GREAT COMFORT FOOD FOR BUSY COOKS

The weather is starting to get cold. I don’t know about you, but when that happens, I jump right into the comfort foods. A big time-saver during the “comfort food” season is slow roasting a large batch of meat and using it over multiple days for a variety of dishes. I might roast a few chickens, or perhaps a turkey. Large hunks of meat like chuck roast and pork shoulder are also great candidates.

Gateway’s rotisserie chickens

If you’re busy, you don’t have to do all the cooking. I often pick up a rotisserie chicken or two from Gateway Market to get a head start. If you’ve never had one of these things, you should – these aren’t your everyday rotisserie chickens! Gateway’s are carefully brined and seasoned, which means the flavors seep all the way to the bone while tenderizing the fall-apart, juicy meat.

Rotisserie chickens packed up and ready to take home.

Of course, if you want to make your own, it’s easy to do. Yes, it takes a little time but not a lot of hands-on attention, as you’ll see.

George’s Outstanding Roasted Chicken

The ingredients are pretty simple – just meat and basic seasonings. However, the quality of the ingredients is hugely important, and in this dish, that means the chicken. You’ll need the following:

  • Two Gateway market all-natural Amish chickens
  • Salt, pepper and garlic powder

Liberally coat the chickens with seasoning. Cover all sides and the inside of the bird, and don’t skimp!

Place the seasoned birds in large, tightly sealed plastic bags or in a covered container. Place them in the fridge and let them sit for 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place chickens on roasting rack and roast 50 to 60 minutes or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees (if you don’t already have a meat thermometer – get one!). This will be good practice for your holiday cooking marathon.

Make sure the chicken’s still warm, otherwise this gets a lot more difficult.

Once it has cooled (but is still warm to the touch), pull the meat from the bones. Divide the meat up into meal-sized portions and toss it into baggies along with a little bit of its juices and fat. Save the leftover bones for your chicken stock.

So, now you’ve got all this roasted chicken begging to be used in a variety of dishes. Here are some examples of how I use the same chicken over the course of three days.

DAY 1: Here’s something I like to do that works with most roasted meats but is especially good with pulled chicken. Toss a portion of the meat with chipotle powder, garlic, Mexican oregano, a few tablespoons of salsa and a little lime juice. For the salsa, my favorite is the Frontera brand salsa, available at Gateway. Try the chipotle salsa; I like it a lot.

After mixing all that, heat a few corn or flour tortillas and pile on the meat. Be sure to have some chopped onions, sliced radish, lime wedges and additional salsa on hand. Serve this with rice and beans.

DAY 2: OK, so you have some more chicken to deal with – let’s make some chicken and noodles.

All the ingredients you need – straight from Gateway!

To make the broth, you’ll need:

  • 1 quart chicken or veggie stock
  • 2 peeled and sliced carrots
  •  1 small onion diced
  • 3 stalks celery diced
  • Pinch of thyme
  • Big pinch of black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon chopped garlic

Put all ingredients in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Then turn to low heat and simmer.

Add your favorite noodles. Want to make your own? Here’s a quick and simple recipe:

Simple noodle recipe

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Mix all ingredients together. Want more noodles? No problem, this doubles and triples easily.

Homemade noodles

Let mixture rest for 20 minutes. Roll out using a wooden rolling pin and plenty of flour, or use a pasta machine. Use a pizza cutter to cut irregular shaped noodles.

Add the noodles to the boiling broth. (You can take this opportunity to throw in the chicken; if you’ve got some vegetarians in the house, you can simply add the chicken to individual bowls at the end of the line.)

Finished product – the perfect dish to prep for winter!

Cook the mixture until the noodles are done and serve. If you like that thicker, more stew-like consistency served over mashed potatoes (definitely a Midwestern comfort thing), then start a little starch on starch action. If noodles ate not starchy enough to make it happen, just thicken the mixture with corn starch and water slurry (4  parts water to 2 ½ parts corn starch).

