Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bagels and Lox Platter

I can’t believe I’ve never heard of a bagel and lox platter before. In my family is most certainly was not on my list of family comfort food. For some people bagels and lox is a must have for Jewish holidays. We will frequently have bagels and cream cheese, or bagels and a schmear (Yiddish for a spread of cream cheese, usually on a bagel). One day while having breakfast at a restaurant, the people at the next table were served a "Lox and Bagel Platter". I asked the waiter to bring me a menu. 
The menu called it a "Lox Platter". The menu description said that it was "Lox Platter... Fresh smoked salmon (Nova) with a toasted bagel and cream cheese, served with thinly sliced tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and capers". 
The next weekend my wife and I went out and had the "Lox Platter" at a different restaurant. The presentation was not as fancy, but the taste was amazing. I just had to have it again. 
For the 4th of July I decided I just had to get a Lox Platter. I called around and discovered that a "Lox Platter" to serve 8-10 people was about $110.00. For real? It was decided that we would make out own platter. How hard could it be?  
So I did a little research and put together my shopping list. 24 ounces of lox, tomatoes, English cucumbers, fresh dill, red onion, capers, cream cheese, chives, and bagels. So it was the 4th of July weekend. After shopping at the grocery store, my total cost for the "Lox Platter" ingredients was $27.00. How long would it take me to assemble this platter? I wondered.
My son's fiance was over for the day and I recruited her to assemble the platter while I took photographs. For each step I had to convince her to concentrate on presentation. Each thin slice of salmon had to be folded in half and laid out on the edge of the platter until the entire platter was covered. Remember, we eat with our eyes first. As you can see in the picture above, we had to fix the circle of lox to be more symmetrical.
We could have just cut the cucumber into slices, but running a vegetable peeler down the sides, alternating peeled and unpeeled slices make for a great presentation. Once the peeler is done, It's time to cut the cucumber into thin slices and arrange them around the lox.
Now doesn't that look nice? Now it's time for thinly sliced medium sized tomatoes that have been cut in half and placed around the platter overlapping the cucumbers Keep your circles tight, you're not finished yet.
You're going to need some diced red onions. Place a large pot of water on the stovetop and bring to a boil. Cut off each end of the onion and chop into small dice. Placed the diced onions into a fine strainer and set to the side until needed. You're going to need a large bowl filled with water and ice for rapidly cooling the onions (shocking), once they are blanched.
When the water is boiling, set the onions into the water for 2-3 minutes so the onions are tender. Remove the strainer and place it into the ice water. This will stop the cooking process and set the color. Once the onions are cold, pull the strainer from the water and allow to drain. Once drained put in a bowl and refrigerate until needed.
Fill a small bowl with cream cheese and chives and place in the center of the platter. Garnish the platter with fresh dill and add a dollop of chilled red onions around the plate. Place an assortment of bagels that have been cut in half or quartered on a plate next to the lox platter.
To assemble, spread a schmear of cream cheese and chives on each side of the bagel. This is the glue to hold your other ingredients. Place a slice of lox on the bottom layer of cream cheese, followed by a slice of tomato, a couple of cucumber slices, a dollop of red onions and some capers on the top layer of cream cheese and chives. Press the two halves together and you've got a lox appetizer. Enjoy!

© TMelle 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Branding Your Meat with Fancy Grill Marks for the 4th of July

