Cook it.

Recipes for inspiration in the kitchen

green bean casserole

Every Thanksgiving, I serve fried turkey and broccoli rice casserole (which I make from scratch), and corn, stuffing, and mashed potatoes (which I don’t make from scratch). The sixth side always changes from year to year. First it was asparagus (which I later realized is a mistake because asparagus is apparently out of season in November). Then it was steamed green beans which turned out to be very boring. I knew I wanted this fifth side dish to be something green since so many of the other dishes were not as nutritious, and we all know Thanksgiving is the week of binging on high-calorie, high-sodium foods, so I figure why not throw something a little more healthy in there? Well, the steamed green beans were too healthy, and so this year, I will settle on a compromise between healthy and tasty. I will make a green bean casserole. (Okay, I know with these canned beans and all the cheese, sour cream, and butter, this is far from healthy, but I’m deluded into thinking anything green = good for you.)

Casseroles never sound that tasty to me; I always think of a slop of leftover ingredients piled on top of each other in a baking dish and thrown into the oven until it all melts together into some congealed mass. I think of it as the American version of fried rice: its sole purpose is to use up leftover food, and anything goes. That is, until I made that broccoli rice casserole some nine years ago. Then I thought, Maybe, just maybe, casseroles don’t all have to be nasty.

Fast-forward some years later to 2007 or so. Our church catered our holiday dinner from Cleburne Cafeteria. I had the first enjoyable green bean casserole. So now in 2010, I will attempt to make a version of this homestyle favorite.

I do have to admit that the great thing about casseroles is their ability to be prepared ahead of time. For example, today I will prepare both the broccoli rice and this green bean casserole, cover it securely, and refrigerate it until it’s ready to go straight into the oven. So go ahead and prepare these casseroles today, then bake it tomorrow. For big holiday dinners (or just any time you’re entertaining), it’s nice to have a repertoire of dishes that can be prepared ahead of time so that you don’t find yourself scrambling to do everything last minute on the day of.

I’ve found that typical green bean casseroles contain condensed cream of mushroom and are topped with a layer of fried onions. I found this alternative version of the dish which uses sour cream and Ritz crackers instead. Once it’s out of the oven, we’ll take a photo and upload it, and I’ll adjust the recipe according to my personal taste and experience.


Recipe: Green Bean Casserole

Summary: Original recipe from All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. white sugar
  • 1/4 c. diced onion
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 3 (14 oz.) cans French-style green beans, drained
  • 2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 c. round butter cracker crumbs (Ritz)
  • 1 tbsp. butter, melted

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a lg. skillet over med. heat. Stir in flour until smooth, and cook for 1 min. Stir in the salt, sugar, onions, and sour cream. Add green beans and stir to coat.
  3. Transfer mixture to a 2.5 qt. casserole dish. Spread shredded cheese over the top. In a sm. bowl, toss together cracker crumbs and remaining butter, and sprinkle over the cheese.
  4. Bake for 30 min. or until top is golden and cheese is bubbly.

Quick Notes

French-style green beans are the skinnier version of regular green beans. Often they are cut lengthwise into thinner strips.

Cooking time (duration): 45

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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broccoli rice casserole

Recounting the first Thanksgiving I ever hosted back in 2001 (the year I graduated college and finally had a kitchen and place I could call my very own), in addition to the deep-fried turkey, I made this broccoli rice casserole. I probably found the recipe online but I honestly don’t remember where–it could’ve possibly been before I discovered All Recipes.

Regardless, it was very simple to make, and my dad raved about it, asking to take home a chunky portion as part of his Thanksgiving leftovers. My friend, Mark, also asked for the recipe, followed by Danny years later. Nearly going on its tenth year in the making, this dish is a must-have at all my holiday comfort food gatherings. I’ve also brought it to several potlucks; up or down the ingredients according to number of people. Remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

Note: I’ll upload a photo of the dish come Thanksgiving when we actually make it. For now. here’s a photo of the Pancake Bunny.



