Something like this

For whatever reason, it has become abundantly clear to me, this week, that summer is LONG gone, fall is about to wear out its welcome, and winter is fast-approaching.

Maybe in your part of the world you’re sitting out in the still-warmish sun, wearing your flippies, and still enjoying the leaves falling, changing colors. Maybe you’re wearing your jacket (the one you can barely call a jacket because it’s so damn thin), but the gloves are still packed away, and maybe you’re trying to squeeze in another grill-fest or make another batch of iced tea. Maybe your scarf is just an accessory, rather than a neccessity.

If that’s you, please shush yourself. I’m quick to report that I’d be extremely jealous, and if you were in front of me bragging about your gorgeous weather, I’d contemplate punching you in the groin, and if you were on Facebook I’d highly consider de-friending you. I’m that jealous, people. It’s weeks like this that I wonder why I don’t live back in the south, or in California, or New Mexico, or freakin’ Jamaica.

Have I told you I can be a bit dramatic? It’s not really that cold…and to be perfectly honest, what troubles me most about this weather is the fact that I’ll soon have to start wearing socks every day, and every night I go to sleep. I hate socks. I like to expose my wonky toes to the world, donning sandals and flats, and even flippies although those were put away a month ago, thank you.

Yesterday, I reached into the depths of a closet and out came one of my gramma’s handmade quilts. And even though I hated the fact that I was cold enough to need it, once I wrapped myself up in it, I sorta had a change of heart. I was warm, and I was home, and in a matter of moments I’d be gobbling up a bowl full of this soup.

This soup, I tell you. When you have flavors of curry and coconut and lime at your tongue, you realize the weather outside doesn’t matter much.  You realize that one of the many inherited blankets you have in your possession is oh so comforting, and even though the sandals are no more, the gloves much needed, and the snow not far away, it doesn’ t quite matter as long as you come home – to something like this.

Coconut Red Curry ‘Hot Pot’ w/ Braised Chicken & Mushrooms
adapted from Cooking Light, October 2010; serves 4 as main, 6 as first course

time commitment: less than 1 hour; 30 minutes active time

a traditional hot pot is an ultra hot bowl of broth where the meat is generally thinly sliced and cooked tableside in the pot. the meat here, as well as the ‘shrooms, is braised prior to serving, but the Thai flavors are still present, still tasty.

printable version

ingredients
2  14 oz cans  fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
2 stalks chopped peeled fresh lemongrass
5  (1/4-inch) slices fresh ginger
2 Thai chiles
1 1/2  T  red curry paste
1  (4-ounce) package presliced exotic mushroom blend (such as shiitake, cremini, and oyster)
8  oz  skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1  (13.5-ounce) can light coconut milk
1  T  Thai fish sauce
2  t  brown sugar
1/3  c  thinly diagonally cut green onions
3  T  fresh lime juice
6  T  coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, divided
5  oz  uncooked wide rice noodles

instructions
Bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; stir in lemongrass, ginger, and chiles. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 30 minutes. Strain through a sieve over a bowl; discard solids. Return broth to pan; add curry paste, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; cook 2 minutes or until tender. Stir in chicken; cook 3 minutes or until chicken is done. Add coconut milk, stirring well to combine. Stir in fish sauce and sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; stir in onions, juice, and 1/4 cup cilantro.

Cook noodles according to package directions; drain (if your noodles are like mine and the package writing is in another language, this won’t help… rice noodles are generally soaked in water for 30 minutes, then cooked in boiling water for 3-4 minutes; cook noodles right before serving, and not in advance). Add noodles to coconut milk mixture. Ladle 1 cup soup into each of 4-6 bowls; sprinkle evenly with remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro.

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Whine & Brine

I’m sure we all have a list of pet peeves, correct? I mean let’s get real here, people, it’s not a crime to be annoyed by things, so let’s not waste time pretending we’re one of those “shiny happy people” 24/7, ok?

Raise your hand if you can think of at least 5 pet peeves. If you can’t, I’ll give you a dollar. I’m gonna share 5 of mine, but believe-you-me, I have more.

First and foremost: too, many, commas. I’m not an English major by any account, and I hated learning about dangling modifiers and how to diagram sentences (The former still makes me chuckle, as does anything involving the word ‘dangling’. I’m so mature.). It seemed pointless at the time, but thinking back I’ve realized how crucial those grueling days in Mrs. McCutcheon’s class were. When I read something, I can’t seem to read it for content alone; I am constantly editing, pausing when I come upon a comma, adding an oomph to a word that’s bolded or italicized, and lingering over any mis-spelled wurd. It’s a problem, and I can’t help but think I missed my calling – is it too late to make a career as an editor?!

The comma issue is my greatest source of annoyance though, and I can’t stand it when someone overuses the comma. Like I said, when I see a comma I pause, because that’s what commas are for. Sometimes the pause is mid-sentence, or mid-thought (when a pause isn’t usually needed), and it drives me batshit. Yes, I really am a tad nutty, I know.

