Monday, September 30, 2013
Pad Thai is one of my all-time favorite Asian dishes. I find it hard to resist ordering nearly every time I dine at a Thai restaurant, and until recently I was unable to recreate it in my own kitchen to the standards that I would have liked. It never tasted quite right... until now.
In the past I tried a non-traditional version using more-readily-available lime juice in place of the tamarind. It was so not the same. You really need tamarind to replicate the true flavor of Pad Thai. It gives the noodles that tangy-sour bite that makes Pad Thai so unique compared to other noodle dishes.
I purchased my tamarind paste concentrate at Whole Foods, so even if you don't have Asian markets in your area, you should be able to track it down either there or even online. It won't be the same without it.
This Pad Thai comes together very quickly. Once you've prepped only a few ingredients, the stir-frying portion of the dish takes less than 10 minutes. It's a perfect weeknight meal, and can easily fulfill your Thai craving faster than getting delivery.
Keep in mind that mung bean sprouts go from fresh to not fresh pretty quickly. Don't purchase them too far in advance or they will turn before you even get a chance to use them. Happy cooking!
Shrimp Pad Thai
Serves 2 to 3
Pad Thai Sauce:
2 tablespoons tamarind paste concentrate
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
6 ounces dried rice stick noodles (medium or large width)
1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, or as needed
4 cloves garlic, minced
12 to 14 large shrimp, thawed if frozen, peeled and deveined
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups mung bean sprouts
2 scallions, light and dark green parts only, thinly sliced
1/4 cup roughly chopped peanuts (pulsing in a small food processor/chopper works great)
Lime wedges, for serving
To make the sauce, whisk together the tamarind, brown sugar, and fish sauce until smooth.
Add the rice noodles to a pot of boiling water, lower the heat and boil for 4 to 5 minutes (err on the longer side if using wider noodles). The noodles should be softened but still firmer than al dente. They will continue to cook later. Drain and rinse well with cold water. Use kitchen shears to snip the noodles a couple times. This will make it a lot easier to fry and eat them.
Heat a wok over high heat and add about 1 to 2 tablespoons oil (if you're using a non-stick wok you won't need a lot). Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the garlic and stir-fry for no longer than a minute (as it tends to burn).
Add the drained noodles and stir for another minute. Add the sauce and keep stirring the noodles until they begin to absorb some of the sauce and continue to soften (I used a non-stick wok, but if yours starts to stick, you can add more oil as needed). Add the shrimp and keep stirring until they begin to turn pink, a couple more minutes.
Push the noodles and shrimp to one side (the shrimp will continue to cook so don't worry if they aren't completely pink yet) and pour the beaten eggs into the empty space in the wok. Allow the eggs to set for a minute and then stir to scramble it with the rest of the ingredients.
Add the bean sprouts and stir-fry for another minute or two until they are crisp-tender and the noodles have a nice chewy texture. Add half the scallions, toss one final time and remove from the heat.
Divide the Pad Thai evenly over two to three plates, distributing the shrimp evenly. Garnish with the remaining scallions, chopped peanuts, and slices of lime. Serve immediately.
*Note #1* I once made the mistake of doubling a Pad Thai recipe to make more servings. It was extremely difficult to properly stir-fry all the ingredients in the wok without yielding slightly mushy noodles and poorly distributed ingredients. If you intend to feed a larger group, stir-fry the Pad Thai in batches. You'll thank me.
*Note #2* You can easily made chicken Pad Thai by replacing the shrimp with a thinly sliced chicken breast. Cook the chicken breast first, then remove it from the wok, continue with the recipe as directed, and add the cooked chicken back when you would normally add the shrimp.
Friday, September 27, 2013
I love a good burger, regardless of how fancy or low-key it may be. My only rule is that is must be shaped by a human and not come in a frozen disc from a factory. During a recent trip to Los Angeles, I not only got to indulge in one of my all-time favorite burgers, the Double-Double Animal Style from In-N-Out (perfection in every bite), but I also visited the Umami Burger location at The Grove.
