A Thanksgiving in Plymouth (UK)

A Thanksgiving in Plymouth

Let me take you back to a Thanksgiving that was important both personally and historically.  This Thanksgiving took place the city of Plymouth, Devon, United Kingdom.

In 1620, the Mayflower set off from Plymouth to journey to the New World.  When the brave voyagers’ ship came ashore in America, they named the landing place:  Plymouth Colony.  The survivors of the journey were so grateful they celebrated with a feast which evolved into what we know today as Thanksgiving.  On a chilly November morning, several years ago, I stood on that piece of land where the Mayflower set sail.  I realized how lucky I was to have the opportunity as a U.S. citizen to visit the birthplace of American History.

The day began when four shipmates celebrating the holiday together walked of the quarterdeck of the USS Elrod and hopped into a taxi and headed towards town. The cab was black and had a retro look, kind of like something you would see in 1960’s England.  We were told by the cabbie that the town of Plymouth had something fun in store for us Yanks and we should have a good time.

Plymouth Cab

As a tribute to the United States and the 40 towns named Plymouth across the globe, the city of Plymouth, UK holds a four day festival, which typically starts the same Thursday we celebrate our Thanksgiving and lasts through the weekend.  Kicking off the event, the American Flag is raised at the Plymouth, UK city hall, a wreath laying ceremony is conducted at the Mayflower Departure point, followed by guest speakers, historical reenactments, words from the mayor and a performance of the Star Spangled Banner.  There is also a big push to welcome all Americans that are currently in the United Kingdom at the time.

Most of the pubs and restaurants have conformed to typical American dishes served all day (Burgers & Fries – that day they call them fries not chips), and a more traditional “Thanksgiving Day” meal in the evenings to include turkey with all the fixings.

After some sightseeing around town, my friends and I found ourselves at a Tanners Restaurant for our Thanksgiving Feast.  The best way to describe the restaurant, would be to imagine yourself as a character in the Game of Thrones entering the dining room of a castle or keep.  Walls of stone from floor to ceiling created an initial cold and rustic look, but was immediately contrasted by the elegant table settings and the strategic placement of modern art.  The menu for this evening was based on an American Thanksgiving, with a few elegant variations to traditional dishes, which were executed in very good taste.  The meal began with a roasted parsnip and celeriac soup which sweet earthy flavor and aroma still lingers with me today.  Following the soup was a free range turkey which included a generous cut of breast and leg with bread stuffing, and sided with potatoes gratin and buttered vegetables.  The meal was completed with a pumpkin crème brulee, which took the classic dessert and elevated it with the perfect combination of pumpkin puree, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg.


Tanner’s Restaurant Inside

As I look back at my time in Plymouth, I realize that even though I was away from my family and my home for the holiday, the opportunity to visit Plymouth at Thanksgiving was a once in a lifetime opportunity that created a memory for a lifetime.  Making the best of a not-so-good situation has helped me in many aspects of my life.  I am thankful for that.  Happy Holidays Everybody!!

A Culinary Journey Through Reading Terminal Market


The thing I miss the most about my time in the Navy is the exploration of new places and having the opportunity to experience authentic cuisines from around the world.  However, I am very fortunate to have chosen the city of Philadelphia as a place to kick off the next chapter of my life.  In order to enrich my culinary experience in my new hometown, my wife and I recently spent a Sunday afternoon getting lost in the city’s historic Reading Terminal Market.

We systematically navigated through the flood of visitors as we enjoyed a nice stroll up and down the makeshift streets where the merchants have set up their shops.  With nothing particular in mind, we took our time and let the market show us what it had to offer.  I was easily impressed with what the market gave to us; a one stop shop for pretty much anything we wanted.  The Reading Terminal Market offers a magnificent selection of farm fresh produce, meats, poultry, seafood, cheeses, baked goods, kitchenware, cookbooks, jewelry and crafts.  Pretty much everything I will need for the rest of my culinary life.

