My favorite quarantine recipes Part V

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Yogurt parfait with Granola

After 35 days of isolation, I’ve made 35 different dishes with not much abatement in sight. In fact, my “no recipe duplication challenge” has only just hit 2nd gear. Still so much to cook, eat (and clean up) until New York’s restaurant scene re-emerges.  Here are this past week’s sweet and savory delights.

 

SUNDAY

I cannot begin to describe the most amazing garlicky, gingery, chili aromas that emanate from the kitchen with this all-in-one roast chicken and potatoes, but the fact that it takes nearly 3 hours to do so makes for some very envious neighbors. A great meal for a Sunday night where you have the time to work up a furious appetite.

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Slow roasted chicken and potatoes

SLOW ROASTED CHICKEN AND POTATOES

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 3½–4-lb. whole chicken
  • 1¾ tsp kosher salt, plus more
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 Tbsp. gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 heads of garlic
  • 1 ½” piece fresh ginger
  • 1½ lb. baby Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1½” in diameter)
  • 5 scallions
  • 2 limes
  • 2 tsp. honey

DIRECTIONS

Do Ahead: Chicken can be seasoned 12 hours ahead. Chill chicken if you’re not going to cook within 2 hours of seasoning.

Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 300°. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Place on a small rimmed baking sheet. Season whole chicken all over with 1 Tbsp kosher salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper, making sure to season the inside cavity.

Whisk gochujang and 1/4 cup olive oil in a medium bowl until combined. Finely grate 3 garlic cloves (from one of the heads of garlic) into gochujang oil. Peel ginger and then grate into gochujang oil; whisk to combine.

Cut what’s left of the head of garlic in half crosswise. Repeat with the second and third heads as well. Stuff 2 garlic head halves (or individual close if they come apart) inside cavity of chicken. Tie legs together with kitchen twine.

Using a pastry brush, brush half of gochujang oil over chicken.

Toss potatoes and remaining garlic halves and 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil in remaining gochujang oil until well coated. Season lightly with salt and pepper and toss again to combine.

Arrange potatoes in a 12″ cast-iron skillet, scooting them toward edges of pan to make space for chicken. Nestle as many garlic halves (cut sides down) as needed in center of skillet. Stand the chicken on top of the garlic halves—as it roasts, it will infuse the fat (and thus, the potatoes) with flavor. If any potatoes have shimmied their way under the chicken, use tongs to arrange them around it (they won’t cook at the same rate if they’re underneath the chicken).

Roast chicken and potatoes, turning potatoes once or twice to coat in juices and oil that accumulate in pan, until potatoes are very tender when pressed with the back of a spoon, and chicken skin is deep reddish-golden brown in color, 2½–3 hours. When you wiggle the legs of the chicken, they should feel loose in the joints, meaning the meat is fall-apart tender. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest 10–15 minutes.

Meanwhile, use the back of a large spoon or a potato masher to gently smash potatoes in skillet, exposing some of their flesh to juices underneath so they can soak them up.

Finish the potatoes: Thinly slice 5 scallions on a long diagonal. Cut 2 limes in half. Cut 1 half into wedges and set aside. Stir 2 tsp. honey and juice of remaining lime half into potatoes. Taste potatoes and season with more salt if needed. Scatter sliced scallions over potatoes.

Carve chicken, then arrange pieces over potatoes and scallions. Serve right out of skillet with remaining lime wedges alongside for squeezing, and squeeze out the sweet, slow-roasted garlic cloves as you wish. Serves 4-6.

 

MONDAY

It’s pretty hard to intimidate mussels. You can pretty much throw anything at them and they will thrive and survive. This dish has a one-two-punch from a pair of red-pepper sauces that crank the bivalves up 3 notches to a restaurant-quality dish with an impressive “wow” factor. (You’ll want to drink up the sauce when the mussels are gone.)

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Mussels with Harissa and Basil

MUSSELS WITH HARISSA AND BASIL

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 medium-size red bell peppers, halved
  • 1 medium-size white onion, unpeeled, quartered lengthwise
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
  • 1 small dried Thai chile, stem removed
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 – 4 pounds mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup harissa (depending on spiciness)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup roughly torn fresh Thai basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup Pickled Red Onion slices

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to broil with oven rack in middle of oven. Rub bell pepper halves and 2 onion quarters with 1 teaspoon olive oil. (Reserve remaining onion quarters for another use.) Arrange bell pepper halves and onion quarters, cut sides down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil in preheated oven until bell peppers are well charred, about 15 minutes, adding garlic to baking sheet halfway through broiling. Place bell peppers, onion, and garlic in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature until vegetables are cool enough to handle and bell peppers are softened, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard garlic skins and charred skin from bell peppers and onion.

Transfer bell pepper mixture to a blender; add walnuts, Thai chile, lemon juice, salt, and remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons oil. Begin processing on low speed, and gradually increase speed to high, processing until smooth, about 45 seconds total. Set bell pepper puree aside.

Heat a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high until very hot, about 3 minutes. Add mussels, and shake pan to arrange mussels in an even layer. Pour wine into pan, and cover with lid. Cook, shaking pan occasionally, until mussels begin to open, about 5 minutes. Stir in harissa and butter. Cover and cook, shaking pan occasionally, until mussels are completely open, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and discard any mussels that did not open. Stir in bell pepper puree. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mussels to deep bowls, and pour sauce from pan evenly over mussels. Sprinkle evenly with Thai basil leaves and pickled red onion petals. Serves 4.

 

TUESDAY

I opted to keep things super simple for vegetarian day with these spicy, caramelized roasted yams that enjoy a bright and refreshing lime-flavored yogurt dressing to bring home the sweet, sour, tang and tart in a single mouthful. (The leftovers are great – sliced up in salads).

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Roasted yams

ROASTED YAMS

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 large yams
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red-pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup Greek-style yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice, approximately 2 limes
  • 2 scallions, both green and white parts, trimmed and thinly sliced, for garnish

DIRECTIONS

Heat oven to 425. Cut the yams lengthwise into 4 wedges per yam. Put them in a large bowl, and toss them with the honey, ½ tablespoon of the crushed red-pepper flakes and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Let it sit for 10 minutes or so, tossing once or twice to coat, as the oven heats.

Transfer the yams to a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and then bake until they are deeply caramelized around the edges and soft when pierced with a fork at their thickest part, approximately 30 to 35 minutes.

As the yams roast, combine the yogurt, lime juice and remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a small bowl, and whisk to combine, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

When the yams are done, transfer them to a serving platter, drizzle the yogurt over them and garnish with the remaining Espelette pepper or red-pepper flakes, the scallions and some flaky sea salt if you have any. Serves 4-6.

 

WEDNESDAY

Seeing as there was a little gochujang left from Sunday’s chicken, I wrested this quick-and-easy recipe from virtual obscurity which makes a lonely pork-chop, a legend in his own lunchtime.

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Korean grilled Pork Chops

KOREAN GRILLED PORK CHOPS

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/3 cup dry roasted peanuts
  • 3 tblspn canola oil (separated)
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 boneless pork chops, thin cut and trimmed
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tblspn gochujang
  • 1 tblspn orange juice
  • 2 tsp mirin
  • 2 scallions thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS

Use 1 tblspn of the oil to fry up the peanuts until they are golden brown. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with the chili powder and set aside.
Whisk the gochujang, juice and mirin together.
Salt and pepper both sides of the chops.
Broil or fry in a cast iron skillet until well browned (about 4 minutes). Flip over and cook the other side. Smother the chops into the sauce (or pour over them while still in the pan) until well coated on both sides. Sprinkle with the peanuts and scallions. Serves 2.

 

THURSDAY

Who would have predicted that the two scarcest commodities during the COVID-19 pandemic would turn out to be toilet-paper and yeast. I get the fact that we all have to poop, but since when did we all have to bake bread? I mean really! I’ve had the craving for a multi-layered-salami-and-cheese Muffuletta sandwich for some time now, but was determined to bake my own rosemary-lemon loaf. Who knew I would have to reach out to a shady character to score me a few grams of yeast from slightly north of the Mexico border?

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Muffuletta

MUFFULETTA

INGREDIENTS

For Olive Relish:

  • 1 (8-ounce) jar giardiniera (pickled vegetables), drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup mixed pitted marinated olives (5 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup jarred roasted bell peppers, drained
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

For Muffuletta:

  • 1 (1-pound) muffuletta loaf or round ciabatta
  • 6 ounces provolone cheese slices
  • 6 ounces mozzarella cheese slices
  • 8 ounces thinly sliced ham
  • 8 ounces thinly sliced capicola
  • 8 ounces thinly sliced mortadella

DIRECTIONS

Combine giardiniera, olives, bell peppers, parsley, capers, and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Place mixture in a bowl; stir in oil and vinegar. Let stand 1 hour; cover and chill up to 2 days.

Cut bread in half horizontally. Tear away some of the soft bread interior to make some room for the fillings. Spread half of olive relish over bottom half of bread; top with half of cheese, all of the meats, and then the remaining cheese. Spread remaining olive relish on top half of bread, and close the sandwich. Wrap entire sandwich tightly in plastic wrap, and weigh it down slightly. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours. Cut into 8 wedges. Serves 4.

 

FRIDAY

Dumb question: Who doesn’t like fried chicken? But one of the many reasons I adore this 18 year-old recipe, is that even though the chicken cooks in the oven, the buttermilk and garlic brine is an iron-clad insurance policy that guarantees moist and tender breasts. You can pair this with any slaw, but I happen to love this red one.

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Oven fried Chicken

OVEN FRIED CHICKEN

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 boneless chicken breasts
  • 2 pints buttermilk
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup rustic Cajun rub (I prefer Emeril’s classic)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

DIRECTIONS

Add the garlic, buttermilk and chicken to a zip lock bag and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the Cajun spices with the flour in a bowl. Discard the garlic and buttermilk and dip each chicken breast into the flour mixture to thoroughly coat on all sides.
Heat the oil in a medium sized skillet on medium heat. Gently fry each breast for only 2 minutes on one aide. This step is purely for color. Using a spatula and tongs, very, very gently flip them over for another 2 minutes, taking care not to lose any of the fragile crust which is still very soft. Carefully transfer the breasts to a wire rack set over a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 25 – 35 minutes until they reach 165 degrees. Serves 4.

RED CABBAGE SLAW

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons celery seed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 head red cabbage, cut into roughly 1 1/2-inch chunks
  • 2 small carrots, grated
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 cup golden raisins

DIRECTIONS

In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar and sugar until dissolved. Slowly whisk in oil, celery seed, salt and pepper to taste. Toss in cabbage, carrots, red onion and raisins to coat well. Cover and let sit at least 1 hour. Serves 6.

