Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Food Favorites

Whenever the family and I go to a restaurant, I look for something different to try. I do have my favorites, but I also go out of my way to find a dish that is unique in taste and original in presentation. Sometimes, I won’t know what I’ll be getting until the server places it in front of me.

For today’s feature Freedom Friday, I would like to give you a sampling of what I’ve had the pleasure of eating. I wish there was a way to transform the photos into real dishes in order for you to smell the aromas and savor the sweet flavors, but this is not the Starship Enterprise where I can say, “Tea, Earl Grey, hot,” and the replicator will create the item for you. Wouldn’t that be something? Instead, I’ll give you some background to the shot, and relate my thoughts about the experience.

My goal is to make you hungry.

Prime Rib Burger
Prime Rib Burger

Prime Rib Burger—For Mother’s Day, I thought I’d treat my amazing wife to one of our favorite restaurants here in Canada. They have a delicious gluten-free menu she can enjoy while the kids and I can gorge on the pizza and burgers. For this time around, I chose to order a Prime Rib Burger. Since I love mushrooms so much, I added them as a topping for a buck. I can only describe the meal as an explosion to the taste buds. The chef cooked the meat to perfection and the mushrooms added an extra level of flavor. The side Greek Salad complimented the meal, making it all the more enjoyable.

Curry Beef
Curry Beef

Curry Beef—During one of our Thursday night dinner dates, my wife recommended the Curry Beef. I’ve never liked beef unless prepared on a burger. This time, she was right. I had one taste of her dish, and I quickly ordered one for myself. The plate comes with tender sirloin drowning in curry sauce. Added in the mix is a sprinkling of onions and green pepper. A surprising finish to a morsel is the heat delivered by the sauce. Not overly strong, but having a kick, the dish leaves a satisfying aftertaste.

Salmon Sushi Combo
Salmon Sushi Combo

Salmon Sushi ComboThis year’s Canada Day festivities included a trip to our favorite sushi restaurant here in town. While the rest of my family was ordering Vegetable Maki, Chicken Fried Rice and Miso Soup, I order a Salmon Sushi Combo. I gotta tell you, of all my favorite dishes I’m writing about today, this is my absolute favorite. The meal comes with six salmon maki, three sushi and one salmon hand roll. Like all sushi meals, it also comes with a generous helping of soy sauce and wasabi. I have to tell you something. Sushi is the only meal that feels like home to me. I don’t feel stuffed, sick or bloated when eating sushi, and the next day, I’m gearing up for more. I wish the whole world was made of sushi because then I wouldn’t have to wait so long before eating it again.

Grilled Chicken Salad
Grilled Chicken Salad

Grilled Chicken Salad—As part of an extended celebration my family and I had for my youngest, recently having performed in the drama troupe’s rendition of Beauty and the Beast at a Ribfest, we stopped by the Greek restaurant down the street. I typically order a lamb dish, but that night I had already eaten a bit at the Ribfest, I needed to go for something light. The Grilled Chicken Salad was perfect for this occasion. A Greek Salad topped with the moistest grilled chicken I’ve ever tasted made this meal a treat to enjoy. Every single ingredient was fresh. Every single bite had a perfect finish. One day, I hope to learn to cook chicken this way.

That’s it, folks. Are you hungry yet?

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What was the last thing you had that made your latest trip to a restaurant special?

Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Our Meals

The other night my wife surprised me with a barbecue chicken meal. I say surprised because it was the first time she’d made it. It was delicious. No surprise there since she cooks pretty amazing things for me and the family. During the weekend, I return the favor by cooking the Saturday meal. My kids like it as does my wife.

My  garlic chicken and my wife's coleslaw
My garlic chicken and my wife’s coleslaw

Freedom Friday is not the same if I don’t talk about food in some form or another. Today makes no exception.

