Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Touring Italy and Feeling Fine

we've moved into italy. yep, we made it through japan (although, trust me, we'll be back), but we are now traveling culinarily (is that a word?) through the italian countryside. i've got about ten million books (not really, but whatever) on italian cooking from pretty much every region in my house not including the shit i have amassed in my cooking mags and i figure i could cook only italian for the rest of my life and not duplicate a recipe. florence, here i come!

i love to cook. yes. i know you know. sorry to bug you again about it. however, i do truly adore it. there is this sensuous, luscious, rich sense of delicious wonder that accompanies me through my travels in the kitchen that makes me swoon sometimes over whatever mess i'm putting together on the stove. i don't claim that all are successes (k'yeah... no), but i do claim that in my heart all are worthy of living forever in my memory. even if it's to remind me why i should ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, NEVER, EVER TRY IT AGAIN THAT WAY AS LONG AS I LIVE. no big.

i know... blah, blah, blah whatever. i'm cool with that. but, just so's ya know, i wouldn't be able to face the day sometimes if i didn't know i was going to create in the kitchen at the end of it. no shit. i like being here, learning, testing, risking with food. i like losing myself to the mastery of the stove, the control of the fridge and the call of the mixer. think what you will, but i belong to the world of the epicure.

we began in chicken cacciatore, also known as hunter's chicken. i will not bore you with the recipe, because this rustic, country dish is really left to interpretation more than anything. good olive oil, organic chicken, excellent peppers and mushrooms and beautiful tomatoes and garlic, and you've got it made. i served it with some creamy polenta mixed with mellow ricotta and sharp parmesan (ah, my love), fresh pepper, skim milk and we were happy. oh, and some really lovely red seedless grapes. yum. my sons went mad. nicholas, interestingly enough, did not like the polenta, but brandon freaked for the whole dish and beamed at me all night.

nice to see my sons are willing to appreciate italian food that has nothing to do with spaghetti or pizza.

then, as you will see, we made some of the best yummies ever. tuscan pork ribs (or as brandon calls them, ITPR -- ITALIAN TUSCAN PORK RIBS), Garlic Broccoli and Whole Wheat Spaghetti with homemade marinara. we chose from our cookbook THE ITALIAN COUNTRY TABLE: Home Cooking from Italy's Farmhouse Kitchens by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. you've seen me talk about this before. it's the book with that killer front cover with the canellinis, crumbled parmesan, julienned soppresata and more in a wooden bowl. yeah, i dream of it.
not all the time, but enough, 'kay?

so here's the deal with our ITPR:

4 lrg garlic cloves
2 tightly packed tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
1 tsp xtra virgin olive oil
3.5 pounds country-style pork ribs (if possible, hormone and antibiotic free), 1 to 2-inches thick
about 3/4 tsp.salt
freshly ground black pepper

what to do:

1. first of all, i'm writing this to you without the cookbook in front of me, but i remember it, so here goes. you take all that yummy stuff and put it into a bowl with your ribs or into a ziploc, mesh them all together and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours -- overnight'll do it.
2. heat that oven to 325ºF and place the ribs on a rack over a shallow baking pan and bake for as long as it takes (like how i'm remembering all of this so well?) you want them to be nice and juicy, not dry and overtly wooden like the pork chops of old. since what you want is a nice crusty on these guys, turn your broiler on for the last about 15 minutes of your little baking adventure and let them brown.

serve with smiling joy.

we loved these. nicholas and brandon couldn't get enough of them, so i'm going to make them again. taking this trip through italy is kinda nice, relaxed and tasty. we have yet to succumb to the pasta as main course meal that so easily could be done, however, we will probably try something rather unique with that this weekend.

i'll keep you posted.
i promise.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Walla Walla and the Big, Badass Grape

today, tonight, i went to my first wine tasting. before you say "no way!", let me assure you it is true. i learned how to taste wine from my dad and i trust my palate enough to be willing to say "ick" or "yay!" to a wine, but i have never, in my life, gone to a formal wine tasting. i've been to nappa, sonoma and australia, all good places for good vino, but, as i said before, never to a wine tasting.

