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Archive for July, 2008

For his birthday dinner, Nate requested my parmesan-herb crusted chicken tenders, twice-baked potatoes, tomato pie, and a blueberry-peach pie for dessert. It was a delicious meal! The biggest hits were the two homemade pies.  For each, Nate made his mother’s pie crust and I made the fillings, using the fresh South Carolina tomatoes and peaches we picked up at the farmers’ market.

Sweet SC peaches from Marion Square market in Charleston

Sweet SC peaches from Marion Square market in Charleston

Here are some highlights of the dinner for your viewing pleasure (recipes to follow):

Parmesan-herb crusted chicken tenders

Parmesan-herb crusted chicken tenders

Twice-baked potatoes, ala Anne

Twice-baked potatoes, ala Anne

Asparagus and zucchini crudi, compliments of Maggie

Asparagus and zucchini crudi, compliments of Maggie

Tomato and blueberry-peach pies

Tomato and blueberry-peach pies

Special thanks to Melinda for the tomato pie recipe and modifications. It was so good!  (Mel recommends only a 1/2 cup of mayo and 4-5 large seeded tomatoes, instead of what’s listed.)

The blueberry-peach pie recipe was courtesy of the July 2007 Parade Magazine, via Epicurious.

Thanks to Maggie for the awesome asparagus-zucchini salad from the Giada De Laurentiis cookbook. What a refreshing, crisp, tangy accompaniment to this rich meal!

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It was another busy weekend in the PeanutButterMilk kitchen. On Saturday night we hosted a sushi-making party for a few friends, and on Sunday we celebrated Nate’s birthday with a Southern cuisine feast.

Making sushi at home is a lot of fun. My stepsister, Michelle, gave us a sushi kit for Christmas, and it included all the essentials: chopsticks, soy sauce dishes, sake cups, sushi platter, bamboo rolling mat. This was the second time we tried it, and we were thrilled with how it all turned out.

Shrimp, avocado, cucumber and wasabi

Shrimp, avocado, cucumber and wasabi

The only tricky parts are buying the right amount of raw ingredients and preparing the special sushi rice. In this case, we had to guesstimate how much to buy for six people and ended up with quite a bit of leftovers.  I bought a pound and a half of sashimi-grade tuna, a pound of local shrimp, and a pound of pre-cooked snow crab legs. (We probably could have done fine with just under a pound of tuna and three-quarters of a pound of shrimp.  The rice is more filling than you think!)  I also picked up two avocados, green onions, and a cucumber – plus, a pack of ten nori seaweed wrappers.  Pickled ginger and wasabi are other important elements that we already had a home.

You want to make sure that the raw fish is incredibly fresh, and I always look for tuna labeled “sashimi-grade.” In most cases, the fillets are previously frozen, and that’s okay. Even though we live on the coast, I was apprehensive about buying and eating a raw local fish, like grouper, just because I don’t fully trust the grocery store handling practices.  So, while the tuna was the only raw fish we ate, the steamed local shrimp and snow crab were just as delicious.

Preparing the rice is the most involved part of making sushi yourself. I have to admit that the first time I made the rice, I was humbled by how much of an art this process is. First, you must be sure to use short or medium grain rice. Long grain is too dry and retains too much water. I used one pound of rice and it was just enough to feed six people with 8-10 maki rolls and a handful of nigiri. Here is the step-by-step:

(1) Using a strainer, wash the rice until the water runs clear. Drain for 1 hour.

(2) Put the rice in a pot with tight-fitting lid and add 2.5 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.

(3) Lower the heat further and steam for 12-15 minutes.  Then, remove from heat.

(4) Remove the lid and cover the pot with a tea towel. Let it stand for 15 minutes.

(5) While the rice is cooking, you prepare a vinegar mixture that will be added later to create the right level of sticky texture. For this you will need 5 tablespoons of rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon of mirin, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and one tablespoon of salt. Combine these in a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar and salt dissolve.  The key here is stirring constantly.  Then, remove the mixture from the heat and cool.

