Ray gardner, sr

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Ham Salad on Soft White Bread -

When I was a child ham salad sandwiches were a frequent menu item at home and at school. Perhaps it was a regional thing in western PA but today ham salad that I have been able to find outside of that region isn’t particularly good. At one time a neighborhood store in Johnstown, PA, named Helsel’s®, had a secret recipe that they simply would not share with anyone. People tried to duplicate it but typically failed.

I thought their ham salad was okay but not that great. Anyway, I eventually decided as an adult to make it myself and thus please myself. This recipe of mine below has been taste tested by a lot of people and it is popular. It is also simple. I like my ham salad on soft plain white bread.
Ingredients: (You can vary the amounts of all the ingredients to please yourself)
1 lb. of ham pieces from cold baked ham leftovers

3/4 cup of Hellman’s® mayonnaise

2/3 cup of sweet relish
Use a meat grinder or meat grinder attachment on an electric mixer to process the ham after removing all external fat. Put the ground ham into a one quart bowl.
Add the mayonnaise and mix thoroughly with a fork. Then add the relish and again mix thoroughly.
There! Wasn’t that easy?
Use the bread of your choice and slather the ham salad on it about 1/3 to ½ inch thick.
Refrigerate the remaining ham salad in a one quart Ziploc® freezer bag, pressing the air out before sealing it, if you plan to eat the ham salad within two to three days. Otherwise, use your vacuum sealer and then refrigerate it for up to a week. In general, products like this one that contain meat and mayonnaise should be used rather than stored for any length of time, due to the risk of spoilage.
Hot Italian Giardiniera Condiment - ☺♥
Recipes for giardiniera vary all over the map. Some refer to the type used on hot steak sandwiches, subs and other sandwiches as a condiment, which is what this recipe is about, while others refer to a vegetable mix served cold as part of an antipasto, or by itself as an appetizer or snack.
I have modified and combined a variety of recipes I found on the Internet and I tried this recipe as a condiment on an Italian sub and on a shaved steak sandwich and on other hot sandwiches. It is delicious! This one you definitely want to make. Use it generously on any of the suggested sandwiches.
The recipe as provided below calls for a few days of refrigeration to marinate it and then using all of the product within a week to avoid spoilage. That is okay if you plan to consume that much product but I like to make it once and have it available for months. After making the hot giardiniera I simply pasteurized it at 180 degrees F for 30 minutes, chilled it overnight, covered, and then I vacuum sealed one cup quantities in small vacuum sealing bags. Thus, simple refrigeration provides a shelf life of at least two months, which makes a lot of sense to me. Also, pasteurization instead of traditional canning retains the texture and taste of the individual ingredients in the hot giardiniera, which is then perfect. That is why I choose pasteurization. But the choice of which method to use is up to you. You may, if you want, can the product and sacrifice some taste and texture.
The very best method for pasteurizing foods with a high solids content is a way I just developed and used for the first time today, and I highly recommend it. I made the hot giardiniera condiment using the ingredients and the early parts of the directions shown below, but once everything was mixed in raw state I vacuum sealed the product in one cup quantities creating flat bags of it about 3/4 of an inch thick and roughly four inches on each side. I then placed those bags individually, one layer deep and not touching each other, into the microwave oven to preheat them. I did them four at a time and gave them one minute on high heat on each side, for a total of two minutes. Then I put the heated bags onto heated cookie sheets in a 185ºF oven set to the convection setting. I set a timer for one hour to give the product time to elevate in temperature from about 150ºF to 180ºF (about 30 minutes), and then time to pasteurize (the last thirty minutes). I then removed the bags from the oven and placed them individually on a granite counter to cool to room temperature. I then put them into the refrigerator. Having used the optional sodium benzoate solution listed below I now have a product that will easily last from six months to a year, refrigerated.
Ingredients: (makes one gallon)

  • 2 yellow bell peppers, diced

  • 2 red bell peppers, diced

  • 8 fresh jalapeno peppers, sliced to form 1/8 inch thick rings

  • 1 celery stalk, diced

  • 1 medium carrot, diced

  • 1 small onion, chopped

  • 1/2 cup of fresh cauliflower florets, chopped

  • 1/2 cup of canning salt

  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

  • 2 teaspoons of bottled capers

  • 1 tablespoon of dried oregano

  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

  • 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper

  • 1 cup of drained bottled whole peperoncini, chopped

  • 1 cup of large brine-cured green olives, chopped

  • 1/2 cup of oil-cured black olives, chopped

  • 1 cup of white distilled vinegar (5% acidity)

  • 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 1/2 tsp. of sodium benzoate solution (purchased through Koldkiss®) - optional

Place the processed yellow and red peppers, jalapeno peppers, celery, carrots, onion, and cauliflower into a large bowl.
Add the canning salt to the bowl and mix well by hand.
Fill the bowl with enough cold water to cover the vegetables, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the mixture overnight.
The next day, drain the salty water, rinse the vegetables and drain well.
Process/Chop the capers, garlic, peperoncini and the two types of olives and put them into a large bowl.
Add the oregano, red pepper flakes and black pepper and mix well.
Add the vinegar and olive oil and mix well. Combine that mixture with the vegetable mixture and mix well.
Cover the hot giardiniera with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 2 days before using it (or pasteurize and process it like I do).
You use this condiment by putting the amount of your choice (be generous) on a sandwich like an Italian Sub.
If you store the hot giardiniera in a jar with a tight fitting cap and keep it refrigerated it will be okay to use for one week.
Enjoy! You will enjoy it much longer if you vacuum seal and pasteurize it and then refrigerate it as I do, as explained earlier in this recipe.

