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Happy Hanukah From Phigg & Clyde! November 30, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Cooking, Food.
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Happy Hanukah!

So, you want a recipe for some wonderful Hanukah food?

Here’s mine for potato latkes,  straight outta my new book Phigg & Clyde Save Breakfast.

Get your copy now on Amazon by clicking here!

Illustrations by Elinor Shapiro.

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White Cooked Chicken With A Ginger Soy Dressing June 29, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
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Saw this one on TV, made some minor modifications to it, and came up with a wonderful simple way to cook chicken, especially when I’m in the mood for something light and not piping hot on a warm summer night.

“White cooked” is the Chinese version of sous vide – cooking in simmering water. If you’re someone who demands crispy skin, this ain’t for you. The skin will come out flabby and unusable, kinda like I am in the eyes of most women.

You’ll need a pot big enough to submerse a chicken or its parts in water. I saw this done with a whole chicken, I did it with a bone-in breast.

Into the water: at least 2 big tablespoons of salt – the water should be 2x as salty as pasta water.

At this point, you can pick your flavorings. When I planned on making a chicken salad with mayo afterwards, I stopped with salt. For the ginger/soy recipe, I added about a half cup of sherry, some chopped scallion and a few nickel-sized pieces of smashed ginger to the water. Any sort of aromatics in the water at this point will subtly infuse the meat, however.

Bring it to a boil. Add the chicken, bring back to a boil, and then lower to medium to keep at a simmer.

Cook uncovered 20 minutes. Then, flip the chicken over, simmer another 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, lid the pot, and let it sit another 30. Finally, take the chicken out onto a cutting board and let rest another 15.

That’s it!

You’ll have a nice pot of homemade chicken broth as well, to save for later. Consider this when you’re adding stuff to the water at the beginning.

Peel off the rubbery skin and separate the meat from the bone. Chill in the refrigerator if you want.

I cut up the meat and tossed it in a ginger-soy dressing made up of: 2 tbs soy, 1 tsp finely minced ginger, 1 tsp rice vinegar, 1 tsp sesame oil and some chopped scallion.

Serve over some crisp lettuce or cabbage. Or, you can do what I did – take the homemade broth and use it to cook some rice in the time the chicken was sitting & resting.

That other chicken, sitting and resting in front of my TV after a long day? He’s for dinner tomorrow night.

 

 

Sky Bar On Life Support May 23, 2018

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The New England Confectionary Company, maker of those unique chalky NECCO wafer candies, has been bought at a federal bankruptcy auction by Spangler, a candy company based in Ohio.

I’m sure they bought it up to get the NECCO wafers and similarly formulated Valentine’s heart candies with the little messages on ’em, but the company also made other stuff whose future is unsure… such as Clark Bars and one of my absolute favorites.. Sky Bars.

While the wafers can be found in Southern California, the Sky Bars are few and far between, only available in specialty nostalgia-style candy shops like Rocket Fizz and the like, and they usually run north of a buck and half a bar. Oy.

The Sky Bar is a milk chocolate bar stuffed with 4 flavors that turn up randomly – peanut, vanilla, caramel and fudge. Part of the fun is the surprise by biting into each section.

Right up there with Crunchy Frog.

One time they did a promo with one of the abominable sparkly vampire Twilight films, with dark chocolate Sky Bars wrapped in “Twilight” themed wrappers…. and like other leftover promo candy, they wound up at the local 99 cent store in large quantities…

AND I BOUGHT THEM ALL!!!!

I really did – stocked my ‘fridge with maybe two dozen of the damn things at 3 for a buck after recognizing them as Sky Bars in a different wrapper.

Alas, those days (and hopefully that added weight on my belly) are gone.

I hope Spangler keeps making the Sky Bars, or at least sells the brand & recipe to someone who will. It’s my favorite candy bar, along with one that’ll NEVER go away, Three Musketeers (yeah, I know… candy snobs find that one boring,  but I admire its simplicity) and a foreign entry, the Ferrara Chocolate Torrone bar I’ll get at a local Italian deli every so often for upwards of TWO DOLLARS!

But it’s SO damn good.

Please, Sky Bar… don’t leave me.

Finlaggen Single Malt Scotch Review May 11, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food, General.
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I’m not too sure why I like single malt scotches and have never really liked any of the blended varieties I’ve sampled. Maybe because I can actually pick out flavors in the singles that overcome the harshness of the alcohol. But I’ve even had some single malts that only rated a “meh” in my eyes, and I pegged them as not really being worth adding to the rotation.

