Vegetarian (Vegan) Crock Pot Spicy Barbecue Baked Beans for the Slow Cooker with Bourbon

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

First of all, let me say – these could NOT POSSIBLY be easier to make.  The only thing you need is three days notice.  So – if you want beans on Saturday night – get this recipe out Thursday morning & get going.  Or – use canned beans.

OK – the recipe is going to be an approximation of what I did to create my beans.  DO NOT be intimidated by this recipe.  You will have days – perhaps literally – to get the flavors right.  This was my first attempt at baked beans & I made them at the request of my boyfriend who listed them as a key element to his traditional, Southern Thanksgiving day meal.  I made them from dry Great Northern beans but if you want an easy short cut – use canned.  Dry beans are just so crazy inexpensive & there is something very satisfying about really making something from scratch.  The only catch to the recipe I used was the time involved. Not time for YOU to be doing anything – just time for the beans to soak & cook for a few days.  I soaked the beans overnight on the Monday before Thanksgiving & cooked them in my slow cooker from Tuesday – Thursday – without ever turning them off.  I varied the temperature from high to low too warm (for overnight) but they were never allowed to cool for three days.  And still – after 4 days of soaking & cooking – the beans still had more snap (al dente) to them than my boyfriend was comfortable with.  He was raised on beans made from a canned beginning & therefore expected a mushier quality.  He wouldn’t eat mine.  That was a huge bummer for me as 1) I liked the texture BETTER and 2) I had cooked them for four fucking days in an effort to blow his socks off and 3) because I made four pounds of the damned things!   I will be defrosting & eating beans well into Christmas.

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One thing I especially liked about this recipe was that – for three days – my house smelled like a Kansas City BBQ shack.  And I know some Kansas City BBQ!  Here I am in Kansas City in 2004 – at the song’s famous intersection – 12th St & Vine – on my way to Arthur Bryant’s.  There is nothing at this intersection – BTW.  It isn’t even an intersection.  They just put the signs up where the intersection would be if it existed.  Oh, well.

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Oddly – I took no pictures at Arthur Bryant’s but it was a pretty cool spot.  Nothing on the menu for ME – but it smelled & looked amazing!

And here I am in KC again this year with Miles.  There are ridiculously few images of Miles & me together – and this self portrait will have to suffice.

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We were there for the Kansas City Filmmakers’ Jubilee.  I was a panelist & juror there in April this year – and Miles’ film Pillow was programmed there.  At any rate – we did a truncated BBQ joynt tour & stopped at Oklahoma Joe’s (which is attached to a gas station)

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That’s Miles in the white shirt by the orange post.  We also stopped into Jack Stack Barbecue – which was huge & very dark.  There was this evil pig statue by the fireplace & he is about all I photographed there.

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I did little more than stick my pinky into the bbq sauce at each spot but I watched, jealous & salivating, as others indulged.  Kansas City is a pretty cool place.  Go if you can.  Lots to see & lots to eat – if you are a carnivore.  Look at this spot:

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Anyway – while I slow cooked the bejesus outta those beans – my house smelled like Arthur Bryant’s for three days & I loved it!  The recipe is basically beans, a homemade barbecue sauce, water & then lots & lots of patience.  As I said – I made a BOAT LOAD of these beans & tweaked the sugar & spice in it as it cooked.  I regret to say that I did not track my measurements of each item well but I repeat, you will have hours (using canned beans) if not days (using dry beans) to get the flavors right.  It is really like a basic tomato pasta sauce in that everyone likes it a bit differently but no recipe is wrong.  So – try these beans & flavor them up as you will & enjoy!!!!

As to the soaking of the dry beans- soak AT LEAST overnight – a day or more is even better. This helps them cook more evenly & – it seems – helps break down something called phytic acid which (it also seems) is the culprit behind “Beans, beans – good for your heart. The more you eat the more you fart.”  Read more HERE.   I only soaked mine overnight but I cooked them for so long – I think I achieved a maximized fart-free recipe! Of course – I never fart. No women do. Just that nasty dog – and the boys in the house. Right, ladies? 🙂

Also – one of the more satisfying elements in the process of making these beans was watching as the white beans took on that traditional chocolate color over days of cooking.  Canned white beans might not stew in the sauce long enough to truly absorb all that rich pigment.  Just an FYI.

