Homemade Lo Mein

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

lo mein

If you read my blog, you have probably noticed that I tend to come up with a lot of Asian-inspired meals. Why is that? Well, we like Asian flavors, but more than that, there are endless possibilities. You can stretch meats really far and you can use just about any vegetables you have on hand to come up with something easy and delicious that everybody will eat. At my house, we frequently dine on fried rice, noodle dishes, dumplings and the like.

My daughter loves lo mein. In fact, that’s pretty much her standard order anytime we go out for Chinese. I recently bought (CHEAP) boneless, skinless chicken breasts at Sam’s. Not only were they ridiculously inexpensive, but they were huge. I looked at this chicken and knew I could stretch one of these breasts and feed the three of us. Lo mein came to mind.

Once again, I just looked around for what I had. I had bought one of those Green Giant stir-fry mixes in the produce section. I took out a few of the pea pods (you may call them snow peas) and sliced them diagonally into small pieces. I also cut carrots and broccoli into small pieces.

homemade lo mein

 

 homemade lo mein

For the chicken, I mixed up some cornstarch, soy sauce, garlic powder and ground ginger. I sliced the chicken into strips and marinated it for about 1 ½ hours. I wanted the chicken to be small in the final dish, but I didn’t want it to over-marinate, so I stir-fried the strips and then had my sous-chef husband cut them down into bite-sized pieces. While he did that, I cooked ½ lb of spaghetti noodles and drained them. Using veggie oil, I sautéed a little chopped onion with the other vegetables.

homemade lo mein

From there, all I had to do was add a little chicken broth to the noodles and the chicken. I then gave it all a good mix-up and let it simmer for a couple minutes. And there you have it: Homemade Lo Mein.

homemade lo mein

The lo mein connoisseur gave me a thumbs up and had two helpings. Sous-chef husband went back for thirds. It took no time at all to cook and with just a few veggies and one chicken breast, we had an ample meal. I do similar dishes with rice; veggies, an egg, whatever meat we have around (chicken, ham, shrimp) and we have a big wok full of fried rice that I think rivals any restaurant. Making your own egg rolls is similar; shred some cabbage, chop the vegetables you have in your fridge, stir-fry with some little bits of meat and roll ‘em up! I hope you’ll try some of your own Asian-style creations. It’s fun, easy and never the same.

請享用
Qǐng xiǎngyòng

(Bon Appetit)

Elizabeth writes “Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef)” and would love to have you a reader. Follow her on Facebook, too!

A Merry Culinary Christmas!

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

The holiday season is full of activity, parties, decorations, rituals, traditions and FOOD, no matter what faith you do or do not practice. While we all enjoy the music, gatherings with christmas friends, shopping for and giving gifts, time with family (we DO enjoy that, right?), I’m willing to bet that there isn’t a person alive who would say they don’t enjoy the food that accompanies the season.

My family attended a “cookie swap” at a neighbor’s house this year, which was great fun. In addition to the cookies, the kids dove into a giant pot of hot chocolate while the adults took advantage of my friend Heidi’s rum punch. The older kids made grilled cheese sandwiches for everyone and it was a great get-together. My husband brought along a high school friend and his family, who came through town on the way to Tennessee. These guys hadn’t seen each other since 1986. So, we ice skated then settled down to have sushi and Tex-Mex together (thanks, TakoSushi!)

This year my sister and her family came home from Houston for Christmas. My three-year-old niece made my mom aware that she had eaten snow crab legs at some point in time and was in need of her own “cracker.” Mom found lobster claw-shaped crab crackers for her and settled on us having a glorious seafood themed Christmas. And, trust me, there were no complaints here! So, on Christmas Eve I made crab cakes while mom and dad went to the airport to pick everyone up. We paired our crab cakes with my dad’s shrimp and grits, which was off the chain. This version involved a light brown roux, peppers and Andouille. Add some salad and it was off to the races.

On Christmas, we did the traditional ham (I LOVE ham!), sweet potatoes, broccoli casserole, macaroni and cheese. My husband was delighted that my mother-in-law brought her deviled eggs, which he gives a blue ribbon. But the day after Christmas was crab legswhen Clara got her chance to break in her new crab cracker. Now, we all know that no sort of cracking device is necessary with Alaskan crab, but hey, she’s only three. We had a giant platter of snow crab, boiled corn and potatoes, and focaccia bread. Turns out, Clara is like most kids. While the cracker seemed so necessary & grown up at first, she prefers to have an adult just open up all the crab legs and place a pile of crab meat on her plate. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind that setup myself!

