Monday, December 19, 2011

Love Me. Hate Me. But Please Don't Tolerate Me.

Okay. I know this is a food blog. But we need to talk.

First, let me top off your glass of Merlot. Say "when".

Good. Now, here's the deal.

I lost some followers after my most recent blog posts.

But I find it hard to believe it was because they were offended by my holiday tips. Heck, if it was my left-of-decorum sense of humor that offended them, I'm sure they would've turned heel many blog posts ago.

No. I think it was because in these last couple of posts I alluded to the sports phenomenon called "Tebowing", and cited an oh-so-whimsical quote about Grace from the often left-of-decorum novelist Frederich Buechner, and then there was that Christmas carol penned and sung by Bruce Cockburn with a little help from Lou Reed and Roseanne Cash.

In other words, I dragged God into my blog.

Some folks appreciated it. Some folks were silent. But it appears that some folks were pissed. Why? As one e-mail expressed it, by reflecting on a highly successful quarterback, and quoting a well-respected novelist's musings on Grace, and posting a yuletide tune, I wasn't being, well, very "tolerant".

You've seen the bumper stickers. The ones that proclaim "tolerance" with the stylized letters representing different religious beliefs. I was behind a car sporting one such bumper sticker in the parking lot of Target just this past weekend. But the driver must've used up all of her tolerance at the previous store, cuz when a white Kia Rio with two missing hubcaps scooted into the parking place that she was obviously coveting, she rolled down her window and yelled something that vaguely sounded like "You muffin shucker!"

So much for, um, tolerance.

You see, I don't like the words "tolerance" or even its cousin, "tolerate".

Why do I dislike these seemingly pacifying words? Because tolerance and tolerate seem to infer that you are "putting up with something that you'd rather not have to".

In other words, you don't like something, so, to be a good sport or citizen, you have to just take a deep breath, suck it up, roll your eyes, and tolerate it.

Not me.

I have zero tolerance for "toleration". Or what I would call The Tolerance Principle.

Let me explain. I may like something or dislike something. If I do, I will let you know. And I may agree or disagree with you. But, again, I will let you know.

However, like or dislike, agree or disagree, if what you espouse is held in conviction, I can respect it. But you can bet your $3 bumper sticker I won't simply "tolerate" it.

The Tolerance Principle particularly raises it's ugly head during December when many folks shy away from expressing their deeply held beliefs lest they offend someone. So, whether it's a big wig corporation, the bubbly cashier at the local market, or the guy ensconced on the bar stool next to yours, many feel they have to resort to non-offending euphemisms like "Season's Greetings". (Of course, whenever I hear the words "Seasons Greetings" I immediately think of the salutation one would say to a particularly attractive jar of cumin or nutmeg).

But back to many people's penchant to not offend. Here's my take.

Ditch the euphemisms and wish me whatever is important to you. Christmas? Hannukah? Kwanzaa? Winter Solstice? Hey, I'll respect it. At least you hold onto a conviction.

For nearly a decade I lived in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. Throughout the year, I was exposed to examples of that deeply-held tradition as my neighbors celebrated their festivals and faith.

But I tell you what,  I sure as heck didn't role my eyes and "tolerate" those overt religious displays that were so different from my own. Nope. Instead, I respected them. In fact, my neighbor and good friend Neil's love for his sacred tradition inspired me to fully embrace my own.

So...if someone's faith inspires them to do well by their neighbor, I'm not gonna tolerate it. I'm gonna celebrate it.

Okay, there you have it.

And now I'm gonna say it. Again.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Love it. Hate it. But for Christ's sake* please don't tolerate it.

Now...who's up for a little celebrating?


* (I don't mean to say this in a flippant way - He loved us too much to "tolerate" much of anything...)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Something's Cooking. And...If I Listen Closely....Something's Rippling...

How was that turkey you cooked for Thanksgiving? I know your guests loved it. The leftovers? Ditto.

Man...I love this time of year. Cuz I get to wander into the kitchen with those I love and create a feast that will fill the joyful plates of those who sit around our table.

And when all the holiday plates are washed, dried and put away in the cupboards, I'll wish our guests a good night, put the kids to bed, pour a glass of single malt, then I'll switch on the stereo and listen to those who propel me to a new universe.

Especially in these dark, cold, and crisp as bacon winter months.

Tonight it's Bruce Cockburn. Again.

I have this song on CD. Perhaps you don't.  So I'll send it along on YouTube here. Bruce with Lou Reed and Roseanne Cash.

Pour a glass. Settle back. Close your eyes. And listen.

"Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe..."

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ten More Twisted Holiday Tips You Probably Won't Find Anywhere Else

It seems that every holiday season, magazines, newspapers, radio & TV commentators, and even bloggers make it a point to post tips that will save us time and money in the kitchen and beyond. However, I'm finding that many of the holiday tips offered over the years are becoming annoyingly redundant.

I mean, how many times have you read, "Be sure to remove your newly-purchased frozen turkey from the plastic bag before roasting."?

Or "To reduce the chance of a Christmas Eve fire, hang your stockings on the outside of the fireplace."?

And how about "Don't lick frozen flagpoles. Geez, didn't you learn anything from A Christmas Story?"?

I already sense some of you nodding your heads. I rest my case.

That's why last year I determined that I would break free from the mold and offer holiday tips that you probably won't find anywhere else (see: and

And let me tell you, it was a smashing success. Comments ranged from the glowing, "Just two of your tips saved me so much time and money that I was able to take the whole family to Cancun over the holidays" to the semi-glowing "Mr. Caterson, you are one sick puppy. Stay away from my family."

So, in light of this new holiday tradition, I'm more than pleased to offer yet another 10 holiday tips you won't find anywhere else. These are the lessons I've learned. Consider them my gift to you. Enjoy!

1. Do you hate those wire-mesh contraptions that enwrap the plastic "corks" of grocery store champagne bottles? Me, too. But even though many of us would consider it a time saver, opening these bottles with a bolt cutter will deflate any cheer that may be hovering in the yuletide air.

2. Buying someone a gift subscription to a magazine may be a good idea - but only if they have an interest in the theme of the magazine. (I've often ordered gift subscriptions to Saveur or Bon Appetit for my cooking friends.) Just cuz you happen to enjoy bowhunting in the nude or, perhaps, amassing a world class collection of empty toilet paper tubes, does not mean that everyone else on your Christmas list shares the same passion. So it's best not to order subscriptions to Crossbows and Chicks or The Charmin Cardboard Connoisseur for anyone but yourself.

3. My family has always been frugal and "green" so we thought it would be cool to wrap our Christmas gifts with the Sunday comics. Think about it. They're colorful, cheap and they always have the potential to elicit a few laughs before being ripped to shreds. However, using old copies of Crossbows and Chicks in the name of frugality will not win you any green points from your conservation-minded family members. Especially if the kids are young. Say, under 23. Or if any family members have ever exhibited any signs of good taste.

4. Putting out a cold glass of milk along with a plate of Ex-Lax laced chocolate chip cookies seemed like a good idea when your creepy Uncle Larry dressed up to play Santa Claus. (You remember Uncle Larry, he's the guy who, in order to be frugal, wrapped all your gifts in Crossbows and Chicks magazine covers). But it wasn't a good idea to do the same thing when your oh-so-cool Uncle Leland dressed up as Santa that one year. (You remember Uncle Leland. He's the guy who bought you that new XBox 360 wrapped up in the Sunday funnies.)

5. Some leftovers are great to take home when you leave a big holiday feast. I'm thinking turkey, ham, or pumpkin pie. But some leftovers are best just, well, left. I'm thinking of the homemade Fried Baloney Soup and the Pineapple Upside Down Beans that Aunt Frieda and Cousin Elly foisted upon the family last holiday season.

6. And speaking of leftovers, if you really enjoy them (and who doesn't?) perhaps you should forgo roasting another turkey for Christmas and opt, instead, for an emu. The drumsticks alone will feed a family of five for a whole month.

7. And while we're on the topic of holiday food traditions, candied yams are not really made with candy, so you can put away all those bags of candy corn you have left over from Halloween. I know, I know, sticking them all over the sweet potatoes makes them look like a herd of little orange porcupines, but it does not make them candied yams.

8. I love real Christmas trees. I know that they can be a pain with all the sap and falling needles, but you really can't beat the aroma that a real fir brings to the home. However, buying an artificial tree and festooning it with a dozen pine air fresheners from the local car wash won't hold a candle to the real thing. Not even remotely so.

9. Do you want everyone in the family to love you? Find a great recipe for chocolate chip cookies and whip up a huge batch. Just be sure to leave out the Ex-Lax. Even if that creepy Uncle Larry shows up.

10. And while we are talking about Christmas trees, gifts, and glorious chocolate chip cookies, let me leave you with this: things may not be as you wished they were, but the're party...would not be complete without you. This is what folks who are more sagacious than I call Grace. Heck, the great novelist Frederick Buechner said it better than I ever could. So pour a glass of wine and reflect on his words. And in doing so, may this year's Christmas be, oh, so merry!

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you. There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Excuse Me While I Chill Some Wine and Take a Few Moments to Tebow.

If you've followed NFL football at all this season, you've probably come across a phenomenon that sports pundits and fans alike have labeled "Tebowing."

For those of you who've had better things to do than watch a multi-billion dollar industry amass another multi-billion dollars this fall, let me explain:

Tim Tebow is a fairly new Denver Bronco quarterback who once led the Florida Gators to glory and, at times, choses to thank God for his success on the field by falling to one knee in prayer. Folks call this "Tebowing."

Then someone, somewhere, thought it would make a good joke. Players on opposing teams mocked him by falling to one knee. TV talk show guests guffawed. Folks on YouTube re-enacted it. It went viral.

But hey, God and sports are not a new phenomenon.