SATURDAY

I dare you to throw away that old sweet and sour shrimp recipe you’ve been hanging onto all these years. It’s not as if it ever tasted remotely like the real thing anyway. This gem comes from a cooking class I attended in Hong Kong by a former Cantonese restaurateur who bragged that she had served over 500,000 of these during her career. (For a healthy alternative, substitute cauliflower rice for regular Jasmin).

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Sweet and Sour Shrimp

SWEET AND SOUR SHRIMP

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Tbslpn cooking oil
  • 1/2 cup onion cut into strips
  • 1/3 cup pickled carrots
  • 2 Tblspn pickled ginger
  • 1/4 cup fresh ginger, julienned
  • 2 Tblspn garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1lb shelled and deveined shrimp
  • 1/2 red chilli pepper cut into strips
  • 1/2 green chilli pepper cut into strips
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp HP sauce
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 tspn salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp potato starch
  • 4 spring onions cut into 1 1/2″ lengths on the bias
  • Sesame oil

DIRECTIONS

Stir the vinegar, sugar and the 3 sauces in a jug until well combined. Set aside.
Heat a wok over medium-high. Add the cooking oil and stir fry the onion, fresh ginger and garlic for 1 minute. Add the shrimp and toss for another 1 – 2 minutes.
Add the chilli peppers, pickled carrots and ginger. Keep tossing the ingredients. Add the sauce mixture and cook for about 3 – 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
In a small ramiken, dissolve the potato starch in the water and add to the wok to thicken. Remove from heat and add the spring onions and a dash of sesame oil. Toss once or twice more and serve immediately with rice. Serves 4.

 

BONUS RECIPE

Don’t you find that most Granola’s are nothing more than stale, brown crumbs and sawdust? After the endless additions I’ve made over the years, this one has become somewhat of a signature. But be warned, even though this insanely nutty Granola is intended for yogurt, fruit or ice-cream toppings, it is also a dangerously snackable snack. Keep out of reach of adults.

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Insanely nutty Granola

INSANELY NUTTY GRANOLA

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup unsalted shelled pistachios
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • ⅓ cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 cup raw pecans
  • 1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds
  • 1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts (chopped in half)
  • 2 tspn salt
  • ⅓ cup dark molasses
  • ⅓ cup coconut oil
  • ¾ cup dried sour cherries

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 300. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, pistachios, coconut, pumpkin seeds, almonds, sunflower seeds, pecans, hazelnuts and salt.

In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the oil and molasses until just combined, then remove from heat. Fold liquids into the oat and nut mixture, making sure to coat all the dry ingredients well.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, and spread the granola over it. Flatten and smoothe to an even layer. Bake until dry and lightly golden for about 30 minutes, stirring around halfway through.

Remove granola from oven, and allow to thoroughly cool. Mix in the dried sour cherries and transfer to a storage container. Makes 6 cups.

 

Stay safe. Stay sane, but most importantly – stay inside!

My favorite quarantine recipes Part IV

4th week into my self-inflicted, no-repeat recipe challenge, and still going strong with another round of newbies and a few tried and true-bies. Trying to balance my proteins with seasonal veggies or salads on the side. It’s all about color, variety and putting every single taste bud to work.

SUNDAY

I seldom volunteer to whip up a Risotto. It’s that I don’t like the dish (there’s nothing more sublime than a steaming hot, creamy, nutty, sticky, cheesy puddle of rice), but for those who have never stood at a stove for a solid hour, stirring relentlessly until your hands blister, here’s a dish that is packed with flavor, crunch and yumminess – and the oven does all the work.

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Salsiccia Risotto

SALSICCIA RISOTTO

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 – 5 links hot Italian sausage
  • 1 Tblspn olive oil
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 2 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 cup Riso or Arborio rice
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup dry white wine (or additional cup of chicken stock)
  • 1 cup canned tomatoes, chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400F.
Heat the oil in a heavy, ovenproof skillet on medium-high. Add the onions and sautée until translucent. Add garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute.
Squeeze sausage meat from their casings into the pan along with the bell peppers and cook stirring occasionally for 5 minutes until vegetables begin to brown.
Add rice and sautée, stirring for 1 minute. Stir in stock, wine (if using) and tomatoes and bring to a boil while loosening any brown bits.
Transfer skillet to the oven and bake uncovered for 25 – 35 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Season with several grinds of black pepper.

MONDAY

There’s nothing more mouthwatering than Thai flavors. I don’t care if it’s the fish-sauce/lime/chili dressings or the peanut/vinegar/chili marinades. This is a great summertime dish that can be barbecued outdoors (or broiled in the oven as we all yearn for Summer to get here already!)

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Chicken Satay with Cucumber Pineapple Salad

GRILLED CHICKEN SATAY

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup peanut oil
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Tamari (or light Soy sauce)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 8 cilantro sprigs
  • 1 whole dried red chili pepper or 2 tsps dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsps chopped fresh ginger
  • 10 wooden kebab skewers
  • 4 chicken breasts cut into strips

DIRECTIONS

Combine the first 9 ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend well to emulsify, adding a few drops of water if the mixture is too thick.
Divide the mixture and use 1/3 to marinate the chicken strips for 4 hours or overnight in a Zip-lock bag.
Store the other 2/3 separately for dipping.
Bathe the skewers in water for at least 2 hours. Thread the skewers with the chicken strips. Grill or broil until browned on both sides.
Serve with dipping sauce.

 

CUCUMBER PINEAPPLE SALAD

INGREDIENTS

For the Salad:

  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups pineapple (fresh or canned chunks)
  • 1 English cucumber (or 1 medium field cucumber)
  • 3 spring onions, thinly sliced on the bias
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 1/2 cup dry whole roasted unsalted peanuts (plus extra for garnish)
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

For the Dressing:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red chili, de-seeded and minced, or 1 tsp. chili sauce
  • 1 tblspn soy sauce
  • 1 tblspn fish sauce
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 2 tsp brown sugar

DIRECTIONS

Whisk the dressing ingredients thoroughly in a jug and set aside.
Peel and halve the cucumber lengthwise. Slice into 1/4” half-moons or chunks and add to a large bowl.
Add the red pepper, pineapple chunks, spring onion, peanuts, most of the basil and cilantro, (putting aside a little of each for the garnish.
Add the salad dressing and toss well to combine.
Serve on a platter and garnish with the extra herbs and nuts.

TUESDAY

This astoundingly flavorful recipe originates from Jamie Oliver. Just a few simple ingredients and little marinating time transform a piece of oven-roasted Salmon into an Asian masterpiece.

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Asian ginger Salmon

ASIAN GINGER SALMON

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 lemongrass stems (pale parts only) chopped.
  • 1/2 cup light soy sauce
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro leaves, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely grated.
  • 1″ piece of ginger finely grated.
  • 2 pieces of skinless salmon filet, pin-boned (around 1/2lb each)
  • 1/3 cup honey, warmed
  • 4 spring onions, finely shredded
  • 2 limes halved

DIRECTIONS

Using a mallet or a pestle and mortar, bash the lemon-grass until fragrant. Stir in the soy sauce, ginger and garlic. Place the fish in a glass dish, then spread all over with the marinade. Cover and marinate in the fridge for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 400 deg and line a large baking tray with parchment paper.
Wipe off the excess marinade with your hands and place the salmon on the tray, then brush with the honey.
Bake for 10 minutes or until the fish is just cooked but still a little pink in the center.
Carefully transfer the fish to a board or serving platter, sprinkle with spring onion and cilantro leaves, then serve warm or at room temperature with lime to squeeze.

 

WEDNESDAY

This incredible crowd-pleaser is both fragrant and downright numbingly spicy, but you can regulate the heat as you dare. As far as the noodles go, you can make them yourself (they are called “Biang Biang” due to the sound they make as you stretch and slap them onto an oiled surface before splitting them into 3-foot continuous belts and then boiling them) or you can opt for far less clean-up time with purchased Asian noodles or Korean rice cakes. It really doesn’t matter because it’s all about the sauce.

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Dan-Dan Noodles

DAN-DAN NOODLES

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 Italian (sweet) sausages
  • 12 Thai red/bird chilies, ground fine
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
  • ½ cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons black vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Purchased noodles or Korean rice cakes, cooked al dente
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 12 fresh cilantro sprigs, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 6 scallions, sliced thin on bias

DIRECTIONS

Place chilies in large heatproof bowl. Place fine-mesh strainer over bowl and set aside. Combine vegetable oil, garlic, ginger, peppercorns, cinnamon, and star anise pod in small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until sizzling.

Reduce heat to medium-low and gently simmer until garlic and ginger are slightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes.

While the chili oil cooks, squeeze the sausage from their casings into a medium skillet and cook on medium heat. Using a wooden spoon, break them up into small bits and stir until well-browned. Set aside.

Pour the cooked oil through the strainer into bowl with chilies; discard solids in strainer. Stir chili oil to combine and let cool for 2 minutes.

Stir in soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, and sugar until combined. Add cooked sausage and stir briefly.

Add the cooked noodles or rice-cakes and serve garnished with cilantro sprigs and scallions.

 

THURSDAY

As I try to be as heart healthy as possible (for the most part) (when I remember, that is), I tend to go the Oatmeal route for breakfast. Which makes me hunt tirelessly for ways to vary up a lifeless puddle of gray porridge any way I can. We ordered a slight variation of this at a hotel resort in Palm Springs about 17 years ago, and have been reprising it again from time to time.

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Oatmeal Brûlée

OATMEAL BRÛLÉE

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • Prepared steelcut or regular oatmeal (for 4 servings)

For the vanilla sauce:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 8 tblspn sugar
  • 1 tblspn vanilla essence

DIRECTIONS

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to a simmer.
Meanwhile in a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the sugar together until a ribbon forms when the whisk is lifted out of the mixture.
Whisk constantly while slowly pouring the hot milk into the yolk-sugar mixture.
Return the mixture to the saucepan. Over low heat, stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens. Be careful not to overcook or the eggs will scramble. The sauce is finished when you can dip a spoon into it, the draw your finger over the back of the spoon and have a track remain that is almost free of sauce.
Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. This can be made ahead and refrigerated in an air tight container for up to 5 days.

Divide the cooked oatmeal among flat serving bowls. Slice the bananas into discs and lay in a single layer on top of the oatmeal. Pour a thin layer of vanilla sauce to cover the oatmeal and bananas.
Using a brûlée torch, lightly burn the vanilla sauce (alternately, bring the bowls directly under a broiler for a few seconds until evenly brown) and serve immediately.

 

FRIDAY

Easy, peasy, pudding-in-pie. And oh, so scrumptious are these delightfully citrus-spiked Shrimp rolls.

