Thursday, May 25, 2017

Pepito (Steak Sandwich)

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I love Mexican food in all forms, whether it's traditional or Americanized (fajitas, I'm looking at you!). I'm a huge fan of all the incredible spices used in Mexican cooking, and pretty much anything wrapped in a tortilla has got my vote. Wash it down with an ice cold margarita and it's a really good day.


In all my years eating Mexican food, I had never been introduced to tortas, or Mexican sandwiches. I guess I never thought a sandwich on bread (not wrapped in a tortilla) was truly Mexican, but apparently they are very popular street food in Mexico, so who am I to argue.


I am particularly intrigued by the pepito, which is a Mexican steak sandwich. This ain't no Philly cheesesteak, folks, but it is a darn good steak sandwich if you like your meat wrapped in carbs (I sure do!).


I quartered the recipe below, making a single weeknight sandwich for myself using a 1/4 pound of frozen (thawed) sirloin steak tips I had leftover from making something previously.


This sandwich is so easy to make, and comes together very quickly once you've gathered your ingredients. The steak is sliced thin so it cooks in seconds, and then once you grill your buttered baguette halves the rest is just assembly.


Slather some mayo and mustard on the top, a bit of refried black beans on the bottom, and garnish those slices of juicy steak with some thinly sliced onion, avocado, and pickled jalapenos, and the result is a well-balanced sandwich with a myriad of flavors and textures.


Creaminess from the beans and avocado mingles with tender steak and crunchy onion, with a hint of spice and acidity from the jalapenos. Holy moly, it sure is good! I will never overlook the almighty Mexican torta ever again.


Pepito (Steak Sandwich)
Makes 4
(From Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales)

1 pound boneless beef tederloin, or strip or rib eye steaks, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices (I used sirloin steak tips)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 generous teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 juicy lime
Olive or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 baguette, cut into 4 equal pieces and split
1/2 cup refried black beans, homemade or canned
3 tablespoons mayonnaise or crema
4 teaspoons Dijon or yellow mustard
Sliced pickled jalapenos, for topping
Thinly sliced white onion, for topping
Sliced ripe Mexican Hass avocado, for topping

Heat a large skillet or grill pan over high heat. Lay the beef on a large plate, and season it generously with salt and pepper on both sides. Pour the Worcestershire sauce and squeeze the lime over both sides of the beef.

Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the skillet in a very thin layer. Working in batches to avoid crowding the skillet, cook the beef until browned on both sides, 30 to 45 seconds per side. Transfer the beef to a clean plate to rest.

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Spread the butter evenly over the cut sides of the baguette. Cook the baguette pieces, buttered sides down, in the skillet until they are light golden brown and crisp, but still soft in the middle, a minute or two.

Spread a layer of beans (a tablespoon or two) over the baguette bottoms. Spread the mayonnaise and mustard over the baguette tops. Place the beef slices on the baguette bottoms, cutting and stacking the beef if necessary so it fits neatly on the baguette. Top with sliced pickled jalapenos, thinly sliced white onion, slices of ripe Mexican Hass avocado, and a pinch of salt. Cover with the baguette tops and press firmly but gently.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Asparagus and Leek Soup with Poached Egg

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Although I will certainly pass on the hottest of summer days, I generally enjoy eating soup year round. There are seasonal ingredients that can make an absolutely stellar soup that you will not find in season in the cooler fall and winter months.


Asparagus is a perfect example. It's best enjoyed in the spring, and this Asparagus and Leek Soup with Poached Egg is a mighty fine way to showcase it.


You actually use all parts of the asparagus in different ways. The tough ends are simmered in stock to impart their flavor into the soup base, while the tips are sauteed as a final garnish. The middle parts make up the bulk of the soup, and are simmered with leeks, a bit of white wine, and the asparagus-and-leek infused stock before getting pureed into a velvety smooth pale green soup packed with tons of flavor.


The soup on its own is excellent, but the real pièce de résistance is the small orb of poached egg dropped into the center of the soup releasing its rich, runny yolk when pierced with a spoon. It makes a lovely light lunch, and would be even more satisfying when accompanied by a hot and gooey grilled cheese (because why not).


