Saturday, March 21, 2009

Thai-style Coconut Soup

Emphasis on the "-style" as I don't think this is very authentic. I love Thai coconut soups. The combination of creamy, sweet, salty, hot and sour is just heaven for me. In this version, I left out the "hot" part because I was making it for my mom and she doesn't do hot. At all. Ever...

I used stuff I had around the house: carrots, celery, onions, lemon grass (actually I saw that at the store and decided to pick it up) and of all things, green lentils. I don't think I've ever had a Thai dish with lentils in it. But anyway, as I said, this soup is not Thai, just has some "borrowed" elements from it.

I'll probably try to recreate the soup and add noodles or seafood another time. I'll also add some spice to it, too!

Thai-style Coconut Soup

1 large yellow onion
1 1 1/2 inch piece of ginger, sliced into strips
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 chicken breast, chopped into bite-sized pieces
3/4 cup lentils, rinsed and drained
1 stalk (?) lemon grass, chopped into three pieces and smashed with the dull side of a knife
1 can coconut milk
juice and grated rind of 1 lime
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp sugar
salt and/or pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil on medium-high heat (I used coconut hoping to capture its fragrance) and fry the onions, carrots, celery, and ginger until softened. Add lentils.

Add 2 cups water, the lemon grass pieces and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until lentils are soft. Add chicken pieces and simmer until they are white and cooked through.

Add coconut milk and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and zest. Stir to combine flavours. Add salt and/or pepper to season to your liking.

Serve with cilantro sprigs and enjoy!

*I'm not really sure how to use the lemon grass. I should look that up!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Japanese Hot Pot aka Nabe

That's pronounced "nub-eh" not "nayb". Nabe can be a dish or a dish. What I mean is, it can be a meal and it can also refer to the ceramic pot you cook it in.

I grew up on this comfort food and anytime I was away from home for long periods of time, it was one of the foods I'd really miss. There are as many variations on this dish as there are for "meatloaf" or "tuna casserole" so other people will do something completely different than what I do. And that's OK! There's no right or wrong way. As long as it tastes good and gets the family or friends around the table, the recipe doesn't even matter. It does consist of a few parts though: protein, vegetables, and starch/carbs.

For protein, my mom would usually use chicken thighs or wings to make a stock(with the skin and bone on for more flavour). Then she'd usually get a few variations of Chinese greens like bok choy, choy sum, napa and cabbage. Most leafy or stalky greens will work.  I always slice some carrots on an angle for colour and flavour. I also like to add enoki mushrooms (the long skinny white thingys in the pic below), tofu, and konnyaku thread bunches (and sometime udon, if we have guests). You can also add leeks and other greens you'd normally put in a soup.

To start off, I put about 2 -3 sheets of kombu (dried sea kelp) in a large stockpot of water. I let this sit on a low-med heat while I chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. The kombu is very concentrated with flavour and you'll see the water turn a golden tinge after it's been sitting in there for a while.

Something I did recently is make pork meatballs using about 1/2 - 1 pound of lean ground pork, 1-2 chopped garlic clove (depending on how garlicky you like it), 1 tbsp of finely chopped ginger and salt and pepper. You can leave the bowl of raw ground meat at the table and cook as you go (using 2 large spoons to form balls, dropping them into the pot as you go), but if the sight of raw meat makes you sick, you can boil these meatballs in the kombu broth ahead of time so that they're all ready to go and the broth is nicely flavoured. Your choice.  If you can find sukiyaki style beef or pork (sliced thin), that cooks very quickly and is easy, too.

I like to use the nabe (the pot) for aesthetic purposes but if you don't have one, you can use a stock/soup pot. Just be sure you can easily reach into it to grab stuff out. It would be best to use one that's not too deep.

We've got it on a single burner (behind the sauces) and bring it to a boil. Then put in your meat (unless you are using pieces with skin and bones attached. Those will take longer so you'll need to cook them in the stock before you start serving), vegetables, tofu, noodles, etc and wait until the meat is cooked thoroughly. Add whatever condiments to your bowl (we usually go for kimchee base [centre] and roasted sesame paste[left]) and when the meat and veggies are ready, dig into the big pot and grab what you like (you can designate a pair of "pot only" chopsticks for germophobes) and ladle in some of the soup, too. Make sure the sauces are well mixed in and enjoy! Usually someone is on refill duty (in our home, that's me) and will stock up the pot so the next batch can cook while everyone's eating.

I grew up finishing the meal off with noodles (like cooked vermicelli and udon) but some like to use cooked, cooled rice (like leftover rice). By the end of the meal, the soup is very nicely flavoured with meat and veggie essences and all this seeps into the starch and makes for a delicious filler-of-the-cracks in your tummy. If you're using rice, some people like to crack an egg into the pot and let that cook in the broth. The leftover soup-egg-veggie bits makes for a really good breakfast the next morning!

There are variation on the nabe stock, too. People also use soymilk in the stock for a creamier broth, and I've even heard that curry nabe is somewhat of a rage in Japan. There isn't really a right or wrong way. The most important thing is that it tastes good to you!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Red House Beer & Wine Shoppe

When in Renton... or even if you're not in Renton why not stop off at the Red House Beer & Wine Shoppe?

The husband took me here for a belated birthday dinner and it was fantastic. Actually, fantastic is an understatement! He went in a day or two before and spoke to the manager about setting up a special dinner for moi. The husband likes to make special occasions even more special but this surprised me; he pre-selected our dinner!

