Monday, September 24, 2007
Months ago A. told me that Laksa Beehoon, a dish on the menu at a little Thai-Japanese fusion restaurant, reminded her of home--that it was "comfort food" for her. After much searching around on the internet, I had found a number of laksa recipes, but none that was "like what her mum made." So, A. emailed her mum, explaining that we had found a few of the more difficult to locate Malaysian ingredients in Chinatown, and could she please send a laksa recipe.
Auntie R. replied with the beginnings of a recipe, with some of the ingredient amounts not specified, and many of the ingredients not explained at all. It was as though she started writing it all down for us, but the more she described what we needed to get and to do, the less she thought we'd be able to pull it off. Her email was concluded by saying, "I think the laksa will be difficult."
Nevertheless, I wrote everything down carefully and went to my two Thai grocery stores in Chinatown--the one on Mulberry and the one of Bayard. I got the belachan (see the Sunday NY Times travel magazine, the last page, for an article on belachan), the lemon grass leaves, the laksa leaves, the dried prawns, the chilies, etc., etc.
Tonight was the moment of reckoning: I took my handful of knowledge, my many ingredients, and my half of a recipe, and I made laksa beehoon. Here it is translated and converted into U.S. measurements.
10 chilies (fresh or dried)
15 slices of blue ginger
2 T. Belachan
2 stalks of lemongrass, chopped into 1" chunks
1/2 C. little dried shrimps
1 T. turmeric
3 C. water
2 or 3 cans of coconut milk (Auntie R. said 60 ounces, but that seems like a lot for dinner for 4, I only had 1 can on hand, but A. said that more would have been better)
1 T. sugar
1 1/2 T. salt
prawns (we used about a pound)
beehoon (rice noodles, about the thickness of spaghetti)
shredded laksa leaves (I got these from the grocery on Mulberry St. They're not placed out with the other groceries, but I asked the nice gentleman working the vegetable stand for them, and he pulled them right out for me)
"some" fishballs (I forgot the fishballs; these, too, were missed; I don't know exactly where to find them yet)
In a wok stir fry the first 6 ingredients in a little smidge of olive oil until they are "fragrant." Add the turmeric and stir it all up. Once your kitchen smells like onions and dried shrimp paste, slowly add the water. When it's hot and ready, add the coconut milk, then the salt and sugar. Lastly, throw in the prawns, which will cook in just a few minutes. Don't overcook the coconut milk or the prawns.
Cook the noodles separately. To serve, put the noodles in your bowls, pour the wok mixture over top of them. Garnish with the shredded cucumber, shredded laksa leaves, bean sprouts, and the fishballs.
OK. I'll figure out the fishball thing and post more on that later.
2/24/08 UPDATE: I found the fish balls in a little fish store in Chinatown. I also got prawns (heads on) for only $4.39 a pound. What a deal!
Sunday, September 23, 2007
A. also really likes pumpkin, so I've been thinking a lot about gourds lately. I just, just, just made some pumpkin bars for her, but she's not home to try them. I think they're quite good, so I'll tell you how I made them sans A.'s taste approval:
Mix up these ingredients in a bowl:
1 C. flour
3/4 C. brown sugar
1 /2 C. oil
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 C. of pumpkin from a can (about 1/2 a can)
2 tsp. cinnamon (or more)
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
Allspice? Ginger? Ground cloves? whatever...
Pour into a greased 9 x 13 pan; bake for 22 - 25 minutes at 350 degrees. When cool, cut into bars.
These bars end up really fluffy and airy. I guess it's the egg AND the baking powder at work. The recipe I was bastardizing recommended twice as many eggs, but frankly, that seemed like fluffiness overkill to me. Plus, my girl has a family history of high cholesterol, so I try not to tempt fate or nature by feeding her too many eggs.
Speaking of pumpkins, by the way, (this is not a dessert) after I made the Kitchen Wench's tart, I baked the other half of the butternut pumpkin. I diced up one small apple, mixed it with 2 T. of honey, a bit of cinnamon, and a little nutmeg. I would have added raisins, but I didn't have any. I put this mixture into the hollow of the 1/2 pumpkin and oiled a cookie sheet lightly. The tricky part is getting the pumpkin with the stuff in the hollow face down onto the cookie sheet: I just put cookie sheet on the pumpkin and turned them both upside down together. Bake for 45 minutes or so at 375 or 400 degrees, until squishy. I guess real cooks would say, "until tender," or "until you can pierce the pumpkin gently with a fork."
