Turkey Bacon Meatloaf

DSC_0022Back in February, Katy and I gave the paleo diet a whirl in an effort to get in shape for a Mexican beach vacation. If you are unfamiliar, it is a diet based on the ways of our caveman ancestors. Lots of meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. No dairy or grains and absolutely no processed food. To be honest, we each did our own modified variation of the diet, taking some liberties with what was acceptable and what wasn’t. I allowed beans, rice and quinoa, and yogurt. I figured those are all healthy foods, and it helped keep me sane. I really felt great during the diet and I’m continuing to avoid processed food like white flour, refined sugar, and processed meat.

Anyway, I made this recipe up during the diet, and even though bread crumbs are cheating, who cares right? It’s a 1/4 cup! It makes enough for 2 people plus a little leftovers, so scale up if you’re serving more people.

Ingredients:DSC_0001

  • 1.25 lbs ground turkey
  • 1 egg
  • 6 strips of bacon
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 green onions (sliced)
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 clove minced garlic

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F

Grease a cookie sheet with butter. Use a sheet with raised edges so grease doesn’t spill off.

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Cook the bacon on medium heat until some of the fat has rendered off and it just begins to brown. Remove from heat and drain on paper towel. While the bacon is cooling, mix everything but the turkey and egg in a large bowl. Then chop three strips of bacon into 1/4″ bits and add to ingredients. Next, add the egg and ground turkey and mix all ingredients thoroughly with your hands.  Shape into a loaf and place onto the cookie sheet. Cover with the remaining bacon strips and bake for 45 minutes.

I love this recipe because the turkey stays moist, and the bacon adds awesome flavor (it always does)! Little bites with cranberry and onion add sweetness and texture, and the cumin and red pepper give it a nice little kick 😉 Have fun cooking and enjoy! Thanks for reading.

 

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Turkey Meatball Hoagie with Homemade Red Sauce

For us, summer has been packed with family outings, traveling to see friends, and entertaining guests here in Austin.  That means we’ve been partying like animals and eating like pigs (the tastiest animal).  So it’s time to get back on track and start eating healthy again, which means lean meats and whole grains. If you are doing the same, or just like to always eat healthy, try out this recipe that tastes delicious but doesn’t leave you feeling like a whale at the beach.

Ground Turkey Meatballs 

  • 1.25 lbs ground turkey
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup panko crumbs
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small carrot, minced
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoon italian seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Prep your area first by getting out a sheet of parchment paper and an oven safe dish or walled cookie sheet. Grease will pour off into your oven if you use a flat cookie sheet! In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients except the olive oil and mozzarella. Pack the mixture into golf ball sized balls, or about the size of your middle finger touching your thumb, and set them on the parchment paper. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate while you make the sauce. If using canned sauce go straight to cooking. Put the olive oil in a skillet and bring it to high heat to get a good sear. Put three meatballs in the pan, rolling over after about 45 seconds. Remove and put directly into oven dish.

Once all the meatballs are seared and in the dish, move it into the oven and bake it for 18 minutes. Keep the oven on. Prepare a wheat hoagie roll with meatballs cut in half (so they don’t roll), sauce, and mozzarella cheese. Place it in the oven open-faced for 1 minute then take it out and enjoy! Sprinkle oregano on top for even more flavor.
Homemade Red Sauce
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 – 32oz crushed tomato can
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

In a saucepan, cook down the onion and garlic until soft, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients into the saucepan and let it simmer very low for at least 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, remove the bay leaf and put about half of the mixture into a food processor. Blend until smooth and put in a new bowl. Repeat with 2nd half of mixture.

Mexican Street Corn


This might be one of the best effort-to-flavor ratio snacks ever. Take 5 minutes to whip up a few cups and you have a savory sweet snack with a little spice and a citrus tang. You can make it out of the can, but if you have the time either boil the corn on the cob or better yet, roast it on the barbecue. I used corn that was roasted the night before that we didn’t eat and simply warmed it up for the recipe.

Mexican street corn:

  • 4 ears of corn
  • 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 2 limes
  • 4 ounces of Cojita cheese
  • cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper

Roast, boil, or microwave the corn to get it nice and toasty. Split it equally into 4 cups (one cob makes about one cup). Put one tablespoon of mayo on each cup of corn, salt and pepper to taste, sprinke on some cayenne pepper, then crumble tone ounce of cojita cheese on top of each cup. Put a wedge of two of lime on each rim and serve hot. Mix it all up and you have a great blend of flavors without breaking a sweat, or the bank.

Enjoy! 🙂

Saucy Grilled Chicken Tacos

Happy Monday everyone!  Hope you all had a great weekend.  Last night we grilled chicken out by the lake and built amazing tacos that I simply must share with you all.  I’ve done these a few times now, and after bits of modification here and there, they finally taste just right.  The ultimate balance of all delicious flavors and textures —  juicy, super seasoned grilled chicken, crunchy coleslaw with the snap of balmy, nutty sesame seeds, sweet charred onions, and a savory, creamy, complex, homemade dressing to pull it all together in a soft tortilla, plus a squirt of lime juice.  I literally dreamt about them last night.  This is the ultimate stress-free summer finger food!

Start with a few boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  I did three big ones and that was plenty for two hungry people plus some leftovers (we’ll see who gets to them first tonight :)).  Trim anything gross-looking off, and cut each breast into 3 or so pieces.  Now cover with waxed paper and use a meat pounder to gently pound these pieces to about half an inch in thickness.  No real rhyme or reason here, they will all come out different shapes.  As long as the thickness is about uniform, you’re on the right track!  This makes for the most tender chicken.

Now, for the chicken marinade.  In a blender, throw in 2 cloves of garlic, 2 scallions, roughly chopped, a quarter cup of soy sauce, the juice of 2 limes, 2 heaping tablespoons of brown sugar (or honey or agave, use about half if subbing agave) a squirt of Sri racha (or, if you don’t have it, try a little cayenne or chili flakes for a bit of a kick), a hefty shake of salt, and black pepper.  Get this all spinning together, and after about 30 seconds, stream in about 3 tbsp. of vegetable oil.  This will immediately emulsify the mixture and you’ll have a good, thick sauce.  Lay your chicken pieces flat in a big Ziplock bag, and dump 3/4 of this mixture over the chicken, zip it shut, and squish it around gently to make sure all of the chicken is covered in the marinade.  Throw it in the fridge and forget about it for anywhere from 1 hour to 3 days.  The longer, the better. 🙂

Marinating chicken!

You still have a quarter of that mixture in your blender.  Throw in about 2 heaping tablespoons of mayo, and get the blender spinning again.  As it’s going, stream in another quarter cup or so of vegetable oil.  The mayo will further thicken the sauce, and the additional oil you’re pouring in will follow suit and continue to do the same.  You’ve just made your very own delicious, flavorful, creamy dressing!  Give it a taste.  Go ahead and adjust for seasoning here, it may need more salt.  This by itself would be so delicious over cucumbers and greens, or to dip french fries in, or mixed into canned tuna fish.  Very versatile!  Creamy dressings are one of my biggest weaknesses.  I put the dressing in a squeeze bottle for easy application later, but if you don’t have one, you can keep it in Tupperware and spoon in onto your taco.

The creamy dressing for these tacos is in the middle. I had a creamy dressing party with myself on Sunday. The left one is creamy garlic balsamic, and the right is creamy lime dill pickle dressing (sounds crazy, and it is — the idea for this one came to me in a dream!).

As your chicken’s marinating, the next step is to prepare the slaw.  I used red and green cabbage because we had both in the house, but you can also just do one color.  I happen to love the red especially, because once it’s dressed and sits a while, the pretty color seeps into the sauce and it all turns out a gorgeous light fuchsia.  Sometimes it’s hard to believe colors so vibrant can come from a vegetable.

I sliced my cabbage (about a quarter-head of each color) very thinly.  Also slice two scallions thinly and set these veggies aside.  In a big bowl, prepare the sauce for your slaw: 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar (or rice vinegar), 1 tbsp. sugar, 1 tsp. salt, black pepper to taste, 3 tbsp. mayo, 2 tbsp. sour cream, and a small handful of sesame seeds.  Whisk this all together briskly until everything’s combined into a smooth mixture.  Then, dump your cabbage and scallions in and toss with salad tongs until everything’s coated.  Done!

You are now ready to head to the grill (once your chicken’s marinated for your desired length of time).  In addition to the chicken, the creamy dressing, and the slaw, you will need: flour tortillas (taco-sized), spring onions, and lime wedges.  Spring onions look like mini white onions with a scallion growing out of the top.  I believe these are seasonal (hence the name).  We had these in Mexico for the first time and fell in love with them.  If you can’t find them, I’d recommend using whole scallions instead.  Either way will be great, as both will end up with a sweet caramelized onion flavor after charring on the grill.

Get your coals hot (or your gas turned on) and warm up the grill until it’s at about medium heat.  Throw the chicken on first, and cook about 4-5 minutes on each side.  This will vary, as it’s hard to control the temperature of a charcoal grill (at least, it is for me!).  You’ll know when it’s done…the chicken will have a great deep amber color on it, even charred in some spots, and it will be firm to the touch.

Throw your spring onions on the grill about halfway through the chicken’s cooking time.  Once they’re on, keep an eye on them and turn them every few minutes, to evenly cook every bit.

Pull your chicken off and wrap it in foil to keep it warm and let the juices redistribute throughout the meat.  If timed properly, you should be able to pull the onions off about 8 minutes after the chicken comes off, which is the perfect amount of time for the chicken to sit after grilling.  Doesn’t really matter, but I was hungry and didn’t want to wait longer than I had to. 🙂

Sliced chicken, ready for tacos. I actually sliced mine even thinner than this.

Right before your build your tacos, toss your tortillas right on the grill grate and let ’em warm up for a few seconds on each side.  I prefer mine soft and malleable, which really doesn’t take long at all on a toasty grill.

To assemble your taco: slice a piece of grilled chicken thinly, against the grain of the meat if possible.  It’s going to be tender enough that it won’t really matter, but this makes for the perfect bite.  Cut up as much as you like and throw it on your warm tortilla. Now dress liberally with the creamy dressing you made earlier.  Slice a grilled spring onion or scallion up and toss that over the sauced chicken.  Finally, pile some slaw up on top.  Serve with a wedge of lime to squeeze over the taco, and voila.

Ky’s perfect taco

It’s the perfect combination of flavors — the warm, soft tortilla, which will start to soak up some of the dressing, the awesome crispy char of the sweet/salty/tangy chicken, and the crunch of the slaw and sweetness of the onion make this a winning combo.  A lot of ingredients pop up more than once in this recipe, which I think makes for a really complete end product.  For example, there is scallion in the chicken marinade, the creamy dressing, the slaw, and on the taco.  Each application is different, but not overpowering.

Hope you guys love these as much as we did!  I’d love to hear how they come out, and do share any awesome substitutes or additions! Thank you for reading. 🙂

Ingredients:

For the chicken/marinade/creamy dressing:

  • 2 or 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 scallions
  • 2 heaping tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. Sri Racha chili sauce
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 tbsp. plus 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 heaping tbsp. mayo

For the slaw:

  • Quarter head red cabbage, sliced very thinly
  • Quarter head green cabbage, sliced very thinly
  • 2 scallions, sliced thinly
  • 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp. mayo
  • 2 tbsp. sour cream
  • Small handful sesame seeds

Additional:

  • Spring onions or scallions
  • Small flour tortillas
  • Lime wedges
  • Beer to drink!

Old Fashioned ’50s-Style Diner Cheeseburgers

Actual Greene’s cheeseburgers

If you ever find yourself in a suburb of Detroit called Farmington Hills (it’s a bit of a long shot, I know), you simply must try Greene’s Hamburgers.  This restaurant has been a family favorite since decades before I was born.  My dad and his 5 siblings, lovingly raised by my Namma and Dampy, grew up in a small house (that’s eight people total in a house with just one bathroom!) around the corner from this famous diner-style burger joint.  My dad has memories of walking there as a kid and bringing home a bag of 6 burgers for a grand total of 96¢!  Can’t beat it.

The prices have changed a bit since the late ’50s, but as my family tells me, every other bit of it has remained exactly the same.  From its shiny white exterior to the beautiful, old ‘play-at-your-own-risk’ jukebox (my uncle selected some Janis Joplin and Beatles during our recent visit), it feels like you’ve gone back in time — even aside from the food, visiting the joint alone is an experience you won’t forget.

Every summer during our annual family trip to Michigan, at least some of us stopped here for burgers to relive the age-old tradition of juicy, Midwest, never-frozen, griddle-cooked beef burgers.  Somehow, at least in my memory, I had never been.  I’d heard about it a million times, been shown pictures of the food (thank goodness for being raised in a family of foodies), and seen my Dampy sport his Greene’s T-shirt on several occasions, but in the midst of the craziness and fun-filled days at the lake with the people I love the most, I missed the boat — up until last week.

Mmmm. Perfect Greene’s cheeseburger.

My first Greene’s experience (with 6 other Thoresens) blew me away.  I couldn’t get enough.  No, really — I ate 3 cheeseburgers…2 singles and 1 double.  With fries.  And a chocolate malt.  Ehhh.  Don’t know where my enormous appetite came from that day, but I do know that it sure as hell came at the right time.

Greene’s chocolate malt and curly-cut fries

Small balls of ground beef are smashed flat into patties over slices of white onion on the hot, greasy griddle, and then topped with your choice of American cheese, sliced dill pickles, ketchup, and yellow mustard, all on a soft, smushy, white bun.  The fries are crinkle cut and served right out of the fryer, piping hot, just as they should be, allowing you to enjoy a salty, crispy exterior with a soft, steaming, fluffy inside.  The malts are classic (I dipped fries in mine — I’m a big sweet/salty combo girl) — thick, rich, and not too sweet.  The sodas come in one size only, just as they did in the ’50s.

Greene’s griddle

Natually, after my first Greene’s experience, I was transfixed.  I wanted these burgers again and again, and most of all, I wanted to share them with Kyle.  So I did my very best to recreate a Greene’s burger at home.  My Auntie warned me that it was a ballsy move, and she’s absolutely right.  They aren’t exact, and no other burger ever will be.  But I gave it a shot, and I think I came pretty close.  These burgers are simple, classic, and mouth-wateringly all-American.  I hope you guys love them!

I started with a pound of 85-15 ground beef.  This isn’t the time for super-lean.  Greene’s burgers are juicy and a bit greasy, which is the point.  Also, there’s no mayo on this burger, so you’re even further encouraged to take advantage of the grease factor, otherwise, you’ll end up with a dry patty.

One other thing — I almost exclusively buy my groceries at the HEB here in Austin (major grocery chain), which is super cheap and awesome.  There is a lot to admire about HEB.  I remember, back in Boston, I searched 3 grocery stores one day, looking for canned chipotle chilis in adobo sauce, to no avail.  HEB, on the other hand, practically has a whole aisle devoted to them.

For these burgers, however, I bought some fresh ground, organic beef at Whole Foods with the super high animal welfare rating (whatever that means — doesn’t that sort of equate to a jail bragging about excellent accomodations and conditions for the prisoners, and then killing them?).  I would never, ever turn my nose up at the standard grocery store stuff, but I wanted the absolute best beef I could get my hands on for these, since the whole point is to highlight that ingredient.  Honestly, I think spending a few bucks more did make a difference.

I separated my pound into 12 equal-sized pieces.  I did this by forming a thick rectangle shape with the meat and then cutting it into small pieces.  You see 9 in the picture, but I decided 9 didn’t make small enough pieces, and recut 12 (and subsequently forgot to take a picture).  They will be about the size of small meatballs.  Each of these is a “single.”  Everyone has a different opinion on their meat-to-bun ratio, and doing it this way, you’ll be able to tailor-make every burger however you like.  I loved the single at Greene’s, but the double hit my meat-to-bread ratio spot on, so that’s what I made for Kyle and me.

It’s best to prep your meat first so that it can come up to room temperature while you get your other fixings ready.  Roll each piece of meat into a ball and smash it just slightly, so it’s still about an inch thick.  Sprinkle salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce over both sides of each ball of beef.  Cover loosely with waxed paper and let these hang out on the counter top for the next few minutes.

Next, you’ll want to make sure you have everything ready so that as soon as your burger comes off of the heat, you can slap it together and enjoy while it’s good and hot.

Slice a white onion on the thin side.  I used my mandolin, but as (another) Auntie (who happens to be a professional chef) taught me recently, a mandolin is not a substitute for great knife skills.  A great tip to keep in mind, especially for me, considering how heavily I rely on mine. 🙂  Slice up some pickles, and get your cheese unwrapped.  I happen to adore American cheese.  I know it’s not the healthiest, but on a burger, it’s 100% my preference.

I can’t count the times my best friends and I have discussed and debated the best cheese on a cheeseburger.  We know how to focus on the important things in life, that’s for sure, and I mean that with no sarcasm.

Kyle doesn’t care for American cheese.  Since I love him so much, I figured I could alter the original recipe slightly and top his burger with orange cheddar instead (his burger cheese preference).  Just slice a few pieces nice and thin if you go this route.

Here’s a quick piece of the email I received from chef Auntie after she read this post, it made me laugh too hard not to share:

p.s. american “cheese” isn’t cheese.  they don’t even call it that on the label, they say something like “cheese food product” or some bull shit.  i think it’s colored oil slabs. i’m on kyles side! 🙂

Get your ketchup and mustard ready (if you want them).  As I mentioned, these are all optional toppings at Greene’s.  My preference was just onions and cheese, then pickles on the side and I dipped every few bites of the burger in ketchup.  As much as possible, you want to celebrate the beef, but everyone does that differently, so listen to your heart when it comes to toppings.

Now that everything’s prepped, the magic begins.  I don’t have a griddle at home, so I used a cast iron skillet — it worked perfectly.  If you don’t have cast iron, use your darkest pan — it will get hot quickly and give good color to your onions and beef.  You want it at about medium-high heat.  Add a little bit of a neutral cooking oil (veggie, canola, peanut, whatever you’ve got) and let that heat up for a minute or two.

Now, throw a small handful of onions on to your hot pan, fitting them into a little pile the size of a burger patty.  I underestimated the amount for the first burger, because I wasn’t sure how much they’d cook down in the time it takes for the beef to cook through.  Just keep that in mind — they reduce in size pretty quickly.  Give the onions a few seconds, then stack your beef on top.  As I mentioned, I did all doubles (as you’ll see in the pictures).  Next step, use a spatula to smash the beef down into a patty, right on top of the onions.  I’ve heard more than once before that this is the wrong way to treat ground beef, and that it will inevitably squeeze out all of the juices.  Not so in this case, tried and true, especially if you’re using beef with a higher fat content, as we are.

A double with the proper amount of onions

As you mash your beef down, don’t worry too much about shape.  Greene’s burgers aren’t perfect circles, but they’re close enough.  What’s important is that you’re sort of pressing your onions into the beef patty, and the fat from the beef is coating the onions and helping them to cook and simultaneously adding a TON of flavor.

Flip it after about 3 minutes and immediately top with cheese, and then cover with the top half of the bun.  This helps to trap in some steam, which melts the cheese and warms the bun in the perfect amount of time it takes for the burger bottom to brown up.

Here’s one great tip that my Dad told me about these burgers.  He always noticed that the top of the bun at Greene’s is a little shiny from the splattering grease on the griddle that hits it.  I loved that little quirk.  I didn’t have enough burgers going at once to provide adequate grease splatter, but I did just buy a culinary brush!  Perfect.  I dipped the ends quickly into the oils in the pan and lightly brushed the tops of the buns.  I swear, it made a difference.  So awesome.

After another 3 minutes or so, scrape it off the pan with a spatula, and place it on the bottom half of your bun.  If you opt for mustard, ketchup, or pickles, go ahead and throw them on the bottom bun before you put the burger on.  It’s important that the buns are simple and white.

Probably the best way to choose is to go with the cheapest possible bun you can find at your grocery store.  I can tell you Whole Foods will NOT have the proper bun for this type of burger, I’ve looked.  I got mine at the 7-11 across the street and they were exactly right.

Now, enjoy every last bite!  Share these with people you love.  It’s okay to have two.  Or three. 😉

An immeasurable thank you, for everything, to the North Star of our big, incredible family, my amazing Dampy (also affectionately known by his children, grandchildren, sisters, and countless other family and friends as Grap, Dampster, Big G, Pop, Dada, etc.).  We miss you desperately and our world is not the same without you.  An excerpt from a beautiful writing by my cousin Rob:

I have a million stories, a million memories, a million small joys all contained in the word ‘Grap’. They are as much a part of me as the Norwegianness that flowed through his blood and into mine. I am Grap. You are Grap. Energy does not disappear. It changes direction, changes forms, changes appearance. It manifests itself differently in different times and different spaces but it is eternal. Grap is energy. Pure, razor sharp, goodness. Decency and virtue, in the shape of a tall, tough, Catholic boy from Detroit. Grap is eternal in every conceivable sense of the word. Eternal energy existing in our minds, in our bodies, on earth as it is in heaven.

Big G came out of the sea to get thee. He got me. He got you. End of story. Beginning of story.

Cinco De Mayo Survival Kit

Happy drink-o de Mayo!! There are three essentials to a solid cinco festival….margaritas, chips and guac, and sombreros, in no particular order. Here are two quick recipes before I start boozin’ by the pool 🙂  The sombrero is your responsibility, enjoy!

Mayan Margarita

  • 2 oz tequila
  • 1 oz triple sec
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz orange juice
  • 1/2 oz agave nectar

Mix, shake, pour. Rub a lime on the rim of a glass and roll in salt and begin day drinking.

Guacamole

  • 2 avocados
  • 2 limes
  • 1/4 cup red onion
  • salt
  • pepper
  • tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper

Slice the avocado into a grid while it’s still in the shell then scoop into a bowl. Add finely chopped red onion, the juice of two limes, 3 or 4 splashes of tabasco and salt and pepper to taste. Mash it together with a fork and you have guacamole in 5 minutes. Perfect.

Slow-cooker Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m a big fan of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Guy Fieri might be the biggest douche bag on TV, in close competition with the Jersey Shore cast. He just bothers me, with his frosted tips and abundance of “bling”.  Plus what kind of chef doesn’t eat eggs? Either way, I like the show because it goes around the country finding the lesser known but equally awesome little restaurants that don’t get the notoriety as a celebrity chefs restaurant. On more then one occasion I’ve seen a diner cooking up cabbage wraps in classic European fashion, and I kept telling myself I need to try making them. Well this past weekend I got around to it, and let me say, they were delicious.

A flavorful combination of meat, cabbage, and sauce that works together perfectly and is super easy to make, especially with a slow cooker. The meat is spiced and mixed with rice, the cabbage soft but crunchy (somehow?), and a sauce that is worthy of making by itself.

Ingredients: 

  • 12 cabbage leaves
  • 1 cup cooked white rice
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup onion, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 pound lean ground beef (no less than 90/10)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 20 ounces tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons worcestershire

I removed the cabbage leaves from the raw head of cabbage but later read a good tip to core it out and steam the leaves. After a point the raw cabbage gets impossible to peel off so I would suggest doing the steam method, but removing raw worked too. In any event, you need to bring a large pot of salted water to a boil to soften the leaves. Drop them in for 2 minutes then remove, strain, and set aside. At the same time, cook your rice making at least 1 cup cooked rice.

In a large bowl, mix the cooked rice, egg, milk, onion, garlic, ground beef and salt and pepper. The reason the beef needs to be so lean is that its wrapped raw, so a fatty mix will make for a very greasy roll.

Next, set out the cabbage leaves and scoop about 1/3 of a cup of meat mixture into the lower center of the leaf. Roll the bottom of the leaf over the meat, tuck in the sides, then finish rolling over to seal the meat inside. It looks like a mini green burrito.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you roll all the meat and leaves together, load them into the bottom of your slow cooker and start the sauce. Mix the tomato sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice, and worcestershire together and whisk quickly. Pour it over top of the rolls so they are completely covered. Set the slow cooker to 250° and let them cook for 8 hours and enjoy!

 

How to pickle

Pickling is one of the oldest methods of food preservation and has been utilized by almost every culture. The term pickle comes from the dutch word “pekel” which means brine. Makes sense. It’s simple and affordable and adding pickled veggies really boosts the flavor of so many dishes. Here is the recipe I have fine tuned for a couple of batches now and I really enjoy.

Ingredients: (makes 2 pint jars) 

  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1.5 cups white vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic, halved
  • 3 tablespoon salt
  • 3 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorn

For making pickles also add 1/4 teaspoon dill weed or 2 sprigs fresh dill

Directions:

Bring water and vinegar to a boil and add salt and sugar. Stir until dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium and add in all the spices leaving out the garlic(and dill). Let the spices steep in the brine for 10 minutes. I use one of these tea catchers to hold the spices so I don’t have to strain them at the end. 

While the spices are steeping, chop your onions, jalapenos, cucumbers, or whatever ingredient you wish to pickle. Stuff them tightly into a mason jar with 2 cloves of garlic chopped into halves. Add dill at this point as well if needed. Strain the spices from the liquid with a slotted spoon or colander, and pour into the jars almost to the rim. Seal them quickly, being careful as the glass gets hot, and leave out on the counter overnight. Move to the refrigerator and enjoy after letting them sit for at least 48 hours and for up to 3 months, although they never last that long 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Easy Homemade Banh Mi (Vietnamese Sandwiches)

Kyle and I have been on a quest for awesome banh mi sandwiches since we moved to Austin. We assumed this would be an easy feat, considering Austin has truly wowed us in many different food categories, namely the obvious: barbecue, Tex-Mex, authentic Mexican, burgers. Which happen to be some of our very favorites. One oddity — pizza doesn’t appear to be as huge down here as it is in the Northeast. We’ve found some great places (Home Slice, East Side Pies, Firefly food truck), but they just don’t pop up as frequently. Makes me want to give Boston and New York a big kiss for the many brick ovens they’ve blessed us with.

To get back on track, finding the ideal Vietnamese sandwich here hadn’t happened yet as of last weekend. Kyle tried one from Bite Mi (by UT campus) and we both tried them at Pho Oanh (one of 3 highly regarded Vienamese restaurants within a few blocks of each other on East Oltorf). Both were good, but not mind-blowing. To be fair, we were spoiled by Allston’s Super 88 banh mis back in Boston, which remain the best either of us has ever had. Perfect chewy bread, char-grilled meat, and some amazing sauce…I’d never know where to begin to replicate it. A creamy Asian-inspired honey mustard is the best way I could describe it. Also super cheap – $3.50 each and plenty filling.

A craving for these can’t be satisfied by anything else. So, we took matters into our own hands late Saturday morning and had a homemade banh mi brunch out on the lake.

It’s not a super quick meal to prepare, but every single step is enjoyable and SUPER easy and straightforward. The reward far outweighs the prep time. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do on a warm, lazy weekend than cook (and eat and drink) outdoors.

In my opinion, the perfect banh mi consists of the following:

  • The proper roll. My Dad taught me that this is almost the most important component for this kind of sandwich, and I couldn’t agree more. What you want is a french-style roll that is chewy/slightly crackly/flaky on the outside and soft/tender on the inside. And as fresh as you can get. For you lucky Austinites, the white sandwich rolls that HEB sells individually out of the big plastic bins for 25 cents a piece are absolutely, 100% spot on. I remember the first time Kyle and I bought them for deli meat sandwiches, we noticed that they seemed practically made for Vietnamese sandwiches.
  • The meat! I wanted to experiment a bit, so I tried white meat chicken, dark meat chicken (thighs), and pork belly (which is essentially bacon before it’s smoked and cured). Lots and lots of different kinds of meats are traditional on this sandwich — it’d be harder to find one that wouldn’t be good. Chicken breast is sort of the safest route, in that it would probably appeal to the most people (plus, it’s easy…I’m sure a lot of you have some in the freezer right now). The dark meat chicken was my preference, though. Because it has a higher fat content, it holds up better to high heat cooking and doesn’t dry out. Really though, both were awesome. The pork belly came out good too, but it’s very rich and I liked it best mixed with the chicken on the sandwich, not standing alone as the only meat.
  • The pickled veggies – usually carrot and daikon (a type of Asian radish). Kyle opted to pickle the cucumber too.
  • The fresh veggies and herbs – cucumber, jalapeño, scallions, cilantro.
  • The sauces. Mayo is absolutely essential here. If it really grosses you out, smear just a little on until the bread soaks it up and you can’t see it anymore. Or have someone else do that step for you :). I even bought full fat mayo just for this because I really do notice a difference (normally we try to stick to the olive oil mayo that has half the fat and calories of the heavier type). Additionally, Sri Racha is fantastic (as it is on almost everything) and my other favorite is Hoisin sauce (Asian BBQ-style sauce, this is usually what they serve with moo shu at Chinese restaurants). Any sweet Asian sauce would be good I think. Sweet chili sauce, teriyaki, duck sauce, plum sauce, whatever you like!

There’s just something about the right combination of the above ingredients. It’s almost difficult for me to type this right now because I want another one SO badly. Here’s how I did mine, and even if one of you awesome readers tries this out at home, I will feel like I changed the world.

First, get yourself a beer. I bought a 6-pack of Asahis just for this occasion and drinking Asian beer while preparing these sandwiches made it even more fun.

Now, even though barbecued meat and pickled veggies are involved, never fear — you don’t have to have anything prepped in advance of the day you make these.

You’ll start by quick-pickling your carrots and daikon. I used one large daikon root (the size of a huge carrot) and three small- to medium-sized carrots. This was more than enough for 4 sandwiches. Peel all and then chop into your desired shape. I think they’re usually julienned (like little matchsticks) but Kyle had a great idea to just continue using the peeler on the veggies to get thin, wide strips. I tried both, and I liked the “peeled” style better — it absorbed the pickling liquid quicker. Plus, it was less labor intensive this way.

Mix together 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup white sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Whisk until the sugar has pretty much dissolved. Now throw your veggies into this mixture. I’m sure you could use any vinegar but this is my favorite for Asian dishes. The veggies will be pickled enough in 30 minutes (just leave them outside the fridge for maximum pickling liquid absorption if you’re giving them only half an hour) and can stay in this mixture for days. I put mine in Tupperware so I could flip it upside down or shake it every once in a while to make sure the pickling mixture hits all of the pieces.

Next, you’ll want to prep your meat. For the white meat chicken: I took one large chicken breast, trimmed it (I’m picky about chicken in that I don’t like “googlies.” One of the billion advantages of cooking at home — you know every single thing that’s going into your food!). Then, I sliced the breast into half-inch medallion-like pieces. I rubbed each piece with some veggie oil, placed it on a sheet of saran wrap, covered with another sheet of saran wrap, and pounded each piece to half its original thickness. This is definitely not necessary, but I love thin pieces of chicken best (mostly because they have more surface area which means more places for sauce to stick). Makes them extra tender too. Totally fine to skip the pounding though. I threaded the chicken pieces onto wooden skewers that I had soaked in water for a bit so they don’t catch fire on the grill.

For the dark meat chicken, I cut the thigh meat into bite-sized pieces and pushed them onto skewers as well.

And for the pork belly, I had the butcher cut thick pieces for me. I turned the oven on to about 250°, put the pieces directly on the rack, put a pan underneath to catch drippings, and then went to the grocery store for an hour. Most people would probably tell me that’s a great way to start a grease fire and burn our place to the ground, and they’d be right. Luckily it worked out just fine. I wanted to render a lot of the fat out of these pieces and make them crispy, but not cook them all the way (the grilling later will finish them up).

Your meat is almost prepped. For the final step before cooking, sprinkle all meat with soy sauce, on both sides. This is the only meat seasoning you need up until this point.

For the remaining veggies, just slice ’em the way you like for sandwiches. I used my trusty mandolin and did the cukes on the bias and very thin. Also, make sure to buy English cucumber for these, the kind that comes with the cellophane covering it. You can eat the skins on this variety, and they’re seedless, which makes for a better overall sandwich experience. I did the same for the jalapeños. For the cilantro, I just rinsed it well and left the leaves whole. The scallions can be chopped.

Last thing you’ll need to do in advance is make a sauce to brush onto the meat as it’s grilling. I did 1 part sweet chili sauce and 1 part hoisin. Again, I think any Asian-inspired sauce with some sugar in it is going to work marvelously (or mix honey with some soy sauce and lime or orange juice). The point is just to get a little carmelization on the meat once it’s cooking.

Now, pack everything up (including sauces) and head outside! If you’re grilling. If it’s raining, or if you don’t have a grill, or you don’t want to grill, stay inside and sauté your meat on the stove top. Either way, open another beer.

We got our coals hot, but not as hot as you’d want for burgers or steak. I guess the best way to achieve this is to use less charcoal and spread it evenly on the bottom of the grill after it’s hot.  We just bought one of those grill towers that speeds up the burning of the coals and it’s proven to be a good investment so far. For a gas grill, just set it to low.

Throw the meat on and cook for a few minutes on each side. After you’ve flipped it, brush sauce on it, give it another minute, turn again, and sauce the other side. The reason we didn’t sauce the meat before it went on is because the sugar could burn too quickly. Adding it towards the end was perfect.

Once your meat is cooked, pull it off, let it sit a few minutes (if you can!) and begin sandwich assembly. I cut my roll in half, mayoed both sides very liberally, then built, from the bottom up: meat, pickled carrot and daikon, cukes, cilantro, jalapeños, scallions, then drizzled Sri Racha and hoisin over the top. Smush it down, cut it in half, and voila, the next few minutes you’ll spend eating this sandwich will feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven.

The crispy outside of the roll gives way to the glazed meat and squishy inner bread saturated with the rich sauces, complemented perfectly by tangy, salty pickled veggies and crunchy fresh ones. The cilantro adds awesome freshness and pulls everything together. All-in-all, it’s just the most perfect combo of ingredients.

Hope you enjoy this perfect summer sandwich and I’d love to hear about any additions anyone can think of.  I think basil would taste good on here too (I love it in my Thai food) and could definitely take a little more heat by replacing the jalapenos with serranos.  Also, if you’re not a carnivore, grilled tofu or portobello mushrooms could be a great sub for the meat, you could even prepare them the exact same way with the soy and sweet sauce.  I thought about mixing the mayo with a little hoisin and Sri Racha too to create my own “secret sauce.” Yum.  Kyle squeezed lime juice on his sandwich too, I will try that next time for sure.

Here’s the building of my leftover sandwich that I had for breakfast the next morning:

Enjoy! Thank you for reading and happy eating. Also beware of the food coma that follows. I knew I had done something right after I watched Kyle down two of these sandwiches in one sitting and then fall deep into a paralyzing food coma for the next two hours. 🙂

*Also, thanks to Kyle for the awesome pictures.  I can take credit for the crappier ones, but the nice ones (meat being glazed, etc.) were all him!

Piragis – Latvian bacon rolls

Do you know that smell that instantly takes you back to your childhood? The one where you are 7 years old all over again watching your grandma whip up your favorite treat? For me that is the smell of fresh Piragis, or loosely pronounced pee-dugs. They are these delicious little rolls stuffed with bacon, ham, and onion and my Omi(Latvian name for grandma) always made the best ones. For those who don’t know, Latvia is a small Baltic country between Lithuania and Estonia and across the sea from Sweden. Still confused? It’s northern Europe.

I remember watching Omi make these all the time, and eventually I started to help out. Always wanting to just make the biggest piragi possible, I was probably more of a nuisance than a helping hand. Either way, they are staple in Latvian culture and always around for family gatherings. Having grown up loving piragis, I wanted to learn how to make them on my own to hold on to the culture. I searched the internet and asked Omi her secrets to making them and I feel like after a few attempts, I now have a solid recipe worth sharing.

Dough ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups white flour
  • 3/4 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup warm water

Filling ingredients

  • 1 finely chopped white onion
  • 1 package of bacon, frozen and then slightly thawed
  • 1 pound ham (preferably on the bone, thick sliced deli works too)
  • salt and pepper

Glaze ingredients

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

The dough

Put the yeast in the quarter cup of warm water (with the small amount of sugar, if desired). Set aside and wait until it starts to bubble up.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a saucepan or the microwave until hot to the touch. Remove from heat, pour into a large mixing bowl, and add in butter, salt, and sugar. Let cool until lukewarm. Now add the bubbly yeast and the beaten egg.

To this add about 1½ cups flour and whisk until smooth. Now add the rest of the flour about a half cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. At this point switch to a large spoon or rubber spatula as dough will stick in the whisk. Once all the flour is mixed in completely cover the bowl with a damp cloth or towel and let the dough “rest” for 10 minutes. Meanwhile prepare a floured surface (board or clean counter) for kneading. After 10 minutes, turn dough out onto floured surface. Knead lightly for 3 or 4 minutes until the dough is smooth, but still somewhat soft.

Grease a large bowl with a stick of butter and put the dough into the bowl and turn it and flip it until all surfaces have been greased. Cover the bowl with warm damp cloth, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (30 – 90 minutes, depending on the warmth of the environment). While the dough is rising begin cooking the filling.

ingredients

milk, butter, salt, sugar, egg, yeast, and warm water mixed together

whisked together with 1 1/2 cups of flour

flour fully mixed in

after 90 minutes the dough has doubled in size

The filling

Take your pack of bacon out of the freezer about 10 minutes prior to cutting to let it thaw. This makes it much easier to cut. Finely chop the bacon, ham, and onion into small pieces and saute in a large pan. Add salt and pepper to taste and let cook for about 20 minutes. When the fat has rendered off, use a slotted spoon to transfer the filling into a new bowl.

ingredients

this is when the kitchen starts to smell sooo good

looks like someone wants to help out....or maybe just try a sample

ready to make the piragis

Making the roll

When the dough has risen, set the oven to 400°F, and then punch down the dough. Take half of the dough and roll it out onto a floured surface. I used a pint glass to cut out equal sized circles of dough and then flattened them further with my hand. Next, scoop about 1 to 2 teaspoons of filling onto the bottom half of the dough circles then fold over and pinch closed. Dipping your finger in water and dabbing it on the upper rim of the dough will help it hold together. Make sure they are pinched tight with no holes and lay the rolls seam side down onto an non greased cookie sheet until all the dough is used up.

At this point, mix the glaze and paint each roll liberally with the egg wash. Place on middle rack and bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown. Once baked, remove from the tray with a spatula and let sit 5 minutes before eating.

set up workspace

pinching into a crescent shape

rolled up piragis waiting for egg wash

ready for the oven

they're best fresh out the oven!

Hope you enjoyed reading and you make some great piragis! Thanks for taking the time to read our site.

On a side note….