Saturday, October 30, 2010

Philly Cheese Crepe

What in the world is a Philly Cheese Crepe? As you might expect, it begins with the classic Philly Cheese Steak, and takes off from there.

Moving from the south, where the previous two recipe posts found their origins, we now move to the American northeast, where few foods are as beloved – and taken as personally – as the Philly Cheese Steak. Its popularity extends far beyond its native Philadelphia. On Food Network, Michael Symon even featured competing versions on a recent episode of Food Feuds.

For anyone not familiar with it, a Philly Cheese Steak is a few simple ingredients - sliced grilled steak, grilled peppers (and sometimes onions), and cheese (usually provolone) on a long roll (“hoagie roll” to Philadelphia locals) – that somehow come together in a truly glorious way. Made properly, it’s enough to make the haughtiest sophisticate pump a raised fist and say, “yo!”

Today we look at a fun take on this classic culinary institution that I call the "Philly Cheese Crepe." Since authenticity is key to making a proper Philly Cheese Steak, you should begin by putting on the traditional cooking ensemble.

First, the crepe itself:

While crepes can be made right when you need them, they refrigerate or freeze well, so much time can be saved doing them beforehand. The all-purpose crepe I posted a few weeks ago will work for the cheese steak, but I tend to use it for fruit fillings and prefer a more savory version for the heartier cheese steak filling. You can make it using the all-purpose recipe, but with the following changes:

Instead of one cup of all-purpose flour, use ½ cup of all-purpose flour and ½ cup of wheat flour.

Add about two tablespoons of dried parsley and, if you like, two tablespoons of wheat germ to the batter.

Add additional water, a little at a time, to offset the added dry ingredients (parsley and wheat germ). This is best done by the texture of the batter (which should be like that of heavy cream), rather than by adding a pre-determined amount of extra water.

The above recipe makes eight to 10 crepes. Set aside the ones you need for the cheese steaks, and store the rest to enjoy at a future meal. They’re a great item to keep on hand.

To make filling for four crepes, prepare three-quarter pounds of thin steak as follows. (I like top round thin steak, the kind used for brasciole, but any thin steak will do.) First, as with any steak, dry the outside of the meat using paper towels to make it easier to brown. Apply mustard to each side as a rub to season and tenderize the steaks, then lightly rub each side with olive oil. Now you can cook the steaks using your favorite method – a grille pan is my weapon of choice, but if you’re more comfortable cooking the steaks another way, that’s fine too. Once each side is cooked – and, since they’re thin steaks, they’ll cook quickly, around three minutes per side on the grille pan – let them rest before slicing (as with any steak or roast) while you prepare the peppers and onion mixture.

Toss a couple of julienned peppers, a couple of chopped or julienned onions, and three or so minced fresh garlic cloves with enough olive oil to coat and a little salt and fresh ground black pepper. Cook them in the grille pan (if that’s what you used for the steaks, otherwise use any appropriate pan) until the peppers are tender and the onions are nicely caramelized. Then slice the rested steaks into thin strips and toss them well in a bowl with the cooked onions and peppers.
 Now to construct the crepes:
Lay the crepes out on the counter and, along the center-line of each, put a slice of reduced-fat provolone that you’ve cut in half, placing the two halves end-to-end. Add some steak-pepper-onion mixture on top of the cheese, then put another slice of cheese (cut in half and placed end-to-end as with the first slice) on top of that. Fold each side of the crepe over, wrap it in foil, and let it heat in a 200 degree oven for ten to fifteen minutes.

Now serve it with some salad or fresh slaw, open up a Yuengling, and enjoy a lunch or dinner that’s easy to make, tastes great and is just a little unusual.
As always, for a notebook-ready, cookbook style copy of this recipe, just let me know and I’ll send it along.
Hope you enjoy this tasty twist on a great American tradition. Till next week, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pineapple Pudding Pie in a Graham Cracker Crust

Another great recipe from my wife’s grandmother’s notebook is for a delicious homemade pineapple pudding. That recipe called for the pudding to be used on top of angel food cake, but my first thought was that it would also make a pineapple pudding pie that’s tasty and just a bit unusual. For another extra special touch, I used a graham cracker crust instead of a pastry pie crust. Happy to say, the experiment – pudding and crust - was a success I'm happy to share with you here.

