Saturday, February 28, 2009

Friday Night Dinner

So the chocolate dipped coconut macaroons were a real let-down, literally, they just did not rise. Flat as furry coconut pancakes. This happens to me every once in a while, for reasons I am not sure. I follow the recipe almost precisely. But I didn't have too much time to contemplate my depressed cookies, because the main dishes and appetizers had to be planned for, prepared, and executed. I think I have been watching too many seasons of Top Chef.
I invited 6 couples for dinner avec kids, plus my brother who falls somewhere in between the two categories, for Friday night dinner. I devised my menu after getting this month's Gourmet magazine, which had a feature on a Korean meal. I was kinda sorta planning a pan-asian theme- but there are so many different cuisines when cooking Asian, it's easy to get unfocused. So I boiled it down to Thai and Korean (and one Japanese small dish).

The hors d'ouevres were mainly Thai in flavor. After some initial confusion over which protein to start with, I made Thai fish cakes, which were nicely spiced with red curry paste, and lots of lime. They were well recieved. Then I also offered miso marinated halibut pieces pleasantly salty- sweet after the mirin, miso paste, sake, and sugar mixture it was mightily marinated in for 24 hrs, turned slightly sweet when heated through. Then came Thai corn fritters, kind of a variation on an Indian onion bhajee, except with fresh corn kernels and chili powder instead of gharam masala. And a bottle of beer, I can't remember if bhajees use beer or not, but next time I make them I'm definitely going to include beer. Making the corn fritters was a little like extreme home cooking, kernels would explode in the boiling vegetable oil, narrowly missing my face, often stinging my arm or hand. All in the pursuit of a nicely crisped fritter. Then I made the pan fried sesame tofu I posted on in August. And at the last minute I improvised on a summer roll. I beat a couple of eggs and fried them until well set, and coarsely chopped them and wrapped them in rice paper roll with chopped napa cabbage, shredded carrots, chopped scallions, mixed as a salad with a few tbsps of hoisin sauce and chili sauce for some bold flavor. Everything was kicked up by the dipping sauces I served alongside the plates. My personal fave was the Thai peanut; thinned out peanut butter electrified by hot spices.

The main meal was accompanied by a Korean style romaine salad, and a Korean type of pickle of cucumber and tart granny smith slices floating in a bowl of rice vinegar, water, ginger and some sugar. I made another tofu dish which was all about the sauce. And then I slow-cooked Korean style short ribs, and made some Korean noodles (Jap Chae) to go with it. Just for good measure, in case someone was still hungry I made a roasting pan of spicy hoisin chicken thighs. A little deviation from the Korean style, but similar in flavors and spices.

The best thing about peparing this meal was shopping for all these exotic flavors. Looking for and ultimaltely failing to locate Korean chili flakes, was a bit of wild goose chase, but along the way I found lemon grass, chinese long beans, glass noodles, and napa cabbage at this awesome food emporium called International Food Mart. I will definitely go there again.

Dinner was fun after I sat down and let the vodka do it's job. I made some vodka cocktails with fresh squeezed pink grapefruit juice, a splash of seltzer and a couple of spoonfuls of superfine sugar. Yum.

Thai Corn Fritters
Cut the kernels off 6 fresh corn cobs into a large bowl. Stir in 1 c. all-purpose flour, and 1/2 c. self-rising flour flour, 1 1/2 tsp. chilip powder, a bunch of thinly sliced scallions, a few good grinds of salt and a few more of black pepper. Mix well 1 bottle of beer into batter and let sit for half hour to an hour.
Heat corn or vegetable oil and then fry up fritters in quarter cup measurements. I like a deep golden brown color. Scatter chopped cilantro leaves over fritters being laid out on paper towels and squeeze a lime over fritters.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Baking Prayer For A Black Coffee Mood

If today's mood was a food it would certainly be black coffee. Dark, muddy, bitter- a bottomless cup of black coffee. So in an effort to lighten my black coffee mood I am baking. Chocolate dipped coconut macaroons. I don't know what it is about baking that I find so therapeutic, maybe it's the soothing repetition of stirring and mixing? Maybe it's the sweet and comforting aromas? Maybe it's the act of creating something?
My Baking Prayer: Let me be as frothy, light, and frivolous as beaten egg whites. As rich and smooth as melted chocolate. As sweet and versatile as shredded coconut.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Of Playdates and Cinnamon Buns...

Today was rough, I'm not gonna deny it. What excactly is the purpose of Mid-Winter Recess? What are we celebrating? I had the best of intentions when I woke up this morning, I had lined up his 'n her playdates. I had an idea about making Star Wars Cinnamon Rolls (they look like Princess Leia buns) from the cute Star Wars cookbook Kiddle got as a birthday present. Unfortunately, the little one is going though a really nasty case of shit-fit tantrums. We all managed to work, play and exist around him, stepping over his livid sprawled body, but it was a real drag.
Nevertheless, they did a good job with the cinnamon rolls, and all played together pretty well, with only a spot here and there of mean big kid teasing. We even ventured outside. It would have been totally manageable if Munchen, wasn't being such a baby. He is in the thick of an extremely frustrating stage which is characterized by really angry tantrums at roughly 1 hr. intervals. It's enough to make you want to gleefully grind your teeth into stumps. Now they are all settled in front of the tube, blissfully zombie-fied, as I make dinner. It's days like this that make you really realize how patience truly is a virtue (I wasn't born with).

