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Beer Cheese Burger

May 29, 2012 Leave a comment
Beer Cheese Burger

Beer Cheese Burger

When I was a kid it seemed as though every summer weekend my parents were dragging me to a picnic at South Park (a county park in the suburbs of Pittsburgh).  There was the bowling league picnic, the church parish picnic, and the corner bar patron picnic.  Every picnic seemed exactly like the previous one.  The adults were drinking beer and playing horse shoes while the kids were running around trying to figure out which  half-empty can of Cherokee Red was theirs.  If a kid wasn’t sure, they’d just get a new one.

The food was always the same too.  It was a smorgasbord of  corn on the cob, hot dogs, and burgers.

Even though I ate my fair share of burgers, there was never anything special about them.  The burgers were flat over-cooked discs of meat (in the 70’s it wasn’t safe to eat a burger that was pink in the middle) and the toppings were minimal (american cheese and ketchup or mustard).  But I was a kid and this was really all I knew. And I loved them.

Now that I’m grown, my love for burgers has not changed.  The burgers I make are fatter and its rare (no pun intended) that I’ll eat one that isn’t somewhat pink.  I also like to mix it up when it comes to toppings.  My latest venture was the *Beer Cheese Burger.

*Modified from the recipe found in the June 2012 issue of Food Network Magazine

Ingredients:

Beer Cheese Ingredients

Beer Cheese Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground chuck
  • 1/4 pound of ground pork
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3/4 cup of beer
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 tablespoon of grated horseradish

Mix together ground chuck and ground pork.  Form to make 4 patties.  Grill.

Burgers ready for the grill

Burgers ready for the grill. (Not pictured: before grilling put an indentation in the middle. This will prevent the burger from “puffing” while cooking)

While the burgers are grilling, melt the butter over medium heat.  Stir in the flour, ground mustard, and cayenne to make the roux.  Stir about 2 minutes to cook out the flour.

Roux

Roux: Fancy name for equal parts fat (butter) and binder (flour)

Stir in beer and bring to simmer. Then stir in the half & half and simmer while stirring about 2-3 until thickened.

Roux with the liquids added

Roux with the liquids added

Stir in the cheese and horseradish until melted.

Melting the cheese

Melting the cheese

Pour a few tablespoons over your burger and enjoy!  This cheese can also be served with pretzels, over a baked potato, or on a hot dog.

Finished

Burger topped with beer cheese and jalapenos

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Memorial Day: In loving memory of Sgt. Nathan P. Kennedy

May 28, 2012 Leave a comment
In Memory of Sgt. Nathan P. Kennedy

In Memory of Sgt. Nathan P. Kennedy: Photo courtesy of Noelle Pattison

For most, Memorial Day is the unofficial first day of Summer.  Millions of Americans across the country fire up their grills, cook some burgers and hot dogs, and enjoy time with family and friends.  I’m no exception.  But on this day, I take a break from my traditional blog to focus on the true meaning of Memorial Day.

As a veteran myself, I know what it takes to say goodbye to loved ones, not knowing if it would be the last time you ever saw their faces.  I was fortunate and I came back.   Thousands of soldiers and sailors never do.

One such soldier was Sgt. Nathan P. Kennedy.  Sgt. Kennedy was in the Army fighting a war in Afghanistan that many didn’t believe in.  On April 27th, 2010, I had just sat down with my family to blow out my birthday candles when the phone rang.  It was a call nobody wants to receive. My wife Darcie had just been informed that her cousin Nathan had been shot and was killed.

I didn’t know Nathan very well, as I only met him on a few occasions.  But from what I hear, Nathan was a great kid. He was a well liked, popular student in school.  He was gifted athletically and won many accolades as a stand out wrestler.  He loved to live life to the fullest. I wish I had the opportunity to have spent time with him.

Friends and Family pay tribute to Nathan

Friends and Family pay tribute to Nathan. Photo courtesy of Noelle Pattison

Life for the Kennedy’s, his family and his friends will never be the same.  However, 2 years since Nathan’s passing his memories live on.  I’m sure those closest think of him everyday, but even more so today.

Thank you Nathan.  And thanks to the hundreds of thousands of brave men and women who have sacrificed their own freedom in the hopes of continuing to keep America safe.

