Trying out Butternut Squash Lasagna

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ December 11, 2008 : 6:16 pm
Butternut squash lasagna

Butternut squash lasagna

Before I start my post, I want to credit Patricia at Cook Local for finding this interesting butternut squash lasagna recipe, which originates from Coconut and Lime.

The recipe calls for lasagna made with butternut squash, rainbow chard and (surprise), no tomato sauce OR meat. My first reaction is probably like yours: Whaaat? Vegetarian lasagna, that’s common enough, but no tomato sauce? This was going to be interesting, as I’m a huuuge fan of lasagna and as such, am very particular about how it tastes. In fact, Steve often cracked jokes about my food fetish because I would volunteer for lasagna duty every time we reviewed an Italian restaurant.

I won’t repeat the recipe, as I’ve linked to both blogs, who do the art of cooking more justice than I to begin with. That said, it’s a fairly straight forward lasagna recipe that consists of baking and mashing the squash, making a chard and ricotta mix, heating a milk-based sauce and then combining into layers.

I tripped up on the layering stage of making my lasagna, as my pasta somehow managed to break down into dozens of smaller parts while boiling(!). I’m sure my head added to the steam coming from the pot because I specifically tried to avoid the specific brand of pasta that I used, as I had bad experiences with it before. MY supermarket, PCC, only carried one brand for lasagna however, so that’s what I ended up being stuck with. Bah!

So, that turned into a challenging mix-and-match puzzle for a few minutes while I wrestled with the mashed butternut squash. Even though Patricia warned against it, I tried using a spoon at first, but gave up soon after the first layer and just used my hands instead. Sometimes I just have to fail in order to believe. :)

The end result was a lasagna that was rich, creamy and smooth – and much better than what I would have guessed! I thought the rainbow chard might overpower the dish beforehand, but it was subdued fairly well. I feel there was room in the recipe to add more herbs however; and perhaps even tomato sauce. But at that point, you would diverge from the uniqueness of the dish and be making a traditional lasagna (well, mostly).

Well, all this talk of food makes me hungry, so I’d better run off to the kitchen now. :) Thanks again to Patricia from Cook Local and also Coconut and Lime for this cool recipe.

Pad Thai with Prawns – in Pictures

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ November 26, 2008 : 4:46 pm
Traditional pad thai with spring rolls

Traditional pad thai with spring rolls

I know, it’s close to Thanksgiving and I’m somehow putting up pictures of pad thai that I made last week of all things. Truth is, I have never actually cooked an entire turkey, partly due to the fact that I’ve never had the need to: it’s always been cooked by someone else at whatever party or event I’ve gone to. The major reason though, is that turkey is huge and I tend to pick and fork my way through rationed amounts of food – which is why I know pad thai and not giant birds. :)

So, here’s pictures and my pseudo ingredients for pad thai. While I’ve been making pad thai for quite some time, I’m constantly adjusting the recipe and have drawn much inspiration was drawn from various websites, especially Chez Pim. Ironically, I have two Thai cookbooks that have pad thai recipies, but both raised my eyebrows for a lack of tamarind (I call it the Thai secret spice) and a complete lack of proper stir fry instructions.

Not everyone is a big fan of fried tofu, but I (supposedly) hear it’s commonly used by the street vendors in Thailand. You can get the tofu at any Asian grocer, like Uwajimaya or even some places like Central Market. Whole Foods and PCC have tofu, but not the light and fried kind. Note: In my experience, tofu goes bad very fast (even with my Sub Zero), so plan on using it soon afterward.

Rice sticks soaking in water

Rice sticks soaking in water

First, soak thai noodles / rick sticks in water for about 45min or until limp but not soft. This alone might be one of the most important aspects of pad thai, as taking out the rice sticks too early leaves you with cardboard like noodles, while soaking too long makes for an incredibly difficult stir fry that clumps together like play dough. I use about a quarter of a packet, which serves 2 and is just the right amount for a wok to handle. If you are cooking for more, soak half the packet.

