Homemade Smoked Salmon

I really dislike smoked salmon.  However, my wife loves it nearly as much as she loves me (quite a bit… I don’t want to give the wrong impression!).  Now that we have a smoker I decided to see if I could recreate her favorite “Salmon Candy” that she used to get at Whole Foods in NYC.  After doing some research online, I decided to dive in and give it a try.  The end result was impressive and she absolutely loved it.  Hooray for the good husband!

Step 1:  Brine the fish.

I looked around the web for a brine recipe that would recreate the flavor of Salmon Candy, and couldn’t find anything.  I put together the following for 1.5 pounds of salmon:

5 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 Qt. COLD water
2 oz Kosher salt
2/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
3-4 Tbsp Tamari

Once the salt and sugar were dissolved, I dropped in the fish and covered the whole container.

Step 2:  Let sit overnight.  For a saltier fish, brine for 24 hours, but LESS THAN 48!!

Step 3:  Air dry the fish on a rack in an area below 70F.  I put it in front of the air conditioner vent to ensure this was the case.  Dry for two hours so the pellicle forms.  Due to the brine, the fish will be OK at this temperature.

Step 4:  About an hour before the fish is done drying, start soaking the wood.  In this case I used Alder wood.

Step 5:  About 20 minutes before the fish is dry, start the smoker, load the box, and get the heat up to about 200F.

Step 6:  After 2 hours (don’t go past 2 hours), place the fish in the smoker and smoke the fish at the lowest temperature possible.  Ideally 160F, but I can’t get mine to go lower than 180F.  At the higher temperatures the fish “sweats”, which is what you DON’T want.  Be sure to sop up any “sweat” (aka, fat) with a paper towel every 10 minutes or so.  Once the fish reaches an internal temperature of 145F I turn off the smoker and moved them to a rack to cool, and then covered and refrigerated.

The New Smoker: Smoked Babyback Ribs

Now that I am enjoying the country life (temporarily) I decided to embrace the moment and buy a smoker.  I’ve always loved true BBQ, and if you factor in my wife’s lust for smoked salmon, a smoker is a wise investment.  For $130 I ended up getting the smoker.  The initial assembly of the Smoker was relatively painless and within 30 minutes it was ready to go.  From that point all I had to do was connect the propane tank, load the smoker box with wood chips, start the fire, and let the “seasoning” process begin.

Now that the smoker is properly seasoned, it’s time to kick off some real smoking.  The first recipe?  How about babyback ribs for the 4th of July.

Step 1:  Prepare the Rub

In this instance I used the following (all measuring is APPROXIMATE):
4 Tbsp Sweet Paprika
2 Tbsp Chili Powder
1 Tbsp Garlic Powder
1 Tbsp Onion Powder
1 Tbsp Dry Mustard
1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper
1 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp ground black pepper

Mix all together and apply to the ribs.

Step 2:  Apply the rub.

Step 3:  Load the smoker box with wood chips (soaked for at least 20 minutes), fill the water tray, and start the burner.  Allow the smoker to warm up and begin smoking.

Step 4:  Place the meat on the racks, spacing evenly.

Step 5:  Keep heat as low as possible.  I cooked at about 200-225F for about 5 hours.

Step 6:  Once meat is at least 160F, remove from smoker and grill.

And the final product on the grill:

Souvlaki on the Grill

Tonight’s dinner spawned from my original idea of simple pork chops.  While there is nothing wrong with a basic pork chop, the idea just wasn’t sitting well.  What could I do with pork that would be a bit different?  How about one of my Greek favorites, Souvlaki!

The Marinade:

1/3 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 c. olive oil (I used some extra virgin from Crete)
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp minced fresh parsley (I used Italian parsley)
2 tsp dried oregano
1.5 lbs boneless pork chops, fat trimmed, cut into 1.5 inch squares

Place the meat in a large zip-lock bag, add salt, pepper, and parsley.  In another bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients and pour into the bag.  Remove air and seal.  Let this concoction sit for at least 4 hours for the best flavor.

I then threaded them on to 4 large metal skewers and grilled them over high heat; about 4-5 minutes per side.  With this I served some diced tomatoes, homemade tzatziki, roughly chopped Boston lettuce, and thinly sliced onions.  Placed all inside of a wrap, it was like my own little Doner Kebab-esque stand!

And a fun up-close shot of the Turkish skewers and the meat:

Grilled Lobster & Delirium Tremens

Now that we have officially moved to the Poconos I am trying to use the grill as much as possible.  The simple pleasure of grilling has been missing from my life for nearly three years, so I am doing my best to make up for lost time.  As with most of our cooking, we weren’t exactly sure what we were going to have for dinner.  Once we were inside the local grocery store it was hard to miss the big sign touting their Memorial Day sales.  Near the top of the list?  $4.99/lb fresh lobster.  Yes please, we’ll take two.

The first lobster, a good-sized male, weighed in at about 2.2 lbs.  The second lobster, a female since she had the red roe sacks, was about 1.5lbs.  As an animal lover, I’ve always had some issue with the boiling process.  I have learned a technique that makes me feel a bit better though: Put the lobsters in the freezer for 10-15 minutes before dropping them in the pot.  After cooking for about 8 minutes I pulled them out, split them in half, cleaned out the innards, and put them on a plate.

