Thursday, December 19, 2013

New Orleans Overview

Last weekend was my birthday!  Well, we were already planning a trip down to the gulf-ish area, so we decided to tie it into my birthday as well.  We started our trip in Baton Rogue to see my aunt, she made us some fantastic gumbo for our arrival, then loaded me down with bacon for breakfast.  Then we headed down to New Orleans.

It had been about 7-8 years since either of us had been there.  So we were pretty damn excited to be able to carry adult beverages down the sidewalk.

St. Lawrence Bar & Restaurant--Our first meal in New Orleans was chosen out of convenient location to the Aquarium.  On the edge of the French Quarter (on N. Peters), we were drawn to it because it smelled like garlic.  It ended up being a really great lunch!  It was a little late so they were out of about 1/4 the menu while prepping for dinner, but there were still plenty of delicious sounding things to choose from.  I had a crawfish "lobster" roll: sweet and spicy crawfish in a lite mayo dressing with celery and a tiny bit of red onion on a buttered hot dog bun.  Louis had the fried oyster bahn mi po'boy: basically a po'boy with pickled radishes and carrots.  And the hand cut fries, well, any good french fry can win over my heart.  I also had their (incredibly strong) daiquiri of the day--pumpkin pie daiquiri. Yeah, you read that right.

Cafe Amelie--Go here.  Just do it!  We chose this as my birthday dinner because the menu sounded good and it was about a block from our hotel.  But, seriously, GO HERE!  We couldn't decide what we wanted, so we got several appetizers to share.  Satsuma chili glazed shrimp, shrimp and grits, and Cajun poutine.  Oh! the cajun poutine--crispy oven roasted gold potatoes loaded with asiago and cochon (a highly seasoned roasted pork).  Absolutely order the Cajun poutine!!!  They make a really great tomato bisque as well (a little on the salty side, but I still ate every drop).  For dessert we had the doberge cake of the day; it was a creamy 9 layer cake with strawberry cheesecake mousse.  And I cant forget about the cocktails!  They are a little on the expensive side, but worth it.  Order any of the house cocktails--you will not be disappointed.  (Reservations suggested, especially if weather doesn't permit courtyard seating.  We just hung out and had a drink, we had no where to go.)

Stanley--Right on Jackson Square at the corner of St Ann and Chartres overlooking St. Louis Catherdral, this is at the "institution" level of dining.  A place everyone seems to go.  And for good reason.  We were there on a Sunday... after church hours.  But since there were only two of us and we were willing to sit at the bar or table (we got a table), we only had to wait about 20 minutes.  Enough time to walk around the square and look at the art for sale displayed along all the fence lines.  I had the Breaux Bridge Benedict; the eggs could have poached about 30-45 seconds longer for my taste, but the homemade boudin and hollandaise more than made up for that.  Louis had the benedict po'boy that also looked divine.  (There is an upscale sister restaurant called Stella... just needed to throw that in there.)

French Market Restaurant--The Central Grocery is closed on Sundays and Mondays.  That was a huge bummer.  This was just down the street so we assumed they had to have good muffalettas.  Wrong.  Don't order the Italian muffaletta here.  The crawfish fritters were really good, so maybe we if we had ordered something else it would have been good, but the oily, hamburger bun muffaletta and frozen french fries were a gigantic let down.

Felix's--Chargrilled oysters.  That is why you should go here.  Fresh shucked oysters cooked over an open flame with parmesan, breadcrumbs, and butter.  The crawfish etouffe and seafood gumbo are also really good.  The roux for the gumbo was way darker than I am used to, and I make my roux pretty dark, so that is saying something. It threw me off at first, but the more I ate, the more sense it made.  It's simple Louisiana food done right, what more could ask for?

The last day we made an obligatory stop at Cafe du Monde.  It was Monday morning so it was only half full.  I know it is the big place everyone goes.  But let me just say that I've tried quite a few other beignets and I've had some that are as good, but none that have been better.  (If you know of a place with beignets that surpass Cafe du Monde, please let me know!)

I feel I should mention a daiquiri that I had as well.  Most people know of the 24 hour to go daiquiri stands in New Orleans.  After Felix's, we walked down Bourbon St. to get back to our hotel on the other side of the French Quarter and decided we needed drinks to go.  We stopped at one of the places that has a wall of frozen drink machines.  (And they offer samples, so that was fun.)  I settled on a thing called the Cajun Storm.  It is dark rum, 151 rum, brandy, and grain alcohol (with some unknown fruit juices and sugar).  And it is delicious.  It is also a bargain at less than $9 for ~20oz.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Onion "Soup" Roasted Potatoes

I'm cheating here.  This isn't original, it is just seriously delicious.  I'm pretty sure no one actually uses onion soup mix for soup.  It isn't a thing a I usually have around my house.  However, I happened to have a packet left form braising venison shanks.  When the holiday coupon book for Kroger came out, I saw this.  It seemed like the perfect, easy thing for the fingerling potatoes I had just bought.  Honestly, I can't imagine anyone complaining about these for any dinner.  And why not make the holiday feast a little less stressful by whipping these up?  A thin skinned potato is best: new, yukon gold, fingerlings, etc.

Onion "Soup" Roasted Potatoes
1 pkt onion soup mix
~2.5 lbs potatoes
~3 Tbsp oil (olive, canola, etc.)

  Wash potatoes and cut them into large bite-sized chunks, if needed.  Toss with oil and soup mix.
   Roast at 400 deg F for 30-45 minutes (depending on the potato.)  Toss every 15 min or so.  When tender and golden, they are done.
   Serves 6.

OR just follow Knorr's recipe here.  I didn't use Knorr, so their packets may be a little smaller, but I found that you can use more potatoes than the suggested amount.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Three Cheese Mac & Cheese

I feel like I make macaroni and cheese a lot.  Truthfully, I don't.  But I get so excited when I do, that is a big deal I remember.  Usually it is a special occasion of some sort.  I could eat mac 'n' cheese many times a week, but to save my weight/overall health, I try to refrain from that.  This version is a simple, classic crowd-pleaser that I made the day after Thanksgiving for my mom's side of the family.  It was quickly devoured, and they asked for this recipe (and bugged me about not keeping up with this thing better.)  So here you go, guys!

