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Porch Pickled Peppers

10 Oct

Porch pickled peppers

The growing season on our terrace was an uneven one. Most of the spring was very cool and wet. By the end of June and early July we entered a brief period of extreme heat followed by an abnormally cool late summer concluding with a warm, dry early fall. The tomatoes didn’t fare so well, but the chili peppers were abundant and as of this writing continue to thrive.

Last year I grew “Portugal Hots,” and “Fresno,” peppers. They too were prolific and, as chronicled in these pages, I used the excess to make pepper sauces. See A Pair of Pepper Sauces.

This year I mixed it up a little planting hot cherry peppers and cayenne’s. As always, I freeze most of the crop and use them when needed; adding the peppers to soups, sauces, Asian or Indian stir fried dishes or anything else I’m cooking that could use a spice kick. But there is always much more than I will need to last a year. So what to do with the excess?

Some of the cherry pepper crop.

Some of the cherry pepper crop.

This year I decided to pickle the peppers. There is nothing like a few slices of hot vinegar cherry peppers on an Italian hero or chopped into an antipasto or baccala salad, so instead of buying a store brand, I figured with all I had, I could make my own.

I deliberated over what then to do with the cayenne peppers. I was very tempted just to make another pepper sauce, maybe something very much like Tabasco, which uses cayenne peppers. Instead I took a much easier path deciding to chop up the fiery red peppers, squeeze them into decorative jars, add hot white vinegar and let the vinegar infuse in the spice of the chilies.

My estimation is that after two weeks, I’ll be able to sprinkle the vinegar on collard greens, Swiss chard, rice and beans or anything else that might welcome the combination flavors of hot and sour. Check back with me later on that prognosis.

Here are the very simple recipes for both.

Pickled hot cherry peppers

Cherry Peppers

1lb of red cherry peppers

2 cloves of peeled garlic

2 bay leaves

20 black peppercorns

2 cups of white vinegar

¼ cup of water

1 tablespoon of sugar

½ teaspoon of salt

Add the vinegar, water, sugar and salt to a saucepan and bring to a boil.

In the meantime, make a few incisions near the stem of the cherry peppers.

Make sure the jars and tops are sterilized by boiling them or putting them in the dishwasher.

In each jar (how many you use depends on the size of your jars) add one whole peeled clove of garlic, a bay leaf and a bunch of the peppercorns.

Stuff in the cherry peppers tightly.

Cherry Peppers

When the brine has boiled and the sugar and salt has dissolved, pour the liquid into the jars covering the cherry peppers leaving about ¼ inch of the jar empty.

Seal the jars tightly.

Can in a water bath for about 15 minutes.*

A cherry pepper water bath.

A cherry pepper water bath.

Remove the jars and if you hear that pop signifying that the jar has been vacuumed-sealed or you see that the lid is slightly indented, chances are very good that your pickled cherry tomatoes are properly sealed.

*I had never done the water bath thing before. I have always been wary of improperly sealing the jars thus imperiling my loved ones with contaminated food. This time I took a chance and all the signs seem to indicate that the canning was successful. Again, check back with me later on that.

Cayenne Pepper Vinegar

Cayenne peppers

Cayenne peppers

White vinegar

Chop up the peppers, making sure to use gloves before handling them.

Bring the vinegar to a boil. How much you use depends on how many peppers you have, and how big or also how many jars you intend to make.

Stuff the chopped peppers into your jars. I used a decorative salad oil/vinegar receptacle.

Using a funnel, unless the top of your jar is wide enough, pour the hot vinegar over the peppers leaving ¼ inch of space from the top.

Cayenne pepper vinegar

Put the top on and store in a cool dry place for at least two weeks before using.

Because you’ve made vinegar, a natural preservative, there is no need to seal these jars. The vinegar should last months, if not years, but you will probably finish it before you’ll have to worry about such things.

Porch pickled peppers

Tomato Sauce in the Raw

11 Sep



Every August or September, Goomba Joe, who I wrote about in these pages regarding his meatballs (Goomba Joe’s Polpette), would invite my family up to his apartment for dinner where one of the courses would undoubtedly be what he called “pasta crudo,” or tomato sauce in the raw. He had a small terrace where, with limited sun, he grew enough tomatoes for a few batches of this uncooked tomato sauce.

Goomba Joe is sadly gone, though now my family has a spacious sunny terrace where, using planters, we can usually grow enough tomatoes for more than just a few batches of pasta crudo. This year because of, let’s see, a cool spring, too much rain, a brutally hot early July followed by a cool August, culminating with an invasion of  tomato hornworms—or any other excuse I can come up with—the terrace tomato crop has been paltry . As of this writing, however, they are making a strong late season comeback and their bounty has yielded enough for at least one good batch of pasta crudo.

The hornworms like their tomatoes raw.

The hornworms like their tomatoes raw.

