Sunday, March 1, 2009

And with just a little more effort ...

I'm all for "easy" recipes and quick weeknight meals. Even simple weekend meals tend to make a cook's life easier. Anyone who does a fair amount of cooking can relate to the value of a good selection of easy prep healthy meals. It would be nice to have all day to prepare the evening meal, but most people aren't so blessed. I try to encourage readers and people I associate with to explore the possibilities with good, fresh, food creations for their everyday meals, and to not resort to frozen, canned or packaged fare. In my humble opinion, the bulk of the food products that are shoved down our throats (yes, of course the pun is intended) is simply not fit for human consumption.

So this was a special Sunday night meal that required "just a little more effort," as the title suggests.  Took me several hours, spread over the course of a rainy dreary Sunday.  A day when I'd be home anyway, as it turned out.  I'd invited my friend Howie (grammar school buddy), three of our massage school friends, and our friend Cal.  Good diversified, group, lots of possibilities for food, for the night.  

Constraints / considerations included a couple of the people being on something resembling a diet (calorie type, not necessarily a food constraint), one person doesn't eat seafood of any kind (although Cal's phenomenal ceviche provided a notable exception to this), plus I'd decided I wanted to make cupcakes for dessert.  This in itself is odd, as loyal readers have undoubtedly noticed a dearth of sweets recipes ... I bake very little, and rarely to my own satisfaction.  I also needed to keep the dishes on the semi-spicy, vs. "use the habaneros" spicy that the chicken recipe usually entails.  

As I mentioned, Cal brought a ceviche appetizer, as well as an amazing crab dip.  I was off the hook for appetizers!  For the main meal, I opted for a "real" Jamaican jerk chicken recipe, a pesto with a slight twist, my cole slaw, which has evolved for years, and the afore-mentioned cupcakes for dessert. 

The jerk chicken was started early in the morning.  The recipe recommends overnight marinating, but I never marinate chicken or fish for more than a few hours.  I let this batch marinate for about 6 hours, which was perfect.  Next time (and if you decide to attempt the recipe), put some of the marinate aside for topping the chicken after it's cooked.  You obviously shouldn't use the same sauce you've been soaking uncooked chicken in, which is what the recipe said to do.   

For the pesto, I used an entire bunch of fresh basil, a half cup of toasted pine nuts (makes a big difference if you toast them briefly), parmesan and dry jack cheeses, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a handful of arugula, which added just the flavor I was looking for.   I served it over whole wheat angel hair pasta, and it was awesome.  

The cole slaw has been modified over the years to the way I like it.  I've spent quite a bit of time in both Atlanta and North Carolina, and once you've had real cole slaw, there's no turning back.  Mayo and sour cream in the dressing, along with celery seed, white vinegar, brown sugar, cayenne and red pepper flakes.  Two kinds of cabbage add color and taste variety, diced carrots and celery, a white onion, and a handful of peanuts complete this great slaw.  

The lemon cupcakes came from a "lemon lemon cupcake" recipe I saw posted, and they turned out very tasty, although a little heavier than they should have been due to the fact that I didn't sift the flour.  I told you ... I don't bake (but need to do more of it).  The frosting was to die for, and I served them with two scoops of different kinds of Haagen-Dazs gelato, and sprinkled a few Scharffenberger chocolate espresso bits on the top.  Even your "non sweets eater" author enjoyed this decadent little dessert.  


Jamaican Jerk Chicken:

Originally from "The Sugar Reef Carribean Cookbook," by Devra Dedeaux (available from, and modified somewhat.
  • 1 Tblspn ground allspice
  • 1 Tblspn dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tspns cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 tspns ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tspns ground sage
  • 3/4 tspn ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 tspn ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tblspns garlic powder
  • 1 Tblspn sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2 Thai / serrano peppers (or 1 habanero or 1 large jalapeno), chopped fine
  • 3 scallions, chopped fine
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped fine
  • boneless skinless chicken breasts (makes enough for up to 12, I found)


  • In a large bowl, combine the spice ingredients
  • Whisk in the olive oil, soy sauce, vinegar, orange juice, and lime juice
  • Add the chopped pepper(s), scallions, onions, stir well
  • Add the chicken breasts, cover and marinate for at least several hours
  • Cook over a medium flame grill about 6 minutes per side (and it's raining today so I can attest to the fact that the oven works perfectly well - 20-25 minutes at 325 degrees).

Arugula Pesto Pasta:

  • 1/2 cup of toasted pine nuts (small skillet, medium heat, shake them around for about 8 minutes)
  • 1 bunch of fresh basil
  • small handful of fresh arugula
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic, or 1 tablespoon of jar/chopped (works fine)
  • 1/2 cup each of grated parmesan and dry jack cheeses (all parmesan works, the dry jack adds an interesting taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil (approximately)


Combine all the ingredients in a food processor, drizzle the olive oil, pulse to the consistency you like. I like mine on the moist side, not totally dry. The amount of olive oil you use will vary accordingly.

Serve over your favorite pasta. Today's was a whole wheat angel hair pasta, which was perfect.  Garnish with a few pieces of chiffonade-cut basil, have fresh parmesan available for grating. 