Cheese Steak with Fried Onions and Mushrooms - ☺♥

This delicious, hot and filling sandwich is, like the Hoagie (SUB), something created originally in the Philadelphia PA regional area. It is now common elsewhere in the USA, and that is the problem … the common cheese steak served almost all places outside of the Philadelphia regional area is deficient in most respects. This recipe is intended to correct that problem, at least in your kitchen.
Do note that this recipe is not a recipe for a true Philadelphia Cheese Steak, which has a Velveeta® type of cheese or Cheez Whiz® as one of the primary ingredients. That sandwich, while very good, does not measure up in taste to the variation described below. Of course, that is my personal opinion, and that of countless thousands of other people who prefer white American cheese.
To begin, the proper bread for a cheese steak is the same type of bread used for the perfect sub. It is a very fresh soft 18” long roll, somewhat elliptical in cross section shape, flat on the bottom, and about three to four inches across. Few bakeries outside the Philadelphia regional area have the right dough recipe and/or the right baking procedure. If you are lucky you will find something close in your area.
The beef used for the cheese steak must be very lean and shaved thinly, as in 1/16th of an inch thick or less, prior to grilling. Top round roast is a good choice, though sirloin is even better. Most sub and steak shops purchase frozen shaved beef, and that is too bad as it is less than perfect compared to freshly shaved raw beef.
A hot lightly oiled grill (soybean oil) is used to convert the raw beef into a soft rapidly cooked beef, which maintains its moisture and thus tenderness. A pound and a half of the raw unfrozen room temperature shaved beef should be cooked to amply fill the 18” long roll. The pile of raw beef is turned over often with a large spatula during the first few minutes of grilling to assure even grilling, with a total grilling time of 4 to 5 minutes.
During the last few minutes of grilling, after the beef is no longer raw, it is shaped as it will be when it is in the roll. It is then lightly seasoned with salt and black pepper. An ample number of thinly sliced American cheese slices are melted on top of the beef, such that the surface is 90% covered at least one layer thick … and two layers is much better. The cheese mostly melts onto the beef simply from the heat from the beef and the grill, in the last minute or two of grilling.
While the beef is first grilling, a cup and a half of raw diced onions are sautéed in a small amount of the same type of cooking oil until they are translucent, even slightly browned at the edges. They are turned over frequently while sautéing. Similarly, a cup or cup and a half of drained canned mushrooms are sautéed on the grill in a small amount of the cooking oil. Do not use fresh mushrooms.
Typically an opened roll has some of the soft interior dough removed to make room for the other ingredients. The interior is then sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil, or, some people ask for mayonnaise (but not me). The melted cheese covered beef is the first ingredient to be added at that point, using the very large spatula to coax it intact from the grill into the opened roll.
The fried onions and mushrooms are then added on top of the cheese and beef. The roll is forced closed and the sandwich wrapped in multiple layers of off-white delicatessen wrapping paper. The sandwich is cut in half diagonally after the first few wraps of paper that keep it from unintentionally opening.
Now that is one delicious sandwich. People have widely different opinions about whether or not to add any other seasonings. I like a bit of ketchup inside mine. Some folks will want hot grilled peppers and they will ask for those when placing their order. Still others want no additional seasonings at all. It is all a matter of personal choice.
Now you have it … the proper way to make the perfect cheese steak, with fried onions and mushrooms.
Pulled Pork Barbecue - ? &
The recipe below from Tyler Florence of Food Network® includes a second recipe for coleslaw to accompany the pulled pork barbecue sandwiches. Pickle spears are also recommended to accompany it. The coleslaw recipe is quite different from my recipe and I am looking forward to trying it. I am also looking forward to trying the pork recipe itself. But in the meantime …

Janet and I had some great pork barbecue sandwiches last night using a section of a boned pork shoulder roast in which I cut slices about ¼ inch thick and trimmed almost all the fat off, (and I saved that for future sausage making, freezing it). I then cut very thin strips of raw pork from the lean meat, and I sized/cut them to about 2 inches long. I put the thin pork strips into a skillet and baked them for one hour at 250ºF turning them over after the first 30 minutes to assure even cooking. Then I baked them at 300ºF for an additional 30 minutes.

When finished the pork was tender, juicy and yummy even without seasoning, but for seasoning I mixed it with some of the dynamite Kansas City Barbecue Sauce that I had just made. I returned the mixture to the 300ºF oven for 30 minutes to lose some of the barbecue sauce liquid and thus concentrate the sauce. Finally we used long soft buns, warmed, and filled them with the pork barbecue and they were super. Technically the pork wasn’t pulled but frankly that made no difference at all, and I know that as I have had pulled pork sandwiches lots of times in the past. The method I used involved less labor.

Well, here is Tyler Florence’s recipe: (I will report back to you when I try it)


Dry Rub:

  • 3 tablespoons of paprika

  • 1 tablespoon of garlic powder

  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon of dry mustard

  • 3 tablespoons of coarse sea salt

  • 1 (5 to 7 pound) pork roast, preferably shoulder or Boston butt

Cider-Vinegar Barbecue Sauce:

  • 1 1/2 cups of cider vinegar

  • 1 cup of yellow or brown mustard

  • 1/2 cup of ketchup

  • 1/3 cup of packed brown sugar

  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed

  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper

  • Pan drippings from the pork

Additional food items for the meal:

  • 12 hamburger buns

  • 1 recipe of Cole Slaw, recipe follows

  • Pickle spears, for serving


Mix the paprika, garlic power, brown sugar, dry mustard, and salt together in a small bowl. Rub the spice blend all over the pork. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 300ºF.

Put the pork in a roasting pan and roast it for about 6 hours. An instant-read thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the pork should register 170º F, but basically, what you want to do is to roast it until it's falling apart.

While the pork is roasting, make the barbecue sauce.

Combine the vinegar, mustard, ketchup, brown sugar, garlic, salt, cayenne, and black pepper in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer gently, stirring, for 10 minutes until the sugar dissolves. Take it off the heat and let it sit until you're ready for it.