In the picture, I have the “pink” packet as I like to say, because the common distributor around Seattle seems to come in pink or blue. Blue is the slightly wider rice stick and pink is the smaller one. I normally use the “blue” noodles, but it’s more of a preference than anything. You can also buy the shopper friendly “Pad Thai Noodles” package that they sell at all the major grocers. It just costs about double what you would pay otherwise for the convenience.

Pad thai ingredients

Pad thai ingredients

Next are the ingredients, which include: fried tofu, green onions, sliced white onions, thai chilies, lime wedges, freshly shredded carrot, mined/diced garlic and bean sprouts (not pictured). I don’t measure ingredients, but I can say that about 1/3 cup of each is what you’re aiming for, short of the chilies, garlic and limes.

The trinity of thai sauces: fish oil, tamarind paste and sugar

The trinity of thai sauces: fish oil, tamarind paste and sugar

I call this the holy trinity of pad thai, as these are the most important elements of pad thai! You’ll often see substitutions, like white rice vinegar instead of tamarind or peanut oil instead of fish oil, but you’ll never quite accomplish true thai flavor if you go that route. Even worse, some recipies like Chez Pim points out, call for ketchup or as I’ve seen, peanut butter. Never, ever, do that! I admit in my earlier cooking years to trying one such heinous recipe when I was ravenously hungry, but quickly ruined any appetite after a taste of bastardized thai. Don’t even get that quick and easy “Pad Thai Mix” that rests in a nice little squeeze bottle container; it will just never compare.

The sauce is simply half cup each of cane sugar, fish oil and tamarind paste. If you use white, refined sugar, take it down to about 1/4 cup. Having experimented with the sugar amount, you can increase the ratio of sugar, which is what many Thai restaurants in Seattle do, but I think it makes pad thai far too sweet. That’s one reason why I use cane sugar instead.

You can find both fish oil and tamarind at Uwajimaya (I swear they are not an advertiser for us). The tamarind is often not labeled in English, so ask your friendly clerk if you can’t find it. Be sure to get the paste and not the root for purposes of this dish.

Mix well, then heat in small sauce pan on low heat. Keep it ready, because you’ll be using it soon.

Tofu and onion stir fry

Tofu and onion stir fry

I start with a few tablespoons of sesame or peanut oil on a high heat wok. I’ve done olive oil before, but you need to keep the wok on med-high so you don’t burn the oil, though that depends on your burner and what type of olive oil you’re using.

Tofu tends to take awhile to warm up, so I like to toss that in first along with the onions. As with any stir fry, work the wok fast so the food doesn’t stick and burn. If you have chicken, you can toss that in after about a minute or so after the tofu. I used prawns, which are far more heat sensitive, so I added that farther into the dish after the tofu and onions were cooked. With such a hot wok, I don’t like to add garlic at first because it quickly caramelizes and turns into bits of burnt coal if you’re not furiously stir frying. Right before adding the noodles is often when I add garlic, as that’s when I also turn down the heat to med or med-high.

Adding sesame oil to shrimp and rick sticks

Adding sesame oil to shrimp and rick sticks

After about 2-3 minutes, I add my prawns, garlic and a bit more oil if necessary. Splash a few spoonfuls of sauce onto the mix and stir fry until shrimp is almost (but not quite) pink. At that point, turn down heat and add rice sticks.

Adding rice sticks and green onions

Adding rice sticks and green onions

When adding the rick sticks, I turn down the heat a little because I have an enormous problem with my noodles sticking together at highest heat on my burner. You may or may not encounter this problem, but if you find that you do, try turning down your heat. You can also add more oil or a splash of water to help aid things along as well.

At this time, I also add the green onion and about half the sauce and stir pretty vigorously, getting it mixed in. The trick of the game is that the longer the noodles stay in, the softer and mushier they get, so you want them in and out fairly fast while getting them cooked. Keep the heat high as possible and stir for about two minutes, then add the rest of the sauce.

