Culinary dreams

Last night I dreamt that I was good friends with Padma from Top Chef and she was dating Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin. In the dream Mark and I had lunch with them and got to enjoy many delicious treats that Ripert kept ordering. I used to dream about Brad Pitt and now I dream about food show hosts and world renowned chefs! What does it all mean?

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“Meatless meat” for dinner

Last night we had a departure from our typical cooking and decided to try some new soy products that are out on the market. So, we made “buffalo wings” that we dipped in blue cheese. And we also made “Chicken” scallopini over brown rice and kale.

The wings were better than we expected though extremely spicy. The “chicken” was decent. I had tried this a while back but had just cooked it in a panini press, allowing the outer crust to get a little crispy. I think that made for a better final product.

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Nigella Lawson is back…

…in my life. My love for Nigella Lawson has been reignited. I don’t even know why the flame fizzled. I used to be obsessed with her show and the foods she made. I have two of her cookbooks and bookmarked many things I wanted to make. I was on a roll 5-6 years ago but slowly lost interest. I think once her show left the Style channel where it was British produced and moved over to the Food Network, it lost something in its appeal. Granted, I would still occasionally make her seared salmon over mashed peas and her linguine with red chili, crab, and watercress (a favorite of my dad’s and he is NOT an adventurous eater….but he sure does love this dish).

But this weekend I decided to revisit her cookbooks. I’m so glad I did. Nigella was the first tv food personality that really got me into cooking. She has such a passion for what she does and uses her words so well that you feel like you can almost taste the food she’s describing.

On Sunday I finally made something that I had been meaning to make for years…black rice with shrimp and a vietnamese spicy sauce. After looking all over for red chillies, I finally found them at Super G (my first experience there). That is a great place. They have everything…even live blue crabs that you can buy.

Ok, so I digress…back to the issue at hand…the dish was really easy to make but still had a great depth of flavor and the black rice gave it such an exotic flair. If you’re curious to see her make it…check out this you tube video: Nigella Lawson on You Tube


For dessert we had these Sweet Red Bean Buns that we steamed. They were delicious. We got them from the Super G. The ingredients were so basic too, so we knew we weren’t getting some kind of over-processed ‘grocery store-type’ item.

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Homemade blueberry pancakes!

We made the most delish pancakes yesterday from scratch! no box involved! the trick to fluffy pancakes? Beating the egg whites separately and folding them into the batter. check out the recipe…(taken from the blog “Let Her Bake Cake”). The recipe is adapted from the Clinton Street Bakery’s (NYC) pancakes. There is also a recipe for a blueberry compote topping and maple butter. The first time around we made both. Now we do the blueberry compote and just top with maple syrup. But honestly, you don’t need the toppings. You can just eat these pancakes with plain old maple syrup and be happy!
Serves 3-4

Ingredients
2 eggs
220 ml (1 scant cup) buttermilk
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
190g (scant 1 1/3 cups) plain or all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup blueberries

Separate the eggs so that the yolks go into a large bowl and the whites go into the bowl of a stand mixer or a bowl large enough to fit a hand held electric mixer.

Add the buttermilk and melted butter to the yolks in the bowl and beat together. In another bowl mix together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

With a stand mixer or electric mixer, whip the egg whites to hold soft peaks.

Now pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and stir lightly until just combined. Some lumps are ok. Fold in the egg whites until just combined. It’s ok if some of the whites aren’t fully incorporated.

Rub a non-stick frying pan with a bit of butter and heat over medium-high heat. Add batter to pan to make whatever size pancake you want (ours are on the small side- though not like silver dollar pancakes). It’s easier to manage them on the pan when they’re not too big. Pancakes are ready to flip once a few bubbles appear on the surface and and the tops are starting to go dull. Just before they are ready to flip, sprinkle a few blueberries on top of each pancake. Flip and cook another minute or two.

Keep the pancakes warm in a very low oven while you cook the remaining batter.

————–

Blueberry Compote

1 cup blueberries (preferably wild blueberries, if available)
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 strip lemon peel
1/4 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn down heat and simmer very gently until mixture is thickened, about 10-12 minutes. Stir occasionally during cooking time. Spoon compote over pancakes while still warm.

———————-

Maple Butter

Serves 3-4. You can adjust the amount of maple syrup to make it more or less pronounced, depending on your tastes.

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup maple syrup

In a small saucepan, melt together butter and maple syrup over low heat until melted. Serve immediately over pancakes.

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Recipe: Baked Fish with Tahini Sauce and Baked Pita Points

This is another “original recipe” I came up with. Growing up, we used to have these big fish fries on Sunday where we’d deep fry fish (on the bone) and pita bread and then eat them with a tahini sauce (you see it a lot in Lebanon at the coastal restaurants). I decided to put a healthy spin on that old tradition.

This is really simple, healthy, and delicious. First, I put some salt, pepper, and olive oil on a nice big piece of cod and baked it in the oven at 400 degrees for about 12-15 minutes.

