Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Thai yakisoba

Well, no, not really, but this recipe is similar to Japanese yakisoba. It's another dish where noodles are stir-fried in a soy sauce-based sauce, along with meat and greens. It appears as "Soy Sauce Noodles with Beef and Greens" in Quick and Easy Thai. There is another version of it in Real Thai.

The soy sauce in this dish, rather than being shoyu, is kecap manis. This is the sweet dark soy sauce found in southeast Asia; my bottle comes from Indonesia (ABC brand). Three tablespoons of it are mixed with three tablespoons of fish sauce and a half teaspoon each of salt and pepper. The noodles are fettucini-like Thai rice noodles rather than the narrow chukasoba, another difference.

The method is much the same as that used for yakisoba; season the cooking oil with garlic and onion, stir-fry the meat and greens (beef and spinach in this case) and remove from the pan. Add the noodles to the pan and cook, then push them to one side of the pan and add two beaten eggs. Let the eggs almost set, then stir to scramble and mix with the noodles. Return the meat and greens to the pan, add the soy sauce blend, toss and heat through.

This was a nice dinner indeed. The mix of kecap manis and fish sauce gave a sweet yet sharp taste to the sauce, something which none of my yakisoba sauces has had yet. The beef was perfectly done and the noodles sopped up the sauce nicely. Another tasty dish from my new cookbook.

Five cookbooks meme

My blogging friend Obachan tagged me with this meme. It’s a natural because I love books even more than I love cooking.

1. Total number of cookbooks I've owned

An easy question for someone who keeps a book database and whose cooking infatuation is recent enough that I have yet to do a book purge. 42.

2. Last cookbook I bought

Three of them: Quick and Easy Thai and Real Thai by Nancie McDermott, and Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen by Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall.

3. Last food book I read

Real Thai by Nancie McDermott.

4. Five cookbooks that mean a lot to me

(in semi-chronological order)

The Frugal Gourmet by Jeff Smith was the first cookbook I read for fun. It gave me recipes back when I was just learning how to cook for myself, and many of those recipes remain favorites.

Japanese Family-Style Recipes by Hiroko Urakami showed me that I didn’t have to depend on restaurants for good Japanese food; I could cook it myself! This basic lesson surely emboldened me to try cooking other “exotic” cuisines later on.

Asian Ingredients by Bruce Cost gave me a buyer’s guide to my local Asian supermarket, and it introduced me to many foods I never knew existed. Some of them I even came to love.

Everyday Asian by Marnie Henricksson gave me accessible recipes from a host of Asian countries, and presented them in such a simple, friendly and fail-safe fashion that successful results were almost guaranteed. This book gave me a culinary tour beyond Japan and China and encouraged me to explore further.

The Bountiful Container by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey is a bit of a cheating pick (though it does include recipes). This book showed me that I could grow my own produce and eat it, and that the best way of getting some obscure ingredients was to plant them myself.

5. Which five people would you most like to see fill this out in their blog

This meme has already made the rounds, so finding someone who hasn’t been tagged yet is a challenge. pumpkin pie bungalow’s history of the meme was invaluable in trying to come up with a short list.

bacon press
Cuisine Capers
words to eat by

Not that I’m exactly sure how one tags someone. Leaving a random comment on someone’s blog takes a little more gumption than I usually have. Hmm. Maybe I’ll just post this now and get up the gumption for tomorrow. Besides, I have another Thai dinner to blog.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Thai fried rice

Yes, here I am again reporting on something that could be a Thai version of a Chinese classic. "Thai Fried Rice" comes from Quick and Easy Thai; there is also a version in Real Thai. Nancie McDermott comments that fried rice is what a Thai might throw together in a situation where an American might put together a sandwich; it's a simple way of making a meal out of whatever is on hand. Besides, there's usually spare rice available in a Thai household.

Spare rice, in fact, was what got me started on this recipe. After that, it was just a matter of adding some chicken thigh meat and some seasonings. As usual, I forgot about the garnishes and optional additions like sliced cucumbers and lime juice; if I really want to cook Thai, I will have to change that outlook.

The recipe in a nutshell: stir-fry some garlic and half a cup of chopped onion in oil for a minute, then add your meat of choice and stir-fry for two more minutes. Add one beaten egg, let it start setting, then stir to scramble it. Then add the rice, two tablespoons of fish sauce, a teaspoon of sugar and two chopped scallions. Heat through.

