High-Five Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sweet Jesus, fall is here at last!  Nothing says fall to me like sweet potatoes.  They take me right to the Thanksgiving dinner table, even in the middle of April.  My normal sweet potato routine is to bake them and add some butter and brown sugar.  Simple and delicious, no problems here! This potato was so remarkably complex.  Never have I had a sweet potato with chickpeas and pomegranate seeds, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  I didn't hate it.  It was just a lot of ingredients to the point of overkill.  Sweet potatoes have such a strong flavor, and so does tahini, so all the other flavors seemed to get lost in the shuffle.  This potato was tasty, but I had trouble tasting the sun dried tomatoes or the lemon.  Was it necessary to even bother with those?  I don't know the answer.

Honestly, I have to say I prefer my simple butter and brown sugar sweet potato to this creation, however I am really glad I tried it.  It reminds me of how when I go to the cheesecake factory and always get the dutch apple caramel streusel cheesecake.  Every time.  It isn't like we go to the cheesecake factory all the time, so when we go, I am not going to waste a cheesecake opportunity on a risk.  But a time or two, it happened.  They were out of my #1 favorite cheesecake and I had to pick something else.  And you know what?  My favorite has never been ousted from the top spot.  Dutch apple caramel streusel will always be my number one.  But I still ate and very much enjoyed the other cheesecakes.  Sometimes it is for the best that we are forced to try new things. :)

I will give props to this potato, it was SUPER filling.  This would make a really good vegetarian lunch that will keep you satiated for a good while.  Might be worth a try?

You will need:
4 sweet potatoes (each about 3/4 - 1 pound)
2 TBSP olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup hot water
1 TSP lemon zest
2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
1 TSP honey
1/8 TSP ground cinnamon
1 can of drained and rinsed chickpeas (15.5-oz can)
2 TBSP sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, sliced
3 TBSP minced fresh parsley leaves
2 TBSP toasted pine nuts
2 TBSP pomegranate seeds
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

I will share the recipe way and the fast way.  I used the fast way.  Recipe way:  preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper and use a baking rack over the paper.  Scrub  your potatoes well, pierce all over with a fork.  Coat the surface of the potatoes with a thin layer of olive oil.  Place potatoes on the baking rack, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until potatoes can be easily pierced with a knife.  Remove from oven and set aside.

Natalie's fast way, because she works hard all day and doesn't want to spend hours in the kitchen making dinner: scrub your potatoes well.  Pierce several holes in the skin with a fork.  Lightly dampen a paper towel for each potato.  One at a time, wrap your potato in the damp paper towel.  It doesn't need to be extremely tight, but not loose either.  Microwave for 4 minutes.  Flip potato upside down and microwave another 3 minutes (or less depending on how cooked your potato feels midway through).  Boom, baked potato in minutes.  I microwave them one at a time because when I put more than one in they seem to heat unevenly and I have one that is very under done and one exploding from the heat.  I don't even oil them when I do this, so maybe it will save us a few calories.

For the topping, whisk together the 2 tbsp olive oil, tahini, hot water, lemon juice, lemon zest, honey and cinnamon.  Once those are combined, toss with the chickpeas, sun dried tomatoes, parsley, pine nuts, and pomegranate seeds.  Taste for seasoning.

Now to assemble, slice your potatoes lengthwise halfway through and press the ends to 'open' the inside.  Drizzle with some olive oil and add salt and pepper.  Pile in the chickpea mixture and top with some extra pine nuts, pomegranate seeds and/or parsley.  Dig in!

Masala Shrimp 'N' Grits

Monday, September 28, 2015

Oddly enough, being from the south kind of, I have never had shrimp and grits.  Side note, I don't really consider Texas the south, as we are just an entity all our own. This is a hot button issue and has been debated for decades.  Is Texas Southern?  Western?  Southern influences, sure, but we also have mega Latin flavor and western cowboy style too.  I actually would venture to say that the diving line between where southern starts and west begins is right through Houston.  Allow me to make my case.

Fort Worth's nickname is 'Cow-town' so that is most certainly western.  Austin, San Antonio and all of the Texas valley are highly Hispanic populations, so that doesn't seem very Southern to me.  Southwestern is better fitting. Houston is also pretty Hispanicly influenced, but there are a great mix of all ethnicities.  The east side of town though...lots of...what is a nice way to say rednecks? And East Texas, yikes.  Those are some porch sitting, sweet tea drinking, oil field working southerners.  Galveston has a Mardi Gras parade, so that counts for Southern.  Dallas too, with all of their high-society snootiness like the ladies from 'The Help'.  
I have no horse in the race of South vs. Not South, as I consider myself 100% Texan, and merely a perfect blend of south and west.  I have manners, I think sweet tea is disgusting, I say y'all, I use butter liberally, I don't drive a truck, I leave the house looking 'not perfect' most of the time. Lily Pulitzer?  No thank you.  My actual ancestral heritage traces back to Texas for like a billion years, so we were Texans when it was Mexico (and France, and Spain).  #nativetexan
What are we even talking about?  Okay, yes, so I haven't had shrimp and grits before tasting some that Aaron ordered a year ago (so I couldn't possibly be a southern lady) and holy cow.  Mind blown.  I had no idea they were served with cheesy grits??  My first taste of cheesy grits wasn't until my 20s when I dined at Copeland's in Dallas with my bff Katrina.  We now make it a point to go to Copeland's whenever I am in town.  Those grits are off the charts delicious.  All this time I was turning my nose up at grits like they were lumpy flavorless mush.  They are actually really flavorful mush when made properly!
Long story short, I am a late in life adopter of shrimp and grits fandom.  This version is really great however, because it takes the beautiful cheesy goodness of the grits and pairs it with a tomato sauce that is, well, masala.  The flavors are outstanding and pretty similar to Chicken Tikka Masala (which is a FAVE!) , and I will be making this again and again.  I think I like it more than the original!  

You will need:
(for the shrimp)
1 LB shrimp (ideally under 15 count, so they are large and pretty!) peeled with tail on. (and deveined if you ask me) (frozen or fresh is fine, but have them thawed)
1/2 TSP turmeric
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
3/4 TSP Kosher salt
2 TBSP olive oil

(for the masala)
4 cloves of garlic, grated
1 in piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 TSP paprika
2 TSP ground coriander
1 TSP ground cinnamon
1/4 TSP turmeric
1/4 TSP garam masala
2 cups water
2 TBSP olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 serrano chile, seeded and sliced into half moons (less if you prefer less spicy)
Kosher salt
2 TBSP tomato paste
3/4 cup chopped ripe tomatoes (I used two med. sized)
1/2 TSP honey
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

(for the grits)
4 1/2 cups of water
1 TSP Kosher salt
1 cup grits (course ground cornmeal)
4 TBSP butter (1/2 a stick)
4 oz grated sharp cheddar (1 cup)
freshly ground black pepper

First we prep the shrimp.  Combine the turmeric, lemon juice, Kosher salt, and shrimp in a bowl.  Toss to coat the shrimp and allow to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.  Just enough time to get the rest your ingredients prepped!  

I will say one thing, the more you cook, the better your cooking time management skills get.  Prep work that used to take me 30 minutes can get done in 10-15 now.  And I am better at looking at a recipe and timing everything out so the whole meal finishes at the same time and not having the sides get cold for 15 minutes while I finish the main dish.  

Has it been 20 minutes?  In a heavy bottomed skillet, heat the oil to medium high heat.  When the oil is shimmering we are ready to add the shrimp.  You want to drain the shrimp of any liquid before adding to the pan - I just used tongs and gived each little shrimp a shake before placing in the pan.  Give the shrimp room in the pan, if not you won't get a nice crust on them.  Cook a couple minutes on each side, so a nice char is formed.  Remove shrimp from the pan set aside. Give your skillet a quick swipe with a paper towel before starting the masala. 

In a separate small bowl combine the garlic, ginger, paprika, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, garam masala and 1/2 cup of water.  Mix and set aside.

Add your olive oil to the skillet and allow to heat up until oil is shimmering.  Into the skillet add the onion, serrano and a generous pinch of Kosher salt.  On medium high heat, cook and stir occasionally for 5 to 7 minutes.  You want to veggies to get brown on the edges.  Then for another 5 minutes or so, keep stirring a little more frequently until the onions are very brown and sweet smelling.  

Reduce the heat to medium and add the watery spice blend from earlier, tomatoes and tomato paste.  You want to stir together to combine all the ingredients.  Cook for about 5 minutes, until the whole mixture darkens and the tomatoes are softened.  You want the mix to be one mass that holds together at the end of this.

**maybe start the grits about now - put the water and kosher salt on to boil

Now we add the honey, 3/4 TSP of Kosher salt and the remaining 1 and 1/2 cups of water.  Allow the ingredients to lightly simmer for 5 minutes to combine.

Add the shrimp back in the mix, cover and reduce the heat to low.  We are just trying to get the shrimp back up to temperature without overcooking them.  This should take about 4-5 minutes.  Once everything is heated through, add in the cilantro.

Now I cheated and used instant grits and they turned out just as wonderful, but use whichever you prefer.  You want to get the 4 1/2 cups of water and Kosher salt boiling in a saucepan over high heat.  Add in the grits, whisk together and bring back up to a boil.  Cover and reduce the heat to low, stirring fairly frequently.  You can pretty much follow the instructions on the box to prepare them.  Be careful of the bottom of your pan, they can burn if you don't stir them enough.  Make sure to taste the texture before the next step.  

When your grits are a good consistency, whisk in the butter and cheese until incorporated.  Add the pepper to taste.  To assemble the dish (use a bowl, ideally) add grits, top with the masala and shrimp sauce and add a few cilantro leaves to the top to garnish.  I hope you enjoy this delicious east meets west version of shrimp and grits!

Real-Deal Hummus

Thursday, September 24, 2015

This is not hummus that you scoop out of a tub you bought at the grocery store.  This is the hummus you get at your favorite Mediterranean restaurant.  It is infinitely tasty, so just try not to shovel it into your mouth by the spoonful, okay?  Lets try to keep some semblance of decorum here. :)

My litmus test of a good recipe is if I can get Aaron to eat something he typically isn't into.  In his defense, he is not a picky eater by any stretch.  He eats things I wouldn't even dream of, like chicken livers, sardines and tongues of things(blech!).  He is however, a very snobby eater.  If food is sub-par in any form he will turn his nose up at it.  He also claims to hate certain things, yet eats them when set it front of him?  I could write a book..  Anyway.  He claims that he isn't into hummus.  He LOVED this hummus.  I did too, but I love any and all hummus and am not a food snob in the slightest.

In the past when I attempted to make hummus, I just tossed a can of chickpeas, some tahini which I just eyeballed the amount, some salt, then I would just randomly add things to try and get the taste or consistency right.  Maybe some onion would help?  I think more salt.  No maybe more lemon.  Then I'd have about a gallon of mush that I didn't really want to eat.  I have to laugh at my former ways of trying to figure out cooking.  I am so not a natural at this.  Again with this recipe, the process is a large part of what makes this recipe outstanding, and not the ingredients alone.

This hummus is pretty easy to whip up and not even in the same ballpark as the premade stuff.  I halved the recipe and it was more than two people should have eaten, and we didn't even finish it all, so I am posting the recipe cut in half.

You will need:

1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Boiling water
1/3 cup of tahini (check the sidebar, I found amazon was much cheaper than my grocery store!)
juice and zest from 1/2 a lemon
1 clove of garlic
1 TSP Kosher salt
1/4 cup ice water
extra virgin olive oil

For the garnish:
1/2 TSP pine nuts, toasted (optional)
sprinkles of paprika
sprinkles of cumin

When you have your chickpeas rinsed and drained, set a few aside for the garnish at the end.  Add the chickpeas to a bowl that can handle high heat.  Put a kettle of water on to boil, and once water is up to a boil, pour over chickpeas until they are completely covered by a couple inches.  Let these chickpeas sit in the hot water for 15 minutes.  Soaking the chickpeas will soften them up very nicely so that they will puree into a smooth and fluffy hummus.  

Once 15 minutes is up, drain the chickpeas and pour them into your food processor.  Whiz the chickpeas for about 5 minutes by themselves.  They should be pretty smooth before you add more ingredients.

Next in with the tahini, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and garlic.  Mix for about a minute, making sure the garlic gets incorporated very well.  No one wants to bite into a hidden chunk of garlic!  Now while the processor is going, pour the ice water through the top and then let it whiz for 5 minutes.  You are going to want to set a timer because it seems like a super long time.  I was a little worried the motor on my processor was going to burn up, but it made it though just fine.  Taste for seasonings and add more tahini, salt or lemon to get the flavor you desire.

You are now ready to serve!  Aarti's suggestion for serving real deal hummus is to scoop the contents of the food processor onto a plate, and with the back of a spoon smooth it in a circular motion to make lovely hills and valleys in your dip.  I could have gone a little more extreme with mine, the picture in the cookbook is much better looking! Make a well in the center (not too deep) and drizzle with the olive oil, then top with your reserved chickpeas and pine nuts.  In any artful fashion you wish, sprinkle with a light dusting of paprika and cumin.  I opted for the pizza slice design, I made an X across with one, then another X between with the other.  I though it turned out pretty nice?  

This hummus is warm and nutty with a hint of the bright lemon.  So so good, I don't know if I can ever go with the store brand again.  If you follow the basic recipe, I can't imagine it would be too difficult to throw different things in for different flavors.  I for one am a fan of the red pepper hummus.  I shall report back with my findings.  But here you have it, a delicious hummus that is certainly the real deal.  

Fish Tacos

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

I've never met a fish taco that I didn't like, and I've never cooked a piece of fish that I have liked.  I am not including fish sticks, because those are delicious and hard to mess up.  But fish intimidates me big time.  The problem is that I never know when it is done, so I end up with overcooked inedible pieces or warm sashimi.  On the off chance that it is cooked to a decent texture, the flavor isn't there.  I have trouble making any fish have flavor, I have no idea what I was doing wrong.  Plus fish can be pricey, and I am not keen on ruining expensive food.  All of this had lead to a fish boycott.  If we want fish, we leave it to the professionals and get it at a restaurant. 

I was nervous about cooking fish, and nervous of how a fish taco with Indian spices would turn out.  I am used to fish tacos being very limey and cilantro laden with a definite Mexican style spice blend going on.  I'm here to learn though, correct?  Because this fish taco has lifted the ban from our household, and was given accolades for DAYS.  Even my best dishes are only complimented during dinner, but days afterward?  This recipe is legit.  I urge you to try it and transform your attitudes about cooking fish.  It really isn't too difficult at all!


You will need for the fish:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 TSP ground coriander
2 TSP ancho chili powder (I used what was labeled chili powder)
pinch of ground cinnamon
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 pound meaty but flaky white fish, skin and bones removed, cut into bite sized chunks (I used mahimahi, but you can use cod too, or check this page for ideas)

You will need for the mayo:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
Leaves from approx 8 springs of fresh mint
2 TSP ground cumin
zest and juice from 1 lime
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

You will need for the tacos:
Corn tortillas
1/4 head of green cabbage, shredded (or bagged slaw will do)
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions
pickled banana pepper strips (if you like them)
lime wedges

So to start, get your fish all cut into pieces and ready to marinate.  In a bowl, combine the olive oil, coriander, chili powder, cinnamon, salt and pepper.  Add your fish and get them coated in the oil and spices mixture.  Set aside while making the mayo.

You are going to need a food processor or a mini-chopper for the mayo.  Now focus, because this is a challenge.  Add all mayo ingredients to the food processor and blend/chop until smooth.  Whoa!!  lol.  Taste for flavor and add a touch more salt, pepper, or lime if needed. 

Now it's show time.  Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat - allow it to get all the way up to temperature before adding the fish.  No need to oil the skillet because the oil based marinade.  Aarti suggests testing the skillet with a drop or two of water, and if it sizzles and evaporates, you are ready for the fish.  Add the fish to the skillet, they should sizzle when they hit the pan.  Have your fish pieces in an even layer, but not over crowded.  There should be a perimeter of space around all the pieces.  Three minutes per side should result in a perfectly cooked piece of fish that is about 1.5-2 inches thick.  Remove from heat after three minutes per side and let rest for a minute before assembly.

