Cooking Aaron Sanchez’s Cemita Sandwiches With Roasted Tomato-Chile De Arbol Salsa

Earlier this year I picked up Aaron Sanchez’s Simple Food, Big Flavor cookbook. I love how it’s organized because he starts off with a kind of sauce and then gives readers a variety of dishes that incorporate that very ingredient. I decided to try out Cemita Sandwiches (page 64) which was a part of his recipe for Roasted Tomato-Chile De Arbol Salsa (page 52). Since there were so many working parts, I’ll break them down here.

First off I got to work on the salsa, which is a really simple and easy process. I used two chipotle peppers in adobo which was a huge mistake because it made this condiment way too hot for us. I tried mixing some honey in which helped a bit, but there’s still an underlying smokey hotness that I don’t know if I’ll be able to use this much.

From there I got to work on the sandwiches. First, my changes. I went with regular sandwich bread and skipped the papalo leaves. Basically, this just involved a lot of cutting. You’ve got tomato, avocado and mozzarella. The ham was a bit more work intensive, but I took a pretty big shortcut by buying some pre-sliced smoked ham at the grocery store. I still mixed the spices as suggested in the recipe, but instead of pounding out pork loin, I just spread it on the ham and cooked it in the pan. I’m sure the flavors didn’t go nearly as deep thanks to my modified way, but I’d also wager it cut off a good deal of time.

With all the meat cooked, I was basically in assembly line mode, just like when I made Bangin’ BLTs not long ago. The bread went in the toaster and when it popped, I went back to my sandwich making roots, adding the veggies, cheese and passing it off to the fam.

All in all, this might have been a truncated version of Sanchez’s meal, but I thought it still came out really tasty. There was definitely some heat coming off of the meat, but that was quelled a bit thanks to the mozzarella and avocado. The mozz also brought in a nice creamy tanginess that I appreciated. We even tried some of the super hot salsa on the bread as the recipe suggests which worked out pretty well. If I make this one again, I’ll have to go wimpier on the salsa and maybe actually try that whole pork loin thing.

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Cooking Giada de Laurentiis’s Naked Spring Rolls

While my attempts to make Giada de Laurentiis’ Thai Curry might not have netted the best results, I will say that I had much more success her recipe for Naked Spring Rolls which were both part of the same Thai-themed episode of her Food Network show. It also happened to be a super simple and delicious recipe to put together.

The sauce in the recipe was really easy to put together and doesn’t need much in the way of commentary. I will say that it was tangy and delicious thanks to the combination of lime juice and fish sauce. To augment the dish, though, I also decided to make some sriracha mayonnaise. For this I just squeezed about two teaspoons of the hot sauce into the remaining homemade mayo I had in the fridge after making Banging’ BLTs and Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad which was about a 1/4 of a cup. The only change I made in the recipe was swapping out agave (which I didn’t have on hand) for honey.

With the condiments created, I got to work on the actual spring rolls. As with every other kind of meat, I started out with whole, partially frozen pieces, cut them up and ran them through the meat grinder. Since I was already getting the grinder out, I figured I’d try running the carrot and shallot through there too. It worked pretty well, but there was an intense, tear-jerking blast as the shallot went through. All that went into one big bowl with the other ingredients which got wrapped in plastic and sat for the required 20 minutes.

After that point, I looked at the mixture and realized it was not going to stay together in the oven. So, I grabbed the two ends from our latest loaf of wheat bread, rubbed chunks between my hands to create tiny crumbs and mixed it all together with my hands. I got 15 of the spring rolls out of this and put the foil-wrapped pan under the broiler.

I served these with lettuce leaves, though they’re not super necessary. I dug how this meal came together, but my wife loved it, saying it was one of her top five favorite things I’ve cooked. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but I am a big fan of this dish. It worked really well for us as it was, but could also make for a great party food (if made smaller) or a delicious sandwich. In fact, my only complaint was that the thinner sauce didn’t stick to anything which bummed me out because it was so delicious. If this was a sandwich, though, you could pour that sauce right into the bread to infuse that flavor! Dang, that idea’s so good it makes me want to start a food truck (not that it would take that much cajoling to do that anyway).

