Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Momma Would Be Proud

I come from a sweet potatoes family. The root vegetable was always part of our yearly crop. Mom cooked up hearty sweet potatoes dishes year round and sweet potato pies were the dessert of choice at Sunday dinners. My mom is actually known for her stringless pies back home. It's easy to see why I'm obsessed with these things. Whole Foods touts the vegetable as one of the world's healthiest foods. When prepared correctly, they are a relatively guiltless indulgence. Today, I fixed up me some Sweet Potato Minestrone Soup and Buttermilk Cornbread in mom's honor. Let me tell you, it was gooooodddddddddddd!!!!!!! This soup is supposed to get me through the final stretch--now until December 11th--but it might not last that long.

Sweet Potato Minestrone Soup



Buttermilk Cornbread



I tweaked the soup recipe by adding red chili pepper, cinnamon, bay leaves, cannellini beans, and seafood sausage. I also put my cooking class knowledge to good use and cut the carrots and celery brunoise style. I made the buttermilk cornbread as is and it was too sweet for my liking. However, it was perfectly moist with just the right amount of crunch. I will probably tweak the recipe by cutting the sugar in half and adding a handful of fresh corn kernels to the recipe. Both recipes will be going in my recipe book.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Poached Persimmon


I love going to the market--Reading Terminal, check it out--and buying something completely random. On my last visit, I bought a persimmon. Back in the 'Sip, there was actually a wild persimmon tree across the road from our house. We never really ate the fruit but my mother did mention that they could be used to make jelly. In keeping with my goal of stepping outside my comfort zone, I decided it was time to give them a try.

I love eating poached fruit on my pancakes. So, I decided to use persimmon this morning. This is arguably the best poached fruit combination that I've had.

Ingredients:

1 ripe persimmon
1/2 cup of water
1 teaspoon of butter
1 lime, juiced
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
1 heaping teaspoon ginger preserves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon of dried cranberries

Directions:

Stem and peel the persimmons, discard any seeds, and cut the persimmon into 8 wedges. In a saucepan combine the persimmons, water, butter, lime juice, brown sugar, ginger preserves, and cinnamon. Bring the liquid to a boil, stirring occasionally, and simmer the mixture, covered, for 15 minutes, or until the persimmons are tender. Add the cranberries when the fruit is almost done and serve immediately over hot pancakes. Alternatively this could be eaten chilled over ice cream, rice pudding, cake, or bread pudding.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Accidental Pescetarian


Today, I celebrate 2 years and 14 days as a pescetarian. The pescetarian diet excludes land animals and birds, but includes fish and shellfish in addition to fruits, vegetables, plants, legumes, nuts, grains, and eggs and dairy. I made this transition two years ago as an experiment. After witnessing the discipline of several college friends, I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and experience life from a different angle. I also wanted to cut back in anticipation of my Thanksgiving binge. Surprisingly, this diet change brought about unanticipated changes in my health. Chronic body pains came to a halt. I felt lighter and more energized. I needed less sleep--I think this effect has worn off. I felt more alert. This happened all in a month's time. I was clearly on to sometime.

I was actually completely vegetarian during the first month. My goal was to make it to Thanksgiving. Well, I made it and found myself conflicted. I enjoyed the new health benefits of the diet, but at the same time, the Southerner in me was destined to pull me to the dark side to indulge in fried chicken, catfish, gumbo, ribs, barbeque pulled pork, bacon, crawfish, ham, and jambalaya. After all, we raised hogs back in the 'Sip. We made our own sausage, bacon, fatback meat, pork cracklins--darn good, I tell you--and souse meat. Hog maws--stomach of the pig--were actually one of my favorite delicacies for most of my life. Thus, I couldn't quite fathom sustaining myself on a completely vegetarian diet. Fish and shellfish became the perfect compromise as I'm completely obsessed with bottom feeders (i.e. catfish and crawfish).

The absolute greatest benefit of being pescetarian is that it forces me to be an adventurous eater and cook. This Thanksgiving, most Americans will be eating turkey and chicken and dressing--Northerners say stuffing. Stuffing is a blasphemous word at my house, though. The mere utterance of this word will cause my mother to snap her neck and give me the look of death.

Well, I'm American!
I grew up on turkey and chicken and dressing, too!
I want comfort this Thanksgiving!
I want to eat ancestral food!

Guess what? I will! In the past, I've made an Herbed Oyster Dressing that my teenage cousin begs me to make everytime I come home--he's a darn picky eater, too. And last year, my mom put me on to yellow squash dressing. This year, the clouds will part and light will shine from heaven when I integrate the recipes. For days, I've been dreaming of fresh herbs, stale French bread, cornbread, butternut squash, olives, walnuts, red onions, oysters, garlic, celery, vegetable stock, and mushrooms combined in a decadent dressing and garnished with the finest of cranberry sauces. Each bite gloriously washed down with a sip of mom's homemade muscadine wine--Rewind! Scratch the wine... a little wishful thinking, you know!

