Author Archives: Jeffrey Thal
Two words that get MY heart all a-twitter (small “t”).
There a whole lot of us out here for whom hot sauce is a way of life; many of us are always on the scout for the next great sauce. Me too.
Quick anecdote: I was taught most of my culinary skills at the elbow of an amazing Filipino chef named Martin Betonio at my family’s gourmet market on South Beach in Florida. He had previously been the executive chef at the legendary Fontainebleau Hotel on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, and came to us after a dispute with hotel management. Marty was a lifelong aficionado of all things spicy, and rigorous in his mentorship. Marty taught me the principle of repeatable recipes–the ability to reproduce recipes exactly every time, so that flavors never vary.
Marty instilled in me the one single rule for making food spicy: “Any boob can make food spicy,” he always said. “It takes no talent to make food incomparably spicy. All you have to do is be able to pour. What takes talent is making very spicy food tase good.”
It has been one of the driving principles of my entire cooking career, and I DO like my food spicy.
And so, hot sauce.
I was asked my opinion of some of the sauces one finds in the grocery stores and specialty stores these days; it seems that there are more and more every week. I like some of them, I don’t like some, and some make no impression on me at all. But one conclusion I’ve come to is that it has become an arms race to make sauces hotter and hotter, flavor be damned.
Does the sauce make you sweat? Mission accomplished!
To that I say, FOOEY.
So I went about the challenge of making a sauce myself that was both scintillatingly hot AND memorably tasty.
I think I’ve got it.
And so can you. Make it yourself. This recipe has it all, and I promise you’ll remember it.
Jeff’s Kitchen hot sauce: Thalbasco!
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup diced carrots
½ cup diced onion
3-4 hot red cherry peppers, stemmed, seeded, veins removed
4-8 Tabasco peppers, pickled. (See Note*)
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Heat a heavy-bottom fry pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot add the oil and the carrots, onions, cherry peppers, and garlic, and sauté, stirring frequently, until the carrots are soft and the onions are translucent, 4-5 minutes. Be careful not to let the onions and garlic burn. Turn the heat off and allow to cool completely.
When completely cooled, place the carrot mixture in a blender along with the vinegar and Tabasco peppers, and blend on high speed until completely smooth, with no vegetable pieces.
Slowly drizzle the water into the sauce and continue blending until it is as thin and runny. The sauce should be just barely viscous or completely liquified, as you wish.
Pour the blended sauce, along with the salt and honey, into a heavy-bottom saucepan and bring to a slow simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the sauce is simmering, prepare sauce bottles or jars and lids by washing with hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly, and place in a 215-degree oven. Bring a canning pot filled with water to a slow boil. In the last five minutes the sauce is simmering, place the bottles or jars and lids in the boiling water.
After 30 minutes, ladle the sauce into the bottles, ensuring that there are no bubbles, leaving ½-inch headspace. Wipe the bottle threads to remove any sauce and afix the lids, closing to finger tight. Place the bottles in the boiling water, with at least an inch of water over the lids, cover and process for 20 minutes. The sauce will keep unopened for 1 year, 6 months after opening.
Remove the bottles when finished and set on a towel or cooling rack for 24 hours without moving. If any of the bottles don’t seal ( look for the lids to be indented inward), refrigerate. They will keep refrigerated for 6 months ( but the sauce won’t last that long).
Alternately, if you don’t wish to can the sauce, refrigerate once they have reached room temperature. The refrigerated sauce will keep 6 months.
* I was given pickled Tabasco peppers by a neighbor who grew and pickled them himself. You can buy these peppers from online specialty sites or grow and picks them yourself. Most good garden centers sell the pepper plants in the spring, and pickling them is simple. Directions are on line. Don’t substitute other hot peppers; Tabasco peppers have a very specific flavor. If you can’t find or grow them, substitute original Tabasco sauce at the simmer stage, a teaspoonful at a time and tasting for heat. The sauce won’t be exactly the same, but close, and better than Tabasco Sauce alone. Flavor is everything.
Wednesday afternoon. Been pulling weeds all day…whew!
Got to make dinner for the troops, and a half hour to do it.
