Garden Bruschetta

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Last Thursday I walked outside after a day of work inside and was taken back by the warm sun and need for no jacket or coat. I went over to my family’s private campground and began the necessary clean up to open it in time for camping this summer. I started a fire to burn old leaves and sticks cluttering the ground and dug into my flower beds and landscape features that needed sprucing up. It was a lot of work but it felt great to be outside and working after a brutal winter trapped indoors.

I was so inspired that I thought it was time to make a garden fresh snack to enjoy outside. For this recipe, I create an Italian-style salsa, or bruschetta and serve it on thin slices of crusty bead. Fresh vegetables combined with parsley, Italian dressing, lemon juice and zest form a fresh and light topping for a crusty baguette. It’s the perfect snack to enjoy on the patio while contemplating major projects that need to be completed to make the yard clean and beautiful for summer.

Garden Bruschetta

I'm so glad its Spring. Winter here in the Midwest was long, cold and snowy. I’ve never been witness to a layer of snow that literally blanketed the ground for three months. Nor have I experienced a major snow fall followed immediately by sub-zero temperatures for days afterward, which happened three or four times in January and February. Needless to say this has been the hardest winter I’ve ever lived through.

In the last two years I have went through two of the wildest seasons in my life, the aforementioned winter and the summer of 2012 which packed 40 or more days of over 90° with one reaching 106°. These are extreme weather shifts and I wonder if they are the direct result of global warming.

I'm just glad the weather will by getting nicer from here on out, it's the end of April and soon the summer will be in full swing, I hope mother nature is good to us because she was a real bitch this winter!

Eat well, cook often ...

Garden Bruschetta

Makes 28 to 30 appetizers; 35 minutes
1 Tomato, diced
1 Green pepper, diced
1/2 Onion, diced
1 Tbs Parsley, minced
1/2 C Italian dressing
Juice and zest of 1 Lemon
1 Baguette sliced thin

Mix, rest and serve
In a bowl combine tomato, green pepper, onion, parsley, italian dressing, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper to taste. Let rest for 30 minutes for flavors to meld. Place a spoonfull of mixture on a thin slice of baguette and serve.

Mini Breakfast Fillo Bites

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I was at Walmart recently hoping to see some of those crazy people that you see in pictures on Facebook when I stumbled upon a product in the freezer isle that I thought would be lots of fun - mini fillo shells. I purchased a box and decided to fill them with something breakfast oriented.

The shells consist of a number of super thin layers of fillo dough formed into a small cup that can hold a heaping teaspoon of filling. They have a light and crispy texture and can be used to make a sweet or savory snack. I could have gotten all fancy and made these little shells myself from scratch, but they were less than $2 and it saved me lots of time and labor.

For this recipe, I make a mixture of sausage, egg and cheese to fill the shells and then heat them through in the oven. The end result is a tasty little bite loaded with breakfast flavors that is perfect for the kids. They can also be made ahead, stored in the fridge then heated and served as a side to pancakes or waffles in the morning.

Mini Breakfast Fillo Bites

I found these fillo cups by accident walking through the freezer section and I knew instantly that I had to do something with them. At the same time, I also thought it would be nice to use breakfast flavors because it had been a while since I went that route with a recipe, and to me, it’s hard to go wrong with sausage and eggs.

The overall flavor of these little cups was a surprise. I was sure they would taste good, but the light fillo dough, the bite-size portion and the breakfast theme form a trinity of yummy goodness - I almost ate the entire batch myself. They reminded me of my obsession with deviled eggs, every time I got near the tray I had to grab one and pop it in my mouth like a high-calorie tic tac.

I’m looking forward to using these filo cups again, they were cheap, make a great delivery devise for an appetizer and are the perfect size for scarfing!

Eat well, cook often ...

Mini Breakfast Fillo Bites

Makes 15 breakfast snacks;
25 minutes
1/2 C Breakfast sausage, fully cooked
1/2 C Scrambled eggs
1/2 C Monterrey jack cheese, shredded
15 Mini fillo shells

Make filling, fill and cook
Preheat oven to 350°
Mix together sausage, egg and cheese. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of mixture into each mini fillo shell. Place on cookie sheet and bake 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and cups are heated through. Remove from oven, let cool slightly and serve.

Charcoal Grilled Chicken Legs

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It took about a month into living in my first apartment in New York City to realize I had lucked into one of the greatest luxuries a New Yorker could have – A backyard and covered patio. The first thing I purchased for it was a charcoal grill which I used year round. I was used to bundling up during the winter because I walked everywhere and road the subway, I actually thought it was fun standing around a warm grill loaded with goodies on the patio during the winter.

I grilled everything, but one item became my specialty early on – barbecued chicken legs.

For this recipe, I make a batch of chicken legs like I used to on my patio in New York. I start by marinating them in buttermilk to tenderize the meat. Next, I rub the legs with seasoning that is seared into a crust during the first part of grilling. Finally, I start basting the legs with barbecue sauce after each turn, which creates blackened spots of caramelized sugar on the legs that are loaded with flavor. The end result is moist meat with a thick and sticky barbecue coating, guaranteed to make a delicious mess. 

Charcoal Grilled Chicken Legs

By the time this chicken is finished cooking it looks burnt, but it really is not. The sugars in the rub and barbecue sauce caramelize and blacken but the continued basting doesn’t allow it to dry up, creating a fond on the skin of the chicken. I had a lot of this left over and I shared it with Mom and Dad the next day. Upon first glance my Dad said “what’s that? burnt chicken.” All the skepticism went away after he had a taste because I think he ate 4 legs himself. The same thing happened at a party years back on the patio in New York, everyone kept complaining that I had ruined the chicken as it was nearing completion, those same people ended up eating there words as they devoured the huge mess that I had cooked up, but they were nice enough to apologized for not trusting my grilling skills.

I have to say making this recipe brought back lots of great memories of my backyard paradise located at 36th Avenue and 29th Street in Astoria, Queens. I wonder who lives there now and I hope they have a charcoal grill – I know I did and it put me on the culinary path to where I am today.  

Eat well, cook often ... 

Charcoal Grilled Chicken Legs

Serves 4 to 6; 1 hour active,
6 to 12 hours inactive

 4 to 5 lbs Chicken legs
1/2 gal Buttermilk
For the sauce
1 C Onion diced
1 Tbs Garlic minced
1 C Ketchup
1/2 C Brown sugar
1/4 C Cider vinegar
1/4 C Sriracha sauce
2 Tbs Chipotle in adobo, minced
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
2 Tbs Honey
1 Tbs Liquid smoke
1 Tbs Worcestershire
For the rub
2 Tbs Smoked paprika
2 Tbs Sugar
1 Tbs Mustard powder
1 Tbs Salt
2 tsp Black pepper
1 tsp Garlic powder
1 tsp Onion powder
1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper

Marinate chicken
Place chicken in bowl and completely submerge in buttermilk, cover and refrigerate. Let chicken marinate 4 to 12 hours. Remove chicken from bowl and rinse, then pat dry with paper towels.

Make Sauce
In a sauce pan over medium heat, sauté onions in a little olive oil until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute more. Stir in ketchup, brown sugar, sriracha, cider vinegar, chipotle pepper, dijon mustard, honey, liquid smoke and worcestershire sauce and bring to a simmer stirring often. Remove from heat and let cool.

Make rub, season chicken
In a bowl, mix together smoked paprika, sugar, mustard powder, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne pepper. Librally sprinkle over chicken and rub in with hands. Let chicken marinate while preparing charcoal for grilling, 25 minutes.

Grill chicken, baste
Place seasoned chicken on prepared charcoal grill and sear until a crust forms, 3 to 4 minutes per side. After initial sear brush with barbecue sauce after each turn and cover grill. Do this every 6 to 8 minutes until chicken is cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes total. Remove and let rest 10 minutes, then serve.

Skirt Steak Tortas

I bought a "manager's special" skirt steak at Kroger recently for less than $3.00 and was exited about the great deal, but knew it was on special because it had to be cooked in the next 24 hours. "Manager's special" is the grocery store lingo for "cook this now because it's about to turn green."

I decided to tenderize the steak, grill it and make a Mexican torta sandwich for dinner. I had a chipotle lime mayo sauce leftover from a recipe I had documented the day before and thought it would be a great condiment for the sandwich.

To make the steak tender enough for the torta, I beat it until it was flat and falling apart – which was a nice stress relief. I knew the better I tenderized the steak, the better the sandwich would be, so it was an inspired beating. I seasoned it with salt and pepper and grilled it for a couple of minutes each side. After a small rest I diced up the steak and it was ready for the torta.

I used bollilo bread, which I sliced in half length-wise. I slathered the bottom with refried beans and layered a couple of slices of jack cheese on the top half. I stuck the bread in the oven to toast and melt the cheese. Once that was finished I added the steak, garnishes and the chipotle lime mayo sauce resulting in a great sandwich that I would eat again anytime.

Skirt Steak Torta

I hadn't planned on producing this recipe in print or on-line so I didn't document the process. After eating the sandwich (I made four) I was impressed and decided to take a few shots of the finished product for a simple post.

I hope to go all out on a torta here at Behind the Bites one day because it is one of my favorite types of sandwich. I was introduced to them at La bamba (a restaurant chain known for burritos as big as your head) when I was in college and have loved them every since. I better get to work though because a good torta has lots going on with it, much more than what I have going on here, although I must say, this torta was a tasty treat indeed.

Eat well, cook often ...

Make 4 sandwiches
1 lb Skirt steak
1/4 C Refried beans
4 slices Monterrey jack cheese
2 Tbs Chipotle Lime Mayo
2 Bollilo buns
Lettuce, tomato and onion for garnish

Tenderize, grill steak
With a meat tenderizer, beat steak until flattened with slight tears throughout. season with salt and pepper to taste. Grill over high heat for 4 to 6 minutes or until medium rare, turning once during cooking. Remove from grill and rest for at least 5 minutes, then dice.

Toast, assemble sandwich
Slice bread in half, spread beans on bottom half and layer cheese on top half, place in 400° oven for 5 to 6 minute or until cheese is melted and bread is toasted. Layer steak and garnishes on bottom half, drizzle with chipotle lime mayo and cover with top half of bun, cut in two, then serve.

Panko Breaded Cod Fillet

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When it comes to saltwater fish there is one that stands alone as my favorite – Cod. I love its thick fillets coated in a crispy breading or batter. It’s mild in flavor and not “fishy” tasting, which is why I like it.

The Vikings would catch cod, dry it out and preserve it with salt, producing salt cod that could be taken on long voyages.

In the 1600s the pilgrims used a map of New England made by John Smith to determine “Cape Cod” might be a good place to settle and profit from fishing, although they knew little about the trade, according to Mark Kurlansky, in his book Cod: a Biography of the Fish That Changed the World.

Today, it’s available year round wherever fish are sold and can be baked, poached, braised, broiled and fried.

For this recipe, I dredge cod fillet in flour, egg and panko bread crumbs to create a thick coating made crisp by shallow frying in a skillet – which makes for large bites of moist and flaky fish with mild flavor and a nice crunchy breading for texture.

Panko Breaded Cod Fillet

Cod is by far and away my favorite type of fish to eat. When it comes to seafood in general I like mild flavor, the more “fishy” it tastes the less I like it. Growing up in the landlocked Midwest, my favorite fish was walleye, but after moving to New York and having a fish monger across the street, I gravitated toward cod. I saw Tyler Florence make fish and chips on the food network one morning and was inspired to make the dish myself. This introduced me to cod and it's now my go to fish.

Since relocating to the Midwest in 2010, I have had hit and miss luck with the seafood here, my best bet is frozen, but even that can be a crap-shoot at times. Having said that, the frozen and thawed fish prepared and pictured in this post was excellent - as good as any fresh fish from my old fish monger in New York!

Eat well, cook often ...

Panko Breaded Cod Fillet

Serves 4; 30 minutes
1 1/2 lbs Cod fillets
1 C Flour
2 Eggs beaten
1 C Panko bread crumbs
Oil for frying


Set up three stations. One each: flour, beaten eggs and bread crumbs. Season cod with salt and pepper to taste. Coat on all sides with flour, then egg and finally bread crumbs. Shake-off excess before moving to next station. Once breaded, let rest a few minutes for coating to set up.

Pan fry
Place enough oil in fry pan to cover entire bottom. Heat to medium high. Once oil is hot place cod in pan and cook until golden brown and cooked through, turn once during cooking. 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from pan and serve with lemon wedge.