Seasoning Lesson #1

Some of my favorites.

The reason for this post is that I get very frustrated about this subject and I want to help you be healthier, save money and have tastier food. Here we go…

Number one – 90% of the people I know still buy spices and dried herbs at the grocery store. Why is this so bad you might ask? Well, what you are buying in your local grocery store has probably already been sitting on the shelves for 6 months. You should throw out ground spices after 6 months, and whole spices after a year.  The selling price of these seasonings are 3 times the cost of what they are worth!  Then once you take them home, you have to use 3 times the amount to get the flavor you want (not to mention they use fillers and stabilizers).

Number two – Pre-mixed seasonings are, for the most part, a complete rip off. I’m talking about your “Turkey Lurkey Grillin’ Spice” or “Rub It All Over Everything Spice”. I once saw a grilling spice from a certain kitchen store (that will not be mentioned) with a price tag of 16 dollars for 4 ounces of the stuff. What was the first ingredient? Salt. Salt is 4 dollars a pound! So my future to becoming a millionaire is to come up with a spice concoction and have it sold at that very unmentioned kitchen store.

So what is the solution to my rants and raves? Buy spices and herbs from a spice dealer. Reputation is on the line for them; if the product you get is not fresh, you won’t be back. You can also buy the spices you use the most in bulk (not buying a container every time). This saves us money and is earth friendly.  Your route to do this is to find either a local specialty store or buy online. I am fortunate enough to have a Penzey’s store only 2 miles up the road. Penzey’s is neat because you can walk in and “sniff around” and their prices can’t be beat. Penzey’s also has an online business too, which my Mom uses very regularly.

And as far as the pre-mixed conundrum….You know what flavors and spice mixtures you like, so why not make them yourself?  Without the cost, the extra salt, the maltodextrin or silicon dioxide- need I say more?  I am going to give you a recipe for my super secret bbq rub that I use for both brisket and ribs. I hope you use it to win bbq cook offs and then just go ahead and send me the check 🙂 

In my second seasoning lesson I will discuss grinding, storing, and what kind of spices mingle together with others.

Ingredients for super secret spice rub: Makes plenty for at least 1 roast or a rack of ribs. It is easy to multiply so make extra! 

2 Tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 Tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

2 teaspoons toasted onion powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt (see where I’m coming from)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (buy a good mill, NOW)

1 teaspoon ground chipotle (my personal favorite)

Put it all in a canning jar and shake to mix together.  If the brown sugar is making it too clumpy, stir it up with a knife or ideally, a blade type coffee grinder. Punch holes in the lid to make a giant shaker, and then stack another lid on top of that to seal it up when not in use (thank you Alton Brown). Cover ribs or brisket liberally at least 3 hours before cooking, or up to 3 days if you have the time (trust me, you want to have the time).

Chili and Football, that’s what Dave does…

Stir it up!

The summer is coming to a close, vacations are over and it is now game time! I may not know every player’s name, who won last week, or the ridiculous stats of how many touchdowns the combined Manning brothers have, but I do know one thing… It is time to start cooking chili, and the odds are that a big pot will be stewing alongside beers and friends on any given Sunday at my place.

I can already visualize what the shopping cart looks like, colorful peppers, large quantities of meat along with all of the toppings. I’ve been making this chili for so long that I don’t even open up my notes anymore; practice and good ingredients makes perfect.  If you have been to my place to watch football, you have probably had my chili.

So next time you are having people over to watch Da Bears, Eagles or COLTS, start an hour early and get this together. I guarantee it will be gone by the end of the game, and if not, make chili dogs the next day. On second thought, hide some to make chili dogs anyway…


Chili with the fixins'


Shopping list for 1 gallon of chili (about 4 people).
1 Lb Ground beef 80/20 (or if you have a meat grinder coarsely grind 1 lb of  sirloin)
1 Lb Hot breakfast sausage, Tennessee Pride or Jimmy Dean's works great
1 large yellow onion diced
1 of each: green, yellow and red pepper seeded and diced
1 entire small bottle of green Tabasco, the green is milder than the others, NO substitutions
4-5 cloves garlic minced
1 28 oz can of whole/peeled tomatoes, if you can find San Marzanos, use them
2 16 oz cans of dark red kidney beans drained
1 square of "Bakers" brand UNSWEETENED chocolate, once again, NO substitutions
1 Tbl. Good chili powder (go to blog post on spices coming soon..
2 tsp. cumin
1-11/2 tsp. ground cayenne, depending on how hot you like it
1-3 mystery ingredients no one will ever know (sorry)                                       
Toppings:  Raw diced onion, shredded cheddar, sour cream, pasta, etc.

In a large stock pot brown the beef and sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spatula as it cooks (add a little vegetable oil if it is sticking real bad). In the meantime, dice all of your peppers and onion and throw them in the pot as you go. Once meat is browned and the veggies have softened, drain off any excess grease using a colander (do not rinse). Return to pot over medium heat and stir in minced garlic. Once you can smell the garlic add in the Tabasco, tomatoes (juice and all) and the drained beans. Smash the whole tomatoes with your spatula to get that good juice and pulp out and to get everything else all mixed together. Increase heat to a boil for 5 minutes, bury the square of chocolate in the middle, reduce heat to medium-low and put a lid on it. Ignore for 20 minutes and have a beer.

