So there I was at work the other day (not blogging, my day job…) and in walks my new best friend Ai with a green papaya. Don’t you just love unexpected gifts of food? Ai had her mom pick one up for me after hearing me complain about how hard it was to find a good green papaya. As it turns out, it isn’t so hard to find one in San Jose. Not only did I get a beautiful green papaya, but I also got a bunch of ‘rau ram’ from Ai’s garden (another item that is not always easy to find). Rau ram is also known as Vietnamese cilantro. Its flavor is very similar to cilantro with some delightful nuances of its own. Since a warm weekend was in the forecast, I thought it was the perfect day for one of my favorite hot weather meals: Green Papaya Salad. This salad is fairly common in South East Asia and I have eaten many versions. As you would expect, it one of those dishes that no two people prepare the same. The hardest part is getting a good papaya. I have heard of people using other things as a substitute for green papaya such as green apples (meh), or rutabagas (not even)!, but I have never tried it with either of them. If you can’t find rau ram, cilantro, mint, and basil (of a combination of the three) are a very respectable substitution. Remember that “herbaceous” is “Vietnamese Cuisine’s” middle name. This salad also usually contains some form of protein (chicken, tofu, shrimp, or my favorite, beef). Dried beef is traditional, but I am going to make some “Nua Sawan” or “Heavenly Beef” which is Thai; it is similar to the dried beef, but much easier to whip up.
I have had very little luck finding good green papayas outside of The City, Oakland, or San Jose. I don’t really know why, but I suspect it is because they don’t keep very long and they don’t sell very many. You are looking for the ‘maradol’ type of papaya from Mexico, not the smaller variety from Hawaii. It is easy to find a ripe orange one but what you need to find is a green one. It should be very firm, without any blemishes or soft spots and very dark green. If you are not going to use it right away, wrap it in a dry paper towel, and keep it in a plastic bag in the fridge. It should last up to a week but that might be pushing it. If we were in Vietnam, we could go to the market and get it already shredded and ready to use. Some markets do that here, but it isn’t as good as when you shred it yourself. You can use a mandolin or a cheese grater or you can get a tool made especially for this purpose. In Southeast Asia, they use a technique that uses a very sharp knife, and a bit of skill; you can see that technique demonstrated here. If you are planning on using the latter technique, be sure to count your fingers when you are done to make sure they are all there.
Once you have your papaya shredded you have two options. One is to continue with the salad; the other is to squeeze out some of the juice. I prefer option number two. Removing the some of the juice keeps your salad from getting slimy. It also allows it to absorb more dressing. To prepare it this way, put the shredded papaya in a colander and toss it with a teaspoon and a half or so of salt, and let it sit for about 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes are up, rinse out the salt, and lay the shredded papaya out on a clean dry tea towel. Roll it up and twist the ends to get as much water out as possible, work in batches if you need to. Your papaya is now salad ready. You can do this early in the day, but it is best if you use it the same day. If you want to get ahead of yourself, you can make the dressing the day before.
The dressing for this salad is “nuoc cham”. This is a fairly standard condiment in Vietnam, and if you have ever eaten at a Vietnamese restaurant you have probably already tried it. They use it in Vietnam for flavoring everything, the same way we would use salt and pepper. I sometimes bring my own so I don’t have to suffer the dirty looks that I get by constantly asking for more. Everyone makes nuoc cham a little bit differently, and a fair amount of conversation in Vietnamese households is dedicated to discussing who makes the best. It is composed of fish sauce, sugar, chilies, lime, and garlic, tempered slightly by a little water as not to overpower anything.
Green Papaya Salad
I like to make my dressing, cook the beef, and shred everything well ahead of time then assemble at the last minute. I always add a little carrot to this salad, but I totally forgot to put it in this time if you are wondering why you don’t see any in the picture. It is easier to add it to the salad than to Photoshop it in later and the addition of carrots makes for a much prettier and tastier salad.
- 1 green papaya, peeled and shredded (about 5 cups)
- 1/2 pound beef (chicken or shrimp)
- 1/2 cup rau ram or cilantro (you can also use a combination of cilantro, mint, and Thai basil)
- 1 carrot, peeled and shredded
- 3/4 cup roasted nuts (peanuts or cashews)
- 3/4 cup of dressing (see recipe below)
- 1/3 cup fried shallots (see note*)
When you are ready to serve your salad, just toss all the ingredients together except for the shallots and beef. Plate the salad, and arrange the beef on top, then sprinkle the top with fried shallots. Serve some additional dressing on the side. I love eating this salad with some steamed glutinous rice on the side, and an ice cold beer.
Dressing (Nuoc Cham)
- 4 small cloves of garlic
- 2 Thai chilies
- 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 lime
- 1/2 cup fish sauce
- 2/3 cup water
Split the chilies in half and remove the seeds and roughly chop. Place the chilies, garlic and sugar in a mortar, and grind it into a smooth paste. Squeeze the lime into the mortar, and use a knife to scrape the pulp of the lime into the mortar also. Mash the paste and lime together, and then add the fish sauce and water. Taste it to adjust the seasoning to suit your own taste. Add more water or lime juice if it is too strong for you. This recipe makes about 1 1/4 cup of dressing, enough for the salad and some on the side.