Pancake bunny

Do you like my new hat?



Recipe: Broccoli Rice Casserole

Ingredients

  • 20 oz. frozen chopped broccoli, cooked and drained
  • 2 (10.75 oz.) cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 16 oz. processed cheese, melted
  • 3/4 c. minced onion
  • 2 c. uncooked minute rice
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Cook minute rice as directed.
  2. In a med. pan, saute onion in butter over med.-high heat until yellowed.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. In a lg. bowl, mix broccoli, onion, cheese, cream of mushroom, rice, and salt & pepper to taste until well-blended. Pour mixture into a 10″x13″ casserole dish. Bake for 60 min. or until edges are browned.

Quick Notes

I personally like the edges and even the top pretty brown. It adds flavor and texture.

For the cheese, I like to use Cheez-Whiz.

Cooking time (duration): 75

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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deep-fried turkey

Fried turkey

Frying the turkey



For nine years and counting, it’s been my little tradition to fry a turkey for Thanksgiving. In 2001 when I started my first job out of college, my Louisianan coworker, Brandi, informed me her family deep-fries a turkey every year for Thanksgiving. I pictured a spicy flour battered turkey–just like Popeye’s chicken but in whole bird form and five times larger. I was surprised to learn that fried turkey wasn’t battered at all–simply rubbed down with Cajun spice and then thrown (very carefully) into a vat of hot peanut oil. I was a little disappointed since fried chicken skin is always the best part but since everyone and their mama claimed fried turkey is so good, I decided to give the turkey frying a try anyway.

To try this at home, I recommend acquiring the following items:

  • 1 40-qt. stockpot with basket (these are usually sold together for turkey and crawfish cooking purposes–both Southern/Louisianan dishes)
  • 1 propane burner for outdoor cooking
  • 1 propane tank
  • 1 lg. pc. cardboard to lay under burner so oil splatters won’t stain your concrete

You can find the turkey fryer at Academy; I personally found mine at Tuesday Morning for about $50 if I remember correctly. The propane burner and tank is from Wal-Mart. I imagine you could probably make one stop at a Home Depot or Lowe’s and find all these things.

The advantages of frying a turkey are:

  1. It’s delicious. Once I went fried, I never went back. Even the breast meat is juicy.
  2. It’s quick. Roasting a turkey takes anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes per pound depending on if it’s stuffed or not, and you have to tend to it frequently for basting. Frying, on the other hand, takes 3.5 minutes per pound, just a fraction of the time it takes to roast the bird. And once you get it in the fryer, you don’t have to touch it till it’s finished.

The disadvantage? Obviously, it’s not as healthy. But when you’re stuffing yourself with mashed potatoes and casseroles and pies for the holidays anyway, who cares? That’s the Southern motto.

This turkey has received rave reviews from every mouth it’s touched for the last nine years. So why not do it yourself this year? John and I like to sit in our garage and driveway, pop open a beer, and relax while taking in the wonderful smells of deep-fried turkey.

Note: This photo of the turkey was actually taken in 2006 because the one we took of the turkey this year was half carved and not a good picture.



Fried turkey 2

The tasty end result



Recipe: Deep-Fried Turkey

Summary: Call it Cajun, call it Southern. I just call it damn delish.

Ingredients

  • 3 ga. peanut oil for frying
  • 1 whole turkey, no more than 14 lbs.
  • 1/4 c. cajun or creole seasoning
  • 1 jar cajun or creole marinade with syringe for injecting

Instructions

  1. The day before cooking, remove giblets and rinse turkey. Pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Inject turkey with marinade: 1 syringe-ful in ea. leg, 1 in ea. thigh, 1 in ea. wing, and 2 in ea. breast. During injection, pull syringe out slowly while pushing down plunger to spread marinade evenly throughout meat.
  3. Rub inside and outside liberally with seasoning. Marinate in refrigerator overnight.
  4. When ready to cook, fill 40-qt. pot with 3 gal. peanut oil. (This should fill about half the pot.) Heat oil on high heat to 400 degrees or until oil has lines in it, indicating high heat.
  5. Make sure skin at turkey neck has at least a 2″ opening so oil doesn’t get trapped inside the bird later. Place turkey in basket neck side down.
  6. Slowly lower basket into pot. Cook 3.5 min./lb. or until internal temperature of thigh is 180 degrees.
  7. Remove turkey and let it sit for 20 min. before carving.

