Where did Jason go? Bonus: A healthy Caribbean recipe!

January 17, 2016

So, where do we start.

  I had let Off the Broiler go into indefinite hiatus about two years ago when I moved from New Jersey to South Florida. I discovered that along with my full time job and my writing for the technology industry, I didn’t really have the time for food blogging anymore.

To a large extent I now consider food blogging a pastime for the younger generation. I decided that I was not going to re-establish myself as a foodie blogger down here in South Florida because there were already a good number of people doing it, who know the area far better than I do, and who have far more connections in the food and restaurant industry down here than I could ever hope to amass.

I spent 20 years doing that in the NY/NJ area and I just didn’t have it in me to do it all over again. Food blogger relevancy is overrated and it reaps few rewards for what amounts to a lot of work.

In 2014 my co-founder at The eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, Steven A. Shaw, died suddenly at the age of 45. It was a horrible, tragic thing, and made me consider very seriously the issue of my own mortality.

At about the time Steven died I was facing the real possibility that I too would probably die within the next five years, due to my own unique health complications.

I was morbidly obese (390 lbs or so), I had Type-II diabetes, I had hypertension, high cholesterol and obstructive sleep apnea. I was taking a fist full of medications every day to try to keep things under control.

Bottom line, I was a mess.

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A Jewish Puerto Rican Thanksgiving

November 23, 2015

Want to make the ultimate Thanksgiving turkey? That’s bursting with flavor and juicy as all get out? Follow our instructions below.

Thanksgiving 2008 by you.

This is by far the most colorful Thanksgiving plate I’ve ever seen.

So after visiting Guavate, Rachel and I knew that we had to try making Pavochon ourselves, the real Puerto Rican way. This year, it happened that Thanksgiving was only going to be 4 of us — Rachel’s parents and the two of us, so we were assigned to doing the cooking. So if we were in charge, why not mix it up and do it Puerto Rican style?

Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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Passover Recipes from the OTB Archives

April 11, 2014

It’s that time of year again, folks. Here are some of the most frequently requested Passover recipes from our archives.

Passover Rolls

Ultimate Potato Kugel

Veggie Kugel

Matzo Brei

Matzah Pizza of Affliction by you.

Pizza of Affliction


New York Egg Creams

Remembering Steven Shaw

April 10, 2014

I’m usually someone that’s good for pulling words out of my head on hard and complex subjects.

Not today.

I’m struggling to deal with the loss of someone who I spent five years of my life with creating and building what I consider to be one of my proudest achievements.

And it is especially hard because the two of us are the same age, and who had so much in common, even despite our differences.

I’ve told the eGullet story before, from my perspective, at the five year anniversary mark. But I never thought I would have to talk about it again in the context of a eulogy for a friend.

It was such a long time ago — fourteen years — that I have trouble remembering how exactly I discovered him. We were both users of Jim Leff’s Chowhound food discussion site, which by today’s technological standards and even at the time was a dinosaur.

I was intrigued by Steven’s writing on his original Fat-Guy.com, which many consider to be one of the first foodblogs. But really, it wasn’t a blog, it was just a collection of stuff, like most personal web sites were at the time.

It was just raw. But I was intrigued with what he was doing. I was a foodie, but also a technologist, who was delving into things like Linux and Open Source, which could enable a whole lot of things that you could not do before with information presented online.

Dynamic content, social networking, all the things you can think of that exist today did not exist at the time, back in 1999 or 2000. There was no Facebook, no Twitter.

Google itself was only 2 years old. Just pause and think about that for a minute.

I could see that Steven’s writing had huge potential and there was just starting to become available, somewhat experimentally, software that could present information in a free-flowing interactive way that was searchable and had all the things you assume just exist on a content site today.

The two of us decided to see what could be done with his web site, if we could accomplish those things we take for granted today. We found some weird piece of software from Norway, we tried that out for a while. Then we looked at some other things that seemed like it would work, and settled on that.

And then it dawned on us that maybe if we found some other good food writers that were subject matter experts in specific areas — such as regional restaurants, wine and cooking — and combine it with this software, we would have something different than what was out there.

