Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sweet Chicken Bacon Wraps

I've been looking for some Superbowl nibbles and came across these.  I changed the recipe slightly.  I brined the chicken for about an hour before I cooked it.  Also,  I broiled them for a few minutes before serving.  That helped to crisp the bacon a little more.   My wife doesn't like chili powder, so the ones in the back are simply dredged in brown suger.  They were delicious.

Sweet Chicken Bacon Wraps

Makes 12-15 wraps

4 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts 

1 (1-pound) package sliced bacon
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Cut chicken breasts into 1-inch cubes. Cut each bacon slice into thirds. Wrap each chicken cube with bacon and secure with a wooden pick. Stir together brown sugar and chili powder. Dredge wrapped chicken in mixture. Coat a rack and broiler pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place chicken wrap on rack in broiler pan. Bake 350 for 30 to 35 minutes or until bacon is crisp.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The End Of A Great Weekend; Rain; A Beatles Tribute Band

I was eleven years old when I saw The Beatles for the first time.  It was Sunday night, and they were the headline act for The Ed Sullivan Show.  All week long people were talking about their appearance with great anticipation and excitement.  The Ed Sullivan Show was a variety show that ran from 1949 to 1971.  It was a television version of vaudeville that featured, musical groups, circus acts, comedians, novelty acts and more. 

Finally, the show started.  Ed Sullivan announces them and they open with All My Loving, then Till There Was You and She Loves You.   I was mesmerized.   My parents naturally ridiculed them.  “Look at their hair,” said my father, “they look like girls!” They played two more songs in the second half of the show: I Saw Her Standing There and I Want To Hold Your Hand.   My mother was equally unkind.  “I can’t understand the words,” she cried.  I knew, at that moment, things would never be the same again.   My parents hated them; I naturally loved them. Within a few months, kids were growing their hair longer and buying Beatles records (yes, those black vinyl disks that scratched way too easily). I even had a Beatles wig and a Ringo doll. The British Invasion had begun.

The Beatles, along with the other countless bands from England, helped shape my listening habits and love for music.  Unfortunately, due to the tragic shooting of John Lennon and the untimely death of George Harrison, a Beatles reunion is impossible.  Or so I thought. 

A few years ago, I was channel surfing and came across the local PBS station airing a Rain concert.  Rain is a Beatles tribute band that not only has a successful Broadway show, but a phenomenal road show as well. They don’t just sound like the Beatles, they ARE the Beatles.  They look, sound, act and talk like them.  Their musical ability is scary.  The singing, harmonizing, guitar playing and drumming is on par with any top-notch band on the scene today. 

Last night was our fourth time seeing them at the Oakdale Theater in Wallingford.  The Oakdale is my favorite concert venue.  The seating is great and the acoustics are out of this world.  Traffic was a nightmare because they were sold out, but they delayed the show until most people were seated.  We made our way to our seats and settled in.  A couple in back of us had never seen the show and was curious as to how good it is.  I assured them that they were in for a great time.  The couple to the left us should have worn their Depends.  They could not stop getting up and peeing.  Oi Vai!

On the video screen, a montage of the sixties is playing. An Ed Sullivan impersonator introduces them and the curtain goes up.  Rain breaks into I Want To Hold Your Hand.  The audience is stunned.  Close your eyes and you are listening to the Beatles.  The band is dressed in black suits, white shirts and skinny black ties.  “Paul” is playing the bass left-handed.  “Ringo” is playing Ludwig drums.  The monitors are simulcasting the show in black and white.  Remember this is supposed to be 1964.  They continue with This Boy and then I Saw Her Standing There. 

“Paul” does a beautiful acoustic solo of Yesterday.  Remember he played the bass left-handed; well he played the guitar right-handed.  I cannot even begin to fathom how difficult that is.  A quick costume and set change and you are now at the famous Shea Stadium concert. That crowd was so loud that The Beatles couldn’t hear themselves through their monitors. 

