Archive for the 'Appetizer' Category

Miss Verba’s Pimiento Cheese

Chef Frank Sitt's Pimiento Cheese

The Astronomer and I traveled to Birmingham, Alabama this past weekend to celebrate Grandpa Herschel Bryant’s 100th birthday! On Saturday afternoon, The Astronomer’s mom and dad hosted a luncheon at their home where guests were treated to Honeybaked ham sandwiches served on silver dollar-sized rolls, fresh fruit salad, and spinach Pauline.

Celebrating Vern's grandfather's 100th birthday! Woooot!

An Instagram-able moment between The Astronomer and The Centenarian

To nibble on before the main courses was a tall stack of saltines accompanied by a heaping bowl of pimiento cheese. A chunky marriage of sharp cheddar, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and roasted red peppers, pimiento cheese is a Southern classic that’s traditionally eaten smothered between two slices of white bread, dipped with vegetable crudites, or dolloped generously atop crackers. Our salty, crisp vehicles proved to be an excellent match for the hefty spread this afternoon.

This recipe, which The Astronomer’s mother entrusted me to prepare in advance for the party, comes from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill. Chef Stitt attributes the recipe to Miss Verba, an associate of his at Highlands Bar and Grill, who as far as he is concerned makes the best pimiento cheese ever. The Astronomer’s mother wholeheartedly agrees.

Aside from the chore of roasting the bell peppers and grating the cheese, this pimiento cheese comes together quite effortlessly. Whether served as a dip or a spread, the pimiento cheese hits all the right notes that a good appetizer ought to—creamy, sweet, spicy, and salty. With outdoor entertaining season around the corner, I’m looking forward to sharing this seriously tasty starter at potlucks, picnics, and beach parties. A Southern staple in Southern California—why the heck not.

  • 1 pound sharp yellow cheddar, grated
  • 1/4 pound cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 3 large red bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup homemade mayonnaise or best-quality commercial mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Splash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Cholula
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Chef Frank Sitt's Pimiento Cheese

Begin by roasting the bell peppers. Simply place them on a grill over a hot fire or under a hot broiler and turn them occasionally until the skin is black and charred all over. Note: I used my grandma’s tried and true stove-top roasting method. It’s more effective than barbecuing or broiling in my experience.

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Furikake Kettle Corn

A-Frame's Furikake Kettle Corn | Hurricane Popcorn

It’s high time we commence alfresco dining now that spring has sprung and summer is around the corner. These warmer months were made for breaking bread with friends and family under sunny skies and shady trees. While the burgers are grilling or the ribs are smoking, I highly recommend serving a big ‘ol bowl of Furikake Kettle Corn. It’s an addictive nibble that never fails to delight.

This recipe comes from Chef Roy Choi of Los Angeles’ A-Frame restaurant. I couldn’t keep my hands away from the bowl the first time I tried this Hawaiian-style popcorn. Every fistful of buttery kernels brought a hit of sweetness from Corn Pops, sourness from dried pineapples, savoriness from bacon, spiciness from cayenne pepper and chili flakes, and a whole lot of umami-ness from furikake. This unlikely combination of big, bold  flavors had me hooked at first bite.

Making Furikake Kettle Corn requires very little preparation, especially if you’re using bagged kettle corn like this recipe suggests. The bacon needs to be fried and chopped, chives minced, and butter clarified. After that’s good and done, everything comes together in a snap. Serve the popcorn in a bowl, or better yet, channel the aloha spirit and spill it onto the table just like they do at A-Frame.

  • 4 cups kettle corn
  • 2/3 cup of Corn Pops
  • 2 ounces clarified butter
  • 2 tablespoon furikake
  • 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoon dried pineapple
  • 2 tablespoon chopped bacon, cooked
  • 2 teaspoon chives or Shiso, minced

A-Frame's Furikake Kettle Corn | Hurricane Popcorn

Chop and fry bacon, mince chives, and clarify butter. Note: My dried pineapple came dusted in cayenne pepper, hence its darker appearance, so I skipped the “pinch of cayenne pepper.”

