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01/25/2015

~ Philadelphia's Famous Cheesesteaks a la Melanie~

6a0120a8551282970b015390a44c89970b-800wiIf you have never eaten a cheesesteak sandwich in Philadelphia proper, you've never eaten a cheesesteak.  Like the soft pretzel, the iconic Philly cheesesteak just tastes better in The City of Brotherly Love.  Whether you're standing outside on a sticky-hot sidewalk next to a street vendor in Summer, or, standing inside against a counter in a sweaty-windowed sandwich shop in Winter, the experience, on several levels, cannot be duplicated elsewhere. Many have tried, many have come remarkably close, but everyone agrees:  Philadelphia owns this sandwich.

Philly041907-002-PatsKingofSteaksA bit about the Philadelphia Cheesesteak:  Back in the 1930's, Philadelphians Pat and Harry Olivieri, at their hot dog stand near South Philly's Italian market, invented this beloved sandwich of chopped steak piled high on a hoagie roll.  The sandwich became so popular, Pat opened up a restaurant of his own, Pat's King of Steaks, which still operates today. Olivieri claims that shortly thereafter, provolone cheese was 1024px-Genos_Steaksadded by the manager, "Cocky Joe" Lorenza.  Cheez Whiz, first marketed in 1952, was not available in the early versions of the cheesesteak sandwich, but it's now a common option, and, at Pat's, it is considered the "topping of choice". Directly across the street from Pat's King of Steaks is Geno's Steaks. Only in Philadelphis could two businesses located directly across the street from each other stay open all day and all night selling cheesesteaks and thrive.  

Located on Passyunk Avenue near Ninth Street (in the heart of South Philly), their pleasant, humorously-boastful friendly-rivalry has brought well-deserved national-acclaim (and lots of celebrities and tourists) to both establishments.  That said, Jim's Steaks, at 4th and South Street, is a longtime favorite of locals (and me), so, I thought I'd name drop that one too!

Trivia:  Eating a cheesesteak at midnight is a Philly tradition!

The Philly cheesesteak experience is more than just eating chopped steak with melted cheese on a roll.  These sandwiches, an Italian-American invention, are a civic icon -- a cultural obsession.  They're portable, real-deal fast-food, and, they're available in cafes, steak shops, delicatessens and pizzerias, as well as food trucks or street vendors, throughout the city and suburbs.  These are the standard upon which all others are judged, so, no matter where you are right now, if you are in search of the perfect Philly-style cheesesteak (even in Philadelphia they vary a bit from vendor to vendor), here are a few cheesy things you seriously need to know:

6a0120a8551282970b014e88632075970d#1.  The meat.  This is not frozen Steak-Ums.  A Philly cheesesteak is always made with high-quality, nicely-marbled, thinly-sliced, rib-eye steak.  For example:  this rib-eye would be cut lengthwise into 4-5 thin steaks.  The sliced meat is cooked rather quickly on a large lightly-greased flat-top griddle.  As IMG_3690the meat cooks it gets rough chopped into chunks and pieces.  

#2.  The options.  Each sandwich is made-to-order.  You decide what you want on yours (options vary amongst vendors):  sauted onions, peppers and/or mushrooms; American, provolone or Cheez Whiz, and; "steak sauce", which in Philly lingo means a tomato IMG_6778product similar to pizza sauce. 

#2.  The roll.  In Philadelphia, cheesesteaks are placed on an Amoroso or Italian Vilotti-Pisanelli roll, with the Amoroso being the most famous (and my favorite). They are long, 10"-12", thinnish and medium-textured -- neither fluffy nor soft, and decidedly not hard.  But, outside of Philly, they are hard to find.  Thankfully, I have a source.

#3.  The etiquette of eating.  When properly prepared, a cheesesteak artfully balances flavor with texture and "drip factor".  Yes, if it ain't dripping juices, it ain't a Philly cheesesteak.  In order to avoid ruining their clothing, Philadelphians have develped a technique affectionately referred to as the "Philadelphia Lean".  This involves standing and bending forward -- essentially you take your mouth to the sandwich instead of bringing the sandwich to your mouth.

#5.  The etiquette of ordering.  This takes a little bit of practice, so I'll start with just a few words of advice:  know what you want before you walk up to the counter to order.  Philadelphians detest standing in line behind someone who hasn't decided their cheesesteak fate before talking to the cashier.  Locals basically have this practice down to three precise words.  For example:  one American with, or, two Whiz without, means that you want one cheesesteak with American cheese and onions, or, two cheesesteaks with Cheese Whiz and no onions.

