Leland Holiday

What always helps old jokes and holidays stay hilarious and fun? This is not a trick question. The answer is your company and your booze, of course. This year after Thanksgiving, my brother Charlie and I opened up my liquor cabinet and found an old favorite but not much else – talk about and “oh shit” moment. Luckily, I’m a little crafty and I keep some eccentric items in my pantry and fridge that I was able to mix up into a really great cocktail. More on that after a little background…

Fast forward to now, Christmas plans are buzzing, the tree is dressed and lit, our new balcony/fire escape is even adorned with garland and lights. The season is here and in my house we are enjoying it as a family. Of course, we are regular humans, like all of you so there are interludes of stress. That said, this has already been a wonderful holiday season and I am sure it will continue that way through the New Year.

Thanksgiving kicked it off with visits from all of my siblings, my beautiful niece, her “laugh a minute” little brother, and my parents. Plus, there’s me, Emily, and the boys. And, all of us spent Thanksgiving day at my sister’s house where she and my newest brother (in-law) prepared a feast for the books! It was a blast!

Now, the tradition in my house growing up was to watch Christmas Vacation … laughing at the same parts every time we watch and quoting the movie in real time as we encounter our favorite lines. Basically, we are in stitches over the same crap every year. And, our lovely wives love us so much, they laugh along or just watch it unfold – yes, we are both very lucky guys.

So, back to where we started. I ask Charlie if he wants a whiskey for the movie – big arm twist later, he agrees. The most promising bottle was the steadfast Jameson. We grab that and I go work. What came of the toiling is what we now call the Leland Holiday and it is a gorgeous drink with aroma, taste, and effectiveness for days.

Leland Holiday, originally mixed by AJN in 2015

Leland Holiday, originally mixed by AJN in 2015

Here’s how it goes:

In a low ball cup, add a large single ice cube and 2-3 bourbon cherries.

Hit that cube with 5 dashes each of cranberry and aromatic bitters.

Drizzle in 2 tsp. of the cherry flavored bourbon and rim the glass with the essential oils of a peel from a blood orange.

Pour 1.5 ounces of Jameson and 1 oz. of fresh squeezed blood orange juice over the ice and stir gently for 15-30 seconds.

Add the orange peel, wait a couple of minutes.


AND Happy Holidays!



Egg Sandwiches

Clean and easy protein, the most simple greens you will ever enjoy, and all in under 15 minutes.  I know that it has been a very long time since I last posted and I will be surprised if anyone is still interested in reading about what I have been cooking up. But, for those still watching out for me – I am back and ready to post more regularly. The plus side is, I have a whole new list of items that you need to have in your recipe book. And, as usual, there is no down side.


Egg Sandwiches. So, basically the reason – well, reasonS actually – for my 15 month blackout on writing is the joy of parenting my twin sons. That is 2 baby humans at the same time. Two times everything and – oh yeah – no sleep what-so-ever for a long time. Now, what does that have to do with egg sandwiches and why are egg sandwiches so damn important?

Answers:  Time and Taste.

In under 15 minutes, Egg sandwiches with a simple greens salad are on your plate and ready to enjoy. The richness of an over-easy yolk oozing through the magic of bacon, a small amount of shredded cheddar cheese, and the mysterious melted butter filled nocks and crannies of a toasted english muffin paired with tender fresh greens tossed delicately in salad oil and white balsamic vinegar combine for a perfect meal – every time. Try it. If you see me on the street afterwards – thanks or a high-five is really all I’m looking for.

Ingredients (for two):

2 english muffins

2 large cage free organic brown eggs

1/8 cup of shredded cheddar cheese

1 T. salted butter

1 T. olive oil

1 1/2 handfulls of greens

1 T. white balsalmic vinegar

3/4 T. Salad oil

How to Pull It All Together:

  1. Rinse and spin greens and set aside clean greens in serving bowl
  2. Cut 3 strips of bacon in half and cook over medium high heat, set aside when crisp to your liking
  3. Without getting burned, wipe out skillet
  4. Place skillet over medium low heat
  5. Put muffins in toaster and cook to light toast
  6. Add olive oil and butter to skillet
  7. When butter is melted, coat bottom of pan with oil butter mix
  8. When muffins are ready, pull out of toaster with tongs and place cut-side down in skillet to coat with layer of butter/oil. Remove toast to plates and place three pieces of bacon on the bottom half of the muffin, face up.
  9. Crack eggs into skillet and season with salt and pepper
  10. Fold eggs over and sprikle with shredded cheese, dividing equally between eggs
  11. Cover skillet and remove to cool burner of stove for 3 minutes
  12. Remover cover and with spatula, place one egg on each muffin, over bacon, and close muffin top
  13. Spoon salad oil over greens, stir,
  14. Spoon vinegar over greens, stir – then divide salad between plates.


Mixing Up a Classic with Small Batch Tonic and Detroit Gin

During my freshman year of college, my roommate and I drank way too many gin and tonics during a snowstorm….and since then, I have never really had any kind of a hankerin’ for anything made with gin. That was, of course, until my sister-in-law gifted me a bottle of gin, distilled in her neighborhood in Detroit.

This wonderful product of Detroit City Distillery has brought gin back onto my palette. And, I bet if you got a hold of a sample, you might feel the same way.

How do you honor a great product? In this case, I paired it simply with a tonic with a similar story – Jack Rudy Small Batch Tonic.

Elderflower G&T

The version pictured is a classic cocktail, massively upgraded by using locally crafted elixirs that were made by people obsessed with delivering the very best product. In my most recent combination of this drink, I used the elder flower tonic to bring out all of the beautiful herbaceous qualities of the gin.


In a highball glass filled with cubed ice, mix 2 oz. of gin with 0.75 oz of tonic and 5 oz. of soda water. Stir gently and enjoy immensely!

Clementine Cake – Inspired by Walter Mitty and my Grandma

Lately I have been enjoying “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” a short story converted in to a beautiful and thoughtful movie starring Ben Stiller. In the movie, the main character’s mother makes this interesting cake called Clementine cake. For whatever reason, my enjoyment of this movie has also coincided with a desire to make classic desserts and treats. Part of it is that I have been remembering with great fondness, the treats my grandmother used to have for us. I mean, every time we visited, even if we weren’t expected or invited, she had a least two tins of classic cookies ready to be enjoyed. I’m talkin’ peanut butter cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, windmill cookies (packaged but awesome, none-the-less). She would have sugar cookies, home made ginger snaps, chocolate chip cookies, and tons of others.

The heart string plucked in the movie and resonating between the fictional character and me is that of being a oldest child. We feel responsible for everything that happens in our family and we have the distinct joy of the longest memories of those who have passed away We get to enjoy that they really have left their marks on us and that great memories and even the fiction that sparks those memories can inspire us every day.

I hope you enjoy the recipe. I recommend making it at least a day in advance of serving, and when you do, do so cold – straight from from the refrigerator. I will also admit that it is not for everyone. So, in the next post, I will share a recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies I know my grandma would have been proud of and is a way bigger crowd pleaser.  Stay tuned.

That’s a medium-long version of saying, I’ve tried old and new traditional baked goods int he kitchen and everything has been really tasty.

The Clementine Cake recipe that I used is one from celebrity chef Nigella Lawson. It is nearly gluten-free and can be made totally so without messing up the taste and texture. Here is the link to here recipe.

13 oz clementines (approx. 3 medium-sized ones)
6 large eggs
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
2 ¼ cups almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder


Food to Welcome Fall

Chicago got “summery” a couple of times this year and Emily and I took those opportunities to soak in the sun and spend as much time outdoors as possible. But now, fall has definitely found our haunts and has brought with it some of the greatest food any home cook could wish for. With that, I invite you to get out the Dutch oven and set the oven to low. It is time to fill the house with aromas of our childhood – enhanced for our discerning palettes and engineered for our busy lives.

Yesterday, I made the best and most simple pot roast I have ever made. And, we really enjoyed every hearty and delicious bite. As always here at chief dinner officer, we credit the source of recipes that I have not created and this wonderful recipe, courtesy of Ms. Ree Drummond and can be found at The Pioneer Woman.

