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Cheesesteak Egg Rolls

January 5, 2014 Appetizer, Entrees, Menu No Comments

Being born and raised in South Philly, it was only a matter of time before I put together a dish inspired by our flagship sandwich, the coveted South Philly Cheesesteak. My in-law’s annual New Year’s Eve party was the perfect opportunity to do so. While there is never a shortage of good food at our family parties, I wanted to contribute something special and unique to help ring in the new year. I came up with a tasty South Philly-inspired appetizer …a cheesesteak egg roll.

Although the idea of a cheesesteak egg roll is not completely original (you can occasionally find them on restaurant menus), my recipe was totally off the cuff, inspired by the traditional tastes and ingredients of a true South Philly Cheesesteak. Just four basic ingredients – steak, provolone cheese, onions and egg roll wrappers – were the perfect combination. To help bring a sweeter, robust taste to the cheesesteak, I used caramelized onions in place of the traditional fried onions. You need a good 45 minutes to an hour to caramelize onions, so you’ll want to do this step a day or so in advance. I also used shredded provolone cheese in place of traditional sliced cheese (or, cheese whiz for some hard-core cheesesteak fans), and folded it along with the caramelized onions into the cooked steak, so that you get the full taste and flavor in every bite. I also baked the egg rolls instead of the traditional frying method. The steak, cheese and onion combination will create enough of their own oils within the egg roll, so there is no need to fry them in additional oil.

I’m very happy to say that the egg rolls were a big hit with everyone, and I’ve even gotten requests for a buffalo chicken cheesesteak version for my brother-in-law’s birthday. You can look for that follow-up post in another month or so. In the meantime, be sure to give my cheesesteak egg rolls a try. They’re an easy, delicious and filling snack food…perfect for your upcoming game day parties!

(makes 20 egg rolls)
1.5 lbs thinly sliced rib eye or top round steak (if you cannot make it to your butcher shop, frozen steak sandwich meat such as Steak-umm will work)
4-5 onions, caramelized. You’ll want to do this a day or so ahead of time. Recipe below.
2 cups shredded provolone cheese
1 pack of egg roll wrappers (found in the produce section of your super market)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the steak to the pan, a few slices at a time. Add a little bit of water to the pan while cooking the steak. You want to make sure that the steak does not dry out while cooking. Just as the steak starts to brown, chop it in the pan and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Chop and flip the steak until fully browned, then remove and set aside. When the steak is cooled a bit, mix well with the onions and shredded cheese. You don’t want to add the steak mixture to the wrappers when the mixture is hot. It will soften up the wrappers and make it difficult to assemble.

*NOTE – full assembly instructions are included with the wrappers. You can also follow the step-by-step photos below.

Pre-heat oven to 400˚. Place an egg roll wrapper on a clean, flat surface, endpoints at the top and bottom (diamond shaped). Add one tablespoon of the steak mixture to the middle of the wrapper. Fold the bottom portion of the wrapper over the meat filing, then fold the left and right sides over, then gently roll it 3/4 of the way. Moisten the top corner of the wrapper with a bit of water (as if you were sealing an envelope), then fold it and seal it. Repeat steps with remaining wrappers.

Spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Place the egg rolls seam-side down onto the sheet. Lightly brush the top of the egg rolls with olive oil. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Serve immediately and enjoy.

You can also bake these ahead of time, and warm them up again for about 5-7  minutes.


The basic steps on how to fold an egg roll wrapper.


(courtesy of SimplyRecipes.com)

Several medium or large onions, yellow, white, or red
Olive oil
Butter (optional)
Sugar (optional)
Balsamic vinegar (optional)

Slice off the stem ends of the onions and place them cut side down on the cutting board. Cut them in half through the root end. Peel the onions. Lay them cut side down and make angled cuts into each onion, aimed at the center, cutting almost all the way, but not completely through the root end.  Make the cuts to your desired level of thickness. The root end will help hold the onion together as you cut it, making it easier to cut. Then cut a V in the root end to cut out the tough root holding the slices together.

Use a wide, thick-bottomed sauté pan for maximum pan contact with the onions. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil, or a mixture of olive oil and butter (about 1 teaspoon per onion). Heat the pan on medium high heat until the oil is shimmering. Add the onion slices and stir to coat the onions with the oil. Spread the onions out evenly over the pan and let cook, stirring occasionally. Depending on how strong your stovetop burner is you may need to reduce the heat to medium or medium low to prevent the onions from burning or drying out. After 10 minutes, sprinkle some salt over the onions, and if you want, you can add some sugar to help with the caramelization process. (I add only about a teaspoon of sugar for 5 onions, you can add more.) One trick, by the way, to keeping the onions from drying out as they cook is to add a little water to the pan.

