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Ugly Tomato Soup

I’m sure they all have good personalities…

You know the type…Always got picked last for everything, look beat up and bruised all of the time, didn’t quite grow up as quick as everyone else, maybe they’re even a little dirty….Well, ugly tomatoes have personalities too. They are good on the inside and just need a chance. Here is your opportunity to make some new friends that can bring plenty of flavor to the party, we all just need to have an open mind. When picking out your ugly tomatoes, you should look for the ones that still have some hope and haven’t gone off the deep end, because therapy is useless for tomatoes. You can, however, dress them up a little so they fit in with the crowd. “How can I dress up an ugly tomato” you might ask? Make soup.

Ingredients:

  • 6 pounds of ugly tomatoes
  • 1 pound carrots roughly chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion roughly chopped
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 2 Tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 Cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 Cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons molasses
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder (use smoked paprika if you don’t like the heat)
  • 1/2 Cup heavy cream
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 bay leaf 

Method:

You’ll grind it all up later.

Roughly chop up the onion and carrot. Cut the tomatoes across their equator, squeeze out the seeds and cut the halves into quarters. Melt the butter in a large stock pot (7 quart) over medium heat. Add the carrots, onions and salt and saute for 10 minutes – or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes. Then, add the garlic, cook for 1 minute stirring constantly and add the tomatoes. Put the lid on and let them stew for 5 minutes stirring things up a couple of times. Add the chicken broth, basil, pepper, balsamic vinegar, molasses and chipotle. Turn heat up to high to get everything boiling and then reduce heat to maintain a simmer for 30 minutes.

Cutting “Equatorially”

Now, here we have some options….I personally put everything in a food processor and then pass it through a sieve to make a silky smooth soup OR you can use an immersion blender OR you can use a bar blender and sieve, or not. It all depends on how you like your tomato soup. After you have decided what you are going to do, get it back in the big pot, stir in the cream and add a bay leaf. Leave it on low heat for 30 minutes with the lid on to let the flavors come together. I like to top it with croutons made from jalapeno cheddar bread and some finely chopped basil.

Not ugly anymore!


The Musical Fruit

What a crock

Yes, we all know the song… Beans are definitely a good thing, but when you add bacon, chorizo and beer to them you could travel back in time! You will NEVER buy canned baked beans again, I promise. Now, unless you want a REALLY noisy evening, you probably don’t want this to be your main dish, so I usually pair them with some ribs, which is a whole other post. Go ahead, turn up the music!

Ingredients:

6 thick cut slices of bacon cut into 1 inch pieces

2 links of fresh chorizo (not the cured\hard stuff)

1 onion roughly diced

1 small can of tomato paste

2 28 oz cans of red kidney beans

1/4 Cup ketchup

1/4 Cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 Cup mollasses

1 Tbl worcestershire sauce

2 tsp salt

2 tsp BBQ rub (recipe is HERE)

1/4 Cup brown sugar

1 bottle of good dark beer

Preheat oven to 225

Cook the bacon and chorizo in a dutch oven over medium heat until it starts to crisp. Throw in onion and cook until it softens. Add the rest of the ingredients in and bring to a simmer stirring occasionally. Slap a lid on it and put it in the oven for at least 2 hours or as long as you want.

 


Ma’s Italian Beef

I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus for some time… With the loss of a good friend who is dearly missed, my creative inspiration has been a little weak lately. Well, one thing that makes me feel better is some good ‘ol comfort food, the kind like my mom used to make. This last weekend, I made my Mom’s Italian beef recipe to pick my spirits up. The smell alone can heal just about anything, filling the air with memories of family holidays and gatherings of friends. That was when I realized that I needed to share this little piece of culinary cure-all. So to get the blog rolling again, here is something a little dressed up by me, but the roots are still with Ma, and the memories are always good ones.

