Thursday, March 31, 2011

Slow-Cooker Guinness, Pork & Bean Stew

Two weeks after St. Patrick's Day, and I've still got 3 bottles of Guinness languishing in the refrigerator. The freezer is also starting to get a bit full, roadwork on I-65 South is ruining my daily commute, and the forecast called for crappy rainy weather today (note: it never did rain). Basically, it's the perfect day to cook dinner in the Crock Pot!

As with most slow cooker recipes, this one just takes a few minutes of prep work in the morning. Nothing beats coming home from work to a house smelling richly of stew and knowing you don't have to cook anything, and it sure beats running through a drive-thru for dinner. 

If you don't have Guinness, don't worry. Pretty much any beer will work with this recipe, so just use what you've got. I used my remaining Guinness solely to get rid of it since I don't drink it. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Quick & Easy Chicken Pot Pie Casserole

A traditional American chicken pot pie, unlike cottage/shepherd's pie, is a savory pie of chicken and vegetables, enclosed by both a bottom and top pie crust (rather than a topping of mashed potatoes). 

Though I DO have (and will share one day) recipes for a truly homemade pot pie, as well as recipes for a pot pie "soup", this version, though not "classic" is simply an easier version, for when time (or money) is tight. There is no bottom crust, and the top crust is a simple layer of drop biscuits. Other shortcuts include the use of the standard casserole ingredient - condensed soup, as well as baking in a 13x9" baking dish instead of individual pie plates. 

In true casserole fashion, this recipe DOES use canned soup. 

To REALLY save time, I like to use a deli rotisserie chicken instead of poaching chicken breasts. You can have this casserole ready for the oven in less then 10 minutes, and you won't need a single knife for any of the prep. So, the next time you're short on time but hungry for comfort, try this casserole - chances are you've got most of these ingredients in your kitchen already! 

Thai Tea (Cha Yen)

Thai tea, also known as "cha yen" (ชาเย็น), is a refreshing drink of strongly brewed black tea sweetened with sweetened condensed milk. It is usually served chilled, with evaporated milk added to make it creamy. Thai tea is also often served with boba (tapioca pearls), but I prefer my Thai tea plain (sorry, it's a texture thing). 

You can order Thai tea at your local Thai restaurant (and probably shell out about $3 per glass), or you can easily make it yourself at home. The tea leaves are easily found at most Asian markets, or you can even order them online. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Soupe à l'oignon Gratinée (French Onion Soup)

As a kid I HATED onions. Absolutely LOATHED them and wouldn't eat them raw, cooked, hidden in foods, etc. Now, as an adult, I LOVE cooking with onions and think they add an amazing flavor to so many dishes (I still won't eat them raw though). It was most likely soupe à l'oignon, (that's fancypants for French onion soup) that changed my mind. I honestly could never imagine why some people hated this soup, until I caved in to a craving jumbled with a bout of laziness and bought a can of condensed French onion soup. 

On some recipes, you just CAN'T take shortcuts. For this French onion soup recipe, the onions are slowly caramelized for several hours. However, you only need to check them and stir the pot every hour, so you aren't tethered to the stovetop. It DOES mean that you'll need a good oven-proof pot or Dutch oven though. Though I LOVE my bare cast iron, I highly suggest using an enameled cast iron Dutch oven since the onions WILL form a deep crust (basically concentrated flavor), and it's MUCH easier to deglaze with an enameled pot. 

Another key to the soup is having GOOD stock. If you can, use homemade stocks instead of canned. The flavor difference is definitely noticeable. If you MUST purchase stocks, buy a good-quality, low-sodium stock. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Easiest Slow-Cooker Pot Roast EVER

Pot roast is an ultimate comfort food to me, and I like to make it year round. I've made several pot roast recipes over the years; on the stovetop, in the oven, and with a slow cooker. I prefer using a slow cooker since the long cooking time combined with a low temperature is perfect for making tougher cuts of meat (like chuck roasts) tender enough to melt in your mouth without being dry at all. 

This recipe is hands down the best one I've ever used, and it's also the easiest and least expensive. You can prepare this dish in about 10 minutes first thing in the morning and come home from work to a house FILLED with the homey scent of pot roast. This is such a hearty, filling meal that the only side I serve is just some toasted (frozen) garlic toast. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reuben Dip

Did you make too much corned beef for St. Patrick's Day? Need a good snack for watching the NCAA tournament? Make reuben dip (but be sure to save some of that corned beef for hash)! 

The reuben sandwich is a grilled sandwich of layered pastrami or corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on rye; topped with Russian or Thousand Island dressing. It has a much-storied history as to its origins; several legends exist as to who actually invented it. The most popular story claims that, in 1914, Arnold Reuben, Jr., the son of Reuben's Delicatessen owner Arnold Reuben, Sr., created the sandwich for a hungry actress named Anna Selos. However, it is also claimed that, in 1925, Reuben Kulakofsky, a grocer in Nebraska, created the sandwich for his weekly poker group. 

I'm a huge fan of reubens; people who know me personally know of my love for a good sandwich. Especially one covered in kraut, doused in tangy dressing, and served on rye! I spent the better part of a year searching the Birmingham area for a decent area; this search came to a screeching halt once Max's Delicatessen opened. I absolutely will NOT get a reuben anywhere else now (seriously, local folks, give Max's a try if you haven't already. Tell Steve that Julia sent you. And bring me back some cheesecake.). 

This recipe is ALL over the internet; it can be made on the stovetop or in a slow-cooker, and the only difference I've ever seen among all of the recipes is quantity. The ingredients are always pretty much the same. These are the measurements I like to use. If you want to make this in a slow-cooker, simply combine the ingredients in a slow-cooker and cook on LOW for about 3-4 hours or until all of the cheese has melted. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Guinness Cottage Pie

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Though I've probably already had my fill of Irish eats this week, this classic dish is one of my favorite forms of comfort food, regardless of the time of year. 

A simple meat pie, topped with mashed potatoes, most people would actually call this dish a "shepherd's pie", though the correct term is actually "cottage pie". A shepherd's pie must contain lamb, whereas a cottage pie just contains "meat". This version uses Guinness for a richer, heartier flavor (and extra Irish points). I actually do NOT like Guinness as a drink, but I love the flavor it imparts when I cook with it. Luckily, there are several stores here where I can just buy individual bottles instead of an entire sixer. 

Most of the ingredients are probably basic items that you've already got in the pantry, fridge or freezer. This recipe isn't the easiest (but it's in no way hard), but it IS delicious, straightforward, and well worth the effort. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Slow-Cooker Corned Beef & Cabbage with Colcannon

First off, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my Dad! 

With St. Patrick's Day (Lá Fhéile Pádraig) just around the corner (tomorrow!!), I figured that I had to cave at least a little bit and post some Irish recipes. Originally a Catholic holiday, St. Patrick's Day is now a secular holiday celebrating the culture of Ireland. Unfortunately, most people I know think of it as an excuse to drink (much like Cinco de Mayo). 

Corned beef & cabbage is usually the "go-to" Irish dish, especially for St. Patrick's Day. Ironically, it's not a common nor popular dish in Ireland, nor did it even originate there. Colcannon, which is basically mashed potatoes with cabbage, however, is a much-loved and very traditional Irish dish. This cheap, staple dish even gets paid its due respects in song:

Did you ever eat Colcannon, made from lovely pickled cream?
With the greens & scallions mingled like a picture in a dream
Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake
Of the creamy, flavored butter that your mother used to make?

So, wear some green and celebrate St. Patrick's Day in the way you prefer most - but let your slow cooker do all of the hard work for you! That is, if you aren't already cabbage'd & potato'd out by now! 

Zaru Soba & Mugicha (Japanese Cold Buckwheat Noodles & Barley Tea) - (Vegetarian)

Japan, much like Alabama, gets really hot & muggy in the summers. Unlike here, though, most households in Japan do not have central air conditioning, just standalone units for family rooms. As a result, Japanese cuisine features many dishes meant to be eaten cold in the summertime. 

With the weather just starting to warm up here in the South, but still pleasant and nowhere near the stifling, oppressive dog days of summer (August in the South is absolutely unbearable), I'm starting to crave these "beat the heat" meals, washed down with a cold glass of refreshing mugicha (roasted barley "tea"). 

