New Candy Bar worth Snickering

November 4, 2009

If I could only choose one candy bar to call my favorite, it would have to be the Snickers. This creamy mixture of peanut butter nougat topped with roasted peanuts and caramel, covered with milk chocolate is the perfect combination of candy ingredients that culminates into one satisfyingly sweet treat. Over the years the folks at the Mars candy factory have varied on this recipe with some success. The Almond version; essentially the old Mars bar, The Snickers Dark; a dark chocolate version of the standard Snickers and now, the Snickers Fudge.

Snickers fudge

Being the Snickers fan I am, and upon seeing this new variation at the checkout counter at a local drugstore, I decided to give it a whirl. Much like the ingredients, my thoughts are mixed and confused. Initially I thought what’s the real difference? Is this just a marketing scheme? A new wrapper for an old product? I hate that. I can’t stand it when a brand decides to redesign their packaging just to stimulate sales.  The beverage industry is notorious for this. Pepsi is constantly redesigning their cans which is great if you’re a packaging designer as you have steady work but lousy for traditionalists like me.  But no, this is not just a new wrapper for the old Snickers, it’s just a less satisfying Snickers.

Let’s examine the inside:

Snickers fudge inside

It’s certainly more fudge like in appearance but what this bar lacks is a distinct fudge like flavor. The peanut butter flavor is lost and the overall taste is less sweeter than the original Snickers. The distribution of ingredients isn’t as balanced either. This, compounded with the fact that the bar is slightly smaller than the Snickers, (much like the Snickers Almond) makes me think I’ll resist the urge to impulse purchase it at the point of sale location in the future.

 

Surf & Turf

November 3, 2009

When you can’t go to the coast for fresh seafood, bring the coast to you. Fortunately with the rise of Snow crab populations and the convenience of flash freezing right after harvest, there is an abundance of this tasty crustacean available throughout America. Today they were on sale at my local Jewel Grocer so I decided to take full advantage. Feeling extra fancy I picked up a nice Filet Mignon for the little lady in my life. She likes the turf with her surf.  It’s the least I can do considering she usually does my shell cracking. She’s quite efficient having gained valuable speed  from her days working at Joe’s Crabshack. Needless to say she also serves as the primary Oyster shucker around here too.

 

CrabLegs

Snow Crab clusters with claw

 

 

Cooking these red shelled beauties is a breeze. Simply prepare a large pot with a steamer basket and add equal amounts of water and vinegar to just below the steam rack. Toss in a couple heaping tablespoons of Old Bay seasoning and add the crabs. I usually throw in a few red potatoes and an ear or 2 of corn and bring to a boil. Cover and let steam for a good 20 minutes or more until the crab is bright red and hot and the potatoes are fork tender. Serve with fresh unsalted drawn butter and lots of lemon wedges.

Old Bay seasoning

As for the Filet, I bring the meat to room temperature and season with a little sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Grill until desired  done-ness. I like my filet medium rare where as she tends to like it a little more red. I made a simple Iceburg lettuce salad with a blue cheese dressing. Leftover bread from the previous nights dinner made wonderful garlic bread in the toaster oven. Wash it all down with a nice white wine or your favorite brew. For those who don’t drink, Iced Tea compliments this meal perfectly as well.

 

FILET MIGNON

Grilled Filet Mignon

They call it seafood for a reason.  If I see it, I eat it.

 

Where there’s Smoke, There’s BBQ.

October 24, 2009

“How do you keep it lit?” My buddy asked me thinking he was funny when I told him I was going to smoke a beef brisket the other day.  Well today, I found a little truth in that as I sat next to my father’s charcoal water smoker. Ya see, I wanted to go “all natural” and opted for real hardwood charcoal rather than the Kingsford briquets variety. I figured the chemicals they treat their coal with would affect the flavor of my smoke. I already ingest enough toxins everyday  without even trying to as the modern world is full of them. But when I opened my bag of natural fuel, I discovered that the pieces were very small and that signaled trouble ahead. Small pieces burn quicker and are harder to manage through the small opening of my smoker fire-box. Lesson learned: use larger pieces of coal for fuel. Next time I’ll find some small logs and won’t have as hard a time “keeping it lit”.