Number two? Also, I should say here that these are not in order of importance, and if they were I wouldn’t tell you anyway. I don’t know if you’d call this a pet peeve, but I type the word “breast” so often at work that I accidentally type it all. the. time. If I’m talking about bread, I always type “breast” first (ha – yeasted breast, and Do you like butter on your breast? Or maybe just a little jam?), then I have to delete the ‘-st’ and type the ‘d’. If I’m saying something is great, I instinctively type ‘greast’ instead because my fingers naturally gravitate towards ‘st’ after any word with ‘ea’ in it. Oh, boy – someone is bound to think I have deeply-rooted issues with my boobs when they read this. I don’t, and truth be told, I like them just fine. And jam, please.

Three. Those of you who know me well know that I have a huge “social pet peeve”: rejecting commitments. I get way bent out of shape if someone bails outta something they’ve previously committed to, especially at the last minute. I try to be better about that and realize that just because it’s one of my no-no’s it doesn’t mean it has to be someone else’s and that if someone wants to be rude and inconsiderate, why not leave them be? And I don’t mean to say that if you are in the ER with kidney stones that you’re still expected to show up at my barbeque, but you get the point here, right?

Four & five: food-conscious.

Food-wise, there’s more than just these two, but I’ll start here. One is a restaurant thing – when they lie about the dish, claiming it contains a certain ingredient it does not. I can recall two specific times when that’s happened (one very recently), and I’m sure there are more. The problem is, restaurants know that most people can’t tell the difference between ice cream and gelato, queso fresco and feta. It seems obvious at first, but you trust the ingredient is what it claims to be, and you move on. I have yet to really call someone out on it, but my opinion of the place certainly changes. You falsely advertise to the wrong person, and it’s gonna getcha. Luckily for them, I only complain to you guys.

Lastly, for today at least, is the ever-annoying brick of meat, the cooked-so-much-you-could-break-a-tooth-off-by-chewing-so-hard pork chop, or the we-definitely-won’t-give-you-salmonella-because-we-cooked-our-chicken-to-180 degrees chicken. Sure, salmonella’s scary, and I for one wouldn’t want to take it home after dinner, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want good chicken. Often times folks forget about carryover cooking and even though chicken is generally cooked in smaller batches than roasts, it still continues to cook a bit, nonetheless.

Enter brining – a soaking process, similar to marinating, that I’m convinced makes it almost impossible to overcook anything, especially your money-well-spent pastured, organic chicken from your local farm. I’d never planned far enough in advance to brine, but thanks to Art Smith, I’m converted, and the amount of effort is so minimal I can’t believe I never tried it before. You start the night before you want to cook your chicken, heat up the brining liquid, and cover the meat in it, with water, overnight.

The result? Like, OMG, it is totally rad. Silky smooth, ultra-moist, and just plain heavenly. Of course, this particular recipe was a gold mine anyway, and thanks to the Food Photo contest I have a whole book of Art’s recipes to try, but I’m having a hard time imagining any of them stacking up to this one. I may just have to cancel all my plans for the next week to work my through a few of them :).

So now it’s your turn: what are your pet peeves? Play nicely by sharing in the comments section, and I may just come up with a ’round 2′ post. Fun times, right?

Pistachio-Crusted Chicken w/ Coconut-Chili-Ginger Sauce
Adapted from Back to the Family, 6-8

this recipe is adapted rather heavily, but the overall idea is the same. I used different quantities of herbs, and the recipe appeared to make more ‘crust’ than was needed for the amount of chicken, so the quantities are all scaled back a bit. i also tweaked the sauce some, using a couple of different ingredients and less butter to make it a little healthier. believe me, it’s still rich and as Art said in the book’s commentary, you could totally drink it…

a couple of quick notes: please don’t skip the brining. did you not read the paragraph at the end of this post?! brining = genius. also, i thought this went nicely with a serving of millet, but couscous or rice would work too, with a little lime zest, coconut, and lime juice tossed in. enjoy!

printable version (with brine recipe)

ingredients
pistachio-crusted chicken
4 brined*, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 quart buttermilk
1 1/2 c shelled pistachios
1 c grated Parmesan cheese
2 T fresh thyme, chopped
2 T fresh rosemary, chopped
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
2 c all purpose flour
sunflower oil, to taste

coconut-chili-ginger sauce
5 T butter, divided
2 shallots, minced
2 blades lemongrass, chopped
3 1/2″ pieces of fresh ginger, sliced thinly
1 c sweet white wine (I used Muscato)
2 c chicken broth
2 T Thai red curry paste
1 T tamarind concentrate
1 T sweet red chile sauce
1 8-oz can light coconut milk
salt and pepper

instructions
remove chicken from brine and cut breasts in half. with a meat mallet, pound until 1/4″ thick and place in nonreactive bowl. cover with buttermilk and cover. refrigerate for 1 hour.

place pistachios in food processor and pulse until finely chopped.  place in bowl. add Parmesan cheese and herbs and pulse; add to bowl of pistachios.