Soba noodles are made of buckwheat and contains all 8 essential amino acids, as well as essential vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants. Soba noodles are also easily digested, and a perfect substitute for pasta for anyone following a low-GI diet. Soba is eaten year-round in Japan, as a hot noodle soup, though the cold noodle dish is more well-known; it is even considered the essential meal to eat to ring in the New Year.

The word "zaru" in zaru soba actually refers to the bamboo basket used to drain the cooked noodles. Zaru soba is simply drained cooked soba noodles, chilled and served with a dipping broth known as "tsuyu", a blend of dashi, mirin and sweetened soy sauce. The noodles are topped simply with shredded nori, with a spot of wasabi and thinly sliced scallions on the side (to add to the tsuyu). A shortcut that I often take is to use Memmi, a concentrated noodle soup base.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cilantro-Lime Roasted Chicken w/ Rice & Seasoned Black Beans

Cilantro is one of my absolute favorite flavors. I have dozens of recipes that use cilantro, from Thai recipes to Mexican recipes. Most people either love or hate cilantro; many of the 'haters' claim that cilantro tastes like soap to them; there's actually a valid reason for this! 

If you're a cilantro lover like me, though, you'll surely enjoy this recipe. It uses very few, inexpensive staple ingredients, and takes only a few minutes to prepare. Marinate the chicken while at work all day, then just toss it in the oven while making your sides. The black beans are cheap and healthy, and the rice will remind you of Chipotle.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cucumber & Wakame Sunomono (Vinegared Salad) - (Vegetarian)

Almost every Japanese restaurant that I've ever been to, from the sushi bars to the hibachi joints, offers "sunomono" on their menus. Typically, this is synonymous with a seaweed salad, and often includes cucumber slices as well. "Sunomono" simply means "vinegared dish" in Japanese ("su" means "vinegar"), and is a catch-all term for a number of dishes. I'm often both amused and shocked that a tiny little bowl of this salad is offered on these menus for around $5 - $6, when it's incredibly easy and inexpensive to make at home. Like Texas Caviar, Mom usually has some sunomono (and ALWAYS onigiri) prepared whenever I go home to visit.

Vinegared salads are a great counterpart to fried foods in Japanese cuisine (such as tempura), and are also a cool, refreshing course during the hot, sticky summer months. Not only are sunomono salads quick and easy to prepare, but most are very healthy as well. My version also includes cellophane noodles for added texture and to make the salad more of a meal. 

Wakame is a dried seaweed used in sunomono (not the same kind that is used for making dashi, nor for rolling maki), and should be available at any Asian market or health food store. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Kielbasa & Cabbage with Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

This dish is one that I've been making for quite a while now. Like my dad, I LOVE both kielbasa and cabbage. Adding in creamy, buttery mashed potatoes, with a hint of tang makes a perfect meal to me. It's hearty, delicious, and can easily be whipped up in about 30 minutes (take THAT, Rachael Ray!). 

Make this dish when you're craving some comfort food, or, for the ladies, when you want to cook your guy a nice manly meal. I usually have all of these ingredients on hand at any given time with the exception of the kielbasa, so this is a good "fridge-cleaner"/"pantry-cleaner" for me. 

PS: Don't forget to "SPRING FORWARD" tonight before bed! 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Potluck Pasta Salad (Vegetarian)

Pasta salads are a great potluck dish; you can prepare it the night before, and, since it is served cold, there is no worry about trying to keep the dish warm. I almost always have the ingredients for pasta salad handy, just in case the sudden need to make a dish for an occasion catches me by surprise. 

Recently I posted a recipe for bacon ranch pasta salad. Though I LOVE that recipe, I also like plain old pasta salad. Everyone has a different recipe for it, but the ingredients that never really change are the pasta and the Italian dressing. This recipe also adds black olives, mixed vegetables and pepperoncini (sport) peppers. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Oyako Donburi (Japanese Chicken & Egg Bowl)

Oyaku donburi, also called "oyakodon", is simply a Japanese donburi dish of chicken, egg and a sweetened soy and mirin based sauce served atop a bowl of steamed rice. The name literally translates to "parent and child", and is one of my all time favorite comfort food dishes. I especially love oyakodon when the weather is dreary and cold (like today) or when I'm feeling under the weather. 

