Yangzhou Fried Rice

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So, I have this soft spot.

It’s pretty frequent that whenever I’m in a shopping center or a private small business or restaurant and I see that the workers/owners aren’t getting much business, I feel really bad and sympathetic towards them. Yes, even if they’re those people that set up the stands in the mall and try to accost you while you’re walking just to test/buy their product. I know that the retail/food industry business is cutthroat and very competitive. I know that it’s not my fault if they have slow business. I know that I’m not obligated to buy anything- and to be honest, I usually don’t. But it doesn’t keep me from empathizing with them either. They have to make a living like everyone else, and their ability to do so or not depends on whether or not they can convince complete strangers to open their wallets. It’s a real sticky, precarious situation when you think about it.

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Why am I even talking about this? Well, when I was putting together this dish and this post, it made me think of this Asian restaurant that used to be in the food court of the local mall when I was still in grade school, years ago. I won’t say the name of the place, but it was independently owned by this couple that looked like they were in their mid-to upper 50’s. Every time I went to the mall, it just never seemed like anyone was buying anything from this place. The man and his wife would come in and out of the kitchen in the back, filling and emptying the dishes they had available, all the while looking at the passing shoppers as if wishing just a few of them to stop and buy something- anything- from their restaurant. If I can be completely honest, I’ll just go ahead and admit that there was a good reason that this place didn’t get much business. All of the ‘standard fare’ that you’d see in an American Chinese restaurant was on their menu, but the sad reality was that it wasn’t really well seasoned. Like, at all. Their recipes needed serious work.

I can still remember how sorry I felt for them, even as a little girl. And I wished I could’ve been able to tell that I really felt like they would’ve gotten more business if they changed up how they made their fried rice.

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It’s just my personal opinion, but I do think that a good Chinese restaurant starts with how they make their fried rice. In my experience, if they make excellent fried rice, then chances are the rest of the menu is pretty spot on too. Because let me just say up front one thing that I’ve learned: all fried rice is NOT created equal. I’ve had some really good fried rice over the years, and then I’ve had some that was frankly, pretty terrible. It wasn’t until I decided to make some for myself that I realized how easy it is for fried rice to go wrong. And to be perfectly honest, there are a couple of Chinese restaurants I’ve been to that make fried rice that taste even better than this recipe. But nobody’s perfect, and I do have to say that I’m pleased with how it came out for my first time….er, maybe my second. Technically.

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See, technically my first attempt didn’t turn out so well. I maaaaaaay have ruined the first batch of Jasmine rice that I made. The rice is supposed to be one day old, so I made the Jasmine rice the night before I wanted to make the fried rice. It was really late at night and I was in a hurry to get to bed, so long story short, I don’t think I let it cook long enough. There was too much moisture still in the rice by the next day so the grains stuck together. Have you ever tried to ‘stir-fry’ gummy rice? It doesn’t work very well. And turns out, it tastes pretty bad too.

As rotten luck would have it, that was all the fresh Jasmine rice I had. All that was left in my pantry was Minute rice that you steam in water in the microwave. So I was forced to call in the cavalry on this one, folks. It’s still rice, it just didn’t need that long to cook. You won’t hold it against me, will you? I mean, it turned out into a pretty yummy dish. And now, you guys know that this dish can me made with Minute Rice and still turn out pretty awesome. It’s all apart of Cooking is My Sport Quality Control, I swear.

I’ll be bringing this dish to this week’s Fiesta Friday #39, hosted by Angie@TheNoviceGardener and co-hosted this week by Suzanne @apuginthekitchen and Sue @Birgerbird, See you there!

 

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Yangzhou Fried Rice

Recipe Courtesy of Ching-He Hunag

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and grated ginger
  • 1 medium carrot, cut in 1/4-inch dice
  • 4 ounces cooked Chinese pork (char siu) or ham, cut in 1/4-inch dice
  • 3 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and diced
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 cups cooked jasmine rice, a day old
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 to 2 green onions, sliced on a diagonal, for garnish

Directions

1. For the fried rice: Heat a wok over high heat and add 1 tablespoon peanut oil. Add the eggs and scramble, then set aside on a plate.

2. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil to the wok. Add the ginger and stir-fry for less than 1 minute. Then add the carrots and stir-fry for 1 minute more.

3. Add the pork, and mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Then add the peas and cooked rice and toss together. Add the cooked egg back into the wok.

4. Season the mixture with the light soy sauce, salt and pepper. At the very end add the sesame oil, if using. Check the seasoning and adjust to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with green onions and serve immediately.

Squash Casserole

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When I was putting this post together, I couldn’t stop thinking about this game that me and my twin sister Jas would play when we were little kids.

We grew up in the 90’s, where there were still such things as boom boxes, walkmans and cassette tapes around. I’m sure most of you still remember those, but for the ‘youngins’ that don’t, it’s cool- just google it. Anyway, my mom kept a large number of blank cassette tapes around that she used to make copies of music albums or church sermons. Eventually it got to the point where we had too many lying around that really weren’t serving any particular purpose.

