Although I live in Michigan I did not grow up here. I did, in fact, grow up in the garden state (New Jersey). While the state gets a bad rap due to it’s proximity to New York city and the urban sprawl and development that has left almost the entire state a suburb of NYC most would be surprised that, forty yeas ago, most of the state was considered rural. It was during this time that my Father bought our house in Montvale, New Jersey. In the woods sandwiched between 2 apple orchards we watched as our house was built. The only businesses for several miles were an antiquated gas station, a diner and a Dairy Queen (still there today in it’s original building). When we finally moved in it was the culmination of my fathers dream. For a guy that grew up in the city my father now had a house in the country.
We always had a garden. We grew corn,cucumber,watermelon etc.. in addition to the apples we picked in the neighboring orchards. I don’t recall exactly how but my father also found a rather large Blackberry patch in the woods. Each summer he would put on his berry picking clothes (thick denim jacket and a straw hat) and go off into the woods only to return several hours hours later bringing several quarts of big,fat and perfectly ripe berries. When I got older I would join my Father on theses expeditions. We would eat them with fresh cream and sugar. What we didn’t eat we would set out by the road on a table to share with the neighbors.
The woods and orchards of my youth are all gone now, victims of alleged progress. The land became more valuable for corporate headquarters and urban subdivisions but the memories are still vivid to me.
A couple of years ago I discovered a wild black berry bush growing in my back yard here in Detroit, courtesy of the birds I suspect. It was a welcome addition to the wild herbs that also grow here at the house. This year I found myself with a bumper crop of berries and picked then diligently each day or two until the crop ran out. To my surprise I ended up with about a gallon bag of berries. I decided to use this years crop to make blackberry jelly.
Nothing could be more simple to make than fruit syrup. Jam and Jelly are equally achievable. Some of the important points I can bring to light are to make sure everything is sterile. This just means boiling your jars,utensils etc…. Another is to strain (through cheesecloth) the solids and seeds that are especially prevalent in wild berries. Strain twice if you need to!!
I’m including a basic recipe here but with just the basic ingredients ( berries, sugar, water, a little lemon juice and pectin) I was able to make 7 1/2 pint jars of jelly.
Water to cover
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Wash berries and put in a non reactive pan ( stainless steel/no aluminum), add sugar and enough water to cover
Stirring constantly, bring to a rolling boil and boil 1 minute (a rolling boil can not be stirred down). Remove from heat.
Strain though cheese cloth and a fine sieve.
Wisk in pectin and lemon juice.
Skim off bubbles. Ladle jelly into hot, sterilized containers, one at a time. Fill to within 1/8 inch of top. Wipe rim of jar or glass with a clean damp cloth.
Refrigerate until ready to use. Jelly should keep for a couple of months.
There are a number of circumstances that affect whether or how well your jelly sets:
Never EVER double a jelly or jam recipe. For some reason, this effects the setting.
If your jam does not set, chances are it contains too little pectin.
An imbalance between the pectin and the acid in your jelly. Adding a little lemon juice helps the pectin, and also helps create an environment hostile to bacteria.
High humidity in the kitchen can cause problems with jam and jelly.
Finally, you can defeat the whole purpose of adding pectin if you boil the mixture too long — overcooking causes the pectin to break down and lose its thickening capacity.
This is a refrigerate jelly and not a preserve. It needs to be refrigerated.I am not using canning techniques in this recipe!
For many years I have had a love affair with eating raw (or preserved/cured) fish. The first experience I remember had to have been smoked salmon. I was introduced to it as a topping for my bagel. Of course cream cheese and red onion were the accompaniment. As my interest in food and cooking grew,first into a passion, later into a career I took every opportunity to acquaint myself with the various forms that raw fish took. Oysters and clams on the half shell were always a treat. When I discovered Sushi, a love affair I maintain to this day, no type of fish was off limits. Sea urchin,octopus,tuna,yellowtail were all favorites of mine.