Nathan on Patrol

Sgt. Nathan Kennedy on Patrol

Whether you are spending time with family and friends or watching your local parade, stop to reflect on those who gave the ultimate sacrifice that allow us to continue to have these moments.

Chicken Tamales with Green Chile Salsa

May 27, 2012 3 comments
Chicken and Green Chile Tamale with Rice and Corn

Chicken and Green Chile Tamale with Rice and Corn

Mexican food is my favorite ethnic food.  When I was growing up, the city lacked true authentic Mexican cuisine.  Therefore anytime I would visit my brother in California, seeking out good Mexican food was often a priority.

Luckily, due to an increasing Mexican population, Pittsburgh has seen a few Mexican Grocers pop up.  One of these grocers is Renya Foods in the strip district.  The store is stocked with all sorts of authentic Mexican groceries, dried chile peppers, condiments, and Mexican cheeses.  The main selling point for me when I am there is their homemade tortillas.  They’re made on the spot and if you time it right you can get them when they are still warm.  When I do, I will eat one right out of the bag while I’m shopping the strip.  They’re delicious.

There is also Las Palmas, in the city’s Brookline neighborhood.

Las Palmas in Brookline Neighborhood of Pittsburgh

Las Palmas in Brookline Neighborhood of Pittsburgh

Like Renya’s, Las Palmas has a wide selection of Mexican groceries.  Where Las Palmas excels is their a butcher counter (something Reyna’s doesn’t have).  I’ve bought their chorizo as well as their fajita chicken and carne asada. All of which are very good.

Butcher Counter at Las Palmas

Butcher Counter at Las Palmas

Both stores have a taco stand out front where they serve delicious Mexican street tacos. Depending on the time of day, the wait can be somewhat long but both are extremely worth it.

Besides the Mexican grocers, there is the addition of  two fairly new restaurants, California Taco Shop (CTS) and Casa Rasta. Both of which specialize in authentic Mexican food. I’ve not been to Casa Rasta, but CTS has great tacos and something called a California Burrito.  All I need to say is it has French Fries in it.  I googled this and thought they added the fries to appeal to Pittsburgh folk, but that’s not the case.  Fries were always part of this burrito which originated on the West Coast.

California Burrito from California Taco Shop

California Burrito from California Taco Shop

Despite some amazing tacos and burritos at all of these places, the one thing they lack is what I’m craving the most.  Fresh steamed tamales.

The best tamale I ever ate was at a tamale stand at the Hollywood Farmers Market.  Its been several years so the name of the stand escapes me, but they were great.  So much in fact that I packaged some to bring home and froze them.  It was a sad day when the last tamale was gone.

Without a good tamale in my hometown and no more frozen ones to be had. I did what any Polish-Italian food lover with absoutly no experience in the tamale making business would do.  I made my own.  I have to admit, my aspirations were high, but I had no clue where to start.

The first thing I did was watch a bunch of videos on YouTube.  The problem with this was there wasn’t a common way to make them.  Some used butter, some oil, the most authentic ones were made with lard.  Same with the recipes I found.  Ugggh.  Determined, I took the knowledge of what I watched and read and made it my own.  Probably a little too ambitious for my first try.

I decided to go to Las Palmas to get the things I would need:  Corn Husks and Masa Harina.

Corn Husks and Masa de Harina

Corn Husks and Masa de Harina

Once I had what I needed to make the tamale mixture, I had to decide what to fill them with.  Since I wanted to focus on the tamale mixture itself and to save time (and ease and frustration) I used a rotisserie chicken.  I also used a store bought salsa.  I was totally improvising but conceptually I knew what I wanted.

I have to admit, I was in over my head and it took a bit more work than I expected, but the result was a decent tasting tamale that I could call my own.  My family liked them and I took a few in for some friends of mine at work.  They enjoyed them too but also gave me some constructive criticism which I’ll consider when I make these again…and I will make them again.

