Thursday, July 31, 2008

Heart Breaker, Soul Shaker...

There are few things quite so glorious as expelling some good old fashioned Road Rage on Northbound 75 while blaring Hair of the Dog by Nazareth...

A nice fresh Zucchini is one of those few things.

I don't remember really when I actually figured out how much I loved Zucchini. I've always liked Zucchini bread, and there was that one night at Baxter's where I made this killer Lemon Pepper Zucchini saute, but really I just always remember liking it...

Last week, while visiting my Mom and Gramma, I was lucky enough to snag a small bunch of fresh Zucchini that my Uncle had recently harvested from his garden. And after trekking back and forth all over hell's half acer, it was nice to finally come home and fry up a big batch of Zucchini Shoe Strings.

Fried Zucchini Shoe Strings
1 Medium Zucchini
1 Cup Milk
2 T Old Bay, divided (Or any cajun seasoning)
1 Cup Flour
Oil for Frying

Set aside two bowls. One large enough for the Zucchini and milk, the other for the Flour.
Run Zucchini over a mandolin slicer set to 1/8" Julienne.
Place Zucchini in bowl with Milk and 1 T seasoning, gently toss and allow to sit for 15 minutes.
In second bowl, mix flour and remaining 1 T of seasoning.
Heat oil to 375F.
When oil is ready, take Zucchini by small handfuls and toss in flour. Shake off excess and fry for 2 to 4 minutes or until crisp.
Drain on plate lined with paper towel, dust with sea salt if desired.


Yeah... Now yer messing with a sonofabitch!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Hey now brother pour the wine...

Our trip North wasn't only to find disturbing Black Velvet paintings of the Pink Panther...

The plan was to do a small wine tour once we hit Ashtabula. We had visited a few vineyards last year, somewhat by surprise, and we unprepared for a day of drinkin'.

This time we had an idea of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do. Kerrie, her sister Suzanne, and I were ready for an epic wine tasting adventure. NPH epic...

We started out at Ferrante's for a Winery tour and our first round of tastings. Perhaps I was being optimistic when I conjured up visions of touring a winery. I was thinking of oak casks and damp dark cellars. Nope, just some bimbo babbling on about the industry side of wine making. There was lots and lots of warehouse space and cold stainless steel, and not a single wooden barrel.

After the tour, which only lasted about 20 minutes anyway, we decided to get a sampler tray of wines and an appetizer dish of melted Mozzarella cheese, with tomatoes, artichokes and black olives.

Here's the tricky part... I'm no connoisseur. I know a litte bit about wine, but I have a pretty basic palette. I know what I like (Dry reds, slightly sweet and crisp whites) and what I don't like (syrupy sweet stuff, minus Port...). Over all, I'm just a regular Joe with a regular Job... I'm not a wine snob, so please take my ramblings with a grain of salt.

The wine tray we had consisted of 9 wines ranging from slightly sweet to dry. My favorite, which generally wins out when I look for wines to buy, was the Pino Grigio. I liked it for it's clean and crisp flavor. I envisioned several desserts I could knock out paired up with Ferrante's Pino.

After scraping out what little cheese was left from the plate, we decided to drive over to the South River Vineyard. South River is a winery which was placed in an old church. The church itself is beautiful, but the vineyards surrounding the building are amazing. If I didn't know better, I might have thought we weren't in Ohio.

However... The woman staffing the tasting bar wasn't too pleasant. She wasn't mean either, mind you, but I think she sized us up as "tasters" and just didn't care after that. Mental Note: I really should carry around a wad of $50's that could choke a donkey.

We tried 6 different wines before we decided to move on.

Now, here comes the surprise hit of the day: Laurello Vineyards. I can't say enough nice stuff about this place. As we entered, we were immediately greeted with smiles and the impressive opener: Are you having a good day? If not, you're about too... I instantly felt more at home and ready to do a full on tasting.

And we did. The woman working the counter was amazingly nice and talked us through everything we tried, THEN went and gave us a complimentary sample of the one wine we didn't try which wound up being my favorite of the whole day. Their Vidal Blanc was the one wine I absolutely loved and bought on the spot. After a cheese plate and 6 more wines, we knew it was time to slow down.

Kerrie and I left with one of the Vidal Blanc, as did Kerrie's sister. We finished our trek by heading back to Ferrante's to pick up one of their Rosato Blush wines and witness some drunk girl lying in the grass outside the vineyard. Classy.

All in all, it was great to get out and try a lot of different "good" wines. I'm very much looking forward to doing it again. Who's with me?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Once in a lifetime...

Kerrie and I are on vacation this week. We're doing a lot of traveling in a short period of time, and when you stretch yourself thin some things that aren't funny seem hilarious and some things which are otherwise funny seem to get lost in the flow.

