Thursday, March 20, 2008


Easter Lore and Other Celebrations

Big white bunnies, baby ducks and chicks, colored eggs in baskets and chocolate goodies have all become recognized commercial symbols of our secularized Easter celebration in America. This is a major religious observance for many Christians, and it is also near Passover in the Jewish tradition. The Vernal or Spring Equinox is a time of celebration for modern day Wiccans and Neopagans, as well. Even the public school systems get into the act with spring breaks and vacations. Clearly there is a deep urge within humans to note the change and passing of the seasons.

Most scholars believe that many Easter customs have their origins in earlier pagan celebrations and that the name Easter itself may derive from “Eostre,” an ancient pagan goddess. The dating of Easter each year is the result of an arcane calculation process, and should you wish to delve further; Google “Easter” for a wealth of information.

For those of us that are more interested in the culinary aspects of the season, spring is a perfect time to enjoy the savory flavor of lamb. My friend Donald Wertz of Austin, Texas has been the personal chef to a prominent Texas family for 25 years. He attributes his Mint-Smoked Leg of Lamb with having landed him his job. Over the years this dish has been served to a virtual Who’s Who of Texas celebrities. A story about the dynamic chef (and his ongoing influence on my writing and cooking) is coming soon.

Chef Donald Wertz’s Mint-Smoked Lamb

Preparation time: leg of lamb will require about 45 minutes per pound to reach a temperature of 125 degrees- which is medium rare… Medium is 140 degrees.
Servings: a small (3 to 4 Lbs.) leg of lamb will yield 4 to 6 servings

(*Available at Avanti Savoia,

2 qts. strong spearmint tea
1 small leg of lamb
Several cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. Sel de Mer* #35021
1 tsp. Ground Black Pepper* #32001
1 tsp. Tarragon* #32104
1 tsp. Thyme* #32055
¼ cup Chilean Olive Oil, Sol De Aculeo* #10030

1. Prepare 2 quarts of strong spearmint tea and keep warm.
2. Rinse the lamb and pat dry. “Stud” the lamb by making a number of slits around the lamb and insert a slice of garlic clove into each slit. The small cuts in the meat will seal themselves as they cook and the garlic will greatly enhance the flavor.
3. Combine flour, salt, black pepper, tarragon and thyme and coat lamb with seasoned flour.
4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and sear meat on all sides, remove from skillet and place it on the smoking rack in a prepared grill.
5. Coals in grill should be hot with smoking wood added and spearmint tea poured into pan. **See previous article about information about preparing the grill for smoking.
6. With the lid closed the lamb should take about 45 minutes per pound to cook (medium rare). Replenish tea after about 1 ½ hours.
7. Remove meat from smoker and let rest a few minutes before slicing it vertically along the bone.

Our answer for a reader’s question.

Lew Rudisill said- “…I would like to make the Chocolate Baked Alaska for Easter, shaped like an Easter egg. My question is, would it ruin the meringue if I tried to add food color to the reserved bit to pipe on as a decoration?”
Chef Joseph says-Yes, it would! It would break your egg whites to add color after they had been whipped, but you could add a tint about the time that the egg whites begin to thicken during the initial beating. Bon Appetit Y’all!

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Herbal and Spice Mixtures for Smoking and Grilling Meats, Poultry or Seafood

Dry rub mixtures (and marinades, which we will cover in another article) are the perfect way to prepare dishes for the long cooking process of slow smoking. They lend a deep savory flavor to smoked meats and as they are usually cooked over indirect heat, burning or scorching is not a problem. Dry rub mixtures can be made out of almost any ground spice or herb combinations. However, certain combinations can produce the suggestion of any number of cultures and cuisines. I’ve rarely followed a specific recipe in professional or personal cooking, as I have a fairly good idea of what works and the flavors that represent many regional tastes. As this might not be so familiar to you and your kitchen, I have collected a few ideas to help get you started. Feel free to alter the amounts according to your personal taste.

