Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Just recently had one of the most memorable food experiences of my life. Been working on a show concept for a while now, which would put me (the host) in the kitchens of restaurants across the county, featuring every type of dining experience imaginable. Well, I finally put the rubber to the road, and with the help of an old friend and some great contacts in the biz, we pulled off a production day in NYC that I will remember whatever the outcome.
We ended up recording footage of me working the line, so to speak, in four different places: first, I flipped burgers and fires at Bill's Bar & Burger (Meatpacking District), one of the hot, new burger joints in Manhattan. Next, it was yours truly making authentic masa tortillas at Dos Caminos (Park Ave. South at 26th St.), followed by crafting my own steak -- I butchered it, seasoned it, cooked it -- at Primehouse NY (27th and Park Ave. South), and finally, an Asian double-header at Ruby Foo's Times Square, where I made sweet and sour shrimp in the kitchen downstairs, and rolled sushi in front of a pre-theater dining crowd upstairs. Special thanks to the amazingly kind and generous folks at BR Guest Restaurants (www.brguestrestaurant.com). Without them, this shoot would not have been possible.
Footage is in the hands of a skilled editor. We will create a promotional reel from it, and then shop it to the networks. Stay tuned...
Haven't done much home-cooking lately, but last night made a nice little pasta dish my wife found in Real Simple:
- Cut 2 sweet potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes, season with salt and pepper, and cook in a large skillet with EVOO, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, boil water and cook one box spaghetti.
- Add 2 sliced shallots and 1 tbsp. rosemary to the sweet potatoes. Cook and stir for another 3-5 minutes.
- Drain pasta and reserve 1/2c water. Put pasta back in the pot, add the sweet potato mixture, 1/2c grated Parmesan cheese, and pasta water, and mix.
- Top with 1/3c Ricotta cheese (or more if you choose), and serve.
The dish was hearty, but still light and fresh-tasting.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
The first was a bit more time-consuming than I originally anticipated ... babysitting the meatballs as they brown on all sides is a necessity... the second was a snap -- you gotta love no-bake pies! ... enjoy, and Happy Halloween!
Italian Meatballs (for subs)
- Soak 2c panko breadcrumbs in 3/4c whole milk. Add 2 cloves chopped garlic, 4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper.
- Combine 3 lbs. ground beef (I used half beef, half pork -- much more flavor) in a large bowl. Add bread crumb mixture.
- Mix in 1/2 medium chopped sweet onion. Mix. Add 3 large eggs. Mix. Add a helping of oregano, parsley, and 6 tbs. grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese. Mix.
- Roll into balls on a large dish or platter, while you heat a large skillet/fry pan on medium heat. Mixture made 35 meatballs for me.
- Brown on all sides, turning every few minutes (you'll have to use 2 pans or do it in batches).
- Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, make a
Basic Tomato Sauce:
- heat 3 tbs. EVOO, 1 medium sweet onion (approx 7 min.), 5 chopped garlic cloves (or equivalent). Sautee until golden brown.
- Add 2 280z. cans good quality crushed tomatoes and juices (I also added a pinch of crushed red pepper for some heat).
- Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes. Add a pinch or two of sugar and/or salt to taste.
When meatballs are done, transfer to Dutch Oven or Crock Pot, cover with sauce, and simmer for 30 minutes. OR, refrigerate and heat up next day.
Turtle Pumpkin Pie
- Pour 1/4c caramel topping into ready-made graham cracker pie crust. Top with 1/2c chopped pecans.
- Mix 2 boxes (3.4 oz each) vanilla pudding mix, 8oz canned pumpkin, 1c cold milk, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg.
- Once blended, add 1 1/2c Cool Whip. Spoon mixture into crust.
- Refrigerate an hour or until ready to serve. Top with remaining Cool Whip (from an 8 oz tub), drizzle on caramel topping and more chopped pecans just before serving.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
For my rendition, I opted for chicken in place of veal, to appease the masses, but the results were still fairly exceptional. There's a lot going on in each bite: a little crunch from the bread crumbs (I use Panko), the tenderness of the white meat, the salty prosciutto, the creamy ricotta, the slightly sweet and acidic tomato sauce (I used Putannesca), and the melty mozzarella......... heaven, and on a Monday night no less!
I urge you to try this dish...maybe it becomes one of your favorites, too! Just make sure to give the credit to Franco!
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The first was a breakfast at the Ridge Diner in Park Ridge, NJ, just a stone's throw from my childhood home. What made this return even better was that I was there with one of my best friends from college, who has since migrated to my old hometown. We ate typical breakfast fare that morning -- eggs, pancakes, french toast... and it was good to be back in those familiar surroundings, especially with 2 generations...
Lunch that day was take-out from Casa Del Sol, and it still remains one of the best roast beef hoagies I'll ever devour. This time, my buddy Pete ordered for us: rare roast beef, thick slices of mozzarella, and roasted red peppers. Nothing like it.
And it's truly one of the things that makes me so passionate about food: the ability for a taste, a smell, a texture, to transport you back in time. There's something... pastoral about it for me. And yet it tastes as good today as it did when I was younger...
I am, and always will be, proud to be from the Garden State!
Friday, October 9, 2009
This is a light and very healthy meal that has a lot of texture and different flavor profiles to it...
Fettuccine with Artichokes and Beans
- Cook pasta according to directions. Reserve 1/2 c of pasta water.
- Drain and rinse 1can cannellini beans and cut into quarters a can of artichoke hearts (I prefer the marinated ones). Saute for a few minutes with a bit of EVOO and garlic.
- Crumble one piece of white toast in a food processor/blender. Add oregano or Italian seasoning and pulse until combined. Drizzle in 2 tbsp. EVOO and pulse again until combined.