there's this place here in town called CELLAR RAT. cute name, cool place, a place i got into by chance when looking for a really good bottle of scotch as an office gift for my very deserving manager. i walked in there and was enchanted. i love good wine stores. really love them. i like reading the taste notes, talking to the sommelier (my dad used to be one, so i think that's why i have a deep affection for them), and purchasing labels that intrigue me. because of my walking into this wine store and getting seduced by it, i signed up for what they call a reserve list, get little updates from them every week about the WOW (wine of the week at a killer price) and, also, little inside scoops about wines that are limited and needing maturity or way out of my price range. so, what did i do? or do i do? i go, i buy and, something i have never done before, put the wines in my basement to mature. yep, you read right. i'm maturing wines in my basement. on top of towels, leaning a tad forward so the wine stays in contact with the cork (cuz the guys at CELLAR RAT told me to) and resting there for the next, oh, five or so years... maybe even more.

last week, i got an e-mail from CELLAR RAT giving me a nudge that a washington state winemaker, nicknamed "merf" (no, not SMERF, but MERF), will be coming into the town, will be at CELLAR RAT and the first 15 folks to respond could get in. it was a private tasting for the reserve crew (of whom, i keep forgetting, i am one) and they wanted to know if i wanted to come. it took me a good half hour of focused consideration to decide whether i was going to this. it's one of those things that kind of has me giggle like a little girl when i imagine myself actually doing it. i am VERY chi-chi, poo-poo lala in my tastes when it comes to this kind of thing and i am intrigued by it, but it was also one of those things that kind of needs someone to share it with. i'm at a point in my life where i am looking at my life and wondering how i got here, in a way. how i got to be the age i am without any significant other besides my kids. and, sometimes, i am lonely. and, sometimes, i am sad, because of it. i am here in a town that still feels almost as strange as it did the day we landed at the airport to move here and i do have two children i need to spend more time with even in the best of times (these are not the best of times) and, well... i'm complaining. i need to move my rubber "complain reminder" bracelet from one wrist to the other. sorry.

what has that got to do with going to a frigging wine tasting? well, as i said about a lot of times up at the top, i've never been to a wine tasting, let alone a chi-chi, poo-poo lala private one and i took this major leap by emailing back to them telling them i wanted to be there. i pressed send and sat back in my chair wondering where i got this courage to jump into this shit without really knowing what i was doing. they said in the email that i would hear within 24 hours. when i didn't, i felt a bit of relief, because it meant i hadn't gotten my name in there in time which meant i could save myself from doing something that terrified me. i'll explain why in a second.

i got a response on friday letting me know that we were on and to be there at six o'clock. my heart raced and i responded "great!" then had the whole weekend to freak out about it. i was terrified because i knew that i was going to be walking into a room with people who absolutely knew what they were doing, would be chatting about "the nose..." and "the acid..." and talking up tannins like nobody's business. i know the general idea of tastings -- you swirl, shove your nose deep into the glass and sniff, sip and roll a little air over the wine to get a sense of its flavor, let it bloom in your mouth, fill you, swallow, do it again a couple o' times, then dump the sucker into the cute bucket in the middle of the table (or there should be a bucket, but what if i was wrong?). you're not supposed to drink the entire taste of each glass, cuz then you're getting drunk and not really tasting anymore -- not only that, we had a shit load of wines we were tasting and while i'm just as happy to have a buzz on as anybody, i'm not a philistine, ya know, and, like i said, i'm into this fa-la-la-la-la fancy stuff. i like being poised and studious and elegant in these settings. i didn't say i am those things, i just said i like to be them. people have told me i am, i hope i am, but what do i know? i'm not looking at me from the outside. my concern was i'd do something incredibly stupid and out myself as the novice i am.

i think a lot of my friends would be shocked to discover my trepidation and shivery wierdness as i prepared to surmount this challenge of the grape. i also have never had raw oysters, sitting at the bar at sushi restaurants intimidates me and i am always prepared to fail at making a really good turkey whenever i cook one. whew! that feels better getting that off my chest, so let's move on. i had a blast. a sedate, well-bred, demure and pricey blast, but a blast nonetheless. i was alone, i didn't know anyone and i decided the best thing to do was to just sit, listen and learn. and, as i had played around with at home and learned, the whole "swirl, shove, sniff, sip, sense, swallow" thing was correct. i was blown away a bit by how many of these guys (i was one of two women in the room and the other one was a chick who had come with her boyfriend/guy and wasn't tasting, just finishing his when he handed it to her) finished their glasses. when i got in the room and saw these sheets of paper with the various wines on them and a pen to write notes with, i was instantly worried i was about to be graded. yeah, don't laugh, but i was. and, of course, i wasn't. by the end of the tasting, i was writing stuff down that felt real, right and very involving.

