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.

Western Bacon Cheeseburger Pancakes

Wednesday was National Pancake Day…how great is that?! In honor of it, I invented a pancake recipe of my own. Something a little heartier, a little sassier, a little more…perhaps…ridiculous…than standard hotcakes. Some might say it reminds them of a burger from a certain West Coast fast food chain. Some might say it reminds them of a gluttonous nightmare. Most of you are going to say it’s a perfect way to celebrate this tasty holiday.

Western Bacon Cheeseburger Pancakes

Ingredients:

prepared pancake batter (enough for about  6 pancakes)

4 strips bacon, chopped

1/3 lb. ground beef

2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese

2/3 cup French fried onions, plus more for garnishing

sesame seeds for garnishing

1 tbsp. grill or bbq seasoning

bbq sauce to serve

1. Cook the bacon over medium heat until it is very crisp.

2. In the meantime, combine the prepared pancake batter with the cheese, spices,…

and fried onions.

3. Mix to combine.

4. When the bacon is cooked, add the ground beef and cook until it is totally browned and cooked through. The remove most of the beef with a slotted spoon, leaving the drippings in the pan.

5. Move the beef in the pan into a small circle…

6. And layer about 1/6 of the batter over the beef. Top it with a few sesame seeds (a hamburger needs a sesame seed bun, right?!).

7. When the batter looks like this, with little bubbles all the way around the edge of the cake, flip it.

Ta-da!

8. Repeat steps 5-7 until all the pancakes are cooked.

9. Drizzle with bbq sauce, top with extra fried onions, and serve immediately.

These are a gluttonous fat kid delight. The pancakes are fluffy and savory. Crispy bacon, juicy spiced beef, gooey cheese, those delightfully salty fried onions…who wouldn’t like this?! Be sure to use a good quality bbq sauce here, because it really brings the pancake-burger hybrid together. This is insanely and guiltily tasty. Try it and you will be hooked.

Now, I just can’t wait for national foie gras day…foie gras pizza, anyone?

 

DeKalb Market – Hidden Treasure in Brooklyn

Friendship has to be mutually beneficial. You add something to the relationship and the other person adds something. Otherwise…what’s the point? If that’s the rule of a good friendship, Justin and I have a great one. I send him crazy British potato chips from when I go abroad, and he shows me one of the coolest markets in the NYC area.

DeKalb Market, ongoing 7 days a week through September 30, is an outdoor market with artisanal clothing, tchotchkes, and food. The weekends are supposedly packed, but on a weekday afternoon, the place was pretty empty. Perfect for  either a quick lunch or a delightful afternoon sampling treats from many different establishments.

Mahrlinka Longganisa with Spicy Chiles, Pickled Vegetables, and Mayo

Hello, garlic breath. The first bite of this is extremely garlicky – that spicy, punchy hit of raw garlic that some people love and some hate. I love it. It avoids being overwheming here because the next taste is that of sticky, sweet, pork. The chunks are big and moist, more of a loosely packed sausage than a hot dog. There is a very umami, salty hit that has to be fish sauce.  This sausage is funky, powerful, and definitely not for those who are shy about strong garlicky flavors. The tangy pickled vegetables, creamy mayo, and the heat of green chiles finishes what is one incredible sandwich.

I let Justin have a bite because he led me to this wonderful place. But just one.

Dubpies Curry Chicken Pie

This was one of Justin’s picks. A flaky, crisp curst surrounds a lightly curry flavored filling with moist chicken and tender vegetables. It was incredibly humid out, so I didn’t have more than one bite, but the one I had was quite good, if rather subtle.

I like a curry that kicks me in the face.

Cheeky Sandwiches Shortrib Sandwich with Horseradish

This place also has a location on Manhattan’s LES, and is known for its New Orleans style sandwiches. Though Justin swears by the chicken biscuit, we both decided to branch out this time.

Soft, savory beef layered with wilted arugula, sweet tomatoes, and an almost unholy amount of horseradish. The horseradish is nasal clearing, counteracting with the fruity tomatoes and buttery toasted challah. The sandwich is fantastic in every way – run, don’t walk, to get one.

Cuzin’s Duzin Donuts

These handmade mini donuts, made to order, were good, but not great. Justin and his girlfriend loved them, but I prefer a lighter, yeastier doughnut. These are cake donuts, and thus heartier with a denser texture. They were quite good, just not to my taste.

 I still ate them, of course…

Get yourself to DeKalb Market before it closes! The food is delicious and varied, the weekdays are not crowded, and there are so many more food stalls to try that I didn’t even cover here.

Thanks, Justin, for bringing me here!

Sausage sandwiches – improving friendship, one link at a time.

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Afternoon Tea Chicken Salad Sandwiches

This is a recipe for those of you who love an afternoon treat that hearty enough to tide you over until dinner but light enough not to ruin your appetite. It is for those of you who love to take leftovers and turn them into something new and extraordinary.

It’s for those of you too lazy to chew a sandwich made with crusty bread.

This recipe is dainty, elegant, and extremely tasty. The secret ingredient is a touch of curry powder – not enough to make it taste Indian, but enough to make the diner wonder why the sandwich is so darned tasty. The bread is very important here – using mini croissants really elevates this to company-worthy food, but even very soft, crustless white bread will do. Don’t even think of using something high fiber here.  The main adjectives here are smooth, buttery, and soft.

Afternoon Tea Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Ingredients:

2 cups shredded chicken (leftover poached or roasted chicken works well, or use a store-bought rotisserie chicken)

1 cup mayonnaise

4 celery stalks, diced

1 bell pepper, diced

1/2 sweet onion, diced

1.5 tsp. curry powder

2 tsp. mustard (your favorite…I like Dijon for it’s mild tang)

Dash of Worcestershire sauce

salt and pepper to taste

8 mini croissants, split open

8 leaves iceberg lettuce

8 mini croissants

1. Combine the mayo and the chicken in a bowl and mix to combine. Don’t worry if the chicken gets a little mashed during the mixing process – you want a uniform texture.

2. Add the pepper, onion, and celery.

3. Add the curry powder, Worcestershire, salt, and pepper. Now let the salad marinate in the fridge for 3o minutes. This step is very important. The flavor profiles change and intensify with time, so it’s very important to let the salad rest. After it rests, let it come to room temperature, taste it again, and modify the seasonings if necessary.

4. Spread the salad on the croissants…

and add a lettuce leaf to each sandwich.

5. Close each sandwich and serve, preferably with freshly brewed tea and a slice of cake.

This sandwich is elegant, subtle, and very satisfying. It is creamy but with the textural components of the juicy chicken, crunchy celery, and sweet bell peppers. The lettuce provides a refreshing taste, and the Worcestershire sauce and curry give the chicken salad a distant, mysteriously umami taste. This is delicious served at a party or in a lunchbox. Please don’t leave out the curry – try just a dab and you will be shocked at how subtle and vital it is to this recipe.

Toldja fiber had no place here.

 

Highpoint Bistro – A High Point in Chelsea’s Restaurant Scene

A recent lunch hour found me in Chelsea. Not the cool, food oriented part of Chelsea – more like the dirty, crowded part of Chelsea. I didn’t expect to find a great meal here, other than the hot bar at Whole Foods, but then I remembered that I had a freestanding invitation to dine at Highpoint Bistro and Bar. Well, okay.

Highpint Bistro and Bar is located on busy Seventh Avenue. It sits amidst nail salons, bars offering 2-for-one shots, and a few scattered fabric stores. Once you step inside, you leave all that behind. The bistro is slim but well designed, with comfortable tables and booths in the sunlit space. The high ceilings and long bar make it ideal for a leisurely lunch with a friend.

The menu is full of modern American dishes that take cues from Asian and Europe. Think your classic neighborhood joint with a bit more international flair.

Tuna Tartare Tacos with tobiko, avocado mousse, cucumber noodles, and spicy mayo

These 4 tiny tacos are an ideal starter because they are small enough to be light but flavorful enough to whet the appetite. Dices of mild tuna are marinated in a salty soy and ginger mixture, then topped with ruby beads of tobiko and a smooth cilantro-seasoned avocado mousse. Drag it though the Sriracha spiced mayo for a final touch of heat. The cucumber noodles are also delicious – sweet, sour, and a little spicy, they actually taste like al dente noodles.

Avocado BLT

The only way to make something with bacon better is to add avocado – Highpoint took that advice and did it to great effect. Buttery avocado lay on crisp, thickly cut bacon, juicy tomatoes and crunchy romaine lettuce. That same Sriracha mayonnaise added a bit of heat ot eh sandwich, and the combination of spicy, creamy, salty, and meaty, was thoroughly enjoyable. The one issue I had with this sandwich was that the bread was very dense and cottony – a thinner, more artisanal bread with better holes structure would better serve the excellent ingredients. The accompanying homemade potato chips were a bit salty, but overall a welcome side dish.

Spanish Flatbread Pizza with Manchego, Chorizo, and a Fried Egg

This pizza succeeds because it is properly titled – it is a flatbread/pizza hybrid. Thicker than a flatbread, but less charred than a pizza. My expectations were met in every way. A bright tomato sauce under nutty manchego cheese, thick slices of spicy, garlicky chorizo, and a perfectly baked egg. The egg was runny and rich on the pizza, adding another layer of indulgence. The final, inspired touch was a pile of lightly dressed arugula, adding acidity to the dish. This was the winner of the day.

Highpoint Bistro is a fantastic addition to a part of the neighborhood where a nice restaurant is in high demand. Service is amiable, prices are fair, and the food is really high quality. Next time you need a break from the unrelenting heat, stop in at Highpoint Bistro, and treat yourself to a really delightful meal.

*Disclaimer: The restaurant paid for my meal. I was not required to write a review, and the opinions are my own and unbiased.*

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Pan con Tomate y Manchego

This recipe is not complicated, but it is devastatingly delicious.

I have written about my love for pan con tomate, that Catalan specialty of toasted bread, a garlic clove, and tomatoes. When I ate it at Jaleo, the addition of nutty manchego cheese added an entirely new element to the dish, and I knew I couldn’t wait long to make it at home.

This dish is extremely simple, so it requires the best possible ingredients. The best, most sour bread. The juiciest tomato. Aged manchego, which is mild, buttery, and similar to gouda. Don’t skimp on anything here. Right now, heirloom tomatoes are appearing in the farmers markets, and these juicy, sweet tomatoes are the best bet for your pan con tomate. You really want  one that is just 10 minutes from going bad. It should be tender to the touch and heavy for its size, ready to burst with liquid.

I am not going to say that’s what she said…

Pan con Tomate y Manchego

Ingredients:

4 slices peasant bread, toasted very crisp

1 large tomato, cut in half

1 clove garlic, peeled but not smashed

4 thin slices Manchego cheese (or a pile of thin Manchefo pieces. That’s what I used.)

1. Rub the clove of garlic over the hot toast. The clove will start to shred on the toast, and the savory, slightly spicy scent of garlic will waft up to you. Try not to drool.

2. Taking the tomato, rub the cut side over the bread. The tomato’s pulp and juices will saturate the bread, making the top slightly moist and staining it a light red.

3. Lay the shreds of Manchego over the bread, and serve.

When I say serve, what I mean is eat. This is a portion size for one person. I don’t care how big the pieces of bread are or how many slices of pizza you have eaten before this meal. It is impossible to stop eating this. The bread remains crusty on the bottom, but the top layers become delightfully spongy, saturated with sweet, tomatoey juices. The garlicky taste is very slight, but adds a bright, hot note to the dish. And the Mangecho is the final touch. It adds salt and fat to the dish, almost melting into the still warm toast. This is elegant enough to serve at a cocktail party but hearty enough to serve as a meal, with a side salad or soup.

It also goes great with a good salami, but, then, what doesn’t?

Now I will say it…

That’s what she said.