Thai Chicken Milkshake

A blog about food, in all of its weird and delicious glory.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

What's in your fridge?

These are the essentials of my kitchen: garlic and garlic-chile sauce. My local supermarket chain Market Basket, which is owned by the Demoulas family, sells tubs of whole peeled garlic cloves (they're Greek, after all). You can also get a bag of Persian limes for two bucks! Short of actually buying your fruits and veggies at a produce market, I've found Market Basket to be a chef's best friend, which is why I'm hoping the company succeeds in opening a new store here in Gloucester that'll almost be within walking distance of my house.

And as for the Sriracha Hot Sauce, I've waxed rhapsodic about it in a previous post, but I literally go a little batty if I don't maintain a constant supply of the stuff. I can't imagine eating breakfast without a squirt of the stuff on my eggs, lunch without a shot of it in my tuna salad or garnishing a grilled cheese sandwich, and I've found recently that it works even better than Tabasco when added to cream-based soups like chowders (with all due apologies to the McIlhenny Family!).

So what are your essential ingredients? Take the Fridgecam Challenge and send your pic to me - I'll post it here along with anything you have to say about it.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Waffle Iron Cubano Sandwiches

One of the things I love most about making roast pork is that sometime in the next week I can make cubano sandwiches. This combination of sliced pork, ham, and swiss cheese is my personal favorite, and even though my wife is normally fond of neither mustard or pickles - two essential ingredients in a cubano - for some reason she finds the sandwich just as delicious as I do. I think the hot pressed sandwich has a certain alchemy to it whereby the individual components become difficult to discern but impossible to do without, which is why it is absolutely essential that the sandwich be pressed and not merely toasted . To this end you can use a sandwich press if you have one, or a George Foreman Grill for that matter, but I've found that a waffle iron does the trick just as well and makes for an interesting presentation to boot.

For the sandwich:

1 pound roast pork, sliced thinly (1/4" to 1/8")
1/2 pound deli-sliced ham
1/2 sliced Swiss cheese
4 Tb brown mustard
4 dill pickle spears, sliced thinly
1 loaf Italian flatbread, sliced in half and cut into four equal portions

Heat waffle iron. Assemble your cubano sandwich by spreading 1 Tb of mustard on the bottom layer of the flatbread, topping with sliced pork, Swiss cheese, ham, pickle slices, and the upper half of the bread. Place in waffle iron and press down hard for 3-5 minutes per sandwich. Cut in half and serve immediately (preferably with sweet potato fries!).

Makes 4 sandwiches.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

V-day meltdown narrowly averted

While the Mrs. and I have a long-standing policy of not doing anything insane for each other on Valentine's Day, we have made it something of a tradition to get lobster rolls to celebrate the holiday, a practice dating back to when I had to teach some evening classes on V-Day and stopped by Kelly's Roast Beef on my way home (the one along Revere Beach, no less!).

This year however I felt like cooking, however, so I pulled out an old standard that I had made for my wife on our first date: Shrimp With Rum and Mint with Coconut Rice. The recipes were adapted from Steve Raichlen's Miami Spice: The New Florida Cuisine (Workman Publishing Company, 1993), which was the first cookbook that really blew my mind.

I'd like to say that the meal went off without a hitch, but I almost managed to burn the coconut rice, as I was using a pot that was a little too thin for the task. Fortunately I noticed that something was wrong in time to save most of the batch...

For the shrimp--

2 lbs. 41-50 ct. flash-frozen frozen shrimp with shells on, thawed
1 stick of salted butter
1 head of garlic, minced
Red pepper flakes to desired level of heat
Sea salt and ground black pepper
1 generous handful of chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup rum
Juice of three limes

In a large pan melt the butter and saute the garlic and red pepper flakes over medium heat until aromatic. Add shrimp and cook for about two minutes. Add salt, pepper, mint, rum, and lime juice and continue to cook until shrimp just turn pink (do not overcook the shrimp!). Remove shrimp with a slotted spoon and heat the remaining sauce on high heat until it reduces almost by half, approximately five minutes. Serve shrimp with reserved sauce on the side.

For the rice--

2 Tb olive oil
1 head garlic, minced
1 knob ginger, peeled and minced
1 cup basmati rice
1 can coconut milk
1/2-1 cup chicken stock (depending on what's in the can of coconut milk)

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot. Add garlic and ginger and saute for 2-3 minutes until aromatic, then add rice and saute for an additional minute or two until the rice is lightly toasted. Add coconut milk and stock (the combined liquid should equal about 1 2/3 cups), bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer with the cover on until the liquid is gone and rice is cooked.

Monday, February 5, 2007

General Tso? I wonder if he means Old Ben Tso...

The NYT Magazine has a great piece about the origins of that classic staple of Chinese take-out, General Tso's (also Zuo's, also Gao's) Chicken. Created by Peng Chang-kuei, a refugee of the Chinese Civil War who left his native Hunan province for Taiwan, this chicken dish came to the United States in the 1970's, where it was transmogrified from its origin Hunanese salty and sour taste to the sweet and spicy concoction that Americans couldn't get enough of... and still can't!

The really interesting footnote to this story is that in recent years General Tso's Chicken has returned to Hunan province, where it is now regarded as a "traditional" dish:
In 1990, Peng returned to Changsha, where he opened a restaurant that included the creation on its menu. The restaurant did not last long, and the dish was never popular (“too sweet,” one local chef told me), but some leading figures in the culinary establishment learned how to make it. And when they began to travel abroad to give cooking demonstrations, it seems quite likely that their overseas audiences would have expected them to produce that famous “Hunanese” recipe. Perhaps it would have seemed senseless to refuse to acknowledge a dish upon which the international reputation of Hunanese cuisine was largely based. Maybe it would have been embarrassing to admit that the dish was a product of the exiled Nationalist society of Taiwan. Whatever their motivations, they began to include General Tso’s chicken in publications about Hunanese cooking, especially those aimed at a Taiwanese readership.

It's articles like these that make me want to become a food historian...

Thai Chicken Salad

Yes, I know most Super Bowl Party foodstuffs are comprised mostly of food service-grade beef and Velveeta (tm), but insofar as one of my guests was a genuine tyrophobe and the missus and I get enough cheese as it is, I decided to do something a little less ooey and gooey for this year's football extravaganza: Thai Chicken Salad, with Orange-Chipotle Pork Skewers.

For the chicken salad:

3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast
Sea salt

1 bunch of cilantro
2-4 Jalapeno peppers
3 Tb dried lemongrass
1 small yellow onion
4 Tb olive oil
Crushed black peppercorns and sea salt to taste

1 jar Stonewall Kitchen Mango Chutney (or use the chutney of your choice)

1 cup crushed peanuts
Juice of 4 limes

Heat a large pot with water and a handful of sea salt; add the chicken shortly before the water reaches the boiling point, reduce heat, and simmer chicken for approximately 15 minutes. Drain and cool the chicken, then chop it into small (1/2") dice.

Meanwhile, combine cilantro, hot peppers, lemongrass, onion with olive oil and process in a food processor until it achieves a pesto-like consistency, adding additional olive oil as needed. Salt and pepper to desired taste.

Combine chicken, "pesto", and chutney in a large mixing bowl and stir until the ingredients are well incorporated. Toss with lime juice and crushed peanuts. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.

I decided to serve this in miniature phyllo dough cups, which you can find in the frozen foods aisle of most supermarkets. Simply heat the empty pastry shells for 5 minutes in an oven preheated to 350F, then after cooling spoon a dollop of the chicken salad into each cup.

Of course, idiot that I am, I completely forgot that my best friend's girlfriend is allergic to peanuts (and how many times have I cooked for her again?), so feeling like a major-league dodo I sprang to try and create a comparable dish that she could enjoy while we noshed on the above appetizer: Maple Curry Beef With Peas!

1/2 lb ground beef
1 cup frozen peas
2 Tb Curry powder
Sriracha hot sauce, salt, pepper, and maple syrup to taste

Brown beef, add peas, curry powder, hot sauce, salt/pepper and heat until peas are tender. Drizzle maple syrup and serve immediately (again I dolloped this mixture into phyllo dough cups).

Crisis averted!

As for the pork:

2 lbs boneless center-cut pork chops (don't use thin chops!)
1 bottle Lawry's Baja Chipotle marinade
Juice of 4 oranges
1/2 cup Sriracha hot sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce

4 assorted colored bell peppers
4 medium yellow onions
Basile's Greek Steak Seasoning

Cut pork into 1" cubes and combine with marinade, orange juice, hot sauce, and soy sauce. Refrigerate for at least four hours, stirring occasionally and adding chunks of bell pepper and onion to the marinade for the last few minutes.

Fire up grill or broiler. Thread several long metal skewers with alternating pieces of pork, pepper, and onion, season with Basile's to taste, and place completed skewers on grill or broiler pan. Grill for five minutes, turn, and grill for an additional three to five minutes.

