Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Privé Vineyard Le Sud (2013)

It has always been the retirement dream of my beautiful Angel and myself: to retire to a beautiful region, which happens to be a great wine-growing region where we own a small but successful vineyard and winery.   My Angel, Clare, would learn the art of winemaking, while I would help in the fields and have a small kitchen where I could cook meals for friends and guests that could be paired with the wines.

This retirement dream came to us during our visit to Privé Vineyards.  Privé is a very small vineyard, with less than 3 acres of vines.  The vines are located in "Le Nord" and "Le Sud," which are basically the front yard and back yard.  Despite that small size, Privé has produced some of the best wines generally and Pinot Noir wines in particular that Clare and I have tried.  

To date, I have reviewed five of those wines, including three vintages of the Le Nord, the wine Privé produces from the grapes grown on the acre that bears that name.  It has almost been five years since I reviewed a vintage of the Le Sud, the wine produced from the grapes grown on the other acre at the vineyard.   Recently, we opened a bottle from the 2013 vintage.  As we took in the aroma and taste of the wine, we were not only reminded of our retirement dream, but of how great Privé wines can be.

The grapes for the Le Sud are grown on vines facing the southwest and at an elevation of 400 feet.  After harvesting, the wine is aged for 12 months in 100% new French Oak barrels.  

The Le Sud pours with a garnet tones shining in the light.  Those tones give way to slight fruit-based variations, such as blackberry or plumb colors.  After the wine is poured into a glass, the aromas of black cherries and ripe raspberries greet the nose.  There is a little earthiness and some slight graphite in the aroma.  (One of the things that I love about Oregonian wines, including Privé wines, is the earthiness they bring to the Pinot Noir wines).  

As for the taste, the winemaker suggests that there are black cherries, cloves and violents.  For me, each sip of the wine gives rise to a bowl of black cherries, with some raspberries on the side and finished with a hint of vanilla. 

What is really interesting is a comparison between the 2013 Le Nord and the 2013 Le Sud.  While both wines share many of the same olefactory and taste elements, the Le Sud had a slight edge in terms of the body.  The body of the Le Sud was just a little fuller than the Le Nord.  Nevertheless, both wines are great wines.  Until next time ...


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Chinese-Style Steak

When I first started cooking as a hobby, there were two things that motivated me.  First, it was Italian cuisine.  This was due to my food-based trip through Emilia Romagna and Tuscany, which I took back in 2006.  However, the other source of motivation came from the other side of the world ... it was the original Iron Chef.

Iron Chef was a cooking competition show produced by Fuji Television.  Each episode generally pitted two of the three (and later four) Japanese Iron Chefs in an one-hour cooking battle focused around a secret ingredient.  The Iron Chefs were Japanese chefs who represent the pinnacle of a cuisine: Hiroyuke Sakai, who was Iron Chef French; Chen Kenichi, who was Iron Chef Chinese; and Rokusaburo Michiba, who was the original Iron Chef Japanese.  (Masahiro was later succeeded by Koumei Nakamura and Masahiro Morimoto as Iron Chef Japanese.)  The fourth Iron Chef was Masahiko Kobe, Iron Chef Italian.  

Iron Chef Chen Kenichi
While I enjoyed watching all of the Iron Chefs produce creative dishes, the one chef who I always seemed to root for the most was Iron Chef Kenichi.  The official records of the Iron Chef reveal that Chef Kenichi had the most losses of any Iron Chef, but that did not matter to me.  Chef Kenichi brought a Sichuan-inspired flair to his dishes, which earned him the nickname, "The Szechuan Sage." His dishes always left me hungry and his cooking inspired me to dabble with Chinese cuisine.  

Long after the show ended, and the reruns stopped, I came across Chen Kenichi's cookbook, Iron Chef Chen's Knockout Chinese.  While the book has sat on a shelf for a very long time, I have been wanting to make a dish from its recipes.   I paged through it one day and found a recipe for "Chinese-Style Steak."  Chef Chen writes that this was his favorite recipe as a child.  "If my mother said, 'Steak for dinner tonight,'" he recounts, "my head would be filled with mouth-watering visions all day at school."  The chef would head "straight home on those days" for that steak dinner.  

With that background, I thought that would be a good recipe for one of my Steak Nights. The recipe is incredibly easy to make.  That simplicity seems quite ironic for a chef who made some very complex recipes during his Iron Chef Battles.  In the end, this is just another lesson that has been become a theme in my cooking adventures.  Simplicity can be perfection.

(One last note: I did not have any watercress for the garnish.  But, who needs greens?  Steak and onions is a meal in and of itself!)

Recipe from Chen Kenichi, 
Iron Chef Chen's Knockout Chinese, pp. 58-59
Serves 1

1 cut beef tenderloin
Dash each salt and pepper
1 onion
Beef tallow or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sake
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Watercress, for garnish

1.  Prepare the beef and onion.  Score meat diagonally along the surface of the beef and season with salt and pepper.  Thinly slice the onion against the grain.

2.  Cook the beef.  Melt the beef tallow in a wok and add  steak.  Grill on both sides to desired level of doneness and remove from the wok.  Use remaining fat in pan to saute onions.  Add the sake and soy sauce.  

3.  Finish the dish.  Cut steak into bite-size strips, top with sauteed onions and garnish plate with watercress. 


Friday, March 9, 2018

The Irishman's Enforcer at the Market Garden

It seems like every time I visit Cleveland, I have to make a stop at the West Side Market.  I love that place, strolling from aisle to aisle, vendor to vendor.  As I look over the variety of produce, meats and seafood, I look for inspiration for something to cook.  But, as almost certain as it is that I will visit the West Side Market when I have a chance, it is equally as certain that I will also stop next door at the Market Garden Brewery to have a beer.  

During my last visit to Cleveland and the West Side Market, I made a stop at Market Garden Brewery for that beer.  There were twenty-one beers on tap, but there was one that caught my eye.  The Irishman's Enforcer.  The brewers describe this beer as "luscious and indulgent."  They add that it is a "sipping beer that offers plenty of warmth and satisfying malty richness but clears the palate quickly," and, "[a] perfect fireplace beer for mid-winter contemplation.  Well, I did not have a fireplace, and, I was not in the mood for any "mid-winter contemplation (after all, I was thinking about what I would be making for dinner).  But the Irishman's Enforcer was definitely a sipping beer with a lot of malty richness. 

The Irishman's Enforcer pours an oily black color, with a light chocolate foam that sat quietly on the surface, mocking the foam of the more commonly known Irish beer.  The aromas of the beer feature some cocoa or coffee, as well as some of the alcohol that lurks in the liquid.  Those aromas providing an inviting glimpse into what one can expect with that first sip.  Some coffee, a little bit of chocolate and an unexpected hint of anise, or perhaps boozy dark fruit like black cherries or raisins.There is definitely a lurking sweetness behind the big, bold beer.  That sweetness sets it apart from some of the other Imperial Stouts and Double Imperial Stouts that I have tried in the past.  