Three Cheese Mac & Cheese
1 lb pasta (large elbow, large shell, or penne are probably the best shapes)
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
3/4 C milk (I used 2%)
1/2 C half & half
1 C shredded smoked gouda (1 Tbsp reserved)
1 C shredded sharp cheddar (1 Tbsp reserved)
1/2 C shredded Monterrey jack (1 Tbsp reserved)
1/3 C panko bread crumbs
2 Tbsp olive oil (or melted butter)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper

   In liberally salted water, cook pasta about 1 minute shy of being done.  Drain, set aside.
   Melt butter in a sauce pot.  Add flour, stir so there are no lumps.  Slowly whisk in milk and half & half, making sure no lumps form.  Bring to a simmer, let cook about 3 minutes until it starts to thicken.  Remove from heat.  Add salt and pepper.
   Combine cheeses, pasta, and milk mixture.  Pour into a greased 13x9 baking dish.
   Combine panko crumbs, reserved cheeses and olive oil.  Sprinkle over the pasta.
   Bake covered at 350 deg F for 20 minutes.  Uncover, bake another 15 minutes
   Serves 6-8

Note:  Using high quality cheese is a good idea here.  I used Boar's Head smoked gouda and Vermont sharp cheddar.  The Monterrey Jack is almost a filler to give it gooey meltiness without masking the flavors of the other cheese so store brand is fine.  And if you add a little extra cheese, I'm sure no one will complain.  I'm fairly certain my cups of cheese were heaping cups.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Christmas Gifts: 2013 edition

I was going to wait another week or so for this particular post, but one of my gift suggestions has free shipping through the weekend.  Usually everyone on my list will get at least one food oriented gift a year.  I think food gifts are perfect for everyone, especially those who are difficult to shop for.  I like to find unique products that someone (like my parents) wouldn't buy for themselves on a regular basis.

Alright, lets get to the goodies.

1.  The Southern Vegetarian--You probably know my love of The Chubby Vegetarian's blog by now.  earlier this year Justin Fox Burks released his first cookbook, and it is amazing.  Sure it is vegetarian, but there are some simply fantastic recipes in here that are sure to please.

2.  Locally Roasted Coffee--This has been a growing trend over the last few years.  Micro-roasters have been popping up as fast as micro-breweries.  Importing fresh coffee berries and roasting them on site can produce some truly terrible coffee.  But it can also produce coffee that is probably magic.  The Nashville area is clogging up with some really good roasters.  I happen to live about a mile from Just Love, which is one of the best within an hour of me.

3.  Micro-brews, spirits, and local vineyards--Speaking of micro-breweries....  Nashville also has some incredible beer:  Blackstone, Yazoo, Fat-bottom, Mayday.  Mayday is actually in Murfreesboro, a few miles from me.  If you pick up a growler of Evil Octopus (a black-BLACK!-IPA), you will not be disappointed.  Micro-stills are also poking their heads through the woodwork.  Middle Tennessee clearly is home to Jack Daniels, but we also have Short Mountain (my favorite moonshine) and Corsair Distillery.  And let's not leave out Arrington Vineyards.  However, I suggest finding business local to you... I mean, unless you want to sample the awesomeness of Middle Tennessee (and we are pretty freaking awesome.)

4.  Oils and Vinegars--Upscale oil and vinegar "taprooms" are making appearances in many high end shopping centers.  I am a big fan of Seasons.  Every single oil and vinegar I tried (and I tried, like, 30) was delicious.  The price per bottle may seem steep, but their premium products are worth every penny.  And they have recently introduced gift boxes!  Through Sunday (Nov 24) , they are offering free shipping on orders over $30.

5.  Cackalacky--This is a North Carolina original.  I met these guys at the bluegrass convention in Raleigh in September.  This is hands down the best hot sauce I have tried this year.  Maybe one of the best I've ever had.  It isn't aggressively spicy, and it has a thicker consistency than many hot sauces which makes it perfect for dousing a chicken breast or piece of fish straight from the bottle.  They have also started making a Cheerwine BBQ sauce that I'm sure is stupidly tasty.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Moroccan Spiced Chicken Fried Tofu

We've been cooking more and more tofu over the last few months.  I've gotten pretty good at cooking it, and it is cheap (less than $2/lb for organic.)  The most difficult thing is giving it enough time to press/drain.

A few weeks ago after a late night Muay Thai class (not where we usually go), we stopped at Whole Foods for dinner.  The nearest Whole Foods is 45 minutes away from us, so it was kind of a treat.  I saw chicken fried tofu at the hot bar and clearly had to try it.  Funny thing, I also had some simmered beef thing that was really good.  The sauce from the beef on the tofu was deeeelicious.  They should consider making it a new dish.

I became mildly obsessed with the idea of chicken fried tofu.  I had to make it.  And honestly, I think my version is better.  If only because mine wasn't sitting on the hot bar so it was still freshly crispy.  But the spice blend I used to season it is really good, so that helps too.  I do think their version is vegan, whereas mine is vegetarian.  Maybe I will come up with a vegan variation next time.

Moroccan Spiced Chicken Fried Tofu
1-1 lb block extra firm tofu
1 large egg
1/2 C buttermilk
about 3/4 C flour
about 1/2 C coarse ground cornmeal
salt and pepper
oil for frying (I used vegetable)

   Portion tofu into 4-6 slices, depending on how thick you want them.  I think 4 is best, cut from the long side of the block.  Place tofu between paper towels in a clean dish cloth.  Put a cutting board and something to weigh it down on top, a 28oz can of something works well.  Let press/drain for at least 45 minutes.*
   Liberally season with Moroccan spice blend.  The blend I have doesn't have a lot of salt, so I can coat things pretty well.  Just be careful with different brands.
   Combine egg and buttermilk.
   Combine flour and cornmeal.  Salt and pepper the flour mixture (about 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper).
   Coat tofu slices with flour, then egg mixture, then flour, egg, flour.
   Fry in a shallow pan w/ about 1/3 inch of oil heated over med/med-high heat for about 3 minutes on the first side and 2 on the second.  Drain on paper towels.
   Serves 4-6.

*Some people say it is better to press/drain the tofu, freeze it, then drain it again by placing it between paper towels while it is thawing.  I tried this technique and it did dry out well, but I think just pressing/draining it well the first time is good enough.

Monday, November 18, 2013


I'm not entirely sure where the last two months have gone.  It was early September now it is only 10 days until Thanksgiving.  Some crazy stuff went down in my life the last 8 weeks, all good mind you.  I attended my first music convention/festival/awards show, The Americana Festival (AMAs).  The following week I took a rather bizarre, but good, trip to Raleigh, NC for the IMBA conference and awards show (International Bluegrass Music Association.)  My gym had a HUGE high level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament, and we moved to a swanky new location.  I busted my ass getting some amazing costumes together (Dany [blue tunic] and Jorah from Game of Thrones and Richard Harrow and Angela Darmody from Boardwalk Empire) for our first con, Wizard World Nashville.  That was incredible!  And I went to the CMA awards... that was the strangest, most uncomfortable live show I've ever attended.  

Oh, and did I mention that next Tuesday I will be an aunt?!?!  Utter insanity.

Being so busy, we've gotten into some serious food ruts.  Stir fry is a staple.  Chili, salads, tacos, roasted winter squash soup, and too much [delicious] take out often make regular appearances as well.  Food ruts make me reminisce hard.  Lately, I've been dreaming about sushi.  But not just any sushi, we get American style sushi every few weeks here.  This sushi is more authentic and so freakin' fresh is might just come back to life if you drop some water on it.

Rendezvous Sushi Cafe in West Bay, Roatan, Honduras is a tiny little place that is part sushi bar part art shop perched on the side of a hill.  It is owned by an American and his French-Canadian wife.  There are seats for about 10-15 people, so you have to make a reservation.  Even if you end up being the only people, you need them.  Don't plan for a quick meal, and bring plenty of cash.  They have a menu with stuff that they usually have, but I recommend asking what is fresh and local.  Those fishes will be the most delicious and won't be listed on the menu.  One thing that they almost always have, but isn't listed is local tuna quickly seared with a sesame crust.  Definitely order that.
That's a lion fish, if you didn't know.

This past year, many restaurants on Roatan started serving up lion fish, a species that is invasive and has been attempting to wreak havoc on the local reefs.  They've been doing a pretty good job of disrupting several species, but local divers and fisherman have banded together with special licensing to hunt these suckers.  One of my top priorities of vacation was to eat lionfish.  The first dish we had at Rendezvous was lion fish sashimi.  It was so light and delicate with a sweet, mild flavor; the translucent flesh melts in your mouth.  A light sprinkle of sesame seeds and a quick dip in soy made it perfection.

We ate quite a bit that night.  I remember a conch something, it wasn't one that is on the menu, but the spicy conch that they regularly have is fantastic.  The other stand out dish we had (which we ordered seconds of) was local marlin.  It was super fresh, so it wasn't funky or oily (which can happen with marlin).  It was meaty and assertive, similar to mahi mahi, and was dressed with a spicy sauce which complimented the heartiness well and didn't overpower the fish.

The wakame salad is always good, as is the coconut ginger soup.  Order the house juice if they have it, it's wonderful.  And all of the desserts are home made.  There may not be a huge selection, especially if you are there in the summer which is low season, but you will not be disappointed in any dessert you order.  Her fruit tarts are incredible, so it the chocolate cake.  Last time, we had a key lime semifreddo that was perfect for a warm night with only the gentlest of breezes.

It was a last minute decision to go there 5 or 6 years ago, and has become one of the restaurants we absolutely have to go to now.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Summer, Meet Fall

Ever so slowly we are creeping into more fall like weather.  A couple weeks ago, Tennessee had a cold front come through and we some genuinely early fall-like weather.  It was beautiful!  It made me crave slow cooked meat and rich amber beer.  Luckily, it was right about that week when grocery stores started busting out the pumpkin ales and oktoberfests.  (We opted for the Sierra Nevada Tumbler... it was a good choice.)  The vegetables are still decidedly summer though.  That is how this dinner came about.  Beer braised short ribs, a fresh summer salad, and some cooked down kale with garlic and red onions.
 I didn't write down recipes, but the general concept for all of this is really easy.

The local grassfed beef:  Trimmed off the (rather excessive) layer of fat--it was their cheap weekly special so I didn't complain.  Liberally coat with sea salt and black pepper.  Sear really well over med-high heat. Deglaze with some beer.  Add a couple crushed cloves of garlic and a sprig of fresh rosemary.  Add some more beer, maybe?  Cover and cook over med-low for about an hour adding beer as necessary to keep it all moist; until the beef is tender and falling off the bone.  Turn the heat up to med to cook off the liquid and form a glaze.

The summer salad:  Fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and corn.  Fresh parsley and some lemon zest/juice.  A little olive oil, some plain lowfat yogurt, and salt and pepper.

The kale:  Caramelize about 1/2 an onion in extra virgin olive oil and/or butter. Throw in a little garlic and fresh thyme.  Add washed, chopped kale and a splash of liquid (stock, wine, beer....)  Cook until it is the desired texture.  ( I cook mine 8-10 minutes usually.)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tomatoes Baked w/ Olives & Goat Cheese

It is tomato season.  I have more tomatoes than I know what to do with.  This little thing was quickly whipped up and so delicious!  Three ingredients, two of which are easy to keep on hand, are all you need for a classy, unexpected side or appetizer.  I used gigantic tomatoes, but you could easily use smaller ones for fancy little hor d'oeuvers.  Firmer, fleshier tomatoes are best, but use whatever you have.

