Skip to content

Grilled cheese sandwiches with pork-mushroom ragù (meat sauce, yo.)

October 3, 2013

Yes, a simple grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup is warm and satisfying. But can’t we do better, friends? For one meal, can’t we leave nostalgia for that platonic post-leaf-raking, aprés-snow-shoveling meal aside, and give as much love to the grilled cheese sandwich as it has given us?

Which is to say: how about some jam or fig preserves and thinly sliced apple or pear inside the sandwich, to give it a little sweetness and crunch? And then a little ragù alla bolognese (meat sauce!) to spoon onto every bite? With some mushrooms thrown in, maybe?

Give it a try. I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Minced garlic, ground pork, chopped carrot, chopped bacon, chopped onion, red wine, chopped celery, ground beef, and shiitake mushroom.

Minced garlic, ground pork, chopped carrot, chopped bacon, chopped onion, red wine, chopped celery, ground beef, and shiitake mushroom.

Fig preserve, thinly sliced Honeycrisp apple, grated fontina and aged provolone, and big, sturdy white bread.

Fig preserve, thinly sliced Honeycrisp apple, grated fontina and aged provolone, and big, sturdy white bread.

Why build a meat sauce from scratch just so you can make your grilled cheese a little extra awesome?

First of all – learning how to make a ragù alla bolognese, if you don’t know already, is always a good idea. You’ll wind up with a rich and satisfying pasta sauce that you can use in many other dishes (it goes particularly well with fettuccine.)

Secondly – unless you’re serving ten sandwiches, you’ll have plenty of sauce leftover for those other dishes – this stuff freezes well.

Thirdly – if you make the grilled cheese as suggested here, the contrast of the slight sweetness of the preserves and the apple with the meaty richness of the ragù will cause your tongue to bro-ishly demand hi-fives from all your other organs – even your curmudgeonly gall bladder will grudgingly admit you could have done a lot worse.

Prepare for awesomeness.

Grilled cheese sandwiches with pork-mushroom ragù alla bolognese.


For the sauce:

  • 1 large or two small onions, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled, chopped
  • 6 cloves minced garlic (Love garlic? Use more. Don’t like garlic? Use less – but use some, at least – it’ll add a certain somethin’.)
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 oz ground pork
  • 4 oz ground beef (85% lean)
  • 4 oz. bacon, chopped
  • 6 oz mushrooms, chopped (fresh shiitake if you can find them) (optional)
  • 1/2 cup red wine (something dry)
  • 2 3/4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Kosher salt
  • pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk

For the grilled cheese sandwich:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 slices of sturdy white bread (something big and hearty)
  • 1 oz fontina, grated (yes, you’ll probably have to grate it yourself. Make sure it’s cold before you get started – this stuff is soft.)
  • 1 oz aged provolone, grated
  • a little more than 1 tablespoon fig preserve or any good jam or preserve you have on hand.
  • thin slices of your favorite apple or pear (as thin as you can get them; I’d recommend Honeycrisp or Bartlett pear, but any tasty apple or pear will do.)

For yourself, while you’re cooking:

  • A glass or two of the red wine
  • some of that cheese
  • The new Stephen King sequel to “The Shining” or one of the robot-building competition episodes from NOVA or Scientific American on Netflix – because robots and nerds are awesome. Just like grilled cheese sandwiches.

1. Get out a big, wide, heavy sauce pan or pot. Drop about 2-3 tablespoons of oil in and warm it over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the onions, celery, carrot and garlic. Sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

2. Add the meat and the mushrooms. Crumble the meat in the pan with a wooden spoon and brown it (the mushrooms will simply cook down a little) for about 13 minutes. Watch the pan and stir often.

3. Add the wine and stir; boil for about a minute – scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

4. Add the chicken stock and the tomato paste and stir; simmer on the lowest setting for about 1.25 – 1.5 hours.

5. Turn the heat up to medium high and drizzle the milk into the pot a little at a time, stirring after each drizzle, until the milk is fully incorporated, and cook that for an additional 40 minutes, with the lid almost all the way on – you want a little steam and heat to escape, but not too much. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (After this step, your sauce is DONE.)