When properly prepared you can taste & feel the brotherly love!

My intention today is to show you a method for making really, really good cheesesteaks at home on your stovetop -- and not just one or two either.  I don't know about you, but, when I'm making these, I either have a crowd around me and/or I want enough cheesesteak filling for leftovers the next day.  Also, I'm making them the way I like them -- I'm not telling you how you should like them.  My instructions include onions, peppers and mushrooms -- feel free to use some of them or none of them.  My instructions include "steak sauce" (pizza-type sauce) too -- use it or don't!

Cheese Steak #2 (Steaks)Step 1.  This really isn't a step for you, it is a step for your butcher. Explain to him that you are making cheesesteaks and ask him to cut the rib-eye steaks to a thickness of slightly less than 1/4". Plan on needing 3-4 of these thin steaks per sandwich.  Once you get them home, refrigerate the steaks until well-chilled 1-2 hours.

Note:  My suggestion is to plan on 4 per sandwich if you are not adding any of the optional vegetables, and, 3 per sandwich if you are adding the vegetables.

Cheese Steak #3 (Sliced Meat)~ Step 2.  Stack the cold rib-eyes (I do this four at a time), and, using a razor sharp knife, slice them into 1/2" strips.  Do not saw the meat (which will cause it to rip, tear and shred), slice the meat.  

Note:  I refrigerate the steaks because experience has taught me they are easier to slice if they are cold.  There's more.  Because I am preparing these on my stovetop, not a flat-top griddle, chopping them into chunks and pieces after the fact does not work well for me.

24 thin rib-eye steaks, slightly less than 1/4" each, sliced into 1/2" strips

4  tablespoons olive oil

4  tablespoons salted butter

2  teaspoons dried oregano

1 1/2  pounds very thinly-sliced yellow or sweet onion

1  pound stemmed, cleaned and thinly-sliced white button mushroom caps

12  ounces green bell pepper, cut into 1/4" julienne, julienne strips cut in half

12  ounces red bell pepper, cut into 1/4" julienne, julienne strips cut in half

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

3  cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade, or your favorite brand

1/2  teaspoon peperoncino (red pepper flakes), more or less, for stirring into sauce

cheeses of choice:  provolone or Cheez Whiz

12  10"-12" long Italian rolls, the best available, toasted or untoasted, your choice

Cheese Steak #4 (Prepped Vegetables) PICT1997~ Step 3. Prep some or all of the optional vegetables as directed, placing them in a large food storage bag as you work.  Close the bag and toss them all together.  Tossing them together in the bag make it easier to stir them evenly into the cooking meat.

Note:  This is a task I usually do several hours in advance, sometimes even a day ahead of making the sandwiches.

Cheese Steak #5 (Meat in Pan)~ Step 4.  In a 14" chef's pan, melt the butter into the olive oil over low heat.  Stir in the dried oregano.

Cheese Steak #6 (Cooked Meat in Pan)~ Step 5. Place meat in pan and season the top of it moderately with  salt and liberally with peppercorn blend. Increase heat to medium-high and saute, stirring until steak is cooked through, about 12-15 minutes.

Cheese Steak #8 (Liquid Reduction) Cheese Steak #7 (Vegetables Addes)~ Step 6. Place the optional veggies over the top of the meat and lightly season their tops with more salt and peppercorn blend.  Using a large spoon, thoroughly fold the seasoned vegetables into the cooking steak.  Continue to saute, stirring frequently, until vegetables are very soft and only a thin layer of liquid remains in the bottom of pan, about 20-30 minutes.

Cheese Steak #9 (Sauce Stirred In)~ Step 7.  Stir the peperoncino into the optional "steak sauce", then stir the sauce into the cooking meat mixture.  In my kitchen that is my recipe for ~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~, which you can find in Categories 8 or 12.  Adjust heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes.

Note:  To this point, the cheese steak filling can be made 1-3 days in advance of reheating and serving.  Like many things, it actually tastes better the next day!

