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Cheesesteak, an excuse to make cheesewhiz

13 Oct

CheesesteakIf ever there was a dish that sums up American food excess, it’s the cheesesteak.

There couldn’t be a more aptly named plate. There is steak and there is cheese. There is also a slab of bread which effectively makes it a cheesesteak sandwich, and that is how you will often find it listed on diner menus.

Officially the cheesesteak must be made in the vicinity of Philadelphia, its spiritual home, but that’s like saying that a pasty can only be made in Cornwall. My first encounter with this monstrous pile of protein, fat and fibre came in New Jersey – not a million miles from Philly, but kind of like enjoying a Cornish pasty in Wiltshire. This didn’t make it any less decadently delicious. The beef was so tender it melted. The onions and cheese became as one. Unlike most meals on that trip I finished it easily despite being oversized.

So back in England and with a pack of frying steak in the fridge I decided to recreate my cheesesteak experience.

First thing was a bit of research. My reference for all things US and greasy is Man Versus Food and in a recent episode Adam Richmond takes on the mightiest of cheesesteaks.

 

This lead me to a related question (which if you watch the video you will have as well). What in the name of all things that are holy is ‘cheesewhiz’?

If processed cheese is one short of the devil, then this yellow liquid is Beelzebub himself.

I had to have some.

In the USA cheesewhiz comes in a jar. In the rest of the civilised world this stuff would probably be considered a class A drug and so if you want it you are going to need to make it yourself.

I won’t dignify cheesewhiz with a proper recipe, but it contained mustard, evaporated milk, a dash of tabasco and…cheese. This is supposed to be processed, but as I didn’t have any in the house, I had to ‘resort’ to real cheddar. Microwave this concoction for a couple of minutes and you have the amber, dairy-based nectar.

Assembling the cheesesteak itself was then a simple task. I sliced the frying steak as thinly as I could and flash-fried it with some sliced onion. I packed as much of this as I could into approximately half a baguette and topped with cheesewhiz.

You can see the results above. I think you will agree this is a fine looking steak sandwich in its own right. Add the sweet and sour cheesewhiz and you have a thing of beauty.

I didn’t tell Mrs G what went into the cheesewhiz and she thought it was pretty good. After she finished I told her the ingredients and she gagged, but don’t let that put you off as you have probably just pushed through the gagging stage yourself when you realised I was mixing evaporated milk with cheddar.

This was far from an authentic cheesesteak. A resident of Philadelphia would probably be upset I’m even making the connection, but for me it was a delicious reminder of happy times in American airports, and those are pretty thin on the ground.

A recipe is only as good as the ingredients and the klutz who is making it

3 Feb
Venison and mushroom stroganoff

This venison is not so tough...it's hiding behind the rice

Mrs G had, as usual, done most of the menu planning this week and was determined to use up some diced venison which we had in the freezer. Venison stroganoff was the recipe that had caught her eye, but by yesterday evening the location of said recipe had slipped her mind.

The beauty of the 21st century is that we can now have access to millions of recipes at the touch of a button and googling ‘venison stroganoff’ turned up a Jamie Oliver recipe as the number one result.

Unlike some I don’t indulge in reverse snobbery with Jamie. I’ve always liked his programmes, forgive him for his mockney accent, and even forgive him for the Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain. The only thing I don’t forgive him for is parking his 4×4 on the double yellow line outside my office when one of his companies rented space in an adjacent building.

So I was optimistic about the stroganoff.

This was a fun dish to cook. The ingredients just seemed to make sense. I even went down the route of lighting the brandy which crackled and popped in the pan for a good two minutes while I struggled to find my camera to take a photo. I failed by the way, so you will have to imagine the excitement.

What let it down was the quality of the venison. One of the trickier parts of the recipe was the delicate balancing act that Jamie seemed to suggest you had to play between undercooking the meat and hence giving yourself a dose of food poisoning and over cooking it and making it tough.

I’m afraid that I fell into the trap of over cooking and that combined with the sense that the venison was not quite top notch, produced a slightly unsatisfactory result. The sauce was delicious, but the overall result was not.

I will definitely try this dish again, but I’ll substitute the venison for beef, chicken, even ethical veal.

Would the original recipe have made any difference? I doubt it. It shows that a dish is only as good as the ingredients that go into it and the klutz standing over the stove.

Quick and easy pancakes

30 Jan

Nigella Lawson's pancake mix

We love a good pancake at Gastronome Towers and as previously reported, we are not afraid of over-eating on a Saturday morning.

I got fed up of having to look up the pancake recipe every single time. For some reason, it just wouldn’t stick in my mind.

To the rescue rides Nigella Lawson and her recipe for pancake pre-mix that gives you just the head start that you need to make the pancake ritual a pleasure, rather than a pain.

The mix contains flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and caster sugar. It keeps for ages in a sealed container. All you need to do to bring it to life is to add an egg, some milk and some butter.

It makes delicious american-style pancakes which are great with blueberries or maple syrup.

Extreme eating – reality, history and glory

26 Jan
Adam Richman

A light snack for Adam Richman

Have you seen Man Versus Food on the Good Food Channel?

Whether you should or not probably depends on a) your love or otherwise of enormous portions of American food b) any moral objections to gratuitous over-eating.

If you haven’t seen the programme (and personally I love it) it involves self-confused food obsessive Adam Richman touring the USA attempting to take on a variety of extreme eating challenges. You know the thing. Eat the Gut-Buster Mega Hotdog and Whole Chicken Combo and get the meal for free…and your photo on the wall of the restaurant.

I defy you to watch and not salivate. Unless you are vegetarian.

Actually, the first 15 minutes of each episode are cause for salivation. Once Adam starts the eating challenge it becomes more of an endurance test for the viewer. God knows what it’s doing for Adam.

Perhaps I love this programme because I have…well….I don’t want to boast….I have a bit of form in this area.

Bristol circa 1991. Happy times. University life, a fresh grant in my back pocket, keen to save as much money for beer as possible. Bring on the Pizza Hut Challenge. 10 hungry students, descending upon the eponymous restaurant every Tuesday evening for the all-you-can eat buffet. This was a red rag to a bull.

The rules were simple. Eat as many slices of pizza as you could. The more hardcore would follow up by matching this number with pints, but this resulted in some severe cases of alcohol poisoning and was quickly ruled out by the BPEAB (British Pizza Eating Association of Britain).

To add some subtlety a ‘slice was a slice’. This was not as easy to manipulate to your advantage as it might sound. The staff of Pizza Hut were, strangely, not impressed with such wanton abuse of a simple marketing ploy and resorted to serving the all-you-can-eat pizza rather than having a buffet. It made no odds, we just took longer to eat.

My record? 14 slices. I was so proud. The all time record – 22 slices. An outrageous display of gluttony that will live long in the memory of all concerned. Believe it or not it was even acheived under ‘pints as well’ rules. The carpet of the Bristol Student Union never knew what hit it.

These days, my extreme eating days are over (although I’m not a small portions man in the main) but I still love a good eating contest. Fortunately we are blessed with the World Watercress Eating Championship on our doorstep.

World Watercress Eating Championship

World Watercress Eating Championship - 2011

It takes place annually at the Alresford Watercress Festival. If you have ever wondered how many bags of watercress it takes to make a man throw up, the answer is ‘less than one’.

Technially speaking, as I write this post, I’m on a diet. I am living out my eating needs through the medium of prose instead. I’d better not go near a McDonalds in the next few days. I can feel a supersize coming on…