Just South of Buffalo Wings

It was circa 1977. I was just a kid in a small town south of Buffalo, New York, and I still remember my first bite of the mouthwatering spicy hot chicken wings my Uncle Mike made for me. Mike worked with nightclub sound and lighting systems during those days, which was a big freaking deal, given that we were hanging onto the tail end of the disco era. For his work, Mike traveled into the larger cities where the clubs were, and after an installation at a club in Buffalo, he brought home with him the recipe for these delectably crispy, tangy-hot treats.

And oh my God, did I love them! Clearly, I was not alone.

It didn’t take long for “Buffalo wings” to catch on across upstate New York, and eventually the entire country. Today, though restaurants everywhere have imagined new and unusual sauces for wings, I will forever favor the original flavor of Frank’s RedHot sauce with a side of celery and chunky bleu cheese dressing. Oh, and I can never, ever get behind the idea of breading them—not in flour or batter or crumbs or whatever, though plenty of sites suggest the original 1964 Anchor Bar recipe had them coated in flour and oven-roasted. That sounds suspicious to me, given that I’ve enjoyed them deep-fried for decades. The wings should be crispy, as they were on that hot summer night in ’77, and they should make my eyes water just from the smell of them. Just give me what I want.

Yep, this is exactly how I remember them! (photo from Wikipedia)

The only problem I have with Buffalo wings today is the whole deep-frying thing. I enjoy them, but I can’t indulge in them very often if I want to stay healthy. A few years ago, however, I came across a new technique for preparing wings that promised the same crispy exterior and juicy interior, but without deep frying or any amount of oil at all. Pinch me, I thought; I must be dreaming. And then I tried this simple little hack and it was as if angels were singing inside my head.

Friends, the non-fried wings are 100% as delicious as the crispy deep-fried Buffalo wings I tasted back in the day, and you don’t need an air fryer or any other special gadgets to make them. The big thanks goes to Alton Brown of Food Network. His technique involves steaming the wings to render some of the fat, and then oven roasting them to perfection before tossing them in your favorite sauce. I’ve named these “Just South of Buffalo Wings” because that’s where I’m from, and also because I’ve added a generous blast of black pepper to the traditional Frank’s RedHot sauce, and a little bit of brown sugar to balance that bite.

Serve these with fresh celery sticks and some homemade chunky bleu cheese dressing. And a cold beer, duh.


Ingredients

2 lbs. fresh chicken wings* (see notes)

1/2 cup Frank’s Original RedHot sauce*

1/4 stick salted butter

3 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 Tbsp. coconut aminos*

1 tsp. lemon juice

2 or 3 shakes garlic powder

1/2 tsp. black pepper


*Notes

For best results, use fresh (never frozen) wings for this recipe. If they are already split into drummettes and flat pieces, that’s fine. But it’s also OK if they are still whole pieces. I’ve done them both ways, and the only adjustment you may need to make is a bit more roasting time on the whole ones.

There are many newer versions of Frank’s RedHot sauce available today. Get the one that is labeled as the “original.”

Coconut aminos provide some depth of savory flavor to this sauce. It’s a dark-colored, liquid sauce, similar to soy sauce but sweeter and lower in sodium. It is made from the fermented sap of coconut trees, but doesn’t taste at all like coconut. You can find them in the same aisle, or substitute in this recipe with half as much lite soy sauce.


Instructions

I’ll walk you through it with pictures, or you can keep scrolling for more detailed description. There’s also a downloadable version you can print for your recipe files. Begin by setting a steam basket over a pot of gently boiling water.

  1. Bring a couple inches of water to a boil in a medium saucepan fitted with a steamer basket and tight-fitting lid. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels and place a cooling rack over the towels.
  2. Add the chicken wings to the steamer basket, working in as many as will fit at a time. Steam the wings for 10 minutes, then arrange them on the cooling rack. Repeat with remaining wings and then cool a few minutes at room temperature, allowing most of the steam to dissipate. Cover the baking sheet with foil and transfer the wings to the refrigerator until they are fully chilled, about an hour. This step is important for crisping later.
  3. Preheat oven to 425° F. Remove the chilled wings from the fridge.
  4. Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over medium-low for several minutes, until the sauce is fully blended and slightly thickened. Turn off the burner and cover to keep the sauce warm.
  5. Roast the wings for 40 minutes, turning them once after half the time. The skin should be crispy and golden brown.
  6. Transfer the wings in batches to a large seal-able bowl. Pour enough sauce to coat the wings. Cover the bowl and gently shake to thoroughly coat the wings. Put the wings back into the oven for about 8 minutes to “seal the deal” and bake the sauce into the wings.
  7. Serve with crunchy celery sticks and chunky bleu cheese dressing.
Just South of Buffalo Wings

