Great Grilled Cheese

Posted by on Jan 18, 2016 in Everybody Loves…, Quickies | 0 comments

Great Grilled Cheese

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Grilled Cheese (but were too busy to ask) Everyone (?) knows how to make grilled cheese—college kids make them on their desks using a clothes iron—but not everyone knows how to make a perfect one. Longer slow cooking makes for delectably crunchy bread and thoroughly melted cheese. There is no reason why the everyday can’t be perfect. Per sandwich: 2 slices wheat or white bread 3 slices (about 2 ounces) easily melted cheese, such as American, muenster, or white cheddar 1 tablespoon softened butter or olive oil Optional Fillings (pick one) 3 slices bacon, cooked until crisp 3 thin (less than ¼-inch) slices tomato 2 thin slices ham or smoked turkey Heat a heavy, flat (cast iron is perfect) skillet or griddle over medium-low heat. Make the sandwiches, placing one of the fillings, if using, between slices of cheese, not next to the bread. Butter Method: Spread the butter over both sides of the sandwich, dividing it evenly. Set the bread into the skillet; there should be barely a sizzle. Cook until crisp and deep golden brown. This should take a full 4 to 5 minutes. if the sandwich is browning faster than that, lower the heat. Flip and repeat. Olive Oil Method. Pour enough olive oil into the skillet or onto the griddle to make a thin even film. Grill the sandwiches as in the butter method, but lift the sandwich and replenish the oil before flipping. Grilled Cheese Gone Fancy Here are dressed-up ideas for an everyday favorite. If butter is your grilling medium of choice, any grilled cheese sandwich can be dressed up by pressing herb leaves onto the butter before grilling. Match the herb to the filling: perhaps parsley for a plain grilled cheese, basil for a grilled cheese and tomato, or cilantro for the grilled pepper Jack and chicken below. Each makes 1 sandwich  Sun-dried Tomato Goat Cheese – Beat ¼ cup softened goat cheese with 2 tablespoons finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes (soaked and drained if necessary) until smooth. Season liberally with freshly ground black pepper. Spread over one slice of bread, top with another and grill as directed above. Smoked Gouda and Mushroom – Toss ½ cup coarsely grated smoked gouda and ¼ cup coarsely chopped sauteed mushrooms together in a small bowl. Pile onto one slice of bread, top with another and grill as directed above. Pepper Jack and Chicken – Toss ½ coarsely cup grated pepper Jack cheese and 1/3 cup shredded cooked chicken (or turkey) together in a small bowl. Pile onto one slice of bread, top with another and grill as directed...

