MATK Originals: Bangin’ BLTs

bagin' bltsAs a kid growing up, BLTs were pretty common in our house. They were the good, solid kinds that featured your basic toasted bread, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo combination, most often served with some Campbell’s tomato soup. But, over the years I’ve started adding to that structure and think I’ve created some really special sandwiches that I wanted to tell you about.

The first major BLT change came for me when my wife introduced me to the idea of the BELT, that’s a BLT with a fried egg on top. As fried eggs and their runny goodness are a favorite of mine, that was a pretty easy sell. So was the inclusion of cheddar cheese, which makes just about everything better.

Recently I’ve been playing with a few ways to make all that even better which culminated in last night’s dinner, what I’m now calling Bangin’ BLTs. Last night’s sandwiches includes your B, your L and your T, but also the aforementioned fried egg, cheddar cheese (we’re big fans of the Hannaford Wisconsin sharp these days), homemade mayonnaise straight out of Ruhlman’s Twenty and either Tony Packo’s Sweet Hot Skinnies or Banana Peppers (the former for my wife, the latter for me).

Bangin’ BLT Ingredients

Bread
Bacon, 2-3 pieces per sandwich
3-4 Large Leaves of lettuce, I use romaine
1-2 Tomatoes, sliced
Eggs – 1 for each sandwich
Sliced cheddar cheese
Pickles, Banana Peppers
Homemade Mayo

This meal might seem simple, but it actually has a lot of moving parts, so I’ll walk you through my process. I make the mayo first and follow Ruhlman’s recipe to the letter using vegetable oil and a farm fresh egg (we just happened to have a few on hand). This is the most intensive part of the process, but I guarantee the flavor you get from this will be far more full and rich than the stuff you buy at the store. This can be made days ahead, but the process only took me about 10 to 15 minutes and I went the hand-whisking route. In the future, I’d like to experiment with combining this mayonnaise with different elements like spicy sauces or fresh herbs.

Next I get my bacon in the oven. Sure, you can cook your bacon in a pan the traditional style, but I’m a big fan of using the oven because you don’t get splattered with hot grease and you don’t have to worry about it for 10 whole minutes. I set my oven for 400 degrees, then line a rimmed baking sheet with crumpled-up tin foil, this gives it more surface area to heat up. I then lay out as much bacon as I can fit, which wound up being about 7 or 8 pieces and popped it in the oven for 10 minutes. At that point I flipped the pieces over and let them cook for another 10 minutes.

With the bacon in the oven, I get to cleaning and cutting my vegetables. For the lettuce, I just pulled four large romaine leaves, sprayed them down and then ripped them into smaller, sandwich-sized pieces, discarding the hard white ribs in the process. Then I cleaned and sliced the tomatoes before slicing the banana pepper into strips for my sandwich (half of a large Tony Packo’s pepper did it for me) and getting out the Sweet Hot Skinnies for my wife. I also cut the cheese into squares.

At this point, it would behoove you to set up a solid sandwich-making station. I didn’t have the space for this, so it was a bit tricky, mostly because I had the toaster right in the middle of my work space. Once the bacon’s out of the oven and patted down, you’re almost ready to start making sandwiches.

Why almost? Because it’s egg time. This is where things can get a little tricky timing-wise because you want to work fast enough to make sure your bacon is still warm, but you’re also cooking eggs and toasting bread. I don’t worry so much about the bacon, so I basically put the bread in the toaster and then drop my egg in a small hot pan coated with cooking spray. By the time the toast is done, I’ve flipped my egg and it’s ready to go.

So, grab the bread and put on your desired about of homemade mayo. Then put cheese on one side (I’ve found that the extra sharp cheese can be a little overwhelming if you double up). I then put the hot egg right on top of the cheese and build up the other side with the bacon, tomato, lettuce and peppers/pickles. Bam, there’s your sandwich.

The richness of the homemade mayo works so well with the bacon, but do watch out because both can be on the salty side. When you mix in the crispiness of the lettuce, the coolness of the tomatoes, the sharpness of the cheese and the heat of the pickles or peppers, plus the egg doing it’s ooey gooey thing, you’ve got something really special happening in your face.

While I’m thinking about it, I do want to circle back around to the idea of serving BLTs with tomato soup. It’s an idea I still adore, but there was no way I was going to cook soup yesterday when it was in the 80s. However, a month or two ago I did make BLTs and tried a new tomato soup recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen. It was delightfully creamy and made for awesome dipping. Unfortunately, we lost most of the leftovers when our fridge fritzed out a month ago, but when things cool down, I’ll give it another try.

Forgotten Food: Michael Ruhlman’s Sage-Garlic-Brined & Roasted Kale Pest Pork Chops

ruhlman's sage-garlic brined pork chops

As regular readers of the blog might have realized by this point, I cook a lot more than I actually write about food. As it happens, Monkeying Around The Kitchen gets pushed to the wayside when I get swamped with work or just don’t feel like sitting under the computer any more, but I still make time to cook about five times a week. I keep a folder on my desktop of images organized as best I can, but even with so many images and saved recipes, I can’t always remember how the things I cooked turned out, especially if I few a few somewhat similar things within a short period of time. That’s the case with these two recipes I’m talking about now, Sage-Garlic-Brined Pork Chops from Rhulman’s Twenty (page 29) and Food Network’s Pork Chops With Roasted Kale and Walnut Pesto.

Above you can see the brined chops. I remember putting that brine together, frying them and that picture sure looks pretty, but I just can’t remember what they tasted like. I want to say I liked them because, well, I love lemon and capers but I can’t say for sure. Around this time I also made some parmesan pork chops that were incredibly tasty. I think that memory might have knocked this one out of my brain.

pork chops with roasted kale & walnut pest0

Meanwhile, there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the Food Network recipe, but the chops themselves weren’t particularly interesting. You’re just cooking them in oil with some salt, pepper and rosemary sprinkled around. They weren’t bad by any means, just not overly memorable. However, I was a fan of the kale and walnut pesto recipe included therein. I love how versatile pesto turns out to be and enjoy trying new takes on the classic. I don’t remember eating these as leftovers, but I do remember combining the rest of the pesto with some leftover pasta that I whipped up one day and wound up having a nice little lunch for myself.

Cooking Michael Ruhlman’s Rip’s Marinated London Broil & Warm Arugula Salad With Bacon & Poached Eggs

A while back I found myself wanting to try some London Broil along with a nice salad, so I took to my copy of Ruhlman’s Twenty, looked around and came out with a pair of recipes to try. First off, I found Rip’s Own Marinade For London Broil (or Flank Steak) on page 294. This recipe combines the meat with soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, ginger and onion powder and lets it all get to know each other in a bag or dish for several hours. I also came across his Warm Arugala Salad With Back & Poached Eggs on page 283 which, just from title alone, sounded delightful.

While the marinade wound up being not exactly what we were looking for — it’s been a while, but I think it turned out a little sweeter than my wife or I tend to like — I’m a big fan of this salad and think it could work either on its own or as a side dish to a less protein heavy main course. Plus, the salad is super-simple to put together. The only real work involves making the making, cooking a few eggs over easy and making a really simple vinegar-based dressing. It wound up being kind of like a breakfast salad with the combination of bacon and eggs, but the slightly bitter arugala also got in on the action, making this easy side stand out even more.

Bonus Food Pics: Pre-Birthday Dinner & Dessert

short ribs horseradish potatoes - gilded otter

As some of you may know, today is my 30th birthday. I’m going back and forth between not thinking about this new decade and trying to figure out how I’m going to not trust anyone over 30 if I’m now included in that bracket. Last weekend, my parents came in for a visit to celebrate a little early. As I mentioned in a recent Photo Diary, we went to New Paltz on Saturday and while I originally thought we might come back closer to home for a mid-day dinner, I changed my mind and decided to head over to New Paltz’s Gilded Otter. Both a restaurant and a brewery, I decided to start off with their beer sample which not surprisingly lead me to order their India Pale Ale to go along with my meal of Stout Braised Boneless Short Ribs. I haven’t had shortribs too often, but have always liked their juicy tenderness. The meal was served with veggies and some super fluffy, bite-y Horseradish Mashed Potatoes. I scarfed this all done pretty quickly, so it must have been good.

pre birthday cheesecakeFor dessert, my lovely wife Emily made Michael Ruhlman’s Classic New York Cheesecake from Ruhlman’s Twenty (page 113). She wasn’t super thrilled with some of the vagueness in the recipe, but I thought the results were a real treat. More lemony than I would have expected, the mixture of acid and creamy cheese with the best graham cracker crust I’ve ever had made this aces in my book. I should say, I’m not much of a dessert fan, but I do love cheesecake and even had two pieces of this on Saturday.

Second Christmas Remembered: Traditional Ruhlman’s French Onion Soup

The last thing I made for Second Christmas was French Onion Soup. It also happened to be the most complicated and worrisome of the group because you basically cook these onions for hours until they get to the right color. Because of the long cook time I was worried that I might let them cook too long or not enough, but thankfully I seemed to get it dead on and we had our French Onion Soup!

But, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. The recipe itself from Ruhlman’s Twenty is called Traditional French Onion Soup (page 75) actually comes with pictures which was really helpful for such a long-form dish. One thing I didn’t mention in the other posts is that I went for a solid no-meat meal because my mom is a vegetarian. When I mentioned I was making FOS, she asked about the beef broth and I told her it didn’t have any. I hadn’t read the full description of the recipe, but Ruhlman writes that a lot of FOS recipes call for broth, but that’s not how it was made in France where poorer houses wouldn’t use more-expensive broth when you can get a solid flavor from just cooking onions in a tablespoon of butter.

Of course, the key to this dish is the onions. I sliced up almost a full bag of white onions on the mandolin which was faster than cutting them by hand, but still felt kind of clunky. Anyone, those went into the Dutch oven with a tablespoon of butter and cooked for about four hours. After you get to the right shade of amber, you add in the water, taste and then alter with vinegar, salt, pepper and sherry to get the flavor you want. Then you put your dried-out bread on top and the cheese (I actually used the Emmenthaler shown in the post about Mac & Cheese from the same meal), pop that under the broiler and have FOS a few months later. I actually thought it wound up being a little sweeter than I usually like, but as a whole I thought it wound up being a really good dish. The whole meal might have had a lot of cheese and onions, but I think it worked well together! Happy belated Second Christmas!

Second Christmas Remembered: Ruhlman’s Mac & Cheese With Soubise

As I explained yesterday, I made what turned out to be a pretty great Second Christmas dinner for my family all from Michael Ruhlman’s book Ruhlman’s Twenty. In addition to the Leeks Vinaigrette, I also made his recipe for Mac & Cheese With Soubise (page 87). As regular readers — and anyone who knows me — will remember, I’m a huge fan of macaroni and cheese and have been since my Kraft’s Blue Box days. But, I also like trying new recipes and seeing how they compare to one another. I don’t know if I’m ever going to find one that will become the default version, but if so, this one might be up for the spot.

This particular recipe has four kinds of cheese involved including basic Swiss, sharp cheddar, Emmenthaler (which I’d never had before, but is another kind of Swiss) and Parmesan for the top. If you look closely at the picuture, you’ll see that there’s Asiago on top there, but I just grabbed the wrong block for the picture.

The major difference between this recipe and other ones that I’ve made is that you not only carmelize the onions, but also put the entire pre-cheese sauce in a food processor to whir it all together. Aside from that, though, you’ve got a recipe that’s similar to other ones I’ve tried. As always, I got all my ingredients as prepared ahead of time as I could, separating out spices and whatnot that would be added together. This all made the process a lot easier. Also aiding the process was the fact that I used the food processor to cut the cheese up, a trick I always use for mac & cheese and also got this whole thing ready in the morning. You can get 95% of the mac & cheese ready, refrigerate it and then pull it out when you’re ready to go. The only thing you don’t add before the cooling process is the buttered breadcrumbs. When we were ready, I got those together, put them on top of the dish and in it went into the oven.

The finished product had a very creamy, very cheesy feel to it. My wife heard somewhere that you can actually replace milk in a mac and cheese recipe with water. I’m going to try that next time I make this or any other similar dish. I just didn’t want to try it like that the first time as I was making food for a larger group than just the three of us. That is a lot of dairy as the recipe is written, so if that’s something that bother’s your system, watch out.

Second Christmas Remembered: Ruhlman’s Leeks Vinaigrette

I know it’s well past Christmas and even our Second Christmas (celebrated with my parents a few days before New Year’s Eve), but I made a pretty great series of dishes for that meal and wanted to both share them with everyone and post so I remember how well they turned out. I don’t usually cook for more people than my wife and daughter, an experience that’s almost always super casual, but it’s fun cooking for more people every now and than. Actually, when we move into a house I’m looking forward to having people over and actually doing dinner for larger groups, but that’s not really the point of this post, is it?

