Potato and Leek Soup

A quick and dirty take on Amy Finley's Leek and Potato soup found on the Food Network site.


  • Two tablespoons of butter
  • Two medium-sized leeks (about 1 lb each)
  • Four medium-sized yukon gold potatoes
    • (the original recipe calls for russet, but I like the smoother finish and higher starch content of the yukons)
  • Approximately 3/4 carton of chicken stock (@ 28oz)
  • 1/2 pint heavy cream
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Chives (for garnish)
  1. To prepare the leeks, cut off the root end (about a half-inch will do it) and cut about an inch to two inches into the pale green section. Discard the roots and stalks. Cut the leeks in half lengthways and then cut the halves into 1-inch sections. Let the sections soak in a large bowl filled with water to rinse away the dirt that will be jammed into the leeks' layers.
  2. Meanwhile, Peel the potatoes and cut into 1-inch sections
  3. Heat the two tablespoons of butter in a medium soup pot over medium-high heat.
  4. Once the butter has melted and the pot is hot, sweat the leeks for about three minutes. Do not sautee. You're not trying to brown the leeks, you're only trying to soften them.
  5. After they've had a chance to soften, add the potatoes and chicken stock.
  6. Cook, uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft to the touch.
  7. Stir in the cream.
  8. Puree the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender.
    • *If you use a normal blender, work in batches and make sure you vent the lid from time to time. Hot soup in a blender releases a lot of steam and pressure builds up quickly.
  9. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with chopped chives.
Potato and Leek soup

Alternatives: This soup would work just as well with normal onions. To prepare, caramelize the onions in a pan before adding them to the soup pot and add the potatoes and chicken stock immediately. The caramelized onions will make a brown soup and give the soup a smokier flavor.

You could also fry some additional julienned leeks for a garnish to give the soup and heartier quality than the chives. Finally, adding a quater to half-cup Parmesan cheese would provide the soup with a deeper, slightly nutty flavor.

What to pair it with? You want something with tannins but not something that's going to blow the soup of the water. A dry Chardonnay might do the trick, or you could go with a light, drinkable pinot noir

Smoking Loon Pinot Noir2006 Smoking Loon Pinot Noir Color: A deep, translucent ruby color. Nearly watery on first appearance

Nose: Berries. Lots of them, from cherries and strawberries to cranberries. Slight vegetation and a hint of vanilla's roundness

Palate: Silky mouth feel with a tart berry taste and delicate tannins. Surprisingly good structure and balance. Will hold up to a lot of different foods.

Finish: Very clean and leaves the mouth wanting more. Surprisingly good finish without a hint of flabbiness or that cloying quality most often found in value-range wines.

This is an astonishingly good wine for the price--fine structure and lithe tannins make this a great wine to enjoy slightly chilled or with a wide variety of foods, from hearty pork chops to simple pastas and everything in between.


Elements of Cooking

I just came from Michael Ruhlman's second blog, Elements of Cooking. It's based in part on his latest book, The Elements of Cooking, which I'm sure is available at your local book seller, but will also be available soon from Ruhlman's own site, Ruhlman.com.

I'm excited about the book, and the site has just made it onto my permanent links section (over there, on the right). Why? Because it's not about recipes. One of the things I've loved about my own cooking journey is not recipes--don't get me wrong. A good recipe is a wonderful thing. But what I've found most valuable is basic cooking methods. Take, for example the simple béchamel sauce. A little flour, butter and milk and you have a base on which you can build all kinds of things.

Just the other day I used this small bit of knowledge to really jazz up a lunch of leftover chicken and mashed potatoes. 6:30 in the morning, and I knew I wanted something a little more than plain chicken. I checked around the kitchen, found some mushrooms, and in about 10 minutes time, had a wonderful mushroom cream sauce. Simple comfort food that didn't come from a Campbell's can.

You can do it, too:

  • Sautee mushrooms in a teaspoon of olive oil with a just a dash of garlic
  • When they've given up most of their moisture (probably about 2 minutes), remove them from the pan
  • Melt a tablespoon of butter in the same pan and slowly whisk in a tablespoon of flour (you've just made a roux)
    • ***The flour and butter mix should be about the same. For a single serving, a teaspoon to tablespoon of each should be fine. If you need more, up the amount accordingly
  • Now, slowly add milk--just a little at a time--until you come up with a sauce that's the desired consistency
  • If you want, you can add some Parmesan cheese to thicken the sauce a bit
  • Add in the mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste and you're done

Done! In 10 minutes I was able to take bland, boring leftovers and turn them into something delicious (and even a little impressive).

Anyway, my whole point here is that by understanding a singular fundamental (béchamel is one of the 7 mother sauces used in French cooking), I made something. And I could have just as easily gone with bacon in the sauce, swiss cheese, or any number of additional ingredients. And that's key. As I said on Ruhlman's blog, recipes are great, sure, but...it seems that fundamentals, not a recipe library, are the real key to kitchen creativity.


I must see King Corn

Michael Ruhlman, noted author and Anthony Bourdain's arch on-screen enemy, has posted a brief note about a new documentary, King Corn. I've not paid much attention to corn in general, but I've tried to be more alert to high fructose corn syrup (which, it turns out, is in everything). From Ruhlman's description, though, the problem goes much deeper than that:

It’s an excellent and entertaining reminder of what Pollan describes in Omnivore’s Dilemma (Pollan’s work inspired the film and he’s interviewed as well): that we are walking, breathing corn.  The film makers (above) buy an acre in Iowa to get hands on experience of America’s most important crop.  And also its scariest.  We grow a single strain designed to thrive in close quarters (urban corn); it costs more money to grow than it’s worth and you can’t eat it.

It sounds like an excellent movie, taking a very small, very real look at two guys' efforts to grow corn and make corn syrup and using that approachable situation to shed light on a much larger picture. Ruhlman maintains the real tragedy is that people eating this food won't get to see the movie--and probably wouldn't go even if it came to their towns. I agree. But more tragic than that is people's inability to buy anything healthier.

I worked for a company that went bankrupt just before 9/11. After 9/11 the job market was incredibly soft. I bounced to a couple consulting gigs, but even those were few and far between. With one salary between us (bless her heart, my wife--to be, at the time--drove a two-hour commute every day to keep us fed), we had to hunt for bargains. I realized inexpensive food fell into one of three categories: easy to make, hours to make, or required specialized knowledge. The people who won't see King Corn probably don't have the time or money necessary to eat healthier, whether they know about it or not.


World Health Organization's guidelines for child nutrition

According to Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, the United States pressured the W.H.O. into recommending a child's daily caloric intake should be one-quarter sugar.

That's a lot of sugar.


Savory and Sweet Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin soup with roasted walnutsOctober marks a transition. A transition to fall after September's equinox. A transition from lush green to spare orange. It's a harvest month. A time when autumn's vegetables supplant summer’s fruits and berries.

Ask people what they associate with October, and many will say Halloween and its requisite pumpkins. But pumpkins can be used for more than just jack-o-lanterns. You can use fresh pumpkins to make a delicious, savory/sweet soup that’s just the thing on October’s chilly evenings:

Pumpkin Soup

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 1 2-pound pumpkin peeled, seeded, chopped (about 6 cups—you can substitute two cans pure pumpkin for the fresh, just add the pumpkin during the puree process) approx. 4 cups chicken stock or low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Several shakes of allspice (to taste)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)


  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons honey (brown sugar also works very well--you can alter the amount to suit your sweetness cravings)

Melt the butter in a large, heavy soup pot over medium-high heat. Toss in the carrots, celery and onion (this is called mirepoix, if you want to get fancy and Frech). Sauté about 8 minutes or until tender. Add the pumpkin, the chicken stock and spices. Cover and simmer about 25 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender (you should be able to pierce it with a knife with bare resistance).

Puree the soup in a blender using short pulses (Safety warning: take the top off the blender after every two or three pulses to allow the steam to vent out. I didn’t, and pumpkin splatter shot out the stop and all over my counter, floor and clothes). You can also use a food processor. Put the soup back in the pot and stir in the cream and honey. Add salt and pepper to meet your tastes (or you could always let your guests season the soup at the table). For a delicious additional touch, pan roast a small handful of walnuts for each bowl of soup. October is harvest month for walnuts and the only time you can get fresh ones.

This soup can be made well in advance and frozen. It also keeps well in the refrigerator--just heat and serve.

What to pair it with?
This soup calls for a wine that's going highlight the sweet and savory characteristics. A good white pairing would be a gewürztraminer, as the spice and floral characters would enliven the soup's flavors. If you wanted to go red, however, I think a petite syrah would do well, or you could always fall back on a solid California Zinfandel.

Ravenswood  2005 Vintners Blend ZinfandelRavenswood Vintners Blend
2005 California Zinfandel
Ravenswood wines traditionally offer great value. They are all new world in style, very drinkable and pair well with a broad range of foods.
Color: A marvelous cranberry red that fades to salmon at the edges
Nose: Fruit. Definite berry (strawberry) and other red and dark fruits. A hint of vegetation or moss and a touch of leather and spice.
Palate: Very bold. Berry flavors and some spice. Strong body with little complexity but is highly food friendly. Nice tannins and a good structure.
Finish: Clean. Lingering hints of the nose, particularly the leather. Leaves you eagerly anticipating a bite of food, or another gulp from the glass.


