Sunday Family Dinner

The Birthday Boys GO BIG!

April 2019 Fam Din
What can I say about these two dudes?

Not only do they share a birthmonth but they also share a special connection – they’re the best of buds.

And they also share a similar sensibility of foods….

More on that later.

April 2019 Fam Din
To kick off Fam Din, we needed cocktails….something of the tropical nature as a nod to my BIL C.

April 2019 Fam Din
And what evokes “tropical” than a big batch of Blended Passionfruit Margaritas??

April 2019 Fam Din
Aren’t they lovely?

Slightly sweet, super tart and packed a punch that you don’t see coming.

April 2019 Fam Din
As for the food menu, the birthday dudes pretty much wanted ALL THINGS SEAFOOD!

Lobster, crabs, calamari….

I mean, no complaints here!

April 2019 Fam Din
First appetizer was per C’s request – Crispy Calamari with Marinara Sauce.

April 2019 Fam Din
V took the lead with this and we inhaled a few trays of them.

April 2019 Fam Din
C also wanted LOBSTAH!

Seester steamed several lobsters and shelled them. Look at all of those chunks of gorgeous meat!

April 2019 Fam Din
But hey–we just didn’t enjoy the meat.

Seester T took also took the lobster “tomalley”, aka “lobster fat” and mixed it with mayo and spices to create these decadent Lobster Tomalley Crostini.

SUPER scrumptious and a great way to use all parts of the lobster.

April 2019 Fam Din
Then it was time to get the Littlings‘ involved — even if Lucasaurus was one of the birthday boys.

April 2019 Fam Din
We had them trim greens beans that seestrah T used later to make Stir-Fried Garlic Green Beans. It’s a veggie dish that even the munchkins enjoy!

April 2019 Fam Din
Now back to some decadence….

If you’ve been following my Instagram, you saw that a few months ago, I finally got to try Beef Ribeye Cap Steaks – a beef cut that I’ve been coveting for a LONG time.

April 2019 Fam Din

The cap is the top, most tender and marbleized portion that runs above the ribeye steak.

It is so beefy, so packed with flavor….it’s incredible.

So although neither birthday boy explicitly requested it, we knew it would be a hit with them and asked brother V to cook some of up on the cast iron.

April 2019 Fam Din
After they had rested a bit, Nini sliced them up….

And she had a couple of onlookers — just in case she had dropped anything on the floor.

April 2019 Fam Din
Take a gander!

April 2019 Fam Din
Oh!

I almost forgot about these!

I decided to grill up some spears because they looked quite lovely that morning.

April 2019 Fam Din
After I pulled them off the grill, I topped them with a quick dressing I had made earlier to deepen their flavors.

Grilled Asparagus with Salsa Verde – awesome alongside any summertime meal.

April 2019 Fam Din
Lucas had two requests for dinner….crabs and mint chip ice cream.

Well actually, he also wanted plain rice too.

Our little Asian dude….

April 2019 Fam Din
Initially we were going to pick up several Dungeness crabs to steam up but when we got to the store—no Dungeness crabs were to be found!

DOH!

April 2019 Fam Din
So we took a quick run to Costco and picked up a few pounds of Alaskan King Crab Legs …. and as it turns out, those are actually Lucasaurus‘ fave.

April 2019 Fam Din
CAUGHT!

Fam on their devices during Fam Din!

BUSTED!

April 2019 Fam Din
We’ll give them a pass this time.

Back in the kitchen we returned our attention to the huge bowl of lobster meat.

April 2019 Fam Din
And with the assist of her kiddos, seester N created this STUNNING platter of Lobster Rolls.

April 2019 Fam Din
I know….

Calamari, Tomalley Crostinis, Ribeye Caps, King Crab….

April 2019 Fam Din
And now, Lobster Rolls, too?!?

I have no excuses….

…because I was too busy eating….

April 2019 Fam Din
Our plates, quite literally, ran over.

April 2019 Fam Din
Will these munchkins ever understand that eating like this isn’t “normal” for most 6-10 year olds?

But I’m okay with that because I’m banking that they’ll make these kinds of dishes for me when I’m 80 years old.

April 2019 Fam Din
Here’s Leia patiently waiting for us to finish dinner so that we could start the next episode of Game of Thrones.

April 2019 Fam Din
And then it was dessert time!

My nephew/godbebe doesn’t enjoy cake. He likes donuts and mint chip ice cream….the green kind.

For his birthday dessert, I made him a quick Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Pie.

April 2019 Fam Din
The base was an Oreo cookie crust and then it was filled with mint chip ice cream. I topped it with fresh whipped cream, Andes mint chocolates (a nod to our Grandpa who used to give them to us as kiddos when we were good) and chunks of a new Oreo-Mint candy bar.

But here’s my confession…

I DIDN’T MAKE THE CRUST – IT WAS STORE BOUGHT!

We were running around that morning with so many errands that by the time I got to the store, I just picked up the crust thinking that it would save me time.

But when I used it…THE GUILT!

Really!! It would have taken me all of 15 minutes to make the crust but I took the short cut. Which I get…is fine in most cases. But I felt so guilty and came clean to everyone….. I made a vow to make it up at the next dinner.

