grilled cheese

July 8, 2013 Comments Off on grilled cheese

L and I have been–obsessively–watching David Chang’s “Mind of a Chef” on Netflix.  It’s the best food TV there is–maybe the best TV there is.  Chang comes off as a kind of overgrown frat boy, but behind the exhortations to “crush it, dude!” there’s a lot of genuine thought about the food he makes at Momofuku and that he appreciates elsewhere.  Which is mostly Japan.

We watched the episode “Simple” last night, and in it one of Japan’s leading yakitori chefs explained that his customers don’t want to be surprised, necessarily.  They’ve chosen to have yakitori for dinner, they’ve chosen his place, they know what they want.  His job, he felt, was to give them what they wanted, but to make the best possible yakitori–and to maybe rise above it just a little bit.

That kind of rings true with the simple stuff I’ve tried to get my head around.  Pizza–making the perfect pizza margherita is impossible, but getting as close as you can and trying some variation here and there is immensely rewarding.  Same goes for mac’n’cheese.  And then there’s C’s daily lunch.  “What do you want for lunch,” I’ll yell up the stairs, knowing full well what the answer is.

“Grilled cheese?” he’ll always ask, his voice rising as if, this one day out of hundreds, that won’t be possible.

J. Lopez Kenji-Alt had a good primer on the ultimate grilled cheese back in April, the gist of which was that you’re insane if you just put a piece of cheese between two slices of white bread, chuck it in a skillet, and hope for the best.  The bread insulates the cheese, the center never gets crispy, you’re missing out on the mouthfeel of a totally crisped pair of bread slices.  What he recommends is grilling the bread first, then adding the cheese to the toasted sides of the bread, putting the raw sides back into a re-buttered skillet, and grilling until well browned.


Et voila.  Does it help that I made a loaf of buttery brioche with the leftover from the turkeyburger buns?  Absolutely.  This is the best stuff in the world to make grilled cheeses with. The fat in the bread helps it brown up nicely, and if you make it light enough, it has an english-muffin-like propensity to soak up the butter in the pan.  I use Organic Valley american cheese slices, which aren’t as salty (i.e., good) as Kraft, but C understands the concession, there.  And if you use two of them on top of one another, you get the perfect ratio of bread to cheese goo.

A nice, light crunch on the outside, and a similar crunch on the inside just before your teeth hit the cheese.  C is usually a 2/3 sandwich eater, but ever since the double-grilled technique hit the table, there’s never been more than a crust that’s come back to the kitchen.

Simple.  Tending toward perfect.



July 6, 2013 Comments Off on fourth

We live in an immensely practical state.  Fireworks for the 4th of July get spread out over three days in our little corner of the place–the big city politely gets theirs out of the way on the 3rd, leaving the suburbs to fire all of theirs off on the 4th.  This means the smaller towns get to go on the 5th–Friday this year.  The result?  Everyone gets to see two or three fireworks displays, and none of the small places get abandoned by people looking for bigger and better shows.  

I got the kids back on the 3rd, leaving my folks to go see the ones in the big city.  There was a concert beforehand, and my folks, being my folks, left before the fireworks started to beat the traffic.  We went there on the 4th to watch all of the suburbs fire theirs off–from the condo balcony we counted five major displays, plus uncountable backyard pyrotechnics that barely made it above the tree line.  My mom made brats for us and turkey burgers for her and L, and while O went straight for the brats, she did point out that I’d never grilled turkey burgers for them before.

“And with good reason,” I told her.  “The reason people eat turkey burgers instead of beef burgers is to cut down on fat.”  And the way you make delicious stuff on the grill is to make sure whatever it is comes loaded with fat–either in the grillable itself, or slathered on to the outside of it.  Turkey?  Skinny stuff–fine for the oven if properly basted, but death by dryness on the grill.

Still, O persisted, and I looked up as many hacks as I could.  Ricotta cheese?  Bacon?  I went with a couple of egg yolks and a miso and mirin paste folded into ground turkey.  And the other strategy, which I figured was foolproof, was to make sure the burgers came loaded with toppings.  That way, if the meat ended up dry, at least there’d be some crunch and juiciness on top of it.


And were there toasted brioche buns to go with them?  There were.  This is the Jeffrey Hertzberg/Zoe Francis “Five Minute” brioche formula, albeit a little wetter and, therefore, a little bit puffier.  Brioche is a kid-week-only affair; even lightened up, the stuff has enough butter and egg yolk in it to quickly chew up a whole morning workout’s worth of calories.  Just the thing for two scrawny teenagers, though, and the leftovers will make for good grilled cheese sandwiches.

The results?  Fair.  The kids plowed through them and pronounced them fine, I thought they were still turkey burgers–a bit on the dry side, and even with the miso/mirin flavor bomb they still ended up tasting like toppings.  Which, given some organic tomatoes, bean sprouts, and blanched red onions, were hardly bad–just not the beefy hit that a good burger would give you.

The fireworks last night in our fair city were spectacular, of course.  O spent most of the display texting best friend A, who’s in town visiting for the week.  But C and I had a good time discussing the sublimity of the whole experience.  Fireworks, like Roman ruins or the Sears Tower, are very good at reminding you how very small you are, and I think C likes the idea that really, really big things put everyone–small people included, on a more or less even footing.

jokes, veggie burgers

May 21, 2013 Comments Off on jokes, veggie burgers

IMG_6134“What did one wall say to the other wall?”  C is assigned to keep me up to date on the latest middle school jokes.  I have a feeling that the ones about anatomically unusual gentlemen from Nantucket are self-censored.

“No idea.  Go on.”

“Meet you at the corner!”

Ugh.  “OK, ok, what did the piece of paper say to the pen?”

Cringe.  “You’re write!

“C, these are even more terrible than usual.”

“Wait, wait, wait…one more…what did the refrigerator say to the mustard and ketchup?”

“No idea.  I don’t even want to guess.”

NOTHING–kitchen appliances can’t talk!”

OK, ok, you got me.  Just like the one about ducks on two legs.  The kiddos are back, the weather has been that nice combination of sunny and stormy, and they’re starting to relax as the school year winds down.  It’s the best time of the year, if you discount the occasionally damp basement.

And I have what passes for an academic summer underway.  Teaching one class, which feels enough like a vacation.  So there are grilling plans afoot.  Ribs.  Chicken.  Brats.

Burgers should be on that list, but there’s a problem here.  C loves hamburgers, but what he really loves about them isn’t the burger, of course.  It’s the ketchup.  And O doesn’t like beef.  So there’s a split-the-difference approach here that involves veggie burgers.  Like everyone else on the planet, we think the store bought veggie burgers taste like, well, store bought veggie burgers.  We’ve done a couple of different black bean-based versions, and they’re fine.  But when Bon Appetit runs one?  We’ll try it.  For sure.

This month’s version mixes black beans with cooked rice instead of bread crumbs, and it uses a ton of spices, some pickled jalapeños, and an egg white to give it flavor and to approximate a burger-like consistency.  Throw those onto some freshly made and toasted brioche and you get not quite a hamburger, but (with enough tomato and onion on top) a reasonably good sandwich.  And if you throw the Alice Waters potatoes on the plate next to them (best recipe in the world–boil some new potatoes, then dry them, throw them into half a cup of hot olive oil and fry them for fifteen minutes.  Add salt) and you have two virtually guaranteed clean plates.

O had a chorus concert last night, so we did the dishes and scrambled.  And they got fro-yo for dessert, partly because after seeing the news from Oklahoma yesterday every parent in the world felt like indulging their kids a bit, and partly because I never got around to turning those fresh strawberries into ice cream.  That will happen today, though.


The best part of burger night?  If you happen to over bake?  And there are leftover brioche buns?  Breakfast.

these are things…

February 26, 2012 § 3 Comments

…that begin with B!  B is for…

Bibimbop!  One more entry in the pan-Asian, meal-in-a-bowl sweepstakes.  This, believe it or not, is a Cooking Light recipe, albeit souped up with some rice cakes.  It’s the same philosophy as ramen, just with rice instead of broth.  A layer of brown rice covered with marinated and/or sauteed carrots, sprouts, tofu, and (OK, this was our addition) Korean rice cakes and a fried egg.  Delish.  And it meant a visit to the intimidating but ultimately worthwhile Asian grocery across town for dark sesame oil.  C was impressed by the selection–though squid in a can was beyond both of us.  For the record, we didn’t even try this on them–they had spag last night, carbonara for her and marinara for him.  They’ve been experimented upon enough this stint.

OK, almost enough.  But this one was easy.  B is also for brioche!  I’ve been meaning to try this ever since we struck bready gold with challah over the holidays.  This is basically an eggy challah dough with a good whack of butter added, and the result was pretty stellar–light, delicate, just a bit oily and sweet.  Marie Antoinette apparently never said “let them eat cake,” she said, literally, “let them eat brioche,” and the difference between this and cake is really just another cup or two of sugar.  It’s been a huge hit for breakfast.  And lunch.  The kids are having sandwiches in front of the Oscars tonight and I’ve insisted that they have them on some fresh whole wheat baguette, which seems pretty spartan compared to this.  I’ve got about half the dough leftover, which should ferment nicely over the next couple of days and make some amazing cheeseburger buns sometime mid-week…

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