DJ’s Butcher Block and the Importance of Ingredients

Monday:                              Sausage Campagnola


Tuesday:                              Hand-chopped Gazpacho with Panzanella

Wednesday:                      Tacos de Tinga Blanca con Aguacate y Queso Fresco
(Smoky Pork Tinga Tacos with Avocado and Fresh Cheese)


Thursday:                            Turkey-Feta Burgers with Tomato Jam and Grilled Eggplant


Friday:                                  Stuffed Blue Fish – Lousiana / Bulgarian Style, Guacamole


Saturday with family and friends:  Mere, Billy, Beez, Fr. Drew, Hoddy

Saturday:                             Ricotta with crudités, Grilled Chicken with Tomato-Eggplant Gratin.  Tarte Tatin with ice cream.


Sunday:                                Ragu with pasta and parmigiano – Green Salad – Country Bread


Steelers Fans – Marc, Jon, and Billy

Obviously, you can’t paint without paints and you can’t cook without ingredients.  But where do you draw the line at tracking down, say, the “finest chicken”?  Do you really need to establish a personal relationship with a chicken rancher?

Last week I was annoyed at people who don’t cook – this week I’m annoyed at people who do.*  Foodies who talk about the finest or the best ingredients and who can tell you the lineage of the lamb chop they are serving you or the content of the poultry granola that fattened Pertelotte (see Chaucer, “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”) for their free-range chicken salad served with Quinoa from the Eastern flank of the Andes drive me up the wall.  And, clearly, their grasp on the logic of English grammar is not firm. There can only be one finest or best ingredient in the world.

*I don’t know why I’m in such a curmudgeonly mood this month.  Little things seem to set me off.  Thankfully, I haven’t taken out my frustrations on anybody or anything yet – perhaps writing about them is a good outlet.  (Well, there was that jerkwater in the Cadillac Escalade who drove like he owned Fox Chapel Road, but I didn’t really hurt him and I’ll bet that cut under his eye heals before the court date.)

Good luck finding the world’s best tomato or freshest chicken.**  I’ll settle for good and fresh.  And I’ll continue to buy groceries at Giant Eagle, as well as Whole Foods and in the Strip District because, damn it, they have good stuff in all of these places.   And good stuff is what you want.  Just use common sense.  You can buy perfectly fine salmon for pan roasting at the Giant Eagle – if you want tuna you will enjoy after a minimal sear on the grill or for ceviché, go to Whole Foods or the Strip.  The Kosher salt, the paper towels, the jarred pickles and the coffee at Giant Eagle are great.  But I’d get my oysters and mussels elsewhere.

**If you have studied philosophy you may find some consolation there (pace Boethius).  Plato would explain to you that all chickens, however inferior, are, nonetheless related to the perfect chicken – the very idea of a chicken.  Aristotle would tell you to quit mooning about and cut up the chicken and cook it.  Aquinas would explain that no chicken could ever be perfect, only God is perfect, but by analogy we can strive toward perfection by keeping the Divine Law always in mind.  Kant would explain that the idea of perfection is a limit and is there as a regulative function – we can’t achieve perfection, but we can posit it as a goal.  Kierkegaard would see a reenactment of the story of Abraham and Isaac in the holocaust of the chicken.  And Bertrand Russell would call for an international jury to condemn all butchers.

The job of a cook is to take the ingredients he or she has (rejecting anything inferior, life-threatening or from Cleveland) and make the best of them.  It’s just that, if you start with really good stuff – you’ll get a better result.  In my personal search for good ingredients, I found a new butcher last week, courtesy of a suggestion from Lila, a long-time friend of Beez’s and a new follower of the blog:  DJ’s Butcher Block (in Bloomfield) is a minimal shop, in terms of decoration and advertisement.  There is a tall dairy case with local milk, buttermilk and eggs, a black board of upcoming meats, specialties, sausages of the week, etc., a display case with sausages and meats, and two friendly, knowledgeable butchers who buy whole cows and pigs and get chickens that actually look and taste like chickens and will share their thoughts on cooking all of these things with you.  We discussed a sausage and scotch tasting party but decided that it was not a wise idea given the size and razor sharpness of the implements hanging on the walls of the shop.  I bought two chickens for grilling on Sunday which proved to be superior.  Go to this place, buy their stuff, make them rich and happy so that they will continue to serve the cooking public.

