Sunday, March 31, 2013

Chicken-Fried Steak with Cream Gravy

Nothing stirs up a great Southern debate like chicken-fried steak vs country-fried steak. Both are made from beef steak, cubed or pounded out thin, floured and dipped in an egg wash, then fried and served with gravy. But that's where the similarities seem to end...

Chicken-fried steak is said to have been brought to Texas by German immigrants; like schnitzel, chicken-fried steak was a way to prepare tougher cuts of meat. 

Here in Alabama, you're more likely to see country-fried steak on restaurant menus instead of chicken-fried steak. However, a LOT of places that offer 'country-fried', are actually serving 'chicken-fried' if you are to believe the differences between the two...

The number one difference is the gravy. Chicken-fried steak is always served with a cream gravy, where country-fried steak is served with a brown gravy (and often onions), much like a Salisbury steak. That being said, I see 'country-fried' steak served here with cream gravy all of the time, and even restaurants that offer a choice of gravies. 

Next, it is said that chicken-fried steak is deep-fried, completely immersed in hot oil, while country-fried steak is pan-fried in a skillet. Chicken-fried steak typically has a crispier coating, with the gravy served on the side for dipping, which country-fried steak is sometimes smothered with the (brown) gravy, again, like Salisbury steak. 

Me, personally? I prefer a crispier coating and cream gravy - if I want my beef smothered in brown gravy, I'll just have a Salisbury steak instead. However, I prefer to pan-fry my steak instead of deep-frying. Either way, it's HARD to beat a hearty meal like chicken-fried steak, especially with some classic Southern sides like turnip greens or baked macaroni & cheese (I opted for creamed corn this time)!!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Turnip Greens

It's no secret that I absolutely LOVE collard greens. I've posted about them multiple times on here, and have the art of cooking them down to a science. However, for the most part, I've ignore another fantastic Southern green - the humble turnip green. 

Most people eat the turnip ROOT. Here in the South, we eat the leafy greens. They're similar to mustard greens in flavor, but less bitter. Ideally, smaller leaves are preferred, since they are less bitter than the large leaves. Now, we DO eat the roots as well, just peeled and chopped and tossed in with the leaves. :)

Typically, turnip greens cook a little faster than collard greens. Also, where I prefer a large cut for collard greens, I actually prefer my turnip greens shredded. Though you can cook collard greens for HOURS on the stovetop, my method only requires about 20 minutes! 

Also, ignore any recipes that call for you to add sugar to your greens. Every Southerner knows you do NOT add sugar to your greens or your cornbread - everything else is fair game! 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Strawberry Pecan "Fudge"

Every so often, I come across recipes that just seem TOO good to be true. Too easy, or too delicious. Honestly, I've had a few recipes SERIOUSLY let me down. 

This one though? This is INSANE. It's a delicious strawberry "fudge", studded with pecans, and it only takes THREE ingredients, and hardly any cooking at all. No candy thermometer or beating with wooden spoons - just melt, mix and chill. 

This is PERFECT for Easter, especially if you need a quick and easy dessert option - you could probably even cut the fudge into small pieces for inside Easter eggs...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Steak Fajitas

About a month ago, I decided to make some chicken fajitas, mainly because I had all of the necessary ingredients, and did NOT feel like going to the grocery store. However, as awesome as they were, I STILL prefer steak fajitas. 

So, I decided I HAD to have some steak fajitas. I cook these the "traditional" way, atop sizzling hot cast iron, unlike my chicken fajitas, which are simply cooked in the oven. In keeping with tradition, I also used skirt/flank steak, which I ALWAYS buy from the local Hispanic grocer, who, coincidentally, simply labels the beef as "fajitas". 

You CAN cook the steak in a large cast iron skillet, but I like to use my reversible griddle; it fits over two eyes on the stove, and, while the steak is resting, I can warm up several tortillas at once. If you have one of these griddles, you can also use it on the grill, which is how I like to cook fish! I do, however, use a skillet for the peppers and onions; it's an extra pan to clean, but for me it allows me to multitask and get dinner on the table a little more quickly! 