However painstaking the constant adding of fresh coal to my fire-box, the end result was worth it. Beef Brisket was on sale at the local Jewel so I decided that would be my test run meat. The night before the big smoke out, I marinated it in a home made mixture of a bottle of lager beer, cider vinegar, low sodium soy sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, ground coriander, chili powder, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, mustard seed and toasted black peppercorns. I poured that it into a gallon sized freezer ziplock bag and added the 2.5 lb brisket. I then placed the bag in a glass 12-inch casserole dish and placed in the refrigerator for the night. By putting the marinade bag in the dish, I prevent any accidental leakage to contaminate and make a mess in my fridge.

On the day of the smoke out, I took the meat out and rinsed it briefly and patted dry. You have to let it sit out and come to room temperature before placing in the smoker for even cooking. I saved the marinade for my water dish to add additional flavor during the smoking. Basically the smoker has a water pan that sits below the food and above the heat and steams the food while it slowly smokes it. This also helps maintain a consistently even distribution of the heat throughout the smoker. After the meat has almost come to room temp, I generously rubbed it with Bessinger’s BBQ rub. This is a store-bought BBQ rub from South Carolina that is low in sodium and full of spicy BBQ flavor. Normally I would have made my own rub but My brother had sent me a few bottles of this and so I figured I’d might as well use it up. Plus it’s pretty darn tasty.

For smoke, I used a mixture of cherry and apple wood chips. Soak them in water (beer or wine for more flavor) for at least a half hour prior to use. I make a little pouch out of a few sheets of tin foil for the smoking chips and place directly on top of the red-hot coals. Be sure to leave the top of the foil pack open so that the smoke can escape to flavor your meat. The foil pack keeps the smoking chips from catching fire while still allowing for the release of the precious smoke.

Unfortunately, my camera battery ran out of juice or I would have taken photos of the end result. Another lesson learned.  Smoke for many hours. Low and slow. Keep the temperature on the smoker at around 250˚ and remember that every time you open the lid, you let out a lot of heat. It’ll take the smoker a while to come back up to temp. In other words, the more you open the lid, the more smoking time your gonna need.  Keep on smoking until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the brisket reads about 185˚ or more.  You can’t really over cook it and medium rare brisket is often too tough. This cut of meat is meant for long cooking times.  Slice the meat against the grain and serve with either aside of BBQ sauce or just eat it as is. Most folks find that the rub and smoke is all the flavor you need though.

I served my brisket with a side of mac & cheese, BBQ baked beans, cole slaw and fresh home-made cornbread. An ice-cold beer washes everything down wonderfully.

This is the type of charcoal water smoker I have (Brinkman)

This is the type of charcoal water smoker I have (Brinkman)

Inside of a charcoal water smoker (different model, same concept)

Inside of a charcoal water smoker (different model, same concept)

Charcoal chimney starter. Used for starting coals.

Charcoal chimney starter. Used for starting coals.

The Cheeseburger part 2

October 19, 2009

I spent the past weekend in Detroit Michigan at a wedding.  As exciting as the big day was for all in attendance,  after 2 dinners of banquet style fare, I was ready for something I could really sink my teeth into. How about the all-American classic juicy cheeseburger? Fortunately on the way home is an excellent place for that. Redamak’s, The hamburger that made New Buffalo famous.  This a simple roadside diner that caters to the vacationing and weekend getaway crowd travelling home from a relaxing visit in beautiful Michigan.

Redamaks logo

I was first turned on to Redamak’s about 15 years ago. And to this day, I make it a point to make this my dinner stop on my way home to Chicago. Cheep eats served fast and by a friendly staff.  The basic cheeseburger is a thin 6 oz. patty grilled on a griddle, served with a slice of American cheese, pickles, raw onion and ketchup & mustard. I get mine without onions. Not because I don’t like onions but because I feel they hinder the flavor of the meat. The pickles do as well but I pick ’em off and eat ’em whole. Tonight I kept it simple and split a basket of cheese fries with my fiance and washed it all down with a cherry coke. The skewer of maraschino cherries is a nice touch.