Heavenly Beef (Nua Sawan)
- 1 lb. lean beef (sirloin, tenderloin, eye of round) thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Oil for deep frying
Roast the coriander seeds in a dry pan until fragrant, then combine with the beef, fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar, mix well and allow to marinate for 30 minutes. Stir fry the meat in a wok or sauté pan until all the marinade is reduced and absorbed, and then remove. Heat about two cups of oil in another pan over medium heat. Deep fry the beef in batches until they float. Remove and drain on paper towels.
*Fried shallots are just that. The shallots are thinly sliced and deep fried in oil until brown and crispy. They are easy to make, and easy to screw up. They can go from awesome to awful in 5 seconds. Try to slice them as evenly as possible. Get the oil hot to start out, then lower it after a minute of two. Sprinkle the shallots with a little flour for added crispiness. Remove them from the oil as soon as they get golden. They will darken a bit more after they come out. If you burn them or take them too far they will have a bitter unpleasant taste. You can buy them already fried in the Asian market, but they are not as good as home made (but very convenient to have around).
Must be the hot weekend, ‘cause I’ve have a bad case of macaroni salad craving lately. I don’t recollect eating macaroni salad as a kid…maybe I did but I just don’t remember. Then sometime in my early 20′s, I was going to a BBQ with a friend, and he enlisted me to help with a macaroni salad. We didn’t measure anything… it was just a little of this and a little of that, but it turned out to be an awesome creation. I continued to make it often over the years, adding my own touches; and now, after a lot of tweaking and practice, it comes out fairly consistently. I still love it as much as I did when I first learned how to make it (and still love making it). So, at the urging of my friends, I decided to write it all down and share it on the blog…here you go.
A couple of things make my ‘mac’ a little different. For one thing, I like to chop the ingredients a little on the big side. I like to see all the big chunks of onions, pickles and other ingredients. It also makes each bite taste a little different. Another thing I don’t do that you see all the time is use a ton of dressing (I find it hard to eat the overly-dressed soggy stuff you find all too much of). The pasta soaks up a lot of dressing, but unlike some, I don’t keep adding more. I want to be able to taste every component of the salad. I doubt if anyone who makes this can possibly make it the same way. Everyone wants to add their favorite kind of pickles, pasta or olives, or even include a few other surprises. You can follow this recipe and duplicate “Tim’s Macaroni Salad” or you can make changes as you see fit and put you own name on it. So without further ado, let’s get busy.
__________’s Macaroni Salad
- 16 ounces uncooked salad macaroni (ditalini)
- 6 hard- boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
- 3/4 cup chopped red onion (more or less depending on how sweet they are)
- 3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
- 3/4 cup sweet pickles, chopped (sorry, pickle relish not allowed)
- 1 cup ‘Best Foods’ mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 3 teaspoons apple cider or red wine vinegar (either is good)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Boil the pasta according to the directions on the package until tender (al dente). When it is done, strain and rinse in cold water (this is the only time you should ever rinse pasta). Drain well, and add to a large mixing bowl. Add all the chopped ingredients and toss. Next, mix all the dressing ingredients together in a separate bowl and add to the mixing bowl (or you can do what I usually do and just add it all to the bowl). Mix it all together. Taste and adjust the seasoning to suit yourself. You can eat it right away, or you can cover and refrigerate if you are planning on enjoying it later. The pasta will soak up the dressing, so it will be a little different after sitting, but just as good if not better.
This is a fun salad to make and everyone seems to like it. I have made lots of variations on this salad over the years and I am sure you will too. Feel free to change it all you like and rename it after you.
Never satisfied to enjoy my own family traditions, I am again usurping someone else’s. I had heard of the German tradition of Rumtopf for years and always wanted to make one. Rumtopf is, in essence, a large crock filled with spring and summer fruit, picked at their peak of flavor then soaked in booze until it is enjoyed at Christmas. What’s not to like? In this case, the booze in question is rum. I guess I never had the patience to make one before, preferring quicker results as I do and indeed making it is an exercise in patience. Rumtopf is started in the spring when the very first fruits start to peak. Fresh fruit is picked and mixed with sugar before going into the pot. Then it is topped off with rum, covered, and stored in a cool dark spot until more fruit is added, topping with more rum as you go. It is rumored that German housewives sometimes keep it under the sink for easy access, but I fear that if I tried that, it might never get filled. This process continues through the summer until the pot is full. Then it is sealed to steep until it is opened on Christmas. It is traditionally served on puddings, ice cream, cake, pancakes and waffles. Finally, I can go back to looking forward to Christmas morning! I have even heard it is good in the bottom of a champagne glass. Again, what’s not to love?
So how did this tradition get started? Rum was first introduced into Europe in the eighteenth century. The German city of Flensburg, on the border with Denmark, was the seat of the West Indies fleet where rum and good times were spread throughout the continent. Some people believe that during this time some of the fruit that they were importing from the Virgin Islands “accidentally” fell into a barrel of rum, and yo-ho-ho, Rumtopf was born. Rumtopf (or romkrukke as it is known in Denmark) literally mean “rum pot”. Traditionally, ceramic pots are made just for this purpose. I have seen some awesome blue and white ones on eBay from time to time, but I haven’t been able to get my hands on one yet. The new ones I usually come across are a little too “cute” for my taste. I decided to improvise and go with some great one liter canning jars from Sur la Table that will work just fine (even though a larger three gallon crock is a more traditional size). This way I will be able to watch their progress and they will look great when they’re done.
