Vin Brule: Winter’s Drink

Wine for Vin BruleOld-fashioned mulled wine has always intrigued me. But the complexity of the ingredients has scared me away. And I just don’t like cloves that much. So, as usual, we’re going rogue.

I found this simple recipe for Vin Brule that only has 4 key ingredients:

– 1 bottle of dry red wine (burgundy is best)
– 4 cinnamon sticks
– the peel of 1 orange
– 3-4 tablespoons of sugar

Put all ingredients in a medium sauce pan. Cover and cook on high. When it starts to boil, remove lid and light with a match. Be careful: A beautiful large blue flame will burst out.

When the flames dies down, ladle into mugs. Serves 4.

Don’t forget to spill a little wine to the gods.



Tuna is a hearty fish that can stand up to bold flavors. As a quick lunch today, I took some fresh ahi tuna, about four ounces, cut it into small cubes and sauteed it in a small pan with a little bit of olive oil and sliced onion.

I sprinkled it with some salt and then shook on some cayenne pepper, some chili powder, and some fresh-cracked black pepper.

I also minced some fresh chili pepper, just a touch, and let the whole concoction cook through. I though it might be too hot, so I added a small fresh tomato cut into chunks and then covered the pan. I let the tuna and pepper mix cook in the juice from the tomato for about two minutes.

With a slotted spoon, I pulled out the tuna so as not to get the juice, and divided the mixture between two red pepper tortilla wraps.

It actually didn’t have as much heat as I thought. It turned out to be an interesting little lunch.


4 oz. fresh tuna, cut into small cubes
1 dash of cayenne pepper
1 hearty shake of chili powder
1 thin slice of fresh chili pepper, minced
A sprinkling of fresh-cracked black pepper
A pinch of salt
1 small tomato, cut into chunks
Two fresh red pepper tortilla wraps

Spanish Chicken

Spanish Chicken With Rice

We’re always looking for new ways to make chicken. Chicken is so versatile and easy to cook. But it can get repetitive and boring if you always make it the same way.

Browsing through the supermarket, we spotted a display by McCormick of pre-measured spice packets with recipe cards and meal ideas.

Spanish Chicken McCormick Spice Pack

The one that interested us the most was Spanish Chicken Skillet. So, we gave it a try.

It included 2 teaspoons of paprika, 1 teaspoon of minced garlic, 1 teaspoon of thyme, 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper.

Spanish Chicken McCormick Recipe Card

To complete the recipe, we needed to add our own flour, salt, boneless chicken breasts, olive oil, a sweet green pepper, a large onion, diced tomatoes and either chicken broth or dry sherry.

We figured why use chicken broth when something as yummy as sherry could be substituted.

Spanish Chicken - Flour With Spices

You start by putting 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour in a wide bowl, add 1 teaspoon of salt and all of the spices except for the red pepper.

You’ll need about 1.5 pounds of boneless, skinless breast of chicken. This recipe feeds six so cut the chicken into six pieces.

Dip into the seasoned flour and cook in a large skillet on medium-high heat for a few minutes on each side. Then remove them from the skillet and set aside.

Spanish Chicken - Adding Vegetables

Put the chopped bell pepper and onions into the skillet and cook until tender. Stir in a 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes and 1/2 cup of sherry. This sounds like a lot of sherry, but the alcohol will cook off and leave behind a slightly sweet, rich flavor.

Give a good stir and then add the rest of the seasoned flour. The sauce will thicken nicely.

Spanish Chicken - Adding the Chicken

Bring to a boil and keep stirring until the alcohol cooks off. This is when you add the red pepper flakes. We only added half of the packet and that was plenty to give it a nice heat.

At this point we put some arborio rice into the rice cooker to get it started. It makes a nice complement to the spanish chicken.

Then add the cooked chicken back to the pot and continue to simmer on low heat with the lid on. This will take at least ten minutes.

Serve on top of the plump arborio rice. A cold glass of cava adds a nice touch.

Spanish Chicken

We made this meal a second time without the pre-measured spices. We have all of the ingredients in our cupboard and we followed the recipe card once again.

But this time we substituted whole wheat flour for the regular all-purpose white. And we used fresh garlic instead of the dried flakes. It turned out just as delicious but with a little less fat.

Spanish Chicken - All Gone

Music to cook by: Sarah Vaughn’s I Love Brazil

A Visitor

This little guy decided to stop by our Memorial Day barbeque.

