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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Songs for us foodies

“On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese
“I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed….”

Ah, all the old and mostly lost (thank goodness) nursery rhyme songs about food from my youth. That one was a classic and I can still recall all the lyrics even today. If you listen to the rest of the song the meatball rolled on the floor, out the door, into a bush and turned into mush that the songwriter apparently TASTED.
The rest of the meatball eventually grew into a tree the next summer all covered with beautiful moss and spewing forth big meatballs and tomato sauce.

It sounds like this song writer might have tasted a few magic mushrooms, if you ask me.

But a huge bowl of spaghetti with meatballs all covered in Parmesan cheese would really hit the spot right now.
The music industry has a long history of songs inspired by food or about food that people may not realize. Many food songs are geared toward children.
Growing up I can recall a ton of children’s songs that were used to teach us basic things like counting or our ABCs. Most of them centered on food and the importance of eating fruits and veggies. I grew up singing the “Ice Cream Song” and the “Apple and Banana” song. I learned all about the letter C from the Cookie Monster on Sesame Street. A lot of these songs were played during kindergarten and the first year or so of elementary school.

They molded me into being the foodie I am.

My all-time favorite childhood foodie song was from the 1934 classic film, starring Shirley Temple called, “Bright Eyes.” In that film Temple sings “On the Good Ship Lollipop.”

I mean, come on — sweet tooth NIRVANA — look here are some of the lyrics:

“On the Good Ship Lollipop
It’s a sweet trip to a candy shop
Where bon-bons play
On the sunny beach of Peppermint Bay
Lemonade stands everywhere
Crackerjack bands fill the air
And there you are
Happy landing on a chocolate bar”

Hello, Who doesn’t want to land on a chocolate bar? I have a huge fear of flying but if I knew I would be crash landing on a chocolate bar at a place where bon-bons play and the beach tasted of peppermint, I would punch my ticket and fly first class.
There are also plenty of foodie songs geared toward older listeners

I loved listening to Elvis Presley on my dad’s eight track tape player (right now, millennials are scratching their heads). He had a food inspired lullaby called, “Cotton Candy Land,” where every star is a candy bar and the moon is a marshmallow dream.


The Beatles’ classic hit, “Strawberry Fields Forever” was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It was inspired by Lennon’s childhood memories of playing in the garden of a children’s home in Liverpool called Strawberry Fields. I used to play to this album on my brother’s record player (again millennials scratch). I could picture running through miles and miles of strawberries.

It wasn’t until I was older and watched the music videos (thanks to YouTube, millennials do understand this) and read the lyrics that I realized this song was likely more about the Beatles on a psychedelic trip than a field of sweet red fruit.

The disco, punk rock and grunge eras of the late 1970s through 1990s typically used food references to mean something other than food. Warrant’s “Sweet Cherry Pie,” is not about pie, for example. Same can be said for many hip hop songs.

But there were many songs made that were true foodie songs.

ZZ Top sang about TV dinners, “I like the enchiladas and the teriyaki too. I even like the chicken if the sauce is not too blue.”

Okay the blue sauce doesn’t sound appetizing but back in the day TV dinners were da bomb.

There is even a song that is just about eating pizza and tacos at the, “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” which sounds like a great place.

The best of all the Southern foods are beautifully articulated in the Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried.”
“You know I like my chicken fried and a cold beer on a Friday night,” the song starts. And continues to talk about pecan pie, sweet tea and homemade wine.

Best food song ever!

And there are just as many songs about the perfect libations that should accompany every great meal. But that is a whole other article.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Hankering for hogfish at the Hogfish B&G

I’ve been craving a perfectly fried hogfish sandwich, the one you can only get from the Hogfish Bar and Grill in Stock Island, Florida.

You’ve never heard of hogfish? You’ve never been to the Hogfish Bar and Grill? You are truly missing out!

Listen, this place is worth a weekend trip just for the ambiance, but when you add in the fresh seafood, it is a must do destination if you’re planning a trip to Key West.

