Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Madonna is at the Superbowl and she is Nacho Mama!

While pondering over the fact that I am probably having people over on this Sunday for the Superbowl. I began to also think about the fact that Madonna is using the half-time performance of the Superbowl to launch her newest album release. And like they say, "if you are going to go, go big". And I can't think of a more dramatic "big" way to launch a project, than at the Superbowl.

Now "Go Big" is actually an apt description of what people do on Superbowl Sunday when it comes to eating as well as football and half-time shows. Full blown house parties and tailgating in the TV room is what happens all over the country in thousands of homes. This is of course supported and fueled by a plethora of magazine articles and recipe sprees which promise the best and the sloppiest foods for enjoyment while watching the big game.

So I will confess that I, like many of my fellow southerners, am a little football crazy, Yes, even me! Not that I watch every game, but I always catch the big ones. And I at least enjoy watching football, unlike baseball which I find tedious and boring. So generally this takes place at a sports ball with beer and wings and other yummy foods to eat.

So in researching what Madonna might eat at the super bowl I found out a couple of things. First Madonna does eat real food. She's not some micro-biotic nut job or vegan. She eats organic, whole grains, lots of greens and lean proteins and she occasionally eats Pizza and ice cream. She has been known to say, "if I am thirsty I drink. If I am hungry I eat.". So that and a cook and a dietician and a personal trainer and an army of other support staff will have you looking like you are 29 when you are 50 something. But who cares! Right?? I mean unless you do in which case you are probably not reading my blog, let alone any cooking blog!

No my question is if Madonna came over what would I fix for her for the Superbowl? Well...nothing I would want to eat. So the heck with Madonna and lets talk super sized Superbowl food!

At my Superbowl party or at any bar food related function there would have to be 2 things. Wings and Nachos. So I am going to let the wings wait for another day to day I want to talk about Nachos.

Nachos are prepared various ways. But for me awesome nachos have to have four elements. The first is the chips. They should be fresh or at least hight quality. Next they should be in a pile. a heap. a haystack! The second thing is cheese. Cheddar done and done. Thirdly it should have chili on it. Fourth and  last, toppings. Sour cream, Guacamole, peppers and salsa to start. That's the minimum.

So what do I like to do with Nachos I will give you a few secrets to bump up your nacho power.

Forrest's Nacho 101 or 911

1. When you put the cheese on the chips layer the cheese between layers of chips, don't just pile it on top.

2. Bake then broil the top, this insures you get melty through out and crusty brown bits on the top.

2. Add the chili warm on top after you bake the chips to melt the cheese.

3. Add a little more cheese on top of the chili to melt.

4. Garnish your with a sour cream that is flavored and use a squeeze bottle to squirt the sour cream like a lattice work over the mound of chips, cheese, and chili.

5, Finish the pile of nachos off with a sprinkle of green onion for color

6. Serve more plain sour cream, guacamole, and salsa on the side instead of on top. That way people can "fix their own bite".

So there are some tips on how to make great Nachos. Now here's my recipe for a tasty sour cream that you can top it off with.

Sour cream topping for nachos

8 oz sour cream
2 hand fulls parsley chopped very fine
1/2 cup chopped chives (very fine)
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Stir together and WOW! I am telling you a topping no one is expecting!

That's my tips for your Superbowl Nacho or anytime Nacho experience, enjoy ya'll!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Fritos not Corn Chips Please!!! California Patio Salad with Tuna and Creamy Avocado Dressing

Ok this is really a Mexican salad. It's one of the oldest recipes for an entree salad I can remember from my family dinner table. It is also not original. ( Oh! like anything really is these days!) That is to say from what I know, it was the rage on many a dinner table in the 1960's and still lingers in the hearts and I imagine on the tables of many families today. But try and find it on the internet and not so much luck!

I mean every time I make this salad, people ask for the recipe. It is the way my mom got the recipe herself. In 1963 she and my father were living in California, newly weds, and got invited to a dinner party. It was a lovely evening and my mom said that when the hostess brought out the dinner to the table in the backyard patio she was surprised to see it was a salad. I guess that's because it was 1963 or because it was California, but in any event she was not familiar with this salad or the "Salad as a Meal" concept. I'm not sure which, but I digress.

 As the story goes it was apparently it was a hit, as everyone dug in a devoured it! After dinner she asked the hostess for the recipe and took it with her, secure in the knowledge that she now had a winner for the next dinner party she would throw.

SO, that brings us to the table today. I know this salad from growing up with it. We had two kinds of Mexican entree salads in the house recipe box. One was made with ground beef and beans and taco chips, your traditional Mexican taco salad. The other was this tuna based salad with an avacado dressing and corn chips. I was later told in life by a reliable source that this tuna salad had come from a Sunset magazine recipe printed first in the 1960's. I was also told by this person that it had been a big favorite of home entertaining in the 60's and 70's but had somehow fallen out of the mainstream as time passed.

Online I found it or a version of it after really really searching a few cooking recipe sites and some Blogs including noblepigwine.com where she actually had a version of this recipe. She had adapted it from Dice and Slice cookbook. Well I don't have no stinkin cookbook! (yet!)  But I do have the original recipe from the 1960's dinner party in California, and that's good enough for me.

So the thing you need to know about this salad is IT IS REALLY REALLY GOOD AND PEOPLE REALLY REALLY LOVE IT! So if you make it prepare for the compliments and people wanting seconds. 

So what makes this salad so good, well simple, the dressing! It's creamy and rich and not for the faint of calories. But it's also good fats so you can feel better about eating it! The other thing is that you can't just use any old plain tortilla chips. No! You must use Fritos Brand Corn Chips. The reason for this is simple. In the 1960's chips were not as prevalent as they are today. Nationally, Fritos was the only "Corn Chip" on the commercial market. So when Sunset made the original recipe they intended you to use Fritos. ( Which by the way are actually,for chips, very healthy! Oil not withstanding) The taste is the difference. You can use Corn chips but Fritos will give you a much better salad taste. I Promise!

OK so to make your salad it's really very simple! Please note presentation notes it will make the TADA! factor when you serve it. Enjoy Ya'll!

California Patio Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing


For the Salad :
4 cans of tuna 5 oz (1 can of tuna 5 oz for every person, this makes a salad for 4 plus seconds)
1 head Iceberg or romaine lettuce core removed and chopped into thin strips
2 large tomatoes cut into wedges ( hold in reserve for garnish)
1 large tomato diced
1 bunch Green onions chopped ( white parts and green parts) ( 1 cup held in reserve for garnish)
1 can 8 oz black california olives sliced ( hold 2 tablespoons for garnish)
1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese ( hold 1/2 cup for garnish)
1 bag Fritos Brand Corn chips crushed! 1 1/2 cup crushed for salad, the rest held in reserve for garnish

Simple right?

For the Dressing: ( in a blender) this makes extra dressing on the side if people want it!

2 large or 3 small very ripe avocados removed from the shells and placed in the blender
(cut the avacado in half and with the butt of the blade pick out the pits, then use a spoon to remove the flesh)
1/2 cup salad oil ( I like canola)
1 cup mayo
31/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon hot sauce
3 garlic cloves minced
3 tablespoons Cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 cup water ( use to thin as needed)

Place in a blender and go go go!! If its to thick add water through the top in a slow stream till smooth and creamy.

To assemble place all ingredients in a very large salad bowl except the ones held in reserve for garnish.
add 1 cup dressing and toss, add more dressing to your liking till salad is dressed moist, but not wet with the dressing.

To serve:

Wipe the inside rim of the bowl so it's clean down to the salad in the bowl.
Then sprinkle a large hand full of chips on the top.
Place the tomatoes in a ring on top of salad around the bowl, in a circle all wedges facing in the same direction back to front like half moons around the bowl.
sprinkle on green onions
then black olives
then cheese

To serve present at table and serve so each person gets something from the toppings. And have extra dressing on the side for people if they want it.
Enjoy the compliments !!!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Kiss my Stone Ground Cheese Grits

Ok lets talk grits. I mean when you think of southern cooking you certainly talk about grits. Amongst the myriad of southern foods out there grits are probably in the top ten food items most identified as southern.   I think that some of my earliest food memories center around breakfasts at home. I can still smell breakfast cooking in our home as a little boy on saturday mornings. Weekends meant one of three things in our house growing up. It meant pancakes or waffles or french toast for breakfast before church. But the regular week day breakfast morning was reserved for eggs and grits. In fact I think we ate eggs and grits and bacon or sausage for breakfast growing up more than we ever ate oatmeal or cereal. Much to the chagrin of my mother who was always trying to get us to be healthy. Well what we maybe missed out in health we made up in happiness! And as far as I am concerned happy people are healthy people a lot of the times.

