Cooking Aaron Sanchez’s Cemita Sandwiches With Roasted Tomato-Chile De Arbol Salsa

Earlier this year I picked up Aaron Sanchez’s Simple Food, Big Flavor cookbook. I love how it’s organized because he starts off with a kind of sauce and then gives readers a variety of dishes that incorporate that very ingredient. I decided to try out Cemita Sandwiches (page 64) which was a part of his recipe for Roasted Tomato-Chile De Arbol Salsa (page 52). Since there were so many working parts, I’ll break them down here.

First off I got to work on the salsa, which is a really simple and easy process. I used two chipotle peppers in adobo which was a huge mistake because it made this condiment way too hot for us. I tried mixing some honey in which helped a bit, but there’s still an underlying smokey hotness that I don’t know if I’ll be able to use this much.

From there I got to work on the sandwiches. First, my changes. I went with regular sandwich bread and skipped the papalo leaves. Basically, this just involved a lot of cutting. You’ve got tomato, avocado and mozzarella. The ham was a bit more work intensive, but I took a pretty big shortcut by buying some pre-sliced smoked ham at the grocery store. I still mixed the spices as suggested in the recipe, but instead of pounding out pork loin, I just spread it on the ham and cooked it in the pan. I’m sure the flavors didn’t go nearly as deep thanks to my modified way, but I’d also wager it cut off a good deal of time.

With all the meat cooked, I was basically in assembly line mode, just like when I made Bangin’ BLTs not long ago. The bread went in the toaster and when it popped, I went back to my sandwich making roots, adding the veggies, cheese and passing it off to the fam.

All in all, this might have been a truncated version of Sanchez’s meal, but I thought it still came out really tasty. There was definitely some heat coming off of the meat, but that was quelled a bit thanks to the mozzarella and avocado. The mozz also brought in a nice creamy tanginess that I appreciated. We even tried some of the super hot salsa on the bread as the recipe suggests which worked out pretty well. If I make this one again, I’ll have to go wimpier on the salsa and maybe actually try that whole pork loin thing.

Cooking Giada de Laurentiis’s Naked Spring Rolls

While my attempts to make Giada de Laurentiis’ Thai Curry might not have netted the best results, I will say that I had much more success her recipe for Naked Spring Rolls which were both part of the same Thai-themed episode of her Food Network show. It also happened to be a super simple and delicious recipe to put together.

The sauce in the recipe was really easy to put together and doesn’t need much in the way of commentary. I will say that it was tangy and delicious thanks to the combination of lime juice and fish sauce. To augment the dish, though, I also decided to make some sriracha mayonnaise. For this I just squeezed about two teaspoons of the hot sauce into the remaining homemade mayo I had in the fridge after making Banging’ BLTs and Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad which was about a 1/4 of a cup. The only change I made in the recipe was swapping out agave (which I didn’t have on hand) for honey.

With the condiments created, I got to work on the actual spring rolls. As with every other kind of meat, I started out with whole, partially frozen pieces, cut them up and ran them through the meat grinder. Since I was already getting the grinder out, I figured I’d try running the carrot and shallot through there too. It worked pretty well, but there was an intense, tear-jerking blast as the shallot went through. All that went into one big bowl with the other ingredients which got wrapped in plastic and sat for the required 20 minutes.

After that point, I looked at the mixture and realized it was not going to stay together in the oven. So, I grabbed the two ends from our latest loaf of wheat bread, rubbed chunks between my hands to create tiny crumbs and mixed it all together with my hands. I got 15 of the spring rolls out of this and put the foil-wrapped pan under the broiler.

I served these with lettuce leaves, though they’re not super necessary. I dug how this meal came together, but my wife loved it, saying it was one of her top five favorite things I’ve cooked. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but I am a big fan of this dish. It worked really well for us as it was, but could also make for a great party food (if made smaller) or a delicious sandwich. In fact, my only complaint was that the thinner sauce didn’t stick to anything which bummed me out because it was so delicious. If this was a sandwich, though, you could pour that sauce right into the bread to infuse that flavor! Dang, that idea’s so good it makes me want to start a food truck (not that it would take that much cajoling to do that anyway).

Cooking Feed Me Phoebe’s Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad

It’s hot as heck here in New York, so you know what that means: time to look for new chicken salad recipes! Feed Me Phoebe has become a new favorite food blog with lots of interesting dishes. Since I hadn’t exploited the site for chicken salad recipes, it was the first to pop into my mind. My mom actually makes a tarragon chicken salad that I really like, which is why I chose this one for Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad.

I fully intended to follow the recipe and pick up a rotisserie chicken like the recipe suggests, but my daughter and I ran to the grocery store early and there weren’t any available yet. So, I grabbed some chicken breasts and gave them the ol’ olive oil-salt-pepper treatment and cooked them up on the cast iron.

While the chicken cooked I made the dressing which was super simple. Earlier that week I had made some mayonnaise to go along with the Bangin’ BLTs and used that when putting this meal together. This was all part of my menu master plan for the week. I love homemade mayo because it’s so awesomely rich, but it doesn’t last a super long time, so if you’re not a sandwich fiend, it might make sense to have a chicken salad recipe or something that will use up a good portion of the delightful condiment in line for that same week. In other words, don’t waste all that goodness!

With the dressing made, I got to chopping up the herbs and veggies. For the tarragon, I turned to our mini herb garden — look for a mini-post on this down the line  —  golly that’s a unique, bright and bite-y flavor. I also threw in a few diced pieces of celery because I’m used to that in chicken salads and had a few sitting around.

I went with a really small, cube-y dice for the chicken on this. My wife noted that it didn’t stay on the bun very well, so you might want to go with a larger chop. I wasn’t quite sure how far the two chicken breasts I had allotted for this meal would go, hence the smaller cut.

For serving purposes, I didn’t go with the lettuce leaves as mentioned. I intended to, but while walking through the grocery store, I stumbled across some pretzel buns and thought they’d go really well with this cool, tangy dish. I topped the chicken salad with some fresh, clean spinach and was good to go.

Cooking Jeff Mauro’s Chicken Shawarma with Tomato Cucumber Relish and Tahini Sauce

This was another dish I saw prepared in the limited time during the weekend when Food Network actually shows cooking programs that  I mentioned in yesterday’s post. In that one hour I saw four recipes I want to try and have already made two of them.

Like a lot of people, I first heard of Shawarma thanks to that post-credit sequence in The Avengers. Oh, I’d probably heard of it before in passing, but never really thought about it. Within the next year, I wound up at Chickpea and tried some with my wife. It was quite good, so why wouldn’t I want to try and make some in the comfort of my own galley kitchen?

Before making this meal, understand one thing: tahini’s kind of expensive. The 16 oz jar of the sesame paste I got was about $8, but you only use a quarter of a cup, so hopefully I won’t have to buy it again for a while. Aside from that, though, you’re dealing with pretty standard ingredients though you might need to add a few spices to your rack.

Speaking of which, that’s the best place to start with this recipe. I usually like to chop up all my veggies first, but since you need to marinate the sliced chicken thighs for a half hour, I cut up the thighs after I put the shawarma spice mixture together. This is the first time I’ve worked with boneless chicken thighs, but I tried to get a good deal of the fat off.

With the meat doing it’s thing in the refrigerator, I got to work on the Tomato Cucumber Relish (more of a salad really) and the Tahini Sauce, neither of which were difficult but did take a bit of time (well, at least for the former). For the relish, you just chop, measure, mix and you’re good to go. The sauce is even simpler.

Now, Jeff put the marinated meat on skewers and grilled them on the episode. He said it was because he wanted to recreate the spit roaster he saw at the restaurant he visited. That seemed like a lot of extra work, so I just tossed the contents into a cast iron pan and got cooking.

I also tried to cook the pitas the way he did in the episode: by putting olive oil on one side and heating it on the girl. It didn’t work out so well for me so I stopped. When I served myself a plate, I tried putting all the ingredients on top of the pita as you can see in the picture, taco-style. But, the problem there was that there’s a lot of liquid going on here and everything fell apart. I was a little upset until I remembered that a lot of Middle Easter food is eaten with the hands, scooping whatever’s on your plate into the pita or naan and then into your mouth. With that in mind I dug in and had a good, old time.

