Thursday, October 19, 2017

Chile con Queso

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It's still football season, which means it's still my favorite time of the year. I'm also a big fan of fall, so that definitely helps too! One of my favorite things about football season is coming up with fun ideas for snacks to make while enjoying the game.


I recently planned a football-watching get-together with some good friends, and the result was a plethora of Tex Mex favorites. We had some layer dip, a taco ring, and of course molten hot chile con queso, made from scratch.


I know you can simply buy a jar of queso and stick it in the microwave, or melt together a block of Velveeta with a jar of salsa, but what's the fun in that? It's actually quite easy to make queso from scratch, and it's so tasty! I used my beloved homemade pickled jalapenos to really make it special.


What really took it over the edge for me was finding a bag of Tostitos emblazoned with the logo for the FIVE TIME SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS!! Yep, I was willing to shell out extra, and skip over any sale brands of tortilla chips for the one marketing itself directly to me, a die hard Pats fan. Oh Tostitos, you really got me!


Regardless of who you are rooting for this Sunday (or Monday or Thursday), this chile con queso is so easy to make, and totally satisfies that gooey cheese, spicy, snacky craving at game time.


Chile con Queso
Makes about 4 cups
(From Tacolicious)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 pound Velveeta cheese, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 (7-ounce) can Ortega brand diced green chiles, drained
3/4 cup diced canned tomatoes with juice
1/4 cup drained canned or jarred sliced pickled jalapeno chiles
Tortilla chips, for dipping

Combine the oil, onion, and garlic in a saucepan over medium heat and cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the cheese and stir frequently until melted. Add the green chiles, tomatoes, and pickled jalapenos and stir until heated through.

Transfer to a serving bowl and serve warm with tortilla chips for dipping.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Butternut Squash and Prosciutto Grilled Cheese

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As much as I enjoy a nice classic grilled cheese with good ol' American cheese smothered between slices of white bread, it really pales in comparison to a more gourmet version of the sandwich using fancier cheese, better bread, and generally more sophisticated ingredients.


For a seasonal variation, this grilled cheese stuffed with roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions, and paper-thin slices of prosciutto is the way to go. Two kinds of cheese join to create a perfect marriage of gooey delight. The original recipe calls for Fontina Val d'Aosta and Idiazábal, but I substituted a nutty good-quality aged Gruyère for the latter.


My roasted butternut squash was not particularly sweet, and yet it balanced so beautifully with the slightly salty prosciutto. I used sourdough from my local Whole Foods, where I also purchased the prosciutto and the cheeses.


It crisped up beautifully in my skillet, although the "sage star" that the recipe directs you to make on one side of the sandwich didn't really work for me. The sage leaves just fell off while cooking, but still made a fun little garnish for my plate.


Butternut Squash and Prosciutto Grilled Cheese (aka Butternut Buster Grilled Cheese)
Serves 2

1 small butternut squash, peeled, halved lengthwise, and seeds and strings removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 small yellow onion, cut into 1/4-in dice
1 tablespoon salted butter, at room temperature
4 slices rustic artisan bread such as levain, sourdough, or white
8 fresh sage leaves
2 slices Italian-style fontina cheese, preferably Fontina Val d’Aosta
2 oz (55 g) thinly sliced prosciutto or speck
1 oz (25 g) Idiazábal cheese, grated (sub Gruyère cheese if you can't find it)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil and coat well with nonstick cooking spray.

Cut the squash into slices about 1/4 in thick. Pile the squash on the prepared baking sheet, drizzle with the olive oil, and sprinkle with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Toss to coat well and spread the squash slices to lie flat in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork and just beginning to brown. (If the squash begins to brown before softening, sprinkle with water and cover with foil.) Transfer to a wire rack and let cool on the pan. Set aside four of the cooked squash slices and store the rest for another use.

While the squash is roasting, warm the vegetable oil in a small skillet over low heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and stir to combine. Cover and cook, stirring every couple of minutes, until the onion is translucent and soft, about 8 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to medium, and cook, stirring often to prevent scorching, until the onion is the color of light brown sugar, about 5 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Heat a cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.

Spread the butter on one side of each bread slice, dividing it evenly. Place two slices, buttered-side up, on a clean cutting board. Carefully lay four of the sage leaves on each piece in a star pattern and, using your fingers, smear a little butter over the sage stars to hold them in place during cooking. Set aside on a corner of the cutting board.

Place the remaining bread, buttered-side down, on the cutting board. Layer half of the caramelized onions, one slice of the fontina, half of the reserved cooked squash, half of the prosciutto, and half of the Idiazábal on top of each. Finish with the decorated breads, sage stars facing up (my sage leaves fell off while cooking so I just sprinkled them on the plate for decoration).

Using a wide spatula, place both sandwiches in the pan with the sage stars facing down, cover, and cook until the bottoms are nicely browned, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook until the second sides are browned and the cheese is melted, about 4 minutes longer.

Cut the sandwiches in half, if desired, and serve immediately, with the sage stars facing up.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Brined Pork Milanese with Tomato-Balsamic Sauce

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Growing up, most of my experiences eating pork chops were less than enjoyable. The chops were usually terribly overcooked and dry. This is a common issue with pork chops, as they are quite lean and easy to overcook. There is also a misconception that pork needs to be cooked super well-done in order to be safe to eat. This simply isn't true. Pork is technically safe to eat at an internal temperature of 145 degrees F.


So you can begin by not cooking the hell out of your pork chops. That's definitely a start, but how do you boost the flavor and juiciness even more? Brine your pork chops in a simple orange-infused brine, bread it with a mixture of well-seasoned breadcrumbs and panko, and cook it to a crisp in a hot skillet!


