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Friday, July 27, 2012

Best Eats: Quick and Easy - The Davie Burger

I didn't really invent this, I just like naming things after myself.

Sometimes meals sneak up on me. So it's nice to have something quick to throw together so I don't flip out. (I get really grumpy if I'm hungry.) Burgers fit the bill. And besides, anyone that knows me knows that I can never turn down a big juicy burger. I love them.

This particular burger, which I most often fix at home, is inspired by the In-N-Out burger. Never a bad choice :)

Let's start!

Butter the insides of some hamburger buns - the big ones, preferably. I don't like the standard size. You'll stick them in the oven to broil while the burgers are cooking.

Mix your beef with a ton of worchestershire  sauce, until it looks yucky and brown. (Trust me. It looks gross, but your burgers will be so juicy and flavorful inside. Always mix your flavorings throughout the beef instead of just on the outside.)

Form into patties and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Make your burgers bigger than the buns to allow for some shrinkage during cooking!

Cook your burgers on the grill, or in a skillet on medium high. I use a little olive oil and butter to help them blacken a bit, but I like the inside still slightly pink. Once flipped, I go ahead and put the cheese on so it's nice and melty. While the burgers are cooking, brown the buns under the broiler. (Don't forget about them! I almost forget them every time.)

Slice your toppings while the burgers are on the stove.

Remove the burgers to your (now toasted) buns.

Add a liberal amount of Thousand Island dressing...

...Dill pickles...

...Red Onion slices...

...juicy tomatoes...

(And I usually add some romaine lettuce too, but I forgot to get some at the store. Whoops!)

And there you have it.


And messy.

Have some paper towels ready.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Good Eats: A Step-by-step Southern Meal

Here's a little tutorial of how to make one of my favorite meals (Colton's too!) - Country fried steak (or porkchops) with gravy, mashed potatoes, and green beans. It's easy! No measuring. Like I've said before - I'm a big believer in learning to cook by the senses. Sight, touch, taste. It's faster, uses less dishes, and is more adjustable to personal tastes!


We'll start with the beans, as they need to be simmered for a few hours. Rinse them off in a colander, tossing them around a little to make sure you get all of them! 

And snap them into a pot. Add water until there's about 1 1/2 to 2 inches between the beans and the bottom of the pot. I just stick my finger in and wiggle it around a little to estimate how much more water I need :)

Add two beef bouillon cubes (or the equivalent of the granules or that "better than bouillon" stuff), and a small handful of kosher salt. Put it on the stove and set it to "high".

Fry up a few slices of bacon. I used three since I'm making a big pot - for a medium pot, two would do just fine.

Our apartment has a gas stove. I like it now, but at first I was terrified that it was going to blow up.

While the bacon is browning, dice 1 onion.

Check out my new knife. It was a birthday gift. Thanks, mom! It's from the Calphalon Katana series. I absolutely love it, even though I accidentally sliced the tip of my thumb off a month after I got it, which hurt like none other. 

Mmm, just look at that bacon.

I mean really.

Once the bacon slices are brown, drop them in the bean pot, and add your onions to the bacon grease.

Saute until they're beginning to soften and become golden brown, then add them to the bean pot. (Talk about a heavenly smell!)

Bring your pot to boil, then reduce the heat to medium low, or whatever gets it to a gentle simmer. Now you can goof off for an hour or so while your beans cook! Once they've been simmering for at least an hour, maybe two, you can taste one and see how they're coming along. If you taste them too soon, it's easy to oversalt them because they haven't absorbed all the flavors of the broth yet. I usually don't add any salt until 20-30 minutes before I intend to serve the meal.

About 40 minutes before I want to eat, I peel my potatoes (I like golden ones!), cut them into pieces, and put them on to boil.

Here's what my beans look like at this point. You want the broth to be nice and brown, and the beans to be soft. If they're not there yet, or if it looks like too much liquid, raise the heat a little.

 Now we'll start the meat. Start by preparing your dredging bowls. I always like to start with more flour than I think I'll need. For three small breakfast steaks, I dumped about a cup of flour into my dish. Season it well! I add salt, black pepper, paprika, and creole seasoning to give it a little kick.