Adding egg to wok

Adding egg to wok

This part is optional, but you can lift the noodles and crack an egg to one side of the wok and let the egg cook. When it’s fairly opaque, you can put the noodles back over it and then gently stir it around at first, then faster when the egg is cooked through.

Plated pad thai dish

Plated pad thai dish

Plate and garnish with shredded carrots, bean sprouts, red cabbage (not pictured), lime and if you really want to be authentic, a banana. I added some lumpia rolls that I um, er, undercooked, which I found out a few hours later (oops), but otherwise, a successfully made pad thai dish! :)

Oh yeah, since I won’t be posting tomorrow, Happy Turkey Day!

Black Cod Kasuzuke Recipe

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ June 12, 2008 : 8:32 am

Black cod, also known as sablefish or butterfish, has a naturally oily meat that flakes apart with buttery smoothness and flavor. I prefer black cod over over Chilean sea bass, especially due to the overfishing that sea bass has seen over the recent decade (grocery stores like Wholefoods offers sustainably harvested sea bass). Black cod is mainly fished out of Alaska and Canada, both of which have generally good sustainability practices for their fisheries.

One of my favorite dishes in the world is black cod kasuzuke. Traditional recipes marinate fillets of black cod for up to seven days in sake, mirin (Japanese cooking wine), brown sugar and miso. Like yourself though, the idea of marinating a meat for seven days, while appetizing, is a little too long for my taste (literally). In my experiments, I’ve found that you can achieve a restaurant quality flavor in three days and if you’re really impatient, perhaps even two days. To those of you who think you can get away with marinating for a few hours in the fridge – don’t even think about it (you’ve been warned).

Black cod recipe ingredients

Ingredient List for: Black Cod Kasuzuke

- 4, 3 oz black cod fillets
- 1 cup sake (I use sweet sake, you can use dry)
- 1 cup mirin
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 3T miso paste (I prefer white shiro)
- DO NOT ADD SOY SAUCE

Boiling mirin and sake

On high heat, combine sake and mirin in a pot and bring to boil. Don’t leave the pot because it will boil quite fast. Once boiling, immediately turn heat down to simmer and let stand for 2-5 minutes. Depending on how strong of alcohol flavor you like to your fish, you can let it simmer for longer to take out more alcohol flavor or take it off earlier for a stronger taste. I like to take it off around 3 minutes.

Brown sugar with sake and mirin

Reduce to low heat. Add brown sugar, stirring until well mixed. If you don’t have brown sugar, then you can use white sugar, but only use 1/4 cup instead, otherwise you’ll be eating candied fish.

Adding miso to kasuzuke sauce

Add miso paste and mix in well. You may find chopsticks helpful to help poke apart the clumps of miso. I use white shiro, but that’s also because I have access to dozens of varieties since I’m within close driving distance of Uwajimaya. You can use most types of miso, so if you have some generic yellow miso sitting in the fridge, feel free to use it, but the general rule of thumb is: the darker the miso, the heavier the taste and vice versa. Because black cod is so buttery, I find a light miso works best, but your own taste may prefer a salty version. In any case, DO NOT ADD SOY SAUCE. Miso is made with fermented soy beans and is naturally salty, so there is no reason to use soy sauce as I’ve seen in some recipes.

Marinating the cod

Let the sauce cool, place fish in a wide, shallow pan or container and then pour in sauce. Cover with plastic wrap and then toss and forget in the refrigerator for three days.

Cooking Instructions

Place fillets on tray and bake in oven for 325 degrees for 15 minutes. While grilling might be possible, I don’t recommend it unless you foil your fish – otherwise it will come apart very easily.

Garnish with some chopped green onions and serve. Enjoy!