I've been a football fan since I was old enough to change channels on the TV. I can remember more than a few players expressing their thanks to the "Man Upstairs" on the field.  I saw and heard many in the 60's "testify." I remember several players who flashed "Jesus One Way" signs in the 70's.

And Tebow wasn't the first player to drop to a knee to give honor to God after a good play. Heck, when I was in college in south Florida there were a number of the invincible and undefeated Miami Dolphins who attended bible studies at my alma mater and were not ashamed about doing so (can you say Captain Crunch Mike Kolen?)

Or how 'bout all those place kickers through the years whose names end in vowels crossing themselves before a field goal attempt?

And what's up with that wild-haired Polamalu fellah from the Steelers whose spirituality would give some desert monks a run for their money?

Okay. Let me get to my point.

I would never think about asking any of them to stop doing these things even if I may not completely understand it all. Because I know that their faith drives them and it makes them who they are. To take that away or seek to diminish it would be robbing them of their inspiration. (Order up the flick Chariots of Fire on Netflix if I've lost you. No, wait. Order it up anyway. It's that good.)

So I say let Tebow or any other faith-filled sportsperson take a knee, whether Christian, Muslim or Jew. It's who they are. At least they realize that their talent, somehow, is a gift that's been entrusted to them.

And now let us move on to culinary excellence.

I've met more than a few great chefs over the past 30 years and not many would take a knee for anything, not even to wipe up a spill. They were so full of themselves that one has to wonder how there'd be enough room in the kitchen for a decent skillet, let alone a sous chef.

It's funny, but for some reason, those of us who are great in the kitchen feel we're great because we...well, dammit...are just great, thank you very much.

And as the wonderful aromas fill the kitchen space around us "talented" chefs, egos rise like a fine souffle.

I'm not having any of it.

For me, culinary expertise is a gift just like any talent. The ability to taste, to tweak, to cook is all on loan. Those of us so blessed are responsible to hone it. But I haven't met many chefs who feel that way. To them it's self-induced and self-constructed and, therefore, allows for a good bit of ego-inflation.

But not all.

I've met some who understand that their talent with a skillet, olive oil, onions and garlic is a gift. And they're humbled by that fact.

I long to count myself among their number.

So if my next meal pleases the palates of my guests? Perhaps you just might catch a glimpse of me "Tebowing" in the darkness of my pantry. Because being thankful for whatever talent I might have is something I will strive for.

A few days ago we celebrated Thanksgiving. Who did you give thanks to? I know I'm trying to gain some perspective on this whole talent thing. And I think I'm starting to get it.

But...If the mere mention of "God-thanks" ticks you off, then take a knee and Tebow for me.  :-)

For the rest of us? I have some wine chilled. Now...which one of us will plate and who will say grace?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tofurkey: Who Invented This and Why Do They Hate Us So?

According to a leading online encyclopedia, "tofurkey" is a portmanteau word of tofu and turkey. (For those of you who don't know, "portmanteau" is the French word for the blending of two silly sounding words into one sillier sounding word.)

In essence tofurkey is faux turkey (for those of you who don't know, "faux" is the French word for ridiculous) – a loaf made of tofu, filled with a stuffing made from grains flavored with a broth, and seasoned with herbs and spices.

As someone who is always trying to eat healthier, I picked one up for the holidays and eagerly placed it into the oven just as my guests began to arrive. We poured some cocktails and engaged in conversation as an unusual aroma wafted from through our home. At the appointed time, we all moved to the kitchen and I removed the tofurkey from the oven. It glistened as I lifted it from the roasting pan and onto my carving board. One guest looked over my shoulder and in a voice that could only be described as awe whispered,  "Il a l'air d'un fichu désastre" (which I'm sure is French for "It looks delectably delicious").

We filled up our plates and took our seats around the table. After a toast and a blessing we dug in.

Then we looked at each other.

Then we spat it out and reached for our glasses of wine.

It wasn't delectably delicious.

At least not as a stand-in for Tom Turkey.

Perhaps if they called it "Glory Morning's Big Hunk O' Tofu" or even "Serenity Farm's Self-Basting Thanksgiving Wad" it might've tasted better because we wouldn't have been expecting the taste of roast turkey on our palates.

Because here's the deal for me: I love vegetarian food and I make it often, but I love it on its own terms. The minute someone tries to create something that it clearly is not (i.e. imitation turkey, hot dogs, bacon, etc) I'm immediately put off because I know that a tofu dog will resemble a real Coney Island hot dog as much as that new Fiat they've been peddling on TV will resemble a real car.

So yes, if you invite me over for Thanksgiving this year I'll be sure to bring along some garlic smashed potatoes and my famous mashed rutabagas with apple sauce. But please promise me that you'll leave the tofurkey in the grocer's cooler and pick up a frozen a real Tom Turkey. You might not hear someone whispering "Il a l'air d'un fichu désastre" over your shoulder, but I guarantee your guests will love you for it.

Now here are three questions that I often get asked whenever we start preparing for the holidays.

Bon Appetit!

How long can I keep a frozen turkey in my freezer?

During the holidays we may often have more than one frozen turkey lying around. Perhaps you wanted to take advantage of a good sale or you received a company turkey as a gift after you already purchased one. At the risk of having turkey every night from Thanksgiving to President's Day, you must store the extras. If you have room, and your freezer is cold (as in 0 degrees) you can safely store a frozen turkey almost indefinitely. However, just because it is safe to store a frozen turkey until the cows come home, it doesn't mean that it's a good idea to do so. Quality is another matter. If the texture and taste of turkey are important to you then it would be best to cook the turkey within a year. If taste and texture are not important to you then I would forgo the cost of buying a turkey and would instead freeze a chunk of foam rubber, it's cheaper and can be readily found at your local upholstery shop. Just be sure to make lots of really good gravy.

Can I make gravy without pan drippings?

I love to make gravy from pan drippings. Cookbooks are loaded with recipes for great pan gravies. But what if you have more leftover turkey (or beef or chicken) than you have gravy? Can you make gravy without the drippings? Absolutely. And although it is not as good as if you made it from the drippings, this recipe is down right good and will certainly do in a pinch.

Gravy Without Pan Drippings

Prep Time: 5 minutes                        Cook Time: 15 - 20 minutes


4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4-cup all-purpose flour
2 cups soup base or canned broth of choice (beef, chicken, turkey)
1/4  teaspoon salt
1/4-teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet (for color and flavor)


1. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk together, making sure to get all visible lumps. This is will produce a roux which is the foundation for gravy and many other sauces. Add salt and pepper and continue to cook, stirring constantly for 2 - 3 minutes so that the roux looses its raw, flour smell. This will produce a light roux. The longer you cook the roux, the darker it will become. Therefore, your roux for chicken gravy will be light, turkey will be darker, and beef will be even darker still.

2. Turn heat to low and slowly add broth, stirring constantly.

3. Add Kitchen Bouquet and turn heat back up to medium. Continue stirring until gravy boils and thickens.

Makes 2 cups.

I have a small kitchen, should I make my turkey or roast a day ahead of time?

If you're like many of us, your kitchen may not be conducive to creating a large feast, especially if you only have one oven. So it might sound like a good idea to cook your turkey or roast a day ahead of time and then reheat it after you've created the side dishes. While this may make sense in concept, it's really not the best option.

I would reverse things and cook your side dishes a day ahead, wrap them tight and refrigerate them. The next day I would cook the turkey or roast and after it's done and allowed to stand for 15 - 30 minutes, I would put my sides in the oven to reheat. The texture of the turkey or roast will be far better than if you prepared it a day ahead of time. Besides, if you made enough, you'll have plenty of opportunity to delve into the leftovers, so why start your signature meal off with leftovers?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Variety Is the Spice of Life

This oft-repeated quote is usually attributed to William Cowper and can be found in his poem: The Task (Book 2, line 285).

However, some scholars point to the Marquis de Sade who is reputed to have said: "Only two ropes? My goodness, woman, let's make it four. After all, the more spice, the hotter the sauce."

While other scholars attribute it to that inimitable Bronx sage, Yogi Berra, who was heard to have said while ordering a pizza at Sal's on West 49th: "Gimme the works. Extra cheese. Extra sauce. And the more spice. The better."

But we'll let the scholars duke that one out. Me? I'm all about variety and spice.

For instance.

I made a Black Bean and Shrimp Bisque the other night. Just like I have a gazillion times before. But this time I didn't have any sherry to 'finish' it. But I made it anyway. No one complained. In fact, there were a couple of raves.

But I knew something was missing. You see, I've tasted it with the sherry.

Of course, you've probably prepared dishes where you were short an ingredient or two. I know I have. And it's usually the little ingredients. A shot of sherry here. A 1/2 teaspoon of thyme there. One bay leaf instead of two.

No one usually notices. Except those who have savored the dish in it's completeness.

It's funny how a shot of wine or a pinch or sprinkle of spices and herbs can transform a dish from something that is delicious to one that is extraordinary.

And such is life, eh?

I think about all those brilliant, obnoxious, loving, honest, or grating people who have been a part of my life, even for just a moment, whose influences have transformed what would've been a delicious life into an extraordinary one. Those whose comments, ideas or physical shoves have nudged me into places I may not have ventured into on my own.

Just like that chef who first wondered, "I wonder how a shot of dry sherry would improve this?" And then did it. And then savored it. And then served it to his or her guests.

So the next time I'm preparing a Black Bean and Shrimp Bisque, I'll think about the nuances that other chefs have added based on instinct. And then I'll think about what additions I would make to improve it. Then I'll consider all those who have crossed my path whose words and/or actions have made me what I am today.

And at that point I'm reminded that, perhaps I should let them know.

Perhaps you should, too.

How about this: next week we agree to send a note, drop a line, or send an e-mail to those who have added some spice to our lives. Those whose counsel encouraged us to make monumental decisions. Or even those whose word helped us surmount a great obstacle. Or perhaps those whose shoulder invited us to weep when nothing else was available.