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Shrimp Brioche

SHRIMP BRIOCHE

INGREDIENTS

  • 1lb baby shrimp, shelled
  • 2 Brioche buns
  • 2 tblspn Sour Cream
  • 1 Lemon
  • 2 Scallions
  • 3 Radishes
  • 2 tblspn Mayonnaise
  • 2 tlblspn fresh Tarragon, chopped
  • 2 oz Arugula
  • 1 Tblspn Butter
  • 2 tspn Olive Oil

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Bring a medium saucepan of lightly salted water to a low simmer. Zest and halve the lemon. Thinly slice the scallions. Thinly slice the radishes. Finely chop the tarragon leaves.
Add the shrimp to the simmering water. Cook until just opaque, 2-3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together 1 Tablespoon sour cream, half the tarragon, and a squeeze of lemon (to taste). Whisk in a large drizzle of oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Halve the brioche rolls and spread them with butter. Place in the oven to toast 3-4 minutes.
If the shrimp are larger, dice into 1-inch pieces. Toss in a medium bowl with the lemon zest, scallions, remaining tarragon, 2 Tablespoons mayonnaise, remaining sour cream and no more than 1 tsp of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.
Toss the arugula and radishes into the salad dressing. Season with salt and pepper. Fill each brioche roll with shrimp salad, and top with a bit of arugula radish salad. Serve the remaining salad on the side.

 

SATURDAY

Another amazing restaurant-quality, meet-the-parents or impress-the-boss worthy dish that dazzles the taste-buds is a favorite on our “keeper” list. And I guarantee that after you taste it,  it will be on yours too. Just don’t overcook the chops.

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Lamb chops au Poivre

LAMB CHOPS AU POIVRE

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tblspn black pepper corn
  • 1 tblspn coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 rack of lamb chops, trimmed and separated
  • 1 tblspn grapeseed oil
  • 1 tblspn butter
  • 2 tblspn chopped shallots
  • 6 tblspn beef stock
  • 1 1/2 tblspn cognac (optional)
  • 4 tblspn Creme fraiche
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh rosemary sprigs

DIRECTIONS

Coarsely grind the spices in a pestle and mortar. Coat eat chop with spices on both sides. Cover and refrigerate for 1-3 hours.
Heat oil in a cast iron skillet and cook chops for 4 – 5 minutes on 1 side on medium heat until nicely browned. Turn and cook for another 4 – 5 minutes on the other side. Set aside under a foil tent.
Remove excess fat from pan. Add butter and shallots and cook on low heat. Add cognac (if using) and cook until it has evaporated. Add the beef stock and creme fraiche and cook on medium stirring until sauce has thickened and turned slightly brown. Season with salt and a few generous grinds of black pepper to taste.
Spoon sauce over and around chops and garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs.

 

Stay safe. Stay sane, but most importantly – stay at home!

 

 

 

My favorite quarantine recipes Part III

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Maryland crab cakes (see next week’s blog for recipe)

Twenty-something days into a seemingly endless isolation, the only real downside to my self-imposed challenge to never repeat the same dish twice for as long as the lockdown lasts is when my semi-smart bathroom scale flashes ONE AT TIME PLEASE! Regardless, week 3 heralded a couple of old faithfuls, a few recently improveds and one or two new entrants to our “keepers” folder.

SUNDAY

We generally stick to at least one vegetarian dinner each week, and I had already planned on making a batch of my perfected-over-time Puttanesca, but the nice thing about this dish is that it can pair with way more than just pasta. In fact, after spotting a handsome pair of wild caught Chilean sea bass steaks, I decided to take a rain-check on the veg rule.

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Puttanesca on grilled Chilean sea bass

PUTTANESCA

Ingredients

  • 2 to 4 chilies de arbol
  • 4 large garlic cloves thinly sliced on a mandolin
  • 3 tblspn olive oil, divided
  • 2 oil packed anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
  • 1 tblspn fresh oregano leaves
  • 2 cups crushed San Marzano tomatoes, drained
  • 3/4 cup Castelvetrano olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup Kalamata olives pitted and coarsely chopped
  • 2 tblspn drained capers
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

Directions

Heat chili’s, garlic, and 2 tablespoons oil in a large deep skillet over medium low. Cook,stirring occasionally until garlic is tender and light golden, about five minutes.
Add anchovies and oregano, cook, breaking up anchovies using the back of a spoon, until garlic is golden and mixture is fragrant, about 1 minute and 30 seconds.
Add tomatoes bring to a simmer over medium. Simmer, stirring occasionally until flavors all melded and sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard chilies. Stir in olives and capers and cook for another 10 minutes on medium-low heat.
Remove from heat. Add basil and remaining 1 tablespoon oil, toss to coat.

MONDAY

Most pork chop recipes include some concoction of apple or apple-derivatives. While many of them might be good, nice and fine…good, nice and fine are all four-letter words. Instead, I dare you to try this wonderfully sublime (and new to me) Ginger-scallion relish. You’ll quickly forget how to spell appel.

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Ginger-scallion relish on grilled bone-in pork chop

GINGER-SCALLION RELISH

Ingredients

  • 6 scallions, white and green parts separated and sliced thin
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • ½ teaspoon grated lime zest plus 2 teaspoons juice
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce

Directions

Combine scallion whites, ginger, pepper, and lime zest in heatproof bowl.
Heat oil in small saucepan over medium heat until shimmering.
Pour oil over scallion mixture. (Mixture will bubble.) Stir until well combined.
Let cool completely, about 15 minutes.
Stir in scallion greens, lime juice, and soy sauce.
Let mixture sit for 15 minutes to allow flavors to meld.

 

TUESDAY

Another smashing new-to-me recipe for a rather classic dish is a wonderfully garlicky, buttery Linguine in White Clam sauce that makes you forget how long it’s been since you stepped a bare foot onto a soft, sandy beach. BTW, you don’t have to use fresh clams in the shell, but I just happen to think they make this dish look that much sexier.

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Linguine with white clam sauce

LINGUINE WITH WHITE CLAM SAUCE

Ingredients

  • 1 tblsp butter
  • 2 – 3 tblsp olive oil
  • 4 or more large garlic cloves, crushed or minced
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 8oz chopped frozen clams (thawed)
  • (I also like to include a handful of fresh clams in their shells for garnish)
  • 1-2 bottles of clam juice
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese with more for serving
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley with more for serving
  • 1 lb linguine pasta
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta al dente according to the package directions.

(If using fresh clams in their shell, steam them until they all open, about 7 – 10 minutes. Set aside.)

Rinse the thawed clams in a strainer and then add them to a small pot of simmering broth, water or clam juice. Cook for no more than 2 minutes, drain and set aside.
(If using tinned cooked clams, separate the clams from their juice.)

In a large saucepan heat butter and olive oil, add garlic, cook for approx 1 to 2 minutes until aromatic. Add bottled clam juice and white wine to the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste and allow the sauce to simmer. Add red pepper flakes.

Remove from heat and finally add the cooked (or tinned) clams to get them warm and coated in the sauce.

Drain pasta, and add back to the pot on medium-low heat. Pour the sauce mixture over the pasta, add grated cheese, salt, pepper and parsley and stir until nicely combined.
Serve in a bowl with a sprinkle of additional cheese and parsley and some baguette slices to mop up the extra sauce.

WEDNESDAY

I can barely remember when “Wednesday Wings” used to be a thing. But unlike their upstate cousins from Buffalo, these Crispy Peppercorn Chicken Wings don’t require all that deep frying (–twice, if you want them extra crispy). These are baked and then broiled in the oven. The secret is in the spice mixture.

IMG_4459

Crispy Peppercorn Chicken Wings

CRISPY PEPPERCORN CHICKEN WINGS

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons black pepper corns
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons garam masala or Chinese five-spice powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 3 pounds chicken wings, flats and drumettes separated, patted dry with paper towels
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 scallions
  • 1 lime

Directions

Crush peppercorns in a pestle and mortar or with the bottom of a saucepan in a baking sheet.
Add salt, coriander, cumin, garam masala, baking soda, and sugar to bowl with peppercorns and mix with your hands to make sure all spices are intermingled.

Add chicken wings and oil and toss with your hands until wings are evenly coated. Chill, uncovered for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Arrange wings on prepared sheet, spacing then apart and them let sit until they’ve lost the chill of the fridge and are as close to room temperature as possible, at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425°. You’re going to bake and then broil the wings so they get extra crispy, so make sure you have one rack aset closer to the broiler

Bake wings on center rack, removing sheet halfway through and turning wings over with a pair of tongs, until browned and crisp in spots and cooked through, 30–40 minutes.

Remove baking sheet from oven and turn on broiler; let heat at least 5 minutes. Broil wings on top rack until browned and crisp all over and nubs on ends of drumettes are just a little charred for about a minute. Remove from oven and turn wings again.
Broil until second side looks as crisp and lightly charred as the first, also about 1 minute. Let rest about 5 minutes.

While the wings are resting, thinly slice scallions and cut lime into wedges. Arrange wings on a platter and scatter scallions over. Serve with lime wedges alongside.

THURSDAY

Just because I haven’t shared any breakfast recipes so far doesn’t mean that I don’t partake in one of the three most important meals of the day. This Oven-baked Steelcut oats has to be one of the strangest preparations of oatmeal ever. I “borrowed” the recipe from a seaside resort café where the (high, drunk or both) chef might have intended to make oatmeal cookies but threw in steelcut oats by mistake. The happy accident is a nutty, chewy, cookie-esque version of Grape nuts. Serve with plain yogurt, berries and (last week’s) Lemon curd.

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Oven-baked Steelcut Oats

OVEN-BAKED STEELCUT OATS

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Steelcut oats
  • 1 Tblspn brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbslpn melted butter
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Stir first 5 dry ingredients together and mix well.
Beat the wet ingredients and fold into the dry until well moistened.
Pour the mixture into a medium sized, greased baking dish.
Bake for 30 minutes and then using a spatula, chop it up into very small chunks and stir it around. Bake for another 15 minutes, continue to chop it up and let cool. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a week.
To serve warm, saute briefly in a skillet with a little butter. Serve with a very generous dollop of plain yogurt, blueberries and lemon curd (essential).
Or you can serve it cold with whole milk or almond milk.

 

FRIDAY

Here’s a question for you: What’s the difference is between an Austrian Wienerschnitzel and a Japanese Tonkatsu? Both involve pounded, crumbed and fried veal, pork or chicken. But because that they are both equally delicious, does anyone actually care what the difference is? The key is what you pair them with. This recipe works just as well for any of the above proteins, but the secret is in the dark-and-sassy Tonkatsu dip – plus these amazingly crispy quick-pickled cucumbers.

