Thursday, June 27, 2019

SmokeShack Burger


I have been mildly obsessed with Shake Shack for over a decade. I fell in love with it in New York City, and have enjoyed their delicious food in several other states as the burger chain has expanded (it's actually international now!). When they released a cookbook a couple years ago I knew I had to have it. It's full of mostly stories, but many recipes as well, some of which are considered "close enough" to the original. They can't spill all their secrets, of course.

The SmokeShack is one of my favorite Shake Shack burgers, and it's easy to recreate. I don't follow all the directions to a T, although the original recipe is below in case you prefer to griddle your burger and buns. My burger patties are grilled the old fashioned way, seasoned with a bit more than just salt and pepper (garlic and onion powders add a bit more flavor), and my lightly grilled buns are not potato buns, although I do love a good potato bun!

Regardless to how closely you stick to the original method of prep, this burger is fantastic! The crispy bacon, spicy cherry peppers, gooey cheese, and look-alike ShackSauce really come together to make one hell of a burger, and just in time for your Fourth of July festivities. You're so welcome!

SmokeShack Burger
Makes 4
(From Shake Shack)

4 hamburger potato buns, toasted
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 tablespoons ShackSauce (recipe follows)
1 pound very cold ground beef, divided into 4 pucks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices American cheese
8 slices double-smoked bacon, cooked, broken in half
8 tablespoons diced pickled red cherry peppers

Heat a cast-iron griddle over medium-low heat until warm. Meanwhile, open the hamburger buns and brush the insides with the melted butter. Place the buns buttered side down on the griddle and toast until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the buns to a plate.

Increase the heat to medium and heat the griddle until hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Evenly season each puck of meat with salt and pepper. Place the pucks on the griddle, seasoned side down. Using a large, sturdy metal spatula, firmly smash each puck into a 1/3-inch-thick round patty. Pressing down the spatula with another stiff spatula helps flatten the burger quickly. Evenly sprinkle the top with more salt and pepper.

Cook the burgers, resisting the urge to move them, until the edges beneath are brown and crisp, and juices on the surface are bubbling hot, about 2 1/2 minutes. Slide one of the spatulas beneath the burger to release it from the griddle and scrape up the caramelized browned crust. Use the other spatula to steady the burger and keep it from sliding. Flip the burgers. Put the cheese on top and cook the burgers 1 minute longer for medium. Cook more or less depending on your preference.

Transfer the burgers to the buns. Spoon the sauce onto the top bun. Add bacon and diced cherry peppers and serve.

Makes about 1/2 cup
(From Shake Shack)

1/2 cup Hellman's mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon Heinz ketchup (I added a touch more)
1/4 teaspoon kosher dill pickling brine
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Put all the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and stir until well combined. Sauce will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Bellini Pie


Light. Refreshing. Delicate. Creamy. These words perfectly describe this Bellini pie. A dual-layer no-bake filling of peach chiffon and Champagne mousse encompass the flavors of this classic breakfast cocktail within the confines of a flaky, buttery pie crust.

A lesson I learned when making this pie: pay close attention to the size. I inadvertently used a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan instead of a 9 1/2-inch pan. Most pie recipes use 9-inch pans as a standard, so it didn't even occur to me that this recipe would use a larger sized dish.

I made the full quantity of peach chiffon filling and realized it was way too much for the size crust I had pre-baked. I reserved about 1 1/2 cups of this filling, and then scaled down the Champagne mousse to make 2/3 of the amount (using 2 egg yolks instead of 3, and adjusting everything else accordingly). This yielded the perfect amount to finish filling my crust with the second, thinner layer. In the future I would certainly use a larger pie dish, but even with this small hiccup I was very impressed with the results. The pie is delicately sweet, and nicely aerated.

The only other concern I have with this recipe is a matter of technique finishing the Champagne mousse. The recipe instructs to slowly pour the Champagne custard mixture into the beaten cream, whipping on low. This immediately deflates the cream, yielding a liquidy finish. Thanks to the gelatin, the mixture still sets just fine in the fridge, but you lose nearly all of the volume obtained by whipping the cream. My instinct tells me to fold the cream into the custard mixture, and that's what I would try next time to yield a more airy top layer, but it still set, and was delicious despite this potential flaw.

All in all, this Bellini pie is a true crowd-pleaser! It's perfect for summer when peaches are ripe and juicy. I love that it's an outside-of-the-box approach to a classic flavor combination. This is definitely my kind of pie!

Bellini Pie
Makes one 9 1/2–inch deep-dish pie
(From The New Pie via food52)

Peach Chiffon:
2/3 cup (155 grams) heavy cream
2 cups (340 grams) peeled peach slices, fresh or thawed frozen
1 tablespoon (9 grams) unflavored powdered gelatin
1 pinch salt
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon (15 grams) peach schnapps liqueur
2 large egg whites
2/3 cup (133 grams) sugar
Your favorite deep-dish single crust, baked and cooled in a 9 1/2–inch deep-dish pie pan

Champagne Mousse:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (255 grams) Demi-sec Champagne or another sweet sparkling white wine
1 3/4 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
1 pinch salt
3/4 cup (174 grams) heavy cream

To make the peach chiffon: In a medium bowl, whip the cream on medium-high speed until it holds stiff peaks, 1 to 3 minutes. Put the whipped cream in the refrigerator while preparing the rest of the filling.

