Sunday, July 7, 2013

Ramen Noodle Deluxe

Confession:  I love Ramen Noodles.  Actually, I love any noodles.

But I hate the salty flavor packet that comes with the noodles.  I'm not even sure why they label them with different flavors.  They should all just say "Salt Lick."

But hating the flavor packet does not stop me from buying and using them.

To me, it's all about building flavors for the liquid in which you are going to boil the noodles.  You've only got 3 minutes, so you need to pack a wallop right off the bat!

To a small sauce pan of water (just enough to cover the noodles), I add 2 chopped Thai red chiles, one small smashed piece of fresh ginger, a smashed piece of lemon grass (I get mine from Amazon- you could also use the paste from the grocery store) and a smashed clove of garlic.  If you've got some kefir lime leaves, crush a couple and throw them in, or you can use some pieces of lime zest.  Do this while the water is cold.  Then put it on medium heat.  Let it sit and fester for a good 5 minutes at least (you want a pretty good simmer to extract the flavor from your solids).  Fish out the solid materials if they freak you out when you eat the noodles.  Then lemon grass and lime leaves/zest are the only non-edible things, though.  Then turn up the heat and bring it to a boil.

Throw in the magic noodles and boil them for their 3 minutes.  While the boiling is going on, I like to contemplate my add ins.  Sometimes I dice up firm tofu, sometimes shredded rotisserie chicken... any meat or veggie will do.  Actually, sometimes I just want the broth and the noodles!  After putting the soup in a bowl, I usually add a few dashes of soy sauce, some chopped scallions, maybe some sesame seeds, or even a little teriyaki sauce (especially with chicken or shrimp).  Oh- don't forget some fresh cilantro or parsley right before you sit down to eat it.  The fresh herbage makes a difference!

You don't even have to go Asian.  You can make them many flavor you want!  Why not try a little leftover marinara and freshly grated parmesan with some fresh basil leaves?  Or more traditional chicken soup with thinly sliced celery and carrots and onions (that broth may need to boil a little longer to soften the veggies before you add the noodles). You might even want to throw some celery seeds in the broth as well.

If you really want the flavor of the packet, you can make your own.  I've added chicken base, celery seeds and salt to the broth and it tastes pretty close.  Just don't use the packet.  It's gross.  And gross for you.

Life's too short to eat bad food!

Strawberry Shortcake

So after making a big batch of biscuits the other day, I've been trying to find ways to use them all.

My husband would eat dessert three meals a day if he was allowed, so he's always in favor of a sweet breakfast option.

I used my biscuits as the base, then threw together a strawberry compote-ish kinda thing.  It actually came out like a really thick strawberry syrup.

Here's what I did...

I chopped about 8 strawberries in smallish chunks and put them in a small sauce pan with about half a cup of dark brown sugar.  To that I added a good dash of fig infused balsamic vinegar and a wee dash of Calvados apple brandy.  I stirred it occasionally and let it boil on medium heat for about 15 minutes.

Next, I whipped some heavy whipping cream in my mixer with about 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar.

I split the biscuits, buttered them and added a few spoonfuls of the strawberry mixture.  I put the tops on and dolloped the whipped cream on top.  I added a fresh strawberry for garnish.

These tasted really good.  You could use this method to make compote/syrup out of any fruit.  I think I may try blueberries next!  I may even use my emulsion blender and strain out the seeds.  Then I'd have a luscious fruit syrup.  To eat out of the jar with a spoon.  :)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Veggie Dinner

Tonight I wanted to have a meatless dinner.   As I looked in the icebox for inspiration, I remembered that Devin had sprouted some mung beans for me, and I needed to use them before they rotted in the container.  One of my favorite uses of bean sprouts is fried rice- so that's what I made!

The thing I love about fried rice (well, I can say this about most things I cook) is that you can put anything in it.  Fried rice is the ultimate ice box cleaner outer.

There are millions of ways to make fried rice.  I do not make any claims of authenticity with this recipe.  I bet I never do it exactly the same way twice.  But I know that I've never made a batch we didn't gobble up.

Here's a pic of the set up, or mise en place...
An important thing to know about fried rice is- always have everything ready to go before you even turn the heat on.  This dish is easy to make, but once it starts, there's no time for chopping.

I made a batch of rice in my rice cooker.  I always make double the amount I need and freeze the leftovers.  Having cooked rice in the freezer is like a get out of jail free card during the school year.  I am never more than 15 minutes away from dinner if I already have cooked rice!

To me, the secret to a good batch of fried rice is building layers of flavor.  You can't stir fry everything then dump 2 gallons of soy sauce on it and expect it to taste good.  So over the years I've learned a thing or two about the flavors I like and how to develop them.

I make this in a non-stick skillet.  Would it be easier in a wok-type pan?  Yes.  Do I have one?  No.  Sometimes life isn't fair.

Before I turn the heat on, I put 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in the skillet.  You can use whatever oil you like- canola, olive, whatever.   To the oil in the cold pan I add about a tablespoon of fresh ginger (I keep a hand of ginger in the freezer at all times- I buy it at the grocery store, chop it into inch long pieces and put them in a zip lock bag), zested on a microplane grater (I don't even skin it); 2 Thai chile peppers, chopped, seeds and all (they aren't that hot); a tablespoon of minced fresh garlic; lemon grass paste (I get mine at the grocery store in the produce section); Thai red chile paste (you can get it at the grocery store in the Asian food section); and about a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil (also available in the Asian food section of the grocery store).  Then I turn the heat to a little past medium.  Don't touch anything until the stuff in the oil starts to sizzle.  Once it does, use a wooden spoon or spatula and start moving stuff around.  At this point, you are infusing that oil with all those yummie flavors.  Let it cook for a minute or two- you don't want to burn the garlic.  

When the first layer of flavor is going, I add my veggies that take a few minutes to cook; I used half a chopped Vidalia onion, about 2 cups of chopped green cabbage, bell pepper (a little yellow and a little red), and chopped carrot.  After those work for about 5 minutes, I add the sliced mushrooms.  Let this go for a few minutes over moderately high heat.  We want a little charring.  I usually add a little soy sauce at this point, but not enough to make it wet- the stuff needs to stir fry, not boil.

After a few minutes, I push the veggies to the side of the pan and make an empty space in the middle.  I beat 2 eggs, then pour them in the middle of the skillet.  Let them sit for a minute or two to begin cooking.  Shake them around with the spatula to scramble them.  When they start solidifying, stir the veggies back in.  

At this point I get about 3 scoops of rice out of the rice cooker and dump them in the pan with the veggies.  Before I start mixing I add a few splashes of fish sauce (available at the grocery store), a few splashes of soy sauce (I use low sodium), a few splashes of teriyaki sauce (not too much because I don't want it to be sweet), the aforementioned mung bean sprouts
and a handful of toasted sesame seeds.  You can also throw in chopped peanuts, but I didn't have any.  Mix everything together.  Be careful, because at this point it's usually too much food for the skillet I chose.  This is why I want a wok.  :)

Let all that work over moderate heat.  Again, you want the rice to char a little.  Taste it and make sure it doesn't need a bit more soy, or something else.  

At this point you have a batch of fried rice that beats the heck out of any take out fried rice I've ever had.  If you want to add meat to it, chicken and shrimp are excellent candidates, as is tofu.

Tonight I made this and on the side I added an experiment.  

Earlier this week Devin and I had lunch at an Asian restaurant.  We ordered the spicy edamame.  To say it was good is an understatement.  Angels sang.... the heavens opened up..... It was perfect!  It hit me right in the umami sweet spot.  It was spicy and garlicky and wonderful.  I knew I had to figure out how to replicate the flavor profile at home.  I decided to give it a whirl using sugar snap peas.  The bonus being you can eat the whole pod.

