It’s like a mini Thai vacation – ok, maybe not, but it’s good

My hubby and I really enjoy Thai food, actually most any kind of Asian food, but Thai is most often the top of the list just behind good sushi. My favorite thing about Thai is how fragrant and tangy the food is with a mix of fresh herbs and flavorings to elevate even the most boring ingredient – poached chicken – to another level of tasty. The following is a recipe for Thai chicken salad that can be made minus the chicken so it is an easy vegetarian meal as well. This one is excellent for summer or now, when we are wishing it was summer, and it requires next to no cooking, so no excuses for the cooking impaired ! Like many things I make, the measurements are sort of guestimated since I kind of improvised pieces from several recipes, so all things can be adjusted to make them more spicy, tangy, salty, all of the above. All of these ingredients were picked up at the local grocery store, so no need for a special field trip for this one. For the salad – makes 2 dinner sized portions:

2/3 package of bean thread noodles, prepared according to package

1 large handful of pea shoots (you can use spinach or any other salad green or sprout)

3 slices of red onion

handful of kumquats sliced – any citrus will do – orange, tangerine, etc

1/2 cup mint leaves

1/2 cup cilantro leaves

1/2 English seedless cucumber, sliced

poached chicken breast (optional) – Shrimp or steak or any other protein would be good here

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Assemble all of the above ingredients in a bowl and set aside. The following is the dressing:

juice of 1.5-2 limes

2 tablespoons soy sauce (I use low sodium Tamari)

1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce

1 pinch of sugar

1 small drop of sesame oil (make it small, otherwise it overpowers everything else)

1 tablespoon grated ginger (I freeze the ginger and use a micro-plane to shave it whenever I need it)

Chili pepper to taste (I use a small drop of Chinese garlic chilies from a jar)

1 smashed clove of garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine the above ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. Pour over salad when you are ready to serve. 

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I served the salad with the fresh poached chicken, so it was warm, and the noodles were also relatively warm still from sitting in hot water to soften. The leftovers held up well though, despite the lime juice, and I had them for lunch today which was a huge upgrade from the options I usually have for lunch. Aside from all the chopping, this is one of the easiest things you can make. I try to keep bean thread noodles and/or rice stick noodles in the house because they cook so quickly and are great for things like this or to use in chicken or other soups instead of regular noodles.

Random Bag Night – A Minestrone of Sorts

Back home after the Christmas holiday and we are armed with a leftover ham bone courtesy of my in-laws. The ham was delicious, so we were happy to take the bone home to use for soup. Additionally, I think we both packed on a few pounds over the holiday so we were hoping for something relatively healthy for dinner tonight. One of my favorite ways to cook is something my husband and I have come to call “Random Bag Night”, meaning you go into the cabinets and refrigerator and try to concoct something out of what you find and it is less about having a recipe as it is about just being creative. Tonight’s random bag event was a minestrone soup of sorts which you can make using any number of ingredients and with the ham bone, it would be elevated from a mere vegetable potpourri. The following is the list of ingredients:

Olive oil to coat the pan

1 small onion, chopped

4 leeks, chopped

 3 carrots, chopped

1 stalk celery. chopped

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 handful dried porcini or other smokey mushroom (add more if you are not in possession of a ham bone)

1 cup white wine

2~3 cups of chicken broth (we keep store bought stock on hand at all times)

1 can kidney beans

1 can cannelini beans

1 zucchini

1 bunch of swiss chard, chopped

1 can diced tomatoes

2-3 cups of water

salt & pepper to taste

sprinkle of Parmesan cheese

So we cheated a little this time and bought the leeks, chard, zuchini and canned beans, but everything else was in the house already. I started by adding some olive oil to the stock pot, and then adding the leeks, onion, celery, carrot, rosemary and mushrooms to the pot, on med-high heat with a little salt until the leeks and onion started to soften. I then added the ham bone and the wine and allowed it to cook down for another few minutes. After that, I added all the other ingredients and brought the whole thing to a boil. Lowered the heat to simmer and let it go for about an hour or so.  We added some elbow macaroni at the end and some parmesan cheese after we put the servings into our bowls for some extra flavor.