In a food processor, puree the sliced peaches until they are smooth. You will need 1 1/3 cups of puree. In a large microwave-safe bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup of the peach puree. Set aside to soften for 5 minutes. Microwave the gelatin mixture on high (100%) power for about 30 seconds, stirring every 10 seconds, until the mixture is just bubbling at the edges and the gelatin seems dissolved (it’s hard to tell because the puree is not a clear liquid, but if the puree has begun to bubble at the edges, it should be fine). Add the remaining peach puree to the gelatin mixture and stir to combine. Stir in the salt, lemon juice, and peach schnapps; set aside until the mixture is no longer warm, stirring occasionally to prevent the mixture from setting prematurely.

While the peach mixture is cooling, bring approximately 1 inch of water to a simmer in a large saucepan. In a large heat-safe bowl (preferably the metal bowl of an electric stand mixer), whisk together the egg whites and sugar. Heat the egg-white mixture over the simmering water until the mixture is quite hot (160°F on an instant-read thermometer) and the sugar is completely dissolved. Beat the hot egg-white mixture on medium-high speed (and with the whisk attachment if using a stand mixer) until it holds soft peaks and has completely cooled (the outside of the bowl should not feel warm), 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the power of your mixer and the temperature of your kitchen.

Fold the whipped egg-white mixture into the peach mixture until it is mostly incorporated. Fold in the cold whipped cream until the mixture is uniform and no white streaks of egg white or whipped cream remain. Transfer the mixture to the cooled pie crust and refrigerate until the mixture is cold and firm, at least 4 hours (or up to overnight).

To make the Champagne mousse: Place 2 tablespoons/28 grams of the Champagne in a small microwave-safe bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the top and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, salt, and remaining 1 cup/227 grams of the Champagne in a medium saucepan. Over medium-low heat, cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it reaches 160°F on an instant-read thermometer and thickens and coats the back of a spoon, 3 to 5 minutes (the mixture will become foamy). Remove from the heat and continue whisking for about 2 minutes, until it cools slightly.

Microwave the gelatin mixture at high (100%) power, stirring every 5 seconds until it just begins to bubble at the edges and the gelatin is dissolved, about 15 seconds. Whisk the gelatin into the hot Champagne-egg mixture. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, and then set the mixture aside to cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent it from setting.

In a large bowl, use a hand mixer on medium-high to whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks, 1 to 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and drizzle in the cooled Champagne mixture, whipping on low until no streaks remain. Spread the Champagne mousse over the peach chiffon filling and refrigerate the pie until it is cold and set, about 4 hours (or up to overnight), before serving. (Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.) The pie is best eaten within 2 days.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Capezzoli di Venere (Nipples of Venus)


Amadeus has been one of my favorite movies since childhood. It's not a children's movie by any means, but my entire family has been watching and loving this Academy Award-winning film since it was first released. My sister and I can quote the entire movie by heart! If you haven't seen it, and have an appreciation for classical music and Mozart, definitely check it out. It's an incredible film, although I'm not a huge fan of the director's cut. I prefer the original version which is less available these days, unfortunately.

In one of the scenes from the movie, Mozart's wife Constanze secretly brings a portfolio of Mozart's work to court composer Antonio Salieri so Mozart can be considered for an important job. Salieri, a glutinous Italian who is jealous of Mozart's talent, offers Constanze a refreshment called Capezzoli di Venere, Nipples of Venus. Constanze giggles because their name is incredibly naughty, as is their appearance.

Salieri describes the treats as Roman chestnuts in brandied sugar. Looking for recipes for Capezzoli di Venere online is an interesting challenge. There doesn't seem to be a single official way to make these confections. I found some recipes that top the white chocolate-covered mounds with pink dots, some that dot the tops with dark chocolate, and yet others that cover the filling with dark chocolate and finish with a white chocolate dot instead. The filling also varies, where some recipes suggest other nuts as opposed to chestnuts. Back in the 1700's, I'm not sure how this dessert would have theoretically been made, so it's all conjecture since online recipes are inconclusive.

I researched various versions and put together the recipe that made the most sense to me. In the movie, the embellishments on top are dark brown, so I decided to stick with dark chocolate to finish my creations.

These Capezzoli di Venere are quite scrumptious! I can't blame Constanze for stealing a second one when Salieri isn't looking. The filling is chocolaty, buttery, and delicately nutty with the warm essence of brandy to tie it all together. I'm not typically a white chocolate fan, but I think it plays an important role to soften the dark chocolate flavor within.