The chicken had some nice heat and spice to it without going over the top. Even if it was, the tang and crispness of the relish would have cut through it, aided by the thick, substantial tahini sauce. Mixed all together and scooped into pitas, this was a killer meal that I will definitely make again.

I don’t have any pictures of this, but that same week I also made Real Simple’s Spiced Mini Burgers With Couscous Salad. This not only added a bit of continuity to the menu that week, but allowed me to use  up the leftover relish and tahini sauce for this dish. I ground up the beef and made the burgers as advised, but for the couscous salad, I used the leftover relish and just added a few more cucumbers, tomatoes and some couscous I cooked in homemade chicken stock. The tahini sauce then got used to make Alton Brown’s Hummus For Real recipe, though one that used canned chickpeas instead of slow cooked ones. I really enjoyed the spice mix used for these burgers and could imagine going either way size-wise with them: smaller for appetizers or finger food or larger for full on burgers. Both of these recipes get the thumbs up from me!

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.

Bonus Food Pic: Handsome Devil’s Hot Mess

handsome devil hot messA few months back my in-laws discovered a new barbecue place near us called Handsome Devil that happens to be inside the local ice rink. This past weekend we celebrated Father’s Day by heading back over there to get some food on Saturday. As we have in the past, we had a great time with wonderful food and a nice selection of beers on tap. We all started off with some fried pickles (forgot to photograph because I got so excited for one of my all-time favorite apps). The pickles themselves were nice and briny, but they also came with some sriracha mayo dipping sauce that was fiery and fun. I’m just recently discovered the wonder of sriracha, so this was auspicious timing.

Better than the appetizer, though, was the meal I got. I wasn’t hungry enough to tackle my usual barbecue meal of “as much meat as I can stuff into my face,” so when I saw the Hot Mess on the menu, I was sold. The dish has a layer of beef brisket topped with mac and cheese which has pulled pork on the very top. This was a great choice because you not only get the best side of all time — mac and cheese — but also a sampling of their brisket and pulled pork. Considering their food is so great, this is an easy sell for anyone looking to try a few different elements all in one big pile.

My wife also had the Three Little Pigs smoked ham sliders which were just bonkers good. I was lucky enough to get one half of those little sandwiches and could have eaten about 10. The salty, smokey ham worked so well on the sweet bun and covered in Gruyere cheese.

As an added bonus, Lu got to watch some hockey because there was a kids game going on and you can walk into the stands right from the rink. I bet they do a pretty great appetizer/beer business during those games.

Disney World 2014 Bonus Food Pics Part 2

lu, anna and elsaLet’s get right back into the Disney World goodness! (If you missed part 1, click here.) On February 5th we spent three hours waiting in line at Epcot to meet Anna and Elsa from Frozen. In that time, my dad and I ran over to the cafe in Paris called Les Halles Boulangerie & Pâtisserie and had sandwiches which were awesome. I was too perturbed from the line to snap a picture, but I did last time. Still, it was worth every minute because she still talks about meeting her favorite charactera and having them sign her Frozen book which we read at night sometimes. wave

That night we headed back to The Wave…Of American Flavors inside the Contemporary. Wave has easily become our favorite sit down restaurant at Walt Disney World thanks to its nice, quiet dining room and wonderful selection of entrees. I can’t quite remember what I ordered, but it looks like a steak from this picture (did I mention, it’s nice and dark in the restaurant?). The menu there changes with the seasons, so it’s probably different by now. If you’re looking for a nice sit down dinner that’s outside the parks, but still on the Monorail system, this is one of the best. disney jr character breakfast

The 6th was my 31st birthday, so we celebrated by going to Hollywood Studios and doing the Disney Junior breakfast buffet at Hollywood & Vine. Breakfast is one of the hardest meals to keep consistent and tasty in the buffet style, but this one was pretty darn great. It had all the basics which were all super tasty. Even the eggs were good and that almost never happens. However, the real delight here was seeing my kid’s eyes light up as she got to meet Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins and Jake. She had no idea who Handy Manny was and kind of looked at him like you might someone dressed the exact same way on the subway. spirit of aloha

For dinner we went to the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian. I’ve wanted to do ever since I first heard about it a few years back. Even though the weather got a little dicey, the show was still pretty great, filled with a variety of different dances from all over the world. My daughter and dad even got in on the dancing action. See if you can find them in the picture above. The food itself was served in an all you can eat, family style manner with platters. I remember the bone-in chicken being particularly good as were ribs. As a birthday bonus, I had a large drunk in a coconut shaped to look like a monkey which I was able to bring home with me. pinocchio italian sub

On our last full day, the 7th, we went back to Magic Kingdom. We’re big fans of starting and ending these kinds of trips there. The weather was a little difficult as it was misting rain and chillier than the other days, but we still had some great food. For lunch we stopped in at Pinocchio Village Haus which actually had my favorite single piece of food of the whole trip, the Italian Flatbread Sub which includes Italian Meats, Cheese, Dressing, and Balsamic Glaze on a warm Toasted Flatbread. There was just something so balanced, with the smooth tanginess of the balsamic glaze and salty meats with the melty cheese that hit a lot of my moutbuttons. I also think this might have been my first flatbread sandwich. I’ve got to get more of those in my life. As an added bonus, you can eat over by a window that looks down on the It’s A Small World ride.

from from pinocchio's

For our last dinner we went to Be Our Guest which was…interesting. We had to wait out in the rain for our table along with everyone else which wasn’t the most fun thing in the world. And then, partway through, Lu got scared about the idea of seeing The Beast there. Now she’s seen Beauty and the Beast plenty of times and doesn’t get scared, but she got very adamant about not seeing him. It wound up not really mattering because she fell asleep on me before he even showed up. I can’t say for sure because I ate around a toddler the whole time, but I think I had the Braised Pork (Coq au Vin Style), described as Eight Hour Slow-cooked Pork with Mushrooms, Onions, Carrots and Bacon served with Puréed Cauliflower and Seasonal Vegetables.

I know we also had a lunch poolside at our hotel The Grand Floridian and my wife grabbed a cronut in Epcot, but I think that about covers our food adventures earlier this year in Disney World.

Philly Bonus Food Pics: Pastrami Cheesesteak, Sushi & Dinic’s Roast Pork

pastrami cheesesteak Well gang, I think we’re pretty far past apologies for a lack of posting. A lot of things went down in the past few months that prevented me from posting here on MATK, but I’m really hoping to make a big push for more posts. I’m even circling around to recipes I made months ago that I never posted about so they can be refreshed in my brain. Anyway. I’m kicking this week off with a series of food pictures I took while hanging out with some college friends in Philadelphia a few weekends back (for more details on the weekend, check out the 35th episode of my podcast over on PopPoppa.com). kinish Above you can see the lunch we had at a place called The Famous 4th Street Delicatessen which had wonderful service and gigantic portions. My wife and I split a pastrami cheesesteak which was certainly filling. I also got myself a   blintz. I honestly wasn’t quite sure what a blintz was, but I enjoyed the sweet cheesy insides as well as the fried crust.

While looking for a place that could serve a fairly large dinner party, we stumbled upon Kabuki Sushi. The positives were that they took reservations and weren’t too far from out hotel. Oh, that and the food. I can’t quite remember what rolls I got, but both of them were super tasty. I also tried our friend Heather’s fried tofu which reminded me of fancy carnival food. As you can see, Lucy also had a roll which she seemed to like, though she basically just took the chicken out and ate that. dinic's roast pork Finally, before heading to the Please Touch Museum and heading back home, we went over to the awesome Reading Terminal Market and got Dinic’s roast pork sandwiches for breakfast. My wife remembered seeing these sandwiches on a food show and we were familiar with the market from previous comic convention-related visits to Philly, so we each had one. I’m not sure if I prefer these to cheesesteaks, but I will say that, while I’ve had plenty of crummy cheesesteaks, I’ve only had one awesome roast pork sandwich with broccoli rabe, so that’s something!

