Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wok Out

There's nothing more affordable and more rewarding than putting leftover food to use. It just so happens that fried rice is the ultimate leftover/Affordable Foodie dish because it involves combining leftover rice with whatever else you happen to have in your fridge or freezer to make a quick one-dish meal.

Although making fried rice is super easy, it is possible to ruin it. Here are a few basic things you'll need if you want your fried rice to turn out perfectly every time:

Dry Rice: You need to start with steamed rice, but you can't make fried rice with freshly cooked rice. If you don't believe me, you can try it, but you'll end up with a mushy, sticky dish due to the high moisture content of the freshly cooked rice. The best rice to use is leftover rice that's been in your fridge for at least one day. Now you know what to do with all that leftover steamed rice from Chinese or Thai takeout.

A Screaming Hot Pan: Don't be shy about turning up the heat when you're making this dish. If your frying pan or wok isn't hot enough, the rice will stick to it - and good luck scraping it off! Let the oil heat up in the pan for a couple of minutes before you add your ingredients, making sure to avoid burning the delicate garlic and ginger. I recommend starting at medium-high heat to cook the aromatics and turning it up for about a minute before you add the rice. Once you spread out all of the ingredients in bottom of the pan, let them sit a minute or two. Then flip them, spread them out again and let them sit a few minutes more. This is a foolproof way to avoid mushy rice.

An Adventurous Spirit: Remember when I said this dish was literally made for leftovers? Well, I meant it. Fried rice tastes great no matter what you put in it (with a few exceptions of course). So when you make it, get creative and give yourself permission to clean out the fridge.

Below is a basic recipe for fried rice. I made it recently when I was staying at my friend Mandy's house. She was recovering from oral surgery, and I came to her house straight from work and completely famished. Luckily, she had a ton of leftover white rice waiting for me.

Basic Fried Rice

Ingredients

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon canola oil, divided
2 large garlic cloves, minced
4 scallions, greens included, rinsed, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
4 cups leftover cooked white or brown rice
1 red pepper, diced
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables with edamame, corn, peas, carrots, etc.
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet or wok (a non-stick skillet works well) until very hot. Add garlic, scallions and ginger and cook, stirring, until softened and aromatic, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rice, red peppers and mixed vegetables and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Make a well in the center of the rice mixture. Add 1 teaspoon of canola oil, then add the eggs and cook until nearly fully scrambled. Stir the eggs into the rice mixture, then add soy sauce and incorporate thoroughly. Taste the rice and add more soy sauce to taste. Serve hot.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Three Tubs of Lard Later . . .

For quite some time, I've been dying to make individual chicken pot pies. I ran across a recipe for them in an amazing cookbook, Silver Service, that I stole from my mom and have been thinking about them ever since. Last night, I combined three different recipes in an attempt to be original and made them from scratch.

Note: this was my first attempt to make pastry, so it was a pretty big deal for me. I got home around 6 p.m., and the combined recipes indicated that the prep and cook time would take about 55 minutes. My pot pies finally came out of the oven at 10 p.m. Exhausted and covered in flour,it was finally over, thank god! I was pretty impressed with myself because the pot pies were delicious, but the whole cooking experience was a bit more laborious that I had anticipated.

Maybe it was the stress of going back and forth between three recipes or the panic that set in when my "slurry" turned out to be more like a soup. The tipping point also could have been when I clogged my food processor with lard during my second attempt at making the crust, or realizing that I had to use my martini shaker as a rolling pin. Needless to say, I won't attempt this dish again for a long time. Luckily, I made two extra pot pies and threw them in the freezer for future indulgence.

I know I promised recipes for the Hallmark holiday, but after Wednesday night's efforts, this Affordable Foodie plans to dine out! If you have the energy to cook on Valentine's Day, check out the specials at your local Fresh Market. The store is offering great deals on lobster tails, beef tenderloin and filet mignon.

Below is my recipe for chicken pot pies. You can make individual servings or a whole pie. Personally, I like to make them in individual ramekins and just add a simple side salad tossed in Dijon vinaigrette to complete the meal.

Hopefully, you will have better luck now that I've recorded my modifications to the recipes. Attempt at your own risk because this can be a challenging recipe. But if you're attentive to the details and not afraid to make a little bit of a mess, it will be delicious - that I promise!

This dish will run you around $30 dollars and serves six.

Ingredients

Chicken

2-3 pounds chicken breasts (bone in with skin)
1 quart chicken broth
2 cups water

White Sauce (filling)

4 cups chicken broth (reserved from cooking chicken)
1/2 cup All-Purpose flour
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1 cup frozen pearl onions

1 cup carrots, sliced thin
5-6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup frozen green peas
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Crust

2 cups All-Purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg
5 tablespoons cold water

Directions

Place chicken in a large pot and cover with broth and water. Season broth with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of freshly cracked pepper. Liquid should just barely cover chicken. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. When chicken is cooked, let it cool in broth. Remove meat in chunks from bones. Strain broth and reserve. Bones and skin can be thrown away.

Melt about 2 tablespoons of butter and saute the carrots and onions over medium heat until the onions are translucent. Remove from heat and set aside.

Bring 4 cups of the reserved cooking liquid from the chicken to a boil. Put 1/2 cup of flour in a medium bowl and slowly add 1/2 cup of hot broth to the flour in the bowl. Whisk these together to create a "slurry," stirring until it's thick and smooth. Add the slurry back to the pot of remaining broth and reduce heat to medium. Stir until thick and smooth (This is the part that gave me some trouble. If the mixture does not thicken, slowly add more flour in small increments to the broth until it reaches the desired consistency). Add half-and-half.

Add sauce to vegetable mixture, stir in chicken and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

To make the crust combine the flour and salt. Cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles course meal. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk and water. Pour egg yolk mixture over flour mixture. Stir to make a soft dough.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Using individual ramekins, measure an extra 1/2 inch beyond the bowl for the crust. Cut out the individual crusts and brush egg yolk on the outside rims of the ramekins.

Fill the ramekins with chicken mixture, place crusts on top and pinch the sides to secure the dough (like a tart). Brush the tops of the crusts with egg yolk and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper. Cut four small slits in the top of each pot pie and place in oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Serve hot.


Finished Product


Hot steamy goodness



All Done

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with a Twist

After having a little too much fun over the weekend, I figured we all needed some cheesy goodness in our lives - both from The Bachelor and the dressed-up grilled cheese sandwiches I selected as the main course on Monday night. To add some flair to the sammies, I used Taleggio, a semi-soft Italian cheese that melts easily and has a nice, tangy flavor. Taleggio can be hard to find, so you can substitute with Gouda or Fontina cheese if needed. Before grilling the sandwiches, I added a few spoonfuls of marinara sauce between the layers of cheese and bread. I truly believe that tomatoes have the potential to improve any dish, and in this case, I was right! Since we were at Kingsley's house, she let me try out her new grill pan. It has a heavy top that fits inside a griddled skillet and creates picture-perfect grill marks.

In order to keep both labor and ingredients to a minimum, I paired the sandwiches with Alexia sweet potato fries, an Affordable Foodie favorite that's available in the freezer section at most grocery stores, and a homemade Mexican-inspired cole slaw. You should seriously consider keeping a supply of Alexia fries and oven-roasted potatoes on hand in your freezer. Made with all natural ingredients and best straight out of the oven, both options are delicious and healthy. The cole slaw, which has a slight kick from a minced serrano chile and plenty of fresh lime juice, serves as the perfect foil to the sweet fries.

These recipes feed four, and we spent just $25 on the ingredients. We had some leftover cole slaw, which Kingsley ate for lunch the next day. Enjoy!

Taleggio Panini

Ingredients

1 jar of your favorite brand of pasta sauce
6 - 8 ounces Taleggio cheese (feel free to remove the rind but it's not necessary)
1 loaf crusty bread, sliced thin
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Place thin slices of Taleggio cheese on one slice of bread. Cover cheese with a several heaping tablespoons of pasta sauce and top with another slice of bread. Repeat the process to prepare additional sandwiches.

Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. When oil begins to glisten, reduce heat to medium and place sandwiches in bottom of pan. Cover with lid and cook until sandwiches are golden brown on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Flip sandwiches, adding one more tablespoon of olive oil when you do. Continue cooking until golden brown on the second side, about two minutes more. Serve paninis immediately with extra pasta sauce on the side for dipping.

AF Go-To Cole Slaw

Ingredients

1 bag sliced cabbage/prepared cole slaw mix
4 green onions, chopped
1 serrano chile, minced
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp. mayo
2 limes, juiced
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Directions

Toss cabbage with green onions, serrano chile, cilantro and mayo. Add lime juice and season with salt to taste. Toss ingredients again and add more mayo if the mixture seems dry.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

It's Miller (Union) Time


Like everyone else in this city, for months the Affordable Foodie has been dying to check out Miller Union, the new farm-to-table restaurant in West Midtown. We finally got our chance earlier this week when we dined with four close friends. Even after sampling nearly half the menu (two apps, a cheese plate, three entrees and three desserts), we can't wait to return to the cozy, charming dining room and see what other Southern-inspired, seasonally fresh dishes chef Steven Satterfield has up his sleeve. We fell in love with Miller Union the second we walked through the door. As we found our seats in one of the multiple dining nooks, one friend said she felt like we were sitting down to dinner in someone's home. The space has a rustic farmhouse vibe but also feels very contemporary.

Chef Satterfield adjusts the menu weekly, if not daily, based on the week's harvest. Among our favorite dishes that we sampled during our visit were the grit fritters with country ham and Thomasville Tomme cow's milk cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy out of Thomasville, Ga. Reminiscent of the Arancini appetizer at Cakes & Ale in Decatur, these hot little babies are great for sharing among a group and really get your taste buds humming at the beginning of the meal. We also enjoyed a plate of perfectly fried oysters served with a pepper-infused mignonette dipping sauce.

A couple of the entrees we tasted were not without flaws. The roasted potatoes served alongside a fillet of grilled mountain trout were noticeably undercooked, and the beer braised pork was heavy on the salt. However, the pan-seared flounder with roasted cauliflower, radicchio and fried capers blew our minds. The dish is served without sauce and is somehow simultaneously light, flavorful and satisfying.

We're dessert people at AF, meaning we often ask to see the dessert menu at the beginning of our meal so we can order accordingly. Follow our lead and plan to order Miller Union's flourless chocolate cake served with fresh whipped cream. This dense slice of chocolate cake is different from the usual gooey version we've come to expect at other restaurants and a nice change of pace. A flat, galette-style pear tart with a phyllo crust comes with sugar and spice ice cream - it's a solid choice if you prefer fruity desserts.



Among the cocktails, the Miller Thyme made with Miller's gin (the smoothest we've ever tasted), lemon juice and thyme syrup is a stand out. We also recommend the Quivira Zinfandel out of Dry Creek Valley, Ca. One of our friends almost died when she saw this bottle on the wine list. She visited the vineyard in Sonoma several years ago and had yet to see its wine offered at an Atlanta restaurant.

If you're looking to score a bargain at Miller Union, reserve a spot at the Harvest Dinner. Every Tuesday night, Miller Union serves a family-style, prix fixe three-course dinner for $30 per person, not including drinks, tax or gratuity. Seatings with a maximum of 10 people are available at 6 and 8:30 p.m. only, and reservations are required. Grab a group of friends and check it out! If you're wondering exactly what's for dinner that night, the restaurant regularly posts the weekly Harvest Dinner menu online.

We're heading back to Miller Union as soon as possible to try the trio of seasonal herb ice creams (rosemary, thyme and sage). See you on the Westside!

Miller Union
999 Brady Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30318
678-733-8550
http://www.millerunion.com/

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

AF’s Picks for Dining Out on the Hallmark Holiday

It’s coming up...the hallmark holiday that some love but many dread. That's right, Valentine's Day is just around the corner.

Here at the Affordable Foodie, we prefer to get the best bang for our buck and dine in on that romantic evening (V-day recipes to follow in a future post) rather than fight the crowds that seem to take over otherwise delightful establishments. If you're braver than we are and feel like venturing out that night, below is a list of some of our favorite restaurants around town that are offering special deals or enhanced menus on Valentine's Day.

Old Vinings Inn
3 courses for $39.95 per person with champagne toast

JCT Kitchen
3 courses plus an amuse bouche for $55 per person

Pura Vida
The VA Highlands tapas joint is the most casual restaurant on our list. Pura Vida is offering 6 tapas, desert and a bottle of wine for $80 per couple.

Wisteria
This funky Inman Park hot spot will offer its standard contemporary American/Southen menu as well as 8 Valentine's specials. Wisteria is definitely an AF favorite! Check out Highland Pub if you go for a drink before or after dinner.

Babette’s CafĂ©
In addition to its regular menu, this quaint European restaurant will offer 3 special Valentine's dishes, each individually priced.

La Grotta
We saved the best for last. La Grotta offers a choice of 3 courses from a special menu with prices ranging from $45 - $55 per person. We highly recommend the Buckhead location, which has old-school style and delicious food. If you choose La Grotta, hurry up and make your reservation ASAP because it is almost booked on both Saturday and Sunday nights.

Honorable Mentions
Rosebud in Virginia Highlands, Canoe in Vinings and Cakes & Ale in Decatur are all offering their regular dinner menus as well as a selection of specials that will be sure to serve as aphrodisiacs for you and your date!