Chicago style Italian beef is a sandwich you can find at little stands all over Illinois. The variations are vast: from the beef being sliced or shredded, cheese or no cheese, sweet bell peppers or giardiniera (pickled peppers) on top, or even having the whole damn thing dunked in it’s own au jus. Regardless, you need slow roasted beef chuck, a good chewy Italian loaf of bread and A LOT of oregano…

3-4 lb chuck roast

1 jar of pepperoncinis

5 cloves garlic smashed

32 oz beef stock

1 cup water

4 Tbls oregano

2 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp pepper

Good melting cheese of your choice (provolone for me)

Italian sandwich bread (this recipe makes 4 to 6 big sandwiches)

Prepared horseradish

Mayo

Take the roast out of the fridge an hour before you start. Preheat oven to 375 and get out your heavy dutch oven. Heat a tablespoon of oil (or BACON FAT) over medium high in the dutch oven. Pat the roast dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sear the roast on all sides until nice and brown. While all that browning is going on, cut the tops off of all  the pepperoncinis except 6 of them. Throw the now topless peppers in the pot with the roast, dump in the beef broth, water, oregano, garlic and a 1/4 cup of the juice from the pepperoncinis. Bring it all to a boil, put a lid on it and place in the oven.  Roast at 375 for an hour, then turn down to 325 and roast for at least 2 more hours (3 or 4 would be better, but I bet you can’t overcome the smell). After however long you manage to hold off, take the roast out, check to see if it needs more salt and shred it up using tongs. Put the pot on a low heat to keep it all hot while you get the rest ready.

Horseradish Mayo- Not rocket science

Stir together mayo and horseradish sauce on a 2:1 ratio. 2 tablespoons mayo to 1 tablespoon horseradish should be enough for 4 sandwiches. Dice up the remaining pepperoncinis to garnish. Split the rolls down one side, but not all of the way through so the bread has a “hinge”.  Put sliced cheese on one side of the bread and throw them in the oven to melt the cheese. Take rolls out, spread mayo on the other side and load up with shredded beef. Ladle out some of the au jus from the pot for dipping and be happy.


A Gallery of Sorts.

I like to cook. I also like to take pictures of what I cook. This combination of “hobbies” that has a questionable level of sanity, has made it so I have hundreds, if not thousands, of food pictures. Recently, with my new blog I came to realize that I have never actually put all of these pictures in one place. Instead, I sort through 10 thousand other non-food pictures in order to find what I need. So to solve my inherent problem, plus show the world (at least the part of it that reads this blog) what I have managed to capture along the way, I give you a photo gallery of sorts. No recipes, no story, just the picture and a caption telling you what it is. If you see something in the gallery of sorts that you would like to learn how to cook, please comment at the bottom of the post and I’ll get right on it. Some posts of things you will see are already in the works as a matter of fact. Stay hungry my friends…

Beef Bourguignon with fresh egg noodles

Tomato Soup with Mozzarella Cubes
 

Fried 3 Cheese Ravioli with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

 

Home made cheese-its

 

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

 

Shoyu Ramen

 

Lobster with home made rigatoni

 

Ganache truffles

 

Fresh Italian Sausages

 

Fresh Chicken Eggs from my friend Doug (makes great pasta)

 

Assorted Sushi

 

Cooking steak and veggies on Himalayan salt block.

 

Osso Bucco on Saffron Risotto

 

Traditional Hot Wings

 

Apple Tart

 

Spice crusted pork chop with red wine reduction.

 

Personal Lasagnas

 

Clam Bake

 

Bang bang shrimp

 

Cajun Spiced Fried Chicken

 

Basil Fettucini

 

Ammo

 

Venison Summer Sausage (jalepeno cheddar)

 

Chicken Gyro

 

Beef Brisket Sliders

 
 
 
 

5 Star Dinner on a 1 Star Budget

It is cheap, it is easy, it is fun to improvise with and best of all, it tastes great! If you can manage to sear meat and dump a bottle of wine in a pot, you can do this. It does take time, so this may be a weekender…

Told ya.

I have discovered that the taste-to-price ratio of beef short-ribs is off the freakin’ chart. These things are like 5 bucks a pound and after 3 hours of braising in the oven, you would pay a million dollars for them again, or worse… Now, braising sounds like one of those fancy French words (and it is), but don’t be skeered, it only means to cook meat in a liquid for a long time. The liquid can be just about anything. From water to wine to stock or even beer. The choices are endless depending on how you want your dish to taste. With beef, in particular beef short-ribs, I go with 50/50 red wine and beef stock. After you are done cooking (braising) the meat, you can reduce the liquid even further to make a “gravy” that is worthy of being put in an I.V. bag and carried around on a pole.