Since I am using a smaller-sized jar than I should, I decided to make 4. Besides enjoying them myself, a couple of them are destined to make some great Christmas gifts. First up are strawberries. We got a half flat of organic strawberries at the market that are sweet, tasty, firm, and have great color. The idea here is picking things that are at their peak of flavor. We cut them in halves and quarters and tossed them in sugar at a ratio of 8 ounces of sugar to one pound of fruit. We let them sit for an hour before ladling them into the jars. For the Rumtopf to be properly preserved, you need to use a rum that is at least 108 proof (54% alcohol content or higher). We achieved this result by combining 2 bottles of Bacardi 151 with 3 bottles of Bacardi dark rum. We topped the fruit off in each jar with rum so that it was covering the fruit by about an inch. The jars are now sealed and resting comfortably, awaiting the next sweet addition.
I am not sure what I am going to add next. It looks like it will be apricots or cherries but I am sure both of them will find their way in the pot at some point. Since I am using relatively small jars I need to be selective and pick only my favorites. The only things to avoid are apples and melon; apparently they take on an odd texture or contain too much water. I can’t really say what else is going in, but I will be at the market tasting and waiting for the next best in class to impress me.
I am not going to write about Rumtopf again until after Christmas, so if you want to see how the story ends you will just have to come back in 2014. I will, however, place a snapshot of the Rumtopf in its current condition on the site so you can come back and check on its progress here. Oh Boy, I can hardly wait for Christmas (there’s something no one living has heard me ever say).
Enjoy the summer!
Note: After a week we noticed the fruit floating to the top. We put a plastic lid in the jar, and weighted it down to keep it submerged. You dont want fruit poking up over the surface of the rum.
Exciting times for Artichoke lovers! I got the inside scoop out of Sacramento and it seems as though artichokes are about to be named the official State Food of California. Of course, I was not surprised but considering all the competition it was a tough race. We beat out almonds, avocados, crab, sourdough, grapes and wine. So many good things to eat are associated with California, but I don’t think any other item on the list is as rich in history and truly unique to the state as artichokes. I never get tired of them, and I never get tired of finding new ways to eat them.
The last time I wrote about artichokes was last year. Here is the piece I did that included some of that rich history of artichoke, and my favorite way to cook them. Must be the new BBQ, but this spring I am all about the grilling. So I tried out this new recipe and I love it. It is fairly simple, but it is a two day process. You can do it in one, but it tastes better marinating overnight.
- 6 medium artichokes, trimmed and steamed
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup water
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 sprigs oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Trim and steam your artichokes until the bottom is tender and you can easily pierce them (about 30 minutes). Remove from heat and drain. When they are cool enough to handle, cut them in half, and scoop out the choke and any prickly petals in the center. Mix all the marinade ingredients, and pour over the artichokes. Marinate them overnight or at least 1 hour. When you are ready to cook them, remove the artichokes from the marinade and grill cut side down until lightly browned (about 5 minutes). Turn them over, brush with the marinade and grill for another 3-4 minutes. Enjoy them hot or at room temperature. They are so good this way and I don’t think they require any dip, but you can serve them with some additional marinade if you wish.
“I was determined to know beans.”
Henry David Thoreau
A couple of weekends ago, I stopped by the “Rancho Gordo” stall at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers Market. I’ve heard good things about them in the past and I also heard that they were moving inside to open a permanent storefront, so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Up to that point, I really didn’t know “beans” about beans! My first impression was surprise at all the different varieties, many of which (OK, most of which) I have never seen or heard of before. The truth is I was never fond of beans as a kid. They were one of those things my mother could never get me to eat much of. I am sure if she had had some of these she would have had much better luck. Like many of us, I grew up with the narrow selection of common canned and dried beans we are used to seeing on the grocery shelf. These common beans are mostly grown for their high yields and profitability. As it turns out, there are many varieties to explore that vary wildly in flavor, color and texture. Fortunately for us, most of this exploration has been done for us.
“Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take
much to see that the problems of three little people
don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
Someday you’ll understand that. Now, now.
Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Humphrey Bogart “Casablanca”
The man behind this hill of beans is Steve Sando. One day back in August of 2000, he set out to find a good tomato but came home empty handed. Finding a good tomato in Napa in August should be easy, but it wasn’t so he decided to grow his own. This eventually led him to growing his own beans. Now Steve’s company, “Ranch Gordo”, sells over 25 varieties of heirloom beans. Steve has searched all over Mexico and Central America to discover and share with us this amazing variety of indigenous ‘New World’ staples. Many of these varieties had fallen into such obscurity that in all likelihood they might as well have disappeared altogether. If you are at the Ferry Building Farmers Market on a Saturday, be sure to look for their stall and get ready to be impressed! Their enthusiasm is contagious, not to mention they are extremely knowledgeable and helpful. They will have you on your way and you will be full of beans in no time.
“Some people are fat, some people are lean
But I want you to show me the person
Who doesn’t like butterbeans? Yay! “
Beans, as we know, are good for you. They are essential for a healthy and balanced diet. Just consider the following:
- Protein: There are approximately 7-10 grams per half a cup of cooked beans.
- Fiber: 1/2 cup of cooked beans contains about 25-30% of the daily value of fiber. Beans are a source of soluble fiber that reduces blood cholesterol. Beans also release glucose slowly which helps control metabolism, a contributing factor in weight loss.
- Vitamins: They are great sources of B complex vitamins including B1, B2, B3, B5, B12, folic acid and biotin. Awesome for the liver, skin, hair and eyes (to name a few).
