The Best Special-Sauced Grilled Chicken

I have a decent “poker face”, but it’s tough to hide my disappointment when I see someone grilling/serving dried-out, boneless skinless chicken breast.  I know it has its place on some menus, but chicken on the bone is so much more flavorful!  If you take your time and master the technique, you’ll be saying adios to the “old beige standby”.  I love all kinds of seasonings and sauces, but this tried-and-true recipe I use all year long on grilled chicken and wings.  You’re going to love it!

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Best Special-Sauced Grilled Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 Whole Chicken, Cut Into Pieces (2 Each – Wings, Thighs, Breasts and Legs)
  • 1 Tbs Seasoned Salt
  • 1 Tbs Black Pepper

Special Sauce

  • 1/2 Stick Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Crystal Hot Sauce
  • 1/4 Cup The Original Tiger Sauce

Directions

  • Rinse and dry chicken pieces.  Season all sides liberally with seasoned salt and pepper.  You can season with anything, but one of my favorites is Butt Rub.  You can find it at buttrub.com or you can also mix your own.  I’ll provide some rub recipes in a another post.
  • Grill chicken on medium-low heat turning often to avoid burning skin.  Know your hot spots on your grill and rotate pieces as needed.  You can put put the breasts on 10 minutes before the rest of the pieces since they are larger.  Cook all pieces for 25 minutes.  They will need another 10-15, but you can sauce through the last of the process.
  • In a microwaveable bowl, melt butter and then add both sauces.  I recommend Crystal Hot Sauce for spice and The Original Tiger Sauce for a sweet/hot addition.  Stir together until fully mixed.  This spicy-sweet sauce is not quite buffalo, but close enough that you’ll want to put in on wings too!
  • Brush sauce on chicken pieces and allow to cook2-3 minutes.  Turn and continue this process 4-5 times using all sauce and juices run clear in chicken.

If you follow this simple process, you’ll have savory grilled chicken with crispy skin and a spicy/sweet sauce.  It might take some practice, but once you master it, you’ll make this a standby for your grilling season.  Dig in!

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Pimento Cheese Dip and BLT Dip

Memorial Day Weekend is always a blast whether you’re cooking out at home, sitting by the pool or camping with family – like we are this weekend!  There’s plenty of time to eat healthy all year long, so take the holiday opportunity to dive into these fantastic dips.  They are both fatty, decadent and will absolutely make you a hit at any party you pop in on!

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PIMENTO CHEESE DIP

Ingredients

  • 1 Lb Block Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 Cup Mayonnaise
  • 1 4 Oz Jar Pimentos

Directions

  • Use the largest holes on a box grater and shred cheddar cheese.  DO NOT buy shredded cheese.  The anti-caking agent and shape will not give you the right taste or consistency.
  • In a bowl, mix together shredded cheese, mayonnaise and drained pimentos.
  • This dip tastes best if you let it chill for at least 2 hours.

Serve this dip with your favorite crackers, crusty bread, celery or other veggies.  It is also delicious on top of a burger or as the filling for a grilled cheese!

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BLT DIP

Ingredients

  • 2 Lbs Hickory Smoked Bacon
  • 16 Oz Sour Cream
  • 16 Oz Mayonnaise
  • 2 Large Ripe Tomatoes

Directions

  • Dice bacon into small pieces and render until brown and crispy in a non-stick pan.  DO NOT use thick cut bacon here as it doesn’t provide the right consistency.  Cutting the bacon raw and then rendering makes it really easy vs. frying strips and then crumbling.
  • Remove bacon from grease and drain on paper towels.  Allow to cool completely.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise and sour cream.
  • Seed and cut tomatoes into 1/2-inch dice.  Add to mayo mixture.
  • Stir in cooled bacon pieces and allow to chill for 2 hours before serving.

OK, so there’s no lettuce, but BLT is what we’ve always called this dip!  It’s fantastic with Fritos, Triscuits or butter crackers.  Any way you try it, you’ll love it…and your friends/family will love you for bringing it!  Happy Memorial Day all!

