Friday, April 20, 2018

Flashback Friday - Bacon Grilled Cheese

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on July 3, 2013.

I was so pleased with my sample of Lori's Salt Caramel Syrup, I thought I'd play with it a little more. Why not use it as a glaze for bacon, then add that to a simple grilled cheese sandwich? The syrup added just the right amount of sticky sweetness, while letting both the cheese and bacon flavors shine through.

Caramelized Bacon Grilled Cheese

6 slices bacon, cooked through but not crunchy
3 tablespoons Lori's Salt Caramel Syrup
4 slices of bread
cheese of your choice, enough to cover a slice of bread in two thin layers (aka about the size of a slice of American cheese)
softened butter

Coil bacon slices into circles; secure with toothpicks. (It doesn't have to be particularly neat; this is just to help the caramel-stiffened bacon fit on the bread.) Place bacon rings in a cold saute pan and pour the three tablespoons of syrup over the bacon. Put heat on, at about medium. Watch carefully. The syrup should start to bubble in a minute or so, but you don't want it to bubble too quickly, otherwise it will harden. As the syrup bubbles, use tongs to turn the bacon every half minute or so. Cook until the bacon is well-glazed and there doesn't seem to be much syrup left in the pan.

Remove bacon to a plate. Wash pan.

Assemble sandwiches: for each sandwich, arrange a quarter of the cheese on one slice of bread, then add half the bacon. Top with the rest of the cheese, then the second slice of bread. Spread softened butter on outside of top slice.

Turn heat on under saute pan to medium. Add sandwiches butter-side-down. Cook over medium heat until bottom bread is nicely browned and the cheese is starting to melt. Butter the top slice of bread and flip sandwiches. Cook until bottom is browned.

Cut sandwiches in half, diagonally, and serve with your favorite soup or a handful of potato chips. Or both.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Homemade Chicken Tikka Masala

Though not entirely authentic, chicken tikka masala is one of the western world's favorite Indian dishes. It's rich, buttery, and tomatoey--rather decadent, if you ask me. But also absolutely delicious. While it's easy to order Indian carry-out or even delivery these days, it's hard to tell if a restaurant's tikka masala sauce includes cashews. That really matters for someone like my brother, who has a nut allergy. And he just looooves chicken tikka masala. Many times he's ordered it only to find that he can't eat it. I end up with it, which is great for me and not so great for him.

Making tikka masala at home is probably the best solution, and I've found a recipe that tastes just like the restaurant version, doesn't contain nuts, and isn't all that complicated to make. Sure, it has multiple steps, but none are difficult. And all of the ingredients are easy to find. All of them are regularly in my pantry, and most should be in yours.

The original recipe makes 6 servings, so I cut it in half. This still made enough to feed two people twice, with a veggie side dish and naan or even flour tortillas to mop up the sauce. Taste the sauce before serving and add more garam masala or cumin if you think it needs a bit more spice (I did). I think next time I make this, I'll puree the sauce with a stick blender before adding the chicken.

Chicken Tikka Masala (adapted from Bon Appetit)

3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
6 ounces whole-milk yogurt (not Greek)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise
1 1/2 teaspoons ghee (Indian clarified butter) or vegetable oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon dried pepper flakes
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus sprigs for garnish
Steamed basmati rice (for serving)

Combine first six ingredients in a small bowl. Combine yogurt, salt, and half of spice mixture in a zip top bag or large bowl; add chicken and turn to coat. Seal bag or cover bowl and refrigerate 4-6 hours. Refrigerate remaining spice mixture.

Heat ghee in a 12" skillet over medium heat. Add onion, tomato paste, cardamom, and chiles and cook, stirring often, until tomato paste has darkened and onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add remaining spice mixture and cook, stirring often, about 4 minutes.

Add tomatoes with juices and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer the mixture, stirring often and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, until sauce thickens, 8-10 minutes. Add cream and chopped cilantro. Simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and arrange chicken in a single layer. Broil for five minutes, until chicken starts to blacken in spots, flip pieces, and broil another 4-5 minutes. Chicken won't be cooked through. Cut it into small pieces, add to sauce, and simmer until it is cooked through, 8-10 minutes.

Serve with rice and cilantro garnish.