Now grits are the people's food. They were the food of farmers and plantation workers alike. Free and slave, everyone on a plantation or farm started the day the same way. A big bowl of grits some fat back or bacon and some eggs and coffee or milk. These were a staple of the people in the south and as history marched forward grits became a cheap and stable element in the southern diet. This was especially true of the poor and the black communities. That's why when you go to north to Milwaukee or  west to Denver you still get grits offered at BBQ joints and even diners in parts of town. Grits became part and parlance of the south. I love the expression used to describe someone who's found to be totally boring. "He is as bland as grits without salt and cheese!!" It's pretty descriptive given that if you don't salt grits at the outset of cooking them you never really get them salted.

Now grits are prepared and presented in so many ways it makes your head spin. There are whole cookbooks dedicated to the might Grit and the fillings, toppings, sauces, condiments and uses they have. But today we are talking about plain old cheese grits.

So to make really good grits, you have to start with....really good grits. Not that the old Quaker grits you find in the grocery store won't do in a pinch, but there are better. And never make instant grits they are not good!  In fact if you can find stone ground grits from a small grits producer in the south somewhere, have them mailed to you. Just look online. There are plenty. So that being said the next thing is what you cook them in. You can use water. It's the go to thing, however if you want to up the ante, chicken stock, seafood stock, vegetable stock, mushroom stock, milk or cream can be used to cook the grits in. Then what you put in them is the next thing. Some folks like a grated cheese, some like just butter, others like a soft cheese or salty meat like ham or bacon. Whatever you pick make sure that it has flavor. The worst is when you are excited by the way that the grits flavoring is described and it ends up tasting like nothing. The last thing is salt. Grits need salt to be flavorful. Just be careful how much you salt them if you are putting in a very salty cheese. They should be salted though, never plain, or even a really salty cheese won't stand up to them.

So here's the basics you need to know.

For every cup of uncooked grits you will need 4 cups of liquid. a tablespoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of butter. You should boil the liquid and when you add the grits pour them in slowly and use a whisk to stir them into the liquid. Then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook them 20 to 30 mins on low stirring every 4 to 6 mins. You MUST stir or the grits will gravitate to the bottom of the pan and burn.

After that you can add in anything you want. I like a strong aged gouda-like cheese better than cheddar normally. I mean there are plenty of cheeses you can add just pick one you like. Stir it in till melted and there you go, cheese grits!

And that's about it. So get out there and make some grits and I promise you will be loving them! Enjoy Ya'll!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Southern Style Peanut Chicken with Stone Ground Grits and Green Slaw

When I was growing up we ate a lot of chicken. I mean A LOT of chicken. And we ate a lot of rice. Well maybe not as much as some people, because my father had eaten so much of it growing up in the depression era south, that if he never ate rice again it would have been just fine with him. But plenty.

Chicken was cheap and versatile and my mother and grandmother spent hours pouring over cook books and newspaper cooking columns an an attempt to come up with new ways to cook it. Oh we ate it fried. ( which will be the subject of an up coming blog entry) But we mostly ate in in other ways.

One dish that became a family favorite was a dish we called peanut chicken. I can still remember the first time it appeared on the table. We were living in the house on Huntingcrest lane ( we seem to tell time in our family by what house we were living in at the time, there were so many) I was perhaps in 8th grade and this dish appeared on the dinner table. We all asked what it was with it's rich brown red sauce and it's scallion cloak. All my Mom said was try it and tell me what you think.  My brother and I dug in to check out what the new dish had to offer. We were impressed and pleased. It had a smoky somewhat familiar flavor but the the background flavor of the rich creamy sauce somehow eluded us. Finally after not being able to tell what is was my mother proudly announced "Peanut Butter!". Yes peanut butter was the ingredient that had us all stumped. We were big fans of this dish and really enjoyed the mouth feel of the sauce and the yummy manner it mixed into the rice served on the side. What had possessed them to use the great sandwich spread as an ingredient I thought. It was a pivotal moment for me in terms of realizing that there must  be so many alternative flavor combinations that I had ever anticipated. And set me on a quest to try and find more. A quest which is ongoing to this day. For example, did you know that peanut and Parmesan Cheese is an awesome combo. Or Ginger and Goat cheese? There are plenty of others. But the point is that flavors can fuse into something else altogether when combined.

So you might think that was the end of my peanut chicken experience but it is not. Indeed my next experience with a peanut and chicken recipe happened in the most unlikely place of all, Switzerland. You see while I was working as a volunteer during college in Switzerland ( go figure), I was  working with refugees and trying among other things to help them get situated. I met a family from Africa who I got to know very well. We helped them find an apartment and get into several aid programs as well as find part time work. As a thank you they us invited over to dinner one night. We showed up and they had some delicious tidbits of things to eat before dinner and a very sweet milk based beverage that went down almost too easily. Then came the time for us all to sit down for dinner. Out came heaping bowls of rice and stewed greens. Then the main course, another hearty bowl filled with a delicious smelling stew. After we had all been served and grace and thanks was said over the meal we proceeded to dig in. Again the second time in my life I was struck by the taste and flavor which was to me known to me already. Rich meaty stew flavored with the savory tastes of onions tomatoes and what else, peanut! It was the first time I ever had African peanut stew and believe you me not the last.  I enjoy it at African restaurants whenever I go here in NYC.  However, no version has ever come close to that meal. where with wonderful friends, who were so grateful for the help they had received,  gave us a warm and sumptuous feast prepared with love to thank us for whatever small part we had played in their well being and their lives.

I recently thought about that chicken dish from my family table and asked my mother if she still had the recipe. Unfortunately, it seems it was my grandmother who had spearheaded that particular dish and my mother was unsure of it's exact makeup. Nonetheless I started thinking about that dish and how I might reconstruct it. I did some research looking at various African Stew recipes, which seemed a good place to start. I also looked at many home cook versions of the dish entitled "peanut butter chicken" but none had the exact flavor profile I remember. So I decided to make up my own, add in a few southern touches and serve it not with rice and stewed greens but with Stone ground yellow grits and fresh crisp slaw. It is in fact my so called "Green Slaw" recipe that I have worked out last year and think if you are going to eat coleslaw this is the one you should eat! So here is what I came up with I hope you enjoy it Ya'll!!!

Southern Style Peanut Chicken
based on African Peanut stew and Peanut recipes from Colonial Williamsburg


1 package boneless skinless chicken thighs
flour for dusting the chicken
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
6 tablespoons cooking oil
1 onion finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup salsa
6 tablespoons bbq sauce ( I used Brown Sugar BBQ sauce)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons Sherry wine
2 tablespoon orange marmalade
2 teaspoon curry powder
2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoon ginger powder
1 /2 cup warm water
1 bunch scallions chopped optional
chopped peanuts for garnish optional


Wash chicken and pat dry
add the S&P and paprika to the flour
Place in a bag and place chicken in the bag shake to coat
Place chicken on a pan and refrigerate for an hour

In a pan ( I used cast iron skillet so it could go right into the oven)  place cooking oil and bring heat up to medium high
Carefully place chicken into hot pan.
Cook for 4 mins a side till brown then remove to a clean plate ( do not reuse the previous platter)
In pan place onions and brown (add olive oil if you don't have enough oil left from the chicken)
In a bowl add the other ingredients( except scallions) peanut butter first
then the warm water and stir to combine, then everything else
Place cooked onions in the sauce bowl and combine, hold
Return the chicken to the cast iron skillet and pour sauce over it and cover.
Place the skillet in a 350 degree oven for 25 mins and bake.

Serve over Stone Ground Grits and with the Green slaw

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stabadora's and Wisconsin Cheese and Broccoli Soup, more in the soup diaries!

Now if you have been following this blog you will know that I spent a serious amount of time in the great state of Wisconsin as an actor, both in regional theater as well as in touring shows. And I will state once again that the Dairy State boasts some amazing cheese and dairy oriented dishes. I mean come on, A State with a burger known as the butter burger is a little bit obsessed with cheese and dairy "Oh Yah, doon't Yah knowa! ".

So one of the things that I love about Wisconsin and the midwest in general is the fact that because they were settled by so many German immigrants they have a culture of what I would call the "gasthaus culture" In other words in Chicago and Milwaukee, in the older neighborhoods, you will find a pub on almost every corner. Now these are normally not just bars, although sometimes they are, but instead Gasthaus style pubs serving food and acting like the old school neighborhood restaurant. At dinner time you will see whole families for example, dining out and enjoying the local color. Sure beer and spirits are a large part of this culture, but food is as well. I mean some of these places have been around for a long time and have excellent reputations as eating establishments ( i.e. Joe's Inn in Richmond from my baked spaghetti blog).

Now today the food these places serves varies and certainly has different styles, ethnicities, and price ranges. Some modern gastopubs serve very pricey and upscale cuisine indeed. The corner bar might only serve bar food, and the corner pub might be Italian, but they are not just bars. They are gathering places for the neighborhoods and represent a drinking and eating culture that has it's roots reaching far back to the German, Irish and Scandinavian immigrants who moved into those places and made them what they are. Work hard, play hard that was the Midwesterner mantra. And culturally that play often involved stopping by the local bar on the way home or meeting up after social clubs or evening business league meetings. they were also the proving grounds for many of the meat and potato meals we enjoy in this nation and identify with good hearty midwestern cooking not to speak of many a "bar food" that came out of those establishments.