Where I'll spend Thanksgiving? I'm not exactly sure, yet. I have a couple options. I'll have food and dressing for sure. For that I am thankful!

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Dining In With Brother Soulistic

Shrimp Potstickers. This is the only dish that wasn't completely homemade. I bought a package of Thai Shrimp Gyoza from Trader Joe's and cooked it up according to the directions on the package. For my personal touch, I made a sauce of equal parts sesame oil and soy sauce and finished off with a garnish of green onions and sesame seeds. This was today's lunch along with a side of Mashed Sweet Potatoes. Absolutely DELISH!







Cranberry Pecan Pancakes. I started making homemade pancakes after taking my third breath. I usually follow no exact recipe and measure everything by eye. These were a stab at a new recipe. The cranberries and pecans were my personal touch since I had those on hand.



Ingredients

3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 tablespoons butter, melted
cooking spray

Directions

1. Combine milk with vinegar in a medium bowl and set aside for 5 minutes to "sour".

2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk egg and butter into "soured" milk. Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and whisk until lumps are gone.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with cooking spray. Pour 1/4 cupfuls of batter onto the skillet, and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Flip with a spatula, and cook until browned on the other side.

My "recipe" doesn't use sour milk. Considering they taste the same, I'll probably stick to my regular recipe and save the trouble of making sour milk.







Spinach Quiche. For weeks, I've had the urge to make quiche. I finally decided to look up a recipe. This one turned out to be too dense for my liking. It's packed with spinach and cheese and a lot of people seem to like that considering the rave reviews the recipe got. I, however, prefer my quiche light and fluffy with a nice contrast of flavors from the eggs, filling, and crust.

Here's the recipe:

Ingredients

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
5 eggs, beaten
3 cups shredded Muenster cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9 inch pie pan.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft. Stir in spinach and continue cooking until excess moisture has evaporated.

3. In a large bowl, combine eggs, cheese, salt and pepper. Add spinach mixture and stir to blend. Scoop into prepared pie pan.

4. Bake in preheated oven until eggs have set, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Quiche is one of the most versatile dishes ever. It can be eaten anytime of day: breakfast, bunch, lunch, or dinner. It's also relatively inexpensive and easily lends itself to the budget of a student but trendy enough to make an appearance at a dinner party or upscale restaurant. It's also the ultimate leftover food. Quiche reheats well and will provide several meals if only a couple people are eating. The light and fluffy version soon to come.







Blast from the past! Here's the Tuna Sandwich and Cucumber Salad that I mentioned in a previous post. This picture was taken on the second day of tuna sandwiches when I made the scrumptious Herbed Sweet Potato Wedges. Sweet potatoes are easily becoming my favorite food (sans marshmallows and other conveyors of high fructose corn syrup).



Cucumber Salad:

Ingredients

4 cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 small white onion, thinly sliced
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon fresh dill, or to taste

Directions

Toss together the cucumbers and onion in a large bowl. Combine the vinegar, water and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, and pour over the cucumber and onions. Stir in dill, cover, and refrigerate until cold. This can also be eaten at room temperature, but be sure to allow the cucumbers to marinate for at least 1 hour.

Herbed Sweet Potato Wedges

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon Cajun seasoing
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1 tablespoon green onions, chopped
2 large sweet potatoes, cut into wedges

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Drizzle a medium baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Set aside.

2. In a large, resealable plastic bag, mix remaining olive oil, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, Cajun seasoning, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, and salt. Place sweet potato wedges in the bag and toss to coat. Arrange coated sweet potato wedges on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle dill and green onions over the sweet potatoes.

3. Bake 40 minutes in the preheated oven, until browned and crisp.

Feel free to experiment with other flavor combinations. I simply used the ingredients I had on hand for this savory combination.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Christmas Wish List

Dear Santa,

All I want for Christmas is a new cookbook. I promise to love and cherish it. I will read it from cover to cover and use it as my guiding light. I promise that I'm not picky but please let it be:


The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern: Knockout Dishes with Down Home Flavor because I sometimes live vicariously through Matt and Ted. And, they're from Charleston. How cool is that? If you find my fascination a little unhealthy, I will settle for

The Blackberry Farm Cookbook: Four Seasons of Great Food and the Good Life because I grew up on a small farm and I know all about fresh, seasonal, and farm-to-table. We sometimes had the wildest things on our table--rabbit, squirrel, deer, raccoon, opossum, hog--but I don't eat that anymore. If you find my urban diet to be unworthy of true country cooking, I will settle for

My New Orleans because I lose all restraint when it comes to New Awlins. Food is my obsession but this obsession is much bigger than food. If you are concerned about supporting my obsessive behavior, I will settle for

Vegan Soul Kitchen because my copy is currently stored at my sister's house in Illinois and I'm dying without it.


Please, Santa. I promise to share my gift with everyone and cook with my mother's spirit--making last minute modifications to provide extra food for any surprise guests lured by the food's majestic aroma.