The Irishman's Enforcer also carries a very subtle but very noticeable alcohol element to it.  While the ABV is only 9.5%, which is relatively common for an imperial stout, the aroma and taste of the beer suggest that the ABV is actually quite higher. The alcohol sits quietly in the background, watching and waiting while one takes each sip. It sticks around for quite a while, as long as the finish of the beer.  

The Irishman's Enforcer Imperial Stout is a very good example of the style.  The booziness of the beer suggests that it has been aged in whisky or bourbon barrels, but I can't find anything to confirm that.  Needless to say, the beer is definitely worth getting and enjoying, as I did, with an order of the Saffron-Red Curry Mussels and Chicken Tinga Tacos.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Croatia

Slowly, but surely, I am making my way around the world with the goal of making a main course from 80 different countries (with four bonus meals made based upon the cuisines of peoples who do not have their own state).  The selection of countries is somewhat random, somewhat by opportunity.  My 29th challenge falls in the latter category.  I knew I would be making a seafood dish and I had it in my mind to make a brodetto, which is an Italian fish soup (also known as Cacciucco in Tuscany or even Bouillabaise in France).  As I was searching for a recipe online, I came across one for Brodet.  And that became my 29th challenge ... to make that dish, which is a main course from the country of Croatia.

Very briefly, an independent Croatian kingdom emerged in the 10th century A.D. The independence eventually faded when the country came under a personal union with Hungary.  While Croatia remained a separate state, it was effectively controlled from Budapest, and, the front lines in the wars against the Ottoman Empire.  When the Ottomans were driven back, Croatia became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.   After World War I ended, which saw the breakup of that empire, Croatia became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.  It was united with other states or regions, including Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. Croatia had a brief period of "independence" during World War II, when it was allied with Nazi Germany, but the country found itself back in a broader multi-ethnic state -- namely, Yugoslavia -- after that war.  Croatia remained part of Yugoslavia until it was able to obtain its independence in 1991.  Since that time, it has been known as the Republic of Croatia.

This history, as briefly recounted above, provides some insight into the culture and cuisine of Croatia.  As one could expect, the centuries under Austro-Hungarian rule would show through with German and Hungarian influences in some of the cuisine.  This influence is particularly pronounced in the cuisine of two of three regions of Croatia.  These regions are Slavonia, which consists of the North and East of the country, as well as central Croatia, which includes the capital of Zagreb.  The food features ingredients such as black pepper, paprika and garlic, as well as dishes of smoked meats, breaded meats, goulash and stuffed cabbage grace the plates here.

And, then there is the third region.  It is the coastal region, stretching from the Istrian peninsula down all the way down the coast.  This region is known as Istria and Dalmatia.  The coastline lies on the opposite side of the Adriatic sea from Italy.  Thus, it seems only logical that the Croats would have their own version of a Brodetto.  From Porec to Dubrovnik, and everywhere in between (except for that small sliver of coastline that belongs to Bosnia-Herzegovina), there are ports and fishing villages where local fishermen could go out and return with a bounty that could end up in a fish stew.  Of course, the fishermen sell off all the good fish and keep the less desirable ones for the stew.  That fish stew would become my personal culinary challenge. 


This challenge represents an instance where I am making a dish that represents the cuisine of one country, even though I know that there are similar dishes in other countries.  Indeed, there are some similarities between a Croatian Brodet and an Italian Brodetto.  The similarities lie in the use of garlic onions and tomatoes in the base.  There are also differences.  A Brodet uses additional vegetables, such as leeks, and red wine vinegar which is not usually used in a Brodetto.  (The cook probably drinks the wine as he makes the Brodetto, as I often do when I make the dish). 

This Brodet is a little more luxurious than one would probably find being made by local fishermen at a Croatian fishing town.  I used monkfish, black grouper and halibut.  Each fish contributed to the dish, whether by texture (monkfish) or taste (grouper and halibut).  I also used some medium sized shrimp (about 21 to 26 count) and some mussels.  As for the wine, I could not locate any Croatian red wine, so I went with a wine from an Italian province across the water ... a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (which is a wine I have used to make an Abruzzese Brodetto).

The recipe I used is from Arousing Appetites, which also recommended serving polenta with the Brodet.  A polenta was made for this dish, although it is not in the picture.  

Recipe adapted from Arousing Appetites
Serves 6-8

Ingredients (for the brodet):
2/3 cup olive oil
1 heaping handful of fresh parsley (about 1 cup when chopped)
1 lemon juiced
15 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound of monkfish (or similar denser, firmer, meatier fish)
1 pound of grouper (or similar flavorful, flaky fish)
1 pound of halibut
1/2 pound of raw, medium size shrimp (21-26 count)
1/2 pound of mussels, washed
2 onions, chopped
2 small leeks, the white and green stalk parts halved and thinly sliced
2-3 fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced
2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup of red wine
1 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
3 stalks fresh rosemary, chopped
4 cups fish stock or water
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Ingredients (for the polenta):
2 cups water
2 cups fish broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup grated Parmesan (optional)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1.  Marinate the fish.  In a food processor, combine the fresh parsley, 1/2 cup olive oil, 4 cloves of garlic and lemon juice together to create a thick and rich puree.  In a large bowl, rub the puree into the fish and shrimp and then let marinate for at least 1 hour.

2.  Begin making the polenta.  Add water, fish broth and salt in a sauce pot and bring it to a boil.  Add the polenta and whisk vigorously through the water.  Keep the pot on high heat as the water beings to re-boil.  Once the pot begins to boil again, turn the heat down to the lowest possible simmer setting.  Simmer the polenta for at least 45 minutes, whisking and [ the polenta around as frequently as every 2 to 3 minutes.  

3.  Begin to make the Brodet.  After about 15 minutes of cooking the polenta, bring a soup pot with the remaining oil over high heat.  Once the oil is hot, add the onion and remaining minced garlic.  Saute for five minutes.  Add the leeks and saute for another 2 minutes.  As the leek and onion become gradually softer, add the tomatoes and tomato paste and mix vigorously.  Reduce the heat to medium high and cook for another 2 minutes.  Once everything is mixed well and the tomatoes have softened, add the red wine, red wine vinegar and red pepper flakes.  

4.  Add the fish.  Layer the fish on top of the vegetables in the soup pot.  Once all the fish is in, add the fish stock, bay leaves and rosemary into the pot.  Keep the soup pot uncovered and cook on high heat for 15 minutes, but do not stir the pot.  If you need to jostle the ingredients around, pick up the soup pot by the handles and give it a bit of a shake.  Add more fish stock or water as needed to keep the fish submerged in case of evaporation.  