Day 3: If you still have some chicken left, here’s something that I really like. Mix a desired amount of chicken with your favorite BBQ sauce. At Gateway, we have some truly wonderful and hard-to-find barbecue sauces. Heat the chicken in the sauce, serve on toasted South Union ciabatta bun with pepper cheese, bacon and sliced red onions. Serve with potato salad, chips and baked beans.

There you have it – one bulk ingredient in three easy dishes over three days.

A CHEF’S INSPIRATION

It’s no secret that I love pizza. Yeah, if pizza were drug, I think I might need an intervention to get off the stuff! What’s more, making pizza it is probably my second favorite thing to do in the world! (My favorite thing? I’ll leave that to your imagination.)

While my passion for pizza is out in the open, I am keeping some of the secret tricks used by great pizza-makers under wraps for the time being. Yes, we in the pizza world have more secrets than we are willing to share with Joe Public. I have entertained the idea of writing a tell-all book that would reveal these untold tricks of the trade. But I have decided against that for fear of upsetting the balance of power in the pizza universe. I am afraid that as the tide rises, not-so-great pizzas might get lost in the shuffle. Making spectacular pizza does require careful attention, especially to quality ingredients. Less-than-spectacular pizza is going to cost less and be more readily available than primo pizza. There’s a place in many lives for inexpensive pizza. Besides, pizza to me is kind of like sex. Even when it’s not the best you have ever had it is still pretty darn good. (Not sure who deserves credited with that saying, but I like it.)

So, for now, my way to share some my love of pizza is to make different types available here in Des Moines. The best known types are ready to eat at Centro, Gateway and now at Django. But I will also give you the ideas for you to make your own from ingredients at Gateway. It has taken me a lifetime of obsession to know all I know about pizza and I am still learning.

On a recent trip to France, I was blown away by the amount of pizza that I saw. Pizza with French style was something that had not really occurred to me. I have played around with Japanese-inspired pizza and Mexican-inspired pizza. I believe that just about any sandwich can be made into a pizza. But I had not given much thought to French pizza. When we opened Django we made these wonderful Alsatian style tarts that were essentially pizza, just not called that. The abundance of pizza in France came as somewhat of a surprise to me.

I saw all types of pizza throughout our trip. But the further south we went, the more the food style started to resonate with me and the more comfortable I felt with the people themselves. They were just a little more friendly. They even started to look a little more like me. A few times I would walk into a little shop and the shop keeper would greet me in Italian.

For part of our trip, we left mainland France and headed for the island of Corsica, located southeast of France and west of Italy. I love the Islands of the Mediterranean. I have a connection with island people. I am the son of a proud Sicilian woman. I think there is something special about island people and their food. Over the centuries almost all island people have cultivated food with flavors and a style of its own. Island cuisine tends to be distinct from that of the mainland. More often than not, the signature dishes of an island have been influenced by the people who had once conquered or inhabited the land. This was apparent on the island of Corsica, where I found my favorite “French” pizza.

My happy discovery came with moments of my arrival. With a few students from the Iowa Culinary Institute, I went off looking for local food. We soon happened upon a sort of restaurant row. Pizza was being sold all around us. Much like pizza in the United States, there were many different kinds of crusts and toppings. The ones that I liked the most were the thin crispy type. Upon my first bite I thought this is great pizza! It was of a style that Americans would appreciate, I believed. The pizza embraced different cheeses. The sauce was a slightly sweeter and more seasoned sauce than Italian-style. Think fromage blanc, béchamel or creme fraiche. For toppings they played with all sorts of ingredients. Yes, they take pizza seriously in Corsica!

Chefs often travel to get inspired in other cities or countries. It helps with perspective. The chef can get a better idea of how the food translates to a customer. Some chefs move to certain places to try their hand a particular cuisine. I decided quite a long time ago not to move away from Iowa. My dream was and still is to bring my favorite flavors from around the United States and the world to Des Moines. So here we go, adding another one – Corsican pizza – to the list at Django. In keeping with the spirit of what I saw on the island, we will do an assortment of braised meats, confits and other toppings that pay homage to French flair. So come to Django and enjoy this cook’s inspiration.

Want to make your own? Try this pizza – I’m making it here in Django’s kitchen. Here’s what you’ll need:

Ingredients

Dough, semolina, herb mixture, béchamel, Parmesan, toasted bread crumbs, tomatoes and cheese.