After an initial walk around the market it was time to make some purchases.  I’m always looking to add to my ever growing cookbook collection so my first stop was the Cookbook Stall.  With hundreds of books to choose from, I decided on two that would make their new home in my kitchen.  The first book purchased was Gelato: Simple recipes for authentic Italian gelato to make at home. I’ve never had gelato outside of Italy and look forward to making my own really soon.  The other book is entitled 500 Best Quinoa Recipes, and since my wife has a gluten intolerance, we have been adding quinoa as a regular part of our diet.  What can I say, I’m excited about quinoa.

From the book store we headed towards Iovine Brothers Produce to pick up some fresh vegetables including: eggplant, zucchini, squash, garlic and tomatoes.  The quality of the vegetables was superb and the displays were arranged as if they were constructed using blue prints.


Iovine Brothers Produce

Walking the streets and strategically maneuvering through the crowds of people left us pretty famished so we decided it was time to eat.  We looked up and saw Molly Malloys and thought we would give it a try.  We were quickly seated and after a good look at the menu I decided on going with a caesar salad and a lamb burger, with a beer to accompany the meal.  The salad was a standard caesar salad but was served on a plate that was entirely too small, so the first few bites reminded me of playing Jenga as one wrong move would cause the lettuce to fall off the plate.  The lamb burger was seasoned well and cooked to order and was very pleasant to the pallet.  To keep with this blogs theme my beer selection was Jack-O-Traveler which was an alluring beer illuminated by the tastes of fall.

Our trip was concluded with a brief stop and a few selections  cheese from Salumeria International Cheeses which included Buffalo Mozzarella, Robiola (a cheese made with a blend of sheep and cow’s milk), and 4 year Gouda Pittiq.  All great selections.


Salumeria International Cheese Display

My first visit to the Reading Terminal Market was a great experience and I look forward to returning many times.

MRE…Part II (The Entree)

I recently utilized the contents of an MRE to create an appetizer from fried rice, so to continue with my MRE experiment, I will be working with the package of Buffalo Pulled Chicken that was included in the MRE kit I received.  Now as you can see in the picture below, it is not appealing to the eyes at all.  In all honestly, I really don’t think I could have eaten this if I was put in the position to do so.  I was however, surprised with the smell of the contents; it smelled like a boneless buffalo chicken wing that you could find at most bar & grills.

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With that being the case, I pushed my cerebral cortex to its limits to figure out how to transform this pile of goo into a meal fit for human consumption.  After coming up empty with my thought process and looking at what I had in my pantry, I decided to keep it simple and go with…Buffalo Pulled Chicken Macaroni & Cheese.

The process was pretty straight forward; I grabbed a box of Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta, a can of Cambell’s Cheddar Cheese, a little milk, some sour cream, the Jalapeno Cheese package from the MRE, and of course the Buffalo Chicken.  I prepared the pasta according to the manufacturers instructions and while the pasta was draining, I combined the chicken and the cheeses into the pasta pot and stirred the ingredients until they were well blended.  I returned the pasta to the pot of cheesy chicken and cooked the ingredients for a bout 5-7 minutes over a medium heat.  The final product is shown below:

Buffalo Pulled Chicken Mac & Cheese


To be continued with  the dessert round….

The MRE…Part 1

The next couple of weeks on this blog are loosely based on Food Network’s hit show “Chopped.” I will use some of the contents of a military MRE (Meals Ready-to-Eat) and transform them into: an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert.

I was able to procure an extra MRE from a friend of mine who is currently serving in the National Guard.  Initially, the fun thing (sort-of, after you eat them all the time, opinion changes) about MRE’s is the surprise inside.  You really don’t know what you are going to get or what to expect until you open the package.

The MRE I have contains the following food items:

1 Packet of Buffalo Pulled Chicken (Think pulled pork,  minus the pork and bbq/vinegar, add chicken and buffalo sauce)

1 Packet Fried Rice
1 Packet Cocoa Drink mix
1 Packet Mocha Drink mix
1 oz packet of Jalapeño Cheese
1 slice wheat bread
2 tortillas
Salt & Pepper

For anyone who has completed a least one tour of duty in the military they immediately become familiar with MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat). By definition, is a totally self-contained complete meal (ie. one MRE = one meal). Designed to withstand rough conditions and exposure to the elements, the packaging of an MRE  is officially known as a tri-laminate retort pouch. The pouch is essentially a flexible can made out of thick aluminum foil and plastic layers. Each individual MRE bag contains an entree and a variety of other food and drink items.

For further information on MRE’s check out this video supplied by Todaysmilitary.com

The Appetizer
For the appetizer round I utilized the packet of fried rice and a few random items I had in my pantry. I took the fried rice packet and created Fried Cheesy Fried Rice Ball. Here’s how my MRE inspired dish came to be:

Fried Cheesy Fried Rice Ball
Servings: Makes 5-6 Rice Balls


1 Packet MRE Fried Rice
1 egg beaten
2 Tablespoons Parmesan Cheese (Shredded)
2 Tablespoons Bread Crumbs
2 Tablespoons Mozzarella (Shredded)
1 Tablespoon Italian Seasonings
Salt and Pepper to taste
1. Using a deep fryer add appropriate amount of oil and turn fryer on.
2. Open MRE rice packet and empty contents into a bowl.
3. Add beaten egg, all cheese, bread crumbs and seasonings.
4. Mix well
5. Make small balls with rice mixture and fry until golden brown (4-5 minutes in a deep fryer)
6. Remover from fryer and place on paper towel for a few moments before serving.


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I was a little nervous on how this dish would turn out, the rice had an overpowering smell that seemed to be a mixture of fried rice and wet cat food.  However, the cheese and seasonings did an excellent job of masking that initial smell and the flavor was surprisingly good.  I’m not saying that I found a new favorite dish, but it was definitely a major upgrade from its original contents.

Next Time…the entrée.

Paella Valenciana

In the summer of 1995, I experienced my first military deployment stationed on board the USS WASP (LHD-1). We departed from Norfolk, VA and headed east across the Atlantic towards the Mediterranean Sea for six months.  During that period, I achieved another milestone, my first international port visit to the beautiful city of Valencia, Spain.  Located on Spain’s eastern Mediterranean coast, the City of Valencia is nestled on the Gulf of Valencia at the mouth of the Turia River.

Although my visit to Spain was more than eighteen years ago, the memory of that visit will stay with me forever.  I vividly remember walking the city streets with my buddy Steve Mero. We stopped at several cafes for drinks and food.  One of the restaurants we visited sat right on the water, where the smell of the Mediterranean Sea filled our noses just before we enjoyed a plate of paella and sipped on house made sangria. Until I have the opportunity to return to Valencia, I will cherish the memories.  One of the many ways I keep the recollection of Valencia, Spain alive, is to prepare Paella Valenciana, the dish that put Spain’s third largest city on the culinary map.

There are more than one hundred variations of Paella and the authenticity of the dish is based on how its cooked, what its cooked in and the type of rice used to cook the dish.    All in all there are three basic rules in making authentic paella: Cook over a fire, use a paella pan, and use Bomba rice.  After delving into approximately 15-20 different paella recipes, I decided to extract ingredients from several different versions to create my own recipe for paella:IMG_0581

Serves 2

10 inch Paella Pan (Read More on Paella Pans Here)
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
½ lb chicken cut in pieces
½ lb rabbit cut in pieces
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tomato, seeded, chopped
½ (16 ounce) can butter beans
Handful of fresh green beans, washed and trimmed
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon paprika
2 Cups water
1 pinch saffron threads
Rosemary to taste
1 Cup uncooked rice


  1.  Heat a paella pan over medium-high heat, and coat with olive oil.
  2.  Add the chicken, rabbit and garlic; cook and stir until nicely browned. IMG_0584
  3. Move the browned meat to the sides of the pan, and add the tomato, butter beans, peas, and green beans. Season with paprika, and mix well.IMG_0585
  4. Fill the paella pan almost to the top. (For the 10 inch pan this took 2 cups of water; this is to help you to determine how much rice to add, as paella pans come in different sizes.) Bring to a boil. Simmer for about 1 hour to make a nice broth.IMG_0588
  5. Add salt to taste, a pinch of saffron and the rosemary. Stir in 1 cup of the uncooked rice (this is half as much rice as the amount of water in the pan).
  6. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 25 minutes.  Serve in pan or however you like.IMG_0591

Cooking this dish brought back some good memories from my past and enabled me to find out more about the dish I once had over eighteen years ago.  The chicken and rabbit created great flavor for the broth and the saffron did an excellent job contributing color as well as a subtle background flavor to the rice.  I call it a success.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Inspiration can come from anywhere, and as this post does not follow the exact theme or direction of my blog, it’s a story that I still want to share.  It’s about the 1997 movie “Big Night” starring Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci.  The movie is set around a failing Italian restaurant run by two brothers, who take a gamble on one special night with in order to save the business.  My wife and I came across this movie by pure accident while we were looking for something to watch on a quiet evening at home.  The movie did a great job in displaying the passion and love that is associated with someone that truly loves what they do in life, in the case of the movie it’s how the two brother’s put their hearts and souls into what they make, whether it be a risotto which took hours to make to perfection or a simple fried egg.  The food star of the movie is the Timpano, an Italian dish with many variations but revolve around a pasta crusted shell, it was this dish that was to highlight their special night and regenerate their customer base.  The time and detail put into this dish was very inspiring and I just had to do it myself.  Now, there are hundreds of Timpano recipes all over the internet, but there is one I found that happened to work out just right and can be found Here.

The hardest part (I thought), was finding the pan.  Today, they can be found all over,but when I first made this dish, I ended going with this old wash basin, that proved to be the perfect size.

Timpano Pan

The linked recipe has its own gravy recipe, but out of respect, I used my wife’s grandmother’s recipe, which unfortunately I am unable to share at this time;  when you have an Italian secret, its safer for all parties involved to keep it a secret.  However, I did utilize the meatball recipe and cooked them up as the sauce was doing its own thing for a few hours.

Tiampano GravyTimpano Meatballs

What can I say about dough?  I’m not a big fan of baking what-so-ever, but when it comes to making dough from scratch for pizza,  a Stromboli, or in this case the Timpano, I get great sense of satisfaction and a completeness when I transform the flour into a usable medium for cooking.  Just knowing this product was homemade, from my own hands still amazes me.  On a side note every time I cook I have a sous chef  Murphy, she understands her role in the kitchen.  We have established perfect kitchen flow and she doesn’t go for any casualty’s of war (falling food) unless she gets the okay from me.  Murphy is our Golden retriever

Timapano dough Timpano Sous chef

The sauce is cooked, the meatballs are done, the pasta is cooked al dente.  Now we are ready to the treasures to the chest and seal it up. So we add the penne with sauce, salami, sharp provolone, a dozen eggs (quartered), the meatballs, and fresh grated pecorino romano cheese

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Now, we seal it up and pray to our ancestors. Bake about 1hour until lightly browned. Then cover with aluminum foil and bake about 30 minutes until Timpano is cooked through and dough is golden brown.

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Timpano2 Timpano1

The finished product above is an amazing dish to eat and create.  I have made this twice and will continue to do so for holiday’s and special occasions.  It takes a lot of time, patience and energy from start to finish, but the satisfaction I receive from at least one satisfied eater of the dish is well worth it. Thanks for listening.