Sometimes, it’s the Simple Things

Categories: news — Tags: , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ December 9, 2008 : 11:59 pm

After putting some long hours in at work, I’m am sometimes tired to the point that I don’t even want to drive and grab take out, let alone cook. This often leaves me with an dilemma of epic foodie proportions where I have one of the following choices:

1) Order delivery. In my area, means Papa Johns, Pizza Hut or Garlic Jims. I don’t exactly call myself the healthiest person in the world, but this is often a cry of last resort.

2) Suck it up and get take out. Normally this means whatever teriyaki restaurant is still open, such as Nasai Teriyaki or Yummy’s Teriyaki. Often, it takes me so long to debate that the restaurants are about to close when I finally head out. Thus, this option can lead to yeech – fast food.

3) Go Iron Chef-fu, featuring mysterious ingredients from the cupboard. I almost never have anything in the freezer and rarely have produce or meats just sitting around, which means my ingredients are often limited to herbs, condiments and canned/dry foods. This often leads to some form of crazy ramen fusion that is not for the faint of heart:

– Ramen, tomato paste and onions
– Ramen, smoked salmon, peas, milk, butter
– Ramen, cheese, tuna, seaweed
– Ramen, miso, green onion, sardines

If you think some of these sound bad, then you would be absolutely correct. However, though I may appreciate fine food, I also appreciate not starving even more.

So among my options, which one do I pick the post? Well, let’s say I always have packs of ramen available in the house for food emergencies. I do have to say one of my roommates takes the cake, as he goes for option #4 – cereal for dinner. I’ve ate lots of heinous foodstuffs in my days, but cereal for dinner is something I cannot pull myself to do. Perhaps you even, but not me!

If I can’t bring myself to torture my palate with “mystery ramen” night, then a simple pleasure that I treat myself with is a regular grilled cheese sandwich. No need for a fancy French gruyere, just some good old fashioned Tillamook cheese, olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper.

In fact, that’s just what I had tonight, though I still had a bowl of hearty minestrone from an earlier batch. Grilled cheese sandwich in a tomato based soup? Dee-lish!

Grilled cheese sandwich

Grilled cheese sandwich

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!

Real Wasabi Paste – Not Horseradish and Green Food Coloring

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ November 7, 2008 : 7:30 pm

Following up on our recent sushi article, here’s a picture of some real wasabi paste, rather than the green dyed horseradish stuff that you get in sushi restaurants. These wasabi tubes were purchased from Pacific Farms, a company based in Florence Oregon that until recently, grew their own wasabi. The website is somewhat vague about where their obtain their wasabi now, but they were one of the few (if only) commercial growers of wasabi in the US.

From the picture, you can see the texture is more chunky with fibrous root material. The green is more of a pastel shade and less tennis ball green that you get in restaurants. The taste is immediately discernible, as there is a subtle, yet sweet flavor. The “kick’ that wasabi is known for is more powerful as well, though in a dull and prolonged manner versus the sharp, eye-watering kick of horse radish.

In reality though, real wasabi paste is more of a novelty if you aren’t making your own sushi, as you’ll be hard pressed to take your own tube of wasabi into a sushi restaurant without looking quite odd. In addition, real wasabi only keeps fresh for so long before spoiling, so you either need to use it quite quickly in the refrigerator or keep it in the freezer for storage.

Nonetheless, it was a fun lesson in learning what real wasabi tastes like. You might be able to get real wasabi in high end restaurants outside of Seattle, but we don’t know any Seattle restaurants that actually offer this, due to the price and extremely low demand.

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:

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!

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