Monday, April 25, 2011

Bacon-Beer Bread Grilled Cheese--Vote for Me!

About a week ago, I came across a post on DudeFoods blog (check out his blog--he eats the craziest concoctions and lives to write about them), talking about the ultimate grilled cheese contest. With a $50 Williams-Sonoma gift card and cheese at stake, I knew I--along with Nate's help--had to participate.

We immediately put our heads together to think of a delicious grilled cheese we could enter. We had lot of ideas (one involved a pretzel roll; the other involved some Mexican cheeses), but ultimately we decided on the Bacon-Beer Bread Grilled Cheese we made for dinner Sunday night and submitted to the contest.

Low and behold, our creation is one of nine finalists in the contest! We're alongside some pretty crazy and delicious-looking grilled cheese creations. Even if we don't win, it was really fun coming up with something somewhat crazy (it's not everyday we make bacon-beer bread around here, but it could come to that). But, it would be fun to win, so I ask that you check out what we made and go to DudeFoods' Facebook page, "like" the page and then vote for our creation by "liking" the photo.

Bacon-Beer Bread Grilled Cheese (serves 2)

  • four slices beer-bacon bread (see recipe below)

  • sharp cheddar cheese (enough slices to cover one side of the bread)

  • chipotle cheddar cheese (enough slices to cover one side of the bread)

  • Bavarian mustard

  • 3 slices cooked cherrywood-smoked bacon

  • 2 eggs, fried

  • 1 large tomato, sliced

  • butter for outside of sandwich

For each sandwich, take two slices of bread. Spread butter on outer sides of bread and mustard on the inner sides. Top bread with slices of sharp cheddar, followed by the cooked bacon (1.5 slices per sandwich), tomato, 1 fried egg and chipotle cheddar. top with other slice of bread.

Cook in a large skillet over medium heat, until bread is browned and cheese is melted. Put cover on skillet if cheese isn't melting.

The sandwiches were very over-the-top compared to the grilled cheeses we usually make, but they were so tasty, and all the flavors worked really well together. So, if it sounds good to you, too, please go vote for it!

Beer Bacon Bread (12 slices, 1.5 lb. recipe)
Recipe from Betty Crocker's Bread Machine Book

  • 3/4 cup flat beer

  • 1/2 cup water

  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions

  • 2 Tbs. mustard (we used Dijon)

  • 1 Tbs. butter, softened

  • 3 1/4 cups bread flour

  • 1 Tbs. sugar

  • 3/4 teas. salt

  • 1 3/4 teas. bread machine or quick active dry yeast

  • 1/3 cup crumbled cooked bacon (we used cherrywood-smoked bacon)

Measure carefully, placing all ingredients except bacon in bread machine pan in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Add bacon at the raisin/nut signal.

Select basic/white cycle. Use medium or light crust color. Do not use delay cycles. Remove baked bread from pan and cool on wire rack. (We like slicing the cooled bread with an electric knife.)

BBQ Deviled Eggs

I needed an appetizer to take to my parents' house for a Saturday evening Easter dinner. I knew I wanted to do something with eggs, and coming across these two BBQ Deviled Egg recipes--one from Southern Living and one from Very Culinary blog (thanks @Burp_Blog for the heads up!)--made me make my decision.

I decided to make up my own recipe based on the two I found:

  • 8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled

  • 1/4 cup mayo

  • 1 teas. honey mustard

  • 1/8 teas. salt

  • 1/8 teas. hot sauce

  • a few drops of liquid smoke

  • 1 Tbs. (plus a bit extra) BBQ sauce (I love Saz's BBQ sauce)

  • 2 strips cherrywood-smoked bacon, cooked and crumbled (be sure these are chopped pretty small if you're using a piping bag)

  • smoked paprika--a few shakes for the mix plus a few shakes for the top of the eggs

  • about 2 tbs. sliced green onions

Cut the peeled eggs in half and carefully remove the yolks (I also like to slice a bit of the white part off the bottom of the eggs so that they stay put on a plate, but it's not a necessary step). Put the yolks in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients (minus the green onions) and mix well.