(6) When the sauce and rice are finished, spread the rice evenly over the base of a shallow, ideally wooden, bowl. Then, you run a spatula through the rice to gently separate the grains – don’t mash or overly mix the rice. Continue cutting the spatula through the rice as you slowly add the vinegar mixture. You don’t need to stir or mix up the rice.

(7) Finally, fan the rice until it reaches room tempurature and then cover with a clean cloth until it’s time to start sushi-making.

Trust me, if you can make it though these steps, the rest of the process is a piece of cake. If however, the rice doesn’t turn out right, the sushi probably won’t hold together well and that can be frustrating.

Making a maki

Making a maki

Our friends had a ball enjoying — and making — a variety of maki rolls: tuna-avocado-scallion; snow crab-cucumber-wasabi; shrimp-avocado-cucumber… They all turned out very well. And the few pieces of tuna nigiri we made were also well received. On the side, we enjoyed Nate’s homemade fried rice, Maggie’s Asian salad, and several bottles of wine and sake.

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I have mentioned before that I have a bit of an obsession with crepes, and I believe I even posted about the time when I got on my crepe kick — making crepes for breakfast in the morning and dessert in the evening for several days in a row. It was a problem! And yet it did not lessen my love for crepes in the least.

Which is why, when I moved to Charleston, I was thrilled when sister-in-law Maggie told me we MUST visit the Charleston Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings downtown to experience the best crepes she’s ever had. We finally got around to it and BOY was it worth it! The Charleston Crepe Company‘s tent was actually two tents full of busy, friendly crepe-making experts. We were also presented with an excellent menu showing me just exactly how many ways a crepe can be had. Sweet, savory and exotic — Charleston Crepe Company has them all!

Charleston Crepe Company at downtown Charleston Farmer's Market

Charleston Crepe Company at downtown Charleston Farmer's Market (Click any photos for larger view)

The line is well worth whatever wait it may be, but let me tell you, it stacked up longer and longer as the morning rolled on, so I recommend enjoying your crepes earlier in the morning.

The Inner Workings of Crepe Genius

The Inner Workings of Crepe Genius

I knowwwwwwww you’re anxious to see the treats we snatched up, so I won’t blab much longer. We settled on a nice assortment of crepes so that we could properly get acquainted with Charleston Crepe Company. I got a bacon egg and cheese crepe and Devin got Nutella, bananas and nuts. We also got a slice of their famous Crepe Cake — as described on their website, “25 layers of delicate, buttery crepes filled with your choice of amazingly light vanilla or chocolate cream.” I know, I know . . . HEAVEN!!!!

Let’s see . . . a quick rundown. CLEARLY, no issues with taste on any of our yummy treats. The bacon egg and cheese made as delightful a Southern breakfast as you could possibly dream, salty and gooey and eggy, oh my! (I’m a freak for anything bacon egg and cheese, so throw a crepe in there and I’m sold) The Nutella/banana combination was an expert rendition of a classic crepe favorite, perfect to the end. And the Crepe Cake, oh myyyyyy, I had heard of such things but never experienced. It was delightful, of course, rich and fluffy without being too sweet or heavy. Amazing. Hopefully the following pictures will spur you to visit the Charleston Crepe Company yourself!

Bacon Egg and Cheese

Bacon Egg and Cheese

Wickedly good.

Wickedly good.

Nutella Chocolate, Bananas and Nuts

Nutella Chocolate, Bananas and Nuts

More of the chocolate delight.

More of the chocolate delight.

Last, but CERTAINLY not least, the Crepe Cake.

Last, but CERTAINLY not least, the Crepe Cake.

Clearly, we had no issue finishing off any of our food . . .

Yum.

Yum.

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I’ve been in the domestic spirit this week, as Nate has gone off to start the new job and I’ve been at home doing summer reading. I felt like baking and, with three over-ripe bananas sitting on the counter, I decided to give this recipe a try. I had it circled in the February 2008 issue of Gourmet.

It’s basically a glorified banana bread. But given that it is layered with candied pecans and chunks of ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate, and has some plain yogurt in the batter for added moisture and flavor, I think this qualifies as cake. And it turned out very well. Really a delicious dessert.

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Chicken Piccata and Chicken Milanese have always been favorite dishes of mine. Both are relatively light and summery. But I’ve never had much luck making a truly “crispy” chicken filet, and that is the best part about a Milanese dish.  So, I had never tried making Milanese until this week.  Much to my surprise, I was successful, and the chicken was crispy, crunchy and delightful.

The recipe I was using called for “toasting” Italian breadcrumbs in the oven.  This involved tossing a cup and a half of crumbs with around a fourth of a cup of olive oil and then spreading them out on a cookie sheet.  I put it in the oven at 425… and forgot about it until the smoke started billowing out from the oven door. Oops!  Unfortunately, I didn’t have lots of extra Italian breadcrumbs for the second try, so I had to mix my remaining half cup with around a cup of Japanese Panko breadcrumbs (this was going to be a Japanese-Italian hybrid Milanese!). I began the toasting process again…

Meanwhile, I mixed pounded out chicken fillets to about half-inch thickness, using my meat tenderizer. Then, I dredged them in flour before dipping in egg. And the final step was coating them in the toasted breadcrumb mixture.

Instead of baking the chicken directly on a cookie sheet, as I have done in the past, I put a small wire rack on top of the sheet to hold the chicken. I think this proved to be the secret in producing a crispy, baked fillet. After about 12-15 minutes, I pulled the sheet out of the oven and the golden brown breasts looked amazing.

To top it off, I tossed a little spring mix with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder. This lent a perfect tart and saltiness to the crunchy chicken.

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On my way to Minneapolis earlier this month, I had to connect through Memphis, a Northwest Airlines hub. Although I’ve never been to Tennesee, I’ve heard that one of the things Memphis is known for is its barbecue.  The smoky and sweet smell of roasting chicken, pork and turkey filled the B concourse where I was walking through. I usually don’t have very good luck finding airport food of decent quality. But my dad, who has traveled through Memphis on more than one occasion, told me to stop at Jim Neely’s Interstate BBQ for a pulled pork sandwich or rib dinner.  Boy am I glad that I did!  I tried the smoked turkey dinner with coleslaw and baked beans, and Nate had the pulled pork dinner. The next time you’re in Memphis — or the airport — I highly recommend stopping here.

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A couple Saturdays ago, we were at the beach, soaking up the rays, watching the waves roll in, when I started to get a hankering for a Chicago-style hot dog. I’ve never really been a hot dog person, but in the past few years, I’ve come to appreciate the value of the hot dog as a mid-afternoon snack.  Unlike a cookie or a piece of fruit, I like that hot dogs are meaty – well, “meaty” enough – to curb the appetite without the sugar crash that sweets and carbs yield. Dogs have become good tide-me-overs until dinner.

And something about the Chicago-style mix of (healthy?) ingredients like tomatoes and pickles and peppers, makes me really begin to salivate. It’s a pure taste explosion.

Anyways, I had seen a little hot dog place along Coleman Boulevard, just off Sullivans Island, in Mt. Pleasant – called, Skoogies.  Much to my dismay, this particular Saturday, Skoogies closes at 3:00, and even though we walked through the door at 2:50, the place turned us away. Resigned to possibly stopping for an ice cream cone on the way home, we began the drive back – but my stomach pangs were not going to settle for a sugar fix. I wanted a hot dog!

So, I stopped at Harris Teeter and pixed up all the fixin’s to make the Chicago-style dogs myself. And boy was it worth it!  You should try it sometime.

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