Tomatoes w/ Olives and Goat Cheese
1 lrg tomato
2 Tbsp chopped mixed olives (I had a Greek blend)
1 oz goat cheese

   Slice off the top 1/4 of the tomato.  Remove as much pulp as possible.  Turn upside down on a paper towel to drain for a few minutes.
   Stuff the tomato with olives.  Top with goat cheese.
   Broil, low, for 6-8 minutes about 8 inches from broiler (large ones).  When tomato (of any size) is warm, but not mushy, and goat cheese is starting to brown they are done.
   Serves 1.  (Obviously its a dish easy to multiply.)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Lentil Bake w/ Caramelized Onions, Goat Cheese & Tomato Olive Relish

This isn't as good as the Oasis original (see previous post), but it is absolutely delicious.  The original dish was garnished with a tomato jalapeno jam.  I didn't feel like going through the hassle of such a thing, so I opted for a fresher topping.  I had some nice mixed olives and, like everyone it seems, I am loaded down with tomatoes; they seemed to be the natural pairing with this.  The lentil bake is a perfect vegetarian main course or would be a great side to some sort of roast instead of potatoes.

Lentil Bake
1 1/2 C sorted, washed brown lentils
6 C water
1 lrg clove garlic
1 bay leaf
1 vegetable bouillon cube
2 med onions, thinly sliced
1/4 C dry vermouth
1 tsp minced garlic
3-4 oz goat cheese
2 tsp fresh thyme (1 tsp dried)
1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
2 egg whites
1/4 C shredded asiago or parmesan

   In a large pot, bring water, lentils, garlic clove, bay leaf, and veg bouillon to a boil.  Reduce to simmer (med-low), partially cover, cook 15-20 minutes until lentils are soft.  Drain, discard garlic and bay leaf.  Mash the lentils up a little.
   In a little bit of oil, cook onions over medium low until soft and brown (caramelized, it will take 15-20 min).  Add garlic, cook 1-2 min.  Deglaze pan with dry vermouth (or white wine).  Add to lentils.
   Add goat cheese, thyme, and salt to lentils.  Mix until cheese is distributed throughout. (Adjust seasoning to taste at this point.)
   Beat egg whites to stiff peaks.  Fold into lentil mixture.
   Pour into greased baking dish.  Top with asiago
   Bake 350 deg F covered for 15 minutes.
  Uncover, bake another 15 minutes, until cheese is browned.
   Serves 4 (main).

Fresh Tomato & Mixed Olive Relish
1/4 C chopped mixed olives
1/4 C chopped fresh tomato
2 tsp fresh chopped basil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar

   Combine ingredients, let sit together for at least 30 minutes.  The mixture may or may not need salt depending on the brininess of the olives.
   Serves 4

Monday, July 22, 2013

Roatan Oasis

I started a new job last week.  So far I love it, but it has a lot more lulls than the unnecessarily stressful environment of the grocery store.  Today, is rainy and dreary and uniquely lovely, but I can't keep my mind from wandering back to Roatan.  I keep reminiscing about the water, the sand, the people, and the food.

We were bummed when we found out Tong's was closed for the month due to ownership change.  The plan had been to eat there two nights.  So that was two nights we had to fill.  We asked our dive instructor of the week (and trusted local connection) where we should eat.  The first recommendation out of his mouth was, "Oasis!"

It is a little difficult to find, especially at night, because many of the cab drivers don't know where it is, because it is fairly new and it is technically in some people's house, but it was worth the hassle!  It is probably the most hipster joint on the island.  This place would have fit in perfectly to Nashville, except that everyone was tan and music was not the main topic of conversation.

The menu is based on what is available (in a very sensible manner, no pretension.)  When they are out of something, they are out.  No excuses made, some dishes are just that popular.  That was the case with the Szechuan pork (which we were all eyeing) the night we were there.  But that is ok, they had Szechuan chicken and it was absolutely delicious.  We also had a lentil, goat cheese, caramelized onion bake with jalapeno tomato jam that was heavenly!  Soon, I will attempt to recreate the light, souffle-like bake.  (They always have at least one vegetarian option, and will make vegan dishes when given prior notice.)

The atmosphere, like most island restaurants, is very relaxed.  Borderline too relaxed which leads to slow (though not unpleasant) service.  You learn to deal with that quickly though.  It sucks when you are hungry (which were very much so), but we ordered the house-made olive tapenade on garlic crostini to tide us over....  And then we ordered it again.

If you find yourself on the Caribbean island of Roatan, definitely make it a point to stop in at Oasis.  The setting is lovely, the portions are just the right size, and it is some of the most reasonably price food you could ask for.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Roast Chicken and Black Bean Baleada

(Apologies for the blog neglect.)

Early in June I made my long awaited return vacation to Roatan, Honduras.  It had been three years (two full summers!) since I had been on my beloved island.  This trip was extra special because I got to share it with my dad and Louis.  Damn, 4+ years of marriage and this was our first real vacation together!  I was so nervous he wouldn't be as infatuated with it as I am.  By the fourth day though, he was using the phrase, "The next time we come..."  My heart nearly flew out of my chest!

In all the years we've been staying in West Bay, we had never tried Celeste's.  It is literally just up the ally from the hotel we stay at, a 2 minute walk, but it just never happened.  This year I was determined to go and eat a lobster baleada.  Baleadas are sort of a free form burrito with a thick, fluffy flour tortilla.  Traditionally, they are filled with refried red beans, scrambled eggs, and cheese, some times with ham, chicken, etc.  They are probably the most iconic dish of Honduras, and some restaurants are elevating the humble food with fresher and more gourmet ingredients more suitable for lunch or dinner.

That lobster baleada was incredible.  Fresh lobster and homemade tortilla.  I'm not sure how to sell that better.

I don't have access to such tortillas here in Tennessee, and at the moment I don't have time to experiment with making my own.  So regular tortillas have to substitute.  You can make a good baleada with store bought tortillas at home, but it won't be the same, so clearly, you just have to go to Honduras at some point.