So we scrapped Fat-Guy.com and came up with eGullet. I dragged one of my spare servers to a small ISP in New Jersey and stuffed a bunch of half-baked free software on it.

We soft-launched it in late August of 2001 and prayed the thing wouldn’t blow up on us.

We thought it was just going to be a dozen or so local food nuts having geeky conversations for a year until we got some momentum.

We were wrong.

Both of us were complete unknowns in the food world. Steven decided to dump a really lucrative six figure job as a litigator at Cravath, Swain and Moore to become a food writer.

I thought he was completely nuts. I never had the courage to leave computer consulting and writing for the computer industry to take a swipe at professional food writing, because I knew how lousy it paid compared to what I was doing, even if you were lucky to get the gigs at the established and more prestigious magazines and newspapers.

I always considered food writing and food blogging an expensive hobby, never my profession. Steven took a leap of faith and a risk I would never even consider taking for myself. He was unbelievably courageous, crazy, or both.

I don’t know if Rachel would be as supportive if I had the balls to take a leap of faith on something like that. His wife, Ellen, is not only a sweet, generous and beautiful person, but she also must be unbelievably patient.

We came to a gentlemen’s agreement that Steven would provide the culinary and food writing expertise and I would be the technologist-cum-foodie enthusiast.

We didn’t know if the site would ever make money, but dammit, we would try. I also agreed to pay the bills because Steven had the most at risk and I was the only one with stable employment.

After September 11 came around, just a few weeks after we launched, traffic on the site simply exploded. We became sort of a group therapy session for New York foodies and food industry people caught up in the aftermath of that horrible thing.

I don’t remember exactly how big we were after the first year but it wasn’t uncommon to have several hundred people logged on simultaneously with at least a hundred discussion threads being updated every day. For the time, that was enormous.

Steven’s job was to give the site prestige and legitimacy — which he certainly did, especially after he won his James Beard award. Mine was to keep the lights on, which was no small task considering that the tech back then was no where near as mature as we have now.

We were both young and inexperienced at this whole online community thing (who was “experienced” then, really?) and as the site grew, we were simply just dealing with issues that arose as we went along.

The two of us, offline, I think had a great relationship. We respected each other’s capabilities, we loved dining out with each other and our spouses, we talked about so many things.

We said things to each other that we probably wouldn’t share with anybody else, including our wives. Our worries, our hopes, our dreams.

The first five years were great. But as Steven’s fame grew in the food community, it became harder for me to accept my role, as critical as it was, to simply be the site’s tech guy.

I felt my voice was equally important. I was an experienced writer in my own right, even though all of my “legitimate” recognition was (and quite frankly, still is) in the computer industry.

And while Steven was by far a more prolific poster, I contributed a great deal of valuable food content to eGullet as well.

We were both two Jewish kids from New York with huge egos and personalities to go with them. And I felt my creativity and input as well as my exposure was being stifled.

But we couldn’t have two Alpha Foodies on eGullet. And as the organization of the site became more complex, as we got more and more volunteer staff, I lost more and more control.

And being the control freak that I was (and still am) that was a very difficult thing for me to come to terms with.

So the two of us came to loggerheads. Frequently.

In hindsight I realize these disagreements were stupid and I wish I was mature enough to handle them at the time. But I was not.

There were also financial issues to deal with. Around the summer of 2005 I decided I didn’t want to pay the bills anymore, and the volume of traffic we were getting, in the millions of page impressions a year would easily be supported by advertising dollars.

But that would only cover the hosting costs for the site. We both came to the unfortunate conclusion that there was no way we could ever compensate the volunteers for all the time they were putting in, not unless the site was bought out for a huge sum of money.

Although we tried to generate venture capitalist interest, there were no buyers for content sites like eGullet in those days because the value of that content and the eyeballs viewing it were not well understood.

We were before our time. July of 2004 is when Facebook was founded, just in case you are keeping track of timelines.

