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.

More than Manwich

Having a food blog ultimately means that you care what your food looks like. You pretty things up, attempting to only post recipes of the dishes that are presentable, neat, and well-primped.

But seriously, some things just taste better when they’re messy.

A taco, for instance, should always require a napkin, or your pants if you’re in a pickle. An ice cream cone full of decadent, rich dulce de leche ice cream with fudge on top should always leak through the bottom of the cone, through the paper liner, and down your hand as you eat it, licking furiously. A hot dog should always be stuffed so full that you can barely get your mouth around the whole thing, but when you do, mustard and/or ketchup (depending on where you’re from, I suppose) should almost always squirt from the other end onto the picnic table you’re eating at.

Sloppy Joes are the epitome of this very subject. By definition alone, they are an utter mess. The sandwich is packed, overloaded truthfully, and when the top and bottom halves are pressed together in an effort to take a hefty bite of both bun and meat, the mixture oozes from between the bread in an effort to escape its fate. But fear not – this is when tortilla chips, if you have them (fingers if you don’t), come in handy.

I am a closet fan (no longer) of the Sloppy Joe. I’ll tell you a secret: I used to buy cans of Manwich on the regular, probably as recently as 3 years ago, and I enjoyed every single bite of those runny, goopy, lovely sa’miches. I must have made them a lot, because eventually Chris decided to let me know that they “weren’t his favorite”, which is his nice way of saying he loathes them. Of course I’m stubborn, so I tried a couple more times, but eventually we had to put them to rest, and the Manwich cans were no longer a part of our monthly repertoire.

But now I’ve found the replacement, a sandwich to fill the void, the gap between those days of tofu and pasta. Meaty, hearty, unpretty, and totally messy – this is the solution to a problem I’d pressed out of my mind for quite some time. The best part? I can take a bite, beef splurting out between my fingers, and all the while I can rest assured that it won’t be the last time. The bonus? the ingredients are fresh, sans can, but still just as messy and delicious as I remember, and even more so.

Beef & Mushroom Sloppy Joes
adapted from Cooking Light, June 2011; serves 4-6

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 T olive oil
1 lb ground beef
1 lb cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 c onion, medium dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c tomato paste (2 small cans)
1 t dried oregano
2 T red wine vinegar
3 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T molasses
1/4 t salt
3/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1 t hot sauce (Franks)
4-6 whole wheat hamburger buns, toasted

instructions
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add beef; cook for 4 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble.

While beef cooks, place mushrooms in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until finely chopped. Add mushrooms, onion, and garlic to pan; cook for 3 minutes or until onion is tender. Add tomato paste and next 5 ingredients (through salt) to pan; cook 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and liquid evaporates. Stir in pepper and hot sauce. Spoon about 1 cup beef mixture on bottom half of each bun; top with top halves of buns.