New year, renewed sense of foodstalking obligations

I kicked off 2009 with the traditional New Year’s Day meal of champions: Hoppin’ John. As a kid (and even up until a few years ago), I didn’t like the stuff. I’m not sure what it was, but I remember being really disappointed every year when it kept returning to our stovetop. But as 2009 is the first year I’ve ever been away from my family on New Year’s Day, I felt the need to keep the tradition alive. I loosely followed the recipe my mom loosely follows. The recipe follows, and I’ve made a note of my changes.

Hoppin’ John

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2/3 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper *Omitted
1/3 cup chopped celery
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper *I used cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
4 cups water
2 smoked ham hocks (about 1 1/2 pounds) *I used bacon
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen black-eyed peas
1 cup uncooked jasmine or basmati rice
3/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/3 cup chopped green onion tops *Omitted
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, green bell pepper, celery, and garlic; sauté 5 minutes. Add thyme, red pepper, salt, black pepper, and bay leaves; cook 1 minute. Add water and ham hocks, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes. Add peas; cook for an additional 30 minutes.

Remove ham hocks from pan; cool. Remove ham from bones; finely chop. Discard bones, skin, and fat. Add rice and red bell pepper to pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in ham. Discard bay leaves. Spoon into a serving dish, and sprinkle with green onions.

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: about 1 cup)

Origin: Cooking Light

Hoppin' John

The whole thing turned out really well and I actually liked it! Michelle and I bought collard greens to make with the hoppin’ john (gotta have the money if you’re going to have the luck), but we quickly realized that they took much longer than spinach to cook, and since neither of us knew whether or not we even liked collard greens, we scrapped them. We finished the meal off with some Jiffy corn muffins, and I certainly felt like I did my part to make sure 2009 is a good one- at least as far as eating is concerned.

Craving sushi the other night and wanting to branch out, I did a quick search on the Houston Chowhound message board to see what popped up. I had seen Sage 400 mentioned several times before in various places, and decided to give it a try. Our sushi loving group of two decided to order a bunch of rolls and split between ourselves. We ordered the S.P. Roll and the Phoenix Roll from the house special rolls. We also ordered Spicy Tuna, Peppered Tuna and Avocado, and Eel rolls to round off our fancy rolls. The S.P. rolls and the Phoenix rolls were delish. I am not usually a fan of fancy rolls that have so much stuff on them that they make it hard to eat in one bite. These were the exception. While they were large, I thought the flavors went together well and both were just spicy enough. Our other choices were good, not anything mindblowing- but all in all, it’s one of the best sushi places I’ve been visited. Keep in mind that the three places I have lived in my life: Birmingham, AL, Auburn, AL, and Houston, TX, probably aren’t the authority on sushi- so I’m sure there is better out there (and probably even in this city). Funny that the night after I ate at Sage 400, I saw this review. I love reading Alison Cook’s reviews (I even have her blog bookmarked on the foodstalkers side bar!), and was surprised to see such a negative opinion. I am no raw fish aficianado, however, so it may be that I don’t know good sushi from bad sushi. Which is sort of sad and also kind of scary (I would hope that I could tell what bad sushi is). But as for my experience with Sage 400, I think I’ll be returning soon for some more oversauced rolls. I think that’s how I like my sushi.

Thanks to Central Market’s awesome deals, I came home with some tilapia filets, whole roasting chicken, and boneless skinless chicken breasts (with a free tortilla soup kit!). I went for the tilapia filets first and pan fried them the other night. I never really cook fish, even though I love it. It’s so quick and easy, and since I would usually only be buying one filet for myself, it’s really not much more than I would normally pay for another kind of protein. I found a recipe for a balsamic butter sauce to go over the tilapia, and it was divine. I could lick that stuff off the spoon (and I did).  Michelle made sauteed spinach to go with it, and it was one of the best versions I’ve ever had. Lots of garlic and really tasty.

Tilapia with Balsamic Butter and Sauteed Spinach

Last night I roasted the chicken using my mom’s recipe. You melt 1/2 stick of butter, mix in a tablespoon or so of dijon mustard, then add rosemary, thyme, and a lot of paprika. Spread half of that over the seasoned chicken, pop it in the oven at 375, baste occasionally with the remaining paste, and cook until done. I read online somewhere that it should cook 20 minutes per pound. I had a three pound chicken and cooked it for just over an hour. I am not really a dark meat fan (yes, I have no clue why I made a whole chicken then either), but the breasts were incredibly juicy. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that chicken is supposed to be juicy- This made me a believer again.

Roasted ChickenThat pile of green mush is Green Giant frozen creamed spinach. Foodies, don’t hate- it makes me nostalgic for freshman year in the dorm.

Michelle gave me a recipe for Orzo Salad to use up the remainder of my roasted chicken and I am SO glad she did. It is absolutely delicious. Ina never lets me down. The recipe doesn’t actually call for chicken, but I opted to leave out the eggplant and added the chicken in to make it a little more substantial. The hardest part is waiting for the pasta mixture to get to room temperature. I was sneaking bites here and there… you know, to check the seasoning.  I am super excited about having this for lunch for the rest of the week! 

Orzo Salad with Roasted VegetablesUgh. My camera was set to some wacky setting and I don’t know how to undo it. Or I just suck at taking pictures. 

Fireman's Blonde Ale I had this for dinner as well! It’s brewed in the Hill Country! 

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