Jalapeño Poppers

chef humorist Vinny Verelli

Peppers seeded and deveined

The jalapeños are popping up more than our sweet peppers so it was time to make some poppers. Back in the 70’s and 80’s I don’t know of any place in New York that stuffed jalapeño peppers with cheeses and bacon, bread them twice and deep fry them. This time of year in Georgia, you can’t go anywhere without seeing them on the menu.
If you go to a pot-luck in the mountains 2 or 3 people will bring poppers. Sissy Reed made the best ones I ever had, the perfect cheese blend stuffed in a pepper and wrapped with bacon, then grilled.

In the past two weeks I tried 3 different recipes as I experimented with the prolific peppers. I didn’t want to fry or bread the poppers and wanted to control the amount of bacon used. The first batch were made with cream cheese, smoked gouda and some cooked bacon (drained and dried) and some spices. If the peppers aren’t deep enough the cheese when melted runs out. It was messy but delicious.

The next batch were prepared by coring out the center of the pepper and leaving it whole. You stuff the cheese mixture into the pepper and then place in a special tray to keep the peppers upright. This time I substituted smoked salmon for the bacon. Ate these too quickly to get a photo.

For the last batch I had no bacon or smoked salmon. So I took a can of smoked salmon, drained and added a tablespoon of mayo before adding 4oz cream cheese and 4 oz of smoked gouda along with ½ teaspoon of liquid smoke and some smoked paprika. This mixture was stuffed into the halved peppers. But to keep the melted cheese from running all over the place, I wrapped the stuffed peppers in some phyllo pastry that was getting past it’s prime. I don’t have any photos of them coming out of the oven but I do have a photo of the peppers the next morning after being browned up in a frying pan and served with scrambled eggs.
PopperBreakfastNOTE: I wasn’t sure how if the peppers would cook enough when wrapped in the phyllo so I roasted the stuffed jalapeño halves for about 15 minutes at 350. Let them cool and transferred the mostly cooked peppers onto the phyllo and wrapped them up. I really don’t like working with phyllo dough as you have to keep it moist or it dries out and is impossible to work with. Plus it takes a lot of melted butter.  

Refrigerate any leftover poppers and heat them in a frying pan when you’re ready to eat. No need to add any oil to the pan. Start the heat low and butter will start to flow from the dough and you can cook to a crispy brown.


National Lasagna Day!

Today, August 04, is National Lasagna Day

Lasagna is one of my favorite Italian dishes. In honor of National Lasagna Day I reposting a video for my version of Lasagna Bolognese. It’s made with a rich sauce that include Sweet Italian sausage and bacon. The sauce cooks for hours concentrating the flavors making this lasagna the best you’ve ever had. Yes, it’s better than your grandmother’s lasagna. 

The complete recipe and notes are available on the original post:




National Mint Julep Day

Funny speaker and celebrity chef gives his recipe for the perfect Mint Julep.

The secret to making a great mint julep is in the simple syrup that is infused with fresh mint. There’s only so much flavor you can get out of muddling mint.  When you use crushed ice in a drink it can quickly water down the alcohol. By using 120 Proof Single Barrel Knob Creek this dilution is minimized. The bourbon flavor is still there with sufficient kick.

Although May 30 is officially National Mint Julep Day I usually have my first Julep of the Season on Derby Day. If I’m going out of town on derby day I’ll bring fresh mint with me.

The video below was posted originally on YouTube on July 10, 2012.  I found a jar of mint simple syrup in back of the refrigerator from the day this was shot. There was a funky deposit on the bottom but I was able to skim some clean syrup off the top and make a quick julep to celebrate the day.

DRINK RESPONSIBLY… or stay home and drink.

Want some fun facts about the Mint Julep? Check out this site, MintJulepDay.com

Gnocchi – Easiest Meal Ever

Thanks to Costco
You Can Make This Meal in Under 30min

People are always asking me, “When are you going to prepare something simple, something I can make.”  They are not interested in mousse, or coq au vin, or beef wellington.  I like a challenge, I like making things I haven’t made before but have always wanted to make. Don’t get me wrong, you serve me beans and franks, I’ll eat beans and franks. I’m just not going to blog about it.