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Some variations you can do – if you have no ham bone, add more dried mushrooms or even fresh portobello or more beans to give the soup some heft. You can make it vegetarian by leaving out the ham bone and using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. At the end, when you are serving, you can add a dollop of pesto to give the dish an extra kick. And you can add any and every vegetable, including potatoes, to give the soup your own spin. It’s relatively healthy, low fat and an easy one pot dish.

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An old family tradition – Strufoli at Christmas

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For as long as I can remember, every Christmas my mom gathers a group of folks to make a traditional Italian dessert called Strufoli. I believe this is a southern Italian treat which my mom learned to make from various members of her family. Strufoli is essentially a dough ball, fried and coated in honey. Each ball is cut by hand and the end product is sprinkled with candies and served on a plate for people to congregate around and snack on while enjoying each other’s company on the holidays. The beauty of these kinds of recipes is that each family has their own twist on it, developed over generations and handed down, along with tips for making the dough balls tasty, light and airy despite being deep fried. It is a truly monumental effort to cut all the dough by hand and sadly I have been absent the last few years but my sister and cousin have been faithful helpers to my parents. The Strufoli process provides not only an opportunity to take part in our heritage but it is also a time for family bonding as the process takes hours, leaving plenty of time to catch up on all the gossip. Also  (most importantly) this process gives you lots of time to drink wine on the job. Here is the recipe we use:

4.5 cups of all purpose flour

2 Teaspoons double acting powder

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup of white wine

1 quart salad oil

¼ cup salad oil

1.5 lb jar of honey

Colored sprinkles candy

6 large or extra large eggs, beaten

 

Do Half of Recipe at a time, be generous with wine and salt

 

Put 4 cups of flour in a sifter on a pastry board, add baking powder and salt, sift onto board. Make a well in the center and add the wine. ¼ cup oil, and beaten eggs. Gradually blend wet ingredients into dry with a fork. Knead dough on board until blended, smooth and soft. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in refrigerator for 30 mins to an hour.

 

One rested, divide dough in half, keeping other half under a damp cloth to prevent drying.

 

On a well floured board, roll unwrapped dough to ¼” thickness, then cut into strips ½” wide. Pinch each strip and cut into ¼” pieces.

 

In deep saucepan, heat rest of salad oil, test, when hot, add pieces and fry in small batches until brown.

 

Simmer honey until ball forms when dropped in water. Remove heat, add strufoli, and coat well. Pile on plates and coat with desired topping.

The recipe will yield you about 6 or 7 nicely piled plates of strufoli, which we usually enjoy at breakfast, or with an afternoon coffee, or with a glass of wine…Unfortunately this recipe is one that has been handed down, generation after generation, and requires a certain amount of trial and error to get right. It leaves out many “on the job” tips which you can only experience by watching an old pro or importing your own Italian grandmother. With any luck, I’ll be able to make it to Philly next year to join my family for the Strufoli-making event.

Mmmmm is for MEAT

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Along with the craptastic winter weather, the January Gourmet Magazine arrived on Friday and as you can see from the cover, it’s an I-talian extravaganza. This immediately sent my mouth watering and my stomach growling and though we had pledged to eat lighter, my husband and I were destined to have meatballs and spaghetti with a meat gravy this weekend. It’s almost hardwired into our genetic makeup.

Sundays are traditionally the gravy day since you need to let the gravy simmer for hours to achieve maximum fabulousness. We picked up some supplies on Saturday: Pork ribs, ground pork, and ground beef. On Sunday morning, after the biscotti were done, and I had consulted the Gravy Oracle (my mom)  I took out our heavy Le Creuset pot and poured some olive oil in the pan. Here is an approximate recipe (there are so many variations so be creative!)

1. 1/3 cup good olive oil

2. 1 whole onion cut in half

3. 1/2 cup red wine

4. 2+ cans of good plum tomatoes, crushed up

5. 1 package of pork ribs (we had some leftover pork from another dish in the freezer so we threw that in too, some people make bresciole, etc etc)

6. Handful fresh or dried basil

7. 1/2 can tomato paste

8. 4 or 5 large cloves of garlic

9. salt & pepper to taste

I poured the oil into the pot and let it heat up on med-high heat. Once it was hot, I added the pork and the onion and some salt and let the meat get nice and brown. I turned it once (after about 3~4 minutes) and let it brown on the other side. I added the garlic towards the end of the browning process so it could get toasty but not get burned in the bottom of the pot and then in goes the tomato paste and the wine. Use the liquids to scrape up the brown bits and allow them to reduce for about 4~5  minutes.

