Chrystal Baker is a private cook, recipe developer, and freelance online contributor, as well as a culinary production team member for various TV shows, commercials, photo shoots and online content. She maintains DuoDishes.com, a Los Angeles-based food blog that features dishes influenced by family tradition, regional fare and worldly flavors. You can follow her trail on Instagram and Twitter--@TheDuoDishes and @AnynEverywhere.
This is a time for cooking and baking, which has long been a sign of care and nurturing amongst communities. Cookies, pies, cakes. Many of our sweet treats feature fats and oils that do not benefit our health or waistlines. One way to amend that fact is my switching from butter and nonnutritive oils is by switching to olive oil. If you’ve never baked with olive oil, this is the season to try it.
Parties, parties, parties. This is the season for parties–parties at your home, parties with friends, family members, work colleagues. When December rolls along, the entire month is packed with celebrations for the holidays. Sometimes, your only responsibility is to show up and enjoy. Other times, you find yourself either tasked with something to bring or heading up the festivities. Look no further because this dip is the answer to your party prayers. It is warm, gooey and full of flavor thanks to lots of blue cheese. It doesn’t take much to put it together, which means you can quickly assemble and enjoy.
When Cholula offered to send a sampler four-pack of their signature hot sauces, accepting the package was an easy decision. Flavorful hot sauces have always been of interest, especially ones that have the potential to elevate a recipe. We come from an interesting world of spice. Growing up in the South means Louisiana Hot Sauce, Crystal and Tabasco. It wasn’t until the move to California that we came across brands like Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, Tapatio and, of course, Cholula Hot Sauce.
Some people adore pumpkin. Some of us do not. It is one of Amir’s favorites, but the other half of this Duo has never been that impressed. Until recently. Pumpkin is everywhere right now, which is exciting for many people. Wasn’t it just last year that the canned pumpkin purée shortage wreaked havoc upon the nation’s bakers? It was also last year that we went all out and cooked up an all-pumpkin dinner party.
One of the best parts of summer is finding ways to eat in a lighter fashion. Don’t get the wrong idea. You will still see lots of desserts popping up this summer and maybe a few more cocktails, but don’t think that’s all we eat. We like our protein and veggies as much as the next person, and we both find ways to create balanced meals for the majority of our eating. If you have a hard time squeezing in healthy servings of the food pyramid, try wrapping them in flakey, crispy dough. Maybe phyllo dough if you’re feeling frisky. It’s light and airy and provides just the crunch you need when paired with fresh salmon, spinach and feta cheese.
Maybe you don’t need to know that this is yet another dish created last year, during the holiday rush of course. Our friend Carol, a fellow Southern gal living here in Los Angeles, hosted her annual Christmas party, and she requested a vegetarian-friendly appetizer. One of the first things that we thought of was mushrooms. They are flavor-packed, pair nicely with other veggies, come in a variety of sizes and colors and can either be served inside something or act as a serving vessel (think stuffed ‘shrooms, right?). They may be overused as one of the meatier additions in a vegetarian diet, but hey, they would make the cut. Put them in some pastry, and they’d be tasty and cute. Cute food has a special place in some people’s hearts. All you have to do is make something bite-sized and portable, and they are all over it. Once we’d decided on ‘shrooms, it was just a matter of piecing the rest of the recipe together.
Baked Peach French Toast Casserole
I just returned from a thunderstorm-soaked weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. Georgia, otherwise known as the Peach State. Now that I’m back in California and sharing this peach-centric recipe, I’m laughing inside at the fact that I ate not one furry fruit while I was in the South. Such a shame. And senseless when I really think about it. When I was younger, I spent a few summers going down to Georgia to visit family, and one of the things I vividly remember besides raging humidity, sleeping three to a bed and walking down red clay dirt roads is eating huge, juicy peaches. The kind of peaches that make a huge mess when you take a bite. Although California’s peaches may not have quite the same effect on me, no matter what, I have to admit that summer tastes better once they are in season.
There are some things that should always be eaten as a pair–summer’s peaches and fresh whipped cream, salty fried chicken and syrupy waffles, rich Irish butter and warm, hearty bread. And of course bacon and mushrooms. They are often a match in a number of recipes. Broil bacon-wrapped mushrooms for an appetizer, or saute up a batch as a topping for your burger. You can toss them over a cheesy pizza, or fold them into a creamy pasta dish. The combination is usually decadent, so if you’re going to do it, go all the way! If you are looking for another way to serve up bacon and mushrooms, here is a fried rice dish that is worth a try.
Why bacon and mushrooms? Well, in this case, they add the umami element that many Asian dishes crave. Umami is known as the fifth taste, and it is an underlying enjoyable savory flavor in a dish. The reason is glutamate, which is an amino acid naturally found in many foods. Mushrooms are high in glutamates, and they are also earthy, hearty and, sometimes, meaty. All very much levels of umami. Smoked bacon appeals to the olfactory system, and everything that comes through our nose hits the taste buds. It is rich, salty and pleasantly fatty, and these characteristics also hit umami right on the head. Let’s not forget the soy sauce, which by itself, is also a high-umami ingredient. As I mentioned earlier, bacon and mushrooms are delicious together, but they are often featured in indulgent dishes. This fried rice has lots of garlic chili sauce, fresh scallions and cilantro not just for garnish, but as the perfect complement to the other flavors.