If you're feeling a little unsure about how much, give it a little taste. You want to be able to taste some of that flavor through the flour. If you can't taste anything, add more of your spices. If it's super salty or spicy, add a little more flour.

Crack an egg in a separate dish and add a splash of milk. (I like buttermilk if I have any, but normal milk is fine too!)

Give it a good beating with a fork so it's nice and smooth.

If you're using breakfast steak like me, whack away at it with the pointy end of a meat mallet. You can also use cube steak, which is already whacked, or pork chops! 

Colton came to join in with the whacking. I think he liked it.

Pour just enough canola or vegetable oil to coat the bottom of your pan, and set the heat to medium high, or a little under.

Dredge your meat in the flour, then the egg wash, and finally the flour again. Make sure the sides are covered too! I usually tap the flour on with my fingers then shake off the excess. (Sorry about the lack of pictures on this step. I had a hard time snapping them with one hand.)

 Once all your meat is breaded, it's time for frying! Add a small hunk of butter to the hot oil, maybe about a tablespoon. It should bubble and pop like this. If it doesn't look excited, increase your heat a little.

Now add your meat to the pan. Try not to splash oil over the top, like I did.

But if you do, it's okay. Just sprinkle a little more of the flour mixture on top and pat it down with the back of a fork.

 Flip em' when they look nice and golden! Have a plate lined with paper towels ready by the side of your pan. Remove them to the plate when they're done through.

Okay, now here's the part that used to intimidate me. The gravy! It's really not that hard, though, I've come to find out. The key is whisking like a madwoman. Also, I recommend having the milk jug available next to you on the counter and already open right before you take the meat off. Once you remove the meat onto your plate, pour out the excess oil, reserving a little in your pan along with the brown bits. Start whisking! I mean it, people. With your other hand, sprinkle the leftover flour mixture, whisking it constantly, until you have a roux.

Let it cook long enough to get rid of that raw flour taste, but don't let it burn! It'll only take a minute or two. You want it to be a nice, nutty color. Be ready with that milk.

Pour in the milk while whisking, trying to combine it smoothly. Keep on pouring until the consistency is pretty watery.

 You don't want it to be thick yet. You need some time to mash your potatoes! If it's getting thick too quickly, add a little more milk and reduce the heat.

 I had Colton stir the gravy as it thickened while I mashed the potatoes. If you're alone in the kitchen, like I usually am, it's okay if you don't whisk constantly at this stage as long as you have the heat on low. But definitely give it a good stir every 30 seconds or so, or it'll stick. Once the gravy reaches your desired consistency, remove it to a bowl or gravy boat.

 Now the easy part! I drain my potatoes and then dump them back into the same pot to mash them. I use alot of sour cream, and a good splash of milk or cream to thin them.

 But you can add whatever you want!

 Oh my! Oh my! (Colton gets two pieces because he's a hungry man.)

I never trusted gravy when I was a kid, but now I can't get enough of it. 

And finally... don't try to put the green bean ends down the garbage disposal. Green bean water. Gross! I tried by good old alan wrench method to fix the clog*, but to no avail, so I spent about an hour this evening up to my elbow in this stuff.

* I have a terrible tendency to put things down the disposal that I shouldn't, so I've had to fix a number of clogs. It's actually pretty easy unless it's really bad (like if you crammed two cups of green bean ends in there). Look under the disposal. There should be a red button on the bottom - if it's not pushed in, push it in. It's sortof a safety trigger, so your disposal automatically shuts off if there's a bone or a spoon in there. Next, take a hexagonal alan wrench and stick it in the little hole close to the red button, and wiggle it back and forth until you can make a full rotation easily. Then turn on the water and try turning the disposal back on - alot of the time, it'll work! If not, call a plumber.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Wedding Vid!

So this doesn't have anything to do with food,

but today I finally put together a little video from our wedding! Thanks to Brandon for shooting the footage for us :)

Play it in HD. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Best Eats Series: Cooking by Feel

I've always loved watching cooking shows. In college, when I was in between classes, I'd often flip the tv over to the food network so I could slump on the couch and dream of all the delicious dishes they were making.