Now Aside from pubs something else Wisconsin had a plethora of back in the 70's, 80's and 90's even, was a lot of live theater venues. Even today there are many places which still have year round operating theaters or Summer seasonal venues. These were located in a variety of places but many of them were found in the various resort areas during the summers.

Summer stock as it is called, afforded young actors and musicians a chance get out of where ever they were all year long and travel some place for the summer months and enjoy the local color and working in their craft. It is sad that so many of these venues all over the country have been closing. Due in part to the economy for sure. But due in part as well to a lack of arts funding and a general lack of interest in theater from the younger generation.

Our story today ties in the Wisconsin neighborhood bar culture with working in summer stock in the summertime resort areas. Green Lake, WI. to be exact. Now one of the great joys of summer stock besides getting to work in your field, is the social life that comes with it. It is sort of an extended paid working vacation during which you work really hard all day and evening rehearsing and performing , and every night after the show comes down, you play really hard too! ( just like good midwesterners  would) And often that playing hard involves going out the bar and having food and drinks after the show.

So in Green Lake the place for actors to go after the show was a bar called Stabadora's. It was a crazy old Irish pub with a barkeep named Luvern and a cast of regulars, some of whom had been there forever. Stabadora's had some great bar food and the drinks were cheap. Beer 2 dollars and 4 dollar premium liquor drinks. I mean who could beat that.

 So one day my friend noticed that one of the regulars who was blind drunk sort of left the bar and proceeded to go out, get in his car, and then almost drive his car into the river across the street.

When my friend call this to Luvern's attention she responded " Oh Ya, I know it's too bad...Right!"
"Yah know, that's why I gave up driving yah know? Oh Ya, well after my second DUI...... I said enough is enough.!!!!"

My friend then asked her, when she was going to get a new sign for the bar.

She said "What are you talking about?"

He said "Well the sign out front says, Rielly's."

She answered " Yah, well what's wrong with that? The bar's name is Rielly's?"

He said " But it's called Stabadora's not Rielly's?"

"Oh" she replied " Everyone calls it that because Dora got stabbed here one night by her husband, but the bar is really Rielly's!!!!"

And that's the story of a Wisconsin bar in the land of resorts and summer stock and how it got it's name. Crazy!!! Right!!!

While in Wisconsin I discovered at various pubs the brocolli cheese soup was to die for. Also beer cheese soup was a favorite up there. I love them both so I decided to put them both together. And since we are still having winter I thought a little soup for the soul would do us all good.  Enjoy Ya'll!!

Forrest's Wisconsin Style Broccoli Cheddar Beer Soup

(So I have included all the elements of the classic Beer soup and the classic Broccoli cheese soup here. I think Industrial Strength Proccessed Cheese Broccoli cheese soup has given it a bad rap! Try this one with both cheddar and swiss which gives it a nice flavor and see how good this classic recipe can be. It's classic for a reason.)

makes 6 servings

1 large white onion diced finely
2 lb broccoli florets chopped (can be frozen but thaw before using)
1 can beer ( Wisconsin lager if you please) at room temperature
2 cups chicken stock ( have some extra on hand in case it needs thinning out)
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup flour
1 stick butter
salt to taste
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 tablespoons of worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated swiss cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese grated


Melt butter over medium heat in a heavy bottomed stock pot and add the onion.
Cook onion till soft but not brown.
Place milk in the microwave and heat till warm but not boiling.
Add flour to the onions and butter and cook until it is slightly browned.
Slowly whisk the milk into the onion butter mixture and let thicken
Heat chicken stock like milk and slowly add in.
Pour in the beer and stir to combine
Add in cheese a little at a time whisking till incorporated and smooth
Add in broccoli and cover.
Let simmer for about 20 mins until the broccoli is tender.
Add in spices and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Turn off heat. Let soup sit for 10 mins.
Then pour half the soup into a blender
With top on and holding with a towel blend the soup till pureed and smooth
Add back into the pot with the other half of the soup and stir to combine
Reheat to serve. Serve with crusty bread and top with a dollop of sour cream and a little more grated cheddar. Enjoy!!!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mohogany Short Ribs Recipe

Short Ribs. I think that years ago I came in contact with the short rib. While it had fallen out of favor in the popular restaurant culture for a while, perhaps due to it's fat content and peasant-food like qualities, it was none the less still around And in the the last 10 years or so they have roared back to popularity and have taken their place at the gourmet table once more.

Well many people never forgot the short rib. One of those people was a friend here in NYC who made them for me for the first time. Wow! I tried them was overcome by their rich tast and meaty goodness but I really fell in love with the dinner party ease that they offered. I mean here's a dish that you can't screw up or overcook and actually gets better hanging around longer. So I started trying Short Rib recipes out from a variety of sources. I finally came up with what I thought was amazing. My culinary partner in crime Stuart Sugarbread gave them the nickname "Forrest's Famous Short Ribs" And I suppose they were. I mean I serve them at various dinner parties and even underground restaurant events. I mean how easy is it to warm up short ribs and given that we were cooking in corners sometimes ( literally once)  it made a great entree.

The secret to my ribs was twofold, the texture and the sauce. I braised them in red wine and coffee and stock with herbs and aromatics but the secret for me lay in the sauce. I had learned from catering that short ribs can be heated and re-sauced but the trick for me was that they lacked any texture. I had worked with a chef that made boneless asian short ribs and they had a crust.   He accomplished that with searing the done short rib and then saucing the meat later. I took this a step further and actually seared the whole roasted rib in butter. Searing the outside with the butter fat and locking in the flavor.

For the sauce I would boil down the sauce and then to add the spice I wanted I would throw in a jar of tomato jam a teaspoon of nutmeg and just a touch of liquid smoke, giving it both a spice boost and an almost BBQ quality.

It worked well and people liked them but I was never satisfied with the final sauce. I wanted a sauce that was almost a lacquer. Almost Asian in spice but with the sense of something else. But I never quite found it till now. Rozanne Gold's recipe for short ribs seemed almost too simple. Yet the rave reviews it received online made me wonder could it work? I mean it sounded like pure genius. Take two ingredients that have no relation add them together and create an unbelievable combination. Those two ingredients: Prune juice and Teriyaki sauce. I mean really. But when you think about it why not. I mean the prune juice and the Teriyaki break down the meat overnight and then you cook them for 2 hours till bone dropping tender. Then the sauce is reduced to a thick delicious syrup and poured back over the ribs. So I had to try it.

THEY WERE AAAAAAMMMMMMAAAAZZZZZIIIINNNNNGGGGGG!!!!!!. In one short moment I found my new ultimate short rib recipe. Wow, if you want short ribs make these they are to die for. I added a few touches but it's really her recipe. Please enjoy!

Mohogany Short Ribs Adapted from Rozanne Gold's Recipe


3 lbs short ribs with or without the bone ( I like the bone to cook with for the added flavor)
1 1/2 cups prune juice
1 small bottle low sodium teriyaki sauce
1 Star Anise
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 can tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine


Place everything except the pepper and the wine in a container and cover the ribs
Place in the fridge overnight

When ready to cook remove ribs from the liquid and pour into a braising pot on top of the stove.
Bring to a boil.  Add wine. Reduce heat.
Return ribs to the pot and cook on a high simmer for 2 hours.
Remove cooked ribs from the liquid and boil it down to a thick syrup, watch it or it will burn.
Reheat ribs and pour sauce over the ribs.
Wow, enjoy Ya'll!!!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Etta James and Baked Spaghetti a La Greek........ from Joe's Inn Richmond Style!

Etta James passed away today. She was one of my favorite singers and her big hit "At Last", is probably one of the most romantic songs I have ever heard. I hear it and I am taken back to another time and another place, it's a transporting kind of song. I am sure that many people have had the same experience. I mean music in general has that kind of power. It takes one from the commonplace to the extraordinary in a few tones. It can be a reminder, a sirens song, an embracer, a celebrator, a divine uplifting power. Or it can just make you want to shake your booty!

Regardless of it's origin or type food like music has an almost immediate effect on us and on our senses.  It too has transformative powers and it too can bring back memories of people places or things that we remember well and hold dear.

Etta James happens to remind me of Richmond Virginia. I was there in 2004 on tour with the national tour of Oliver! the musical and spent an incredible New Years Eve and New Years Day with some wonderful people I met there. "At Last" is one of those songs that takes me back to that time and place. And the food that I remember most from that trip to Richmond was an incredible baked spaghetti dish at a local haunt which was a favorite of the town.

The place, Joe's Inn and the dish was, Spaghetti a La Greek! Joe's Inn for those of you who have never  been there is located in a very old building, in a very old part of Richmond called the Fan. The Fan is  the historic district and is home to some of Richmond's oldest haunts and homes. it reveberates with history and has the feel of the old southern roots that gave it life.

