Italian Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes.

Everyone loves them, right? Everyone that is…except for me. I mean, I love chili. I love tacos. I love burgers. The problem is that Sloppy Joes are always too sweet. Beef cloaked in a sweet ketchup-y sauce turns out flat and one-dimensional.

Then, when Kitchen Play asked me to develop an outdoor-friendly recipe for Land O Lakes® 4 Cheese Italian Blend as part of their 30 Days of Outdoor Dining celebration, it got me thinking.

This cheese, made with Parmesan, Asiago, and Romano, has enough American cheese to make it perfect for melting enough Italian cheeses to give it sharpness and depth. This gave birth to Italian Sloppy Joes. Ground pork, Marsala wine, and roasted tomatoes combine for a totally new take on these sandwiches. They are so sloppy that they really should be eaten out of doors and can be finished on the grill or an indoor oven.

Best of all, the sandwich really highlights the tangy taste and smooth melting texture of the cheese.

Italian Sloppy Joes

Ingredients:

2 lbs. ground pork
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup Marsala wine
1/4 cup cream or whole milk
3 cups fresh spinach, washed
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 Tbsp. each cleaned and chopped rosemary, sage, and basil
Salt and pepper to taste
8 slices Land O Lakes® 4 Cheese Italian Blend cheese
8 sun-dried or oven dried tomatoes (re-hydrated in boiling water, if they are very tough)
8 hamburger buns or sandwich rolls, sliced

1. Put the onion and garlic in a large pan with the olive oil over medium heat. In about 10 minutes, the onions should be translucent and start to give off a deep, savory scent.

2. Add the herbs and for an additional 2 – 3 minutes, or until the herbs have wilted.

3. Add the pork and cook until the pork has become totally cooked through, with no pink color.

Some juices will collect at the bottom of the pan. Let them evaporate rather than draining them, because these juices enhance the flavor of the meat. This will take about 10 minutes.

4. Add the spinach and move it around for a minute or so until it wilts.

5. Add the wine, cream, and tomato paste. Then, taste for salt and pepper.

7. Put meat on top of one half of the roll…

with a tomato on top…

and finish with a slice of cheese.

8. Place in the broiler or under a grill, covered, until cheese is gooey and melted.

9. Top with remaining half of roll, and serve.

The pork’s natural sweetness blends with the fragrant Marsala wine, woodsy herbs, and fresh spinach to create a sophisticated ragu. Yet, the tomato paste and touch of cream ensures that it is familiar enough that kids will not be scared to try itand most likely, love it! Soft rolls soak up the meaty juices, and the sun-dried tomatoes provide a salty punch. The crown of glory here is the Land O Lakes® 4 Cheese Italian Blend cheese - melty and stretchy, providing a gooey texture and a nutty, tangy taste. These are perfect with homemade potato chips and a pile of napkins. Ketchup can wait for burgers.

For the chance to try  Land O Lakes® 4 Cheese Italian Blend, just read below:
Be sure to check Kitchen PLAY every day for the next fabulous recipe featuring new LAND O LAKES® 4 Cheese Italian Blend or LAND O LAKES® Deli American Cheese. Then, get in on the fun by leaving a comment with your own “30 Days of Outdoor Dining” tip for dining al fresco this summer. If you do, you’ll be entered to win a lovely grilling prize pack, including one grilling spatula, one marinade brush, one set of tongs and one grill scraper. Kitchen PLAY will be giving away four prizes total, one each week! Please visit Kitchen PLAY for sweepstakes guidelines.

Disclosure Statement
*Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Land O’Lakes as part of the Kitchen PLAY SideCar series. All
opinions given are my own.

Ninth Avenue International Food Festival

The Ninth Avenue Food International Festival is, in many ways, the same as any old NYC street fair.

The throngs of people, the dollar socks, the flabby and tasteless mozzarepas. But, there are hidden gems in this street fair, where the best of ninth Avenue’s eateries set up booths and offer some really delicious food.

Empanada Mama

This 24 hour restaurant on Ninth Avenue is always packed and now I know why! The beef empanada was one of the best things that I ate all day.

A thick and flaky dough encases shredded beef, tender and so juicy that it drips down your chin in fluorescent orange. Smoky cumin, sharp garlic, and sweet onions all mingle with that unmistakably hearty flavor of beef brisket and makes this filling but far less greasy than you might think. I can’t wait to go back here and do a full review on this place!

Dalton’s

This nondescript bar that I have only frequented once (and then, only for the cheap vodka tonics) had the best pork offering of the day. This roast pig sandwich was delicious.

Crispy shards of skin surrounding succulent, sweet pork meat, all served on a squishy potato bun. Topped with sweet and spicy BBQ sauce (thankfully, no overpowering liquid smoke here), this is everything that you could want in a BBQ sandwich, except coleslaw. When you see this stand at the festival, run there, dont’ walk. And get two.

Red’s Hot Dogs

Get the specialty pork and beef sausage and watch it get grilled until it is charred and snappy outside, juicy and hearty inside. Choose from one of their many choices, like the banh mi or the baked potato dog, or top it yourself. The toppings here are free, even the premium ones, like a spicy, meaty chili and sweet sauteed onions.

This is one of the best hot dogs I have had in a while, and will gladly seek them out year after year. They frequent other street fairs during th year, so be sure not to miss them!

Millie’s Pierogies

What good polish girl can resist a pierogi? These are best when stuffed with sauerkraut, which is shockingly complex.

Not just sour, the kraut is also a little sweet and floral with juniper berry. Enased in rich, chewy dough and dipped in cool sour cream, it reminds me of dinners of my youth. Next time, I would absolutely try a steamed kilbasa topped with more of that sauerkraut.

Pure Thai Cookhouse

This is why this fair is so important to restaurants. I have been to Pure Thai before, and liked but didn’t love it. Now, I am determined to go back.

The BBQ Beef Buns were juicy and complex, with star anise, coriander, and ginger in the soft meat. Served in a sticky, fluffy bun and topped with tangy carrots and fragrant cilantro, this was a totally satisfying bite. I could have eaten 6 of these. Even better were the Thai Sausages and Sticky Rice.

The sausages, grilled and served with sweetly caramelized onions, were sweet, spicy, and pleasantly sticky. The rice was the perfect antitode to the incendiary sauce, pungent with fish sauce and hot with chiles. The umami punches never stopped coming with this dish, and my sister and I fought over the last of it. This was an unbelievable duo of dishes – though they aren’t on their regular menu, they convinced me to give Pure another try.

And if none of these looked good, you can always go for one of these:

After all, a corncake stuffed with fake cheese and cheap chorizo never hurt anyone.

3 Day Bloody Marys

I got the idea for these Bloody Marys from Sage in Las Vegas, which makes the best Bloody Mary that I have ever had.

Until now.

I upped the heat and celery quotients of my version, and dialed down the salt. The taste should be primarily of vegetables, with a slight kick of vodka but enough heat to cover the real burn of the alcohol. The balance here is the most important thing – this is tangy, sour, sweet, and savory. And, of course, spicy. The most important part of this is really letting it marinate for 3 days – the heat grows as it sits.

3 Day Bloody Marys

Ingredients:

1 large bottle V8

3 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce

1 bunch celery hearts and leaves, chopped

2 pickled tomatoes, cut into slices/wedges

2 garlic or dill pickles, cut into slim spears

2 tsp. grated fresh horseradish

2.5 oz Tabasco sauce

lemon vodka, to taste

Special Tools – 1 jar/container for marinating purposes.

1. Put all the veggies into your marinating receptacle.

2. Add the Tabasco sauce.

3. Add the juice.

4. Mix the juice around to get all the veggies incorporated.

5. Let it marinate for 3 days. Don’t taste it or add some vodka now. It will taste different in 3 days – trust me.

When you take the Bloody Marys out of the fridge, they will be darker. Taste a pickle if you want – all the flavor will have leached out into your liquid.

6. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer to catch all of the vegetable bits. Now is the time to taste – is it too hot, too bland, or too vegetal? Add whatever you need now – including the vodka.

7. Serve.

You have never tasted a Bloody Mary quite like this, even if you were at Sage. Sorry, this one is just better. The celery lends an incredibly light, fragrant note and the Worcestershire sauce adds depth and umami flavor. The pickles give all the tang and salt that the drink needs, and the combination of tabasco and horseradish is an unmistakable pop of spicy flavor. Feel free to leave out the horseradish if you don’t like its nasal cleansing properties, but please use the Tabasco. And serve this drink cold, but without ice.

After how much time it took to make, you don’t want anything diluting this drink.

BLTabasco Bites

BLTs are as close as eating gets to heaven. They are the perfect mixture of bacon, mayo, and sweet tomatoes. They are perfect for a solo lunch, but not so ideal for a party, unless they are miniaturized. That is where this idea came from – I wanted a dish that was savory without beings sloppy, cute without being insubstantial.  As a bonus, if you use turkey bacon, this dish is entirely kosher! I also wanted it to be a little spicy without being burn-your-brains-out hot. Feel free to change the amount of Tabasco sauce that you use in the croutons – they really get pretty spicy!

BLTabasco Bites

Ingredients:

1 package bacon or turkey bacon, diced and sauteed until crisp

1 head of iceberg lettuce shredded, or package of shredded iceberg lettuce

18 large cherry tomatoes (like Campari tomatoes – each tomato should be about 2 bites)

1/2 cup mayonnaise (or more, to taste)

1 cup olive oil

2.5 oz. Tabasco sauce

1 baguette

1. Taking your tomatoes, cut the bottom off each one, so there is a flat end to it. Then, cut off the top of the tomato and hollow out the innards.

You want a totally hollow shell, like this.

2. Place all of the tomatoes, hollow side down, on a towel lined cookie sheet and put it in the fridge for an hour. This will help the tomatoes drain and keep the mixture from getting soggy.

3. In the meantime, mix the mayo, lettuce, and bacon in a bowl. Add about 10 dashes of Tabasco.

4. Put the mayonnaise mixture in to a strainer over a bowl, then put that in the fridge and let it strain for at least 30 minutes. A lot of moisture will drain out and, once again, will prevent the bites from being soggy.

5. Cut the baguette, crusts and all, into bite sized cubes, and preheat the oven to 350F. Be sure the croutons are very small – small enough to fit on top of the stuffed tomatoes.

6. Mix the remaining Tabasco and olive oil together in a bowl. It should be a bright orange emulsion.

7. Place the bread bites on a foiled cookie sheet, and cover it with the olive oil mixture. Toss the croutons around so each one gets coated in the mixture.

8. Bake them in the oven for 12 minutes, or until the bread is crisp but not super hard or crunchy.

9. Before serving, fill the tomato with some of the mayonnaise mixture, just to the top of the tomato rim.

10. Top with a crouton and serve.

This is everything delicious. Fresh, creamy, salty, and crunchy. The bacon and lettuce stay crisp, and the mayonnaise mixture solidifies beautifully, staying perfectly in the tomato. The tomato itself stays dry and is the ideal vessel. The crowning touch is the crouton – the Tabasco gets incredibly spicy as it bakes, adding a bright, almost citrusy kick to the dish.

Sandwiches never looked so cute.

*Disclaimer: I was compensated for this recipe by Tabasco*

Fresh Diet – The Aftermath – Sponsored Post

So, when last we spoke, I was about to try The Fresh Diet. It sounded good, but how did it actually work out?
 Well, the food was delivered every night and kept icy cold in a freezer bag with an ice pack while I slept.
 It was all labeled with heating instructions.
 The menus were varied and included snacks and desserts…
But of course the real question is, how did it taste?
Well…
It was fantastic. It was all fresh and well seasoned without being too salty. It was seasonal and tasty. The meats were juicy, the fruits were sweet, and the desserts were the perfect sugary way to end the day. Bruschetta with guacamole or a delicate salmon spread filled me during the 3 pm snack attack. This isn’t easy – no diet is. To be sure, you will feel hungry the first day or two. But, the food here is so well prepared, wholesome, and easy to enjoy that it is the best diet option I could imagine for busy folks on the run.
And that’s it. This is a great option for someone who wants to control calories while eating wholesome and tasty food. And, through a special offer from The Fresh Diet, if you start today for $29.99 per day then you get 3 days free. Just include the promo code: singlejan3, and enjoy!

Disclaimer: I was compensated for this review, but the opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Green and Black’s Chocolate Giveaway

It’s good to have friends in high places. That’s why I keep Feisty Foodie close…well, also because she appreciates a good “that’s what she said” joke as much as I do.
Really, we are quite obnoxious to be around. 
 Anyway, when she invited me to a Green and Black’s event, I was beyond psyched. I have had Green and Black’s organic chocolate before, and I commend the company’s dedication to fair prices to the farmers who grow the beans. 
 Also, the chocolate is outstanding. The White Chocolate is amazingly thick and complex – not sickeningly sweet like so many white chocolates are. The Mayan Gold is gently spicy with cinnamon, and the Salted Peanut Milk Chocolate is a Snickers bar gone deluxe. 
 What I didn’t know is that you can use Greens and Blacks to cook. Wouldn’t that be like using caviar in a tuna fish sandwich?
Actually, no. As delicious as the chocolate is for eating plain, it is formulated for baking as well. The flavors enhance and intensifiy in cookies, cakes, and such. The Cherry Chocolate bar would be so great in a bread pudding. 
 When we sat down to try our hands at making tiramisu, we got to see how well the chocolate works with other ingredients. The Mayan Gold was just outstanding with the creamy mascarpone, bitter espresso, and tangy madeira. 
Too bad you couldn’t try the tiramisu. It was really great. 
Of course…you CAN try Green and Black’s!
The company has graciously donated a sampler box of delicious chocolates. To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment in the comments section. The winner will be announced Monday, January 23!
In the meantime, here is my musical tribute to some of the best chocolate I have ever tasted…

West Side Market, Cleveland

As if you didn’t have enough reasons to visit Cleveland by now, here is one more:
 West Side Market – the oldest publicly owned market in Cleveland. AKA: A farmer’s market the likes of which I have rarely seen. And filled with items I have rarely seen…
 Smokies. Everywhere, there were lots and lots of these gourmet Slim Jims. They were spicy, slightly chewy, salty, and addictive.
 Bratwurst sandwiches. At 7 AM. With sauerkraut. The amount of joy I feel at that is indescribable.
 Didn’t eat this…but I have to say that I love that it is a thing. 
 The Greenhouse Tavern does a roasted pig’s head…I will never forgive my sister for not letting us order it.
 These were some of the best olives I have ever had – meaty, soft, salty, with sharp and spicy cheese inside. Rita’s has some amazing olives – be sure to try the wasabi blue cheese stuffed olives, too.
 Everywhere, there was incredible bread. 
This pepperoni-Asiago loaf was especially delicious – like a stromboli made with sourdough bread. 
 Locally raised pork already stuffed with fresh cornbread stuffing.
 Every kind of pirogi on the face of the planet. Cheese, potato, sauerkraut, even apricot…
which tasted like a very thick blintz!
 You can buy any part of the animal you so desire…
or you can go vegetarian for the day.
Of course, if you go vegetarian, you might as well do it with these sauerkraut balls – crisply fried balls of sauerkraut and cheese.
In conclusion, Cleveland is really a town for food and people who love it. The town’s motto seems to be this:
And that’s kind of my motto, too.

Fresh Diet’s Fresh Approach to Dining Well – Sponsored Post

 I constantly preach about eating whole foods, staying away from too much processed crap, and eating seasonally. 
Well, when you are living alone, that can get pricey. And time consuming. 
If you are cooking for four people or more, great! You can buy chicken in bulk, onions by the bushel, and belong to a warehouse supplier that has loads of organic products. But when it’s just one person, it gets very, very expensive. And when there is no one to help you do the shopping or prepare the meals, you can say goodbye to watching Teen Mom 2 – you need to spend your Tuesday nights prepping all your meals. 
That’s where The Fresh Diet comes in. 
When The Fresh Diet contacted me about trying their program, I was wary, BUT, everything sounded really legit. I mean, it’s all wholesome, fresh food. All the menus are customizable. They are all about 1500 calories for women (which would mean a substantial amount of weight loss considering that my usual diet consists of too many grilled cheese sandwiches and chili dogs), and the price was incredibly reasonable. 
The selling point on this was the food. It just sounded really good. Nothing frozen, nothing weird. Just fresh, wholesome stuff delivered to your door every night, so you could bring it to work with you the next day for lunch. And the items sounded great, like stuff I would make myself – mahi mahi Caesar salad, beef stuffed mushrooms, mozzarella wraps, and homemade chocolate pudding. Who doesn’t want that delivered to her door every day?
And…okay…maybe I wanted to lose a couple of pounds, too. It is after the holidays, after all. I am only human, and I really did enjoy a few too many latkes.
If this sounds like a good plan to you, you can make your order today, using the code jan3, for 3 free days if you order a month plan. That is $30 a day for 3 meals, plus snacks and desserts, delivered straight to your door every day. 
Tune in later this week to see how I enjoyed the food. In the meantime, check out The Fresh Diet website!
Disclaimer: I was compensated for this review, but the opinions expressed are entirely my own.

2011 Epic Fails and Pickle and Pastry Giveaway

As the last post of 2011, I present to you a gallery of the year’s biggest culinary failures. Some you have seen, most you have not. This list will serve as a reminder to me in 2012, every time I try to take a picture with flash or eat at a Todd English restaurant, that I have done that before, and that it just doesn’t work.  If you read to the end of the post, you may receive a handsome reward…Without further ado, and in no particular order:
11 Epic Fails of 2011
1) Whole wheat pizza dough
It tastes like cardboard at a pizzeria and it tastes like cardboard at home. I do, however, love the Emile Henry pizza stone on which I baked it!
2) Impatiece when making root beer floats 
Or cupcakes. Or meatballs. Basically, I just need to try to be more patient. Otherwise, the soda will always run over the edge of the proverbial cup. 
3) Meatopia 2011
Actually, this was great. The problem was that it was on the hottest day of the year and after I ingested about half my body weight in roasted pork, beef, and offal, I had to go home and lie with a Buddha belly on my couch for 3 hours. All I could eat the next day was miso soup. I have never, never, NEVER been so food-ed out in my life.
4) Every single picture I took at Alta
No more need be said.
5) That time I tried to make matzoh brie in a stockpot instead of a skillet
The whole thing steamed instead of sauteed and became something akin to regurgitated baby food. So shapeless and insipid that even a heavy dose of Sriracha could not save it.
6) My entire meal at The Plaza Food Hall
 Overpriced, under served, mediocre…good Lord, Todd English, you should be ashamed of yourself!
7) This Tunisian pastry 
It looked like a beautiful glazed donut but was instead filled with must have been tobacco-infused rancid honey. If you pass by a Tunisian bakery in the Latin Quarter of Paris, just ignore it!
8) Tomato vinaigrette for a summer salad
Doesn’t it look just like tomato paste? That’s what it tasted like, too. 
9) Banana pudding from Donna Belle’s Bakeshop
 All the things here looked so delicious. So why did I choose the one item that tasted like absolutely nothing. Not sweet, not sour, not rich, not tart…literally, it was like I was eating air. Fatty, cholesterol-ruining air. 
10) Jack cheese-jalapeno bread
This pretty much sucked. The bread was leaden on the outside, gluey on the inside. It was so bad I gagged in the sink. 
That’s what she said.
11) Frozen Mango and Dulce de Leche Ice cream
Well, actually, this was pretty good. Great actually. I just wanted to end on a high note. 
And what better high note than with TWO gift certificates to give away to the Bryant Park Holiday Shops? I am giving away, courtesy of The Blaq Group:
 $50 to Pickle Me Pete (the habanero pickles were so hot that they actually made me cry)
and
 $50 to Mmm…Enfes (A Turkish food emporium with all sorts of delicious treats and sweets). 
There will be two winners of this giveaway, which you can enter just by leaving a comment on the comment section!
The only stipulation is that you must be able to use your gift certificate by January 8th when the shops close. So, if you are in the NYC area, leave a comment for a chance to win some awesome pickles or sweet Turkish treats! Winners will be chosen randomly and announced Monday, January 2!
Good luck and happy new year!

Remember the Time…

…when I forgot that today was Monday? Yes, I was actually convinced that today was Sunday. I have no excuses and few words. The words I have are these:
When in doubt, top it with a fried egg.
That’s what she said. And she also said, regular posts to resume tomorrow!