I would imagine they would love to hear from the likes of us.

I know I enjoy hearing from those whose lives I've touched (although I rarely knew at the time) in a positive way.

Heck. I know we each have dozens of folk who've nudged and prodded us. Folks who've spiced up and improved our lives.

Now let's spice up theirs by letting them know what a bang up job they did.

Hey, it's just a thought.

Now hand me that cumin and cayenne. I'm ready for a little spice myself tonight.

Bon appetit!

Warren Caterson


I’ve always loved black bean soup. It’s such a simple and hearty dish. Here
we take it up a notch with the addition of shrimp. This is good enough for
company. So double it or triple it.

PREP: 10 minutes     COOK: 1 hour

1 can black beans, drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 large carrot, coarsely grated
1 stalk celery, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 medium tomato, peeled, cored and diced
2 cups shrimp or chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 pound cooked shrimp
2 tablespoons sherry
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1. Heat oil in a medium Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium
heat and sauté the onions, carrots and celery until very tender, about
15 minutes. Add the garlic, basil, oregano and thyme and sauté an
additional 3 – 5 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes and broth, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Stir in beans and simmer an additional 15 minutes. Stir in shrimp and sherry and reheat to steaming (do not boil) about 3 more minutes.

Friday, September 30, 2011

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

Someone once told me that if you can't say something nice about something, then don't say anything at all.

I think that's good advice.

And it may just explain why an eerie hush fills the room whenever I happen to enter...

But enough about me.

In this week's post I will attempt to comment on a few topics. And if I can't say something nice, then you will have to endure the silence.

Bestselling Florida writers who are real people. I've had the privilege to meet and chat with a few great writers over the past couple of years. Sure, these guys hail from Florida, but they are no strangers to best-seller lists. Here's what impressed me: They were willing to chat with folks that loved their work. Why does that impress me? Because I've met other artists who couldn't give a rat's ass about the "little folk" who wanted to express their appreciation for the artist's work and how it added to their lives. Of course they overlook the fact that it's these "little folk" who buy the art that gives these snobs an opportunity to appear before the cameras and commence to snubbing the same "little folk" that put them there. So, here's a hat's off to Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey and Randy Wayne White. Great writers who are also real people. I'm sure there are more, I just haven't met them yet.

Artists who despise those who pay their rent.

Locally grown tomatoes and other produce. By locally grown I'm talking about the produce you grow in your own backyard. Back in the day, when we had some real land, my wife planted a garden that produced wonderul tomatoes, squash, peppers, corn and watermelon. When we eventually moved to the inner city, we didn't have that option. Nor did we in the suburbs. The next best thing? Visiting local markets (and even good grocers) who offered something much like that she grew in our backyard.

Florida mass-grown tomatoes.

McDonalds' coffee. Okay, leaving aside all the concern about fast food and the ubiquitousness of this particular franchise, the fact is, McDonalds serves up some great Joe. I know, I know, there are legions of fans for the offerings of that other ubiquitous franchise called Starbucks, but I for one, always thought that their bitter and over-priced coffee tasted like...oops...I almost violated my principle. So...back to Mickey Dee's coffee. It's great and at a great price.

Starbuck's coffee.

Real frozen veggies. I've been a fan of frozen veggies since I learned to mash them with my gums as an infant. Sure I love fresh, but oftentimes frozen can be fresher. Steamed or nuked, I love most of them. And in soups? They can be a life-send. No salt. No addititves. Just the real thing. Gotta love it.

New-fangled processed steamed or boil-in-the-bag-with-sauce frozen veggies.  

Pasta dishes made from scratch. How easy can this be? Boil some noodles and add a simple homemade sauce (or yes, even from a jar or can.).What will it take? 10 or 15 minutes? It's fed generations and it's fed it well. Here's to simple food!

Processed pasta dishes in a can or the frozen food aisle (can you say Chef-Boy-R-You-Kidding?)

Chicken Goujonettes. This is the original bite-sized chicken recipe created by the French. Real chicken breast fillets pounded and sliced into strips, a wholesome egg and butter coating, seasoned with spices, and dredged in breadcrumbs, then sauteed in oil (rather than deep fried.) Great for lunch, dinner or snacks.

Fast food chicken nuggets.

This is a start. I know I will think of more. But again, enough about me. What inspires you to speak out? And what drives you to silence?

Let's hear what you have to say. But remember, if you can't say something nice...


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It. And If Your Recipe Sucks, You Better Not Fix It Either.

I was on stage this past weekend at the Shrimp & Grits Festival in Jekyll Island, Georgia. And let me tell you: this is a wonderful event. Why? The location (on the grounds of the historic Jekyll Island Hotel) is magnificent. So is the staff. And everyone who attends.

Yes, ambiance, history, great folks, and a gentle sea breeze wafting thru the trees made for a wonderful day. In fact, it is usually so wonderful, many attendees make a weekend of it.

Of course the centerpiece, culinary-wise, is the Shrimp & Grits. Hundreds line up to savor this low country dish prepared by pros and amateurs alike as part of a grueling cooking competition. Heck, they even bring in a few celebrity chefs who show you how it's done on the Cooking Stage. (Yeah, that was me up there clad in the very non-Georgian Caribbean shirt, baggy cotton beach pants, and flip-flops.)

But here I must offer a caveat.

I'm from New York. Born and raised there. Just outside the city. Then my parents moved to Tampa Bay where I finished out high school. After high school and through college I lived in South Florida. Then I drifted back to Tampa Bay with my wife to start a fam.

Why am I telling you this? Because grits was about as common in my dietary regimen as ham hocks would be at the annual pot luck at the Beth Emeth synagogue down on the Boston Post Road in Larchmont.

When I finally moved to Chattanooga (the real south) in the late eighties, I had my first sampling of grits. As a cook and connoisseur of all things food, I felt I needed to give them a try. Needless to say, I was under whelmed.

Oh, they didn't taste bad.

Bad had nothing to do with it.

It was the taste that was lacking.

Perhaps you've never had grits. If so, let me describe them for you. Did you ever work with papier-mâché when you were a kid? Did you ever eat any of the goop before you dipped the newspaper into it? Of course you did. We all did.

Grits are a lot like that.

Except grittier.

So imagine throwing a couple of handfuls of sand into your papier-mâché goop before tasting it. Yeah. That about sums up grits.

But wait! I hear the southerners chiming in: You need to add salt! (Evidently lots of salt.) And grated cheese! (Gobs of cheese.) And butter! (One stick or two?) That way, the lowly grits will rise in your culinary estimation. Of course, with a couple of tablespoons of salt, a cup or two of grated cheese and a stick of butter, even a carburetor would taste good.

So I decided to stick with the oh-so-dependable (and tasty) home fries sauteed in onions and peppers for my breakfast. Or any other time when grits might be an option.

Until I tried shrimp & grits.

Now I'm a bona fide grits fan. Maybe it was the shrimp that did it. Who knows? But now I'm a fan.

And here's the interesting thing. There are not a lot of variations with this dish (as there are for chili, marinara sauce, beef stew, etc.) Why? Because it is good from the get-go. So if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

But being a wise-ass chef, I had to try.

So while I didn't change the basics, I did make a few minor alterations. I cooked my shrimp in with the grits and I made a shrimp gravy to serve over the grits. And according to the crowd I cooked for at the Festival, it was a winner.

Of course, if it did suck, I wouldn't have bothered to fix it. And neither should you. But it didn't suck, so I will fix it. Again and again. For breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Go ahead and give it a shot. Even if you're from the Bronx. And if your lover tells you that they don't eat grits, heck, tell 'em it's papier-mâché. They'll love you for it!




Prep Time: 5 minutes                Cook Time: 30 minutes


3/4 pound large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 clove garlic, crushed or minced
pinch of cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt  (use less if your bacon is very salty)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 slices bacon, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1-1/2 cups water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste (Frank's or Tabasco are fine)
1/2 cup quick grits (not instant)
4 ounces good extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
2 or 3 scallions, green part only, sliced for garnish


1. Preheat oven to 375º. Toss the shrimp with the oil, garlic, cayenne pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Refrigerate while preparing the grits.

2. Sauté the bacon in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 8 - 10 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Add onions and sauté until soft and translucent. About 5 - 7 minutes.

3. Stir in the water, cream, hot sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil. Slowly stir in the grits, reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring often, until the grits are thick and creamy, about 5 - 8 minutes.

4. Remove from heat and stir in the grated cheese. Remove shrimp from the fridge and place on top of the grits in a circle, pressing on each one until they buried about half-way. Place in the oven and bake until shrimp are cooked through, about 5 - 8 minutes depending on the size of the shrimp. (Or you may add the shrimp to the skillet and cook over medium , stirring, until shrimp are pink and cooked through.)

Ladle shrimp gravy (below) over all and sprinkle with chopped scallions and bacon bits.


Prep Time: 5 minutes            Cook Time: 30 minutes


1 slice bacon, chopped
1/4 cup minced onion
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup diced celery
1/2 pound large shrimp, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
pinch dried red pepper or to taste
1/2 cup shrimp, chicken, or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon browning sauce (Kitchen Bouquet is fine)


1. Sauté the bacon in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until crisp and brown, about 8 - 10 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

2. Add the onion, red pepper and celery and sauté until tender, about 8 - 10 minutes. Add the shrimp and sauté until they turn pink and opaque, about 2 - 3 more minutes.

3. Remove shrimp and vegetables with a slotted spoon and reserve in a bowl. Add the broth and browning sauce to the skillet. Season with salt, pepper and dried red pepper. Bring to a boil then simmer for 1 - 2 minutes. Return the shrimp, vegetables and bacon to the sauce and heat for 1 more minute. Serve over shrimp & grits.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Got a Book Inside You? Trust Me, You Might Be Happier with a Really Good Steak

When I was in NYC for a conference a few years ago, I sat down next to this guy on the subway. You probably know the type: Wall Street...Freshly scrubbed face...Leather satchel...Three piece suit the color of money...