Forno Osteria + Bar – Cincinnati

Located just north of downtown Cincinnati in the Hyde Park area, Forno Osteria + Bar is a great find for refined, yet comfortable, Italian food.  The restaurant features a long curved bar and plenty of seating indoors and out in a rustic atmosphere with modern finishes.  It’s a beautiful place for an impromptu dinner or a special occasion.  Celebrating a birthday, we started with the Black Plum Fizz (plum shrub, St. Germain, prosecco) and a Limonata (blueberry-thyme syrup, vodka, comtratto bianco).  They were both refreshing and good examples of a small, but interesting cocktail menu.

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The menu has a good selection of modern Italian flair with starters, pastas, mains, sides and pizzas.  We always love a good meat and cheese starter and their Antipasto Italiano was perfect.  The house-made pickled vegetables gave the right amount of crunch and contrast to cut through the fatty deliciousness of the salumi and truffled mozzarella.  If you haven’t had a pickled caper berry before, you’re going to want to now!

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Although the entrees all looked amazing, we wanted to sample several things.  We settled on one of their signature pizzas made in a 900-degree oven.  Sausage and caramelized onion doesn’t sound like anything exciting, but I assure you it was!  The crust was perfect and crispy topped with a bright tomato sauce, mozzarella, house-made Italian sausage and caramelized onions.  It’s not your everyday pizza and it’s absolutely worth ordering!

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We had two sides that could have been my whole meal.  The Wild Mushroom and Mascarpone Risotto was rich, creamy and full of mushrooms.  It was earthy, perfectly al dente and a good portion for a side.  The Roman Style Artichokes were also worth ordering again.  Topped with prosciutto crudo and Italian parsley, we could have eaten multiple bowls of these!

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Our service was great – thanks Delia!  It’s not surprising that the owners of Via Vite, another one of my favorites in Cincinnati, have created this beautiful experience.  Chef Stefano Carne executed each dish perfectly and definitely has two new fans after last night!  Check out their menu at fornoosteriabar.com and make a reservation right away, you won’t be disappointed.

Southwest Turkey Burgers w/Guacamole

Weekdays are tough to create interesting dinners with busy work schedules, activities, etc.  Even firing up the grill, something like a turkey burger can be pretty pedestrian, but it doesn’t have to be.  Try this Southwest twist on the ol’ bird-patty, we loved it!

SOUTHWEST TURKEY BURGERS

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4-Lbs Turkey Burger Patties
  • 1 Tbs Taco Seasoning
  • 1 Medium Red Onion
  • 1 Tsp Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 slices Colby Jack Cheese
  • 2 Buns, Lightly Buttered

Directions

  • Preheat grill and dust both sides of each turkey burger with taco seasoning.
  • Slice red onion into 1/2 inch thick slices, brush lightly with olive oil and salt and pepper each side.
  • Grill turkey burgers and onion slices over high heat for 4-5 minutes per side.  Juices should run clear for the burgers.  Onion slices should be charred and soft, but hold together.
  • Place cheese on burgers and place buns, buttered side down, on the grill.  Take everything off grill and assemble burgers on buns.  Top with a slice of grilled onion and a healthy dollop of guacamole.

These are super easy to make and always turn out like a restaurant-quality burger.  Don’t be afraid to play with the toppings and add/substitute salsa, hot sauce, pickled jalapeño or pepper jack cheese!

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EVERYDAY GUACAMOLE

Ingredients

  • 2 Ripe Avocados
  • 1/4 Red Onion, Diced
  • 4 Campari Tomatoes, Seeded & Diced
  • 2 Tbs Fresh Lime Juice
  • Salt & Pepper To Taste

Instructions

  • Core, scoop and dice avocados and place into bowl.
  • Pour lime juice over avocado and add tomatoes and onions.
  • Liberally season with salt and pepper and mix well.  I like mine a little chunky, but mix and mash with a fork to your desired consistency.

This is the basic recipe for guac in our house.  It’s easy to multiply if you need more for a party.  I also like to add garlic and/or jalapeño depending on what I’m using it for.  Seriously, always keep these ingredients on hand because it couldn’t look more like culinary genius when you pull this together last-minute for guests or just an impromptu beer or margarita on the patio!

 

Smoked Stuffed Peppers With Tomato Sauce

Stuffed peppers are one of my favorites, but the same old recipe can get old and be a little one-dimensional.  By switching up sweet bell peppers for traditional green ones and smoking over applewood, you get a whole new dish with a richer sweeter flavor.  This one is actually really easy to make and impresses guests for an old standby!

