Friday, June 29, 2012

Lasagna Primavera (Vegetarian)

Mom keeps a 3-ring binder of recipes, filled with those clear document protectors, filled with handwritten recipes, newspaper clippings, recipes from jar labels, and torn out pages from magazines. I inherited a few recipes from this binder once I was out living on my own and cooking for myself. One of the main ones I ALWAYS wanted, though, was her lasagna recipe.

This is THE lasagna that my Mom has made for the family for as long as I can remember; she never would serve use frozen/Stouffer's lasagna, with the neon orange meat sauce and greasy cheese. Her lasagna was always filled with colorful vegetables, and, though her recipe was meatless, you never did miss the meat.

Plus, you know how much I love "primavera". 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Banchan Week, Day 7: Bibimbap (비빔밥) - Korean Mixed Rice

Finally, the end of Banchan Week! After a week of making banchan dishes (actually, I made them all in the span of 2 days), I decided that I had to end things with a classic Korean dish that makes great use of banchan - bibimbap!

Bibimbap is a traditional Korean dish, possibly THE most well-known dish in Korean cuisine. There is no "set" recipe for bibimbap; most Korean families make it as a way to use up leftover banchan, as bibimbap is simply a bowl of hot steamed rice, topped with banchan, then served with gochujang and a fried egg. Everything is mixed together by the diner just before eating.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Banchan Week, Day 6: Pajeon (Vegetarian)

For Day 6 of Banchan Week, I'm making pajeon (파전), which is a savory Korean pancake, stuffed with green onions, similar to Chinese scallion pancakes. Most recipes, such as haemul pajeon, contain seafood such as shrimp or squid, but I've omitted those in order to keep this recipe vegetarian. 

You can actually buy premade pajeon mix at most Asian markets - think of it like "Asian Bisquick". However, this batter is just a simple mix of flour, egg and water, so I don't bother with the mixes. Pajeon is great served hot and fresh, or equally tasty cold and chilled, so, don't worry when this recipe makes more than you can eat in a single sitting!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Banchan Week, Day 5: Kong Jjang (Vegetarian/Vegan)

For Day 5 of Banchan Week, today's banchan is known as kong jjang (콩장), which is a sweet dish compared to all of the banchan we've been through so far. The bean is packaged as "black beans with green centers" and are NOT the same as the standard black beans used in some Southwestern/Hispanic cooking here in the US.

The beans are stewed in a sticky sweet sauce; half-cooked, the beans retain a good bit of bite and texture. I find them insanely addicting. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Banchan Week, Day 4: Pyogo Bohsot (Vegetarian/Vegan)

Banchan Week continues! For Day 4, today's banchan is known as pyogo bohsot, which is a dish of shiitake mushrooms, stir-fried in a simple soy sauce and sesame oil mixture. This recipe is made with dried mushrooms, which are then rehydrated, but, if you can find fresh mushrooms, feel free to use them - just skip the step of boiling, which will make this already-quick recipe even quicker to prepare!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Banchan Week, Day 3: Sukju Namul Muchim, 2 Ways (Vegetarian/Vegan)

In continuing with Banchan Week, today's banchan is known as sukju namul muchim (콩나물 무침), which is a simple dish of mung bean sprouts, blanched, then seasoned with scallions, garlic, salt and sesame oil and seeds. Gochugaru is added to give a little heat to the sprouts as well. You can buy mung bean sprouts in most grocery stores and any Asian market, or you can simply grow your own.

In case you don't want things too spicy, I'm also including a recipe for the same bean sprouts, but seasoned without peppers. So, for Day 3, you actually get two recipes!!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Banchan Week, Day 2: Kkakdugi (Vegetarian/Vegan)

For Day 2 of Banchan Week, today's banchan is known as kkakdugi (깍두기), which is a quick and easy kimchi dish. Kkakdugi has the same seasonings as the standard baechu kimchi, but uses Korean daikon radish in place of the Napa cabbage. This is one of my favorite banchan dishes, to the point where I get really bummed if I don't get served kkakdugi when dining at Korean restaurants.

Just like with my
baechu kimchi recipe, feel free to omit the fish sauce in order to make this recipe completely vegan; it won't affect the fermentation or flavor at all! 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Banchan Week, Day 1: Shigemchi Muchim (Vegetarian/Vegan)

Banchan (반찬) is an important part of Korean cuisine; small dishes of food are placed in the middle of the table, to be shared by all of the diners. These banchan dishes typically include some form of kimchi, a namul dish (steamed, marinated or stir-fried vegetables), bokkeum (stir-fried in sauce), jorim (simmered in a broth), jjim (steamed), jeon (a fried dish, typically a savory pancake), and even japchae

With so many options, I've decided to spend a week posting various forms of banchan. Most of these recipes are super simple, all are vegetarian friendly (or easily made vegan), and ALL are delicious!

