Monday, April 30, 2007

Hot Dog, It's Michael Chiarello Hitting A Home Run With His Lunch For The Little Leaguers

Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello

Little League Tailgate

Best Hot Dogs
Home Made Quick Pickle Relish
Hot Sweet Mustard
Homemade BBQ Potato Chips with Smoked Paprika
Warm Potato-Tomato Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette
Apple and Blueberry Hand Pies
Lemon-Grape Coolers

To get the recipes:
Click here

Who would have thought there was a gourmet way to cook hot dogs? Well, there is, as Michael Chiarello shows us in this episode. He's having the Little Leaguers over for lunch after the game. He's putting out a particularly nice spread for them.

He starts with “Hand Pies”, which are homemade versions of those little pies, which I think you can still find in the back of a supermarket shelf. Gosh, weren’t those good? Cherry was my favorite and I loved the overly thickened cornstarchy artificially flavored super sweet filling. Those were the days!

Anyway, Michael is making his own, higher quality version with frozen puff pastry.

He starts the filling by coring and cutting up peeled apples and tossing them in lemon juice. And he is actually TOSSING them. No spoon for him. He adds 3 tablespoons of butter to a hot pan. As soon as the foam subsides (the butter is slightly browned), he adds the apples.

Whenever you’re adding an ingredient to a hot pan with fat, ALWAYS add it away from you, so you don’t get splattered. This is particularly true when you’re adding something wet, as in this case. Michael adds 3 tablespoons honey. He says he tries to stay away from white sugar when he can, and honey is a wonderful choice here. He adds a pinch of salt “to come up underneath that fruit flavor”.

He continues cooking them in the oven. That’s a good way to go - starting them on top of the stove and beginning the evaporation of water, which will lead to the apples caramelizing. They don’t need that much time in the oven, maybe 15 minutes. When they come out, mash them slightly. He adds blueberries, because he likes the combo of those flavors.

For the pastry, make sure to thaw it well in the fridge. He cuts out large rounds using a bowl. You should get 4 to a sheet of puff pastry. On a floured work surface, he brushes the edges of the rounds with an egg wash. Well, not really, it’s just a beaten egg. He’s not using the standard 1 egg to 1 tablespoon of liquid to make the egg wash. I wonder why. Maybe he wants a thicker glue for the pies. I think I would go with what I know, which is to add a tablespoon of milk or water to the egg and use that.

Michael puts a big heaping spoonful of filling in the middle of each round. Folds it in half and presses the edges together very well. He butters a baking sheet, use nonstick if you must, he says, but he prefers butter. He places the pies on the sheet. Cut vents in each one “so some of the air can escape. It keeps the pastry nice and crisp and makes sure that the pressure of the steam doesn’t open” up the little pies. He brushes them with egg and then sprinkles cinnamon sugar over and bakes at 400 deg. F for 20 to 25 minutes.

Oh, now he’s outside picking luscious looking tomatoes.

On to the potato salad. He’s making a German style potato salad, which means no mayonnaise. He quarters Yukon gold potatoes and puts them into cold water. He tells us to always start potatoes in cold water and to add lots of salt, because “that’s your only chance to get the salt into the potato.”

While that’s happening, he makes a couple of condiments for the hot dogs. He starts by mixing Dijon and honey together for a hot and sweet mustard. Then he takes some of that mustard to make a relish. He mixes it with a chopped dill pickle and some pickle juice. A whole lot of fresh dill gets added right before they eat, NOT BEFORE. Michael is as passionate about that as he is about how much he hates salads which are tossed 45 minutes before serving, which he told us on a previous show. He likes the “nice pop of fresh herb flavor”, which, obviously, you wouldn’t have if you had mixed in the herb, hours before.

The potatoes are done when a knife goes in easily. You don’t want them “furry like a teddy bear”. I know EXACTLY what he means, because mine often are. I really have to watch that. He spreads them out on a baking sheet to dry off a bit, because he doesn't want the water in the potato to dilute the dressing. My goodness, he's astute! This is EXACTLY what I paid my money for (if I had, that is) - to get this kind of expert tip from someone who's a real professional. It's like learning how to tune up your car or caulk your windows from an expert. You can still do whatever it is without that information, BUT you'll have a more efficiently running car, less draughty house or, most importantly of all, a fuller-flavored potato salad if you follow this advice. Kudos to the chef.

Michael sprinkles the cooked, and still warm, potatoes with red wine vinegar to give them more flavor. He starts the dressing by “blooming” the onion in red wine vinegar “to tone it down a bit.” He adds mustard, lots of pepper and salt, olive oil and, unfortunately for me, fresh tarragon, which I abhor.

Michael salts and peppers his tomatoes separately (which he doesn’t say in the recipe), because he thinks that “they take all the seasoning out of the dressing.” He tosses the potatoes into the vinaigrette and then adds the tomatoes.

My unabated admiration for MC notwithstanding, I think I would serve the tomatoes separately from the potatoes. Also, I would add a bit of crunch to the potato salad. I know there's red onion in there, but I want more crunch, whether it's finely diced celery or red pepper or both.

He shows us a quick trick to spice up store-bought potato chips. He starts with good quality “olive oil kettle chips”. He may mean the "Kettle" brand or just some other higher end chip, made in the kettle style. He warms up the chips in the oven, so the oils come to the surface and the spices will stick to the potato chip. He mixes together smoky paprika, garlic powder, sugar and salt (do we REALLY need the salt?) and tosses the warm chips, very carefully, with the spice mixture. Yummy.

For the hot dogs themselves, he seasons cold water with salt. If there were one thing I would think ISN'T needed, it would be salt, but it IS Michael, so I’ll let him deal with the dogs however he wants. He puts them into the cold water and brings them just to a boil. He leaves half of them in the pot until ready to serve, so they stay hot. He splits the other ones in half lengthwise, not quite all the way through, and fries them in olive oil, open side down. Then he flips them and fries the other side, until they’re slightly browned. They really look good and they’re only hot dogs for goodness sakes! (I DID wonder if the Cheese Whiz was coming out, but there was none to be seen anywhere.)

He rustles up a pitcher (not nearly enough) of a grape juice concoction for the kids. He goes out to greet them. After a bit of rough-housing, they dig in. They like everything, even the homemade relish and mustard.

While I would make a few changes to the recipes as written, I wouldn’t change a thing about our adorable chef, who, in my eyes, is the Most Valuable (and Cutest) Chef in the Major Leagues of the Food Network.

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