Sunday, October 30, 2011

Yakiniku (焼肉) - Japanese Grilled Meat

Yakiniku is one of my favorite Japanese dishes; simply translated, it means "grilled meat". The raw ingredients (meat/seafood, vegetables, etc) are cooked on a griddle by the diners and enjoyed with a thickened soy sauce/mirin/sake dipping condiment known as "tare" (垂れ). 

Yakiniku differs from shabu-shabu and sukiyaki in that shabu shabu involves cooking everything in a broth, while sukiyaki involves simmering everything in a sauce, followed by a dip in raw egg. Yakiniku is simple yet incredibly delicious. 

Mom was gracious enough to let me photograph her recipe and process for yakiniku, which, at my request, she made for me for my birthday! This recipe is simply a guideline; feel free to make substitutions depending on what ingredients you like best. The only changes I have made to Mom's recipe is to increase some of the quantities in order to feed about 4 hungry people. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tabbouleh (تبولة‎) - the National Dish of Lebanon (Vegetarian/Vegan)

Tabbouleh is a simple salad of parsley, bulgur, mint and tomato, seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil. Ideally, tabbouleh should be mostly parsley, with a small amount of bulgur, but many restaurants serve their tabbouleh as a bulgur salad with a small amount of parsley. 

It's incredibly easy to prepare at home; do not give in to the temptation to chop everything in a food processor - the leaves of the parsley and mint will end up bruised, while the tomatoes will end up watery.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Halloween Snack Mix

This snack mix couldn't possibly be easier. 

Earlier today, my roommate whipped up a batch of this Halloween mixture and asked me what it tasted like. I took a single bite and realized that the flavor combination was IDENTICAL to Payday bars (remember when they came with an individually wrapped nickel back in the 80s?). He got the recipe from his mother, who makes THE best peanut brittle I've ever tasted. 

Easiest, Best Cakes Ever (aka, How "Semi-Homemade SHOULD be Done)

When I first started getting interested in cooking, I was OBSESSED with baking. I churned batches of fudge, pies, cookies, brownies and cakes out of my kitchen nonstop. Then, I started broadening my horizons and cooking regular meals; baking became a rare, holiday-only occasion. 

I've made countless cakes from scratch. Some have been OK. Many have been dry, mealy, crumbly, and just all around NO BUENO. Thinking back to my childhood, my favorite cakes were ALWAYS just simple yellow cakes (from a box mix) with chocolate frosting (from a can). 

There's nothing wrong with using mixes. But this recipe adds a little extra to the mix; basically what Sandra Lee would do if she could stay sober long enough. So rich and moist (oh, how I HATE that word!) and decadent, nobody will be able to tell it's from a box mix! Use canned frosting, or, if you have a favorite frosting recipe, use it instead. I simply whip together a single can of frosting and some softened cream cheese - haven't had a complaint yet! 

For this post, I made two cakes. Well, technically one cake and a crapload of cupcakes. For the yellow cake, I used a yellow cake mix with French vanilla pudding. For the chocolate cake, I used a devil's food cake mix with chocolate pudding. 

Pickled Shrimp

This is a CLASSIC Low-Country dish; an appetizer that appears on ANY high-end Charleston appetizer menu. The term 'pickled' often puts people off; these shrimp do NOT taste like dill pickles at all. Just cooked and marinated in a tangy herb blend, it's more like a vinaigrette.

If there is one good thing we have here in the Deep South, it's shrimp. Gulf shrimp are pretty hard to beat, and can be bought for REALLY cheap here. (IRONY: the state of Alabama doesn't have a single Bubba Gump restaurant). 

Though Saveur published this recipe for October 2011, this is really more of a dish better suited for warm weather, as it's served chilled. And, even though Alabama woke up to 40 degree weather this morning, I knew I HAD to have some pickled shrimp TODAY. Thanks to having a shrimp-allergic BF, I don't even have to share (I'm sorry, C.)!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cajun Roasted Chickpeas (Vegetarian)

I'm trying to eat better without giving up so many of the flavors that I love. Some people crave sweets - I'm a salt craver. I usually don't keep chips in the house since I can't stop at just one. Cheez-Its are also a huge weakness for me as well. I've been good lately, and have curbed my mindless snacking by eating things like nuts, sunflower kernels, and these amazing roasted chickpeas. Dusted with a bit of Cajun seasoning (I used storebought, but you can make your own), these have just the right amount of heat and an incredible nutty flavor.

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are the basis for hummus. Besides being tasty, chickpeas also contain a lot of protein, dietary fiber, phosphorus, zinc and folate. In addition, recent studies indicate that eating chickpeas can help lower cholesterol (while tasting better than plain Cheerios). 

Cajun Roasted Chickpeas
adapted from One Perfect Bite

2 cans chickpeas, drained, rinsed and dried well
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp brown sugar

Line a baking sheet with foil and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss chickpeas with olive oil, Cajun seasoning and brown sugar. Discard any loose skins.

Transfer to the foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Let cool.

Fire & Ice Pickles

Here in Alabama, we have a brand of pickles known as "Wickles". Made in Dadeville, these pickles are spicy and sweet and HIGHLY addictive. However, Wickles are pretty hard to find outside of the South; I've actually been asked by out-of-state friends to mail them a jar!

Years ago, Southern Living published a recipe for a sweet & spicy pickle known as "fire & ice" pickles. The recipe is easy, fast, and doesn't require any cooking at all. Best of all, they make a well-loved & appreciated foodie gift!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Smoked Turkey & Wild Rice Soup

This is honestly a recipe that could stand to wait another month or so; it's absolutely PERFECT for Thanksgiving leftovers, especially if you eat smoked or fried turkeys.
However, I make this soup year-round, as smoked turkey wings and drumsticks are always available in our local markets (you could also make this with chicken!). Plus, this recipe, though time-consuming, is really easy - the majority of the cooking time doesn't require any checking or stirring at all.

It's both comforting, and not as unhealthy as you'd expect; if not using homemade stock, simply use a low-fat, low-sodium storebought stock (as opposed to bouillon), and use skim or 1% milk instead of half-and-half. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Okra & Tomatoes (Vegetarian/Vegan)

Okra is the actual namesake for the classic Creole dish, gumbo. Derived from the French "gombo" and Spanish "quibombo" for okra, the "sliminess" of okra is what lends gumbo it's thickness. 

However, most people shy away from okra due to the slimy (mucilagenous!) texture. In Japanese cuisine, baby okra are often eaten raw; people LOVE the sliminess (see also, natto). Most people here will not eat boiled okra due to the "goo", but will happily munch away on fried okra, simply tossed in cornmeal and fried in a cast iron skillet until crusty. 

A recent favorite okra dish for me is simply okra stewed with tomatoes. A classic Southern/Creole dish served simply with a side meat and a hot pan of cornbread, this dish couldn't be easier. You can also make this a decent meal by serving atop steamed white rice. Though you can use fresh okra and tomatoes when in season, I enjoy this dish year-round and almost ALWAYS have frozen okra on hand as well as Rotel.

Both okra and tomatoes can be found in pretty much ANY garden here in the South, as both require a long, HOT growing season (which our summers are PERFECT for). The acidity of the tomatoes actually helps offset the sliminess, so this dish won't be gooey at all!

Black Bean Salad (Vegetarian/Vegan)

Even though it's only been just over a week since I've posted, I feel as if I haven't posted in forever! This week has been a doozy - I managed to burn the everlasting #$%@# out of my thumb with a hot glue gun, and also cracked a filling, resulting in me having to get a new crown :(

However, due to some upcoming plans, I'm getting back in shape and devoting a larger percentage of my meals to the low-GI diet. Luckily, I won't be doing it alone, and I have PLENTY of delicious, inexpensive AND healthy recipes to share with everyone. 

Don't worry, there will still be PLENTY of bacon-y, lard-y posts to come :)

This recipe is a quick and easy no-cook recipe from one of my favorite sites, Budget Bytes. This black bean salad is full of fiber with TONS of flavor. Similar to Mom's Texas Caviar, this dish works well on its own as a side or salad, or as a dip. It will keep for about a week, but, chances are, you won't have any left after a week!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Slow-Cooker Hủ Tiếu Bò Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew)

We have three Vietnamese restaurants here in town. The original, Pho Que Huong, has gone remarkably downhill. Asian Cuisine is plagued by poor service and an incomplete menu (as in, you order something off the menu, and 9 times out of 10, they don't have it). Saigon Noodle House is my go-to place for Vietnamese food; the staff there usually knows exactly what I'm going to order, and the food & service is always phenomenal.