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Vegetarian Crock Pot Spicy Barbecue Baked Beans for the Slow Cooker

INGREDIENTS

1 LB dry Great Northern Beans (or canned equivalent – likely about 2 lbs or more)

1 TBS butter (or olive oil if you are vegan)

1 large sweet onion – diced (reserve the butt ends of the onion – unpeeled)

3 cloves garlic – minced

1 6 oz can tomato paste

1/2 cup good quality maple syrup

2 TBS Worcestershire sauce (use vegetarian if anchovies are off your diet)

1 TBS Dijon mustard

2 TBS ground mustard

1/4 cup molasses

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 TBS Kosher salt

10 whole cloves

Hot sauce (like Tabasco) to taste (I used a LOT & my beans are SPICY!)

1 cup Bourbon (optional) OR Jack Daniels Whiskey with Tennessee Honey (optional – I did NOT use any)

Honey (optional)

Ketchup (optional)

Barbecue Sauce (optional – but not recommended – as I want you to create a BBQ sauce truly from scratch)

S&P to taste

DIRECTIONS

If using dry beans – cover them in water two or three inches over the beans.  Soak overnight – at least.  A day or more – if you can.

Pick out any stones or other debris & rinse the beans well when you are ready to start cooking them.  Set aside.

Take the butt end of your onion & spice 5 whole cloves into each one – from the outside (thru the onion paper).  Set aside.

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Melt the butter in a sauce pan & saute the onions until they become caramely and soft.  Add garlic for thirty seconds & remove from heat scrape into your slow cooker.

In a large bowl – whisk together every other ingredient except the bourbon or whiskey (if using) & the beans.  Taste this barbecue sauce.   Play with the flavor by adding a little more of this or that.  Try to avoid the cheat of using pre-made BBQ sauce – but if you love a smokier flavor (for example) and you have a smokey BBQ sauce on hand – feel free to dump some in there.  Once you think this flavor is about right – put the beans in the slow cooker over the onions.  Stir in your sauce & the bourbon/whiskey (if using) & blend it all well.  Add enough water so that the beans have about 1/2 inch cover or more.  Drop the two cloved onion butts on top. Cover & cook.  And cook & cook & cook.  I cooked on high 12 hours & then left it on warm overnight & repeated this the next day.  If I left the house during the day – I lowered it to low & put it back on high when I returned.  Stir these beans often.  They should thicken very nicely over time.  The longer they cook – the better they will be.  If they get too thick – just add a little water & mix it in.  The flavor can continually be adjusted as these beans cook – so – if you want them sweeter – add more brown sugar.  Or add more spice.  Whatever you want.  When you are ready to serve them – toss the two onion ends.

I found that the al dente point on the beans was reached after 36 hours of cooking & that they did not soften measurably with an additional 36 hours of stewing in the sauce.

If you are using canned beans – this can all be done stove top in a heavy bottomed stock pot & the beans could be done in a few hours.  I haven’t tried this shortcut yet – but I imagine the beans will retain their paler color unless you give them a day or two in the sauce.

Also know – these can be made way in advance & reheated or frozen for another time.  Feel free to double, triple or quadruple the recipe & freeze a whole bunch.  I know I did!

Serve as a side or with hotdogs or over cornbread – whatever!  ENJOY!

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Jack Daniels Honey Whiskey Glazed Carrots

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

I must admit – I have really been underachieving with this blog lately.  Lots of factors are to blame, though.  It hasn’t been lack of interest or effort on my part.  It has been a combination of my trying various recipes that fail & are unworthy of posting, my need to eat some Goddamn leftovers whenever I make something instead of tossing them so I have an excuse to make something new and then a week & a half over Thanksgiving with my boyfriend – whose palate is Southern & conservative & accustomed to a great deal of meat.  Mine is quite the opposite – northeastern, adventurous & lacto-ovo-pescatarian.  Hence – little cooking happened over the holiday that warranted posting – and most of what did (lots of Thanksgiving new additions to my menu) remained undocumented due to the sheer volume of things I cooked.  I made:

Brie & homemade cranberry sauce mini tartelettes, roasted turkey, celery root stuffing, vegan gravy, turkey gravy, cream cheese mashed potatoes, corn pudding, glazed carrots, cauliflower gratin torte with homemade crust, peas with roasted onion & mint, pumpkin mac & cheese, slow-cooked BBQ baked beans, homemade cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie cupcakes with homemade crust and a full-sized pumpkin pie with a homemade crust.  There just wasn’t time in my days (three of them spent cooking) to properly track my ingredients & quantities & to photograph everything.