To Begin...
Always carefully rinse the foods to be cooked and completely dry each piece. Do
this ahead of time and place the items in the refrigerator uncovered up to a couple of hours while you prepare your dry rub, light the fire, etc. Remove meat from the refrigerator and hand rub each piece with a small amount of Avanti Savoia All-Purpose Cooking Olive Oil* (#19999) and your selection of a dry rub. Use as much dry rub as will stick (about 1/3 cup for one whole chicken or a 5 lb. Boston Butt pork roast, ½ cup for a small whole turkey and so on). Allow the seasoned meat to sit out at room temperature for 15 or 20 minutes before beginning the cooking process.

The Fire
This depends entirely upon what equipment and system you are using, but the best smoking is always done over indirect heat. This can even be done on a very simple kettle type charcoal grill by simply arranging the charcoal in a ring around the edge of the grill. Like a doughnut with no charcoal in the middle over which the meat or whatever will cook. Amounts of charcoal will vary according to the size or amount of items to be smoked. Do not scrimp on the charcoal because you do not want the fire to go out before you have finished the smoking process, a little experience will help you to make the right call. Light your fire according to your custom (lighter fluid or however) and allow it ignite to a full glow. Make sure the meat rack is clean and hot before you begin cooking.

Wood Chips for Smoking
Most of us are aware of the packages of Hickory or Mesquite chips that are available wherever grilling supplies are sold. Good enough, but there are many other choices that may be available out of your own backyard or at least your own area. Almost any wood from fruit tree pruning will work well instilling its own subtle character and flavor. On our home grill we have had great luck with wood chips from our small orchard (peach, plum, nectarine and cherry) as well as terrific results from wild cherry trees that grow abundantly in our locale. These are the same wild cherries used in the infamous “Cherry Bounce Moonshine”. But, that is indeed another story. Wood from nut trees is really nice too, especially walnut and pecan. I find that pieces of wood about twice the size of my thumb work best for me. Sometimes I soak them in water first and sometimes I use them dry, both methods work just fine but, I think I prefer using the chips dry. I find however that a water pan under the meat rack is very important in producing a nice moist meat. You can also use many different kinds of liquid in the water pan besides water (wine, beer, mint tea, or even soda pop that has gone flat-use your imagination). Wood chips or pieces are added after all the coals are glowing and just before adding the meat.

Cooking and Smoking
Remove the meat rack from smoker and spray the rack first with a cooking spray to prevent sticking. Pour your liquid of choice into the water pan; place a big handful or two of wood pieces on top of the charcoal. Return oil sprayed rack to smoker and place the prepared and seasoned meat in the middle of the meat rack. Cover with the lid to the grill and let it rip. You can adjust the amount of heat and smoke by leaving space between the lid and grill. Turn items as needed and enjoy.

Guide for Mixing Dry Rubs
Whole seeds or spices can be ground in a small spice grinder or by hand using a mortar and pestle. Combine all ingredients and rub mixture on meats using your (clean) hands.

(*Available at Avanti Savoia)

Italiano Robusto
Use 1/3 to ½ half cup of Don Vito’s Gold Italian Blend* #30001 (Avanti-Savoia exclusive) directly from the jar.

Signature Mediterranean
Perfect for chicken; Don Vito’s Gold Mediterranean Blend* #30002 (Avanti- Savoia exclusive) Use to taste, as it is, right out of the jar.

Fiesta Mexicana
1/4 cup (freshly ground) Cumin seed* #32040 Ferri Dal 1905
1 Tblsp. (freshly ground) Coriander seed* #32015 Ferri Dal 1905
2 Tblsp. Green Oregano “Sicily”* #32050 Ferri Dal 1905
1 Tblsp. Picante (Hot) Paprika* #32105 El Ruisenor
Small pinch of Cayenne pepper
1 tsp. Peruvian Pink salt* #35012 Artisan

Exotic Asian
¼ cup Ground Ginger* #32065 Ferri Dal 1905
1 Tblsp. (freshly ground) Coriander seed* #32015
1 Tblsp. Ground Cinnamon* #32030 Ferri Dal 1905
2 Tblsp. (freshly ground) Fennel seed* #32035 Ferri Dal 1905
1 tsp. Peperoncino Flakes* #32121 Ferri Dal 1905
1 Kala Namak salt* #35015 Artisan