I think that my interest in outdoor cooking began as a young boy when my father encouraged me to join the Boy Scouts. It was in the scouts that we were taught to survive in the wilderness, also known as the local forest preserve. They didn't actually teach us survival skills, instead to be resourceful. I actually enjoyed gathering my food from coolers and making my own meals. At the time, little did I know that learning to cook outdoors was actually preparing me for my adult obsession with barbecue.
It's really not that hard to do. Trust me.
Getting those fancy, great looking grill marks on steak, pork, fish,  or poultry will amaze your friends and family. To get the grill marks is not as difficult as it may seem. To put those marks on the protein you're cooking requires a clean, hot, well oiled grill and an attention to detail.
After about 15 minutes your grill should be hot enough (550°F) to start the process of making steakhouse grill marks in your very own backyard. Oil the grill grates using a set of tongs and an oil dipped paper towel. I have superimposed a clock on the grill hood to make the concept easier to understand. Lay your protein on the grill in the 10:00 o'clock position and close the hood for about 4 minutes.
To be quite honest, I almost never put any emphasis on grill marks. First, they don't have much effect on taste, and second, the supplied steel grate that comes with most charcoal kettles just doesn't get the job done very well. If you have a gas grill or ceramic cooker, you're probably good to go, but for us kettle owners, it's nice to have the replacement heavy duty cast iron grates or the aluminum raised rail grill grates. Both will get hotter than the regular grate and retain heat longer, which is helpful in getting that deep sear. Always buy a steak that is 1 inch thick when going for grill marks.
With a gas grill, the extreme heat of a grill grate will certainly leave a mark on the protein that you are grilling. I usually use the two zone cooking method. Initially I will turn both burners on to high and close the hood, allowing the grill to get roaring hot. After about 15 minutes, turn one burner off (indirect) and leave one burner on (direct). You are now ready to place your meat, chicken, or fish on the direct side (hot) of the grill. Using a paper towel soaked in canola oil generously oil the grill grate. Brush oil on the first side of the protein. When placing the oiled side of your steak, chicken or fish on the hot side of the grill (direct), it should be in the 10:00 o'clock position and sizzle immediately as the meat comes in contact with the hot grill.
When 4 minutes have passed, using your tongs, gently lift one side of the steak from the grill. It should release from the grill easily. If not, wait until it does. Now turn the steak to the 2:00 o'clock position and allow the steak to cook another 4 minutes. Turn the steak over to cook side two.
If you did it right, when you flip the steaks to side two, you will see it. Those fancy, schmancy grill marks. See, that wasn't that hard. Cook side two for another for another 3-4 minutes until it is medium rare 135°F), or medium (140°F). If you like it medium well, or well done you should be ashamed. When your steaks are done, remove them to a warm platter, cover with foil and let rest for five minutes. During this time the steaks will continue to cook about 5 degrees and the juices will redistribute in the steak, or other protein.
Let's chew the fat! In my family the fat on a steak was called "grizzle". We didn't eat the grizzle because it looked bad and it was grizzle. Always trim your steaks, leaving a small amount of fat on them. Once you cook side one of a steak, using metal tongs, hold the steak up on the side and cook the fat on the edges. When the fat is cooked all around the steak, cook side two of the steak. The crispy thin layer of fat becomes like crispy bacon. Yummy.

Plump, juicy chicken! When cooking chicken or pork chops, you can use a brine to make them juicy and tender. While there are many brine recipes out there, a good all-purpose recipe is to use 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of Kosher salt, and a half cup of sugar. I like to use brown sugar over granulated sugar. You could also replace the water with buttermilk if you like. Refrigerate the brining chicken or pork for at least 1-2 hours before using. Pour out the brining liquid.
You can mark your protein the day before you need them. You just need to change your cooking times, so that the protein is not completely cooked on day one. Cook them until partially cooked, remove from the grill and let rest. When using this method it is very important to properly cool the meat in a timely manner so that it is safe. It has to be chilled to 41 degrees or below. When it is time to cook the meat again you must make sure the temperature gets up to at least 165 degrees. 
Chicken resting
Grilling fish is only slightly more difficult. The grill must be hot and well oiled and the fish must be dry and then well oiled to keep it from sticking to the grill. Place the fish on the grill until it releases from the grill on it's own. Its not always perfect with fish so don't be discouraged. If it looks like it is sticking, just give it a few more minutes. It is also important not to over oil the fish. If you add too much oil the heat from the grill will cause black smoke which will make the fish look black, not burnt just black. This happens with any protein. Just remember, a little oil can go a  long way!
Fish resting
When it comes to marking your meat, hamburgers are the easiest to do. You must have a hot grill, well oiled hamburger, a good hamburger seasoning, and don't walk away from the grill. Timing is very important.
Where did I put that cheese?
Oh! There it is.
Even something as simple as a "wrap" looks better when you add those simple grill marks to it. What else looks good with grill marks on it?
Please send me pictures if you tried to make anything that was grilled or marked on the 4th. Why not sign up to follow the blog on the upper right corner, or leave a comment below. Is anybody out there?
Pork Chops
© TMelle 2015

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Afternoon Delight - High Tea