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Cravings: Clams

Posted by on Jan 15, 2016 in Kitchen Basics | 0 comments

Cravings: Clams

Years ago, when I worked at the Black Dog Tavern on Martha’s Vineyard, I got myself up to Tisbury Town Hall and applied for a clamming permit. I could spend an entire (and rare) free afternoon clamming in Lagoon Pond, between Tisbury and Oak Bluffs. I’d borrow Charlie Esposito’s row boat, get a little bucket of ice and put a couple of beers in the ice. Once on board, I’d row up to the narrow part of the pond. When I was in knee-deep water, I’d jump out and tie the boat’s mooring line around my waist and start walking. The best way to find clams is to walk in your bare feet—very slowly and wiggling your toes in the sand the whole time—until you feel what you think is a clam. Then loosen the clam up with your toes and bend down and dig it out. After a while, you could tell the clams from the rocks. Clams always dig in with their hinged side down and tapered side up, so you knew you hit pay dirt (or pay sand) when you felt that tapered side and not something round or bumpy. Once you found one clam there were always at least a few more in the immediate vicinity. A born-and-bred Vinyarder once told me this was the “momma clam, daddy clam and the little baby clams.” I think he was pulling my leg. One important step I forgot to mention up top: put a clam knife in the boat too. Every once in a while, stop to give your toes a break, swish a clam around in the half-melted ice to rinse the sand off, open it and slurp it up. That’s what the beer’s for. Unlike shrimp sizes (Jumbo! Extra Colossal!!), clam terminology is supposed to be cut-and-dry. Most hard shell eastern clams are quahogs, but they’re marketed according to their size. Working up in size from Little Necks through Top Necks, Cherrystones and Quahogs there is are specific (sort of) guidelines for sizing and marketing clams. I have seen Little Necks that I am sure should be labeled ‘Top Necks,’ Top Necks passing as Cherrystones and so on. What I was digging for up on the Vineyard would most likely be called Little Necks or Top Necks. Following is my attempt to classify clam sizes. The sizes and weights are an average number culled from many sources. The end result jives pretty well with my experience in the world of clams. No matter what size clam you settle on, make sure the two shells are clamped tightly together and not gaping. If they are slightly open, pinch them closed; if they stay that way, they’re fine. If the shells open back up, move along. Once you get them home, scrub the clams well with a sturdy plastic brush under cold running water, removing as much sand as possible from the crevices. Drain them well. Little Necks: about 1½ to 2 inches across at the widest; 10 to 12 per pound Top Necks: about 2 ½ to 3 inches across; 5 to 7 per pound Cherrystones: about 3 to 4 inches across; about 4 per pound Quahogs/Chowder: Any thing larger than a cherrystone; 8 ounces each and up IMHO, Little Necks and Top Necks are best...

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New England Little Neck Clam Chowder

Posted by on Jan 9, 2016 in Everybody Loves… | 0 comments

New England Little Neck Clam Chowder

I have to qualify this as Little Neck chowder as most chowder in New England is made with large chowder clams aka quahogs. Technically, most eastern hard-shell clams are quahogs, but they are named and sold according to size. Quahog is reserved for the largest of the hard shell clams. This is a not-so-thick, less creamy chowder than most. I like it this way—the brininess of the clams really comes through. If you like yours thicker and/or creamier, increase the flour to 2 tablespoons and the milk to 2 cups. I have tried a non-dairy version of this with vegetable oil and almond milk. It was dreadful, as I knew it would be before I started. Which brings me to the title of my (not yet written) autobiography: I Knew What Would Happen But I Did It Anyway. Makes 4 cups, 2 main course servings 30 little neck clams, 20 cherrystones or 12 quahogs 2 tablespoons butter (or bacon, see note) 1 medium onion, diced (about 1 ½ cups) 2 ribs celery, trimmed and diced (about 1 cup) 1 ¼ teaspoon dried thyme Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 ½ tablespoons all purpose flour 1 ½ cups milk 1 medium russet (Idaho) potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch diced (about 1 ½ cups) 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley, optional but nice Scrub the clam shells well with a stiff plastic brush. Put the clams in a pot with 1 ½ cups water. Heat to a boil over high heat. Cover and steam until the clams open, about 5 minutes for little necks or up to 10 minutes for quahogs. Remove the clams with a slotted spoon or wire skimmer and let them cool. If you want to be sure you don’t end up with tough clams, or if you’re obsessive like me, lift the lid at about the halfway mark of cooking and scoop out any open clams. Do this every minute or so until the clams are all open. Or skip step this entirely and pull them when the last clams open. Strain the cooking liquid through a sieve lined with paper towel and set it aside. Pull the clams from the shells and chop them roughly. Leave a half-dozen clams in the shell to add to the finished chowder. Heat the butter in a heavy 3 or 4-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and thyme. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, 3 to 4 minutes. Pour in the clam cooking liquid Bring to a boil, stirring (especially in the corners). Add the potatoes and return to a boil. Adjust the heat so the liquid is simmering. Season lightly with salt and pepper and cook until the potatoes are tender but not mushy, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the chopped clams and heat through. Check the seasoning and add more salt and/or pepper if you like. Stir in the parsley if using. Put the whole clams into a warm soup bowl and ladle the chowder over them. Bacon! Substitute 1/3 cup slab bacon cut into 1/4-inch cubes and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil for the butter. Put the bacon and oil in the cold pot over medium-low...

