Friday, April 29, 2011

Green Curry...No Worry!

I mentioned on Facebook the other day that Neil found an Asian mega-market on his weekly trip to Atlanta.  I'm not exactly sure how long he was in that place, but I received many-an-iPhone pic that day as he explored.  Tables piled high with fresh ginger, noodles a-plenty, every curry paste known to man and wacky ass fruits that none of us know what to do with!  While the pictures were plentiful, they didn't even make a dent into all the stuff he brought home! 
This isn't even all of it; we've already been tapping into the supply!

 Tonight, I worked until 7:00 so when I arrived home, Chef Neilix had already sprung into action.  Prep was done, sauce was made, house was smelling divine...ready to whip up some homemade green curry!  He used the remainder of the fresh shrimp we had in the fridge, some chicken breast and some thinly sliced steak.  Then, he prepared sliced zucchini, red and yellow bell peppers, chopped water chestnuts, baby corn, peas, chopped carrots and onions.  Next, he prepared a green curry sauce using green curry paste (duh), coconut milk and I'm not sure what else...I'd ask him but he's tucking in the little beetlebug at the  moment!  :-)

So, as I arrived, he cooked up some thin rice noodles, stir fried the veggies and meats, tossed it all together with the sauce and there it is folks, magic on a plate! 

Variety of meats and tons of veggies
[Side note: for the Vivver, he omitted the curry sauce altogether and just stir fried her proteins and veggies in soy sauce.  Of course, know-it-all-Mommy insisted that she try the curry sauce on her finger because I wasn't convinced that she'd find it spicy.  Suffice it to say I was wrong on that point.  Ok, live and learn. At least she tried it!] 

The green curry was a wonderful success!  To round it out, Neil served it with veggie egg rolls that we find in the fridge case in the Publix's deli area.  They are made by Amy Food and for a store-bought egg roll, we think they are pretty darn good.  If you find them in your store, you may want to give them a shot if you don't have time to make your own.  Bake them and they are delicious.   

P.S.  Wacky ass fruits with Chinese writing on them: Vivian and I are giving the Asian pear and "bread fruit" an emphatic double thumbs down.  The pear was just a mild, bland and crunchier-than-we're-used-to variety that just didn't do it for either of us.  The bread fruit...avoid this anomaly at all costs!  I just don't even know how to describe it.  Brown and lumpy like a shriveled up coconut, dry and spongy on the inside.  Just believe bueno on this one.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Need your Help, my Blog Friends

My community is in the running to win a fruit orchard via the fine folks at Edy's Fruit Bars. The site is adjacent to the Boys and Girls Club in Rosewood, the intown neighborhood where I live.  This addition to our neighborhood would be simply outstanding.  And, being a smallish city, it sure would be incredible to win!

So, I'm appealing to you all to vote for Columbia, South Carolina.  Even if you live in Oregon or Wisconsin, vote for little ol' Columbia, ok?  All you do is go to and register yourself.  Then, cast your vote for Columbia.  You can vote DAILY!  Once you're registered, you just sign in each day and click to vote.  Very easy, takes no time.  Just set a reminder on your calendar.

I will thank you heartily in advance for helping.  Our town and our kids will benefit greatly. Thanks friends!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Stuffed Shrimp: Finally a Great Home Recipe!

I love shrimp.  Shrimp scampi, fried shrimp, shrimp burgers, shrimp with pasta, shrimp Island of Scorpios, shrimp creole, shrimp and grits, Sea Island shrimp...ok, I know I'm sounding like Bubba Blue from Forrest Gump, but I jess cain't hep myseff.  I love shrimp!

My latest foray into my new cookbook that I got for Christmas was for a marvelous stuffed shrimp recipe.  This is one of those dishes that I've enjoyed in restaurants, but for some reason, haven't ever attempted at home.  But, guess what?  Yes, you can try this at home.  I did and with stellar results.

Aside from the flavor there is the lesson:  so often people become frustrated with this dish because they cut a slit in the shrimp, along the back (logically), stuff it, then during baking all the stuffing is popped out by the shrimp as it cooks.  Well, guess what?  There's a very simple technique that solves this problem. All you do is slit the back of the shrimp as you'd expect, cutting almost all the way through, in order to open, or "butterfly" the shrimp like a book.  But here's the trick...actually cut a 1/2"-1" hole through the bottom of the shrimp.  Then, flip it over.  This flattens the shrimp out onto your baking pan, causing the tail to flip up.  Then, you add your stuffing, which can then adhere to the shrimp via that hole.  In this position, as the shrimp cooks, it curls around the filling rather than against it and forcing it out.  Duhhhh...this seems like I should've figured it out by myself.

See the holes?
To top it all off, I used extra large shrimp from Beaufort that I found at the All Local Market on Saturday.  Fresh, South Carolina shrimp make all the difference!  Here's the recipe...I hope you'll try it and love it!

  • 4 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn (I used the Italian sandwich bread from the Publix bakery)
  • 1/2 cup mayo
  • 1/4 cup clam juice (I didn't have this, so I used chicken broth)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 scallions, finely chopped (remember this is NOT a shallot)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp grated zest & 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs Dijon mustard
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 lbs colossal shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails left on
Heat oven to 375. Pulse bread in processor to coarse crumbs.  Transfer to the bottom of a broiler pan and bake until golden and dry, 8-10 min, stirring halfway through.  Remove from oven and reduce heat to 275.

Stuffed and ready for the oven!
Combine crumbs with remaining ingredients (except shrimp of course) in a bowl.  Prepare the shrimp like I told you, pat them dry then place on the lightly greased broiler pan bottom.  Divide the stuffing mixture among the shrimp and press to adhere.  Bake until the shrimp are opaque, about 20 minutes or so. 

Remove from the oven, turn on the broiler then return to the oven to broil 1-3 minutes, to crisp up the stuffing.  Devour.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Croissants and Honey on a Rainy Morning

I have so many great memories from being a kid.  I find that my daily goal is to create one good memory for my little girl.  Create a great one; well, that's just a bonus.  Quite some time ago, I discovered that Vivi loves croissants.  I mean really, who in their right mind doesn't? Now that she's entered "Big Kid-dom" going to restaurants with her is becoming not only easier, but more fun for Mommy.  We are developing a little every-now-and-then ritual that I just adore.  Periodic Mommy-Vivi breakfasts at the Gourmet Shop.

We both had the day off yesterday since it was Good Friday.  So, we already had the plan to head down to the Gourmet Shop for croissants (or "guh-sonts" as Vivi calls them).  Add a nice, gray, rainy morning to the mix and it was a perfect breakfast date. Vivian loves ordering milk there because instead of a styrofoam cup, lid and straw they bring her the milk in a "grown up" coffee cup with the sippy lid.  It makes her feel very adult.  And, of course, there are the croissants. These are the real thing too.  They serve them with butter, which is funny because they are made with like a pound of butter per dozen, and this really nice seedless raspberry jam.  But this time, Vivi surprised me by asking for honey with hers.  Nice touch, really.  

So, the two of us enjoyed our guh-sonts, milk for her, coffee for me and listening to the rain pelt Saluda Avenue outside the open french doors.  I love dates with my baby!

Gourmet Shop on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter Weekend Feasting Plans

Yummmmm   Ham
I wish my crust came out this pretty
Uncle Charlie would be proud
The Easter Sunday feast is always one of my favorites.  Sometimes I just picture the perfect pink-osity of a baked ham.  Or, my mind goes Greek and focuses on lamb; usually Uncle Charlie's souvakia recipe.  Or, other times, I have visions of light, fluffy quiches dancing in my head.  As I have been contemplating the Easter meal for this year, my mom just sprung into action and said, "Here's what we're having this year."  Dottie's sauerbraten, pickled red cabbage, mashed potatoes and green beans.  Jawohl!  Wir sind auf das Alte Land gehen!  This is one of my favorite meals of all time.  I am way excited. 

Sauerbraten...Get in my belly!
So, I'm merely charged with dessert.  I don't mind doing desserts.  I'm just not a big dessert eater, so I don't get as excited about it.  Anyway, I'm leaning toward a lemon tart with a coconut crust.  However, it is strawberry pickin' time, so if Vivi and I can get to the farm tomorrow or Saturday, that plan will change.  Get this:  I called the farm today to ask if they'd be open on Good Friday.  Not only are they open, they're working Easter Sunday too.  That's some hardcore strawberry commerce going on over there.  No holiday for you!  Must sell berries every day!  Get back to work!

Speaking of strawberries, I must share with you one recipe that I discovered 2 strawberry seasons ago.  I can't remember what magazine I found it in, otherwise, I'd totally give credit where it is due.  The recipe is for a panini that at first glance sounds pretty far out.  But, trust me.  You do, right?  Of course you do...this sandwich will make you exclaim "Franklin Delano!"  (I love that old man in the the new Oreo commercial!) 

So, here's how you make Smoked Turkey-Strawberry paninis...

Fresh bread (I used the Cuban from Publix's bakery)
smoked turkey breast
brie cheese with the rind removed, sliced
fresh basil leaves
beautiful local strawberries
pepper jelly

Spread the pepper jelly on one slice of bread.  Layer on the turkey, strawberry slices, brie, and basil leaves.  Top with another slice of bread (duh).  Spread good quality butter on the outsides and grill, press, or panini-maker it until the cheese is melty and gooey.

Take a bite, yell out "Franklin Delano", slap your mama and have a good, cathartic cry.  Yep, it's that good.  I prefer warm, personal, hand-written thank you notes please.  :-)

Enjoy and Happy Easter to you and your family. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Taco War: The End of the Battle

I recently mused about the headline article in Free Times regarding Columbia's Taco War.  I'm still flabbergasted that our city's government could stall and hem 'n haw for over a year on such a simple issue, but (Woop!) there it is.  

Yesterday morning, I was surprised to receive a short one-liner from the actual Taco Stand Man.  He had somehow found my (very artistic and professional grade) "Taco Boy" cartoon on YouTube.  He was very complimentary and commented that he'd never had anyone turn him into a cartoon before.  Hold the phone... I may have stumbled onto a promising side business for myself.  (note to self: start searching for a talent agent).  

Ironically, later that same day, I received this link from my friend Kelley... I am delighted to know that the Taco Cart will stand and begin to deliver.  I am delighted to know that a new restaurant is coming to Main Street.  I just hate the fact that the little guy had to be the big guy and compromise.  Really?  City council had to look to a small businessman to give up something so they wouldn't have to just use some common sense and cajones to honor the man's permit application and let both businesses coexist and compete in this free market society we live in?  (Rolling my eyes and taking a deep breath)

But, in the end, I congratulate David Roberts for having incredibly tenacious patience while our elected procrastinators jerked him around for a year.  I, for one, can't wait to visit his taco cart and give him my full support.  But, one last note before I go:  Should we be worried about the fact that no one can reach the "Fever" lady?Hmmmm

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Columbia's All Local Market

Quite often, I think Columbia gets a bad rap.  We are centrally located, we're not a beach or mountain destination.  Since the State Legislature is here, sometimes we're viewed as the capital of B.S. and governmental nonsense.  Since we're "Famously Hot", some people avoid us like the steamy, humid plague from June to September.  But, you know what?  Columbia is a lot cooler than many think and we're pretty fortunate to have so many interesting things to do and see here.

Take for example, the All Local Farmer's Market (click here).  It began, oh I don't know, maybe 2 years ago in a run-down warehouse space in Olympia. I took Viv a few times early on then I started working most weekends, so I began to forget to work it into our schedule, despite the fact that I drive by there everyday.  Well today, I put the market on our agenda and I'm so glad!  This is going to become a regular part of our schedule from now on!

The market has undergone a major renovation but is still a rustic, open, warehouse space.  A covered porch has been added and the exterior is very attractive now.  The coolest thing though is that the market is really evolving into not so much a place but an event. People now go there not just for the quality, local, fresh, home-grown, organic, natural and delicious products, but for the experience.  Eating out on the porch, listening to music, meeting up with friends, making new friends, trying new stuff.  It's exactly what we all want to find in our towns.

This morning, our little family unit went over and this is what we found.  Emile DeFelice's Heirloom Pastured Pork , City Roots' microgreens and nasturtiums, Anson Mills' grits, my good buddy Stephen serving biscuits & gravy and quiche from Gervais & Vine, Paolo's gelato for the Vivver and crazy strong espresso for the Neilix and I tried this awesome truffle salt (sorry I can't remember the name of the vendor).  I'm going to have to go back and buy that. I can't quit thinking about it.  I'm thinking about making homemade french fries and tossing with that truffle salt.  Oh yeah!  Columbia has hit the jackpot.

So I'm of the opinion that this should be part of the Akre family Saturday morning.  Local shopping, breakfast and a thermos of Bloody Mary's on the porch, then head off for our Little Ninja's karate lesson.  Sounds like a delicious plan to me!  You'll have to join us sometime. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Homemade Corned Beef Hash!

I've told you all before how much I love corned beef.  Neil and I both are also big fans of corned beef hash.  When we go somewhere for breakfast, usually one of us will order it so we can try the restaurant's rendition and critique.  We both love it crispy, oniony and corned beefy.  But despite my love of this meat treat, I've never tried to make corned beef hash from scratch.  Until now.

I cooked a corned beef in the crockpot, which is my favorite method.  I consulted Epicurious today for recipes to inspire me and give me some guidance.  I took some ideas from a few and used one in particular for procedure. Interested?  Well, here's what I did:

1 lb. potatoes, peeled and cubed about 1/2"
1/2 large onion, diced

1 big tsp minced garlic
1/2 stick butter
1 Tbs flour
3/4 cup broth (probably best to use beef, but I had chicken already open in the fridge, so I used it)
1 Tbs Worchestershire
1 Tbs horseradish
1 1/2 lb chopped corned beef
salt and pepper to taste

Boil potatoes for about 6 minutes until tender; drain.

Saute onion and garlic in butter until onions become softened.  Add flour and cook about 2 minutes.  Add broth, Worchestershire and horseradish.  Cook about 2 minutes.

Add potatoes, beef and salt and pepper.  Cook to warm and blend flavors.  You can keep going here and cook until your desired degree of crispness.

Flavors are blending, falling in love and gettin' married...
However...  I chose to take it off the heat and let it cool, hoping to further blend flavors.  Later, I heated a non-stick skillet with some "Pam" and cooked over medium to crisp it up.  
Crispy and ready for voracious consumption!

So, what was the result?  I loved the flavors. I never would have imagined that C.B. hash would have horseradish in it, but I have to tell you, it added just enough "je ne sais quoi" and rocked it out.  Things I'll do differently:  next time I'll dice the potatoes a little smaller and I'll increase the corned beef to at least 2 lbs.  Just could use a little more of the meat.  Also, since very little salt goes into the prep, make sure to salt it as you are crisping it in the skillet, or serve with a needs salt to fully enhance the flavors and really have that characteristic corned beef flavor.  

And, lastly, the Vivver climbed up in my lap and asked to try it.  She's like Mikey from the old "Life" cereal commercials..."Hey, she's likes it!"  So, the lesson there is:  give your kids whatever you eat and chances are, they will like it too.  Keep the preconceived notions away from your kids and you'll have no problems with them eating! 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Columbia's Taco War

Upon Neil's recommendation, I grabbed a copy of the current Free Times today.  The cover story is about a "Taco War" going on downtown on Main Street.  Yes, I said Taco War. I won't summarize the entire article, as you can click over and read it yourself.  But, I will give you my two cents' worth!

City Council...are you friggin' kidding me?  

Having served for about 8 years now on the City of Columbia's Board of Zoning Appeals, I have some familiarity with the difficulty of making some of these decisions that affect the good of the City, the people of the City and (in most cases) the emotions of the City.  It's not easy to listen to people's stories, hear their arguments and not get clouded or even confused sometimes.  But, to spend over a year agonizing over a Taco decision?  I'm sorry, but I am dumbfounded at how incredibly stupid that is.

So, here's the way this all breaks down to me.  You may not agree with me; that's certainly ok.  But, I think my logic is pretty compelling.

Taco Stand:  This appeals to any business person who has limited time, is literally running from one meeting to the next and is probably the person who eats at his/her desk when and if they ever actually eat lunch.  This also appeals to people like me who might like to take the kids over to the Capitol to climb trees, feed the pigeons and stroll through the gardens.  It would certainly be preferable to buy a taco from the street vendor rather than drag the Vivver into a sit-down restaurant, deal with ordering, kid's drinks (you have lids, right?) and then getting to scarf down my meal with one hand and one eye on the child the whole time.  And, the cool bar down below street level that serves tacos?  Great, but I'm not taking my child into a subterranean bar for a taco.

Tacqueria Fever:  New restaurant in town?  Bring it on!  Do I believe that an investor is going to spend over $400,000 on renovations to a building just to sell tacos?  Of course not.  I'm sure she's developed an extensive and interesting menu, especially since she's already hired a chef and is already paying that person a salary. So, do I believe that a guy outside on the sidewalk is going to impact her business?  No!  The person I described above doesn't have time for Fever. They are hustling down Main Street and are lucky to grab a bite.  They can't come in, sit down and enjoy the creations of your chef.  See how that works?  You're serving different customers.  Everybody wins.

This is Belinda.
The Whig:  The Whig has nothing to worry about.  They've already got their loyals, created their Taco Tuesday tradition and they are happy to get along with others.  Belinda Gergel was quoted as saying, "We are presented with two very attractive alternatives, but one is already there."  Really Belinda?  Fever isn't "there"; it's a building under renovation for a year and still not open.  So, by Belinda's logic, the Whig was there first, so Council has wasted a flippin' year and the Fever owner's $400K since neither the cart nor the restaurant are ripe for approval because the Whig is already there.  That was a really dumb thing to say.  And, I like Belinda.  But, that was a really dumb thing to say.

The way I see it is this: downtown Columbia needs as much revitalization as it can get.  The fact that there is interest in opening businesses there, whether traditional bricks and mortar or non-traditional vendor carts, is what we want and need.  Healthy competition is just that...healthy.  If this guy's tacos are so good that a restaurant fears the competition, then that restaurant better step up their taco game, or perhaps forget about serving tacos.  

I'd be a much happier City resident if I knew that my City Council was applying themselves to issues like our deteriorating water/sewer pipe system, paving roads that they are responsible for and getting our cops to quit directing baseball traffic and get out there and enforce red lights and fight crime.  But, I guess I'm like John Lennon here, "You may say I'm a dreamer..."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Chicken Scores and Chores

Those of you who have known me for a long time probably would never have imagined that I have become a devoted addict of manic couponing. I know, right?  Those of you who know me lately, probably know that I am a devoted addict of manic couponing.  Those of you,  ha ha...just kidding, I'm not going any further.  To the point, you say!  

I got really excited by this week's BiLo ad...boneless chicken breasts are "B1G1" which makes them about $2.29/lb.  That's a great deal.  Then, I checked my other grocery love, Publix.  Their chicken is $1.99/lb.  That's unheard of!  So, I got about 8 lbs, trimmed them up, cooked two (pieces, not pounds) tonight and packaged the rest up for the freezer.

That's the score.  What's the chore?

I love chicken as much as the next guy.  I've eaten it my whole life.  It's lean, low fat, versatile...what's not to love?  Well, those of you who know me know about my "thing" with meat, bones and fat.  Like the meat.  Hate the bones and fat.  So, when I buy chicken, it must be trimmed to my specs.  You see, I simply won't eat chicken with fat hanging off it, sinew still attached, bones in it or anything funky like cardiovascular tissue remaining. So, for me to trim chicken is a major chore.  I hate it so much, but I have to do it myself so I know it meets the requirements.  (Although, to be truthful, I trust Neil and my sister to prepare it to my specs.  They've proven themselves!)  I won't serve any food to you that I wouldn't eat myself. So, good news if any of you are meat freaks like me.  You can eat at my house and be confident.  

Now, see, the problem with being a chicken trimmin' freakazoid is that you have a tendancy to trim up what you want to cook tonight and throw the rest in the freezer, talking yourself into believing that when you're ready to use it, you can trim the funk easier when the meat is still partially frozen.  While this is true, most of the time it's grab a ziploc of chicken from the freezer, throw it in a sink full of water to defrost it as fast as possible so this little family can actually eat sometime soon!  At least that's how it plays out for me.  So, I'm immensely pleased with myself and happy to report that tonight, I trimmed, wrapped, bagged and froze ALL the chicken breasts with the exception of the ones I turned into (delicious) Dijon Chicken this evening for  supper.

Yea me!  You may think this is silly, but I can say with complete certainty, that I will sleep well knowing that all that "ready-to-go-Elizabeth-standard-chicken" is just lying there in the deep freeze for another day.  Sleep tight chicken lovers!

P.S.  If you're interested in learning how couponing really works, click here to go to  Check out the "new to SS?" area...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tsunami- Take 2-The Final Chapter

When I wrote about Tsunami recently, I told you that it was ok overall and that I'd go back.  Well, I did.  But, I won't again.

Neil and I went back yesterday to use another Groupon.  This time we sat at a table in the dining room.  We had a pleasant waiter and I must say that the food service was very quick and courteous.  Once again, the food was good and warranted pretty much no complaints.  We started with the shrimp shumai.  They were very tender and had a nice soy dipping sauce.  The dumpling filling could have used some salt though, in my opinion.  I ordered the "My, My, Mai" roll.  I loved it.  The one misstep was that when I read the menu, I overlooked the "krab" component. I would have told them to hold that...I just can't understand any sushi place serving fake crab.  Why friggin' bother?  Who really wants to eat that?  Anyway, the roll was quite good...tempura shrimp, spicy mayo, cucumber, cream cheese and topped with baked salmon flakes and caviar.  Nice.  Neil ordered the "Heartbreaker" roll...spicy tuna, avocado, cucumber.  It was billed as "hot" but as you can imagine, it didn't even register on the Neil Akre hotness scale.  Neil also ordered the beef spring roll.  We both agreed here...awesome.

So, what is it that will prevent me from going back?  Once again, I ran into trouble when it came time to pay.  This time our waiter wasn't intimidated by the Groupon.  He handled it without batting an eye.  BUT, we were charged for two vodka tonics but only actually had one.  AND I noticed that the two martinis that we ordered had a $1 "martini upcharge" tacked on.  Assuming they are actually using vermouth, it's only a  minimal splash necessary for a good martini.  I seriously doubt that any martini I've ever had in my life would have contained more than $.25 worth of vermouth.  And I don't believe that I need to compensate the establishment a dollar for shaking up some liquid and pouring it in a glass.  Frankly, "upcharging" your clientele is just plain bullshit.
You wouldn't like me when you "upcharge" me!

So, Neil and I left and decided that although we had a good meal and an overall pleasant experience, that we wouldn't be back.  Smooth service is particularly important to us and B.S. when it comes to the bill just makes me insane.  

I still have one more Groupon, so if anyone out there is a Tsunami fan and wants to use it, please let me know.  I'll be happy to let you have it and hopefully, your experience will be better than mine. 

Tsunami Japanese Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon


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