Anyway, as I mentioned in another post, my wife got my Michael Ruhlman’s Ruhlman’s Twenty so I put my new book to good use and came up with three dishes that not only complimented each other well but allowed me to prepare them throughout the day so as to not put too much pressure on me at any one point. While I worked on all three dishes concurrently, I”m going to break them up by dish and try to remember which parts I did ahead of time.

We started off with Leeks Vinaigrette (page 211) which was incredibly easy to prepare. The first thing I did was prepare the four hard boiled eggs the night before. On the day, it was all about the leeks and dressing. You actually prepare the leeks ahead of time by cutting off the green parts and then slicing them in half, but not cutting through the very end, so they stay together when steaming. The steaming only takes about 10 minutes and then you put the leeks in the fridge until you need them.

I also prepared the ingredients for the dressing ahead of time too. For the dressing, I put the vinegar, mustard and honey in a bowl and also got the shallots in the Magic Bullet container and then popped them in the fridge as well. When it came time to actually get the salad ready right before dinner, I moved the stuff from the bowl into the food processor, added the remaining ingredients, whirred the shallots in the Magic Bullet, chopped up the hard boiled eggs (white and yellow parts separately) and then prepared the salad. You cut the leeks at this point, put one half on a plate, add the vinaigrette and then put both kinds of egg and green onions on top.

I’m not usually a big fan of hard boiled eggs, but I thought they added an interesting texture to this first course. With the dressing and the faintly onion-y flavor of the squishy leek, it was a really solid, simple and interesting salad to kick our dinner off with.

A Very Cook-y Christmas

Hi folks, sorry about the lack of posting lately, but I was busy with Christmas, Second Christmas and New Year’s. We went to New Hampshire to visit my wife’s parents for Christmas, then had my parents at our house for what we like to call Second Christmas (it doens’t really matter when you spend the holidays, after all) and then New Year’s Eve and Day. In addition to spending quality time with family, I also got a good deal of cooking related Christmas gifts that I’m excited to use.

I actually asked for Michael Ruhlman’s latest book Ruhlman’s Twenty last year, but it was sold out everywhere. My wonderful wife didn’t have the same problem this year, getting me that along with his other book Ratio. I chose these books not only because I like Ruhlman in general (he’s a fellow Ohioan), but also because he’s trying to get readers to understand how food works and why it does with these books. I’ve already made three things from Twenty and hope to get through Ratio by the spring. alton brown good eats early years

On that same token, I also wanted to get my hands on Alton Brown’s first Good Eats book. I’m a big fan of his show and how he explains the science behind cooking. I use plenty of his recipes as posted on FoodNetwork.com, but I also like to have the book on hand for deeper explanations. The cool thing about these books is that, while they might be a little busy, they act as cookbook, scrapbook and source of extra information which I like. I’ve got a few things from this book marked for cooking in the near future. kitchenaid meat grinder

My parents, who got me Brown’s book, also got me a meat grinder that attaches to our Ktichenaid mixer. I’m pretty excited about this because it means I won’t have to continue rolling the dice on ground meat at the grocery store. The more I read about things like pink slime, the less I want to even deal with Big Meat. I’m hoping to find a local butcher this summer and really get hooked into that world.

My inlaws also got in on the food-related giving season. My mother-in-law picked out a nice apron/pot holder/hot pad set that will be nice as I current work apron-less and have gotten sauce and splatter on more than one shirt. She also snagged a wooden, covered salt bowl for me. I’ve been using a large white one that’s got a large front opening for a while now. I love the easy access, but it’s hard to clean and a little unwieldy. With this new one, it’s just as convenient, but easier to protect from flying debris by simply swinging the latch shut. nigella kitchen
This one’s more of a gift for myself. While perusing Barnes & Noble for a wall calendar yesterday, I stumbled upon Nigella Kitchen. I’m not super familiar with Nigella Lawson, but what I’ve heard has all been good. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good deal and this $35 book was marked down to $10, so I figured it would be worth checking out after an in-store flip through.

Now it’s time to get cooking!

Making Mayonnaise

Condiments are the kinds of things you just assume you have to buy. Or, possibly more accurately, you never even think about making. That’s what I’ve always thought of mayonnaise. Well, until I read a post written by Michael Ruhlman on the subject last week. The thing that most surprised me was how few ingredients go into the making of mayo, if you’ve got water, salt, an egg yolk, a lemon, vegetable oil, a whisk and a fair amount of arm strength, you can make your own too!

