Thursday, April 26, 2012

Onigiri (おにぎり) / Omusubi (おむすび) - Japanese Rice Balls

To prevent any confusion, let me first state that the terms onigiri and omusubi are completely interchangeable. The names are simply regional, like how some people here use the terms "hot dog" and "weiner" interchangeably. Also, onigiri/omusubi are NOT a form of sushi. The rice used for onigiri is plain rice, lightly salted on the outside, while sushi uses sushi rice, flavored with vinegar, sugar and salt. 

Onigiri is a classic Japanese snack, dating back to the 11th century, available in pretty much any konbini (convenience store). Perfect for travel; cooked rice is formed into a triangle shape and wrapped with nori (dried, toasted seaweed). Often, the onigiri has a salty or sour filling, like umeboshi (pickled plum), shiozake (salted salmon), katsuobushi (dried, shredded bonito) or takuan (pickled daikon radish); this was used as a natural preservative.

Nowadays, onigiri serves as a snack or light meal, and is as ubiquitous in a Japanese bento as a sandwich would be here in a child's lunchbox. 

How to Make Kefir

Kefir is a fermented milk drink made from kefir grains, which is a combination of bacteria & yeasts in a protein/lipid/sugar matrix. It is pronounced as "kuh-feer", rather than "kee-fur", though both have become acceptable.

The grains contain a polysaccharide known as kefiran, which makes the kefir ropey and thick. The grains cannot be cultivated from scratch, and are usually shared between growers, though they are sometimes bought and sold as well. The grains will continue to grow with each fermented batch of kefir, though grains are not used in commercially available kefir.

Traditionally, kefir grains are added to milk and allowed to sit at room temperature for about 24 hours, agitated twice a day or so. After fermentation, the grains are strained out of the kefir and used to start a new batch. The ready to drink kefir tastes sour or tangy and slightly carbonated, and will have a very small percentage of alcohol due to the fermentation, about 1% or so. The kefir, after straining, can be fermented for 2-3 more days to thicken it and increase the sour flavor if desired, and will last about 2-3 days without refrigeration, or a week when chilled. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri

You know what's awesome? When a medical professional (RD/LD) tells you that you need to be eating more meat. It would make sense, too, with how I have been craving red meat for weeks (lucky for me, the BF didn't want to see me go all rage-face, and grilled up some FABULOUS ribeyes last weekend). So, with the grill and giant tongs relinquished over to me from the BF, I decided to grill up some skirt steak with chimichurri.

Chimichurri is an Argentinian sauce used with grilled meat; typically skirt or flank steak. Made from fresh parsley, oregano, garlic, vinegar and red pepper flakes, chimichurri lends an INCREDIBLE flavor to beef; I'm completely addicted to it, and I've always been a "steak purist", shunning toppings and sauces in order to truly TASTE the meat.

Chimichurri SHINES when used on cuts such as flank steak, skirt steak, hangar steak or flat iron steak. These are all cuts once considered lesser cuts, but now are appreciated by lots of meat lovers like me.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ultimate Taco Salad

Taco salad; quite possibly THE most expensive item on the Taco Bell menu. Seriously, I think it actually passes the $4.00 mark. Taco salads are considered "Mexican food", though it's a dish most likely just inspired from Mexican cuisine, or an attempt to make an order of loaded nachos seem healthy. 

Typically, a taco salad is made from seasoned taco meat (ground beef), topped with a few shreds of iceberg lettuce, then topped with a myriad of ingredients such as diced tomatoes, shredded cheese, sour cream, and occasionally some refried beans and rice.

No wonder the term "salad" is such a misnomer....

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sunshine Yogurt Parfaits & a Bit of Blog Frustration

Sigh. The I Believe I Can Fry Facebook page has suddenly decided to stop posting thumbnails whenever I post blog links. It's not that big of a deal, except that, to me, links look like crap without pretty little thumbnails. Also, Feedburner was acting wonky when I posted my Shortcut Southern Coconut Cake post. I'm not sure if pinging & resyncing has fixed the problem, so I guess we'll see what happens when I click on "Publish" for this post! 