Remove lid, stir everything up and distribute the now melted chocolate. Add all of the spices listed except salt and pepper. Adjust heat if needed to maintain a slow simmer. Put the lid back on, have another beer and get your toppings ready (chop onion, grate cheese, etc.) another 20 minutes.

Remove lid, stir it up and add pepper to suit your heat level. Salt to taste since depending on the sausage you buy and the tomatoes you use it can be different every time however, 2 teaspoons is usually a good starting point.

By this point, you should be almost full from trying the chili every 5 minutes, not to mention the buzz from the beers. Just put out the bowls along with the condiments, leave the pot on the stove over low heat all day long, and let people make their own bowls as they wish.


No time to cook? Try this.

Yes, it even happens to me. A late day at work or just a lack of inspiration to come up with something new. This is my weeknight go to meal that can be made in about 20 minutes.  Dressing it up with fresh herbs and serving a salad on the side makes this a healthy and easy alternative that anyone can pull off looking like a hero. Coming from a person that makes his own pasta 95% of the time, I don’t have a problem buying the fresh pasta that any major grocer now carries for occasions like these. Your options to pick from are enormous, from meat and cheese ravioli to chicken tortellini, whatever your tastebuds desire.

The easiest dinner ever.

Tortellini Soup: Serves 3-4
1 48oz box of low sodium chicken broth
1 9oz package of fresh store bought tortellini
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper
2 Tbl fresh grated parmesan
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
Fresh oregano or basil for garnish

Bring chicken broth to a boil in a covered pot. Add salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder. Boil pasta with the lid on according to directions on the packaged pasta, about 6 minutes. The chicken broth will foam up while boiling so turn down the heat to maintain a high simmer and prevent making a mess. Ladle into bowls, top with parmesan and fresh herbs.
Serve with a salad on the side. Take leftovers to work the next day for lunch!

Linguini alle vongole

Cutting linguini on a chitarra

A classic, if you are going to cook Italian, clams linguini is a good place to start.  The flavors of clams linguini are simple to put together, yet complex when they are together and even better when the so called “balance” is achieved. You can screw it up easily, but as soon as you get it right, you will know. I first started making this dish with my chitarra, which is a wooden frame that has guitar strings stretched across it to cut out fresh linguini. With my recipe, I give you the option to use fresh pasta and fresh clams, or canned clams and boxed pasta. I’m sure you know which will be better, but convenience is an issue as we all have day jobs too.

Clams linguini

Ingredients: Serves 4
6 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 ½ Teaspoons Dried red pepper flakes
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
8 minced anchovy filets or 1 ½ Tablespoons anchovy paste
½ Cup clam juice
1 Cup dry white wine (I like pinot grigio)
½ Cup roughly chopped, fresh flat leaf “Italian” parsley + extra for garnish
Zest of 2 lemons (reserving some for garnish)
½ Teaspoon kosher salt
1 10oz can whole baby clams (drained)
Parmesan Reggiano for garnish
1 big pot of salted water- reserving about ½ cup after pasta is cooked in it
Either one batch of fresh linguini or a 1 lb box of dried linguini (you know which one will be better).

The recipe differs whether you are using fresh or canned clams. Instructions for the fresh clammys are at the bottom. Read the entire recipe before starting as the preparation of this recipe is the best way to get it right…

1. Get the water boiling.
2. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat, add olive oil and red pepper flakes.
3. Once the oil is hot, add anchovies and garlic. Stir constantly until fragrant (about 2 minutes). Do NOT burn the garlic.
4. Add the clam juice and wine. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat to simmer until reduced by half (about 7-8 minutes). Meanwhile, if you are using dried linguini drop it in the boiling water now. If using fresh, you want to only cook it for about 2 minutes and should wait until the wine is almost done reducing before boiling it.
5. Once pasta is al dente (slightly undercooked), and the wine has reduced, use tongs to add the cooked pasta to the sauté pan along with the lemon zest, clams, parsley and ½ cup of the water you cooked the pasta in.
6. Finish cooking the pasta by tossing with the tongs until the sauce slightly thickens and the pasta gets coated with sauce. If it seems dry, add more of the pasta water to “loosen” it up.
7. Garnish with extra parsley, lemon zest and lots of grated parmesan.

If you want to use fresh clams, before you start above:
Bring 1 ½ cups of white wine and a handful of parsley to a boil in a sauté pan. Add 2 dozen clams that have been cleaned and close when tapped (still living). Once they open, pull them out of the sauté and put them in a bowl. I will not give a time for how long they take as it varies from the type of clam and the pan used, etc. If any don’t open, discard them. Shuck clams and their juices into the bowl. Add shucked clams, ½ cup of the wine you cooked them in, and whatever juice that is in the bowl into the sauté in place of the canned clams and bottled juice from above.