Now, during step five, you want to be slicing those apples and grating that cheese and separating it out into two-ounce portions, per sandwich. Why 2 ounces? AND WHY CAN’T WE JUST USE AMERICAN SLICES, YOU HIGH-MAINTENANCE FOOD DORK?

Well, you can. You can use any melty kind of cheese you want. And it will be delicious. But if you decide to go the fancy-cheese route, you need to get a somewhat-precise measurement on the cheese – and it’s easier to adjust the weight on grated cheese and get even coverage than breaking off misshapen hunks of whatever you’re putting onto your sandwich.

And I’m saying two ounces because a Kraft Single slice is about an ounce – and two slices makes a perfect grilled cheese sandwich for this application. Add more if you like – but add too much, and there might be uncontrolled, unconstrained ooziness. Possible burnt cheese. And heartbreak.

Okay – back to the recipe.

6. Get your ingredients (cheese, apple slices, preserves) ready to go (mise en place) so you can assemble your sandwiches quickly.

7. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat in a pan big enough to hold two slices of bread, tipping the pan so the butter is spread evenly. Place slices in pan and cook for about 2 minutes. Check bread after 1 minute, just in case things are running too hot or too cool.

8. Move toasted bread to a cutting board, buttery sides up. On one side ONLY, add ingredients in this order:

– preserves (spread to the edges in a thin layer – here, the back of a spoon or an offset spatula may be easier than a knife)
– cheese (if using freshly grated cheese, press down and spread cheese out close to, but not all the way to the egde)
– apple slices (you got those suckers thin, right? They don’t have to be transparent, but they should be fairly slim – use a mandoline, if you’ve got one)

Put the second slice on top, buttered side facing inside.

9. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in pan, and cook one side of assembled sandwich for 3-5 minutes, checking the bottom of sandwich after 2 minutes. Occasionally, press down gently with bottom of spatula. After cooking one side, repeat with butter and other side of sandwich.

It’s important to keep the heat high enough to melt the cheese, but low enough to not burn the bread. You’ve done this before – you know how your burners behave. Just keep an eye on things.

And, after all that, as Alton Brown would say – your patience will be rewarded.

Oh yes. Oh very much yes.

Oh yes. Oh very much yes.

Melty, melty, goodness.

Melty, melty, goodness. A little tart, a little sweet, a little crisp.


You want a little spoonful to top each bite of your sandwich. Just a little bit. Sweet Lord.

You want a little spoonful to top each bite of your sandwich. Just a little bit. Sweet Lord.

Is this more work than a can of Campbell’s? Yes. But you’ll probably get at least 2, if not 3 meals out of this – and a grilled cheese sandwich eating experience you will never forget. I promise.



P.S. You can simplify the sauce prep by working through step four and dumping everything in a slow cooker, set on low, for a few hours. You can either opt out of the milk and get a fantastic meat sauce, or add the milk and keep on going in the slow cooker for a little longer. It’s up to you, friends. 

P.P.S. These recipes are adapted from content via Bon Appetit and Serious Eats. If you’re not already reading their stuff, for God’s sake, step up your game, yo.




Roast chicken, kale and cabbage salad, Brussels sprouts with almonds and Parmesan, and sriracha-glazed bacon mashed potatoes with garlic.

September 27, 2013

The focus of today’s post is gallus gallus domesticus – the most successful ex-dinosaur on the planet – and how easily one can become part of an elegant and simple dinner, starring three options for sides you’ll love – each of which will feed about four.

“I only wanna be with youuuu-oooooo.”

Selma here sings Hootie and The Blowfish songs – a little too loudly and off-key – while waiting in line at Starbucks, and never has her order or money ready when she gets to the front. She thinks the nerdy T-shirts your girlfriend wears are tacky and stupid. And she drinks way too much White Zinfandel at family reunions where she hits on distant cousins while making incredibly racist jokes about the Irish and Sri Lankans.

White. Zinfandel.

For God’s sake, let’s make dinner.

The bird.

Roasting a chicken is easy. Roasting a chicken WELL is less so.