Cooking Feed Me Phoebe’s Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad

It’s hot as heck here in New York, so you know what that means: time to look for new chicken salad recipes! Feed Me Phoebe has become a new favorite food blog with lots of interesting dishes. Since I hadn’t exploited the site for chicken salad recipes, it was the first to pop into my mind. My mom actually makes a tarragon chicken salad that I really like, which is why I chose this one for Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad.

I fully intended to follow the recipe and pick up a rotisserie chicken like the recipe suggests, but my daughter and I ran to the grocery store early and there weren’t any available yet. So, I grabbed some chicken breasts and gave them the ol’ olive oil-salt-pepper treatment and cooked them up on the cast iron.

While the chicken cooked I made the dressing which was super simple. Earlier that week I had made some mayonnaise to go along with the Bangin’ BLTs and used that when putting this meal together. This was all part of my menu master plan for the week. I love homemade mayo because it’s so awesomely rich, but it doesn’t last a super long time, so if you’re not a sandwich fiend, it might make sense to have a chicken salad recipe or something that will use up a good portion of the delightful condiment in line for that same week. In other words, don’t waste all that goodness!

With the dressing made, I got to chopping up the herbs and veggies. For the tarragon, I turned to our mini herb garden — look for a mini-post on this down the line  —  golly that’s a unique, bright and bite-y flavor. I also threw in a few diced pieces of celery because I’m used to that in chicken salads and had a few sitting around.

I went with a really small, cube-y dice for the chicken on this. My wife noted that it didn’t stay on the bun very well, so you might want to go with a larger chop. I wasn’t quite sure how far the two chicken breasts I had allotted for this meal would go, hence the smaller cut.

For serving purposes, I didn’t go with the lettuce leaves as mentioned. I intended to, but while walking through the grocery store, I stumbled across some pretzel buns and thought they’d go really well with this cool, tangy dish. I topped the chicken salad with some fresh, clean spinach and was good to go.

Cooking Jeff Mauro’s Chicken Shawarma with Tomato Cucumber Relish and Tahini Sauce

This was another dish I saw prepared in the limited time during the weekend when Food Network actually shows cooking programs that  I mentioned in yesterday’s post. In that one hour I saw four recipes I want to try and have already made two of them.

Like a lot of people, I first heard of Shawarma thanks to that post-credit sequence in The Avengers. Oh, I’d probably heard of it before in passing, but never really thought about it. Within the next year, I wound up at Chickpea and tried some with my wife. It was quite good, so why wouldn’t I want to try and make some in the comfort of my own galley kitchen?

Before making this meal, understand one thing: tahini’s kind of expensive. The 16 oz jar of the sesame paste I got was about $8, but you only use a quarter of a cup, so hopefully I won’t have to buy it again for a while. Aside from that, though, you’re dealing with pretty standard ingredients though you might need to add a few spices to your rack.

Speaking of which, that’s the best place to start with this recipe. I usually like to chop up all my veggies first, but since you need to marinate the sliced chicken thighs for a half hour, I cut up the thighs after I put the shawarma spice mixture together. This is the first time I’ve worked with boneless chicken thighs, but I tried to get a good deal of the fat off.

With the meat doing it’s thing in the refrigerator, I got to work on the Tomato Cucumber Relish (more of a salad really) and the Tahini Sauce, neither of which were difficult but did take a bit of time (well, at least for the former). For the relish, you just chop, measure, mix and you’re good to go. The sauce is even simpler.

Now, Jeff put the marinated meat on skewers and grilled them on the episode. He said it was because he wanted to recreate the spit roaster he saw at the restaurant he visited. That seemed like a lot of extra work, so I just tossed the contents into a cast iron pan and got cooking.

I also tried to cook the pitas the way he did in the episode: by putting olive oil on one side and heating it on the girl. It didn’t work out so well for me so I stopped. When I served myself a plate, I tried putting all the ingredients on top of the pita as you can see in the picture, taco-style. But, the problem there was that there’s a lot of liquid going on here and everything fell apart. I was a little upset until I remembered that a lot of Middle Easter food is eaten with the hands, scooping whatever’s on your plate into the pita or naan and then into your mouth. With that in mind I dug in and had a good, old time.

