Harissa (North African Hot Sauce/Paste)

Hey Dude!

Man, I am so excited. I finally tried my hand at harissa, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Don’t know if you’ve ever had harissa, but back when I was selling hummus, a company from D.C., called Cava, was demo-ing some harissa next to me, and I fell in freaking love with it.

What makes their harissa unique, and so damn good, is their use of stewed tomatoes. So I wanted to see if I could figure out a harissa with tomatoes at the base. And since I have several bags of smoked or dried peppers in my pantry, my brain put the following together

  • 10-12 sun-dried tomatoes (I used Bella Sun Luci)
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 ancho peppers (dried poblanos, check a Mexican grocery store)
  • 1 smoked ghost pepper
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • Salt, caraway, ground coriander, parsley
  • Lemon juice
  • Red wine vinegar

My method was quite simple. I roasted the red pepper and sun dried tomatoes at 350 degrees. I pulled the sun-dried tomatoes out after about 10 minutes, then kept roasting the pepper about 20 more minutes. After it was roasted, I let it cool until I could handle it, and I pulled the skin off.

Meanwhile, I submerged the ancho peppers and ghost pepper in a glass of water. Likewise, I soaked the now roasted sun-dried tomatoes in a separate glass of water.

Then, I simply combined all the ingredients in my food processor, adding a few shakes of each of the seasonings.

I used the lemon juice and red wine vinegar for flavor, preservation, and pasty consistency, 1 tablespoon at a time. In all, I think I used 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 1-1/2 or 2 of red wine vinegar. Added a little more salt, and bam. I have a delicious African condiment. Goes great on sandwiches, meat, pita bread, mixed with hummus, whatever!

I’m not sure roasting the sun-dried tomatoes was necessary, so next time I’ll probably try it without and see how it compares.


Easy Jamaican Cornish Game Hens

from: Jamey Bennett
to: Daniel Larkin

Hey Daniel,

I wasn’t going to make a post about this, since I didn’t do much except throw a few things together, but the result was so outstanding, and the ingredients are readily available at many grocery stores, that I thought it was worth sharing. I got all my ingredients at Whole Foods, except for the game hens (though I did seek out cage-free hens).

  • 2 Hens
  • 1 Bottle Jamaican Jerk sauce (like this)
  • 1 Bottle Carribbean-style hot sauce (this one is awesome)
  • 1 8.5 oz package of Seeds of Change Carribbean-style rice and red beans (or similar – SOC is organic, and it only needs to be heated)
  • A small amount of bell pepper, onion, and mushroom slices (or whatever you’d like)
  • Butter

The night before, I brushed the jerk sauce all over the hens, covered them and put them in the fridge.

When I was ready to eat, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees. While that was heating, I sauteed the veggies in butter. When they were about done, I added the rice mix and stirred for about 60 more seconds. I took that mix, and stuffed the birds silly. It was just about the perfect amount of stuffing. Next, I brushed melted butter all over the outside of the birds, put them in a covered dish in the oven. After 30 minutes, I removed the cover and stuck a meat thermometer in the breast. (I think most say you’re supposed to do the thigh, but their thighs are so tiny.) About every 10 to 15 minutes, I got in the oven and re-brushed the butter and jerk sauce (that was in the bottom of the pan) over the birds. I think it was about 40 minutes later that they were ready. Doesn’t really matter, though, if you watch the thermometer, and brushing is the perfect opportunity. (165 degrees.)

Once I pulled them out, I carefully put them each on a plate, and drizzled the jerk sauce – now a gravy – over the tops of the birds. I served with a bowl of the hot sauce as a dipping sauce. That fruity spicy sauce was a delight! We both devoured our own hens, even after a salad. There were leftover rice and beans and veggies, but I’m going to let them soak up the gravy goodness and have it as leftovers.

Now the little carcasses are on the stove making broth! Easy, delicious, and effective.


Russian Marinated Mushrooms

from: Jamey Bennett
to: Daniel Larkin


One of the cool things about being a convert to Orthodox Christianity in America, is that Orthodoxy here is less than 100 years old, and so you get a little taste of old world traditions as handed down by grandma. It’s definitely upped the ante for my appreciation of all things Greek, Arab, Ukrainian, and Russian. Since being in a Russian Orthodox parish the last two years, I’ve been introduced to a lot of Russian and Ukrainian traditions and foods. The latest? Russian marinated mushrooms.

At Pascha (Easter) this year, we were at someone’s house, and I just could not stay out of these tasty mushrooms. They were so deliciously tangy—and I lurvz me some vinegar—that I was having to strategically plot my routes past the hors d’oeuvres table so I didn’t look like a mushroom hog. When I started blabbing about it to my friend Peter, he yelled, “Hey Mom! Show Jamey the mushroom jar, he really likes them.” Turns out, there is a Russian grocery store in Northeast Philly. I’ll get there one day and buy a jar, I’m sure, but in the meantime, I made my own.

