Thursday, September 22, 2011

Eel (Unagi)

I am one of those people...let me go ahead and confess that: one of those people who had a bad experience with sushi, which has now put me off a bit.

I had come to a place in life where I was going to tackle sushi as a good type, and I did a really good job wading into the waters of experimentation and trial/error. But, then, there was this one time.

It could have been the prepackaged sushi.
It could have been the fact that I mixed it with German wine; with too much wine.
Let's just say that my friend's apartment probably never smelled the same ever again....I was mortified and completely closed to the idea of sushi...for a very long time. Just smelling it turned my belly to dark, ugly places. 

But, I am also one of those "if you fall off the horse, just get back on" kind of people (for most things; timing is always relative). So, I put myself in sushi-encountering moments. I had to get over smelling it first. Then, I would take bites and eat them slowly...carefully; just one slice of a roll. I did that for a long, long time.

And then recently, I tried Nigiri sushi. And LOVED it!
Its simplicity appeals to my still-nervous belly. 

My good friend, holding my hand and helping me wade back into the sushi waves, ordered Unagi; and I haven't been the same since. The eel is tender and lightly basted with a sweet sauce.



I tell my belly, "Hey, don't freak - it's only eel and rice and a tiny bit of seaweed. Nothing to get all "up in arms" over. Promise. High in nutrients that provide stamina; and what else is going to get you through the rest of the workday? You know that chocolate really doesn't; you just try to convince yourself of that one." And, miraculously, it seems to work.

Try it.
This is good stuff.
Definitely yummy-goodness.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

as simple as whipped cream


And sometimes, instead of enjoying the yummy-goodness myself, I hear of instances where others have enjoyed themselves thoroughly; and I can image having joined in the taste bud celebration.

In this instance, it was as simple as hot chocolate from IHOP topped with whipped cream.

And, who doesn't like whipped cream?!
(Okay, I know that there are some of you out there and for whatever reason, you aren't fans of the aerated creamy delicacy. I may not agree, but I can respect your position; and, if you aren't going to eat it, can I have your dollop?)

----

"Can I please have a hot chocolate?"

The conscientious waitress, knowing that there are some people who don't like whipped cream, asked, "Would you like whipped cream?"

"Yes, please!"

They shared a moment; a brief moment of intense eye contact. Secrets and dedication levels (to the secret society of serious whipped cream lovers) were exchanged. The waitress offered a barely perceptible nod and responded with a polite (as if nothing happened, no tryst was shared), "Yes, ma'am."

----

It was clear when she returned with the order that the subtext had been clearly understood.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Fatayas


Meet Fatayas.

Seasoned beef encased in a flaky pastry shell with caramelized onions in a special sauce drizzled on top. You can order these delectable takes on the traditional meat pocket (think about it, just about every culture has their own version) at Mawa's Taste of Africa in Morrisville, NC.

I enjoy Mawa's for both the choice and quality of African cuisine, as well as the very pleasant service and attention from the staff. They are always willing to take a newcomer and walk them through the menu to try and suit tastes; it happened on my first time at the restaurant, and I saw it happen again tonight when the waitress offered suggestions to my friend regarding which Chicken-based dinner she should try.

Although the flavors can sometimes challenge my pallet, I've never had anything at Mawa's that I didn't like. If you are adventurous and close to Morrisville, get there and eat well!

Order the fatayas - you will not be disappointed!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bavarian Chocolate meets Lazy Sunday Morning


Lazy Sunday mornings are among life's treasures, I am sure of it. The meeting of 1. the opportunity to engage in slow, happy non tasks, and 2. the desire to lavish in said non-tasks is a rare treat. Business days have us rushing to perform professional feats and Saturdays are abuzz with social commitments.

Sundays are often available for a little bit of a pause; if we are willing to heed the call.

I can't think of a better accompaniment to this particular Sunday morning's snooze-fest on the couch than the warm, sensual aroma of the Bavarian Chocolate coffee roast available at A Southern Season. You can be sure that this is one of those particular coffee roasts that taste as good as it smells.

Happy Sunday!



Saturday, September 17, 2011

Chicken Pie - Southern Living Style


Something about the morning air - cool and damp - whispered to me that this would be a perfect night for chicken pie. The little man was scheduled to be with his dad and it occurred to me that I wouldn't have to feign horror at the fact that there would be no vegetables present at the dinner table; or that the dinner wouldn't be at the table, but eaten snuggled on the couch. 


The chilled breeze floated across the back of my neck and as I bent my head to stretched with it, the craving of buttery rich crunch meeting creamy chicken overwhelmed me. I knew exactly which recipe I would make.

There's an old Southern Living recipe that makes a splendid meal, one that would target this craving directly. I remember it fondly as one of my first experiences with chicken pie in North Carolina as a child.

I found an archive link:
http://community.southernliving.com/archive/index.php/t-6135.html

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tiramisu Parfait at Barnes & Noble


"You will want to lick the plastic when you're done," he said so lustily that I was afraid that I didn't hear him correctly.

"And, if you don't want to; I will," he declared.

Wow. This had better be amazing then, I thought.

I was at the cafe area of a local Barnes & Noble, already tired from the long day, but committed to a 4 hour editing session with my good friend who is in the process of writing a series of novels. I needed a caffeine break and headed to the line so that I could order some sort of Starbucks-esque beverage to keep me truckin' through the content. I came back with this delightful little parfait in addition to a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

I have a weakness for tiramisu and will try a new version of this delectable dessert whenever I have the chance. He was enthiastically in favor of my choice: "that is sooooo good!"

I wasn't expecting it to be that good. I don't have a ton of faith in prepackaged dessert items. They look nice, but don't often deliver when it comes to quality of product and/or taste. I would much rather have a slightly sloppy chunk of tiramisu served from a pan in the kitchen of some old Italian lady...but after a long day, I figured anything would be better than nothing.
At least, I hoped it would be.

I am happy to report that my fears were unfounded.
It was fresh and creamy; moist, but not overly wet. The flavor was exactly as tiramisu should be - coffee and cocoa meet buttery lady fingers layered in smooth cream. Wow.

I love it when I am wrong...in circumstances like this.

If you find yourself relaxing at a Barnes & Noble this weekend, treat yourself.
It is my opinion that you won't be disappointed.

And I won't hold it against you if I glance up and see you licking the plastic.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sweet Tart Martini

This single mommy scored a date night this past Friday and decided to use her Groupon for a happening, local Martini and Tapas bar: Dick & Jane's.

Dick & Jane's is located on Clay St. in downtown Mebane, NC and has all the charm that only a local downtown establishment can deliver. They recently expanded their Martini menu - not, mind you, that it was lacking in any way - they are just on top of the fact that people like variety.



Meet the Sweet Tart: pineapple meets sour pucker in a way that resembles reliving your childhood candy binges. And, as you can see, both Dick and Jane are serious about providing a generous dose of martini-love, however you order it: sweet, tart, berry or creamy.

I can usually only handle two of their martinis; and that's if I've got time to sit a bit and run my mouth (usually not a problem, since many of my friends support this particular local business).

This particular night was a 3 martini night...it was a date, remember?





Apple Rolls

I promised people at the party on Saturday night as I was leaving early, small child in tow, "Sure. Come over tomorrow morning, as early as you can manage after staying up late. We'll be up. I will have fresh coffee and some sort of apple-based yummy-goodness."

At this point in my experience with the apples, as many people as I can invite to come over and help me eat, the better I will be for it. These apples, cooked however I choose, require a decent amount of sugar added; and I've got a pair of tight, sexy jeans that I am trying to get into this fall season.

Sunday morning came too early for me. Thank goodness the kid saw fit to remind me that I needed up get up early and get things started. His method is tried and true: jumping on my bed works every time.

And so, with the little man settled into a Lego kind of morning, I started a pot of coffee. I heaved the never-ending bag of apples on the tall kitchen stool and started peeling with a pleasant resignation. It is always easier for me to engage in the grunt work when I know that I will be able to share the outcome with people I love.

The guests started trickling in...
I had apple pie and apple butter ready. The apple crisp was in progress. And I was marinating on how to incorporate the crescent roll dough in my fridge to create something fresh and warm. I was already a little tuckered, so I chose the obvious. Roll up some marinated apples in the dough and bake.

Done and done.

It dawned on me that I was going to have to chop the apples pretty fine. Crescent roll dough is completely baked within 11 to 15 mins. I didn't want to have a crunchy effect because the apple pieces were too big without enough time to cook through; and neither did I want to have overdone dough.



Alize Apple Rolls with Cinnamon
This portion of apples was mixed in a bowl with some powered sugar and Passion Alize. Decently generous spoonfuls of apples were placed on a rectangle of dough (I pressed 2 triangles together, patted them down and cut rectangles instead) and rolled up as best as possible.

Good thing about morning-after-party breakfast guests is that they aren't too worried about how pretty the food looks; they just want it to taste good.

The rolls were drizzled with the Alize-sugar liquid left in the bowl and then sprinkled with a enthusiastic dusting of cinnamon.

Baked for approximately 12 minutes, these were a hit!



Cinnamon Apple Rolls with Sugar Dressing
This portion of apples was mixed in the bowl with cinnamon (very generous dusting) and powered sugar. I drizzled just a tad of half & half to make a sauce of sorts. The dough rectangles were first dipped into the sauce at the bottom of the bowl and then filled with apples. After baking they were drizzled with a powdered sugar sauce.

These were good as well; a little too sweet for my Sunday-morning tastes, but if you need that sugar high to get you rolling, I would definitely recommend this option.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shelby’s Mexican Dip (AKA - Deliciousness)


I visited a friend of mine (an old college roommate from Freshman year - Go UNC!!) during the late winter and spring of 2009 - clearly, it was an extended visit. I was going through some hard times and needed to clear my head. I was trying to figure out the path ahead of me; trying desperately to see the forest, instead of drowning in the trees. 

She was kind enough to take me in and let me cry and rage; and, well, mooch. 
I didn't have a job and I was doing my best to contribute to the household responsibilities; but she was definitely succeeding in taking care of my temporarily lost soul, which included feeding my belly as much if not more than my heart. 

So, when you ask me what is on my list of comfort food, Shelby's Mexican Dip will be near the top of the list. This delicious appetizer, often-turned-meal, provided sustenance on several occasions as she helped me talk through my heart-hurts and clear out the debris from my life-path. 

 I will forever be thankful that she was there for me; and that she fed me so well. 

The following content has been published with her permission. 


Shelby’s Mexican Dip
(AKA - Deliciousness)

Ingredients:

1 Can Old El Paso Vegetarian Refried Beans
Appx. 8-12 oz Daisy Brand Sour Cream
Old El Paso Taco Seasoning
Shredded Lettuce
Kraft Mild Finely Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Tomatoes
Black Olives
Old El Paso Green Chilies
Old El Paso JalepeƱos

I will caveat that I have never measured any of the ingredients for this recipe in the 15+ years I've been making it. However, I always stick to the same brand (Old El Paso) for most of the ingredients (I usually use the Mario Black Olives, but didn’t have those today, and I’ve used the Ortega green chilies with no noticeable difference; the rest are always the same). I attempted to take note of how much I used today, and it was delicious - Jason commented that it's one of the best ones I've ever made :)

Cook the refried beans until heated through in a pot at low/medium temperature.
Spoon into a 9” pie pan or similar serving dish until spread evenly. I do not do a thick layer. Refrigerate until cool.

Mix approximately 8-12 oz. of sour cream with Old El Paso Taco seasoning. Again, I have never measured this out, but I had a 16 oz container of sour cream today, and I used a little more than half. I believe this is where the magic happens. I don’t know the exact measurement of the seasoning - I have the large 6.25 oz container of Old El Paso Taco Seasoning at all times in my pantry for these occasions. I just shake the seasoning onto the sour cream and blend together until the mixture is a beautiful, light peach, orange color. I did a lot of shaking. I imagine it's at least a tablespoon or two...give or take. You can do this to taste…and check the color!

When the sour cream and taco seasoning mixture is perfect, spread over the cooled refried beans. Top with a thin layer of shredded lettuce. Then top with a generous layer of cheese.

Here are the reasons I do not call it a “Seven Layer Dip”: You add what you want from there - just chop what you have! I usually load ours up with everything if we have it all! Tomatoes, green chilies (I had the whole ones on hand today and cut them, but you can buy them pre-diced), black olives and **most importantly** jalapenos (we love them, so I used about 8 sliced ones from the jar and diced them up). This is a recipe for deliciousness. Refrigerate until you are ready to eat.

We have Tostitos Restaurant Style Chips tonight, but the dip is a little thick, which makes the chips break. Round chips and Scoops work well, but I’m not a huge fan of Scoops. We’ve enjoyed the dip with Mission Brand Tortilla Chips as well – they don’t break as easily.

**Alternatives** - We have also made the dip where we cook some green chilies in with the refried beans. Super delish if you want to try this.  We’ve also tried it where we have a cheese layer on the cooled refried beans…then lettuce, then more cheese. Let's be honest, you can't have too much cheese!

**Why Guacamole is Not Part of This Recipe** I know tons of people do a “Seven Layer Dip” with guacamole. However, I love this recipe as is, and personally, I love guacamole so much on it’s own, I don’t want to mix the flavors!