Eric Asimov provides 10 reds for under $10 a piece

New York Times columnist Eric Asimov gives us a list of 10 excellent wines priced at under $10 a piece. I try not to spend more than $10, ever. If pressed, I'll spend up to $15. But for the most part, I've been very happy with the wines I get for about $10 a piece.

Eric's list:

Casa Cadaval Portugal Ribatejano , $8.99, ***
Padre Pedro 2002

Domaine de l’Ameillaud France , $9, ** ½
Vin de Pays de Vaucluse 2005

Viña Gormaz Spain Ribera del Duero , $9, **
Tempranillo 2005

Georges Duboeuf France , $9, **
Beaujolais-Villages 2006

Altas Cumbres Argentina Mendoza , $9, **
Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Wyatt California Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 , $10, **

J. Vidal-Fleury France , $10, **
Côtes-du-Ventoux 2005

Domaine Monte de Luz , $7, **
Uruguay Tannat 2006

Ravenswood California Vintner’s Blend , $10, **
Merlot 2004

Paringa , $9, * ½
South Australia Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

I'll have to trust the man. I mean, he did get the Ravenswood, which are pretty consistently good values. I wish more people would seek out and try the some Rhone reds, especially the Domaine La Garrigue 2004 Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Romaine. They're all surprisingly complex and deliver an excellent value for under $12 a bottle.

Garlic Chicken paired with Espelt Sauló

Garlic ChickenI love to cook. There are few feelings better than plugging the iPod into my kitchen speaker rig, pulling out ingredients, and peeling that first garlic clove. Even better when I don’t have to worry about making up a recipe or following along in some book. Just the food, counter, pots and pans. And music.

This past Sunday was pretty hectic for me. There’s just a lot to do to get ready for the week. Luckily, I’ve got an excellent go-to recipe that’s easy to make, absolutely delicious, and doesn’t require a bit of thinking on my part. It’s a garlic chicken recipe from Tapas by Susanna Tee, a great little book I picked up on sale.

Note: the ingredients have been reduced from the original version to more aptly feed four, not eight

  • 4 – 6 chicken thighs, skin on, boned and cut into bite-sized pieces (The thighs are easier to bone and cut if they’re fresh from the refrigerator)
  • 5 or 6 (or more) cloves of garlic, sliced thin
  • 1/3 cup of dry white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbl. finely chopped parsley
  • Paprika
  • Salt
  • 1 table spoon of olive oil

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan. Toss in the garlic and let cook for about a minute, or until it just begins to brown. Remove with a slotted spoon to a cooling rack or paper towels. Place the chicken in the pan (skin-side down, for those pieces that have it) and let it cook for about six minutes on one side. Then turn the pieces and let them cook for another four to five minutes. You want to make sure you give it plenty of time to brown nicely on each side. Don’t go flipping them every minute! After the chicken has had time to brown, add the bay leaf and the wine. Bring it up to a boil and then reduce to simmer for another 10 minutes. After five minutes, dust with paprika and sprinkle with salt. When it’s finished, remove from the pan, plate, and place the sliced garlic cloves here and there around. Toss on the parsley and serve with some good, crusty bread.

What to pair it with?
The succulent nature of this dish and the somewhat heavy flavor of the chicken skin and garlic call for a well-structured wine with good tannins. Espelt Wineries’ 2005 Sauló (an organic wine made from garnacha and carinena varietasl) is a shining example of just such a wine.

Color: Deep, opaque red fading to violet at the edges.
Nose: Spice—definitely a Spanish wine. Heavy, with deep berry, vanilla and a hint of roasted coffee. A very nice complexity
Palate: Rich flavor and excellent structure. Strong tannins finish with a surprisingly supple mouth feel.
Finish: An absolute clean sweep that perfectly prepares your mouth for another mouthful.


Spiraly goodness from Korea

Immediate disclaimer: I have never eaten this snack and can make no claims about its deliciousness. But damn, it just looks delicious. From the blog, Super Local:

totally forgot i had this until i was reminded by the lovely shezz. what a crazily amazing way to present (& cook) a potato!

came dusted with a fine cheese powder, a bit like the stuff you find on Twisties. quite yum, like a one super long deep fried crisp!

have seen it in Hongdae & Myeongdong but am it’s in loads of other places.

more food theatrics, please! ^^

Some people might be a bit concerned with the healthiness of the snack (Cory Doctorow, of Boing Boing fame). But I'm heartened. It's a whole potato, spiral cut and fried. My guess would be that it's dusted in front of you, and if you picked salt and pepper, you wouldn't get the weird hydrogenated oils that are in cheesey sprinklings. Whole, fresh food simply prepared can't be beat. Sure, you might be better off with a carrot, but you'd be worse off with McDonald's fries. And I'd guess the tornado potato gives fries a solid run for their money in the taste department.


Simple tips for healthier food shopping

Allrecipes.com (via LifeHacker) provides a list of tips and tricks to buying healthier food in the grocery store. The most helpful?

7. Buy in season. Sure, it’s tempting to buy strawberries in December, and once in a while that’s fine. But fresh fruit and vegetables are best when purchased in season, meaning they’ve come from relatively close to home. They often cost less, are tastier, and have less risk of pathogens such as E. coli.

It takes care of tips number 1 and number 2 in one fell swoop (and prevents E. coli). Though the easiest is probably 2. Shop the perimeter of the store.

Link: Ten tips for your grocery list.


The perfect grilled cheese sandwich

Grilled cheeseMany people are troubled by grilled cheese. Such a simple sandwich, yet the complaints are myriad: my cheese didn't melt. The bread burned. It doesn't taste as good as mom used to make. The simplest fix for grilled cheese woes? Lower the temperature and use butter. Lots and lots of delicious butter.

  • Set a pan over medium heat
  • Give it plenty of time to heat up
    • Meanwhile, get two thick slices of bread and your favorite cheese--rye and cheddar works well as does whole wheat bread, a slice of tomato and meunster cheese. For this particular sandwich, I used pumpernickle and swiss on my wife's recommendation. She was born in Wisconsin and knows a thing or two about cheese.
    • Slice your cheese thin and make the sandwich
  • Add a tablespoon of butter to the pan, and spread butter across the outside of one side of the sandwich
  • Lay the sandwich butter-side down in the pan, and butter up the other side (It's ok, you won't get burned. A good technique is to soften the butter in the microwave--15 seconds ought to do it)
  • After a couple minutes (your cheese won't yet be melted, but should just be turning translucent on the edges) flip the sandiwch and let it go for a few minutes more.
  • Serve with a small salad or tomato soup


Simply French

Simply FrenchMany people say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Those people are right. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Unfortunately, we're lucky if we have time to toss a handful of granola into a tub of vanilla yogurt during the week, and on weekends, no one wants to spend all morning in the kitchen. We have to do things, see people, or crawl back into bed.

French toast is a simple, delicious breakfast that can be decadent enough for weekend lounging but fast and easy enough for weekday mornings. Total prep and cooking time for recipe is about 15 minutes.

  • 3/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons butter, separated
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • small pinch of kosher salt
  • Day old French bread baguette, cut on a diagonal to 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 handful of blueberries (any berries will do. I like blue berries because they don't need to be sliced)
  • Syrup (corn, maple, or fruit), or honey

Set a pan on the stove over medium heat, and butter the pan with 1 tablespoon butter. You want just enough to coat the pan. While the pan is heating and the butter melting, mix the buttermilk, egg, salt and brown sugar in a shallow dish--a pie plate works perfectly. Pace the sliced the French bread into the buttermilk mixture and let it sit for 30 seconds on each side.

Buttermilk is important for this recipe. You could easily substitute whole or 2% milk, but the buttermilk provides a tangy contrast to the upcoming sweetness provided by the syrup.

Once you've soaked the pieces, they're ready to put in the pan. Gently set the bread pieces in your skillet and listen to the satisfying sizzle for 2 - 3 minutes. You want the custard mixture you've created to caramelize, but not burn. So check after 2 minutes. If it's not yet a golden brown, let it set a while longer, and then flip them, letting them sizzle away again for the same amount of time.

When they're done, pull the slices from the pan and set them in a flower pattern on a plate. Butter the pieces (you've got up to a tablespoon you can use, remember?), drizzle with syrup, and toss on a few of the berries.

What to pair it with?
Milk, fruit juice or coffee. (Whether or not the coffee has bourbon in it is entirely up to you)


Simple snacks for afternoon grazing

I love snacks. They're usually delicious and make for perfect grazing on a long, hot Sunday afternoon. One of my favorite snacks is chips and salsa. It's easy, can be wonderfully healthy, and is just the kind of refreshing snack to help stave off the crushing Florida heat. The other snack I decided try is fried shrimp (fried shrimp!). Not first on my list of snack foods, but surprisingly simple and definitely delicious.

