Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cinco De Mayo -- Queso is the New Chowder

In New England, my family would use New England Clam Chowder as the deciding factor as to whether or not a restaurant was any good. Seafood restaurants especially, but anywhere that claimed to be able to make a decent chowder was subject to this test. In my experience, the top two winners were Union Oyster House in Boston, and The Newes in Martha's Vineyard. Figures, the closer to the coast, the better the chowdah. And their lobster bisque, which I may prefer to chowder but shhh, don't tell.

In Texas, we can't quite do that. The coast is far away and while I've found perfectly decent sushi (nothing amazing, not yet) seafood isn't very popular. Unless it's fried catfish or crawfish, which are good in their own right but are just not the same... Tex-Mex, however, is everywhere. Even at non-Mexican restaurants. And, it's delicious. Once I was introduced to queso I ended up looking for it on every menu I encountered. So, Queso is the new Clam Chowder for my little family and me in our new home city.

Obviously, for my Cinco De Mayo week of recipes, queso had to be on the list of recipes to attempt.

While it isn't quite on par with Chuy's or Maria's, I think I held my own pretty well here. It's delicious, full of veggies, and doesn't congeal as quickly as most. Pair with corn chips, a Mexican Martini, and have a blast gearing up for your Cinco De Mayo activities with this awesome app!

Queso Dip
  • 1 small red pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, de-seeded and sliced (wheels would have been better, but I diced mine)
  • 1 tbs butter + 1 tbs olive oil
  • 2 tbs flour (I used Bob's Red Mill gluten free)
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (I used Cheddar Jack and Colby Jack)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream

-In a deep skillet, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add veggies, and cook until just soft.

-Sprinkle flour over veggies and mix until well combined. Slowly add the milk and cream, stirring vigorously. Let cook until the mixture is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Add a bit more flour if necessary.

-Add cheese in three batches, letting each batch melt into the mix completely before adding the next.

-Let bubble for 3 minutes or so, then fold in the sour cream. Serve with corn chips for dipping. Also makes a great sauce for... well, just about anything.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Cinco De Mayo Week -- Mexican Martini

So far, when friends and family have visited me in my new home of Austin, Texas, this is the first thing they say:

"Wow! I didn't realize it was so GREEN here!"

I understand. I, too, was expecting Texas to look more like this:

And less like this:

Or this:

Or this:

In reality, Austin is pretty green. I can't quite speak for other parts of the state, and I'm sure it gets a bit desert-ish, but at first glance it looks a whole lot like New England. In some parts, anyway. Then you realize all the lawns look like patchwork quilts because they get their grass installed instead of planted–this is something that amuses me to no end, though I'm sure I'll get used to it in time.

Anyways, I had a whole bunch of dear friends visit over the past week and it was just a wonderful time. I LOVE showing my friends my new city, and it gives me an excuse to wander around parts I might not have tried myself. For example, that first picture is of me at Enchanted Rock. A leisurely "half mile hike" that nobody told me was half a mile STRAIGHT UP. Note my outfit. It was not the ideal hiking getup.

I am in blue. I am also feeling like I want to die.

Anyways, there's a pretty big holiday coming up for my new little city: Cinco De Mayo. I usually throw a recipe or two on the blog to celebrate, but it was only because it's kind of a "food holiday" not necessarily because it meant anything to me.

Now that I'm a Southerner (or will be, in time), I suppose it's my new St. Patrick's Day. An excuse to cook, drink, and hopefully give me an excuse to research the history of it a bit more. I'm sure this weekend is going to be a little nuts with all the celebration. A cursory glance at Wikipedia assures me that Tex-Mex is okay recipe-wise, since it's become more of a Mexican American Holiday. Not Mexican independence, since that is another date altogether.

And I'm not going to pretend I know more more than that.

I figured I'd start off the week of recipes with a drink. The Mexican Martini is a wonderful beverage that is a staple at every Tex-Mex restaurant in town. It's like a martini and a margarita had an incredible love child–the punch of liquor you'd expect from a martini, with the flavors of a margarita with a hint of briny olive. It's seriously delicious and a great drink to sip on the porch.

