Saturday, March 31, 2012

Japanese Curry Rice (カレーライス)

Japanese curry rice, カレーライス (karē raisu), is a dish having its roots in European cuisine, a "yoshoku" food. Curry is insanely popular in Japan, though Japanese curry is unlike Thai or Indian curries; much thicker and sweeter, it's more like a stew, flavored with curry. 

Introduced to Japan by the British during the Meiji era, the curry typically contains beef along with carrot, potatoes and sometimes peas as well, which are simmered in the curry sauce until thickened. Typically, the curry is served with rice, eaten with a spoon, and garnished with a pickle known as "fukujinzuke" (福神漬), a mixed pickle of 7 vegetables, which gets its name from the Seven Gods of Fortune.  

My recipe is a combination of my Mom's method, as well as the instructions from multiple boxes of premade curry base. 

How to Cook Japanese Rice with a Rice Cooker

I've always made rice in a rice cooker. The one I currently own was handed down to me from my Mom, and it's the PERFECT size for me, since it makes just 3 cups. She loaned me her large, 10-cup cooker, but I pretty much always use my little model. It's nothing fancy like the new Neuro-Fuzzy or Micom models, but it has one job to do, and it does it well. 

The cooker should have come with a measuring cup for the rice. However, this cup, as a Japanese cup is not the same as an American cup. A Japanese cup is 6oz, compared to the American 8oz. So, if you don't have a Japanese measuring cup, simply use 3/4 of an American cup instead. 

Rice cookers are pretty idiot-proof; in addition to supplying the rice measuring cup, the pot will have lines indicating the water level. 

The hardest part of making rice in a rice cooker is the washing and soaking. You can't just toss in some rice and water, flip the switch and expect perfect rice. So, here's how to do it the right way, for perfect rice EVERY time.

Measure out your rice into the rice cooker pot. Here, I'm using 2 Japanese cups (12oz total), so, if using American cups, use 1 1/2 cups. 

Of course, make sure you're using Japanese rice; it's a short-grain rice, which is what makes it nice and sticky. 

Rinse well under running water; make sure the water isn't too hot or too cold - you want it to be just in the middle. Swish the rice around with your hands, and the water will turn opaque and white. 

Drain the water, then repeat the rinsing, swishing and draining about 2-3 times, or until the water almost runs clear. 

Finally, drain almost all of the water, then GENTLY rub the grains together with the palm of your hands. Treat the rice as if it were ripe berries that you don't want to crush. 

Rinse out the rice one last time. Transfer the rice to a mesh sieve and let drain for 30 minutes. 

Place the rice back in the rice cooker pot and add water (just like with the rinsing, not too hot and not too cold). For however many cups of rice (Japanese cups), simply add water to the corresponding line. Soak the rice for about 45-60 minutes, then place the pot inside the rice cooker, close the lid, and turn it on!

Once the rice has cooked, your rice cooker should switch over to a "warm" setting. Don't open that lid! 

Let the rice rest for about 15 minutes to allow the rice to finish steaming. Simply fluff with a rice paddle before serving, and you're done! 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bacon Ranch Potato Salad w/ Sour Cream

Potato salad is a part of life here in the South. Once the weather starts warming up (which started about 2 weeks ago here, with highs in the 80s), folks dust off their grills, clean the pool and get ready for 6+ months of summer weather, at least 2 months of which will be pretty much completely unbearable. 

This weekend, we had absolutely GORGEOUS weather, so the BF decided to grill some BBQ chicken, making up a sauce pretty much on the fly, which, as usual for him, turned out amazing (I'll see if I can get him to let me post it...). I decided to peruse the fridge to see what I could drum up for a side dish; I realized I had everything I needed to make this amazing potato salad except for one thing...

The potatoes. 

A quick run to Winn-Dixie, and I was all set. This potato salad was PERFECT for BBQ; the dressing is made creamier by combining the sour cream and mayonnaise instead of using JUST mayonnaise. The Ranch adds just a kick of tangy flavor, without being overpoweringly "Ranchy". The bacon? As cliche as the expression is, bacon really DOES make everything better. 

Oh yeah, and I COMPLETELY forgot to add in chives/green onions. Oops.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Buttermilk Bacon Ranch Macaroni & Cheese

Well, I made my post, published it, and then saw it still sitting in my "Drafts"as well as in "Published". Thinking I somehow had an EXTRA draft, I deleted the draft.

Which deleted my post. 

So, if you saw this pop up on Facebook or in your Reader or email, only to see it disappear, I apologize. 

LUCKILY, I had some windows open, so I was able to recover almost everything I needed :) we go again!

This is one of those dishes that I decided to make solely because I had some bacon I needed to cook, some buttermilk that needed to be used up, and a bunch of leftover shredded cheese. Luckily, I also had EVERYTHING else I needed in the pantry, so I didn't have to do any shopping. 

