Podcast #42: Bacon, Lettuce and TomatoCAST

August 18, 2010

Back by popular demand and Saveur.com is our Ultimate BLT post from 2007!

My dear friend Christine Nunn, who helped me with this project has since opened her own restaurant in Fair Lawn, New Jersey — Picnic, The Restaurant, where you can get the Ultimate BLT as an appetizer for a limited time or while summer Jersey tomatoes run out!

Click Here To Listen to the Bacon, Lettuce and TomatoCAST!

Click Here for a Hi-Res Slide Show with More Photos!

Related OTB Post: No Bacon? “P”, L and T

Ah, the BLT. In many ways, it is the ultimate and perfect expression of the sandwich, simple and yet one of the best possible sandwiches that you can eat. Still, the perfect BLT can be elusive, as most restaurants and people do not take the exacting level of care in order to construct the best BLT possible. Skimp on any of the ingredients, or use a component that is substandard in any way, and the entire sandwich fails.

In order to build the Ultimate BLT, one must be committed in Zen-like fashion to go to great lengths to source pristine ingredients. Indeed, an entire afternoon could be spent in trying to get all the right components, at considerable expense. It is neither a cheap nor an efficient affair, but it is well worth the effort.

To build the Ultimate BLT, I collaborated with CIA-trained chef Christine Nunn of Picnic Caterers in Emerson, New Jersey, who came up with some great ideas, sourced some fantastic bread and tomatoes for us and assembled the incredible sandwiches you’re about to see.

Do you want to see how the Ultimate BLT is constructed? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

Read the rest of this entry »


More About Gumbo

September 8, 2007

Click for Hi-Res Slideshow

It could be said that more than anything else served in New Orleans, Gumbo (click for related OTB post) is the signature dish that defines Louisiana cuisine. At the end of the day it is a soup, but it is so much more than a soup — it incorporates all of the flavors and characteristics and personality of both the Creole and Cajun cultures.

It’s also the reason for an event — making a Gumbo is an excuse for a party and to invite friends and family over to eat. Kids graduating from high school? Make a Gumbo. Daughter getting married? Make a Gumbo. The world is coming to an end? Make a Gumbo.

The Saints are gonna make it to the superbowl? Make a really big pot of Gumbo.

Gumbo is also a dish that has tremendous variety, and every restaurant and family has different recipes. There are also different “schools” of Gumbo cooking and proponents of doing things one way or another — such as the choice of either Okra or Filé to act as a thickener, and when and how they are used in the cooking process, and in what combinations.

I’ve been told by a number of Louisianans that “there ain’t no rules” when it comes to what you can put in a Gumbo, but there are certainly general guidelines.

Most Louisiana cooks agree that a Gumbo needs to start with a roux, or flour that has been cooked in liquid fat until it has browned to a certain degree. That degree of brownness varies with different types of gumbo and in what parts of Louisiana the gumbo is made, it could be a blonde roux, a peanut buttery roux, a reddish roux, a dark roux — but it’s gotta have a roux. Now, I’ve had gumbos sans-roux in New Orleans (the most notable one was at Bozo’s in Metairie) but to quote Robert Peyton, “That’s not a gumbo. That’s a soup with okra in it.”

To understand the process a bit better, I visited Chef Kenneth Smith at The Upperline Restaurant in New Orleans’ Garden District to learn how he makes one of my favorite gumbos in the city, a dark roux duck and andouille sausage gumbo.

The procedure is very straightforward and can be adapted to making other kinds of gumbos, such as the traditional Chicken and Sausage gumbo or an Okra/Seafood gumbo. The difference here is that Ken is using a stock made from roasted duck carcasses and beef trimmings, but you could just as easily use a chicken stock or even a seafood or fish stock.

Got a big turkey carcass leftover from the holidays? Use that and make it into stock. Some people just use water as the liquid base. After making the soup part and it has simmered and thickened for about an hour, it’s traditional to add the raw and steamed seafood or cooked meat (pulled chicken or turkey meat, lump crab) to heat up/cook in the soup for a few minutes before serving.

Creole Chef Kenneth Smith at Upperline Restaurant in New Orleans preparing Duck and Sausage Gumbo. 