Well, after the plug it got in the Trader Joe’s fearless flyer that lands in my mailbox every few months, I got curious about Finlaggen single malt. I read a few reviews on whiskey review sites, and it seemed to be on par with other stuff I’ve liked in the past, like good ol’ Glenlivet, always my reference point for single malt scotch since it was the first one I ever tried, way back in college.

I figured nineteen bucks wasn’t too much to risk to try it, and I gotta say… I think I like it BETTER than Glenlivet. It feels “thinner” on the palate than the bourbons & ryes I’ve had, less syrupy I guess. But what really got me was the nice smokiness of the taste & finish.

A good scotch ought to evoke the smokiness of a nice peaty fire, right? I should picture myself sitting with Groundskeeper Willie in front of one, passing the bottle and trying to keep warm while we await Robert the Bruce to lead us into battle the following dawn against that inbred Longshanks bastard.

And he was played by Patrick McGoohan!

Anyway, this stuff leaves a wonderful smoky finish on the palate, akin to, well…. some really good smoked whitefish. I really can’t describe it any other way, but what began as the sting of alcohol on my tongue ended as the aroma of wonderful smoked fish. And as off-putting as that might sound, it really was wonderful.

I’d sip this stuff straight, and I’ll definitely enjoy it blended with water or seltzer.

AND it was only nineteen bucks at TJs, relatively cheap for a single malt, and certainly a good buy for a solid scotch.

So thumbs up!

 

 

The Quickest Whiskey Tasting Review Of The Day April 16, 2018

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Not too long ago, I discovered I like rye whiskey. Up until that point, the only whiskey I’d regularly work into my rotation was Jack Daniels. “Normal” bourbons didn’t do much for me, I wasn’t crazy about the Canadian whiskeys I tried (which turns out to be meaningful in my exercise today), and I’ve only liked single malt scotches of the scotches I’ve tried.

So after trying a rye cocktail at a bar, I went to good ol’ Costco and got a monster sized bottle of Bulleit Rye, a 95% rye mash whiskey that I liked very much, blended into my usual concoction of a couple of fingers worth over ice with a splash of lemon juice & then mixed with a lemon seltzer.

I wondered about some of the other ryes out there, though. Would I notice any difference?

An easy way to test, I figured, was to head over to the local BevMo and grab a few minis of whatever ryes they had and do comparison tests each day, making 2 half-sized drinks, one with the Bulleit and one with the special guest star.

Well, they only had the Jack Daniels Rye, so I grabbed a mini (along with a six of some Moretti Rosso, one of my favorite beers) and headed home.

I mixed both the Jack Daniels Rye and the Bulleit in identical proportions in separate glasses, and then did some extremely enjoyable taste testing.

Gotta say… the Bulleit was superior, and I’m thinking I can actually pick up the difference between its 95% rye mash versus the Jack Daniels 75%. The JD isn’t bad, but has an odd finish to it, similar to what I felt when I mixed a Crown Royal Canadian whiskey drink some time ago. And “Canadian Whiskey” is mostly corn/bourbon-y type stuff flavored with rye in varying amounts.

Funny…. you’d figure a 75% rye on top of what Jack Daniels old number 7 is would be right up my alley…. but evidently it isn’t. I preferred JD to other bourbons because of it’s subtle sourness, which is why I figured I liked rye in the first place.

Sigh. I’m a prima donna…. I gotta have nearly pure rye for the stronger and more consistent flavor in the finish after each sip.

Though I gotta admit… the rye-IPA thing is WAY too much sharp/bitter for me, and I’ll leave that stuff to others. I’m not a big IPA guy anyway.

So perhaps I’ll try a small bottle of one of the other pure rye mash versions to compare to Bulleit, although the easier thing to do would be to head back to Costco and just get another 1.75 liter job and savor it over the several months it’d take me to go through it. This ain’t exactly rocket science.

A Tuscan Shrimp & White Bean Stew April 14, 2018

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This one was amazingly easy and came out great. I’d already bought shrimp for dinner. I hemmed and hawed between making a simple scampi and doing a dry-cooked szechuan shrimp, and then I played the episode of America’s Test Kitchen my DVR recorded today where they did this recipe (mostly), and cooked this one up immediately after watching it.