Thursday, September 20, 2007
After the running of the relay and enduring the sleep deprivation that entailed, I came home and slept for two days. Having finally closed my sleep deficit, I made dinner last night for the first time in a long time. I eased back into cooking with a simple Thai Chicken Satay recipe. I didn't have bamboo skewers, though, so it was more like grilled chicken than satay.
Marinate your chicken pieces (I used boneless, skinless leg parts) in this for about two hours:
1/3 C. Soy Sauce
2 T. lime juice (I advocate fresh-squeezed)
grated ginger root--depends on how much you like
red pepper flakes--also depends on how much you like, I used a bunch because you-know-who likes things a little spicy
I grilled my chicken parts on the George Foreman grill, and dinner was ready lickety-split! You can make Thai peanut sauce, but I just bought some at the store. Now that I'm warmed up again I might try making my own sometime because the Thai Kitchen brand sauce was a little unexciting.
With this I served 5-minute couscous--rice would have been better, but there wasn't time to cook it due to an impending Jill Sobule concert in Central Park--and the old vegetable stand-by, stir-fried "whatever veggies we have rolling around in the refrigerator" with oil, garlic, soy sauce, and pepper.
Sunday, September 9, 2007
So, this is what I did, all on my own with hardly a glance at the internet to guide me (all measurements are guesses, I went by eye):
2 plump and lovely chicken breasts, cut up into bite-sized chunks
@ 2/3 Cup teriyaki sauce, separated
a couple teaspoons of olive oil
a couple teaspoons of cornstarch
@ 1/2 C chicken stock
1 chunk of bok choy
a handful of cremini mushrooms
a handful of bean sprouts
This recipe is in two parts--first the sauce: heat the chicken stock and about 1/3 C of the teriyaki sauce in a sauce pan. Slowly stir in the corn starch until it dissolves, and you have a thick sauce. Put that aside for now, and stir fry your chicken bits in the olive oil (in a nice wok if you have one), until the chicken is just about cooked through. Add the remaining 1/3 C of teriyaki sauce to the wok and stir. Add the mushrooms and the bean sprouts (n.b.: A.'s mom snaps off the root end of each dag-blasted little bean sprout. This is time-consuming and tedious, and I think unnecessary. Do this only if you are totally in love with someone whose mom does it, too). Stir fry until everything is cooked nicely. Add the bok choy last because it cooks very quickly. Give it all a good last stir and serve with a little of your thick sauce poured over it. I also served rice noodles on the side, and some jasmine or brown rice would have also been good side dish options.
I know nothing about teriyaki, so I recommend this recipe not from a place of superior knowledge, childhood experience, or deep understanding of the nuances of teriyaki sauce; but rather because A. asked me if I'd make it for her again. Success!
Saturday, September 8, 2007
The Kitchen Wench is keeping me hopping. A. requested a vegetable tart from her blog, and I'm reproducing it here:
1x quantity of shortcrust pastry, rolled about 3-5mm thick (I had some home made in my freezer, thank god!)
1 cup butternut pumpkin, cut into a large dice
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthways and cut into roughly 5mm thick slices
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and roughly diced
1 red bell pepper (capsicum), core and seeds removed and roughly diced
1 cup mushrooms, cleaned and roughly chopped
1/2 cup chopped semi sundried tomatoes
1 large bulb of garlic
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup cream
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C [about 400 degrees F], then toss together the pumpkin and sweet potato in a light drizzle of olive oil and place on a lined baking tray. Slice the top off the garlic bulb, drizzle a little olive oil over the top and wrap in some foil, then place the pumpkin, sweet potato and garlic bulb in the oven to bake for about 20 minutes, or till soft enough to poke with a fork.
2. Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and fry the capsicum [red pepper] till softened, then add the zucchini and mushroom and fry till softened. Place the fried veggies in a bowl and once the pumpkin and sweet potato have roasted, add them along with the semi sundried tomatoes to the bowl as well.