Asparagus and Leek Soup with Poached Egg
Makes 8 servings
(From Soup Swap)

2 1/2 pounds asparagus
1 large leek
7 cups vegetable stock (I used chicken broth)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (I used scallions)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 scallions, trimmed, white and green sections very thinly sliced
1 egg per serving, preferably organic

Cut about 2 inches off the tough root ends of each asparagus spear; reserve the remaining asparagus. Trim off the dark green section of the leek and coarsely chop. Halve the pale green and white section lengthwise, rinse under cold water, and pat dry; reserve.

In a medium saucepan, combine the tough asparagus ends and the dark green leek pieces. Add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the tips off the top of the remaining asparagus spears and set aside. Cut the middle sections crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Cut the pale green and white section of the leek crosswise into thin pieces.

In a large stockpot over low heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the remaining leek pieces and the chives, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the asparagus pieces from the middle of the stalks and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn the heat to high, add the wine, and bring to a boil.

Strain the stock from the medium saucepan into the large stockpot (discarding the tough asparagus stems and dark green leek pieces) and return to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes.

Using a food processor or blender and working in batches or using a handheld immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Return the soup to the pot. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, warm the remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Add the scallions and cook for 4 minutes, or until they begin to turn a rich golden brown. Add the asparagus tips and lemon zest, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until the asparagus tips are almost tender.

Bring a pot of water to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Crack the eggs into the pot, one at a time, and simmer for 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the eggs, one at a time, to paper towels to drain. Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter or a small sharp knife, cut around each egg white to create a small, perfect circle with just a bit of white.

Ladle the soup into mugs or bowls and, using a flat spatula, carefully place a poached egg in the center of each. Sprinkle with some asparagus-tip topping around the egg, avoiding the yolk, and serve.

*Note* I actually halved the recipe when I made it, and it turned out great!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Cherry Pie That'll Kill Ya

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Twin Peaks premiered in 1990, begging the question of "who killed Laura Palmer." It didn't premiere in my own life until many years later when I studied film in college, and took a class on David Lynch, the peculiar film director and creator of Twin Peaks.


The class on Lynch was one of my favorite film studies classes, and I was one of few students who managed to earn an A in the class. My final paper discussing the linear evolution of morality (or lack thereof) through three of his films (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Lost Highway) is still one of my proudest achievements as a graduate of the film program at BU.


It comes as no surprise that over a decade later I still have an intense love and appreciation for David Lynch's work. Some may think he's off his rocker (and perhaps he is to some extent), but that's what makes him such an amazing artist and storyteller.


On Sunday May 21st, Showtime is bringing back Twin Peaks with a look and these characters and their lives 25 years after the show's finale. I am so excited! Twin Peaks is such a cult classic, and most people who have taken the time to watch the show at some point in their lives have formed a level of appreciation or even obsession.


In honor of this truly momentous occasion, I've decided to pay homage to Special Agent Dale Cooper and his beloved cherry pie. Take a moment to flash back to the 90's in the video clip below.


"A cherry pie that'll kill ya" and a "damn fine cup of coffee" are only a couple of the food and drink references that cult followers of the show will remember. There are LOTS of them. I can't think of a better way to revisit these perplexing, sometimes crazy, incredibly nostalgic characters from Twin Peaks than by digging into a slice of my own cherry pie alongside a damn fine cup of coffee.


This cherry pie is not super traditional, but it IS super good. Instead of a standard double crust (lattice or full top crust), it features a crumbly, lightly spiced streusel topping. Sweet cherries will be plentiful as the weather warms up more, so for the purposes of this mid-May pie I used frozen sweet cherries, and PS they are already pitted so that definitely saves you the trouble of pitting them yourselves.


As an aside, check out this adorable plush Minnie Mouse from my vast collection. She is wearing pajamas adorned with images of steaming cherry pies and plump cherries, and precious pie-shaped slippers! She is a perfect companion for enjoying this cherry pie and snuggling up for some Twin Peaks action on Showtime this upcoming Sunday night.


