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Kale Chips

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This may be the hippy-est thing I’ve ever said, but I love me some Kale Chips! Take a bunch of Kale (or two) and dry them out in your oven for crispy, delicious, and addicting healthy treats. When you make this, bake as much Kale you have time for. They cook down more than anything else you will ever bake. It’s like sautéing spinach. So, if it’s a rainy afternoon with hours to kill, do a number of bunches and keep them in zip lock bags, then re-toast to eat as snacks throughout the week. This is time consuming, but EASY, and definitely worth it.

Easy peasy!

Ingredients

1 bunch Kale (1 bunch as a snack per every 2 people is a good rule of thumb)

1 TBSP fresh lemon juice, divided

1 tsp Cayenne, divided

1 TBSP olive oil, divided

Kosher or Sea salt to taste

If you’ve got a convection oven use it. Preheat oven on convection to 280. If you’re using a regular oven, preheat it to 325. Rinse kale and cut the leafy part away from the stalk as best you can. You want large pieces because these suckers are going to contract more than Shrinky Dinks. Spread out your future chips on tea towels to dry a bit (you can do this long in advance to preheating the oven if you’d prefer to make them fresh later on). This will also give you an idea of how many batches you’ll have to do based on the size of leaves, cookie sheets, and oven size. This is important; the number of batches will of course be the way you’ll need to divide the lemon juice, salt, cayenne, and olive oil. If you’re good at eyeballing or winging it, do so!

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Scoop a cookie sheet’s worth of kale leaves (about 12-20) into a bowl and sprinkle with fresh lemon juice (I would just squeeze a half of a lemon through my fingers each time), a pinch of cayenne, enough olive oil to lightly coat most without being overly greasy, and a sprinkling of kosher or sea salt. Toss with tongs or hands. Place kale in an individual layer on parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Immediately rinse your hands of any cayenne residue once you’ve got your kale placed. Bake for about 12-14 minutes in convection or 23-27 minutes on a regular oven setting. Some edges may brown; that’s absolutely fine. Place crisped leaves on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Continue baking in as many batches as needed. You can store in ziploc bags for up to a week and retoast whenever needed.

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Easy Peasant Bread

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You don’t need a bread maker. You don’t need any special flour. All you need is some water, a couple of cups of all purpose unbleached, and a packet of yeast.

I generally make a loaf of this each weekend to give my household its bread fix through most of the week.

Depending on what’s planned for lunches, I’ll use the same dough to make rolls as well. This is very versatile and can be used in a number of ways, whether you’re planning on drizzling it with honey, smothering with jam, turning it into chewy garlic knots, or making a Dagwood. I always use King Arthur’s All Purpose Unbleached flour, but really you can use pretty much anything with this. That’s one of the greatest things about bread – mix together roughly the right ingredients and you’ll still wind up with bread.

Easy Peasant Bread

Ingredients

2 cups luke warm water

1 packet yeast (regular or rapid rise, it really doesn’t matter)

1 TBSP sugar or honey (your preference and, yes, the honey flavor will come through)

2 tsp salt

4 1/2 cups flour

1 TBSP Herbs de Provence (optional)

Heat up one cup of the water by either microwaving it for 1 minute or simmering on the stove until bubbles just barely begin to form at the bottom. Remove the water from the heat, pour into a small mixing bowl, and add in the sugar or honey to dissolve. Add the remaining cup of water (room temperature/straight from the tap) to the 1 cup heated water. Ideally, the two cups of sugared water should be between 95-110 degrees once combined. I stick my finger into the bowl and if it’s slightly warmer than room temperature, it’s good to go. You can also use a cup of your favorite beer in lieu of the cup of cold water to add a little more flavor to your bread. Sprinkle the packet of yeast over the top of the warm water and let it proof for 10 minutes are so. It should get a bit bubbly. If it all sinks to the bottom, the water was too warm and you’ve murdered your yeast. My condolences.

