Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Waffle House Buttermilk Waffles & Pecan Waffles

Here in the South, Waffle House is our mecca for breakfast, or late-night drunk food. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it's a cultural icon here. They have a jukebox stocked with absolutely TERRIBLE music, including their own Waffle House songs

Also referenced in the movie Tin Cup (one of the BF's faves for some inexplicable reason), Waffle House has their own special language. Any Waffle House aficionado KNOWS what it means when you hear the phrase "scattered, smothered and covered". Hell, they even have their own FEMA metric, known as the Waffle House Index...

My usual meal of choice there is a sausage, egg & cheese sandwich, with mayo & extra dill pickle slices. However, it used to ALWAYS be the pecan waffle. Even now, if I'm REALLY hungry, I'll add a pecan waffle to my sandwich order. It's the perfect waffle; light yet dense, perfectly cooked everytime, and studded with pecans. So, now that I have a waffle maker, I knew I HAD to try to recreate these at home...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Simple Chicken & Mushrooms

Sometimes simple really IS better. This recipe is incredibly simplistic and easy. With only four ingredients (I'm not counting salt, pepper and water - if you don't have these items in your kitchen, you're probably not EVER cooking your own meals), two if you, like me, consider the oil and butter negligible (NEVER do I not have olive oil and butter in the house), you can easily create a wonderful meal. Simple, easy chicken and mushrooms.

Since this recipe IS so simple, I prefer to spend the extra money for good chicken, locally-sourced if possible, or, at the very least, some that isn't plumped up with water or stuffed full of hormones or antibiotics. Sure, this requires a trip to somewhere like Whole Foods, Earth Fare, or Fresh Market, but the difference in flavor is definitely apparent. Also, buy your mushrooms whole and then slice them yourself - usually the pre-sliced ones are sliced too thin for this recipe. You don't even need "fancy" mushrooms - the plain old button mushrooms are perfect! 

Simple Sides - Sauteed Green Beans & Oven-Roasted Potatoes

I have some odd food pet peeves. Not your basic ones like smacking or talking with a mouthful of food, or grown adults holding forks like they're toddlers just learning how to use utensils. My pet peeves include things like, believing all foods should be covered/smothered in some kind of sauce or topping, absurd portion sizes, the market saturation of "foodie trends" like bacon, cupcakes and food trucks, people who use the term "umami" incorrectly when talking about foods that leave their mouths greasy (note: that feeling you get in your mouth after you eat a Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cake? NOT umami), and side dishes that don't compliment an entree. 

When side dishes and the main entree have to compete with one another, it drives me BONKERS. I can't stand a plate where all of the courses are the same color (usually beige), or where everything is drenched in some kind of sauce. Unfortunately, at a lot of restaurants nowadays, the sides are typically nothing but starches, especially here in the South. I've seen mashed potatoes with rice, bread with pasta, and fries with onion rings, with not a vegetable in sight. Even places that offer a choice usually leave me with few options, like steamed broccoli (BORING), or sad little salads. 

To me, when it comes to sides, simple is almost always better. If I have a starch like a pasta/rice/potatoes, I ALWAYS include some kind of vegetable as a compliment. Sometimes it's as simple as a caesar salad and baked potato with a good steak, or some collard greens to compliment cooked beans or fried okra on a Southern plate. My absolute favorite combination of sides, though, is a simple combination of green beans and roasted potatoes. 
Both of these sides are vegetarian/vegan-friendly, AND are incredibly cheap to prepare. You can get green beans and potatoes year-round, and these dishes can be prepared easily, quickly, and MOSTLY hands-off. The flavors are mild without being bland, and won't overpower your main course entree. Best of all, nothing comes from a can, so you KNOW you're eating real food! 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

How to Open a Pomegranate

Pomegranates are odd little fruits, aren't they? Native to the Middle East, pomegranates are largish red fruits, filled with little edible jewels known as arils. These jewels each contain a tiny (edible) seed, surrounded by juice. They look almost like little rubies, and have been significant in numerous cultures and religions

Not only are pomegranates beautiful, but they have a lot of great health benefits as well - filled with polyphenols and antioxidants, and a great source of vitamins and fiber as well. 

Unfortunately, pomegranates can be a serious pain to deal with, if you don't know a few tips and tricks. The juice gets EVERYWHERE, and it WILL stain. The arils are embedded in this weird, white mesh-like stuff, and trying to separate the arils from the fruit can be really time-consuming. Luckily, I have an easier way...

Chana Raita

Raita (रायता), is a popular Indian condiment, made with yogurt, and seasoned with fresh herbs and cumin and/or cayenne pepper. Used as a sauce or dip to compliment as especially spicy meal, raita can also be combined with vegetables and eaten as a side dish or as a meal on its own. 