I'm obviously not a candy-maker, and my "Nipples of Venus" may not look quite as smooth and polished as those in the film, but I think they turned out better than expected and they are truly delicious sweets I'd be happy to share with friends and family. If you're a fan of Amadeus, or intrigued to try a decadent dessert with a really fun name, this recipe is for you.

Capezzoli di Venere (Nipples of Venus)
Makes about 30

8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
16 ounces whole chestnuts (canned, jarred, packaged--drained if packed in liquid)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brandy
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

15 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 ounce dark chocolate, chopped

Make a double boiler by setting a heat-proof bowl over a pot filled with about 1 inch of simmering water, so the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Add 8 ounces of dark chocolate to the metal bowl, stirring occasionally until melted. Set the chocolate aside to cool to about room temperature.

Place the chestnuts in a food processor and process until finely chopped/pureed. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and add the melted chocolate, pureed chestnuts, brandy, and vanilla extract, and beat until thoroughly combined. The mixture will likely be relatively soft, so refrigerate it for about 15 minutes or so until it is slightly more firm so you can easily scoop it out, and have it hold its shape.

Line a sheet pan or a couple cafeteria trays with parchment paper. Use a small 1 1/2 tablespoon capacity ice cream scoop (the kind used for scooping cookie dough) to scoop the chocolate/chestnut mixture into small mounds onto the parchment. Refrigerate for at least 15 to 20 minutes or longer, until the balls are firm.

Reserve 1 1/2 ounces of the white chocolate for tempering. Make another double boiler by setting a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Melt the remaining 13 1/2 ounces of white chocolate until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the chocolate reads 105 degrees F. Remove the bowl from the double-boiler, and off the heat stir in the remaining 1 1/2 ounces white chocolate until melted.

Line another sheet pan or a couple cafeteria trays with parchment paper.

This part can get a little messy, so be patient. You'll need a couple of forks and a spoon. Spoon a little white chocolate over one of the forks and hold it suspended over the bowl of chocolate. Place one of the chilled chocolate/chestnut balls onto the white chocolate-covered fork and swirl it around to lightly coat the bottom with white chocolate (it doesn't have to be perfect, but it's better than a totally naked bottom). Then use the spoon to pour white chocolate over the top of the ball as it sits on the fork, making sure to coat the entire surface and sides. Wipe off the excess white chocolate that may be dripping from the bottom of the fork or the edges, so it drips back into the bowl, then use the second fork to very carefully push the white chocolate-coated confection onto the parchment paper-lined pan. Repeat with the remaining chocolates until they are all coated, and let them cool and harden for several minutes at room temperature while you prepare the final decoration.

Melt 1 ounce of dark chocolate and carefully transfer to a small piping bag or sandwich bag. Snip a small opening at one corner and pipe a small dot onto the center of each mound. Cool completely until the chocolate decorations are completely hardened. If it's a warmer day, you may need to pop them into the fridge.

Capezzoli di Venere can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator, but should be served at room temperature so the filling softens up a bit before enjoying.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Pomegranate Sriracha Shrimp


Shrimp is one of my favorite kinds of shellfish to cook and eat. Although it requires a bit of time to clean (shelling and deveining), the payoff is worth it especially considering how fast it cooks! I typically only purchase wild Gulf shrimp, so I know where it's coming from. I'm a bit skeptical about eating shrimp from overseas (they're bottom-feeders after all), but use your judgement, and buy the best shrimp you can afford.

This pomegranate sriracha shrimp is a spicy, tangy, and sweet derivation of a south Vietnamese classic. It features some of my most beloved ingredients: pomegranate molasses, sriracha, and garlic! The shrimp is cloaked in a sticky sauce that enhances the plain white rice it is served over. I can definitely see myself making this shrimp recipe again and again!

Pomegranate Sriracha Shrimp
Serves 4
(Adapted from Vietnamese Food Any Day)

2 teaspoons sriracha, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons fish sauce
3 1/2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons to 1 1/2 tablespoons packed light or dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds extra-large or jumbo shrimp (21/25 or 16/20 count), peeled and deveined
3 or 4 sprigs fresh cilantro

In a small bowl, combine the sriracha, pomegranate molasses, fish sauce, and 3 tablespoons of the water. Taste and add the brown sugar, starting with 1 1/2 teaspoons, to create a tart sweetness; the amount you need depends on the tartness of the pomegranate molasses and your palate. For extra heat, add more sriracha, 1/2 teaspoon at a time. Aim for a tangy, savory, spicy finish. Set the sauce aside. In a small bowl or cup, stir the cornstarch with the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons water, then set the slurry aside.

In a large skillet over high heat, warm the canola oil until hot but not smoking. Add the shallot and garlic and stir-fry for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the shrimp and stir-fry for about 1 minute, until most of them have turned pinkish orange and are slightly curled.