Cheeseburger simply wrapped in paper

Cheeseburger simply wrapped in paper

Basic cheeseburger with standard fixins

Basic cheeseburger with standard fixins

Oh there’s plenty of other food options on the big wheel sized menu but when the burger is this consistently good, I see no need to veer off the eaten path.  I won’t claim this to be the best burger I’ve ever had either but I certainly put it at the top of the list for its simplicity, consistency, and juicy flavor. The next time you find yourself traveling down Interstate 94 in MI heading to Chicago, get off at the New Buffalo exit and take it into town and find out for yourself why this is the hamburger that made New Buffalo famous.

*Word to wise, they’re a seasonal place meaning they’re only open from the beginning of March to the end of October.

A homage to Hominy

October 14, 2009

One of the many joys in my life is traveling and dining on the local food. And by local I mean to that part of the world. What grows and lives nearby. Ingredients that are not as accessible, plentiful or affordable in my native Chicagoland.  Suffice it to say I love being near a large body of water or coastal region. Ya see, I have a weakness for seafood. I see seafood and I want to eat it. Yes, that is corny but that is how I was raised. My father was a fisherman. So naturally, I became accustomed to a seafood diet.

I cannot remember exactly when I first had shrimp but it has been a favorite of mine ever since. I can tell you about the first time I had grits though. I was on a hunting trip with my father in Southern Il. The morning of our first day began with a hearty breakfast at a local diner. When I ordered my breakfast the waitress asked me how I wanted my grits. I had heard about this concoction of creamy porridge like corn mush but up until this point, I had never tried it. Quickly turning to my father whose culinary knowledge was far superior to mine, I shrugged my shoulders signaling that I had no answer to give the now impatiently growing waitress. I chuckled as he replied, “I don’t really care for them, but you might like them with butter and sugar”.  I looked over at the waitress and signaled that I would like them that way too. After she left, he explained how the only way he really cared for them was with cheese and served with shrimp. I tucked that bit of info away in my brain and wouldn’t revisit it until many years later.

My fiance and I traveled to South Carolina a few years ago for Thanksgiving. Neither of us had ever been there before and since My brother has lived down there for the last 8-9 years, I figured, it was time for a trip. Being in the warm south during November and being near the ocean really appealed to me. Seeing my brother and his family would be an extra bonus. On the first day there my fiance and I headed out for lunch. A cute little Southern restaurant recommended to me by a friend brought us to the Hominy Grill. It was there that I really popped my cherry on Southern cuisine. I t began with Sweet Tea. The real deal. Home brewed black tea blended with real sugar and a hint of lemon. The stuff up here pales in comparison. You order an iced tea and add sugar packets and expect it to dissolve and blend properly. That never works and instead you are left with a pile of sugar on the bottom of a glass of tea. Next was a table snack of boiled peanuts. This is an acquired taste. My companion doesn’t care for them. More for me I though I as scarfed them all down. They have a mushy almost potato texture and flavor. Most Yankees are turned off by this as they expect the crunch and get a completely different experience. I ordered a seafood chowder and set my eyes on the shrimp & grits. Having never had them but trusting in my father’s wisdom of some 20 years earlier, I figured, what the heck. When in Rome right? Today would be the day to revisit the grit and add the shrimp.

Hominy Grill

The combination of these 2 main ingredients is unique. The creaminess of the grits juxtaposed with the firm bite of the shrimp is a delightful balance of texture.  The slight hint of heat blended with the rich brown sauce intertwines with the mushrooms and sweet crunchy green peppers in a delicate dance in the mouth.  The chefs at the Hominy Grill have this down to a science.  When In Charleston, SC, go here and order this dish. You will not be disappointed.