This version adds chana (chickpeas) for added flavor, texture, and protein as well. It's a great way to use up herbs or veggies, and enjoy a healthy dish as well! 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cucumber Salsa

Sometimes I want salsa, but I don't really want tomato salsa. Sure, I could go with green salsa, or even black bean salsa, but every so often, I REALLY want something different. Something salsa-like (as in, I can scoop it up on a chip), but light and almost salad-like too. Something along the lines of Mom's Texas Caviar, but still, um, different

The solution for this craving? Cucumber salsa! It's light and refreshing, but still satisfies that need for a chippable dip. It's incredibly easy to put together, and the flavors come together beautifully - plus, it's a great way to use up little leftover bits of chopped veggies!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Spaghetti Squash (Vegetarian/Vegan)

Now that it's fall, spaghetti squash are in season and popping up at all of our local grocery stores and farmer's markets. I LOVE baked spaghetti squash as a great low-carb alternative to pasta - obviously, this squash gets its name from the fact that its flesh, when cooked, pulls away from the squash in thin strands...like spaghetti. 

Spaghetti squash are packed with healthy goodies like folic acid, potassium, beta carotene and vitamin A, while only containing 42 calories per 1-cup serving. You can eat the squash plain with butter, or as a pasta substitute with your favorite pasta sauce...or, maybe some leftover Italian meatballs and sauce?  

If your interest has been piqued, you'll be glad to know that preparing a spaghetti squash is super easy. Simply pick a squash that is firm and free of any soft spots; like when choosing a melon, the squash should feel heavy for its size. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Italian Meatball Subs

Lately, I've been hearing radio commercials for Firehouse Subs' meatball subs. Their advertising must be working, because, for the last week, I've been CRAVING meatball subs. This in itself is odd, since I've never been a big meatball sub eater. Not that I don't LIKE meatball subs, just more than I usually go for something like a big oily Italian sub covered in olives and banana peppers. 

I could have gone to Subway and gotten a meatball sub, but, honestly, I HAAAAATE Subway. There's something about the way Subway SMELLS that turns my stomach (I know, it's the bread baking, but something about it smells kinda like vomit). I also could have gone down to Firehouse Subs, but I decided that I could just make my own. 

Now, I COULD have taken a shortcut and bought some premade frozen meatballs, a jar of spaghetti sauce, and some sliced cheese & bread from the Publix deli, but I decided I needed to make the meatballs from scratch. After all, I already make my Swedish Meatballs from scratch! 

The smallest packages of ground veal and ground pork I could find at the store were for 1 pound. So, I bought extra beef, measured out the remaining ground veal and pork, and combined everything to future meatball-making. Now, I have two bags in the freezer of "meatball blend"; later on, all I'll have to do is thaw the meat, add the other ingredients, and make more meatballs. I could have just made more meatballs and frozen them on their own (they do freeze REALLY well), but, honestly, I didn't have enough eggs. Oh well. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Iceberg Wedge Salad w/ Bacon & Buttermilk Dressing

The wedge salad is classic Americana diner eats; nowadays, salads like mesclun, or 'spring mix' and spinach have replaced the classic iceberg lettuce, which is now relegated to school lunch salads (always served on pizza day with kernel corn), or as burger lettuce. 

Historically, the wedge salad has used a bleu cheese dressing...which, no matter how much I TRY to like, I just CAN'T. Some people will substitute Ranch dressing, but it's easiest to make your own dressing at home. Like with my Caesar salad, instead of using raw eggs & oil and making an emulsion, you can use mayonnaise (which is, coincidentally, an emulsion of eggs and oil) as a shortcut. Crisp bacon, croutons, and tomato wedges complete the salad, proving that, sometimes, less IS more. 

A disclaimer - just because this is a salad doesn't necessarily make it super healthy. This dressing is rich and delicious, but it's probably not going to be as healthy as a simple vinaigrette :)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Zucchini Lasagna (Vegetarian)

I like lasagna; I really do. And lately, I've been enjoying more and more pasta. Honestly, I'm probably using the excuse of running and race training as an excuse to eat more pasta, but I know I don't need THAT many carbs in my diet. But, hey, I'm running the Komen Race for the Cure 5K here in Birmingham tomorrow, so why not? 

Luckily, I'm a fan of pasta alternatives. From vegetable noodles to spaghetti squash (more on that in a few days!), I have plenty of low-carb AND gluten-free alternatives to standard semolina pasta. This vegetarian lasagna, for instance, replaces the standard lasagna noodles with zucchini slices! You honestly won't miss the pasta at all, and it's ALWAYS great to get more veggies into a meal! 

Like my last lasagna recipe, this one is vegetarian, but feel free to add some browned LEAN ground beef to your sauce if you don't want to go meatless. If you're REALLY watching what you eat, you can even substitute cottage cheese for the ricotta; just squeeze out the excess "cheese juice". 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Chocolate Elvis Smoothie (Vegetarian/Vegan-Friendly)

A while back, I posted my recipe for a Green Monster Smoothie, and I think it might have freaked a few people out. As in, they just can't get past the color and the spinach, and don't believe me when I say that it really, REALLY won't taste all spinachy. 

Then, I posted my Piña Colada Smoothie, which might be TOO tropical, especially since coconut and pineapple are so polarizing for people. 

After that came the Banana-Orange Smoothie; an easy and healthy smoothie option with only 4 ingredients. But, maybe that's too fruity? 

So, I decided to share a smoothie that appeals to the sweet tooth - the Chocolate Elvis Smoothie! It takes the peanut butter and banana that Elvis loved (minus the butter and fried bacon), and then adds some chocolate for extra decadence. This smoothie, to me, is like enjoying a great milkshake, but without all of the ice cream, fat and calories.

Yes, the peanut butter has fat, but it also gives the smoothie TONS of protein - this is a great way to replenish after a good workout (like last night's 4-mile run through Southside)! Plus, it's vegetarian, and very easily made vegan as well! 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pasta Puttanesca

I usually don't eat a lot of pasta - it's just not something I crave. However, since I've got a 5K coming up this Saturday, and the Komen Race for the Cure 5K NEXT weekend, I've been dusting off some of my pasta recipes so I can "carb up" in preparation. 

Pasta Puttanesca, literally "pasta, whore-style", is a quick and easy pasta dish, combining the popular Southern Italian flavors of salty and spicy. SUPPOSEDLY, pasta puttanesca was a sauce invented by prostitutes, designed to lure customers in with its aroma. Other theories state that the prostitutes were too busy to cook, which is why this dish is quick to prepare, using ingredients commonly found in most Italian kitchens.

For a meatless pasta dish, puttanesca is full of wonderful flavors, and takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. I took advantage of a Publix sale on "Italian" ingredients, so this meal was also really inexpensive, ESPECIALLY compared to going out to eat at an Italian restaurant! 

Friday, October 5, 2012

How to Make Perfect Scrambled Eggs

When I was a kid, I would only eat eggs ONE way - scrambled and with an embarrassing amount of ketchup. I've now broadened my egg horizons, from frittatas to omelets to sunny-side up eggs, but I still love a plate of good scrambled eggs. Nowadays though, I skip the ketchup, though I won't turn down a few drops of soy sauce or Sriracha! 

For me, the perfect scrambled eggs have to be VERY fluffy, uniformly yellow, and soft yet still moist. Thankfully, scrambled eggs are super easy to make at home, as long as you keep a few things in mind - keep your heat low, fold gently, and pull your pan from the heat BEFORE the eggs are completely done. 

I'm actually pretty picky about my scrambled eggs, and find that a LOT of places tend to overcook their eggs into rubbery crumbles. I've had seriously undercooked eggs, and NOBODY likes sloppy, slimy eggs:

Once you master plain scrambled eggs, kick it up by adding vegetables or meats, or try your hand at migas! 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Pumpkin Spice Chai Lattes

It's October, and Fall is in full-swing. Except here in Alabama where it was 85° this past weekend. BUT, the leaves are changing color & falling, football season is well under way, and, considered by some to be the most important indicator of fall, Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back at Starbucks

I don't go to Starbucks. Not because I'm too cool for Starbucks, or because it's too commercial or mainstream. I don't go to Starbucks because I am a total cheapass. I don't drink coffee regularly, but when I do I prefer Dos Equis, I make it at home with the Keurig. Haters gonna hate.

Since I don't drink coffee regularly, I like to go a little frou-frou with it when I DO drink it (hence why I have a Keurig, which my cheap ass was given as a gift from the parents). However, I do drink a LOT of tea. Unlike pretty much every other Southerner I know, I only drink my iced tea unsweetened (blasphemy here in the heart of Milo's country). Cooler weather means I transition from iced tea to hot teas - the tea aisle at our local Earth Fare knows me quite well. 

I HAVE tried the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte. Once. It was fantastic. Spicy, creamy, and so, well, FALL. At once I GOT IT. I understood the addiction. And I knew I had to find a way to make it myself at home. 

The key is all in the syrup. Starbucks uses a pumpkin spice syrup, which is easy to replicate. It's a simple syrup (literally, a 1:1 mixture of water and sugar is known as "simple syrup"), flavored with a bit of pumpkin puree (not the pie filling!, JUST the canned puree), and all the spices that conjure up the flavors of fall - cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. 

This syrup can then be combined with coffee and milk for a latte, or with chai tea and milk for chai lattes (for the tea-loving, coffee-abstainers like myself). 

Oh yeah, I worked out the cost, and the lattes will cost about $1.15 apiece, and the chai lattes $0.90 apiece - and that's WITH the whipped cream! A whole bottle of the syrup only costs $1.25 to make. Not bad, huh?