Some of my favorite meals my wife makes are the simple ones with lots of flavor. For instance, during those cold winter nights when the heat cuts in every two minutes and the snow piles high outside our front door, she’ll dedicate a good portion of her time making all sorts of soup. Squash soup, heavy on the hot pepper, is a regular treat for dinner. It lights up the palate and soothes the chills from the bitter wind blowing from the Arctic. Broccoli soup is another one of her specialties. I don’t know what she puts in it to get it so creamy, but I have to say it’s so good.

Although not a meal, my wife has taken to making batches of Greek Tzatziki sauce. It’s a yogurt-based sauce with bits of cucumber and lots of garlic in the mix. We use it to dip fries, chicken and pita bread in it. I can only describe the flavor as divine. The creamy richness of the sauce provides the meal a missing element of flavor that few sauces can compare. Simply outstanding.

My wife also cooks the traditional Italian dishes for our family. Pasta sauce and meatballs is a staple in our diet. Our typical Tuesday night meal consists of lots of pasta—penne, rigatoni, spaghetti, etc.—drenched with her homemade sauce and lots of spicy meat as part of the plate. She’ll add salad and vegetables as side dishes, but her salads are meals in themselves. Standard ingredients in her salads are sliced cucumbers, chunks of feta cheese and at times, Greek olives. I suppose you might call it a Greek salad with a little something to boot.

My Saturday meals can be anything. I’ve been on a curry kick lately, making everything from curry chicken to any meat with curry in there. I have a handful of ingredients I use on a regular basis to bring out the flavor of the meat in a wild and exciting way (coconut milk, curry, garlic, onion, salt, black and cayenne pepper).

I’ll sometimes make lamb as a special treat on a long weekend. I love my garlic, so I’ll mince garlic in the lamb, add olive oil, salt, pepper and Dijon mustard to give it an extra kick. I don’t want to brag—oh, why not—it’s one of the best dishes I enjoy making and eating with the family.

Lastly, the best part about our meals is sitting together as a family and talking about our day. Nothing quite beats that.

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What foods do you enjoy making or eating? Do you also have recipes you like having for special occasions?

Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Curry Chicken II

I’ve been looking forward all week to tell you about my curry chicken recipe. If you’re keeping track, this is my second curry chicken recipe I’m sharing with you for my Freedom Friday series. Born from the many Saturday afternoon meals I cook for the family, this dish will boost the spirit of any crowd looking for something fun to eat. So, sit back, put your feet up and allow the sweet smell of flavor to take over your imagination.

Curry Chicken
Curry Chicken

If you read my post Curry Chicken, then you will know I love cooking and eating. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. The big difference with this recipe has to do with the way I cook it. I wish I’d taken shots of the entire process, but I’m sure if I provide you detailed instructions, you’ll have no problem cooking it yourself. I’ll get back to the way I cook this a little later on. I don’t bake it like the first recipe, that’s for sure.

Let’s start with the ingredients:

  • Black pepper
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Coconut milk
  • Curry powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Paprika
  • Salt

You’ll notice one ingredient missing from the original recipe and two ingredients added. That’s right I pulled the ginger from the list because I already had two different heats competing for your palette, black pepper and cayenne. You’re also correct if you’ve guessed I added paprika and coconut milk. You’ll see what I’ll do with those later.

Now for the directions:

Buying the right chicken makes all the world of difference. If you can afford organic skinless thighs, then I’d suggest saving some cash in order to make it a special treat. If you can’t go organic, try Costco chicken. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, and not wanting to sound like an ad, but they give you a lot for your money and you’ll have leftovers to boot.

The prep is super easy. Cut the thighs into smaller pieces about two inches in length all around. You’ll notice once you begin cooking, the pieces will shrink to bite-size portions. Toss your chicken in a cooking pot, preferably one of those deep two-handle ones with the glass cover. If you don’t have one of those, any deep pot will do. Make sure it can hold the chicken and the coconut milk.