There really isn’t much to making uncooked tomato sauce. If your tomatoes are ripe, in season summer tomatoes, you can’t go wrong.  The sauce is not exclusive to pasta. It can be used as an Italian salsa or, even better, slathered on crusty bread as a bruschetta topping.

The ingredients are few:

3-4 baseball-sized ripe (but not overripe) tomatoes, chopped

1-2 thinly sliced cloves of garlic*

¾ cup of basil torn into pieces

½ cup of olive oil

1 teaspoon of sea salt

Crushed red pepper to taste

Parmesean Reggiano to taste

1lb of fusilli, rotini, or spaghetti


chopped tomatoes

Put the chopped tomatoes into a non-reactive bowl (glass or ceramic).

Add all the other ingredients and mix delicately with a spoon.

Let the sauce sit or “macerate” for at least one hour. The tomato sauce can sit at room temperature for up to eight hours, any longer I recommend refrigerating and then pulling them out of the refrigerator at least an hour before serving.

Tomatoes and basil

Meanwhile cook one pound of pasta. For this, I used fusilli, but spaghetti works well too.

When the pasta is al dente, drain and add the sauce, mixing well.

Sprinkle generously with grated Parmesean Reggiano or Pecorino Romano.

Tomato sauce in the raw.

Tomato sauce in the raw.

*If you have an aversion to raw garlic even though it has softened during the maceration process from the salt and the acid from the tomatoes, slice or chop it into bigger pieces before adding it to the sauce and then remove it just before serving. Why you would do this, I don’t know.







The Sloppy Joe Account

2 May

Back in 1968, when, according to the imagination of television’s Mad Men creator, Matthew Weiner,  groups of Mad men were competing for the Heinz ketchup advertising account, the Sloppy Joe was a staple of my suburban diet. Usually it was made from a wet mix in a can or dehydrated in a little packet. All you had to do was add the can of wet to the ground beef and cook it up. With the dry, you added water and tomato paste.  The mess was always served on a hamburger roll. Though pretty much long gone from my menu, the Sloppy Joe taste, slightly sweet, along with the salty ground beef, a touch of acid from the tomatoes, the crunch of onion, the sauce drenching the roll was unique and one I still vividly recall.

As it was in 1968, it is today.

As it was in 1968, it is today.

I hadn’t thought of the Sloppy Joe until I noticed a recipe for it on the back of a plastic Heinz ketchup bottle. That recipe and the iconic condiment: Heinz ketchup, the account of which was bitterly fought over by the fictional Mad men of Mad Men inspired me to revive that childhood classic knowing very well that childhood taste recall doesn’t always live up to the memory hype. My kids now are about the same age I was when my mother made it a monthly regular in our family’s menu. Would they feel the same way about the Sloppy Joe I did? I couldn’t imagine they wouldn’t, but who knew?

Nice try, Peg.

“ketchup…not catsup.”

Even without the using dry seasonings or the “Manwich” version, the recipe looked simple, as it should be. But once I began preparations, I noticed a potential problem: the recipe called for one and half cups of ketchup plus two tablespoons of brown sugar. The brown sugar combined with the “high fructose corn syrup” already in the ketchup was going to make this a sweet Sloppy Joe. Maybe it was always too sweet and, as a kid with a serious sweet tooth, I just didn’t realize it. Now as an adult with a somewhat mellower sweet tooth, would the Sloppy Joe be too saccharin for my taste? Should I go with my instincts and alter the recipe eliminating either half or all of the brown sugar. I decided not to do anything and if needed, I would do damage control after the fact.

Recipe courtesy of the H.J Heinz Company.

Recipe courtesy of the H.J Heinz Company.

Making the Sloppy Joe really was about as easy as it gets. I followed the directions, cooking the peppers and onions, adding the beef, skimming off the fat, and then pouring in the ketchup, the brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and then cooking it on medium heat for about ten minutes until it thickened.

Just ten minutes and it's done.

Just ten minutes and it’s done.

Finally I tasted it. This was most definitely the Sloppy Joe of my memory, yet a very sweet one. I sprinkled in chili powder and added a few drops of hot sauce. That took the sweetness down a few notches, but not enough. The damage could not be undone. It was just too sweet for my tastes. Next time—and there would be a next time—I planned on either eliminating the ketchup altogether and substituting tomato paste with a teaspoon of brown sugar or maybe combining ketchup and tomato paste but nixing the sugar.

Sloppy Joe spillage.

Sloppy Joe spillage.

But after witnessing both of my boys licking from their fingers what had spilled from their buns, I realized that maybe I was thinking too much of myself. Why should I impose my so-called adult taste on them? Maybe, I thought, I should just leave well enough alone and let them have their own sweet Sloppy Joe memories.

Ti’ Time

5 Apr

Ti’ (pronounced “tea”) time for me is usually just before dinner. Drinking a Ti’ helps spur my appetite, or that’s how I justify it. It’s what is called an aperitif. In the French Caribbean they don’t bother to justify spurring their appetites; Ti’ time is before just about every meal, including breakfast. The Ti’ in question is actually called Ti’ punch, with Ti’ meaning tiny or “petit” in Creole.