Stock Island is a slip of land that serves as an entry-way to Key West and hosts some of the last commercial fishing fleets on Safe Harbor. The seafood at the Hogfish is literally hook-to-cooked, and outside patio dining allows you to take in the breathtaking scenery and sunshine.

The hogfish is a funky looking sea creature with a long “pig-like” snout. It uses this snout to root up crustaceans from the ocean’s sediment. Crustacean is the hogfish’s main diet. Because of its funky snout it is rare to hook a hogfish on a regular fishing line. Most hogfish are caught by spearfishing.

While the hogfish is not the prettiest thing on the outside, it is the inside that matters when it comes to taste and texture. Hogfish fillets are white like scallops because of their clean diet. The meat is mild and perfectly flaky once fried. Hogfish is often called the fillet mignon of fish. Even folks who shy away from fish are likely to enjoy it.

At the Hogfish Bar and Grill you can have your sandwich served fried, grilled or blackened. The sandwich is served on Cuban bread and the fish is smothered with Swiss cheese, onions and mushrooms.

It is mouth-watering good! I’m seriously considering the 12-hour drive (one-way) just to sink my teeth into one. I might as well call in sick for the rest of the week and go ahead and gorge on the rest of their awesome menu.

The fried hogfish tacos are great, but the blackened tuna tacos are out of this world fabulous. The grill has the best smoked fish spread in all of the Florida Keys (actually they have the best smoked fish spread I’ve ever tasted anywhere) and delicious soups and chowders. One of the cooks hails from New Orleans, so when you order a po’boy or gumbo it is the real deal.

If you manage to catch a few yellowtails or other fish during your trip, the diner will even cook your fresh catch of the day!
This place is where the locals go to eat, and it stays free of all the kitschy tourist stuff you find in most Key West eateries.

If I had to compare it to places I’ve discovered here in Georgia I would say the Hogfish Bar and Grill is like the Sunbury Crab Co., Old School Diner and Hunter’s CafĂ© in Shellman Bluff all rolled into one.

All these places feature down-to-earth friendly people, eclectic decor and ambiance and fresh seafood.
In other words, you’ll be sure to savor the BEST SEAFOOD EVER at Hogfish. And if you have any room left make sure you try a REAL KEY LIME PIE. You won’t be disappointed.

Do you ever find yourself craving that one place you used to visit often? Drop me a line and let me know. I might go check it out during my next food excursion. Email me at:

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Living the spud life

Let’s talk about the diversity of a potato.

I mean there are red potatoes, Yukon gold (fancy term for yellow), russets, white and even purple varieties. Literally there are thousands of varieties.
And just think of all the possible yummy foods you make with potatoes. French fries, mashed, scalloped, twice baked, hash brown, potato salad and even soup recipes come to mind when contemplating how to plate up tubers.

And let’s not forget how vital potatoes are in making vodka and other alcoholic beverages.

Cheers to that!

But did you know spuds are used in a variety of other ways?

According to the International Potato Center (yep a real organization with a website), potato starch is used by the pharmaceutical, textile, wood and paper industries as an adhesive, binder, texture agent and filler.
Some of these companies make wood products containing potato by-products.
That gives new meaning to the term home-fries doesn’t it?

Those potato peels we often discard are biodegradable and companies are now using them as a substitute for plastics in such things as disposable plates and utensils.
If it were up to me I’d add bacon to that and make those plates edible too, further eliminating any waste.

In Canada potato peels are fermented to produce fuel-grade ethanol.
I wonder if that keeps the car engine from SPUDdering!

Okay, I’ll stop with the bad puns, for now. Let’s get back to food shall we?

Any potato variety works when making French fries. A trick I learned from Guy Fieri (no I don’t know him personally. I just happen to watch all his shows on Food Network), is to cut the potatoes into fries and toss them in a bucket or bowl of cold water for at least an hour. This removes excess starch from the spud, preventing them from sticking together while they fry. It also makes for a crispier fry.