Fries
Fries

This is the fun part, besides eating of course. Place the pot with the chicken on the stove and begin cooking it at a medium heat. No oils, butters or anything like that. Add half a can of coconut milk and stir with a wooden spoon. Plastic spoons do not do justice to this dish. Next, add the rest of your ingredients. Now, I have to say this, I’ve never measured how much of one thing versus another I should add. I always say “to taste” but you see the problem there, right? You don’t want to taste raw chicken as you cook it since doing so would make you violently ill or even worse, kill you. Don’t do it.

Then how do I measure the ingredients to add? Well, imagine all the chicken laying on the counter in a straight line. How would you go about sprinkling the ingredients on them? That’s how I imagine it. I add a lot of curry powder enough to cover each piece. As for the rest, add a few shakes of each ingredient except cayenne pepper. You don’t want to make it too hot. If you have fresh ground pepper, go with that. Nothing quite beats the flavor of fresh. Regarding the salt, up to you how much you want to add. If you add a little, it’ll taste bland. Imagine the chicken spanning the counter again. You’ll get the hang of how much to add.

Keep stirring the chicken in the milk every few minutes or so on medium heat. Leave it uncovered because what you’re trying to do is to allow the milk to reduce to a creamy gravy, which will contain all the flavors you’ve added. Cook for about forty-five minutes but it may be less depending on the stove. I tend to cook it until I see a thick gravy forming and that’s when I reduce the heat to simmer and cover.

On this particular Saturday, I made shoestring fries in the oven to compliment the dish. Rather than slapping the fries on a tray and shoving them in the oven like the instructions say, I add a couple of ingredients to the mix. I sprinkle onion powder and salt on the fries, then toss them in the oven. Believe me, if you have kids, they’ll love the restaurant quality fries you’ll serve them and may even brag about it to their friends.

Peas
Peas

As for the veggies, up to you what you want to serve with the dish. I had peas on hand and made those by steaming and adding some butter to them. They actually tasted great with the dish.

Before serving the chicken, grab a fork and knife and cut through a piece of chicken to make sure it’s cooked. If it’s white inside and the knife cuts the meat evenly without it feeling rubbery, then you know you’ve got yourself a winner. Try it before plating. If it’s missing flavor, more than likely you didn’t put enough garlic or onion powder. Add the missing ingredient to the pot and stir until dissolved.

When you’re serving the dish, make sure to add in the gravy, it makes for an awesome dip for the fries. Other than that, that’s all there is to it. I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I had writing about it!

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Have you ever had curry chicken? What do you like about it the most?

Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Food Photography

Taking pictures of food has become a hobby of mine. For a long time, I took the photos not knowing what to do with them until one day it’d dawned on me. I didn’t need to do anything with them. The photos of the food not only represent edibles, but of times gone by. A single image floods my mind of all the good times associated with those meals. Let’s have a look at some of those photos and of what they mean to me for Freedom Friday.

Mamma's Penne Pasta
Mamma’s Penne Pasta

My mom’s pasta is to die for. I don’t know how she makes the sauce, and believe me, my wife’s tried to replicate it, I’ve tried, yet to no avail, we have never been able to duplicate it from scratch. In its place, my wife has her own recipe, which I love with a passion, but it’s not mamma’s sauce. Don’t worry, my wife knows how I feel, it’s no secret. The point being, this photo of my mom’s penne pasta coated with her delicious sauce represents a typical Sunday meal at my parents place. Whenever I look at this picture, memories of all those good time family gatherings come back to me. Every so often, we also have the typical Sunday meal here at my house.

Curry chicken, corn, green beans and marinated eggplant
Curry chicken, corn, green beans and marinated eggplant

Every Saturday afternoon I cook something special for the family. It’s my time when I treat everyone to a culinary creation of my choosing. One of my favorite dishes I enjoy making is chicken. I think I’ve cooked chicken in every way possible, yet, I’m sure someone will say to me, “Have you tried it this way?” I’m sure of it. This photo has all the fall colors wrapped in a delicious assortment of vegetables and chicken. For anyone curious, those are marinate eggplants. I enjoy this photo because it reminds me of our Saturday family time together.