As we travel through the albums with them, the videos change to reflect what was going on in the cultural and political fields.  From a  commercial of Barney Rubble and Fred Flintstone taking a Winston cigarette break, Prell Shampoo(the pearl included), Duz detergent with free stockings, to Woodstock, Vietnam and the Moon landing.  During intermission, Beatles’ trivia questions were displayed.  Did you know that Stu Sutcliffe, the original bassist left the band for Astrid Kichherr, a world-renowned photographer?  Cherchez la femme. 

One of the most notable songs of the evening was a brilliant arrangement of Norwegian Wood. “Paul” played electric bass while “John” and “George” played acoustic guitars.  “Ringo” kept the groove by simply playing a tambourine. It was extraordinary.  Another fun song was I’ve Just Seen a Face.  “Ringo” was playing the brushes with a two-beat drum groove.  The effect was almost (I hate to say it) country. 

At the end of the show, everyone was up on their feet singing, dancing and smiling. It was such an amazing concert.  I would recommend it to anyone who is a Beatles fan.  You will not be disappointed. It will make you feel fifteen all over again!

Set List
I Want To Hold Your Hand
All My Loving
This Boy
I Saw Her Standing There
Hard Days Night
I’m Happy Just To Dance With You
I Feel Fine
Day Tripper
Twist And Shout
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
With A Little Help From My Friends
Eleanor Rigby
Strawberry Fields Forever
When I’m 64
Sergeant Pepper Reprise
A Day In The Life
Hello Goodbye
I Am The Walrus
Norwegian Wood
Do You Want To Know A Secret
There Are Places I Remember
Two Of Us
I’ve Just Seen A Face
Come Together
Get Back
The End


Give Peace A Chance
Let It Be
Hey Jude

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Start of a Great Weekend

Went to Abigail’s Tavern last might with my favorite cousin Cindy and her husband Mark.  Formerly the Pettibone Tavern; It has been a local landmark in Simsbury since 1780.  George Washington was thought to have stopped there during the Revolution.  My wife and I began going there in 2007 and have been enjoying their food ever since.  Oh, and it is rumored to be haunted.    The story goes that Abigail Pettibone was married to a sea captain who was gone for long stretches of time.  Well, you know what is coming next; she got lonely and randy and was enjoying herself with her lover, when lo and behold, Captain Pettibone comes home unexpectedly.  Enraged to find his wife in “flagrante delicto,” he kills them both with an axe.  Ouch!  There have been many reports of paranormal activity in the restaurant.  It was even the subject of a T.A.P.S. investigation; who incidentally, didn’t find any evidence.  Oh well, it is still a good story to tell.

Anyway, my cousin, well actually second cousin, and I have known each nearly all of our lives.  I am five months older than she is, a fact that she has never let me forget.  When her birthday comes around, I revel in the fact that she is getting old too. We also grew up near each other- she in Fairfield, I in Trumbull.  Our mothers were fairly close cousins as well.  Both our mothers are still around, and that is always a topic of conversation because they continue to drive us insane.  Her husband is a terrific guy and they have two daughters whom I absolutely adore.  The great thing is that when we get together, we can yack it up ‘til the cows come home. 

We were seated in a small, comfortable room with a cozy fireplace. I started off with an ice cold, Grey Goose martini and a plate of oysters.  Ahh! A great way to end the week, and begin the weekend.  As always, I think back to the person who first took the plunge and ate a raw oyster.  That guy was brave.  The oysters were on point. Mark ordered a very nice Coppola Syrah. We nibbled on some warm Parmesan bread sitting a pool of extra virgin olive oil.  We ordered another one as the first plate was quickly dispatched.   