Now Spaghetti a La Greek is special. I mean the folks I met in Richmond insisted that we go to this famous old Italian place and have the pasta there. So me, knowing the locals always know best, immediately went along for the ride, well they did have the car!
We found a parking spot down the block and went down the street. There in the darkness illuminated only by a red and white and sort of yellow neon sign was Joe's Inn. We entered and I found myself in a cozy tavern with wooden floors and walls covered with pictures and memories. To call it cozy was an understatement, this was the definition of old school quaint cozy eatery and bar. And it was packed! We got a table after waiting at the bar. We ordered house salad with dressing and garlic cheese bread to start. Wow it was all good. Then came the spaghetti. Now when I say that the portion was huge, I mean the portion was HUGE! It was the size of my head and not in a bad way! upon first inspection is was evident that they had mastered the art of the three cheese pasta with red sauce and meat. It was rich and red and salty from the feta cheese. It was an Italian masterpiece. Not in the oh my god I am going to take you to the most authentic food trip to Italy Mario Batalli  sort of way. But in that, I have come from my roots and have been in the USA for generations making food here, the way I know that people want to eat it,  sort of way. Simply put amazing!

Now I am not a huge pasta cook. Probably because I have Italian friends who are really great traditional pasta cooks here in NYC. But the pasta I do make, I make really well and it's usually pretty hearty and on the heavier side of things ( I make an mean Carbonara for example). So for that reason I love this dish. It's hearty, meaty, cheesy, and great guns good!

So over the years since eating the baked spaghetti at Joe's Inn I have tried to come up with the exact way they do things and finally decided that I could not. I mean first off, the true barrier to recreating any pasta dish from a restaurant is you don't have their red sauce recipe. And lets face it, the red sauce is what is the underliner for the taste of the dish. For this reason for example, I cannot ever get close to Spiritus Pizza's taste at home and have resigned myself to having to put up with the fact that I have to wait until my summer trip to Provincetown to have it! But I LOVE the sauce there! it makes the pizza.
So here's my take on this classic neighborhood favorite. Sorry Joe's if I don't have it exactly right but his one is pretty damn good!!! Enjoy Ya'll!

Baked Spaghetti a La Greek ( Inspired by Joe's Inn in Richmond Va.)

Ingredients makes 6 to 8 servings
1 box of spaghetti cooked al dente and held in oily cold water
3 cups of your favorite red sauce ( I will post mine one day soon)
1 pound ground beef
2 links fresh hot Italian sausage taken out of casings
 1 onion finely diced
1 green pepper finely diced
1 tablespoons oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 cup feta cheese
1 cup romano cheese
1 cup cheddar cheese
6 provolone slices
1 can evaporated milk


In a pot:
Saute onions and peppers till soft
Add beef and sausage cook till browned
Add seasonings
Add sauce

In another pot bring milk to almost boil add cheddar cheese and the romano
stir till creamy

In pot gently combine the red sauce the pasta and the cheese sauce stirring gently till pasta is coated
Then divided layer in 6  to 8  individual baking dishes.
When a dish is half full put 1 slice of provolone cheese then finish mounding noodle mixture on top.
Mound it up nicely, when done divide up the feta and dot the tops then blanket in the remaining slices of provolone.

Bake in 375 degree oven for 20 to 25 mins till cheese is melted and bubbling and heated through.

Garnish with some chopped parsley or chives serve with a salad and garlic bread and enjoy!!!!
                                         Joe's Inn Richmond Virginia

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Remember French Dressing? My version will have you loving it again!

Remember French Dressing? That nuclear orange concoction that came in a bottle from the salad dressing isle in the super market or was served up from the salad bar dressing cans on the Ponderosa Steak House Buffet or Ruby Tuesday salad bar?? Yes, we are talking wishbone freaking french dressing! Picante with a creamy texture and flavor smothering presence on the plate. Used by adults to cover up or enhance the flavor of their salad greens and toppings, kind of like kids use ketchup to cover up the flavor of liver and onions?? Do any parents still make their kids eat liver and onions? Or is that like white bread and processed meats these days in a world of localvoires and foodie snobs?

Anyway......( for you Melissa if you are reading this) French Dressing has a kinda nostalgic feel to it. I mean these days it has certainly been edged out by balsamic vinagrette and fancy dressings with nut oils and fresh herbs. But for a lot of us french dressing conjours up memories of school lunch lines and church covered dish suppers or maybe the college dining hall.

My Mother and Grandmother were never fans of bottled dressings. For one thing they were expensive and for another they had a lot of unpronounceable additives in them. So like the mothers of today worrying about little Jane and Johnny injesting too many chemicals, the cooks in my childhood home made much from scratch and that included salad dressings. We had a family salad dressing that we called the "Hedden House Dressing" It was orange and it was creamy but it had only a few ingredients and it was good enough to eat at many mealtimes for about 20 years going. I mean from the time I was  a little boy we had it in our rotation of salad dressings. We had a tossed salad at every meal where it was appropriate and even sometimes when it had nothing to do with the meal. That was my Mother's way of keeping us eating something green and raw and healthy everyday. I continued this trend in my own life and still make a salad with dinner or some kind of fresh vegetable when I can or deem it appropriate!

I went through a phase where I bought bottled dressings from the refrigerator case in the supermarket, that was until I decided that like the women cooks in my childhood home I could make better and more varied dressing than I could buy. So I have a number of really good dressing recipes in my arsenal. From Green Goddess to my Grandmother's ranch dressing ( which people go crazy for), to a killer vinagrette to the original "Hedden House Dressing". I think that it is that dressing which is most unique. It was originally from some newspaper recipe my Grandmother found while living in Florida in the 1960's and it was actually a recipe for "French Dressing" But my My Mother and Grandma tinkered with it over the years and it came out to be the dressing we had around in the fridge all the time.

So like cooks in my childhood I too have played around with it. ( So that's where it came from! thanks Grandma!)  It had one ingredient which is really surprising and I think is sort of amusing at that. Condensed tomato soup! Yes! Campbells frickin soup! But it is the ingredient which really brings it all together. So next time you want to try a new spin on a tired old favorite dressing give this a try I think you will like it!!

Irene's French Dressing AKA. ( Hedden House Dressing) btw. Irene was my Grandmother!


1/4 cup white onion finely diced
4 tablespoons Chili Sauce ( Heinz)
2 tablespoons Ketchup ( Heinz)
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
4 tablespoons Apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Mustard powder
3 tablespoons bottled lemon juice from concentrate ( yes really)
1 cup condensed campbells old fashions not fancy full sodium soup
2 tablespoons Mayonaise
1/2 cup corn oil. ( yes corn oil!! OK it can be any neutral oil but not olive oil as it had a strong flavor)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
salt to taste
water if it needs thinning


Place all ingredients in a blender except the oil.
Run to combine pulsing till smooth.
Then with the motor running slowly pour the oil into the blender through the hole in the top.
Check for seasoning.
Add water a tablespoon at a time if too thick till creamy and orange and good!!!

Enjoy with your favorite salad greens and toppings!!! YUM! Ya'll!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mushroom Soup to Swoon By, the soup diaries, installment number 2

In the litany of soups that we grew up with in the cupboard few were either loved or hated as much as by kids as that can of condensed mushroom soup. I felt differently....of course! You see think that I had so much minestrone soup and beef barley growing up that if I never taste it again I will be just fine. Not so with mushroom soup.

For me my first recollection of mushroom soup ( and my mother would probably find this funny) is from a nanny ( aka. babysitter)  that I had when I was maybe three years old named Mrs. Wolf.  Now I learned a thing or two from Mrs. Wolf, but, the thing I remember more than anything else was her having introduced me to the joys of the soup of the cream and the mushroom!

 How amazing it was. How noble. I suppose I am kidding a little but I really did love it. It was so different to other far more pedestrian soups in my mind like bean and bacon and barley beef. Now as I got older I had my share of lunches at home with my mom and my grandma where the mushroom soup was served. However, it wasn't until I was in college that I had a revelation as to what that soup could really be like.

You see, I went to college at  James Madison University  back in the 80's. JMU as it is known, is located in the small town of Harrisonburg, in rural Virginia directly in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. Beautiful, picturesque, historic, backwards, redneck! Yes I left my lovely cosmopolitan DC suburban high school home to move to the land of turkey farms and deer hunting. What the heck was I thinking??

In the mid 1980's "the Burg"as we knew it had little or no culture beyond the University. It had a Mall, the Valley Mall. Oh and it had bars which had local color but no culture!  It did have a few restaurants, none of which were really very good. But the area did have a few nice places around it, the Bluestone Inn for example, in the mountains above Harrisonburg boasted a  rather upscale kitchen and  menu and was the place that most people tried to get a reservation at, anytime the school had a big function or occasion.  But if you didn't get in there your choices were a little lacking.

 As a student of course none of this really mattered to me that much. I mean if I wasn't destitute and was eating home, I was either going to eat at JM's the local pub and sandwich shop or Spankey's named after the little rascal, and boasting about the same in food stylings. Of course the other place that I hung out to study late and just to socialize was the Howard Johnson's across the interstate from the campus. Our Ho Jo's was run by a slightly older guy named Phil, who happened to be an art student at JMU as well,  and knew my friends Kathy and Stevie. I guess that Phil was in his late forties or early fifties when I knew him. He looked like a cross between Woody Allen and Jimmy Buffet and had the personality of a New York stand up comedian. He was great. He would  always make sure that we were well taken care of and that the time/money limits on our study booth were never enforced.

