Monday, May 30, 2011

Smothered Pork Chops

One classic Southern recipe is pork chops, preferably pan-fried in a hot cast iron skillet. These pork chops are not only fried, but then simmered in a rich gravy made with caramelized onions and creamy buttermilk. Perfect with maque choux and red potato salad!

Maque Choux (Vegetarian)

Maque choux (pronounced "mock shoe") is a traditional Cajun side dish of sweet corn, bell peppers, tomatoes & onion, braised in bacon grease or butter, then simmered in cream. 

I have recently noticed an abundance of fresh summer corn in our markets, all priced incredibly well. With today being the unofficial start of summer, I decided to take advantage of some good sales and great looking produce and make some maque choux as a nice side dish. 

This recipe uses butter in place of the bacon fat, and is a vegetarian recipe (not vegan due to the dairy). However, this recipe is simply a guideline; exact measurements aren't really that important for this dish. 

Red Potato Salad (Vegetarian)

I absolutely LOVE potato salad; whether Japanese or Southern-style. Most people have strong opinions about potato salad - mustard or no mustard, hard-boiled eggs or not, and so on. Though I love a traditional Southern potato salad, this red potato salad is a bit lighter, but still incredibly delicious and easy to make. Perfect for a Memorial Day picnic!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Umeshu (Japanese Ume Liqueur)

Umeshu is a Japanese liqueur often also called "plum wine" (though it's technically a cordial or liqueur), made by steeping unripened ume fruits (Japanese apricots) in sugar and alcohol. The standard alcohol used is shochu, also known as "white liquor" or "soju". Shochu is made from barley, sweet potato or grains, and is most similar to vodka in flavor. 

Umeshu can be enjoyed as-is, as well as on the rocks (umeshu rokku), with club soda (umeshu soda), with tonic (umeshu tonikku), or even with very hot water (umeshu no oyuwari). I personally prefer umeshu 1:1 with tonic water over ice, as I feel that the tonic water helps cut some of the umeshu's sweetness.

Ume are only in season for a short period of time, typically late May/early June. I ordered mine via Mitsuwa's mail order department; they do not advertise the fresh ume on their website, so you must call to order (1-877-MITSUWA). The price is $7.99/lb, but they require Next Day Air shipping from California, so the shipping/handling will be significant. 

Rock sugar is preferred over plain granulated sugar since it dissolves more slowly; you should be able to find rock sugar at any Asian market. The general rule of thumb is, for whatever weight of ume you use, you use one-half of that weight in rock sugar. For this batch, I am using 2 lbs of fresh ume (about 1 kilogram), so I will use 1 lb (about 500g) of rock sugar. 

Shochu cannot be purchased anywhere in the state of Alabama, so I used vodka. If you can't find shochu, vodka is a perfectly acceptable substitute. You don't have to purchase a high-end vodka; I find that Smirnoff works great! 

You will need a large clean jar for making umeshu; since the ume will release a lot of liquid, you will want to use a jar that will only be about 1/2 - 3/4 full of ume, rock sugar and liquor. I've used a one gallon glass pickle jar that has been cleaned thoroughly to remove any residual pickle stank. Sanitize the jar with alcohol or boiling water to prevent any contamination. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cajun Chicken Pasta

I've been an absolutely AWFUL blogger lately. I haven't updated this thing in far too long, and I've gotten lazy. I've eaten a lot of easy meals that have already been featured on this blog, and I've also been trying to visit locally-owned restaurants that have now reopened after being closed by the April 27 tornado outbreak here in Alabama. 

A friendly nudge from some of my readers out there gave me the swift kick in the butt that I needed to get back to cooking and blogging. I'll try not to let so many weeks go by between posts from here on out!

The BF and I watch a LOT of History Channel. One of our favorite shows right now is Swamp People. Every Thursday, we HAVE to watch it, and I usually cook for the occasion (I actually made an awesome penne alla vodka recently, but then stupidly forgot to take pictures of the entire process - that will be in a future post). So, in honor of Swamp People Thursday, I decided to make a quick and easy Cajun chicken pasta. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Köttbullar - Swedish Meatballs (Bork Bork Bork)

As you all probably already know, last Wednesday, April 27th, the Southeast was hit with one of the worst tornado outbreaks in history. Our state of Alabama was hit hardest, with 250 fatalities, countless injuries, and thousands of buildings destroyed. Power and internet service was just restored here on Tuesday (thank you, Florida Power & Light!!), so I've had to throw out everything from the refrigerator and start over again. Thankfully, everyone I know made it through the storms unscathed, though many people were not as lucky. 

Cooking a meal for the first time in over a week feels like I'm finally getting back to a normal routine. Recently we watched a program on tv all about meatballs, which planted the craving seed. I knew that I would HAVE to make meatballs soon, specifically köttbullar, more commonly known as Swedish meatballs.

Swedish meatballs are simply small meatballs made from a mixture of ground beef and ground pork, or sometimes veal. The meatballs are mixed with milk-soaked bread and sauteed onions, then cooked and served in a beefy, creamy gravy along with lingonberry jam. Made popular by IKEA stores (which we don't have here in Alabama), these meatballs are very easy to make at home.