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Maple-Cayenne Roasted Brussels Sprouts

For the past several years at our home, some version of this side dish has appeared on the Thanksgiving table. The first couple of years, it was a popular recipe I had seen online at purewow.com, and I made it exactly as written, using honey and sriracha. The next year, I doubled the sriracha because my husband, Les, loves spicy so much. The year after that, I swapped out the honey in favor of maple syrup to keep it friendly to Les’s daughter, who adheres to the vegan lifestyle. What I love most about this recipe (besides the fact that Brussels sprouts are awesome and so good for you) is that it’s easily adaptable and it flies in the face of so many things people believe about their own tastes. This dish has been a winner with guests who don’t like Brussels sprouts, and also with people who don’t like the spicy nature of sriracha.

This year, in advance of Thanksgiving, I’ve been testing a few favorite recipes so that I can jot down the amounts and times that are appropriate for sharing. This has been one of the important challenges of doing a food blog—because I cook by instinct and memory, I don’t always know offhand how much of different ingredients I use or how long I cook them at whatever temperature. But a surprise popped up when I started working on my spicy Brussels sprouts for this post: our sriracha gave an odd aroma, and we realized it was almost a year out of date! Oops.

The saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention, and it’s certainly true in the kitchen, isn’t it? If I had a nickel for every time I made an emergency substitute, we could finally take the plunge on some new granite counters! But in this instance, the substitute was obvious to both of us—cayenne sauce would be the perfect stand-in for the sriracha. It’s mouthwatering, spicy and marries perfectly with maple syrup. If you’re looking to try something a little different this year, I hope you enjoy these.

You can see the caramelization on the cut sides of the sprouts, and the outer leaves are crispy and delicious!

Ingredients

Up to 2 lbs. fresh Brussels sprouts, rinsed, drained and patted dry

4 Tbsp. maple syrup

3 Tbsp. cayenne pepper sauce (we used Frank’s RedHot, of course!)

1/4 cup rice vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
  2. Trim the sprouts by using a sharp knife to make a thin slice off the bottoms. This will loosen the outer leaves, which you may discard. When all sprouts are trimmed, cut them into halves, lengthwise (top to bottom).
  3. In a large bowl, combine syrup, cayenne sauce, rice vinegar, salt and pepper. Stream in the olive oil gradually, whisking quickly to create an emulsion. Alternatively, add all the ingredients together in a jar with a tight lid and shake the dickens out of it.
  4. Immediately transfer the Brussels sprouts to the bowl with the marinade and gently fold to toss them, taking care to coat every side of the sprouts.
  5. Arrange the sprouts, cut side down, onto the prepared baking sheet. Keep a little room between the sprouts to ensure even roasting. Do not discard the marinade.
  6. Roast for 20 minutes, then remove the baking sheet and toss the sprouts once again in the marinade. Return them to the baking sheet (direction does not matter) and back into the oven for 5 additional minutes.

The sprouts emerge from the oven with fragrant, crispy edges and tender, caramelized interior from all the marinade that weeps into the creases between leaves. These are best served right away, but for the sake of sanity on Thanksgiving, you may also make them ahead and warm them up in time for dinner. The sprouts will lose the crispiness, of course, but you will still love the flavor.

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Rosemary’s Baby (a scary Halloween cocktail)

Around the time of Kentucky Derby 2.0 (the actual running of the horses in September), my husband, Les, challenged me to create a Halloween cocktail and call it Rosemary’s Baby, after the 1968 Roman Polanski film that is, frankly, the most terrifying psychological thriller I’ve ever seen. Les’s suggestion was inspired by the rosemary old-fashioned I’d made for the Derby, and this weirdly addictive mezcal-based cocktail, infused and decorated with rosemary, is my response.