Quick Notes

Note that it takes 24 hours to thaw five lbs. of turkey. I.e. a 14-lb. turkey will take 72 hours. And remember that it needs to be fully thawed before the marinade can be injected, which means if I had a 14-lb. turkey I wanted to fry on Thanksgiving Thursday, I need to move it from the freezer into the fridge Sunday morning (thawed by Wednesday so it can marinate a full 24 hours before going into the fyer.

For the marinade, we always use Tony Chachere‘s Creole butter flavor. As for the rub, we used both Rudy’s turkey rub and Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning.

Peanut oil is ideal for deep-frying because it has a high smoking point.

Birds 14 lbs. or less are ideal for this method of cooking–any larger, and the bird’s skin could be overexposed to the hot oil, resulting in a charred skin. And we can’t have that considering skin is the best part!

Be extremely careful when frying the turkey. They say you should cook this completely outdoors in case a grease fire shoots up to the sky, but we always cook ours in the garage and have yet to have a black hole on our ceiling. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)

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“quick” & easy vietnamese chicken noodle soup

Pho ga

A comfort food staple in our home

Ahh…the most famous Vietnamese dish in conjunction with the baguette sandwich, banh mi thit. How can we talk about comfort foods and not talk about pho? Pho ga–or noodle soup with chicken–is perhaps my favorite of the pho family. I grew up eating pho on occasional Sunday mornings, and while I know it’s a cliche to say so, my mama seriously made the best pho. Seriously. The best. My parents’ friends had even urged her to open up a little pho restaurant. She was bestowed the recipe by a Vietnamese chef she once knew. Unfortunately, my mama died before I ever got the chance to learn her secrets, and my dad never found the written gem anywhere. Quite literally, she took the secret to the grave.

Years later, I discovered Quoc Viet, a handy little brand of soup base. They make a variety of soup bases, including pho bo (Hanoi beef noodle soup), bo kho (beef stew), and bun bo Hue (spicy lemongrass beef noodle soup from central Vietnam), to name a few. I have yet to be disappointed by any of the outcomes using Quoc Viet products.

Pho is definitely a comfort food: eaten on cold days or after a late night of partying, it hits just the right spot. Vietnamese people often eat it for lunch, brunch, or even breakfast. (I’ve seen Pho Danh, which I believe has the best pho in Houston and which I will review next time I go, crowded with diners at 9 AM.)

So what makes a good pho? It’s mainly in the broth. It can’t be too oily, it has to be flavorful with the right flavors. You’d be surprised at some of the weird tasting pho broths out there. For example, Les Givrals Kahve–not to be confused with the original Givral on Bellaire, this one is an entirely different chain: one on Washington, the other on Congress–has one-dimensional broth that reeks of pepper and nothing else. Blegh.

Quoc Viet makes a delicious broth. I actually prefer my homemade quick & easy chicken pho to any other restaurant’s. One day I will attempt to make it from scratch, but till then, this is a simple yet savory substitute. And remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.


Recipe: “Quick” & Easy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

Summary: Pho ga–instructions can be found on the label of the Quoc Viet soup base, but here is my version.