Anyway, we got to talking and he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a writer. His eyes lit up and I knew his admiration for me increased.

It always does.

You see, there's something about meeting an actual writer that intrigues people. Especially women. Beautiful women.

If I had known this 30 years ago I would've told every girl I met that I was a writer. Even if the only thing I'd written off was my last girlfriend. Why? Because telling a woman that you're a writer ranks right up there with telling her that you work with autistic children.

Or that you train seeing-eye dogs.

Or that you collect food for Somalia.

And telling any buxom blond or sexy brunette that you write instructional materials on training seeing-eye dogs for autistic children in Somalia would no doubt hit the "I want to have your children" trifecta.

Unfortunately, I learned this all too late. Now I just impress strangers on subways. Or if I'm lucky, I'll light up the eyes of that three-martini matron at the cocktail party who laments the fact that her recently retired husband just strained his back "leaping to a conclusion."

Ah...if I'd only known then what I know now...

But I digress.

So... I was on the subway chatting with this young-enough-to-be-my-son businessman and told him that I wrote books for a living. After he spent a moment in utter admiration, he sighed and said that, he too, had a book inside him.

Needless to say, I've heard this a gazillion times. "Don't we all," I responded.

He said, "No, really. I do. I just ate a copy of War and Peace."

Then he got off at the next stop.

I'm not sure where I'm going with all this. Perhaps it's to say that if you do have something inside of you that is just dying to get out then perhaps now is the time to do it. Cookbook. Novel. Short story. Poem. If it's clawing at the door of your soul, perhaps you need to let it loose.

But you must do it right. Otherwise you might be better off ordering a la carte at Mortons Steak House.

As in any craft, you'll need to work at it. Sweat over it. Hone it and perfect it. Offer it up for critique. Re-write it. Then re-write it again. Send it to a good editor. Then rewrite it again.

But above all, stick with it.

I've met many a writer who grew disenchanted because, after a whole two months, their blog follower count didn't quadruple...Or they received a dozen or so rejection letters from agents...Or their best friend (even worse, their spouse) laughed and said, "You have something that needs to be said? What happened, did that gorilla who pounds her fist on the floor to communicate with her trainer die or something?"

Listen, if what you have to say is worth hearing, people will listen. But as in most things, much of it lies in the presentation.

You have a book inside you? Let it sing. But not after you've taken out all the sour notes. You found a recipe that sounds delish? Make it. Then tweak it. Then make it again. 

The ladies (or men) will love you for it. .

Carpe diem and bon appetit!


Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Best Things in Life May Be Free, but Here's Some of the Absolutely Best Kitchen Gear You Can Buy Dirt Cheap

I thought it would be nice to set aside the wiseguy blog persona I've featured over the last few posts to offer my readers something that would be deemed by most as "useful."

Or at the least, "inoffensive."

We all know, or at least should know, that the best things in life are free.

Think about it.

The passionate kiss from your lover. The snuggly-hug from a child. A walk in the sunshine after a chilly rain. The warm wet nose of a puppy against your cheek. The aroma of a simmering soup prepared by a loved one. The offer to pick up your bar tab by the half-lit stranger next to you because you remind them of their long lost cousin. Or the fact that the neighborhood kids never tagged you with the nickname "Groinhead."

But even though the best things in life are, indeed, free, there are a couple of really good things that you can pick up dirt-cheap.

And I'm going to list them and tell you where to find them.

However, when I first mentioned this to my editor she said only a complete jackass would recommend items to people without getting a percentage of the action.

My response?

Look at my blog, dear. I have no ads or sponsorships. Why start now?

And besides, I was already an incomplete jackass before I came up with this brilliant idea, so now I've at least completed something. (Are you reading this, ma?)

But truth be told, I have another reason for offering these suggestions. When I first started cooking I was overwhelmed by recommendations from what I would call the Food Snob Mob.

Perhaps you've met them. They're the one's who insist that in order to cook well you must purchase a set of copper cookware that would rival the GNP of some third world countries. Or a collection of knives that would set you back the price of a used car. Or that no serious cook would question the price of any kitchen gadget, even if it meant putting off your kid's appendectomy to do so.

Oh puh-lease. Are these folks in the dainty white uniforms for real?

Do you need good gear to cook good food? Yes. Does it need to drain your bank account and max out your credit cards? Absolutely not.

So here, in spite of the objections from those who insist I make some money off this, I'd like to offer some suggestions that will help take your culinary skills to the next level. And you won't have to sell off your youngest child or a spare organ to do so.

Pots and Pans

Wouldn't you just love a 9-piece tin-lined copper cookware set fresh off the boat from France? Me, too. But at $2,000 retail/$1500 on sale, I've unfortunately had to pass. Of course, one could settle for a really nice stainless steel All-Clad set for a mere $600 to $800 (and well worth it if you have the cash lying around.) In fact I almost picked up a set until my wife uttered what surely must be the five most dreaded words in the American parent lexicon: "Honey, our child needs braces."

So I had to pass on the French copper and All-Clad. But I've been around long enough to know every good craftsman requires good tools to do a good job. However, shelling out that kind of dough for great kitchen cookware just wasn't an option. And it may not be for you. If that's the case then you need to check out this wonderful set of stainless steel tri-ply cookware from Tramontina. Sure, it is not All-Clad but it comes very, very close. And the price? It will knock you so hard you might be the one needing braces.

Check this out. Under $150. I have a set that gets regular use and I've given some away on my webpage. Buy it here:

Tramonina Triply-Clad Cookware


When I'm doing a cooking demo, there's usually someone who asks what's the best investment they could make in their kitchen. I hear this from folks who are just starting out and from folks who are remodeling.

My answer?

A really good chef's knife.

Because a good knife will perform many tasks and will last a lifetime if well taken care of. I usually don't hesitate recommending one of the good German forged knives like Wustorff or JA Henkels. But these will set you back $100+. Which, to be honest, is not too bad for a tool that will give you a lifetime of service in the kitchen.

But if you begin adding other similar knives to the mix, like a paring knife, slicing knife, or bread knife, well, it starts to add up. Can one get an excellent set of knives at a reasonable price without resorting to those hawked on late-night infomercials? Absolutely.

And here you go. Forschner (the folks who bring us Swiss Army Knives) offers a set that has gotten rave reviews from the culinary world. And the best part? You can purchase a 3-piece set for half the price of one German chef's knife. Find the Forschner Victorinox Fibrox Chef's Set here:

Victorinox 3 Piece Knife Set

Knife Sharpener does one keep those knives sharp and in tip top condition? Well, honing them before each use on a steel is a given. But when it comes to sharpening? A great option is to find a professional knife sharpener in your area, but that may not be doable for many of us. If that is the case, then you can't go wrong with a Chefs Choice 120 or 130. But some may balk at a $120 price (which is not bad considering the fact that a sharp knife is a safe knife.) So how does something under $10 sound? Good? I thought so. Check out the Accusharp knife sharpener here:

Accusharp Knife Sharpener

Omelet Pan

Okay. One last item and we'll call it a day. I'm not a huge fan of non-stick pans with the exception of this: my omelet pan. And I must say, it gets a workout in my kitchen. So I knew I needed a good one. But I wasn't about to spend $50 to $100 for one.

"But," I hear someone yelling, "They'll last a lifetime. It says so on the label!" Um. No it won't. You can probably count on a year or so at the most before the pan loses it's non-stickness. So...knowing that I'm going to need to replace it frequently, I want a good pan that doesn't cost a lot. So I usually buy my omelet pans at my local restaurant supply store. They're well-made and cost a lot less than those you'll find in the high end gourmet shops. If you don't have a restaurant supply nearby, check out this baby from Sam's Club. A good pan at a good price:

Sam's Club 8" Omelet Pan

Well, that's about it for now. Hope this was helpful. What was the latest deal you got on great cookware? Let's give the Food Snob Mob a run for their money!


Sunday, August 21, 2011

State Fair Food - Or Why Wear Seatbelts on a Rain-Slick Mountain Road?

As we ease out of August and enter the fall season many of us will be drawn to the cool outdoors. Some of us will long to go hiking in the woods, some of us will fill the stands of our favorite football team, and some of us will make plans to revel in that great American institution: the State (or County) Fair.

At one time, State Fairs focused on livestock, produce, and the joyful simplicities of rural life. Sure there was a midway where gaudy portable rides offered a few cheap thrills, but the highlight was usually the competitions, where friends and neighbors vied for the fattest pig or the best apple pie.

I'm sure many State Fairs still include the tradition of competitions, but these events are not as well attended as they were in days past. Even the Midway has undergone a metamorphosis: classic rides like the merry-go-round or tilt-a-whirl have been replaced by contraptions constructed by itinerant workers whose skills would make them more usefully employed as dirt sifters, furniture testers, or US Senators. Mind-numbing rides like The Mutant, The Bone Crusher, or The Kiddie Coaster with Six Missing Critical Bolts.

But by far, one of the most popular draws is the food. Whereas fair-going families of yore relished normally forbidden treats like crisp and juicy corn dogs, pillows of cotton candy, or caramel apples the size of softballs, today's modern fair goer is introduced to food that would've baffled even the most adventurous diner of days gone by. I'm sure you've seen, and perhaps tasted, some of these artery clogging creations. I offer here just a few along with improved variations that I feel would be "more tempting to the masses while fattening their asses." Or what I've formally dubbed, "Warren's Mass of Ass State Fair Snacks."

I mean why careen down a rain-slick mountain road without seat belts when you can cut the brake lines before doing so to ensure a more entertaining and satisfying trip? Enjoy!