I almost forgot – if you’re too lazy to make your own black cod kasuzuke, Seattle is lucky to have a score of restaurants that make an excellent version. Here’s some restaurants to name a few:

Sushi Class at Uwajimaya

Categories: food,seattle — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ May 28, 2008 : 10:28 pm

Sushi class at Uwajimaya

Sushi class California rolls

Inspecting my hatchet job of the innocent sushi rolls above, I may just be a little more humbled the next time I see some perfectly cut sushi at a Japanese restaurant. Luckily, our sushi teacher Naomi from NuCulinary, was far more lenient of my aesthetically challenged California rolls, given that it was an introductory sushi class.

NuCulinary is a Seattle based Asian cooking school that offers classes for Thai cooking, Indian, dim sum as well as sushi classes of various skill levels. While I’ve eaten plenty of sushi in my life, I thought it would be neat to gain more knowledge of the skill and art that is sushi. Today was part one (basic sushi rolling) out of a three part series that culminates in learning the art of nigiri directly from chef Hajime Sato of Mashiko in West Seattle. Each class is $65 and lasts for 3 hours, which is a fairly reasonable deal as far as cooking classes go.

Not having rolled sushi before, everything being shown to me was going to be brand spanking new. I learned the proper way of making sushi rice (always important), selecting the right nori (seaweed sheets), ingredients to use and of course, how to roll sushi. As you’ve already seen though, even with years of Playdoh experience behind my fingertips, it’s not quite as simple as simply tossing ingredients on a bamboo mat and rolling it into circles. But, the good news is that looks aside, sushi is easy enough that anyone who can follow a recipe can easily pick up sushi rolling as well. As for nigiri, well, that’s a totally different story unless you happen to be accustomed to gutting and filleting 30 pound fish (and even then, that’s still a stretch!).

Some interesting tidbits I learned about proper sushi etiquette that I’ve heard before, but never “officially” until now, is the right way to eat your sushi. Apparently, the common American tradition of drowning those poor sushi rolls in vats of soy sauce is a serious faux pas to a genuine sushi chef. To the chef, this signals that the sushi apparently isn’t good enough on it’s own that it needs to be marinated in salt in order to be consumed. So just like you wouldn’t put A1 on your filet mignon at The Metropolitain, hold the soy to a minimum when possible. To impress your sushi chef, use those fresh and ample slices of ginger to soak up the liquid, then dab your rolls with the sauce to show that you know the fine line of moderation.

Another way to become part of the sushi elite is to hold off on the wasabi as well. This might not make sense, given that you are always offered a large green dollop with your sushi, but sushi purists only use as much wasabi as the chef has already put into the dish. Normally, there is just enough wasabi to help glue the fish to the rice, which avoids any overkill of wasabi flavoring. So in a nutshell – trust your chef and you’ll gain his/her respect.

If you haven’t rolled sushi before, it’s definitely good fun, so give it a shot either through a class like this one or pick up one of the many books on the subject. At the very least, it will give you a much better appreciation of your sushi chef when you’re sitting at the bar eating omakase (prix fix) style!

Linguine with Clams

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ April 20, 2008 : 8:53 pm

Linguine with clams

I have a secret to share. For years, I’ve have an affair with a blond Italian whom I meet with monthly over candlelit dinners. I’d describe our relationship as rather shallow; I imply my willingness to pay and the well-dressed escort delivers my Italian beauty to the table. We’re about to lock lips, when the attendant cheerfully asks, ‘Would you like some fresh grated cheese with that?’.

Yes, I’m talking about linguine. In this particular case, my simple and everyday linguine with clams recipe. Here’s what you need to get started:

Ingredients

  • 1 8oz packet linguine
  • 1 cup fresh cooked clam meat (about 3 pounds Manila clams)
  • 1/2 half and half / heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3T freshly chopped parsley
  • 3T butter
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 lemon
  • 1T parsley flakes
  • 1t oregano
  • 1t thyme
  • 1t red pepper flakes
  • 1/4t sea salt
  • fresh cracked pepper to taste

Boiling clams

Preparation of the clams:
When you buy your clams, make sure to buy the clams the same day you’ll be cooking or put them in a pot of salt water if you won’t use them immediately. Your clams will die if you leave them out of the water long enough, which is bad for both taste and health reasons. Before you start cooking your clams, push down on each clam to see if it clamps back down on itself. If the shell immediately bounces back, toss the clam – it’s dead.