(Only someone who is both Southern AND Asian would ALWAYS have panko and Ranch mix on hand).

With the bacon, Ranch and buttermilk, this version probably isn't as healthy as my other, standard macaroni & cheese recipe, but it's still gooey and good. Plus, it made a perfect side dish to my corned beef & Brussels sprouts hash

Corned Beef & Brussels Sprout Hash

Sometimes, I WANT a home-cooked meal, but I just don't feel like cooking. Or, I WANT to cook, but have no idea what to cook. So I stand, mouth agape, staring at the pantry and into the fridge until I finally come up with something.

In this case, I saw this recipe pop up in my feeder, did a quick scan of my kitchen inventory, and knew I'd be making this ASAP. Plus, it kinda/sorta falls under all of the St. Patty's meals that everyone has been posting lately.

I've made Brussels sprouts twice on this blog. I've done the corned beef. I've even done my own hash. This recipe combines 3 foods I love, and, better yet, is pretty straightforward and easy to make. I had plenty of potatoes leftover from when I made fish & chips, so I simply cooked them just like I would for potato salad, dicing the potatoes into a hash-friendly size.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Roasted Red Pepper & Ranch Pasta Salad (Vegetarian)

I really DO love pasta salad (see here, here, here and here). This version only uses four ingredients; three if you omit the poppy seeds, and takes only minutes to prepare. You can have the dressing prepared before the pasta is even done!

It's actually strange just HOW well the Ranch dressing compliments the roasted red peppers; the spice and tang play off of each other just perfectly. You can roast your own red peppers, or use the jarred kind; I've made this recipe with both types of roasted peppers and honestly can't taste a difference in between the two.

You can also use bottled Ranch dressing or your own recipe. I used bottled this time, simply because I had it on hand and was already taking the "jarred pepper shortcut". If you want to add additional ingredients, like, bacon, feel free (omit for vegetarian, obviously).

This is a great vegetarian side dish for potlucks, and, you can easily make it vegan by choosing a vegan Ranch dressing!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cheesecake Bars

Admit it, the title got your attention, right? Chocolate chip cookies? AND cheesecake? TELL ME MORE!

A layer of creamy cheesecake, sandwiched in between 2 layers of chewy chocolate chip cookies, this is probably the easiest dessert EVER. You don't need a ton of ingredients, there is hardly any prep work whatsoever, AND it's a perfect dish to make with the kids so they can "help".

I got this recipe from a lady that I used to work with years ago; we had an office ritual of doing a once-monthly potluck to celebrate the birthdays of employees born within that month. She ALWAYS brought this dish, and it was usually gone within minutes. Finally, I asked for the recipe, and she laughed when she told me that it came from a church cookbook and was absurdly easy.

Seriously. This recipe has FOUR ingredients, three of which are items I ALWAYS have on hand. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sour Cream Coffee Cake w/ Brown Sugar & Pecan Streusel

Happy Birthday, Dad! It's a BIG birthday for him, but, since I'm a nice daughter, I won't tell everyone how old he is today! Also, his birthday was actually on Friday, but I had to wait to post this as not to ruin his surprise. 

I definitely got my sweet tooth from my Dad; my Mom isn't a huge sweets person at all.

So, I decided to make a coffee cake; sweet enough to pass as a dessert, but not so sweet that Mom won't like it either. This version is AMAZING, and really easy to make if you've got a food processor to lend a hand. The key to this coffee cake is the streusel; it serves as both a filling and as a topping. Heavenly!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Beer-Battered Fish & Chips with Homemade Tartar Sauce and Hushpuppies

Last year, I went ALL out on cooking for St. Patrick's Day. I made corned beef with cabbage & colcannon,  and a Guinness cottage pie. This year, I decided to scale down a bit and go with a classic fish & chips. Or, as the Irish often refer to it, "one and one". 

Fish & chips is usually thought of to be more of a UK thing, though pretty much every Irish pub I've ever been to offers this classic on the menu. I won't lie, either. I DO love me some Captain D's, though it always gives me THE worst heartburn ever. However, making fish & chips from scratch, though a little bit labor intensive and messy, is WAY worth it. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Hawaiian Banana Nut Bread

Banana nut bread has always been a Southern classic; it's eaten as a dessert, or even as a breakfast dish. To me, it's truly Southern because it utilizes a product that would have otherwise been thrown out - overripe bananas.

