Monday, July 9, 2012

Doug's Slow Cooker Italian Beef

So this recipe is comes from my father-in-law and is one that is a homemade version of the classic Chicago sandwich, the Italian Beef.  There are notable differences, the main one being shredded beef vs the authentic, super-thin, deli-sliced beef and the fact that it's braised in a slow cooker rather than slow roasted in an oven.  Despite these differences, the flavor is amazing and therefore renders all arguments as to the authenticity of this recipe a mute point.  This makes a good bit, as well, so you can have a nice little dinner party or some delicious sandwiches for lunches all week long.

We've done a couple of variations to the original recipe that was passed on and I'm sure others will try some variations of their own, altering it in infinite ways.  We've used beer or red wine for the braising liquid, added sliced onions or peppers for some different flavors, and used a variety of herbs and spices and condiments to see what piques the taste buds in new and interesting ways.  Feel free to doctor it up any way you see fit and be sure to tell us so we can try it if it comes out well.

To go with a Chicago dish we naturally turn to a Chicago band that needs no introduction.  We've featured them before and probably will again at some point because they've been around that long and they're just that good.  Screeching Weasel is one of my favorite go-to punk bands when it comes to feeling nostalgic and returning mentally to the days of my youth, so I couldn't help but go with the song "Hey Suburbia" as suburbia was where I grew up for the most part. -justin

Time: 6-12 hr
Difficulty: Easy
Serves: 6-8
  • 1 medium onion, about a cup
  • 4 tbsp minced garlic
  • 5 tsp beef bullion or beef base
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 8 oz peperoncini with liquid
  • 2 cups water
  • 22 oz beer
  • 2.5 lbs of boneless beef chuck roast (or other fat laced beef shoulder cut)
Simply add all ingredients to slow cooker and set on low for 10-12 hrs or high for 6-7 hrs.  When done, shred the beef with forks, or other suitable utensils, and add back to braising liquid.  Serve on a crusty Italian bread roll with some shredded cheese; we prefer mozzarella.  To be truly Chi-town authentic, you'd need to top it with some giardinara and dip your roll in the braising liquid, or "juice", before loading it up and serving.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


I'm stoked about this recipe, not so much because they were good (and they were!), but because I feel like this has gotten me one step closer to a different recipe!  We grew up outside of Chicago and there's a renaissance fair that's just over the Wisconsin border called the Bristol Renaissance Faire.  They serve the regular ren-fair food, but there's always been a stand there that serves beer and cheese fritters.  These cheese fritters have got to be on my Top 5 Best Things I Ever Ate list.  My aunt has had a booth up there for years and I even tried to get my cousin to get the recipe from the guys there, but no such luck.  These hushpuppies were way good... and now I have a little bit more of an idea on how to go about making those ultimate cheese fritters.

I heard the Riverdales the other day and hadn't thought of them in a LONG time.  I had a friend in college who loved these guys... hometown boys from Chicago!  What does "Prince of Space" have to do with hushpuppies?  Absolutely nothing.  But it does make me think that's exactly what Lumpy Space Princess needs.  It makes Justin think of MST3K.  As you can see, we lead very uninteresting lives.  -jen

Prep Time: 15 minutes, Fridge Time: 1 hour, Cook Time: 2.5 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Makes: 20 hushpuppies
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup corn flour (or grind cornmeal in food processor)
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon KFC copycat seasoning (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 green onions, finely diced
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon jalapeños, diced fine
  • 1/2 cup fresh sweet corn 
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add green onions, garlic, jalapeños, and corn.  Mix in beaten eggs until combined.

In a small sauce pan, bring milk and butter just to a boil, remove from heat.  Mix the milk into the dry ingredients, half at a time.  Add shredded cheese and refrigerate for one hour.

Preheat deep fryer or 4" of vegetable oil in a skillet to 350 degrees.  In heaping tablespoons increments, drop refrigerated dough carefully into heated oil.  Cook for 2.5 minutes, turning once to cook evenly.  Serve hot.  We dipped ours in tzatziki, which was a nice refreshing dip that went well with the slightly spicy hushpuppies!

Note:  I thought I might like a little sweetness to the batter, so with the leftover batter that I didn't use (maybe about 1/2 the batter), I put a heaping tablespoon of honey in.  It lent just a touch of sweetness and I think I'd probably use it in my next batch... or maybe a tablespoon of sugar.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Rich & Creamy Mac & Cheese

As I've stated before, we are always looking for a better mac & cheese recipe as it is, in my humble opinion, the ultimate comfort food.  If you were of the poorer persuasion as a child, then you undoubtedly grew up with the store bought stuff in a blue box (we all know what brand I'm referring to, hopefully) and while that is a suitable quick fix, I've got a recipe that doesn't take very long that comes out better by several orders of magnitude.  This can be doctored any way you like.  I decided to go with bacon and green onions at Jen's request and I believe it worked beautifully.  But you could do roasted garlic, or leeks, or add green beans, or sausage or pepperoni, or whatever you like!  Incidentally, you can use almost any cheese, or cheeses, you want with this so get creative if you feel like it.  Just remember that the harder a cheese is, generally, the more oily it'll be when it melts.  I went with some Colby Jack as it's a good all around cheese for flavor and meltiness and also used some Smoked Gouda to stretch the smokey flavor without overpowering the dish with bacon (is there such a thing?).

To accompany this musically, I went with an old favorite, Down By Law.  Their album Punkrockacademyfightsong is a classic and one I've listened to so often that I know it by heart.  My favorite song on there is without a doubt 1944 so I went with that, though I listened to most of the album again, just to be sure.  It's that good.

Mac & Cheese
Time: 45 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Serves: 4-6

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


  • 4-6 cups water
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1 lb Rigatoni or Rotini pasta (these hold the sauce well but use whatever you like)
In large stock pot or dutch oven, bring water and salt to a rolling boil.  Add the pasta and return to a boil.  Reduce to simmer and cook for 12 minutes or until your pasta is al dente.  Remove from heat and drain in a colander.  Place back in pot and cover till compiling the dish.

  •  2 strips thick cut bacon, diced
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup shallot, minced
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 cups heavy cream (if you like a thinner sauce also use an additional cup of whole milk)
  • 12 oz cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup green onion, diced
In a small skillet, heat bacon over medium high heat until crisp, 4-5 minutes, stirring as needed.  Drain off excess grease and set bacon aside.  In a 2 qt saucepan, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat and add shallots when the butter has melted.  Cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes or until your shallots start to brown a little.  Add the flour and stir in thoroughly.  Reduce heat to medium low and brown the flour for 2 minutes.  Add the salt and pepper and heavy cream (milk as well if you are using it).  Return heat to medium high and bring the cream to a low boil.  Add 8 oz of the grated cheese, reserving a third for later use, and the green onions and crisp bacon.  Stir continuously until cheese has melted completely.

Add your cheese sauce to the drained pasta and mix thoroughly.  Spoon the cheese sauce and pasta into a 2 qt, glass baking dish, sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese, and place in the 350 degree oven for 5 -10 minutes or until the top cheese is melted.  Serve immediately and enjoy the cheesy creaminess!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Garlic-Yogurt Chicken Pitas; Tzatziki; & Green Hummus with Pita Chips

We had our good friend Lua over for dinner tonight and wanted to do something that would be simple and fast, but still have a bit of a "wow factor".  Justin and I had been talking about a yogurt marinade recently and having company seemed like a good reason to do it (not that we really needed a reason).  So we went with a Mediterranean themed dinner.  

What I really like about these three dishes is that I used lots of the same ingredients in everything, so everything just stayed on the counter and got used again and again.  That's actually how I came up with the green hummus!  I had the intention of just making my regular recipe... but then I had the 3 green onions leftover, the mint, and some parsley from when we did our Italian Chopped Salad.  I was super stoked about how it came out all herby and delicious.  J and I both decided that every recipe listed below was perfect... lots of times we make a recipe, like it, make it the next time, change it a little, make it again, change it a little.  With these, we decided there wasn't room for improvement.  We liked them all just as they are.  (It was a pretty awesome compliment from Justin.)

The song playing right now in our kitchen, as I was typing this up and deciding what kind of music to post, is Bouncing Souls' "Letters From Iraq".  I think it's technically "Fourth of July Weekend", since the 4th is this Wednesday.  -jen

Prep time: 10 minutes, Cook time: 15-20 minutes
Difficulty: Way Easy
Serves:  6-8
  • 1.5 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • zest of 3/4 large lemon (use remaining zest for tzatziki)
  • juice of 1/2 large lemon (use remaining juice for tzatziki)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon dill
  • 2 teaspoons fresh mint, chopped 
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon Accent (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 pounds chicken breast, sliced into strips about the width of 2 fingers
  • pitas, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, hummus, tzatziki, feta cheese
In a medium bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients (except the chicken - that's hard to whisk).  Combine chicken strips and yogurt marinade in a gallon Ziploc and marinate for at least an hour (longer is optimal!)

The chicken would probably be better grilled, but it's a lousy day so we're baking it.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Lightly oil a baking sheet, then line up chicken strips on pan and pour remaining marinade over them.  Bake at 350 F for 15-20 minutes (depending on the size of the strips, check with meat thermometer or cook until juices run clear).

Serve on a toasted pita with lettuce, tomato, onion, and cucumber.  We like to spread some hummus on the pita and top the pita with tzatziki.  Sprinkle with some crumbled feta cheese.

Time:  35 minutes
Difficulty:  Easy
Makes:  2 cups
  • 1 cucumber, de-seeded and diced fine
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • juice of 1/2 large lemon (use other half in chicken marinade)
  • zest of 1/4 large lemon (use remaining 3/4 in chicken marinade)
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 green onion, diced fine
  • 1/2 teaspoon dill
  • 2 teaspoons fresh mint, chopped fine
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon Accent (optional)
  • ground black pepper to taste
Place diced cucumber in a strainer over a bowl.  Toss evenly with 1 teaspoon salt and let drain for 1/2 hour to 1 hour.  Squeeze out excess juice.  Discard juice and combine the cucumber with Greek yogurt.  Add all remaining ingredients and mix.  Serve on pita sandwiches, as a dip with toasted pita, or as a fresh vegetable dip.

Time:  5-10 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Makes: 1 cup (maybe 1.5 cups)
Need:  Food processor or blender
  • 1 can (14.5oz) garbanzo beans, drained
  • 2 heaping tablespoons tahini 
  • 3 green onions, rough chopped
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, rough chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint, rough chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (depending on taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • few grinds of fresh black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Combine all ingredients except the olive oil in the food processor.  While blending, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until desired consistency.  Blend for 2 minutes on high until completely smooth.  Same application as tzatziki - use in pita sandwiches, to dip toasted pita or tortilla chips in, or as a fresh veggie dip.

Time:  15 minutes
  • pitas
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • Zatar seasoning (optional, but awesome)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cut pita into 1/8 sections.  Place in a single layer on baking sheet.  Brush tops with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and Zatar.  Bake for 5 minutes.  Turn pieces over and bake another 5 minutes, or until crisp.   Can be eaten with both hummus and tzatziki.