Friday, July 27, 2012

Salmon & Vegetable Rice, Cooked in a Rice Cooker

I'm a TERRIBLE Asian. I can't cook rice to save my life. Long-grain, wild rice, pilaf, I either end up with some kind of ghettofied runny risotto, or CRUNCHY rice. The BF has a foolproof method (Alton Brown's, apparently). I tried it, followed the directions perfectly, and STILL ended up with awful rice; some of the grains were mush, and some were OPAQUE and hard. So, whenever rice is on the menu, the BF gets sidled with the task of cooking it. 

Now, ASIAN rice? THAT I can make...thanks to my rice cooker. I guess I can kind of rationalize my complete lack of rice-cooking skill to the fact that I, and pretty much any Asian under the age of 40, grew up with a rice cooker in the house. Just dump in the rice, add some water, and you have perfectly cooked, foolproof rice! 

Rice cookers can even cook dried beans, or entire meals, like my kayaku gohan. This recipe can also be made, from start to finish, in a rice cooker, and only takes a few simple ingredients. This rice works great as a side dish OR a main entree - I usually would use brown rice for this recipe, but I've got some white rice that I'm trying to use up!

Also, this makes a GREAT bento filler in place of plain white rice!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Yakitori (焼き鳥) - Japanese Grilled Chicken

Yakitori is a simple and DELICIOUS Japanese street food (also popular in izakayas) of grilled chicken, served either shio-style (with salt), or tare-style (with a mirin/sake/soy/sugar sauce). Typically, yakitori is made from bite-sized chicken pieces, scallions, and organ meats such as gizzards and livers. The ingredients are all placed on bamboo skewers, then grilled over charcoal.

To me, yakitori IS summer. From spending summers in Japan visiting my grandparents, yakitori to me is as "summer" as southern BBQ! 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Marinated Tomato & Cucumber Salad (Vegetarian/Vegan)

Nothing beats home-grown or local vegetables. Here in Alabama, right now, EVERYONE has extra vegetables to give away. The farmers markets are loaded with amazing Straight Mountain and Sand Mountain tomatoes, zucchini, squash, fresh okra, and tons of perfect pickling cucumbers.

This weekend, after a trip to visit the parents, I came back to the city with grocery bags stuffed with home-grown tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Since I can only eat so many tomato sandwiches, I decided that I needed to make a nice salad, and this one was PERFECT!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Creamy Harusame Salad

Harusame Salad is a Japanese salad, made with bean thread noodles, called harusame (also known as cellophane noodles, saifun, and maifun). Typically, the salad has a soy sauce/rice vinegar dressing, and is served simply with thinly-sliced cucumbers and shaved ham or crab sticks, much like sunomono

Nowadays, some Japanese restaurants offer a 'creamy' version of harusame salad; a tangy mayonnaise-based dressing is used, and chopped boiled eggs are often added. It's incredibly weird, but somehow REALLY good.

It's almost as if sunomono/harusame salad meets Southern macaroni or potato salad! If there is one thing that both Southerners and the Japanese love, it's mayonnaise! Which makes it the PERFECT dish for someone like me!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Kuzumochi (葛餅) - Japanese Chilled Dessert Mochi (Vegetarian/Vegan)

Get ready. I'm about to throw out a BUNCH of Japanese words.

Kuzumochi (葛餅) are
mochi cakes, made of kuzuko, then served chilled and topped with kinako and kuromitsu. Served in the oppressive heat in the summer, these, along with pretty much ANY mochi, are one of my favorite Japanese treats.

You have NO idea what I'm takling about, right? Well, I'll explain more than you probably EVER wanted to know about kuzumochi.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Vegetable Soup (Vegetarian/Vegan)

My Dad's mother used to do a LOT of canning and freezing. A LOT. As in, she had a little laundry room/pantry just off of her kitchen, filled with floor-to-ceiling shelves of home-canned fruits and vegetables. In addition, she had at least 3 or 4 LARGE chest freezers fully stocked with frozen home-grown vegetables, meats, or fish, freshly-caught from the pond on her land. 