Take a Zip-loc bag and fill the bag with the mixture, using a rubber spatula to get all of the mix at the bottom of the bag. Snip a corner of the bag to make a piping bag. Fill the insides of the eggs with the mix. Top with a few shakes of paprika and green onions.

These deviled eggs were really, really good. I would definitely make them again. They were really easy to make (other than peeling the eggs--I have some troubles with that). They were a big with our small group.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Light" Beer-Cheese Soup

It doesn't seem like something that has beer and cheese as the primary ingredients in it can be considered light, but this Cooking Light version is a great, light version of the soup. I've never made a non-light beer cheese soup, but I have a feeling many versions include a lot of cheese and heavy cream. This recipe uses 2% milk (which I'm glad I used instead of skim) and only 5 oz. of cheese. Despite the "light" ingredients, the soup had a wonderful, full flavor and was very creamy.

I followed the recipe exactly, except that I used regular sharp cheddar, rather than extra sharp. I think it was fine as it was, but the extra sharp would probably take it to another level.

For the beer, we used one of Nate's homebrews, West River (a play on Lakefront's Riverwest Stein). Even though I used chicken broth, as the recipe calls for, you could easily use vegetable broth and make this vegetarian, instead. Next time I made the croutons, I'll probably add some garlic powder or garlic salt to give them some extra flavor.

I made the soup on a Sunday afternoon, intending to have it for dinner Monday. When I got home from work on Monday, I put the cooked soup in the crockpot and set it to low for about 2.5 hours. It worked well and was ready to go when we were ready to eat.

Making It Up As I Go: Huevos Rancheros

Two things brought about this huevos rancheros meal on weeknight (yes, night!):

  1. Missing the wonderful food and flavors we had in Mexico.

  2. The need to use up a random assortment of food in the fridge and pantry.

So with tortillas, eggs, salsa and a mix of beans, onions and peppers plus some chickpeas, we made up this version of huevos rancheros.

It was so simple to make, delicious and, fairly, healthy (the huge tortillas and cheese were probably the worst parts). Here's what we did and used:

  • 2 large flour tortillas

  • 4 eggs

  • 1/2 jar salsa

  • a leftover, already cooked mixture of pinto beans with jalapeno bits, bell pepper and onion, seasoned with garlic powder, chili powder, etc.

  • about 1/2 cup corn

  • about 1/2 cup leftover chickpeas

  • about 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Heat bean and veggie mix with salsa and corn. Bring to a boil and then simmer.

Make four eggs over easy (so the eggs are set but the yolks are still runny).

Pop the tortillas in the microwave for about 30 seconds on medium heat.

Place the tortillas on a plate and layer with bean and veggie mix. Top shredded cheese and then the eggs. Top with hot sauce.

This meal was so easy and delicious--but it was way too filling with all those beans, eggs and the huge tortilla! I think next time I would cut back on the beans and use smaller tortillas. We served the huevos rancheros with a fruit salad.

Banh Mi (Vietnamese Sandwiches)

I've only had banh mi once in my life--a few years ago in New York's Chinatown--but I dare say it was the best sandwich I ever had. I was visiting my cousin, Becky--who now lives in Brooklyn--and we traveled to Chinatown for lunch. I can't remember if I had read about banh mi before or if we just stumbled upon a place. But we ended up at Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli. The place was really small--just enough room to order take out and leave--but it was reasonable and super, super tasty. I still remember what we had: Becky ordered the beef lemongrass, and I had the house special, which I believe had Vietnamese salami on it along with another form of pork. It was amazingly delicious. We both still talk about it to this day.

Anyway, I digress. Despite having been to a number of Vietnamese restaurants in the Milwaukee area, I've never had--or seen on the menu--a banh mi. I know they're out there, and after having a homemade version this weekend, I'll definitely be seeking it out. So when I came across a tweet about a food blogger's version of a banh mi--and after looking at the drool-worthy photos--I knew we would be making banh mi for dinner sooner than later. It seems like a lot goes into the recipe, but it was really very simple.