The sauce/spread/marinade I used:

3 Tbsp Butter
3 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
1 Tbsp Parsley Flakes
2 Garlic Cloves, minced

I mixed all of those together and brushed them on the inside of the lobsters.  Over a medium/hot grill I placed the lobsters meat-side down, and cooked for about 5-6 more minutes, flipping a few times to distribute the heat.  While I was cooking those, I added some partially boiled sweet corn to the grill.

10 minutes later it was time to eat!  Delicious.  And of course, as the title suggested, I washed all of it down with a nice 750mL bottle of Delirium Tremens.

Ready to eat:

Sievers and the City

New York City in the Spring is a wonderful thing.  The first flowers are blooming, the first leaves are starting to appear, and everyone seems to have a spring in their step as they walk down the street.  We were lucky enough to experience a few of these amazing springtime days with our friends from Colorado.

The trip turned out to be an epicurean feast and we hit the following restaurants and bars:

Q2 Thai – A great little Thai restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen.
Basilica – A tiny Italian restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen.
Valhalla – My favorite beer bar in the city!
Hummus Kitchen – Hell’s Kitchen Israeli restaurant.
Sushi of Gari 46 – Our favorite sushi restaurant.
La Sirene – An amazing BYOB French restaurant in SoHo.
McSorley’s Ale House – The city’s oldest bar.
Caracas Arepa Bar – An awesome Venezuelan restaurant in the East Village.
And of course, don’t forget a delicious Halal Cart meal on the day of their departure!

We also hit various places around the city such as Wall Street, Battery Park, 5th Avenue, Central Park, Times Square, and more!  While the girls were out shopping at H&M and Zara, we were riding bicycles around the full loop in Central Park.  It was simply a beautiful day to be outside and moving.

Another highlight of the trip was when we all went to see West Side Story on Broadway.

Here are some photo highlights:

The Dudes @ Valhalla:

The Ladies:

The Happy Couple in Times Square:

All of us in Times Square:

West Side Story:

And finally… the morning wake up call at our house is when the dog comes in and starts licking your head:

Grilling in the Poconos – Early April, 2010

The weather had finally worked out and I could finally get outside and do some grilling.  The weather in the Poconos at this time of the year can be fairly awful, so I was determined to take advantage of the mostly sunny weather in the mid 60’s.

Our first night there we made lobster salad sandwiches and had some homemade coleslaw.    We got a 2 lb lobster from the grocery store and I boiled it for about 6 minutes before splitting it in half and finishing it on the grill.  Once it was thoroughly cooked I removed the meat and chopped it into bite-size pieces and let Brie work her magic with the dressing.  Long story short:  It was delicious!

The second night featured grilled vegetables (asparagus, eggplant, onion, and mushrooms) and garlic-lemon marinated shrimp.  One of my favorite things to use are the awesome metal skewers that my parents brought back from Turkey.  Each one has a different handle featuring a different animal or character.  The only problem?  They get incredibly hot and you have to make sure you have enough layers between them and your fingers.  The vegetables were cooked perfectly and the non-stick grill basket is one of the coolest things I have used.  The only issue was that the asparagus was so thin they occasionally worked their way through the holes in the basket!

On the final day we had marinated london broil.  For the marinade I used garlic, rosemary, cracked pepper, hot pepper flakes, and olive oil.  After marinating for about 10 hours I shook off the big bits and put the meat on a hot grill and cooked them to medium-rare.  After they were done I let them sit for about 10 minutes before slicing them in thin strips across the grain.  With this I served an appetizer of roasted golden beets with feta cheese, topped with a lovely vinagrette that Brie put together.  For side dishes I made mashed sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli.

As with all of our trips to the Poconos, the weekend wouldn’t be complete without a few encounters with some wildlife.  This trip featured a very hungry red squirrel at the deer trough, and a black bear doing the same thing. Now that the weather is warming up my parents have vowed to stop feeding the wildlife in hopes of preventing the bears from hanging out permanently.

And finally, we moved the bar and stools from the basement up to the sun room.  It looks fantastic!  I look forward to many cocktail hours out there this summer.

Clam Soup – Zuppa di Vongole

One of the best things about living near the ocean is the availability of fresh seafood.  While in Whole Foods I noticed how nice the littleneck clams looked, so I immediately decided that clam soup would be on the night’s menu.  On the way back to the apartment I stopped in at Kashkaval and picked up a baguette and a few mini boreks.  Using a recipe from a family favorite, “Every Night Italian“, I made Zuppa di Vongole (before and after photos below).  With this we had some Vinho Verde from Portugal.  Another great night!

A Weekend in the Poconos – 03/26/10: Asiago Chicken with Pancetta; Homemade Pizza

This trip to the Poconos was centered around the kitchen and the amazing meals we had planned.  Due to the rain and temperatures hovering in the 30’s we decided to cook entrees that would warm us from the inside out.  On Friday night I decided to cook Asiago Chicken with a side of Chive Polenta, Mushrooms and Onions with Gorgonzola, and Green Beans.

