Pretty Fly for a Seasoned Fry

What’s a hamburger without French fries? This is no doubt a question Joe Tedesco would ask anyone who tried to serve the popular sandwich without it’s equally famous side. It’s also a question Joe did not have to ask Charlie Rollins and Graham Silver when he attended their party. The pair knew enough about their unofficial guest of honor to know plenty of fries had better be on the menu if hamburgers were anywhere nearby. They went one better and offered seasoned fries unlike anything Joe had ever tasted.

The following recipe is the one I came up with for the above-mentioned scene. Even though Joe never had the chance to try the delicious fries, I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as my family did.

Seasoned French Fries

Eight large russet potatoes

1 ½ c all-purpose flour

1 ½ t garlic powder

1 ½ t onion powder

1 ½ t ground cayenne pepper

1 ½ t sea salt

1 ½ t black pepper (I used a coarse grind)

1 ½ t paprika

Peanut oil for frying

¾ c water, more as needed

Combine the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper, and paprika with a whisk, mixing well. Set aside.

Wash and peel the potatoes. Place whole peeled potatoes in a bowl of salted cold water to keep them from turning gray. Remove one potato at a time and cut it in half lengthwise. Lay the flat side down, and cut the potato in half horizontally so you end up with a top half directly over a bottom half. Keep the halves together and cut them into ¼ inch strips. Do the same with the other half of the potato. Proceed in this fashion until all the potatoes have been cut into strips. Return the cut pieces of potato to the cold water while working on whole potatoes. Once all the potatoes have been cut into strips, drain them in a colander and rinse the cut potatoes with fresh cold water to remove excess starch. Pat the cut potatoes dry with a paper towel.

I used a heavy pot on the stove to heat my peanut oil and a candy thermometer to maintain exact heat. Heat the peanut oil to 350° F.

Add the ¾ c of water to the seasoned flour and whisk. Add more water in ¼ c increments and whisk until you have a thin batter. Place two large handfuls of potato slices in the batter and toss to cover. Excess batter will drop off when transferring the potatoes, but don’t shake off so much that your potatoes are thinly battered. Carefully place the battered potato slices in the hot peanut oil a few at a time until the surface of the oil is covered. An Asian strainer with handle is perfect for the task.

The temperature of the oil will drop a little with the addition of the cold potatoes. Maintaining 350° F will result in well-cooked, crispy fries. You may need to separate the fries as they cook to prevent sticking. When the batter turns a deep gold (approximately 10 – 12 minutes), the fries are finished cooking. Use the Asian strainer to remove the potatoes from the oil and drain them in a large bowl lined with paper towels. It is most important that the peanut oil returns to 350° before adding another batch of battered potatoes. When it does, proceed with the frying process until all the potato slices are cooked.

You may salt to taste if needed. The flavor of the seasoned batter becomes more evident once the fries have cooled to a temperature at which one can eat them without burning fingers or mouth.

Enjoy!

Oh, Honey—That’s Good!

Jewish honey cake is traditionally served at Rosh Hashanah, but all Shirley Tedesco knows is that her new neighbor, Muriel Shapiro, loves the stuff. Besides, it’s only January, and Shirley is desperate. At least she takes the time to discover Muriel’s heritage as well as her preferences in desserts.

From the deep wells of kindness that abide in Shirley’s heart, she uses the delicious cake to make inroads with Muriel. And while her motives are pure—she really does want to become close with the shy Jewess from New Jersey—if pressed to admit, Shirley also needs a babysitter who has never experienced her brood of eight unholy terrors.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind for Shirley to present as a peace-offering prior to Muriel experiencing the Tedesco horde. When Muriel agrees to babysit, she has to watch the twins, Holly and Noelle. Unfortunately, the twins are disgruntled at being the only siblings without plans for the evening, and they take it out on their unsuspecting babysitter. There isn’t enough honey cake in the world to repair the damage the girls inflict upon poor Muriel.