Cooking the clams:
First, put the clams into a pot of salted water (use lots of salt) and cook at high heat until the water starts boiling. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook until shells pop up. Do not overcook, or meat will turn rubbery and tough. Strain (you may save clam juice for chowders or broth) and then remove clam meat and set aside.

Cooking the pasta:
Bring large pot of water to boil. Be sure to add plenty of kosher or sea salt to pot. If you are not cooking clams and pasta at the same time, you can reuse strained clam juice to boil pasta. Cook until firm / al dente (should have tiny bit of white texture left in middle of pasta). Al dente is how most Italians cook and there are also health benefits of not overcooking your pasta (deals with how your body processes carbohydrates). Remove from water and drizzle with olive oil to prevent from sticking, if your sauce is not going to be ready soon.

Herbs and spices
Preparing the sauce
Combine butter, olive oil, white wine, garlic, heavy cream and squeeze half lemon (watch the seeds) into a sauce pot and cover over medium heat. Cook for 3 minutes. Add parsley flakes, pepper flakes, thyme, oregano and salt. Reduce heat to low and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

Mixing clams and linguine
Combining the ingredients
In a large pan, over medium heat, combine pasta, sauce and clams. Add fresh parsley and mix together. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove, plate and garnish with fresh parsley.

That’s it! Total cooking and prep time is around 30 minutes. This is a good dish for beginners, as it’s quick, tasty and almost impossible to screw up. It’s also completely open to variations, as recipes often include more cream, no cream, bacon, additional seafood or other spice combinations.

PCC Baking Class

Categories: food,seattle — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ April 16, 2008 : 2:27 pm

Baked pastries
(From left to right: Rustic berry tart, Poppy seed poundcake muffin, orange cranberry scone and snicker doodles)

“Ouch,” I mutter, as I look at my thumb after nicking it on the carrot grater. It looks a little pink, but there’s no drippage. That’s good, because I’m sure the rest of the PCC Sweets and Treats baking class isn’t going to appreciate me modifying our carrot cake recipe to include a few drops of blood. Then again, my recipe sheet is splattered silly with a murderous orange color from the carrots I’ve been grating, so perhaps no one would notice anyways.

I look closer just in case. Awesome, no blood, no foul.

I wasn’t able to snap a picture of the oh-so-delicious frosted carrot cupcakes, as my hands were covered in all sorts of flour, sugar, carrot bits and other random baking ingredients that dissuaded me from shoving my hands into my pockets. With all the bakeries left over, most everyone grabbed a to-go box of goodies to bring home, so that’s what you see in the picture above.

Baking has always been a weak point in my culinary arsenal (I can make cookies?), so I decided to attend a class at PCC Natural Markets down in Issaquah. The class was a solid 2.5 hours from 6:30 – 9pm and completely hands-on, so I figured it would be a great way to ramp up my baking skills. We were given a recipe list of about 10 various items and put into teams to create each one, so it also turned out to be a nice meet and greet of sorts with strangers with the same love for food.

One of the first things I learned with baking is that it is definitely a science, as opposed to an art. That’s not to say there’s no creativity, but there is certainly procedures, measurements and scientific principles that apply to baking quite firmly before the experimentation comes in. Unlike conventional cooking, when a baking recipe calls for two cups of an ingredient, it’s quite important to use two cups – otherwise bad things can start to happen. Especially if we’re talking about flour.