When the pork is done, take it out of the oven and put it on a large platter.

Allow the meat to rest for about 10 minutes. While it's resting, use a ladle to remove and discard excess melted fat, then deglaze the pan over medium heat with 3/4 cup water, scraping with a wooden spoon to pick up all of the browned bits. Reduce by about half. Pour that into the saucepan with the barbecue sauce and cook 5 minutes.

While the pork is still warm, you want to "pull" the meat: Grab 2 forks. Using 1 to steady the meat, use the other to "pull" shreds of meat off the roast. Put the shredded pork in a bowl and pour half of the sauce over. Stir it all up well so that the pork is coated with the sauce.

To serve, spoon the pulled pork mixture onto the bottom half of each hamburger bun, and top the meat with some slaw. Serve with pickle spears and the remaining sauce on the side.

Cole Slaw:

  • 1 head of green cabbage, shredded

  • 2 carrots, grated

  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced

  • 2 green onions (white and green parts), chopped

  • 1 fresh red chile, sliced

  • 1 1/2 cups of mayonnaise

  • 1/4 cup of Dijon mustard

  • 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar

  • 1 lemon, juiced

  • A pinch of sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon of celery seed

  • Several dashes of hot sauce

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the cabbage, carrots, red onion, green onions, and chile in a large bowl.

In another bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, and sugar.

Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss gently to mix. Season the coleslaw with the celery seed, hot sauce, salt, and black pepper.

Chill for 2 hours in the refrigerator before serving.

The SUB - ☺♥

I kind of knew that sooner or later I would have to rise to the occasion regarding the making of a proper submarine sandwich. Yes, I know it is a tall order and only one of two mandatory items, the other being The Cheese Steak. I’ve tackled that one separately.

First things first. Subs originated in Chester, PA at DiCostanza’s sandwich shop, I believe during the 1940’s. They were called Hoagies to attract the dock workers who were known as Hoggies. The sandwiches had to be large and filled with meats and cheese to address the gargantuan appetites of the dock workers who, let’s face it, had very physical jobs to do and correspondingly giant appetites.

Thus was born the Hoagie, which turns out to be simply a synonym for the submarine sandwich. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that away from the docks the word hoagie meant nothing, so the shape of the sandwich determined its name.

One thing needs to be established for all time. It was and is an Italian American creation, so the only real subs are Italian American subs made with very specific ingredients. All others are genetic mutants, even a lot of those variants found in present-day Italian sub shops. Remember that.

Having now established precedence and lineage I will proceed to define the perfect submarine sandwich, or, hoagie, whichever you prefer based on your ethnocentric upbringing. Alas, my knowledge is but partial, but I will do my best.

From my youth I recall Coe’s® submarine shops in two locations in Johnstown, PA. Just entering the shop was a blast of garlic and lunchmeat and pungent cheeses and some other herb scents that I simply could not define. All I knew was my mouth watered with desire to sink my teeth into one of those fantastic subs.

It was just my bad luck that my parents had a hard on against anything Italian, so home life did not include Coe’s® subs. I didn’t even taste one until I was 17 years old. I was lucky to have tasted Harry’s Pizza®, for pizza was new to Johnstown in the 1950’s. It only cost a dime for a large slice so I was able to step outside the world of my parents and live … yes, live!

Enough self-pity! Let’s get on with the show. Today, in the here and now, I am a sub critic, for I have learned much about how not to make a sub from third rate businesses who advertise great subs. What fools! Virtually no one outside the greater Philadelphia area has a clue on how to make a proper sub, and I know that to be true as I have sought subs out from high end delicatessens from California all the way to Switzerland!

Okay, enough lead in … here we go …

Ingredients and Directions:

Forgive me but I have to do this as a narrative. First and foremost a very large sub roll, around 18" in length, roughly elliptical in cross section but flat on the bottom and about 4" across the middle is mandatory. It has to be soft and freshly baked. Only a few commercial bakers use the perfect dough recipe and most of them are within 50 miles of the greater Philadelphia PA regional area.

Second, the sub roll will have some of the interior dough ripped out at the sub shop to make room for the essential ingredients. If you buy a sub that hasn’t been so processed you have been screwed, that is, cheated of the right amount of ingredients in the filling.

Third, there will be a liberal sprinkling of olive oil loaded with oregano and basil, all over the surface of the interior of the bread. The oil had a serious amount of fresh garlic minced into it to flavor it when the garlic and herb oil was made, but the garlic was never delivered directly to your sub. Thus, the rich scent of fresh garlic at Coe’s® without ever seeing garlic, though I'll bet they put powdered garlic in the oil too. Oh, yeah … Nirvana!

Fourth, there will be an ample amount of soft but pungent Provolone cheese lining both sides of the interior of the bread, right on top of the oil and herbs. The cheese slices should be overlapped halfway, thus providing a total thickness of four slices of cheese (two per side). Then there will be a very generous supply of at least three kinds of lunchmeats. One is Capicola ham, which is a high quality hotly seasoned ham that has an exterior crushed black peppercorn coating, or sometimes a coating of fine red pepper. Another is thin slices of Italian hard salami, which is intense in flavor and just soft enough to eat in a sandwich (as distinguished from the small 1 ½ to 2 inch diameter hard salamis that would be too hard sliced to be used in a sandwich). It is also important to distinguish the hard salami from what is called cooked salami, which is a soft textured weakly flavored salami, often with peppercorns in it, and you do not want that meat in your sub. The third meat is a good quality lunchmeat style of ham. The slices of meat should overlap each other halfway along the length of the sub and from side to side to create a meat pocket to hold the fresh vegetables, and this will provide two slices of each kind of meat on the entire interior of the sub.

One of the greatest shortcomings of most sub shops today is to cheat the customer by using too little meat and cheese and too much of the fresh vegetables.

Fifth, on top of the cheese and meat will be an ample quantity of freshly shredded lettuce, ripe fresh tomato slices and diced fresh onion. This gives very necessary moisture and flavor and texture contrasts to the other sub ingredients.

Sixth, there are some optional toppings that go on top of the fresh veggies … like sweet and/or hot sliced banana peppers, not that seedy wet red pepper flakes stuff used in many sub shops today. Then there will be a choice of adding pickle slices that are sometimes dill and sometimes sweet but often somewhere in between. People often ask for the topping ingredients to be served on the side in small plastic containers so they can build the final sandwich at home to the likes of each individual.

What is really important is that Food Nirvana now has a recipe for making the sweet sliced pickled banana/Italian peppers, for those pepper slices can't even be found in supermarkets in most locales. You definitely want to make these pepper slices if you cannot buy them. Check out the Sweet Pickled Pepper Slices recipe in the Processed Vegetables menu. As a substitute you can also use the bread and butter pickles per the Food Nirvana recipe.

Finally, the sub roll is forced to close around the substantial amount of ingredients, and it is wrapped in multiple layers of off-white delicatessen paper after having been cut in half diagonally when covered with the few first layers of paper, which keep the sandwich from opening unintentionally.

There you have it … a properly made jumbo Italian American submarine sandwich. Two very hungry young adults with good appetites can eat all of it, barely. Otherwise, it will feed a family of four nicely, if accompanied with some potato chips and some cold sodas.

There are legitimate variations to the sub I just described. For example, sub connoisseurs might order the addition of thinly sliced Proscuitto ham along with the rest of the ingredients, perhaps with a corresponding decrease in the Capicola ham. It is a memorable addition and worthy of your consideration.

How can I be so sure I have this right? Don’t other folks’ opinions matter? Well, frankly no! You see I had actual DiCostanza’s subs … the very largest Italian subs just stuffed with meat, etc. I used to pay around $8 for the largest sub, and it had so much meat in it that I could remove a pound of meat and still have a very respectable sub. No, I am not pulling your leg. This is gospel truth.

All other subs were and are deficient, by definition, as they never came close to the original. Profit trumped quality everywhere. I find it so very interesting that the local Board of Health shut down the DiCostanza’s location in Wilmington, DE. I will not debase you or me by using the words that flow through my brain about that crooked level of favoritism based governmental interference with the American Way. But I cannot have any respect for that kind of government, and so I don’t. You simply needed to hear the ugly truth to counter charges that DiCostanza’s meats were not fresh. Talk about illogical charges! "He who uses the most meat in a sub of all the sub shops will have the stalest meat?!!!"

You now know how to make a great submarine sandwich, if you can find the right quality ingredients. In some locales it is still easy. In others it is impossible. Just try to buy the large bottles of sliced sweet pickled and hot banana peppers made by Italian American producers, outside of the Philadelphia regional area, and you will understand.

Cien mil! (May you live a hundred thousand years!)

Super Sandwich - ☺♥

I have to thank the cartoonist who created Dagwood©, Murat Bernard “Chic” Young (1901- 1973), for Dagwood© was famous for his giant sandwiches that contained most everything from the refrigerator. As a child and later young adult I got the basic idea from the comic strip and I did something sort of similar but not to Dagwood’s© skyscraper level or unrestrained use of ingredients.
It turns out that Young’s son Dean not only continued the comic strip when his father died, naming it “Blondie©,” but he also opened a franchise chain of sandwich shops named Dagwood’s Sandwich Shoppes® with the first one in place in 2006.
Well, this recipe is about my Super Sandwich not the ones sold anywhere else.

I started making them around 1972 from my favorite sandwich ingredients that I had used for years to make regular sandwiches. Then I embellished my creation in content and gave it the name Super Sandwich, and my young children Ray, Jr. and Patty were visually quite impressed. I was pleased and amused.
When I built one of these sandwiches it was about three to four inches thick and packed with stuff I really like in a particular order that accentuated flavor, moisture and texture.
Here is my recipe for the Super Sandwich:
3 slices of fresh soft plain white bread

1/8th pound of dried beef (In the old days I didn’t know about Fisher’s product)

4 slices of sweet lebanon bologna

2, ½” thick slices of a medium large very ripe tomato

8 green olives stuffed with pimentos

4 sweet gherkin pickles

Potato chips

2 slices of white American cheese

Miracle Whip®

1 or 2 small pats of soft butter (to butter both sides of one piece of bread)

Black pepper
Slather Miracle Whip® on one slice of bread. Slice the olives in half lengthwise and place them evenly on the Miracle Whip® covered bread slice. Put the sweet lebanon bologna slices on top of the olives. Put a handful of salty potato chips on top of the sweet lebanon bologna and crush them gently so they are somewhat flat.
Butter both sides of one slice of bread and put it on top of the potato chips. Put half of the dried beef on top of the buttered slice of bread. Put the tomato slices, one of them cut in half, on top of the dried beef. Sprinkle pepper on the tomato slices. Put the other half of the dried beef on top of the tomatoes. Put the cheese on top of the dried beef. Slice the pickles lengthwise into three pieces each and put them evenly across the top of the cheese. Slather Miracle Whip® on the remaining slice of bread and put it face down on the cheese to complete the Super Sandwich. Cut the sandwich diagonally and carefully with a sharp knife. Serve.
Looking back:
I was in my 20’s when I started making this sandwich and my appetite was huge. I truly enjoyed plowing through one of those delightful taste treats. As is so typical, the combination of sweet, salty, moist and multiple textures, soft through crunchy, really worked.
Do note that I did not confuse flavors by using any product like mustard, which would detract noticeably from the other flavor combinations. Every product has its place, and that sandwich is not the place to use mustard of any type. If you like mustard on a sandwich see my recipe for the Grilled Pastrami with Swiss cheese sandwich. Or read below.
I put only a few sandwich recipes in this book for common sandwiches as I figure most folks can make a good sandwich with no help from me whatsoever. But I will suggest that mustard aficionados grill the interior sides of a buttered bun, grill some thin slices of Virginia ham, melt American cheese over the ham, form the sandwich and then slather on the mustard of your choice. That is the perfect use for mustard in a sandwich.