One of the things she canned was a hearty vegetable soup; the flavor was always a little bit different, as the soup was her way of using up leftover veggies that wouldn't fill up an entire bag or canning jar while she was preserving. My dad was an especially big fan of the soup, with huge chunks of home-grown Alabama tomatoes, sweet summer corn, and sliced freshly-picked okra. She passed away many years ago, when I was still in high school, but I still remember her soup...

Everyone needs a good "go-to" vegetable soup recipe. For YEARS, when I wanted vegetable soup, I'd simply grab a can of Campbell's Vegetarian Vegetable, and it was OK. Just OK, though. To me, vegetable soup is true comfort food, perfect for cold weather or sick days, or even those days when I need to clean out the freezer or vegetable drawer. 

Speaking of freezer, this soup is one of those recipes that freezes BEAUTIFULLY, so don't be afraid to make a big batch - the recipe doubles (or even TRIPLES) really well, in case you've got plenty of freezer space or a large, hungry family. I LOVE having homemade soup at hand in the freezer, ESPECIALLY when at home sick. It keeps me from having to reach for the canned stuff, and saves me the expense of ordering delivery or takeout soup. 

You can use fresh vegetables, frozen vegetables, or a combination of fresh and frozen for this recipe; you simply need about 8 cups (give or take, exact measurements really aren't necessary) of vegetables. Feel free to use whatever veggies you like. Personally, I ALWAYS have to have certain essential vegetables, like carrots, corn, potatoes, peas, green beans and lima beans. You can add okra, or even use the frozen mixed vegetables as well. The choice is completely yours - use what's in season, or substitute cabbage for the potatoes if you're avoiding starches!

On occasion, I like to add a little something extra to my vegetable soup. Sometimes it's pasta (maybe little stars or alphabet shapes), or wild rice. Sometimes I'll add shredded deli rotisserie chicken, or even brown up some lean ground beef seasoned with chili or taco seasonings. IF you like to add these kind of ingredients, do so AFTER reheating small portions; typically pasta/rice doesn't freeze well, and I'd rather add the meat fresh instead of freezing it in the soup. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

In Hawaii, people absolutely LOVE the plate lunch. A Hawaiian plate lunch always consists of some kind of meat dish (poke, lau lau, kalua, or my July 4th BBQ chicken :D) served with two scoops of sticky Japanese-style rice and macaroni salad. The macaroni salad has a cult following; it's different from our mainland macaroni salad in that the dressing, mayonnaise-based like ours, is thinned with milk, and the pasta is cooked until VERY soft, which helps the macaroni absorb the dressing.

The key to Hawaiian macaroni salad is all in the dressing; the only vegetables typically added are carrots and celery, just enough to give a bit of crunch. The dressing is mayonnaise-based, ALWAYS using Best Foods/Hellmann's mayonnaise, thinned with milk, soured with a bit of cider vinegar, and sweetened with brown sugar.

Highly addicting and FULL of flavor, this macaroni would easily be at home here in the Deep South amidst some pork ribs or pulled pork sandwiches! For my fellow Southerners, surely shaking their head at me suggesting a macaroni salad not made with Duke's and filled with crunchy bits of red onion, hear me out - the dressing on the Hawaiian salad? It's almost a dead ringer for Alabama white BBQ sauce!

Oh yeah, and PLEASE don't try to make this with Miracle Whip.

Hawaiian BBQ Chicken

Happy Independence Day, y'all!!

According to most guys, and apparently most charcoal/grill commercials, grilling is a MANLY MAN task and women should be left to, I don't know, laugh alone with salad or something. But guess what? We ladies can definitely hold our own over the coals as well!

Growing up, Dad always manned the grill...except when BBQ chicken was on the menu. Mom makes some of the most AMAZING grilled BBQ chicken; always moist and perfectly cooked, never dry, and with just the right amount of glaze caramelization (aka, not blackened and crunchy).

Of course, BBQ chicken is one of those fickle mistresses when it comes to grilling. A lot of people have the same complaints - it ends up way too dry. The key to moist BBQ chicken? INDIRECT heat; you want to cook the chicken slowly on the grill over low heat, not in under 5 minutes over a Whopper commercial-esque flame. Also, most people want to use chicken breasts for BBQ chicken; the whiter meat will dry out quickly, and, to be quite honest, lacks the great flavor that the darker portions contain.

I always grill my BBQ chicken with boneless, skinless chicken thighs; they're the perfect portion size, full of flavor, and can stand up to grilling without drying out. Bonus: they're usually about 1/2 the price of boneless, skinless chicken breasts!

My go-to BBQ chicken recipe doesn't use any sticky storebought sauces, just a simple Hawaiian-style marinade. After grilling, the chicken is dredged in hot melted butter, which adds a crazy-good dimension of flavor to the meat (seriously, don't knock it till you try it; you'll thank me later).

This chicken is so good, I willingly stood outside in out 100+ degree heat wave, over a hot grill, just to make this. Granted, having some ice-cold beers made it a little more tolerable!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Red Beans & Rice

As you probably know already from watching the news, or from braving the world outside of air conditioning, we're in the middle of a completely oppressive and unrelenting heatwave. It's HOT. TOO hot, even for us Southerners who are used to high 90s and ridiculous humidity in the summertime. 

With triple-digit temperatures, I have NOT been in the mood to cook. Grilling? Pretty much out of the question, though I know I *HAVE* to grill for July 4th. However, though I haven't wanted to cook AT ALL, I've had an insane craving for red beans & rice lately, so I knew I'd have to do some cooking. Thankfully, the kitchen has air conditioning!

Red beans and rice is a classic Creole dish, traditionally made on Mondays as a way to use up leftovers from Sunday dinner. The beans are cooked slowly, with the holy trinity of onion, bell pepper and celery, Creole spices, and some form of meat, usually pork or sausage, until the beans, still intact and firm, form a thick, gravy-like stew, which is served over rice. 

Unlike most Cajun dishes, red beans & rice, being Creole, are actually fairly mild. Hot sauce is usually added to individual servings to cater to individual tastes. Serve with crusty French bread for an incredible meal!

Date Nut Bread

There is a FANTASTIC Mediterranean restaurant here in Birmingham that I've been going to regularly since I was 15 years old (so, pretty much since I first moved here); recently they opened a 2nd location in Cahaba Heights, the BF's neighborhood, which makes it even easier for me to eat there pretty much whenever I want. 

By now, my local folks HAVE to know I'm talking about The Pita Stop. It's one of the very few places I can say that I have ALWAYS, 100% of the time, had excellent food and stellar service, especially after 15+ years of my patronage! I have had pretty much every item on the menu, from their kibby plate, hummus & tabbouleh to their amazing omelets, chicken sandwiches and kafta. They have a limited selection of desserts, but they are all great - from their cheesecake to their coconut custard cake. Oddly enough, The Pita Stop is my go-to place for a good steak - they always have a filet mignon dinner special, and IT. IS. TO. DIE. FOR.

One of my ALL TIME favorite offerings from the Pita Stop is their date nut bread. Insanely moist, studded with chunky walnuts and chewy dates, and served chilled with an ample schmear of cream cheese, it's actually pretty rare that I go there and DON'T get the date nut bread. The BF recently got an order with his meal, and he's now a convert as well.

Even though the Pita Stop is only minutes away, I can now make my own date nut bread at home - it freezes BEAUTIFULLY, just like banana bread, and stays super moist in the fridge!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cream Cheese & Olive Spread

O'Carr's has been a well-loved deli here in Birmingham for nearly 40 years; known for their chicken salad, fruit & cheese plates and June Carr's hot fudge cheesecake, O'Carr's sees food more as art than just a meal. Their motto is "Eat By Color", and it shows in their beautifully vibrant fruit & cheese plate, which is my personal favorite off of their menu.

An assortment of the best fruits for the season, paired wonderfully with an assortment of cheese, my absolute FAVORITE part of this dish is the cream cheese & olive spread, which is served with an array of crackers. It's such a simple item, but one of the things I always look forward to when dining at O'Carr's. So, naturally, I figured out how to make it on my own!