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Jamaica Jerk Chicken

Posted by on Jan 2, 2016 in Secret Weapons, Weekend Warrior | 0 comments

Jamaica Jerk Chicken

This recipe came to me not from Jamaica but from Grand Cayman. I spent 3 weeks at a dive lodge way out on the eastern end of the island. The deal was I would cook for the guests in exchange for a room and 3 dives a day (sometimes 4 if there was a night dive). You know it was a well-negotiated agreement because all parties felt as though they got the better deal. Down the street from the lodge was a dive bar in the best sense of the word. Loud Caribbean music, open on the beach side to let the breeze blow through, the steady ‘thwap-thwap’ of dominoes slammed onto the metal table… Around midnight, Dookie came down the street with a homemade Jerk cart, featuring a rickety chimney springing up from the ‘oven.’ A few pieces of chicken and a slice of white bread in a paper French fry boat—that was the menu. I don’t know what this man did, but that was some of the best chicken I ever ate. Finally, after pestering him a few times, he gave me his “recipe.” A while passed before I tried it. (I found the recipe scrawled on a bar napkin stuck in the side pocket of my dive gear bag the next time I went diving.) I don’t think it’s exactly the same but it’s pretty close. Dookie used a little wood in with his charcoal. If you have an outdoor or stovetop smoker, smoke the chicken in place of roasting it. I would take the skin off to smoke it. You could use this marinade for 2 ½ pounds of chicken wings as well. Or marinate shelled shrimp or thick, sturdy cuts of fish like mako shark or swordfish steaks, or salmon or mahi-mahi fillets. Marinate seafood for 6 hours at most (or 3 hours in the case of shrimp). Chilled, this makes an excellent dish to bring on a picnic. Makes About 1 ½ Cups : Enough to marinate 2 ½ pounds of poultry or fish One 3 ½ pound chicken, cut into eight pieces OR 2 ½ pounds chicken thighs with bones, with or without skin ¼ cup lime juice 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt For The Marinade 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 ½ cups) 6 scallions, trimmed and coarsely chopped (about 1 cup) Chiles, stemmed and coarsely chopped (see Note) 2 tablespoons soy sauce 2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar 4 garlic cloves Six ¼-inch slices peeled fresh ginger 2 teaspoons dried thyme 1 teaspoon ground allspice ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg 3 tablespoons hickory or mesquite wood chips Place the chicken pieces in a heavy-duty resealable plastic bag. Stir the lime juice and salt together in a small bowl until the salt is mostly dissolved, then pour the mixture into the bag. Squeeze out most of the air in the bag, seal the bag, and refrigerate 2 hours, turning the bag two or three times. This step gives the chicken a nice tart flavor, but you can skip it if you’re short on time. If you do skip, just add the lime juice and salt to the processor with the rest of the marinade ingredients. Process all the marinade ingredients in a food processor or blender until the mixture...

