Friday, July 30, 2010

Summer Breakfast

Not enough people eat breakfast every day.  I used to be a staunch anti-breakfaster, but lately I've been waking up earlier, getting hungry, and starting to think about what to eat.  Through a long process of trial and error, I have found a breakfast so perfect and delicious, so filling and nutritionally balanced, that I don't know if I'll ever switch it up to something different.  The thing is, it's really only perfect for summer.  When the mornings start getting colder, I know I'll turn to my old tried and true oatmeal (and boy do I have some oatmeal recipes for you!), but right now, when berries are cheap, is the perfect time for this breakfast.

You can't see the yogurt, but I promise it's lurking in there somewhere!

It doesn't have a name, because it's not actually a recipe.  All I do is dump one container of Chobani Greek yogurt into a bowl, add a handful of muesli or granola (right now I'm using Kashi GoLean Crunch because I got it on sale and it's delicious, but last week I was using muesli from Whole Foods), a handful of blueberries, and a handful of sliced strawberries.  Then I hit it with a splash of soy milk (I don't handle regular milk very well, though for some reason, cheese and yogurt are never a problem).  The soy milk cuts down the thickness, because you know how thick that Greek yogurt is, and then I give it a good stir and scarf it all down in about 8 seconds, because that's just how good it is.  Fiber, protein, calcium, vitamins, all in one very tasty, low-fat package!  It doesn't get much better, folks.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fake Enchiladas!

They're not really fake.  But I'm not proud of how I made them.  Don't worry, though, they turned out to literally be the best enchiladas I've ever eaten in my entire life.  And I never, ever, ever use hyperbole to stress a point.  Ever.

Okay, so to justify my use of the word "fake": enchiladas are a beautiful thing.  The sauce should be made lovingly and the meat and vegetables should be prepared in such a way as to make them tender, juicy, and flavorful.  You should always use fresh ingredients, and avoid canned and pre-packaged foods at all cost.  But sometimes you are pressed for time and you're broke and you're hungry, so you make enchiladas the way I did today.  And you love every minute of it.

1 large chicken breast, chopped into 1" cubes ($1.00 if you cut it yourself)
1/4 each of a large red, green, and yellow bell pepper, sliced into strips (I got a pre-sliced mix for $3.11)
1/2 yellow onion, sliced (already had it at home)
1/2 tub of onion and chive cream cheese ($0.45 on sale)
1 small can salsa verde ($1.25)
1/2 jar Mrs Rendfro's Black Bean Salsa, or salsa of your choice ($1.85)
generous handful or two of shredded "taco cheese" ($0.75 on sale)
beer (the equivalent amount to what you'd typically pour out for your homies) (price is negligible)
1/2 can chipotle peppers in adobo (already had it at home, but typically about $0.50)
4-5 flour tortillas, soft taco size ($1.30)

Total Cost: $10.21  Cost per serving: $2.55!!!

Okay, first things first.  I knew I wanted rice and beans to go with this, so I went ahead and started a pot of brown rice, seasoned with chili powder, salt, pepper, and dried red chilies.  Next, I butchered up my chicken (I bought a pack of split breasts for less than $4, cut one up and put the rest in the freezer for later) and added it to a large skillet with some butter (oil would have been better but I was out) and onions.  When the chicken was seared but not yet cooked through, I added the peppers and the chipotles.

Chicken and peppers and onions, Oh My!

A note on the chipotles, if you haven't used them before:  Always keep these in your pantry.  I use them for everything, and they are so delicious that you have to get in the habit of using them if you don't already.  They come packed in a thick red sauce (adobo) with onions, and you have to fish them out, slice them open, and scrape out the seeds and membranes with a spoon or the back of a knife if you don't want to die from hot-mouth.  If you don't necessarily want to use the peppers in your cooking, you can just spoon a little of the sauce into your dish for an instant punch of flavor (try mixing the adobo with some chopped garlic and mayo for a spicy aioli to spread on sandwiches).

When the pan started to get a little dry, I added some of the salsa, a splash of beer, the rest of the adobo sauce from my can of chipotles, and the cream cheese.  I'd never made enchiladas with cream cheese, but several recipes I've seen call for sour cream, which I hate, so when I saw my favorite flavor of cream cheese on sale, I decided it would made a lovely substitute.  And man, do NOT miss out on this ingredient, because this literally elevated the dish to a level I never could have imagined without it.  The cream cheese makes the dish.  The chipotles are almost as essential, for the spice and smoky flavor they contribute, but the cream cheese is king here.  Trust me on this.

