Monthly Archives: March 2013

Better than Takeout Part 2–Pad Thai

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As I mentioned in my last post, we had quite the homemade Thai feast on Sunday night.  In addition to eating summer rolls, we also scarfed down some delicious Pad Thai.

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I have actually tried to  make Pad Thai before.  One time, I used a high quality bottled sauce and another I just tried to wing it using ingredients that reminded me of the flavor of Pad Thai.  Both turned out okay, but they didn’t make for recipes that I wanted to make over and over in lieu of Pad Thai my favorite takeout place.

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In preparation for our “better than takeout” night for Sunday dinner, I decided that I wanted to go really authentic and create a dish that would make me forget about takeout.  This recipe definitely achieved that goal.  I studied a lot of Pad Thai recipes in cookbooks and online and found that the main component connecting them all was tamarind.

Tamarind comes from the tamarind tree (duh) which produces an edible, pod-like fruit that tastes both sour and slightly sweet when cooked.  If you can find it, use pre-made tamarind juice in this recipe, it cuts down on the prep time significantly.  Tamarind paste will also work.  Unfortunately, I was unable to find either at Whole Foods (an Asian grocery store would carry both though), so I had to purchase raw tamarinds and make my own juice.

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The process of extracting the juice isn’t actually difficult, it just takes longer than opening a jar would!  Whatever kind of tamarind you can find, go for it, just don’t exclude it because it gives the Pad Thai sauce that tangy, slightly sour taste.  The other elements of the sauce – fish sauce and brown sugar – also contribute to the delicious taste of the sauce.

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Just as a fair warning, although fish sauce is delicious in the end product, it is pretty stinky while it is being cooked.  I am not a fan of fish sauce on its own, but when its combined with the other ingredients and poured over the rice noodles, it becomes an integral and amazing flavor contributor.

I made my Pad Thai with both Chicken and Tofu which is the combo offered at my favorite Thai restaurant.  If you don’t want to add the meat, use all tofu for a delicious vegetarian entrée.  In addition to the tofu and chicken, I included beaten eggs, peanuts, bean sprouts, scallions, lots of lime juice and ground allepo chili peppers (a medium hot chili that worked great in this dish – any ground chili of your choice would work great though).

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Even though there are a lot of steps to this recipe, I really hope you end up making it. It is SO worth it.  Initially, I thought I made way too big of a portion for the four of us that were eating, but we managed to get through it because this Pad Thai is just that good!

Better than Takeout Pad Thai – Serves 4 (inspired by this recipe)

Ingredients:

Pad Thai Sauce (makes 1 cup of sauce, you will have leftovers):

  • 1 cup tamarind juice*
  • 1 cup plus 3 TB brown sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce

Pad Thai:

  • 1/4 vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 TB garlic, minced (about 4 gloves)
  • 6-8 ounces chicken breast, sliced (I suggest about 1 1/2 breasts)
  • 1 block extra firm tofu, baked and chopped into large pieces**
  • 14 ounces (1 package) dried rice noodles (soaked in cold water for 60 minutes and drained)
  • water
  • 3 eggs, scrambled
  • 1 TB ground hot chilies
  • 1/2 cup peanuts, chopped
  • 2 cups bean sprouts (1 1/2 cups in pad thai, 1/2 cup for topping)
  • 1 cup scallions
  • 4 limes – 2 for juicing, 2 for garnish
  • 1/3 cup Pad Thai Sauce (see above)
  • S+P to taste
  • Juice of 2 limes

*If making tamarind juice by hand, purchase 1/2 lb of fresh tamarind.  Boil the tamarind in enough water so that they are covered, for 20-30 minutes or until the pods start to break.  Remove the tamarind with approximately 1/2 of the cooking liquid and mash it into a fine paste.  Drain the liquid you mashed the tamarind with, plus the cooking liquid through a fine mesh sieve.  Allow the tamarind pulp to sit in the sieve and juice for 10-15 minutes.  Drain once more through a sieve and you have tamarind juice!