- Drain pasta and return to pot. Add in the bean mixture and half the bread mixture, plus the reserved pasta water.
- Top with remaining bread mixture and Parmesan cheese, and serve.
I made this as more of a side dish (the better to have more leftovers!), and served with breaded tilapia fillets topped with a Cabernet reduction sauce, with garlic, capers, and sun dried tomatoes.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Fire Roasted Tomato Fettuccine
- Slice a dozen plum tomatoes length-wise and place in a foiled-lined, non-stick sprayed 15x10 baking dish.
- In a small bowl, mix 1/4c EVOO, S&P (I prefer sea salt), garlic, crushed red pepper, and Italian seasoning. (*NOTE: I don't give exact measurements here because I believe you can use as much or as little to your liking... but usually it's in the neighborhood of 1 tsp.)
- Spread mixture over tomatoes, and roast in a 400 degree oven for 45-60 minutes. Drizzle 2 tbsp. EVOO on top before roasting.
- Cook pasta as you normally would. Meanwhile, place 1/2 the roasted tomatoes in a large bowl and roughly mash them. Mix in the drained pasta and then top with the rest of the tomatoes.
- Either mix in or sprinkle on a helping of your favorite cheese (I'd go with Reggiano or Pecorino, but Asiago would work here, too.).
We had this last night with a spicy little Australian Shiraz that complimented the dish beautifully....
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
King Ranch Chicken Casserole
- Grease a 13x9 baking dish. Shred rotisserie chicken (I used one; possibly coulda benefited from more) and spread half in the dish.
- Meanwhile, sautee 2 tbsp. butter and a 10 oz. bag of frozen onions, celery and peppers, about 5 minutes (or until tender).
- Place in a bowl and stir in 2 cans of Cream of Chicken soup, and 2 cans of diced tomatoes, along with 1 tsp. of mexican chile spice.
- Layer in 1/2 the soup mixture on top of chicken, top with 1c shredded cheddar cheese, then 1 1/2 c roughly crumbled white corn tortilla chips (preferably lime-flavored, like Tostitos has -- my fave!).
- Repeat the layering once more: chicken, soup mixture, cheese, then crushed chips.
- Top with extra 1c of cheddar cheese, and bake at 400 degrees for approx. 25 minutes.
This is one of those dishes I'm hoping with build a bridge for my kids (my son, really) from the typical hot dogs and grilled cheese to a broader tasting profile. Specifically... I want them to eat what we eat for dinner!
Any ideas on how to accomplish that, please comment at your leisure!!
Sunday, September 27, 2009
My first step in this abridged adventure was courtesy of Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman's "Urban Italian." I picked a pasta dish thinking it would be a somewhat simple place to start. Rigatoni Pugliese. And while I was not entirely incorrect (the rigatoni part was a breeze!), the sauce was going to be maiden voyage for me into uncharted culinary waters: making a sauce from scratch.
This one turns out to be a sauce-within-a-sauce, because the it features Carmellini's Basic Tomato Sauce, which is the base for so many of his dishes, as it's main component.
So really, there are two recipes to share here. Let's start with the Basic Tomato Sauce:
- 2 1/2 (I used 3) 35 oz. cans of good quality Italian canned tomatoes (Andrew recommends San Marazano; I used Cento). Squeeze out the seeds and juice and discard. (* NOTE: this was tricky for me: I didn't know if I was losing too much of the good stuff inside, but Carmellini explains that it's crucial to get the sauce to the right consistency)
- Top tomatoes chunks with a generous amount of kosher or sea salt (about a heaping tsp) to draw out any excess moisture.
- Cook down the tomatoes over medium heat in a pan or pot with a wide surface area for about 30 minutes. Ladle out any excess water. Smash the tomatoes with a wooden spoon during cooking to smooth out.
- Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat 1 1/4 c EVOO with a head of garlic (top cut off to expose the cloves), 1 tsp crushed red pepper, and 1 c washed basil leaves (stems on) over medium heat to a simmer. Remove and reserve as soon as you hear the basil start to "crackle."
- After the tomatoes have reduced by about 1/2, strain the flavored oil in and stir to combine. Cook for about another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and mix it up a bit at the end to help emulsify. (* NOTE: I never got mine to completely emulsify. It looked very oily to me, but don't worry: it still comes together in the end)
I prepped this in advance of the rest of the dish, because the rest is fairly quick and simple:
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Blanch 1 bunch of broccoli rabe (cleaned of outer leaves; stems trimmed) for about 90 seconds. Transfer to ice water bath.
- Bring water back to a boil. Cook 1 lb. Rigatoni until al dente.
- In a sautee pan, heat EVOO, broccoli rabe, 1/2 can of chick peas (save the liquid and other half!!), 1 clove of thin sliced garlic, and 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Sautee until all ingredients are well coated.
- Meanwhile, blend the liquid of the 15 oz. can of chick peas with remaining 1/2 can of chick peas, for about a minute, until it forms a smooth paste. Add to Basic Tomato Sauce and cook for about 15 minutes.
- Add sauce to drained rigatoni back in pasta pot and cook for about a minute.
- Remove from heat and stir in 2 tbsp butter, 2 tsp EVOO (* NOTE: I skipped this because the sauce had enough oil already), and 1/2 c grated pecorino cheese (*NOTE: I used parmigiana reggiano).
- Transfer to a large serving dish or plate. Top with another 1/2 c grated cheese and the broccoli rabe mixture. Serve immediately.
The reviews were spectacular. There really is no substitue for homemade sauce. This recipe allows for extra sauce, so you can either add it to the dish, or save it for another recipe. Well worth the effort and time.
