easy cheesy

Shortly after Chris and I officially started dating, we went on a road trip with his parents up to Pennsylvania to visit family. His parents grew up in the Northeast, so the area up there is special to them. I remember that Chris was pretty excited about it, and I remember Barry, my now-father-in-law, teaching us the “ways of the road” – things like freeway etiquette and so forth.

One of the basic tenets of freeway etiquette is this: when lanes are merging, each car in the merged lane lets one car from the merging lane in. It keeps traffic flowing as smoothly as possible. The douchebags trying to speed past and butt in are otherwise honked at, flipped the bird, or if it’s warm enough outside, you roll your window down and yell all sorts of obscenities at them. Welcome to the Northeast.

Needless to say, the “foreigners” always get yelled at. Most people unfamiliar with city driving will undoubtedly let cars and cars and cars in, especially the nice Southern folk. The Midwesterners are the ones who cut people off, as do the New Yorkers. The West Coasters? I dunno, maybe they just stay on the West Coast (I can’t blame them). Don’t you just love stereotypes?

Speaking of stereotypes, Philadelphia has always been stereotyped as the place to go for cheesesteak. This is something I’d think of as a pretty freakin’ awesome stereotype, sorta like saying that Southerners give the best hugs (it’s true), that Italians make the best pasta (also true, in my experience), and that San Francisco has a lot of hipsters (generally awesome, but sometimes annoying).

It was almost 10 years ago that we went on this road trip, so I can’t for the life of me remember where we went to eat, but I know they insisted on going to one specific place for a Philly cheesesteak. I don’t think it was in Philadelphia, since I don’t think we went to Philadelphia on that trip. I remember Barry really hyping this place up, and getting more and more excited about it the closer we got. And even though it wasn’t in Philly proper (I think), I remember being pretty blown away by the caliber of meat-filled sandwich goodness. I remember a lot of gooey cheese and if my memory isn’t failing me and instead plugging in nonexistent happenings, I think Chris’ parents even came across someone they knew in the restaurant, which to me, further solidifies the awesomeness of a place. So forgive me if I made that up, but I really don’t think I did.

I’m not sayin’ this recipe I’m sharing is the same caliber of awesomeness as a Philly cheesesteak. First, it needs three times as much cheese, then twice as much steak, and less veggies. I think I’ve even heard that some Philly cheesesteak places use Cheese Whiz now, and that’s definitely not going on with this sandwich. But at the end of the day, when you live on the other side of the country amidst, let’s face it, restaurants with a greater focus on avocado and turkey sandwiches (which are nothing to ignore out here), it gets the job done.

And for sure, that’s a memory I know is accurate. Probably because it only happened a couple of weeks ago, but still, it’s true.

Philly Cheesesteak
Adapted from Cooking Light, March 2012; makes 4

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 (12-ounce) flank steak, trimmed
1/4 t kosher salt
1/4 t black pepper
2 portobello mushroom caps
2 t olive oil, divided
1 c thinly sliced onion
1 1/2 green bell peppers, thinly sliced
2 t minced garlic
1/2 t Worcestershire sauce
1/2 t lower-sodium soy sauce
2 t all-purpose flour
1/2 c skim milk
1 oz provolone cheese, torn into small pieces
2 T grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 t dry mustard
4 (3-ounce) hoagie rolls, toasted

instructions
Place beef in freezer for 15 minutes. Cut beef across the grain into thin slices. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Remove brown gills from the undersides of mushroom caps using a spoon; discard gills. Remove stems and discard. Thinly slice mushroom caps and cut slices in half crosswise.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add beef to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until beef loses its pink color, stirring constantly. Remove beef from pan. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add onion and sauté 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, bell pepper, and garlic and sauté 6 minutes. Return beef to pan and sauté 1 minute or until thoroughly heated and vegetables are tender. Remove from heat. Stir in Worcestershire and soy sauce and keep warm.

Place flour in a small saucepan, and gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk until blended. Bring to a simmer over medium heat; cook 1 minute or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat. Add cheeses and mustard, stirring until smooth. Keep warm (mixture will thicken as it cools).

Hollow out top and bottom halves of bread, leaving a 1/2-inch-thick shell; reserve torn bread for another use. Divide the beef mixture evenly among bottom halves of hoagies. Drizzle sauce evenly over beef mixture; replace top halves.

Watch Out Bobby, it’s Time to Grill it

Emily and her corn


There aren’t too many things, in my mind, that are better than the weeks before summer. Well, summer itself, of course. But the weeks before, the days when the sun finally comes out from winter hibernation and the coats stay home, are the best. They’re the best because it’s those days that get you amped-up and ready for all things to come.


Things like grilling, the beach, and visiting friends and family. If you’re lucky, having them visit you too. For the second year, we spent Memorial Day weekend in Hilton Head and were happily able to accomplish all three of the above. It’s a nice treat for me since moving to Chicago, as the “beaches” here just aren’t the same as those where I grew up and spent practically every weekend. Vacations get cut short when you’ve gotta get back to the city to get your cook on, but nonethless we managed to kick back and relax, soak up some rays, log-in some family time, and of course – eat like it didn’t matter.


Atlantic sky


Red Fish is our favorite restaurant on the island (not that we’ve been to many, but why bother?), and we definitely voted for a re-visit this year. Their specialty, as if their name didn’t give it away, is fish. Most dishes have a Caribbean-type influence. To top it off, they have an excellent wine selection and mini wine shop in-house. I was really jealous of the sea bass dish last year (not that mine was bad by any stretch, though now I don’t recall what that dish was), and so this year I had to have it. Stay tuned for the post when I learn to perfect the recipe. But don’t hold your breath.


avocado relish


While the dinner at Red Fish and the brunch at Signe’s were both delectable, I didn’t pass up the offer to cook while on vacation. We usually celebrate my mother in law’s birthday over this trip, so I was asked to make dinner for that night. And this year, this was a big one for her, so I was more than happy to cook and let her enjoy the grandkids. Since we’d already eaten seafood, I opted for another fresh, summery idea and made a marinated flank steak with avocado relish, allowing us to take advantage of fresh cool ingredients and the poolside grill. Plus, the guys felt as if they contributed since they got to do the grilling, which Chris claims is “his territory”. I say, “no fair” ’cause I like grilling too.

grilled corn and peppers


Dinner was a hit, with the grown-ups and (as you can see) the kids. While packed with flavor, this dish is super simple to put together – which is great if you’re in a new (and less-stocked with things like your favorite chef’s knife, microplane zester, and bamboo butcher block – thank you rubber stopper) kitchen. The avocado relish was a perfect counterpart to the flank steak, which was juicy, tender, and had the faintest taste of lime and avocado from the rub/marinade. The relish is great for leftovers, and can stand in for salsa any day. That being said, it isn’t a bad idea to make extra. What about the peppers, you say? They were just dandy. Roasted over the stovetop (for ease – they’d be just as great roasted in the oven or on the grill), peeled, cut, and sauteed in cilantro butter. Corn? Painted w/ lime juice, avocado oil and grilled and served with more melted cilantro butter.


And vacation? Not bad either! As all of them, just a wee bit too short. But given my inability to correctly apply sunscreen, I think another day at the beach would not have been wise for me anyway… Take home message – don’t forget your neck, unless you want to be a poser red-neck. tee hee hee.


grilled flank steak


Grilled Flank Steak w/ Avocado Relish
Adapted from Cooking Light, May 2009; serves 4




ingredients
lime rind from 2-3 limes, divided
4 t avocado oil
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 minced garlic cloves
1 1lb flank steak
2 avocados, peeled & medium-diced
2-3 plum tomatoes, juiced & medium-diced
1/4 cup medium-diced red onion
1 small-diced jalepeno, seeded if you don’t like the heat
juice of one lime
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped
lime wedges, for garnish


instructions
1. Combine 2/3 of lime rind through garlic in small bowl. Score a diamond-shaped pattern on both sides of steak and rub mixture onto both sides. Place in large zip-lock bag or bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.



2. Preheat grill to med-hi. Grill on each side for about 5 minutes (for medium-rare). Let sit about 5 minutes and cut in small slices, across the grain.


3. Meanwhile, combine avocados through cilantro as well as remaining 1/3 of rind. Season to taste. Serve with grilled steak and lime wedges.