Florida’s Little Black Dress

Thursday, June 25th, 2015


Smoked fish dip is the little black dress of dinner parties in South Florida…” -Wendy Donahue, The Chicago Tribune

To be honest, it took me time to understand and appreciate Smoked “Fish” Dip. When I came across them, early in my career, I wrote them off as dated and cliche. In my defense, the few I had been exposed to were not great, big chunks of red onion, bland, just plain boring. My moment of clarity came from experiencing the dish done well in the hands of a talented Chef. Vinny Dotolo is a famed California Chef, by way of Florida. He is a partner in Animal, Son of a Gun, and Trois Mec. One night in Oxford Mississippi, as so many magical food stories begin thanks to the SFA, I ate smoked gulf mullet dip with hushpuppies. The stars and the heavens aligned! Delicious…Amazing!

This experience, combined with my ever growing love of the mystical and  sometimes southern state known as Florida has led me to create my own version. Feel free to try this recipe with various types of smoked fish. Watch your seasoning, various types of smoked fish will have equally varied salt content. Note that the recipe below does not call for salt because the fish I use is very well seasoned. Whip up this recipe the next time you find yourself invited to a Floridian house party

Smoked Trout Dip

Yeilds 4 Servings

6 oz smoked trout
1 medium shallot, finely minced
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced scallion
½ tsp minced dill
½ tsp lemon zest
4 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp sour cream
½ tsp lemon juice

Heat olive oil in small sauté pan over med-low heat. Add in shallot and garlic. Sweat down for 2- 3 minuets being careful not to brown. Set aside. In a mixing bowl add your trout, gently breaking it apart with your hands. Add in scallion, dill, lemon zest, mayonnaise, sour cream, and lemon juice. Add in your shallot and garlic. Using a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat for 20-30 seconds on low until fully incorporated. Alternatively, vigorously mix with a spoon for same results. Enjoy with crackers, toasted bread, or hushpuppies… and a cold beer.



Pancakes… For The One You Love

Sunday, June 21st, 2015


Waking up too early
Maybe we can sleep in
Make you banana pancakes
Pretend like it’s the weekend now
– Jack Johnson

The Origin Story: In 2010 I moved to Cumberland Island… the first time. It was here that I took my first Executive Chef job and I loved it. Living on a semi-tropical island, having a national seashore a 5 minute bike ride from my front door, amazing sunsets, tropical breezes. You get the picture. When you live in this type of environment you also begin to fully embrace a certain type of life style. Suddenly Jimmy Buffet songs make sense, you begin to consider buying a Panama hat, socks are no longer needed. I say all this so that you can understand  and appreciate that, yes, this recipe was in fact inspired by the Jack Johnson song “Banana Pancakes”. I am sorry if this is cheesy, but its true. Ben worked up this recipe years ago as a treat for me and an ode to this song. This recipe has stayed with us and was a favorite item on the brunch menu at Cinco y Diez. Most recently we started adding cornmeal to the recipe. If you are a Cinco fan and want to have them the original way, just sub out the cornmeal and replace with AP flour. We like to serve ours with butter, maple syrup, and whipped clabber cream.

Banana-Cornmeal Pancakes

Yields – 10, four-inch pancakes
1 cup AP flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup white granulated sugar
1 cup cornmeal
1 egg
4 tbsp butter melted (half a stick of butter)
1 very ripe banana
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 cups buttermilk

Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda into a medium sized mixing bowl. Add salt, cornmeal, and sugar to the flour mixture. Stir to combine.Set aside. Melt the butter over low heat in a small sauce pan. Place the banana, vanilla extract, buttermilk, and egg into a blender and puree. While blender is on, pour in melted butter to incorporate with the buttermilk. Pour wet ingredients into the flour/cornmeal mixture all at once. Using a rubber spatula gently fold the ingredients together. The mixture will have small to medium lumps in it. Do not over mix, it will make your pancakes tough.

Heat a cast-iron skillet or non-stick pan over medium low heat. When pan is hot, add 1 tbsp of butter to the pan. Using a scoop or a ladle, drop 4 oz of the batter into the pan. When the tops of the pancakes have small bubbles and the edges begin to slightly brown, flip them over (about 2 minutes). Cook 1 minute, making sure the pancake is cooked through. Place pancakes on a plate and cover with a towel. Repeat process until the batter is finished. Serve, in bed… on a tray… to the one you love.


Viva la Squid!

Thursday, June 11th, 2015


My first introduction to squid was “fried calamari”. Are there many of us that can say otherwise? I’m sure there are a few lucky folks out there that could tell us about as amazing first time experience of squid braised with tomatoes, chile flake, currants, and lemon. Or maybe one incorporated squid ink, fresh chiles, and garlic? Jealous? I am. There is nothing wrong with really great fried calamari, but squid is so incredibly versatile and sustainable that I call for home cooks to take up the charge and start cooking more squid!

Squid can be sautéed, braised, or grilled. When purchasing look for whole cleaned squid or, if your up for a challenge, you can clean it yourself. Check out You Tube for instructional videos that take you through the steps. Try not be buy pre cut rings, they tend to be tougher. Look for squid from the U.S. Atlantic, California, or Mexico.