Funny Speaker Makes Gnocchi

All ingredients used, including the vodka, are from Costco

Below is a video and a recipe for, Gnocchi in a creamy roasted red pepper and tomato vodka sauce. Wait. That was the hard part. Saying all that with a straight face. Thanks to Costco this dish is incredibly easy to prepare. But it’s a dish that will impress the most discriminating palate.  I say thanks to Costco because everything that went into this recipe was stuff I had on the shelf, in large quantities.

First of all, if you’re not tying to impress anyone, you can simply heat up the soup and pour it over your favorite pasta. Bada Bing, that’s it. That’s what I did the first time, But while you’re waiting for the water to boil, you might as well play with the soup

For 2 large servings or 4 first course servings

• One pouch gnocchi
• 16 oz. Pacific Brand Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup (half a carton)
• 1 can diced tomatoes drained
• 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 1 small onion chopped fine
• 1.5 oz Vodka
• Grated Parmigiano

Place pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Put a couple of tablespoons of Olive Oil in a fry pan. Use a high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil. What does that mean, “Extra Virgin?” You got one too many virgins? I use the Kirkland Signature brand imported extra virgin olive oil which got a very high rating in Consumer Reports.

Sautee the onions over a medium high heat until soft. The soup is sweet to begin with so you don’t need to cook the onions too long. When the onions are to your liking, add the vodka pouring at arms length. DO NOT PUT YOUR FACE OVER THE PAN. That seems obvious to me but you have to say it. If you’re cooking with gas, merely tilt the pan so the fame comes in contact with the vodka. If you are using an electric stove, use one of those long matches you use for lighting a fire, or grill. Shake the pan until the flames die down. When the flames die down, add the soup and a can of diced tomatoes, drained. Stir everything together.

The water probably has yet to boil. So pour you a glass of red wine and grate some aged Parmigiano Reggiano. If you like a cheesier sauce you can add up to 1/2 Cup of grated cheese directly to the sauce as it’s cooking.

These gnocchi from Costco is imported from Italy and comes in a box of four. It only takes 6 minutes once placed in the boiling water. Drain the gnocchi and add it to the sauce. You can put up to a ½ cup of grated cheese into the sauce if you’d like but it does make the pan harder to clean.

Plate the pasta and sprinkle a little grated cheese on top. For a classy touch add a chiffonade basil. This is the perfect time to use some fresh basil chiffonade. Chiffonade is French for “little ribbons.” You make the ribbons by stacking some large basil leaves then roll them up tightly then making thin slices against the roll. This is also the perfect use for a Santoku knife. Basil is one of those herbs that change taste and character the more you play with it. A larger knife bruises the leaf and the color turns a dark color and it doesn’t make for as nice a garnish.

NOTE: The audio pronunciation guide at Webster’s online dictionary as well as Dictionary.com pronounce Gnocchi as, “nock-ee,” but it’s pronounced like I say it in the video. The “GN” is almost like an “n” before a “y”, with the “n” almost silent. The “Oh” sound is long, n’yo-kee.

Posted by humorous motivational speaker and celebrity chef, Vinny Verelli

Lasagna Bolognese -

Warning: This lasagna has lots of cheese and a dense meat sauce with sausage and bacon.

I don’t eat lasagna often as it’s not exactly a light dish. Sure there are all sorts of varieties with vegetables, gluten free noodles and imitation cheese. And some people may be able to convince themselves that a vegan lasagna is wonderful, you just won’t convince me. You can’t eat like this every day, that would be suicidal. But it was Sunday and family and friends were coming to dinner. Hey, I can eat broccoli tomorrow.
Video Note: Some of the titles didn’t render properly and the tops and bottoms of the script were cut off. Proportions are listed below in the recipe. 

August 4 is National Lasagna Day 

The basis to any lasagna is the meat sauce and you can use any type of sauce you want. For this lasagna I made a classic bolognese sauce with the added flavor of sweet Italian sausage. Sausage is not usually used in a bolognese but is essential for a great lasagna. I also use more cheese than most recipes call for. I made fresh pasta and was able to make the noodle thinner than what you get in a box and was therefore able to put a third layer of noodles on top covered by more mozzarella on top.

