Monday, March 21, 2016

The Most Middle Class Midwest Central Illinois Sandwich Ever

     There are just certain things typical to geographic areas. You go to Texas and you're going to get Tex-Mex. You go to Louisiana and you're going to get Cajun. You go to Maine and you're getting seafood. You know what you get when you head into the Midwest? Central Illinois specifically? You're going to get something with Ranch and bacon on it. The fascination with Ranch out here borders on repulsive. The kids put it on everything. Pizza. Burgers. Nuggets. Fries. If they can dip it in a bowl of Ranch, they're going to. I weep for our species. If somebody could invent deep fried Ranch, they could probably make a fortune selling it at the state fair.
     I figured I should just give in to local custom and make something involving a bunch of Ranch. The result is the following sandwich. I'll tell you this: it was super, hella-good. Crazy good. Like hide the leftovers before we eat them good. I felt guilty for throwing together such an uninspired sandwich, but there was no denying its awesomeness. So, if you're interested in a fair representation of typical Central Illinois food, this is a slightly upgraded form of it. Someday I'll tell you about Horseshoes and how every restaurant here serves them!

The Most Middle Class, Midwest,
Central Illinois Sandwich

  • 2 chicken breasts, butterflied and then split into two pieces each (yielding 4 pieces of chicken)
  • Old Taylor Street Cheese Sprinkle from the Spice House (if you don't have access to this mix, it's a mix of Romano cheese powder, salt, garlic powder, scallions, powdered green peppercorns, Italian parsley, basil. Good luck figuring out the exact amounts. Maybe just order it or use your favorite spice blend)
  • 4 ounces Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pound thick cut bacon
  • 8 slices thick cut bread (we used the ham and cheese bread we made earlier)
  • pack of ranch dressing mix
  • 16 ounce container of sour cream (yeah, you'll have leftover. Quit whining and use it the rest for vegetable dip)
  • red onion, sliced thin
  • iceberg lettuce (feel free to throw some tomato on if you'd like)
  1. Mix ranch dressing packet with sour cream. Put it aside for right now.
  2. Sprinkle the chicken breast pieces with the spice mix. 
  3. Heat a skillet to medium high. Add the bacon and cook until just beginning to crisp. Set aside the bacon and drain all but the a tablespoon or so of the bacon grease.
  4. Put the chicken breasts in the pan and cook 5-7 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook another 5-7 minutes. 
  5. During the last minute or so of cooking, lay the cheese on the chicken and put a cover on the pan.
  6. While the cheese is melting, spread a thick layer of the ranch sour cream mix on each slice of bread. Pile on the lettuce, onion.
  7. Add the chicken and bacon. 
  8. Eat the hell out of that sandwich.
Someday I'll learn to slice bread evenly.
Good Times!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Ham and Cheese Bread

     You probably know by now that I don't always have top of the line ingredients on hand. That's not really my thing. It's nice to have fancy meats and cheeses and stuff like that, but it's also nice to be able to pay the mortgage and utilities. I often find recipes that I end up avoiding because I never have the ingredients on hand, or more likely, I can't seem to justify the cost of the ingredients. That's probably why you don't see more recipes with Gruyere on my pages. Anyways, I found a bread recipe and wanted to make it for some time, but never had the key ingredients. Finally, I just cracked and used super-cheap alternatives. I couldn't have been happier with the results. I ended up with a nice, crusty bread perfect for sandwiches! As always, notes and changes are in blue.

Ham and Cheese Bread
adapted from Torta Di Testo Di Prosciutti E Formaggio
via The Art of Bread
  • 2 teaspoon (1 envelope) active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp water (I ended up using 4 tbsp water for whatever reason. Maybe I used too much flour.)
  • 3-1/2 cups unbleached flour (I just used plain old white flour from ALDI. I didn't have time to take the Rolls Royce out for "special" flour)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (even this amount was noticeable. If you're not a fan of nutmeg, just omit this)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (a stick of generic margarine microwaved for 20 seconds, you say? Done!)
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 5 ounces ounces sliced prosciutto, chopped (lah-de-dah! Emmental cheese! Let me break out the good china! I'm going to be honest. I used a pack of Buddig honey ham)
  • 5 Emmental, dicedounces sliced prosciutto, chopped (seeing as all my liquid assets are tied up in long term investments in yacht and gold futures, I used an equal amount of shredded pepperjack cheese)
  1. Sprinkle yeast into water in a bowl. Leave for five minutes (they should really be more specific. I left the kitchen and got as far as the driveway before I realized I couldn't finish the recipe from out there. Even though the recipe didn't say to return, I did); stir to dissolve.
  2. Mix flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a large bowl (I used my KitchenAid, so that was my large bowl). Make a well in the center and add the dissolved yeast and everything else. 
  3. Mix until you've formed a soft, sticky dough (as mentioned, this took a little extra water to achieve). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until silky and elastic, about 10 minutes (I just slapped the dough hook on the mixer and let it take care of things while I had a drink or six.)
  4. Put the dough in a clean bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Punch down, then let rest for 10 minutes. 
  5. Shape the dough into a round loaf. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet (I used a pizza stone and a thin spray of cooking oil) and cover with a dish towel (they had to specify dish towel? Was there a chance I'd chuck a beach towel over it? Maybe a washcloth?). Proof until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  6. Bake in an oven preheated to 350F (180C, Gasmark 4) for 1-1/2 hours, until golden brown (yeah, I know this seems like a long time, but it's right. You'll need every minute of it), cool on a wire rack.
Good Times!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

My Father's Lasagna

     My Dad was always fun to watch in the kitchen. He never used a printed recipe. He just sort of played it loose and fast and hoped for the best. One of his classics was lasagna. For whatever reason, he never used crumbled Italian sausage. Ever. It was always the links. In lasagna, he'd just slice it up and layer it in there. It was so good. He never actually taught me the recipe. I learned it by watching him, then tinkering with things until it was just right. It's not a terribly labor intensive recipe, but you need to be careful to not overcook the pasta before layering it. If you do, it's going to be a real bitch to work with. Try it and tell me it's not a great lasagna. Seriously, don't do that. I don't want your criticism.

My Father's Lasagna

  • 1 box lasagna noodles
  • 1 pound Italian sausage links(sweet or hot, doesn't matter)
  • sliced pepperoni
  • 1 lb ricotta cheese
  • 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
  • pasta sauce of your choosing (we used home made from our Meatballs and Red Sauce recipe)
  1. Brown the sausage and slice into 1/2" rounds. Set aside.
  2. Cook the pasta a couple minutes less than the directions on the package.
  3. Take a 9x13 Pyrex baking dish and spray it with nonstick cooking spray. Lay three noodles down the length of the pan, slightly overlapping.
  4. Drop twelve tablespoons of ricotta at equal intervals (4 dollops on each noodle)
  5.  Lay a slice of sausage on each dollop of ricotta. Cover with a thin layer of the shredded mozzarella. Spoon a thin layer of sauce over the entire layer.
  6. Lay down another layer of pasta and another 12 dollops of ricotta. Instead of sausage, this time put down pepperoni. Put down another thin layer of mozzarella and a layer of sauce.
  7. Repeat step 5.
  8. Lay down a final layer of pasta. Over this, thinly spread a layer of ricotta. Lay alternating sausage and pepperoni over the top. Add a final layer of sauce. Finish with a healthy layer of mozzarella. 
  9. Bake at 375F (190C, Gasmark 5) for 40-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubble. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes or so to let everything set up.
UPDATE: Here's the video for the recipe!

Good Times!