While the dinner at Red Fish and the brunch at Signe’s were both delectable, I didn’t pass up the offer to cook while on vacation. We usually celebrate my mother in law’s birthday over this trip, so I was asked to make dinner for that night. And this year, this was a big one for her, so I was more than happy to cook and let her enjoy the grandkids. Since we’d already eaten seafood, I opted for another fresh, summery idea and made a marinated flank steak with avocado relish, allowing us to take advantage of fresh cool ingredients and the poolside grill. Plus, the guys felt as if they contributed since they got to do the grilling, which Chris claims is “his territory”. I say, “no fair” ’cause I like grilling too.
If you can’t tell from the previous posts about red and green curry dishes, I am quite a fan of Thai cuisine. And if you like peanut sauce, you should most definitely check this out. But what I have yet to discuss, after almost 3 months of blogging, is one of my favorites, possibly everyone’s favorite Thai dish, Pad Thai.
I am no stranger to the neighborhood Thai joints that frequent the streets of Chicago. In graduate school, a friend of mine discovered this great little noodle shop just off the Diversey brown line called Satay. If my memory isn’t pullin’ my leg, I’d have to say this is the first place I ever tried Pad Thai. Despite trying this stir-fried dish at multiple eateries since, Satay’s version has sustained a hold of the top spot for Pad Thai for more reasons than taste alone: their tofu cooking method, price – 8 bucks, BYOB policy of the restaurant (and to boot – no charge), quantity of food being enough to feed a medium-sized country, proximity to public transportation, and the weird chatty waiter who serves it, David. And even with a lovely Thai eatery right near our house, I can’t bring myself to order their Pad Thai again. Because of Satay’s? Maybe. Because there are a thousand other good dishes there? Another maybe. But either way, Satay has undoubtedly left a mark and provided a meal that no other establishment could provide.
Until recently. After multiple iterations, I think I have finally concocted a satisfyingly awesome bowl of Pad Thai. Finally. Every time I changed something, there was something else to change. Ah, the fun of recipe tweaking. And unfortunately for you, the fact that I eyeball mostly everything these days (except when baking) suggests that even the recipe I’ve provided might not be perfect. Hence, that one bowl may be the best I’ll ever have at my place. But boy was it somethin’.
Pad Thai facts: Key ingredients are rice noodles, eggs, fish sauce, tamarind, and chili pepper. It’s generally garnished with a lime slice, crushed peanuts and cilantro, with various forms of protein added. It’s a national dish of Thailand. There’s a couple of versions of Pad Thai: the traditional (as in the version below) is dry and light (non-greasy), and the “restaurant type” is heavier and tends to be covered in oil.
Serves 4-6; depending on hunger & ability to stop eating
I think the key is the method of cooking the tofu. You really have to dry it out good, otherwise it gets all soggy. The sprinkling of cornstarch also helps to give it a little crunch without frying it.
1 package (12.3oz) extra firm tofu
1 T cornstarch
8 oz flat uncooked rice noodles
2 T tamarind concentrate (or strained tamarind paste)**
2 T rice wine vinegar
3 T sugar
4 T reduced sodium soy sauce*
2 T fish sauce*
1-2 T Sriracha (or less, if you’re a wuss)
1 1/2 t fresh grated ginger
2 T peanut oil, divided (unrefined if you have it)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 cup fresh bean sprouts, optional
1/2 cup carrots, matchstick, optional
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 T chopped cilantro
2 T unsalted, dry roasted, peanuts, chopped
4 lime wedges
1. Drain tofu. I start this the night before by taking it out of the tray and sitting it on top of a dish towel in a round cake pan. I cover the tofu with another dish towel and put another cake pan upside down, and then i put something really heavy on top and put it in the fridge. If the towels are soaked, I do another round before cooking. You could easily do this for 30 min to 1 hour before cooking, but if it’s not drained it will lead to that soggy texture. After it’s drained, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and toss in bowl with cornstarch. Set aside.
2. Prepare noodles according to package directions, without salt. Drain and set aside. (If you make these first, I’d rinse them with cold water after cooking stop the cooking once you take them out of the boiling water – otherwise they will overcook while sitting in the strainer – you re-warm them in the skillet anyway)
3. Combine tamarind through ginger in small bowl. Heat 1 T oil in non-stick skillet over med-hi. Add tofu and saute for about 7 minutes, until golden. Remove from pan and set aside.