In the meantime, go ahead and also cut a couple of pieces of pita bread into triangles. (I used pocket pita but you can use whatever you have available) Lay them in a pan and sprinkle with a little salt, pepper, garlic powder, and olive oil. Toss together and then make sure they’re all laying flat in the pan. Put in the oven on the rack under the fish, closer to the bottom.

For the tahini sauce, I just took a clove of garlic and mashed it with a couple of pinches of salt salt in the bottom of the bowl with a mortar. Then I added about 5 tablespoons of tahini and the juice of 1 lemon. You might need to add a little more salt at the end.

Once the fish finished baking, I removed it from the oven and tented it with some foil for a minute while I gave the pita points a minute to finish up. They probably take about 15 minutes to get nice and crunchy.

Once the pita chips were done, I served the fish on each plate and topped the fish with tahini sauce and chopped parsley.

As a side, we had sauteed some spinach in olive oil and garlic. It complimented the fish and tahini really well.

The pita chips were served on the plate along with some babaganoush (recipe for that is coming soon).

Tahini is derived from sesame seeds and is a great source of protein, essential fatty acids, B vitamins and calcium.

I highly recommend this dish for a satisfying and light meal.

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Spaghetti alla Carbonara

We made spaghetti alla carbonara the other night for the first time and it was really delicious. It was also the first time we used an Anne Burrell recipe (she’s on Food Network). I was impressed and will try to make more of her dishes in the future.

This will easily be one of our standby dishes in the future. It was so quick and easy to make. The ingredients are fairly basic: eggs, spaghetti (we used whole wheat), pancetta (if you can’t find pancetta you can substitute bacon), parmesan and pecorino cheeses, salt, scallions, and pepper. The only tricky thing is trying to make sure the eggs don’t become scrambled eggs once you add them to the hot pasta and pancetta. The egg and cheese mixture should just be a white sauce once it cooks. Ours got slightly scrambled but it didn’t matter. It was so good. Maybe next time I’ll try to temper the eggs by adding a bit of the hot pasta water to the egg mixture first to get the mixture slightly warm before pouring it into the pan with the pasta.  Also, don’t dismiss the use of the scallions. They are not just a garnish, they seriously do give the dish that final burst of flavor. So, definitely use them.

I highly recommend this as a quick, delicious dinner option. Enjoy!

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Redi-Et Ethiopian Restaurant – Myrtle Beach, NC

Ok, so who would have thought we’d have some amazing Ethopian food to blog about from Myrtle Beach? But we do! On our last night at the beach we wanted to eat something other than the typical American fare you find there. So we found Redi-Et on Trip Advisor’s website. It was highly recommended. So, we ventured on a 20 minute drive from N. Myrtle Beach to try them out.

When you pull up, you can tell right away it’s kind of a “hole in the wall” and is part of a little strip mall. I can’t lie, I was a little apprehensive for a few moments. But once our waitress (who is also the owner and cook) came up to our table, I felt at ease. She was fairly shy and very sweet.

CIMG1679

CIMG1680

She started us off with some homemade bread that we were told to dip in clarified butter sprinkle with chili powder (they call it Berbere). It was a great way to start.

We ordered the Vegetarian Sampler and the Siga Tibs. The Vegetarian Sampler comprised a little bit of everything they have on their vegetarian menu.

Siga Tibs
Siga Tibs

And the Siga Tibs was some really delicious flavored cubed meat that came with salad and some vegetables.

If you’re ever in Myrtle Beach then you must check them out. Also, they are really inexpensive. You get a ton of food for the price.  I would love it if we had a place like this here in Greensboro! For more information, you can visit their website.

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Banh Mi – Vietnamese Sandwich

To continue my exploration of what pork can be used for in it’s variety of forms, I decided to make the Vietnamese sandwich called the Banh Mi. This sandwich featured pork loin seared and then cooked off in the oven (you could also use pork shoulder/butt). When cooked it was moist in the center with a bit of a crispy fatty edge. Awesome! For the toppings I pickled some carrots in vinegar, salt and sugar. Chopped up some jalapenos from my garden out back,

jalepeno

some sliced cucumber, cilantro, mayo (with lemon mixed in), and some soy sauce drizzled on top. This was all served on a white sub roll. Now traditionally this is served on a french baguette but I thought I would try it on a fresh sub roll. If you need a bit more heat just add some sriracha. This sandwich combines a lot of flavors and goes perfect with a cabbage salad and a dry Asian beer (i had a Sapporo).

Now the recipe was a combo of different techniques I came across online. Here was the main source.

A couple of my variations were to

1. use pork loin (sear it then finish off in the oven)

2. add a bit of lemon to the mayo

3. Use a sub roll instead of french baguette.

4. A little sriracha to add bit of heat.

If you are looking for a sandwich that is a little bit different and has an explosion of flavors, check this one out.

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Barbecue Pork Ribs – North Carolina Style

Pork has become one of my favorite meats as of late due to its versatility and great taste.  I think that we can all agree that bacon is one of the best ingredients ever.  But this week is about the ribs, slow cooked and seasoned North Carolina style.  North Carolina has its own way of doing barbecue and that way is all about the vinegar.