What to do?
What’s in the fridge? A container of cooked brown rice. Eggs. Some fresh (zucchini, broccoli, yellow squash, spinach, celery, carrots) and frozen (corn, peas, lima beans, chopped onions…) veggies. In the cellar: onions, garlic, potatoes, sweets.
And in the freezer, a bag of small/medium shrimp, salmon, chicken breasts…
The usual stuff.
But it’s 5:30 and I’ve been doing yard work all day (don’t get too close!)
So…what’s for dinner? This supply list cries out for one perfect thing: Fried Rice. Can do!
Quick and easy–I recommend you keep 2-cup freezer packs of cooked brown rice for emergencies (they freeze well). This is the quickest, easiest, tastiest, and welcome-ist, emergency dinner you can conjure up. Note: we also always have some grilled boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the freezer, just in case. This recipe can be made with chicken, shrimp, or vegetarian, in about 15 minutes, start to finish.
So if you’re in a hurry…
Restaurant-Quality Shrimp Fried Rice
4 teaspoons peanut or canola oil
2 cups brown rice, cooked and completely chilled (use white rice if you prefer, but it MUST be cooked and completely chilled (not just room temp.) before using. This is why I always have a couple of bags of cooked brown rice in the freezer
1 lb. 26-31-count frozen shrimp
1 large carrot, cut into 1-inch strips (roll cut)
1 cup frozen peas
1 small onion, cut into eighths, then sliced in 1/2-inch slices
2 green onions, medium chop
4 tablespoons light soy sauce
6 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fine-ground white pepper
1. Defrost the shrimp in a bowl of water, peel and devein, place in a screen strainer over the sink, and toss with kosher salt.
2. Do all the prep: cut the carrots, onions, and green onions, mix the three sauce ingredients, lightly beat the eggs
3. Heat a wok or large sauté pan over high heat. Add 2 teaspoons oil and immediately add the carrots, onions, and peas; stir-fry for 5-6 minutes, until just beginning to brown and soften. Do not overlook.
4. Push the vegetables to one side, add a teaspoon oil and the shrimp; stir-fry quickly, for ONE minute.
5. Push the shrimp into the vegetables on the side, add a teaspoon oil and eggs, and scramble for ONE minute.
6. Quickly toss all the ingredients together, add the half the rice, stir-fry to combine, then repeat with the remaining rice and toss to mix everything.
7. Whisk the sauce to combine and add the white pepper and HALF the sauce to the fried rice, stir to completely coat. Taste, and add more sauce if you wish. Stir to combine all the ingredients to coat everything with sauce.
8. Turn off the heat, drizzle with a little more sesame-seed oil, sprinkle the green onions over the dish, and serve immediately.
NOTE: if using raw chicken, cut into small dice and cook until just slightly underdone at the step when the shrimp is added; if using cooked chicken, chop small and add at the same time as the rice. If making it vegetarian, but you want more protein, toss in fresh bean sprouts or top each serving with a sunny-side egg.
It’s blueberry season!
Every year about this time (or actually a little bit sooner), we go to the local farmer’s market and buy a flat or two of these bulbous blue beauties. We freeze them in small bags to use the rest of the year.
This year I took a flat for myself and made preserves. Blueberry preserves.
And they are sensational.
With a bit of lemon juice and zest for a fresh jolt of flavor and some acidity sir the canning process, I’ve created a monster of a product. Because I don’t like to add pectin to my products it didn’t tighten up like spreadable jams–it’s just a little bit runny–but now it’s more like a topping. Try it on pancakes. Spread it on a slice of banana bread. . Drop a spoonful or two on a scoop of ice cream (you may never look at vanilla ice cream the same way). Or slather a bit on toast or an English muffin. The blueberry and lemon flavors are so intense that you don’t need much.
Because it’s a little loose I am calling this little jar off goodness “a topping,” not jam or preserves (if you want it to tighten up into a jam add a package of liquid pectin at the half-hour mark). But make no mistake. This is preserved blueberries at their finest.
Try this one yourselves.
Blueberry “Topping” (psssst…it’s preserves)
Ok. So…banana bread.