Chips and Salsa
Something you should know going in: when I make chips and salsa I use store-bought corn chips and canned tomatoes. You can make your own corn chips if you want, but why bother? Next time you go to your local grocer's, check the corn chips. Chances are they'll have one of the shortest ingredient lists of any processed food: corn, salt, canola oil. Simple. And simple's always good, and even better when it's coupled with convenient.

As for the tomatoes, the only time to use fresh tomatoes is when they're in season. Canned tomatoes are perfectly good--and out of season are way better than what the stores pass off as fresh tomatoes. Do check the ingredients list, though. Some canners will add salt, and you'll need to be mindful of it for most recipes. Over salting a dish is one of those things that just can't be fixed.

  • 1 28oz. can of diced tomatoes, mostly drained
  • 1 jalapeño pepper seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium lime
  • Approx. 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Salsa's maybe one of the easiest thing on earth to make. Just dump the tomatoes in a bowl, add the jalapeño and onions, oil and lime juice. Then start adding a little salt and a little pepper until you find the taste you enjoy.

But also consider this as a base. You could begin adding various ingredients to change the flavor profile, either subtly or radically. Think about using red onions instead of green. Or halving the amount of jalapeño pepper and adding green bell pepper. Or chipotles. You could a dash of white wine to coax more flavor from the tomatoes (they are flavor molecules in tomatoes that are only soluble in alcohol). Whatever you do, make sure you save some of the next day. Salsa is a dish that's definitely better after the flavors have had a chance to mingle and come together.

Fried shrimp
For some reason, I always considered shrimp one of those temperamental foods that's easy to destroy. I haven't really cooked with it at all except to make paella, and even then I usually just pick up some from the store already cooked and peeled, ready to eat (yes, sometimes I'm incredibly lazy when it comes to food). But a recent evening at Bonefish restaurant--and more notably their Bang Bang Shrimp appetizer--was enough to make a person reconsider. So reconsider I did.

  • 12 medium or jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs (you could use normal breadcrumbs, but I love cooking with panko--wonderfully light and always fries up very crispy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder (or to your taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 - 3 vigorous grinds of the pepper mill
  • 1/2" vegetable oil in your favorite pan
Heat the oil over medium-high to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. While you're waiting, you can peel the shrimp and pat them dry with a paper towel or cloth. This step is crucial. They need to be dry for the buttermilk to coat them well, and the buttermilk needs to coat them well so the breadcrumbs will stick, and the breadcrumbs need to stick if you're going to achieve a wonderful, crispy, golden-brown...well, you get the idea.

Mix the panko and other dry ingredients: paprika, garlic powder, ginger, salt and pepper. Working in batches, dip the shrimp into the buttermilk and then dredge them through the panko mixture, getting a good coating on all sides (use the tail as a handle). Carefully lower the shrimp into the oil and cook for about 1 minute on each side. Remove and drain on paper towels or a cooling rack.

Buffalo shrimpYou're done! It really is that easy, and the fried shrimp will be crispy and delicious.

But if let's say you had your heart set on something spicier--something a little dangerous, and probably a little bad for you. These fried shrimp provide a perfect base for buffalo shrimp, a tangy, spicy bar stand-by that's the perfect thing to accompany a couple ice cold lagers. And it really is ridiculously easy.

Put about 1/2 cup buffalo wing sauce in a large plastic bag, toss in the shrimp, capture some air and seal the thing. Shake vigorously to coat the shrimp and plate. Ta da! Bar food without the smoke, bad beer or obnoxious guy who can't stop talking about his feet!

What to pair it with?
Beer. Don't be silly.


Recipe for disaster

From The Ninja (capital "T", capital "N")

I'll be back with new recipes soon; I swear


KFC's Famous Bowls, Patton Oswalt style

In November, KFC introduced it's now-famous Famous Bowls. I wrote up a quick post outlining my thoughts on the novelty food item. Now Patton Oswalt's weighed in on the matter, and he's funnier and more pointed than I could ever be. Worth watching:


Farm Fresh Recipes

This post originally appeared in Satellite Magazine

Fresh matters. You can ask any cook worth her salt and she’ll tell you the same thing. Fresh, whole ingredients impart even the simplest dishes with deep, rich flavor. However, since most grocery store produce travels an average of 1,500 miles to get from the farm to your plate, getting fresh produce can sometimes be a challenge. Lucky for all of us, Gainesville is full of farmer’s markets. The Union Street Farmer’s Market in the Sun Center is open every Wednesday, rain or shine, and features fresh, seasonal ingredients grown by local farmers.

While buying locally will give you the freshest food, it can also limit your choices. You won’t get oranges in summer and you won’t get asparagus in fall. But then, eating seasonally is a wonderful exercise in menu planning and can connect you to the local land and community.

Lucky for us, summer is here, which means many produce items such as cantaloupes, blueberries, chicory, tomatoes, swamp cabbage (water spinach) and leeks are at the height of freshness and are readily available:

With just a few other ingredients, these items can be cobbled together to make for some wonderful dishes, from refreshing fruit salads to delicious savory entrees:

Grilled cantaloupe with chicory and blueberry vinaigrette

For the dressing:

  • 1 4.4oz container of blueberries, mixed variety (approx. two large handfuls) – most juicy berries will work with this recipe: raspberries, blackberries, and others. Avoid cranberries as they’re probably too tart, and strawberries won’t provide enough juice
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (you can substitute honey, also available at the farmer’s market)
  • A pinch of salt

For the salad:

  • 1 large cantaloupe, seeded, cut into wedges and peeled
  • 1 bunch chicory, stems removed, rough cut

Grilled cantaloupe with chicory and blueberry vinaigretteBegin by pureeing the blueberries. You can use a food processor, blender or hand blender. If pressed, you can juice them in a bowl by grinding them to a pulp with the back of a large, heavy spoon. A slow process, but infinitely gratifying.

Once the blueberries have given up their juice, whisk in the vinegar (for brightness) and add the water. Toss in the salt, and slowly add the sugar, tasting and whisking as you go. Don’t be afraid to stick your fingers in the dressing and taste it! Some people like sweeter dressings while others like their dressings more sour or bitter. Don’t be afraid to experiment and feel free to alter the ingredients’ ratios to get it to your liking.

This is a rustic dish, which is a fancy way of saying you don’t have to be too careful with the cutting.

Begin by heating a large skillet over medium-high heat. While the pan heats, sprinkle the cantaloupe wedges with just a bit of Kosher salt (optional) Once the pan achieves temperature—it should feel hot when you’ve got your hand about two inches above the pan—place the cantaloupe wedges in the pan, cut side down. Let them sear about 45 seconds on each side. When it’s done, set the cantaloupe aside to cool.

*The salt will draw out some of the melon’s moisture and help concentrate the sugars in the cantaloupe. Searing the cantaloupe will caramelize some of the sugars that have been brought to the surface and will give it a deeper, richer sweetness.

Once the melon has cooled, cut it into bite-sized pieces and mix it with the chicory in a large bowl. Store in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. When you’re ready to serve, plate the cantaloupe salad and drizzle liberally with the blueberry dressing.

Alternative: Once the cantaloupe has chilled, mix with fresh, whole berries and sprinkle with powdered sugar or drizzle with honey for a deliciously sweet, healthy dessert.

Pan seared tuna with balsamic glaze and crispy leeks

The real star of this dish is the sauce, which can be used to top any number of proteins, from tuna or chicken breast to extra firm tofu or tempeh.


  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 medium fresh tomatoes* @3/4 of a pound, diced
  • @1 cup water spinach leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
  • 1 table spoon olive oil
  • 1 table spoon brown sugar

Remaining ingredients

  • 2 large leeks cut to matchsticks (pieces 1/4 inch wide, 2 inches long)
  • Peanut, canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 Tuna steaks
  • Salt
  • Pepper

The sauce:
Begin by heating a skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, wait for it to heat and then add the garlic cloves. Let them cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. While those cook, you can whisk together the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar (the sugar will provide a sweet counterpoint to the vinegar’s acidity and will also help the sauce come together as more of a glaze). You could also add extra ingredients to enhance the sauce, such as lemon or lime juice, white wine, or sherry. After the garlic’s cooked, add the spinach and tomatoes--holding some of the diced tomatoes in reserve for a garnish. Let them cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the vinegar mixture. Increase the heat to medium-high and let the sauce cook until it begins to bubble. Then reduce the heat and let simmer for about 20 minutes.

When you’ve got about 10 minutes left you can start on the final pieces of your dish. For the leeks, you need to put about a half-inch of peanut oil in a sauce pan and bring it up to 350 degrees. One it reaches that temperature, drop in the leeks in small batches and let them cook until they’re golden brown (about 30 - 45 seconds, probably). Use a slotted spoon or a fork to transfer them to paper towels to drain.

