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I felt the need for some BBQ the other day, but in a new and different way. No burgers or hot dogs, no chicken or ribs. Instead I started thinking about Korean BBQ, one of my favorites. Korean food is fantastic – delicious, fully flavored and a little spicy at times. I headed to my favorite Korean market, steadying my nerves for the inevitable Tetris parking lot situation, white knuckeling my car into an oddly shaped spot. I grabbed a cart and looked around to put together some ideas. Korean BBQ was now definitely on the menu; it was just a question of how I was going to pull it off.

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Unless it’s crispy and fried, chicken sandwiches bore me to death. Maybe I’ve eaten too many of them in my life but they’re typically tough, bland and incredibly boring. Slapping on a few strips of bacon and avocado does not save a sad sandwich and I’ve simply moved on to more delicious things. But something funny happened the other day as I was flipping through my recipe files. I came across a recipe from a trip I took many years ago for a grilled chicken sandwich I ate poolside at a Four Seasons in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It wasn’t even a Thai recipe but it peaked my curiosity.

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Easy weeknight dinners are a challenge for everyone. Believe me, I understand all too well the pull of a drive thru or takeout after a long workday. In fact, I succumb more than I care to publicly admit. I’m not immune to a fried chicken-biscuit combo and I know I should cook myself a nice balanced dinner more often, energy levels be damned. Doesn’t mean I always do it. That’s why everyone should have a few simple tricks in their back pocket. This is one of mine. A simple piece of beef, marinated in flavorful ingredients, quickly cooked and served with anything you like.

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I was an odd college kid when it came to food. My dorm room fridge wasn’t stocked with cheap beer and cold pizza. Rather I had boursin cheese and fancy sausages and juice. More than once, I’d cobble together a dinner in the dining hall from large button mushrooms from the salad bar, microwaved with a little butter until tender. Add some rice and some sort of green vegetable, hopefully not overcooked beyond recognition, and I was good. I’d skip the burgers, the mashed potatoes and the ranch dressing. I’ve never really liked sweetened breakfast cereal and would often give away my pass for steak night. You’d think this would make me a “healthy eater” but not so fast. I ate more than my share of pizza, tacos and French fries. I was just a little discerning sometimes. On weekends, when the school cafeterias were closed and we’d be forced to eat off campus, I didn’t order in the typical burgers or sub sandwiches with my suitemates. Rather, I liked to go a slightly out of the way casual Japanese teriyaki house. A bowl of rice, stir fried vegetables and teriyaki chicken was my idea of a great lunch. For whatever reason, I often flew solo on these adventures.

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In my previous post, I extolled the virtues of machaca, a Mexican shredded beef of which I am inordinately fond. My standard plan when visiting family in Phoenix, is to stop by my favorite restaurant for a machaca chimichanga. The beef is no better than in a giant deep-fried burrito sauced with both fiery red and green chili sauces and sour cream, known as “Christmas style” in those parts. It is one of my favorite things of all time. While the beef is a fairly do-able thing to pull off in a home kitchen, deep-frying a giant burrito at home has never appealed to me. There are very few things I deep fry at home – chicken, egg rolls and a packzi or two are the occasional exceptions and a single chimichanga will not be added to that list anytime soon. When the machaca craving hits and December is months away what I’ll now do instead is whip up a batch of machaca enchiladas. Very delicious and a bit easier to pull off.

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I grew up in Phoenix and though I’ve now lived in Chicago for a good long while, my ideas of Mexican food were formed early in that hot, desert community at a lot of small mom & pop corner restaurants. “Our” Mexican food was influenced from the northern part of the country, just south of our Arizona borders, with a lot of local specialties thrown in. Say what you will about pollo fundito, a sort of square fried chicken burrito in a jalapeno cream cheese sauce that’s never seen the light of day in Mexico, but it’s pretty delicious and something with which every Phoenician is familiar and I’ll take a cheese crisp with green chilies over an ordinary quesadilla any day.

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All right. If you’ve been reading along the last few weeks, you know that my little garden plot has been rather prolific this summer on the tomato front. A steady 3-5 pounds have made their way home each week and I’ve been plugging along, making all kinds of things. This week I have a two-fer; two final tomato recipes for the season. Two recipes that are easy, delicious, perfectly do-able for a quick weeknight dinner and highlight what’s best about these late season tomatoes. So get in there while the going is still good and all these amazing tomatoes are still hanging around the markets. They’ll be gone before we know it.

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