Build a Better Beef Dip

This one goes out to the one I love.

In honor of my wife on her birthday, I’ve decided to post simple instructions for making one of the most delicious, simple and comforting sandwiches in our dinner rotation. I’m almost ashamed to say that I’d never had a beef dip before meeting my wife, but I like to think of it as being introduced to a recipe that -through savory flavors and full bellies – made our relationship that much stronger.

The recipe that follows uses some pre-made ingredients, like au jus concentrate and deli-sliced roast beef, but also has a few special twists.

To me, the resulting sandwich is a savory amalgamation of comforting ingredients that satisfies and comforts, like a bowl of soup on a cold day, but to my wife, it’s so much more.

A delicious final product!

A delicious final product!

I knew that the little changes were family “secrets,” that the addition of the rosemary and garlic weren’t just bold flavors, but were “Aunt Lily’s way” of building a better beef dip.

I can certainly understand and appreciate the powerful connection between food and memories. I have been known to wax nostalgic in certain culinary circumstances, especially when it comes to mom’s apple pie and a certain noodle salad, but I didn’t fully understand  her connection to this sandwich until our recent trip to Chicago for her cousin’s wedding.

While in the Chicago area, we were fortunate enough to stay at the aforementioned aunt’s house, and as such were welcomed in true Chicago fashion. We were treated to local favorites, some delicious (pizza, hot dogs, beef dip, etc.) and others wholly unpalatable (White Castle).

White castle: Literally the most disgusting thing that I've ever willingly eaten.

White castle: Literally the most disgusting thing that I’ve ever willingly eaten.

 

Our host’s delectable cooking aside, the best food I had was from Portillo’s, which is a Chicago institution known for their special Chicago-style hot dogs and their beef dip. I indulged in a pair of the hot dogs, of course, but my wife – as she normally does when a dip graces a menu – went for the beef sandwich.

Portillo's famous Chicago dogs!

Portillo’s famous Chicago dogs!

To me, both were delicious, but to her, the beef dip tasted like so much more than that. To her, a simple (delectable) beef sandwich tastes like history. It tastes like summer trips to visit family. It tastes like time spent, packed around around the kitchen table, talking about everything and nothing. It tastes like Lily’s secret recipe.

And that’s what makes food special: the fact that we can take a bite of something and have it not just sustain us and satiate our hunger, but entertain us, and activate our memories.

So give this recipe a try. At the very least, you’ll enjoy a tasty meal. At the most, you might just start a good food memory of your own. Enjoy!

Ingredients for one delicious sandwich:

  • 1/3 lb rare roast beef – sliced at the deli
  • 1/2 loaf French bread – sliced lengthwise
  • Sliced fresh mozzarella
  • Spicy brown mustard
  • Johnny’s French Dip au jus concentrate
  • Water
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary

To get started, mix the au jus according to the directions on the packaging… and then stray from them. Mix the concentrate and the water in a small soup pan, peel the garlic cloves and give them a quick smash with the side of a knife blade (just to release the flavor a bit) and add them to the au jus mixture with sprig of rosemary.

Lily's secret - rosemary and garlic in the au jus!

Lily’s secret – rosemary and garlic in the au jus!

As the sauce is cooking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, slice the bread and cheese, and spread mustard evenly on one or both inside halves of the bread.

Once the sauce has cooked down, individually dip the slices of roast beef into it and layer them onto the sliced French bread, like a hoagie. Places the slices of cheese atop the beef, and place the sandwich – open-faced – onto a baking sheet, and place it in the oven.

Gettin' cheesy

Gettin’ cheesy

Bake the sandwich until the cheese is melted, but not runny, about 7 or 8 minutes.

Serve the sandwich with a side of the au jus, or if you want to have a “real” beef dip, serve it after you’ve dipped the entire sandwich in the sauce. As to avoid the potentially massive amounts of cleanup, I like to serve the sandwich dry, and dip as I go. You know, because dipping is fun!

Cheers, and enjoy!

This is making me hungry...