Mezcal (which I incorrectly assumed was just cheap tequila) is produced from agave hearts that have been roasted and fermented underground in clay ovens. Most mezcal is produced in Oaxaca, in the far southern region of Mexico and some brands are quite sophisticated (and pricey). By local tradition, mezcal would be consumed straight and savored for its unique smoky funk and flavor. But in the U.S., it has seen resurgence in craft cocktails, especially as a substitute for other more “common” spirits, replacing bourbon in old fashioned drinks and gin in negronis.

My spooky libation is a version of the latter, and it is not for the faint of heart. A classic negroni is already an “acquired” taste, with the standard equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Here, I’ve subbed in mezcal for the gin to replicate the fiery, smoky depths of hell that poor Rosemary must have gone through when her selfish husband sacrificed his soul—and her womb—to the devil. Worst husband ever.

Smoky, spicy, bitter and sweet. With spirits from Mexican to Italy to France, this is a complex cocktail situation.

Predictably, the mezcal is smoking up the glass, big time, and the Campari is lending its usual herbal bitterness. Sweet vermouth is keeping it in the Negroni family, and spicy chile syrup surprises you with just enough heat. With a habanero sugar rim, this drink (like that poor little demon baby) is trying to be sweet, but can’t quite linger there because of the intensity of what lurks underneath.

Remember the chilling scene at the end of the movie where Mia Farrow’s character is assured by the creepy devil-worshipping neighbors that her newborn son “has his father’s eyes?” I’m betting he had smoke in them.

That smokiness lingered in the air for a while.

Ingredients

1 oz. mezcal

1 oz. sweet (red) vermouth

1 oz. Campari

a few rosemary leaves for muddling

1 Tbsp. three chiles syrup (available online, but I found it in the mixers section at Total Wine)

Garnish with habanero sugar rim* and smoked rosemary sprig


Feeling brave?

To rim the glass, wet the outer edge of the rim with a lime slice, then roll the outside of the glass into habanero sugar sprinkled on a paper towel. Do this a few minutes ahead to allow time for the sugar rim to harden and set. This embellishment brought quite a bit of additional heat to the drink. If you prefer, skip it or substitute a fine sea salt rim as a tribute to Rosemary’s salty tears.

In a cocktail shaker or mixing glass, muddle the rosemary leaves with a small amount of the campari. Add remaining campari, mezcal, vermouth and simple syrup. Add ice and shake or stir vigorously until the outside of the container is frosty. Strain over a large ice cube into the prepared sugar-rimmed glass. Scorch the rosemary sprig until leaves begin to burn, then drop the sprig into the glass. The smoke will linger as the flame dies away.


A Couple of Jerks (pizzas, that is)

Summer has a way of flipping mealtime upside-down at our house. My husband, Les, does a lot more of our cooking during the summer because the weather and extra daylight make it easier to use the grill or smoker, and the simple fact that he’s handling a larger part of our meals gives me more time to expand our library of recipes. With him in charge of cooking outside, it also means that I have a wider array of flavorful meats, cooked and ready to use in whatever dishes capture my imagination.

Something about the summer heat also makes me crave spicy foods in particular. It could be that my body is trying to calibrate to the external temperature or perhaps there’s simply a greater tendency toward adventure and new-ness while the sun is blazing. In either case, it’s hot in our neck of the woods and I’m cooking up some spice today in the form of pizza—not one, but two pies with all the flavors and vibrant colors of the Caribbean!

These pizzas put a spotlight on colorful bell peppers once again, wrapping up a short series of recipes that started with these veggie skewers and these stuffed peppers.

If you’ve ever grown a successful garden (meaning you actually harvested vegetables rather than merely feeding the neighborhood deer, as I have), you likely know that peppers love hot, sunny weather. Even if pepper plants seem to lag behind tomatoes and zucchini at the start of summer, they always catch up when the temperatures rise. That said, these brilliant bell peppers—which I picked from the produce department, not my pitiful garden—have earned a spot on my pizzas, just by being heat lovers themselves.

Onions are a no-brainer for pizza, and for these Caribbean-inspired versions, I’ve put a little caramelization on sliced red onions to heighten their sweetness and balance the jerk-fired flavors of the sauce and other toppings.

And of course, I couldn’t label these pizzas “Jamaican jerk” without the signature notes of allspice, hot peppers, ginger, thyme and scallion. I’ve incorporated all of the above, either in whole ingredient form or in sauce and seasoning, but gave each pie its own personality. The first is decidedly spicy and savory, featuring smoked pork shoulder, jerk rub, sweet and hot peppers and two kinds of onions. The other leans to the sweet-fruity-spicy side, with plump, juicy shrimp cooked in garlic butter, lime and cilantro—plus sweet and hot peppers, onions and a generous smattering of tropical grilled pineapple.