A backyard visitor

A Rogue Cocktail

Negroni Sbagliato

We were searching for a signature cocktail for our Web site. So we consulted the expert in all things related to drinks, King Cocktail.

Dale DeGroff has penned several books on the subject, including the holy bible of imbibing, The Craft of the Cocktail, which every household should own.

We’ve never met Dale in person, but we have written to him a few times over the years asking for cocktail recommendations, and he always answers promptly and cheerfully with expert advice.

When we explained the gist of this Web site to him, he recommended without hesitation, “The Negroni, of course!”

You’ll know from previous posts that we love Negronis and its anscestor the Americano. But we wanted something a little different.

As usual, we went Rogue. In our favorite magazine, La Cucina Italiana, we found the perfect solution. Trendy in Milan at the moment is a softer take on the classic Negroni. They call it Negroni Sbagliato, which translates to “wrong” or “mistaken” Negroni. We love cocktails with a sense of humor. It was made famous by the legendary Bar Basso in Milan.

Negroni Sbagliato recipe:

* 1 ounce Campari
* 1 ounce Martini and Rossi sweet vermouth
* 1 ounce dry spumante
* Orange slice for garnish

Fill a rocks glass with ice. Add Campari, vermouth and spumante, in that order. Gently stir and garnish with orange slice.

The spumante takes the place of the gin used in a classic Negroni. It makes a softer, creamier cocktail perfect for an Italian summer.

If you’re wondering about our beautiful Italian tumblers, they were designed by Achille Castiglioni for Alessi. You can purchase them from Forzieri.com.


Jim: Where do vegetarians come down on eggs? I had egg salad on whole wheat. So is that a meatless lunch?

Donna: I’m having egg salad on whole wheat, too. Some veggies do eggs. I always did. We’re lacto-ovo vegetarians or something like that. We eat dairy and eggs.

Jim: And pepperoni

Donna: Oh yeah, I was a lacto-ovo-Italiano vegetarian.

Jim: Like when Sam would bless the cheese steaks on Friday’s during lent.

Reminiscences from the store:

During Lent people would come into the store and either complain about not being able to eat meat… or forget that is was Lent and order a cheese steak or Italian hoagie.

Sam used to claim to have special dispensational powers and he’d make the sign of the cross over a sandwich and present it to the customer.

Everyone in Juniata was good with it.

“In the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church, a dispensation is the suspension by competent authority of general rules of law in particular cases. Its object is to modify the hardship often arising from the rigorous application of general laws to particular cases, and its essence is to preserve the law by suspending its operation in such cases.”

When Sam would bless the sandwiches, kids would actually say: “Thanks, Sam.”


Mama Rosa’s Chicken

Chicken With Potatoes and Oregano

This is a meal that comes directly from my father’s memory. His mother made this hearty and tasty dinner when he was a kid and he always remembered it fondly.

Because my father grew up eating Italian food everyday, he always appreciated a meal that wasn’t made of pasta and tomato sauce.

Chicken With Potatoes and OreganoJim calls it chicken without tomatoes. He can’t imagine why I wouldn’t want to put just a little chopped tomato in it. But the beauty of this meal is its simplicity.

Here is what you’ll need:

* olive oil (not extra virgin)
* chicken breasts split down the middle with skin and on the bone
* russet potatoes
* dried oregano
* salt and pepper

Adjust the amount of ingredients depending on how many people you are serving. Figure one half breast per person. I used one split chicken breast for two people.

Start with an oven-safe baking dish. Brush a coating of olive oil in the bottom and all around the insides.

Rinse the chicken and place in the baking dish. Cut the potatoes into rounds — not too thin, you don’t want them to cook faster than the chicken. Place all around the baking dish.

Chicken With Potatoes and OreganoSprinkle everything with salt. Crack on a little black pepper. Then coat everything generously with dried oregano. It is the main seasoning for this meal. Drizzle on some more olive oil.

Cover with foil. Poke in some holes to vent. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for another 15 minutes.

Chicken With Potatoes and OreganoI checked on the chicken about 30 minutes in. My chicken was particularly well endowed, so I cut a slit into each breast to allow the center to cook more rapidly. I didn’t want to dry out the potatoes.

The potatoes will absorb the juice that comes out of the chicken. If it looks like it is drying out, you can add a little water.

Serve with your favorite vegetables.

Music to cook by: Bernadette Peters Sondheim, Etc. (Live at Carnegie Hall)

Chicken With Potatoes and Oregano