June 26, 2011

Tom Kha Gai (Spicy Thai Coconut Chicken Soup)

This is my absolute favourite Thai dish

Taste of Thailand part one. 

Just one of the many counters full of things I didn't recognise!
My Dad at the market
Well hello again! I have survived and returned from my week long holiday in Bangkok. I went there to meet my Dad. Since I've moved to Australia, our annual NYC trip is a bit far for me, so we decided to meet in Bangkok this year instead. What a fantastic trip!

The weather was very hot and humid, which made typical tourist-style activities a little uncomfortable. Patpong night market is hot and obtrusive as it is, who needs to add 35 degree heat and high humidity? So, Dad and I kept ourselves busy with some activities and a lot of wining and dining. We are both foodies, and so the tastes of Thailand were quite important! And we sure got a lot of tastes.

One of the highlights of our trip was a cooking class from *link*. This was such an awesome experience. We met Angsana, our teacher, at a sky train stop in the suburbs. She then took us to a traditional Thai fresh food market. Now that was interesting! From live frogs to eels to chicken feet and mushrooms that looked like human ears, they had it all and then some. Dad and I had previously chosen our three dishes, so Angsana led us through the market like an expert picking up every ingredient we needed.

Ill pause the story there, and continue it with the next recipe. For now, I'll share my absolute favourite Thai dish - Tom Kha Gai soup. Angsana taught us that this soup should go in sour, then taste sweet and finish spicy. That is exactly how it turned out. I add steamed rice to make this a full meal, although Angsana said you never add rice to soup, you can pour soup on rice.

250 ml coconut milk
4 stalks lemongrass, cut 1 inch long
8 pieces sliced galangal, about 1cm thick (this is a type of ginger worth finding)
1 cup water
2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
1 cup straw mushrooms, quartered (use button if you can't find straw)
4 kaffir lime leaves
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
5-7 small red and green Thai chilies, sliced thin on diagonal
2 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp lime juice
½ cup chopped cilantro

1. Add coconut milk, lemongrass and galangal to a medium saucepan and simmer 5 minutes.
2. Add water, chicken and mushrooms and boil until chicken is cooked, about 10 minutes.
3. Add lime leaves, sugar, salt and chillies and simmer for another 5 minutes.
4. Remove from heat. Add fish sauce, lime juice and cilantro.

Taste soup. Does it start sour, ease into sweet and end with a spicy kick? If not adjust accordingly (with lime juice, sugar and chillies).

Serve and prepare to take your praise!

June 10, 2011

Gone to Bangkok - Back in 10 days

My Dad and I are headed to Bangkok where, amongst other activities, we will take a cooking class!

Grilled Caesar Salad with Parmesan Crisps

You are going to want to try this. I mean it. When I first heard of grilled Caesar salad, I don’t know why I thought twice. But, I certainly did, because… who puts lettuce on a bbq?!  Having said that, now that I know what grilled lettuce is like, I don’t know if normal, non-grilled salad will ever be the same.

If you don’t want to try the grilling and don’t want to make your own crisps, then please do me (and yourself) a favour and use this dressing recipe anyway…You can kaput any Caesar recipe you know and just use this dressing because it is simply fantastic. An alternative salad that I make quite frequently uses this dressing on romaine lettuce, with aged white cheddar pedals, crisped spicy capicollo ham, croutons and fresh lemon.

Since this dressing uses three different vinegars, and quite a few of other ingredients, I think it might be a good time to bring up a common issue I hear from my fellow wanna-be-great cooks…the long list of ingredients is a barrier because you likely don’t have all of them and you end up having to go to the store and hunt for a bunch of things and rack up a big bill.

I know. The only solution I can offer on that is the more recipes you try...the more ingredients you have! Next time you see a recipe that uses three vinegars, no problem! If there is any time to spend a little time in the market and to challenge old favourites, now is that time!

You will love this crowd-pleasing-slash-wowing recipe, adapted form Leslie Stowe.