Enjoy...and know in advance that this is highly addictive and that husbands have been known to eat whole pans on their own, so my advice: make a second batch :)

~Shelby

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bring on the MEAT

Enough with the apples, right?
I know. But, there's been a lot of them around. I can't let them go to waste. There are other apple-based projects in the works (apple crisp and apple butter, to name a couple), but I'll come back to them another time.

Besides, I've got to give my hands a break. All the peeling and chopping has got my wrists and knuckles a bit sore. I might need to stage a party - BYOP: Bring Your Own Peeler.

There's been several instances of yummy-goodness that have nothing to do with apples. So, let's take a look at one of those. Literally.


What you see is dinner a couple of Saturday nights ago.
These steaks were purchased at the meat department at Walmart with the intended purpose of meeting the heat of the porch grill. The man, i.e. resident grill master, was suppose to handle the meat while I took care of the veggies; but I got an unexpected surprise when he walked back into the kitchen with a resolute, "there's no gas."

WHAT?!

Oh, it was so sad. Beautiful, chunky slabs of beef without a working grill...tsk, tsk.
I really wanted this meal to be lovely and delicious. I was with a couple of friends away for the weekend, and we had opted to eat in instead of making reservations on one the local winery-restaurants nearby. I'll admit, I felt a little bit of pressure to provide an above average meal.

I don't really have experience with broiling, but I knew immediately that was the best alternative available. I had already planned to roast the veggies in Olive Oil with salt and pepper - simple and delicious. I could have sauteed the squash, which is the best option for squash in my opinion, but there was no real butter in the house.

(Again just my opinion, but squash prepared in a hot pan is only best with real butter in the mix.)

So, I rummaged around the kitchen to make-shift a boiler pan for the steaks and placed them on the highest shelf in the oven. The veggies went on the lower shelf on a cookie sheet. And I kept my eye on things -- that's really the only secret I can offer. I didn't know what kind of time I should be employing and didn't have the means to look it up online. We were in a cabin in the VA Mountains. It was a remote weekend away (a sometimes very necessary thing, when one's job is being connected 24/7).

When they looked brown and the fat was cracklin' a bit, I pulled out the pan and flipped them. I also conducted the touch-test, to see how much "give" the meat had...hoping that somehow, my fingers would translate the amount of "give" with how pink in the innards were.

Rough estimate was that I had the steaks under the broiler for about 6 mins on each side. The NY Strips eneded up medium to medium well. The Rib Eye steaks were medium to medium rare.  And, magically, everyone was happy with this outcome.

I look at this picture and my mouth immediately waters with the want of meat.
It could be the influence of my werewolf friends starting to affect me, finally.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Apple Pie #2 - Citrus

I was in pie-making mode i.e. getting ready for a evening birthday party. My RSVP included some apple-based yummy goodness and pie was the next item to tackle on the list (applesauce and apple crisp have already been checked off).

I am a fan of options. I see no point in bringing two apple pies with the same flavoring to a party, so I decided to deviate from the recipe just a little bit the second time around.

(For the typical Cinnamon Apple Pie run-down, check out the previous blog post.)

I've got a couple of interesting leftovers on my counter: a net of limes (which were used for Tequila shots recently) and some Passion Alize.


I am a mad-daemon when it comes to using leftovers. There's no need for good food to go to waste. So, I decided to make a citrus based apple pie...sort of. I used the same recipe base as before:
  • 1/2 cup sugar and 1tsp cinnamon mixed together and poured over the apples...
  • and then to make the topping its 1/2 cup sugar, 3/4 cup flour and 1/3 cup butter mixed with a pastry blender til it resembles a course meal and sprinkle over apples...
  • bake at 400 for 40-50 min

Again, there was no real commitment to measuring.
I added the heaped pile of peeled and chopped apples from the shell into a bowl. Added sugar and freshly squeezed lime juice and a decent pour of the Passion Alize. That mixture was dumped back into the shell (another 9in frozen pie shell from Walmart. It is VERY safe to say that most all pies - at least in the near future - will be baked within these pre-made crusts. Don't even get me started on my abysmal experience with pie pastry making.).

Using my Kitchen Aid, I mixed up the sugar, flour and butter. I added more lime juice. And carefully dumped (having learned my lesson from topping the previous pie) the topping onto the heaped pile of apples. There was, again, some strategic placing involved.

This pie was also baked on top of a cookie sheet.
Again, points for me, since it also bubbled over a bit and dripped onto the pan.


45min in the oven. And, I am not going to lie... both pies were in the oven at the same time, which worked perfectly.

The reviews were favorable for this version of apple pie as well. It was a little sweeter due to the Alize, no doubt. I could see adding orange juice to the mix, if Alize isn't a leftover you typically have sitting, collecting dust on your counter.

I had a healthy helping of both pies tonight; and liked them both. I think I was so relieved that they weren't a disaster...and that my taste-buds were doing a happy dance, that I couldn't much decide which was better. Seemed almost overkill to....

I left that to the critics at the party. And they seemed to have no problem falling on top of their faves, once they had tasted the both of them. 


Apple Pie #1 - Cinnamon

As I've mentioned, I've not had a lot of previous success with apple pies. But, what are you going to do with a ton-load of apples?

Pie is really one of the most basic and widely-excepted options. I mean, let's be honest, there aren't a lot of adults that really go ga-ga over a bowl of applesauce.  And there's only so much of it that me and my kid can eat.

So, it was time to buck-up and own the pie situation.
I pulled out my references and asked a friend for her pie filling recipe. She handed over one of the most de-lish apple pies during a recent Holiday season, and I knew that whatever directions she was following would be the best place to start.

  • 1/2 cup sugar and 1tsp cinnamon mixed together and poured over the apples...
  • and then to make the topping its 1/2 cup sugar, 3/4 cup flour and 1/3 cup butter mixed with a pastry blender til it resembles a course meal and sprinkle over apples...
  • bake at 400 for 40-50 min

I was in a rush. I had a car situation that delayed the start of my baking-fest and I had evening party plans. My RSVP to this event included some sort of apple-based yummy-goodness. So, my arrival without said yummy-goodness was not an option.

Being in a rush means that I didn't do a good job measuring. Be warned: if you want to repeat this...you've got to grin, bear it and be adventurous with your measuring.

I used a 9in frozen pie crust purchased from Walmart. I peeled and chopped enough apples to fill the pie shell with a heap o' apples. When I had a good mound, I poured them from the shell to a bowl. I added the sugar (ok, I did measure that...1/2 cup as stated above) and a enthusiastic poof of cinnamon. I stirred until the apples were brown with spice and then added them back into the shell.

The crust was prepped with the help of my Kitchen Aid.
I added approximately 1/2 cup of sugar and 3/4 cup of flour (as stated above). There was another enthusiastic poof of cinnamon and a big fat pad of unsalted butter. It seemed a little dry, so I added a sprinkle of Half n Half. It was a soft "course meal" as my friend describes above. I figured it being a little soft wasn't going to hurt anything.

And I didn't really sprinkle it on top...I dumped it - as best I could. The apples were heaping over the shell already. So, it was more of a dump...which was then strategically placed. I knew the apples would cook down, having had the experience of already making them into sauce; so I knew that the filling would most not likely be heaping after it was done.

I placed the pie onto a cookie sheet, I didn't want overflowing sugary-apple juices to drip onto my oven surface. Cleaning that goo would be torture. (By the way, that idea was inspired by the gods, because there was definitely a decent amount of dripping and cookie sheets are A LOT easier to clean...just let 'em soak for about 10 mins and you're golden).



And, so, 45mins later, I had a brown, crispy topped Cinnamon Apple Pie out of the oven and packed ready for transport. The heap most certainly leveled out.

The reviews were favorable. I sighed with relief. I thought it was pretty tasty as well.
And, thank goodness, because there are more apples still....and pie will happen again. Soon.





Best Air Freshener Ever

Honest confession: I've never had much luck baking apple pies.

But, as you know, I've got a ton-load of apples that need to realize their yummy-goodness potential; and what is more natural than investing time and love into making Apple Pies?

I asked a good friend for her recipe - not for pie pastry: I've only had disaster come from that engagement. I wanted her filling recipe. I remember the pie she gave me one year during the Holidays - absolutely scrumptious. She obliged.

And so, I've got the latest group of peeled and chopped apples in the oven; and it occurs to me, that there is no better air freshener than the smell of something amazing baking in my kitchen's oven.


Pie #1 -- Standard Apple Cinnamon
Apples, sugar, cinnamon with a cinnamon-based topping (flour, sugar, butter, cinnamon and milk)


Pie #2 -- Apple Citrus
Apples, sugar, lime juice and some Passion Fruit Alize with a lime juice topping (flour, sugar, butter and lime juice)

Hopefully, they will taste as good as they smell.
I'll let you know.