Monday, May 23, 2011

Authentic Thai Cooking with Rasamee!

My mom's friend Rasamee, or Ras as we call her, is from Thailand and she makes some of the most delicious Thai food I've ever tasted. I've been to several Thai restaurants and nothing compares to her Pad Thai and her Tom Kha Gai - or Coconut Chicken Soup. So I begged her to teach me how to make these Thai favorites and much to my delight, she agreed!
She generously prepared each dish as I watched, asked tons of questions and scribbled down notes all while snapping photos here and there and trying to keep my 1-year-old daughter out of her cabinets! It was a lightening round cooking class, but tons of fun. Most of all it resulted in some tasty authentic Thai food.
Her Shrimp Pad Thai is, in a word, awesome! I could have literally eaten two plates full. The spice is just right and she has the perfect combination of fresh taste and rich flavor.
The Coconut Chicken Soup is so good I eat it until I explode. Literally! Every time I get this soup in a restaurant it tastes like it's been loaded down with sugar. Ras doesn't use sugar at all and it makes all the difference. The coconut flavor shines through and it's savory and has a natural sweetness from the onions.
One word of warning though - the Thai red hot chili is HOT! I mean like FRIGGIN HOT! Like I just swallowed a flame thrower HOT! I had to walk around the house for a few minutes, panting like a dog to get my mind off the pain. So, the moral of this story is - the peppers are super hot. You have been warned!
On the other hand, Fish Sauce is your friend! It sounds awful, it smells funny and the picture on this particular bottle of a baby holding a bottle of fish sauce is a bit disturbing, but it makes all the difference in Thai food. There is no substitute for Fish Sauce. If you can't find it....keep looking!
Anyway, despite Ras's thick accent, which is one of her many charms, and the fact that she doesn't measure anything, I think I was amazingly able to piece together a semblance of a recipe for each dish. Hopefully they do Ras's food justice!! I'm happy to be able to share them on my blog. So until Ras opens her own Thai restaurant, try out these recipes that have been in her family for years. Enjoy!

Tom Kha Gai or Coconut Chicken Soup
1 package of chicken breast or tenderloins, cut until chunks
2 kaffir lime leaves
1/4 cup of thickly sliced galanga root (if you can't find this, you can substitute ginger. Galanga tastes like a cross between ginger and licorice root. You can wrap this bouquet garni style and plunge it into the soup that way, making it easy to fish out before serving. Otherwise, you will want to pick the galanga root out before serving, as it is very fibrous and hard to eat.)
1 whole lemongrass stalk, cut into thirds
1 can coconut milk
2 cups water
1/2 large onion sliced
1 tomato, cut into chunks
1 pint of mushrooms, sliced
juice of 4 limes
1/2 cup fish sauce
3 red Thai peppers, minced
handful of cilantro
handful of scallions

In a large stockpot, add your kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galanga, 1/2 can of coconut milk and water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 5 minutes. Next add your chopped chicken. Allow to cook on a simmer. Once chicken has cooked, add the onion, tomato and mushrooms. Once the vegetables have cooked down, add the rest of the coconut milk, along with your fish sauce and lime juice. Bring to a simmer and add the peppers, cilantro and scallions. Stir to combine. Taste for flavor. If it feels a bit flat, add a little more fish sauce. It will punch up the flavors. Serve warm and enjoy! You can serve it over white rice if you prefer, but I like the soup just as it is.

Shrimp Pad Thai

For the Sauce: (this makes a large amount of sauce - you can keep it in the freezer for future use. You will only use about 1-2 cups of it for one batch of Pad Thai)
1 16 oz jar of concentrate cooking tamarind
1 lb jar of palm sugar
1/2 cup salt
Make the sauce first. Combine the ingredients in a large wok until well combined and saucy and until all the sugar has dissolved. Sauce will keep in the fridge for a month or up to 6 months in the freezer.

For the Noodles:
1 package of Banh Pho Rice Noodles
6 eggs, beaten
1 cup vegetable oil plus 4 tablespoons
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs of shrimp, peeled and deveined and soaked in cold saltwater
1 cup of sugar water (this is equal parts sugar and water, heated until the sugar dissolves)
1/2 to 3/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 to 1/2 cup white vinegar
1 tsp cayenne pepper
a handful of shredded carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped peanuts
2 cups bean sprouts
handful of cilantro
handful of scallions
limes for garnish and juice