5.  Add the shellfish.  After about 15 minutes, place the shrimp and mussels on top of all other ingredients and submerge in the broth.  Cover the soup pot and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes to help cook the shellfish. After 5 minutes, remove the brodet from the heat and set aside for a moment.

6.  Finish the dish.  Take the polenta off the heat and add 2 tablespoons of butter.  As the butter melts and the polenta becomes creamy, finish by adding the cheese to the polenta and whisking it through until the cheese melts.  Serve the brodet with a side of polenta. 

*          *          *

Having made Cacciucco and Brodetto, I have to admit that I was not expecting to have a different culinary experience with the Brodet.  However, the Brodet did have its own flavor and taste.  The use of the wine and the vinegar definitely gave the broth a more acidic taste that a Brodetto.  Also, the marination of the fish in the parsley, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice paste added another layer of flavors to the broth.

Overall, this was a very good dish.  The presentation was clearly lacking, but the taste made up for it.  With another challenge in the books, I can now look forward to the next one.  Given my last two challenges (this one and Italy) focused heavily on seafood, I might just tip the scales towards a challenge that involves something that walks on land, such as a cow, lamb or chicken.  Until next time ...


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Bone Marrow Mashed Potatoes

One of my favorite ingredients to cook with is bone marrow.  It is the soft, flexible material inside of bones that, when raw, is relatively firm, but when cooked, is soft, oily, fatty, and buttery in texture.  When I make bone marrow, it often does not last long enough to be used in a recipe.  I just pull out a small spoon, scoop out the marrow and eat it right on the spot.  In my moments of greater discipline, I am able to use that incredible delicious ingredient in dishes such as those that I made as part of my incredibly rare Iron Chef Event.

Sometimes, it is not necessary to come up with a bunch of  different recipes for bone marrow.  Instead, it is better to go with something simple.  And there is nothing simpler than making bone marrow mashed potatoes.  It is just mashed potatoes with some bone marrow added just after you add the milk and butter.  That one ingredient does more to add flavor to the mashed potatoes than either the milk or the butter.  (Let's face it, those two ingredients are more about getting the right texture for the potatoes.  They have little or nothing to do with the flavor of the potatoes.)  Bone marrow adds a beefy undertone to the potatoes, which is especially good when those potatoes are served alongside ... a ribeye or strip steak.

While some may think that using bone marrow just adds another step to the already simple process of making mashed potatoes, I think it is definitely worth it.  In fact, bone marrow makes every dish definitely worth the effort. 

Recipe from John Whalen, 
Prime: The Complete Prime Rib Cookbook, pg. 172
Serves 6 to 8

8 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
4-6 large beef marrow bones, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
Coarsely ground black pepper
Fresh sea salt

1.  Roast the marrow bones.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, placing the rack in the center of the oven.  Place the marrow bones on a baking sheet, transfer to the oven, and then cook for about 15 minutes, until the marrow is nicely browned.  Remove from the oven and let stand.

2.  Prepare the potatoes.  While the marrow bones are roasting, place the potatoes in a large stockpot and fill with water so that it covers the potatoes by 1 inch.  Place the stockpot on the stove and bring to a boil.  Cook the potatoes by boiling for about 20 minutes until you can pierce the potatoes with a fork.  Remove the pot from the heat and drain the water, leaving the potatoes in it.

3.  Mash the potatoes.  Using a potato masher or fork, start mashing the potatoes so they begin to break apart.  Gradually mash in the half-and-half and butter, tasting the potatoes as you go along, until you arrive at the perfect blend of creamy butter, mashed potatoes. 

4.  Add the marrow.  Scoop the marrow from the bones and add to the potatoes, along with the rosemary.  Mix thoroughly, and then the season with the coarsely ground black pepper and fresh sea salt.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Blackened Tilapia with Roasted Pepper and Corn Salsa

Tilapia seems almost ubiquitous.  After shrimp, canned tuna and salmon, tilapia is the most consumed fish in the United States.  It is also, as I have previously blogged, almost entirely farm raised.  Those tilapia farms are spread out across the world, with the largest concentrations in China, Indonesia, Egypt, the Phillippines and Brazil.  It is hard for a consumer to keep track of how fish are raised when the raising is being done thousands of miles away from one's home.  

However, it is possible to raise tilapia in your backyard.  There is a rather small industry out there that is willing to help you start your own tilapia farm.  There are a host of businesses with websites, such as and www.worldwideaquaculture, which provide the starting point.  After having read through a couple of the websites, it is clear that tilapia farming involves more than filling your kids' plastic pool with water and dropping a few fish in it so they can swim around.  It is also involves a lot more than dumping a bunch of fish in your neighbor's in-ground pool.  

Indeed, at, there are a series of seven steps to be taken by anyone who is considering the conversion of their backyard into a tilapia farm.  The first step -- take a quick inventory of your motives and readiness.  That seems like a very good start.  Why do you want a tilapia farm in your backyard?  The website tries to help you by asking, "if you grow enough fish, will you barter them with your neighbors for other goods or services?"  How many fish will it take for my neighbor to cut my lawn?  How many fish can I give to a neighbor's teenage kids as compensation for babysitting my children for an evening?  How many fish does it take before all my neighbors refer to me as "that fishy guy?" 

Moving a step or two forward, as it turns out, you can use your kid's pool to start your tilapia farm.  Who knew?  But, one must first check with the local regulations to see if you can have such a farm in your backyard.  My local jurisdiction has none, so there is nothing in my way starting my own gangbusters tilapia farm (except, perhaps, my beautiful Angel who may want to keep the backyard for other purposes).  

Of course, I would need a budget, and, equipment. The folks at note that "tilapia can be grown successfully in a variety of environments, including ponds, cages, raceways and tanks."  Those same folks add, "[u]rban farmers have even reported growing them in trash cans."  (I think if I used garbage cans, I'd get an "AVOID" rating from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch.)  But still, a working water spigot, a garden hose, and my kid's pool are all components of a starter tilapia farm.  All I need is the fry and some time and then I will be on my way.

Well, not really.  All of this is in jest.  To be sure, one could start a tilapia farm if he or she had the resources, the time, and the know-how.  The websites can certainly provide the know-how, but I think I am lacking in the rest of what is needed.  But, it is fun to dream about it.

Turning to the recipe, I decided to make a blackened tilapia with a roasted pepper and corn salsa.  This is a pretty straightforward and simple recipe to make.  I started with a traditional blackening spice - cayenne, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano.  But, I added a few other spices, like cumin, celery seeds and ancho chile powder (for a little smokiness).  The salsa is also fairly simple and it adds some color as a garnish to the fish.  The ease in terms of making this dish is why a blackened fish with some sort of salsa is a go-to recipe for me.  