Do not think I wasn’t self-flagellating as I slaved for three days over food as my blog remained stagnant & forgotten – and as I neglected to take advantage of what could have been a month worth of posts.  I comforted myself that food cooked so close to – and on – Thanksgiving day was likely to be no aid to those of you out there who might be looking for Thanksgiving recipes.  I will attempt to make up for it by posted a few in the near future that I think might serve you well over the December holiday season.

The first one I will share with you is the recipe for the VERY EASY glazed carrots.  I used Jack Daniels Honey whiskey – but any whiskey would likely do.  There are very simple & appropriate for kids, too, as the alcohol burns off in the cooking.   They can be made hours in advance & reheated just prior to serving.

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Jack Daniels Whiskey & Honey Glazed Carrots

(This recipe should serve 10-15 very generously – and up to 20 if there are lots of other sides on your table.)

INGREDIENTS

1 cup Jack Daniels Honey Whiskey

4 lbs carrots, peeled & cut into 1/2 inch slices

2 1/2 sticks of butter (half a pound or MORE)

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

2 tsp salt

Pepper to taste

Chopped parsley or chives as garnish (optional but pretty)

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DIRECTIONS

Melt 3 TBS butter in a large saute pan over high heat.  If you do not have a large saute pan – do this recipe in two batches.   You want the carrots to come into contact with both the butter & the heat of the pan – and you do not want your butter to burn.  Add carrots & stir – sauteing them for 2-3 min.  Remove the carrots to a large bowl with a slotted spoon.

Add the whiskey & let it saute for 30-45 seconds.  Reduce heat & melt the remaining butter.  Add the brown sugar & stir to combine.  Once a glaze begins to form – a minute or two – add the carrots back to the pan & stir to get all the carrots coated in glaze.  Cover the pan & saute over medium or medium-low heat for maybe 5-10 minutes – until carrots are cooked to your preference.  Add S&P.

If serving immediately – pour the carrots & glaze onto a platter & top with the parsley or chives (if using) and serve.  Or – set them away off heat & reheat when ready to serve.

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Fiesta Martin Mexican Grill in Inglewood, Ca

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

I hate the airport.  Going to the airport in LA – for me (and likely you, too) – means that I am about to face too many hours hours in a too-small seat with too little to do, read, eat & drink and that I am likely to do these things to the dulcet tones of screaming babies.  Or – it means (half the time) that I am dropping someone off – someone I am sad to see going.  Today – it was the latter.  Today – I dropped off my boyfriend at the end of his Thanksgiving visit so he could head home to Little Rock.  😦

One thing that has made the airport run business more fun, though, has been seeking out little restaurant gems down in that neighborhood – areas I typically only ever drive through (over) on the freeway.  It was an airport run that helped me discover the INCREDIBLE soul food dished up at  The Serving Spoon and the awesomeness that is Pepy’s Galley (A diner AND a bowling alley?  Hey, what the…?).  Today resulted in another incredible find.

Let me introduce you to Fiesta Martin!!!  Mexican food, really good Mexican food, is abundant in Los Angeles.  I can’t believe I let myself squander decades pacified by adequate-at-best Mexican joynts like El Coyote, Mexico City & Mexicali – places that left me saying, “Ooof, OK.  Fine,” with disappointment and some irritation any time anyone insisted we go Mexican for dinner.

Tacos Delta in Silverlake always stood out as the best of what I’d experienced but lately – it seems amazing taco stands & trucks & shacks are popping up everywhere & dishing out incredibly fresh & clean Mexican fare.

Fiesta Martin is a full-blown restaurant with a decent selection of beer & margarita’s – one served with a mini bottle of Corona upended in it like this (images pilfered from Yelp):

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I’m not sure what a margarita tastes like with a mini-beer poured into it & I was unable to sample one today – but they sure look cool.  And check out the festive interior there:

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It would appear they do a $1 Taco Tuesdays thing – which it seems everyone is doing lately.  These never work for me because I do not eat meat or chicken & these $1 taco days always exclude the fish & vegetarian tacos.  But full price tacos are $2 – so what the fuck?  I can swing that.

Today I ordered both the shrimp & fish tacos (soft tacos) and a crunchy potato taco.  Miles, my boyfriend, ordered a chicken quesadilla.  I’d love to show you a picture of him enjoying his traditional Bud Lite & his massive quesadilla – but he isn’t one to be happily photographed.  So – I will just show you how he looked as we waited outside the vet for my pug, Memphis’, nail trimming appointment.

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Aren’t they a cute pair?  Miles looks distinctly suspicious & Memphis looks a bit concerned – but everything, I am happy to report, turned out delightfully there.