Ti' Punch ingredients

Ti’ Punch ingredients

I’ve heard it said that big gifts come in small packages. The Ti’ punch is a good example of that.  This little cocktail packs a hefty punch and might do a little more than spur your appetite if you aren’t careful.

The main ingredient for a Ti’ punch is Rhum Agricole Blanc from one of the French Caribbean Islands. Most accessible here in the States are the rums from Martinique. And I wrote about some of those in my post Neckbones Rum Diary: The J.M Incident. If you can get your hands on white rum from Guadeloupe or Haiti, I’m sure they will more than suffice in this recipe

Next you will need a small Old Fashioned or rocks glass.

To the glass you will add a few ice cubes. Not too many and if you prefer none at all, that’s fine too.

Take a thin wedge of lime, squeeze it lightly and drop it into the glass.

Fill a demitasse spoon, if you have one, with cane sugar syrup (brown only please). If you don’t have the demitasse spoon, drop in a quarter or half a teaspoon instead, depending on how sweet you like your drink.

In goes the syrup

In goes the syrup

Finally, pour two to three ounces of the Rhum Agricole Blance into the glass. Give it a mix with the spoon, or better yet, a little tropical mixer.

...and finally the rum.

…and finally the rum.

How fast you would like to drink it is up to you. I don’t like to savor it too long, but neither do I like to down it like a shot. Somewhere in between is the desired rate of consumption.

Stir it and drink.

Stir it and drink.

The only bad thing about Ti’ time is that it doesn’t last very long—unless you choose to take it into overtime.

Your Gravy is My Sauce: A Concession to the Dark Side

2 Apr



In the latter quarter of the previous century when I was in college, my dorm buddies and I had many bong and beer fueled discussions.  Subjects ranged from who was the better detective, Kojak or Baretta, what was the best bathroom reading—and why, Penthouse or Hustler, or which album, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Steely Dan’s “Aja,” or Earth Wind and Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World,” would make it into the top five of best albums of all time list (see the photo below for my pick).

Most of the time, the discussions remained semi-civil. When the subject was the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, it could get very heated. In the hot category, though not as hot as the Yankees-Red Sox discussions, was the debate over sauce or gravy. For some reason, for the Italian-Americans I roomed with, myself included, calling tomato sauce gravy, or vice versa ignited personal passions that boarded on the irrational.

My grandmother immigrated to the States when she was 22 and settled in New Jersey. The sauce she made each Sunday with braciole, meatballs, sausage or any other meats that were around was called sauce or, as she would say, “sugo rosso.” So  I am clearly in the tomato sauce corner and, really, until I got to college, never could have imagined that what my grandmother made each Sunday could be called anything but sauce, much less something so…um…earthy…as “gravy.”

When you call it gravy, it makes me wanna holla.

When you call it gravy, it makes me wanna holla, throw up both my hands…

In the gravy corner were my friends from Massachusetts and New Jersey. The sauce contingent seemed to be from Connecticut and New York, where I was from.  How, I asked when I heard it for the first time, can you put gravy on pasta? Gravy, I always knew as something brownish in color and layered on turkey, roast beef, or meat loaf. This was an affront to my Italian-American sensibilities. The corruption of a basic known culinary term. A gross misuse of nomenclature.

“If you’re really Italian, you call it gravy,” was the insult that was thrown back at me when I confessed my disgust at the vulgarity.

“All I know is that my Italian grandmother calls it sauce…” I insisted.

“You sure she’s Italian,” someone cracked.

At that, a bong might be tipped over. And beer was definitely spilled.

“Come to Worcester and my Nonna will make you a nice gravy,” someone from Mass joked.

“Should I bring the mashed potatoes?” I would shoot back.



The arguments were endless and had no resolution.

“Oh, and one more thing,” a bleary voice from the sauce crowd would chime in. “The Red Sox most definitely suck.”

And just like that, we were onto another of our favorite topics.

Since those days, I’ve still maintained my allegiance to calling sauce what it is…sauce.  But over the years I’ve mellowed. I am no longer appalled when I hear someone mistakenly label what my grandmother referred to as sauce as gravy. I get it. It’s what the ill bred were taught. It wasn’t their fault. They were just poorly misinformed about worldly culinary matters.

A gravy/sauce altercation.

A gravy/sauce altercation.

As I said earlier, my Grandmother made Sunday sauce with an assortment of meats; pork, beef, sausage, etc. But on a very rare Sunday when none of the above were on hand, she would make the sauce with chicken. Chicken in a Sunday sauce might seem like an anathema, but if you’ve never tried it don’t knock it. The flavor from the chicken, different from the usual meats, gives the sauce heartiness equal to what you might get from red meats but with a slightly smoother taste. It works and not only as an enhancement to the sauce, but also as a way to enjoy the chicken which, after slowly cooked, remains amazingly moist, the sauce practically absorbed into the meat itself.