Want to learn how to make a great seafood gumbo at home? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

Read the rest of this entry »


New Orleans Dining: Parasol’s

September 5, 2007

Editor’s Note: Parasol’s has changed ownership as of 2010 and is no longer a dive and the food is even better. Check out my updated writeup here.

For our first lunch in New Orleans, we wanted something truly native, and so we decided to head over to Parasol’s, a beat-up, divey Irish bar in New Orleans’ Irish Channel. We were recommended by Sara Roahen, former New Orleans Gambit food critic and author of the upcoming February 2008 book Gumbo Tales, who waxes rhapsodic about Parasol’s in an entire chapter dedicated to the Roast Beef Po Boy.

Parasol’s, on Constance Street in the Irish Channel. Parasol’s is best known for its Roast Beef Po Boys. Don’t be afraid to go in, everyone is friendly.

Parasol’s is a dive by even New Orleans’ standards, but it serves the best Roast Beef Po Boy in town. Click on the “read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sausage Fritatta: Breakfast of Champions

August 22, 2007

Click for Hi-Res Photos!

With every impending vacation, there is always the need to clean out the refrigerator of leftovers. I hate food waste, and while I don’t like eating leftovers, there are creative things you can do with them. One of the best ways to use up leftover meat and vegetables is to make a fritatta, a kind of fancy Italian omelet.

Here I’ve taken leftover sausage from our Sausage and Pepper subs , heated them up in a nonstick pan, and sauteed them up with chopped garlic, fresh cherry tomatoes, basil and parsley from the garden. Then I added four beaten large eggs, with a little bit of milk added, seasoned with salt and fresh ground pepper, and lowered the heat to low heat, slowly heating the eggs thru and peeling back the sides of the omelet so the uncooked egg on top runs down to the bottom of the pan. Then I added chopped up leftover fresh mozzarella cheese. After cooking the eggs for about four minutes on low, I put the pan under the broiler in my toaster oven to melt the cheese and cook the top of the fritatta for about 3 minutes. Then I used a rubber spatula to run along the sides of the omelet to make sure everything is well cooked. After letting the fritatta rest for a few minutes, I cut it into two big pieces. Serve with toast and coffee.

Fritatta closeup.


In Rememberance of the Sangweech

August 20, 2007

In just a matter of days Rachel and I will be heading to points South — Atlanta and then New Orleans for a much needed vacation (where we will keep everyone up to date on where we eat, of course!)

At this post on Hedonia, I was reminded of one of my favorite sandwiches from New Orleans, the Muffuletta, which is served throughout the city (and mail order at Progress Grocery) but has made its mark at Central Grocery on Decatur Street in the French Quarter.

The muffuletta is essentially an Italian cold cut sandwich, served on a special round loaf baked specifically for muffulettas. It’s got alternating layers of cheese and different kinds of ham and salamis, but what makes it particularly special is Central Grocery’s Olive Salad which you can also buy by the jar. It’s a secret recipe of different kinds of pickled vegetables including both black and green olives, cauliflower, carrots , roasted red peppers, garlic, oregano and other seasonings.

Two years ago, for the 4th of July, we decided we were going to make a muffuletta of our own, but “Jersey style”. This would be an utterly gigantic sandwich meant to serve six people for a picnic at our local park while we watch the fireworks. The “Sangweech” as it became to be called was an entire Ciabatta loaf that was hollowed out and utterly filled to the brim with six types of Italian cold cuts, provolone and mozzarella cheese, artichoke hearts, preserved roasted red peppers, arugula and basil, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and then compressed with a heavy weight overnight in the refrigerator while sealed in a plastic bag.

A closeup of the Sangweech.

The Sangweech. Notice how it takes up almost the entire chopping board and is sitting next to the knife block for approximate scale. It was MASSIVE.

A slice of the Sangweech after being compressed overnight with a heavy weight.

My buddy Andy Kim attempting to eat a piece of Sangweech. Andy and his wife, Lin, have now moved out to Los Angeles. We miss them so, if not because there are few opportunities now for making Sangweeches.


NJ Dining: Nha Trang Place

August 20, 2007

Click for Hi-Res Slide Show!