I pulled up tons of recipes online, but settled on three. My goal was to adapt these recipes according to: 1) my whim and instinct; 2) 8 oz. of mushrooms in a pint sized Mason jar. What follows is just an approximation of what I did. I didn’t write down the exact quantities, and I did a little improvising. And what’s funny, even though I have a favorite, I love them all.

To make all three batches, you need:

  • Three 8 oz. packages of button mushrooms (or some other small mushroom – slice the bigger ones) – RINSE WELL
  • 3 pint-sized Mason jars
  • Optional: Whole garlic cloves and slices of onions to throw in each jar for extra marinated treats

We’ll start with my favorite:

  • 1/4 cup White vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Red wine vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp water
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 2-ish large minced cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

In a pan, I put all the above ingredients (without mushrooms) and brought to a boil. Boiled for 3 minutes. I threw in one package of mushrooms and brought it back to a boil, then cooked for one more minute. Put it all in a jar, and topped off with a splash of red wine vinegar and white vinegar. Set aside. That easy. (And of course, if you’ve ever pickled before, “topping off” does not mean to the top of the jar—leave a little space.) [Ditch the sugar for a Paleo version.]

My second favorite:

  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • Dried dill
  • 4 cloves minced garlic (or so)
  • White vinegar
  • Salt
  • 5-10 black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves

I sprinkled a package of mushrooms with the lemon juice and let them marinate for 15-20 minutes. Then I put them in a saucepan and covered with water (they float, so “covering” is a bit hyperbolic). Brought to a boil, then simmered for about 10 minutes. Added a little bit of salt during this time. Then, I strained the mushrooms and “mushroom water,” reserving some of the water. I put  the bay leaves and peppercorns in a jar, then added the mushrooms a couple of scoops at a time. Between each scoop, I added a shake of dill and some minced garlic. Once all the mushrooms and garlic were in the jar, I added a splash of the mushroom water, the olive oil, and topped off with white vinegar.

My third favorite (still very good) is similar to the second:

  • White vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • Salt
  • Dill
  • A few cloves of whole allspice

Boiled the mushrooms 30 minutes. Removed the cooking water, reserving one cup. Added the cup back to the mushrooms and threw in 1/4 cup white vinegar and 1/4 cup olive oil, the garlic, dill, salt (2 tsp?), and the allspice cloves. Cooked five more minutes. Added everything to the jar, and topped with white vinegar.

Did Wells, and Do Betters

My dad taught me to assess things in projects in terms of what I did well, and what I will do better the next time. Basically these are awesome. But here are a few notes for going forward.

The marinades can be reused. I’ve actually done three batches, and in the subsequent two batches, all I had to do was boil the mushrooms for 20 minutes or so, and add them to the jars. They taste good by day 2, and amazing by day 5.

My third batch was done with baby bellas, but the first two batches were button mushrooms. Any mushrooms can be used, and I’ve even seen a recipe online where a guy buys a giant can of Chinese mushrooms to make his. I don’t think the mushroom’s type is that important, but my best flavor was the button mushrooms. They seemed to soak up the flavors of the marinades so much better…and the bellas have such a pronounced flavor that they just weren’t as enjoyable (but still good).

I “canned” these with Mason jars. The mushrooms were actually smaller when the jars came out of the hot bath. I have not decided if this is good or bad. Perhaps it helped to meld the flavors of the marinade, imparting more “mushroom water” to the marinades. I don’t know. What I do know, is at this point putting new (freshly boiled) mushrooms in the old jars is working just fine to meld the flavors.

Olive oil. If you’ve ever made homemade Italian dressing with olive oil and tried to keep it in the fridge, you know this is a dumb idea. Or at least should know. Olive oil congeles at a certain temperature, and whatever that temperature is, it is higher than my refrigerator. The first batch has such little oil that it hasn’t really been an issue, but the third batch has the most oil and getting mushrooms out involves digging through oil clumps. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. Solutions: use canola or soybean oil (if you don’t have an aversion to those), or just set the jar on the counter for a little bit before eating.

Well, this email has gotten a little out of hand. It’s a good thing I didn’t try to cover my Sriracha pickles, too!


jamey w. bennett

Delicioso Adobo Seasoning

from Jamey W. Bennett
to Daniel Larkin

Hey Dude,

It’s no surprise that I add a Mexican twist to most foods I prepare. Since discovering this adobo seasoning, I always keep this on hand. I got the basic idea from a cookbook, but I’m not even sure of the title, and I made a few tweaks myself. I’ve used this for several years. Makes a fantastic spice rub, great in soups, marinades, etc. I’ve put it on beef, chicken, and fish. I’m sure it’s great on other stuff too.