April 2019 Fam Din
As for C….the man loves him some green tea. So this oldie but goodie came out again — Green Tea Match Tiramisu.

April 2019 Fam Din

Needless to say, these dude were very happy with their Birthday Menu. And how could they not – it was all decadently delicious!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY Lucas and C! 

April 2019 Fam Din

____________________________________________________

This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Blended Passionfruit Margaritas
Appetizers: Crispy Calamari with Marinara Sauce, Lobster Tomalley Crostini
Entree: Beef Ribeye Cap Steaks, Alaskan King Crab Legs, Lobster Rolls
Sides: Stir-Fried Garlic Green Beans, Grilled Asparagus with Salsa Verde, Steamed Rice
Dessert: Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Pie, Green Tea Match Tiramisu

Advertisements
Miscellaneous

Happy Birthday Mom

IMG_8687
Today is Mom’s 78th birthday.

Okay…legally it would’ve been her 77th.

Oh man…she would’ve been so annoyed that I was announcing the actual year.

sc043eb1e6

I so wish that she was still physically here with us so that I could call and sing Happy Birthday to her….among other things.

Y’all that’s a true mother’s love to have to endure my singing….

sc043d7815

And I wish that we could take her out to dinner and dote on her.

Well actually, there first would be an Egg Souffle from Panera for breakfast. Those became Mom and Dad’s favorite when they moved to Florida and I have to tell you, they’re delish.

IMG_8683

And then for dinner, we’d take her to the Cheesecake Factory where she would order a filet mignon–something she adored.

Cheesecake Factory?!

I know…

But back then, we LOVED it!

IMG_8685
And Mom sure did enjoy her favorite foods…especially steaks!

IMG_8681
So to celebrate her birthday every year, I have certain food traditions.

IMG_8691
For breakfast, I’ll swing by Panera to grab an Egg Souffle. This morning, I grabbed a Spinach and Artichoke Souffle. 

Mom also liked the Spinach and Bacon ones, too….because bacon….

IMG_8694
And because Mom was such a carnivore, I’ve cooked steaks in her honor these past few years.

Like Rosemary Garlic Ribeye, Korean Inspired Ribeye, Ribeye with Chimichurri and Filet Mignons.

IMG_8695

But today, I thought it would be fun to have an early dinner and head on over to the Cheesecake Factory.

Honestly, since Mom passed, I may have only gone there 3 or 4 times….so it would be a nostalgic treat!

Mom's Bday
I got there so early for dinner that I didn’t even have to wait for a table. Which, despite how ginormous they are, is so freaking rare!

Mom's Bday
Mom wasn’t a big drinker (no idea where the 5 of us kiddos got our love for libations) but if she did order a cocktail, it would be a margarita.

Mom's Bday
And MAN!

She LOVED their bread (where do you think I got it from?!?)–particularly their wheat bread. It was only fitting that I had a fair share of that carbolicious goodness tonight.

Mom's Bday
Dah-dah-deeh-DAHHHH!

The steak arrived!

I was so excited that I quickly sliced into it and took a bite.

And?

Well….um….

It was ok. Not bad…not great.

Actually nothing that I remembered it to be. Memory recollections are tricky like that.

Mom's Bday

I kept thinking… “For real?! Our steaks are SOOOO much better! More flavorful, more succulent!”

I couldn’t help but have a twinge of regret that we never had the chance to cook for her like we are able to cook now.

She would have absolutely loved it.

Mom's Bday
But the truth is, my sibbies and I were only fair cooks when Mom was here.

Proficient….but maybe nothing too spectacular.

It took us losing our Mom to motivate us to challenge ourselves to be where we are today. We ached for the flavors that she was able to conjure up and because of it, we became committed to building food memories for our munchkins.

And although she may not be able to taste our foodventures during our monthly Family Dinners, I have to believe that she’s out there somewhere pleased and proud to know that it is because of her, that we’ve carried on this tradition now for seven years.

Mom's Bday
Don’t worry Mama. When we’re together next, we’ll make you whatever you want and the margaritas will be flowing.

Happy, Happy Birthday. We love and miss you so much  ❤

momanddad

Pastas/Noodles · Seafood

Linguine alle Vongole {Linguine with Clams}

Linguine alle Vongole {Linguine with Clams}
Pasta is my kryptonite.

Linguine alle Vongole {Linguine with Clams}
It’s not just devouring it — I also love cooking pasta dishes, too!

My vice is way too accessible.

Linguine alle Vongole {Linguine with Clams}
So you can see the predicament I am constantly in.

Linguine alle Vongole {Linguine with Clams}
But not all pastas need to be heavy or sauce laden.

Linguine alle Vongole {Linguine with Clams}
In fact, one of my favorites is Linguine alle Vongole – long strands of pasta with clams in a white wine sauce.

YES PLEASE!

Linguine alle Vongole {Linguine with Clams}
It’s really quite simple with just a handful of ingredients that are probably (besides the clams) are already hanging out in your pantry.

Linguine alle Vongole {Linguine with Clams}
As for those clams:

  • Triple check with your fish dude/dudette that they are fresh.
  • Take the time to ensure that you soak and clean them. Biting into sandy clams is NO BUENO!
  • Toss away any clams that do not open after you’ve cooked them because that means they’re D-E-D!  (Nope, not a typo. “DED” is “DEAD”…but wayyyyyy more.)