but, truly, i went through the most extraordinary gamut of emotions you could imagine. i couldn't figure out where to sit where i wouldn't be called out for any reason. i was worried they would go around the table and ask you to define exactly what it was about the wine that appealed or didn't appeal to you. i was worried i would spill the wine, knock over the water, fart loudly, burp wetly, snort laughter or talk when i should listen. i did what i thought would be best. i just let it wash over me and not worry about it... after the first 30 minutes in the wine shop, that is, because the tasting was really at 6:30, not 6:00 and the time was misquoted. well, i take that back. i was worried about it for the first 10 minutes as i wandered the place, gazing at labels of wines, liquors, high end beers until i looked up and saw two people i really, really like -- sergio and emily -- and we began chatting. and, ya know, talking to them mellowed me out. it made me feel good about being there. not just good that i was going to be tasting some yummy wines, but good about myself for overcoming my own personal hurdle. i was proud i showed up proud i didn't rush home and hide (like i thought about doing). i was glad i had done this for myself. it makes me look forward to what other leap i might make.

i bought a few bottles. which will, once again, go onto a bunch of towels and into my basement. one day, i'll buy a wine storage thing, since i appear to be really into this collecting shit. but, for now, i'll just prop them up, take a deep breath, and figure out what other gourmet magazine, conde nast lifestyle actions i can take to enhance my chi-chi, poo-poo lala image.

i'll send you an announcement when i know.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Feeding the Soul

and so the weekend began and i had two boys who really needed more than just another "i'm on a mission and, therefore, thou shalt deal with it." ya know, being a kid is freakin' hard. i remember those days and wouldn't go back if you paid me. and i mean, serious dough. cuz, kid-dom is confusing and out of control and i don't think there are any tools on the planet that could make it all work out without copious amounts of tears and pimples (although, in the pimple area, i was really lucky -- no major vast breakouts, just the really juicy one bump in the middle of my forehead or right in the middle of my chin... nice). there was this football camp that i submitted my sons for without them knowing just in case they didn't get in. it is a free camp to the first 1000 applicants and headed by herm edwards, head coach of the KC chiefs football team. it's one of those chance of a lifetime kinda things and i figured if they didn't get in, if they didn't know about it in the first place it wouldn't be horrible. well, i got word that my older son got in, but not my younger. bummer. however, late on friday, right before the weekend began, i found out that, yep, brandon did get in and just to bring him with nicholas to the camp and all would be well. so i figured the right thing to do would be to make them a dinner that evening -- saturday, their first day of the camp which was full-on football on the chiefs' practice field with 998 other kids for 6 hours plus a break for lunch -- that would really give them strength, energy and be healthy. my choice? lean steaks, baked potatoes and salad. easy. oh, and a splurge on dessert at cold stone creamery (which is tres yum, but so rich, i can eat, maybe, two bites, and i'm completely done in -- and, no, it's not because i'm a rail and i'm really good about my food. it's because i'm a 45+ year old woman who has, for as long as i can remember, had this horrible stomach issue with really rich foods that i need to pay attention to). okay, enough about that shit and on to what i was really talking about -- a good steak, baked potatoes and salad. that was for saturday. for sunday, this evening, i splurged on good yellowtail steaks for the protein. the kids really like it and i wanted to offset the beef with something from the sea. here's what i did and ANY-ONE can do it. really. honest. i'm not just making that up.

2-12 oz rib eyes -- nicely marbled, but not overly fatty
garlic powder
fresh ground pepper
ground cumin
ground coriander
season salt
1 tbs. olive oil (really good olive oil)

