Tag Archives: food

East Meets West: Enjoy a twist on a classic with these Indian-inspired enchiladas

East Meets West: Enjoy a twist on a classic with these Indian-inspired enchiladas

Not the prettiest enchiladas, but the bold flavors make up for its looks.

Experimenting with food and flavors is a passion of mine and I love to “explore” the globe through its cultures and their cuisines. Sometimes, I like to be region-specific with my cooking, and other times I, in the immortal lyrics of Fleetwood Mac, like to “go (my) own way” by using a basic flavor profile and letting the creativity flow.

This past week, my culinary journey was at a fork in the road. You see, I had a craving for cheesy Mexican enchiladas with tomato sauce, but also had the itch to experiment with some Indian flavors and wanted make the dish a little healthier. Thus, these vegetarian, gluten-free Indian enchiladas were born. I used a few basic spices that can be easily found in the spice aisle at most grocery stores — save for the Indian chili powder that can be found at an Indian grocer or easily substituted with regular chili powder — and some easy-to-find ingredients commonly found in most Indian cuisines, like butternut squash, chickpeas and tomatoes.

Paneer cheese, a fresh farmer-style cheese that doesn’t melt, is a star ingredient in the filling. It holds up to high heat cooking and adds both bulk and protein to the filling. Paneer can be found at specialty and Indian grocery stores, but can be easily substituted with firm tofu (this would then make the dish vegan as well).

Even if you’ve never cooked Indian food before, this recipe is very approachable and can be adjusted to your taste and spice level: leave out the spicy chilies for a milder sauce or add more if you’re a heat-seeker, substitute the kale with spinach, and you can even use different types of winter or summer squash in the filling if you please.
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You say tomato, I say soup: Creamy Sherried Tomato Soup with Herbs

You say tomato, I say soup: Creamy Sherried Tomato Soup with Herbs

This easy-to-prepare tomato soup is comforting goodness in a bowl.

No matter the weather or season, any time is a great time for tomato soup. There’s something comforting and restorative about a warm bowl of tomato soup — homemade tomato soup, that is. For me, it’s one of life’s simple pleasures. This version in particular is so easy to prepare that you’ll be on your way to culinary bliss in no time.

When I first found this recipe and saw some of the main ingredients — tomato juice and chicken base — I worried that it would turn out tasting like something grandma would made or simply like I’d opened a can of Campbell’s (which is decent, but like I said, homemade simply tastes better). Turns out the ingredients totally work — the juice gives it added tomatoey oomph and the chicken base is a shortcut to using broth, which one would have to simmer for ages to achieve the same flavor.

The result is a pinkish-hued bowl of comfort to be served warm or piping hot (depending on your mood and the weather outside). I like to stir in chopped herbs like parsley and basil just before serving for a pop of color and flavor. As for the sherry, Ree used cooking sherry, whereas I prefer to use real sherry wine.

Sherry is a fortified wine that originates in Jerez (“Sherish”), Spain, and is typically served as an an aperitif used to “finish” and add flavor to dishes. I go by the old adage on cooking with booze: “If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it.” Cooking sherry is a version of sherry which has been treated with salts and other additives so that it can be stored in the cupboard at room temperature. While this is all well and good, I’m not a fan of its flavor and prefer using standard dry (not sweet) sherry wine in its place. Don’t have sherry on hand? Not a problem. Try substituting a cup of dry red or white wine for the sherry — just add it before you throw in the tomatoes to let the flavors meld while they’re simmering together — or leave it out altogether.

Feel free to get a little creative with this recipe and personalize it as well. For added flavor, try throwing in a teaspoon or two of fresh, chopped rosemary or thyme when sweating the onions. Don’t want to use the cream and/or sherry? Not a problem. Try substituting a cup of dry red or white wine for the sherry; just add it before you throw in the tomatoes to let their flavors meld while they’re simmering together.