For the tuna, rub the tuna steaks with garlic (one clove each) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a hot pan with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, sear the tuna on each side--about two minutes. To plate, put down a bed of the fried leeks, top with the tuna steak, and then spoon on some of the sauce. Finally, top with some of the reserved tomato pieces for a dash of color.

Pan seared tuna with balsamic glaze and crispy leeks

This dish is deceptively easy and mighty impressive when plated.

While you could make any of these dishes with ingredients that have traveled half-way across the country (or farther), why would you? Fresh ingredients taste better, and you get the satisfaction of supporting your local growers and being a part of local community. Plus, everyone I spoke to at the farmer’s market was knowledgeable, friendly, and even had a cooking tip or two.

*Fresh tomatoes far outshine grocery store tomatoes in taste and versatility. If you’re not buying fresh tomatoes, you might as well be buying them canned.


A summertime twist on steak and potatoes

Summertime in America: a time when people turn off their televisions and head to the beach, backyard pool, or roof-top lawn chair. It's a time when attention turns to swimsuits and suntans, and families across the nation fire up their grills for the most primal of cooking methods: open flame.

But how many burgers can one person eat? How many times can we turn to hot dogs, potato salad and roasted corn? What does a person do when he can't look at another French fry? Why, fry something else of course:

Beer-battered yucca, grilled rib eye and spring salad greens

First the steak: spend; seriously. There are all kinds of ways you can doctor an inexpensive cut of beef, but sometimes you want the meat to stand (or lay) on its own merit. And if you're going to do that, you're going to have to get as far away from the hoof and the horn as possible (Thanks, Alton). Of course, the fillet is the best, but at $10354839w9.99 per pound it can get a little pricey. NY strip is excellent, too, but bang-for-your-buck wonderful is the rib eye, also known as the Delmonico in some parts. And according to my sources, Australians call it the Scotch fillet.

Preparation is simple:

A twist on steak and potatoes
  • Crush a few cloves of garlic and use them to rub each steak
  • Season with salt and pepper
  • Wrap in foil and set it aside until you're about half-way through frying the yucca (we'll get to that in a moment)

When your grill is ready, cook the steak over high heat, about four minutes on each side (if you want to be extra fancy, rotate the steak 90 degrees--don't flip it!--after two minutes. This will give you those snazzy rhomboids of charred goodness). Because the rib eye has excellent marbling, it's going to end up tender and juicy. However, you'll have to watch out for flare-ups, as all that delicious fat has a tendency to render and drip onto the coals. Keep a spray bottle on hand to help quell some of the fire. And don't be afraid to move your steaks away from the coals for a bit to let things die down.

Once you bring the meat off the grill, wrap it in foil and let it rest for a while. Just leave it alone. This will allow all cell structure to re-absorb all the juices and will give you a tender, tastier steak.

You could easily serve this with a fresh salad of spring greens, or even pan-wilted spinach with garlic and parmesan. Those would, in fact, be absolutely delicious. But we're talking summer here, and what's summer without a little starch? And what's starch without a little potato? Why, it's yucca!

The yucca is a starchy root used often in Latin American, Caribbean and African cuisines. It's starchier than most potatoes, but has a wonderful stratified structure that gives it a flaky texture. Preparation can be time consuming, but it's not difficult.

Beer Battered Yucca

First, you'll need to cook your yucca:

If you're cooking fresh-from-the-market yucca, you're going to invest about 50 minutes. I used frozen yucca I found in the Latin American section in the frozen food isle, and I just cooked it according to the directions on the package-bonus: no additives. At all.

But let's say you went with the root. You're going to cook it much like you would potatoes:

  • Peel the yucca
  • Cut into section about four inches long
  • Place the sections into a large pot and cover with water (about 2 inches over the yucca)
  • Bring water to a boil and let cook about 50 minutes, or until fork-tender
  • Remove from heat, drain, and shock in ice water to prevent further cooking
  • Cut the sections lengthwise into quarters
    • Important: There's a cord of woody material that runs through the yucca root. Make sure you remove this from your quartered sections.
  • Set all pieces aside and meditate briefly on their future deep-fried goodness

(light your coals-for the steaks, remember?)

Then you'll need a beer batter:

  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 12 oz. + 2 teaspoons Light beer (for the additional teaspoons, you're going to have to open a second bottle--pity, that)
  • 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon additional flavoring agent(s), if desired
  1. Put the flour in a big bowl
  2. Open one beer and slowly whisk the fluid into the flour
  3. Open the second beer, measure out your 2 teaspoons and whisk them in as well
  4. Add the salt and then add your flavoring agent*

*One of the great things about batters is that you can give them whatever flavor you'd like. For fried yucca, I might recommend a teaspoon of garlic powder coupled with a squirt of lime. Or maybe if you enjoy a little spice, you could go with black pepper or paprika. Cayenne would provide a good bit of heat, and you could even bring in some Asian influence by adding ground ginger. Like I always say, don't be afraid to experiment. If the batter ends up being horrible, you'll just have to crack open another beer and make a second batch. And that's not so bad, is it?

(if you're following along at home, go ahead and get someone to put the steaks on the grill right now)

  1. Heat two inches of oil in a pan to about 370 degrees
    • It's best if you set this up as an assembly line. And work in batches. If you put too many yucca pieces into the oil at once, it'll lower your temperature and you won't get a crispy finish.
    • I work left-to-right, so my set up consists of my yucca, batter, oil, draining plate. I have yet to buy a cooling rack and half-sheet pan (again, thanks Alton), so go with several paper towels sandwiched between a couple brown paper bags.
  2. Dunk the yucca in the batter, shake off the excess, and carefully lower the pieces into the oil
  3. Let them fry for about two to three minutes, or until golden brown
  4. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain

To plate, put just a few of the fried yucca together with the steak and some of the field greens. If you'd like, you can make a garlic mayonnaise to dip the yucca in, though I'm sure ketchup would be fine, if you're into that sort of thing.

What to pair it with?
2upshirazFew wines like to be paired with grilled meat like Australian Shiraz. Traditionally big, jammy wines with nice tannins, an Australian Shiraz will often give you enough structure to stand up to grilled meat but doesn't overpower as can sometimes happen with a European Cabernet. Plus, summertime grilling should be about fun and friends, an ostensibly Australian sensibility. For this dish I went with an exceptionally food-friendly wine, 2 Up Shiraz:

Color--Deep rich, inky red, lightening to a lush ruby at the edges.
Nose--A brash, fruit-forward nose with definite dark stone fruit and berry aromas. Plum, raspberry and blue berry are all found in the wine's complex aroma. There's also a hint of smoke, a breath of spice and a touch of leather.
Palate--A big, succulent, full-bodied wine with excellent fruit characteristics and nice tannins. The mouth feel is excellent and less overpowering than one might expect from such a big wine.
Finish--The finish is slightly warm and tannic with lingering fruits.


In Praise of Leftovers

What you start withSo you had your holiday bash. You cooked your steaks; you made your fancy desserts. You even shopped at the local farmer's market for fresh salad fixings. But now you're left with a few odds and ends, not a lot of time, and a stomach that's growling like nostalgia for that delicious New York Strip. Don't settle for a glass of ice water and a handful of Cheeto's. Relive the magic with leftovers. They won't ever take the place of the first time around, but done right, and with a little inventiveness, you might even pass them off as French.

Ingredients: leftovers and a reasonably well stocked pantry

  • For example, a few hunks of grilled New York Strip
  • six ounces of heavy cream
  • half a large onion
  • a big handful of leftover mushrooms
  • 1 tbl flour
  • about half a cup of beef broth (from the fridge) and.....
  • a package of lo mein noodles

plus, salt, pepper and olive oil are always good to have around

Quick Hint: When reheating steak--when cooking steak, for that matter, but this is more important--make sure you let the steak come to room temperature first. You want to reheat the steak, not cook it further.

So what can be made with that hodgepodge of materials? A not-bad steak and pasta dish with mushroom cream sauce.


Cook the lo mein noodles according to the directions on the package (make sure you get a solid pasta pot; it should hold a couple quarts of water at least)

While the water's coming to a boil....

  • Set a good-sized skillet over medium-high heat
  • Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil (you've got olive oil, right? Nothing fancy, just the regular stuff)
  • Once it reaches temperature, add the onions and sweat them for about three minutes
  • Then add the mushrooms and sauté them with the onions for about another three minutes

Quick hint: Storing mushrooms can be problematic. They contain a rainy season's worth of moisture and can turn on you without a moment's notice. I've found the best way to store mushrooms is to take them out of their container, wrap them loosely in paper towels and then stow them in a brown paper bag. On the counter is fine for a couple days at least. Probably.

  • Once the mushrooms have given up some of their moisture, add the cream and some of the beef broth
  • stir slowly and add in the flour (make sure to sprinkle it slowly, stirring the whole time. If you just dump in the lot, it'll clump on you. Essentially, you're making a gravy, and no one likes lumpy gravy)
  • Use the remaining beef broth to get the sauce to a consistency you like and add salt and pepper to taste

In praise of leftoversAbout this time, the noodles should be done. Drain them, and go ahead and reduce the sauce's heat source to low. Slice the steak thin and go ahead and zap in the microwave for about 10 seconds. Again, we don't want to cook it further if we can at all avoid it. Plate along side the noodles and lightly drizzle (or drench) each with the mushroom sauce. Ta da! (nearly) Instant comfort food!

