Tuesday, May 25, 2010

When Dr. Frankenstein Cooks for Igor

Have you ever sat down to a steaming plate piled high with whitefish, sodium benzoate, cracker crumbs, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, high fructose corn syrup, artificial butter flavor, carrageenan, maltodextrin, dehydrated mushrooms, cellulose, carrot powder and artificial crab flavor? I did. And it wasn’t pleasant. Let me explain.

I had the pleasure of speaking at an event in St. Augustine Beach last week. They were just completing an eight-part series on Ethical Eating and I spoke about healthy cooking. I was the last presenter and thought the event was very successful. Of course, I figure any event where no one hurls anything at me while I’m speaking is a successful event.

But I digress…

During the course of my cooking demo, I held up a box I purchased in the frozen food section of my local grocery store. Crab Stuffed Sole. It promised to be a quick, healthy entrée for two. It even boasted “Original Classic Recipe” on the front. It sold for just over six bucks. I usually don’t buy my seafood in fancy blue cardboard boxes, but hey, I’m one to try anything once. Just ask my wife. (But please don’t bring up that night with the Cool Whip, hula-hoops, bungee cords, and that thing you have to plug in).

Anyway…this frozen food entrée wasn’t all that quick. (For something to qualify as ‘quick’ for me, I have to be able to do it faster than I can spell it). This dish needed 35 minutes in the oven. When you add ten minutes to preheat the oven you’d be pushing 45 minutes. So I crossed ‘quick’ off my list of adjectives.

But it had sole and crab, so it must be healthy, right? I thought so 'til I read the ingredient list. Oops. There was no crab in this meal. Just surimi…imitation crab. Worse still, it had no sole (there is no sole in American waters. True sole must be flown in from Great Britain or Scandinavia, and is, therefore, pretty pricey. What we call sole here in the states is most likely flounder). But this particular entrée had neither sole nor flounder. It contained fish all right, but an unnamed variety of whitefish probably caught in trawling nets the size of Rhode Island somewhere north of the Bering Sea or snatched out of a fish farm somewhere in the bowels of Thailand.

Okay, so my Crab Stuffed Sole entrée had no crab and no sole in it. But it did contain a list of 50+ other ingredients including tetrasodium pyrophosphate. I don’t know about you, but I’ve made it a point not to eat anything with the word ‘pyro’ in it. And I certainly avoid food with the word ‘phosphate’ in it. (Isn’t that what I wash my clothes in?)

I have to give them credit on one account, however. They did include calcium carbonate in the ingredients, which as we all know, is an antacid. TUMS, to be exact. See, they must’ve figured all these chemicals and artificial ingredients would make us sick so they mixed in some antacid as a pre-emptive strike. I'm glad they did. It worked.

I had to chuckle as I finished reading the many unpronounceable, laboratory-sounding ingredients and remembered the “Original Classic Recipe” claim on the cover of the box. Whose ‘Original Classic Recipe’ is this? Dr. Frankenstein’s? Bon appétit, Igor.

Now here’s a recipe that contains real seafood, eight other ingredients and can be made in well under half an hour. I’ve even left out the phosphates and TUMS. Oh, and there’s not a ‘pyro’ in sight.

By the way, if you want a creative dessert, I have some leftover Cool Whip and a few unused bungee cords. E-mail me…



PREP: 5 minutes COOK: 10 minutes

1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 (6-ounce) can crabmeat, drained and flaked
1/4 teaspoon Cajun or Creole seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
2 (5-6 ounce) grouper* fillets
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven broiler.
2. Melt butter with cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the mustard and stir until thickened. Add the crab and season with Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper. Cook until heated through.
3. Place grouper in a small, greased baking dish, and rub with olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Broil grouper about 4 minutes on each side, until easily flaked with a fork. Spoon the crab sauce over fish and serve.

Serve with Garlic Smashed Potatoes and Corn.

* Can’t find Grouper? You can make this dish with striped bass, black sea bass (flakier texture), mahi-mahi, pompano, lemonfish, catfish, or red snapper (flakier texture).

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sheer Luck, Broad Shoulders, and Jumbo Shrimp

Now that my cookbook is out and doing well at Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Big Bob’s Diner and Truck Tire Repair, I hear lots of people tell me how lucky I am to have achieved my dream.

I thank them, sign their book, and smile. Because I know I’m lucky.


I was born into a family of immigrant entrepreneurs who spun gold from hardship.