As far as toppings go, I kept it simple and just used a little bit of my homemade pico de gallo. Easy! 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pico de Gallo

Pico de Gallo is one of THOSE ingredients. It's on EVERYTHING now, but it is vastly different depending on where you eat! Honestly, for YEARS, I had NO idea what Pico de Gallo was supposed to be, so I decided to find out...

Pico de gallo, which literally translates to "rooster's beak" is simply a mixture of fresh onion, tomato and peppers, flavored lightly with a touch of salt and some acid, usually vinegar or lime juice. Often, cilantro is added as well. It's kind of like a salsa, but without all of the liquid, making it a GREAT topping for tacos, fajitas, or as a simple dip. 

Most people seem to agree that simpler is better when it comes to pico de gallo. Though variations including avocados, corn and black beans do exist, I too prefer a simpler combination. Anything more starts skirting the line into salsa territory. I decided to play around with the ingredient quantities and see what I could come up with, especially since I was planning on enjoying some fajitas! 

FUN FACT: The colors of pico de gallo are said to resemble the Mexican flag (green peppers, white onion, and red tomato). 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Coconut Chicken Tenders with Sweet Chili Mayo

Coconut is one of those "love it or hate it" flavors. I happen to love it; especially those weird 3-color-stripe coconut bars available only in the most country of gas stations. I always, ALWAYS order the coconut cream cake from Pita Stop, and my bathroom is a testament to the availability of coconut-scented products. 

When most people think of a savory dish with coconut, they think of coconut shrimp. It sits on every seafood restaurant's menu, from Outback Steakhouse's Gold Coast Coconut Shrimp to Red Lobster's Parrot Bay Coconut Shrimp. However, shrimp *CAN* be a pain in the ass to deal with for some people, from shelling, to butterflying, to scraping out that gross little "poop vein" along the back. I don't mind dealing with shrimp, but, due to a nasty shellfish allergy, the BF does. So, this recipe is EASILY duplicated with chicken.

If you insist on shrimp, the process is the same. Simply shell/devein/butterfly your shrimp, dredge/batter them, and fry for 2-3 matches or until golden. In place of the sweet chili mayo, you can simply use the sweet chili sauce by itself, or a copycat of the restaurant dips (typically a mix of marmalade, horseradish and Dijon mustard, or sweet & sour sauce with crushed pineapple added). 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jimmy Carter Peanut Butter Pie

Jimmy Carter was the United States' 39th President and is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. By the time he left office, I was less than 3 months old, so obviously I don't have any memories of his Presidency. Most people associate Jimmy Carter, outside of his Presidency, with his work with Habitat for Humanity, and peanuts. 

Before his career in politics, Carter was a peanut farmer in Plains, Georgia. Today, there is an AMAZING peanut statue in the little town of Plains, right in front of a convenience store off of Hwy 45. I didn't take this picture; I've been through Plains once, but it was for a business trip and I didn't have my camera with me. 

Anyway, back to the peanuts. As a Southerner, peanuts are pretty important to me. Plus, they're DELICIOUS. It's a tradition to eat boiled peanuts (plain or Cajun-style) here, and we also LOVE our peanut butter desserts, from bark to fudge to peanut butter balls and bars. Of course, peanut butter makes AMAZING pies, too - I posted a recipe for my Mile-High Peanut Butter Pie, which has a gooey brownie layer, topped with a creamy peanut butter filling. 

This pie is a little different. It's simple, quick and easy to make, and is FULL of peanut buttery goodness. It's a no-bake, chilled pie, so it's PERFECT for hot summer weather, too. There are recipes EVERYWHERE for this pie, and it's actually commonly called "Jimmy Carter" pie. I'm sure the President loves this one, and you will too!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Scalloped Potatoes

Scalloped potatoes are kind of like a perfect blend of a good casserole (creamy and cheesy), and the starchy goodness that comes from having potatoes as a side dish. Buttery potatoes (I prefer Yukon Golds) are thinly sliced, then layered together with a Mornay sauce to bind everything together. Finally, the potatoes are baked until golden brown, resulting in a wonderful side dish that pretty much SCREAMS "comfort food". 

