asian lettuce wraps

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I try not to order dishes in restaurants that I can easily make at home, but PF Chang’s lettuce wraps had so many raving reviews that I had to get them the first time I ate there. They were just as good as I was hoping, but were also simple – too simple to pay someone else to make them for me. I made a mental note to try these at home.

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That was years ago, but I still hadn’t gotten around to making this easy dish that promised to be just as tasty as it was healthy. That is why this recipe, which requires no great skill or time-investment, no new ingredients or techniques, made the list. Sometimes I just need a little extra push, even if it’s from myself.

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I don’t think I’ll need that extra push to make these again. It will be hard to forget how well the savory filling compliments the crisp mild lettuce and sweet hoisin sauce. I can’t compare them to the restaurant’s version, since it’s been years since I’ve had theirs. I won’t wait so long before I eat lettuce wraps again, not after this reminder of how good they are, and how easy they are to make myself.

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One year ago: Stromboli
Two years ago: Maple Oatmeal Scones
Three years ago: Twice-Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar and, Scallions
Four years ago: Mandarin Pancakes

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Asian Lettuce Wraps (adapted from Rasa Malaysia)

Serves 4

I used a combination of ground pork and lean ground beef, but many recipes call for ground chicken. Use whatever lean ground meat you want; I particularly recommend chicken or pork.

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 green onion, finely chopped
chile-garlic sauce (optional)

1 pound lean ground meat
1 tablespoon oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thinly sliced
1 (5-ounce) can water chestnuts, chopped
2 green onions, thinly sliced

1 small head of Boston or Bibb lettuce, leaves separated, rinsed, and dried

Dipping sauce:
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon sriracha (optional)

1. In a large bowl, combine all of the marinade ingredients. Add the ground meat; use a fork or your hands to coat the meat with the marinade, breaking up large chunks. Set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the shallot, garlic, and ginger; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about one minute. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften. Add the chicken with its marinade and the water chestnuts; cook, breaking the meat into small pieces, until no pink remains, about 6 minutes. Stir in the green onions.

3. Combine all of the dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Serve with the meat and lettuce leaves, filling the lettuce just before serving to prevent wilting.

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rice noodle salad with peanut dressing

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I was going through a protein rut recently, where I seemed to be cooking with beans more weeknights than not. We try not to eat meat on weekdays, we take hard-boiled eggs to work everyday as snacks, and cheese has too much fat. So what does that leave me? I’d completely forgotten about soy.

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Think of tofu as a sponge that soaks up flavor. True, on its own, it tastes like water and has a jello-like squishiness, but when you sauté it and soak it in sauce, it’s hardly discernible from chicken, except cheaper and easier to work with. Plus, it won’t dry out like boneless skinless chicken breasts.

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This sauce has plenty of flavor for the tofu to absorb. Ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, and sesame oil, all mixed into creamy peanut butter, make for one heck of a combination. There are plenty of vegetables to provide brightness and crunch.  This was so good we had it two weeks in a row – alternating with dinners involving beans, of course.

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One year ago: Pasta Puttanesca
Two years ago: Asian-Style Chicken Noodle Soup
Three years ago: Pasta with Broccoli, Sausage, and Roasted Red Peppers

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Rice Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing (adapted from Cate’s World Kitchen)

My noodles stuck together in one big clump, so I chopped them up after cooking. I know that’s against standard noodle procedure, but in the end, it worked perfectly.

Serves 4-6

Having made this a bunch more times, I’ve found that it’s even better with the juice of a lime squeezed into the sauce.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound tofu
8 ounces rice noodles (linguine shape)
½ inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
¼ cup warm water
chili garlic sauce to taste (optional)
1 medium cucumber, sliced into half moons
1 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
2 green onions (green parts only), sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Slice the tofu lengthwise into ½-inch thick slabs; pat dry on a dishtowel. Transfer the tofu to the oil and cook, without moving, for 4-6 minutes, until browned on the bottom. Flip the tofu and brown the second side. Remove the tofu from the skillet and cut into bite-sized cubes.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt and the rice noodles; cook until tender. (Check the package instructions for exact cooking times.) Drain and rinse the pasta.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, water, and chili garlic sauce until smooth. Fold the tofu into the sauce, then add the remaining ingredients, reserving some of the green onions and cilantro for a garnish.

