Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Easy Bake Christmas Cookies

When you have a 3 week old, you make super duper easy semi-homemade shortcut Christmas cookies. Made peppermint brownies by adding peppermint extract and crushed peppermint to store bought brownie mix, store bought chocolate chip cookie dough, and poor man's turtles (pretzel+melted Rolo+M&Ms). 


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Mom's Bourbon Pecan Sweet Potato Casserole

I'm really bad at posting great holiday recipes until it's too late.  I'm just not that good of a food blogger.  But posting ON THE ACTUAL DAY? Does that count? HEB is open until 2pm so if you're still looking for a last minute Thanksgiving dish to bring to a dinner or add to yours, here it is!

Mom's Bourbon Pecan Sweet Potato Casserole
Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs. sweet potatoes
  • 3 green apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 6 tbs. butter
  • 1/2 c.dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 &1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 tsp. maple syrup
  • 1/4 c. bourbon
  • 1 c. toasted pecans or chestnuts
  • optional: 1 bag mini marshmallows
Directions:

  1. Roast and peel sweet potatoes in a 375*F oven for about 30-45 minutes.  Slice in 1/4" thick rounds.
  2. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine butter, sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.  Lower heat to a simmer and add vanilla, maple syrup, and bourbon.  Simmer until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Preheat oven to 375*F.  In a large bowl, mix together sweet potatoes, apples, and sauce.  In a large casserole dish, layer sweet potatoes, apples, and pecans.  Cover with aluminum foil.  Bake for 50 minutes.  Uncover foil and bake an additional 20 minutes.
  4. Optional (if you're a fan of traditional marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole like me): Top with marshmallows and bake at 500*F for 1-2 minutes or until marshmallows golden brown and not burnt.



Monday, November 14, 2016

Fully Loaded Mashed Cauliflower

In my quest to find lower carb substitutes, I learned that cauliflower can be made into ANYTHING. Although whether it should or not remains to be questioned.  You want to eat rice? Make cauliflower rice! You want to eat pizza? Make cauliflower pizza crust! You want to eat mashed potatoes? Make mashed cauliflower!  You want to eat crackers and hummus? Just eat cauliflowers.  So basically, since I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, I've bought a head of cauliflower every week at the grocery store.  I love that cauliflower is super cheap

I'd posted this on my Instagram account a few weeks ago, and I hadn't planned on posting about it since it is so stupid simple, but lots of people were interested in it so here goes:

Fully Loaded Mashed Cauliflower
Ingredients

  • 1 head of cauliflower florets
  • 1/2 c. shredded cheese
  • 2 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 3 tbs. butter
  • 2 tbs. Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbs. ranch dressing mix (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 green onion, sliced

    *really, all the additions are optional.  I just happen to like my fully loaded potatoes with all the above, so that's what I put in the mashed cauliflower.  Feel free to change the measurements, too.  I'm not really sure if these are accurate because I just eyeballed stuff.

    Directions

    1. Fill a large pot with water and about 2 tsp. salt and boil over high.  Add cauliflower florets and simmer covered over medium-low until soft, about 5-10 minutes.  Drain well!  Like shake all the water out of those suckers as you can.  Dry them in paper towels or a kitchen towel if needed.  I think I spun them in a salad spinner to get as much water out of them as possible.
    2. Preheat oven to 375*F
    3. In a large bowl, mash the cauliflower with a potato masher.  Mix in butter, Greek yogurt, ranch dressing, cheese, and bacon, salt and pepper; reserving about 1/4 c. of cheese and 1 tbs. bacon for later.  Transfer mixture to an oven-proof casserole dish (or if you hate dishes like me, do the mixing and mashing in the casserole dish too).  Top with reserved cheese and bacon and bake for about 5 minutes or until cheese melted.
    4. Top with green onions and if desired, an additional dollop of Greek yogurt


    Maybe not the prettiest thing to photgraph but pretty tasty!

    Baby Back Pork Ribs, Fully Loaded Mashed Cauliflower, and Shish-kabobs

    Thursday, November 10, 2016

    Shortcut 'Nem Nuong': Vietnamese Meatball Spring Rolls

    Nem Nuong are traditionally Vietnamese grilled pork meatballs or patties.  They can be eaten over a bowl of vermicelli noodles or rice, over a simple salad of greens and herbs, or rolled up in rice paper wrappers.  Basically you have the meatballs + some format of rice (vermicelli noodles, rice, rice paper wrappers) + lettuce + herbs + some kind of crunchies.  When making the spring rolls in rice paper wrappers, they are dipped in a savory peanut/hoisin sauce.  Nem nuong cuon (rolls) are super refreshing and tasty and a great alternative to anyone tired of shrimp filled spring rolls. 

    Because making them actually does require a lot of different components, I learned a trick from my mom to get dinner on the table on a weeknight, after work, on time, and....I use store bought chicken teriyaki and pineapple meatballs from Costco! Ok, I admitted it! I didn't actually make the main part of this dish.  But that's what makes this so great! It's so delicious and you still have to prep all the other components so I don't feel all that guilty.  And Costco teriyaki meatballs are delicious.  Haha.  These are the ones they sell: http://www.aidells.com/product/21  By using this shortcut, we actually got to eat dinner within 1 hour of me getting off of work.  And that included the time it takes me to shower and change into PJ's, feed our pets, and check Instagram.  You know, all those things that are necessary when you get home before you can even THINK about dinner.