I find that red potatoes stand up better in soups and stews. They will soak up the flavors, but not fall apart.
I like using Yukon and russet potatoes when making mashed. After boiling I add some butter, heavy cream (instead of milk), a little bit of sharp cheddar, chives and a dollop of sour cream and mash away.

They are hard to find, but if you can get purple potatoes and you have a mandolin in your kitchen, you can make some truly amazing potato chips.
I leave the peel on and ALWAYS use the mandolin guard to avoid slicing my fingers. The kitchen mandolin is a great tool, but that blade is no joke and completely unforgiving. But it creates uniform and thin slices, perfect for homemade chips. After frying I prefer to sprinkle the chips with Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning. It make the chips stand out and pop with flavor.

My out-of-the-box potato creation is a layered chili potato. I cook this a lot when I have leftover chili.
I’ll bake a few potatoes the night before making this recipe and let them chill overnight in the fridge. The next day I cut the potatoes into half-inch thick round wedges and fry them until they are crispy. I place some olive oil in my cast iron skillet. I lay down a layer of the fried potatoes, top with cheese, chili and bacon bits. Then add the second layer of potatoes and repeat. Place that in the oven at 375 degrees and cook for about 15 minutes.

It warms the heart and fills the belly for sure. What’s your favorite tater recipe?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

That’s a wrap

Some of the best foods come in wraps. We typically call them burritos, but don’t limit your thoughts to merely Mexican food.
Although that is my favorite one-handed grab-and-go meal; tangy and spicy beef, chicken or bean (or a combo with all three) beautifully wrapped in a flour tortilla, a perfectly bundled package of yumminess.

But the wonderful thing about a burrito is that you can turn just about anything into one. It’s all about the wrap.
Whether it’s a flour, wheat, spinach or corn tortilla, once you place food in the middle and fold, you’ve got a burrito.
There are hundreds of possibilities. I love making scrambled eggs with spinach, hash brown potatoes and crispy bacon for breakfast. You lightly heat the tortilla on a flat skillet, fill with all the breakfast goodies, fold and eat.

Lightly heat a tortilla on one side. Once warm turn to heat the other side while sprinkling the top with a little cinnamon and sugar. Remove the tortilla from the heat. Add sliced pieces of pre-cooked pancake, top with a smidge of syrup and fold.
Completely scrumptious!

Instead of a boring Ceasar salad on a plate, place sprigs of Romaine lettuce sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and cooked chicken in the middle of a spinach tortilla. Top the salad with your favorite dressing and fold.
Healthy, quick and delicious.

Barbecue pulled pork, topped with creamy coleslaw wrapped in a corn tortilla and then grilled in a flat pan until lightly brown is far better than having the pork on a bun.

Cook a hamburger patty. Once done chop it into small chunks. Place the meat on a flour tortilla, top with lots of cooked bacon and cheddar cheese. Fold the tortilla tightly and deep fry until the tortilla is crispy and light brown.
Best burrito-berg ever!

Cut your favorite candy bar in half (lengthwise). Freeze the candy overnight. Wrap each half in a tortilla. Drop it in a deep fryer for a bit. Place it on the plate and sprinkle the top with cinnamon and sugar (powdered sugar works good too) for the best dessert burrito.
I could probably turn any meal into a burrito. Especially if I have to eat on the run. The secret is keeping all the good stuff inside the tortilla.

I like to make sure the ends are properly tucked and folded preventing any spills.
With your tortilla stuffed with goodies, place your hands at the 3 and 9 position (like o’clock) of the tortilla and fold them toward the center. Fold the tortilla over the fillings and tuck as much food under the filling as possible. Before making the final fold, tuck each corner toward the center one more time. Finish rolling the tortilla toward the end.

Done right all the good stuff stays inside.

Eating should be an enjoyable experience. Go ahead and play with your food. Experiment and explore your taste buds.
I’m heading into the kitchen now. Going to take my leftover mac-and-cheese, top it with bacon. Wrap it up and fry it for lunch.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Which came first the chicken or the beer? Who Cares when serving this great recipe

The first time I heard of beer-can chicken, I thought, “Why in the world would you sacrifice a can of beer in that manner?”