I'm also DYING to have a new, non-Blogger layout for the blog, but HTML is a completely foreign language to me. Unfortunately, the IBICF budget is pretty tight, meaning I can't really go hire a designer anytime soon ever. 

Enough griping, though! This is a place for wine and french fries, not whine and french cries. 

Publix stores took over the Birmingham area a few years ago; they are EVERYWHERE now! There is one less than 5 minutes from my house, less than 5 minutes from the office, and less than 5 minutes from the BF's house as well. Needless to say, I'm never all that far from a Publix. Sorry, Mom & Dad (unfortunately, Publix hasn't built any stores where they live...yet). 

Sometimes while working, I'll pop over to Publix for lunch and grab a quick bite from their deli. Typically I'll grab a little salad (veggie or fruit), but lately, I've been buying their "Sunshine Yogurt Parfait". For $2.99, you get some vanilla yogurt, topped with fresh strawberries, pineapple chunks and mandarin oranges, with a little container of cinnamon-y granola to sprinkle on top.

Lately, I've gone nuts for fruit & yogurt parfaits; I've made countless homemade versions, with every combination of fresh and frozen fruits humanly possible, yet I keep going back to Publix and shelling out $3 for their parfaits. Finally, I ran in on a lunch run, saw that they were out of my beloved parfaits, and decided to just start making my own!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Shortcut Southern Coconut Cake

When I was a little girl, my dad worked with a super sweet Southern lady named Miss Margaret (She was one of those older ladies so sweet that you ALWAYS put "Miss" in front of her name. I think EVERYONE called her "Miss" Margaret). She was older, and my Dad would sometimes help her out with things around her house, which was located just down the road from my elementary school. Things like, putting in a ceiling fan, or changing a standard light switch to a dimmer, that sort of thing.

Miss Margaret would always try to pay my dad, who would never accept her money. So, instead, insisting that he take SOMETHING for his work, would make him a coconut cake, which he'd never turn down. I still remember her cake fondly; it was light and airy, with the best texture and perfect balance of coconut flavor. Topped with heavenly "seven minute frosting", nothing beat a chilled slice of her cake with a tall glass of ice-cold milk. She made it the old-fashioned, labor-intensive Southern way, all from scratch, and in the years since, I've never had a coconut cake quite like hers.

Unfortunately, i don't have her recipe. Also, though I *do* have a recipe for a TRUE Southern coconut cake, I just don't have the time to make it all from scratch. Though I like to advocate making things from scratch when possible, life gets in the way and sometimes you have to take some shortcuts, and that's okay. We all have other things vying for our attention; school, work, kids, day-to-day chores, you name it!

My version of a shortcut coconut cake takes a very simple recipe, then adds a few extra steps and ingredients to give it a more homemade flavor and feel, while still keeping the whole process simple and easy.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Buttermilk Bacon Pralines

Heading down to the beach (for us Alabama folks, that usually means Gulf Shores, or maybe over to Destin) on I-65 South, I always had to get off at the Fort Deposit exit and stop at Priester's Pecans for some Fiddlesticks or one of their amazing pralines. 

Pralines hail from 17th-century France, but the American version, a trademark of New Orleans, contains milk or cream, yielding a creamy, fudge-like texture. The French version uses almonds, where the American version uses pecans, plentiful (but still outrageously expensive this year!) in the South. 

Buttermilk. Bacon. Pralines. Three things so incredibly Southern, finally put together into a perfect bite-sized treat. The tang of the buttermilk complements the salty bacon so incredibly well. You won't be able to stop at just one; I promise.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Yakisoba (焼きそば) - Japanese Stir-Fried Noodles

Yakisoba (焼きそば), is a Japanese dish of pan-fried noodles (the name "yakisoba" literally translates to "fried noodles") originating from Chinese cuisine. Though "soba" is part of the name, this dish uses chuka noodles instead, which are most similar to ramen noodles (soba noodles are made of buckwheat, while chuka/ramen noodles are made from wheat flour). 