Nha Trang Place
249 Newark Ave, Jersey City, NJ
(201) 239-1988

In my previous post about Binh Duong in Bloomfield I talked about how I love to eat Vietnamese food, particularly during the hot summer months. My favorite traditional-style Vietnamese restaurant is Nha Trang Place, in Jersey City — which just happens for me to be the most pain-in-the-ass one to get to, because of all the traffic and lights associated with getting there. But if you persevere, you will be rewarded with authentic Vietnamese cuisine of the like that compares with the best in NYC’s Chinatown, and even in places like the New Orleans suburbs where the best Vietnamese food in the entire country can be found.

Nha Trang storefront on Newark Ave in Jersey City. Nha Trang has an ample parking lot next door, it’s a huge restaurant. You will also see signage for “Miss Saigon” and “Pho Thanh Hoi”, which were the two previous incarnations of the same restaurant that they never bothered to take down.

Nha Trang is the best traditional Vietnamese restaurant in Northern New Jersey. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

Read the rest of this entry »


Nice Weather = WEBER (XII): Sausage and Peppers

August 19, 2007

Sausage and Peppers are among my favorite things to grill — it’s a simple, hearty dish, and in my opinion the greatest contribution to the backyard barbecue by the Italian-American culture. Next to Hamburgers and Hot Dogs, it rates in my top 5 of ideal summer foods. The dish has been immortalized in numerous films and on television by shows and movies such as The Sopranos and Goodfellas. But like the bold and intimidating characters in those films, a sausage and peppers sandwich requires dealing it an appropriate amount of respect and care — you need to source the proper ingredients and cook it properly.

Optimally you want to get your sausage from a specialty Italian deli or butcher, or from any kind of reputable butcher shop that makes sausage fresh. This sausage is from Vitamia and Sons in Lodi, New Jersey, a very Italian neighborhood with lots of specialty Italian stores in it. I don’t particularly like to use supermarket cheapo bulk-pack Italian sausage because the fat content is way too high, and that kind of stuff is much better for rendering the grease out and using the meat in things like tomato sauces where you need to add a lot of sausage flavor.

_sausage1-1.JPG

These are sausages from Pete’s Meat in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market in ‘da Bronx. This is another one of my very favorite places for buying Italian sausages. Here we’ve got the three basic kinds — sweet, seasoned with fennel seed, hot with pepperoncini chili flakes, and parsley/cheese. All are great for use in Sausage and Pepper subs, so I usually buy a mix.

I like to use a mix of different types of peppers for my subs. Medium-thick walled Italian style frying peppers such as the Cubanelle are great to use, as are Latino and Eastern-European styles such as the long Hungarian types. I particularly like Mexican Ancho and Anaheim/New Mexico style peppers for sandwiches. The smaller spicy style pepperoncinos are great for mixing into your pepper assortment as well. You could also use regular thick-walled Green Bell peppers, but I don’t particularly like them — I like to wait until they go completely red because I hate the grassy flavor of the green kind. For onions I like to use a combination of sweet Texas/Vidalia and Bermuda/Red types.

I like my peppers to be skinless when eaten on a sandwich, particularly if they are of the larger, thicker walled kind such as the Green/Red Bell, Cubanelle or Ancho/Anaheim/New Mexico type. I find that removing the skin also removes most of the bitterness and that grassy, astringent taste that I don’t like. Roasting the peppers directly over your burner or an open fire takes care of this problem.

Once you get your peppers completely charred and black on the outside, put them all in a plastic container, close the lid, and let them cool down for about 15-20 minutes. They will steam up and the skin will loosen, and you should be able to slide most of the skin off with your fingers. You can then run them under the water to remove any excess skin, and then cut them open and remove the ribs, seeds and inedible core part. If you get a little charred black skin that doesn’t come off, it’s no big deal as it adds some nice charred flavor. I then like to chop the peppers up into bite sized pieces and saute it with some olive oil, garlic, and season it with salt and pepper. Thinner walled/thinner skinned and smaller peppers can be cut up raw and sauteed with the other peppers, or you can grill them with the onions and sausage.

Sausages should be grilled on low heat with the lid closed so they can cook through and don’t get burned up in flare-ups. A way you can keep the heat under control is to grill your slices of onion around your sausage so they give up their moisture. Before grilling, I like to toss my onions and other vegetables (Eggplant slices, Zucchini, Corn) in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Finished sausage and pepper sub. I like to get a nice crusty loaf of bread for this purpose and toast it on grill.