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2

Ingredients (for the tilapia):
2 tilapia fillets
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ancho chile pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons canola oil

Ingredients (for the salsa):
1 green bell pepper, roasted, diced 
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced finely
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1.  Prepare the tilapia.  Mix the paprika, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, celery sides, cumin, cayenne pepper, ancho chile pepper and salt together.  Apply the mix to the tilapia, making sure that the entire fillet is covered.

2.  Prepare the salsa.  Heat the butter over medium high heat.  Add the onions, jalapeno peppers and garlic, along with the dried oregano and thyme, and saute until the onions are translucent, about five minutes.   Add the roasted bell pepper and continue to saute for a couple minutes more.  

3.  Pan-Fry the Tilapia.  Heat the canola oil over very high heat.  Add the tilapia fillets and pan fry for about four  minutes.  Flip the fillets and continue to fry for about 3 minutes more.  Remove from the heat.

4.  Finish the dish.  Plate the tilapia.  Spoon the salsa over the middle of the fillet.  Serve immediately.  


Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Sprecher Series, Part Two ... the Dubbel

A Wisconsin brewery decided to brew the series of Belgian beers.  The first of the series, which I have already reviewed, is the enkel.  Historically, an enkel is a light beer brewed by trappist monks from a basic recipe.  It was the beer that they would have in the monastery, rarely making out of the building for other people to enjoy.  

The next beer in the series is the dubbel.  This beer appears to have originated with the Trappist Abbey in Westmalle.  The monks brewed a stronger version of a Belgian brown ale, which, unlike the enkel, was sold to the public in 1856.  Other breweries followed, producing their own dubbel style beers.

I have reviewed only one dubbel on this blog in the past, Sierra Nevada's Ovila Dubbel.  The beer had a caramel color, with aromatic and taste elements of apples, caramel and raisins.  The question is whether one could expect a similar experience drinking Sprecher Brewery's Dubbel.

According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, a dubbel pours a "deep reddish-bronze" color with an aroma that provides hints of "chocolate, caramel or toast," as well as "[m]oderately fruity esters (usually including raisins and plums, sometimes also dried cherries)" and even banana or apple.  The flavor provides hints of the same elements as the aroma, with some spice or pepper notes. 

With this background, we turn to the Sprecher Brewery's dubbel.  The beer pours a dark brown in color, but there are hints of bronze or copper in the appearance.  As the beer warms, hints of caramel and fig greet the nose, with a slight cherry element too.  The fruits -- figs and cherry -- carry through to the taste of the beer.  These elements are joined with notes of plum and caramel, both of which are brought forward by the malts used in the beer.  Those malts are accompanied by a slight hop presence.  However, as one would expect with a dubbel, the hops play a secondary role, giving some balance to the sweetness of the malts and providing some dryness to the finish.

Overall, this beer fits squarely into the dubbel style.  The contrasts between the enkel and dubbel illustrate the progression in the Belgian beer styles.  The reviews of other beers in the Sprecher Series will be forthcoming, until then ...


Monday, February 12, 2018

Roasted Fall Vegetables

There is an old adage when it comes to wine, "don't choose a wine by the look of its label." A label's design is intended to  catch a consumer's eye, without regard to the specifics of the wine, such as the grapes used, the terrior, and/or the process.  Yet, most people purchase wine based upon the label.

Recipes are a lot like wine.  One should not choose a recipe based upon the picture.  The photograph, much like a wine's label, is designed to get the attention of the browser.  

This recipe represents an instance where I did not follow that old adage.  I was looking for a colorful side dish to go with a roasted turkey.   While surfing the Internet, I came across a recipe from Colorful Recipes that had a picture of colorful roasted vegetables.  Based upon that picture, I decided to make this recipe as that vegetable side dish. 

And, as I expected, the finished product did not come close to the picture that initially grabbed my attention.  That is the problem with choosing things based upon sight alone.  It is important to learn more about the recipe, such as the ingredients, cooking process and cooking times, before making a decision.  Once can say that the old adage applies to just about everything, not just about wine or recipes but also books or even people.  In the end, it is important to look beyond the first impression and really get to know what or who you are working with. 

Recipe adapted from Colorful Recipes
Serves 6  to 8

1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1/2 pound butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1/2 pound green beans
3 small-medium carrots, peeled and cubed
8 ounce baby bella mushrooms
1/2 red onion, cut into wedges
1 head of garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons of Italian seasoning
Fresh thyme, to taste
Salt, to taste
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Place all of the ingredients on a large baking sheet. Toss well with the oil, vinegar and herbs.  Bake 45 to 50 minutes until fork tender.  Serve immediately.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

T.O.R.I.S. the Tyrant

It used to be that there was a cap on the ABV of beers in Ohio.  12% and not a tenth or hundreth of a percent more.  That changed in 2016, when Governor Kasich signed House Bill 37, which lifted the cap.   (By the way, that is the only good thing Governor Kasich has done.)  

As one brewer noted, "freedom from alochol limitaiton in Ohio has finally been granted in 2016," adding that this new found liberty "has allowed us to brew T.O.R.I.S."  The brewery is Hopping Frog,   The brewery is located in Akron, Ohio and has developed a niche for high powered beers.  Before 2016, those beers ranged in the 8% to 9%  range.  But, the lifting of the cap has allowed the ABV of at least one Hopping Frog beer to rise.  That beer, as noted above, is the T.O.R.I.S. or Triple Oatmeal Russian Imperial Stout.  Indeed, the ABV rose so high, that it reached 13.8%.  A level exceeded only by a few beers that I have tried, such as Mikeller's Black (19%) and the Bruery's Geuze (16%).

There is something to be said about a triple oatmeal Russian Imperial Stout.  Google the phrase and the T.O.R.I.S. is basically the only result.  A one of a kind.  And it shows when sipped, almost perfectly.   

The T.O.R.I.S. pours a thick, dark, viscous liquid.  It is not just engine oil.  It is like dark crude, almost tar.  That crude and tar like appearance actually carries through to the body of the beer.  This is the first beer that I have had that actually clings to the edges of the glass when sipped (it becomes much more apparent toward the end).  

The aromatic and taste elements of this beer ironically trend toward the sweet.  The aromas feature raisins, candied prunes, and perhaps chocolates that might come in a box around the holidays. The taste is full of sweet, boozy cherries, which one would expect with an ABV of 13.8%, along with notes of oatmeal, cocoa and chocolate.  The finish has a heavy, roasty bitterness that mimics the feel of wine tannins on the tongue.  

This beer is not for the faint of heart or those who like to say "dilly, dilly."  It is for a certain segment of craft beer lovers.  Those who love high powered beers that are not only unique, but make a statement.  Kind of like hitting the bullseye on an archery target with, not a bow and arrow, but an anti-tank weapon.  If you see this beer on a store shelf, buy it.  Store it (like I did).  And enjoy it (like I did).  