Best Cole Slaw:

I love cole slaw, and I'm picky about it. Too much mayonnaise, too much vinegar, too much anything, just doesn't cut it. I've done a lot of experimenting, stolen liberally from all the best chefs and cookbooks, and here's how I do it:


  • 3 Tblspns light sour cream
  • 2 Tblspns light mayo (which should say Best Foods on it!)
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tblspns light brown sugar
  • 1 tspn celery seed
  • 1/2 tspn salt
  • 1/2 tspn crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tspn cayenne pepper
  • fresh ground pepper to taste


  • 1/2 head each of red and green cabbage, shredded
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1/2 cup lightly salted peanuts


Whisk together all the dressing ingredients, "toss" the slaw to combine all the ingredients, pour about 3/4 of the dressing and mix, add more if necessary.

Note: You'll likely have leftover dressing. You can always add more, but you can't subtract if you put too much on it initially.

Lemon Cupcakes:

I commonly tell people that a stand mixer (meaning a Kitchen Aid) is an imperative ingredient. I'll leave that up to the reader, but it sure helps to have a good mixer.

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tspn baking powder
  • 1/4 tspn salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter @ room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 Tbspns whole or buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbspns grated lemon zest


  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  • Line a 10 or 12 cupcake pan with liners (medium sized ones worked great)
  • SIFT the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl (I neglected to sift these, and and my friend Nicole the pastry chef pointed out that it makes for a somewhat heavier cupcake. Not the ideal end result)
  • Beat sugar, butter in a mixing bowl
  • Beat in eggs one at a time
  • Add the dry ingredients and milk in batches, alternating
  • Beat in the lemon juice and zest
  • Divide among the cupcake liners, bake 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean
  • Allow to cool before frosting

Awesome Lemon Frosting

  • 2/3 cup of softened butter
  • 4 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 tspn of grated lemon zest
  • 4 Tblspns of lemon juice


    In a mixing bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar, then the grated lemon peel, and enough lemon juice for the consitency you're looking for.  Served with Haagen-Dasz gelatos and some chocolate espresso bits.  Yummy.  
Some of these are a little more complicated than people generally like to tackle, but well worth the effort.  Your guests will appreciate your time and trouble, and you can rest assured that these types of dishes aren't everyday fare for any of them.  Plus when they turn out great, you can pat yourself on the back and be totally proud that you pulled it off! 


Roxanne said...

Wow Larry.
I FINALLY visited your blog - food blog should I say (or music or both?!?) and it's awesome. It's like visiting with you! Thanks for the recipes, the tips, and the memory recollections! Hope we can play (and eat) together soon!! Love to Risa and kitties too! Roxanne

Pierce said...

Larry, Thank yu for stopping by and being a follower of my blog! I am so excited to be part of Foodbuzz now - I see you have a site there too. Oh, and those lemon cupcakes you wrote about...mmmmmmm.

Cheers! Tina

Cal Lai said...

Hi Larry,

The meal was absolutely delicious. Worth every bit of the extra time and lovin. I thought I'd provide you with the Crab Dip appetizer recipe for your readers who want to duplicate this spectacular menu from start to finish.

Cal's Hot Crab Appetizer with Baguette Crostini

This is an easy dip for seafood and crab lovers. The crostini can be made the day before serving. The dip can be assembled and refrigerated for up to 8 hours in advance. Just before guests arrive, heat dip and serve. This dish can also be served with celery sticks and sliced raw cucumber.

Serves 8-10 as an appetizer.

For Hot Crab Dip
•2 pounds jumbo lump crabmeat, free of shells
•1 cup grated pepper jack cheese
•8 oz package of regular cream cheese, softened at room temperature for 2 hours
•1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
•½ cup green onions, minced
•½ cup of minced Vidalia onions
•8 roasted garlic cloves (see recipe below)
•3 tablespoons Worcestershire
•1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
•½ teaspoon dry mustard
•Juice from 1 fresh squeezed lime
•1 teaspoon of Louisiana brand hot sauce or some other New Orleans style pepper/vinegar hot sauce (Tabasco is too spicy for this dip)
•2.25 oz. slivered almonds

Baguette Crostini

•2 fresh baguettes
•Olive oil
•Old Bay seasoning

Cooking Directions

For baguette crostini: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Slice baguette into ¼” slices. Place in mixing bowl. Drizzle generously with oil. Mix vigorously by hand to evenly coat croutons with oil. Place in single layer on cookie sheet. Dust with Old Bay Seasoning. Bake until golden brown and crisp. Let cool. Store in Ziploc plastic bag or other air tight container. Crostini can be made up to 24 hours in advance.

For hot crab dip: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all of the ingredients except slivered almonds in an oven-proof casserole dish and gently stir until thoroughly mixed. Bake for 40 minutes. Toast slivered almonds in a dry pan on medium-high heat until golden brown. Add to top of dip once the dip is removed from the oven. Serve warm.

For roasted garlic: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Remove outer layer of a bulb of garlic. Cut off top of bulb to expose raw garlic. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Wrap in foil pouch and roast until garlic is lightly brown and tender, about 30 minutes.

Karen Brown Letarte said...

Your meal sounds wonderful! I have recently begun to appreciate the cupcake and am looking forward to trying your lemon ones!


BethAnn Caputo said...

these sound delicious...i think i'll be busy in my kitchen tonight =)