You can see Ruhlman’s much more interesting ideas on the subject by clicking the above link, but I figured I’d explain my personal experience with something I’ve never tasted: homemade mayo. I combined the salt, water, lemon juice and egg yolk in a sturdy bowl and gave them a mixing with the whisk. I then followed Ruhlman’s advice and started adding small amounts of oil from my measuring cup via a spoon.

The key to all this is to make sure your emulsion doesn’t break (turn liquid-y). I really didn’t want that to happen and have to start the process all over again — and wasn’t sure if my arm could have taken it again, to be honest — so I just went very slowly when adding the oil. It wound up going really well, but like I mentioned, my arm was pretty tired by the end of the process.

We had the mayo with some cheeseburgers and corn I made the other night — post coming tomorrow — and it was pretty tasty. After all that work, I feel like I need to figure more things to put mayonnaise on.

Cooking Turkey Stock & Gravy

I know I promised you guys this post about making gravy from home made turkey stock in my post about cooking the Thanksgiving turkey this year and here it is. A little late, but exactly one week after Thanksgiving seems to have nice timing, no? Anyway, this one was pretty simple. The one thing I was tasked with before heading to Ohio was making the gravy. I had just seen Michael Ruhlman post his recipe online and figure he was a good guy to work off of. I didn’t know anything about turkey stock, but I had just finished making a ton of chicken and beef and figured that poultry is poultry so I took about a dozen or so frozen cubes with me.

But then, I got tasked with cooking the turkey and saw that, next to the recipe for the bird in my mom’s Martha Stewart cookbook was a recipe for making turkey stock that only took about 45 minutes. It fit in with my turkey timeline, so I whipped it up! Like with the turkey post, I don’t have the recipe in front of me, but it was pretty simple. I cooked a leek, stalk of celery and onion in some butter. Once that was done, I added about 7 cups of water (I think) and all the giblets but the liver. I got that boiling and then simmered for 45 minutes. When that was done, I decided not to chop up the remaining giblets for the gravy thinking it might freak people out and discarded all the solids.

In the meantime, while not doing my other turkey duties, I trimmed the fat off the liver and gave it a good chop. Once that was done, I cooked the pieces in butter and set aside for later. Those pieces went back into the stock and eventually into the gravy. When it came time to make the gravy, the process was pretty simple. I had exactly the amount of turkey stock thanks to Martha’s recipe and didn’t have to deviate from Ruhlman’s recipe at all. My wife helped me figure out the seasoning at the very end with salt and lemon juice and then we were good to go!

I didn’t tell the family until afterwards that the chunks int he gravy happened to be liver and no one seemed to mind when I informed them after the fact. All in all, it turned out to not only be tasty food, but it was gratifying to know I was able to use pieces of the bird that a lot of people just throw away. I hope they added deeper flavors, but even if not, it’s cool to use all the buffalo sometime, you know?

Food Book News From Anthony Bourdain & Michael Ruhlman

Apologies to anyone who reads both this and my pop culture blog UnitedMonkee because I’m about to double dip a bit. As I mentioned over there in my link-blog post Casting Internets, there were a few bits of chef book news that I found pretty interesting. First up, Anthony Bourdain will be getting his own imprint through Ecco which itself is part of HarperCollins. I read about this over on The New York Observer who had the following quote from Bourdain:

We look forward to publishing an unusual mix of new authors, existing works, neglected or under-appreciated masterworks, and translations of people from elsewhere who we think are just too damned brilliant not to be available in English. We’re presently looking at an initial list composed of chefs, enthusiasts, fighters, musicians and dead essayists.

I’ve read and seen enough of Bourdain to understand that the man has a lot of influences both in and out of the cooking world that he will hopefully bring to better light. I’m curious to see what the three to five books per year he’ll have his name grace, at least as a logo. Meanwhile, in the world of books that are actually available at the moment comes Michael Ruhlman’s Ruhlman’s Twenty. I first experienced Ruhlman on the Cleveland episode of Bourdain’s No Reservations, which instantly endured him to me (I have a kinship for that city because it’s where my mom was born). He’s been on a few other episodes and even popped up as a judge on Iron Chef America. I don’t know a lot about him other than he’s really into cooking, smoking, curing and preparing meat, which I appreciate. I just started checking out his website, just in time to see him writing about this new book that posits there are only 20 techniques you need to know to cook anything. He explains himself better in a post on his site. I like the sound of this book because it’s part recipes and part text book. I think I can use a few textbooks on the cooking class that is life (ooh, that was deep…).