Let cook for 30 minutes to an hour more, stirring every few minutes. As soon as the onions start sticking to the pan, let them stick a little and brown, but then stir them before they burn. The trick is to let them alone enough to brown (if you stir them too often, they won’t brown), but not so long so that they burn. After the first 20 to 30 minutes you may want to lower the stove temperature a little, and add a little more oil, if you find the onions are verging on burning. A metal spatula will help you scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan as the caramelization proceeds. As the onions cook down, you may find you need to scrape the pan every minute, instead of every few minutes. Continue to cook and scrape, cook and scrape, until the onions are a rich, browned color. At the end of the cooking process you might want to add a little balsamic vinegar or wine to help deglaze the pan and bring some additional flavor to the onions.

Store refrigerated for several days in an air-tight container.


Kale Salad with Cannellini Beans, Gorgonzola and Balsamic Bacon Vinaigrette

November 7, 2013 Appetizer, Entrees, Menu, Salads No Comments

If you’re a follower of healthy food trends, I’m sure you’ve come across quite a few recipes that use kale. If you are not familiar with kale, it is one of the latest and greatest super foods, loaded with vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Because it has risk-lowering benefits for various forms of cancer, and also has cholesterol-lowering, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and cardiovascular benefits, kale is being enjoyed not only as an edible green, but also as an ingredient in protein shakes and body-cleansing juices. I’ve only recently been introduced to kale, served by my brother and his wife as a salad mixed with quinoa, and have since been inspired to try out my own version of a mixed kale salad.

Because kale has a very thick and firm texture, it is often recommended to cook it before serving, to help soften it a bit for easier digestion. Many health food sites recommend steaming it for 5 minutes, for maximum nutrition and flavor. You can also sauté it as you would spinach or other greens. You can, of course, serve it raw, as I do in the recipe that follows. To help soften the leaves and make them easier to digest as a raw salad, you want to thoroughly wash the leaves in warm to hot water for at least 5 minutes, making sure to rub away any grit or dirt. You then want to rinse the leaves again in cold water. This method is called massaging. Remove any thick pieces from the kale, then shred or chop the remaining leaves. You can then add your additional ingredients, then toss with a salad dressing.

My mixed kale salad included the following ingredients. You can add whatever amount you prefer:

• white cannellini beans;
• grape tomatoes;
• crumbled gorgonzola cheese;
• fresh bacon bits; and
• home made balsamic bacon vinaigrette dressing (recipe below).

Obviously, the bacon vinaigrette may not be the first choice for a healthy salad, but I was looking to make it a bit more hearty and flavorful. You can substitute it with a lighter dressing, such as a fresh citrus vinaigrette, if you wish.

For more ideas on how to prepare and serve kale, check out the following links:

Balsamic Bacon Vinaigrette Dressing
(Courtesy of finecooking.com)

2 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small shallot, minced
1-1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small (1-quart) saucepan over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a dish lined with paper towels, leaving the bacon fat in the pan. Add the shallot to the bacon fat and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 Tbs. of the vinegar and scrape the bottom of the pan with a spoon to dissolve the browned bits stuck to the pan bottom. Off the heat, stir in the remaining 1/2 Tbs. vinegar, the lemon juice, and the mustard. Gradually whisk in the olive oil (don’t worry if the sauce doesn’t emulsify). Season with 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper, or to taste.


Sunday Gravy in a Crock Pot: Shortcut or Sacrilege?

October 25, 2013 Entrees, Menu, Pasta 2 Comments

A few weeks back I was faced with one of the toughest cooking challenges I’ve ever had to make since starting this blog. It was a beautiful autumn Sunday afternoon, and my wife and I had plans to take our kids to meet up with friends at a neighborhood Fall Festival. We also had a huge craving for a nice pot of Sunday gravy, which we haven’t made in a while. When a hankering for Sunday gravy comes along, there is no turning back.

Knowing that we would be out of the house for a good few hours, spending the time needed to tend to a pot of gravy wasn’t an option. But I was still determined to somehow enjoy my favorite Sunday meal, so much so that I already bought the cans of tomatoes, the beef, pork and veal for the meatballs, and the loaf of crusty Italian bread. With my back up to the wall, I made the crucial decision….I was going to attempt to make my Sunday gravy in a crock pot.

Still a bit shaken and nervous about my decision, I reached out to my Facebook friends to get their opinions. My friend Lorraine Rannali, the Gravy Wars queen, thought I was crazy. Even my cousin – my own flesh and blood – was shocked. But I was determined to conquer my fears and figure this one out.

We’ve all used a crock pot to serve up meatballs at a family party. But this wasn’t just a quick reheat…this was building from the ground up. If you step off of the meatball merry-go-round and think about it, you’re only using a different heating element to warm up a pot. Already I was feeling less nervous, and it was time to get cooking.