Lucky for me, I bought a GIANT bunch of bananas @ ALDI for 25 cents, and they've ripened and are stinking up my
banana tree

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Slow-Cooker Chicken & Dressing

Christy Jordan is one of THE sweetest people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. I've had her cookbook, Southern Plate: Classic Comfort Food That Makes Everyone Feel Like Family, pretty much since it came out. Please note all of those 5-star reviews! Being that Christy is from Huntsville, which happens to be where my Dad works, my parents managed to get me a signed copy. SQUEEEE! Later on, I met Christy at a book signing here in Birmingham. I just happened to be in the same bookstore at the same time, recognized her, and went all fangirl on the spot. 

Her recipes are truly Southern, yet easy and not at all intimidating. The day her recipe for slow-cooker chicken & dressing popped up in my feed reader, I ran out to the store and got everything that I needed. That night, I shoveled dressing into my mouth until I thought I was going to be sick, and then shoveled in some more.

This recipe is so incredibly easy, that it makes chicken & dressing one of those great Southern dishes that can be made more frequently than just on holidays like Thanksgiving & Christmas, or for Sunday dinner after church. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mile-High Peanut Butter Pie

In my strawberry cream pie recipe, I did a little smack-talking about recipes that use Jell-O and/or Cool Whip. I have NOTHING against either item, and I've definitely used my fair share of them in plenty of recipes. Plus, I totally understand that sometimes, you NEED a shortcut to get dinner/dessert made amidst all of the craziness of day to day life. 

THIS recipe is a GREAT example of "shortcuts" and pre-packaged ingredients saving the day. This pie is decadent, luxurious and always a crowd-pleaser (well, unless you have a peanut allergy). It's easy to make, and perfect for when the kids want to "help" with the process.

Plus, it's a SECOND Pi Day recipe!

(Because I love y'all THAT much)

Classic Strawberry Cream Pie

Happy Pi Day (and Einstein's birthday)! What better way to pay homage to the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter than baking a round dessert that just happens to be a homophone of π ??

I LOVE classic DESSERT cookbooks; made before a time when Jell-O and Cool-Whip and shortcuts infiltrated dessert recipes, these dishes were pretty much always made entirely from scratch, and the flavors speak for themselves. 

Note: I DO NOT love classic MEAL cookbooks, as there are some pretty funky dishes in them - click HERE to see what I'm talking about. NO BUENO.

One of my absolute favorite dessert cookbooks is my Better Homes & Gardens Dessert Cook Book, printed in 1960 and long out-of-print. I scored my copy at the thrift store for 59 cents. And, in true 1960s form, the descriptions are hip and cheeky, and the "color" photographs all have that gross vintage hue/tint to them that makes the meals look entirely inedible and unappetizing.

That being said, the second I saw their strawberry cream pie on page 77, I KNEW I had to make it. I scored some great looking strawberries at the local farmer's market, and that was all I needed to get my butt in the kitchen and make a pie. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Classic Caesar Salad

Ever since I can remember, whenever me & my parents would go to a restaurant that offered a salad with the entree, my dad would ALWAYS get a Caesar salad. Eventually, I decided to try one for myself, and was sold for life. To this day, I ALWAYS get a Caesar if its offered; it's my absolute favorite salad, though a Greek salad runs a very close second. 

I still remember when I learned that Caesar salad dressing contained raw eggs and anchovies. Though I should have been horrified (I was a kid, after all), my attitude was more like "eh, who cares - it tastes good". Though I have found numerous Caesar salad recipes that omit the anchovies, I feel like it's a necessary ingredient, even though the original Caesar salad didn't even contain anchovies!

Speaking of the original Caesar salad, it wasn't named for Julius Caesar, but for Caesar Cardini of Tijuana, Mexico. He invented the salad out of sheer necessity and ingenuity in 1924 when a mad July 4th rush depleted the kitchen of everything except for some Romaine lettuce, a handful of eggs, a loaf of bread and some cheese. So, out of necessity, a classic was born.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Beer Cheese Soup

They don't call Wisconsin "America's Dairyland" for nothing - the entire state is blanketed with cows, dairy farms, and amazing cheesemakers. Cheese is just a part of life for Wisconsinites. And beer? Well, they have that as well. From Leinenkugel to Miller, Wisconsin has a brewery (macro or micro) for probably every cheesemaker in the state (not really)!

During the cold winter months in the northern Midwest, it gets BITTERLY, BRUTALLY cold. To beat the freeze, this hearty soup of cheese, diced veggies and beer, flavored with just a touch of mustard and Worcestershire warms you from the inside out. You'll also probably get horrendous gas, but I guess that will keep you warm as well...

Kentucky Beer Cheese

Kentucky. The Bluegrass state. You've given us the Derby, bourbon (THANK YOU), the Corvette, the Hilltoppers (and the greatest college sports mascot EVER) and your famous jelly

Ok, maybe not the jelly. But how about your fried chicken?