Jewish Honey Cake

3 ½ c unbleached flour

1 t baking soda

1 T baking powder

1 t cinnamon

½ t ginger

¼ t cloves

¼ t nutmeg

Dash of allspice

4 extra large eggs

1 ¼ c packed dark brown sugar

4 T extra virgin olive oil

1 t vanilla

1 ¾ c honey

1 c very strong coffee (decaf is fine)

1 c golden raisins

1 c whole or half candied or plain almonds

Preheat oven to 300° F. Grease and flour two 9×5-inch loaf pans or one 9×13 pan. Set aside.

In a saucepan, combine the honey and coffee and bring to a boil. Set aside to cool.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices together. In a large mixing bowl, blend the eggs, brown sugar, and oil. Do not overbeat.

Stir the flour and honey/coffee into the egg mixture alternately, beginning and ending with the liquid. Blend well. Toss the raisins in a little flour to keeping them from sinking and stir them in gently. Pour into the prepared pan(s) and place the almonds over the cake. (If using whole almonds, arrange them in straight rows to denote a serving and to indicate where to cut the cake finishing with an almond on top of each piece.)

Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the cake springs back. Let the cake sit overnight before serving.

Serve as is or top off with freshly whipped cream. Enjoy!

Latkes Like Momma Makes

Muriel Shapiro is one of my favorite peripheral characters in my novel, The Tedescos. The shy, intelligent native of New Jersey flees her home state with the dream of starting afresh in Northeast Ohio. When she moves into Joe and Shirley’s neighborhood, all memories of her disastrous cooking experiences under the tutelage of her impatient mother have been left behind. So have comparisons between Muriel and her well-married, grandchild-producing sisters, a father whose every sentence is spoken in a yelling voice, and the constant reminders of her failed art gallery. If ever anyone needed a peaceful environment in which to recoup, it is Muriel Shapiro.

The following recipe for latkes is quite easy, so perhaps dear Muriel’s talents simply lie elsewhere. I’m sure you’ll have splendid success when making “Momma’s” latkes and enjoy eating them even more than preparing them.

Momma Shapiro’s Latkes

12 Russet potatoes, peeled and shredded

1 large Vidalia onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, pressed

2 eggs, beaten

4 T flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Peanut oil

Peel the potatoes and place them whole in a large bowl of cold, salted water until all twelve are peeled.

I recommend shredding the potatoes through a food processor to achieve matchstick like shreds. Be sure to press out all the liquid from the potatoes either by squeezing them through cheesecloth or a clean tea towel or in a colander under a heavy bowl filled with water. Wet potatoes do not fry well.

Combine the shredded potatoes and chopped onion in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients (except the peanut oil) and stir. You may need to mix with your hands to ensure the potatoes are thoroughly coated.

Heat the peanut oil in a cast iron skillet to very hot. The oil will ripple across the top and pop when ready. Drop in large spoonsful of the mixture and gently press them into patties. Fry the latkes until golden brown and crisp on each side. Transfer the cooked latkes by slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined platter to drain excess oil. Serve them warm with sour cream and applesauce.

Enjoy!

She Called Her a What?

Danny Tedesco, Joe’s younger brother, is the black sheep of the family. He’s long on money-making schemes and short on work ethic. And although Danny and Joe get along—they really do love each other—more often than not, Danny is a bit of a thorn in Joe and Shirley’s side.

Joe springs it on Shirley that Danny and his new girlfriend are coming to dinner, and Shirley is not at all happy. She doesn’t want to cook for her loser brother-in-law and the latest bimbo he’s picked up Lord knows where. Unfortunately, Danny is family and must be welcomed. In defiance of the dinner party, Shirley announces that she’ll make spaghetti alla puttanesca. Joe questions her choice, but his strong-willed wife has made up her mind.