State Fair Standard Midway Food:

Deep Fried Snickers Bars. These candy bars (one of my favorites when I was a kid) already boasts 29 grams of sugar and tops out at 266 calories, so why deep fry it and coat it with sugar? Because we can. Now this little treat boasts 700 calories. That's more than three slices of pepperoni cheese pizza.

Warren's Mass of Ass Improvement:

Glazed Deep Fried Oreo-Stuffed Twinkies with Sprinkles. Deep Fried Oreos and its cousin, Deep Fried Twinkies have become State Fair staples, so why not combine them and coat them with a sugary glaze and a fistful of colorful sprinkles? Boo-yeah. Now we're batting 1,000 (calories, that is.)

State Fair Standard:

Krispy Kreme Burgers. Created in the Deep South and popularized by Paula Dean (sorry PD, but I already trademarked "Mass of Ass"), this concoction features a quarter pound beef pattie topped with cheese and bacon then sandwiched between a buttered Krispy Kreme Donut. Some calorie counters peg it at 500 calories and some at over 1,000. Of course one must ask, how do you dunk that sucker?

Warren's Improvement:

Double Fried Krispy Kreme Meatball Subs. Face it, many fair goers still feel hungry after eating the Krispy Kreme Burger. For those whose cravings exceed the calorie count of one of these standards, we offer the ultimate state fair sub where ground beef and a beef-like product are molded into globes the size of tennis balls, wrapped in bacon, then deep fried. These are topped with tomato sauce, fried onions, fried green peppers, and 11 different cheeses (fried lettuce is available on request) and sandwiched between four halved Krispy Kreme Donuts before the whole sandwich is deep fried again. The best part? No need to dunk. Problem solved.

State Fair Standard:

Deep Fried Butter. This is one of the latest fads on the State Fair circuit. Balls of butter are coated in batter and deep-fried until the outside is crisp. Fans liken it to a croissant with a more buttery taste. Croissant? Um, right. I think I hear the French surrendering. Again.

Warren's Improvement:

Lard on a Stick. Why go through the hassle of preparing a batch of coating and firing up the deep fat fryer? Cut down on time without cutting calories with a big hunk of Lard-on-a-Stick.

Y'know, now that I think about it, it appears that people in general will eat anything if it is deep fried, so why don't vendors skip the food wholesaler altogether and deep fry items that they don't even have to pay for? Items that are readily available in any community? Talk about pure profit! I've already invented several. Enjoy, but please don't drool on your laptop.

Warren's New Ultra-Profitable Mass of Ass State Fair Snacks:

- Deep Fried Dog Shit. Raw materials available at any park.

- Deep Fried Already-Chewed Gum. Available under school desks and subway seats.

- Deep Fried Lint. Available in most pockets and a host of belly buttons.

- Deep Fried Shards of Glass. Available in most vacant lots.

and, lest we forget the vegan and vegetarian crowd,

- Deep Fried Grass Clippings and Twigs. Available in most gated communities.

Now we're talking! Look for my booth at your local fair. I'll have the one with the really long lines. And with all the big-ass people around, there should be more than enough shade...


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Don't Try This at Home and Other Stupid Advice.

In my last blog post I offered some time-tested and truly useful culinary advice from the ancients.

Pearls of wisdom gleaned from mist-enshrouded fields of Stonehenge, mysterious ancient Chinese dynasties, dank medieval monasteries, and the steamy, bustling kitchens of five-star restaurants...not to mention the twisted mind of the bonehead that puts pen to paper and writes this blog in the discomfort of his overheated office. (That would be me.)

Together with the all the additional nuggets of wisdom I received from the wonderfully winsome "Table for Twosies" who either emailed me or posted their comments here (including the many, er, creative ones that I couldn't post, lest I violate several statutes of the International Blogger Decency Code. Think Lenny Bruce in an apron) I knew that this corpus of food wisdom resonated with many.

And yet, a lot of dubious advice still finds its way onto the internet. Some I was able to tweak and make work (yes, one can cook eggs in a microwave oven, but you must take them out of the shells first.)

But much of it I tried and found wanting (you cannot place minute rice in the microwave and expect it to be done in 10 seconds.)

And some of the advice was so innately jive-ass (you cannot cram yourself in a microwave oven and expect to go into the future) that I had to file it away in that part of my brain that the French gourmands gleefully refer to as "Le Grande Shitter."

Perhaps you've seen some of these and filed them away as well. But if not, let me save you the trouble. Here are but a few:

"If you can dream it, you can do it." ~  Walt Disney

Okay. Last week I dreamt that I met Mila Kunis at one of my cooking demos and she invited me up to her suite to, um, butter her crepes. Needless to say, I haven't done that yet. (And if my dear wife has anything to say about it, I probably never will.) Now, Walt, let's talk about Mickey Mouse dreams...

"Do what you love and the money will follow." ~ Marsha Sinetar, award-winning author (as well as many motivational speakers)

Do what you love? Hey, my friend Summer absolutely loves to post every ten seconds of her life on Facebook. (Did you read the recent updates about her struggle over whether to buy the Sperry Top-Sider Silverside shoes or the Sperry Top-Sider Fairwinds? No? Count yourself as one of the blessed.) Anyway, she hasn't quit her job at Wendy's yet and it's been a couple of years now. If the money's still following her it must've stopped to ask directions along the way. And don't get me started on my friend Bo who loves to play Black Ops on XBox all friggin' night and day long. The money's still looking for him, too.

"Don't try this at home." ~ Super Dave Osborne and various other daredevils

Listen. As far as I'm concerned, if you can't try it in the privacy of your own home where else are you gonna try it? The ballet? The corner market? The boss' house?  Geez, the last time I actually heard this lamebrain exhortation was from a street performer who was about to eat a flaming sword. I mean, if you're going to try something like that are you going to aim for a day care center? Traffic court? Nursing home? Your child custody trial? No way. You better damn well try it at home.

And here's one of my favorites:  

"Drink red wine with meat and white wine with fish or fowl." ~ Numerous imbecilic gastronomes

Oh puh-lease. Who invented this stuff? Probably the same group of folk who came up with some of the other bewildering rules like: "Don't mix your metaphors" as if saying that one shouldn't put all  their chickens in one basket before they hatch a plan to look before they leap for one giant step for mankind, or whatever.

Listen. Food is all about taste and what pleases you and your friends.

Do you or any of your guests like a Pinot grigio with beef? Merlot with snapper? Go for it!

Do you have a hankering for pasta, potatoes and rice? Then screw the starch witches and whip up a frittata!

Saute onions and garlic together like so many cookbooks say? Don't! Saute your onions for 5 to 8 minutes first, then add your garlic and saute a minute or two more. Your taste buds will love you for it!

I'm getting carried away here. Sorry.

But when it comes to great advice, internet or otherwise, you gotta love this piece of eternal wisdom:

"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. " ~ Dr. Seuss

Now, how 'bout pouring me a glass of that Cab with my grilled mahi-mahi...


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Food Wisdom from the Ancients. And Then Some.

As I flit about the Foodie Cybersphere I can't help but love all the pithy food quotes that people are wont to post. Including me.

They bring a smile to my face and a warm feeling to my tummy. I love the classics like:

"Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity."  ~ Voltaire


“Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet." ~  Julia Child

And I love the new ones like:  "I could piss off your happy meal." (Thanks, Felisha.)              

But as an avid food blogger, sometimes I yearn for something deeper. Something beyond the norm.

In the world of Big Mac blog quotes I sometimes pine for a taste of Kobe Beef (with a smidgen of sauteed onions and just a touch of Irish Butter.)

I want to hear the voices of the ancients who have trod the path before me. To glean from their wisdom. Learn from their experience. Or maybe even get their great German knives and copper cookware I could never afford when they pass on to that great kitchen in the sky.

But how?!

I knew it wouldn't be easy. I had to gather together those steeped in the ancient disciplines. Like:

Linguistics. My good friend Charisse loves linguini. No joke. And she can kick butt on any one of a dozen linguini dishes. (Her puttenesca? To die for!) So I guess I have a linguist in my corner.

Archaeology. I went to college with a guy who now plays a pirate on Captain Nemo's Pirate Ship down at the pier. Sure, he's getting a bit on in years, but he can growl "Argh" with the best of them. Man, that dude can put the ''Argh" in Archaeologist. So I guess I have that covered.

A great Epicurean. I don't go to the movies very often any more (ever since they put that padlock on the alley door) but I really do try to see the epics. Films like the X-men franchise, Iron Man, Captain America, the final Harry Potter film... But my friend Ron sees all the epics. He even buys tickets to romantic comedies. Heck, he even sees the jive-ass slapstick crap that wouldn't even rate as sitcoms. But he goes nuts over the blockbuster epics. So I guess I have an Epicurean on board.

Next, I needed a wine expert. That would be an oenologist. But since I can't spell it or even say it on a consistent basis (especially after a glass or two of wine) I knew I'd have to pass on an actual wine expert and settle on a really good whiner. That would be my friend, Bart. His wife ran off with a juggler from the circus and his son just converted to Scientology so he can jump up and down on a late night TV show couch just like Tom Cruise. And last Saturday his daughter booked a room at the Plaza for a mad night of passion with a newly-paroled purse snatcher she met on Facebook. Oh, and Bart just bought a Yugo with low miles on Craig's List. Yes, I do believe Bart can whine with the best of them. He's in.

So the five of us committed ourselves to bringing you the crème de la crème of the ancients.

I hope the wisdom of these elders inspires you like it did us.

And if not, you can always go back to reading Bon Appetit. I loved the latest issue with the lead article: "The Glamorous Movie Star, the Food Her Dad Made Her, and the Cookbook She had Someone Ghostwrite for Her."



Wisdom from the Ancients

"Berries picked at dawn will nourish those who dine at noon. Berries picked at eve won't. Sorry." ~ Etched on the Sixth Obelisk at Stonehenge.