Here are the recipes:

Asiago Chicken

4 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
4 slices Asiago cheese (1/8″ thick)
1/2 c. dry white wine
4 slices pancetta
olive oil
salt and pepper
fresh thyme or fresh oregano

Mix some salt and pepper (1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper) along with about 1/2 c. of flour in a shallow bowl or plate.  Dredge chicken breasts, shaking off any excess flour.  Place chicken in a hot oven-proof skillet with ~ 1-2 Tbsp olive oil (as needed).  Turn on broiler and move rack to the top shelf.  Cook the chicken until golden brown (3-4 minutes), flip and cook additional 3-4 minutes.  Place 1 slice of cheese followed by 1 slice of pancetta on each chicken breast.  Place in broiler and cook until chicken reaches 160F (~4-5 minutes) and pancetta “crisps”.  Remove chicken from pan and cover with foil.  Add 1/2 of wine and finely chopped herbs to pan, deglaze, and reduce until thickened.  Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

On Saturday night we had some delicious homemade, thin-crust pizzas that Brie made.

The one on the left was a spinach (sautéed with garlic, onion, salt, pepper, and olive oil), oyster mushroom, and gorgonzola pizza.   The gorgonzola melted perfectly and the spinach blend had a lovely taste and texture.  The oyster mushrooms really held up well and were still firm, without a touch of the slipperiness that button mushrooms can have.  The crust had good flavor, and was made with a touch of red wine (thank you Mr. Batali).

The second pizza (on the right) featured roasted red peppers, hot italian sausage (crumbled and cooked beforehand), oyster mushrooms, fresh mozzarella, and a homemade red-sauce base. 

Valhalla NYC, Now Serving Food!

It’s been in the works for months, but as of this past Monday Valhalla is now serving food.  While I am sad that we can no longer bring in our own snacks, or a Sacco’s pizza, the obvious benefit is having everything under one roof.

The Offerings:

Bratwurst –  They have a spicy cheddar, pork, and chicken brat available by itself, or with a “platter” of sauerkraut, red cabbage, gherkin, and german potato salad.  We tried the Valhalla Bratwurst Platter (the spicy cheddar wurst) which is mildly spicy, with hot bubbling cheese and a fantastic texture.  I loved the snap of the casing!  The bratwurst was hidden inside of a roll (see photo below), which turned out to just be way too much bread.  Once I removed half the bread it was perfect.  Also, the side dishes in the platter were all well done.  The standouts are the potato salad and gherkin, which both take me back to Germany.  All for $10.

Pretzels –  Not your typical street corner pretzel, but the Bavarian style served with some spicy mustard.  They are served warm, moderately covered in salt, and had a nice outer part with a wonderfully chewy center.  $3, or 2 for $5.

Dried Sausage – Served in a compressed “stick” style with spicy mustard.  This was awesome.  It reminded me of a BiFi that I would get at gas stations in Germany, but it was even better.  Probably because it was much fresher!  $3, or 2 for $5.

Gherkin – German pickles  $1

With this bounty I was drinking 500mL glasses of Bitburger.  Fitting, eh?

The photo.  I apologize for its lack of clarity, but it was taken with my iPhone in a low-light setting:

Marinated Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches with Roasted Red Pepper and Gorgonzola Spread

This has got to be one of my favorite last-minute recipes to make.  It is so easy and tastes amazing.


1 large Portobello mushroom per person
1 similar sized Ciabatta roll per person
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3.5 Tbsp Olive Oil
3 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 Red Bell Pepper
1 Tbsp Gorgonzola per person
1/2 Tbsp Butter/Spread per person

Step 1: Clean mushroom caps to remove and dirt.  Cut stem so it is flush with the cap.

Step 2:  In a large sealable bag, place the caps, the garlic, 3 Tbsp Olive Oil, 3 Tbsp Balsamic, Thyme, salt and pepper (all seasoning to taste).  Remove air from bag, make sure everything is mixed well.  Let sit at LEAST 1 hour.

Step 3:  Roast the red pepper until skin is blackened.  Place in a bowl, cover tight, and let “steam” until skin can be easily removed.

Step 4:  Combine Gorgonzola and Butter in a small bowl and blend until well mixed and creamy.

Step 5:  Place marinated mushroom caps in a large baking dish and broil (my preferred method), or bake (400F), until flesh gets soft and darkens.  ~15-20 minutes, depending on method.

Step 6:  Meanwhile, cut the roasted pepper into chunks (removing interior bitter white parts and seeds), and process/blend until pureed with 1/2 Tbsp balsamic.

Step 7:  While mushrooms are still cooking, cut Ciabatta in half, and about 5 minutes before the mushrooms are done, put in the oven to toast.

Assembly:  On top piece of toasted Ciabatta, spread a nice amount of the Gorgonzola spread.  Place the mushroom on the bottom piece, gills up.  Put the red pepper sauce on the mushroom, cover with the top piece, and enjoy!

**NOTE**  Have lots of napkins… this is a messy meal, but OH so good.