Archive for May, 2008

Southern Feast, part 1

Pimento Cheese

Pimento Cheese

A little over a week ago, I had a few friends over for a southern feast. While most of the food here is fine Texas fare, I must admit the fried green tomatoes are something I picked up from my time with my parents in Memphis.

It was impossible to do all fine southern treats in one go, so there will have to be some other feasts of southern cuisine later in the summer (besides, okra isn’t in season here yet). I’m also not going to put all the recipes here because, well mostly because I’m lazy. too lazy to type them and was too lazy to measure things at the time. I also must admit with shame that I did not make good cream gravy to accompany everything, not because I’m lazy, but because I’m terrible at timing cooking, and we were all too hungry to wait for gravy. So I provide instead our menu with links to a few recipes for some of these items, followed by one recipe.

Menu:

  • Pimento Cheese with celery sticks and crackers
  • Chicken Fried Steak
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Fried Green Tomatoes with ranch dressing
  • Homemade Biscuits with butter and honey
  • Strawberry Shortcakes
  • Minty Spiked Lemonade

Pimento Cheese

For those not familiar with pimento cheese, it’s more of a dip than a cheese. You can serve it with celery, crackers, or whatever you like. It’s served cool to room temp., not hot. Any good homemade version should not be anything like that disgusting schmear found on “pimento cheese sandwiches” cut into quarters.

Serves: about 6 as an appetizer

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 oz. sharp cheddar cheese (real Longhorn cheddar w/ the red wax is best if available, but it’s not in Iowa and it was still fine)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 4 oz. jar diced pimentos, drained
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (light is fine-do not use fat free)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream (same as above)
  • 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • a few pecan halves (optional)
  1. Grate the cheddar cheese while it is still cold from the fridge (don’t use prepackaged shreds. They don’t have as much moisture). Then set the cheese aside to warm to room temperature. It’s easier to mix if it’s warmer, but easier to grate cooler.
  2. Meanwhile, dice the garlic clove and drain the pimentos (and dice them if you couldn’t find a jar of diced).
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the garlic, pimentos, mayo, sour cream, mustard and spices. Then mix in the cheese. Blend well.
  4. Pack into a smaller bowl, preferably one you will use for presentation. Cover tightly and chill at least two hours, preferably overnight. When ready to serve, garnish with a few pecan halves on top, perhaps in a nice pattern. Serve with dipping items.
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Spring Stir-fry

It’s farmer’s market season!! I love this time of year because I get to eat really healthy food for very reasonable prices. I can buy almost all my groceries there, except milk (and I usually don’t buy cheese there just cause it’s so expensive), including bread and pasta and eggs, even hummus! This week I bought asparagus, four bunches of baby bok choy, spring garlic, red and yellow tomatoes, hummus and a cinnamon roll, all for $14.50. (I have to admit that while I could by all my groceries there, I inevitably supplement with other items, such as the red pepper in the following recipe. It is definitely not bell pepper season yet.) I will buy asparagus almost every Saturday and Wednesday until the season ends. Mmmm…asparagus…

To use my delectable produce, I decided to make a light stir-fry so I could still taste the freshness of everything in it. Spring garlic is like a green onion with mild garlic taste (so mild, in fact, that a friend who planted some couldn’t really tell the difference between it and green onions, which he had also planted). You can definitely smell the garlic in the aroma, but it is not a strong flavor. Which is just fine for this dish where the mild bok choy and asparagus are really the stand-outs.

The key to stir-fries is to have everything chopped in advance and arranged into groups depending on how long it takes things to cook. The actual time in the wok for this dish is only 5-7 minutes.

Spring Stir-fry

Servings: 2 main course servings, 3-4 side dish

Cooking time: half an hour or less

Ingredients:

  • 2 stalks/heads baby bok choy (large is fine, but you’ll have to chop it up more)
  • 1/2 a bunch asparagus-should make about 1 1/2 cups once chopped
  • 1 med. red bell pepper
  • 4 stalks spring garlic
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1-2 tbsp lime juice (sorry, I didn’t measure)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • two servings of cooked rice if serving as a main course
  1. Chop the bell pepper into 1 inch pieces. Break off the asparagus at the root end (it will snap naturally-discard the root end or save it for asparagus soup). Break or cut off the tip of the asparagus, about 2-3 inches depending on the size of the asparagus. Cut the remaining asparagus stalks into 1 inch pieces. Cut off the root end of the spring garlic and discard. Like you would a green onion, chop the white part of the garlic, then make a separate pile of the thinner, greener parts. You can add the white parts into your red pepper pile and the green parts into your pile of asparagus tops. Chop off the root end of the bok choy (look for sand on the leaves you’re keeping-you may need to rinse again). For any large leaves, chop the white ends into 1 inch pieces and add to the pile with the asparagus stalks (not tops). Depending on the size of the leaves, you may want to chop them once or twice.
  2. Heat a wok or other skillet over medium high heat. When it is hot add the oil and give it a swirl. Throw in the red bell pepper and garlic ends. Cook for about a minute before adding the asparagus stalks, white parts of the bok choy, and red pepper flakes if using. While that cooks for about three minutes, mix together the remaining ingredients in a small dish. Toss or stir the stir-fry every minute or so. When the asparagus is starting to brighten (about 3 min.), add the asparagus tops and the bok choy leaves. Toss. Add the garlic greens. Toss. Cook about two more minutes, until the asparagus is tender and the bok choy wilted.
  3. Give the sauce a quick stir, then pour it over the stir-fry. Turn off heat. Toss the stir-fry to coat everything with sauce. Serve over rice if it’s a main course, or on the side of a meal.