Ingredients

  • 1 jar Quoc Viet brand “chicken pho” soup base
  • 15-20 chicken legs
  • 1 pc. fresh ginger, unpeeled but washed
  • 1 whole onion, unpeeled but washed
  • 1 (13.5 oz.) can chicken broth
  • 2-3 gal. water
  • 3 pkg. rice sticks (banh pho), cooked al dente
  • 1 bunch scallion/green onion, washed & finely chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed & finely chopped
  • 3 limes, cut into sm. wedges
  • Sriracha, hoisin sauce & fish sauce to taste

Instructions

  1. In a lg. stockpot, combine chicken, ginger, and whole onion. Add enough water to cover ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Add contents of the Quoc Viet soup base, making sure not to tear open the enclosed spice bags. Boil at med. heat for 20 min.
  3. Remove chicken, ginger, onion, and spice bag. Add chicken broth to soup and adjust water to 2-3 gal. of water, depending on taste. Bring back to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and let simmer until ready to serve.
  4. Meanwhile, remove skin from chicken and shred meat.
  5. To serve, in a lg. bowl, place noodles, chicken, scallion, and cilantro. Pour steaming broth into bowl. Garnish with freshly squeezed lime juice, Sriracha, and/or hoisin sauce.

Quick Notes

I put quotation marks around the word “quick” because while it is quicker than making pho from scratch, it still takes some time to prepare.

You can often find the Quoc Viet soup bases, along with the other ingredients, at your local Asian grocery store. You can also find them online but you’ll probably have to purchase in bulk.

The specific brands of ingredients I like to use are:

  • Swanson chicken broth
  • Sriracha brand hot sauce which is a Thai sauce made of sun-ripened chili peppers and garlic
  • Koon Chun hoisin sauce

As for rice sticks, I like to get the medium-sized noodles (rather than the small that are served in most restaurants), simply because this is what my mama used to serve, and it’s nostalgic for me. As for brand, I used to get the one with a red rose on the package, but that brand has become increasingly harder to find, so I’ve resorted to using one with an elephant. Some cooks I know say it’s an abomination to use dried rice sticks, preferring to only use the fresh ones in the refrigerated section of the store. Anyone have a suggestion as to which rice stick brand I should use?

Variations

Different people like different garnishes and condiments with their pho. I personally only add lime, choosing to forego all the various sauces and veggies. Call me a purist, but I tend to like tasting the essence of a dish. For others, though, you can serve raw veggies: bean sprouts, mint, basil. My mama used to like stalks of green onion blanced in broth. Sometimes, I like slices of red onion doused in vinegar. Place these garnishes in the center of the table and let diners help themselves. Just be sure to let the newbies know it’s for the pho and not a side salad; my dad’s seen a man eat this at a restaurant before his pho came out.

This recipe should make about 20 servings.

Cooking time (duration): 60

Meal type: brunch

Culinary tradition: Vietnamese

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snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles

I like 'em soft.



Last but not least, we come to our final third course: a simple dessert that can be highly addictive. A college friend, Jeanette, gave me this recipe years ago after she baked some, and we just couldn’t get enough. Snickerdoodles are similar to sugar cookies but what sets them apart is their use of a cinnamon-sugar coating. Cinnamon reminds me of wintertime, and thus, comfort food. It also made for the perfect third course because its smaller portion and lighter taste provided a nice balance to our heavier first two courses, not to mention it’s the thing Karen always requests from me. Naturally, I had to give her what she loves for her birthday dessert. They were popular with everyone else, too. They were sliding off the plate even before dinner was served.

In the ten or so years that I’ve had this recipe, I’ve always wondered where the term snickerdoodle came from, but I never bothered looking it up. Till now, that is, when I actually have a reason to dig up some information.

My husband said he once baked snickerdoodles for school when they had a colonial history unit, so he claims snickerdoodles have been around as early as the 18th Century. After browsing around online, I found his statement to be true: the snickerdoodle originated from early America and was likely adapted from European recipes after they settled in the New World. According to the every so reliable Wikipedia resource, the origin of the name is unknown, although some claim the word is either Dutch or German while others say it was, like many other New England cookies, named on a whim. Whatever the origin, I’m just glad it finally reached me. It’s simple to bake and keeps well so could be made in large quantities and given away for the holidays.


Recipe: Snickerdoodles

Summary: Recipe from Jeanette

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. shortening
  • 1.5 c. white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2.75 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. white sugar for coating
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon for coating

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a med. bowl, mix together butter, shortening, 1.5 c. sugar, and eggs. In a separate lg. bowl, blend together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Then combine mixtures until fully blended.
  3. In a sm. bowl, combine 2 tbsp. sugar and 2 tsp. cinnamon. Shape dough by rounded tablespoons (approx. golf ball size). Roll balls in mixture to coat. Place 2″ apart on cookie sheets.
  4. Bake 8 to 10 min. until set. Transfer cookies to cooling rack.

Quick Notes

This recipe yields 24 cookies. The serving size is 2 per serving.

What is cream of tartar, and why is it used in this recipe? It is a byproduct of wine-making. Grapes are a natural source of tartaric acid, and after fermentation, they leave behind a deposit of tartaric acid inside the barrels. This mixed with potassium hydroxide creates an acidic salt: cream of tartar. In baking, baking soda is the leavening agent that works faster than yeast. But it needs 2 parts of the acidic cream of tartar mixed with 1 part baking soda in order to produce the gas bubbles that lighten and raise the dough as soon as it is moistened.

Variations

Now if you want to forego 2 products and just use 1, note that 2 parts cream of tartar mixed with 1 part baking soda creates baking powder. I used to wonder what the difference was between baking soda and powder, and there you have it. Baking powder is the acidic and basic mix of the 2 ingredients thereby becoming the leavening agent in baking.

Cooking time (duration): 40

Meal type: dessert

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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real men bake banana nut & pumpkin nut breads

Pumpkin nut bread

Pumpkin nut bread made entirely from scratch

Recently, John and I took a leisure trip to Macy’s in search of things on which we could use the last of our registry Star Rewards credit. Ever since the Paris part of our honeymoon, John has been on a French baguette kick. About a month ago, he decided to finally give baguette baking a try. He bought bread flour, looked up recipes, rolled up his sleeves, and started kneading. The first baguette looked awesome but wasn’t fluffy like a true baguette. The second attempt looked unappetizing and hardened into a rock within two days. Then our friend, Mei-Mei, said, “Why don’t you just buy a bread maker?”

At first, John was reluctant; he knew that now, when any bread turned out delicious, it wouldn’t be due to his blood, sweat, and tears. He would have to give most of the credit to the boxy machine on our kitchen counter. But we had leftover credit at Macy’s and opted for the Cuisinart CBK-200, a 2-pound convection automatic bread maker. The thing is heavy-duty, taking up a fourth of our counter space, but what it lacks in sleekness, it makes up for in efficiency and convenience. Now all John has to do is pour the measured ingredients into the machine, close the lid, and turn it on. It’ll beep when it’s ready for mix-ins (e.g. nuts) and beep again once it’s done. Like a slow cooker, we can just throw everything in and forget about it for a few hours. Then later when we return to it, we’ll have a freshly baked bread. A bonus is how nice the house smells when you’ve got something baking. Mouth-watering, I say.

In the month we’ve had it, John’s used it to make a French loaf, banana bread, pizza dough, and the latest creation, pumpkin walnut bread. Except for the French loaf (which still turned out edible), everything has been pretty damn delicious. He’s gotten a lot of compliments for his breads, and while our friend Daniel said that with all this baking, John’s lost his nuts in his bread, John says real men bake.

The truth is I’m happy John’s been spending more time in the kitchen. It gives the Blind Cook a much needed break. The following recipe is one he found online for banana nut bread. He used the same recipe to make both the banana bread and the pumpkin walnut bread; for the former, he baked it sans nuts since we didn’t have any on hand, and for the latter, he simply substituted the bananas with the fresh pumpkin he had spent five hours the other evening preparing. (That in itself was a whole ordeal. First he had to cut open the pumpkin, roast it in the oven with a layer of brown sugar on top to sweeten the field pumpkin, puree it in the food processor. That wasn’t all. Then I had to stand there with a knee-high sock in hand, which we read was an acceptable substitute for cheesecloth, while he spooned globs of pumpkin puree into it in order to extract all the water from the orange mass. Craziness, I tell you.)

But what we got out of it was a pumpkin walnut bread truly made from scratch. I’m so proud of my hubby. If a computer geek can bake it, so can you. You just may need to throw some money down for a bread machine first.

Banana bread

Banana bread sans the nuts



Recipe: Banana Nut or Pumpkin Nut Bread for the Bread Machine

Summary: Original recipe from the Bread Maker section of All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. margarine or butter, softened
  • 2/3 c. milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2.5 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. white sugar
  • 2.5 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 c. mashed bananas or pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Instructions

  1. Spray bread machine pan with vegetable oil spray.
  2. Pre-mix ingredients in the order listed. Place mixture in bread machine pan.
  3. Select the “Quick Bread/Cake” cycle. Press “Start.” Check after 1 min. to see if dough is well-blended.
  4. Cook until cycle ends. Remove pan and cool completely before removing bread from pan.

Quick Notes

For best results, use King Arthur flour. It’s more expensive but seems worth it for quality breads.

Baking powder = 2 parts cream of tartar + 1 part baking soda. This will be further explained in my snickerdoodles post.

The prep time listed below only accounts for the mixing of ingredients and does not include the time it spends in the bread machine.

Variations

We’ve used this same recipe to make both banana bread and pumpkin nut bread. I’m sure there are other mushy fruits/purees that could be added into this bread. Why not try?

Cooking time (duration): 10

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: snack

Culinary tradition: USA (General)

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country green beans

Let’s face it. Most Southern cookin’ recipes are not the healthiest–fried this, fried that, butter this, lard that. Typically, a hefty scoop of mashed potatoes would go wonderful with this birthday meal #2 next to the chicken fried chicken and the baked mac ‘n cheese, but I decided to “healthen” it up a bit and cook some fresh green beans instead. The nice thing about this choice is that it also adds color to the dish, making it more appealing to our visual sense. (I know this shouldn’t matter to the Blind Cook, but I am, after all, cooking for others who are sighted.)

Okay, so once I took a look at the list of ingredients, the green beans didn’t look too healthy any more, but I figured I’d be using much more butter in mashed potatoes, so better to just stick with the greens.

It turned out this was the only dish that incurred no leftovers. Was it because a pound of beans could easily be devoured by six hungry stomachs? I like to think that it was just that good. The best thing about these country green beans, however, may be that it was damn easy to cook. I mean, look at the instructions–it’s only one step!


Recipe: Country Green Beans

Summary: Original recipe from All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 1/4 c. chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 c. chopped cooked bacon
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 c. water
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a med. saucepan, combine all ingredients. Cover and simmer over med. heat until beans are cooked through, about 15 to 20 min.

Quick Notes

You can use kitchen scissors to trim the ends off green beans. But being blind, I found that snapping them off with my fingers was more efficient. This will work if the beans are fresh enough to snap easily. Otherwise, they’ll be too soft and pliable, and you’ll end up losing more bean. In this case, stick with the scissors.

Variations

The original recipe used ham, but since I already had turkey bacon on hand from the clam chowder, I decided to use that instead.

Cooking time (duration): 25

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)

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baked mac ‘n cheese

Who doesn’t love mac ‘n cheese? Besides the lactose intolerant, of course. And if you don’t like mac ‘n cheese because you don’t like cheese, then I have nothing more to say to you.

Up until this birthday dinner, my mac ‘n cheese was always of the Kraft variety. I remember due to a NMO exacerbation several years ago, I was on corticosteroids whose main side effects on me are insomnia and increased appetite. Often accompanying these appetite changes were strange cravings, and during this particular round of steroids, I ate at least one serving of Easy Mac every day. I even had to go to Costco and buy in bulk.