- Minerals: No slouch here! Iron, magnesium, phosphate, manganese, calcium, copper, zinc and potassium are in the house!
- Lipids: Polyunsaturated fat and no cholesterol are why beans are an excellent dietary choice. Lipids create stored energy (mostly linoleic acid in beans) and the chemical structure is low fat.
- Calories: There are only about 100-120 in a half a cup of unadorned beans (but for everyone’s sake, adorn your beans!).
- Dry beans also have the added advantage of being sodium free, as opposed to canned beans which are often loaded with sodium.
“I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many
more than I wanted. They attached me to the earth,
and so I got strength like Antæus. But why should I raise them?
Only Heaven knows.”
Henry David Thoreau
Back to the Rancho
Every beautiful bag of Ranch Gordo beans comes with a description and a serving suggestion. There are also some great recipes on the website that you can find here. I have been craving some beans on crostini (which I haven’t made in a long time) and it looked like the “Black Calypso” beans would be great choice for that. Cannellini beans are the traditional choice for this dish, but I was attracted to the beautiful color (even though I knew they would be much less dramatic after cooking). The bag described them as ‘mildly potato-flavored’ and ‘ideal served with a little sage and pancetta or bacon’. I only needed half the bag for the crostini so I am planning on using their suggestion for the other half of the bag. We used ‘Acme’ Herb Slab for the crostini, which we brushed with some garlic olive oil from “The Oilerie” that we got from Paul’s sister Katie for Christmas. This recipe is definitely one that you can play with and use or add whatever you might have on hand into the mix. We also enjoyed it left over the next day (so nice to know that you can make it well ahead of time). You can also serve it ‘Chunky Style’, which I prefer, or mash it up if you are mixing it for more of a ‘spread’ consistency.
- 8 ounces of Ranch Gordo ‘Black Calypso’ beans
- 1 shallot, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
- 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1-2 tablespoons of oil packed sun dried tomatoes, chopped
- 1 tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped
- A couple dashes of red pepper flakes
- Bread for crostini
- Olive oil, for brushing on the crostini
- Chopped chives for garnish
Because these beans are so fresh, you don’t need to soak them; they will just take a little longer to cook if you don’t (I didn’t soak them when I made this recipe). Rinse and sort the beans and place in a pot with the chopped shallot and cover them with a couple inches of water. Bring to a boil, and let it go for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat, cover, and put on the lowest simmer you can muster and cook until they are tender. The beans will soak up a lot of water as they cook; you may need to add more water (from the kettle, not the tap). My beans were cooked in 1 1/2 hours, but that can vary. When they are tender, drain them and place in a large mixing bowl. Add all the rest of the ingredients and mix, tasting and adjusting as you go. When you are done, set the bean mixture aside and make your crostini. There are a few ways to make crostini. I like to brush it with olive oil and grill, but you can also toast it in the oven. Spread the beans over the toasted crostini and serve.
Oy! Oy, alright! Cool the beans. Rambo.
Donna Noble, ”Dr. Who”
Get the book!
I almost forgot to mention the cookbook: “Heirloom Beans” by Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington. It contains awesome photography and great recipes from top chefs such as Thomas Keller and David Kinch. You can get it from the Rancho Gordo website, independent bookstores (yes!) or Amazon.
But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas!
“The Rolling Stones”
One More Thing…
Did you really think I was going to write an article about beans without mentioning gas? Some people actually avoid eating bean because of this issue…this is madness! You can enjoy beans without gas. Making your own beans and avoiding canned beans helps. So does soaking your beans and discarding the water. Make sure you are using the freshest dried beans you can find…another reason to get some Rancho Gordo beans. Check out this article on treehugger.com for some more great information on this topic.
I can tell that spring is on the way. The days are getting longer, daylight savings is eminent and the air is thick with pollen. I was hoping these sniffles were due to allergies, but no such luck. I am officially home with a head cold. As we know there is no known cure for the common cold with the possible exception of chicken soup. This common cold however, has me craving something a little less common: Hot and Sour Soup. I love soup but I loathe canned soup. I hate to sound like a snob (even though I am) but I won’t eat soup from a can even when I am sick. Fortunately, this recipe is easy to make and I have made it so many times that I can make it with one puffy red eye closed. Most of the ingredients for this soup are things you probably have on hand, or can easily send a do-gooder to the store to get with the possible exception of the wood ear mushrooms. Wood ear mushrooms don’t have much flavor so you can get by without them, but I really miss them when they aren’t there; I love their color and texture. They are readily available in Asian markets and many specialty stores and keep indefinitely in the cupboard. When you are ready to use them just pop the mushrooms in some hot water for about 15 minutes to bring them back to life. When I serve this soup I like some additional vinegar and Siracha sauce on the side so everyone can adjust it to their own taste. Lucky for me I don’t have to share this pot of soup with anyone due to the quarantine, so it was ‘all mine’ to enjoy.