Back in the early 1980’s, thanks to a free flight from an air freight company, I found myself in Los Angeles California with a week to kill.Being young and foolish I decided that I would continue my west coast adventure by making my way down into Mexico. I really had no idea what I would do when I got there but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I began by taking a bus down to San Diego, followed by a trolley ride to the border of Mexico and finally,another bus ride, on to Ensenada, Mexico. Getting off the bus I began to wander around. I couldn’t help notice all food vendors around town. I also learned two important facts. The first was that my high school Spanish lessons didn’t prepare me for communicating with the folks in Mexico and the second was that the Mexican food I had eaten growing up in New Jersey was different than what was being sold on the streets of Ensenada. It was here that I had my first taste of Ceviche. The fish was very fresh due to the fact that Ensenada was a fishing port. Mixed to order with lime juice, onion,cucumber,Chile pepper,tomato and cilantro it was presented in little paper cups with a slice of avocado on top. The results were outstanding! Between the ceviche and the fresh lobster that seemed to be everywhere I ate very well that week.After returning to the U.S. I didn’t have ceviche again for many years.
When I moved to Detroit Michigan in the late 1980’s I learned that there was neighborhood called Mexican Town in Southwest Detroit and although my wife and I went and ate out there the menu selections were, once again, watered down for American tastes and it remained that way for a long time. At some point, however, tastes changed and authentic Mexican recipes began appearing on menus. It wasn’t really new. It was just that it was only being enjoyed in Mexican households. Then something new happened. Real, authentic Mexican fare began appearing in Detroit. Taco trucks were the first to serve up authentic Mexican fare.Tacos with various fillings (beef,pork,chicken,tongue etc…) were available. Also,something I hadn’t had in years, Ceviche de Tostada.This was a fried corn tortilla (tostada) topped with the same Ceviche I had had so many years before. I was thrilled!
Today is Cinco de Mayo (Mexican Independence Day). This holiday celebrates the victory of Mexican forces over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. While not a major holiday in the country of Mexico Mexican communities in the United States celebrate with great enthusiasm. Here in Detroit”s Mexican Town the streets are overflowing as parades, commemorative events and general celebration are the order of the day.
In memory of that first taste of Ceviche I had in Mexico,so many years ago,as well as the Cinco de Mayo celebration, I decided to make Tostada de Ceviche. While any fish or shellfish can be used I chose mahi-mahi as my protein. Lime juice,olive oil,cucumber,onion, tomato and garlic dressed the fish. For my tostada I used a white corn tortilla and fried it in order to create a bowl by placing a ladle in the center and allowing the tortilla to curl up around it. The trick, I found, was to not marinate the fish for too long.
Tostada De Ceviche
1# fresh Mahi Mahi (or other mild white fish) cut in a medium dice
1/2 cup sweet onion, small dice
1/2 cup Roma tomato, small dice
1/2 cup seedless English Cucumber, small dice
Juice of 3 Limes
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive oil
1/4 cup fresh Cilantro Chopped fine
Kosher (or sea) salt and fresh cracked Black pepper to taste
Diced ripe avocado
6 corn tortillas fried until crispy
1. Fry tortillas until crispy and drain on a paper towels, set aside
2. Mix diced fish and Lime juice in a non reactive bowl. Plastic works fine.
3.Marinate for approximately 30- 40 minutes. Do not over marinate. Fish should be white and firm but not dry.
4. Add remaining ingredients and marinate for an additional 5 minutes.
5. Using a slotted spoon to drain some of the juice spoon the fish mixture into/onto the fried tortilla shells.
6. Top with diced Avocado
7. Serve immediately
Traditionally diced jalapeno peppers are added for heat. I omit them here.
Ketchup or hot sauce is also traditional. Again, I omit it.
Any fish or shellfish can be used although I find a mild white flesh fish works best.
It’s been quite some time since I last posted on this blog. I am hoping that the kind readers who read my posts in the past will forgive me and participate again. By participate I mean not only read what I’ve written but respond with comments. It‘s those comments that validate my efforts and let me know that I have something to say.