Day 1's banchan is probably the easiest; shigemchi muchim (시금치나물) is simply fresh spinach, blanched, then seasoned with salt and sesame oil and seeds. This one only takes about 5 minutes total! It's similar to the horenso no ohitashi (ほうれん草のお浸し) I posted before, but without any soy sauce or dashi.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bánh Mì Hot Dogs

Recently, I posted about one of my all-time favorite sandwiches, the bánh mì thịt nướng. We also know how much I absolutely love hot dogs. I decided last week, after making the sandwiches, that I wanted to try my hand at combining two of my great loves and make a bánh mì hot dog.

Two days later, the newest issue of Real Simple came in the mail, and they had a recipe for a bánh mì hot dog. I was so disappointed. However, their recipe recommends making a Sriracha mayonnaise for the hot dog, calls for mint instead of cilantro, and completely omits the do chua in favor of plain shredded carrot. I knew I could do better.

The key to making these hot dogs REALLY special is to grill the hot dogs. You really want that char flavor to nail down the flavor of the grilled meat inside a good bánh mì; boiling or steaming the hot dogs just won't work. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Super-Easy Salted Caramels

Caramels are MY JAM. Since I was a little girl, I ALWAYS gravitated towards caramels. I distinctly remember spending Halloween nights, going through my pillowcase of candy, and picking out all of the chewy little Milk Maid caramels. Anytime I picked out candy, it was always SOMETHING with caramel, like Rolos or Milky Ways. If there was a Whitmans or Russell Stover chocolate assortment hanging around, you can probably guess which pieces I picked out. 

I tried making my own caramels once. The first batch, I burned the living crap out of. The second batch, I burned the living crap out of ME on. So I gave up, content to just buy funky storebought caramels. And eating homemade dulce de leche straight from the jar. 

Then, a few years ago, I was introduced to salted caramels. Delectably sweet, perfectly chewy, and topped with just a few grains of coarse salt, which I did NOT expect to work with caramel, but it did. OH AND HOW IT DID.

Recently, I stumbled across a recipe for caramels that didn't require bubbling hot sugar lava or a candy thermometer. All it required was a microwave and a spoon. I was sold. And now, I can enjoy salted caramels whenever I want! These are the perfect caramel - soft, chewy and just buttery enough - mmmm!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Oven-Baked Chili Cheese Dogs

Most people think of Chicago or New York City when it comes to hot dogs. However, Birmingham takes its hot dogs pretty damn seriously. We have a ton of hot dog stands, detailed and reviewed here. Most of our places are Greek-owned, and we LOVE our saucy, messy hot dogs. You know, the kind that you should probably be eating with a knife & fork (and NOT in your car, unless you want to know what it's like to dig out handfuls of chili cheese hot dog from that little crevice between the car seat and center console - unfortunately, I KNOW what it's like). 

So what's the messiest hot dog out there? I'd have to put my vote in for the chili dog. It's sloppy, flavorful and just plain GOOD. I haven't had a hot dog in FOREVER (unless you count the sad excuse for a Chicago dog I had from Sonic about two weeks ago - the bun was SO STALE), so I decided that I HAD to make chili cheese dogs. 

These hot dogs, unlike most hot dog recipes, call for the hot dogs to be BAKED IN THE OVEN, in the buns. I can't explain WHY or HOW it works, but it does. The hot dogs end up perfectly cooked, nice and crispy on the top, and all of the toppings kind of meld together into a gooey & congealed mass of pure flavor.

I'm too ashamed to admit how many of these things I ate. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee

When we got our first Dunkin Donuts here in the Birmingham area, I rejoiced. Then, when I found out one of the locations was less than 1/2 mile from my office, I damn near did a back-flip. I'm not a regular coffee drinker, but I absolutely LOVE iced coffee. That being said, I've never been a fan of Starbucks, finding their coffee overpriced and honestly, kind of funky in flavor. So, once Dunkin Donuts opened, I decided to try their iced coffee. 

I was hopelessly hooked. Eventually, I got to a point where I was buying a medium iced coffee EVERY SINGLE DAY before work. I tried every flavor, and my wallet paid the price. So, I decided to start making my own iced coffee.

The natural assumption was that I could just brew regular coffee, the pour it over ice. I tried it and it was nowhere near as good as Dunkin's. No matter how much sweetener and cream I added, I couldn't get it just right. 