To assemble your tacos, start with a warm corn tortilla.  I usually microwave mine wrapped in a dish towel for about 30 seconds and they are warm and pliable.  Add a smear of your spiced mayo, then your fish.  Top with cabbage, peppers and a squeeze of lime and enjoy fish taco nirvana. 

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

As weird as it seems, we do eat salad from time to time.  (lol!) This salad was probably the most interesting salad I have ever eaten.  Maybe if I knew about this salad in my youth, my vision wouldn't be so terrible?  

Aaron thought this salad was alright, but I really enjoyed the bright flavors.  I have always been an advocate for carrots.  They hardly seem like vegetables sometimes!  This citrusy fresh salad was perfectly timed with the exit of summer weather, as if one final hurrah before sweater weather.  But seriously, we don't get sweater weather in Houston until January- but I like to pretend.  

You will need:
1 large lemon, washed well, sliced into rounds, then the rounds quartered
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for cooking the lemons
1 1/2 TSP ground cumin
1/4 TSP ground cinnamon
1/4 TSP ground ginger
2 pinches cayenne
1/2 TSP orange zest
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
8 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 TBSP toasted pine nuts

Salads hardly warrant instructions, but this one does a little.  Start with your sliced up lemon pieces in a cold pan.  Pour oil into the pan so that the bottom is covered.  On low heat, you will cook until the rinds of the lemon are soft and begin to brown.  This takes about 20 minutes.

For the dressing, you will mix the cumin, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne, orange juice and zest, salt and pepper all together.  Whisk in the 1/4 cup oil to incorporate with the liquid.  Taste for seasonings and adjust if any flavor is lacking according to your preference.

Toss the carrots, pine nuts, and parsley together with the dressing, mixing well to coat everything.  With a slotted spoon, remove your lemon pieces from the oil and add to the salad.  Some of the oil from the lemons that is infused with lemony flavor can also be drizzled over the top for added flavor.  Taste for seasonings and serve, while savoring that last little bit of summer.

Mummy's Pepper Steak Sandwiches

Monday, September 14, 2015

If you love a great sandwich, gather round.  This is the tale of Mummy's pepper steak sandwiches.  A dish that perplexed me regarding steak cuts, and weirded me out with the spice blend.  When I was eating this dish, I was reminded that my preconceived notions are almost always wrong, I need to trust Aarti, because I have no idea what I am talking about.

First I though, steak on a sandwich?  When I splurge on steak, I want to grill it, or cover it in butter and have a nice sophisticated dinner.  Putting an expensive meat on a sandwich seemed disrespectful. Then when I saw that this was pepper steak, I thought it meant spicy sermons and bell peppers to set my mouth ablaze. Again I read the recipe, and the spice blend didn't seem like it would taste very good, with the cloves and the cinnamon.  I don't want to ruin this nice steak by putting it on a sandwich AND making it taste like pumpkin pie.  I was queen of the skeptics on this one.  

I have no idea what I am talking about.  I took one scrumptious bite of this sandwich and now I'm a believer.  Not a trace of doubt in my mind.  I'm in love...  lol, okay, I'll stop with the song.  The pepper is merely fresh ground pepper, the steak flavor was on point, and sandwiches with steak are damn delicious.  I urge you to try this and become a believer yourself.  

You will need:

1 pound sirloin petite roast, or sirloin fillets
1 TSP whole black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
pinch of cayenne 
1 TBSP malt vinegar or apple cider vinegar
Kosher salt
2 TBSP sunflower oil
1 medium onion sliced into half moons
2 TBSP minced, peeled fresh ginger
1 large ripe tomato sliced into 1 inch wedges
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 toasted sandwich rolls

Step one, slice the steak against the grain in 1/2 inch pieces.  Then take your knife or a mallet and flatten them to around 1/4 inch thickness.  Set aside.

In your spice grinder, grind the peppercorns, cinnamon stick and cloves into a powder.  I suppose you can use already ground spices, but a fresh grind is extra flavorful.  Add your ground spices to a small bowl, then mix in the cayenne, vinegar and 1 TSP Kosher salt.  When mixed, you will have a grainy and sand-like paste.  Cover your beef strips with the paste and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.

In a large (preferably cast iron) skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and a pinch of Kosher salt.  Heat onion until translucent, around 2 to 3 minutes.  Add in the ginger and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes longer.  You want the onions to be light golden brown and smell sweet.

Make a layer of onions covering the bottom of the pan, then add the beef strips, laying them atop the onions.  Cook for about 3 minutes, until the underside of the steak has browned slightly.  

Stir the beef and onions all together and cook for another minute.  Then add in the tomatoes, and stirring occasionally, heat for around 5 minutes or until the tomatoes start to wilt down and the skins roll back slightly.  

Turn off the heat entirely, and let everything sit for 5 minutes.  The tomatoes will meld into the juices from the beef and onions to make a slight gravy type sauce.  Add the water and scrape the bottom of the pan to incorporate all the liquids into a gravy sauce.

Toast your rolls lightly, and if you like, butter the insides.  (That is my trick to make any burger or sandwich taste like it came from a restaurant)  Fill with your steak mixture with a bit of the sauce to get absorbed by the bread, and top with cilantro.  That, my friend, is one tasty sandwich.