So, we had our culinary feasts to celebrate Christmas and it was just wonderful. I’m sure that you all had similarly satisfying suppers at your house. “Eat, drink and be merry” starts with the food because it’s the best part…it brings us together, demonstrates our love for each other and gathers us to the table to share our time with each other. Happy New Year and Bon Appetit to you all.

Elizabeth Akre is a mom, a Realtor®, and an avid and completely amateur home cook. She writes “Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef)” and would love to have you read and follow the blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Fried Green Tomatoes

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

I grew up here in South Carolina. I consider South Carolina to be pretty solidly Southern. We embrace grits, chicken bog, good barbeque, okra and Frogmore stew. However, until the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” came out, I’d never, ever, ever heard of this food. I grew up with plenty of people who would eat tomatoes right off the vine, juice dripping all down their forearms. I had countless friends who dream of sliced tomatoes and lots of mayo on white bread. And only in the South do you find gorgeous, sliced red tomatoes on green tomatoesa menu as a side dish. But green tomatoes? No one ate green tomatoes. In fact, as a toddler, I committed the world’s worst transgression when I picked them all, piled them up and then happily showed off my dad’s prized unripe bumper crop exclaiming “Look daddy, green balls!” He. was. not. pleased.

So, this movie comes along and I must admit, I was instantly curious. But, again, I knew no one who ate this crazy dish. I wondered, “Are they just regular old green balls, or some odd variety of tomato that is green when ripe?” Then one day, the (old) Rockaway’s started offering them on the menu. Without hesitation, I ordered some. I was an instant fan. The tomatoes were firm and tart. The outside was crisp and laced with black pepper. They were just heavenly. I ordered them every time we went there. But alas, one night Rockaway’s burned to the ground. The entire city mourned. After many months of lamenting the lack of availability of the Rockaway burger, crawfish etouffe and fried green tomatoes, the new Rockaway’s opened. That was many years ago. The burgers are back, the chicken salad is back, the cheese fries are back, but to this day, the fried greens still haven’t made it back onto the menu.

So what’s a girl to do but take matters into her own hands? That’s right, grow them yourself. This summer I planted a traditional beefsteak tomato and an heirloom variety known as “Mr. Stripey.” I’ve concluded that next year I need to have Clemson analyze a soil sample for me. Both plants grew to over 8 feet tall. Early on, they bloomed their hearts out, but produced no fruit. Finally, some small tomatoes surfaced on each plant, but they never got very big. We were able to harvest a few, but certainly not the kind of summer tomato crop that we’re used to getting around here. Since we’ve entered fall, they are now producing tons of baby tomatoes. I look at them every day wondering when the frost might sneak up on us and kill them. So, today, I picked a couple and decided to fry them up for lunch.

fried green tomatoesI dredged in corn starch, then egg wash, then back into a mixture of corn meal, flour & pepper. I cooked them in canola oil until nice and crispy and golden. Now, if you eat fried green tomatoes, you know that some salt & pepper is really all they need. However, today I had a bonus item in my fridge…leftover sriracha crème sauce from my salmon dish last night. I drizzled some of the crème sauce over the tomatoes. Shaazam! I Just perfected the fried green tomato. Mix up some mayo, sriracha & condensed milk to make this sauce. It adds a nice, slightly-sweet, zingy spice. You’ll thank me.

Elizabeth writes “Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef)” and loves followers and comments. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Eat, drink and be merry!

Oktoberfest!

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

Everyone loves a good festival. The problem is that most of them are the same. Food vendors that serve fair food, bands that are too loud, too many people who have had too much beer, trash all over the ground. So, while we all love a good festival, we rarely have the opportunity to attend a good one. Well, not anymore.

OktoberfestMy best friend attends Incarnation Lutheran on Devine Street. Since 2011, Incarnation has held Oktoberfest in their backyard. You might be asking yourself…”how fun can a festival at a church be?” Well, the answer is, “more fun than any other festival in Columbia.” This event isn’t just fun, it’s impressive. Here’s a snap shot: a biergarten featuring German beers, craft beers and wine; German meals like Jaegar schnitzel, wiener schnitzel, bratwursts, potato salad, red cabbage, spaetzle, the whole nine yards; German music and dancing; and a playground, face painting, arts/crafts, and kids games. The music is going constantly, the kids are running around having a ball, the food is magnificent, and the atmosphere is just happy. I absolutely love this festival. My family and I look forward to it all year long.

oktoberfestIt just blows my mind how incredibly organized the festival is, too. The church members totally run the show. They cook, they serve, the youth group takes the orders, they run the games, they do it all.