We have a bowl of bananas ripening–read: turning brown and mushy–on the kitchen counter all summer; we just can’t eat them fast enough.
So we’re swimming in inedible bananas. I know, I know…don’t buy so many. On the other hand, the skins are great for my rose garden, and oh, the muffins!
But it has to be simple, no muss, no fuss. That’s where the blender comes in. Wet ingredients? Dump and blend. One function, one thing to wash, easy to pour–perfect!
Dry ingredients: big bowl, add and whisk. Done!
Extras? Chocolate (or butterscotch, or toffee–whatever) chips, nuts, raisins, dried cranberries, dates, apricots–a half a cup of anything you like. I even made it once with rum and coconut extracts and dried pineapple pieces: pina-colada banana bread. Just use your imagination and have at it.
So. Red onions. Go into any sandwich shop in America and order a sandwich. Any sandwich. The first or second question the order taker will ask you is, “Onions?”
Why is that?
There aren’t too many vegetables that conjure up such a diversity of opinions as onions. Yellow or white? Big or small? Sweet (and if so, can a sweet onion come from any place other than Vidalia, Georgia?) or tangy? Red? Pearl? Ya want fried onions wit dat?
Down south, where they seem to like almost any vegetable pickled, there’s this thing called pickled red onions, and apparently they like them on their pulled-pork barbecue.
I’ve never been big on pickled stuff. Oh sure, I’ve grown to like a nice barrel-pickled half sour. Truth be told, those great big pickles in the barrels at Zabar’s are way too mushy and soft for my liking, although they are a pretty good garlic delivery system. If you catch them early enough in the pickling cycle that they’re still mostly crunchy cucumbers with salty garlic notes, they are okay; in fact they’re pretty darn good.
But pickled onions?
So when my beloved ordered a salad out with extra pickled onions, I found myself asking, “what’s up with that?” “Pickled onions,” she said matter of factly, like I was supposed to know what they were.
“Would you, could you, in a box?” She asked. “Would you, could you, on your lox?
“I do not like…”
She cut me off.
“Try them, try them. You will see.”
So I did.
“Hey, I like them, Sam I am!”
“I’m not Sam,” she said, perhaps the most obvious statement she’s made to me in years, and maybe just a tiny bit cross.
So. Pickled onions. I do! I like them!
I like them so much that I came home that afternoon and made a batch, from a recipe I found on Pinterest. They were terrific; great on pulled BBQ sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, salads–almost everything we eat here at W-T House. And so, I made more. Lots more, with a (hopefully) balance of sweet, spicy, salty, and savory notes. I adapted it from that first pinned recipe I found, with enough of my own nuances, and it’s fabulous. Try this one at home…
Pickled Red Onions
6 medium red onions, peeled, halved, sliced very thin
3 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pickling spice
Pinch dried red pepper flakes
1. Slice off the ends of the onions, halve them through the root end, and slice the halves into half moons 1/8 inch thick. A sharp knife or a mandoline is necessary for thin slices. In a large bowl, separate the half moons into individual strands.
2. Mix the remaining ingredients in a medium non-reactive (stainless steel or enamel-coated) pot, bring to a slow simmer uncovered, and simmer for 10 minutes. In the meantime, prepare 4 pint jars, disks and rings for canning (wash and sterilize). Bring a large canning pot to a slow boil.
3. Fill the warm jars with onion slices and pack them tightly to within 1/2 inch of the rim. Slowly pour the hot pickling brine over the onions until the jars are filled to 1/4 inch of the rim when you push down on the onions. Wipe the rims and threads with a clean, damp cloth and cover the jars to hand tight with the disks and rings, tap lightly to eliminate air bubbles, and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
4. Place the filled jars in the boiling canning bath so that they are not touching, and ensure that the lids are covered with 1-2 inches of water. Return the water bath to a boil and process for 10 minutes (timing may be different at different altitudes–check with a canning resource on line for canning at altitude). Turn off the heat and allow the jars to stand untouched in the water bath for five additional minutes. Remove the jars to a wire rack and allow them to cool, untouched, for 24 hours.