Star Wars Cinnamon Buns- Not overly sweet, and not at all complicated.
Lightly spray a baking sheet and heat oven to 350F. Roll out refrigerated pizza dough, melt 1 tbsp. butter, with a pastry brush, brush the melted butter over the surface of the dough. In a small bowl mix 2 tbsp. brown sugar with 3/4 tsp. cinnamon. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over dough. Roll dough into a long, pinch up ends. Cut log into thick slices. Put slices, cut side up on baking sheet and bake for about 20 mins, or until golden brown. Remove and let cool for about 10 mins. Place 1/3 c. sifted powdered sugar in a bowl and add 1-2 tbsp. milk and a 1/2 tsp. and a tiny pinch of cinnamon, mix until a thin glaze. Brush over buns.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Book Group

Tonight was book group, we all met at Eustacia's house. It's a treat when she hosts- because she makes amazing pizza. I say this all the time, but if I could eat only one thing for the rest of my life it would be pizza, and Stai's is really good. Her crust is chewy with a little crunch around the edges, the tomato sauce is hearty and perfectly thick, and the cheese is not overwhelming but subtly sharp. She takes tenderlovingcare with her veggies, she really enjoys veggies- so she knows exactly how to prepare them and meld them into the pizza. My favorite is her roasted veggie, but Hubbabubba loves her pesto eggplant which is on wholewheat crust (he won't babysit unless I bring him back pizza). Stai actually got me over my eggplant fear with a slice or two of that pizza.

I offered to make dessert, and in honor of Valentines Day I decided to try a rich, moist, endless chocolate pound cake. Hub got me Jacques Torres' "A Year In Chocolate" for Chanukah, and I have been dying to do his pound cake recipe. It calls for 15 eggs, 1 pound of butter, a vanilla bean, cocoa, and some honey, how could it be anything less than sublime, right? I must've done something totally wrong, because it was dry and dissappointingly weak in the chocolate department. I have been known to be a tad haphazard with my measurements. And I don't think this cavalier approach works well with French Pastry Chef baking.

As always it was a good time. I didn't read the book, but it sounded good. I'm hosting next month, to make up for my disappointing cake. I'm thinking of doing a fondue night- 2 savory cheese fondues and 2 dessert fondues. To be continued.... It's nice to have a mini-celebration every month. Forget about stuff for a while, and just get a chance to be with girlfriends to talk and relate without interruption for 3 or 4 hours,wine and food included.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Crock Pot Pulled BBQ Chicken

Lately I've been exploring the world of crock pot cookery. How awesome is it that you can just throw a whole bunch of things in a crock pot- set it on low, and then 6 -8 hrs. later have a table-ready hot meal?
Pulled BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
Place boneless skinless chicken breasts on bottom of crock pot. Chop up one med. onion, place in bowl with 1 can of tomato sauce, 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar, 2 tbsp. yellow mustard, 3 tbsp. brown sugar, 2 tbsp. worcestershire sauce, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. basil, 1/4 tsp. oregano. Mix well and then pour over chicken breasts. Set crock pot to low. After 5 hours use two forks to shred chicken breasts. Cover and let cook for another hour.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pad Thai: I Did It My Way

The monday after the superbowl, and I'm blanking about what to serve la famiglia for dinner as I dawdle down the supermarket aisles. Still feeling the effects of the deep-fried chicken wings and a deluxe burger, I curse my weak-willed deviation from my clean eating plan, and contemplate a liquid fast for the next two days. But who cares about me and my digestive system when there's a nest full of little birdies relying on me fill their beaks with tasty morsels. Carrot Juice with a side of wheatgrass would just not be an acceptable dinner to my little chickadees. Which brings me back to the supermarket and what to make for supper. Boring, boring,'s all so boring- the casseroles and the quiches and the stews of my usual weeknight repertoire. Until I get to the Asian food section, and I have a mental flash of a gorgeous, glistening mound of pad thai noodles studded with chopped peanuts and morsels of tofu, and crunchy green snow peas. I didn't have a recipe, but had a vague notion of what makes up a Pad Thai. I bought the rice noodles, Thai chili sauce, snow peas and hoped I had everything else I would need at home (peanuts, limes...). It turned out pretty good, my little birdies slurping up their noodles without much squawking is proof enough for me. Authentic traditional Pad Thai requires tamarind, fish sauce, cilantro, and Thai chili paste- which I didn't use, so instead it's Pad Thai my way.

Pad Thai-My Way
Drain 1/2 block of extra-firm tofu sliced into 1" slabs, when sufficiently drained (20-30 mins) slather with chili sauce with pastry brush. Slice into 1" nuggets, place on baking sheet and broil for 10-15 minutes until nice 'n roasty. In the meanwhile: bring a pot of water to a boil, add half a box of rice noodles and cook until water returns to a boil. Quickly remove noodles and drain them. Rinse in cold water to stop from cooking. The noodles at this point are very al dente- worry not, after sauteeing in the sauce they will be were you want them. Heat 1/4 c. veg oil in a wok or saute pan. Add 3 cloves of minced garlic, 3 tbsp. Thai chili sauce, 1 tsp. sugar, 2 tbsp. worcestershire sauce. Cook for about a minute or two, until it thickens a bit. Then add 2 beaten eggs, constantly stirring- until eggs are soft set. Add the noodles to the pan, toss and saute for about 5 minutes. Add a bunch of thinly sliced scallions, julienned snow peas, and a handful of bean sprouts and the juice of half a lime. Toss to mix. Garnish with chopped dry roasted peanuts