First, I peeled the shrimp (3/4 pound) and then brined ’em in a bowl of water with a tablespoon each of salt & sugar, for about 15 minutes.

I took the shells and sauteed ’em in some olive oil until they turned pink & fragrant, then added 1/2 cup of water to make a little fresh shrimp broth. I let it simmer maybe 5 minutes, then removed the shells and set aside for later.

Into the main saute pan: half an onion, chopped – three garlic cloves, sliced (not minced – overwhelming garlic flavor that way), a few pinches of red pepper flakes,  maybe 1/4 tsp of ground black pepper, and a few pinches of kosher salt – all cooked in some olive oil for a few minutes until golden and soft.

Added a 1/4 tsp of fish sauce (they used actual anchovies on TV), then added 1/2 can of chopped tomato, and 1/2 can of cannelini beans with their liquid, along with the shrimp broth. Brought it up to near boil, then simmered it, covered, for 15 minutes.

Added the drained/patted dry shrimp, mixed in, recovered & let simmer for 7-10 minutes.

At the end, hit it with some lemon juice & basil (on TV they also added lemon zest).

It looked thicker on TV than what I finished with, but this was easily taken care of by removing shrimp/beans/tomato/whatever with a slotted spoon & then cooking down the remainder for only a few minutes.

Good stuff – a wonderful mix of shrimp flavor with hits of the pepper, and then followed by the lemon and basil combo, all mellowed by the creaminess of the beans. HELL YEAH!

I had it with some ciabatta bread (any good crunchy bread’ll do), side salad and a pinot grigio.

Then I watched the rest of the America’s Test Kitchen episode, and their top rated manual pasta making machine turned out to be the most expensive $75 retail Atlas 150, the one I FOUND AT A THRIFT STORE, USED ONLY ONCE MAYBE, STILL IN ITS BOX, FOR ONLY FIFTEEN BUCKS!!!!

I RULE!!!

 

 

 

A Sunday Cooking Post, March 11, 2018 March 11, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cats, Cooking, Food.
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I’ve been thinking of getting myself yet another kitchen gadget, this time one of those Instant Pots, that combine a pressure cooker, slow cooker & sauteé-r into one countertop electronic thigamajig that’ll make my cooking of stews, chilis and the like much easier….

… and then I came across this guy’s version of a pressure cooker mac and cheese that intrigues me greatly.

Check it out:

Tonight, however, it’ll be a simple chicken dish, since I just restocked on boneless breasts & thighs. I’m thinking I’ll cut the breast into cutlets, pound ’em flat, dredge in some seasoned flour, brown in olive oil on both sides, remove from the pan, throw in some minced garlic, chopped tomato and white wine, return the chicken to the pan and let simmer in the sauce for 20 minutes or so before adding a little basil & pepper and serving.

Get all that?

Told you it was easy.

I’ll probably grab the 3 qt version of the Instapot and cut the portions of the mac & cheese recipe down from the family-size serving in the vid to the I’ll just sit here alone in the dark with my meager dinner before I end it all proportions. I’d hate for the cops busting down my door in the hazmat suits to take my rotting corpse away think that I wasted food.

Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Wine March 8, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
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Whenever I cook up a batch of my pasta sauce, I prefer to use a sweet wine. I like the ways in which it enhances & brings out the flavor of the tomatoes, giving them a mysterious sweet quality that makes the sauce taste a lot riper, despite being made from canned.

For a while, I’d been using Casa Rossa, a nice Brachetto wine they used to sell at Trader Joes. AND THEN THOSE BASTARDS DISCONTINUED IT. And from what I can tell, they sell no other sparkling sweet Brachetto varieties.

So I found some alternates that have worked pretty well. Moscatos and Lambruscos are pretty close to Brachettos in flavor. One fizzy Moscato from the Puglia region, Sara Bee, has worked about as well as the Casa Rossa. I’ve also gotten good results from a California variety of Moscato from Blue Fin.

The sweet Dornfelder German grape is the source of the Joseph Hagler Sweet Red sold at Trader Joe’s, and while not quite as sweet as the Moscato, it worked very well in the sauce recipe.  They sell a few Lambrusco varieties as well…. I’ll have to add those to the sauce experimentation at some point.

I loaded up on some of those sweet wines today, along with the usual assortment of Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, Chianti and Montepulcianos that I like.