"I despaired that I had no eating utensils. Then I met a man that had no arms. So I said, "Since you probably won't be using that fork…"  From the Fourth Writings of the Upurarse, 174 BC

"I climbed the Big Rock Candy Mountain seeking knowledge. I met a wise lollipop on a lonesome road and asked, "What must I do to find enlightenment?" The lollipop smiled and with a twinkling eye replied, "Suck me." ~  From the writings of Diu Mi, Fourth Dynasty, 27 BC 

"An olive and a bit of cheese on the tongue of a poor man is better than a cup of Venti Starbucks left on the roof of a Porsche as the owner darted out of the lot late for yet another stupid meeting. Verily, amen." ~ Corporitus Interruptus, 99 AD

"On a chill as winter's evening there's nothing quite like a hot bowl of soup. No wait. A steaming bowl of water with some bits of vegetables in it is a lot like a bowl of soup. Nevermind." ~ St. Gastronome the Obvious, 515 AD

"Preparing a meal for your loved ones reflects the mighty miracle of Jesus feeding the 5000. Except there are probably 4,995 fewer of you. More or less." ~  Pope Flavorius, 949 AD

"A fine, fatted, fowl fit for the fourth Friday of February is much easier said once than three times fast." ~ St. Stu the ~  1349 AD

"Canadian bacon is neither Canadian, nor bacon. But it sure makes a one hell of an Egg McMuffin." ~ Sir Ronald McDonald, 1982 AD

"If it weren't for Evander Holyfield's ears, I'd be a vegetarian tomorrow."  ~ Mike Tyson, 1997

"God created whiskey to keep the Irish from taking over the world. And God created haggis to keep the Scots from going into the restaurant business." ~ St. Warren the Wiseass, 2011 AD

Now...what ancient wisdom have you gleaned lately?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Five Kitchen Devices that Should Only Be Used for One Thing

If you've followed my blog for any length of time you'll know that I am not overly fond of kitchen gadgets that are only good for one specific task. I'm thinking about items like the "Duralast String Bean String Extractor", "Chef Jimmy's Pork Rind Warmer", or "Cretino's Dry Spaghetti Breaker." I like items that have multiple purposes even if I have to come up with the ideas myself. I mean, who among us hasn't used a big can of spaghetti sauce from the pantry, a large cookbook, or Uncle Andy's wooden leg (but only when he's napping) to pound chicken breasts?

Face it, I just don't like kitchen clutter so I make it a point to buy items that multi-task. However, there are some kitchen devices that are pretty much good for only one thing and one thing only. To use them for unintended purposes could result in injury, death or a butt-load of embarrassment at your next big shindig.

Using the icemaker to create frozen daiquiris. Most people dislike the fact that frozen daiquiris become diluted as the ice melts. Some of us have tried to circumvent the problem by hooking our icemakers up to vats of rum-infused daiquiri mix. Only one problem: You need water pressure to make it work. Petitioning the water company to add a second "booze line" is a waste of time. Just ask the citizens of Key West. (However, I understand some Caribbean countries, like Barbados, have a two-spigot system. One for rum and the other one for dark rum.) The only other alternative is to mount a cooler on your roof, fill it full of booze, and run a line to your icemaker. The force of gravity should be enough to fill your ice machine. The downside is that after you run out you have to climb up onto the roof to refill it. Not a good idea after you just drained it dry at a party.

Oh and by the way, stapling two wires to the cooler and running them down to the back of your big-screen TV will not provide you with free satellite TV. I'm just saying.

Using the microwave oven to take out the chill in a room. There's a reason they put that screen with little holes in it on the microwave door. And there's a reason they installed a switch that won't allow the oven to operate unless the door is closed. You see, microwave ovens don't actually create heat; its radio waves excite the molecules in water and fat thus creating heat. Remember, human beings are 98% water (and many of us are also 98% fat) so bypassing the switch on your door to run the microwave with it open will, indeed, warm things up a bit. But not in the way that you or any of your guests expected. You feeling chilly? Grab a butter knife and stick it into the nearest electrical outlet. It's faster and cheaper.

Using the electric knife sharpener on other utensils. Knife sharpeners are great for knives. Everyone knows a sharp knife is a safe knife. But it is not good for forks and spoons. Think about it; when was the last time anyone ever complained that your forks weren't sharp enough? Of course, if one of my dinner guests did just that, I'd ask them to repeat it. After I stabbed them in the hand while asking, "Sharp enough for you, Bob?" And although the idea that a razor sharp spoon or ice cream scoop would get the ice cream out of the box quicker, the risk of injury from a utensil that is not normally regarded as "sharp" runs very high. Especially if you have kids. Or anyone in your house that suffers from "the shakes."

Using the garbage disposal as a blender. One would think that a two-horsepower device that can grind pork chop bones into tiny fragments would be the ideal implement to use as a blender. Forget it. Everything you put in it just winds up going down the drain. That's not so bad if you're just making creamed split pea soup (I mean, who's gonna eat that crap anyway?) but it tends to get expensive if you're whipping up a batch of margaritas. Of course, one could temporarily disconnect the plumbing so that the disposal drains into a pitcher. But it still may not be a good idea. Particularly if you recently used it to grind up a bunch of pork chop bones. No one likes having to use a toothpick after drinking a margarita. Trust me on that.

Using the exhaust fan above the stove to chop veggies. Removing the screen and using the fan as a vegetable chopper is a better idea in concept than it is in real life. (It especially sounded like a great idea after a couple of garbage disposal margaritas.) I mean what could be easier? Just put a big bowl on the stove under the fan, flip that baby on, and hurl some carrots, onions or celery up into it. Right? Wrong. You see, while most of the pieces will fall back into the bowl some pieces are bound to go up the vent. Which is a bummer if your vent empties out anywhere near the neighbor's Jacuzzi. (You shoulda seen the look on their faces when they went out to take a moonlight dip!)

On a side note: whose lamebrain idea was it to design range hoods that don't vent to the outside, but instead empty out through the front right into your face? I bet the engineers down at Kenmore busted a gut coming up with that one. (Sorta like the clowns in China at Shwang Automotive who re-engineered their exhaust systems so they would empty into the car, which not only keeps the occupants warm during the winter but also addresses the problems of smog, global warming and excess human population all at the same time.)

So how 'bout you? Have you ever tried using a kitchen device for unintended purposes? What were the results? I'm sure other readers (and ambulance-chasing attorneys) are anxious to hear about your experience.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Let Your Smile Be Your Umbrella. But If It's Raining, Better Get a Real One.

A couple of months ago my blogger friend Brittany over at Dreams & Schemes ( wrote about a whimsical encounter she had with a police officer on a bustling Manhattan street. She mentioned how our lives are so often filled with encounters wrapped up in BS that we tend to overlook those precious moments suffused with true human contact.

Reading about her experience reminded me of one of my own. A few years back I was in Chicago for business and found myself ambling up Michigan Avenue on what was, at the time, a lovely early-spring afternoon. There was still a chill in the air but one could easily notice the flower buds struggling to make their way skyward in the planters that lined the avenue.

Suddenly, enormous clouds stormed in from Lake Michigan and the sky opened, sending rain down in torrents. I ducked into a shop and purchased an umbrella. You know the kind - like the one grandma used to own: black with a gnarled wooden handle and large enough to shade a Buick. I think it cost me seven bucks. I paid the cashier then stepped back out onto the sidewalk and made my way south toward the river. As people scurried in and out of doorways and taxis, I offered them a space beneath my umbrella. Not a single person turned me down.

I know I couldn't have gotten away with this in New York. I probably would've been punched, knifed, or had the umbrella wrenched from my hands and broken in half over an angry thigh. Heck, the men probably would've even treated me worse.

But the City of Big Shoulders is different. It's more human and down to earth. An ideal place for an out-of-town Florida boy to offer his umbrella to complete strangers.

So I spent the better part of the afternoon under my cheap canopy chatting with folks I may never have met under other circumstances. Dozens of temporary friends and dozens of lively conversations. I'm a richer man for it.

Flash forward to July 2011: We've had lots of rain this month. Six inches one day this week alone. Unfortunately, I haven't had the pleasure of parading up and down Michigan Avenue. I've been stuck doing more mundane things: finishing a book, shopping for new tires, testing recipes, wiring a duplex, presenting some cooking demos at a market or two, getting used to our new, but temporary, living arrangements... Some of it has been fun. Some of it hasn't.

But still I find time to smile.

Even if I can't find that damned umbrella.


PS. How are you faring amid these dog days of summer? Here's a magnificent sangria recipe that I promise will bring you a smile as big as an umbrella. I know it did me!

Perfect Summer Sangria

1 bottle (750 ml) red wine: Rioja, Merlot, Shiraz, or a Cab
1/2 cup triple sec or Cointreau
1/2 cup brandy (optional)
juice of one orange (3 tablespoons)
juice of one lemon (3 tablespoons)
juice of one lime (3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 orange, thinly sliced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 lime, thinly sliced
1 cup strawberries or raspberries or a combination of both
1 8-ounce can diced pineapple with juice
4 cups ginger ale

Mix the wine, triple sec, brandy, citrus juices, and sugar in a large pitcher. Refrigerate overnight.

Immediately before serving, add in the orange, lemon, and lime slices (remove seeds if possible), strawberries, pineapple and ginger ale. Serve over ice.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Cooking is Like Poetry

I've been enjoying this blog thing for the past year now.

I hope you have, too.

So far I've tossed out a plethora of cooking hints, a bevy of kitchen tips, several top ten lists, a smidgen of prose, a wiseguy remark or two...heck, I even tried my hand at some food photography (

But there's one thing I haven't tackled yet:


And if you think about it, cooking is a lot like poetry.

Really. It is.

Except you don't use any vowels or consonants. Unless, of course, you're making alphabet soup.

But I've always been a great admirer of the celebrated poets: Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Theodor Geisel...

And especially Emily Dickinson.  Or was that Eric Dickerson? (Which one played for the Colts?)