Cajun’s Delight
3 Tblsp. Thyme* #32055 Ferri Dal 1905
1 Tblsp. Rosemary* #32045 Ferri Dal 1905
1 Tblsp. Green Oregano “Sicily”* #32050 Ferri Dal 1905
1 Tblsp. Ground Black Pepper* #32001
2 Tblsp. Garlic Powder (not garlic salt)
½ tsp. Ground Cloves* #32021 Ferri Dal 1905
½ tsp. Ground Allspice* #32071 Ferri Dal 1905
½ tsp. Picante Paprika* #32100
Pinch of Portuguese- Flor de Sel* #35009 Artisan

Heart O’ Texas
Inspired by Texas tradition but served in Tennessee for almost 20 years.
2 Tblsp. (freshly ground) Cumin seed* #32040 Ferri Dal 1905
1 Tblsp. Thyme* #32055 Ferri Dal 1905
1 Tblsp. Green Oregano “Sicily”* #32050 Ferri Dal 1905
2 Tblsp. Garlic Powder (not garlic salt)
2 Tblsp. Chili Powder
1 Tblsp. (crushed) Juniper Berries* #32025 Ferri Dal 1905
2 tsp. Ground Black Pepper* #32001 Ferri Dal 1905
Pinch of Salish Smoked Salt* #35019

Catering Chef David Lowery’s Dry Rub
A Memphis inspired blend that has been prepared for years by my brother in Austin, Texas.
2 Tblsps. garlic powder
2 Tblsps. Paprika* #32100 El Ruisenor
2 Tblsps. Chili Powder
1 Tblsp. Green Oregano “Sicily”* #32050 Ferri Dal 1905
2 tsp. (ground) Cumin seed* #32040 Ferri Dal 1905
1 Tblsp. dry Mustard
2 tsp. Sel Gris salt* #35023 Artisan
1 tsp.Ground Black Pepper* #32001 Ferri Dal 1905

Pop Lowery’s Texas Lemon Barbecue Sauce
Yield: About 4 Cups
This sauce is particularly good on chicken but do not baste with any liquid sauce until toward the end of the cooking process. This helps prevent the sugars from burning or scorching so quickly.
Grated and finely chopped peel and juice of 1 lemon
2 Tblsp. of yellow onion, finely chopped
12 ozs. Chili sauce
2 Tblsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tblsp. brown sugar
¼ cup prepared mustard
2 tsp. Ground Black Pepper* #32001 Ferri Dal 1905
1 tsp. Chili powder
1 tsp. Garlic powder
½ tsp. Tabasco sauce
2 tsp. Sel Gris Sea Salt* #35023 Artisan
¼ cup All-Purpose Cooking Olive Oil* (19999)

1. Mix all ingredients together and simmer about 20 minutes over low heat. Stir often to prevent sticking.
2. Baste chicken or other meats towards the end of the cooking process and also serve the sauce hot at the table.

Wine finishing sauces from Leaning Oaks Vineyard in Texas are fantastic on smoked meats. Try the Cabernet* #33240 or the Zinfandel* #33255.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Homemade Stocks

Most of the world’s great cuisines rely on the use of stocks and broths for depth of flavor in many dishes. They are used as the base for soups, stews and sauces, as well as the liquid in many grain dishes such as risotto and paella. Thrifty European cooks have made stocks for generations, realizing not only their culinary and nutritional value, but also their practical economy. Stock is made primarily from bones where broth is made using meat. A brown stock is made by first browning the bones, whereas a white stock is made by using uncooked bones. A combination of both can even be used for a well balanced flavor. Healthful and delicious stocks can be made with any number of meats, poultry, seafood and vegetables and often can be made with scraps that have no other use in the kitchen. Recipes usually call for an assortment of aromatic vegetables such as leeks, onions, carrots, celery and tomatoes. Occasionally, we even use some apple peelings to give the stock a little more sweetness. What most recipes do not tell you is that the fresh vegetables can be augmented by scraps saved up over a period of time and stored in the freezer until you are ready to make stock. Although the stock pot is not to be used as a garbage can, in traditional European kitchens (home and professional) many often discarded items can be used. The finished stocks can be divided into conveniently sized plastic bags stored in the freezer as well. Stocks do require a fairly long cooking time but except for an occasional skimming they more or less cook themselves. A nice vegetable stock can be made by omitting the bones and meat and increasing the vegetables. Do taste your stocks as they cook to understand how the flavor is developing. Yes, of course there are many prepared stocks and bases available, but I think there is something fundamentally satisfying about making your own. When we make stock the whole house is perfumed by the appetizing aroma and at least for me there is always a sense of “doing things right”.

