Let's eat!

Hi. My name's Carol, and I love food. No, you don't understand. I love food. If I were on the Titanic, I'd be in the galley (kitchen) eating up the chocolate pudding and the roasted quail. I go to most events, activities and parties just for the food. The company and the conversation are secondary. Here, I'll try to document everything that goes into my mouth. Aren't we excited? Oh, hey, are you gonna eat that?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Serafina Anniversary Dinner

Because I'm married to a working musician who's also good at programming, I lucked out for our 20th wedding anniversary dinner. My husband Eddie received a $125 gift certificate for working one weekend on Serafina's sound system.

Serafina is an Eastlake - Seattle restaurant institution. Even on a random Tuesday night (our son has basketball practice on the actual anniversary, tomorrow), the place was packed. It's always packed and it's always stifling as hell inside. Barring the fleeting glimpses of claustrophobia, our overall experience tonight was pleasant, a little like being lavished. So this must be how the other half lives. Snort.

Given my smaller appetite, we would've walked away not spending our entire $125 gift certificate, which wouldn't do. Honestly, I would've been perfectly satisfied with the Columbia City bread dipped in olive oil/garlic/parsley/red pepper flakes (husband is definitely repeating this recipe at home for our Christmas Eve), and their special Zuppa del Giorno, a hearty, creamy butternut squash soup. But then I would've gotten away with only $4.50. So Eddie encouraged us to order several courses, then we could have a few bites, take the rest home as leftovers.

There was so much to choose from, three whole pages worth including a purple sheet of specials, that I couldn't. Choose, that is. Immediately, though, I zeroed in on the mussels (Taylor Shellfish mussels in smoked tomato sauce, with harissa, sweet vermouth, leeks, fresh herbs, and garlic). They were okay. Needed a ton of salt. I couldn't taste anything, not even the garlic and vermouth. Where was the harissa?

I needed a cleansing salad, so I then went with their Insalata con Limone e Acciughe, the mixed salad with lemon-anchovy vinaigrette, topped with Reggiano cheese. The lettuces were seasonal, and fresh I suppose. But again, I couldn't taste a thing. Eddie's own homemade Caesar has way more punch, btw.

I did get to finally have a glass of Bellini. I'd always been curious about this glamorous, Italian cocktail -- made famous at Harry's bar in Venice, and made from Prosecco and peach purée. Prosecco is way too alcoholic for my virginal Daiquiri sensibility, alas.

I must also say my husband's choice of appetizer surprised me. Plin, agnolotti pasta stuffed with pork, cabbage and Parmagiano Reggiano, with a chive butter sauce. Very simple. Very appealing. It tasted to me like a cross between shumai and a potsticker.

For my main course, I went with a special, buttery, creamy Tagliatelle wrapped up in some sauteed greens (escarole?) and chanterelles. But by then, I was already hitting full, so I just had a few luscious bites, readying myself for the dessert, which I also zeroed in on from the beginning.

Dessert was a luscious, textured (cornmeal?) pear cake topped with browned butter and paired with a pomegranate sorbet, some tart sorbet at least. So good! This was one dish I completely finished. Okay, save for the last two bites.

Would I go back? No, thank you. But for the special occasion, considering the freebie (we only paid $60 over including a generous tip), it was a fair deal. Next anniversary, we'll probably go more low-brow, like Wallingford's Bizarro Italian Cafe with the best marinara sauce in Seattle--if Eddie can finagle a soundcheck barter there somehow.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Healthier Breakfast

To the naked eye, this looks like a plate of bacon, fried egg and toast--complete annihilation. But it's not, really. The toast is a decadent English style toasting bread I scored at Albertson's of all places. But it's not buttered. The crispness goes well with the broken yolk of the fried egg (fried in olive oil). And that's turkey bacon.

The trick is to divide the egg and the bacon strips into enough parts that will spread around to all four slices of toast. I failed today; I still have half of a half of a piece of toast and a sliver of bacon left, and no egg.

