Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Buz and Ned's BBQ

One of my good friends here in RVA used to live in Austen, Texas which, from her stories, seems to be a pretty awesome place. Definitely on my "Places to Go" list. Apparently breakfast taco food carts are the new craze, so I'm waiting to see if they surface in Richmond; fingers crossed!

Last Tuesday we tried this establishment because apparently the food is pretty killer. Now I can say from experience, it is :)

First off, atmosphere. Very interesting...definitely puts you in the mood right away. The mood to chow down and not care if people see you licking your fingers. In fact, I got the vibe that it would be considered prudish to delicately disassemble one's chicken. A good place to go with someone you are comfortable seeing you with BBQ sauce on your cheek. You know, like how you save sushi places for the 3rd or 4th date because it's just not as fun if you're worried about talking through a mouthful of seaweed and sticky rice... been there, done that.

We had the baby back ribs and I was very impressed with the sauce/rub - it wasn't overpowering and had a nice sweet/spicy ratio. I personally loved the fact that we didn't get to choose a sauce. They know what they're good at and they stick with it.The meat was tender and not fatty at all, in part because of the cut we chose. And, just as they boast, incredibly smoky and delicious.

For our sides we got the Bourbon apple slices, the mac and cheese, and the hush puppies. The apples were super yummy and flavorful - not mushy at all! The mac and cheese was good as well - it didn't hold up as nicely as I'd like, and it did leave a puddle of oil at the bottom of the container, but it was good. We got a smaller portion and I am happy we did, otherwise we might have made ourselves ill. But the tasty cheesy crust on the top was killer. I have never has a hush puppy before and dang! were they awesome :) 'Nuf said.

Weston has sweet tea, something he can't get enough of when he comes to Virginia and it, too, was very good. In addition to sugar, you could also taste the tea which is a lot to say considering the varying degrees which we've tasted before.

Thanks to Emilija and Christina for coming out and making my last night in Richmond an awesome one - I can't wait for more fun times next year.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Pita Pita!

Guess who's back in Michigan?!? Now my lovely RVA readers can read about the wonderful cuisine to be found in another town. My return to MI kicked off with a trip to Pita Pita! - a Mediterranean grill in Ypsilanti. My sister had a dentist appointment so my mom took her there after and, of course, they brought some leftovers back for me.

They got one of the delish chicken pita rolls - the garlic sauce is off-the-charts good (there is no cucumber but it is similar in taste to a really garlicky tzatziki) - to this day I can't figure out what they put in it: garlic, Greek yogurt, and sour cream I think... Here is a recipe - it looks like what Pita Pita! uses, but I haven't tried making it before. They marinate the chicken in a great blend of spices and retain the juiciness of the meat. To the roll they add a few slices of pickle and tomato along with the sauce and chicken. Oh it's so good!!! My mom said she's going to have them cater my sister's graduation party.

My sister got the baba ganoush and hummus plate served with pita and a lemony parsley salad. The hummus was good, but the baba ganoush was the most amazing thing EVER. I think they grill the eggplant first - and they find a way to make the mixture really smooth. I could eat it forever.

Sorry, no pics this time, but I'll take some at the party!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Giovanni's and Chicken Fiesta: Part Deux

Weston came to RVA today - yay! Soooo nice to see him in person and not through video chat.

After revealing to him a surprise I'd been working on for about a week (a DVD compilation of our past photos and videos), we went for a nice walk and did a little shopping. Thank you for my pretty celebratory dress, honey! Oh yes, I also took him to Chicken Fiesta and he was in absolute heaven.

After returning home we were exhausted from the heat and walking around, so we watched a little Law and Order and then headed out to try Giovanni's once more. You can read my first encounter with this wonderful establishment here. The experience was, as before, very very delicious (and affordable). This time we chose the combination of Italian sausage, sun dried tomatoes, and feta cheese.

This past week I've been trying really hard to be mindful of how much I eat, not so much what I eat, since I don't really believe in depriving myself. I wanted to share a little tip passed on to me from my Weight Watchers years: when eating out, it's important to keep in mind portions. You typically are paying for 2 portions when you go out, so ask for a clean plate and serve yourself what you normally might eat at home: this way you aren't tempted to overeat, even by accident. Remember, you can always take some home for a second or third meal.

Tasty Butter Chicken

So here is the story of how Rini and I made butter chicken this past Sunday:

Rini the Brave took the bus out in the morning to get all the ingredients we needed. I call her the Brave because city buses are always... an adventure (let's just leave it at that). Unfortunately, I could not join her because I forgot to renew my student bus pass. So I anxiously awaited her arrival :)

We adapted our recipe from this one - many things were altered so here is a final version, complete with picture story. The whole process took about 2 hours, I think. But we were laughing and talking the whole time, so I really didn't keep track. My advice: make this dish with a friend and share the fun!