During my junior year Phil took a gamble and decided to launch out on his own. He opened a little place in a lovely old Victorian house in the town of Bridgewater one town over from Harrisonburg and the college. It was an upscale place for the valley and he hoped to capture some of the growing business from the parents and the students from well to do families that were attending the University.He named it after himself, Phillip Allen's  So at one point I was looking for a job and he was looking for help, so next thing I knew I was working a Phillip Allen's. Now like any small restaurant many of us did many different things. I had both front and back of house experience so I help in the kitchen prepping things for dinner as well waited on the customers during the dinner service. Now Phil had a wealth of food knowledge having worked for years in restaurants in NYC and Washington DC. when he was younger. So he taught me a lot of interesting recipes, many of which were very popular trends in the 80's. Like he made the world's best poppy seed dressing, ever. And what screams 1980's food trend more than that! By the way if anyone wants that recipe let me know, it's still good today! So on the menu at Phillip Allen's were a number a starters. A baked brie in pastry which was to die for, and Chicken liver mousse with toasted bread. But the stars were the soups. He made an Onion Soup Gratin to die for and the famous Phillip Allen Mushroom Soup. So good, so tasty, so simple. it was at Phillip Allen's that I learned that simply can be extraordinary. So of course I learned how to make this soup and I have made it over and over. It never gets tired because it's so good. of course I have tried to improve on it and I think that if anything I have only managed to ramp up the mushroom power a little. But other than that I give it to you. Phillip Allen's is gone but his dressing, chicken liver mousse, and Mushroom soup live on! Enjoy Ya'll!

Pictures of The HO JO in Harrisonburg that Phil managed for years, the scene of many a late night study session and plates of Nachos and cups of hot HO JO coffee which I remember as being quite good!
The place as I remember it looking when I first saw it when I attended the Mid Atlantic show choir  competition. ( no jokes....we won!!)

And inside!!!

Shadow of times gone, sad!!

Forrest's Mushroom Soup based on  Phillip Allen's Restaurant recipe

Ingredients List:

1 stick of butter
1 large white onion finely chopped
4 cups of chicken stock
1 container dried porcini or chanterelle  mushrooms
1 cup warm whole milk ( can be 1 cup warm water if you want a vegan soup)
16 oz sliced button mushrooms
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley ( reserve 2 tablespoons for garnish)
leaves of 1 twig of fresh thyme finely chopped or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 1/2 oz Dry Sherry
salt and pepper to taste

In a small sauce pot bring milk ( or water)  up to almost a boil.
Place the dried mushrooms in it and remove from heat.
Let sit 20 to 30 mins until mushrooms are softened. Reserve the milk.
In a large stock pot
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and saute the onions till soft.
Add remaining butter and add mushrooms and saute till they soften and they have released their liquor but  be careful do not get color on them. Add in the dried mushrooms and incorporate.
Add the stock and milk the parsley and the thyme. Bring to boil and reduce heat to simmer.
Let this cook for an hour.
Remove form the heat. Let cool 15 mins

Then working in batches place the mixture into your blender and puree until smooth and creamy. Be careful to hold the lid on tight with a towel or you will get hot soup on you!!

Return to pot and bring up to a simmer again and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Hold warm, when ready to serve pour in the sherry and dish it up!
Phil always served his soup with a dallop of sour sream and a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley Enjoy!!!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Soup for the Southern Soul 'The Soup Diaries" Installment One

Savannah Georgia is the queen coastal city of that state's low country. She is Georgia's answer to Charleston, in terms of Antebellum beauty and historical relevance. Founded just a few years later than Charleston, the two towns have always had a sort of rivalry in terms of trade, financial success and political importance. These days that rivalry comes in the form of attracting businesses and investment to the area and securing a larger volume of traffic for the ports in both towns. Well that as well as debating which provides the independent visitor with the most complete Antebellum experience, aesthetic allure, and best culinary offerings.

Now I am from Charleston so you know what my answer will be! But that having been said both cities have rich and delicious histories and provide similar if not competing dishes for the title "most authentic and tastiest" low country dish. In Charleston we are known for a soup call "She Crab Soup". Know as such because it was traditionally made with the female crabs and as an extra flavor bonus the roe of the crab was included in the dish.

Savannah has it's own version of this but it is referred to as "CRAB STEW" and definitely has more ingredients and is heartier than it's Charlestonian counter part. At least the version I have from my friend from Savannah.

My first experience in Savannah and with Crab Stew was a hot one. It was in summer between my 8th and 9th grade years and friends of our family ,who had a beach house in St. Augustine, Florida, had invited us to stay with them for a month. So since my father was all tied up with business and could only join us for a week and my mother was never one to shun a good beach vacation, we headed down to Florida from Washington DC, where we were living at the time,  in our Dodge Monaco station wagon my mother, my brother and me. Now I think that driving down the east coast in August, in 98 degree weather with the radio blaring Billy Joel and Journey songs over and over ( top 20 radio hell!!!) should have been punishing enough. But no, the air conditioner had to go out and then when we reached Savannah we had just pulled into a gas station when whatever else was wrong with the electrical system went boom!

My mother and my brother and I all just stared at the cloud of smoke rising from the engine as we raised the hood. All dreams of making it to the beach that night were slowly disappearing, and what was worse we were in a strange town which smelled vaguely of burning rubber and methane gas ( What we did not know was that the paper mill was very near the city). Fortunately, our knight in shining armor came in the form of a grease covered and snaggletoothed station attendant, who in a thick Georgian accent informed us that not only did he know what the problem was but that he could fix it. Our hopes rose in us thinking that this would be a quick fix. They slowly sank again however, when he told us that getting the part would take the better part of the day and that we would not be on our way until at least 6 pm that evening or early tomorrow! NO! I thought, how awful! I looked at my brother and we both just sat, staring at the car wishing it would somehow just start up again. After my mother got off the phone with my father she let us know that we would have to make provisions for staying here for the night. Now this is what is great about my mom, she really is the queen of making lemonade out of lemons, so without so much as a hello, she led us off on a great adventure in downtown Savannah. Now we had stopped in Savannah before on trips but only to eat at the "Pirate House Restaurant". A favorite for two young boys obsessed with all things pirate for a time.  We had never explored the town, it's moss covered squares it's stately homes. So where does one get the real low down in those days?? The Library of course. So off we went into the Savannah public library and asked for help on where to go. We were guided to a number of interesting places old homes and the interesting squares that make up the downtown as well as the city's then newly redeveloping water front. We had praline's from a wonderful little bakery and then my mother decided that for lunch we would try a place she had always heard about but had never had the opportunity to try, Ye olde Pink House.

Now my mom had a funny knack  all my young life of remembering eating establishments that either she had been to or heard about or read about in places that our family would travel. We ate at some pretty amazing places on our family vacations as a result, but sometimes her timing on going to said places was a little off. For example, we show up at the Ye olde Pink House, which was very popular and hard to get into, and ask for a table. Well, I don't know what this guy thought of us, all decked out in our most casual wear, sunburned from sight seeing and slightly crazed with hunger. A woman and two young teen boys looking very swank! Not! Anyway he found us a table and we had a really nice lunch. This was the first time I ever ate crab stew in Savannah. It was a special of the day. It was rich and crabby and salty and thick with the subtle taste of sherry. Wow! I loved it of course. I can't remember what else I had but I remembered that soup!

 Then time came to check about the car. Well as luck had it, the station had secured the part early in the day and had repaired the car! So at 6 pm we were able to pick up our car  from the station and drive away. Three hours later in the dark, we arrived at the Chez Kruse on the beach, home of our friends. And that's how I first experienced Savannah and her cusine. I have been back many times since then but I will never forget that first trip as a young adult! So I offer this recipe to share with you a little of that first experience for me.

My version has a few more elements to it than then ordinary Savannah crab stew recipe. I was looking to add body to it and more flavor. I recently made "oyster stew" for my Mother this New Years Day. She had wanted a stew with more body than the traditional version's cream only base. I thought about it and decided that by incorporating elements of 2 things I love, Rich seafood sauce, and a Clam chowder I could give the stew more body. Here I took that a step further by adding in the shrimp for even more seafood background flavor and rich texture. I hope you enjoy Ya'll!


