Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Getting Saucy!

Note: This is part 1 of a multi-part blog culminating with my version of pulled pork made indoors

I love condiments, sauces, toppings and the like. I just do! Getting something ordinary then topping it and making it extraordinary is what food is all about. You know you go to that wacky little hotdog stand and get a killer homemade mustard or ketchup, maybe you go to a chi chi restaurant and while the steak was awesome the Bearnaise sauce was what you raved about. Well, that's me! Sauces also happen to be one of my favorite things to make. Now some have a slightly higher degree of difficulty while others are a breeze. One of my absolute favorites, and one that's an absolute breeze to make, is BBQ sauce

BBQ sauce can be made from many different bases ranging from ketchup to vinegar to tomato sauce to mustard depending on your taste, where you're from and what you're using it on. The sweet to heat ration can also vary. For this simple, all purpose, go-to sauce we're going with a ketchup based, sweet but not sickeningly so basic sauce. Prep time is next to nothing and it cooks up right quick. Best of all you should have most of the ingredients lying around the house already (maybe not the paprika but invest in some).

Now before I go any further someone always asks "why bother making your own? You can buy a decent bottle of BBQ sauce for pretty short money". Yes, you can. The reason you make your own is IT TASTES BETTER!! There is something comforting about knowing every ingredient going into something you're going to ingest. Your going to take an ingredient list on the back of a bottle of store bought sauce from 20 plus, most of which you can't identify, to about 6 or 7 (I know mass produced ketchup has a bunch of ingredients too but, well, shut up!!). Anyway try this and tell me if you disagree. As always this is an homage to many base BBQ sauce recipes I've found online and I am in no way claiming it as 100% original


2 cups tomato ketchup- I use a 20 oz bottle and use as much as I can squeeze out. It usually ends up being slightly more then 2 cups (16 oz). But if you have a bigger bottle then measure out the 2 cups. Also, I buy whatever is on sale and not premium stuff like Heinz (I get Hunts at Ocean State Job Lots or Del Monte at the dollar store).

1 cup water

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar- A lot of the taste and tang comes from the vinegar. Make sure you use cider vinegar, not straight white vinegar. Trust me on this one

5 tbs brown sugar- I like light brown sugar and it's more common. Dark brown will produce a different taste because it's heavier in molasses. If that's all you got tho, go with it. I have a different sauce I make with molasses that is equally tasty

5 tbs sugar

1 1/2 tsp ground mustard- (if you have a 1/2 tbs measure you can use that. I don't)

1 1/2 tsp onion powder

1 tsp paprika- I prefer the half sharp to the smoked in this application but again, whatever you have

2-3 grinds black pepper- I've cut way down on how much black pepper I use in this sauce as it kind of over powered the sauce before. If you like more, use more but this is how I like it

1 tbs lemon juice- I have used lime juice in a pinch for that citrus flavor but lemon juice works best

1 tbs Worcestershire sauce


Medium saucepan- You want something deep as opposed to wide. In other words not what you boiled pasta in. I use a high sided saucepan but use what you have.

Spatula or spoon- I use a silicone spatula as towards the end the gunk on the sides can get pretty sticky

Step 1- Dump all the ingredients into the pot (everyone in the pool). Mix all the ingredients together

Step 2- Turn the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer (1 or 2 setting in most cases but it depends on your stove top and your pot)

Step 3- Let simmer for 1 hour - 1 hour 15 minutes uncovered- This will reduce the sauce and give it a thicker body. Stir constantly and keep scraping the remnants from the former "fill line" back into the sauce

And that's it!! Try a taste of it while it's still warm and tell me it's not freakin awesome!! Go ahead, I'll wait....

I store the cooled sauce in a mason jar and store in the fridge. I also like to get a cheap condiment squeeze bottle at the dollar store and fill it if I'm having people over for BBQ for more pinpoint accuracy. Try this one as it's simple, cheap and tasty. No excuses!!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tastes like chicken (cheese steak)

The cheese steak. Probably no sandwich is associated with a city and region the the cheese steak is with Philly. There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands of steak shops found throughout the entire Delaware Valley. Typically a Philly style cheese steak is thin sliced rib-eye (as opposed to shaved sirloin like a Northeast steak and cheese) grilled on a flap top wit or witout (sic) onions and your choice of Whiz (Cheez Whiz) or provolone. The ordering process is soup Nazi-esque as there are monstrous lines at the most popular of these joints. I happen to love cheese steaks and was thrown for a loop when a friend mention a chicken cheese steak. Intrigued, I asked her to describe it. She said grilled chicken served cheese steak style. OK, makes sense. It's one of those makes sense in a chicken fried steak kind of way. I said to myself well I've had a bunch of grilled chicken subs, how different could it be? Next time I was in the area I went out and tried one and it rocked in it's simplicity. It was different say a chicken stir-fry sub or any grilled chicken sub I had tried in MA. The secret seemed to be the really thin cut chicken, marinated, cooked hot and quick so as to not dry out. After a couple of trial and errors and a bit of research I found the perfect, simple recipe that's both simple and tasty