So here's my first attempt at culinary poetry. I've used a classic format to build on (you may recognize it). So pour yourself a steaming cup of tea and snuggle up beside a warm fire.

And if you don't have a fireplace, throw a few ribs on the grill and pop open a beer. It's all good... Now, onto the poems:


Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Cooking is like poetry.
Except when it's not.

Okay. Enough with the wise cracks.

It was a first try.

This one, a culinary haiku, should be better:


If we eat baked beans
Trust me, no one will wonder
If we ate baked beans

No good?

Let's forget the Orient.

How bout a stab at some poetry from my peeps. The Irish. And I'm talking limericks:


Old Seamus hailed from Delbruck
He drove a Wonderbread truck
One fine day he wrecked
His boss gave him heck                        
Said Seamus, "I don't give a f**k".

I think I'm getting in the zone here.

Wrestling down the muse.

Or maybe it's the third scotch kicking in.

Either way. I'm digging this poetry thing. Here's one more:


"What should I make for dinner," she asked
As they donned black leather and masks.

"Just whip up something nice today
While I pour a Marquis de Chardonnay."

Killer. I know.

And here's another.

This one is wait. I just got an e-mail from They want to publish my poems in their next anthology! And it will only cost me a few hundred bucks. Boo-yeah!

While I'm getting back to them, do you have any cooking poems you think our readers might enjoy? Bring 'em on!

And while you're at it. What say we open another bottle of Chardonnay? I'll get the masks...

Friday, June 17, 2011

If Today Is Father's Day, Why Have People Been Calling Me a Mother All Week?

I'm glad fathers have a special day of their own because we have it pretty rough these days.  Especially when it comes to television. Just look at how dads have been portrayed over the past ten years or so: Red Forman, Homer Simpson, Tony Soprano, Peter Griffin…

Wow, I'm thinking of getting a sex change operation just thinking about these TV icons and the fact that we share two things in common: we're all male and we're all dads.

Of course many of us pine for the good old days of Ward Cleaver, Danny Thomas and Andy Taylor. Heck, even those in the not-too-distant past were worthy of emulation: Howard Cunningham, Cliff Huxtable and Carl Winslow...

So when did it become open season on dads? When did the word "dad" find its way into the Roget's thesaurus as a synonym for "stupid jackass"?

Here's my theory.

"They" did it. And by that I mean the mysterious and enigmatic "they" that are the cause of most of society's problems. Although we've never met them in person we quote them all the time as in: "They say that (fill in the blank)  is the cause of all  (fill in the blank.)"

So until I find out exactly who '"they" are, I guess I'll just have to suck it up until someone in TV land decides to stop making dads look like the south end of a northward headed donkey.

But if I'm going to be completely honest, I can't blame it entirely on the elusive "they."

I think us dads brought some of it on ourselves.

Think about it for a minute.

How many times have we asked our kids rhetorical questions that, if they answered them correctly, would not have boded well for either of us.

I'm thinking about the questions every dad asks that should never be answered. Questions like:

How many times have I told you not to do that?  (Possible kid answer: "Eleven.")

Or - 

Do you want me to give you something to cry about? (Possible kid answer: "No, I'm crying just fine at the moment thank you very much.")

Or -

Do you want me to take off my belt? (Possible kid answer: "Only if the neighbors would get a kick out of seeing the boxers we got you last Father's Day.")

Or (my favorite) -

What do I look like, an idiot? (Possible kid answer: "Well, now that you mention it, Dad, when you wear your plaid shorts with that Gators t-shirt you do look kinda like an…")

And speaking of goofy outfits. Why do so many of us dads insist on wearing them when we grill outdoors?

Or better yet, why do so many of us who have never set foot in a kitchen (unless it's to grab a beer out of the fridge or dip a spoon into whatever the wife has simmering on the stove) assume that we can even cook outdoors where temperamental flames, unpredictable wind, stifling heat, fluctuant barometric pressure, and the sight of that tanned and nubile next door neighbor in the size-2 bikini sunning herself by the pool can wreak havoc on our culinary endeavors?

I'll tell you why.

Because men like fire and men like to burn things.

I'm serious.

In a recently published study by the National Conference of Those Who Study Such Things, male arsonists were shown to outnumber female arsonists by a margin of 6 to 1. The only other categories where males outshine their female counterparts? Misplacing the remote control (10 to 1), refusing to ask for directions when lost (97 to 1) and scratching their own crotch (when the numbers jump to a mind-boggling 13,478 to 1.)

So yes. Give us dads a Weber grill, a 25-pound bag of charcoal, a quart of lighter fluid, a hunk of meat, and a couple of six-packs in the fridge and we will occupy ourselves for the better part of the afternoon. Let us invite some pals over and we'll make a whole day of it.

Then we'll knock back some beers, suck in our stomachs (to impress Ms. Tanned and Nubile next door) and complement one another on the killer fire we've created while we scratch our crotches and watch the wives run for the fire extinguisher.

Man, I think I'm digging the hole deeper here. I'd better stop before I get myself into more trouble.

I mean, what do I look like, an idiot?

Don't answer that...


Best Friggin' Brat Recipe Ever

At one time I figured brats were easy to make. Heck, they're just hot dogs on steroids, right? So all you need to do is rip open the package, hurl those babies onto the grill and cook 'em just short of incineration. Simple as that!

Boy was I wrong.

In order to cook brats the right way I had to go to the source: Wisconsin. Milwaukee to be exact. Because the Poles who settled there know their brats like we Irish know our whisky.

I got this recipe from a big burly guy with a wooden leg and an ill-fitting glass eye by the name of Krzysztof Dworaczyk. He was running a stainless steel brat stand on a busy corner down in Lincoln Village. I didn't have much money on me so I asked if he would be willing to swap a brat or two and his recipe for some vowels.

He smiled and said, "Hand 'em over."

So I pulled out a fistful of A's, I's and U's and swapped 'em for a warm lunch and this recipe.

Either that or I glommed it from an old cookbook or some other blase' source.

At any rate, it rocks...

Prep time: 10 minutes            Cook time: 1 hour


- 8 good brats. (If you can get them from your butcher, great. If not,
   Johnsonville is a good national brand. Just be sure they are not pre-cooked.
- 2 Spanish or sweet onions (Vidalia's) peeled and sliced
- 6 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 cans (or bottles) of amber beer - none of that lite or lo-cal crap
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 8 brat buns


1. Preheat outdoor grill.

2. Melt 6 tablespoons unsalted butter in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 an onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté an addition 2 minutes. Add the brats, salt and beer and bring to a slow boil.

3. Quickly lower heat (you don't want the casings to split) and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit, covered.

4. In the meantime, heat remaining butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add remaining onion slices and sauté until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes.

5. Remove brats from pot and grill over medium heat until nicely brown, about 10 minutes or so.

6. Serve on buns with sautéed onions and plenty of good beer.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

When Life Hands You Lemonade...Add Vodka.

My wife and I just moved across the state. Which we refer to as 'our last move'. Not to be confused with our previous 'last move' a couple of years ago that took us to within a block of the beach.

We opted to do this because of work. Not that I can write books any better on the west coast of Florida as opposed to the east coast. Heck, I can mangle the English language just as well on either coast, thank you very much.

No. This had more to do with the fact that I was doing most of my in-state cooking demonstrations on the west coast.



There are a gazillion more empty nesters and young married couples in the Tampa Bay area alone (not even counting Sarasota, Venice or Naples) compared to Northeast Florida. Heck, I was already making the trek across the state 3 or 4 times a month as it was. By moving to this side I'm saving a butt load on travel and hotel expenses. Plus, I don't have to crawl through that 8-lane Orlando parking lot the locals euphemistically refer to as I-4 on a regular basis. (One time in the not-too-distant past, I left St. Augustine when my wife was pregnant with our sixth, and by time we arrived in Tampa we had already celebrated the kid's first birthday.)

So, yeah, the move was work related.

But also family related. My mom is 80-somethin'-somethin' and as every good Irishman knows, you gotta look after family.

Since there was no way in heck that mom would move into the little beach house with us, we loaded up a big old truck and crawled across the state, putting most of our stuff in storage before moving back into the huge 4 bedroom house I'd spent most of my high school years in.  Lot's of memories here. And lots of work that needs to be done. Remember, my mom is 80-something and extremely self-reliant. So there's lots of work she had planned on getting around to but just hasn't yet. Like re-grouting the bathroom or hauling my younger brother's Mustang exhaust system up to the attic until he comes to fetch it. So I've got my hands full house-wise.

But moving in with family can be an adjustment.

Here's just a few:

The stove only has one working burner. It seems odd that someone like me who writes cookbooks for a living would abide by a stove with only one burner for even a day, let alone four, but trust me, this week there was a lot more to do. Like unpack. So I've had to be creative. For the last four or five days I've made some great one-pot meals. (I've listed one such dish below.) Oh, and did I mention that my pots were still packed as were all of my spices and such? Told you I had to get creative.

The microwave is useless. No, it's not broken. In fact, it looks new. It's just too small and wholly inefficient. How inefficient? We put a bag of Orville Redenbacher popcorn in as we were settling down to watch a civil war documentary on cable. The popcorn didn't finish popping until the Lee surrendered at Appomattox. I replaced it with mine. (Unlike my pots and pans, my microwave was fairly accessible.)

The air conditioning is off.  Oh, it works all right. In fact it was just replaced. But mom likes it warm. How warm? Heck, the popcorn popped faster leaving it out on the counter than it did in her tiny microwave. At first my wife and I thought about going "au naturel". I suppose that might've been pretty cool in our 20's. But after 50? I think not. Solution? I closed all the vents in mom's part of the house and ripped out the vents in ours. Problem solved. And no one has to go naked.

But it's not all bad. There's an ultra-cool downtown area (in fact, dozens of great downtown areas within a short drive),  the gulf beaches are spectacular, as are the sunset celebrations at the pier, the bike trails are closer, the stores are hipper, and the vodka is cheaper.

After all, if life serves you lemonade, you gotta add the vodka.

Especially if it's family.

Bon appetit!


Second City White Bean Chili

I call this Second City Chili not because it was created in Chicago, but because this is the essence of culinary improv (see my blog post here). I found a few cans of this and that in the pantry, some chicken breasts in the freezer and some assorted spices in the cupboard. This was the result. I'm not sure if I remembered all the ingredients so it probably won't make it into a future edition of Table for Two, but it just may inspire you to pull off a little improv yourself. Who knows? You may find yourself in a kitchen with only one working burner too, one day. Enjoy!


2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1 large onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon chili powder (or more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups chicken broth
1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 7-ounce can diced green chiles
1 16-ounce can creamed corn (it's what was there)
1 pound diced, cooked chicken meat
2 15-ounce cans northern beans
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Hot pepper sauce to taste
Grated sharp cheddar cheese to garnish


1. Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add oregano, cumin and chili powder and sauté 3 additional minutes.
2. Stir in broth, tomatoes and chilies. Bring to a boil, lower heat, then simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Add corn, chicken and beans and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Memorial Day Weekend – Three Full Days to Prove that Most
 of Us Can’t Cook Outdoors

To me there is no better way to kick off the summer than to have a national three-day holiday. And to me there is no better way to show that most of us can't cook outdoors than to give us three full days to prove it.

You noticed I said "us."

That's because I was one of those who could not cook outdoors. And couldn't for many years. Now don't get me wrong. I could start a fire and hurl something on it. But it wasn't really what I would now call "cooking." It was more like "cremation." I'm sure I am not the first backyard cook to have been cited by the sheriff for abusing an animal corpse during a cookout.

And do you know what was really sad? I didn't even know I couldn't cook outdoors. I mean, how hard could it be? Just start up a raging fire in the old kettle grill and toss a hunk of raw meat on it. Cook it for a beer or two, then yank it off, hack at it 'til it resembled servings, and pour some barbeque sauce over it. Then call everyone to the table and serve it with the canned baked beans the wife re-heated, the potato salad that Aunt Minnie brought (geez, I hope she kept it in the fridge this year), the chips and dip that John and Julie from next door brought, and of course the two bags of ice that cheapskate Uncle Willy brings every year to keep the beer that everyone else bought cold.

So what's not to like?

Besides the food and Uncle Willy?


Like many of us who cook outdoors, I had no reference point. That is, until I met Eddie and Michael. These two friends are not related, but you will often find them at the same cookouts. Eddie does the fish and other assorted seafood. Michael handles the beef and pork. They both excel at grilling veggies.

The first time I saw them in action and tasted the items that came off the grill I wanted to be them. But when my wife looked over at me from across the picnic table in a near-swoon as she sampled the beef and shrimp hot off Eddie's grill and sighed, "Why can't you grill like Eddie and Michael?" I knew the gauntlet had been thrown down.

So I made it a point to study these two men until I could match their technique and glorious results. It took a couple of years, but here's what I learned:

1. Buy good food. As a rule, I've always bought good cuts of meat and fish whenever I planned on cooking indoors. But outside? What's the point? I'm only going to char it to hell. Why spend $10 a pound on a filet-of-somethin'-somethin' when I could buy a hunk of backyard-somethin'-somethin' for under $3 a pound? It made complete sense until I tasted Eddie's salmon steaks with lemon butter and Michael's filet mignon with a glace to die for.

Now, I have to say this, Michael manages one of the top restaurants in the city so he is able to get the really primo cuts of meat that I could never hope to buy. Eddie? He's a regular guy like me, but he buys his cookout entrees from the butcher and the seafood market, so I had no excuse. Right then I made a vow to never buy my meat and seafood in large opaque packages from the "Must Sell Today by Five-Thirty" bin of my grocery store again. That decision in and of itself made a huge difference.

2. Cook on a clean grill. Many of us pride ourselves on the thick layers of of goo that cling to our grates from past barbeques.  I once believed that this accumulation not only added subtle flavor to the food, but the layers of grime and blackened fat drew off all of the impurities in the food I was grilling.

Boy, was I  wrong.

When I had a piece of jumbo grilled shrimp fresh off Eddie’s grill and did not detect even a hint of overcooked venison I was sold.

3. If you cook at night, use light. When I watched Eddie and Michael whip up some late night surf and turf I was surprised that they did so with the outdoor spotlights on. I had always thought that the true and most iconic way to grill outdoors was in whatever light the twinkling stars and glowing moon could give you. Either that or a flashlight. The smaller the better so as not to ruin the overall ambiance.

Once again, I was wrong. When I turned on the lights on my deck I was amazed at how much control I had over whatever items I had on the grill. I mean, they were not backlit by the roaring flames in the kettle where everything, regardless of how rare or well done they were, all resembled solid black lumps on the grate.

4. Pay attention. The last important lesson I learned from these two grill men was their penchant for paying attention to whatever they had on the grill. By doing so, they knew when to turn each item, when to move them to cooler parts of the grill, and when to remove them for serving. Sure, it may be much more fun to throw something on the grill and then join everyone else in the limbo dance by the pool, but your steaks, shrimp and chicken breasts will taste much better after a few minutes on the grill rather than the time it takes for everyone to prove to everyone else that now that the limbo pole is a mere 18-inches from the ground they can still make it under, even after six consecutive (unsuccessful) tries.

I hope these tips will revolutionize your outdoor cooking experience as much as they have mine. But why settle for plain old ribs and potato salad? Why not go for the gold and create a backyard meal that will have the neighbors talking for years? Below I'm offering a traditional cookout item with a tropical twist. You may live in Minnesota but you need to give this a shot. Remember, we are cooking outside the lines.

And if your uncle Willy offers to bring the ice again this year, tell him to bring five bags. Cuz in addition to those beers we want to keep cold, we're going to whip up some frozen margaritas and daiquiris…

Caribbean Grilled Ribs (serves 6)


3 pounds St. Louis style ribs

For the dry rub:
1 large onion, finely chopped, (about 1-1/2 cups) 

1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

3 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon thyme
1-1/2  teaspoons allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground hot pepper flakes

1-1/2  teaspoons ground black pepper

1/4 cup soy sauce

1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil oil

1-1/2 tablespoons cider or white wine vinegar

For the sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped (about 1-1/2 to 2 cups) 

6 cloves garlic, minced 

3 tablespoons minced ginger

1-1/2  cups  dark rum

1-1/2 cups ketchup

3/4  cup molasses

3/4  cup red wine vinegar

3/4  cup pineapple or orange juice

1/4 cup light brown sugar 

1-1/2  tablespoons ground allspice

3/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4  teaspoons fresh ground black pepper

1. Combine dry rub ingredients and  rub over  ribs, cover and refrigerate for a few hours or over night.

2. Prepare a fire in the grill for indirect heat or preheat your oven to 350° if it's raining.

3. Grill ribs over indirect heat in covered grill, turning occasionally, until ribs are very tender, about 1- 1/2 hours (or roast ribs on a rack in shallow pan in the oven for 1-1/2 hours until tender.)

4. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté 2 additional minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients and  simmer until thick.

5. Baste the ribs with the sauce during the final 15 minutes of cooking. Cut ribs into 1- or 2-rib portions and serve with remaining sauce


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Need Your Help. Hey, Put Your Wallet Away. I'm Not Talking About That Kinda Help.

A couple of posts back I announced that Table for Two - The Cookbook for Couples would soon be produced in e-book format.

That sounded like good news to me.

Until I saw a few cookbooks in e-book format.

Now I'm not so sure.

You see, I'm somewhat proud of the book's cover and interior design. Not that I can take any credit for it. You've already seen my extraordinary graphic arts talent in a previous post.

No, the book looks good due to the efforts of Ms. Rebecca Russo (cover) and the good folks at Principle Creative (interior). However, I am still proud of the results and am thrilled that these folks pulled down some awards for their work. I may not know a Quark from an Adobe, but I do have a sense for good design. And that's why I'm having second thoughts about this e-book version.

E-books work great for novels and other books that contain basic running text. This is because e-books are made to display standard block paragraphs with minimal formatting. Oh, and they don't have pages and page numbers because e-book readers come in various sizes: from an iPhone to a Kindle to your desktop computer screen. You won't see the same screen view on a Blackberry as you would on a Nook or a laptop computer.

If it's a novel or non-fiction narrative it really doesn't matter; you just keep scrolling through as you read. Cookbooks, on the other hand, are laid out differently. One recipe per page (at least in mine), lots of indents, bullet points, lists, and get my drift. E-books do not play well with these. In fact, if the publishing world was a sandlot baseball game, the e-book would be "steady catcher". It can't pitch, slide, field, bat or even scratch its own privates. It's pretty much good at one thing: reading novels and articles on the go.

Oh, and then there's the index. A good index in a cookbook is a necessity as far as I'm concerned. But since e-books cannot have page numbers, an index is pretty much useless. I've even seen e-books that contain the index from the print version but had to include this caveat:

Note: Entries in this index, carried over verbatim from the print edition of this title, are unlikely to correspond to the pagination of any given ebook reader.

Of course my response to reading that in an e-book I just purchased would be Where's The Fries?!

Bottom line: in the few e-book cookbooks I've seen, I was most unimpressed with the layout (recipes running from page to page with nary a break between them, no columns, lists hard to read) and I certainly missed a usable index. Oh, and then there's the fact that they are not margarita proof.

So here are my questions:

What do you think?

Have you seen or used a cookbook on an e-reader?

What was your impression or experience?

If you have one, would you buy another?

Thanks for your input!

Oh, and since I see you still have that wallet out, could you spot me a couple of bucks for a drink? I left my wallet in the car...