Saturday, January 24, 2015

We Love Dumplings!

 I started making wontons back in high school.  My mom had come across a recipe for "Tex-Mex Wontons" and we made them for pretty  much every party we hosted.  In essence, it was taco meat folded into a wonton skin and fried. They were awesome.

After college, my friend Susannah showed me how she makes her famous dumplings.  You may call them potstickers. Do you know the reason they call them that? If you steam a wonton skin, it becomes soft, pliable and kind of gummy.  So, they will stick to a pot in a heartbeat unless you know what you're doing. So what do you do?  You fry the bottoms of your dumplings in a thin layer of oil until they are crispy.  Then, carefully (very, very carefully) add water to the pan and cover it quickly to steam.  The fried bottom keeps the dumpling from sticking to your pot.  Skip this step and you have one stuck-to-the-pot fiasco.

So, ever since Susannah taught me this technique, I've been making my own.  They are ridiculously easy and so darn tasty.

Tonight's batch started with about a pound of ground pork.  I grated ginger and garlic over the meat, added chopped green onion and chopped water chestnuts.  Then I added just a little soy sauce for flavor and mixed it all up with my hands. 

Then, I placed about 2 teaspoons of meat into the center of my wonton wrapper, wet the edges with water and just twisted them up.  

Like I said, heat a thin layer of oil in a skillet with a good fitting lid.  Fry the bottoms of the dumplings until they are browned and easily lift from the skillet.  Next, add about 1/4 cup of water.  I shield myself with the lid as I add the water to prevent spatter and then cover it quickly.  Let steam a couple of minutes and that's all she wrote.

I like to mix up a dipping sauce of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and some sliced green onion.  Simple and delicious.

Tonight, I served the dumplings with a vegetable fried rice, using peas, carrots, green beans, onions and scrambled egg.

This is a great way to spice up dinner at home and you can make big batches and freeze these little babies for another day. And, just like stir-fry or fried rice, you can make your dumpling filling with pretty much whatever you have available: ground pork, turkey, chicken. Ginger & garlic, green onion, carrot, bean sprouts, you name it.  Don't let this simple dish not make its way into your home.  So very easy and something interesting on the plate.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Julie & Julia Project

Who doesn't love the movie "Julie & Julia?" If you're a cook, I think you have to love it. If you eat, you have to love it.  Am I right?  As a kid, I didn't watch much Julia Child. I remember just thinking that she was a frumpy, shrill-voiced old grandma type, which didn't interest me at all. However, my husband loved watching her so his impression is quite different. What this movie did for me was to educate me to what a truly unique, interesting and forward-thinking woman she was. 

After watching it yet again recently, I got to thinking about another cookbook of mine.  I have referred to it before. It's called Dinner Tonight and it was published in 2003 by the people.  

I was selling a house for a lady and went by one day to check in on her.  She had begun packing her house up and in her dining room I found stacks and stacks of cookbooks up against the wall.  When she said she was throwing them out, I said "Whoa, lady, back the truck up!"  You could hear the squeal of the brakes in my head.  Throw away a cookbook?  What foul blasphemy is this? So I rescued this one and a few others from the stacks and couldn't be more happy about this fortuitous encounter.

This cookbook is my super-#1-fandango-favorite.  If  you're unfamiliar with, go look it up now.  Real, regular ol' people like you and me post their recipes on the site. Once one of the rest of us make it, we rate & review it.  So back in 2003, the owners of the site decided to publish the highest rated recipes on their website.  There you have it. What I love about this book is that it's a collection of their best. Every recipe I've tried has worked and has been really awesome.  This is what lead me to decide that I will make any recipe in this book, even if it doesn't sound all that good at first glance.  I learned this lesson with the "chicken breasts Pierre."

One of my recents was "blackened shrimp Stroganoff." 

I went light on the blackening because of the little gourmand, but next time, I'm going to ramp up the spice.  I loved this dish for a few reasons.  First, so often when I think I'd like a hot, creamy pasta, this is what I see in my head.  Delicious shrimp with tangy sour creaminess, capers, roasted red pepper all tangled up in some noodles.  Add a hunk of crusty bread, maybe a little Caesar salad on the side and you have the perfect pasta supper.  The blackening seasoning paired with the creamy Stroganoff sauce is a sublime marriage of flavors that probably would have never thought to put together. And, of course, you can never go wrong with shrimp!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Our Low-Key New Year's Eve

I am not a NYE fan.  I was somewhere in my 20's when I realized this. For some reason, New Year's Eve has always made me think of all the people I knew who are no longer here. So, that's one reason.  Then, at some NYE "celebration" on the rooftop at the Vendue Inn in Charleston, I realized that the only celebration was the bar owner's bank deposit he'd be making the next day while I was here in this crowded ass bar full of drunks clamoring for their free glass of champagne.  As I raised mine to my lips, I instantly exclaimed something like "what a ripoff!" as I realized that I hadn't been given a glass of champagne, but rather a glass of Asti Spumante.  Obviously, I wasn't expecting a glass of Dom, but at least a cheap champagne. Asti is rank.  Asti doesn't belong on this planet.  Asti must die.  Free glass of this crap? Happy Freakin' New Year.