One thing always impressed me - most of the chefs I watched never measured anything. Paula would say, "Now pour in a third of a cup of broth", and then just dump some in out of a big container. How did she do it?

I have always been a cook who measures.

... But not anymore.

I have discovered, after cooking dish after dish, that I can suddenly cook by feel and sight. I don't need to measure anymore.

I love it. I'm so much faster, so much more confident, and, perhaps best of all, I don't dirty up nearly as many dishes.

Here are a few tips that have helped me in my cooking.

- Don't be afraid to adapt recipes. Some of my favorite dishes were born this way - I started with someone else's recipe as a base, then I changed it to my preferences. If something sounds good, it probably is! Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Trust your gut. (Literally. Ha!)

- Plan your meals weekly. Before the week starts, I think up of a menu for each day and make a grocery list for the whole week. I save money, and I'm not stressing at 4 each evening because I have no idea what to make for dinner :)

- Have a small arsenal of great, simple recipes memorized. These are your go-tos. Don't feel pressured to cook something new every night. During a typical week, I'll do 3 new dinners and 4 tried-and-true.

-Try to prepare things can be eaten for more than one meal. For example, tonight I'm fixing a barbecue roast, mac and cheese, and a big pot of green beans. There will be plenty of meat leftover, so tomorrow lunch will be barbecue stuffed potato skins. For dinner, I can reheat the mac and cheese and green beans and fix a new meat, like some chicken or pork chops. Some cuts will stretch further than you would think. I love a shoulder roast, or a rump. Cheap, tough cuts are wonderful for several meals, because you can buy a larger weight for the same price as a few chicken breasts. As long as you cook them low and slow, they'll still be tender and delicious!

- You can never go wrong with a pan sauce. Or a gravy. These are quick to prepare, use the same pan so you don't have to wash a ton of dishes, and really add flavor to a meal. I love sauces poured over meats, greens, potatoes, pasta, rice - pretty much anything. Yum!

- If you have time, make extra. It's always great to make a meal to freeze for an emergency. You never know when you will be out of an ingredient you swore you bought! One of my favorite things to keep in the freezer is chili. Soups freeze especially well, and are a cinch to heat up and serve. Easy!

In the next few posts, I'll share some of my "go-to" meals. They're easy to memorize, easy to make, and are all totally delicious.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Best Eats Series: Fine Dining

Even though I'm usually a frugal girl, I don't mind blowing some cash once in awhile on


 I don't get my nails done. I've never had a facial or massage. I have a haircut once or twice a year. Most of my clothes are from the thrift store.

If you want to pamper me, take me somewhere fancy and buy me a steak!

Colton is excellent at picking out good restaurants. On holidays or just any fancy date, he whips out his phone and starts sifting through the choices on urbanspoon. (If you ever want to find a good restaurant, I highly recommend that site! It's easy to use, and its ratings are usually accurate. There seem to be less grumpsters, and more people who just appreciate good food and want to help other people choose a place to eat.)

There's just really nothing like being all dressed up, browsing a dizzying wine list, and being treated like royalty by the restaurant staff. (I love interacting with waiters and waitresses. So many people are mean or rude to them - they really appreciate warmth shown to them, and will reward you likewise!)

Here are the top three dining experiences of my life.

1) Cafe Dupont - Downtown Birmingham

Man oh man. Colton took me here while we were dating. Maybe we were engaged? I can't remember. We were visiting his family, and he said he wanted to take me on a date. It was the fanciest restaurant I had ever been to. I was so excited! As soon as we walked in, I knew it would be such a treat. Cafe Dupont is a strong supporter of the Slow Food movement. You can read more about it here. They have wonderful relationships with local farmers, such as Michael Dean Farms, specializing in Microgreens and other specialty lettuces, and Wright Dairy, the only dairy farm in Alabama who milks, bottles, and sells right on their farm. The chef and owner, Chris Dupont, grew up in New Orleans and honed his skills in various fine dining establishments with other noteworthy chefs. In 1994 he opened his own restaurant Springville, then relocated to a circa-1870 storefront building in Birmingham's historic North End. The menu changes daily, and features creative dishes that feature local ingredients and reflect Dupont's Creole roots. 

