Saturday, May 28, 2016

Tips and Tricks: The Indian Grocer

This is my first post and video for my new series "Tips and Tricks".  Today's tip is to explore your local ethnic grocery stores.  Specifically, for this post, I'm going to talk about the Indian Grocer.

About 9 years ago, I was introduced to a local Indian Grocery Store.  I was lucky enough to have a friend along who knew what was what and who acted as our personal guide.  I have been buying some of my spices there ever since.

I mainly stop by the Indian Grocer for Whole Cumin Seeds.  I use cumin a lot and I have found that by purchasing it this way, I not only save money but also get a lot more bang for my buck!

Here's the video:

Do you shop at a local ethnic grocer?  What types of things do you buy there?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences.  Also, please do let me know if you enjoy these types of posts and videos!


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tasting: Japanese Snack Pack

I have made no secret of the fact that I have been absolutely inspired by the YouTube Channel "EmmymadeinJapan" - and I submit as evidence, Article One Recipe Review: Gyoza.  This post and companion video must then be submitted as Article Two, I suppose.

Not long after viewing Emmy's Gyoza video, I watched Emmy Eats a Japanese Snack Pack.  Emmy has since made a least one additional Japanese Snack Pack Video.  This video really made me curious and excited to try some Japanese snacks and one day when I was placing an order for some cookie cutters I decided to throw in one of these packs to try for myself.

Here is the particular pack I purchased:

The fact that almost all of the labeling is in Japanese characters and that what little I could read in English was still unrecognizable to me added to the fun and adventure in trying these products out.  I was so excited when it all arrived!

There were 6 snacks inside...

This Big Katsu bar was the first snack I tried.  I realize now, that I should have made the connection to Chicken Katsu - apparently Katsu refers to the breading.

This next snack had a really interesting texture - now that I think about it post video, I guess I would describe it as being a sugary toast-like snack.  It definitely had a flavor and texture of lightly toasted bread...

My favorites in the whole pack were these rice crackers...

and these tube shaped, cheesy snacks...

I won't list all each individual snack here, you can watch the video to learn more about it.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.  Have you ever tried a snack pack?  What do you like to snack on?  Do you know what any of these are and where I can get more of my favorites?  Also, please do let me know if you like these types of posts and videos by leaving a comment, liking the video and subscribing or following the Channel or this Blog.

Thanks and Ciao!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Casual Entertaining: Pulled Pork

Whether I'm gaming, crafting or just hanging out with friends and family, food is almost always included in the plans of the day.  I live out in the toolies, just close enough to civilization to be convenient and just far enough from civilization to be peaceful.  But this means guests are often on the road for an hour or more to get to my home for any kind of get together so a meal time is involved 99% of the time.

We're a pretty casual couple (big surprise being from Seattle, the casual capitol, right?) and we prefer meals to be casual as well.  We're big on having our guests make themselves at home and paper plates not an unusual occurrence - after all, who wants to worry about dishes when you can be visiting...or crafting... or gaming?  I ask you, who?!

Pulled Pork is an excellent recipe for casual entertaining.  I love foods that are versatile and Pulled Pork is definitely versatile.  You can pile it on a bun or roll with some BBQ sauce and some slaw for an excellent sandwich or use it as a topping for a baked potato.  (I like mine with pepper jack cheese, pulled pork, bbq sauce, bacon, scallions or chives and sour cream - YUM!)  It can be used as a topping for nachos or a filling for a quesadilla, wrap or burrito. See what I mean?  Versatile!

The best part about recipes like this one is you put a little effort into it at the beginning and then you can set it and forget it.

I used a pork shoulder for this, and started the night before - liberally applying a dry rub then wrapping it up tightly and placing it in the fridge until morning.  In the morning, I removed it from the fridge and let it sit on the counter about 30 minutes - all the major chefs will tell you this is an important step in cooking animal proteins, assuring the meat will retain moisture.  Preheat a cast iron skillet on medium high heat and sear the roast on all sides.

Once fully seared remove the roast to your crockpot or dutch oven and deglaze the pan.  Beer, apple cider, chicken stock and water will all work fine.  Just add 1/2 to 1 cup liquid and scrape all the lovely browned bits from the bottom of the pan and let it come to a boil.  Then turn off the heat and pour the liquid over the roast in your crockpot.  Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours.  The roast should be fork tender and falling apart, if not, keep cooking it for another hour and check it again.

Remove it to a shallow bowl and allow it to cool a bit.  It's easiest to pull it apart with your hands, but if it's still too hot to handle you can use a couple of forks to do the job.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Quick Fix: Lemon-Pinoli Rice Pilaf

This Lemon-Pinoli (Pine Nut) Rice Pilaf is a great way to use up leftover rice.  It comes together super-quick and is really delicious.  The lemon gives the rice some brightness and makes it perfect for pairing with fish or chicken while the Pinoli, or Pine Nuts, add a nutty flavor and crunchy texture.  I threw in some parmesan cheese, which added another dimension of nutty flavor to the mix.  This dish will work with any rice you have on hand and you can add any fresh herbs you like to marry it to your main dish.

Here's the link to the video:

Here's the recipe:

2 TBLS pine nuts*, toasted
2 Cups cooked rice
1 TBLS extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 Cup parmesan cheese
1/4-1/2 tsp dill* (fresh would be really lovely, I used dried because that's what I had on hand)
salt to taste

Start by toasting the pine nuts over low heat in a skillet.  Remove the Pinoli from the pan and set them aside once they are toasted to a golden brown.

Increase heat to medium high and add olive oil - allow it all to heat up a bit.  Add rice, stirring in to break up any clumps.  Stir in dill, lemon juice and salt (to taste).  Cover and reduce heat to low.  Let it hang out for about 5 minutes, until heated through.  Turn off heat.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and pine nuts.  Stir to combine and serve hot.    

*Note: you can reserve a few pine nuts and some dill (if you are using fresh) if you like, to use as a garnish.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Quick Fix: Sandwich Night Part 1

Some nights you just don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen - even when you love to cook.  I'm sure I'm not the alone either, in spending my commute home trying to figure out what to make for dinner because I forgot to think ahead (please, please say I'm not alone on this).

That's exactly how I ended up making this lovely and delicious Turkey, Provolone and Spinach on a Pretzel Bun Sandwich for dinner recently.  Sandwich Night is the perfect answer to quick week night meals - especially as the weather warms up and we are ready for less rich foods.

This Sandwich was hot, crispy with lovely, melted Provolone cheese and piled high with peppery deli Turkey.  What really put this sandwich over the top, besides the pretzel bun and melting everything in my toaster oven, and besides the fact that it took 15 minutes or less to make, was The Mayo.  No, seriously, it was The Mayo!

I took regular old, every day, spread-it-on-your-sandwiches-put-it-in-your-tuna-salad mayo and elevated it in moments by adding a few, simple ingredients.  Lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, salt  and pepper.  Yes, it was that simple.

I just spooned a couple of large spoonfuls (soup spoon size) into a small bowl.  Grated in the zest of about half a lemon.  Squeezed in the juice of half of that same lemon.  Then sprinkled in some Garlic Powder, a pinch of salt and a healthy sprinkling of pepper.  Mix it up thoroughly, then spread it on the top and bottom of your split pretzel rolls.

Place a slice of provolone on the bottom slice of the roll and top that with your favorite deli turkey (I used pepper crusted turkey), put another slice of Provolone on top and top it with the other half of the roll.  Wrap in foil and bake for 10 minutes in a 400 degree toaster oven or conventional oven. Remove it from the oven, unwrap it and open it up.  Add a handful of baby spinach leaves to each sandwich, place the top back on and enjoy with your favorite beverage!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Recipe Review: Gyoza

In my continuing quest to learn to make Asian Food, Gyoza was recently elevated in priority as a dish I needed to learn.

I was spending the day with my sister before she went on her official Honeymoon and we went to the butcher shop she and my new brother-in-law shop at and I found ground pork in the freezer section in 1 lb packages.  I knew, just knew, this was the ground pork that has always evaded me when I attempted to make Asian food in the past... so I picked up 2 packages with the intent to make Gyoza or Spring Rolls (or maybe both) with it.  But Gyoza was definitely wining the top spot in my mind so....

I decided to search YouTube for a video on how to make Gyoza and I found This Channel, EmmyMadeInJapan.  There's something about Emmy that I just love.  I have watched so many of her videos and I am thoroughly entertained by them.  I love her willingness to try anything and I'm finding I especially enjoy learning about what people in other parts of the world snack on.  Check out her Channel, seriously.

So Emmy has a super easy and delicious recipe for Gyoza, which I took for a test run.  Boy oh boy, did everyone in my gaming group love, love, love these little gems!

Here's how they go together.

I started with shredding the cabbage - I used Napa - and finely chopping the green onions and placing them in a bowl...

...and adding the ground pork and seasonings...

...and mixing it well until it's thoroughly combined...

...then the fun part comes - filling the Won Ton Skins or Gyoza wrappers.  I could only find the square Won Ton wrappers at my local grocery store... it took me a bit to get the hang of how to pleat them.  Here's my first attempts:

...make sure not to overfill your Gyoza.  They are much easier to seal if there isn't filling trying to squish out at the seams.  I used only about 1/2 tsp per wrapper.  Eventually they started to look a lot better...

I was able to use up all of the wrappers in the package - I think there were 24 of them - so I took Emmy's advice and froze what I didn't need for our lunch.  Here's what they looked like when they were done - I served them with Emmy's sauce, it was super delicious and so, so simple...

I didn't change a thing about this recipe and there is no reason to - I will absolutely be making these again (and again, and again - in fact I dream of a freezer full of these so I can have them any time I want to).  They were fabulous and not as time-consuming as I expected.  Thanks for a great recipe, Emmy!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Make Your Own Takeout: Pork Fried Rice

Pork Fried Rice

When it comes to food cravings I am generally pretty good at satisfying them right here at home.  Mostly we tend to crave Italian, Mexican and Pacific Northwest Seafood, but one cuisine that we generally go to a restaurant to curb our appetite for is Asian.  When I have lunch out on workdays, it's often Teriyaki or Pho and one of the few places my husband and I go for dinner is a local Chinese restaurant.  It's a totally Americanized Chinese menu - the type that was really popular back in the 70's, but we love it whether it's authentic or not (we honestly and perhaps sadly wouldn't know the difference) so I have made it my goal to master a few recipes myself and this Fried Rice recipe I found on Pinterest has been a great place to start.

Of course, this is me and I wouldn't be me if I didn't make at least an adjustment or two to our own liking, but I really haven't tweaked this recipe much at all.  I've really just swapped one ingredient for another, left out an ingredient (although I do intend to try it with it as well), and increased a couple others.

The key to good fried rice at home is to use rice that is a few days old and cold, right from the fridge. It will still taste delicious with freshly made rice, but the texture just won't match what your used to from your favorite restaurant or carry out place.

This recipe also happens to call for butter.  I've tried fried rice recipes before and this is the first I've come across with butter, but let me tell you, it works.  It's definitely the closest to our favorite restaurant's fried rice that I've made so far and it's definitely a recipe worth sharing.

This is also one time when I don't employ the chop and drop method of cooking.  I do chop up all the veggies and ingredients first because you'll be working pretty quickly.  So chop up your onion, carrots, garlic, scallion and Barbeque Pork and have them all set to go when you're ready.

For the carrots, I cut them in half, then half them again so they are 1/4 sticks...

Then chop them so I get small pieces like these:

If you have a wok, by all means use it, I used my non-stick skillet and it worked out just fine.  Preheat your pan over medium high heat and melt some of the butter until it's fully melted and bubbly...

Add your beaten eggs and scramble them until they are just done...

Remove them from the pan when they are cooked through and set them aside.  Do not overcook them, they will go back into the pan later and you don't want them to brown or dry out.

Melt some more butter in the pan, then throw in your carrots and onion, season with a bit of salt and pepper and stir-fry it for a bit - just until the onions and carrots become tender...

Add the last of your butter to the pan and stir it in until it's melted.  Now add your rice, scallions, pork and soy sauce...

Stir it in, breaking up any clumps of rice as you go with the back of a wooden spoon and let it cook for 2-3 more minutes.  Add the scrambled eggs and sesame oil - stir to combine...

Fried Rice

At this point you can serve it or cover it and hold it warm in the oven at 225 degrees while you prepare more tasty Make Your Own Takeout dishes to accompany it.

Here's my modified version of the recipe:

Pork Fried Rice

4 TBLS unsalted butter, divided
3 eggs, beaten
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small, sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 lb BBQ pork, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 scallions, thinly sliced
4 Cups cooked and chilled rice
4 TBLS Soy Sauce (I used low sodium)
1/4 tsp toasted sesame oil

Preheat skillet or wok over medium high heat.  Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter until fully melted and bubbling.  Add egg and scramble until just cooked.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Melt 1 more tablespoon of the butter in the skillet until fully melted and bubbling.  Add onions, carrots and garlic.  Stir fry for 2-3 minutes just until onions become translucent and carrots start to become tender.

Add last 2 tablespoons of the butter to the skillet and stir in until melted.  Add rice, scallions and BBQ Pork to the skillet and stir in until well combined.  Stir fry for another 2-3 minutes.  Add soy sauce and eggs.  Stir to combine.  Add toasted sesame oil, stir to combine and remove from heat.

At this point you can serve it or cover it and hold it warm in a 225 oven while you make additional dishes to accompany your Pork Fried Rice.

Makes 4-6 servings.