On a side note, getting more than one cookbook at once is an exercise in applied indecision. Suddenly there are all these wonderful new dishes to try. There may be new ingredients or tools to acquire. So many possibilities, so little time! At times like these, it's hard for me to sit down and just pick one of the many tempting options. To make matters worse, now I am reading my new Korean cookbook, and that is giving me more tempting ideas. I know it's popular to bemoan the glut of cookbooks and the equivalent drop in home-cooking, as cooking becomes a spectator sport. But I only get cookbooks I want to cook from and then I cook from them. I guess I thought that was how it was supposed to work.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Chicken and cashews, Thai-style

By way of celebrating a new job, I got some new cookbooks. Two were Thai cookbooks by Nancie McDermott, Quick and Easy Thai and Real Thai. Last night I cooked my first dish from Quick and Easy Thai, "Chicken with Cashews and Chilies." There is a very similar recipe in Real Thai; there is a lot of overlap between the two books, but Real Thai places the dishes in a regional context and adds some recipes that are not "quick and easy," such as those for curry pastes.

I went mild on the chiles, using one dried serrano chile. My dried serranos are pretty old by now and I think they've lost most of their punch. I overcooked the chicken pieces, but it still ended up tasting pretty good. Leftovers were even better tonight when served over a plate of hot jasmine rice. The flavorful chicken and the simple rice were perfect foils for each other.

I'm due for a couple of postdated restaurant reviews from last weekend when I was out of town.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Land Ho!

In a whirlwind trip of a few days, there isn't enough time to do an extensive restaurant tour of the Cape. Besides, there's always the desire to stay home and just eat in. That was Friday night, when my mother took a semi-random selection of leftovers and put together a delicious chicken and gravy dinner. There wasn't enough time for me to cook for my parents, either, but hopefully there will be next time. After some waffling on Saturday, we decided to eat out before I headed home the next day. We decided to have an early dinner at Land Ho! in Orleans because the food is good and the setting is casual.

Arriving early was the right idea; although the season is just starting on the Cape, Land Ho! is always a popular hangout and never more so than on a Saturday night. It has a casual bar-type atmosphere and the decor is dominated by a raft of signs and license plates hanging from the walls and ceiling. It can get loud, but the noise level wasn't too bad this time. The clientele encompasses everyone from locals out for a simple dinner to vacationers looking for a night on the town.

I had the fried shrimp, a traditional choice. You get a basket of medium-sized shrimp with a crisp fried coating and a dish of cocktail sauce. Unfortunately, the shrimp weren't local on this night, because a red tide stretching down from Maine has wiped out the local shellfishery this season. The red tide is the biggest news story on the Cape right now, as many locals have lost their livelihoods. It is the worst it has been for years. It's a sobering instance of how precarious a living fishing can be.

My mother had a roast beef sandwich au jus with extra gravy. My dad had a cheeseburger and let me sample some; it was rich and juicy, just a phenomenally good burger. I have to say I've had some great burgers lately. A hamburger can be awfully routine or worse, even bad, but when it's cooked well, you regain your faith in at least one eternal American verity.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

In the lockup

A few years ago, my parents retired to Cape Cod. Before long, they started discovering a host of terrific restaurants in their new stomping grounds. This always makes it a pleasure to go visit, since there is a great variety of good food and different ambiences from which to choose.

I took a long weekend on the Cape just before starting my new job. The night I arrived, we ate at the Old Jailhouse Tavern in Orleans. The Jailhouse is a perennial favorite of ours, since it carries a range of food from burgers and sandwiches on up to some truly gourmet creations. In summer, it's nice to sit out on the porch (as we did this time) and admire the gardens.

Tonight I splashed out and ordered a swordfish special. I love swordfish, but I don't eat it very often any more. I will never forget the best swordfish I've ever had, a melt-in-your-mouth swordfish steak at Menz Restaurant in Cape May; it must have been right off the boat. The Jailhouse swordfish didn't quite attain that level of nirvana, but it was an awfully good piece of fish; firm and with good flavor. It was adorned with a wonderful lemon and white wine sauce and capers. The sauce was rich and creamy and was good enough to have on its own, but the fish stood up to the flavorful sauce. There were a lot of intriguing specials on the menu this night, but once chosen, the swordfish proved to be the right choice. I'm going to have to see if I can recreate that sauce.