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Garlic Butter Mushrooms & Steak Plus A Leftover Sandwich

Like anyone who tries a lot of different recipes, I’ve had a good deal of hits and misses lately. But, one of the absolute best hits I’ve come across in recent memory is actually a side dish: Smitten Kitchen’s Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms. As it happens, this is also one of the easiest things to put together. The only change I made was cutting out the capers because I forgot to buy them at the store. I also used some garlic butter because I had it around, if you do too, give that  shot. You basically get all the ingredients together in a baking dish and throw them into a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes.

I figured that man can not live on mushrooms alone, so I also grilled up some steaks that happened to be on sale that week and steamed some asparagus. The dinner itself was pretty rad. I mean, you can’t really go wrong with a well cooked steak (I just spread some extra virgin olive oil on and sprinkle with salt and pepper before cooking on the cast iron grill pan). The real star, though, were the mushrooms. They’re just so perfectly earthy, rich and buttery with just a bit of acid from the lemon to tone the whole dish of goodness down just a bit.

Better than the dinner was the sandwich I made the next day. I had a red bell pepper in the fridge, so first off I sliced that and cooked it in some olive oil. After that, I sliced some of the steak and warmed that up in a pan with some of the mushrooms and the juice. When that was all warmed up, I placed it on some bread (that I spread some of the mushroom juice on too) with some rasped cheese and put all that on a foil covered pan under the broiler to melt the cheese. Once that was all done — I took it out when I saw the cheese getting melty — and then put some arugula on there and had myself a lunch I could eat four times a week given the resources. Man, I’m actually getting hungry thinking about this. Maybe it’s time to cut to the chase and make these sandwiches for dinner next week.

Cooking Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich & Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup

After hitting up a great farm stand and making caprese with heirloom tomatoes, I knew I’d have a few left over and did a little looking around on FoodNetwork.com until I came across Rick Massa’s Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup which fit the bill pretty perfectly. I did a few things differently than the suggested recipe, though. First and foremost, I didn’t do all that stuff with the butter and whatnot. A while back, my wife turned me on to a grilled cheese method that’s pretty fantastic: put mayonnaise on the sides of the bread that will be exposed to the pan (I used a flat cast iron skillet). I also decided to bake the bacon, as I have in the past. I like this method because you don’t have to watch it like you do on the stovetop.

Before actually making or assembling the sandwiches, but after putting the bacon in the oven, I got to work on the tomato soup. For me, BLTs and grilled cheese always have a connection to tomato soup, but growing up, it was usually the canned stuff from Campbell’s with a little milk thrown in. I thought this soup would be pretty solid thanks to the bacon involved, but it actually wound up being kind of thick and not overly interesting. It wound up being more like sauce than a soup. Part of the problem was that I put the whole tiny can of tomato paste into the mix, which I realized after the fact probably lead to the problem. We wound up not eating much of it, but I did freeze it, to be thawed up and possibly mixed with some chicken stock to thin out a little ways down the line.

Back to the sandwiches, though, they were fantastic. I got the bread prepped with Dijon mustard on the insides as well as the cheese on both sides of the bread, tomato and some of the bacon. After that it was just a matter of throwing them on the cast iron pan one at a time. Once I flipped them, I smushed it down with another cast iron pan (be careful, even though it’s not directly on the heat, this pan will get hot!). Oh, I nearly forgot, I also steamed the green beans that I bought along with the heirloom tomatoes which came out delightfully crisp and clean-tasting. The grilled cheese was just wonderful and, like with the caprese from yesterday, got a nice boost of flavor from the heirloom tomatoes. I’ve got to say, I’m pretty partial to those green ones!

Bonus Food Pics: Gyro & The Mack Trucker Melt From P&G

gyroLast weekend, my wife, daughter and I went to the New Windsor Community Day event which was packed with various food vendors. If I’m in the vicinity of a good looking gyro (pronounced yee-ro), I’ve got to have one. I forgot to note the name of the place selling them, but I think they just do events like this and weren’t representing a restaurant. Anyway, this was a solid pita with meat carved from the spit and dosed with a good deal of tzatziki sauce and got the thumbs up. Even Lu dug the lamb, which was a bit of a surprise. p & g mack truck burger melt

The next day, we went to New Paltz to do some walking around. Before that, though, we stopped at P&G’s because I was jonesing for a beer or two with my meal. I decided on The Mack Truck Burger Melt which was described as, “8 oz. of freshly ground Black Angus beef charbroiled and topped with homemade macaroni and cheese, nestled in a grilled cheese sandwich.” This seemed like a good idea at the time, but didn’t mix well with the press of coffee I’d had that morning, the two beers during lunch and the coffee I had afterwards. Also, I’ve got to say, the sandwich was a tiny bit bland, which I wasn’t expecting. Still, I not only want to try this again, but also want to make one of my own. Finally, the onion rings were killer!

 

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Steak Sandwiches

To save some cash, I’ve been trying to base my weekly menus off of what’s on sale at my preferred grocery store. A few weeks back my store had loin steak on sale so I went to Smitten Kitchen, threw it in the search and discovered her recipe for Steak Sandwiches.

The meal is super easy to put together. I whipped up the Mustard Mayo first and put it aside, then got to work on the steak and onions which were not only easy to cook (basically throw in a pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper), but only dirtied one pan! Once done, you cut your steak and lay out your spread — the arugala, two kinds of cheddar and the Mustard Mayo — and you’ve got dinner. I really enjoyed the simple combination of mayo and mustard. At some point in the future, I will attempt this with homemade mayo.P1200000

I also enjoyed the leftovers for this meal as you can see in the very last image. While I don’t usually go for sandwiches for dinner, I liked the simple and easy leftovers this preparation created. I basically recreated the sandwich, put it under the broiler for a few minutes and had a tasty and dynamic dish.

Pretzels, Pretzels Everywhere

Guys, I love pretzels. Hard, soft, full of cheese, covered in eggs, I’m all-in for all the options. As you’ve probably noticed if you watch even the slightest amount of television, we’re in a kind of pretzel renaissance these days. Sure, you can still get all shapes, sizes and flavors in the snack aisle of your grocery story, but the concept of pretzel dough and bread is moving out of carnivals and sporting events to a good deal of fast food joints.

My wife and I first encountered the widespread nature of pretzel bread while on a trip to Michigan from New York. We love stopping at Sheetz and they have a full line-up of pretzel bread sandwiches, which I indulged in on both the way there and back. They were great, with that hint of pretzel flavor without being overly salty. I didn’t snap a picture because I was driving and eating already, but they were great.

wendys pretzel bread burger

When we got home, we started seeing pretzel bread everywhere, specifically at Wendy’s which is another big chain making a similar push. Last week we both got these burgers and I’ve got to say, I wasn’t very impressed. I thought Sheetz did a much better job of capturing the pretzel bread flavor while Wendy’s was overall pretty bland (it didn’t help that the burger was overcooked and a little cold).

homemade pretzelsThe biggest pretzel revelation in recent memory, though, came when my wife decided to MAKE OUR OWN SOFT PRETZELS. I was super excited, thinking back to my childhood and wondering what Young Me would have done had I presented him with something like Alton Brown’s recipe for  soft pretzels. Would I have jumped in the kitchen immediately and started making one of my favorite snacks by hand or would I have said “Cool,” and continued eating frozen ones because they’re easier?

Seeing as how I haven’t mastered time travel (yet) that’s neither here nor there. What is here AND there is that fact that these pretzels were fantastic. She made something like eight and then also made herself a bagel dog using Brown Eyed Baker’s take on Brown’s recipe. I regret not asking for one myself. Still, I’ve been enjoying the light, buttery, salty goodness of these tasty snacks for the first half of this week and am already thinking of ways to incorporate this delightful food into our regular rotation.

Cooking Homesick Texan’s Tex-Mex Sloppy Joes

While poking around trying to find meals to make that wouldn’t give the air conditioner even more heat-related problems, I stumbled upon a meal that fit in with my hankering for a fairly simple Mexican meal that wouldn’t require too, too much exposure to fire. As such, I decided to give Homesick Texan’s versions of Tex-Mex Sloppy Joes and Guacamole a try and was super happy with the results.

