Red Bean Burgers and Truffle Fries

16 May

Red bean burger with friesHey y’all!

I know it’s been pretty much radio silence over here for the past couple of years. If you’ve stuck with this blog since back in the day, you totally have my gratitude and thanks. (“Gratitude” and “thanks” are pretty much the same thing too, so consider me 2x appreciative!) I’m currently enrolled in an MFA program in creative writing, and I’d like to come back to this blog to write some more… chilled out kind of stuff, you know? Even a literary genius needs a break from her mind now and again. (Hehe.) Anyway, enough about me — what have I been eating?Tony Chacheres

This week marks my first week of summer break, and thus I’ve been super lazy about cooking. I just needed some time off, you know? Now that I’m all rested up, I’m ready to get back in the saddle. So this week, I made a huge batch of red bean burgers!

They’re basically Mark Bittman’s basic bean burger recipe (scroll down) with just the tiiiiniest bit of New Orleanian inspiration applied to it. Thus, instead of chili powder, Tony Chachere’s spice mix; instead of spinach, collard greens!

When I first moved down to NOLA, I thought it was kind of weird that everyone I knew had one of those green shakers on their kitchen tables. I think it was mostly because of the mascot — he’s kind of creepy. But look at him: he’s clearly extending his hand to you in a gesture of friendship and unity. He wants to share the glory of his spice mix with everyone and everything. And it’s a really great spice mix; it blows Lawry’s out of the fucking water. I don’t know why so many New Orleanians use heroin when they could have Tony’s Creole crack for way cheaper.

The burgers turned out pretty good. My double batch turned out 14 burgers (I like ‘em big) so I baked them all in one fell swoop and froze half of them. Ever since I saw the light of the 112 burger, I’ve gotten really into serving burgers on English muffins. So this particular red bean burger likes to hang out on a whole wheat English muffin with fresh avocado slices, mixed greens, a smidge of mayo, and some black pepper. On the side is a serving of seafood shack fries repurposed as truffle fries. So I guess this yuppie-style burger turned out a lot more local than I anticipated.

Rice Bowls, for Breakfast?! Absolutely!

28 Sep

Breakfast Rice Bowl

Though the bacon, egg, and hash brown plate once held an iron grip on my heart, I’ve since rediscovered an old flame: the rice bowl. When I was a picky little kid, my grandmother would make me bowls of rice with shredded cold cuts on top, which I would bathe in Maggi (not soy, but it is like crack cocaine for Vietnamese people) sauce. As I got older, breakfast got a little more mobile: toaster confections frosted with negligible amounts of nutrition, hard-boiled eggs, giant bagels with cream cheese. On weekends, my mom would make us scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast, and I would construct sandwiches (ancestors to the Breakfast Banh Mi) out of the whole spread. I would add Maggi, of course.

Eating “American” worked out well enough for me because throughout grade school, I felt really self-conscious about eating food that could be easily marked as “Asian.” Many Asian Americans that I know have memories of being teased at school for their “stinky” bagged lunches. Their parents would pack them whatever leftovers were available, so sometimes that meant ma po tofu or tea eggs or rice noodles with fish sauce. Sometimes that meant food that stupid kids could assume was made of stray cats, and they would accuse your family of getting their groceries at the animal shelter.

To avoid the shame of stinky food, I brought Lunchables. These days, I’m much more appreciative of the palate I inherited. The lunches that I now pack for work tend to stink up the whole office, and I’m more than happy to share a few bites with my coworkers.

It also helps that my lily-white husband will literally eat anything I put in front of him, no matter how weird it smells. He loves the rice bowls that I whip up for our breakfasts, and is way more into those than American-style brunch foods like French toast (ick) or eggs benedict. (But I will forever cherish a good Bloody Mary.)

When I make rice bowls, I usually just grab whatever’s in my fridge. As soon as I can tear myself out of bed, I microwave some rice, fry up some meat and vegetables, chop up herbs, and poach a pair of eggs. Past bowls have included: sesame-fried Church’s chicken with nori and kimchi; Chinese sausage (lap xuong) with scallions and bok choy; and kale, onions, and carrots with oyster sauce. A warm, steamy rice bowl is so comforting in the morning, and its flavor beats the pants off of the one-note, typical breakfasts that many Americans are used to eating.

