Recipes for inspiration in the kitchen
Recipes for inspiration in the kitchen
At the beginning of summer, I’d cooked a special farewell lunch for my grad program friends: Cajun stuffed Cornish hens, dirty rice, and Brussels sprouts with candied bacon. For dessert, I kept with the Louisianan theme and served homemade beignets and Cafe du Monde New Orleans-style coffee with condensed milk, just the way Vietnamese people love to drink it.
While I grew up around Cafe du Monde’s ready-to-brew coffee grounds (which came in those notorious mustard yellow tin cans that afterwards became every Vietnamese family’s piggy bank/knickknack holder), I didn’t have my first beignet until college when I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I visited the brick-and-mortar Cafe du Monde and did what all the other tourists did: sat in the open-air cafe and sipped on steaming chicory drip coffee with the powdered sugar from the three beignets snowing all over my mouth and lap. It was a heavenly combination of flavors, and boy, all I can say is those French sure know their fried desserts.
Beignet, which literally means “bump,” is the French version of the American fritter. I love to eat them with powdered sugar and honey. They should be pillowy on the inside with a very light crunch on the outside. Before “MasterChef,” I always got my beignets from local shops. But then I learned how to make them from scratch, and there ain’t nothin’ like a beignet fresh out of the fryer. My friends gobbled them all up, their faces and fingers covered in white. If it hadn’t been for food coma written all over their eyes, they would’ve been mistaken for a bunch of cokeheads. Try these out, and let me know what you think. If the Blind can Cook it, you know you can too.
Brussels sprouts, as they’re named, are of Belgian and Roman origin. They resemble miniature heads of cabbage, and while that may not sound appealing, Brussels sprouts are one of my favorite vegetables of late. They’re nutritious and delicious with their anti-cancer properties and earthy, nutty flavor. Overcook them, and they’ll be gross. But when made right, Brussels sprouts offer just the right balance of texture: tender yet crispy. So forget those soggy, bland, dull gray Brussels sprouts of yesteryear. Roast and/or broil them, and you’ll get some stellar sprouts. My foodie twin, Sherry, fed me Brussels sprouts tossed with candied bacon and a classic homemade vinaigrette, and I’ve been dreaming of them ever since. The candied bacon combine both salty and sweet components and add an oomph of flavor to the Brussels sprouts. Then the vinaigrette pushes it into bliss with the acidity edge. Serve them as a first course salad or as a vegetable side component like I did with the dirty rice stuffed Cornish hens. If the Blind can Cook it, so can you.
With the end of crawfish season comes a need to find other ways to fulfill our Cajun cravings. In my last post, I tried my hand at making dirty rice. And now here’s how to up the flavor in that rice. Try stuffing it in a Cornish hen. Juicy goodness will drip into the stuffing during cooking, adding an even more savory dimension to the rice.
Cornish hens, despite their names, could be either male or female. They are a hybrid breed of chicken growing no more than five weeks and weighing no more than two pounds. Their meat is sweeter and more tender than regular chicken, and they cook quicker, too, making them choice for entertaining.
Because I’d gotten rid of my roasting pan, we had to MacGyver one out of a tin pan, aluminum cans, and rolled up balls of foil. By placing these cans and foil balls loosely in the pan and setting the hens on top, the juices will trickle between the gaps and collect at the bottom instead of directly underneath the hens, thereby keeping them from getting soggy. Ghetto-rigged brilliance.
I used ready-made Cajun seasoning instead of making my own just because I already had it in my spice drawer. You can try making your own by mixing to taste kosher salt, ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder.
The Cornish game hens came out not as spicy as I’d hoped (I suggest liberally rubbing on the Cajun seasoning), but it was still a good complement to the dirty rice. I served each person half a Cornish hen with extra dirty rice and a side of roasted Brussels sprouts (recipe coming soon to an entry near you). Pretty simple yet really tasty. Come on, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.
I was a wee one when I had my first taste of dirty rice, and it was from Popeye’s. Something about the deep savoriness of this mean little concoction made it one of my favorite Cajun dishes. (For a quick lesson on the difference between Cajun and Creole food, visit my entry on crawfish boils.) And then I found out years later that offal is what makes dirty rice taste so damn good. Who knew? A recent food trend is food that used to be considered less palatable, I.e. Food the lower socioeconomic levels partook in. Think the leftover parts of an animal—offal—such as livers, gizzards, oxtail, feet, snout, ears. For vegetables, think collard greens, mustard greens, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and so on. And so with this trend, we see a rise in these sorts of ingredients becoming gourmet. And with the gourmet status comes the hefty price tag. So what can you do? Learn to make it yourself.
A handful of friends from my Creative Writing Program at UH recently graduated. And while they were becoming Masters of Fine Arts, I was off trying to become a MasterChef. Alas, I am sad to see some of my bestest writer buds move away on to bigger and better things, but I cherish the past four years we’ve had together. There were many discussions about literature, the writing craft, existentialism, and just about any possible subject under the sun and even beyond. (Because, you know, us writers are just so deep.) So as a farewell/graduation/appreciation celebration, I wanted to share myself and cook a meal for them. After all, they spent the last four painful years reading pages and pages of my manuscripts; the least I could do is finally give them something good to ingest.
I know the basic gist of dirty rice involves poultry offal—namely livers and gizzards—the trinity (two parts onion to one part celery and one part bell pepper); and rice. My next door neighbor, who makes a bad-ass dirty rice every year for our day-after-Thanksgiving leftovers potluck, promised to cook it with me one day, but I figured I’d try on my own first before I learn his secrets and then meld all of it together into one superpower dirty rice.
So here you have my first run at dirty rice. Yeah, I was brave to experiment on my friends, but I know they love me enough to still be my friend even if the food tasted bad. Luckily, the dirty rice was pretty darn good. And it tastes even better if you let the flavors melt together overnight. I used this to stuff some slutty chickens (as Chef Ramsay calls them)—more on that next time. Till then, make a vat and share; it’s an easy recipe for a crowd. If the Blind can Cook it, you can too.
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. I can’t even remember the last time I was excited about V-Day. Maybe in middle school when carnations and candy-grams were sold, and the more you collected, the more popular you looked. How lame and superficial now that I think back on it. But those were the woeful days of adolescence, I guess.
Now that I’m thirty-something and have a permanent Valentine, Valentine’s Day has turned into a consumer-driven joke of a holiday. It’s not even really a holiday. We all still have to go to work on Tuesday. Double-lame.
I realize this post is sounding cynical. But in reality, I feel like every day should celebrate those we love. Not just spouses and significant others but parents, cousins, friends, and pets. Why should it be just one day a year that we do something nice for those we love? Indeed, Valentine’s Day exists only to make Americans waste their money on bouquets and stuffed bears and to make the singles feel worse. Bah humbug.
People ask me what my husband and I are doing for V-Day. A few years ago, I enjoyed going out to a nice restaurant. Then it would be just going out to any restaurant and engaging in the act of conversation and communion together. This year, I just want to cook a meal at home with my hubby.
Last time, I gave you lamb chops. But if you’re not that fancy food kind of person, here’s a less expensive yet just as tasty alternative. What is more romantic than Italian food? Ever since we bought a bread machine, we’ve enjoyed making our own pizza dough at home. The possibilities are endless for pizza—you can virtually top it with anything you see lying around in your fridge. That’s the beauty of it. Lately, my favorite toppings for homemade pizza are prosciutto, arugula, and fresh mozzarella. After our pie at San Francisco’s Pizzeria Delfina, I became a fan of arugula. I used to dislike this leafy green because of its bitterness, but now I find the dry taste a good balance to richer, fattier foods (like prosciutto). Maybe I’m all growns up now. **Tear**
If you get the right fresh ingredients, this simple pizza will blow you away. So go ahead, score some points with your Valentine by way of the stomach. Or if you’re single, indulge yourself. If the Blind can Cook it, so can you. Buon appetito!
I don’t understand people who claim they don’t eat lamb because it’s “too gamey.” Duck and lamb, when it’s a good cut of meat and when it’s fresh, have got to be some of the least gamey meat around. But to each his own, I guess.
For me, I adore lamb. And not just because it used to be a cute cuddly hand puppet (I say “used to” because it’s now a juicy pink piece of meat on my plate) but because it tastes pretty darn good. But because it’s expensive, I’d always been intimidated to try it at home. But during a recent trip to Costco, I couldn’t resist. Into our cart went a half rack of lamb (which yields about 7 bones) for $22. After tinkering around online, I found a surefire recipe online. The only thing I changed was to omit the bread crumbs since John was eating low carbs.
Before cooking this, you MUST have a meat or food thermometer. It is vital to cooking all meats—you cannot cook a perfect steak, pot roast, turkey, prime rib, or rack of lamb without one. I just got my digital thermometer at Target, and it’s served me fine. For convenience, buy one with a timer and a alarm option for when it reaches a certain temperature. That way, you can set it to ___°F and go watch “Jersey Shore” until it beeps and announces your rump roast is ready. (Just kidding—don’t watch “Jersey Shore.”)
So here is an easy way to cook a rack of lamb. Try it next time for a special occasion. It makes for a beautiful presentation, especially when served with some colorful vegetables like asparagus and purple potatoes. Remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.
