Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Thai Red Curry with Shrimp and Bell Peppers

OK, so I unceremoniously dropped this blog for over a year.  Mea culpa.  But, in my defense, I was pregnant and didn't want to think about food, and then I had a newborn at home and had no time to think about food.  But, now I've started experimenting in the kitchen again, and it's time to start sharing. 

My husband is a big fan of Thai food.  I didn't grow up eating Thai food, so this is largely uncharted territory for me.  Uncharted territory is fun to explore.  I don't feel hemmed in by lots of pre-existing expectations.  This red curry is my best Thai dish so far:  there's lots of variety in the texture, it has a good balance of sweet and spicy flavor, and the cilantro and basil combination adds a nice bright note on the finish.  It's satisfying without being heavy.  Major pluses:  it's healthy, easy to prepare, and doesn't take a huge amount of time or make a huge mess.  I was only in the kitchen for 30 minutes, and cleaning up only took 5 minutes. 

You can make your own curry paste if you're adventurous and have lots of extra time, but it's much easier to buy a can or jar of red curry paste from the "ethnic" aisle of the grocery store.  I've been told that this is what most Thai cooks do in practice as well.  Adjust the spiciness to suit your preference:  each tablespoon of curry paste is a "star" at a Thai restaurant.  One star is mild, two or three is medium, more than three is quite spicy.  Personally, I go for two to three. 

Keys to this dish:  Use uncooked shrimp and be careful not to overcook them.  Use fresh spices.  It's not important to be precise with the exact amount of each ingredient, but it is important to be precise about timing.  Don't omit or substitute for the coconut milk.  However, you can sub canola oil instead of peanut oil if you have a nut allergy. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Best Guacamole Yet

Here's one for all you football fans: delicious homemade guacamole for Superbowl Sunday. Guacamole is a favorite in this house. My husband's eyes light up whenever I make a batch. I like to spoon it onto turkey tacos, Mexican salads, or use it as a dip for just about any finger food you could imagine. I've experimented with several different guac recipes and this is my favorite one so far. It's fresh and packed with flavor. Mmm yum.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Basque Chicken with Bell Peppers

This delicious braised chicken hails from the Basque region, where the cuisine shows both French and Spanish influences. Chicken is simmered with spices, flavorful pancetta, and bell peppers. The result is tender, flavorful meat that falls off the bone, and a delicious homemade stock. Use a whole chicken that is cut up into 8 pieces so it will easily fit in a soup pot. Sometimes you can find "cut up chicken" at the grocery store (for example, our neighborhood Trader Joe's has it). If not, buy a whole roasting chicken and use a very sharp knife to slice off the wings, drumsticks, and thighs, then split the breasts down the center. Do not remove the bones or skin before cooking -- these add wonderful rich flavor to the stock.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Moet & Chandon Imperial Champagne: one for a special occasion

Normally I won't spend much money on a bottle of bubbles, but every once in awhile I think it's worth it to spring for the real deal. It is actually illegal to call a sparkling wine "champagne" unless it is from the French region Champagne. Moet & Chandon easily justifies its place on the list of best-selling non-vintage champagnes in the world. Well-balanced with hints of ripe pear, this champagne is just off-dry with a lovely clean finish. Save it for a special occasion that demands just the right toast. $32 at Costco.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Drunken Fig Crostini with Prosciutto and Roquefort

Decadent in the extreme, this is a perfect appetizer for a fancy winter meal or holiday party. Spread a little bleu cheese on freshly toasted crostini, add a bit of prosciutto, and crown with wine-soaked figs. These delectable little treats disappeared in minutes when I made them for my in-laws. Fortunately I was smart enough to reserve a couple for myself in the kitchen - they were gone before I even made it to the dinner table! Garnish with walnuts for a nice counterpoint to the sweet-savory flavors of this delicious finger food. Serves 8-10 (assuming each person has two).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Spinach Artichoke Dip - a hot appetizer for a cold day

I suspect even veggie-haters would enjoy this creamy spinach artichoke dip. Fresh garlic and crushed red pepper give it just a little zing without overpowering. Simple to make, it works well as a hot appetizer or party hors d'oeuvre.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Oma's Buttermilk Pancakes: pure food chemistry

There are dozens of recipes for pancakes floating around on the web, but few that explain the chemistry of a perfect pancake. We often trust the wisdom of ages ("grandma's pancakes") without understanding why certain pancake recipes work better than others. By the way, this actually is an old family recipe, just in case anyone wondered about the truth of the title.

Sodium bicarbonate is the real magic behind a fluffy pancake. It leavens pancake batter by reacting with an acid to produce carbon dioxide bubbles. Baking powder (sodium bicarbonate + phosphate + corn starch) is a kind of all-in-one way to create this leavening reaction. Phosphates are a type of acid. One common type of phosphate found in baking powder is sodium aluminum sulfate, which creates a tinny aftertaste. However, if no other acid is present in a pancake recipe, it is necessary to use baking powder to create a fluffy cake.

Buttermilk pancakes do not require the use of baking powder. Baking soda, which is just pure sodium bicarbonate with no added phosphates, can be used instead. Lactic acid in the buttermilk will react with baking soda to leaven the batter. Do note -- buttermilk is not milk with butter in it. Most commonly available buttermilk is regular milk that has been cultured and fermented. Its flavor is reminiscent of plain yogurt.

Why use oil instead of butter in pancake batter? Pancakes should be cooked on a hot pan for optimum texture, and butter burns quickly at high temperature. Blackened pancakes are a disaster in anyone's book! Oil will not burn, and helps create a nicely browned cake that doesn't stick to the pan.

This batter yields a lightly sweet, fluffy pancake. I call for a tablespoon of sugar, but two may be used for a sweeter cake. Top these cakes with whipped cream and fresh fruit, nutella, fruit preserves, or maple syrup and butter. As written, this recipe makes enough pancakes for our family of two plus a little one. Double it for a family of four. Enjoy on a lazy weekend morning.