Monday, February 21, 2011

Putting the Soul in Soul Food

My parents are both Southern--Mom's from North Carolina, and Dad's from Arkansas. I go to a Southern Baptist church, which is filled with women who look like my mom and hail from Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas. Many of them, including my aunt, are amazing cooks when it comes to food from the South. Even my pastor is good at it--his collard greens put the ladies' versions to shame.

I, on the other hand, suck at cooking that stuff. My fried chicken is either burned or underdone, and the first two times I tried to make collards, I nearly killed my then roommate with salt overload (I'd forgotten that flavors get more concentrated as water boils off). So I decided to fix it.

After a chat with my mom and my aunt, I decided to attempt chicken and dumplings, candied yams, collard greens (my nemesis!), red beans and rice, and banana pudding. Everything turned out really, really well, except for maybe the red beans and rice (too much water, not enough time).

My mom was very proud of me when I told her how dinner came out. She was glad I'd finally learned how to cook this stuff for myself. So I guess, in general, I've managed to get over my fear of soul food.

Except for fried chicken. I'm coming for you, ya clucker...

Collard Greens

2 bunches collards
1 chicken boullion cube
2 tablespoons pepper
2 cloves garlic
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon tumeric
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

2 slices bacon

Wash leaves and place them on top of each other in a stack. Fold the leaves in half, and slice into 1 inch strips. Fill pot halfway with water and add strips. Add all spices. Cook leaves on medium heat until tender and water has evaporated, roughly 1-2 hours or longer.

Brown bacon in small pan. Just before serving, add bacon and bacon fat to collards. Toss until covered and serve. Serves four.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Valentine's Day: Romance on the Rails

Ok, so I'm gonna break with tradition here, and post about something I DIDN'T cook myself. But it was a heckuva lot of fun.

Valentine's Day weekend, I was chosen to ride the Niles Canyon Romance on the Rails train trip. The trip gave patrons a chance to ride an old school 1940's lounge car, sample local wines from Livermore and nibble on some hors d'oeuvres. As a reporter, I schmoozed--uh, made friends with--the crew and the snack ladies, and got in on the food and drinks.

The trip was awesome, the food was amazing, and the company was incredible. Wonder if I can talk my way back there next year?

Iron Chef: Lunar New Year

So my new editor, the one from Union City Patch, called me to ask if I had any photos for my latest article on Lunar New Year.

"" I admitted, then hastily added, "But I can get some for you. I, uh, was planning to make an Asian style dinner tonight." (I'd actually planned to make burgers, but an impromptu LNY dinner was much more intriguing-- and a heck of a challenge.

After the conversation, I quickly Googled a bunch of recipes on my Blackberry. One shopping trip to my local Ranch 99 and some advice from one of the ladies that worked there ("You want the red bean cakes, not the moon cakes. That's another festival."), I had all the ingredients. Two hours after that, dinner was ready.

We ate Steamed Red Snapper (a recipe I tweaked),Longevity Noodles, and gyoza (store bought). In an attempt to recognize the Vietnamese side of things, I tried to find banh chung, but no luck--I ended up with the regular kind. But I have to admit, that and the brown sugar cake was pretty darn tasty. The pictures looked pretty good too--my editor was very pleased.

The whole experience taught me a lot about Lunar New Year and how it's celebrated. Who knows? Next year, maybe I'll celebrate it with some friends. :)

Note: The original recipe comes from Everyday Chinese Cooking: Quick and Delicious Recipes from the Leann Chin Restaurants.

Steamed Red Snapper


* 1 1/2 pounds whole walleye or red snapper, well cleaned
* 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1 teaspoon minced garlic
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon sugar
* 1 teaspoon soy sauce
* 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
* 2 green onions, with tops

1. Slash the fish crosswise 3 times on each side. In a small bowl, mix the ginger, vegetable oil, garlic, salt, sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil; rub the cavity and outside of the fish with the mixture. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes or longer.
2. Cut the green onions into 2-inch pieces; shred lengthwise into fine strips. Place in a bowl with ice water to cover; let stand 10 minutes, or until the strips curl. Place the fish in a steamer, if you have one and cook for 10 minutes. If not, place on a cooling rack (See note below). Place the rack over a pot of boiling water and cover with a lid until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 10 minutes. (Add boiling water if necessary). Garnish with the green onions.

Note: If you want to cook this fish in the microwave, cover the fish with plastic wrap on a microwave dish and cook for 3 minutes on high. Let stand for 2 minutes and rotate the dish. Cook an additional 2 minutes on high.