Feeds approximately 4 people.

(The chicken salad feeds a small army!)

Monday, January 15, 2007

The omnivore's dilemma solved

Meat in a petri dish? From the Times Online:
In different parts of the world, rival research teams are racing to produce meat using cell-culture technology. Several patents have been filed. Scientists at Nasa has been experimenting since 2001 and the Dutch Government is sponsoring a $4 million (£2 million) project to cultivate pork meat.

The idea may be stomach-turning, but the science for making pork in a Petri dish already exists.

Put simply, the process relies on a muscle precursor cell known as a myoblast, a sort of stem cell preprogrammed to grow into muscle. This cell is extracted from a living animal, and encouraged to multiply in a nutritional broth of glucose, amino acids, minerals and growth factors — Churchill’s “suitable medium”. The cells are poured on to a “scaffold” and placed in a bioreactor, where they are stretched, possibly using electrical impulses, until they form muscle fibres.

The resulting flesh is then peeled off in a “meat-sheet” and may be ground up for sausages, patties or nuggets.

Not too much worse than the way in which chicken nuggets are already made, but still a little creepy nonetheless. I'm reminded of Warren Ellis' dystopian Transmetropolitan, where everyone's favorite fast food is something called Long Pig, which serves cloned human flesh to the futuristic urban masses. If the meat was never really attached to a sentient creature in the first place, does that exculpate the eater from the blood guilt of being a carnivore -- and if so, what's to stop specialty growers from cultivating some delicious "long pig" pork chops?

Human -- it's the other other white meat!

Update: Well, that didn't take long...
Chilean artist Marco Evaristti (left) presented his friends with his newest creation on Thursday night: Meatballs cooked with fat from his own body, extracted by liposuction.

'Ladies and gentleman, bon appetit and may God bless,' said Evaristti, a glass in his hand, to his dining companions seated around a table at the Animal Gallery in Chile's capital, Santiago.

On the plates in front of them was a serving of agnolotti pasta and in the middle, a meatball made with the fat that Evaristti had removed from his body last last year.

'You are not a cannibal if you eat art,' he added. He described it as a criticism of the plastic surgery market.

(Post title with apologies to Michael Pollan. And thanks to BoingBoing for both links!)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The essential ingredients

Every cook has a few items without which his or her kitchen feels completely bare. Here are five essential ingredients that I have discovered that I absolutely, positively cannot cook without:

1. Sriracha hot sauce, aka the big red bottle with the rooster on it. Vietnamese immigrant Huy Fong started making this red jalapeno sauce by hand in Los Angeles, California in 1980, and now presides over a small condiment empire. I put this sauce on practically everything savory that I eat, and if I ever get my hands on an ice cream maker I'm likely to try turning out a batch of Sriracha ice cream.

2. Whole black peppercorns, a mortar, and a pestle. I hate store-bought ground pepper, which is really just mildly spicy dust, but I'm not all that enamored with those "twist-and-grind" pepper mills either. Sure, the big ones look all cool, like something you'd whack some unruly dinner guest upside the head with all Lord of the Rings-style, but they're awfully unwieldly and still only deal out pepper in amounts too small to be useful when I cook. Instead, I like to take a handful of peppercorns and grind them in my mortar and pestle on the spot -- simple and effective. Not only can I control how fine the grind will be, but once I've done it I have all the pepper I need for the entire meal as I go.

3. Trader Joe's Organic Tomato & Roasted Red Pepper Soup. While this soup is of course absolutely delicious in and of itself, I've found it to be a perfect ingredient when making sauces or kicking up something as prosaic as Turkey Taco Night. I try to keep at least one carton of this stuff around at all times (two if I've already opened one!).

4. Limes. I buy 'em by the bag every week, and somehow never fail to go through them over the next seven days. Being a fresh salsa freak probably has a lot to do with that, but then again who doesn't like a good Cuba libre every now and then -- or every night, as the case may be?

5. Chinese Five-Spice Powder. Since my best friend first used a sprinkle of it to whip up the best batch of fried rice I'd ever eaten, I've tried to maintain a supply of this blend of cassia (Chinese cinnamon), cloves, fennel seed, star anise, and sichuan peppercorn. Not only do I add it to stir-fries and the occasional curry, but it works surprisingly well as a substitute for the spicing that normally goes into a Greek tomato sauce for makaronia me kima or kreas kokkinisto. Buy it pre-made or grind your own.

So those are my Top Five. What are yours?