Monday, January 31, 2011

Mango and Sticky Rice

Today I made my last dish for the month long Thai cooking project. Mango and sticky rice, one of my favorite sacks/desserts, relies on fresh mangoes to be a success. Actually, it also relies on proper knowledge of what the dish is supposed to be. I've had mango and sticky rice served to me by friends and acquaintances over the years where the rice was a like a pudding with all kinds of strange additions. I've encountered this on more than one occasion but I still have no idea where they are getting their recipes.

First things first, you need sticky rice. To make sticky rice you soak sticky rice overnight then steam it the following morning. I used a steamer over a wok. Notice, there is nothing below the rice. It worked like magic.
Twenty to thirty minutes later I had sticky rice and if I wasn't making a dessert, I could have been done.

I treated the finished rice with coconut cream, sugar, and a little salt.

The coconut cream topping the recipe called for sounded too sweet, so I just made it salty, like the mango and sticky rice of my memories (here and here). I felt that this was the right choice as it gave the dish some much needed balance.
This dessert was a pleasant misfire for me, but a good learning experience. The mango was all wrong, I undercooked the rice, and I found the rice too sweet. Would I make it again? Maybe, but first I would get a more appropriate variety of mango. Mine was a large round variety that is prone to tartness. When I make this again, I need to find the sweetest possible mango.

Tomorrow, I'll be back to do a write up of the past month.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Nearing the End With Som Tam

My project is nearly at an end. Trying to squeeze in a new or different meal while keeping a functioning professional and social life has been difficult. When I started the month, I imagined that I would keep a diary-like description of my life and food that makes up the day. But usually once I've shopped, cooked, shot some pictures, eaten, and cleaned up, I feel finished. I don't feel witty or wordy. So I give you some food porn and become filled with self loathing. Food porn is an incredible waste of web space, and I'm quite guilty of it as of late. The project has improved my food photography, but certainly not my writing.

Like other Sundays, today was market day. After doing the regular shopping I came home, dropped off the produce, and headed in the opposite direction to get the necessary ingredients for today and tomorrow's food. All I needed for today's kitchen time was a green papaya and some out of season cherry tomatoes. I had everything else to make a som tam, or green papaya salad.

Picky Thai chefs might poo-poo my use of a granite mortar and pestle for making the below som tam. The preferred wooden or clay mortar and pestle  is not something I currently own. I tried to be careful, but I might have pounded things a little too much for some. In addition, I would say that the salad below might have the wrong papaya to tomato, green bean, shrimp, and peanut ratio. Sue me.
Today's som tam hurt several people including myself it was so spicy. I found pleasure in this, but I unfortunately just about killed one of my housemates with what I thought would be a less intense version. Oops. Hopefully her digestive tract is okay. Not everyone enjoys spicy food, but I find immense pleasure in it. I've read that spicy food has certain addictive properties and this makes me wonder if this is the only reason I like it. Or put another way, is another's aversion to spicy food only because they haven't had enough to get hooked? Or, are some people not effected at all in a positive ways and only the negatives? Is it all a matter of building up tolerance and is everybody equally capable?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bamboo Shoot Salad

Today I am short on words and short on time. I made sup nor mai, or a bamboo shoot salad.
This salad, popular in Isaan, is a mix of bamboo shoots, shallots, green onions, sawtooth, and mint. It's dressed with a mixture of fish sauce and roasted chili powder. I can't remember if I ever actually ate this salad while in Thailand, but I have enjoyed it on occasion in Oakland at the excellent Green Papaya Deli.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tom Yum Goong

