Friday, January 23, 2009

fresh shiitake mushrooms = happy me

Another attempt, last night, at Thai food. I'm still quite convinced I have no idea what I'm doing, and that I'm not very good at it. I used an online recipe this time, for Sweet and Sour Chicken. It was good, but there was too much soy sauce involved. Tamari might have been better, since the flavour is not so heavy. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't quite what I'd hoped. It did look gorgeous in the wok -- bright colours and lots of variety. I think it was likely very healthy, too. And there are leftovers, which are likely to be better the next day.

What did work out well were the shiitake mushrooms. fishy was able to find them fresh at the local grocery, which is awesome. They have a very subtle scent when raw, but the minute they are cooked, their flavour skyrockets. They taste amazing and rich, and were a perfect compliment to the sweet and sour sauce. Their texture was also a nice compliment to the crunchy peppers and bok choi, and the soft chicken. They're kind of halfway in-between a veggie and a meat, texture-wise. A little squishy. Each bite is a little squirt of flavour. I know not everyone finds that awesome, but I do.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

snowy owl on a snowy drive

Twice in a row I have been fortunate enough to see a snowy owl on the way to or from work. I can't see snowy owls without thinking of Minerva, Kay McKeever's iconic mama snowy. There's a book, full of photographs, that made a huge impression on me.

Anyway. He's living in a specific field on a specific road that I drive to get to and from work. I'd only half-hoped to see him again today, but sure enough, he was flying over his field, and landed as I watched (very carefully, trying not to drive off the road.) I think it's a he -- a young male. He's too light to be female and too dark to be a full-grown male. I hope he's getting enough to eat in that field of his. It's close to a barn -- there must be small rodents about.

Also saw snow buntings. It was a very Arctic day out there, and the temperature appears to be dropping. Lots of blowing snow over desolate fields.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Chiang Mai curry noodles

I embarked on the first of a number of experiments with Asian cooking last night. Here is the main thing I learned: 3 cups of coconut milk is a hell of a lot of coconut milk for one dish. Also, I need to plan better for vegetables. Since the garlic and coconut milk were the only things that even resembled vegetables in the whole meal. Oops.

Otherwise, it was delicious, and I was quite pleased with how easy it was to make, and how reasonable the ingredient list was. I could find everything at the regular grocery store -- not that I object to frequenting Asian grocers, it's just that this was much more convenient for my hella busy day yesterday. This is a very rich, sweet curry; I used a mild curry paste, and it wasn't really spicy at all.

I made the Chiang Mai Curry Noodles from Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia, which I received for Christmas. It's a beautiful cookbook/travel book, and I expect I'll try to get around to reviewing it over at the other blog eventually. Do any librarians in the audience know if I'm horribly infringing copyright by posting an entire recipe, even if I attribute it? I suspect I should know more about copyright law than I do, given what I want to do for a living. At any rate, I'm not going to give you the commentary from the recipe, so if you want to read that you should borrow the book from your local library. Or buy it, I guess.

A couple notes: I used 4 cloves of garlic, because by and large I am immune to it and find that cookbook authors tend to be very conservative with their garlic estimates. The teaspoon of turmeric seems to be a bit much. However, I was using extremely fresh ground turmeric; it was quite powerful. The beef was a bit chewy. Alford and Duguid suggest that chicken can be used instead, and next time I think I will try that. I used chow mein noodles, because they are a kind of Chinese egg noodle... and they worked really well.

There were other options for condiments, like fried noodles and Thai pickled cabbage -- I had neither of these to hand, and deep frying just doesn't go well in this house. I definitely recommend at least the scallions, and both the shallots and scallions if possible. They make the dish -- cut right through the richness of the broth.

Chiang Mai Curry Noodles (aka. khao soi)
pg. 134 of Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1-inch piece fresh turmeric, minced, or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus a pinch
  • 1 tablespoon Red Curry Paste (there is a recipe for this in the book, but I used store-bought)
  • 1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
  • 3 cups canned or fresh coconut milk, with 1/2 cup of the thickest milk set aside
  • 1/2 pound boneless flavourful beef (sirloin tip or trimmed stewing beef), cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 pound Chinese egg noodles

Toppings and condiments:
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped shallots
  • 1/2 cup minced scallions
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

"Place the garlic in a mortar with the turmeric and the pinch of salt and pound to a paste. Alternatively, finely mince the garlic and whole turmeric, if using, and place the garlic and turmeric in a small bowl with the pinch of salt. Stir in the red curry paste and set aside.

"Place a large heavy pot or wok over high heat. Add the 1 tablespoon oil and, when it is hot, toss in the curry paste mixture. Stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add the reserved 1/2 cup thick coconut milk and lower the heat to medium-high. Add the meat and sugar and cook, stirring frequently, for 4 to 5 minutes, until the meat has changed colour all over. Add the remaining 2 1/2 cups coconut milk, the water, fish sauce, and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook at a strong simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice." (Alford and Duguid, p. 135)

The above soup can be made an hour in advance and reheated before serving, if you want. Then cook your noodles as the package instructs, until they are tender but not mushy, drain them, and serve the soup over the noodles. Each person can add scallions and shallots as desired.

Serves 4.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

goodbye 2008, hello 2009!

Happy new year! 2008 had its share of challenges. I'm really looking forward to 2009, because it's going to be better. I've got a good feeling about this one.

For one thing, I'm done school. And that, my friends, feels really good. It means that I'm actually going to have the time to do some of the things I really want to do around this house, and in the gardens. I have a new job, and that means that I might even be able to afford some of it. The job is going really well and I love it. It's everything I imagined working in a library would be, and better.

I have plans to better organize my time and my life, but no real resolutions. I am wondering if I should set some written goals (Dad will be proud) but so far I am taking it easy. It's the first day of the year, after all.

The first bird of the year was a junco. The first pot of tea is orange pekoe. The first drink was a glass of Veuve Cliquot, which I think is a good sign.