Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos

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During the holidays, most of us attend multiple gatherings. Chances are at least one of those parties will be a potluck dinner. The first time I made a dish for a potluck was during my first Christmas living in New York City. My department at the Associated Press had a holiday gathering. I decided to make nacho dip.

I started with taco meat, then added cheese. I should have stopped at that point but I kept adding things. By the time I was finished it contained a number of ingredients including black olives and shredded lettuce. I thought it tasted good, but it looked like yellow-grey cottage cheese with random chunks throughout. It was more of a goop than a dip.

I took it to the party and the only person to try it was the one known as “the crazy old man” in the editorial art department.

My culinary skills have improved since then and for this recipe, I create a potluck dish made in a slow cooker. It’s a spicy shredded chicken mix that can be filling in a soft taco or eaten alone like a chili.

I made these for the first of many Christmas parties this year. They went over well and I actually had some leftovers that made for a couple of tasty lunches. I really like this kind of cooking – throw it all in a pot and let it go. These kind of recipes are perfect for the holidays. While it cooks all gift wrapping and even a couple other dishes can can be made just in time it to be ready for the party.

I really love crock pot tacos. A modest amount of meat combined with a few other ingredients can go a long way.

These were perfect for the party. There were two different nacho dips placed right beside them. It wasn’t long before I saw a couple of guys smother their tacos in the nacho dip, completely ignoring the sour cream and shredded cheese intended as the garnish. It doesn’t take long for a couple of hungry dudes to get inventive at a potluck – especially when there's beer around.

Eat well, cook often ...

Makes 40 tacos; 4 hours, 30 minutes
5 lbs Chicken breast, boneless
1 can Tomatoes, diced, drained (28 oz)
1 can Black beans, rinsed (15 oz)
1 can Corn, drained (15 oz)
1 C Onion, diced
1 C Tomato sauce (15 oz)
2 Jalapeños, sliced
2 Tbs Chili powder
1 Tbs Cumin

Assemble and cook
Place chicken, tomatoes, black beans, corn, onion, tomato sauce, jalapenos, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper to taste in a slow cooker and mix together. Cook on high for 4 hours.

Shred chicken, serve
Remove chicken from pot and shred with a fork, then stir shredded meat back into mixture. Serve on flour tortillas and garnish with cheese and sour cream.

Italian Meat Lovers Pizza

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I was at the store recently and I noticed a package of salami in the cold meats section. In an instant I had a craving for a grinder that features salami, pepperoni and ceasar dressing from a local restaurant named Brevins.

(I recreated the sandwich here last summer.)

For some reason it occurred to me to try and make a pizza out of the sandwich. The secret to the grinder is the ceasar dressing - it just seems to compliment the cold cuts and adds an extra level of seasoning that literally make your mouth water.

Over the last couple of years I have made a number of gourmet pizzas and it seems as though the sauce, more than any other ingredient, determines the entire flavor profile of the pie. Traditional pizza sauce would have made this a normal meat lovers pizza. The ceasar dressing really changes it and adds a tasty and unique flavor that helps this pie stand out from the usual slice.

I have to admit that hot ceasar dressing wasn’t as potent as the cool dressing on a sandwich or salad. The flavor is still good, It just didn’t have the punch that it seems to have when used in combination with fresh and crunchy lettuce.

If I were to make this again I would add the dressing and some shredded lettuce after the pie came out of the oven. This would make it more of an open face sandwich. Before doing that though, I think I would just jump in the car and head up to Brevins, the pizza was tasty but there isn't a sandwich, or pizza for that matter, within 20 miles that compares to their grinder!

Eat well, cook often ...

Make 2 12” pizzas; 30 minutes
Divide ingredients over 2 12” pizza crusts
1 C Ceasar dressing
3 C Mozzarella cheese, shredded
(Reserve small amount for final layer)
1/4 lb Pepperoni
1/4 lb Salami
1/4 C Ham diced
1/4 C Onion & bell pepper, diced

Assemble and bake pizza
On pizza crust layer ceasar dressing, most of the mozzarella, pepperoni, salami, ham, onion and bell pepper and then the remaining mozzarella. Bake in a preheated 425° oven for 7 to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Chocolate Coconut Candies

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For three full weeks I have labored in the kitchen armed with a stack of recipes from my Aunt Suzy on a quest to make as many holiday treats as possible. It’s been a great learning experience because I don’t make many sweets or desserts.