But alas, I could not go to the Hominy tonight. Nor do I see a trip there in the immediate future. So I did the next best thing. I made it myself. From memory mainly but also from seeing it prepared there on a few food/travel shows. I did a fair job. Good enough to warrant praise from my most important taste buds; my fiance. She approved.  To round off the meal, I picked up a dozen fresh Blue Point oysters from my local fish monger and had her prepare them on the half shell. She’s quick with an oyster knife. A handy skill to have should we decide to retire to the south and open up a seafood joint someday.

Foodiesteve's Shrimp & Grits

Foodiesteve's Shrimp & Grits

Blue Point Oysters on the half shell

Blue Point Oysters on the half shell

*Hominy – Hominy refers to corn without the germ. It is served both whole or ground. Hominy is boiled until cooked and served as either a cereal or as a vegetable. Hominy may also be pressed into patties and fried. This dish is especially popular in the southern United States. Samp is another name for coarse hominy. Hominy ground into small grains is sometimes called “hominy grits.”

Sunday Night Dinner at Home pt.1

October 12, 2009

Tonight I went home for dinner. My childhood home that is. Mom was the chef and  a delicious home cooked feast is what she prepared. Nothing fancy mind you just simple comfort food. Just the recipe for a crisp  autumn night. Pot Roast with potatoes and braised veggies. Carrots, leeks & mushrooms to be exact. Complimented with a wedge salad drenched in 1000 island dressing, pickled beets and freshly baked cranberry muffins. And though it would have appeared that she had slaved in the kitchen all day, the meal was prepared in a crock pot which freed her up  to bake a fresh apple pie for dessert.  Ahhh dinner at home. Is there anything better in life? Hardly anything if you ask me.

Potroast Carrotsleeksshrooms Wedgecranberry muffins

Apple pie

A bowlful of Joy at this Asian noodle shop.

October 11, 2009

I am blessed to have more than my share of fellow minded food fiends as friends. Folks with whom share the same passion for the delicacies of the world as I do.  Like minded people who are equally as willing to venture off the eaten path and seek out truly authentic regional cuisine. Tonight I had such an evening. Our destination was Asian. Joy Yee’s Noodle shop in Naperville was where we settled in to begin the feast. And what a feast it was. Joy Yee’s is a virtual poo poo platter of Pan Asian cuisine.  Joy Yee’s Noodles combines different dishes and styles from across Asia into one expansive menu and set in a cheery little dining room. The end product is pleasing, with a variety of tastes, large portions and, most importantly, low prices. Represented are Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Malaysian, Korean, Mongolian, Japanese & Szechuan.

The other couple my fiancé and I dined with are treasured friends. Just the right type of foodies that recognize the value in dining family style as they are as eager to sample a variety of dishes as my companion and I. So tonight we shared everything. Starting with 2 appetizers. A spinach & crab Rangoon and Vietnamese pork egg rolls. Probably the most Americanized dishes we ate all night. I must admit I have a weak spot for a crispy fried egg roll whenever I dine on Asian fare. It’s the one dish that connects me to my childhood when chinese take out was limited to the MSG laden brown sauce meat & vegetable dishes served with white rice. But that is where the Americanized Asian portion of the meal ends. Next came a huge bowl of piping hot Tom Yum Soup. This Thai staple featured a plethora of seafood including shrimp, mussels, crab meat, Squid & fish balls. It’s rounded out with fresh mushrooms and served in a hot & sour broth with green & jalepeño peppers, cilantro, scallions & lemon grass. The heat of the soup was quickly doused with fresh sweet Thai Iced tea. Finally the entrees. Malaysian spicy beef; a spicy take on pepper steak and Sesame Chicken; an interesting take on the classic sweet glazed breaded chicken. The menu are features a huge assortment of exotic fresh fruit drinks including the rare and unique Durian fruit freeze. Other drinks include creamy teas and tapioca & pearl jelly drinks. All freshly blended and prepared with fresh ripe fruits not often found in your local supermarket. These creamy and cool refreshments are a perfect antidote for some of the spicier dishes found on the menu.

The portions are so huge that  amongst 4 voracious eaters, we still had leftovers to take home. Joy Yee’s has multiple locations in the Chicago area. The western Suburbs is home to the Naperville location and Evanston houses the Northern suburban location. The original resides in Chinatown with another on S. Halsted and yet another Chicago location opening soon.  A word to the wise, The menu is as huge as the portions. There are so many dishes to choose from that it can be overwhelming. Take your time when you peruse the menu and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Come hungry and you’ll leave happy. A great place to go with good friends as sharing is very common. Be bold and adventurous and order something unfamiliar. You’ll be filled with joy that you did.

joy-yeeBanner

Stuffed Peppers

October 6, 2009

I like to cook. so, tonight I was the chef.  A  profession I have great respect for but no desire to engage in on a daily basis. Those guys work their butts off for their patrons. The hours are long and grueling and the pay is meager for the effort they put in. These guys are soldiers in the kitchen of life.  Thank them whenever you get the chance and don’t be afraid to throw them a tip now and again.

Stuffed Peppers is my decided meal. Having grown my own Bell & Poblano peppers, I decide to put them to tasty use. I began the process with a quick trip to the market.  I Pick up a pound of ground pork to prepare a home-made sausage after deciding to forgo grinding my own. I actually prefer to grind my own as I can control the cut of meat along with the coarseness of the grind. But today I opted for the convenience of pre ground. I Picked up a few onions, and some Mexican melting cheese and proceeded home. Once back in my lab, I like to call the kitchen my lab as I generally view all my home cooked meals an experiment, I began mixing the ingredients for my seasoning. My sausage seasoning is much like a rub or curry of spices that I mix into the ground pork that  tenderizes and transforms the meat into sausage.   By making my own seasoning, I can control the amount of salt and void the meat of any nitrates or artificial chemicals  found in the prepared sausages like Bob Evans or Jones brands.  In other words, a much healthier sausage.

I wrap the meat and store in the refrigerator and begin  to make a batch of brown rice. Next I dice an onion and mince a few garlic cloves and set aside.  Now all my Mise en place* is in order. I let the sausage sit in the fridge for a few hours to really absorb the seasoning. At about an hour out from eating, I’ll start cooking. First, I add a little Olive Oil in a skillet and sauté the onions and garlic making sure not to burn the garlic. I add the sausage and brown it making sure to really break apart into a nice crumble.  I add a small can of tomato sauce and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and chili powder to taste. When the meat mixture has reached the seasoned flavor to your liking, add the brown rice and mix well. Set aside.

I Remove the tops of the peppers with a pairing knife and scoop out the seeds and pith. I Fill the peppers with some of the shredded Mexican cheese and add the meat/rice mixture and top with more cheese. I then Loosely wrap the pepper in tin foil and place the tops of the peppers back on each pepper. Now place in a oven safe dish and place in a preheated  400˚ oven and bake for 30 minutes.  After time has elapsed, remove from oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes then serve.  A salad makes a nice complement to this dish along with some warm pita or tortillas to scoop up any meat mixture that spills out.

Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed Peppers

* A French phrase defined by the Culinary Institute of America as “everything in place”, as in set up. It is used in professional kitchens to refer to the ingredients, such as cuts of meat, relishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components that a cook requires for the menu items that they expect to prepare during their shift.

Sunday Dinner

October 5, 2009

Growing up I remember gathering around the dining room table on Sunday nights for a big, hearty home made meal. My mom had spent the better half of the afternoon slaving in the kitchen preparing all the trimmings. A fresh salad followed by a roast of meat perhaps with mashed potatoes and gravy made from the pan, a side of  vegetables of whatever was in season at the time, a loaf of fresh bread or hot rolls, and a big old glass of creamy 2% milk. Following dinner a fresh slice of warm pie. raspberry being the favorite in our house, though apple or pumpkin was always a welcome too. The ultimate in comfort food. prepared with love and shared by loved ones. Sometimes, a bottle of wine would emerge and my parents would allow me a small glass to have with dinner. Not enough to get me buzzed mind you and not that I even could appreciate the delicate flavors on my still developing palate. Afterall, this was the era when I despised onions and mushrooms for heavens sake. Dinner was often led by blessing whether we had been to church that morning or not. It was a time of family. A time when we could all be together and talk about the things that really matter, being together. We’d talk about the future, and relive the past, and we’d laugh. I remember we laughed a lot.

Rockwell

Now a Sunday dinner is a rare thing in my life. Reserved mainly for the holidays, although even then not as often as it should be. Certainly not as often as I wish. My Sunday nights are now void of the laughter my family once shared. My brother moved away, my sister has alienated herself in her own world and my fathers passing have kept us apart and away from the Sunday dinner table. Now on occasion I get the next best thing, a dinner out with my mother and fiance at a local place where the staff is friendly, the prices affordable, and the food familiar. Once again I can enjoy a roast of meat, mashed potatoes & gravy with a soup and salad. And maybe, if there’s enough room, dessert. My mother is now free from the shackles of the kitchen can finally dine in peace. Not the Sunday Dinner of my childhood, but one worthy of reverence nonetheless. I look forward to next Sunday. Maybe I’ll be blessed again with another Sunday dinner.

Comfort food Vol. 1 The King of Sandwiches: The Turkey Club

September 29, 2009

Comfort food . That dish that satisfies your ultimate crave, heals you when your sick and helps you make sense in this maddening world. I have a few dishes that are just what the doctor prescribed on an otherwise bleak and dreary day. For many it is the simple meals only a mother can make. Mac & cheese, tomato soup & a grilled cheese sandwich, tuna casserole or meatloaf with mashed potatoes. Maybe it’s as simple as a piping hot bowl of chicken soup or a favorite recipe of chocolate chip cookies. Whatever your flavor, no doubt, everyone can list off a few comfort food dishes of the top of their heads.

For me, the one thing that tops the list, The King of the castle, the dish with which I judge a diners worthiness over would have to be the turkey club sandwich. I am very particular about this simple sandwich though. In order to qualify it to comfort food caliber I judge the sandwich on a few simple criteria:

1. The turkey must be fresh roasted and hand sliced. Think Thanksgiving bird here.

2. Tomato fresh, ripe and juicy. No yellow or white in the center thank you.

3. Iceburg lettuce. It’s crispy and provides the right balance for the other ingredients. The leafy dark green stuff is for salads.

4. Crispy thick bacon. The key to good bacon is not to overcook it which will dry out the bacony flavor everyone loves.

5. Real mayonnaise. Homemade even better. Nothing with the words dressing or whip or promising miracles can deliver better than real mayo.

6. Toasted white bread. Wheat is healthier sure but who are we kidding here, we’ve already got bacon and mayo on this thing. I like a good country white.

7. Eighty Six* that third slice of bread, It often smothers the flavors of the ingredients and it’s really difficult to bite into. And while you’re at it, just cut the thing in     half.  It’ll keep the good stuff inside from spilling out making it easier to eat.

Triple Decker Club version.

Triple Decker Club version.

Serve it with fresh hot french fries and enjoy which is exactly what I did tonite at my favorite local diner. The Glen Oak Restaurant. This place has been serving a myriad of comfort food dishes for over 30 years. Maybe longer, all I know is that it’s just always been there, it’s always comforting and always been an affordable option as long as I can remember. As a kid, my favorite dish they make is the francheesie. To read it on the menu today still brings a smile back to my face though I dare not order it now under strict orders of my cardiologist.  The francheesie is a hot dog wrapped in bacon and smothered with American cheese. It’s served with french fries & a smile.

I’ll blog more about the Glen Oak in the future. They have a few other comfort dishes I consume frequently. The next time you think of turkey remember, the club is king.

* The term Eighty Six is fabled to refer to the old speakeasy Chumley’s in New York City. Located at 86 Bedford St. in Greenwich Village. The cops, who were on the payroll, would phone into the bar just before they were about to raid the place allowing the bartender enough time to yell out 86 to the patrons so they could sneak out before the police arrived. I’ve been to Chumley’s before it was condemned for safety reasons. Hopefully they’ve restored the place and kept the dirty musty smell that gave it it’s charm. Other references to the term refer to when a place has sold out of a particular item it has been 86’d for the evening meaning they no longer have anymore to serve.