My “Qwik and EZ” method for clarifying butter entails microwaving the butter in a small bowl for 20 second at a time until it’s completely melted. Let the butter cool for a minute or two at room temperature and then skim off the white foam with a spoon. The resulting clarified butter isn’t perfect, but it’ll do just fine for this recipe.

A-Frame's Furikake Kettle Corn | Hurricane Popcorn

Finely chop the bacon and dried pineapple together using a food processor.

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Inari Sushi

Inari Sushi

Back when Philadelphia was home, I often frequented an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant called Ajia located a few steps from the Schuylkill River. For just $21.95, my friends and I gorged until we burst on shrimp tempura rolls, all manner of nigiri, and unique-to-Philly creations like the sweet potato roll and “Rock N Roll” roll.

Though I tried my darnedest to get my money’s worth during these AYCE outings, I could never resist ordering a half dozen inari along with the usual sushi spread. These sweet fried tofu pouches filled with marinated rice were easily the least cost effective menu item, and worse yet, they sat in my stomach like a brick. I wasn’t being a savvy consumer, but I didn’t care because the inari were delicious.

While shopping for furikake and Sumo citrus at my neighborhood Mitsuwa the other weekend, the idea of making inari from scratch popped into my head. After finding a trusty recipe from JustJenn and collecting the ingredients missing from my pantry, I came home and made some for lunch.

This semi-homemade recipe came together quickly and most satisfactorily. Considering that the rice was prepared in a rice cooker and the tofu pouches were sold prefabbed, the only real work was measuring the dressing, toasting some sesame seeds, and assembling the whole package. Project inari proved to be so easy and satisfying that I’ll never again order it at a restaurant. And certainly not at an all-you-can-eat one!

  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked sushi rice
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 package aburage (tofu pouches)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white sesame seeds

Inari Sushi

Prepare rice according to the directions written on the package. I used my rice cooker, which was gifted to me by my mother when I graduated from college.

Inari Sushi

While the rice is bubbling and boiling away, whisk together the vinegar, salt, and sugar in a medium sized bowl and set aside. Dress the rice with this mixture as soon as it is cooked. Adjust the amount according to your preferences—use less for well-balanced rice, more for tangier rice.

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Kaya Toast

Kaya Toast | Coconut Jam

I cannot stand to throw away food. Whether it’s a half bunch of parsley or or a half-eaten slice of pizza, having perfectly good food tossed in the trash pains me in a very real way. I attribute this compulsion to my mother and grandmother, who forced me to eat every last grain of rice while growing up.

After making a warm coconut rice pudding the other week, I was left with a half can of coconut milk that seemed to stare at me every time I opened the fridge, threatening to go bad at any minute. I could’ve made a Thai curry or soup, but a few measly ounces was not enough, and I wanted to avoid opening up another can of worms, if you know what I mean.

After racking my brain and the Internet for ideas, I found the solution to my coconut milk predicament: Kaya Toast.

Kaya Toast is a popular snack in Singapore and Malaysia comprised of coconut jam sandwiches served with sunny eggs drizzled with soy sauce. I’ve eaten this fabulous sweet and savory creation at a number of restaurants including Susan Feniger’s Street, The Spice Table, and Jitlada, but never considered making it at home until I found this super-easy coconut jam recipe from my friend Sarah.

Sarah’s original recipe calls for a full can of coconut milk, but I scaled down the proportions using simple ratios. After the jam came together, I toasted up some buttered bread, spread on a thick layer of sweetness, and sandwiched everything up nicely. A fried egg with a dash of white pepper and a slick of soy sauce was all that was needed to complete the package.

When life gives you a half can of coconut milk, make Kaya Toast.

  • 13.5 ounces coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup Turbinado, granulated, or brown sugar
  • Butter
  • Good quality white bread
  • Eggs
  • White pepper
  • Soy sauce

Prepare coconut jam

Kaya Toast | Coconut Jam

Combine the coconut milk and sugar in a large saucepan. The jam will bubble and boil intensely as it cooks, so make sure to choose a vessel that is much larger than its contents.

Boil the mixture over medium to medium-high heat until the jam reduces by about half and coats the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes.

Kaya Toast | Coconut Jam

Transfer the jam to a bowl and set aside to cool. The jam will continue to thicken as it cools.

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