It's the best late, late breakfast I can think of to make. I don't know what I'll have for dinner. There's so much to choose from in the fridge: tons of turkey dogs, potato salad, leftover brussel sprouts from early Thanksgiving, tequila-lime-marinated chicken. Or maybe I wanna toss together a bowl of spaghetti. I watched Cake Boss in Rome and Sicily, and got fired up.

Turkey Soup

The best part of Thanksgiving is the day after leftovers in sandwich and soup form. Because I went to a friend's for early Thanksgiving, I didn't get a chance to make my own homemade stock or raid the fridge for a midnight turkey sandwich with butter and mayo. But that's alright. I made Christina make me her homemade turkey soup.

She was raised by a good German cook for a mom. Germans and Italians love to use orzo, she said, so she does. Orzo may be exotic to most people, but to her it's as common as meat and potatoes. Since she only used a 12-pounder, she worried that she wouldn't have enough bones and carcass left for a substantial stock pot full of soup, so she wound up stealing some from her mom on the actual Thanksgiving day.

Her homemade soup was uncommonly delicious and deeply flavored with hints of garlic, thyme, and that indefinable thing called, love. Sure beats canned any time. She also cut up her carrots very tiny and uniform and cute. I think I also detected some leek.

If I made my own turkey soup, I'd have enough left over for several weeks. But she only brought enough for one more. Eh, it's the price we pay for not having to cook or clean.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Early Thanksgiving Feast

Cooking and cleaning on Thanksgiving Day is highly overrated, as I soon found out for myself--when my husband and I went to a friend's house for some turkey and stuffing made by her and her cheffy son, two days early. Usually we're the ones humping and pumping in the kitchen, breaking out a feast for an Army but serving only two (our son eats the rolls).

Forget that. Get invited over to someone's house, preferably someone you actually like and don't have to be with. Sometimes not having a huge, extended family nearby has its perks.

Lucky for us, Christina -- one of the only friends we made and kept from our former church period, circa 2002-2008 -- can cook. She once prepared breakfast, lunch, and dinner for our church choir during the annual fall church choir retreat. And it was awesome. Delicious, comfort food with a gourmet twist. She's one of the only friends I know who knows what mascarpone is and how to spell it.

As soon as I walked into her house, up the steps and into the kitchen, I knew we were in capable, special hands. I saw a big batch of something I never see: brussel sprouts with bacon. There's a good reason for this. Ninety-nine percent of the population, for whatever reason, hates the smell and the taste of these vegetables. Not me. I can eat 'em crisp or mushy. My husband and Christina's husband aren't fans, so she threw in some green beans with sliced almonds, also perfectly cooked.

Truth be told, after I saw the brussel sprouts, that's all I wanted. Then, when I tasted the stuffing -- a Williams-Sonoma recipe, using leeks, sausage, cranberries -- and the deeply browned, deeply meaty gravy, which Eddie can't ever seem to master as well, I would've been content just eating these and nothing else.

But everything on the table was good. Everything. I'm not just saying that 'cause I starved myself all day for this.

Christina's son Kris attends cooking school, so he took charge of the finely mashed and whipped potatoes, topped with chives and reminding me of the five-star French affairs in New York City. There were yams dressed with maple syrup, cranberry sauce with orange and cranberries pre-soaked in cherry juice... Yeah, you better believe I ate everything on my plate.

The dessert was different. I asked my friend to avoid serving pumpkin pie, since we're not big fans and it's been overdone. So she thought up something easy to make and something different, using pumpkin. She got the recipe from Better Homes & Gardens. She cubed pound cake, soaked the cubes in Grand Marnier, added layers of pumpkin pudding and mascarpone whipped cream. So very rich and decadent.

As I ate layer by layer toward the bottom, I commented that it was like you're a little kid for the whipped cream and the pumpkin pudding, then you hit the end with the cubes of booze-soaked poundcake and you're grown up.

We sat there and ate in companionable silence (the best judge of good food) for a good 15 minutes, while all outside was hush and snow. Afterwards, we had coffee, watched last night's "Hawaii Five-O," gossiped a little, laughed a lot, and just relaxed, as it should be.

Sure, most of us are preparing to do just this in two days. But it was nice and refreshing to do it ahead of the crowd. It meant more, you know? Everybody should share Thanksgiving with people they enjoy being with, instead of people they secretly hate and have to put up with, like Uncle Axle who always farts in your face and thinks it's funny. Okay, I don't have an uncle like that. I don't have any uncles, period. But it must suck to be you and must be fabulous being me.

Plus, it was my birthday today, according to my late father. He and my mother would argue incessantly about when it really was. My mom thought, in Korea, the next day happened after the sun went up, whereas my dad insisted it was after midnight. So I can celebrate both.

So for Christmas, we're going over to Christina's again. No fuss. No muss. Just get seated, be waited on, drink more Riesling (my new favorite love), and wonder what the middle class is doing down in Queen Anne/Magnolia. Probably pushing their Volkswagen Beetles up the icy hill.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Have Snow? Make Shave Ice!

It up and snowed on us here in Western Washington. The sudden snowstorm canceled all travel plans after school, including a Melting Pot birthday dinner out in Bellevue. But before I gave in to depression, because my birthday sucks, I thought about making shave ice out of snow.

In Hawaii, shave ice (not to be confused with its trashy second cousin twice removed from the Mainland--the crustier snow cone) is a wondrous thing of beauty but impossible to make yourself unless you happen to know how to purchase gigantic blocks of ice and keep it cold.

Here on the Mainland, when it snows, Mother Nature does all the work for you. Without having to lug all the heavy blocks of ice. I had my husband and son go outside and scoop up some fresh snow. I poured sweetened condensed milk over it -- one for me, one for my son -- and went to town.

I suppose you could hunt down the multi-colored syrups too, but I don't particularly like traditional shave ice. The last time I was in Hawaii's North Shore, I went to Matsumoto's for its world-famous shave ice, noticed the sweetened condensed milk, and ordered that. So much better.

Come to think of it, I'll have another right now. Happy ♫ birthday ♫ to ♫♫me!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

End of Soccer Season Potluck

As a change of pace, we all decided we'd rather have a potluck at my home than go to a pizza place for our sons' end-of-soccer-season awards party. Usually soccer teams reserve tables several months in advance for this occasion, and usually at sub-par pizza places like Alfy's.

It was a pain in the butt trying to get my house clean, even though I had a week. Everything seemed to work against me, including the fact that my husband was in another state on a four-day gun course, my son has a natural propensity for mess, and the house seemed haunted. Every time I cleaned one room, another would get dirty, a lightbulb would shatter for no reason or my son would kick a small ball too high and knock a framed picture down to smithereens, or forget to inform me that he'd ripped a hole in a pillow, releasing tiny puffballs everywhere, in every nook and cranny.

In any event, despite not having much sleep or food, we got the cleaning done in the nick of time. Everybody came, ate their fill, and had a fun, relaxing time.

Because we have so many Filipinos in our group, the potluck was a real potluck, the kind you'd normally find only in Hawaii, where guests bring TONS of food, more food than necessary, and enough leftover food to feed a small continent several times over. A lot of parents brought more than one food item.

We snacked on the appetizers everybody brought: lumpia, two kinds--pork and ground chicken/shrimp, shrimp ceviche (to die for), vegetables and spinach dip in a bread bowl, pasta salad, potato salad, fruit bouquet, potstickers, meatballs, chips... We were so full I wasn't sure we could even eat the main courses, which we provided.

For the main courses, we had ribeye steaks which my husband seared in butter on the cast iron skillet, two different kinds of hot dogs (turkey dogs and all-beef), veggie burgers (which another parent who is a vegetarian brought), beef burgers, and tequila-lime-marinated grilled chicken. For all the meats other than the steaks, one of the dads grilled on the barbecue outside. Talk about overkill.

But somehow we managed to eat all that too, after waiting a few more hours.

I was so full on lumpia (two helpings), chicken wings, and shrimp ceviche (my favorite--three helpings, using tortilla chips as spoons), I could only have a plate of one tequila chicken with the awesome couscous.

My favorite dish turned out to be the shrimp ceviche. Dolly made it. She had the shrimp pre-cooked. Threw them in with a mixture that resembled a kind of salsa: lemon juice, avocado, tomato, onion, cilantro.

For all the work I put into getting the house in tip-top shape, I got back a thousand times more. Guests helped me clean. Raquel offered to take all the full trash bags to dispose of them. Fran went around picking up garbage, putting it all in a bag for me. Nobody really trashed the place, not even the little kids.

They also brought so much food that--if Glenn Beck is right about an oncoming food shortage due to the dollar devaluation--I won't need to worry about it for at least another six months. I won't have to go out to buy or prepare anything to eat either, what with two Thanksgivings coming up.

Best of all and not pictured here, my husband treated me to a case of Coke in Coke glass bottles with real sugar cane not corn syrup, made in Mexico. I'm happy. But I may not do this (hosting a party) again for a very long time. At least not until December. Ha ha.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Korean Tofu Stew

My (late) maternal grandmother made the best tofu stew. She's dead now. Nobody bothered to get her recipe while she was alive, so we do without. My mom comes close, but it, too, lacks a depth of flavor only found in the rotting of ingredients that my grandmother mastered.

Korean tofu stew -- when made well -- is deeply fulfilling on a winter's day. Winters in Korea, if I recall correctly, could be brutal. The stew uses beef or clams/shrimp as a meat-base for the broth, and sometimes kim chee for the added flavor and spice.

My son and I treated ourself to a dinner out tonight, at his favorite place for Japanese food: Sushi Toyama in Everett. We normally go there for the tofu agadashi, edamame and spicy tuna roll. But this time, I noticed a new, gold menu separate from an updated fold-out black one. The gold menu contained three or four Korean dishes. The owners are Korean, serving Japanese fare--a common practice in restaurant management.

Bi Bim Bop: a bowl of rice topped with cooked vegetables, meats, spicy sauce (similar to the spice sauce they use to ferment kim chee with), and a raw egg on top. Yum. Or, what I went with because it was so cold outside, Tofu Stew flavored with clams and shrimp.

Not bad. Salty enough. A little spicy. But after a few hot slurps, eventually unfulfilling compared to my grandmother's. It just wasn't deeply flavored. At least this one had flavor. I ate until I was full (this was a small bowl too), then pushed my leftover food away, a good 3/4ths left over.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Soccer Snacks Fall 2010: Martha Stewart's Ideal Sugar Cookies and Nestle's Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

One of these cookie recipes fits me hand in glove. The other, well, I still haven't mastered it.

I don't know why but originally, I had set myself to baking three different types of cookies for my son's last soccer game of the season. It's my turn to bring snacks for the team, and as usual, I'm in overkill with not only three of James' favorite snacks (Cheez-Its, Goldfish crackers, SpongeBob and SuperMario fruit snacks, with Capri Sun tropical or fruit punch), but freshly baked from scratch cookies as well.

I knew for sure I'd do chocolate chip cookies. Everybody loves them and everybody especially loves my Nestle Toll House originals, not soft, puffy or mushy, but nice and crisp with a ton of chocolate chips (I like a mix of milk chocolate and semi-sweet).

Except for Colby, James' best friend from way back. He hates chocolate. For him, I was going to go with an old-fashioned oatmeal cookie. I even had a recipe using rolled oats and butterscotch chips. But after conferring with his mom about the butterscotch chips, and hearing that he really likes plain sugar cookies, I hunted around and found Martha Stewart's by accident. I did without the royal icing, opting to use sanding sugar instead.

I like that Martha Stewart's sugar cookies has real leavening in baking powder. Most of them do not. I used to wonder how they rose. Then I realized they rose very little and tasted empty, like shortbread cookies, which I don't view as a legitimate cookie.