The chicken had some nice heat and spice to it without going over the top. Even if it was, the tang and crispness of the relish would have cut through it, aided by the thick, substantial tahini sauce. Mixed all together and scooped into pitas, this was a killer meal that I will definitely make again.

I don’t have any pictures of this, but that same week I also made Real Simple’s Spiced Mini Burgers With Couscous Salad. This not only added a bit of continuity to the menu that week, but allowed me to use  up the leftover relish and tahini sauce for this dish. I ground up the beef and made the burgers as advised, but for the couscous salad, I used the leftover relish and just added a few more cucumbers, tomatoes and some couscous I cooked in homemade chicken stock. The tahini sauce then got used to make Alton Brown’s Hummus For Real recipe, though one that used canned chickpeas instead of slow cooked ones. I really enjoyed the spice mix used for these burgers and could imagine going either way size-wise with them: smaller for appetizers or finger food or larger for full on burgers. Both of these recipes get the thumbs up from me!

MATK Originals: Bangin’ BLTs

bagin' bltsAs a kid growing up, BLTs were pretty common in our house. They were the good, solid kinds that featured your basic toasted bread, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo combination, most often served with some Campbell’s tomato soup. But, over the years I’ve started adding to that structure and think I’ve created some really special sandwiches that I wanted to tell you about.

The first major BLT change came for me when my wife introduced me to the idea of the BELT, that’s a BLT with a fried egg on top. As fried eggs and their runny goodness are a favorite of mine, that was a pretty easy sell. So was the inclusion of cheddar cheese, which makes just about everything better.

Recently I’ve been playing with a few ways to make all that even better which culminated in last night’s dinner, what I’m now calling Bangin’ BLTs. Last night’s sandwiches includes your B, your L and your T, but also the aforementioned fried egg, cheddar cheese (we’re big fans of the Hannaford Wisconsin sharp these days), homemade mayonnaise straight out of Ruhlman’s Twenty and either Tony Packo’s Sweet Hot Skinnies or Banana Peppers (the former for my wife, the latter for me).

Bangin’ BLT Ingredients

Bread
Bacon, 2-3 pieces per sandwich
3-4 Large Leaves of lettuce, I use romaine
1-2 Tomatoes, sliced
Eggs – 1 for each sandwich
Sliced cheddar cheese
Pickles, Banana Peppers
Homemade Mayo

This meal might seem simple, but it actually has a lot of moving parts, so I’ll walk you through my process. I make the mayo first and follow Ruhlman’s recipe to the letter using vegetable oil and a farm fresh egg (we just happened to have a few on hand). This is the most intensive part of the process, but I guarantee the flavor you get from this will be far more full and rich than the stuff you buy at the store. This can be made days ahead, but the process only took me about 10 to 15 minutes and I went the hand-whisking route. In the future, I’d like to experiment with combining this mayonnaise with different elements like spicy sauces or fresh herbs.

Next I get my bacon in the oven. Sure, you can cook your bacon in a pan the traditional style, but I’m a big fan of using the oven because you don’t get splattered with hot grease and you don’t have to worry about it for 10 whole minutes. I set my oven for 400 degrees, then line a rimmed baking sheet with crumpled-up tin foil, this gives it more surface area to heat up. I then lay out as much bacon as I can fit, which wound up being about 7 or 8 pieces and popped it in the oven for 10 minutes. At that point I flipped the pieces over and let them cook for another 10 minutes.

With the bacon in the oven, I get to cleaning and cutting my vegetables. For the lettuce, I just pulled four large romaine leaves, sprayed them down and then ripped them into smaller, sandwich-sized pieces, discarding the hard white ribs in the process. Then I cleaned and sliced the tomatoes before slicing the banana pepper into strips for my sandwich (half of a large Tony Packo’s pepper did it for me) and getting out the Sweet Hot Skinnies for my wife. I also cut the cheese into squares.

