Category Archives: Condiments

Birds Eye Chilis

Bird’s Eye Chilis

If you’ve been following my blog you know that I like spicy dishes. I’ve posted a few simple recipes for hot pepper infusions and sauces and here’s another one. This calls for Bird’s Eye Chilis. You can usually get them in Chinese markets. There’re about an inch long and look like little red fire crackers. They’re small but have big heat, somewhere between Jalapenos and Habenaros.

Bird's Eye ChilisThere’re not always available but last winter I came across some in a Manhattan Chinatown sidewalk stand. I asked if they were “Hot,” and the merchant said I should taste one. I did and although it was 22 degrees my face started sweating. They were hot.

Bird's Eye ChilisI found some in Italy that were the same as the ones I get in Chinatown. I was surprised to see them there since they were typically Asian but they were the same. Different food cultures sometimes come together.

Bird's Eye Chilis
The infusion is simple. Get a handful of peppers, about 20-25. Cut off the stems and tips so the interior of the pepper is accessible to the olive oil. Put them in a liter bottle and fill it with oil.  It doesn’t have to be EVOO.

Bird's Eye Chilis Give it about a week for the oil to pick up the flavor and get a reddish tint. You can use the oil for frying and it’s also very good for drizzling on a sandwich, or pasta or any dish you’d like to give a little kick.
The best part is when the bottle of oil and peppers is just about empty, shake out the remaining peppers and oil into a frying pan and scramble some eggs with it – excellent!

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A Chili-Olive Oil Infusion

In the Alburni Mountains

Lucia in her kitchen
A Chili-Olive Oil Infusion

Un’infusione di olio di peperoncino rosso

After our visit to Terranova, we went to Sicignano degli Alburni to find someplace for lunch. A local guy recommended a trattoria in nearby Scorzo called Si Ma Quant Sit? Every meal we had in Italy was excellent but that two hour lunch at Si Ma Quant Sit? was the best. And we just found it by a lucky accident.

Dopo la nostra visita a Terranova, siamo andati a Sicignano degli Alburni per trovare un posto per il pranzo. Un ragazzo del luogo ha consigliato una trattoria nel vicino Scorzo chiamato Si Ma Quant Sit? Ogni pasto che abbiamo fatto in Italia è stato eccellente, ma quel pranzo di due ore al Si Ma Quant Sit? era il migliore. E l’abbiamo appena trovato per un fortunato incidente.

A Chili-Olive Oil Infusion
The menu was on a board on the table listing antipasti, pasta, and prima piatto. We started with the antipasto – some local cheese, prosciutto, capicola, and soprasade. We thought that would be it, but the owner, Raffale kept coming to our table adding things to our dishes – frittata, eggplant parmigiana, eggplant in vinegar, and on and on.

Il menu era su una tavola sul tavolo che elenca antipasti, pasta e prima piatto. Abbiamo iniziato con l’antipasto – alcuni formaggi e prosciutto locale, capicola e soprasade. Pensavamo che sarebbe stato il proprietario, ma Raffale ha continuato a venire al nostro tavolo aggiungendo cose ai nostri piatti – frittata, parmigiana di melanzane, melanzane in aceto e così via.

A Chili-Olive Oil Infusion

We were afraid we wouldn’t be able to eat the pasta course but we did.

A Chili-Olive Oil Infusion

We said we were too full for dessert but Lucia gave us some strawberries in wine anyway.

A Chili-Olive Oil Infusion

From Lucia’s garden

A Chili-Olive Oil Infusion

Raffale’s dogs wanted Bridget’s doggie bag.

Raffele and Simone

a Chili-Olive Oil Infusion

Chili-Olive Oil Infusion

A Chili-Olive Oil Infusion

Raffale asked if I wanted some pepper for my pasta. He put a little jar of olive oil infused with dried chili on the table. It wasn’t just spicy, it had a distinct pepper taste. I asked how it was made. He gave me some to take home and got Lucia from the kitchen and she explained.

Raffale mi ha chiesto se volevo del pepe per la mia pasta. Mise sul tavolo un vasetto di olio d’oliva infuso con peperoncino secco. Non era solo piccante, aveva un sapore di pepe distinto. Ho chiesto come è stato fatto. Mi ha dato un po ‘da portare a casa e ha preso Lucia dalla cucina e lei ha spiegato.

a chili-olive infusionRemove the stems and coarsely chop dried red chilis

A Chili-Olive Oil InfusionHeat them in a dry frying pan for a few minutes until you can smell them.

A Chili-Olive Oil Infusion

Add some oil and sauté on low until the pepper softens. Put it all in a jar, add some more oil and in a few days, it’s ready.

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Breaking News … Sugar on Grits ?

Breaking News… Sugar on Grits ?

“IT’S TIME TO COME TO GRIPS WITH THE SUGAR-ON-GRITS DEBATE,” 4/11/16 (click here for the full story) Mississippi Sun Herald

This is important – SUGAR ON GRITS ???