Things I've Googled This Week #4

Saturday, September 12, 2015

This is going to be a fun segment of the blog where I share the tips that I have been learning along the way.  I am forever googling things to make sure I am not missing any of the finer details of different cooking processes.  Maybe I can save you a little time and share what I have learned.

Q: How to tell if a pomegranate is ripe?

A good pomegranate will be heavy, which indicates that the fruit is loaded with juice.  Poms are usually not picked until they are ripe, so you should be able to consume right after purchase.  They are typically in season in North America from late summer to early winter.  Thank goodness I decided to make High Five sweet potatoes in September.  That was totally a fluke!

Q: Is this grapefruit rotten?

I think my grapefruit was mere hours from being past the point of edible.  When I cut it open, it wasn't the bright pink glow, rather a dull dusty pink color which looked rather sad.  When I cut the sections, the fruit wasn't very firm.  The tiny juice 'vesicles' (I had to google the name for those too.) didn't seem to stay attached to their neighbors very well.  It was definitely almost in too mushy to eat territory.  To keep your grapefruit fresh, keep it in the refrigerator or use it within 3-4 days.  It is 100% rotten when it is slimy, moldy, dried out, spotted, or smells bad.

Q: How to steam a pita?

The direct method with a steamer basket.  Fill a wok or pan with water, bring to boil and sit the pita in the top (not touching the water) and allow the steam to heat the pita through.  I don't have any of this stuff, so the next neato suggestion is to wet a paper towel, and wad it up loosely.  Take a brown paper bag, and put your wet towel wad in the bottom.  Keeping the bag on it's side, add the pita, but not letting it touch the towel, and fold the bag shut.  Microwave of 30 seconds-1 minute.  The wet paper towel + microwave heat in a bag creates a little steam oven for your pita.

Q: Onions in ice water?

Turns out this does in fact take the bite out of the onion.  (Not that I didn't believe you, Aarti)  I learned you can also use milk, it will mellow out the taste.  Someone on the chowhounds forum suggested that the acids in the onions that burn your eyes are water soluble, so soaking them dilutes/removes them from the onion.  I don't know if that is confirmed with science, but I suppose it makes sense?  It makes a big difference when you are eating a raw onion, so remember this tip for your next burger cookout or dinner salad.

Q: China pine nuts?

Let me tell you.  I needed pine nuts as a mere garnish for a sweet potato dish and a hummus recipe I was making.  I am talking like 10 seeds per person total.  Well I was at the store with Aaron, about to throw the three dollar pine nuts into the cart and it was like the record player in a dance hall screeched to a halt.  We can not buy pine nuts that are from China.  Dead serious with a fear in his eyes.  Well here I am googling it, and apparently pine nuts from China can be known to cause 'Pine Nut Syndrome' and they pretty much mess your tastebuds up and everything tastes bitter and metallic.    Kind of crazy.  Annoyed, I spent the extra $$ to get the $10 pine nuts from Italy.  All for a stinkin' garnish.

Q: Tips for grits

More cheese is better, and take your time.  They need more seasoning than you think, and also more time.  A rushed grit, is a lumpy, unpleasant one.  Slow and steady wins the race.  I used instant, but apparently that is a no-no.

Q: Pinterest tips for food blogging

I was looking to get some tips on how to get my recipes seen more.  I learned that in order to be followed and re-pinned more, you need to pin A LOT.  Also a good tip is to have a lot of different boards that are specific.  For example, I originally had my recipes into feasting (meat), fasting (vegetarian) and desserts.  Now I have chicken recipes, freezer meals, cakes and pies, cookies and bars, and everything in between.  If you found this site via Pinterest, welcome!  If you'd enjoy following my perfectly curated boards, find me here.

I Ain't Chicken Chicken

Friday, September 11, 2015

You'll have to forgive me.  I was so hangry by the time the chicken was done that I just started cutting it into pieces right after it came out of the oven.  Once it was slice in half, it dawned on me.  Shoot, I need to take a picture first!  I think you still get the gist though, yes?  This chicken was super tasty, and isn't that crunchy outside just gorgeous.  I guess only people who are really into food think stuff like that...
As much fun as I had butterflying this chicken (yuck!), I think this will turn into one of my regular roast chicken recipes.  I love recipes where you can cook the whole shebang in one pot.  The citrus flavor paired with the fragrant spices made this a really delicious dinner.

You will need:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 TSP ground cardamom
1 TBSP orange zest
1 TBSP grated peeled fresh ginger
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Kosher salt and ground pepper
1 whole chicken, 4-5 pounds, giblets removed, rinsed and patted dry
2 pounds yukon gold potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1 TBSP sunflower oil, plus more for drizzling

You will start by making a butter mixture.  Soft butter will mix a lot easier, just sayin' :).  Mix butter, cardamom, orange zest, ginger, garlic, 1 TSP salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper.  Set aside while you butterfly the chicken.

I totally hate handling raw meat, so this seemed really daunting at first.  I assure you it isn't that bad.  If you can stick your hang up the inside of a chicken to get the giblets out, then you can probably handle this.

Start with your chicken breast side down with the neck part facing you.  With some sturdy kitchen shears, you are going to cut on either side of the backbone from neck to butt.  You should be able to remove the backbone in one long strip.  now you can flip the chicken over, breast side up, neck still facing you.  In a move reminiscent of first aid training, you will do a 'chest compression' type move.  Using your weight on the heel of your palm, give the chicken a good press until you hear a crack and your chicken is flattened.  You want to rotate the little chicken knees facing each other (like the chicken is knock-kneed).  That wasn't so bad, was it?