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Jas and I has this weird quality of being able to make a game out of just about anything. Blank cassette tapes were no different, and one summer day we came up with the idea of using the cassette tapes, as well as two double deck boom boxes we had to record ourselves in a game. We would pretend that we were DJs on our very own imaginary radio station. I played the radio station’s primary ‘Host’, and Jas played the primary ‘Sponsor’- (why the sponsor would be on the actual broadcast of the radio show, I don’t know but we always just stuck with that title).

We even gave it a name and slogan: “WSFJ-Where Jesus Is the Way.” We gathered together all of our music cassette tapes and assembled a playlist of mixed Christian contemporary music that we recorded onto the tapes using the double deck. In the true style of actual radio stations, we had commercial breaks in between the songs where Jas as the ‘Sponsor’ would give product endorsements, ads and recommendations. We had a Book Club segment where we shared our favorite books and read off our favorite excerpts. Then there was even a Debate & Discussion segment where the two of us would discuss and debate various topics on the air, taking ‘questions’ from imaginary ‘callers’.

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 It may sound silly to you all now, but for us, it was a real blast. I think we accumulated over seven double sided cassette tapes from our imaginary little ‘radio station’.My mom insisted we keep them even after we grew up, saying that we would like listening to them later.  And it’s nothing if not entertaining  to listen a period in my life when I was young, silly and just having a lot of fun with something seemingly ordinary that me and Jas were able to turn into something we made a lot of fun.

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 What does that have to do with this post? Well, zucchini is one of those things that people tend to have a whole lot of around this time of year as they harvest their gardens, then try to find as many uses of it as possible just to not let it go to waste. When they run out of ideas, they usually start handing it out to other people to see if they can find something to do with it. Unfortunately, I don’t have a personal garden to grow my own zucchini, but fortunately I know a few people that do. And when they unload some of their surplus zucchini on me, I like finding other uses for it other than just zucchini bread (not that zucchini bread isn’t awesome enough on its own.)

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This recipe is one of the easiest, but tastiest ones I’ve ever tried when cooking with zucchini. Once you get our zucchini all chopped up, it all literally comes together in minutes and bakes in less than thirty. I serve it as a side dish, but it’s certainly good enough to eat all on it’s own. I used regular butter Ritz crackers to top it, but I can also see using some other flavored crackers to give it a twist, like ones flavored with garlic or herbs.

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Squash Casserole

Recipe Courtesy of Paula Deen

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 6 cups large diced yellow squash and zucchini
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon your favorite seasoning blend (like Mrs. Dash or Emeril’s Essence)
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup crushed butter crackers (recommended: Ritz)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Saute the squash in a little vegetable oil over medium-low heat until it has completely broken down, about 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Line a colander with a clean tea towel. Place the cooked squash in the lined colander. Squeeze excess moisture from the squash. Set aside.

4. In a medium size skillet, saute the onion in butter for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and mix all ingredients together except cracker crumbs.

5. Pour mixture into a buttered casserole dish and top with cracker crumbs. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve.

My Grandma’s Collard Greens

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Happy Fiesta Friday #31, all! I’m super glad to be headed to today’s party hosted by Angie@TheNoviceGardener. I wanted to save this recipe for a Fiesta Friday because it’s not only one of the best things I’ve ever made, but also because it is very, VERY special to me and my family heritage. A few weeks back, I made a full-blown Southern Meal for my family with Triple Dipped Fried Chicken and Hushpuppies on the side- but as delicious as both the chicken and hushpuppies were, they just wouldn’t have been complete as a meal without this dish.My Grandma’s parents were farmers in Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi. I was too young to be able too be there in their hey-day and see the farm as it was when they weren’t older and infirm, but I’ve heard plenty of stories from my Grandma, Mom and Aunts.

Even though they all lived in Michigan, every summer my Grandpa would take my Grandma and their three daughters down to Mississippi for the summer to visit my Great-Grandparents on their farm. My mom didn’t really like it, for a number of reasons:

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First, she was a self-described “city girl”. My great-grandparents’ farm was literally a on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Because it was the summertime in the Deep South in the mid 70’s, there was (of course) no air conditioning, and the majority of the windows were left open at all hours of the day and night in order to allow the breeze to cool down the house. My mom (having just read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote) was convinced that a serial killer was going to break into the house and murder everyone and tells me that she used to walk around the house, checking and re-checking doors and windows for intruders.

Second, my mom couldn’t get into the whole ‘ farm experience’. My great-grandpa’s enormous hunting dogs on the porch frightened her by running up to the car and surrounding it every time they drove up to the house. Apparently the chickens were demon possessed and chased her around everywhere. Plus, a lot of the food that got served on the table at my great-grandparents’ house came from the farm itself- including the meat. My mom had a hard time eating the chicken that she saw get shot, decapitated, plucked, and butchered just a few hours ago.