3. Once the garlic is soft enough to squish, remove from the oven (about the same time that you take out the pumpkin) and unwrap it and leave it to cool so that you can handle it, and reduce oven temperature to 180 degrees C [about 350 degrees F]. While that’s cooling, mix together the cream, eggs and parmesan then add to the veggies and mix to combine, then season with some salt and freshly cracked pepper.
4. Once the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze out all the roasted garlic into the veggie mix and stir it through so everything is well combined. Line your tart tin with your pastry, then pour in the egg and veggies on top of the pastry and place it in the oven to bake for about 20 minutes or till the eggs have set.
5. Leave to cool and firm up slightly, then slice up and enjoy.And here's the link to her full post: http://www.insanitytheory.net/kitchenwench/2007/06/26/if-youre-crazy-and-you-know-it-bake-a-tart
I kind of messed up this recipe, because I used too many vegetables, so there wasn't enough egg-ness. I am also struggling with my "short crust," which is just a regular pie crust (I learned that from Wikipedia). But I did get a new 11-inch tart tin, which is just lovely. It has a removable bottom for ease of serving and cleaning. Exciting!
I served the Kitchen Wench's tart with the Soup Lady's beef barley soup recipe, adapted a a little bit. Here's what I did:
1 pound of stew beef, cut into 1/2" chunks
2 c. carrots, diced
1 c. celery, diced
1 lg. onion, diced
2/3 c. uncooked barley
1/4 chopped parsley
6 cups of vegetable broth
2 tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
Brown the beef in a non-stick saute pan in minimal oil. Remove beef chunks and place in crockpot (we just got a new-to-us crockpot!). Add the diced vegetables to the pan and stir them around to pick up the flavor bits. Add 1/4 cup of water to the saute pan and stir. Move vegetables to the crockpot with the beef and add the remaining ingredients. Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours (I only have 3 nd 1/2 hours, so we too the shorter option). Check near the end of the cook time to see if you need to add more liquid (which I did indeed).
Here's the link to her original posting, which has a few extra ingredients: http://suzette.typepad.com/the_joy_of_soup/2003/12/beef_barley_sou.html
For another supper I served this soup with fancy grilled cheese sandwiches. I used regular American cheese, but I spread some spicy mustard on the inside of the bread before grilling it, and I used bean sprouts on the sandwich, the way one might use a sliced tomato. I love these sandwiches; however, A. said that for her bean sprouts belong in Chinese food, not grilled cheese sandwiches.
Over all, the soup won me some kisses from my sweetie, the tart got an A for effort, but needs to be tried again (more closely following the KW's instructions), and I will save fancy grilled cheese sandwiches for when A. is working late.
Friday, September 7, 2007
This is a dish that she found on the Kitchen Wench's blog, and which A. really likes. Here's the link: http://www.insanitytheory.net/kitchenwench/2007/07/04/from-mothers-loving-hands. Try it. It's a wonderful way to eat chicken. I have to say that party guests did not go nuts over this recipe, but I don't really give a damn about that, so long as you-know-who loves it. By the way, if you are going to try Kitchen Wench's recipe you will need a lot of kecap manis. You can get this sweet, thick soy sauce at an Indonesian grocery. In NYC I recommend the one at 81 Bayard St. between Mott and Mulberry in Chinatown. The owner was super-nice and helpful. I even found belachan there--but that is for another recipe on another day.
Here is something that guests at our housewarming parry really did like, however, a pumpkin custard. It's very easy. Custards are just cream, eggs and sugar in near equal amounts, and this one is flavored with pumpkin, which is one of A.'s favorite things.
3 C. half and half, warmed on the stove in a saucepan
1 big can of smashed up pumpkin
1/2 C. white sugar
1/2 C. brown sugar
1/3 C. molasses
a little salt
spices to flavor, like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ground cloves, etc.
Beat on high speed the eggs and all the ingredients below them on the list until smooth. Slowly add in the warm half-and-half, and then the canned pumpkin a bit at time.
Pour the custard into a 2-quart baking dish, and put that baking dish into a large pan with about an inch of water in it (like when you bake a cheesecake in a water bath). Bake it at 350 degrees for about an hour. I was working with a recipe that said 50 minutes, but that was bunk. it took at least 65 minutes to be done. You know it's done when you stick a knife in the middle and it comes out clean.