Thursday, January 28, 2016

Oriental Cabbage Salad

Sometime this past fall I sought to convince the person who shall remain nameless that we should subscribe to Netflix as we were probably one of a handful of Netflix holdouts. Using both broad sweep generalizations as well as appealing to personal self-interest (what else was he going to watch while in Saudi Arabia for extended periods of time?), we shifted from being video-streaming outliers to potentially becoming Netflix binge watchers. Well, not exactly potentially. In the last couple of weeks we have immersed ourselves in the first three seasons of the "House of Cards". Although the critically acclaimed series "Breaking Bad" still remains as one of our all time favorites, this political drama is simply wicked (good). Beyond it's sheer entertainment value along with causing me to become even more weary of the media and politicians (isn't truth always stranger than fiction?), some unintended benefits have resulted from spending thirty-nine hours of my life watching this series.

In the past couple of weeks I have eaten more fresh fruit and vegetables than I have probably consumed in the past couple of years. While I still have my favorite indulgences (heck, even Oprah still eats bread every day), my food cravings and choices are starting to shift. As superficial as this may sound (and it does), I have Claire Understood (aka Robin Wright) to thank (in part) for causing me to make some of these changes. One of them being trying to shift away from making so many mayonnaise-based salads. So when I rediscovered the recipe for this Oriental Cabbage Salad, I thought this sort of, kind of 'coleslaw without mayonnaise' would be the perfect salad to make. It would also allow me to sort of, kind of be part of the ramen noodle craze.

There are hundreds of versions of this Oriental Cabbage Salad out there. You may have heard it called Asian Cabbage Slaw/Salad, Chinese Cabbage Salad, Amazing Asian Ramen Salad, or Chinese Napa Salad. This combination (uncooked) ramen noodle and cabbage salad is the perfect blend of 'crunchy, tender, crisp, salty, sour, and sweet' in a single bite. I wouldn't go so far as to say it is one of the healthiest salads you will ever make or eat. However, this Chinese version of cole slaw is much healthier than the heavily mayonnaise based coleslaw I grew up with and (still) love.

Some of the recipes for this salad call for using a bag of coleslaw mix. However, when given the choice over chopping fresh vegetables versus using ones chopped and sitting in a bag for some undetermined period of time, I choose the slightly more time-consuming, fresher, more flavorful option of chopping a head of cabbage (1 to 1 1/4 pounds), a large carrot and a bunch of scallions myself.

Cabbage happens to be one of those vegetables put in the 'world's healthiest' category. And when when combined with carrots and scallions, this low-calorie and fiber-rich vegetable seems it should be put in the category of the 'world's best indulgences'. 

While some view canola oil and vegetable oil as interchangeable, canola oil is slightly healthier and a great option for dressings and marinades. Some recipes for versions of the Oriental Cabbage Salad call for omitting the seasoning packet that comes with the Oriental Ramen Noodles. But this version calls for using these seasonings. Combined with the canola oil, white vinegar, granulated sugar, and black pepper, the seasoning creates a very flavorful dressing.

As for the ramen noodles, they go into this salad raw (uncooked) and crushed. The easiest way to break them up or crush them is to put them in a resealable plastic bag and use a rolling pin to do most of the work. You don't want the ramen noodles to be ground into a powder, but rather you want them to be in small pieces.

In a large bowl, the chopped vegetables and crushed ramen noodles are mixed together with the dressing. After covering the bowl with plastic wrap, the salad is chilled in the refrigerator for 1 1/2 to 2 hours before serving. 

Some add the toasted sliced almonds to the salad before it goes into the refrigerator to marinate, others mix them in right before serving. Either option works. I went with mixing them in before the salad was refrigerated. You can either toast the almonds in the oven or on the stove. I prefer toasting them in a pan on the stove as I feel like I have more control. As an added benefit, I don't have to turn on the oven!).

For those of you who love coleslaw, particularly one made with mayonnaise, this one is an incredibly delicious, refreshing alternative. And for those of you live in warmer climates and worry about how long a mayonnaise based salad sits out before it may go bad, this salad takes that worry off of your plate. 

Need to bring a salad to a gathering or a potluck, bring this one. It pairs well with grilled beef or chicken as well as adds another taste dimension if served with sloppy-joes. If you are looking for a salad to make for an upcoming Superbowl gathering, this Oriental Cabbage Salad is bound to have wide appeal. Especially since it can be served chilled or at room temperature.

For optimum flavor, serve the Oriental Cabbage Salad on the day it is made. While leftovers are still delicious, the salad (i.e., ramen noodles) will lose some of its' crunch the longer it marinates. If there was ever a salad to prove 'healthier for you' can be immensely satisfying and incredibly flavorful, this Oriental Cabbage Salad would definitely qualify. 

You may never go back to making a mayonnaise based coleslaw after you taste this salad. Or maybe you will go back a little less frequently. But, I now think I have found a salad worth binging on.

Oriental Cabbage Salad (inspired by a recipe received many years ago)

1 - 1 1/4 pound head of cabbage, julienned
1 large carrot or 2 medium carrots, coarsely grated
1 bunch of scallions (about 5-6), white and green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 packages of Oriental Ramen noodles (reserving seasoning packets), crushed/broken up into small pieces
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted plus more for garnish (Recommend Fisher Nuts Sliced Almonds)

1 cup canola oil
4 Tablespoons granulated sugar
6 Tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 seasoning packets (from the Oriental Ramen Noodles)

1. Combine the canola oil, granulated sugar, white vinegar, black pepper and ramen noodle seasoning packets in a medium sized bowl. Whisk until combined and sugar has almost completely dissolved. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine the sliced cabbage, grated carrot, sliced scallions, and crushed Oriental Ramen noodles.
3. Pour dressing over the vegetables and toss until they are well coated. Stir in toasted almonds, cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 1/2 - 2 hours before serving. Note: Alternately, the toasted almonds can be stirred in right before serving.
4. Transfer salad to a large platter or bowl, garnish with additional almonds and serve.

View at the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park and Boulder Falls in Boulder, Colorado

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Homemade Chicken Soup

Running in the cold with a cold wasn't exactly what I thought I signed up for or what being a Winter Warrior was supposed to mean. To say I was miserable during a run this past weekend would be an understatement. Descending further into a state of delirium along with having an encouraging, understanding running partner were the two things enabling me to get through the five mile run. Funny things happen to your perceptions when you are in a cold-induced delirious state. Any bump in the road feels like a steady incline and steady inclines feel like steep hills. So while I was running 'uphill' I wondered whatever possessed me to willingly put myself through such torture. Apparently I took the word 'warrior' a little too literally when I signed up for a 10k training program. And clearly I either get some perverse pleasure out of being a glutton for punishment or am beginning to remember what the addiction to running felt like all of those years ago. But as E. L. James once wrote 'There's a very fine line between pleasure and pain. They are two sides of the same coin, one not existing without the other."

Nothing really cures the common cold, but that doesn't mean we just let it run its' course (no pun intended). From claims going back as far as the 12th century along with new research studies in the 21st century, there is a preponderance of evidence supporting the claim that a bowl of chicken soup is the nutritional elixir to soothe all of a cold's symptoms. Even if you still think this is nothing more than a myth (although it has lasted more than nine centuries), at the very least, this 'miracle-cure-in-a-bowl', this 'liquid healing gold' is good for one's soul. Not only was I in desperate need to have this cold come to an end, I needed to feel better.

Sure it would have been easier to buy a few cans of chicken soup, but by now you should have figured out I don't really do 'easy' that often. If there is real scientific truth to the powers of chicken soup having the ability to improve one's health, well then homemade certainly has to be more powerful (and more delicious) than anything available on a grocery store's shelf.

The broth for the Chicken Soup is made with a whole fresh chicken, two yellow onions (skins on) halved, a parsnip (halved), two garlic cloves (peeled), two stalks of celery, a very large carrot (skin on), a bay leaf, kosher salt, tomato paste, aleppo pepper, dried thyme, and four quarts of water. Keeping the skins on the onions as well as the other vegetables helps to give the broth a deep golden color.

Smitten Kitchen's recipe for chicken soup, my source of inspiration, called for the use of either four pounds of leftover chicken carcass bones or four pounds of a combination of fresh chicken wings, necks, backs, and feet. I opted for a whole almost four pound fresh chicken.

Once the broth comes to a boil, the heat is reduced to a simmer and the lid placed on top of the pot. Over the course of approximately 2 1/2 hours, the magic begins to happen. I would like to tell you about the incredible aroma coming from this simmering broth, but my sense of smell wasn't working while I was making this soup.

After the 2 1/2 hours, three bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (approximately 2 pounds) are added to the simmering stock. The breasts will cook in approximately 20-25 minutes. Be careful not to overcook them because the meat from the chicken will be going back into the 'soup'. Allow the chicken breasts to cool enough so you can remove the skin and bones and either shred or cut into pieces. If you are wondering what to do with all of the meat on the whole chicken you had poached in the broth, I would suggest you use it to make chicken salad rather than shred it to use in the soup. Note: The pieces of chicken breast are returned to the stock after the chopped vegetables and egg noodles have been added and cooked.

After straining and returning the broth to the pot, the chopped carrots, celery, and leeks are added. Cooking time will range from 6-10 minutes (you want them firm-tender) depending on how small/large you cut/dice the vegetables.

The most common noodle used in chicken soup is the egg noodle. Of all of the egg noodles available, the most frequently used are the German short, corkscrew shaped noodles. The other prevailing option is the shorter, straighter noodles. These usually come in thin, medium, and wide thicknesses. Not only do I like my chicken soup noodles to have a little substance, I like to be able to get them on the spoon without making a big splashy mess. For that reason, I prefer the medium-width over the thinner egg noodles. Once the chopped vegetables have simmered in the broth, the egg noodles are added (allow to cook for 7-10 minutes or in accordance with package directions).

Egg noodles usually come in a bag versus a box (usually in a 12 ounce size). If you like a very noodle rich soup, use 11-12 ounces. If you still like a soup with a noodle presence, use 9-10 ounces. If the entire package of the noodles is used, please know they will continue to absorb the chicken broth if leftovers are refrigerated overnight. That isn't necessary a bad thing, but this broth has such incredible flavor it would be somewhat of a waste to have it all absorbed into the egg noodles (trust me on this).

Before serving the soup you will need to taste to determine how much additional salt is needed (remember only 1 Tablespoon of kosher salt was used in the broth).  I added an additional 1 1/2 teaspoons to the pot of chicken soup, but then added a tiny bit more after it was ladled into a bowl. Two tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley can be added to the pot of soup or lightly sprinkled on the bowls of soup.

After tasting this Homemade Chicken Soup, I will never buy a can of chicken soup ever again. Never ever. Regardless if I have a cold or not. The medicinal and nutritional values of this 'liquid healing gold' are increased exponentially when homemade. Eating a bowl of hot, homemade soup is incredibly satisfying, even slightly intoxicating. Especially one having such a great depth of flavor. January just happens to be National Soup Month (hmmm....I wonder why). You still have some time to make a pot of homemade soup. Why not make this Homemade Chicken Soup? You will make everyone deliriously happy!