Mexican Martini
(recipe adapted from Texas Monthly)
3 oz tequila 
1.5 oz orange liquer (I used Triple Sec)
1.5 oz lime juice 
.5 ounce green-olive brine
.5 oz orange juice 
Orange wedge for garnish (I used a clementine)

-Shake over ice in a cocktail shaker and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with lime or orange slice. 

My pictures are a little better this year but if you want to see my past Cinco De Mayo recipes, check it out:
-Year 1 of QLCC (omg these pictures SUCK)
-Year 2 of QLCC (getting better but pretty awful still)
-Year 3 of the QLCC (still not the best but not laughable!)
-Year 4... well, just keep your eyes peeled ;)

Kind of fun to see how much I've grown, actually!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Quick Carrot Slaw and Finicky Fiancés

Problem: Fiance dislikes all green food. Meaning side dishes are incredibly difficult to accomplish.

To me, BBQ needs a good slaw on the side. Preferably a vinegar-based situation. However, Cory won't touch anything green, so my slaw supplies are typically low, since a cabbage will go bad before I can consume it all myself. When I made my BBQ Chicken I really needed a palate cleanser and a fresh veggie combo to help tone down the heat and heaviness.

Carrots are one of the few veggies he'll eat, and while he didn't want to try this quick and tasty slaw, I knew the rest of the carrots wouldn't go to waste in the fridge. This slaw is quick and easy and makes a great tangy, light bite to pair with the spicy-sweet BBQ.

The carrots were provided by Grimmway Farms, who is sponsoring our Brunch Week, coming soon! I love their carrots. I used the shredded variety here, but their carrot chips are PERFECT for dips and hummus!

Quick Carrot Slaw

  • 1 cup carrots
  • 1/4 cup julienned cucumber
  • 4 tbs white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbs brown sugar
  • pinch of pepper
  • optional: sesame seeds

-Mix all ingredients together and let sit in fridge for at least 10 minutes. Serve cold.

Monday, April 21, 2014

BBQ Apartment Chicken -- When the BBQ Craving Hits and You Can't Own a Grill

Guess what. In most urban apartment complexes, charcoal grills are not allowed. Nor are smokers.

That's right: I'm in Texas, the LAND OF BBQ and I am denied my own BBQ setup.

It's really quite a tragedy.

There's a communal one in the pool area, but then you must brave the hoards of little children to get to it. Or wait in line while someone else grills up burgers. I'm also pretty sure you have to supply your own charcoal and I don't think either of us is really into having to clean up after ourselves or clean out the leftovers from someone else.

And since I can't quite afford to go out for deeeelicious BBQ (maybe at Salt Lick, or Rudy's, or someday even Franklin's) every single night, I had to come up with a backup plan. Apparently a standing George Foreman electric grill is okay, but I haven't gotten quite that desperate yet.

So, friends, I give you this gift: BBQ Apartment Chicken. For those other poor souls who must make do with stovetops in lieu of a grill of their own. And if you're still in college and happen to have a forgiving fire alarm, perhaps you could even get away with making this in the common room of your dorm (be sure to thank me when the single males come to investigate the tantalizing smell though, okay?).

Feel free to sub store-bought BBQ for this homemade version, and I encourage you to experiment with other flavors you may just have hanging out in your pantry to really jazz this up.

For me, the key was extra dark vanilla brown sugar and a bit of a heavy-handed pour of homemade hot sauce. I also put just a few extra splashes of cider vinegar and orange extract. The result was a tangy, slightly fruity, spicy sauce that was just perfect. Because a BBQ craving does not always hit when one is well stocked with BBQ sauces.

I paired it with some browned butter green beans--I would have added bacon bits if I'd had them--and a quick carrot slaw using the Grimmway Farms carrots I got in the mail for the upcoming Brunch Week party. All in all, a pretty successful endeavor.

Quells a BBQ craving, if nothing else.