There's obviously a lot of hype surrounding Umami Burger. Some say it's the best while others have mixed feelings. I fall in the latter crowd, but it may be because my burger choice was not the best. I elected to try the special burger for that location, the Grove Truffle Burger (as opposed to the regular Truffle Burger).
This is where I may have faltered. I was told later by a friend who also ordered the same burger as me, but usually swears by the other, that the original Truffle Burger is immeasurably better than the Grove variation. I can see how she might be right.
First of all, the Grove Truffle Burger is topped with a Parmesan Fondue and Truffle Sauce. There was barely any sauce to speak of and thus the burger came across as pretty boring without any elevated flavors from these toppings. The original Truffle Burger is topped with truffle cheese, truffle glaze, and roasted garlic aioli. It already sounds better, but for some reason I thought the "special" one would be the one to try. Shame.
The bun was very good, fairly dense but had a great structure to it that would hold up to any juicy burger. Unfortunately, even though my burger was medium rare, it wasn't really juicy at all. It wasn't dry either, but there were essentially no juices to speak of. It was a fair burger, but it certainly can't compete with others I've enjoyed in my life. Even In-N-Out which falls into another category all-together would beat out Umami overall as my go-to LA burger.
Alternatively, the side dishes we tried were quite yummy. We got an order of Thin Fries and "Truffled Them," which means they are topped with melted truffle cheese and truffle salt. I loved these fries and really wished I had gotten the burger topped with this cheese.
|An array of dipping sauces, although I didn't try most of them since I liked the truffled flavor of the fries on their own.|
I also really enjoyed the Cheesy Tots, which aren't even featured on the menu but I guess you can order them off the menu. It's like a secret. They were very good, but could have been even cheesier if you ask me.
Additionally, note that the bottles of beer on the menu come in larger than average sizes (mine was 22 ounces). At first I was appalled by the price on the menu, but when I realized I was getting a lot more beer than expected, it turned out to be pretty fair.
In the end, my trip to Umami Burger was a lot of fun, mainly because of the amazing company of my friends who took me there. The burgers were good, but not remotely outstanding (especially for the price). I am still very curious to try the original Truffle Burger and would perhaps return to Umami for that reason alone. Umami is worth checking out, but based on my, albeit limited, experience there, I'm not sure it deserves a repeat performance. We'll see.
Umami Burger The Grove
189 The Grove Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Umami Burger The Grove
189 The Grove Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
A week ago, I reviewed The Artisan Marshmallow from Hardie Grant Books. Today, I'm taking a look at another book from Hardie Grant, Great Pub Food by Rachael Lane. Like The Artisan Marshmallow, this book also gets right to the point without any introduction, and although I'd love to read stories about British pubs and what makes them so special, I am willing to let that slide in this case.
I will take this opportunity to point out that I am not British. My limited experience in real British pubs (in Great Britain) involve two meals, both of which included beer and fish and chips. Yup, I ordered fish and chips at both of my only real meals at pubs in London. I may not have been the most adventurous diner, but I was 18 and I wanted the "traditional fish and chips pub meal." And so that's what I ordered. Twice.
I have made other British dishes in my own kitchen, such as Cottage Pies at my last Olympics party. I also love tea and occasionally throw tea parties with scones and finger sandwiches and the like. Still, that's not really pub food. British, but not pub. I was really stoked to get the chance to try some more authentic dishes from the pages of this book.
Chapters in the book range from Burgers, Pies & Pastries, Classics, Specials Board, Sides & Salads, and finally Desserts. There are many classic dishes shared, such as *cough cough* fish and chips, various savory pies such as steak and mushroom and veggie curry, as well as Cornish pasties, various burgers (some that seem less traditional to me, like tempura fish burgers and tandoori chicken burgers), and roast beef and Yorkshire puddings.