Tom Yum Goong, or hot and sour soup with shrimp, is one of the most popular Thai dishes. It has never been my favorite, partly owing to quality control, but when done well it is hard to beat. Without high quality shrimp the whole soup sort of falls apart. I had been saving the opportunity to make this dish and today was the day. A friend was coming by in the late afternoon and her only stipulation was no land animals so I decided to load up on seafood. I went for the best, and most expensive shrimp I could find. These fresh, wild caught American prawns were closing in on twenty bucks a pound. I picked up a half a pound. Aren't they gorgeous?
I wanted these particular shrimp for their flesh as much as for their shells. My recipe called for the broth to be mostly flavored by simmering the shells until the broth took on a reddish hue. To accomplish this, not just any old shrimp would do the trick. I know, I have tried using shells to make broth on previous occasions and it just hasn't worked. But this time however, the shells, shrimp brains and fat made the broth surprisingly rich and savory.
Once thoroughly cooked I drained the shells and discarded them. From here it was easy. I added only: two stalks of lemongrass, a couple tablespoons of fish sauce, and a few lime leaves. I added the shrimp and simmered until cooked. I prepared a separate bowl with a handful of bruised chillies, juice of a lime, a little more fish sauce, and a handful of cilantro. When the shrimp was cooked, I poured the soup into the waiting bowl.
It was close to perfect. The broth was salty, sour and hot. It was an exercise in simplicity, but it's an exercise that should only be undertaken if your ingredients are top notch.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hot and Sour Crab Soup With Mushrooms

Another day and another chance for a group of friends to gather before being thrown into a bubbling cauldron. These are more or less the ingredients of today's soup, save for the pinch of palm sugar, salt, and six cups of stock.
My soup was largely based upon the kindness of my housemate who brought home a coolerful of Dungeness crabs last week. He went out on an inflatable raft at a nearby beach and In his words, it felt a little unfair it was so easy. Today I threw a crab and a half into my soup. As it simmered away I realized that maybe I went a little overboard.
I suppose this little story illustrates a point I try and make from time to time: make what you've got when you've got it to make what you can. Sure, my kitchen has been filled with imported ingredients from far flung regions to make some of these recent dishes, but they are executed with regional ingredients as well as the imported ones. My recipe called for "crab" and dungeness was what I had. A freezer full of dungeness crab is really something to get excited about.
Serving up a bowl meant it was time to take a picture. I occasionally linger a little too long over a bowl of noodles or a plate of stir fry. but let me assure you I do little "food styling." I'm blessed with a kitchen with lots of natural light, and most of the time, what you see is what I eat even if I sometimes take pictures from every possible angle. I was talking to a woman the other week who told me all about her food styling and effort involved in getting a good photo. She told me all about the laborious process involved in getting her poor humiliated food to look good. She didn't bother asking me anything about my methods, but much like her poor degraded food she was obviously dead on the inside. Poor thing.
I made this soup in part because I had a sick housemate who looked like he needed soup. He was grateful but didn't feel like eating the crab so I ate an entire crab at lunch time. I made an absolute mess of myself and hours later still smell like the sea.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Deep Fried Pork

Not all thai food is curries and noodles. Today's ill advised late breakfast/early lunch was a a good example of this. I made moo thawt or fried pork. It's not just plainly fried but rubbed in spices first. I cut a half a pound or so of pork steak into thin strips and rubbed with a pounded mixture of white peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, ground nutmeg, and seeds from two cardamom pods. I added the spices and a few splashes of light soy sauce. I let them get to know each other for a half hour or so before throwing them into hot oil. The spices and the meat cooked together in a loving embrace.

When cooked, I served up the pork with rice and the the sriracha sauce from yesterday. This pork would have been great shared with other people along with some other dishes. Beer would have been great as well but I abstained as I usually try and avoid beer before eleven in the morning.
This calorie hit had me thinking that I would not soon be hungry. As usual I was wrong.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thai Breakfast with Kai Jiaw and Thai Tea

Today was all about breakfast. I love Thai breakfast, and this very simple one never fails to satisfy. I used to enjoy this kai jiaw or omelette in markets across Thailand when I was in need of a quick shot of protein. I enjoyed it on one of my bike trips, and also when I just wanted something simple. All it took was a woman with a single burner and a wok and this breakfast was ready in a matter of minutes. Thai tea or coffee was never far away.
This omeltte is insultingly easy. It's only: two eggs, a pinch of salt, and a few table spoons of oil. you must fry it until the eggs get all bubbly. Give it a flip, cook through and serve over rice. Top with green onions and shallots.
I also topped mine with fish sauce and a delicious chili sauce called sriracha. No, not this sriracha, the Thai version. I made it on the stove top. David Thompson's recipe uses only garlic, chilies, water, salt and sugar. I don't feel comfortable giving out his recipes online, but a great write up and online recipe can be found here. It will make your fried foods all the better.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Laad Naa

Another day, another noodle. Today I made laad naa, which is a fried noodle dish with gravy. It's a great street food and as I'm learning, one that takes a certain amount of skill to execute.

A couple of years ago when our Thai friend F told us that her favorite dish was laad naa, I had kind of a hard time wrapping my head around the idea. I loved noodles and all, but it just seemed too simple. A great comfort food maybe, but your favorite? Over time I came around. Not that I agreed, but I came to understand that it is hard to beat a good bowl of laad naa. It turns out that David Thompson's favorite noodle dish also happens to be laad naa, and I think I can see why.

A good laad naa takes time to get to know. The noodles need to be fried just right until colored by the wok and dark soy sauce. Too long and they're overcooked, not long enough and the noodles just taste bland. The gravy needs to be thicker than soup, but not over thick to be a gelatinous mess. The right mix of tapioca starch and broth is key, but first you gotta nail the deceptively simple seasoning. The interplay between the light and dark soy sauces, the yellow bean sauce, Chinese broccoli and pork definitely is going to take some practice

Now, there are two things wrong with my laad naa. Can you spot them?
First of all, I didn't use the right noodles. The noodles should be thick. I've never had a laad naa with noodles like these and this alteration might be unforgivable to some. But these were the noodles I had today, and getting different ones was impossible so I just went for it. I figured the process was more important. And two, my gravy quotient was all wrong. It tasted right, but there simply wasn't enough of it. But what there was was quite good.

Here's a pic of a bowl of laad naa with lots of gravy from the market in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. I can't remember if this was a great version or not, but it gives you a better idea of what the "real" thing might look like.
Laad Naa

I'm not calling mine a failure, More like a work in progress. At least the aftermath was encouraging. Here's a shot of the leavings. Looks good to me.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Inevitable Phad Thai

Today's Phad Thai was by no means a failure but it was certainly ugly.
The tofu immediately fell apart when things got turbulent in the wok. I took a couple of short cuts as well. For example, I didn't feel like soaking the noodles for hours before cooking, so I soaked them in hot water to soften them up before finishing them off in the wok. I also left out the salted radish. Forgivable. Bit in the end, this here Phad Thai was still better than any American restaurant version I have sampled. Maybe it had something to do with the ample amounts of fish sauce. or maybe it was the palm sugar. Then again, it could have been the tamarind. Silly me, it was a mix of the three. It's supposed to taste a little tart from the tamarind, a little sweet from the sugar, and a little salty from the fish sauce (and the dried shrimp). This flavor balance is often lost in the American version. In America, for some inexplicable reason, ketchup often finds its way into the mix. The horror, the horror

My omissions served as a reminder of how much I like this dish as street food. As much as I like Phad Thai, it's not a dish that I'm often inclined to gather and prep all of the ingredients for. This is best left to a street stall where the vendor sells one thing and does it well. It is their job to make sure they have every little detail since that is the point of the enterprise, rather than just another dish on a long list of possible dishes. Same goes for the personal kitchen that can't ever be all things at all times. Choice does have its drawbacks.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fried Squid with Garlic and Peppercorns