Our only critique was the bitterness of the broccoli rabe. Not sure if it was operator error, but it just seemed to work against the rest of the flavors in the dish. I also skipped a main ingredient in the sauce: spicy Italian sausage. If you choose to use it, all you have to do is brown 1 lb. of sausage (out of its casing) in a pan, breaking it up into small pieces, and adding it to the sauce before combining with the pasta. I'm sure it will only enhance the intensity of the flavors, and give it even more of authentic Italian taste, but I had to cater to the crowd, so to speak!
One recipe down...how many more to go??... to be continued...
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Spread this to every Bruce fan you know... quite an undertaking by this guy... and I believe he has one for the Beatles as well...
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I'll keep posting updates as they come. Should be a fantastic weekend. Spread the word and make a vacation out of it!
Great weather, amazing golf courses, and a food and wine ;lover's paradise!
For more info: www.tasteshows.com
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Backtracking a bit, but Kevin may have won the Top Chef reward of a lifetime, getting to break bread with French living legends like Boulud, Keller, and Robuchon, but didn't it seem like he was stuck at the kids table at Thanksgiving? If he indeed said anything of substance, we certainly didn't get a whiff of it, aside from one meager comment. I suppose there wasn't enough oxygen in the room when you dine with the likes of those chefs in that stratosphere...
Loved seeing my friend and culinary cowboy Tim Love as the guest judge this week... so talented, and such a bright personality. Same way off the air as he is on it. My man needs his own show, and I only hope it's me who can someday deliver it to him...
Waiting to hear about a callback from Discovery Channel about a role in season 2 of "Pitchmen"...
Won $50 on NFL games week 1... That's a veritable windfall for me!!
Slight disappointment: no memorable meals to speak of...
Big, classic breakfast at Du-Pars in Studio City. Famous for their hot cakes and they lived up to their rep. They came with MELTED butter along with syrup... A simple, but much-appreciated touch. Thanks to my cousin Craig for introducing me to this mainstay...
Lunch at a West LA hot spot Il Moro with my frat brother Corey. He suggested I try the artichoke salad to start -- good call Ack! Shaved parmesan on top of wonderfully marinated chopped artichokes and greens. Delish!
Then I ordered the Parma pizza. Anything from the cured or smoked pig family is a big seller for me, so the Parma ham was the clincher. Only problem was, I thought it was an individual pie... All eyes on me when the waiter placed a FULL SIZE pizza in front of me. The pie almost dwarfed the table itself!! I showed uncommon restraint in not polishing off the whole damn thing, but believe me, I was tempted, appetite be damned! The ham was shaved thin and so fresh, the mozzarella the perfect gooey consistency, and the crust so thin that the edges cracked and crumbled if I handled it too brusquely... A tremendous meal with a hip, LA vibe... thanks, Corey.
Ended my food-related journey by checking off a big item on my "food bucket list" -- a double-double from the iconic LA fast food joint, In-n-Out Burger. Savored every big bite of this burger perfection, despite having to eat and drive.
But hey -- that's LA livin', right?
Friday, September 4, 2009
Last night, ate in downtown West Chester at Pietro's Prime (http://www.pietrosprime.com/), a nice-looking place with a fairly classic steakhouse vibe. Got my spot at the bar, situated perfectly within range of three TVs, so I could keep an eye on the US Open, the Eagles-Jets game, and the Phils-Giants game. Ryan, my bartender, suggested the bone-in pork chop, and I took him up on it. Started with a spinach salad that had a great ratio of egg and bacon (but a little too heavy on the red onion for my taste), then onto the main course. One thing I love about a good spinach salad is how the warm dressing makes all the components come together so beautifully. This one was simple, no-frills, and just the way I like it. A good starter...
I ordered the pork chop Oscar-style, with the Hollandaise on the side, because I really wanted to make sure I got the full flavor of the chop without any impedance of other ingredients. The plate came out looking super and the taste was the same. I ordered it medium rare, and it was cooked to perfection, with just the right amount of succulent fat on the edges and juiciness inside. There was a healthy amount of lump crab meat, and the asparagus was thick and colorful. The Hollandaise on the side was key, because all of the items on the plate deserved to be tasted and appreciated on their own. Of course, I loved the few forkfuls where I combined all the elements, too!
I threw caution to the wind and ordered a tiramisu and a cappuccino for dessert. Tiramisu is an all-time fave dessert for me, and I've had it served many different ways. Sad to say, this one was not up to snuff for me. It was a bit too much like a spongecake texture, and I prefer more cream and cinnamon and amaretto, giving it more of a 'drunken' sensation to the lady fingers. Still, the disappointing final course did not leave me regretting my choice. Pietro's would be a place I'd most certainly return...
This morning, I embarked on a pilgrimage, of sorts. My good friend, Curt, was adamant about me finding the DK Diner. Now, Curt is as passionate about food as I am, and the way he gushed about this place made it a mandatory stop on my journey. You know, this is what I love about the Northeast, be it Jersey, Pennsylvania, or New York: there is never a shortage of classic diners and family-owned pizza joints (more on that to come!) ...
DK is your prototypical truck-stop-style diner. Stainless steel outside and in; countertop spots are at a premium; specials hand-written overhead. Hasn't changed it's looked or it's menu since it opened in 1947. And despite the plethora of diners in the area, it still regards itself as "West Chester's only Diner" since that time.
I had very specific orders, which I had committed to memory, and was only too happy to oblige. Here's the lineup: creamed chipped beef, on top of crispy home fries, with a side of scrapple. I didn't even look at the menu until after I placed my order!