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Red Wine Short Ribs

Posted by on Dec 17, 2015 in Weekend Warrior | 0 comments

Red Wine Short Ribs

I know people who won’t buy clothes online. “If I don’t like them or if they don’t fit, I have to send them back.” Calling UPS for a pickup seems like a good trade-off for not having to battle the hoards of tourists at Century 21 who are sent into a Pamplona-like frenzy at the sight of a fairly priced wallet. In fact, I’m a big fan of on-line ordering of anything. Being car-less by choice and a weekly meal planner by habit, I order pantry and household staples online (thank you Fresh Direct). I fill in the fresh bits with trips to the farmers’ market in season or the neighborhood greengrocer. One thing I will not buy online is short ribs. I have to see them to make sure I am not paying $8.99 a pound for fat and bones. Short ribs are not a lean cut to begin with, but to make sure I’m getting a nice meaty cut with minimal fat next to the bone and on the surface I have to go someplace and pick them out one by one. Usually that place is Dickson’s Farmstand Meats in the Chelsea Market. If you’re ever in the neighborhood or walking the High Line, it’s worth a trip.   Makes 4 servings   4 meaty short ribs (about 2 ½ pounds) Sea salt and freshly ground pepper Vegetable oil 4 carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces 2 medium leeks, cleaned (see below) and cut into ½-inch strips 3/4 pound large crimini mushrooms, stems removed and reserved, caps cut into 1 inch wide strips 4 whole peeled garlic cloves 2 tablespoons tomato paste 2 cups red wine 4 cups (or as needed) homemade or store-bought chicken broth 6 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley or scallion greens   Trim any fat from the surface of the ribs. Rub a fair amount of salt and pepper into the meat. Pour enough oil into a heavy Dutch oven to coat the bottom. (The ribs should have room to move; see the photo.) Heat the oil over medium heat until it ripples easily over the bottom of the pan. Add the ribs to the pot and cook, turning them as necessary until all sides are well browned. Their square-ish shape makes this a fairly easy proposition. When they are browned, remove them to a plate. Add about three-quarters of the carrot and onion and the sliced mushroom caps to the pan. Cook, stirring until very lightly browned and the onions are wilted, about 4 minutes. Scoop them out and set them aside. Add a little more oil to the pan (the mushrooms will have soaked most of it up) and heat for a minute or two. Add the remaining carrots and onions and the garlic and mushroom stems. Cook, stirring constantly, until the vegetables are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook until it more or less coats the vegetables and turns a brick red. Pour in the wine and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pot. Boil until the wine is reduced by half. Tuck the ribs into the vegetables and wine in the pan (leave...

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Cakey vs. Fudgy, Round 2

Posted by on Dec 15, 2015 in Sweetness | 0 comments

Cakey vs. Fudgy, Round 2

Fudgy Brownies So maybe you’re not wild about cakey brownies. If my recipe didn’t change your mind—as it did mine—then check these out. We used to make a version of these when we ran Blue Collar Food, a Soho-based catering company. People loved them and our normally super-focused prep guys would battle over the edges we trimmed off. I’m still partial to the edges myself. When we wanted to wangle our way into a new corporate account or just keep a regular customer happy, we’d send around a tray of these. Worked every time (just about).   Makes 24 2 x 2-inch squares 14 ounces good-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate 1 cup sugar 1 ½ sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter 1 cup all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 4 large eggs 1 tablespoons instant coffee or espresso (optional) 1 tablespoon vanilla extract 1 ½ cups chopped walnuts 1. Melt the chocolate, sugar and butter in the top of a double boiler. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and the mixture smooth, about 10 minutes. Make sure the water stays at a bare simmer; if it gets too hot the chocolate will separate. Let cool to room temperature. Whisking it every once in a while helps to cool it faster. 2. Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour a 13 x 9 inch baking pan. 3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside. 4. Beat the eggs, coffee and vanilla in a separate bowl until foamy. Beat this mixture into the chocolate mixture until smooth. Fold in the flour just until not streaks of white remain. Fold in the walnuts. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth into an even layer. 5. Bake until the edges are crisp and begin to pull away from the pan and the top is set, about 30 minutes. (The center of the brownies will still be slightly soft to the touch and a toothpick or cake tester inserted int eh center will not come out clean.) Let cool completely. Cut the brownies into 2-inch squares. This is easier if the brownies are chilled in the pan for 10 to 20 minutes first. The brownies may be made up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated, covered. Bring to room temperature before serving. The brownies may also be frozen, well wrapped in aluminum...