As part of my willingness to be more accepting to those not as cultured as I, I’ve decided to make a concession by naming what most definitely is a sauce, as gravy. I hereby extend my magnanimity to those I spent countless wasted hours trading insults with and present here, as I sit on my hands so I don’t hold my nose, my recipe for—Pasta with Chicken Gravy.


3 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes

4 chicken parts (I used two chicken thighs, and two drumsticks, skin on and bone-in)

6 cloves of garlic, chopped

Two tablespoons of olive oil

Quarter cup of red wine

1lb of dried pasta (rigatoni, penne, ziti, preferable)

Salt and pepper to taste

You can make this sauce on the stove top, in fact, it’s probably the best way. If you don’t have the time to stick around the kitchen for hours, a slow cooker works and that’s how I made mine for this recipe. The result, I learned, was equal to what you would accomplish on top of the stove.

In a large frying pan, heat one tablespoon of the olive oil.

Season the chicken parts with salt and pepper. Drop into the hot pan and brown on each side. About two minutes per side. Once the chicken is browned, put it to the side.

Browning the chicken.

Browning the chicken.

Pour the crushed tomatoes into the slow cooker

Throw the garlic into the same frying pan you used for the chicken and cook on medium heat until just lightly brown; two to three minutes. If the pan is dry, add the other tablespoon of oil.

Scrape the oil and garlic into the tomatoes in the slow cooker. Return the frying pan to the stove, turn on to medium-high heat, add about a quarter cup of red wine to deglaze the pan.  Cook for about five minutes tops or until the wine cooks down.

Pour whatever liquid and bits from the chicken and garlic remain into the tomatoes in the slow cooker.

Add the browned chicken to the slow cooker.

The "gravy" is now ready to be cooked very slow.

The “gravy” is now ready to be cooked very slow.

Turn on high for one hour and then set to low for about six hours.

After six hours, if the sauce is too thin for your taste, remove the top, turn to high and cook for another hour or so with the top off until the sauce forms your preferred consistency.

Remove the chicken pieces to a separate platter.

Chicken Gravy (3)

Serve the sauce…I mean gravy…over your favorite pasta.

Top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano.

Enjoy, take a look at what’s in the bowl and keep repeating to yourself: “I am eating gravy. I am eating gravy. I am eating gravy.” Say it enough and you might even believe it.

Pasta with chicken gravy

Pasta with chicken gravy


Neck Bones’ Fat Tuesday Red Beans and Rice

12 Feb

Red Beans

Memorable food moments in film have been well documented. One of my favorites occurs in the 1978 masterpiece from filmmaker Les Blank, Always for Pleasure, the documentary about Mardi Gras traditions in New Orleans. In the film there is a particularly memorable scene, at least to me, where New Orleans’ native, singer, Irma Thomas recites her recipe on how she makes her red beans and rice. “First you need a large pot…at least five quarts…”

irma thomas

I’ve seen the film numerous times, but only on video and that scene has always made my mouth water. Now if I ever had the pleasure of viewing Always for Pleasure at a screening where the filmmaker was in attendance and employed his gimmicky, yet sadistically ingenious technique of “Smellaround;” the addition of the actual aroma from a big pot of red beans and rice being cooked within the theater itself, the gurgling from my stomach would probably drown out the dialogue from the screen.

Instead, the film motivated me to make red beans and rice according to Irma Thomas’s recipe. I was able to find a copy of the recipe in a 1986 book called Totally Hot! The Ultimate Hot Pepper Cookbook, by Michael Goodwin, Charles Perry, and Naomi Wise (Dolphin Doubleday). The recipe, adapted by Les Blank from Irma Thomas’ recipe is much more complicated than what she recited in the film. Hers was brief and simple. I made Les Blank’s recipe from the book. The result, however, for whatever reason, was a slight disappointment.

Since then I’ve tweaked the recipe borrowing much from it, including an enormous amount of garlic. Irma Thomas suggested using a half head.  Blank, who made another masterpiece in 1980, Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, centered around the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, so we know where he stands on the benefits of the “stinking rose,” calls for a full head.


For what I made, I used probably three quarters of a head of garlic, In Blank’s recipe, a smoked ham hock is called for and that is what I used when I made his recipe. Thomas, in the movie suggests  using “seasoning meat of your choice.” My choice for this batch of red beans was Andouille sausage. Also instead of using a big pot on the stove, I switched to a crock pot hoping the consistent, low temperature would produce better results. Beyond those changes, I’ve left much of the other red beans and rice basics intact.

So here, for your Fat Tuesday pleasure is the Neck Bones rendition of Irma Thomas’s version combined with Les Blank’s Always for Pleasure red beans and rice.


2 cups of dried red beans (one pound bag)

6 cups of water

1 lb of Andouille sausage (any other garlicky smoked sausage will work too), sliced.