Sushi
Sushi

Sushi reminds me of special occasions, long weekends and my absolute love for Japanese food. For those who don’t know, I make my own sushi. It took a long time to understand how all the ingredients worked together, their names and their distinct flavors. Nowadays, it’s second nature making this stuff. This photo is of one of the long weekends here at Casa Flacco, and of how I spent my afternoon. Salmon, avocado, sticky rice, all wrapped with nori. The other dish I made with cucumber, sticky rice and nori. I love long weekends because of our sushi binges.

Salad
Salad

Nothing quite tops a good ol’ fashioned salad in my family. Salads remind me of summer and fall. We make our salads from the choicest, freshest ingredients. All of it organic and most of it comes from our backyard. This photo captures the essence of what our meals are like in the summer. Every day is salad day with olive oil, feta cheese, Greek olives and onions as extra ingredients. What this photo does not capture is the hard work involved with tilling the soil, watering, babying it every single day to allow it to bring forth an incredible bounty for all of us to enjoy.

Now do you see why I take photos of food?

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Are you one of those folks who also take photos of food? What is your favorite food to shoot?

Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Curry Chicken

Having watched the Food Network for a full year made me appreciate the culinary delights of cooking with a few simple ingredients. No, this is not a zombie post. Nor is it a piece dedicated to strong chicks that kick butt. But this Freedom Friday entry is about a quick and easy recipe you can try at home with minimal to no chef experience. Yeah, that describes me, all right.

Curry Chicken
Curry Chicken

Real Jamaican curry chicken is hard to make. I know because some of my best friends are Jamaican and theirs is beyond description. Does the term “mouthwatering, savory dish” mean anything to you? It will be once you taste the real thing. Mine is a cheap imitation knock-off. But, as my kids have indicated several times, “Is this ever good.” It’s an ever-good, cheap imitation knock-off.

Okay, enough with the chitchat, let’s get to my recipe, as I know you’re dying to get started on it!

You will need chicken. I always get my chicken from Costco since they package their meats in affordable units. For instance, in my neighborhood, 24 skinless chicken thighs is about $24. I’m paying a buck a thigh. I think that’s a good deal. If you don’t have a Costco, you can try the regular supermarket, although I’m sure you’ll pay much more for the same package.

Once I get my chicken, I tend to soak 12 pieces in brine overnight. Not to make it complicated or anything, my brine is salt water. You can use a pot, which works well. Load the pot with the chicken thighs, add water, and add lots of salt. I can’t say how much salt. I go with what I’m used to—about ten dashes. How’s that for a scientific measuring system? Make sure the fridge is cold enough so as the chicken doesn’t spoil. I can’t stress enough how important it is to ensure food meets health and safety specifications.

Before going on, the reason for soaking the chicken in brine is to plump up the pieces. Ever wonder how restaurants get their chicken to look so huge? They soak them in brine to get the meat to swell at massive proportions. Nice trick, eh?

Next, set the chicken in a skillet/baking pan—your choice. We use a glass skillet in our house and it works fine for our family. If you have something else, that’s fine too. It’s nothing to get hung up about.

Raw skinless chicken thighs
Raw skinless chicken thighs

Add your ingredients:

  • Cayenne
  • Curry powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Ginger powder
  • Onion powder
  • Pepper
  • Salt
Ingredients
Ingredients

And when I mean add your ingredients, I mean sprinkle to taste. You may only want to give a couple of dashes of cayenne, but pour on the curry. After all, it is curry chicken. Have a gander at the photo to get an idea of what it looks like before baking.