One thing she consistently talks about, are the big ‘Meetins’ that they all used to attend. For those who aren’t Southern or aren’t familiar with the Baptist tradition, the big ‘Meetins’ (you have to say it just like that, no ‘g’s allowed) consisted of large gatherings of the local Churches where they would all hold one, long service that LITERALLY lasted all day long, then conclude with a pot-luck style feast composed of all the dishes that each of the women would make before hand and bring to share.

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At any true Southern church meetin, you’re guaranteed to find a pot of greens. They’re almost like a symbol of the South itself. When you eat them, you can practically taste all the history and soul that they come from with every bite.

My Grandma’s greens are the thing of legend. Collard Greens, Mustard Greens, Turnip Greens, and (my personal favorite) Cabbage Greens. She does them all, and she does them all perfectly. I’ve said it before on the blog, and I’m gonna say it again: her greens would be on the menu of foods I would have to eat if I was on Death Row and given a last meal to eat. Give me a big bowl of greens and two hunks of her cornbread, and I don’t even need meat. They’re really that good.

The greens that she makes for the family come straight out of her backyard garden, but I’ve also made this recipe with greens that I’ve bought at grocery stores and farmer’s markets- however, if you know someone who grows greens or can get to a farmer’s market, then I do strongly recommend that you get them that way. The quality of homegrown greens is so much better than the ones you get in the stores.

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My grandma usually uses whole ham hocks to flavor her greens, but because I know that not everyone can get their hands on those (and because depending on where you live, they can get pretty pricey), I adapted this recipe so that it’s do-able for just about anywhere using regular bacon (note: you CAN also use turkey bacon, or even smoked turkey instead of the pork). This recipe is also one where you’re going to have to use your personal taste-testing skills to judge how much or how little seasoning you add. I judge what to add or not add by tasting the liquid given off by the greens after they’ve been cooking half-way through or so (we call that stuff the Pot Likker in the South, and it’s friggin awesome). When they’re done, i do have to emphasize that cornbread with greens is a must- one hunk for dipping in the pot likker, and another hunk for crumbling over the greens themselves.Oh, and if you have access to some zesty, jarred Southern Cha Cha (some people call it Chow Chow), then you need to sprinkle some of that on top too. It’ll send your bowl of greens and cornbread over the edge and into the galaxies of awesomeness.

 I’ve got this down to a science, can’t you tell?

Try this dish, guys. I don’t care if you have so-called ‘picky eaters’ in your house- I was one of those people growing up too. And I STILL couldn’t get enough of these greens.

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My Grandma’s Collard Greens

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 6 bunches of collard greens, washed, stems removed, and sliced into about 1/2 inch thick strips
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 16 oz. thick cut bacon
  • Onion powder
  • Sugar
  • Salt and black pepper
  • About 1 1/2—2 cups low sodium chicken broth

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 450°. Arrange bacon on a cookie sheet and bake for about 10-12 minutes. (The bacon is not supposed to be crispy– it’s okay if it’s still a little floppy or limp.)

2. Remove bacon from tray and roughly chop into lardons, or large chunks. Set aside.

3. Drain the remaining drippings and grease from the sheet pan into a bowl and set aside.

4. Place the greens in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the chicken broth, onion and bacon and mix together. Season the greens with onion powder, sugar, salt and pepper to taste.

5. Cover and allow to cook until greens are tender and wilted, about 35-45minutres, depending on how tender or firm you like them. Make sure the liquid doesn’t get absorbed, or they’ll scorch!

6. Taste the juice the greens are cooking in and adjust for seasoning.

Hushpuppies

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Guys, guess what?

I just got a new computer. After four years, my old Acer finally had to buy the farm. See what had happened was, the power cord jack has been increasingly wearing out to the point where the cord couldn’t stay inside of it by itself.Because new laptops are expensive (and because I’m cheap) I put up with it for a while, just not plugging it in until I needed to, then being sure not to move the laptop too much (or so much as a inch at times). It was super annoying, but I still roughed it out.

But last week, I had myself a little scare. I needed to charge my laptop, so I plugged it in….and nothing happened. It didn’t pick up the signal from the wall charger. And my battery was running low.

Did I mention that all of my photos, documents, programs from the last five years are stored on my Acer laptop? No? They definitely are.

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So yeah, that resulted in a mini freak out on my part where I frantically plugged, unplugged, re-plugged, and re-unplugged my laptop- all while softly muttering prayers to Jesus that if he let my computer charge just one more time, I would promise  to finally stop being such a cheap skate and just get another one. I also may have swore to go serve in a leper colony somewhere for the rest of my life.

(Yes, I know that even if the computer had went dead, I’d be able to take it somewhere to recover the files off my hard drive. I’m not a complete idiot- I was just having a complete melt down and wasn’t thinking straight. Plus, weren’t you listening? I’m a cheapskate. Paying for a new computer AND paying someone to recover the files off my old laptop to transfer to the new one? Ain’t nobody got for that.)