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Glazed Roast Loin of Pork

Over the holidays, my amazing family and I paid a visit to Colonial Williamsburg.  I have always been a very big history buff, and, spending some time along the main road (East Duke of Glouchester Street) is a very enjoyable time for me.  While I like visiting the different period shops, it is the taverns that really get my attention.  Places like Josiah Chowning's Tavern and the Kings Arms Tavern.  Each trip inevitably includes a visit for a meal at one of those establishments.  As I sit in the restaurant, I try to let my mind wander a little and picture what it would have been like  during the Revolutionary War era.  

The history buff and the cooking buff could not pass up an opportunity to buy The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook.  And, after every visit to the colonial town, I get the urge to make something out of the book.  I have already made Hoppin John, which was for New Year's Day.  The claim that eating Hoppin John on that day is supposed to bring good luck. 

Well, this year, I decided to double down on the wish for good luck.  It is also claimed that eating pork on New Year's Day is supposed to bring good luck as well.  So, I decided to make this Glazed Roast Loin of Pork dish from the Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook.  The cookbook does not provide any backstory to this dish, such as whether it was actually served at the taverns during the mid to late 1700s.  However, it does provide some insight.  While residents in early Virginia favored beef, travelers passing through the area preferred pork.  (Cookbook, pg. 120.)  However, the hot temperatures during the summer made it very difficult to have fresh pork on hand for dishes like this roast loin of pork.  The pork would be salted and smoked, which became the foundation of the famous Virginia ham.  However, in the winter, hogs would be slaughtered, which would allow for fresh pork to be stored for a short period of time, such as around the New Year. 

Although I mostly stuck to the recipe, I ended up not cooking the loin as long as it called for in the instructions.  The reason is that my loin was slightly smaller than the six pound loin called for in the recipe.  This also prevented the roasted loin from getting a good color from the glaze.  Nevertheless, the end result was very good, especially when the pork is dipped in the apple brandy sauce.   

Recipe from The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook (page 131)
Serves 6

Ingredients (for the apple brandy glaze):
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup apple brandy

Ingredients (for the apple brandy sauce):
3/4 cup apple jelly
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 small onion grated
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon bottled horseradish, drained
1/2 cup apple brandy

Ingredients (for the roast):
1 whole pork loin (6 pounds), with chine bone separated
     (not removed entirely from the bone, at room temperature)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon 

1.  Prepare the glaze.  In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, mustard, salt, pepper, cloves, allspice and apple brandy.  Mix well.

2.  Make the sauce.  In a small saucepan, combine the apple jelly, lemon peel, lemon juice, onion, ginger, horseradish and brandy.  Warm over low heat until the jelly has dissolved.  Cool and set aside. 

3.  Roast the pork.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  On an oiled rack in a large roasting pan, place the pork roast. Roast until the internal temperature registers at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.  Thirty minutes before the end of the roasting time, skim and discard the fat from the roasting pan, leave the drippings.  Brush the pork with the glaze several times during the last 1/2 hour of cooking.  Transfer the roast to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.  

4.  Finish the sauce.   Skim off and discard all of the fat from the pan, leaving the drippings.  Set the pan on the top of the stove and pour in the sauce.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to pick up any roasting bits from the bottom of the pan.  Taste for seasoning and strain into a warmed sauce boat.  Cut the loin into thick slices and pass the sauce on the side. 


Friday, January 26, 2018

Pearmund Cellars Petit Verdot (2014)

If wine could be likened to a movie (by someone who not involved in making movies or wines), Petit Verdot would be a supporting actor or actress.  The grape definitely contributes to the final product, offering its boldness to bring flavor and tannins to the aroma and taste of the wine.  However, its contribution is not as great as the leading grapes.  Petit Verdot never gets top billing, which usually goes to grape such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

There may be many reasons why. Unlike other grapes, Petit Verdot takes longer to ripen, which means that it is harvested after other grapes.  The lateness in the harvest sometimes means that the Petit Verdot grapes are usually added during the blending process, when vintners use the bold flavors and the tannins to add character to a wine.

Nevertheless, there are wines where a grape like Petit Verdot gets top billing, just as there are opportunities for a supporting actor or actress to take center stage.  When given the chance, a Petit Verdot wine provides a bold performance, with aromatic and taste elements that feature dark berries, leather, chocolate and even smoke.

One example of a bold Petit Verdot wine comes from Pearmund Cellars in Virginia.  The wine pours with garnet tones, which, depending upon the lighting, also give rise to plum or raisin colors.  The aromas that greet the nose are full of those black fruits, such as blackberries, black cherries and even blueberries.  There is some earthiness to the aroma as well, along the lines of slate or graphite.  

Much of the dark berries carries through to the taste of the wine. The wine features blueberries up front, with plumb and blackberry notes on the back end.  The tannins enclose the flavors of the wine and fill in the finish.

The Pearmund Cellar's Petit Verdot shows how a supporting grape and truly shine.  A bottle can be purchased from the vineyard for about $32.00.  


Monday, January 15, 2018

Masaharu Morimoto's Lobster Masala

There is a quote to which I can relate.  "I'm not a fighter, but in my mind I'm fighting every day.  What's new? What am I doing? I'm fighting myself. My soul is samurai.  My roots are not samurai, but my soul is."  The person who made this statement is Masaharu Morimoto.  The chef who fought culinary battles as the Iron Chef Japanese on the well-known television show, and who now is a well known chef, restaurateur and cookbook author. 

The reason why the quote resonates with me is that I too fight every day.  As a lawyer, I spend a lot of mental energy fighting on behalf of my clients, asking a lot of questions and, sometimes, even fighting with myself.  (That latter fight is the daily battle that propels me to be the best lawyer that I can be.)  Cooking is for me is a way to find solace from that fighting, but still challenge myself to do things that may seem, at least at first glance, beyond my capabilities.  

One such challenge involves Morimoto's cookbook, Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking.  When I bought the book, I read through the recipes and, to be quite frank, I felt quite intimidated.  I thought to myself that these recipes were too complicated for me.  The book sat on my shelf for quite a long time.  The challenge went unanswered ... until this past New Year's Eve. 

Morimoto Special Spice
I always make a special New Year's Eve dinner for my beautiful Angel to celebrate the past year and to look forward to the new one.  I decided to undertake the challenge of making a recipe from Morimoto's cookbook.  The dish I chose was lobster masala, which Morimoto refers to as one of his signature dishes.  The recipe reminds me of seafood dishes that I have made with crab, even like classic Chesapeake Blue Crab, with whole crabs covered in a spice mixture (such as Old Bay).  The spice mixture used in this dish -- Morimoto Special Spice -- is a wonderful combination of chile powder, paprika, cumin, coriander, ginger, garam masala and cayenne pepper.  