** I like to get my tofu crispy prior to stir frying it. To do this, I cut the tofu block lengthwise into 4 slices.  Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, place the tofu down, spray it with a bit of cooking spray, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cook in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes until slightly browned and crisp.

Directions:

Sauce:

Add all ingredients to a medium sauce pan.  Bring liquid to a boil and reduce to heat to low.  Cook everything together for about 60 minutes until the sauce becomes thick and syrupy.  You want to make sure you are stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning.  Note – the sauce will yield about 1 cup and the recipe only requires 1/3 cup.  Freeze the remaining sauce and use for the next batch of Pad Thai.

Given that the sauce takes and hour and the noodles soaking take an hour, this is a good time to start the noodles as well.

Pad Thai:

Before I get started discussing the directions, I just want to say that this recipe comes together very quickly. That is, once you throw one thing in the wok, the whole process moves fast.  With that said, you want to make sure you have everything prepped (chopped, sliced, etc.), so that you can just reach to your cutting board and throw everything in.

Heat a large wok over medium high heat.  Add oil and garlic.  Cook until garlic is translucent, but not browned.  Add the sliced chicken and cook for 3-4 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.  Remove the chicken from the wok and set aside.  If the chicken has absorbed a lot of oil (it shouldn’t!), add a bit more oil. 

Add the noodles to the wok, stirring constantly so that they don’t stick to each other.  Add a bit of water (approximately 1/3 cup) to help the noodles not stick.  After 1-2 minutes of stir frying the noodles on their own, add the pad thai sauce (1/3 cup) and lime juice and stir everything to combine.  Cook for approximately 3 minutes, or until the noodles appear soft and clear.

Push the noodles to the side of the wok and add the beaten eggs to the pan.  Cover the eggs with the noodles and allow everything to cook (no stirring) for 1 minute or until the eggs look set.  Once set, mix the eggs with the noodles so that the scrambled eggs are evenly distributed.

Add the chilies, peanuts, 1 1/2 cups of the bean sprouts, scallions, tofu and chicken to the noodles and stir everything to combine.  Taste for seasoning – pad thai sauce, lime – and adjust as necessary.

Serve immediately with a garnish of bean sprouts and lime wedges.

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Better than Takeout Thai Food Part 1–Summer Rolls

I generally am not a huge takeout person.  If I am not in my kitchen, making food, I generally like to go out and enjoy all the great aspects of restaurant dining – a server, a unique wine list, fun atmosphere, etc.  However, there are some nights where you just can’t bring yourself to get dressed, let alone put on make-up and pretty yourself to be seen in public.  These nights often coincide with a deep desire to sit on the couch and do nothing – funny how that works out.

On the rare occasions that these nights come around, I often default to my favorite kind of takeout food – Thai.  I love all kinds of Thai food – curries, rice dishes, noodle dishes, salads, soups, everything.  And while I like to think of myself as someone who ventures out and tries new things, I do find myself often ordering the exact same meal every time I do take out from my favorite Thai restaurant: Summer Rolls and Pad Thai.

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I am not sure summer rolls are technically considered Thai.  They are often on Thai restaurant menus, but I often see them referred to “Vietnamese Summer Rolls.”  Whatever their origin, I don’t consider a Thai meal complete without some summer rolls.

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These little rolls are just so balanced.  Everything from their texture to their taste hits on all levels.  They have a soft exterior, but you still get a nice crunch from the plethora of fresh veggies in them.  You get subtle sweetness from the shrimp, mint and basil contrasted with spice from the hot peppers and cilantro.  Plus, they are so pretty to look at!

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 I served my summer rolls with my recipe for spicy peanut sauce.  While Hoisin sauce is probably the most traditional accompaniment for summer rolls, I really enjoy the creamy texture and spicy flavor of peanut sauce.  Plus, if you make peanut sauce for the summer rolls, you can ensure there are extras to be served with the Pad Thai (recipe coming soon!).