2 medium onions (about 2 cups worth) chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

2 ribs of celery, chopped

6 tablespoons of minced garlic (or just mince a head—depending on the size of the head)

1 tablespoon of creole seasoning*

½  teaspoon salt

Cooked white rice

Green onions, a.k.a  scallions for garnish

*If you don’t have creole seasoning, you can add ½ tablespoon each of black pepper and cayenne pepper or more cayenne than black, depending on your spice preference.

Beans soaked overnight

Beans soaked overnight

If you are a reader of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries you know I prefer the easy to the difficult when it comes to my own cooking. Following that philosophy, I rarely use dried beans going the lazy route with canned beans as a substitute. For this recipe, however, I think dried beans are best because of the very long cooking time involved. So soak the beans in water at room temperature overnight and then pour off whatever water remains and rinse them again in cold water.

Put the beans in a crock pot or slow cooker and cover with the water.

Quickly sauté the sausage to cook off a bit of the fat. You don’t need to do this; you can just throw in the sausage and the excess fat will just add more flavor of the beans, But if you want to limit your fat intake somewhat, either sauté it and drain with a slotted spoon, or boil it briefly first and then add to the crock pot.

Andouille sausage

Andouille sausage

Cook the onions, celery, and bell pepper for about three minutes in the grease from the sausage and then, again with a slotted spoon, add it all to the crock pot.

Toss in the minced garlic and the Creole seasoning.

Garlic going in.

Garlic going in.

Turn the crock pot on low and cook for about eight hours until the beans are so soft they meld with the cooking liquid giving it all a creamy consistency.

Looking for that creamy consistency. Not quite there yet.

Looking for that creamy consistency. Not quite there yet.

Serve over cooked white rice and sprinkle with chopped green onions.

Red beans and rice

Red beans and rice

Enjoy with a cold beer or maybe borrowing from another Fat Tuesday celebration, this one in Brazil, with a cold caipirinha, the recipe for the cocktail can be found here A Lime Cut Three Ways: The First Cut .

And for more pleasure while you eat and drink on this Fat Tuesday, below is the trailer for Always for Pleasure:

Neck Bones’ Condiment Hall of Fame: Pickapeppa Sauce

11 Jan







The New York Times listed this year’s baseball Hall of Fame inductees in their paper yesterday. The page was a blank. No one received over 75 percent of the vote necessary to gain entry. To compensate for the lack of 2013 baseball Hall of Famers, I’m creating my own Hall of Fame, but not for baseball players. Mine will be for the most deserving condiments on the planet. And they don’t need over 75 percent of anyone else’s vote. For now, I’m the only judge for this award, and I swear I won’t hold it against a condiment if they might be, or once were, pumped with steroids or anything else chemical or artificial. I know in the world of condiments, there is no such thing as a level playing field.

So, the inaugural inductee to the Neck Bones Condiment Hall of Fame is that Jamaican treasure: Pickapeppa  Sauce.

Pickappa Sauce

Pickapeppa originated in 1921 and still is produced in Jamaica, in a place called Shooter’s Hill. I once drove past the Pickapeppa factory many years ago, but foolishly didn’t stop to wander the facilities to learn how such a unique sauce is concocted. So I can only go on what it says on the label of the bottle which tells me that the ingredients include mangoes, tamarind, tomatoes, onions, sugar cane vinegar, raisins, and “spices.” And then, like good Jamaican rum, the sauce is aged in oak barrels for a year before it is sold to the public.

In Jamaica, Pickapeppa became famous as an accompaniment to cream cheese. I can honestly declare that I have never contemplated topping a bagel and cream cheese with Pickapeppa sauce, but maybe I’m missing something.  Pickapeppa is also commonly used an added ingredient to marinades for barbecues, a baste for fish or meat, and stirred into gravies for a tangy kick. I’ve used it as a dip for samosas , tempuras, and fried fish, to lively up a dull or dry piece of meat, or sprinkled on scrambled eggs.

On the website; there are a number of recipes including one for a Creole bloody mary that looked intriguing. In fact, I’ve heard that the sauce has become a favorite new source for  creative Caribbean mixologists.

As a tribute to Pickapeppa, I cooked up one of the recipes on the website: Pickapeppa Pulled Chicken. I’ve tweaked it somewhat, but otherwise, I present it here, pretty much intact.


2-3lbs of skinless chicken breasts, rib intact

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, chopped.

3 ounces, or three quarters of a 5 ounce bottle of Pickapeppa Sauce*

1 tbs of Jerk sauce (I used Walkerswood, another candidate for a future edition of the Neck Bones Hall of Fame)

3 dashes of hot sauce.

2/3s  of a 12 ounce bottle of ginger beer.

*The website’s recipe calls for a 15 ounce bottle of Pickapeppa sauce to be used. I’ve never seen a bottle larger than the traditional 5 ounce bottle, so I’m not sure if it was a typo or not. Either way, Three ounces of the rich sauce seemed more than enough for me.

Pickapeppa with two potential Hall of Fame inductees.

Pickapeppa with two potential Hall of Fame inductees.

Combine the Pickapeppa Sauce, jerk sauce, hot sauce, and olive oil in a small bowl and mix.