Steven needed to make a living. The future of the site needed to be ensured. Steven needed a salary and health insurance or we would have to close up shop and he would have to go back to lawyering again.

So we did the only logical thing that made sense at the time, which was to turn eGullet into a not-for-profit, where Steven would become Executive Director and we’d have a board, with a mission statement and all those things.

To me at the time, this felt a bit like giving up. I had lost a lot of influence in the future of something I was instrumental in creating.

We terminated our relationship not long after the 501(c)3 status was formalized. In April of 2006 I started OffTheBroiler.com, and continued my career in the computer industry as both a technologist and a writer.

In retrospect, and now in dealing with Steven’s passing, I now understand how critical not-for-profit status was for eGullet’s survival.

eGullet survives now because Steven had the vision to turn it into the Society for Culinary Arts and Letters. It survived when he himself left and eventually embarked on a third career at Quirky.

It almost certainly will survive after his passing and hopefully, after the current generation of hard-working volunteers over there has ceded to another generation of aspiring writers and food bloggers.

I hope it exists forever.

By becoming a not-for-profit it was able to achieve a number of things that we just plain couldn’t do while it was another one of my hobby businesses.

Still, it was not an amicable parting, and there was bad blood all over. For me to deny that would be untruthful.

But none of that is important anymore, and I’ve been “over” it for a very long time. I enjoyed my time as an independent food blogger, and I probably should have started earlier.

Despite what many people wish to believe, we did, years later, patch things up. For a short time, I even had him writing for ZDNet, before he went on to become Community Director at Quirky, where his leadership impacted so many there.

I watched Steven’s star rise from afar. He’s respected by so many people in the food industry and has touched the lives of so many people in ways I never could have.

I envy him, and his many accomplishments. His influence on the food writing and food blogging world casts a long shadow. One which will not be forgotten.

I wanted so badly for us to share another meal together. For him and Ellen and PJ to visit our new home in Florida. For us to debate pizza and bagels and barbecue joints again. To talk about where to find decent Soup Dumplings.

I’m going to miss you, my friend.

Broward Dining: Bluefin Parkland

October 19, 2013

Bluefin Sushi & Thai Grill
6694 Parkside Drive, Parkland, FL 33067
(954) 755-0120

Web Site: http://www.bluefinparkland.com

Note: Bluefin Parkland is now running an extremely aggressive “crowdsourced” gift card deal that frankly is one of the best fine dining bargains in the greater Broward and Palm Beach County area right now. For $100, you get a gift card worth $180. For $500, you get $1000, which you can split up into multiple gift cards if you like. If you’re a sushi fanatic like I am, you’d be crazy not to take advantage of this. The cards are good for up to one year at the Parkland location.

One of the first priorities for us after moving to South Florida was finding our “local” sushi place. Sushi is one of our favorite cuisines, and when you live in a warm climate it also is one of the most refreshing after a long and hot day.

But high-quality, authentic Japanese-style sushi can be extremely difficult to find in South Florida. Heck, it was difficult enough to find in suburban New Jersey where we used to live, and it’s still something of a challenge in New York City unless you go to the most expensive and well-known places.

We are lucky enough to live less than 10 minutes away from one of the best sushi restaurants in Broward County, if not all of South Florida, the Parkland location of Bluefin Sushi.

Chef Yozo Natsui, Proprietor of Bluefin Parkland.

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Keftedes Me Avgolemono: Greeking out the Turkey

October 5, 2013

Since moving to South Florida, I’ve been jonesing for some real Greek food, like the kind I used to get in Astoria and various places in New Jersey. You can get really good Greek food in Florida, but you may have to drive all the way to Tarpon Springs to get it.

One of my favorite Greek dishes is Keftedes, which are seasoned meatballs that have usually been fried. I haven’t been able to find any good ones down here yet, so I asked Rachel to see if we could whip some up.

What she came up with was nothing short of amazing. Not only are these lower fat because they are made with ground turkey as opposed to beef/veal, but they are also baked in mini muffin tins.

And they taste fantastic.