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Chicken Tonkatsu with Japanese pickled Cucumbers

CHICKEN TONKATSU WITH JAPANESE PICKLED CUCUMBERS

Ingredients

For the pickled Cucumbers:

  • ½ pound small Kirby cucumbers, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, more for seasoning
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sliced scallions
  • 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced shiso or basil
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted Asian sesame oil

For the Tonkatsu:

  • 8 thin slices chicken breast medallions
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp tomato paste
  • 2 cups panko crumbs
  • ½ cup flour
  • Black pepper
  • Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying

For the Tonkatsu sauce:

  • 2 Tblspn tomato sauce
  • 3 Tblspn Worchestershire Sauce
  • 1 1/2 Tblspn Oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Directions

Place the cucumbers in a colander set over a bowl. Toss them with 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon sugar.
Mix the Tonkatsu sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside for serving.
Place one piece of chicken at a time into a Zip-lock bag. Pound the meat to 1/8-inch thickness.
Place eggs in a large shallow bowl; whisk in the Worcestershire and tomato paste. Place the panko crumbs and flour in two separate shallow bowls.
Season cutlets with salt and pepper. Dip each cutlet in the flour (tap off excess), the egg mixture (ditto), then dredge in the panko.
Heat a large pan, pour in 1/8 inch of oil and heat for 30 seconds. Working in batches, put cutlets in the pan. Immediately shake and tilt it so the oil rolls over the chicken in waves (this will give it a lighter, crisper crust). Shake the pan occasionally, until cutlets are golden on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Flip them and shake again. Cook 2 to 3 minutes longer. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined platter to drain.
Pat the cucumbers dry with paper towels. Toss with scallions, vinegar, shiso (or basil), soy sauce, sesame oil and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Serve cutlets with pickled cucumbers and sauce on the side.

 

SATURDAY

A wonderfully rustic variation from serving meat ragu with pasta is to pile it on top of a mound of steaming, fresh polenta. This Beef short-rib Ragu cooks for a good 2+ hours in the oven before falling apart and yielding to mouthwatering tomato-ey, garlicky and umami flavors. Don’t forget a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan.

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Beef short-rib Ragu

BEEF SHORT-RIB RAGU

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups beef broth
  • ½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 3 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry, and minced
  • ½ teaspoon five-spice powder
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained with juice reserved, chopped fine
  • 2 pounds boneless beef short ribs, trimmed
  • ¾ teaspoon table salt

Directions

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Microwave 1/2 cup broth and mushrooms in covered bowl until steaming, about 1 minute. Let sit until softened, about 5 minutes. Drain mushrooms in fine-mesh strainer lined with coffee filter, pressing to extract all liquid; reserve liquid and chop mushrooms fine.

Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomato paste, anchovies, and five-spice powder and cook, stirring frequently, until mixture has darkened and fond forms on pot bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Add wine, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until wine is reduced and pot is almost dry, 2 to 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and reserved juice, remaining 1 cup broth, reserved mushroom soaking liquid, and mushrooms and bring to simmer.

Toss beef with ¾ teaspoon salt and season with pepper. Add beef to pot, cover, and transfer to oven. Cook for 1 hour. Uncover and continue to cook until beef is tender, 1 to 1 1/4 hours longer.

Remove pot from oven; using slotted spoon, transfer beef to cutting board and let cool for 5 minutes. Using 2 forks, shred beef into bite-size pieces, discarding any large pieces of fat or connective tissue. Using large spoon, skim off any excess fat that has risen to surface of sauce. Return beef to sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)

 

Stay safe. Stay sane, but most importantly – stay at home!

 

My favorite quarantine recipes Part II

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Easter (birthday) chocolate cake with cream-cheese frosting

Still in isolation. Still hungry. Still cooking up a storm!

While I do love collecting and perfecting new recipes, it does push some of my old “go-to faves” further and further into the background. But every now and then I make it a point to scroll back and re-discover some of them. It’s a bit like re-connecting with an old school friend on Facebook. You reminisce, you catch up, you wonder why you lost touch…and then you move on to the next new shiny thing. Here are a few new and old hits that made last week especially delicious.

 

SUNDAY

If you love meatballs and middle-eastern flavors, this recipe for Kofta is an absolute knock-out. Aromatic, nutty, spicy and the bed of lemon-flavored tahini is pure sublimity.

KOFTA MEATBALLS

IMG_4405

Kofta

INGREDIENTS

For the Kofta:

  • 1 lb minced lamb
  • 1 lb minced veal or beef
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves crushed
  • 3/4 cup toasted pine nuts roughly chopped plus extra whole ones to garnish
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsely plus extra to garnish
  • 1 large medium-hot red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tspn ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tspn ground allspice
  • 3/4 tspn grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 tspn ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tspn salt
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp melted ghee

For the Sauce:

  • 3/4 cup light tahini paste
  • 3 Tblspn lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 medium garlic clove crushed
  • Sweet paprika to garnish

DIRECTIONS

Put all the kofta ingredients in a large bowl and mix together with your hands. Shape into long torpedo-like fingers. Arrange on a tray and chill until ready to cook for up to 1 day.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees (400 degrees with convection). In a medium bowl whisk together tahini paste, lemon juice, water, garlic and 1/4 tsp salt. The sauce should be a bit runnier than honey. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of extra water if needed.

Heat sunflower oil in a large frying pan and sear the kofta over high heat. Do this in batches so they aren’t cramped together. Sear until golden brown on all sides – about 6 minutes for each batch.
At this point they should be medium-rare. Lift out of the pan and arrange on a cookie sheet. Finish cooking in the oven on the tray for 5 minutes. Drizzle with melted ghee once you remove them from the oven.
Spoon 3/4 of the tahini sauce on a serving plate and arrange the kofta on top. Drizzle the remaining tahini over the kofta in long, thin streaks.
Garnish with pine nuts, parsely and paprika. Serve immediately.
Serve with pita and cucumber and tomato salad.

 

MONDAY

For me, eating shrimp is like eating jewelry. And the one thing that shrimp tends to be paired up with most often is garlic. The Portuguese do it a lot. So do the Spanish, and the Italians, and the Greeks and even the Cubans. But here is a Mexican shrimp dish that uses 26 cloves of garlic that get salted, roasted and caramelized with smoked Chipotle peppers.

MEXICO CITY SHRIMP WITH CHIPOTLE MOJO

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Mexico City Shrimp with Chipotle Mojo

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 heads of garlic (about 26 cloves) peeled and crushed
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, seeded and minced, plus 2 tsp adobo sauce
  • 2 pounds medium shrimp—shelled and deveined
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Chopped cilantro
  • Lime wedges
  • Grated Mexican cheese
  • Avocado slices
  • Soft shell tortillas

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 325°. In a small ceramic baking dish, combine the crushed garlic and olive oil with a pinch of salt. Put the dish on a cookie sheet and bake for about 30 minutes, until the garlic is tender and just starting to brown. Stir in the lime juice and bake for about 15 minutes more, until the garlic is golden and very soft. Let the mixture cool slightly.

Using a fork, mash the garlic against the side of the dish and stir to incorporate the oil; the sauce may look like it has separated. Add the chipotle and adobo, season with salt and keep warm.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the garlicky oil from the mojo until shimmering. Add half of the shrimp and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until golden and just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a platter. Repeat with 2 more tablespoons of the garlicky oil and the remaining shrimp. Top the shrimp with more garlic and serve with the excess garlic, lime wedges, chopped cilantro, grated Mexican cheese, sliced avocados and warmed tortillas all on the side.

 

TUESDAY

Just because you can’t go outside shouldn’t mean that you have to divorce yourself from anything barbecued. This pulled chicken slider is a yummy, smoky, vinegary, tomatoey (slightly messy) work of genius that brings the outside inside.

BARBECUE CHICKEN SLIDERS

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Barbecued Chicken Sliders

INGREDIENTS

For the Sauce

  • 1 ½ cups ketchup
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper

For the Chicken

  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon liquid smoke (separated)
  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, halved crosswise
  • Hot sauce

DIRECTIONS

FOR THE SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl. Set aside.

FOR THE CHICKEN: Bring broth, molasses, sugar, 2 teaspoons liquid smoke, gelatin, and 1 teaspoon salt to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add chicken and return to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is easily shredded with fork, about 30 minutes.

Transfer chicken to medium bowl and set aside. Strain cooking liquid through fine-mesh strainer set over bowl (do not wash pot). Let liquid settle for 5 minutes; skim fat from surface. Set aside fat and defatted liquid.

Shred into bite-size pieces with 2 forks. Transfer chicken, 1 cup sauce, ½ cup reserved defatted liquid, 3 tablespoons reserved fat, and remaining 1 teaspoon liquid smoke to now-empty pot. Cook mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently, until liquid has been absorbed and exterior of meat appears dry, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste. Serve, passing remaining sauce.

Serve the pulled chicken on white bread or hamburger buns with pickles and coleslaw.

 

WEDNESDAY

If it isn’t obvious yet, I tend to lean towards more flavor-forward dishes. I can’t even spell suttel!? For me, the spicier the better – even on vegetarian night. This crispy potato dish is a relative newbie that rose to “keeper” status after just one bite.

CRISPY POTATOES WITH SPICY AVOCADO SALSA

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Crispy potatoes with spicy Avocado salsa

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1/3 cup cold water, plus more as needed
  • 1 medium serrano chile, stemmed, seeded (if desired), and roughly chopped
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves and stems, divided
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 small avocado, pitted
  • 1/2 cup pickled hot jalapeño slices (such as Mezzetta) plus 1 1/2 tablespoons pickling liquid
  • 2 ounces Cotija cheese, grated on smallest holes of a box grater (about 1/2 cup)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toss together potatoes, 2 tablespoons oil, and 1 teaspoon salt on a rimmed baking sheet, and spread in a single layer. Bake in preheated oven until fork-tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven.

Increase oven temperature to 500°F. Using the bottom of a 1-cup dry measuring cup, smash potatoes to about 1/2-inch thickness. (Make sure smashed potatoes are still in a single layer.) Drizzle with 3 tablespoons oil; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Bake at 500°F until bottoms of potatoes are golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Flip potatoes, drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bake until edges of potatoes are crispy and golden, 8 to 12 minutes.

While potatoes bake, process onion, 1/3 cup water, serrano, 3 tablespoons cilantro, lime juice, and remaining 11/4 teaspoons salt in a blender until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add avocado, and process until smooth, about 10 seconds. If needed, pulse in additional cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to reach a thick but pourable consistency.

Transfer warm potatoes to a large bowl; add pickled jalapeño slices and pickling liquid, Cotija, and 1/2 cup cilantro; toss to coat. Spoon avocado salsa into 4 small bowls; top evenly with potato mixture, and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon cilantro. Serve immediately.

 

FRIDAY

Nothing can take your mind off of a virus like a good, strong, creamy and umami curry and rice. Even though there are a few extra steps to this restaurant-quality Chicken Tikka Masala, they are so worth it. Come on. You can do it.

CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA

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Chicken Tikka Masala

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced (separated)
  • 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 cup yogurt (plain, whole-milk)
  • 2 pounds chicken breast, cut into large chunks
  • 2 tablespoons ghee
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 5 tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 green cardamom pods
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 can coconut milk (separated)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Sambals: sliced bananas, peanuts, toasted coconut, cashews, chutney, atchar

DIRECTIONS

Combine the turmeric, garam masala, coriander, cumin, salt and red chile powder to make a spice blend; divide the blend in half. Combine half of the spice blend with 4 minced cloves of garlic, ginger, yogurt and chicken; mix together by hand in a mixing bowl. Transfer to a resealable plastic bag and marinate for at least 6 hours (overnight preferred).

Warm the ghee in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until aromatic, another minute. Add the tomato paste, tomatoes, cardamom pods, white pepper and the other half of the spice blend. Stir to combine, then reduce heat to medium-low and gently simmer until dark and thick, about 40 minutes.

While the sauce is darkening, prepare the chicken. Skewer the chicken pieces and grill over direct high heat until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side, flipping once. Alternatively, broil in the oven, about 6 to 8 minutes per side. Allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes, then remove from the skewers and set aside.

Once the sauce is dark, transfer to a blender and add 1 cup of the coconut milk. Blend until smooth. Return to the skillet, straining through a mesh strainer to catch the cardamom shells and tomato skins. Stir in the rest if the coconut milk; return to a simmer and cook until slightly darkened, about 10 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed.

Stir in the cilantro and chicken pieces and allow to simmer for another minute before serving.
Serve with Basmati rice and as many sambals as you like on the side.

 

ANY DAY

If the first sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, then why, oh why do we eat store-bought Lemon curd? If something so pure has a shelf-life longer than a bad mood, then don’t be surprised if all you can taste are the preservatives, stabilizers, thickeners, artificial sweeteners, flavors and colors. I dollop my home-made Lemon curd on just about everything. Toast, yogurt, oatmeal, banana bread, heck I’d even put it on the lid of an Amazon delivery box, if I there was nothing else to eat.

HOME-MADE LEMON CURD

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Lemon curd

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 Lemons, zested and juiced
  • 1/4 lb butter, cut into small pieces
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar

DIRECTIONS

Melt the butter slowly in a double boiler. Lightly beat the eggs and add to the butter with the lemon juice and zest. Stir slowly but immediately with a whisk to blend the ingredients.
Add the sugar while continuing to stir until well mixed.
Allow to cook slowly and gently for 30 – 45 minutes or until it coats the back of the spoon. (Do not overheat or the eggs will scramble.) Strain the curd into a jug, and pour into warm jars and cover. Refrigerate and use within a month.

 

Stay safe. Stay sane. Stay inspired. But above all, stay at home.

My favorite quarantine recipes Part I

IMG_4386

Afternoon tea with Pistachio and Hazelnut paste toast triangles

As the inevitability of an extended isolation drags on and on, I find that no matter how I try to vary my habits around the house (spending time in different rooms, sitting on different chairs, looking out of different windows etc.) eventually it all starts to look and feel like more and more and more of the same. But the kitchen is the one place I can truly change things up with each passing meal. I made a promise at the start of the virus outbreak that no matter how long social distancing lasts, I will never cook the same meal twice. And so here are a few of my favorites so far.

SUNDAY

CHINESE-STYLE BARBECUE SPARE RIBS

IMG_4360

Chinese-style barbecued Spareribs

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 (6-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup honey
  • ¾ cup hoisin sauce
  • ¾ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1 teaspoon red food coloring (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 5 – 6 pounds pork spareribs (2 racks, 2 1/2- to 3-pounds each), preferably St. Louis-style, cut into individual ribs
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

DIRECTIONS

  1. Pulse ginger and garlic in food processor until finely chopped, 10 to 12 pulses, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Transfer ginger-garlic mixture to Dutch oven. Add honey; hoisin; soy sauce; ½ cup water; rice wine; five-spice powder; food coloring, if using; and pepper and whisk until combined. Add ribs and stir to coat (ribs will not be fully submerged). Bring to simmer over high heat, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 1¼ hours, stirring occasionally.
  2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Using tongs, transfer ribs to large bowl. Strain braising liquid through fine-mesh strainer set over large container, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible; discard solids. Let cooking liquid settle for 10 minutes. Using wide, shallow spoon, skim fat from surface and discard.
  3. Return braising liquid to pot and add sesame oil. Bring to boil over high heat and cook until syrupy and reduced to 2½ cups, 16 to 20 minutes.
  4. Set wire rack in aluminum foil–lined rimmed baking sheet and pour ½ cup water into sheet. (This prevents the ribs from drying out) Transfer half of ribs to pot with braising liquid and toss to coat. Arrange ribs, bone sides up, on prepared rack, letting excess glaze drip off. Roast until edges of ribs start to caramelize, 5 to 7 minutes. Flip ribs and continue to roast until second side starts to caramelize, 5 to 7 minutes longer. Transfer ribs to serving platter; repeat process with remaining ribs. Serve.

 

MONDAY

CHICKEN MARSALA

IMG_4362

Chicken Marsala

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pound, 680g), cut in half crosswise
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 to 10 ounces (230-280g) button mushrooms, stems trimmed and sliced
  • 3 tablespoons (total) olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons (total) unsalted butter
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • about 1/3 cup (50g) flour
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) chicken stock or water 80ml
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch
  • 2/3 cup (160ml) Marsala wine preferably dry
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

DIRECTIONS

  1. Put the chicken pieces between two sheets of plastic wrap, or in a sturdy zip-top freezer bag, and pound them with a rolling pin until they’re 1/2-inch, (1,5cm) thick. Put the pieces in a bowl and season well with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  2. In a wide skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter over high heat until the butter starts to sizzle. Add the sliced mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook – stirring occasionally – until the mushrooms are seared and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic to the mushrooms during the last-minute of cooking.
  3. Scrape the mushrooms onto a plate and wipe the pan clean with a paper towel to remove any bits of garlic. (If not, those bits will burn when frying the chicken.)
  4. To sauté the chicken, spread the flour onto a plate and dredge half of the chicken pieces in the flour, shaking off most of the excess. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in the pan. Add chicken pieces so they are in a single layer; don’t crowd them in the pan. (If you have a very large pan, you can sauté them all in one batch. But I use a 10-inch/23cm skillet, and do them in two batches.) Sauté the breasts, turning them over midway during cooking, until they are browned on each side. (They don’t need to be completely cooked through at this point.) When browned, remove the chicken pieces to a separate plate and heat another 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in the pan, and sauté the rest of the chicken.
  1. While the chicken is cooking. Stir the corn starch into the stock or water until it’s completely dissolved, then mix it with the Marsala.
  2. When the second batch of chicken is done and removed from the pan, pour about one-third of the Marsala mixture into the pan, scraping the pan with a wooden or silicone spatula to scrape up the browned bits, then add the rest of the Marsala mixture, as well as the mushrooms and chicken pieces.
  3. Cook the chicken and mushrooms with the sauce over medium heat, turning the chicken pieces over occasionally, to make sure they’re well-basted in the sauce, until the chicken is cooked and the sauce has thickened, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in another 1 tablespoons of butter, the balsamic vinegar, and chopped parsley. Taste the sauce and season with more salt, if necessary.

Serving: Chicken Marsala is best served with warm, with wide noodles or another pasta. Mashed potatoes would work well, too.

TUESDAY

GARLIC-GINGER-TOMATO CAULIFLOWER (OR CHICKEN) STIR FRY

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Ginger-Garlic-Tomato Cauliflower stir-fry

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 head roasted cauliflower floretsor 1 ½ pounds boneless chicken, preferably dark meat, in 1/2- to 1-inch chunks
  • ½ cup flour to dredge the chicken
  • 4 tablespoons neutral oil, like corn or canola
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons slivered garlic
  • 2 tablespoons slivered ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 1 cup ketchup

DIRECTIONS

Toss chicken with flour so that it is lightly dusted. Put 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick, and turn heat to high. When oil smokes, add chicken in one layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

When chicken browns on one side, toss it and cook until just about done: smaller pieces will take 5 minutes total, larger pieces about 10. Remove to a plate. Turn off heat and let pan cool for a moment.

Add remaining oil to pan and turn heat to medium high. Add garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add ketchup and stir; cook until ketchup bubbles, then darkens slightly. Add chicken (or roasted cauliflower) to pan and stir to coat with sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve.

 

WEDNESDAY

PENNE OR FARFALLE WITH PISTACHIO CREAM AND SHRIMP

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Penne with Pistachio cream and shrimp

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 ounces Farfalla or Penne pasta
  • 1/2 medium white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup ground pistachios (unsalted, ground in a food processor)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus a little extra)
  • 1lb shelled shrimp
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • crushed red pepper, to taste
  • salt, to taste
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS

1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil.

2. In the meantime, chop onion and grind the pistachios in a food processor until the pieces are very small but not completely uniform. Add pasta to water and boil according to package directions.

3. While pasta is cooking, begin sauce: heat olive oil in a medium saute pan, add onion and cook until translucent but not browned.

4. Add pistachios and enough oil to moisten them (if needed). It should be a paste-like consistency. Cook, stirring, over medium heat for about one minute (do not let the pistachios take on any color). Add the shrimp and cook on both sides until just done.

5. Add cream, stir until heated through, then remove from heat. Add a pinch of crushed red pepper, black pepper and plenty of salt to taste.

6. When pasta is al dente, drain well then add to the saute pan with the sauce. Toss well to coat and serve immediately with lots of fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

 

FRIDAY

MISO-MARINATED SALMON

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Miso-marinated Salmon

INGREDIENTS

  • ¼ cup white miso paste
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons sake
  • 1 ½ tablespoons mirin
  • 2 (6- to 8-ounce) skin-on salmon fillets
  • Lemon wedges

DIRECTIONS

1. Whisk miso, sugar, sake, and mirin together in medium bowl until sugar and miso are dissolved (mixture will be thick). Dip each fillet into miso mixture to evenly coat all flesh sides. Place fish skin side down in baking dish and pour any remaining miso mixture over fillets. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.

2. Adjust oven rack 8 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Place wire rack in rimmed baking sheet and cover with aluminum foil. Using your fingers, scrape miso mixture from fillets (do not rinse) and place fish skin side down on foil, leaving 1 inch between fillets.

3. Broil salmon until deeply browned and centers of fillets register 125 degrees, 8 to 12 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through cooking and shielding edges of fillets with foil if necessary. Transfer to platter and serve with lemon wedges.s

Stay safe. Stay sane, but most importantly – stay at home!