The elegant sounding dish is really quite delicious, and Shirley’s choice wasn’t altogether a bad one. If you aren’t familiar with the history of the dish and/or you don’t speak Italian, allow me to explain. Spaghetti alla puttanesca literally means spaghetti in the style of a whore. According to various websites, the dish was created in Naples and dates back to the mid-twentieth century. One legend says the meal was quick and cheap for prostitutes to make between customers while another says the robust aroma drew clients in.

I lean more toward the belief that Italians use the word puttana as an all-purpose swear word the way Americans use sh*t. It would be like saying, “I threw a whole bunch of sh*t into the pan and came up with this.” Reinforcing my opinion is the fact that I watched a cooking show years ago where the Italian Momma taught the host the meaning of, “I just sh*t.” Much laughing was involved, but Momma explained it meant to take stuff from the cupboard and toss it in the pot without the benefit of a recipe.

There are variations to the recipe with a particular ingredient omitted or added based on preference and locale. The sauce is traditionally served over spaghetti, but can also be served over linguine (as pictured above), penne, or bucatini. Trust me when I encourage you to use all the ingredients listed even if you don’t think you’ll enjoy them. I admit there was one on the list that made me hesitate, but ever since I discovered spaghetti alla puttanesca, I have come to love the simple, flavorful dish.

Shirley Tedesco’s Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

1 lb. dried spaghetti

Sea Salt

8 T extra virgin olive oil (reserve 2 T)

6 – 8 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced or finely chopped

8 – 10 anchovy fillets (packed in oil), finely chopped

1 – 2 large pinches red pepper flakes

½ c capers, coarsely chopped (press them dry in a paper towel first)

½ c pitted black olives, drained and coarsely chopped

1 – 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes with the juice (recommend San Marzano), crushed by hand

Minced parsley or basil for garnish

½ – 1 T Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, finely grated (optional)

Ground black pepper (I used quad-colored peppercorns)

Place the spaghetti in a large, deep skillet or sauté pan and cover with water. Add a pinch of sea salt. Bring it to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking.

In a medium skillet, combine 6 T olive oil, anchovies, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and cook over medium heat until the garlic turns a light golden color, approximately five minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the mixture sizzling without burning the garlic. Add the capers and olives, and stir to combine.

Stir in the crushed tomatoes and juice and bring to a light simmer. Continue simmering the sauce until the spaghetti is cooked to al dente (about 1 minute less than recommended on the package). Use tongs or a pasta spoon to transfer the spaghetti to the sauce. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water.

Add a few tablespoons of cooking water to the sauce and increase the heat to bring the spaghetti and sauce to a vigorous simmer. Add more cooking water as necessary to keep the sauce loose until the pasta is al dente (about 1 – 2 minutes). The spaghetti cooks more slowly in the sauce, and the starchy cooking water helps the sauce to thicken and cling nicely to the pasta.

Season lightly with sea salt (anchovies, olives, and capers are quite salty already) and heartily with black pepper. Stir in the remaining 2 T olive oil and parsley or basil. Some purists say that cheese has no place in puttanesca, but I find Pecorino Romano or Parmesan perfectly complements the dish. If using cheese, add it at this point and stir to combine. Transfer the spaghetti alla puttanesca to a platter or individual dishes and serve with more grated cheese if desired.

Enjoy!

Love is Sharing Your Popcorn

When I was little, I loved to sift through my mother’s recipe cards. I believe a gas station issued a pack of cards with every fill up as some kind of incentive. The cards had to be sorted into a holder according to the type of recipe. Each card bore the number of the category into which it fell. I particularly liked the section on children’s parties and recipes kids could make.

Nowadays, libraries and bookstores are full of cookbooks for children. As a former library employee, I enjoyed browsing these books while shelving them to see what kids might be cooking up. One recipe I don’t find anymore is that for making popcorn. I suppose that’s because today’s kids simply unwrap a package of popcorn and toss it in the microwave.

In my novel, The Tedescos, I chose to write about the old-fashioned method of making popcorn on the stovetop. The first popular home model of a microwave had been introduced in 1967 as the countertop Radarange. It cost about $495 (approximately $3700 today), so it wasn’t practical for my story.