A healthier variation of the traditional avgolemono, a classic egg with fresh lemon juice sauce poured on top seals the deal. This can be served over orzo pasta or rice (we used brown rice in the picture, accompanied by a simple cucumber/tomato/feta salad.)

Healthier Keftedes (baked and made with turkey)

12 oz. ground turkey (preferably all breast meat)
1 onion
1 clove garlic
4 Tbs chopped fresh parsley (divided)
1 Tbs dried mint
1/2 cup fresh whole wheat breadcrumbs
1 Tbs grated cheese (hard sharp for grating, such as parmigiano, graviera or kefalotyri)
1/2 cup milk
1 egg white
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Olive oil cooking spray or 2 tsp. olive oil for brushing

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (or 350 convection).

Place chopped meat in a mixing bowl. Chop onions and garlic in a food processor, add all the other ingredients except the meat and 2 Tbs of chopped parsley (save for garnish) and pulse to combine. Scrape into bowl with meat and mix by hand (you don’t want to over process the meat, it makes the meatballs too soft).

Brush 2 mini-muffin tins lightly with olive oil, then using two teaspoons or a small disher, scoop the meat mixture into the cups. There should be just a little over an ounce in each cup. Lightly spray or brush a little more olive oil on top, but do not press the meat down at all, so they will still look like meatballs instead of mini-muffins.

Put the mini-muffin tins on top of a sheet tray and bake for about 30 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. You can make ahead to this point or continue with making the sauce and serving immediately.

Lite Avgolemono Sauce

16 oz chicken stock (preferably homemade, but if you must buy canned, get low sodium)
1 Tbs flour
2 oz lemon juice
1 egg white
1 tsp butter or 1 Tbs cream*
Salt & pepper to taste (no salt if you are using canned broth, even if
it is low sodium)

Combine the chicken stock and flour while the stock is cold. Put in saucepan and bring to a simmer until thickened (if you have a Vitamix, you can blend it on Hi for 5 minutes or so until steamy and thickened).

Keep the thickened broth warm in the saucepan until the meatballs are done (or place cooled meatballs in the sauce after it has thickened and simmered for a few minutes.)

Place lemon juice, egg white, and butter or cream (*you have to have a little fat in there, are skipping the egg yolks after all, you can try it without the fat, but I used a little cream), salt & pepper in the blender and whir to combine for a few seconds. DO NOT ADD TO THE SAUCEPAN YET.

Assemble the rest of your meal (brown or white rice or orzo, veggies, salad, etc). Take the meatballs off heat. With the blender on low, drizzle in about 1/2 cup of the hot thickened broth (push the meatballs to the side a bit and spoon up thickened broth only) to the blender a tablespoon at a time.

Once the flavoring has been tempered you can pour the mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the thickened broth and meatballs, stirring gently but quickly. Put the lid on the pot and allow it to rest for 5 minutes, but do not put back on heat.

Serve over brown rice or orzo with lots of sauce and garnish with chopped parsley.

You should have 24 meatballs, so 6 is technically a serving, but let’s face it, there were no leftovers when it was just two of us for dinner, but still, not an unhealthy meal.

Broward Dining: Saxsay Cafe

September 3, 2013

Saxsay Cafe
8425 W. Commercial Blvd. , Tamarac FL
Web Site: https://www.facebook.com/Saxsay.Peruvian.Cusine

Since moving to South Florida, I’ve been exposed to a number of Latin American cuisines that I did not readily have access to when living in the Northeast. One of those cuisines, Peruvian, has quickly become one of my favorites.

The cuisine of Peru is one of the most interesting in South America, as it merges traditions and ingredients of the indigenous peoples as well as immigrants from China and other places like Japan, Germany and Italy.

While there are a number of good Peruvian restaurants in Broward County, there are none which I would consider examples of the finer or more upscale-dining restaurants that Cuban or Colombian cuisine have in this area, for example.

The newly re-opened Saxsay, in Tamarac (Formerly Sunrise) plans to change that.

Peruvian food can be sophisticated, as Saxsay in Tamarac shows. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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