    Nem Nuong Cuon Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Meatballs
    4 servings
    Ingredients:

    • 12 oz package of Aidells teriyaki and pineapple chicken meatballs
    • 4 egg roll wrappers
    • 1 package spring roll wrappers, bahn trang
    • 1 flat of vermicelli rice noodles, bun
    • 1 cucumber, cut in half and made into long wedges
    • romaine or red leaf lettuce
    • herbs such as Thai basil, mint, cilantro
    • roasted peanuts
    • 2 tbs. Hoisin sauce
    • 2 tbs. peanut (or other nut) butter
    Directions:

    1. Prepare a deep fryer or pot with about 1" of oil over medium-high heat.  Cut egg roll wrappers in half.  Roll each piece up like an unfilled burrito or egg roll.   Fry until golden brown on all sides and drain on paper towels.
    2. Boil vermicelli noodles according to directions and drain well.  Cook meatballs according to directions.  Cut meatballs in half.
    3. Wash and dry cucumber, lettuce, and herbs and place on a plate.  
    4. Make the dipping sauce by mixing Hoisin sauce and nut butter and adding about 1 tsp. of water to thin out.
    5. To assemble rolls: Dip 1 spring roll wrapper in a bowl of warm water. Gently shake or "squeegee" off any excess water with your fingers.  Place on a clean plate.  Place a small amount of each component as desired.  Starting about 1/4 the way up from the bottom, I like to layer the lettuce, then herbs, cucumber, then  vermicelli noodles, fried egg roll wrapper, meatballs, top with peanuts (or skip if you're allergic like me), and a small dab of the dipping sauce in my roll.  Roll up the bottom, then sides, and continue rolling until done.  Enjoy with the dipping sauce!
    • Alternatives: Skip the spring roll and make a bowl up over some vermicelli noodles or rice.  Or skip all the carbs and make a salad!

    Tuesday, November 8, 2016

    Butchery 101 at Austin's Sustainable Food Center

    The other night Reid and I did something a little different for date night.  We attended a butchery class held by the Sustainable Food Center! It was a lot of fun.  I've been trying to get Reid to go to a cooking class with me and so I sent him a list of different classes around town.  If you are interested in a cooking class in Austin, I'd definitely recommend the following resources:

    The Sustainable Food Center The SFC building is really nice! and the class was great! Class prices can range from free to $70/person depending on the class.  I think we paid about $40 each to take the butchery class.  They have an adjacent community/teaching garden on the east side.  Class topics range from bee keeping, gardening classes, knife skills, tamale making classes, etc!
    Kitchen Undergound  I want to try a class out here.  A few of my fellow AFBA bloggers teach classes with Kitchen Underground and they have a variety of interesting and unique classes. I like that they offer Indian and Chinese cooking classes. Prices range from $45-75.
    Central Market I have not attended a class here yet, but have heard lots of good things.  There is a wide variety of classes offered and times. 

    There are also a lot of free classes/resources such as those at:
    Whole Foods  I haven't done a cooking/food class here, but I foresee taking future kiddos here to do some hands-on kids classes/healthy eating learning.  I have done the free yoga here and it was awesome.  I'm not sure if they still offer it, but they used to offer free yoga classes on Sundays at the Domain location.    
    Williams-Sonoma  Reid and I attended a past-making class in the past here and it was great! You also get 10% off any merchandise you purchase after attending the class.  So yea...$150 of pasta-making gadgets later I walked out of there ready to make homemade pasta...You got me W-S. You got me.  Good thing at the time I had lots of gift cards from our wedding registry!
    and farmer's markets demos

    As far as the butchery class, I felt like a learned a lot about different meat cuts, how to appreciate flavor, how to respect and patronize good meat suppliers and a few new cooking techniques.  Reid chose this class because of that silly How I Met Your Mother episode where they have an extra room and when imagining possibilities: home-butchery room.  Since then we've always imagined doing something like that.  

    We did not actually do any butchering ourselves, as this was mostly a hands-off/demo class.  It was a 4 part series on butchery and we only did this class, so there may have been more hands-on action in the other classes.  We did learn about all the different meat cuts in a cow and which cuts were most suitable for what type of cooking.  I think one of the most useful things I learned was how to prepare meat cuts for the best outcome.  We also got to sample lots of meat/results from the cooking demos!  The class was taught by a local butcher, Julia, who has just left Dai Due to start on some of her own butchery adventures.

    Key Points I learned/took away from the class:
    • salt meats overnight uncovered in fridge the night before
    • brine poultry and pork
    • make sure meat has come to room temperature for 1-2 hours prior to cooking
    • properly rest the meat afterwards
    • always cut against the grain
    • use a super hot sizzling pan-there's no way to avoid smoking out your house!
    • roasting low and slow great for tougher cuts
    • reverse sear: this is like it sounds.  Instead of searing and then cooking through, cook through and then finish off with a sear


    Monday, October 31, 2016

    "Healthy-ish" Pumpkin Muffins or Bread

    I love fall flavors.  I think I already rambled on about that in my butternut squash soup post.  There's just something so comforting with fall flavors.  It's like getting a big, warm, spice hug.  I also love bread.  And muffins.  And pie.  And pretty much everything I'm not supposed to eat according to the nutritionist that is helping me manage my gestational diabetes.  I've been pretty good lately and hadn't baked anything recently,  but it was starting to get really hard to not fill my Sunday early afternoon with the oven on and tinkering with baking recipes.  So, I decided to try to 'healthi-fy' or low-carb-a-fy? a pumpkin bread recipe.

    Pumpkin bread/muffins/cupcakes are pretty good for my diabetes since pumpkin has fiber and protein and beta-carotene, and only 8 g. of carbs per cup.  Basically, it's good stuff.  I'll even recommend canned pumpkin to some of my doggie patients that are having some GI issues (helps firm up those poops!).  I found a pumpkin bread recipe that was super popular online at AllRecipes and made 1 loaf of bread subbing some whole wheat flour for the all purpose, cutting back the sugar, and subbing one of the eggs with 1 c. unsweetened applesauce.  It came out so moist and delicious I wanted to see how far I could push the healthy substitutions.  So I made it again with 1/3 of the sugar, 2/3 whole wheat vs. all purpose flour, and just decreased to 3 eggs.  It still came out yummy.  The second time around I made the recipe into cupcake/muffins and iced some with cream cheese frosting (not diabetic friendly).  They were brought into work for Vet Tech Appreciation Week and I heard they were good.   I only ate the un-iced muffins and they were still really tasty, though not as moist as the first batch of bread.  Warning note: this recipe still has about 29g of carbs per serving.  So it's only diabetes friendly if you eat like half to one serving.  I know it's super hard to do that.  Believe me, I wanted to eat the whole loaf in one sitting.