Roast Chicken & Black Bean Baleada
1/2 C diced onion
1/2 C diced green bell pepper
1/2 C diced (fresh) tomato
1 15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
~1 1/4 C shredded, roast chicken
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp cumin
2 tsp chopped cliantro
4 large flour tortillas
1 Tbsp salted butter
1 C shredded monterey jack cheese
salt and pepper to taste

In a little oil over medium heat, saute onion and bell pepper for 5-7 minutes, until tender.  Add tomato, chicken, garlic, black beans, and cumin.  Cook for ~5 minutes, just to heat through, really.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Toss in cilantro just before filling and serving.

Melt butter with a little oil over medium heat on a griddle or large skillet.  Griddle tortillas for about 2 minutes, until they get some color and just barely start to crisp around the edges.  Fill each tortilla with 1/4 of the filling, top with cheese, fold over, and serve.

Serves 4.  Top with sour cream (or crema), cilantro, and hot sauce, if you like.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Quick Vegetarian Pho

Lately I've been doing really quick throw together meals that can be ready in under 30 minutes. That means I have been using a lot of store bought, short cut products. Normally I stay away from such things, but since I took over the manager position of the health food/organic section at my store, I've been trying some really great products. Currently, I am in live with Pacific's line of boxed soups! Last night I used the veg pho base for a fast, light dinner.

Vegetarian Pho
1 box Pacific veg pho base
1/2 box Annie Chun's brown rice noodles, cooked
Fresh basil, cilantro, mint, and scallions
Bean sprouts
Crispy tofu
(Anything else you want)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Apple Butter BBQ Sauce

In my adulthood, I have come to adore barbecue sauce.  As a kid, I frequently avoided any of it unless I knew it had proven to be smokey and spicy without the slightest hint of sugary sweetness.  After awhile, all barbecue sauces began to disappoint me.  I spent a good part of my life sticking my nose up to it... which wasn't terribly difficult because I didn't eat a lot of meat during my teenage years.  However, now that I am in the throws of a deep affair with meat, smoking, and all things delicious, I have an addiction to BBQ sauce.  New formulas are constantly swirling around my head, and this version is a definite winner.

Like every... er... genius?  I came to the idea of using apple butter as the sweet component in my sauce while just blankly staring at the contents of my fridge.  Independent of outside influences.  Since I made this, I have browsed around the interwebs and found several apple butter barbecue sauces.  It doesn't seem to have caught on the way should have though.  (Apparently TGI Friday's has a version...?  I only go there when my friends want 2 for 1 margaritas, but I have not seen it on the menu.)

Obviously, quality ingredients are the key to any good meal.  I hit the apple butter jackpot with my aunt's homemade apple butter.  It is seriously the best I have ever had!  It is naturally sweet and tangy with a lot more apple flavor than any kind I've bought in the grocery store.  So, if you happen to know my Aunt Michelle, hit her up at the end of summer so you can make this perfectly.

Apple Butter BBQ Sauce
1 14oz can tomato sauce
heaping 1/4 C apple butter
1/4 C cider vinegar
2 Tbsp yellow mustard
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cinnimon
pinch clove
hot sauce (your favorite, I love Tabasco) and salt to taste*

   Combine ingredients except hot sauce and salt.  Simmer over med-low heat for 20-25 minutes.  Add salt and hot sauce.  Simmer another 5 minutes.
   Use as desired.
   Makes ~1 1/2 C.

I just added some shredded chicken to the sauce and cooked it for about 8 minutes... easy.  Delicious.

*I don't like to add hot sauce in the beginning of cooking usually because I find that it gets bitter.  For the salt, you probably won't need it if you tomato sauce has salt.  If it doesn't have salt, you don't want to add any until after the BBQ sauce has reduced.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tuna Steaks w/ Chipotle Lime Shimp & Avocado Salsa

Whew, I have emerged from a waist deep pile of fabric and costumes for a brief period of time.  Who knows what I'll get myself into after this, but for now I can enjoy all the freshness of spring weather and foods.  I made this dinner a couple weeks ago while weirdly daydreaming of the upcoming Jimmy Buffet concert and more understandably daydreaming about our fast approaching Roatan vacation.

Tuna Steaks w/ Chiptole Lime Shrimp & Avocado Salsa
2 5-6 oz tuna steaks (about 3/4 in thick)
Sea salt
Fresh cracked black pepper
Chipotle lime shrimp (recipe below)
Avocado salsa (recipe below)

   Salt and pepper tuna.  Sear in a hot pan over med-high with some oil for 3 minutes per side (med-rare).
   Top with warm shrimp and cool salsa.
   Serves 2.

Chipotle Lime Shrimp
1/2 lb peeled deveined shirmp
1 chipotle minced
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp sea salt

   Combine ingredients.  Let shrimp marinate for 30-45 minutes.
   Over medium heat, cook shrimp (excess marinade discarded) 2-3 minutes per side, until cooked through.

Avocado Salsa
1 avocado, diced
1 roma tomato, seeded and diced
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
salt to taste

   Combine ingredients, let sit for at least 15 minutes.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Mista Dale's Gourmet Mustard Slaw

After Tennessee's late but fairly brief stint at winter, spring is in the air!!  We have finally turned off the heat, and when we had people over a couple nights ago, we opened the windows to a breezy evening with only the slightest chill; it was fantastic.

tuna cakes w/ jalapeno mustard slaw
With nice weather comes one of my all time favorite activities, cooking out!  So I thought I would take a moment to share my newest condiment craze:  Mista Dale's Gourmet Mustard Slaw.  I met Dale and his wife at work while they were demo-ing their mustard slaw.  Not only are they some of the nicest people you will ever meet, they have a unique and delicious product that is incredibly versatile.  Obviously great on hot dogs, it is also wonderful on chicken sandwiches, with fried shrimp, and our most recent use of it, on tuna cakes.  It is slightly sweet, tangy, and had a gentle cabbage crunch that sings for summer barbecues!  Surprise, surprise, I like the spicy.  Even better is the jalapeno, but this variety seems elusive and is not always available.