I mean, it’s bad enough you’re wasting precious beer but shoving the can up the bird’s innards too, jeepers!

Well a few years later and a bit wiser when it comes to food, I must confess that if you’re going to sacrifice a brew, this is likely the best thing to use it for. And if you don’t feel comfortable sticking an aluminum can up the bird, they now have cooking kits you can use.
I’m a purist though. Just give me a good can of beer and that will do. No fancy equipment required.

Beer-can chicken is actually easy to make. You marinate the chicken however you wish. Open a can of beer and pour 1/3 of it into the roasting pan. Place the open can in the center of the roasting pan and slide the chicken on top of the can. I like roasting my chicken anywhere between 375-400 degrees and usually 90 minutes does the trick (it depends on the size of the bird).

If you don’t want to pour some of the beer into the roasting pan, just drink a third of the beer, if you have self-control. I don’t, so it’s usually one can of beer for the bird and one can for me.

The beer keeps the chicken moist and imparts flavor. This same technique can be done outside in a covered gas or charcoal grill.
I’ve found that darker beers or stouts are great for making barbecue flavored beer can chicken. It adds a woodsy flavor profile that blends well with the smoke from the grill and the barbecue sauce.

When I make my rosemary and garlic beer can chicken, I rub the bird with butter (on the skin and pushed under the skin), the herbs and spices, but I also add sprigs of fresh rosemary and a few whole garlic gloves into the can of beer. The beer steam blends with the herbs and spices and that gets infused into the meat.

If you don’t want to use beer, you can substitute chicken broth. My friend used a blend of chicken stock and orange juice, which was fantastic.

But you can’t call that beer-can chicken! That would be more like chicken-broth/orange juice chicken, cooked in the fancy equipment pan thingy.

Some people call beer-can chicken, drunken chicken and I can live with that.

But for me drunken chicken is when I cook chicken on the stove top, douse it with some bourbon and light it up, creating a thick sauce on my bourbon glazed drunken chicken.

I have, on occasion, used a spray bottle filled with bourbon to make my oven drunk beer-can chicken. Same steps as regular beer-can chicken but every 15 minutes I open the oven, carefully slide out the bird, spritz the chicken with the bourbon (then spritz my mouth with the bourbon) and place it back in the oven to continue cooking.

That’s my bourbon sprayed beer-can chicken recipe. I think I’ll call that two-sheets to the wind drunken beer-can chicken from now on because by the time it’s done I am usually done too.

Anyways give beer-can chicken a try and let me know how it tasted.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Super Bowl or did you say Super FULL

Super Bowl Sunday came and went and with it so did tons of chips and salsa, chicken wings, nachos and any semblance of a proper diet. My team wasn’t in the game (forever a Dallas Cowboys fan…get over it) and I don’t like the New England Patriots (does anyone?) so the only reason in watching it was to have an excuse to eat and drink beer.

Well that and root for the Eagles.

Things started off on the right foot during the first half. I served up a nice plate of spinach and vegetable salad. I nibbled on a few dill pickle spears and drank water. During the second quarter as the game intensified and the score remained close, I chomped on chips and salsa. As the game progressed I steadily found myself yelling at the TV screen more often.

“Curse you Tom Brady,” I’d yell and then grab a Dorito. “Someone tackle him please.”
Watching Brady drop a pass after a trick play, actually had me laughing out loud. I celebrated with a spicy chicken wing and a beer.

As much as I like Justin Timberlake I wasn’t impressed by the half time show so I walked to the cooler grabbed a another beer and picked up a hot dog. I topped it with chili and sour cream and down it went.

The Patriots started making a bit of a comeback in the third, as usual, and I had to walk away from the living room. I turned on the TV in the bedroom and watched Worst Cooks in America (Food Network, of course). The contestants had to try and make a pizza from scratch. One guy made a pretty decent looking cheese burger pizza…yep…back to the kitchen I went and snacked on some pizza rolls.

