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 reasons...it'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

Friday, November 7, 2014

Easy as Pie

I've always been intrigued by this phrase, "easy as pie."  Frankly, I think pie is pretty damn hard.  Pie crust is my nemesis. I've followed countless pie crust recipes, tips from friends, video tutorials, you name it.  Pie crust kicks my butt. But, I keep trying, convinced that one day I'll be able to master this very simple concoction.

A couple years ago, my mother-in-law gave the Wunderkind this cookbook: 

It is really cute and it even came with kid-sized utensils.  Recently, Vivi pulled it off the shelf and  marched into the kitchen, announcing that she wanted to make apple pies. PIES! Instantly, pie crust failure flashbacks flooded my brain.  The fear was setting in.  As my heart rate increased, I took a couple deep breaths and thought "Hey, relax.  It's a cookbook for kids. Maybe this will finally teach me to conquer the crust?"  I shook it off, deciding not to transfer my pie crust cross-to-bear onto my child and said a simple "sure, babe."

Eager Pie Baker
 I let her run the show.  She measured out her ingredients, followed the directions carefully and used me as her sous-chef. And, the kid made pie crust.  A flaky, buttery, perfect pie crust.  

Lookin' good!

Finished product, complete with pastry "V"
Not only was it fantastic for her to have such a great result, but just watching her watch the oven, checking the timer, and getting excited about her baking adventure was the best thing ever.  Once they were ready, we let them cool (slightly) before diving in to taste.  Success!  My sweet baby created 4 personal size apple pies and they were awesome.  She was so incredibly proud of herself and I could practially see the confidence radiating from her.  We had to drive one over to my parents' house so she could share the lovin' from the oven!

If you haven't had the chance yet to teach a child to cook, find an opportunity.  Yes, it can be immensely frustrating because they don't always listen well, they are messy and sometimes they lose interest, but if you keep trying, the next thing you know they are baking pies. And making pie crust better than you!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Repurposed Food

You can spend hours, yes hours, on Pinterest checking out "repurposed" ideas.  Using old doorknobs to hang your keys on, turning an old suitcase into a desk, making headboards out of old doors.  The list goes on and on.  But, you never see anyone talking about repurposing food.  And I get it.  The term generally applies to objects, most of the time found objects that can be given new life.  But, since I think about cooking and food pretty much all the time, I find myself thinking about "repurposing" food.

You see, I hate leftovers.  Always have.  The only food, in my opinion, that is worth eating as a leftover is Chinese food, pizza or my Aunt Jennie's sweet potatoes.  Everything else just sits in the fridge hoping that my husband will come along and gobble it up before it finally gets thrown out.  You're probably asking yourself "Why bother putting the leftovers in the fridge if you know you won't eat them?"  Well, it's really really hard for me to just throw away something, anything, that I know is good and useful.  Consequently, when I was single, I'd amass a pretty good collection of unwanted leftovers that would stare back at me until it was finally time for them to take up residence in the trash can.  But then I found Neil.  He loves leftovers! He's a "chronological" eater too.  He keeps track of what went in the fridge when and he finished them off accordingly.  It's a great system really.

However, over the last couple of years, I find myself trying to be more responsible when it comes to the leftovers.  I still can't bring myself to want a plate of heated up old stuff, but aha! I realized that I can turn them into something else and then everybody wins! Repurpose it into something completely new.  

This brings us to tonight's dinner.  Pork & veggie spring rolls and beef with broccoli over jasmine rice.  A few days ago, I made caramel apple pork chops.  The chops were huge, so we ended up with a lot leftover.  I just scraped off the apples and sweet sauce then finely minced the meat.  This morning I created the spring roll filling using shredded cabbage, julienned carrots, bean sprouts and sliced bamboo shoots, mixed with the minced pork.  Viola!  

Stir-frying cabbage, carrot, bamboo shoots & bean sprouts
Assembly: got these awesome spring rolls skins at the Chef'Store!
Ready to be fried

Yesterday was my husband's birthday, so we had steaks.  Again, I had more than we needed, so I took the leftover steak, sliced it thinly and will use it in a beef with broccoli recipe from my trusty Chinese cookbook.  I am so excited about dinner I can hardly stand it!  And better yet, there are no leftovers sitting in the fridge giving me the stink-eye every time I open the door!  Repurposing again.

All ready for the wok
I love the sight of bright green broccoli


Added in some bamboo shoots as well

Beef with broccoli & pork/veggie spring roll
I don't pretend to be the first or only person to do this with leftovers. I'm just happy that I've become pretty darn good at it.  I find my creativity kicking into gear any time we have leftover food and I'm likin' it.  And when you stop to think about how inexpensively you can end up feeding yourself and your family, the numbers are almost staggering.  Now that I'm a committed and addicted coupon-a-holic, this means so much more.  If you are an anti-leftover person like me, think about how you can do something with the food instead of enduring the guilt that those leftovers can inflict when they stare back at you all weepy-eyed in that harsh fridge light.  :-)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lunching at Lillian's

Having lunch with friends really is one of my favorite pastimes.  There's just something special about having a break during the day to enjoy good food with people that you probably don't get to see as much as you'd like, unless you just happen to work at the same place as your friends, but I doubt that's the case for most of us. (How's that for a run-on sentence!)

Recently, my friend Sarah asked me out to lunch. She suggested meeting at Lillian's on Forest Drive.  I was so delighted...a restaurant that I haven't been to!  In fact, I don't think I've ever even heard of it. But that just made it all the more exciting. Lillian's is located in a strip mall in Forest Acres.  Like a lot of restaurants in strip malls, it's easy to overlook if you don't realize it's there.

Lillian's features fresh sandwiches and salads.  I was impressed by the number of vegetarian selections they offer. I am a major carnivore but have lots of veggie friends, so I notice stuff like that. They prepare your order fresh, so it may take a little while, but I wouldn't call it slow.  The decor is a bit sparse, but it's bright and open.

Sarah ordered the chicken salad plate which consisted of a scoop of chicken salad with pasta salad and a beautiful fruit salad.  The chicken salad seems to be one of their claims to fame, if you read the reviews out there.  I'll have to try it next time. 

Chicken salad plate
I chose the chef's salad which was a large salad with turkey, bacon, cheddar and a light herbal dressing.  I liked the dressing very much. It was subtle yet very flavorful; a nice change from the usual thick dressing that most serve with this type of salad (1000, blue cheese, ranch). 

Chef's salad
 I also noticed that Lillian's has a cooler filled with "take and bake" dishes.  This is great to know for those hectic evenings when you are just running out of time to cook. Or, when you need to take food to a sick friend, this is a quick easy way to grab and go. Lillian's in at 4711 Forest Drive, in the Bi-Lo shopping center. Next time you and a friend have lunch scheduled, try Lillian's.  It's fresh and light; perfect for that lunch date. Bon appetit!

Lillian's Incorporated on Urbanspoon


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