When getting ready to braise your short-ribs, you should get a good sear on all sides of the meat. Some people that get paid to write this kind of stuff will tell you it “seals in the juices”. This, is a bunch of crap. You are searing for the flavor on the outside, not to mention “fond”, another fancy French word which is the brown stuff on the bottom of your pan that does add a whole bunch of flavor once you dissolve it. To get a good sear, make sure the meat is dry and the pot is hot. DO NOT overcrowd the pot when searing. Everything will steam instead of sear, so do this in batches if your pot is too small.

As far as the wine I braise with… You should want to drink it. I have mentioned “cooking wine” before. It does not deserve to have the words “cooking” or “wine” associated with it in any way. There is actually a reason why an 8 year old can buy it at the stupermarket without a fake i.d., it is dyed red salt water, who the heck wants that?!? Since that is cleared up, just go buy yourself a $10 bottle of red (unless you are under 21), have a glass and get ready to dump the rest in the pot.

Ingredients for Braised Beef Short-Ribs: For 4

8 Beef short-ribs at room temp, dried with a paper towel

2 Tbls unsalted butter

Salt/Pepper

2 stalks celery- chopped in 3 inch chunks

1 yellow onion- quartered

2 carrots- 3 inch chunks

5 cloves of garlic

1/2 Cup tomato paste

1 tsp dried thyme

28 oz beef stock

1 bottle red wine (minus 1 glass for yourself)

Heat oven to 325

In a large heavy bottomed pot (dutch oven), melt butter over medium high heat. Pat ribs dry with paper towel, coat liberally with salt and pepper. Once butter is melted and done foaming, place ribs in the pot and sear on all sides (3-4 minutes per side). While ribs are searing, put garlic, celery, onion and carrot in a food processor and blend until a paste forms. Remove ribs and set on a plate. Add puree’d vegetables to the pot and brown while stirring constantly. Once veggies are browned (5 minutes), add tomato paste and thyme, stir to combine. Cook tomato paste 5 more minutes then add beef broth and wine. Scrape up all of the “fond” from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon and bring your-now-braising-liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, put ribs back in the pot and cover. Place in the oven for 3 hours. After 3 hours, carefully remove the ribs to a plate and cover with foil. Pour braising liquid through a sieve (metal screen) into a saucepan to filter out the veggies. Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce by half, season to taste with salt and pepper.

You now have finished short-ribs and a great sauce to go with them. I usually serve them on top of garlic mashed potatoes, however, buttered egg noodles are pretty darn fantastic too (saute’ some pearl onions and mushrooms to go on top). This is a great dish for entertaining since once it is in the oven, you don’t really have much to do for 3 hours. If you forget about it and 4 hours go by, it will probably be even better.


Wit what?

The perfect sandwich. Juicy steak, melty cheese, fried onions and a soft-yet-chewy roll. Screw the mushrooms, the peppers, and even the pizza sauce. Yes, this is a Philly Cheesesteak if you know what you’re talking about…

Now, I have spent plenty o’ days in Philly standing in line at Jim’s, Pat’s and Geno’s practicing how I’m gonna order: wit whiz or not, prov or sauce…all to keep the cashier from making it: wit spit. Despite the lingo, all of these establishments have been around forever and have very respectful “steaks” in their own right; but they market to the masses. And when I say masses, we’re talking about thousands of people a day. The cheese steak has turned into the quintessential fast-food of Philly, and this isn’t necessarily a good thing when it comes to feeding the thousands of drunks and tourists. Hours of standing in line for what I see as “drunk food with potential” has led me to make a better, and more personal Philly. And to be brutally honest, the best cheese steak that I have had, and did not personally make, was in Baltimore. No lines, no freaking out if you don’t know how to order, just good cheesesteaks.  Now before I get my house burned down or cat thrown in the ring by Michael Vick, I will at least say that it was a Philly themed bar (owned by residents of Philadelphia) in Baltimore, McGerks, and they don’t have any dogs. I digress…