Garlic & Smoked Paprika Squid

Squid Marinade
Yields 1 cup, enough for up to 5 pounds whole, uncleaned squid
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pobalano pepper, deseeded and minced
¾ cup olive oil
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp lemon zest
¼ cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp of chopped parsley
1 tsp of chopped mint
1 tsp salt

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and add in half of the olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer add in the shallot and garlic and cook over medium heat until they just start to caramelize, about 3 minutes. Add in the paprika, lemon zest, and worcestershire sauce. Let the mixture cook together for about 15 seconds and turn off the burner. This will toast the paprika in the oil and help release its flavor. Add in the lemon juice and the rest of the olive oil. Stir to combine. Add the salt and chopped herbs. Set aside at room temperature while you prepare the squid.

Grilled Squid
Yields 4-6 portions
2.5 pounds whole,uncleaned squid
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 cup of squid marinade

Clean and trim the squid. Toss the tentacles and bodies into a bowl and mix with the salt, paprika, and olive oil. Set aside while you prepare your grill. I recommend grilling over wood or charcoal, but a gas grill will work just as well. When the grill is ready, place the squid pieces flat on the grates and cook for about 2 mins on each side. The tentacles will cook a little faster. Remove squid from the grill and allow to cool enough to handle. Slice the bodies into rings about a quarter inch thick, cut the tentacles in half lengthwise. Toss the squid in the marinade and thoroughly mix. Check seasoning. Wrap with plastic wrap and leave out to let marinate for at least an hour. If it will be over an hour before you eat the squid, just let it marinade in the fridge and remove about half an hour before serving. I like to serve the grilled squid as a salad with farro, pinenuts, plumped currants and pole beans from the garden.

Note: What’s the difference between calamari and squid? Nothing. Calamari is the Italian word for squid!



The Summer Cucumber

Friday, June 5th, 2015


Its no mystery that to make great food, you need to use great product. Nothing  can be better than using produce grown by local farmers in your area. Its fresh, its in season, and more often than not they grow varieties that have more flavor. In the South, there is a point in the summer in which the heat limits what farmers can grow. As a Chef you begin to see a steady rotation of peppers, eggplant, squash, and cucumbers. Cooking in season presents challenges. Its good to use the season’s bounty, but you don’t wan’t to feel like your eating the same thing every day. Lately, my opponent has been the cucumber. The Greyfield Garden has been producing an amazing number of cucumbers and its my job to find a place on the menu for all of them. This recipe is a perfect summer refresher or the mixer for an evening summer cocktail.

Cucumber Lemonade

Yields 6 cups

4 cups of water
3/4 cup of sugar
½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 ½ cups of cucumber, deseeded

In a pot add water and sugar. Bring to a boil to dissolve sugar. Turn off and set aside. In a blender add cucumber and lemon juice. Puree until smooth. Add the sugar water to the puree. Pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove any excess cucumber pulp. Add 4 cups of ice to liquid. Set aside to cool. Drink up!

*Add in a little tequila or gin to make a perfect summer cocktail


Heirloom Black Beans

Monday, June 1st, 2015


Before I was the Chef at Cinco y Diez and really studied the art of cooking Mexican food, I was an avid eater of the cuisine. But it was my time in Mexico where I really learned how to do it right. At the heart of many latin cultures lies the ability to cook a beautiful pot of beans. Cuban frijoles negros, Brazilian feijoada, Salvadoran casamiento. The beauty of knowing how to cook a great pot of beans is the endless meal possibilities.They are so versatile. They can be the star of the meal, a good bowl of beans and rice is timeless. They can play side kick to countless other dishes.  If you follow me on Instagram you will know that one of my all time favorite things to make/eat is tostadas and I almost always start building them with a spoonful of beans. This recipe gives you the tools to building your own perfect pot of beans. The key is building the flavor by layering in aromatics and spices. In Mexican cooking, one of the techniques to building flavor is charring your ingredients. The photo below is a look at how your vegetables should look when it calls for “charred”.


Where to by a better bean. I always say that one of my key roles as a Chef is to find the best ingredients I can get my hands on. I love the selection of beans that Rancho Gordo carries. For the beans we cooked at Cinco y Diez we used midnight black beans. But once you learn this recipe, explore other beans. I love the santa maria pinquito and the ayocote amarillo. Cooking times will vary based on the size of your beans. All you need to remember is to make sure there is plenty of liquid in the pot while they cook and be patient. Beans take time and you want to make sure they are very tender before you eat them.

Rancho Gordo

Heirloom Black Beans

Yields 3 quarts
1 quart of dried black beans (soaked overnight)*
1 med tomato, charred
½ onion, charred
1 jalapeno, charred, deseeded and skin removed
2 garlic cloves, charred, skins removed
1½ tsp dried Mexican oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tablespoons salt
queso fesco/ serrano/ cilanto optional garnish

In a blender add tomato, onion, jalapeno, garlic, Mexican oregano, and cumin. Blend until smooth to create a puree. In a medium pot add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Heat over medium heat. Add in the puree. Fry for about two minuets, string often. Add in the beans and any extra water from soaking. Add in 1 ½ quarts of water. You want to make sure there is plenty of water in the pot. There should be about 3 inches of water over the top of the beans. Bring the beans to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 1 hour and 45 minuets or until beans are tender. Add salt, adjust seasoning as needed. To serve garnish with a little queso fresco, sliced serrano, and cilantro.

*To soak, cover so there is at least 1 inch of cold water covering the beans. This will help to soften the beans for cooking. Make sure to reserve the bean liquid and cook your beans in it.

Note: The photo below was how I chose to enjoy the pot of beans I whipped up for this recipe. My love, the tostada!