This is making me hungry…

Menu Week, and a Simple Baked Potato Recipe

I spent the better part of the day yesterday cleaning the house, which is super fun. So when I took a break from cleaning and folding laundry to make a list of menu week ideas, I aimed solidly for the most comforting food I could think of. I came up with the following list:

wpid-img_20141207_172819.jpg

Only one of the items on the list – the street tacos – is actually one of those new recipes that I promised myself that I would attempt on a weekly basis. Here’s a breakdown of the list:

1 – Baked Potatoes with pulled chicken (Recipe below)

2 – Bird Balls with homemade sauce and spaghetti squash

3 – Pizza with my buddy Jon’s handmade Italian sausage and arugula

4 – Malaysian sticky chicken wings

5 – Pulled Korean chicken tacos with various toppings, including pickled onions, ssam sauce and cotija

Below is the recipe for the first meal on the list, a super simple loaded baked potato, but if you make any of the above listed items, make sure it’s the sticky wings… they’re amazing, and they include a combination of flavors that you may not normally encounter.

Simple Loaded Baked Potatoes:

This easy recipe is one of our quick go-to meals that we tend to whip up when we either want something comforting, easy to make and/or when we run out of ideas.

Ingredients:

  • 1 rotisserie chicken – meat pulled from the bones
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1 cup bbq sauce
  • 2 medium russet potatoes
  • 4 green onions
  • 1 cup shredded pepper jack (or your choice of cheese)
  • Any other leftover item or random condiment that may go well on top (guacamole, bacon, salsa, tabasco, etc.)
Ah, the rotisserie chicken: such a versatile little creature!

Ah, the rotisserie chicken: such a versatile little creature!

Pull the meat from the chicken, shredding it with your fingers as you do. Toss the meat with the spices, salt and pepper, and mix the spiced chicken with the bbq sauce in a medium soup pot or frying pan.

Heat the chicken mixture over medium-low heat, mixing it periodically as you go.

As the chicken heats up, wash the potatoes and poke them all over with a fork.

Microwave the potatoes for a total of ten minutes, turning once.

In the meantime, shred the cheese and slice and prepare any toppings.

When the potatoes are done, and the chicken is warmed, slice the spuds and layer on the cheese, chicken and any other toppings that you may be using.

The whole process should take about 20 minutes or so.

I would recommend a cold beer – like a Widmer Upheaval IPA – to wash down this simple, comforting meal.

Kick back and enjoy!

Loaded potato with some leftover guacamole and a Widmer IPA to wash it down! Cheers!

Loaded potato with some leftover guacamole and a Widmer IPA to wash it down! Cheers!

Tortilla Soup

‘Tis the season to fill our bellies with yummy, comforting, delicious soups.

I love warm soup belly. You know, that wonderful feeling that makes you feel like sinking into your couch cushions for the rest of the evening. It’s like being wrapped in a comforter from the inside out.

If you want to switch up the soup rotation a bit, take this recipe for a spin!

This is a reinvention of a recipe that I posted a while ago, but this newer version has a better depth of flavor, and is still my wife’s favorite!

A handful of chips and a squeeze of lime goes a long way!

A handful of chips and a squeeze of lime goes a long way!

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ medium onion – diced
  • 1 large zucchini – quartered and sliced
  • 1 large yellow squash – quartered and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic – minced
  • ¾ tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp ground pepper
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 large can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can (15 oz) low sodium black beans
  • 1 can (15 oz) white beans
  • 1 can (15 oz) corn kernels
  • 1 large can (30 oz) white hominy
  • 1 rotisserie chicken – meat pulled and chopped
  • 6 cups chicken broth

Dice the onion, and quarter and slice the zucchini and squash.

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot or crock pot over medium heat.

Add the onions, the zucchini and the squash, and saute for five minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Stir in the spices and garlic, and saute for another two minutes, until the mixture becomes effervescent.

In the mean time, drain and rinse the beans, corn and hominy.

Fold in the tomatoes, chicken, beans, corn and hominy, stir together well, and pour the chicken broth over the top.

Bring the mixture to a low simmer, and cook for nearly an hour.

Serve and enjoy, with a handful of tortilla chips, a dollop of sour cream and a squeeze of lime.

