Sunday, January 27, 2008

Make More Ice Cream

I decided not to wear my snow boots and sure enough, three minutes after I left the hotel, it began to snow. It was still dark and as I turned the corner it became evident that I was the only one walking down the snow dusted street. Snowflakes clung to my hair, scarf, and sweater and I shoved my cold bitten hands into my pockets while asking myself the question, how did I get here? Of course I knew the answer, I was here (here being Penn State at College State PA) because of my one and only New Years resolution: to make more ice cream. It was an easy enough resolution, ice cream eating being one of my favorite occupations followed closely by ice cream making. When I read about Penn State's Ice cream 101 quick coarse, I knew it would be a wonderful opportunity to fulfill my resolution. I immediately signed on and three swift weeks later BAM, I was walking down Park Ave wondering what other kinds of folks fancy the idea of dedicating an entire weekend to their worship of frozen dairy products. Certainly not the type that considered it wise to walk twenty minute in the snow at 7am, I thought to myself as snow inched up between my sock and my swede shoe. I did not know it yet, but this peaceful walk was the calm before what was to be a fifteen hour whirlwind of dairy drenched lectures, demonstrations, and taste tests. All I can say is, La Vida Es Dura.

to be continued...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Can't Decide What To Have For Diner Spring Rolls

Do you ever have one of those days where it's almost impossible to drag yourself out of bed? Not so much because your lazy, but because you can't bear the knowledge that you will be required to make decisions from that point on. It's one of those days that, once you do manage to drag yourself from bed, it takes you twenty minutes to decide what you are going to eat for breakfast, what socks your going to wear, and the all-overwhelming decision, now what?

Don't get me wrong, its not that when I am faced with a day off I have a shortage of things to do, quit the opposite. Its almost as though I have too many things to do, things I want to do, things I have to do, things I should have already done but haven't... Yet somehow when I am blessed with the time to accomplish just a few of these things, I end up frittering away the hours deciding whether or not to go out for a run or go to the gym, to go out to the movies of stay home and clean, or even to buy crunchy or creamy peanut butter.

Nothing is more unbearable, once one has it, than freedom is what James Baldwin once wrote. Well today I had a day of total freedom and it took everything within me not to be consumed by it. Each decision I faced like a pouty little girl who has been forced to take her medicine: coffee or tea? Tea, I guess. Yogurt or oatmeal? fine, oatmeal! Laundry or grocery shopping? Oh I don't know!
By the end of the day I had exhausted my decision making capabilities, and so when it came time to decide how to prepare the ingredients I had purchased, I turned to my pantry for help and it came in the form of...
Spring Roll Skins allow you to dump all of your ingredients in the center, roll them up, and eat them. It is a great way to redesign leftovers, and an even better way to prevent having to work out too many culinary details. You can prepare the rolls ahead of time, store them in your fridge, and simply slice them into bit size pieces and serve with your favorite dipping sauce. Here is how I served mine.
1.I prepared a salad with fennel, cucumber, pickled onions, orange slices and a chili, pomegranate, and rice wine vinaigrette.
2.I fried up some wild boar sausage and sliced some avocado and,3.Heated the spring roll skins one at a time in a bowl of hot water, then filled them up with all the yummy ingredients and wallah

Can't Decide What to Have For Diner Spring Rolls Now if only I could decide what to have for dessert.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Breif Meditaion on Chocolate Redux

I can’t say that I remember my first time. I was exposed at an inappropriately early age and have never fully recovered. It is as though that first fateful experience is housed deep within the musky caverns of my subconscious and with each new encounter is released, for but a moment, to thrust upon my senses the recollections of that all-enveloping rapture. The sensation is that of a sharp intimate blade cutting right through the center of the palette, leaving on one side a dry and tannic piquancy and on the other, a warm, sweet, and voluptuous earthiness. With each inhalation, the threading aroma blossoms sending out bouquets of nostalgic harmonies that erupt in the fingers and toes. It is then that it strikes, the final and singular thunderous clap of gratification. I open my eyes, my senses are clear, my mind is keen, and I am ready for another bite.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thai Red Curry, Peasant Style

After My Free Will, Thai Food, And The Powers That Be - Part II entry, a reader (and friend) kindly asked for the recipe for the Thai Red Curry which was featured in the post. To be honest with you, when I make curry, I rarely work form a recipe, so it's sort of impossible for me to post detailed instructions. What I can do, is retrace my steps for you and give you a list of ingredients.

