Monday, May 4, 2015

Neil's New Favorite

Anyone who loves to cook needs to be married to someone like my husband Neil.  He will eat anything I put in front of him, not because he's one of those shovel-it-in-eating-machines, but because he's willing to try anything.  The best thing though is that he is always appreciative.  Don't get me wrong...I don't cook because I want praise and compliments.  But it does feel great to know that he appreciates my efforts. And I'll admit that cooking is MY hobby, but I love seeing Neil and our daughter enjoy what I prepare.

The other day I was flipping through my favorite cookbook of all time and my eyes came to rest on a chimichanga recipe.  I had all the ingredients on hand so I decided to give it a go.  And I really liked that they are baked rather than fried.  I love the concept of the chimi but I rarely order them in restaurants because that fried tortilla always seems so heavy and dense to me.  Baking them really appealed to me. 

I will never try to take credit for someone else's recipe or act like it's my own.  Credit where credit is due.  This is the work of a lady named Nicole.  Click here to get her recipe. The only thing I did differently was using cheddar simply because I didn't have Monterrey Jack. I presented this to Neil and he went crazy over it.  He even went so far as to say it's one of the best things I've made lately. 
What a gorgeous green!
 
Yummy filling simmering

 
Finished product. Y'all know I'm not a pro photographer!


Since there are only 3 of us, I prepared all of the chimichangas and wrapped the extras in foil and into the freezer they went. See that simple salad in the photo?  Well, that's another great recipe from this book. It's called "Casa dressing." Super simple but incredibly great tasting.  The lime and cumin give it a Mexican flair and it takes no time to whip up.  Try these recipes out and let me know your thoughts. 

 disfrute de su comida!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Sweet and Sour Pork at Home


You know that feeling when you make a meal at home that you love so much you'd even be willing to buy it from yourself?  That's how I feel about the sweet and sour that I make myself. I'd put mine up against any Chinese restaurant in this town.  And, I'm pretty confident I'd win.

I've written about this one before, but it's so good,it bears repeating. Last time I don't think I really told you how to make it so I will this time.  The coolest thing about Asian cuisines is that you don't have to have a lot of meat to work with.  The protein is so nicely accompanied by vegetables and rice that a little goes a long way.  Needless to say, this brings us into the category of budget meals too.

You all may remember that I'm a meat snob. I don't like meat with bones in it or with a bunch of fat & other icky stuff hanging off it.  So, I start with really good, fresh, lean pork.  This could be boneless pork chops or tenderloin.  To me, this is key.  Another aspect of this dish that I love is the true sweet and sour nature of combining onions and bell peppers with pineapple and the sweet sauce.  Just delicious!

So here's what I want you to do.  Cut your pork (about 1/2 lb.) into small, bite-sized pieces.  Gather these things:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 Tbs cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbs oil 
Sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt into a bowl.  Make a well in the center & add the oil and enough water to make a thick, smooth batter. Using a wooden spoon, stir the ingredients in the well & gradually incorporate flour from the outside. Beat until smooth.

Heat some oil in your wok, dip your pork in the batter and fry about 6 pieces at a time, to keep your oil from cooling off. Drain on paper towels.



 Pour off most of the oil from your wok.  Now add a sliced onion, sliced bell pepper and one can of pineapple chunks (drain them but save the juice for the sauce.)  Stir fry over high until veggies are tender.  Remove & set aside.


 Now, for the sauce: 
  • 2 Tbs cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed or minced
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 6 Tbs ketchup
  • 6 Tbs reserved pineapple juice
Mix all these ingredients together and pour into the wok. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring continuously until thickened. Allow to simmer for about 2 minutes until it becomes clear.  

Add the veggies and pork back to the wok and stir to coat completely.  Reheat for about 2 minutes then serve.  It's great over jasmine rice but rice isn't a must.

Of course, you could do this same thing with chicken or shrimp if you wish. The technique with the batter and the sauce is what I think are most important.  I paired ours with egg rolls that I picked up from Sun Ming in Irmo.  


Sun Ming is one of the best Chinese restaurants we have, IMO and their egg rolls remind me of the kind we always had as kids.  Big and fat with bits of pork and shrimp inside.  Not like the ones you get so often today that are nothing but cabbage and shredded celery.  And, don't forget to ask them to give you some of their homemade hot mustard to go with the egg rolls. That garbage in the packet isn't worth the name mustard! 

