California Dreamin: The Fabulous Burger at The Apple Pan

I couldn’t be any more in love with the restaurant featured in this post.

This is my #1 “don’t miss” restaurant in Los Angeles. I love it more than the fancy ones. I love it more than the iconic ones. I love it more than the new ones.

It’s The Apple Pan. And I’m going to let the pictures do the talking:

20140928_104333The Apple Pan. It’s been around since the 40s. which means nothing to East Coaster, but as Californians will attest, the only thing that’s been around as long since then are the La Brea Tarpits. My mom used to take me here for lunch and she knew a counterman who must have been 100 years old. She said he was 100 years old when she went there when she was a kid.
20140928_110212Get there early and line up or prepare to wait for a seat around the long counter. Enjoy your soft drink from a paper cone stuck inside of a metal holder.
20140928_110219 The menu isn’t long and it isn’t difficult. If you get the ham sandwich, you have failed your mission. All passengers aboard the shuttle die and your home planet is blown up. 20140928_110334 French fries

Johnny Rockets, weep your eyes out. The finest American fries…yes, anywhere. Golden, insanely hot, crispy without and fluffy within. Not too salty, not at all artisanal.

20140928_110706 Hickory burger with tangy hickory bbq sauce20140928_110711 Steakburger with piquant relish and sharp Tillamook cheddar cheese20140928_110858 Toasty bun, chargrilled burger, sharp cheddar, a swath of mayonnaise…and a head of iceberg lettuce. It’s a trademark move, shut up. 20140928_111847 Banana cream pie…20140928_112105 And dense, buttery pecan pie with a glob of the best whipped cream in the city. 20140928_112542That plaid wallpaper. The styrofoam plates for the ketchup. The way that the food smells better and better the longer you wait for a seat. This is the best part of California…the nostalgic part.

Tomato Sandwich Redux – No Mayo!

When I read about this tomato sandwich on some food forum or other (what, you don’t spend your days trolling sites for restaurant reviews and recipes?), I knew that I had to try it. I have had at least 4,000 tomato sandwiches in my lifetime, but never one like this.

This isn’t your traditional tomato sandwich. 

Why, you ask?

Well, for one, there is no mayonnaise. Now, I LOVE tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches, but sometimes, they can be a little too much – too creamy, too goopy, too messy.

Also, there are seasonings beyond salt and pepper. A TRAVESTY in the tomato-sandwich making traditional school of thought.

Also…well, it’s not really tomato season yet. It’s early. The tomatoes are fresh and juicy at the farmer’s market, but they aren’t quite those sweet, dripping with flavor, sun warmed tomatoes that August is sure to bring.

But it was a long winter. And I need some tomato sandwiches NOW. 

So, without further ado…here is the simple way to make a nouveau tomato sandwich.

20140702_074652 1. Take your piece of bread. I had sour rye, but fresh white bread or even some thinly sliced pumpernickel would work well.20140702_074803 2. Spread it thickly with unsalted butter. The butter must be spread thickly and it MUST be unsalted. I always buy unsalted butter because it’s so easy to season your own butter to the saltiness that you prefer, and then you control the sodium. Also, keep that butter at room temperature when you are spreading it so you don’t tear the bread. 20140702_075109 3. Layer on your tomatoes, none too thinly sliced. The heartier the bread is, the thicker the slices must be. Also, the tomatoes aren’t fully flavored yet, so you need thicker slices to taste them fully. Come August, you can use a razor blade to cut those slices and still have the taste burst through. 20140702_0751345. Top with your seasonings of choice – I prefer a spicy lemon pepper seasoning with red pepper flakes, salt, and dried lemon zest. 
20140702_0751436. Eat openfaced, in front of the air conditioner and with an ice old root beer, if possible. 

This sandwich blew me away. The butter seems less important than the mayo is – it really lets the tomato be the star of the show. It is more of a barrier than anything else – it keeps the tomato’s juices from making the bread soggy. The bread was a good choice – a slightly sour bread highlights the tomato’s natural sweetness. And the seasoning was really exciting – tart and spicy and salty enough to make every other flavor sing. I really felt like such a rebel – who puts extra seasoning on their tomato sandwiches?! Who AM I?!

I’m jut a girl who was ready for a freakin tomato sandwich.

And it. was. good.

Sandwiches – America’s Pride and Joy

Quick break to say…Hi!!! I may be recapping Europe, but I am back in the good ole US of A and am indulging in what we do best:

Sandwiches. 

(and a couple of tacos)

Here is what I have been enjoying lately:

image (1)Al pastor tacos from Taqueria Diana

This East Village isn’t more than a  hole in the wall and the tacos cost less than $5 per, but they are delicious. Greasy and messy in the best way possible. The pork is slowly roasted on a spit with pineapple, then diced into sweet, salty, juicy hunks that fall apart if you look at them the wrong way. Get yours with some of the vibrant, cilantro-y guacamole and you won’t regret it. It’s not as spicy as I could take it, but nothing is, and this is as good sober as it is drunk – NOT true of all tacos!
image (2) Green chile mac and sliders from Mexicue

This Mad Square Eats spot was win and lose. The green chile mac is insipid and lacking in both real chile bite and sharp cheddary tang. The sandwiches, however, were great! The pulled chicken slider with cheese and pickles is juicy and bright with a vinegary, bright BBQ sauce. The brisket burnt ends chili is PHENOMENAL! Burnt ends are those wonderfully charred bits of meat and fat that get incinerated when a large brisket is cooked. They are only improved by the addition of a chipotle-rich sauce, horseradish crema, and some pickled jalapenos. Slap it all on a soft potato bun and y’all are in business. image (3) Pomme Palais roast beef sandwich

Because trust fund babies want to eat well, too. This isn’t insanely expensive – it’s what you might be spending at a casual sit down place in the East Village, but the shop is cute enough to eat in and the sandwiches are GOOD. The roast beef is juicy and tastes like a great steak sandwich. It sits on bread that is floury and substantial enough to house the nutty Gruyere and horseradish mayo, but still tears apart easily. This is filling but not heavy – I work for the place, but I have gone back here and paid full price to eat it more than once.

imageFish tacos at El Toro Blanco

Shi-shi but really delish. Mild, flaky cod inside a puffy, crispy beer batter. It’s served in warmed flour tortillas with radishes, buttery avocado, and just a smidge of jalapeno aioli. So many places bury their delicious fish under mountains of goopy sauces – not necessary when the ingredients are so fresh and tasty. A squirt of lime is all that’s needed to complete this plate.

Easy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

This is one of those “is it even a recipe?” posts.

But, if you didn’t grow up loving the slow cooker as another sister, then maybe you don’t know phenomenal it is!

Slow cookers are the best. They transform cheap cuts of meat into downright luxurious meals. You can start it in the morning and by the time you get home at night, dinner is already made. It’s heralded in the winter, when it can make hearty boeuf bourguignon and creamy soups, but it’s great in the summer too.

For those of us who don’t have grills, don’t want to make smokers, or are just plain old lazy…

it can make some pretty kick ass pulled pork.

The key here is to use a bbq sauce that you really like – it does all of the seasoning work for you. Also be sure to cut the pork into pieces, which helps it cook faster.

Because I NEVER start this early enough in the morning. It’s a cheater step.

Easy Crockpot Pulled Pork

2013-06-22 pix1Ingredients:

1 lb. boneless pork loin or roast, cut into 4 or 5 pieces

12 oz. your favorite bbq sauce

1 onion, cut into quarters

2 whole garlic cloves

1/2 habanero (optional)

pix 0541. Put all ingredients into the crockpot.
pix 0552. Be sure to mix it around so the ingredients all get sauced, then set it on low and let it cook for about 7 hours.

asian din 004

You will know it is done when the meat shreds easily with two forks, the onions are meltingly tender, and the fat pulls easily away from the meat.

asian din 012

3. Pull the meat with 2 forks, boil the leftover sauce  (there will be a lot more than what you started with) in a pot on the stove until it thickens (maybe 10 minutes), and mix with the shredded meat. 
yet more pictyuhz 0544. Taste for seasonings and serve.

This makes the best sandwich filling. It’s soft and juicy with a very faint echo of bite – the cooking really mellows out that habanero.  I never trim the fat, and it just melts beautifully into the juicy meat. Piled high on a potato roll, topped with coleslaw, I can’t think of anything more delicious.

yet more pictyuhz 056Except a second sandwich.

Triple Decker Mexican Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

I invented this recipe a long time ago and figured it deserved to come out of retirement! This grilled cheese recipe is spicy, fragrant, and delicious for a quick dinner. The trick is using enough mayo to coat the bread – that results in the perfect crunchy exterior.

Triple Decker Mexican Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Ingredients:

3 slices sandwich bread

3 tbsp. mayonnaise mixed with 1 tbsp. your favorite black bean dip (I love the one from Trader Joe’s)

1 jalapeno, sliced thinly

1 tomato, sliced

1 scallion, chopped

2 tsp. cilantro, cleaned and chopped

1. Spread the mayo/bean mixture on both slices of all bread. Then, put 2 slices of the bread in a hot pan over medium heat and let it cook for a few minutes, until the undersides are warm and toasted. Then, remove one of the slices of bread from the pan.

2. On the other slice of bread, put half of the cheese (ignore the slice of bread in the back there…that was an ill-conceived experiment).

3. Layer on the jalapenos and tomato, then…

top with the slice of UN-toasted, UN mayo-ed bread. Cover with a lid and reduce heat to low for about 5 minutes or until the cheese melts.

4. When the cheese is melted, top the bread with the rest of the cheese…

the cilantro, and the scallion. Then, top the sandwich with the last piece of bread, toasted side UP, cover with lid until melted, and…

5. Serve.

This sandwich is everything that is good about eating. It’s crunchy and gooey. It’s creamy and spicy. It’s fresh and rich and heady with beans. It’s not really Mexican, it just takes a few cues from Mexican cuisine. The untoasted layer of bread in the middle is key – it melts into the cheese, becoming moist and almost juicy. It’s substantial, it’s quick to prepare, and it’s great now that the weather is getting warmer and we are all craving margaritas.

Or at least I am. So sue me.

Quick Mexican Chicken Burgers

I am a firm believer in eating home cooked meals.

I love to cook for myself and my loved ones, to sit down to something that I made with love and thought, and to really take pride in how I eat.

I am also a firm believer in shortcuts.

At big parties, I just use the packet of soup mix to make the onion dip. At last-minute brunches, I  buy the premade fruit platter.

And for dinner on a night when I am beat, pressed for time, or simply  lazy, I use every shortcut in the book.

The result is tasty, fast, and – yes, I still count it! – homemade.

Quick Mexican Chicken Burgers

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground white meat chicken or turkey breast

4 hamburger or brioche buns

4 slices pepper jack cheese

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup pico de gallo

1/2 cup guacamole

1 jalapeno, diced

2 tsp. each cumin, pepper, coriander, powdered garlic

1 tsp. cinnamon

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 tbsp. cilantro, washed and chopped

4 leaves iceberg lettuce

hot sauce, if desired

1. Scoop the top of your bun, so there is a well in the center. This is so you can really load up the toppings. Save the breadcrumbs for some fabulous meatloaf!

2. Combine the meat, spices, Worcestershire, and cilantro in a large bowl.

3. After doing a test patty for seasonings, make the meat into 4 patties. Drop all patties in a VERY hot pan for 3 minutes, or until they are well seared on one side and flip easily.

They should look like this.

4. Then, turn the heat down to medium low, put the cheese on the seared side, and cover with a well fitting lid. This lets the cheese melt and the burgers gently steam to well done without overcooking.

5. Meanwhile, combine the mayo and pico de gallo. It will be watery. With a fork, put some spread onto each of the scooped out buns. That ensures that you get mostly chopped tomatoes without too much goopy, watery residue.

6. Then, top with iceberg lettuce, and…

top the other half of the bun with a nice schmear of guacamole.

7. Layer on the burger,

top with hot sauce if desired, and…

8. Serve.

This is a wonderful, fast weeknight meal. The patty has a satisfying, smoky char on one side but is tender and juicy because it was steamed at the end. The cheese is melty and just slightly spicy, pickling up on the cilantro and jalapeno in the patty. The pico de gallo mayonnaise is the perfect combination of bright and creamy, and the guacamole is the ideal way to finish the dish. This is perfect with a side of tortilla chips served with that leftover pico de gallo and guac.

And it’s all homemade, with care and love.

Don’t let anyone tell you that it isn’t.

Kimcheese Sandwiches at Porsena Extra Bar

I saw a famous chef cooking in her own kitchen. At lunch service, nonetheless.

That shouldn’t be a huge deal…but it is.

In this day and age of celebrity chefs with huge restaurant empires, it’s not the most common thing to see an acclaimed chef cooking inside her own restaurant instead of jet-setting to fabulous events.

So imagine my thrill at seeing Sarah Jenkins walking through Porsena Extra Bar, her diminutive add on to the loved East village Italian restaurant Porsena.

Porsena Extra bar is small and narrow, with – as  the name implies – a long bar at which you can sit and drink some wine from the extensive, excellently priced list. As far as food goes, don’t expect strictly Italian dishes like next door. Instead, expect some of Jenkins’ more whimsical dishes.

Salami, goat cheese, and fig jam on baguette

Simple and perfect. The fig jam is sweet but not cloying or sugary it really tastes just like ripe, jammy figs. It is served with spicy salami that is garlicky and peppery but not salty or greasy. It is soft in texture, multifaceted in taste, and works well with that sweet jam and the creamy, mild goat cheese. The bread is literally perfect – not too hard, not too squishy.  This sandwich is just beautifully constructed, and is served with a light, bright salad where even the cucumbers are peeled and sliced on a bias.

It’s that attention to detail that really make a difference.

Grilled Kimcheese

This puts all other kimchee/cheese combos to shame. Yes, I’m saying this beats them all. The Pullman bread is soft and incredibly buttery, so it has a crispy, thin layer where it has touched the grill. Underneath that sheath is a soft, buttery layer of bread. It melts into the American cheese and kimchee puree filling. The filling is subtle – I might not even know that it was kinchee if I hadn’t read the menu. The filling is creamy and beautifully gooey, but with a slightly spicy garlicky tang that isn’t overtly fishy or salty. The kimchee puree cuts through the buttery richness of the other ingredients and makes this rich sandwich a star. Split it with a friend or be prepared to take a long nap afterwards.

Porsena Extra Bar is a gem. It’s super inexpensive for the quality, with a very cheap and high quality happy hour. In the evening, there  is an entirely different menu than the one at lunch, and you can also order food from Porsena next door. The service is jovial and efficient, and the vibe is perfect for a solo lunch.

Plus, Sara Jenkins is in the kitchen either here or next door. , overseeing the food

It shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it totally is.

 

Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches

It feels like Spring here on the East Coast – finally!

It’s time for vegetables to step into the sandwich limelight.

.Sure, veggies are often seen as supporting players in a sandwich’s cast, but they can be so much more. Here, a portobello mushroom takes center stage and the turkey is in the chorus.

It’s okay, turkey…a strong ensemble is necessary to help the star shine.

Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches

Ingredients:

2 slices peasant bread

1 large portabello mushroom, cleaned and de-stemmed

2 tsp. vegetable oil

1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Sandwich ingredients of your choosing, included but not limited to:

1 slice turkey

2 tsp. horseradish mustard

1 plum tomato, sliced

2 oz. fontina cheese

1 handful washed arugula

1/4 avocado, sliced

1. Heat oil in a pan over high heat until it shimmers. Then, put the mushroom in.

2. Cover the mushroom with a plate and top with a large can to weigh it down. This is an all important step, as it flattens the mushroom and makes it crispy on all outer surfaces.

3. After about 4 minutes, flip the mushroom and repeat the process.

4. After it cooks for 2 minutes on the other side, or the mushroom is tender when a knife is stuck into its center, add the balsamic vinegar. Turn the mushroom to coat it in the vinegar and oil mixture. Then, remove the mushroom to a plate and salt and pepper it generously.

5. Build your sandwich, putting the mushroom smack in the middle of the whole deal.

6. Enjoy.

Don’t you wish you made mushrooms the star more often? This portobello is smooth and juicy, with a meaty, umami flavor that is only bolstered by its sticky balsamic glaze. The turkey makes the mushroom seem even earthier and more substantial than it already is. The cheese gently softens under the warmth of the mushroom, and the horseradish brings that nasal-clearing heat. A few greens, a fresh tomato…what more could you want in a sandwich?

Bravo, humble vegetable. You went in there a kid, but you came back a star.

Shorty’s – The Best Philly Cheesesteaks in NYC

I’m a huge fan of Philadelphia food. Tastykakes, soft pretzels, and high end Italian cuisine, come to mama.

Oh yeah, and I love cheesesteaks.  It’s steak…and onions…and cheese…and bread.

There is SO nothing wrong with any of those words.

Shorty’s is the ONLY place that I eat cheesesteaks outside of Philadelphia. Why? Well, because they import the bread straight from Philadelphia (and eating a cheesesteak roll that isn’t from Philly is like eating a bagel that isn’t from NYC).  The fella who opened it trained at a world renowned cheesesteak empire, where he learned how to cook the meat perfectly and saute the onions just so.

The tiny place is part sports bar, part beer emporium, all delicious. The long bar serves up a bevy of American and foreign beers, or you can sit at one of the high tables to enjoy a cocktail and watch a game playing on one of the many wide screen tvs.

Don’t ask me what game. A sports game, ok?

Mozzarella triangles

Without a  doubt, the best in the city. Crunchy outside and absolutely steaming inside. The mozzarella is melted and stretchy, with no gluey or hard globules of cheese. It is light, creamy, and crispy  Dunk the triangles into the zesty marinara sauce, with chunks of acidic tomato and the zesty scent of oregano. Nothing groundbreaking, but standard bar food made this well is all too rare.

Cheesesteak with whiz and onions

Yeah, this is the stuff. The soft bread is slightly tangy and strong enough to support the fillings; perfectly Philadelphia. The steak is tender and well seasoned with salty, sweet onions and spicy peppers. And the cheese whiz…creamy, oozy, slick on the beef and bread. It is a simple combination and a satisfying one. I always add a dash of Tabasco sauce before devouring the whole thing.

Salad

For those of you who want a palate cleanser after such a heavy meal.

Though, chances are, you won’t want anything else. You are going to be in a huge food coma. You are going to be in a beefy, cheesy, beery coma. Your wallet will still be full, and so will your stomach.

It’s a little slice of Philly right in Hell’s Kitchen.

Pulled BBQ Chicken Sliders

There is an exception to every rule.

There is one day when you DO hit all the green lights.

There is one episode per season where the Kardashians do that does NOT make me vomit in my mouth.

And there is one dish that I like less than lip-blisteringly spicy.

BBQ sauce. Don’t give me any of that cloyingly sweet, salty stuff, but if the sauce is too spicy, it’s just dominant. I want to taste the soft bun, the crispy coleslaw, the juicy meat. Thus, I invented my own pulled chicken recipe, with a bbq sauce that is made with beer, chili sauce,and just one habanero.

Hey, just one is practically baby food, okay?

The result is a sauce that is tangy and spicy, with just a bit of sweetness. Don’t substitute ketchup for the chili sauce – that sauce is the secret to keep the sauce from being too sweet. The chicken cooks until it is tender, then is shredded and mixed with the sauce.

My perfect exception to my “heat beats all” rule.

Pulled BBQ Chicken Sliders

Ingredients:

For chicken:

3 chicken breasts

1 jar Heinz chili sauce

1 onion, peeled and quartered

2 garlic cloves, smashed

1 habanero pepper, sliced

1 bottle beer (your favorite)

1 tbsp. chili seasoning (or a  mixture of cumin, chile powder, salt, and pepper)

1/3 cup white vinegar

2 tbsp. sugar

For sandwiches:

6 slider buns

2 cups coleslaw (This slaw is ideal for this sandwich)

1. Put all of the chicken ingredients on the stove over medium heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Cover the pot and walk away for 10 – 12 minutes.

I know, sorry. I try to make these recipes tougher so they seem more impressive but…I’m just a very simple person.

Stop laughing. Didn’t mean it that way.

2. When the chicken is entirely cooked through, with no pinkness, and starts to pull apart when prodded with a fork, remove them beasts and set them aside to cool.

3. Meanwhile, dump the sauce into a blender, and whiz it until it is totally blitzed.

Now taste it – does it need more pepper, more vinegar, more sugar? Add it now. Then,  return it to the pan and let it reduce for about 20 minutes, or until it has thickened a bit. It won’t get thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, but the texture will gain some viscosity.

4. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it with 2 forks until the meat is totally pulled. Then, combine the sauce and the chicken. When you are ready to serve…

5. Toast your slider buns and lay the chicken on there (with more sauce, if so desired).

6. Top with slaw and serve.

Now this is the kind of bbq I like. A combination of sweet tomatoes and spicy habaneros. Sour with vinegar and sweet from the sugar. The chicken is tender and very juicy, and the sauce saturates the buns, making them delightfully moist and flavorful. The topper of crisp. vinegary slaw provides the perfect counterpart – a fresh, herbal addition to this saucy, savory sandwich. I occasionally like to add some cheese to the bun before toasting, adding a sharp component to the dish.

Feel free to top this with hot sauce, if you so prefer. It’s not the way that I eat it, but hey…

I’m willing to make another exception.