Give the sauce a stir, then add to the pan, stirring to combine. Let the sauce come to a vigorous boil, stirring occasionally to keep things moving. When the shrimp are cooked through, about 2 minutes, give the cornstarch slurry a stir and add to the pan. Cook, stirring, to slightly thicken the sauce and coat the shrimp.

Transfer the shrimp to a deep plate or shallow bowl and garnish with the cilantro. Serve immediately with rice for soaking up the sauce.

*Note* To feature tamarind instead of pomegranate, substitute tamarind liquid, concentrate, or paste for the pomegranate molasses.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Chicken Parmesan Dumplings


I'm a dumpling fanatic! Whether they're traditional or quirky, I love a plump and juicy dumpling with a crispy base. It's fun coming up with new ideas for fillings, and I recently imagined converting chicken Parmesan into a little morsel packed with flavor.

Store-bought dumpling wrappers are a huge time saver, but you can easily make homemade wrappers if you prefer. The filling is a combination of ground chicken (although ground turkey works fine as well), chicken broth to loosen things up and make for a more juicy filling, grated Parmesan cheese, and a little nugget of fresh mozzarella.

Serve these crispy dumplings with your favorite marinara sauce, heated until bubbly. When combined, the flavor truly screams of chicken Parmesan! You've traded in the breaded exterior for a dumpling wrapper, but everything else is nearly an even switch.

This was a really fun and delicious experiment! It's also easy to make these dumplings ahead and freeze them, so you can whip them up any time to satisfy your chicken Parmesan craving. Yum!

Chicken Parmesan Dumplings
Makes about 24

8 ounces ground chicken (or turkey)
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 24 pieces (I quartered 6 small "ciliegine" mozzarella balls)
24 round dumpling wrappers
Vegetable oil
Marinara sauce, heated, for dipping

In a medium mixing bowl combine the ground chicken, chicken broth, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Mix thoroughly until the broth gets absorbed into the chicken, and everything is evenly combined.

Take out four wrappers and cover the rest with a damp dowel. Lay out the four wrappers like ducks in a row. Wet 1/2 inch of the rim of each wrapper. Scoop a heaping teaspoon of filling into the center of each wrapper, and top with a piece of mozzarella. Fold the wrapper in half like a taco and pinch the edges at the top center. Continue folding the dumpling using your preferred folding method.

At this point, the dumplings can either be cooked immediately, covered and refrigerated for up to a couple hours, or frozen.

To pan-fry the dumplings, use a medium or large nonstick skillet (or cook two batches at the same time using two pans). Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons oil for a medium skillet and 2 tablespoons for a large one. Place the dumplings 1 at a time, sealed edges up, in a winding circle pattern. The dumplings can touch. Medium skillets will generally fit 12 to 14 dumplings, large skillets will fit 16 to 18 dumplings. Fry the dumplings for 1 to 2 minutes until they are golden or light brown on the bottom.

Holding the lid close to the skillet to lessen splatter, use a measuring cup to add water to a depth of roughly 1/4 inch (about 1/3 cup water). The water will immediately sputter and boil vigorously, Cover with a lid or aluminum foil, lower the heat to medium, and let the water bubble away for 8 to 10 minutes, until it is mostly gone. When you hear sizzling noises, remove the lid as most of the water is now gone. Let the dumplings fry for another 1 or 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are brown and crisp. Turn off the heat and wait until the sizzling stops before using a spatula to transfer dumplings to a serving plate. Display them with their bottoms facing up so they remain crisp. Serve with hot marinara sauce for dipping.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Loco Moco + Hawaiian Mac Salad


I first ate loco moco, a Hawaiian favorite featuring white rice topped with a burger patty, gravy, and finished with a fried egg, at Kona Cafe at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort. It sounded amazing but the execution was disappointing. It was incredibly underseasoned, bland in fact. Once I learned what loco moco was, however, I was intrigued and wanted to enjoy a better tasting version. Since a trip to Hawaii isn't in the plans anytime soon, I decided to make it myself!

According to the story, loco moco originated on the Big Island of Hawaii, although the exact origin is heavily debated. It's a dish that can easily be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and is available any time of day in Hawaii, making it an epic hangover meal as well as a late night staple.

This particular loco moco recipe features a mushroom and caramelized onion gravy, although it's not quite as thick as a typical American gravy. If it's too thin for your liking, you can certainly thicken it more with a bit of additional cornstarch, but it was fine for us.

I made sure to use the same type of rice used throughout Hawaii, which is Calrose or Kokuho Rose, a sticky, medium-grain California-grown rice that can also be used for sushi. I found it at a local Asian supermarket for fairly cheap, but it's also available online if you can't find it elsewhere.

I decided to zhuzh up my loco moco a bit by turning it into a Hawaiian plate lunch. What's a plate lunch, you ask? It's basically a plated meal consisting of a serving of protein, steamed rice, and mayo-based salad such as macaroni (or mac) salad, potato mac salad or even tuna mac salad. The exact variations of both the plate lunch and the mac salad component can range significantly not only from restaurant to restaurant but also island to island. Loco moco can easily be upgraded into a plate lunch as it is already served on rice and includes a protein. I simply added a scoop of mac salad on the side and my plate lunch was born. It's a thing of beauty!

