “different” quality. I’d never worked with them before. I know they are the base for Hummus but I’ve never made that. Well… OK… off to the internet then for a little research. Like many recipes, there’s a fairly standard base to Hummus but then the cook’s taste shapes the dish.

Hummus is a Middle Eastern dip often eaten with flat bread. It’s a buttery paste in most preparations with a garlicky, herby uniqueness. There’s a Lebanese deli in Tarpon Springs about 10 minutes from here that makes a beautiful and flavorful Hummus. In our old house, it was on the way home from Lisa’s work and it was not uncommon for a small container of Hummus and some Pita bread to appear. Their home made soups were delicious as well but that’s the subject of another writing.

Well OK then. Hummus it is. The internet recipes all called for canned Chickpeas, also called Garbanzo beans. Making my own was probably overkill so I’ll suggest canned for your home recipe. To make your own Hummus, a good recipe can be found here. There is one ingredient that I didn’t recognize. Tahini ($8 for a 16oz jar) is a Sesame paste in the consistency of peanut butter. Honestly, it killed the inexpensive nature of the rest of the components but it’s one of the base ingredients so it was a must. To go along with the yellow and green stained spread that came smoothly out of the food processor, I bought a still warm loaf of bread from a local bakery and Lisa and I were both in heaven.

One might think the story should end there but as with all of my stories, there’s more. You see, I used the Hummus the next day to create a NEW snack. And not just a new snack, mind you, but my new favorite snack. The simplicity is almost embarrassing. Do you want to know what it is? Oh good! I was hoping you’d say yes. OK… I bought another fresh loaf of the bread and then used the Hummus again and added a roasted red pepper from a jar. That’s it. Warm fresh yeast smelling bread, spread generously with lemony pillows of Hummus and topped with a perfectly sweet red pepper (I used a little sea salt too… shhhh, don’t tell). I could eat this every day. Now maybe to some of you, there is nothing exciting about what I just posed. To me though, I have opened a whole new door. There are many Hummus variations and this tasty little treat was so good that I’m intrigued to explore some more. I’ll keep you posted.

As an aside, I have to gloat a bit. Now before I do, I should preface by saying I have many kitchen flops. Using my kitchen as a laboratory, I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone from “pan to can”. Not this week. I’ve been really lucky. I’ve gotten the whole smoking thing down fairly well with my new grill and the 4th of July smoked chicken was superb. The next morning I made a homemade BBQ sauce, added leftover smoked chicken meat and went on to create smoked chicken breakfast burritos. Yum. Those were 2 big wins for me. I’ll work on this some more and get a recipe together. I also came up with the recipe that I want to enter in the National Chicken Cooking Contest. It’s a spicy chicken croquette in the theme of a crab cake served over a chipotle and jicama slaw with cayenne plantains. I’d be happy to share the recipe but it may be against the contest rules so I’ll wait for now. I can certainly share a photo though.

A winning chicken recipe? Maybe

And lastly, what a great visit with the kids. Johnathan was missing but he’ll be here in a couple of weeks. Here they are watching fireworks.

My kids. Left to right, Evan, josh, Brit, Matt and Olivia

Well… thanks for checking back and I’m sorry it’s been so long. I’ll get back into the swing of things this week.