The difference comes in the preparation.  The lobster is not steamed, as are the crabs.  Instead, it is sauteed.  Morimoto notes that, by sauteeing the lobster, the cook is able to control the ingredient and intensify the flavor.  I actually liked this technique, which is far easier to do with lobster than other live shellfish like crabs.

Finally, I like how the dish comes together.  The vegetable accompaniment helps to provide more color and sustenance with the lobster.   Morimoto notes that the vegetables can be changed with what is in season.  This is helpful because I could not find any golden beets.  So I used some yellow squash, so that there variety of colors remained in the dish.  Moreover, the lemon cream sauce is a simple sauce to make that provides relief to those who may find the seasoning to be a little too spicy.  While I thought the piquancy of the seasoning was just fine, the lemon cream sauce still was a refreshing touch when eating the lobster.

Recipe from Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking
Serves 4

8 baby beets, preferably golden
12 baby carrots
12 asparagus stalks
`1/2 cup broccoflower or broccoli florets
4 live Maine lobsters (1 1/2 pounds each)
6 tablespoons olive oil, as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons Morimoto Special Spice (see recipe below)
Lemon Cream (see recipe below)

Ingredients (for the Morimoto Special Spice):
1 tablespoon chile powder
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground garam masala
3/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Ingredients (for the Lemon Cream):
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar
Juice of one lemon
Pinch of salt

1.  Prepare the special spice.  Combine all of the ingredients for the special spice in a covered container in a cool dark place for up to 3 months.

2.  Prepare the beets.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Wrap the beets in foil and roast for 45 minutes or until tender.  When they are cool enough to handle, rub off the skins and half or quarter the beets. 

3.  Prepare the carrots.  Peel the carrots and trim to leave about 1/2 inch of the green stems.  Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil.  Add the carrots and cook for about 4 minutes, until just tender.  Drain and rinse under cold running running water.

4.  Prepare the asparagus.  Trim the asparagus to include the tips and about 4 inches of the stalks.  Use a swivel blade vegetable peeler to trim off the tough skin from the thicker part of the stems.  In another saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the asparagus and the broccoflower until just tender, about 3 minutes.

5.  Prepare the lobsters. Split the lobsters lengthwise in half down the belly.  Using a teaspoon, remove the dark "sand sack" from the inside the head, this is the only part of the lobster that is not edible.  Separate the claws with the knuckles attached and crack the claws with a heavy knife/  If not cooking immediately, wrap and refrigerate for no more than 2 hours.  The sooner you cook the lobsters the better. 

6.   Cook the lobsters.  Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a very large skillet over moderately high heat.  Add 2 lobsters to the skillet, meat side down, arranging the claws against the surface of the skillet.  (If the lobsters don't fit, use 2 skillets or cook them one at a time.)  Saute until the tail meat is golden in color, 2 to 3 minutes.  Turn the lobsters over and season the exposed meat of the lobster generously with 2 tablespoons of the Morimoto Special Spice.  Add additional oil and cover the skillet.  Cook until the lobster meat is opaque when pieced and the shells are bright red.  About 3 minutes.  Remove to a platter or large plate.  The claws will take 2 to 3 minutes longer.  Tent the lobsters with foil to keep warm.  Repeat with 2 more tablespoons of oil the remaining 2 lobsters, and 2 more tablespoons of the Morimoto Special Spice

7.  Prepare the cream sauce.  In a chilled bowl, using cold beaters, whip the ream with the sugar until soft peaks form.  Add the lemon juice and salt and whip until stiff.  Cover and refrigerate until serving.

8.  Finish the cook.  Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the same skillet.  Add the cooked beets, carrots, asparagus and broccoflowers.  Toss over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes to warm through.  Arrange the vegetables around the lobsters and serve with the Lemon Cream Sauce on the side.


Friday, January 12, 2018

The Dark Hours of a Lost Rhino

Imperial stouts are somewhat paradoxical.  I love imperial stouts.  There is something about sitting out on my deck, sipping the viscous, pitch black liquid while I stare at the stars that is very relaxing and enjoyable.   I have been wanting to brew an imperial stout for a very long time.  Yet, as much as I enjoy the imperial stout, I don't drink it very often and I have not brewed it yet. 

A while back, my beautiful Angel took me on a trip through the Virginia craft beer scene.  One of the stops was Lost Rhino Brewing.  I sampled a couple of beers, which were very good, but it was the bottles in the fridge that caught my attention.  The bottles were part of the brewery's Genius Loci Series, These beers are limited-run beers, using regional ingredients, that test the creativity of the brewers.  One of the beers in that fridge was the Dark Hours Imperial Stout.  I decided to buy a bottle, stash it in my basement, and enjoy it at a later time ... on my deck while looking at the stars. 

The Dark Hours pours pitch black, like motor oil.  It is like the darkness that falls in the wilderness, with only the new moon to guide you because the nearest light is miles away.  There is that cloud of milk chocolate foam that hovers overhead.

Without sight, you turn to your next sense.  The sense of smell.  The aroma greets you with hints of cranberries, cocoa and a little booze.  Just enough to entice you to take a taste. A sip takes you to another sense.  The sense of taste.  This imperial stout fits neatly into the style, but still asserts its own character.  There is dark chocolate with a little boozy cherry on the inside.  It is that proverbial box of chocolates, only without the box and no chocolate.  Just a well bodied liquid that is able to evoke something that it is not.

This is a very good beer and provides inspiration to try more imperial stouts.  If you happen to find yourself in suburban Virginia near Lost Rhino, it is definitely worth the stop.  Until next time ...


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Italy

As I continue my personal culinary challenge, Around the World in 80 Dishes, I find myself in nearly the same situation as a few weeks ago.  Back then, my beautiful Angel bought a whole duck for me to cook; and, I decided that I would make Peking Duck.  After making that decision, and perusing the aisles of the local Asian grocery store, I realized that the Peking Duck could satisfy the challenge to make a main course for the country of China

Fast forward those few weeks to the days before Christmas Eve.  I had decided to make a Christmas Eve feast.  Drawing inspiration from the fact that the families of my beautiful Angel and myself originate in part from Italy, I decided to make the Feast of Seven Fishes, or, as it would be known in Italy, La VigiliaSeven courses, each made with a different fish or seafood.   As I prepared for this feast, which was the second largest cooking experience I have undertaken (the largest was my Guest Chef  Night experience), I decided that this would satisfy my challenge to make a main course for the country of Italy.  