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banh mi

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For me, taste will trump authenticity every time. Spaghetti and meatballs is more Italian-American than Italian, most of my favorite sushi rolls didn’t originate in Japan, and Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches include a whole mess of ingredients that aren’t available to me. I don’t want to miss out on any of these foods just because they don’t closely resemble the versions in their original countries.

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I’m not saying that I have no interest in more authentic versions of banh mi. I’m just saying that a sandwich made of grilled meat, pickled vegetables, fresh herbs, and spicy tangy sauce is too good to wait around for daikon radish to show up at my grocery store, because it never will. Regular radishes will have to stand in for the daikon radish. And I’m sure pâté is a particularly luscious addition, but still not one that’s worth the trouble of searching southern New Mexico for it.

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Besides, the mixture of storebought mayo, sriracha, and fish sauce is good enough to make any sandwich tempting. One with tangy pickled vegetables and tender grilled pork, all piled on an airy baguette, has become one of my favorite sandwiches ever. It may be a far cry from its origins, but it’s too good to care.

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One year ago: Cheesecake (comparison of 3 recipes)
Two years ago: Twice-Baked Potato Cups
Three years ago: Banana and Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast

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Vietnamese-Style Grilled Pork Sandwiches (from America’s Test Kitchen Feed)

I used a mixture of Greek yogurt and mayonnaise, heavy on the yogurt, instead of just mayonnaise in the sauce.

Sliced cucumbers are a nice addition, and as you can see, the carrots and radishes work just fine if they’re thinly sliced instead of julienned. (I haven’t figured out how to julienne things on my mandoline.)

Serves 4

½ cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sriracha
4 tablespoons fish sauce
1 (6-inch) piece daikon radish, peeled and julienned
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
¾ cup mayonnaise
1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound)
2 teaspoons five-spice powder
1 (24-inch) baguette, cut into 4 pieces and split partially open lengthwise
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1. Combine vinegar and sugar in microwave-safe bowl. Heat until sugar has dissolved, about 90 seconds. Add 1 tablespoon sriracha, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, daikon, and carrot to bowl and toss to combine. Set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, whisk mayonnaise, remaining 1 tablespoon sriracha, and remaining 2 tablespoons fish sauce together in second bowl.

3. Rub pork with five-spice powder. Grill over hot fire until browned on all sides and pork registers 145 degrees, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest 5 minutes. Grill bread until lightly toasted, about 1 minute.

4. Slice pork crosswise into thin slices. Drain vegetables. Spread mayonnaise on inner sides of bread halves. Arrange slices of pork on bread and top with vegetables and cilantro. Serve.

thai grilled-beef salad

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My habit is that on weekdays, I eat vegetarian and am healthy, and on weekends, I eat meat and am not healthy. I save alcohol and lately even dessert for weekends. It all evens out in the end so that I’m relatively fit and trim, but I’m starting to wonder – would it be so bad to eat meat and be healthy, all at the same time?

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Steak doesn’t have to mean huge T-bones and potatoes. It can mean slivers of beef mixed with herbs and served with cucumbers. This flank steak is seasoned with salt and (white) pepper, grilled and sliced, then dressed with a mixture of lime juice and fish sauce. Toasted white rice powder deepens the flavors while fresh herbs lighten them.

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I wonder how many other great meat-topped salads are out there that I’ve been overlooking. Although even if there aren’t any others worth trying, I’d be perfectly happy making this one over and over again. Eating healthy on weekends doesn’t feel like a sacrifice when it tastes so good – and besides, I still get to have a glass of wine on the side.

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One year ago: Garlic Mustard Glazed Skewers
Two years ago: Seafood Lasagna
Three years ago: Vanilla Ice Cream

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Thai Grilled-Beef Salad (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4 to 6

1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon white rice
3 tablespoons lime juice (from 2 limes)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon sugar
1½ pound flank steak, trimmed
Salt and white pepper, coarsely ground
4 shallots, sliced thin
1½ cups fresh mint leaves, torn
1½ cups fresh cilantro leaves
1 Thai chile, stemmed and sliced thin into rounds
1 seedless English cucumber, sliced ¼ inch thick on bias

1. Heat the paprika and cayenne in an 8-inch skillet over medium heat; cook, shaking the pan, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl. Return the now-empty skillet to medium-high heat, add the rice, and toast, stirring frequently, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a second small bowl and cool for 5 minutes. Grind the rice with a spice grinder, mini food processor, or mortar and pestle until it resembles fine meal, 10 to 30 seconds (you should have about 1 tablespoon rice powder).