Back in October, I had taken a trip to the Bay area and upon a dinner at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc Restaurant, I came across these wonderful purple potatoes that were the highlight of my evening meal. They stole the show even next to the Wagyu beef skewers. After returning to home sweet home in Houston, I had to find and cook these purple potatoes myself.
Indeed I found them in the potato section of H-E-B, and John kindly reminded me that he’d suggested I try these purple potatoes long ago but that I was initially repulsed by the idea of my spuds looking like Barney. Alas, I’ve changed my mind.
I was so enamored with purple potatoes that I wrote a Ingredient of the Week post for Eating Our Words, and now I present to you a simple yet delicious method for preparing these smashingly good smashed purple potatoes. Remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.
Your crazy family came and went. Now all that’s left is a big ol’ turkey carcass. Wait, don’t throw anything away just yet. In this time and age when offal eating has become the trend, I’m going to show you what you can do with all those leftover turkey bones.
First, you make turkey stock. Duh! Then, you use that stock to make turkey congee.
Every Asian country has its own version of rice porridge. It’s the ultimate Asian comfort food. Think of the Americans with their chicken noodle soup. Well, the Asians have their rice porridge. It’s what you feed someone under the weather. I admit I used to hate congee or chao (as it’s called in Vietnamese) because it was all my mama let me eat when I was sick. Incidentally, I grew to associate congee only with illness. Of course it left a negative impression on me. But now that I’ve got no mama to cook me homemade congee, I had to roll up my sleeves and do it myself. Now I don’t necessarily eat congee just when I’m sick; I’ll eat it when it’s cold out. (Speaking of which, Houston is finally starting to feel like winter. Yippee!) I eat it because it’s hearty, warm, and best of all, simple to make. I almost always have the ingredients on hand to make congee, but even if I don’t, the great thing about congee is its versatility. You can just about throw anything into it. Perhaps the only requirement is stock or broth and rice. (I’ve even seen some people cook congee with plain water but I don’t recommend this—too plain.)
So read on, and learn how to make turkey stock with that leftover carcass and then, subsequently, turkey congee. And remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you. Happy winter eating!
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving already. Boy, has this year slipped past. I’ve been swamped with all of the usual end-of-year business such as holiday prepping and semester wrapping-up not to mention I’m in the middle of my Rituxan treatments which have got me all exhausted. Why doesIt seem like I only get beat down by this NMO during such inconvenient times like the holidays or when a hurricane is coming to town? But as with most things in life, you get all sorts of things thrown at you, and you just learn to take them in stride. I’ve been thinking about Joan Didion’s novel Play It As It Lays lately, how you just need to play the cards you’re dealt. Anyway, it’s Thanksgiving, and I still have lots to be thankful for.
I’ve already posted some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes last year, so no need to waste cyberspace and repost. Instead, I’ll just link to them. Slap on your apron and get to cookin’! Happy Thanksgiving, and don’t forget what you’re grateful for.
Again it’s been a while since I posted a food entry. It’s not that I haven’t been eating or cooking. It’s just I’ve been doing a lot more thinking about food and cooking rather than writing ever since I read The Flavor Bible (which I still need to blog about). Anyway, back to what makes the world go round: food.
I’m often asked what would be my last meal. Because this question is so difficult for someone that loves so many different kinds of food, my last meal would inevitably be a multiple-course meal consisting of all my favorite eats: sushi, French fries, my mama’s eggrolls, New- York-style cheese pizza, fried chicken, and a bowl of noodle soup (most likely ramen or pho). I don’t know if there’s a commonality to my favorite foods except maybe DELICIOUS! Just kidding. Maybe unhealthy? Aside from the sushi, I guess.
So yes, fried chicken is one of my favorite foods. Most things can’t go wrong when they’re dropped in a vat of oil. While I love KFC’s original recipe and Popeye’s Cajun spicy fried chicken, I thought why not try my hand at homemade fried chicken? The last time I attempted fried chicken years ago, I made the mistake of not monitoring the oil temperature and so the chicken turned out charred on the outside and still raw on the inside. This time, I followed a method from Ina Garten that involves frying the chicken to seal in the juices and then finishing it off in the oven for thorough cooking. I tried to look online for KFC’s secret original recipe but my kitchen was missing the MSG (not to mention marjoram at the time) so I had to make due with only nine out of the eleven secret herbs and spices. I only put in about half the amount of herbs and spices as I should have, and the chicken could’ve used more flavor, but trial error is inevitable. I boosted the measurements in the recipe below, so hopefully your chicken turns out even tastier. A quick tip before you fry: to keep chicken crispy, set fried pieces atop brown paper bags instead of paper towels after frying. Happy frying, and remember that if the Blind can Cook it, so can you!