Parmesan Crisps
6 garlic cloves, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup olive oil
Baguette (to make as many crisps as you like (I usually serve two per person), sliced very thin (1/2 cm) on the diagonal – easier to slice if it is day old
Parmesan, finely shredded – enough to generously top each crisp

Romaine hearts (with loose outer leaves removed, core attached), halved or quartered depending on the size
Optional - Prosciutto, bacon or other ham – chopped and crisped
Lemon to garnish
Ground black pepper to taste

The Ultimate Caesar Salad Dressing
1/2 tsp hot sauce, like Tobasco or Franks
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 egg
4 cloves or garlic, minced
2 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup olive oil

1. Heat oil and garlic in a small saucepan over medium heat until just simmering, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, let rest for 20 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 250F. Lay the baguette slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush the tops with garlic oil. Reserve the remaining oil. Generously top each slice with parmesan cheese and bake until edges are starting to brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

3. In a blender, combine all dressing ingredients except olive oil and pulse to mix. With the blender running, drizzle the oil in slowly to emulsify. Leave dressing in blender until your lettuce comes off the grill. Pulse a few times to remix before drizzling over salad.

4. Heat your bbq to high. Brush each romaine heart with garlic oil. Grill each side of the romaine hearts about 10 seconds. Serve the grilled hearts with 2 Parmesan crisps and drizzle with dressing. Top with fresh ground black pepper and put a lemon wedge on the side.

Serve and prepare to take your praise!

June 08, 2011

Tomato Risotto with peas and prosciutto

Soggy rice. That’s what my Dad said to me when I served risotto to the family over the holidays. Insulting? No way. That’s just my Dad. There are a few things he simply does not like, and risotto – much to my dismay – is one of them.

Though it is not one of my Dad’s favourites, there are many of us out here who LOVE risotto. In fact, as someone who likes to dabble in a fair bit of cooking, I think risotto is a very satisfying dish to make. You can get really creative and add pretty much any complementing array of vegetables, herbs and spices. The results are consistently pleasing.

Contrary to popular belief, risotto is NOT hard or complicated to make! I think that the fact you have to be around and pay a little attention to risotto is why a lot of people (including myself) have avoided it.  Well, when I finally tackled it, I found out that it is not hard at all and especially the more you make it – the easier it becomes.

This is the latest risotto that I tried, enjoy!

4 pieces prosciutto
5 cups chicken broth
Pinch of saffron (10 or so threads)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 leek, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
¼ cup tomato paste
½ cup frozen peas
¼ cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Parsley for garnish

1. Crisp prosciutto in pan and set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, bring the broth to a boil. Add saffron and turn heat to low to keep warm.

When your spoon leaves a line on the pan's bottom,
that's when you know you should add more broth.
2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and leek and stir until softened, about 2 minutes. Add rice, and toss until toasted and it starts to make a clicking sound, about 4 minutes.

3. Add wine and tomato paste and stir until reduced, about 3 minutes. Add a ladle’s worth of the warm broth and stir until the liquid is soaked up and you can run the spoon along the bottom of the pan and see the bottom for awhile before the liquid re-immerses (SEE PICTURE). Continue to add the broth at this rate, and stirring continuously until the risotto is tender and all the liquid has been used, about 20 minutes. With the last ladle of broth, add the peas. 

4. Off the heat,  stir in the parmesan and butter. Top with crisp prosciutto and parsley.

Serve and prepare to take your praise!

June 05, 2011

Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies

Chewy and delicious!
My husband, Nathan, makes a fantastic waffle. A smart talent to have, I think. Maybe not one of the most important qualifications of a husband, but we can all admit, it's a great perk! Other than the waffles, he can also whip up a French toast like it's no one's business and his bbq skills are second to none. That's about it for his culinary escapades. 

One evening last week, Nathan suggested that we make cookies together. I laughed. Understanding my husband's indirect way of asking for things, I asked him what kind he would like and told him I would make him cookies the next day. That I did. 

His request: oatmeal. Raisins or Chocolate Chip: can he have some of each? No. Raisins. 

They turned out to be really good, and stayed nice and chewy. I don't know how long they stay chewy, however, because Nathan took them to work and none returned. I usually take that as a good sign. 

Serve with a glass of milk!

1.5 cups flour
.5 tsp baking powder
.5 tsp salt
.25 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats (don't cheat and use instant)
1.5 cups raisins

1. Adjust oven racks to two middle positions and preheat oven to 325F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk the first four ingredients together in a medium bowl. 

2. In a large bowl, using and electric mixer on medium, beat the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy - about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time until combined - about 30 seconds. 