I spent the afternoon on a pleasant forty mile bike ride in Marin County. A few hours of pedaling meant that I deserved every bit of today's squid.
This is easy: You marinate a half pound of squid in a table spoon of fish sauce and a pinch of sugar while you make a paste of a few coriander roots, a teaspoon of white peppercorns, and a couple cloves of garlic.  After letting your squid get comfortable for half an hour or so, you rub the paste on the now marinated squid, and drop into hot oil for a quick fry. Cook just barely or you'll be eating rubbery rubbish. Top with fresh cilantro and serve with chili sauce and you're in heaven. A beer is also helpful.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Stabbing and Red Chicken Curry With Ginger and Green Beans

I was greatly distracted making today's lunch owing to the fatal stabbing outside my front door. We don't know all the details, but my housemate witnessed some rather disturbing scenes in the back of an ambulance. When I ventured out for some green beans an hour or so later, cops were everywhere in front of my house and around the corner. A mess of blood was on the sidewalk, and the victim's clothes were on the ground after having been cut from his body as is customary is trauma cases.

I often make offhanded remarks about violence and unsafe streets, but it's deadly serious. I've seen guns flashed in Oakland, used to hear shots at night, and even had to talk to the police after a man was shot in the leg outside a friend's West Oakland apartment. People assume that San Francisco is safer than Oakland, but I'm not so sure.

Violent crime in this country is really something else. I often feel grateful that I was born in this country, though sheer dumb luck, not owing to some deity who picks and chooses who should be born into poverty, famine, war, or a combination thereof. However, I'm always dumbstruck at how incredibly unsafe I feel on the streets in the country of my birth. I've travelled all over the world and lived in a few countries, and done some really stupid things, but this is the country I feel the least safe in. Okay, I'm finished ranting now.

Today I made a wonderful red curry with chicken. It also included shredded ginger, green beans, and apple egg plants.
It's not obvious from the photo but this curry was full of roughage. I just sort of ate through loads of ginger and bits of kaffir lime leaf. My stomach just might hate me later.

The red curry paste for this was much the same as a previous red curry, but the execution is quite different.  There's a handful of Thai basil thrown in, and the ginger and vegetables added make this curry more suited to a stand alone meal than just one dish in a larger one.  It's a reminder that a basic curry paste recipe can be adapted for many purposes.

After making a small bowl of curry for myself I realized that it was better suited to have over rice.
Nice chipped bowl huh? This is something I will repeat. The curry, not the chipped bowl.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chicken, Shiitake Mushroom and Young Coconut Soup

I had another couple of lunch guests today. This is perhaps my favorite aspect of this project. People come over, I sit them down and feed them something. It requires a certain type of eater that is increasingly rare in this country: someone who will eat whatever it is you put in front of them. Dietary restrictions and politics certainly have an important place, but they increasingly divide us at the dinner table.

Today, chicken soup with mushrooms and young coconut was on the menu. Young coconut is the kind of ingredient I usually avoid as it's shipped across the world all while requiring refrigeration. Also, how good could it really be? Carbon footprints aside, it was actually excellent. I hacked away at it until I messily scalped the damn thing. I lost only a matter of drops of the water.
The soup is quite simple really. It's comprised of chicken broth, shredded chicken, shiitake mushrooms, young coconut, lime leaves, deep fried garlic and Thai basil. It's seasoned with light soy sauce, oyster sauce and palm sugar. It's not huge on flavor like other Thai soups but the delicate young coconut flesh and added coconut water give the broth an invigorating dimension. I fed some to a sick housemate and she seemed to appreciate it.
In addition to the soup I once again made the excellent green curry, again with fish. I made this with confidence that if he other dish was a failure, at least they would eat something worth their while.
We had a wonderful lunch and once again I was blessed with a pie. I could get used to this.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pomelo Salad and Friends

Today two dishes were produced in the kitchen. A couple of friends came over so more food was necessary. The extra hands were certainly a great help. I decided to remake the jungle curry from the other week. I pounded all of the necessary pastes and handed it off to my first mate.  The recipe explains that you cook the paste until you being to sneeze. We sneezed, we coughed, we cried and then we opened up all the windows. We knew it was almost ready.