Not only is this tomato soup approachable for any cooking skill level, it’s perfect for a weeknight meal, as it only takes minutes to throw together and you can get it on the table in a flash. Serve it alongside a gooey grilled cheese sandwich and call it dinner.
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Street Inspiration: Recreating Chi’lantro’s Korean barbecue kimchi fries

Street Inspiration: Recreating Chi’lantro’s Korean barbecue kimchi fries

SIMPLY ADDICTIVE: Korean bulgogi, caramelized kimchi, Cheddar cheese, cilantro, magic sauce, sriracha and sesame seeds atop of a pile of crispy fries.

Back in March, I covered the burgeoning food truck scene here in Austin, Texas, during the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film and interactive festival. There’s a food truck/trailer for just about every type of cuisine here, including many that offer their take on fusion fare. Due to a word limit for print, I didn’t get too in depth about the actual food that these mobile eateries proffer, but I felt like it was time to highlight a few of my favorite dishes (and recipes for recreating them).

For my first installment, I feel it’s necessary to feature the first food truck dish I fell in love with: Chi’lantro’s Korean-American fusion kimchi fries. Though I can appreciate a wide range of cuisines and top-notch ingredients, it’s simple comfort food that I end up craving at the end of the day (or after a long night hitting the local bar scene) and this dish is just that. Exotic and tangy Korean barbecue and kimchi is piled atop a bed of warm, crispy French fries and topped with cheese, cilantro, “magic sauce”, Sriracha and sesame seeds. Not the healthiest pick, but it’s for darn sure one of the best eats in the city.

I had been itching to recreate this recipe at home but couldn’t figure out their exact formula for some of the elements in it. Lucky for me, Chi’Lantro’s chef and owner Jae Kim shared his secret recipe in the May issue of Food & Wine Magazine. While the original formulation is divine, I can never follow a recipe without putting my own spin on it. So here’s my take on this Korean barbecue junk food treat. Try it once and I promise you’ll be hooked.

One quick note on the kimchi (or “kimchee”): While fermented cabbage may not sound very appetizing, this element is key to the dish. If you’re ambitious and have the necessary ingredients on-hand — like Korean chili powder and salted shrimp — and a month to ferment it, make your own at home. Otherwise, you can most likely find it already prepared at at your local Asian market. It’s a fabulous condiment to have in your fridge whether you’re making this, serving it alongside a traditional Korean dish, or even slapping it in a grilled cheese sandwich (which is also amazing).
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Très délicieux: Strawberry Napoleons with vanilla pastry cream and strawberry-thyme jam

Très délicieux: Strawberry Napoleons with vanilla pastry cream and strawberry-thyme jam

As General Napoleon Bonaparte once stated, “If you want a thing done well, do it yourself,” so the next time you’re entertaining and have to make dessert, in the don’t half-ass it by buying a cake at the supermarket. Get in the kitchen and express your culinary flair with a homemade treat like these strawberry Napoleons (no short Frenchmen needed). This take on the traditional French dessert (a.k.a.: mille-feuille) is made up of layers of flaky puff pastry smothered with vanilla pastry cream and strawberry-thyme jam, topped with fresh strawberries and powdered sugar. I promise you don’t need to be a trained pastry chef to pull this off.

The homemade jam I used was infused with fresh thyme — a lovely sweet-savory combination — but feel free to use store bought instead. (Tip: Infuse store bought jam with thyme by heating both together with a little water in a pot over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, then let cool to room temperature.) As for the vanilla pastry cream (a cooked custard), you can have the bragging rights by making it yourself, but if you’re in a pinch, simply use vanilla pudding in its place.

I urge you to go forth and conquer this dish for a special occasion (or any dol’ ay), and remember: it won’t be as difficult as the Battle of Waterloo — it’s just dessert.
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Stop the insanity: Ridiculous kitchen tools (and saner alternatives)

Stop the insanity: Ridiculous kitchen tools (and saner alternatives)

Who needs knife skills when you can hack your food to bits with the Slap Chop? (Image: vxla via Flickr Creative Commons)

Single-use kitchen tools, or “unitaskers,” are one of my biggest pet peeves as a cook and culinary instructor. Why waste money on multiple gadgets that only do one thing when you really only need a few (including your own pair of hands) to do a multitude of tasks?

I expected to find a good amount of stupid kitchen tools when doing research for this piece, but even I was surprised at the volume of crap that’s out there. And you know what perplexes me the most? That people buy these things!

Without further ado, I give you my top picks for the most inane, least useful kitchen gizmos and simpler, more sane alternatives to them:
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Top food truck spots of SXSW 2012

Top food truck spots of SXSW 2012

Coolhaus' mobile gourmet treats include this red velvet ice cream sandwich.

The following is an article I wrote for the newspaper that I freelance for, Creative Loafing Tampa. There were plenty more of my favorite food trucks that I could have added to this list, but I unfortunately had the restraint of a 650 word count. Check back later for more musings on the fabulous food trailers and my culinary adventures here in Austin, Texas!

The food truck revolution was late rolling up to the Tampa Bay area, but here in Austin, Texas, it has its roots firmly planted and is one of the city’s main attractions — besides the amazing music scene, of course. Like most things in Texas, the food truck community is big here — one of the biggest in the country, actually, right up there with Chicago and San Diego as the top spots to find mobile eateries. Having moved to Austin from the Bay area almost a year ago, I’ve missed out on the great new food trailers I keep reading about that have been popping up in Tampa and St. Pete, but luckily I can get a taste of trailer food here — and plenty of it.

Like their compatriots in Tampa Bay, Austin’s food trucks aren’t just serving up hot dogs and hamburgers. Fusion food, ethnic eats, American diner classics, gourmet ice cream sandwiches and doughnuts and so much more are available at the “around 1,350” food trucks and trailers in and around Austin as of today. (That’s according to MSNBC.com, which based its count on the number of permits given out by the Austin/Travis County Department of Health.)

Since there are way too many rolling restaurants to sample during the South By Southwest (SXSW) music/film/interactive festival going on in downtown Austin this week, I’ve compiled a list of a few of my many top spots that had either fantastic fare or free munchies (which are not mutually exclusive in all cases). So read on and pay some of these trailers and restaurants a visit the next time you’re deep in the heart of Texas.

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SXSW Madness!

SXSW Madness!

Hey, y’all! Just wanted to let you know that you can catch my SXSW (South By Southwest) festival coverage here on cltampa.com. I’m scouting for free parties (even for non-badge holders), great food, obscure celebrities and more!

Also, be sure to follow my Twitter feed for lots of updates. ———————->

Everyday exotic: Korean Barbecue Beef and Rice Bowl with Bok Choy

Everyday exotic: Korean Barbecue Beef and Rice Bowl with Bok Choy

Being that I’m always experimenting with food, I’ve been on a Korean kick lately. Korea’s food obviously has some similar elements to Chinese and Japanese dishes, but as a whole it’s nowhere near the same. Japanese food seems to be more on the minimalist side of things — with simple, clean flavors — while Chinese cooking (in most regions) uses many ingredients and flavors. Korean cooking lies somewhere in the middle.

Korean cuisine is based on vegetables, meat and rice, and often includes garlic, ginger, pepper flakes, sesame oil, black pepper, vinegars, doenjang (fermented bean paste) and gochujang (fermented red chili paste) — yielding an array of tangy, savory and sometimes spicy dishes.

For my experiment, I took inspiration from two popular Korean dishes: bulgogi and bibimbap. Bulgogi is traditionally thinly sliced beef sirloin that has been marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic and other ingredients. It is then quickly grilled or stir-fried and served with lettuce (to wrap the meat in) and a dipping sauce.

Bibimbap is a staple of Korean cooking comprised of a bowl filled with rice and topped with meat, usually beef, gochujang, varying combinations of vegetables and a fried egg. The contents in the bowl are typically mixed together while being eaten, which is very fitting as the word bibimbap in Korean literally translates to “mixed meal.”

Put the two dishes together and you get this Korean barbecue beef and rice bowl with bok choy. (See recipe below.) I didn’t have any gochujang on hand, so I substituted red pepper flakes in the marinade. As for the beef, I used the flat iron cut, which is a thinner piece of meat cut from the shoulder section, similar to skirt or flank steak. Flat iron, or “top blade,” steak is a tender, flavorful and inexpensive cut that takes well to marinating and should be cooked quickly over fairly high heat. Don’t go much past medium or it will become tough.


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French breakfast muffins that are c’est magnifique!

French breakfast muffins that are c’est magnifique!

As I’ve confessed before, I’m no pastry chef. I have little patience for exactly measuring and weighing flours, leaveners and extracts, then precisely mixing and baking until a dish is just perfect — but looks too good to even touch. But once in a great while, I get the baking bug and can’t wait to nosh on some carb-laden goodies warm from the oven.

And then I saw them.

While perusing through one of my favorite new cookbooks, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl by food blogger and now Food Network personality, Ree Drummond, I came upon the recipe for her French Breakfast Puffs. These fluffy, cinnamon- and sugar-topped beauties jumped off the page and called to me, “Bake me … bake me …” It was settled. I had to find an excuse to make them.

And ohh … they were so worth it. Tender, fluffiness on the inside with sweet and spiced, slightly crunchy tops — they were pure heaven. Their flavor reminds me of a cinnamon-sugar doughnut. I also like that the actual muffin batter isn’t overly sweet — notice there’s no vanilla extract used — which lets the sugary topping take credit for the sweetness. And talk about easy to make! One large bowl and a handheld mixer were the only items dirtied in the making of these muffins, and they took only five minutes to whip up. I will admit that the hardest part in the process was waiting the 25 minutes for them to bake, then letting them cool enough so I could handle them to apply the topping.

I made a few small changes from the original recipe, like swapping butter for shortening. Using real, quality butter gives these muffins a more, well, buttery flavor. My recommendation, butter-wise, is to use one with a high butterfat content, like the Irish Kerrygold or Plugrá. They’re pricier than store brand butter but have incredibly rich flavor and take baked goods to the next level. If I’m going to be consuming some empty calories, I’m going to make them worth it.

Honestly, I’m not sure if there’s anything particularly French about these muffins, but it doesn’t matter because they’re damn good. Great for breakfast, brunch or even a late-night snack, these French Breakfast Muffins are now going to be a staple of my baking repertoire and I highly encourage you to try them out as well.


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No beans about it: Deep in the heart of Texas, the chili is all beef

No beans about it: Deep in the heart of Texas, the chili is all beef

Now that winter is officially here, there’s nothing more comforting than a hot bowl of stew to warm the body and the soul. My go-to is chili. It’s hearty, comforting and just about foolproof to make.

I had always been a fan of chili with beans, as those little legumes add nice texture and have a fair amount of fiber in them (yes, I care about these things). But since moving to Texas, I’d been meaning to give the state’s signature bean-less style of chili (aka “chili con carne”) a try in the kitchen.

Texans take much pride in their “bowl o’ red,” hence rules number one and two for Texas chili: absolutely no beans included, and it must have a tomato base, be it from the addition of tomato paste and/or canned tomatoes. No white, green or bean-laden types can be called true Tex chili here. Typically you’ll see Texas chili made with beef chuck or brisket, but if you don’t have all day to wait for it to cook, use ground beef (and don’t even think about using that lean stuff).

As for the cooking vessel, cast iron is the way to go. Its even heat distribution means everything inside gets cooked evenly — no scorched bottom and lukewarm surface. If you don’t have a cast iron, don’t fret; just make sure you stir your chili occasionally so that the bottom of the batch doesn’t burn. To finish off the dish, fresh cilantro, shredded cheese and onions are great options. I used a smoked cheddar to top mine and it added a smoky kick that nicely complemented the toasted chiles and spices in the dish. A side of cornbread or warm, soft tortillas to dip in the chili also make tasty accompaniments.
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