Babies & Burgers

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I am back after some much needed private time mostly spent in the garden and anticipating the birth of my grand-daughter. She is due in about 3 weeks.  What do you think of my grandma name, ” KiKi” (pronounced key-key)? Makes sense since my last name is Keys. Right? Anyway, the new life that springs from the dirt in my yard absolutely rejuvenates me, so I can’t even imagine what I will be like with a grandchild. I hope she will like to garden and grill with KiKi. Can’t you just hear her little voice saying, “mom, let’s go to KiKi’s house.”

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Japanese Primrose about to bloom

It’s May. The sun is shining and it’s time to get a pedicure, some new sunglasses and fire up the grill. Did you know that May is National Burger Month? While you are pouring yourself a cool beverage let me show you just how easy and delicious a burger can be compliments of The Kansas City Steak Company. Yes, they sent me free burgers, but opinions are mine….all mine.

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Today, I am writing about The Kansas City Steak Company Steakburgers. You may remember me telling you about this mail order company after my return from the Food Fight Write Blogger Summit and World Food Championships (WFC) last November. Back then I competed in a food blogger competition grilling up the company’s tender filet mignon and then cooked their flavorful ribeye steaks to create my winning sandwich at the WFC.

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Smokehouse Steak Sandwich

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When the company offered me a chance to try their steakburgers it was husband (grandpa) that was all in this time. He’s such a carnivore. Anyway, 1 dozen steakburgers arrived, well packed and frozen with dry ice. Each vacuumed sealed package contained 2 (4.5 oz each) patties separated by a square of wax paper. Also included was a pack of steak seasoning, a recipe pamphlet and a steakburger preparation card. Did I say easy?

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The patties can be cooked from frozen which makes them quite convenient for a last minute meal option, but since I had time I chose to thaw them overnight in the refrigerator. As per the instructions I seared the patties for 1 minute per side on a smoking hot grill and then I transferred them over to the cool side of the grill (indirect heat) for another 6 minutes per side.

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This method of grilling works well as my burgers were fully cooked to an internal temperature of 160F. and perfectly juicy. Going forward I will cook all my burgers this way. As far as flavor, I did season the 100% beef burgers, just prior to grilling, liberally with the accompanying steak seasoning and found them deliciously salted with a little peppery-garlic kick. A toasted bun, a little lettuce and a squirt of jalapeño ketchup completed the picture.

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What are you paying for ground beef these days? Around here it’s anywhere between $3 to $4.00 per pound, so these premium steakburgers are a comparable value except that they are delivered right to your door and ready to cook whenever you are in the mood for a perfectly juicy and flavorful burger. Need more incentive to order? Go to the web site and order anything you want up until June 30, 2016 and use the code 25FREE and get a whopping $25.00 off your order plus free shipping. Stock up! so you can shop and cook less and play with your children and grandchildren more. Happy Mother’s Day.

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Here is a recipe for my signature french fries. They are sliced super thin (julienne), chilled in water and then deep fried until golden brown. If you like a crispy burger topper or side these are the fries for you.

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Crispy Potato Strings

1 russet potato, thin julienne

Smoked salt

Canola oil for frying

Soak potatoes in cold water for at least 15 minutes; rinse and pat dry. Fry potato strings in 350F hot oil for 1 minute or until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towel; sprinkle immediately with salt

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P.S. Moving forward I hope to keep up with you and the blog at least on a monthly basis because I honestly love sharing my recipes and snippets of other good things with you.

World Food Championships & Moving Forward with Egg Salad

Toasted Egg Salad Roll with Candied Orange Habanero Bacon and Crispy Smoked Potato Strings

Toasted Egg Salad Roll with Candied Orange Habanero Bacon and Crispy Smoked Potato Strings

Like a pat on the back for a job well done once in a while I need a reminder from William he is here with me. When I cook he comes through, so I cook. This past week I was celebrating him at the World Food Championships in Kissimmee, Florida. He and I along with my Comare* Lynn cooked up a few recipes including one bad-ass egg salad sandwich. More about that special sandwich later.

Lynn, my maid of honor and William's godmother is my sous chef. I have always referred to her in Italian as my “comare”. Here is more of a definition:

*Lynn, my maid of honor and William’s godmother is my sous chef. I have always referred to her in Italian as my “comare”. Here is more of a definition:
“Comare… women used this term… [to describe other women in their group] to honor a close bond of mutual assistance.”(Guglielmo, 2010). It was a woman who worked with other women while the men were in the fields, they relied on each other for support in Sicily in the early 1900’s.
When my son passed away, Lynn never left my side. I am so honored to have her cook with me and so our team name (as we both are suffering with hot flashes right now-lol): “Too Hot Comares”.