Easy Apartment BBQ Chicken

  • 1 lb chicken tenders or breasts
  • BBQ Sauce:
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 3 heaping tbs brown sugar
  • 4 tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbs cider vinegar
  • 1 tbs hot sauce (I used homemade
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp orange extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt

-Mix together all sauce ingredients. Toss chicken with 1/4 of the BBQ mixture, and let sit in fridge for about 10 minutes.

-Heat a skillet or grill pan to high heat. Cook chicken in batches of 4 pieces, and cook until slightly charred on both sides (about 5 minutes per side).

-Serve with more BBQ sauce poured on top.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Kirin Ichiban Inspired Dinner -- Sushi/Maki and Stir Fry #sponsored #MC #KirinUSA

Note: I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Millennial Central for Kirin. I received product samples to facilitate my review as well as a promotional item to thank me for my participation. However, all opinions are my own and I would never review a product I did not believe in.

My love affair with sushi began young. As you may know, my Dad was a terrible cook (though, much to our chagrin, he cooked... a lot), so it was always a treat when he brought home something store-bought when my brother and I would visit him on the weekends. Whole Foods sushi, though it was called Bread & Circus then, was one of my favorite take-out dinners. It was light, fresh, and felt "cool" to my 11-year-old brain who knew sushi was the favorite of hip teenagers on tv.

It wasn't until years later that I realized the pre-packaged, refrigerated sushi was nothing compared to a REAL roll from a true Japanese restaurant. Accompanied by sake, or Japanese beer. My one true sushi love will always be Zen in downtown Northampton, but I've been dying for the chance to try my hand at making some myself.

SO, I was absolutely thrilled when I was accepted into Millennial Central's campaign for Kirin Ichiban! My mission: to create a Japanese-inspired dish that compliments Kirin's clean, crisp flavor profile. Kirin has partnered with celebrity chef, Candice Kumai, to bring Japanese-style beer to the growing Asian cuisine movement. Throughout the year, Kumai will share special recipes and pairing tips on Kirin’s Facebook page.

Kirin Ichiban is one of Japan’s oldest breweries, with a history dating back to 1888. The beer is a 100-percent malt, first-press beer that only uses the first strain of malt liquid, which means it’s literally beer at its purest. It's a great beer for just about any meal, but is created with Japanese flavors in mind. In Japan, it's served with a scoop of frozen beer on top--kind of like a beer slushie! American bars are apparently catching onto this trend too, I hope it hits Austin before the 90 degree temps do... for more information on Kirin, check out their website.

This is actually the beer that Cory orders whenever I drag him to a sushi restaurant. I've noted his disappointment when he has to order a competitor beer--"they WISH they were Kirin," he sighs. Seriously, this is no joke. I'm pretty sure he was excited to be the fiancé of a food blogger the day I got the box of beer in the mail.

So it was only fair that, in addition to my sushi experiment, I make a dish for Cory to enjoy his Kirin with, since my meat-n-potatoes fiancé does not like sushi one bit.

Once I started, I just couldn't stop, and ended up making three different rolls. I made two traditional rolls–California and Philadelphia–and one that I came up with on my own: tempura shrimp with mango and avocado, topped with eel sauce. I am not a huge beer connoisseur, though I am learning, so I tend to stick to the lighter beers. Kirin Light was perfect for me and my sushi FEAST I created for myself. I used a sip of Kirini Light and a bit of pickled ginger in between rolls for the ultimate palate cleanser.

For Cory, I made a heavier dish--a Japanese-inspired stir fry. This was a better fit for Kirin Ichiban. The slightly-sweet, slightly-spicy, thick sauce made with ginger, mirin wine, and soy sauce complimented the smooth Kirin Ichiban.  Cory said that the beer was "crisp, smooth but still flavorful. A slight fruitiness that counteracts the heaviness of the food."

Overall, this was a really fun campaign, and really opened my eyes to the versatility of Kirin beer. I think it'd make an awesome summer BBQ beer, too!

(Adapted from recipes by Alton Brown, Just One Cook Book, and the Kirin Ichiban packet)
  • 2 cups sushi rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tbs rice vinegar
  • 2 tbss sugar
  • 1 tbs salt
  • 4 sheets nori seaweed
Philadelphia: smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber slices
California: crab (I used boiled snow crab), avocado, cucumber, black sesame seeds
QLCC Roll: shrimp tempura, avocado, mango

Philadelphia: capers
California: spicy mayo (3 tbs mayo + 1 tsp sriracha sauce)
QLCC Roll: eel sauce (equal parts mirin, soy sauce, and sugar, reduced over high heat to a thick sauce)

-Rinse rice until water runs clear.

Bring rice and water to a boil, uncovered, over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes.

Mix rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat until sugar has dissolved.

When rice has cooled to room temp, slowly fold in the vinegar mixture. Let sit for ten minutes.

Cover your sushi mat with plastic wrap and fill a small bowl with water. Place nori on mat and cover with about a half cup of the rice, leaving a little space free of rice (1/2 inch or so) closest to you for adding your fillings.

Carefully roll your mat with the nori, distributing firm but gentle pressure as you roll. Use the water to wet your fingers so the rice and sushi does not stick to them as you work. For an inverted roll, flip the nori over once you have added the rice and moisten your sushi mat with a bit of water to keep it from sticking.

Once you have rolled the sushi, use a very sharp knife to slice it. It works best to cut in halves until you have about 8 pieces. Top with desired sauces, and serve!

For shrimp tempura: Use deveined shrimp with tails. Coat in corn starch, then dip in a mixture of 1 cup cold water, 1 egg, and 1 cup flour. Deep fry in hot oil. Once tails are bright orange and batter has crisped, remove from oil and pat dry with paper towel.

Japanese-Inspired Stir Fry
(Recipe adapted from AllRecipes)
  • 1 pound sliced boneless steak
  • 1/4 cup mirin wine
  • 3 tbs cornstarch
  • 1 cup chicken or beef broth
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbs white sugar
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp pressed garlic
  • 4 tbs olive oil
  • 2 cups sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 head baby bok choy, thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1/2 white onion, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup snow peas
  • White rice, cooked
-In a small bowl, mix together the corn starch, broth, soy sauce, and sugar. Set aside.

-Heat 2 tbs olive oil in a skillet over high heat. Brown the meat on both sides, then set aside.

-Use the wine to deglaze the (still hot) skillet and reduce heat to medium-high. Add the remaining oil and add onions, peppers, garlic, and ginger. Cook until onions are transluscent. Add mushrooms and snow peas. Cook 5 minutes, and add bok choy.

-When vegetables are tender, add the soy sauce mixture and stir until thick. Add in the beef and drippings and cook until heated through.

-Serve over rice.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spring Has Sprung! -- Loaded Potato Waffle Bites

 Spring is here! The weather is finally getting warm (or, warmER, it has hardly been "cold" here in Austin!) and I couldn't be happier. I cannot wait to break out the sun dresses and frolic on the daily.

The Austin bats are back! This picture is from mom's visit last weekend. They aren't at full capacity yet--by late summer there are nearly 2 million bats under the South Congress bridge--but it's still pretty amazing to watch.

More outside time with Lily, my amazing little pooch.

 Big Boobie Bingo has returned to Maria's patio at Maria's Taco Express, and it remains my favorite local event. This was the night Lauren and I actually BOTH won prizes!

Finally, my hair needed a bit of a springy change, so I bought a highlighting kit and went to town. I LOVE the way it came out, and it was only $6 for Revlon Frost & Glow! I highly recommend it if you want to lighten up your color a bit but don't have the money for a salon.

Anyway, enough of my Springtime love, onto the recipe.

These waffle things are all over Pinterest. I know.

But they were too good NOT to try myself. And the pictures came out decent, so on the off chance someone hasn't tried these yet and needs some MORE convincing, here. Let me try to convince you.

Tiny, crispy potato waffles, with melted cheese, sour cream, bacon, and chives. Delicious. The perfect party app.

Then I got cocky--If I could do this with regular potatos, IMAGINE what sweet potatoes would be like! I started fantasizing about the paleo-friendly treats I would soon create.

...Sweet potatoes = messy waffle iron, and burnt mush. Oh well. Can't win them all.

Loaded Potato Waffle Bites

  • 1 cup leftover mashed potatoes (or 1-2 cooked, mashed potatoes with added milk, butter, and salt and pepper)
  • 2 tsp smashed garlic
  • 1 egg
  • 1 handful cheese
  • 2 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
  • 3 tbs sour cream

-Preheat oven to 350, and warm up your waffle iron to high.

-In a small dish, mis together the mashed potatoes, garlic, and egg until well combined.

-Drop by the over-flowing spoonful (ideally, a couple tablespoons) into the waffle iron.

-Cook on high until browned on both sides.

-Place on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with cheese and bacon. Bake for 5 minutes, or until cheese is melty.

-Top with sour cream and chives, serve.

Note: While I was inspired by a Pinterest post I cannot find at the moment, I threw together this recipe from my own brain. Any resemblance to another recipe is totally accidental.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Great Mom Visit and Some Potato Chips

I love when people come to visit, because it means that I get to do all the touristy stuff that I secretly love but can't admit to if I'm trying to become a "real" Austinite. Over the weekend my mom and my fiancé's mom made their first trek down to Austin since we moved here in November. It was really an amazing weekend and I am so happy I was able to show the moms around my beautiful new city!

We packed so many things into five days, it was nearly exhausting.

First up, we went to Chuy's for lunch as soon as the moms landed. It's still our favorite Tex Mex place in the city (again, we're new! I know there are better!) and the moms enjoyed trying the THREE dips Cory and I always get when we're there. It was too early for margaritas, but just the right time for enchiladas.

The next day I took the moms on a shopping day to The Domain and South Congress. We saw the bats emerge from the South Congress Bridge at sunset, then ate dinner at one of my favorite food trucks--Ms. P's Electric Cock!

Since the "i love you so much" wall was on Cory and my Christmas card this year, we also had to make a stop here. I love you, mom!

My mom took a picture in front of every. single. cactus. This one was from Saturday, when we went to San Antonio to see the Alamo. The San Antonio day was fun because I hadn't visited that city yet. We also explored historic Gruene.

Another tourist spot I'd never been to: The Greetings From Austin wall! We braved getting hit in oncoming traffic to take a million and a half pictures here.

On the last day, I took my mom to The Oasis to see the view. I'd never been here because people had warned me the food was not so good. The view though, was incredible! I'd love to come back here for a drink sometime. My mom is terrified of heights, so she just took a picture of me here.

Finally, I took my mom to one of my new favorite places: The Driftwood winery. I LOVE this place. Gorgeous view, amazing wine, and we even made some new friends here--a family from Europe who was visiting because their son is moving here. Very cool! Dinner was at Salt Lick, because this is another place I love bringing people.

Anyways, none of this has anything to do with Potato Chips, I just felt like sharing some pictures.

I loved my mom's visit, and seeing Cory's mom, and we had one of the most fun weekends I've had in Austin in a long time! I miss them so much already and hope they can visit again soon.

And now, for the chips.


Seriously, this recipe is kind of a joke because it's really THAT easy. And delicious. And you'll wonder why you bother dropping $4 on a bag of chips when potatoes are like, 50 cents.

Homemade Potato Chips
  • 2-3 large potatoes--I used golden potatoes
  • Enough oil to cover 1 inch in a large frying pan
  • Seasonings

  • Mandolin or killer knife skillz
  • Frying pan
  • Slotted spoon
  • Drying rack

 -Heat your oil to about 375 degrees. If you don't have a thermometer, pay attention to how the potato sizzles when dropped in. Sizzling = good.

 -Use a mandolin to slice the potatoes as thin as you're able. Thinner = crispier. Drop them in batches into the hot oil.

-Watch the potatoes. Once they begin to curl and look brown around the edges, remove with a slotted spoon.

-Move to drying rack and sprinkle with desired seasonings--I did plain salt, salt and pepper, and parsley and parm--and let dry for ten minutes. Store in an airtight bag.