L’chaim!

Steamed Fish In A Spicy Garlic Sauce, Cheating Version March 7, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
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gable

I’m calling it “cheating” since I’m <GASP!> using the microwave and not a traditional bamboo steamer. If you want to use the steamer, feel free, just set the ingredients on a plate inside the steamer and let it rip for a good 15-20 minutes.

But since I’m using fish I thawed myself after buying frozen on the cheap, it makes no difference in the end, flavor or texture wise. The microwave works by heating water molocules anyway, so microwaving fish is practically the same as steaming it anyway.

This is an easy meal to prepare and have on hand, which is why I do it.

I’ll get frozen cod or tilapia or orange roughy from Trader Joe’s or wherever – so long as it’s the frozen in vacuum sealed bag variety. This’ll keep in the freezer as long as anything else in my freezer. As much as I buy fresh fish to cook that very day, this turned out to be an easy way to work it into the dinner rotation without having to shop for it the same day.

Remove from the bag & thaw overnight in a covered dish in the ‘fridge.

Then:

1. Rinse the fillets and pat dry.

2. I put the fillets into a microwave-safe dish, in a single layer, spaced a bit – a nice 9×12 glass pyrex job works well.

3. I mix the following and spoon over each piece – I’ll put a ratio for a single piece of fish here, maybe 1/2 pound size: 1 tsp soy, 1 tsp chili garlic paste, 1 tsp hoison sauce, 1 tsp rice vinegar, 1/2 tsp honey. Feel free to add freshly minced ginger, garlic or szechuan peppercorn to taste.

4. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and into the microwave. Now, my microwave has an automatic setting for fish, where a moisture sensor cooks it, tells me to rearrange it (I don’t) and then finishes. I let it sit for 5 minutes covered, then serve. If you microwaved a pound of fillets done this way on high for 5 minutes and then let sit, covered for 5 minutes, it’ll do. If you know your microwave and its behavior well enough, you could figure the right time out, although I’m assuming most of the newer models have these wonderful built-in sensors.

5. That’s really it. You can do the same thing with different sauces – I’ve done a chopped tomato/lemon/basil/salt & pepper arrangement, a butter/lemon one, and variations on the Chinese ingredients. They all work out fine. Tilapia, pollock or cod work very well, just a good white fish, not overly thick, that’ll cook up evenly in time.

I’ll serve the fish with rice or noodles, usually, or a nice crusty bread. It’s sorta the freezer to microwave version of a dinner thrown together from pantry items alone, and it’s pretty good.

Some Boneless Short Ribs In The Slow Cooker March 4, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
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Every now and then when I’m on a Costco run, I’ll splurge on a big pack of their giant boneless short ribs. They must get ’em from steers on the Barry Bonds diet since I never see ones at the regular supermarket as big.

Whatever. I cut ’em in half so that they fit my pot. And they cook up no differently than brisket or a chuck roast.

And a slow cooker is a wonderfully lazy way to cook on a Sunday, especially when my solar panels are powering it all. I LOVE BEING CHEAP!

I slightly modified an Italian pot roast recipe for this one, and it came out pretty good.

  1. Salt/pepper/garlic powdered the ribs & rubbed it all in, good
  2. Browned the ribs all over in a big ol’ pot in some olive oil
  3. Removed the ribs and put them in the slow cooker
  4. Threw a coarsely chopped onion, 3 chopped garlic cloves, some chunked up carrot and some rosemary into the olive oil, sauteed for a few minutes to soften the onion a little and get the garlic fragrant. Then that all went into the slow cooker.
  5. Added one 15 ounce can of chopped tomato & a cup of Nero (any good red wine will do) to the slow cooker.
  6. Cooked on high for 5 hours.
  7. Removed the meat to rest & put it in a covered dish.
  8. Transferred the gravy to the same big pot I used earlier, cooked it down by maybe 1/3, then stirred in 1 tsp cornstarch/1 tsp water to thicken, adjusted the seasoning by taste, and then put the meat back in.
  9. Let sit on low 5-10 mins, and then served myself a portion while freezing the other. It went well with the same Nero wine.

And that frozen leftover, once thawed and reheated, will somehow be even better. I once read up on the chemistry of that particular phenom and I still don’t understand it, but I will continue to enjoy it.

Had it with a big salad & a couple of pieces of a nice Ciabatta.

And now I look like this. Yay!