Coat the chicken breasts with the sauce and let sit at room temperature for a half hour.


Add the chopped onions and garlic to a crock pot or slow cooker and then pour in 2/3s of a bottle of the ginger beer. You could toss in the whole bottle, but I saved a third to use in a well deserved Dark  & Stormy that I figured would be the perfect pairing with the pulled chicken.

Ginger beer going in.

Ginger beer going in.

Add the chicken breasts, cover and cook on low for four to six hours.

In the crock pot.

In the crock pot.

Pickapeppa pulled chicken

Pickapeppa pulled chicken six hours later

When done, shred the chicken breasts, be careful to remove any bones, and add in a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid to moisten. Serve on rolls or not, and top with any remaining Pickapeppa sauce you might have.

The beverage of choice to accompany Pickapeppa pulled chicken: Dark and Stormy.

The beverage of choice to accompany Pickapeppa pulled chicken: Dark and Stormy.

If you have any personal tributes to Pickapeppa on this, it’s Hall of Fame induction day, please don’t hesitate to include them in the comments section below.



A Pair of Pepper Sauces

12 Nov

I heard tell there was a big wind coming our way. A super storm they were calling it. The terrace had to be cleared of potentially dangerous projectiles. The few herbs that remained were not a threat, but the never ending procession of hot peppers that were still going strong in late October had to be “terminated with extreme prejudice.”

In May I planted two types of hot peppers I bought in the Arthur Avenue Retail market in the Bronx including one I’ve grown before called “Portugal Hots,” a long thin pepper similar to the cayenne. The other was labeled an “Italian chili pepper.” I wasn’t sure what an “Italian chili pepper” was but hoped that it was similar to what was sold in the same retail market in the fall; bunches of slender, one-inch long red, fiery chilies still attached to their stalks. I was assured by the salesperson that it was.

Portugal Hots

In the abnormally warm spring and hot summer, the plants grew fast and when the first fruits began to appear, I was surprised by what I saw on the so-called Italian chili pepper plant. The peppers were growing upright and looked something like jalapeno peppers. Once they were green and fully formed, they were definitely not the Italian red chili peppers I had hoped for.

I scoured the internet to find a match to what I was growing. What I discovered was that the peppers were called “Fresno” and, according to my research, similar to a jalapeno. I was disappointed. I didn’t want a jalapeno or anything “similar.” The plants were healthy and the numbers of peppers on them countless. When the first pepper turned red, I tried it. It had very little heat adding to my disappointment.

A few weeks later, as more turned red, I cut up another. This time I was blasted by heat. And as the summer wore on and the peppers matured further, their fire became explosive—much hotter than a jalapeno, Serrano, and spicier than the Portugal hots that were growing next to them. I had some serious hotties on my hand. If the Scoville scale that is my tongue was any indication, these Fresnos were just a notch behind the habanero in heat quotient.

Fresno peppers

As both the Portugal hots and the Fresnos prospered throughout the summer and into early fall, I bagged bunches and put them in the freezer where they would last a year. Frozen, I use them in stews, sauces and anything else that required a blast of spice. I had more than enough already to last a year so I gave bags away to others who, like me, get masochistic enjoyment when the inside of their mouths are blistered.

Still, many peppers kept coming as summer faded and though some were still green, a super storm was on its way and I had no alternative but to harvest what remained.

As any self respecting citizen should, I have several bottles of hot pepper sauce in my refrigerator ranging from mild to hiccup-inducing hot.  Is there such a thing as having too much hot sauce? I didn’t think so. So inspired by a fellow bloggers at website caled Putney Farm who had a similar dilemma and turned that profusion of peppers into a homemade pepper sauce, I thought I would try it as well. But because I had two different types of peppers, I decided to make two different pepper sauces.

As I do with many recipes, I cull the internet and usually mix and match from a variety I like and try to come up with something my own.  The first, using the Portugal hots, was to be a “fermented” pepper sauce or one I would have steep in a brine for several days before actually pureeing into a sauce.

Since I just used what I had of peppers, the quantities of the ingredients I pretty much played by ear. For the fermented hot pepper sauce, I had enough of the Portugal hots, (green stems removed) to fill up a pint jar.

To the jar I added three peeled whole garlic cloves and two teaspoons of sea salt.

I then filled the jar with water and made sure the peppers and the garlic were submerged before tightening the lid of the jar.

Once the jar was sealed, I placed it in the back of a dark cabinet and let it ferment for about 10 days. You can ferment, from what I gathered, for as little as a few days up to two weeks. I was in no rush.

After ten days, I opened the jar and drained off the water (now a brine), saving it to add back into the sauce. I put the garlic and the peppers into a blender and added back half of the brine along with an equal amount of white vinegar.  Depending on how you like your hot sauce; chunky or smooth, is how long you puree. I wanted mine closer to smooth than chunky so I pureed long enough to get that consistency.