Don't be afraid to make additions. I think some diced roasted red peppers would have been a terrific complement, in both color and flavor, but I was dealing with pantry food. I had to settle for some olives and capers to give the dish a tepenadish zing.

What to pair it with?
Wine was made for this kind of meal. Seriously. Wine's tannins serve to cleanse the palate after each sumptuous mouthful, and each mouthful serves the prep the palate for wine's complex flavors. The dish I ended up with would stand up to all but the heaviest wines. But with leftovers, you don't often have the luxury of choosing what you'll end with, so you want versatility. Enter Rex Goliath's merlot.

I've talked on occasion about RG's pinot noir--arguably one of the best wine values on the shelf--and decided to give one of their other varietals a try. I wasn't disappointed.

From the wine maker:

We really love this wine. Soft, supple, and complex. There is a certain elegance to this wine that fits our vision of the perfect Merlot: Pretty and seductive with a decidedly spicy nose of black cherry, cassis and cedar. Very ripe and round, almost like a Jolly Rancher candy. Mouth-filling flavors of plums, cherries and wild red berries dominate from start to finish. Good seam of acidity paired with soft tannins make this a wonderful wine for game fowl such as pheasant or duck. Try a nicely roasted Rock Cornish Game Hen...yum!


Another no-brainer from the world of science

Zoning out in front of the television discourages kids from active diabetes control:
Diabetic children who spent the most time glued to the TV had a tougher time controlling their blood sugar, according to a Norwegian study that illustrates yet another downside of too much television. The findings, based on a study of children with Type 1 diabetes, lend support to the American Academy of Pediatrics' advice that children watch no more than two hours of TV daily, said lead author Dr. Hanna Margeirsdottir of the University of Oslo. more...
Like sprawl contributing to obesity, it comes as no surprise that kids who are not actively engaged in their day-to-day lives will tend to let things like insulin injections slide. However, the study didn't include factors such as exercise, diet or snacking habits.


You don't need fire to be fire roasted

Here's a little secret: when you're in a restaurant, and you see something described as 'fire roasted,' it doesn't necessarily mean that it's been roasted over a fire. Normally it means that whatever roasted item you're about to order also happens to have a little kick to it, and these days that kick is most often provided by some kind of chipotle variation, be that sauce or pepper chunks. So when I tell you I'm all about the fire roasted tomato sauce, don't think for a moment that I roasted the tomatoes over fire. I roasted them in the oven, just like you will, and the fire comes from regular old Louisiana Hot Sauce. Though adding some chipotle might provide an inviting smokiness...

Fire Roasted Tomato Sauce

  • Four tomatoes, halved--we're fortunate here in Florida. The tomatoes have are now in season and will be fresh and delicious for another month or two. After that, it'll be back to the regular hothouse varieties
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • two garlic cloves (or more, to taste)
  • Plenty of hot sauce (your personal favorite will be fine--you'll end up adding one shake, or many, depending on how hot you like it)

Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper. The salt will draw some of the water and sugars out of the tomatoes and provide for better caramelization. Preheat your broiler on low, if you have that option. Place the tomatoes cut side up on a cookie or baking sheet and place them on the second rack from the top (if your broiler is permanently set to 'scorching,' you might want to place the tomatoes on a lower rack. Let the tomatoes roast for about 15 - 20 minutes, or until you notice they're developing black spots across the top and their skins are beginning to get dry and a little wrinkled. Transfer the tomatoes with the additional ingredients to a blender and give them several good pulses on Liquefy (Note: Be very careful blending hot items! The aeration will generate a great deal of steam, which will create pressure inside the blender. Ever couple of pulses, crack the lid to let off some steam)

Serving suggestion:
Grilled chicken breasts and red leaf lettuce salad with blue cheese dressing.

  1. Prepare the chicken breasts by trimming off any excess fat
  2. Brush lightly with olive oil and rub with crushed garlic cloves
  3. Season with salt and pepper and move to a hot grill
  4. Grill on each side four approximately four minutes
    • You want to get a good, smoky crust, and some charring is desirable. If the chicken begins to get too done, however, move it away from direct heat and let it cook until it's done through on the inside--perhaps an additional two to three minutes.
  5. Wrap in foil for a few minutes once it comes off the grill to allow the chicken to rest--this will allow the chicken to reabsorb all the juices its cells released

DSCF5209Plate the chicken and serve with red leaf lettuce Make sure you rip the red leaf lettuce as cutting or slicing often bruises the edges. Drizzle the chicken with the roasted pepper sauce and drizzle the red red leaf lettuce with the blue cheese dressing. The combination of the cool blue cheese and fiery tomato sauce provides a wonderful culinary contrast. Hott!

What to pair it with?
This dish isn't going to stand up to heavier wines, so Shiraz and Cab Sauv are right out. You could probably pair it with a fine merlot, but really any low-acidity wine is going to do right by this dish. Ideally, you might go with a rich, buttery chardonnay. The strong body and supple mouth feel will do well with the tomatoes' acidity. I went with the Cono Sur Pinot Noir and was not disappointed. From the vintner:

Como Sur Pinot Noir

This is definitely a young wine with a popping, refreshing acidity and fruit-forward nose and palate. While I would have enjoyed a slightly deeper flavor to accompany the chicken--and a little less acidity, given the tomato-based sauce--the wine did well in complementing both the chicken and the blue cheese dressing.

Dress it up; dress it down

I've been trying to eat healthier. This doesn't mean I've given up bacon or bratwurst. I'm only human, after all. And not an idiot. But it does mean I might forgo the second bratwurst in favor of a salad serving and might limit myself to two slices of bacon rather than four (or six....or...eight). But imagine my surprise when I began looking at salad dressings' ingredients lists: of eight dressings or marinades currently in my refrigerator, only one is free of high fructose corn syrup. And on the remaining dressings, HFC doesn't fall way down on the ingredients list. It falls no lower than fifth, and on two dressings, the balsamic vinaigrette and the honey mustard dressing, it is second, coming only after distilled water.

But none of us has to stand for this. Salad dressings aren't some alchemical secret sequestered in the ivory towers of Newman's factories. For the most part they're simple, easy to prepare and benefit from fresh ingredients (and an absence of HFC).

Blue Cheese

  • 12 oz. plain yogurt (fat free is fine)
  • 3 + 1 oz. crumbled blue cheese
  • Juice from half a large lemon
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • A dash of salt
  • Several to many grinds of fresh black pepper (to taste)

Combine the yogurt, 3 oz. of blue cheese, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper in a blender, food processor or other high-speed mixing environment and blend until mostly smooth. Remove, and mix in the remaining 1 oz. crumbled blue cheese, for texture and taste.

Honey mustard dressing

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard (brown, whole-grain, or yellow, depending on your personal preferences)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (it helps if it's warmed slightly)
  • Juice from 1 large lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except the salt, pepper, and olive oil in a bowl. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking vigorously. Once the olive oil is combined with the other ingredients, season the dressing to your liking with salt and pepper. (Science content: In this recipe, the mustard acts an emulsifier, binding together the water molecules in the honey, lemon juice and the mustard itself with the fat molecules in the olive oil. It may separate some in the fridge, but you'll just have to give it a quick shake to combine again)

Orange/balsamic vinaigrette

  • 1/2 Cup Orange Juice
  • The juice of 1/2 large lemon (you can use the other half from the blue cheese recipe. See how I did that?)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Combine all ingredients in a tightly-lidded container and shake vigorously to combine. You can alter the ratio of ingredients to taste--less orange juice and more lemon juice will provide for a brighter flavor. You could also substitute other ingredients for the lemon juice. Pureed raspberries, for example would provide a wonderful depth and sweetness and might make this the perfect dressing for a fresh spinach salad with feta and roasted walnuts.

Spinach salad with walnuts and fetaBegin by heating a couple handfuls of shelled walnuts in a shallow pan over medium heat (one handful for each serving. Assume medium-sized hands). When they just begin to caramelize--the walnuts, I mean. If your hands are caramelizing, there's something horribly wrong--and your kitchen is filled with a wonderfully rich, nutty smell, transfer most of the walnuts to a waiting bed of fresh spinach leaves. Sprinkle liberally with feta cheese and top with the remaining walnuts. Drizzle with the orange dressing and serve immediately.

This salad is a study in contrasts, with the bright, sweet dressing coupling nicely with the warm, rich flavor of the walnuts. It also provides a juxtaposition of warm and cold; crunchy, crispy and smooth; and bright acidity with rich savoriness.

What to pair it with?
Salads are usually going to call for a lighter wine, most often a white varietal. For the walnut salad, I would recommend going with a heavier Riesling, like the Blackstone 2005 vintage. This crisp, clean-tasting wine will complement the dish well, providing nice counterpoint to the walnuts heavy, smoky flavor. The wine is a little hotter than you might be used to--12.5% alcohol content--but that bit of heat provides it with a nice backbone to stand up to slightly heavier dishes than you might normally associate with a Riesling.