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Flashback Friday - Hakata Tonton

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on July 16, 2013.
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Regular readers of Minxeats know that I'm a pretty adventurous eater. I also come from a Polish immigrant family who valued what we now like to call "nose-to-tail" eating. My Mom used to rhapsodize about a dish my Grandma prepared long ago called chłódno nogi, or cold jellied pig's feet. While the "jellied" part of the equation never turned me on, I was curious to try pig's feet. I've been a fan of crispy pork skin and collagen- and calcium-rich cartilaginous goodness practically since birth. And lucky me, there's a restaurant in New York that specializes in that very thing - Hakata Tonton.

When I was in New York for the Fancy Food Show earlier in the month, I met up with my regular NY dining companion, David, for dinner. Hakata Tonton is conveniently close to his place of employment and seemed like the obvious choice. For me, at least. Thankfully, David trusts my judgement and is willing to eat adventurously.

The menu at Hakata Tonton is fairly voluminous for such a tiny place. When we were asked if we had a reservation - on a Monday night - I at first thought the restaurant was pretentious. But then when we got inside, I saw that there were only about eight tables, plus six seats at the bar, and all were full. They squeezed us in and made us feel very welcome. After hemming and hawing over what to order - and I wanted most of it - I narrowed my choices down to three: soft shelled crab, a sushi roll, and tonsoku, aka pig's feet. Because one can't not eat the specialty of the house.

My dishes came out in rapid succession, first the crab, which was lightly battered and served atop a delicious ponzu sauce of sweetened dashi and the aromatic Japanese citrus known as yuzu.

Then came a simple maki roll with lettuce and fried shrimp.

And finally, the main attraction - three hunks of grilled pig trotter with scallions and more ponzu. The skin was crunchy/crispy, the little meat on the bones was gelatinous, and overall it was finger-licking-good.

David went for the snow crab croquettes, which had bits of tonsoku inside and sat atop a sweet-ish puree of Japanese sweet potatoes. The croquettes were very soft under the crisp crust, hence the spoon. The flavors were very mild and I wished there had been more actual crab inside.

After quite a wait, David's deep fried chicken showed up. Each of the six blobs of meat were about the equivalent of a de-boned chicken leg. The meat was juicy and perfectly cooked, and the crust was delightfully crunchy. And of course there was more of that lovely ponzu sauce on the plate. Really excellent fried chicken.

We both enjoyed our meal, and I wished that we had been a bigger party with bigger appetites so we could try more things from the menu. Several diners around us were eating hot pots filled with tofu, dumplings, vegetables, Berkshire pork belly, and tonsoku, and it smelled outstanding. I would have liked to try the ankimo (monkfish liver) in yuzu miso, the slow cooked pork buns with spicy mustard, the collagen soup gyoza, scallop fritters, and the okonomiyaki. And...maybe next time.

Hakata Tonton
61 Grove St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 242-3699
Web site

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Monday, April 09, 2018

Pastabilities

I started following @BaltimoreHomeCook on Instagram last year because I enjoy her photos of homemade pasta. Not just linguine and fettuccine, but fancy stuff made with colored doughs in interesting shapes. I admire her experimentation in the kitchen and wish we had enough space for that sort of thing. Our counter is not much bigger than a desk calendar and it already has several bottles of olive oil and a KitchenAid heavy duty stand mixer in permanent residence. Though I have always known that we could make pasta dough in the food processor and hand-form cavatelli or orecchette at the dining room table, we never got around to it.

I met @BaltimoreHomeCook--Laurie--in person and immediately she volunteered to lend us her KitchenAid pasta attachments. The next day, as I accepted the heavy bag holding the roller and cutting blades, I realized we had no more excuses. We'd be making fresh pasta ASAP, as she had also given us a small bag of 00 pasta flour with which to play. Oh boy. This was getting real.

I didn't want to lean on Laurie for everything--I hate being a pain in the ass, or needy--so I looked up pasta recipes on teh innernets. I found one for dough made in the food processor involving 2.5 cups of 00 flour, 4 eggs, and 2 teaspoons of olive oil that seemed easy enough. The directions indicated that half a cup of flour should be held back and added if the mixture seemed too wet. After pulsing the remaining ingredients, the dough felt good to me, so we put the other half cup of flour back into its bag.

After the pasta dough rested in the fridge for a while, we began the rolling process. I had found a video on YouTube instructing that a blob of dough should be run through the #1 setting several times, folding once before each pass through the roller, and then once through each successively numbered setting all the way to #8. Seemed easy, though looks are usually deceptive.