5. Check for good seal on the jars–they should all have popped inward. Any jars that have not sealed properly should be placed in the refrigerator; they will keep refrigerated for up to six weeks. These jars will keep, sealed, for up to a year. Once they are opened all bets are off–maybe they’ll last a day or two, but they will keep for up to six weeks,
Tired of the same old mayo, vinegar, sugar cole slaw? Me too. I decided that it was time do do something a little different, and perhaps radical, just to shake things up a little bit. We hosted some friends for dinner a couple of weeks ago, and needed a plan. We has been discussing with daughter #2 about the graduation party she was planning, and then subject of barbecue came up, which led to the idea of pulled BBQ sliders. Which led to a discussion of menu, which led to a rare meeting of all our minds–and thus the decision was made.
And so, not being red-meat eaters by nature, we felt a dry run was necessary, and thus our dinner guests became the poor souls to bear the burden of our adventure in BBQ.
And what, may I ask, is a pulled BBQ slider without cole slaw? Why it’s just a boring pork (or as often is the case in our house, chicken) sandwich with sauce (think that’s crazy? Try THIS out: https://jeffskitchen.net/2012/08/06/crock-pot-pulled-barbecue/)
So. Cole slaw. I didn’t want to go conventional; I DO have a reputation to uphold, and I DO want our guests to have a unique experience–whether it be dinner guests or a herd of hungry teen-age grad-party revelers. In the end it worked out spectacularly for our dinner guests, and again a week later at a pot-luck dinner I attended.
Tequila, Lime, and Cilantro Cole Slaw.
1/4 cup mayonnaise
4 Tbsp FRESHLY SQUEEZED lime juice (about 2 limes)
4 Tbsp fresh cilantro, minced
2 Tbsp silver tequila
3 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup green onions, thinly sliced
8 cups shredded cabbage and carrots)
1 cup shredded red cabbage
In a large mixing bowl, add the first 7 ingredients (through black pepper) and whisk to combine until smooth.
Add green onions, coleslaw mix and red cabbage and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, to allow flavors to fully combine.
I made this dish for company last week, and it was a hit. I adapted it from a recipe that Ellen found on Pinterest…
…from the kitchen of Angela LeMoine. I think that the recipe as published is too sweet for a BBQ evening starter dish. We’ve tried it with orange marmalade, Meyer Lemon marmalade (my homemade), and for company we used my own caramelized red-onion jam with fresh lemon thyme.
It’s absolutely too good to be missed. Even Stella the dog liked it, as she managed to sop up the last of it while our company had some wonderful conversation and Caprese skewers (a grape tomato, a rolled-up basil leaf, and a marinated mozzarella ball, drizzled with the Balsamic vinegar marinade).
But I digress…
Here’s this fabulous outdoor-living starter, about the easiest appetizer you could imagine...
Baked Brie with Red Onion Jam, Candied Maple Walnuts, and Cranberries
- 1 8-oz Brie Round
- 1/2 cup red onion (or orange) jam or marmalade
- a handful candied maple walnuts (recipe follows…)
- a handful dried cranberries
- 1 baguette, 1/2-inch slices
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees
- Place the Brie in a heat-proof oven baking dish
- Bake for 15 minutes
- Carefully move the Brie to a serving dish
- Serve with slices of baguette
Candied Maple Walnuts
- 5 teaspoons olive oil
- 5 teaspoons pure maple syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- 2 cups walnut halves, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Heat oven to 350°F. In a bowl, whisk 5 teaspoons olive oil with 5 teaspoons pure maple syrup and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Stir in 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary and 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme. Add 2 cups walnut pieces; toss well to coat. Spread evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until fragrant and crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Cool completely.
Okay. You’ve mastered Kansas City-style BBQ ribs (you have, haven’t you? If not, see the post immediately preceding this). We didn’t address the famous KC “burnt ends,” but that’s for another day.
Now I will present to you the easiest, tastiest Chinese-style spare ribs, that you can prepare at home. Because let’s face it. Chinese-style spare ribs are one of your (and definitely my) most favoritist guilty pleasures. I simply can’t go very long without a batch of these babies. Even the strip-mall place makes ribs to die for, but you’ve to go get them (OK, I’ll grant that GrubHub and UberEats have changed the calculus. But still, they will come to you in a foil-lined bag that’s just a bit soggy and the ribs have been steaming and are resting in a pool of saucy grease).