Szechwan Hot and Sour Soup
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 1/4 pound boneless chicken, sliced thinly, and cut into bite size pieces
- 6-8 button mushrooms, sliced
- 3-4 pieces of dried wood ear
- 8 ounces extra firm tofu, cut into 1/4 inch strips
- 1/4 cup bamboo shoots
- 1 teaspoon ginger, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 4 tablespoons water
- 1 egg
- 1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons water
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Green onions, chopped (for garnish)
Soak the wood ear in warm water for 15 minutes or until soft and slice into thin strips. Heat the stock in a pot. Add the chicken, mushrooms, wood ears, tofu, bamboo shoot and ginger and bring to a boil. Add the salt, ketchup and soy sauce, and continue at a low boil until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. Give the cornstarch and water a stir and add to the pot; return to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and gently add the beaten egg. Draw a spoon through the soup to make the egg coalesce into fine threads as it cooks. Remove from heat. Combine the water pepper and vinegar and stir. Add this mixture a little at a time until you reach the right balance of hot and sour. Add the sesame oil, adjust seasoning, and you are ready to serve. Garnish the top of each bowl with some chopped green onions.
This soup worked wonders! I had it every night for three nights in a row, and I was right as rain by the weekend!
What is more satisfying than good cheese and good bread smeared with a little butter and grilled until hot and melted to perfection? Grilled cheese sandwiches are one of those things that conjure up memories warm enough to…well…melt cheese. It is hard to imagine improving on this classic we all love. Until a few days ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of trying. Then I came across “The Hot Mess Grilled Cheese” on ‘White on Rice Couple’s Blog’. Todd Porter and Diane Cu have elevated the grilled cheese to new heights on their beautiful blog that you owe it to yourself to check it out here. For their take on the classic, they added onion rings and pickled sliced jalapeños to pepper jack cheese and grilled it on LaBrea bread. After reading how they improved on this great old standby my mouth starting watering and didn’t stop until I made one for myself. I tried it out the other day and I hardly changed a thing!
For MY hot mess, I decided to use my favorite bread: a sour batard from bay area favorite, Acme bread. I wasn’t excited about the thought of making onion rings from scratch but I found some at the store in the freezer section by Alexia that are delicious. They are breaded with panko and sea salt and I was very happy with the results. I am assuming everyone knows how to make a grilled cheese sandwich, so instead of giving you a recipe, I am just going to give you a few handy tips for making the perfect grilled cheese sandwich (regardless of what you put in it). If you need to refer to the original you can find it here.
Tips for the Perfect Grilled Cheese
Bread Make sure you are using the best bread you can find and something you like. Plain old sliced white bread won’t hold up too well under all that pressure (and who uses that anymore anyway). Don’t slice your bread too thick or the cheese won’t melt.
Cheese Again, find something delicious that melts well. Don’t use thick slices of cheese. Instead, think about grating it as it will melt better and help to hold everything together.
Butter Leave the butter out until it comes to room temperature. Always spread the butter evenly on the outside of the bread, do add it to the pan. I probably don’t have to tell you this, but please don’t use margarine…you don’t want to get me started! Sometimes I like to put a pinch of garlic powder on the butter for a little garlic toasty goodness.
I recommend using a nonstick pan. If you are doing it right, the cheese will ooze out the sides and turn into golden brown crunchy cheese bits (this is a tasty little snack for the chef to be eaten when no one is looking). Also, putting a cover on the pan will help the cheese melt better.
Well, those are my tips for a perfect grilled cheese sandwich. I can honestly say that I will probably never make an ordinary grilled cheese again. My mind is reeling just thinking about all the different combination of cheeses and savory additions.
How do these sound?
- Brie and Caramelized Onions
- Havarti and Olives
- White Cheddar and Tomato Chutney
- Swiss Cheese and Piquillo Peppers
- Blue Cheese and Bacon
…or better yet a platter with all of the above?
What combinations can you come up with? Whatever they may be…enjoy!
What can be better than receiving some long stem roses for Valentine’s Day? How about a half dozen long stem endive? To be more precise, a Valentine bouquet of “on-the-root” endive from California Endive Farms. I hate to boast, but in salad circles I have friends in high places and I love it when they remember me on Valentine’s Day. Before we go any further I am assuming you are pronouncing it right; you already know it’s “on-deeve” not “n-dive”. There is also no need to tell you all about endive’s interesting history, versatility, and great nutritional value, because you are going to want to go over to endive.com and check it out for yourself. They do a much better job of telling their story than I could. It’s a great web site that has everything you need to know about endive including many recipes that will make enjoying this great local product even better. When I got home with my bouquet, I couldn’t wait to take some pictures of it. It was so beautiful I easily could have left it on the counter to enjoy for a few days, but endives are not fond of the light…and besides, I couldn’t wait to eat them. I decided to try the recipe that came with my bouquet which I personalized slightly. I hope you will like it as much as I did. Thank you California Endive Farms for your thoughtful gift… I’m enjoying it!
Endive, Pear and Blue Cheese Salad
- 1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon minced shallot
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
- 4 heads of endive (red and white)
- 1 firm but ripe pear
- 1/4 cup walnuts, roasted
- 3 ounces crumbled blue cheese
Combine the lemon juice, salt, mustard, and shallots in a bowl and mix. Slowly add olive oil, while vigorously whisking until completely blended. Whisk in the parsley and set aside. Roast the walnuts in a 300 degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown, remove and set aside. I like to peel the pears but most people leave it on. In any case, quarter it, core it and slice it into 1/2 inch pieces. Gently fold the pears into the dressing. Remove 8 nice outer leaves for garnishing the plates and set aside. Slice the remaining leaves into 1/2 inch slices discarding the core. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, and toss. Plate your salads and garnish with two leaves on each plate. Makes 4 salads.
Note: When shopping for endive, select fresh pale yellow ones. If it is green it has been exposed to light for too long. Also, make sure that it hasn’t been over trimmed. You should not have to remove any leaves when you get it home. The outer leaves are the best, and plump is good.
Walk into any kitchen store and look around; the choices of tools and gadgets are overwhelming. Which ones are necessary and which ones are not? We could get by if we had to with a pot, a fire, something sharp and a glass of wine, but we have tools at our disposal that make cooking so much easier. Since everyone loves a list, I decided to compose one consisting of my personal favorites. For this list I left off the obvious essentials. I am assuming everyone has a pot and pan or two, an oven and a good sharp knife. This list of favorite tools I got along without at one time, but couldn’t imagine doing without now. How many of these make your list, and how many more can you think of?
Mortar and Pestle
I have always been fascinated with mortar and pestles… I don’t know why. Maybe it is the timeless form or the connection to science and alchemy which I relate to. I always have an eye out for them. I have a few, but there are probably more in my future. I came by my first mortar and pestle by way of my grandfather. He found this Native American beauty while hunting in Lassen County. I remember it sitting in his back yard since I was a small child; now it is sitting in mine. I don’t know much about it other than he found it hunting, it is volcanic rock, and it should probably be in a museum instead of my back yard. I never use it, but it is one of my favorite things. One my most reliable mortar and pestle is from Laos; it is made out of stoneware and palm wood. I bought it in a Thai grocery store about 20 years ago. It has a great form and is one of the few things that remain on my kitchen counter all the time. It is essential for serious Thai cooking and great for grinding spices, herbs, chilies, curry pastes, or making papaya salad. Another mortar I keep handy is a small stone one I use for the small jobs like grinding spices. They taste so much better when they are freshly ground. Lately I have noticed stores selling spices in smaller packages or by weight. I love this and am so happy when I see them being sold this way. It is so much easier to keep them fresh when you only need to buy what you can use right away. How many jars of spices and herbs in your cupboard are candidates for carbon dating? You can use a mini processor to grind them but I think it is easier and much more fun to throw it in a mortar and crush it by hand rather than getting out another appliance. My most recent acquisition is a mortar and pestle from Italy. It is made from the same Carrara marble that Michelangelo carved David out of, and it is the design that’s been used for centuries. If that doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will. Making pesto in one of these becomes transcendental. You absolutely cannot get the same results by mechanical means. One other type of mortar still on my wish list is from Latin America. The “molcajete” is made from volcanic rock and therefore has a very rough surface. They are very attractive but they need to be seasoned or you will be eating gritty salsa for a long time. Because it is porous it will absorb the flavors of the ingredients that you prepare in them. This may or may not be a good thing, but I can tell you that some of the best salsa I ever had was made in a molcajete.
Olive Oil Spout
I was just perusing Crate and Barrel one day, when I came across this work of art that really caught my eye. It is made by OXO which explains its beautiful appearance and perfect functionality. I took it home and inserted it into a bottle of ‘McElvoy’ olive oil (another essential) where it has remained ever since. The thing I like about this spout is that you can close it off when you aren’t using it to keep your oil fresh. It also pours at the perfect rate when making dressing, mayonnaise or just adding oil to a pan. Sometimes it is just the simple things that make all the difference, and this is certainly one that does.
I have used a couple different kinds of citrus juicers over the years; an antique Depression glass one from my Grandmother, a reamer, and the standard method that involves cutting and squeezing by hand. A few years ago I started seeing these brightly colored ones everywhere. They’ve probably been around for years and I just never noticed them. I finally decide to pick one up and do I ever love it! What doesn’t taste better with a fresh squeeze of lemon or lime? One of my pet peeves has always been bottled lemon juice (especially the little plastic lemons). Fake juice in fake lemons should be banned from the market. With one of these handy it is just a snap to add some lemon to anything from a plate of fresh steamed vegetables to an ice cold cocktail. Just the other day I was talking to my friend Karen (AKA “The Lemon Lady”) and we were talking shop. She naturally agrees that they are essential, but pointed out that these eventually become chipped. Fortunately they are cheap and easily replaced. There are a couple of nice alloy and aluminum ones, but I think I will stick with my painted model at least until someone makes one in stainless steel.
Grade “A” grating of hard cheeses has never been greater. The light airy wisps of cheese grated from a microplane grater are like snowflakes and perfect on pasta and salads. It is also the best way to efficiently zest citrus.
When I told my friends I was getting ready to write this story and asked them what some of their essential tools were, quite a few mentioned spatulas. I have to agree even though it did not immediately come to mind. Spatulas tend to be taken for granted, but it would be tough to get by without them. Just try deglazing a pan or scraping the batter out of a bowl without one and you will quickly realize how important our spatulas are.
When making stock or gravy, the easiest way to separate out the fat is to put it in the fridge, then remove the solidified fat that has risen to the top and hardened the next day. I just don’t always have time for that. That is where a grease separator comes in handy. I have a couple of these and they both work really well. This one from OXO is great; you just pour the liquid into the cup, wait for the grease and oil to rise, and then pour, stopping just as you reach the grease. The other one I use is by AMCO. It works pretty much the same but with this one there is a lever that you squeeze and the separated juices come out the bottom leaving the grease in the cup. Both have strainers on top for trapping the large “bits”. They save time and make the job much easier.