The World Food Championships (WFC) brought hundreds of professional chefs and home cooks from around the globe to compete in 9 categories for over $350,000.00 in prize money and bragging rights. IMG_7713Having played this game before and getting my butt whooped I never in my wildest dreams thought I could advance through the ranks in my qualifying category of “sandwiches”. Luckily, it’s never about winning or losing for me. I just like being in the mix, cooking to the best of my ability and hoping for a little extra icing on what is already a spectacular cake. Truly, this competition feels more like a family reunion than a cutthroat kitchen. To be passionate and endure in this hobby it has to be about friends first and competition second. Think about those athletes who only care about winning and how quickly they lose the love of the game. I never want that burn-out to happen to me.

good old days with my family

good old days with my family

Others strongly believe in me when it comes to food sport. My daughter Caitlin for one. She never stops believing I can win. She nudges me forward with her simple notes and texts, “You got this mom” or “I know you can do it mom”. Does she know how much her thoughtful, gentle touch means? Same with my husband. He is the perfect coach. His support and encouragement never waivers. He never acts surprised when I bring home a medal or a prize when usually I am picking myself up off the floor in disbelief. And then there is William…..

homemade focaccia filled with a candied orange walnut pesto, speck, fontina and roasted red peppers and arugula salad with cranberry balsamic

homemade focaccia filled with a candied orange walnut pesto, speck, fontina and roasted red peppers and arugula salad with cranberry balsamic…cooking from the heart always wins ❤

Like in sports the WFC is a tournament style competition. My first sandwich requiring the use of Kansas City Steaks ribeye was judged at #6. Next up is my signature sandwich inspired by my lunch dates with William at Aventura’s Italian deli in Waterbury. The judges liked it and launched me into the #4 position. What?  Hot damn! After two rounds of judging I am still in it. I made Top 10 and would be required to create an egg sandwich in the final round using American Humane Certified free range eggs from The Happy Egg Co.

Smokehouse Steak Sandwich

Smokehouse Steak Sandwich

Just one problem. I never believed I would make Top 10, so I never prepared any kind of elevated egg sandwich recipe before I left home for the event. Exhausted but exhilarated I had less than 24 hours to figure it out. Before I went to bed that night I had nothing. It was like recipe writer’s block. Lot’s of anxiety. This is going to be embarrassing.

my good luck charm

my good luck charm

…..and then there is William. Just before I turned out the light I held a good luck charm in my hand (thank you Patrice Hurd) and had a little chat with my boy. I closed my eyes and hoped for a little Will Keys intervention. He never disappoints me.

Toasted Egg Salad Roll with Candied Orange Habanero Bacon and Crispy Smoked Potato Strings

Toasted Egg Salad Roll with Candied Orange Habanero Bacon and Crispy Smoked Potato Strings

Guess who woke with a start and jumped out of bed at 3 am with a complete egg sandwich recipe in her head? Not just any egg sandwich, but one bad-ass egg sandwich that scored the second highest score of the Top 10. It shot me into a 3rd place finish, but more importantly it reminded me that William is always here helping me move forward. This is why I cook. This is why I love the competition. It’s putting my grief into a passion. What is your passion?

Too Hot Comares both placed in the Top 10

Too Hot Comares both placed in the Top 10

As always I owe a debt of gratitude to those who went above and beyond to support me at the WFC. Big thanks to Felipe Rivera and Jennifer Daskevich for rescuing me from a major bread snafu; to Amoroso’s Bakery for supplying the most delicious rolls; to Carlino’s for vacuum sealing the imported speck and to Suzy and Colette of Saucy Mama for seeing and believing in me and taking me on this whirlwind of a ride. I am so proud to be a part of your team.

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Toasted Egg Salad Roll with Candied Bacon & Crispy Potato Strings

12 large Happy Eggs

2-tablespoons Saucy Mama Orange Habanero Wing Sauce, divided

1-tablespoon water

1-tablespoon white vinegar

1 tablespoon Saucy Mama Smoky Garlic mustard

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

½-cup diced Duda Farms Dandy Celery

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives

2 tablespoons finely chopped dill pickle

1 tablespoon Saucy Mama Backyard Brat Mustard

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1-tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1-teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