Your At Home Delicatessen

Processing of some varieties of meat to create lunch meats was described briefly earlier in Food Nirvana to illustrate what you can do at home if you have the right equipment. This document has been created for the Sandwich Stuff recipes and for other uses you might have for what we call cold meats or lunch meats. I provide considerable detail here for the handling and processing of each type of meat or fowl.
A good supermarket may have up to fifty different varieties of lunch meats and at least a dozen varieties of cheeses, and the essential intended use for these products is simply sandwiches or salads like a chef’s salad. We do love our sandwiches, for when they are made well from good ingredients they are both tasty and convenient. Let’s take a look at the practical side regarding what is available at the supermarket delicatessen.
Omitting the plethora of different seasonings and flavorings it all pretty much boils down to beef, pork and turkey. Beef subdivides into roast beef, pastrami, corned beef and dried beef. Pork subdivides into many varieties of ham, pork loin and salami. Turkey is typically simply turkey breast, roasted and sliced. The various other lunch meat products, like bologna and other formed meat products like salami, are made of beef, pork and/or turkey along with fillers and seasonings and, in the case of salami, fat. If you think about the beef product used in places like Arbys® it is obvious that the loaf of meat they slice has been formed and processed from miscellaneous pieces of meat. In other words, the scraps of beef, pork (ham) and turkey are used to create less expensive composite loaves that will slice like a whole ham or turkey breast and thus be suitable for use in a sandwich.
Now let’s look at the products in terms of what you might do at home versus what you will purchase but not make. Of the beef products, you can easily roast a piece of lean beef, like eye roast, to make lunch meat. If you are adventurous you can buy chemicals in mix form in bags to process raw beef brisket to make pastrami and corned beef at home. Morton® markets various curing mixes to do that at home. Dried beef is generally not made at home, but purchased in high quality form at a good price from stores like Fisher’s Country Store in Cessna, PA. You can roast pork loin and slice it thinly to create a delicious roast pork sandwich. You will not normally attempt to make ham, but buying and processing the right type of ham allows you to slice it thinly to make lunch meat, or, it may already be sliced as in the case of a spiral ham. Very special ham products like Virginia country ham or the Italian Proscuitto ham are items you must purchase rather than make at home. It is quite simple to roast a turkey or a turkey breast at home and slice the breast meat thinly for sandwiches.
Given the above starting point the idea is that whether you make the product at home from raw meat or buy a ready to eat cold meat you can process what you have using vacuum sealing and refrigeration to obtain very high quality lunch meats that will have exceptionally long shelf life in your refrigerator. I am talking about shelf life time periods of a month or longer depending on the meat product, where the cured meats may last easily for six months or more. This is contrasted to the reality that when you buy sliced meats at a delicatessen you best use all of the product within a week or less or it will, without fail, spoil and be unfit to eat. The other major consideration is that high quality ham, roast beef and turkey breast are very expensive at the delicatessen. In 2012 the top quality brands, like Boar’s Head® sell for about $12 per pound. The specialty products like Proscuitto ham in the best brands, like Parma®, cost at least $18 per pound. Careful purchase of hams and turkeys and beef roasts on sale can provide the regular lunch meat products for your use at around $4 per pound or less, with quality every bit as good as the best Boar’s Head® products.
Now I will list explicitly what I do and the results I obtain. I buy eye roasts of beef, and I will cut them in half and vacuum seal and freeze the pieces until I am ready to use them, individually. I thaw one and I remove any fat that might be present on a surface, and I bake it for 45 minutes at 350 degrees F. I then process the hot meat with my meat slicer to create thin slices. I immediately vacuum seal ¼ lb. quantities in small vacuum sealing bags and then I simply refrigerate the product. It is medium rare roast beef. It is tender and juicy and delicious. It has a proven shelf life of at least four weeks. And my cost was (in 2012) $3.49 per pound. In other words, it is idiotic to buy roast beef at the delicatessen for $12 per pound and have it spoil within a week. Why the ¼ lb. quantities? Because that is the amount you are likely to use to make two nice sandwiches, so I am being economical in opening a package and using all the contents while they are fresh. I do not have to worry about any amount of the product spoiling.
Periodically I will buy three to five pounds of sliced dried beef from Fisher’s Country Store. I visit their web site to get their phone number, I call them and place my order and they ship the dried beef to me anytime except during the summer months. The high salt content of the dried beef allows for shipping without refrigeration. The last time I purchased it the price was $8 per pound, plus shipping cost, which is very economical compared to other sources for dried beef, and the quality is very superior, the very best I have found. I vacuum seal it in ¼ lb. amounts and I will refrigerate some of that and also put some of the packages into the deep freeze, for that product, once vacuum-sealed, freezes very well. The refrigerated vacuum-sealed product has a shelf life of approximately a year.
The pork loin process is virtually identical to the roast beef process except the smaller loins, in terms of diameter, get to cook all the way through during baking, which is essential to safety when processing raw pork. Pork loins can often be purchased for $2.50 per pound and that is contrasted to paying around $10 to $11 per pound at the delicatessen. It is important not to bake the pork longer than absolutely necessary or it will dry out and be far less enjoyable when used, so I highly recommend checking it for internal doneness, visually, in five minute intervals after 30 minutes of baking. You can do that by cutting a loin in half and simply looking at it. If it is pink it needs further baking. If there is no pink or pink juices then it is done. Remove it from the oven immediately and process it with your meat slicer and vacuum sealer immediately, to retain all the internal moisture, which will keep it tender and most enjoyable when used later. If you want to be tricky about retaining moisture you can do the baking with the pork loin wrapped/sealed in aluminum foil, and/or baking it with a casserole of water in the oven to provide moisture along with the heat.
I buy hams when they are on sale, either a butt portion that will normally be baked or a spiral ham that is pre-sliced and ready to eat. Sometimes the butt portion hams are fully cooked so no baking is necessary. I try to avoid the brands that are water-logged and opt for the more expensive brands that provide the best quality for dollar spent. The better brands, like Deitz and Watson®, use superior curing and/or smoking processes (depending on the type of pork product) and thus they taste better. You may have to do some research in your geographic area to identify the best brands of ham. The key point is to buy these products only when they are on sale, and that is no problem because after you process and vacuum seal the slices they will have a refrigerator shelf life of up to four months and longer.
I purchase hard salami and proscuitto ham as end cuts sold by Market Basket® in bulk vacuum sealed packs for very low prices, which means about $2.50 per pound for the truly excellent salami and $4.50 per pound for the proscuitto ham. I use my meat slicer to create thin slices of each product and then package the slices in vacuum sealing bags and process them as discussed above. The shelf life of these meats is always at least six months.
When I decide to roast a turkey it is a whole turkey that I have purchased on sale at less than $1 per pound and kept frozen in the deep freeze until I decide to use it. The directions for roasting turkey are within the Fowl section of Food Nirvana. I will use all of the meat on the turkey in different ways but the breast meat is what I use for making sliced lunch meat. I process it through my meat slicer while it is hot and juicy and I immediately vacuum seal ¼ lb. portions and then refrigerate it. It is superb as a lunch meat. It has a shelf life of at least four weeks.
Well, that concludes my advice about Food Nirvana techniques for having superior lunch meats, inexpensively. Overall the work to do what I do is trivial. Most of us simply never think about how much money we waste both in the initial purchase and later discarded spoiled product when we buy cold meats from a supermarket delicatessen. A bit of work and a bit of wisdom improve your quality of life at the same time you save money to use for meeting other needs.