Well, I don’t know which one those promises to Jesus did the trick, but the signal finally did connect between my old Acer and the charger. Crisis averted-temporarily anyway. Now I had to keep  my promise and buy a new laptop. (I’m choosing to assume that He knows my promise about the lepers was just Jessica being His usual, crazy, overeaacting Jessica. He knows I’d be useless in a leper colony, anyway)

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 I got my new laptop a couple of days later, and it’s pretty awesome. All my other laptops have been ‘economic’ purchases, where I bought something that would suit my purposes, but wasn’t the ‘one’ I wanted.

This HP ENVY x360- 15 Touch laptop, is definitely what I want. It’s not only beautiful, it also came with as much space as I could get on a laptop without being a desktop computer. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a new laptop… and isn’t a Mac fan. Because I’m not. #TeamPC til the day I die.

Anyway, moving onto the food. I decided to put a real Southern meal on my family’s table and this was one of the things I made to go on the side with the rest of the food (other recipes from that meal to follow).

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Why are these things called hushpuppies? Do we have something against just calling them what they are (cornmeal fritters)? I was curious, so I did some research (meaning I just googled it) and found out that they get their name from the Civil War Era, where they were thrown to hunting dogs to keep them from scaring prey away, or at picnics/cookouts to make them  ‘hush’. True? Maybe, maybe not- but all I know is that just bout everyone seems to love them.

Hushpuppies are a staple of classic Southern food- they’ve got to be done right, and these don’t disappoint. The exterior is perfectly browned and crisp, with the inside soft and tender. I eat mine several different ways: doused in Frank’s Red Hot, crumbled over my greens, or even dipped in ketchup (it’s good, trust me).

These are an excellent side dish- or you could just eat them all on their own. I wouldn’t judge you.

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Hushpuppies

Recipe Courtesy of Pat and Gina Neely

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • Peanut oil, for frying
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup self rising flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 small Vidalia onion, finely grated
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese, optional

Directions

1. Preheat 2 inches peanut oil in a deep-fryer or Dutch oven to 375. Whisk the cornmeal, flour, 1 teaspoon salt, the sugar, cayenne and paprika in a large bowl to get rid of the lumps.

2. Mix in the remaining ingredients, stirring well to combine.

3. Dip 2 spoons into a mug of water (this allows the batter to come clean off). Scoop up about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the batter and carefully slide it into the hot oil, working in batches. Fry the scoops of batter 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked all the way through (test the first one for doneness).

4. Remove and drain on a paper towel-lined baking sheet, seasoning with salt as they come out of the fryer.

Supreme Pizza Pasta Salad

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I know, I know. Another ‘pizza’ themed recipe. I’m sure it’s kinda getting to be overkill at this point, right?

Well just bear with me one more time. This’ll be the last ‘pizza-style’ recipe I share for a while (at least I THINK it will. I may change my mind about that), and it really was too good NOT to share with you all in the case that you hadn’t heard of it before.

Does pizza have a flavor? I don’t mean the individual ingredients themselves, I mean the actual dish of pizza in and of itself- does it have a specific taste and flavor all on it’s own?

I think so. I mean, I sure can pick out a particular smell at my job and immediately think, “Someone here ordered pizza.”

Then I stick out my bottom lip and kick an imaginary rock because somebody has pizza and they’re not sharing it with me.

I don’t care if it’s just one of the $5 Hot-N-Readys from Little Caesars. When you’re at work and you smell pizza, ANY kind of pizza smells and looks good. And when you don’t get any, you just get in a really rotten mood, then turn back to your crappy food that you brought from home and tell yourself that it tastes just as good. (It definitely doesn’t. Very few things taste as good as pizza.)

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I decided to make this dish purely out of curiosity. I thought it sounded like a good idea, but wasn’t exactly sure if pasta salad- that most famous dish of cookouts that’s usually just seasoned with a bottle of Italian dressing, could actually taste like the ‘flavors’ of a pizza. As it turned out, it really did because the first thing that came out of mouth when I took a bite of this was, “Heh. It tastes like pizza.” (i.i, delicious)

Although the title of this recipe is Supreme Pizza Pasta Salad, I think you should really just adapt it for yourself, and throw whatever you eat on your pizza, into this salad. Supreme Pizza is just what I like, so I used the toppings, plus some roasted red peppers that I roughly chopped up.

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Well, I kinda take that back. There are some rules that go with this when it comes to add-ins. You have to put pepperoni in this- even if you don’t like it on your pizza. And if you don’t like pepperoni on your pizza, then you’re dead to me.

Also, if by some horrible error of your tastebuds in fooling you into believing that you like things like anchovies or black olives on your pizza, then you shouldn’t add them in here either. They’re both disgusting. They’ll ruin the dish.

I’m taking this dish to this week’s Fiesta Friday #28, hosted by  Margot and Saucy.  Give it a shot,  it’s quick, easy, and tastes like pizza: what more do you want from me? 😉

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And now, because I’ve run out of things to say and am too lazy to try and think of anything else to discuss: some completely random facts I hunted down just for you guys.

  • It takes the “Where’s Waldo” artist one month to complete a drawing. (Yeah, I can definitely buy that. I have no idea how that guy can make so detailed drawings that, save for the one itty bitty space where Waldo is hiding, are wholly insignificant. Great talent.)
  • Oprah Winfrey earns $315,000,000/year = $26,000,000/month = $6,000,000/week = $850,000/day = $35,000/hr = $600/minute = $10/sec! (I don’t know whether to be really happy about this because Oprah represents such a Cinderella story, or really depressed because my yearly salary is what she makes in an hour and a half.)
  • Make a fist with your left hand, squeeze your left thumb and then put your right index finger down your throat. “NO GAG REFLEX” (OMG, guys, I actually tried it, and it worked! #MINDBLOWN)

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Supreme Pizza Pasta Salad

Recipe Adapted from Rachael Ray

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
    1/2 medium red onion, chopped
  • 8 fresh white button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 small green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 stick pepperoni, casing removed and cut into a small dice
  • 1 (9.6 oz) bag of pre-cooked sausage crumbles
  • 20 leaves fresh basil, torn or thinly sliced
  • 1 pound rotini pasta, cooked to al dente and cooled under cold water, then drained

Dressing:

  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves or Italian dried seasoning
  • 1 rounded tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, eyeball it
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, eyeball it
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

 Directions

1. Combine tomatoes, onion, mushrooms, peppers, pepperoni, mozzarella, basil and pasta in a big bowl.

2. Whisk garlic salt, oregano or Italian seasoning, tomato paste and vinegar together. Stream in extra-virgin olive oil while continuing to whisk dressing.

3. When oil is incorporated, pour dressing over pasta salad, add a few grinds of black pepper to the bowl. Add the parmesan cheese, then toss salad to coat evenly. Adjust your seasonings and serve salad.

Southern Smothered Potatoes and Onions

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Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to begin today’s post by saying a few things that I love about the South (for my international friends, that’s the Southern USA).

First and foremost, Atlanta is in the South. Atlanta is one of my all time favorite places to go in the entire country. It’s a city full of energy, soul and entertainment. There’s nothing you can do, find or try in Atlanta (except for build a snowman, I’m pretty sure that won’t work.) Every time I visit Atlanta, I always realize how dull and unspectacular my own hometown is and I’m always sad when I have to come back up North to boring old Michigan. If I had a choice of where to live, Atlanta would be at the top of my list for sure.

Although some of us have migrated north, both of my parent’s families are from the South. So I’m a Northern girl with Southern roots. Maybe that’s why I always get sad when I leave Georgia…

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Three words, guys:

The.Waffle. House. We don’t have them in Michigan. This is simply unacceptable to me. Once you pass  over the old Mason Dixon Line, I swear there’s a Waffle House every two miles on the highway. They’re literally everywhere. True story: I didn’t used to like waffles very much. As a little kid, I had eaten more than my fair share of the cardboard-like, tasteless Eggo ‘waffles’ drowned in syrup to make them somewhat edible. I don’t know exactly why I did, maybe it was just apart of the 90’s Kid Rites of Passage. Anyway, it was traumatizing enough to put me off of waffles for years in lieu of My One True Love (pancakes). The one year, I was visiting my Aunt who lives near Atlanta, and she suggested that we go out for breakfast to a Waffle House so that we could try one of their “special recipe” waffles. I was skeptical. It was ‘just’ a waffle, right? How ‘special’ could it be, right?

That was what I thought then. Now? Well, now, I’m pretty convinced that the Waffle House “special recipe” for their waffles is injected with some kind of drugs. That’s the only way I can explain waffles being that friggin delicious and leave me always wanting more.

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Additional pluses for the South in my book: Disney World, Miami Beach, no snow storms that cause city-wide power outages over the holidays (see this post), amazing scenery, older AND younger men calling me “Ma’am” or “Darlin”, women calling me “Honey”.

Then there’s the accents. Random fact: if I spend a certain amount of time in the South, I will begin to pick up a Southern accent of my own. I  know it sounds weird, but I mean it. Before long, I’ll be dropping my ‘g’s and developing a drawl/twang and the whole she-bang. Again, that could just be my Southern roots calling me ‘home’.

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Then of course, there’s the food. Southern Cuisine has to be my favorite regional food to both eat and cook. There’s a reason why it’s called Soul Food, guys: you can literally taste the heart, soul and love that goes into it.

And in case you all didn’t know, in the South heart, soul and love usually translates into the 3 B’s: Bacon, Butter and Booze- not necessarily in that order. Personally, I don’t really consume much of these 3 ingredients on their own. I’m a lightweight when it comes to alcohol, I don’t like the taste of it, and it gives me a stomach ache- but will I still marinate a pork roast in whiskey? Oh yeah. Usually I try to sub out butter for healthier options when trying to sautee or flavor a dish, but there are some instances where nothing but butter will do, like when making pound cake and pie crust. Then I’m the Butter Queen.

Please don’t slaughter me when I say this: but I can really live without eating bacon on it’s own. Don’t get wrong: the smell is fantastic, but I can do without actually eating the finished product, regardless of whether it’s chewy or crisp. On the other hand; to me, bacon grease (the liquid stuff that gets leftover in the pan or skillet) may as well be the Nectar of the Gods. It’s everything. Everything that matters when cooking.

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One of the oldest, most priceless cooking tips that I learned from my true blue, Deep South, Mississippi born and bred grandma was this: save.your.grease.

Bacon grease. Chicken grease. Fish grease. After you’re finished cooking the proteins, don’t just throw it out. That’s bad. Strain it through a fine sieve to get out the bits, then pour it into mason jars and give them their own label. I’m serious. I know, it may sound weird (and maybe even a little nasty), but  trust and believe: you will thank me for this later. I watched my grandma do this for years without fully understanding why it was so valuable- then I started cooking for myself, and found out that she was a genius.

Drained grease (especially pork grease) does something for food that no ordinary, ground seasoning can even come close to. It’s…it’s almost like pure magic, guys. This dish completely proves my point. It originally started as a dish that we made up in my house for when my church was doing a fast that was kinda similar to the month of Catholic Lent, except we did ours during the month of January and the beginning of February. Usually, we just did things like give up eating solid meat, bread or sweets- nothing too serious, it’s more of the idea that counts in these cases. Anyway, my mom and my grandma made this dish quite a few times during the fast, as it’s a meal that’s delicious and satisfying enough to where you don’t even miss the meat at all.

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Now, I’ll be honest with you all: I was very light handed when it came to putting together this recipe because it’s just one of those things that I put together and season to personal taste. I’m very liberal when it comes to my seasonings, but I can admit that not everyone is like me, and as such, may have a completely different palate. So when it came to seasoning, what I did was give you all the ingredients that I put in the dish, then let you decide how much of it you want to add. As far as Garlic and Onion powder are concerned my advice would be to not be shy: it’s hard to add too much of those, so I usually add a liberal coating over the potatoes and onions, stir, then add another liberal coating and stir again. With salt and pepper, you’ll need to be more careful, as it’s much easier to over salt or over pepper a dish. Butter Buds are basically dried, powdered Butter flakes that make potatoes basically irresistible. It’s also a healthier alternative to using straight butter. They can be found in the spice aisle of grocery stores, and really are worth the buy if you can find them in your area.

 After they’re done cooking, the potatoes become tender on the inside and crisp on the outside, forming that delectable crust that reminds me of hash browns. The nearly caramelized onions should be limp and they really provide the perfect, slightly sweet complement to the saltiness of the potato. And to top it all off, there is a slight aftertaste of bacon thanks to the potatoes and onions being cooked in the liquid bacon grease.

You guys, this food is the South on a plate. It really speaks to my heritage and style of cooking, and just tastes phenomenal.

I decided to bring this to the Fiesta Friday party this week, hosted this week by Elaine@Foodbod and Julianna@Foodie On Board. Hope you guys like this little taste of the South 🙂

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Southern Smothered Potatoes & Onions

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup liquid bacon grease
  • 4 lbs russet potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • Onion Powder to taste
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Butter Buds, to taste

 Directions

1. Heat a cast iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium high heat.

2. Drizzle about 2 tbsp of the bacon grease into the pan, swirl about to evenly cover the surface.

3. Add enough potatoes and onions to pan to fill up. (You will have to do this in multiple batches).Sprinkle a generous coating of the onion powder, garlic powder, and butter buds over the potatoes and onions. Stir to evenly coat, then add a little bit more if necessary.

4. Add the salt and pepper to the potatoes and onions (be a little less generous with these, I typically do about 1 tsp of each per batch).

5. Cover the pan and allow to cook until potatoes are brown, tender and slightly crisp at the edges, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking at the bottom of the skillet.

6. Repeat steps 2-6 in batches with the remaining potatoes and onions and serve.

 

Sesame Glazed Sweet Potatoes

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I’ve mentioned to you guys before that when I find a new habit or trend, or something  in general that I like, I will wear it out TO DEATH until I’m either sick of it, or until I find a new something to wear out to death.

Me and my twin sister Jas are really alike in that (among other things: our DNA  also happens to be exactly the same.) Take movies for instance; when we were growing up, we went through a phase where when we found a movie we liked, we watched it every chance we got. I find a new favorite song and it gets put on constant repeat on my iPod . I find a new interesting tv show and will faithfully watch it ever week, or if its old, I will have entire marathons of it on Netflix until I get through it all.

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So far as good goes, I’m on a root vegetable kick right now.  For a long time, I’ve just always wanted to eat a side of root vegetables with my dinner. Mostly it’s been a mix between rutabagas and sweet potatoes. I can decide which I like more honestly. Although it may not seem like it, rutabagas too have a unmistakable sweetness to them that’s so clearly highlighted when they’re roasted. If you guys don’t believe me, then you should try this recipe for Herb Roasted Rutabaga that I posted a few weeks ago- if you’re not typically a fan of them, I promise you: I’m going to make you a ‘believer’ with 2 rutabagas, and a handful of dried herbs. Because I’m a miracle worker….okay not really, but I am a pretty good cook 😉

Asian Sweet Potatoes3 Tagged

 I’m experimenting with different recipes to mix things up so that I don’t get too bored. After all, variety’s the spice of life. Right now, this is my new sweet potato recipe that I’m really fond of.  Trust me, it tastes every bit as good as it looks.

I never would have thought initially to apply Asian style flavors to sweet potatoes. But let me tell you guys, it REALLY works. The saltiness of the soy sauce is perfect with the sweetness of the honey as well as the natural sweetness of the potatoes. The sesame seeds give it a subtle earthy and almost nutty aftertaste. I served them with a chicken stir-fry that I made my family for dinner ( the recipe and pics are very soon to follow).

Asian Sweet Potatoes2 Tagged

Random/Embarrassing Fact: About a year ago, I was on another carrot/sweet potato kick and I ate so many of them that I LITERALLY started turning orange. Seriously. I’m not joking. I went into my doctor for a general check up and she literally gasped and asked what happened to me. I didn’t notice until I stood under a fluorescent light in her office and held out my hands: my palms were the color of a carrot. My skin is naturally kind of yellow, so…suffice to say it just wasn’t a good look. I had no idea that consuming too much Vitamin A (which is dominant  in carrots and sweet potatoes) can do that. Now I do. So as delicious as these sweet potatoes are, I do try to be a little more careful to not make them take up the most space on my plate.

I try. I may not always succeed. Try this recipe and you’ll definitely understand why.

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Sesame Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Recipe Courtesy of Cookstr.com

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  •  5 orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (yams), peeled
  •  2 tbsp olive oil
  •  Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  •  2 tbsp sesame seeds
  •  1 tbsp honey
  •  1 tbsp soy sauce

 Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

2. Cut the potatoes into large chunks and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil and season with salt and pepper.

3. Roast the potatoes for 30 minutes, turning halfway through, until almost tender.

4. Mix together the sesame seeds, honey, and soy sauce. Pour  over the sweet potatoes, and toss.

5. Roast 20 minutes more, or until well glazed and tender.

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts {Thanksgiving Recap}

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I’ve never had a problem eating my vegetables.

When I was growing up as a young girl, I never really understood what the big deal was with kids my age never wanting to eat their veggies. As I’ve mentioned before, my grandparents have grown their own produce garden for as long as I can remember. Come summer/autumn time, we always had an abundance of collards, cabbage and turnip greens, green beans, tomatoes, lima beans, peppers, and sometimes squash. And I ate all of them with a smile on my face. If you guys were able to try my grandma’s cooking, you’d know why. There are very few vegetables that I don’t like. The only one I can think of now are peas. The pasty, mushy texture? Yeah, not a fan at all. Now any other vegetable you put in front of me: corn, carrots, spinach, squash, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower- I can eat those all day.

Also brussel sprouts. Brussel sprouts definitely fall into that category too.

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I really don’t know why brussel sprouts get such a bad rap. I’ve heard from their haters that it’s the slightly bitter after taste that they have, but I actually like that earthy bitterness. I’ve had them in just about every preparation you can think of and whether they’re roasted, sauteed, or even just steamed, the verdict for me is always the same: they’re delicious.

Anyone who claims they don’t like vegetables has clearly never had them when they’re roasted. Roasting practically any kind of vegetable brings out a subtle, but unmistakable sweetness to them that is seriously addictive. Brussel sprouts are no exception to this, and the blending of the natural bitterness of the vegetable and the sweetness from the roasting makes them even more tasty. Any parents out there who’s kids don’t like vegetables? Here’s a  humble word of advice from your cook-lete Jess: roast them. Trust me, they’ll come around soon enough. Any parents out there whose kids don’t eat brussel sprouts? Make them these. Again trust me: they’ll come around soon enough.

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This is my go-to recipe for when I want brussel sprouts. To be perfectly honest, I usually don’t even measure out the seasonings, it’s more of a throw-it-all-together in a pan kind of things. However, when I was making them for Thanksgiving dinner, I made some measurement estimations for you guys- because I love you. They were a delicious (not to mention healthy) welcome addition to our Thanksgiving dinner, and are still a welcome and healthy addition to my dinner, at any time of year.

Remember: don’t forget to eat your veggies! (i.e., these ones)

FEED(ME) BACK: What’s your favorite vegetable?

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

*2 bags of fresh brussel sprouts (about 2 pounds), washed, trimmed and cut in half

*2 tablespoons olive oil

*1/2 tablespoon onion powder

*1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

*1/2 teaspoon salt

*1/2 teaspoon black pepper

*1 teaspoon brown sugar

*1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 425°. Spray a 9×12 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Stir all of the spices together in a small bowl.

3. Place the brussel sprouts in the baking dish, then pour the olive oil on top. Stir.

4.  Sprinkle the combined spice on over the sprouts, and toss together, making sure they are even coated.

5. Place in oven and roast for about 40-45 minutes, stirring halfway. The brussel sprouts are done when softened, dark green and slightly charred on top. Serve.

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Baked Corn Casserole

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Let’s talk side dishes, shall we?

They’re mainly meant to be the wind beneath the wings of the main course. They usually don’t take very much effort to put together. They’re usually some kind of vegetable or starch. They’re also meant to be the back-up just in case the main dish doesn’t quite fill you up all the way.

Side dishes in my family are kind of a big deal. Whether it’s for a holiday or special occasion, or just an ordinary dinner, we always take them pretty seriously, even to the point where they can be just as popular and in high demand as the main dish.  Plain, store-bought steamed veggies that have just been heated up in a microwave? Uh, no. That’s not gonna fly ’round these parts. I’m gonna need for you to step up your game.

Baked Corn1My grandparents have their own vegetable garden and for as long as I can remember, we’ve been eating their produce for side dishes. My grandma’s greens are unsurpassed in the entire history of cooking. Period. I could seriously eat a bowl of her cabbage greens and cornbread every.single.day.of.my.life. No joke. Ditto with her green beans. Because of her, I had no problem eating my vegetables growing up. Smothered cabbage with bacon is another family favorite of ours- mine taste good, but I’m also willing to admit that Ashley’s taste slightly better (I said SLIGHTLY Ash, don’t get a big head).  No one else really digs them, but I’m crazy about oven roasted brussel sprouts too. I also make a mean pot of barbecue baked beans for our cookouts. Don’t worry. Come Memorial Day, you guys will be getting that recipe.

Then there’s baked corn. We’ve been eating this as a staple side dish in my family for a pretty long time now. One of my mom’s co-workers introduced it to her and from the first, we were huge fans. I’m sure many of you are familiar with this dish yourselves- and if you’re not, then you’re certainly gonna be. Because it’s not only really good, it’s also incredibly easy and quick to make. Most of the ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen, and you can put them together in a real ‘Jiffy’.

*Rimshot*

I know. That was a really lame joke. Just try to bear with me here.

Baked Corn4So for those of you that have never had it before, Baked Corn is like a cross between a very moist cornbread, and a tender corn souffle. If you’ve ever had spoon bread, this is very close to that, only a little more spongy in texture. As I said before, it’s really very good. In addition, unlike when when cooking a souffle, you don’t have to worry about things like ice baths, or the casserole rising or falling once out of the oven. It’s almost embarrassing how simple this recipe really is. So have no fear beginner cook-letes. You’d be really hard pressed to mess it up.

I’m giving a very basic, straight-forward version of this recipe, but after you try it for the first time and decide you love it (and you will), I’d recommend any number of ways to take it to the next level, even elevating it beyond a mere ”side-dish’. For instance, I could definitely see adding crumbled, pre-cooked sausage, ham or bacon along with a slew of diced onions and peppers to make this a ‘main casserole dish’. The original recipe also includes cheese- we’re not huge cheese fans in my family, so I never include it, but if you are then feel free to throw it on top of yours in the last 15 or so minutes of baking.

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This is a really great dish not only for side dishes at dinner, but for a dish to pass at potlucks or picnics. It also tastes just as good cold as it does hot. I’ve never done it before, but I could easily see the casserole divided into muffin tins for individual portions as well- just be sure to lessen the baking time by about 15-20 minutes depending upon your oven.

Finally, for those looking to slightly ‘lighten’ this recipe up, that’s quite simple to do as well. The sour cream can be replaced with a plain Greek yogurt (I say Greek yogurt because it has a thicker consistency than regular that more closely mimics the sour cream.  Butter could be substituted for melted coconut oil, or even melted Earth Balance spread. I’m not going to promise you that it will taste the same as the original though. (because let’s face it, nothing competes with Butter. It’s a rule of nature, and who am I to argue with that?)

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Baked Corn Casserole

Recipe Adapted from Paula Deen

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 1/4-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 (14 3/4-ounce) can cream-style corn
  • 1 (8-ounce) package corn muffin mix (recommended: Jiffy)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the 2 cans of corn, corn muffin mix, sour cream, melted butter,  onion powder,  garlic powder and paprika.

3. Pour into a greased 9 by 13-inch casserole dish. Bake for 50 minutes, or until golden brown.

4.  Let stand for at least 5 minutes and then serve warm.