Delicioso Adobo Seasoning

  • 1 tbsp of each: lemon pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, parsley, achiote powder, salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp cumin

Instead of achiote (I don’t even know what that is), I substitue equal parts tumeric & paprika. Another shortcut you might take is picking up lemon pepper that has garlic and onion powder in it. In that case, use three tbsp of it, instead of one tbsp. of each.

Combine in a bottle or small tupperware container, shake it up, and wah-lah! I keep this in my spice rack.

If you try it, let me know what you think.


Jive Turkey

Daniel Larkin 11/23/10
to me 

So I’m in charge of the turkey and stuffing for this year’s Knoxville Thanksgiving.  Believe it or not, with as much cooking as I’ve done, I’ve never roasted a bird.  But you have, during the turkey sandwich challenge.  Do you have anytips/suggestions?  The only twist I plan on implementing is rubbing chopped herbs between the skin and meat of the breast and thighs.  (that sounded dirty)

I don’t own a real roasting pan with a rack, so I’m planning on doing this in a disposable aluminum one.  How did you go about this?

Jamey W. Bennett 11/23/10
to Daniel 

Easy. Here’s what I did after consulting my friend Sarah.

Disposable aluminum.
Thawed the turkey in cold water (this takes like 8 hours)
Pulled out all the junk and set it aside
Separated, carefully, the skin from the breast
Rubbed a shitload of butter in there between the skin and breast
Rubbed thyme and rosemary in the same place
Lightly sprinkled the skin with salt and pepper

Dropped that beast into the oven at 475 for 20 minutes to sear the outside and lock the juices in (or at least that’s the theory)

Reduced to 250 (leaving the bird in), and calculated 20 minutes per pound

I didn’t have a thermometer, but I had one of those little pop-out indicators and I did fine. But EVERYBODY says you should use a meat thermometer. Either way, stab that beast when you think it’s ready, and it should be juicy, but clear

I did not do stuffing. I know lots of people do, but there are also a lot of critics about the stuffing in the bird. Dowhachalike.

My grandma uses a rack, and she flips the bird upside down so all of the fat and juices cook into the breast. My mom swears by it.

And for your enjoyment from Facebook:

Saying prayers for the 45 million turkeys whose lives will be taken in the US this year, and hoping for the truth about the origins of Thanksgiving to make it into the minds, hearts and bellies of humans everywhere!

May the truth set the birds free…….Say NO to genocide for all species!!!!

Sauerkraut at Home

from Jamey W. Bennett
to Daniel Larkin

So my sauerkraut was a hit at my wedding this past weekend, even among the non-kraut-enthusiasts. I used a combination of my priest’s “50 lbs. every autumn” recipe with some techniques I found online. Basically, I used an empty sanitized brew bucket, a growler filled with water (for weight), a small plate, a knife, a kitchen scale, a rolling pin (to smash the cabbage), about 20 lbs. of cabbage, and lots of salt.

Simply put: I’d slice the cabbage (getting rid of the core) into pretty thin strips. Using my kitchen scale, I’d slice and slice until I had 3-1/2 lbs. I’d throw that into the bucket with 1 tbs. non-iodized salt. I kept this up until I chopped it all up. Every now and then, I’d stir the mix and smash it together. My arms were pretty tired by the end. I had some serious juice-age in the bucket, too.

I put the plate on top of the cabbage and pushed down until all of the cabbage was submerged in the brine, and I set the growler on top of the plate to hold it down. I dropped the bucket off in my basement and covered it with a towel. I checked it every day for a little over two weeks, and skimmed any film off the top that developed. Next time I do it, I’m going to give it another week.

The caterer cooked it, and served it up with pieces of kielbasa. It was awesome.

How’d you do your kraut? I saw you linked this about it, but I was wondering how closely you followed it.


from Daniel Larkin
to Jamey W. Bennett

I followed that recipe to a T, and it turned out amazing!  I undershot my cabbage weight a little, though, so my spices were a bit more than they were supposed to be.  But that was fine, since the caraway seed, mustard seed, and juniper are all spices that go well with kraut-esque food anyway.

The only thing I’ll do differently is that when I periodically top off the cans to replenish evaporated water, I won’t used salt water.  I realized that the water may be evaporating, but the salt was being left behind, so I was really just salting the hell out of an already salty foodstuff.

But again, the recipe was bangin!  I have to make a bunch this week for our Oktoberfest party in a few weeks.