Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Smoky Chicken & White Bean Chili

For YEARS, I've had this THING that I'll say whenever cooking with beans: "What goes with beans? MILK MILK". Typically, this gets met with a blank stare or confused side-eye, since NOBODY ever seemed to have gotten the reference. Given my tendency to frequently reference really obscure things, this is a pretty common occurrence. 

Luckily, I FINALLY found the commercial, and it's 11 years old! Also, I had no idea that the milk carton was Joe Mayo from Seinfeld

ANYWAY, back to the beans. The BF LOVES Great Northern beans, which I've probably mentioned before. I've been really craving some GOOD white chili lately, but not my usual leftover Thanksgiving turkey chili. Since college football hasn't officially started yet, I haven't made my usual chili recipes, but hopefully the weather will cool down soon and I can! 

Since I wanted white chili, I decided to make this smoky chicken chili. The smoked paprika and chipotle powder REALLY make the flavor deep and rich. I used a rotisserie chicken as a shortcut. Since the beans, corn, chilies and tomatoes are all canned, this chili is quick and easy to prepare. It's so hearty and flavorful, that the only side dish you will need is a slice of homemade cornbread! 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Yum Woon Sen (ยำวุ้นเส้น), Thai Spicy Glass Noodles

Thai food is based upon 5 distinct flavors: salty, sweet, sour, spicy and bitter. This combination of flavors is what makes Thai food It's not all coconut-based curries and satay! 

Yum Woon Sen is a simple dish that encompasses so many Thai flavors, with few ingredients. The colors and textures are beautiful as well! ALL of the ingredients can easily be found in our grocery stores here (even the ones with sad & pathetic "Asian" aisles), so you should have no need to hit any specialty markets. Use fresh lime juice instead of the bottled junk - it really does make a difference in flavor. 

This dish is best eaten the day it is prepared; otherwise the noodles will soak up ALL of the wonderful dressing. If you plan on having any leftovers (ha!), whip up an extra batch of the dressing to rehydrate the noodles with the next day.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Scuppernong Jelly

For my non-Southern readers, a scuppernong is a green/bronze variety of muscadine, which is a wild-ish grape that grows everywhere in late summer here in the Deep South. Muscadines LOVE our hot and humid weather, and are usually used for two things here: wine and jelly. They have a tough skin and big seeds, and the taste is almost impossible to accurately describe. 

 Out of all muscadines (most are usually a deep maroon/purple color), I prefer scuppernongs, which are a bit bigger, and usually green. I've seen them growing wild dozens of times, especially in Hoover's Moss Rock Preserve! Scuppernongs get their unique name from North Carolina's Scuppernong River, which gets its name from the Algonquin ascupernung, meaning "home of the ascopo (sweet bay tree)".  

Around here, scuppernongs and muscadines are coming into season and popping up in pretty much every grocery store and farmer's market around. For the uninitiated, these can be eaten plain; simply pinch the skin opposite of the skin, which will break the skin and release the fruit and all the succulent juices. You can swallow the seeds if you wish, or simply spit them out. Some folks will eat the skins, but I definitely don't recommend it. I also don't recommend getting TOO crazy with eating fresh scuppernongs & muscadines; their flavor is addictive, but they can result in an unwelcome case of the "howlin' skitters". You can thank John Steinbeck for THAT warning. 

Me? I leave the wine-making to the many talented vineyards here in Alabama (these guys are my favorite!) and stick to jams and jellies. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Piña Colada Smoothie (Vegetarian/Vegan-Friendly)

Love smoothies, but still put off by the Green Monster? Maybe you'd like something a little more tropical; something beachy?

I love piña coladas, which is odd considering how much I LOATHE rum. I think it has more to do with the love-it-or-hate-it flavors of pineapple (piña) and coconut, which I LOVE. The BF? Not so much. More smoothie for me! Oh yeah, "colada" refers to the drink being strained; it does NOT mean "coconut", contrary to what a lot of people believe!