Ingredients:

  • 1 rotisserie chicken, shredded (for convenience but you could make your own chicken if you want)
  • 1 jar of store bought green chile salsa. (1/4 cup reserved)
  • 1 1/2 cups Masa (I used Maseca brand)
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 Dried Chile Pepper, seeds removed
  • 1 1/4 cups of water (boiled then brought left to cool down to where its still warm)
  • 18 Dried Corn Husks
  • Large bowl of cold water (for soaking the husks)

Add the chicken and salsa to a large pan.  Simmer until the chicken and salsa are warmed through.  Remove from heat.  Let cool completely.

Chicken Filling

Chicken Filling

At the same time, prep the corn husks by placing them in a large bowl filled with cold water.  Let soak until husks are pliable.

With kitchen shears (or scissors) cut off the stem of the pepper.  Discard seeds.  Put the chile pepper in a large measuring cup.

Meanwhile bring the water to near boil.  Pour the all the water over the chile pepper and let steep until the water is still warm but not hot.  *Remove pepper.

Chile Pepper Steeping

Chile Pepper Steeping

*The purpose of this was to flavor the water that is added to the masa.  Some recipes used chicken stock, I decided to give this a try.  I can’t say it helped either way but the idea sounded good.

In a separate bowl, add together the masa and salt.   Add in melted butter.  While mixing (I used a stand mixer) slowly add in the warm water that was used to steep the chile pepper a little at a time.  Continue to mix and add more water as necessary until the Masa is the consistency of smooth peanut butter.  You may not use all of the water or you may need more.   I used all of the water.  The end result should be masa that isn’t too wet that it sticks to you fingers.  But also, shouldn’t be too dry and crumbly.

Masa Mixture

Masa Mixture.

When the masa is ready, spread a few tablespoons over the corn husk.  Start in the middle and work your way to the sides and top .  Leave about an inch border on either the left or right side of the husk.  (notice I didn’t go all the way to top or over to one side – lesson learned)

Masa in the husk

Masa in the husk

Add a spoonful of the chicken/salsa mixture to the middle of the masa spread.  (notice with this one I was starting to get the hang of spreading the masa)

Filled and ready to fold

Filled and ready to fold

Fold the masa over the filling and then the husk over to seal masa.  This took some getting used to but by the time I folded my 8th or 9th one, I had it down.

Tamale Folding

Tamale Folding

Repeat this process until you used up the masa.  I should have got about 18 tamales, but I wound up with a bakers dozen.  Either my masa was too thick or I used too much.

Tamales, rolled and ready for steaming

Tamales, rolled and ready for steaming. Not pretty but it worked.

When ready to cook, place tamales in a steamer (I used a colander inside a pot with water on the bottom and a lid on top).

In the pot

In the pot

Steam for 45 minutes.

When finshed, unwrap the tamale and add a bit more of the green salsa.  Enjoy!

My First Tamale

My First Tamale

There really are a lot of steps, but it wasn’t overly complicated.  I will certainly do this again with some modifications.

Grilled Romaine

May 23, 2012 1 comment
Grilled Romaine

Grilled Romaine

If you follow my blog you know by now that I have quite the thing for grilling.  There is nothing I won’t grill.  I’ve grilled pizza (not on a stone but directly on the grate) and I’ve grilled whole chickens (stuffed with a beer can and flat with bricks on top).  Seafood, check. Fruit, yep.  Burgers, hot dogs, steak, sausage, veggies, kabobs.  Even dessert can be grilled (grilled chocolate banana quesadillas).   I began to wonder if there is anything (besides maybe ice cream) that can’t be grilled.

A few years ago I was reading one of my favorite barbecue message boards and I came across a thread that talked about grilled romaine lettuce.  Since this was new to me, the hamster in my little head got to running and I knew that I had to give it a shot.  I had no idea how it would turn out but the guy who wrote about it swore I would love it if I gave it a try.

It was so simple and the results were so unique and tasty that it has become a grilling staple pretty much anytime the family wants a nice vegetable to go with our meal.  The family likes it best paired with the simplicity of a good steak.  One of my friends on Facebook recently posted about how much she loved it, so I thought I’d put together a quick blog entry so others who may not know about this can give it a try.

It takes minutes and its very light — the perfect summertime side dish.

Ingredients:

Romaine

Romaine

  • 2 whole stalks of romaine lettuce
  • Olive Oil
  • Kosher Salt
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Salad Dressing of your choice (I recommend either caesar, blue cheese or homemade balsamic vinaigrette)

Cut each stalk lengthwise down the middle to cut in half.  You will now have 4 halved stalks.