At this point, it would behoove you to set up a solid sandwich-making station. I didn’t have the space for this, so it was a bit tricky, mostly because I had the toaster right in the middle of my work space. Once the bacon’s out of the oven and patted down, you’re almost ready to start making sandwiches.

Why almost? Because it’s egg time. This is where things can get a little tricky timing-wise because you want to work fast enough to make sure your bacon is still warm, but you’re also cooking eggs and toasting bread. I don’t worry so much about the bacon, so I basically put the bread in the toaster and then drop my egg in a small hot pan coated with cooking spray. By the time the toast is done, I’ve flipped my egg and it’s ready to go.

So, grab the bread and put on your desired about of homemade mayo. Then put cheese on one side (I’ve found that the extra sharp cheese can be a little overwhelming if you double up). I then put the hot egg right on top of the cheese and build up the other side with the bacon, tomato, lettuce and peppers/pickles. Bam, there’s your sandwich.

The richness of the homemade mayo works so well with the bacon, but do watch out because both can be on the salty side. When you mix in the crispiness of the lettuce, the coolness of the tomatoes, the sharpness of the cheese and the heat of the pickles or peppers, plus the egg doing it’s ooey gooey thing, you’ve got something really special happening in your face.

While I’m thinking about it, I do want to circle back around to the idea of serving BLTs with tomato soup. It’s an idea I still adore, but there was no way I was going to cook soup yesterday when it was in the 80s. However, a month or two ago I did make BLTs and tried a new tomato soup recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen. It was delightfully creamy and made for awesome dipping. Unfortunately, we lost most of the leftovers when our fridge fritzed out a month ago, but when things cool down, I’ll give it another try.

Bonus Food Pic: Handsome Devil’s Hot Mess

handsome devil hot messA few months back my in-laws discovered a new barbecue place near us called Handsome Devil that happens to be inside the local ice rink. This past weekend we celebrated Father’s Day by heading back over there to get some food on Saturday. As we have in the past, we had a great time with wonderful food and a nice selection of beers on tap. We all started off with some fried pickles (forgot to photograph because I got so excited for one of my all-time favorite apps). The pickles themselves were nice and briny, but they also came with some sriracha mayo dipping sauce that was fiery and fun. I’m just recently discovered the wonder of sriracha, so this was auspicious timing.

Better than the appetizer, though, was the meal I got. I wasn’t hungry enough to tackle my usual barbecue meal of “as much meat as I can stuff into my face,” so when I saw the Hot Mess on the menu, I was sold. The dish has a layer of beef brisket topped with mac and cheese which has pulled pork on the very top. This was a great choice because you not only get the best side of all time — mac and cheese — but also a sampling of their brisket and pulled pork. Considering their food is so great, this is an easy sell for anyone looking to try a few different elements all in one big pile.

My wife also had the Three Little Pigs smoked ham sliders which were just bonkers good. I was lucky enough to get one half of those little sandwiches and could have eaten about 10. The salty, smokey ham worked so well on the sweet bun and covered in Gruyere cheese.

As an added bonus, Lu got to watch some hockey because there was a kids game going on and you can walk into the stands right from the rink. I bet they do a pretty great appetizer/beer business during those games.

Disney World 2014 Bonus Food Pics Part 2

lu, anna and elsaLet’s get right back into the Disney World goodness! (If you missed part 1, click here.) On February 5th we spent three hours waiting in line at Epcot to meet Anna and Elsa from Frozen. In that time, my dad and I ran over to the cafe in Paris called Les Halles Boulangerie & Pâtisserie and had sandwiches which were awesome. I was too perturbed from the line to snap a picture, but I did last time. Still, it was worth every minute because she still talks about meeting her favorite charactera and having them sign her Frozen book which we read at night sometimes. wave

That night we headed back to The Wave…Of American Flavors inside the Contemporary. Wave has easily become our favorite sit down restaurant at Walt Disney World thanks to its nice, quiet dining room and wonderful selection of entrees. I can’t quite remember what I ordered, but it looks like a steak from this picture (did I mention, it’s nice and dark in the restaurant?). The menu there changes with the seasons, so it’s probably different by now. If you’re looking for a nice sit down dinner that’s outside the parks, but still on the Monorail system, this is one of the best. disney jr character breakfast

