Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Eggs and Sausage Gravy Over Hash Browns


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In the town of Churubusco, Indiana there is a small diner called the “Ramble Inn.” It has served the 2,000 residents of Turtle Town USA since well before I was born. When I was in college at Ball State University I would work during the summer break and return to Churubusco, where I grew up. The Ramble was the only place in town that was open 24 hours, so it was a favorite stop for me and my friends after a night out on the town. I would always order the restaurant's signature breakfast called the He-Man, with a half order of biscuits and gravy on the side.

(I was a child of the late 70s and 80s. After Star Wars there was nothing more Awesome than He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I still think that Castle Greyskull was the greatest play set made in the 1980s - Even cooler than the Millennium Falcon! Which is saying a lot cause I'm a Star Wars Nut)

I was a sucker for the He-Man because of my obsession with the toys in the past. It included two eggs, hash browns, sausage or bacon and toast. Thrown in the biscuits and gravy and you got all of my favorite breakfast flavors.

For this recipe, I take my favorite parts of the He-Man with biscuits and gravy and combine them on one plate. The result is fried eggs and sausage gravy over a huge hash brown.

I have been making this plate for a long time. I love hash browns and there is nothing better than sausage gravy, I consider it nectar of the breakfast Gods, and I summon great powers from ingesting it. (Well, that’s a little dramatic, but this is my version of a breakfast named He-Man after all.) It may look like a mess on the plate but this is my favorite morning bite and would eat it everyday if it were a little more healthy.

BEHIND THIS BITE
This was the 100th print column that I have published. It’s a milestone that I’m really proud of. The introduction that ran in the paper was totally different because the readers are familiar with the restaurant and town so I reworked it for webland. It is the first time that I have completely scraped the print intro, which is roughly 200 words. It was nice to not have a word count when I started this post. It is much more difficult to write a 200 word story than it is a 400. Sounds ironic but it is the truth. It forces you to edit, and that can be the toughest part of writing.

Eat well, cook often ...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Grilled Chicken Soft Tacos with Pico de Gallo


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Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and with it the unofficial start of summer. If you haven’t already, it’s time to clean up the grill, fill up the pool and get the bug zapper primed for the upcoming mosquito invasion. The holiday is the perfect excuse to get the family and friends together to grill copious amounts of meat and burn a cord of wood in the fire pit.

For this recipe, I make a grilled chicken soft taco with fresh pico de gallo. These tacos are great for a weeknight meal with the family, but can also be adapted to feed a large group. The grilled chicken features a Mexican spice rub that includes chili powder and cumin. Slicing the chicken thin and using a small tortilla helps it go a surprisingly long way. The pico de gallo is a simple salsa-like tomato salad with all fresh ingredients and requires no cooking.

This little treat is an excellent dinner whether your basking in the sun with family and friends at an outdoor bash or just coming in from a long day working in the garden.

BEHIND THIS BITE
This is about the ninth different taco I’ve posted here, but i really can’t get enough of them. They are like an entire meal wrapped in a yummy blanket! I can say for sure that tacos are what I would request for my last meal. Not these tacos, but some kind of taco featuring fillet, prime rib or lobster and a kick ass sauce.

This taco features a fresh pico de gallo and a spice rub. Between those I included enough flavors that I didn’t need a taco sauce or traditional salsa which usually contain the “magic,” or flavors that make it stand out. Here the flavor is in the spice rub and garnish.

These tacos were inspired by the “Fresco” tacos at Taco Bell. The Bell is my fast food joint of choice and I’m always ordering different stuff. I discovered that “Fresco” meant they put a "fiesta salsa" which is similar to pico de gallo on the taco just last week. I actually liked it. It was fast food, so naturally it’s something I wouldn't request at a formal dinner, but for a quick lunch – I’ll put “Fresco” crunchy taco from Taco Bell on the “eat this if you have to get food in your body because it’s 2:30 and you haven’t eaten all day” list.

Eat well, cook often ...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Shrimp, Crab or Tuna Salad


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These salads are relatively inexpensive because the meat is processed. The flavor and freshness would multiply by a thousands if you purchased and cooked all of this meat yourself, but it would cost a ton of money and time, and if I had fresh tuna or crab – there is no way it’s going into a salad!

These are affordable options for a practical lunch or an afternoon picnic in the park. They come together quick and can be transported easily and assembled at the location.