Squeeze bottles are real handy when garnishing a soup, appetizer, or dessert plate and they cost practically nothing. As you know, I like to make things pretty. You can use it to garnish a puréed soup with sour cream, or decorate a desert plate with a berry puree. It is simple and fun, and will always impress your guests.
Pots and pans are a given; everyone has their favorite finishes and styles. We all have a few different types for cooking different things. I decided to include a wok because I truly could not be without one. If I could only have one pan it would be the wok. You can cook almost anything in it; they are the most versatile pan ever created. There are many styles to choose from and buying the right one can be daunting. Selecting the right one for you depends mostly on what kind of cooktop you have. If you have electric cooktop you need to have a flat bottom wok. For gas you can go with a wok that is flat or rounded on the bottom. Carbon steel woks are the most common and my personal favorite. They are cheap, conduct heat beautifully, and last a long time. You do need to season them and care for them properly or they will rust (which is a deterrent for some). However, a well-seasoned wok is a joy to cook with and worth the extra attention. Most well-known manufacturers of pots and pans feature a wok in their line, so you can find them in anodized aluminum, stainless steel, cast iron, enameled cast iron, and copper as well as nonstick versions. If you don’t have one and are contemplating on getting one, I recommend one that is at least 14 inches across. You need the extra room when making Pad Thai or Fried Rice or it could get messy.
Not everyone measures when they cook. I am one of those guys. The hardest part of writing recipes for me is figuring out the exact measurements. I have always just proceeded conservatively, adding a little of this and that and tasting as I went along. This method really sucks when you want to make something again and have it turn out the same every time, so I have gotten into the habit of measuring. Being exact is also a good idea when trying out a new recipe for the first time. When baking it is a must! Baking is like chemistry, and you absolutely need to be exact. Table flatware spoons are not exact so you really should have a set of measuring spoons. Extra measuring cups are a good idea too while you’re at it.
I got a Braun hand blender from my brother and his wife for Christmas such a long ago I can’t even remember. It is another item I don’t use much, but can’t live without. One of my favorite things to make and eat is Cream of (fill in the blank) Soup. You could make it by cooling the soup slightly, pouring into a food processor or blender and pureeing in batches, then returning it to the pot. Alternatively, you can just plug in the Braun, stick it in the pot and push the button. I also use it for my Pot Roast Gravy. Remind me to share that recipe later. I am sure hand blenders are good for many other things but that is all I use it for (but that is good enough for me).
Bowls are bit of a no brainer; who doesn’t have a few bowls? I have lots and lots. The reason I included it here is because there are a couple types I think you just have to have. I love an extremely large stainless steel bowl. I tend to mix and toss with great enthusiasm. With a large bowl I am able to mix everything together and toss with confidence knowing none of it is going to end up on the floor. Another set of stainless steel bowls I have really come to love is a set that come with rubber bottoms. You can whisk without holding on to the bowl. If you have ever tried whisking oil into some vinegar while holding the bowl, you will appreciate these rubber bottoms. Without them you need a third hand. The other bowls I rely on are my prep bowls and my pinch bowls. They are great to fill with pre-measured ingredients that you can have handy when you need to work fast.
I had always wanted a KitchenAid mixer…what serious cook wouldn’t? They are modern classics of design and function. When I finally got one I was so proud that I displayed it on the counter as if it was an Academy Award. Unfortunately, I never really used it very much. The reason is I am honestly not into baking. Whenever I entertained and anyone asked me if they could bring anything, my answer was always the same…bring a dessert! Since I met Paul I bake even less. He is the best baker I know, so why try to compete. I am hoping one of these days I can get him to share some of his amazing desserts on my blog (but so far, no luck). If you are into baking at all however, a KitchenAid mixer is a necessity! I am sure you can knead dough, make cake batters, frostings, and crusts by hand like our grandmothers did, but why? Grandma would approve.
How can we overlook the whisk? Just try to whisk without one. Emulsifying oil and vinegar together in harmonious bliss is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Bottled salad dressings are convenient but can’t come close. When you start with great quality oil and vinegar, fresh herbs, good salt and omit the sugar and chemical additives there is really no comparison. If you want to read more about that you can look here.
Instant Read Thermometer
There are so many judgment calls, variables, and guess work in cooking. A meat thermometer is one thing that you can count on every time like an expert second opinion. You can poke it, stick a fork in it, wiggle the drumsticks, and check to make sure the juices are “running clear” but nothing is as definitive as a properly placed thermometer. With poultry it can still be a little tricky; you have to make sure you put in the right place and don’t hit any bones. It is easier with other meats and it is so nice to have some confirmation that it’s done!There are many types of thermometers. I like the instant read ones the best plus they are all cheap and easy to use. They are also easily broken, lost, or damaged, so as cheap as they are, it really doesn’t hurt to have a couple on hand.
Seriously! I never buy chopped lettuce in plastic bags and containers, EVER. I will admit that they are convenient, and the dressing and goodies that come with some of them are often tasty, but the lettuce is never as nice as what you can pick out. Buy a head of lettuce, take it home, tear it or chop it, wash it and dry it in a spinner. Add some spring mix if you want. It is tastier, fresher, and nicer to look at.
ipad and Internet Connection
There is nothing like curling up somewhere comfortable and thumbing through some treasured cookbooks to plan a menu. However, you can’t beat the internet as a reference for charts, recipes, and great information. The ipad is easy to use, doesn’t take up much room and can go anywhere. Just don’t put it in the dishwasher.