Take the butter mixture, and side it under the skin all over the chicken.  You should be able to separate the skin from the meat to make little pockets with your fingers.

At this time, we will focus on potatoes.  Slice them 1/4 in thick.  In a bowl, toss them with 1 TBSP sunflower oil, salt and pepper.  Allow them to sit at room temperature along with the chicken for 30 mins - while you preheat your oven to 500 degrees.  Yes, 500, that isn't a typo.  *

Drain any water that the potatoes have given off, and place them in your skillet in an even layer.  (cast iron is the way to go here)  Now place your chicken on top of the bed of potatoes.  Tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders so they won't burn.

Into the oven it goes.  20 minutes, then rotate and cook for another 20 minutes.  The skin will be nice and crispy and internal temperature should be 160 in the thigh area (that zone takes the longest to cook #stopsalmonella)

Let the chicken rest on a cutting board 10 minutes before cutting up and serving.  At this point, flip your potatoes around.  If you want more crisp taters, pop them under the broiler for 3-5 minutes.  Mine looked pretty good as is, so I skipped that step.

*Aarti suggests giving your oven a quick wipedown.  At temps that hot, anything that may have spilled in there may start smoking and setting off your smoke detectors!

I hope you enjoy this tasty meal!

Baba's Ghanoush (Baba Ghanoush)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I remember the first time I had baba ghanoush.  It was on a sampler plate at this tiny hole in the wall Greek restaurant in Denton, TX.  I thought I was pretty cool and culturally aware for having tried hummus in the year 2000, before it was as widespread as it is today.  I was exploring the depths of my newly found vegetarianism, and it was taking me on a cross continent taste tour.  I looked at the different globs of brown goop on the plate, grabbed a pita triangle and hesitantly dipped it in the mush.  I took a bite and I was transformed.  It was the culinary equivalent of Cinderella's tattered dress turning into the beautiful ball gown.  My tastebuds were never the same after that magical mushy bite.  The warm pita, the tart lemon with the olive-oily nutty eggplant.  I knew I could be a vegetarian for life and never feel deprived.  Well I was wrong about all that, but baba ghanoush is still one of my most favorite things to eat.  Can you find a better way to eat a vegetable??  I don't think so.  

You will need:
2 large eggplants
juice of 1 lemon
2/3 cup tahini
1/2 cup fresh minced parsley
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Since I am rocking the electric stove, I used the stovetop method as described.  Prick the eggplants all over with a fork.  In a 450 degree oven, roast the eggplants on a large baking sheet for 20 minutes, until soft.  After the 20 minutes, I turned the broiler on the really char the outer skin, but that was me going rogue.
*Alternately, if you are using a gas stove, plop those eggplants on the open flame (one per burner) and with tongs, turn every 5 minutes until the outside is charred.  

Now that your eggplant is cooked, you want to set aside and cool for a few minutes.  These guys will be HOT.  

Once they are cool enough to touch, remove the stem and the ends, and carefully peel the charred skin off.  Mince the flesh of the eggplant into small chunks.  You can use a food processor but Aarti and I prefer a chunkier ghanoush.  It will get gummy if you over blend it.  

In a bowl whisk together your eggplant chunks, lemon, tahini, parsley, salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust the seasonings if you need.  Dig in!  (best served with warmed pita triangles)

Aloo Gobi

Monday, September 7, 2015

In my household, I really try to make balanced dinners.  What usually ends up happening on nights we don't have frozen pizza or cereal for dinner (we are going to make stellar parents one day..) we end up with the meat+starch+vegetable formula.  Vegetables are either frozen or out of a can, and if I remember, maybe a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  It is so boring, I am bored just telling you about it.  Every day of my life I have intentions to eat more vegetables, and be healthy and strong, and the frozen broccoli ain't cutting it.  Needless to say, when I looked this dish over I just knew it would be a hit, and the most interesting vegetable to ever adorn a plate in the Hinkley household.

It takes minimal effort beyond microwaving the steam-in-a-bag peas to whip up this colorful and tasty cauliflower and potato dish.  It almost looks like popcorn too, so that might be a good way to fool the little ones into eating vegetables!

You will need:
2 TBSP sunflower oil
1/2 TSP cumin seeds
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
1 Serrano chili - slightly punctured with a knife for less spicy, cut from stem to tip (but not split in two pieces) for most spicy
1/2 in piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 large Yukon gold or red skinned potato, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
1 TSP ground coriander
1/2 TSP ground turmeric
1 head cauliflower (about 2 1/2 pounds) trimmed into bite sized florets
1 small tomato, diced
1/4 cup water
Kosher salt
1/2 lime
Handful of chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Fresh ground black pepper

In a large saute pan, heat the oil on medium high heat until almost smoking.  Add the cumin seeds to the oil (they should immediately sizzle) and crushed garlic.  In a few seconds the garlic should be golden brown on one side.  

Flip over the garlic, then add in the onions, Serrano, and ginger.  Stir everything together.  You are wanting to cook everything until the onions are soft and golden brown, about 5 minutes.  If they appear to be browning and becoming crispy too fast, lower the heat.  

Next toss in the potato, coriander, and turmeric.  Stir and try to get the potatoes well coated in the spice blend.  Cook for 3-4 minutes to seal in those flavors.  Repeat for the cauliflower.  Add to pan, toss to coat and allow to cook for a few minutes in the spices.