Rini's mom sent her to school with her spices in these cute little containers - such a good idea for easy storage and usage - you can buy in bulk and refill as you go!

First we made two pastes using a little oil and salt: one was ginger and one was garlic. We used about 2 1/2 inches of ginger and 6 cloves of garlic.

Then we fried 2 medium sweet onions, thinly sliced, until they were translucent.

We added the ginger and garlic pastes to the onion, along with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, 1 tsp chili powder, 1/4 tsp turmeric (maybe a little more), and 2 tsp coriander powder. We cooked this for a minute, then added 3 large chicken breasts, cubed and 1 large Tbs of yogurt.

Once the chicken was seared on all sides, we add 4 large tomatoes which we pulverized in a grinder beforehand. We both decided that next time we make this, using only 3 tomatoes would be better. The mixture made so much we split it into two large pans.

At this point the curry looked really chunky - not like the butter chicken we are used to. We gave it about 10 minutes, then decided to take out the chicken pieces and puree the mixture until it was nice and smooth.
(seriously, you could add a touch of cream and serve this an amazing Indian soup)

Then we added this back to the pans, dropped 1 Tbs butter in each, put the chicken back in, and allowed the meal to simmer away until the chicken was tender: about 30 minutes.

Upon taste inspection, we decided the curry tasted waayyyy to tomato-y, so we ended up added another 1/3 cup of yogurt to each pot. Oh! We also added about 4 Tbs of butter total...

The result was wonderful: creamy and flavorful with the perfect amount of spice. Blending the curry was a great idea because it gave that silky consistency butter chicken is known for.

We ate this with rice, but naan would be great for scooping up the sauce!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lazy Weekends are for Friends

Okay, this weekend has been awesome; it's the first one where I haven't had to study or worry about being on time to complete a schedule. Except, because I am me, I still made one just to be sure I completed some tasks before leaving RVA for the summer.

I spent Friday afternoon with Rini eating ginormous amounts of ice cream and meandering through the bookstore. I mean, I am a Ram now, so I needed some spirit wear!

Saturday I was going stir crazy from not working out, but wasn't motivated enough to walk 20 minutes to the gym, exercise for 1 hour, then walk back. Especially since I'd done that Monday-Thursday (huge personal accomplishment). So instead I let my body rest, did some floor exercises, and went for a walk. Hmm... something seems contradictory about that last sentence. I tested myself to see how far I could go before turning back - but soon realized the flaw in this plan because it's always easier to walk OUT than to walk IN. You know what I mean? But I broke a sweat which meant I got some cardio out of it.

Today I had nothing planned except to organize some school papers and take care of some light cleaning. So basically, I was going to be bored. Then, Saturday night, Rini got a craving for Butter Chicken and had the brilliant idea of making some together. I love, love, love, cooking with friends, so I am super excited. Speaking of, I should go and get ready since she'll be here in a bit and I am still in my pjs...

Recipe to follow!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Light and Fluffy Cornbread

Lately I've been experimenting with cornbread. Since trips to the grocery store are limited without a car, I've been coming up with creative ways to revamp traditional dishes. Take, for example, the simple cornbread recipe. There are so many variations to chose from: this week I chose to make a savory and a sweet sampling.

The first recipe I used was inspired by the cornbread Weston's grandmother makes:

1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt, sprinkle of pepper, and some chopped garlic
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 egg
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 tsp sage

Mix everything but the sage together and pour into a sprayed cake pan. Then sprinkle the sage over the whole thing and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes. I like this with chicken or stew - and I ate it without thinking to take a photo so sorry about that.

For the sweet version try this:

1/2 cup almond milk and 1/2 cup water
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 egg
2/3 cup brown sugar

Bake for the same amount of time at 375 degrees, too. For some reason this combination gives you a really light and fluffy cornbread - almost like a cake. It is delicious and moist - perfect to eat plain or with a little whipped cream and strawberries. I think even a good stew would taste good with this. I'll try it tonight :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

You're Going to Kick Yourself

...for not thinking of this sooner, if you haven't already.

There is a super simple (and I do mean SIMPLE) dinner that I consider my go-to comfort food. It's warm and decadent and basically amazing. The other day I was making it when my roommate said, "Oh where did you get that idea. I've never seen anything like that." And I said, "I thought it up." And that's when I realized, maybe I should post it since it is soooo easy and maybe I could share and you'll fall in love with it too.

Don't blame me if it's so simple you're insulted. Sometimes the easiest things are the most tasty, so here's the recipe I've never posted but always should have. Fair warning, it is catered to my own flavor loves, which I'll explain now:

I love pasta - well cooked pasta. A nice little bite to it. It has to be freshly made (as in boiled, not actually made from scratch), too, not something that's been sitting around in the fridge. That's why I incorporated this stipulation into the recipe: you make enough pasta for the amount of people you are serving (usually one, in my case) and there are no leftovers.

Secondly, I enjoy big flavor. I LIKE giant pieces of garlic to bit into, and I don't care if the sundried tomatoes stand out on their own. So if you do like a bit quieter flavor profile, this might not be for you.

Third, I think spicing pasta should be extremely simple. You have to use salt - it makes pasta better. But just enough to taste. And in lieu of pepper, I usually use red pepper flakes for added kick.

Finally, olive oil is another must. You have to use it in this dish. It acts like a binder (along with my other fav ingredients, dijon mustard), and it creates a sense of luxury on the tongue.

So here, it is...it could change your quick supper recipes for good:

Sheila's Super Simple Pasta

Get a pot of water to a rolling boil, then add enough pasta for one serving.

In the plate you are using to eat on (why use a cutting board), chop one clove of garlic and 4-5 olives, any kind you like. Keep the olive pieces a little bigger than the garlic ones. You may also add 1-2 sliced sun-dried tomatoes (not the salt-cured ones).

Sprinkle over this some salt and red pepper flakes. Squirt over that about 1 Tbs of Dijon mustard. Grate in 1 Tbs pecorino (I like this much better than Parmesan).

Once the pasta is cooked perfectly (about 10 minutes), drain it and make sure there isn't any lingering water. Dump over the season mixture you made on the plate. Measure out a good tablespoon of olive oil and pour it over. Use a spoon and fork to toss everything together.

Serve immediately!

*note: I used to mix everything in a pot with the pasta and then transfer it all to a plate, but I lost a lot of the seasonings this way. By making everything right in the plate you are planning to eat with, you can monitor the toppings to make sure they don't sink to the bottom, etc. If making for more than one (3+), just make it all in the serving platter and note that you'll have to use probably 3 Tbs olive oil, 4 Tbs Dijon, and enough toppings to make sure every portion has some.
photo credit (garlic)
photo credit (pecorino)

Friday, May 13, 2011

What To Stew?

Tonight I tried my hand at a traditional stew. What happened was a cross between a stew and a sauce, I suppose. Still very tasty and just what I wanted since I was going to put it over pasta instead of the traditional rice.

Puree an onion and a can of crushed tomatoes with a few cloves of garlic and enough water to make it slightly watery. Coat the bottom of the saucepan with a little oil and then put in the blender mixture. Add the following spices: Cayenne pepper, seasoned salt (celery salt, salt, onion powder, paprika, black pepper), and a bay leaf. Cook this down for a good whiel over medium-high heat. The stew gets pretty nice and thick - and it sputters a lot, so put a lid over it part-way and be careful not to burn yourself. Add chicken wings or thighs or tenders and cook together until they are cooked through.

Serve over plantains, rice, (or pasta).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

OMacG! Smoky Mac and Cheese with Caramalized Onions

The following recipe was inspired from something I saw on the Rachel Ray Show the other week. Rachel termed hers French Onion Soup Mac and Cheese and used Gruyere cheese. I found that I could purchase double the amount of cheese by using a type other than Gruyere, which is a little pricey.

I knew I had to use cheese with an edge since I was cutting Gruyere which has a twang to it. I decided to go for body and creaminess instead - so I went with a hot pepper cheese and a smoked Gouda. Very good decision when paired with the sweet onion mixture.

The second thing I am quite happy about is my decision to use a very very small pasta - one I'd typically throw into an Italian soup. Not orzo or anything - you still need a little bite. The cheese sauce permeated every single nook and cranny and I noticed I didn't have to use as much sauce to get a cheesy flavor. HUGE money saver because you can literally make double!

To start, slice 1 large onion and 3 cloves of chopped garlic and start frying it on medium heat.

Let it caramelize low and slow and then add 1/2 tsp sage, sprinkle of salt, pepper, 1/4 - 1/2 cup of cooking sherry, and about 1/2 cup of beef stock. Let this cook down, then add another 1/2 cup of beef stock or enough to thin it out. Stir in about 1/2 tsp of cornstarch to thicken the mixture and set aside after it looks like the picture below.

Boil your pasta - I used a pound. Make sure to salt your water, too!

Then start on the cheese sauce by melting 2 Tbs of butter and 1/4 cups of flour. Whisk together for a few seconds, then add 2 cups of milk - maybe even 3. Stir until thickened - it will look runny and then all of a sudden come together. Stir in your cheese (turn the heat down to medium low). I used a whole package of both cheeses, so it made a lot (about 2 1/2 cups of cheese total). Whisk until creamy, then add a good couple of squeezes of Dijon mustard.

Add the onions and store half in a container (I freeze this so I have more later) and mix the rest in with your pasta. I like creamy mac and cheese, so this is where I ended the show. But you can always cover with a little butter/breadcrumb mixture and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.

A little trick I use to maintain the creaminess of the pasta when I reheat it is that I add an extra squirt of mustard after I microwave the leftovers. This acts as a binder and adds an extra punch of flavor. I also sprinkle with a little more pepper before serving.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Who Doesn't Love a Late-Night Cookie?

Now, if you've been following this blog for a while, you'll remember a post I wrote a while back called Brownies for Breakfast?, an homage to my love of chocolate and my love of ooey gooey brownies. Today I'd like to focus for a moment on my possible insane infatuation with cookies.

Cookies. Gosh. I love 'em. Everything about them: how they are good both warm and cold. How they can house so many different flavors. The textures - crunchy, chewy... both! The fact that they are perfect for one person - you never feel lonely eating a cookie. And you can make them big or small depending on how guilty you want to feel. These little dears always make me smile - they make anyone smile, for that matter. Who doesn't love receiving a batch of homemade cookies? Who? Find them for me and I'll convert them.

One of the best (and possible most dangerous for my waistline) things about living on my own is that if I want a cookie for dinner, then doggone it, I can have a cookie for dinner.

And today, that is exactly what I did. I made 4 cookies. Yep, only four. I cut the recipe down a lot just to make a personal sized portion of delicious, giant, chocolate chip cookies spilling over with Ghirardelli chocolate chips. I don't care how weird this might sound to y'all...in fact, Weston was telling me today how weird I am because I love cookies so much. All I know is that this recipe is good. Use it with caution.

1/2 bag chocolate chips
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup of white and brown sugar - I just estimate half of each
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 stick of butter - oh gosh, I used a stick of butter...
1 tsp vanilla

Let the butter come to room temp - this is key. Mix is with the sugars, then add the egg and vanilla. Cream well, then mix in the flour, baking soda, and salt - just to combine. Add your chips and bake at 375 for 11 minutes.

Okay, so maybe this makes a few more than 4 cookies. But by the time I was done baking, I swear there were only 4 left ;)

Needless to say, there is only the one picture to commemorate this occasion.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Magic Bars - for the Super-Sweet (Tooth)

Some days we just have a hankering for something from a memory. For me it was magic bars: you know, shortbread cookie on the bottom with chocolate chips and coconut on top. What pulls it all together is a layer of sticky sweet condensed milk. The chef at my dorm used to make them and they were the best - but very, very buttery. I always felt so guilty afterward.

And yet I found myself wishing for one so badly. Happily, I happened the have all the ingredients in my cupboards. Here is the recipe I used, from Martha Stewart Everyday Living.

Also! Did you know that Tollhouse has come out with dark chocolate chips!!! They are super, super yummy! Not on par with Ghirardelli yet, but still a very good consistency and a step up from the semisweet.

Magic Bars (aka Everything Bars)

3/4 cup butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup oats
1 cup chocolate chips
1 15 oz can condensed milk, I used 2%
2 cups plus a little more shredded sweetened coconut

(the recipe also said you could add a 1/2 cup raisins and 1 cup walnut pieces)

Start by preheating the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a 9x13 inch pan - use buttered parchment paper or Pam.

In a food processor pulse butter, sugar, flour, and salt. Then add oats and pulse again. Pack into the bottom of the pan and bake until golden brown - 20 minutes.

Once it comes out, let it cool for about 5 minutes. I added this step so the chocolate chips wouldn't melt all over the place. I like them to hold a little shape.

Sprinkle over the chips ans walnuts, and raisins, if using. Drizzle over this the can of condensed milk, then the coconut, making sure to cover the top completely.

Bake another 20 minutes until the coconut is golden - careful not to overcook otherwise the coconut might burn. Don't touch them because the milk is really hot when it comes out of the oven.

Let cool a little before cutting into 18 pieces. You can cut them smaller if you want, because they are really sweet and a little goes a long way.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Crispy Risotto Bites with Spicy Marinara

Here's the little treat I made for myself the day I found out I got into dental school. I just took some leftover risotto that I had in the fridge and warmed it up just slightly. I heated some oil and rolled little bits of the risotto in breadcrumbs. I fried them on both sides until they were golden and then served over some spicy marina (fra diavolo-esque) I made last week.

To make that you just blend a can of crushed tomato, 3 cloves garlic, one medium onion and salt/pepper/and Cayenne pepper. Heat over the stove and freeze any you don't plan on using within a week. I plan to use the extra that I made in a stew in the upcoming weeks.

These are kind of addictive - possibly because they are all teeny and bite sized and crispity crunchity.