While it took waaay to long to get my meal, at least the coffee was appropriately diner-style satisfying to keep me at bay...
Let me tell you, Curt got it right, and I could tell from the first bite why, even after more than a decade away from DK, he recited the order as if he'd had it himself just yesterday morning. The chipped beef had a lot of flavor, and reminded of biscuits and gravy without the gravy; it seeped into the nooks and crannies of the crispy potatoes, which had the perfectly golden browned crackle of a crust on top. Add the salty, sausage-like flavor of the scrapple, and you've got yourself quite a trifecta of diner-iffic food, P-A stlye! The DK did not disappoint...
More to come...
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
This Middle Eastern vibe I was catching reminded me that my wife's Uncle Hugh has cousins in this area, and these cousins own an eatery called Daily Bread. I asked my lunchmates if they were familiar with it, and in hopes of triggering a responses, I called Hughbie to find out the address. He told me that they had recently opened a third place... in Doral (you following me here?)... called... Harvest Delight...!!!!! I was sitting in the very place by sheer coincidence and proximity to the offices I was calling on!
Next thing I know, I'm bear-hugging Neva, Hugh's cousin from Saudi Arabia, who manages Harvest; she's bringing out plates of fresh hummus and warm, toasted pita, along with sensational, authentic chicken kebabs. After all... we're family! What a fortunate find! And delicious food, too. I had the prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich on a homemade baguette, drizzled with balsamic and olive oil, which also tasted freshly made. Filling, and fine...
With all the air travel I've been doing lately, I'm really getting some serious reading done, so, Oprah's Book List be damned, here's a few picks for you, not that you asked:
Just finished Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell). Another engrossing read, equally as intriguing as his first two, Tipping Point and Blink. Highly recommend it. Gladwell deconstructs certain stereotypes to make practical and logical sense of why people succeed, struggle, and survive they way they do, as outliers in their respective fields or family lines. Fascinating stuff...
Almost done with Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture. My god, what a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, heart-warming, story of a man and his quest to solidify his legacy for his family and his students. He is no super hero, for sure, but he is a hero in so many ways. Inspirational, to say the least. You'll smile with tears staining your cheeks more than once...
About to embark on one I've been meaning to pick up for a while, that was recommended by my brother-in-law (and class A oenophile), Larry. The Billionaire's Vinegar is a non-fiction mystery about the world's most expensive wine, and the tales that surrounded it. Can't wait to pop the cork on that one...
Lots of reading to be done as I venture up to QVC land for Sunday shows all day. I no doubt will be reporting back on more food and dining adventures that await me in the Northeast...
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Rezzies for 6 at my favorite spot in St. Pete, Table. This joint would hold its own no matter what city you'd place it. A fusion/Latin American influence, with a terrific and eclectic menu. We basically ordered pu-pu style: wahoo cones, South Beach flat bread, and shitake chicken lollipops were passed around as starters. Snapper, Chilean Sea Bass, and Argentinian Bone-in Ribeye highlighted the entrees. Presentation was spot on, and each plate was impeccable in taste. The Sea Bass had a citrus crust, with plantain "spring rolls" on the side, the snapper was perfectly roasted with a shitake onion manchego tapinade on the side, and the chimichurri yuca fries that accompanied the gorgeous steak drew raves. Add in a more than adequate Malbec to drink, and this meal was as good as we wanted it to be...
And more than I could ask for as a way to spend my birthday evening...
Hopped a flight to NYC today, and rehearsed for my next set of nationwide TV appearances as the "Home Cooking Expert," primed to dish out advice on how to throw a killer end-of-summer soiree... but my thoughts were mostly on the evening that lay ahead. In part because I was reuniting with 2 of my oldest and dearest buddies, Pinto and Fat Lew, who I've known since grade school, but also in no small part to the fact that we were eating at Scarpetta (http://www.scarpettanyc.com/), the fine Italian dining establishment owned and operated by my friend, Scott Conant. This would be my second time visiting him there, and I must admit it's a warm and fuzzy feeling to get a bear hug from the man when I walk in the door (albeit a macho, 'man hug'). We've only known each other for a few years, but I'm an unabashed fan of his as a person and a chef.
After choosing a nice looking Antinori Chianti, we dutifully and enthusiastically accepted his offer of a tasting menu, leaving the decisions up to Scott himself. What was paraded before us in a seemingly endless stream of delicacies was a veritable embarrassment of culinary riches:
RAW YELLOWTAIL olio di zenzero & baked sea salt... CREAMY POLENTA fricassee of truffed mushrooms (**a Conant Classic**)... MOZZARELLA IN CAROZZA stewed baby tomatoes... BRAISED SHORT RIBS OF BEEF vegetable & farro risotto... CRISPY FRITTO MISTO (**Another Classic**)... TUNA ‘SUSCI’ marinated vegetables & preserved truffles... IMPORTED BURRATA marinated eggplant... ROASTED BEET AND LA TUR SALAD organic beets, endive, radicchio, trucioleto vinaigrette
DUCK AND FOIE GRAS RAVIOLI marsala reduction... SPAGHETTI tomato & basil (**Still the best I've ever tasted**)... AGNOLOTTI DAL PLIN filled with mixed meat & fonduta, mushrooms & parmigiano...
MEDITERRANEAN ORATA puttanesca, smoked eggplant puree... BLACK COD caramelized fennel & concentrated tomatoes...
AMEDEI CHOCOLATE CAKE burnt orange-caramel gelato, espresso sauce... BANANA BUDINO pecan gelato & oat tuile... COCONUT PANNA COTTA guava soup, caramelized pineapple...