3 tablespoon cooking oil
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
3/4 cup finely chopped carrots
1 cup finely chopped white onion
1 clove garlic finely minced
1 cup chopped cooked shrimp
2 medium yellow potatoes diced very small
1/4 cup flour
1 stick unsalted butter
1 quart whole milk heated
1/2 cup dry sherry
2 bottles clam juice
1 pint heavy cream
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon white pepper
1/2 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Old bay seasoning
1 teaspoon mace
1/2 tablespoon Cocktail Bitters
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 lb. jumbo crab meat picked over for shells
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
sea salt to taste


In a pot boil potatoes until cooked and soft drain and reserve.
Heat cooking oil in large skillet and saute carrots, celery and onion till soft.
Add garlic and cook until garlic blooms about 3 mins turn off heat and hold
In large heavy bottomed stew pot melt butter and add flour slowly till a think paste is formed and cook till golden brown, then whisk in warm milk slowly until blended and thick
Add clam juice and stir.
Add sherry and all the seasonings and celery garlic mixture
bring to boil stirring constantly then reduce heat to a low simmer for 15 mins.
Add potatoes and shrimp  heavy cream and crab meat and heat through but do not boil.
Season to taste with salt
About 7 mins remove from heat stir in parsley and serve.

Try this on a cold winters day or any time for that matter! Boy is this good!


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Trash Chili Night and Rutherford Grill Cornbread on a budget

Last night was really chilly out here in NYC.....FINALLY!  So I did not feel like doing much more than curling up with a good movie or maybe having a friend over to hang out, eating something warm and comforting and sharing a bottle of wine. I also did not really want to spend money by going out to dinner or even shopping for a lot of food to make something ( Budget January you know).  As the day progressed and I pondered over what I would make for dinner. I thought about the 5 pounds of ground turkey ( Family pack from a New Jersey shopping trip - hello budget January!!) that I needed to cook sitting in the fridge and what I was ever going to do with that. I also did not want to leave the house and as a result I started looking at what I had in the pantry. Then I got an idea. I had just done a party where we had served turkey chili. And I thought OK maybe I have enough stuff to make a good chili. My tomato options were a little scarce but I had some interesting options and I thought OK what the heck I will give it a try. To go with the chili I came up with the ingredients for my favorite cornbread recipe in the world and I think it's the best you will ever eat! It's a take off on the cornbread served at the Rutherford Grill in the Napa Valley, California. It's so good in fact that the first time I made this recipe it blew the socks off the people I was serving it to. It's almost a cake but savory and cheesy and actually since I cheated ( semi homemade style- thank you Sandra Lee, not that she has anything to do with the recipe) the first time I made it I have never gone back to another way of making it, so it's SUPER EASY!

But I digress. So to make the chili ( and don't laugh) I literally went through my fridge and  cupboard and came up with the following ingredients that I pulled and used for the Chili.

5 lbs ground turkey
3 medium onions finely diced
1 large green bell pepper finely diced
1 bunch parsley chopped
1  8 oz can chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoon Salt Free Blackening Spices
8 tablespoons chili powder
10 tablespoons ground roasted cumin
3 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon tabasco sauce ( omit if you don't like spice)
1 large jar Tomato Alfred Pasta Sauce ( Silver Palate Brand)
1 small jar 8 oz tomato jam (Stonewall Farms Brand)
1 4 oz can green chilis
1 can Red Enchilada sauce ( old El Paso Brand)
1 jar Maxwell House instant coffee 4 cups prepared ( start with 2)
5 tablespoons Guy Fieri Brand Brown Sugar BBQ sauce
2 cans Black Beans drained and rinsed
salt to taste

For toppings Sour cream, chopped red onion, chopped scallions, canned sliced black olives, reserved cheese. ( the onion and scallion is redundant but I had both to use up! )

For the cornbread

2 packages Betty Crocker Corn Bread Mix
2 eggs ( beaten)
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 can creamed style corn
1 cans green chillies
2 tablespoons finely diced jalepeno peppers from a can 2 tablespoons whole ones held in reserve
1 1/2 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese plus 1/2 cup held in reserve
1 tablespoon garlic powder
4 tablespoons bacon bits ( I used Hormel Brand from the jar in the salad dressing aisle you can omit if you want veggie version)
1/4 cup buttermilk plus 3 tablespoons
Cooking spray
Must use a cast iron frying pan 10 to 12 inches in diameter ( You can use another pan but it won't come out the same

Method ( Could not be easier )

For the Trash Chili

In a large heavy bottomed Braising Pot
Cook the onions and peppers in a little oil
Add the turkey and brown
then add all the other ingredients starting with 2 cups of the coffee use the other 2 only if too thick.
Cook at a simmer for 4 hours on medium low heat stirring occasionally to make sure it does not stick
Check seasoning ( I actually added a little salt thats all)
Serve into bowls and top with Sour cream, shredded cheese chopped red onion, black canned olives and scallions

For the Cornbread

Heat oven to 425 degrees
Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine the egg throughout batter will be lumpy.
Don't over mix the wet and the dry should just be barely mixed.
Heat Cast iron skillet in oven for 15 mins. till screaming HOT!
Pull out and spray with cooking spray.
Pour batter into the pan cover with the cheese and reserved pepper slices.
Place in oven and bake for 30 to 45 mins.
Top should be browning and getting crusty
Remove from oven and let rest for 15 mins. then slice into wedges and serve while still warm

Ya'll Enjoy!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Spoletto Arts Festival and a Crabby Oscar!

In Charleston over the last 20 years a thriving restaurant scene has developed. It has blown up partly because of the growth of the "New Southern" food scene but also because there are so many young chefs who graduate from culinary school there and can get jobs and open restaurants there. This would be impossible to do without the scale of the dining out scene which exists there. Charleston is probably one of the top destinations for tourists both from the US and from Europe. The Low Country's amazing natural setting and access to the water along with it's historic charm keep it a magnet for seekers of all things southern, as well as lovers of it's coastal beauty and thriving arts scene. It attracts thousands of visitors a year and with those visitors had come the opportunity to grow a large varied and vibrant culinary marketplace. There is almost every level of cooking going on there from just plain food to foodie.

One of the most interesting and largest draws to Charleston is the Spoleto arts festival. Spoleto founded by the Italian composer Gian Carlo Mennotti is one of the largest fine arts festivals anywhere in the US. It rivals Santa Fe NM. as a draw for opera as well as other performing and fine arts fans alike. For 2 weeks each year starting the last week of May the city comes alive with performances and art exhibits, concerts and operas. It is a festive and convivial time and of course very busy for the city's hospitality industry.

When I was younger my friend Diana took me to a show at the Coconut Club one of the festival's creations, and then out to a late night dinner. The "late night" dinners were a special thing which took place at several establishments but only during the Festival season. they were terribly popular! One restaurant in town however, did it all year round. That was Marianne's. Marianne's was a French restaurant and had such great food and atmosphere. Brilliantly lit with candles and bathed in soft colors and furnished with old Antiques, it was so great! There was a woman there who played the piano in the evenings  and would regale us with cocktail standards and sing Patsy Cline songs into the night.

"Late night" menu meant brunch and burgers and such. It was a limited menu but had the most wonderful egg dishes on it as well as their famous onion soup. The dish that Diana introduced me to that evening and the one that kept me coming back over and over was the Crab Oscar Benedict! When it came to the table and was presented I was smitten. The crunchy english muffin topped by a delicious mixture of fresh crab salad and a layer of steamed asparagus crowned with a perfectly poached egg and blanketed in a creamy hollandaise sauce. YUM! It was heaven. I love that dish so much that I have recreated it for you as an alternative to the normal things you might make at home for breakfast, brunch or as in this case, late night snack.

Please Induge!

4 English Muffins Split and toasted and buttered
8 oz fresh jumbo lump crab meat 2oz per portion
2 tablespoons mayonnaise ( I like Dukes but the H word is OK)
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried french tarragon leaves
1 tablespoon fresh chives
6 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
12 pieces of asparagus poached in water and lemon juice
8  pre-poached eggs held in ice bath and reheated in warm water
1 cup blender Hollandaise ( recipe to follow)


Place English Muffin on plate
Mix next 5 ingredients to together
Spoon on muffins  and top with asparagus
Place on broiler pan sprinkle with the cheese
Broil till cheese is melted and browning and crab is heated through
Remove from broiler
Top with poached eggs that have been reheated
And spoon over the hollandaise

Enjoy warm

Blender Hollandaise

1 1/2 cups melted butter
6 egg yolks
4 tablespoon lemon juice
dash hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard
pinch of salt
pinch of white pepper

Pour seasoning and egg yolks and mustard into a blender ( that has been heated with hot water)  and pulse till combined
With the motor running slowly pour in the melted butter in a steady stream till the mixture becomes a thick sauce.
Reserve till you serve and reheat in Microwave for a few seconds
Pour over eggs

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hail Caesar and pass the Mayo and Sriracha!

So someone asked me to complete the entry from the other day and talk about Caesar salad. Ok let's talk about Caesar salad.

The Caesar salad is probably the most well known salad in the restaurant world today, well.... within the continental US. There are many types of salads proffered in chain restaurants everywhere in this country now, but the Caesar alone stands as King. American's can't get enough of it. and ever since Caesar Cardini supposedly created it one night on the 4th of July in 1924 when his kitchen ran out of anything else to serve. He served the salad table side to add to it's panache. It became wildly popular and swept the nation. Today everyone serves a Caesar. From the Cheesecake Factory chain out of Hollywood to Applebees, the Caesar is probably the most popular salad. The Cheesecake Factory serves 5 tons of Caesar salads a year, that's a lot of Caesars!