Unfortunately, I forget what my mother had, but my father had a big fruit salad. That may not sound like the most exciting thing in the world, but all of the fruit was beautifully ripe. There was melon, pineapple, blueberries and, most noteworthy of all, it was topped by a single slice of starfruit. That was a very nice touch.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Thai leftovers

It's hot. It's busy. I'm about to head for parts to the north. So this will be a catch-up post of sorts.

The other night, I cooked a Thai dish from From Bangkok to Bali in Thirty Minutes. I tried "Fat Noodles with Fresh Chillies and Mint Leaves." For ground meat, I used ground pork from the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmer's Market. I omitted the quartered cherry tomatoes and used Tabasco sauce instead of fresh chilies. There was no noticeable spiciness to the final dish, but it was quite salty from the fish sauce. It was more than edible for dinner tonight (especially given that it was coolly refrigerated and the evening is stiflingly hot), but not quite what the recipe had intended. I bet the tomatoes would cut the saltiness.

On Saturday night, after a long day's birding trip, we visited a Texas Roadhouse in Cumberland County. My "light" dish of sirloin tips on seasoned rice knocked me back as much as the other night's stir-fry. I'm starting to wonder if beef is getting to be too much for me.

Two Thai cookbooks and one Korean cookbook are on their way to me from the electronic motherlode of things to be ordered with a click (hint: begins with "A," used to mean a woman warrior).

In the garden, the spinach has bolted and the cilantro is doing so now, but the Thai basil is starting to produce some lush leaves, the Asian greens and lettuce are hanging in there, the mitsuba is sending out new leaves all over, the pea plant is flowering (if one flower so far = flowering) and the the tomato plant that was nursed through the winter and seemed to be at death's door has three green tomatoes on it, in addition to plenty of flowers.

There, I think that covers it. Thank you for your support.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Pan-fried chicken strips

It’s been a while since I cooked this dish, which is a shame because it’s so easy, fast and tasty. It comes from The Frugal Gourmet and is one of those dishes that quickly became a standby as soon as I tried it, back when I was a culinary neophyte.

You can find a slightly adapted version of the recipe here. This time around, I used fresh lemon juice from a couple of leftover lemon slices and a bit more marsala than what is recommended. The sauce was sweet and light, just terrific. I think this was my most successful attempt at this dish to date. Using real marsala (not the salted cooking variety) undoubtedly helped. The leftovers were equally excellent when poured over some leftover jasmine rice the next day.

Although this is not an Asian recipe (the Frug’s attribution for the recipe is “Italy-China-San Francisco”), it fits comfortably into the Chinese vein of seasoning some oil, stir-frying some meat, then creating a simple sauce and heating the ingredients through.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Beef knockout stir-fry

If you’d asked what my favorite meal was when I was a kid, I would’ve told you it was a hamburger, french fries and a Coke. If you’d asked me sometime later than that (college years and up, I suppose), I would’ve cast my vote for a really good piece of prime rib, like the one I had at the Algonquin Hotel before going to see a tribute to Bill Evans at the JVC Jazz Festival years ago. (We saw Dave McKenna at the Algonquin, too, which made the evening even better.) These days, I’m inclined to smirk and say I’ll never become a vegetarian because of prime rib.

So last night I cook myself a light little beef stir-fry and am completely knocked out for the evening. This wasn’t a huge slab of meat; it was some sliced sirloin, and not even as much as I usually use. I used Gloria Bley Miller’s recipe for “Basic Stir-Fried Beef I” from The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook. It calls for a pound of vegetables; I used bamboo shoots and a mix of spinach and Asian greens from the garden (bok choy, mizuna and heaven knows what else). I poured all of it over rice, which soaked up the juices nicely. It was pretty tasty, and it seemed like a light meal, but I guess it wasn’t. Either that, or my body is finding that it needs less and less meat as it gets older.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Veggies take your marks

It's June. The weather is warming up. It's a nice time of year in New Jersey. Unfortunately, this also means that the spinach is feeling frisky.

Cold weather vegetables like spinach do something called "bolting" when the weather really starts warming up and sunlight fills more hours of every day. My spinach has started shooting up into long scraggly plants with small barbed leaves. They have also started developing something that may turn into flowers some day, that is, if I don't pull out all the unproductive spinach first and replace those plants with a warm weather substitute like amaranth.

My other cool weather vegetables (like lettuce) have yet to bolt. Not all of my spinach has bolted yet, either. At least I can plant it again later in the season for a fall crop.