Long story short, this loco moco is crazy good! See what I did there? Loco? Crazy? Yeah, I'm funny. Although I'm not the biggest fan of plain, sticky, steamed white rice, the mushroom gravy in this case soaks into the rice, giving it tons of flavor. The beef patty is also super flavorful, enhanced with onion, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce. A fried egg, complete with runny yolk, is the figurative icing on the cake. What a magical combination?! God bless whoever actually invented this dish, and thank goodness I decided to give it another chance after the disappointment at Disney's Kona Cafe (as much as I love Disney, it dropped the ball with this dish).

And let's not forget the mac salad! It truly deserves its own post, it's that good, but it made more sense to me to include it in the loco moco post since they were served collectively as a plate lunch. I actually made half the quantity listed in the recipe below, and it was still plentiful especially if you're only serving an ice cream scoop's worth of salad per person.

Although from my understanding locals tend to overcook their macaroni, so the noodles are soft and fat, I cooked mine the way I typically prefer, al dente, and I have zero complaints. The salad is enhanced with grated carrot and onion, some acidity from apple cider vinegar, and a touch of sugar in the Best Foods or Hellman's mayonnaise-based dressing. These are the only brands of mayo that are used in Hawaiian mac salad, and they are technically the same brand, but have different names depending on the region of the United States where you are purchasing them. On the west coast it's Best Foods, and on the east it's Hellman's. I wasn't about to commit Hawaiian mac salad blasphemy, so I made sure to use the Hellman's like a good girl :) The mac salad was really good! Again, there are many different variations to the basic salad, but this is a good starting point. In my research most recipes stick to the basics below with a few tweaks here and there.

If a trip to Hawaii is not in the cards (maybe someday), this loco moco plate lunch will definitely satisfy the craving for traditional Hawaiian flavors. Aloha!

Loco Moco
Serves 4
(From Aloha Kitchen)

1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 medium Maui or yellow onion; 1/4 finely chopped, and 3/4 sliced into 1/2-inch wedges
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
2 1/2 tablespoons neutral oil
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cups beef broth
2 teaspoons soy sauce (shoyu)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 cups steamed white rice (preferably Calrose or Kokuho Rose medium-grain white rice)
4 large eggs, fried sunny-side up or over easy
2 chopped green onions, green parts only, for garnish

In a bowl combine the ground beef, salt, pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the Worcestershire sauce, chopped onion, and garlic. Gently mix with your hands or a wooden spoon until just combined; don't overmix. Form into four equal-size patties about 1/2 inch thick. Place the patties on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and transfer to the refrigerator to rest for 20 minutes.

While the patties are resting, add 1 tablespoon of the oil to a large skillet set over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion wedges and saute until almost translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn the heat to low and continue cooking for 10 minutes, stirring often, until they are soft and caramelized. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Add another 1 tablespoon of the oil to the skillet and set it over medium heat. When the oil is hot, swirl the pan around to evenly coat it, then gently place the patties in the pan, leaving room around each one. Cook until browned, about 4 minutes on each side. Using a spatula, remove the patties and transfer to a clean plate to rest. Cover with foil to keep the patties hot while you make the gravy.

Add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil to the pan and heat over medium heat until hot. Add the mushrooms and saute until tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then add the reserved caramelized onions. Add the beef broth, soy sauce, and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to medium-low, scoop out a tablespoon of the broth from the skillet, and whisk it with the cornstarch in a small bowl until smooth. Whisk the cornstarch slurry into the skillet and simmer until the sauce has thickened, 5 to 7 minutes (note: it will not be quite as thick as a traditional American gravy, but it will thicken slightly; use more cornstarch if you prefer a thicker gravy).

Place 1 cup steamed rice on each plate and top in this order with 1 patty, some gravy, 1 fried egg, and chopped green onions before serving.

Hawaiian Mac Salad
Serves 6 to 8

8 ounces dry elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 carrot, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons grated onion (it will be liquidy)
1 1/4 cups Best Foods or Hellman's mayonnaise
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni according to package directions (the locals tend to overcook the pasta until it's soft and fat, but I prefer mine a bit more al dente--use your judgement). Drain and transfer to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the apple cider vinegar over the top, add the carrot and onion, stir, and let it cool slightly, about 10 to 15 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, milk, and sugar. Stir the mayonnaise mixture into the macaroni, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. Gently stir before serving, and if needed thin it out with a teaspoon or two of milk or a little more mayo.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Hollywood Brown Derby Cobb Salad


Cobb salad is hands down my favorite salad. It was invented in 1937 at The Hollywood Brown Derby by its owner Bob Cobb and theater magnate Sid Grauman to satisfy a late-night urge for a snack. Although there are slight variations of this salad, some using chicken versus turkey, or presenting the greens differently, the Hollywood Brown Derby way is to finely chop all the ingredients, likely making this the original chopped salad.

