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*wasabi shrimp hand roll bowl.

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I'm kind of a huge pain to go to a sushi restaurant with.

This is in part because I have an inexplicable distaste for scallops, lobster, and crab, and there is a lot of crab in sushi rolls.

(Don't even get me started on imitation crab. Or, for that matter, cream cheese, which is a blight on the textural delight that sushi rolls are meant to be.)

I do, however, love tuna in my sushi in absolutely any incarnation. My friend Jeannie and I used to order hamachi nigiri as dessert at our favorite local sushi spot. Which happens to also be the place that I discovered the spicy tuna hand roll.

It might surprise some people to know that my Deep South hometown has a fair number of fair sushi counters, but I daresay Jinsei is the best. Unfortunately, these days I mostly drive by and stare at it longingly, because I can't afford to eat there on the regular.

The hand roll isn't on the menu, but if you ask for it they'll wrap it right up for you on the spot. Hand rolls aren't traditional log rolls of sushi; they are cones of nori wrapped around all imaginable kinds of goodness. They got their name because they were originally meant to be eaten immediately, passed from the sushi chef right into your hot little hands, and then promptly devoured.

Jinsei's spicy tuna hand roll is a soft sheet of seaweed curled up with a little bit of sticky rice, cucumber, avocado, daikon, and spicy tuna (generally a mix of the fish with some mayo and sriracha). Sometimes it was garnished with a little seaweed salad; sometimes a smattering of sesame seeds. This one is really at the chef's discretion.

Alas, sushi-grade tuna is simply not a realistic aspiration for a weeknight meal on the Woodside. It requires enough funds and enough of a commute to be a special occasion item. Instead, I tried to just grab at those flavors and textures that I love without aiming very closely at all to the original inspiration.

In an effort to lighten things up I omitted the rice here, but it would be a delicious addition. And I will admit that I purchased pre-made coleslaw mix at the store because I am only one lady and I can never, ever finish an entire head of cabbage.

Nor would anyone appreciate that, I'd wager.

Ahem.

Because I can't keep my grubby little hands off anything I see in the store that's new, I'd bought these seaweed snacks a few days before, and they turned out to be a nice little taste of the ocean to energize those store-bought shrimp. Nothing really says "sushi" more than nori, and these are very lightly salty and flavored with sesame. (When I grabbed that link I discovered that there is also a wasabi version, which my store sadly does not yet stock!)

These were medium shrimp. The larger ones in my market were head-on, and I just didn't have the wherewithal to tackle that task on a Tuesday night. These were only nominally medium shrimp, when they should have perhaps been labeled shrimpy shrimp. 

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In other words, they were leetle guys. I poured the whole shebang into my grill pan, marinade and all, which let the soy sauce get syrupy and slightly sweet, a nice counterpoint to the BANG of wasabi.

I'm going to call for anywhere between 1 and 3 tablespoons of sriracha here—I went with three, and it was powerful hot. Just taste taste taste and see where your magic number is.

Enjoy!

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Wasabi Shrimp Hand Roll Bowl

1 (14-ounce) bag coleslaw mix (cabbage and carrots)
3 green onions, chopped
¼ cup light mayonnaise
1 to 3 tablespoons sriracha
½ pound raw medium shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails on
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon wasabi paste
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
Sesame seeds
1 avocado, chopped
Garnish: sliced nori, chopped green onions

1. Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl; set aside.

2. Whisk together soy sauce and next 3 ingredients in a medium bowl until well combined; add shrimp, tossing to coat. Marinate 10 minutes.

3. Grill shrimp in grill pan over medium-high heat, 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Pour marinade over shrimp during last minute of cooking. Place shrimp and marinade in a medium bowl, and toss with sesame seeds.

4. Divide reserved spicy coleslaw among 4 serving bowls. Top evenly with shrimp and avocado, Garnish, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

 
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*pollo adobo (smoky jalapeño chicken).

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There's a Mexican restaurant in town that is fairly close to the apartment I used to live in, and about halfway between that apartment and work, which means I was there quite a bit. (You know, before I decided to branch out and eat at other ... Mexican restaurants.)

My people eat a lot of Mexican food.

It was just the right combination of cheap and trashy, but the margaritas were always on special, the salsa was jammed with cilantro, and the food gave the impression that someone in the kitchen really cared about what s/he was doing.