Bacon Mushroom Fried Rice
Author: The Duo Dishes
Recipe type: Main
1 cup long-grain rice
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
1 large shallot, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 cup snap peas
1 cup bean sprouts
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cups mixed mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
½ teaspoon chili oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs, scrambled lightly
4 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
Fresh sliced scallions, optional
Fresh chopped cilantro, optional
Chili garlic sauce, optional
Cook the rice with chicken broth according to package directions. Chill overnight, or up to two days.
Heat the first 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok over a medium high flame. Once hot, add the shallots and carrots, cooking for about 5 minutes. Add the snap peas, bean sprouts, garlic and ginger, and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from the wok.
Add the mushrooms to the pan with 2 tablespoons water, and cook for 5 minutes or until softened. Remove from the wok.
Add the last tablespoon of vegetable oil, sesame oil, chili oil, soy sauce and salt to the wok. Add the rice, stir and cook for about 7 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients, and toss to coast. Fold in the cooked eggs and bacon.
Serve the rice with fresh scallions, cilantro and chili garlic sauce, if desired.
Last week and throughout this past weekend, I spent several days hanging out with food and cocktail bloggers and members of the Dole Packaged Foods team. Ally from Ally’s Kitchen was in town again to complete another handful of projects as this year’s Dole Social Media Ambassador, including shooting recipe videos and MC’ing this year’s Dole Cookoff. Ally won last year’s Cookoff, and we initially met during March’s Dole Blogger Summit. She is one of the most exuberant and friendly people I’ve ever met, and her love for cooking is the cherry on top. The 2014 Dole Cookoff is over, and a new person sits on Ally’s throne. I served as a sous chef for Naylet LaRochelle whose Breezy Indian Spiced Chicken with Mango Peanut Sauce, Dates and Grilled Mango took the $25,000 prize. I can’t wait to share that experience with you, but now…it’s all about this salad.
Not everything in life has to be complicated. As self-proclaimed foodies, we like to spend time in the kitchen trussing chickens, making sausage from scratch, whipping up dishes with truffle flavored foie gras, or serving picturesque baked delights (French macarons anyone?). On the other hand, we’re not ashamed to admit there are times when we succumb to semi-homemade cooking and eating. Perhaps our eggless ice cream from last week will come to mind. We don’t care if you judge us! The easiest treats can sometimes make you forget about all of those fancy dishes. Sweet endings seem to be our favorite way to incorporate ready-to-go, off-the-shelf products into our food. This recipe was sent to Amir by a coworker, and there was really no discussion about changing it around when the time came to make it.
The Duo’s Ethnic Exploration: Spain
What I remember most about my trip to Barcelona was the good food. Amir wasn’t along for the ride, but I’m sure he’ll make his way to Spain again in due time. My friends and I rented an apartment in El Borne–a quiet, quaint section of the city known for its strong cultural flair. We were in walking distance to so many great restaurants just down the street from our apartment, and if we couldn’t walk there, we would just hop on the metro. Our tapas meals were often a mix of the same types of dishes, including tortilla española, chorizo and patatas bravas (fried potatoes with a spicy, creamy sauce), as well as a few that you may not have had before–buñuelos de bacalao(salt cod fritters), mejillones (mussels), pimientos de padron (pan-fried Padron peppers) and habas a la catalana (broad beans with Ibérico ham in olive oil). Last but not least, there were empanadas.
Your Lazy Fast Pass
Today seemed like a good day to talk about ice cream. Not because of the holiday and not because of the summer weather. Mostly because there hasn’t been an ice cream post on this site in the longest time. Last August, there was a Double Chocolate Ice Cream with Peanut Butter Cups based on one of Alton Brown’s recipes. That one was rich, smooth and creamy due to the chocolate of course, but also half a dozen egg yolks. Just imagine. This summer, there have been a few successful ice creams churned in the kitchen that do not include eggs. Yes, you can whisk together an eggless ice cream base in seconds, churn it in minutes and eat it not long afterwards. It is the best way to have homemade ice cream in no time if you’re feeling somewhat lazy.
An Eggscellent Way to Celebrate
We’re not the only ones who are consistently celebrating birthdays for our friends and family. You must be doing the same thing as everyone welcomes a new year of life. A friend asked for a few appetizers for her 30th birthday party, and there was nothing to say but ‘Yes!’. Good thing there was a full dozen of Eggland’s Best eggs in the fridge thanks to the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program for Featured Publishers. When life gives you eggs, make quiche. This was not the only dish on the table though. Check out the other three appetizers on our Facebook page, and then check out the full recipe.
Layers of Goodness
Here is another quick and easy dessert recipe to add to your arsenal. The key ingredient is fresh strawberries, which are pretty much available nearly year-round in Southern California. They are prime for eating as the weather begins to warm in spring and summer, so now is the time to start stocking up on the big, red berries. The other ingredient you’ll need is some fresh whipped cream and chocolate sandwich cookies. Oreos are the best of course. Grab a family-size bag, and start layering!