Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nanner Puddin' (Banana Pudding)

Here in the South, the best known banana dish HAS to be banana pudding. Nowadays, most people make banana pudding with ripe bananas, instant vanilla puddingCool Whipand Nilla wafers. After the introduction of vanilla wafers by Nabisco in 1901, the recipe began being printed on the package – I can’t tell you how many “family recipes” for banana pudding I’ve seen that are word-for-word, the Nilla wafer recipe.

For me, TRUE banana pudding should be custard-based, and always tastes better the next day (day old and BOLD, baby!). Opinions differ on whether the pudding should be topped with a baked meringue or a whipped cream, but I’ve always preferred whipped cream (mostly in part to my incredible dislike of the texture of meringue). Making this recipe from scratch seems daunting, but it’s really quite easy. Plus, the flavor and texture of the pudding is well worth the effort!

Tonkatsu - Japanese Pork Cutlets

Tonkatsu ( とんかつ) is a simple & popular yoshoku Japanese dish. Simply a boneless pork cutlet or pork chop, floured, dipped in egg and coated in panko before deep-frying, tonkatsu is typically served with Tonkatsu sauce, a thick, sweet, Worcestershire-like condiment made of pureed apples.

There are hundreds of recipes for tonkatsu in cookbooks and all over recipe sites; however, the recipe is quite simple - pound your pork to tenderize and flatten, season it, flour it, egg it, panko it and fry until browned. Simple!
Leftover tonkatsu is often served atop rice with egg as a donburi dish known as "katsudon". Standard side dishes include shredded cabbage, served with Japanese "Kewpie" mayonnaise. In addition to the cabbage, I chose some complimentary American sides such as baked rosemary-garlic fries and balsamic-roasted Brussels sprouts.

Note: Tonkatsu is also AMAZING as a next-day sandwich!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Baked Rosemary Garlic Fries (Vegetarian/Vegan)

Back in February, I visited one of my best friends in Cleveland. One of the dishes I sampled were the "Lola fries" at B-Spot, Iron Chef Michael Symon's burger joint in the Summit Mall (not to be confused with OUR Summit here in Birmingham). The Lola fries were simple; skinny-cut fresh fries, flavored simply with rosemary and sea salt. 

THEY. WERE. AWESOME. Granted, so was everything else at B-Spot, from the Sriracha wings to the vanilla bean apple pie bacon milkshake. Needless to say, I decided that I HAD to make them myself. And that they needed to be baked instead of fried. And have garlic for extra flavor (sorry about the funk "breaff"). This elevate the plain old fry from a bland side item to an almost (ALMOST!) elegant complement to a meal. On top of the great taste, they're so easy, you'll never want to buy frozen again. 

Balsamic-Roasted Brussels Sprouts (Vegetarian/Vegan)

I've converted folks with my braised Brussels sprouts, but ROASTING them is also an easy, delicious and better alternative to boiling. This side dish couldn't possibly be easier. Simply halve the sprouts, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and roast. The sprouts caramelize a bit, which gives them a deeper flavor, with none of the sulfurous bitterness most people associate with Brussels sprouts. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Leftover Turkey Chili

Thanksgiving at our house is a pretty small affair; it's just me & my parents, and, the last 2 years, the BF. As a result, we ALWAYS have a ton of leftovers, which usually get sent home with me (YES!). Because our get-together is small, Mom usually buys a Cajun fried turkey, but makes all of the sides from scratch. 

This year, I made out; I came home with a MASSIVE plate of turkey. Though I do love leftover turkey sandwiches, this is a HUGE weekend for college football here in Alabama. Today is the LSU/Arkansas game, which has HUGE BCS National Championship implications, and tomorrow is the Iron Bowl, which is undoubtedly THE biggest rivalry game in the entire SEC NCAA. And, for some reason, football to me means I HAVE to have chili

Most people are familiar with white chicken chili; this recipe uses leftover turkey and pantry staples; you can have this ready to serve in just under 30 minutes, with VERY little work involved. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bread Pudding with Fruit Compote & Bourbon Sauce

Ahh, bread pudding. This bread-based dessert is popular all over the world, but here in the US, it's really most popular in the Deep South, specifically in Cajun Country. Reserved typically for special occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas and the occasional birthday/anniversary dinner, bread pudding SEEMS a lot harder to prepare than it actually is. In fact, bread pudding can EASILY be prepared ahead of time, and re-heated when needed. The sauce and compote can be made ahead, too - I prefer to make everything the night before!