This was nirvana. Am I overstating it if I say that if Alta Cucina is a religion, then Scarpetta is a cathedral, and Mr. Conant is the high priest? Hell, if any meal deserves some hyperbole, this was it!
We were stuffed after the pasta plates, and still couldn't resist soldiering onward, thoroughly savoring every morsel, despite the insignificant objections of our expanding abdomens.
I am already looking forward to my return to NYC in October. I've never eaten at Craft. I want to try Pastis. Babbo is on my list, for sure. But other dining establishments be damned... Scarpetta is a place I will return to again and again, despite the truncated visiting time my travels afford me...
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
In gearing up for a trip to NYC to host 'foodie' satellite media tour (where I appear in 10 different markets via satellite for a TV segment), I found myself doing something I don't often do...baking... and at 11pm, no less! We are a family of banana lovers, and every so often we end up with a few overly ripe stragglers. The best thing to do in this situation is make banana bread!
Found this recipe, and it turned out to be stellar...
- Combine 2c all-purpose flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp cinnamon in a bowl. Add 1/2 pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips.
- Combine 1c granulated sugar, 2 large eggs, 1/3c vegetable oil, 1 tsp vanilla extract in another bowl. Add 4 mashed, ripe bananas and 1/2c sour cream.
- Combine both mixtures. Pour into a buttered 9x5 loaf pan.
- Bake at 350 degrees for at least 1 hour, until golden brown and set.
- Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
- Invert and release from pan, and cool completely.
It's my birthday today, and I got another amazing cookbook to add to my collection. It's from Real Simple magazine ("Meals Made Easy"), which we find ourselves turning to quite frequently when we need good, tasty, healthy meal ideas for the family. Can't wait to dive in a pick out some faves!!
Going to dinner with some good friends tonight to celebrate. Rezzies at my new favorite St. Pete spot, Table (http://www.tablestpete.com/). Homemade mojitos at the casa beforehand. Here's how I plan on making them...
- In a large pitcher, muddle 36 mint sprigs, 12 tsp sugar, 1 lime.
- Add 18 oz. rum of your choice (I'm using Bacardi Limon), and 24 oz. club soda.
- Serve very cold with ice.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
I've already tabbed over a dozen of them, from easy yet inspired Italian dishes, to aspirational, classic ones.
My mission will be to prepare all of these sooner than later (I'm no Julie Powell: I have 3 kids, ages 6 and under!) and report back the results, as well as divulge the recipes themselves, so maybe you can try, too...
Also, I wanted to give you a list of some of my favorite foodie sites I like to frequent, starting with the most recent one I discovered (apologies if I'm late to the game on this!)...
... and, of course, www.foodandwine.com
Thursday, August 20, 2009
The Las Vegas season got off to a bit of a slow start for my liking, but there are definitely a few cheftestants to keep an eye on. One glaring detail that I couldn't get past, however, was the sheer volume of tatoos that adorned a seeming majority of them. You'd think LA/Miami Ink had some skin in the game. If not, they'd be smart to pony up some sponsor money for this season... Early faves in my camp: Eli, Kevin, and just because it's a twist and never been seen before, the Voltaggio brothers. Clearly Jennifer will be the Drama Queen of the season. She excelled in both challenges, and you can expect a lot of fish dishes from her, seeing as how she answers to the Ripper (Eric Ripert) in the real world.
The highlight for me, to be honest, was the judging. Kudos to my man Wolfgang Puck, who got some great pub for his restaurant Cut (gorgeous) and acquitted himself so well with his trademark charm and unmatched palette. He nailed his critiques with humor and honesty....
Now, onto the Masters Finale... this was pure eye candy for foodies like me! You couldn't have asked for a better finale, and more inspired final elimination challenge than we were treated to last night. Michael Chiarello, with his rustic Italian heritage, Rick Bayless and his 'Viva Mexico' flair, and Hubert Keller, always true to his classic French roots. The trio let it all hang out. Now that's a dinner table I would want to be at for my last meal on earth...
Each chef stayed true to his food philosphy and influences, and each delivered the goods, despite the time constraints and other hurdles. I loved sensing the genuine camaraderie between these chefs -- you could tell they all truly respected one another, and their respective places in the (celebrity) chef fraternity. From Bayless's mole (which ultimately tipped the scales in his favor), to Keller's salmon, and Chiarello's braised ribs, this was a feast for our eyes, and the judges' stomachs.
As someone who works in the TV industry, and really appreciates compelling unscripted TV, in a seas of mediocrity that exists, I say...
Sunday, August 16, 2009
As usual, I've parlayed my business travels into a foodie mission to discover some of the local flavor of the areas I call on. And these Philly suburbs didn't disappoint. Here's 2 to brag about, and for you to put on your list, if you ever find yourself in the 'Burbs of Brotherly Love...
A crowded parking lot greeted me -- always a good sign on a Sunday morning at 8:30. The diner has a homey, cozy look to it, as it's clearly a converted house (I dug the white, beadboard wainscot inside). But the decor, and even the menu, have a decidedly trendy vibe. This was definitely not your NY/NJ/PA truck stop/greasy spoon diner.
The scrapple came out first -- the best way to enjoy it is fried in a skillet and that's they way they did theirs. Two thin, rectangular slices, rather SPAM-looking. Tasty, for sure. Reminded me a slight bit of corned beef hash without the texture, and with a bit more spice to it.
The main entree arrived and was a gorgeous presentation. It tuned out to be a huge sandwich of brioche French toast, with a heaping helping of warm, melty Skippy peanut butter and bananas in between, and more bananas on top for garnish. A drizzling on the side of maple syrup for a hit of sweetness.