Leavening is the holy grail of baking, as the rise of the dough and mixture is the difference between a tough rock or a soft, fluffy piece of heaven in your mouth. Common leavening agents include yeast, yogurt, butter, baking powder, baking soda and the act of creaming. Using any one of these methods is almost always required in baking pastries or cakes, which likely explains some of the failed mishaps I may have had in the kitchen before. Case in point, I generally reduce the usage of butter in my dishes for a more healthy approach, but I realize now that butter actually helps the dough rise in addition to giving it that savory taste, so I have to put in a leavening substitute for the butter as well.

Another important thing I learned is that my big silver bowl and a whisk isn’t going to cut it if I want to do any serious baking. A professional mixer turned a stick of butter and cream cheese packet into an instant frosting after about a minute of beating; something that would be impossible by hand, short of 10 cans of Red Bull to the tune of Chariots of Fire. That means have to go run to Sears, Bed Bath and Beyond and some other stores later this weekend to pick one up, so hopefully it’s not too expensive.

If you ever shop at PCC and wonder about the classes, I can tell you they are definitely worth it. Our instructor, Krista, was great and the setup they have is very professional. There were two assistants that circle around helping with the class and helping with prep work. Three big LCD screens display the two cooktops and the center preparation table so you can see all the action while sitting in your seat. The best part is that the price of the class is a mere $30 (for our baking class at least), while you get the enjoy food, learn and also have fun at the same time. It’s a great deal, so I’ll certainly be going back for more classes in the future.

Northwest Seafood @ Culinary Communion

Categories: food,seattle — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ April 10, 2008 : 2:05 pm

Zach of Culinary Communion

(Above: Zach, cooking instructor at Culinary Communion))

I had a great time last night attending a Northwest seafood cooking class at Culinary Communion located in Beacon Hill. It was a 3 hour adventure of chopping, boiling, juicing, cutting, mincing, washing, slicing and more importantly – tasting!

Our cooking class was led by Zach, new Culinary Communion instructor who just moved back from Vegas not too long ago after being sous chef at Guy Savoy (if I recall correctly) at Caesar’s Palace. His credentials also include being a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and chef at Cascadia in Belltown a few years ago. Zach is a great teacher and friendly guy, so he’s highly recommended if you ever decide to take a cooking course at Culinary Communion.

Salmon, oysters, crabs and clams

We started off the night with a huge table filled with fresh seafood that included whole Canadian king salmon, Manila clams, pacific halibut, Penn Cove mussels (plus two other varieties I forget) and live dungeness crab. Zach walked us through the varieties of sea life, methods of cooking and also great tips on places to buy seafood. He stated that for the regular consumer, Uwajimaya provides great, fresh seafood in addition to excellent prices. For whatever reason, I was never sure of the seafood at Uwajimaya, but I think I’ll give it a shot with Zach’s recommendation.

For those in the city, Zach also mentioned that while the Pike Place fish tossing troupes might seem like a tourist trap in terms of price gouging – they are more than willing to negotiate prices with locals if they think you know about the gig.

A couple of neat things that we learned about our various seafoods were that farm raised salmon will have white tongues as opposed to black tongues from wild salmon (go with wild salmon). For salmon (or any salt water fish), look for clear eyes as opposed to cloudy to gauge how long the fish has been dead. When preparing mollusks, press down on their lids and see if they retract and clamp back down. If they don’t, that means they’re dead and you should toss them out. An important tip- while you want to soak clams in water, do not soak mussels in water unless you want to kill them. Instead, cover mussels with a damp cloth towel and set aside until ready to use.

Salmon fillets

Among the dishes we cooked, the slow-roasted salmon was a big favorite. It featured a variety of simple ingredients such as butter, lemon, olive oil, herbs and wine, poured over slow cooked salmon fillets. Other dishes that we cooked included:red curry mussel stew, halibut seviche, New England clam chowder and biscuits, bucatini alla puttanesca (I am officially a new fan of bucatini), Peruvian ceviche and fresh Vietnamese spring rolls.