Vietnamese Summer Rolls – Serves 4 as an appetizer (inspired by this recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 8 round rice paper wrappers (I used wrappers that were 8 1/2 inches in diameter and located in the international aisle of the supermarket)
  • 1/2 lb pre-cooked shrimp, sliced in half
  • 2 ounces rice stick noodles (vermicelli size)
  • 1/2 English cucumber, julienned
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • 1/2 bell pepper, julienned
  • 2 serrano peppers, julienned (seeds and membrane removed if you want it less spicy)
  • 1 cup mixed greens
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, ripped into large pieces
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, leaves separated from stem
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint, leaves separated from stem

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Directions:

Soak rice stick noodles in hot water for 15 – 20 minutes until soft and pliable.

Prep veggies, shrimp and peanut sauce (if serving).

Add hot water to a large sauté pan (or other bowl that is wide enough to fit rice paper).  One at a time, place a rice paper in hot water for 10-15 seconds until soft and pliable.  Working quickly, remove the rice paper and place three shrimp halves in the middle of the rice paper cut side up.  In this order, add the: noodles, two-three piece of mint, basil and cilantro, serrano, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers and finish with 1-2 large pieces of mixed greens.

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Wrap the summer roll like you would a burrito: 1) fold the bottom half of the rice paper wrapper over the filling 2) holding the whole thing firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in 3) pressing firmly down to hold the folds in place, roll the entire wrapper horizontally up from the bottom to the top 4) turn the roll so that that the same faces down and the row of shrimp faces up.

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If not serving immediately, place the summer rolls on a rimmed baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Make sure you leave room between summer rolls so they don’t stick to each other.  If you are serving immediately, dip a sharp knife into hot water and cut on a diagonal down the middle.

Repeat the entire process with remaining rice paper, replacing the water in the sauté pan whenever it gets cold.

Serve with spicy peanut sauce and enjoy!

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Shaved Brussels Sprout Pizza with Pancetta, Pecorino and Red Onion

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It seems like every restaurant I go to these days has something with brussels sprouts on the menu.  Either they are roasted with bacon and served as a side, shaved and presented raw in a salad, or more recently, I have begun to find them on pizzas and flatbreads.

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It’s funny that a vegetable that for so long got such a bad rap is now very en vogue.  I think shift is largely due to people realizing that brussels sprouts can be so much more than mushy, overly- boiled, stinky vegetables.  When they are are roasted at a high temperature they get caramelized, slightly sweet, and have crispy outside leaves.  When shaved and served raw, they taste a lot like (but much better in my humble opinion) their cabbage cousin does in cole slaw.  And when they are served with lots of tangy pecorino cheese, salty pancetta and spicy onions and then placed on a delicious pizza dough – well, all bets are off.

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I have had brussels sprout pizza out at a few restaurants, and not to toot my own horn here, but my recipe is just as good, if not better than any I have tried.

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From a flavor standpoint, pecorino cheese works really well with all these other ingredients in this dish.  The only problem using pecorino is that it literally does.not.melt.  Try as you may, but the properties in this cheese make it stay solid, not melted, like you would want in a pizza.  Therefore, I use a combination of shredded mozzarella and pecorino to achieve a nice balance of melted and browned cheese from the mozzarella with the superior flavor of pecorino.

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As you’ll see, my recipe calls for a hefty amount of shredded brussels sprouts.  I like to think that the more vegetables I add to the pizza, the healthier it is and the more of it I can eat without it wreaking havoc on my healthy diet.  The jury’s still out on that one.

Shaved Brussels Sprout Pizza with Pancetta, Pecorino and Red Onion – Serves 4-6:

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb brussels sprouts, shredded using a box grater or food processor
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced thinly
  • 4 ounces pancetta or bacon, cooked then diced
  • 1.5 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1.5 cups shredded pecorino cheese
  • 1 ball of store bought or homemade pizza dough
  • EVOO
  • S+P
  • Cornmeal for pizza stone, if using

Directions:

Place pizza stone in the oven.  Heat to 475 degrees.