Here's a shot of both recipes on the plate:
So the peas didn't turn out exactly, but they were really good.  I blanched the sugar snaps in boiling water for about 3 minutes, then shocked them in ice water to lock the color and stop the cooking.

I used the same pot I blanched them in to do the rest.  Again, before I put the pan on the heat I added about 2 tablespoons of canola oil, lots of fresh minced garlic (like 5 cloves), some red pepper flakes (depends on how hot you want this to get) and about a tablespoon of the Thai red chile paste.  I put the pan over moderate heat.  After it started sizzling I stirred the spices around so the oil would soak up all the flavor.  I let it sizzle about a minute (don't burn the garlic), then dumped in the sugar snaps.  I threw them all around in the pan, letting them get coated in the spicy flavored oil.  I stir fried them about a minute more- just to heat them through and coat them well.

I immediately plated them with the fried rice and that was dinner!

Veggie Frittata

Frittatas are becoming my go-to meal if I'm in a pinch.  A frittata is the lazy girl's omelette.

There is no recipe- or at least I don't use one.  It's more of a technique than a recipe.

Here's what I did for this particular one.....

I chopped up some swiss chard from the garden, about 4 mushrooms, half a tomato (leftover from sandwiches the day before), half a Vidalia onion, and a wee bit of fresh garlic.

I crumbled the leftover bit of feta cheese from the icebox.

I beat 4 eggs together with a dash of salt, a splash of milk and a smidgeon of hot sauce.

I sauteed the veggies in a pat of butter until they were soft.  I poured in the egg mixture, then dumped in the feta.  I scooted it around in the pan with my spatula until I had everything where I wanted it.  I let it cook on the stove top over medium heat for about 4 or 5 minutes, then I moved it to a 400 degree oven for another 10 minutes, but I started checking for doneness after 5.  It's done when the middle doesn't giggle anymore.

When it was done, I scooted it onto a cutting board and cut it into 4 wedges.  It fed Devin and I with one triangle leftover- which ended up between two pieces of home made bread later that day.

Seriously, you can put anything in this and it can be breakfast, lunch or dinner.  What's not to love?

Cream Biscuits

I've seen the recipe for these biscuits everywhere lately.  I'm not surprised, because these are so easy and the resulting biscuits are delicious!

The recipe I used was out of Nathalie DuPree's Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, but like I said before, if you google it, there are dozens of sites out there with recipes.

The allure of this recipe is that it only uses two ingredients- heavy cream and self rising flour.  That's it.

I had to play with the recipe a little because I am in a much drier climate than Ms. Dupree, therefore I had to use almost half again as much cream to get my dough to come together.

I put these biscuits together in about 5 minutes, including the cutting.  They baked about 12 minutes.  That's home made biscuits in about 15 minutes- crazy!

In a large bowl I mixed 2 cups of self rising flour.  I made a well in the center, then slowly poured in 1 cup of heavy cream.  After folding it in very carefully (NEVER over mix biscuit dough!), I realized I needed more cream.  I used about a half cup more.  When the dough starts to come together in one big lump, tump it out on a well floured surface.  The directions said pat it out and fold it over.  I was afraid my dough would be overworked, so I skipped that step and went right to patting it out until it was about 1/2 an inch thick.  Then I used a 2 inch biscuit cutter and cut out 14 biscuits (that included gently putting scraps back together for the last 4 biscuits)- don't twist the cutter while you punch them out or the biscuits won't rise properly.  I put them on a buttered cookie sheet and baked them at 450 degrees for 12 minutes, spinning the pan half way through.  If you want softer biscuits, crowd them together in a pan.  I wanted biscuits that were crispy on the outside.  When they come out of the oven, slather them generously with butter.  Try not to eat one standing at the oven.  I dare you!

Possible variations- you could add chives and cheddar to the dough, smoked gouda and ham, any herbs, garlic (or slather the tops with garlic butter when they come out of the oven).  I think to make an even crispier biscuit, next time I'll baste the tops with melted, salted butter before I bake them.  It doesn't matter what you do to them- just make them!
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