Some dishes that are considered classics in the book are very unusual to me, like mushroom risotto and eggplant parmigiana, but again, I'm not British so I guess these are pretty typical dishes, even if they aren't British in origin. The Specials Board includes even more dishes that think outside the box, such as chicken tikka masala (considered to be a British invention believe-it-or-not), rabbit cacciatore, and prawn and chorizo paella. There's definitely a great range of recipes in this book! It is missing a few "classics," however, such as Scotch egg, bubble and squeak and perhaps some others I'm not nearly British enough to be aware of.
The photography reveals incredibly appetizing looks at very comforting dishes. If pub food is anything at all, it's full of comfort foods and various guilty pleasures. I was most certainly planning on making one of the savory pies or pasties, due to my love of pastry dough (is there anything more satisfying?), but decided to try the bangers and mash instead. It features homemade skinless pork and herb sausages and roasted garlic mash, along with a traditional onion gravy.
Considering that all components of the dish are completely homemade, the bangers and mash are actually really simple and straightforward to prepare. The "bangers" are infused with garlic, red wine, herbs and spices and simply shaped into sausage-shaped logs.
The recipe says to shape them 1 hour to overnight in advance. Please note, the longer they sit, the more the salt will essentially "cure" the meat. Mine sat longer than overnight (I shaped them one afternoon and cooked them for dinner the following day--more than 24 hours later) and they were a tad on the salty side, but the quantity of salt actually in the recipe is not substantial, so that's my own fault. Also, since the "bangers" are skinless, they won't have the same sheen as traditional ones, but who really cares?
The mash... is perfection. I used whole milk instead of cream, and added a splash or so of extra milk because I wanted my mash a bit softer than the original result. The gravy is meaty and wine-y with lots of sweet, melted onions in there. Mine turned out more purple than brown because the red wine I used had a more purple hue. Also, I used beef broth instead of stock, so the stock would have yielded an even richer and more intense color and flavor.
Regardless, I was floored by how tasty this dish turned out! Even though my sausages were a touch salty (again, my own fault), combined with the sweet garlicky mash and the decadent gravy, it was truly the ultimate comfort food! I have so many recipes in my arsenal (and well over a hundred cookbooks in my ever-growing collection), that I don't always fall back on ones I've already tried before, but I can definitely assure you that these bangers and mash will be made again in my kitchen. We all loved them!
Bangers and Mash
(Adapted from Great Pub Food)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Creamy Roast Garlic Potato Mash (see recipe below)
Skinless Pork and Herb Sausages:
750 g (1 lb 10 oz) minced (ground) pork
3 tablespoons red wine
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons finely chopped oregano (I used 1 tablespoon dried oregano)
1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme (I used 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons sea salt (I used kosher)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon chili flakes, crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
20 g (3/4 oz) butter
2 brown onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour
1/2 cup (125 ml/4 fl oz) red wine
1 cup (250 ml/8 1/2 fl oz) beef stock
To make the sausages, place all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and using clean hands, mix and knead together until sticky and combined well. Shape the mixture into 8 even-sized sausages, put on a plate and cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
To prepare the onion gravy, heat the oil and butter together in a large frying pan over low-medium heat. Cook the onion until softened and golden. Add the flour to the pan and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, for 20 seconds. Pour in the wine and stock, stirring to prevent lumps, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and gently simmer for a few minutes, or until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Keep warm until needed.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and cook the sausages for 10 minutes, turning occasionally, until brown all over (I cooked mine longer to make sure it would cook through--alternatively, it wouldn't be a bad idea to finish them off in the oven if you are worried about them cooking through).
Serve the sausages with potato mash and onion gravy.
Creamy Roast Garlic Potato Mash
(Adapted from Great Pub Food)
1 bulb garlic
Olive oil, for drizzling
1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) all-purpose potatoes, such as russets
1/2 cup (125 ml/4 fl oz) heavy cream (I used whole milk, and added a little extra as well)
100 g (3 1/2 oz) butter
Sea salt and ground white pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).
Place the whole garlic bulb on a baking tray and drizzle with oil. Roast in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until very soft (I wrapped mine in foil to keep it from burning). Set aside to cool slightly.
