Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thai Tom Yum Soup

It's not that I only cook Asian food these days, but it's close.

I made Thai Tom Yum soup on Father's Day at the behest of the resident dad of the house. His day, his choice. Anyway, I learned to make it by following the recipe from the cookbook of one of my favorite restaurants in Telluride - Honga's Lotus Petal.

Honga's Tom Yum was the first I ever had. It's a hot and sour type thing, where the dominant flavors are lemongrass and fish sauce. The tamarind is a important player too. I remember how psyched Honga's cooks were when they were able to get fresh tamarind into the kitchen. Fresh tamarind is hard enough to come by here in the city - getting it to a town at 8750 feet and over 300 miles from Denver is downright amazing. I, however, use tamarind paste for this. I picked it up at an Asian grocer and it stores very well in the fridge. It also goes into Pad Thai, which you should try at home if you haven't.

Thai Tom Yum Soup
Print recipe only here

Serves 4

64 oz chicken broth - Imagine Organic
2 stalks lemongrass, pounded and thinly sliced
Zest of 2 limes (peel using vegetable peeler)
2 inches peeled, fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T Thai Kitchen red curry paste
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 T tamarind paste
2 T sugar
¼ cup tomato sauce or a equivalent chopped tomatoes
2 stalks celery, sliced
Handful mushrooms, thinly sliced (optional)
1 # shrimp, peeled and cleaned
2-3 green onions, sliced on diagonal
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Add stock, lemongrass, lime zest, ginger, garlic and curry paste to a soup pot and bring to a boil, stirring to blend all ingredients. Turn down heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Add fish sauce, lemon juice, tamarind, tomato sauce or tomatoes and sugar and simmer another 10-15 minutes.

Use a mesh strainer to strain the soup into a separate soup pot. Add the celery and mushrooms to the strained soup and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Add shrimp and boil another 3-5 minutes or until cooked through. Add green onions and cilantro and serve.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Staying UP

I saw UP with my children recently. I just loved it - I it was a lovely reminder to hang onto dreams loosely, since they come true in their own time. I like stories about not letting life get you down. And crotchety old men with soft hearts. Stories about them, that is. Not the men specifically.

I've been a little crotchety myself lately. Cottonwood is flying on my Chitown block, coating my walkways and dog with its insidious downy fluff. I used to think it was charming, likening it to manna, the biblical foodstuff that nourished the Israelites in the desert. Over the last few days I've hauled several omers of cottonwood fluff into yard waste bags. It's not my custom to employ Talmudic units of measurment, but keeping my mind on the Biblical story has kept me, thus far, from hiring someone to gouge the tree in the middle of the night like Daley did to Meigs Field. Just this morning while walking the dog I was entertaining a diabolical scheme to destroy the dread arbor when - and I am NOT making this up - I was approached by a perky Greenpeace volunteer who asked me if had a minute - just a minute - to save some trees.

And there I had it - a call to gratitude and a reminder that unless I want to become a curmudgeon I should not think like one. Within minutes I had something else to be happy for...the City was out delivering blue bins in the hood today, meaning the arrival of my recycling bin is nigh. No more driving piles of recycling to the blue dumpster! Wahoo.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Szechuan Green Beans

Lots of Asian cuisine coming out of the Pinch kitchen these days. This recipe comes from one of Mollie Katzen's books. I don't follow it anymore, I just know to be grateful to her for putting into my repertoire.

I make these as either appetizers (Mollie herself said that whenever she makes them people tuck into them right away) or served up as a side dish.

You can use any skillet, but I most prefer my cast iron, which can take the heat (more than a nonstick) and sears the beans nicely. I like them with a kick, but if you're serving them to minors or folks who prefer milder foods, just limit the chili flakes to a tiny pinch.

Szechuan Green Beans
Print recipe only here

Serves 4 as a side dish

12 ounces green beans, tops removed (leave the cute tails)
1/2 t canola oil
1/2 t sesame oil
4-6 cloves garlic, finely chopped (not pressed)
pinch chili flakes
kosher salt to taste

Preheat a cast iron skillet over a medium flame. Add oils and chili flakes and continue to heat for another minute or so. Add garlic and green beans to the skillet together and saute for about 5-8 minutes, or until cooked to your liking. I like them on the crunchy side. Serve and enjoy.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Simple Summer Food: Vietnamese Summer Rolls

These are such a favorite. I haven't made them in quite awhile, but we had them tonite and think I'll keep them in the summer rotation. I used to make bean sprouts myself. I should relearn that trick. Supermarket bean sprouts disappoint so often.