Bread pudding was born out of poverty and provides a great way to reuse stale leftover bread; it is simply soaked overnight with an egg/dairy mixture, flavored with spices and fruits, and baked. Topped with a whiskey, rum or caramel sauce, this decadent dessert is perfect for Thanksgiving, and is one of the dishes that I chose for our family gathering this year. The BF is a huge fan of bread pudding, so let's see if mine will live up to his expectations!

The bread used is typically French bread, in true Cajun form, but I choose to use challah or brioche due to the "eggyness" of the bread. Instead of baking raisins into the pudding, I made a fruit compote to top the pudding along with a rich, sticky bourbon sauce. Loosen those belts, y'all!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pecan Pie Bars

I make DAMN good pecan pie. The recipe comes from my mother, who was given it by a dear friend before I was even born, on the condition that she never share the recipe. So, unfortunately, I won't be blogging that recipe. 

As much as I love a good pecan pie, I'm a HUGE fan of bars. They can easily be cut into equal portions, are more portable than cakes or pies, and, to me, much more kid friendly. This recipe for pecan pie bars is ridiculously easy, and always earns rave reviews. I like to make these a day ahead of time, cut into bars, and serve on a nice plate.

Pumpkin Crunch Cake

I'm a sucker for certain kinds of cookbooks. Specifically the church/junior league/corporation ones that are typically spiral-bound and sold as a fundraiser. I have SO many easy, great recipes that come from my collection of these cookbooks, which I scour thrift shops and used bookstores for pretty frequently.

One of my favorites is the "Calling All Cooks" collection, published by the Alabama Chapter of the Telephone Pioneers of America, a non-profit, charitable organization of folks from the telecommunications industry. This recipe, however, comes from "Candlelight & Wisteria", a cookbook published by Lee-Scott Academy, a private college-prep school in Auburn, AL.

Not only is this recipe incredibly delicious & decadent, it's insanely easy to whip up, budget-friendly, and a nice change from the usual pecan pie. Perfect served chilled or warmed, you can also make this one a day ahead of time!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Collard Greens & Lentils

I've posted about collards before.  More than once.  After spotting a GORGEOUS bunch at the local farmer's market, I decided to make a batch (or, a "mess", as we call them here), but adding some lentils for extra fiber and protein.

Unlike the usual recipes, which involve cooking the collards on the stovetop, this recipe calls for the oven, at a fairly low temperature. This is perfect, since I don't have to hover over a stovetop, stirring and checking on everything. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gazpacho Aspic (Vegetarian)

Gazpacho is a cold Spanish tomato-based soup with raw vegetables; perfect for hot summer months. Due to the heavy Spanish influence in Southern ports such as Mobile and Pensacola, gazpacho is popular here, and ideal for our hot and sticky summers. 

Even though this is more of a summer dish, I actually like gazpacho year-round. It's light, delicious, and a PERFECT starter course.

Aspic is an "old school" Southern dish that has fallen out of fashion; typically associated with tea rooms and southern charm. Typically, aspic here refers to tomato aspic, which is simply tomato juice with spices, set with gelatin. Often topped with shrimp and mayonnaise, very few places actually serve this amazing dish.

The common denominator between gazpacho and aspic? The tomato. What better way to combine the best of these 2 historic Southern dishes, than to make gazpacho aspic? This is perfect as a simple appetizer, served alone or with a fresh, crisp leaf of Bibb lettuce. For vegan, simply omit the gelatin and use agar agar instead. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Yasai no Fukumeni (Japanese Simmered Cabbage & Shiitake Mushrooms) - (Vegetarian/Vegan)

The Japanese diet is full of numerous simmered dishes, also known as "nimono". My favorite dish is a winter one-pot known as "nikujaga", a hearty meat and potato dish, which I posted back in April. This cabbage & shiitake dish is another winter favorite; hearty and filling, while also delicious, easy and inexpensive to prepare. Aside from the time it takes to rehydrate the dried shiitake mushrooms, this dish can be on the table in 5-10 minutes.

Don't be fooled; the sweetness of the mirin & soy sauce balances PERFECTLY with the meaty umami of the shiitake and the slight bitterness of the cabbage. This is one of my all-time favorites! For vegan, simply use tamari in place of soy sauce! 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lasagna Soup

After a weird few days where our temperatures were in the 70s, culminating in a few small tornadoes (our first here in Alabama since the April 27 outbreak), we're back to actual fall weather. Which, for us, means it's in the 50s and DRY outside. 