On to business…..
Having been though the warmest recorded winter/year in Michigan it was only a matter of time before Mother Nature said “Don’t get used to it”. This past week we got the message when the temperature plunged to around zero and I decided it was time to get the wood burning stove fired up. When I bought my house years ago it was one of the feature that came with the addition on the back of the house. The down side is that when it get on the cold side in winter we need to burn wood to keep the house warm. I remember one winter where the temperature stayed below zero for a month and I kept the fire going continuously the entire time.
What does this have to do with food you ask? Hang with me…
One winter our stove (gas) needed to be replaced and rather than rely on takeout while replacing it I got asked myself “What if I tried cooking in the fireplace?”. So I marinated some boneless skinless chicken breasts, dragged out the cast iron skillet,set it on the fire logs and,low and behold, I cooked up some awesome chicken breasts. I mean I was truly impressed/inspired! Since then I’ve cooked chicken breast,pork chops and roasted fish (mahi mahi). I‘ve also done the accompaniments (potatoes,vegetables etc…) and everything I‘ve done has turned out well. The food took on a luscious,smoky taste. Recently I got extra ambitious and decided to try a whole chicken. As with everything else I have cooked in the stove the trick is to keep it from burning. This requires almost constant attention as there are a lot of variables when working over an open flame and in the wood burning oven.
I began by spatchcocking the chicken. While this sounds like it could be complicated what it means is to remove the backbone of the chicken for roasting. I just uses a pair of kitchen shears and cut it out.
The next step, and a very important one, was to brine the chicken. Brining give you and incredibly moist and flavorful bird. My brine is just salt and sugar (although you can add spices for flavor as well) my recipe is:
1/2 gallon cold water
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
I brought the ingredients to a boil and allowed it to cool completely. You could do this the night before and just leave it on the back of the stove (covered).
I then marinated the chicken in the brine for 3-4 hours (refrigerated). After which I towel dried it and sprinkled it with a mix of salt (little), cumin and black pepper.
Not to miss a step but I had already gotten my fire going a couple of hours before to make sure it was good and hot. I then placed my chicken in the cast iron skillet and set it in the oven,making sure it was close to the flame, but not directly on it. I then closed the doors and let the magic happen!
Not wanting to oversimplify the process it bears saying that I checked it every 5-10 minute making sure it wasn’t burning and that it sat level on a log. I also added white wine and water to create pan juice to baste with and control the heat under the bird. Constant shifting and turning were part of the drill. I also used my thermometer (calibrated) to make sure when my chicken was done. One and a half hours later I had a bird that any chef would be envious of. I mean when you go to that 4 star restaurant and they have roast chicken on the menu ($25.00 and up),this is what you get (although maybe not as good).
For those of you who say “I can’t do that!” you can still brine your bird. You can maybe try it on the grill outside when the weather gets warmer. the important part is to have fun with the experience! I know not everyone has the equipment to take this on but cooking is an adventure and the journey is what make the experience memorable.
It’s been quite some time since I have last posted. Not much has changed in my life. I still work too hard, too long and too much. I am not sure if it is a blessing or a curse but it sustains me.
I have always considered myself a “casual” gardener. To me this means that I plant it, if it grows great, if it doesn’t no biggie.
I decided to take a walk in the yard this morning as a measure of relaxation.Just to see what was growing. I was pleasantly surprised.
Years ago, when I first moved into my house, I planted oregano. Now 20 years later It still grows!! I use it in marinades for steak and chicken. The neighbors must think I am crazy as they watch me pick what some have described as “lawn clippings”. If they only new!!!
I love fresh dill in the spring. It is mandatory for my new potato salad. I was happy to find that it still grows,wild, all around my yard.
Something I can’t take credit for is the mint that grows in the yard it was here when I moved in.
Last, but not least, I got a gift this year (courtesy of the birds I think). A wild raspberry bush popped up this year along the fence line. I am planning on making good use of these.
I found all of this in my tiny (yes tiny ) yard. Take a walk let me know what is growing in your yard!