Achiote Marinated Fish Tacos - ?

I came across this delicious looking recipe while perusing the Internet. It looked like a worthy addition to Food Nirvana. As is typical I made a few modifications. And by dumb luck I happened to buy the Achiote paste at a local ethnic market before making this entry for Food Nirvana. That takes most of the work out of making this dish. I have to try this recipe and report results back to you.

Achiote paste (You can make it or, much easier, buy the paste in a Latino market)
4 rounded tablespoons of achiote seeds (also called annatto seeds; available at Latino markets)

1 teaspoon of dried Mexican oregano

1 teaspoon of cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon of black peppercorns

12 whole allspice
Mix the spices and grind them in batches in an electric spice or coffee grinder as finely as possible. In a small bowl, stir together the ground spices and enough water to make a stiff paste. About 3 tablespoons of water is the right amount. After using it in this recipe, store any leftover achiote paste, well-wrapped in plastic wrap, in the freezer.
Chipotle mayonnaise
1 cup of mayonnaise

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon of olive oil

2 tablespoons of lime juice

1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt

3 chipotle peppers in adobo, roughly chopped (buy this item canned)
Blend the mayonnaise, garlic, oil, lime juice, salt and chipotle peppers in a food processor or blender. You will have more chipotle mayonnaise than is called for in the fish taco recipe. Keep any extra chipotle mayonnaise in the refrigerator in a sealed container until you are ready to use it in other recipes.
Fish Tacos
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt

3 tablespoons of achiote paste

1 pound of yellowtail fillet, skin removed (I’m guessing yellowtail tuna, but other types of saltwater fish will also work well)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

8 small white corn tortillas

1 cup of finely shredded cabbage

1 cup of chipotle mayonnaise

1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
Combine the garlic, salt and achiote paste in a small bowl. Put the mixture into a 1-gallon sealable plastic bag with the fish. Refrigerate for an hour.
Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat on a cast-iron griddle or in a frying pan.
Scrape some of the extra achiote paste from the yellowtail, then grill the fish, about 6 to 8 minutes per side, or until done. If the fish is cooking too quickly or unevenly, adjust the heat as necessary.
Put the fish on a cutting board and let it rest for a few minutes before slicing it thinly across the grain. It is okay if the fish breaks apart.
Warm the tortillas in a pan over medium heat; place them on a platter or on individual plates, two per person.
Divide the fish among the tortillas and top the fish with shredded cabbage and a teaspoonful of chipotle mayonnaise.
Serve immediately with the lime wedges.
Note that a cold bottle of Corona® beer will go well with this dish.
Beer Batter Fried Shrimp -
This recipe is from the Culinary Institute’s book, The Professional Chef©. I tried it and it is really good, and I edited it for Food Nirvana to include missing instructions to help less experienced cooks.
The shrimp batter puffs out considerably around the shrimp during frying due to the presence of eggs and baking powder in the batter, so the picture you see on the right is not really an accurate representation other than the color.
The best parts are that the batter tastes really good and the fried shrimp is not in any way oily or greasy. The batter seals instantly and keeps out the cooking oil. Beyond that, any leftovers can later be put into hot cooking oil to reheat them and they come out just fine, not oily.
This is basically a Chinese food recipe that calls for the use of a dipping sauce at serving time. I made a light tasting Chinese barbecue sauce and I plan to try other sauces for variations. My sauce recipe is provided following the shrimp recipe below.
The batter quantity produced from the recipe below is more than sufficient for three to four pounds of butterflied extra large or jumbo shrimp so you may want to halve the batter ingredients. I found the taste to be delightfully mild and thus perfect for use with a dipping sauce. If you want to eat the shrimp without using a dipping sauce you might try increasing the amounts of the seasonings in the batter.
Note: Having made the fried shrimp using this batter and fried chicken using this batter, less the baking powder, I now plan to exclude the baking powder from both recipes as it puffs up the batter coating a bit too much during frying. I prefer a lower quantity of fried batter vs. the shrimp. Of course, using a very thin batter may work just as well if using the baking powder.
1 or 2 lbs. Extra large or jumbo raw shrimp, shelled and butterflied

2 extra large eggs

12 oz. of beer

12 oz. of bread flour (I used all purpose flour and it worked fine.)