2. Whisk the lime juice, fish sauce, water, sugar, and ¼ teaspoon toasted paprika mixture in a large bowl and set aside.

3. For a Charcoal Grill: Open the bottom vent completely. Light a large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When the top coals are partially covered with ash, pour the coals evenly over half of the grill. Set the cooking grate in place, cover, and open the lid vent completely. Heat the grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

For a Gas Grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat the grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave the primary burner on high and turn off the other burner(s).

4. Clean and oil the cooking grate. Season the steak with salt and white pepper. Place the steak over the hot part of the grill and cook until it’s beginning to char and beads of moisture appear on the outer edges of the meat, 5 to 6 minutes. Flip the steak and continue to cook on the second side until charred and the center registers 125 degrees, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes (or allow to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour).

5. Slice the meat, against the grain and on the bias, into ¼-inch-thick slices. Transfer the sliced steak to the bowl with the fish sauce mixture. Add the shallots, mint, cilantro, chile, and half of the rice powder; toss to combine. Transfer to a platter lined with cucumber slices. Serve, passing the remaining rice powder and toasted paprika mixture separately.

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pomegranate-glazed salmon

I’m fortunate that my job doesn’t have a strict start time each morning, because I’m not the most punctual person. I pretty much get there 15 minutes after I intend to everyday. Some days I try to get there early, and those are the only days when I’m on time – but never early.

It gets worse in the kitchen, where the half an hour I expect to spend on a meal turns into an hour, or the one minute I allot to spend photographing a dish turns into five, or the five minutes I’m hoping to spend cleaning takes twenty. So when Dave and I had to leave the house at 5:30pm (about 2½ hours before our normal dinner time), and I told him I was determined to eat dinner first, he was understandably worried.

Not only is this dish simple enough so that I was able to get it made with time to spare (and “time to spare” is not a phrase I get to use often), but it was tasty enough to make again within a week. That sweet-sour glaze was a great compliment to the salmon. Plus, there’s just the tiniest bit of cooking fat in the recipe, which means I ate something healthy on the weekend! This meal was out of character for me in a lot of ways, and I think I like it.

One year ago: Stuffed Mushrooms with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Two years ago: Mulled Cider

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Pomegranate-Glazed Salmon (adapted from Food and Wine via …so many recipes) (via Cara who pointed me in the direction of the recipe in the first place, and then went her own direction with it)

Mix the marinade and the glaze at the same time, since they use so many of the same ingredients. If you don’t keep agave nectar around, just use 4 teaspoons brown sugar instead, in both the marinade and the glaze.

Serves 4

For the marinade:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon agave nectar
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
4 (6-ounce) skinless salmon fillets

For the glaze:
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
½ cup pomegranate juice

1. Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a large, shallow dish. Add the salmon fillets and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour, turning a few times.

2. Make the glaze: Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix all of the glaze ingredients except the pomegranate juice. In a small saucepan, simmer the juice over medium-high heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Stir into the other glaze ingredients.

3. Adjust an oven rack to 4 inches below the broiler; heat the broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil; arrange the salmon fillets, skin side down, on the prepared pan. Season with salt and brush with half of the glaze. Broil for about 3 minutes, until the fillets begin to brown. Brush the fillets with the remaining glaze and broil for about 3 minutes longer, until richly glazed and the fish is just cooked through. Serve immediately.

sauteed cabbage with hot sauce

I don’t know what convinced me to save this recipe. It’s just cabbage. I didn’t even know what sambal oelek was. Molly certainly doesn’t give it the most raving recommendation.

I’m so glad I did though, because I got to see this line again: “…sometimes, when I sit very still and let my mind go to the places where it goes when I don’t stop it, I miss those days so much.” I want to read that over and over. I have read it over and over.

What days am I missing so much?  Does it even matter?  I can think of a few in particular, but there are so many times that I wouldn’t mind going back to visit.  Maybe someday I’ll look back on today and miss it so much.

Fortunately, the cabbage is worth making not just because it accompanies a beautiful blog entry, but because of its flavor and ease. A few simple ingredients provide a salty spicy savory mix to what starts as a rather bland vegetable. Sometimes I miss this cabbage so much.  But then I just go make some more.