Homemade Chicken Soup (inspired by SmittenKitchen's Ultimate Chicken Soup Recipe)

2 medium-large yellow onions, unpeeled and cut in half
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and slightly smashed
1 large carrot, unpeeled
1 large parsnip, unpeeled
1 large celery rib
4 quarts water
3 1/2-4 pound chicken (or 4 pounds of chicken wings)
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme)
1/8 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes)
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf

To Finish
2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (approximately 3 large chicken breasts)
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 large leek, trimmed, thinly slicing green and white parts
2 large celery ribs, diced or chopped
9-12 ounces egg noodles (medium or fine noodles) Recommend Gia Russa egg noodles. I used the medium sized noodles.
2 Tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Kosher salt to taste

1. Combine all broth ingredients in a large stock pot (6-8 quart). Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce to gentle simmer, skim any foam, cover and simmer for 2 1/2 hours.
2. Add whole chicken breasts to simmering broth, simmer for 20-25 minutes until they are cooked through (do not overcook). Remove cooked breasts and allow to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, remove skin and bones. Either shred or chop into small chunks. 
3. Strain broth. Return strained broth to stock pot and turn heat to simmer.
4. Add diced vegetables and cook for 7-10 minutes, or until vegetables are firm-tender.
5. Add egg noodles to the broth and cook for 7-10 minutes or until tender. Note: For a very, very noodle-y soup use 11-12 ounces of the egg noodles, for a less noodle-y soup use 9-10 ounces. 
6. Add shredded/chopped chicken breasts to broth, simmer for 2-3 minutes until heated through.
7. Add chopped parsley to the finished soup or add chopped parsley to soup after it has been ladled into bowls.
Note: If using a full 12 ounce bag of the medium egg noodles, a significant amount of the broth will be absorbed by the noodles if any leftovers have been refrigerated overnight. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Texas Sheet Cake

Earlier this week I was on the verge of having a meltdown causing me to be a bit more distractible than usual. Unable to access my blog posts along with being unable to figure it out by myself (the double whammy), I gave up (the slightly unrealistic) hope it would magically fix itself and decided my only option was to pack up my laptop and drive over to the Apple store near where I live (there are times when living close to civilization has its' benefits). To make a long story short, the issue was resolved some 2 1/2 hours later with the cost of all of this simply being my time. Solution or no solution, cost or no cost, just walking into a store where the first words you hear are 'we won't let you leave here until we find a solution' makes you feel compelled to sing their customer service praises in your loudest voice from the highest rooftop. For the moment, my blog will have to suffice for a virtual rooftop.

It was during my short, yet heightened state of distraction when I started making this Texas Sheet Cake. Tossing two cups of flour, two cups of sugar, 1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa, some baking powder, cinnamon, and kosher salt into the garbage and a trip to the grocery store midway through the baking process were, thankfully, the only tangible costs paid for my distractibility. If there was any good to come out of my baking faux pas, it was a reminder why one should carefully read a recipe (maybe more than once). Especially when making something for the first time. 

If you have never heard of a Texas Sheet Cake before it may be because it is one of those cakes going by a long list of names: Texas Sheath Cake, Texas Ranch Cake, Mexican Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Sheet Brownies, Buttermilk Sheet Cake, Chocolate Brownie Cake, German's Chocolate Cake, and Aunt Velma's Chocolate Cake to name a few. This easily prepared single layer cake, one often served right out of the sheet pan, has also been called 'the little black dress of chocolate cakes'. Some claim this cake originated and was popularized in the South sometime in the 1950s, others have given credit to Lady Bird Johnson for the cake's creation (a good story, like one of those tall Texas tales that isn't true). Regardless of who or where it was first created, it managed to go viral in the days well before the creation of the internet. Note: You can learn more about this cakes' origin here.

The Texas Sheet Cake is comprised of two parts: a thin, rich chocolatey, almost fudge-like cake layer and a rich, dense, slightly gooey chocolatey icing layer topped with toasted pecans. And the only mixing utensils needed are a whisk, a spatula, and a wooden spoon. 

Unsweetened cocoa is used in both the cake layer as well as in the icing. I used Hershey's Special Dark unsweetened cocoa but any unsweetened cocoa would work. Because this cake uses baking powder and not baking soda you could substitute Dutch-processed cocoa for the unsweetened chocolate. Note: The Dutch-processed cocoa is darker in color and slightly more mellow in taste. 

After reviewing more than a dozen recipes for Texas Sheet Cake, I noticed the greatest differences amongst them was in the amount of cocoa used in the cake layer, ranging anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup. The recipe from Serious Eats called for 1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa. That seemed to make the most sense. Knowing coffee deepens the flavor of chocolate, I decided to swap out the 1 cup of water for 1 cup of freshly brewed coffee (something I later learned, when I was less distracted, was a swap made in other early versions of the recipe). It was a great swap. The boost in chocolate flavor could probably be achieved using 1/2 cup of freshly brewed coffee and 1/2 cup of water. You can decide how intense of a chocolate flavor you want in this cake.

Let me momentarily slip into my Miss Bossy Pants persona. Always, always, always, always toast your nuts when adding them to cakes, cookies, and/or brownies. For those of you slightly adverse to hearing anyone give an edict or a hard and fast rule, let me make a case for this one. Toasting nuts intensifies their flavor. As the oils from the nuts are released during the baking process, they become slightly crispier, take on very subtle notes of caramel, and their raw bitterness notes are significantly suppressed. In other words, a baked nut has more flavor and more crunch than unbaked ones. In 8-10 minutes, in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven, a single layer of pecans on a baking sheet will become deeper in color and release a fragrance you wish you could bottle. More importantly, in less than 10 minutes this simple step will take your baked goods from good to GREAT! Given the choice between those two outcomes, why would anyone settle for just good? It would be nuts not to toast them! Okay, enough said. Miss Bossy Pants is now leaving the room.

The size of the sheet pan or rather jelly roll pan matters. Too small or too large and the ratio of cake to frosting will be off. Additionally, adjustments to the baking time would need to be made. My 12"x17" jelly roll pan worked perfectly. Baked for 19-23 minutes in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven, the cake is done when is easily springs back when you lightly press down with your finger and it begins to pull away from the sides. 

The rich chocolate icing is poured over a warm (not hot) cake. The chopped, toasted nuts are sprinkled on top immediately after the icing is poured and evenly spread over the cake. Some Texas Sheet Cake recipes call for mixing the pecans into the icing (versus sprinkling them on top), however, I like the look (and texture) of having the nuts grace the top of the cake. Sort of like adding a string of pearls to this 'little black dress of chocolate cakes'. 

This cake is perfect for large formal or informal gatherings. You can simply put out the Texas Sheet Cake in its' pan on the table along with a knife and spatula and let everyone take as much or little as they want. Or cut it up into squares and place in cupcake papers. 

I imagine buttermilk may be the only 'milk' left on the shelves out east this weekend. For those of you in the midst of the winter storm, make this cake and feel free to give this Texas Sheet Cake yet another name. Chocolate Blizzard Cake anyone?

Texas Sheet Cake (inspired by a Texas Sheet Cake recipe posted on Serious Eats)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup (16 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup freshly brewed coffee, slightly cooled (Or 1/2 cup coffee and 1/2 cup water or 1 cup water)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound confectionary sugar, sifted
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup pecan halves, toasted and chopped (Note: Toast the pecans before you begin assembling the cake.)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line a 12"x17" inch jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Spray pan with vegetable oil and lightly dust with flour. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, kosher salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
3. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Whisk in unsweetened cocoa. When mixture is smooth, whisk in coffee. Bring just to a boil, then remove from heat. Set aside.
4. In a small bowl, combine buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla. Whisk until smooth.
5. Pour cocoa mixture over flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Stir in egg mixture until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until cake begins to pull away from sides of pan and/or cake springs back when lightly pressed with your finger. Approximately 19-23 minutes.
6. Set pan on a cooling rack.

1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Whisk in cocoa powder. Take off heat.
2. Stir in buttermilk, salt and vanilla. Add 1/2 of the confectionary sugar, whisking until combined.
3. Whisk in water, the remaining confectionary sugar until icing is smooth.
4. Pour over warm cake. Smooth with an offset spatula. Immediately top with toasted, chopped pecans.
5. Allow icing to set. Cut into squares and/or serve in the pan along with a knife and spatula.

In and around McKinney, Texas (September 2015)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Smashed Sliders and Baked Oven Matchstick Fries

If I expanded my daily social media exposure beyond Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to all of the other ever expanding platforms out there I would, more than likely, suffer from so much visual overload it would cause permanent sleeplessness. My mind would be racing continuously. If I went down further into the social media platforms rabbit hole, there is no telling if I would ever remember what a good night's sleep ever felt like. Yet, not all of this browsing/searching/connecting/learning/sharing time is wasted. More often than not, I come across posts or photos that challenge me or inspire me. And, of course, I also come across some immediately eliciting an audible 'seriously?'. It has taken awhile but I am becoming slightly less gullible.

For years food gurus have told us it would be a mistake, even a crime, to press down on a burger during the cooking process. But this is only partly true. There is a reason why there are lines of people willingly waiting to order a hamburger at Shake Shack. And it's not just the potato bun and secret sauce that separates these burgers from all others. The golden brown crust on the burger created in the smashing process elevates its' taste factor to Gastromonic Nirvana.

The day I read Bon Appetit's smash burger post, I thought 'seriously?'. But this time my skepticism gave way to one of my Achilles heels, gullibility. For those of you who consider this as some sort of personality flaw or a quality slightly inconsistent for anyone possessing a high degree of book smarts (did I tell you I have a doctorate degree?) I will not be surprised if you reconsider that particular (narrow) point of view once you tasted one of these smashed sliders.

Did you know Shake Shack uses Martin's Potato Rolls? Well, now you do. And they are the exact same ones we can buy at the grocery stores! For the best hamburger taste, use the highest-quality, highest meat to fat ratio (80/20) you can find. No need to ask your butcher to make a custom blend, Ground Chuck delivers incredibly great flavor because of course, fat is where the flavor is at. Thick slices of American Cheese (the yellow stuff, the full fat stuff), lettuce, tomatoes, hamburger dill pickles, and secret sauce are all you need to make the absolutely best, most perfect slider at home. Well, there is one more thing.

A cast iron pan. If there was ever a reason to buy one, these Smashed Sliders is reason enough. So the next time you are out antiquing or browsing at estate (tag) sales, look for one or two. If that isn't your thing, Lodge makes really good cast iron pans. Thin or non-stick frying pans will not work.

While the cast iron skillet heats up, keep your sliders in the refrigerator. You want them to be cold. Other than salting (peppering optional) the sliders once they hit the hot (unoiled) pan, these burgers need no other seasonings or ingredients. If making full sized smashed burgers, use 3 -3 1/2 ounces of the ground chuck. For the smashed sliders, use 2 - 2 1/2 ounce balls of meat. Before placing on the hot skillet, slightly loosen the beef balls. This helps to create the nooks and crannies needed for meat/fat to caramelize. Press down hard using a heavy spatula or meat pounder (you want them to be about 1/2 inch thick). After cooking the sliders for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes flip them.

Cook for approximately one minute, then place cheese on top and cover the pan. They will be ready when the cheese has melted. Note: If you like your sliders more medium to medium well, cook for about 2 minutes then add cheese and cover.

There are many versions of 'secret sauce' out there. This one is a slight variation from Epicurious. It is nothing more than mayonnaise, (yellow) mustard, ketchup, juice from a jar of kosher hamburger dill pickles, garlic powder, onion flakes (or powder), and sweet smoked paprika.

Before assembling the sliders, melt some butter in a heavy skillet and toast the inside of the potato rolls.

If making these Smashed Sliders as an appetizer, you don't really need fries to go with them. A nice touch, but not absolutely necessary. But if you are serving them for a meal, fries are an absolute must. I much prefer long thin crispy fries versus wedges. And these oven baked matchstick fries couldn't be easier to make.

Use either Idaho or Russet potatoes (I used Idaho potatoes). Cut the entire potato (keeping skins on) into matchsticks. Toss lightly with vegetable oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and arrange single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet lined with (heavy duty) aluminum foil. The fries are baked in a preheated 450 degree oven for approximately 25-35 minutes (turning once midway through the baking process to ensure evenness in baking). When they have browned and crisped, remove from oven, toss again with some sea salt and serve. With ketchup of course.

Now, no matter where you live or what hour of the day (or night) it is, these Smashed Sliders and Baked Oven Matchstick Fries are within your reach. Great slider ingredients (remember only buy an 80/20 blend here), a cast iron skillet, Martin's potato rolls, and secret sauce are all you need to satisfy everyone's cravings for a smashed slider. These are SO incredible, you may never cook them any other way again. Forget using the grill, unless of course you plan on placing your cast iron skillet on the grill grates. Your gullible friends may think you are serving them sliders from one of those 'famous' burger restaurants. Your non-gullible friends will think 'does he/she think I really believe these are homemade?'. Either way you all win.

Smashed Sliders and Baked Oven Fries (inspiration for the Secret Sauce from Epicurious; for the smashed sliders from Bon Appetit; and, for the baked oven fries from The Minimalist Baker)
Makes 6 sliders

1 1/4 pounds ground beef chuck (20% fat/80% lean)
Kosher salt
6 slices of thickly cut American cheese (the yellow stuff)
6 sliced potato rolls from the package of 12 (highly recommend Martin's Sliced Potato Rolls)
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Vegetable oil for pan

Secret Sauce
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon juice from jar of Kosher Hamburger Dill Chips or Pickles (recommend Mt. Olive Hamburger Dill Chips)
1 Tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion flakes or onion powder

2 Large Idaho potatoes (or 3-4 russet potatoes)
1/4 cup vegetable oil or canola oil
Sea salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (or up to 1 full teaspoon)

1. Heat a cast iron skillet until very hot.
2. Grab a handful (2 1/2-3 ounces) of ground chuck and press directly on hot skillet using a spatula or meat pounder. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
3. After 2 - 2 1/2 minutes, flip burgers (they should be crispy on the bottom the edges craggy).
4. Cook for 1 minute, place a slice a cheese on each slider, cover and cook until cheese melts (approximately 1 - 1 1/2 minutes). 
5. Put cooked sliders on a potato bun toasted on a hot skillet (use about 1 Tablespoon of unsalted butter for 3 buns). Spread secret sauce on top of one side of the toasted bun. Layer the slider with a slice of tomato, kosher hamburger dill pickles and crispy lettuce (recommend iceburg). Serve immediately.
Note:  Because the burgers cook quickly, you can make these sliders in batches. Do not crowd the cast iron skillet with too many burgers.

Secret Sauce
1. In a small bowl, mix together mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, sweet smoked paprika, garlic powder, and onion flakes (or onion powder) until well blended. Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees (F). Line two baking sheets with heavy duty aluminum foil and lightly oil with vegetable oil or cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Cut potatoes into matchsticks, by first cutting the potato in half lengthwise, then cutting each half into 1/4 inch slices. Then cut the slices into strips (at or less than 1/4 inch in width).
3. Toss matchstick potatoes with 1/4 cup vegetable (or canola) oil, sprinkle with sea salt (and pepper if you would like). Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets.
4. Bake for 25-35 minutes, turning midway through the baking process. Fries are done when golden and crispy. Sprinkled baked fries with additional sea salt and serve immediately.