Add your tomatoes and basil and a touch more salt and pepper and let the whole thing simmer on the stove on low heat for at least 2 hours, turning occasionally and it will look like this:

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I let the sauce cook down early and then shut it off. This is one of the best smells in the world. They should make gravy air freshner, I’d buy it!  To go with the gravy, I made some meatballs later in the day. You can make the meatballs early and once they are baked, you can set them into the sauce to simmer, or you can bake and eat right away. It is all good. Here is the meatball recipe I use which you can use for traditional meatballs or for turkey meatballs or chicken meatballs, etc etc:

1. 1lb ground pork

2. 1lb ground beef

3. 2 eggs

4. 4-5 slices old bread, soaked in about 1/3 cup of milk

5. 1/2 cup parmesian (feel free to add more, this is a huge flavor!)

6. handful chopped fresh parsley

7. 1 large garlic clove minced

8. salt + pepper to taste

All all ingredients to a large bowl, mix well with hands, form into balls and place on a greased cookie sheet. I bake the meatballs in the oven which is easier and I believe a little healthier than frying them on the stove top. I bake them at 375 for about 25 minutes (more or less depending on how large they are).

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I reheated the sauce for about 25 minutes while the pasta cooked on the stove so it was all ready to go at the same time. Sunday comfort food doesn’t get much better than this !

I don’t know who Zaire is but her Biscotti recipe is excellent

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We are in Day 3 of a classic New England snow storm hence the reason I have made so many posts today. And, it’s also Christmas cookie time so we’ve been busy in the kitchen. So I made the merengues yesterday and today I made Biscotti using a recipe from an old church cookbook my mom has. I used to make these cookies years back but I haven’t tried them in a while. Usually they are flavored with anise and baked until they are tiny crescent shaped weapons. Hard as rock and you have to dunk them in your coffee to make them chewable. I don’t rebake them until they are puck like and this time I replaced the anise with vanilla and added dried cranberries and pistachios. Below is the recipe as written in the cookbook:

6 eggs

2 cups of sugar

1/3 cup milk

1 cup vegetable oil

5 cups flour

5 teaspoons of baking powder

1 teaspoon of anise or other flavor

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, beat eggs in large bowl with sugar, add milk and oil and continue to beat for 1 minute. I use a wisk for this step.

Mix the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl and slowly incorporate into the egg mixture, folding in with a large wooden spoon. The batter will get very thick so you will definitely build some muscle while making the cookies, which is great because they are fattening as hell ! If you want to add pistachios, dried fruits, almonds, etc, would do it here before you add all the flour because it really does get to be a very thick batter.

Once all the flour is in, add the flavoring (anise, etc) and mix to combine.

Take an oiled, floured cookie sheet and pour batter into 2 logs. Bake for 15 minutes – probably more like 30 – until it is golden brown and passes a toothpick test for done-ness. Remove from oven and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. Lay slices out on sheet and return to oven until they are nice and brown. Probably another 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool on a cookie rack.

Mark Bittman’s merengue cookies

Definitely one of the easiest recipes I have tried to make something sweet. I am baking-impaired so this is no small feat for me. Here is the recipe link: www.nytimes.com/2008/12/17/dining/171mrex.html?_r=1&ref=dining  And here is the result (we made the chocolate version):

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The merengues are light and delicious and don’t taste like chalk! Only changes to the recipe are that we added dark chocolate chips (yeah!) and because of that I didn’t use a star tip on the pastry bag … which means the nicely cooked BROWN merengues look like tiny perfectly formed piles of POO. Tasty but aesthetically difficult, especially trying to find a non-offensive way to photograph them for this post.

Oh, and we doubled the recipe not thinking about the fact that we couldn’t get it all into the oven at the same time. So we made a “log” with the extra batter which ended up (you guessed it!) looking like Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo. At least it was festive poo I guess… 8)

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