Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hearty Beef Stew

Beef stew is rather...unattractive, no?  It's got so many good things going for it, but looks aren't one of them.  It's got a lot of heart, though (but let's be clear, there's no actual heart in this).  It's like the nerdy kid who asked you to prom and will later on be the CEO of some Silicon Valley tech start-up.  Note: I completely made that up as no nerdy kids I knew asked me to prom and later on became the CEO of a tech start-up.  I just like the idea of it.  The beef is tender and the mushrooms add an earthiness that only mushrooms can.  Carrots, onion, and potatoes round out the substance of this tomato-y, spicy stew.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lemon-Thyme Shortbread Cookies

Let's talk Downton Abbey for a minute.  Trust me, it's relevant to these cookies.  I am obsessed in a major way.  See, I love a good period drama.  And this isn't just drama, though there's plenty of it!  The great Maggie Smith makes me laugh with just about every scene she's in with her snark and utter snobbery.  And the fashion, oh me, oh my.  Sequins and beading and hats with the occasional fur piece.  I'd like to take this moment to clarify that I myself do not buy fur, but if I stumbled across a vintage piece I'd be all over that business.  Season 1 is on Netflix, and Season 2 is still on PBS for a few more days.  I don't want to give away details, but I think the way they've fleshed out certain characters (O'Brien in particular) was smart.  I haven't finished the second season yet, but I watched two episodes last night when I only meant to watch one.  It's absolutely captivating.

I think these cookies are the perfect accompaniment to a cuppa and a show about the lives of British aristocracy and their servants.  They straddle the line between sweet and savory with the addition of thyme and are perfect for a sunny (or cloudy) afternoon.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Shrimp Scampi Flatbread

 I feel like it took me a lot longer to get to writing this post than it should've.  Because this flatbread seriously takes about 10 minutes to make and 12 minutes to bake.  Aaaand I'm rhyming.  It's cool though. I've got a thunderstorm outside and a baby who is out cold.  Nap time is work time.

Let's talk about this flatbread.  It's everything I never knew I wanted.  A garlic-y butter sauce with local shrimp and fresh mozzarella.  I was really surprised by how much I liked it.  So let's get it started, k?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Glazed Orange Pull-apart Bread

Mercy me, I'm finally over whatever pestilence was lingering around my person, and the sun is out again.  Is there a better time to introduce a recipe inspired by something I loathed as a child?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pear & Ginger Pork Dumplings

Well I hope everyone had a lovely Valentine's Day!  Mine was full of pork dumplings and pretty tulips from Will.  Roses are nice, but he knows tulips are my favorite flower.  I know I love pork dumplings dipped into salty, spicy sauce.  Winner, winner chicken pork dinner.

See, I always feel nervous making Chinese food.  This might have something to do with my sister's mother-in-law being Chinese and making the best chow mein, fried rice, etc.  Somehow I've missed having her dumplings, but I'm pretty sure they're fantastic.  But I decided to put on my big girl panties and tackle something unfamiliar.
It's not too involved.  You need: Garlic, wonton wrappers, rice wine vinegar, tamari/soy sauce, ground pork, an Asian pear, ginger, and scallions.  If you can find round dumpling wrappers, by all means go for it.  I had these wonton wrappers leftover from the Brie Bites.
 First peel the pear and about an inch to inch and a half of ginger.
Grate the pear with a box grader to get long shreds.  I like to use the microplane for the ginger.
Heat a tablespoon of grapeseed or canola oil in a medium sized skillet.  Add the grated pear and ginger and cook over medium heat.  Add a little of the rice wine vinegar to it.
After about 10 minutes the juice from the pear should more or less cooked down.
Mince the garlic and chop up some scallions.
Place a medium bowl over a larger bowl filled with ice.  Using your hands, mix the pork and tamari together.
Add the scallions, garlic, and pear-ginger mixture.  Fold it in using a rubber spatula.
Once it's all incorporated we're ready to start assembling the dumplings.
Lay out some dumpling wrappers.  Four or five at a time is ideal.  Cover the remaining wrappers with a damp paper towel to keep them from drying out.  Scoop a rounded 1/2 tablespoon of the pork mix onto each wrapper.
Using a finger dipped in either water or a beaten egg mixed with a tablespoon of water, moisten the edges of the wrapper.  Fold one corner to its opposite corner and seal the edges.  I found it sealed best by rolling up the edges just a touch.  We don't want any filling escaping!
Repeat until you've used all the filling...or run out of wrappers.  That's kind of what happened to me.  I only had a few tablespoons left, so I just made meatballs out of the remaining filling.
Here comes the fun!  Now, I would recommend you do this in 2 batches.  In fact, if I'd made those last few dumplings I would've had to.  But I was entirely too hungry to even think such a thing.  So in a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of a neutral oil (canola, grapeseed, etc) over medium-high heat.  Add the dumplings and let them brown on the bottom.
Now the slightly dangerous part.  Science lesson:  Oil and water don't mix.  Hot oil and water splatter.  So do this carefully.  Go ahead and mostly cover the pan with a lid.  Pour in the water from the side and close the lid all the way.  I did it like this and didn't even get near being maimed.  Basically, just avoid pouring a bunch of water into an open pan with oil in it.  Life lessons.
When the water has evaporated and the dumplings are cooked, let them crisp a little bit on the bottom before serving them.  It won't take long, so take care not to burn the little suckers.  You worked hard!
My favorite dumplings are from Miyos, a restaurant in Columbia.  Part of what makes the dish is the awesome dipping sauce.  It's spicy and salty and soooo good.  I always order dumplings when I go there.  But when I've ordered them from takeout restaurants the dipping sauce is thick and on the sweet side.  Just disappointing.  I would like to thank Ming Tsai for his dipping sauce recipe, which I mostly followed.  It's basically equal parts rice wine vinegar and soy sauce with a little sesame oil and sambal.  I couldn't find sambal in my grocery store, so I used sriracha because it's close to chili paste.  The end result was just what I'd been looking for!  Long story short, I can have dumplings any time I want now, and so can you!

Pear & Ginger Pork Dumplings (makes 25-30)
Loosely based on Ming Tsai's Pork Dumplings

2 tbs oil, divided (grapeseed or canola)
1 Asian pear, peeled and grated
1 tbs grated ginger
1 tbs rice wine vinegar
3/4 lb ground pork
1 tbs tamari/soy sauce
1/2 c scallions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Wonton wrappers
1/2 c water

  • Pour 1 tbs of oil into a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add the pear, ginger, and rice wine vinegar, cooking until pear has broken down some and the juice has cooked down and evaporated.  Let the mixture cool.
  • Fill a large bowl with ice and set a medium bowl over it.  Combine the pork and the tamari in the bowl.  Fold in the cooled pear mixture, scallions, and garlic.  Set out 4-5 wonton wrappers.  Scoop 1/2 tablespoon of pork into the middle of each wrapper.  Using a finger dipped in water, moisten the edges of the wrapper.  Fold one corner toward its opposing corner, forming a triangular shape.  Seal the edges completely and fold the edges up slightly.  Repeat until all the pork is used.
  • In a large skillet with a lid, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat.  Add the dumplings in a few rows.  You may need to do two batches.  Let the bottoms brown, about 3-4 minutes.  Partially cover the dumplings with the lid and carefully pour in the water.  Close the lid and let the dumplings soften and steam, about 8-10 minutes.  If there is water in the pan when the dumplings have cooked, drain it.  If the dumplings need a little more water to finish cooking, add it a little at a time.  1/4 cup should suffice.  Allow dumplings to crisp on the bottom by letting them cook 2-3 minutes more on the heat.  Transfer to a platter and serve warm with a dipping sauce.

Monday, February 13, 2012

White Chocolate, Coconut, & Candied Ginger Popcorn

This popcorn was inspired by the movie Rio.  It's true, I enjoy a good kid's movie.  In fact, Up is also in my Netflix queue.  Once I figured out how easy it is to make popcorn, I wanted to make a batch to reflect the tropical setting of the movie.   Check it: White chocolate, coconut, and candied ginger.  I'm not what you would call a huge white chocolate fan.  I have no desire to eat a hunk of it like I do with dark or even milk chocolate.  But I do think it's nice mixed into things.  And with candied ginger?  Whew.  The heat from the ginger plays off the vanilla-y sweetness of the white chocolate.  Love.