Thanks to lacking a few of the ingredients, I didn’t quite follow either recipe to the letter, but think I came out with some pretty good food. For the guacamole, I simple skipped the pepper, added onion and substituted parsley for cilantro. Aside from that, though, it’s the same basic prep: chop everything up and mix with a fork. I got this done in the early afternoon because I like when my guac has a chance to fraternize with itself.

For the sloppy joes the only change I made was skipping over the beer because I’d already drank all the ones I had. Plus, the last pack I bought was fairly bitter and I don’t think would have worked well with these flavors. Instead, I just added some water to make sure the beef didn’t brown too fast.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I went with a London broil steak that I froze for a few hours and then ground myself. After that I blended together the sauce as instructed. With everything prepped and ready to go, it was just a matter of cooking everything. The meat went in first soon joined by onion and bell pepper. Once that was nice and browned, you add the sauce and cook like you would taco meat. I tried adding some Thai Sweet Chili Sauce to see how that would play, but don’t think there was enough to really pop. I wound up having a little more liquid than I intended, so I just watched it as a it cooked down. Once I had it where I wanted, I moved the meat to a dish and set it out with some buns, guacamole and shredded cheddar cheese.

This recipe might sound like you’re basically putting taco meat on a burger and it is kind of along those lines, but I really liked how this particular batch of spices came together and worked with the meat. It was like a new take on an old idea that worked together very well, mixing a bit of heat and smokiness with the tomato-based acidity. You combine that with the sharp cheddar and sour-ish guac and you’ve got a party on your plate.

Bonus Food Pic: King’s Meatloaf Sandwich

king's meatloaf sandwichThis photo’s from about a month ago, but I’ve far from forgotten about this wonderful Meatloaf Sandwich from King’s Pommes Frites. After writing about the burger I’d had there, I actually went out that day with my daughter, hit up the farmer’s market and decided to stop in at King’s and see what they had for the special. The idea of a meatloaf sandwich was super intriguing so I went with it and some olive sauce for the fries (my favorite one there).

I’ve had meatloaf sandwiches before, but the stroke of genius with this one was actually the condiment. Instead of going with the more obvious ketchup, they put mayonnaise on the sandwich which added a creamy, tang that made the juicy meat loaf jam really well with the cheese. Another excellent pairing from King’s!

 

Making Smitten Kitchen’s Dill-Pepperoncini Tuna Salad

I don’t know about you guys, but it was hot as heck here in New York the past few weeks. It was so hot, in fact, that I didn’t want to sit under my computer a second longer than necessary, hence the lack of posting. Luckily it’s cooling down here (saying that the mid 80s is cool is odd) so I don’t mind hanging out with my old friend the laptop some more. I did my best to plan meals that wouldn’t take a lot of cooking to actually make. While looking around SmittenKitchen.com I came across her recipe for Dill-Pepperoncini Tuna Salad which involved just a bit of fire and heat!

Another bonus for this recipe is that I had everything on hand either in the pantry (tuna, Tony Packos banana peppers instead of pepperoncini, etc.) or the herb garden (dill). As you can see from the above images, there’s not a lot to this recipe. I opened the cans of tuna and dumped them in the bowl. I also got a small pan on the stove to toast some slivered almonds. Once those were done, they were dropped in too. Aside from that, the most work this recipe requires is chopping up the peppers and pouring liquid in the container. Mix it up and you’ve got a meal.

In the leftover phase, I ate this right out of the dish, but for dinner the first time, I went with a sandwich. The tuna salad had a great tartness thanks to the balsamic/mustard combination that includes a little sweetness and crunch thanks to the almonds. You add some sharp cheddar cheese into the mix on some toast and blammo, you’re good. I don’t usually like sandwiches for dinner because I had sandwiches every day throughout grade school and high school and made thousands of them while working at a bagel place back home, but when it’s hot as a mother out and I can whip something together with little work, I’m all for them.

Disney World Bonus Food Pics: And The Rest

My apologies to regular readers for the intense lack of posts the past month or so. Between the lead-up to vacation, vacation itself, getting back into the groove with work and being sick and not cooking for all of last week, writing about food unfortunately fell pretty low on the priority list. I know the Disney trip seems like it was pretty long ago at this point, but I wanted to finish things out (if you’re curious to see what else we ate either scroll down or read, this, this, this and this).

pizzafari lunch

The Wednesday we spent at Disney World — which also happened to be my dad’s birthday — was spent hanging out in Animal Kingdom. As happened last time we all went there, it was a rainy day, though not nearly as bad as the previous visit. For lunch we went with a counter service at Pizzafari. When I think about food like this I always think it’s going to taste like the box it was delivered in, but I’ve got to say it was a pretty solid little pizza. I mean, it was nothing like the places around us in New York, but it also wasn’t terrible. I’m always a fan of Cesar salads and also went with the pudding for desert. I have no problem recommending Pizzafari if you’re in Animal Kingdom looking for a good lunch place.

boma soup

To celebrate my dad’s birthday, we went to the African buffet dinner at Boma which is located in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The last time we went to Disney World, this place was easily our number one favorite eating spot. I’ve got to say, though, that the experience wasn’t quite as enjoyable this time around. For one thing, the place was PACKED, so it was kind of hard to navigate the buffet line. Making matters a bit worse, the actual buffet is set up kind of poorly. People tend to line up for the carved meat, but are you supposed to get in that line before going after the other sections? Some people clearly think so while others did not. I went rogue when I needed to, as is my want.

But, the food was still really great. My personal favorite dish is the Coconut Curry Chicken Soup (above right). I’m also a fan of the Ginger Carrot Soup (above left). The interesting thing about eating at Boma this time around is that it wasn’t quite as revelatory. The food was still fantastic, but in the time since we ate there the first time, I’ve eaten and cooked a lot of different foods. Still, if you’re in Disney World, go eat at Boma, it’s worth it.

Croque Monsieur

Thursday was my daughter’s second birthday, so we tried to cater our dining choices to things she might get a kick out of. Since we were in Magic Kingdom that morning, we decided to try out one of the new eateries in New Fantasyland called Be Our Guest and as you might imagine, the place is Beauty And The Beast themed. This was the only place we ate at where diners could use a touch screen to order their food and while I love that idea, the practice was difficult because most people apparently can’t fathom how to use such a system just yet (even the helper at our station took longer to input our desired meal than it would have taken me). Anyway, my wife and I decided to split two different sandwiches because we couldn’t decide. So, we each had half of the Croque Monsieur (“Grilled Sandwich of Carved Ham and Gruyere Cheese and Bechamel with Pommes Frites”) and the Carved Prime Chuck Roast Beef Sandwich (“Served warm on a Baguette with Horseradish Sour Cream and Pommes Frites”) both of which would make fine choices for a hungry dining party.

Carved Prime Chuck Roast Beef Sandwich

To say a few more things about this restaurant, I really appreciate the theming they did. When you walk in you’re given a plastic spherical bar with a rose on it. You tap this to the screen when you order and then it acts like a GPS so the servers can find you. The servers themselves roll the food out in covered serving carts that both look neat and keep the food warm. Speaking of neat, the place is broken up into three different dining rooms, Belle’s Library, the West Wing and the ballroom. I’m actually not sure which one we were in, but one of the other rooms featured Beast’s flower and the other had windows set up to make it look like it was a dark and stormy night (though it was raining that day, so maybe that’s what it was). Anyway, if you have a BATB fan in your life, they’ll love eating at Be Our Guest.

princess dinner

For dinner that day we hoofed it over to Epcot’s World Showcase for the Princess Storybook Dining at Akerhus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway. Lu absolutely loved getting to meet and have her picture taken with Ariel, Snow White, Aurora, Cinderella and Belle so it was worth it for that alone. It was also nice that they had a great drink menu and rad food like Traditional Kjøttkake also known as, “Norwegian Meatballs served with Mashed Potatoes, Seasonal Vegetables, and Lingonberry Sauce.” It’s like that stuff they have at Ikea, but roughly 7 billion times better, plus you get the added bonus of knowing you don’t have to put frustrating furniture together after eating. They also do a complimentary buffet called “Taste of Norway,” but I don’t remember much about it aside from a sweet brown cheese that half the table enjoyed and half was not into at all.

kat korra dinner I din't eat

Unfortunately, I was not feeling very well for our last full day at Disney. I had some weird stuff going on with my stomach that was probably compounded by drinking more coffee and beer than water while on vacation. Not smart, people, be sure to stay hydrated. I really wish I had because we went to Kouzzina by Kat Kora for dinner and it was one of the restaurants I was most interested in checking out going back to the early days of planning this trip. Unfortunately, the strong Greek smells and flavors did not work well with my wobbly tummy, so, even though I ordered the Briami — “Oven-roasted Vegetables with Oregano, topped with Greek Cheese, served with Herbed Orzo Pasta” — I was only able to look it, sigh and go back to the room to take a nap. So while the Disney trip didn’t end on a high culinary note for me personally, I’ve got to say that, overall I probably haven’t had a better week of meals ever. Also, get the Dining Plan if you can!