Funny Motivational Speaker

The standard ingredients for a bolognese sauce

The Bolognese for Lasagna:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 carrot, finely, chopped rough
2 medium onion, chopped rough
2 rib celery, chopped rough
1 clove garlic, sliced
1.3 pound ground beef,  I use Kirkland Organic
1 pound ground sweet Italian sausage, I use Johsonville All Natural
1/2 pound pancetta or slab bacon, chopped
1/2 tube tomato paste
1/2 cup beef stock
1 cup dry red wine (most bolognese sauces use white wine but for lasagna lets use red)
2 14 oz cans of crushed tomatoes
2 Bay leaves
4 sprigs of thyme
1 tsp dry basil
1/2 tsp dry oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup 1/2 and 1/2 or milk

Funny Motivational Speaker

For a standard bolognese you don’t grind the soffritto

Put the onions, garlic, carrot and celery in a food processor and chop until fine and set aside. In a 6 to 8-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, cook the bacon until browned but not crisp. Remove the bacon and all but a table spoon of the bacon fat.  Add the onions, celery, carrot and garlic (the Sofrito) and sweat over medium heat until the vegetables are translucent and soft but not browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. If it starts to stick add some olive oil. Brown the beef and Italian sausage, pouring off any excess fat. Add to the sofritto along with the  bacon to the the vegetables.

Stir the tomato paste into the beef stock and add to the meat along with the wine, crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, dried basil and oregano.  Simmer over low heat for 2 to 2.5 hours. Every 20 minutes or so add some of the 1/2 and 1/2 until it is all incorporated. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from the heat. Remove the bay leaves and the thyme sprigs. This can be done up to two days in advance. When ready to assemble the lasagna reheat and check seasoning.

Bolognese sause
2 15 oz containers of whole milk ricotta cheese (2 pound container.)
2 eggs beaten
2 tsp salt
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1.5 pounds of fresh mozzarella
1.5 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 lb cooked lasagna noodles.

Preheat over to 375
Mix the 2 eggs with the ricotta and add salt, pepper and nutmeg. NUTMEG?
Some classic Italian lasagnas use a béchamel sauce instead of the ricotta. The béchamel sauce is a butter and flour roux with warm milk added and cooked until thick. Traditional béchamel sauce calls for nutmeg. So why not add that to the ricotta? It’s not over powering but adds a subtle taste that people won’t be able to figure out.

I brush the bottom and sides of a 9 X 13″ baking dish with olive oil.
Start with a thin layer of sauce.
Arrange a layer lasagna noodles on the bottom of the dish
Spread 1/2 the ricotta mixture over the noodles
Sprinkle 1/3 of the mozzarella over the ricotta
Spread 1/2 the remaining meat sauce over the mozzarella
Sprinkle  1/3 of the parmigiano over the meat sauce
Add another Layer lasagna noodles
Spread the other 1/2 the ricotta mixture over the noodles
Sprinkle another 1/3 of the mozzarella over the ricotta
Spread 1/2 the rest of the meat sauce over the mozzarella
Sprinkle another 1/3 of the parmigiano over the meat sauce
Add another Layer lasagna noodles
Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella over the noodles
Sprinkle the remaining parmigiano over the mozzarella
Coat one side of a sheet of aluminum foil and carefully cover the lasagna. You don’t want the top layer of cheese to stick to the foil. You can create a tent to help keep the cheese from sticking.

Place covered into the 375 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil and return to the oven for another 25 minutes or until the cheese is browned on top and the sauce is bubbling.

Let the lasagna rest for 20 minutes before slicing into large pieces. Serve with a large salad and a nice Italian bread. I will sometimes make a side sauce for people to pour over the lasagna if they like a wet dish. This recipe certainly doesn’t need the sauce as it is packed with flavor.

Posted by Chef/Humorist Vinny Verelli
Learn more about Vinny on his website and his youtube channel.

Fresh Salmon Cakes

You’ll Never Use Canned Salmon Again

Funny Speaker - Blog

Fresh salmon and herbs, easy and tasty

Look up “Salmon Cakes” on any search engine and most of the recipes call for canned salmon. Guilty as charged. These recipes call for lots of ingredients to mask the taste of salmon from a can.  If fresh salmon isn’t available or affordable at the moment, don’t make salmon cakes.

I don’t know what amazes me more, how easy these Fresh Salmon Cakes were to make or how good they tasted. I know one thing. I’m giving the rest of my canned salmon to the cats.