Saigon doesn't carry one of my favorite dishes. Hủ Tiếu Bò Kho is a Vietnamese "beef stew". "Kho" literally translates to "braise/simmer", and "Bò" means beef. Pho Que Huong does carry Bò Kho, but the portions have gotten stingy, and, on my last visit, I got fairly sick after eating there (and I wasn't the only one). Asian Cuisine lists Bò Kho on the menu, but NEVER has it available when ordered. So, I had no other choice than to try my hand at making it myself. 

Richly flavored with ginger, star anise and lemongrass, Bò Kho is a thick stew of beef & oxtails, with large chunks of carrot and potato. The rich red color comes from annatto  (aka achiote) seeds & tomato paste. Served with rice or crusty French bread, Bò Kho is a traditional meal to be eaten for Tết Nguyên Đán, or the Vietnamese lunar New Year.

I know this isn't a recipe for Phở (that's coming later), but, with the weather finally cooling off, I knew I had to make something a little more hearty. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Country Benedict aka "Eggs Bocephus"

Eggs Benedict is a classic breakfast/brunch recipe, consisting of a halved English muffin, topped with Canadian bacon (or ham), a poached egg, and hollandaise sauce. As popular as this dish is, I'm not altogether crazy about English muffins, I'm ambivalent towards Canadian bacon, and hollandaise is a giant pain in the ass to make. 

However, I DO love a good buttermilk biscuit with sawmill gravy...

And now you're rapidly realizing what my last few posts have been leading up to.

This isn't something I've come up with on my own, apparently. I had the idea, then went online only to find out that I wasn't the only one. In fact, many people refer to a buttermilk biscuit, topped with a sausage patty and fried egg, dressed with sawmill gravy, as "Eggs Beauregard". 


Eggs Beauregard is actually an old Southern dish of boiled eggs atop top with a butter & milk cream sauce. So, I'm going to just use "Country Benedict" instead (though we DID consider calling this "Eggs Bocephus").

Now, I COULD make this recipe the REALLY easy way, with canned or frozen biscuits, precooked sausage patties, and gravy from a mix, but by now you should know that's not how I like to do things :)

Simply halve a buttermilk biscuit and top with a sausage patty...

Add a fried egg...

And smother with gravy!

Sunny-Side Up Eggs

I love eggs. When I was a kid, I would ONLY eat scrambled eggs, preferably with an embarrassing amount of ketchup. Then I discovered soy sauce on eggs. Then Sriracha. As I got older, thanks to my Dad, I discovered the greatness of a fried egg "sammich", complete with an artery-busting amount of mayonnaise. Back in February, I finally got to experience the "Lola", a burger at Michael Symon's "B-Spot", topped with an ooey, gooey, runny fried egg. 

Sorry for the crappy cell-phone pic; it's all I had. 

When it comes to runny fried eggs, people often get "over easy" confused with "sunny side up". An over easy egg is fried on both sides, yet the yolk stays runny. A sunny side up egg is only fried on one side, with a runny yolk. Basically, the difference lies in whether or not the egg is flipped.

The other difference? I CANNOT cook an over easy egg to save my life. I can boil them, poach them, scramble them, salad them and even frittata them, but the over easy flip has alluded me time and time again. Of course, the BF can cook a perfect over easy egg with no difficulty whatsoever, in addition to being able to cook completely off the cuff without measuring a single ingredient or following a recipe (grrrr). 

I HAVE to have my eggs runny now; nothing will induce my gag reflex faster than a hard, mealy yolk or a crunchy egg white. Thankfully, though I can't cook an over easy egg (this is why we have Waffle House & Cracker Barrel), thanks to my parents, I can ALWAYS perfectly cook a sunny side up egg. 

All you need is a small nonstick skillet (this is one of the only times I don't use cast iron) with a good, preferably glass lid. This method involves very little oil, and the egg actually steams rather than fries - you'll never get that weird brownish crust on the sides, either!

Simply spray the pan with a bit of cooking spray (I like the buttery kind) and heat over medium heat. Once hot, crack a fresh egg into the pan. Season with salt and pepper as desired. 

Do not move the egg. Once the white is opaque and no longer transparent, pour 1 Tbsp of water around the egg in the pan. I actually never measure the water; usually I just add some water from the faucet to the eggshell half. 