3. With the mixer on low, at the flour in bit by bit. Then the oats and the raisins, ensuring the dough is evenly mixed. 
4. Using about 3 tbsp of dough, roll into balls and place on sheet about 2 inches apart. Using a fork or your finger, press down until about 3/4 inches thick. 

5. Bake until beginning to golden on the edges, about 25 minutes, rotating sheets 180 degrees midway through baking. Let the cookies rest on the sheet for 10 minutes before serving or transferring to wire rack for cooling. 

Serve and prepare to take your praise!

June 02, 2011

Lamb Meatloaf with Indian Spices

Maybe not the most impressive LOOKING dish...but don't pass this one up!
(Pictured above with Roasted Vegetable Salad with feta and toasted pecans

OK, I admit I struggled getting a good picture of… meatloaf.

Not just any old meatloaf. The addition of lamb and the perfect complement of Indian Spices make this tender meatloaf one classy dish.

I must say, I haven’t eaten much meatloaf in my life. I can’t remember it being very common during my childhood. What I do recall of meatloaf is not that great, in fact, I had the impression that meatloaf wasn’t very interesting at all.

That is before my latest issue of Fine Cooking which has a 3 page spread on all things meatloaf. Trusting Fine Cooking, like I always do, and feeling inspired, I’ve rejuvenated the idea of meatloaf at our house.

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
½ red bell pepper, chopped fine
1 small carrot, peeled and chopped fine
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 tsp ginger, minced
2.5 cups of French bread (or similar), preferably not fresh, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 cup whole milk
1 lb extra lean ground beef
1 lb ground lamb
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground coriander
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1.5 tsp table salt
Soaking the bread
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp honey

1. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, red pepper and carrot and stir until softened, 6-8 minutes. Add jalapeno and ginger and stir until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Remove from heat and cool until warm.

2. Using a pie plate, soak bread, turning once, in milk until wet but not sloppy, about 5-10 minutes depending on bread. Squeeze bread gently to get rid of excess milk. Chop fine and add to bowl with vegetables.

Glaze with honey just before baking
3. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a 9x13 inch baking dish with parchment paper. Add the meats, garam masala, coriander, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to bowl. Using your hands, mix thoroughly. Transfer meat mixture to dish and shape into a 10x4 inch rectangle.  Glaze the loaf with honey.

4. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until inside temperature registers 160 F on an instant-read thermometer. Let rest 10 minutes before transferring to cutting board and slicing 1-inch pieces.

Serve and prepare to take your praise!

June 01, 2011

Roasted Vegetable Salad with feta and toasted pecans

My husband isn’t your typical “meat and potatoes” kind of guy. It is so nice to have him as my guinea pig because he will eat anything I make, and more often than not, he will love it. He likes recipes that push the boundaries and have a lot of unique flavours. He also really likes vegetables, so we eat a lot of salads. I have a lot of salad recipes to share with you, and I am going to start with this gem I made last night.

Pumpkins are really popular in Australia. Where as back home we have pumpkins around certain holidays – maybe a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and the odd butternut squash soup in autumn, here they seem to be eaten year-round in everything. Pumpkins, here, can be found in pastas, roasted in salads, even on top of pizzas!

When I saw this recipe that incorporates what I would call a butternut squash but what is called a butternut pumpkin here in Oz, I thought it looked fantastic. Guess what…IT WAS!

This was adapted from Laura Pensiero’s salad, Gigi Barbina.

4 small beets, whole
½ a small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
½ lb white mushrooms, quartered
Salt and pepper to taste
6 cups of the best lettuce you can find, rinsed and torn into bite-size pieces (I used red and green oak leaf which looked fresh in the store)
½ cup of feta cheese, crumbled
½ cup of toasted pecans, chopped fine

1 small shallot, minced
2 tbsp fat free mayonnaise
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp canola oil

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Wrap each beet in aluminium foil and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes. Toss squash with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. When the beets have been in oven for 15 minutes, add the squash on the baking sheet. Bake until soft and starting to brown, about 30 minutes. Set roasted beets and squash aside to cool, and use the same pan to roast the mushrooms until starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Add shallot, mayo, vinegar and mustard to a blender, pulsing just to mix. With the blender running, slowly add the oils to emulsify.

3. Toss the dressing with the lettuce and dish onto plates. Top each dish with roasted vegetables, feta and pecans.

Serve and prepare to take your praise!