    "Healthy-ish" Pumpkin Muffins
    Servings: 18
    Recipe altered from http://allrecipes.com/recipe/6820/downeast-maine-pumpkin-bread/
    Ingredients:

    • 1 15 oz. can pumpkin
    • 1 c. vegetable oil
    • 1 c. sugar
    • 2/3 c. water
    • 3 eggs (or substitute unsweetened apple sauce to make vegan)
    • 2 &1/4 c. whole wheat flour
    • 1 & 1/4c. all purpose flour
    • 2 tsp. baking soda
    • 1 &1/2 tsp. salt
    • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
    • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
    • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
    • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
    Directions:

    1. Preheat oven to 350*F.  In a large bowl, use a hand mixer or whisk to mix together canned pumpkin, oil, sugar, water, and eggs.
    2. In another large bowl, mix together whole wheat and all purpose flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.  Combine dry ingredients into wet ingredients and stir until just combined.
    3. If making bread, pour into a greased and flour coated bread pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  If making cupcakes, pour into lined muffin tins and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Frost if desired.
    Cream Cheese Frosting (NOT healthy but still very delish)
    Makes 3 cups
    Recipe from Cook's Illustrated Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe
    Ingredients:

    • 12 oz. cream cheese, softened
    • 6 tbs. unsalted butter, softened
    • 4 tsp. Greek yogurt
    • 1 tsp. vanilla
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 1 &3/4 c (7 oz) confectioners' sugar*
    *Note: if you have a fancy blender like a Blendtec or Vitamix, you can make your own confectioners' sugar by pulsing granulated sugar until it's powdered

    Directions:

    1. In a food processor, process cream cheese, butter, Greek yogurt, vanilla and salt untilcombined, about 5 seconds.  Scrape downsides of bowl as needed.  Add confectioners' sugar and process until smooth, about 10 more seconds

    Monday, October 24, 2016

    "Healthy-ish" Banana Bread

    I really enjoy baking, but having gestational diabetes has made it difficult to enjoy baking the usual things.  Banana bread is one of those things that I'll make once I have a few too-ripe-bananas and want to have breakfast for the week ready.   I have an old standby recipe that I have no idea where it's origins are from, except that the handwritten recipe is in my sister's handwriting and it's on a scrap of a flash card.  I altered this one to include some dark chocolate chips to compensate for cutting back the sugar and subbing whole wheat flour for some of the all purpose flour.  I also added some chopped walnuts for added protein/satiety.  Came out well.  I did add some cream cheese frosting to the loaf for Reid to enjoy.  Without icing, it still comes out to about 42 grams of carbs per serving (which is a bit more then the 30 g/meal I should be eating...).  But hey, I can satisfy myself with half a slice and 1 c. of milk.

    "Healthified" Banana Bread
    Ingredients:

    • 2 eggs, beaten
    • 1/2 c. sugar
    • 1 tsp. vanilla
    • 1/2 c. butter, softened
    • 2 really ripe large bananas, mashed
    • 1 c. whole wheat flour
    • 3/4 c. all purpose flour
    • 1 tsp. baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp. salt
    • 1/3 c. dark chocolate chips
    • 1/3 c. chopped walnuts

    Directions:

    1. Preheat oven to 350*F and coat a loaf pan with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, beat together eggs, sugar, vanilla, butter until sugar dissolved.  Stir in mashed bananas.  In another bowl, mix together flours, baking soda, and salt. 
    2. Stir flour mixture into wet ingredients until just combined.  Add chocolate chips and walnuts.  Pour into loaf pan and bake 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool on a wire rack.  

    Thursday, October 13, 2016

    Cardamom Butternut Squash Soup

    We had about 4 days of 'fall weather' about 2 weeks ago and it was amazing.  Fall is Reid's favorite time of year here in Central Texas.  On any good day/night he'll take a deep breath in and scan the sunset and declare, "Just another beautiful day in Central Texas!"  That is, of course, once we get out of the >100 degree brutality that is the summer here.  I really enjoy fall as well.  I like pulling out all my light clothing layers, and my cowboy or fashion boots from the back of the closet.  I like wearing a rain jacket with the hopes it will actually rain and then feeling like an idiot when it doesn't.  I like the smell of roasting squash like pumpkin and butternut and acorn and weird ones I've never seen before, and cinnamon, and nutmeg, and all those warm flavors.  So when we had those 4 days for fall weather a while back I loaded my grocery cart with butternut squash and grabbed my Dutch oven from the cabinet.

    This butternut squash soup was inspired in parts by what I had on hand and my desire to keep it somewhat diabetic friendly and the butternut squash soup recipe from Cook's Illustrated Cookbook (a wonderful birthday gift from my boss!)  The roasting of the butternut squash may be a little unnecessary since you could also just cook the squash in the chicken stock over the stove, but I find it adds an extra dimension of flavor and makes your house smell amazing.  This can easily be made vegetarian by subbing chicken stock for vegetable and made vegan by omitting the Greek yogurt.

    Cardamom Butternut Squash Soup

    Ingredients:

    • 1 large butternut squash
    • 1 tbs. butter
    • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
    • 2 c. low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
    • 1 &1/2 tsp. cardamom
    • 1 tsp. nutmeg
    • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
    • Salt and pepper

    Serve with

    • Cinnamon sugar whole wheat croutons-recipe follows
    • Dollop of Greek yogurt
    • Toasted pistachios 

    Directions:

    1. Preheat oven to 375*F.  Cut butternut squash in half and remove inner seeds and fibers.  Rub with 2 tsp. olive oil and sprinkle of salt.  Roast in oven for about 25-30 minutes or until soft.  Allow to cool before removing skin and cutting into large chunks.
    2. In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat.  Add shallots and caramelize for about 2 minutes.  Add diced squash and chicken broth.  Allow to come to a boil over high heat and then lower to a simmer for about 5 minutes.  Season with cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt and pepper.  Carefully transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.  Return to pot for warming.  Adjust seasonings to taste.
    3. Serve with dollop of greek yogurt and toasted pistachios and/or cinnamon sugar whole wheat croutons.
    Cinnamon Sugar Whole Wheat Croutons
    • 3 slices of whole wheat sandwich bread, crust removed and cut into 1" cubes
    • 1 tbs. olive oil
    • 1 tsp. cinnamon
    • 1 tsp. brown sugar
    1. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients.
    2. Place croutons in a single layer and bake at 350 for 10 minutes or until golden brown, tossing once during baking time. (This can also be done at the same time you roast the butternut squash; just keep a close eye on them to ensure they don't burn)

    Thursday, September 8, 2016

    Fresh Peach Pie

    We are sadly coming to an end of peach season here in Central Texas.  I love a good, juicy, sweet, fresh peach.  Reid and I actually have 2 peach trees in our front yard that my dad planted around 2008 that we have managed not to kill.  Miracle!  This year we got a really good harvest from them.  Usually the birds or neighbors get to them before we do.  So back around July (before I was forbidden to eat pie by my gestational diabetes nutritionist) we picked about 1-2 lbs. worth of fresh peaches form our tree.  It was awesome.  Until I broke out in a skin rash. (I must be allergic to the fine hairs or splinters on the peach tree)

    Our peaches are the small kind.  I think they are some French peach variety.  Real small and a bit firmer then what you'd find in Fredricksberg.  I blanched, peeled, cut and pitted them.  And made a pie.  It was a time-consuming, but relaxing Sunday project.

    I do like to make my own pie crust if I have the time, and I made my own here, but you could just as well do a crumble top or store-bought freezer pie crust.  I think I Frankensteined a few peach pie recipes together to get this one.  One recipe was from a cookbook my in-laws' old church put together that I got for my bridal shower, one was from Cook's illustrated, one was from something online.  I can't honestly remember how I got here.  Sorry for not citing recipes!

    Fresh Peach Pie
    Ingredients
    Pie Dough (based on Tartine's Cookbook Recipe)
    makes 2 crust
    • 1 lb. flour (3 cups and 3 tbs.)
    • 1 lb. cold butter, cut in small cubes (4 sticks)
    • 2/3 c. ice water
    • 1 tsp. salt
    Filling:
    • 4 c. peaches, blanched, peeled, sliced, and pitted
    • juice from 1 lemon
    • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
    • 1 c. brown sugar
    • 3 tbs. flour
    • 1 tbs. corn starch
    • 2 tsp. cinnamon
    • 2 tsp. nutmeg
    • 1/4 tsp. salt
    • 1 egg, beaten

    Directions
    For Pie Dough:

    1. Combine flour and salt in a large food processor with normal cutting blade.  Pulse to mix.
    2. Add butter and pulse 5-10 times or until pea-sized crumbles form.
    3. Slowly add water while mixing and pushing down sides of food processor.  Separate dough into 2 halves and wrap in plastic wrap.  Create 2 disks of dough and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
    4. On a clean, floured surface, roll out 1 disk of dough at a time.  If the dough becomes too warm, refrigerate again.  Your goal is about ~1/4" thickness.  Transfer to 9" pie pan and trim edges or freeze unused dough.
    5. Unused pie dough will keep in the freezer for about 3 months.  I'll often have a disk of unrolled dough in the freezer ready for any last-minute dessert making hankerings.  Defrost in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for 2 hours.

    Fresh Peach Pie:

    1. Preheat oven to 400* F.  Line the bottom of a 9" pie plate with dough.  Brush with egg wash. 
    2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together peaches, lemon juice and vanilla.  In another mixing bow, mix together sugar, flour, corn starch, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Combine the dry ingredients in with the peach mixture and mix gently until well combined.
    3. Pour peach filling into pie dough and top with second pie crust.  Flute edges to seal and cut designs into top to allow for steam to escape.  Brush with egg wash and sprinkle 1 tsp. each cinnamon and brown sugar on top.  Place pie pan on a baking sheet to catch any pie drippings that may spill over.
    4. Bake for 10 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 300*F and bake an additional 35 minutes or until pie is golden brown and filling is bubbly.  Allow to cool at least 45 minutes before serving.


    Monday, September 5, 2016

    Five-Spice Duck Breast with Blueberry Pan Reduction and Stir-Fry Bok Choy

    So, I'm trying to be good on my gestational diabetes diet while still not getting bored of what I'm eating.  Reid and I went to the farmer's market yesterday and picked out some stuff I wouldn't usually buy.  I bought some duck breast.  I love duck, but have never cooked it myself.  The farmer at Belle Vie Farms  was more then happy to share with me some cooking tips.

    Also picked up some bok choy and oyster mushrooms at the market, so I thought I'd do an Asian style duck breast.  I thought about doing a Hoisin sauce-style duck, but since this was the first time I'd cooked duck and really didn't want to screw it up, I actually looked up a recipe.  This recipe is inspired by the New York Times recipe.  It came out great!

    Five-Spice Duck Breast with Blueberry Pan Reduction
    Recipe inspired by http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017596-five-spice-duck-breast-with-blackberries
    Serves 2
    Ingredients:

    • 2 small Moscovy duck breasts, about 10 oz each
    • 2 tsp. Chinese five-spice
    • salt
    • 1 tbs. grated ginger
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced and additional 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
    • 1/2 c. fresh blueberries
    • 2 tbs. brown sugar
    • 2 tbs. sherry vinegar
    • 1/2 c. chicken broth
    Directions:

    1. Score the skin side of duck breast with a sharp knife in diagonals.  Season both sides of duck breasts with salt and Chinese five-spice seasoning.  Rub ginger and garlic into both sides of duck and allow to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.
    2. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Place duck skin-side down for about 7 minutes.  Flip and sear for another 5-7 minutes or until internal temperature reaches about 125*F for medium-rare.  Remove from heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
    3. Remove extra duck fat from pan.  
    4. Over medium heat, brown the garlic and use sherry vinegar to deglaze pan.  Add blueberries and brown sugar.  Use the back of a spoon to smash blueberries and release juice.  Add chicken broth and allow to simmer until sauce reduced about half the volume.
    5. Slice duck breast against the grain and pour over pan sauce.
    Stir-Fry Bok Choy and Oyster Mushrooms
    Ingredients:

    • 2 tbs. sesame oil
    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • 1 Thai red chile pepper, thinly sliced
    • 1 large bok choy cabbage or 2 small bok choys
    • 1 ~0.5 lb. oyster mushroom
    • Korean sesame seeds, for garnish
    Directions:

    1. To a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat, add all ingredients except sesame seeds.  Stir-fry for 5-8 minutes until bok choy is cooked through.  Top with sesame seeds.



    Thursday, September 1, 2016

    Pesto Spaghetti Squash with Italian Sausage

    I was recently diagnosed with gestational diabetes. It was a bit challenging for me to be OK with the news because there was just a lot of frustration. I was frustrated with my doctor for not really giving me any information, I was frustrated with the situation because I consider myself rather healthy, I was frustrated in general and didn't have my normal coping mechanisms available: food and wine. 

    I work out a lot and I eat pretty healthy but I freaking love carbs. I literally made a shirt once in high school that said "I love carbs".   I could eat bread or rice or pasta everyday.  So being diabetic where I have to be more careful with my carb choices was really depressing to me. 

    I'm in a lot better place right now. I am meeting with the perinatal specialist and nutritionist today where I will hopefully get a lot of my questions answered, I got to talk to several friends who went through it and calmed me down, and I've been reading every single thing the American Diabetes Association has at the library and on Pubmed. 
    Educating myself
    So now I"m in my "I Can Do This" phase.  I'm starting to experiment a little with some recipes.  I convinced my hubs to go to the downtown Austin Saturday SFG farmer's market with me.  This was no small feat.  I think the farmer's market is one of my husband's most dreaded places.  This is where pregnancy sympathy comes in handy.

    At my last visit I picked up some spaghetti squash from Johnson's Backyard Garden, bulk Italian sausage from Smith&Smith farms and a few other goodies like fresh figs. 

    This was an easy weeknight meal. A great substitute for pasta (which I love). Whole wheat pasta doesn't quite appeal to me as much so spaghetti squash was a great alternative to one of my favorite carb heavy meals. 

    Pesto Spaghetti Squash with Italian Sausage
    Serves 2 
    Ingredients:
    • 1 small spaghetti squash
    • 1 lb. Italian sausage, casings removed
    • 3/4 c. fresh basil
    • 3 tbs. pine nuts
    • 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese
    • 1/4 small onion, chopped
    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • Olive oil 


    Directions:
    1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut the squash in half with a large, sharp knife. I will usually microwave the squash for about 3 minutes so it is softer and easier to cut. Use a large spoon to remove seeds from the center. Drizzle each half with olive oil, and add a little salt and pepper.  Roast in oven for about 30-45 minutes or until cooked through.  In a separate cookie sheet, toast pine nuts for about 3 minutes until fragrant but not burnt!  Remove the spaghetti squash and allow to cool.
    2. While squash is roasting or cooling, combine the basil, Parmesan and pine nuts in a food processor or blender.  Drizzle olive oil in while food processor running to emulsify until desired consistency. 
    3. Once the spaghetti squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape out and separate the flesh into noodle-like threads.
    4. In a large skillet over medium high heat, saute the onion, garlic, and Italian sausage.  Combine the sausage, spaghetti squash flesh, and pesto into the pan and warm through.  Remove and serve in a plate or in the reserved squash skins.  Top with a little extra grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil.


    Pesto Spaghetti Squash with Italian Sausage

    Sunday, August 28, 2016

    Goi Du Du Kho Bo (Vietnamese Green Papaya and Beef Jerky Salad)

    Goi du du kho bo, or Vietnamese green papaya and beef jerky salad sounds weird.  I know.  But I promise that there is nothing better on a hot summer day.  It literally involves no cooking and is cold and refreshing, while being pretty fulfilling.  Reid and his sister approved.  It's really good.

    The ingredients are the only difficult thing about this.  I was in the LA area a few weeks ago for hubby's father's pHd graduation ceremony and we were staying in Anaheim about 15 minutes away from Bolsa Ave.  Bolsa Avenue, aka Little Saigon, in Orange County is a great community for Vietnamese immigrants and second generations.  It's probably the only place in the States that's better than Houston's Chinatown in what you can find.  Most likely due to the fact that LA has the #1 population of Vietnamese immigrants and Houston has the #2 biggest population.  Anyway, I took husband's family to breakfast/lunch on our last day there to Quan Hy restaurant.  It's one of the places I remember always going to whenever we are in OC because the food is central Vietnamese, where my dad's side of the family is from.  After enjoying some mi quang and banh beo, I waddled (seriously, I'm pretty pregnant now, ya'll) over to this store that specializes in Asian beef jerky.

    I may have gotten a little carried away.  I bought 2 lbs worth of kho bo, or Vietnamese beef jerky.  Kho Bo is seasoned with some amazing (and unknown to me) blend of chilies and Asian spices.   It's more juicy than American beef jerky.  It's been a real treat for me to snack on during work or on the go.  I bought one bag of pre-shredded beef jerky.  Otherwise, you can just use some kitchen scissors to thinly slice up some.  I've read a recipe or too that said you could get away with American beef jerky if needed, but I just don't see how that would work.  Stick with the real stuff.  You can find packaged forms of this at Asian grocery stores.

    The green papaya and green mango I bought at MT Supermarket, my local Vietnamese/Asian grocery store.  Green papaya is picked un-ripe and has a totally different taste and texture than regular papaya.  I know this because a long time ago, when I was living in Bryan, TX and couldn't get my hands on green papaya, I tried to make this salad with some regular but on the less-ripe side papayas.  It was a hot mess.  My mom adds green mango as well, which provides a little bit of a texture contrast.  Once you have everything, the rest is a breeze. It's a salad basically!

    Ingredients:

    • 1/2 green papaya, thinly shredded
    • 1 large green mango, thinly shredded
    • 1/4 c. thai basil, rau quế, cut on the bias
    • dressing *adjust to taste
      • 1/4 c. rice vinegar
      • 1/4 c. nuoc mam (fish sauce)
      • 1/4 c. soy sauce
      • 3/4 c. sugar
      • 1 c. water
      • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
      • 2 Thai bird chilies, thinly sliced** optional
    Directions

    1. Remove seeds/pits and skins of the green mango and green papaya.  Carefully use a Japanese mandolin or vegetable slicer/parer/slicer to shred the flesh of the green papaya and green mango.  I don't own a spiralizer but that could work, too.  I would avoid using a food processor (too much juice is extracted).  Patience and a nice sharp knife would be a great tedious task to keep any kitchen helpers out of your way.  I'm not talking from experience... *cough*mommy*cough*
    2. Mix all the dressing ingredients together until the sugar is dissolved.
    3. In a large bowl or platter, toss the shredded green papaya, green mango, and Thai basil.  Top with beef jerky and dressing (or serve dressing on the side).  

    Green mango and green papaya


    The tool I use to make the strips of mango and papaya

    Vietnamese beef jerky

    Thursday, August 11, 2016

    Soda Chanh, Vietnamese Limeade

    There have been over 24 days in a row where the temperature has exceeded 100*F here.  I'm like 6 months pregnant? Don't ask me questions, I'm hot and my brain doesn't work.  Anyway, one respite from the heat is soda chanh, or Vietnamese style limeade.  Because, as I was reading in Real Simple magazine whilst waiting the hour for my gestational diabetes test at the doctor's office, nothing is better on a hot day than lemonade limeade.

    Soda chanh is probably the drink I'll order out at a Vietnamese restaurant unless I'm enjoying some Vietnamese coffee (Cafe Sua Da) or it's winter and they have fresh warm soy milk.  May need to do a post on cafe sue da later, but since I'm preggos, and it's 105 freaking degrees outside, it's soda chanh time, baby.  Some restaurants don't make it right.  There should be a visible layer of sugar at the bottom.  You use the spoon to mix it all up, and sip it through a straw.  Ahhhhh!

    Hubs has a soda stream to drink soda water (he kicked his Coco-cola addiction about 5 years ago, but still needs the bubbles).  That makes this super easy to whip up.  All you need is

    • fresh limes
    • sugar
    • soda water
    A 1:1:4 ratio is what I target.  I think that usually ends up being 1 lime, 2-3 tbs sugar, and filling the rest with ice and soda water.

    Directions:

    1. Use a tall glass to layer sugar in.  
    2. Add ice, lime juice, and soda water
    3. Mix it all together and sip it down.  Ahhhhhhh




    Thursday, August 4, 2016

    Mom's Bun Bo Hue Chay (Vietnamese vegetarian spicy "beef" noodle soup)

    After many requests from my sister and cousin, I finally documented my mom's vegetarian bun bo chay!  Get ready, this recipe is kind of intense and usually takes 2 days to make.  My mom makes a giant pot of it and the whole family eats it in the span of a day or two.  She freezes the broth for later use (if there is any left over!).  The flavor does enhance each time the broth is reheated, so it's usually better the second day and each subsequent time.  It's so good, I often prefer it to regular bun bo (Spicy Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup).

    Bun bo Hue is a specialty of the central region of Vietnam, where my dad's side is from.  You won't find it as commonly as pho or bun (vermicelli bowls) in most Vietnamese restaurants.  This is a soup that is a labor of love and family and spicy-tolerance.  My ong noi (paternal grandfather) used to make the best bun bo hue!  Now my Aunt Angelique/Co Be makes a cleaner, tasty bun bo Hue which she luckily taught my sister so the tradition can continue. See my aunt Co Be's recipe here: http://smokedsaltandpepper.blogspot.com/2012/05/bun-bo-hue.html. Now that my dad is a strict vegetarian, my mom has figured out a way to make bun bo vegetarian.  No small feat.  Tons of people have asked for the recipe at Buddhist retreats and family get-togethers, but my mom writes nothing down so this is my attempt at watching her to record it:

    Mommy's Bun Bo Hue Chay (Vegetarian Spicy 'Beef' Noodle Soup)
    Ingredients:
    Broth
    • *3 stalks lemongrass, outer layers and ends discarded and stalk bruised to release aroma.  Cut in 1/2: use green part for boiling, white part for frying
    • *1 ~4" piece of ginger
    • *1 large yellow onion
    • *1/2 pineapple, about 3 cups cubed
    • *2 green apples, peeled
    • *1 pear
    • *5 dried shiitake mushrooms (Japanese or Korean brands, try to avoid Chinese brands)
    • 1 tbs. salt
    • 1 tbs. vegetable bouillon
    • 1 small daikon
    • 1/2 jicama
    • 1/2 leak, white part reserved for sauce
    • 1 celery
    • 1/4 winter melon
    • 1 napa cabbage
    *note: the first 7 ingredients are imperative, the rest of the vegetables depend on what my mom has to clean out of her fridge.  Avoid vegetables that will leach color or strong flavors such as carrots.  Rest are usually fair game.
    Sauce
    • 1 bulb minced garlic
    • the reserved white parts of leeks
    • 3 tbs. fermented bean curd chunk and some of the sauce from the jar (chao)
    • 3 tbs. vegetarian "shrimp" soybean sauce (mam ruoc chay)
    • 1 tbs. ground red pepper**
    • 1 tbs. smoked paprika**
    **a combination of these 2 ground together can be found in a spice pack at Vietnamese grocery stores that makes the broth really red!