Since I am cooking for two, I used a 2.6 lb. chuck roast and shortened the cooking time to 3 hours. And, knowing that we prefer a lot of carrots I made all that the recipe calls for. Since I want to retain as much of the carrots’ integrity as possible, I them on top of the meat and onions and out of the broth.

One of the things I really liked about this recipe is that it does not call for cooking potatoes with the meat. So, I made a side dish of mashed potatoes. Knowing that there was definitely going to be enough meat, carrots, onions and gravy to have a meal with the leftovers, I made sure to make enough mashed potatoes to go with that meal as well. For the two of us, for two meals, I use 5 medium or 8 small red skin potatoes. This ensures four very large portions of potatoes – a must in our house.


If you have questions for me about this or any recipe, please send me a message. I am always happy to help you be successful in the kitchen. In the next couple of posts, I will be reworking my version of adult apple cider and sharing delicious breakfast-for- dinner meals that fit any household budget.


Homemade Brick Pizza Oven

Place a pizza stone in a grill, turn it on high, and roll out your pizza dough. Prep your toppings and start thinking about what goes best with what.

The combination of the stone and the grill yield the best of both worlds, smoky taste and even heat.

Dinner:  red sauce, mozzarella, lamb sausage (made by the chef of my favorite brunch joint-Over Easy), sautéed mushrooms, topped with fresh baby arugula and a drizzle of lemon olive oil.

Red sauce pizza

Breakfast:  black garlic and basil pesto, sautéed squash (green and yellow), crumpled mozzarella, topped with two fried eggs.

Black garlic and basil pesto pizza

The 4th and Grilled Corn – Thanks Dan!

Everyone say it at once – Thanks Dan!

Dan is my pal from nearly all my life and it was customary when we were in college for Dan and I to throw a humongous party (around) the fourth of July. Dan was my quiet partner in these shenanigans but a major partner in the planning, funding, execution, and clean up of the big day(s). So, it is fitting that Dan continue to play a leading role as we mature. Thus…grilled corn.

Wait, what the!?!

Okay, here’s how it goes together. This past weekend, I received a text from Dan asking if I could tell him how to grill corn because his microwave was acting up. My answer was – of course. And here’s how easy it is.

Ingredients:   Corn


1) Take your corn, husks on, silks undisturbed and submerge it all under cold water for about 5 – 10 minutes.

2) Heat your grill on high heat for those 5 – 10 minutes when the corn is soaking.

3) Transport the corn from the water to the grill and lay on grates.

4) Cover the grill, opening every 3 – 5 minutes to turn the corn.

5) If you have less than 4 ears of corn, grill the corn for 10 – 15 minutes. And if you have more, grill the corn for 10 – 20 minutes.

6) Using a towel or oven mitts, peel the husk and silks off of the cobs. Trash the husks and silks and serve the cobs.

Pretty easy. Very Tasty!


And, just like my buddies and I said the first year Dan bought the keg (because he was the only one old enough to legally do so) – THANKS DAN!

Watermelon Salad!

Cool and refreshing, the juice, texture, and aroma of watermelon takes everyone to a special place. Some people eat slices all the way to the rind, while others stop at the white part. Some people like a big hunk of a piece, like one would get at the Taste of Chicago and others like a think slice or cubed. No matter, how you take your watermelon, this salad is easy and satisfying.

Watermelon Salad


1 seedless watermelon

1 jicama

1 handful of fresh mint leaves

Juice of one lime


1) Cube the watermelon

2) Peel the jicama and cut into inch long match sticks

3) Mince the mint leaves

4) Combine all three ingredients in a bowl and sprinkle with the lime juice

5) Stir to evenly distribute everything

6) Cover the bowl in cling wrap and refrigerate until served



Dreaming of Meat and Chimichurri

People will worship you for this one – It will be awesome.

Yes, this is a revision of one of my very first posts but, I am making this tonight. And with the weather forecast for tomorrow, you should go to the grocery store and gather everything you need to have this for dinner tomorrow night. Oh, and buy some red wine in case you want that instead of the tequila.

I once took all of this stuff along with a tent, my family, and a couple of friends to the beach to celebrate my birthday and ever since my Mom asks for this to be on the menu during our visits.