what to do:
1. if you've had the steaks in the fridge, take them out about 1 hour before you plan to cook them and have them come to room temp. then, sprinkle the seasonings liberally (but not scary liberal -- for example, think 1/4 tsp of garlic powder, fresh ground pepper, cumin and coriander and 1/2 tsp season salt per steak per side. if that freaks you out, then start even smaller and season it heavier, if you wish, next time). massage the seasonings into the steaks, each side, gently and thoroughly then set aside to rest in the dry rub for about 1/2 hour to 1 hour.
2. when you're at the end of your marinating time, take a 12" skillet/saute pan (NOT NON-STICK, if you can help it) and heat it on medium to medium high, depending on your stove, for 30 seconds. add the olive oil and swirl around the bottom of the pan to coat. do not let it come to smoking. if it does. turn it off, wipe it out and start again. let heat up for about 10 seconds or until a drop of water sizzles (or dances, i like to think) across the surface.
3. when the skillet/saute pan is hot enough, put in the steak and sear it for about 5 minutes on one side. a crust will form then turn it over and sear it on the other side, about five minutes (six or seven, if you're more the medium kinda person). at this point, you can take the steak out and deglaze the pan with either some really good red wine (a nice pinot or a malbec could be nice here -- but make sure it's really good wine, if you can) or some earthy beef broth -- organic would work or some homemade which would be WAAAY better, as you know. let the sauce reduce to a sort of glaze and take off the flame. what we did, though, was to brush each side quickly with barbecue sauce just as they were coming out of the pan and let them rest, searing hot, on a plate with the sauce caramelizing naturally in the residual heat. the boys went NUTS for it and didn't even need any extra sauce at all for the steak. gotta love that.
4. serve the steaks whole with the sauce in a little dish beside it and the baked potatoes and some salad. simple, easy and way yum, if you're into steaks.

as for the yellowtail, this is what we did:
3 yellowtail filets
ground ginger
five spice powder
fresh ground pepper
kosher salt
ponzu sauce
black sesame seeds
toasted white sesame seeds
sesame oil
canola oil
1 garlic clove, pressed
granualted sugar
brown sugar
ground cinnamon

what to do:
1. sprinkle the first four ingredients onto the filets, both sides, generously, but just about two hearty pinches of the salt on both sides. not too much. set them aside to rest for about 15 minutes.
2. heat a 12" skillet/saute pan over medium to medium high heat (depending on your stove) for about 30 seconds then add 1 tbs canola oil and 1/2 tbs sesame oil (preferably toasted). heat for about 10 seconds or until a drop of water sizzles and dances across the surface.
3. sprinkle the marinated tuna with some ponzu sauce on both side (about 2 tsp. worth) then sprinkle the sesame seeds until they cover each side GENEROUSLY, like a crust, and place the tuna in the hot pan, searing it for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, then taking them out and placing to the side.
4. let them rest for at least 5 minutes, then cut against the grain and place atop a bed of white or brown or (even yummier) black rice. now, as for the last four ingredients, here's whatcha do:
mix together about 1 tbs sugar, 1 tbs brown sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon in a small bowl. take some sake and deglaze your pan, get up all the yummy bits then sprinkle in the sugar mixture and stir. you can serve this on the side of the tuna in a dipping bowl. taste to see if it needs some acid -- a squeeze of lime or lemon, even some rice vinegar -- add it to taste and serve.

okay, so i'm writing this and thinking "these guys probably don't give a rat's ass about my own personal recipes", but it's fun to put them down. i do have some that are super top secret i will never share here, but you may not care, so that's cool. there may be no one out there even looking at any of this anyway, and that's cool, too. because, sometimes, it just helps to send stuff out into the black, into the great unknown, because you have to. because, sometimes, our hearts are so wanting that we need to write it out of us. i always sucked at journal writing, but this blog thing, well, i don't have to hold it for me to read ages from now and realize i haven't moved an inch. i can set it out, set it free, and not even think about it later. or, well, not have to feel alone in it.

whoa, deep for a food discussion, isn't it? but, i guess, the food we create, or, better yet, i create, which i put my soul into genuinely holds my heart and represents who i am, inside, on any given day. like a poem or a painting. my food is the artistic gift i give to the ones i love most. my people and, yes, my dog, because i make her dog treats, not buy them. and when they smile at me (even my dog) or say it's good, it makes me feel worthy of their love. so stupid, right?
but, perhaps, just the same desire we all have. to not only matter, but feel we have earned that consideration of self.
perhaps not.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

If Not For The Spirit Of The Gyoza...

gyoza. little pockets of steamed and fried (or fried then steamed, to be completely technical about it) yum courtesy of the japanese. they really are nice, compact tidbits of morsels meant to tempt the tastebuds and just get you in the mood for hot sake and more good food. this is definitely a communal kind of food, dim sum in nature but with the delicacy of japanese food. which, quite frankly, can be something of a myth because i've made some of the heartiest shit out of my LET'S COOK JAPANESE! cookbook than i ever have out of my chinese ones. like (SOOOOOO good) SUMO WRESTLER'S STEW, which i will regale you with another time and deep fried, panko encrusted burgers. yes, i just wrote deep fried hamburgers and it's japanese street food. REALLY, REALLY GOOD! when you come over, we can have some...