Linguine alle Vongole {Linguine with Clams}
After you’ve done that, just infuse some olive oil with lots of garlic and red pepper flakes…..

throw in some white wine and your cleaned clams….

pop a lid on and wait until those molluscs open up!

Linguine alle Vongole {Linguine with Clams}
Then it’s just a matter of tossing in the cooked linguine, butter (for a bit of added lusciousness), lemon and parsley.

Linguine alle Vongole {Linguine with Clams}
And then get ready to do a Happy Dance in your kitchen because your tummy will be so appreciative of you!

Buon Appetito!

________________________________________________
Linguine alle Vongole {Linguine with Clams}
Serves 2

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound clams (Manila clams, cockles, littlenecks), scrubbed and cleaned*
1/3 cup white wine
kosher salt
5 ounces dried linguine, or other long strand pasta
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
½ cup chopped parsley

Heat the olive oil over low heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic and cook for 5-6 minutes to infuse the oil. Swirl the skillet often to ensure that the garlic does not burn. Add the red pepper flakes and infuse for another minute.

Raise the heat to medium and allow the garlic and pepper flakes to cook for an additional 15-20 seconds. Add the clams to the skillet and pour in the wine. Once the liquids begin to bubble, place a cover over the skillet and allow the clams to steam open – approximately 5-8 minutes depending on their size.

While the clams cook, add salt to a pot of boiling water. Add the dried linguine and cook to just shy of al dente. (Note: If your pasta is not done by the time your clams have cooked through, turn off the heat on the skillet and keep it covered until the pasta is ready. Turn the heat back up to medium once you add the pasta.)

When your pasta is done check your clams and discard any that have not opened yet. Add the pasta directly into the skillet with the clams, tossing to coat. Add the butter and continue stirring/tossing until it has fully incorporated. If the pasta appears slightly dry, add ½ – 1 ladle of the pasta cooking water, continuously stirring to emulsify the sauce. Toss in the lemon juice, zest and chopped parsley. Plate the pasta and serve immediately.

*Rinse and scrub the clam shells with a small brush. Place the scrubbed clams in a dish and submerge with cool water. Place the dish in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Rinse the clams and change out the cool water every 20 minutes for an hour. If you still see sand/grit at the bottom of the dish at the end of an hour, repeat the soaking process for another 20-40 minutes.

 

Miscellaneous

The Nguyens Send Their Regards

Game of Thrones Party
We really should be used to it by now.

It’s been nearly 8 years since George R.R. Martin released A Song of Ice and Fire and we’ve been anxiously waiting for his next book installment ever since.

(COME ON GEORGE!!! You’re killing us, Smalls!)

Game of Thrones Party
So when HBO released the final episode of season 7 of the Game of Thrones TV series back in August 2017, we should’ve known that the wait for season 8 would also be excruciatingly long.

Apparently, we know nothing…..

But HOLY CRAP! 595 days is just torture — particularly in this day and age of instant video streaming. You cruel, cruel men – George, D.B. and David.

Game of Thrones Party
My sibbies and I were so damn excited once the long awaited premiere date was FINALLY announced. As Northerners (we are Minnesotans and all) – how could we not be?

It didn’t take long for me to convince them to get together to watch the premiere and of course make a few GoT themed dishes for us to nosh on. And although it kind of sounds like one of our monthly Fam Dins, it wouldn’t be an official one since a few of us would be missing.

Don’t worry, we made them amply jealous.

Game of Thrones Party

As the date drew nearer and nearer, we (and millions across the world) found ourselves in a GoT frenzy! The excitement was crazy and I got a bit carried away.

In addition to planning which dishes we’d make, I found myself (thanks to the powers of the interwebs) in full DIY mode making decorations for a tablescape for that night.

You may be thinking – tablescape?

And we say, OF COURSE! Feasts in the Seven Kingdoms always appeared elaborate. Though we weren’t really having a “party”… well not exactly.

Game of Thrones Party
My sibbies and I are devoted GoT enthusiasts and although an elaborate themed event with lots of guests and costumes would be fun, it would get in the way of us being able to concentrate on the show. And let’s be honest–we would’ve gotten extremely annoyed at people talking and asking questions during the show. I might have had to pull out Joffrey’s crossbow or one of Jaqen H’ghar blow-darts.

BECAUSE WE WAITED 595 DAYS!

Game of Thrones Party
I came up to seester’s house early that weekend so that we could hang out and prepare for our GoT celebration. Sure, there were times that we couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves while we prepped. For a “non party”, we sure were putting some effort into things. But what can we say? When we start something, we go for it!

And yes – along with an Iron Throne, House bunting, flying dragon cutouts with flames – there was a Kill Board.

This is the final season of GAME OF THRONES! It would be in poor taste not to!

Game of Thrones Party
I believe the munchkins call it “being extra”. And I don’t disagree.

Though I definitely don’t hear any of them complaining when we combine our powers to throw their parties. In fact, I spy some “extra” tendencies growing in each of them too! It’s a Nguyen gene –they can’t avoid it!

I’d also like to say that it could’ve been A LOT more EXTRA. This was on the tamer side considering some of our other endeavors.