Before we move on I want to address one subject briefly; knives. I've learned over the years the success or failure of many a dish can be traced back to knife cuts. A sharp knife allows you to make thinner, finer, much more precise cuts then using a dull knife. In the following recipe thin cuts are required so grab your sharpest knife and let's get going


Boneless, skinless chicken breast- I bought 2 1/2 lbs at $1.69 a lb. I prepped it all and froze what I didn't use. Depending on your appetite or how many people are eating I'd figure on a 1/2 to 3/4 lb portion per person

Creamy Italian dressing- Nothing high end, whatever is on sale

Sub roll or torpedo roll
Cheez Whiz Processed Cheese Spread or provolone cheese


Frying pan with lid- I'm using my handy dandy electric skillet

Sharp knife

Cutting board

Ziploc bag

Strainer or colander


Step 1- Lay out the chicken breast on your cutting board and trim any excess fatty pieces of skin or cartilage hanging on. This will ensure every bite is tender. Take the trimmed chicken and put them in your freezer for about 45 min to an hour to solidify making thin cuts much easier

Step 2- Remove your slightly hardened chicken from the freezer. Leave the chicken you're not working with in the freezer until ready to cut. Carefully, keeping your fingers away from the knife, cut the chicken in long, thin strips. As thin as you can. When you're done cutting strips, cut the strips in half to make cooking easier

Step 3- Put your sliced chicken into a Ziploc bag and pour in enough creamy Italian dressing to cover the chicken. Work the chicken around with your hand to evenly distribute it. Squeeze as much excess air our of the bag. Let marinate the the refrigerator for at least a half hour. Since I'm doing a make ahead I'm going to let it marinate over night

Step 4- Take the chicken from the bag and put it in a strainer in the sink. Run cold water over the chicken until most of the visible marinade is gone. Let sit for at least 15 minutes to come to room temperature as it will cook quicker (this is suggested but not necessary)

Step 5- Turn your skillet to 350 or your frying pan on your stove top to medium high heat. Using tongs or a slotted spoon put your chicken in the hot pan. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to the pan as the steam will help with the cooking. Don't add too much as it won't all evaporate and you'll end up with excess liquid in the pan. Grab your spatula and and move the chicken around, turning it over and chopping it up as you go. After a couple of minutes lid the pan to again use a little of the steam to cook the chicken thru. If you followed the directions to this point the total cooking time should be no more then 3 minutes or so

Step 6- If your using Cheez Whiz, split your roll in half but not all the way thru and apply a generous spread of Whiz to both the top and bottom of the roll. If you're using provolone, and I recommend sharp provolone, apply 2 slices to your now cooked but still hot in the pan chicken to let it melt. If you want to eat it like me go with both Whiz AND sharp provolone

Step 7- Use your spatula or slotted spoon to pile the chicken on the roll and enjoy!!

The important parts of this recipe are ultra-thin slices, a long marinade, and a hot pan to ensure thorough cooking while not drying it out. As you probably know by know I'm not an onion or pepper guy but if you want to add them to your cheese steak, go for it. Let me know what you think of this one

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

1 potato, 2 potato, pan fried potatoes, more!

Let's get this party started with my favorite versatile ingredient (albeit an ingredient I should use in moderation) the humble potato. It's delicious in every form be it baked, fried, roasted, mashed, pureed, whipped, shredded, and on and on. And as a side dish the potato is awesome at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. For today's blog I'm going to go over my favorite preparation and that's pan fried potatoes. Now, some will say "hey Rich, this sounds and awful lot like home fries". Well, you'd be correct. This really is a classic home fries preparation but I like them as a side for dinner as well. They come together faster and with less steps then mashed and taste better and doesn't require turning on the oven then baked. French fries rock but the whole pulling out the deep fryer thing on a random night is just too much effort (and my place ends up smelling like a Speedy Change Oil for a week). No, I choose pan fried potatoes because they're crispy outside and silky smooth inside and are really a breeze to make