Thai Red Curry, Peasant Style

2 Boneless chicken Breasts, sliced into thin strips
1 large carrot, julienned
1 zucchini, julienned
1 red onion, sliced
1 cup of snow peas
1 stalk of lemongrass, sliced very thin
ginger, shredded
chicken or vegetable broth
1 small can of coconut milk (use a large one if you like it creamy)
fish sauce
shrimp paste
red curry paste
sea salt
sesame oil
crushed peanuts for garnish

Basically I start by cooking the chicken a bit before adding the veggies, this it to ensure that they don't get over cooked. First I place a non stick pan over a med-high flame, let the pan heat before adding the oil, then let the oil heat before adding the chicken. The chicken cooks for 2-3 minutes before I add the onions, followed by the carrots a minute or two later.

Once the onions and carrots have begun to sweat a bit I add the snow peas and toss. The zucchini goes in last because it is very sensitive and cooks very fast. Once I add the Zucchini I toss the ingredients once or twice before adding enough broth to cover the veggies.

Once the broth begins to boil, reduce the heat, add lemon grass and ginger, and begin seasoning. If you don't have lemongrass or ginger, don't worry about it, I'm not even sure if they are traditional ingredients. I just add then because I like them.

This is were it gets hard for me to instruct because I do everything by taste and rarely keep track of how much of what I am using. Start by adding 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, 3 of shrimp paste, 3-4 of curry paste, and 2 of honey. From here you can taste it an see for your self. Is it too bland, then add some salt. Still too bland, then add more fish sauce or shrimp paste. Not spicy enough, then add another tablespoon of curry paste.

A note on seasoning: Now I know what your thinking and, trust me, it won't work. I remember once I was in a Thai food restaurant, and I over heard the woman next to me order her curry 'with out fish sauce.' So many people love Thai Food, but they have a big aversion to fish sauce. Well I've got news for you, it simply isn't good Thai food if it does not have fish sauce in it. You may not like the idea (or the smell) but if you like Thai Red Curry, then you like fish sauce. It adds a richness and a depth to you sauce that is imperative, so get over it.

Another note on seasoning: This step is not going to be the final step. Remember that after this, you are going to add coconut milk (simmer 1-2 minutes) , then lime juice and zest and fresh basil leaves, so don't go too crazy when seasoning. If it does not have all the layers of flavor before, it certainly will after these last few ingredients.

One last note on seasoning:
If you live in New York, you can get your fish sauce, shrimp paste, and curry paste at Kam Man at 200 Canal Street. If you don't live in NYC, then try looking at some local food blogs, or try ordering on line. Also, you can make you own curry paste (Prik- Kaeng) if you have a blender or food processor, here is my recipe:

Prik- Kaeng
9 dried chillies sliced (seeds removed)
1/2 cup shallots, sliced
1/4 cup of garlic, sliced
1/4 cup lemongrass sliced
1 lime, thinly slice the rind
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds (all three toasted )
1 tbsp black pepper corns
1 tbsp shrimp paste
1 tbsp tomato paste (optional)

Blend until it becomes a paste.

If there are any questions Kara, or anyone else, just let me know.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Epiphany, and Why I Love The French

The Epiphany is a Catholic Holiday that signals the end of the Christmas celebration, and marks the day the three Kings of Orient finally decided to bring presents to the newly born Baby Jesus. Of course I had no idea about any of this until a few day ago when my friend and co-worker, Regine, after whom I named my truffle, told me I was to meet her at Patisserie Claude at 3:30 pm the next day. Though she did explain to me the reason for the meeting, due to her fragmented manner and fabulously thick French accent, I was still a little confused. As far as I understood I was to meet her, Jacque, and ‘the girls’ (whoever they were) at Claude’s and we were to eat cake while the youngest sat under the table. Hm? It was clear that I was missing something, but when Regine tells you to meet her somewhere, you meet her, and when she doesn’t make any sense, you don’t ask questions.