Created right here in Nashville, I am lucky that I can buy this stuff at area Krogers.  But if you do not have a Kroger near you, or your local Kroger hasn't fully stocked their shelves with jars, you are in luck!  You can order Mista Dale's mustard slaw from the website!  Follow them on Facebook to find out where they will be demo-ing next and for great ideas.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Pre-Tournament Menu

Tomorrow the hubs has a Brazilian jiu jitsu tournament.  He registered for the 195 division (that is with the gi on).  That meant we needed to really watch what we at this past week.  He only needed to loose a couple of pounds which is no biggie, but if you weigh in over weight you don't get to compete at all.

So, to make sure everything was good and under control, we took a few easy steps:
1.  Limit carbohydrates.  I don't believe in cutting them out completely, and I absolutely do not believe in the no grain fad running amuck around here.  We stuck with whole grains like brown rice and quinoa.  Also, decreasing the amount of carb intake throughout the day so you are only eating a little bit at dinner.

2.  As little fat as possible, duh.  The hardest part about this is not always taking into consideration the amount of oil you use to cook things in.  I am guilty of it.  You slap some oil in the pan thinking "It's not like I am going to be eating all the oil".  But if you use more than necessary, your food will absorb extra oil that you don't need.

3.  Lean protein and lots of veggies. Also duh.  Lean protein is a given:  chicken breast, fish, etc.  I threw eggs and tofu into the mix to keep our healthy meals from becoming monotonous.  Yes, vegetables have carbs but I don't even think that counts.  They are nutritiously dense and have fiber which obviously fills you up and keeps you full.

4.  No dairy.  I love dairy and generally will not cut it out of a meal plan.  However, in a situation like this, dairy can quickly add fat and calories that you do not need.   This was not a strict rule for the entire day, I just cut dairy out of dinners.

Ok, so really all of those steps are pretty much common sense and "duh" rules.  But sometimes we all need a little reminder about what is going into our bodies.  So what did we eat this week?

Pre-Tournament Menu
Seared Salmon w/ a BBQ dry rub, quinoa, quick braised kale w/ caramelized onions and roasted garlic
Huevos Salad. It is a quick dinner staple in our house:  huge plate of lettuce, salsa, black beans, avocado, corn, and topped with a couple eggs.  I know it sounds odd, but it is like a taco salad; just with eggs instead of meat.
Crock Pot Chicken Cacciatore over brown rice w/ salad
Cauliflower Curry (no milk) w/ hard boiled eggs
Roasted garlic herb salmon, broccoli, & quinoa w/ artichokes
Tofu Stirfry over whole grain pasta

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Spinach, Bacon, & Smoked Gouda Quiche

This was the other half of my husband's birthday breakfast, along with sweet potato grits.  It may not seem like the manliest of dishes, but I have yet to meet a dude who doesn't like quiche (whether he admits it or not.)  Louis will happily tell you how much he loves it.  Egg pie with cheese and bacon?  What is there not to like?

Spinach, Bacon, & Smoked Gouda Quiche
1 9-in pie crust
2 C baby spinach, roughly chopped
4 slices thick bacon, cooked and chopped
8 large eggs
1/2 C milk
1/3 C shredded smoked gouda
salt and pepper

   Prick the bottom of the pie crust with a fork.  Pre-bake it at 350 deg F for 10 minutes.
   Add spinach, then bacon, and finally gouda to the pie shell.
   Mix eggs and milk, season with about 3/4 tsp salt and some freshly cracked black pepper.  Pour eggs over filling in pie crust.
   Bake at 350 deg F for 35-40 minutes, until it is set.  Let it rest for a few minutes before cutting.
   Serves 6.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Grits

I first ran across the idea of sweet potato grits over at one of my all time favorite blogs, The Chubby Vegetarian.  Several weeks ago, for Louis's birthday I made a version of them for breakfast.  I cannot even begin to describe to you how much my husband loves sweet potatoes.  Goat cheese is another of his favorite things, so I threw that in there too. In my opinion, the key to good grits is more water and cooking them longer than the directions on the package say.

Sweet Potato Grits & Goat Cheese Grits
1 1/2 C water
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C quick cooking grits
1 C mashed sweet potatoes*
~2 oz garlic and herb goat cheese

   Bring water, butter, and salt to a boil.  Add grits.  Cover, turn heat to med-low, and cook for 5-6 minutes**.
   Uncover and stir.  Continue cooking for another 4-5 minutes, stir frequently.  (If they start to get too stiff, add 1 Tbsp water at a time.)
   Add sweet potatoes and goat cheese.  Keep stirring and cook another 3-4 minutes.  When the goat cheese is fully incorporated, they should be done.
   Serves 4.

*Boil or bake one smallish sweet potato until it is very tender.  Mash it up (no skin) with a little bit of salt and  pepper.
**More often than not, I have issues with my grits boiling over.  To prevent this, use one pot size larger than you think you need.  Ex: For this amount of grits, I use the 2 qt instead of the 1 qt pot.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Hippie" Crust & Fresh Tomato, Onion, and Spinach Pizza

It took me awhile to decide what to post today; I haven't cooked anything overly romantic or sexy/love inspired lately.  Then, I briefly became very depressed with my life, because I learned that there is such thing as a professional glitter artist and I am not one.  Then it hit me.  We love pizza.  Pizza always makes me feel better and homemade pizza is perfect for any occasion in my opinion.  I guess you be over the top gross for Valentine's Day and make it into a heart, but I feel like might lead uneven cutting and a possible fight over who is getting more pizza.
This crust has become our favorite.  It came out of having all these random "health food" items and wanting pizza, but wanting something a bit healthier than a white crust.  It has been dubbed "hippie" crust.  It is nutty, chewy, and crisps excellently on the bottom.  Because of the whole wheat flour, don't expect it to be soft and doughy.  This crust is much denser than regular pizza dough.

Hippie Crust
2 1/2 C whole wheat flour
1/3 C wheat bran (or wheat germ)
1/3 C ground flax seed
1/4 C chia seeds
1 pkg yeast
1 Tbsp honey
1 3/4 C very warm water
1/2 tsp salt
~1 C better for bread flour*
~2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

   Combine whole wheat flour, bran, seeds, and yeast.  Add honey and water.  Mix.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes, until bubbles form.
   Add salt and half cup better for bread flour.  Mix.  Add more flour if necessary.  The dough will come together and form a ball that is slightly sticky.  At this point, turn dough onto a floured surface and knead for 5-7 minutes (maybe up to 10 minutes)  When the dough is no longer sticky and feels uniform in texture, it is done.
   Put oil in a large glass or ceramic bowl.  Roll dough in oil.  Cover bowl with a damp towel, place in a warm area**, let rise for 1-1 1/2 hrs, until doubled in size.
   Punch down dough, form into pizza (enough for 2), let rise for 15-20 minutes.
   Pre-bake at 400 deg F for 5-7 minutes.
   Ready for whatever toppings your heart desires!

*You need the higher gluten content of the better for bread flour to play off the heaviness of the whole wheat flour.  It gives the finished product a much texture.
**I like to preheat my oven to 200 deg F while making the dough.  As soon as it is preheated, turn it off.  This creates a nice warm, moist environment perfect for rising dough.

Fresh Tomato, Onion, and Spinach Pizza
3 C fresh chopped spinach
1/4 of a lrg sweet onion, very thinly sliced
2 C shredded mozzarella
1/3 C parmesan
1 1/2 C fresh chopped tomatoes (remove as much pulp as possible)
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp dried basil
2 tsp roasted garlic

   Combine sauce ingredients, spread on pre-baked pizza crust.  Top with spinach and onions, then cheese.
   Bake at 400 deg F for about 12 minutes, until cheese is brown and bubbly.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Venison Tenderloin w/ Walnut, Parmesan, Herb Crust

This little piece of meat terrified me.  No joke.  It is strange that a little over a pound of meat (2 tenderloins) has the power to reduce me to quivering procrastination.  Because venison has next to no fat, it can over cook in an instant. The second it gets a hair past medium, it is basically ruined.  Honestly, you don't really want to cook it past medium-rare.  I took a couple of deep breaths, relaxed, and took it easy.... and it couldn't have been more perfect.

If don't have venison tenderloin, this crust would be great on pork tenderloin, even beef or chicken.  It is earthy, bright, and fresh.

Venison Tenderloin w/ Walnut, Parmesan, Herb Crust
2 venison tenderloins (between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 lbs)
sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1/2 C freshly grated parmesan*
1/4 C walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 C chopped parsley
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lrg garlic clove, pasted
1 tsp dried rosemary
zest 1/2 lemon

   Combine parmesan, walnuts, herbs, garlic, lemon zest, and oil.
   Bring venison to room temp.  Liberally salt and pepper tenderloins.
   Heat a little oil over medium-hi heat in a large skillet.  Sear tenderloins on all sides.  It should not take more than 60-90 seconds per side. (I feel like small tenderloins have 3 sides.)
   Place tenderloins on a baking sheet.  Top with crust.  It will be loose, just press it down so it sits on top.
   400 deg F for 10 minutes for med-rare.
   Let it rest for 3-5 minutes.
   Serves 4.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cauliflower in Tomato Curry

Cauliflower is such an underutilized vegetable.  I am guilty of bypassing it most weeks in the grocery store.  I love it raw, but cooking it has always been tricky for me.  It takes a lot longer to get a good cooked texture than most vegetables so generally, I just don't bother.  However, I am trying to get better and expand our vegetable intake to something other than kale, spinach, and broccoli (our favorites... seriously, we eat more broccoli between the two of us than most 4 person households.)  I am also trying to expand my Indian food repertoire; this easy recipe fits both needs.

It is a great side dish to tandoori chicken, or perfect for a vegetarian (or vegan) main dish.  You could even add some chunks of chicken or shrimp to the sauce for a substantial one pot meal.

Cauliflower in Tomato Curry
1 small onion, diced
2 Tbsp garlic ginger paste (equal parts garlic and ginger)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp cracked fenugreek
1/2 C water
1 14oz can diced tomatoes
1 8oz can tomato sauce
1/2 serrano
3/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp freshly ground grains of paradise (or black pepper)
1 lrg head cauliflower, broken down into bite-sized florets
1 lrg bell pepper, cut into chunks (your favorite color, I used yellow)
1 tsp salt*
2 tsp oil
1/4 C regular coconut milk or cream (optional)

   Heat about 2 tsp oil over medium heat in a large pot.  Saute onion until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic-ginger paste, cumin, and fenugreek.  Cook about 1 1/2 minutes, stirring constantly so nothing burns.  Add water to deglaze pan, scrape up any bits that stuck to the bottom.
   Add the rest of the ingredients except the coconut milk.
   *I used no salt added tomato products.  Before adding any salt, taste the mixture and adjust salt as necessary.
   Simmer over med/med-low heat for about 30 minutes stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is the desired texture.  Add more salt if it is needed.  Add coconut milk or cream if you would like, simmer for 5 minutes.
   Serves 4-6.  Serve over rice.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Coconut Stir-fry Sauce

This sauce is very similar to the coconut curry sauce I made for some lobster.  There are a few minor differences, so I decided make it a separate post.  This sauce is great for any stir-fry, but I especially like it with bay scallops or crispy tofu.

Coconut Stir-fry Sauce
1 14oz can coconut milk (lite or reg)
1 C water*
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp chopped cilantro (optional)
1 tsp sriracha or chili oil (more or less to taste)
2 Tbsp cornstarch mixed with about 2 tsp water to create a slurry

   Combine all ingredients except cornstarch.

Saute your veggies and meat (that have been properly seasoned) like any stir-fry.  About 5 minutes shy of everything being completely done, add sauce and bring to bubble.  Let it simmer for 4-5 minutes.  Slowly stir in half of cornstarch slurry.  Allow to cook 30 sec-1 min to see how much the sauce thickens.  Add more of the slurry until the consistency is reached.  Serve over rice or pasta.