Peel and halve (or quarter) the potatoes and place in a large saucepan of cold salted water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Uncover and boil for 15 minutes, or until tender when tested with a skewer or fork. Drain. Use a food mill or potato ricer to puree the potato and return it to the pan.
Heat the cream (or milk) and butter together in a small saucepan over medium heat, until the butter has melted and the cream is hot. Pour into the potato and using a wooden spoon, beat to combine.
Cut the base off the roasted garlic bulb and squeeze out the softened cloves starting from the tip and pressing down. Add to the potato and beat to combine. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Monday, September 23, 2013
The Creative Cooking Crew theme for the month of September is "pickle it." In other words, our challenge this month is to pickle something (anything) and then incorporate it into a dish. There are so many things that can be pickled, from watermelon rind to mustard seeds, but as soon as football season started I knew my heart only wanted to pickle one thing: jalapeños.
It might not be the most gourmet spin on the challenge, but it is glorious perfection in my eyes! One of my favorite treats on football Sunday is nachos (along with anything Buffalo chicken, of course). Usually, if I'm going to make traditional nachos in my kitchen, I will start with tortilla chips and grated cheese and then pile on the toppings (the more the merrier!).
In this case, I wanted to try something a little different. I decided to make a cheese sauce for my nachos instead of simply melting cheese right onto the chips. Both methods yield different, but delicious, results, and since this is a challenge, I decided to step out of my usual nacho box and try something new.
First, let's talk about the pickled jalapeños (since that's the focus of the challenge). They were so incredibly easy to prepare, I can't imagine ever buying them in the store again. I already had Mason jars and the various pickling ingredients in my pantry, and under $2 later, I had 15 gorgeous jalapeños ready to enjoy a new life in pickled form.
I didn't go through the official process of canning them, and instead just opted to refrigerate the jars. If you want to process them to make them shelf-stable (like you would with other pickles or jams), you certainly can do that by boiling the sealed jars for 10 to 15 minutes and following the usual steps.
For my cheese sauce, I actually used white cheddar which made it decidedly not nacho cheese-like in color, and therefore to "brighten up" my nachos, I served the gooey cheese sauce over blue corn tortilla chips. My only complaint about the cheese sauce is, especially once you drizzle it on something, it cools pretty fast and is no longer molten in texture.
I found myself occasionally nuking my nachos in the microwave to warm up the cheese sauce. It may have been better to simply keep the sauce warm and dip the chips in there... or just melt cheese all over it next time :) Easy peasy!
Either way, although this was a fairly simple preparation of nachos, with just chips, cheese sauce, and pickled jalapeños, it was still a nice change from the typical loaded nachos I usually make. Plus it really helped the pickled peppers shine! I would love to try the cheese sauce for chili cheese fries in the future too, and the perfectly balanced pickled jalapeños on anything Tex-Mex or Mexican, or even just on the side as a spicy pickle. Check out the round up of "pickled" dishes on Foodalogue on September 30th!
Makes 2 pints or 1 quart
(Adapted from Simply Scratch)
15 large jalapeños (about 1 pound), stems removed and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
In a medium saucepan combine the garlic, water, vinegar, sugar and salt.
Heat to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Once at a boil, add the sliced jalapeños pressing them so they are submerged. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, occasionally stirring and pressing the jalapeños into the brine.
Transfer the jalapeños to 2 pint-size jars or 1 quart-size jar. Ladle the brine over top until the jar is full (doing this over a small strainer will remove the bulk of the excess seeds). Let cool at room temperature before securing a lid and popping them into the fridge (alternatively to can them: when the mixture is still hot, process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 to 15 minutes).
Makes about 3/4 cups
(Adapted from Serious Eats)
4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup evaporated milk, or as needed
1 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Frank's Red Hot (optional)
Add the cheese and cornstarch to a medium saucepan and toss them to combine. Add the evaporated milk and hot sauce, if using, and heat the mixture over medium heat, while whisking constantly. After about 5 minutes or so, the mixture should be hot, bubbly, and thickened. If it's too thick, add a bit more evaporated milk to thin it out. Serve immediately with tortilla chips, fries, hamburgers or hot dogs.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
I had never really thought much about making homemade marshmallows. I had seen others do it, and it seemed simple enough, but never quite made it onto my to do list. It wasn't until I received a review copy of Paige Couture's The Artisan Marshmallow from Hardie Grant Books that I finally planned a marshmallow-making adventure in my kitchen.
The book, due for an October 1st release, features a puffy pink cover and chapters entitled Easy, Fruity, Swirly, Cutesy, Boozy, Hipster-y, and Variety. There is no introduction or index, which at first I found odd, but I think it's a British thing. The other book by Hardie Grant that I'm currently reviewing (keep your eyes peeled for that upcoming post!) is also more streamlined without additional introductions and such.
Even the recipes themselves don't have playful little intros, but rather get straight to the point. There are occasional notes in the sidebar, however, so that is helpful when needed. Every single recipe includes a photograph, so that's a definite plus! They are colorful, whimsical perfection, truly fitting a book on a subject so youthful, yet gourmet.
Being a marshmallow virgin and all, I was perhaps a tad apprehensive getting started. I have a handy candy thermometer, so that definitely helps, and the recipes are very detailed and well-written. There are lots of exciting marshmallow recipes I considered, such as Mojito Marshmallows, Honeyed Cardamom Marshmallows with Pistachios, Double Raspberry Marshmallows, and Saffron & Honey Marshmallows among others.
I decided to start out with the Honey & Peanut Butter Swirl Marshmallows, because who doesn't love peanut butter (well, I suppose people who are allergic to peanuts)? Most of the recipes include a small quantity of glucose, which is a specialty ingredient I was hoping to avoid buying. I do believe corn syrup may be a fine substitute, but for this particular recipe, there is no glucose anyway, and instead a generous quantity of honey!
These recipes also feature gelatin, which is not vegetarian, but again this doesn't really affect me, but it might make a difference to you. Following Couture's thorough instructions, I got to work on my first batch of marshmallows.
I used granulated sugar instead of caster/superfine, but I measured in weight instead of volume so it shouldn't have made much of a difference. I found the recipe very easy to follow, and after making marshmallows only once, I feel extremely confident to try more recipes again in the future.
Unlike store-bought marshmallows, these are extremely delicate, spongy, and basically melt in your mouth. In this particular case, the peanut butter flavor is outstanding, and really sends you to the moon! What a delightful treat! I'm so glad I took a chance and decided to finally make marshmallows myself, because I'm so impressed not only with the ease of preparing them, but with the fantastic results.
Honey & Peanut Butter Swirl Marshmallows
Makes about 35
(From The Artisan Marshmallow)
400 g (14 oz/1 3/4 cups) caster (superfine) sugar (I used granulated, but weighed it in grams vs volume)
150 g (5 oz) honey
2 tablespoons powdered gelatin
70 g (2 1/2 oz/2 large) egg whites, at room temperature
185 g (6 1/2 oz/3/4 cup) crunchy peanut butter
30 g (1 oz/1/4 cup) icing (confectioners') sugar
30 g (1 oz/1/4 cup) cornflour (cornstarch)
Lightly spray a 25 x 30 cm (10 x 12 in) baking tin with oil, line the base and two long sides with non-stick baking paper and lightly spray the paper with oil. Combine 345 g (12 oz/1 1/2 cups) of the sugar, the honey and 125 ml (4 fl oz/1/2 cup) water in a medium, deep heavy-based saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and simmer, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 127 degrees C (260 degrees F) on a sugar thermometer (this is the upper end of the hard-ball stage). Watch it carefully, as the syrup has a tendency to bubble up.
Meanwhile, slowly sprinkle the gelatin over 160 ml (5 1/4 fl oz/2/3 cup) cold water in a shallow microwave-safe bowl and set aside for 5 minutes. Heat in the microwave for 30-45 seconds on High (100%), or until the gelatin has dissolved.