Last Saturday, I found myself drooling over a skirt steak at the grocery store like a hungry dog waiting under a table at Thanksgiving. As I cooked it up later that evening, I found myself on cloud nine – just giddy to be making something savory. That’s when I knew I had to end my treat making adventure, I had hit the wall, completely burned out on sugar, chocolate and peanut butter.

I have saved the best of Aunt Suzy’s holiday treats for last though. These candies feature a rich and sugary center wrapped in chocolate – like an edible  Christmas gift. I’m thankful to have great cooks around me like Aunt Suzy, her recipes have given me a treat making boost, and I feel like I just completed a class in creating desserts.

I'm now convinced that I don't have a sweet tooth. I love a tasty dessert but I just don’t crave sweets. I got so burnt out on making holiday treats that I HAD to cook something savory. I just lost all motivation to cook. I learned a lot making all the recipes that Aunt Suzy gave me but I was tired of treats.

Immersing myself in sweet treats for the last few weeks has given me enough knowledge to improvise. Simple techniques like using cake mix as a base or corn syrup to create a gooey filling with peanut butter chips is invaluable to me.

One of my resolutions in 2013 is to make more desserts. Even though I'd rather cook meals based around the perfectly cooked flesh of animals, I will start throwing in the sweet stuff on a regular basis.

Eat well, cook often ...

Makes 60; 45 minutes active, 2 hours cooling
1 C Butter (2 sticks)
2 lbs Powdered sugar
1 bag Coconut flakes (14 oz)
1 can Condensed milk
2 bags Chocolate chips
1/2 bar Paraffin wax

Make coconut balls
In a bowl, mix together butter, sugar, coconut and condensed milk until well incorporated. Shape into balls about the size of a walnut, place on cookie sheet. Insert a toothpick into each ball and refrigerate 1 hour.

Coat, chill and serve
In a double boiler melt chocolate chips and paraffin. Dip coconut balls into chocolate, return to cookie sheet and refrigerate another hour or until chocolate coating has hardened. Remove toothpicks and serve.

Peanut and Toffee Clusters

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This recipe is actually a modified recipe of my own from two years ago, it still qualifies as an Aunt Suzy Holiday Treat because it was adapted from a recipe of hers. The only change is the toffee bits, the original recipe calls for mini marshmallows.

Two years ago I substituted the marshmallows for candy corn while making a Halloween treat. For Christmas, I thought what the heck, why not try toffee. It worked well, in fact, so well that I think the toffee bits make this treat a cut above the candy corn or marshmallow versions.

After making this I thought that this is the type of mixture that becomes the inner layer of a candy bar or the heart of a delicious treat made by a chocolatier. In the future, I’m going to modify it a little and mold it so that it can be coated with another layer of yummy goodness – or be the center layer of some type of decadent desert. All this treat making has got my wheels spinning. It’s only a matter of time before I put out some original treats of my own.

This is the second time I have posted this recipe. I made it available previously to go along with a story that ran in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette about my blog.

Here is a link to the story.

Eat well, cook often ...

Makes 30 treats; 2 hours 30 minutes
1 lb Vanilla candy coating
1/2 C Creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 C Dry roasted peanuts
1 C Crispy rice cereal
1 C English toffee bits

Melt candy coating, stir in peanut butter
In a microwave or a double boiler melt the vanilla candy coating, once completely melted stir in peanut butter.

Stir in peanuts, crispy rice cereal and toffee
Take mixture off heat and stir in peanuts, crispy rice cereal and toffee bits until well incorporated.

Scoop and cool
In tablespoon-sized scoops, place mixture in clumps on cookie sheet covered in wax paper. Makes about 30 treats. Put in a cool place for 2 hours to let candies set completely, then serve.

Homemade Thin Mints

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This is one of the many recipes I have been making over the last two weeks that are straight from the archives of my Aunt Suzy. When I picked this recipe out of a pile of hand written cards I thought it would be super simple. Once I had assembled everything to begin making it I became suspect.

Melting chocolate chips without another agent like wax or heavy cream results in a frosting-like texture rather than a runny texture. This doesn’t effect flavor but it makes it much more labor intensive. My apprehension was warranted. When the chocolate was melted down it was to thick to dip the wafers. I had to spread it on each one individually. I cursed and swore at the 60-plus little cookies as I topped them. Aunt Suzy would have washed my mouth with soup if she had been there.

I didn’t think they were right for Behind the Bites until they cooled and I ate one. They taste just like Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies, and if your not paying attention, you’ll eat them like they were potato chips - it’s worth the work.