While we waited for our food, a huge basket of hot corn chips was delivered along with a salsa that was spiced to perfection.  Then the food came.  Miles’ quesadilla – huge and THICK with cheese & chicken:

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And my three tacos:

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also HUGE (on full-size corn tortillas) and outrageously good.  The two seafood tacos had battered & deep fried seafood in them & were doused with pico de gallo, Mexican crema & thinly shredded cabbage.  The potato taco was simpler with a crunchy taco casing & simply tomato, cabbage & shredded cheese on top with what seemed to be steamed, sliced potato inside.  I am a huge fan of the potato tacos at Senor Fish and the potato taco here was no match for those but, in fairness, it was no match for the two incredible fish tacos that I tried before it, either.  I’m not sure I’d be so impressed with the Senor Fish potato tacos either – if I tried them right after a few bites of a Fiesta Martin shrimp taco.

The other impressive thing about Fiesta Martin is the pricing.  Miles’ quesadilla was $5.99, my tacos were about $2 each and beers were $2.99.  Our bill came to $25 with three beers & a diet Coke on the tab.  Ridiculous!  Just awesome!

While there – I checked in on FourSquare & noticed that someone had mentioned giving the art by the front door a close inspection.  From where I sat in the back, they looked like standard sorta fantasy portraits of old men.  Up close – they are much more.  Take a peek:

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At any rate – our experience here was pure pleasure.  Some folks on Yelp mentioned this place used to have bad service – but that is no longer the case.  Cheerful ladies tended to us very carefully.  The place is lively with all its traditional decoration & music & everything looks very clean.  Yelpers complained the taco bar on Tuesdays can get crazy – but I cannot comment on that.  What I can say is that this place is CHEAP and delicious & I wish it was MUCH closer to my house because I would eat there on a weekly basis.  I recommend it VERY highly as a stop for anyone on the way to drop off a traveler at LAX – especially if that traveler prefers to travel well-fed & content.

Sock-It-To-Me Vegetarian (or not) Spicy Sausage & Mushroom Pasta – Gangnam Style

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

It has been more than two weeks since I posted anything but that doesn’t mean I am not cooking up a storm out here.  After my Orlando trip – my Asian food obsession continued.  I have been trying all kinds of new ideas out but, while most of them tasted pretty good, few LOOKED very pretty.  And none really blew my socks off flavor-wise, either, so I held back posting the recipes.  One dish that I liked very much was a seared shiitake mushroom & grilled tofu dish.  I am not a big fan of shiitake mushrooms as I think they have a gummy, fishy texture that is icky.  But I pan-fried the beJesus out of the ones I had used (and reserved) to make the stock for my Hot & Sour Soup recipe and they became chewy & more pleasant.  Here are some pics:

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The final dish looked like this:

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The primary reason I didn’t post THIS dish was that it was dependent entirely on this sweet & hot BBQ-y kinda sauce I found at the Korean market:

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Sweet & hot as promised – this stuff is delicious but I have no idea what it is or how to send folks out to find some.  And – for all I know, it is made of giant water bugs like the paste I accidentally got at another Asian market a while back.  This Korean stuff is sorta similar to this stuff from my childhood:

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which I still ADORE – despite the fact that it has about 3000 calories in a tablespoon but the Korean version is not as thick & smokey.  At any rate – the Korean stuff was critical to the dish – so I didn’t post the recipe.

Additionally – I made a garlic eggplant dish which was delicious but looked like melted tar due to the dark soy sauce (think Texas tea) I used.

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I made a green bean dish & a lemongrass shrimp thing:

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This is the marinade for the shrimp.  At least IT looks pretty.

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I tried this can of vegetarian “meat” in the green beans:

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It looked like ground pork but smelled sweet & disgusting.  I pan-fried the shit out of it & saturated it with spicy sauces (a black pepper sauce & hoisin & sriracha etc) until it was chewy an unrecognizable.  I made a faux pork & garlic green beans – Asian style:

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But i wouldn’t recommend this dish at all.

I made an orange chicken using seitan:

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Also underwhelming.  I made two kinds of tofu satays – both failures.  Here is some pressed tofu in a satay marinade:

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It fell apart on the grill.

I photographed everything – hoping I’d come up with at least one keeper – but no.

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Delivered Chinese would top all those dishes & be cheaper & WAY easier.  The learning curve on this Asian stuff is brutal.  So disappointing because the Asian markets are such wonderlands of opportunity.  Speaking of which – if you ever see keffir lime leaves – BUY THEM & then go home & Google a recipe using them.  This little packet BURST with the aroma of a Thai restaurant the second I opened it.

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These Thai chilis are fun, too.

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Now – researching recipes for inspiration – I kept coming across a Korean hot paste that intrigued me.  It is called “gochujang” and none of my Thai stores had it – or even knew what it was.  So – last week – I hauled my ass to Korea Town in search of a Korean market.  I found one.

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Once again – these Asian markets do not disappoint!  This one was a wonderland of crazy, fucked up looking shit & then products we all know but with entirely Korean labeling.  The only English I could find – at first – was the aisle markers.  I saw one that said “sauces & spices” or something so I went there.  They seemed to have even more options here than at my Thai market but I could not find GOCHUJANG.  Lost, I spotted a woman in the aisle with me.  I Googled gochujang & brought up images & approached the woman.

“Excuse me,” I said.

She looked at me in surprise & with supreme distaste – as if I’d just walked up to her & cut a loud, wet fart.

“I’m sorry, but do you know where I can find this?” I asked & held my iphone out to her.  She literally recoiled from my gesture, maintaining her offense at my approach.

Undeterred – I pushed the phone closer to her face.  She started to say no – as if she thought I was giving her my phone & then she saw the images.  “Oh, over here,” she said & led me to a HUGE aisle-end stand stacked with tubs of gochujang – but the word “gochujang” appeared NOWHERE.

She waved her arm over the display.

“Very spicy!” she warned.

“OK, thank you,” I said and looked at the mountain of product, confused and scanning for the word gochujang.

“VERY SPICY,” she insisted.

“Yeah, OK.  Thank you,” I said & she walked away from me – her disgust with me only partially abated.

I picked up a tub of it & finally found the word gochujang in teeny tiny print on the front.  I put it in my cart & decided to tour the rest of the market – hunting for inspiration.

Now – I don’t know how familiar you are with Korean food – but it is like those folks are from a different planet – with an entire planet’s worth of bizarre & exotic culinary options.  I have been to Korean BBQ restaurants – which are lame for me because they are really all about meat – but wtf?  What ARE those marinating meats?  And more bizarre – what are those unidentifiable non-meat things they have on the raw bar for grilling?  I can’t identify a single item up there except for shrimp.   All kinds of seaweedy looking things & grasses & sprouty things.  Everything vegetarian looks grey & gelatinous and all the meat looks shredded intentionally to render them as unidentifiable as the vegetarian fare.    Hmmm….I’m no food-o-phobe but those Korean options spook me.

Similarly – this Korean market had a gauntlet of pre-made things on a self-service bar.

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Not even a KOREAN explanation for what any of it was – though I will admit – lots of it looked pretty tasty.  But – after my waterbug close call – I shan’t eat anything Asian – the ingredients of which are not clearly explained to me beforehand.

Next to this smorgasbord – was the seafood counter:

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Next time you get a craving for fish heads – you can thank me for showing you where to buy them.

Everything is just all out & floppy & looks SORE and sorely unhygienic but what do I know?  They did have shrimp on sale for $3.99 a pound with a two pound limit – so I stocked up.  I watched a woman bag some & hand it to the fish monger guy to weigh & price.  I did the same & am proud to say that my best guess at 2 pounds weighed in at 2.1 lbs.  The fish monger let me slide.

On a side note – the vein in these shrimp was on the under side of their curve – rather than along the “spine.”  Not sure what that was about but they tasted fine & I didn’t get sick.  So – there.

Another curiosity was the sweet potato vendor.  Who knew there were sweet potato fetishists out there?

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The meat department proved disappointing after the horror show of a seafood department.  Mostly, I learned that ox tails are not cheap.

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Which brings me now to today’s recipe – Sock-It-To-Me Vegetarian (or not) Spicy Sausage & Mushroom Pasta – Gangnam Style.  I made this with various produce I had laying around, my precious gochujang & some vegetarian sausage.

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Gochujang is like a spicy tomato paste – but not so spicy that I needed to be warned TWICE by that cranky woman in the Korean grocery.  I’m calling this dish Gangnam in honor of my hero – Psy – and his amazing dance-craze video:


Here is what Wikipedia had to say about it (among other things):

“Gangnam Style” is a Korean neologism that refers to a lifestyle associated with the Gangnam district[16] of Seoul,[17] where people are trendy, hip and exude a certain supposed “class”. The term was listed in Time‘s weekly vocabulary list as a manner associated with lavish lifestyles in Seoul’s Gangnam district.[18] Psy likened the Gangnam District to Beverly HillsCalifornia, and said in an interview that he intended a twisted sense of humor by claiming himself to be “Gangnam Style” when everything about the song, dance, looks, and the music video is far from being such a high class.[19]

People who are actually from Gangnam never proclaim that they are—it’s only the posers and wannabes that put on these airs and say that they are “Gangnam Style”—so this song is actually poking fun at those kinds of people who are trying so hard to be something that they’re not.
—Psy[20]

 

At any rate – this came out VERY meaty for a non-meat dish but you can certainly use real sausage if you prefer.   I also used leftover (frozen) arrabiata sauce in this.  You can use your own arrabiata or a jarred version – if you like.