I have a lot of leftovers from making banh xeo, so this morning I sauteed some ground chicken with a handful of bean sprouts and a few dashes of Maggi. For the vegetable component, I picked purple mint leaves, sliced a cucumber, and chopped green leaf lettuce. Just a splash of nuoc cham and a dollop of sambal oelek, and there’s breakfast!

The Best Breakfast Sandwich In The Universe

26 Feb

Breakfast Banh Mi

Feast your eyes, my friends: the best breakfast sandwich. Ever. I call it… the breakfast banh mi.

I’ve been eating this for days on end, and I think we’ve reached a point where it has been fully optimized and further customization is meaningless. There are a lot of components that make this great, and which add a ton of complexity to it. There’s the vinegary hummmm of the homemade carrot and daikon pickles; the spicy pop of Sriracha sauce; the war between the buttery eggs and salty/crispy lạp xưởng (Chinese sausage); the Maggi sauce soaked into toasty French bread; and the welcome coolness of cilantro. None of the ingredients are redundant, and work together to get you moaning and picking up the crumbs with your fingers.Ahhh.

At this point, I can’t even imagine my life without this sandwich. Everything else just pales in comparison. Sex? Alcohol? Bicycling? They’re all ranch dressing compared to the world-shaking twists and turns of breakfast banh mi!

And here’s a philosophical side question: can you have a banh mi without pate? Definitely not if it’s the classic version. But in this case, the pate and the eggs would generate a textural disaster! (Too bad, since I have a can of foie gras that’s burning a hole in my refrigerator.) When you create a dish, you generally want to avoid similar textures. Otherwise, the diner comes away from it with an overpowering sense of its softness (or brittleness, or whatever). I do, however, use mayo in this sandwich, just because I like the taste and it doesn’t overstep its boundaries too much.

Breakfast Banh Mi

Fry up some slices of lạp xưởng in oil. When they crisp up, set them on a paper towel and plate to drain. Pour off the excess oil from the pan. Add sliced green onion to the pan, and saute on low heat . Once it’s lightly cooked, add two whisked eggs and scramble with the sausage. Set aside.

Warm up a sandwich-sized piece of baguette in a toaster oven or oven oven.

Assemble! I like to go (from bottom up) eggs, Maggi, carrot and daikon pickles, Sriracha, cilantro, mayonnaise, and even more Maggi.

A Hideously Unphotogenic Tamale Pie

14 Feb


For the past 4 months, I’ve been lying to my fiance. After a catering job, I happened to bring home a huge bag full of leftover tortilla casserole for him to — essentially — burrow into and ravage with a honey badger-like rage. Since then, I’ve been making it myself about every month or so… and for some reason, he’s persisted in calling it “tamale pie.” Our conversations tend to go like this every time:

“Hey, I made tortilla casserole.”

“Tamale pie? Yes!!”

“T-O-R-T-I-L-L-A C-A-S-S-E-R-O-L-E.”

“Tamale pie!”

“Yes. OK.”

This week, I decided to try a new tack: making anactual tamale pie. I rolled over in bed, pulled out my handy copy of America’s Test Kitchen’sSlow Cooker Revolution (just $17 on Amazon, kids!), and thumbed through to their Tamale Pie recipe. It called for such pantry stalwarts as instant polenta (what) and Minute tapioca; I called bullshit, and formulated a plan.

A lot of the recipes I found on the web suggested cornbread batter as the topper on the casserole, which seemed a little too dense for me. And also, wouldn’t that just make it a pile of chili with cornbread on top? Isn’t that just a little… stupid? So I went with polenta, but just the regular kind that you have to simmer for a half hour. If I’m gonna slave over my stove, I’m gonna slave, damn it! (But I can’t turn down a perfectly done rotisserie chicken from Holy Land! Or a jar of Rick Bayless’ enchilada sauce. Or some very seasonal canned beans and corn. Oh no sir.)