With ingredients
With ingredients

What you’ll want to do is set your oven to 375°F and cover the dish with aluminum foil. This will trap all the flavors inside the skillet to make the meat nice and tender when serving. Leave it in there for an hour and prepare the side dishes. I typically make peas or have some fries on the side. On this particular Saturday, my wife jumped in with some corn on the cob. It was goo-ood!

Covered
Covered

Once done, take the chicken from oven, let stand for about five minutes in order to allow it to absorb the juices from the skillet, then serve with side dishes.

Out of the oven
Out of the oven

In the photo at the beginning of the post you see the curry chicken served with corn on the cob, marinated egg plant, and green beans. What a wonderful, delectable dish!

Enjoy!

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale October 22.

Have you ever cooked Jamaican-style curry chicken? If so, how do you do it? Do you have any chicken recipes that have become a staple with your family?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Photo Opportunities

My Favorite Things

For a long time, photography has inspired me to travel great distances, survive sour weather and mangle my body into weird positions all in the expectation of capturing that perfect shot. Today, I hope you enjoy this edition of Freedom Friday because today, I’d like to give you a tour of my favorite subjects.

Canada's Wonderland Water Fountains
Canada’s Wonderland Water Fountains

As I’d mentioned, I enjoy taking photos of, well, almost everything. If it’s something I’ve wondered about and wanted to capture, I’m the first one there.

One of my favorite subjects is by far Canada’s Wonderland. Nestled in Vaughan, Ontario, just north of Toronto, this 330-acre (130 ha) theme park features some of the most awesome roller coasters in the world. What makes this site special for amateur photographers (that’s me), is the simple areas that reflect a moodiness sought after elsewhere in the world but achieved here with simple landscaping and music. Its fountains, mountain, and fireworks makes for a wonderful experience for travelers wanting excellence in a vacation. My family purchases a yearly pass to take advantage of the park’s beauty and relaxed atmosphere (yeah, and the rides are pretty cool, too). The hand-in-hand strolls I take there with my wife at night are worth every penny spent.

Canada's Wonderland Mountain
Canada’s Wonderland Mountain
Canada's Wonderland Fountains
Canada’s Wonderland Fountains
Canada's Wonderland Fireworks
Canada’s Wonderland Fireworks

Next up, Toronto. How can I ignore the place I call my second home? From its CN Tower to its beautiful lake shore, Toronto provides me with many opportunities to take shots centered around color and culture. More specific, the downtown core where I frequent the most, hosts a myriad of activities for the family. It’s difficult to say what impresses me the most. Is it the buildings or events? I think the multicultural aspect of the city gives me pause. Whenever I walk the streets, I have to admire all those who roam from faraway places and call Toronto their home. It is something of beauty.

Monument to Multiculturalism
Monument to Multiculturalism

Another favorite place I enjoy taking pictures is the Ontario Science Centre. Located in the heart of Toronto, the complex houses hundreds of interactive and passive exhibits. My family and I will head over during spring break when the rates are lower and the place is bustling with crowds. We have fun with the various activities and I’m always on the lookout for something interesting to shoot.

Ontario Science Centre Engine Display
Ontario Science Centre Engine Display

What else? Food, of course! As you may have gathered from my sushi and eleven-spice chicken recipes, I love food! And being Italian doesn’t help. There’s always something in the culinary arts to keep my interest as an obsessed shutterbug. My mom makes these phenomenal meals like Rigatoni with cheese and meatballs, veal cutlets with potatoes and green beans, broiled lamb with peppers and pickled vegetables—she’s a crazy momma. Whenever I visit my parents, I loosen my belt two notches. Yet, sometimes a simple plate of fries captures my attention. Call me squirrel-minded!

French Fries
French Fries
Veggie Salad
Veggie Salad
Candy
Candy

Autumn is my favorite season. What would a post about favorite things to shoot be without a fall photo? During this time, the colors here in Canada burst. Maple trees line the roads in orange coats. Forests erupt in a kaleidoscope of gold and reds. And me? I’m out in the woods taking shot after shot of the amber carpeting. Fall is my season. If I had it my way, I’d sleep out there every night, listening to the leaves drift to the ground.