You and I know cooking almost any whole bird successfully is all about getting the dark meat and the white to finish cooking simultaneously. The even cooking that comes from roasting pans and V-racks don’t really solve the problem. If you’ve got a pre-heated cast-iron skillet, though, you can get the undercarriage going faster so that everything finishes up pretty much at the same time.

The following recipe is adapted from a classic Mark Bittman method – one of the few I found that solved the dark meat/white meat problem without spatchcocking (butterflying) or piecing up the bird. I’m not usually too fussy about presentation (spam sushi cubes aside) but the sight of a whole roast bird is worth the effort, I think.

And don’t skimp on the chicken. You don’t need a huge one, or one of those heritage breeds that cost thirty bucks (not that I wouldn’t eat one if you offered it to me) but maybe try to find one that was humanely and organically raised, and fed well. You pay a little extra for prime rib and top-notch steaks – why not spend a few extra bucks on your poultry? You can taste the difference, believe me.


  • 1 whole chicken (3-4 pounds) You’ve pulled the neck and gizzards and whatnot out of there, right?
  • 1 medium or large lemon, quartered
  • olive oil (at least 3 tablespoons)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • some herb sprigs (I used rosemary, but use what you like)
  • a few peeled garlic cloves (I’d use at least 12 big ones, but I’ve also been told I have a garlic problem, and should seek help, so you do what you want. Six sounds less crazy.)
  • chicken or vegetable stock, or water
  • butter or cream

1. Open your oven, and set one rack on the lowest point in your oven. Pull the other rack out, if necessary. Put a cast-iron skillet or another heavy pan (but buddy, you should have a skillet. They’re cheap and come in handy, especially in cartoon kitchen fights.) on that low rack and preheat to 450°F.

2. Rub the chicken with the olive oil, and season the bird somewhat generously with salt and pepper. Shove some lemon quarters in the chest and neck cavity. Tuck some herb sprigs in where you can.

3. After about 15 minutes, carefully place the chicken, breast side up, into the skillet. Toss some garlic cloves around the bird (you might wanna use a wooden spoon for this – remember, that pan is HOT.)

A few minutes after you put your chicken on top of your preheated skillet, that couple down the hall from you is going to start asking each other if they know what kind of wine you like.

A few minutes after you put your chicken on top of your preheated skillet, that couple down the hall from you is going to start asking each other if they know what kind of wine you like.

It’s gonna start to smell awesome, wherever you are. Roast that sucker for at least 40 minutes, maybe 50. You should check after 40 with an instant-read thermometer – the thick part of the thigh should read 155°F.

4. Once it’s finished roasting, tip the pan or lift the bird (using a big wooden spoon or a spatula) so the juices run into the pan – if they’re still red, cook it a little longer. Put that bird on a platter along with the garlic. Pull out the lemon quarters, set aside and tent the chicken loosely with foil. The chicken will continue to cook under there while you’re making a simple pan sauce.

5. Put the skillet over a burner set to high and put about two cups of stock in. Scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil that stuff until about half of the liquid is cooked away.

6. Stir in a little butter or cream. Taste it. Is it holy-crap-I-wanna-rub-this-on-my-face good, or could it use a little salt and pepper? Maybe a few squeezes of the lemon you pulled out of the chicken? You decide.

7. Show off the chicken and get the “oh mans” and “hell yeses” you’ve been waiting for, then tell your family/friends to get the table ready and open more wine while you portion up the bird. Serve with the pan sauce on the side.

Some people scatter garlic or root vegetables in the bottom of their chicken skillet. Me? I add MORE CHICKEN.

Some people scatter garlic or root vegetables in the bottom of their chicken skillet. Me? I add MORE CHICKEN.

Honestly. It's stupidly easy.

Honestly. It’s stupidly easy.

Three sides: Healthy, healthyish, and something with bacon in it.

Side 1 (Healthy): Kale and Cabbage Salad.

This salad was inspired by one of Honey Butter Fried Chicken‘s amazing sides. I like it with a little cider vinegar and mandarin oranges for sweetness, but you can use grapes or some chopped honeycrisp apples , if you want even more crunch.