I can still remember as a very little boy having a Caesar salad made table side for the first time at a fancy restaurant in Tampa Florida. The impressive preparation was so theatrical, it was wonderful how the waiter combined all the ingredients into the large wooden bowl and then tossed in those 2 coddled eggs. Then with a few stokes of the wooden spoons created a creamy rich and wonderful sauce that enveloped the crisp romaine leaves. A few crunchy croutons, a generous handful of grated cheese and a few twists of pepper later and presto! He served up a mouthwatering, satisfying, Umami giving, salad that changed the way I looked at lettuce forever!

I think Umami is the best way to describe why a Caesar is so satisfying. It contains at least three maybe four elements that provide that Umami punch. It's a hearty almost meaty taste and it is just so satisfying.

OK, now I have tried to recreate that freshly tossed Caesar experience for years at home. That wonderful moment when the salad is made fresh with the dressing in the bowl from scratch! But truth be told I am just plain lazy sometimes, and just don't feel like coddling eggs or using raw ones. So from scratch the old school way just seemed too tedious. And I  have tried to like bottled Caesar dressing, but I have yet to find a good one! Even the Cardini Family who produces a dressing based on the original recipe can't seem to bring it to the table. So I just decided long ago I wanted to make my own dressing but in an easier way and even hold it in the fridge for later use.

Now from working in catering for years I had gleaned from various chefs that Caesar dressing can be made many ways. And the way around using eggs and the get the dressing to hold easily is to use one of my favorite things in the world, Mayonnaise! ( Hello Eggs and Oil!!) However, getting the rest of the dressing to really be stellar was a bit tricky. I mean I have come to expect a certain taste and consistency from a good Caesar dressing, so starting with the basics of the dressing and building upon them to an even more elevated taste sensation was the goal here. After all I just didn't want just any old Caesar dressing. But the best Caesar dressing I could come up with!

So I experimented and experimented. And whenever I went out somewhere that had an interesting Caesar, I would try to inquire what the ingredients were. I also looked at recipes in my books and online from everyone, trying different things and really seeing what were things that worked and things that did not. For example one thing that never should be in Caesar dressing is soy sauce! (which one famous person suggested) Yuk! However one restaurant I went to had some background taste in their dressing I could not place immediately. Finally after asking I realized I knew the flavor but had not expected it, Sesame Oil!! And Frankie's Sputino NYC. which also had a mayo based dressing gave the the clue to add a little heat by using tabasco. However, I liked the heat idea, but I have grown to love Sriracha sauce so much, that I put in everything now from soups to mac and cheese! So that became my "heat" element. So after much trial and error here is the finished version. If you want to try to make a Caesar salad at home and really impress people with an easy awesome dressing give this a try! Hail Ceasar!

The Best "Caesar" Salad you'll ever want to make!!!


For the Salad: Serves 6 to 8 people

3 large hearts of romaine chopped squarely ( include the white ends almost to the stalk and cut off any bad green ends otherwise use all) and held cold in the fridge
2 1/2 cups croutons ( I like Trader Joe's salad croutons, they taste like homemade but you can make your own or buy your favorite brand)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1 1/2 tablespoon capers drained

For the dressing:  

6 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoons red wine vinegar
splash of caper juice
2 cloves minced garlic
2 anchovies filets ( plus more garnishing for each portion)
1/8 teaspoon Sriracha Sauce
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup Mayo ( I like Dukes brand)
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
3 teaspoons lemon juice

Mash anchovies and garlic into a  really creamy fine paste on the bottom of a large salad bowl ( Wooden if possible).
Add the Mayo then the liquid ingredients whisking vigorously till smooth and combined.
Add cheese and pepper and stir till combined and smooth. If too thick add more water a teaspoon at a time. ( At this point you could hold the dressing in the fridge for later use. You can also increase the quantity to make more to have on hand. It lasts a least 1 to 2 weeks in the fridge.)

Place dressing in the bottom of the serving bowl if you did not use it to make the dressing.
Place Chopped lettuce, croutons, cheese and capers in the bowl and toss together till coated. Serve immediately!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Roast Chicken and Blue Cheese Stuffed Baked Potatoes

Every Summer my friend Fred goes to Holland Michigan to music direct for the Hope Summer Repertory Theater. And every summer the group who works there has what are called sunday suppers. It's a pot luc where people sign up to make either an appetizer, a main dish or a dessert. It's a long standing tradition at Hope Rep. that's been going on a long time , due in part to the fact that so many people who work there return year after year. In fact they have so many dishes in their repertoire that they have contemplated putting together a cookbook they could sell at the Theater in the season.

This sort of mix of theatricality and culinary comaraderie is not uncommon amongst the Summer Stock world. In an earlier part of my life I worked in plenty of regional and summer theaters where parties were an annual event or sunday evenings were a ritual of food and drink and celebration. I can remember for example on a national tour with a very large company having an around the world party where many of the suites which were equipped with full kitchens produced an amazing and varied plethora of international foods and drinks complete with ethnic music and decor. It was tasty, creative, competitive, and mostly fun.

So last night Fred and I set out to recreate one of the meals that he makes for the summer season. And being that it was a chilly Sunday afternoon, and I was already in the mood to cook something it just seemed like the thing to do. On the menu was Cheese and Crackers, my Caesar salad ( a topic for another day), Rosemary and Lemon roasted Chicken, and Blue Cheese Stuffed Baked potatoes, and a nice botttle of French wine! As a side bar I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE double stuffed baked potatoes. Love em! I make a mean one, so I was very excited to see what Fred would do. That and I happen to think that there are few things as simple and delicious as a well roasted chicken.  And I wasn't disappointed. The Chicken came out so juicy and delicious with a golden skin and wonderful drippings out of which I made a simple but delicious Madeira Wine pan sauce. The potatoes came out crunchy and browned on the top, which a pungent saltiness and smooth mouth feel that melted away in your mouth like a cloud of savory goodness.
So with out much more adieu I give you today's recipes, enjoy!

Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Rosemary

You will need:

1 Roasting Chicken 3 to 5 pounds
1 large lemon or two small ones
5 sprigs of rosemary
5 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons butter at room temperature
Kosher salt and pepper
2 tablespoons Olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
1 /4 cup Madeira Wine
1 cup water


Pre heat oven to 425 degrees
Remove Chicken from packaging and wash inside and out, pat dry.

Cut up the lemons and squeeze the juice into the chicken's cavity, season generously with salt.

Crush the garlic with the flat of a large knife.

Stuff the chicken with the lemons and the rosemary sprigs and the crushed garlic cloves.

Gently lift up the skin under the breast from the back of the bird with your hand and rub butter leaving some small bits of butter slathered under the breast skin. Slather butter over the rest of the bird gently then season generously with salt and pepper.

With a piece of twine trust the chicken's legs up to close the cavity.

Place the chicken on the bottom of a well oiled roasting pan ( I use my large cast iron skillet because it makes the sauce prep so easy and it roasts things so well).

Place the chicken into the oven and bake for 1 hour and 5 mins.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest.

Remove chicken from the pan. Then over medium high heat deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup Madeira Wine then add 2 tablespoons flour and whisk vigorously to avoid lumps. Whisk in water slowly till smooth. Season to taste, it may need very little.

Slice chicken and serve with the pan sauce.


Blue Cheese Stuffed Baked Potatoes

You will need

3 large baking potatoes
3 oz Saga Blue Cheese
1/2 cup dairy sour cream
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
1 bunch of chives finely chopped ( reserve 2 tablespoons)
oilve oil
Sea salt


Wash potatoes and dry, rub with the olive oil and sea salt.

Place of baking sheet and pierce a few times with a fork.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 20 mins and check if done by piercing with fork.

Let cool.

In a small pan melt butter with garlic over low heat and let simmer till garlic is soft and cooked through.

Slice cooled potatoes long wise in half and carefully scoop out the flesh leaving the shells.

In a bowl mix potato, blue cheese, sour cream, and melted butter and garlic mixture and chives.

Add pepper to taste.

Mash until fluffy and smooth.

Stuff each shell equally with the potato/cheese mixture mounding generously.

Grind a little pepper over each shell and bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 mins or until the tops start to brown nicely.

Remove and sprinkle with remaining chives.

Serve with the chicken and the pan sauce.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

What comes first the Chicken or the Deviled Egg?

I think that there are some foods that with one bite contain every memory of the first time you may have eaten it. it's the taste of your second grade lunch line, the best date you ever had, your high school prom, every party you remember at your Aunt's house, or summers picnics with friends, or the kitchen of your parent's house on lazy Sunday afternoons.

These are foods that we identify people and time and even geography with. Foods that we crave when we are sick. Foods we want when we are celebrating. Foods which help us to connect to our loved ones even though they may be no longer here.

