Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving Pictures

I am grateful for a long weekend and friends and family to spend it with. I wish I could have been with my Michigan family as well, maybe next year. Jack, Annabelle, and I went to his mother's place for the holiday. He stood up to the challenge of making sweet potato casserole and pecan pie. I took on spinach and artichoke dip and a super sugary whipped fruit dip. The fruit dip recipe is from Paula Dean so it's very rich. Not to worry - absolution is built right in with the fruit that delivers the sugary goodness. Get the recipe here. (I think it goes as "French Cream" in this recipe.)

Our friends Kathryn and Albert and Jack's mom, Karen came over the day after Thanksgiving. We finished some of the leftovers, (I made a turkey casserole) and watched "Gone with the Wind". It was a cozy evening spent watching a great film.

Now the weekend is coming to a close with snow, about four inches so far. This is not normal for Seattle. I was happy to discover my Michigan driving skills were still intact earlier today.

I have some pictures to share...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Crunchy Miss

I am quite familiar with eating Vietnamese spring rolls, having consumed many before diving into a hot bowl of Pho. However, I have recently learned that I am not so acquainted with handling rice paper. Making Vietnamese Summer Rolls (page 26) was a messy affair. To be honest, I am a bit clumsy and I have the potential to be quite messy. Any recipe requiring pan-frying, flour, and/or dredging calls for extra clean-up time in my kitchen. The idea behind the rolls is simple: yummy, fresh, iningredients (many of them crunchy), are rolled up in rice paper. The rolls are then dipped in a sauce called nuoc cham (recipe page 111). The rice paper was too delicate for my fingers, I ripped two out of...two. Jack suggested I double up next time - not a bad idea. The combination of lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, cellophane noodles, tofu, bean sprouts, cilantro, and mint is so refreshing. The mint always takes me by surprise - in a good way. Making sure the rolls aren't overstuffed was the second biggest challenge for me. My rolls made for messy eating. This wouldn't have been a big deal, but the nuoc cham sauce was way too tangy. I think the two tablespoons of rice vinegar was too much. I don't know if it was me or the recipe, but something was off. I should have used this nuoc cham recipe instead. I may need to make this dipping sauce again in future recipes. Next up: Steamed Fish with Green Onions and Ginger.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Ahh, To Be a Guest

Another lapse in posts, I am ashamed. And yet, not too ashamed. It has become much chillier in recent days and that has turned me into a baking fanatic. I can not stop thinking of flour, sugar, and eggs! This has not really contributed to my Asian cooking project. The dessert recipes in that particular cookbook don't inspire me-only one requires baking. Instead, I have made chocolate chip cookies, (the family recipe) molasses spice muffins, an oatmeal-pecan pie that is the cover recipe of this month's Cooking Light (November 2006) and a traditional pecan pie. I had to use up the extra store bought pie crust (I cheat, I know) and leftover pecans.
I have been fortunate to be the guest for two dinners this week. My friend Kate has started a weekly Sunday night dinner tradition among friends. Frank, Christopher, Jack and I were the guests at the first dinner this past Sunday. We carved pumpkins as the food was prepared. Our dinner was roast chicken with lemon and herbs, a salad, squash, and rolls. Not to mention mulled cider. I must say that Kate is the best hostess I know. If it weren't for her, I don't think we would have carved pumpkins this year. Jack and I are looking forward to the Sunday dinners to come.
Jack's mother, Karen came by on Monday to share her homemade chili and celebrate her birthday. Jack's sister Molly was there too. We had a satisfying dinner and sadly, watched the Vikings loose to the Patriots. (Karen and Molly are Vikings fans.) We had two wonderful nights with friends and family and really good eats.
It is now a week later and I am proud to report that have I made something Asian!!! Next post: Vietnamese summer rolls.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Thai + Shrimp=Mmmmm

Sorry I have been so late with this post. I was caught up in a secret squirrel project last week.
The instructions in each recipe in Williams Sonoma's "Asian" are precise. One of the last pieces of advice for Thai Shrimp and Lemongrass Soup is, "Just before serving, stir in the shrimp. As soon as they begin to turn color and are opaque, after about 3 minutes, remove the soup from the heat." Oh thank you recipe writers, thank you. Jack and I enjoyed some tender tender shrimp that night. Mmmmmm.
And I must also highlight the lemongrass. I love to cut it at the base and inhale the hard-to believe-it-came-from-a-stalk-of-grass lemon scent. It's not a pure lemon flavor, but an earthy lemon flavor and that makes it perfect for soup. The new-to-me ingredient from this recipe is galangal root. It's like lemon flavored ginger. Both the lemongrass and the galangal root steep with the soup and are removed before serving. I kind of forgot about the four slices of galangal root. My memory was triggered when I heard the words, "Is this supposed to be in here?" from my husband/test subject. No, that's not a stubborn water chestnut, it's a hunk of rhizome. Ooops.
An ingredient that was meant to stay in the soup were shiitake mushrooms. Up until this point I have not been the biggest mushroom fan. The chewienes of the shiitakes was a turning point for me. It seems that I am big on texture, I like food that fights back a bit, even a little bit. (Bring on the crab, squid, raw carrots, hearts of romaine, and of course crunchy snow peas!) The broth is light with a chicken base and citrus accents. It becomes more savory when absorbed in an earthy mushroom.
hope I am back on track. I am deciding between Pot Stickers and Vietnamese Summer Rolls for my next endeavor...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Green Bean Cuisine

I had often noticed bunches of very long green beans in the Asian produce section of our supermarket. What does a hungry person do with beans that would hang off the average plate? Could these lanky characters be tamed? Page 86 has given me an answer. I made "Spicy Dry-Cooked Long Beans" on Sunday and Jack and I liked the results.