During our visit, we were seated in a dim and intimate side room at a two person table. We held hands and smiled as we chose our dishes. I got a marinated lamb dish. It was my first time having lamb, and was literally the best thing I have ever eaten. The best thing. It was just so tender and flavorful. Colton got a filet (or some other thick tender steak) that was absolutely delicious. He still maintains that it was the best steak he's ever had. (And he's had alot of steaks!) Colton also got a glass of lovely red wine recommended by the waiter. At that time, I didn't have my current love of red wine, but I liked the sip I had. I don't remember what variety it was, though! For dessert, we shared the beignets, which were fantastic. They're a house specialty. Who doesn't love a beignet?

So basically, if you live anywhere near Alabama, or ever visit, you HAVE to go to this restaurant. You won't be disappointed.

2) Arroyo Chop House - Pasadena, CA

This place is more like a traditional chop house, except ramped up a few notches. If you're in Southern Cal and you want a solid steak, this is a great place to go! Arroyo is the only restaurant in Souther California that serves exclusively USDA Prime beef, which is the highest quality available. The restaurant was opened in 1997 by the Smith Brothers Restarant Corporation. These guys are two brothers, Gregg and Bob Smith, who own five restaurants in and surrounding Los Angles. (Arroyo is the only one I've been to, though - I can't speak for the others!)

Arroyo has a nice, warm atmosphere. We were seated in the room pictured above, and waited on very quickly by friendly staff. Colton and I both ordered a filet, which were both tender and tasty. (Colton said it was in his top five, but it wasn't as good as the steak from Cafe Dupont.) The real standout to me were the sides. Here, they serve family-sized sides meant for sharing. We had - listen to this - lobster mashed potatoes. Genius. I've never heard of such a thing. Mashed potatoes are my favorite side anyway, but then you infuse them with lobster oil and top them with tender chunks of lobster meat? Getouttatown. Hands down, the best mashed potatoes of my life. And I make a pretty mean pot of mashed potatoes myself, so I'm not easily swayed. Bravo, Arroyo! I also had a great glass of wine with the meal. It was the Sierra Madre 2008 Pinot Noir. I would highly recommend it! It drinks very smoothly, and complimented my steak nicley. Colton liked it too. For dessert, we had the chocolate souffle, a house specialty. And they pour cream in the middle, yum!!! There's also the Grand Marnier souffle, which I would definitely try next time. It sounds wonderful.

3) Foodworks - Chattanooga, TN

Okay, so I'm not actually sure if Foodworks is technically fine dining... but it is in my book, and this is my blog post, so... here it is.

Foodworks is a place I've been to quite a few times. Four, maybe? It's definitely one of the best places in Chattanooga. It makes my list mainly because of its unique atmosphere and its creative menu. It opened in the spring of 2006 and quickly became one of the most popular restaurants in Chattanooga. I like that it has dishes that can rival most fine dining places, but it still maintains a relaxed environment. Many nice restaurants can get a little snooty-feeling, but not this place! It's a really cool space - it's located with the historic knitting mill on the North Shore. It's SO Chattanooga. Maybe that's why I love it. I would call it "Warm Industrial." Fantastic. It features warm wood, exposed brick and pipes, and tons of large windows to let in natural light. You get to see what you're eating!

Foodworks, much like Cafe Dupont, features sortof a "progressive Southern" menu. The dishes nod to traditional Southern fare, but have modern twists and often feature ethnic touches as well. They have a great maple-glazed pork chop, shrimpNgrits, and steaks. I also really liked the bite I had of my mom's flounder. Most of my visits, I've had the daily special that wasn't on the regular menu. This place is just consistently good. Another plus - they have a good little selection of craft beers and house cocktails. (Although if you really want a good beer in Chattanooga, then go to the Terminal or the Honest Pint!)

Overall: A really nice place you can go for drinks and a great dinner without having to change out of your jeans!