Bucatini alla puttanesca

I love the bucatini pasta because it’s a thick spaghetti like pasta that is hollow in the middle, providing more surface area for sauce delivery. If you’ve ever wondered why pasta is always shaped in odd, funny shapes, it’s all to provide extra surface area. The bucatini works great for this purpose and I can see lots of uses in the future for red and white sauce Italian cooking.

The amazing part is that most of these dishes were quite easy to make. With a dozen cooks of mixed skill, it was no trouble getting all the food prepped and cooked while coming out delicious. One of the teams forgot to add baking powder and soda to the biscuits, which caused them not to rise and turn out more like biscuitty chewables, but even then everyone had a good laugh and reached for seconds when it came around.

While I learned a whole lot from the class and Zach, the most important things I learned were:

- Uwajimaya is great for seafood.
- Use LOTS OF SALT when boiling seafood, pasta or blanching vegetables. Like, an entire cup of salt. This sounds scary, but in reality, it works great and won’t send your sodium intake through the roof.
- Ceviche is the easiest dish in the world.
- If your clan chowder is soupy, blend in a biscuit to add consistency.
- All fresh fish can be eaten raw; so don’t overcook that salmon.
- More butter the better, at least for biscuits.
- Shucking oysters is fun. Try it.

Thai Ground Pork with Pineapple (Sorta)

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ March 25, 2008 : 9:28 pm

Thai Pineapple Turkey

Thai Pineapple Turkey, 2

Ingredients:
1 lb ground pork (I used ground turkey)
1 ripe, medium pineapple
1 cucumber
2 teaspoons pepper
4 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons olive oil
mortar and pestle
(optional) 1 thai red chili pepper
(optional) small bunch of cilantro
(optional) small bunch of sliced carrots

I know, Grant isn’t posting about geek stuff for a change. After so much eating out, reviews and coding, I’ve decided to take some time off over the next month. I’m going to re-acquaint myself with some long lost hobbies- namely, cooking!

This my interpretation of a common Thai dish that is easy to make, healthy and tastealicious to boot! It has the nice variety of textures and taste that transition from the aromatic meat, to juicy pineapple and ending with the crisp crunch of fresh cucumbers. It’s traditionally cooked with pork, but I substituted ground turkey as I generally don’t eat red meat when eating at home (blame the BSE).

First, grab that mortar and pestle (or a shiny food processor) and pour in the chopped garlic, chopped cilantro, pepper and 1 tablespoons of olive oil. Grind to a nice paste- I find crushing vs swirling motions works best- and then set resulting cilantro paste aside.

Next, take a medium wok or skillet and coat with 1 tbs of olive oil. While the wok is heating, mix the cliantro paste with the meat evenly. When the wok is hot, put in the meat. Let the underside sizzle a little bit and brown a bit before stirring. Repeat process and break apart meat clumps until no longer pink. The cooking should be relatively short, around 3-5 minutes.

If cooking with ground turkey: Those familiar with ground turkey or ground chicken will know that using it as a substitute for ground pork or beef is always a challenge. The texture (and taste) don’t always travel over. In this Thai recipe, I had quite some difficulty breaking the turkey apart after hitting the wok as the meat simply clumped into large, play dough sized balls of meat. Mmmm… clumps of meat, how enticing! What I did was take the meat out while there was still a little pink and place it on a foil covered tray. I then covered the top with tinfoil and beat the chunks with a meat tenderizer (make sure you use the FLAT side). After a bit of pounding, take off the top foil and viola – nice little meat bits. Put back in wok and then cook until done.

Turn off the heat and set wok aside. Now take the pineapple, cut off the top and bottom and then take off the sides. Slice the rest into slices using a hexagonal pattern around the center core, then cube into pineapple chunks. Next, slice cucumber into slices.