I realize I've made both pasta AND soup recently, and past posts have definitely shown my love for soups, but after taking a quick inventory of the fridge and pantry, I realized that I had everything for this recipe except for ricotta and bread. After a quick run to Publix, I knew EXACTLY what I would be making for dinner. 

This recipe calls for mafalda pasta or fusilli; mafalda is a flat ribbon pasta, kind of like a REALLY skinny lasagna noodle. They aren't found in any of our local stores. I decided to substitute radiatori, which, as the name suggests, look like little radiators. The design is supposed to maximize the surface area for optimal heat exchange, flavor absorption and for trapping sauce. I bought them because I thought they looked cool. There are basic online cooking classes available if you don't know your fusilli from your fettuccini and need help distinguishing the various types of pasta. 

The BEST part of this soup is the gooey cheese "glob" - it really gives the soup that "lasagna-y" factor. As hearty as this soup is, the only sides you need are some crusty bread and maybe a small salad. I prefer to keep the cheese "glob" in a separate container; adding it only to individual portions of soup when serving.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Corn & Edamame Salad with Miso-Butter (Vegetarian)

This is a shamefully easy dish considering how much flavor it has, even with frozen vegetables. The butter adds a creaminess that is perfectly complemented by the salty/umami of the miso paste. This can easily be made vegan by substituting a vegan 'butter" such as Earth Balance or even coconut oil. 

Taking only 10 minutes from start to finish, and dirtying only 1 skillet, this is a perfect quick, easy, and HEALTHY side dish, though it's hearty & filling enough for a whole meal. This one is definitely on my short list of potluck sides!

Chocolate Ice Box Pie

This pie is the perfect cross between a chocolate cream pie and a chess pie. In true Southern form, it's deliciously sweet, but also incredibly easy to make. Simple & quick to make, this pie requires no baking, only the preparation of a fudge/pudding/custard filling made simple by using canned sweetened condensed milk. Other than the time needed to chill the pie, you can have this whipped up in under half an hour!

Just be sure to have a TALL glass of milk to wash this one down....

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How to Make Tamagoyaki (Japanese Sweet Rolled Omelet)

Tamagoyaki, literally "fried egg", is a simple rolled omelet, sweetened slightly with mirin and a bit of sugar. Popular for breakfast and in bentos as well as atop nigiri and inside maki rolls, tamagoyaki is easy, delicious and full of protein.

I make mine in a special omelet pan known as a "
makiyakinabe"; I picked it up at a local Asian market for under $10. However, if you don't have one, any nonstick skillet will work just fine. Just keep an eye on your heat; the sugar in the tamagoyaki makes this dish very prone to burning; if you want a brighter yellow color, simply use a lighter soy sauce. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

French Onion Salisbury Steak

Salisbury Steak gets a really bad rap these days. Most people associate it with crappy TV dinners, though this dish has been around since 1897, named for American doctor James Salisbury, who was one of the original proponents of a low-carb diet. 

This dish is a great way to stretch out a pound of ground beef; the patties are served with a rich onion gravy, and go perfectly with mashed potatoes or noodles. I often make the patties ahead of time, giving the flavors time to meld before flouring and frying. 

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Brussels sprouts are a love/hate dish - people either love the, or they hate them. I think that most people who hate Brussels sprouts simply haven't had them prepared the right way - a lot of people boil them into a gross mush that tastes like how farts smell. 

Roasting or braising is the way to go with Brussels sprouts; this recipe is quick, easy and, best of all, has bacon! 

Scallion Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes (Vegetarian)

Mashed potatoes are one of THE most classic comfort food side dishes ever. Whether you like them super creamy and whipped, or mashed and a little bit lumpy, there are countless ways to prepare them. Plain, buttery, topped with gravy, the possibilities are endless. 

This recipe is simple & perfect; the buttermilk adds an amazing tang to the potatoes, while the scallions give it a nice crunch. I prefer to use Yukon Gold potatoes over Russets since they hold up better when boiled, and don't get as mealy. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cheddar Bacon Ranch Hash Brown Casserole

Is there a better, junky combination than cheddar, bacon and ranch? I THINK NOT. This recipe is easy, cheap, and sure to satisfy your 'junk tooth'. Granted it gets NO awards for being healthy or wholesome, but sometimes you just NEED a quick bad-for-you dish. 

You can REALLY shortcut this recipe by simply using pre-cooked bacon from the grocery store; By simply buying store-brand, I've made this meal for just over $5 before, and it never lasts longer than a day. You can even make it up to 24 hours ahead of time; simply cover and chill, then let sit at room temperature for about 15-20 minutes before baking. 