SMOKED STUFFED PEPPERS WITH TOMATO SAUCE

Ingredients

Tomato Sauce

  • 2 Cans Organic Tomato Sauce
  • 1/2 Yellow Onion, Diced
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Chopped
  • 2 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Tbs Chopped Parsley
  • 1 Tsp Ground Thyme
  • 1/2 Tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • Salt & Pepper To Taste

Directions

  • Saute onions and garlic in a medium saucepan until translucent, about 5-7 minutes.
  • Add tomato sauce and then remaining ingredients.  Simmer for 20 minutes minimum.
  • Remove 1 Cup of sauce and allow to cool.

Stuffed Peppers

  • One Red & One Orange Sweet Pepper
  • 1 Lbs Ground Beef
  • 1/3 Cup Uncooked Short Grain Rice
  • 1 Egg, Beaten
  • 1 Tbs Chopped Parsley
  • Salt & Pepper To Taste

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Instructions

  • Wash peppers, cut each in half and clean out seeds and white membrane.  Set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, combine remaining ingredients as well as 1 Cup of the prepared tomato sauce.  Mix thoroughly, but do not overwork.  Mixture should be wet, but hold together when formed.
  • Divide mixture into 4 parts and stuff each half pepper.  Stuff these loosely to keep the meat moist and tender.
  • Place peppers in a foil pan and smoke uncovered on charcoal and applewood for 30 minutes.
  • Add another cup of prepared sauce to foil pan, cover with aluminum foil and cook on grill for another 30 minutes.
  • Serve with remaining sauce to pour over finished peppers and toasted ciabatta.

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I cooked these peppers at 350 degrees for about an hour.  If you don’t have a grill or smoker, you can easily follow these instructions and prepare in your oven the same way.  This is a basic recipe, but you can create great variations by substituting meats and sauce flavorings.  Think about Italian Sausage and topping with provolone cheese.  What about chorizo with jalapeño and cilantro in the sauce?  Try them and let me know how they turn out!

Love & Salt – Los Angeles

Big cities provide big opportunities for a great dining experience and Love & Salt in Manhattan Beach did not disappoint!  Located just blocks from the pier, it’s a small, warm and comfortable place for an easy dinner with friends or solo, as I was this week.  The atmosphere is California-cool with ample seating at tables, the bar and the kitchen bar.  I was early for dinner at 6:30, but the place was completely full an hour later.

The menu is a beautiful collection of Italian-inspired dishes with a California twist.  Choices include small plates, salads, meats, pasta and seafood.  It’s really well put together with just enough choices to appeal to a wide audience.  Of course I started with a cocktail and the dirty martini was nearly perfect, but for the absence of blue cheese-stuffed olives.

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Fresh ingredients are abundant on the menu.  I sampled the Fava Bean Toast made with whipped ricotta, preserved lemon and pecorino.  It’s beautiful, fresh and the perfect size starter for the evening.

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While the pizzas, meats and pastas all looked and sounded wonderful, I went to the lighter side with my entree and chose the Grilled Octopus.  Another work of art on the plate, it was slightly spicy and grilled to a perfect light char.  The dish also includes crispy potatoes, chorizo, salsa verde and a bit more preserved lemon.  I can’t tell you enough how good this was!  I am definitely going to have to try my hand at making my own preserved lemons.

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The prices were reasonable and the service was friendly and timely.  Chef Michael Fiorelli has a deft hand with local ingredients, flavor combinations and an interesting menu.  I would absolutely recommend this place for your next trip near LA/Manhattan Beach.  You can find out more on their website loveandsaltla.com.

Sable Kitchen & Bar – Chicago

If you’re looking for inspired craft cocktails and delicious small and medium plates, I have a place for you!  On my trip to Chicago last week I had a chance to eat at Sable Kitchen & Bar after a few cocktails at The Berkshire Room.  I figured after a few great bourbons, I was going to need to follow up with the same caliber of cocktails.  Thankfully, Sable is just a block and a half away.  The cocktail menu here is vast, creative and intriguing.  Think of your favorite bourbon or gin elevated with combinations of ingredients like tarragon syrup, cola bitters, cinnamon-infused pear brandy and caraway liqueur.  I loved the Wheatley Convention Center, a blend of Buffalo Trace bourbon, averna (an Italian citrus liqueur), vanilla, Lemon Wetherby’s cola bitters and angostura bitters – smooth and sweet with a brightness from the citrus.