12 slices Wright Apple Wood Bacon, diced

1 russet potato or other frying potato, peeled and thin julienne

Canola oil for deep-frying

1 teaspoon smoked salt

6 (8-inch) whole grain sandwich rolls

½ cup clarified butter

1 bunch fresh arugula

Place eggs in a large saucepan with enough cold water to cover the eggs. Bring to a boil, cover and remove from heat. Let eggs stand in hot water for 16 to 18 minutes. Immediately remove eggs from hot water and plunge into an ice bath. When cool, peel eggs. Separate the yolks from the whites. Chop egg whites and reserve in a large bowl. Place yolks in the bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade. Add wing sauce, water, vinegar and garlic mustard; pulse to blend. With Food processor running, slowly add olive oil, processing until mixture is smooth, stopping and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Fold egg yolk mixture into egg whites. Add celery, dill, chives, pickle, whole grain mustard, zest and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Chill until ready to assemble sandwiches.

In non-stick skillet over medium heat, cook bacon, stirring occasionally until fat is rendered and bacon is browned and crispy. Transfer bacon to a paper towel and discard grease from the pan. Return bacon to pan. Over low heat, add remaining 1-tablespoon orange habanero sauce to bacon, stirring to coat the bacon. Set bacon aside in a single layer until ready to assemble sandwiches.

For crispy potato strings: Fry potato strings in 350F hot oil for 1 minute or until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towel; sprinkle immediately with smoked salt.

Brush cut sides of rolls with butter. Place rolls, butter side down, in skillet over medium heat. Toast 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown.

To assemble sandwiches: place a layer of arugula on bottom half of roll. Top with egg salad. Sprinkle with bacon and crispy potato strings. 

use a russet potato and pat dry with paper towels for extra crispy potato strings

use a russet potato and pat dry with paper towels for extra crispy potato strings

American Sniper & Shooters

liberty allows you to garnish these beauties any way your heart desires

liberty allows you to garnish these beauties any way your heart desires

And the Oscar goes to: Clint Eastwood (love him), Bradley Cooper (love him) and American Sniper (loved it)! Bet you are not surprised considering I am the proud mom of a US Navy Corpsman who was attached to a scout sniper platoon. Many of my family members were surprised I went to see the movie and asked, “Did you cry?” No tears. In fact, I left the theater feeling more proud than ever and thankful for men like my son and Chris Kyle.

making dinner in the dirt

making dinner in the dirt

Truthfully, I was hoping the movie would provide some clarity as to why William chose to extend his stay in the military. Why do the scout sniper training and why deploy again? What makes a man want to go back to a place where he is fired upon and where he risks being blown up? When your military obligation is complete why not come home?

the seat William was sitting in when this vehicle triggered an IED (improvised explosive device)

the seat William was sitting in when this vehicle triggered an IED (improvised explosive device)

These men have some kind of higher calling to defend and protect our freedom and there is no fighting that. They have a job to do and for whatever the reasons their job isn’t finished until they say so. What is sad is that these marines, sailors and soldiers can go through all of that terror only to come home to the good old USA and die in some inexplicable way. We need to take better care of our veterans. American Sniper, the movie, makes that perfectly clear.

on patrol

on patrol in Afghanistan

potato leek soup shooters

thank a Vet for your liberty to call this soup whatever you want

I really do hope the movie wins some awards, but in the meantime I have a winner of a recipe for you to try. It comes from my sweet friend, Mary. Mary was the first neighbor to greet us when we arrived in our new home. She always comes bearing delicious homemade gifts and this soup is no exception. I have adapted it only slightly from the cookbook, The Governor’s Table. A lady named Roma Reuther is credited as contributing the recipe to the book.

Cream of Potato & Leek Soup or Loaded Potato Soup Shooters

4 leeks

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

3 medium potatoes, peeled, sliced

3 cups chicken broth

1 ½ teaspoons salt

white pepper to taste

2 tablespoons flour or 1 tablespoon cornstarch

1-quart skim milk, divided

Garnishes: finely chopped chives, crisp cooked bacon, shredded cheddar cheese.

Trim leek roots and trim tops leaving about 2 1/2-inches of green. Cut a cross through root end and thoroughly wash removing any sand/dirt. Slice leeks finely. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat. Add leeks and onion, stirring occasionally, until they are softened and taking on a golden color. Add potatoes, broth, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes. Puree in a blender or food processor; return to pot. Whisk flour or cornstarch with ½ cup of milk. Add to pot with remaining milk, stirring constantly for 5 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Strain soup through a fine sieve to insure a super smooth texture, if desired. Soup can be served warm or chilled topped with garnishes. Serves 6 or many more as shooters. To easily fill shot glasses pour soup from a measuring cup or other vessel with a spout.