Friday, February 10, 2012

SC Shrimp Creole

This is a meal my family eats regularly.  Shrimp creole is thick and spicy and tomatoey.  I'll be honest.  I'm not even going to claim this is authentic because I have no idea if it is.  I've had shrimp creole exactly once in Louisiana, and I don't remember it that well.  BUT!  It has some of the most important elements of that style of cooking and rocks my world to boot.  So there.  Nanny-nanny boo boo.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Back to Basics: Vanilla Poundcake Cupcakes

Sometimes you have to make something familiar and simple.  My mom's birthday was last weekend, so I took her request for the cake she wanted.  She wanted these vanilla poundcake cupcakes with vanilla buttercream.  My mom is the opposite of fussy, especially when it comes to food.  The simpler the better.  There's a beauty in the pure vanilla flavor these cupcakes possess.  Vanilla is not, I repeat, not boring.  I think you just have to appreciate that it's uncomplicated.  It's homey.  It's simply delicious.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Brie Bites

I'll be real.  I'm in total Valentine's mode right now.  Not that I'm, like, in love with it or anything.  That would be silly.  But there's so much food you can make for it!  It's a serious excuse to go decadent with either your friends or significant other.  I don't so much mind that it's a greeting card holiday because I like funny cards.  And when have I ever turned down chocolate?

But who says you have to do "traditional" things on Valentine's day?  For reals, going out to dinner can be a nightmare.  Plus, it's very rare that it lands on a weekend anyway.  I think it's much more interesting and thoughtful to cook.  And so what if you don't have someone special to spend it with?  Friends are special, too.  I'm really speaking to the ladies here because I don't think I've ever met a guy who lamented the fact he didn't have someone on Valentine's day.  Okay, okay.  I'm hokey.  I like to celebrate the people I love with food.  And if there's a designated day on the calendar to do it, I'm gonna have fun with it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Super Bowl Sunday 2012

Y'all, it's about that time again!  Super Bowl Sunday.  I must confess, I'm way more invested in college football than I am in the NFL.  Oh sure, I cheer for the odd team here and there.  I like the Saints because I really love New Orleans.  I like the Broncos because my grandparents used to live in Denver.  But none of that really translates into a diehard fan.  I still really like to watch football of course, plus I like the commercials just as much as anyone.  So I pick a team to cheer for for the night.  I also watch the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet.  Sooooo cute!

I remember the last Super Bowl where the Patriots played the Giants.  I cheered for the Giants because something really irks me about Tom Brady.  Probably his face.  I know everyone thinks he's sooo cute, but I just don't see it.  I mean, he's reasonably attractive (and he did land supermodel Gisele), but I can think of at least 10 other athletes I like better.  If David Beckham doesn't open his mouth and talk with his Mickey Mouse voice?  Game over.

So go Giants.  Hah.  If you're still deciding what to serve for the big game, let me make a few suggestions.
Fancy Taters- Make a big ol' batch depending on how many people you serve.
 Everyone goes crazy for Ham Rolls.  You might want to make extra, just in case!
When are Fried Chicken Tenders ever wrong?
Oh jeez, forgive me for this picture.  At any rate, no party is complete without some Pimento Cheese.  You can jazz it up with bacon and/or jalapeƱos.
Speaking of cheese, these Cheese Wafers like to fly off the table.
Oh my goodness, more cheese.  How do I survive? Feta Squares are lovely on their own or with chili.
For something sweet, try Chocolate Chip Cookies.  What's more American than a chocolate chip cookie?
Except maybe warm Apple Crisp.

No matter who you're cheering for tomorrow, have fun and be safe!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I Made Popcorn!

Oh, Punxsutawney Phil.  You saw your shadow, and now we're supposed to get 6 more weeks of winter.  If by winter you mean temps in the upper 60s and 70s with a few days of the 50s sprinkled in, then I believe you.  Because our winter this year has basically been our spring.  So yeah.

Anyway, let's get down to the nitty gritty here.  I love popcorn.  I've ruined many a dinner by eating vast quantities of buttery, salty popcorn.  Come to think of it, I've also made popcorn my dinner (or lunch) a few times.  So why have I never made it at home?  Oh well of course I've microwaved it.  But all the fake yellow coloring (um butter does not make popcorn yellow as we will soon see) and the chemicals/preservatives kinda freak me out.  And by the way, they totally don't bother me when I'm at a movie theater.  I'm a study in contradictions.  But as it stands, when I can make something myself, I usually like to do so.