Game of Thrones Party
One of my besties, T, did snag a coveted invite – but after 22+ years, she’s my family. And most importantly, T is a GoT fanatic who doesn’t talk during the show.

Priorities people!

(Oh Bella…the perpetual photobomber.)

Game of Thrones Party
Let’s get on to the feast, shall we?

GoT has never shied away from libations with references to ale, rum and even Tormund’s sour goats milk. And characters always appear to be sipping on wines. Dornish Reds? Arbor Golds? How about some of that Lannister soldier’s homemade Blackberry Wine?

So when I saw the Game of Thrones wines from vintner, Bob Cabral, I had to get my hands on some! These were 2016 Chardonnay and 2017 Pinot Noir. 

Game of Thrones Party

We also discovered that each cork is emblazoned with different house sigils! We only opened two that night (hey-there are 5 more episodes!) and got House Stark and House Martell.


And the libations didn’t stop there because like Tyrion says….

We drink …and we know things.

Game of Thrones Party
Oh that Cersei.

I just love to hate her–don’t you? Conniving, ruthless, smart, ambitious…and that woman sure does love her vino.

In her honor, we made Cersei’s Sangria. It’s seemingly light and fruity but packs a punch thanks to a douse of Armenian Brandy I added.

Game of Thrones Party
And then I found these….limited edition whiskey – White Walker by Johnnie Walker.

“In celebration of the final season of the critically-acclaimed HBO series, Game of Thrones, Johnnie Walker is proud to introduce White Walker by Johnnie Walker. This new blend perfectly reminds Johnnie Walker and Game of Thrones fans alike that “Winter is Here.” The limited edition bottle utilizes thermochromic ink to give fans a frosty surprise message when frozen. With flavor notes like caramelized sugar, vanilla, and fresh red berries, White Walker by Johnnie Walker makes for a delicious serve. The new blend is best served ice cold, inspired by the White Walkers beyond The Wall.”

I HAD TO HAVE THEM because:

  1. This girl likes her whiskey.
  2. This girl loves GoT.
  3. This girl is a major sucker for marketing and branding items.

Bonus? I got them on an insane clearance sale (WHAT?!?! I know!) and gave some to the sibbies as non-party/party favors.

Game of Thrones Party
We enjoyed the White Walkers over ice (because Winter is here and all) and I also made up a batch of White Walker Whiskey Sours. I love a good Whiskey Sour and the egg white made for a nice frothy “wintry” look.

Game of Thrones Party
We used avocados to serve as Dragon Eggs for the evening.

We also paid homage to Guest Rights which is the sacred law of hospitality in Westeros. Per the Wiki of Ice and Fire:

“When a guest, be he commonborn or noble, eats the food and drinks the drink off a host’s table beneath the host’s roof, guest right is invoked. Bread and salt are traditional provisions. When invoked, neither the guest nor the host can harm the other for the length of the guest’s stay. For either to do so would be to break a sacred covenant that is believed to invoke the wrath of the gods. both old and new. Even robber lords and wreckers are bound by the ancient laws of hospitality.”

And as we all remember (and you bet as heck the North Remembers….), Walder Frey broke what was considered one of the most sacred laws of gods and men during the Red Wedding when he allowed the slaughter of the Starks and their bannermen after having ceremonially sharing bread and salt with them.

For that night, our “bread” was Kings Hawaiian Rolls and our “salt” was Maldon Sea Salt Flakes.

Game of Thrones Party
Since Braavos plays a significant role in GoT (it’s where Arya trained to become a Faceless Man and is home of the Iron Bank), we had Braavosi Coins in the form of Oreo cookies. Nabisco was brilliant partnering with GoT to come out with a limited edition series that featured special packaging and four different imprinted designs honoring House Stark, House Lannister, House Targaryen and the Knight King. They even made its own GoT title sequence using Oreo cookies!

Of course that marketing scheme totally worked on me and when the release date for the cookies came, we were on a mad hunt! Nearly a dozen stores later, I got my hands on a full case of them! (Yup, I shared those, too.)

Game of Thrones Party

We made Deviled Dragon Eggs — though the Mother of Dragons may not have been pleased with that decision.

Game of Thrones Party
I attempted to color them green, yellow and black in honor of Rhaegal, Viserion and Drogon but had mediocre results.

They were still rather pretty though.

Game of Thrones Party
Although he was so freaking smarmy, his endless machinations were at the core of the entire GoT chaos. And since chaos is a ladder, these twisted parmesan cheese straws were a nod to that twisted Little Finger.

Game of Thrones Party
I admit this is rather childish humor but after all that Theon did to betray the Starks, I kind of had to go there. So I made meatballs in marinara sauce and called them Theon’s Balls.

Nina wanted me to call them Unsullied Balls but those poor men had gone through enough.

Game of Thrones Party
Remember that spineless Walder Frey? By the Old Gods that man was terrible! And it was such sweet, sweet poetic justice when Arya carved up his sons, baked them into a pie and served it to him.

Where are my damn moron sons? Black Walder and Lothar promised to be here by midday.“- Walder Frey

They’re here, my lord.” – Arya Stark

Game of Thrones Party
Seestrah T was inspired to bake Frey Pie based on Arya’s Revenge. She made two filling versions— there were two Frey sons after all.