Now add the tomato, water, and a teaspoon of Kosher salt.  Cover your pan, and reduce the heat to low.  Cook for around 25-30 minutes until both potato and cauliflower are cooked through.  Add the squeeze of lime juice and the chopped cilantro to finish the dish off.  Taste for seasoning and add more salt/lime/pepper if need be for your personal tastes.  Enjoy!

Things I've Googled this week #3

Sunday, September 6, 2015

This is going to be a fun segment of the blog where I share the tips that I have been learning along the way.  I am forever googling things to make sure I am not missing any of the finer details of different cooking processes.  Maybe I can save you a little time and share what I have learned.

Q: Do graters get dull?
Yes, kind of?  I ran into some people who are using their grandmother's box grater and it is still going strong.  Then there are others who claim they need to use lots of pressure to grate anything, and worry about their delicate fingers paying the price.  I am an in-between.  My grater is fine, but it does seem dull-ish.  It can be done, sharpening a grater that is, but it hardly seems worth the time and effort.  Below are just a sampling from amazon, and they run around $7-$20.  I did learn some good advise though.  The dishwasher will dull your grater faster.  You should clean it right away to prevent dulling from having to scrub off dried up cheese or vegetable goop.  And if you are grating something soft and having trouble (soft cheese or fruits) freeze those things first and you will have an easier time grating.  The more you know.

Q: Sliced into half moons?
One of the recipes I made called for a serrano cut into half moons.  I thought at first it meant slice the whole pepper in half, length wise so you half of the long tube, then sliced so you have a bunch of little 'c' shaped pieces.  Turns out my instincts were correct, yay!

Q: What does curdling look like?
Curdling seems like one of those things that you'd know it if you see it.  I needed more information though.  Answer, very chunky.

Q: Sirloin vs NY strip
I am not yet a meat expert.  If it isn't ribs, I have no idea where cuts of meat come from on a cow.  My only concern between sirloin and NY strip was that the recipe I was making called for sirloin.  So I am wandering my grocery's meat department looking for sirloin.  There were 100 Ny strips, and 3 sirloins, however to my naked eye, I could see little to no difference.  Though that could be said for most all cuts of meat!  I found out that these two are very similar.  They come from a muscle that goes down the spine of a cow (kind of like where a girdle would go?) .  The end closer to the spine is a bit more marbled with fat, which is sirloin.  The NY strip is leaner and further down the side of this muscle.  I think this is right...I start reading this stuff and my eyes glaze over a bit.  Long story short, I could have used either.

Q: Cleaning inside crock pot
I was way too nervous about ruining my crockpot when the mango pulled pork incident happened.

Thankfully this isn't a rare problem, so the internet was super helpful.  I knew of course not to submerge the inside in water, that would ruin the electrical components.  I read that you can either leave a cup of ammonia inside the crockpot with the lid on.  Those harsh fumes clean the gunk right off.  You can also use over cleaner with really stubborn messes.  Both options were a little harsh for my liking, so I just took dish soap and my trusty scouring pad and scrubbed it all off.  The heating element is pretty well protected in the wall of the unit, so nothing was damaged with the minimal wetness that got in there.

Q: Can you freeze pulled pork after 3 days?
Aaron and I ate pulled pork sandwiches for like six meals in a row and we still had over half of it.  We need more friends to invite over!  I didn't know if it was safe to freeze after it had been cooked for a while.  I couldn't find any information against this idea.  So I went ahead and froze it, but I froze it in single serving amounts.  I didn't want to unfreeze three day old pork and not use it all the day I unfreeze it.  Stay tuned to see if I have any food poisoning to report in the coming weeks, lol!

Q: Why do people like sweet pickles?
I couldn't find the answer.  They are disgusting and I have no idea why Aarti suggested they go on the pulled pork sandwich and not dill.  I used dill and they were amazing.  Sweet pickles, blegh!

Chickpea Artichoke Masala

Friday, September 4, 2015

Chickpea artichoke masala took me by surprise.  It was the end of the week, and I was on day three of not feeling like cooking when I came home from work.  I usually stock the fridge with one or two convenience meals per week for such an occasion.  However it was Friday.  We ate frozen pizza two nights ago, and take out the night before.  I thought, I need to go ahead and tackle that recipe.  Half the items are out of cans, it won't be too much effort.  

When I make my grocery list for the week and decide which Aarti Paarti recipes to tackle for the week, I let the visually appetizing pictures lure me to them.  This recipe caught my eye because I love artichokes big time.  Well Aarti and I must be simpatico, because I turned to page 184, and read that this recipe came to Aarti whist donning sweatpants and trying to throw a quick dinner together with what she had on hand.  I gathered my sweatpants wearing self to the kitchen and got to work.

This chickpea artichoke masala may not be much to look at, but it was very tasty.  I am mainly accustomed to eating artichokes via a cheese laden dip, so it was great to explore new ways to use this tasty bulb.  I served this with rice and naan and it was a very filling and healthy meatless dinner for a Friday.  Maybe you will like it too?

You will need:
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/2 in peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 TBSP sunflower oil
1 TSP cumin seeds
1 TSP ground coriander
1/2 TSP garama masala
1/4 TSP paprika
1/4 TSP turmeric
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 TBSP fresh lime juice (juice for 1/2 a lime)
1 (14.5 oz) can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1 (14.5 oz) can artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup water

First you take the onion, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes and blend until smooth in a small food processor or mini chopper.  Mine stayed a little chunky, but blend to your desired smoothness.

