Wednesday, November 7, 2012

New England-Style Grilled Cheese, with Home-Made Honey Viniagrette Salad, and Tomato Soup

Since the weather is cold and clammy due to the Nor'easter, I decided to make one of my favorite "rainy night" meals--grilled cheese and tomato soup.  I also decided to do my weekly chicken baking at the same time since I would be using the oven for the grilled cheese.  What I mean by "weekly chicken baking" is, that each week, I buy the "club pack" size of chicken at Wegman's (usually around 12 boneless, skinless, chicken cutlets) and I cook up 8 of them in the oven with some herbs and spices, let them cool and either shred them or cut them up into smaller pieces and put them in Ziploc bags in the fridge.  This way, I have cooked chicken already on hand for busy nights when I have school--I can just take a handful, add taco seasoning, or sloppy joe seasoning, to make a quick meal. 

I also take the chicken and use it as a topping for various types of salad that I bring to school in my Bento box (that's the subject of my next post, btw!).  For instance, for a "Tex-Mex" salad, I sprinkle the chicken with cumin and lime juice and top my salad with the chicken, rinsed black beans, diced purple onion, and a little sprinkle of cilantro.  For the dressing, I mix sour cream with some of my salsa, and add a few drops of hot sauce.  Voila, instant Tex-Mex.  For my sides in my Tex-Mex box, I put some more black beans, mixed with a little lime juice, and some of the purple onions.  In the bottom box, I put some salsa and bring some chips in a baggie.  I make myself a rice ball and sprinkle it with cumin for a snack.

That's just a teaser, I'll post the rest of my Bento box salad ideas in the next post.  :)  Back to the grilled cheese!  Now, being a New Englander, the only way I make grilled cheese is with either white American sliced cheese or sharp cheddar sliced cheese.  I'm not a cheese racist in the least, the white American just melts better and tastes creamier in my opinion.  And, it's a long-standing tradition handed down from my grandparents, so it works for me.

Here's how I do grilled cheese.  There are three of us in the family, but Jeremy doesn't like tomato soup so I make him two grilled cheeses instead. 

New England-Style Grilled Cheese
8 slices of whole-grain "white" bread
4 slices (or more if you like it really cheesy, like the boy) of white-American cheese
"real" Mayonnaise, for spreading (now, for those of you who are going "eww," relax, it will turn out great, trust me.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Place a pizza stone or cookie sheet on the middle rack.  Spread each slice of bread with the mayonnaise on one side.  Open the oven, pull out the middle rack.  Place 4 slices of the mayonnaised bread, mayo facing down, evenly spaced apart.  Place a slice of cheese on each piece of bread, then top with the 4 remaining slices of bread, mayo side facing up.  Close the oven and let the sandwiches bake until the down facing side is golden brown, about 5-7 minutes, depending on your oven.  Flip the sandwiches over, then bake for a further 5-7 minutes, or until also golden brown.  Let sandwiches cool slightly, then slice them diagonally and serve with the tomato soup.  Now, this is where you'll notice the difference between using softened butter and mayo.  The egg in the mayo causes the bread to crust up really well, so the sandwich is nice and crunchy and the oil leaves a nice shine on the bread.  I accidentally stumbled across this when I forgot we were out of butter when I was making grilled cheese and didn't want to use oil.  I saw the jar of mayo on the counter, and had a lightbulb moment. 

Tomato Soup

1 can of Campell's Condensed Tomato Soup

Open can of soup and empty into a saucepan, add a can of.... who am I kidding?  If you don't know how to make tomato soup, I am so, so sorry.

Finally, on to the salad.  I wanted to serve a protein with my meal as I knew Hubs would be starving when he got home from work so I decided to take four of the chicken cutlets left over from my club pack and flatten them out and roll a couple of salami slices up in them to make mini-pinwheels as a garnish for our salad.  (Here's the thing with me that my Hubs and son sometimes find really anal about me, my insistence on the fact that there must be a protein and a vegetable or fruit with every meal).   I also love making my own salad dressings and viniagarettes, it's a lot cheaper and there are no preservatives.

Honey-Mustard Viniagarette Chicken Salad with mini-Chicken Pinwheels  

4 boneless, skinless chicken thigh cutlets
6-8 slices of Genoa salami (from the deli counter)
Penzey's Shallot Pepper seasoning (or, just use a lot of pepper)  (
Onion powder
Garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste

Get out a cutting board.   Open each cutlet out onto the board, evenly spaced apart.  Cover the cutlets with a sheet of waxed paper, making sure the cutlets are completely covered.  Press the waxed paper firmly into the chicken.  Take a meat mallet (I actually use my old wooden rolling pin that the handle fell out it, hold it vertically and use it that way as a mallet.  I find it's faster as it covers more surface area) and pound out thinly to a 1/4" thickness.  Take off the waxed paper, and cover each cutlet with one or two slices of salami until surface of the cutlets is completely covered with salami.  Starting at one of the short ends of the cutlet, tightly roll up each cutlet, securing with toothpicks if needed (I didn't).  Place rolled cutlets, seam side down on a greased baking sheet.  Sprinkle each roll with the spices and salt and pepper.  Place in a pre-heated 375 degree oven and bake until chicken reaches 160 degrees with a meat thermometer, or until juices run clear.  Let chicken cool cocompletely, then slice into 1/4" wide slices, starting from one of the short ends.  Add more salt and pepper to the sides of the pinwheels if desired.  Place the chicken over a bed of lettuce, spring mix, or other desired salad greens.  Drizzle the salad, especially the chicken pinwheels, with the honey-mustard vinaigrette.  Recipe follows.

Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette  Also makes a great marinade for chicken wings or baked chicken breast/thighs.

1/3 C. red wine vinegar
1/3 C. vegetable (or olive if you want a stronger tasting oil) oil
1 tsp. McCormick Italian seasoning
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Colman's English mustard (I LOVE this stuff, Jamie Oliver turned me on to it) or, any other yellow mustard and add a little extra vinegar to counteract that Colman's has a high vinegar content than regular yellow mustard.
1/4 C. honey
1 TBSP of sugar, or a little less to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all of your spices with the mustard and let stand for 5 minutes, so the dried herbs can reconstitute.  Next, add the honey and combine.  Add the vinegar and whisk in the oil so it emulsifies.  Or, you can just do what I do, which works like a charm every time for oil & vinegar dressing--mix the honey/mustard/spice mixture into a clean jar with a lid, then add the vinegar and oil to the jar.  Screw on the lid and shake until dressing emulsifies.  This used to be the boy's job as a younger kid before supper.  He loved shaking the jar up and down.  Drizzle the dressing over the salad, especially the chicken or store refrigerated to use later as a marinade.

Here's a photo of the finished meal.  Toddy thought my plating looked professional looking.  Enjoy!

New England-Style Grilled Cheese, with Home-Made Honey Viniagrette Salad, and Tomato Soup

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Free Books! And Things I've Learned on My Commute, or a Handy Travel Guide For People Traveling I-95 Through Baltimore

Free books!  No, sorry, not for you, for me!  As many of you know, Stratford University, where I attend as a Culinary Student, recently took over the old Baltimore International College, which lost its national accreditation.  Stratford is a modern, progressive university and they are cleaning house, literally.  They consolidated two lumbering college buildings, several miles from each other (a real pain, I tell you) into one modern, updated building.  This included renovating the library and moving it to the other building.  They also wanted to update the library so they are literally vomiting out boxes of free books in boxes in the hallways for students to take.

You know me, I am a complete bibliophile.  Both of my parents were voracious readers and my childhood home was lined with bookcases EVERYWHERE.  My friends used to joke that our house should be called "The Library."  Both loved their books and couldn't bear to throw them away, so they'd keep them and reread them from time to time.  My sister and I never had to buy a book for ourselves, we'd read theirs, and if we wanted to get a new book, we were never told "no" when it came to books.  We've each collected a "Library" of our own over our lifetimes.  This was in the days before e-readers, so we physically had a lot of books on our shelves.

So, when the boxes were put out there again today (this is the third time they've purged as they got more new books for us) you know I was right there, picking through the books like a fiend, not unlike the tag-salers I used to get at my yard sales in Puerto Rico.  I made a "pile" and kept my eagle eyes open for any cookbooks.  I ended up with (ahem) ALL cookbooks, except for one tiny tome on what life was like during the London Blitz for the various writers and playwrights.  Here's a pic of my haul:

Okay, so maybe some of these may be circa 1978, but they HAD stoves back then, people.

Mind you, I missed out because it was my Hospitality Supervision class tonight so I only had my cute, little Japanese vinyl tote with the kokeshi dolls on it that barely holds my textbook, a 1-subject spiral notebook, and if I squeeze it in the right way, a pen.  If I'd had my backpack with me for Culinary classes, I could have filled that sucker right up.

I ended up getting home early tonight as we only had a mid-term and some library research, so we left at 8:15.  I got home at 8:45 (no, I wasn't speeding, I got lucky and there was no traffic) and Hubs and the boy were still up and sitting in the living room.  I had my arms full of books, so I had to kick the front door with my boot instead of ringing the doorbell.

The boy opened the door, saw my books, and like all teenagers do when they feel their parents are ridiculous, rolled his eyes at me and said, "'Sup."  Then he put his earbuds in and proceeded to pretend that he had ever seen me.  I then saw some suspicious bruises on his neck (after he'd spent all afternoon at his girlfriend's house) and proceeded to go off on him about the white-trashiness of hickey necklaces and then my volume button seriously went up...  OMG, you're not going to that girl's house anymore, obviously you're not being supervised over there, I don't want to be a 43-year old grandma, I raised you better than that... OKAY, whew!  I think he got my point.  Back to normal blood pressure and blogging.  (Seriously?  Hickeys?  W.T.F).

So, after normalcy had returned, and Hubs stopped looking at me like I had turned into a Lycan in front of his eyes, I set my pile of books down on the table.  Warily, he eyed my loot and said, "Um, I do hope some books are going to be leaving the house to make room for these new ones."  "Well, these are for my CAREER," I replied, smiling sweetly at him.  "They're considered to be Professional Gear when we do our final government move."  "Huh." he said and resumed watching the election results.  (Silly man, I know half the crap in your <air quotes> Professional Gear is actually arty photography books and photos from your period of being obsessed with photographing mannequins--I can play that game, too).

Seriously though, I DO plan on using these books in a professional capacity.  Hubs and I had been looking into the idea of starting with a food truck, but after I got a couple of books on how to operate a food truck business, he practically had to scrape me off the floor when I found out that these so-called "roach coaches" now cost a tidy sum--around $50,000-$70,000 just to buy the truck and basic equipment.  Whoa Nellie!  The Cheapo Chicos can't afford that.  So Hubs, being the resourceful ex-Senior Chief that he is, had a lightbulb moment and said, "DRMO!"  I was like, "Was that English?"  What he was referring to, for you non-Navy types (and twits like me) is the government's liquidation program for stuff they no longer need.  Turns out, they have a huge website of all sorts of discarded equipment they no longer need, most of it barely used, and you can buy it on the cheap.

Hubs found some mobile kitchens on the website from both the Army and the Marine Corps--probably they'd been used in Iraq or Afghanistan, and they no longer needed them with the military troop drawdown.  He went down there tonight to look at them and he is confident they will meet our needs.  They have coolers, freezers, steam tables, steam kettles, flat top grills, 6-burner stoves, dishwashers, prep areas AND ALL OF THE POTS, PANS, AND UTENSILS.  It's like a complete restaurant in a box.  We are going to put a bid on a couple of them this weekend when the auction opens.

For those of you who don't know, our plan, when we move to Maine, is to buy some property in a rural area near the numerous snowmobile/4-wheeler trails and park ourselves right near the end(s) of the trails to serve all the hungry people who've been in the woods on the trails all day.  Hot soups and hot comfort food in the winter for the snowmobilers, and gourmet sandwiches, salads, and refreshing drinks in the summer for the 4-wheelers.  Sounds like a win-win to us.  Plus, we'd be selling produce, herbs, and honey from Hubs, the Gentleman Farmer which we'd grow on our land.  I can't wait!!!

Of course, to achieve this dream, yours truly has to get through and graduate from Culinary School.  To do so, I have to commute 20-something miles to downtown Baltimore several times a week on I-95 to do so.  I thought I'd share some of my observations I've seen on my commute and also provide a sort of "Travel Guide" to those who might repeat my journey.

Things I've Learned on My Commute, or a Handy Travel Guide For People Traveling I-95 Through Baltimore

1. People in MD don't know how to merge.  They think the acceleration lane to get onto 95 means you must slow down and then pull out at the last second, never mind there is a semi in the right lane.

2.  People automatically turn into sheeple when they get within two miles of the White Marsh or Towson/Essex exits.  You really can't blame them; those areas were complete messes for years until they rearranged the traffic patterns so it's natural that they'd be idiots.

3. Toll collectors at the Ft. McHenry tunnel do not appreciate being handed a twenty dollar bill for a three dollar toll.  They will let you know this by sighing loudly, taking their time to count back your change--usually all in one dollar bills--and thrusting your change back at you.  Conversely, they do not appreciate being blasted by Linkin Park or inadvertent cigarette exhalations.  Noted.

4.  Remember to roll your windows up before going into the Ft. McHenry tunnel, otherwise you will go temporarily deaf and you will experience a ringing in the ears for awhile after.  (Also, your teacher will not be pleased when he has to call your name several times for the attendance).  Roll your windows back down so your ears can pop from the altitude difference from the tunnel.

5.  Even though you are a die-hard New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox fan, DO remember to stop by the Beverage Barn to pick up the pocket-sized Baltimore Ravens and Baltimore Orioles schedules.  That way when you are coming off I-395 into the city by Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, you can avoid going down Conway St., bypassing both the traffic and the rabid Baltimore "Birds" fans.

6.  When you have gone past the Inner Harbor and are getting into Little Italy where Stratford is located, roll your windows up again, so when you are stopped at the numerous stoplights, you can avoid the people trying to wash your windshield for you, or the people who brazenly walk up to you and ask if they can buy a cigarette for thirty cents.  Click. Doors. Locked.

7.  Upon parking in the lot at Stratford, grab your 150 tons of Culinary gear (my textbook actually weighs 10 LBS.--I weighed it) and head in for class, locking your doors so no one steals your toll money again, forcing you to give the toll collector the $20 bill in your wallet.

8.  Ah...4.5 hours later, your class is over!  Check all around your vehicle and make sure you have the pepper spray out.  You can't take any chances, a woman jogging in Fell's Point was dragged into an alley last week by a man with a knife and sexually assaulted, and that's literally right.around.the.corner. Quickly unlock and leap into your car, locking the door immediately.  Set radio to 98 Rock, knowing they will play Linkin Park right when you are getting to the toll booth, yay!

9.  After going through the tunnel & toll again (this time, deciding at the last minute to be considerate and turning your radio down) race out of the toll lane in low gear, knowing you've got to outrace all the semis barreling along next to you.  You push your 12-year old, valve-challenged car to its limits, but yes!  You've managed get up the steep hill without being squished between two semis.

10. At the top of the hill, roll down your window and breathe in through your nostrils deeply.  Suddenly, the pungent smell of Old Bay hits your olfactory senses and you are in heaven.  You've just gone over the factory where they still make it.  Mmmmm...

11.  Still enjoying your Old Bay buzz, lazily look out your window to the left to view the beautiful neon artistry of the Natty Boh sign and the Dominos Sugar signs.  Pure artistic bliss...  Okay, eyes back on the road!!!

12.  Cackle to one's self as all the through-staters barrel past you in the left lane, going 70 in a 55 mph zone.  Ha ha, through-staters, the rest of us with MD plates know about the Staties hiding up the road and of course, the locations of the speed cameras.  Yep, you can have my ticket, New Jersey!

13.  The stretch of interstate after the Towson/Essex exit is nice and dark, perfect for picking that surreptitious annoying booger.  (C'mon, admit it, we've all done it).

14. Warning!  Bears in the trees at mile markers 69.2, 69.9, and 72--almost ALWAYS.  Hey, Smokey, we're not that stupid.

15.  Getting ready to go over Gunpowder Falls and it's nice and dark.  Good time to rearrange the bra (or, to take care of any remaining boogers).

16.  ACK!  Fallston Exit.  Bright...lights...cannot...see.  Quick check in mirror to make sure boobs and boogers are where they should be, lest any other drivers see me in this prison yard lighting.

17.  Exit 77B!  You've made it.  DO turn on your hi-beams to avoid nature's creatures.  I once almost clotheslined a deer and scared the shit out of a godzilla-coon coming off the exit.  I like to hunt deer, not hit them with my car.

18.  I hope you enjoyed experiencing my commute with me.  Oh, and if you're ever in MD and you cut me off, I will roll down my window and flick a booger at you.

(Seriously, the booger thing only happened to me once.  I blew my nose into a tissue and had a hitchhiker that would not for the life of me, come off the end of my nose.  Then again, I've seen so many people drilling their noses for gold around here, it probably was mild compared to that--love y'all, Beck)