If you’ve never made a pudding before, it’s easier than you might at first think. It does call for a double-boiler, but if you don't have one, don't worry. Ours got loaned to my sons when they went off to college, so to make the pudding I improvised one with a metal mixing bowl that fit nicely into a saucepan. If necessary, give that a try. As for the graham cracker pie shell, there aren’t too many things more fun to make. (It’s a lot like shaping modeling clay when you were a child, except the graham cracker crust ends up tasting a lot better.) If you don’t use graham cracker crusts already, I hope this recipe will persuade you to try. You’ll find the flavor complements many refrigerator pies filled with puddings, creams, etc.

A minor disclaimer about the whipped cream that is used both in the pudding itself and as a topping once it’s done. I make it a point to use as many reduced-fat substitutes as I can – egg substitutes, butter substitutes, etc. – but, for making whipped cream, nothing except heavy cream has worked for me. If anyone knows how to make a low-fat whipped cream, please let us know!

To make a 9” graham cracker pie shell, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is preheating, combine 1-1/2 cups low-fat graham cracker crumbs, ¼ cup sugar, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, and 5 tablespoons butter substitute, melted and warm, and mix well. Spread the mixture into a 9” pie pan and press down using fingers or the bottom of a drinking glass. Then bake for 10 – 12 minutes until light brown. (The shell may seem soft when you first remove it from the oven. It will firm up when it cools.)

To make the filling, begin by draining a 20 ounce can of pineapple well, retaining the juice. When the pineapple is drained, dissolve 1-1/2 packets of unflavored gelatin (Knox or similar) in in the juice.

In a separate bowl, combine 1 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour, and ½ teaspoon of salt. Add 4 egg substitute eggs and a splash of milk (from a 2 cup total amount of milk) to mix. Heat the remaining milk (2 cups less the splash you already added) in a double-boiler. When the milk is hot, add the egg mixture to it, stirring constantly until just a little thick to form a custard.

Pour the custard into a large bowl, add the gelatin mixture, and let cool thoroughly.

While the custard mixture is cooling, make whipped cream by combining one cup of heavy cream and ¼ cup sugar, and beating until firm peaks form. Keep the whipped cream refrigerated until ready to use.

When the custard mixture has cooled, add the pineapple and gently fold in the whipped cream to make the pie filling. Pour the filling into the graham cracker pie shell, and refrigerate for several hours (overnight is best) until the filling is firm.

When you’re ready to serve, use another 1 cup of heavy cream and ¼ cup of sugar as described above to make additional whipped cream for serving. Top with more graham cracker crumbs and you’ve got a seriously delicious dessert!

As an alternative to topping with whipped cream, while the filling is still hot prepare a meringue using your favorite recipe and spread it over the filling to make a “Pineapple Meringue Pie.” Bake it at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until the meringue has light brown highlights. Let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate as above.
As always, if you’d like a cookbook-style, notebook ready version of this recipe (the filling, the pie shell, or both), just let me know and it will be on its way.

I hope to see you next week! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Stuffed Porcupines

Hopefully, no one reading this will be disappointed to find that enjoying stuffed porcupines does not require stalking small game with a shotgun in some deserted wooded area. The stuffed porcupines to which this week’s entry refers are actually tasty cheese-stuffed rice-infused meatballs from the American south.
Though this version takes a few liberties with the original, the origin of this recipe is a wonderful treasure with which I was fortunate to be entrusted: a decades-old notebook of recipes kept by my wife’s grandmother back in Meridian, a small town just outside Waco in the sovereign nation of Texas. Written in pencil on the blissfully food-stained pages of a Waco School System tablet notebook, the recipes have authentic warmth that is not taught in any institute of higher culinary learning or on any cable network. These are more than instructions for preparing a certain dish; each is a doorway leading back many years and across hundreds of miles, to the kind of place you know existed in color but that you think of in black-and-white anyway. A place where today’s eager cook gets to mix and measure in joyful earnest alongside people conventional wisdom foolishly says have been gone a long time.

This is the first of what will be several recipes from my wife’s “Grandma Texas.” It is a great pleasure to share them, and an even greater privilege to cook them.

To make about 14 one-and-a-half-inch meatballs, start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. While it’s preheating, cut about a 2 ounce block of sharp cheddar cheese into ½” cubes, and set the cubes aside. (You’ll need one cube per meatball.) Then, get a large bowl and prepare the meat for the meatballs by combining (by hand) 1 pound of ground turkey (maximum 90% lean), 1/3 cup uncooked rice, 1 egg-substitute egg, 2 tablespoons of diced shallots, ¾ teaspoon dried thyme, a pinch of dried sage, 1 teaspoon of salt, and some fresh ground black pepper. Mix the ingredients thoroughly but don’t overwork the mixture.

Divide the mixture into 1-1/2” diameter meatballs, stuff each with a ½” cube of sharp cheddar cheese, and close. (See the stuffing method below.) Bake the meatballs on a parchment-covered baking sheet for about 50 minutes.
Stuffing method: Flatten each meatball, press a cheese cube into the center, and bring the sides of the flattened meatball up around the cube. Smooth the ball with your fingertips, and roll them gently in your palms to make them round again. Repeat for each meatball.

While the meatballs are baking, heat in a large saucepan 2-quarts of V-8 juice combined with 2 teaspoons of chili powder. (The liquid should be deep enough to cover the meatballs when added.) After baking the meatballs, add them to the liquid, cover, bring back to a boil, and then lower to a simmer for about 10 minutes. After that, set the meatballs aside while you use the liquid to make the sauce as described below.

To make the sauce, separate 1 cup of the hot liquid and add ½ cup of all-purpose flour to it, mixing until combined and there are no clumps of flour. (I know we’re all usually taught to do this with cold liquid. I did it with the hot liquid, and it worked. Go figure.) Add 1 large chopped pepper to the liquid in the pot, bring it back to a boil, stir in the flour mixture, and cook to the desired sauce thickness. (I recommend cooking it down to half.)
Now all you need to do is top the meatballs with the sauce and some grated cheddar cheese, serve it up, and accept the gratitude of a well-fed family or guests! (I’ve found this is especially good served over rice mixed with finely-diced green or red bell pepper and seasoned with Adobo.)

In the photo, you’ll see the porcupines and rice being served with green bean bundles wrapped in turkey bacon. These are from a Paula Deen recipe you’ll find on the Food Network web site.

Enjoy this delicious – and very special – dish. As always, if you’d like a notebook-ready cookbook-style version of this recipe, just let me know and I’ll send it along.

That’s it for this week, y’all. Till next time, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Blind Baking - A Tutorial

For a story that's probably not true, it has been told many times and in many versions:
In 1966, a legendary film director was returning to Hollywood after an extended time away, and had not yet heard that the actor Ronald Reagan had announced his intention to run for governor of California. As he was getting off the plane, a reporter asked the director what he thought of  Reagan as governor. He considered it a moment before answering. "No," he said. "Jimmy Stewart as governor. Ronald Reagan as best friend."
So how exactly did I end up playing "best friend" in a video in which the star is a pie crust? Especially since my original plan for this week was to start exploring some wonderful old-school Southern cuisine from my wife's grandmother's cooking notebook? It started when, after a couple of recent posts called for blind baking a pastry crust, a number of people asked me about the right way to do that, giving me the idea that this would be a timely and appropriate subject for this week's entry. Then, while drafting that post, I started finding that many aspects of blind baking, while easy to do and show, are hard to describe. The solution: a tutorial video. Look out, Steven Spielberg! (Crass promotion alert: you'll see that some aspects of the video are aimed at You-Tube viewers not yet familiar with this site.)

I'm still very much looking forward to working with those wonderful Southern dishes in the coming weeks. For this week, "cut and mix" has been replaced by "cut and print!" So quiet on the set...ready...and, action!