To avoid baking until 4 in the morning today, I went ahead and prepped the sugar cookie dough the night before. Today, I rolled the first disk out in the plastic, to avoid the floury mess. It worked too, until I had to use up the leftover scrapes. I also brushed a beaten egg with whipped cream on top of all the raw cookie rounds and duckies before sprinkling the blue, yellow and red sugar crystals on top. Then baked.

I had my son and husband taste-test the sugar cookies. They were very, very crispy. One might even say they were almost verging on hard enough to crack the tooth. Almost.

Please don't rain tomorrow!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Family Fun Soccer Field Cake

In August, I came across a picture of a soccer field cake with soccer players (in the form of pictures taped to toothpicks) on the Family Fun site. I've been plotting to make one with our son's team, the Lightning Bolts, ever since, using a Family Fun yellow birthday cake recipe for my son's past three birthdays.

So I did. It took me two months to put everything I needed together and two days to finish the cake. I did it in two parts, because of the difficulty in transporting it to Traxx down the street.

Before I could think about baking the soccer field cake, I needed a baking pan big enough to hold nine players, two coaches and some change. My 8x10 wouldn't do, so I found an 11x15 at Michael's, it was the largest pan I could find. I was thinking about getting a larger cake rack too but thought I'd go back later to get it. Only, later, weeks later, it wasn't there anymore. The cake racks I had were for an 8x10 max, but I figured one inch here or there wouldn't hurt the cooling process.

I thought toothpicks a bit too flimsy to hold up photographs representing the team, so I went with popsicle sticks, easy enough to buy at Michael's too. My husband offered to superglue the photos (4x6, cut out into ovals) to the sticks, which he did the night before.

Taking or finding decent-enough photographs of the individual players and the coaches, without them noticing, was especially difficult, as was cropping and sizing. After a first attempt, I was disheartened to find the head coach larger than life (which he is, but still...), the other assistant coach smaller than his own son, and some head cropped off automatically by the Costco photo lab because they were too close to the edge (a stupid thing to do IMHO).

Finally, I worked out the resizing and cropping tools in the Costco photo shop online deal. I made sure to use some of the players in action as they usually look in a game, Rami in the middle of a hard kick, Dante staring death in the face...

Cakes have always been tough for me. Tough to unmold. Tough to transfer onto a cake stand to frost. Tough to frost. This was no different.

I made sure to grease with butter several times over (sprays don't work for me) then flour thoroughly my 11x15 pan, ignoring the waste of excess flour in the sink, the counter and all over my head. I left no blank spots for cake to stick to.

I prepared each of the three main parts of the recipe exactingly, the butter, sugar and egg in the stand mixer, the buttermilk and vanilla in a measuring cup, the dry ingredients like the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Then I alternated dry with wet and made sure not to over-beat.

After ladling out the batter and spreading, I realized I needed a little more thickness for the photos on their popsicles to stick through, and made another batch of cake batter. Maybe too much, maybe I should've made the one layer into two. Maybe next time I'll find a more delicate and light batter, cake flour instead of all-purpose. I had a piece of cake at the end of the soccer team Traxx party tonight, and for me, the cake itself was too heavy and lacking in sweetness. I found myself wanting to slather on extra frosting all over.

The cake should've taken longer than 45 minutes, since it was in a pan that was decidedly bigger than 8x10. But, in 45 minutes, the time for the 8x10, it was already done. The top wasn't even baked golden-brown. But I trusted my cake tester and let the cake cool. Once it did, I prayed to God before flipping it over on the cake pad I covered with foil and taped up underneath. Effortless.

But then I noticed the cake was sliding around on the cake pad. I remembered past cooking shows where the cook put some icing on the cake stand or pad in the middle to keep the cake still. I flipped the cake back on the rack and tried again after gluing... only I wasn't more firm (scared it would break the cake or the pad in half) and the cake slid too much on one side. In my effort to move the cake toward the center, I saw a corner chunk of it begin to fall away and several crevices begin to crack apart, like an earthquake.