Please say it isn't so....but it is! Fried Mac & Cheese

Please say you didn'tFew menu items are as closely associated with comfort food as macaroni and cheese. It is a staple in stereotypical American homes. Quick, easy, and enjoyed by the fussiest children, it's a side item that's sure to please and one that can be a served as a meal should the meatloaf prove unpalatable. And while Kraft's Macaroni and Cheese dinner is certainly the most common choice when it comes to the stuff, there's no reason you should have to stick to yellow powder when there are freshly grated cheddar and parmesan cheeses waiting in your refrigerator. And if there aren't, why not go make some?

Macaroni and Cheese

  • 1 lb dry elbow macaroni
  • 1 table spoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk (use 2% at least)
  • 1/2 lb cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped elephant garlic (or other flavoring agents*)
    • *Macaroni and cheese is like a blank culinary canvas. It's waiting for you to fill it in with your own favorite flavors. I sautéd minced elephant garlic, but you could use any number of things: jalapeño pepper, paprika, truffle oil, oregano--you could even use milder cheeses and shave in dark chocolate for a more desserty approach.
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste (unless you're doing the chocolate thing)

The macaroni:
Cook the macaroni according to the directions on the box, though err on the side of under-done. You can always soften it up by heating in the oven or microwave, but over-done will end up rubbery.

The cheese sauce:

  1. Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a large pot
  2. Sauté the elephant garlic (1 - 2 minutes)
  3. Slowly add the flour, whisking while you do so (this will make your roux, which will thicken the sauce)
  4. Add the milk, and let the heat come back up
  5. Slowly add the cheeses, continuing to whisk
  6. Once the cheeses have melted, you can pour the sauce over the pasta and stir together
  7. Garnish with finely chopped oregano

But what if you want more? What if you've bored with plain macaroni and cheese and all its endless variety? What if the chocolate shavings didn't work out as well as you'd hoped?

Well, you could always fry it.

Fried Mac & Cheese
First, if that macaroni and cheese is fresh off the cooktop, forget about it. To fry it up, you need to let it chill. In the refrigerator, preferably overnight. Then you'll need a batter.

A simple beer batter:

  • 1 12-once can (or bottle) of light beer (I used Amstel; it worked fine)
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried oregano (or other flavoring agents)
  • 1 additional cup flour
    (You will keep the additional flour off to the side for dredging)

Put about three inches of canola or vegetable oil n a large, heavy, high-sided pot (you could also use peanut oil as it has a high smoke point, but it will lend flavor to your food, and you might not want that)
Heat the oil over medium-high heat to about 375 degrees (f)

While the oil's heating up,

  1. Mix 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp salt and flavoring agents in a large bowl
  2. Slowly--slowly!--whisk in the beer. It'll bubble and foam, but just keep working it slowly. Eventually the ingredients will combine.
  3. Cut the chilled mac & cheese into bite-sized pieces and set them up, assembly line style

To fry:

  1. First, dust the mac & cheese bites in the flour, then dunk into the batter, coating evenly
  2. Gently ease the coated pieces into the oil and let them sizzle and fry to a delicious, golden brown
  3. Remove from oil and let dry on paper towels or some kind of rack

While the beer batter worked very well (and was wonderful for frying up some yucca fries), I would probably go with a breadcrumb dredge in the future:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs (I'm a huge fan of panko, Japanese breadcrumbs, which are usually available in the ethnic food isle of your local grocery store)
  • 1 teaspoon oregano (or, again, other flavoring agents--garlic powder, cayenne pepper, paprika--whatever suits your flavor sensibilities)
  1. Season the flour with the salt, pepper and flavoring agents
  2. Beat together the egg and water
  3. Dredge each mac & cheese piece through the flour and sake gently to remove any excess flour
  4. Dip into the egg wash and then coat with the breadcrumbs
  5. Set the dredged pieces on a plat and let them rest for about five minutes so the crust has time to set up a bit
  6. Gently ease the pieces into the oil, a few at a time and fry until golden brown
  7. Let drain on a rack or paper towels

What to pair it with:
You have to be kidding, right? Actually, the wine pairing for fried macaroni and cheese--like normal, un-abominated mac & cheese--will depend heavily on your flavoring agents. Paprika or hot sauce calls for a beer, I would think. But with garlic and oregano, you could go in almost any direction. One recommendation I might make is the 2004 Barnwood Tempranillo.

Tempranillo is one of my favoriate varietals, and while this varietal from San Luis Opispo County in California lacked some of the minerality and subtleties normally associated with old-world wines, it was still a nice representation of the Spanish grape

Color: a deep, deep inky red, barely lightening at the edges

Nose: A massive wine with red fruits, blackberry and other berries, currants (?) and a cocoa spiciness

Palate: A bold wine, but with nice structure, good tannins and acidity, and fruit flavors that are not unsurprising

Finish: A long finish, but one that surprisingly understated. The tannins and acidity balance nicely with the fruits and leave the palate prepped and ready for another mouthful of delicious food.


Coming on the dog days of summer

We've enjoyed a cool spring, we Floridians, but soon will be faced with scorching summer heat. We'll be challenged to find food that blends well with a wide variety of wines while still offering a hint of refreshing cool. As April rolls into May, and May rolls into June, that challenge will become harder and harder to meet. However, one food family offers a nice balance, providing a culinary adaptability coupled with ingredients designed to beat suffocating heat. And where do we go to find this food family? The answer is Mexico. Beef Carnitas This recipe blends hearty stew meat with flavors distinct to Mexican dishes: lime and cilantro. It also provides a solid base for many culinary creations, including empanadas, tacos, and beef salads. It appeared in its original version in Cooking Light magazine. Hardware: A medium-sized stew pot or large Dutch oven, with a tight-fitting lid Ingredients: 2 tablespoons olive oil (separated) 1 large Spanish onion, chopped (can substitute yellow or white onions, but not Vidalia. A red onion might add too much heat) 3 cloves garlic, crushed 2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into bite-sized pieces 1 cup beef broth 1 teaspoon light brown sugar 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper 1 large, unpeeled orange wedge
  1. Begin by heating 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat
  2. Add the chopped onion and sauté for about three minutes
  3. Add the garlic cloves and sauté for another minute
  4. Remove onions and garlic to a bowl on the side
  5. Begin adding the stew meat
    • The stew meat should be sautéd in batches. You want to add enough meat to cover the bottom of the pot, sauté for approximately five minutes or until brown on all sides. A crucial step here is to activate the Maillard process, so you get a nice crust on the meat and on the bottom of the pot. When the first batch is browned, pull it out and start on the second. It should only take two or three batches to get everything done
  6. Add the beef broth to deglaze the pot
    • When you add the broth, it should sizzle and begin to soften the crust that has formed on the pot's bottom. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, work the bottom of the pot to get all that good tasting stuff off and into solution in the broth
  7. Slide in the orange wedge
  8. Add the sugar and red pepper
  9. Re-add the onions, garlic and beef
  10. Bring the mixture up to a boil and then reduce the heat to low or medium-low (depending on you cook top)
  11. Cover and let simmer for 80 - 90 minutes
  12. After that time, uncover the pot and raise the heat some, allowing some of the water to evaporate and the sauce to concentrate
Variation: instead of the orange wedge, you could try putting in a half-cup of your pairing wine. The alcohol will burn off and the fruit flavors in the wine will concentrate during the reduction process. Don't be afraid to experiment! The beef carnitas mixture can be set aside, reheated and will keep in the freezer, wrapped tightly, for up to three months On to the tacos While the beef carnitas is simmering, you have plenty of time to prepare taco fixin's. Remember, when trying to beat the spring heat, eschew the heavier TexMex ingredients like cheese and go for more traditional ingredients like lime and cilantro. Beef carnita and taco fixin's For my table I used the following: Medium flour tortillas Traditional corn tortillas (to bring out some more flavor, you can heat these briefly in a skillet until they just begin to brown in places on one side, then wrap them in foil and keep them in a 200 degree (f) oven to keep them piping hot for your guests) Diced avocado Sliced tomato Sliced Spanish onion (to make the meal more wine friendly, I caramelized the onion to reduce its heat somewhat and to bring out some of its sweetness) Two limes, sliced into wedges Chopped cilantro Arrange all the ingredients on a plate and allow your guests to mix and match as they wish, making their own flavor combinations. What to pair it with? Dog Tail Vinyard's Fire Hydrant RedDog Tail Vinyard's Fire Hydrant Red California Red Wine Color: Deep, lustrous red with just a hint of translucence that forecasts it's lighter body Nose: Big fruit with a hint of spice. Fruit aromas included many of the brighter reds--strawberry and raspberry--and the wine exhibited a slight candied aroma, perhaps vanilla. Palate: Lithe, supple tannins and a hint of alcohol heat (13%, but not too bad). Flavors included the expected red fruits, including plum, but the wine also had a refreshing crispness due to its tannins and acidity--like biting into a ripe red apple. Finish: The wine had a drying finish because of its tannins, but left a hint of that red plum flavor. An excellent accompaniment to food of all sorts. This is a fine drinking wine that would pair well with all kinds of menus. You'll notice the photographed bottle is empty. I can think of no better endorsement.