Disney World Bonus Food Pics: French Breakfast & Moroccan Dinner

french breakfast You know what I love in pretty much any combination? Ham and cheese. You really can’t go wrong there, you guys. One morning we decided to hit Epcot and to start our day we headed over to the World Showcase to get breakfast in France at a place called Les Halles Boulangerie & Pâtisserie. When you add ham and cheese to a buttery piece of bread you’re really onto something. Good on the French for figuring that out.

moracco salad

For lunch we went to a place in Epcot where I not only had a bad experience but also didn’t enjoy my food, so we’ll just skip right past that. That night, my wife and I had planned on going out for a date just the two of us. We wanted to try something new and interesting so we decided on going to Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco back in Epcot in the World Showcase. We both went with the Taste of Morocco – Royal Feast which included (*deep breath*) “Jasmina Salad: Lettuce, Tomato, Olives, and Feta Cheese in Mustard Vinaigrette, Seafood Bastilla: Layers of thin Pastry filled with Grouper, Shrimp, and Mushrooms, Lemon Chicken: Braised Chicken seasoned with Green Olives and preserved Lemon, Roast Lamb Meshoui (A Moroccan tradition – Roasted Lamb Shank in Natural Juices),  Couscous with Seven Vegetables and Assorted Moroccan Pastries.”

moracco entree

As you can imagine, it was quite a meal. First off, everything was fantastic and interesting. I was a big fan of that salad, which is kind of a strange thing to single out when talking about so many different kind of food. The lamb fell of the bone and I don’t have much experience with that particular protein, but I enjoyed it. The lemon chicken was also nice and tangy. I even dug the desserts which is something I don’t always say. So, if you’re looking for something unique and packed with variety, do yourself a favor and hit up Restaurant Marrakesh.

Walt Disney World Bonus Food Pics: Studio Catering Co. & Sci-Fi Dine-In At Hollywood Studios

studio catering company We spent the second day of our Walt Disney World vacation walking around Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a place that had great food at both the counter service and sit down levels. For lunch we hit up Studio Catering Co. which is supposed to be set up like the commissary of a studio, but, you know, right around the corner from Star Tours and butting up against the Honey I Shrunk The Kids playground (which is a childhood favorite of mine).

The way places like this work is that there’s a menu posted up high where everyone can see it (those yellow signs in the above picture). When you know what you want, you approach one of many very nice people standing at a computerized register. Once your food is ordered, you move up and pick it up from the people working in the kitchen and prep area, so it’s a little nicer and more organized than your average cafeteria, which you’d expect from Disney.

studio catering turkey panini For lunch I went with the Pressed Turkey Club which includes “Turkey, Applewood-smoked Bacon, Swiss, Roasted Red Pepper, Arugula, Multigrain Ciabatta Bread.” It was a really solid, tasty sandwich that didn’t feel like something slapped together. It seemed well thought out and well balanced. I also got the cole slaw which was better than average and think I even had a little cheesecake dessert, though the for-a-limited-time-only Worms & Dirt Cupcakes you see in the background were enjoyed by my family.

sci fi dine in reuben That day we had dinner at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater which is a fun place where you actually sit in tables that look and feel like old school convertibles. Those car-tables are “parked” in an area that’s set up like a drive-in theater complete with a movie screen running film clips, cartoons and trailers of stuff from the 40s, 50s and 60s.

We weren’t sure if the atmosphere — which was fantastic — would outshine the food, but I really enjoyed the Reuben I had. You might think that a sandwich with such basic ingredients (corn beef, Sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing and rye bread) would be difficult to screw up, but that’s not been the case in my experience. For one thing, you can find a wide spectrum of quality in just those five things, but the way a place treats their corn beef is also really important. The Sci-Fi Dine-In seems to treat its beef really well because the meat was nice and juicy and not dried out at all. In fact, all the ingredients felt top notch and tasty. I’ve probably had better Reubens in my life, but not while sitting in a fake car watching trailers for Plan 9 From Outer Space and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman. Oh, the cucumber salad was actually super tasty as well, it was a kind of sour, pickle-y alternative to fries if that’s something you’re looking for.

Making Ham Salad

ham salad When I was a kid there was a grocery store near our house called Bischoffs (I might be off on the spelling, I’m pretty sure it was a local operation). I don’t remember too much about the place, but I do remember that they had ham salad for sale there and I loved it every time we’d get a container of it. You could either lather it on bread for a sandwich or just eat it straight. But, Bischoffs closed and we wound up going to Kroger and Food Town and a few other places and I kind of forgot about ham salad. Then, in the last few years, I was walking through the deli section of my local Hannaford and saw that they had pre-made ham salad sandwiches which I have partaken in here and there. Aside from that, though, I haven’t really thought about it that much.

That is until a few weeks ago when we came home with a pound or two of the ham my mother in law served for Easter. I’m a fan of heating it up in a pan and eating ham with some eggs, but my wife had mentioned being curious about ham salad, so I looked around for a recipe and decided to try the one called Ham Salad II over on All Recipes. I actually cut the recipe in half and then cut the amount of mayo in half again because a cup of mayonaise sounded a bit much and we’re still watching our calories with the Lost It app. I also skipped the green pepper because I didn’t have one on hand, but that wound up being okay because this version — which I was surprised to find actually went through the meat grinder — tasted exactly how I remember ham salad tasting. Most times when you try to recreate a childhood taste, the new version doesn’t hold up, but that wasn’t the case here. The pickled relish really adds some nice brininess to the ham and then you’ve got the mayo and crispness of the celery which helps bring it all together.

I actually kind of want to get a whole ham just to make more ham salad, which is a little bit crazy. When I first moved to New York and was living with my buddy Rickey, my aunt sent me a really nice Honeybaked Hams spread. We did our best to eat all the ham we could and wound up freezing a bunch of it, but I look back now and my mind races with all the uses I would have had for that protein. I was so young and culinarily ignorant back then!

Cooking Lentil Sloppy Joes

For me, the fun of cooking is trying out brand new recipes. It’s great returning to old favorites, but I get a much bigger kick out of trying out a new take on those old faves. That’s what I was thinking when I decided to try Food Network’s recipe for Lentil Sloppy Joes. I don’t make Sloppy Joes often, though I did write about them once last year, but I do remember my mom making them when I was a kid, so there’s a soft spot in my heart for the loose meat classic.

This new version isn’t a wild departure from the classic, it just includes some lentils and less ground beef to kind of round things out. Compared to that other recipe I made, though, this one definitely has a lot more veggies incorporated but other than that and the lentils, it’s the same basic process: cook the veggies, add in the liquid and the meat, let cook for a bit and dinner’s served.

While there’s definitely something to be said about going old school with this meal, I like this version as a healthier alternative that gets all kinds of vegetables into the mix. Since my wife and I have been watching our calorie intakes, these sandwiches are a good alternative that packs a good deal of flavor, doesn’t waste too many calories and also helps use up some of the lentils I’ve had in the pantry for quite a while, so that’s a win-win-win!