All great things, yes, but one of my FAVORITE things about Kentucky is their beer cheese. Beer cheese is simply a cheese spread (kinda like how, even further south, we love our "puhmenna cheese") known pretty much only in Kentucky. Hall's is the most popular brand, and most beer cheeses are simply a blend of sharp cheddar (or a processed cheese flavored like sharp cheddar, aka Cheese Whiz) with some pungent garlic, a bit of mustard and pepper, and flat beer. 

You want to use a pilsner or lager for this cheese to avoid that skunky, bitter taste

Served as a spread on crackers (Saltines, specifically) or veggies, Kentucky beer cheese is said to have been invented by Joe Allman, brother of  restaurant owner John Allman, back in the 1940s. He called it "Snappy Cheese." When Allman's restaurant burned down in the late 1970s, the recipe is said to have gone to Hall's On The River, a restaurant that opened in a location VERY close to one of Allman's original restaurants. 

Bring this cheese for your next potluck. If it's an office potluck, you CAN use non-alcoholic beer (LAWD WHY). Or you can just SAY that you did (wink). Serve this at your next sports get-together (it IS March Madness, after all), and your friends will all be telling you: "Damn! This some good-ass cheese!". 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thai Chicken Noodle Bowl

Here in Birmingham, we have a "chain" of Thai restaurants under the Surin name. From Surin West in the historic Five Points South neighborhood, to Surin 280 and Surin of Thailand, you can ALWAYS find some Surin Thai around here. 

However, though the food is always great, the prices are sometimes a little bit steep, and the staff is constantly rotating in and out, and can be pretty inconsistent, and almost always SLOW. As a result, I VERY rarely go to Surin anymore, especially since getting some ABYSMAL service on a lunch date with my mom at the Huntsville location

That being said, the food IS good, though I almost always get either the Chicken Noodle Bowl, Pad Thai (recipe coming soon), or Pad See Ew. The Chicken Noodle Bowl is AMAZING - it's a char-grilled chicken breast, served with a sweet and coconutty curry sauce, with rice noodles, bean sprouts and Romaine lettuce.

I scoured the internet for a LONG time looking for a copycat recipe. I even asked a few friends of mine who had worked at Surin. I was on the right track to recreating the recipe myself, but never could get the curry sauce just right. Then, one day I was strolling through Whole Foods and noticed a premade yellow curry sauce. I picked it up, looked it over, only to find THE Chicken Noodle Bowl recipe right on the back of the bag. Needless to say, I decided to try it out that night, and it was DEAD ON.

That was over 3 years ago; I haven't been to a Surin restaurant since (except for the lunch date with Mom), since now I make this dish at home anytime I crave it. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Southern Breakfast Casserole

Breakfast casseroles are a BIG DEAL in the South. Nothing beats waking up on Christmas morning (or on any weekend morning) to the smell of a hearty breakfast, all combined into one amazing casserole. Popular at potlucks as well as for DINNER instead of breakfast, there are countless breakfast casserole recipes out there, from overnight casseroles to dishes made entirely from scratch. 

My version of breakfast casserole is quick, easy, and uses a LOT of shortcuts, since typically I'm making this first thing in the morning after just waking up. I'm not sure where this recipe came from, only that I've been making it since I was in college

Bonus: You can prep this one ahead of time (like 8 hours before), refrigerate it, then bake it when you're ready!

I bought refrigerated hash browns this time instead of frozen, but got the kind with peppers and onions mixed in by mistake. Still tasted great, though! 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pad See Ew (ผัดซีอิ๊ว)

Pad See Ew (ผัดซีอิ๊ว) literally means "fried (with) soy sauce";  (ผัด/pad = stir fried, ซีอิ๊ว/see ew = soy sauce). Sometimes written as "Phat Si Io:, this dish is made with dark/sweet soy sauce, light soy sauce, wide rice noodles, broccoli and egg, this dish is easy, quick, and incredibly delicious. It's always been one of my favorite Thai dishes, and is a popular street food in Thailand as well!

Dark, sweet soy sauce is dark and thick like molasses. Brands include Healthy Boy & Dragonfly. Sometimes, you'll also see this marketed as "black thick soy sauce". Light soy sauce is really similar to fish sauce; not to be confused with the "light/low sodium" version of Japanese soy sauce, light soy sauce for Thai cooking is often referred to as "thin" soy sauce.

Side note: I LOVE the label for this Thai oyster sauce:

This is a REALLY easy dish to make at home; the only caveat is that you need to plan ahead, since the rice noodles need to soak to soften. Other than that, all you need is a wok and about 10-15 minutes, and you can have homemade pad see ew in no time. SOME Asian markets carry fresh rice noodles, so you won't have to soak dry noodles; our
local market does have them, but all they had in stock was the thin noodles when I went shopping for this post.