Rockfish Cakes with Bacon and Old Bay

So let’s say you’ve made Rockfish BLAT’s with a package of the rockfish that you caught during a friend’s bachelor party. Let’s also say that that package of fish happened to contain six fillets as a result of numerical oversight and/or overall exasperation while vacuum-sealing for four fucking hours. So let’s say you made all of the fish, with no further thought as to what is to be done with the remaining, cooked fillets. So what the hell do you do?

I can tell you a few things NOT to do:

  1. Throw it into a frying pan – it just dries it out.
  2. Microwave it, especially in a public (read: lunchroom) microwave – microwaved fish is disgusting, and nearly as rude – and just as noxious – to the people in the general vicinity as if you were flinging your own feces
  3. Throw it away – pound for pound this damned fish is worth more than certified conflict-free diamonds

So I conferred with my trusted confidant – Google – which returned the easiest and most obvious idea: fish cakes.

Rockfish cakes (with bacon, of course) over a simple salad

Rockfish cakes (with bacon, of course) over a simple salad

It makes sense. Fish cakes are easy to make, forgiving, flavorful and satisfying. So I  started planning… and then summarily forgot to stop at the store to pick up my ingredients, but when I got home I raided the fridge and found the following ingredients:

Fish cakes

  • 3 cups cooked rockfish (pan-fried with Old Bay seasoning)
  • ½ cup chopped bacon
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1.5 cups breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup mayo
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ tsp Old Bay
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • olive oil (for frying)

Salad:

  • 2 fresh, sliced tomatoes
  • 2 large handfuls of mixed greens
  • 1 large, ripe avocado, sliced
  • shallot-balsamic vinaigrette

Flake the cooked fish, and chop the bacon and parsley. Combine all of the ingredients and form the mixture into four ½-¾ inch thick patties.

Burger-sized patties are more... I don't know, I just like them more than those stupid little cakes

Burger-sized patties are more… I don’t know, I just like them more than those stupid little cakes

Heat 1 tbs of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.

Cook the cakes until browned on each side (5-6 minutes), turning once.

Yum - look at that nice golden-brown!

Yum – look at that nice golden-brown!

Serve over a bed of greens with a few slices of tomato and avocado, and a drizzle of vinaigrette.

Enjoy!

Bird Balls – aka Turkey & Chicken Meatballs

Years ago – when my girlfriend (who is now, years later, my lovely and wonderful wife) became my live-in girlfriend – I was informed that I was part of the “Turkey Revolution”. Of course, I immediately imagined an uprising of ammo-belt clad fowl, who would inconspicuously conspire against the oppresive institutions bent on making them into succulent, Thanksgiving-style dinners before finally rising up against said institutions, and fighting their way through the corporate offices and across the killing-floors of Butterball, Jennie-O and Perdue hacking and slashing with meat-tenderizers and carving knives, all the while incessantly gobbling out their insane battle cry: “Thank THIS, motherfuckers!”

That’s not what the turkey revolution was.

*sigh*

Apparently “revolution” is a word quickly ascribed to movements in the culinary world as they become relatively mainstream (see: raw food revolution, vegetarian revolution, paleo revolution, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, etc.) before disappearing or being dismissed as ridiculous and /or obnoxious. This is a poor use of the word revolution, but I promise I won’t rant this time around.

To be a member of the turkey revolution, apparently all I needed to do was replace other meats with turkey in an effort to reduce both the caloric value and overall flavor of the food I was making (the latter was an unintended consequence).

I forged ahead, tryptophan and all, replacing the beef in burgers and meatballs with this low-fat poultry. My first attempt at a burger (ground turkey with nothing mixed in) turned into a sad, gray, mushy puck, and my first meatballs will not be spoken of. But I pressed on, like those revolutionary turkeys fighting amongst the cages of their captive brothers, and created recipes to stand the test of time and – more importantly – my tastebuds.

My more recent iterations have been more successful. I have a delicious recipe for turkey burgers which features my salsa slaw, and I’ve even made stuffed turkey patties over  fresh, homemade pasta. Recently, I came up with the following recipe for “bird balls”, or meatballs made of ground turkey and italian-style chicken sausage. They’re baked, not fried, so they’re relatively healthy, and still pack a flavorful punch.

Bird Balls!

Bird Balls!