While your yeast is proofing, set to work on the dry ingredients. In a large bowl whisk together the salt, flour, and herbs if using. If you want to make garlic knots, now would be the time to swap out the Herbs de Provence with Italian seasoning or basil & oregano, add 1 TBSP garlic powder, and 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese. Once the yeast is nice and bubble-tastic pour it over the flour mixture. You can use a mixer with a dough hook attachment if you’d like, but really the best tool for the job is your hands. Using your fingers and palm like a spatula, mix and fold the ingredients together until if forms a ragged dough. It should be fairly wet and sticky. Make sure you run the side of your hand around the edge of the bowl as well as incorporating all the flour at the bottom. Do not over mix the dough with a hook or your palm, otherwise it will get tough. You can still use it to make bread, but it will have a far less pleasing texture.

Once all the ingredients are mixed well and you have a nice, cohesive, albeit sticky dough, let it rest in the bowl, covered with a damp towel or plastic wrap in a warm area for an hour or so. It should puff up quite a bit, if not double in size. Once this happens, the dough is proofed and you have a few options.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

You can spray a pyrex (8″ x8″) with non-stick spray or butter it and turn your dough right into it to rise a second time. That’s what I’ve done in these pictures. Allow the dough to sit about 20-30 minutes or until your oven is heated. It will rise during baking. Before putting the dough into the oven, slice the top about 1/2 inch down with a sharp knife or cut the corners toward the center, make 4 slashes that ultimately look like an X. This is optional, but adds to a golden brown crispy crust. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

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You can also flour your counter top, turn your dough out, flour the top, and cut into rolls or knots.

If you do rolls, tear off a small ball of dough from the bowl, about 2-3 inches or so in diameter, and pat to the desired shape. Space each roll on a cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick or with parchment paper about 1 inch apart and bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

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These are rolls I made with scallion & red pepper flakes mixed into the dough for banh mí’s.

If you decide to do knots, roll out the dough into logs about 6-8 inches long and about 3/4 inch thick. Loosely tie in a knot, and place on a cookie sheet the same as directed with the rolls. Brush with 2 TBSP melted butter mixed with 3 tsps garlic powder, 2 tsp dried parsley, salt, and pepper or sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for about 22 minutes or until lightly golden brown. I made the below ones a little crisper than normal this time, but they’re nice and chewy when they’re a little less done.

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Which ever shape you choose, do your best to allow your bread to cool for 20 minutes or so. It’s hard to wait this out, believe me. And your house will smell amazing.

Use you bread to accompany an Italian food feast, eggs in the morning, ham & swiss for lunch, or just with a little butter and drizzle of honey for a snack.

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ATX Gastro Graze: Michi Ramen Brick & Mortar

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There once was a food truck – an amazing wonderful food truck – located at NATY, or North Austin Trailer Yard that served the most delicious Ramen you could ever imagine. Michi Ramen. Their twitter feed consisted of only numbers, for they could only serve a limited number of bowls each day, and used their tweets as a count down. And they inevitably sold out every single lunch and dinner. This ramen was like nothing you’ve ever had before, with broth cooked for days with pork flesh and bone to ensure a richness that couldn’t be matched. Life changing goodness, body fortifying. And almost literally good for your soul.

…Okay, I may be exaggerating, but only a little.

Any way, one day Michi couldn’t keep up with its fans demands and closed shop (or truck as it were) to find and establish a brick and mortar location. We had to go months without ramen, settling on Ramen Tatsu-Ya…which I should really do a Gastro Graze on (while it IS good, it’s a bit over hyped and it ain’t no Michi). But finally our patience paid off: Michi Ramen restaurant is now a go!

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Located on North Lamar in the old Afin location (6519 N. Lamar, ATX, 78752), Michi’s space is open and bright. They don’t have a liquor license just yet, but they’re working on it and in the mean time it’s BYOB. Having a larger truck means that they get to have more food offerings, including numerous sides or little bites and dessert on top of their four different styles of ramen, three different broth thicknesses, and a plethora of toppings available.

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I apologize for the bit of blurriness in these photos.

We order bowls of the Michi in both Light and Stout, the Sapporo in regular with an Onsen egg, and the Veggie in regular, as well; Tatsu-Ya at this time does not offer a vegetarian option. I had had the Ajitama egg when they were a food truck and while some may be turned off by its color due to marinating, it is absolutely delicious. We also ordered both kinds of fried chicken, the calamari salad, the vegetable tempura, gyoza, and Burnt Ends. It was hard to get pictures of every thing, as most was devoured as soon as it hit the table. The food came out fast, was very delicious and affordable, the atmosphere was baby friendly, though the crowd was primarily people aged about 27-42 without children.

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Sapporo with regular broth and an onsen egg mixed in.

For $7-10 you get this steaming hot, seemingly bottomless bowl of ramen, with perfectly tender noodles. My Sapporo came with corn and scallions, as well as three huge slices of pork, mushrooms, beans sprouts, and so much goodness. I paid the extra 50 cents for an onsen egg which I immediately mixed into the broth, making it even richer. I found the Sapporo to be a little sweet, though not in a bad way, and we attributed that to the fresh corn that a welcome firmness in texture to the soft, but not soggy noodles.

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Calamari Salad

The calamari salad was both bright visually and in flavor, without any hint of fishiness or chewy texture. It was, in short, refreshing, an excellent palate cleanser, and even those at the table that don’t like this sort of thing found it tasty!

The Burnt Ends are fatty, tasty, crispy little bites of pork, smokey and sweet. There’s no picture because we were close to wrestling one another for the last bite, let alone anyone pausing to snap a shot.

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Tatsuya Age

Our table ordered both offerings of fried chicken the Tatsuya Age and Toriten. Both were very good, large, juicy, white meat chunks, and large portions for the $4 they charged. While there’s no picture of the Toriten (a tempura batter fried chicken) I think that was my favorite, though the Tatsuya was very good as well with the lemon and bright dipping sauce. There was something delightfully Texan about the Tasuya, but it wouldn’t be something that would be a necessity on their menu. Both would be great for pickier eaters or children.

The vegetable tempura and Gyoza were also good. Nothing amazing. Simply easy staples that should always be good – how could you mess them up?

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Mochi Ice cream!

Finally: Dessert. Michi offers ten flavors of Mochi Ice cream. While it’s not hard to find mochi ice cream even in grocery stores now a days, they did have some flavors I hadn’t tried before. And while we all shared Lychee, Pistachio, and the Chocolate Peanut butter flavors, at $3 for 2, and so many side plates for under $5 I’ll be hard pressed to not stop in regularly for “a quick bite” of so many of their offerings.

In short, I recommended the trailer without hesitation until it closed. I now highly recommend the restaurant as well. For families, for dinner, for a date, for lunch, for dessert (and BYO saki), for foodies, for punks, for whomever. Michi has excellent ramen for a variety of tastes, excellent and affordable sides, great though stark atmosphere, and I hope they’ll be a new constant on the Austin restaurant scene.

Reverse Reese’s: Chocolate Stuffed Peanut Butter Cookies!

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Okay, life has been so stressful and overwhelming lately, that I’ve gotten away from the fun things. I have only been to the gym twice this week, I’ve barely been eating (let alone eating well), and I’ve allowed what brings me joy to be pushed away by things that already deserve less of my time than I give them.

So today I am reclaiming my life just for me: I went to the gym this morning, had a light and bright brunch, cleaned my house while my hubby did laundry, carved a pumpkin and NOW I’m going to make some peanut butter cookies!

My Jack Skellington Jack-O-Lantern

Chip looooooves peanut butter cookies, but I find them to often be salty and lacking…probably because they don’t have any chocolate in them. Well, I’m changing that today, dammit. This afternoon I’ll be making what I call a Reverse Reese’s, that is I peanut butter cookie stuffed with chocolate. 1. Are these healthy? No. 2. Do I care? See the answer to the first question.

Reverse Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup peanut butter (Smooth or crunchy. I use smooth, because, like a child, I think crunchy is gross.)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour (You want to sift it? What are you, an over-acheiver?)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt (Optional. I find there’s enough salt in the peanut butter that this isn’t necessary.)                     1 cup Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips

Use Jiff peanut butter. Or Peter Pan. Or your local grocery store’s generic brand. I know, I know, these are processed, but it’s much harder to get the correct consistency both before and after cooking if you use something organic that often separates. Also, spritz your measuring cup with a little non-stick spray so your peanut butter doesn’t wind up being obnoxious to get out of there. Whip together the butter, peanut butter, sugars, and vanilla. Incorporate the egg. Sprinkle in the flour with your mixer on low in 2-3 batches. Add the baking soda and salt if using, and mix for an additional 30 seconds. or until everything is well combined. It will pull cleanly away from the sides of your bowl when complete.

If your kitchen is warm or it’s a hot day, stick the dough in the fridge for 5-10 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350 (F). Use this time to clean up. I gave my KitchenAid mixer a good cleaning, tossed most stuff in the sink and wiped down the counter. My KitchenAid is my dream boat, which I inherited from my grandmother. It’s from the 70’s, just look at the plug on the thing, and it works like a champ! Love. It.

Once your dough is ready, take a heaping tablespoon of the peanut butter goodness and flatten in the palm of your hand. Smoosh (that’s the medical term) 8-10 chocolate chips into the center and fold the dough over and seal. Try and keep the chocolate chips in a cluster in the center if you want a Reverse Reese’s. Worst case scenario is you wind up with chocolate chip peanut butter cookies, so you can’t really mess this up. Place on a cookie sheet (these are oily enough that you don’t need to spray your pan) and gently press to about a half inch thick.

Bake for 13-16 minutes. I like mine soft and chewy, so these came out after 14 minutes. Let rest 3-5 minutes before moving off the cookies sheet because they are very delicate when they first come out.  

Serve with milk and a cool Autumn night. 

Orange White Chocolate Craisin Cookies

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A rainy day in Austin is like Christmas. To be able to open one’s windows, allow the breeze to come through is a rarity that must be thoroughly appreciated. I celebrate by making cookies. I don’t like to bake sweet crap too often, but when I do, I normally do it on a Sunday so the extras can either be baked into individual servings for lunches throughout the week or just brought into the office and dumped on less fatty coworkers.

Rather than making those heavy super mega chocolate cookies I normally make, I decided I wanted something lighter, fresher, something that would be great with a cup of coffee. I decided to take a usual cookie recipe and tweak by lightening the sugar and adding a little lemon, fruit, and love. Okay, not love, but I did really like the way they turned out. I call them Lemon White Chocolate Craisin Cookies ’cause I like the alliteration at the end there. I’m sure it should probably be something like the orange White Chocolate Craisin is a trademarked name of the Ocean Spray Company Cookies, or the much less exciting Lemon White Chocolate Dried Cranberry Cookies, but who the hell cares?

Lemon White Chocolate Craisin Cookie

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup backed brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

2 TBSP juice of a lemon

zest of one orange (about 3 tsps)

2 1/2 cup flour

1/2 tsp Baking Soda

1/2 tsp salt

2/3 cups Ghirardelli white chocolate chips. I know, that’s pretentious, but they really are the best for baking.

1/2 cup dried cranberries (Guess which brand I used?)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the butter and sugar until delicious creamed. Add the egg and vanilla; beat until incorporated. Add the lemon juice (and take the 2 seconds and spend the 30 cents on a reallemon for that) and zest, and whip until it’s all combined.

Now at this point I’m supposed to tell you something like “In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda, then add slowly to the butter mixture…”, but I’m not going to tell you that. I made this recipe a couple of times (that’s what you do when you test and create recipes), once doing the flour and crap whisked in a separate bowl, and once at the end just adding it ingredient by ingredient. I’m going to blow your mind: It made NO difference. None. I bake to make my house smell all warm, fuzzy, and comforting, and to make my fatass fatter. Not for the delicate art of it all.

SO, once you got the butter and everything else mixed, add the flour. I added it a cup first, mixing well, then a cup and a half just so it wouldn’t make a mess. Then the salt, and then the baking soda. Mix until everything is combined. Add the white chocolate and the Craisins last; I have to do this quickly or I find my friends poaching the best ingredients.

Spray a cookie pan with nonp-stick spray and bake heaping tablespoon balls of dough, eight at a time per sheet for 10-12 minutes. I like my cookies chewy, so I did about 11 minutes on these. This recipe makes 24 good-sized cookies, not “fun” size, which is a size I call “small as crap”. I took a picture below of the sized balls of dough versus the final product to give you an idea of size. I don’t have huge man hands or weirdo tiny girl hands like I’m still a child, but I don’t like the way they look in this photo either…

I found these the right sweetness to have with a cup of coffee in lieu of a biscotti. There is a simple glaze, however, that really gives them an extra punch of lemony flavor. When I asked my buds if they “needed” the glaze their response was thus:

“I’m not going to say the need the glaze, because they’re very tasty, but….well, everything’s better with stuff on top.”

My friends loved this glaze like a six year old loves Dunkaroos, but I prefer them without, or with very little glaze.

Simple Lemon Glaze for Anything, but Especially Good with these Cookies

1 cup confectioners sugar

3 TBSP orange juice

The zest of 1 lemon

Whisk everything together and drizzle lightly over cooled cookies. Or french toast. Or pork chops. Hell, it’s simple and awesome, throw it on anything. But make sure to enjoy the cookies.

Summer Charred Caesar Salad

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A misconception of Italians is that pasta is very important to us. I’m not going to lie, it was a staple in my youth growing up. But just as important, if not more so, are vegetables. Everyone in my family gardened, my uncle even had fig trees so large that they busted through his green house in Connecticut. Many of my early memories are sitting in the dirt at my grandparents house, gnawing on a cucumber I picked off the vine while they harvested the other fruits of their labors. And salad was always served at the end of the meal. After the heavy stuff was out of the way, it was onto lightly dressed lettuces, sliced pears, and shared granny smith apples. It seemed like my grandparents always had a pen knife tucked in a pocket or folded into the waist band of an apron, just to easily hand out slices of nature’s bounty.
This was a great way to be raised. If my dinner doesn’t contain a lot of vegetables today then it’s not complete, it only half done to me, or I think it’s simply not healthy. I’m always on the look out for new ways to do the same old – same old. Recently I had made some grilled corn and liked it so much I decided to expand on it. I decided my less than exciting romaine for a Caesar salad needed to be smokey, charred, a flavor you just couldn’t add to salad without real flame.
Salad (Serves 4)
2 hearts of Romaine cut in half the long way
…Yep. That’s it. This is a spin on a Caesar Salad, the magic is in the dressing and preparation, not its contents and co-stars. I also tend to look at croutons as sode: empty calories that ruin anything healthy and are the salad equivalent of a soda with a meal. It may be tasty, but you might as well have a candy bar or something. If your salad is about the croutons, you’re doing it wrong.
Summer Caesar Dressing
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Worcester sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • Pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste (Optional…or, in my house, Non-existent)

Caramelize the shallots. While those are working on their golden brown deliciousness, whisk everything else in a small bowl. Once caramelized, remove the shallots to cool a bit. You want to add them to the dressing when they’re warm so they don’t cook the egg, but do help thicken the dressing; letting them sit about 4-5 minutes should be fine.

Preheat your grill to high, clean the grates, and rub them down with vegetable or olive oil. Place the cut halves of Romaine flat/cut side down and don’t touch for 1-2 minutes. They char quick and you don’t want them completely blackened.

Remove from heat, and plate grilled side up. Drizzle the Caesar-ish dressing over the grilled side, allowing the dressing to drip in between the layers of lettuce. Top with a little more Parm if you’re so inclined. Served with chicken or a grilled steak makes a memorably delicious meal.

 

Spicy Coconut Curry Stir Fry with Tropical Quinoa

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In the ever constant search for something new and exciting in the kitchen, I’ve decided to start making that which I crave from restaurants. The below recipe is very similar in flavor to P.F.Chang’s/Pei Wei’s Thai Coconut Curry sauce. I made this with a teaspoon of red pepper flakes and a teaspoon of chip oil and the heat is barely noticeable, just a hint, which is nice. And my heat tolerance is not very hot at all. Filled with veggies, lean protein, and quinoa instead of rice, this is a flavorful, healthy dinner that comes together relatively quickly and is super tasty! This makes enough for 4 people. You can also use shrimp instead of chicken for extra awesomeness.