In a large skillet, heat the oil until shimmering and very close to the smoke point, over medium-high heat.  Add in the cumin seeds and let them boil/pop for around 30 seconds.  Next add in the tomato onion paste.  Sauté until mixture darkens and thickens, around 10 minutes.

Next go the spices.  Add the coriander, garam masala, paprika, and turmeric.  Sauté for about 30 seconds.

Now time for the yogurt.  Slowly drizzle in so it does not curdle.  Add lime juice, chickpeas, artichokes and water, then simmer together for 10 minutes.  Season if need be, and serve.

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Thursday, September 3, 2015


Mango Pulled Pork

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

When I think of pulled pork, I think of Memphis.  Back in the year 2010, Aaron was to be in the wedding of his two dear friends and the two of us road tripped all the way there from Houston.  We had a fabulous time and made a whole vacation of it.  We stopped at the Clinton Presidential museum in Little Rock, went to Graceland, the whole nine yards!  My most memorable meals though, were the barbecue we ate on Beale Street, in Memphis.  

Those Tennesseans know how to cook a pig, I tell you what.  Texans are big on beef barbecue, so we do brisket and ribs, maybe a chicken if you are watching your cholesterol.  Not much pork to be found.  It only took one Memphis pulled pork sandwich to steal my heart forever.  Brisket who?
Needless to say, I was eager to try Aarti's take on pulled pork.  I make it a point to roast a pork shoulder in my crockpot at least a few times during the current hatch chile season, and the other times my heart hearkens back to our Indiana road trip, so this should be a breeze.  

Aarti's recipe was flawless as usual, and this mango pulled pork turned out beautifully.  It only caused a slight kitchen nightmare for me, but overall I'd say it was worthwhile all the same.

So let me tell you.  I usually cook a recipe each night when I come home from work.  Well you can't do that with a several pounds roast.  Those puppies take hours.  So my thought was, I will put this boneless roast in the oven when I get home on Monday, it can cook until right before bed, and I will just refrigerate it.  It will be good to go Tuesday night for dinner.  God laughs when you make a plan, yes?  So I got home Monday, and threw together a simple dinner.  Then after all the chopping and prep work it was almost 8pm (and my bed time is 10 pm sharp!).  And also I bought a bone-in pork shoulder, so that was going to add even more cooking time.  I was going to be up until midnight, I thought.  This cannot stand.  Well Miss Bright Idea over here thought I could just use the crockpot and cook the whole roast overnight.  Easy.  Well the roast just barely fits in my crockpot, and I have the family sized one.  I get the pork and the mango filling all in the pot, set it on low and off to dreamland I go.  

When I awake, it smells like success.  I go check on the roast.  It is in the crockpot, boiling away, and just so tender that it fell apart just with gentle prodding from my fork.  This is all great, except for the fact that about half of the liquid contents had boiled over outside of the crockpot and onto my counter!  Ugh, yes, I know.  And it wasn't really liquid anymore, as it was all congealed in solidified pork fat down the entire stretch of my countertop.  So that was a joy to clean up.  Lesson learned, I will gladly be the cautionary tale and never over-fill a crockpot again.  Yeesh. 

So anyway, make sure when you make this shoot for an afternoon start time so you won't be repeating my mistake. This pork was juicy and flavorful, and made the most adorable little sliders, as seen below.  All I did was add the dill pickle slices and butter the slider buns before toasting and it was restaurant caliber dinner.  Love it!

You will need:
(for the pork rub)
2 TBSP dark brown sugar
1 TBSP paprika
2 TSP kosher salt
1 boneless pork shoulder (Boston Butt; about 3 pounds) excess fat trimmed

(for the barbecue sauce)
1/4 cup sunflower oil
1/2 TSP cumin seeds
1/2 TSP fennel seeds
2 TBSP minced and peeled fresh ginger
1 yellow onion, finely minced
1 serrano chile, seeded, thinly sliced
kosher salt
2 cups mango puree*
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 TBSP molasses
freshly ground black pepper

*you can use fresh or frozen mango, just pop in the blender :)

Brioche rolls and bread & butter pickles are recommended by Aarti.  I used regular slider buns because they were easy to find, and dill pickle slices because I am not a monster.

In a bowl, combine the brown sugar, paprika and salt for the rub.  Stir until all combined.  You want to coat your pork roast all over with this rub.  You can do this up to a day prior to cooking.  I did it a mere 30 minutes before cooking and it turned out delicious, so your call.

Next on to the BBQ sauce.  Heat the oil in a large skillet.  When the oil is hot and shimmery, add both the cumin and fennel seeds.  They will instantly begin to pop and dance about.  Quickly add in the onion, ginger and serrano.  You also will add salt to taste.  Cook until the vegetables soften but don't turn any color - about 3-4 minutes.  Next goes in the mango puree, lime juice, vinegar, Worcestershire, and molasses.  Heat and simmer for 5 more minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

Add the seasoned pork roast to the pan with the sauce.  Turn several times to coat the meat with the sauce.  You will next cover the pan and cook over low heat.  You want to stir and turn the pork on different sides every 30 minutes.  In around three hours you will have a perfectly cooked and tender pork roast.  

Remove the pork from the sauce (or the mango spa treatment, as Aarti puts it! (lol, I love her.)) and shred.  The best way to do this is just take two forks and use them to pull the meat into shreds.  Add the shreds back into the sauce and stir to coat.

Now fill your bun full of your mango pulled pork, top with the pickles of your liking and dig in.  I hope you like this as much as I did.