Bonus Food Pic: The VIP From The Stage Door Deli NYC

stage deli A few weeks back I found myself down in New York City covering an event called Toy Fair. After hitting all my meetings and checking out everything I intended to, I made my way back to Penn Station with almost two hours to kill. I thought about taking the connecting train over to Secaucus and just hanging out in that station maybe getting something from the Dunkin Donuts, but then I remembered eating at a place right across from the station called the Stage Door Deli that my dad and I went to a year ago before seeing Van Halen. This place has gigantic sandwiches and I hadn’t eaten anything that day since breakfast (the food at the convention center looked dubious) so I decided to go for it.

After perusing the menu and remembering that whatever I got the first time was a little dry, I decided to try The VIP which comes stacked with “Turkey, Baked Virginia Ham, Swiss Cheese, Coleslaw and Russian Dressing.” They also automatically bring out some cole slaw and a few pickles, but I decided to go for a few beers (Stellas) and had a nice little meal for myself. And by little, I mean stomach-bursting. Just look how big that sandwich is!

Is this the greatest sandwich I’ve ever head? Nah, man, not even close. But, it’s a cool NYC experience to have every now and then when you haven’t eaten all day and want to stuff what looks like at least a pound of lunchmeat in your face. Good times.

Bonus Food Pic: The P&G Dip

p and g dipA few days after Thanksgiving this year, my wife, daughter, parents and I went to New Paltz to walk around and do some shopping. I was personally thankful for this trip because it gave me the opportunity to eat something aside from turkey. Don’t get me wrong, I liked how my turkey turned out, but I can only take so much of the same thing. We went to a place in town called P&G’s that we’ve been to a few times and always enjoyed.

I went with the P&Gs Dip and a side order of mac and cheese. The sandwich is described thusly on the menu: “Thin sliced roast beef with melted Provolone cheese on a garlic hard roll, served with dipping jus.” And it was just that! Beef, glorious beef with melty cheese dipped in beef juice? Yes, I’ll take that all day long. The mac and cheese was good too, but the real star of the side dishes we ordered were the eggplant fries served with marinara sauce. Holy crap, what a great idea that is and a great alternative to regular fries, especially when you’ve got a kid like ours who loves herself some fries. Gotta figure out how to make those at home now!

Bonus Food Pics: French Onion Soup & A Ruben At Fox Fiddle

The week before last I didn’t write any posts here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. I played it coy a bit, but as I explained over on Pop Poppa in my Photo Diary posts, I was actually commuting into the city with my dad and mother-in-law to visit my wife who was in the hospital post-surgery. Everything went well and she’s back home healing up.

Of course, you’ve still got to eat and after a few days of hospital cafeteria food, we decided to head out and get something. We were originally going to go to Chickpea, but it happened to be pretty full and I saw the sign for Fox N Fiddle and redirected us thataway. It’s an Irish pub which meant there would be two things there that I wanted: non crappy food (or at least less crappy food, depending on how Irish it really was) and beer.

I wound up getting a few Samuel Adams’ winter seasonal beers, then had a crock of French Onion Soup and followed that up with a Ruben. I probably wasn’t the best judge of anything that day, but I thought both the soup and sandwich were pretty darn good. I left very satisfied and didn’t feel like it was too expensive, which can easily happen at places in NYC.

New Hampshire Bonus Food Pics: Steak Bombs, Cinnamon Buns & Breakfast

Two weekends back, we headed to New Hampshire to attend the surprise birthday of my wife’s long time friend. While there we hit up a few restaurants and ate some food I just had to brag about.

Just take a second to behold the glory that is a New England steak bomb sandwich. I don’t even know what’s in it, but I love it and want to eat one every day of my life, a life that would probably be all the shorter for such an experience. Anyway, this particular sandwich of the gods came from a place near my inlaws’ house called Giovanni’s and I highly recommend getting this food in your face if you can. Even after sitting in a bag on the way home, this was still a wonderful, cheesy thing of goodness.

Before heading home on Sunday, we went to breakfast at my inlaws’ favorite place, Janie’s. We’ve been there lots of times and I like that they always have a list of specials in addition to their regular menu. This time I got a bratwurst and sauerkraut filled omelet that was pretty tasty, but probably could have used more kraut. The real spotlight of the meal for me was that giant cinnamon roll I only ate half of so I could eat the rest for breakfast the next day. Man, I really need to get my oven fixed so I can figure out how to make these things, they’re my one real dessert weakness.

Vacation Bonus Food Pic: Supreme Roast Beef

One of the greatest points of food contention between my wife and I revolves around roast beef sandwiches. See, I come from Toledo, Ohio where you can only really get roast beef sandwiches at Arby’s, one of my all time favorite fast food restaurants. For years she’d tell me how gross Arby’s was and how great these little roast beef sandwich joints in New England were. I’ve had a few of these sandwiches and while they’re good, I still have a soft spot in my heart for the fast food version — heck, I might literally have a soft spot BECAUSE of said love.

Anyway, while on vacation last week, my wife had a hankering for a roast beef sandwich so I did some searching and found a place in nearby Gloucester, MA called Supreme Roast Beef. As I usually do when ordering such things, I just put a “X2” behind my wife’s order and wound up with a large roast beef with pepper sauce (basically the same thing as Arby’s sauce), mayo and pickles. And you know what? It was a damn tasty sandwich, no doubt about it. I guarantee I’d hit up a place like this here at home if there was one. So, Supreme Roast Beef, any interest in expanding to New York?

Vacation Bonus Food Pic: Willow’s Rest Sandwich

One of my favorite things about going someplace new is stumbling across really great restaurants. That’s what happened with a place near the house we rented in Gloucester, Mass last week called Willow Rest. Technically my mother in law had been there before so we already knew it was good, which was great because otherwise we might not have gone into this place that just looked like a gas station. In fact, it’s a full restaurant with baked good and also a pretty good sized market inside.

We stopped by for lunch and I got the above sandwich, which is called the Riverdale and featured sliced black forest ham with swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and honey mustard. It was a really solid sandwich with a really strong and awesome honey mustard that had a goodly amount of horseradish to my palette. Everything we got was great and I highly recommend hitting them  up if you can find a space either in the always-packed parking lot or the tiny dining room. It’ll be worth it.

Bonus Food Pic: Steak Teriyaki Sandwich In New Hampshire

One of the great things about traveling to different parts of the world is getting a chance to check out local foods. We go to New Hampshire roughly once every two months to visit my wife’s parents and there’s an aspect of the local food scenes that I’m a huge fan of. No, it’s not seafood (though I do like that), it’s local sandwich shops.

Where we live in New York, we have some sandwich shops, but they’re more delis than anything and they ALL feature Boar’s Head lunch meat exclusively. I’m not sure what the deal is there, but since I worked in a sandwich place in high school and college that used some really great meats not sold by BH, I’m not as big of a fan as everyone else.

Aside from that, though, you’re SOL. What NH has in spades is steak sandwich places. The favorite one of my inlaws is called All American Subs, I believe. The above picture was taken at a newer place that opened in the last year inside an old Taco Bell that I stopped in on one of my few solo outings in the past 15 months of fatherhood. It’s so simple to cook a bunch of steak or chicken, throw some cheese on and grill that I don’t know why more places around here don’t do that. Roast beef sandwiches along the lines of an Arbys are also very popular there. I hope to pick up some of those sandwiches in the next trip or two to the Hampsh.

Fiddlestix Bonus Food Pics: Cheesey Steak Sandwich & Cowboy Cakes

Hey, check it out, two more food pics from Fiddlestix, I’m sure you’re leaning back in your seat shocked. But, hey, when you find an awesome place to eat with variety, why go anywhere else? Above you can see a steak sandwich I got that was wonderful and slathered in portabello mushrooms, caramelized onions and cheddar cheese sauce.

We also went to the ‘Stix for Father’s Day breakfast and I got the Cowboy Cakes again. Man, this is a tasty breakfast that actually makes me want to get pancakes, something that doesn’t often happen. The way the peppers are cooked inside with some kind of awesome mystery spice or herb really mixed up into something amazing. I want to eat these every day.