  • 16 oz. of pizza dough. You can make your own, or grab some of Gateway Market’s pre-made dough.
  • Semonila
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Fresh herbs
  • Béchamel or Alfredo sauce
  • Cheese (fromage blanc? gruyère? Swiss? Your call.), including Parmesan
  • A couple tomatoes, sliced.
  • Toasted buttered panko bread crumbs (if desired)

Start by dividing your pizza dough equally into two. Preheat a baking stone in a 525 degree oven.

Rolling Dough

Roll the dough – don’t worry if it’s not perfectly round.

Roll the crusts as thin as you like using semolina to dust. Dust a pizza peel with semolina and place crust onto it.

Adding Semolina

Adding semolina. I’ll flip the crust so that’s the bottom before topping.

Rub the surface of the crust with olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs.

herb mixture

Adding the herb mixture to the pizza crust.

Use Gateway’s béchamel or Alfredo sauce, fromage blanc, grated gruyère or Swiss cheese. Then add sliced tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. If you like sprinkle on some toasted buttered panko bread crumbs.

Sprinkle Parmesan

Add sauce, tomatoes and Parmesan, then grated cheese. Finish it off with breadcrumbs if you’d like.

Pizza's "before" shot

En route to the oven.

Bake ’til crust is brown and top is hot and bubbling. Enjoy!

Finished product

Remove the pizzas from the oven after they’re sufficiently crisp around the edges.

A FOODIE’S FORAGING NEAR & FAR

I’m not sure how the rest of the world looks at travel, but for me it’s all about the food. The places I have visited and most want to visit all have one thing in common: iconic must-have eats that need to be conquered before life can be complete.

This is a wild obsession with many chefs. A lot of us are trying to outdo one another with the craziest concoctions, biggest challenges and food creations that can be cooked in a laboratory. That said, I always try to squeeze in the time-honored classics when traveling.

Here in the Midwest, there are a few great nearby foodie destinations. Big cities with extremely talented chefs and amazing traditional local food on the cheap. In Kansas City there is world class BBQ. Minneapolis has its Juicy Lucy wars. Chicago offers dogs, deep dish pizza and beef sandwiches.

Whenever traveling to great foodie Mecca, I think there are a few rules to follow before deciding where to eat. Do your homework! Look in advance to arriving. There will be a list of must-haves. You will want a mix: tried and true or old school and the newer hot spots or old school. Don’t avoid the celebrated joints just to be different. Pizzeria Uno still serves some of the best deep dish pizza in Chicago or anywhere. That’s not to say the new kid on the block isn’t worth a try. (Gateway Market’s fresh deep dish pizza dough is outstanding if I say so myself.)

Serious foodies should also consider dining with what I call “the Masters,” or master chefs. For example, I always try to dine in a Rick Bayless place when I am in Chicago. Decide what looks good and map it out on your list. Take advice from well-known food writers, food professionals and locals. Not all busy places are great, but it’s a damn good sign. Find the best times to go. A perfect example is Katz Deli in NYC. The pastrami on rye with deli mustard is on my must have list! I would never go at high noon. Getting there before 11 or after 1:30 or 2 makes sense. The atmosphere is better and you don’t feel as rushed. I also like to avoid busy times because I feel the food is not quite as good when the kitchen is slammed. You should also make reservations when possible especially when dining with “the Masters.”

I’m not sold on anonymous internet restaurant reviews because it is impossible to know their prejudices or if they’re credible. For instance, you might be reading a review of a burger joint that serves thin, smashed style burgers and the review is done by someone that prefers thick, fancy pants burgers and is unable to appreciate how really great these burgers can be. Or a better example is: You like Chicago Deep Dish style and a reviewer is a transplanted New Yorker that thinks that style of pizza is closer to a pasta dish then a pizza.

Enjoy the iconic foods of a city and try something new as well. Do your own “old school vs. new school comparisons. See where you fit on this topic.

With that, let me segue way into a recipe for one of my favorite iconic foods – Minneapolis’ “Juicy Lucy.”