The noodles are steamed and fried with meat or seafood and vegetables, then flavored with a yakisoba sauce, which is a sweeter & thicker version of Worcestershire sauce. Finally, the dish is topped with aonori (青海苔 - dried seaweed powder), benishoga (紅生姜 - pickled shredded ginger), or even katsuobushi (鰹節 - dried bonito flakes) and mayonnaise.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Ambrosia is another one of those side dishes that appears on a lot of Southern tables, especially on holidays or at potlucks. Like Watergate Salad, it's hard sometimes to tell whether Ambrosia is a dessert, or a side item. Some versions of Ambrosia are made with frozen whipped topping (Cool Whip), while some are made with yogurt or sour cream. Personally, I think the sour cream adds a much needed tang to offset the sweetness of the fruits, and yields a better texture.

The name comes from Greek mythology; "ambrosia", similar to "nectar" was the food of the gods & demigods, and, when eaten, would give immortality. No one is really sure where the recipe for Ambrosia Salad comes from, only that the recipe began appearring in the late 1800s. 

Southern Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs. A staple for any Southern BBQ or cookout, and a GREAT way to use up any Easter eggs. I LOVE deviled eggs. LOVE LOVE LOVE them. In fact, Mom almost always makes a big plate of them for Thanksgiving & Christmas, and usually Dad and I end up eating a bunch of them before the main meal even makes an appearance. 

This is a simple deviled egg recipe; there are hundreds, if not thousands (or more) of recipes for specialized deviled eggs, topped with smoked salmon, mixed with bacon or kimchi, or using avocados instead of the egg yolks. But this version? It's the classic version, with a slight twist. 

Adding butter to the filling yields an incredibly creamy and smooth texture. A change I have made is to add pickle relish as a topping. Traditionally in the South, pickle relish (dill or sweet) is mixed into the filling. Personally, I'm not fond of the texture, so I like to use the relish more as a garnish.

The important thing is to cook the eggs correctly. And DEFINITELY use a good-quality mayonnaise! 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Chicken Soba Salad with Ginger Peanut Dressing

This is one of those great recipes for when you need to use up some veggies; you know, when they're starting to look a bit sad and past their prime, but not yet wilted or "bad". Bonus - this is a fairly healthy recipe, too; high in fiber, low in fat (the little fat in the dressing is, for the most part, "good" fat), and, best of all, FULL of flavor. 

The addition of the cooked chicken makes this salad more hearty; suitable for a light meal, but not at all heavy. I like to use rotisserie chicken from the deli at the local grocery store; it saves time AND has more flavor than plain poached chicken breasts. Feel free to use any leftover cooked chicken you may have. Also, if you don't like certain vegetables, substitute to your liking; I replaced the broccoli in the original recipe with shredded cabbage! Note: I don't dislike broccoli, I just thought cabbage would be a better option. Plus, I had some that needed to be used up.

Luckily, since I do cook a lot of Asian foods, I pretty much ALWAYS have all of the dressing ingredients at hand. Since this recipe only takes a few minutes to prepare, I can have a healthy salad as often as I want!  

Friday, April 6, 2012

Gravlax (Scandinavian Salt-Cured Salmon) at Home

Gravlax (also known as gravas lax/laks, gravlaks and graflax) is a traditional Scandinavian dish of fresh raw salmon, cured with salt, sugar and fresh dill. Gravlax is sometimes confused with smoked salmon, though it's simply cured and never smoked.

I LOVE gravlax on its own, but it's often sliced thinly and served as an appetizer, or with simple boiled potatoes and a mustard-dill sauce. Like regular lox, gravlax is wonderful with bagels and cream cheese, or mixed into scrambled eggs. 