All in all, I think tamale pie, while more difficult to make than “tamale pie,” is fucking delicious. The only problem I had with the dish was its appearance. Casseroles are just so hideous. Even the fascistically styled dishes on corporate websites look like abominations of Biblical proportions. Well, ain’t no cure for ugly.

Tamale Pie

  • 2 C polenta
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 C cooked chicken meats / TVP
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • A coquettish dusting of cumin
  • 1 16-oz jar of enchilada sauce
  • 1 15-oz can of black beans, rinsed
  • 1 15-oz can of (possibly creamed) corn
  • 1.5 C cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Cook the polenta in 6 cups of water. Once you get it to a boil, lower the heat and stir frequently until creamy and thick. Add salt and butter if that’s your jam. Spread half of it onto a 9″x13″ baking dish.

Saute the onion and garlic in a 2-quart pan. When vegetables become translucent, add chicken and cumin and lower heat. In about a minute, add enchilada sauce. If the mixture seems dry, add a little water. When the chicken starts to break down, add the beans and corn and turn off the heat. Mix well and ladle into the baking dish.

Spread the last half of the polenta on top of the filling. It’ll be chunky and a little hard to handle, but I just broke it up with my hands. No sweat, it’s going to be haggard anyway. Scatter the cheese on top and bake!

My Favorite Restaurant Website: Crescent Moon Bakery

3 Feb

Crescent Moon RobotCrescentMoonFoods.Net, the internet home of Minneapolis’s favorite Afghani bakery/restaurant, is a masterpiece. I love the crazy GIFs, the like Angelfire-era visitor counter, and the prodigious use of Caps Lock. Basically I just love how little of a shit they give about social media, SEO, mobile-friendliness and all of the other hocus pocus bullshit that advertising consultants charge restaurants $50/hr to tell them about. While others may decry the nightmarish web design of restaurant websites run (mostly) by people of color who can’t afford to bring in the advertising big guns, I find them absolutely charming.

Some restaurants feature menu copy that was clearly written by a disgruntled niece or nephew; many others don’t even try to fake it. If you’re turned off from dining at a restaurant because its website is shitty, you are probably a douchebag. And that’s OK! Because I’m sure the owner is glad that you’re not showing up in their dining room to lecture them about stuff they’re too busy to deal with.

Reasons why Crescent Moon Bakery’s website is awesome:

  • The owner, Meerwais Azizi, is listed as both the founder and “president” of CMB.
  • Clicking on a random empty space (for real!) on the front page will take you to the Muslim prayer schedule for Minneapolis.
  • 8 robot gifs!!!
  • Links to local food media actually just links to their front pages instead of relevant articles.
  • All of the tables are different colors and sizes.
  • Only 1 instance of Papyrus.

I love you, Crescent Moon Bakery. Never change.

Juiced-up Pumpkin Bars (‘Tis the Season, Betch!)

18 Sep

It’s September and my life is all pumpkin, all the time. I would probably straight up eat the Great Pumpkin if it dared to come to my house.

It began with the annual announcement that Starbuck’s was bringing back their Pumpkin Spice lattes. That’s usually the first rumbling of pumpkin mania: internet food people reported waiting 20+ minutes for their coffee as squash crazies flooded into the stores. (Starbucks.)

In college, we used to call my friend Claire the DPBG — the Double Pumpkin Bar Girl — for getting seconds every time the bars were available in the dining hall. But secretly… I was one too. Sorry for making fun of you, Claire.

The last time I made pumpkin bars was probably more than three years ago, holy shit. Three years just might be my recipe cycle — I might be due to make Banh Pate Chaud sometime soon, then. And I think it takes some maturity to know when to ask for help; so I consulted with the Amateur Gourmet’s archives, which always have pretty decent renditions. Adam Roberts’ recipe is here! All I did was add golden raisins, craisins, and sunflower seeds to the cake. And I subbed in a trickle of honey for the confectioner’s sugar in the frosting. Also walnuts.

Pot Roast Ramen

6 Jun

Breakfast this morning!

Homemade pork ramen stock, Cantonese noodles, soy- and mirin-marinated pot roast with mushrooms, spinach, and a poached egg on top.


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