BEHIND THIS BITE
On the Food Network, or television cooking in general, they almost never use a processed item like canned tuna. They would grill a tuna steak then cut it up and put it in the salad. Not a single person I know would do that for a tuna salad sandwich. Canned tuna is cheap and it tastes good enough for a delightful lunch.

Would I serve canned tuna at a wedding? Hell no.

This is realistic everyday cooking and a true 30 minute meal. I love food television, it has inspired and taught me countless things I am grateful for. (Jacques Pepin is on the tube right now in my office as I write this) But, it is geared to people with money and time to burn. It would be awesome to see Bobby Flay turn something like a Tyson breaded chicken breast into a quick and easy dinner with his gourmet touch, or watch Rachel Ray make a 30-minute meal that can actually be made in thirty minutes outside of a scripted television taping.

Do I want them to do this with every recipe? No.

But it would be nice to see them get creative with more processed or freezer isle items because that is how the majority of us cook when we need to get food in our bellies. As creative as they are in the kitchen it would be cool to see what they did with items like that. I would love to buy all fresh food and organic meat but my money goes much further when I mix it up.

If I had an unlimited budget this post would be a lobster roll – Made from live lobster that I caught in the ocean, boiled up on the beach and ate until my stomach hurt. I would make the lobster salad the next day with the leftovers. Maybe one day. For now I’m just gonna keep cooking and eating.

Eat well, cook often ...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Battered Onion Rings


Printable version
When we were kids, my sister used to eat raw onions like they were apples.
She would keep a sandwich baggy in the refrigerator with a peeled raw onion in it, every so often she would take out her pungent little treat and sink her teeth in for a huge bite to chew on. It was a spectacle on par with watching a circus freak swallow a sword. Her breath would reek of onion so bad it would make eyes water and flowers wilt.

I love onions – not so much I’ll eat them raw like an apple – but enough to use them as a base flavor in almost every dish I make. When it comes to eating large pieces of onion, I prefer them breaded and fried so they’re sweet and crunchy.

 For this recipe, I make onion rings that are marinated in buttermilk, dipped in batter and deep fried. The coating for these onion rings is thick, fluffy and hardy – just a few are enough to make a great side for any sandwich. I’m sure my sister will approve of this onion ring as much as the raw ones she devoured when we were kids.

BEHIND THIS BITE
When I was kicking around the idea of writing about my sister’s unusual taste for raw onion for the print column this week, I told my uncle about it. Instantly he perked up and said, “Onions were just one thing. She would go into the garden, pluck a vegetable out of the ground and eat it like candy.” I was surprised by his response. It was immediate, and he said it with genuine amusement. Not only was I amazed by my sisters eating habits when I was a kid but so were the adults at the time.

She doesn’t eat anything off the wall or out of the ordinary today, but I wonder if she ever gets the urge to eat raw onions.

Her kids have some unusual eating habits – they love sardines. I don’t know if that is unusual for 6 to 10-year-olds but they do seem to go bonkers when Grandpa breaks out a can with some crackers to snack on. I have yet to acquire a taste for sardines and I don’t know if I ever will, I think I’d rather take a bite of a raw onion.

Eat well, cook often ...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Italian Bread Pizza


Printable version
When most people think of pizza they imagine flat round bread with sauce and an assortment of toppings. One of my favorite non-traditional ways to make pizza is to split Italian or French bread and use it as a substitute for the dough.

I like these types of crusty breads for pizza because they have the crunchy outside, created by steam while the bread bakes, and a fluffy, delicate interior. The addition of cheese and toppings helps create a delicious bite as good as any traditional pizza.

For this recipe, I use Italian bread and top it sauce and mozzarella cheese. To make it stand out, I add fresh basil and roasted red pepper. A red pepper is a green pepper that is left on the vine to ripen, in the process it changes color and becomes sweeter in flavor. Roasting it brings out more of the sweetness. The combination of the roasted pepper with the aromatic fresh basil gives the pizza a garden fresh flavor that works not on just pizza, but sandwiches and wraps as well.

BEHIND THIS BITE
This recipe was made from leftovers from my last recipe. (Italian Roast Beef Sandwiches) There was a lot, so I threw this together for lunch on a whim. I decided to document it for future purposes and after devouring a couple slices, I thought it was tasty enough for the print column.

I have always used french bread when making this type of pizza but I had half a loaf of Italian bread left over and decided to use it. I really couldn't tell any difference.

This is the third "Italian" themed recipe in a row here at Behind the Bites - I think it's time to move to another region of the world for a couple of recipes.

Eat well, cook often ...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Italian Roast Beef Sandwich


Printable recipe
This is the first roast beef sandwich that I have created from roast beef that I actually made myself. I flavor the beef with Italian seasonings, so I thought I would continue the theme all the way through the sandwich. It features Italian bread, basil, roasted red pepper and garlic - flavors I associate with Italian cooking. I finished the sandwich off by toasting it in a newly acquired sandwich press (bought on clearance for $10) and it performed really well.

I have to say that this was one of the best roast beef sandwich that I have ever eaten. Every element has a gourmet touch from the roast beef itself to the roasted red pepper and roasted garlic mayo. Combined those elements with the toasted Italian bread and you have a sami for the ages.

I paid just over $9 for the 2-pound eye of round beef roast. It took a little time to create, but $9 is about the price of just one pound of roast beef from the deli. Taking the time to make the roast beef is very cost effective in the long run and it can be made to suite any taste. (Here is the roast beef recipe.)

This recipe has inspired me to look into buying a nice slicer for my kitchen, it would pay for itself in time if I quit buying lunch meat and start making it for myself at home. A great slicer could help me get those deli thin slices of roast beef and turkey that I love in wraps and sandwiches.

BEHIND THIS BITE
This sandwich may have been one of the best roast beef sandwiches I have ever eaten, but the worst roast beef sandwich I've had was purchased in Manhattan when I was working for the Associated Press just a couple of years after I had moved to New York City.

The sandwich was fresh and all the elements were good. The roast beef had good flavor but was underdone. Eating an individual slice was no big deal – I actually like my beef on the rare side. The only problem was stacking multiple slices onto each other. They were nearly raw in the middle and the first few bites were ok, but when I got to the center of the sandwich, and therefore the center of the beef slices, the meat was just a glob of raw beef. It was like biting into a room temperature steak before it was cooked. The raw sweetness of the uncooked meat got the best of me and in an instant I was under my desk at work spitting out a big bite of my sandwich - it was either do that or gag on it. Thank god nobody saw it happen, because nothing makes lunch more yummy than your coworker spitting a glob of raw beef into the trash.

Eat well, cook often ...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tender and Juicy Roast Beef


Printable recipe
I am sure that there have been many great cooks in England who have influenced the culinary world, but I have never eaten at a fancy British restaurant nor have I uttered to friends “Hey, lets stop by the British place for some takeout.”

If there is a signature English food it would have to be roast beef. It’s considered England’s national dish and there is a famous 18th century song called “The Roast Beef of Old England.” The lyrics suggests the British empire was weakened by eating fancy French food and not enough hardy roast beef. Today the song is played to summon the Royal British Navy to the mess hall.

For this recipe, I make my own version of roast beef. I use a salt crust during preparation to create a protective barrier that holds in juices. It is then cooked low and slow and sliced against the grain for extra tenderness. I season it with a mixture that features Italian seasoning – which will probably ruin my chances of ever being knighted by the Monarch of England.

BEHIND THIS BITE
The best British cooking I have ever eaten is at a tiny little stand in New York City called A Salt & Battery. It’s the only time I have ever consciously known I was in a British food joint and it was hands down the best battered and fried fish I have ever eaten!

I sarcastically say that I have never suggested to friends that we get takeout from a British restaurant in the introduction. That statement is true, but if I had to suggest a place it would be A Salt & Battery. That said, it is the ONLY British food joint I could ever recommend because I know of no other - But, I know they exist.

SPRING WEATHER
My column appears in the paper on Wednesday, so it has to be turned in on Tuesday. Each one takes anywhere from 8 to 16 hours to complete. I usually spread that time commitment over a couple of days so I have time to rethink or change parts of the design or writing, or even re-cook the recipe.

This week the weather backfired on me.

We had hi temperatures in the 40s and freeze warnings at night over the weekend. On Friday, it looked as if we would have cool weather throughout the following week. That changed, and the hi for the day it is to run in the paper (today) is predicted to be 82° and the warm temperatures are supposed to stick around for a while. This may not seem like a big deal, but had I know it was going to be so warm I would have roasted the beef over indirect heat on the grill rather than in the oven. I look kind of foolish showing people how to sweat in a hot kitchen rather than enjoy the weather while they cook. That’s mother nature for ya. She can be a real pain during the spring in Northern Indiana.

Eat well, cook often ...