Cheddar Bacon Ranch Hash Brown Casserole

1 16oz container sour cream
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
6 slices bacon, cooked & crumbled
1 package Ranch dressing mix
1 bag frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed

Combine the sour cream, Cheddar, bacon and Ranch mix. Mix in the hash browns.

Transfer to a 2-3 qt baking dish. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 45-60 minutes.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sausage, Spinach & Mushroom Manicotti

Manicotti is a filled Italian dinner crepe, NOT a pasta. However, we use the term "manicotti" to refer to a tube pasta, which is ACTUALLY known in Italy as "cannelloni".

You can stuff manicotti with pretty much any filling. Traditionally served topped with cheese and a marinara sauce, the options are limitless. I've taken multiple recipes over the years and tweaked them to suit my tastes. My mixture is ricotta-based, studded with sweet Italian sausage, sauteed mushrooms and wilted spinach. If you don't like spinach, leave it out. Same with the mushrooms. Let this simply be a guideline!

This is a very hearty meal; all you would need for a side is a light salad or possibly some garlic bread. Also, if time is a concern, you can always make this dish ahead of time and chill for up to 24 hours.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pepper Steak

I actually don't know if pepper steak is a Southern dish or an Asian dish. Either way, it's an amazing and easy dish, perfect for when you need to use up some veggies, have only 30 minutes to get dinner on the table, and a great way to stretch out a small amount of beef.  

Though most people would serve pepper steak over long-grain white rice, I've always eaten it over short-grain Japanese (sticky) rice. Also, in great Asian shame, I have to admit that, because I've always been spoiled by owning a rice cooker, I am absolutely TERRIBLE at cooking rice on the stovetop (I also suck at math). Needless to say, Ready Rice has saved my ass more than once in the kitchen.

Mom's been making pepper steak for YEARS; it's one of Dad's favorite meals. This isn't HER recipe (Mom, like the BF, doesn't measure or work from recipes; everything she cooks is sealed away in her brain), but I think it's DAMN close and still really good. You don't have to use the different colored peppers; I did for this post simply for aesthetic reasons.

Sour Cream Apple Pie with Pecan Streusel

There are countless ways to make apple pie, from double-crust, to lattice-top, to deep-fried. I have 3 go-to pie crusts (one butter-based, one lard-based and one shortening-based), but this recipe works great with a refrigerated ready-to-roll piecrust. Instead of a double-crust, this pie is topped with a rich pecan streusel with a taste that screams "Autumn". The addition of sour cream adds a savory aspect and perfectly offsets the tart apples to make this pie absolutely irresistible.

I ALWAYS use Granny Smith apples for pies; they have the ideal texture, hold up well during baking without turning mushy, and are tart enough to keep the pie from being sickeningly sweet. A good substitute for Granny Smith apples include Jonathan, Braeburn and Fuji apples, as they are crisp and have a good sweet to sour ratio. Red/Golden Delicious apples and Gala apples should be avoided, as they tend to become mealy when baked. 

Ironically, where most people like apple pie to be eaten warm, perhaps with vanilla ice cream, this pie (to me) tastes better COLD. Try this recipe ONCE, and you'll never buy another frozen apple pie again.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cast Iron Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

Cast iron skillets aren't just for making cornbread and frying okra. I LOVE my cast iron collection and use my pieces for pretty much anything and everything. Not only do I cook meals in cast iron, but desserts as well; cast iron is perfect for baking since the iron heats so evenly. 

Two of my favorite skillet desserts are brownies and this chocolate chip cookie cake. This cookie cake can be sliced and served in wedges much like a pie, and is amazing when topped with vanilla ice cream or caramel sauce. This recipe is quick and easy, and, as usual, Martha doesn't disappoint. Just make sure you've got an ice cold glass of milk!

Cast Iron Skillet Roasted Lemon Chicken

This is one of the EASIEST roasted chicken recipes I've ever made. People typically think of roasted chicken as a 'fancy' or 'company' meal, but the truth is, roasted chicken is extremely easy and economical to cook. Leftovers can be used in soups, salads, and casseroles and more, while the bones can be saved for making stock. Best of all, you will have only a single pan to clean!

This recipe uses a cast iron skillet in place of the traditional roasting pan; the juices from the roasting chicken help flavor the potatoes and carrots, which makes the perfect side dish to this meal. I don't brine the chicken, but I do salt it for about an hour before cooking, which helps keep in the natural flavors and juices.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Southern Chicken & Dumplings

Chicken & Dumplings is THE ultimate Southern comfort food. Chewy flour dumplings simmered in a rich chicken stock and then served with shredded chicken meat, it's almost like a Deep South version of matzoh ball soup. Originating during the Great Depression, chicken & dumplings was a way to feed many hungry mouths with only a little bit of chicken.