As I mention in the introduction, I got this recipe from my Aunt Suzy. On the bottom of the card it was written on, it said “TV, Sandra Lee.” This meant that she got it while watching TV and had decided to jot it down. The recipe on the card called for two bags of chocolate chips and a tablespoon of butter and peppermint extract for each bag.

I was alarmed right away.

A tablespoon of any extract will pretty much blow any other flavor out of the water in a batch of this size. I looked up the original recipe online. The extract amount was a typo from Aunt Suzy, it called for just a teaspoon per bag of chips. It also said to melt the chocolate and pour it over 24 wafers instead of dip them, Aunt Suzy must have felt like pouring the chocolate would have been a waste, and I kind of agree.  One bag was enough topping to spread on 60 plus vanilla wafers.

There were challenges for me in making this treat when it came to a nice runny chocolate, but one things is for sure - these do taste just like Thin Mints. If you're a fan, you must try this as a holiday treat. Just be prepared to spread the topping on 60 little cookies.

Eat well, cook often ...

Make 60 to 65 small cookies; 1 Hour
1 bag Chocolate chips (11.5 oz)
1 Tbs Butter
1 tsp Peppermint extract
1 box Vanilla wafers

Make coating
In a double boiler heat chocolate, butter and peppermint extract until completely melted, stirring often. Keep over low heat until next step is finished.

Coat cookies, cool and serve
Place a dab of peppermint chocolate mixture onto wafer and spread to cover top. Place on cookie sheets lined with wax paper and let cool completely, then serve.

Salted Peanut Chews

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This is the second of “Aunt Suzy’s Holiday Treats.” Like the first, it features a base made from a box of yellow cake mix.

It would be easy to measure out all of the ingredients and mix them together, but the convenience of opening a box and being done with that part is hard to resist, it saves time and eliminates the risk of screwing up the measurements. The mix combined with the butter and egg results in a sugary-rich cookie-like base that provides a decadent foundation for the layer of mini marshmallows and peanutty topping. Overall, this treat is pretty much amazing, kind of like a home-made candy bar. Awesome!

I never would have thought to use a cake mix like this. I’m glad I’m sticking with the original recipes while making these treats – just to see how the individual ingredients effect the final dish. I’m starting to see that by using a different cake mix, melting chip and/or nut this treat could be transformed into a number of delicious snacks similar in make up but totally different in taste. There will be many more sweet treats here at Behind the Bites in 2013.

After making the first few of Aunt Suzy’s treats I have a hundred ideas of how I could create a custom-made treat. So far, the mystery and intimidation of deserts is really fading away. I have to admit though, my sweet tooth and desire for sugar hasn’t changed. I’ll take a medium-rare ribeye over any desert, anytime. I ate as many sweets as I wanted as a kid and never developed that desert-craving that so many are effected by. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great desert, I just don’t get cravings for them. I do however get cravings for grilled or fried food, which can be worse for your health than a sweet tooth. Have your Twinkies, I'll take a steak and fries!

Eat well, cook often ...

Make 32 treats; 30 minutes active,
2 hours cooling
1 box Yellow cake mix
1/2 C Butter melted
1 Egg
3 C Mini marshmallows
1/4 C Butter
1 Pkg Peanut butter chips (10 oz)
2/3 C Light corn syrup
2 tsp Vanilla extract
2 C Dry roasted peanuts
2 C Crispy rice

Make crust
In a bowl, combine cake mix, butter and egg until a thick dough forms. Pat down flat into a cake pan and bake in a preheated 350° oven, until light golden in color, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add marshmallows
Top with mini marshmallows and return to oven for 3 to 4 minutes more or until marshmallows are puffy and slightly golden brown. Remove and chill in refrigerator for 10 minutes.

Make topping, spread, cool and serve
In a saucepan over medium heat stir together butter, peanut butter chips, corn syrup and vanilla until chips are melted and mixture is creamy smooth. Stir in peanuts and crispy rice cereal. Spread topping over marshmallows and crust, refrigerate until cooled completely. Cut and serve.

Cherry Coconut Pecan Squares

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Recently I turned to one of my elders for some direction on holiday treats. I don’t make many deserts, so I thought the best way to learn was to seek the culinary expertise of my Aunt Suzy, a certified sweet treat Jedi.

I made two visits to her kitchen where she allowed me a small glimpse into her recipe archives – hundreds of recipes contained in binders, boxes and books that, combined with her experience, is a treasure trove of cooking knowledge. I emerged from my visits to her Mecca of cookery with a pile of recipes to make over the next few weeks for Christmas. Some are traditional, others are not, all are unique and 100 percent delicious.

This recipe is the first of “Aunt Suzy’s Holiday Treats,” It was written on a piece of stationary and calls for a frosting mix that hasn’t been sold on shelves since the 1970s. (I found a substitute from the original manufacturer.) The dish utilizes a cake mix and pre-made filling, making it simple to create and I challenge anyone who creates it to eat just one.

I’m amazed at the little bits of information I’m able to pick up making sweets like this. I know I will be using the cake mix foundation from this recipe again, it really makes for a rich base to pile other sweet flavors onto.

This treat reminded my of cherry cheesecake, it was so rich and the cherries really cut through the rest of the yummy flavors. The crunchy coconut pecan topping added nice texture and is the perfect compliment to the other layers. This treat is a must try, it’s easy to make and packs a delicious flavor.

Eat well, cook often ...

Makes 32; 45 minutes cooking; 2 hours cooling
1 box Yellow cake mix
1/4 C Butter melted
2 Eggs
1 Can Cherry pie filling
1 C Coconut flakes
3/4 C Brown sugar
1/2 C Pecans chopped
1/2 C Flour
3 Tbs Butter

Make dough for base
In a bowl mix together cake mix, eggs and melted butter into a ball of dough, then press into a prepared 9” x 13” baking pan.

Make topping
In another bowl mix together coconut, brown sugar, flour and pecans until well combined, then blend in butter with a pastry cutter until well incorporated.

Assemble, bake, let cool and serve
Spread cherry topping on dough base, then sprinkle coconut pecan topping over cherry filling. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely, 2 hours. Cut into squares and serve.

Spicy Black Beans and Rice

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When I set out to make this dish I was looking to create a spicy side. The batch was large enough for an alternative use though - burrito filling. So I decided to present it as both.

What I love most about this dish is how the rice absorbs the flavors. I have been cooking rice in chicken broth rather than water for years, it ads a ton a flavor. The rice here has not only chicken broth but chipotle, cayenne and a nice vegetable base as well.

I start the dish off with what I call my a southwestern mirepoix, which consists of onion, poblano pepper and garlic. It's a great flavor base that creates nice depth in the finished dish.

I have to say, I enjoyed this more in a burrito rather than by itself as a side. I like how the sour cream and avocado provided a cool balance to the spicy heat in the rice.

This can easily be made vegetarian by replacing the chicken broth with vegetable broth - making it great for those who choose not to savor the yummy goodness created when heat is applied to parts of animals who are now grazing in the great pastures above.

When I originally made this dish I had to much cayenne pepper. The first batch was blow your mind hot, I needed a little sour cream on top to eat it as a side dish, so I dialed it back to a quarter teaspoon.

I learned a lot about rice creating this recipe. I love how it absorbs the flavors in the liquid it's cooked in. It was really my first attempt at a Spanish rice-type dish. In the future, I’m going to play with different flavors in the liquid for different styles of rice. I think it would be easy to make a Cajun-style or Italian-style rice, it would just be about finding the right combo of vegetables and spices to give it an ethnic flare.

Eat well, cook often ...

Side for 8 to 10; 45 minutes
1 C Onion, diced
1 Tbs Garlic, minced
1 C Poblano, cleaned, chopped
1 Can Black beans, (14.5 oz) rinsed
3 C Chicken broth
1 Tbs Chipotle chili powder
2 tsp Cumin
1/4 tsp Cayenne
1 1/2 C Rice
1/4 C Cilantro, chopped

Sauté Vegetables
In a soup pot over medium heat, sauté onion and garlic in a little olive oil until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes add Poblano, season with salt and pepper, cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes more. 

Add broth, beans, seasonings and rice
Add chicken broth, black beans, chipotle chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper and rice. Bring mixture to a boil. Cover, remove from heat. Let sit 25 minutes. Do not remove lid. 

Remove cover, fluff, add cilantro
Uncover pot, fluff mixture with a fork and stir in cilantro. Adjust seasonings, then serve.


Makes 8 burritos
8 Flour tortillas
4 C Rice and beans
2 Avocados, sliced
2 Tomatoes, sliced
2 Tomatoes, sliced
1/2 C Sour cream

On a burrito sized flour tortilla place spicy rice and beans, avocado slices, tomato slices and sour cream. Fold in sides, roll shut, slice in half and serve.

A New Treat and the Journal Gazette

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Monday afternoon, Diana Parker of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette stopped by my office kitchen to have a chat about my recipes and blog. After sharing some new treats with her and showing her the process of creating my information graphic recipes, she was on her way.

I gave her some recipes to use in her column "Cook's Corner." All of the recipes can be found on the site but this one, "Peanut and Toffee Clusters," which was made exclusively for Diana's visit.

A full write up for this recipe will appear here in the next couple weeks as part of my upcoming "Aunt Suzy's Christmas Treats Special." Thanks to Diana and the Journal Gazette for the interest in my cooking and blog.

Here is Diana's story:

"Blogger Dedicates Days to Food" By Diana Parker

Fresh Green Bean Casserole

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Green bean casserole is one of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes. This year I went a little nutty and decided to make it from scratch. The fresh mushrooms are the biggest difference. Frozen or processed green beans are close in flavor to fresh picked and blanched, but the mushrooms in a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup have nothing on fresh baby bellas.

Going the fresh route provides big juicy and flavorful bits of mushroom which are complimented here by the addition of fresh thyme. Everything is bound together with a fresh cream sauce made from a roux. I could have went all out and made the french fried onions from scratch too, but this wasn’t the only dish I was making and the store bought onions had to suffice.

It really didn’t matter though, the fresh mushrooms were the star of the show and really helped kick this thanksgiving classic up a notch or two.

I made this casserole in two stages. When I started it, I got to the point of adding the french fried onions and I thought that I had messed up the cream. (More on that in a moment) I quit on the recipe, let it cool and then put it in the fridge to be eaten later.  I didn't think I would be publishing it here at that point.

The next afternoon when I fried a turkey, I added the french fried onions, heated it up, then topped it with more onions and browned them. It tasted great and provided a big surprise.

The cream that bound it all together was much thicker than I thought it was the night before and was why I quite on it. I didn’t pour off any of the liquid from the mushrooms and I added the beans before the flour which made the cream too runny, or so I thought. The next time I make this I will drain the extra liquid and create the cream before adding the beans. Although this recipe has flaws, it still made for a tasty thanksgiving side dish that will be good on any table, which is why I decided to share it.

I am very critical of my work and many times it is tasting the leftovers or returning to it later (like this recipe) that I surprise myself. I knew the flavors would be there, which is why I saved it to be eaten with the turkey. Good thing I continued with the documentation the next day.
Eat well, cook often ...

Side for 6 to 8; 1 hour
1 lb Green beans, fresh
1 lb Baby bella mushrooms, quartered
1/4 C Unsalted butter
1/4 C Flour
2 C Milk
1 Tbs Fresh thyme
1 1/2 C French fried onions

Blanch green beans
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add green beans and salt to taste. Cook beans 7 to 8 minutes or until cooked through, remove and place in a large bowl of ice water for at least 5 minutes, then drain.

Cook mushrooms, add beans, butter, flour
Over medium heat in an oven-safe skillet, cook mushrooms until soft and liquid rendered, 7 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add green beans and butter, cook until beans are heated through and butter has melted, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in flour and cook another 2 to 3 minutes.

Add milk, simmer, stir in onions, bake
Stir in thyme and milk and bring mixture to a simmer, cook until thickened, 5 to 6 minutes. Once thickened, stir in 2/3rds of the onions and place the remaining on top of casserole. Bake in a preheated 400° oven until onion on top are browned and crispy, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from oven and serve.

The Basics of Frying Turkey

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I recently fried my first turkey. The end result was the best poultry I have ever eaten. The breast meat was spectacular, it literally had a texture and moisture similar to watermelon. I was stunned. It was the definition of juicy and tender.

Here are some basics I learned:

• To fry a turkey safely, invest $50 to $100 in a turkey fryer. Choose a model with a pot that is marked with a maximum fill line to protect from over-filling with oil. When using the fryer, do it outside away from buildings - grease fires aren’t good for holiday parties.

 • Do not fry a whole turkey that weighs more than 12 pounds. For a larger turkey, cut it up and fry the parts separate, kind of like a chicken, for best results.

 • Bird must be completely thawed. Frozen turkey + hot oil = explosion.

• Use thermometers to monitor the temperature of the oil and the internal temperature of the turkey. Keeping track of the temperatures is the real secret to cooking the perfect bird.

As I wrote in the intro, I had never fried a turkey before. I wasn’t sure how to document it or what the bird would look like once it came out of the oil. All I could do was move all of my photography equipment out into the yard and take the pictures as I went. A turkey is an awkward thing to photograph, especially after it comes out of the oil. The legs and wings just flail around as it cooks and they end up setting in random positions.

I decided that I would take a “frying basics” approach once I looked at the photos from the shoot. I contemplated redoing it, because the shots weren't ideal, but I thought it would be valuable to share what I had learned while cooking this bird. That is what many will end up doing themselves this Thanksgiving.

Next time, I am going to fry only a whole breast. The wings and legs had spots that got way over-cooked, the thick parts were magnificent, with the breast being like nothing I have ever eaten. Which is why a breast alone or even legs by themselves would be the most efficient method to frying turkey.

This year I was just learning, next year, I'll refine my recipe. The fry method is perfect for the large chunks of meat, I would really like to try frying a pork loin, then slice it thin for sandwiches. Maybe that will be what I make for Christmas.

Eat well, cook often ... 

Serves 8 to 10; 2 hours
1 10 to 12 lb. Whole turkey, completely thawed
1/4 C Salt and pepper (2 Tbs each)
1 Turkey fryer with propane tank
3 Gal Oil for frying

Heat oil, prepare turkey
Heat oil to 375°. Pat dry thawed turkey with paper towel, removing as much of the moisture as possible. Season turkey inside and out. Place turkey on frying truss.

Cook turkey
When oil reaches temperature, slowly submerge turkey in oil (wear oven mitts). Let turkey cook until internal temperature in the thickest part of the breast reaches 165° (Estimate approximately 3 minutes per pound cooking time)

Rest turkey
Once turkey is cooked removed to a paper-towel lined cooking sheet with a rack on it, let turkey drain and rest for at least 20 minutes. Internal temperature will rise to 170°. Remove frying truss, carve and serve.

Steakhouse Pizza

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A little over a year ago, Carl's Jr and Hardee’s presented their Steakhouse Thickburger to the world, complete with an ad that featured a hamburger god and scantily clad goddesses. It followed a tradition in advertising for the fast food restaurant chain that is designed to attract guys 18 to 34 years old - or guys that like to see hot chicks in skimpy outfits - which is most guys in general.

After speeding to Hardee’s and trying the sandwich, I recreated it here at Behind the Bites. I thought it was a real home run for man burgers.

The burger featured lots of complimentary flavors that could easily be transferred to a pizza, and that is what I have done here.

I use A1 as the sauce which goes well with the steak, but it’s the perfect compliment to the tangy blue cheese. For texture and a slightly sweet flavor, french fried onions are added and everything is bound together with mozzarella cheese.

For the steak, I diced up some thin-sliced sirloin tip before cooking it. This helped tenderize the little chunks and help retain all their moisture after being cooked – none was lost do to slicing. With all of the great flavors working together the steak still shines through as the star of this pie.

I have cooked this pizza a few times in the last year and each time something went wrong which prevented me from being able to document and post what I cooked.

The first time I did this I was using a new camera, the exposures were all completely different and could have been classified as a food-photography disaster.

The second time, which I did a few months later I piled on the ingredients and it really ruined it. I used ground beef instead of steak and it made the pie greasy. Not only was there to much ground beef but there was to much everything. The thin crust I used didn’t hold up and the entire pie could have been classified as a pizza-making disaster.

All this lead to my third attempt, which is what is contained in this post. I got the exposure right, switched to actual steak and was happy with the ingredient amounts. The pizza was delicious and I couldn’t stop eating it. Before I knew it I had eat all but one slice of an entire pie which could have been classified as a healthy-eating disaster.

Eat well, cook often ...

Make 2 12” pizzas; 30 minutes
2 12” pizza crusts
Divide over crusts
3 C Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Reserve small amount for final layer
1/2 lb Sirloin steak, cooked, diced
1/2 C French fried onions
1/4 C Blue cheese crumbled
Remaining cheese

Assemble and bake pizza
On pizza crust layer A1, most of the mozzarella, steak, onions, blue cheese and then the remaining mozzarella. Bake in a preheated 425° oven for 7 to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Crispy Fried Chicken Wings

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A couple of weeks ago, I had planned to grill a batch of wings at our outdoor Halloween Party, but time got away and frankly it was just to cold to walk away from our beautiful camp fire. That left me with a huge package of wings. Rather than freeze them I decided to make a party snack - crispy fried chicken wings.

These are plain, originally I was going to toss them in a sauce like most chicken wing recipes, but I had to try one and the crispy skin and succulent juicy meat told me otherwise. These are just mini pieces of fried chicken. When it comes to food, mini anything seems to be a hit.

This recipe is perfect for the big game and a few friends. Fried chicken isn’t the healthiest dish in the world, but a wing or two as part of a party spread could really hit the spot.

This time I got smart when I fried this chicken. I threw open the window and closed the door to my kitchen studio! That way my entire place didn’t stink of frying oil. I have done this in the past and literally had to wash clothes to get the oil smell off them.

The last time I did it, I remember getting in my car the next day and thinking "why does it smell liked fried chicken in here." That’s when I realized the coat I was wearing had been in my studio while I was frying. It smelt like I had splashed myself with fried chicken perfume. It took at least a week to get the oil smell out of the room.

This time ventilating worked - it got a little cold, with high temps in the 40s, but the smell didn’t linger at all after everything was cleaned up.

Lesson learned.

Eat well, cook often ...

Party snack for 6 to 8;  45 minutes cooking;
4 to 24 hours marinating

4 lb Chicken wings
2 Qrts Buttermilk
2 C Flour
2 Tbs Baking powder
1 Tbs Smoked paprika
1 Tbs Onion powder
1 Tbs Garlic powder
1 Tbs Salt
1 Tbs Pepper
2 Qrts  Oil for frying

Marinate Chicken
Place wings in a large bowl and submerge in buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours and no more than 24. Drain buttermilk and rest wings at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Mix flour, seasonings, dredge chicken
Mix and sift flour, baking powder and all seasonings into a bowl. In batches, dredge chicken through flour, coating all over. Remove and shake off excess. Place on a rack over a baking sheet. Repeat until all chicken is coated.

Fry, drain chicken, serve
In a large fry pan filled half way with oil heated to 375° fry chicken in batches until golden brown and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove to a rack over a baking sheet lined with paper towel. Let drain, rest at least 5 minutes before serving on a towel lined plate.

An assortment of sauces can be served with the wings for dipping, such as barbecue sauce, buffalo sauce, ranch dressing or teriyaki sauce.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

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The final seven years I lived in New York my favorite burger and beer joint, named Sunswick, was just down the block from my apartment. The little establishment had the most beers I have ever seen on tap. Trying to drink a glass of all of them in one sitting would most likely have resulted in an arrest or a ride in an ambulance.

I loved going there on Thursday nights for karaoke or stopping by before heading home after a night of Big Apple debauchery. The burgers were the star of their menu, but my favorite item was their spinach and artichoke dip.

This recipe is inspired by the Sunswick’s recipe, but it contains my own gourmet twists. I’ve added red peppers, garlic and shallots and I make a cheese sauce from scratch, which provides an extra creamy and cheesy base to bind it all together. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat spinach and artichoke dip and not be reminded of great times at the corner of 35th avenue and 35th street in Astoria, Queens.

I mention in the intro that Sunswick had so many beers on tap that it would be impossible to drink one of each kind in one sitting. Well, that might be true for most, but there was one night back in 2005 that Sunswick decided to have a contest to see if people could do exactly that.*

I didn't enter the competition but my cousin, who was visiting from out-of-town, decided he would give the challenge a try.

Long story short, he was kicked out before finishing.

Because the owner knew me, it was not done with force, he asked me nicely to take him home, he told me I could stay, but made it clear that my cousin was going to be removed if I didn’t get him out myself. Luckily, he listened to me and we left without incident. He came to visit me often over the years I lived in New York and we always had a great time. (On one particular occasion, I found him explaining to my Brazilian friends what the slang term “tossing your salad” meant.)

*There was one guy at the Sunswick that completed the challenge. I am told he was walked home to make sure he didn’t fall down or take a nap on the stoop of an apartment building, but he completed the challenge and drank for free that night.

Eat well, cook often ...

Appetizer for 6; 30 minutes
1 Tbs Unsalted butter
1 tsp Garlic, minced
2 Tbs Shallot, minced
1/2 C Red pepper, diced
1 Tbs Flour
2 C Milk
1 C Spinach cooked, chopped
1 C Artichoke hearts, cooked, chopped
2 C Mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 C Parmesan cheese, fresh grated
Tortilla chips

Sauté vegetables, make roux
In a large sauce pan over medium heat, sauté garlic, shallot and red pepper in butter until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in flour, then cook another 2 minutes.

Add milk, thicken, add spinach, artichokes
Add milk to the pan and simmer until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add spinach and artichokes, simmer another minute or 2.

Add cheese, serve
Add cheese 2 tablespoons at a time. Stir until it is completely melted and then add another two tablespoons. Repeat until cheese is gone and incorporated. Adjust seasonings if needed. Place in a bowl and serve with tortilla chips.

SOS: Creamed Beef Over Toast

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Chipped beef is made from top and bottom round, sirloin tip and knuckle. The cuts are brined, dried and sliced thin or “chipped.” The products resistance to decay and lightweight make it the perfect product for soldiers. In World War II the beef was used as the main ingredient of a cream gravy to smother toasted bread so often that the soldiers gave it a very raw nickname: Shit on a shingle.

For years, My family ate creamed beef over toast and I had no idea of it’s naughty nickname. It was always a brunch favorite in our house. Recently my Mom shared a left over batch with me that Dad had made. I thought it would be a simple dish to recreate here and as I was describing the dish, and it’s deliciousness, to my cousin a few days later, she said, “You made shit on a shingle for your blog?” I had heard the slang term years ago but I really had no idea that creamed beef over toast is the infamous dish that's name translates to “poop on a roof.”

The introduction says it all.

Eat well, cook often ...

Serves 4; 20 minutes
1/4 C Unsalted butter
4 oz Chipped beef chopped
1/4 C Flour
2 C Milk
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Fresh cracked black pepper

Start gravy, make toast
While making beef mixture toast 8 slices of bread. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat, add beef and sauté 2 minutes. Add flour and stir until well combined with butter, let cook 2 to 3 minutes or until mixture turns light brown.

Thicken gravy, serve
Add milk to skillet and stir until well incorporated. Turn up heat and bring mixture to a simmer, stirring often until mixture thickens, 5 to 6 minutes, remove from heat. On a plate place 2 pieces of toast and smoother in a quarter of the beef mixture, then serve.

Cast Iron New York Strip Dinner

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The casting of iron started in China in the year 513 B.C. but the technology did not make it to Europe until 1100 A.D. Years later, large cast iron cauldrons began to appear that could be hung over a fire or in a hearth and used for cooking. By the 1800s stoves, pans, and all sorts of cast iron cookware was being produced. Large cast iron pots were essential to pioneers settling the western United States because of their versatility and ease of travel.

For this recipe, I make a steak dinner using one of my cast iron skillets. Five years ago, my last remaining grand parent passed away and I was given her collection of cast iron skillets. The set had been passed to her from her mother. Their exact age is not known but they are my prize kitchen possessions.

Cast iron is an ideal choice for cooking steaks. They distribute heat evenly over their surfaces and are great for searing, which creates a flavorful crust on the surface and seals in juices. This helps make every bite a delicious and succulent treat.

This recipe is not so much about the food as it is about using my cast iron. As I mention in the introduction, they are my prized kitchen possessions, I've been looking forward to the cool weather and cooking more indoors - using the cast iron is one of the reasons. They always remind my of my Grandma Frieda, she was a smart lady who loved her gandkids. I hope that I can one day pass these pots on to some of my own. (Finding a wife to have kids with might be a good start to that though.)

This meal is really simple, I use fresh herbs in the side dishes to punch up flavor. The steak is as minimal as it gets, and that is how I prefer a tender cut - salt, pepper and cooked perfectly. A great cut of steak needs no rub or marinade.

Eat well, cook often ...

Dinner for 2; 40 minutes
2 (6 to 8 oz) New York strip steaks
1/2 lb Baby bella mushrooms, halved
1 tsp Fresh thyme
Juice from half a Lemon
1 1/2 lb Red potatoes, quartered
1 tsp Fresh rosemary, minced
1 Tbs Olive oil

Season and roast potatoes
In a bowl, toss potatoes in olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast in a preheated 400° oven until golden brown and cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove and plate with steaks.

Sear steaks
While potatoes roast, heat a cast iron skillet over high heat for 3 to 4 minutes or until very hot. Season steaks with salt and pepper to taste. Place steaks in pan and sear 4 to 6 minutes per side, or to desired doneness. Remove and let rest at least ten minutes.

Cook mushrooms, serve
Reduce heat to medium. While steaks rest, sauté mushrooms until liquid releases 5 to 6 minutes. Add thyme and lemon juice. Continue cooking 2 to 3 minutes more. On a plate, place steak, top with mushroom and add potatoes on the side.