Chicken and steak are both common proteins used for a Milanese preparation, but these pounded-thin pork chops are an excellent alternative. Served with a balsamic and lemon-infused tomato sauce laced with a bit of heat, this brined pork Milanese is beautiful way to serve pork chips without drying them out.


They retain a juicy interior while boasting a crisp crust on the outside. This is definitely one of my new favorite ways to serve pork chops. Please note that the original recipe only called for 2 pork chops for serving 4, but there is easily enough brine and sauce to make 4 chops (or even more), so I've adjusted the recipe below.


You will likely still have extra sauce even with 4 pork chops. The leftover sauce would work well on pizza and even pasta. Mine was reminiscent of a silky marinara, smoother than if I had used canned plum tomatoes. Either texture is fine depending on your preference.


Brined Pork Milanese with Tomato-Balsamic Sauce
Makes 4 servings
(Adapted from Share)

Brine and Pork Chops:
2 cups water
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar (I used raw sugar)
1/4 cup kosher salt
Zest strips of 1/2 large orange, removed with a vegetable peeler
1 1/2 quarts ice water
4 boneless pork chops, each 8 ounces

Tomato-Balsamic Sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed under a knife and peeled
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, coarsely crushed by hand (I use a can of tomato passata/puree because that's what I had on hand)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, preferably aged balsamic
1 teaspoon sugar

Coating:
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good quality dried breadcrumbs (you can also make your own by toasting up some fresh breadcrumbs)
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley (I didn't have any on hand, so I omitted this)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes

Vegetable oil, for frying

To brine the chops: Combine the water, sugar, salt, and orange zest in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar and salt. Transfer to a medium heatproof bowl, and stir in the ice water--the brine must be very cold.

Meanwhile, one at a time, place a pork chop between two sheets of plastic wrap. Pound the chop with the flat side of a meat pounder until it is about 1/3-inch thick. Put the pork in a 1-gallon zippered plastic bag and pour in the brine. Seal the bag tightly, place in a bowl, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 hours, no longer.

Meanwhile, make the sauce: Heat the oil and garlic together in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the garlic is toasted to golden brown, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the garlic. Stir the hot pepper flakes into the oil. Stir in the tomatoes with their juices and the lemon zest. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced, about 1 hour. During the last few minutes stir in the basil, oregano, balsamic vinegar, and sugar. Season to taste with salt as needed. The sauce can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Reheat before serving.

To coat the pork chops: Remove the pork from the marinade and pat it dry with paper towels. Spread the flour in a wide shallow bowl. Beat the eggs, salt, and pepper together in a second shallow bowl. Mix the breadcrumbs, panko, parsley, lemon zest, and hot pepper flakes in a third bowl. One at a time, coat the pork in the flour, shaking off the excess, then dip on both sides in the egg mixture and coat evenly with the panko mixture, patting it in gently to adhere. Transfer to a platter. Let the pork stand for about 10 minutes to set the coating.

Line a large baking sheet with paper towels. Pour enough oil into a very large skillet to come 1/4-inch (I used less) up the sides and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the pork to the oil and cook, adjusting the heat so the pork bubbles steadily in the oil without browning too quickly, until the underside is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Turn the pork over and brown the other side, about 3 minutes more. Transfer to the paper towels and drain briefly. Cut each pork chop crosswise into 1/2-inch strips (or serve them whole as I did). Transfer to a platter and serve immediately, with the tomato sauce on the side.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Hot Reuben Dip

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I ate my first Reuben sandwich pretty late in life, but it was extraordinary. I had never really been a corned beef kinda girl, but the combination of corned beef, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and Swiss cheese smothered together between crisp rye bread is exceptional. I'm officially a fan.


I'm also a fan of making my own sauerkraut because it's crazy easy to do, and tastes way better than store-bought. Mine is less mushy and still retains a bit of crunch, which is how I prefer it.




Put together a batch of homemade sauerkraut and the need for Sunday football snacks, and the result is this simultaneously gooey and creamy hot Reuben dip. It's combines all of the flavors of a classic Reuben in a spoonable, spreadable mixture that makes it easy for snacking atop rye toasts.

Ready to bake

Bubbly and delicious!

The mayonnaise, Heinz chili sauce, and pickles make up the Thousand Island dressing portion of the dip.


I couldn't find cocktail rye bread at my local supermarket, so I opted to purchase regular rye bread and slice it into thirds before toasting in the toaster oven, making the pieces approximately the same size I would imagine as cocktail rye bread (give or take).


I challenge any Reuben aficionado to try this dip without falling head over heels. Crack open a beer and kick up your feet. This is pure comfort especially now as the weather FINALLY begins to cool down.


Hot Reuben Dip
Serves 6 to 8
(From Beer Bites)

8 ounces (225 g) Jarlsberg or Swiss cheese, shredded
4 ounces (115 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup (150 g) drained sauerkraut (mine was homemade)
4 ounces (115 g) corned beef, chopped
1/4 cup (40 g) minced dill pickles
1 tablespoon Heinz chili sauce or ketchup
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, lightly crushed in a mortar with a pestle or in a spice grinder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cocktail rye bread, sliced and toasted, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat together the shredded cheese, cream cheese, and mayonnaise in a medium bowl. Stir in the sauerkraut, corned beef, pickles, chili sauce, caraway seeds, and pepper until well combined.

Spread the mixture in an attractive shallow baking dish. (At this point, the dip can be baked immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days before baking.) Bake until bubbly and lightly browned on top, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve the dip hot with the rye toasts.

Variation: Reuben Canapes
For a more polished presentation, spread the dip mixture on about 30 slices of cocktail rye bread (untoasted) and arrange them on two large rimmed baking sheets. Bake in a 300 degree F oven until the topping is melted and a bit crusty and the bread is toasted, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Garnish the canapes with halved cornichons before serving.

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