What I did first was brine the ribs.  Brining is soaking the meat in a salt water overnight to tenderize the meat and make sure they stay moist.  For the sauce its a mixture of apple cider vinegar, red pepper flakes, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, and liquid smoke.  Now I used liquid smoke because I did the ribs in the oven.  If you have a smoker on your grill use that. Bring all the ingredients to a boil and that’s it.

Next is to cook it slow for 3 hours on 275 basting every half an hour.  After that you have perfect ribs, tender and moist with a great caramelized sauce on top. Here is the full recipe.

I also grilled up some fresh corn we got from the farmers market and Lina made a classic cole slaw.  This was a great southern style meal ya’ll.

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Kafta Burgers

Check it out!  Kafta is a very traditional dish from Lebanon. Since I am from Lebanon, I grew up eating this but in other ways such as baked in pan with potatoes, onions, and tomatoes…I decided to put a modern twist on it and give a twist on basic burgers. Here’s the recipe.

Kafta Burgers
Servings: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooke time: 15 minutes
1/2 cup curly parsley (finely chopped)
1 pounds ground turkey (or beef or chicken)
½ cup onion (diced)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp allspice
1.5 tsp salt
3/4 tsp pepper
¼ cup bread crumbs (only if using chicken/turkey; don’t need for beef)
1 medium tomato (sliced in rounds)
4 buns
Cucumber sauce:
1 clove garlic (minced or pressed using a garlic press)
1 cup yogurt (Greek yogurt preferably, but regular yogurt is fine)
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup shredded cucumber (after water has been pressed out)
salt and pepper (to taste)

Preparation
Heat outdoor grill on medium. (If you do not have a grill, you can just use a grill pan or skillet on the stovetop.)

IMG_0765IMG_0771

Mix ground meat, chopped parsley, diced onion, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and allspice in a bowl. Once mixed, form into 4 patties. Press thumb into middle to form a slight indention to keep burgers from puffing up.
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Grill for about 7 minutes on each side.

IMG_0791
Grating cucumber
Squeezing out the excess water from the grated cucumber with a paper towel
Squeezing out the excess water from the grated cucumber
Mixing cucumber sauce ingredients
Mixing cucumber sauce ingredients

While the burgers are grilling, mix together the cucumber sauce ingredients and set aside.
Lightly grill the buns to heat through. Once burgers are done, place on them on the bun, top with tomato and cucumber sauce.

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Don Ishiyaki – Greensboro, NC

Don Ishiyaki is one of my favorite casual dining spots in the city.  Great food at a good price and they have kimchi, so that brings me back to my days in Koreatown (LA).   The star of the menu is the Ishiyaki which is means “cook on hot rock”.  I started out with a house salad which has mixed greens, carrots, cucumber, and fried wantons.  The dressing is a classic ginger dressing.  One of the few casual spots that chooses to serve mixed greens instead of iceberg.  Kudos for that.

House salad

For my entree I usually go with the Bibimbap with brown rice.  Bibimbap is steak, kimchi, green onion, bean sprouts and raw egg on top (you can’t see it in the photo because i got excited and forgot to take a picture).  It comes out in this hot rock bowl and you can push the egg to the side to start cooking it.  I mix it in a little.   The rice at the bottom continues cooking and gets this great crunch to it.   They also bring out some sauces and the spicy asian is a must.  The entrees are also served with a bowl of miso soup on the side.

Lina got the Veggie Ishiyaki and that is just as good.  Comes with tofu, bean sprouts, carrots, mushrooms, spinach, onion and zucchini.  She also got hers with brown rice to keep it on the healthy side.

veggie

This place is great for a casual lunch, low key dinner or group dinner before a night on the town.  Did I mention the vibe is killer.  The lights are dim and I think I heard some Hot Chip while I was there.

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Harissa Chicken with potatoes and squash

harisa

Last night I made harissa rubbed chicken legs baked in the oven with fingerling potatoes and yellow zucchini (from the farmer’s market). This was my first attempt at using harissa. Harissa is a north african spicy red paste that can either be used as marinades, a dip, or an addition to sauces, mayo, etc. I’ve been hearing more and more about it so I thought I’d try it out. I got the can from a local middle eastern market. Here’s what I did…very simple:

1. Rub the chicken legs on the outside and under the skin with the paste. Let marinate for an hour or so if time allows.

2. In the meantime, I parboiled the potatoes and cut up the squash.

3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

4. I then removed the chicken from fridge, threw the potatoes and squash into the baking dish.

5. Put salt, pepper, and olive oil on the chicken (both sides) and the veggies.

6. Cook in the oven for 50 minutes….and then you have a full meal ready for you.

It was a good dish…a change from the typical spices we use. Strangely, the heat of the harissa hits you with the first couple of bites and then it just all of a sudden mellows out and allows you to taste the real flavor of it.  I have a bunch of harissa left and am going to play with other ways to use it.

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