I went to a public high school where I learned algebra, studied Chaucer, and read Langston Hughes. I attended a college where I sat side-by-side with brilliant young men and women who went on to launch equally brilliant careers.

I married a wonderful, beautiful woman who gave birth to six incredible kids. We built a new house and planted a garden. We owned a Porsche. We sold everything and moved to the inner city to work with young people. I remodeled and lived in three Victorian homes.

I made a lot of money. I lost a lot of money. I made some of it back.

I wrote a novel that didn’t sell and a cookbook that did. Now I’m writing this blog.

Yep. It was all a massive stroke of luck. I guess I was one of the ‘chosen few’.

Yeah… Right…

I remember going to the Fireman’s Day Parade as a child in my hometown of Mamaroneck, New York in the early sixties. It was a big deal. Not like so many parades today - anemic and under-attended. This was the era of three TV stations, sandlot baseball, circus under a real tent, and pizza by the slice. My dad hoisted me on his shoulders to see the parade. I know I saw more than he did. But I’m convinced we both had a great time.

Flash-forward to the Mid-90’s. I took my wife and kids to Chicago. The Thanksgiving Day Parade. Crowds swarmed and jostled along the curb. The older kids nudged their way to the front. I hoisted my young son Aaron up on my shoulders so he could revel in a parade that I would never see. But I certainly enjoyed his squeals of laughter as floats, clowns and marching bands drifted by. Yep, I’m convinced we both had a great time.

Back in the day when I was raising money for non-profits, I once solicited a wealthy gentleman for a major gift. He responded, “Warren, when I win the lottery, I’ll give you that big gift.”

My response?

“Mike, you were born in America. You already won the lottery.”

He shook his head and chuckled. Then he whipped out a pen and signed the pledge card.

See, here’s the deal. If you live in America, you’ve already won the lottery. You’re already ‘lucky’. ‘Cuz someone, somewhere let you climb on their shoulders to see The Parade. I don’t care if you were raised in Beverly Hills or Bed-Stuy. We’re all standing on someone’s shoulders to see a parade that they could only hope to see. It might’ve been a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, teacher, coach, neighbor, rabbi, or minister… Someone stooped low enough to allow us to scramble onto their shoulders to see something remarkable while we were perched up there.

Now it’s time for each one of us to lift someone up on our shoulders. To let them fully see what you and I have only caught a glimpse of.

This is how the world changes…..For the good.

I bet you’re wondering, ‘What does this have to do with jumbo shrimp?’

Easy. I’m gonna give you a recipe that’ll knock your socks off. But I have to let you in on a secret. It’s not mine.

I gleaned it when I climbed on the shoulders of a great New York chef who has long since passed away. He wrote it down for the likes of me to see and tweak. I’ve made it for family and friends for over 20 years. Now I’m passing it on to others.

I’m standing on his shoulders. Now pull out that skillet and climb up on mine.

Bon appétit,



PREP: 10 minutes COOK: 10 minutes

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons minced parsley
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
Lemon slices to garnish (optional)
Parsley sprigs to garnish

1. Rinse shrimp and set aside.
2. Heat butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Sauté garlic 1 – 2 minutes or until softened (do not brown).
3. Raise heat to medium-high and add shrimp. Sauté until pink and firm, about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn shrimp and add parsley. Sauté for 1 – 2 minutes more. Stir in white wine and lemon juice then season with salt and pepper. Sauté for 30 seconds.
4. Garnish with lemon slices and parsley sprigs.

Serve with Rice Pilaf and Broccoli with Garlic Butter.

Friday, May 14, 2010

When Giving up is Good

Now that I’ve launched 'The Blog' and will soon roll out the first E-Newsletter, there are two things I’ve learned about myself in regard to computer technology: 1) I’m an idiot, and 2) I’m an idiot.

At first I was frustrated with my lack of knowledge and talent in this area. I even went and ordered a slew of books on computer programming, website design, e-communications, search engine optimization, blah blah blah. And yet, after all that study, I find I’m just as clueless as I was before I helped Jeff Bezos take one more step to becoming a gazillionaire - Except now with all these books, I have a really good supply of doorstops.

Anyway, since I had neither the time, talent, nor inclination to become a tech whiz, I did the next best thing. I gave up.

That’s right.

I gave up.

The tech part that is.