Sausage and Pepper Sub closeup. A New Jersey and Italian-American classic. The sausages I used for this sandwich came from Bartolomeo in Palisades Park, NJ.


NJ Dining: Vitamia and Sons

August 16, 2007

Click for Hi-Res Slideshow!

Vitamia & Sons
206 Harrison Ave, Lodi NJ 07644
(800)PASTA-UNO

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

Sometimes you can only find the best places by sheer accident, or as a result of a string of unfortunate events.

About two weeks ago New Jersey experienced a severe rain and lightning storm which disabled a critical water treatment plant that caused our local water supplier, United Water, to issue an advisory requiring all Bergen County residents to boil their water before consuming, affecting approximately 800,000 people. This also caused our local health department to shut down just about every restaurant in the county. Unfortunately, this happened on a Saturday, one of the busiest restaurant days of the week. Jon and I originally planned to visit Lodi Pizza on a recommendation from Carlo Bartolomeo, the owner of my favorite local Italian deli in Palisades Park. When we got to Lodi Pizza, it was closed — as was just about every local food business. Jon suggested we drive around Lodi and intentionally “get lost” and see what other local food options we should explore, since we never really hang out in Lodi.

Eventually, we drove down Harrison Avenue and found one of the only food businesses still open — Vitamia and Sons, a bakery, pasta factory and Italian deli that has been in business for over 41 years. It was like as if God himself had sent us there. It should be noted that there is a major Roman Catholic church across the street, so I won’t rule out divine influence even if it is from a different religion from my own.

IMG_7997

Vitamia (pronounced Vee-ta-mee-ya) and Sons Bakery on Harrison Ave in Lodi.

You don’t even have to walk into this store to come to the immediate realization that you’ve discovered a fresh bread and pasta paradise. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

Read the rest of this entry »


No Bacon? “P”, L and T.

August 13, 2007

Okay, so maybe you got left out of the Ultimate BLT post because you don’t eat bacon. Not to worry, my Kosher, Halal and porcine-averse friends. Do I have a sandwich for you!

Frying up some Pastrami

Fry up some pastrami in a cast iron pan until it becomes real crisp, just like bacon.

A Bed of Fried Pastrami for the PLT

Layer onto your favorite fresh bread.

The PLT

Add fresh lettuce and tomato per Ultimate BLT guidelines. Use a combination of spicy deli mustard with mayo, or just use mustard if you’re afraid of getting hit by a bolt of lightning.


Summer Latkes

August 4, 2007

Click Here for Hi-Res Slide Show!

New Jersey has some of the best summer corn in the entire nation. During the height of summer, corn is plentiful, and it’s not unusual to be able to buy a dozen ears for a few dollars – so many families load up for weekend backyard barbecues. Since your average sized family has trouble consuming a dozen cooked ears of corn, there is the inevitable leftovers. What to do with it? You make latkes.

Corn Latkes

3 ears of cooked corn, grated
1 small onion, grated
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp hot sauce (Tabasco, Louisiana, Sriracha)
1 tsp freshly chopped herbs (we used parsley & chives)
1/2 cup corn meal
1/2-1 cup self rising flour
bacon grease and/or corn or peanut oil

IMG_7799-1

Combine corn, onion, eggs, salt, pepper, herbs and corn meal.

IMG_7801-1

Fold in flour (use less for pancakes, more for deep fried fritters, about 3/4 cup for shallow fried fritters) while pan is heating.

IMG_7804-1

Sriracha Sauce is a great hot sauce to use for all sorts of everyday cooking applications.

IMG_7803-1

Give it a nice squirt and fold into batter.

IMG_7813-1

Heat up your cast iron skillet (or griddle for pancakes). When skillet is hot, add fat to pan, just a little for pancakes (butter), cover the bottom for shallow frying (a combination of bacon grease and oil is good), or use a dutch oven for deep fat frying (just use oil for deep fat frying). Use a small ice cream scoop to evenly portion the latkes/fritters.

IMG_7810-1

Cook until golden brown.

IMG_7818-1

Remove to a rack and sprinkle lightly with salt

Corn Latkes

Serve plain or with maple syrup.