Please note: Salt the final dish made using the stock not the stock. Also, the wine and vinegar are important because of not only the flavor they add, but because they also help draw out the gelatin from the bones.

Brown Poultry Stock or Beef Stock

Ingredients: (*Available at Avanti Savoia)
3 or 4 large onions
4 stalks celery
4 carrots
4 or 5 fresh cloves of garlic
(Any saved peelings and scraps from leeks, green onions, onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, as well as unusable stems and stalks from fresh herbs etc.)
6 lbs. poultry pieces and bones, cooked or uncooked or substitute an equal amount of
meaty beef bones
6 to 10 whole black peppercorns* #32000 Ferri Dal 1905
4 or 5 whole cloves* #32020 Ferri Dal 1905
4 or 5 whole allspice* #32070 Ferri Dal 1905
3 bay leaves* #32110 Ferri Dal 1905
1 Tblsp thyme* #32055 Ferri Dal 1905
I Tblsp. tarragon* #32140 Ferri Dal 1905
Small handful of fresh parsley stems
2 heaping Tblsp. tomato paste
¼ cup Red Wine Vinegar* #25001 Claudio Rosso
1 to 2 cups of a dry white (or red) wine
Enough cold water to cover all ingredients

1. Preheat oven to about 425 degrees.

2. Wash and coarsely chop fresh vegetables. Also wash any vegetable scraps saved from previous food preparation. Use aromatic vegetables pieces and peelings such as leeks, onions, garlic, celery, carrots, and tomatoes. Do not use scraps from potatoes, eggplant, or too many strong flavored vegetables like cabbage.

3. Place the various vegetables in a large stock pot over a very low heat and slowly simmer or “sweat” them. Do stir now and then, but the heat should only be high enough to cook them very lightly, not high enough to be able to cause scorching.

4. Meanwhile, wash the bones and pieces and arrange them in a large roasting pan. Place the pan in the preheated oven and allow them to cook until the majority of the pieces are a medium light brown. This is a pretty individual call that can be varied according to taste; you want all pieces to be cooked and browned, but not burned. A few larger pieces may need to be turned over during the process.

5. Remove the browned pieces from the roasting pan and place them in the stock pot with the vegetables. Pour grease from roasting pan and discard it, pour in vinegar and wine and return pan to oven. This is called “deglazing the pan” and after it has cooked a few minutes the wine will loosen the caramelized meat juices. You then pour the hot wine mixture back into the stock; also scrape the matter that is still clinging to the roasting pan into the stock pot with the other ingredients.

6. During the few minutes during which the pan is deglazing, add enough cold water to the stock pot to completely cover the ingredients. Place on high heat and allow it to come to a boil while finishing adding the rest of the ingredients.

7. Stir in peppercorns, whole spices, tomato paste and other herbs to the stock. A frugal cook can also save the stems from any number of fresh herbs to add at this point as well. (Parsley, basil, sage, etc., etc.)

8. When stock comes to a rolling boil, reduce heat to simmer and allow to cook 3 to 4 hours. From time to time, skim off fat and other material that will float to the surface.

9. When the stock is a rich color and the bits of meat are falling apart the stock is done. Allow the stock to cool awhile and then pour through a large strainer lined with cheesecloth.

10. Cool stock in refrigerator and when completely cooled, scrape any remaining fat off the top The finished stock is now ready to be used as it is in many recipes or it can be further reduced for more concentration of flavor. Place stock in heavy plastic bags for storage in freezer until needed. There is really a lot of latitude in the choice of amounts and ingredients in stock making. Experience will help you discover your own style and preferences.