But thank heavens, my taste buds have since sophisticated, and I tried making good ol’ mac ‘n cheese from scratch this time. The idea came to me when I was watching this “Good Eats” episode on melted cheese, and Alton Brown baked some mac ‘n cheese. And then when I went online to search for the recipe and saw it’s enthusiastic reviews, I was sold.

It was definitely a hit. The panco bread crumbs made all the difference. Overwhelmed by the exoticism? Let’s break it down.

Panco is simply Japanese for “bread crumbs.” The difference between this variety and the American kind is that panco is flaky rather than crummy–uh, I mean crumby (sorry, another bad joke). This means there is more surface area so to make a long story short, your foods will turn out crispier, crunchier, yet lighter. Even after microwaving the leftovers, the panco still added a delightful crunch to the mac ‘n cheese.

Another differentiating factor is the sharp cheddar. None of that bland, watery mild cheddar here. We like a hearty, pungent cheddar. I cheated and opted for the kind that come already shredded in a bag, but if you’re looking to build up forearm muscles, try buying a block of sharp cheddar (either white or yellow or both) and grating it yourself? We received this sweet mandolin slicer as a wedding gift, and it makes cheese grating easy. And remember that if the Blind can Cook it, you can too.


Recipe: Baked Mac ‘n Cheese

Summary: Original recipe from Alton Brown

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. elbow macaroni, cooked slightly less than al dente
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 4.5 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 tbsp. mustard powder
  • 3 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3/4 tsp. paprika
  • 1 lg. egg
  • 18 oz. grated sharp cheddar
  • 1.5 tsp. salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp. butter for topping
  • 1 (3.5 oz.) pkg. panco bread crumbs

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a med. saucepan, melt 3 tbsp. butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard powder, and whisk continuously for 5 min. so that no lumps form. Stir in milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for 10 min. before removing bay leaf.
  3. Temper in the egg, and stir in 3/4 of the cheddar. Season with salt & pepper. Fold in the macaroni, and pour into a 2-qt. casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.
  4. In a separate sm. saute pan, melt the remaining 3 tbsp. butter, and toss the panco to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 to 40 min. or until edges are slightly browned. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 min. before serving.

Variations

I changed up some of the measurements only because the ingredients came packaged in varying amounts. (E.g. I didn’t want to purchase 2 boxes of panco or have to save only 4 oz. of the 12-oz. pkg. of macaroni.) And I thought the recipe still turned out okay. I think the thing with casserole type dishes is they don’t have to be an exact science. This is good for all you non-recipe followers out there. (You know who you are.)

I also baked the macaroni for longer than what the original Alton Brown recipe called for because I like the edges a little burnt. Personally, I think it tastes better and adds that toasted crunch.

Cooking time (duration): 60

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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chicken fried chicken

With a side of country green beans and baked mac 'n cheese



Aahhh…even the post title can make one salivate. In my last post about chicken fried foods, I talked about the Luby’s $2 Thursdays, which I have yet to try. Since then, I found a chicken fried chicken recipe online and watched a Travel Channel “Food Paradise” episode on deep-fried foods, and it was only a matter of time before I busted out the cooking oil. And then came along my friends’ request for comfort food. Perfect.

Before we get to the anticipated recipe, did you ever gaze at a Cracker Barrel or other diner menu and wonder what the difference was between a country fried steak/chicken and a chicken fried steak/chicken? In college, (it seems I learned many things in college), I met some folks from Philadelphia who brought it to my attention that the term “chicken fried steak” is just odd. Is it a chicken? Or is it a steak? Is there such thing as chicken steak? Well, the term “chicken fried,” whatever it precedes, refers to a style of frying the food item the same way one would prepare fried chicken–that is, to batter it and then deep-fry it. Indeed, the Philadelphian folks were appalled and overwhelmed by the range of things us Southerners deep-fry: steaks, bacon, pickles, Twinkies, Oreos, Snickers, beer, Coke, butter, even shoes. Because in Texas, you deep-fry everything just because you can. But back to the original question: what’s the difference between country fried and chicken fried? According to Alton Brown, a country fried steak/chicken is dressed in brown gravy while a chicken fried steak/chicken uses white gravy. So there you have it. Consider yourself a Southern fried expert.