Cut in Half

Cut in Half – you know have 4 servings

DO NOT cut off the end of the stalk as this helps keep the lettuce together.

Brush the top with olive oil.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

Grill face down (the side you oiled) over direct heat until the lettuce starts to char slightly and begins to wilt.  This will take just a few minutes depending on how hot your grill is.  Turn and grill for another 1-2 minutes.

On the Grill

On the Grill

Remove from grill and lightly top with your favorite dressing.

Grilled Romaine with Ceasar Dressing

Grilled Romaine with Ceasar Dressing

Shooter’s Secret Spice Dry Rubbed Barbecue Chicken

May 21, 2012 9 comments

Spiced Rubbed Chicken

I have a confession.  I love barbecue.  In my opinion, there is nothing better than the aroma of burning charcoal or smoke from wood chips.  While gas grilling  is my choice for convenience, there is something incredibly tasty about cooking something over a hot bed of coals that can’t be beat.  Honestly, if I didn’t have other mouths to feed, I could easily eat barbecue 4, maybe 5 times a week and never get tired of it.  While I certainly hope my last meal is years away, I do wish that the last meal I ever eat is barbecue (followed closely by Bojangles Chicken Biscuit Sandwich).

All of the best barbecue cookers have secrets.  And most will tell you its all about the rub.  I am no exception. Experts spend years perfecting their award winning spice rubs which they keep locked among their most treasured possessions.  While I do believe the rub is the secret to a good piece of barbecue, I have no reason to keep it a secret. Plus, I’m not an expert. I may regret giving out this secret if I decide to hit the national championship of barbecue tour, but for now  I’m just some random guy with a passion for cooking and I’m here to share with anyone who cares.

By the way, I don’t object to sauce on my barbecue, and future blog entries will show that.  But if you cook a juicy piece of meat with the right rub and you can eat it as is and it will be extremely tasty.  This is probably the reason there is a debate among barbecue experts on wet (sauced) versus dry (rub only).  This particular recipe is designed showcase dry rub.

The rub is versatile.  I use it on pork, brisket, as well as this chicken recipe.  The recipe below will make a large batch that, if stored in an air tight container, in a cool dry place, could last about 3 months.  It typically never makes it that long in my house.  Enjoy, but shhhhh…it’s a secret.

Ingredients:

Spice Rub Ingredients

Spice Rub Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons  cumin
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (use less or more depending on how spicy you like it)
  • pinch of crushed red pepper

Add all ingredients to a container with a tight fitting lid.  Shake to combine.

To make the chicken, rinse and pat dry completely.

Sprinkle Shooter’s Secret Dry Spice Rub on both sides of chicken and rub.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge for 1-2 hours  (or overnight if you like).

Rubbed Chicken

Rubbed Chicken

Grill chicken until cooked through.  When done, sprinkle with a light dusting of more rub.

I actually prepared this version by using the indirect cooking method.

To do this, place all charcoal to one side of grill.  Generously rub your grill grate with canola oil.  Place chicken directly over coals and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side.  Then transfer chicken to the other side of the grill and cook for 30-40 minutes or until juices run clear.  This method gets the skin nice and crispy while locking in the juice.  Moving it to the cooler side of the grill allows the chicken to finish cooking without burning the outside.

Shooters Spice Rubbed Chicken with a side of potato salad and corn on the cob

Shooters Spice Dry Rubbed Chicken with a side of potato salad and corn on the cob

Salted Caramel Milkshake

May 19, 2012 2 comments
Salted Caramel Milkshake

Salted Caramel Milkshake

Back in January I started a diet.  Not just a New Year’s resolution diet, but a life altering one.  I was determined to lose 50 pounds (initially) and keep it off.  In order to do so I would be forced to change my eating habits.  I knew I didn’t want some fad diet, but rather I would keep eating the things I loved, just less of them.  Portion control became key for me. In addition to portion control, I chose more sensible snacks.  Instead of a candy bar or cookie, I’d reach for an apple or an orange.