They’re also very simple to make.

Ingredients and Instructions:

  • 20 oz ground turkey
  • 16 oz chicken sausage (casings removed)
  • 1 tbsp italian seasoning
  • ¾ cup bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp milk (which you cannot get from a bird, don’t be weird about it)
  • 1 tsp pepper

Preheat the oven to 350.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and fold them together until well-combined.

Form the mixture into 1 1/2 to 2-inch balls, rolling between your palms.

Place the bird balls on a cookie sheet, spaced a few inches apart, and bake them for 25 mintues, turning once after about 15 minutes.

Remove the balls from the oven, adn enjoy!

At this point, I like to place them in whatever sauce I’m making, which I like to cook them in before serving them over pasta or (if I’m being healthy) spaghetti squash.

Cowboy Caviar, or, How the bastardization of an archetype has led to a stupid name for a simple salsa recipe

Cue the rant:

I’m going to be honest, I don’t like making things with “Cowboy” in the title. I have deep-seeded issues with what I consider the cultural bastardization of the traditional cowboy archetype. It confounds me that the rugged individualism borne of Westward expansion has spawned a generation of reduced-talent (like the margarine of the music world) pandering musicians who espouse patriotism – or an interpretation thereof – for personal gain. Moreover, they’ve created legions of followers who have corrupted (subconsciously or otherwise) the very notion of the cowboy – the “archetypal, still finely individualized character, which [D.H.] Lawrence identifies as ‘the essential American soul…an isolate, almost selfless, stoic, enduring man’.” (taken from this wonderful article by Jennifer Moskowitz) – in an effort to conform to a loosely-interpreted ideal incoherently represented by leather boots and shitty music.

And then there’s the dumb-ass name for this salsa: “Cowboy Caviar”

Not only does the use of the term “cowboy” perpetuate the fundamental misunderstanding of the heroic archetypal figure, it also directly infers the gustational simplicity of said individuals. Given the well-known connotation of caviar as an elitist delicacy, we can be led to infer that cowboys, since they now have their OWN caviar made of simple ingredients like corn and beans, could never be expected to enjoy real, high-class, high-priced caviar. They’re too simple for that.

Which brings us back to the corruption of “the Cowboy”. The cowboy is no longer the rugged, selfless, individualistic stoic of myth, or the hard-worker of reality, but rather a loosely interpreted farce that undermines the defining aspects of both.

But it’s okay, cowboys… the same can be said of ninjas (blame the Turtles), pirates (this one’s on Johnny Depp) and knights (I want to say Johnny Depp again, but it’s just because he seems easy to blame).

Rant over: stick with me, the recipe is good.

The first time I tried cowboy caviar it was because my wife had picked up a container of the pre-made version from Trader Joe’s, and I ended up devouring the whole bottle (not the glass, that would hurt) in one sitting. I also resolved to attempt to create my own version, which I have documented for you here.

The combination of a variety of different flavors and textures proved pleasing, and satisfied my desire to create a snack that combined the savory, spicy and hearty flavors and textures that I love in a rich salsa. The nice thing about this recipe, and all similar recipes, is that it can be freely modified by adding or subtracting ingredients to serve your tastes and suit the contents of your cabinet!

After writing this post, I realized that I didn't have a photo, so I've borrowed this one (listed as free to use) from the one ingredient chef (http://www.oneingredientchef.com/)

After writing this post, I realized that I didn’t have a photo, so I’ve borrowed this one (listed as free to use) from the one ingredient chef (http://www.oneingredientchef.com/)

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of black beans – drained
  • 1 fresh tomato – diced
  • 1 cup corn kernels – drained
  • ¼ cup cilantro – chopped
  • 1 lime (juice)
  • 1 ½ cups light red kidney beans
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 chipotle chili in adobo – minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic – minced
  • 1 jalapeno – diced
  • 1 can (15.5 oz) diced tomatoes
  • ⅓ cup white onion – diced
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper

 

Dice, chop, slice, juice and otherwise make small and mixable all of that stuff in the appropriate listed manner, and then fold it all together in a big bowl.

Eat it with chips… or a spoon, like me… but my wife tells me that’s weird.

Plus, I love chips.