Monday, December 29, 2014

The Art of the Christmas Sandwiches

If you've known me long enough then you know that I have an affinity for the holidays and, more specifically, the food. Even more specific are the leftovers of Thanksgiving and Christmas which provide the ingredients for the seasonal Christmas Sandwiches (or Holiday Sandwiches if you prefer). Christmas Sandwiches are turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy packed into a dinner roll but there's a lot more that goes into it. As is the error with common sandwich shops or burger joints, you can't just throw a bunch of random stuff together and expect a complete synergy of deliciousness. There's an art about creating the perfect sandwich and today, my friends, I will break down the Christmas Sandwich for you.

Step 1) The Rolls: I've had a lot of problems with holiday dinner rolls over the years with the main problem being that they generally just suck. Really. It's hard to find a good dinner roll. Thankfully the roll doesn't make or break the sandwich so we can be liberal about what we choose. For this demonstration I'm creating a "Christmas Sandwich Sampler" plate with four different rolls as follows:

Four different rolls will give us four distinctly different sandwiches

2) Butter the Rolls: Cut the roll in half and then use butter or margarine or whatever imitation dairy product you prefer and spread it on the interior of BOTH SIDES. Even if you have the dullest, lamest, most disgusting dinner rolls, adding a thin layer of butter will help provide extra flavor.

Just like with mayo, you don't want to be too generous with the butter, otherwise it's just disgusting

3) The Main Ingredients: Obviously you'll need the main staples of a gourmet holiday dinner. I like to try and split the plate into thirds and use an even amount of turkey, potatoes, and stuffing. Then top everything with gravy. It should look like a traditional "day after" meal:

You'll find it challenging not to dig right in following the reheat, but be patient

4) Heating Up and Prep: Microwave your leftovers until everything is hot. Note: the potatoes heat up slower than the turkey and stuffing, so be sure to mix them with a fork during microwaving to speed up the process and keep things even. When everything is good to go, you should have a presentation that looks something like this:

If you think this is gonna be too much food then just think of them as sliders

5) Stuffing the Sandwich: This is the tricky part. Some people have no respect for proper layering or technique which is a big no-no. If you slap all the stuff into the roll like you're working at Quiznos then your sandwich is gonna taste like a regurgitated tissue, and I don't think you want that. It's important to first start with the turkey. The protein ALWAYS goes on the bottom. Top that with the stuffing and THEN use the mashed potatoes as a paste to keep everything in place. Feel free to top with a little more gravy and then put in the microwave for 20-30 seconds (to heat up the bread and melt the butter):

Your sandwiches should look something like this following assembly. Note the layering

6) Closing the Sandwich: If you refer back to the image for step 2, notice that I didn't cut the rolls all the way through. This is a personal choice as when I close the sandwich up I like the idea of being able to gently pack all the ingredients in. Another option is to cut them all the way through and then top the sandwich as if it were a burger. It's entirely up to you.

Christmas Sandwich Sampler

7) Other Options: Sometimes I top the goods with a little cranberry sauce which is entirely up to you. I've also heard of putting in sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and even pumpkin pie. Again, it's whatever you want, but I prefer to stick with traditional ingredients. Once your sandwich is stuff it:

With a thin layer of cranberry sauce

Hey, I hope you found this tutorial useful. If you wanna get the most of your sandwiches then it's always important to approach them with a plan. These sandwiches, like all of the others I made this holiday season, were absolutely stunning and delicious. Give it a try. 

Happy Holidays! 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Perky Jerky!

Once upon a time there was a brand of beef jerky that wanted to do things a little differently. As the 21st century marches on so do the marvels of modern research and the ever expanding knowledge we're obtaining about the gourmet that we put into our bodies. No longer should we have to be at the mercy of large companies that want to tell us what we should be eating because they can afford large marketing budgets to deliver their messages. No longer should we have to settle for healthy alternatives that taste like coagulated horse spit because we can't make vegan cheeseburgers taste like the real thing. No longer should we be trying to replicate the great tastes of unhealthy food when the right choice of action is to instead INNOVATE AND CREATE SOMETHING NEW.

That, my friends, is the badass sensation known only as...Perky Jerky.

I'm such a newb that I cracked into one of the bags BEFORE taking a picture. Yeah, I'm not perfect but I'm pretty damn close

So what we got here as far as I'm concerned is the new leader in beef jerky. Unless you're getting something that's locally harvested and sold in the bed of Farmer John's truck then you're probably not gonna find many other jerkies out there that maintain as high a quality as this one. Let's check out the plusses here:

All Natural: Well, as my mom says, heroin is all natural so you can't always take "all natural" to mean something you can pig out on. But when you look at the list of ingredients you can actually PRONOUNCE THE WORDS with the first ingredient ingeniously being REAL SLICES OF BEEF.

Gluten Free: I actually have no idea what the hell this means but for people who can't have gluten this is good news, right?

No Nitrates: Nitrates are crap. You find a lot of them in deli meats and of course other brands of jerky stock you up on the stuff. Check Jack Link's site and you'll see sodium nitrates in the ingredients.

No MSG: Yeah, unless they're talking about Madison Square Garden I have no idea what this means. BUT ALRIGHT! NO MSG!

No Preservatives: I think nitrates are actually used in the preservation process so while redundant this reinforces the idea that there aren't any nitrate crappers in here.

Further, these are MADE IN THE USA and just in case you haven't wet the front of your pants from excitement, they also donate a portion of their profits to research and care for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and Down Syndrome. What's not to like? And at $5 it's actually cheaper than whatever gargantuan amount Jack Link's is trying to sell their stuff for these days. 

The jerky itself is really good. Truthfully I couldn't tell much difference between the three flavors in the picture but you definitely get the contrast of sweetness and heat with a hint of almost a fruity savoriness to it. 

I had actually gotten out of the jerky thing when Jack Link's inflated their jerky prices from $5 to $7.50 in the span of two years. Yeah, beef is expensive but what's the point of spending my lunch money on a snack? Further, Jack Link's rode the shoulders of Sasquatch into the Greg's Gourmet Hall of Shame a couple years ago with the pathetic marketing ploy of a "Bonus Bag: 10% More FREE" promotion. Their goal, of course, was to make you THINK you're getting more product but when you're a smartass food blogger like me you learn to see through those things. Sure enough, the weight and portion sizes were exactly the same as their normal bag and when I contacted them for an explanation they admitted that it's just a bigger bag, nothing more. Yes, they were trying to sell a bigger bag to trick you into thinking you're getting more product. Companies do this all the time but this was so abysmally bad that it earned a front-row ticket to my equivalent of the Razzies. 

Anywho, Perky Jerky: Greg's Gourmet approved. Give it a try. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Greatest Mashed Potatoes in the Universe

Let me break it down for you: my mashed potatoes are the best in the world and quite possibly the universe. That's not arrogance that's just honesty. The truth is that mashed potatoes in general are made with flaws because to get the perfect creamy texture you have to actually put some work into them that a lot of restaurants don't want to spend time on. As a result you get a lump of white gunk on your plate with chunks of whole potato in them, no seasoning, and generally looking like a microwaved pile of regurgitated French fries.

My friends, I'm gonna let you in on the greatest cooking tip that you could ever want. I'm gonna show you what I did with my recent Thanksgiving potatoes that turned out ***SPOILER ALERT*** perfectly. Dudes, if you can master the art of mashed potatoes then you will be idolized more than Gordon Ramsay's short temper or Joe Bastianich's sleek bald head. True, potatoes are a side dish but they go with EVERYTHING. That's what makes them so damn important and why YOU need to master the art of mashing potatoes. So, let us begin:

***NOTE***I'm experimenting with picture sizes, so I've slightly adjusted the page's dimensions to cater to larger pictures. If something seems off on your screen then please let me know.

Boiling the potatoes usually makes people anxious because they don't know if you'll be able to pull off such a large amount of awesome just an hour before dinner

So I boiled about 15-20 potatoes for dinner and there was some anxiety as to how the hell I'd be able to pull off boiling, peeling, and mashing such a huge amount of potatoes just an hour before dinner. But alas, a kitchen crusader such as myself shows no fear in the midst of culinary challenges. These potatoes are like cadets at boot camp; I'm gonna mash 'em, smash 'em, and grind 'em down into the best damn potatoes they can be. Boiling can take a while so be sure to fill your pot with enough water so it's covering every potato and COVER IT so the heat doesn't go anywhere. Takes 20-30 minutes.

My troops, my soldiers, MY MINIONS!!!

As the waters boil and you eclipse 20 minutes of the submerged potatoes, start periodically poking them with a fork. If your fork slides through like a knife through butter then they're ready. 

I'm so badass that I peel hot potatoes by hand

Peeling potatoes with a girly peeler takes forever, so I suggest you try to be as manly as I am and peel the potatoes with your hands. Yes, it's gonna burn as hot potatoes tend to demonstrate, but run them under cool water and do it quickly. You'll save yourself tons of time at the expense of a couple second degree hand burns. And don't dump the skins down your sink cause that'll just clog stuff up.

Exhibit 1: commence mashing

Exhibit 1: The beginning of the mashing process. I recommend regularly working out during the year so your arms are totally ripped when it comes time to mash these bad boys, otherwise you'll look like a weakling if you begin to struggle. Remember: it's better to over-mash than it is to under-mash. 

Exhibit 2: taking on a shape

Exhibit 2: As you mash your potatoes down to a white fluff, begin adding your butter and milk. I actually used a butter substitute that wasn't as high in fat but you can use whatever. I used about 1.5-2 cups of 2% milk that was microwaved for about 40 seconds to give it a lukewarm temperature. Keep in mind that butter will give the potatoes texture while the milk will take it away so it's important to mix in a little bit of both at the same time. 

Exhibit 3: the five seasons

Exhibit 3: As you mix in your milk and butter you'll notice your potatoes beginning to take on more of a face. Now you can start mixing in your seasonings to give your potatoes the ultimate flavor experience. 

Exhibit 4, the near end product

Exhibit 4: Almost complete. At this point I have mixed in salt and pepper (don't be shy about using pepper; it gets absorbed and gives the potatoes a kick), as well as smoked paprika and the real stars of the dish: onion powder and garlic powder. These two worked in tandem to give these potatoes a massive amount of flavor that would have made Flava Flav frickin' jealous.

Exhibit 5: The Greatest Mashed Potatoes in the Universe

Exhibit 5: And here we are, plated in a beautiful bowl, topped with smoked paprika for a little color, and with plenty left in the pot for leftovers. And believe me: they were needed. I was wise to make so many. 

To recap, here are some rules that we learned:
1) Make sure the water covers all of the potatoes and don't pull them until you can easily slide your fork through the skin
2) Peel them by hand. Don't be a baby
3) Add a little butter and milk bit by bit. Adding too much of one could ruin your texture
4) You want your potatoes to have ZEST so use fun seasonings
5) For the love of Donald Trump's toupee: TASTE, TASTE, TASTE!

Feel free to experiment but the reality is you're not gonna find any potatoes better than mine. It's a craft and an art that few have been able to master since the beginning of time. You can't just boil and mash potatoes; you've gotta go through a process and nurture them into the final excellent product that you know they can be. I hope this was a fun read and you didn't stop too many times other than to perhaps take some notes.

Happy holidays! 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving - you know I did! :)