My mother always worked so she didn’t spend too much time in the kitchen.  As long as you could make a good marinara sauce on Sunday, all was forgiven.Things were different when my grandmother came to visit. She would make salmon cakes.  It was a special day when you opened a salmon.  Add some onion, breadcrumbs, spices and fry them up.  Baked salmon cakes were a treat at Morrison’s.  Fresh Salmon?? Never saw it.

Even today you don’t see Salmon Cakes on restaurant menus. compared to the amount of time you see Crab Cakes.  Every body makes crab cakes. So yesterday I made me some FRESH SALMON CAKES.

This recipe is enough for 5 cakes 4 to serve one to play with. It’s easy to double or even triple the recipe. Serve one cake for an appetizer or 2 for a main course with a salad, boom that’s it.

Buy Salmon with the skin on. It’s not that hard to remove the skin and it doesn’t have to be beautiful as you’re going to chop the salmon up anyway. And the crispy salmon skin is a real treat.

  • 14oz      Fresh salmon with skin on.
  • 1 tbl       Minced parsley
  • 1 tbl       Minced red pepper (I used an orange one cause it was there)
  • 1 tbl       Chives (cause I had them}
  • 1 tbl       Mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp      Lemon juice
  • ½ tsp     Dijon mustard
  • ½  tsp    Salt
  • ¼ tsp     Pepper
  • ½          Scallion thinly sliced
  • ½          Shallot minced
  • ¼ cup   Panko bread crumbs or other plain bread crumbs
  • ¼  tsp    Ground chipotle chili pepper (optional)

Remove the skin from the salmon. With a sharp knife cut into the salmon at a slight angle careful not to pierce the skin. With the blade against the skin and the fish, start to shave the meat from the skin.

It's just like shaving if you used a straight razor

It’s just like shaving if you used a straight razor

Cut the salmon up into 1 inch cubes and place into a food processor. Pulse the salmon in 2 batches to have better control over the consistency. If you don’t have a food processor, chop the salmon up into little pieces.

In a separate mixing bowl combine all the other ingredients. Add the chopped salmon and fold everything together. Use a 1/3 cup measure to portion the salmon mixture. There should be 4 cakes with enough mixture left over to experiment with. Put about a cup of Panko on a plate and gentle pat all sides of the salmon cake to coat. Over a medium high heat fry the cakes on each side until dark brown careful not to burn them.

Serve with lemon wedge and a couple of salmon skin strips (see below). Using tarter sauce is a crime with these delicacies. Save the sauce for your fish sticks.

Crispy Skin StripsCrispy Salmon Skin

On a parchment lined baking sheet brush a small amount of sesame oil onto the outside of the salmon skin and sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Place in a 325° oven for about 25 minutes or until the skin is hard to the touch. Take out of the oven and let cool. You may want to set on a paper towel to absorb some of the fat.

Cut into strips and garnish the salmon cakes.

These delicacies are so simple and so delicious.

Posted by Vinny Verelli

Humorous Motivational Speaker and
Celebrity Chef.

Coq au Vin

Funny Motivational Speaker Vinny Verelli
Celebrates National Coq au Vin Day

Tomorrow, May 29, is National Coq au vin Day.  This is not to be confused with Coq au Vin Day which is March 22nd.  This classic French dish is so good they gave it 2 days on the food calendar. There are a lot of different elements to this recipe but the good thing is you can do most of it separately and in advance. The dish, like a fine wine gets better with age, for a couple of days at least.

Coq au Vin literally means “Rooster with Wine,” but has become chicken with wine as it’s hard to find rooster in your local market and your neighbors will get pissed if they catch you poaching some of their roosters. The chicken and wine are braised in the oven or simmered slowly on the range.

When I was living in the NYC it was easy to get fresh chicken from a poultry store including rooster as well as beautiful pieces of pork fat. Although you can find pork fat here in the mountains it’s Salt Pork and when they say salt in the South they’re not kidding. You’d have to scrub the salt off and then soak it. It’s just a lot easier to use the thickest bacon you can find. Besides I have learned to appreciate, no love, the Smokey goodness of bacon.

I like to use chicken thighs as they won’t dry out and they make a good portion serving the Coq au Vin over egg noodles One way to go gluten free is to use corn polenta.