Though nowadays, most people use frozen dumplings or canned biscuits, I find that making the dumplings from scratch is a LOT easier than expected. I like to make this dish when I need to use up vegetables like celery and carrot, and also whenever I have leftover thyme or parsley. To save money, I always buy a whole chicken and simply cut it up myself (which I will explain in a future post when I can get someone to shoot the pictures for me so I don't have to handle my camera with gross chicken hands). 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Who Wants Chowda? - Manhattan Clam Chowder

I'm a clam chowder girl. Always have been. I almost ALWAYS keep a can (or 6) of Campbell's Chunky New England Clam Chowder in the pantry. 

Clam chowder always contains clams (duh) along with diced potatoes, onions and celery. Prior to liturgical changes in Vatican II, clam chowder was often served in restaurants on Fridays in order to provide a seafood option for Catholics, as they were required to abstain from meat on Fridays. Even though the abstinence now only applies to Lent, many restaurants still upkeep the Friday clam chowder tradition. 

It's ALWAYS been New England style for me. However, I tried Manhattan style once, and got hooked. After looking through a few recipes, and realizing that we DO have a great source of fresh clams here, I decided to try my hand at it (bonus: the BF likes Manhattan-style as well). Unlike New England clam chowder, Manhattan clam chowder has a clear, tomato-based broth and dates back to the 1930s. Immigrant Portuguese fishermen first began substituting tomato for milk in chowder as a homage to their home cuisine, already rich with tomato-based stews and soups. 

So how did it get the "Manhattan" moniker? New Englanders looked upon this tomato-based chowder as blasphemous, and began calling it "Manhattan-style" in reference to their disdain for New Yorkers. In 1939, Maine even introduced a bill in legislature banning tomatoes in clam chowder. What the punishment for this offense was, I have no idea. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chicago-Style Hot Dogs

Birmingham has a pretty illustrated history when it comes to hot dogs. Anyone raised here has probably enjoyed an all-the-way with some plain Golden Flake chips and a cold Grapico inside Pete's Hot Dogs, a 7' wide lunch counter wedged between two buildings. You'd miss it were it not for the famous neon sign.

When Gus Koutroulakis died back in April, the city mourned the loss of our beloved hot dog slinger. 

We also have Sneaky Petes, Scott's Koneys, Gus's, Lyric and Golden Rule, just to name a few local hot dog joints. However, I LOVE a classic Chicago-style dog. Until recently, the only way to satisfy my Chicago dog craving was to hit Max's Deli or our local Sonic

But then....the BF informed me that the Publix bakery sells poppy seed hot dog buns. Previously, I had considered simply brushing plain hot dog buns with melted butter and rolling them in poppy seeds. 

Chicago folks take their hot dogs REALLY seriously. Dad, born and raised in the Windy City, has threatened (jokingly....I think?) to disown me for putting ketchup on a hot dog. Chicagoans are extremely specific & nitpicky about every single aspect of their dogs, from how the weiners are cooked, to ONLY having atomic/neon green relish. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Kimchi Jjigae (김치찌개) - Korean Kimchi & Tofu Stew

Kimchi Jjigae is a Korean stew made with meat, vegetables and kimchi, simmered in a broth seasoned with gochujang. This recipe is a great way to use up "old" kimchi that has begun to sour. Typically prepared communal in the hot-pot style, kimchi jjigae is served boiling hot with a side of steamed rice. 

This IS a spicy dish; perfect for clearing out those fall sinus allergies or treating the inevitable fall cold or flu. The combination of sour and spicy, to me, is absolutely perfect for the sudden snap of cold weather we're finally getting here. 

As the temperature is finally beginning to drop here in Alabama, and because I still have one jar left of my homemade kimchi, I decided to try my hand at jjigae. This recipe is probably not TRULY authentic, as I have incorporated a lot of traditional Japanese ingredients (such as miso & enoki mushrooms), and have also added noodles, which most kimchi jjigae recipes do not include.

However, the beauty of jjigae is that it is a frugal and hearty recipe with no set ingredients or measurements. If you have any enameled cast iron, this is the perfect recipe for it. For a completely vegetarian/vegan option, simply omit the beef and increase the amount of tofu! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


The umeshu I made back in May is finally ready! 

Out of pure convenience laziness, I simply updated the old post, which you can find HERE.

I went from this:

to THIS!!