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“This weather, though…”

Posted by on Dec 9, 2015 in Quickies | 0 comments

“This weather, though…”

Salmon with Citrus and Tarragon Rub My grandmother used the phrase, “this weather, though…” for just about any meteorological situation, not just weather oddities like the incredibly mild weather we’re having this December in the NYC area. If it was cold in May, warm in January, rainy in April, freezing cold and snowy in February or even hot one day and cold the next, the phrase applied. You have to admit, there’s a kind of genius in it—you can say it every day without ever being wrong. Taking advantage of the 60-something temps a couple of nights ago, I went up to the rooftop without a jacket to grill some salmon. I made this quick rub with things I had on hand. You can use dried tarragon—one of the dried spices I always keep on hand—if you don’t have fresh. If the weather ever normalizes this works well under the broiler too. This salmon is perfect (especially in this weather) with Yellow Split Peas and String Beans. Serves 2 (can be easily doubled) 1 large orange 1 lemon 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon 1 tablespoon olive oil ½ teaspoon sea salt ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper Two 6-ounce salmon fillets (the thicker the better) Grate the zest from the orange and lemon into a small bowl. (Save the zested orange and lemon for the finished dish.) Stir the tarragon, olive oil, salt and pepper into the zest. Rub the salmon fillets on all but the skin side with the rub, put them on a small plate and cover well with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to overnight. To cook the rubbed salmon: Broil: Set the oven rack about 8 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler to high. Lightly oil a broiler pan or heavy-duty baking sheet. Broil the salmon skin side down until done to your likeness. Grill: If you’re grilling the fish, add a little extra oil to the rub and be sure you’re grill is clean and well-oiled before you start. Also, when the salmon is done, gently slide a flat metal spatula under the salmon to completely free it from the grill to save as much of the rub as you can. Heat a gas grill to medium-high or light a charcoal fire and let the coals burn down till uniformly gray. Oil the grill well, start the salmon skin side down and cook until the skin is charred. Gently lift the salmon, re-oil the grill and flip the salmon skin side up. Cook to medium-rare, about 6 minutes for a 1-inch thick fillet, longer for a more well-done...

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Yellow Split Peas and Green Beans

Posted by on Nov 24, 2015 in Vegetable World | 0 comments

Yellow Split Peas and Green Beans

Using a box grater for the carrots, garlic and ginger works beautifully. And you can throw it in the dishwasher when you’re done. This is good on its own or next to just about anything from grilled fish to roast chicken. I bet it would be good with shrimp sauteéd with garlic and cilantro spooned over the top. Makes 2 servings, can be easily doubled 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 1 medium carrot 1 clove garlic 1-inch length peeled fresh ginger ½ cup yellow split peas 1 ¼ cups vegetable broth, chicken broth or water (or as needed) Sea salt ¼ teaspoon ground cumin A handful of green beans (about 12 medium), ends trimmed and cut on the bias into ¼-inch lengths (generous ½ cup) Heat the oil in a small (1 ½ to 2-quart) saucepan over medium heat. While the oil is heating, grate the carrot on the coarser side of the grater right into the pan. Give the carrot a good stir, then grate the garlic and ginger into the pan using the finer side of the grater. Stir until the carrot is wilted and the garlic and ginger are fragrant. Stir in the split peas. Pour into enough broth or water to barely cover the peas by ½ inch and add the cumin and salt to taste. Bring to a boil then adjust the heat to simmering. Cover the pan and cook 20 minutes. The peas should still be a little underdone. Stir in the green beans and while you’re doing so, check the amount of liquid in the bottom of the pan—there should be about ½ inch or so. If there is a little more or less, no worries. If the bottom of the pan is dry add a little water, if there is too much liquid, we’ll take care of it later. Cook, uncovered, until the peas and beans are tender and almost all the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. If there is too much liquid in the bottom of the pan, use a slotted spoon to serve the peas, or just leave them soupy. Worse things have happened. Serve hot. Note: To turn this or leftovers into a (sort-of) Indian dahl, add about ¾ cup stock or water when the peas are tender and cook for another 5 minutes until the peas are very soft. Add a little ground coriander, cardamom and/or chili pepper and whisk to smooth out the...