So without further delay, here’s the chicken fried chicken recipe I used as the entree for the birthday dinner. Not only was it delicious (what fried thing isn’t?), it was easy. So for sure, if the Blind can Cook it, you can too. Use this to impress your non-Texan friends next time they’re in town. Or throw a Southern-themed dinner party. Just make sure you have some Tums on hand.


Recipe: Chicken Fried Chicken

Summary: Original recipe from All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded to 1/2 to 3/4″ thick
  • 25 Ritz crackers
  • 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 c. oil for frying

Instructions

  1. Place Ritz crackers in a gal.-sized Ziploc bag and smash to crumbs.
  2. In a shallow bowl, mix together flour, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika. In the next shallow bowl, mix together the beaten eggs with salt & pepper. In the third shallow bowl, pour the smashed Ritz crackers.
  3. Coat each side of the tenderized chicken breast halves first in flour mixture, then egg, then cracker crumbs. Double-coat in flour and egg if desired. Let sit for 10 min. or until chicken is dried before frying.
  4. Meanwhile, heat oil to med.-high heat. Fry chicken for 10 to 15 min. or until done, flipping every 5 min.

Quick Notes

Peanut oil is best for deep-frying since it has a higher smoking temperature. Other good oils for deep-frying are safflower, sunflower, or canola. (I foresee a post on deep-frying coming up.)

Variations

The original recipe didn’t call for any of the spices but I figured garlic and onion and paprika couldn’t hurt. They are, after all, what goes into good fried chicken. I used Ritz crackers since that’s what I had on hand, plus I figured the buttery flavor of the Ritz would add flavor to the chicken. But original recipe uses saltines, so those could work too.

Cooking time (duration): 45

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)

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caramel apple dip

Granny Smith apple

Introduced to the U.S. in 1972

In my 31 years of life, I have never carved a pumpkin. I’ve lived a deprived existence. This Sunday, however, a few of us are getting together and doing just that. Not only are we making jack-o’-lanterns, we are going all out and making caramel apples too. (I would bob for apples but my occasional lockjaw will prevent me from winning at that game, and if you know me, I must be excellent at everything I do.)

With Halloween being around the corner and the start of autumn, I have been seeing a lot of caramel apple recipes everywhere. Today I got the “Recipe of the Day” email from Food Network, and guess what? It was for Perfect Caramel Apples. I decided, however, to take the portion-controlled route and look for a caramel apple dip instead in which we can dip slices instead of entire humongous apples on a stick (which may make me sick). So although we won’t be making this until actual Halloween on Sunday with “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” playing on the TV in the background (I have all the holiday Peanuts DVDs and like to watch them on their appropriate holiday as tradition).

The recipe calls for Granny Smith apples (as pictured), which are so named after Maria Ann Smith who founded them in Australia in 1868. They are tart, juicy, and crisp: suitable for baking and used in salads since they take longer to brown than other varieties. The Beatles even adopted the Granny Smith as the logo for their Apple Records label. I personally find them a little too tart to eat raw, preferring fuji or gala apples, but the color is just oh so pretty.


Recipe: Caramel Apple Dip

Summary: Original recipe from All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 6 apples, preferably Granny Smith, sliced
  • 16 individually wrapped caramel pcs., unwrapped
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar (optional
  • 1 sm. pkg. chopped or crushed peanuts (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a med. saucepan over med.-low heat, melt caramel with water, stirring frequently.
  2. Once caramel is melted, add cream cheese to saucepan and stir frequently until well-blended. Add brown sugar as needed to achieve desired sweetness. Add crushed nuts, remove from heat, and serve with sliced apples.

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dessert

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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