The next day, when I arrived at Claude’s, Regine was already in line picking up three cakes and Jacque was impatiently sitting at a table. “Hello Mado” he said leaning in and kissing me on both cheeks. It was clear from the cake boxes we would not be eating them on the premises. But where were we going and where were the girls. Regine came over to the table and started speaking to Jacque in French, they both seemed very anxious and were staring out the window. “ So,” I said reverting the attention back to our current circumstances, “ we are waiting for the girls, and then…” Regine turned her attention towards me while Jacque continued to look out the window, “ then we will go to the café” she told me, assuming that I knew the rest. “ And then what? “ I asked feeling like a simpleton. “Oh” Regine said putting her hand to her mouth, “ I thought you already knew. Oh, yes of course you don’t know…” she said looking at me with sympathy. Now realizing that I was a silly American who knew nothing of her French customs and mischief, Regine explained the whole thing to me in great detail.

Basically, the French have taken this highly religious holiday and used it as an excuse to eat cake, and that is why I love the French. Not just any cake however, Galette des Rois, which translates as, King’s Cake. Each Galette des Rois comes with its own paper crown, and inside each there is one fava bean – or now a days a figurine of some kind. According to tradition, the oldest is to cut the cake, and the youngest is to sit under the table and designate to whom each piece goes (this is to prevent cheating I suppose). Once distributed, everyone eats their slice of cake and whoever gets the bean is designated King for the day and gets to wear the paper crown.

Once 'the Girls' arrived, Anjel, her daughter Gala, and surprise guest Carlito, we were on our way to the cafe to kick some epiphany ass. Thanks to Global warming, the weather was pleasant enough for us to cut the cake outside. Jacque, being the oldest cut the cake and Gala, the youngest, sat under the table and designated the recipient of each slice. Once distributed, we all eat our cakes looking around curiously, each of us wondering who got the bean.
Once the cake was finished everyone looked at each other dumbfounded. "Who got the bean?" someone demanded. " Did we not get one?" another asked anxiously. At that moment Jacque began to smirk and we all knew we had found our King.
I must admit, I was more than heart broken when I finished my slice and no fava bean did I find. How I would have loved to wear the crown for a day and to boss everyone around.
Now I know what your thinking, and its not that way. The King was not dethroned, and I did not steal his crown. As it turns out, Jacque was a much more gracious King than I would have ever been and he decided to shared his crown with those of us less fortunate than he.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Free Will, Thai Food, and The Powers That Be - Part II

Alright. So your probably wondering why it is that you are staring at a picture of fast food nachos when last I told you I was standing in front of the Mermaid Inn getting ready to wash down half a dozen oysters with a couple of glasses of Sancerre. I have to admit that I too found myself wondering, how did this happen?

So how did it happen?
We walked through the front door of the Mermaid Inn and were greeted by an overly cheery host. “Did you guys want to sit down and eat?” she asked us bursting with glee. I shook my head yes, “ well you can’t, because the kitchen is closed.” Her unapologetically dopey smile threw me and I could not for the life of me figure out if she was being malicious or was slightly brain affected. I looked over at Andrew, his face was now twisted into a disgruntled knot and his eyes were glowing red with anger. “ Yes I know, we had a table a Thai Son” I replied, placing my hands in the air in defensive fury. It was overtime alright.

Now at this point, it was clear that we had only two options. The first was to throw in the cards and go home with empty stomachs. Because I've never been much of a , go home with an empty stomach kind of girl, so we opted for the second, Veselka, the funky Ukranian diner on 9th st and second ave. Veselka has really been there for me over the years. There Challah French Toast was a breakfast staple when I was living down town. It has also served as a late eating spot after a night of drinking. Their chicken soup has been a great comfort on may a cold night and, most importantly, Veselka has always, always been there for me when other dinning plans get shot to hell. It is part of the collective unconscious of this City that, when all else fails, there is always Veselka.

And so, like a couple of refugees seeking asylum from our own bad luck, Andrew and I walked threw the front door of Velselka only to find the counter full, and a huge line up for tables. " I can't believe this!" shouted Andrew, finally losing his temper. "It's pretty unbelievable" I replied lacking the sustenance for an energetic answer. This is when Andrew kicked it into high gear. He leaned over and began clapping his hands together like a football coach, "So here is what we are going to do." he shouted like a drill sargent, "We are going to go down the block to San Loco, get an order of nachos and some beers and wait it out. This will clear up in a half hour or so." And that is how I went from oysters to melted cheese sauce and a card board carton of chips.