Of course, you can always buy scalloped potatoes in a box mix, but they're WAY better when made from scratch. If you have a mandoline or a food processor with a slicing blade, this is a REALLY easy dish to put together! 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Seaweed Salad aka Kaiso Salad

My Mom LOVES seaweed salad. I do, too, but not like she does. Whole Foods occasionally has prepared seaweed salad available in their cold bar, and, whenever she visits me, she'll get a little box to take home. Usually you can only get seaweed salad in a Japanese restaurant, though you can occasionally buy it frozen at some Asian markets. 

Luckily, seaweed salad is REALLY easy to make at home - the hardest part is finding the seaweed mix! The mix itself is sold dried, and usually contains a blend of various seaweeds. I prefer the SeaVegi brand, which I can find locally at Whole Foods. It contains a combination of wakame, agar agar, suginori, tsunomata and mafunori. The seaweed is full of fiber and minerals such as iron and magnesium, and makes for a REALLY healthy salad. Plus, it's vegetarian and vegan friendly as well! 

The dressing is simple - a vinegar base, flavored with a dash of soy sauce (or tamari for vegan), a touch of sugar, some sesame oil for nuttiness, and a bit of ginger for bite. It will keep for about a week in the fridge, and is a great cold dish in hot weather! 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Creamy Vegetable Dip/Spread

It's FINALLY starting to feel like Spring here! 20 years after the infamous Blizzard of '93, we're in for a GORGEOUS weekend - sunny with temperatures in the upper 60s, and not a chance of rain. Perfect weather for just sitting on the porch with a cold drink and maybe a light dip to snack on...

This dip is full of great veggie flavor; you can make this super low-fat by simply using reduced-fat or non-fat cream cheese (I like to use one 'regular' package and one 'reduced-fat' package). It's got the saltiness of my beloved olive cream cheese spread, but with the added sweetness of corn, and some spice from the chilies. I love it on wheat crackers or bagel chips, but you can even spread it on soft white bread for tea sandwiches, or rolled up in tortillas! 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

DIY Instant Oatmeal Packets

Y'all. Y'ALL. I am SO sorry for my recent absence/lack of posts/general laziness. Early last week, I woke up feeling great, ready to go meet my Mom for lunch, and that afternoon, was hit with THE most godawful stomach bug. Yep, norovirus. It downed me for 4 days, and, for several days afterwards, I was stuck on the BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce & Toast) per doctor's orders. Needless to say, I was NOT feeling up to blogging/cooking/doing much of anything besides sipping Gatorade. 

I'm better now, though, and I've got a bunch of posts planned out. Being sick and unable to really eat anything will make your mind race and think about all kinds of food! For instance, I eat a LOT of instant oatmeal. Oatmeal is healthy, can be prepared quickly, and I can take the little packs anywhere I go - all I need is a microwave or a hot water dispenser! Lately, I've gotten to where I like to eat oatmeal before going running, so I've been going through a LOT of oatmeal packs. 

Well, apparently, I've been wasting a TON of money buying little instant oatmeal packs. At our local Winn-Dixie, a 10-count box of Quaker Instant Oatmeal packs costs $3.99. Granted, I could save a little bit of money and buy the Winn-Dixie brand, for $2.99. This comes out to about $0.30 - $0.40 per pack!

However, a GIANT canister of quick/instant oats costs only $5.29 for Quaker, or $3.59 for the Winn-Dixie brand. And I can get 30 servings of instant oatmeal out of that can, for only $0.12 per packet. Once I factor in the flavorings I like to add, it's right at $0.20 per pack - WAY cheaper than what I was paying! I didn't factor in the cost of the bags, since I buy them at Sam's and pretty much always have a ton of them. Honestly, if I bought the ingredients somewhere like ALDI, I'd probably save even MORE money! 

I like the brown sugar & cinnamon flavor, so that's what I've used here. However, you can easily customize your oatmeal with things like dried fruit, nuts, or even bacon bits! 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Buffalo Wings for Purists, aka "Ain't No Thang But a Chicken Wang"

It's March Madness time again! Honestly, though, I CANNOT get into college basketball, no matter how hard I try. It's always going to be football for me, especially here in the heart of the SEC. BUT, for those of you who live for college basketball, you know the tournament calls for some serious snacks. Like, say, chicken wings?

When I was a kid, my parents would often drive a good 10+ miles to this little hole-in-the-wall place in Jacksonville, AL known as Jefferson's just for chicken wings. Jefferson's is this great little college bar and restaurant known for it's incredible hot wings, oysters, and having 45042650974658890836 decorated one-dollar bills tacked up on its walls. Now, Jefferson's has multiple locations across the Southeast, but I always hold a special place in my heart for the original Jacksonville location, even though we FINALLY got one here in the Birmingham area


Jefferson's never did have a huge list of crazy wing flavors like some places. You had "mild", "medium", "hot" and "turbo"; "turbo" being the ass-scorchingly hot flavor that only frat guys would order on dares. To this day, nothing hits the spot like a pitcher of cheap draft beer and a big tray of Jefferson's "hot" wings. Sure, it's not the Mecca of wings like, oh, Anchor Bar, but it's still REALLY hard to beat. 

I'm a true Buffalo wing purist. To me, the perfect wing should always be fried and crisp, not steamed or oven-baked or grilled. DEFINITELY no breading nor coating. The sauce should be creamy and spicy, with a good vinegary kick - made from only two ingredients: the one and only Frank's Original RedHot sauce and margarine, not butter. The only area where I break from tradition is with the celery and blue cheese - I really don't like blue cheese dressing, so I prefer Ranch instead. 

Thankfully, GOOD Buffalo wings are really easy to make at home. Sure, you can buy the bags of frozen, pre-seasoned wings, but making them yourself allows you to choose just how spicy you like them, and, if you're like me and score a good sale price on the wings themselves, you'll end up spending FAR less than what it would cost to go out to a restaurant or sports bar. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Butter-Fried Sea Scallops

I've mentioned it before, but, up in Huntsville, AL, there's a FANTASTIC seafood market called "A & V Seafood Market", just off of Cecil Ashburn in the same shopping center as "I Love Sushi". They've got a FAR better selection and prices compared to the numerous seafood vendors here in Birmingham, so I always pick up something from them whenever I visit Huntsville with my parents. 

This past weekend, I picked up some AMAZING sea scallops (from Boston), along with some sushi-grade tuna loin. Since these were top-quality scallops, I knew that they had to be prepared simply and delicately. So, I decided on an easy butter-sear! 

Scallops are amazingly easy and quick to prepare - do NOT be afraid to let them sear without touching or moving them! You can serve these with simple sides such as light salad, or plain pasta, or, do what I do and simply serve the scallops alongside some crusty baguette slices!

If using frozen scallops, thaw them in the fridge overnight, or in a bowl of cold water that you change every 10-15 minutes. Do NOT use the microwave to defrost them!! Also, make sure your scallops are DRY before cooking - wet scallops will simply steam and exude liquid; they won't get that delicious sear!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Coconut Macaroons

It's March, so Easter & Passover will be here soon, and, according to Jewish law, no Jews may own, eat or benefit from chametz (also called "chometz") during Passover. So, what IS chametz? Simply put, chametz is forbidden leavening ingredients (wheat/flour, baking soda, baking powder, etc). As a result, during Passover (and year-round in many Seders), macaroons are a common dessert, since they contain no leavening agents whatsoever. 

Macaroons are sometimes confused with the trendy and popular macaron. Macaroons are light little meringue-type cookies, made from egg whites. Macarons are little French meringue sandwich cookies, which melt in the mouth. 

Not only are macaroons great for Passover, but they're also a fantastic option for anyone following a gluten-free or dairy-free diet. Personally, coconut macaroons are my absolute favorite, and I can eat them year-round. Not only are they super delicious, but they're incredibly quick and easy to make as well - you can mix everything together in only one bowl!