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Sock-It-To-Me Vegetarian (or not) Spicy Sausage & Mushroom Pasta – Gangnam Style

INGREDIENTS

2 shallots – diced (or a second onion if you have no shallots)
1 sm onion – diced
1 large tomato – diced (reserve half for garnish)
6 garlic cloves – diced
15 mushrooms – sliced
2 TBS soy sauce
3 TBS Gochujang Korean paste (more or less – according to your taste)
Sesame oil – as garnish
3 TBS sesame seeds
16 oz or more of arrabiatta or other spiced tomato sauce
olive oil
1 package Gimme Lean veggie sausage or equivalent amount of real sausage
1 lb pasta – I used spaghetti
Parsley or chives – chopped as garnish
Grated cheese as garnish
DIRECTIONS
Heat some olive oil in a frying pan & saute the onions, shallots & garlic until the onions start to brown.  Add the mushrooms & saute until the mushrooms begin to sear & turn brown.  Remove from pan & set aside.
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Add more olive oil to the pan & saute the sausage (use more oil for veggie – way less for real meat) until it begins to brown (or in the case of real meat – until it is cooked thoroughly).
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Add the mushroom mixture to the sausage & stir.  Add the tomato sauce, some of the chopped tomato (reserving half for garnish), gochujang and soy sauce & simmer over low heat for 30 minutes so flavors can blend.  I added probably a cup of water to thin this sauce to a consistency I liked.  Add water at your own discretion.
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Meanwhile – in a dry frying pan – toast the sesame seeds until just golden.  Remove from heat.
Cook the pasta to your liking.  Drain.  Toss with about 1/2 of the mushroom & sausage tomato sauce.  Arrange servings on plates & top with more sauce, chopped tomato, toasted sesame seeds & chopped parsley or chives.  Drizzle a tiny amount of sesame oil on top, add some grated cheese & serve.
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Vegetarian (or not) Hot & Sour Soup & Spooky Empire & Freak Show in Orlando

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

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This past weekend, I had the great pleasure of flying to Orlando & being a guest at a horror convention called Spooky Empire.

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Isn’t that a great logo? Anyway – horror conventions are basically a place where fans can meet actors & effects guys etc & get access to vendors that sell collectibles etc all in one place. I set up a table with various 8×10’s of me on it & if someone is a fan – they can pay $20, get a signed picture & a photo with me. OOOH! Exciting! But it can be – for them & for the actors, too, who might be fans of others in the room.

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I like to dress like Cher’s laudromat lady from the Sonny & Cher show – just so I can appear more current & youthful. Always trying to keep up with the kids.

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Here I am with some cool folks & the delightful Alex Vincent – who played Andy in Child’s Play 1 & 2.

Anyway – it was also fun because my boyfriend Miles was able to join me from Little Rock. He is very good-natured & allowed me to pose him forever as I took various silly shots of him over one lunch – as the art on the wall behind him made him appear to have ridiculous hair.  He is such a good sport!  I love him.

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Here’s the Orlando Hilton:

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And here are a few of the best costumes I saw walking around:

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I didn’t take the next few shots but I LOVED this little girl in the white dress. She was the cutest little other-worldly vision.

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I didn’t even SEE this person but wowza!

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I got to be a judge for the costume contest. I was one of four judges. Here I am taking my place at the judges table:

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MANY awesome costumes!!!! The winners were:

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3rd – an AWESOME Hellboy

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2nd – a really cool monster from Dark Crystal – whose name I don’t know. Others called him Wrathe or Raith. It was huge & there was no recognizing it as human when it moved. And

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1st – about 12 people all dressed as different Monster High characters.

I really liked a Tippi Hedren outfit which was a vintage skirt suit with black birds stuck all over it. She let out a scream on stage that was hilarious. There were other incredible ones but it was hard to get concensus.

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In another great coincidence – my friends Michael & Ryan of the awesome MURDERABILIA were in town to support the world premiere of our movie GRASSHOPPER!

Here they are

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And our lead actor – Jason Thompson – won best actor!!!

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Anyway – the whole Spooky Empire & Freak Show experiences were awesome.  Sid Haig was there (I was on a panel with him in Kentucky.  He is a gentleman.)  I didn’t take this photo but I love it:

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And I got to meet the very cute & sweet Laurence Harvey of Centipede 2 & 3.  He even brought me this autographed photo!

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These conventions are fantastic.

But now on to the Chinese food.  A few weeks ago – Miles sent me this photo of some Little Rock delivered Chinese:

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Egg rolls & beef sticks & hot and sour soup & green pepper beef.  I almost never eat Chinese as – like Mexican – it is seldom remotely authentic & usually sucks.  Why get Chinese when there is a Thai restaurant in between every single other business in Hollywood?  A great & cheap Thai place.  Or a sushi place.  Or a Vietnamese place.  But that delivered Chinese got me craving it.  So – we had it twice in Orlando.  Both times at Ming Court.  I begged the concierge for a second choice but they couldn’t offer one.  Ming Court has a koi pond out front with a food dispenser.  This video HERE is not of the ones at Ming but it gets the craziness of the feeding frenzy across well.  It is like a mosh pit of giant gaping, smacking mouths.  I spent about $5 in quarters out there feeding them.  Despite being unable to keep from throwing kibble into their pool & observe the tail slapping, body surfing, lip smacking chaos – something about their desperation was depressing.  I went inside to dine feeling vaguely like I needed to call animal control.

First time there was dinner.  I had a spicy calamari dish

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Lunch a few days later was a Spicy Scallops dish:

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Both were quite good.  Miles got green pepper beef both times and both times he ordered hot & sour soup.  The soup looked amazing & I feel like I haven’t had it for decades but it had pork in it so I was unable to indulge.

While Miles & I ate lunch at Ming Court – a large white crane landed in the pool area & began walking on top of the hedges there.

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Eventually, after much slow & deliberate walking, he poked his head in the hedges & came up gripping a good sized lizard in his beak.  He swallowed it whole – alive & kicking.  While Miles & I sat there, chopsticks forgotten in hand & mouths gaping open – he did it again.  Just fucking fucking swallowed them alive!  What was their conversation like when they landed?  “Dude!  Where are we?  Who shut out the lights?  Did you see that giant white guy out there?”  Did they try to crawl back up the bird’s throat?  And what killed them eventually?  Stomach acid?  Suffocation?  It was such a gruesome thing to see happen – over scallops, no less – it really bummed me out.  I love scallops – but sometimes the texture or the flavor or something tweaks me.  I need an ideal environment to totally enjoy them – and they have to be REALLY fresh.  Watching a gekko holocaust is not the ideal situation for scallop consumption & the “murders” left me feeling vaguely ill.

Both my visits to Ming Court left me feeling REALLY bad for one living thing or another (eating being the problem in both scenarios) & neither visit fully satisfied what has developed into a full blown Chinese food obsession.

So – at my first opportunity back home – I decided to make hot & sour soup & some other delicacies.

I made a stop at the Silom Market in Thai town.  I must be a cultural dunce because the Silom market seems to me like it should be selling kosher things.  I SEE s-i-l-o-m but my brain hears SHALOM!

It’s not a kosher market.  Which is a good thing because I wasn’t looking for latkes & matzo balls.  It is another kooky Asian market.  Which is what I needed.  I went there specifically for Szechuan peppercorns.  I hunted & hunted & found nothing.  I asked a cashier & she said large amount were in aisle 7 and small packets in 4.  I looked.  Nothing.  I asked the other cashier.  I was told aisle 8.  NOTHING.  I went back to second cashier and – exasperated – she led me to an aisle & pointed.  “There,” she said and I followed her finger.  She was pointing at a large container of anise pepper.  Confused, I thanked her & promptly Googled anise pepper.  “See Szechuan peppercorns.”  Why not just tell me they are called anise pepper here instead of sending me on multiple wild goose chases, cranky Silom Market cashier ladies????  Harumph!