Jiffy Pop, which I had once as a child during the same era in which my novel takes place, was also around, having been marketed since 1959. I believe the thrill was watching the popcorn bursts through the foil because the flavor left much to be desired.

Admittedly, I didn’t bother researching when air poppers came on the scene because, quite frankly, none of these methods were real cooking. Again, for a tasty and fun experience, popcorn made on the stovetop the way Mom did was the best. I know someone out there will gasp and clutch his/her heart when I suggest teaching a child to cook on a real stove, but honestly, a whole generation of children born in the 1970s who learned to make popcorn on the stove with mom are alive and well today.

In my novel, Joe Jr. attempts to make popcorn without his mother’s help. He forgets the oil, has the heat too high, and ends up with scorched kernels. Not to be deterred, Joe Jr. keeps adding fresh kernels to the skillet he’s using, but he never quite achieves success. The following recipe is what he should have done.

Perfect Popcorn

3 T olive oil

½ c popcorn kernels

Sea salt

4 T butter

Add the oil and popcorn kernels to a large pot with handles on each side. Put the lid on the pot, and turn the burner on to medium heat. When you hear the kernels begin to pop, gently move the pot back and forth over the burner. A gentle toss during this process encourages un-popped kernels to fall to the bottom. It only takes a few minutes for all the kernels to pop. During this time, don’t be tempted to lift the lid or hot popcorn may fly out and hit you in your face.

When the popping slows to about three seconds between pops, the popcorn is done. Use a large spoon to transfer the popcorn to a clean serving bowl. Wipe the pot in which you popped the kernels with a clean paper towel to remove pieces of hull and any un-popped kernels. Use the pot to melt the butter over a low heat. Pour the butter over the popcorn and salt to taste.

I cook on a gas stove, so I find maintaining even heat to be quite simple. Never having cooked on a modern electric range, I have to assume the burners are like the ones my mother had when I was a child, and that they don’t cool quickly just because one has turned down the heat. I mention this because you don’t want to burn the popped corn while waiting for the last kernels to pop, and removing the pot from an electric burner rather than shaking it back and forth to prevent scorching may be necessary.

Enjoy!

PS – Charles M. Schulz of “Peanuts” fame is responsible for the quotation that is the title of my blog post.

The Luxury of Chocolate

Chocolate ranks high among all the comfort foods in which one can indulge. It’s even better when it’s incorporated into a homemade recipe lovingly prepared by Grandma’s hands. And while chocolate in all its many forms is delicious, I do believe there isn’t anything that can’t be made better by eating homemade chocolate pudding.

Grandma Josephine Tedesco believes in love as the main ingredient in everything she makes for her grandkids. And even though Grandma’s mind isn’t always in the present, when it comes to cooking or baking, she’s as sharp as Gordon Ramsay’s knives. The following recipe for chocolate pudding is the one I had in mind when writing about pudding in my novel, The Tedescos. It’s absolutely decadent and just the sort of dessert Grandma Josephine would proudly serve. It’s simple, elegant, and a little bit of chocolate heaven.

Grandma Josephine’s Chocolate Pudding

2 ¼ c whole milk

½ cup sugar (I used raw sugar for a deep, rich flavor)

Pinch of sea salt

1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder

2 T cornstarch

2 large egg yolks

1 large egg

5 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped or in chips

2 T unsalted butter

2 t vanilla

STEP ONE: Whisk the cornstarch, cocoa, and ¼ c of the sugar in a mixing bowl. Add ¼ c of milk, and whisk until it’s smooth. Set aside.

STEP TWO: In a medium bowl, thoroughly whisk the whole egg with the two egg yolks. Set aside.

STEP THREE: Combine the remaining 2 cups of milk, ¼ c of sugar, and the sea salt in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Stir constantly to dissolve the sugar. When the mixture in the saucepan comes to a boil, reduce the heat and stir in the mixture from Step One. Once the two are thoroughly combined, bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Do this for about two minutes or until the pudding is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

STEP FOUR: Reduce the heat to low under the pudding and gradually whisk about ½ c of the hot pudding into the egg mixture from Step Two until thoroughly combined. Pour the egg/pudding combination back into the saucepan taking care to scrape out the bowl. Cook the pudding over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a soft boil is achieved, about two minutes.

STEP FIVE:  Remove the pudding from the heat and add the semi-sweet chocolate, butter, and vanilla. Stir until the butter and chocolate are melted and the pudding is smooth. Pour the pudding into six dessert dishes or ramekins that hold about 6 ounces each. A piece of plastic wrap placed directly on the surface of the pudding will keep a skin from forming. Refrigerate the pudding until chilled.

Serve with whipped cream and/or chopped peanuts if desired.

Enjoy!

La Cucina Povera

In the chapter of my novel, The Tedescos, titled “Soul Food,” the family attends church on Mother’s Day with their good friends, The Robertses. After the service, the Tedesco Clan is invited to attend a meal in the church fellowship hall. The men and boys prepared the meal they will serve to the mothers to honor them. Much of the food the Tedescos encounter is familiar, but one dish in particular initiates a conversation between Joe Jr. and Tabitha and Tonya Roberts and results in the explanation of ‘la cucina povera.’

The Italian phrase literally means the poor kitchen, and it is a style of cooking familiar among the lower classes (think peasants) of a particular society. Often, peasants had to cook with whatever they had on hand whether it came from the kitchen or the farm. The ‘poor kitchen’ can be found in every society. The great thing about this concept is that some really delicious recipes emerged from the simple, high-quality ingredients that were available.

Attempting to cook in the style of ‘la cucina povera’ may earn you a laugh especially from an older person who lived through the war in Italy. They may refuse to acknowledge ‘the poor kitchen’ style and argue that it was simply the preparation of the food they had on hand. Americans, with all their varied food choices and easy access to said food, have a tendency to romanticize a style of cooking that was a part of basic survival. Still, I can think of several recipes in which my family indulges that found their way into my writing because of my love to feed people whether real or imagined. Many cookbooks featuring this style of food have been published, and I highly recommend you try one or two meals from them if you’ve never encountered peasant cooking.

Beans and cornbread, cabbage and noodles, and soup made from some combination of vegetables are the types of peasant food I grew up with. I never knew that what we ate was considered to be from ‘the poor kitchen’ because the adults who prepared it for me cooked with love and made everything taste wonderful. Delicious, simple food is usually the tastiest, and in the end, that’s really what it’s all about. What does your family enjoy from ‘la cucina povera?’

Evolution of the Hamburg Steak

The all-American classic hamburger has is origins in a dish called the Hamburg Steak. It arrived on our sunny shores in the hands of German immigrants in the nineteenth century. These facts are of no importance whatsoever to Joe Tedesco as he takes in the mounds of perfectly grilled hamburgers Charlie Rollins and Graham Silver serve during their all-guy, neighborhood party. Joe just wants to get his hands on a couple burgers before you can say, “Pass the ketchup.”

To make sure Joe’s dining experience is memorable, Charlie and Graham season the ground chuck before grilling. I let the fellas borrow my own special blend of spices for the above-mentioned scene. It’s what I call my ‘burger masala.’ Read here (What I Like About Being an American) to discover how the seasoning recipe came to be, and then you’ll understand why an exact recipe doesn’t exist.

To feed my family and parents, I used the quantities below, but again, it’s alterable based on how many you need to serve. The variety of cheese and whether or not you use seeded buns is also up to you.

Classic Grilled Hamburgers

2 lbs. 80/20 ground chuck

6 bakery fresh hamburger buns

Butter

6 slices of cheese

Worcestershire sauce

Sea salt

Black pepper (I used ground quad-colored peppercorns)

Garlic powder

Hot Hungarian paprika

Raw sugar

Ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, onions, lettuce or any desired topping

I started with two one-pound portions of ground chuck. I like the 80/20 blend that gives flavor and juiciness. I find that ground chuck has a ‘grain pattern’ to it much like a whole steak. Cutting across this pattern ensures that the ground chuck stays together when pattying.

Cut the 2 lbs. ground chuck across the ‘grain pattern’ into six equal portions. Place the cut side down on a cutting board and gently press down from the center with the flat of your hand. While pressing the ground chuck into a thinner dimension, shape it into a round patty with the fingers of your other hand. I prefer 4 ½ inch hamburger patties. Remember, starting with a patty larger than your bun will guarantee you end up with a hamburger that covers the bun after cooking.

Place the hamburger patties on a platter and liberally douse with Worcestershire sauce. Sprinkle them with a hearty pinch of raw sugar. Season the hamburgers to your taste preference with the garlic powder, salt, pepper, and paprika. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Give the hamburgers enough time to reach room temperature before grilling.

Heat a grill to high heat and cook the hamburgers to preferred doneness, flipping once to keep them from burning. Don’t press the hamburgers with a spatula while cooking. You want the juices to stay in your meat. Add slices of cheese to the hamburgers and allow it to melt. Remove the hamburgers to a platter, place them in an oven on warm, and allow them to rest.

Slice your hamburger buns if necessary. Spread each side with butter and toast them in a skillet or on a griddle until golden brown. Place the cheesy hamburgers on the toasted buns, add your favorite toppings, and enjoy!

Devilishly Delicious

No wimpy hors d’oeuvres are the order of the day where Joe Tedesco is concerned. He’s an Italian/American version of a meat-and-potatoes man if you traded pasta and sauce for meat and potatoes. When Joe receives an invitation to the new neighbors’ all-guy bash, he assumes he’ll be served something subpar. To make sure this doesn’t happen, and to guarantee he has something he likes to eat, Joe brings a tray of Shirley’s famous deviled eggs.

The following recipe for deviled eggs is the one I had in mind when writing the above-mentioned scene. While there are a lot of great recipes out there for deviled eggs, and some of them are quite flamboyant with unexpected ingredients, I find this recipe satisfies on both the taste scale and elegance factor.

Shirley Tedesco’s Famous Deviled Eggs

12 large eggs

¼ c mayonnaise

1 T unsalted butter, left at room temperature to soften

2 t yellow mustard

2 t Dijon mustard

3 T finely diced bread and butter pickle chips ***(see below)

2 T juice from bread and butter pickle chips

¼ t sea salt

¼ t black pepper (I used table grind)

3 – 4 hearty dashes of Tabasco sauce

2 T fresh dill, destemmed and chopped

Paprika for sprinkling

Fresh dill for garnish

Most recipes for deviled eggs will tell you not to use fresh eggs (only a day or two since laying) because despite an ice water bath, the shells will stick to the cooked eggs. You’ll end up with ragged deviled eggs. While this is true, please don’t use store-bought eggs if you can help it. They are low in nutrition and have been sitting around for far too long even for ease of use in deviled eggs. I suggest eggs from a local farmer that you allow to sit in your refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Trust me, this won’t hurt them.

Place the eggs in a single layer in a large pot. Fill the pot with enough cold water to be at least one inch over the eggs. Bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat to a soft rolling simmer. You don’t want the eggs banging around in the pot. Time the eggs for ten minutes. When they are done, drain the water from the pot and refill it with cold water until you are able to handle the eggs.

Peel the eggs and gently blot excess moisture and bits of shell with a paper towel. Set them on a plate until all are peeled. Chilling the eggs will firm them up even more and make them easier to handle, but you can proceed with deviling if necessary. Slice the eggs in half and carefully remove each half of yolk from the white. Set the whites on an egg tray or the dish on which you wish to serve them.

Place the yolks, mayo, butter, two mustards, diced pickles, pickle juice, salt, pepper, Tabasco, and dill in a glass mixing bowl. Mash the yolks with a fork, stirring them into the other ingredients until smooth, and then continue with a whisk. The mixture will have a chunky texture from the diced pickles. If you desire a smoother filling, you may transfer the mixture to a food processor and blend until completely smooth.

Use a rubber spatula to scrape the egg yolk filling into a pastry bag with a star or round tip big enough to allow the bits of pickle to pass. (You can also substitute a plastic storage bag with the corner cut or create a piping bag out of parchment paper.)

Sprinkle the whites of the egg with paprika. Pipe the egg filling in a spiral into the empty whites. Garnish each egg with a piece of fresh dill tucked into the egg where the filling meets the white. Chill in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

***When choosing sweetened pickled vegetables, there are many choices on the market. Unfortunately, most have high fructose corn syrup in them. Try a farmer’s market that sells products with recipes closer to home-canned goods. I’ve had great success in such stores.

Nice to Meat You

Joe Tedesco likes his neighbors… as long as they keep the grass mowed and don’t throw loud parties. These standards, to which Joe himself conforms, are most definitely kept by the new neighbors, and yet they still cannot win over Joe to liking them. In a last ditch effort to secure the head of the Tedesco Clan’s friendship, they invite Joe and all the men from the neighborhood over for a party.

The new neighbors are clever and know the way to Joe’s heart is through is stomach. The menu they plan is spectacular and includes the following recipe for classic Reuben sandwiches. These babies are mammoth and worth every savory, saucy bite, so don’t skimp on the corned beef.

Classic Reuben Sandwich

2 lbs. quality corned beef, thick sliced

1 pound Swiss cheese

12 slices Jewish Rye

16 oz. jar of sauerkraut

1 McIntosh apple, peeled and diced

1 – 2 T brown sugar

¾ c apple juice

Salt and Pepper to taste

Unsalted butter, softened

 

Russian Dressing

½ c mayonnaise

2 T ketchup

3 T finely diced bread and butter pickle chips ***(see below)

2 t finely diced red onion

1 clove finely minced garlic

¼ t sea salt

3 – 4 hearty dashes Tabasco sauce

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl, cover, and chill in the refrigerator. The dressing lasts for three days stored in this fashion. I recommend making the dressing at least one day in advance to give the flavors time to meld.

 

To prepare the sauerkraut:

Empty the jar of sauerkraut into a colander and press out any remaining juice. Place the drained sauerkraut in a saucepan with the apple, brown sugar, apple juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer until the apple is tender. Turn off the heat, cover, and leave on the stove until needed for sandwich assembly.

 

Preheat the oven to 350° F. I opt for thick slices of corned beef because I find it keeps the sandwiches from sliding around on the bread.

Create a foil packet and place the corned beef inside. Place the packet on a cookie sheet with edges. Add 3 T of water to the packet and seal the meat inside. Put the baking sheet with the foil packet on it in the oven and bake for 8 – 10 minutes.

While the meat bakes, spread one side of each slice of bread with softened butter and toast the buttered side in a cast iron skillet. Transfer the toasted pieces to a baking sheet with the buttered side down. Spread the Russian dressing on the untoasted sides facing up. On six of the bread slices, layer pieces of corned beef, making sure to drain any moisture, until the meat is evenly divided. You may need to fold your corned beef slices in half to make them fit. Place a hefty portion of well-drained sauerkraut on top of the corned beef. Top off with a slice of Swiss cheese. On the remaining six slices of bread, place another piece of Swiss cheese.

Pop the sandwiches into the oven and toast for three minutes or until the Swiss cheese melts.  Remove from the oven and match up the corned beef, Swiss, and sauerkraut side with its Swiss cheese only mate. Give a gentle press to hold it all together. You may wish to cut it in half. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

***When choosing sweetened pickled vegetables, there are many choices on the market. Unfortunately, most have high fructose corn syrup in them. Try a farmer’s market that sells products with recipes closer to home-canned goods. I’ve had great success in such stores.

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