Monday, June 19, 2006

Week in Review

I am cheating this week. I have been very bad about posting and I am sure the blog police will be descending down upon me momentarily to give me a good swift kick for having been so remiss. But with the book in its end stages and holidays and birthdays and work, and the Canadians in town…well, there just are not enough hours in the day this week. So what better way to spend my Sunday afternoon than sitting out in the back yard, watching the tomatoes and peppers and herbs grow and recap my week in food.

Last Sunday was the first full day that my daughter’s Canadian friends, Monique and Nicoletta, were here. I decided to do several Thai dishes, so as to appeal to a whole crowd, including one vegetarian. Thai curries are very adaptable beyond the basic sauce. You can add just about anything and it will taste great. And it’s quick, too. Maybe 5 minutes of prep and 20 minutes of cooking. I chose a green curry, which has some kick to it. While my standard green curry is centered around scallops, today I made a mushroom and tofu version. The farmer’s market had a great selection of mushrooms and I used an extra firm tofu cut into small cubes. The basic recipe, which I adapted from A Taste of Thailand by Vatcharin Bhumichitr is:

4-5 T oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-2 T green curry paste
2 cans coconut milk
4 T fish sauce
2 t sugar

In large pot, heat oil. Add garlic and fry until golden brown. Add the curry paste, stir with the garlic and cook briefly. Add the coconut milk, the fish sauce and the sugar. Bring to a boil and cook for 5-10 minutes until thickened. At this point you can add whatever you want, in any combination. Soft veggies work best and my favorite is scallops and mushrooms. Cook until desired doneness. Throw in some cilantro at the end and serve over rice.

In addition to the curry, I also made Pla Nuea Yaang Gub A-Ngoon, also known as Spiced Salad of Grilled Beef with Grapes. This is a meal in itself and a favorite in my household. The flavors in this salad dance on your tongue – the heat from the chiles, the sour of fish sauce, the tang from mint leaves, and a refreshing coolness from the addition of grapes. There is about 20 minutes of prep on this dish, plus 10-15 minutes to grill the beef, then another 5 to assemble. It is great for a summer main dish. The salad recipe came from my visit to the Oriental Bangkok Cooking School. One of the biggest highlights of my foodie life.

2 grilled flank or skirt steaks (medium rare)
10 Thai chiles
8 cloves garlic
1 coriander root, 1 mint stem, 4 mint leaves
1 t salt
10 T fish sauce
15 T lime juice
1 T palm sugar
1 cup sliced lemongrass
2 cups seedless grapes, red or green
2 cups mint leaves
Romaine lettuce

Grill steaks to medium rare. Let cool. (You can do this ahead of time and chill in the fridge.)
Make dressing by pounding chiles, garlic, coriander, mint stem, mint leaves and salt together. Add fish sauce, lime juice, palm sugar and mix well. Let sit for 30 minutes.
Chop lettuce. Slice beef and toss with dressing, adding lemongrass, mint, and grapes. Mound lettuce on a platter and top with beef, grapes, and dressing. Serve.

And for our finale, comes a recipe out of my upcoming book, The World Is a Kitchen. Having gone to the farmers market the day before, I had fresh apricots and berries and made a fruit clafouti. About 10 minutes prep, sinful as all get out, and simply served warm with either ice cream or whipped cream. This is always a big hit and can be made with a variety of fruit (see note below). Since it serves 12, we usually have leftovers, which are great for breakfast.

1 c butter
2 c fruit*
2 c flour
2 c sugar
1/2 t salt
4 t baking powder
1 1/2 c whole milk

*raspberries, blueberries, blackberries; halved, pitted cherries; halved, pitted apricots, peaches or plums; ripe figs; or combination of fruit.
Preheat oven to 350°. Barely melt butter and pour into a 9 x 13-inch baking pan, coating bottom and sides of pan. Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Whisk in milk until well blended. Pour into prepared pan. Arrange fruit on top of batter. Bake 50 to 55 minutes, or until batter rises over fruit and is well-browned.

The remains of Sunday dinner kept us happy for the next few days and left me off the hook to cook, which was good, since I was busy. Monday I chauffeured Alex and friends over to Half Moon Bay and Pescadero. First stop was Duarte’s for their famous cream of artichoke soup. Delicious, simple, and very satisfying. Not something I would normally have on a summer day, but given that we were all wearing sweaters and it was a bit windy and cold, it really was the perfect dish. We also treated ourselves to slices of their award-winning pies. I had the oft-written about ollalieberry pie, shared with Alex. The girls had peach and cherry. Not a crumb left on the plates, as even the crust is deelish.

Fortified we headed down the curve to Phipps Country Store and Farm to get some dried beans (of which they must have 50 varieties). Picked up a few veggies, and then headed back down to Highway 1 and the beach. The sea lions were out, sunning themselves quietly. Not too many people out on a chilly Monday but them sea lions. Driving down Highway 1, the weather began to clear a bit, as we headed into Half Moon Bay. We wandered the main street, meandering in and out of the shops, spending a few shekels, and being careful to avoid the Moonside Bakery, as I never get out of there without spending less than $30. Everything always looks soooo good, but with so much food at home, and me working on my weight, I had to turn a blind eye. But we did hop over to the chai shop on the other side of Highway 92. This little chai and coffee shop, in a strip mall on the north side of 92 has been written up so much, the owner is running out of wall space to put up the accolades. Part of this is due to much of the wall space being taken up by the owner’s own poetry, of which he is prolific. But he really does make the best chai, outside of my Nepali friend Raj. Redolent of cardamom and spices, it is the perfect balance of tea and milk and sugar. A nice warm-up as we headed back across the hill home.