Seriously, if you live anywhere near Cornwall, New York GO TO FIDDLESTIX. If it’s a weekend, you might see me there, I’m the one trying to quickly snap a picture of my food before diving in fork first.

Bonus Food Pic: Mix N Mac’s Cheese Steak Mac & Cheese

Several months ago my wife and I were in the nearby city of Middletown. While leaving the big mall there, I saw a tiny political-type sign jabbed in the ground for a new place called Mix N Mac. In a rare moment of my memory doing well by me, I remembered the name and looked it up when we got home. We actually haven’t traveled out to Middletown in quite a while, but we did last week and decided to check the restaurant out.

Here’s the deal, you go in, choose a kind of mac and cheese (click the link and download the menu to see all the options, they also have weekly or monthly specials), the kind of noodles, cheese and then it goes into the oven. I went with the Cheese Steak kind while my wife checked out the Buffalo version. We even got our daughter a kid’s size regular. I’ve got to say, the food was amazing. I tried all three and was impressed with how different they all tasted. With something like this, it wouldn’t be out of the question if everything kind of tasted the same, so I was glad that each one was different.

There is a bit of a problem, though. Since they make everything to order, this can take a long time. When we got to the place there were two people working and maybe four customers in front of us, plus several carry out orders. It took a good deal of time to actually get our food. The fact that the sun was beating in through the windows and our daughter didn’t want to sit still made for something of a bad experience. But then we got the food and all was forgiven. So, if you feel like giving this place a shot — and I recommend doing so — call ahead and eat your food elsewhere.

Bonus Food Pic: The Betterman From Fiddlestix

Hey look, it’s another picture of food from Fiddlestix in Cornwall. It must seem like this is the only place we eat at and, well, that’s because it’s kind of true. I love this place because they do so many specials every single week. I’m a big fan of variety and they’ve got it, so I’m a big fan of Fiddlestix. I’m also a big, big fan of this sandwich, The Betterman, which was unfortunately a special. I say unfortunately because it was so face-slappingly amazing that I want to eat it all day every day. You’ve got sliced roast beef with caramelized onions and…well, I forget. There might have been blue cheese involved? I was so excited about putting this in my face, that I just dove right in and didn’t take any notes about what I was eating. I should also point out that Fiddlestix also changes their pasta salad on a regular basis. While there have been plenty of tasty versions, they went creamy with this one and I love that style. Great stuff, as always.

Bonus Food Pic: Fiddlestix Special Sandwich

Months ago, I had the greatest sandwich of my life at Fiddlestix. I didn’t take a picture of it and it was one of the daily or weekly specials, so I have no idea what it was. I think it was steak, caramelized onions, bleu cheese and maybe a few other things. A few weeks ago, when I saw this roast beef sandwich on the specials list, I got really excited. And, it was good, but it wasn’t the same thing I remembered. All in all, though, it was a very tasty sandwich in its own right. Man, I really love that place.

Bonus Food Pic: Mama Theresa’s Napolitano Sub

In addition to making killer pizza, Mama Theresa’s also knows how to make a mean sub. Every now and then, when I don’t feel like cooking and we don’t want anything too complicated, but still want to avoid fast feed, we break out the Mama Theresa’s menu and each pick out a sandwich. This here is the Napolitano which includes prosciutto, sopressata, ham, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, lettuce, tomato and Italian dressing. It’s a tasty combination and since I’ve been to their other store, I know that this stuff is legit.

St. Patrick’s Day Weekend Food Pics

In the past, I’ve had less than great luck with corn beef and food on St. Patrick’s Day. For a while there, it seems like gnarly corn beef was attracted to me like a magnet and bad metal. It’s okay, though, I’ve gotten past it and actually had some amazing CB in my life, especially this week. I didn’t bother making anything St. Patrick’s themed because it landed on the weekend and I tend to take those off for cooking. We wound up heading to a few of our favorite restaurants this weekend, all of which had wonderful Irish-themed food. You know you want to see the pictures, so scroll on down! On Friday, we headed over to King’s Pommes Frites in Cornwall and got their corn beef specials. These weren’t Reubens because they didn’t have sauerkraut and the bread was a sesame roll, but they were still quite tasty. Obviously, Reubens aren’t Irish, but they do utilize corn beef, so there’s the connection. But who cares! I went to Ireland about 12 years back and the food wasn’t all that great. In fact, this was one of two German dishes I had last weekend. Oh, my wife and I got the same thing, but we also tried a pair of new sauces: Horseradish and Basil, both were fantastic and highly recommended.

On actual St. Patrick’s Day, we headed to Fiddlestix, also in Cornwall, for breakfast or lunch, whichever you please. I went with lunch because they had something called The St. Patrick’s Day Sneak Peek or soemthing along those lines. This was all Irish (as far as I know). The corn beef was tender and juicy, some of the best I’ve ever had and those mashed potatoes actually had horseradish in them and were super tasty (I’m gonna have to remember than one in the future). The cabbage was a little bland, but with all those other flavors going on, that wasn’t such a terrible thing. Lastly, but in no way least, you can see a thick piece of Irish Soda Bread. I haven’t had a lot of this in my life, but this piece was MAGIC. It actually tasted a bit like French toast and I’m a little surprised that wasn’t on the menu. Maybe next year! Billy Joe’s Ribworks also had a series of Irish themed meals on Sunday, which was nice. We decided to go on a whim and weren’t even expecting that, so it was a nice surprise. I thought about getting some more corn beef, but instead I went with kielbasa which came with some amazing sauerkraut and Irish soda bread as well as two sides–I went with macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes because I love both of those things in my mouth. We also got out first and only…green beer! It’s Bud Light which probably explains why they were able to get such an electric green. Everything was super tasty. Again, I know I was eating German food while celebrating and Irish-themed holiday, but I do not care. Any time I can get quality kielbasa next to mashed potatoes and mac and cheese, I am golden.

Bonus Food Pic: Grilled Cheese With Ham & Fries From King’s Pommes Frites

King’s Pommes Frites
255 Main Street
Cornwall, NY 12518
(845) 534-1500

I’ve been sitting on this picture for a while and I’m not sure why. Just look at how delicious the above plate of food looks. I’ve talked about King’s before, and we’ve gone there a number of times. If you’re unfamiliar with them, they are a fry place in Cornwall that has 30 or sauces for dipping as well as daily and weekly specials that are served either on top of or on the side of fries. In this pic from a few months back, you can see that I got a ham and cheddar grilled cheese and, I believe, some ranch dipping sauce, though it might be olive. I’ve tried and very much like both. If you’re anywhere near Cornwall, do yourself a favor and check out King’s.

Restaurant Review: Main Course

Main Course
175 Main Street
New Paltz, NY 12561
(845) 255 2600

By now we’ve eaten at most of the places of interest on New Paltz’s main drag. There’s a few we haven’t hit up yet, but they’re a little more upscale and we’re usually wearing T-shirts when we head out there (I absolutely hate being under-dressed). A few trips back we noticed a place a little bit closer to the highway called Main Course that we decided to check out tonight. As far as I can tell from the website, the business started off as a catering company and somewhat recently opened up a restaurant. They boast “Farm to table foods and catering” on their signs and menus. Seemed like an interesting enough concept and the building itself looks so nice that I was actually worried I would be under-dressed. As it turns out, the place while quite nice inside, actually sells sandwiches, salads, soup, bread, bakery, sides and a handful of daily specials of the dinner variety, so we were good to go. Even though it’s been pretty darn hot lately, I decided to start off with their Tomato Basil Soup With Goat Cheese. I’m a big fan of this soup and quite enjoyed Main Course’s version. The tomatoes tasted really fresh and while the basil wasn’t very prominent I think they put in lemon, lemon zest or possibly lemon grass to add some acidic pizzazz. There could have been more goat cheese, but overall, I really dug this and so did my wife. It was a departure from the usual flavor profile, but I liked that. For my main meal, I ordered the (deep breath) Grilled Northwind Farm Hanger Steak which the menu described as coming with melted Cabot cheddar, fire roasted onions and portobello mushroom hash. I also went with the potato salad side dish. I started off by tasting the potato salad because it looked the most intriguing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen on with the taters cut thin like that, potato chip-style. The dressing itself was tangy with the onions giving it all some kick. I still like my mom’s mustard covered potato salad best, but this was pretty good, another nice take on something familiar. I tried the pickle next which is made in house and came with a few clumps of soaked dill. They weren’t super sour like I usually like my pickles (the ones in NY tend to be pretty weak as far as I’m concerned), but these reminded me of a dill chip dip and almost tasted a little creamy. Really good stuff.