Summer rolls are fresh and light, consisting of rice (in the form of the wrapper and the noodles inside), vegetables and - optionally - some protein. They are what you turn to when you discover how horrid those greasy little spring rolls are for you.

A good dipping sauce is pretty much imperative. I just love Mae Ploy, available in many supermarkets for like two bucks (in a big glass jar). But a good soy based dipping sauce is nice too. That recipe follows, too.

The trickiest thing with these is dealing with the wrappers which need to be cooked quickly in nice hot water and removed by hand. Tongs just mess things up for me. The wrapper needs to stay nice and flat without folding up on itself. Once it dries - even briefly - it gets pretty sticky. Just buy a package of them and play with them until you get a hang of it. I tossed three wrappers tonite while redeveloping my summer roll skills.

Also, don't underestimate the need for soft lettuce. Romaine is not going to cut it here. Trust me. Do, however, feel free to add shrimp or chicken or tofu.

Vietnamese Summer Rolls
Print recipe only here

Makes 4 rolls


4-6 spring roll wraps (plan on ruining a few before you get the hang of them)
1-2 ounces bean thread noodles
1 T rice vinegar
1-2 carrots, grated
1-2 green onions, thinly sliced
4 pieces soft lettuce (like butter lettuce)
1/2 cup mung bean sprouts
2 T fresh cilantro
2 T fresh mint

Dipping sauce:
Mae Ploy chili sauce or gyoza dipping sauce (equal parts soy sauce and rice vinegar, plus a dash of hot chili oil and sesame oil, and a pinch of sesame seeds).

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Add bean thread noodles and remove from heat. Allow to sit for 3-4 minutes, then drain and rinse well with cold water. Chop roughly and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add remaining herbs and vegetables (except for the lettuce) and toss with a splash of rice vinegar.

Place a sheet pan (one with a 1-inch rim) on the stove, fill with water and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let cool down for a couple of minutes.

Submerge one rice wrapper at a time for about 10 seconds or until it's nice and pliable. Remove it carefully, keeping it in it's shape, and lay it flat on a cutting board. Place one piece of lettuce (about 2x3) in the center of the wrap and top with a generous spoonful of the filling. Fold up the sides and roll the whole thing over on itself. Reserve on a plate, seam side down, and continue cooking and filling wraps.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Asian Themed Menu for an Impromtu Crowd

I had a fun day in the kitchen yesterday. We were hosting an impromptu small crowd and I was planning on serving up gyoza, chicken lettuce wraps and a slaw. The chicken breasts were steamed and the dressings made, but when my husband tucked into the stash of gyoza I knew I would need another item ASAP - friends were expected at our home within 45 minutes.

Ginger-Jalapeno Rice Appetizers came to the rescue! A cup of long grain rice was cooked within 15 minutes. While it cooked I made the panade (egg, flour, ginger, jalapeno), lime-cilantro aioli and cut thin rounds of jalapeno for decoration. Once the rice was done, I quickly mixed the rice into the panade, spread it on a sheet pan and reserved it in the fridge whilst awaiting the arrival of our guests. Once they arrived, I heated up a tablespoon of canola oil in a nonstick pan, broke off bite sized pieces of the rice mixture and fried them up. After they drained a bit on paper towel, I transferred them to a serving plate, topped them with a dab of aioli and a jalapeno round and served them up. If only I had taken pictures!

Should you ever need an easy Asian menu, I really liked this one:

Ginger Jalapeno Rice Cakes
Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Asian Slaw

Beef of the menu with either:
Asian Beef Satay
Cantonesse Pork Tenderloin Strips

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Breakfast of Champions

Thank goodness for sprouted wheat bread. It's wonderfully delicious and nutritious. My children have eaten it their entire lives. I'm thankful for any opportunity to squeeze a bit of protein into their diet, and the bread I buy at Trader Joe's has 5 grams per slice. They love it toasted and slathered with peanut butter and honey, or with cheddar cheese or avocado slices. And at breakfast time they enjoy it as French Toast, shown here.

Now, truth be told, they really LOVE French Toast made with a good sourdough (they got their Dad's sourdough gene intact). But that's something to be enjoyed more on a once-a-month or occasional weekend. Using a nutritious bread for the basis means I can send them off to school or camp well-fueled, not just fed.

All you need are the basics: an egg, some lowfat milk, cinnamon, vanilla extract and butter for the pan. I keep a mesh tea immerser in my container of powdered sugar for dusting. A couple of shakes and you'd think I had given them a bowl of Skittles for breakfast. I don't do the sugar bit every time - and I didn't do it when they were small. But I did travel with French Toast sticks frequently. They're a great finger food for kids on the go.

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