It turned out wonderful again and was greatly helped by the addition of the sawtooth seen on top.
This has thus far been my favorite dish of the month. It's rich, salty, and spicy. Afterwards you don't feel overfull as I sometimes do with coconut cream or milk based recipes.

My friends brought a nice pomelo with them so it was a pretty simple decision to make a pomelo salad.

Here's what I did based on David Thompson's recipe in his excellent book Thai Food. Have I recommended it to you enough yet?
Put five birds eye chilies into the mortar and pestle along with a clove or two of garlic and a pinch of salt. Once they are paste, add a tablespoon of dried shrimp and pound but only until mixed together.  The original recipe calls for crab paste, but I just used a quarter teaspoon gapi or shrimp paste. Mix again. Chop one stalk of lemongrass and slice two or three apple eggplants. Lightly mash together.
Next add the whole pomelo*.  Add two teaspoons palm sugar, a tablespoon each of lime juice and fish sauce.

*the original recipe calls for mush less than this, but I had a whole prepped pomelo in front of me... Also, adjust based on the size of your fruit.

The original recipe calls for a few fresh prawns as well, and this would be a great addition. Today I felt it unnecessary as I had already bought so much fish for the curry. The choice is yours.
Do I need you to convince you that it's beautiful? It's sweet, salty, spicy and the kind of thing I could see myself eating quite often. Oh wait, I used to do exactly that.

All of this was fine and good, but I was maybe more excited about dessert.  While I've been making Thai food every day this January, my friend is making a different pie each and every day. He brought us a delicious banana cream pie.
It won't live to see tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dried Prawn and Coconut Soup With Pumpkin

Today I purchased frozen pandan, "fresh" frozen coconut milk, a young coconut wrapped in plastic, and some other less interesting items. I'll try and get to them in the coming days. No, the coconut wasn't local, but thanks for asking.

I don't feel very clever or wordy today so I'll make this quick. I was getting low on some things but here's what I scraped together for a lovely coconut soup with pumpkin and dried shrimp.
That's white pepper, dried shrimp, shallots, a pumpkin, and hiding in the upper corner is coriander root. Save for the pumpkin, they all got together in my mortar and pestle and made a lovely paste.

Coconut milk and broth were brought to a boil, the paste was introduced, then pumpkin and dried prawns were added. It was very romantic.
It was rich, creamy, salty, and a little sweet. I'm trying to think of something interesting or clever to say, but I'm striking out. Good food sometimes leaves me at a loss for words.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Laap Gai

Today I spent the entire day passing out samples of Bacon Jam at a fancy food convention in San Francisco. I'll say no more. When I got home it was time to make something quick and easy. Today was basically a repeat of a previous post where I made laap pla but this time replaced the fish with chicken. I decided to change things up to make it a little more like the Lao version and added a little fresh dill in addition to the mint and cilantro. For me, it's almost impossible to have too many herbs, so the next time I make this or something like it, I'm doubling the herbs.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ma Hor

Sunday is market day. Each and every Sunday, my beautiful assistant and I schlep down to the Civic Center Farmers Market to procure a week's worth of produce for our rather large household. It has become a bit of a scavenger hunt of sorts to acquire the necessary herbs and spices for my cooking. Sometimes I strike out but today I got lucky.
I found some very nice cilantro, with the very important root still attached.
I should have bought a lot more, I am a fool. Coriander root is used in many curries and countless other dishes. Think you can leave this one out and get the proper result? Put another way, do you think you would get far without your thumbs?

I also found some nice chilies. I imagine you are unimpressed. But seriously, this is the first time I've found these type of chilies in weeks. Damn you seasons!
Once again I remind you: Imagine trying to walk without your large toes. That's how important it is for me to have found some of this stuff today, Without them, it totally hobbles my ability to make these dishes.