One year ago: Applesauce Snack Cake (Don’t let fall pass you by without making this!)
Two years ago: Green Chile Rellenos

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Spicy Sautéed Cabbage (adapted from Orangette)

All of the ingredient amounts in this simple recipe will vary depending on your taste and the size of your cabbage.

½ head green cabbage, quartered, cored, and sliced into ¼-inch-thick ribbons
1 tablespoon canola oil
¼ teaspoon salt
1-3 teaspoons sambal oelek
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Heat a 12-inch not-nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the cabbage, oil, and salt. Add the cabbage mixture to the hot skillet and cook without stirring for 1 minute. Stir in the hot sauce and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is browned and wilted. Stir in the soy sauce; taste for seasoning, adding additional salt or soy sauce if necessary; serve.

honey ginger pork tenderloin

So is the rest of the country grilling yet? Dave and I bought a grill in the middle of January, which, in southern New Mexico, is not at all bad grilling weather. And if you’re feeling jealous about our 70-degree sunshine because you’ve been buried in snow for months, keep in mind that the average high in July is 96 degrees. But it’s a dry heat!

For years, I’ve had to ignore the majority of food magazines in July and August because all of the recipes are designed for grilling. My apartment lifestyle didn’t mesh with my desire to cook outside.

Not anymore! Dave and I have grilled every weekend since we got the grill, and I think that we could possibly be getting the hang of it. Maybe.

After my lifelong grilling drought, I’ve been trying to make as many different recipes as possible – fish, steaks, burgers, boneless skinless chicken, bone-in skin-on chicken, lamb roasts, bacon-wrapped dates, all sorts of vegetables and potatoes, bread, and on and on. We’re grilling machines. This recipe knocked our socks off enough to make it two weekends in a row.

It’s simple too – you mix up a few ingredients, add the pork, and set it in the fridge while you go enjoy your perfect-hiking-weather-in-January. Then you get back from hiking, shower, drink a glass of wine (or take a nap, in Dave’s case), and fire up the grill. While it heats, skewer up some potatoes and vegetables. Spend 20 minutes cooking outside, then sit down to a fantastic, easy, smoky, flavorful meal with some more wine. Toast to the weekend and to winters in the desert.

One year ago: Spinach Bread
Two years ago: Classic Pound Cake (but, I think I’ll stick to this other pound cake from now on, with or without bourbon)

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Honey-Gingered Pork Tenderloins (adapted from Gourmet via

Serves 4-6

¼ cup honey
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup oyster sauce
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh gingerroot
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon ketchup
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
two ¾-pound pork tenderloins, trimmed of silver skin

1. In a small bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients except the pork. Add the pork and the marinade to a gallon-size zipper-top bag and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 1 day.

2. Prepare a medium-hot grill. (You should be able to hold your hands 5 inches above the grate for 3 to 4 seconds.) Remove the pork from the marinade, reserving the marinade.

3. Grill the pork, basting with the reserved marinade, for 12 minutes, turning a quarter turn every 3 minutes. Discard marinade. Continue to cook pork, turning every minute or so, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the tenderloin measures 145 degrees or the meat is slightly pink at the center. Let the pork rest 5 minutes before slicing.

asian-style chicken noodle soup

I don’t get sick very often, which I chalk up mostly to luck (or I guess good genes). It probably also helps that I try to eat bunches of fruits and vegetables, drink a lot of water, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly.

Of course, over the holidays, I tend to grab a cookie instead of a piece of fruit for a snack, and I sleep less, and I drink wine instead of water, and I spend a lot of time indoors, and…blah, this year, I got the Cold From Hell right after Christmas. I spent the better part of three days sitting on the couch with a book, a mug of tea, and a blanket (which sounds nice, yet wasn’t). I did, however, find enough energy to make chicken soup.

I wasn’t in the mood for a traditional version, which just seemed too hearty for how I was feeling. I wanted a gently flavored broth with ginger and leeks instead of more assertive aromatics like onions and carrots. Mushrooms were a light addition and Japanese soba noodles made the soup into a balanced meal.

It definitely hit the spot, which was good because we didn’t eat much besides this and tomato soup for a few days. It seems to have worked, because this morning – finally! – I’m breathing through my nose. I forgot how wonderful that feels.

Two years ago: Pad Thai
One year ago: Pasta with Broccoli, Sausage, and Roasted Red Peppers

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Asian Chicken Noodle Soup

6 main dish servings (probably 12 first-course servings)

My small-town grocery store didn’t have shiitakes, which was very sad, so I used oyster mushrooms. You can use really any type of mushroom, including white button.