After pureeing, I poured the hot sauce back into the pint jar, sealed it, and put it in the refrigerator. The sauce will last a year—or until you are ready to make another batch next year.

Portugal Hot pepper sauce pureed smooth.

The recipe for the Fresno hot sauce was pretty much identical to what my friends at Putney Farms laid out in their blog post Homemade Hot Sauce. In theirs, they used Serrano peppers. The Fresnos I grew, as I said, were hotter than Serranos, but I didn’t think that would necessitate a change in the recipe.

Their recipe called for 8 ounces of peppers. I had more and adjusted accordingly. Not using rubber gloves, I sliced all the Fresno peppers, but made sure I kept my hands away from my eyes, nose, and private parts until I could sufficiently wash them.

Along with the peppers I sliced one large white onion and minced two garlic cloves.

To a medium saucepan, I put a tablespoon of olive oil. And then, on medium heat, added the peppers, onions and garlic. The recipe at Putney Farms warns of the fiery vapors that will be unleashed from the sautéing of the peppers. It was in the forties outside, yet I opened the windows, turned on the ceiling fan, and commenced the sautéing. For extra protection I wore a surgical mask. After a few minutes, however, I removed it. The vapors were helping to clear congestion in my chest. Just another one of the magical benefits of the revered and cherished capsicum.

After sautéing for about five minutes, I added two cups of water and two tablespoons of brown Demerara sugar.  I cooked all for about twenty minutes or until most of the water was evaporated.

Once the mix of peppers, onions and garlic cooled to room temperature, I added a cup of cider vinegar and pureed in a blender.

I poured the puree through a fine mesh sieve until only the thick skins and seeds still remained and what passed through was a smooth, creamy, pinkish mixture.

Now I had two hot sauces. I tried them both.

The Portugal hot fermented sauce had a mild pepper kick. The Portugal hots, I’ve found, can be inconsistent in terms of heat. Some are very hot while there might be a few that have barely a trace of fire. Knowing that, I still like them for their intensely sweet pepper flavor that when combined with the heat makes a unique taste. The sauce, however, though with a slight, vinegary tang, was overpowered by garlic. I would definitely limit the garlic if I decided to make the sauce again. Still, I looked forward to sprinkling a generous amount over roast chicken with yellow rice and beans.

Portual hots hot sauce

The Fresno pepper sauce on the other hand was everything I wanted. Just a few drops would suffice on any dish, it was that hot. There was also a sweetness from the inclusion of brown sugar and cider vinegar that added to the flavor. If anything, I would cut down on the sugar a bit next time.

Fresno hot sauce


Neck Bones Anniversary Anchovy Sauce

3 Oct

Last year, around this time, on the first anniversary of the launch of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, I celebrated with a batch of Neck Bones Tomato Sauce, the recipe I shared on these pages (Neck Bones Anniversary Tomato Sauce). I don’t really consider myself a man of tradition, but when it comes to food, and eating, maybe I am. So to follow tradition, on this, the second anniversary of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, I have celebrated with another pasta sauce. This one is meatless, but to compensate any lack of flavor, doused heavily with that favorite little fish; the anchovy.

Speaking of traditions, the origin of my romance with the anchovy began with a Christmas Eve tradition. One of the seven fishes (Seven Fishes for Seven Dishes), prepared for that Italian feast in our family was the anchovy. My grandmother was the chef and when I was young, the featured pasta was spaghetti with anchovies.

But anchovy love doesn’t come easily or immediately. The sight, smell and taste of the little brown oily and spiny fillets could cause a child to retch. I wanted no part of it and I wasn’t alone. My brothers felt the same way and instead, on Christmas Eve, we had our spaghetti with just butter and Parmesan cheese.

Soon after experiencing puberty, our taste buds became more open minded and, though anchovies were still a tough sell, we graduated to the milder, white clam sauce. There was now a seafood alternative to coat the spaghetti with.

I can’t pinpoint the actual date when I converted, but it was sometime in early adulthood. Soon I was actually adding a few of those fillets into my white clam sauce. There was definitely something about that stinky fishy fish that was working magic in my mouth. Friends looked at me in horror when I began to, voluntarily, decorate my slices of pizza with the fillets. It wasn’t long before, given the choice on Christmas Eve, I would take the anchovy sauce before the white clam.

The romance was on and grows stronger with each year. There is no chance I eat spaghetti with anchovies just on Christmas Eve. It’s now a treat I prepare every couple of months—and a simple, inexpensive one at that.

I’m sure many of you might have a prejudice against the anchovy stemming from early encounters when, like me, your sense of taste just wasn’t ready for such an assault of flavor. Try to move past that prejudice and give the little fish another chance. And here, to lead you on to the path of anchovy righteousness is my recipe for Spaghetti with Anchovies.

Some of the ingredients for spaghetti with anchovies.