Oktoberfest was held this past weekend, so if you missed it, I’m sorry for ya! Trust me and put this on your calendar for next year. It’s a wonderful event, totally family friendly, and it gets better every year. To the people of Incarnation, all I can say is “Holy Schnitzel” indeed!

Elizabeth Akre writes Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef).

The Power of the Tutorial

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

Years ago, my sister presented me with a sushi making kit. At the time, sushi wasn’t mainstream like it is today. I’d never eaten it and really couldn’t envision myself ever eating it. Back then, all anyone (around here) knew about sushi was that it was raw fish. Of course, now we all know that raw fish is just one element of the sushi scene. But back in the day when sushi was still a mysterious unknown, my sister just bought me the kit because it contained cute little dishes.
Sushi
The dishes are truly adorable and I’ve used them tons of times when serving Asian meals, but it wasn’t until recently when I was up on a step ladder, straightening up my cabinet, that I saw the rest of the set. I had totally forgotten about the fact that the dishes belonged to a sushi kit until I saw those two sushi mats, still in their packaging. I just stared at them for a few minutes, trying to understand how I could have possibly looked right past them all this time and not even realized they were there. As I snapped out of my confused reverie, I jumped on my computer to begin seeking out recipes and instruction. I became determined to learn and master rolling my own sushi.

After doing some research, watching videos and reading, I assembled the ingredients I wanted. I made the sushi rice, sliced avocados, slightly steamed and sliced carrots, julienned cucumbers and then I practiced. My first roll was a disaster…way too much rice. My next two attempts were not only much better looking and more tightly rolled, but tasty too. I felt I had reached a successful enough level to present my efforts to my family. I picked up my 8-year-old from day camp and told her about my practice runs. Instantly, she exclaimed, “Oh Mommy, I want to roll one too! I watched a tutorial!” I nodded my head and mumbled something like “Sure, you can help” as I reflected on the process and what I thought she could really do.

Big mistake. I believe the proper description of what I’d just done was to grossly underestimate my child and the power of the tutorial. Turns out, with the right teacher and the right student, a video tutorial can be quite effective. I insisted that she stand by as my assistant so I could show her how it’s done. After all, I’d been practicing all morning while she was at camp. Surely there was much she could learn from me! All the while, she kept repeating that she’d watched a tutorial. “Let me do one Mom. Let me do it myself.” So, I gave off one of my signature exasperated sighs as I stepped back, my palms up and my “Fine, you’ll see!” attitude, and let her take the reigns.

Even adding a swipe of wasabi

Even adding a swipe of wasabi

Arranging her ingredients

Arranging her ingredients

This baby-o-mine stepped up to the counter, spread the rice on top of the nori, arranged her cucumbers, carrots and avocado and began to roll. SHE ROLLED A PERFECT CALIFORNIA ROLL. I mean, it was perfect. It was tight, the ingredients were grouped together well, the rice stayed put. It was beautiful. It was way better than mine. I realized that my 8-year-old just spanked me after watching one tutorial. I was impressed.

Vivian’s California Roll

Vivian’s California Roll

My crab roll

My crab roll

The fruits of our labor

The fruits of our labor

The moral of this story is clear. I need to quit assuming that only I can teach her. I now know that she doesn’t necessarily need to watch and hear my instructions over and over and over again. And those video tutorials are certainly more valuable than I ever really gave them credit. I had watched several of them myself, but my daughter only needed one. And, she obviously has the knack for sushi rolling!

Elizabeth writes “Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef)” which details her family’s adventures in eating, drinking and being merry. Follow on Facebook and on Twitter.

 

Kale Chronicles

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

kale

Earlier in the summer, I planted 3 kale plants. Several people questioned me about this.

“Isn’t it too hot here for kale?”

“Isn’t it really hard to grow?”

“How are you going to get that to work?”

Well, here we are mid-July and my tomatoes are over 7’ tall and producing next to nothing, my cucumbers are producing nothing but flowers, my zucchini is just toying with me as it slowly commits suicide, and the poblanos just flower away and laugh at the thought of actually putting out a pepper. But, my little kale plants just keep growing and growing and growing!

A few days ago, it was time to harvest again and from those three little plants, I got a gracious helping of fresh kale. Usually I just make kale chips for myself because every other time I’ve tried a dish involving kale, the husband and little one reject it. I’d pretty much just resigned myself to the belief that I am the sole kale consumer in this house. However, I stood there gazing at this beautiful, tender, fresh home-grown loveliness and thought, “How crazy is this? One of planet Earth’s superfoods and I’m the only one eating it? Not today.”