We ended up putting the pasta through the rollers three times. I broke down the initial 1-pound ball of dough into about 8 smaller sections. As we passed each through the roller, we noticed that it started wrinkling badly at setting #4, becoming a total mess at #5. It happened with each piece of dough, so we tried again, this time stopping at setting #4. I had set out a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper on which to arrange the sheets, but I hadn't realized that the dough would stick to itself and the other pieces without flouring the sheets. (Duh!) We re-rolled each of the 8 pieces of dough for a third time, this time placing them on a light dusting of cornmeal, which stopped the sticking. More sticking ensued, however, when we cut the sheets into fettuccine, and more cornmeal was employed to keep the strands separate. The whole process was a bit of a hot mess.

We cooked the pasta and tossed it with a simple tomato sauce with arugula, cheese, and breadcrumbs. Because we stopped at the #4 setting, the pasta was too thick and chewy, resembling my Polish grandmother's kluski far more than tender Italian flat pasta. We'd have to try again the following weekend.

I posted the photo above on Instagram, and Laurie complimented me on a successful first try. I told her about our problems and she quickly offered solutions. Our dough was too wet, causing it to wrinkle during the rolling process. She offered her recipe, which was a bit different than the one we had used: 2 cups of flour, 3 eggs, no oil. If made in the foodpro, the mixture should be pulsed to the texture of couscous. If the dough still seemed too wet, we should fold some flour into it while rolling. Also, we should let the rolled dough dry a bit before cutting; the texture should be somewhat leathery.

The following weekend, we tried again. We used 2 cups of 00 flour and 3 eggs, which we pulsed to a couscous texture (cooked couscous, I should add). It was a little stiffer and required a bit more kneading, but in a few minutes Mr Minx had worked it into pliability. We let the dough rest in the fridge for about 45 minutes before we rolled it out. It still wrinkled a tad at #5, but we soon realized that the dough needed to be held a bit more tautly at the top as it was being pulled down through the roller. Mr Minx was better at it than I was, so he manipulated the dough while I was in charge of changing the levels on the roller attachment. In no time, we had nine beautiful sheets of very thin dough that were laid atop tea towels on baking sheets.

I had a hair appointment in Hampden, so we covered the dough with parchment and left the house. I figured we'd be back in a bit over an hour, as my hair is very short and takes little time to cut. I didn't take in consideration that there are several levels of "leatheriness" and perhaps Laurie meant the pasta should dry only slightly, to the texture of a supple glove leather. As it turned out, a late arrival before me kept me waiting 30 minutes before my turn in the barber chair. When we arrived home, our beautiful pasta had become more like stiff saddle leather. Not knowing the difference at that point, we unsuccessfully attempted to feed the sheets of dough through the pasta cutting blades, which only crumbled them into uneven bits. Not wanting to waste our efforts, I stacked the stiff sheets and sliced them into pappardelle with a sharp knife. To be honest, wide flat pasta is my favorite anyway.

This thinner pasta cooked much quickly than the thicker stuff we had made the week before, and, despite our issues, was lovely. Not in looks perhaps, because the noodles were of varying widths, but the texture was amazingly silky, with the barest al dente bite. This time, we served it with pancetta and mushrooms, chopped raw tomato, fresh basil, and grated Parm.

The third time's the charm, as they say, so we figured trying it once more would result in perfection. I followed Laurie's recipe again, but the dough seemed stiffer and drier this time. I didn't want to add water in case I accidentally overdid it, so kneaded the dough a little longer before tucking it into the fridge for half an hour.

It rolled out beautifully, but dried too quickly. We had to cut the first sheet of dough immediately after rolling the final sheet. It was almost too dry, but not as brittle as the last time. The final product, however, was lovely, with a silky texture and a gentle bite. Tossed with red pepper walnut pesto, artichoke hearts, and Italian chicken sausage, it was fabulous.

Our next pasta adventure will be with semolina dough, which requires water instead of eggs. We've already purchased the semolina flour so we won't have excuses not to try something new. But I have to admit, even though fresh pasta is amazing, it is a real pain in the ass to make. Kudos to Laurie and to everyone else who does that stuff on a regular basis. And thanks to the manufacturers of dry pasta, because we'll never stop using it.

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