Sandwich Artist #5

Sandwich Artist: chicken, beef, peppers, onions, mushrooms in the middle of two potato skins, the classic bacon, cheese chives potato skins Sandwich Artist: huge potato skins from large baking potatoes Greg Turner: I am humbled, shocked and awed by your sandwich wizardry Sandwich Artist: could you imagine a menu with a potato skin sandwich on it Greg Turner: yes. yes I can Sandwich Artist: no low cal, no fat free, no low carb, no Atkins approved, Sandwich Artist: just straight up Fat Ass Sandwiches Sandwich Artist: oh, and on the menu, will have a Bitch Sandwich: one slice of wonderbread, folded over a slice of American cheese, slice of turkey and low fat mayo. Greg Turner: mayo on the side Sandwich Artist: nice touch Greg Turner: I try

Sandwich Artist #4

Sandwich Artist: here is a sandwich for you: Sandwich Artist: bagel, scrambled eggs with green pepper, onion and mushrooms, bacon, smoked sausage, Vermont sharp white cheddar Sandwich Artist: and the kicker, the inside of the bagel is scraped out, so the food kinda sits in a pocket Greg Turner: not bad at all Greg Turner: would be even better if you could wrap the two bagel halves in something so they wouldn't come apart Sandwich Artist: yes, was thinking of that Greg Turner: like, around the edges and through the hole Sandwich Artist: HAM!!!! Sandwich Artist: fucking ham steak Sandwich Artist: strip of ham steak, 4, wrapped around through bagel hole Sandwich Artist: like 4 spokes on wheel


Not your average game food

March Madness can take quite a toll on our culinary sensibilities. Night after night of nachos, hot dogs, burgers and pizza can build up (as can the cholesterol and fat), and even the most delicious of italian sausages, grilled and served with caramelized onions and sauteed peppers on a toasted--ok. That would probably never be old.

But March Madness also brackets the Spring Equinox, so I thought it might be an interesting exercise to make some lighter faire for the Gator's latest victory over UCLA.

Appetizer Plate

Finger food is a must. And while chips and dip are a crowd favorite, no one's going to turn down cheese and salami, especially if that cheese is a wonderfully flavorful, hearty goat's milk cheese, chevre.


  • Ciabatta bread
  • Hard salami
  • Chevré
  • Olives (I used large green olives stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes)

AntipastoThis is all about the cheese, so get a good serving dish or large dinner place and place a disc of cheese right in the center. Slice the bread and arrange in a flower pattern around the cheese (I toasted about half the slices and arranged them on one side of the plate) Finish up by arranging the hard salami and olives in small groups around the plate and serve.

Artichoke Nachos (Steamed artichokes with salsa verde)

I altered a recipe from this month's Bon Appètit magazine to make this dish.

Salsa Verde:

  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers, rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons chopped green onions
  • 1/2 clove elephant garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves
  • A pinch of crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

Artichoke and salsa verdeToss the parsley, capers, green onions, garlic, tarragon leaves, red pepper and vinegar into a blender or food processor (I used a hand mixer with the chopping blade attachment) and give those ingredients a whirl. When you're done, scoop the mixture into a bowl and whisk in the olive oil and cream. Set aside.

Set up a steaming rig: Many are fortunate enough to have one of those flying-saucer streamer racks that fit into the bottom of a pot. But you could use anything that would allow steam to flow while keeping the artichoke out of the water, even aluminium foil rolled into a ring and set in the bottom of the pot.

Get the rack, pot and water on the stove and bring the water to a boil. When it's boiling, reduce the heat to medium and place the artichoke(s) on the rack. Cover and let steam for about 30 minutes. Remove from the rack and let cool for about 10 minutes. Serve with the salsa verde or melted garlic butter.

Fresh Papaya Salad with Kumquat Vinaigrette and Feta


  • A large handful of fresh kumquats (approx. 10. Substitute: the juice of two monroe lemons and 2 tablespoons of orange juice)
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • Balsamic vinegar to taste

PapayaJuice the kumquats into a small ramekin Stir in the brown sugar, a little bit at a time, until thoroughly mixed in (less can be used, depending on your taste)
Begin drizzling in the balsamic vinegar slowly. It is easy to mix in too much. The taste should be bright, citrusy, but also slightly sweet with an additional hint of the savory. Experiment! Find the combination that works best for you.

Peel and seed a medium red papaya, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Transfer those pieces to a bowl Sprinkle with feta (optional--the feta will give the dish an additional flavor profile that might not be top of everyone's list) Splash on the dressing. Can be served cold or at room temperature.

What to pair it with? A grazing meal as varied as this is going to need a wine that's is highly versatile, and I know of no other more versatile wine than pinot noir. For this weekend's eating I chose a non-vintage pinot, Pinot Evil.

Pinot Evil, non vintage Vin de Pays de I'lle de Baute

What to pair it with?Color: a dark, dusty ruby with none of the translucence or luminescence I normally associate with Pinot Noir

Nose: Absolute fruit. Very strong cherry and slight strawberry notes with a hint of some brightness--perhaps grass. Certainly had a green quality to it.

Palate: Light body and fairly high tannins given the rather lithe mouth feel. Definite fruit on the palate and some of the distinct minerality that comes with many old world wines.

Finish: very quick. Little lingering fruit, but does sweep the palate. One concern was the lingering alcohol heat I felt, something I don't normally associate with Pinot Noir.

While this wine was fair, it's probably not one I would buy again. Rather, I'd go to my old stand-by, the Rex Goliath NV Pinot Noir (California), a wine that consistently over-performs for its price point. I still haven't found a Pinot Noir that I would go to over my faithful Rex Goliath.


Sandwich Artist #3

Sandwich Artist: here's one for you Sandwich Artist: take Pepperidge Farm garlic bread Sandwich Artist: the whole loaf Sandwich Artist: and split it Sandwich Artist: then top with mozzz cheese, sausage, pepperoni, BBQ sauce and pulled pork Sandwich Artist: put it together, bake it, and voila Sandwich Artist: oh, with grilled portabello mushrooms laid over the top, that have been marinated in a balsamic, jalapeño pepper olive oil Sandwich Artist: just enough to flavor them Greg Turner: why is it you're not running a gourmet sandwich shop? Greg Turner: call it Sammy's


Sandwich Artist #2

Continuing the ongoing posts from my friend, the Sandwich Artist. This time we go with a sandwich that's more apt to fill a dessert plate than a lunch box (though a lunch box would not be out of the question): Sandwich #2 Sandwich Artist: another great sandwich, going in another direction, would be a peanut butter/chocolate sandwich with strawberry sauce and banana slices Sandwich Artist: on a honey wheat sweet bread Greg Turner: deep fried and served with honey? Greg Turner: a'la Monte Cristo sandwich? Sandwich Artist: with marshmallow topping Sandwich Artist: ahhh, yes, we could go that route


Sandwich Artist #1

Years ago, USA Today wrote up a small article about the Fat Darrell, voted America's best sandwich. My friend and I got to talking, and what followed was an onslaught of sandwiches too good to be put into the hands of mere mortals. But now, I provide to you transcripts of our conversations that occurred over an afternoon via Instant Messenger: Sandwich #1 Sandwich Artist: my goodness man Sandwich Artist: this is what america does Sandwich Artist: create fat fucking sandwiches Greg Turner: What would your ultimate sandwich have in it? Sandwich Artist: hmmmm...well, gravy #1 Sandwich Artist: heavy sour dough roll Sandwich Artist: cause it would need to hold the gravy Sandwich Artist: ribeye steak, mashed potatoes and bacon Sandwich Artist: and provolone cheese Sandwich Artist: melted on the top, to give it a cap that kinda holds things in Greg Turner: an excellent sandwich An excellent sandwich indeed.


Rawson's Retreat Merlot

Rawson's Retreat
Originally uploaded by greg.turner.

Australian winery Penfold's released Rawson's Retreat to provide consumers a solid, entry-level wine. It's friendly, jammy and approachable. And most importantly, it's available for less than $10 a bottle. Quick Tasting Notes Rawson's Retreat Merlot, 2006 Color: A deep red-violet, inky in the center and lightening to a rich, translucent ruby color near the edges. Nose: Very fragrant, exhibiting succulent strawberry, slight blueberry and faint rhubarb aromas. Palate: The wine has supple mouth feel and a nice balance in its flavors, though the thin tannins will prevent it from standing up to heavier foods. Finish: The finish was surprisingly long, sweeping the palate but leaving subtle, lingering fruits. Overall this wine is not going to win monumental accolades, but it's a perfectly serviceable, approachable wine and provides a nice introduction to Penfold's new-world style.

