Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Easy-Peasy Fried Rice

So, I never thought I could like fried rice, but my roommate, Sharon made some for dinner the other night and I was completely enamored.

I guess you need a little back story here... See, I have a phobia of fried rice dishes because I get horrible flashbacks to the Chinese buffet my family used to go to. It was a bad, bad restaurant and I think it eventually had to close for sanitary (or lack of) reasons. I know it was bad and so I really should give this dish another chance, but I can't for the life of me convince myself to try it in a restaurant again. Key words here: in a restaurant.

When Sharon announced she could make fried rice with the leftover sausage I had in the fridge, I was surprised that the idea of revisiting one of my most feared dishes sounded so appealing. I suggested adding the cabbage I had in the fridge and so, with the addition of a couple eggs, a yummy meal was born.

Here's the recipe - you can add any type of meat and veggies you have on hand.

Make 3 cups of short grain rice and keep it warm.

In a wok, fry about 3 eggs over medium heat. Add 1 1/2 cups of chopped meat (we used sausage) and fry until the eggs are cooked and you look like scrambled eggs. Add 1 cup of red cabbage, chopped, and continue cooking until it is slightly wilted.

Add all the rice (this makes a lot - enough to feed 4-5 people). Mix everything together and raise the heat to medium high - this will start making the rice nice and crunchy.

Crack an additional 2 eggs into the mix and stir around until they are cooked. By doing this, you get little bits of egg stuck to your rice. Add maybe 3 Tbs of soy sauce, a dash of sesame oil, and 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Taste for seasoning - you might need to add a tad more soy sauce and sesame oil. Keep frying until the rice is a nice brown color and kind of crunchy in some spots.

Serve hot!

Homemade fried rice was a definite hit for me - I can't wait to experiment with this recipe. You can even make it more healthy by using brown rice - or using hot chili oil.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Quick Energy on the GO!!!!

Classes have started and I'm already tired. But a good tired. Well, maybe a little bit of an anxious tired, too. Regardless, these four years are going to be tough, but in the end I'll be doing the only thing that can make me happy day in and day out. So that's a good motivating factors on the days I just want to flop on the bed and just reject studying anymore.

I wanted to share a recipe which has really helped me when I need to grab something on the go: date bars. I've loved dates since the beginning of time - especially with feta cheese - yum yum. My tastebuds are tickled just thinking about it. Dates have a lot of fiber, but also sugar so they are a really good pick-me-up in a pinch. I only use Majool dates because I think the flavor is better. They are also really fresh tasting and plump - I hate those small dry, crusty dates - not sure what they are called, but Persians can't stand them.

I make my date bars with oats so they are also filling. These bars are perfect to pack in your lunchbox or just stick in your backpack for a time when you're ravenous but still want a sweet treat. The worst feeling is grabbing lunch with friends and eyeing the candy bars, knowing you'll pay for it later.

I got the recipe from the Food Network website. My alterations are included.

What You Need for the Filling:

3 cups chopped dates
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water

What You Need for the Bars:

3/4 cups brown sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups oats
1 1/2 sticks butter cut into small pieces

What You Do:

Cook down the filling ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture is nice and thick. Let it cool completely - I put it in the fridge for faster results.

Mix the other ingredients and cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Press about 2/3 of this into a Pyrex dish, layer the date mix on top, then the rest of the butter/oatmeal mixture and pack down slightly.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

*I found the bars to be too sweet for me, and too crumbly. I think what I'll do next time is use my tried and true granola bar recipe and just add dates to it. I don't really like adding all the extra sugar and butter - honey and grapeseed oil is much healthier and gives a better texture.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Plantains Done Right

This weekend I was able to make fried plantains with Weston's mom. She showed me the Cuban way to do it - I found the method really simple and fun, so I hope I can try it myself sometime soon.

First, you need really green plantains - take off the skin and cut them in about 1/2 inch thick pieces. Keep them in water until ready to fry (but be sure to dry them off before frying so the oil won't spit in your face).

Heat about a 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a frying pan until it's hot. Take the pieces of plantains and put them in the oil. Fry until they get a good brown color on either side, then take them out and place onto a brown paper bag.