Plus, it's vegetarian, and very easily made vegan as well! 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Polka Dot Cheesecake

Today is the BF's birthday! I'll be polite and not give away his age, but let's just say that he's as close as you can get to being "over the hill" without actually being OVER the hill. 

He's not a HUGE sweets person; I can only think of two dessert flavors that he absolutely loves - peanut butter, and cheesecakes. When it comes to cheesecakes, though, he prefers them fairly plain, without a bunch of frills or toppings. Even so, I couldn't just make a plain, BORING cheesecake, so I decided to add just a few sweet little polka dots of chocolate - it adds a little extra something to the cheesecake, without going overboard. Plus, it's cute, damnit!

The verdict? I think he liked it :)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Tex-Mex Couscous

I hate couscous. I know it's good for me and all, but I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate the texture. Then I discovered Israeli couscous, also known as pearl couscous or ptitim. What's the difference? Regular couscous is a semolina dish with a consistency almost like grits, but, when cooked correctly, is light and fluffy. Ptitim is made of hard wheat flour, and the consistency of each 'grain' is larger than regular couscous, like a small pearl. 

This recipe uses the larger Israeli couscous to create a wonderful salad with corn and tomatoes. Filling, healthy and vegetarian-friendly, this recipe can easily be made vegan simply by switching from chicken broth to vegetable broth. Easy!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Classic Cucumber Salad

Cucumber salad is a CLASSIC side dish, and fantastic to eat in the summertime. It's a perfect way to use up a glut of cucumbers, plus it doesn't require any cooking at all. Crisp, cool and refreshing, this is a PERFECT lunch for me, when I just don't feel like cooking or heating up anything in the microwave.

Feel free to use light sour cream; the dill flavor is intense enough that you won't notice a difference in flavor from the full-fat. You can even use plain yogurt, but I'd HIGHLY recommend using a thicker Greek yogurt, and straining it through some cheesecloth for about an hour or so.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Spicy Shrimp with Sweet Chili Mayo

As you all know by now, I don't get to enjoy shrimp nearly as often as I'd like since the BF has a shrimp allergy. Unfortunately, his allergy developed in adulthood, so he definitely remembers shrimp well enough to miss it terribly. To be nice, I try to eat shrimp only when he isn't around. 

Shrimp is SO incredibly quick & easy to prepare, and it's readily & cheaply available here in Alabama due to the abundance of Gulf shrimp, which, thankfully, have rebounded quite well after the BP oil spill back in 2010. 

In this recipe, the shrimp are dusted with a spicy 'rub' before cooking, then simply sauteed until done, and served with a highly addictive mayonnaise, flavored with Sriracha and Thai sweet chili sauce. Good thing I made my own sweet chili sauce!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thai Sweet Chili Sauce

I have a pretty impressive collection of Asian ingredients. Fish sauce, numerous soy sauces (from thin to thick to the faithful Kikkoman), and Thai sweet chili sauce all pop in my cooking fairly regularly. I LOVE to use Thai sweet chili sauce as a dipping sauce for fried spring rolls, in various chicken marinades, and even mixed with mayonnaise as a dressing for salads and even fries! I've always kept a BIG bottle of Mae Ploy on hand, taking up an insane amount of room in the fridge. I swore to myself that, once the big bottle ran out, I'd only buy smaller bottles going forward. And of course, none of our local Asian markets carry the smaller size. 


Luckily, I happened upon a recipe for homemade Thai sweet chili sauce, that could be made fresh, in small batches. A quick inventory of the pantry showed that I had everything necessary to make it RIGHT NOW, so I decided to give it a try.

Guess who won't be going back to bottled sauce? 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Julia's "Green Monster" Smoothie (Vegetarian/Vegan)

No, not THAT Green Monster. That's the BF's team; I stay a true Wrigley girl, through and through (and yes, I've seen our standings this season). 

The Green Monster SMOOTHIE was created by a lovely lady named Angela several years ago; basically, it's a fruity smoothie, filled with greens (typically spinach or kale), which gives the smoothie its trademark green color. The fruits mask the flavor of the greens, and you end up with a delicious smoothie packed with nutrition. There are TONS of GM recipes out there; this just happens to be the one that I like the best. :)

It's perfect for a quick breakfast, a light lunch, or after a good workout!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Old-Fashioned Beef Stew

Beef Stew is one of those classic dishes that has been shortcutted and "easied" until hardly recognizable. Nowadays, you can buy frozen beef stew, CANNED beef stew, and even slow-cooker beef stew "kits", which is basically a bag of stew meat (usually sinewy scraps), cut up vegetables, and dubious seasonings, which you simply dump into a slow-cooker along with some water. 

I understand the slow-cooker; I really do. I use mine, in fact - quite a lot! BUT, I just can't do slow-cooker beef stew for some reason. The low and slow method yields great beef, but every slow-cooker beef stew recipe I've ever seen calls for adding the vegetables at the beginning of cooking, which results in mushy overcooked vegetables. Even though it takes a little more effort, I like to make beef stew the old-fashioned way - in the oven.

This is one of those recipes that takes awhile. It's time-consuming, but with VERY little prep time; the beef is cooked in the oven, at a low temperature for over 4 hours, leaving it tender and full of beefy flavor. The vegetables are added later, ensuring they will be cooked perfectly and not turned into a mealy vegetable mush.

Any leftovers will freeze really well, and you shouldn't need any side dishes aside from some crusty, buttered bread. 

Overnight Oatmeal

Unlike every other Southerner I know or ever have/will have known, I don't like grits. I've tried them a hundred different ways, from slathered in butter, to filled with melted cheese. They're just not my thing, man. 

In true boring form, I prefer oatmeal to grits, which isn't such a bad thing. Oatmeal is probably a lot healthier than grits, and there are endless possibilities to what you can add to a bowl of humble oats. That being said, I don't do the instant oatmeal packets; I prefer the plain "old-fashioned" oats that have to be cooked...

Except for the fact that I don't like HOT oatmeal (yes, I know, I'm weird). So, lately I've been making overnight oats - I prep everything right before bed, which takes all of 5 minutes, and, in the morning, I've got a nice healthy breakfast ready to eat! The rolled oats, which come in a great big can, are WAY cheaper than the little instant packets, and yogurt & milk are practically negligible, since I ALWAYS have both on hand.

I like to add in ingredients like frozen fruit, or even sliced banana. I've even been known to toss in a few chocolate chips for a nice treat, too! For a little extra protein, stir in a little bit of honey or peanut butter (or almond/cashew/etc butter) as well! 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Chicken Tikka Masala (चिकन टिक्का मसाला)

I know, I know...I've gone WAY too long between posts again. It's been insanely hot and muggy here; so hot that I've had absolutely NO urge to cook. So, there's been a lot of salads and sandwiches this past week, and nothing really "blog-worthy". It's still hot here, but I'm ready to get over it, get back in the kitchen, and cook REAL food again!

Chicken tikka masala is simply chicken tikka (tikka = roasted chicken), served in a spicy masala (masala = mixture of spices) sauce. The chicken is marinated in yogurt & spices, baked in a traditional tandoor oven, and then the sauce is made from a tomato & cream base. There is no "set" recipe for chicken tikka masala; some recipe use coconut milk, and many recipes are VERY similar to butter chicken, also known as murgh makhani

This dish is delicate and somewhat mild, yet full of amazing flavors; many people have a misconception about Indian food, assuming that it's all incredibly spicy. However, most of my favorite curries and Indian dishes, from kormas to saags, are pretty tame. If you want a spicier dish, leave in some of the Serrano pepper's seeds and ribs. For an extra mild dish, leave out the pepper altogether!

Served with fresh, warm naan and steamed basmati rice, this chicken tikka masala is easy to prepare, hearty, and SUPER tasty!