Eventually, around midnight, the powers that be must have put down their ping pong paddles and called truce because Andrew and I finally made it to Veselka and enjoyed a fabulous second course of Chicken Soup and Perogies accompanied by Obolon beer.
That night I went home with a full stomach and a humbled ego. From then on, when sitting down to a meal that I decided to eat, at the restaurant I decided to eat it at, I would remember that it was not only my will that got me there, but the graciousness of the Gods who allowed my wishes to be fulfilled. Going to sleep that night, I couldn't help but feel a little nostalgic, a little sad. It was as if somewhere within the remodeling of my faith from my will to a higher power, I had lost something important, something genuine.

That night I dreamed of lemongrass , chilies, and the sweet smell of basil, and when I woke up I had made an important desicion. This ping pong game was far from over! I raced down to Canal street to Kam Man (and Asian food market that carries everything from shrimp paste and pig ears all the way to glazed ceramics) to pick up a few essential ingredients, then I swung by a the Park Slope Food Coop to pick up the fresh produce I would need to finally take my dining fate back into my own hands. How did I finally do it? How else, I made my own Thai Red Curry.
The Curry was great, but what was even better was having my faith restored to its original residence, my will. Oh the sweet smell of success bears a striking resemblance to aroma of the sweet basil in my Thai Red Curry.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Free Will, Thai Food, and The Powers That Be - Part I

I like to think that I'm rather talented at exercising my free will in the province of eating. When I was a young girl, I decided that I could not bear to eat anything brown because it looked like dirt, and you better believe that not one piece of pumpernickel passed my lips, not one meat ball shared the plate with my spaghetti, and not one brown M&M did I consume - the latter clearly benefiting my closest friends. Once I had come to the conclusion that my childhood phobia was not only silly, but also restricting, I simply began eating brown food as though I had been eating them all along.

As an adult I have taken my powerful resolve and used it to overcome other food aversions such as squid, sushi, and tomatoes (yes I used to hate tomatoes). All of these foods I now like and partake in on a regular basis. It brings me great joy to know that it was my iron will that was responsible for my current culinary liberty. This is exactly why I found my experience the other night so completely disturbing.

It all began Sunday afternoon when I was suddenly struck with a craving for Thai Red Curry. Not knowing of any good Thai Food Restaurants in my neck of the woods, I called a fellow dining companion of mine Andrew Anderson and made plans to meet him at Pongsri on Baxter Street. " Don't be late" I told him. Of course I was 15 minutes late myself and when I got off the train was not at all surprised to see that he had left me a message - this is were it all heads south - In his message he informed me that Pongsri had a line-up out the door and that he would be waiting for me at Thai Son, a Vietnamese Restaurant down the block. Now, I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but I had my heart set on Thai Curry. My craving was so strong that it drew me from the comforts of my Brooklyn apartment into the rainy, windy, and cold Manhattan night. I was not ready to give up just like that so, after some deliberation, I convinced Andrew to give up our table and take a cab the other Pongsri on 18th street and 2ave.

As the cab slowed to a stop in front of the restaurant, there was no mistaking it, it was closed. My heart began to sink when Andrew interjected, “Wait! I have an idea. Don’t stop the meter.” He had the cab driver take us to East Village Thai on 7th street, a hole in the wall place that happens to make some of the best Thai Food in NYC. The cab let us out on the corner and I was scared to glance down the block to see if it was opened. Andrew wasn't. “All I’m gonna say is that we had a table at Thai Son,” I looked at Andrew now drenched and shivering in the rain, “were it was warm. And dry!” I understood why he was upset, but how could I have ever known what was in store? How was I to guess that some higher power, some outer force would be governing the events of my evening and cutting off my efforts at every turn? It was hard to understand. “Alright then, screw Thai Food. What about Oysters?” as I said this Andrews eyes began to glimmer and the corners of his mouth turned up as if attempting a smile.

Hungry and cold, we walked the three blocks to The Mermaid Inn, each of us swimming in our own thoughts. When we arrived, we glanced inside at all the people eating, and drinking in the soft glowing lights. Through the rain streaked window, the dinning room appeared to radiate with laughter and warmth which only further corroborated the bitterness of our current circumstances. Andrew and I looked at one another and nodded, it may have been a long journey, but we were now standing at the threshold of a comforting meal.

It was 10pm, two hours after our original meeting time, and I felt as though I had learned an important lesson: your will, no matter how strong, can only take you so far when you happen to be the ping pong ball in a table tennis match between the powers that be. Little did I know, this table tennis match was about to go into overtime...

To be continued.