To cook the pancetta, place whole slices into a cold medium sized pan.  Turn heat to medium low and cook pancetta for 10 minutes, flipped a couple of times until it is browned and cooked through, but not burnt.  Remove the pancetta from pan and place on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.  Once cooled, chop pancetta into medium sized pieces.  Reserve pancetta fat.

Using a food processor or box grater, shred the brussels sprouts and the cheese.  Set aside.

Roll out your pizza dough to desired thickness.  Remove pre-heated pizza stone from the oven and cover with cornmeal.  Place dough onto the stone and drizzle with EVOO.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in oven for 5-7 minutes until the dough is partially cooked and starting to brown.  Remove from the oven, turn over, and cook on the other side for 2-3 minutes.  Remove the stone and dough from the oven and turn the pizza dough over again so that the seasoned side is facing up.

Add a little more EVOO and 3/4 cup each of both the mozzarella and pecorino.

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Add the shredded brussels sprouts, in an even layer, over the cheese.  Add the sliced red onion all over the pizza.  Sprinkle the pancetta all over.  Finally, add the remaining cheese.

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Place the pizza back into the oven and cook for another 7-8 minutes or until the cheese has melted and is slightly browned.

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Slice, serve, and enjoy!

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Swordfish Citrus Beurre Blanc Sauce

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As you have most likely noticed, I haven’t updated the blog in a week.  I have been working a lot and haven’t had time for cooking, let alone writing about cooking.

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Last night, I was finally able to get back into the kitchen and whip up a delicious meal.  In addition to being tasty, this meal also came together rather quickly.  A few months ago, I purchased some frozen, wild, line-caught swordfish at Whole Foods and threw it in my freezer. 

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Whole Foods has a variety of frozen fish options (e.g. Pacific Salmon, Halibut, etc.) that are so fresh tasting and work really well for busy nights when all you can do is pull out a piece and throw it on the sauté pan or grill.  In fact, I almost prefer the frozen stuff at Whole Foods because many times the fish at the “fresh” seafood counter has just been defrosted.  However, if you get the fish in the frozen section (near the seafood counter), Whole Foods guarantees that it has been flash frozen the minute it came out of the water and was fileted.

This fish tasted so great you really didn’t need to do much more than season it with salt and pepper.  But because I wanted to do something a little special, I made a quick (20 minute) beurre blanc sauce that was flavored with tons of citrus flavor.

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In addition to the non-traditional citrus flavors I added to the beurre blance, I also added a lot of standard flavorings you would find including pepper corns, shallots, bay leaf and wine.  I wanted to lighten up my sauce a bit, so instead of using heavy cream, which is traditional, I used some skim milk, which worked great.  I think you get enough richness from the butter added, so I didn’t miss the cream at all.  The end product is a beautiful sauce that is bursting with citrus flavor.  It worked wonderfully on swordfish but would also be great on any other fish varietal or chicken.

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I served my fish with kale chips (yes, it might be my favorite food) and the whole thing made a beautiful presentation that is definitely nice enough to serve for company.

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Swordfish with Citrus Beurre Blance Sauce – Serves 4 (inspired by this recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs swordfish (other fish or chicken would work as well)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup shallots, sliced
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 inch strip of orange peal
  • 2 inch strip of lime peal
  • 2 inch strip of lemon peel
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 TB whole black pepper corns
  • 1/3 cup milk (or cream if you want to be extra luxurious)
  • 1 stick butter, cubed
  • EVOO, S+P for cooking swordfish

Directions:

Peel the citrus fruit before juicing because it is much easier.  Add wine, citrus juice, peel, peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic cloves, shallots and salt to small sauce pan.  Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce until nearly all of the liquid has evaporated from the pan  about 12-14 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium low and add the milk.  Reduce liquid for 1-2 minutes.  With the heat on simmer, add the butter, a few cubes at a time to the sauce pan and whisk constantly. Once all the butter as been incorporated, remove the pot from the heat and strain the sauce using a fine mesh sieve.  Once drained, add the sauce back to the sauce pan and cover.  Heat over the lowest heat possible until ready to serve.  Do not heat over high temperatures or this will cause the sauce to break.