JUICY LUCY

A cheeseburger with the cheese inside the meat, the Juicy Lucy comes to the table with the cheese in a molten core and a warning against scalding yourself with hot, liquid cheese. To make it, you’ll need the following:

  • 24 oz. ground beef (preferably George’s grind from Gateway Market)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder for seasoning
  • four slices of American cheese
  • one onion
  • sliced dill pickles
  • four South Union hamburger buns

What you need to make your own Juicy Lucy

Start with 24 ounces ground beef. Divide into eight (8) three-ounce balls. Season all around each with salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. Set aside.

Then fold four (4) slices of American cheese (I use Boars Head) into quarters. Stack them on top of each other. Set aside.

Finely mince one onion, season with salt and drain all the liquid.

Set aside several thick slices of raw onion, sliced dill pickles and four (4) South Union hamburger buns, split and buttered.

Flatten each seasoned ball into a disk about three inches in diameter. Place the stacked American cheese directly in the center of four of the discs. Place the remaining four beef discs on top of the discs with the cheese. Seal without moving the American cheese from the center by pinching the edges together, forming one patty. This should resemble the shape of a flying saucer.

Sneak attack.

Preheat a large nonstick griddle or a large nonstick skillet on medium heat. Toast buns, buttered side down until toasted to your liking. Remove and hold uncovered.

Place the well-sealed patties on the nonstick griddle or pan and pray. Even if you are not religious this shows an act of good faith and MIGHT just keep you from getting a burger blow out.

Cook the burgers without disturbing or moving. When the edges are starting to become visibly brown the burgers are ready to turn. Flip burgers. Then, directly in the center of the browned side, pierce a hole about the size of a pea. This relieves the pressure and keeps a side blow out, which is the kiss of death for the Juicy Lucy. Continue cooking the burgers on the other side until nicely browned. Remove and rest on a plate.

While burgers are resting and WITHOUT cleaning the griddle, cook the drained diced onions until they are cooked to your liking. Place raw onion, cooked onions and pickles on the bottom of the buns. Place burgers on top of condiments and enjoy!

Build the burgers with some raw and caramelized onion and some dill pickle slices.

Minor blowout. Happens to the best of us.

A LIFE’S PASSION: THE “F” WORD

I have had blogging on my mind for years. I know what you are thinking. “Does he really have time to mess with this?” or, “Really, do we need another blogger out there?”

Well, first, I spend so much time thinking, talking, cooking and eating food. Yes, there’s South Union Bakery, Centro, the Gateway Market Café, Django and Zombie Burger + Drink Lab. Also, I have the radio show, the Kitchen Insider on KMFG 99.1 every Saturday at 10 a.m. But even that doesn’t seem to be enough. There’s so much to say. Blogging is a way to share a life’s passion.

Just as important, blogs can be fun when they help you get to know a how a person looks at part of the world. I will talk about food – the appropriate “F” word. You might not agree with everything I write. But you will learn how I feel about food and what it means to me.

This blog is called “The Formaro Files.” But the first name I thought of was “The F Files.” Those who spend some time around me know I actually use quite a few words that start with the letter “F.” So it seemed natural. If you keep reading, you will find out that I am crazy, sensitive, passionate, loud and crazy.

I like crazy. I also like having fun – another “F” word – whenever possible. I take food, my passion, very seriously, but I am not at all a serious person.

That said, here’s some topics I will be talking about…

  • Jonesin’ for a burger – a better burger using better products
  • Pizza fix for pizza junkies (Gateway Market can be like a crack house for DIY pizza addicts!)
  • Food Porn. You know when you see it.
  • Comfort food classics
  • Takeaway favorites
  • Comfort food makeovers
  • Food that tastes naughty (but it’s not)
  • No recipe, recipes
  • Best breakfast food anytime
  • Post-midnight snacks
  • Comfort foods gone vegetarian
  • Football Food
  • Red alert! In-season products!
  • Diners gone wild
  • Food for the morning after
  • Best dishes from around the world
  • Like mom used to make

So sit back, enjoy and feel free to share your ideas with me. Follow me on twitter and friend me on Facebook!