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I love the food menu here as well.  Executive Chef Lawrence Latrero knows what he’s doing in this kitchen!  There are a handful of selections in each category of snacks, seafood, meats and veggies.  The lobster rangoon were perfectly crisp outside and creamy inside.  We also really enjoyed the flatbread with asparagus, mushroom and truffle, but anything with truffles is a no-brainer for me.  Being a meat-lover I really appreciated the Wagyu beef sliders.  Tomato jam, garlic aioli, cheddar and a quail egg make these anything other than your typical slider.  They were so good that we ordered two and had to order two more right away!

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If you save yourself any room, I would highly suggest the churro ice cream sandwich with brandied apples – whoa!!

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Honestly, you can do no wrong here.  Everything was well-executed and definitely has me ready to come back to try more!  If you’re in Chicago, get to River North and check them out.  Detailed info and menus can be found on their website sablechicago.com.

The Berkshire Room – Chicago

I travel to Chicago for business – a lot.  Needless to say, there’s no shortage of fantastic places for dinner and drinks.  Sometimes though, you need somewhere a little less busy and a little less pretentious to enjoy a craft cocktail and nosh a few snacks to unwind.  I found the perfect place a few years ago in The Berkshire Room and have made it a regular stop ever since.

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Located in the River North area just around the intersection of Ohio and State (that alone should indicate it’s awesomeness) this small lounge is on the first floor of the ACME Hotel.  The interior is just dark enough and is a great mix of Prohibition-cool and modern style.  There’s a decent selection of beers and ample wine choices, but this is a cocktail lounge.  They are true mixologists here creating interesting craft cocktails with a selection of bourbons, gins and liqueurs.  Think Willy Wonka with booze to get an accurate picture here.  This week I stuck with a simple Bulleit Rye Old Fashioned – OK, maybe two!

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There’s a limited selection of small plates and desserts for accompanying your drinks, but the true gems are the cocktails.  Try the “Dealers Choice” – you pick the liquor, the flavor profile (sweet, savory, herbaceous, etc.) and the glassware and the mixologist creates something on a whim for you.  Great for happy hour or after dinner, I can’t tell you enough how much I love this place!  Check them out at theberkshireroom.com.

Julian’s Deli On The Loveland Bike Trail

We’re lucky enough to live in Loveland, Ohio with access to the Loveland Bike Trail.  It’s part of the 70 miles of the paved Little Miami Scenic State Park Trail.  You can find great info and links to bike rentals, canoeing, dining and activities at lovelandbiketrail.com.  It’s tough to beat a weekend morning with the dogs taking in the sights along the Little Miami River.  After four or five miles, a stop for lunch is absolutely necessary!

One of our favorite stops is Julian’s Deli on the Bike Trail.  A simple place on the corner of the bike trail and W. Loveland Avenue, you can find a great selection of appetizers, sandwiches and salads.  There’s indoor seating and a small bar, but we love the outdoor space along the trail and in the courtyard.  We love it because it’s also dog-friendly, so we can take an easy lunch right after our walk and have the pups with us!

There’s a great selection of craft beer on tap and in bottles/cans.  On Sundays, they also have a do-it-yourself Bloody Mary bar – what’s not to love?!  The sauerkraut balls are golden fried nuggets of pork sausage, sauerkraut and cream cheese – they are fantastic!  It’s also pretty tough to pass up the caramelized bacon with brown sugar and pecans.  The sandwiches are nothing terribly creative, but they do a great job with fresh ingredients.  Try the egg salad and bacon sandwich with tomato and lettuce on an everything bagel, it hit the spot today…

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This is a relaxed place!  With that in mind, don’t plan on quick service.  Grab another Bloody Mary though and enjoy some people-watching on the patio.  They’re not open late, but there is live music on Friday and Saturday night.  For more info, check out their website at juliansdeli.com.