The 6th was my 31st birthday, so we celebrated by going to Hollywood Studios and doing the Disney Junior breakfast buffet at Hollywood & Vine. Breakfast is one of the hardest meals to keep consistent and tasty in the buffet style, but this one was pretty darn great. It had all the basics which were all super tasty. Even the eggs were good and that almost never happens. However, the real delight here was seeing my kid’s eyes light up as she got to meet Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins and Jake. She had no idea who Handy Manny was and kind of looked at him like you might someone dressed the exact same way on the subway. spirit of aloha

For dinner we went to the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian. I’ve wanted to do ever since I first heard about it a few years back. Even though the weather got a little dicey, the show was still pretty great, filled with a variety of different dances from all over the world. My daughter and dad even got in on the dancing action. See if you can find them in the picture above. The food itself was served in an all you can eat, family style manner with platters. I remember the bone-in chicken being particularly good as were ribs. As a birthday bonus, I had a large drunk in a coconut shaped to look like a monkey which I was able to bring home with me. pinocchio italian sub

On our last full day, the 7th, we went back to Magic Kingdom. We’re big fans of starting and ending these kinds of trips there. The weather was a little difficult as it was misting rain and chillier than the other days, but we still had some great food. For lunch we stopped in at Pinocchio Village Haus which actually had my favorite single piece of food of the whole trip, the Italian Flatbread Sub which includes Italian Meats, Cheese, Dressing, and Balsamic Glaze on a warm Toasted Flatbread. There was just something so balanced, with the smooth tanginess of the balsamic glaze and salty meats with the melty cheese that hit a lot of my moutbuttons. I also think this might have been my first flatbread sandwich. I’ve got to get more of those in my life. As an added bonus, you can eat over by a window that looks down on the It’s A Small World ride.

from from pinocchio's

For our last dinner we went to Be Our Guest which was…interesting. We had to wait out in the rain for our table along with everyone else which wasn’t the most fun thing in the world. And then, partway through, Lu got scared about the idea of seeing The Beast there. Now she’s seen Beauty and the Beast plenty of times and doesn’t get scared, but she got very adamant about not seeing him. It wound up not really mattering because she fell asleep on me before he even showed up. I can’t say for sure because I ate around a toddler the whole time, but I think I had the Braised Pork (Coq au Vin Style), described as Eight Hour Slow-cooked Pork with Mushrooms, Onions, Carrots and Bacon served with Puréed Cauliflower and Seasonal Vegetables.

I know we also had a lunch poolside at our hotel The Grand Floridian and my wife grabbed a cronut in Epcot, but I think that about covers our food adventures earlier this year in Disney World.

Philly Bonus Food Pics: Pastrami Cheesesteak, Sushi & Dinic’s Roast Pork

pastrami cheesesteak Well gang, I think we’re pretty far past apologies for a lack of posting. A lot of things went down in the past few months that prevented me from posting here on MATK, but I’m really hoping to make a big push for more posts. I’m even circling around to recipes I made months ago that I never posted about so they can be refreshed in my brain. Anyway. I’m kicking this week off with a series of food pictures I took while hanging out with some college friends in Philadelphia a few weekends back (for more details on the weekend, check out the 35th episode of my podcast over on PopPoppa.com). kinish Above you can see the lunch we had at a place called The Famous 4th Street Delicatessen which had wonderful service and gigantic portions. My wife and I split a pastrami cheesesteak which was certainly filling. I also got myself a   blintz. I honestly wasn’t quite sure what a blintz was, but I enjoyed the sweet cheesy insides as well as the fried crust.