After my life flashed before my eyes (I forgot to tell you about the part where I grabbed the bowl with the last of the dry mixture wrong, and nearly send it flying on the floor earlier), I stopped myself, took a deep breath, and gently -- with two large spatulas -- nudged in centimeters until I got the cake moving, filling in the cracks and that corner breaking away with icing, saving the cake, keeping it intact.

Turning the vanilla buttercream (three cups sifted powdered sugar, 3/4th cup of unsalted, room temp butter - Irish butter from Trader Joe's in everything, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 2 tbspl. heavy whipping cream) into a dark enough green was harder. I only learned later that red and green are two of the hardest colors to match with food coloring. I almost emptied half the small bottle of the green before giving up (I could've broken the whipped cream in that frosting) and settling for almost the color of a soccer field. Maybe a soccer field in a summer drought.

Frosting an 11x15 cake is a pain, a painstaking process made harder without a spinning, raised cake stand. But I weathered through. I covered the entire thing with plastic wrap and put the cake in the fridge in my garage. This was all done by 11 p.m. last night.

This morning, I made more frosting but kept it white. My husband took over, using a printout of a soccer field template, a Pampered Chef Easy Accent® Decorator (frosting gun), a container lid (for the circle in the middle) and our son's school laminated alphabet row from last year (for the lines). He placed the plastic goals (from a soccer cake kit/Michael's) on either ends. I finished by squeezing in "Go Bolts," "Bolts Yay," and "Lightning Bolts," cursing the Gs and the Hs.

After I finished the pigs in a blanket, we had not a minute to spare. I held the half-finished cake on my lap while my husband drove me and our son to Traxx. Once inside the rented room, I let Eddie take over with the final decoration -- the men on the field -- while James ran off to be with his friends for racing. I knew Eddie would be fast, he had a gig to run off to, he'd be clever, and he'd be efficient, and he was. It was cute how he put one of the plastic soccer figures upside down.

Before we left to drop my husband off at his car back home, we made sure the head coach came over to see the cake. Coach Kevin was shocked but very pleased, joking around about his photo, calling the boys over to see, which they did with loud abandonment and glee. Barnaby said he wanted the referee to take home, some others talked about taking home their pictures, which is what I'd planned.

The little ones, siblings of some of the players, kept going over to the cake to poke their little fingers into the frosting or try to pull one of the figures off. After much back-and-forthing, everybody agreed I should cut the cake but I managed to get Bridget to do it for me, since she's more precise. I did have all the boys pull off whatever decoration they wanted which they did in a flurry.

Believe it or not, two of the boys and one of the parents weren't too keen on cake. I'd never heard such a thing. They were all content to admire my handiwork, though, and take home a souvenir. I may do these types of picture cakes more often. They're offbeat and obviously homemade, plus it's ego-gratifying to see oneself in picture form roaming around on the cake. I may even do one of my son battling a Yu Gi Oh card for his birthday cake in January.

James changed his mind, he wants his birthday party at Traxx instead of a large playdate at his house. Uh oh. Time to get on the reservations and the cake planning. He likes the color red...

Pillsbury Mini Crescent Dogs

As if I didn't have enough on my plate, I go and volunteer to make pigs in a blanket, ala Pillsbury mini-crescent dogs (with smoked link turkey sausages!). It's for tonight's Traxx activity with our sons' soccer team. While the boys are racing around in their little cars upstairs, the parents will be downstairs preparing elaborate snacks for them for after. We booked a room for two hours.

After some consideration, and talking with the other moms, I decided to make the planned soccer field cake for the team and the coaches today instead of waiting to spring the surprise on them at our end-of-soccer-season party at our house on the 20th. Too many people are bringing dessert. The cake would go to waste.

More on the cake after the party...