Traditionally, oyako donburi is made simply with chicken, egg and green onions (and possibly some mitsuba). However, I love the addition of shiitake mushrooms; they add a rich, savory aspect to the dish, along with added protein. This dish only takes a few minutes to make, so be sure to have your rice fully steamed and ready to serve. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Slow-Cooker Black-Eyed Peas

To ring in 2011, I made my own version of a slow-cooker Hoppin' John; basically a combination of black-eyed peas, collard greens and smoked sausage cooked altogether overnight. To me, black-eyed peas aren't just for New Years - I enjoy them year-round. What's not to love? They're delicious, DIRT cheap, good for you, and easy to cook. Cooked black-eyed peas also keep well, so you can make a big batch at once and enjoy the leftovers for several days. 

Most people assume you have to slave over a hot stove for hours to prepare dried beans; though dried beans DO take longer to cook, this recipe utilizes the under-appreciated slow cooker, which does all of the work for you. The best part is that you don't even have to soak the peas overnight. In as little as three hours, you can have Southern black-eyed peas that will taste as if they've been slow-simmering in a cast iron pot all day.

I modified this recipe from Beth's wonderful recipe at Budget Bytes. I've added some celery, and used a ham flavoring instead of chicken. Even though I used fresh vegetables, you can easily use frozen chopped onions & celery as well as jarred minced garlic to save time when preparing this dish. The vegetables cook down, so nobody will ever notice the difference!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sausage & Cheese Muffins

We Southern folks LOVE our sausage balls; little bites of spicy breakfast sausage with a hint of sharp cheddar, bound together simply with Bisquick and a little milk. Sausage balls are the perfect finger food and show up at office potlucks, weddings, and on football Saturdays. This past football season, I had to humbly admit that my sausage balls weren't *THE* best; in fact, the pork-loving BF makes FAR superior sausage balls (and thankfully was more than willing to share his recipe). He also introduced me to dipping them in plain yellow mustard (which I hate), and now I can't eat sausage balls without it. 

As great as sausage balls are, they can sometimes be a pain to make; the process of rolling up all of the balls can be fairly time-consuming (I cheat and use a small scoop). This recipe for a muffin form, which I found in Southern Living YEARS ago, simply combines the core ingredients of sausage balls and bakes them in a muffin tin. 

These muffins keep well and make a great quick breakfast as well. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Skillet-Roasted Clams with Garlic & Parsley

I'm a huge fan of seafood, especially shellfish. Right now, as crawfish season gets underway, I hit our local Cajun joint for boils as often as possible. I also try to get my oyster fill in before the weather warms up and I have to spend several months without them (remember, folks, never eat oysters in months with an "R" in them). Being in a Gulf state, Gulf shrimp are a part of life here. Unfortunately, I don't eat shellfish as often as I would like, since the BF has a shellfish allergy and REALLY hates the fact that he can no longer eat shrimp or crawfish (so I try not to rub it in by eating it in front of him). However, he CAN eat clams and mussels...for now.

Clams and mussels aren't eaten too frequently here in Alabama; they show up as a higher-end menu item in restaurants, and are nowhere near as prevalent in meals as catfish, shrimp or crawfish (mudbugs or crawdads, if you will). However, clams and mussels are SUPER easy to cook at home, and only take a few minutes to prepare. Luckily, here in town, we do have a few seafood mongers who have quality shellfish for sale.

The key to cooking clams or mussels is to purge them well - you do NOT want to serve gritty shellfish to your dinner guests (and it's a surefire way to get cut on "Chopped"). Though most clams available in stores have already been purged, I like to err on the side of caution and do a purge on my own. 

This recipe uses a deep cast iron skillet to quickly roast clams in a wine broth filled with butter, garlic, and a kick of red pepper flakes. Not only can you have dinner on the table in minutes, but you'll only have a single pan to clean. I like to make this a more substantial meal by serving the clams atop fresh pasta. The cooking juices make an amazing sauce to be soaked up by the pasta or with a slice of crusty baguette. 

I have NO shame in admitting that I didn't go back for seconds. I went back for thirds.