Cheesesteak Vegas #1

Cheesesteak Vegas #2

To go ahead and cut in line and just make your own isn’t all that hard. Most stupermarkets sell beef rib eye that is “sandwich cut”, and if not, you need a meat slicer. The bread or “roll” is a hit or miss conundrum, which plays a very important “roll” (heh heh)  in this situation.  I am lucky,  my nearby bakery sells fresh hoagie rolls. A note to my friends from the mid-west reading this that have no idea what the hell a hoagie is: find a foot-long Italian sub loaf of bread instead. Regardless, fresh bread is a must, and you shall seek it out for cheesesteak’s sake. The cheese is up to you, just make sure that it melts good, isn’t wrapped in plastic in slices, or is in liquid form at room temperature (whiz), which by the way is not normal, but tasty. Now go get your thin sliced steak, grill it up nice and slow on a flat top and toss it together with abnormal cheese and sautéed onions. Throw it in a chewy roll and thank your lucky stars that you aren’t standing in line with the drunks in Philly, especially if the “Birds” or “Phils”  lost that night.

Recipe for two Philly Cheesesteaks for when the “Birds” are playing:
1 lb beef rib eye sliced thin, partially freeze it to cut it thin with a knife if you are one of those “losers” without a meat slicer
1/2 yellow onion diced
1/2 lb sliced, aged provolone or cheese sauce
2 hoagie rolls cut down the middle
1 Tbl vegetable oil
salt/pepper/onion powder

Heat skillet or griddle over medium low heat with vegetable oil. Saute’ onions until softened (5 minutes). Season steak with onion powder, salt and pepper. Put the rolls in the microwave for 20 seconds to warm them up. Add meat to the onions and toss together constantly to cook the slices of meat evenly. Once the meat is medium rare (pink left in the middle) form in into two long sandwich shaped piles and place the sliced cheese (or drizzle whiz) on top. Once the cheese has melted into the meat, scoop it up and pile it in the warm rolls. Consume immediately.


Your steak has already been killed.

This post isn’t going to have some silly story to start it off with. The purpose of this post is to prevent something that happens all of the time from happening again…killing dead meat. I’m sure I will catch some flak from some vegans out there, but if you like a good steak, you will read on.

It looks even better on the inside.

The first and foremost problem is heat control. The whole process of bringing something from the temperature of your refrigerator to an edible and safe temperature can be a daunting task I know, but we’ll get through this together. These steps apply to just about any cut of meat that doesn’t take 4 hours of roasting to tenderize. Filet mignon, ribeye, New York strip, flank, etc… It should also be noted that these rules cover thick cut pork chops too, just cook them to at least 145 degrees (the FDA just lowered the safe temp on pork).

Step 1: Buy good steaks. Ask the butcher to cut what you want, since what he cut yesterday and  is already in the case isn’t quite thick/thin enough. Sure, they will cost some good coin, but it will still be half the cost of an fancy place that sounds like Roofs Christ, which is essentially overpriced meat with a stick of butter.

Step 2: Bring the meat to room temperature. Let it sit out of the fridge for at least 30 minutes (turn a bowl over on it if you’re worried about bugs or whatever getting to it). This will prevent having a raw center and a well done outer layer of the steak. You should be able to get medium-rare the whole way through.

Step 3: Dry off the meat with paper towels and season just before cooking. This helps make a good sear. When seasoning, take the thickness of the cut into account. The thicker the cut, the more salt/seasoning it needs. Seasoning is a personal preference, however I do stay away from the pre-mixed spice concoctions as a steak should taste like meat.

Step 4: Use a fat or oil with a high smoke point (no olive oil). I use bacon grease or canola oil.

Step 5: For thick cuts (over an inch thick) I sear over high heat and then oven roast in a cold pan at 300 degrees until I achieve the correct doneness. Putting the steak in a cold pan before the oven prevents overcooking one side of the steak. For thinner cuts, I use medium pan heat and only turn it over once, no oven.

Step 6: After you have made this long journey to greatness, let the steak take a break before you eat it (5-10 minutes). This will prevent the juiciness from running all over you plate. Besides, it was killed, cut, burned and is about to be eaten… Let it have a rested farewell.