In Philly cheesesteak speak, here's "one Whiz with":

6a0120a8551282970b014e8a9794f9970d-800wiPhiladelphia's Famous Cheesesteaks a la Melanie:  Recipe yields 8, 10"-12"" cheesesteak sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2-gallon food storage bag (optional); 14" chef's pan w/straight deep sides; large spoon; serrated bread knife

IMG_0321Cook's Note:  For another one of my favorite steak sandwiches (perfect for a tailgate or Super bowl party), check out ~ My Pan-Seared Flat-Iron Steak Slider-Sandwiches ~ by clicking into Categories 2, 17, 19 or 20.  These go from stovetop to table in less than 30 minutes, and that includes the time it takes to make the cheese spread too!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/2015)

01/22/2015

~ Creamy & Cheesy Hash Brown Potato Casserole ~

IMG_1660Real-deal, properly-prepared hash brown potatoes are a favorite of mine.  Golden brown and crispy on the outside, creamy-textured (but never mushy) on the inside, they are the Holy Grail of breakfast potatoes.  I make really good ones, but, I must admit to being too lazy to make them unless it is a really special occasion.  I'd rather be on the treadmill than hand-grating and drying a boat load of Russet potatoes early in the morning (and I hate being on the treadmill).

IMG_6213 IMG_6100My ~ Baked Eggs in Birds Nests (Hash Brown Potatoes) ~ are living proof that I know what I am doing when it comes to hash brown making.  It's also one of my favorite fancy-schmancy ways to serve an impressive breakfast to overnight guests.  Just click on the Related Article link below to get my recipe plus helpful hash brown tips!

Why I set out to develop a really good hash brown potato casserole:

IMG_1622I needed one.  Back in the '80's and '90's there were many times I found myself cooking breakfast for 8-10 people in my kitchen, or, 40-50 at a Penn State Football or Tennis tailgate.  I was President of PSU's Tennis Boosters back then and we tailgated for all home matches and early AM tournaments.  Too many times I felt, "a really good potato casserole would go great with what I'm serving for breakfast today." Lots of recipes were available, all of them easy, but not one that I loved.

What I don't like about most hash brown potato casserole recipes: 

IMG_1525Simmer down.  I didn't say that recipes that aren't mine are inedible, I just said I don't care for most of them.  If you are guessing it has something to do with using bagged, frozen hash brown potatoes you'd be wrong -- sort of.  

I have no ax to grind with using frozen hash browns to make an easy casserole, but, I am going to tell you that the frozen, diced hash browns deliver a lot more texture than the frozen, shredded ones. Trust me on this one.  I substitued the shredded type one day and they're decidedly a compromise.

Complaint #1.  Cream of crap soup.  No, that is not a typo (although, my homemade cream of crab soup might taste really good stirred into this recipe).  I'm well aware of when the "cream of" soups were invented, I know why they were invented, and, although they have served generations of Americans very well, the "cream of" soups have outlived their purpose.  It's time to move on.  Stop pouting.  Pure, unadulterated cream and dairy sour cream is what I use.

Complaint #2.  Cheddar cheese, bell peppers and Tex-Mex "stuff".  They're tasty -- once in a while, but seriously, how many times does your breakfast revolve around a Texas cowboy theme?  In my kitchen, not very often at all.  Besides that, when hash brown potato casserole is made using cheddar, peppers and "stuff", you can barely taste the potatoes.  I wanted something more versatile.  Creamy Gruyere cheese and a few subtle herbs and spices is what I use.

IMG_1656What I love about my hash brown potato casserole recipe:

IMG_15341  2-pound bag frozen, cubed (not shredded) hash brown potatoes

3  tablespoons Wondra flour

1  cup cream

2  cups sour cream

1 1/2  teaspoons Herbes de Provence

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon white pepper

3  cups shredded Gruyere cheese, or your favorite Swiss cheese

IMG_15891  sleeve Ritz crackers, hand crushed (32 crackers)

4  tablespoons salted butter, melted

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole

IMG_1549~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, using a large spoon, toss together the frozen potatoes and the flour.  Set aside to partially thaw the potatoes, about 10-15 minutes.  While the potatoes are partially-thawing:

IMG_1538~ Step 2.  In a small bowl, whisk the cream, sour cream, IMG_1568herbes de provence, nutmeg, salt and white pepper until smooth.  Set aside.  

IMG_1544~ Step 3. Grate the cheese.  Stir 1 cup of the cheese into the cream mixture and set the rest aside.

~ Step 4.  Using a large rubber spatula, transfer the creamy cheese mixture into the partially-thawed potatoes and stir to combine.  