Sauce

1 TBSP Sharwood’s Mild Curry Powder (That’s what I used because it was easily found in my local grocery store, but you can use whatever you like or can find.)

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp chili oil

2 tsp ginger

juice of one lime

1 cup coconut milk (You can use Lite if you’d prefer)

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

Mix the sauce ingredients in a bowl, whisk together, and let sit for flavors to marry. Set it aside.

Stir Fry

1 20oz. can pineapple chunks, drained (reserve some liquid for the quinoa if making as below). You want to slice up a pineapple fresh? Go nuts.

1 red bell pepper cut into 1 inch pieces

1 small or 1/2 large white onion, diced

1 1/2 cups snow peas

1 8oz. can baby corn, cut or whole

6 oz. boneless skinless chicken breast

2 TBSP coconut milk

3 cloves minced garlic

In a large sauté pan, caramelize or brown the pineapple chunks over medium high heat, about 10-12 minutes. Remove pineapple from pan and set aside in a bowl for later. Add a TBSP vegetable or olive oil in the same pan without cleaning the yummy residue left over from the pineapple. Add the chicken and brown, just cooking through, about 4 minutes per side. Remove chicken from pan and set aside. In the same pan add another TBSP of oil and toss in the onion and red bell pepper. After about 2 minutes, turn the heat down to medium.

Quinoa

1 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa

1 cup chicken broth/stock

1 cup + 2 TBSP coconut milk

2 TBSP pineapple juice (bottled or from the can of pineapple chunks)

Place the quinoa and liquids into a sauce pan. Heat to a boil, cover, and then turn the heat down to a simmer and for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and leave covered for an additional 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and try not to immediately start gorging yourself on this. It’s super tasty, slightly sweet, and a little nutty. The perfect compliment to the Stir Fry.

Spicy Beer Poached Pulled Chicken Tacos & Crispy Baked Veggies!

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We’ll start with dinner’s side, crispy un-fried “fries”.

I am not a huge fan of potato chips. I’m really not, can’t remember the last time I bought a bag, and will take a scoop of dressing-free coleslaw over them any day (I don’t like creamy coleslaw, either). I do occasionally like fries, though, especially sweet potato fries. Actually frying the perfect fries, though, is a multi-step process and a messy pain in the ass. Oh, and they’re SUPER unhealthy. Luckily, veggies can be easily manipulated to become something else.

Baked Veggie Fries

Carrots, zucchini, parsnips cut into wedged sticks. Figure 1-2 vegetables per person.

2 TBSP olive oil

2 tsp kosher salt

2 tsp black pepper

1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp red pepper flakes, optional

sprinkling of dried parsly

I took carrots, zucchini, and parsnips, but you can seriously do this with any fruit or veg. Halved Roma tomatoes would be bad ass done the same way. But I was searching for a fried sweet potato alternative. I cut the root veggies and the zucchini into somewhat evenly sized wedged sticks, equaling what was probably 4-5 cups of “fries”. It’s hard to measure sticks in bowl form. I used 1 zucchini, 2 large carrots, and 1 parsnip, and it was more than enough for 3 people.

Preheat the oven to 450 and spray a cookie sheet with Pam (or whatever cooking spray ya got). Toss the “fries” in olive oil and then toss them in the panko. The panko isn’t meant to completely coat the veggies; it’s just meant to make up for a little bit of the crunch missed from deep fried anything. Spread the sticks out on the cookie sheet and sprinkle evenly with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes if going for spicy fries. Roast at 450 for 20-25 minutes. The baked carrots are exactly like fried sweet potato. You know how people say Coke Zero tastes just like regular Coke, when, in fact, it tastes gross, plasticy, diety? Well, these actually taste JUST like sweet potato fries! You’ll be searching for ranch or honey mustard to dip them into. And they’re baked and delicious and a little crispy, too. I’m not going to say they’re “healthy” because I’m at a point where I feel like just eating at all is unhealthy (fat complex, leave it be), but they are a great alternative when you’re craving something that is truly not great for your system.

Entree Time…

The chicken was a no-brainer dinner – I wanted flavorful, moist chicken tacos! Poaching is a great way to keep chicken breast tender and juicy, but visually it ain’t pretty. Everything looks delicious when it’s in a taco, though! So, I went for it, and it’s something I’m going to add to my usual weeknight dinner line up. This recipe is more than enough for two people.

Spicy Beer Poached Chicken Tacos

6 oz. boneless chicken breast or tenderloins

1 bottle beer (I used a brown ale)

2 TBSP Franks Hot Wing Sauce

3 large garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp chili oil or red pepper flakes, optional

1 tsp kosher salt

2 TBSP brown sugar

1/4 cup orange or grapefruit juice

Dump everything, but the brown sugar and OJ into a saucepan together, stir, and bring to a simmer. You want the chicken to be mostly covered with liquid, so use a smaller sauce pan with tall sides. Once simmering, poach the chicken for about 10-15 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove the chicken breast with a slotted spoon and let rest five minutes. While the chicken is resting, add the brown sugar and orange juice to the poaching liquid in the sauce pan and bring to a boil, reducing the liquid by 1/3 to 1/2. You can add the orange juice right at the beginning, but adding it at the end and then reducing keeps its flavor bright. “Pull” the chicken apart using 2 forks, go with the grain, making it a very easy process. Once the liquid has reduced, turn off the heat and return the now pulled chicken to the sauce. Let the chicken absorb the liquid for about 5 minutes or so before making into tacos.

I topped my tacos with a little spring mix, diced tomatoes and onion, freshly cracked black pepper, and a squeeze of lime. A little sour cream  goes perfect to quell the sweet heat as well. Served with the veggie fries this was a filling dinner on the lighter side of the usual American taco meal!

Panko & Coconut Crusted Escolar with Grilled Baby Bok Choy

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I’m not a fish eater. I like Salmon every once in a while and filet of sole (or flounder) in Franchaise sauce, but that’s pretty much it. And the second I eat something “fishy”, I’m off fish for a month or so before having the stomach to try, try again. I’ll happily eat sushi and I’d love to indulge in grilled rare tuna steaks more often…provided someone else wants to foot the bill.

One affordable fish I do love, however, is escolar, also know as Butter Fish. Boy oh boy, is it delicious, BUT there is a reason sushi restaurants serve it in limited quantities when they serve it at all. I’ll get into that later. Escolar is rich, super delicate in flavor, fresh, and almost sweet. It’s much less expensive than Tuna, but, like it’s red relation, it’s excellent for those who swear they “…don’t like fish.”

Inspired by Ming Tsai, I wanted to make a version of crispy fish without having the added calories and heaviness that comes with frying. Using his cooking method combined with my own flavors ended in crispy, summery, deliciously bright fish that was perfectly complimented by smokey grilled baby bok choy and a spicy lime cream sauce.

The recipe:

Two 4oz. center filet cuts of escolar, no blood line and as uniform in shape and thickness as possible.

1/2 cup flour

2 eggs, beaten

2/3 cup panko

1/3 cup coconut flakes

3 TBSP olive oil

Cream Sauce, served under fish and on the side:

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

3 TBSP sour cream

The juice and zest of 1 lime

1-2 tsp red pepper flakes or wasabi paste/powder

1/2 avocado, optional

1 tsp salt

Grilled Baby Bok Choy:

6 heads baby bok choy, split in half the long way

2 TBSP olive oil

2 tsp sesame oil

1/2 TBSP ginger, ground into paste

1/2 tsp chili oil, optional

1 TBSP ponzu

For the sauce, combine everything in a bowl to a smooth consistency and keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

For the fish, rinse and pat dry your filets. Set up the flour and beaten eggs in two separate shallow bowls. In a third bowl or dish combine the panko and coconut flakes. Lightly coat all sides of the escolar in the flour, gently shaking of the excess. Dip into the beaten eggs and then into the coconut/panko mixture, making sure each side is coated. Place to the side.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a medium oven safe pan (I used cast iron) heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Once the oil is nice and hot turn the heat down to medium and put the fish top side (serving side/pretty side) down in the pan and cook until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Once nice and tan, flip the fish and place the entire pan into the oven to cook the fish through, about 7-8 minutes.

To complete this dish with grilled bok choy, pre heat your grill on high. Take the liquid ingredients and ginger, and whisk together in a bowl. Paint the mixture liberally over the cut sides of the baby bok choy. Place on the grill cut side down, and grill for 2 minutes. Flip bok choy and continue cooking one minute on other side.

To plate this dish, I did a zig zag drizzle of the creamy sauce on one side of the plate, piled the bok choy high on the other side, and placed the Escolar right onto the sauce. It was light, bright, crunchy, summery, smokey, and well balanced. I can’t wait to make this again in the near future.

Now, 4oz doesn’t seem like a large serving, but if you’re still hungry have some sticky rice or a salad, NOT more fish! It’s nicknamed Butter Fish for good reasons: It’s rich, indulgent, and so fatty that too much of it will make your body be unable to digest it, expelling it opposite your mouth rather quickly. Yes, over 5 oz of the stuff can turn it into the Olestra of the fish world, so definitely partake, but do so within reason. Besides, 4 oz is a healthy serving of any protein; we’re just used to HUGE sizes that are unnecessary.

Pig & Fig 2: Spicy Fig Glazed Grilled Pork Chops

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I’ve started mixing sweet with savory just for the thrill. It’s taught me a lot about food, made me a bit more adventurous, and aids me in cooking. With a recent bounty of figs I knew I had to come up with a few new creations before the figs went to the great fig tree in the sky, i.e. went bad. Working on something sweet, I originally made a fig sauce for dipping chicken into or pouring over fish, but the moment I tasted it I knew: This sauce was born for charring pork. My buddy tasted it and said “It’s good,” and then proceed to dunk a grilled chicken tenderloin into it. “Mmmm!…Yeah, okay,” he said while still chewing. “It would be best with pork.” Yes, padawan. I know.

Fig Sauce/Glaze:

1 1/4 cup roughly chopped figs

1 1/2 cup water

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 TBSP soy sauce

1 TBSP Ponzu

1 tsp red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup orange juice

Throw everything into a sauce pot and cook down over medium high heat until it’s reduced by at least a third to half. It’s going to be pretty thick. Set it aside to cool.

While the sauce was marrying post simmer, I took two gorgeous, thick-cut bone in pork chops, about 6-8 ounces each, rinsed them, and patted them dry. Once the sauce cooled a bit (you can make this sauce a few days in advance if need be and keep it in the fridge in tupperware for 3-5 days) I blended it with an immersion hand blender, you can also use a potato masher. It’s fine if the sauce is still pretty chunky.

I then slathered the chops with the fully cooled sauce and let them sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. These were thick and needed to come to room temperature before I through them on the grill.

I operate on one speed: Fast. The also means that I generally cook on one temp: High. I preheated my grill, cleaned the grates, and slathered the pork just a bit more and cracked fresh black pepper over them before putting it on the grill. Now these chops were about 1 1/2 inches thick, so they had to cook a while, and though I wanted a char, I didn’t need dry pork. No one needs that. After 4 minutes on one side my friend gave the chops a quarter turn and left them for another 4 minutes.  We dripped a bit more sauce on the top and topped with black pepper again prior to flipping them and lowered the burners to medium-high. After about 4 minutes, there was a quarter turn and they were done two minutes later. You want your pork to register at 145 degrees – YES, this is safe – and remember that as it rests, it will continue cooking a bit.

This was a lot of pork for 2 people, so I served it with simply an arugula and summer greens salad dressed with olive oil, quartered figs, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, which really intensifies the natural flavor and sweetness of the ripe figs. It was a perfect, protein packed, low fat dinner for a summer evening. This is great for everyone, but it’s also paleo friendly and excellent for South Beach or Atkins

The sauce and char makes ’em!