 

Palermo – at street level

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Finding Sicily on a map is as easy as bumping into a tourist with a selfie-stick. It’s the brioche-shaped soccer ball being kicked in the tuchus by the boot of Italy. And to add insult to injury, due to its highly desirable location between Africa and Europe, the largest island in the Mediterranean had to endure an abundance of wars and rulers. But there was an upside: whether it was the Greeks, the Arabs, the Normans or the Romans, as each civilization fled, they left behind an indelible culinary influence which has set Sicily apart from the rest of the world. And even by Sicilian standards, the mecca of eclectic food is concentrated on the streets of Palermo.

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Tuna sausage bruschetta

Salva, our guide for the evening’s munch march, welcomed us to the “carb civilization”, and then whisked us away from the iPhone-wielding throngs to a web of back-alleys. Our first stop was to sample three popular bruschettas. The fist was topped with a yummy, creamy, dreamy almond and basil pesto. The second – a tart and tangy local olive tapenade. But the third was tough to guess. What looked like dried black forest ham was actually a slither of tuna sausage! (Probably the first time you’ve ever seen those two words together, but long before cattle farming became commonplace in Sicily, the only source of protein was from the sea.) A complex mix of meaty umami with a very faint hint of salty anchovy, brightened by the segment of lemon and shredded mint – Sicily’s undisputed preference over parsley.

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Potato crochettas and Panelles

Our next treat was more than just a street-food snack. Panelle (chickpea fritters) reappear as a side dish in countless Sicilian restaurants. The gloriously golden discs of delight (often shaped by the bottom of a square olive oil can) are usually served with a portion of potato crochettas, or a half-n-half mixture of potato and chickpea crochet-ters. The perfect companion to a chilled bottle of Birra Moretti.

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Pani câ muesa

Having been invented on the island, I thought it was merely a matter of minutes before we’d be munching on an array of aranicini. But because the cocker-spaniel-colored rice-balls stuffed with meats and cheeses are as pervasive as espresso bars, we didn’t really need much help finding them. Less abundant (and clearly less tourist-friendly) are the pani câ muesa. But before I translate this, Salva’s family stood watching him on his sixth birthday as he bit into his first pani câ muesa. “It was like a right-of-passage. My Palermitan bar mitzvah!” Then, in a dramatic gesture, he raised his hands and sank to his knees on the cobble-stone streets in praise for whichever of us was brave enough to try the veal spleen and lung sandwich. First boiled and then fried in lard, the thin offal shreds are stuffed into a sesame bun. Even though it looked a little like a lamb gyro sandwich, the spongy, chewy, oily texture devoid of much taste (beyond the lard) hardly warranted a second bite. I believe the word is…”interesting”.

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Pani câ muesa (spleen and lung sandwich)

The mozzarella in carozza, however, required no coaxing or convincing at all. Imagine biting into a crisp-battered, deep-fried, soft-bread sandwich stuffed with bechamel-smothered mozzarella and ham? An unparalleled thrill in every smoky, salty, cheesy, molten morsel. (Not sure I can ever look a regular croque monsieur in the slice again.)

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Sfincione

Focaccia (a derivative of the word “fire”) is one of the oldest fire-grilled breads in Italy. Even older than pizza, (in fact, pizza is an evolution of focaccia), the sfincione is a fluffier, spongier version of focaccia topped with a simple sauce of tomato, onion and anchovies. According to Salva, not only does the dough have to sit for 12 hours to oxidize, but like all Italian sauces, the topping has to be prepared the day before as well – which is astonishing given that this absolutely delicious Sicilian Christmas snack can be devoured in under 12 seconds.

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Gelato burger

If you had anticipated some sort of cannoli to conclude the tour, you’d be in pretty good company, but it is considered a faux pas for Sicilians to eat cannoli’s in the summer. Not only do the sheep have a harder time finding fresh grazing – which yields a very intense ricotta, but the gelato is just too darn good to ignore. Instead, we gorged on what American tourists refer to as a “gelato burger” – a sweet brioche sliced open with two scoops of the creamiest, smoothest, most dangerously addictive gelato ever. Salva’s only rule: we could pick any two flavors – so long as one of them was pistachio!

What (not) to eat in Nebraska

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Scottsbluff, NE

When I told people I was headed to western Nebraska, first came a chorus of raised eyebrows followed by the deduction that it must be to sample those unbeatably succulent Omaha Steaks. While the nations largest family-owned distributor of the best cuts of farm-raised Nebraska beef all across the US, the medium-rare irony is that none of them get left behind for local enjoyment. No matter where I sat, the grill-striped puck in front of me was either a gnarly maze of uncuttable, unchewable gristle, or a flavorless mush of sawdust.

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Rib-eye, Sizzlin’ Sirloin

Instead, the locals get to pick from an abundance of highly processed foods and practically anything fried. One quick glance at a restaurant menu in western Nebraska looks pretty much like the kids’ menu everywhere else. It’s burgers, dogs, fingers and fries from the bluffs to the prairies and back. Although rare to stumble upon a salad, but if you do, it’s bound to be doused in Dorothy Lynch, the all-time favorite apricot-pink French dressing, with tomato soup and sugar as its top two ingredients.

If southern cooking is considered “comfort food”, would it be fair to assume that all one could find out here is “dis-comfort food”? Not entirely.

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Laura Lee’s Double L Country Cafe, Harrisburg, NE

Laura Lee’s Double L Country Café in Harrisburg is a charming road-side diner in an out-of-the-way sort of way, serving fresh, home-made pies to die for, and avocado, jalapeno, whiskey cheddar, blue cheese burgers to die from. But at every whip-stitch, Nebraskans clamor for their beloved Cabbage burger, which is a fistful of minced-meat and shredded cabbage baked deep in the heart of a soft, white bun.

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Cheese Runza

Fast-food chain Runza still churns these out with drive-thru regularity, but were it not for the taste of a dribble of processed cheese, you might as well chow down on a bushel of laundry.

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Chicken-fried steak, Laura Lee’s Double L Country Cafe

Another Laura Lee favorite (although not exclusive to these parts) is Chicken fried Steak. For those unfamiliar, this is not a steak that was fried by a chicken, but rather a pounded beef schnitzel, which (when I ordered it) was snugly wedged into a sesame bun. Flawlessly crisp, tart and delicious, but also size-appropriate for the hands.

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Union Bar, Gering, NE

Gering’s Union Bar on the other hand, prefers to push the envelope on human dining abilities. They offer a Diet Burger, which is equally impossible to handle, bite or survive. A tower of 3 patties and a full pound of bacon are somehow stacked between 2 grilled cheese sandwich buns!

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Grebel, Mixing Bowl, Gering, NE

On the sweeter side, it is a safe assumption that no matter where you are, donuts will be donuts. They generally show up glistening under multi-colored frostings or with the occasional jam filling, but are all largely loyal to the formula of fried dough with a hole in the middle. (The hole being a 19th century addition to remedy the often uncooked center). In this part of the world however, local pasty-shops like Gering Bakery seem to have opened a can of worms  with a litany of oddly delectable interpretations and variations.

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Hog on a Log, Gering Bakery

There’s the Long John (stretched-out sausage-shaped with crème fillings), the Hog on a Log (a Long John covered with maple glaze and a strip of bacon), the Bear Claw (baseball-mitt-shaped and stuffed with cinnamon), the Apple Fritter (bits of grated apple baked in with the dough), the Grebel (if a beignet and a donut were to have a baby and bury it in crystallized sugar) and the list goes on.

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Beef Tacos, Taco de Oro, Scottsbluff, NE

It’s relatively easy to find the things you’d expect to be deep-fried as well as the one’s you don’t: (Snickers, Twinkies, Ho-Ho’s, Ding-dongs), but Nebraskans also keep their oil hot for ground Beef Tacos, which go down astoundingly well with pepper sauce and root beer at Taco de Oro in Scottsbluff.

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Cherry-dipped Cone, Dairy King

Another popular sugar-rush comes from a Cherry-dipped Cone – a hard-shelled, soft-served ice-cream from Dairy King. It emerges from the molten goo, gleaming like a new Ferrari, but getting beyond the hairspray and nail-polish aftertaste probably takes a lifetime.

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Minatare, NE

Back in the day, farmers would physically “work” the land and eat fresh, seasonal, locally grown and hand-raised produce. But thanks to automation, fast-food chains, feed lots, corn-syrup, big food consortiums and unpronounceable preservatives, eating has become the most affordable Olympic games of recreational activities in the mid-west. Not surprisingly the outcome has led to endless fleets of motorized wheelchairs straining under their cargo of the most extraordinary calorie collections imaginable.

And so, after noticing the rather curious state tourism slogan that actually reads: “Nebraska. Honestly, it isn’t for everyone!” I couldn’t help considering the appendage: “…and neither is the food.”

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Cherry, Rhubarb and Strawberry Pies, Laura Lee’s Double L Country Cafe

https://www.lauraleescountrystore.com/

https://www.runza.com/

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Eating my way through Seattle

The interesting thing about food in Seattle is that a random amble through the historic Pike Street public market might give you the impression that you can eat just about anything in Seattle so long as it’s salmon, whereas the “emerald city” is actually delightfully diverse and remarkably authentic. Other than the bewildering abundance of coffee bars – each promising a unique blend, a deep roast and a meticulously slow brew, there really isn’t a dish that is typically Seattlish at all. Instead, the rain-soaked metropolis on Puget Sound seems to evoke originality and individuality from chefs who might never risk as much in a more competitive market. Laotian, Vietnamese, East African, Malaysian, Bhutanese, Italian, French and schools of sushi bars make it tough to pigeonhole the local cuisine.

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Grilled House-smoked trout, Marmite

 

Chef Bruce Naftaly opened the Franco-Mediterranean inspired Marmite (pronounced Mar-meet) after 27 years of slinging pots and pans with his wife Sara at the beloved Le Gourmond. Set inside an old auto chop-shop, the rugged red brick-walled room with 30-foot ceilings and the oddly ornate Spirit within the Bottle bar at the edge of a cluster of wooden 4-tops, the space feels more like an invitation into the Naftaly home, rather than their business. Customers are treated like guests, and the experience is immensely personal. Everything is made from scratch, right in front of you. No shortcuts. No smoke. No mirrors. No fussy plating. No mysterious hail-Mary’s brought in from some “other” kitchen.

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Dungeness Crab Cocktail, Marmite

The small to large, 15-dish menu includes an astoundingly zingy Dungeness Crab Cocktail over a face-cream-smooth avocado mousse spiked with horseradish and the cheddar-iest bread stick ever. It was a tough choice between the sumptuous Shiitake mushrooms stuffed with braised tongue and bacon crumbs over a water cress salad, or the clams and nori stuffed Squash Blossom tempura – both smothered in melted cheese.

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Beouf Paupiette, Marmite

I almost bit off one of my fingers that got in the way of the wondrously flavor-forward Boeuf Paupiette – a super-tender butterflied filet stuffed with briny olives, fresh herbs and roasted garlic, seared for a minute and then finished in the oven, before being set against a tangle of sautéed zucchini ribbons.