I could barely peel my eyes away from the game during the fourth. When New England scored I graduated from beer to rum and coke and was yelling so loud at the TV my dogs ran toward the bedroom to hide.

I stacked a pile of chips and salsa topped with melted cheese and diced hot peppers on a plate. Added some avocado and a squeeze of lime and those nachos went down before the next TV commercial got a chance to air.

Is it me or was attorney Jamie Casino wearing too much eyeliner? And was I seeing things or did Eli Manning really Dirty Dance?

Maybe it was the rums and cokes (plural by now).

The dogs remained in my room as my yelling and cheering got louder and louder. The cats didn’t know where to hide and appeared annoyed as I ran around the coffee table…cheering for the Eagles, cursing Tom Brady, grabbing another chicken wing, making another drink and eating another hot dog.

With just seconds remaining Tom Brady gets sacked, the Eagles secure the win and I started to jump for joy.
“Woohoo,” I yelled, with yet another chicken wing in my hand. “They finally lost. Go Eagles.” I looked around the room. There were paper plates EVERYWHERE. The place looked like a food bomb had exploded and no one was spared. The Bacardi bottle was half empty and all that remained was one hot dog.

“What a mess,” I thought to myself as I grabbed the last wiener. “Good thing no one else was here to witness this fiasco.”

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Learning the basics of sofrito

I love visiting my parents. Each time we get together we reminisce about family outings throughout the years.
I love listening to them talk about their childhood in Cuba. My dad often talks about having to wake up real early and take care of the farm and cattle before getting dressed and walking to school.

I learned that my aunt was an educator before leaving Cuba for the United States. She used to ride her horse every day to teach third grade. I thought that was pretty cool and beat all those stories you hear about having to walk 5 miles in the snow, uphill, to get to and from school.

But for this foodie nothing beats watching mom create heavenly tasting holiday meals. I spent Christmas and New Year’s at mom and dad’s house. Mom showed me the technique to roast the perfect pork shoulder, cooked just right, so you end up with a crunchy, crispy pork rind.

One of the most basic sauces used in many Cuban, Puerto Rican and Caribbean dishes is called a sofrito. It is the tangy, sometimes spicy and always delicious tomato based sauce used in recipes like ropa vieja (Cuban style shredded beef stew), carne con papas (Cuban style chunky meats and potatoes), picadillo (ground beef served over rice) and nearly any seafood dish served enchilado style (meaning red chili sauce, yet not necessarily spicy).

There are a variety of sofrito recipes, but purist know that it must contain onion, bell peppers, garlic, tomato sauce or paste or both. Those are the base ingredients. From there most recipes differ on herbs and spices depending on whether the sofrito will be used in a meat, poultry or seafood dish.

My mom’s basic sofrito recipe:
One green bell pepper sliced thin
One red bell pepper sliced thin
Half a sweet onion sliced thin
2 diced garlic cloves
One small can of tomato sauce
Teaspoon of tomato paste
Teaspoon of capers
A few sliced Spanish olives
Some white wine if using for seafood or poultry or red wine for meat dishes

Using mom’s recipe as an example, you cook the onions, bell peppers and garlic in a pan with olive oil until the onions become translucent and the peppers tender. Add the tomato sauce, paste, capers and sliced olives and simmer, tossing in salt and pepper to taste. My mom also likes to add peas and does so quite often. It adds a bit of texture, yet doesn’t change the flavor.

During my visit, she made a seafood enchilado with sofrito, mussels and shrimp. As the sofrito simmered she added about a cup of white wine and let it simmer, cooking out the alcohol but infusing the sauce with the wine. Once the sauce was finished, she tossed in mussels and cleaned and peeled shrimp. My dad likes his seafood a bit spicy so she hit the mix with a dash of hot sauce and cayenne pepper. Seafood doesn’t take that long to cook and within minutes it was ready.

It was awesome!
I’ve learned to cook a lot of my favorite meals and they’ve come pretty close to mom’s. But now that I am armed with the sauce recipe I am looking forward to seeing just how close to replicating my mom’s recipes I can get.