I know you know what I am talking about. For instance, I can't imagine going to a Christmas party at my friend's Mike and John's without clam dip. Just like I can't imagine a January I won't make tomato soup. I can't imagine a vacation at my Mother's without her making Grilled cheese sandwiches the way I remember my Grandmother making them. These are the things I am talking about. I eat that grilled cheese and I am 7 years old again sitting in our kitchen in Virginia and my Grandma is making dinner on  friday night for my brother and I while our parents are out enjoying a little time together. And there are foods I associate with places or year times. Like Mozzarella and Tomato salad reminds me of my first time in NYC. Or squash casserole always reminds me of Christmas eves spent with Family and Friends at their house.

But sometimes a particular food just has a flair that conjures up a mood you want to set. So when you are having people over you might make a particular thing that you know people will like. These are our "specialties" our "personal signatures" on the culinary memories of our friends and families. People are always asking me "what is your Signature dish??" I could tell you what I think, but I prefer to answer by saying "well... So and So here has been to dinner at my house a number of times, ask them what they think is my signature dish??" I think that way because I have the things I like to cook, and the things that I like to maybe show off with. But do I know if  they are the dishes that evoke a memory or a desire to revisit that "last time you made that thing" in the minds of my friends?

I know, for example, that if I make Beef Bourguignon my friend Fred Tessler will always talk about it like it was the best thing he has ever had at my house. And he remembers that first dinner party when I made it with all the fondness of a great movie screening, or a concert. Because a great meal with wine and atmoshere and great conversations will always resonant as an evening to be remembered. A great meal  absolutely can have all the depth and richness and intimacy of our best remembered times spent with others whether with friends or family. When I make Beef Bourguignon I am actually reliving an amazing moment in my past when I first had it in Switzerland with a family I was visiting there. I can still hear the laughter of that night and see the faces lined in shadows from the candle light. I was maybe 19. But that meal and those moments changed me forever.

So where is all this taking us and how do we get to deviled eggs you may ask. Well the answer is simple. I think the deviled egg is the one of the best examples of how a food can resonate with a sense of people places or things. Sure there are others, and truth be told everyone probably has their own, but think about it ( unless you hate deviled eggs, in which case I am sorry for you) don't you have some strong food memory associated with the deviled egg? Maybe it's your family, mother, grandma, your girl friend's Mom. Maybe it's church covered dish dinners, or maybe picnics, summer time or holidays? But I bet somewhere you associate the deviled egg with someone or something as the first time you remember tasting them and how you enjoyed them and the time you were having. Or not, but either way that's my theory. Most Americans enjoy their deviled eggs and there is a reason beyond the taste. They tell a story, and that's the reason even if they aren't exactly the way YOU would have made them, they are good and tasty!

So now i give you MY deviled egg recipe, which many have said they think is one of the best they have ever had. I think so too! Enjoy!

Forrest's Deviled Eggs with Curry and Relish

Boil 8 eggs
Make sure the eggs are on the older side and the peelings with come off easier
put the eggs in a single layer in a pot and bring to boil.

When it boils turn off the heat and let sit with lid on pot for EXACTLY 13 mins
( I learned this from Ina Garten and it really works the eggs come out perfect)

Then put the eggs in a sink and run cold water over them, then let sit in water till cool

Peel and slice in half in the middle of the short side, not the way it's normally done on the long side of the eggs!!!

Carefully scoop out the yolks.

Then with a sharp knife carefully cut the bottom off of each egg half, just the tip and enough for it to stand upright. Salt the whites lightly, hold cold in the fridge.

To the reserved yolks add the following:

1/3 cup mayo.
1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
3 tablespoons good Hamburger Dill relish
11/2 tablespoons Madras Curry powder (it's hot, if you don't have it use regular Curry powder and 1/8 of a teaspoon tabasco sauce).
1/2 tablespoon Worchestershire Sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
salt and pepper to taste
French Fried Onions ( hold in reserve)
2 tablespoons Chopped Chives ( hold 1 tablespoon in reserve)

Mash yolks and add all the ingredients, whip until smooth and fluffy. If not wet enough add more mayo.

Place the egg mixture in a pastry bag and pipe into the egg whites
Crown the eggs with the fried onions and sprinkle with chives.

Chill a few hours wrapped in the fridge before serving.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Fungus Among Us, or Soviet Mushrooms and French Liaisons MUSHROOM STROGANOFF IN PUFF PASTRY

 Well while I was away in Chucktown (aka Charleston SC.) I had a number of revelations. One was that the foods that we as Americans like to eat the most had their beginnings in cultures far from own own. ( Duh! Forrest ) And secondly, that the original recipes hold in them some clue as to why they are still popular with us today.

 Growing up in a household that contained 2 cultural heritages namely my Father's southern heritage and my Mother's Norwegian and Austrian Heritage I had exposure to plenty of different cultural foods. Holidays were celebrated, birthdays and special year times were all marked by foods which reminded us of where we came from and helped us carry on the traditions of the past and the people who taught us about them. I mean I am sure that everyone remembers one special meal or food that we had growing up which reminds us of the person(s) associated with that food or dish. And in a broader sense the foods we remember from our heritage remind us who we are and where we came from. But, they also give us something to carry into tomorrow and share with the next generation to come.

 So it is with me. I have certain foods that remind me of special people in my past. My mother's Mother was one of those people and she provided me with a plethora of dishes which remind me of her. Some of the things that she would cook would definitely be considered terrible for you today, like fried boloney sandwiches with onions, but they are things I will never forget!!

So how do I get from this line of thinking to Soviets? Well it's not really Soviets but Russians I am talking about. And while there are many dishes which may symbolize Russian Cuisine in our minds there is only one that my Grandmother cooked on a regular basis. And while it is no longer the high end dish it once was it is singularly a great example of a dish which has it's roots in the past but has become a staple on the American dinner table. I am talking beef, mushrooms and noodles Ya'll, Yes! Beef Stroganoff!

Now Beef Stroganoff is a dish that has a rich culinary history. It is traditionally thought that the Russian Diplomat Count Pavel Stroganoff and his chef created this dish around the turn of the century in St. Petersburg. A dish which in turn became a very big hit at the dinner parties of the day. It was after all a beef steak dish which was served in a rich sour cream sauce over egg noodles. At the time it was seen as very elegant. Even Betty Crocker in her 1941 cookbook had beef stroganoff as a recipe and became a favorite of home "gourmet" cooks of the "50's".  These versions were a  far cry from the Hamburger Helper variety so many middle Americans have some to know today. Truth be told there is some doubt as to the origin of the dish. As said, the Count is credited, but a recipe for this same dish  appeared as early as 1871 in a Russian Culinary publication. So who exactly created this dish is a mystery. It is however to note that while we associated Beef Stroganoff with a sour cream sauce the original recipe called it a "beef in Mustard sauce dish" which was then enriched with sour cream! Still there is Hamburger Helper tainting my view of this dish. Oh Wait duh! Here is a perfect example of how culinary history gives only the base for the foods we enjoy en masse these days.

What is my twist on all of this? Well nothing earth shattering. Nothing New. Just a simple and hopefully interesting twist in the Stroganoff composition. Take out the Beef. That's right take it out, who need it! The noble mushroom can stand on it's own. In fact if you put the right combination of mushrooms into the mix with the right amount of truffle oil you might have something really special. But wait there's more, why stop at the beef, let's take the noodles away as well, and add another element a vessel if you will, to carry this might mushroom mixture, Puff Pastry!! Yes a French twist and a good one. A Puff pastry shell, like a little bowl to hold all the meaty mushroom goodness. Now you have something that sort of resembles the dish ( like Hamburger helper ) but is not at all the dish ( like........... um.... Hamburger Helper ) but will be a favorite of you and yours. Give it a try. You will like it!

Mushroom Stroganoff with Pastry Cups

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 pound brown Cremini or Baby Bella Mushrooms
1 package 2 oz to 4 oz dried morel mushrooms reconstituted in 1 1/2 cups water ( reserve broth)
1 package 2 oz to 4 oz dried chanterelle mushrooms reconstituted in 1 1/2 cups water ( reserve broth)
2 tablespoons dried porcini mushroom powder
2 cups reserved mushroom broth
1/2 cup red wine
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons dried tarragon
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons dijon Mustard
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons brandy or cognac
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 package frozen Puff pastry Cups ( Pepperidge Farm is the one I use)
1 tablespoon Fresh parsley chopped fine


Bake Puff pastry shells according to directions and cool

Saute onions in the olive oil till soft then add  Fresh mushrooms when almost cooked add dried mushrooms and fresh thyme, season to taste and add the wine and cook till wine is absorbed and all liquid is reduced
Hold warm.

In a separate pot melt butter and add flour cook till a golden brown paste appears
Slowly add the mushroom broth and stir till thickened over med heat
add porcini powder  and mustard and dried tarragon, season to taste and reduce heat to hold warm.

Combine the mushroom mixture with the sauce
Add sour cream, nutmeg and cognac and heat through.

To serve

Place puff shell in the bottom of a flat soup bowl or deep plate
Spoon mixture into and around the shell
Sprinkle with the parsley, serve immediately

Enjoy the ooh's and ahh's!