Autumn in a Small Ontario Town
Autumn in a Small Ontario Town

These are a few of my favorite things.

Do you have a favorite photography subject? What is it that makes the subject interesting to shoot?

Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Eleven-Spice Chicken

Saturdays is a big thing here at our house. While everyone in our neighborhood shovels the snow from their driveway, goes shopping or runs errands, my family unplugs and relaxes with good food, great conversation and awesome friends. This is my Freedom Friday post, and this is my Eleven-Spice Chicken recipe.

Eleven-Spice Chicken Dish
Eleven-Spice Chicken Dish

My family lives a hectic lifestyle. I can’t tell you how busy my wife gets hauling the kids back and forth to their activities or how I manage to stay sane doing the same thing in the evenings. But the day we look forward to the most is Saturday. Saturday is our day. Actually, it’s my wife’s day, since I get to treat her with one of my most delicious recipes. She enjoys the food. I enjoy the cooking. And when we have company over, it makes for a delightful evening of giddiness and good time.

Born from my many Saturday food experiments comes my Eleven-Spice Chicken recipe. Yep, this is a true-blue, Jack Flacco original just like the sushi recipe I wrote about a few weeks ago. How this recipe came about was from watching nothing but the Food Network for a whole year and trying various BBQ recipes from multiple hosts. I tried a myriad of spices to get the right mix of what I liked. Some meals come out from the oven smelling incredible. Some—not so much. I would tweak the ingredients slightly and try again until I got the combination right. I did this until one day, my son said, “Boy, is this ever good!” That’s when I knew I had something. When I finally tasted it, he was right, “Boy, is this ever good!”

Now, if anyone ever asked, I used to hold on to my recipes like gold. Never quite revealing everything I’d put in them. Then I thought, that’s kind of selfish. The whole point of cooking is to share a great experience with people and have them try something unique. Something they never tried before. What better way to do that than to share it with you all!

Here we go, then…

Ingredients:

  • Black pepper
  • Brown sugar
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Curry powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Ginger powder
  • Onion powder
  • Paprika
  • Salt
  • Skinless chicken thighs and/or chicken legs

What prep looks like:

Chicken in a Glass Skillet
Chicken in a Glass Skillet
Chicken Prepared for the Oven
Chicken Prepared for the Oven

Directions:

  • Buy quality, skinless chicken. I tend to purchase my chicken thighs and legs from Costco. They have them packaged nicely and the thighs are already skinless, so you’ll save some time with prep. Also, you get a lot in the package, which will allow you to save money in the long run.
  • Get yourself a deep skillet and set your chicken in there. Some have argued chicken tastes better in a metal skillet as opposed to glass. I’ve tried both and I can’t really tell which tastes better. It’s going in the oven, not the BBQ. I’ll leave that up to you. Live on the wild side!
  • Spice the chicken. You’ll notice all the ingredients are powders. There’s a reason for this. With powders, you can control how much of a spice you’d like to taste in the meal. My rule of thumb is to put in what you like. Here is how I do it: Salt the meat. Nothing worse than tasting bland meat. Then sprinkle liberally all the other ingredients except for the brown sugar. Do it for both sides. Once you’re done, take a teaspoon of brown sugar and sprinkle it on one side as your last ingredient. When the dish comes out of the oven, you’ll find the sugar will have melted and caramelized over the chicken, helping to seal in the juices. I also use brown sugar because it contains molasses, which gives the dish an extra edge of rustic flavor over white, flavorless sugar.
  • Finally, preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C, cover the dish with tin foil and slip it into the oven for an hour. Once complete, take it out and enjoy!

If you like this recipe, pass it along.

Do you have any chicken recipes you’d like to share? If you’ve cooked this, how did it turn out?