Friday, July 13, 2018

In the style of the Shepherd

Around here, the little Akre crew can dig on some Mexican food. As children of the 70's, Neil and I are nostalgically fond of the good ol' American Tex-Mex ground beef taco with crunchy shell, cheddar, onion, tomato, lettuce, etc., you get my drift.  Make no mistake, I still make these kind of tacos every time we have one of those busy weeknights. I.LOVE.TACOS.

But, as we have aged and evolved, we have been fortunate enough to actually experience Mexico and myriad really, good, authentic Mexican restaurants and Mexican people here in the U.S.  As time has gone by, our knowledge (by "our," I mean Americans in general) of true Mexican food has gradually been realized.  True Mexican style tacos are something relatively new to many Americans, as many of our brethren still flock to the standard Tex-Mex "Somebody's San Jose" and order crap like the "Speedy Gonzales" or the ubiquitous "Lunch #3."  

One of my favorites is Tacos al Pastor.  I've always wondered about the "al" part of this name, so I checked into the history of this dish.  From what I've read, this dish was actually introduced to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants.  It was inspired by schwarma, also one of my favorite dishes, so this is all starting to make sense.  If you are unfamiliar with "al Pastor," it is a mixture of marinated pork, onion and pineapple served in a warm corn tortilla and topped with finely diced onion, cilantro and a squeeze of lime.  

So, as you can probably deduce by now, I like making stuff at home.  I recently got a shipment of beautiful boneless, center cut pork chops.  Pastor time!  It is surprisingly easy to make and so worth the small amount of effort.

Guajillos:  I use these for enchilada sauce, my tamales and now for this!
Chop up those finishing touches for your tacos

Boneless pork & pineapple in marinade
Draining off marinade

Cookin' up that goodness!

Taco al Pastor with homemade refried beans
Tacos al Pastor
5 dried Guajillo chiles
1 chipotle pepper 
1 med onion, chopped
1 can pineapple chunks 
1/8 cup vinegar
1 Tbs minced garlic
1/2 tsp cumin
1 lb (roughly) boneless pork, cut into small cubes
1 Tbs canola oil
Corn tortillas
Chopped cilantro
Chopped onion
Wedges of lime

1.  Boil about 1 cup water and soak chiles for about 10 min to soften.  Cool, then remove stems and seeds.

2.   Chop onion, strain pineapple and reserved the juice.

3.   Transfer guajillo peppers, chipotle pepper, half of the chopped onion, 1/2 of pineapple juice (save the rest for another use), vinegar, garlic and cumin in food processor.  Puree until smooth.

4.   Transfer mixture to saucepan and bring to a boil; cook until raw onion taste subsides, about 2 minutes.  If you want it spicier, add some adobe from the can of chipotles. Cool then combine in a ziploc bag with pork, remaining onion & pineapple.  Refrigerate and marinate at least 2 hours, up to 24. 

5.    Drain meat/pineapple mixture & discard marinade.  Heat a bit of oil in skillet.  Add pork and pineapple and cook until dark golden brown and cooked through, about 15 minutes. 

6.   Dry "fry" corn tortillas in skillet to soften.  Add meat, pineapple, finely chopped onion, cilantro and give it a good squeeze of lime.

I served our tacos with homemade refried beans. These are so simple, you'll wonder why we ever bothered buying them in a can.

1. Take a 30 oz. can of pintos and "lightly" drain them.
2. Heat about a Tbs oil and add a couple of garlic cloves.
3. When they are lightly brown, crush them up with a fork.  Or, if you prefer, just use minced garlic.  The point is to flavor the oil. 
4. Add beans, 1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp cumin, salt to taste.
 5.  Cook about 5 min until beans are heated.  Mash with potato masher until consistency you like.  Squeeze in some lime juice, stir and enjoy! 


Monday, May 14, 2018

Indian Quickie

Monday is "laundry day," right?  Well, as good as a big pot of red beans and rice sounds, I had no means to produce that today.  I did do a boatload of laundry, however.  No, for us, it was mommy's super quick Indian night here at the grand Chez Akre.

I am an uber-enthusiastic fan of the Indian "simmer sauces" found at Aldi.  These sauces are how I first introduced the Wunderkind to Indian food, which is one of her favorite cuisines, to this day. These jars of goodness simply call for you adding veggies and meat of choice and it's dinner time.  