I’m not talking about the 1976 #1 song made famous by the Starland Vocal Band. For some people, the traditional British Afternoon Tea, is a way of life that has been going on since the mid 1800’s. In the United States we call it High Tea.  I was introduced to the concept in the middle 1980's.
While I would sneak into my local McDonald's for an afternoon pick-me-up, some people, more affluent and sophisticated people were enjoying an afternoon cup of tea.
It's not just a cup of tea that I'm talking about, in a world I never knew existed before, I'm talking about waiters in tuxedos serving guests seated at lace covered tables with pure white linen napkins, and a multilevel tiered assortments of biscuits, scones, crumpets, dainty one or two-bite finger sandwiches, and decadent one or two bite pastries.
One year, way back in the middle  1980s, or the decade of big hair bands, I was able to take my mother to the Palm Terrace at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, where we enjoyed their version of High Tea. To say that Mom was in heaven would be an understatement.
Drinking tea from what I would call miniature fine China tea cups, with my pinkie finger extended to heaven, as if that were the way to get in, is not my cup of tea. I'm more of a big mug in hand kind of guy.
High tea is to many people an afternoon delight. It was during a High Tea that I enjoyed my first crumpet and a scone. The crumpets were served with gourmet jams, preserves, and whipped butter. The  crumpets were similar to an English muffin and the scones were like sweetened country biscuits that reminded me of Irish Soda Bread. The next level was finger sandwiches, filled with cucumbers, radishes, egg salad, tuna salad, and ham salad, just to name a few. For the sweet tooth, there was an assortment of miniature pastries. It was here that I enjoyed my first petit fours.  Petit fours are miniature, decorated bite-sized cakes.
It was at High Tea that I realized that this was a life style that I could get accustomed to. I often wish that I had been born rich, instead of so damned good looking. LOL! There's another first, I used LOL for the first time. The tea that was served was a house blend that I really didn't care for. I'm more of a Lipton green or black tea kind of guy. My choice for gourmet tea is English Breakfast Tea.
Why not whip up a batch of your favorite egg salad, chicken salad, tuna salad. or lobster sandwich filling, grab some good sturdy bread and relax. Make a pitcher of ice tea and relax poolside. It's tea time!
Lobster rolls
© TMelle 2015

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Maxwell Street Polish

Another Chicago tradition and definitely comfort food if you've ever had one is the Maxwell Street Polish. The Maxwell Street neighborhood is considered Chicago's near West side. It is noteable as the location pf the Maxwell Street market and the birthplace of Chicago Blues and the Maxwell Street Polish Sausage (MSP).

If living in or around Chicago and needed a set of tires, a car radio, or a pair of speakers, you could usually find them at the Maxwell Street Market. It was here that I enjoyed my first Maxwell Street Polish. So what is a Maxwell Street Polish? I thought you'd never ask. If you can't make it to the market, you can find the MSP almost anywhere in the greater Chicago land area. In some parts of the city, the Maxwell Street Polish is as popular, or more popular than the Chicago-style hot dog.
Not a traditional MSP
To make your own Maxwell Street Polish at home you're going to go shopping. The first thing you will need is some all beef Polish sausages. In Chicago you can easily find Vienna's beef Polish sausages.
Once you get the sausage you must decide how you will cook it. I've has them deep-fried, grilled, steamed and then grilled.
Need a lot of grilled onions
Grill a lot of onions in a little oil and butter.   While the onions are cooking, prepare a good quality plain, poppyseed bun, or a hoagie roll. For the condiments,  a MSP has grilled onions, mustard and sport peppers.

Grill If you don't like the taste of a Polish Sausage you can always have a Chicago style hot dog. Fries always come with a Maxwell Street Polish, or a Chicago-style hot dog.  
As I was writing this post I thought about another one that I wrote about the spiral cut hot dogs. I thought that this would be a great way to cook a Polish. To see this post follow this link:
I often think that my brother living in the South and I share a common craving for good food. As I was writing this post he sent me a text with the following picture attached:
Living in the Memphis area, or as I call it the epicenter of barbecue country, he still has his "Chicago-style" cravings from time to time. This "Chicago Style Hot Dog Kit" was on his porch when he arrived home from work. The Vienna kit contained:
1 - 16 pack (6" 8 per lb.) Vienna® Beef Skinless Hot Dogs
2 - 8 packs Mary Ann Poppy Seed Buns
1 - 12 oz. jar Vienna® Sport Peppers
1 - 12 oz. jar Vienna® Bright Green Relish 
1 - 9 oz. jar Vienna® Yellow Mustard
1 - 6 oz. shaker Vienna® Celery Salt
NOTE: What was missing? To make your very own Chicago-Style Hot dogs you're going to need to buy some dill pickle spears, minced onions, and thinly sliced tomatoes.
My brother informed me that the cost to cure his Chicago-style craving was about $3.50 per hot dog. Cheaper than most Chicago hot dog stands. So apparently you can satisfy your Chicago-style craving whenever you get the urge.
No visit to Chicago would be complete without mentioning the other Chicago hot dog called the "Francheezie." Check out the Francheezie hot dog post;