One was beef bourguignon based and the other was ground turkey-Italian sausage based.

Game of Thrones Party
Since she was feeling cheeky, she used fingerling potatoes to serve as their fingers and pearl onions to be their eyes.

Game of Thrones Party
Who knew Black Walder and Lothar could be so tasty?

Game of Thrones Party
At one point I felt a bit guilty and thought we needed some greens. And since House Tyrell hails from a land of abundance and is known for their bountiful crops, a Highgarden Salad seemed appropriate.

Game of Thrones Party
The Wildlings (or Free Folk) have no love for the men of the Night’s Watch and call them “crows”. And what better way to depict that then by serving Roasted Crow.

Game of Thrones Party
Seester N marinated a bunch of quail in five spice, soy and blood magic before deep frying them. And to drive the theme home, she impaled them on skewers.

Yeah, eldest sis may look nice but there’s savage streak to her too.

Game of Thrones Party
Nini’s Roasted Crow still had a tiny heart intact!

Game of Thrones Party
The Thenns are one of the tribes of the Free Folk known for cannibalism as they feast on the flesh of their enemies.

Game of Thrones Party
Which motivated me to make a few slabs of Thenn Ribs.

Okay, they were pork baby back ribs … because Costco was all out of Thenn.

Game of Thrones Party
And finally there was what I considered the Valyrian steel of cakes – this jaw dropping showstopper.

Munchkin Nini also got caught up in the GoT craze and when she heard that there were specialty Oreos, she decided to make a chocolate-Oreo cake in honor of Drogon.

We named it Dracarys.

Game of Thrones Party
Not only was it delicious (Chocolate with Cookies & Cream!) but her decorations was just stunning. She created a beautiful gradient hue with the buttercream and piped out Drogon’s tail. She then meticulously placed the sprinkles one-by-one on the “scales” for depth.

Game of Thrones Party
Told ya that “extra” gene was hereditary.

Game of Thrones Party
And the surprise of the night? We discovered who ends up ruling the Iron Throne!

Queen Leia Le of House Pug,

Queen Bella Nguyen of House Puggle, and

Queen Millie Bulaon of House Morkie.

First of their Names, The Untrained, Queens of the Snuggles, Queens of Treats, Khaleesis of the Great Duvet Comforters, Protectors of the Realm, Ladies Regnant of the Seven Pupdoms, Breakers of Winds, and Mothers of Chew Toys.

Game of Thrones Party

Our Queens would like to remind you that:

“When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives…”

ps. They would like steaks for dinner.

Game of Thrones Party
Needless to say, we had an awesome time.

And we watched the premiere episode 3 times that night. The first time, no one was allowed to talk or ask questions. The second time, we paused and debriefed whenever anyone had questions, comments or new information. And the third time, we kind of fell asleep.

Hey-it was late and we were so full!

I know what you’re thinking….if we did this for the premiere what are we going to do for the series finale?!?

GAH! We don’t wan’t to think about it coming to a close so soon!

In the meanwhile…check out this quick recap video where you might see something “magical” at the very end.

Until next time….

Valar Morghulis

Game of Thrones Party

Sunday Family Dinner

Family Dinner Celebrates Mardi Gras

March 2019 Fam Din
March is always a tough month for us to figure out a theme for Family Dinner.

Do we go with the St. Patrick’s Day route like that one year?

Maybe an early Easter theme like last year?

Or that one year where we were so stumped, we just decided to make green food. (Maybe not our most inspired dinner but it was still tasty.)

March 2019 Fam Din
So when we were kicking ideas around for this March, we were hemming and hawing FOH-EVAH!

And then it hit us…. MARDI GRAS is in March this year!

Sure, we’ve done a crazy N’awlins Seafood Boil and Southern Comfort food but we haven’t tried channeling Fat Tuesday before.

March 2019 Fam Din
Now it’s said that the first Mardi Gras celebration in the states occurred in Mobile, Alabama – and my ‘Bama coworker won’t let anyone say otherwise (those Roll Tide folks are serious!). But since celebrations can be found all around the old French territories in the Southern Gulf, we decided to take inspiration from Creole, Cajun and Southern cuisine for our menu that night.

March 2019 Fam Din
Seestrah T was up to bat first.

Shrimp and Grits seemed like a great option but she had already made a knock out version to pair with the brisket V smoked awhile back.

March 2019 Fam Din
Thankfully by the powers of Google searches, she stumbled upon a recipe for Crab Beignets.

Crabs? YES PLEASE!

Beignets? HECK YES!

Can’t have a nod to this region without including lots of seafood and beginets!

March 2019 Fam Din

These savory beignets were filled with goodies like LOTS of lump crab meat, onions, peppers, hot sauce, eggs, milk and baking soda for that lift. They were then rolled in cake flour and deep fried until golden brown.

We dunked them in a rémoulade and DING-DING-DING-DING-DING!

Nuggets of joy I tell you.

March 2019 Fam Din
We all agreed that they were more like fritters than what you initially think of when you say “beignet”.

But none of us cared because we were too busy stuffing them into our mouths.