Yep. I gave it up. To folks who know what they are doing. I have a wonderful friend, Melanie, who is helping me with Twitter, and Deborah is helping me with the E-marketing and communications. Becky and Anton over at Principle Creative* are always available to help with design issues, and Darice at Darice Michelle Photography takes some mean photographs (which reminds me, I have to set up another shoot with her).

Without friends like these, I might still be poring over books I don’t understand instead of testing a new recipe someone sent in, or engaging folk at a demo or book signing, or even typing these thoughts on a blog. Things I’m told I’m good at. And things I certainly enjoy.

I once heard a motivational speaker proclaim, “Never give up!” Baloney. Sometimes it’s good to give up. I’m glad I did.

Is there something that you need to give up? Something someone else could do better so you can concentrate on what you do well? I’m sure there is. Find that someone and let them have at it. Lord knows there are enough doorstops in this world.

Bon appétit,


*If you are looking for a great graphic design firm, look no further than Principle Creative. Give Dave Whitlock a call at (904) 808-9595. Tell him Warren sent you.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cooking for Two at Home. Can it be Fast, Frugal and Fun? You Bet!

My how quickly things can change. Just a few short years ago, restaurants were booming and cooking at home was something one watched on TV, but rarely attempted in real life. Then things changed. In a big way. People began to rediscover the joy of cooking. Now most of my friends (and their friends!) are spending more time cooking and dining at home. I know I am. And perhaps you are, too.

So it was no surprise to read in last March’s edition of the Supermarket News that many shoppers are closely watching their food budgets — dining out less, eating at home more often and planning their shopping trips more carefully. And a January press release by the International Housewares Association found that 57% of respondents to a Consumer Spending Indicator survey say they are going to spend less money dining out.

Now people are tuning into food shows and heading to their local bookstores to stock up on cookbooks. In fact, a leading on-line bookseller lists over 18,000 cookbooks for sale. 18,000!

So I decided to add to the world’s collection by writing one myself.



There are many excellent cookbooks on the market today. I own shelves of them. However, I believe my book, Table for Two – The Cookbook for Couples is a little different.


In my role as a nonprofit development director and later as a freelance writer, I traveled around the country meeting and speaking with couples, married and unmarried, young and old. Since we often met over a well-prepared meal, the conversation would invariably turn to cooking. We often talked about our most memorable meals, favorite restaurants, or coveted recipes, and time after time I heard this lament: “I’d love to cook more, but I don’t know how to cook for only two people.”

I heard this from single men and women who knew that eating out on a regular basis was expensive and unhealthy. They wanted to learn to prepare meals that used readily available ingredients and were simple to prepare, but didn’t know where to turn.

I heard this from newlyweds who wanted to cook, but couldn’t because their parents didn’t teach them. Furthermore, when they began buying cookbooks they were frustrated to find that most recipes served a minimum of 4, with many serving 5 to 8. They couldn’t do the math to make the recipes smaller.

I heard this from empty nesters that were used to cooking for an entire family, but now needed to learn to cook for two.

As someone who can identify with all of these people, once as a single man, then a family man, and now a soon-to-be empty nester, I’m able to share in their frustration.

I began cooking more than 25 years ago when I was doing inner-city youth work. As I came home each day, I retired to the kitchen to spend the next hour or so cooking for my family. It was a relaxing time for me. I’d pour a glass of wine, chop some onions, mince some garlic, and somehow, I was transported to another land. Could I have saved time by defrosting a pre-packaged dinner or nuking an all-in-one meal from some food conglomerate in the mid-west?

Of course.

Did I want to?


It may have taken me an hour or more to prepare a meal from scratch, but this was a labor of love. My children grew up strong and healthy. They developed an appreciation for a variety of cultures; we often discussed the origins of the meals as we prepared them together. Everyday around suppertime our home was filled with inviting and delicious aromas such as sautéed onions and garlic, blackened fish, jasmine rice, or steamed green beans. Would I trade all of that for a few minutes of convenience? Not on your life. I think we all yearn for at least one time of the day when we can pour ourselves into a work of love that not only nourishes those that are close to us, but also provides a wonderful opportunity for conversation and interaction. The principles learned from those early days have been with me ever since. Whether cooking for my family, grilling for friends, or catering for a hundred, the love and attention that I put into the meal preparation reminds me that good food and good relationships are gifts that I must cherish.

So here’s to good cooking. And good eating. In the blogs that follow, I’ll share some thoughts, tips and recipes that will help us all on our journey to healthy lives.

Bon appetit!