When the sugar syrup reaches 115 degrees C (239 degrees F), whisk the egg whites in an electric mixer with a whisk attachment on medium speed. When frothy, increase the speed to medium-high and gradually add the remaining sugar, whisking until thick and glossy. Keep the mixer running on medium speed. When the sugar syrup reaches 127 degree C (260 degrees F), turn off the heat and allow the bubbles to subside.
Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and gradually pour the gelatin mixture down the inside of the bowl in a thin, steady stream. Add the hot sugar syrup in the same manner. Increase the speed to high and whisk until the mixture is very thick and holds its shape, about 10 to 12 minutes, depending on your mixer. The outside of the bowl should almost be at room temperature.
Meanwhile, put the peanut butter in a small microwave-safe bowl and heat in the microwave on Medium (50%) in 15-second bursts until softened slightly, but not hot (I used a "natural" style crunchy peanut butter, so it was already fairly soft at room temperature and I didn't follow this step to soften it further).
Reserve a couple tablespoons of the peanut butter and use a large spoon or spatula to gently fold the rest through the marshmallow mixture, stirring and lifting the mixture only 2 to 3 times (I totally broke this rule). Do not over-mix.
Use the spatula to scrape the marshmallow mixture into the prepared tin and gently smooth it out. Swirl the reserved peanut butter through the top of the marshmallow. Stand for 2 to 3 hours, until set.
Meanwhile, to make the coating, sift the icing sugar and cornflour together. Dust the top of the marshmallow with some of the coating and turn out onto a clean surface. Dust the bottom with more coating. Use a large knife sprayed with oil to cut the marshmallow into pieces. Toss the pieces in the remaining coating, dusting off the excess.
Keep in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days.
*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.
Monday, September 16, 2013
I love cabbage. I think it's so underrated. It's one of those vegetables that sent me running as a child, but now I can't get enough. It's especially great with noodles, whether in a German inspired recipe or something more Asian.
This dish calls for spring greens or cabbage, but I went with cabbage all the way, using Napa or Chinese cabbage as my cabbage of choice. The cabbage cooks super quickly and still retains a nice bite. Other greens you can use include Savoy cabbage, choy sum, bok choy, or sliced Brussels sprouts.
Along with the crisp, chewy, and salty dried shrimp which fries up in a bit of oil, this dish offers a pungent fishy kick. The effect of the fried dried shrimp is reminiscent of bacon, in my opinion, but fishier... obviously. It is fabulous and adds a wonderful umami element to the dish.
I definitely didn't need any additional salt in this dish. I use low-sodium soy sauce, and even then, it was plenty of sodium in my opinion. This was a great addition to a recent weeknight meal including Stir-Fried Oyster Mushrooms and Chicken.
It cooks in practically no time at all, making this a really easy dish to cook on the fly. I hope you consider adding it to your Chinese cooking arsenal!
Stir-Fried Greens with Dried Shrimp
Serves 1 (or more as part of a larger meal)
(From Every Grain of Rice)
14 oz (400 g) spring greens, or cabbage of your choice
4 scallions, green parts only
4 tablespoons oil or lard (I used quite a bit less)
6 tablespoons thin dried shimp (xia pi)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
Discard any fibrous outer leaves and cut out and discard the thick stem of the greens. Shred the leaves. Cut the scallion greens into thin slices.
Add 3 tablespoons of the oil or lard to a seasoned wok over a high flame and swirl it around. Add the shrimp and stir-fry until crisp and fragrant. Remove the shrimp from the wok and set aside.
Return the wok to the stove with the remainder of the oil or lard, add the greens and stir-fry over a high flame until hot, barely cooked and still a little crisp. Return the shrimp, add the soy sauce and salt to taste (you may not need any salt because of the saltiness of the shrimp and soy). Finally add the scallions, stir a couple of times, then turn on to a dish and serve.