Balsamic Glazed Tuna
Originally uploaded by greg.turner.

What to pair it with? Balsamic glazed tuna, of course! The wine's subtle flavors and mild tannins paired perfectly with this slightly sweet, wonderfully lively dish.


Potato Pups -- Fair Food Comes Home for Dinner

Some time ago, I told you all about fried coke, the latest in a long line of foods fried up by carnies. Their search for battered opportunities never seems to wane, but I've not yet seen fried mashed potatoes. We call them Potato Pups. To make them, start with mashed potatoes:

There are seven
Originally uploaded by greg.turner.

  • Begin with a half dozen potatoes--any variety should be fine
  • Peel the potatoes, and put the potatoes in a boiling pot
  • Put enough water in the pot to cover the potatoes and salt liberally
  • Place the pot on the stove over high heat and bring the water to a boil
  • After about seven minutes, begin checking the potatoes by poking them with a fork
  • When the fork enters the potatoes easily, they are done
  • Drain the potatoes and mash them using a plain wire masher
    (how much work you put in will determine how smooth your potatoes will be. Keep in mind, however, that you're going to want them to hang together when you're frying them)
  • After you've mashed the potatoes, you can mix in additional ingredients (For the Potato Pups, my dinner host mixed in some finely shredded cheddar cheese)
  • Roll the mashed potatoes into balls--about half a golf-ball size worked best for us
  • Heat oil to 325 degrees in fryer or dutch oven or large pot
  • While waiting for the oil to heat, roll the potato balls in seasoned flour (for a special treat, you can grind instant potato flakes and try using those as a covering)
  • Carefully lower the coated potato balls into the oil and cook for about 2 minutes
  • Use a slotted spoon to remove the potato balls from the oil and increase the heat (medium-high should be fine)
  • When the oil reaches about 350 degrees (or a little higher) lower the potato balls back in to crisp the outsides
  • Remove the potato balls from the oil and drain on paper towels or an inverted cooling rack
  • Serve with sour cream, bacon bits, broccoli, or whatever you normally use to doctor your potatoes

The potato pups are a wonderful complement to a casual evening of rented movies or good conversation. We enjoyed them as part of a catch-as-can meal that included french bread, pizza, and a fresh papaya served with a bright, flavorful dressing:

Mix 1/2 cup fresh kumquat juice and 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar with a 1/2 teaspoon of light brown sugar. Mix vigorously.

What to pair it with?
Zinfandel usually pairs well with all kinds of food, and tonight's zinfandel was no different. Seven Deadly Zins represents seven of the Lodi appelation's best wineries combining their crop to make a single, very drinkable wine. Seven Deadly Zins won't win any awards, but it is extremely friendly, mellow and jammy, and has lithe tannins and little alcohol heat. Being such an approachable wine, I'm sure you could serve it at most casual gatherings and have a real hit on your hands.


The Instersection of Food and Science

The fine folks at Epicurious lead me to News for Curious Cooks, a food/science blog that looks very interesting:

Here at News for Curious Cooks I'm filing brief reports from the intersection of food and science. It’s a lively neighborhood these days. There’s a constant influx of new information in food chemistry and microbiology, agriculture and manufacturing, and in human perception and health. I glean items from current technical publications and scientific meetings, from conversations with cooks and scientists, and from questions that come up in my own kitchen in the San Francisco Bay area. --Harold McGee

Mr. McGee is the author of On Food & Cooking: The Science & Lore of the Kitchen, a fine book and one that many cooks consider the one must-have in the kitchen.


Deconstructed Paella

This past week my La Fonera wireless router arrived, and in celebration, I invited my dad over and cooked up a deconstructed paella. I wanted to make sure there was something for everyone, and with as many differing tastes as there in the household, I knew a traditional paella was out of the question.

Deconstructed Paella 01
Originally uploaded by greg.turner.
I began by making a pork roast:

  • Season the roast on each side with 1tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, and a generous shake of paprika.
  • Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil and two minced garlic cloves into a skillet and heat it over medium high until the garlic begins to cook (it will become slightly translucent).
    !! Watch out !! Garlic can brown very easily, and some people think the taste becomes too strong when it does.
  • Brown the roast on each side for about 4 minutes in the skillet,
  • Then move the roast to a shallow roasting pan and into a 350 degree oven.
  • Leave it be fo @22 minutes per pound.
    (Mine was a 2.26 pound roast, so I set the time for 50 minutes)

While the pork was roasting, I set about gathering up the rest of the ingredients:

  • Scallops
  • Large shrimp
  • Chorizo sausage
  • Red bell peppers sliced into thin strips
  • Fresh green peas
  • Saffron yellow rice

I cooked the chorizo, which I'd brought pre-packaged from the local market, by following the directions on the package. I just heated the chorizo in a pan. When it was done, I wrapped it in foil and set it aside, and kept the pan over the heat, set to low.

This is crucial--you want to keep all the flavor from the chorizo in the pan you cooked it in, so don't go cleaning the pan too quickly.

Immediately following that, I cooked the rice according to the directions on the package--it's perfectly serviceable rice. If you feel like making it from scratch, I'm sure there are recipes to be found.

When the rice was finished, I moved the heat of the chorizo pan up to medium-high and quickly sauteed the red bell pepper strips and searched the scallops and shrimp--about 60 seconds on each side. Scallops and shrimp cook very quickly, and it's important that they are not over done. As equally important is to cook them in the chorizo juices! This gives even the delicate scallops a rich, earthy flavor that really combines well with their usual buttery subtleties.

Once I had cooked everything, I plated the pork and seafood in a ring on a large serving dish and piled the peppers and peas in the middle. At the table, I coupled the serving dish with a big bowl of the saffron rice, and we each got to pick and choose the ingredients we enjoyed most.

What to pair it with?
Garnacha, of course! Garnacha is the Spanish word for grenache, and it is Spain's grape of choice. My own wine of choice when it comes to this bold, spicy grape is Las Rocas, an inexpensive Spanish wine that always seems to deliver consistent results. Alas, my local wine merchant had gone through their supply of Las Rocas, so I had to settle for a Bonny Doon 2004 Clos de Gilroy California grenache. Meh. The wine was very drinkable with interesting aromas and subtle fruit, but it lacked the tannic backbone to really stand up to the succulent pork and charred, smoky shrimp.


Pan-seared salmon served with parmesan cream sauce

The general wisdom concerning sauces is go slow. Slow heat, slow mixing, and slow preparation will enable you to create smooth, delicious sauces brimming with flavor but relatively free of lumps. This weekend I thought about making a parmesan sauce to have with grilled salmon and bow-tie pasta. It worked well, and even carried over to the next morning.

Pan-seared salmon served on bow-tie pasta with capers and parmesan cream sauce


  • A medium skillet for cooking the salmon
  • A small sauce pan for the sauce
  • A large pot to cook the pasta
  • 1 salmon fillet
  • 1 box bow-tie pasta
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (approx.) parmesan cheese
  • capers
  • finely chopped chives

Set your water to boil in the large pot according to the directions on the pasta packaging--remember to liberally salt the pasta water as it will be only chance you have to season the pasta.

Next start on your sauce by making a roux

  • Melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Slowly whisk in 1 tablespoon flour, combining a little at a time. (if you dump in the whole tablespoon, your roux will end up being lumpy)
  • Into the roux, slowly mix up to 2 cups milk. Again, just a little at a time or the mixture will end up lumpy. A good whisk helps immensely.
  • Finally, slowly mix in a small handful of shredded parmesan cheese.
  • Keep the mixture warm over medium-low to low heat.

While the sauce warms, your water should be ready and you can dump in the pasta. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box (generally dry bow-tie pasta should boil for 12 minutes)

  • Place the skillet on a burner and heat it to medium-high. Make sure it's plenty hot before you place your salmon on it to sear.
  • Liberally season the salmon with salt and pepper (and garlic, if you're a fan)
  • Place the salmon fillet in the skillet and let it sit for about two minutes carefully flip the salmon using a long, flexible spatula or a combination of wooden spoon and tongs--the salmon will begin to flake at this point, and you want to keep it together)
  • Sear on the other side about 1.5 - two minutes. If you look at the end of the fillet, you should see the salmon is transparent all the way through.

Combine the pasta and sauce and plate, divide the salmon fillet between two people, sprinkle with capers and a smattering of chives, and enjoy.

What to pair it with?

Muir Wood pinot noir 2005
Originally uploaded by greg.turner.
The strong flavors of salmon lend themselves to a wide variety of wines. And with a cooking method like pan searing, you can be assured of some of the strongest flavors possible. This dish would pair well with a number of wines, most notably a solid pinot noir. I paired it with the 2005 Muir Wood pinot noir. This wine has a light ruby color and produces distinct cherry and strawberry aromas with slight touches of citrus and evergreen. The platte produces a solid balance of fruit-forward flavors mixed with a cherry tartness from its light acidity. The tannins are fairly well-balanced and the finish is fairly long, producing light fruit flavors long after the sip has been swallowed.