IMG_1574 IMG_1581~ Step 5.  Transfer potato mixture to a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole sprayed with no-stick spray.  Top with remaining 2 cups of grated Gruyere cheese. 

IMG_1597 IMG_1593~ Step 6. Place the crackers in a small bowl.   Using your hands, crush them to small pieces and crumbs. In a 1-cup measuring container, melt the butter in the microwave.  Add the butter to the crumbs, and using an ordinary tablespoon, stir until a loose crumb topping forms.

IMG_1619~ Step 7.  Sprinkle the buttery crumb topping evenly over the grated cheese layer.

~ Step 8.  Bake casserole on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 55-60 minutes, stopping to place a sheet of aluminum foil loosely (do not make any attempt to seal it) over IMG_1630the top after the first 30 minutes. Top will be golden, cheese will be melted, and, there will be some gentle bubbling going on around the sides and across the top.

~ Step 9.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 15-30 minutes prior to slicing and serving hot or warm.

IMG_1665Creamy & Cheesy Hash Brown Potato Casserole:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  large spoon; cheese grater; whisk; large rubber spatula; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; 1-cup measuring container; ordinary tablespoon 

6a0120a8551282970b017eeae68410970dCook's Note:  If you haven't already guessed, I'm almost always looking for the "easy way out" of cooking breakfast -- I sure do love eating it after the work is done though.  

For another of my AM timesavers, check out ~ The Benefits of Baking Eggs in Bacon fo Breakfast ~ in Categories 9 & 20!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

01/19/2015

~ Black Pudding, Boudin Noir, Bloedwurst, Verivorst, Sanguinaccio, Morcilla, Kishka (Blood Sausage)!!! ~

IMG_1472Almost every country has a name for it, and, in any language, unless you've actually tasted it by force or otherwise, the mere idea of blood sausage is repulsive -- these two words can screw you up for life.  I had a Ukranian uncle in Trenton, NJ.  He ate kishka sauteed in a skillet with cabbage and potatoes -- I think Uncle Al added some form of red beets to it too, but, I didn't stick around the stove long enough be certain.  I ran.  As a child, it was a horrifying experience!

Time marched on, I grew up, and, to be fair...

IMG_1453... every ingredient gets equal time on my cooking blog!

IMG_1414Time marched on and I grew up, but, quite frankly, blood sausage has not.  It's still pretty much made the same way they've been making for centuries, with blood, but, thanks to  modern methods and improved fillers, it no longer has a metallic iron-esqe taste and it doesn't smell like the inside of a bat cave.  The Spanish morcilla my friend gifted me with this week had a pleasant sweet onion/hint of cinnamon taste, and, smelled a lot like meatloaf.  I'm not here to tell you it should be on your 'Top Ten List of Foods to Try' this year, but, at least put it on your 'Bucket List'.

IMG_1418A bit about blood sausage:  This is the definition of "using every bloody part of the animal".  In any language, European or Asian, it is the generic term for sausage made by cooking fresh, uncoagulated blood with fillers until it congeals to a puddinglike consistency when cooled.  It is the blood that gives it its distinctive dark red color.  Typical fillers include meat or game birds (pork, beef, sheep, duck or goat), liver, fat, bread or cornmeal, sweet potato or rice, onion and garlic, barley, buckwheat groats, or oatmeal, and, vinegar.  Spices vary regionally, which is why my morcilla had a hint of cinnamon flavor. Because it is fully-cooked prior to stuffing it into casings, it can be eaten cold (as is) or hot via roasting, grilling, frying or boiling.  

It's often served sliced and fried as a component in or with an egg breakfast, but, it's also good served as a snack with cheese, crackers and a bold mustard.  In all cases, blood sausage has a shelf life of only a few days, so, either use it prior to the expiration date or freeze it. 

IMG_1513Black Pudding Boudin Noir, Bloedwurst, Verivorst, Sanguinaccio, Morcilla, Kishka (Blood Sausage)!!!:  Recipe yields basic instructions for cooking, serving and storing blood sausage.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_1419Cook's Note:  If you're more "into" conventional sausage for breakfast (or anytime of day), you might want to give my ~ Egg Bagel, Sausage & Scrambled Egg Sandwich:  A Super Breakfast for Super Bowl (or any) Sunday ~ a try.  You can find the recipe by clicking in Categories, 2, 9, 17 or 25.  It's "bloody good" too (wink, wink)!!! 

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)