The old way of making gravlax, WAY back in the Middle Ages, was to salt the fresh salmon and lightly ferment it by burying it in the sand. The name comes from "grav", meaning "grave", and "lax/laks", meaning "salmon", thus, "buried salmon". 

Nowadays, making gravlax is much easier; in lieu of fermentation, the salmon is cured in a dry salt blend, and is incredibly easy to do at home, assuming you have access to VERY fresh fish. It will still taste like fish, though not fishy, and the texture is perfect - like good sashimi, where you can sense the fattiness of the fish on your tongue. Yum!!

Green Gumbo (Gumbo Z'Herbes)

Traditionally made on Holy Thursday to fill the belly before fasting and then feastingon Good Friday, green gumbo, also known as gumbo z'herbes is a Lenten tradition in Cajun country. Of course, Good Friday is reserved for meatless meals, but this version has the addition of smoked ham hock as well as andouille sausage (cause, you know, we Southerners LOVE us some pork). 

So, how is green gumbo different from regular ol' gumbo? It's the addition of greens, typically collards, turnip greens or mustard greens. Traditionally, the greens would be a mix of several greens; I like to use a pound of each green for my green gumbo.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

No-Knead English Muffin Bread

Typically, I'm game for trying out ANY recipe or cooking technique. I started REALLY getting into cooking through dessert baking, and then moved on to actual meals. However, I have ALWAYS suffered from a bad case of what I call "bread anxiety". 

I'm terrified to making bread from scratch; I'm always scared I will over or under mix the dough, over or under knead it, and end up either baking a yeasty ooze or a dense flour brick. I have a bread machine, solely for mixing the dough (I bake the loaves in the oven), yet I've managed to screw that up.

Having Bread Anxiety (BA) REALLY sucks since I LOVE bread. Especially toast. I could honestly eat toast pretty much at anytime, slathered with melted butter, homemade jams, peanut butter & honey, or even cream cheese. But most store-bought breads are full of crap and preservatives, and the better breads aren't exactly cheap. So, in spite of my crippling BA, I've been trying to learn the ins and outs of bread baking.

This bread is the perfect recipe for my fellow BA sufferers. First off, it's a no-knead bread. Second, it uses Rapid-Rise yeast, so you don't have to worry about any "punching down" or second rises. It's EXACTLY like English muffins; light, airy and full of nooks and crannies, but in a sliceable loaf. Great on it's own, but definitely best when toasted, it's perfect for making your own at-home breakfast sandwiches!

Ironically, I'm so scared of making bread, but I have no qualms whatsoever about making homemade biscuits.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Oreo Mess

Happy 100th Birthday, Oreo!

A TRUE Eton Mess is a traditional English dish of fresh strawberries, meringue and cream, though the term "mess" has come to mean pretty much any kind of dessert where something is mixed into cream or even ice cream. It's soft, cold, and all mixed together. 

This "Oreo Mess" is a serious guilty pleasure. Ever since I was a kid, I absolutely, positively HAD to have ice cold milk with my Oreos. I never was a "twist and lick"-er, but a definite dunker. But, I'd inevitably choose the tallest glass possible (in order to have the most milk possible) and would end up dropping a cookie (or three) in the glass and then not be able to fit my hand into the glass to fish it out. 

So, by simply combining the Oreos and the milk, that problem was quickly solved.

Even as an adult, I get hit with a MASSIVE Oreo craving every few months weeks. The BF pretty much only has tall, narrow glasses, awful for dunking. But he also has these kind of squat, HEAVY glasses with a wide opening, horrible for drinking (unless you enjoy wearing your drinks), but PERFECT for Oreo Mess. He never uses the glasses and had considered getting rid of them, but now keeps them pretty much only because I use them. However, I used my small glasses for this post, mainly so I wouldn't look like some kind of Oreo-crazed maniac.