Anyway – satisfied I had found Szechuan peppercorns, I decided to peruse the produce.  They had all kinds of crazy mushrooms & the VERY elusive kaffir lime leaves for $1.  Having never seen them for sale before – I bought them plus lots of mushrooms.  In the cooler section – they had what seemed to be a large selection of locally produced pre-made sauces & curries & pastes….sold in the lidded plastic containers delis use to sell you potato salad. I looked at a bunch of them, mouth watering as i thought of how authentic my dishes would taste if I used these expertly prepared flavorings.  I saw one that looked dark & spicy & read the ingredients

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Ingredients: Chili, onion, garlic, mangda, sugar, salt, fish, tamarind paste.  It was called Nam Prik Mang-da.  I love prik pao squid at my beloved Torung & this stuff looked like culinary gold.  I didn’t know what mangda was but wrote it off as an obscure name for a common thing – like my recent anise pepper experience.  $5.  Sold!

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Upon closer inspection – I see these curries/pastes are made in-house at Silom!

When I got home – I Googled the name of the chili paste I just bought looking for culinary inspiration.  I was ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIED when the search engine spat out its results.  Here – take a peek and see what MANGDA means – HERE.  Don’t look at the horseshoe crabs.  In fact – here is a stock photo of your garden variety MANGDA:

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Yes, folks.  Mangda means giant water bug!!!!!!  OMG!  I’m gagging just looking at that thing!  And I should have known better.  This isn’t my first time crossing paths with these fuckers.  No!  I pointed them out to you guys in my Bangluck Market post.  You can buy 4 of these guys whole, in the refrigerated section, for $4.49 – and they have 35 calories in the 4 together – 15 of which come from fat.  Yeah – they are nearly 50% fat.  Gag.  Needless to say – I threw the $5 container in the trash and pronto.

So – I decided to just go ahead & make the damned hot & sour soup.  This is an EEEEEASY, one-pot dish.  I used the exotic ingredients I found (and could identify) at Silom but you could use canned bamboo shoots, dried (and reconstituted) mushrooms or canned straw mushrooms or fresh mushroom of any variety.

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I had dried shiitake around so I made a mushroom stock from these by boiling & soaking them for about 30 minutes but any stock will do – veggie, chicken – even pork or beef.  I used tofu in this but I think I would leave it out in future efforts.  It has no real taste & adds pretty much all the fat & calories this dish has.  Without tofu – this is truly a guiltless pleasure.

I also found & used these kooky looking bamboo shoots but canned will work just great.

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PRINT THIS RECIPE

Vegetarian Hot & Sour Soup

INGREDIENTS

10 cups of (veggie or chicken or meat) stock (I soaked shiitakes for 30 minutes in boiling water & drained them.  I kept the mushrooms for later use.)

Bouillon cubes (enough for 4-6 cups of broth) – of whatever flavor you prefer (I used veggie)

Mushrooms – fresh or canned (I used fresh wood ear, enoki & oyster) – sliced thinly

Bamboo shoots – 1 large can – slivered – or several boiled stalks chopped

2 carrots – julienned

2 TBS jarred crushed ginger

1/4 tsp chili oil (more if you like spice)

2 eggs – whisked

1/3 block firm tofu – cubed (optional)

1 tsp oil

4 TBS rice vinegar

1 TBS balsamic vinegar

3 TBS soy sauce

1/2 tsp black bean garlic sauce (or chili bean sauce – instead)

1/2 tsp ground white pepper

cornstarch

Salt to taste

Scallions – sliced – for garnish (optional)

fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)

sesame oil (a few drops ) as garnish (optional)

MEAT EATERS – thinly sliced cooked chicken and/or pork are options to add to this soup

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Aren’t these dark wood ear mushrooms prehistoric & CREEPY looking???ImageImageImageImage

DIRECTIONS

Once all the produce is very thinly sliced, heat the oil in a soup pan.  Toss in mushrooms, bamboo shoots, carrots, tofu (if using) or meat (if using) & ginger.  Saute 2 minutes.  Add stock and bouillon cubes & bring to a boil.  Add vinegar, balsamic, soy sauce, black bean garlic sauce (or chili bean sauce) & white pepper.

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Mix 1/4 cup cornstarch with 1/4 cup water & whisk smooth.  Add this to your soup in increments to thicken it & give it that glutenous texture it has at restaurants.  Make it as thin or thick as you prefer.  If the 1/2 cup isn’t enough for you – mix up some more cornstarch & water in equal parts & add it until the soup is at your desired thickness.  Add salt to taste.

When you are ready to serve the soup, heat it & then very carefully pour the whisked egg through a slotted spoon & drizzle raw egg over the entire surface of the soup.  Once all the egg is in – carefully swirl it to get a feathery effect on the surface.  Add 1/2 tsp sesame oil to the pot (if using).  Garnish each bowl with fresh cilantro & scallions (if using).  Serve!

PRINT THIS RECIPE

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