Way too much for even me to clean my plate, and I probably would've loved it even more if there was a better PB:'nanner ratio. The Skippy was a bit overpowering, making each bite, with the thick slabs of brioche and the banana slices, kinda difficult to work through. With that said, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the creativity and homemade-ness of it.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
1pm: TV appearance on regional sports network in Tampa Bay (http://www.bhsn.com/). Round table segment discussing the Rays, the Bucs, et al. It's the first time on this show that I'm introduced as being affiliated with ESPN/1040 radio. Pretty cool...
1:30pm: Call-in guest on local radio show, "Dining out Radio" (http://www.diningoutradio.com/) to discuss Home Cooking, and tout the Taste! Food & Wine Expo I will be hosting next May in Myrtle Beach. Introduced (via radio) to the "Love Chef" of Regis & Kelly fame. May try to work on getting him to appear at the expo next year!...
4:45pm: boarding a flight to Philadelphia (I digress...if you haven't tried it in a while or ever...try typing the word Philadelphia. For some reason it's one of my favorite words to type -- could just be because I'm a hopeless 'hunt-and-peck' pounder on the keyboard...OK, discuss!) to make my premiere appearance on QVC. It'll be a tremendous learning experience and incentive for me, to run with truly the lead dog in the pack, so to speak...
So, there you have it. Greek mythology refers to a Hydra (take that, Dennis Miller!). My three-headed monster is my career. Sports. Cooking & Food. TV shopping. All mashed and jumbled together in one day.
I often question myself,
"Do I need to focus on just one of these disciplines? Is it wise to be this diversified and/or versatile? Do I need one specialty instead of three?"
Thoughts? Comments? Observations?
I ponder these and other deep thoughts as I spend my remaining time before heading to the airport with my family...
Just another day as a Home-Office Dad...
Saturday, August 8, 2009
The afternoon was topped off with my sweet Princess Lindsey's Princess Tea Party to celebrate her 4th b'day. She was in all her glory, and my wife outdid herself with everything from the invites to the decorations and everything in between...
John Hughes passing is the loss of the most influential cultural touchstone of my generation. I could recite The Breakfast Club verbatim at one point in my adolescence. That movie poster hung in my childhood bedroom, alongside the one declaring "Leisure Rules," from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Hughes was funny, provocative, but most importantly, dead on in his depiction of every teenage paradigm we can all, in ways large and small, relate to... Most of us never heard of or will ever visit Shermer, Illinois...but damn if it didn't remind us of where we grew up...
I've now secured a spot as co-host of a Sunday, weekly sports talk show (thanks, Steve Kyler). Every time I think the sports side of my career is exiting stage left, or on extended vacation, at least, it seems something else pops up to keep the embers glowing in me...
Check out http://www.thegameradio.com/, if you care to...
Finished 5th overall in the Home Cooking Star online reality cooking series, and no sooner do I chalk it up to a fun, learning experience, than I see in my latest edition of Food & Wine touting its very own Home Cooking Super Star contest (www.foodandwine.com/superstar)!! So, here we go again...!
With that said, it would be criminal not to include a recipe I used the other night for dinner, which was both simple and sensationally summerific...
& as Juila would say, "Bon Appetit!" ...
Grilled Chicken with Peaches & Arugula
- Season chicken breasts (I used thin cuts, so make sure to adjust grill times depending) with salt & pepper and brush with EVOO. Grill for a few minutes on each side.
- Slice 1 large red onion into 1/2 inch slices. Slice 3 peaches into quarters. Toss in a medium bowl with EVOO, salt & pepper.
- Grill onions until tender.
- Grill peaches a couple of minutes on each side until you get some good grill marks.
- Add about 4 cups of arugula to mixing bowl. Return grilled onions & peaches to bowl and toss, with balsamic vinegar.
- Serve next to grilled chicken, and top with crumbled blue cheese.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
It's at times like this that human nature compels us to look inward, at our own lives, and assess the connection we have with friends and loved ones. Selfishly, I am so proud that Jeff wasn't just "my sister Robin's friend," or "my friend Nancy's brother." He was my friend, and we shared a moment in time that I feel compelled to share with you, if for no other reason than to bring a smile of recollection...
I don't recall the exact year (late '80s), but it was summertime, we were young and still living in New Jersey, and I was looking for a way to make money without having to actually...work. Nancy knew I loved music as much (ok, maybe almost as much) as Jeff, and he presented me with what seemed like an opportunity of a lifetime: playing security guard at concerts at Giants Stadium! Yes, you heard me correctly: 2 average sized Jewish kids from Bergen County were going to deal with the unruly riff-raff that descends upon the Meadowlands. Well, Jeff had done this the summer before, so he was my senior leader. Armed with the coolest shirt I ever wore (It actually said SECURITY on the back!), we made our pilgrimage together to East Rutherford. As fate would have it, my first 2 shows I worked were the first 2 Grateful Dead concerts I've ever attended. Jeff's sage advice to me: "Don't worry where they put you at first...when the music starts, just rush inside and you can get near the stage." Spoken like the wise man he already was.
Of course, me being low man on the security totem poll, I was stationed outside, by a fence, helping ensure no trouble-makers tried to hop the fence to access the inner sanctum of the parking lot. I was alone, and wondering what plum assignment Jeff, the wily veteran, had garnered, inside the bowels of Giants Stadium. Like the obedient underling I was, the moment I heard the first tune-ups of the Dead's music, and the roar of the crowd inside, I made a mad dash toward the security entrance, dodging Dead Heads along the way. I made it inside, still wondering, "Would I be able to find Jeff in this throng of people?" He was my beacon; my buoy in a sea of tie-dyed madness. More importantly, I wondered, "How the hell would I get home by myself??... Jeff drove me here!"
