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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Thai Baby Eggplant with Golden Eggs

Life is strange.  I went months searching and hoping and imagining getting my hands on some baby eggplants.. purple, white or green, but my deepest desire was the Thai green eggplants.  I've always been on the lookout, but I've been less active in my search these days than I have been in the past.
When I least expected it.. BAM, they fell from the sky.  Literally.. they are imports by air.  Luckily, they landed in good hands.  They came accompanied by something I'd never heard of.. pea eggplant labelled "very small eggplant."  These babies are the cutest things I've ever laid my culinary eyes on.  Eggplants that look like fresh green pepper?  Beloved Thai green eggplants I've been dreaming of for years?
Come to mama babies!
I couldn't help but make a dish subliming the eggplant.  I didn't want something where they would be lost in the middle of a crowd.  I wanted the eggplant to be the main event.  The strangest part of this story is that I was inspired by a recipe from a book translated into French.  This never happens.  My brain creates in English.  I can follow recipes written in French, but they never speak to me.  This one did.  It opened up to the eggplant page almost naturally and it seduced me in the blink of an eye... and then I had to kidnap it and take it into my world.
Inspired by p 508 (Stir-fried quail eggs with eggplant) of Thai Food by David Thompson.
Serves 2
Ingredients
4 eggs or 10 quail eggs, steamed (or hardboiled) and shelled
4 Tbsp oil
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp palm sugar
1-2 tbsp fish sauce (nuoc nam)
approximately 450g (1lb) Thai baby eggplant, halved and soaked in salted water
handful pea eggplant
handful green peas
2 fresh Thai red chiles
juice from 1/2 lime
handful chopped basil
paste:
2 dried red chiles, soaked
2 keffir lime leaves, fresh (or soaked dried)
2 tsp chopped galangal (I left this out)
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
1 tsp combava zest (I used lime zest)
2 shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp dried shrimp or shrimp paste
Directions
1.  Make the paste by crushing all the ingredients with a mortar and pestle... or blitzing it in your magic bullet.  Set aside.
2.  Make the golden eggs.  Heat the oil in a wok, then add the turmeric.  It should fizz.  Then add the eggs and cook, rolling them around until they obtain a nice blistered skin and a deep golden color.  Set aside and remove all but 3 Tbsp of oil.
3.  Heat the oil again and add the paste.  Cook until a nice aroma starts wafting, then add 1 Tbsp fish sauce and the sugar and stir.
4.  Drain the baby eggplant and add to the wok.  Coat well, then add the pea eggplant.  Cook, stirring for about 5 minutes on high, then lower the heat to a simmer, add the green peas, lime juice and the chiles and cover for another 10 minutes.
5.  Taste and add more fish sauce if needed.  The eggplants should be tender.
6.  Before serving, add the golden eggs back in and heat through.

Serve sprinkled with fresh basil.  This would be a perfect match for steamed jasmine rice!
The Thai baby eggplants are slightly sweet and hold their texture while exuding tenderness.  They are adorned by the curry paste in their most intimate crevices.  The pea eggplants were surprising.  They are bitter when eaten alone, but in a mouthful of several times, they give a nice balancing flavor.
This was an exhilarating experience to say the least.. almost a Reminiscence..

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Spicy Homemade Pickles

Pickling is a "thing."  It's been a "thing" since I can remember.  I've loved being served a spear alongside a burger or tuna sandwich as much as I've loved buying a whole dill pickle at the snack bar in its brine its individual plastic bag in its brine and taking a big bite into it.. feeling the crunchy tanginess fill me with happiness.
Another thing that brings a little smile to the corner of my eye is the verb "to pickle."  I've always jokingly said that French is rich in grammar but poor in vocabulary.. mostly to get a reaction out of my French friends.. but then I keep stumbling upon examples of the wealthy English vocabulary.  The French word for pickling is "confire" with is the same word used wether you are slow cooking meat in its fat or making jam.  If you say you've been spending the afternoon pickling in French, they have no idea what you are talking about without more input.
Ha!
The only problem with pickling is that you can make them in 10 minutes.. but then must wait at least 48 hours before munching on them.  I'm ok with the 10 minutes.. because when I have the urge.. I want it now.. but I rarely know that I'm going to want pickles 2 days ahead of time.  when I want them.. I want them.
I hacked myself by making these the day before I went for a week vacation.  This way, I indirectly forced myself to not open the jars to let the veggies enough time to soak in their deliciously spicy tangy brine.  I used cucumber and carrots, but zucchini would be nice here as well.  The whole idea is to keep the water-vinegar-kosher salt ratio the same.  I made 1 pint but you can easily double or triple it depending on your ultimate desires.
I may do this next time I need to go out of town on business!
Yield 1 pint (1/2L)
Ingredients
1 cucumber, cut into spears
1-2 carrots, cut into sticks
4 cloves garlic
2 green chiles, seeded and halved
2 tsp fresh dill
2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
juice from 1 lemon
2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cup cider vinegar
Directions
1.  Prepare your pint jars (or 2 half pint jars) with the cut veggies, garlic, chiles, dill, mustard seeds, black pepper, and lemon.
2.  In a pot, bring the water, vinegar, and salt to a rolling boil
then pour into the prepared jars.  You might not use all of the brine.  Top off the jars and close the lids.
3.  If you want to process, this is the time.  If not, wait at least 48 hours in the fridge before digging in.  These will keep 3-4 weeks in the fridge unprocessed.  This waiting time is the hardest part.. seriously.
Have as a snack or alongside a nice burger, sandwich, or salad.
I love the zesty snap the cucumbers and garlic had.  I was only planning on eating the cucumbers and carrots, but I just discovered how amazing pickled garlic is!!

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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Hibiscus Spice Popsicles

I finally got my hands on some popsicle moulds!  Now all I want to do is use my bullet and freeze everything all the time!
I've been playing around with the hibiscus popsicle idea for a few years now.  I don't know why it took me so long.. maybe I was expecting to be making them somewhere other than my home, but either way, the only way to be sure to go through with an idea is to tackle it yourself.
As you may know, hibiscus has a natural hydrating and has a cooling effect as well, which makes it perfect for a hot day when you double the cooling effect with the freezing.  It is also used in diuretics but I don't really care about that part.
My hunt for these moulds was quite an event as well.  I went to 3 or 4 stores before finding something decent where the stick was long enough to hold what was going to be frozen on it.
This recipe is similar to a regular Agua de Jamaica, but a bit more intense on the hibiscus and spices infused.  A frozen treat needs to be more potent because the cold numbs the taste just a bit.  The usual remedy to this is to add more sugar.. but I'd rather just add some spice...
Mmm that deep red color makes me want to rub it all over my face!
Yield 20 popsicles + leftover iced tea
Ingredients
1/2 cup hibiscus flowers
2 star anis
4 cloves
2 Tbsp sugar
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 inch piece ginger
1vanilla stalk
1 1/ 2L water
Directions
1.  Place everything but the water in a large enough mixing bowl.
2.  Boil water and pour over the hibiscus and company.  Steep for 15 minutes, then strain through a very fine mesh.
3.  Pour into popsicle moulds and freeze for at least 12 hours.
Enjoy your refreshingly intriguing treats!

I love the deep red color of these popsicles.  The addition of vanilla was interesting.  It made it almost Caribbean in my mouth.  I felt it more in the iced tea than the popsicle, however.
Next time I would add more ginger and cinnamon.. and maybe a little chile for extra punch.. but then I'd have to think twice about sharing with my dog...
If you're not into frozen treats, this works perfectly as iced tea or hot tea as well.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Thai Green Curry with Chicken and Zucchini

If I was told I could only ever eat Thai for the rest of my life.. I wouldn't be able to complain.
Don't get me wrong, I love my Indian food, but Thai comes in a very very close second.  If they didn't have any curry recipes, I'd probably be miserable.  I live for curry.  Thai curry is very different from Indian curry in that the base is usually roots such as galangal and lemongrass and other strange plants that are hard to find or pronounce and always involves coconut milk.  Indian curries are usually a blend of dry roasted spices, ground or whole, with a tomato.  Both have the name "curry" but only share the garlic and ginger.  This is one of the reasons when someone tells me they don't like "curry," I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.  Commercial curry powder is something I never use.. because I just don't have any uses for it.  It's basically turmeric blended with various other things but I haven't seen one authentic Indian or Thai recipe that uses "curry" powder.  Curry paste, however is completely different.  It is a pre-mashed mixed of thai herbs and roots that may be hard to find in Europe or the US that even Thai home cooks buy and use to save time.  You can find great quality Thai curry pastes at the Asian supermarket that will help you construct a nice base.  Mae Anong and Mae Ploy are the best brands I've tried so far.
Enough technical talk.
This Thai green curry is what I mean when I talk about therapy cooking.  I close my eyes and imagine the silky spicy coconut milk and the almost crunchy zucchini pieces with that burst of lemongrass flavor while I cut my vegetables.  My ginger screamed at me from the freezer because I was mindlessly just going about with the curry paste and coconut milk that I almost forgot the most essential ingredient.  The cooking order is important, because that is the order each ingredient spoke to me, and it is the way it should be for each flavor to release its maximum sex appeal...
Serves 5
Ingredients
2 large chicken breasts, cut into cubes (about 200g or 7oz)
2 zucchini, cut into half moons
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp green curry paste
1 slice galangal (mine was dried)
3 keffir lime leaves
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
2 large shallots, chopped
1 green chile, slit
1 carrot, julienned
2 scallions, chopped
1 can coconut milk
1/2 inch ginger, julienned
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 handful cilantro, chopped
1 Tbsp fish sauce (nuoc nam)
Thai chiles for garnish
Directions
1.  Heat the oil in a wok and sizzle the curry paste for a few seconds, then add the shallots, lemongrass, galangal, and keffir leaves.  Cook for about 2 minutes.  It should be very very fragrant.
2.  Add the green chile and zucchini moons.  Cook, stirring for another 5 minutes.
3.  Add the chicken and coconut milk.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for another 10 minutes.
4.  Add the julienned ginger slices, carrots, scallions, and garlic.  Simmer for another 5 minutes.
5.  Remove from heat and stir in the fish sauce.  Let rest until ready to eat.
Serve over some basmati rice garnished with chopped cilantro and an Thai chile for extra heat... along with some Thai Iced Tea.

This is the most precise Thai coconut curry I've ever made.  The taste was flashback enhancing.  It may be because I didn't use a recipe, but let the Thai spirit take over me...

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Hake in a Spicy Black Vinegar Sauce

When I have run out of ideas and the grocery store doesn't inspire me, I feel helpless.  This helpless feeling is followed by annoyed grunts an rummaging around my kitchen.  What unblocks this feeling is when I realize I can make a single serving of something, just for me.  This means I can eat anything I want as spicy as I want and nobody will be there to complain.  This usually means I'll be eating fish, and since my new neighborhood's grocery store does not have a very nice fish selection (nor a very nice fish monger) I've temporarily reverted to frozen filets.  As much as I love fresh fish and seafood.. I can't just hold out for it.  I don't know when I will start to find my fish monger pleasant or the section mouthwatering as I did in my previous neighborhood, but in the meantime, I can make something crazily amazing with good old frozen filets.  Those may sound boring, but they always get a good makeover in my kitchen..
It's very hot these days so I wanted something light but tangy.
And then.. as I opened my last cupboard, I spotted the holy black vinegar.  This condiment plays a major role in my Chinese recipes.  It's not as sour as normal clear white vinegar and has a rounder fuller taste.  It's the main character in potsticker dipping sauce and makes a great dressing.. especially when mixed with sesame.
I was planning on steaming the fish.. because if I was Chinese, I would probably always steam my fish.  Just as my water was boiling under the steamer basket, the power went out and did so each time I used the boost option on my induction stove.
I should probably look into that.
I ended up baking and it turned out just as I was hoping.. but I still would have steamed if I had the option.
Serves 1
Ingredients
1 very large zucchini, spiralized
1 hake filet
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
2 chopped scallions
some sesame seeds for sprinkling
red pepper flakes for garnish
Sauce:
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp black vinegar
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 tsp doubanjiang (fermented broadbean and chile paste)
1/2 inch ginger, grated
1 tsp black sesame seeds
1 tsp white sesame seeds
1 Tbsp light soy sauce
Directions
1.  Make the sauce by stirring all the ingredients together in a bowl.
2.  Brush your filet of hake with the sauce, then sprinkle with half of the chopped scallions, half the cilantro, and some sesame seeds.  Steam or bake for 7-10 minutes.  If you bake, do this at 200°C 400°F.
3.  While that is happening, heat the sesame oil in a wok and add the spiralized zucchini.  Cook, tossing for only 2-3 minutes.  Do not let it get mushy.
4.  To serve, lay the zucchini noodles in a plate, lay the cooked hake over it, spoon as much of the sauce as you like over it all.  I used a little more than half and then did it again the next day for lunch.  Garnish with the rest of the chopped cilantro and scallions... and don't forget the red pepper flakes!
Scream for joy
Now
No really.. do it.
This is the most wonderful and simple creation I've imagined in a long time.  It literally takes 15 minutes to put together and has a crazy tangy perfect Chinese taste.
I spiralized zucchini but this would work well with rice noodles and other garnishes such as hard boiled egg (which I tried the next day).
The secret is all in the sauce...

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Thai Iced Tea

I often write about memories on this blog which eventually lead to recipes.  There are things from our past that just stick with you all your life.  Many of those things happen during the very young or adolescent years.  The happy events during that part of your life is your therapy source for the following part of your life.  Just listen to a song you liked when you were 10-15 years of age now, and pay attention to your emotions.
This tea is just like the song "Waterfall" by TCL.
Any Thai restaurant I went to with the family was Thai iced tea and green curry.  Each and every time was a moment worth reliving.
Yield 1 L
Ingredients
4 1/2 cups water
5 thai black teabags or 80g loose thai tea
2 star anise
3 cloves
1/4 cup sugar (I used only 2 Tbsp)
splash of milk or half and half per glass
lots of ice
Directions
1.  Boil the water and pour over the tea, sugar, star anis, and cloves.
2.  Steep for 15-20 minutes, then remove teabags or loose tea, star anis, and cloves.
3.  Let cool, then chill.
4.  To serve, fill each glass with ice, pour the chilled tea, then add a generous splash of whole milk or half and half.

Enjoy the silky texture flow over your tongue and explore your mouth before cooling your throat and trickling down into your stomach....
I'm very satisfied with the outcome of this Thai iced tea.  It not as sweet as the "real" Thai iced tea you can find in restaurants, which is easy to remedy if that's what you're going for.
I usually don't drink anything but water or Perrier because of the sweet factor.  I don't feel comfortable with sugary drinks and I rarely go for them unless they're equally bitter or sour.  This drink is neither bitter nor sour, but is absolutely perfect!

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Ginger Watermelon Smoothie

Watermelon is the perfect summer fruit.  It is mostly made of water so it has a rehydrating effect, but it also has a cooling or refrshing effect (as do cucumber, mango, and hibiscus).  Blending it into an ice cold smoothie while everyonr else is drinking beer only just makes sense, right?  To obtain the equivalent euphoric effect.. Just add ginger.  
Actually, this applies to just about anything.
I thought about adding a peach, which I'll probably end up doing later, but here I just wanted the full on spiked watermelon experience.
So, here is how it goes....
Ingredients
1/2 inch piece ginger, peeled
2 or more cups chopped watermelon
Juice from 1/2 lime
Directions
1.  Put the ginger into a magic bullet or blender and topit off with chopped watermelon.
2.  Blend it.  It should be about half full.  Top it off with more chopped watermelon and a squeeze of lime.
3.  Blend it again.
There you have it.
A perfect summer cocktail overflowing with excitement!
This served 2 glasses, but lucky for me.. I still have 3/4 a watermelon to use, so later I'll be adding cilantro and peach to this smoothie for a nice little twist.
I can't wait to get a hold of some popsicle moulds to turn this into sexy iced dessert!

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Lemon and Savory Navy Bean Dip

If you know me at all, you know I love my beans any time of day, any kind of way.  During happy hour, I usually lean towards hummus, which is the most incredible bean dip to ever exist on the face of our beautiful planet.  The photo of this white bean dip looks slightly like hummus, but tastes nothing like it, which is why I'm not even going to try to call this "White Bean and Lemon Hummus" as some unknowingly might.  If it doesn't have chickpeas or tahini, you can't call it hummus.. ok?
Now that that is cleared out of the way, this bean dip is perfectly suitable to be served at my table for it has a number of ingredients that make me spin on my toes.
I was gifted some fresh savory from the garden which I wanted to glorify, but fresh rosemary would have been very nice here as well.  The lemon zest gives it a nice zing paired with the garlic. and topped with some high quality olive oil, this dip will make your insides smile and lick your lips.
I unfortunately was not hosting a dinner party.  My supply of food urges outweighed the fact that I can't have anyone over properly until I finish painting and move my bed back into the bedroom.  No problem, though, this freezes very well (ungarnished) and can be popped out for any impromptu visits!
Yield about 3.5 cups
Ingredients
30 cL (10 fl.oz) dried navy beans, soaked overnight
2 bay leaves
1 sprig savory, still on the stick
2 dried chiles de arbol
1 tsp sea salt
5 cups water
5 cloves garlic, peeled
Leaves from 2 sprigs savory
Juice and zest from 1 lemon
Many grinds black pepper
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (top quality)
Garnish:
Black salt (or any fancy salt)
Few grinds black pepper
Few drizzles of that olive oil
Directions
1.  Place the beans, water, bay leaves, savory sprig, dried chiles, and sea salt in a slow cooker and cook on low for at least 6 hours.
2.  Remove the bay leaves and savory, then drain reserving about 2 cups cooking liquid.
3.  Using a stick blender, blend the cooked beans with the dried chiles, garlic, savory leaves, 2 Tbsp olive oil, lemon juice with zest, black pepper, and a bit of the reserved cooking water.  If it's still hot, it will be a bit lumpy, but as it cools, the texture will become creamy.
4.  Once at room temperature, taste and adjust the seasoning.  You may need to blend in a bit more reserved cooking water to give it a smooth creamy texture as beans tend to stiffen as they cool.  I used about 1 cup.

Serve in dipping bowls topped with an extra drizzle of olive oil, some Hawaiian black salt, and an extra grind of black pepper.
I served mine with carrot sticks and tortilla chips alongside some haddock Ceviche.  Cucumber sticks would have been a nice dipping item as well.
The lemony garlicky savory goodness of this dip provides quite an enjoyable sensation in your mouth.  It made me want to spread it all over my body so I could grasp its tenderness and commune with my bean addiction..

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Arugula Fig Salad with Roasted Eggplant and Feta

I wasn't sure where I was going with dinner tonight...
I have all these amazing figs I want to caresse in all sorts of ways.  I want to make them into stuffing, eat them plain, just cut open to expose their glistening flesh and let my tongue explore all their little internal nerve endings.
I want to make pie.  Why don't I just do that?
I want to eat them with feta and watermelon.
I want to eat them grilled on the plancha.
I want to eat them with a soft boiled egg and chile.
With all these desires, I need to focus because I don't have an unlimited supply and they are the most precious possessions I have right at this moment.
All these different desires and priorities eventually developed into this salad.  Arugula, quartered figs, feta, a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of fleur de sel, and a few pepperocinis is really all I need to feel refreshed and happy.
And then I needed a warm creamy salty element.
In comes the roasted eggplant.
I'm not sure life can get any better than carawayy sprinkled roasted eggplant halves with feta, figs, and arugula.
My life has just entered the next level.
Thank you...

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Braised Quail stuffed with Fresh Figs

I must have a thing with quail and figs, because this is only the second time of my entire life that I make quail, and the first time I used figs as well.. but dried ones.  This time, I am lucky enough to have been offered fresh juicy ripe ones from a friend's tree.  There are people in my life than just know how to make me melt....
Figs make sense in many ways.. but it just seems like the right thing to do when you need to use up some quail.
By the way.. I never thought I'd one day say that "I need to use up some quail."
Seriously.
But thus is life in France =)
Serves 4
Ingredients
4-5 whole quail
6 large fresh figs, cut into quarters
1 tsp black pepper
3 green cardamom pods, dry roasted and ground
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
few pinches fleur de sel
1 tsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
few splashes white wine for deglazing
1/4 cup water
Plate garnish:
batavia or romaine lettuce leaves.. or even arugula (I would have preferred arugula, actually)
cooked bulgur or rice if GF
Directions
1.  Make a sauce by mixing the balsamic vinegar, black pepper, ground cardamom, and a pinch of fleur de sel together.  It should be slightly liquid or syrupy, but not pasty.
2.  Dip the fig quarters into the mixture, then stuff into the cavity of your quails.  I used about 1 fig per quail.  They were ripe to perfection, so it was messy.. but that's what I wanted...
3.  Close the cavity of the quail.  If you're any good at trussing with string, go right ahead.  I have no skills in this department, so I used a few toothpicks.. just to make sure the stuffing didn't come out.  I didn't tie the legs or anything like a pro.
4.  Sprinkle a bit of fleur de sel and thyme on the stuffed quail, then rub them with the remaining mixture.
5.  In a sautée pan, heat the oil and place the quail inside.  You want them to get a nice color on all sides.  Do this for a while, then remove the quail and set aside.
6.  In that same pan, heat and add the sliced shallots.  Get them a nice color (around 5 minutes) and deglaze with some white wine if they start to stick.
7.  Add the quail back into the pan with the shallots.  Add the water, then turn heat to medium low and cover.  Let cook for about 10 -15 minutes. in this way.
Serve with some salad and bulgur as I did, and make sure to dress your plate with the remaining dipped fig quarters.
Oh.. and that lovely resulting sauce from the quail cooking should be spooned over your bulgur or rice.. that's an Order!!

This is probably the best cooking method for quail, for the meat stays moist as it cooks in a humid environment and is infused with the natural fig juices.  The sauce that comes from this has so much flavor you can't quite make out what's happening in your life.  The cardamom is subtle, but is definitely there.. and the addition of fresh fig quarters give an explosion of fresh sweet which is a perfect contrast to the gamey meat.
The only downside is having to pick through all those little bones.  Please eat with your hands.. don't kill the experience by using a fork and knife.
God gave you fingers and you should be licking them...

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