The Hollywood Brown Derby Cobb Salad is available at The Hollywood Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World. I've eaten there, and have thoroughly enjoyed the salad! It really is a classic.

I actually have two versions of the recipe. One which was included in the Cooking with Mickey and the Disney Chefs cookbook, and another that was offered on a recipe card at The Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant at Disney's Hollywood Studios. They are nearly identical except for the quantities and selection of greens. The book version calls for 1 cup each of chopped iceberg lettuce, chicory, and watercress. The recipe card calls for 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, 1/2 bunch watercress, 1 small bunch chicory, and 1/2 head romaine lettuce.

I used my judgement and took the liberty of making some adjustments to the quantities based on my experience. I definitely feel that 1 cup of each is not enough for the large quantity of toppings. Meanwhile, 2 half-heads of lettuce, a bunch of chicory and 1/2 a bunch of watercress seems like way too much.

The quantity I used felt like a good balance between greens and toppings, and it was the perfect amount for the 2/3 cup dressing. The original recipe also calls for 1 pound of turkey, which is a lot! I used 1/2 a pound, and think any more would overwhelm the other ingredients My adjustments are below.

Although it's not specified in the recipe, I'd aim to chop everything into about 1/4-inch pieces, from the greens to the toppings. And although some shortcuts are fine, like purchasing a slab of roasted turkey from the deli counter to chop instead of poaching your own turkey breast, definitely avoid others. You'll want to peel and seed your tomatoes otherwise you will have watery tomatoes, and trust me having the skins off makes a huge difference in elevating this salad.

The dressing is classified as "French dressing," but really it's a simple vinaigrette. Maybe that's why they call it French. It's nothing like the gloppy orange-hued French dressing sold in bottles. This salad is much classier. After all, it was eaten by Hollywood's finest for decades, and is still enjoyed today.

The Hollywood Brown Derby Cobb Salad
Serves 4 to 6
(Adapted from Cooking with Mickey and the Disney Chefs)

3 cups chopped iceberg lettuce (about 1/2 a head or slightly less)
2 cups chopped chicory (also called curly endive)
3/4 cup chopped watercress
8 ounces poached turkey breast, finely chopped (or use a slab of store-bought roasted turkey from the deli counter; you can also try making the salad with roast chicken breast)
2 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces)
6 strips bacon, cooked crisp, drained, and crumbled
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives

The Hollywood Brown Derby Old-Fashioned French Dressing:
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard (mustard powder)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons olive oil

Toss the iceberg lettuce, chicory, and watercress together and arrange in a large salad bowl. In straight and separate lines, arrange the turkey, tomatoes, avocado, blue cheese, bacon, and eggs on top of the greens. Sprinkle the chives in a diagonal line across the salad.

To make the dressing, in a small bowl whisk together the water, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, salt, garlic, sugar, pepper, and dry mustard until combined. Whisking constantly, add the vegetable oil and the olive oil in a slow steady stream until the dressing is emulsified. Store covered and chilled until ready to serve. Whisk the dressing to blend just before serving. Makes 2/3 cup dressing.

Present the salad at the table, toss with the dressing and serve.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Tangy Achiote-Rubbed Grilled Chicken Tacos + Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa


I have a legitimate obsession with Mexican food. I really need no excuse to indulge in one of my favorite cuisines. These chicken tacos are easy enough to whip up on a weeknight, especially if you marinate them overnight in this tangy achiote/annatto infused marinade laced with chile powder, Mexican oregano, garlic, apple cider vinegar, and orange juice.

Although the original recipe calls for skin-on chicken thighs, I lightened it up a bit with chicken tenders instead. They were still incredibly juicy and delicious! Grilled and then chopped into small pieces, the chicken is definitely the star of the dish.

We served our tacos with creamy guacamole and charred, smoky tomatillo chipotle salsa. The salsa was so good, we continued dipping our tortilla chips in the remaining salsa long after the tacos were all gone. A combination of tomatillos, tomatoes, onion and garlic charred and then blended with smoky, spicy chipotles in adobo and a generous handful of chopped cilantro. The charred, smoky flavor of this salsa goes really well with fire-kissed grilled chicken tacos.

Whether you serve them together or separate, these achiote-rubbed grilled chicken tacos and the tomatillo chipotle salsa are both big winners in my book!