When I was drafted, at my first breakfast in an Army mess hall I saw what I thought were people eating mashed potatoes with their eggs. I was wrong. I asked what that white stuff was and was told it was grits. I had some and thought they were great. I even wrote my mother to tell her “they serve polenta for breakfast in the Army.” I’m a New Yorker with a warn spot in my heart for grits but as a ‘’northerner” I don’t feel right about weighing in on this sensitive issue. What do you think? Sugar or no sugar. Let me and the Mississippi Sun Herald know how you feel.

Nashville Hot Fried Chicken

Nashville Hot Fried Chicken


This is more about the sauce than the chicken so if you have your own Southern fried chicken recipe, feel free to use it. If not, try this:

Start with a 3 ½ to 4 lb. chicken. You can simply quarter it or cut it into the standard 8 pieces (wings, thighs, legs and breasts) then cut each breast in 2 or 3 smaller pieces and cut the left over back into 2 pieces.

Chichen Pieces

If you want to brine it, add ½ cup of salt and  ½ cup of sugar to 2 quarts of water. Add chicken and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Blot the chicken dry and then dredge it in flour mixed with some salt and pepper. Fry it in about ¾ inch of peanut oil, turning as necessary until golden brown – about 20 – 25 minutes or until internal temperature reached 160o. Keep the cooked chicken in a low oven until you’re ready to serve it.Frying Chicken

Now for the sauce –

Nashville Hot Sauce

Sauce IngredientsJust mix this all together and serve it with a pastry brush instead of a spoon. Nashville Hot Fried Chicken is traditionally served on a slice of white bread with pickle slices.20160306_162127nashville name

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Pepperoncini don’t have the intensity of jalapenos but still provide a good sparkle to many dishes. Wash, dry and place fresh (not pickled) green pepperoncini in an open work basket or string them together and hang them (out of direct sunlight). They’ll eventually turn dark red and become dry and brittle.

green peppers 2
Fresh Green Pepperoncini


dried pep 2
Dried Pepperoncini


– Dried Pepperoncini Paste #1 -Heat about 1/4 cup olive oil; add 3 cloves of garlic and 10 crumbled dry peppers (remove stem, core and some seeds). Keep the heat low and don’t burn it. When the peppers and garlic darken a little put everything, including the oil in a food processor with a teaspoon of salt and grind until it’s a paste. Add more oil if needed. Put it back in the pan and heat until it dries. This works as a condiment on various dishes where you’d normally sprinkle red pepper flakes.

– Dried Pepperoncini Paste #2 -Start with dried pepperincini. Take off the stems and soak in water overnight – include seeds and ribs. Drain well and put in food processor with oil. Chop and add oil until it’s a paste. One suggested use: Add paste and some pasta water to pan when making Pasta Aglio e Olio (pasta w/ garlic & oil). Finish cooking pasta in the sauce and serve with toasted breadcrumbs.

– They’re great crumbled and fried with eggs,

– They can be eaten plain too. Remove the stem and the core of seeds. Give them a quick fry in hot olive oil. Their color will change from red to light brown. Let them cool and eat them like potato chips.

– Powdered pepperoncini– grind red pepper flakes in a blender until powered, Basilicata style. Be careful not to inhale when you uncover the blender or you’ll cough like a cat with a hairball. If you don’t dry your own peppers, you can used store-bought red pepper flakes for this one.

rigatoni marinara
Powdered pepperoncini


– One last suggestion – take one or two fresh green peperoncini and remove the stem and seeds. Cut it into pieces small enough to fit into a bottle and then fill with virgin olive oil.  Allow it a week or so to infuse and use this oil to drizzle on soups, meat or seafood dishes.


Toasted Breadcrumbs

Toasted Breadcrumbs

bread crumbs 2

If you don’t make your own (a blender and two day old bread – simple) always buy unseasoned breadcrumbs and use your own seasoning.  To toast – put about a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy frying pan on medium heat.  Add a cup of the unseasoned bread crumbs and keep them moving until they darken.  Don’t walk away to do something else because they’ll burn.  When they reach the right color remove them from the pan immediately or they’ll keep cooking.  They should smell like toast, not burnt toast.  You can use this on many pastas in place of cheese and there are some sauces where you can only use toasted breadcrumbs – fish sauces like pasta con sarde or baccala.

Untoasted on left. The perfect toasted color on the right.
Untoasted on left. The perfect toasted color on the right.

Grated Cheese

grated cheese 2

A few words about grated cheese…

Use Parmigiana, Loccatelli, Romano or whatever you like but don’t think you can put it on everything because it can conflict with and overpower delicate flavors. If you really want cheese, eat a piece of cheese.

Type can vary according to the sauce but NEVER, NEVER with sea food. Grandma said that was a mortal sin. Instead of the hard grating cheeses, try dry ricotta salada sometime or maybe a tablespoon of fresh ricotta in your dish before you put in pasta with tomato sauce. Instead of any grated cheese at all, try toasted bread crumbs. When Grandma couldn’t afford cheese this was a good substitute and on some dishes it’s better than cheese. I’ll explain how to make them in my next post.