2 skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts, 12 to 16 ounces each
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only
1 tablespoon peeled and minced ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups water
4 cups chicken broth
8 ounces soba noodles, broken in half
12 ounces shiitakes, stemmed discarded, caps sliced thin
2 tablespoon rice vinegar
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon chili oil (optional)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
¼ cup chopped cilantro
2 scallions, chopped

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position; heat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat the oil in 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat; swirl to coat the pot evenly with oil. Brown the chicken breasts skin side down until deep golden, 3 to 4 minutes; turn the chicken breasts and brown until they’re golden on the second side, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Place the pot with the chicken in the oven; roast until the thickest part of a breast registers 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 18 to 25 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter and set aside until it’s cool enough to handle, then shred it, discarding the bones and skin.

2. Discard all but about 1 tablespoon of the fat in the Dutch oven. Without rinsing the pot, sauté the leeks, ginger and garlic over medium heat until the leeks are softened, 3-4 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the water and broth; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Add the mushrooms, chicken, and soba to the broth mixture and simmer for about 6 minutes, until the noodles are tender. Stir in the rice vinegar, soy sauce, chile oil, sesame oil, cilantro and scallions. Serve.

thai-style chicken soup (tom kha gai)

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Cooking and eating, I think I manage to do ambitiously. I just really like food, and I want to enjoy it as much as absolutely possible. That means I need to eat whatever is offered to me with an open mind. My desire to try new foods is driven by curiosity, but my desire to cook new recipes is about challenging myself. How much can I learn? How good can I be?

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But I have a weakness when it comes to food, and that is in the shopping. I go to the store with a plan and a list. Occasionally the store will have some seasonal item – long beans, meyer lemons, kaffir lime leaves – but I never buy it. Because what would I make with it? What other ingredients would I need to use it? I never know, and I’m not willing to make more grocery store trips than necessary, so I miss a lot of opportunities to try new ingredients.

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Finally I decided there was at least one produce item that there was no excuse not to try, and that is galangal. It’s often compared to ginger. Ginger has a long shelf life, so I assumed that galangal did too. I could buy it one of those rare times when it was available and ignore it for a week or two until I found a recipe to use it in.

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In the end, I used it in a recipe that doesn’t even require galangal. Cooks Illustrated’s Thai-style chicken soup (their version of tom kha gai) bypasses the need for ingredients that are difficult to find – like galangal – by designing the recipe around readily available prepared red curry paste.

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The curry paste already has galangal in it, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to sweat fresh galangal with the lemongrass, cilantro, shallots and fish sauce. Coconut milk and chicken broth are steeped in the vegetables, and then they’re strained out, leaving you with a sweet, deeply flavored coconut broth, in which thinly sliced mushrooms and chicken are briefly cooked.

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I’ve made this soup for years, and it is good. Really, exceptionally good. The kind of good where I spend the whole meal saying “oh my gosh this is so good!” (which I’m sure is just as annoying as you’d expect). I don’t think adding fresh galangal made a significant difference in the end product, but that’s okay – I got to play around with a new ingredient, and that makes me almost as happy as this soup does.

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Thai-Style Chicken Soup (from Cooks Illustrated)

6-8 as an appetizer, 4 as a main course

I like to skip the serrano chile garnish (and a rarely bother with the scallion and lime garnishes) and add just one chile to the vegetables in step 1. It makes the soup a bit spicy.

This is great as a first course with pad Thai served afterward, or as a simple main dish served over rice.

Cooks Illustrated recommends Chaokoh coconut milk, which is what I’ve always used. For a lighter option, they like A Taste of Thai’s Lite Coconut Milk, but I’ve never been able to find it.

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3 stalks lemon grass, tough outer leaves removed, bottom 5 inches halved lengthwise and sliced thin crosswise
3 large shallots, chopped
8 sprigs fresh cilantro leaves, chopped coarse
3 tablespoons fish sauce
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 (14-ounce) cans coconut milk, well-shaken
1 tablespoon sugar
½ pound white mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise and sliced on bias into ⅛-inch-thick pieces
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice from 2 to 3 limes
2 teaspoons red curry paste (Thai)

½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 serrano chiles, sliced thin
2 scallions, sliced thin on bias
1 lime, cut into wedges

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until just shimmering. Add the lemon grass, shallots, cilantro, and 1 tablespoon fish sauce; cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are just softened, 2 to 5 minutes (vegetables should not brown). Stir in the chicken broth and 1 can of the coconut milk; bring to a simmer over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the flavors have blended, 10 minutes. Pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the solids in the strainer. Rinse the saucepan and return the broth mixture to the pan.

2. Return the pan to medium-high heat. Stir the remaining can of coconut milk and sugar into the broth mixture and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium, add mushrooms, and cook until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add chicken and cook, stirring constantly, until no longer pink, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove soup from heat.

3. Combine lime juice, curry paste, and remaining 2 tablespoons fish sauce in small bowl; stir into soup. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with cilantro, chiles, and scallions. Serve immediately with lime wedges.

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green tea crème brûlée

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Dave’s attitude toward restaurants has changed dramatically over the past few months, and I love it. He used to think of eating out as simply a way to get food with minimal effort; the faster he could get in and out, the better. I remember impatiently waiting for our orders to be taken, for the meal to arrive, and for the server to bring the bill.

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Fortunately, after some fancy work-related dinners, he decided that eating at restaurants can be about more than filling a void. It’s about the whole experience – trying new foods, enjoying the company of your friends, choosing the right drink to compliment your meal. These days when we go out to eat, we take our time, starting with appetizers and ending with dessert and coffee.

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After enjoying green tea crème brûlée at the end of a fancy schmancy Thai meal (which I sadly did not get to share), he kept talking about it later. It’s rare for a dessert to make such an impression on Dave. But crème brûlée is so simple to make at home, it almost seems like a waste to order it in a restaurant.

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From his description, the restaurant’s version arrived in something similar to a tiny trough – a long, narrow oval. Dave specifically requested a similarly shaped dish when I made it at home, as he is full of obnoxiousness. Round ramekins it is!

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But fun dishes is just about the only advantage restaurants have over home cooks when it comes to crème brûlée, which is not hard to make and requires no odd ingredients. Smooth and creamy, with just enough green tea flavor, topped with a crackling layer of caramelized sugar, I can see why Dave thought this was worth ordering out, but I’m glad we can enjoy it at home whenever we want.

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One year ago: Country-Style Sourdough Bread

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Green Tea Crème Brûlée

Makes 4

1¼ cups heavy cream
¼ cup whole milk
⅓ cup + 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
pinch table salt
3 green tea bags (or 1 tablespoon loose tea)
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons brown sugar

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 300ºF.

2. Combine ½ cup cream and the milk, ⅓ cup sugar, and the salt in a medium saucepan; submerge the tea bags in the liquid; bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that the sugar dissolves. Take the pan off of the heat and let the mixture steep for 15 minutes to infuse the flavors.

3. Meanwhile, place a kitchen towel in the bottom of a large baking dish or roasting pan and arrange flour 4- to 5-ounce ramekins (or shallow fluted dishes) on the towel. Bring a kettle or large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat.

4. After the cream has steeped, remove the tea bags or strain the loose tea; stir in the remaining ¾ cup cream to cool down the mixture. Whisk the yolks in a large bowl until they’re broken up and combined. Whisk about half of the cream mixture into the yolks until they’re loosened and combined; repeat with the remaining cream and the extract; whisk until the mixture is evenly colored and thoroughly combined. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a 2-quart measuring cup or pitcher (or clean medium bowl); discard the solids in the strainer. Evenly divide the mixture among the ramekins.

5. Carefully place the baking dish with the ramekins on an oven rack; pour boiling water into the dish, taking care not to splash water into the ramekins, until the water reaches two-thirds height of the ramekins. Bake until the centers of the custards are just barely set and are no longer sloshy, and a digital instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of one ramekin registers 170 to 175 degrees, 30 to 35 minutes (25 to 30 minutes for shallow fluted dishes). Begin checking the temperature about 5 minutes before the recommended time.

6. Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack; cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Set the ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours or up to 4 days.

7. Uncover the ramekins; if condensation has collected on the custards, place a paper towel on the surface to soak up moisture. Mix the 2 teaspoons granulated sugar with the brown sugar. Sprinkle each ramekin with about 1 teaspoon of the sugar mixture; tilt and tap the ramekins for even coverage. Ignite torch and caramelize sugar. Refrigerate the ramekins, uncovered, to re-chill, 30 to 45 minutes (but no longer); serve.