Just for background: We love food, think about it it way too much, eat way too much of it, and basically love pouring over menus and restaurant websites. We could have easily spent an hour looking the menu over trying to combine the shared dishes and entrees, with several glasses of red and white. When he went to the restaurant, he picked out dishes I would like (and he was bang-on) and the manager selected wines that would compliment each dish!

Husband was a bit worried that I would have wanted to eat something else, or be kind of offended like, "what, you don't think I can pick my own food?" but it was perfect.

Red House was pretty empty (it was a Monday night) and we pretty much had the top floor to ourselves.

Here's what we ordered (the manager (who had Monday off) kindly threw in a few extras! :)

House Salad
Pear & Gorgonzola Salad
Roasted beets
Devil Shrimp (spicy!)
Beer glazed mushrooms (delicious!)
Steamed clams (huge portion!)
Grilled pacific salmon

The servings were pretty generous and with the "extras" the manager threw in for us, we were stuffed before the entrees came out. We were able to squeeze in a few bites of salmon and maybe 2 sips of the Cioppino broth before was admitted defeat. We got it all packed to go, along with a dessert sampler, too!

I can say with confidence that everything we ordered except for the salmon and Cioppino were excellent. Because we got the latter 2 items to go, we ended up heating them up the next day for lunch. Needless to say, all the lovely seafood in the Cioppino was slightly overcooked by then. Same goes for the salmon. The both seemed to be seasoned very well (espeically the Cioppino broth which was delicious!). I really hope we can go back again so I can actually have the entrees as they were meant to be.

Oh, we did go back a few days later but just for a snack and a glass of white :) We had the crabcakes (SOOOO good) and pomme frites with truffle oil (also yum).

The wines that stand out are:

New Age (Argentina frizzante Sauvignion blanc - matched really well with the salads)
Jakob Demmer (Germany Reisling - amazing with the crab cakes)

I can't wait to try more stuff here... like the polenta fries... and the paella... Oh, did I mention how reasonable the prices are? The same meal in Seattle would have cost double, easily. Because they are a wine store, you can order a bottle from the store and pay a $5 corkage fee. Same goes with beer except the fee is $1.50.

As if this place weren't awesome enough, they do a wine and food pairing thing on Wednesday nights at 6pm for something like $20. I believe that gets you maybe 3 glasses fo wine and some food. I haven't been yet (I'm only ever in Renton on weekends) but hope I can miss a few days of work to take time off to go there.

Thanks for a wonderful birthday dinner, Red House!

Best insulated hot beverage mug... evahhhhh!!!!

I am a BYO-kind of gal. So when sports bottles, Nalgenes, plastic mugs and stuff became really popular, it was a fun time for me. I love getting the whole 5 or 10 cents off your drink at Starbucks or wherever. One less cup in the trash... Although maybe the amount of water and soap I use to clean out my reusable mug isn't so earth-friendly...

Anyway, I'm here to write about Thermos-brand Urban Elements Insulated Beverage Container. I believe I got if for Christmas one year from my sis and her bf and believe me when I tell you just how excited I was. It's a sleek, cool, chocolate brown container that you can sip straight from, rather than using the lid as a cup.


It has a snap button and wire-thingy so the lid won't pop open in your bag.

This light blue rubber squishy part seals off all the holes so no leaks!

It claims to be able to keep beverages hot for 12 hours and I believe it! There have been days where I've filled it up with hot coffee at about 8 am, left it on my desk and by noon, the coffee is still burn-your-tongue scalding hot. I've also put boiling water in it at night and drank it first thing the next morning (maybe 7 hours later?) and it wasn't scalding hot but it was impressively hot.

I thought I had left it on a bus once and almost cried. Phew! It was just in the bottom of my bag. This truly is something I use everyday and wonder how I ever survivied without one.

Oh, my mom wanted one too, so I got her one for her birthday :) They're not cheap, but if you like to drink hot beverages throughout the day and would like a handy container you can just fill up and toss in your bag (and I do mean "toss". I've had this thing upside down in my bag under books while on the bus!) I will say I think you'll find the $30 + price to be a worthy investment.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wine Party Recap

The wine tasting went really well in my mind. I only hope everyone else had a good time, too.
It was a blind tasting so we had 5 bottles wearing paperbag "shirts" thanks to the talented Dylan. It was bit tiring because I had to rinse out everyone's glass and then pour the next wine, and doing that 11 times is not fun.

An alternative: Maybe next time I'll pour all the wines into a carafe or decanter and number the container, and mark the glasses with a dry-erase marker. That might make for easier and less messy pouring.

Another alternative: Pre-cut cheeses so people can quickly grab the cheese that best compliments the wine.

The next alternative after that: Have three pitchers full of water and three empty pitchers and place them around the room (1 full and 1 empty at each place) so people can easily rinse out their glasses and move onto the next wine. I think there was a lot of waiting around and that might have been boring for some people.

The faves: Rioja Crianza 2005 Tempranillo Campo Viejo got some good responses. I believe most found it to be an easy-going wine that wasn't too intense.

Wolf Blass 2006 Shiraz had a good length of flavour.

Smoking Loon 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel was another good one.

I don't think any of them scored very badly. Most people found something they liked and at the end of the evening, all bottles were empty which is always a good sign :)

The best part of the evening was seeing everyone drinking and eating together. Corny as it may sound, having good food with good wine and good friends is one of the finest pleasures in life. (Cue the throwing of the cheese...)