Seafood Fumet (Stock)

A stock made with seafood is usually called a “fumet”. In a pinch, commercial Clam juice can work well. The richest fumets are made by including not only pieces of actual fish, but also fish bones, tails and heads. (I’ve been accused of making “fish head soup” for years.) Also, shrimp and lobster shells add a lovely color and flavor. Be aware that some people have reactions to shellfish and plan accordingly.

Ingredients: (* Available at Avanti Savoia)
1 shallot
3 large purple onions (any onions will work but red ones add color)
2 carrots
2 leeks
2 stalks of celery
Small handful of parsley stems
Any saved appropriate vegetable scraps
3 Tblsp. extra virgin olive oil* #10002 Colonna
1 cup dry white wine
3 ½ lbs. (more or less) scrap pieces of fish, fish bones and shrimp or lobster shells
1 bay leaf* #32110 Ferri Dal 1905
Juice of 1 lemon
8 to 10 white peppercorns* #32002 Ferri Dal 1905
6 whole cloves* #32020 Ferri Dal 1905
6 whole allspice* #32070 Ferri Dal 1905
½ tsp. hot Chile flakes* #32121 Ferri Dal 1905
About 1 gallon of cold water

1. Wash and coarsely chop vegetables. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Stir in vegetables and cook 15 minutes.

2. Pour in white wine and stir well.

3. Add pieces of fish, bones, etc.

4. Stir in bay leaf, thyme, lemon juice, white peppercorns, cloves, allspice, pepper flakes and water.

5. Bring fumet to a boil, reduce to a low simmer and cook for about 2 hours. Remove from heat and allow to cool enough for easy handling.

6. Filter fumet through a cheesecloth lined sieve. The fumet can now be reduced or used as it is in a variety of recipes.

BBR made a comment recently in response to our Mardi Gras Recipe for Oysters Bienville. “I appreciate that you can use clam juice as a short cut, but don’t you find it a rather one dimensional substitute for real fish stock? Also, why can’t you just use the oyster juice and be done with it?”

Well BBR, to be honest with you, we always have real Seafood Fumet in my freezer (much to my wife’s credit) ready for any recipe. That is part of the beauty of making homemade stocks and keeping them frozen. But, I know not many home kitchens have that luxury and so I suggested the commercial clam juice. It really works just fine. I can also guarantee you that with the aromatic vegetables, herbs, Tabasco Sauce and other ingredients in this recipe it will be anything but one dimensional! You could indeed use the oyster juice (or more accurately, oyster liquor) instead of the Fumet or clam juice, but it might be a problem having enough of it from only 24 oysters. In the case of Oysters Bienville, one could actually use water, because when blended with the other ingredients, it simply provides the binding to hold the sauce together.

Now, just so as not to be only one dimensional about all of this I had a most interesting conversation with my friend Capt’n Andre at the Shrimp Dock in Knoxville, Tennessee. ( The Shrimp Dock sells an excellent and economical fish stock that they make fresh in 100 quart batches. It would be perfect to use instead of bottled clam juice. I asked Capt’n Andre about the oyster liquor just to check with a real expert.

He informs me that using fresh oyster liquor in cooked dishes is just fine but he does not recommend using oyster liquor after it has been frozen, because of the way it breaks down and separates. Also, check out their list of Creole, Cajun and Bayou lingo- Y’all will get a kick from it.


This is a quickly made broth generally used to poach fish or to flavor and liquid to some dishes. Court- bouillon can be used, filtered, frozen and used for poaching again and again; it will only get better and better.

Ingredients: (*Available at Avanti Savoia)
1 cup dry white wine
¼ cup White Wine Vinegar* #25002 Claudio Rosso
1 each: carrot, celery stalk and medium onion, all medium diced
1 bay leaf* #32110 Ferri Dal 1905
1/2 tsp. thyme* #32055 Ferri Dal 1905
1 Tblsp. tarragon* #32140 Ferri Dal 1905
1 tsp. whole white peppercorns* #32002 Ferri Dal 1905
1 tsp. whole cloves* 32020 Ferri Dal 1905
1 Tblsp. Sea Salt* #35021 Sel de Mer, Artisan
About 3 to 4 quarts of cold water

1. Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot and bring to a boil, reduce to simmer. Cook for about 1 hour, then cool and strain. Use to poach fish and then freeze to use again.