Soak the rice noodles in cold water overnight if possible. Set aside.
Drain your shrimp, which have been soaking in cold saltwater for about 30 minutes. Set aside.
Heat a large wok over high heat until hot. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and using some hot pots, lift the wok and swirl the oil around so that it covers all sides of the pan as good as possible.
Add half of your egg mixture and continue to swirl the wok as the eggs cook. This allows the eggs to cook in a thin layer. They will cook in about a minute or so. Once cooked, remove to a cutting board, add two more tablespoons of oil to the wok and then add the rest of your egg mixture. Swirl until the egg is cooked.
See Ras swirl.
Good Ras. Good swirl!
Remove to a cutting board. Once cool, chop egg with a knife.
Scrape egg bits out of the wok, wipe with a clean papertowel if necessary, and then add in about a cup of oil to your wok. Get the oil hot and then add in your minced garlic. Don't let the garlic burn, but cook until softened. Add in your shrimp and stir to coat with the oil and garlic. While the shrimp cooks, add your egg back into the pan.
At this point you will need the sauce you made beforehand. Add about 1 1/2 cups of your tamarind sauce, your sugar water, fish sauce and vinegar. I suggest adding the smaller measurements of fish sauce and vinegar because you can always add more later as you need it but you can't take it away. Stir to combine. Once combined, add in your cayenne pepper, carrots and chopped peanuts. Add more vegetable oil if it seems dry and finally add in your bean sprouts.
Taste a spoonful of noodles. If the flavor is flat, add more fish sauce, sugar water and vinegar to taste. Add slowly so you don't overpower it with any flavor in particular. It's a delicate science!
Finally, once you have the flavor where you want it, top with chopped cilantro, chopped scallions and a squeeze of lime juice. Garnish with fresh lime slices and serve hot.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Spaghetti Birds' Nests

These adorable, elegant little appetizers made a great addition to the birthday party we threw for our daughter. Not only are they fairly inexpensive to make - one box of spaghetti yields nearly 45 little birds' nests - they have widespread appeal and keep well on a buffet. I found this recipe when Proud Italian Cook posted about appetizers she served at a party. The original can be found at , Foodalogue .
I followed the original recipe but made a few changes. Here is my version of the recipe below. I omitted the bacon and peas in the original, and instead added chopped fresh basil and topped each nest with a roasted tomato half. I thought it just looked prettier than slopping tomato sauce on top. These were a hit at the party and I will definitely be making them again for future gatherings! Enjoy!

Tomato-Basil Spaghetti Birds' Nests

3 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 lbs. mozzarella shredded
8 eggs beaten
1/2c parmigiano reggiano (or locatelli, whatever you use)
1/2c provolone
freshly chopped basil
1 large crate of grape tomatoes
olive oil
nonstick cooking spray
1 lb. spaghetti

Saute garlic in olive oil until soft. Reserve to side.
Preheat oven to 350. Cut each of your grape tomatoes in half and then place in a small baking dish. Toss with olive oil to coat and season with salt and pepper. Roast until they begin to soften and the skins blister, about 25 minutes. Remove and let cool.
Crack spaghetti in thirds, boil to al dente and drain.
Mix beaten eggs with cheeses, s+p, and fold in garlic and chopped basil.
Add drained spaghetti and mix.
Fill greased mini muffin tins with the spaghetti mixture and top each one with a tomato half.
Bake in 350-375 oven for 10 minutes or until egg has cooked and the cheese has melted. Remove and serve warm. These can be made a day in advance and then reheated to room temperature or warmer for serving. Makes about 45 pieces.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Birthday Cupcakes with Pineapple Flowers

Our darling little baby turned 1 on Sunday! And what a celebration we had.
It was a pinwheel themed party and so my mom and I made a ton of pinwheels in various sizes out of craft paper. We used them to make centerpieces for the tables.

On top of that we made a homemade birthday banner for the birthday girl, since her name is hard to find in pre-fab banners. We spray-painted doilies and used cupcake wrappers for color and then found punch-out letters at Staples that we sponge-painted. It turned out beautifully!! And then we clipped the finished product to a rope with clothes pins.

Favor bags were filled with a pinwheel, customized M&Ms and a bottle of bubbles with a wrap that I designed to match the invites.

It was a lot of DIY work, but so worth it! It was very satisfying to throw such a pretty party for such a beautiful little girl. My husband and I were so thrilled to see her enjoy the day.
Now...on to the food!! This is a food blog after all. Well...The menu was vast! Here's what we had:
Deviled Eggs
Honey Mustard Chicken on Skewers
Taco Dip
Smoked Salmon Dip
Homemade Pigs in Blankets
Store-bought Spanakopita (Yes I cheated here and got some help from the store)
Tomato and Mozzarella Birds Nests (Post to come on these cute little apps!)
Strawberries Stuffed with Cinnamon-Sugar Marscapone Cheese (post to come on these too - they were so yummy!)
Assorted Fruit Tray
Assorted Cheese and Crackers
Shrimp Cocktail

And then for dessert we made boxed chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with homemade cream cheese icing and topped them off with these beautiful pineapple flowers!
They are time-intensive to make. Not hard to make, but they do take a long time. I couldn't get the pineapples cut extremely thin since I don't have a mandolin, so that might be why it took me twice as long as this post from Annie's Eats blog on how to make Pineapple Flowers. Her step by step instructions are great and the flowers looks so cute and make a nice organic decorative touch to the cupcakes.
Unfortunately, it was very humid the day of my daughter's party so many of them started to loose their shape after sitting out for a few hours on the cupcake stand. But people were still impressed nonetheless.
So if you have some time, try these out! They are much more unique than jarred sprinkles :) Enjoy!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Happy Cinco De Mayo!!