Immediately cover with a lid. Cook for about 1 minute; the egg will be done once the yolk has clouded over. Remove from heat and serve immediately, preferably with some biscuits and gravy....

Sawmill Gravy (aka Sausage Gravy)

Now that you know how to make buttermilk biscuits, you HAVE to have something to go with them besides sorghum/honey or butter or jam, right?

Any good Southerner worth their salt lives for sawmill gravy, also known as sausage gravy. You CAN buy sausage gravy mix, in little powdered packets, but it's SUPER easy to make from scratch, and the taste is DEFINITELY worth the effort.
Plus, if you serve a Southerner powdered gravy mix, they'll know. Hospitality mandates we don't bring it to your attention, but, trust me, we'll KNOW. All you need is some pork breakfast sausage, some flour to create a roux, and a bit of milk or cream to thin out the gravy.

French mother sauces? I say we replace Béchamel, Velouté, Tomate, Espagnole and Hollandaise with Southern gravies. Let's say, sawmill, red-eye, giblet, cream and brown?

Buttermilk Biscuits

I'm going to make a terrible confession to y'all. I like canned biscuits. In fact, I LOVE them. Specifically the buttery, layered peel-apart ones. I like them with sausage patties, jam, or just by themselves. 

Wait! Don't give up me yet!

As much as I love the layered canned biscuits, I am NOT a fan of the canned 'Southern-style' buttermilk biscuits (WHY DO THEY CONTAIN SUGAR??). As hard as they try, they can never live up to a hot plate of fresh, homemade beaten biscuits, which absolutely, positively, HAVE to be made with White Lily flour. If you can't find White Lily in your area, you can combine cake flour and all-purpose flour (more on that below).

My grandmother made some seriously kick-ass biscuits. Dense but fluffy, giant, perfectly cooked biscuits that would make you swear off Hardee's (or Carl's Jr for you non-Southern folk) for life. Sadly, I never learned how to make her biscuits, as she passed away when I was in high school and more interested in flannel shirts and my Discman over cooking. 

It's taken me a LOT of trial and error, and some embarrassingly BAD batches of puck-like biscuits, but I've finally come up with THE essential method that works best for me. The recipe itself is simple; but, as baking is often a fickle mistress, there are some tips & tricks that will make biscuit making MUCH easier. 

Sure, this is a LOT of info to take in, but homemade biscuits are DEFINITELY worth it. Trust me, once you get it right, you'll never buy the canned ones again! 

  • GOOD Flour. White Lily SELF-RISING Flour to be specific. Not all-purpose. White Lily is hard to find outside of the South, but CAN be ordered online. It has a much lower protein content than most flours, and is made of soft winter wheat (as opposed to northern flours like King Arthur, made from hard spring wheat). Also, when measuring your flour, spoon it into your measuring cup and level it off with a knife. Don't just dip your cup into the bag; this packs the flour and can often give you a REALLY inaccurate measurement. 
  • FRESH ingredients. Self-rising flour contains baking powder, and can lose it's leavening properties after a while. Check the date on your bag, just like you would for your dairy products, and toss it if it's old. Keep in mind that biscuits are a "quick-bread", and don't use yeast for rising. 
  • Keep your dairy SUPER cold. You need to work quickly when cutting in your butter and make sure you do NOT let it warm up. Melty butter = crappy biscuits. Same with the buttermilk; keep it COLD. 
  • FULLY preheat your oven. You need a HOT (like 500 degrees hot) oven for perfect biscuits. Invest in an oven thermometer and make sure your oven's temperature is accurate. This is obscenely important for baking.
  • Don't overknead (unless you LIKE bricks for breakfast). These are biscuits, not breads. Stir lightly and don't be afraid of clumpy batter - this is what you want! Just remember, overmixing increases density. 
  • Don't roll out your dough; simply pat it out gently into a 'dough' about 1" tall. Use a good, SHARP cutter and DO NOT TWIST. Twisting pinches and seals the edges of the biscuit, which prevents it from rising as well.
  • Make sure the biscuits are touching one another when you place them in the pan (big surprise, I prefer to use a cast iron skillet). This helps the biscuits rise UP instead of OUT. Makes sense when you really think about it, doesn't it??
Still with me? Good. Moving on to actually making the biscuits....

This recipe actually comes straight off of the White Lily bag. I've tried dozens of different recipes, yet this one works the best. Ask your grandmother; there's a good chance this is the recipe she used as well.