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Kentucky Derby, Mint Julep, Hot Brown, and Bobby Flay

Going to the Kentucky Derby and drinking mint juleps has always been on my bucket list. I've never actually made it to the derby, I have made it to Arlington Park race track in Illinois. Going to the track is a great way to spend the day, catch some ray's, and possibly win a couple of races if you're lucky. I will settle for breaking even.
Recently, while searching Bobby Flay on YouTube, I came across an episode where Bobby was challenging the Castro brother's to a "Kentucky Hot Brown" Throwdown. After watching this episode, I knew I just had to make the Hot Brown. If you would like to see this episode, head over to YouTube, or click on this link:
The Hot Brown apparently originated at the Brown Hotel in Louisville Kentucky in the 1920's. I went right to the source to try and get the original recipe. Just as I thought they published the recipe on their website.
Since I love turkey and the Kentucky Derby is May 2, I thought this would make a great post for May. You're going to need a few things to make the Hot Brown.
1-1/2 tablespoons salted butter
1-1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for garnish
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper 
sliced roasted turkey breast, slice thick
4 slices of Texas toast, crust removed
4 slices of bacon
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced in half
Arrange bread triangles in pan and tomato halves
Note: What ever you do, don't use sliced deli turkey for this recipe. If you don't want cook a whole turkey, just buy a breast and cook it. I like a lot of tomatoes and added more. If after making the Hot Browns you have more left-over turkey, make some Turkey a la King, or a Turkey Pot Pie. You can also try other cheeses if you like. If I ever make this again, I would cut out 1 cup of heavy cream and use 1 cup of chicken stock in it's place.
To make the Hot Brown you're going to practice your sauce making skills, and prepare a Mornay sauce, which is nothing more than a Béchamel sauce (a Mother sauce), with cheese added to it. Once you've mastered the Béchamel sauce, you will be ready to impressing your family and friends with your culinary skills (see alternate sauce at the end.)
Pour sauce over turkey
Melt the butter in a two-quart saucepan. Once melted, slowly whisk in flour until combined to form a thick paste or roux. Continue to cook roux for 2 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk heavy cream into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about 2-3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in Pecorino-Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.
After a visit in the broiler
For each Hot Brown, place layers of bread in an oven safe dish and cover with turkey slices. Place the tomato halves next to the turkey. Pour half of the sauce over the bread, completely covering it. Sprinkle with additional cheese. Place entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove from the broiler and cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top. Sprinkle with paprika and parsley and serve immediately.
Alternate sauce: To make the Mornay sauce, using a 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Stir in flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Stir for another minute to remove the starch taste. Remove from heat and gradually stir in the cream and chicken stock. Return to the heat and bring to a boil, while stirring constantly. Reduce the heat and stir until the mixture thickens. Stir in cheese and stir until the cheese is melted. Season to your taste.
Turkey a la King
The Hot Brown reminded me of the 60's classics like Chipped Beef on Toast (SOS), Eggs a la Goldenrod, Turkey a la King, or the classic Welsh Rarebit.
If you're not a turkey lover you can pick up a rotisserie, or baked chicken.  Another use of left-over beef, chicken or turkey was the classic open-faced sandwich, served with left-over mashed potatoes, smothered in rich gravy.
Open-faced sandwich
The recipe called for "Texas toast" for the Hot Brown. I decided to get a loaf of bread from the local bakery and cut it myself. What I should have done was get a loaf of real Texas toast which is a softer bread. Mine was much heavier than it should have been because of the bread. 
After WWII nothing was wasted. In our family, we ate left-overs. If you've got a minute and this reminds you of any of your family favorites leave a comment below.