Ashley, of Not Without Salt, recently posted this recipe for banh mi with pork meatballs (just look at those photos!). I followed the recipe exactly (except I just realized now, reading it over again, I forgot to sprinkle rice wine vinegar on the carrots and radish--oops).

The only thing, is that my meatballs did NOT turn out like hers did. I think the pork I had was really pretty fatty, and browning them in oil on a pan--and adding extra grease--did not help. So, our sandwiches were more like banh mi with ground pork. Nevertheless, the taste was there and was fantastic!



If I made them again (and I'd like to!) I would do two things differently:

  1. If I used pork again, I'd probably add an egg or something to the meatballs to get them to stick. Or, I'd use ground chicken or turkey, which I think would stay in the meatball shape a little easier.

  2. Instead of buying individuals rolls or buns for the sandwiches, I bought a baguette and cut it into sandwich-sizes. The bread was fantastic (it was from Breadsmith), but because it was crusty and a bit tough to chew, it was an incredibly messy meal. I think I'd get softer rolls next time.

The Sriracha mayo served with it was fantastic, and we dipped some of the sweet potatoes we had on the side in the mayo. The next day, we used the mayo mix for a veggie dip. I think we'll be making the mayo again even sooner!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pan-Seared Bass "All'amatriciana"

I put "all'amatriciana" in quotes because it wasn't a true sauce, but was pretty similar. The real sauce uses guanciale (or cured pork jowl), pecorino and tomatoes. The only ingredient out of those three we used was the tomato. We subbed prosciutto for the guanciale and didn't use any cheese (looking back, we really should have used some Parmesan).

But let me back up. We've had some lake bass in the freezer since Nate caught it fishing when we were up north last fall. We came across a recipe in an old Cooking Light that called for (sea) bass and this all'amatriciana sauce.

We made it for dinner Saturday night, and it turned out really well. We made a few adjustments-- mostly we used more than the recipe called for! We also decided the sauce would be really good over noodles, or maybe even polenta.

Here is the recipe. We halved the recipe, since we only had two (big!) pieces of fish, and used a little more proscuitto, onions, crushed red pepper and balsamic vinegar than the recipe called for. But that's OK--everything turned out great!

For sides, we made salads and a box of Near East curry pilaf (good stuff!).

Proscuitto Pizza

Last Friday, Nate and I were craving pizza, so we picked up some fresh dough and toppings at Outpost. Since it was a decent night, we thought we'd throw it on the grill, our favorite way to make pizza.

For toppings, we had sliced tomatoes, chopped red onion, slices of fresh mozarella and slices of proscuitto. We used some basic marinara sauce as our pizza sauce.

The pizza was really, really good--the proscuitto added some great flavor, and who doesn't love fresh moz? The only thing I would do differently next time is use a lighter, maybe olive oil sauce, rather than a red sauce.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Making Chiles Rellenos in Mexico

Before our recent Mexican vacation, I had come across some Zihuatanejo cooking school websites, and I knew it would be something Nate and I would love to do. We ended up choosing Patio Mexica, mostly because the owner got back to me sooner than another one did. This one ended up being much cheaper than the other one I was looking at (about $55 compared to $20). And, it turns out, it was only about three blocks from our hotel!

So on the Saturday during our vacation, Nate and I ventured to Patio Mexica (connected to Rufo's Grill, which we had an excellent fish dinner at the night before) to learn how to make chiles rellenos. I had never made them before, but had tasted them and knew it would be a great experience.

The class was pretty full, as it was Monica's last class of the season, before taking a break and going on vacation herself. We made four types of chiles rellenos:

    • Chiles en nogada: chiles stuffed with beef and pork, plus raisins (or cranberries), apple, pear and walnuts, topped with a sweetened sour cream sauce and some more dried cranberries (or pomegranate seeds). The finished product is supposed to represent the Mexican flag. (I had my first chile en nogada not too long ago at Botanas).

    • Chile rellenos poblanos: This is probably what you think of when you hear "chiles rellenos." This type is also made with a poblano pepper, and then it's rolled in flour, beaten eggs and fried in hot oil. The ones we made just had wonderful queso fresco inside of them. These were served with a simple yet delicious sauce, made with tomatoes, onions and garlic.