meanwhile, prepare the sauce. in a medium saucepan over med-hi heat, combine 1 T butter through wine and reduce by half. add broth, curry paste, tamarind, and sweet chili sauce and reduce by half. then add coconut and reduce by half. remove from heat and whisk in remaining 4 T butter until incorporated. season with salt and pepper. keep warm. (optional – take an emulsion blender to it to smooth it out, or toss it into the blender for a couple of pulses.)

preheat oven to 250 F.

place flour in a bowl separate from pistachio mixture and season with salt and pepper. remove chicken from fridge. remove one piece at a time, shake off excess buttermilk, and coat each side with flour. dip one side of the breast into the pistachio mixture and press pistachios onto that side. repeat with all chicken.

preheat a large nonstick pan over medium with a thin coating of sunflower oil. when ready, place chicken (in batches) in pan, pistachio side down, and cook 2-3 minutes. turn and cook other side the same. place chicken on a sheet pan and finish cooking in the oven for 8-10 minutes. removed, let rest for 5 minutes, and serve with warm coconut-chili-ginger sauce.

*Chicken Brine
from Back to the Family; makes 1 1/4 c

printable version (brine only)

ingredients
1 c kosher salt
1/4 c sugar
5 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 T black peppercorns
chicken being brined

instructions
place all ingredients and 2 c water in a saucepan over med-hi heat. stir until sugar and salt dissolve. remove from heat and let cool.

place chicken in a large nonreactive pot and cover with water. use a plate to weigh down chicken. pour brine over, cover, and let sit in brine at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

RHCP – Live in Chicago

rhcp_logo

Red Hot Curry Paste, that is. I only wish it were the Chili Peppers. And with an almost one year “hiatus” I’m a little worried, if you care. You must, since you’re reading my blog :). They released Stadium Arcadium, the 28-track double album, in early 2006 and have been stagnant since. I mean, if I released such an awesome album I might feel that I needed a 3 year break as well! Shheeeesssshhh. I think I listened to it non-stop for months. Plus, one of their singles was in perfect time to make it to our wedding CD – “Hard to Concentrate”, track 3 on Mars. I’m starting to think that the RHCP may be finished, but I am still going to hold out hope since they are my favorite band of all time. For whatever reason, Anthony Kiedis doesn’t seem to age. And if he does, I don’t notice it with all the drooling I do when he’s on TV. Tee hee hee. Of course, the drooling comes to an instant halt once Flea runs out in his tighties. Word on the street is that they may be together again soon, but who knows. I’ll keep my fingers crossed and will settle for being able to attempt to play “Snow” more than five seconds on Rock Band meanwhile thoroughly enjoying Dani California.

Anyway, with only a few blog posts I’ve become amazed at how skilled I am at rambling. I wasn’t planning on talking about the Chili Peppers, but oh well! The whole purpose of this post was to brag about one of my favorite little fishies – Halibut. Seems to go well with anything I cook it with. I made it “en papillote” a while back and I thought it wasn’t going to get any better with the lemony juicy goodness the fish-in-parchment produced. But I was wrong – and terribly wrong. The only sad part about halibut is that it’s a little pricey, so it’s not like I can cook it every freakin’ week. Have to throw in some tilapia and salmon to balance out the expense! But if you ever treat yourself to a thick juicy halibut steak (and the “flash frozen” ones in the Whole Foods frozen fish section are just as good as the fresh IMHO) you have got to try this recipe. Especially if you like red curry paste. Happens to be one of my favorites.

halibut with sauce

It’s one of those dishes that tends to linger for a while. This can be good and bad. It means you taste it for a while, but it also means you should have some gum or other breath freshener on hand if you’re eating with anyone (other than your spouse of course!).


Here’s the recipe and some pics. I’ve got to get better at photography though if I’m going to keep posting pictures of my food. I’m sure you could serve it with something else, but this way you get some greens with the bok choy and the rice just sops up that juice. The sauce is just enough of all the flavors – a hint of coconut milk but not too much, a hint of freshness with the basil, lime juice to balance it all out, and the red curry paste for the spice. I am usually a speedy eater but ate this nice and slow so that it would last. I’ll also enjoy it again tomorrow for lunch – yippppeee!!!


Halibut with Coconut-Red Curry Sauce
served with baby bok choy coconut rice; 4 servings

print recipe

ingredients
2 teaspoons canola oil, divided
4 (6-ounce) halibut fillets
1/2 cup medium dice onion
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 cup light coconut milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce*
1 teaspoon red curry paste
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

instructions
Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add fish to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness. Remove fish from pan; keep warm.

Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add onion, green onions, and ginger; sauté 2 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and the next 4 ingredients (through coriander). Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in basil and juice.

Seasoned rice with bok choy:
Combine 1 cup coconut milk and 1/2 cup water (or just use whatever is left of coconut milk from dish and use water for remainder) and 3/4 cup basmati rice in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil.

Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 12 minutes. Stir in 2 cups chopped baby bok choy; cover and cook 8 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Combine 1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil; stir into rice mixture.


*For gluten-free, substitute regular soy sauce, gluten-free brand