July 28, 2015

Southwestern Eggs Benedict on Potato Pancake

Why I don't have a restaurant right now is beyond me.

But actually, not really... it's because I'm poor.  But if this beautiful dish doesn't look like brunch at a fancy restaurant, I don't know what does!  The presentation of this benedict is great because of all the different colors, and the flavors are even better.  The creamy avocado pairs with the crisp crust of the potato pancake and the hint of cilantro in the hollandaise sauce really pops with the entire dish.  This recipe makes about 10 potato pancakes, depending on their size, but I only made three poached eggs to go on top.

Hey... have you seen the price of eggs lately?!

What You'll Need:
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 pounds potatoes, shredded
  • 5 eggs, divided
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Paprika, for sprinkling
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1 tomato, sliced
For the hollandaise:
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon warm water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice, fresh
  • Pinch cumin
  • Pinch salt
  • 4-5 cilantro leaves
  • 1 stick butter, melted

1.  Cook the bacon until slightly crisp.  Drain on paper towels and dice.  While you do that, put potatoes in a clean kitchen towel over a bowl and squeeze out excess water.  In a mixing bowl, mix drained potatoes, chopped bacon, 2 eggs, and the next six ingredients until well incorporated.

2.  Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Form potato patties and add to your skillet, 3-4 at a time, don't crowd the pan.  They only need a few minutes on each side.  Flip and cook each side until golden brown.  Drain on paper towel-lined plates.  Set up potato patties on platter and top with slices of avocado and tomato.

3.  In a pot, bring about 4 cups of water to a fast simmer and add about a teaspoon of white vinegar.  Use the remaining three eggs and crack each egg into a separate ramekin or small bowl.  Using a slotted spoon, start a whirlpool in the pot and drop one egg in, whites first (as best you can), and let it cook for three minutes.  Remove with spoon and drain on paper towel.  Repeat with the next two eggs. (If you can do three eggs at a time - go you!  I wanted these to be really perfect, so I took my time).  Place each egg on top of tomato slices.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

4.  In a super duper blender (something like the Ninja works really well), add egg yolk, water, lemon juice, spices and cilantro leaves.  Turn on very high to begin emulsifying.  Slowly pour in melted butter through the top and watch hollandaise come together and thicken.  Spoon over eggs and top with cilantro leaves.  Enjoy!

July 27, 2015

Sergimmo Salumeria

Sergimmo's should change their name to "Italy on 9th".  This salumeria is small, rustic, and the sandwiches mirror what you'd find in a corner shop on a street in Venice, except probably twice the size - which is due to this being America and all.  My mom and I came to this glorious shop before we headed off the the taping of "Beat Bobby Flay" (why, yes, I was invited to a live taping of the show by Bobby Flay himself!) on a suggestion from my bff Jessica (who saw it on Yelp).  My mom and I both took a bus up to the city, and where the busses dropped each one of us off, Sergimmo was about a 10 minute walk, on 9th Avenue, between 35th and 36th Streets.  

It's a little confusing when you walk in, because it's tough to decide where you are supposed to order and when you're supposed to pay, and in what order - but that's the least of their worries here at Sergimmo.  There are only roughly 20 seats in this quaint restaurant, but from what I understand, they get extremely busy.  My dad always told me, "it's better to be small and busy, than big and empty."  The entire side wall is a chalkboard taken up by over 50 different sandwiches, paninis, pasta dishes, pizza, and more.  (Chalkboard picture doesn't belong to me, courtesy of Raoul Beltrame; link here)

My mom and I both got the same thing, except I can never, ever get anything how it was intended, I always have to doctor it up.  The "Di Franchesca" was piled high with a chicken cutlet, fresh mozzarella cheese, sweet cherry peppers, and artichokes, with a balsamic glaze.  I added prosciutto to mine, of course.  I also saw arancini on the menu for $3.50 each, so I ordered three of those, because they're my absolute favorite. And juuuust as I was leaving the counter, I saw marinated octopus and ordered a quarter-pound of that, too.  I'm sure these guys thought I was going to the electric chair in an hour and was never going to eat again.  $40.00 later and we were sitting by the window, waiting for Italy to be served.  We got our octopus immediately and scarfed that down.  It was a bit on the tough side, but the marinade was simple and tasty: olive oil, fresh herbs, vinegar.

We both received our sandwiches, and MY GOD YES.  The bread.  The cheese.  The cutlet.  Every piece stacked was better than the last.  While the chicken cutlet could have withstood a lot more seasoning in it's breading, the salt from the prosciutto and tangy balsamic helped it along.  The bread was crusty and fresh, and all the components worked perfectly.  The best thing about the sandwich is the fact that I (and my mom!) couldn't finish it all.  The longer it sat, wrapped up in it's doggie bag, the better and better it was getting.  Of course I got to take my mom's leftovers with me, and I ate the rest on the bus-ride home, as well as the next day!  About halfway through our sandwiches, I remembered that we were waiting for arancini.  The guys behind the counter assured me they were working on it, and they'd be out shortly.  It seemed like a particularly long time for a few rice balls, but I didn't complain.  And it's a good thing I did not.

The arancini that came on this plate were not your normal arancini.  These babies aren't bite-sized.  They're barely even fork-sized.  I wanted to apologize to the guys behind the counter for even asking for the whereabouts of my rice balls prematurely.  The crispy, golden-brown rice balls were probably the size of a baseball, and once you dove in, they were filled with creamy risotto, green peas, a blend of ground meat: most likely pork, beef, and veal (that's unconfirmed, though!), a touch of sweet tomato sauce, and parmesan cheese.  They were served alongside a dish of marinara for dipping, but they were fine without.  They needed a pinch of salt, which I happily added, and I polished off almost two of these, Mom eating the rest.  Before getting the rice balls, I thought $3.50 was a lot for one, but I chalked it up to it being New York City, the most expensive place on the planet.  Turns out, $3.50 is a supremely huge bargain for what you get here.  Yum!

Sergimmo is the perfect New York sandwich joint, but taken to the next level, with its pasta dishes, pizza, sliced deli meats, and homemade desserts.  It's not overpriced, it's not pretentious, and it doesn't pretend to be something it's not.  The guys behind the counter seem to speak a little broken English, and seem very authentic.  Sergimmo is a place that I would frequent on a regular basis if I lived in New York.  I guess it's a good thing I don't, or they'd have to roll me out of there eventually.  While I don't get up to NYC every other week, I do go a few times a year.  Sergimmo may have just increased "a few" to "a lot".  Thanks, Sergio and Massimo!

July 13, 2015

Fried Mac and Cheese Bites

This recipe doesn't really scream "try me if this is your first time cooking!"  There is no recipe here that gives the step-by-step directions on the macaroni and cheese.  We had a leftover pan at school and I wanted to do something fun with it because we couldn't really serve it again.  You can season the breadcrumbs however you'd like, but I love the flavors of Ranch and macaroni and cheese, they work really well together.  I also used our homemade ranch seasoning that we make in-house, but you can use the packets, or use your own seasonings!  Lastly, the measurements for this recipe will vary depending on the amount of leftover macaroni you have - so don't be afraid to add or subtract for what looks good with what you're working with.  Also, if you want to add some extra flavor to the mac and cheese itself, wrap those babies in bacon strips before dredging them! Enjoy!

What You'll Need:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 4 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • (3) 1-oz. packets Ranch seasoning
  • Leftover macaroni and cheese, about half 13"x9" dish

1.  Prep your dredging station first.  Whisk together the flour, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.  Additionally, whisk the eggs and buttermilk together, and then the panko breadcrumb and the Ranch seasoning.  In three different mixing bowls, set up the flour, then the egg mixture, and finally, the breadcrumb.

2.  Using a larger melon-baller or a small ice cream scoop,  form small balls with the cold macaroni and cheese.  Roll the bites around in the flour, then coat with egg, and dredge in the breadcrumb.  Squeeze balls with the breadcrumb on there to secure it is coated evenly all the way around.

3.  In a deep fryer, (or a pot with vegetable oil heated to 350-degrees), drop macaroni and cheese bites in a few at a time.  Fry until golden brown on the outside, and gooey and hot on the inside, roughly 4-5 minutes.  Repeat until all bites are done.  Sprinkle with sea salt and serve with your favorite dipping sauce: marinara or ranch dressing are my favorites!

June 28, 2015

The Salty Pig, Boston

Nothing frustrates me more than a restaurant with poor food.  It's one of those, "you had one job!"-type things.  If you're a restaurant, and you're serving unappetizing food, you need to get it together, because people will overlook crappy service, bad ambiance, and expensive prices for the sake of a delicious plate of food.  Trust me.  Luckily, unlike a few of the places we frequented on our recent trip to Boston, The Salty Pig, does NOT have to worry about this.  Food seems to be their area of expertise - as well as the ambiance.  This trendy and modern space is what you'd imagine you'd be walking into when coming off the main streets of Boston's hustle-bustle concrete jungle. 

When we arrived, there was ample seating outside, but I'm not really all about eating outside in the elements.  We were brought down some steps into the main seating and open kitchen area.  Immediately, I was drawn to the walls and menus hanging above the bar and kitchen.  Chalkboard-style menus are very in right now, and it's always nice to see someone took the time to carefully write out each item in near-perfect handwriting ;-)

We were greeted by a (rather forgettable) server - who brought water and menus.  Water service is fun, served in plain tumblers with what looks like a plain wine bottle filled with chilled water.  The menu was adorned with charcuterie boards, starters, pizzas, sandwiches, and cocktails - all reasonably-priced for this metropolitan area of Boston.  Charcuterie boards are easily customizable so you can pick different types of meats and cheeses that you like.  I wish it was socially acceptable to order four different things for an hour lunch, because I wanted one of these, but I skipped to the sandwich section of the menu to browse...

There was one word that was sticking out to me the entire time, everywhere I looked: PROSCIUTTO!  If there's one thing in the word I wouldn't mind eating for the rest of my life, it's cured meats - prosciutto, soppressata, salami, pancetta, bacon, etc.  I opted for the Prosciutto Sandwich, complete with arugula, fig jam, and balsamic dressing.  It also came with cheese.  The most creamy, soft, delicate cheese I've eaten on a sandwich.  It is like fontina, but much more mild in flavor.  I'll be searching high and low to get my hands on this cheese in Baltimore.  The elements of this sandwich were all different, and all worked together so cohesively, which made each bite so perfect.  It starts with the creamy cheese, then - salty prosciutto.  The creamy and the salty is then topped with peppery, spicy arugula.  It doesn't stop there, either.  The spicy arugula becomes friends with the sweet fig jam, and each bite just makes you want to close you eyes and take it all in.

I was asked if I preferred kettle chips or a salad, and I opted for the salad.  The salad was a lackluster attempt at a side dish - spring mix greens dressed with a light citrus dressing, but not much else.  No tomatoes, no carrots, no cucumbers - just lettuce.  Dressed nicely, but not special.

Bucky had a chicken salad sandwich, topped with pea tendrils, radish, garlic, and what appeared to be a "green goddess" dressing.  I only had a bite of this, but Bucky is generally picky when it comes to out-of-the-box food, and he said it was very good.  I will take his word for it, the bite I had was tasty!  He got the kettle chips on the side.  They were also lackluster.  They clearly came from a bag, and it looked like the bottom of the bag, at that.  At a place so trendy and hip - you'd like them to be frying their own kettle chips.

The only regret I had with The Salty Pig was that I didn't get to have any pizza.  They prepare the pizza by hand, cooking it in a brick oven for the whole restaurant to see.  The man next to me had ordered a pizza, and I was just hoping he would look at my longing gaze and ask if I wanted a piece. 

He didn't.

The food scene in Boston wasn't something to write home about - many places were overpriced for boring, under-seasoned food.  However, stopping into The Salty Pig before heading to the airport was a saving grace for my critique on Boston cuisine.  This is a place I would frequent quite often if I was a Bostonian.  That'll do, Pig.  That'll do.


June 11, 2015

Maple Bacon and Mango Stuffed Pork Chops

...because you can never put too much pork in pork.

This recipe would be better suited with chopped apples, but I didn't have apples.  I did, however, find some deliciously ripe mangoes in the fridge (who has mangoes and not apples?!).  I wondered if they would be too sweet, especially mixed with the maple, so I decided to soak them in a little bit of rice wine vinegar before adding them to the pan.  It definitely mellowed them out, and it was actually a great combination to just eat raw, too.

What You'll Need:
  • 10 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oi, divided
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 mangoes, diced medium
  • 1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided 
  • 6 thick-cut pork chops, boneless 
  • 2 tablespoons Herbs de Provence 

Prepare to bacon: Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lay the bacon down without overlapping.  Brush with maple syrup, liberally, coating all slices well.  Sprinkle evenly with ginger and chili powder.  Bake in a 400-degree oven for 12 minutes.  Remove from oven and let slices cool on a rack.  They will get crisp and candied while sitting.  Transfer to a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped, or chop well with a knife.  Set aside.

Prepare stuffing:  Coat the bottom of a saute pan with HALF the olive oil.  Add celery, carrots, and shallots, and cook until soft.  Add salt and pepper.  Add the mangoes after everything has softened so they don't break down too much.  Remove from heat and transfer to a mixing bowl.  Add chopped bacon and let cool.  Add breadcrumbs and HALF the Parmesan cheese to the mixture and mix well.

Stuff the 'chops!  Using a paring knife, very carefully cut a gaping hole in the top of the pork chop.  Insert the knife as far down as it will go without going through the bottom.  Using your fingers, stretch the hole (man, this is an uncomfortable step, huh?) until it spans the whole pork chop but doesn't go through anywhere.  Stuff the pork chop with the stuffing, pressing it in tight so it doesn't fall out.  Repeat with all chops.

Cook the 'chops!  Mix the other half of the Parmesan cheese and the herbs de Provence, and dredge your pork chops in it.  Press hard to make a nice coating on the outside of the pork.  Using the other half of the olive oil, coat the bottom of a skillet and heat up.  Sear the pork chops until they are browned all around, about 2 minutes on each side.  Place on a rack over a baking sheet and bake on 375 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the inside temperature reads 150 degrees.  Let rest 10 minutes before cutting into, and serve with "quarter-cup" mashed potatoes!

"Quarter-Cup" Mashed Potatoes:
  • 5 pound bag yukon gold potatoes
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup ranch dressing
  • Salt and pepper
Cook potatoes in boiling water until fork-tender.  Drain and return to hot pot.  Add remaining ingredients and use a hand-mixer to blend until smooth.  Add salt and pepper as desired.  YUM!