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Cakey vs Fudgy, Round 1

Posted by on Nov 17, 2015 in Sweetness | 0 comments

Cakey vs Fudgy, Round 1

Cakey-Cashew Brownies The first contender in round one of our brownie-weight championship is the cakey brownie—a perennial underdog in the battle of the brownies (with fudgy as the favorite).  My version  of a cakey brownie uses cashew butter for added moistness and a hint of nutty flavor. They’re really very good and could up the odds. This may not be everyone’s idea of a cakey brownie, it tends to the fudgier side of the scale. If you like an even cakier brownie, up the flour by ¼ cup and the baking powder by ¼ teaspoon. Makes 24 2 x 2-inch squares ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter ½ cashew butter 2 cups sugar 1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour 1 ¼ cups Dutch-processs cocoa 1 teaspoon baking powder ¾ teaspoon salt 5 large eggs 1 tablespoon vanilla extract 1/2 cup milk (anything from skim to whole) With a rack in the center position, heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9″ x 13″ cake pan. Heat the butter and cashew butter together in a small saucepan, stirring occasionally, until smooth and just starting to bubble. Meanwhile, sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt together into a bowl. Set aside. Scrape the butter mix into a bowl with the sugar and beat with a handheld mixer until very smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one, then beat in the vanilla extract. Stir in half the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until mostly blended. Add the milk and do the same. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just a streak or two of dry ingredients remain. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the brownies until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean, or with a few moist crumbs attached, about 30 minutes. The brownies should feel set both on the edges and in the center....

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The World Can Be Your Oyster

Posted by on Nov 11, 2015 in Kitchen Basics, Small Plates | 0 comments

The World Can Be Your Oyster

Shucking oysters isn’t the easiest task in the kitchen, but it most certainly is one where practice makes perfect. Start by scrubbing the oyster shells thoroughly with a stiff brush under cold running water. While they are draining in a colander, set up your shucking station and pour enough very coarse salt over the bottom of a platter to form a thick layer. This is where your shelled oysters will end up.   Take a look at an oyster: there is one cupped shell and one more or less flat shell. The difference is very obvious in some varietes (belon) and less so in others (‘Flowers’ from Long Island). Always shuck oysters with the flat side up, so you discard the flat shell and leave the cupped shell to hold the oyster and its juices. If you are right-handed, pad your left palm with several layers of kitchen towel and use it to hold the oyster firmly in place. Look at the hinged (i.e., narrower) end of the oyster. You can usually spot an opening that will serve as your point of entry. Wiggle the tip of an oyster knife, churchkey style bottle opener, or a small screwdriver into this opening and twist it, separating the top and bottom shells. Whatever your tool, work slowly and steadily and make sure the business end of the tool is pointing toward the padding in your hand. You’ll know when the shells separate: you will feel the tight bond between shells loosen dramatically. If you are straining too hard to pry the shells apart, take a better look for the opening or set that oyster aside and try another. With a few shucked oysters under your belt you’ll tackle this problem a little more confidently.   Once you’ve separated the shells, run a thin-bladed, not-too-sharp knife all along the top shell, pressing the knife blade as close as possible to the shell to avoid cutting into the oyster. (You’re separating the oyster from the top shell.) Discard the top shell. Run the knife blade underneath the bottom shell, again pressing it tightly to the shell to keep the oyster whole. Set the oyster shell, with as much of the juice as possible, on the salt-lined platter. Repeat with the remaining oysters. What to serve? Lemon wedges alone for some. A dash of basic hot sauce like Tabasco or Frank’s is nice with the lemon. And if I’m doing this at home I make cocktail sauce because almost everyone likes it. It’s easy to make too: start with a good quality bottled chili sauce, spike it to taste with hot red pepper sauce, grated horseradish (fresh, if possible) fresh lime juice and Worcestershire sauce. Then there are the pros. Sitting at the bar at Hog Island Oyster Co. at the Ferry Building in San Francisco is an education in itself. Or find out what the Hog-Islanders like to do with their oysters besides shucking and slurping them up by checking out the...

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