Long beans, also known as yard-long beans, and snake beans differ from string beans in length and crunchiness-I do love crunchiness. It took some time to cut one pound of beans down to four inch sections. Once I warmed them up (in my new stir-fry pan), mixed them in with some seasoned ground pork, and poured a seven-ingredient sauce* over the whole thing, the smell was worth it. The familiar scent of ginger, garlic, and green onion was a sign of things to come. It's hard to decide what I liked discovering better, the crunchiness of the beans, or the sweet and salty sauce. There was a new-to-me ingredient that I found a little amusing. It was the last listed: Sichuan preserved vegetable. The cookbook gives a "see note" to further explain. In this case, see link. Did I really scour the supermarket shelves for a can labeled "Preserved Vegetable"? Yes I did. And I was glad to find it without having to ask.

Jack loved the pork and wanted more - the bean to meat ratio seemed off to him. This is a side dish but I have been toying with the idea of decreasing the beans and adding more meat and possibly tofu. That will have to wait until I have tackled the rest of the recipes of my project. I have about 38 other priorities right now.

*Chicken broth, black vinegar, dark soy sauce, tomato sauce, Sriracha chili sauce, cornstarch, sugar.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Dessert First

Before I move on to the next recipe, I must mention a delicious cake I recently made. The Applesauce Snack Cake on page 24 of the current Cook's Illustrated (October 2006) is soooo very moist and flavorful. Mmmmm. The author, Erika Bruce, mentions how good this cake is with tea. That got my attention and the cooling autumn weather sealed the deal. I got my bake on during a bright Sunday afternoon while listening to the NPR food show, "The Splendid Table". The smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and apples completed the experience. Well, eating the cake technically completed the experience, but by then the radio show was over and it was dusk. Erika was right; tea is easily enjoyed with this moist-apple-goodness. (As pictured)

I want to quickly give an update on my project. Page 86 of Williams-Sonoma "Asian" gives the recipe for Spicy Dry-Cooked Long Beans. I shopped for the ingredients last night, and the beans are indeed quite long, about 18". I think that's all I should say for now. I'll be making this dish within the next few days.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Miso Full

The Miso with Tofu and Seaweed was much more hearty than I had expected. This was not the appetizer soup I am used to eating before sushi. The sparse tofu and seaweed always leave me a little disappointed. I think that the broth is meant to be enjoyed after the solids are gone, but I have yet to down all that salty broth. Miso soup can vary, this recipe produces a soup that is a meal.

I learned a few lessons along the way. First of all, when shopping for ingredients that are not marketed to your language, allow extra time. I did not know there were so many different types of dried seaweed available. The search is made even harder when you are reading subtitles. Another lesson; bonito flakes are scales from the mackerel fish and are pungent in a most fishy way. My husband was not impressed with the scale thing. However, our dog Annabelle was a big fan of the smell. Jack was comforted by the fact that the flakes are only use to flavor the stock, and are not actually eaten. Annabelle was disappointed to learn that the flakes would end up in the disposal and not her food bowl. The last lesson; remove the bonito flakes from your home as soon as possible. If you don't have a disposal, take a moment to empty the garbage. Otherwise, your home could smell like fish for a very long time. I am happy to report that this flavor is not as strong in the broth.

We both enjoyed the soup. It offers a variety of textures, my favorite being the chewy seaweed. Jack loved the tiny enoki mushrooms (pictured left).
And now it seems I have to peruse the book and make another trip to the grocery store for the next adventure...

Here is link to more pictures of my miso soup adventure.

And a link to an NPR miso feature that aired a few days after I posted this.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Gathering Ingredients

I've noticed that between cookbooks and cooking magazines, I have oodles of recipes to catch up on. Julie Powell tackled 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, I am not so ambitious. My first project will be to cook all 40 recipes in the cookbook, "Asian" from the Williams Sonoma collection in a reasonable amount of time.
I grew up in Michigan where my appreciation of Asian food began with Chinese cuisine. I believe my mother and I are in a minority of people who have a special bond over sizzling rice soup. After a brief stint in San Diego (location of my first taste of sushi-YUM), I moved to Seattle in 2000. There is a great deal of food to explore here, especially Asian eats and I am game. My native-to-Seattle friend Kathryn has played a huge role in my food adventures. I can still remember her telling me about a Vietemese soup that she wanted me to try. I suppose our special bond is over Pho, or would it be sushi?
I've dappled in Japanese and Chinese cooking, but have always wanted to take it further. Now I have my chance. Not only does Seattle offer an amazing variety of places to eat, it has highly equipped grocery stores ready to sell me dried seaweed! That's right; I have already picked up the ingredients for my first recipe, "Miso Soup with Tofu and Seaweed" page 40. I will reveal the results in a future post.
(Thanks for the cookbook mom.)

Friday, September 29, 2006

Choosing a Recipe

I've given in and started a blog. I hesitated because I feared that it would turn into a egocentric mess, a beast beyond my control. Too many stories about my wonderful dog, random thoughts taken too seriously and boring complaints. In her book Julie and Julia, Julie Powell had a mighty, mighty goal that resulted in a blog with a purpose. Purpose is the trick. Not only had I discovered this trick, the purpose of Julie's blog was food! I love to cook and try new food. I never plan to be an expert in either, just constantly learning. That's the long term. The short term will be filled with culinary goals and adventures that I plan to write about along the way. It is certain that I will be sneaking in a quip about my dog, my test subject/husband, and garden from time to time. I reserve the right to digress a bit. I must also reserve the right to use fragments and misuse commas, parentheses, grammar in general really.