Welcome Back to Meatless Fridays. The more I do these posts the more challenging it becomes. For today’s effort I had a taste for something South of the Border. I have always loved a Taco Salad but wondered if I could get all the depth of flavor without the meat. I believe I came up with a very satisfying answer.
I began by making the shell. I heated a pan of vegetable oil to 350 degrees and dropped a flour tortilla in. I then used a big ladle and pushed it down. The tortilla curled around the ladle to make my bowl. When it had crisped I carefully turned it over with a pair tongs to complete the crisping process. I then drained my shell on a paper towel and let it cool.
I though about the flavors I wanted in my Taco Salad. Beans,Tomato, Avocado and Corn all came to mind. Rather than just toss the ingredients together I decided to deconstruct the Taco Salad. I took a ring mold and began layering. First Beans,than Corn,more beans,Avocado and finally Tomato and Cilantro salad.
I must confess I was very pleases with the results. As with all great dished every element on the plate comes together and just pops in your mouth.
Vegetarian Taco Salad (for 1)
One large onion finely chopped
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 can Cooked Black Turtle beans (drained and rinsed)
Cumin to taste
1 teaspoon Chili Powder
1 Can whole kernel corn
1 ripe Avocado
1 Ripe tomato
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
1 Flour Tortilla
Vegetable oil for frying
Sauté 1/2 the onion with the garlic until translucent. Add the Black beans and cumin to suit your taste and toss until the beans are warm. Season with Kosher salt. Remove and mash slightly.
Drain the corn and toss in a pan with the chili powder. Season with salt to taste.
Dice the Avocado and toss with the remaining onion and 1/2 the lemon juice. Add some Olive oil to carry the flavor.
Make a quick tomato salad using diced tomato, chopped Cilantro, Olive oil and the remaining Lemon Juice.
Fry the flour tortilla in vegetable oil using a ladle ( or other implement) to hold the center of the tortilla in the oil creating a bowl. When it begins to crisp gently turn it over to complete the frying process.
While I took the time to make a tower this really isn’t necessary. Put a scoop of your Black beans in the bowl and top with the corn, Guacamole and Tomato and enjoy.
With as much snow as we have had here in Michigan I felt the need to step up my hearty meal intake. When the temperature take a dive I like to help keep the house pleasant and warm by preparing a lot of stewed or braised foods. One of my favorites is braised lamb shanks. I try to purchase them when they are on sale and save them for the proper occasion.Lamb ( and beef or Pork ) Shanks have a tremendous amount of gelatin. This makes any preparation with them extra special.
Having dug out of the storm earlier this week I was surprised when I came back from the store in clear weather only to find the car covered by 2 inches of snow not 10 minutes later.
After this I came to the conclusion that this would be a perfect day for the lamb shank I had.
Your basic stew relies on the protein and the aromatic vegetables ( Onion,Carrot and Celery). In this version I replace the celery with fennel for a spicy twist. I also add a gremolata towards the end of the cooking process which brings a freshness to the preparation. A gremolata, traditionally, is a combination of fresh herbs, lemon rind,garlic and parley. For this preparation I used the fennel fronds to replace the parsley and orange rind to replace the lemon giving this braise a fresh and exciting taste.
As with all Stew/Braises low an slow is the rule!!
Braised Lamb Shanks in Red Wine with a Fennel and Orange Gremolata
Dredge Lamb Shanks in flour and sear in a hot pan with oil
remove lamb an saute vegetable until translucent
Return lamb to the pan, add red wine, cover and simmer until tender.
2 Lamb Shanks
1 Cup Onion Rough Chopped
1/2 cup Fennel Bulb Chopped
1/2 cup Carrot Chopped
1/2 cup Flour
1 cup red wine
- Zest of one large orange
- 1 lg. or 2 sm. cloves garlic; crushed
- 2 Tbsp. finely chopped fennel fronds
- 1 tsp. olive oil
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
Stir in Gremolata and return pan to oven. Continue to cook for 30 minutes.
