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.

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It Ain’t Grilled

If you asked me what the most difficult dietary restriction was, I’d be at an entire loss.

My first answer would be gluten-free – I’m not sure how life would go on without a nice, toasted piece of french bread, or a whole-wheat pizza, or even croutons. But given my love for making things from scratch, from making things myself, I’d be willing to bet I’d adapt pretty quickly, and with all the amazing gluten-free-ers blogging these days, I probably wouldn’t go without nearly as often as I think I would.

So then I think about the diabetics. No sugar? That doesn’t seem like a life worth living, either. Days without chocolate? Caramel? Ice cream? But again, there are a thousand sugar-substitutes available, and maybe I’d adapt to that, too. Maybe I’d get used to using Spenda or Truvia or whatever all the time. I mean, I use them a decent amount now by choice, so how bad could it be if my doctor told me to cut the sugar?

Which brings me to the next one – lactose. Oh, my. No cheese? No milk? But I suppose I could have it all if I just battled a little indigestion and upset stomach for a bit, right? And maybe I could take Lactase and it would be all better. Something tells me it isn’t that easy. And rice cheese? I’m not sure that tastes anything like Manchego or Gouda or Parmesan. I doubt soy ice cream is an ounce as good as whole milk ice cream, but again, if this were my life I’m sure I’d learn to love it, and learn to adjust. People do it all the time, don’t they?

Be that as it may, I absolutely couldn’t imagine life without toasted, cheesy sandwiches. And I could forego the meat as long as the cheese is there, as long as it oozes like this one, and as long as I feel a crunch of crusty, toasted bread between my teeth. Yeah, I don’t need bacon or chicken or any of that.

In fact, I’m quite happy with a large whopping mound of garlic-infused kale. Again, as long as cheese and bread are at the party, too.

Word on the street is that it’s National Grilled Cheese Month. Did you know? I have to thank podcasts and Facebook for this niblet of info, I do. And while I could really get behind a grilled cheese sandwich right about now, I realized I’d made this kale and provolone sandwich (aka grinder to anyone who uses that term. who uses that term, anyway?) a few weeks ago and I think I’d be more than happy to have it again.

Then again, a panini-style samich with sharp cheddar and a fresh tomato would also be pretty awesome. But since tomatoes are quite in season yet, maybe I’d better wait. At the end of the day, eating this one is hardly a sacrifice.

Kale & Provolone Grinders
adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2012; makes 4

time commitment:  ~1 hour

printable version

ingredients
white bean puree
3 T olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans with liquid
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

sandwiches
2 bunches of lacinato/Tuscan/dinosaur kale
Kosher salt
3 T olive oil, divided
1/2 head of garlic, cloves peeled and thinly sliced
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
2 c arugula or spinach
2 T fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
4 6″–8″-long French rolls, split lengthwise
4 ounces thinly sliced provolone heese
1 jalapeño, seeded, very thinly sliced

instructions
white bean puree
Heat 1 T oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat; add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often, until garlic begins to turn golden, about 4 minutes. Add beans with liquid. Bring to a simmer; cook, stirring often, until liquid thickens, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a food processor; add 2 T oil. Process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

sandwiches
Cook kale, 1 bunch at a time, in a large pot of boiling salted water for 2 minutes (return to a boil between batches). Transfer kale to a baking sheet; let cool. Squeeze dry; coarsely chop.

Heat a large pot over medium heat; add 2 T oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often, until garlic is fragrant and beginning to turn golden, 2–3 minutes. Add kale and arugula/spinach; cook, stirring often, until stem pieces are just tender, 4–5 minutes. Add remaining T oil and lemon juice. Season with salt, pepper, and more juice, if desired. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet and let cool. (you can do this a day early if you’d like)

Arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of oven; preheat to 400 F. Open rolls and arrange on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Spread bean purée on one side of each roll; add greens. Top with cheese, then jalapeño. Toast, rotating pans after 5 minutes, until cheese is melted, 7–10 minutes. Top, slice, and serve.