Then, of course there are the drunks to contend with.  Not only do you have to deal with them in person, but then wonder if one of them will take you out on the way home.  Plus, who wants to roll the dice on a random license stop or some cop blue lighting you on a missing tail light? All of these examples illustrate why I really don't care for New Year's Eve.

Instead, we prefer to cook good food, drink wine and blow shit up in the street (fireworks, friends.)  We are fortunate enough to live about 1/4 mile from a 365 day/year fireworks store. So, we hit Jim Casey's and stock up on as much fire power as we can afford (justify.) My child talked me into 3' long sparklers.  Sparklers? I like stuff that shoots up in the air and blossoms.  But I said ok, then much to my chagrin looked at the receipt in the car to realize the kid had talked me into $7 sparklers.  Oyyy.

So, on to the food.  We did a simple yet delicious dinner this year.  I have fallen in love with Paul Prudhomme's "salmon seasoning."  It's just so good and it makes the salmon quick and easy to cook and packs on the flavor.  So, I drizzled our salmon fillets with butter then sprinkled very liberally with the seasoning.  You merely bake them at 450 for 6 minutes.  To this I added steamed broccoli and a simple parmesan risotto, but I jazzed it up by sauteing my onion with truffle oil. 

Seasoned and ready for the oven

Baked salmon, truffled parmesan risotto & steamed broccoli
So, we've promised the little one that she can stay up until midnight and see the ball drop...she's 8 after all.  We'll meet our neighbor out in the street in a little while to blow some stuff up and sip our wine. Happy New Year to you all.  I am not a resolution person but if you are, just resolve to cook your own food and eat well!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hail Caesar!

I'd love to tell you guys that I'm some culinary genius; a mad scientist who dreams up new and exciting concoctions in my science lab kitchen. But the truth is simply this:  I like to cook and  I like to eat.  That's pretty much the long and the short of it.  I don't create recipes with any regularity.  I've created my fair share, I suppose, but unlike some of the big dogs in the cooking blogosphere, I am no future cookbook author. I just like to cook and care for my family and friends via food.  So, when I find someone else's recipe that I like, I am perfectly fine and comfortable giving credit where credit is due. I won't try to pretend it's mine.  My ego isn't that large.  But what I will do is share it.  A good recipe deserves to be shared, passed on and written down for those who come behind us.  

One thing I love is a good Caesar salad.  I like the "classic" style with the creamy, garlicky dressing with fresh Parmesan. The problem is that it's really hard to find a truly good Caesar salad anymore.  Restaurants buy the dressing; I don't care what they might try to tell you.  I can tell when I taste it.  It tastes just like the dressing from the last restaurant I visited.  And cross your fingers that you don't get some heavy handed salad guy in the kitchen who sends you a bowl of lettuce taking a swim in that bottled dressing. But, alas, I am ranting...

I have discovered THE PERFECT Caesar dressing via my super fave website, All Recipes. A brilliant lady named Karen came up with this recipe and frankly, I'd like to meet her. I made a batch of this last week and have already made a second.  At one point, my husband and I were just eating it out of the bowl.  Yes, it's that good.   The only thing I did differently was the anchovies.  I didn't have any so I used about 4 tsp of anchovy paste.  And, believe it, the anchovy is vital.  Even if you aren't an anchovy eater (I'm not) it adds a depth of flavor that can't be duplicated.  You know, it's that ingredient that you just can't put your finger on but you'd know if it wasn't there. 

So, cheers to Karen, wherever you are.  You are my mad scientist hero!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Yet another good salmon

Around here, we eat salmon as often as possible.  We eat it for the obvious's good for us, it's versatile, it's tasty.  However, I think the main reason I continue to cook it often and try new recipes is that my 8 year old loves salmon.  I mean, she really loves it. Glazed with honey & vermouth, smoked on the grill, broiled with Dijon and bread crumb topping, any way you can come up with.  I found a recipe on Pinterest months ago for a teriyaki salmon with sriracha cream.  The photo is just beautiful and I have been going back and stalking my own Pinterest board to see the picture. My hold up in making it was that I didn't have any sriracha and when cruising through the grocery store, the thought of sriracha just never popped into my head.

Well, recently, I paid a little visit to one of my favorite places, the Chef'Store.  As I wandered slowly through the aisles, I spotted the sriracha.  Ah hah!  I snatched up a bottle and headed straight for the checkout.  I knew what we were having for dinner that night.  I got home, pulled up Pinterest and got started.  I made the teriyaki sauce from scratch, as outlined in the recipe, but I think you could easily get away with using prepared teriyaki, so don't let that deter you.  It was all very easy to prepare and the result was dynamite. I really love this girl's site too. It's called Damn Delicious and she's got tons of awesome recipes posted there.

Results for the Akre house?  Thumbs up from the little one and an exchange of cool guy nods between me and the hubster.

I think this looks just beautiful!

 One thing I'll say is that this makes way more sriracha cream than 3 people will eat at one sitting.  Probably more than even 6 people would use.  So, whatever could I do? 
Sriracha cream sauce ingredients
 I came up with an EXCELLENT use for the leftover sauce, if I do yell so myself in my shouty capitals. I fried up some green tomatoes and drizzled with the sauce.  You may have felt the Earth move a little that day.  Or, perhaps you heard the loud Hosanna! as I bit into that first one.  Crispy, tart, almost holy fried green tomatoes with an obligatory sprinkling of salt and that spicy sriracha deliciousness mixed all up in 'dere. 

I want another plate of these right now!
As I contemplated the success of this pairing, I began to imagine how else I could use up this divine leftover sauce. Some of my ideas were as a dip for boiled shrimp, mixed with cabbage for a spicy slaw on a fish or shrimp taco or even to shake up a chicken and waffle dealio.  So, don't worry about the amount of sauce this makes.  You'll find all kinds of great uses for it.  I'd love to hear about them.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Nicky's Pizzeria

You guys know how I am about pizza.  The world's perfect food:  all food groups are, or can be represented. It's good hot and fresh or right out of the fridge the next day. My pizza forays range from the pepperoni/sausage/black olive that I was raised on to bacon/blue cheese to veggie-palooza.  There is no end to what you can do to a pizza.  But one thing is clear:  it MUST have a good crust. Without this element, you're just wasting your time.  

A few months ago, Nicky's Pizzeria in Five Points caught my eye.  I've been so curious about it because I hadn't heard one word about the place.  None of my other food-obsessed friends had mentioned it, hadn't heard any ads, nothing.  And, it's tucked away in a corner spot right across from the post office on Greene Street, so it's easy to not notice it.  This summer I was working with a lovely couple who were buying their first house together.  He is in the restaurant biz, so I asked if they had tried out Nicky's.  Yes, they had.  They both said they really liked it and specifically mentioned the crust. Hmmm....

Recently, my husband and I had the occasion to check out Nicky's. As we walked across Greene, the first thing we noticed was 2 tables of City of Columbia police officers eating out on the patio. We all know that cops can be very loyal clientele for a restaurant, or even a bar, for that matter.  Next, we stepped inside to order and I noticed the smell.  The inside of this place smelled just like an old school pizza place that I remember from my childhood.  Yummy baked pizza smells, warm air from the ovens, herbs and pepperoni!  

We ordered a pitcher of Hopsecutioner, one of Neil's favorite IPAs.  Is it just me, or have pitchers of beer shrunk dramatically from my college days? ;-)

These pitchers have gotten awfully stubby
We decided to share the "Pesto Italian" which is a pie topped with pesto (duh), spinach, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes and mozz.  The topping combo was divine, but OMG, the crust!  It is a fabulous crust.  It's thin, but not like a too-thin cracker crust and not too thick.  Sometimes I find even a "regular" crust can hit that thickness mark where it loses the crispy, crustiness and just become chewy and tough.  Not the case here pizza lovers.  Awesome crust.

The Pesto Italian
A work of art

We will definitely be back for more. I really want to try their stromboli too.  The menu also offers more than a 1/2 dozen salads, specialty pizzas like the Pesto Italian, or you can design your own or just order by the slice.  I saw lots of college kids coming in to pick up subs to go, so we'll have to try those out as well.  Additionally, I'm impressed that they DO NOT charge for delivery and they offer coupons for delivery and take-out customers.  So far, so good Nicky's!

Nicky's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon


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