Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Alex Special

My parents owned a Chinese restaurant when I was growing up. Being the dutiful children we were, we worked at the restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights every weekend except Sundays which was the only day the restaurant was closed. Sundays were reserved for our little mini Disney World. Just about every year we would get season passes to some Orlando theme park, mostly Disney World, and go there EVERY weekend. We loved it. On those special Sunday mornings we would often go to Shoney's located at the hotel across the street from our neighborhood for their morning breakfast buffets before driving an hour to Orlando to the "happiest place on earth." For those of you that don't know, Shoney's is sort of an 'All American' restaurant popular in the south in the 90's. Was there anything really fabulous about this breakfast buffet? No, just your typical breakfast foods. But they DID have grits, and you already know how much I love grits.

My oldest brother Alex, would almost always get the same thing. He would pile on a healthy helping of grits, throw on some home fries and top it all with some strange yellow 'cheese sauce' (which I'm not at all sure had an once of real cheese in to begin with). My middle brother Allen, and I would follow our oldest brother's lead - our Disney World fuel of choice. This strange, now somewhat disgusting original breakfast combo is what inspired this grown-up, dare I say it, gourmet version of what I lovingly now call, the Alex Special.

We headed to Alex's house this year for Christmas so I decided to make this dish for the one person it's named for. It was a big hit for Christmas breakfast!

Another great part about the 'Alex Special' is that it is great for using up leftover vegetables, potatoes in particular. I never usually make this unless I had leftover potatoes from dinner the night before. Any breakfast that takes more than 30 minutes to assemble just isn't really within my morning mental capacity.

The Alex Special
Makes 4-6 servings
Cheese Grits
4 c. water
1 c. quick grits (not instant, please!)
1 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 tsp. fresh pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder (optional)
1.5 c. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (extra for sprinkling)

4-6 c. roasted yukon gold potatoes, cubed (about 3-5 lbs.)
1 roasted large yellow onion, optional
6 slices bacon, precooked
1.5 c. sliced mushrooms
1/3 c. green onions, sliced
1/4 c. fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

1 egg per person

Bring water to a boil. Salt the water and wisk in grits slowly to avoid getting lumps. Cover and let simmer whisking every few minutes to make sure the grits don't settle and everyone gets cooked evenly. After about 6 minutes when the grits are creamy, throw in the butter and stir until melted.

Add the shredded cheese and mix in until blended. If there are some chunks of unmelted cheese, it'll make someone's (Christmas) breakfast even that more special, mmmmmmmmmm.

Take leftover potatoes and onions and toss in a skillet with bacon and mushrooms.

Heat on medium heat until everyone is warmed through, about 7 minutes.

Throw in the green onions and parsley last.

Turn the burner off and let the hash sit in the pan while you cook the eggs. This gives the green onions a chance to cook a tiny bit without the parsley losing its color.

I just throw an egg on top, sunny side up (don't forget to salt & pepper your eggs!).

To plate, lay down a creamy bed of cheese grits first. Pile on some potato bacon hash, sprinkle w/ more cheese. Throw an egg on top. More cheese. More cheese. More cheeeese. Mmmmm.

Be still my heart.


Here Alex is demonstrating the reaction you should expect:

Note: If you're making potatoes the night before (which I highly suggest - who wants to get up at 6am to bake potatoes?), just cut potatoes and the onion into 1" cubes - toss with about 2-3 tsp. olive oil and 1.5 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper.

Bake at 425F for 30 minutes until fork tender.

I always use the Costco pre-cooked bacon as a shortcut but if you're using raw bacon, slice the bacon and start in a large cool pan or skillet on medium heat. After it's browned, remove the bacon and pour off the excess bacon grease but leave whatever sticks in the pan. Heat the potatoes and onions in the same pan and proceed as above, just add the bacon back in after the potatoes are heated through.

This is what you can expect after the second helping:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Quickie Lemon Shrimp Pasta

Let me be frank. I love shrimp. Love love love shrimp. Undoubtedly one of my absolute favorite seafoods. The only thing I requested to be served our little backyard wedding, which my husband's family so graciously obliged (cooked to perfection and served with lots and LOTS of butter - I knew I married into the right family), was shrimp. Sweet, succulent and crunchy when perfectly cooked. To me, there's not many other foods that rival the perfection that is the shrimp, and relatively affordable as far as seafood goes. Lucky for me my favorite Asian supermarket in Seattle's International District sells some pretty large shrimp at a decent price. That price may have something to do with the fact that while headless, they aren't peeled. Or deveined. This task isn't for the squeamish but for those that don't know (and maybe you don't want to know), you're not really removing a 'vein'. It's the intestine that runs along the back of the shrimp that can be filled with dirt and grit and digested parts of whatever shrimps eat. It's shrimp poo so it has to be removed. Unless you're into eating shrimp poo in which case, you're reading the wrong blog.

This was a super quick and easy meal that gets put together in less than 15 minutes (after the shrimp are peeled and deveined of course) that's fancy enough for entertaining. Try it and let me know how yours turns out and any variations you use, I'd love to hear from you!

Quickie Lemon Shrimp Pasta

Serves 4 generously

1.5 lbs large shrimp (I think mine were 15-20 which is a meaning about 15-20 shrimp per lb)
6 cups tender leafy veggies (spinach or arugula will work but I had pea sprouts)
1 14 oz. box short cut pasta (penne, rotini, etc.)
4 tbsp. grated cheese (grana padano or parigiano reggiano)
1 juice of a lemon, more for garnish
3 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 c. chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
kosher salt
fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven at 400°F. At the same time, put a pot of water to boil pasta. The trick to this dish is to make sure your water is boiling at the same time the oven is up to temperature. You're baking the shrimp the same time the pasta is cooking and both should take about the same time to cook.

Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and place on an aluminum baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and one teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper - toss and spread out in one flat layer. Depending on exactly how large your shrimp these should take 8-10 minutes.

Throw a handful of salt in the boiling water. Wait for it to dissolve and dump the pasta, give it a stir. In the mean time, wash your veggies. I happen to have these weird pea sprouts I picked up at the same Asian market but they're a little obscure.
Spinach, arugula or even watercress will work perfectly. Any tender leafy veg that will wilt slightly with a little hot water. Put about 1.5 cups of greens per plate - raw. Chop up your parsley and have your cheese close and ready to sprinkle. When the shrimp is ready they will be completely opaque and when pressed with your finger, don't have any give.
As your pasta finishes cooking, check a piece for doneness. And use a slotted spoon or spider to drain the pasta directly onto the greens.

It's fine if the water isn't drained, you actually want some pasta water to go onto the greens.

Sprinkle the cheese onto the steamy pasta and it will make this nice, cheesy crust on ridged pasta like penne, mmmmmmmmmmm. Put about 5 (or 50) shrimp on top of the cheesy pasta.

Squeeze some lemon on top and dress with parsley, enjoy!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Adobo Chicken (Kinda)

We had a pretty good freeze here in western Washington a few weeks ago and since we live in condo w/ limited space, I'm forever trying to use the other areas for storage. Now, don't go telling the vermin that lives in the greenbelt we back up to, but we keep a galvanized bucket in the storage closet off our balcony. When it's cold enough in the fall and winter, I store produce out there to make space in the fridge. That and the fact that I do most of my grocery shopping at Costco. I'm cheap. I buy bulk. And I grew up in a household of 5 so I'm used to seeing/making way too much food for a family of's a bit of a sickness. I've all but turned into my mom during the past few years including inheriting her 'love feeding people' gene..but I digress. The freeze ended up turning an unopened 10 lbs bag of organic carrots into a bag full of orange colored icicles. Me being the cheapskate I am, I was determined to use all carrots risking the effects of carotenosis if it meant I didn't have to waste any of the carrots. Carrots are good for you (and cheap). So you'll probably be seeing more carrot posts in the near future.

Anyhow, my mother-in-law turned me on to this crazy popular Filipino recipe. I added a bunch of other stuff I had around the house (yes, carrots included) so it's my spin on the original. You know when you read a recipe and go through the list of ingredients and say to yourself, "Right, I'll never make this." This isn't one of those.

Everything about this recipe is easy and I'd be willing to bet you probably have everything in your fridge and pantry right now. Probably one of the best pitches I can make for this recipe is that it's made in a crockpot and you don't have to brown the meat ahead of time. Just throw everything in, set the timer, go to work, come home, dinner's ready!

Crockpot Adobo Chicken
3 lbs. skinless chicken thighs
1 large onion
4 carrots
1 c. mushrooms
1/2 c. soy sauce
3/4 c. white vinegar
1.5 c. chicken stock
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. black peppercorns
2 bay leaves

Peel and chop onion and carrots into large, 1 inch chunks.

Depending on the size of your mushrooms, I had large criminis (baby portobello mushrooms) so I quartered those.

Just make sure all the veggies are about the same size. Button mushrooms will work also, I just happen to have crimini mushrooms around.

Pour in soy sauce, vinegar and stock. Slice garlic and add to the mix along with the sugar, pepper and bay leaves.

For this recipe I like to use bone-in skinless dark meat chicken but for a low fat version, boneless skinless chicken breast works too.

Just be sure to remove the skin and most of the fat from the chicken. You don't want all that grease floating at the top of the finished product.

After everything's in the pot, give it a stir and make sure the garlic and bay leaves are submerged. Slice garlic and make sure it gets submerged in the liquid, if you leave it on top, it'll turn this strange green color while cooking. Not appetizing. At this point you may find you're really short on liquid.

As it cooks, the veggies will release some of their liquid but if you're still not happy, add chicken stock to your heart's content. Set for 6-8 hours at low and serve w/ some white rice - yum!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Garlic Cheese Grits (Gritlets)

I consider myself lucky to have grown up in the south. Now, "south" in my case means Florida. I know what you're thinking. Florida? To some known as only the land of newly wed and nearly dead, I've found that at least to the northwesterners, Floridians equal Key Westers. Total misperception. To me, Florida is its own little pangea made up of the following: Deep South (north FL and some panhandle areas), Tourist Trap (central FL, Disney, etc.), and Latin pangea (basically all of south FL). I'm most familiar w/ Tourist Trap and Deep South. We are bordering Alabama and Georgia, right? It's the deep south.

One of my absolute favorite things I brought w/ me to the great Northwest is grits. Most people native to the NW don’t even know what grits are. It’s just corn, people. And eating grits doesn’t turn you into some country bumpkin, I promise. Would it make people feel better if I called it polenta..or hominy? Same thing. Stone-milled corny deliciousness. Here’s a variation one of my friend Carrie's (a.k.a. The Dame) favorite grits recipes that's now one of my favorites:

Garlic Cheese Grits

2 c. chicken stock
2 c. water
1 c. uncooked quick grits
2 eggs, beaten
4 tbsp. butter
1.5 c. grated sharp cheddar, more for sprinkling if desired
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp Tony Chachere's Cajun Salt
2 tsp kosher salt
1 c. green onions, chopped

The Dame's recipe calls for a whole stick of butter and uses a mix of Monterey Jack & cheddar, if you want to keep it totally traditional. I figured 1/2 a stick would scare you NW friends enough but if you're feeling like those arteries are looking a little too clean, go for it. The green onions are also not part of the original. I thought something green would help people feel like maybe these weren't completely carbs, right?

Preheat oven 350 °F. Grease or spray an oven safe casserole dish and set aside. Bring water, broth, cajun salt and salt to boil. Whisk in grits stirring constantly for a minute. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until grits are thick and creamy.

Temper eggs with 1/2 c of the hot cooked grits, whisk vigorously to avoid cooking eggs. Add egg/grits mix back into remaining grits and stir until incorporated. Combine butter, cheese, garlic (and green onions if you're using them) into mixture and stir until cheese is mostly melted.

Traditionally, I make this in a 9" square casserole pan and bake for 45 minutes until golden & bubbly. I've been in a total mini mood lately and decided to put my new mini muffin tins to use.

Even if you have the non-stick kind like me, you need to use some cooking spray or else they'll stick. I know, yes, you did already put half a stick of butter in there but trust me, you need it. Or whatever, if you're adventurous then don't use the cooking spray - let me know what happens.

I use my handy mini ice cream scoop to make these guys all even sized. And as if these needed anymore heart stopping goodness, I sprinkled w/ some more cheddar on top. Don't mind the overly long strands of cheddar in the pictures, that's just how my food processor rolls. Yours will look better.
Mini muffin tin route takes about 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool for 10 minutes and serve. Great as portion control for those of you worried about all the cheese and butter. Also ideal for parties, this stuff tastes just dandy at room temp ya'll.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cake Pop Madness

There are few things more important to me than the immediate gratification of a compliment from my husband (or anyone else eating my food) about how delicious something is, especially when it’s something I actually cooked myself. In the case of these cake pops, I’ve found that not only is there almost always this aforementioned immediate gratification, people are practically hounding me for this recipe.

I had a somewhat life-changing day when one of my best friends, Tien, forwarded me the link to This woman is amazing. She has all these fantastic ideas and not only did she invent the cake pop, she’s doing some crazy creative things with them. I tried out her turkey pops this Thanksgiving and brought them to the office and my brother’s house, people went CRAZY. The base for the turkey pops are these chocolate covered red velvet cake pops. Everyone wants the recipe, so here we go:

Recipe from: (she calls for store-bought frosting in a can, but I like to make my own since it’s so easy)

Red Velvet Cake Pops

1 pkg Red Velvet cake mix (for all you foodies that are gasping at the thought of box cake mix, I promise it works great - or you could use your own R.V. recipe)
1 pkg dark chocolate candy melts
1 pkg milk chocolate candy melts
1 pkg lollipop sticks (you can also get at any craft store)
1 large foam block (used to hold pops while they dry)

Cream Cheese Frosting:

It's very important to have the butter and cream cheese at room temp for this, I leave out overnight.

1 8oz. pkg cream cheese
2 c confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 stick butter, unsalted
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Bake the cake in a 9 x 13 pan (or similar) according to the instructions on the box and set on a cooling rack to cool completely before handling. Meanwhile start the frosting. Cream the cream cheese and butter together for about 5-10 min in a stand mixer or w/ hand mixer on high until light and fluffy. Slowly add in sifted sugar in about 3 batches waiting for sugar to be mostly incorporated before adding the next batch. After all the sugar in mixed in, add vanilla extract and mix for another minute.

After the cake is completely cooled remove from the pan and crumble the entire cake into a large bowl. Add about 1/2 the frosting to the crumbled cake and mix in more frosting gradually (you may not need all of it) until the cake will come together into a ball when formed.

I use a mini ice cream scoop that forms 1" balls and scoop onto a baking sheet lined w/ parchment or wax paper. Should make about 50 balls. Roll the balls in your hand until they are round and line on the baking sheet so they are not touching. Place in the freezer for about 10 minutes. A few minutes before the cake balls come out of the freezer, melt some of the candy coating in the microwave according to the instructions. It's very easy, just mix some melts together (you can always do all milk or all dark chocolate if you prefer) and microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring between heatings.

Use the lollipop sticks and dip about 1/2 - 3/4 inch into melted chocolate then insert into the cake ball about halfway in. After finishing the whole tray, place back into the freezer for another 10 minutes. A few minutes before they're ready, melt the rest of the candy melts.

If you get cracks when the coating dries on the pops, just re-dip into the coating. Extra chocolate, YUM.

I dip the cake pop into the melted chocolate and use a spoon to round out the sides while twisting the stick so the excess chocolate falls off. Use a foam block to stick the cake pops on to dry (they dry very quickly so you can just do batches if you don't have a large foam block) then place stick side up for presentation. Enjoy!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ode to Auntie Ina

I draw inspiration from several places. I grew up in a typical Chinese-American household as the first American-born generation in my family. We owned a little family Chinese restaurant in Florida where everyone helped out wherever help was needed. These would be my formative years where I would learn basic cooking skills that would help me feel comfortable in a kitchen setting but I never showed much interest in it as a kid. My mom is a great cook specifically with traditional Chinese foods native to Hong Kong. Growing up I never understood why anyone would want to spend an entire Sunday planning dinner that night but now I find myself doing the same thing and understand completely.

Fast forward to college when I was off on my own and only did minimal, albeit interesting and sometimes inedible cooking w/ my college roommate, Carrie. Rachel Ray was just starting to get popular and that kicked off my obsession w/ Food Network. Even as a kid, I had always been a huge fan of Great Chefs back in the day but a channel completely dedicated to food ALL DAY? Thank you cable. 4x DVR fast forward to my post-college days when I met my husband, got married and now live in Bothell, WA.

Since resigning from a desk job in August of 2009, I've been home and have turned into a "Lady who Lunches". This famous (in my social circle at least) phrase was taken from an episode of the Barefoot Contessa where the host, Ina Garten, makes lunch for the original owner of the specialty food store Ina purchased in the late 70's. The now most famous Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, is the host of a very popular cooking show on Food Network of the same name and let me tell you folks, I canNOT get enough of this woman.

If you don't know of her, here is a synopsis (notice I didn't say brief) of why I am mildly obsessed w/ this woman:

First, her cooking style. Too often I find recipes to be way over my head or just out of a sane person's reach due to several reasons including but not limited to: exotic ingredients, convoluted 54-part steps and general lack appeal. Not an Auntie Ina (a coworker so lovingly named her) recipe. Hers are simple, made with simple ingredient and lack pretentiousness and yet still feel super elegant and special.

Second, she has this amazing house in East Hampton where she lives and has all these fabulous gay friends that she always has over for cards and other fabulous gatherings. Her husband, Jeffrey, is this adorable little curly haired man (which I've read is very successful businessman and currently a professor at an Ivy Leage school, la-di-da) that just adores her and everything she cooks for him. I often drop obvious hints to Gabe about how sweet Jeffrey is and how I wish once in a damn while he would compliment my cooking. His response? That he does compliment me by stuffing his face full of food so much so that he doesn't want to be rude and talk with his mouth full and there's my compliment. Riiiight.

Third, the snappy music on her show during cooking demonstrations. When Gabe hears the maracas, he knows Barefoot's on.