It’s been a long time since my last post. I apologize. I am feeling it’s time to get back to my second passion,writing!.
Since my last post I was able to make a trip back to my second home (Ocracoke Island N.C.). To those not acquainted this is a barrier island on the outer banks of North Carolina where I spent vacations as a child and have visited each year for the last decade. While we have always rented a house (my buddy and
I). The last couple of time I chose to come down to the island early. The house we rented would not be available until Sunday but I chose to leave Thursday afternoon. Fifteen hour in the car later I Caught the ferry leaving the workaday world behind.
While I am not, generally, a rustic person I have camped on the island,a couple of days, for the last 2 years.
Home for a couple of days The View from the backyard Bluefin
This last year I found myself hanging out at the campground feeling hungry and called a takeout order in to ( what I believe is) the only Thai restaurant on the outer banks. My thought process was that the seafood would be absolutely fresh as almost everything served on the island comes from day boats. I chose the Penang Curry with shrimp. It was everything I expected. Sweet and spicy with the freshest shrimp available and served over rice. I decided that I would have to recreate the dish when I got back to Detroit.
Trying to catch Dinner! Me (left) and Steve(right)(2004)
I had most of the ingredients I need to reinvent this dish. I always have Pankow Breadcrumbs and and have had Java Curry Cubes in my freezer for some time. The plan is to bread the chicken in Pankow and Coconut and serve it with a Penang Curry Sauce over stir fried Rice Noodles.
Coconut Crusted Chicken with Stir Fried Rice Noodles in a Penang Curry Sauce
2 4 oz Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast
1/2 cup Pankow Breadcrumbs
1/2 Cup Shredded Coconut
1 egg + 1 cup Milk (or water)
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup Rice Noodles (wide)
1 can Coconut Milk
1/2 Square Java Curry Paste (available in Asian groceries)
1/2 cup Bean Sprout
1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup Cilantro (freshly Chopped)
Combine Coconut and Panko and reserve
Wisk milk/water with flour to create a batter.
Dip Chicken in the batter (draining excess) and dredge in the Coconut/Panko blend using the standard breading procedure rules ( in an earlier post)
Set aside for at least 10 minute so the Breading will set.
In a separate pan combine the Coconut Milk with the Curry paste. Bring to a boil and wisk until combines. Keep warm for service.
Cook Rice noodles according to direction and shock (stop cooking )in cold water.
Fry/Sauté breaded chicken in vegetable oil until a golden brown color is achieved. Finish in a 350 degree oven until internal temp is 165 degrees.
Stir fry Rice noodles.bean sprouts and peanuts in a little of the vegetable oil until warm.
Add1/4 of the curry/coconut mix and toss. Add cilantro and toss again.
Place a portion of the rice Noodles on a plate and arrange slice chicken around it.
Drizzle with remaining sauce.
Panko is readily available in most supermarkets.
The Java Curry paste I used was from a Japanese grocery. It works well with this application. A Red or Green Curry sauce might not work as well in this S.E. Asian preparation.
The egg/milk/ flour combo is a Japanese take on Standard Breading Procedure. By creating a batter they eliminate a step.
Notes: Ocracoke Island
Ocracoke Island has it’s own dialect which, if you listen carefully, you will hear spoken by the Island residents! It’s been in use since the island was settled in the 1700’s.
Hoi Toide = High Tide
Dim witter= dumb ***
Until the 1960’s wild ponies had the run of the island and the local boy scout troop were the only “mounted” unit of the Boy Scouts due to the fact that they captured and trained the wild ponies. Due to progress they have since been corralled and remain an Island feature.
If visiting don’t miss picking up a jar of the local fig preserves. Figs grow wild on the island but also look for the Apple trees which have been growing on the island for hundreds of years. In recent years I have found Prickly Pear Cactus growing as well.
I also recently found, what I think is, the worlds largest rosemary plant growing there. It was in somebody’s front yard!
In addition to being a fisherman’s paradise there is also clamming and crabbing available.