1 small bottle of anchovies in olive oil.*

½ cup of olive oil

4-5 good-sized cloves of garlic, chopped into large pieces**

½ tsp of dried red pepper flakes or a few slices of fresh chili pepper (for this one I used a fresh chili from the garden)

2 tbs of chopped fresh Italian parsley

¼ cup of dry white wine or water

1lb of spaghetti

*Anchovies come in several forms. There are the tins or bottles in olive oil, or they can be bought packed in salt. The anchovies packed in salt are the most desired, but also the most expensive and most work. The salt packed anchovies need to be rinsed under cold water and then cleaned of the tail and whatever guts might still be attached. Sounds disgusting, but worth the effort in the long run. For this recipe, however, I used imported Italian anchovies from a jar and they’ll do just fine. The anchovies found in the tins work too, but are not quite up to the quality you will find in the jar or salt packed.

What I used.

**The finer you chop or mince garlic, the stronger the taste. For this dish, which already is overflowing with flavor from the anchovies and red pepper, I like a milder taste from the garlic so I keep the pieces coarsely chopped, rather than fine.

Breaking up the anchovies.

In a skillet, heat the oil on a medium flame. Add the garlic, but do not brown. Toss in the red pepper, cook for a minute and then add the anchovies. There will be sizzling. Stir the anchovies around the oil, breaking them up with a wooden spoon. Add the white wine or water and lower the heat. Once the sauce simmers, stir again until the anchovies have melted into the liquid forming a brown, almost gravy-like sauce. It should look a little like the Piedmontese specialty bagna cauda. Taste and if it is too strong, add more water or wine.

The sauce is now ready for serving.

Cook the spaghetti al dente, drain, and then add the sauce, topping with the fresh parsley. If you are an anchovy fanatic, like my father, you might want to also add a few extra uncooked fillets on top of your bowl.

Though the pasta police prohibit grated parmigiano  Reggiano or Romano cheese on seafood sauces, if you choose to indulge, you have my word that I won’t report you.

Spaghetti with anchovy sauce

Coppertoned Eggplant

14 Aug

I don’t know what is more abundant, the summer eggplant crop or the recipes on what to do with all of them. And here I am joining the fray with one of my own.

This one is not unfamiliar. It’s the summer version of eggplant parmigiana. The difference between the summer and non-summer is that the eggplant is  grilled as opposed to the traditional egg-dipped, breaded and then fried (though my non-summer version is baked, never fried, but that’s another story).


2 medium to large eggplants-sliced into ½  inch rounds*.

3 tbs of olive oil

1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella

½ cup of grated parmigiana or pecorino cheese

4-6 cups of marinara sauce (recipe below**)

6 fresh basil leaves

Salt and crushed red pepper to taste.

*You could peel the eggplant if the tough skin bothers you. I peel them when I am making eggplant parmigiana in the oven. But I think charring the skins adds to the summery flavor of this dish.

After slicing the eggplants, sprinkle with salt (Kosher or sea salt preferred) and coat with olive oil.

If using a gas grill, turn it on and warm it up. Using a charcoal grill is a bit trickier, but the results will be more satisfying. The eggplant will gain a smoky flavor that can’t be replicated with the gas grill. The problem is trying to keep the eggplants from falling through the cooking grate as a sacrifice to the charcoal gods. You’ll need one of those vegetable and/or fish baskets to go over the original grate. I have yet to find one I really like so I tend to cook vegetables on the gas grill. And even when grilling on a gas grill, I usually lose a few through the grates no matter how careful I am.

Grill the eggplant until it has that nice, even Coppertone tan. Tan lines, in this case, are more than acceptable. The char lines from the grill grate add to the beauty of the eggplant’s appearance.

Tan lines accepted.

Remove the eggplant from the grill and let them cool while you put the parmigiana together.

Copptertoned eggplant

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Using a 9 inch, by 13 inch baking dish, (or something similar) spread about a cup and a half of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish. Arrange the eggplant slices on top of the sauce, add another half cup of sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle half of mozzarella over all.

Building the parmigiana

Add another layer of eggplant slices and repeat with the sauce and mozzarella. Continue until you have used all the eggplant. Make sure you’ve saved some sauce and mozzarella to coat the top of the last layer.

Scatter the fresh basil leaves evenly over the sauce and mozzarella and then sprinkle the parmigiana cheese over all.

Put the dish in the oven and cook for about 15 or 20 minutes or until the sauce bubbles and the cheese has melted. Remove from the oven and serve warm.


Coppertoned eggplant parmigiana


**Simple marinara Sauce recipe

1 28 ounce can of good Italian whole peeled tomatoes

3 tbs olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, sliced or chopped. (The finer the slice or chop, the more garlicky the flavor).

¼ tsp of crushed red pepper

4-6 fresh basil leaves

Salt to taste


Empty the tomatoes in a bowl and crush with your hands.

Pour the olive oil into a skillet and heat to medium-high.

Add the garlic and cook until very slightly browned.

Toss in the tomatoes.

Add the crushed red pepper and basil and a moderate sprinkling of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Marinara sauce can be made well ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week or frozen and then thawed when needed.

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