My wife had the Maine Lobster Pasta, Cindy the Atlantic Ocean swordfish (a favorite of mine) and Mark and I went with the Free Range Chicken with Portabellas. As always the service was impeccable and the entrees cooked to perfection.  We talked all night about our kids, other family members, work, books, movies, politics, and everything and anything.   For dessert my wife and I split a Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding and Cindy and Mark split a Crème Brulee.  Yeah, the desserts were exceptionally delicious.  I was pleased that they enjoyed the place so much, as it is probably my favorite restaurant.  We had a great night out and I’m so happy that I can share this journey called life with my favorite ‘cuz and her family.  Can’t wait to see you guys again! 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cheddar Cheese Chicken Tenders with Wilted Spinach

I decided I couldn’t wait for the Superbowl to make the Cheddar Cheese Chicken Tenders with Wilted Spinach.  I figured that watching the Ravens hopefully beat the Patriots would be a good enough excuse to try them out.  I also decided that I wasn’t going to make the wilted spinach.  After all, I am watching football, not the Biggest Loser. 

The recipe is simple enough to follow, so I’m not going to go into great detail.  I did make two changes though.  The first change was that I used a chicken breast instead of chicken tenders.  I didn’t feel like making a special trip to the grocery store, so I defrosted a chicken breast and thinly sliced it lengthwise.  The other change was that I brined the chicken for about an hour.  Brining makes the chicken more tender and flavorful.  In a large bowl, dissolve ¾ of a cup of Kosher salt into a gallon of water.  Place the chicken into the water, and place the bowl into the refrigerator for about an hour.  Some people add other things to the brine such as sugar, garlic, onions etc.   Feel free to experiment.  Brining really makes a difference when you cook chicken.  You won't believe the difference in flavor.

I assembled the troops, dipped the chicken into the bowl of mustard, coated the chicken with the crumbled crackers, arranged them on a greased half sheet pan, and popped them into the oven for about fifteen minutes.  I turned them after eight minutes to so they would brown evenly. 

When the timer went off, I poured out some ranch dressing, and sat down to watch the game.  They are delicious.  Hot out of the oven, dipped into cool ranch dressing.  Yum!  Very little prep time, easy to make; a perfect Sunday afternoon football snack.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Honey, I Broke The Car

On my way to work the other day, I noticed a new BMW in the breakdown lane.  The hood was up and a smartly dressed guy was peering intently inside the engine compartment, trying to figure out why his very expensive car was not working.  Cars and trucks were whizzing by him.  It was cold and drizzling.   I thought to myself, “What the hell is he looking at?”  I highly doubt that this guy, or most guys, can barely figure out how to program the Navigation system, let alone diagnose an engine problem on todays’ cars. 

I’ve been a “car guy” ever since I could remember.  I would pore over car magazines and memorize horsepower, 0-60 times and the all important, quarter mile speed.   When I was sixteen, my brother went off to school and gave me his old junker.  It was a 1960 Chevrolet Impala with a straight six-cylinder engine and two speed automatic transmission.  Pretty much state of the art back then.   I was able to change the oil and sparkplugs, flush and fill the radiator, install a new alternator, tune the carburetor and generally keep it in running condition. 

Not any more.  Cars are way too complicated and sophisticated these days.  Computers control the engine, transmission, brakes and even the suspension.  I’m sure that I could figure out that if smoke was pouring from the engine bay my car was on fire.  Or, if fluids were pooling underneath it, I most certainly had a leak somewhere.  And if it wasn’t where I parked it, someone had stolen it.  Just for laughs I popped the hood on my 2011 Ford Mustang.  There was the engine, a few hoses, a lot of wires and many little high tech fittings.  It took me a few minutes to locate the dipstick for the oil.  The oil filter was positioned in such a way that in order to remove it, my arm had to be a foot longer and have two more joints in it. 

As a guy, I would much rather slit my wrists than ask for directions. So guys are forced, no, make that compelled; to open the hood and pretend we know anything about what is going on under the hood.  Hopefully, the well-dressed man at the side of the road was dialing AAA as he gazed longingly into the engine bay.