The first step that I take when making my Sunday gravy is to heat up some oil and garlic, and then add my tomatoes. Knowing that the crock pot wouldn’t produce the heat needed to warm up the oil, I used some common sense and came up with the practical solution – just heat up some oil and garlic in a small pan over the stove and add it to the tomatoes, Now we’re rolling!

I started by adding my cans of tomatoes to the pot, seasoned it up as I normally would, and then added the heated garlic and oil. The house is smelling good already! I already had the meatballs baking in the oven, and once they were done, I plopped them into the tomatoes and in true old-school fashion (I worked every old-school trick I could think of), I added some of the meatball oils to the pot for a little extra flavor.

Now it was time to head out and hope for the best. I set the pot to the low setting, and off we went to paint pumpkins and stuff scarecrows. Three hours later, we returned and I slowly but anxiously opened the front door. We were greeted with the most beautiful, fragrant smell that any Italian and Italian-American home would be proud of…the smell of Sunday gravy.

Yes friends, you can indeed make Sunday gravy in a crock pot. By following your own traditional recipe, and heating up your oil and garlic in a separate pan, you should have no problems and will not taste a difference. You will have to scale back on the amount that you’re making, as crock pots are much smaller than a regular sauce pot. If you’re making Sunday gravy for a large crowd, leaving the house is probably the furthest thing from your mind anyway!


Apple Bacon Harvest Risotto

October 8, 2013 Entrees, Menu No Comments

A few weeks back, I posted a review of Harpoon Pumpkin Cider (the verdict: not so good). I purchased the cider as a six-pack, so I have since been kicking around ideas on how to put the remaining bottles to good use without simply dumping it all down the drain. One of my favorite dishes that I like to prepare this time of year, particularly on a Sunday spent at home, is a nice pot of risotto featuring seasonal ingredients and flavors. I’ve already put together a Pumpkin Amaretto Risotto, which is one of my favorite recipes on my blog. But this gave me an idea on another seasonal favorite of mine. Since the main ingredient of cider is apples, I though it would be nice to play up on the apple angle. From there, I started thinking of other ingredients that would work well with apples. I immediately thought of  a harvest salad, and quickly came up with smoked bacon, walnuts and gorgonzola cheese. After a bit of research, I found a risotto recipe using apples, bacon and bleu cheese, and white wine and apple cider vinegar as the liquid base. With just a few minor adjustments, particularly using the cider in place of the wine and vinegar, and throwing in some allspice for an extra kick, I put together a dish that I was really happy with. The risotto was very filling and full of wonderful autumn flavors and texture. It’s a perfect recipe for this time of year. If you are a fan of risotto and the fall season, and if you have about 45 minutes of uninterrupted kitchen time available to you, give this one a try. If you don’t have apple cider on hand, I’m sure that the white wine and apple cider vinegar combination would work just as well.

Apple Bacon Harvest Risotto
inspired by a recipe found at betterrecipes.com

4 Strips Thick-cut Bacon, cut into ½” slivers

1 tbsp Olive Oil

2 Golden Delicious Apples, peeled and diced

2 Shallots, peeled and minced

4 cups Low-sodium Chicken Stock

1½ cups Arborio Rice

1 12 oz bottle Hard Apple Cider
(you can substitute cider with 1/2 cup Dry White Wine + 2 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar)

¾ tsp Kosher Salt, divided

½ tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper

1 tbsp Thinly Sliced Fresh Sage Plus a Few Leaves, for garnish

3.5 oz Gorgonzola Cheese, crumbled

1 tbspn finely chopped Walnuts

Dash of Allspice (to taste)


Place the bacon in a large saute pan and cook over medium heat until golden, rendering most of the fat. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon to a paper towel and drain all but one tablespoon of fat from the pan. Add the olive oil to the bacon fat in the pan and saute the shallots and apples over medium-high heat until softened and browned in spots, 5-6 minutes. Season mixture with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Meanwhile, heat the stock over low heat in a small saucepan until it comes to a simmer, then adjust heat to maintain a low simmer.

Add the rice to the saute pan with the apples and shallots and cook, stirring constantly, 2-3 minutes, until rice becomes translucent at edges. Add the cider (or wine and vinegar) then cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed by the rice. Season mixture with a second 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Add a ladle of simmering stock and cook, stirring frequently, until absorbed. Repeat additions of stock, adjusting the heat to keep the risotto simmering but not at a raging boil, until rice is just tender, about 20 minutes. Season with pepper, then remove from heat, add sage, reserved bacon, the final 1/4 teaspoon salt, goat cheese, walnuts and allspice, then cover for 2-3 minutes. Give a final stir and serve immediately, garnished with sage leaves.


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