March 2019 Fam Din
Since moving back to California, Luna has taken a great interest in helping out in the kitchen – particularly during Fam Din. She’s become more and more comfortable with her knife skills (under supervision of course) and is cooking complete dishes with her folks’ guidance.

All skills that we put to work as she helped her parents prep their dish for that night – Crawfish Étouffée.

March 2019 Fam Din
Étouffée is French for “smothered or suffocated” and is a thick sauce (practically a stew) made most often with shellfish. It’s traditionally served over rice and it all begins with a “roux“.

A roux is a mixture of a type of fat and flour that has been cooked down to thicken a sauce. I’ve read in a few places that if your roux is made with butter and flour, it’s Creole. If it’s made with oil and flour, it’s Cajun. But please don’t quote me on that– it has the makings of an ongoing debate I sure as heck have no authority to settle.

March 2019 Fam Din
V and L searched and searched for fresh crawfish to use in their étouffée but were out of luck. Crawfish season (crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs – whatever nomenclature you prefer) in California usually doesn’t start until July but sometimes you can find them in Asian grocery stores a bit earlier.

At the end of the day we opted to use the seawater cousin of crawfish – langostinos. These wild caught langostino tails can be found in 2 pound packs in the freezer section at Costco and they’re an awesome substitute. So yes, technically, we had Langostino Étouffée and not Crawfish Étouffée. The langostinos are quite sweet, tender – and these are SHELLED by hand so you don’t have to do the work!

March 2019 Fam Din

After they spent some TLC getting a rich and dark roux (for that deep nutty flavor), they added aromatics and A TON OF EXTRA BUTTER! Kerrygold Irish Salted Butter – it’s their fav.

And then all the glorious langostinos joined the party!

March 2019 Fam Din
Delish right?

March 2019 Fam Din
They served their étouffée over a big scoop of white rice. Can you guess which kind?

Uncle Ben’s!! SERIOUSLY!

They were told that it’s what’s commonly used – so we did it! To be honest, we weren’t even sure how to cook Uncle Ben’s white rice. But when all was said and done, it was perfect.

March 2019 Fam Din
In fact, it’s one of those things that tasted even better the next day!

By then the flavors had extra time to meld and party together which made me VERY happy to have leftovers.

March 2019 Fam Din
V & L were overwhelmed with joy at how well their dish turned out.

March 2019 Fam Din

And like all of the munchkins at some point have done, Nini is wondering —“Is this my family???”

March 2019 Fam Din
Seester N directed the last two savory items of the night…with the assistance of the kiddos, of course.

Luna helped her big cousie Nina get the corn meal dredge prepared for the catfish that had been soaked in buttermilk, hot sauce and spices.

March 2019 Fam Din
After the fillets were coated in the cornmeal, they hung out for a little bit on a rack so that the coating would set.

March 2019 Fam Din
They were then deep fried for a few minutes until golden brown. Southern Fried Catfish –mmmmm!

(Psssst…..I spy a box of Uncle Ben’s in the corner.)

March 2019 Fam Din
N also felt that if we were going to be in this region, we should have some okra. Hey- we did need some veggies.

So she dredged them and threw them in the hot oil, too. Because nothing says healthy veggies more than Cornmeal Fried Okra.

Work with us people…..

March 2019 Fam Din
Doesn’t this plate just look heavenly???

March 2019 Fam Din
We added generous douses of fresh lemon juice over it all to brighten the flavors and it was scrumptious!

The leftover fried catfish were remade the next day into little sliders on rolls with a schmear of the rémoulade from the Crab Beignets. I’m telling you, leftovers are a clutch component of Fam Din and we are always SUPER bummed during the months when our “doggie bags” are lighter than others.

March 2019 Fam Din
DROOLS.

Doesn’t this make you want to chug some Hurricanes and run around in elaborate costumes on floats?!?

Side note: I did consider whipping up a batch of Hurricanes for the occasion but really…. Although it would have been on trend for the theme, who in their right minds actually like the tastes of hurricanes?!? Tooth-achingly sweet and so boozy it could combust into flames.

BLEH!

So we stuck to lots of vino instead.

March 2019 Fam Din
Our Humanlings!

And a few photobombers in the background.

OMIGOSH – how the heck did that Uncle Ben’s box manage to squeeze itself into another picture????

March 2019 Fam Din
Okay, let’s talk about dessert now, shall we?

I really struggled on this one, peeps. The sweet bite often seen during Mardi Gras is King Cake. In the states, King Cake is a sweet bread dough that is braided and formed into a ring. After it’s baked, it’s drizzled with an icing and decorated in the colors of the celebration – purple, green, yellow. According to an article from Eater,

“King cake is eaten on January 6 in honor of Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, which historically marks the arrival of the three wise men/kings in Bethlehem who delivered gifts to the baby Jesus. The plastic baby hidden inside king cakes today is a nod to this story.”

March 2019 Fam Din
That is all fine and dandy.

But here’s the thing–if I want a dessert, I don’t want to have something that evokes a breakfast pastry. And to me, that’s what King Cake tastes like.

I could’ve tried traditional desserts for the season from outside of the US like galette des rois, gâteau des rois or roscón de reyes. But I just didn’t think that any of them would’ve been a hit with the fam – particularly the kiddos.