1/4 tsp. of salt

1/4 tsp. of white pepper

1/4 tsp. of allspice

1/4 tsp. of grated ginger root (Or pre-minced ginger in a jar, available at Asian markets.)

1/2 tsp. of baking powder (optional)

Cornstarch for dredging

2 quarts of soybean oil for frying

A frying or candy thermometer
Shell, wash and butterfly the shrimp, making sure to clean out any dark waste while butterflying. Note that butterflying is a process where you cut through the back of the shrimp (the entire outer curve, or just the opposite, the inner curve) almost all the way through so that you can spread the still connected halves out flat into a symmetric approximate butterfly shape. Put the butterflied pieces on a plate that has a paper towel on it. The shrimp pieces should not be laying in water as they should be moist before dredging but not wet.
Prewarm your oven to 200º F. Put a china plate or wide shallow bowl/serving dish into the oven to later hold the fried shrimp and help keep them warm after they are served.
Put the soybean oil into a one to two gallon pot and heat it to 360º F on medium heat while you are preparing the batter. If necessary you can adjust the heat to high to get to the right temperature when you are ready to start frying, but keep an eye on the temperature so that it does not exceed 360º F.
Note that the oil can be reused multiple times, until it starts to darken, for fried seafood of various types. It should be poured into a separate sealable container through a sieve after it has cooled. Discard everything except the clear oil, and that includes the last part of the oil from the bottom of the pot that has accumulated various kinds of gunk in it from the frying process.
Do not ever use oil that has been used previously to fry seafood for frying other types of food as there will be a seafood taste overtone to non-seafood items if you make that mistake.
Whisk the eggs well in a two quart bowl. Add the beer slowly while mixing gently. It will foam a lot.
Add all the dry ingredients except the cornstarch together with the egg and beer mixture gradually and mix gently until the batter is smooth. Adjust the consistency as required with milk if it is too thick or with cornstarch if it is too thin. Do not mix longer than necessary. Moisture variations in different flours may create the need to adjust consistency.
My batter was way too thick until I added milk and even then it was too thick as the puffy fried shrimp had more batter coating than they needed, so I recommend adding up to 1/2 cup of milk to thin the batter, right from the start. The batter should not be thick and it should not be runny. You will know you have the right consistency when a piece of dredged shrimp coated with the batter holds a coating thickness of about 1/16th of an inch or less. This is a matter of personal preference so you can vary the batter thickness to suit yourself ... in other words, experiment.
Dredge each piece of shrimp in a bowl of cornstarch, shake off the excess, dip the shrimp into the batter, making sure to coat it completely. Extract the coated shrimp with tongs, let the excess batter drip off for a few seconds and then immerse the coated shrimp directly into the heated oil that is at a temperature of 360º F. In other words, you do each piece one at a time adding each piece to the oil until you have about six pieces in the oil.
Fry each piece for two to three minutes or longer, turning each piece over a few times, until any given piece is light to medium gold in color, then extract that piece with tongs and drain any oil from it by placing it on a paper towel. Place each completed batch into a 200º F warming oven on a plate to maintain a desirable eating temperature while other batches are being fried. Be sure the oil temperature is monitored and adjusted as necessary so that it is at 360º F when each batch is fried.
Serve the shrimp immediately with an appropriate sauce. They are delicious! My dipping sauce recipe follows.
Ray's Light Barbecue Dipping Sauce: (makes two cups)
1 1/2 cups of Duck Sauce (Buy it in quart jars in any Asian market or in your supermarket.)

1 tbsp. of Soy Sauce

6 drops of red food coloring

1/4 cup of honey

1 tbsp. of dry sherry

1/4 cup of maraschino cherry juice
Mix all the ingredients together well and serve the sauce in individual portions in shallow bowls.

Blackened Redfish - ☺♥

This recipe is another Marie original in which I had a hand creating success. The dish is to die for great.
I have included this recipe mostly as a matter of nostalgia, for I haven’t seen any Louisiana Redfish for sale since the late 1980’s. Red Snapper is not Louisiana Redfish. The Redfish was mostly fished out due to popularity and ultimately destroyed by pollution from the Mississippi River. That was a horrible environmental tragedy no one wants admit was caused by business greed and long term environmental stupidity in river pollution, caused both by fertilizer runoff and industrial pollution far north of Louisiana.
If you can find a suitable variety of fish instead of Louisiana Redfish you can approximate the goodness of the original dish but never quite equal it. Redfish had a fairly high fat content, which made it ideal for very hot grilling. Today you might try swordfish or a few other varieties. I suggest you search the Internet for information about the fat content of various fish and pick one that appeals to you.
Some words about very high temperature skillet cooking are in order. Do it outdoors on a charcoal grill or smoker where the clearance between the large cast iron skillet and the outside edge of the charcoal grill is about ½ inch to ¾ inch all the way around. The typical kitchen stove, even with natural gas and a large burner, will simply not provide sufficient heat for making this dish.
Even the charcoal grill, unassisted, will not do the job regardless of how many briquettes you use. The secret is to provide a high volume of air to the underside of the briquettes via a pipe into the bottom vent of the charcoal pan that is connected to a blower of some sort. You can use a hair dryer or the blower end of a canister vacuum cleaner taped to a length of copper or iron pipe to connect the air source to the charcoal pan vent hole. The introduction of extra air through the bottom of the charcoal pan is the secret. It will cause the briquettes to turn white hot via a continuous bellows effect. Thus, do not do this over any flammable surface like a wooden deck unless you have a large fireproof pad underneath the grill.
It sounds crazy but I used the canister vacuum cleaner approach. I simply connected/taped the vacuum cleaner hose to a ¾” diameter copper pipe, which was in the form of an elbow with one end about two feet high such that the end of the pipe entered the bottom vent of the smoker grill that I used. I had a Brinkman® Smoker with a diameter about one inch larger than the largest cast iron skillet Marie owned. The charcoal pan for the smoker had a bottom vent hole slightly larger than ¾”.
What I achieved was a powered air bellows effect by connecting the hose end to the blower end of the vacuum cleaner. I turned the vacuum cleaner on and off as needed to maintain the very high skillet temperature required. Each time I turned it on a puff of ash would blow out from the grill. Out of curiosity I left the system on with hot charcoal and no food in the skillet, and within two minutes the bottom of the heavy cast iron skillet was cherry red. That lets you know how the bellows approach feeds so much air to the hot charcoal that it literally turns white hot. That, my friend, provides all the heat you need, and more. Yes, you can do this stuff at home if you are determined to win. You could even become a blacksmith!
You must keep safety in mind at all times and do not let any children or adults near your cooking area. Burns and/or fire from white hot charcoal briquettes will turn joy into tragedy in a heartbeat.

4, 7 to 8 oz. of boneless skinless Redfish fillets

½ cup of melted butter to hold seasonings on the surfaces of the fillets

½ cup of melted butter for basting while cooking

1 tbsp. of paprika

½ tsp. each of ground red, white and black pepper

½ tsp. of dried minced onion

¼ tsp. of dried thyme

¼ tsp. of garlic powder
Mix the dry spices together.
Rinse the fish fillets under cold water and dry them with paper towels.
Pre-heat a large cast iron skillet over very high heat, but not high enough to turn the iron orange in color. In short, the skillet should still be black in color.
Dip both sides of each fish fillet in the melted butter and then sprinkle both sides generously with the dry spice mixture, patting it to help it adhere to the fish.
Place the seasoned fillets on a plate individually as they are seasoned.
Pour a small amount of melted butter on one side of each fillet and put the fillets butter side down into the hot cast iron skillet.
Do not be alarmed by the rapid and intense smoking of the butter and the seasoning at the beginning of the cooking. It is part of the experience, thus, do this only outdoors.
Cook for three minutes on very high heat, then pour melted butter on the top surface of each fillet and flip them over with a long handled metal spatula and cook them for an additional three minutes.
Serve the fish immediately while the blackened fillets are hot. That means the other items for your meal had best be prepared prior to cooking the fish.
Enjoy the superb flavors, texture and juiciness, for the very hot grilling seals in moisture by rapid searing, and the high fat content of the fish makes the texture perfect. Now you understand why a lean type of fish flesh won’t work as well in this recipe.
If any of you know where a fish like Louisiana Redfish can be found, please send that information to me. Thanks.
Easy Crab Cakes - or ☺♥
This recipe feeds two adults two large crab cakes each, and it is very inexpensive. If I want to make really seriously good crab cakes I do not use canned crab. Instead, I buy fresh lump crabmeat. Then it is no longer inexpensive, for top quality fresh lump crabmeat (Phillips®) sells at Costco® for about $14 per pound. Whoops! In 2013 it now costs $19 per pound!
2 or 3, 6 oz. cans of crabmeat (I buy it at Costco® for about $3 per can in a four can pack … or at least I did until I found it at Wal-Mart® for $1.74 per can!)

1/3 cup of mayonnaise

1/3 cup of bread crumbs

½ tsp. of sea salt

½ tsp. of pepper

1/3 cup of finely diced onion

1/3 cup of finely diced green pepper

1 egg

¼ stick of butter
Drain the crabmeat, press it to remove excess moisture and discard the liquid. Whisk the egg in a one quart bowl and then add the crabmeat and mix well. Add the salt, pepper, mayonnaise, onion and green pepper and mix well. Add the bread crumbs and mix thoroughly.
Melt the butter in a medium to large non-stick skillet on medium heat.
Form four large or six medium patties with the crabmeat mixture and place them well spaced in the skillet. Flatten the patties slightly with a spatula to create flat top and bottom surfaces. They should be about ½” to 5/8” thick. Sauté the patties for about five minutes per side on medium low heat or until they have a rich golden surface color.
Serve and enjoy.
Some people like tartar sauce with crab cakes, so you might want to make that in advance with sweet relish (1/4 cup) and mayonnaise (1/3 cup), mixed. Heat aficionados can add 1/8 cup Tabasco sauce and reduce the relish to 1/8 cup, or replace the relish with 1/8 cup chopped jalapeño peppers.
Crab cake sandwiches are another possibility. Put the finished crab cakes on a plate in a warm 200º F oven, then butter and grill the inside surfaces of a Big Marty’s® or similar sandwich bun (the ones with sesame seeds) for each sandwich, in the same skillet used for making the crab cakes. Grill on medium heat to a light golden brown. Serve with lettuce and your favorite type of tartar sauce.
Crab cakes go well with many other dishes. I like them with French fries and coleslaw. Recipes for both are in this book.
If you are feeding more than two adults, consider frying some country ham (not Smithfield® ham), very thinly sliced, to accompany the crab cakes, for the different taste sensations complement each other and result in pure pleasure. In fact, if you have fresh lump crabmeat and the country ham, don’t make crab cakes. Instead, heat the crab gently in a skillet in some butter with a small amount (1/2 tsp.) sugar added. Then serve small scoops of the buttered, sweetened crabmeat, sprinkled with paprika, over the thin slices of fried country ham. Wow! The moist sweet seafood taste vs. the drier, saltier ham taste is superb. And you definitely want fries and coleslaw to round out that combination.
Where’s my Corona®???

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