There is no way you could ever understand how delicious this is.  Unless you make it.

Okay, once I had all my stuff simmering away, I got my casserole dish ready.  This would have been way better (and would have fed more people) in a 9x13 dish, but all I had was a little 8x11 (or thereabouts), and it worked out just fine.  Pour the entire can of salsa verde over the bottom of the pan (you can Pam the sides of the dish at this point if you are so inclined, but hunger made me forget) and get your tortillas ready.  If the tortillas are rather flexible, you can use them as-is, but if they are a bit stale or too cold, they might tear, so you should nuke them for a few seconds to warm them up.

By this point, all the good stuff in the skillet was sizzling in a creamy and thick sauce.  If your sauce is too thick or too dry, add another splash of beer.  If it's pretty soupy, let it cook a bit longer.  When it's ready, spoon about a spatula-full of stuff in the center of a tortilla.  Roll it up burrito-style, then place it seam down in your casserole dish.  Repeat until you can't fit any more enchiladas in the pan.  Top with a generous serving of salsa (I do not believe in store-bought enchilada sauce.  Even if you're being lazy and can't make a sauce, use salsa or Rotel and you'll be just fine.  Enchilada sauce is poison.) and top the whole shebang with enough cheese to clog your arteries at the mere sight of it.  Or a healthier portion, whatever.  I opted for the artery-clog.

Don't let anyone fool you: pre-shredded cheese is the devil, but if you don't own a cheese shredder, it's a necessary evil on Enchilada Night.

That's it, folks!  Pop that baby in the oven at about 350 degrees for as long as it takes for the cheese to bubble and the edges of the tortillas to crisp and brown.  Don't set a timer, just keep an eye on it. You'll know when it's done.

For the rice: when it was done, I pulled out the red chilies and added half a can of Bush's Grillin' Beans, black bean fiesta variety.  Huge mistake.  That shit is nasty.  But I ate it anyway, and I have lots of leftovers!

Poor lighting and a chipped plate help to drive home the idea that this is a poor-man's supper.  I was just too dang hungry and intoxicated by the aroma to wait long enough to take a proper photo.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Grilled" Shrimp Pad Thai

To celebrate many things, including (1) fixing my computer, (2) rediscovering the Asian market near my house, and (3) gorgeous summer weather that is just starting to cool a little bit after sundown, Scott and I decided to made Pad Thai for dinner last night AND remember to blog about it!

We wanted to make sure we used a very authentic recipe, so I scanned the internet and compared results to get what seemed like the best, most authentic, and most easily replicated recipe.  I wanted a good mix of items I could find at my local supermarket along with some more bizarre ingredients only found at the Asian market in cryptically designed packaging.  We also wanted to use a method of cooking we had seen on Good Eats with Alton Brown (one of our favorite shows), where Alton prepares his pad thai in a wok over an outdoor grill.  Here's the link to this episode on YouTube if you'd like to see how it's done.  (The recipe we found is also very similar to Alton's)

The most important thing to understand about pad thai is that it cooks very quickly.  You need to have all of your ingredients prepped and at hand so that the cooking process goes smoothly.  If you prepare in advance, the cooking time should be less than 10 minutes from wok to plate.  So, are you ready?  Here's how we did it!

Ingredients (to serve 4):
1/2 lb fresh raw shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1/2 lb rice noodles (or "rice stick")
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1/3 cup tamarind concentrate *
1/3 cup fish sauce *
1/4 cup palm or cane sugar (gula jawa)*
1/4 cup dried shrimps (tom kho)*
1/4 cup sweet salted radish *
3 eggs
3 cups bean sprouts
1 cup green onions, chopped in 1" pieces
2/3 cup chopped peanuts
2-3 dried red chilies or 1 tbsp chili garlic sauce (to taste)
sesame or peanut oil for cooking

Some of the more unusual ingredients.  Clockwise from top left: Fish Sauce with ginger, Tamarind concentrate, Chili Garlic sauce, Sesame oil, Bean sprouts (from Publix), Gula Jawa (palm and coconut sugar), Dried shrimps, and Preserved sweet-salty radish.
*These ingredients are usually only found at your local Asian market.  If you live in Birmingham, definitely check out Super Oriental Market in Homewood.  That's the store I go to, and they have an amazing selection of pretty much any Asian food product you will ever need.