Lo and behold, I was able to spot him among the other blue-shirted security detail... and of course, Jeff Willner had the best seat in the house.
I will never forget that experience: it rained for most of the show that night, I recall; through "Shakedown Street," "Sugar Magnolias", and "Aiko Aiko," among others. I was converted. I had heard the Dead before this, but now I was a part of it. This would be the first of more than a dozen Dead shows I'd see in my lifetime (and from onstage, no less!!)... and I have Jeff Willner to thank for it. We'd flash each other knowing smiles every once in a while ("Can you BELIEVE this?!?!"), while intermittently scanning the crowd and trying to look officially serious and detached from the euphoria, if not menacing and intimidating. I could tell Jeff got as much enjoyment and satisfaction out of seeing me experience this, as he did experiencing it himself.
There were other concerts that summer -- Bon Jovi comes to mind -- but nothing compares to that 2-night stand at Giants Stadium with me, Jeff Willner, and the Grateful Dead. In retrospect, as you get older, you understand that it's the memories; the experiences you share, that count. A recently departed friend of mine once said, "It's not how many toys you have that matters most in the end. It's the stories."
Jeff and I shared that story together, that moment in time, like a freeze-frame snapshot, from that otherwise nondescript summer of our formative years, together. I carry that with me, and recount it often, as it still stands as a highlight of my youth.
Thank you for that memory, Jeff. Without you, it wouldn't have been possible. And I cherish that time now, more than ever.
Enjoy the music up there... I know you have the best seat in the house.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Lunch the next day before my show at Yank Sing, where you must prepare to be bombarded by a cavalcade of waitresses, carting to your table all sorts of goodies before you can barely put your napkin on your lap. All of the dumplings were incredible. I had some shrimp, poke, veggie. What a fun experience, and some of the top dim sum you'll come across...
San Francisco has such an international vibe to it. You sense it just walking its streets, and then you see it and taste it with the plethora of dining choices that can be made. And the Ferry Building market? Where else can you find a gourmet chocolatier next to a wild mushroom stand, across from a charcuterie, just down from a lavish wine shop.... it's as close to food/window shopping nirvana as I've experienced!
Back home now, and prepping as a finalist on Home Cooking Star. I made the Top 10, and had to complete a Black Box Challenge to get there (think Quickfire Challenge on Top Chef). It was exhilarating and reaffirming to know I could execute an entire meal with a laundry list of ingredients in under an hour. I did, and the results were satisfying, if not delicious.
If by some miracle to stumble across this blog before getting accosted by me electronically (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, e-mail), you can visit
http://homecookingstar.ning.com/group/richhollenberg to vote...
Monday, June 29, 2009
Taking my brother-in-law, Larry's recommendation, I lunched at Rockland's Real BBQ , in Upper Georgetown. It didn't disappoint... the brisket sandwich was generously served, tender and tasty, and the juices mixed with just enough of their signature Chipotle Tamarind BBQ sauce soaked right into the fresh, roll it was piled on. I wasn't brazen enough to try to eat it as a sandwich, so I suggest using the plastic cutlery they provide (they obviously know better!). Great ambiance at Rocklands -- spittoons on the table (that's right, I said 'table' -- there's only one at this cramped space) and counter top (where I ate, providing a nice chance to people-watch the eclectic G'town residents walk by) where you can dine in, to be used for the peanut shells and/or the discarded wet naps (and there are plenty of both).
This is small, simple, no frills, authentic BBQ joint, and if the smell and look of the place don't convince you before even tasting the food, just refer to their very own wet naps they provide (a surefire hallmark of legit BBQ), with the instructions on the wrappers: "Eat Your Barbecue," and "Leave Fingerprints"... words to live by, for sure...
Onto Milwaukee... I know they have beer there, so that's a good thing..!
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The best was yet to come... Vinny took me on a personal tour of the space, from the upstairs private dining (Emeril has his own "Crystal Room," named for the gorgeous, antique chandelier that hangs in it) with it's lush, velvety wallpaper, to the downstairs wine cellar and meat locker, where Delmonico's ages all it's own beef. An eye-opening and inspiring look behind the scenes of a top-flight restaurant, and a great way to pass the time while I awaited my petite filet...
And it was worth the wait, for sure. I ordered it medium, with no side dishes, so as to really concentrate and savor it's singular flavor and texture. It practically melted in my mouth. It was served with homemade Bearnaise and horseradish sauces. The Bearnaise was heavenly, and just a drop was required to compliment the beef. Certainly ranks as one of the great steaks I've ever had...
As is usually the case when one is alone and at a bar, conversations with strangers come easy (especially with a glass of wine and a shot under your belt), and one I had led me on quite the unexpected adventure. Being that it was still so early in the evening, I was up for one...
I somehow ended up at a small, understated spot, with a name as unpretentious as the space. It is called Butcher. An honest-to-goodness charcuterie, this place had some of the more extravagant meats and plates I've ever experienced. I tried roast duck pastrami on toast pieces, a pizzeta (tiny pizza) topped with a perfectly executed quail egg, and a sampling of cured salamis among a number of other meats and small plates that were all incredibly tasty. Almost a surreal experience, considering it's a true local's hangout, so in a way, I felt like a fly on the wall, albeit one with a big appetite!
All in all, my taste buds were treated to one of the memorable food experiences I've had in my lifetime. New Orleans, as much as any place I've visited, is truly a carnival of flavors for a foodie...
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
If you're ever in the Music City, Jack's is a must (http://www.jacksbarbque.com/)...