    Rest of Bun Bo Hue Chay assembly
    each bowl should contain (amounts approximated, do whatever you want here!)
    • 3 tbs. chopped green onions
    • 1/2 c. cooked rice vermicelli (Bun Bo Hue)
    • 3-4 cubes of fried tofu
    • 3-5 slices of reserved shitake mushrooms
    • 3-5 slices of vegetarian "chicken ham" roll (cha lua chay)
    • 1 lemon thyme, minced
    • 2 tsp. chopped cilantro
    • 2 tbs. bean sprouts
    • 1/3 c. shredded purple and white cabbage
    • 1 tsp. of sauce (or depending on spiciness preference, more)
    • 2 c. broth
    Directions:
    Broth:
    1. For all broth ingredients: wash, peel, and quarter or chop in large chunks.  
    2. In a 5 gallon stock pot, add all broth ingredients and water to fill. Allow to come to a boil, then simmer for at least 1 hour.  Skim foam from top as needed.
    3. Using a fine mesh strainer, drain the broth into a large container or pot.  Reserve the shitake mushrooms for later assembly.
    Sauce:
    1. Finely chop the white reserved parts of lemongrass.  In a large pan, fry lemongrass in 2 tbs. vegetable oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until fragrant.  Add half of this to the broth and reserve half in pan.
    2. In frying pan, add chopped garlic and continue cooking chopped lemongrass until golden brown.  Turn off heat and add fermented bean curd, mam ruoc chay, ground red pepper and smoked paprika.
    Assembly:
    1. Prepare bun noodles based on package directions.  Drain well.
    2. Warm up broth for amount of bowls you plan on making and add the sauce.  
    3. Place noodles, then cabbage, sauce, green onions, fried tofu, veggie chicken ham,and few slices of shitake mushrooms in each bowl.  Add broth.
    4. Serve at the table with a plate of bean sprouts, lemon thyme, cilantro, additional cabbage, and sauce for individuals to dress bowls as desired.

    Sunday, July 17, 2016

    Banh Bot Chien, Vietnamese Fried Rice Flour Cake with Eggs

    Banh bot chien is a Vietnamese street-food of crispy and chewy rice cakes surrounded by an omelet-style amount of eggs, green onions, and pickled radishes.  It is probably one of my most favorite things to eat.  There is a 24-hour Vietnamese-Chinese restaurant in Chinatown called Tan Tan and in my opinion, makes the very best banh bot chien.  My childhood was filled with Tan Tan's banh bot chien.  We'd often eat lunch there with my family and their friends after an early morning tennis match (that I probably got dragged along to).  Banh bot chien was the carrot on my stick on those super early mornings.

    And it is extremely similar to Chinese jianbing, which according to this Tasting Table is the next big trend.  http://www.tastingtable.com/dine/national/jianbing-chinese-breakfast-crepes-mr-bing-nyc?utm_medium=email&utm_source=TT&utm_campaign=Weekend&utm_content=Editorial
    I vaguely remember gobbling down some jianbing at a street stand one late night after clubbing with my friend Elizabeth in Beijing.  Something I would never have tried in a foreign country without someone I trusted...and alcohol.  

    I don't think we ever made banh bot chien at home.  It was too easy to go get it from Tan Tan, and my mom probably never ate it growing up in Vietnam.  She never really had Vietnamese street food until she moved to the US!  But I decided to make this dish recently after stumbling upon pre-made rice cakes (Ming Phung, Inc. brand) at MT Supermarket, the Asian grocery store in Austin.  The rice cake, or the banh bot, part is probably the most labor intensive part.  You have to mix rice (or daikon or taro) flour and water over low heat forever, then cool this glutinous mass into a mold and steam it.  And then refrigerate it.  So that's a nice part to skip!  Once I purchased the banh bot, it was a breeze to make the rest.   Like making an omelette.  The important part was to have all the ingredients in place for assembly since it goes quickly after that.  I think traditionally, chunks of pork fat are used for frying and flavor, but I bought some pork belly from Central Market to use instead.I used a cast iron skillet because I'd read that the Vietnamese street vendors use cast iron griddles when they make it, but I'm sure any type of large skillet would work fine.

    Ingredients: (Makes about 2-3 servings)
    • 1/2 block of pre-made banh bot chien cake, cut into domino-sized cubes
    • cornstarch to lightly coat cakes
    • 1/4" pork belly, cut in thick slices
    • 5 eggs, lightly scrambled
    • 3 green onions, shopped
    • 4 pickled radishes from a jar, minced
    • salt and pepper (muoi thieu Hue)
    • vegetable oil for frying
    Dipping Sauce
    • 1 tbs. soy sauce
    • 1 tsp. dark molasses
    • 1 tsp. rice vinegar
    • 2 tsp. sugar
    • 1 tsp. Srirachi sauce, plus additional for drizzling on top
    Directions
    1. In a large bowl or large shallow pan, coat pieces of banh bot with a sprinkling of corn starch.  In a small, separate bowl, beat eggs with salt and pepper.
    2. Heat skillet over medium heat. Render the fat from the pork belly for about 5-10 minutes.  Remove pork belly from pan, reserving the fat.
    3. Heat pan up to medium-high heat and add additional vegetable oil if needed to allow about 1/2" oil and fat on bottom of pan.  Fry pieces of banh bot until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes each side.  
    4. Lower heat back down to medium and add pork belly and half of the sliced green onions.  Pour egg over the pan, moving eggs around to coat the bottom of pan as needed.  I lift up thicker edges and used a spatula to move around the egg mixture to areas of the pan that needed more.  Allow to set for about 3 minutes.  
    5. While waiting for everything to set, mix together the dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
    6. Using a plate about the size of the bottom of the pan, pot holders, and all the coordination you can muster, flip over the entire thing.
    7. Drizzle with Sriracha if you like it extra spicy.  Serve with dipping sauce

    Thursday, June 30, 2016

    Bà Ngoại's Pâté Chaud Recipe

    I don't think I ever realized how great of a childhood I had.  Every summer when I was in elementary school, my mom would take my sister and me to visit her family in Paris, France.  I remember waking up to the smells of fresh baked mini croissants and pâté chaud and pain au chocolats wafting in the bedroom from my grandmother (bà ngoại)'s tiny Paris apartment kitchen.  I didn't know it at the time, but my mom would later tell me that bà ngoại would wake up at 4am just to make us that special breakfast.  Lately I've been feeling really nostalgic and my bà ngoại doesn't really remember me so I wanted to remember her in a way that I could.  I visited her last summer in Paris and although her physical health is still pretty good, I don't know if she remembers me and those memories we shared.