For the swordfish, take a large sauté pan and heat over high heat.  Season the swordfish with salt and pepper.  Add about 3 TB of EVOO to the pan and once the oil is nearly smoking, add the swordfish to get a nice sear.  Cook for 3-4 minutes per side depending on the thickness of the swordfish.  Remove, top with beurre blanc sauce and serve additional sauce on the side for people to pour on at the table.

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Linguine with Almond Butter Crunch Sauce

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When I first came across Stephanie Izard’s recipe for almond butter crunch sauce, I was instantly intrigued.  I love all nut butters and figured that this recipe used almond butter (like peanut butter but made with almonds) as the base for a sauce.

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When I actually read through the recipe I found out that it didn’t call for the type of almond butter I was thinking, but instead used a homemade almond and butter compound.

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Like most of Stephanie’s recipe’s, there was a bit of complexity and a few unique ingredients in this dish.  Because I am not a chef (much to my chagrin), I took a lot of inspiration from the dish, but also changed it up to make this accessible for a weeknight dinner.

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The end product was delicious.  Thanks to the addition of spinach, arugula and asparagus, it also packed a great nutritional punch.

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Don’t be scared about the seemingly strange sauce combinations here – soy sauce, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, butter, chicken stock?! – everything works beautifully together.

Linguine with Almond Butter Crunch Sauce – Serves 4 (inspired by Stephanie Izard’s recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb linguine
  • 1/2 stick (6 TB) butter*, room temperature
  • 1 cup slivered almonds, toasted**
  • 1 head roasted garlic***
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup dried breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb asparagus
  • 4 ounces arugula
  • 4 ounces baby spinach
  • 1/3 cup basil, chopped
  • 1 TB EVOO
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 TB soy sauce
  • 2 TB fresh lemon juice
  • 1 TB lemon zest
  • S+P to taste

Notes:

*I used Kerrygold Butter (which is at Costco now because of St. Patrick’s day), and the end result was better than anything I could have imagined.

**To toast the silvered almonds, add them to a dry non stick skillet and cook on medium for 3-5 minutes until they are just lightly browned and smell nutty.

***To roast the garlic, cut off the top 1/4 inch of an entire head of garlic (no need to peel), place the garlic in a piece of tinfoil, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and place in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes.  Allow to cool, and the garlic cloves should easily pop out of their peels.

Directions:

Combine the room temperature butter, parmesan, bread crumbs, red pepper flakes, roasted garlic cloves and salt in a small bowl.  Use a fork to break down the garlic cloves and combine with the butter.  Once everything is incorporated,  stir in the toasted almonds, being careful not to break them up too much.  Place the compound butter in the fridge for 10-15 minutes and allow to harden.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain, and reserve 1/3 cup cooking liquid.

Meanwhile,  add 1 TB of oil to a large sautee pan over medium high heat.  Add the asparagus and cook for 3 minutes until the asparagus are bright green.  Add the chicken broth, pasta cooking liquid, and soy sauce.  Cook until the sauce has reduced by 1/2.  Add the spinach, arugula, basil, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Stir everything to combine.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Turn the heat on the pasta and sauce to low while you finish making the almond butter compound.  In a separate medium sized sauce pan, add the compound butter to the pan and cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes until browned (the following picture is just starting to brown).

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Pour half of the butter sauce over the pasta and stir everything to combine.

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Serve the pasta between four bowls and top each one with remaining butter mixture.  Serve immediately and enjoy!

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