This challenge presented the same fundamental issue for me as that China challenge.  Like China, Italy has numerous regions, each with its own cuisine.  Each of those cuisines has its own history, influences, and character.  However, unlike my last challenge, I had decided that each course or dish of the Feast of Seven Fishes would come from a different region.  In the end, I had a dish from Friuli-Venezia-Guilia, Apulia, Umbria, Abruzzo, Calabria, Sardinia and Sicily.  And, as some of my challenges have involved multiple dishes, I have decided that all of the dishes would be part of this challenge.  Thus, while it may have been my second largest cooking experience, the challenge to cook a main course from Italy is the largest test of the Around in the World in 80 dishes.  All of the dishes made it into this post.  So, without further ado:


The first course or appetizer begins in the region of Friuli-Venezia-Guilia, a very small region in northeastern Italy.   This region's history underlies its cuisine, with influences from Venice, with those of Austrian and Slavic cuisines.  Following northern Italian cuisine, polenta is a staple in this region, which is served along stewed meats, games and cheeses.  These meats and game include venison and rabbit.  They also include gulasch, which is a stew of beef and peppers (and, a great example of the Slavic influence upon the cuisine).  

Drawing from the shores around its capital, Trieste, I am starting with a recipe that brings together shrimp with the staple of polenta.  I digressed from the recipe by simply warming the polenta in the oven, then plating it with the shrimp and drizzling the mushrooms and sauce around the shrimp.  The result was a great start to the dinner.

Recipe from Culinaria Italia (pg. 19)
Serves 6-8

2 pounds of shrimp
1 handful of fresh mushrooms
1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
3/4 cup white wine
4 cups vegetable stock
Freshly ground pepper

1.  Prepare the polenta. Prepare the polenta to a soft consistency.  Cool and cut into slices and place them on a greased backing sheet so that the slices cover it completely, overlapping slightly.  Preheat the oven to 350 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Prepare the sauce.  Clean the mushrooms and chop finely.  Peel the shrimp and saute them in a little butter in the saucepan.  Add the mushrooms, garlic and parsley.  Pour some of the white wine and vegetable stock and bring to a boil.  Add the rest only if needed  Season with freshly ground pepper and nutmeg, and arrange on top of the polenta slices.  Bake for a few minutes in the preheated oven.


The next course takes us all the way down the eastern coast of Italy to Apulia or Puglia.  The southeastern region has a coastline along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, as well as the Gulf of Taranto.  This wide access to the sea allows for seafood to play an important role in the cuisine of the region, with fish, octopus, squid and even sea urchins gracing the dishes.

But it is the Gulf of Taranto that provides the oysters.  No feast would be complete without oysters.  While I love eating them raw, I found a recipe for broiling/roasting the oysters with just a few ingredients.  The recipe simply calls for breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, lemon juice and olive oil.  It is just another case where simplicity breeds deliciousness.  For this course, I used salty hog oysters, which I think come from Maine.  These oysters serve as the centerpiece for the second course, Ostriche Arrosto.

Recipe from Culinaria Italia (pg. 373)
Serves 1

Ingredients (per person):
6 oysters
Chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, chopped
Lemon Juice
Olive Oil
Salt and pepper

1.  Prepare the oysters.  Remove the upper shelves and place the lower halves containing the oyster meat on a wire rack.  Sprinkle the parsley and garlic evenly over the oysters, followed by the breadcrumbs and oregano, then drizzle 2-3 drops of lemon juice and a little olive oil.

2.  Roast the oysters.  Season with salt and pepper and broil for 15 minutes.


The third appetizer takes us north along Italy's Adriatic coast to the region of Abruzzo.  That stretch of coastline, with ports such as like Pescara and Ortona, allows Abruzzo to have a very diverse seafood cuisine of various fish and shellfish, just like its southern neighbors.

The key to a dish from this region is to use one of its signature ingredients.  Two such ingredients come to mind: peperoncino and saffron.  Abbruzese cuisine is known for being spicy, with a liberal use of peppers.  Yet, it is croccus sativus, whose dried stems give us saffron, that truly interests me.  The flowers brought to this province more than 450 years ago by a priest name Santelli, and they grow on the Navelli Plain in the L'Aquila province.  While cultivated in Abruzzo, saffron is not a common ingredient in regional cuisine.  It finds its way into the cuisines of neighboring regions, such as Le Marche or Emilia-Romagna, where it provides its signature yellow color to dishes.

It is that yellow color that makes the broth of Cozze allo Zafferano stand out.  The broth is made from white wine and water, but the saffron gives it a bright yellow color.  In making this recipe, I did make one change: I left the mussels in their shell rather than taking off the top part of the shell.  This saved a lot of time and I think the whole shell provides a better presentation.  

Recipe from Food and Memories of Abruzzo (pg. 21)
Serves 4-6

2 pounds of mussels, scrubbed and debearded
2 shallots, each quartered or 1 onion quartered
2 sprigs fresh Italian parsley
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup water
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon saffron
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1.  Steam the mussels.  Place all of the ingredients in a large skillet . Cook over medium heat, shaking the skillet often, until the mussels open, 5 to 8 minutes.  Remove the open mussels and discard half of the shell.  Discard the mussels that have not opened.  Place the remaining half of with the mollusk on a serving plate.  Keep warm.

2.  Finish the dish.  With a slotted spoon remove the solids from the skillet and discard.  Strain the liquid through a towel into a small saucepan.  Bring the liquid to a boil and if there is more than 3/4 cup reduce it by boiling it.  Pour the liquid over the mussels and serve.  This dish can also be served chilled. 


Given the more than 4,700 miles of coastline, it would be easy to create seven dishes from Italian regions that border either the Adriatic or the Tyrhennian Seas.  After all, fifteen of the twenty Italian regions have some portion of their territory that touches the sea.  To make this a true challenge, I needed to make a dish from one of the five landlocked regions.  The region I chose is Umbria.

The dish is a play on a traditional Umbrian dish: Polpette in Umido or Meatballs in Broth.  The meatballs are traditionally made with pork from the renown Umbrian pigs.  Given pork is not on the menu for a Feast of Seven Fishes or La Vigilia feast, I decided to make fish meatballs.  To be true to the landlocked nature of the Umbrian region, I needed a freshwater fish.  The two obvious choices are trout and catfish.  Given the meatier texture of catfish, I thought it would work better as meatballs.

Given the experimental nature of this dish, I kept the meatballs pretty simple.  Catfish, bread crumbs  (with Italian seasoning, thereby providing some basil and oregano) and eggs, with some salt and pepper.  I refrigerated the meatballs to firm them up before baking them to preserve their shape.   The meatballs were then warmed in the broth prior to serving. 

Recipe inspired by Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy (196-197)
Serves 4

1 pound of freshwater fish fillets (such as catfish or trout)
1 large egg, beaten with a pinch of salt
1/4 cup of fine dread breadcrumbs, 
Freshly ground black pepper and salt
3 to 4 quarts of seafood stock
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh parsley
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
10 peppercorns
Dried basil, oregano or pepper flakes, optional. 

1.  Make the broth.  You can make a fish broth ahead of time if you have the heads and bones.  Just bring them short of a boil with an onion, fresh thyme, fresh parsley, bay leaves and peppercorns and cook for about one hour.  If you get pre-made seafood stock or broth, then just add the fresh herbs and bring short to a boil and cook for about an hour. .