    • Chile rellenos ancho: These were prepared the same as the ones above, but instead of the fresh poblano, we used dried poblanos, which are called ancho chiles. It gives the chile rellenos a different taste and texture, but it's just as good.

    • Chile rellenos cuaresmenos: These peppers resemble large jalapeno chiles and they can be stuffed with all sorts of fillings--we used beans, some of the meat from the other chile rellenos and a tuna salad mix. We did not fry them.

    The class was pretty hands on, as we were to help roast the poblanos to get the skins off, de-seed the ancho chiles and prepare them for stuffing.

    One of the most fun parts was stuffing the poblanos and anchos with the filling, dipping them in the batter and frying them. Nate and I both tried it--it was messy, but fun!

    Of course, the very best part of the class was tasting everything when we were done!

    We got to try at least bits of each of the chiles rellenos, plus they have us some delicious and refreshing hibiscus flower water and baskets of very fresh tortillas. Everything was absolutely delicious and flavorful.

    After lunch, some of us, including Nate, tried making some of those fresh tortillas. It's not as easy as it looks! The first one Nate made was a little too thin, and he had to do it again. But it worked well the second time!

    All in all, it was a great time and a great experience. Monica holds Wednesday classes in which she takes the class to the market and then makes a lunch with the fresh products the class picks up. I'd love to do that one next time we're there! :)

    Comida Mexicana

    Recently, Nate, my parents and I spent a wonderful week in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. There, we relaxed, spent hours at the beach, drank a lot of Mexican cerveza (plus margaritas, pina coladas ... you get the picture) and, of course, ate lots of wonderful food. Lucky for you, I took tons of food pictures (seriously, by the end of the trip, I was tired of documenting our meals!). (Also, please note, that I didn't actually eat all the meals pictured below, but I did, for the most part, at least have a bite of everyone's meal--it really pays off being a food blogger!) Zihua is a great, mid-sized city with tourist amenities, as well as an authentic town feel and culture. We did not stay at an all-inclusive hotel (I think you'd be hard-pressed to even find one in Zihua), but rather a small, "mom-and-pop" type hotel with just a few rooms and barely a reception desk. Lucky for us, this meant we got to try lots of different restaurants, as well as have some meals in our room, due to having a mini kitchen with a fridge, microwave and toaster. Each morning (other than the two mornings we went out for breakfast), we started with some fruit and often fresh pastries in our hotel rooms. The fruit was outstanding (except for a bad papaya we picked up)--we had lots of bananas, two types of mangoes and a mini watermelon. There was a bakery near us that had outstanding pastries. I'm not sure what they were, but the mini loaves of coconut bread were fantastic. We often at our lunches while lounging at the beach. Because we weren't at a typical resort, and because Zihua has four main beaches, we spent the day or majority of the day at different beaches, at different restaurants. There, for lunches, we had a variety of Mexican food, which usually included seafood. We had ... .... shrimp and fish tacos. .... lots of guacamole, fresh salsa and freshly made tortilla chips. ... one of my favorites, shrimp salad in an avocado half, served on saltine crackers. ... another of my favorites, that I had never had before but I wanted to try down there, chilaquiles. I had these twice--once for lunch (pictured here) and once for breakfast. I preferred the lunch one, I think mostly because of the red sauce. ... black bean and cheese sopes. For dinners, we again had lots of seafood. If you don't like seafood, I have to say it would be hard to eat a lot of different meals in Zihua--it seems to be in everything! For dinners, we had ... ... fish fillets with different sauces (just about every meal we had came with a side of freshly made corn or flour tortillas. I'm not sure I can go back to having the packaged tortillas we have here!). ... octopus with different sauces. ... shrimp in a tasty, spicy chipotle sauce. ... beef, bacon, veggie and pineapple "fajitas," although they were called something different on the menu. ... octopus, fish and shrimp, cooked in a molcajete. ... pozole (one of the things I can't wait to make at home). That's actually just a taste of everything we had in Mexico. I'd love to document it all here, but, sadly, I don't think there is enough room! For more pictures of the food we had, visit On My Table's Facebook page.