First, soak your noodles in lukewarm water for about 40 minutes or until they are flexible but not yet really soft.  I wasn't sure about this step at all, having never cooked rice noodles, but I found out that a good way to tell if they are ready is to try to wrap a noodle around your finger.  If it wraps without breaking, but gives some resistance, it's ready.  The noodles will finish cooking in the wok.

Rice Noodles, or "Rice Stick" soaking in lukewarm water

While the noodles are soaking, prepare and cook your shrimp.  I marinated ours in some fish sauce (the fish sauce I use is mixed with ginger.  If you use regular fish sauce, which should be clear and not cloudy, you might want to add some other ingredients to the marinade.) while the grill was heating up.

While Scott got the grill ready, I prepared the rest of the ingredients.  For the sauce, mix the tamarind concentrate, fish sauce, and sugar in a small bowl until the sugar is fully dissolved.  Then, chop up all your vegetables and place them all in separate small bowls or containers so that you can easily grab them and add them to the wok when it's time.  I arranged my ingredients in various bowls, coffee mugs, and shot glasses because no one has bought me a set of pinch bowls (yet).

Clockwise from top left: Chili Garlic Sauce, bean sprouts and green onions, sesame oil, sliced shallots, dried shrimps and chopped preserved radish, chopped peanuts, chopped garlic, and sweet-sour-salty sauce.

Once the grill was nice and hot, Scott skewered up the shrimp (remember to soak those skewers so they don't burn!) and cooked them for about 1-2 minutes per side.  You want them to be underdone, but just slightly.  There isn't much worse than rubbery, overcooked shrimp!

Now, make a checklist.  Are your noodles flexible?  Are your sauces and veggies prepped and handy?  Is your grill hot and your wok ready?  ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR SOME PAD THAI?  If you answered yes to ALL of these questions, you are ready to cook!  There is no going back at this point. 

The grill set-up
Crazy-hot wok!
Your first step is to put the wok on the grill rack, right over the hottest area of coals.  Let it sit for about five minutes, or until it is screaming hot.  When it's crazy, hellfire hot, add about 2 tbsp of sesame or peanut oil and swirl it around the wok.  Now add your garlic, toss, and wait 15 seconds.  Quick, add your shallots, give it another toss, and wait another 15 seconds.  Now, add the dried shrimps and radish and cook through, about 1-2 minutes, tossing and stirring constantly.  
Garlic, shallots, dried shrimps, and preserved radish
Next, add your noodles and toss to combine, cooking another 1-2 minutes.  Move the noodles to one side of the wok, add a little more oil to the pan, and quickly crack in 3 eggs, using some chopsticks or a wooden spoon to scramble lightly.  

Scrambling the eggs with the noodles and co. to the side

Once the eggs are set, toss them in with the noodles and add the fish-tamarind-sugar sauce, tossing to coat.  Cook for another 2 minutes or so, and test the noodles for doneness (only one way to do this, kids... slurp one up and taste it!).  They should be al dente.  When the noodles are done, add the bean sprouts, green onions, 1/2 of the peanuts, and the grilled shrimp.  Cook, stirring and tossing constantly, until the green onions are just wilted.

Everything's in the wok, we're on the final countdown to delicious!

Plate up immediately, garnishing with the rest of the chopped peanuts, some thinly sliced green onion, and some cilantro and lime if you'd like (we were so excited to eat we forgot about those last two!). 

This recipe reflects an improvement we thought of but haven't tried yet... when we made it, it was quite dry and we wished for some more sauce.  We ended up adding some more fish sauce, but in the future we would have doubled our sweet-sour sauce.  The recipe I have given you is the one with the doubled sauce recipe, so no need to adjust the ingredients.  That said, pad thai is a very personal dish, and can be made any number of ways.  There isn't a definitive authentic version, so feel free to make additions, substitutions, and subtractions according to your own tastes.  This is one dish that we very much enjoyed making, and of course, eating... we will make it many times again!

Oh, did I forget to mention dessert?  My bad!  Scott and I aren't big on sweets, but we LOVE fruit, so I got us a nice fresh pineapple, chopped it up, marinated it in some Dale's and brown sugar (yes, Dale's) and popped it on some skewers to grill later on.  I can't even tell you how delicious it was... I kinda wished I had some cool-whip or vanilla ice cream to go with it, but it was nearly perfect just on its own: a blend of salty and sweet and smoky that was the perfect end to a wonderful summer meal!