Spain via Italy

Where do you get a good deal on a paella pan? The best (in my mind) kitchen store around. Fantes kitchen store, in the Italian Market of South Philadelphia is by far one of the coolest places I’ve been to in my culinary travels. Greeted by owner Mariella Fantes, she gave us a tour and shared some of the history of her family and the store. The Italian Market is the oldest open air market in the U.S. The streets are lined with produce vendors and great little shops that sell anything from freshly made mozzarella, to creamy gelato to huge barrels full of olives and other antipasti.

So how does Spain fit into all of this you might ask? Well, one of my purchases from Fantes was related to a dish I had been waiting for a long time to try, paella. In fact, I bought two small paella pans for the purpose of entertaining and having the option of two different paellas at the same time. You could have one for seafood, which is traditional for the coastal regions of Spain, or keep the meat eaters happy with chicken and sausage.

Paella is actually named after the pan itself. A low rimmed, wide cooking surface makes it easy to cook many different ingredients evenly. Original paella pans were made of terra-cotta, but now are mostly high carbon steel and stainless (which is easier to take care of). I made my first paella the day I got home with the pans. And it was all I could have hoped for! Topping the saffron rice with chorizo, chicken, clams and shrimp made it so every bite had its own character.

My first Paella

Recipe for paella: Good for 4 people

Shopping list:

2 1/2 Cups arborio rice

6 Cups low sodium chicken broth

1 pinch of saffron

1 Tbls canola oil

1 red bell pepper cut into strips

1 spanish (white) onion diced small

16 clams scrubbed clean

16 large shrimp shelled and deveined

1/2 lb chorizo sausage cut into small cubes

1 large boneless/skinless chicken breast cut into cubes

1 tsp smoked Spanish paprika

1 Cup frozen peas

Salt to taste (depends a lot on the chicken broth and clams you use)

Method: Preheat oven- 350

Bring chicken stock to a simmer in a sauce pot and add the saffron. In the paella pan or large flat skillet, heat oil  over medium heat, cook shrimp until opaque (about a minute per side), remove and set in a large bowl. Next, cook chicken and chorizo until done and put in the bowl with the shrimp. Add the clams to the simmering chicken stock and cook until they open @ 5 minutes. If any don’t open, discard them. As they open, add them to the bowl with the rest of your cooked meats.

Add onions and red pepper and saute until slightly soft @ 5 minutes. Add rice and stir. Cook while stirring until the rice is slightly toasted, another 5 minutes. Add half a cup of the chicken broth. Simmer chicken broth until rice absorbs all of the liquid. Continue adding the remaining chicken broth (1/2 cup at a time) until the rice is cooked through, it should take about 30 minutes. A small amount of crust from burnt rice is not a bad thing either by the way. Once cooked, spread rice out evenly and top with all of your cooked meats. Cover in foil and put in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes.. Serve family style at the table.

Duke’s favorite critter

"Just cook the damn thing, would ya!?!"

Growing up in the Midwest, I didn’t like seafood. No, let me rephrase, I didn’t KNOW seafood. Since I moved to the D.C. area 5ish years ago, I have found a whole new love in what I consider good food, even if it doesn’t walk around on land.
Lately, a new craze has hit us in the D.C. area. Lobster rolls! We even have a lobster roll food truck cruising the streets of D.C. during lunch hours like some demented ice cream truck for adults. At 22 bucks average cost per roll around here, I figured I should give it a try myself, instead of spending what I normally would for a good filet that shows up on four legs.
Keeping a keen eye out for when lobster went on sale, I decided to have one of those giant bugs plucked from it’s watery home and come over to my house for dinner, and to meet my cat, Duke, who also now likes lobster.
A true, good lobster roll is very simple. Depending on the part of New England you might be in, there are family feuds over what goes in a good roll. And the big question is: butter or mayo? As in, what you toss the lobster with… I personally decided to go the mayo route as that is the type I’ve had, and liked. Other than that, a split top hot dog bun (I’ll get into that later), some lemon juice, paprika and a green of some sort.
So, what is a split top hot dog bun? I have no idea. I know what they look like and taste like, but my local stupermarket sure doesn’t sell them. So instead… Get a full, unsliced Italian bread loaf. Slice pieces of bread that are 1 1/2 inches wide. Then take that thick slice you just made and cut it down the middle until about an inch from the bottom. Butter both sides and brown in a hot pan. Open the split and fill with your lobster concoction.

Lobster rolls from a Midwesterner

Recipe for: Lobster rolls, two of them to be exact.

Shopping List:

1  1/2 – 2 lb lobster

Juice from half of a lemon

1/4 Cup mayonaise

3 green onions minced

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

1 Tbl sea salt

1 fresh, unsliced loaf of white Italian bread


In a large stockpot with a steamer basket in the bottom, add water until it is 2 inches deep. Bring to a boil over high heat and add the sea salt. Steam lobster for 8 minutes for a 1 1/2 lb, 9 minutes for a 2 lb. Remove from pot and let cool. Crack and remove meat from the claws, knuckles and tail. Put meat in a bowl and discard the body (unless you want it for stock). Gently toss the meat with half of the green onion, lemon juice, mayo and paprika. Load up your buttered and browned split buns with your lobster “salad” and garnish with the rest of the green onion. Serve with absolutely nothing else.

%d bloggers like this: