Burgers and Fries…my way.

October 14, 2009

With the last few days of fall blowing away, any nice day is a good excuse for one last barbecue. So after some deliberation, I came up with the following menu:

Buffalo Burgers topped with cheddar cheese and barbecued onion on  an onion roll with a side of baked sweet potato fries with smoked Gouda dipping sauce.

Ground Buffalo Meat
1/2 Medium Red Onion (chopped)
1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 tbsp Soy Sauce
Fresh Ground Pepper and Garlic Powder to taste

Sweet Potato Fries:
2-3 Medium Sweet potatoes or Yams
Oil Spray
Salt and Pepper to taste

Dipping Sauce:
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp flour
1/4 – 1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. cubed Smoked cheese

Heat up the onion in a saute pan (I use my cast iron) and let it caramelize slightly. In a medium bowl combine the meat, onion, soy sauce, Worcestershire Sauce and pepper. Let the mixture sit while you prepare the rest. This will give the meat a chance to marinate a bit.

When you’re ready to cook the meat, split the meat into small balls and flatten into patties, cut off a slice of onion, keeping the rings together. Light up your barbecue of choice and cook the meat till your preferred doneness, and barbecue the onion on both sides till slightly charred. Before the burgers are done, throw on a slice of cheese (I like cheddar for this one), and melt on top. Throw the buns (sliced in half) face down onto the barbecue just to warm up a bit, and assemble with a lettuce leaf and a slice of tomato and enjoy.

Slice the sweet potatoes into fire shaped slices. Spray a baking pan with oil spray, lay down the fries, and spray the tops of the fries with more spray. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper and throw into a 400 degree oven. Bake until the side touching the pan browns. Turn the fries over and bake for a few more min (5 – 10) till soft inside.

Dipping sauce
In a small sauce pot or saute pan melt the butter down completely over medium heat. Add the flower and, with a whisk, mix in quickly and let heat for a few seconds. Start adding the milk. The mixture is going to thicken VERY quickly. Add milk till you get the consistency you want. Then start slowly adding in the cubed cheese.  If the mixture is too thick, add more milk. Too thin: add more flour. It is a very forgiving process. Just make sure not to turn the heat up too high or you will burn the milk and cheese. Make sure to keep tasting till you get the right amount of cheesiness.  Once it’s done, either pour over the fries or pour into a small bowl and use for dipping.

NOTE: I have recently started smoking foods (as in the cooking process, not the…recreational activity), so i have a lot of smoking woods lying around. A great way to add subtle flavors to your BBQing  is to just throw a few chips on the fire when you start cooking. It doesn’t officially smoke the food, but you can still taste it. The best way to get the most smoke from the wood is to soak the wood chips in water for 30 min. When you throw these chips on, they really smoke up nicely. I used Applewood chips in this case and everything came out tasting nice and smokey:the burgers, the onions, even the buns a little bit.  I promise to post my smoking adventures once I manage to do it right. Right now, it’s still a work in progress.


Some Dim Sum

October 6, 2009

So a brand spankin’ new Asian food market opened up about 5 min away from me. This is very exciting news. I am a huge fan of Asian foods whether it be Japanese (I make a mean sushi), Indian (the tandoori chicken from my first post), or Thai (coconut lemon grass soup). So I went to the market without any particular idea of what I wanted to make, figuring I would just browse and hope that something pops up, which inevitably, it did. Now a lot of this post isn’t so much cooking as preparation, since much of the stuff I bought was pre-prepared. But alas, it’s still worth a post.

What I bought:

Rice noodle wraps
Regular thin rice noodles
Turnip Cake
“Glutinous” rice dumplings with peanut filling
Custard buns
Beef and Veg. pot-stickers
Scallion Pancakes
(This is actually the combined result of several trips and the resulting meals, I figured I’d knock these all out in one.)

The main thing I decided to prepare was Vietnamese Summer Rolls (Also known as salad rolls). The rest of the fare is pretty easy to prepare with just a few saute pans and a steamer.

The Turnip Cake, which is sold as a solid brick of turnip paste riddled with pieces of scallion, ham, shrimp, and such is good just sliced into slabs about 1/2 in. thick and sauteed till golden brown and topped with a little Hoisin sauce. The Scallion pancakes are similar in preparation: Just grease a nonstick pan with some oil and throw in the pancake, brown on both sides, and enjoy.

The “Glutinous” rice dumplings (gotta love engrish) are just dumplings with a rice dough. Typically I throw these in to rigorously boiling water and let them boil away till they float to the top and are nice and squishy. While these are boiling away, throw a steamer rack on top of the pot and stem the custard buns (or any other steamed bun you may have). Both these items can be prepared simultaneously, which is always fun.

The Pot-stickers are prepared as explained by the package: Heat up oil in a hot pan (I used my cast iron) and throw in the dumplings with the flattest side down. Brown the dumplings for a minute or two (no moving around necessary), then dump in 1/4 cup-ish or water and cover the pan quickly to avoid the onslaught of hot oil that will jump out as a result of this. Let cook for 5 or so min or until a lot of the water evaporates. scrape the dumplings of the pan with a spatula (get it? POT Stickers!) and enjoy.

And finally, the pièce de résistance , the summer rolls:

Summer RollsIngredients:

Shrimp(de-tailed and de-veined)
Package of Vietnamese rice wraps
50 g package or rice noodles (the reeeeeally thin white ones)
1 Carrot
1 Cucumber
Lettuce (a nice green or red lettuce not too strong in flavor)
Fresh mint leaves
Fresh cilantro

Defrost the shrimp (if frozen) and throw a couple into a pot of boiling water and let cook for a few min. Shrimp is done when it turns orange and is no longer translucent inside. Remove from water and set aside to cool.

Thinly, and I mean REALLY thinly slice the cucumber and the carrot. I found it easier to just use a peeler and just peel off long strips of carrot. Grab a few sprigs of cilantro and mint and cut a few pieces of chives about 5 in long. Also rip off and clean a few pieces of the lettuce. The point is to have everything ready and accessible when you start rolling the…rolls.

For the noodles just follow the instructions on the package. If they are not in English, they probably say something to the effect of “Soak in hot water till soft, drain and serve.” It is in fact that easy. I boiled a little bit of water and added it to the very hot sink water. Let the noodles soak to the right texture, drain and rinse with some cold water. Let the noodles sit in the colander while you work. The less wet they are, the easier it will be to handle them.

Finally, take the shrimp, place on a flat surface, and, with one hand pressing on top of the shrimp either with your palm or the tops of your fingers (the point is to have your hand flat), use a sharp knife and cut the shrimp in half down the center of the shrimp.

Once everything is prepared and accessible, it’s time to start rolling. Making these rolls is more of an art project than real cooking. Because the wrappers are clear, the hole idea is to make the insides look pretty.

Fill a large, flat bowl or saute pan with hot water. You want to be able to submerge the entire dry wrap. Soak the wrap in the water for a few seconds until it starts to become a bit softer (you will have to experiment to see what length or time works for you). Lay out the wrap and start filling. We have to work quickly before the wrap becomes too soft to handle.  Place a few pieces of shrimp in the middle of the roll (2 or three depending on the size of the wrapper) orange side down (we want to be able to see the color, remember?). Below that put a piece of lettuce. On top of the lettuce place a pile of rice noodles, some carrot and cucumber, and a leaf or two of the mint and cilantro. Between the shrimp and the pile of stuff place a piece of chive and above the shrimp place another piece. Then fold in the sides of the wrap to start covering the filling. Fold up the bottom of the wrap over the pile of stuff, roll the pile over the shrimp, and continue rolling to seal the roll. Because of the natural stickiness of the wrap, it should stay closed very easily.

For a sauce i just mixed some duck sauce with some garlic chili sauce (also from the Asian food store). Enjoy, and be creative.


September 29, 2009

No, that is not a keyboard mash. It is in fact the name of a classic middle-eastern dish (pronounced “shahk-shookah” with emphasis on the “oo”). It is an onomatopoetic word meaning “all mixed up”, and rightfully so.

Olive oil
Can of crushed tomatoes
1 Small yellow onion (Chopped)
Chili Powder
Cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (for spice)
Parsley flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Eggs(one or two per person)

Warm up some olive oil in a deep saute pan that has a lid. Throw the onion in and saute till it becomes tender and just starts to brown. Dump in the can of crushed tomatoes and mix in with the onion. When the sauce starts to bubble, reduce the heat to medium.

Now comes the fun part. Start adding the spices. Shakshukah typically has a very strong cumin taste, so you will need a fair amount of it. BUT you can do it however you like. I tend to add quite a bit of cumin (a tbsp or two) and not quite as much, but still quite a bit of turmeric (maybe a tsp) and maybe the same amount of chili powder. The rest of the ingredients are purely to taste. If you like it with a little more heat, add more cayenne/red pepper flakes. If you don’t like it spicy, maybe just a little or none at all. As you add spices, make sure to taste the sauce. This is the ONLY way to know if you are adding enough spices (this goes for any and every recipe, no matter what! If you can, always taste as you progress).  Once you get it to a point where you like the way it tastes, cover let it sit and simmer for a bit.

After a few minutes of simmering, open up and make little wells in the sauce for the amount of eggs you’ll be adding. If you’re a fairly competent egg-cracker, then go ahead and crack the eggs straight into the sauce. If not, just crack the egg into a bowl, fish out all the shell bits, if necessary, and put into the sauce.  With all the eggs in place, just cover the pan. The whole idea is to poach the eggs in the sauce.  The eggs are ready when the yolk has a white film over it. Use a spoon to scoop out the egg and sauce on to plates and eat with pita and hummus. Good for lunch or a light dinner.

NOTE: Since I do not like peppers, I do not add them. However, if you do, you are welome to dice some peppers (red, hot, whatever) and throw them in along with the onion at the beginning of the recipe.

Coconut Rum French Toast

September 28, 2009

So one day, I was trying to figure out something fun to make myself for breakfast. I was thinking French Toast, but I didn’t have any milk. However, I did have coconut milk. I thought to myself, “it’s still milk, right?” and so, I decided to take a blind culinary leap and see what would come out. And this is the result:

(NOTE: I didn’t measure out ANYTHING in this recipe! It is all to taste. I include some estimated measurements. I will also include some notes at the end that may help though.)

Bread(works for any kind. Use challah if you got it. I usually use potato bread)
Eggs (1 for every 2 slices of regular store bought bread. You may need more if you are using thicker slices
Coconut milk
1 1/2 tbsp Coconut Cream
1 oz Dark Rum (Optional, but why not!)
1/2 tsp Cardamom
1 tsp Cinnamon
tbsp Brown Sugar

In wide, shallow bowl (Pasta bowl, for example), beat the egg(s). Add the rest of the ingredients to the egg and combine thoroughly.  The egg should end up a gold/brown color. Heat up your pan of choice (mine is a cast iron skillet) on med-high heat and butter the surface. Place a slice of the bread in the egg mixture, let soak a bit, and flip over to make sure both sides get a soak. Throw the soaked bread into the pan and cook on both sides. Repeat for the rest of the bread and enjoy.


1) When adding the coconut milk, use your best judgment. You don’t want to make the mixture too liquid-y or it won’t cook properly.

2) The coconut cream is to give the French toast a sweeter, more coconutty taste. If you plan on using syrup, it’s not necessary to add this.

3) When cooking, you have to use your best jugement, again. If it’s a thicker piece tha soaked for a long time, it will take longer to cook. Thinner piece and soaked less? Less time. Also if you notice that the toasts are getting too dark without cooking the inside, lower the heat.

4) All the spices are optional.  I LOVE cardamom, so i tend to add a lot of it. Do what you like.

Good luck and bon-appetit (In honor of the FRENCH toast. Get it?)

Pita the right way.

September 17, 2009

So in all my wanderings I have only ever found two places to get amazing Israeli pita. One is the Food Showcase on Fairlawn ave in Fairlawn, NJ which is a kosher food store that sells mostly Israeli products and, on occasion, has the thick pitas that i crave.  The second is at the Shushan Grill in Highland Park, NJ which is a restaurant that serves them and if you ask the owner really nicely (in Hebrew) for a pack of the pitas, he’ll be kind enough to sell them to you for a redonkulous price. So one night, as I was pondering one of life’s most consistent mysteries (what to have for dinner) I decided upon Lebanese Kofte Kebabs (a post for another day) with some Israeli salad, pita and  hummus (I ONLY eat Sabra brand hummus, 4 out of 5 Israeli’s agree, and that last one is a liar).  But Alas! I haven’t any pita! Well on the website that I found the kebabs, (along with other traditional Israeli fare, really a great site, the link for which appears at the bottom of this post) I also happened to notice a pita recipe!  So without further ado:

Israeli Pita
3 1/2 c. Flour
1 1/2 c. lukewarm water
1 tsp sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 packet quick rise yeast

Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add half the water (for all those numerically inept folks out there, that’s 3/4 of a cup :-p ) and combine with a rubber spatula. Once the first dose of water is thoroughly integrated, start adding the rest of the water a little bit at a time.  You will eventually have to switch to using your hands.  YOU DO NOT NECESSARILY NEED TO ADD ALL THE WATER !!! Add water until the dough becomes rubbery and slightly sticky.

At this point, remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface (such as a large cutting board or clean counter top). Knead the dough until it is smooth and slightly elastic, about 10 min  (if you poke it and remove your finger, the indent starts to pop back out). Put the ball of dough back into the bowl, cover with a dry hand towel and store in a warm, dry place  and let rise till it about doubles in size (Unfortunately I cannot really give you a set time for this.  It could be 45 min, could be an hour and a half. It depends on too many factors to really be sure Use your best judgment).

Once the dough doubles in size, or around when you think it will double in size, you should start thinking about preparing your oven. Remove all the racks from your oven put one. If you have a pizza stone, but the stone and the one lonely rack on the lowest possible space and preheat the oven to anywhere between 450 – 490 deg. F.  If you don’t have a pizza stone, use a cookie sheet.  The whole point is to emulate the cavernous wood burning brick ovens that these pitas are usually made in.  You want the oven and the stone or sheet to be blazing hot when you put the rolled out pitas in.

Punch down your dough (possibly the best part of the procedure, aside from eating them)  and lightly knead it. Roll out the dough into a long snake and start pinching off pieces and rolling them into balls.  Bigger balls = bigger pitas (no pun intended, though also completely true). A good size is about the size of a tangerine, or slightly smaller than a tennis ball. Separate the balls (giggity), cover and let them sit for another 5 or 10 min.

After this waiting period, take a ball, place on a lightly floured surface, squish it with your hand, and roll it to the desired thickness (optimal for REAL Israeli pitas is a little over 1/2 a cm , or quarter of an inch, but this it totally up to your preferences and how you like your pitas. So experiment and see what gives you the best results.) Repeat for all the dough balls and set aside again and let sit for another 10 min or so.

Throw the rolled out dough onto the stone (or sheet) and let bake for about 4 min or until it has puffed up.  It will not necessarily look brown on top, so don’t judge the done-ness by color.  Remove the glorious pita from the oven, making sure not to leave the door open too long as so not to lose heat, and let cool.  Repeat for the rest.

Now, these aren’t your run-of-the-mill American pitas.  These are thick, fluffy, POCKET pitas.  If you’re using pitas and you have to wrap them around whatever you’re filling them with, they’re not pitas, they’re frauds.

Here is where I got the recipe:

Israeli pita

Let us just hit the ground running.

I was walking through the super market looking for something to prepare for dinner.  As I passed through the bakery section, I noticed several packets of Naan (a sort of Indian flat bread). As often is the case, I had a spark of genius (that’s right, GENIUS) and decided on my dinner for the following day:  Tandoori Chicken with curry vegetables and Indian rice and rice pudding for desert. I proceeded with the rest of my purchase and went home.  It was going to be a good day.

The ingredients went as follows:

For the chicken:

  • Skinless Chicken Drumsticks
  • Medium Red Onion
  • Tandoori paste from a jar
  • A little butter

For the Vegetables:

  • 1 bag frozen veg (I used Broccoli and Cauliflower in this case)
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • Curry Paste or powder (if you have it)
    However, if you don’t, a simple curry-like taste can be achieved by combining spices such as: Cumin, Ground Mustard, Ground Ginger, Turmeric, Paprika, All Spice, Ground Cloves, and Ground cardamom.  Curry is just a spice mix. So just go by the favors you like and add as much of each spice as you want.

For the Rice:

  • 1 c. Basmati Rice
  • Small Yellow Onion, chopped
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick (3 or 4 in. long)
  • 6 Cardamom Pods
  • 4 whole CLoves
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • salt

For the Raita

  • Mint
  • Cilantro
  • 1 tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 1 c. Plain Yogurt

For the Pudding:

  • 1/2 c. Jasmine Rice
  • 1 c. Whole Milk
  • 1/2 c Light Cream
  • 3/4 c. Coconut milk
  • 1/4 c. Sugar
  • Ground Cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon

And Naan, of course!

Tandoori chicken has to marinate.  So before coating the chicken, with a sharp knife make several deep scores (cuts) in the chicken. Cover the chicken pieces with the paste (though in reality it’s suposed to marinate in a mix of tandoori paste and yogurt, but I was too lazy) and let sit in the fridge in a containter for 5-6 (or however many) hours.

Rice Pudding
Since the rice pudding needs to cool, it is the first dish that should be prepared. Cook half a cup of long grain rice (I tend to use Jasmine) to make one cup of cooked rice. In a semi-deep saute pan, heat rice and whole milk over medium heat.  When it starts to bubble, reduce the heat and let simmer till it starts to thicken.

When the rice and milk mixture begins to thicken, add the light cream, coconut milk and sugar.  Combine and use a whisk to add the spices (I don’t really have the measurements for this because I tend to do it to taste.  What I do know is I only add a pinch of ground cloves). Once again, when the mixture begins to bubble, reduce the heat and simmer until it thickens again.

Once the mixture thickens, remove from the heat, pour into a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap and push the plastic wrap all the way down so that it touches the surface of the pudding (this will prevent a skin from forming).  PLace the bowl in the fridge and let cool till it is time to eat!

Tandoori Chicken
Remove the marinating chicken from the fridge and preheat the oven to 380 degrees F.  Grease the pan you wish to bake the chicken in (I used my trusty cast iron skillet). Cut the red onion into large pieces (quarters or eighths) and add them to the pan. Place the chicken throughout the pan and throw the pan into the oven and back for around 40-45 min.  Prepare the rest of the dishes while the chicken is baking (I made the rice then the veg last).  Optional: In the last min of backing or so, melt some butter and grab a basting brush. When the 40 or so min are up, brush the chicken pieces with the butter and put back in the oven until they’re done (shouldn’t be more than another 5 or 10 min).

Indian Rice
Put the rise in a sieve and rinse the rice in cold water until the water coming through the rice is semi clear.  Then submerge the rice in a bowl of cold water and let soak (it is best to keep the rice in the sieve since this makes it easier to remove the rice later).

In a large saute pan, heat the oil.  Add the chopped onion to the hot oil and saute till the onion becomes tender.  Then add the garlic and saute for another min.  Add the cardamom, cloves, coriander, cinnamon stick, and ground ginger and stir to coat evenly.  Remove the rice from the water, shaking off as much water as you can.  Add the rice to the pan.  Stir the rice until it starts to become slightly less opaque and begins to brown.  Add 2 cups of water, the bay leaf and salt to taste (it may be wise to add a tiny bit of salt now and add the rest later as so not to over salt). When the water begins to boil, reduce the heat and mostly cover the rice (leave a small crack for steam to escape). Now would be the time to start the veggies.

After 10 min or so, the water should all be gone and there should be little holes in the rice where the steam boiled out.  At this point, turn off the heat (add the salt to taste if you have not done so already), replace the lid, and let sit until ready to serve.

Curry Vegetable Stir-fry
Prepare the vegetables according to the packet. (While the vegetables are cooking, I recommend throwing the Naan into the oven or toaster over for a few min at 200 degrees F to warm them up and preparing the Raita) Once done, heat a tbsp or two of oil in a wok or a big saute pan.  (If you have curry paste, add a tbsp of paste to the oil and mix in.) Add the veg and keep them moving as so not to burn them. Add your curry powder or spices, taste as to know what you need to add.

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until the leaves are finely chopped. Adjust flavors based on preference.

The meal isn’t exactly short, but it’s definitely worth it.

I used the following recipes as guidelines for this meal:

Basmati Rice

Indian Rice Pudding