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Ginger and Mary Ann Soba Salad

The tale of a salad inspired by a waffle.

I was reading SimplyRecipes on Thursday while taking a break from my studies for a huge exam in Asian Religious Traditions the following morning. I saw this recipe, which I thought sounded pretty tasty. I needed a dish to bring to my department end-of-semester get together Friday evening, and I thought it might work pretty well. I already had the soba noodles…but when I started looking at the other ingredients (mango, lots of fresh herbs, peanuts), I could see the grocery bill mounting in my head.

I liked the idea of a soba noodle salad with fruit in it, but what could I use that would be a little cheaper? Strawberries are in season! As for the rest of the flavors, you could at best call the original recipe Thai inspired, but I was thinking about the Japanese origin of those soba noodles (they’re buckwheat noodles-I get them at a great price from the Asian grocery down the street). My ruminations on the soba were particularly pertinent since we ended our class with religion in Japan, so really, it was like I was studying while coming up with this recipe, right? Studying…

Studying would be exactly what I would be doing for the rest of that evening and again in the morning before my test at my favorite coffeeshop for studying, Fair Grounds. There, I would order my favorite waffle, the Ginger and Mary Ann, with pecans (for extra protein-and I’m from Texas!). This is a waffle with strawberries and fresh ginger in it, made on a normal waffle iron, not the stupid Belgian ones with the gigantic pockets in which all the toppings get stuck. I should admit that this is my favorite waffle, but I’ve only had one other kind there, the Apple and Sage (I think you can guess what’s in that). It was really good, but not as good as the Ginger and Mary Ann, with pecans.

And thus I found my inspiration for the rest of this salad. Fresh ginger is a great Japanese flavor. I wanted to use yellow bell peppers instead of red, for the contrast, but alas, the co-op had neither yellow nor orange. Oh well.

This recipe makes a massive amount of food, as I was bringing it to a potluck (for which I was inevitably late and thus had a lot of leftovers…). I would guess this would serve 12-16 as a side. You can divide this recipe in half pretty easily. Also, while I’m usually not a noodle-breaker, I intended to break these soba noodles in half before boiling them, since they were going in a salad. However, I forgot to break them. It was fine, but I think that would make it easier to eat.

The salad was a big hit (with one exception, but I think he just doesn’t like soba). And the test went alright too. 🙂

Fruity, tangy and fresh pasta salad

Prep time: 1 hour, plus chilling time (I went almost directly to the party with this, but it would be fine made a day ahead I think)

Ingredients:

  • 12-13 oz soba noodles (Japanese buckwheat noodles. Mine come in a package with portion sizes rolled together. I used four portion sizes.)
  • 1 quart ripe strawberries
  • 2 small red, orange or yellow bell peppers (should make a cup or so when chopped)
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger (could use up to another whole tbsp, but that was all I had)
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp+ red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tbsp, plus 1 tbsp soy sauce, divided
  • 2-3 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 cup pecans
  1. Put water on to boil for the pasta. Fill a large bowl with cool water. Gently dump in the strawberries and swish them around with your hand. Rub their tops a little bit to loosen up any dirt around the tops. Then let them sit in the water for a few minutes. The dirt will fall to the bottom, and you can skim the strawberries off the top of the water (any that sink are bad). (This is the way my mom taught me to wash strawberries–thanks Mom!) Rinse off the peppers.
  2. Add the pasta to the water when it’s boiling. Soba does not take that long to cook, so be sure to test it after five minutes or so. Drain it when it is al dente. Rinse it with cold water (I do not usually rinse my pasta–my mom says that rinses off some of the vitamins–but Soba gets very sticky, and since you are trying to cool the pasta off for a salad anyways, it is necessary here). Put the noodles in the fridge until you need them.
  3. Cut the tops off the strawberries. Cut the rest of the fruit into 1 inch chunks, or whatever size you’d like for your salad.
  4. Put the vinegars, sugar and salt into a microwave safe bowl (I used my Pyrex measuring cup). Microwave on high for one minute. While that’s in the microwave, peel and dice the fresh ginger. Stir the vinegar mixture. Add the fresh ginger and red pepper flakes. Microwave again from 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, or until you can see it really bubbling in the microwave. Stir, then put in the fridge for a little while. Cut the bell peppers. Stir into the vinegar mixture the lime juice, 1/2 tbsp soy sauce, ground ginger and sesame oil. Taste the sauce and adjust any flavorings. (Don’t add too much soy sauce because the pecans will be salty, as are the noodles.)
  5. In a large mixing bowl, toss together the strawberries, peppers and sauce. Then add the noodles, a little at a time until well mixed. Cover and refrigerate.
  6. Meanwhile, heat your oven or toaster oven to 375. Line a small baking pan with foil. Chop or break up the pecans (not too small, into a quarter or eight size of the nut, depending on the size of your pecans). Toss with the 1 tbsp soy sauce. Toast for about five minutes. Watch carefully! You don’t want them to burn. While the nuts are toasting, roughly chop the spinach.
  7. If you are serving the salad soon, toss the spinach and a 1/4 of the nuts with the rest of the salad. Add the rest of the pecans to the top of the salad for presentation. If you are making this ahead, reserve the spinach and nuts until serving.

I’m going to go eat leftovers now! Mmm…still good the next day. (Pic above is from the leftovers.)

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