For this week’s recipes, I’m going to share a simple gazpacho that calls for chopping endurance and will improve your knife skills.  For an extra, I’ll share a basic technique that you can use to create seafood dips (not for the faint of heart or palate).  And I’ll end with a plea which contradicts everything in the main body of this post – please help me to create the world’s best Bolognese (or Ragu or Sunday Gravy – all much the same thing).  On Saturday I spent 4 hours cooking a Ragu that we had after the Steelers game on Sunday.  It was good, but not great.  So please send along your recipes, tricks and suggestions.  (If you want my recipe – if you have the time – let me know and I’ll write it up and send it along.)

Note:  We had a ton of great food this week, and even better guests, as you can see in the pictures.  The Sausage Campagnola and the Turkey Burgers with tomato jam stand out (I know, I know, but trust me this is one great meal).  Let me know if you need the recipes.


(Based on a recipe by George Hirsch – notes from his t.v. show, since Create t.v. won’t share his recipes)

Why not use a food processor?  Well, George Hirsch explained that the food processor actually heats up the vegetables.  The gazpacho will still be good – but it will not taste as fresh as the hand-chopped stuff.  We tried it and agreed that George was correct.

Timing:                 2 hours and 20 minutes – 3 hours

The timing depends on your knife-skills.  The chopping called for her is very fine.  It took me about 20 minutes to get the chop just right.  And you’ll want to chill the gazpacho for 2 hours before serving.

Ingredients:       (Serves 4 as a first course – 6 as an appetizer)

Between ¼ and ½ Cup each of

  • Plum Tomatoes, seeded and cored, chopped fine
    – Onion, chopped very fine
    – Sweet red pepper, chopped very fine
    – Sweet green pepper, chopped very fine
    – Scallions, chopped very fine
    – ½ Cup cucumber, peeled, seeded, chopped very fine
    – 4 cloves of garlic, chopped very fine

4 Cups of tomato juice
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ – ½ Teaspoon of Hot Sauce (I used more and I used Frank’s Red Hot)
Pinch of cumin
Pinch of sea salt
Black pepper

About ½ Cup of stale bread, toasted, chopped fine (I used bread that was not stale – it worked well)

1 Tablespoon Balsamic vinegar (I would not overdo the balsamic, particularly if you used only ¼ cup of the chopped peppers, tomatoes and onions)


Chop the vegetables, then mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl.

Chill for 2 hours, then serve with a quartered spear of cucumber as a garnish.  (see picture above)

EXTRA:                    Blue Fish Mantecato (Fish Dip)

This recipe is best with baccalá (salt cod).  They whip up an ethereal mantecato in Venice and serve it with slices of baguette.  That and a martini from Harry’s Bar are all you need to maintain perfect health and good teeth.  But we had a lot of left-over blue fish and I wondered what we happen if we whipped it mantecato (creamed/mousse) style.  It was great.  Note:  This is not, as some people maintain, an acquired taste.  It’s just that some people get hinky about eating certain types of fish.  If you are hinky in this way, please keep it to yourself.


A hunk of any cooked fish.  We used blue fish which gives a nice, pungent flavor to the dish.  Cod is a lighter taste.  I can’t think of a fish that wouldn’t work.

A clove of two of minced garlic, depending upon how much fish you have.

Salt and Pepper

Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Put all of the ingredients, except the oil, in a tall-sided container.  (I used a pasta cooker)

Pour in a bit of olive oil and, using an immersion blender, begin to mix.   Add more oil in batches and keep mixing until you get an airy, whipped consistency.  (We used about ¾ Cup of oil for 1 and ½ Cup of fish)

Serve with toast points, toasted baguette or crackers as an appetizer

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