Plating is very easy- arrange cucumbers around in circular or square pattern. Line the inside with a double stacked row of pineapple chunks, forming a little center to place the meat. Optionally, before placing the meat, you can put in some long carrot slices for garnish. After that, scoop the meat into the center of the dish into a mound that eventually pleasingly spills over the pineapples and cucumbers. It should look like a nice volcano of juicy meat. Garnish with fresh cilantro and also sliced red chili and serve!

The Battle of the Bulge: Eating for a Living

Categories: food,news,restaurants — Tags: , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ March 23, 2008 : 10:09 pm

The New York Post posted an article today on what it means to be part of the Fat Pack. If you’re thinking that this is another common newsbite on the life of unhealthy, over-weight Americans who love McDonalds, you would be quite mistaken. At least about the McDonalds part.

The Fat Pack is actually a reference to the army of taste testing gluttons making up the food writing, culinary and review industry. It’s an exclusive club of sorts that meets at fine dining establishments, espouses secretive French lingo and gushes over the wonderful qualities of… fat.


The journalists, bloggers, chefs and others who make up the Fat Pack combine an epicure’s appreciation for skillful cooking with a glutton’s bottomless-pit approach. Cramming more than three meals into a day, once the last resort of a food critic on deadline, has become a way of life. If the meals center on meat, so much the better.

Even to those who have been in the game long enough to have seen more than a few cycles of food and diet fads, the Fat Pack culture is a shock.

“Most of us who are in this profession are here as an excuse to eat,” said Mimi Sheraton, the food writer and former New York Times restaurant critic who has chronicled her own battle with weight loss. Still, she said, “I’ve never seen such an outward, in-your-face celebration of eating fat.”

Research has shown that Americans generally take a dim view on their obese counterparts. The overweight are paid less, make negative first impressions and denied more services when compared to their thinner counterparts. Yet in the food industry, being fat is almost looked on as proof of one’s passion of eating. Portly bellies proudly attest to years in the gladiatorial arena of silver forks and spoons. Looking in the mirror each morning, I can attest to the fact that my own body is slowly working it’s way toward the uniquely dubious honor. Ironically, I mention this all the while chewing away at a coconut pastry passed my way (bit firm, too much coconut flakes on the outside, not enough taste infused into the actual bread).

I’ve said it multiple times and I’ll say it again: it’s actually not that fun eating for a living. Don’t get me wrong, I love food. This job would be a living hell if I didn’t like food. Not to mention, I wouldn’t ever hear the end of it from the throngs of would-be critics. After all, who wouldn’t be jealous at a life of gluttony when compared to a life of bland prix fixe: the hour commute appetizer, eight to five entree and casual Friday desert. Like any fantasy however, the illusion disappears when the wizard yanks away the curtain.

For a food critic, the magical revelations come in the form of jeans that no longer fit, uncomfortably tight shirts, a rise in cholesterol and increases in blood pressure. Then there’s the sudden aversion to any restaurant we have already sampled (it’s our version of repeating work). However, the true icing on the cake rears it’s mouthful of glory when we’re in our prime environment- a new, virgin restaurant. Prior to peeking at the menu, comes the fore knowledge that no less than three plates are sure to grace the table for consumption. Damn if those overstuffed, caloric soaked stomachs plead to the contrary. Just like you wouldn’t miss out on pizza in Chicago, we’re not about to pass up the tour du jour of antipasto, primi, secondi and dolce.

As if motivations for over-eating aren’t around each corner, there’s a never ending list of restaurant recommendations. We certainly appreciate suggestions, though it has become an impossibly long list. Imagine yourself a cook walking through Costco, only to have every customer shove a cart full of food for you to prepare. That’s about the gist of our interactions. The definition of awkward occurs when we do take someone up on a recommendation, only to find that the food is quite awful to our palettes. As politically correct as I can spin the tale of different tastes for different people, I’m still don’t find myself above lying to avoid a few embarrassing situations.

Yes, I know, I’m bad. But please, don’t stop sending recommendations. I swear, I totally love those sweet and sour pork globs at the karaoke bar down the street. Honest :)

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