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Rice-pudding Beignets, Marmite

Despite repeated protests, arms were finally twisted to sample a bowlful of the yummiest, crunchiest, steaming-hot Rice-pudding beignets with home-made preserves.

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The London Plane has to be one of Seattle’s coolest brunch spots. Overlooking the historic Pioneer Square with its ivy-covered brick and stone walls, Matt Dillon has hopped onto the eat-drink-read-browse-shop train. For some chefs, the battle with this concept is how to prevent the trinkets, flowers and books from overshadowing the main event, but Dillon manages this masterfully with shelves of bespoke groceries, a stellar patisserie with breads, nut meringues, cookies and the flakiest Cultured Butter Croissant in the country.

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The London Plane

The spectacularly diverse sit-down menu features eggs, crepes and sandwiches laced with harrissa, labneh, za’atar and other middle-eastern flavors.

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Baked Eggs, London Plane

There are many rules about what constitutes a real Japanese Kaiseki dinner. It’s an elegant but rather rigorous structure that starts with absolute punctuality, as the meal cannot begin until the entire “sitting” is sitting! The 7 or 8 (or sometimes more) courses are presented without substitution or preference. There is usually a starter, an appetizer, a soup and a sushi followed by braised, grilled and rice dishes and then ultimately a dessert.

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Wa’z

In Seattle’s Belltown, Wa’z chef Hiro Tawara and his conscientious crew of 3 perform double-duty not just as fastidious toques, but also as entertainers. Imagine having 9 pairs of eyes glaring at your every stir, shake, swish, splash, ting, tang, tong and sprinkle? I could never work under those conditions, but this trio delivered persnickety perfection in magnificent dish after magnificent dish, where a bowl would be rotated just a couple of degrees before being presented – just so that the most agreeable part of the floral decoration would be encountered first.

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King Crab and Chrysanthemum Leaf Salad, Wa’z

Some of the standout dishes included the Bay scallop Tempura which literally burst open upon contact to release a marvelous ocean spray; a couple of heavenly slithers of A5 (the highest grade) Wagyu Miyahaki beef sushi blow-torched and soaked in ponzu sauce with garlic chips that literally melted away; a robust and creamy Grilled Black Cod with butter-sauteed mushrooms, mirin wine and geoduck, and an astoundingly refreshing Pear Mousse with buckwheat tea ice-cream and fresh grapes and figs.

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Hassun: Assorted Appetizers, Wa’z

After repeated bowing and smiling, all 9 diners left the very sleek, feng-shui-appropriate and rather colorless room, but then without realizing we could still see them from the street, the crew threw off their aprons and high-fived one another in relief and celebration in an unusual glimmer of human imperfection in an otherwise perfect world.

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Just across the water in Fremont, chef Mutsuko Soma is churning out the freshest Soba noodles at Kamonegi. So fresh in fact, that I had to stop myself from reaching out and grabbing a few strands as they were rolled, shaped and cut individually from a big ball of buckwheat dough.

But first we did some damage to the outrageously magnificent tempura. Light, crispy, delicate and without a trace of oil. The diagonally sliced Japanese eggplants with mushrooms and shredded purple radish bathed in the most slurpily salty and wonderful dashi broth.

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Eggplant Tempura, Kamonegi

We also sampled the sublime Shrimp and the salty ocean explosion from the Uni Shiso Bomb – which is a single tempura leaf topped with a few coils of raw sea urchin.

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Impossible tan tan, Kamonegi

Soba dishes can be enjoyed cold with a dipping sauce (seiro), or in a hot broth (nanbun). We opted for the hot version of their signature Kamonegi with duck breast, duck meatballs and leaks, and the Impossible tan tan as a cold salad with sesame, chili oil and crushed peanuts. Both unspeakably wonderful.

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Tempura Oreo’s, Kamonegi

And just to prove that tempura makes the world a better place, in a rare nod to his new American roots, chef Soma throws a couple of Oreo cookies into the batter for dessert.

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Unlearn everything you ever knew about restaurants and chefs before you head into Nue – a little wooden box crammed with communal tables and quirky roadside bric-a-brac on Capital Hill. Chris Cvetkovich, the founder/restaurateur found his way into the food business as a 3D animator who travelled the globe, and then decided to open a bistro that recreated the best street food he ate along the way. And I’m so glad he did.

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Pineapple Cornbread, Nue

The gob-smackingly delicious menu spans the planet from the familiar to the peculiar to the outright bizarre. Things start off simply enough with a slice of south-sea-island-inspired Pineapple Cornbread, topped with a heavenly dome of toasted coconut that spills all over your lap as you wolf it down like cake. The Syrian Kale & Carrot Salad has a tangy citrus pomegranate dressing with bits of dates for sweetness, fetta for saltiness and toasted almonds for crunch.

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South African Bunny Chow, Nue

Being from South Africa, I had to order a plate of the nostalgically authentic and utterly amazing Bunny Chow, (which like several other South African dishes like Monkey-gland steak, has zero connection to the animal implied in the name) with a chicken curry masala poured inside a quarter-loaf of Pullman bread.

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Chendu Spicy Jumbo Chicken Wings, Nue

The vertical stack of dry Chengdu Spicy Jumbo Chicken Wings wasn’t nearly as blistering as I’d expected. With the fish sauce, lime, chili, basil and mint flavoring, these tasted much more Thai than Szechuan, but who the heck cares when they’re that moreish?

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Balinese Barbecued Spare Ribs, Nue

And finally, the delectable flavor of the Balinese Barbecued Spare Ribs is like a song I just cannot get out of my head. Marinated in an Indonesian mix of garlic, lemongrass and chilies, this rack of phenominal fall-of-the-bone smoked pork is cooked sous-vide and then lathered and slathered in a yummy Kecap Manis glaze while grilling. (If you’re wondering what classified as “bizarre”, we took a rain check on the Pigtails, Water Beetles and Fertilized Duck Eggs.)

So, while some people might be sleepless in Seattle – they definitely won’t be hungry.

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Nue

 

https://www.marmiteseattle.com/

http://www.thelondonplaneseattle.com/

https://www.wazseattle.com/

https://www.kamonegiseattle.com/

http://www.nueseattle.com/

 

Good eating in Dallas

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Bullion

In a world dominated by mega franchises and celebrity-chef chains, it’s refreshing to see a handful of new and original dining options emerging deep in the heart of Texas. Dallas might be proud of her storied reputation for Barbecue, but I stumbled upon a couple of culinary standouts that are taking the city of big hair to even bigger heights.

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Bullion

Curiously suspended in mid-air like a golden-tiled hornet’s nest clinging for dear life to the 3rd floor of a downtown office tower, is an oblique chocolate box that is home to Michelin star chef Bruno Devaillon’s newest bistro – Bullion. It’s hard not to wonder what a French bistro might be doing just a block-and-a-half from the Kennedy assassination site, and after overhearing a fellow diner climbing down from her white Yukon Denali proudly exclaiming: “I eat French food all the time. French fries. French toast. French bread. All of it!” I couldn’t help wondering just how much chef Bruno might have to “Tex-ify” some of his Franco masterpieces. But my fears were unfounded. After ascending the spiral stairway, you leave Texas behind you for an hour or so, and find yourself in a cruise-ship styled cocktail lounge that leads via the pastry rack to an ornate, yet unpretentious dining space with dark woods and golden trims, somewhere along the border of cosy and chic.

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Bullion

The menu reads like any you’d find along la rive gauche with a few contemporary items wedged between stalwart classics like a hearty saffron and tomato Bouillabaise with a mix of seafood shells and scales served with shards of grilled country bread, and an immaculately charred Foie Gras Torchon complete with berry marmalade and squishy brioche. But nothing gets a table arm-wrestle match going like a bowlful of the most amazing Gougéres au Gruyere. These caramel colored puffs are lighter and fluffier than a cheerleaders’ pom-pom. And as they go about their miraculous disappearing act, it feels like a kiss to the lips from a cheese-dusted feather.

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Gourgéres de Gruyére, Bullion

I was intrigued by the notion of a leek salad and so had to try the Poireaux, which features a regimented row of steamed leeks trying their best to impersonate white asparagus, dotted with soft goat-cheese and roasted hazelnuts in a super light truffle vinaigrette.

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Poireaux, Bullion

Even though this is grill country, the sumptuous Tournedos filet mignon with potato gratin and a trickle of mild oxtail au jus is an extraordinarily smooth cut that submits its salty umami without resistance.

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Tournedos, Bullion

The Cabillaud & Brandade awash with a tart tomato and caper confit is just light enough not to kill the subtle cod flavor, and the Agneau is an incredibly toffee-tender lamb loin, very gently accented with a sparkle of anchovy vinaigrette, accompanied by a bright and crunchy summer succotash. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, there was enormous restraint from over-flavoring the food – true to the kitchen’s mission to prepare dishes that don’t overshadow the key ingredients. Even the table-side flambéed guava and coconut ice-cream centered Baked Alaska is meek, mild, subtle and delicate.

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Baked Alaska, Bullion

Foxyco, chef Jon Steven’s latest effort in the Design District, is anything but meek and mild. His 6-week old second act following nearby neighborhood darling Stock & Barrel is a bucking bronco of runaway flavor. He coyly describes it as “modern American”, but that seems far too reticent for his brave, adventurous and (dare I say) aggressive approach to breaking rules and ignoring conventions. Even as you walk into the monochrome open space flanked by a massive mural that could be the result of a toddler’s paint party or a wannabe tribute to Jackson Pollack, you smell wafts of hickory coals emanating from his open kitchen. He’s obviously having loads of fun flexing his dexterous abilities with a mélange of cooking styles ranging from sous-vide to wood-fire grilling, to both at the same time!

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Foxyco

The menu is a tornado of way too many “must try” items like a red curry and Thai basil Warm Crab Dip, or a Farro Risotto, or perhaps a crab and hazelnut Squid ink Spaghetti (which will hopefully still be there on a return visit). I finally landed the plane on two starters, a main and a vegetable.

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Foxyco

First to emerge was an astoundingly delicious row of 4 cubes of crispy rice-cakes supporting a mound of miso-marinated Big Eye Tuna Tartare topped with basil, cilantro and a grate of lemon.

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Big Eye Tuna Tartare, Foxyco

Just as I was recoiling from the electric jolt of Asian flavors, a gorgeous snowball of scrumptious Burrata sailed in, surrounded by a bed of harissa and orange blossom infused olive oil. But the deal-clincher was the sprinkling of mint, salt flakes and honey-comb on top. That’s it. From now on, everything I eat will have to be topped with mint, salt and honey-comb.

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Burrata, Foxyco

As I waited for my Wagyu Short rib, contemplating how slowly it must have cooked in a sous-vide bag for 72 hours before being espresso-rubbed and then flame grilled to fall-apart perfection, the three strands of saffron continued to stain my Canary gin and kaffir lime cocktail a soft and rosy shade of gold.

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Wagyu Short rib, Foxyco

Needless to say, the combination of shaved horse-radish with pickled onions together with an anchovy salsa verde elevated the incredibly beefy flavor of the Wagyu – just the way meat used to taste in the olden days. Switching back and forth between the short rib and a heap of corn-flour dusted florets of Fried Cauliflower anchored in a spectacular cilantro-heavy green goddess dressing with parmesan and shaved dates felt like juggling between diamonds and rubies.

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Fried Cauliflower, Foxyco

So next time you’re passing through the big “D”, consider a bold detour from in-room dining. Because there’s more than oil in them there hills.

www.bullionrestaurant.com

http://foxycodallas.com/home/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eating my way through Charleston

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Breakfast biscuits, Poogan’s Porch

Since its inception, Charleston, South Carolina has been called many things. Originally  “Charles Town” or “Chuck town” in honor of King Charles II, and more recently the “Holy City” thanks to the proliferation of almost every denomination of church steeple, but I prefer to think of it as “Charmtown” – the city of warmth, charm, hospitality and phenomenal southern cooking.  Because a large part of the myrtle tree lined cobbled streets lie several feet on the wrong side of sea level, many local menus refer to their recipes as “low country” cuisine – which incorporates soul food concoctions of local grains, greens, poultry and seafood – not to mention a nirvana for any barbecue pit-master.

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Shrimp & Grits, Husk

There are several “must-try’s” on every newcomer’s list to the city: Shrimp and Grits (a gritty porridge dotted with cooked shrimp bathing in some form of roux; Pimento Cheese (a pimply pale paté of soft cheese, pickled pimentos and mayonnaise often dolloped over fried green tomatoes); Barbecue (pork, beef, catfish and poultry – usually open-pit-smoked with vinegar-forward rubs and sauces); She-crab Soup (a creamy chowder from the legs and claws of female crabs) and Fried Chicken (no explanation required!).

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F.I.G.

Food establishments are as casual as they are abundant, and every Charlestonian (from Uber drivers to baggage handlers) will recommend their favorite, but securing a table (one of the few still using white cloths) at Mike Lata’s F.I.G. (Food is Good, est. 2003) is still tougher than a hamster sandwich. The kitchen at this all-time favorite local bistro in Ansonborough is run by executive chef and James Beard Award winner Jason Stanhope, who should be thanked for averting local riots by loyally reprising several menu standards.

 

 

Top of the list has to be his velvety smooth, rich and incomparably wondrous Chicken Liver Paté, served with shards of toasted brioche, a bracing Dijon and a pile of sour pickles. Next would be a cluster of impossibly fluffy Ricotta Gnocchi with the most delectable lamb Bolognaise that could easily summon 100 angels (from wherever it is that angels need to be summoned from.) We had also hoped to sample the much-blogged-about Tomato Tarte Tatin, only to be firmly but politely corrected by our dapper apron-clad waiter, that everyone knew it would be three more weeks before tomatoes were at their most flavorful. (Did I mention that this town runs on locally sourced, available ingredients?) So, we opted for one of the highly requested seafood dishes – the Fish Stew Provençal, which beautifully merges French and Southern cooking styles into one heavenly pot of mussels, local white shrimp, squid, fish and Carolina Gold rice.

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Shrimp & Grits, Poogan’s Porch

Poogan’s Porch is an enchanting, family-run establishment set inside a double-story house with a generous porch, where you can people-watch the iPhone bungling tourists go by, while enjoying the Best Shrimp and Grits in 2016. Their secret? They add cheddar to the grits to give it a tangy creaminess, and their roux is a Tasso ham gravy with sausages and peppers.

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The Grocery

You will, without doubt, stumble upon former vegetarian chef Kevin Johnson’s The Grocery on several Charleston Top 10 lists (and via many a personal recommendation too) mostly because of his reliance on the freshest local farm produce. The daily menu is dictated by whatever appeared on the back of the truck that morning, but rest assured, the sublimely spicy Roasted Carrots in Harissa is a staple. The curiously wide space (formerly a furniture showroom) comprises a series of incongruous areas with and without views of the elaborate and high-octane kitchen. We wolfed down the house-made Charcuterie Platter, and savored an amazing mustard and au jus Glazed Duck leg confit with German potato salad and a sharp turnip kraut.

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Glazed Duck leg Confit, The Grocery

You could easily spend a year sampling every take on Fried Chicken in town without repetition, but faced with a time budget, we opted for the lonely pink cinder block box surrounded by a cluster of weeds on the side of a road just north of town called Martha Lou’s Kitchen.

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Martha Lou’s Kitchen

Thrillst® just embraced it onto their America’s 31 Best Fried Chicken spots list, and you won’t get any arguments from me. True to the adage that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – this windowless room hasn’t seen much in the way of upgrades over its thirty-year history.

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Martha Lou’s Kitchen

Label-free, sticky, hot-sauce bottles pin down the hand-scribbled menus, which would otherwise be strewn across the 7 floral, vinyl-covered tables. The only sounds above the whirring of dueling electric fans are the enthusiastic shrieks of anticipation from the crowd of persistent regulars waiting patiently in line. The silverware is plastic, the dishware is Styrofoam and the linen is dispensed from a roll. But the chicken is…to…die…for.

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Fried Chicken, Collard Greens, Mac ‘n Cheese and Cornbread, Martha Lou’s Kitchen

Cooked, served and cleared by two feisty sisters who offer you a choice 3 sides (some of the best collard greens, mac ‘n cheese and corn bread in town) to go along with their moist, tender, golden and candy-apple-crisp portions of dark or white meat. The salty-peppery batter is just thick enough not to pull away from the chicken, and when all is said and done, neither plate nor fingers yield a trace of oil. Be warned though – the Sweet Tea is sweeter than a honey-bee’s butt.

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Rodney Scott’s Barbecue

There’s another crowd standing in line just a few blocks away at Rodney Scott’s BBQ. Mr. Scott brought his James Beard Award winning “whole hog” technique to town after a very successful run in Hemingway, SC. Alongside the airy red, white and blue dining room is a not-so-airy pit room where hogs, chickens and large sections of beef are slowly and meticulously smoked.

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Spare Ribs, Rodney Scott’s Barbecue

The service is counter-style, and the food arrives in little red baskets lined with butcher paper to soak up the oozy, yummy, vinegary, sweet-and-spicy sauce. Popular favorites are the Pulled Pork Sandwich with a generous helping of lean strands of smoked pork between a soft, white bun, and the amazing dry rub, melt-in-your-mouth Spare Ribs that yield their dark, rich and woody flavors from years of crafting and perfecting.

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Husk

Sean Brock is probably the most notorious chef to draw attention to Charleston’s food scene. After a career under the influence of toques from multiple styles, the “Mind of a chef” starring, James Beard and Daytime Emmy Award winning southern boy opened the now legendary Husk in 2010. Set in a charming 1890’s house on Queen street with a fancy Bourbon barroom next door, Brock dedicated the menu to his strict devotion to southern produce: “If it ain’t southern,” he used to quip, “it ain’t coming in the door.”

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Pimento Cheese Bruscetta, Husk

He elevates Shrimp and Grits with a medley of cheeses for extra creaminess, and douses it in a mind-blowing tomato and shellfish broth. By now everyone has heard of his utterly amazing Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps.

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Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps, Husk

In reality they are a fresh leaf of butter lettuce clutching a few crispy, crackly twigs of what our waiter described as: “if bacon and pork belly had a baby,” with soft pickled cucumbers, onion slices and a spot of Togarashi sauce for some heat. But nothing can beat the pure, simple joy of his classic Cheeseburger.

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Cheeseburger, Husk

A pair of chuck, bacon and brisket patties held together by a slice of melted American cheese, a swipe of secret sauce, a sprinkle of shaved onion and 3 or 4 pickles crammed into a golden, squishy sesame bun. Uncomplicated. Unfussy. Unbelievable.

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McCrady’s

But don’t think for a hot and sticky southern second that Sean Brock can’t do fussy. Just take a seat at the U-shaped counter at his revamped McCrady’s for a serious, focused and flavor-intense degustation experience. The gold pressed-steel ceilings and exposed brick walls help warm the 18-seat dining throne at the edge of an all-induction, sous-vide kitchen with no open flames. A diverse group of line chefs labor theatrically and animatedly with tweezers, needles and miniature tongs to surgically assemble, prep and plate thirteen of the most beautiful micro-portions of amazingly fussy food. The two and a quarter hour savory thrill ride is rather like a Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, with daring surprises, immaculate choreography and a story arc that builds slowly with several culinary high points, before a series of sweet endings gently lower you back down to earth. The grey seersucker-vested waiters provide all the jokes, anecdotes, punctuations and explanations, but no-one will reveal what’s coming up next.

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Royal red shrimp and Savoy Cabbage, McCrady’s

Part of the suspense includes Brock’s highly curated musical “soundtrack” to accompany each course, with selections from The Wild Club and Massive Attack, (which at times makes hearing the dish descriptions a tad challenging for these old ears) but it’s all part of the uncompromising “dinner party” experience that Chef Sean was after.

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Uni and Cucumber ice-cream, McCrady’s

Each dish is revealed in a unique way, in its own unique vessel, accompanied by a uniquely carved wooden rest that houses each unique piece of articulated cutlery. The menu updates regularly based on seasonality, fresh produce availability (noticing a theme yet?) and tons of experimentation. Some of the recent highlights included an ice-cream made from Uni; a delicious Ossabow Pork Pie (that was truly the size of a licorice all-sort); a sous-vide Royal red shrimp and Savoy cabbage mousseline splashed with Kimchi butter and topped with Osetra caviar; a marvelous risotto made from Nostrale Rice (aka Charleston ice-cream) with puffed cereal and a foamy egg custard; pan-seared Mahi Mahi covered by a thatch of thinly sliced white asparagus and New Zealand finger limes, served under a splash of chamomile and spring onion tea; and a Banana Caramel with coconut gelato and black lime zest.

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McCrady’s

With only so many meals a day, the larger question is where didn’t I get to eat? That list would have to include notables like The Glass Onion, Chez Nous, Xiao Bao Biscuit, Bertha’s Kitchen, Charleston Grill, 167 Raw, Zero, Stella’s, Lewis Barbecue and The Ordinary. Looks like I’ll be back in “Charmtown” real soon. Y’all take care now!

https://eatatfig.com/

https://www.poogansporch.com/

http://marthalouskitchen.com/

http://www.rodneyscottsbbq.com/

http://huskrestaurant.com/sean-brock-2/

http://mccradysrestaurant.com/