  • 1 bunch Tuscan kale (also called black or Lacinato kale)
  • 1 cup shredded Napa cabbage (use the thicker parts of the cabbage, lower down)
  • 1 cup regular, non-Greek yogurt (don’t use lowfat here. Come on, man.)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, plus more to taste
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 small 10-to-11 oz can of mandarin orange segments, segments and liquid reserved separately.
  • a willingness to de-rib Tuscan kale.

Ever de-ribbed kale before? I have. And if you don’t know how to do it quickly, it suuuuuuuucks. BELIEVE ME. But once you get good with the knife, it’s pretty easy to get through a bunch.

Make sure the leaf is facing down, and run the knife - slowly, carefully - along the edge of the rib. Then do the same on the other side.

Make sure the leaf is facing down, with the rib facing up – and run the knife – slowly, carefully – along the edge of the rib. Then do the same on the other side.

1. Once all your kale leaves are de-ribbed, chop roughly. Toss together with the cabbage and mandarin segments. Set aside.

2. Stir all remaining ingredients together to make your dressing. You should get hints of saltiness, sweetness from the mandarin juice and tang from the yogurt and the vinegar. Make adjustments as your taste demands.

3. Pour about half the dressing into a large bowl, then add the fruit and vegetation. Use tongs and the walls of the bowl to toss and coat the salad evenly. Add more to taste.

4. Tell your semi-vegan friends to suck it up, they should be happy there’s even kale in the house, and chow down.

Was this as good as Christine and Josh's salad, over at Honey Butter Fried Chicken? Of course not. But I'd still shovel some down.

Was this as good as Christine and Josh’s salad, over at Honey Butter Fried Chicken? Of course not. But I’d still shovel some down.

I did flash-fry some shallots at the last-minute and toss them in, but they added more flavor than crunch. Do what you like, people. And enjoy.

Side 2 (Healthyish): Roasted Brussels Sprouts with almonds and Parmesan

We’re living in a golden age for Brussels sprouts. This recipe delivers crispy edges and a tender interior, worthy of this glorious time for this once reviled vegetable.

If you don’t use the cheese, these babies are vegan and a perfect side for your chicken. That being said, you should absolutely use cheese, since you’re already eating meat, and cheese is fricking delicious.

(This recipe is adapted from a recipe, itself adapted from a recipe in “Franny’s: Simple Seasonal Italian.”)

Cheese, salt and pepper, lemon juice, almonds, olive oil and your humble Brussels sprout.

Cheese, salt and pepper, lemon juice, almonds, olive oil and your humble Brussels sprout.


  • 1/2 cup whole, roasted nuts (yes, you can get the ones already roasted and salted in a can – I’d suggest almonds.)
  • 1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts (small ones, if you can find them), trimmed and halved through the stem
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • pepper
  • 1/3 grated parmesan (any tangy, aged cheese will do, but Parmigiano-Reggiano is preferred.)
  • fresh lemon juice, two to three tablespoons.
  • dukkah (optional)
Smaller Brussels sprouts are more work, but they're sweeter.

Smaller Brussels sprouts are more work, but they’re sweeter.

1. Chop up the nuts, coarsely. Set them aside. Preheat the oven to 500°F.

2. Place the sliced sprouts in a big bowl, and toss with the oil and enough salt and pepper to coat. Put the sprouts cut-side down in a single layer on a baking sheet (hold onto that bowl). Roast for about 10 minutes. If you’re using small sprouts, your sprouts should be brown and tender and ready to pull. If you’re using larger sprouts, stir and cook longer, checking every few minutes to make sure they don’t burn.

Face down in the pan. Don't be stingy with the oil.

Face down in the pan. Don’t be stingy with the oil.

3. Return the sprouts to the bowl, and let them sit for a few minutes. Toss them with the nuts, cheese and lemon juice. Taste, and add salt and pepper if necessary. Optionally, add dukkah and extra cheese to the top of each portion.

4. High-five everyone at the table, or, if you’re eating alone, show someone your handiwork via Skype. Your tele-diner will most likely demand a virtual fistbump.

You probably won't have leftovers - but if you do, reheat them in the oven.

You probably won’t have leftovers – but if you do, reheat them in the oven.

Side 3 (OH YES): Mashed potatoes with garlic, scallion and sriracha-glazed bacon

Do I even have to explain myself here?

You don't have to add as much as I did. You can definitely add more.

You don’t have to add as much sriracha as I did. You can definitely add more.


  • 2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, partially peeled, quartered.
  • 1 cup regular, non-Greek yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons butter (optional)
  • 2 heads’ worth of peeled garlic cloves, whole.
  • salt
  • pepper
  • sriracha (just get out the whole damn bottle. You don’t have to use it, but you can.)
  • 1/2 pound thick-cut bacon.
  • 5 scallions (green onion), white and pale green parts, sliced thinly

1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the potatoes and the garlic for 30 minutes.

2. While potatoes boil, find a microwave-safe plate and cook bacon in microwave on paper towels, about a minute less than instructions direct. Pull bacon from microwave and paint one side of bacon with sriracha. Transfer bacon to foil sheet and finish cooking in 400°F oven for 2-5 minutes – watch carefully to make sure bacon doesn’t burn. Chop bacon, crumble into bowl and set aside. (You can skip the oven-finishing step by simply crumbling still-warm fully cooked bacon in a bowl and tossing with sriracha, but you won’t get any carmelization)

3. Drain potatoes for a few minutes and return to warm pot (leave pot on burner, but leave burner off.) Let residual heat of pot dry drained potatoes for a few minutes.

4. Put yogurt and butter into pot with potatoes and salt and pepper. Use potato masher to bring ingredients together, roughly. Season additionally to taste.

5. Stir in sliced scallions and chopped sriracha bacon. Place in bowl and top with additional sriracha, like this:

If you think that looks good, wait until I stir in the bacon and the scallions.

6. Serve, then look around and scout out any recliners or comfortable armchairs for a post-meal nap.

Well, I hope that sets you up for at least one nice dinner this fall. Roast chicken is delicious, anytime, but it’s especially wonderful as the weather and the leaves start to turn.

You buy good chicken, and you treat it right - you'll wind up with crunchy bits worth fighting over.

You buy good chicken, and you treat it right – you’ll wind up with crunchy bits worth fighting over.

You don't NEED to toss nearly-cooked-through bacon with sriracha and finish it in the oven. BUT YOU SHOULD. And you DEFINITELY should stir the resulting, crumbly, somewhat fiery goodness into the mashed potatoes. Sweet Lord, yes.

You don’t NEED to toss nearly-cooked-through bacon with sriracha and finish it in the oven. BUT YOU SHOULD. And you DEFINITELY should stir the resulting, crumbly, somewhat fiery goodness into the mashed potatoes. Sweet Lord, yes.

Enjoy, friends.

I like chicken. I hope you do, too.



Full-Fridge Sushi: leftovers, the Rice Cube, and Bacon. Because, Bacon.

September 16, 2013

Today, we make sushi.

Snap pea nigiri

A little veggie, a little rice.

Yes, I realize that there isn’t a sliver of tuna* to be seen above, and that’s on purpose…because it’s pretty clear that many folks out there enjoy eating sushi, but when it comes to handling raw fish and assembling it themselves…they’d rather leave it up to the chef behind the counter with the sharp knife and the bamboo mat.

So. Full-Fridge (read: leftovers, unconventionally topped) sushi. SOOOOOOO easy. All it takes is a little forethought, one or two kitchen things, and the willingness to eat your mistakes and keep on going.

It’s unlikely anyone will be making a documentary about your nigiri after reading this. But it will, hopefully, be delicious.

Ready? Let’s go!

The Rice.

Sushi is, at its heart, seasoned, vinegared rice, topped with, well, whatever. Don’t get hung up on what you’ve had before at your local restaurant or takeaway counter – you can top that rice with barbecued pork or truffled eggs or cauliflower relish and call it whatever you like.

But that rice – you’ve got to make it right, and season it somewhere in the neighborhood of how it’s traditionally prepared. Because it’s that slightly sweet acidity that flavors all the toppings you’ll be adding.

Now, Lord High Food Nerd J. Kenji Lopez-Alt suggests this recipe, which I find to be a solid base, for sure. But given that a lot of toppings you’ll be using are going be less subtly flavored than, say, a creamy slab of yellow tail, I’d use this ingredient rundown instead:

  • 3 cups short grain sushi rice (or brown rice, if you’re looking to eat healthier.)
  • 3 1/2 cups water (or more if using brown rice)
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (see note)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  1. Rinse the hell out of that rice, using a mesh strainer. You’ve got to get that water clear. Put the rice into a rice cooker with the water and cook, or put the water and rice into a pot and bring to a boil, then turn the burner all the way down and cook for 15 minutes, after which you can take it off the burner and let it sit for another ten. DO NOT REMOVE THE POT LID AT ALL DURING THIS PROCESS.
  2. Combine the other three ingredients over medium heat until everything is dissolved.
  3. Now, take that rice you’ve got, scoop it – gently – into a big casserole dish. Use a rice paddle or a big wooden spoon and spread it out, gently. Don’t press down on it too much. Let it cool for a few minutes, and then try to find an electric fan, or some sucker in your house willing to wave some newspaper at you. Point your fan/chump at the rice while taking about half of that vinegar mixture and drizzling it over the rice. Cut into the rice with your paddle or spoon, and fold the rice into itself, to mix the vinegar solution into the rice. Be gentle. You don’t want ricey mush, you want whole grains. Keep the fanning going until the rice stops steaming. You want rice that comes together, barely, when you squeeze it into a ball in your palm. Keep your rice tightly covered with plastic wrap (pressed up against the rice, like you’d do with guacamole.)

Now, if that’s more of a production than you’d like, you could just make rice as you’d normally do, with less water, and just add warmed vinegar with some sugar stirred in at the end, and it’ll taste almost as good. I’m not gonna wag fingers at you.

The Toppings.

Now, most sushi you’ve seen looks like this:

Our sushi ain’t gonna look like that. Today, we’re not going to involve nori or fish – although you’re welcome to. We’re just going to focus on leveraging what you’ve got in the fridge – and assembly.


From the top left, clockwise: Spam, cooked shrimp, snap pea, water chestnut, kimchi, bacon, heirloom tomato, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (NO JUDGMENTAL FACES) and peach.

For the record: I don’t normally eat Spam, but I wasn’t gonna go down this road without making little Spam musubis, yo. DON’T HATE.

The Assembly.

Now, at this point, things get real, real simple. Take a tablespoon-and-a-half or two of rice, bring it together in your palm until you get a squished, elongated egg shape, and place it on your cutting board. Paint it with a little bit of sauce (soy? vinaigrette? sriracha? barbecue? It’s really going to depend on your topping) and then add your piece of fruit, protein or vegetable, trimmed to shape. And you’re done! Voila! Leftover pork-chop-nugget nigiri, anyone?

If you want to make your leftovers a little flashier, you could press your sushi rice into a square baking pan, cut it into slabs, give your sushi a little geometric appeal.

Or you could go full nerd and buy a Rice Cube.**


I honestly don’t know if assembling nigiri one cube at a time with this thing is any easier than making rolls with a bamboo mat, but the final result sure does look cool. PLUS: SQUARE FOOD. EVERYONE LOVES SQUARE FOOD.


Okay, so that one got a little squirrelly, up top.


But the Spam cube looks downright craveworthy – especially with a little hoisin sauce.


Tomato with basil and arugula vinaigrette.  IN YOUR FACE.


Water chestnut with more hoisin. Textural bliss.


Kimchi and rice is pretty classic here.


So is shrimp, with a balsamic reduction.


And I’m including bacon, because, well, bacon.


Dessert sushi? How about making some of that rice a little less vinegary and cubing up some peach?


You spent all that time making delicious chow the first time – the repeat performances of your dishes and leftover ingredients deserve just as much attention – and applause. It just takes a little effort.

Hope you enjoy making it as much as I did. Let me know how it goes.


*You shouldn’t be eating bigeye tuna, anyway. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the stuff. But there’s hardly any of it left. Hold off for a few years. Let those bad boys and girls get it on, and make more fish. Chances are if we don’t do something drastic, our grandchildren will never know what a meltingly rich piece of fatty tuna tastes like. And it will be our fault.

**I was not paid a dime to say good things about the Rice Cube, and can honestly say it’s one of the few kitchen gadgets that’s really, really fun to use. And yes, your kids will totally love that thing.

A completely biased review of Honey Butter Fried Chicken.

September 12, 2013


I’ve known the Sunday Dinner folks for about eight years now, ever since my friend Aamer invited me along to one of their first underground meals. It was billed as a “pre-colonial Mexican feast” or something like that. The jicama salad was insanely delicious, and I would have eaten anything covered with their mole, including the table and my shoe. Since then, they’ve been consistently providing some of the most satisfying and pleasing dining experiences I’ve had in the city, hands down – not only because their chow is amazing, but because, for whatever reason, they don’t seem to attract nearly as many food-douches as other events of their ilk. (I could spend an evening talking about their carrot cake fritter with cream cheese semifreddo ice cream, and the amazing people I got to share it with. GOOD GOD.)

One of the dishes they created – seasoned, crunchy fried chicken served with a knob of addictive honey butter to slather on the rich-paprika-imbued crust – proved so popular, they decided to build a whole restaurant around it.

And that restaurant – Honey Butter Fried Chicken – is finally opening this week.


The local press has been, understandably, freaking out, desiring a taste of what only a lucky few have been able to sample. But even beyond the food – and I’ll get to that – it was pretty moving to walk into their fully realized space earlier this week and smell their delicious future.


I sat down to a quarter dark (thigh and drumstick) with sides of pimento macaroni and cheese with garlicky bread crumbs and a kale and cabbage slaw with dried pomegranate and yogurt cumin dressing.  The mac and cheese, shot through with tang and bits of pimento, was firm and full of flavor, and lacked the gumminess and excessive creaminess of other restaurants’ offerings, while the kale slaw bore the dressing lightly, allowing the heartiness of the greens to ride through. Perfect pairings for the chicken.

Oh Lord, the chicken.

You should take your knife and slather on the honey butter the minute the food runner brings your tray to your table, and sample the sides while the butter melts into the chicken – the chicken that will surprise you at first bite. The crust, shatteringly crisp, contrasts with the velvety, almost impossibly juicy bird beneath it, while the paprika-forward notes underlie the creamy sweetness of the butter.

They have several cocktails on offer, but even if you don’t have an Avondale Ginger Mule (molasses, ginger, gin, lime and mint), the delicious iced tea and rare fountain sodas (two varieties of Boylan’s AND Goose Island root beer AND GREEN RIVER) should slake your thirst nicely, whether inside or out on their vast patio.

And for God’s sake, get the chocolate toffee cookie.

Like I said, I’ve known Christine & Josh, and their business partners Jen & Chris for many years, and this isn’t really a review, so much as it’s the epilogue to a story I’ve followed ever since Christine sat down next to me a few years ago and mentioned the fact they were kicking around the idea of opening a restaurant. And we all knew it would be hard, and as delays stretched on, I wondered if I’d ever see their smiling faces behind a counter they could call their own.

Head on over to Elston, and smell their delicious future for yourself. You’ll walk out of there smiling, too.

Honey Butter Fried Chicken, 3361 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL. (773) 478-4000. No reservations, counter service.

Cooking for Mom, part 2 | Baked Eggs with Hot Toast and Bacon | Recipe

May 3, 2011

Since my camera skills are for crap, I had to borrow this from

Breakfast casseroles and quiches are delicious, but when it comes to that most versatile of proteins, I prefer the baked egg. The presentation is cool; the ingredient options myriad. And there’s no easier way to give yourself an egg with a set white and warm yolk that is both toothsome and velvety.

So – how to improve on something idiot-proof and delicious?

Sriacha and bacon, of course.

You don’t HAVE to use bacon. Some crumbled breakfast sausage would go well here. But let’s not kid ourselves. Momma wants what Momma wants.

Baked Eggs with Hot Toast and Bacon

Serves 6

12 eggs
a small number of chives, minced
a little butter or oil
3-6 slices of bacon, cooked extra crispy and finely chopped
6 slices of good bread.
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup sriacha
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 375.

Lightly grease 6 small ramekins with the butter or oil.

Crack 2 eggs into each ramekin. Don’t whisk or funkify at all.

Add a TINY dash of salt and pepper.

Place on baking sheet and bake in oven for 10-14 minutes. Probably closer to 10. You want that yolk a little runny, but still warm and cooked through enough.

While eggs are baking, toast bread.

Whisk together ketchup, sriacha, honey and vinegar. Lightly spread this sweet, salty, bright awesomeness on your toast.

Cut dressed toast slices into points or fingers.

Pull finished eggs from oven. Top with chives and a little bit of chopped bacon. Serve with the Hot Toast and a dollop of the sauce on the side.


Cooking for Mom, part 1 | Some options for your Mother’s Day brunch.

May 2, 2011

Just in case you needed reminding this week: your Mom loves you, and will continue to love you, no matter what you wind up making for Mother’s Day brunch.

It’s a good thing, too. I’m pretty sure I put my mother off crepes forever when I poured an entire bottle of vanilla extract into the batter because – hey, I was in 6th grade – and who the hell doesn’t like vanilla?

There are plenty of reasons to head out to her favorite restaurant this Sunday (let’s face it – your jalapeño poppers are never gonna taste as good as the bowling alley’s) but there are several good reasons to invite her and the rest of the fam over for something special – not the least of which is: SHE’LL TELL YOU EVERYTHING TASTES GREAT, EVEN IF IT DOESN’T. You could serve her Malibu-rum-marinated furnace-filter-stuffed chicken and she’d have to say something like “the texture was really different. Crunchy. And really coconutty. Hoooooooo. I feel a little woozy after that last drumstick.”

That being said – do not test the love of the woman who bore you into this world by half-assing it this weekend. Chances are you know what sort of stuff she likes. And unless it’s something you have to bury in the ground and ferment for a month, this week should be plenty of time to get it together.

If you have the time and the resources – and a mother who likes a well-marbled steak – may I recommend a nearly idiot-proof home-run: the prime rib roast.

I used tips from this discussion thread to cook a killer piece of meat at Christmas time – it was by far the easiest thing to prepare (besides the wine and the pie.) If you’ve made a halfway-decent turkey, you can make a good roast. Yes, it’s perhaps the most expensive horseradish accompaniment you’ll ever have in your house – but isn’t Mom worth it?

I’ll be posting a proper recipe for the roast – as well as other brunch dishes – later on this week. But if you’re planning on doing a roast, I’d recommend hitting up your butcher for that piece of meat TODAY. Call your local store and have them set one aside for you. 1.5 pounds of bone-in roast can usually serve 2 people, so do the math accordingly.

Also – if you don’t have one already – get a probe thermometer. We’ll talk more about those bad boys when the recipe goes up.

The Mighty Bacon Dumpling.

April 25, 2011

Hey, there.

A twelve-month Mexican wrestling tour took me and the83k away from you all, and for that, I apologize. But while barnstorming through Jalisco and Sinaloa as El Poderoso Tocino Bola De Masa, I had time to to consider what I’d focus on once I’d returned to you. I wondered if you’d recognize me, body bruised, but heart light and strong, and if you’d still want to read me prattle on about gastronomic crimes and triumphs, foreign and domestic.

I’m still trying to figure things out. But I wanted to let you know that I’m back, and that I hope we can create something delicious together.

The obnoxiousness begins in earnest next week.

Hope to see you here soon.


P.S. There’s a new web address, obviously – – but the old one still works.

P.P.S. Thanks to WordPress, there’s been a few interface upgrades, not the least of which are smooth-as-buttah mobile and iPad versions.

P.P.P.S. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is a much, much better food blogger than I am. Really.

P.P.P.P.S. No. Really. He is.

P.P.P.P.P.S. But you should come back here, anyway.

%d bloggers like this: