Thursday, September 14, 2017

How to Fancy Up Instant Ramen

Sometimes you don't have time to plan dinner and so it's great to have some quick dinners on hand in the pantry.  Like boxed mac 'n cheese or better yet, ramen.  Although probably not the healthiest of choices, it;s quick and fulfilling and with some additions, can be a really great meal.  Here's how I usually fancy up ramen to make it more satisfying and filling.


  1. Start with really good instant ramen.  Try to get one without MSG.  I like this Korean version because the noodles are nice and fat and juicy and it's really spicy and flavorful.  I would advice NOT using the whole spice package-it's really hot! And you can get it at HEB, or at least it's at my HEB.
  2. If you have some leftover chicken broth or vegetable broth, use it in place of water.  Otherwise water works just as well.


  3. Throw some frozen or fresh veggies in along with the noodles while you're boiling them.  I like to use fresh spinach or frozen green peas or frozen corn
  4. Add some protein.  If I have a link of frozen lap suong (Chinese sausage), I'll slice that up and fry it up to add.  Sometimes I'll put leftover chicken or pork in there.  Chinese bbq pork is also delicious.  When I took these pictures, I had some frozen pork belly in the freezer so I used that.
  5. Throw an egg on it! 


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Kitchen and Cooking Tips

I hate to call these kitchen 'hacks' because I've had failed tries of using internet famous internet 'hacks'.  So these are just a few handy tips and tricks I've picked up over the years that I find handy and that actually work in streamlining cooking or kitchen organizing.  Some of these tips I picked up from my mom.  Some of them I picked up from roommates or friends.  Some of them I found on the internet and found useful.

  • sharpen your knife before each time you use it
    • I picked this up from an old roommate of mine.  He would sharpen (re-align) his knife before he used it every time.  It only takes half a minute, but makes a world of difference.  I mean, you get that stick thing sharpener in most knife blocks and sets anyway, so use it!  I try and do 10 alternating strokes on each side of the knife.
  • use the back of a spoon to peel ginger
    • way easier than using a knife or vegetable peeler and saves more garlic
  • store Silpats (silicone baking sheets) rolled up in an empty paper towel roll
John helping
  • dunk boiled eggs in ice cold water to make peeling easier
  • line your toaster oven tray with aluminum foil
    • cuts down on clean up
  • use the refrigerator crisper drawers correctly
    • set one on 'high' humidity and place things that would wilt in there
    • set one on 'low' humidity and place things that would rot in there
  • freeze chicken bones and vegetable scraps in gallon bags in your freezer
    • once they're full, place in a slow cooker or large pot and fill with water, add salt and pepper and a bay leaf and make stock
  • keep a used produce back on your counter or in your sink for trash/scraps
    • this limits times you have to walk to your trash can.  Also, for any stinky stuff, if you tie a knot at the top of it after you're done, it cuts down on smell and the number of times you have to take your trash out
  • to peel garlic, cut the ends of a clove and then smash it with the side of your knife
  • when scooping things off your cutting board, use the back of your knife
    • this won't dull your knife blade and you won't accidentally cut yourself

Friday, August 25, 2017

Chicken Tonkatsu

Tonkatsu is usually Japanese-style fried pork.  I use the same technique for chicken breasts.  This is super simple and, like all fried things, delicious.  I have made this with pork; a more traditional tonkatsu.  This usually requires frying twice to ensure the pork is cooked through.  I have also experimented with baking in an oven at 425*F on a wire rack after misting the coated chicken with oil with good success.

Chicken Tonkatsu
2 servings, Estimated time ~30 minutes
Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 c. all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1-2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • canola oil for frying
  • Tonkatsu sauce*, shredded green cabbage, and sushi rice to serve
Directions:

  1. If chicken breasts are thicker than 1/2", pound slightly until uniformly about 1/2" thick
  2. Set up small separate bowls for flour and salt, beaten egg and 1 tbs. water, and panko bread crumbs. 
  3. Dredge the chicken breasts in flour, shake off any excess.  Dip in egg wash. Press into bread crumbs on both sides.
  4. Once oil is medium-high heat, fry chicken breasts about 2-3 minutes each side.
  5. Drain on a cooling rack.  Slice into ~1/4" slices.  Serve with rice, tonkatsu sauce, and shredded cabbage.
*Tonkatsu sauce is available to buy at Asian grocery stores and in some international aisles of grocery stores.  I generally make my own because I hate buying something I won't use all up and will take up room in my refrigerator.  And I usually have all the ingredients for making it on hand.

Ingredients:
  • 1/3 c. ketchup
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 tbs. mirin
  • 1 tbs. sugar
  • 2 tbs. Worcester sauce
  • 1 tbs. soy sauce
Directions: Whisk together all ingredients.  Adjust if necessary






Sunday, August 20, 2017

Shrimp and Grits


You know how you throw out or give away all the food in your fridge before you go on vacation? Yea, well it's a necessary evil of making sure you don't come home to a stinky house.  The problem with that, is it leaves you with no food when you come home from vacation and you're tired. And you have to unpack. And need to do 5 loads of laundry.

Going grocery shopping is one of the last things on my mind when I come home from a trip.

So I usually have a few things stocked in my pantry or freezer that I would consider 'staples'.  This is also helpful for if you have a baby and don't have time or the effort to have perishables.  And hate food waste.  I usually have some oatmeal and/or grits in the pantry for breakfast.  And I usually have some kind of seafood, ground beef, and chicken thighs or breasts in my freezer.  And I usually keep some parmesan cheese in my freezer.  So I happened to have some frozen shrimp in the freezer when we came home from our trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Hence....shrimp and grits for dinner!

Now, I did cheat and used some cherry tomatoes in my fridge that were a little bit less-than-fresh.  And green onions from my backyard garden (the only thing besides rosemary that had survived my year of gardening neglect).  So this meal is not entirely from the pantry/freezer.

Shrimp and Grits
2 portions, approximately 20-30 minute cooking and prep time
Ingredients:

  • stove-top grits for 2 servings
  • 1 c. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1.5 tbs. butter
  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 lb. peeled and deveined shrimp
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 green onion,sliced

Directions:

  1. Prepare grits according to directions for 2 servings, stove-top.
  2. Remove from heat.  Fold in parmesan cheese and cover with lid to retain warmth.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Melt butter and oil oil until browned, about 1 minute.
  4. Saute garlic and tomatoes until tomatoes blister about 2-3 minutes
  5. Add shrimp and cook for about 2 minutes per side, or until cooked through and starting to curl. Season with salt and pepper
  6. Plate grits and add shrimp and tomatoes.  Pour sauce over shrimp and grits.
  7. Garnish with green onions

Monday, July 31, 2017

New Momma Cooking

I took a little hiatus from blogging because I had a hard time figuring out how to cook the time-consuming, challenging recipes and meals that I was used to once baby John showed up and I no longer had help from my mom and went back to work.

But now that John's a little better on a schedule and I've figured out how to compromise my cooking with some shortcuts, I'm back.  Recipe and posts will be a bit simpler than before, because I don't really have hours of free time anymore.  Those are taken up by baby snuggles!

I've never been great at super meal planning where you cook everything one day of the week, but I have found a few things helpful.  Some of these tips are from a book my friend gave me, Parents Need to Eat, Too
So here are a few tips and shortcuts that I've found useful as a new mom:

  • buying prepared produce is OK.  Save time, but splurge a little for those already washed and cut veggies.  I now buy at least one bag of sugar snap peas or broccoli or the like to make for dinner.
  • casseroles and freezer meals are your friend
  • divide up prep for a recipe into 15 minute blocks.  Example: wash anything that needs washing, dry, and cut up stuff. Then, when your baby hopefully naps again, mix or layer things or continue the recipe as needed.  And right before dinner, cook/bake/etc.
  • stock up your freezer and pantry.  I foolishly signed up for a CSA box around the time John was 3 months old and ended up giving away most of it because I never had the time to use it all before it went bad
  • try a meal delivery mail service.  My sister-in-law gifted one free box to me and it was pretty great.  No thinking about what to make. There are so many services where the first box is free.  I tried Hello Fresh and liked it
  • UberEats!!!!
  • Instacart!!!!
...and it will get better! I still have lots of kinks to work out, and it'll be some time before I'm baking bread or making ice cream again, but every week I'm able to accomplish a little more with my cooking! Last week my kitchen looked like a wreck, but I made zucchini bread!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

2017 Austin City Guide: Vietnamese Restaurants

When I moved to Austin over 10 years ago from Houston, finding Vietnamese restaurants helped me with my homesickness.  When I don't have the time to cook or want to eat out, some of these places have been solid!  I think the Austin Vietnamese scene has really blossomed over the last few years as Vietnamese food has become more mainstream.  

Vietnamese food in Austin is plentiful! Sometimes, you just need to know where to look.  Here is just a SAMPLING of a few popular places around town.  The hours and addresses are listed and website linked when possible.  If I left out your favorite, please comment below!

In an effort to keep this post from being repetitive or way too long, I left out places my fellow food blogger over at The Smoking Ho has included in his Banh Mi roundup

2400 E. Oltorf Suite 1A, Austin, TX 78741
M-Sat 11:00 am-2:00 am
Sun 5:00 pm-11:30 pm
Like the name says, this is pan-Asian cuisine, so you can also enjoy Thai and Chinese dishes along with the typical Vietnamese fare.  A great thing about 888 is the late night/early morning hours.  So if you are craving Asian food at 1:00 am after partying all night, or need somewhere to eat New Year's Day, this is the place.

13000 N IH 35 #102, Austin, TX 78753
Sun-Th 11:00 am-9:00 pm
F-Sat 11:00 am-9:30 pm
Cyclo offers Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine.  Upon recommendations by the owner, I tried the banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe), salt and pepper fried shrimp and squid,  Cyclo Special Seafood.  We also ordered the mi ax xiu (egg noodle with bbq pork).
Cyclo Restaurant


Dong Nai
Lakehills Plaza, 4211 S. Lamar Blve #E1, Austin, TX 78704
Mon-Sat 11:00 am-9:45 pm
Sun 12:00 pm -8:45 pm

Duy Vietnamese Restaurant
10901 N Lamar Blvd Suite A-101 Austin, TX 78753
M-Sun 10:00am-10:00 pm
Located in the spacious corner unit of the Chinatown Center, Duy offers Chinese and Vietnamese dishes.  A friend of mine recommends the non-pho dishes such as bamboo duck with pork blood.  I am a fan of their congee!

500 E. Ben White, Suite D-200, Austin, TX 78704
M-Sun 10:00 am- 9:00 pm
I haven't had a chance to try Hea cafe since it's in South Austin, but hear it offers good Chinese dishes alongside the typical popular Vietnamese dishes such as pho and vermicelli bowls.  No tipping necessary which is interesting.

Multiple locations, check website for locations and hours
Lots of different Chinese/Vietnamese dishes offered here.  Get the hu tieu ap chao, crispy pan fried wide rice noodles stir-fried with your choice of protein (vegetarian option also available)!  They also offer pho, vermicelli bowls, and other pan-asian favorites.  The Spicewood Springs location is very family friendly.

Pho Dan
11200 N Lamar Blvd, Ste 200, Austin, TX 78753
Mon-Thurs 8:30 am- 9:00 pm
Fri-Sun 8:30 am -9:30 pm
Come for the pho; they even have vegetarian broths and options.

Pho Hoang
2521 Rutland Dr #400, Austin, TX 78758
Mon-Sun 9:00 am - 9:00 pm
Casual setting specializing in pho.

Pho King
1021 E. Parmer Ln, Austin, TX 78753
Mon-Sun 9:30 am-9:00 pm
Best thing about this place is the cheeky name.

Pho Lee
2601 IH 35 Frontage Rd, Round Rock, TX 78664
Mon- Sun 11:00 am -10:00 pm

10901 Lamar Blvd, A108, Austin, TX 78753
Mon-Sun 8:00 am - 9:00 pm
This is my personal favorite place to eat beef pho in Austin.  Their broth is not too fatty, and is very flavorful.  Service is super fast but friendly and the place is always clean.  Located in the Chinatown Center.  This place is more consistent to Vietnamese restaurants in Houston that I'm used to, and they have locations there, as well. They specialize in one type of dish, and do it well.  

Pho Thai Son*
Multiple locations, check website for locations and hours
Pho Thai Son has a very nice setting and ambiance so it makes for a nice place to take out-of-town guests.  The food is a little bit more Americanized and so is also very accessible to many people.

Pho Van *
8557 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78758
Mon-Sun 10:30 am- 9 pm
This used to be one of my favorite pho places in town.  I'm not sure if the management changed or if my tastes have changed since the first time I tried it 10 years ago, but it just doesn't seem to be the same. Pluses are that it is a little easier to get to than some of the other places that are further soother north in Austin.

Pho Viet
 603 Louis Henna Blvd B200, Round Rock, TX 78664
Mon-Sun 11:00 am- 9:00 pm

Phonatic
Multiple locations, check website for locations and hours
Great fast-casual eatery for your go-to pho and Vietnamese options.

Fried tofu at Phonetic
8557 Research Blvd, Suite 146, Austin, TX 78758
M, Wed-Sun 10:00 am- 9:30 pm
T closed
I think Sunflower is on everyone's personal 'best Vietnamese restaurant in Austin' list.  The food is authentic and their banh xeo (Vietnamese style savory crepe) can't be beat!


The amazing banh xeo at Sunflower

Tan My
1601 Ohlen Rd #E, Austin, TX 78758
Mon-Sun 10:00 am-9:00 pm
Pho Tai at Tan My
Tan My is my personal favorite Vietnamese restaurant in town.  Pho and vermicelli bowls here are excellent.  Located in an unassuming strip mall next to a laundromat, this place is pretty authentic.  The Tran family, the owners, are incredibly friendly and service is super quick.  It does get a little busy for lunch time.

10901 North Lamar Blvd, Suite B-203, Austin, TX 78753
Mon-Sun 10:30 am- 9:30 pm
I like the congee here.  This is another place that specializes in Chinese/Vietnamese cuisine.  The place has a pretty cool history.  It is run by descendants of Teochew ethnic-Chinese from Vietnam.  This ethnic group are from South China and Southeast Asia.

**If your favorite place wasn't listed here, please check out The Smoking Ho's banh mi City Guide for more places.   



Sunday, February 12, 2017

Getting ready for AFBA city guide

Getting together the Austin Foob Bloggers' 2017 City Guide and checking out some Vietnamese places I hadn't been yet. 
 
Mi Xa Xiu at Cyclo Restaurant