but back to the gyoza. i have, as you know, been on this cooking jag. can't seem to stop. that's cool. so, tonight, while nicholas was out with adam (his tres cool big bro) and brandon was just hangin', watching this show called FUNNY PEOPLE AND PETS (or some shit like that -- it's a canned laughter, voiceovered version of AMERICA'S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS which, to me, never needed cheeseball host BOB SAGET or any human for that matter. they could have put a pig on a stool to host that show and it would've worked just fine... in my opinion) waiting for leftover chinese spareribs to finish heating up, i made some gyoza just to have around. i made enough to feed us for quite awhile and i even froze some of the uncooked ones for us to make at another time. i've gotten big on making something, freezing it for later so that when i get home i don't have to take so long to get dinner on the table and the kids can eat before a certain time. i mean, i was trying to be REALLY good about having them eat before 7pm and i did very well for awhile there, but, ya know, life got in the way, i got in the way, my inability to keep organized got in the way and, before you knew it, they were eating at 7:30ish,8, in there. we don't live in spain, there is no siesta, so i'm trying to keep us off of the overweight and flabby list as best i can (which, if you were to see my upper arms, you'd laugh at me and say, "yeah, good luck with that, she of the swinging triceps.") and, so, out came my book, the ingredients for this yummy dish that is, interestingly enough, really easy to make.

okay, now, i just said this is really easy to make and i need to qualify that, because i have friends who will say to me when i speak like that, "let's be clear here, is this recipe LINDA easy or EVERYBODY easy?" since i don't see myself as some sort of culinary genius and just as interested in a good, easily understood and easy to create recipe as my sons would be, when i say easy i figure that's the "general you" easy not the "chef me" easy. however, i have been told that when i say easy, i mean the "chef me" easy, so you'll have to judge for yourself and let me know what you think i mean when i say easy.
can you tell i'm a little edgy tonight?
i really need a vacation.
but, back to food:

GYOZA (panfried dumplings)
1/2 pound napa or green head cabbage, shredded then finely chopped and squeezed between paper towels to remove all moisture
3/4 pound ground pork
2 green onions, including tender green tops, minced
3 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps minced
1/2 bunch fresh chives, minced
1 tsp peeled and grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tbs sake
1 tsp soy sauce
About 50 round gyoza or other Asian dumpling wrappers, each about 3" in diameter (thinnest you can find)
1 tbs canola or other neutral oil and 1 tbs sesame oil for cooking each batch
2 tbs water for cooking each batch

dipping sauce:
soy sauce
rice vinegar
hot chili oil

what to do:
1. make the filling -- put the cabbage, pork, green onions, mushrooms, chives, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, sake, and soy sauce into a big bowl. using your hands, mix it together thoroughly, until just combined, but don't handle the filling too much.
2. place the stack of wrappers on a work surface and keep them covered with a clean, damp kitchen towel or paper towel to prevent them from drying out. holding a wrapper on the palm of one hand, place about 1 tsp of filling in the center of the wrapper. with a fingertip, swipe one-half of the edge of the wrapper with a little water, then fold over the other edge to meet the dampened edge then enclose the filling and pinch the seal securely. with your finers, make 3 or 4 evenly spaced pleats along the sealed edge and place the dumpling, flat side down (the side opposite the pleats) on a sheet of waxed paper. Repeat until all the filling has been used. You can freeze the filled dumplings at this point, just place them on a rimmed baking sheet, put them in the freezer and once they're frozen you can put them into a zippered plastic bag and they'll last for 1 month. you can cook them directly from the reezer, allowing just a few minutes longer cooking time when the pan is covered.
3. to cook the dumplings, heat a frying pan over high heat and when the pan is hot, add the oils, swirl to coat the bottom of the pan and allow them to heat. when a drop of water flicked into the pan sizzles instantly, arrange about 12 dumplings in teh pan, lining them up neatly and placing them flat side down and pleated edge up. cook undisturbed until the bottoms are lightly browned, about 3 minutes. add the water, then immediately cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium-high, and cook for 5 minutes. uncover and cook for a few minutes longer until all the water has evaporated and the dumplings are dark brown and a little crusty on the bottom.
4. to serve, slide a spatula under the dumplings, being careful not to tear the wrappers, and flip them browned-side up onto a large plate or platter, still lined up.
5. for the dipping sauce, set out containers of the soy sauce, vinegar, and hot chili oil. provide each diner with a small dipping bowl to assemble a dip to taste.

