Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Taste of Thailand pad Thai

Pad Thai is my ultimate fast, (mostly) pantry food. Rice noodles, fish sauce, lime and ketchup. Yep, I like my pad Thai with ketchup.

Over at Canadian Family we were sent a Red Velvet Cake from Heinz to try out. Verdict: Delicious. Believe me, there is no shame in ketchup. You can also link through to other recipes in which I have unabashedly used ketchup with great results.

Although some pad Thai experts like Pim decry the use of ketchup here, I stand firm. And even though I met Pim at the IACP conference last year in New Orleans and loved her, I also firmly believe that if you are going to get others to cook along with you, one unique ingredient per recipe should be it. In pad Thai’s case, this would be the fish sauce.

Fish sauce is a popular Southeast Asian ingredient made from salted and fermented fish or anchovies. If you are not familiar with this ingredient you are probably having a little bit of a gag reaction at the thought. Do not let that stop you from actually buying some and making this recipe. It is essential.

Fish sauce is usually found along with the soy sauce in what some mainstream grocery stores ubiquitously call the International Aisle. The problem is they may only carry one particular brand. I suggest that you try to hit an Asian grocery store that will have some variety.

My favourite brand is Three Crabs that is made from anchovies (no crabs here although there are three on the label). Being Vietnamese, it is called nuoc mam, whereas fish sauce from Thailand is nam pla. My main advice is this: buy the more expensive brand because it is worth it. I pay about $5 for a large bottle, steering clear of the $1.99 specials. You can taste the difference.

The rest of the ingredients can be found in most grocery stores. The thin rice stick noodles are the noodles used in pad Thai. They come in 500-gram packages. I prefer them to the thicker noodle, but it is up to you. A full package will feed about 8 people. Soak the noodles you need in warm water for about a half hour before using.

Make the sauce in advance with the ratio of one part ketchup, one part fish sauce, one part sugar and one part lime juice. Mix together until sugar has dissolved. Add some chilli flakes or chilli oil to your taste. You need about 1/3 cup of sauce per portion of noodles so if you are making a big batch using the full package of noodles make about 2 generous cups sauce.

Mince three cloves of garlic, dice 250 grams firm tofu (1/2 pkg) whisk two eggs together, rinse 3 to 4 cups bean sprouts then chop the 4 green onions, 1/2 bunch cilantro and 1/4 cup roasted peanuts.

The key to success here is to do the pad Thai in batches. Have all your ingredients ready sitting on the counter next to you. Do one or two servings at a time. Heat a large wok with some oil. Cook a bit of garlic and tofu until fragrant and lightly coloured add a big handful of drained noodles and toss around. Add a bit of whisked egg and toss to coat the noodles. Add 1/3 cup fish sauce mix and toss around then add a handful of bean sprouts and green onion.

If your noodles are not soft enough, add a splash of water, and oil as well if stuff starts to stick. You are doing a noodle stir fry so you have to keep stuff moving or else the noodles will ball up and be awful (hence the reason to do small batches).

I like to add cilantro and peanuts right at the end. Serve with a slice of lime and pass the chilli oil for people to spice it up if they want to.

Although I could just eat pad Thai, I usually pair it with a protein and vegetables or salad. Sort of maintaining the zone philosophy of a one third each of carbs, protein and veg. I find even if you have the protein within the pad Thai, I eat way too many noodles on my way to the protein, but it is up to you. If you want to combine the noodles with shrimp or chicken, add them when you first start with the garlic and hit them with a bit of sauce.

I roasted some salmon that I doused with lime, garlic, salt and pepper. At 425F, it took about the same time as a batch of pad Thai.

Although my husband pairs mayonnaise with his salmon (and just about everything), I draw the line at additional condiments with mine, not even ketchup.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Well Hello Spring Pasta

I love this time of year.

I eagerly wait for the first fresh, seasonal food to grow. It begs creativity. I feel myself become more invigorated as the days warm and feel full of vibrant life.

Although my Diva sister-in-law is very much a city girl, her Dad taught her a few tricks growing up in a small town and one of them is foraging.

I am in awe. The last time I went foraging went something like this:

I returned from a walk in the woods around our cottage and spread the mushrooms out for final inspection. A call was placed to the Don Mills Diva's father; a forager, fisherman and all-around good guy. He advised me to stay away from mushrooms exhibiting colour and slime. He concurred I had a puffball on my hands after I sliced it in half to make sure it was solid. He was baffled by the oyster mushroom discovery, claiming he had never found any and couldn’t help.

He ended the call by saying he was really busy the following week and would not be able to fit in any funerals.

ECK! Did I dare?

I only dared once and was scared silly that I had poisoned my family for the next 48 hours: no, I am not a confident forager.

Having been trained by one of the best, the Diva hasn’t these fears. In around Kelly’s hometown there are a few spots teeming with a bounty of ramps (wild leeks) and morels (wild mushrooms) which she confidently identifies and, I assume, forces Rob to dig up. (editor's note: you assumed right, sister)

A weekend visit up to her parents' house a few weeks back yielded me the happy recipient of two unassuming grocery store bags heavy with their finds.

This recipe combines the holy trinity of spring: fiddleheads, morels and ramps. The fresh cheese I buy is found in a container and seems to tie everything together. If you are at the St Lawrence Farmers Market in Toronto, ask Monteforte’s Ruth Klassen if she has any fresh cheese. If she does buy it- it is outstanding and would be perfect here.

And hey, if you don’t have a foraging Diva in your life, you can pick up fiddleheads, ramps and morels at farmers markets as well. Just do it soon, the season is short.

Well Hello Spring Pasta
with Fiddleheads, Morels, Ramps, Tomatoes and Fresh Cheese

1. Clean fiddleheads and ramps. Chop ramps in half then roughly chop stem ends. Cut the leaves in thin slices. Sauté in butter a handful of cleaned, chopped morels, fiddleheads and chopped ramps ends.
2. Add 8 oz of spaghetti to a large saucepan of salted boiling water. Cook for 8 minutes or until al dente. Drain reserving ¼ cup of pasta water.
3. Toss pasta with 8 oz fresh cheese cut or torn into bite sized chunks, 2 pints (about 2 1/2 cups) roughly chopped assorted tomatoes* and cut ramp leaves. Toss in sautéed stuff.
4. Drizzle is 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and reserved water if needed. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
5. Serve immediately with a simple tossed salad on the side.
Makes 6 servings.

Cook's Tips

*Having a variety of tomatoes in this pasta adds extra visual interest. A combination of yellow, red and orange cherry tomatoes cut in quarters is a favourite. Tear drop and heirloom tomatoes are worth the work to find when they are in season.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Green Eggs for Dinner

Just when I thought I was at wit's end making dinner at the end of the day...Voila!

I came up with what I think is a brilliant idea.

Okay, so I am not the first in the world to make a frittata, but I thought I would share this. Sorry about the bad picture, but it is really so yummy. It is also dead simple and quantities can be adjusted to suit the number of eaters.

And the best thing? Most ingredients are ones you have on hand, or at least will once you make this killer Chimichurri sauce that I first made for this May’s Canadian Family issue. Check it out at www.canadianfamily.ca This recipe combines Argentinean style sauce with a Spanish tapas favourite which is why this recipe is called…..

Spanentinean Frittata For Two

1 medium sized peeled Yukon gold potato
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 eggs
2 tbsp chimichurri sauce
salt & pepper
olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Slice potato thinly. Transfer to bowl; cover with plastic wrap and microwave 3 to 5 minutes or until tender.
3. Uncover potatoes and whisk in onion, eggs and chimichurri sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Heat a splash of olive oil 8-inch over proof fry pan over medium high heat. Pour in egg mixture.
5. Transfer to oven and bake 15 minute or until eggs are set in middle. For easy clean up, serve right from the pan.

If you have more eaters, double recipe and increase pan size to 12 inches and baking time to 20 minutes.

Enjoy frittata with a salad and feel really healthy eating your greens.

My favourite Green Sauce otherwise known as Chimichurri

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 medium shallot, peeled
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup parsley leaves, packed
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, packed
1/4 cup mint leaves, packed
1-2 tbsp chicken stock, water or olive oil, if needed to thin

1. Combine oil, vinegar, juice, garlic, salt and pepper in blender; blend until almost smooth.
2. Divide the herbs into thirds; blend one third until incorporated. Add remaining herbs in 2 more additions, pureeing until almost smooth after each addition. Thin out if needed with chicken stock or water. Chimichurri can be made 3 hours ahead. Cover and chill.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Salt snob

I admit it: I’m a salt snob.

I look with disdain at the ordinary salt shaker gracing most restaurant tables. It may as well be road salt given its full-on assault on the senses.

I checked my cupboard recently and counted eight different types of salt. Here is the low down on each of them.

Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt.
This is our everyday salt. Its lovely pinchable flakes and subtle flavour makes it a hands-down winner. At about $5 for a large box, it's also a bargain! Check out my Canadian Family recipe for chicken baked in a salt crust and give it a try because the chicken is so moist and tender.

Fleur de Sel
Fleur De Sel de Guérande is known as “the caviar of salts” and is acclaimed by many chefs as the best of all sea salts. The delicate flavour and moist texture make this the ideal finishing salt.

Salish Himalayan de Guérande
Himalayan Pink Salt is harvested from ancient sea salt deposits deep in the Himalayan Mountains. Gives lasting minerally (in a good way) flavour. We love it on popcorn!

Salish Sea Salt
Salish Sea salt is cold-smoked over red alderwood for 24 hours. Salish gives food a delicious essence of smoke flavour. Try on salmon, red meat or baked potatoes.

Oak Smoked Fleur de Sel
Oak smoked fleur de Sel is cold-smoked over oak wine barrels that have been used for years to age fine Chardonnay wine. Use as a finishing salt on salads, veggies, meat...almost any dish on which you want a smoky kicker.

Hawaiian Sea Salt
Hawaiian Sea Salt is the traditional salt used in Hawaii to season and preserve. It contains purified Alae clay which is high in minerals and gives the salt a mild taste. Try mixing the coarse salt with herbs and use as a spice rub; it seals in the natural moisture of meats.

Cyprus Mediterranean Salt
Cyprus Mediterranean Flake Salt is a unique pyramid shaped crystal. The texture and mild taste make this a versatile salt for use in cooking, baking and garnishing.

New Zealand Organic Sea Salt
New Zealand Organic Sea Salt is harvested from the deep, clear waters of New Zealand's North and South Islands. Our second choice for everyday salt.

Salt is the single most effective way to enhance the flavour of virtually everything you eat. Sprinkle one of the finishing salts on a favourite dish and it should add some new flavour or texture. Think of it as inexpensive indulgence to spice up your life.

Go ahead, toss the traditional salt shaker and be a salt snob.