So, this is going to be a loose preparation without a precise recipe (this will happen a lot). This is mostly because this is supposed to be versatile and to be versatile it means using what's on hand. The great part about this type of potato is that because of out secret weapon (read on) the insides will be cooked perfectly without the outside burning from over cooking as is often the case.
So, for the ingredients we will need:

potatoes- I prefer russets or something with a sturdy skin as we're leaving the tasty skins on. I'm using 3 large potatoes as that's how much my pan will hold. Whatever is left over will become, well, leftovers
fat- butter, olive oil, corn oil...whatever you have. I use a combination of butter and olive oil myself
Dry spices- Whatever you have on hand but at the very least salt (kosher or sea salt) and black pepper (fresh ground). But whatever else you have (within reason) works. I typically use seasoned salt, black pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and onion powder. I've been known on occasion to use bacon salt or a little cayenne depending on my mood but again, use what you have

For the hardware:

frying pan with lid- Size doesn't matter (that's what they all say) but a proper fitting lid is integral. If you have one I recommend using an electric skillet with lid as the thermostat keeps the heat constant so you won't have keep messing with the oven knobs
sharp knife- Please, no steak knives. Just grab the largest knife you got with that block of knives you bought
Slotted spatula or spoon
cutting board
plastic bowl w/lid
Strainer or colander

Step 1- Prep the potatoes- A small (but not tiny), even cut is critical to even cooking. I start by halving the potatoes, then cutting the halves in thirds lengthwise, then crosscuts in about 1/4 segments. Throw the cut potatoes in the bowl and fill with cold water. Let them sit in the water for at least 15 minutes before draining off the excess water in the colander or strainer (in water in the fridge the potatoes will still be awesome the next day). This will take care of any excess dirt from the potato skin and it washes out some of the starchiness.

Step 2- Season the potatoes- Add your seasoning to the bowl (in this case about a tsp of seasoned salt and garlic powder, 1/2 tsp or onion powder and 1/2 tsp half hot paprika) lid up and shake to coat. In an ideal world let the seasoned potatoes sit for about 10 minutes but if time is of the essence, rock-n-roll

Step 3-Get your fat hot. If using an electric skillet set to 350. If on a stove top set to medium high heat. I'm using a 14" electric skillet so I use about a quarter stick of butter and approximately 4 tablespoons of olive oil (not extra virgin). These measures aren't exact but basically you want to coat the bottom of the pan. I like butter for the taste and olive oil for the frying and it keeps the butter from browning too much. When the oil/butter comes to heat (drop one small piece in, listen for the sizzle) CAREFULLY add the potatoes to the pan and distribute them evenly on the bottom of the pan

Step 4- Let the potatoes sit for around 5-7 minutes (don't wander too far as depending on the actual heat of your pan and size you cut the potatoes this will vary) then take your spatula or spoon and turn them over. You will never get them all turned over perfectly but that's ok. Give them about 5 minutes on that side. Next comes our secret weapon...steam

Step 5- Move the potatoes around again with your spatula/spoon. Grab the did remember to use a pan with a lid, right? OK, lid in hand add a couple tablespoons of water to the middle of the pan and put the lid on. The steam will expedite the cooking of the inside of the potatoes giving you the fluffy inside to contrast the crispy outside. Steam is a great secondary cooking method for anything you want to ensure doneness on the inside while not burning the outside (chicken, sausage, etc). Leave the lid on for 3-5 minutes. When you remove the lid be careful as there will be condensation. Move the potatoes around one more time and let cook for a few more minutes. Test a piece. They should be fork tender. If not give them a couple more minutes continually moving them around

Step 6- Remove from the pan. Salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy

I love the taste and texture of potatoes cooked like this. Yes, they are pretty much home fries but with the savory seasoning they work as a great side for beef, chicken, anything. And if you're cooking for one they hold up very well as leftovers (I love using leftovers in a nice ovenbaked frittata but that's for a future blog). Want to kick this up another tasty and sinful notch? Take a pound of bacon and cut it into one inch pieces. Render these down in the pan you're going to cook the potatoes in making bacon bits (or lardons). Remove the bacon (you know where I'm going) and use the bacon fat to cook your potatoes in the method described above. Awesome!! Another notch (sorry Emeril)?? When cooking is complete, add back the bacon and a healthy fistful of shredded cheese, lid it for just a minute to melt the cheese and you have a heart attack in a pan...but in a good way

Try this one and tell me what you think. With the hot weather here it's a delicious side dish without having to turn on the oven (or crank up the grill for those lucky enough to have a yard). If you try this let me know the results. If you have an interesting variation to the ingredients or methodology, let me know

You can make this dish, no excuses!