Spring Means Sandwiches: French Dip Philly Cheesesteak

As the temperature gets warmer and the sun is shining longer, Kaia and I have been getting excited by this incredible spring (in Southern California it feels more like summer with temps in the high 70’s/low 80’s). With the warmer weather we have been on a sandwich kick, so last night we decided to explore a modified Philly Cheesesteak.

Our Philly Cheesesteak took a French dip turn for the best and we are so excited to share it with you!

Trust us when we say that this sandwich, or more aptly titled huge-wich, is not for the faint of heart. We typically try to eat healthy, but in this case we were just craving a gigantic, gut buster of a sandwich. In my professional life, I invested in a small chain of New York style deli’s, mostly because I LOVE DELI SANDWICHES… A lot of everything all wrapped up in one cored-out bread exterior.

I hadn’t had a sandwich like this in quite some time. Kaia said “I am just excited about the meat and cheese!” There was a devilish giggle that followed. In parenthood, we often have those “fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree” moments, and this was one of them. She is her father’s daughter, through and through. The bread didn’t matter to her, but it gave me an idea: we’d use the juices from the meat to create a type of Au Jus for the thick French loaf to soak up.

French Dip Philly Cheesesteak for 2 – This sandwich epitomizes GLUTTONY!

– 1 lb. thinly sliced chuck roast
- Buy the roast raw and we’ll tell you how to cook it below (it’s super easy!). Parents, use your sharpest kitchen knife to slice the raw chuck roast thin. This is generally a tougher meat, and you’ll want to handle this part. Have the kids put the meat into a bowl or on a plate to be seasoned – season with salt and pepper, set aside.

– 1 green bell pepper – Quarter the pepper, and then remove the white stuff holding the seeds and the seeds. Here’s a cautionary tale: I once sliced the tip of my middle finger off cutting bell peppers. Slicing bell peppers on the skin side is a bad idea. Once quartered, lay the pieces flat on your cutting board and slice them skin side down.

20170427_5

– 1 white onion – Remove the outer layers and slice off the top and bottom. Cut the onion in half, then in half again. Do this from top to bottom. The goal is to get strips of onion, not rings. Use the quartered pieces and slice away. Once you are done slicing add them to pile of peppers.

– 1 loaf french bread
 – Cut down the center of the loaf to create a big mouth for the yummy ingredients, but keeping one side intact (like a hot dog bun). Have the kiddo’s pull out some of the bread from inside to help make a shell for those yummy ingredients.

– 1/4 lb. Provolone cheese
 – surprisingly getting the cheese sliced at the deli ends up being more bang for your buck. Comparatively speaking, the cheese that is pre-packaged tends to be more expensive and a lesser amount than getting it in the deli section. The deli section cheese is also fresher, and we think it tastes better. Wherever you get the provolone, it should be sliced.

20170427_3

As promised, the cooking process is really simple and easy. Kaia and I started by turning on the oven to 425 degrees. Make sure there is a rack in the center of the oven. Have the kiddo grab a saucepan or a cast iron pan. The cast iron pan is one of our fav’s and the pan helps keep the most flavor in the meat and veggies. Other than some tongs you really don’t need any other tools to complete this gluttonous meal for 2 to 4 people.

Heat the pan to a medium temp. Add about 1 tbsp of olive oil or unsalted butter. Add the veggies (peppers and onions) and sprinkle them with a tiny bit of salt and pepper. Sautee these gems until the onions become a little translucent.

Add the thinly sliced meat to the same pan. Mix everything together and cover. You can play it by ear, but Kaia likes to turn the heat down slightly “so it doesn’t overcook, Daddy.” Sometimes she directs me in the kitchen and I oblige. We don’t always have the proper lid so we just use aluminum foil as a cover. Cook the meat, onion, and peppers between 6 and 8 minutes, mixing occasionally.

During that period of cook time lay the cheese on both sides of the bread loaf. Be sure to keep 2 or 3 slices set aside for topping on the meat for each sandwich. Put the cheese-covered loaf in the oven. Be sure to keep an eye on it, you only want to melt the cheese.

Kaia grabbed the tongs and cutting board. She used the tongs to grab the bread from the oven and slide it on the cutting board.

I pulled the lid off the meat and veggies and mixed one last time. I used the tongs to load up the bread loaf with the tasty delights from the pan. Kaia put the leftover cheese evenly over the meat and we slid it back in the oven for about 3 minutes. To create our Au Jus we strained the juices from the pan into ramekins (aka small cups) for your dipping pleasure.

20170427_4

BOOM! Another gluttonous sandwich at our fingertips.

Enjoy! We sure did!

20170427_1

The Cu-Banh-Mi: A Mash Up of Cuban and Vietnamese Food Culture

Kaia and I are slowly making our way into more culturally based cooking themes. In this case we chose to do a mash-up of 2 wildly different cultures: Cuban and Vietnamese.

Cuban food has influences from Spain, parts of Africa and the French. The French may be the only real food connection between Cuba and Vietnam. Vietnamese food is the second part of our mash-up. There are some French influences in Vietnamese food, but I’ve always found it interesting that Vietnamese food includes five types of nutrients: powder, water or liquid, mineral elements, protein, and fat. We love the history and cultural influences on both Cuban and Vietnamese cuisine… and also, who doesn’t love a great sammie?

So this week we created a mash-up of two famous sandwiches from each cuisine: the Cubano and the Pork Belly Banh Mi to create our Cu-Banh-Mi. (pronounced Cue-Bon-Mee)

The Cubano sandwich is traditionally made on Cuban bread with cooked ham (sliced), roasted pork (sliced), Swiss cheese (sliced), dill pickle planks, mustard and/or mayo. Sounds delicious, right?

The Banh-Mi is a sandwich made with a meat protein of your choice, pickled veggies, cilantro, pepper and sliced cucumbers on a French baguette. Banh means bread and Mi means wheat in Vietnamese. So the translation is Wheat Bread.

We are big on sandwiches (as you might remember from our beets and grilled post), and not just any sandwiches, but we’re BIG on BIG ol’ sandwiches. So we combined two of our favorites into one big monster sammich!

We shopped at our local Whole Foods this week on the way home from Kaia’s school.

Our shopping list included:

  • 2 lbs of Pork Belly – $5.99 an lb
  • 2 organic cucumbers – $1.49 each
  • 1 Jar of pickle planks – $3.99
  • 1 Diakon – $1.29 an lb
  • 1 Jalapeno – $0.21
  • 1 bag of baby carrots – $1.99
  • 1 Baguette – $2.49

We already had white wine vinegar, sugar, cilantro and seasonings at home for pickling. If you plan on pickling your veggies I would suggest grabbing these ingredients as well. This happens to be one of Kaia’s favorite pastimes… she loves her science and the first time we pickled something it was like a big kitchen science experiment to her. I love that she enjoys the kitchen as much as I do – I’m one lucky Papa! You might be surprised when your kids love this too. We are all about creating a bonding experience and hope that the tools to do so are in our writing.

With our ingredients ready, we are now ready to cook:

Kaia turned on the oven to a temp of 450 degrees to preheat. Then she got out the aluminum foil and lined one of our baking sheets (cookie sheet). I opened up the pork belly and rubbed it with some brown sugar, salt and pepper. The brown sugar sweetens and adds color to the belly in the oven. We had 2 pieces that we placed on the sheet, fat side up. We’ll cook it at 450 degrees for 25 minutes.

20170426_2

Using this “high heat” (450 degrees for the first 25 minutes) approach will render the fat from the top portion of the pork, creating a crispy top layer to the belly. After the first 25 minutes, lower the temp of the oven to 375. Cook for another 35 to 40 minutes. If this is your first time with a pork belly, and you have any questions about whether or not it’s done the internal temp should read 165 degrees on your thermometer. Once done in the oven, remove the pork belly from the baking sheet and wrap in aluminum foil. Place in the fridge for an hour. Keep the oven on, you’ll use it again soon!

20170426_5

For safety purposes I deal with the knife cuts. In this case it’s to cut the daikon, carrots and jalapeno (deseeded) into what we, cooks, refer to as julienned (2 inches long and 1/8 inch around). Julienned veggies should be similar in size to thick toothpicks. If you can’t get the cut that thin without slicing your fingertips off, do your best – the cutting skills only come with A LOT of practice over time (and I’ve had a lot of practice in the kitchen and a few slices to the index finger).

Have the kiddo’s make the pickling liquid, combine and mix: ½ cup of water, ¼ cup of sugar, 1 cup of white wine vinegar. Add the veggies and coat them in the pickling fluid. Place in the fridge next to the belly.

The kids can also have fun with the mayo/mustard mix. It’s as simple as it sounds – ½ cup of mayo and ¼ cup of mustard with about 1 tsp of red chile flake. Mix it well and put it in the fridge.

Slice your baguette length-wise from tip to tip. Spread the bread open and add some melted butter or olive oil. Place the bread in the oven face up and toast it. After removing the bread from the oven set it aside.

20170426_3

Have the kiddo’s grab all the other ingredients from the fridge. Open up the pork belly and slice ¼ inch to ½ inch pieces (In lieu of using the traditional cubano cooked ham and roasted pork we are going with larger slices of the pork belly). Get a sauté pan and get it to medium heat with some oil or butter. There is really no difference between the oil or butter, this is simply to keep the unrendered fat on the belly from sticking to the pan. Lay flat the pork belly and heat in pan.

While I did this, Kaia was smearing the bread with our mayo/mustard mixture and placing the pickle planks on the bottom part of the bread.

You can then start placing the heated pork belly on top of the pickle planks. Followed by the pickled veggies, sliced cucumber and cilantro. Make sure your kidlets have put the mayo/mustard spread on the top of the bread as well. Silly kids sometimes need further coaching (wink wink).

Watch the video here.

20170426_1

Once complete, we cut our monster Cu-Banh-Mi sandwiches, plated ‘em up, and enjoyed these tasty delights!

Golden Beets Soup and Grilled Cheese Sammies: Recipe

Hopefully you’ve made it to the store with the shopping list. Now it’s the fun part: time to get cooking! It’s Tuesday night, and Kaia and I are ready to grill up some sammies and create this delicious beet soup!

Follow along with us in our video here.

We have our bunch (or bundle) of golden beets. There were 3 in the bunch, and they probably weighed 1 lb. each. That’s a pretty good amount of beets. They also came with their tops attached, those are the greens on top of the beets. The beet greens (tops) are great for a blanching… that’s cook talk for tossing the greens into boiling water for a quick bath, usually 2-3 minutes. We’ll talk about this later when we start making the sammies.

We cut the tops (greens) off of the beets, leaving about 3 inches of greens stocks attached to the beet itself (that will become part of the soup, we are adding some carrots later too). We set aside the greens for blanching.

I used a paring knife to clean up the beet tops. Then we set these aside while we prepared the soup base.

We wanted to create a delicious base for our soup. We started with a large pot on the stove over low heat. Before putting the beets in we added smashed Garlic (garlic from the already pre-shelled bags – parents should lay the garlic on a cutting board and use their knifes’ side to smash the bulbs), olive oil (1/4 cup to coat the pot), Shallots (should be a small dice in size) and a couple peppercorns to sweat in the pot.

After a couple minutes of letting those oils and flavors mingle over low heat, we added the chicken broth and Kaia turned up the heat to medium (with my supervision).

Kaia and I took this time to talk about her Girl Scout cookie sales. We still need to drop off a few last orders this week to my friends who ordered. She sold WAY more cookies this year than in years past, and we have been running around at least one night a week trying to get them all delivered.

Back to the soup! It’s time to get the beets and carrots ready. Wash them really well. Beets are an earthy flavored veggie, but you don’t want actual earth in your mouth or on the rest of your food. Once washed, Kaia started to peel the beets. She used a potato peeler to take the outer layer of skin off the beets. The beets need to be peeled like an apple. Baby carrots don’t need to be peeled, just washed.

Once peeled and cleaned, Kaia and I cut up the beets into similarly sized pieces, about 1.5 inch cubes. They will be different in shape. Don’t worry, this is normal and does not have to be exact. We halved the baby carrots so they cooked at the same speed as the beet cubes. Once the beets and carrots were cut Kaia added them to the now boiling soup base, also called soup stock.

We wanted the beets to be completely submerged so we added about 2 cups of water. Once the soup came to a boil, we lowered the heat to a simmer for about 25 minutes.  

While the soup simmered we got the grilled cheese fixings ready. We bought the cheese in a block (because it tastes better to us) so we needed to grate it for the sammies. Kaia takes care of the shredding in our kitchen – she thinks it’s fun! If shredding is not an option, parents can slice the cheese as thinly as possible so it melts easily.

A flat iron is preferred due to its size and gives the space to make more than one sandwich at a time. If you don’t have a flat iron (which is most people, including us) you will want to use a cast iron skillet or a large sauté pan. The skillet or sauté pan should be large enough to have 2 slices of bread lay flat with a little space between them.

We cooked our sammies on thick sliced bread (usually close to an inch thick). Kids put the cast iron skillet or sauté pan on the stove. Mom or dad (or adult) should turn the stove up to medium heat and let the pan get nice and hot. Make sure that you are communicating. There is nothing worse than a trip to the hospital on an empty stomach.  

While the grilled cheese pan is getting hot, we went back to check that the soup is simmering. Ours wasn’t, so we adjusted the heat accordingly.

We assume you knew going into this dinner that aside from the beets soup, this meal is not “light”. Butter, cheeses and bread are what make up the next component. These are three of my favorites, and I am pretty sure my daughter loves them too. Remember we are sticklers for moderation. Too much of anything can’t be good. The portion sizes given are bordering on gluttony. However, it’s okay to indulge once in awhile.

We added about 2 tablespoons of butter to the heated pan, one on each side of the pan for each slice of bread. The trick here is to wait for the butter to melt before putting the bread in the pan.

We flipped the bread a little under 2 minutes then added cheese evenly to both slices. This creates a nice crust so that the bread doesn’t deflate and get too oily. Have you used this trick before? By heating the bread on both sides before adding the cheese, it creates a nice warm place for the cheese to melt.

Once we added the cheese, we covered the soon-to-be delicious cheesy bread so it melts evenly.

While the cheese was getting melty, we put the beets and stock (the soup) into our blender. If you don’t have a blender, you can improvise a way to mash everything using a fork or spoon, spatula, hand blender, etc. You’ll probably need to cook the soup a bit longer than the suggested 25 minutes so that the beets are softer, since the goal is to create a smooth and even texture, like a puree (if it seems to thick for your soup preferences, just add a cup of water and mix again). Once pureed, set the soup aside.

Remember those beet greens we cut off the top of the beets? This is where they come in! We added some water to the same pot we had used for the soup and brought it to a boil. In the interest of time (we were hungry!) we chose not to rinse our soup pot. You can do the same, or leave it as is and simply add water.

Once the water was boiling, we tossed in the beet greens to blanch. This only takes about 2 minutes once the water is boiling. Remove them and add to cold water/ice bath. We used a bowl large enough to accommodate the size of the beet greens without folding them. The ice bath cools them quickly to stop the cooking.  

We pulled the top off of the grilled cheese pan. At this point, you should be seeing an even melt, from the outside of the bread into the center.

Kaia pulled the beet greens from the ice water bath and patted them dry.  

I lowered the heat on the pan before Kaia layered the greens on each piece of cheesy bread. Then with a spatula, I flipped one half onto the other and cooked as a stacked sandwich for about 2 minutes. I flipped and cooked for another 2 minutes. The cheese should be thoroughly melted with the beet greens looking pretty in the middle. We removed the sandwich from the pan and placed on a cutting board.  

We were getting close to the finish line and we were HUNGRY! Kaia grabbed plates and bowls. Kaia poured the soup into the bowls with a little guidance from me. The cheesy grilled sammies can be cut however you want them to be. We usually cut them into triangles, because we think they taste better in a triangle!

We hope you enjoy this very comforting meal, and most importantly the time you have spent together.

Watch our video here!

Recipe: Makes 4 Sammies, 4 bowls of soup

3lbs. – Golden Beets with greens still attached
1 Qt. – Chicken or Vegetable stock/broth
4oz. – Baby Carrots
6 – Garlic Bulbs
10 – Peppercorns
2 Tbsp. – Sea Salt
2 to 4 cups – Water
½ loaf – Thick-sliced bread
4 tbsp. – Unsalted Butter
8oz. – Gruyere Cheese
4oz. – Sharp cheddar
4oz. – Other Cheese (we suggest Swiss or provolone, but you can get wild here)

Utensils:

Large Sautee Pan
5 Quart pot for the soup
Spatula
Blender – without a blender, it will be tough to accomplish the even texture desired for the soup.  However, you can get close by cooking the beets longer and smashing them
Cheese Grater – if you do not have a grater, just slice the cheese as thin as possible
Spoon for tasting
2 cup measuring cup. If you do not have a measuring  cup of any size, use a pint glass is it equivalent to a 2 cups
8 inch kitchen knife
Paring knife, or small blade
Soup ladle
Tongs
Large Bowl

All recipes written to cook with instructions for ADULTS (A), KIDS (K), and BOTH (B).

GOLDEN BEET SOUP

A: Cut the greens from the top of the beets (leaving about 3 inches of stock attached to the beets). Set greens aside for sandwiches

K: Put a pot on for the beets, low heat

A: Add olive oil, smashed garlic, herbs, peppercorns to pot to sweat

A: Clean the tops of the beets with a paring knife

K: Peel the beets

A: Cut the beets and carrots into smaller pieces

K: Add the chicken (or vegetable) broth to the pot with the herbs and spices.

K: Turn up the heat to a medium-high temp (Adults please be sure to supervise).

A: Add the beets and carrots into the pot to boil

B: Make sure to monitor the level of the fluid in the soup and cover with the additional water so that the ingredients are submerged.

A: Bring to a boil

K: Cover and simmer about 25 mins.  If you do not have the blender or mixer be sure to cook for an additional 10 mins to soften the beets further.  This will make them a bit easier to mash and mix.

A: Pull your bowls out of the cupboard

K: Grab the soup ladle or big spoon to serve the soup

A: Remove the pot and help the kids ladle the soup into the bowls

GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES:

B: Put your pan on heat (medium heat is recommended)

A: Portion the butter into 4 individual tbsp pieces

K: Grab the bread and set them on the counter next to the stove

A: Add 1 tbsp of butter to the pan for each slice of bread

K: Grate the cheese

A: If you do not have a cheese grater slice the cheese as thin as possible

K: Put all the cheese onto a plate for easy access

K: Fill you measuring cup with 2 cups of water and pour into your empty soup pot. Bring water to a boil

A: Make sure your kids aren’t burning themselves

K: Fill a bowl with ice and water

A: Place the bread on top of the melting butter in the saute’ pan

K: Lay the large pieces of Beet greens into the boiling pot of water

A: Use tongs to remove the Beet greens after about 2 minutes and place them into the ice bath created by the kiddo’s

A: Flip the bread slices and add the desired amount of cheese to the browned side of the bread

K: Cover the pan with a lid or tinfoil if you do not have a lid that fits the large pan

K: Once you begin to see the cheese melting in the center of the bread slices lay the beet greens on two of the cheesy bread slices.

A: Flip the cheesy green bread onto its mirrored slice and center each of the sammies in the pan

A: Flip them one more time for even cooking and cover

B: They will not need more than a couple minutes to melt thoroughly so be ready with plates

B: Enjoy the heck out of the respectively healthy meal you have created together