Using another paper bag on top, flatten the pieces until they are pretty thin.

Place immediately back into the oil and continue frying until they are crisp. Take them out and put on a paper towel to drain. Sprinkle with salt before serving and while they are still hot (the salt sticks to the oil).

Mrs. Bruner made these treats as part of a yummy Cuban lunch in honor of Weston's sister, who was celebrating a birthday. The meal included black beans with rice and Cuban pork tenderloin. I NEED those recipes, so I plan on asking her for them ASAP :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Personal Invention: Raspberry Cheesecake

I never thought it could happen. I am good at following recipes. I am great at improvising and making them my own. But I never actually thought I could invent one! The process getting to this point was a smooth one - it started with a Rhubarb Pound Cake where I added my own filling to make it unique. That was the beginning. But this recipe marks a new transition because I can honestly say it is my own. It is very loosely based off one I found in Williams Sonoma - but seeing as I changed the amounts of basically everything and most of the ingredients, I like to think it's a Sheila original :)

What you need:

Group 1

2 packages 1/3 fat cream cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 tsp cornstarch plus an 1/8 of a teaspoon
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups sugar

Group 2

a little under 3/4 cup raspberry jam, strained to remove seeds
1 Tbs raspberry framboise liqueur

Group 3

1/3 cup frozen raspberries
2 Tbs water
1-2 Tbs sugar
squirt lemon juice

Group 4

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup butter, melted

Mix together the ingredients in Group 4 to make the crust. You might have to add a bit more butter if it seems like it's not holding together. Pour into a greased springform dish and pack into the bottom using a measuring cup to get into the little edges. Bake the crust at 4oo degrees for 10 minutes until it's golden and slightly set.

Mix together Group 2.

Over medium high heat, cook together all the ingredients from Group 3. Let this cool, then add it to Group 2.

Mix together the ingredients in Group 1 - make sure the cream cheese is room temp (or nuke it for about 30 second in the microwave). This ensures there are no lumps in the batter. Then add everything else and beat really well. Sprinkle in the cornstarch, don't dump it in - otherwise it'll clump.

Take one cup of the batter, put it in a separate bowl and add to this Groups 2 and 3 - making your raspberry layer. Pour this into the bottom of the crust. Pour the rest of the white batter over this and, if you can, use a knife to swirl the two together. If you can't don't worry about it -you'll still see a nice pink layer at the bottom.

Turn the heat to 300 degrees and bake the cheesecake for about 60 minutes - maybe a little less/more. The center will jiggle slightly and that's fine. The nice thing about the filling is that it doesn't burn as easily as just cream cheese, so you have some wiggle room in terms of over-baking.

Let it set for overnight in the fridge. Unfortunately, this is the best way to maximize flavor. The cake just gets nice and dense and flavorful. Mmm. Mmm

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Arugula and Spinach Pesto

Dear fellow Richmonders - I'm back from Michigan! I am a bit off-schedule in terms of my posting due to the craziness of moving into my apartment, meeting and greeting my new roommate (yay!), and attending dental school orientation (wo0-hoo!). I have met some wonderful people these past few days and they are sure to make my dental school experience exciting and rewarding.

I moved in last Friday and had absolutely nothing in the fridge (save for some sandwich scraps), so when a fellow dental student invited me over to make dinner, I quickly suggested this yummy recipe. I've been craving pesto and something spicy (I wasn't sure what) for a while and this is the perfect marriage of the two.

The recipe is one of Giada's and you can find the original here - I've included it here with my modifications.

1 cup walnuts, slightly chopped
4 cloves garlic
1 small jalapeno (about 2 inches long)
2 cups grated Asiago cheese
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cup arugula (maybe a little less)
1 cup spinach (I like baby spinach)
1/2 cup olive oil

1 pound fusilli pasta, or any pasta with a lot of grooves
more Asiago to use when serving

In a food processor or grinder combine the nuts into a nice powder, along with the spices. Then add the cheese, leaves, olive oil, and jalapeno. We took out the ribs and seeds of the jalapeno (this is where a lot of the heat lives) and it wasn't actually that spicy. Note that when using jalapeno, wash your hands thoroughly before touching anything - especially your eyes! Or use gloves.

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain and add the pesto - as much as you like. Mix in 1/2 cup more of Asiago and let that melt in. Serve and garnish with a little more cheese :) Store any extra pesto in the fridge covered with a light layer of olive oil.

We made this in a blender and I really wouldn't recommend that. If you must, though, you'd have to add a little water in the bottom and make sure to do it in batches so the blender can keep grinding and such.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Ravens Club, The New Kid in Town

My last weeks in Michigan are coming to an end but before leaving I wanted to try one restaurant new to the Ann Arbor Restaurant Scene - The Ravens Club. This restaurant was touted by my cousins as being flavor forward and local ingredient friendly.

I went with a couple friends (we were kicking off a weekend of shopping, movies, dancing, and yummy food - I honestly felt like they were my sisters by the end of it). The Ravens Club has two menus, actually - their normal dinner and their small plates menu. The dinner menu is swapped out for their small plates menu at 10pm. This second menu, in theory, is a really good idea - it serves interesting bar food at affordable prices. We ordered lamb meatballs with green olives, pommes frites with rosemary and sea salt, and pork belly crostini. The menu literally had me drooling - but none of the dishes lived up their descriptions. And for the price - almost $15 a person (what you see pictured above is all the food we got), none of us were very happy. The $15 was including a mug of beer/organic hard cider which, I will say, was quite tasty.

I've been told the entrees are very yummy here but unless I hear multiple raving reviews on a particular dish, I am not sure I'll be back for the food. All in all - I was very excited, but left disappointed...and a little hungry.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Zingerman's Deli - a Legend

For a while I've avoided posting about Zingerman's Deli. Why? Because although it is delicious, it is not a place I frequent normally because it's a little out the way and the prices make it so I can only afford to go once or twice a year. I've tried to provide you with an objective view here:

The Deli:

Zingerman's was founded by some unique individuals - I have met one of them, Ari, before and he was a great, down-to-earth person with a zen, yet bubble personality. I think he has a background in history or something like that. All the founders are intensely passionate about their company and they do care that the products are top notch and original.

The Mission:

From my view, as a non-member of the Z team, it's clear that they aim to find the freshest ingredients for their foods - no matter where on the globe they might be! I respect that zealous attitude and I appreciate the care they take in everything they do. Oh! And customer service - they are amazing with that, too...but more to come!

The Products:

Like I said, Zingerman's travels the world looking for the most delicious cheeses, meats, peanut butters, olive oils and vinegars, name it, they're lookin' for it. But they also have a Creamery, a Bakery, a Coffeehouse, Deli, Catering Division, a Roadhouse, and their own line of cookbooks. Each division is in charge of upholding itself in order to, ultimately, uphold the Zingerman's name. They also can be hired to give seminars on building a business. They are also known for the hilarious sayings and art sketches that accompany their products - I must admit, they are pretty funny :)

My thoughts:

There is one other Zingerman's "trademark" in which I haven't yet mentioned - the price. It's super high. In my opinion, too high. I understand that for the quality of the things that they carry, the prices might be justified. But to charge so much for subtle differences in cheeses, is a little much for a student to pay. I had a very bad experience with their catering service, too - they forgot our order, then found it, unlabeled - it had been sitting for at least a day and the sandwiches had dried up. Now, this was in 2006 and my mom never complained to them so they didn't know. But a few years later, at one of their conferences, I mentioned this to the team and they called me the next day apologizing. I guarantee they would have refunded us had we told them what happened.

What prompted my writing this post was the fact that upon a recent trip to Zingerman's, I had a bad sandwich - as in, some components weren't on par. I wrote an email asking them if they'd changed the recipe and received a personal call from the Sandwich Chef inviting me back to the store to enjoy a sandwich on them. After getting off the phone I was so happy with their service I had to share my experience with you!

If you ever have a chance to make it to Ann Arbor, Zingerman's is a legend you shouldn't miss. Foodies will be in heaven and, at the end of the day if you strip off the the great artwork, the cool names, and even the price tag, you're getting wonderful food. As a friend of mine put it: you'll definitely - find delicious.