Sincerely,
Brother Soulistic

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tuna Salad with Cranberries

Nothing prompts retrospection like a good meal. Reflection: I generally like to think about all the great elements of the meal that worked so well together. Critical Analysis: Then, I think about how I could have improved the overall dining experience. Conclusion: In an effort to savor the moment, I might sit in solitude or listen to some soulful music.

As a matter of fact, I've been conditioned and instantly salivate when presented with such memory inducing foods. Tuna salad usually does not fall into this category. However, I had an urge to make a gourmet tuna salad while at work food running over weekend. This was prompted by our chicken salad sandwich at Factory that is made with chunks of chicken, slivered almonds, green onions, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, and served on brioche bread. I've never tried it due to my dietary restrictions but I have ALWAYS been intrigued by the almonds. Afterall, I'm a texture guy and I love crunch.

A great sandwich begins and ends with the bread. Please DO NOT use light bread. I am not above eating it but I understand why so many people think it's disgusting. I usually go for a crusty French bread, but I also have a love obsession with focaccia that will always overshadow other breads. It's so herbal! Today, I decided to go with focaccia. I also decided bean sprouts would be appropriate and some nice green leaf lettuce. For the tuna salad, I went to the always reliable www.allrecipes.com. There was something about the Tuna Salad with Cranberries that won me over. I modified the recipe and used the ingredients I had on hand. It's so easy! No eggs and very little mayonnaise.



Tuna Salad with Cranberries
Ingredients:
-2 (6 ounce) cans solid white tuna packed in water, drained
-2 tablespoons wasabi mayonnaise (Trader Joe's)
-1 tablespoon fresh dill weed*
-3 tablespoons dried cranberries**

Place the tuna in a bowl and mash with a fork. Mix in mayonnaise to evenly coat tuna. Mix in dill and cranberries. Enjoy on focaccia bread with bean sprouts and green leaf lettuce.

*If using dried dill, use 1/3 teaspoon
**I used orange flavored dried cranberries that I found at Trader Joe's. They are quite scrumptious.


I had the tuna salad with homemade cucumber salad and a wine pairing of Orvieto Classico Ruffino. Absolutely delicious! I highly recommend this wine to lovers of white. I usually drink red but reds do not pair well with spicy food (i.e. wasabi mayonnaise). The wine has good body with an aftertaste reminiscent of citrus fruits.

Possible additions to the tuna salad: chopped pecans and chopped celery.

Dessert: Yogurt covered pretzels

Soundtrack: Fantasia, Free Yourself

Sunday, October 25, 2009

i HEART southern food

i HEART southern food!
i love to cook it.
i love to eat it.
i love to smell it.

the university of mississippi did something novel. they decided to study it: southern foodways alliance. they have scholarly symposiums about southern gems like pimento cheese, fried chicken, mint juleps, boiled peanuts, mississippi delta hot tamales, tabasco sauce, boudin, and gumbo. this makes me warm inside because i HEART southern food.

so, imagine this. i happened upon this website, nola cuisine, and completely lost my mind. i think i spent about 5 hours on this website because i get obsessive like that sometimes.

i fret not. i can now have sweet dreams of my grand culinary tour in The Big Easy. That's right, a whole vacation devoted to eating. BREAKFAST... snack... LUNCH... snack... DINNER. each restaurant well researched, each meal meticulously chosen, each spirit carefully paired, and each coma definitely worth it. :)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Breakfast


I always find time to cook! It's my therapeutic escape from my stressful life as a 20 something life adventurer/restaurant server/graduate student/urbanite. It's particularly rewarding when the meals are as scrumptious as this morning's feast.

I inherited an angel food cake from a potluck this past week. When I went in the kitchen this morning, it was yelling, "Eat me! Eat me!" I had a frozen berry mix in the freezer that I decided to sauté with butter, honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg as a topping. Of course, I had to have eggs. Me love my eggs! I'm an adventurous eater, too. I've had eggs poached, basted, over easy, and sunny side up. The runny yolks just don't do it for me. I like my eggs over hard with a nice crust. The crust makes life worth living.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cooking Class


Who's a master chef in training? Well, I had my first cooking class today! If that counts. It was taught by a sous-chef from a local Italian restaurant. The class focused on basic knife techniques and quick snack recipes. The chef illustrated the julienne and brunoise vegetable cuts. He then made a caprese salad and two different types of trail mix. Even though the class wasn't interactive, I was so engaged and really didn't want the class to end when we wrapped up after 1.5 hours. I'll definitely be doing this again! I have already found a class nearby at the Viking Cooking School in Bryn Mawr. Who wants to join me?

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Alpha Post

Sometimes life comes at you hard. It's your reaction to these tough situations that matter most. Instead of reacting right away, take time and process the situation. It usually helps to have a little talk with God. In the end, you will find that serenity, courage, and wisdom will get you through any situation. It is with this modus operandi that I initiate my alpha post.

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.

-Reinhold Neibuhr
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