Not the musical kind! My pick is the classic French Bron version in stainless steel that you can see here. It is so good for slicing vegetables paper thin, julienne, gaufrette, not to mention making the best pommes frittes ever. Just watch your fingers!
Mini Food Processor
These come in handy for grinding and chopping things like garlic, nuts, olives for tapenade, and a few other things (but remember there is little that can’t be accomplished with just a simple knife or a mortar and pestle). They don’t take up much room, so it doesn’t hurt to have one in the cupboard.
I am probably going to get a lot of heat for this one but I just don’t like them. I know they are great for cooking vegetables and re-heating left overs, but they scare me. I still use them but I have a tendency to run out of the room like an X-ray technician until the bell goes off. It seems odd to me eating something “cooked” in a microwave; one bite is warm, then you bite into ice, then you are burning a layer off the roof of your mouth. Is it just me or does water heated in a microwave cool off faster that water from the kettle? Sorry…spooky!
I used to love my Cuisinart food processor more than my luggage. I’ve had one about 30 years and I’ve used it a lot over the years. Back then Cuisinart made really great products. This thing was built like a brick s+++ house. I’m sorry to say they just don’t make them like that anymore. Even though mine still works like a champ I just don’t use it very often unless I am cooking for a very large group. I find that it chops things too fine or unevenly. I like a little more control and the texture and soul that you get by chopping things by hand. As convenient as it is to chop onions in a processor, the action of processing on the cell structure of the onion releases more sulfur and the results are bitter. Better to brave the tears and chop them by hand.
I hope my favorites become your favorites as well. Let me know what you would have to add to make it onto your essential list!
I will never forget my first Thai meal. Actually, I take that back; the details are a little fuzzy and I can’t remember what I ate or where it was. I just remember how it changed my life. The food was so fresh and exciting…so different. After that night, I was on a mission to learn how to make this amazing cuisine. It was back in the early 80′s and there were very few Thai restaurants, so I had to either do lots of driving or learn to make it at home. There were very few cookbooks around and no Internet, making it even more challenging. I just did what I had to do; I sought out Thai people and befriended them…I ate out a lot…I even took a trip to Thailand. After many years of trial and error I am happy to say with the upmost confidence that I got this one. Of all my favorite Thai dishes I have to say that my favorite is beef salad. Like everything under the sun there are numerous variations. One of my favorites is called “Nuer Nam Tok” or “Waterfall Beef”. The name comes from the sound grilling meat make as the juices and fat drip on to the coals during the grilling process. One of the things that separate this salad from other beef salads is the roasted rice powder (Khao Koor) that is sprinkled on top giving it a unique flavor and texture. Uncooked rice is roasted until it is brown, then it is pulverized to form a grainy powder. I have made this salad using many different cuts of meat including top sirloin, filet, flank, and tri tip. The important thing is that it should be a little on the lean side, tender, and grilled RARE. It will require tasting and adjusting as you go in order to get the right balance of heat, salt, and sour. เพลิดเพลิน (enjoy)
Thai Beef Salad
- 2 lb. beef (filet, top sirloin, tri-tip, or flank)
- 2-3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 4 cups lettuce, torn into bite size pieces
- 2-3 medium tomatoes cut into large chunks
- 2-3 small cucumbers, sliced (pickling or Persian variety)
- 1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
- 3-4 green onions, chopped
- 1/4 cup cilantro, torn
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
- 3-4 tablespoons rice powder (Khao Koor)
- 1 teaspoon red chili flakes (or to taste)
- 1/4 cup white jasmine rice, uncooked (for rice powder)
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
Start out preparing the rice powder (Khao Koor). Take about a half cup of uncooked white rice and brown it in a pan on the top of the stove stirring constantly to achieve a uniform golden brown. Remove from heat and let it cool. Pour into a blender and pulverize it. It should be like grains of sand. Put it in an airtight container. You will not be using it all; there will be some left over that will make it easier to whip this dish up again next time.
Prepare the dressing by combining all the dressing ingredients and set it aside.
To begin preparing the salad, line a serving dish with some chopped lettuce. Next arrange the tomatoes and cucumbers on top of the lettuce. You can use any fresh vegetables that you like, but I usually stick with tomatoes and cucumbers. I don’t like this salad cold, so I prepare the dressing and vegetable plate and leave it out (keep it covered).
A few hours before grilling, generously pepper the steak on both sides with fresh ground black pepper, place in a non-reactive dish and add 2-3 tablespoons of fish sauce. If it is going to be a while before you cook it keep it in the refrigerator: take it out before grilling so that it can come to room temperature. Grill the beef on the BBQ until it is rare to medium rare. DO NOT OVERCOOK! You can also sear it on a grill pan if a BBQ isn’t available; it just won’t have as much flavor. Place the cooked beef on a board and allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing into 1/4 inch slices that are about 2 inches long. Put the sliced beef in a bowl and add the red onion, green onions, cilantro, mint and red pepper flakes. Don’t overdo the red pepper. You can always add more later on or omit it altogether if you don’t like it hot. Next add the dressing and toss. The final step before plating it to add the rice powder. The rice will eventually soak up the dressing and lose some of its crunch, so add it just before plating and serving. Taste and adjust the seasoning…you may add more rice powder or red chili flakes as needed. You can also add more lime juice or fish sauce if it isn’t salty or sour enough. When you are pleased with the results, place the meat over the lettuce and you are ready to serve.