Of course, there was the sweet beignet route, too. However Seestrah P has made beignets in the past before and nothing I could’ve made in that thread would’ve topped her Cafe du Monde inspired Beignets with Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream.

March 2019 Fam Din
So I took some MAJOR liberties and finally settled on a French dessert – Profiteroles!

I figured a French influenced dessert still had a home in a Mardi Gras menu, right? Another stretch? But I went with it and nabbed Maya and Nina to help make the choux pastry.

Bella volunteered to guard them as they puffed and baked in the oven.

March 2019 Fam Din
The choux pastry came together quick and easy (especially when you finagle 2 nieces to help you) and can be filled with just about anything. Common fillings are whipped cream, pastry cream, custard, fruit but I wanted use ice cream so that we could have a variety to choose from.

March 2019 Fam DinPLUS it gave me the perfect segue to bring in the colors of Mardi Gras based on the ice cream flavor:

March 2019 Fam Din
Since I didn’t make the ice creams (or gelato) myself, I felt compelled to make a chocolate sauce from Bouchon to drizzle over the tops. This WAS in honor of Fat Tuesday!

We created an assembly line where Nini filled the choux with ice cream, I drizzled the chocolate sauce and Luna topped them with matching sprinkles. Teamwork makes the dream work….especially when it’s this yummy.

And no surprises here but the the King Cake was not missed.

March 2019 Fam DinAnd guess what we did after we ate all of that?

We spent over an hour watching YouTube videos of people traveling all over Asia eating delicious (and sometimes crazy looking) foods. We’ve got some issues, I know.

I’m just going to call it research.

March 2019 Fam Din
Until next time Friends….Cheers! ❤

_______________________________________________________________________

This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Various Wines
Appetizers: Crab Beignets with Rémoulade
Entree: Crawfish Étouffée, Southern Fried Catfish
Sides: Cornmeal Fried Okra, Rice
Dessert: Profiteroles filled with Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce

Beef · Soups/Stews

Ground Beef Chili {aka “Tailgate Chili”}

Ground Beef Chili
I realize that crying about 50 degree weather in March could be categorized as some major first world problems….

BUT I’M IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PEOPLE! THIS JUST ISN’T RIGHT!

Ok. Now that I got that out of my system, should we chat a bit about this Ground Beef Chili?

Sure, I love my tried and true Turkey and Bean Chili. It’s hearty, savory and just darn tasty.

However this beef chili is just….”beefy”. It’s delicious on its own topped with a few onions, a bit of cheese and a dollup of sour cream. But it’s freaking awesome on top of burgers, hot dogs, fries, nachos—which is why I also call it my “Tailgate Chili” where anything goes!

Ground Beef ChiliA few things to mention about this recipe.

First is the addition of baking soda and a bit of water to the ground beef. Sounds strange right? But I picked it up from a Cooks Illustrated recipe and the added step helps keep the beef moist and tender.

Second is the ground tortilla chips. PLEASE don’t skip this! You will be so pleasantly surprised by the deep corn flavor it imparts on the chili and compliments it beautifully.

Last are the beans. I prefer pinto or red kidney beans but really, it’s totally up to you. Black beans, garbanzo beans, butter beans, cannellini beans, navy beans…. Do you, Boo!

Ground Beef Chili
And if you’re going to make a batch of this, why not double it? I have a few quarts of this deliciousness tucked away in my freezer and I will tell you, I never regret that decision when I can have a scrumptious bowl of chili within a few minutes.

Stay warm my fellow So Cal Peeps! ❤

_______________________________________________________
Ground Beef Chili
Serves 8-9

Ingredients:

2 pounds ground beef
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda
kosher salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
½ teaspoon cayenne power
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup ground tortilla chips
2 cups beef stock
1 can (15-ounce) kidney or pinto beans, rinsed
15 ounces pureed tomatoes
1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

In a large bowl, mix the ground beef with the water, baking soda and 2 teaspoons salt. Allow to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy bottom pot over medium heat. Cook the onions and jalapenos until softened—about 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Add beef and cook, stirring with wooden spoon to break meat up into ¼ inch pieces, until the beef is browned – about 12 to 14 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for one minute. Stir in all of the dried spices including the ground tortilla chips. Cook and stir for 2 minutes.

Pour in the beef stock, beans and pureed tomatoes. Bring to boil, scraping bottom of pot to loosen any browned bits. Once it reaches a boil, lower the heat to a low simmer. Simmer the chili partially covered, for 1½ hours. Stir the chili every 15 minutes or so as it slowly thickens.

Remove the pot from the stove and allow to rest, covered, for 15 minutes. Stir in the apple cider vinegar and add additional salt if needed. Serve with your choice of diced red onion, shredded cheddar cheese, diced avocado, chopped scallions, fresh cilantro, sour cream, lime wedges and tortilla chips

 

 

Appetizers/Small Plates · Pork

Pork and Shiitake Mushroom Dumplings

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings
There was a moment the other week when I stopped and said to myself, “Do you have a dumplings problem?”

I mean…sure, it was when I was elbow deep in folding about 100 dumplings. But then I quickly shook off the momentary doubt and kept on assembling.

Because dumplings make the world better!