I shall leave you with some wise words from Special Agent Dale Cooper: "Harry, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it. Don't wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee." Or perhaps a slice of this pie. Enjoy!


Sweet Cherry Streusel Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie; Serves 8 to 10
(Adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book)

All-Butter Single-Crust:
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/4 cup ice

Pre-baking Crust:
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon water

Streusel Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, at room temperature

Filling:
1 small baking apple
5 cups sweet cherries, pitted (fresh is preferable, but frozen works perfectly fine--just don't thaw the frozen cherries, and add a bit of extra baking time as needed if using frozen versus fresh)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons potato starch (I used tapioca starch)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 dashes Angostura bitters

For the crust: Stir the flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula. With a pastry blender (or your fingers), cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; be careful not to overblend).

Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or bowl. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut it in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated. Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using the bench scraper or your hands (or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining. Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine.

Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow. Wrapped tightly, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.

To partially pre-bake the crust, preheat the oven to 425°F and place baking sheet on a rack on the lowest position. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness and carefully lay it into a 9-inch pie pan or dish, being careful not to stretch the dough. Trim the edges and crimp as desired. Refrigerate the crust for about 30 minutes to allow it to set. Prick all over the bottom and sides with a fork about 15 to 20 times. Line the crust with a piece of parchment paper and fill it with pie weights or dry beans. Place the pie on the preheated baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, until the crimped edges are set but not browned.

Remove the pan and the baking sheet from the oven, lift out the parchment and the pie weights and let the crust cool for a minute. Beat together the egg white and water. Use a pastry brush to coat the bottom and sides with a thin layer of egg white glaze to moistureproof the crust. Return the pan, on the baking sheet, to the oven's middle rack and continue baking for 3 more minutes. Remove and cool completely before filling.

For the streusel: Stir together the flour, brown and granulated sugars, and salt in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the butter pieces and toss to coat. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the butter is incorporated and the mixture is chunky but not homogenous. Chill for at least 15 minutes before using. The streusel will keep refrigerated for 5 days or frozen for 1 month.

Position the oven racks in the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack and preheat the oven to 425°F.

Peel the apple, and then shred it on the large holes of a box grater. Combine the shredded apple with the cherries, lemon juice, brown sugar, potato starch, cinnamon, cardamom, and bitters in a large bowl and toss until well mixed. Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell and evenly distribute the streusel on top.

Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown. Lower the oven temperature to 375°F, move the pie to the center oven rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, 30 to 35 minutes longer (I used frozen cherries, so mine baked an extra 50 minutes instead--cover the edges of the crust with foil as needed if it is browning too quickly).

Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Great Chowder Cook-Off 2017 Preview

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As a native Rhode Islander, the Annual Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, RI has always been a staple to start summer on the right foot. This year will be the 36th year that competitors from throughout Rhode Island and beyond gather together to compete for the best clam chowder, the best seafood chowder, and this year for the first time the best red "Manhattan" chowder.


I shared a look at the 30th Annual Great Chowder Cook-Off several years ago, and am looking forward to sharing my experiences at this year's festival in an upcoming post (so stay tuned for that!).


This year the festival features "chowdah" from past winners as well as many newbies from around the state (and out of state) including Brix at Newport Vineyards in Middletown, Chapel Grille in Cranston, Charlie O’s from Narragansett, Ocean Catch Seafood of Wakefield, Red Stripe in Providence and East Greenwich, and Revolving Door in Newport. We'll also be seeing some chowder from across the pond in Ireland! I can't wait to start tasting!


The 36th Annual Great Chowder Cook-Off will take place on Saturday June 10th from noon to 6 pm at Fort Adam's State Park. Advance tickets to the Great Chowder Cook-Off are on sale for $20 through June 9th with day of tickets priced at $25. Children are admitted free if under the age of 12 and accompanied by a paid adult. You may purchase tickets at www.newportwaterfrontevents.com or order by phone by calling Ticketmaster at 800-745- 3000.

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