4. Heat 1 t oil in pan. Add eggs and egg white; cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Removed and add to bowl w/ tofu.
5. Heat remaining 2 t oil. Add noodles and cook for ~3 minutes. Stir in liquid mixture; cook ~30 seconds. Add egg and tofu back in along with bean threads and cook for about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat. Stir in onions and cilantro.
6. Divide among 4 plates, top with lemon wedge and crushed peanuts.
*If you need a gluten-free version, buy Thai Kitchen brand. The Tamari brand at Whole Foods also advertises a gluten-free soy sauce that can also be purchased low-sodium.
**Tamarind is hard to find. Sorry. I buy tamarind concentrate from The Chopping Block in Chicago or the Spice House. Even Amazon.com. You can instead buy a block of tamarind paste at asian markets. Put a chunk in boiling water and let it soak for a while, then drain and you’ll have concentrate.
I’m not sure what led me to make a tart for Battle Strawberry. It was clearly poor planning on my part. Although I should insert here, that I used to be a really good, I mean really really good, planner. I just plan a lot less now than I used to. Ask Chris, and he might tell you that it’s utterly frustrating. But that’s because he pretends to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants-kinda-guy and in the past has gotten away with that by hiding behind my organization. Well now, now he whines because we don’t plan, or at least we don’t plan as good as “we” used to.
But when I was deciding what to make for the Iron Chef party, I forgot that this week in school was “tart & pie week”. I also forgot that I’d be eating a (frozen) goat cheese & asparagus quiche I made a couple weeks ago for lunch all week. You may be wondering what the real problem is here. tsk tsk. There isn’t one, really. It’s just that almost every meal this week (and snack) is in “pie-form”. I suppose it’s just plain weird is what it is. And it’s a lot of butter… especially before a beach weekend. Yikes!
Pâte Brisée shell
Adapted from Professional Baking, 5th Edition; serves 6-8
4 oz graham cracker crumbs
2 oz sugar
2 oz melted butter
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
5 oz key lime juice or lime juice (freshly squeezed, but bottled works too)
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
whipped cream, optional
Preheat to 350. Mix sugar and crumbs in bowl. Add butter and mix with hands until all is wet. Press into sprayed pie plate/tin, and press up the sides. Use another shell to place on top to even out the mixture. Bake alone for 4 minutes.
Mix milk with lightly beaten eggs. Add in juice. If you want color, add food color too. Pour into baked shell and bake for 20-25 minutes, until “jiggly but firm”. Let cool. Add whipped cream, if using.
This time we had a more intimate gathering, with 7 competitors and 14 dishes in the running. Just as before, each dish was awesome, and we had a balanced selection of savories vs sweets. My favorite this time was Lindsay’s baked brie w/ homemade strawberry preserves. mmmmmmm….. And my favorite for the theme was Terri’s strawberry soup. I tell ya, for a group of girls who (some) claimed intimidation in cooking with a chef-in-training, you’d never know it by the look and taste of everyones’ creations. I feel lucky to get to hang out with such a lovely group of girls, and the fact that they are all great cooks is just the icing on the cake!
2nd Place: Heather’s Strawberry-Mascarpone Tart w/ Balsamic-Thyme Glaze
3rd Place: Rachel’s Mini Strawberry Shortcakes
The Winning Recipe:
adapted from Cooking Light magazine – measurements are definitely estimated, and although the original recipe called for store-bought pizza crust, I made my own and will include those instructions as well.
One batch pizza dough (recipe below; can also used store-bought 12oz crust)
1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup trimmed watercress
1/2 t EVOO
1 t lemon juice (I used Meyer, can use regular)
salt & pepper
1/4 cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 T shelled, toasted pistachios, chopped
3/4 c warm water
1 envelope dry yeast
2 cups (or more) AP flour
1 t sugar
3/4 t salt
3 T olive oil
Basic pizza dough
If you haven’t heard, I’ve been making a lot of bread products lately. In class, we’ve learned how to make all sorts of baked delicacies – muffins, biscuits, 4-grain, foccacia and challah breads. We even learned how to make eclairs – those were a hit and a half with the folks at the office. Despite my excitement regarding the outcome of that gorgeous, perfectly braided (well, perfect enough) challah loaf, not to mention my tender hand muscles from kneading for two nights straight, the pages of my baking book kept somehow turning themselves to the recipe for pumpernickel. And then, as if the Oklahoma blogger were reading my mind, she invited another blogger to her ranch where they made the prettiest darn bread I’ve ever seen. You might imagine, this sealed my fate, and prolonged the hankerin’ for a warm, dark, intensely flavored slice of pumpernickel.