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings
And if this is how I can contribute to adding positivity, it would be just bad ju-ju if I stopped making them—don’t you think?

Too much of a stretch?

Sorry…I was on a dumplings high.

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings
Speaking of a dumplings high, I am pretty pumped that I’ve got a healthy stash of these little buggers currently in my freezer just waiting to be broken into whenever the cravings hit.

The predominant ingredients in the filling are ground pork and shiitake mushrooms – the perfect pairing.

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings
Shiitake mushrooms provide such an earthy flavor and I use two forms of them in this filling – dried and fresh.

Why two?

It’s because I primarily use the dried shiitakes in order to extract a “mushroom liquid” during the rehydration process. I slowly incorporate this mushroom liquid into the ground pork to not only flavor the meat but it also results in a great texture while producing a juicier filling.

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings
Because juicy dumplings are muy bueno.

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings
Which reminds me to strongly suggest that you avoid using lean ground pork in this.

Just like when you’re making hamburgers, you need some of that fat for a juicier filling.

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings

Once you have these beauties filled and folded, you can opt to cook them any way that tickles your fancy. I generally either boil or pan-fry them and have included instructions for both below. But if you’re in a steaming or deep-fry mood, go for it!

Pork and Mushroom Dumplings

Heck, I often throw some into my instant ramen!

Versatility people – it’s a beautiful thing! ❤

_______________________________________________________
Pork and Shiitake Mushroom Dumplings
Makes approximately 40 dumplings

Ingredients:

Dumplings:
2 ounces dried shiitake mushrooms*
1 cup boiling water
2 cups finely chopped Napa cabbage
kosher salt, divided
1 pound ground pork
½ teaspoon Sichuan pepper flakes
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups minced fresh shiitake mushrooms
½ cup chopped scallions, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons finely minced shallots
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce (more, if needed)
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or other preferred rice wine
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 package Shanghai-style dumpling wrappers (50 count) + water to moisten
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Dipping Sauce:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons Chinkiang black vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
½ tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon finely minced ginger
2 tablespoons homemade Sichuan Chili Oil (both the oil and flakes), more to taste

Rehydrate the dried shiitake mushrooms* by placing them in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Set aside for 20 minutes until the mushrooms have rehydrated. Gently squeeze the excess liquid from the mushrooms (reserving the “mushroom liquid”) and finely dice them. Set aside.

Place the chopped cabbage in a colander set over a bowl. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and let sit for about 20 minutes. Wrap the cabbage in a cheesecloth or clean kitchen towel. Squeeze out and discard the excess liquid and place the drained cabbage back in the colander.

Place the ground pork in a large bowl and add in the Sichuan pepper flakes, black pepper and ½ teaspoon salt. Using chopsticks, swirl the meat in a clockwise direction while gradually adding 4 tablespoons of the mushroom liquid. Keeping swirling until the liquid has fully incorporated into the ground pork. To the bowl, add both mushrooms, cabbage, scallions, shallots, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, sesame oil and ground coriander. Using cleans hands, mix the filling until thoroughly combined.

Test the filling by taking a small spoonful of the mixture and pan fry in a nonstick skillet for 1-2 minutes on each side. Taste and adjust for seasonings.

Begin assembly of the dumplings. Lay one dumpling wrapper on a flat surface or in the palm of your hand. Dip your finger in water and moisten the edge of the wrapper. Place a spoonful of filling in the center of the wrapper. Fold the dumpling in half and pinch the center together. Starting from the center, make about 4-5 pleats on the right side of the dumpling. Repeat with the left side of the dumpling so that all the pleats point towards the center. This will also create a flat bottom to allow the dumpling to sit upright and form a slight crescent shape. Place the dumpling on a baking sheet and continue until all the filling/wrappers have been used.**

Prepare the dipping sauce by whisking all of the ingredients together and set aside.

Cook the Dumplings

Boiled Dumplings: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the dumplings to the pot (no more than a 9 or 10 at a time, depending on how large your pot is) and lower the heat so that it’s at a steady but not rapid boil. Stir frequently so that they do not stick together. Allow the dumplings to cook for about 5 or 6 minutes or until the filling has cooked through. Use a large slotted spoon or kitchen spider to remove and drain the dumplings. Transfer to a serving dish and spoon the sauce over them. Garnish with scallions, and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Pan-Fried Dumplings: Heat a large frying skillet to medium-high heat with 2 tablespoon of oil. Place a single layer of the dumplings in the skillet. Fry the dumplings for 1-2 minutes until the bottoms are golden. Carefully pour in about ½ cup of water and immediately place a tight fitting lid on top. Lower the heat to medium-low and allow the dumplings to steam for 4-5 minutes. Remove the lid and cook until all the water has evaporated. Transfer the dumplings to a platter and sprinkle the tops with scallions and toasted sesame seeds. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce on the side.

*If using whole dried shiitake mushrooms, quarter them before hydrating.

**If you would like to freeze the uncooked dumplings, place the baking sheet directly into freezer for 4-5 hours after you have assembled them. Be sure that the dumplings are in a single layer and are not touching each other. Once the dumplings have froze, you may transfer them to a sealed container. They can be kept in the freezer for a few months and should be cooked frozen. Add 1-2 additional minutes to the cooking time.