    Pâté Chaud is a Vietnamese-French meat-filled pastry.  If you've ever had a Chinese bao zi (steamed pork bun) think like that, except instead of a steamed outer soft bun, a crispy puff pastry shell.  And instead of whatever is in a Chinese bao fillings, French pâté and ground pork and onions.  Think of it like a meat ball wrapped in flaky pastry dough.  Anyway, they are delicious.  So delicious that drug-sniffing dogs at the airport confiscated a few from my mom when she tried to bring some back home from Paris for me back in the 90's. I think the TSA detained my mom for like 1 hour.  And I guess she's not the only victim of hungry drug sniffing dogs: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-36041316

    Pâté Chaud Recipe*
    Pâté Feuillete (puff pastry):**
    • 180 g. ice water
    • 550 g. (bread/all purpose?) flour
    • 1 egg
    • 1 tbs. butter
    • salt
    • 250 g. margarine
    Filling:

    • 400 g. ground pork
    • 100 g. canned pate
    • 200 g. onion
    • 1&1/2 tsp salt
    • 1/2 tsp. MSG (can omit/substute with salt)
    • pepper and sugar
    *450 g. is about 1 lb.

    Directions:
    1. Gently mix all dough ingredients except margarine together until combined.
    2. Roll out dough and spread margarine on top. 
    3. Fold into thirds.  Roll out.  Fold into thirds the other direction.  Wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.  Repeat x 2.
    4. Cut circles out of dough**.  Fill with filling and seal edges with egg wash and your fingers.  Crimp edges with a fork.  Brush tops with egg wash.
    5. Bake at high temp (425*F) for first 10 minutes, then decrease oven temp to 325F until cooked through, about 20 more minutes.
    **pate feuillete or frozen pre-made puff pastry may be substituted.  If used, skip step 1-3.  Bà Ngoại even did this as she aged and her arthritis got worse.  The dough is also the most time-consuming part of this recipe.










    Friday, June 17, 2016

    Watermelon and Mint Sorbet

    It's the summertime! And here in Austin, it's hot!  Watermelon is in season and the mint in my backyard has not yet had a chance to be demolished by my fresh mint chocolate chip ice cream.
    So I bought a little personal sized watermelon at the grocery store, cut some up to refrigerate and enjoy left over and was still left with a lot that wouldn't fit in my tupperware.
    Enter, the Blendtec.  Popped the rest of the watermelon in there with some fresh mint, lemon juice, sugar and triple sec and had a tasty and refreshing dessert for later.

    Ingredients:

    • 3 cups watermelon
    • 1 tbs. fresh mint
    • 1/4 c. sugar
    • 1 tsp. triple sec or vodka, can omit
    • 1 tbs. fresh lemon juice
    Directions:

    1. Throw everything in the blender and blend.
    2. Freeze or refrigerate until sorbet-y
    3. Use a fork to carve out sorbet or spoon depending on consistency.


    Watermelon and Mint Sorbet

    Tuesday, June 14, 2016

    Ga Ro Ti (Vietnamese Roasted Chicken)

    Ga ro ti, or Vietnamese roasted chicken, is one of the easiest recipes.  This recipe was actually the first thing my mom taught me when I'd moved off campus in college and would soon have my own kitchen to cook in.  It has 4 ingredients.  That's it.  And you need a pan.  Doesn't get that much simpler with Vietnamese cooking.  Also, it doesn't take like, 5 hours to make.

    The sauce, although photographically uninteresting, is really really really good.  Coco Rico, a Coconut soda (Puerto Rican soda available at Fiesta and other places), is caramelized with TONS of garlic and Maggi to make this really awesome, sticky, sweet, salty sauce.  It's almost like the French 40 clove garlic roasted chicken in the proportion of garlic it uses.  The dark meat of the chicken makes it almost impossible to dry out, too.  My mother's recipe used drumsticks, but I've cut the recipe down in size to feed 2 and subbed chicken thighs which I find a little tastier and more versatile.  

    Served over a simple bed of rice, you can accompany it with a small salad or some fresh cucumbers and pickled carrots.  I forgot how tasty and easy this recipe was and when I made it last night, R went back to pour the sauce over leftover rice.


    Go Ro Ti (Vietnamese Roasted Chicken)
    Ingredients:
    • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, about 1.25lbs
    • 6 cloves garlic, minced
    • salt and pepper, (I use about 1 tsp. of my muoi thieu Hue here)
    • 1 tsp. Maggi seasoning sauce*
    • 3 oz of Coco Rico soda, about 1/4 can
    • 1 tsp. butter
    *can substitute soy sauce

    Directions:
    1. Rub chicken thighs with salt and pepper, garlic, and Maggi. 
    2. Sear both sides of chicken over medium-high heat until browned, about 3-5 minutes each side.  Make sure to move garlic around the pan frequently or pile on top of the chicken so as not to burn garlic.
    3. Add Coco Rico and simmer on medium-low until sauce becomes caramelized, thickened, and slightly sticky.  Stir the sauce occasionally and turn chicken thighs for even cooking.  This may take 20-40 minutes.
    4. Serve over rice.