Put on some steel drum music, pour yourself a Red Stripe and join me for a taste of the Caribbean, Comfort du Jour style!


Ingredients – Jerk Pork Pizza

1 ball of my NY Pizza Dough, or dough of your choice*

About 10 oz. smoked pulled pork (cook it yourself or get some good take-out)

Extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp. Jamaican jerk wet rub seasoning*

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped in chunks

1/2 red onion, sliced into crescent moon shape

1/2 jalapeño, diced

3 scallions, cleaned and sliced

1/2 brick pepper jack cheese, shredded*

Hot BBQ sauce for brushing pizza dough*


Ingredients – Jerk Shrimp Pizza

1 ball of my NY Pizza Dough, or dough of your choice*

8 oz. fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. salted butter

Squeeze of fresh lime

Sprinkle of fresh or dried cilantro leaves* (optional)

1 red bell pepper, cut into lengthwise slices

1/2 yellow bell pepper, cut into lengthwise slices

1 small red onion, sliced into rings

1 large jalapeno pepper (seeded), some diced and the rest sliced into rings

3/4 cup grilled pineapple chunks*

1/2 brick pepper jack cheese, freshly shredded*

Hot BBQ sauce for brushing pizza dough*


*Notes

Dough of your choice – I recommend fresh dough rather than one of the pre-baked crusts. Some pizza restaurants will even sell you some of their pizza dough, so it’s worth asking!

Jerk seasoning – My go-to jerk seasoning is technically a wet rub that seasons the meat but also moistens it. If you have a dry or powdered seasoning, use less of it and mix it with a bit of canola or coconut oil before applying it to the meat.

Pepper jack cheese – For these pies, I used an 8 oz. brick of pepper jack, divided between the two pizzas, and I shredded it myself (not the bagged stuff). If you’re already having hot flashes over the other ingredients, you could cut out the pepper and use Monterey jack instead. You could also omit the cheese entirely, but I like the way it holds together the other toppings.

Cilantro – If you’re among the roughly 20% of people born with the “I can’t stand cilantro” gene, simply leave it out or substitute thyme or parsley. Here’s why you hate it, by the way.

Grilled pineapple – I grilled a whole cut-up pineapple because I had plans for multiple dishes. If you’re only making this pizza, I’d recommend getting a small container of pre-sliced fruit from the prepped-for-you section of the supermarket. 2 or 3 slices is all you’ll need. Used canned as a last resort.

BBQ hot sauce – Choose what you like, but consider the ingredients to complement the other stuff on the pizza. For example, there’s probably a better recipe than this one for a hickory-maple-chipotle-mustard BBQ sauce.

We found this one, which contains vinegar, onion, brown sugar and habanero (all of which are also in jerk seasoning), plus tomato paste, whiskey and ghost pepper. It echoed the topping flavors and was a perfect base for both pizzas, and another layer of wicked-good heat, which always makes Les happy.


Instructions – Jerk Pork Pizza

Preheat oven and steel to 550° F (see notes below for stone or pan baking)

Pull the pork apart into bite-size strips, and sauté them in a hot skillet with some olive oil, until edges are crispy. Then, toss them in jerk seasoning to coat thoroughly. Transfer the pork to a bowl.

Heat olive oil in the same skillet, and sauté onions and bell peppers until soft and lightly caramelized. Season with salt and pepper.

Shape pizza dough into 14-inch circle and place it on a greased pizza pan or flour and cornmeal-dusted peel, then brush on a very thin coating of BBQ hot sauce and season with more black pepper.

Sprinkle half of the pepper jack cheese over the dough, then top with pork, jalapeno, onions and peppers. Scatter the remaining cheese and sprinkle with all the scallions. Slide the pizza onto a hot steel or stone, about 8” from the top of the oven. Bake at 550° F for about 7 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and crust is nicely browned. If using a pizza stone, follow temperature instructions from the manufacturer. Some pizza stones may crack at this temperature.

If using a pizza pan, place the oven in the middle to lower third and allow more time.