I imagined it a number of different ways – warm (smoking, even) with butter melting into it, or perhaps toasted with cream cheese and smoked salmon inside, and the best – just plain, as my afternoon snack at work. Oh, and in the freezer – so I could pull it out whenever I wanted it!
2 packages of active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups water
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4 T unsalted butter
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 cups rye flour
3 cups bread flour
1 cup oat bran
2 T caraway seeds
1/2 t fennel seeds
1 T salt
1 T instant espresso powder
1 T minced shallots
1/4 cup cornmeal (optional)
1 T all purpose flour (optional)
1 t caraway seeds (optional)
1. In a small bowl, combine yeast & sugar with warm water. Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. This ensures your yeast is alive :)
2. Heat 2 cups water, molasses, vinegar, butter & chocolate until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set aside, and let cool to warm so it doesn’t kill the yeast.
3. Combine whole-wheat, rye, and bread flours in a large bowl. Set aside.
4. In a bowl of a heavy mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 2 cups mixed flours, bran, seeds (can grind prior to adding if desired), salt, espresso, and shallots. At low speed, add yeast and chocolate mixtures. (I added salt after adding yeast because I am paranoid and my baking teacher always said to add salt last).
So anyway, after pondering various ideas, we came to a solution that will avoid both of the former scenarios. We’d feed the “non-fat” cat on the counter, since she can jump up with ease and the “fat” cat can’t, and we’d switch my cat to canned food to easily portion it out and guarantee that the other cat won’t eat it, since she refuses canned food. In trying out various brands of canned food, I’ve realized a thing or two. Some of them are true delicacies, especially for a cat! One kind I bought her was called “Savory salmon w/ lentils & ginger”. I mean, c’mon. It’s no wonder she didn’t like it. And after trying 5 different brands, I’ve come to the conclusion that she, like me, has turned into a Whole Foods snob! Their brand was the only one she ate every flavor of, and the only one she ate with pure excitement. Some, despite her normal tendency to eat all things in sight, were left untouched – overnight. Who would have thought a cat would be able to pick out organic cat food. Fortunately, their foods, unlike human food, are not too much more expensive than the brands at Petsmart.
And so, in my attempt to find tasty, nutritious, balanced food for my cat, I also went on a mission to find ingredients for my weekend meals. Once I got over the fact that my cat and I now shop at the same store, I was then faced with the frustration of the WF move. The WF I normally buy groceries from is expanding and jumping a block south next month, so finding all ingredients I need at one store was like finding pizza in Chinatown. But no worries, because Dirk’s Seafood was just around the corner, and I knew they’d have the final ingredient on my list, mussels. Oh, I do love mussels.
And, I love curry, and Thai food in general, so a Thai version of clam chowder with mussels instead of clams was right on par with something I’d cook.
I did make some changes to the original recipe. I’d gone to an Asian grocery a while back and stocked up on some hard-to-find ingredients, so I had Kaffir lime leaves and thai chiles in the freezer. I still added more lime flavor. I’m sure if you can’t find Kaffir lime leaves you could leave them out, but they do add a lot of Thai-ness to the dish. Actual kaffir limes look a lot like regular limes but are sort of bumpy, and they’re smaller. The leaves look like two leaves stuck together. And thai chilies can be bought in little bags with tons in one bag. They both freeze well and last a long time. The ones I had in the freezer are over a year old and are just as fragrant as when I bought them. Also, the recipe called for scallops, and that didn’t seem as good as more shrimp to me. So I doubled the shrimp and took out the scallops. And last, the recipe had no ginger! So I added some.
I tell you, straight up, this is one of the easiest dishes I’ve made in a long time. It’s full of veggies, seafood, and exotic, complex flavors. It’s actually healthy, although it looks too creamy to be low-fat. But it is. People get real excited about mussels, and the fact of the matter is that they really are a piece of cake to prepare. You literally dump them in a pot and close the lid. Voila. That being said, this recipe would be a true crowd-pleaser and a sure thing for company. And for those with dietary issues – gluten & dairy-free. Need I say more?