That's it for now. As always (and as you just heard in the video), stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Quiche Me, Baby

Cooking ideas can come from some pretty unexpected places. You just have to be ready. More on that in a moment.

Since recipes must be called something. I decided to name this week's offering, "Trinity Quiche," in honor of its main vegetable component, Louisiana's famed “trinity” of celery, onions and peppers. (It also has mushrooms. I think everyone who cooks has certain ingredients that seem to find their way into almost every recipe. For me it's mushrooms, for their nice taste, peculiar sort-of-soft-and-sort-of-crunchy texture, and their comically off-balance appearance that makes them the culinary world's version of penguins or, if you like, giraffes.) Adding to the "three" concept are its three cheeses which, combined, get along with each other wonderfully.

One oddity you'll find in this recipe is that the milk usually used in making quiche is replaced by a mixture of ingredients you'll probably recognize as a pancake batter. Here's where getting ideas from unexpected places comes in. Some years back I was looking for a way to improve the texture of the quiche filling I was using in those days. While dining at IHOP, I had an “aha!” moment when I read on the menu that they make their scrambled eggs fluffy by mixing in pancake batter. I tried that idea in the quiche filling and the rest, while not history, did give it the texture I'd been looking for.

Of course, if you prefer other combinations of vegetables, or different cheeses, great! One of the real beauties of quiche is that there's a lot of room to improvise and experiment. If there's something in your pantry, refrigerator or freezer you feel like making part of your quiche, go for it!

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and blind bake a 9” pie crust. (If you’ve never baked a pie or quiche and aren’t sure how to blind bake a crust, just let me know and I’ll describe what to do. It’s basically getting the unfilled crust to a partially baked state (or, for a refrigerator pie, a fully baked state), then adding the filling and finishing the pie or quiche.) Prepare the other ingredients below during the blind baking, looking in on the crust now and then to prevent overcooking. When it is firm and starting to get “crusty,” take it out of the oven, use a brush to apply an egg wash made from one egg and one tablespoon of water, and set it aside.

While the crust is blind baking, sauté about 1-1/2 cups of mixed chopped celery, chopped pepper, julienned onion, and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper to taste, but if you're using the mushrooms hold off adding the salt till you're almost done; mushrooms have a high water content and adding the salt early draws some of that water out and affects the final texture of the mushrooms. When the vegetables are cooked (but still have a firm texture), place them in a colander and rinse them well with cold water. This stops the cooking, and cools the vegetables so they won't prematurely cook the eggs in the filling when you mix everything together later. Set them aside.

Prepare the “pancake batter” by combining 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar, 1 egg-substitute egg,  5 ounces skim milk, and 1-1/2 tablespoons of melted butter substitute. Whisk until they form a batter.

In a large bowl, combine ¼ cup grated Swiss cheese, ¼ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, 1/8 cup crumbled goat cheese, 3 egg substitute eggs, ½ cup skim milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of fresh ground black pepper.  Add the cooked vegetables and the batter, whisk until combined, and fill the blind-baked crust.

Bake the quiche at 425 for 15 minutes. During this time, partially cook 2 slices of turkey bacon. (For example, if the 2 slices should be microwaved for two minutes to be fully cooked, microwave them for about one minute. They'll cook more later when you finish baking the quiche.) When the bacon slices are done, cut them into small pieces.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300.  Remove the quiche from the oven, and sprinkle the bacon pieces over the surface. By now the surface of the quiche filling should be firm enough so that the bacon pieces will stay on top without sinking.  Return the quiche to the 300 degree oven and cook for 30-35 minutes, until a knife inserted half-way between center and the edge comes out clean.  Let the quiche stand 10 minutes before serving. A salad or cup of tomato soup on the side goes very well with this.

As an added bonus, if you find you have some filling mix left over after making the quiche, I recommend saving it to make one of the best omelettes you'll ever have. And one of the easiest, since everything's already mixed in.

If you would like a notebook-ready, cookbook-style version of Trinity Quiche or any other recipe on this site, just let me know and I’ll get it right out to you. Ditto for any questions you may have about anything I’ve written that you'd like more information about.

See you next week! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)