After my hit at the Fox affil, I heeded the advice of a good friend who happens to be Wolfgang Puck's pastry chef. She recommended a spot called Las Paletas (http://www.wheresthesign.com/), off the beaten path, in a rural spot outside downtown (a cameraman at Fox talked it up, too). Kinda reminded me of Decatur, GA, what with it's converted homes as shops and eateries. Charming. Well, let me tell you...what a revelation! Las Paletas translates loosely to 'popsicles,' and that's exactly what the owner, a lovely lady named Norma, has been doing there for over 7 years. So well-regarded is she that Bobby Flay surprised her on an episode of "Throwdown" on the Food Network... and Norma won!! She opened up early just for me, because I was there at 9:30am, as apparently most folks don't partake of popsicles (even gourmet ones) until noon and after. I chose the chocolate and strawberries version. She has about 2 dozen gourmet flavors at any given time, all home made right there...
It was as close to channeling Violet Beauregard as I've ever come. I actually tasted the chocolate and the strawberries individually as I bit in! Quite the Willy Wonka moment for me, and that's saying something (since I can quote that entire movie). Amazing! My only minor regret was they didn't have Peanut Butter flavor today... I only hope there will be next time for me in Nashville...
Now it's off to New Orleans!...
Monday, June 22, 2009
It didn't take me long to get my eat on upon arriving in the Music City. This has to be one of the most underrated little big cities in America (little big cities are the ones I favor, a la Charlotte, Scottsdale, even my own St. Pete). They love what I love: their food, their sports, their music...
Took an old production buddy's recommendation and lunched at the Copper Kettle, just a 9-iron away from the heart of downtown Nashville. Let me tell you, this place puts the SOUTH IN YOUR MOUTH! Award winner for best Meat & Three, as it's known in the Deep South, and with a fairly spectacular view of downtown Nashville and the Titan's football stadium. I hunkered down for some Coconut Chicken, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, and mac-n-cheese, plus a side of corn bread and mango tea to wash it down. Let me tell you: Diabetes be damned -- this was GOOD STUFF (don't worry, ma, I took my shot beforehand)!
Everything was just so...homemade. No frills; just fine, filling, comfort food, and really friendly service (another Southern perk). I purposely abstained from the BBQ pork, knowing full well my culinary compass would point me in that direction for dinner... the question is: where to go?
One driver recommended Jack's downtown; another Neely's, closer to my hotel (the same Neely's of Food Network fame).
I think I'm gonna go with Jack's, for 2 reasons: it's location, right in the heart of the action on Broadway,so I can then walk off my wares afterward, and also because of it's longevity. Jack's is one of the dining institutions in Nashville, and you can tell that just by looking at it's gruff, yet welcoming exterior...
No, this is decidedly NOT Memphis, the BBQ mecca, but it's close enough to pull from that source and carry it's own BBQ bravado.
Dinner's only a couple of hours away...
Editor's note: I am now officially a Top 20 finalist for my BBQ recipe on "Home Cooking Star." The voting resets now, so if by some way you find this post, please feel free to vote -- again, or for the first time -- http://homecookingstar.ning.com/group/richhollenberg
Friday, June 19, 2009
But, the recent influx of Dr. Pepper sightings on TV and in food blogs, etc. is becoming almost ridiculous! It was featured again on TV, this time by both Graham Elliot Bowles and Susanne Tracht on "Top Chef Masters" this past Wednesday night, and no sooner do I catch that on the DVR, than I read about Dr. Pepper ribs on the NY Magazine food blog, "Grub Street." It's everywhere!! Maybe that "23 secret ingredients" campaign really worked....
In the midst of a foodie media tour, travelling to 10 different markets to give tips on BBQ/grilling season. One of the most pleasant surprises was Albuquerque, NM. Stayed at a fab hotel right on the cusp of Old Town (Hotel Albuquerque), and visited 3 spots that I would recommend to anyone: Seasons appears to be the most contemporary, hip, fine dining you'll find in the area, and the 2nd floor views are breathtaking, as is the menu, and the wine and beer list (as I'd hoped, lots of west of the Mississippi microbrews on tap)... Little Anita's is almost stereotypically New Mexican, but don't ever ever ever call in TexMex! The dishes looked the same, but the taste was miles beyond what we're used to... next day, had lunch at Church St. Cafe, which occupies the oldest standing building recorded in Albuquerque. Exactly what you want from this type of town: rustic, charming, brimming with local ingredients (I ordered (and loved) the Pueblo Burger).
My two favorite takeaways from this 24-hour stopover: blue corn pancakes, topped with pine nuts, and a peach-maple syrup for breakfast... and Indian fry bread (which is what my Pueblo Burger was served on). Also, be prepared to sample fresh green chile on...everything! It's as common there as any condiment you can think of. All in all, outrageously simple, good, locavore-inspired food, and the people are kind and welcoming, too...
Does anyone have any grilling/BBQ tips they'd want to share, that I can then suggest on my tour (I'd give you credit for it on TV!)?? If so, make sure to comment...
Anyone ever been to Albuquerque, and care to comment on your fave spots? Let me hear your favorite places to eat when you're abroad... always looking for good recommendations!!
This week, I'm off to Nashville, New Orleans, and Orlando...
Been to Nashville once before and encountered (I swear) the best pizza joint outside NYC... Christopher Pizza -- funky, fun, and fresh made, original 'za with such creative toppings and combos... Love the fact that even though I won't get to the French Quarter, I can still get a Cafe DuMonde fix (in Metairie) -- gotta love the chicory and bignets...
I must say it is with a heavy heart that I write this latest entry. The patriarch of the Hollenberg family, my Papa Harry, passed away Thursday. He will be missed and remembered fondly by so many friends and family members. And my 2 sons and I carry on his good name proudly...