Here is the way to have the best-of-the-best Chinese-style ribs at home–in your pajamas if you wish–without having to tip the delivery guy or gal–and lick your fingers in private, so that you get every single wonderful drop. And you don’t have to share.
So, here we go…
Better-than-takeout Chinese-style spare ribs
½ cup Hoisin sauce
¼ cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey, plus 1 teaspoon for finish
1 tablespoon Chinese Five-spice powder
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
2 racks spare ribs, St. Louis style—this is a MUST! Ask at the meat department counter.
A few drops of red food coloring (only if you insist. The restaurants do it to make the dish more visually appealing and authentic-looking, but really?
- In a non-reactive bowl, mix together the Hoisin sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, honey, five-spice, garlic, and ginger. Pour into a large zip-close plastic bag, reserving ½ cup for basting.
- Add the ribs to the bag, close and toss to coat all the pieces as best as possible. Refrigerate for at least three hours, turning occasionally—longer is better, and overnight is best.
- Heat a charcoal (best) or gas (OK) grill to 275º F (low heat is a must!), set up for indirect grilling.
- Remove the ribs from the marinade (discard the marinade) and place on a wire rack. Place the rack onto the grill AWAY FROM THE DIRECT HEAT. Close the grill cover and cook, basting with the reserved marinade every half hour, until the meat is fork tender, 2-3 hours. You should be able to stick a fork into a meaty rib and pull it out without the rib being lifted off the grill.
- Mix the honey into the remaining basting sauce, brush onto the cooked ribs, move them over the direct heat and cook, turning frequently, until they begin to char and the sauce begins to caramelize (don’t let them burn). Editor’s note: you can make these in the oven if you don’t have or want to grill. Wrap the ribs in foil and cook at the same temperature (basting every half hour) until they are fork tender, then broil until they begin to caramelize.
Kansas City Style Ribs are typically characterized by the thick, sticky sauce brushed on in the last 30 minutes of cooking. The dry rub and sauce are on the sweet side using a brown sugar base, but are balanced with chili powder and pepper, producing some truly finger licking good ribs.
Included are step by step directions to make the KC-style dry rub, an authentic KC-style BBQ sauce, and how to make these killer ribs in the oven, baked first, then broiled to finish.
Use only baby back ribs, and be sure to ask your butcher to remove the membrane from the back of the rack, and trim the pork ribs of any excess fat.
With a 2/1 ratio of brown sugar to paprika and the usual dry rub spices like garlic and onion powders, salt and pepper, chili and cayenne pepper, this is a great balance of sweet and savory with a slight kick. Use less cayenne if heat is not your thing. Bump up the heat if you like, too.
After the dry rub the baby backs are wrapped in aluminum foil and refrigerated to marinate for a minimum of 2 hours, but overnight is better.
If the grill or smoker isn’t an option, you can still get that smoky Kansas City flavor by adding a little liquid smoke seasoning, available at most grocery stores.
Preheat oven to 300°F. Place the ribs, bone side down, on top of a wire rack set in an aluminum foil lined baking tray and bake for 2-1/2 hours. Halfway through, cover ribs with aluminum foil to protect them from drying out. They will be done when a kitchen fork inserted into the meat between the middle two bones slides out easily without lifting the rack at all.
In the last hour, baste the top of each rack with the reserved marinade or BBQ sauce every 15 minutes. At this point they should be tender enough to pull apart with your fingers. Then remove the foil cover and set the ribs under a broiler set to low and broil just until the sauce begins to blacken (be careful here not to let the sauce burn. It can happen very quickly at this point. The ribs should have an internal temperature of 145°F. Allow to rest, covered loosely with a foil tent, for 5-10 minutes prior to cutting.
2 racks baby back ribs
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tsp to 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp Liquid Smoke
2 tbsp butter
1 small onion diced
3 garlic cloves minced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups ketchup
1/3 cup dark molasses
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp yellow mustard
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper