Almond Roca, our New Year’s Eve Tradition!

Almond roca recipeSimplySmartDinnerPlans  subscriber, and long-time friend Mel Zallee makes the best almond roca I’ve ever had, and I’ve been threatening to hover in her kitchen to learn the process for years now.

Well, I finally got my chance when our families spent New Years eve together last year, and even got to snap some pictures of the process (thank God for iPads) while she explained the step-by-step for me.

Almond Roca has always fallen into the “take it or leave it” category for me…until I tried Mel’s.

If, like me, your only experience with this candy is the gold foil candy in the pink can…you haven’t had real almond roca yet.

The stuff is awesome!

Heading back over to the Zallee’s tonight, and there’s rumors of a repeat performance!

Mel’s Amazing Almond Roca

  • 1lb Salted sweet cream butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups sliced almonds
  • Butter for cookie sheet
  • 16oz semi sweet chocolate chips

1. Melt 1 lb of salted sweet cream butter butter in a thick-bottom pan, over low heat. Add 2 cups of sugar, and 2 cups of sliced almonds, then increase to medium heat, stirring continuously, until your candy thermometer reads 300f

Almond roca recipe

3. Pour the mixture into a buttered cookie sheet (with sides) and spread evenly. Be careful, this stuff is unbelievably hot! If there’s excess butter on top, blot it away with a paper towel.

Almond roca recipe

4. Immediately sprinkle 16oz of semi sweet chocolate chips over the hot candy. Wait a minute or two for the chocolate to soften, and then spread it evenly with a rubber spatula.

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Almond roca recipe

Almond roca recipe

5. Sprinkle the chocolate with 1/2 cup of sliced almonds.

Almond roca recipe

6. Refrigerate the roca until the chocolate is set (about 2 hours).

7. Cut into squares with a heavy knife, and serve.

Mel’s Notes:

    • If the butter separates while cooking, lower heat and stir until re-combined and then raise heat again.
    • The butter butter tends to splatter during the stirring, wear eye, hand, and clothing protection.
    • Place a towel under the cookie sheet before pouring in candy. The mixture is hot enough to damage some counter tops.
      • Temps will often plateau between 250 and 275, and then rise rapidly to 300. Watch carefully, and don’t let it get over 300′ or roca will burn.



Cacio e Pepe con Pollo Recipe

“According to Romans, there’s good cacio e pepe, adequate cacio e pepe, and everything else, which is of course a sin against God.” – Anthony Bourdain

Cacio e Pepe con PolloA Roman pasta dish, “Cacio e Pepe” literally means “cheese and pepper” in Italian. As the name suggests, the ingredients of the dish are very simple and typically include only black pepper and Pecorino Romano cheese. Cacio e pepe is usually made with a long, thin spaghetti, such as tonnarelli or vermicelli.

Personally, I like to use regular spaghetti, and ramp it up with a little grilled or sauteed chicken thigh, as well.

Cacio e Pepe con Pollo is my all-time favorite pasta dish. Here it is…

1 lb boneless chicken thighs
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and quartered.
1 Tbsp. good dry Italian seasonings (I like Miscuglio from Oil & Vinegar)

2 quarts chicken broth (or equiv. of Better than Bullion Chicken)
1 quart of salted water
1 pound dried spaghetti
1 3/4 cups Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated
3 tbsp. butter
2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper, plus more to taste

In a large pot, bring broth and salted water to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain pasta (DO NOT RINSE PASTA…EVER), reserving 2 cups of the cooking water.

Heat oil in a non-stick skilled over medium heat, saute garlic quarters until just beginning to color, then remove them from the oil (save these tasty bits to spread on bread!) Increase heat to medium high.

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Rub chicken generously with salt and Italian seasonings, and brown on both sides, until skin is crispy and meat is cooked through to your liking. Remove chicken from the skillet and allow to rest 5 minutes, then remove the skin and cut the skin into shoestrings, set aside on paper towels.

Dice the chicken to 1/2 inch dice and keep on the back of the stove to stay warm.

Cacio e Pepe con Pollo

Drain oil from skillet, but do not wipe or rinse.

Return your non-stick skillet to medium-high heat, and (once hot) add reserved pasta broth, bring to simmer, and add 3/4 cup of Pecorino Romano, butter, and 2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper. Let simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Cacio e Pepe con Pollo

Reduce heat to medium, add pasta and tossing gently, until the noodles are well coated in sauce and the sauce beings to thicken (2-3 minutes). Add the chicken and toss to mix, just before plating.

Cacio e Pepe con Pollo

Divide among warm bowls (or see recipe, below) and divide remaining Pecorino Romano evenly over the top. Generously grind more coarse black pepper, to taste, over the top, sprinkle with a few shoestrings of crispy chicken skin, and serve with a cool, crisp salad.

Cacio e Pepe con Pollo

Now, this right here is a bowl full of awesome, but to make this recipe Next Level

Parmigiano-Reggiano Bowls
1 1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded
Olive oil cooking spray
4 small (1 cup) glass/metal bowls

Invert your bowls over paper plates. Heat a clean non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Give ‘er a little spray of oil, then sprinkle in 1/3 cup of shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano, in an even, thin layer to form a (roughly) six-inch circle.

Cacio e Pepe con Pollo

Let cook until bubbly, and the edges begin to brown, then, using two pairs of tongs, grab the edges of the cheese at 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock and flip.

Be confident, or you’ll screw it up.

Cacio e Pepe con Pollo

Cook one more minute, then grab the cheese again (same spots) and quickly drop it over your inverted cup. Pinch the fold slightly with you tongs to help create the bowl shape.

Cacio e Pepe con Pollo

Let cool and rest 2-3 minutes, and your bowl is ready to hold cacio e pepe.

Cacio e Pepe con Pollo

Always a crowd-pleaser!


-Chef Perry


Hawaiian LauLau Recipe

Maybe it’s the typical cold and rainy Pacific Northwest winters…or perhaps it’s the “Hawaii or Bust!” fund that my wife and I just launched for a (hopeful) trip to the islands this spring…whatever it it, I’m jonesin’ for some sand between my toes, the trades in my hair, and a platter of island grub to tuck into.

Which is why I’m re-writing my New Year’s Eve dinner to include my beloved laulau.

LauLau is a traditional Hawaiian dish of fish, pork beef or chicken or a combination (most typically salted fish and pork) which is wrapped in leaves and steamed slowly.

The first time I made this, was in our friend’s timeshare kitchen in Poi Pu, Kauai. A very rich, delicious dish.

BTW, if you don’t think that atmosphere effects the flavor of a meal…try enjoying your laulau from a lanai 20 yards from the surf in Kauai, under the light of a tiki torches, with palm trees swaying overhead, and a live Hawaiian band playing in the courtyard below!

Anyway…here is one of my favorite chef’s, Sam Choi’s, recipe for LauLau:

1/2lb Salted Butterfish (Black Cod)
1lb Pork Butt
4 Chicken thighs
1 TBS Hawaiian Salt (Rock salt, Kosher will do)
20 Luau leaves(Taro leaves)
8 Ti leaves
2′ butcher’s twine

Serves 4

Cut fish and pork into 4 equal portions. Sprinkle with salt. Rinse luau leaves, trim stems and veins. Rinse Ti leaves; cut back of ribs until flexible.

For each portion stack 5 luau leaves. Place 1 portion or pork, chicken, and fish into the center; sprinkle with salt and wrap tightly. Roll tightly in two Ti leaves; tie with twine.

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Steam 4 hours.(this can be done with a Bamboo steamer over a pot of boiling water or a covered Dutch oven a wire rack on the bottom)

Check occasionally to be sure there is enough water.

Note: Taro leaves can be bought at most Asian Specialty stores. The same with the Salted Butterfish in the freezer section.

Tips for reheating turekys and ham

Tips on reheating turkeys and hams

Tips for reheating turkeys and hams

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A whole lotta turkeys and hams are getting cooked this week, and that means a whole lotta leftovers!

I thought it might be a good idea to offer some tips on how to reheat these beauties, while still keeping them nice and moist.

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Here’s how I do it…

Perfect Aromatic Roast ChickenHow to Reheat a Whole Turkey

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place your turkey in a roasting pan with about 1 cup of low sodium chicken broth or apple juice.

Brush a little olive over the skin to keep it pretty. Then, cover it tightly with aluminum foil and stick it in the oven.

For a small turkey, 12-14lbs, you need to give it about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, a large one needs 2 to 2 1/2 hours to heat.

Bake for approximately 60 minutes, baste with pan juices, recover with foil and bake for an additional 30-45 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 150F. Internal temperature only needs to get to about 150 degrees, since it’s already cooked. Carve and enjoy!

By the way, here’s the best carving method I’ve found, as shown by the master:

Once you’ve reheated the turkey, I’d advise carving all of the remaining meat off the bone and storing in air-tight containers, or freezing immediately.

I like mine with our Cranberry Barbecue Sauce.

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How to Reheat a Ham

The goal is to reheat the ham without drying it out.

The best way to do this is to place the ham on a rack in a roasting pan. Add water to the bottom of the pan and cover the whole thing tightly with foil, cut side down. Bake at 325 degrees F for 16-20 minutes per pound, until a meat thermometer registers 135 degrees F.

Unwrap the ham and apply the glaze; increase the heat to 400 degrees F and bake for 15-20 minutes longer until the glaze is burnished. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving. If you really want to go “next level” carefully brush a little glaze between each layer of the spiral cut (but not the outside of the ham) before wrapping it up. It;s a lot of work, but it makes a HUGE difference!

Slow Cooker Method for Reheating Ham

First, make sure that the ham will fit into your slow cooker. Place the ham in the appliance and add the glaze ingredients. You can also just add some apple juice, cider, or chicken broth, about 1 cup will do. Cover and cook on low for 5-8 hours, until ham is thoroughly heated.

If you want to glaze or re-glaze the ham, place on a broiler pan and cover with glaze; place oven rack at lowest position, and broil for 10-15 minutes, watching carefully, until glaze is cooked Traeger Peach Ginger Ham My favorite glaze: 2 cups pineapple tidbits, drained 2 cups sliced peaches (in heavy syrup) drained 1 cup light brown sugar   1 Tbs Stubbs Mesquite Liquid Smoke 1 package ham glaze seasonings (that comes with ham) Combine pineapple and peaches in food processor and puree until smooth. Pour into a small saucepan and add remaining ingredients. Bring to a low simmer and reduce by half, stirring often. 

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Monosodium glutamate, also known as sodium glutamate and MSG, is a sodium salt of glutamic acid, a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid. It is used as a food additive and is commonly marketed as a flavor enhancer.

For decades, concerns have been raised on anecdotal grounds, and hypotheses have been put forward, that MSG may be associated with migraine headaches, food allergies in children, obesity, and hyperactivity in children.

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Big Kahuna Baked Ham & Cheese Sammies

You ever see a foodie shots that gives you an instant and uncontrollable need to eat that dish “RIGHT NOW!”…?

This was one of those for me. It was a Pinterest find…which was actually someone else’s Pinterest find, and, as they didn’t credit the original source, I don’t feel obliged to give them “inspiration” credit. I did change up several of the ingredients and…oh baby…it’s just as good as it looks!

These make a fantastic single-serving appetizer, or double them up and serve with your favorite yummy potato style and a salad for a kickin’ dinner.

Next time…pastrami and habanero-jack cheese!

Hawaiian Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwich Recipe


Big Kahuna Baked Ham & Cheese
12 pack sweet Hawaiian rolls
3/4 lb. honey-baked ham, shaved
3/4 lb. Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
1 stick butter
3 tbsp. sweet hot mustard (or Dijon, if you don’t like the heat)
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
3 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
1 small sweet onion, chopped
Olive oil spray

Hawaiian Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwich Recipe

Preheat oven to 350F. Melt the butter and stir in the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, onion and sesame seeds. Simmer for a minute or two.


Hawaiian Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwich Recipe

Slice the entire pack of rolls in half, horizontally (keeping all the tops and bottoms in one piece).

Hawaiian Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwich Recipe

Spray a 9×13 pan with olive oil spray, place bottom half of rolls in the pan, and spread 1/2 of the onion mixture over the bottoms.

MY KITCHEN Outreach ProgramBy the way, if you’re enjoying this recipe, please subscribe to our free newsletter! We’ll send seven amazing dinner recipes and a shopping list to your inbox each Friday. Plus, you’ll be helping us teach nutrition, shopping, and hands-on cooking classes to at-risk kids.


Hawaiian Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwich Recipe

Top with the ham (super-cute sous chef optional, but recommended.)

Hawaiian Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwich Recipe

Top the ham with cheese slices.

Hawaiian Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwich Recipe

Put the tops of the rolls back on, and slather (I love that word) with the remaining onion mixture.

Hawaiian Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwich Recipe

Cover with foil and bake for 15-20 minutes, until cheese is melted.

Hawaiian Baked Ham & Cheese Sandwich Recipe

Separate, serve, and enjoy!

-Chef Perry



It’s the end of the world…may I see the dessert menu, please?

Given the current hubbub about the world coming to a screaming halt tomorrow (which I don’t believe…unless it happens, in which case I friggin’ told you so) I thought it would be appropriate to discuss what final feast ya’all would want to sit down to if you knew there wasn’t going to be breakfast service.

I mean, c’mon…do you really want to head into eternity knowing the last thing you had was a salad? Not me!

Here’s what some of the world famous foodies, past and present, ordered or have requested at their last meal:

Julia Child
Although the French gourmand’s favorite comfort food was red meat and gin, she was documented in her biography saying her ideal last meal would include:
-Caviar with Russian vodka and oysters with Pouilly-Fuisse wine.
-Foie gras
-Pan-roasted duck, with onions and chanterelle mushrooms
-Pommes Anna (thinly-sliced potatoes baked in butter) and fresh asparagus
-French bread with Roquefort and Brie, with a Grands-Echezeauxs Burgundy
-Walnut cake; ripe pears and green tea; and crème brulee

Anthony Bourdain
No reservations, Bourdain’s last meal would be roast bone marrow with parsley and caper salad, with a few toasted slices of baguette and some good sea salt

Mario Batali
Eight to ten courses of seafood, pasta, and vegetables feast, beginning with marinated anchovies, to a Neapolitan version of a grilled cheese sandwich, on down the line to end with icy Limoncello, would be this chef’s choice.

Here’s mine:

We’d start with a half-dozen extra small fresh oyster shooters, with my wasabi cocktail sauce, followed by my wife’s tomato basil soup.

Entrees…no question… would be Chef Chris’s grilled tri-tip, served with my garlic mashed potatoes, and Chef Terry’s crusty baguette.

Next course would be series of tapas plates including hautemealz.com member Di Anderson’s green chili chicken enchiladas, a good sopresseta salumi with goat cheese, and slow roasted pork cheek with chicharrones.

Guinness to drink, of course, and a bowl of spumoni ice cream for dessert.

What would YOUR last meal be?

– Chef Perry


End of the World Mayan Hot Chocolate

So…it all ends tomorrow at midnight, huh?

I’m not sure I believe the hype, but I’m taking a 48 hour vacation from my diet. You know…just in case.

In honor of the ominous predictions of their big stone calendars, I’m offering up another little something those wacky Mayans left behind for us, one of my all time favorite hot beverages…Mayan Hot Chocolate.

Love this stuff…

Mayan Hot Chocolate
4 cups whole milk
1 cup grated semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3 whole cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon cayenne chili powder
1 cinnamon stick, quartered
2 teaspoons vanilla

Heat the milk, stirring, in a double boiler until just steaming, stir in the brown sugar, nutmeg, cloves, cayenne.

Once those have incorporated, slowly stir in the grated chocolate, a tbsp. or so at a time, stirring until completely melted. Add the vanilla and cinnamon.

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Allow to steam, just below a simmer, stirring often for 10-15 minutes.

Carefully strain into cups, through a fine sieve to remove the cloves and cinnamon pieces. Now this next step is optional, but I think it really improves the drink (and it’s a nod to the original bitter, frothy brew that the Mayans drank, before those friendly Europeans showed up and added sugar.) If you have an immersion blender, give the whole mix a quick whip to make it lighter and frothier.

(Frothier…is that a word? Whatever, correct me on Saturday morning.)

If you like a bit more kick, sprinkle the top with a dash more cinnamon and cayenne powder.

Grab a plate of sugar cookies, find a comfy chair, and sit back and enjoy the apocalypse in style!

Oh, and if you’d rather face the end of the world a bit more, shall we say…mellow? The addition of a healthy snort of tequila, added just before serving, would not be completely out of theme.


-Chef Perry


Happy Sangria Day! Here’s our favorite…

Heyya hauties!

Happy National Sangria Day!

Here’s a little something from Chef Terry’s archives! A couple years back, we threw a Greek Easter feast with a dozen or so friends, and Terry made of a batch of his Sangue Rosso Sangria to compliment the grilled lamb, dolmadakia, and all the other Greek goodies.

Ir was, to say the least, very well recieved. By far the best sangria I’ve ever had!

Terry’s Sangue Rosso Sangria

1 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon
1/4 Cup Kirshe Wasser (cherry brandy)
1/4 Cup Limoncello (lemon liqueur)
2 Oranges, sliced
1 Green apple, sliced
2 Tbs. Sugar
1 1/2 Cup Club soda

Combine (stir to dissolve the sugar) wine, liquors, fruit and sugar in a container and chill for at least 2 hours up to 24.

Add club soda just before serving. Serve over ice.