Every now and again, I accidentally cross paths with a recipe that has so many uses I have no choice but to add it to my repertoire. This is one of those sauces, and I can thank my husband, Les, who discovered this one last fall, tucked inside an email he received from New York Times Cooking. The sauce was intended for some kind of “couscous cake,” which sounds interesting for another day, but Les trusted his instinct to believe it a perfect dipping sauce for his spinach ball appetizer recipe, and indeed it was.
As Les and I have repurposed this flavorful sauce for various uses, I have laughed to myself recalling an inside joke from the “Pinch” kitchen, which was how the staff usually referred to A Pinch of Thyme, the catering company where I spent my spare time for about two years. In the Pinch kitchen, it did not matter what kind of sauce you were preparing—it might have been one of the fancy French “mother sauces,” such as a hollandaise or béchamel or velouté, or maybe even a turkey gravy or a cheese fondue—if it was sauce of any type, Chef Rodney had a code word for it: “weez.” I imagined that the moniker might have been adapted from the name of the overly processed spread known as “Cheez Whiz,” but Rodney never confirmed that. It was amusing though, and we all secretly looked forward to the recipes that required creation of a weez, just because it was a funny word to say.
There was such irony in those scenes; while my friend Tammy, the Pinch events manager, was on the phone selling clients on the elegance of a dish such as filet mignon with béarnaise, Rodney was in the kitchen offering instruction for making a “tarragon weez.” He definitely kept things interesting.
This roasted red pepper weez is simple to make, which is surprising, given its depth of flavor and incredible versatility. The sauce begins in the oven, with the roasting of red bell peppers, a tomato and two whole bulbs of garlic, and it’s finished in the blender, where those ingredients come together with a splash of red wine vinegar, olive oil and the smallest kiss of maple syrup. The result is perfectly balanced and utterly addictive.
Preheat oven to 425°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut the bell peppers into segments, along the natural lines of the fruit. Discard the seeds and membranes. Lay the tomato halves and pepper segments, skin side up, on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush all pieces with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Roast about 40 minutes, until the skins on the peppers are nicely charred.
Transfer the tomatoes and pepper segments to a bowl. Cover the bowl and set it aside for several minutes, giving the skins time to soften for easy release.
Once cooled, carefully peel the skins off the peppers and tomato halves. Transfer them to a food processor or standard blender. I do not recommend a “smoothie” blender for this step, because you will need to drizzle oil in later. An immersion blender would also work. Pulse a few times to chop the peppers and tomatoes into smaller pieces. Carefully squeeze in both bulbs of roasted garlic.
Add the red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and maple syrup. Pulse a few times, then run processor or blender continuously while drizzling in the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Transfer sauce to a jar or bowl.
This roasted red pepper sauce has so many easy uses, from appetizers to pasta to pizza and more. It will keep in a jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks, though we have not been able to make it last that long at our house. Next time, we will make a double batch!
My husband, Les, has stepped up into the role of “kitchen boss” as I convalesce after slicing my finger. He is especially good on the grill, and sharing one of our fabulous recent meals. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
There are few things I like better than cooking and, of course, eating, a perfectly seared steak. Medium rare.
Strangely, loving steak didn’t come easily for me. My mom, forced to stretch a budget in our lower middle class household, didn’t get the best cuts. I remember endlessly chewing and chewing and chewing, dawdling through meals while eventually my two older sisters and parents drifted away into the “den” (which in actuality was a hallway) to watch TV. I would wait until I knew they were occupied and sneak over to drop my gray meat and leftover canned vegetables into the trash. Then immediately volunteer to take the trash out to the incinerator chute down the hallway of our apartment building in Queens, N.Y.
Eventually, two things changed.
First, I hit puberty and suddenly couldn’t get enough of steak. Second, about this same time, I recall my father started to speak out for getting his steak more rare. In particular, my mom started to buy London broil, a lovely cut of meat, which she cooked on the electric broiler, a rare, new “toy” in our household, slathering on some Open Pit barbecue sauce during the process. Best of all, my mom learned to take the meat off the broiler, cut medium rare slices for my father and me (by then my two sisters were both out of the house; the oldest married and the other in college) and then put the meat back on the grill to get it more done for herself.
I’ve never stopped loving a good cut of steak. As a young adult, I became adept at grilling, and London broil was always my favorite, even over a good New York strip. Until a couple of years ago, that is. Terrie and I were in Whole Foods one day and there was no London broil. The butcher suggested we try a tri-tip. “A what?” I recall saying. He pointed to a triangular-shaped piece of meat about 2 inches thick, which except for its shape looked similar to a London broil. The tri-tip comes from the point end of a sirloin, while London broil typically comes from the top or bottom round of the cow. The tri-tip is thus a better cut of meat, more marbled and flavorful.
Terrie suggested using her coffee spice rub, which is interesting because coffee is one of three things I can’t abide (the others being goat cheese and malted milk). But as part of a spice rub, I honestly don’t taste the “coffee” part, and it makes a terrific flavor profile for cooking steaks of any sort. It has become our favorite preparation for tri-tip, and Terrie’s recipe for the rub is included below.
I can’t tell you how easily and perfectly this meat sears. Not only is it delicious fresh off the grill, but the leftovers slice beautifully thin for sandwiches. Tri-tip, provolone, onion and lettuce on one of Terrie’s sourdough breads for lunch? Yes, please, as my better half likes to say.
Brush or spray olive oil onto the surface of the tri-tip steak, and rub a generous amount (about 1 tablespoon per pound of meat) all over it.
Let the dry rub sit for a few hours in the fridge, taking the meat out about an hour before grilling time.
Put the gas grill on high (550 to 600° F) and sear the meat on each side for 45 seconds to a minute depending on the thickness, before turning down the temp to about 350° F.
Cook the tri-tip about 7 to 10 minutes on each side, using either a meat thermometer to hit 140° F internally for medium rare, or simply using your eye if you care to slice into it while it’s on the grill.
Reminder: the meat will continue to cook after being removed from the grill, so err on the “rare” side regardless of how you like your meat, as the idea is to let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing.
Slice tri-tip thinly, against the grain of the meat, taking note that the direction changes slightly about halfway into it.
1/4 cup very finely ground dark roast coffee* (see notes)
1/4 cup ancho chile powder*
2 Tbsp. Spanish sweet paprika
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. mustard seeds
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cayenne* (adjust to taste)
Use a burr coffee grinder on the finest setting to produce the best ground coffee for this recipe. Alternatively, use purchased espresso powder or a good quality instant coffee, such as Starbucks Via brand.
Ancho chile is a smoked, dried poblano chile. It has less heat than chipotle, and is more “fruity” in flavor. Seek out ancho chile powder in a specialty store or online, or substitute a lesser amount of ground chipotle. I don’t recommend substituting a purchased, generically labeled “chili powder,” as these products usually also contain a lot of salt and other spices.
Cayenne packs a fair amount of heat, so adjust the amount to your match your tolerance. If you really like it hot, substitute ground chiles de arbol.
Place mustard and coriander seeds in a spice grinder and pulse until finely ground, but not quite powdery. Combine with all other rub ingredients and keep in a sealed jar for up to six months.
Use about 1 Tbsp. per pound of meat as a grilling rub.
At our house, the Thanksgiving “pre-feast” is almost as traditional as the feast itself. Even in this weird pandemic year, which finds us home alone for Turkey Day, we will have an eclectic spread of snacks and finger foods that will serve as sustenance until dinner.
We always have deviled eggs in the mix; they are a perfect little bite, savory and delicious, and packing enough protein to fill our bellies in a healthy way rather than just scarfing on carbs. As I mentioned back in the spring when I shared an egg-stravaganza, deviled eggs are a blank canvas for any flavor that strikes your fancy. This time, it’s the savory side of pumpkin, highlighted with a little garlic and ground chipotle powder.
By the way, this recipe would also work great with equal substitution of pureed sweet potato, if you prefer.
6 hard-boiled eggs
3 Tbsp. pure pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
2 Tbsp. canola mayonnaise
1/4 tsp. ground chipotle powder
Sprinkle of garlic powder
Kosher sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
The pictures tell the story, but you’ll also find written steps below, and a link for a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.
Cut hard-boiled eggs in half lengthwise and drop the yolks into a small bowl (I used the small bowl of my food processor, but this is not essential).
Add pumpkin puree, mayonnaise and spices to the cooked yolks.
Process or mash together until the mixture is completely uniform. Add another small spoonful of mayonnaise if needed for creamy consistency.
Fill the cavities of the egg whites with the yolk mixture. You can spoon this in for a quick finish, or take a simple shortcut for a more polished presentation by using a small zip top bag with a snipped corner.
OK, who else got stuck with a bunch of candy after disappointing trick-or-treater turnout? The whole neighborhood was abuzz last week about whether (or how) to participate in Halloween this year—do we go ahead and buy candy? Will there be any kids? Is it even safe to do it this year? Without a pandemic playbook, we were all just guessing, but the consensus was “let’s give it a go.”
So Les and I scrubbed our hands, dumped our bags of candy into a wide bowl with our long-handled BBQ tongs, placed our face masks on standby and flicked on the porch light to signal our intentions. Mr. Bones did his best to draw them in with his spooky presence and vacant gaze. But when the clock showed 9:30, we gave up, having given out exactly seven pieces of candy—all to one adorable little witch princess.
It’s not that much of a surprise, and in some ways I’m relieved because it proves that our community has done a good job of recognizing the safety issues of COVID. Despite our preparation and “no contact” method of distributing the candy, we ended up with nearly as much as we started. In previous years, Les has taken our leftover candy to share with his co-workers, but that standard fallback doesn’t work this year, either.
I guess I had it coming, this big pile of leftover Snickers—just last week, I was re-living the childhood trauma of my father’s annual raids on my Halloween candy, under the guise of a “safety check.” Is this the universe’s clever way of paying me back after all these years?
Though it is true that Snickers has always been my favorite candy bar, there’s a limit to how many of them I can eat before I get bored. I fired up the idea machine in my brain, and these easy-to-make brownies were born. They are the best of both worlds. Rich, dark, soft chocolate-y brownies and sweet, salty, peanut-y candies. What could possibly go wrong?
Ghirardelli dark chocolate brownie mix (or your favorite, plus ingredients listed on the box instructions)
10 fun-sized Snickers candy bars (not the “minis”)
Coarse sea salt
Preheat oven as instructed on brownie mix. Prepare baking pan as directed.
Cut up candy bars into small bite-sized pieces.
Make brownie mix as directed by box instructions.
Fold in candy bar pieces, then spread batter into the prepared baking pan.
Give the batter a light sprinkle of the coarse sea salt.
Bake as directed on brownie mix and cool completely before cutting.
Throughout my childhood, I took for granted that everyone enjoyed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the way my family made them. Not every time (but a good percentage of the time) I had this quintessential kid favorite, it was fried. You read that correctly—a fried peanut butter and jelly. 😋
I don’t mean greasy, county fair-style of battered-and-fried. This PB&J sandwich is assembled as usual, and then buttered on both sides and placed on a pan or griddle like a grilled cheese sandwich. The reward for patience while it cooked was a golden and crispy crust, with peanut butter and jelly melted together inside—a sticky, gooey, delicious mess of flavor.
I was at least halfway into my 20s before I realized that a fried PB&J was not a standard sandwich for everyone else, and I’m thrilled to have been let in on this flavorful secret sandwich at such a young age. This sandwich is helping me wrap up Better Breakfast Month, and I believe it qualifies as a “better” breakfast item for a few reasons:
It’s quick and easy to make
Kids and grownups alike will enjoy it
It’s a fun and elegant twist on an ordinary PB&J
It has whole grains, fiber, protein and fruit, which makes it nutritious (that’s my story and I’m sticking with it)
Making a fried PB&J is really as simple as I just described, and you certainly don’t need a recipe to do it. What I will offer instead is my guide to making the most memorable fried PB&J, because the ingredients you choose can make or break your first taste impression of this sandwich, which is, quite frankly, dangling right on the edge of the dessert category. Let’s begin with the foundation of any good sandwich:
In my (trying to be) humble opinion, a homemade artisan-style bread will yield the best results. You guys know I’m all about sourdough, and this is the breadI’ll be using here, but I know not everyone has time to invest in learning or making naturally leavened bread. You can use store-bought bread to make a top-notch fried PB&J, provided you choose a suitable type. Hopefully, you are not still purchasing the long, skinny, plastic-wrapped loaves that are found in aisle 12 of the supermarket—but if you are, please stop. Cheap packaged breads are made of cheap, stripped-down ingredients, and the texture is all wrong for sandwiches, toast—well for anything, really.
I love Maurizio Leo’s sourdough recipe that I’ve linked above because it makes the best sandwiches (and the best toast). It uses a simple but unusual step of pre-cooking a portion of the flour, which enhances the final texture into something that is gelatinized and chewy yet tender, and 100% perfect for sandwiches. To be fair, the recipe is not for beginners, but if you have some experience with sourdough, I hope you’ll try it. Maurizio’s recipe makes two loaves, but I usually halve the recipe, and I bake it in a covered Pullman pan, which gives me perfectly square slices.
If your supermarket has a bakery, pick up a good, simple artisan loaf—preferably something partially whole grain, with a soft “crumb” (that’s a bread-nerd term for the interior texture of the bread) and a firm, slightly chewy crust. No nuts or seeds or anything extra—just a classic bread is fine. All your sandwiches henceforth will thank you.
The Peanut Butter
Every PB&J (fried or otherwise) I had as a kid was made with conventional supermarket peanut butter, namely the brand that the (allegedly) choosy mothers chose. But I have not bought that stuff in years because it contains sugar, plus hydrogenated oils that are blended in to keep the natural oils of the peanuts from separating. I discovered long ago the simple pleasure of a natural peanut butter, made from only peanuts and salt. Sure, you’ll have to stir it (but only once) and keep it in the refrigerator, but it’s only 90 extra seconds spent to protect your body from the hazards of trans fats. There’s the question of smooth vs. crunchy, and I’m going with crunchy because I love the added texture of the little peanut pieces. You decide.
The PB&J of my childhood was usually made with grape jelly, and I’ll admit that I still have a special place in my heart for the flavor of good old Welch’s. It may have something to do with the fact that I grew up a few miles down the road from their original headquarters in Westfield, New York. Concord grapes are a native grape, and they were everywhere in my neck of the woods—my best friend’s family even had concord vines growing on a pergola over their backyard patio. Sandy and I used to pick the grapes straight off the vine in late summer and squish the seedy insides into our mouths, tossing aside the bitter, astringent skins and then spitting out the seeds. I can still taste those grapes!
Today, it’s all but impossible to find a grape jelly that doesn’t list high fructose corn syrup in the first two ingredients, and that is a huge problem for me. This is an ingredient that did not exist at all in previous generations, but food manufacturers lean on it heavily today because it’s cheaper and easier to use than sugar. But it’s fake, and I’m not having it on my sandwich. Pick up a jar of handmade jelly at the farmer’s market or diligently inspect the ingredient labels in the supermarket if you’re as concerned about this issue as I am.
As an adult, I’ve developed a fondness for other flavors of jams and preserves, my favorites being raspberry, fig and cherry. For this fried PB&J, seedless is best, so I’m going with cherry preserves, and I’ve carefully selected a brand that is sweetened with real sugar. There are chunks of cherry in these preserves, too, so I know it will be delicious.
To grill the sandwich, you’ll need to lightly butter both sides, and I do not recommend margarine or any other kind of butter substitute, unless you are dairy restricted. The milk solids in butter contribute to the lovely browning on the crust and, unfortunately, a substitute will not have the same crispy result. But if your only choice is plant-based butter, you will still enjoy this sandwich for the flavor and the incredible ooey-gooey texture that results from heating the peanut butter and jelly together.
I can’t stand the suspense, and my laptop can’t stand my drooling, so let’s get to it.
For best results, use modest amounts of both peanut butter and jelly. They will marry together so well under the gentle heat of the griddle, but too much of either will cause the filling to seep out everywhere. Keep the griddle level on a medium-low heat, for slow and even browning. This gives the filling time to properly warm so the peanut butter and jelly become like one. Turn the sandwich carefully so it doesn’t slide apart. And for sure, allow it to cool a couple of minutes, so the sandwich is “set up” properly when you cut into it. Plus, if you give into temptation and bite into it too quickly, you’ll burn the roof of your mouth. Trust me on this; warm is good, hot is painful.
This fried PB&J makes me so very happy, with each buttery crisp bite, and the warm nutty, fruity filling makes me feel like I’m nine years old again. In a good way. 😉 Each time I make one, I try to eat it slowly so I can hang onto that feeling. The other beauty of this sandwich is that it works for breakfast, lunch, dinner, late-night snack or any other time your sweet tooth and hunger collide.
Please let me know if you try it, and feel free to share in the comments any fun twists your family made on a classic comfort food!