2.  Prepare the meatballs.  Wash the fish fillets and pat them dry with a paper towel. Cut the fish into large pieces and place into a food processor.  Pulse the fish multiple times until the fish is the right texture for meatballs, about 10 to 12 times.  Do not over-pulse the fish or the meatballs will not work.  Add the fish to a bowl and then add the egg and breadcrumbs.  You can also add some dried basil, oregano and even pepper flakes, all of which is optional.  Season with salt and pepper.  Combine the ingredients together.  Make twelve fishballs.  Refrigerate the fishballs for about 30 minutes.

3.  Bake the meatballs.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes, turning them once after 10 minutes.

4.  Finish the dish.  Once the meatballs are baked, add them to the broth and let them rest for about 20 minutes more.


To this point, all of the dishes have come from regions along the Adriatic Sea, as well as one landlocked region.  It is time to head west to the Italian coastline along the Tyrrhenian Sea.  The starting point is the southwestern region of Calabria, which is the "toe' in the Italian "boot."  Calabria shares one thing in common with Abruzzo: the use of pepper to make spicy dishes.

When it comes to seafood, fish is the predominant protein for Calabrian dishes.  For the fifth course of this feast, however, I wanted to make something with squid or calamari.  I found a Calabrian recipe for Calamari Piccanti or spicy calamari.  This recipe uses red pepper flakes to give it that Calabrian character.  While I ordinarily add more pepper flakes to make a dish truly spicy, I stuck to the amounts called for in the recipe.

Recipe from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy (pg. 339)
Serves 6

2 pounds cleaned calamari, whole bodies and tentacles
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 plump garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon peperoncino flakes
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley

1. Prepare the calamari. Dry the calamari well and put in a large bowl  Pour over them 12 cup of the olive oil and add the garlic, a teaspoon of salt and peperoncino.  Toss to coat and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.  

2.  Make the dressing.  When you are ready to cook the calamari, make the dressing.  Whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil, the lemon juice, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the chopped parsley until emulsified.

3.  Cook the calamari.  Set the skillet over high eat and it when it is very hot, lift the calamari out of the marinade with tongs, let it dry briefly and then lay a bat of them flat in the dry skillet.  Sear the calamari, turning several times until the edges of the bodies are caramelized and crispy, about 2 minutes per batch.  If you are using unskinned calamari, the skin will darken to a deep reddish hue.  

4.  Finish the dish  As the calamari comes out of the skillet, arrange them on a warmed platter, when all of the calamari is done, drizzle the dressing over them and serve right away.


The culinary experience leaves the mainland for the island of Sardegna or Sardinia.  I have a fascination with this island, having previously explored its cuisine when I made Insalata dell'Aragosta or Sardinian Lobster Salad.  Fish and lobsters predominate the seafood cuisine of the island.  However, I wanted to make something different.  I scoured recipes until I found one using octopus.  I love eating octopus.  I have had it many times as Pulpo Gallego (Octopus with paprika) at Spanish restaurants.  The dish is octopus served with potatoes and paprika.  I have also had it grilled at Greek restaurants, served just on its own or perhaps dressed with a combination of olive oil and lemon juice.

For the sixth course, I found an octopus and potato salad from Sardinia.  This dish connects Spain and Greece for me, bringing together the potatoes from Pulpo Gallego with the olive oil and lemon juice of the Greek version.  A nod to the historical influences that have come and gone like the waves that crash on the shores of the Island.   The addition of celery leaves and parsley leaves give this salad its own character.  

Recipe from How to Eataly (p. 240)
Serves 4

1 octopus (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
1/4 cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley leaves
1 red onion
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup loosely packed celery leaves

1.  Cook the octopus.  Place the octopus in a large pot and add water just to cover.  Sprinkle in the 1 tablespoon of salt.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the octopus is tender, about 50 minutes.  Drain and set aside to cool slightly but not completely.  

2.  Cook the potatoes.  Place the potatoes in a separate pot and add water to cover.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are easily pierced with a paring knife, about 30 minutes.  Drain and set aside to cool slightly but not completely.  When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and cut into 1/2 inch slices.  Place in a large bowl.

3.  Continue to prepare the octopus.  Separate the octopus head and tentacle. Chop the tentacles and place them in the bowl with the potato slices.  Remove the internal sac from the head if it hasn't been removed already, then chop the head and add to the bowl.   

4.  Continue to prepare the salad.  Roughly chop the parsley and add to the bowl.  Halve and thinly slice the onion and add that to the bowl along with the celery.  In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. 

5.  Finish the dish.  The salad benefits from sitting at room temperature for an hour or so or you can refrigerate it and bring it back to room temperature before serving. Garnish with celery leaves.


The final course of this seven course dish constitutes the challenge for my Around the World in 80 Dishes.  This course takes us to Sicily, an island well known for its fish and shellfish dishes.  One truly Sicilian dish, Cuscusu or Couscous with Fish, actually displays the wonderful influences upon the island's cuisine.  The use of couscous, as well as saffron, is a nod to the influence of the Arabs, who ruled the island from 827 A.D. to 1091 A.D.  While Cuscusu may have Arabic origins, the Sicilians have made it their own.  They steam the couscous over fish broth, made from a variety of fishes (such as scorpion fish, bogue and eel), rather than a meat broth as is done in Northern Africa.

While I could steam the couscous over a fish broth (I made one for this feast), I ultimately decided to use the fish broth to make the coucous in the traditional fashion.  The "traditional fashion" means following the directions on the side of the box.  In my defense, I have made Cuscusu by steaming the couscous in the past.  Having completed several dishes, including a couple (such as the octopus salad) that could satisfy the main dish requirement, I decided I needed a break.  The completion f the dish still satisfies the challenge of making a main course.  

Recipe adapted from Regional Italian Cuisine (pg 288-289)
Serves 4 to 6

10 ounces or 1 2/3 cups couscous
1 teaspoon saffron
1 pinch powdered cloves
1 pinch cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 cups seafood stock

1.  Prepare the couscous. Dissolve the saffron in some of the seafood stock.  Bring enough seafood stock to a boil to prepare the couscous according to the package.  Reserve the remaining seafood stock.   Season the couscous with salt , pepper, powdered cloves, cinnamon and grated nutmeg.  

2. Prepare the fish.  Bring about 2 cups of stock to a boil in a deep pot.  Place the fish in the stock and simmer on medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes.  Chop the remaining parsley

3.  Finish the dish.  Place the couscous on a preheated platter.  Top the couscous with the pieces of fish and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.  Serve immediately.

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This was an amazing culinary tour around the country of Italy.  I never thought I could complete seven dishes in one night, let alone that the dishes would come out looking presentable.   This challenge was a success in many ways and it has galvanized me toward working on the next one.  Until that time...

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