Instructions – Jerk Shrimp Pizza

Preheat oven and steel to 550° F (see notes below for stone or pan baking)

Sauté the prepared shrimp in butter with the fresh garlic and cilantro, but only for about a minute, as the shrimp will cook further in the oven. Remove from heat, cut each shrimp in half if they are larger than a quarter, and squeeze a section of lime over them. Transfer to a bowl.

In the same pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté the bell peppers and onions until soft and lightly caramelized.

Shape pizza dough into 14’ circle and transfer to greased pizza pan or flour and cornmeal-dusted peel. Brush a light coating of BBQ hot sauce onto the dough, then sprinkle on half the cheese, followed by the onions and peppers, jalapeno, shrimp and pineapple bits. Scatter the remaining cheese over all toppings and slide the pizza onto a preheated steel, about 8” from the top of the oven.

Bake at 550° F for about 7 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and crust is nicely browned. If using a pizza stone, follow temperature instructions from the manufacturer. Some pizza stones may crack at this temperature.

If using a pizza pan, place the oven in the middle to lower third and allow more time.


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Even as leftovers, this jerk pork pizza rocked my world!

Buffalo Chicken Pizza

For this western New York girl, Buffalo chicken pizza is a favorite non-traditional pie, for those times when you just can’t quite decide between pizza and Buffalo wings. From the authentic Frank’s “Red Hot” sauce to the funky bleu cheese crumbles, and right down to the crunchy bits of celery, this pie delivers. All. The. Flavors.

These pizzas move very quickly once the dough is shaped, so do yourself a favor and prep all the ingredients as much as a day ahead. You’ll appreciate having more space in the kitchen, and I’ve recently discovered that placing cold toppings on your freshly shaped pizza dough seems to make it easier to slide the pie off the peel into the screaming hot oven.

We bake all our pizzas on a steel, which has quite literally been a game changer in our quest for the perfect slice. If you use a pizza stone or metal pan, please follow the alternate baking instructions.

Ingredients

1/2 lb. lean ground chicken

1/2 small onion, chopped

1/3 cup Frank’s original red hot sauce* (see notes)

1 Tbsp. fresh garlic, chopped

1 stalk celery, ribbed and sliced thin on diagonal

1 Tbsp. finely chopped jalapeno

1/3 cup whole milk ricotta cheese

1/2 cup shredded pepper jack cheese

1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese*

1 ball real New York pizza dough (link to dough recipe)

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper (as you like it)

Notes

Not a fan of bleu cheese? Try feta instead, to mimic the texture and saltiness, but without the funk.

Don’t get confused when you see the selection of Frank’s sauces. They used to make only one (now labeled “Original”), and this is the one you want. Trust me, I’ve been eating it on wings since the 1970’s.

Frank’s has developed several new flavors since they began, but the “Original” red hot sauce is exactly what you want. True Buffalo sauce flavor.

Instructions

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add a swirl of extra virgin olive oil and cook chicken with onions until browned. Remove from heat, stir in Frank’s Red Hot sauce and chopped garlic.

Shape pizza dough into 12- to 14-inch disk. If you missed the tutorial, here’s a quick recap for shaping your pizza dough.

Brush or spray with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread ricotta evenly over dough, keeping about 1/2 inch border on dough. As with any other sauce or base, you want to spread it thinly enough that you can see glimpses of dough through it.

Scatter chicken mixture evenly over ricotta base, then top with celery slices, jalapeno and pepper jack. Sprinkle bleu cheese crumbles over the top of the pizza and bake on a preheated steel at 550° F for about 7 minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly.

See what I mean? ALL the flavors!
You might even go crazy and drizzle a bit of bleu cheese dressing right on top before you slice it.

For baking on a pizza stone, follow manufacturer’s instructions regarding maximum temperature. Some stones will crack or break at higher temperatures. For baking on a pizza pan, lightly grease the pan before placing dough on it, and bake in the lower third section of your oven for a few minutes longer than recommended in the above recipe.

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If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, do you know the best way to reheat them? If you just said, “the microwave,” you’re excused from my blog. Just kidding! You can enjoy the leftovers as much as the original pizza, by placing the slices in a skillet or on a griddle, over very low heat. Place a vented cover over the slices, or lay a loose tent of foil over the top. This helps the cheese return to a glorious melty state, while the constant gentle heat on the crust surface brings back the crunch.

If you look at the spot right exactly in the center of this image, you’ll see the cheese getting bubbly again.