Tangy Achiote-Rubbed Grilled Chicken Tacos
Makes about 12 tacos; serves 4 to 6
(From Tacolicious)

2 pounds skin-on, boneless chicken thighs (I used chicken tenders)
2 tablespoons ground annatto seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons chile powder (preferably arbol) (I stemmed and seeded dried chiles de arbol and ground them up in my spice grinder to make my own chile powder; I used only 1 tablespoon to ensure it wasn't too spicy, and would be family friendly)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons agave nectar
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 freshly squeezed orange juice
Corn tortillas, warmed

Put the chicken in a large, heavy duty zip top plastic bag. In a small bowl, combine the annatto seeds, allspice, turmeric, chile powder, salt, oregano, agave nectar, garlic, vinegar, and orange juice and mix well. Add the spice mixture to the chicken and seal the bag closed. Massage the contents of the bag to coat both sides of the chicken evenly with marinade. Alternatively, put the chicken in a glass or ceramic bowl, add the spice mixture, turn the chicken to coat evenly, and cover with plastic wrap. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours or up to overnight, turning the chicken a few times to marinate evenly.

Prepare a medium fire for direct heat cooking in a grill. Bring the chicken to room temperature and remove them from the marinade.

Place the chicken, skin side down, on the grill rack directly over the fire and cook, turning after about 10 minutes. Cook for another 10 minutes on the other side. If the chicken is starting to burn or cook too quickly, move to a part of the grill with indirect heat and continue to cook. The chicken is done when an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165 degrees F.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and chop into small pieces, leaving the skin on. Serve the chicken with the tortillas and toppings of your choice.

Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa
Makes about 4 cups
(From Salsas and Moles)

About 12 tomatillos, husked, washed, and dried
2 Roma tomatoes (8 ounces)
1/2 white onion, peeled but with root end intact (I used a large shallot instead)
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1/4 cup chipotles in adobo
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

Turn on the fan over the stove. Line a large cast iron skillet or heavy griddle with aluminum foil and set over high heat.

Roast the tomatillos and tomatoes on all sides until well charred and soft, turning as few times as possible. Roast the onion, cut side down, until it begins to soften and has a few black spots, turning it several times. Roast the garlic, in skins, turning a few times, until black spots appear.

Cut the onion into several pieces. Peel the garlic. Place both in a blender along with the chipotles, roasted tomatillos and tomatoes (and any juices), and salt. Cover and let the vegetables steam for 5 minutes, to bring out the juices. Pulse to make a fairly smooth salsa with a little bit of texture. Add the cilantro and pulse a couple more times to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.

Pour the salsa into a bowl and serve.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Parisian French Onion Soup


I have made French onion soup loads of times since my teenage years, and I've even shared my usual, go-to recipe on the blog in the past. During a recent trip to Paris I tasted the best French onion soup I've ever had in my life at Au Père Louis! It had a stronger, more complex flavor, and a better, easier-to-eat crouton topping than I typically have with my baguette slices. I spoke with who I'm guessing is the owner, and he explained the basic steps to their French onion soup. I had no measurements or specifics, but took copious notes and decided to attempt this Parisian-inspired French onion soup recipe upon my return to the States. Gotta put those culinary school skills to work!

There are so many variables in a seemingly simple French onion soup. There are those who use only beef broth, and those that use a combination of beef and chicken. Some recipes include red or white wine, although others feature a bit of sweet port wine instead. Many recipes use sweet onions while there are yet others that use standard brown or yellow ones. Flour acts as a slight thickener in some cases while it's sometimes omitted. For the record, Julia Child's recipe uses plain yellow onions, a bit of sugar to help them caramelize, flour, and a touch of white wine and cognac.

In that past I have used shortcuts in the form of canned beef broth. That's the first step that is changing. The owner mentioned that they also add white wine to their stock, though it's not a typical ingredient. He also said to reduce, reduce, reduce, both the stock and the soup.

Making stock: before roasting

Making stock: after roasting

Finished stock, before straining

Cooled stock is very gelatinous

The loosely explained recipe I was given in Paris actually breaks one of the cardinal rules in French onion soup making. Essentially every recipe stipulates caramelizing the onions, sometimes for a full hour, and occasionally even with the addition of a little sugar. I was told to cook the onions in oil until they are nice and soft, but not until they are caramelized. He was pretty adamant about that. I also noticed that the onions were not only plentiful but also sliced thicker than I usually slice mine, which almost disintegrate into the broth. So a greater onion to broth ratio, slicing the onions thicker, and NOT caramelizing them. Got it.

Onions just added to the pot, tossed with the oil

Onions after sweating for 15 minutes, covered

Onions after another 15 minutes, uncovered

He also said they add port wine, which is significantly sweeter than the run of the mill red wine I usually use. This could explain a bit of why they don't caramelize the onions. It would likely yield an overly sweet soup if they use sweet onions, caramelize them, and also add a sweet fortified wine like port. I didn't have port wine, but did snag some Madeira wine, which is also a sweet fortified Portuguese red wine, so I think it's a fine stand-in in this case.

After adding garlic, bay leaves, flour, and Madeira wine

I've always added a dusting of flour to my onions, and the staff at Au Père Louis does too. I've seen some mixed reviews on flour versus no flour. I have always felt that adding flour gives the soup a bit more body, so I'm sticking with team flour for now but I may change it up next time and see how I feel.