*If you are making pasta with this, use the starchy, salted pasta water.  Omit water from the initial sauce, when you add the sauce to the stir-fry mix, add a cup of the pasta water.  This is the best way to make the sauce.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Crispy Tofu

Obviously we eat meat in my house.  So you may be wondering why I am writing about tofu.  It's because tofu is delicious when handled properly.  Not only it is tasty, it is nutritious and cheap.  You can buy a 1 lb block of organic tofu for under $2.00.

I think the biggest mistake people make when venturing into the world of tofu is buying the wrong texture.  If you want a dairy substitute for smoothies or cold dips, go with silken.  If dinner is what you are looking for, choose extra firm.  Knowing how to cook it is the next hurdle.

For extra firm tofu, cut it into slices.  I usually cut 6 slices if I am putting it into stirfry (cut it into cubes after it is cooked); 4 if we are eating it on its own.  Take a clean dish towel folded in half, place slices on half and fold the towel over the slices.  I like to place a cutting board on top for some added pressure.  Getting some of the water out will help it crisp up and give it a better texture.  Let it sit for at least 10 minutes and flip the whole towel package over half way through; the longer it sits the better.

Season the slices with salt and pepper or a seasoning blend.  I have a prime rib seasoning that I took from work that is--ironically--really good on tofu.

In a large non stick skillet or griddle over medium heat 2 tsp-1 Tbsp of oil.  Place tofu in it and let it cook for a 3-4 minutes.  Flip it and use a large spatula to firmly press the slices down.  This helps more of the water cook out and ensures a crispy texture.  Flip and press several times during cooking.  Seriously, don't be afraid to press down hard and hold the turner there for a little.  you as much water as possible to cook out.  When both sides are crispy it is done!  For 6 slices, it usually takes about 15 minutes to get the perfect texture.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Deer Beer Chili

This looks like an average bowl of chili.  But it is special.

Very, very special.

Deer.  Beer.  Chili.

Three awesome things combining to form an ultimate trifecta of kickass.

If you don't hunt or you don't want to spend an outrageous amount of money of farm-raised venison (which can sometimes be found at specialty grocers like Whole Foods), I suggest you make some friends with guns.

Venison is absolutely delicious and incredibly healthy.  It is low in fat and cholesterol, but has all the good health benefits of red meat.  Many processors will sell the fully broken down, packaged, and hard frozen animals to walk in customers if the hunter doesn't pick up the deer within a certain amount of time.  You just have to pay the processing fee, which generally ranges from about $65-$80; you get a lot of meat, so don't be dissuaded by that price.

Deer Beer Chili
1 lb ground venison
~1 Tbsp bacon fat (or oil)
1 med-lrg onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 lrg cloves garlic, minced
12 oz beer*
2 can diced tomatoes
2 cans beans, drained (I used one can of black beans and one of a tri-bean blend)
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp ancho chili powder
3/4 tsp chipotle powder (optional, can sub 1/4 tsp cayenne for it)
3/4 tsp oregano (try to find Mexican oregano)
salt to taste

   In a large pot over medium heat, saute onion and bell pepper in bacon fat for about 5 minutes.  Add venison, break up the meat as it cooks.  When venison is about 3/4 cooked, add garlic and ~1/2 tsp salt.  Cook 1-2 minutes.  Add beer.  Simmer until beer is reduced by half.
   Add tomatoes, beans, chili powders and oregano.  Salt to taste.  Simmer covered for 30-45 minutes.  Uncover and simmer another 10-15 minutes.
   Serves 4-6

*Use a good, full-bodied beer that is fairly dark.  This is not the place for a lager, pilsner, or IPA.  I used Blackstone's Nut Brown Ale.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Turnip Gratin

Among the various wrapped gifts I received at Christmas, I was also given a plastic grocery bag full of turnips.  That may not seem like a very exciting thing, but they were much appreciated.  I happen to really like turnips, but in the grocery store these roots are often marred, tiny, and overpriced (for the quality you are getting.)  This meal was supposed to be my last indulgence of dairy (i.e. cheese) for a while.  Well, my subtle, unspoken resolution of eating less cheese is already a bust.  It is the morning of day 4 of 2013 and I have eaten cheese the past three days, with no hope in sight for today.

Turnip Gratin
5-6 med-lrg turnips
2 med potatoes
1 C-1 1/2 C shredded cheese (we used a cheddar/jack blend)
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
2 cloves garlic, minced (~2 tsp)
1 1/4 C heavy cream
1/2 C water
1 oz cream cheese
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme
pinch of cayenne
3/4 C crushed crackers (I used mini Bretons)
1 1/2 Tbsp oil or melted butter

   Peel and thinly slice turnips and potatoes.  A mandolin* is the perfect tool for this job.
   Heat butter over med heat and saute garlic for about 1 minute.  Add flour, whisk so there are no lumps.  Slowly add cream and water to flour and butter, whisk constantly while adding so lumps don't form.  Melt in cream cheese.  Add salt, thyme, and cayenne.  Cook over med heat for 7-8 minutes, stirring regularly so the dairy does not scorch.
   In a lightly sprayed baking dish (9x9 or small crock like mine, which is roughly 9x6x3) start layering turnips and potatoes.  After 2-3 layers, sprinkle some cheese.  Continue this process until the baking dish is full or you run out of vegetables.  Pour cream mixture over the top.
   Bake covered at 375 deg F for 30-40 minutes.
   Mix crushed crackers and oil.
   Top gratin with crackers after it has finished its first baking.  Return to 375 deg F oven for 20-25 minutes.  A butter knife should easily slide into the center of the gratin, that is how you will know it is done.
   Serves 6.
   We served this alongside green cabbage braised with bacon and Aidell's Roasted Garlic and Gruyere Chicken Sausages.

Kitchen Mandoline- an adjustable slicer that allows you to quickly and easily make very thin slices.  They can be veeeeery pricey, but decent ones can be found for about $30.  Mine is a really crappy $12 Walmart one that doesn't work so hot.  The blades could be sharper and the inserts that have the places tend to pop out of place if you are not careful.  But even that piece of shit can handle some turnips and white potatoes... nothing much harder though.  One of my next kitchen purchases will be a nicer piece so I can slice things thin enough to make chips in my new deep fryer!