For years I’ve used Julia Child’s recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The recipe printed here is a hybrid. Part Julia but with traditional mirepoix and some of my own ideas thrown in.

Here’s What You Will Need:

  • 8-10 chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 ounces thick slab bacon cut in ½ inch pieces
  • 1 lb button mushrooms quartered or left whole if small
  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 (750-ml) bottles red wine
  • 2-3 cups chicken stock or broth.
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 30-40 pearl onions
  • 3 medium onions, quartered
  • 3 stalks celery, quartered
  • 3 medium carrots, quartered
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leafs

Here’s How I Do It

I always start off with cooking the bacon so I can use the fat along with some butter to brown the chicken, mushrooms and onions.

While the bacon is cooking I’ll cut up the carrots, celery and onions. This is called a mirpoix (meer-pwah). When the bacon is browned but not crisp take it out and set aside straining and saving the bacon fat. When cool wrap the bacon and put it in the refrigerator.

Place the mirepoix in the bottom of a large heavy enameled Dutch oven. Throw in thyme, bay leaf and garlic and tomato paste. Lay the chicken thighs on top of the mirepoix. If the Thighs are very large you may want to cut them in half. The chicken will loose size after cooking. Pour the wine over the chicken then add the chicken stock. Make sure to cover the chicken completely.  Place a lid on top of the Dutch oven and refrigerate over night. (You can brown the chicken before marinating and it will save some steps and time the next day.) I like to marinate the chicken raw.

The following day remove the pot from the refrigerator. Take the chicken out and place on a wire rack and drain the mirepoix and return to the Dutch oven. Heat the wine in a separate pot.  Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper and dust with flour. Brown the chicken in the reserved bacon fat and place on top of the mirepoix. After you brown the chicken you should deglaze your pan with wine or in this case some cognac. Be careful as this can ignite.

Pour over the chicken along with the hot wine. Cover and place in a 225º oven for about 2 hours. Checking occasionally to stir and to make sure the sauce is lightly simmering the chicken. Boiling will make the chicken tough.  Internal temperature should be 165º.

While the chicken is cooking prepare the onions and mushrooms. Once again this is something you can do the day before. If so bring the mushrooms and onions to room temperature, cover and refrigerate.

Cut off the root end of each pearl onion and make an “x” with your knife in its place. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil and drop in the onions for 1 minute. Remove the onions from the pot, allow them to cool, and then peel. You should be able to slide the onions right out of their skin. Set aside to dry.

Place a tablespoon of the bacon fat and a tablespoon of butter in 12-inch sauté pan and cook over medium high heat for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to brown the mushrooms evenly. Set aside. In the same pan, using the remaining fat and some butter if needed add the pearl onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and saute until lightly brown, approximately 8 to 10 minutes. Deglaze the pan with some chicken stock. Remove the onions from the pan and set aside.

Once the chicken is done, turn off the oven and remove chicken to a heatproof container, cover, and place it in the oven to keep warm. Strain the sauce in a colander and remove the carrots, onion, celery, thyme, garlic, and bay leaf. Return the sauce to the pot, place over medium heat, and reduce by 1/3. This should take about 30 minutes. Depending on how much liquid you actually began with, this should take 20 to 45 minutes.

Some people will discard the mirepoix and other will serve it with the chicken. But this makes the dish look like chicken stew and this is Coq au Vin. Here is something I do that is time consuming and a pain in the ass but I believe it makes the sauce richer. I remove the thyme and bay leaf and put the cooked onion, garlic, celery and carrot through a food mill returning it to the wine before reducing. I believe this adds additional flavor to the sauce. After I reduce the sauce I then strain it through cheesecloth to remove the vegetable puree. See what I mean, a real pain but a labor of love.

Once the sauce has thickened, add the pearl onions, mushrooms, and bacon and simmer for another 15 minutes or until the heated through. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Place the chicken over egg noodles and ladle the sauce on top.


If the sauce is not thick enough at the end of reducing, you may add a mixture of equal parts butter and flour kneaded together, roux. Start with 1 tablespoon of each. Whisk this into the sauce for 4 to 5 minutes and repeat, if necessary.

You can do everything above returning the chicken to the pot. Let the Coq au Vin cool then cover and place in the refrigerater and slowly reheat the next day. This allows the maximum amount of flavor to come out.