Then I finally tried my sandwich and it was just okay. The Cabot cheddar and roasted onions were great, but the meat didn’t really add much to the flavor and now that I think about it, I’m not sure if there was any portobello hash on mine. If so, I didn’t notice it whatsoever and only remembered it was supposed to be on the dish when reading the menu for this post. My wife let me taste her Smoked Turkey sandwich which just about made me fall of my chair it was so good. She only wound up eating half of hers, so she let me finish her avocado, roasted pepper, cheddar and chipotle aioli covered mound of awesomeness. After working for years in a bagel place back home in Toledo, I have a strong love of smoked and honey roast turkey, this being the best I’ve had since moving out here. All those wonderful flavors mixed together so well to make a really enjoyable sandwich eating experience, rivaling the one I had last weekend at The Cheese Plate even. I even decided to get dessert, something I rarely do. While my wife went with the huckleberry pie, I got a coconut macaroon. I generally like coconut and thought (maybe erroneously, like I said, I’m no dessert expert by any means) that it’s generally a light sugary delight. This one wound up being pretty big–like if one golf ball ate another or more succinctly a big lemon–and really citrusy. I really enjoyed the first few bites, but couldn’t finish because the flavors did not mix well and wound up tasting bitter by the end.

Overall, I liked Main Course and would go back there, but they have a LOT of competition in New Paltz. It doesn’t help that they’re not among all the other restaurants. You’ve got to walk a little further or drive to get there, something that won’t help them when we’re trying to figure out what to eat after looking around the boutiques, book stores and record shops. But, like I said, good stuff for the most part and I like any place that mixes up their menu by tossing in specials, which Main Course definitely does.

A Whirlwind Weekend Of Food Firsts

I’ve been having a lot of food epiphanies lately and one of them is that I want to try new things. My mom always said I was always a great kid to cook for because I was never picky and enjoyed pretty much everything she put in front of me. As I grew up, I think I got a little more closed off, especially if a food looked or sounded unfamiliar. But now, I’m opening myself back up and want to eat as many new foods as I can, which is exactly what I did this weekend. My wife’s parents came in for a visit, which always means lots of eating out, but I made a conscious effort to look at the parts of familiar menus I’d only glanced over previously and wound up having a variety of great new foods that me from a few years ago would probably have balked at. I wish I had taken more pictures, but I was so excited about actually eating that I forgot that I wanted to start writing about the process. Anyway, here goes.

Edamame, Avocado Salad & Zhang Zhang Guo
QQ Asian Bistro
367 Windsor Highway
New Windsor, NY 12553
(845) 569-7108

QQ is a fairly new Asian bistro near our place that serves a variety of Asian food from Chinese and Thai to sushi. I’ve gotten food from there a number of times, but Friday was the first time we ever dined in. We started the meal of with edamame and Thai Herbal Calamari which were both new experiences. I’ve had edamame a number of times before, but at QQ, they salt the pea pods, so they wind up having a little extra flavor when you pop them in your mouth. Some might have been overly salty, but for the most part I enjoyed the added flavor. Meanwhile, the Thai Herbal Calamri came very lightly fried and had a nice taste to it. I’m no squid expert, so I have no idea how fresh it was or tasted, but it was an enjoyable dish. I wanted to try the squid salad, but the sushi chef informed the waitress that that was a no go, so I wound up trying the Avocado Salad. A simple dish made up of slices of avocado on top of a bed of lettuce with a gingery dressing that was pretty good. I figured I needed some greens in my life, plus I always enjoy trying new dressings. Then came the main course, which for me was Zhang Zhang Guo. The menu describes the dish as “Soup style noodle pot with chicken, shrimp and scallop.” I was intrigued and dove right in. The pot also included octopus or squid, I’m not sure which, but the bowl, when uncovered, revealed tiny purplish tentacles sticking up like something out of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. It was exactly what I was looking for. I dove in alternating between chopsticks and a spoon, quite enjoying the spicy, seafood filled soup. The broth was enjoyable and again, I’m not a seafood expert, but I liked what I had, though I’m not sure if the squid/octopus flavors really jumped out. A few days out, I couldn’t tell you what they tasted like, but I know I liked what I had.

Reheated zhang zhang guo, minus seafood.

I actually just heated the leftovers up for lunch and it tasted just as good the second time around, though it only consisted of broth and noodles. That same spiciness was still there and lasted for a while, but it was a good kind of spicy, the kind I’m getting used to after avoiding hot stuff most of my life.

Soppressata, Sheep’s Cheese, Olive Tapenade & Tomato Sandwich
The Cheese Plate
Water Street Market
10 Main St.
New Paltz, NY 12561

On Saturday, the inlaws wanted to head to New Paltz, a combination liberal arts college town and hippie strongold about 30-40 minutes from where we live. As you would expect from such a place, they have a unique version of a strip mall called Water Street Market that looks more like two sides of a small town’s main street up on a hill and separated by a sidewalk. There’s a few antique stores, a pet boutique and a wonderful place I’d never been to before called The Cheese Plate. As I tend to do, I hadn’t eaten breakfast before leaving, so when we got to the Market, I was getting hungry. While the others walked around, I ducked into the good smelling place, looked around for a bit and decided on ordering the Soppressata, Sheep’s Cheese, Olive Tapenade & Tomato Sandwich. I’d never had soppressata or sheep’s cheese before but wound up really enjoying this snack (okay, it was actually pretty filling, but I still had a dinner coming up to focus on, so I told myself and my traveling companions that it was a snack). The sheep’s cheese had a nice bite to it, kind of like Swiss cheese as far as my inexperienced tongue could tell, though I didn’t detect the gaminess that people talk about when discussing sheep or goat cheese. The soppressata–a cured salami made from ham–that lives somewhere around salami and pepperoni in my mind and on my tongue was so tasty I want ro add it to my life on a regulat basis. It wasn’t spicy, but had some tingliness to it that I appreciated. All that combined with the tartness of the olive tapenade made for a delightful sandwich that I relished eating while first walking around and then while sitting on one side of a table set up with a chess board. I could eat that every single day. If you’re in the New Paltz area, I highly recommend stopping by and trying one of their sandwiches or just buying some bulk cheese or even some cured meat. My wife dug the brownie I got for her, but that’s not really my scene, you dig?

The view at Billy Joe

Catfish Po’ Boy
Billy Joe’s Ribworks
26 Front Street
Newburgh NY, 12550
(845) 565-1560
I’ve talked about Billy Joe’s Ribworks before. After enjoying it so much the first time around, it’s become one of our favorite places. I even had my birthday lunch/dinner/eating-before-the-Superbowl there this past February. I usually stick to some combination of meats that always leaves me very satisfied. After chowing down on the awesome soppressata sandwich, though, I wasn’t as hungry as usual. I still wanted to try something new, so I scanned the sandwich section of the menu and wound up getting the Catfish Po’ Boy. As far as I can remember, I’ve never had a po’ boy or catfish, so I was still able to try something brand new. The menu describes it as “Catfish Fillet Dredged in Cornmeal and Spices, Fried Golden Brown and Served on a Soft Hoagie Roll with House-Made Cole Slaw, Pickles and Cajun Remoulade.” When it was served, I first tried a chunk of the fried catfish and really liked the cornmeal crust on top, plus the fish itself was nice and light. The sandwich itself was pretty good, but I wish the remoulade had more of a flavor to it. I’m a strong believer that a sauce can save a boring sandwich and elevate a good one to greatness. This one was just good, but it still opened my eyes to the joys of catfish. Plus, we got to sit outside on their awesome deck which sits over the Hudson River!