Following my conversation, here are the main takeaways: 1) homemade stock/broth 2) reduce, reduce, reduce 3) slice the onions thicker, soften in oil, but don't caramelize 4) sliced garlic, bay leaf, flour dusting, port wine, then stock 5) reduce, reduce, reduce 6) season generously, especially black pepper! 7) use smaller croutons.

Finished soup after 45 minutes of simmering, partially covered

The final result after spending about 8 hours over the span of 2 days making the stock and the soup from scratch is very close to the soup I enjoyed in Paris, albeit maybe slightly sweeter than I remember. I made this soup twice, using merely 1/4 cup of Madeira wine in place of the recommended port wine the first time, and found the finished soup to be perhaps a tad sweeter than my usual preference, not to say it was excessively sweet, but simply sweeter. The second time I cut it down to 2 tablespoons, and although it had a sweet note, it was more moderate, and better fit the flavor profile I was looking to achieve.

I am also sold on using more onions and slicing them a tad thicker than my usual ultra thin half-moons. It felt heartier and more robust, the perfect consistency to make an actual meal of this soup. All in all, I'm very pleased with this culinary experiment. It was nearly identical to the soup of my memory! It's très magnifique! Bon appetit!

Parisian French Onion Soup
Makes 4 servings
(Inspired by my visit to Au Père Louis in Paris)

1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 pounds yellow onions, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch thick half-moons
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon flour (can omit entirely if you prefer a thinner broth, or increase to 2 tablespoons if you'd like a thicker broth)
2 to 4 tablespoons port or Madeira wine (adjust to your preference; I have made it with both 2 and 4 tablespoons, and prefer the lesser amount, but both were delicious!)
6 cups beef broth or stock, preferably homemade, heated
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups (about 3 1/4 ounces) cubed crusty bread (1-inch cubes)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 to 12 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and salt and toss to coat evenly with the oil. Lower the heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, sweating the onions until they are softened, about 15 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue to cook uncovered, stirring occasionally another 15 to 20 minutes until most of the residual moisture has evaporated, but don't cook long enough to caramelize. Add the garlic and bay leaves and cook for another 3 minutes until fragrant. Stir in the flour and then the port wine. Add the hot beef broth and stir to combine. Season with more salt and pepper. Partially cover with a lid and simmer on low for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, skimming impurities, and adjusting seasoning as needed (don't be stingy on the pepper!).

Meanwhile preheat the oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the bread cubes with the olive oil, and toast in the oven for about 8 minutes until golden and crusty. Set aside.

Turn on the broiler. Divide the soup into 4 oven-proof bowls, top with the croutons (about 1 cup per serving), and then finish with 2 to 3 ounces of grated Gruyère per serving. Broil until cheese is melted, bubbly, and golden.

*Note* The second time I made this soup, I experimented by using beef broth concentrate instead of making my own stock, since it can be very time consuming. I obviously felt better about making the soup with my homemade stock, however the soup was still excellent and flavorful with the beef broth concentrate. In a pinch I think it would be fine, but for a truly authentic experience aim to make your own stock :-) My recipe follows.

Homemade Beef Stock
Makes about 6 cups (give or take depending on how long you reduce it)

5 1/2 to 6 pounds beef bones
1 large onion, peeled and cut into 6 large chunks
2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
3 celery stalks, washed and roughly chopped
1/2 cup white wine
4 quarts (16 cups) water
4 cloves garlic, lightly crush with the side of a knife
2 bay leaves
2 parsley stems
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Add the beef bones, onion, carrots, and celery to a sheet pan. Roast in the oven for 1 hour, stirring once or twice during that time to ensure even roasting.

Remove from the oven, and carefully transfer the roasted bones and vegetables to a large stockpot. Drain the fat from the sheet pan (an old jar or disposable plastic container is good for this, and hang onto it for skimming fat throughout the process).

Deglaze the sheet pan with the white wine and 1 cup of water, scraping up any dried bits with a spatula. Pour the deglazed mixture into the pot with the bones. Add the remaining 15 cups water, and the rest of the ingredients. Heat over high heat until it just starts to bubble, but don't boil. Immediately lower the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 2 hours. Do not stir the stock, just occasionally skim off any impurities or fat off the surface (use the jar you've set aside).

Reduce the stock uncovered for at least another hour or longer (I reduced it for 3 additional hours, so a total of 5 hours). Continue to skim off the impurities and fat.

When you've reduced it long enough to your liking, take it off the heat and carefully remove the bones and vegetables using a spider skimmer or small strainer. Line a sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth and set it over another pot or large bowl. Ladle the stock into the cheesecloth-lined sieve.

Stock can be stored in jars or plastic containers in the refrigerator or freezer (leave room for it to expand once frozen). Once the stock has cooled in the fridge you can scrape off additional fat on the surface, which will solidify. Now you discard your jar of skimmed fat. Definitely NEVER dump fat down the drain, as it will harden and clog your pipes.


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