THIS is not one of those moments.

Kerrie and I have headed to Ashtabula first with a quick stop in Little Italy (Cleveland) to hit Corbo's Bakery for their Lemon Biscotti cookies, and Mama Santa's for what I consider to be the BEST pizza ever.

Mama Santa's is a classic 70's looking building. Kind of like someone decided to set up a pizza parlour in an abandoned VFW. Like I said, this place has amazing pizza. It's my favorite and the price is dirt cheap.

Now, I've been to Mama Santa's multiple times, but this is the first time I had ever used their restroom. I made my way through the restaurant and went around a corner only to come smack-dab, face-to-face with the greatest Velvet painting ever. (Yes, I said velvet...)

Yup. That's a painting of the Pink Panther on the toilet. And that painting is on black velvet... You can't stop staring at it, can you?

Just you wait, there is more...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Straight to her arms I'd go sailing...

Sundays are simply the best days for cooking, in my opinion...

I always seem to do those long, drawn out dishes on Sundays. The ones you sit and relax over, the ones you certainly don't rush. I love the notion of the whole house filled with some tantelizing aroma, the anticipation of things to come, and that final glorious moment where what was once tough and cheap, turns into an exquisite heavenly commodity.

Today, for example, I made Carnitas.

Carnitas are a simple dish: Braised then Roasted pork. They are, undoubtedly, one of the greatest pork dishes ever. Why so great? Simple - Cheap, Easy, Fuck-Off Delicious. And I'm not kidding with my description there. There is so much flavor and tenderness involved with this dish, it's unreal. The kicker in all of this is how insanely easy it is to make if you have the patience.

Pork Carnitas

2# Pork Shoulder, cut up into small pieces
2 t Kosher Salt
2 t Ground Black Pepper
2 t Ground Oregano
1 Onion, roughly chopped
1/2 cup White Wine
1/2 t Cumin
1/2 t Chili Powder
Water, enough to cover pork

Start by heating 1 T of oil over medium heat in a heavy pan with a lid. (You will NOT need more oil than this...)
Toss the cut up pieces of pork in a bowl with the Salt, Pepper and Oregano and coat generously.
Sear the meat in the pan, in batches, until evenly browned. Set aside.(The fat from the pork with quickly melt into the pan leaving plenty to saute the onion with...)
Add the onion to the pan and saute until golden.
Deglaze the pan with the white wine and simmer until reduced by 3/4.
Add the meat back into the pan, also adding the Cumin and Chili Powder.
Cover with JUST enough water to cover the pork and simmer over low heat for 4 hours.
After the four hours have passed, drain the pork into a collander and place in a bowl. Shred the pork with your fingers or two forks.

From this point, the pork is ready to be eaten but you can take one more step if you wish: Roast or fry the shredded pork until slightly crisp.


This is a winning meal, hands down. I topped the Carnitas with a freshly made Pico de Gallo, torn up some Cilantro for the plate, and put down a little spicy chipotle sauce for effect. Paired with a couple of Mojitos and some fresh baked White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies, there is no better to have spent a Sunday evening.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


My initial thought, as I stood in front of the grill basting Baby Back Ribs with a smoky BBQ sauce, was that I wish there were more warm-weather Patriotic holidays. Just as quickly as I thought that, I slapped myself with a hearty dose of "obvious" and realized: I should be doing this shit all year!

Much like Turkey at Thanksgiving, the 4'th of July sticks out as a day exclusively for BBQ. A day when I'm willing to spend a little more and go a little further for dinner. I'm not sure why, though. Aside from there being some excellent sales on Meat this past week at the various grocery stores in the area, I've never fully committed to the notion of firing up the grill and knocking out a couple of racks of ribs.

What's more disturbing is that my love of all things Pork dictates that I should be doing a hell of a lot more BBQing than I currently am.

To be fair though, cooking is about production for me. I love the idea of sitting down to a meal where I've poured my heart into it, but that just ain't my way. When you go to a restaurant you see YOUR plate, very few people think about the hundreds of OTHER plates the pour out of a kitchen every day of every week of every... You get the picture.

Generally, I'm in production mode when I cook. I think of dinner the way I think of anything else: How do I get these all knocked out, over and over, the exact same way? I just don't have time for charcoal and slow cooking, at least that what I keep telling myself...

So after many hours of labor Friday, Kerrie and I sat down to a nice 'Merican meal of Baby Back Ribs, Chipotle Sweet Corn, and Buttermilk Biscuits.

We ended the meal with some Peach Cobbler and an evening on the porch watching the sky light up. In the end, the truth remains: I need to do more BBQ...

Sam Spence - The Lineman
Incredible Bongo Band - Let the Be Drums
Joan Jett - Bad Reputation
Mojo Nixon - UFO's, Big Rigs, and BBQ