WHOA!! Long time, no blog hey??? I know I have been seriously MIA lately, but I have good reason. Once my baby girl started crawling my free time has been literally gone. The only time I can get anything done is nap time. I run around the house like a chicken without a head, trying to get work done - which can include actual office work, since I'm working from home, laundry, vacuuming, wiping down the bathrooms, cleaning, blowing my nose, brushing my hair, showering and possibly eating lunch. Time management has become my middle name!! It's an art form when you have a baby. And...lord help me...I only have one!!! WHOA again.
Anyway, I figured what better time to revive my long-lost blogging days than Cinco De Mayo. If you follow my blog, which I'm not really sure anyone does anymore, or ever did for that matter, you know I'm a fan of Mexican food. If I wasn't Italian, I'd be Mexican. Nuff said. I literally have a sixth sense for Mexican flavors and how to put them together (or so I think). I dream about exotic foodie vacations to Oaxaca to excavate corn fungus. Ok, not really, but wouldn't that be cool? Anyway, I digress.
In the past, my husband and I could be found at the local Mexican restaurant with the other revelers throwing back margaritas, bowls of salsa and pounds of refried beans in honor of this Mexican (not Independence Day I know) holiday. But this year a certain 11-month-old made going out to a crowded Mexican restaurant seem quite unappealing. And we were totally fine with that. We made our own fiesta, and enjoyed watching our little girl get her first taste of guacamole and gnaw on a tortilla. Ole!!
For us adults, I fixed Roasted Poblano Pepper and Pork Quesadillas with Cucumber-Tomato Salsa and a side of Smashed Black Beans . Who needs crowded Mexican restaurants? Not us! We enjoyed our little Mexican feast with some homemade guacamole and my special margaritas and our own little pinata - she's full of sweetness :) Enjoy!

Roasted Poblano and Pork Quesadillas
1 poblano pepper
1 cup of chopped roasted pork loin
1/2 sweet vidalia onion, sliced thinly
1 tb olive oil
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
2 large flour tortillas

Preheat your oven to 350. Preheat your grill. Once the grill is hot, place your poblano pepper over the hot coals and roast until the skin is evenly charred on all sides. Remove from the grill and place in a bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes or until cool. Once cool, you should be able to peel the skin off and deseed the pepper. Once you've peeled it, slice the pepper flesh into strips. Set aside.
In a small skillet heat your olive oil and then add your sliced onion. Cook over medium low heat until softened. Add your cumin and chili powder and cook a while longer until the onion almost caramelizes. Once fully cooked, set aside.
To assemble your quesadilla, get out a pizza pan or baking sheet. Spray with cooking spray and lay down one of your flour tortillas. First spread our your cooked onions to cover the tortilla surface. Top with your chopped cooked pork loin. Next top with your poblano peppers. Finally coat the entire tortilla with your cups of shredded cheese and then place your second tortilla on the top.
Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted. Remove and serve hot with your choice of toppings.

Cucumber-Tomato Salsa
This refreshing, cool, salsa crudo was a great accompaniment to hot, spicy Mexican quesadillas and black beans.

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
4 campari tomatoes or 2 regular tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
1 jalapeno, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (or less if you don't want that much)
juice of half a lime
cumin (about 1/4 tsp)
Tabasco (five shakes)
salt to taste (about 1/2 tsp)

Combine the cucumber, tomatoes, garlic, jalapeno and cilantro in a medium-sized bowl. Toss with the juice of half a lime and then season to taste with cumin, salt and Tabasco. You may want less or more than I've noted about. It's really just about getting it to where you want it to be flavor wise. This is great with spicy dishes.

Smashed Black Beans
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 jalapeno, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
crushed red pepper (about 1/4 tsp)
2 tb olive oil
1/4 cup chicken stock
juice of half a lime
salt and pepper to taste
chopped cilantro and Parmesan for serving

Set your beans aside. In a small skillet, warm your olive oil over medium heat and then add your jalapeno and garlic. Let soften slightly and then add your crushed red pepper. Let vegetables soften some more and then add the black beans. Toss to coat with the olive oil and then once warm, smash your black beans with a fork or muddler until your beans have a chunky consistency. Add in your chicken stock to thin them out a bit. Finally add in your lime juice and season again with salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle the top with cilantro and Parmesan and serve warm.