DO NOT poke the steak with anything other than a thermometer while cooking, only use a thermometer if you don’t know how to test doneness by touching the steak. There is a way to compare the firmness of your palm to the steak to tell doneness. I recommend using a thermometer first, and practicing the “firmness test” to get it right.

DO NOT smash the steak down with a spatula, brick or anything for that matter. Just let the thing cook would ya?

DO NOT cook a filet well-done, I will personally tell your butcher to stop wasting good meat on you.

DO NOT do this in a non-stick pan. The high heat you need is too high for Teflon and it will turn into a gas that will make you sick. Use either stainless, anodized, or cast iron cookware. These types of pans also encourage the development of “fond”. Fond is the French term for the browned bits you get in the pan by searing a steak, which help add a lot of flavor to sauces.

The recipe for this post is one of my favorites and is my usual go-to for having people over. It is spicy, but the port sauce adds a sweetness to it that keeps everybody eating. Have plenty of red wine to wash it all down. The only downside to the recipe is that it creates a hell of a lot of smoke while you are essentially burning peppercorns, so if you don’t have a good exhaust fan, open some windows- stat.

Drum roll please…. Recipe for: Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon with a Port Cream reduction (for 4 lucky people).

Ingredients:

4 Filet Mignon steaks around 8-10 ounces each or about 2 inches thick

1 Tbls bacon fat

1 Tbls whole black peppercorns lightly crushed in a bag with a rolling pin or buzzed in a coffee mill

Salt/Onion Powder/Garlic Powder

1 Cup Port Wine (I use Fonseca Bin 27)

1/4 Cup heavy cream

Pre-heat oven to 300. You should have taken the steaks out of the fridge already, like half an hour ago, did you!? If the steaks are wrapped in bacon, remove the bacon and cook it over medium heat to render out the fat in a stainless skillet large enough to fit all of your meat. Leave the fat in the pan and eat the bacon when nobody is looking.

Season the steaks liberally with salt, onion powder and garlic. Put the crushed peppercorns on a small plate and shake the plate to make an even layer. Press the steaks gently into the peppercorns so they stick to the meat. Heat the skillet with the bacon fat to high heat until it is just barely smoking.

Turn on your fans, place the steaks in the hot pan and sear for two minutes per side (do this in two batches if your skillet isn’t big enough). Remove steaks and put them in another cold, oven safe pan. Pour off any excess grease from the skillet, but leave any burnt bits or peppercorns in there, then return the skillet to medium heat. If you have a splatter screen, now is the time to use it… Pour in the Port, it will steam, hiss and scare the pets, this is ok. If you have gas burners you may want to turn off the flame to avoid it igniting and melting the door of your microwave off. Once it calms down, using a whisk, break up all of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan and bring it to a light boil to reduce.

Place the steaks in the oven and bake until an internal temperature of 125 degrees is reached; it should be about 10 minutes, but use your thermometer. While the steaks are in the oven keep an eye on your sauce, making sure you maintain a high simmer whisking occasionally, as the liquid reduces, you will need less heat and it will burn easily. Once the wine has reduced by half, you will see the bubbles start stacking up on each other; when you whisk it, you will start seeing the bottom of your pan. Turn the heat down to low and whisk in the cream. Taste it. Does it need salt? Is it too runny and it needs to reduce more? Is it too thick and you need to add more wine? Figure it out. Keep it on low heat until the steaks are done (which this takes about 10 minutes, oddly about the same time it takes to bake the steaks).

Once you have reached 125 degrees, remove steaks from oven and wrap in foil and DO NOT touch them for 10 minutes. The temperature will coast up to a perfect medium rare and I will not tell you how to cook filet to any other temperature, sorry.

Pour your sauce onto four plates, unwrap steaks and set them in your little puddle of sauce. Any juices accumulated in the foil can be poured over the top of the steaks or sopped up with a dinner roll. Cut into your steak, show your friends and bask in glory. If you have any unfortunate souls with you that want their steak cooked more, show them how to use the microwave ruin the steak and don’t have them over ever again.


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