Thai Green Curry w/ Seafood
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2009; Serves 4
2 T unrefined peanut oil (could use standard refined but will not be as robust)
5 green onions, chopped, dark green parts separated from white and pale green parts
3 T minced fresh cilantro, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 T Thai green curry paste
1 1/4 cups water
1 can coconut milk (light works just fine)
2 red Thai chilies (or 1 red jalepeno chile)
2 kaffir lime leaves (or 2 T lime juice + 1 t zest)
zest of 1/2 lime
juice of 1/2 lime
1 t fresh grated ginger
1 T fish sauce (Thai kitchen brand is gluten free)
1 large carrot, peeled, thinly cut diagonally
4 cups thinly sliced bok choy
1 lb uncooked medium shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 lb green or black mussels, scrubbed, debearded
2 T chopped fresh basil
2 cups cooked white arborio rice
2. Add curry paste; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add water, coconut milk, chiles, lime leaves, lime zest, lime juice, ginger, and fish sauce. Bring to simmer. Add carrot; cover and cook until carrot is just tender, about 5 minutes.
3. Layer bok choy, shrimp & mussels in pan. Cover & simmer until mussels open and shrimp & bok choy are cooked, about 5 minutes.
4. Stir in dark green parts of onions, 2 T remaining cilantro, and basil.
5. Divide rice among 4 bowls. Ladle curry mixture over rice & serve.
Wrong answer! One of the reasons I started cooking so much in the first place was the ability to be more in control of what I ate. Yes, me, wanting more control. Who woulda thought?! It’s too easy to live in Chicago (or any other city with great food) and pack on the poundage. There are way too many Thai restaurants with wonderfully fried tofu pad thai and curries, Italian restaurants with “family style” servings of chicken alfredo & parmesan (not to mention a thousand types of bruschetta), and definitely too many neighborhood bakeries with the cutest little cupcakes that of course, have the creamiest icing on top. I agree with the everything in moderation motto, but for me, I can’t really moderate what I eat if it’s already in front of me :). So along with keeping portion control in check, I’ve tried to find and make recipes that are delectable but don’t (always) leave me wondering how many hours of exercise I owe myself.
One of the great things about this recipe is that it’s loaded with veggies, unlike your typical alfredo dish with just fettucine, chicken, and gopping thick sauce. It’s colorful too, so very easy on the eyes. Oh, and instead of just chicken, there is also kielbasa, and the chicken has cajun seasoning to spice it up a bit. I think next time I’ll add even more. The sauce is creamy and yummy, but made with evaporated milk instead of cream & one egg yolk instead of butter. I am willing to bet that the use of the bowtie pasta wasn’t a random idea, as the folds and crinks encase some of the sauce, and that way it seems to last longer even if there is less of it.
Lite Pasta Alfredo w/ Cajun Chicken & KielbasaAdapted from Cuisine at Home; serves 4
4 oz uncooked farfalle (bowtie) pasta
1/2 cup evaporated 2% milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg yolk
salt & pepper
1/8 t nutmeg, freshly grated
8 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into strips
1 T Cajun seasoning (preferably no-salt version)
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cups button mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz kielbasa, cut into half moon slices
1 cup peas, frozen
1 green onion, sliced thin, for garnish
Cook farfalle accoring to package directions. Drain and reserve 1/4 cup of pasta liquid. Set pasta aside.
Meanwhile, combine milk, cheese, & yolk. Add in salt, pepper, nutmeg. Set aside.
Sprinkle Cajun seasoning on chicken and toss to coat. Spray large skillet with cooking spray and heat over med-hi. Saute chicken ~4 mins on each side until fully cooked. Remove and set aside. Add onions, pepper, mushrooms, garlic, kielbasa to skillet and cook ~4 mins until kielbasa begins to brown. Add 1/4 cup of pasta water to deglaze; scrape up browned bits and let simmer until water has almost evaporated.
Add in chicken, pasta, & peas. Stir to heat all ingredients and to break up frozen peas. Pour in alfredo sauce and simmer until thickened. Divide among 4 plates (or if you’re like me, 2 plates and two tupperwares) and garnish with green onion and a little cheese.
*Side note: I made a quick salad to go with – baby arugula with cherry tomatoes & English cucumbers. Made a quick tomato vinaigrette (1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, 2 T red wine vinegar, 2 t EVOO, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, salt, pepper mixed in processor). The salad was a great addition and went well with the pasta.