Tacos with Chimichurri

Churrasco-style steak tacos with shredded cheese, red cabbage, and chimichurri on a flour tortilla. Accompanied by grilled sweet potatoes and Topolo Margaritas (thank you Rick Bayless)

These tacos are the epitome of party food. Smokey, salty, big beef flavor with the greatest savory sauce of all time. It is amazing, and while I combined a lot of great recipes from other folks (Cooks Illustrated Magazine for the steak and chimichurri sauce, Bobby Flay for the potatoes, and Rick Bayless’s Margarita), I do claim some talent in the combination of everything and in making the steak and sauce into an approachable taco. All that said, I did alter the recipes with a few edits of my own.

Here are the essentials:
Buy thick steaks, the one pictured is a Prime NY Strip from Paulina Meat Market (if you are in Chicago and have not shopped here, DO IT). The steaks get a rub of corn starch and coarse salt, then placed in the freezer for 30 minutes. When grilling, it’s 2-3 minutes per side, flipped three times. Rest for five minutes and slice for tacos.

Chimichurri is flat leaf parsley, cilantro, garlic, red pepper flakes, rehydrated oregano, red wine vinegar, water, and olive oil. You may want to memorize this because once you’ve served this to someone, they will ask you for the recipe. This one came from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.

The sweet potatoes are from Bobby Flay and are pretty basic. Peel and quarter the sweet spuds, toss in olive oil and throw on the grill. Serve with lime salt (finely chopped lime zest mixed with table salt to taste) and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Finally, Rick Bayless’s Topolo Margarita. Look up the link on his Frontera Grill Web site. After you do that, here are my changes. I make the limeade with a mix of simple syrup and honey instead of granulated sugar. I also specifically use Grand Marnier as my orange liqueur. You can use great tequila but I have found that Hornitos is pretty tasty in this cocktail.

This is a great combination and easy to scale for large and small crowds. It is pretty inexpensive – mostly depending on the steak and tequila. You can also serve this with a Rioja or Malbec.

Have fun. Enjoy!

Cedar Smoked Salmon

My grill delivers great food quickly during the work week. And, this recipe for cedar smoked salmon with spinach and sun-dried tomato orzo is nutritious to boot.


In about 25-30 minutes this top quality meal will be go from the refrigerator to dinner table. I save time by purchasing portions of salmon and grilling it on planks. First, the pre-portioned fillets alleviate any cutting and weighing of the fish. Second, because the skin remains on the plank after cooking, you do not have to take time to remove it from the fish. Now, I know that folks who like crispy fish skin for both its texture and flavor may be disappointed by this move but I assure you neither texture nor taste are sacrificed.


Salmon fillets, cedar plank(s), lemon wedge, olive oil, orzo, salt, water, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes in oil, & garlic

Here is how it is all achieved:

1) Light your grill and bring up to high heat.

2) Place pot of salted water on the stove to boil.

3) Place salmon, skin side down on cedar plank(s) and the place the plank onto the grill .

4) Set timer for 20 minutes.

5) Sauté fresh spinach in oil with minced garlic.

6) Chop sun-dried tomatoes and add to sautéed spinach, stir three times and remove all from the heat.

The grill should be smoking at this point in time. If not, place plank over hottest spot in grill.

7) Add orzo to the boiling water and cook to ardent, as instructed (usually 7-9 minutes).

8) Drain the orzo, reserving 1/4 cup of pasta water

9) Stir orzo into the spinach and tomatoes, add shredded parmesan cheese liberally over mixture

10) Once timer is up, remove the cedar plank from the grill.

11) Plate orzo and remove salmon from plank and onto the pasta. To do so slide a spatula under the flesh of the salmon and above the skin. Applying a gentle downward and forward motion will allow the fish to slide right off the plank.

12) Drizzle a few drops of olive oil onto the fish, followed by the same amount of fresh squeezed lemon juice.

I find that seasoning the pasta water and the sauté suffice for brightening and sharpening the dish. In addition, smoking the fish on a plank give the exterior a delightful smoke crust and delicate, flake on the inside.