Today I had an extra set of hands in the kitchen and together we made a ridiculous and beautiful hors d'oeuvre Ma Hor.
That's the unholy trifecta of shrimp, chicken, and pork.  A paste of coriander root, garlic and white pepper is pounded. Shallots and garlic are fried. Peanuts are roasted. The paste is fried and fish sauce and palm sugar are mixed in. Everything is cooked into a sticky paste which is placed on top of pieces of mandarin topped with cilantro and slivers of red chilies. Not too shabby.

Hours later, my hands are still on fire.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kanom Krok at Home

Today I made what is perhaps my favorite Thai street food, Kanom Krok. It has made a few appearances on the blog with posts of its very own here and here, and many other mentions in passing (here and I'm sure other places as well). All over the kingdom I enjoyed picking up this lovely little kanom without a care in the world. Trying to make them in my own kithen gave me pause and even greater respect for the ladies who often spend long hours laboring over hot pans while still being able to manage perfect cakes.

I had been meaning to make these cakes for a more than a couple of years now, but it took my project this month to finally get my act together. I had long imagined that I would use my trusty aebleskiver pan. I wrote about aebleskivers here and maybe somewhere else as well. They are a favorite, and their pan is a close approximation of a Kanom Krok pan.
I like my Kanom Krok with a little green onion in the center, although they are also good with taro, corn, or just plain.
Keeping them from sticking and cooking enough in the center is a real chore.
Here is a good reminder of how pictures can help craft a lie. I could tell you that this snack was a success and it turned out perfectly. The picture proves it. However, only a few turned out well. Many of them were hard to remove from the pan. My proportions were wrong. I filled up the cups too full and the holes were deeper than on a Kanom Krok pan. The few that turned out were lovely, but I'm in no hurry to make them again anytime soon. Removed from the street with the added labor, I daresay they lose a little something.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Red Curry With Shrimp

Today's post is a quick one. As the title suggests I made red curry with shrimp. I followed a recipe that called for scallops, but any seafood is appropriate. The flavor of this curry is phenomenal but I wouldn't recommend eating this all by yourself as it is so rich. Invite a friend for lunch. I'm glad I did.
As you can see above, this curry relies upon coconut cream and milk, and therein lies one small issue with this style of cooking in North America. Not having a fresh source of coconut meat and milk can take a toll on your recipe. Does anybody out there know if the frozen stuff is worth the extra hassle? I think it might be, but would appreciate any tips or hints.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hot and Sour Soup of Shredded Chicken and Lemongrass etc.

I spent the entire day in the kitchen. I started the day with another bowl of jok that looked just like yesterday's. I'd say I nailed it. Next I promised someone special my homemade Khao soi so as soon as breakfast was finished and I was properly caffeinated, I got to making the paste for that. The results were very good and once again very attractive.
It was not better than the previous batch, but who's complaining?
If the above picture isn't your idea of heaven, maybe you should be reading a sports, fashion, or financial blog. I love this pic and I love this dish. But this isn't what today's post is about so try and forget about it ok?

After lunch was over, it was time to think about second lunch. Second lunch is an under appreciated meal in this country. Actually it doesn't exist, and those for which it does might have something of a problem. In all seriousness I did used to be quite the second lunch fanatic but that was in a country where normal serving sizes aren't pushing the population towards premature deaths. Something to think about. Anyhow, the weather turned, my housemate was sent home from work on account of his sneezing too much, so a spicy soup was in order. The soup is question is dtom jiw gai or the title of this post.

The ingredients for this are very simple. Here's what goes into the stock. 
This is the roughage that gives your soup body and starts to release some wonderful smells after just a few minutes. Chicken is added, and when cooked the roughage is removed.  Everything you see below goes into a serving bowl and waits to be doused.
The stock is poured over a mix of lime juice, fish sauce etc,
given a quick stir and served.
This soup is sour, salty, and spicy. Great on a cold day and maybe ideal if you're feeling under the weather.

Because I am only cooking Thai food these days, I decided that it would be good to do a little baking on this shitty afternoon. I made a perfect batch of cookies using this tried and true recipe. 
Tomorrow, it's back to Thai food.