So, I consulted DAS INTERNETS and learned about cold-brewed coffee. Cold-brewing yields a smoother, less bitter brew, perfect for iced coffee. I figured that the process would work kind of like sun tea, so I gave it a shot. The difference was like night and day! 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Balmy Days, Sweet Sangria

I'll be honest. I'm not a big wine drinker. It's probably not very ladylike in some eyes, but I'll choose a good beer over a wine pretty much any day. Not to say I don't LIKE's just not my thing. 

Well, except for sangria. I. LOVE. SANGRIA.

Sangria is a Spanish wine 'punch', made of wine, combined with fruit, sugar and a touch of brandy. For a bit of bubbly effervescence, a soda is often added, either club soda or a soft drink such as Sprite or 7-Up. 

There is no "set" recipe for sangria; the possibilities are endless. Some people use white wine and add lighter fruits such as melon or berries, while others stay a little more standard and go for red wines and citrus fruits. I prefer red sangria, over white, though I do like to add some of our state's fine Chilton County peaches (seriously, just look for the GIANT peach water tower just off of I-65) to the mix for extra sweetness and to offset the citrus.

Sangria is best made ahead of time, giving the flavors plenty of time to meld and combine. Served over ice, it's the perfect summer drink! 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Baklava - Easier Than You'd Expect!

Baklava is an incredible Middle Eastern pastry, made of what seems like a million layers of crisp, flaky phyllo dough, filled with chopped nuts and then sweetened with a honey syrup. It's fairly common here in Birmingham; we have a LOT of Greek/Middle-Eastern restaurants that offer baklava as a dessert, even at 3 in the morning (we have several 24-hour Mediterranean places that cater to the college and post-bar crowd). Most people won't even try to make it on their own, since phyllo dough can be a fairly fickle mistress to deal with.

Phyllo dough has very little fat in it, and is as thin as tissue; It will dry out easily while working with it, so it's always good to keep a damp cloth or paper towel handy. I've never even attempted to make phyllo on my own, and probably never will, since it's sold frozen in stores. It tears very easily, but the beauty of baklava is that, if the phyllo tears, you have so many layers of the dough that it honestly won't matter at all! 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mason Jar Salads

Sigh. I pulled the SD card out of my beloved camera last night to upload the bánh mì thịt nướng photos, and the little lock button thing snapped off. I was able to get the pictures off of the card and onto my laptop, but obviously couldn't delete them from the card. Then, this morning I realized that I couldn't take any NEW pictures, since the SD card is now permanently locked. Good thing they're now cheap as dirt on Amazon!

I've been eating a LOT of salads lately, much to the delight of my nutritionist/dietician. However, the hardest thing for me when it comes to eating salads is transporting them. I always have had to keep the salad and dressing separate, to keep the greens from wilting, and have often had to separate the toppings into separate containers or baggies. I can distinctly remember eating a salad at work once that required the unpacking of no less than SIX plastic bags - what a waste!

Now, I can make salads for an entire week, all at once, and pack them in jars. When I'm ready to eat, I simply shake up the jar, or just dump everything out into a bowl. Plus, they look so pretty in the fridge!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bánh Mì Thịt Nướng - Vietnamese Sandwich with Grilled Pork

Bánh Mì literally translates to "bread" in Vietnamese, specifically the baguette, which was introduced to Vietnam during the French occupation of Indochina. Today, however, "bánh mì" typically refers to a sandwich, similar to a po boy, filled with meat (usually pork), cucumber, pickles and spicy jalapenos.

As far as condiments go, bánh mì are usually dressed with either pâté, mayonnaise, or either butter or margarine, then topped with a bit of Maggi sauce, do chua and cilantro. 

My version comes from the bánh mì thịt nướng, my favorite bánh mì from Saigon Noodle House here in Birmingham. The "thịt nướng" basically means, "with grilled meat", and I've made mine with Chinese BBQ pork, known as "char siu" ("xa xiu" in Vietnamese). I simply pan-grilled the slices for the sandwiches, much like I do for gỏi cuốn (summer rolls - the 'chewy' ones, not the fried ones).

Char Siu (Chinese Barbecued Pork)

Dang. I've been a crappy food blogger! Sorry for not posting over the past week, but it's been a doozy of a week. BUT, it's a new week, a new month, and (HOLD THE PHONE), a new post!

Char siu is a chinese pork dish, literally translating to "fork burn/roast". Traditionally, char siu is made by skewering long strips of seasoning pork on a long fork, then roasting over an open flame.

Typically using cuts such as the loin or belly, char siu is juicy and fatty. I prefer a leaner char siu, so I use pork shoulder roasts instead (Boston Butt). Most commercial char siu uses a premade seasoning packet, often colored with a bright red dye - this is why some restaurant char siu will have an unnatural pink or red color.