I’ve written before about one of the most awesome cookbooks in my collection, “How to Cook Without a Book” by Pam Anderson. I can’t remember where I found this book, but I truly love it and I recommend it highly. As you have surely gathered from the title, the point is to teach some basic recipes and techniques so that you can incorporate these standards into your regular life without having to put much thought into it. I often go here for inspiration and fresh ideas. On this day, I pulled the book out because Ms. Anderson has included numerous variations to the theme for each of her basic recipes. So for lunch, I turned our kale harvest into a simple pasta with leafy greens, bacon and crushed red pepper. I told no one what the greens were. I simply said, “Here honey, have some pasta” and down the hatch it went! I have been on a conscious quest to get more dark leafies into our household diet, so this was a big win.

If you don’t know much about kale, I’ll say this: it’s really, insanely good for you. If you’re like me and want to eat more of it and its other dark leafy cousins, you can get all the info you want online. Or, here’s another of my favorite cookbooks you may wish to seek out, “Leafy Greens” by Mark Bittman.

Elizabeth Akre is the author of “Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef)”. Read, comment & be merry!  You can also follow on Twitter and Facebook.

Presto! I Mean, Pesto.

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

If you enjoy growing plants, then you know how rewarding herbs can be. They grow fast and are easy to care for. Of all the culinary herbs, basil is probably the best known and can easily be crowned King. It’s ridiculously easy to grow, it’s packed to the gills with flavor and everyone likes it. You don’t really need a thumb of any shade of green to grow it. All you need to know is how to cut it back properly so that it will continue to produce all summer.

Fresh basilWe have a small kitchen garden this year. We have a beefsteak tomato, an heirloom “Mr. Stripey” tomato, cucumbers, zucchini, poblanos, jalapenos, habeneros, green beans, kale, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and of course, the basil. We both go out at least once a day to scrutinize the garden to see what has changed since our last inspection. About a week ago, my husband came in and asked me about cutting the basil. I was like, “yeah, yeah, I’ll go get some.” He kept on. He kept saying things like “Well, you better cut it before it goes to waste,” and “I think those leaves look pretty big; don’t want them to go to waste,” and “Don’t you think we should make pesto or something so that basil doesn’t go bad?” Finally, I turned to him and asked, “Why are you obsessing about the basil all of a sudden?”

Fresh BasilYou know how crazy it is that you can live with someone for (going on) 20 years and still learn something new about him? He proceeded to tell me that he’d never had fresh pesto until he met me. He loves it and just can’t bear the thought of the basil being right there in the yard and not in the form of yummy pesto (or anything else for that matter). Years ago, I taught him that when I have a good crop of basil, I make pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays so that when summer is gone, I still have fresh tasting basil to add to any dishes I want in the doldrums of winter. Apparently, it registered and he hasn’t forgotten it.

So, I went outside, cut the basil and whipped up a small batch of pesto for him.  For Fresh Pestothose of you who are unfamiliar with making it yourself, let me assure you that it is the easiest concoction ever invented. You probably always have parmesan in your fridge, right? Garlic and olive oil should be in every house all the time. I keep pine nuts in the freezer. So, when you cut your basil, you just toss all these ingredients into the food processor, give it a couple of spins and there you go: pesto. It couldn’t be faster or easier.

So what can you do with it? The first and most obvious is to use it as a pasta sauce.  It’s great mixed into mayo for sandwiches or pasta salad. If you freeze into ice cubes, you can pop a cube into pasta sauce or minestrone to add that fresh basil flavor. It’s also wonderful to add dollops of pesto to a pizza. Or, make a simple béchamel sauce with pesto and serve with grilled tuna, salmon or gnocchi. Mix into some softened butter to serve over grilled steak or with fresh, crusty bread. I guess you’re getting my drift that you can do just about anything with pesto. It is the quintessential taste of summer, in my opinion. Herbal, fresh, light and invigorating. And that’s just pesto. Don’t forget Thai food, Caprese salads, drying basil for later use…

Since we’re moving into July, it may be difficult to find plants at Lowe’s or wherever you usually buy your annuals. But, don’t despair. A lot of grocery stores actually have potted basil plants in the produce section. It’s also super easy to grow from seed.  You could start seeds in peat pots and then just transfer to the garden or to a container on your patio. And, with our growing season like it is, you could have basil well into October.

mangiare bere e divertirsi!

Elizabeth writes “Gastronomy (by a Wanna-Be Chef).”  Please read, comment and be merry! You can also follow on Facebook & Twitter.