While looking for a place that could serve a fairly large dinner party, we stumbled upon Kabuki Sushi. The positives were that they took reservations and weren’t too far from out hotel. Oh, that and the food. I can’t quite remember what rolls I got, but both of them were super tasty. I also tried our friend Heather’s fried tofu which reminded me of fancy carnival food. As you can see, Lucy also had a roll which she seemed to like, though she basically just took the chicken out and ate that. dinic's roast pork Finally, before heading to the Please Touch Museum and heading back home, we went over to the awesome Reading Terminal Market and got Dinic’s roast pork sandwiches for breakfast. My wife remembered seeing these sandwiches on a food show and we were familiar with the market from previous comic convention-related visits to Philly, so we each had one. I’m not sure if I prefer these to cheesesteaks, but I will say that, while I’ve had plenty of crummy cheesesteaks, I’ve only had one awesome roast pork sandwich with broccoli rabe, so that’s something!

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Garlic Butter Mushrooms & Steak Plus A Leftover Sandwich

Like anyone who tries a lot of different recipes, I’ve had a good deal of hits and misses lately. But, one of the absolute best hits I’ve come across in recent memory is actually a side dish: Smitten Kitchen’s Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms. As it happens, this is also one of the easiest things to put together. The only change I made was cutting out the capers because I forgot to buy them at the store. I also used some garlic butter because I had it around, if you do too, give that  shot. You basically get all the ingredients together in a baking dish and throw them into a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes.

I figured that man can not live on mushrooms alone, so I also grilled up some steaks that happened to be on sale that week and steamed some asparagus. The dinner itself was pretty rad. I mean, you can’t really go wrong with a well cooked steak (I just spread some extra virgin olive oil on and sprinkle with salt and pepper before cooking on the cast iron grill pan). The real star, though, were the mushrooms. They’re just so perfectly earthy, rich and buttery with just a bit of acid from the lemon to tone the whole dish of goodness down just a bit.

Better than the dinner was the sandwich I made the next day. I had a red bell pepper in the fridge, so first off I sliced that and cooked it in some olive oil. After that, I sliced some of the steak and warmed that up in a pan with some of the mushrooms and the juice. When that was all warmed up, I placed it on some bread (that I spread some of the mushroom juice on too) with some rasped cheese and put all that on a foil covered pan under the broiler to melt the cheese. Once that was all done — I took it out when I saw the cheese getting melty — and then put some arugula on there and had myself a lunch I could eat four times a week given the resources. Man, I’m actually getting hungry thinking about this. Maybe it’s time to cut to the chase and make these sandwiches for dinner next week.

Cooking Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich & Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup

After hitting up a great farm stand and making caprese with heirloom tomatoes, I knew I’d have a few left over and did a little looking around on FoodNetwork.com until I came across Rick Massa’s Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup which fit the bill pretty perfectly. I did a few things differently than the suggested recipe, though. First and foremost, I didn’t do all that stuff with the butter and whatnot. A while back, my wife turned me on to a grilled cheese method that’s pretty fantastic: put mayonnaise on the sides of the bread that will be exposed to the pan (I used a flat cast iron skillet). I also decided to bake the bacon, as I have in the past. I like this method because you don’t have to watch it like you do on the stovetop.

Before actually making or assembling the sandwiches, but after putting the bacon in the oven, I got to work on the tomato soup. For me, BLTs and grilled cheese always have a connection to tomato soup, but growing up, it was usually the canned stuff from Campbell’s with a little milk thrown in. I thought this soup would be pretty solid thanks to the bacon involved, but it actually wound up being kind of thick and not overly interesting. It wound up being more like sauce than a soup. Part of the problem was that I put the whole tiny can of tomato paste into the mix, which I realized after the fact probably lead to the problem. We wound up not eating much of it, but I did freeze it, to be thawed up and possibly mixed with some chicken stock to thin out a little ways down the line.

Back to the sandwiches, though, they were fantastic. I got the bread prepped with Dijon mustard on the insides as well as the cheese on both sides of the bread, tomato and some of the bacon. After that it was just a matter of throwing them on the cast iron pan one at a time. Once I flipped them, I smushed it down with another cast iron pan (be careful, even though it’s not directly on the heat, this pan will get hot!). Oh, I nearly forgot, I also steamed the green beans that I bought along with the heirloom tomatoes which came out delightfully crisp and clean-tasting. The grilled cheese was just wonderful and, like with the caprese from yesterday, got a nice boost of flavor from the heirloom tomatoes. I’ve got to say, I’m pretty partial to those green ones!