However, no matter how sensible my food choices are, I cannot give up my love of  ice cream.  Its my dieting achilles heal.  My house could be stocked with more sweets treats than Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory but if it doesn’t have ice cream, its not complete.  Lucky for me, I have the will power, so when I eat it, its not nearly as often as it once was.

A few weeks ago, I hit the 40 pound lost mark — so I’m inching closer to my goal.  As a reward for my dieting hard work, my wife whipped up a delicious salted caramel milkshake.

This recipe will make 3-4 milkshakes.

Ingredients:

Milkshake Ingredients

Milkshake Ingredients

  • 16 individual caramels, unwrapped
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup of milk

Over double boiler or in microwave, slowly melt caramels until smooth.  Add sea salt and mix.

Melted Caramel

Melted Caramel

In a blender, add ice cream, vanilla extract and milk.  Blend until smooth.

Ice Cream and Vanilla Extract

Ice Cream and Vanilla Extract

Add 3/4 of the melted caramel and blend to incorporate.

Meanwhile, take a spoonful of the remaining caramel and add to the bottom of your serving glass, coating the sides of the glass in the process.

Add blended milkshake to caramel coated glass.  Top with whipped cream, a drizzle of caramel, a cherry and a pinch of sea salt. Serve immediately.

Yum

Yum

Bacon Jam Burger

May 16, 2012 4 comments
Bacon Jam Burger

Bacon Jam Burger

Bacon Jam you say?  Read on my friends.

Food trucks seem to be all the rage these days.  More and more are popping up in cities across American.  Unfortunately Pittsburgh seems to be behind the times when it comes to food trucks.  We have a few that pop up around town and more seem to be catching on.  However, because of some stupid ordnance it makes it very difficult to get one started here, at least in the traditional mobile food truck way. If you’re interested, there is a great article about it here.  The Frankutary truck mentioned in the article is actually pretty good.  I recently found out that Pittsburgh Taco Truck is on the way soon.  I’ll be sure to give them a try once the truck gets rolling.

Anyway, I’m actually very jealous of the cities that have multiple trucks to choose from.  My friends in Philly and DC talk about their experiences and I live vicariously though them.  When they’re not telling stories, I simply droll while watching the various shows that explore the topic.

One night while watching one of those shows I came across a truck that specializes in a burger topped with what they called “Bacon Jam”.  Its basically spreadable bacon.  Now that my friends is GENIUS!  By the way, if you happen to be in the Seattle area, the truck is the Skillet Street Food truck.  Stop by and support your local business.  (And let me know how it tastes)

The burger looked and sounded so delicious that I immediately wanted to hop a flight to Seattle to taste one myself.  I quickly put the notion out of my head that I wasn’t tasting one of my own anytime soon.  That was of course until one day I was perusing our local Sur La Table kitchen store and spied a tiny jar of Skillet Bacon Spread, aka Bacon Jam.  Apparently the geniuses from the Skillet Food Truck decided to market their creation.  Because of them and their crafty team of merchandise marketers, I could now make one myself.  Of course I would have to first plunk down the $9.95 for 10.5 ounces.  Don’t have a Sur La Table, the Skillet Street Food website has a list of areas near you that sell it, or for a few bucks more, buy it directly from their site.

Bacon Jam

Bacon Jam

The jam is tasty and has a very nice smoky flavor which I love.  It makes for a great alternative to your traditional bacon topped burger.

This is what it looks like - sort of a soft beef jerky

This is what it looks like – sort of resembles caramelized onions?

Here is my take on the Skillet Street Food truck Bacon Jam Burger.

Ingredients:

Bacon Jam Burger Ingredients

Bacon Jam Burger Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of Skillet Bacon Spread (Bacon Jam)
  • 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.  Form in to patties of the desired size and thickness.  Grill over direct heat 4-5 minutes on one side (or until juices begin to form on the top of the burger – or they ‘sweat’). Flip and cook 2-3 minutes.  Adjust accordingly based on size of burger and desired level of doneness.

Top with cheese of your choice (I chose Swiss).  Once the burger is cooked and cheese melted remove from heat.  Add a small smear of bacon jam.  Let rest a few minutes to warm the ‘jam’.  Add desired toppings before devouring!

Bacon Jam & Swiss Burger on a Pretzel Bun

Bacon Jam & Swiss Burger on a Pretzel Bun