Besides cake, which took me two whole days and three months to outline, I just finished whipping up the pigs in a blanket. I chose this particular recipe, because it reminds me of my childhood, it's easy finger food, and it's even easier to make, as long as you're not hung up on what they mean by cutting lengthwise to equal smaller triangles. I flunked geometry. At one point in the cutting of the crescent roll dough, I noticed myself making do with diamond and rectangle shapes. Hey, whatever wraps those suckers. I also noticed Pillsbury stopped using cans that pop when you open the wrapper or snag a spoon in the crack. But Fred Meyer's generic version popped like a bastard, causing me to jump and shriek like a banshee. Love it.

The little piggies are warming in the oven, to be served with little containers of ketchup and mustard. I may eat four in a row upon arrival since I didn't have time to have breakfast.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

White Chocolate Pecan Pumpkin Muffins

It's Saturday. Must be baking day. Every time I look forward to losing myself in a favorite hobby -- baking for others -- and every time my feet and legs are dog-tired and cramping. The things we do for art.

I'm currently taking a break. I've finished For the Love of Cooking's white chocolate pecan pumpkin muffins. Don't they look ri-donk-ulous and all kinds of wrong? I had my husband taste-test one of them fresh from the oven because they took way longer than the 15-17 minutes the recipe called for. He said they were cooked through but very moist--the ultimate seal of approval. But I don't think you can go wrong by throwing white chocolate into anything, except maybe spaghetti sauce.

The only thing I really changed was roasting the chopped pecans a little, to bring out a fuller flavor. I also wasn't sure if I was supposed to fill the cupcake liners to the top or leave more room. Either way, the muffins came out fine--looks-wise--if you ignore the divots from all the poking I did to make sure they were thoroughly cooked.

I still have another baking project to complete tonight. It's a healthier version of pumpkin bread for me, for when my PCC zucchini muffins run out and/or I'm craving muffins at night for a snack. I was going to just start in on the pumpkin bread right after the white chocolate pecan pumpkin muffins, but the fresh pumpkin I thawed from the freezer wasn't enough. I still need a little more to equal one cup plus a tablespoon or so. So in go the halved raw sugar pumpkins for fresh roasted pumpkin meat.

Would I rather gorge on the more decadent white chocolate version of pumpkin muffins? You betcha. But it's the pumpkin that I really really want in the long run. Pumpkin and health.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thai Beef (Chicken) with Chiles and Basil

I was watching an episode of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food two weeks ago when the Thai Beef with Chiles and Basil over Coconut Rice recipe caught my eye as a dish I could readily make with simple ingredients and simple preparation, with a complex, exotic result.

It also dovetailed nicely with my current Asian mood. Give me a bowl of rice and some vegetables and meat, that's all I need.

Quickly, I ascertained ground chicken would come closest to the full flavor of ground beef sirloin. Sure, going chicken was for my figure, but I also prefer the flavor. Beef has tasted kind of gross to me as a post-young adult, except in certain (Taco Hut) circumstances.

H-Mart is an Asian supermarket across from Alderwood mall in Lynnwood, WA. It provides everything a person like me requires, from roasted laver (nori seaweed) and kim chee, to 10 different kinds of tofu, Thai chiles, Thai basil, and Nam Pla (fish sauce). They say you can substitute regular basil for Thai basil, but don't. It's not the same. Thai's much better. Also, don't worry too much about the stinky smell of fish sauce. Fish sauce is similar to anchovies; once it's in there, it makes everything taste better.

Because I'm Korean and I grew up a fan of spicy foods, I used way more Thai chiles (they come in a big batch in green, red and orange, and are hotter than heck) than Martha Stewart and her team called for.

I added some chopped green onion to the soy mixture, which provides the bulk of the flavor. You could even get away with using a tad less soy sauce.

I forgot to squeeze some lime at the end, though, but I'll do that with the leftovers.

I may even use this as a base for future curries. I've always wondered what the ratio was of curry paste to fish sauce and coconut milk. I think I'm closer to finding out.

One other thing: I didn't make my Jasmine rice coconutty. Not because there's anything wrong with coconut rice. Just because I prefer my rice--jasmine, Basmati and short-grain--unadulterated. Again, my Korean upbringing.