For a while the restaurant closed, when someone tried to turn the strip mall it's in into residences, but when that venture failed it miraculously returned! Unfortunately it's been a little fancified, replacing some of its lovable cheap trashiness with dimmer lighting and the rumbling cacophony of Other People's Children, and we haven't made it to the new incarnation with the same frequency. When the magic of sticky tables and puckery margarita mix and green carpet–covered floors has passed, it has passed.

Still, even in a town with a Mexican restaurant on nearly every corner (and Birmingham certainly applies as one of those cities), it can sometimes be difficult to find menu items outside of the box of the usual tacos, burritos, and nachos—also known as the holy trinity, amen.

I am not here to undermine the many, many wonderful attributes of tacos and burritos and nachos, but sometimes it is nice to break free of those flavor profiles. And the dish I always ordered at Mexico Lindo was the pollo adobo (which seems to have been renamed the pueblo lunch): "black beans topped with chicken in hot adobo, onions & queso fresco."

At Lindo they serve the dish in a wide, shallow bowl, lined with a flour tortilla to soak up the beans and the smoky broth, and topped with a light sprinkle of cheese and charred green onions.

There are a lot of alterations to that basic idea here—I am, as you can see, not a girl with a talent for light sprinkling where cheese is concerned. That's Monterey Jack, too, because my market didn't have any queso fresco. I also shredded the chicken, as opposed to crisping chunks of it on the flat top, the way it's served in the restaurant version. Because I'd gotten home from work pretty late this day, I picked up a rotisserie chicken and shredded it into the broth, but really any kind of protein you like would work here. (I have a dream that involves chargrilled shrimp.)

There's avocado here because I love it, and the signature grilled onions. I just placed mine in a dry grill pan until they developed some nice marks, the white ends got tender, and the green tips turned crispy.

I would add two chipotle peppers first, simmer, and then taste. If you like things a little smokier/spicier, feel free to add more! I dipped in about a teaspoon of extra adobo sauce at the end for a little kick. You can season as you go, too—I try to keep an eye on my salt intake when I'm cooking for myself, so I seasoned at the end so that I didn't layer too much on as I went. Start with 2 cups of water, and then add if you feel like things start to dry out. I started with 3 and found the results slightly soupier than I'd planned on.

I like to dip the green onions into the sauce and then eat them like Twizzlers, but for leftovers I simply chopped them up and stirred them in. They add just the right hit of mild, grassy crunch for the warm broth, creamy beans, hearty chicken, and smooth avocado.

¡Buen provecho!

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Pollo Adobo (Smoky Jalapeño Chicken)

2 cans reduced sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ red onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 bay leaf
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely chopped
1 teaspoon adobo sauce
2 rotisserie chicken breasts, shredded
1 bunch green onions, trimmed
4 taco-size flour tortillas
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
1 avocado, sliced
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

1. Place half of beans in a food processor with about ¼ cup water; puree until smooth.

2. Heat oil in a stockpot over medium heat; add onion, and cook 5 minutes or until translucent. Stir in garlic, oregano, and bay leaf; cook 1 minute. Stir in chopped chipotle peppers and adobo sauce; cook 30 seconds. Stir in chicken, coating with sauce. Stir in whole beans, reserved bean purée, and 2 cups water; bring to a boil, cover, and simmer 20 minutes or until slightly thickened. (Stir in additional water if mixture becomes too thick.)
 
3. Meanwhile, heat grill pan over medium heat until hot. Grill green onions, turning occasionally, 8 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat, and set aside.

4. Season chicken mixture with salt and black pepper to taste; stir in additional adobo sauce or chipotle peppers, if desired. Remove bay leaves, and discard.

5. Heat tortillas in a microwave oven on HIGH 10 seconds. Line serving bowls with tortillas, and top with chicken mixture. Top evenly with cheese, avocado slices, and reserved grilled green onions. Makes 4 servings.

 
4 comments

*beef-and-lentil stew with romano potato puffs.

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This is sheer comfort food, my people.

But first, I feel compelled to do a little proppy shout-out: My sister got me that bangin' orange spoon (part of a colorful set I adore); the seersucker fabric and the Anthropologie canister (bringing my total canister count to nine, because I am insane) were loot from Coastal Living prop sales; and as a last-minute thought because my "living herbs" thyme was attached to a healthy-but-ugly root ball, I shoved it into a beautiful gold mortar from my friend Jenny. The board was a hand-me-down from my dad, and the bowl is of course (of course) a treasured gift from my gramma.

And that little commercial break was courtesy of the fact that every piece reminds me of a person I love or a fond memory, even if that fond memory was just buying something pricey for a sweet sweet deal.

Now, back to the comfort food!

I wasn't in any particular need for comfort last night, for which I am grateful, but it was officially October, and I wanted something that said, fall is here even if the temperatures outside still hover in the late-summer region.

This also was originally intended to be vegetarian, but something about the super-lean beef just called out to me. It's simple enough to just omit and have a lovely meat-free option if that's your druthers. And speaking of super-lean, this beef was just 7 percent fat, so I had to add a little oil to the pan before sautéing my veggies. If your beef is chunkier, you can just drain all but a tablespoon or so of the fat away, and then use that for even meatier flavor.

You can simmer the lentils and vegetables in water if you like, but I used beef broth in this case. If you follow my lead, go really easy on the salt until everything has had a chance to cook completely. It can be tough to judge the saltiness of the broth you're using before then. After that, you can just salt to taste!

I pureed about half the soup with my immersion blender before I stirred the beef in. I liked the thickening effect, but still having some bite to the lentils. It's a completely optional step, though—this will taste lovely either way.

The potato puffs (hat tip to my friend Julie, who gave me the alternative to calling them "balls") were cheesy, herby little clouds that melted into the stew. You just want to put them into the pan over a gentle heat and let them develop a nice golden brownness on one or two sides—they're delicate, so they can fall apart in a heap if you try to move them around too much. And keep an eye on them: When they are just warmed through and kissed with butter, they're perfect.

It occurred to me after I inhaled a bowl of this in less than a minute or so that it's really almost a deconstructed shepherd's pie—there's the hearty meatiness and the stick-to-your-ribs veggieness and the earthy herbiness and, well, potatoes. If you're on the go, you can serve the stew with whatever quick potatoes you like. Just make sure they're kissed with butter, obvs.

Just before I plated this up (and I absolutely love it when this happens), I decided there was something about the symmetry of the potatoes that was bugging me, so I plopped a big old dollop of sour cream in the middle out of nowhere. When it was time to eat, I realized that it's absolutely essential to the flavor here—tangy and bright and cooling and perfect with the potatoes. So if you do decide to replicate this for dinner this week, don't omit the sour cream! It's just that extra oomph that's totally worthwhile.

I had a little sour cream in my fridge at home, which is how that impromptu decision came to be made, but other than a few cloves of garlic I bought everything else at the store, and came out with at least six servings for less than $20. Healthy, delicious, and smart: jackpot!

Enjoy!

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Beef-and-Lentil Stew with Romano Potato Puffs

1 pound extra-lean ground beef (93% lean)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup diced yellow onion
½ cup diced carrot
½ cup diced celery
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dried lentils
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
6 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
4 cups low-sodium, fat-free beef broth
Romano Potato Puffs (recipe below)
Garnishes: sour cream, fresh thyme leaves

1. Place beef in a stockpot over medium-high heat; sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes or until browned and cooked through. Transfer beef to a bowl, and set aside.

2. Return pot to stove over medium heat; add canola oil, onion, and carrot. Cook 3 minutes or until onions are softened. Add celery and garlic, and cook 2 more minutes. Stir in lentils and next 3 ingredients, and stir until combined. Stir in beef broth, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes or until lentils are tender.

3. Remove thyme stems and bay leaves from lentil mixture. Puree about half the lentil mixture using an immersion blender (or transfer a few cups to a traditional blender, and puree until smooth). Stir in reserved beef until heated through. Serve stew with Romano Potato Puffs, and garnish, if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Romano Potato Puffs

2 medium russet potatoes, chopped
¼ cup shredded Romano cheese
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Fresh thyme leaves (optional)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter

1. Place potatoes in cold water to cover in a medium pot; bring water to a boil and cook about 12 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender. Drain potatoes well and return to pot.

2. Mash potatoes with cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in thyme, if desired. Shape mixture into 1-inch balls. (Mixture will be dry.)

3. Heat butter and oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat until butter is melted. Cook puffs in butter mixture 1 to 2 minutes or just until heated through and golden brown on 1 or 2 sides. (Handle very carefully when turning puffs in the pan.) Serve immediately. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

 

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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.

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