Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Roll Your Owns

One of my family's favorite weekday meals is tacos. Although we use the packaged taco seasonings, we don't use the taco shells that they sell in the Mexican aisle in the supermarket. Instead we have what we've come to call "Roll Your Owns."

The process is simple. First, we brown some ground beef, discarding the extra fat that renders out. We use a wooden spatula to break up the beef into small crumbles as it cooks. Afterward, we add between a half cup and a cup of water and taco seasoning. Actually, we use a combination of one packet taco seasoning, and one packet "salsa mix," which I've found to give the meat a fresher taste than just taco seasoning alone. I've found that if you add too much water, the meat gets very runny; you can fix that up easily by adding a bit of cheese to make the mixture a bit firmer until you get the consistency you want.

As the meat is cooking, the rest of the taco ingredients are prepared. Lettuce is shredded, tomatoes are diced, onions sliced and diced, shredded cheese taken out of the refrigerator. We also add other things, depending on what's on hand: scallions, cilantro, whatever. All these ingredients, as well as the cooked meat, are put onto plates or bowls.

Next, we quickly wash the skillet we used to cook the meat, and then add about an inch or so of vegetable oil. The oil is heated until a drop of water "dances" when added to the pan.

Now, it's time to make the tortillas. We've found that about a dozen corn tortillas makes enough tacos for our family of four, so we usually make sure we have on hand two dozen tortillas in case somebody is hungrier than usual.

We fry the tortillas in the hot oil for varying amounts of time: about a minute for a "soft taco," a couple of minutes for a "medium taco," up to four or five minutes for a "hard taco" (folded) or "tostada" (flat). At our house, the "medium taco" is usually the favorite, with occasional requests for tacos or tostadas. The fact that they are "cooked to order" is why we call them "Roll Your Owns."

Once finished, the tortilla is placed on a plate covered with absorbent paper towel, and then the recipient will fill it with meat and various veggies and cheese, topping with taco sauce.

By the time four tortillas have been prepared, it's time to start again with the first person's second taco, and keep frying until everybody has had their fill.

Usually, at the end, there are still some tortillas, meat, and other ingredients left over. Not to fear! The remaining tortillas are cut into pie wedges (about six pieces per tortilla), and fried to make tortilla chips. Meanwhile, the remaining ingredients are collected into a single bowl to make taco salad. A few chips are crushed to top the salad, and the salad is eaten with the remaining chips.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Barguy's Focaccia

I've mentioned Chip Shots Grill and Sports Pub before, and today's blog entry is about one of my favorite sandwiches, which was "invented" at that pub.

I first had focaccia at a restaurant called Houlihan's, which I first visited when they had a restaurant in Quincy Market in Boston. That restaurant has closed and there is another in its place, but one of the sandwiches they had there was a "Brentwood Chicken Grill," which intrigued me because I grew up in Brentwood, NY, and also because the sandwich was served on "focaccia bread." (Note: the chain now has a "Brentwood Chicken Sandwich" which is now served on a whole wheat bun. Pity!)

Focaccia is a bread which is usually seasoned with olive oil, onions, herbs, cheese, etc. There are probably as many variations in how a focaccia is made as there are variations in how pizza is prepared. In Houlihan's case, the sandwich had some cheese, rosemary, and a nice texture. I had this sandwich numerous times, even after Houlihan's in Quincy Market closed--I found a location in Lake Grove, NY, across the street from the Smith Haven Mall on Middle Country Road.

Anyway, at Chip Shots, I saw a number of focaccia sandwiches in their specials list, but never bothered to order them. After all, the idea of teriyaki chicken on a focaccia roll didn't really appeal to me. However, one day, I saw a special focaccia sandwich with the simple name "Roast Beef, Swiss Cheese, and Mushrooms." I ordered the sandwich and was immediately hooked. THIS was a sandwich I really liked! I liked it so much that I came back the very next day to order it again!

When I came back the next week, the specials list changed. I mentioned to one of the owners (Shannon) that the focaccia sandwich I had the previous week was one of the first times I ever came back to Chip Shots solely for the food (I really like the atmosphere and the people there, which is my main reason for frequenting that place). Shannon assured me that I could order that sandwich off the menu, and there would never be a problem. I took her up on that, and it now is one of the only meals I eat there... when I like something, I like it!

Recently, that focaccia sandwich reappeared on the specials list at Chip Shots, only this time it was called "Barguy's Focaccia." The name "Barguy" is one that I used when logging into the NTN trivia games that were once at the pub, and is the wait staff's nickname for me. I was honored; this was the second time a special was named after me!

This past weekend, I happened to notice some focaccia rolls at Hannahford's when doing some grocery shopping. I immediately got the idea to share my favorite sandwich with Sandra. I looked at the price of roast beef, and found it prohibitive--more expensive than some steaks! So, instead of using roast beef, I used shaved steak, which was less than half the price of the roast beef. (Chip Shots once made it as a "steak sandwich" for me when they ran out of roast beef when I ordered it.)

I made the sandwich and omitted the mushrooms for Sandra's sandwich, since she doesn't like them. We sliced up some baby Vidalia onions as well. Sandra loved the sandwich as much as I did. The two of us have now agreed to make this an occasional lunch meal on weekends.

The recipe below is my own adaptation of the Chip Shots recipe. It is the version that I made this past weekend. My sandwich included the mushrooms; Sandra's didn't.

Barguy's Focaccia (Roast Beef, Swiss, Mushrooms)

Source:Chip Shots Grill and Sports Pub
Yield:One sandwich


1 medium sized onion focaccia roll

2-4 slices aged Swiss cheese

1 Tbs butter

1 Tbs Olive oil

¼ small onion, sliced

1 oz sliced mushrooms (canned is fine)

½ lb roast beef (shaved steak will also do)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Slice the focaccia roll into two slices and toast so that the inside gets a bit of color. Keep oven on after you remove the bread, and immediately add the slices of Swiss cheese evenly onto the sandwich halves.

Meanwhile, melt butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sliced onions and mushrooms to the butter/oil mixture, stirring occasionally until onions are translucent, about five minutes.

Cut roast beef slices in half or quarters, and add to the skillet and cook for another couple minutes until the redness in the beef starts to disappear. If using shaved steak, cook a bit longer until the meat is about medium done. Mix the meat with the onions, mushrooms, and then move to plate lined with absorbent paper.

Add the drained meat, onions, and mushrooms onto the sandwich halves on top of the cheese. Assemble the sandwich, adding toothpicks if necessary to keep the halves together.

Toast in the oven for 3-4 minutes until cheese melts.

Serve immediately.

Bon Appetit!