A Parting Gift?

As you read this, I’m out enjoying one last day in Seattle with the Hubs. I’m sure it’s been a fun trip, and I’m sure I’ll tell you more about it when I’m back home. It’s likely that we visited Pike Place Market and the original Starbucks, and we probably ate some seafood. Perhaps a trip to Woodinville for wine tasting? The possibilities are endless; I just hope it didn’t rain the whole time, but when I left, the forecast looked darn good.

Sadly though, I won’t be around to tell you of my adventures until next week, as I’ll get home tonight just long enough to re-pack for Albuquerque, NM. It seems as if it’s that time of the year – the time when I have to learn more about genetics and sit in huge rooms full of people, room temperature pitchers of tap water, and knitters (yes, knitters – some of them knit during conferences). Fortunately, these forced trips are accompanied by good friends and sunshine and hopefully some bars. So don’t worry about me – I will survive.

But since I won’t be around, I thought I’d leave you with pie. Is that alright? It was national pi day last week (3.14), wasn’t it?

And no, I don’t mean apple pie, I mean pizza pie! I actually make a decent amount of pizza at home, or at least I feel as if I have lately. This one is definitely a keeper, and I didn’t even spend the time making the crust. Which is weird, because I’m usually into that sort of thing. But I wanted to test out a store-bought dough, and this seemed like the time to do it.

As it turns out, the store-bought dough is quite the timesaver (unless you plan ahead, in which case making your own is a cinch) and this pizza well, let’s just say you shouldn’t take my word for it’s raditude, but rather give this thing a try.

Pear & Prosciutto Pizza
Adapted from Cooking Light, March 2010; serves 4 (or 2 really hungry people)

printable version

My friend and past Iron Chef, Hope, informed me that Whole Foods makes killer pizza dough. I now concur. But if you want to make your own, you might try this recipe from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks; she knows her grains for sure. If you’re not into whole wheat flour, I have a simple recipe I used a while back, so give it a try. If your recipe of choice makes extra, just freeze the other dough and thaw overnight. Brilliant!

ingredients
2 t evoo
2 c vertically sliced Vidalia onion (1-2 onions)
1 recipe of pizza dough (see above)
1/2 c shredded provolone cheese
1 medium firm Bartlett pear, thinly sliced
2 oz prosciutto, cut into thin strips
fresh-ground pepper
2 T chopped walnuts, toasted
1 1/2 c baby arugula leaves
1 t sherry vinegar
cornmeal or flour for dusting

instructions
If using homemade dough, prepare it the night before or an hour before you’ll need it because it will certainly need time to rise (most recipes say at least an hour). If you have store-bought dough or made your dough the night before and put it in the fridge, take it out and let it come to room temp before messing with it.

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; cover and cook for 3 minutes. Uncover and cook 10 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile, roll out pizza dough with rolling pin, or with your hands, until it’s a good sized circle, or rectangle, or whatever shape you darn-well please. It should be 10-12 inches in a circle. If it’s pulling back and not being your friend, let it rest for 10 minutes or so and try again. It will work with you when it’s ready :). Once you’ve got it the way you want it, sprinkle a baking sheet or pizza stone with cornmeal (or flour if you prefer) and place pizza atop that (this will help to prevent sliding and add nice flavor too). Poke a few holes (with a fork) into the dough, or omit this step if you like the big bubbles, like I do.

Place pizza crust in oven and bake for about 5-10 minutes. Afterwards, top evenly with onion mixture; sprinkle with cheese. Top evenly with pear and prosciutto. Sprinkle with pepper. Bake for 12 minutes or until cheese melts and remove from oven.

Sprinkle with nuts (or put them on, untoasted, when there’s about 5 minutes left for the pizza to bake). Place arugula in a medium bowl. Drizzle vinegar over greens; toss gently to coat. Top pizza evenly with arugula mixture. Cut pizza into 8 wedges.