I already had a baked chicken breast in the fridge, so I chopped that, chopped some fresh spinach, and half an onion.  For added protein, texture, etc. I also used 1/2 can of garbanzos. All I had to do for our dinner tonight was start a pot of Basmati rice, saute the onion, add my pre-cooked chicken, veggies and sauce and wait.  

I also had one more piece of naan (also available at Aldi) in the fridge.  I smeared on a thin layer of ghee, to add some flavor and popped it in a 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes, as my entree simmered. 

In literally minutes, we had Indian curry on our plates and in our mouths.  

 This is an incredibly easy way to introduce yourself or others to the flavors of Indian cooking.  Of course, doing it all from scratch is a wonderful adventure.  However, on a weeknight when nobody wants to spend tons of time in the kitchen, you can't beat this simmer sauce.  We've tried the Jalfrezi, Tikka Masala and the Korma and love them all. Couldn't be any quicker to cook and it's still an interesting and hearty meal without a whole lot of work.  Try it!  You'll like it!


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Kitchen Six: Seriously Good Food

We all know the phrases/sayings/cliches about how lucky we are if we end up with one good friend. I am fortunate to be able to say that I have 5, not counting my sister. I've explained this so many times to my daughter, who is at the age where she experiences the "friend du jour" concept. My true golden friends are all ladies I met in college. My friend and roommate at Wofford, Heidi, will attest to my freshman assertion that we were there to form "Big Chill relationships."  We succeeded.

So, this is the year that we all hit 50.  Except one December baby, who quietly already celebrated hers and then tried to con the rest of us into thinking it was this coming December. (You know who you are.) Heidi hosted Leigh, Lourdes and myself at her home in Atlanta this past weekend for us to reunite, laugh, cuss like sailors, drink like hobos and generally bask in the glow of our 50 year old awesomeness! (I'm still 49, btw.)

I could go on and on about the weekend, but you are here because you like FOOD.  So, get this...Heidi and her husband Lloyd, along with friends, have invested in a restaurant in their neighborhood of the big ATL. They've been in business for a little over a year.  Their executive chef,  Jason Jimenez, has been named as one of Atlanta's "Up and Coming" chefs. He creates a menu features 6 appetizers, 6 entrees, 6 desserts, every 6 days.  

Leigh, Me, Heidi, Lourdes


It's like going to Cheers, but a lot nicer. The interior is upscale, yet casual and comfortable and hip. The staff all seem to enjoy being there and were in tune with their customers. To say the atmosphere is friendly is an understatement.  And, from what I've been told, the goal was to create an environment for neighbors to see each other and enjoy some really damn good food.  Having been there, I can affirm that they have achieved that goal.

Ok, let's talk about the food.  The best part, right?  So, we clearly set out to really explore this menu because we almost ordered everything on it.  Per Heidi's recommendation, we started off with the hushpuppies and pimento cheese.

The pimento cheese was served with homemade crackers which were wonderful. They were firm enough to stand up to the cheese but yet tender enough that they just melted in your mouth.  The cheese was topped with pickled peppers and homemade bread & butter pickles.  The flavor of the cheese was prominent, which is sometimes lacking in other pimento cheeses I've sampled.  When my buddy Lourdes bit into a hushpuppy, I thought I was in that "When Harry Met Sally" diner scene.  Yes, I'll have what she's having too.  They were phenomenal.  Everything you want in a puppy...super crispy, not greasy, the inside was tender and then spiked with shrimp and peppers. To take it one step further, they were served with a poblano cream.  Ohhhh, Jason...

In the midst of all this was the GA mule.  I can't even remember exactly what ingredients the Kitchen Six folks used to make this cocktail, but suffice to say, you need to order one. I had a Hendrick's and tonic because I haven't had it in forever. 

Lourdes and her GA mule.  It's like I'm sitting next to a movie star.
 Our fantastic waiter informed us of a special salad not on the menu that day.  We opted to have one to share.  It was beautiful.  Mixed baby lettuces, apricots, toasted almonds and a blueberry vinaigrette.  Simply delicious.

Leigh and Lourdes both chose the Roasted Chicken because Heidi said she doesn't know "what he does to that chicken" but it's so good.  They agreed.  It was served with cute fingerling potatoes and a grilled lemon. 

 Heidi selected the Pan-Roased Red Fish which, honestly, I don't know if I've ever had. The skin was so delightfully crisp and the fish was perfectly cooked.  Another winner.

 I decided on the Glazed Baby Back Ribs.  It was a toss up between these and the Beef Short Ribs.  The baby backs were served alongside grits and with a side of sauteed apples.  As the lady placed my plate on the table, she said "These grits are gonna change your life."  Instantly intrigued by that prospect, I dove into those grits.  They were indeed fantastic and I do, in fact, feel much better about my world! The ribs were great; nice and meaty and lean (y'all know how I am about fat on meat.) I'm not sure exactly what the glaze was composed of but it doesn't matter because it was just delicious and I wasn't there to dissect anyone's recipe!

Now it's time for dessert.  We took Heidi's advice again and ordered the Decadent Cake, which is a flourless chocolate cake and the Vanilla Pot de Creme.  Ok, I'm not a huge sweet eater, but good Lord, these were good.

This is the Decadent Cake.  I put a dramatic filter on this picture to illustrate to you the sheer gravity of this cake.  You can just imagine this showing up in a film like Casablanca. It's like a bite of the best ganache-y fudge ever. Chocolate fanatics would sell their souls for this cake. Like the grits, this will change your life. 

The Vanilla Pot de Creme is also pretty life-changing.  Rich vanilla flavor with a nut crumble and whipped cream on top.  One of us, who shall remain nameless, practically licked the bowl. 

The moral of this story is this:  if you live in, around or near Atlanta, you should seek out Kitchen Six.  If you find yourself visiting Atlanta, you should seek out Kitchen Six.  If you know people in Atlanta, you should tell them to seek out Kitchen Six. I think my friends (and their friends) and this chef have created a very special environment and exceptional food.  I wish we had something like this place in my neighborhood.  But, we don't, so I'll just have to get to Atlanta more often.  Heidi, just keep my room ready.  

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Post Thanksgiving Re-purposing

Every Thanksgiving, there are the true "Turkeytarians" like my mom and my husband who start dreaming of turkey and all that it entails.  We've always joked that if my mom were on Death Row, turkey & dressing would be her last meal request.  My husband is the official turkey guy.  He brines it, he roasts it, he watches it, he even photographs it.  Yep, I'm not the only nerd taking pictures of food.

Personally, I'm very (extremely) lukewarm about turkey. But, I get it.  There are those like Mom and Neil who are all in. I know people like them think that a turkey, mayo and tomato sandwich later is like manna from Heaven.  Whatev.  Me, I'm the one thinking of all the ways I can turn that leftover turkey into something way more interesting.  Soup, enchiladas, pot pies, something.  This year, I decided on an old classic....Turkey Tetrazzini.

Start by cooking about 1/2 lb of noodles, whatever type you like.  I chose spaghetti but linguine or fettucine would work well too. 

Chop about 3 cups of leftover turkey.  I'm not a big fan of cubes of meat, so I chop mine roughly so the pieces are not uniform. Chop up a small onion and some mushrooms.  I used about 4 big mushrooms; you can decide how many is enough but not too much.

Go ahead and preheat your oven to 400.  Let's make the sauce now.  In a saucepan, melt about 3 Tbs butter.  Stir in 1/4 cup of flour and cook about 3 minutes or so.  Whisk in 2 3/4 cup chicken or turkey broth, 1/4 cup white wine, 1/4 tsp thyme and a pinch of nutmeg. Whisk until nice and smooth and continue to heat to boiling.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, whisking frequently.  Remove from heat and whisk in cream.  Set aside.

Melt about 1 more Tbs butter and saute onions and mushrooms.  Mix together turkey, noodles, onions and mushrooms.  

Then, add the sauce to the mixture...

Pour all into a casserole dish and sprinkle with Parmesan...

Then into that nice, hot oven to bake for about 30 minutes, until bubbly and beautiful.

 I served ours with some peas because I'm a freak about having something green on the plate.  Actually, the peas are good mixed into the tetrazzini too.  

I've also added pimento for color in past casseroles, which works well too.  I realize tetrazzini is probably the most 1950's type meal you can imagine, but it has stood the test of time for a reason.  It's creamy and gooey, there's pasta involved, it uses up that leftover turkey (or chicken), it freezes well and is a good dish to take to a sick friend.  Frankly, I find it more exciting than a leftover turkey sandwich.  But then again, I'm not a textbook Turkeytarian like Mom and Neil!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Spice Junction in my House

I think I've told you all before that my little one 

(well, not so little anymore!) loves Indian food.  I must admit, it makes me feel really good to make that statement.  My child loves Indian food! 

I decided to shake it up tonight with my own Chickpea Curry over basmati.  Basmati is easily my most favorite rice on this good Earth.  It's pretty, fragrant and it has its own distinct flavor. Regular ol' Southern rice really doesn't have a flavor. 

As many of you know, I am a freak-a-zoid-a-maniac fan of Aldi.  Did you know that Aldi carries naan? Yes, you heard me.  I managed to get the last package of it on my trip today.  I have been planning an Indian dinner and tonight we had Chickpea Curry on our menu.  

I think Indian food has a tough row to hoe here in America.  Most people hear the word "curry" and automatically think of curry powder.  Any food with curry powder in it is a 50/50. People either love it or HATE it.  My sister is in the HATE IT camp.  More accurately, she's in the seething loathing curry powder hating camp.  Hates the flavor, the smell, all of it.  But in Indian cuisine, "curry" really means any kind of stew or saucy dish, usually eaten over rice.  Think of our Southern field peas over rice.

The second obstacle that Indian food faces here in the U.S. is that most people are intimidated by the ingredient list.  Indians are the spice masters of the world.  But here's the deal, you probably have most of their spices in your cabinet and don't realize it.  And, if you take a few extra minutes, those spices will make a good dish great.  
 So, my chickpea curry was ridiculously easy to make but no one would guess that from the flavor and the appearance.  Here goes:  

1) Chopped 2 onions and sauteed in about 2 Tbs veg oil until they softened. 

2) Added 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 tsp minced fresh ginger, 6 whole cloves, a 2" stick of cinnamon snapped in half, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1/2 tsp cayenne, & 1 tsp turmeric. Cook all that together, stirring for about a minute.

3) Add 2 cans of garbanzos with their liquid and about 1/4 cup of fat-free half & half.  Stir/cook for about 3-4 minutes to heat through and soften garbanzos. Stir in about 1 cup chopped cilantro.

This dish took about 10 minutes to cook.  How easy can it be?  I warmed up the naan in the oven, cooked a pot of basmati, and <Boom> dinner.  And it rocked too.  And our house smells delightful.  And the only fat in the entire dish was 2 Tbs of veg oil to saute the onions and spices.  And, there is no reason for anyone to be intimidated by this recipe.  

Try it out.  Let me know what you think.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Teaching Service While Having Fun in Wonkaville

If you're a parent, you know how much time, energy, concern and enthusiasm goes into broadening your child's horizons. Personally, my husband and I have tried our best to focus on fostering the activities in which our daughter expresses interest and to nurture her strengths.  We also want to help shape her into a thoughtful, considerate, responsible and kind human. This makes service very important to us: church, Girl Scouts, volunteer work, just being nice.

Saturday, I had the pleasure of taking my daughter and my niece to the "Wonkaville" event at Town Theatre.  ("Willy Wonka" opens next week!) The theatre hosted kids and parents for a preview of the show as well as fun stations such as making chocolatey treats with Augustus Gloop and his mom, photo shoot with Willy Wonka himself, an interview with a reporter and Mike Teevee and a bubble gum blowing contest with Violet Beauregard and her mama.  (Betsy Jackson has some hidden talents!)

While all these events were nothing short of awesome, I was so impressed and delighted that the other station was a service project. You see, this event wasn't just to promote the opening of the "Wonka" show, but to benefit an organization called Feeding Children Everywhere.  The kids went up to the green room of the theatre.  After donning their hair covers and plastic gloves, they formed an assembly line and put together bags of lentil casserole kits to be distributed to kids/families in need. 

 Our kids had a great time doing the work but also learned so much about the importance of helping our fellow man in a very meaningful way.  It's so vital to teach our children that even though they are still kids, they are capable of helping others.  I'm not sure how many meals were assembled yesterday by the Wonkaville participants but I am certain it was a significant number.  For me, it was just wonderful to step back and watch my sweet girls get in there and make a difference.

Many thanks to Shannon Scruggs and all of the folks at Town Theatre for hosting this event!  And thank you also for doing so very much to promote the cultural health of Columbia and our children with the Youth Theatre Program, Teen Troupe and Summer Day Camps.  Remember, "Willy Wonka" opens July 21st!  I can tell you up close and personal, Columbia's Willy looks remarkably like Gene Wilder...Gene and Gilda love child??


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