A few days of work, a few days of leftovers, with some fajitas thrown in, and we headed into Friday, which brought a day in Berkeley with Alex and the girls, followed by me throwing a dinner party for 20. The weather was glorious heading across the bridge to Berkeley. Heading up to Telegraph Avenue, we parked and walked for a few hours, stopping in at an Indian restaurant, of which I cannot remember the name, and had a great meal. Garlic naan and some kadai paneer were heavenly, although mighty spicy. But it was so good, I kept shoveling it in, only stopping long enough to pour liquid down my throat to quell the burn. The heat and the garlic stayed with me and I decided we needed ice cream to counteract the mouth abuse. We headed down to 4th Street, a cute upscale shopping neighborhood. We found Sketch, a little hole in the wall serving only a 16 handmade frozen treats. Thick ice cream, fruity sorbets, and icy granitas were met with smiles all around. Alex had the toasted almond ice cream, Monique the dark chocolate ice cream, Nicoletta the watermelon granita, and I had the best of the bunch (IMHO), jasmine tea granita. Not a bad taste in the bunch, and we soon regretted only ordering small scoops. But it did the trick in calming our palates and made for a happy ride home, traffic and all.

Then it was back into the kitchen. Aforementioned Nepali friend, Raj , and his beautiful wife P.K. are in town from Atlanta for a week. In their honor, I threw a little shindig for “Friends of Raj”. Twenty of us tucked into Cajun prawns, sopping up the spicy sauce with crusty bread as we went along. (I’ve temporarily misplaced this recipe, although here is a picture!)

The main course was red beans and rice, flavored with spicy andoulle and some creole chicken sausage from Schaub’s, where my son works. (and a vegetarian version for some of our guests). This is something I don’t really have a recipe for. In general, I dice up one onion, one green pepper, 4-6 ribs of celery, and 3-4 carrots. I sauté those in oil, add some chopped garlic, and cook all for 15-20 minutes. In go the beans and a ham hock, and enough water to cover plus about 2 inches. I bring to a boil, then cover and turn down low and simmer until beans are tender, adding water if necessary throughout. Then we throw in a couple tablespoons of creole seasoning, sliced andouille sausage, and Tabasco to taste. Cook for another 20 minutes and seve over white rice, with extra Tabasco on the side for the hearty souls.

The shrimp and red beans left barely enough room for the bread pudding for dessert. Since we had the welcome donation of a key lime pie, we only made one pan of bread pudding, rather than the planned two. Since we had some wonderful ollalieberries and blackberries, we decided to alter the recipe a bit, adding the fruit and cutting down on sugar and eliminating spices. It was hit, although the original version has also garnered rave reviews in the past. Just in case you are interested (and still reading this REALLY LONG blog post), here is the recipe:

1 10-oz loaf stale bread (challah works best)
4 cups mile (or ½ milk, ½ heavy cream)
2 cups sugar
8 T butter, melted
3 eggs
2 T vanilla
1 cup raisin
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped pecans
1 t cinnamon
½ t nutmeg

Chunk up bread with knife or by hand into cubes. Mix all wet ingredients with sugar and spices. Add in bread, raisins, coconut, and pecans. Pour into buttered baking dish. Cook at 350 degrees for 75 minutes or until top is golden. Serve with whiskey sauce. (see below)

Whisky Sauce
½ cup butter
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 egg, yolk or whole
½ cup bourbon

Cream butter and sugar over medium heat until all butter is absorved. Remove from heat and blend in egg. Pour in bourbon gradually to your own taste, stirring constantly. Sauce will thicken as it cooks. Serve warm with bread pudding.

Since I never know how many people will show up at these shindigs, I, of course, cooked wayyyyy too much. We fed 20, with enough left over for 20 more. So, looks like we will be having some leftovers this week too, which is just find with me as tonite I am cooking for Father’s Day and Gabriel’s 23rd birthday. (No rest for the wicked, they say.)

Fortunately all the men in the family like steak and potatoes, so we are having marinated London broil, fingerling potatoes (done in my own special way) veggie kabobs, and salad. For dessert, I am trying my hand at cheesecake. I have never been too successful with this dessert. My dad has entered numerous cheesecakes into county fairs and done well, but I missed that gene. So as to cover my butt, I am trying out a new recipe. If it fails, I blame the cookbook. Of course, it is from How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking, by Nigella Lawson. I am attempting her London Cheesecake, so the likelihood is that it wiil turn out well. Stay tuned….


Sam said...

I am very happy to see such confidence in British cuisine :) !

Alex said...

Geez, I'm tired just from reading about the ends of our week! Not to mention the middle parts you missed while at work! All-in-all, I'd say we had a pretty successful culinary stint while the girls were here. But the favorite for them (ok, and me) was by far the bread pudding from Friday night. Next time we are trying chocolate chunks...mmmm....

Ivonne said...

It all sounds incredible! And I agree with Alex ... where do you find the energy?!

Mrs. B said...

I almost always have energy when it comes to food. Especially happy food, like the spicy Thai, or the perfect granita. It lifts my spirits and carries me on for hours.