So, there you have it: homemade sweet and sour pork that will impress your family and your guests.  It's surprisingly easy to whip this up at home and so much better than take-out.  Give it a try; you'll thank yourself for putting forth the effort.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Our favorite Chicken Casserole

Growing up Southern, I think a casserole can be the perfect dish...comforting, creamy and gooey, easy, complex, helpful to a friend who is ill, church covered dish, awesome to have stocked up in the freezer.  Now, my Southern-turned-Minnesotan husband doesn't always share these sentiments.  One the one hand, it was his Mama who told me "every great dish begins with a can of Cream of Mushroom."  But, on the other hand, apparently, up in the Norse Land, they put anything and everything together in a casserole dish and simply call it "Hot Dish."  Neil grew to hate the words "hot dish" as well as the concept of "hot dish."  According to him, that's all the info you got...hot dish.  No clue as to what was in there.  And, he says it all pretty much tasted the same...crappy.  At least down here we're specific enough to let you know it's chicken casserole, crab casserole, green bean casserole.

It was well into our relationship that my casserole-lovin' self was finally made aware of this hot dish disdain.  I was flabbergasted!  How can one not love a good casserole?  As the story unfolded, I began to understand.  To this day, I serve casseroles very sparingly to be sensitive to Neil's old hot dish memories.  BUT...there's one that defies this casserole conundrum of his.  My chicken-almond-rice casserole.  Yep, it's a good ol' Akre family favorite at this point.

Akre's Creamy Chicken Almond Rice Casserole
 Originally, I got this recipe from a Weight Watchers cookbook. I've been making it so long and have tweeked it over the years, including adding almonds.  It's one of the few dishes that we do repeat around here and every one of us loves it.  I made it again recently and it dawned on me that I've never told you guys about it.  At least I don't think I have! 

Chicken Almond Rice Casserole
2-3 good sized chicken breasts, cubed bite-size
1/2 tsp garlic powder (I just sprinkle it over 'til it looks right)
olive oil mixed with a coating of PAM

Low sodium Rice-a-Roni
1 Tbs butter
2 1/4 cups water

1 can reduced calorie Cream of Chicken soup
3/4 cup reduced fat sour cream
1 cup sliced mushrooms (if you're 'shroom people that is)
1/4 chopped almonds
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 cup crushed crackers, bread crumbs, etc.
1 Tbs melted butter
1/2 tsp poppy seeds 

So, here we go:  cook the Rice-a-Roni with the water & butter measurement above, according to package directions. While that's cooking, coat another skillet with PAM and a little olive oil. Season the chicken with garlic powder and saute until it loses its pinkness.  If you're using mushrooms, cook them here with the chicken.

Combine the chicken, rice, sour cream, soup, almonds and pepper in a bowl and mix well.  Spread into your casserole dish.  Melt the 1 Tbs butter and combine with crumbs & poppy seeds.  Sprinkle on top and bake at 350 for about 35 minutes. 
2-3 chicken breasts, whatever is right for you
Make them bite-sized
The San Francisco Treat!
Toasting up the rice
Mix it up, Baby!
Buttery, poppy seed topping
Sprinkle over the top
Ready for the 350 oven
Get your biggest serving spoon!


Most recently, I combined this with a simple, yet delicious side dish of honey-gingered carrots. I'd gotten these beautiful, young, tender carrots in my www.BrownBoxVeggies.com box and wanted to use them. They were so brilliantly orange & juicy little carrots.  
Aren't these beautiful?
Simmered with a little butter, honey & minced ginger
Our dinner!
Here's a warning:  when I make this casserole, the three of us can plow through almost 3/4 of it in one dinner.  I'm telling you, it's just that good.  If you don't like mushrooms, leave them out.  Can't eat nuts?  I've used water chestnuts for crunch and that works just as well as the almonds.  You can have fun with it.  I hope you'll try it and enjoy it as much as we do.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The best tuna recipe ever


I know this is rather monochromatic, but it was delicious!
Cooking tuna can be daunting.  Most people like it rare but I'm not one of those people. I like mine cooked just over rare, meaning still a little pink inside. This takes some practice but it's not impossible, to be sure.  What I've figured out is that if the tuna is about 1- 1 1/2 inches thick, I cook it for 3 minutes on the first side and 2 minutes on the second.  There, that's it.  Now you have no reason to be afraid anymore. Go buy some tuna.

Now, if you want to have really spectacular, awesome, mind-blowing tuna, then here's what you need to do. I got this from the Internet, I think. This makes enough for the three of us.

1 Tbs white wine vinegar
1/2 cup white wine
2 Tbs minced shallot
1 1/2 tsp wasabi paste (don't let this spook you)
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 cup butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
3 6 oz tuna steaks, about 1" thick

Simmer the vinegar, wine & shallots over medium heat until it reduces to a couple of Tablespoons.  Strain out the shallots & return liquid to the saucepan.  Add the wasabi & soy sauce.  Over low heat, add the butter one cube at a time, whisking it to emulsify. DON'T LET IT BOIL. When all the butter is incorporated, remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, rub olive oil on the tuna and season with salt & pepper. Heat skillet over medium-high heat.  Place fish in the hot skillet and sear 3 minutes on first side, then 2 minutes on the flip side.  Of course, adjust this time if you like yours more rare or more done, although I wouldn't recommend going more toward done.

Serve with the wasabi butter spooned over the fish. 

You may want to serve pasta, potatoes or rice with this because the butter sauce is so fantastic. Most recently, we had this with wild rice and roasted cauliflower.  This sauce is dangerous, folks. I mean, you might find yourself wanting to just eat it with a spoon. I think it would also be wonderful with salmon or chicken.  And don't let the wasabi scare you off.  As it cooks, it mellows and just imparts a cool flavor.  It is NOT spicy at all.  So please don't let that ingredient prevent you from trying this dish.  I promise you that you'll love it!

Would love to hear your comments below after you try it. If you don't love this dish then I'll tap dance down Main Street wearing a rainbow afro. That's how confident I am that you'll love it.  Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Cooking is good for the soul(s)

I love to cook.  It started in high school.  French club, I think.  My school's French club hosted a "French cafe" each year but all it offered was croissants and other pastries.  When I became French club president, I reasoned "hey, it's either a cafe or it's not..." Therefore, I pulled out my mom's International cookbook, selected a savory crepe recipe, a quiche, a side dish (I can't really remember now but I think it was some preparation of green beans) and a dessert.  My club divided up into teams for cooking, loaded my parents' microwave into my '74 Volkswagen and set up a real cafe in the courtyard.  We sold lunch plates and made a killing.  

Here I am a "few" years later and I've been cooking ever since.  I enjoy it.  I like it for many reasons...it's therapeutic for me, I like to take care of others through food and I really, really like to try to  impress my husband.  And then there's our daughter, who I want to feed healthily and have her develop a sophisticated palate.  We're well on the way with that, thank God.

Unfortunately, one of our friends was recently found to have cancer.  She is young and healthy, has a beautiful one year old baby and a husband who loves her.  She's been started on chemo right away and is on medical leave.  She is in good hands... 

I wanted to prepare something that they could keep in the freezer and just pop in the oven on those days when she doesn't feel well and her husband doesn't want to fool with the kitchen. I decided to go with The Pioneer Woman's lasagna rolls. I really love her site and so many of her recipes are just awesome.  I made enough for 4 meals for our friends and one for us. I had leftover filling and a little bit of sauce, so I stuffed some shells for our dinner.

So, on to the lasagna...

Getting all the ingredients ready to rock & roll
 
I am an herb-chopping machine


This is about 2 lbs of hamburger and chopped onion
The sauce is simmering away.  Smells divine!
Since these are rolled, you must cook them first
Spread the ricotta/parmesan mixture on the noodle
Roll 'em up!
Four rolls will fit in a standard size loaf pan
Look at all these...from ONE recipe!
Everything is better with cheese on top
Using up the leftover filling & sauce for our dinner
Stuffed shells ready for the oven
Call me an old Southern girl but food is what I do when someone has a problem.  Making these dishes was fun for me and I felt really happy about the possibility that these lasagnas might make life a little easier for our friends as they go through this tough time.  Food is more than fuel for the body. That's what I think anyway. 

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!

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