what we did:
we didn't have the chives, so i used some great bean sprouts i picked up at an asian market near me. i cooked about 24 of the dumplings and froze the rest of them. besides the chives, we kept everything the same. nicholas got home, tasted one, wanted another then asked for them for tomorrow's lunch. brandon helped me fill them and wants to try them for dinner tomorrow, which blew my mind. this kid will broaden his food horizons yet.

and so these little bits of enjoyment were created for us. i tasted one and it had this crunchy tender savory taste to it that was subtle and wonderful. simple. i know the "what to do" looks complicated, but it's really not. and i do believe i'm saying that from the "general you" standpoint, not the "chef linda" view. but, ya know, maybe i'm completely deluded and a total bonehead. or, maybe just maybe, i believe there's a chef in all of us, if we just give it a chance.
am i really that polyanna?
fuck if i know.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Crab Bonanza

okey, doke, so here's the deal -- i love saveur magazine. truly. it's yum, fun and very cool. i also love crabs TONS. crazy love them. so imagine my absolute total delight when i got my most recent copy of the mag and it had crabs on the cover. and not just any crab, but vietnamese based crab with really flavorful dipping sauces, soups, dishes of all kinds. whoa. i open the magazine and there, like a dream -- because of my total adoration of asian food -- is a killer recipe for these intense, seafood filled spring rolls that i can't wait to get my hands on. if i could cook all day right now, i so would.

anyway, i put together my shopping list for the crab spring rolls then stop, look at the recipe again... and again... and again... and, yep, i'm reading what i'm reading, but something inside tells me there's something up. take a look at the recipe and see for yourself and we'll chat it up about it afterwards.

here goes:
CHA GIO CUA (Crab Spring Rolls)
4 lb. backfin crabmeat (small chunks from the rear fin area), picked through to remove any bits of shell
4 lb. medium shrimp, finely chopped
3 oz. ground pork
2 cloves garlic, finely chpped
2 tbsp. grated carrot (use the large-holed side of a box grater)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 large shallots, finely chopped
12 8" square spring roll wrappers
1 oz. bun (vietnamese rice vermicelli), cooked in boiling water for 2-3 minutes then drained and rinsed thoroughly with cold water
1 egg white, beaten
corn oil for frying
12 bibb lettuce leaves, for garnish
12 sprigs Thai basil, for garnish
12 purple perilla leaves (called tia to) for garnish (optional)
Nuoc cham (recipe to follow)

what to do:
1. stir together crabmeat, shrimp, pork, garlic, carrots, salt, pepper and shallots; set filling aside.
2. make rolls: working with 1 wrapper at a time and keeping the remaining wrappers covered with a damp towel) arrange the wrapper so that a corner faces you. Place 2 tbs crap mixture and 1 tbs vermicelli on bottom third of wrapper, near corner facing you. brush toop corner with a little egg white. lift bottom corner of wrapper over filling; pull wrapper back against filling to tighten cylinder. fold in sides; roll cylinder forward, to form a 4"-long roll about 1" thick. transfer to a platter.
3. pour oil into a large pot to a depth of 2"; heat ove medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer inserted into oil reaches 350º. fry rolls until golden brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes. using tongs, transfer rolls to a paper towel-lined plate. to serve, wrap lettuce, basi, and perilla around rolls; serve with nuoc cham.

1 tbs sugar
2 cloves garlic
1 stemmed thai chile
3 tbs sugar
1 cup warm water
4 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs fresh lime juice
1 small stemmed thai chile, sliced into thin rings
1/8 cup julienned carrot

what to do:
1. place the 1 tbs sugar, the garlic and the 1 stemmed thai chile on a cutting board and roughly chop everything together. using the side of the knife, scrape the garlic-chile mixture into a rough paste.
2. transfer the paste to a medium bowl and whisk in the remaining 3 tbs sugar and the water until the sugar dissolves. this will take about 30 seconds.
3. whisk in the fish sauce, lime juice, thai chile rings and the carrot.
4. let the sauce sit at room temp for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to come together. stir well before serving. the sauce will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

what we did and what is wrong with this picture:
first of all, this was something i wanted to take to work today and one of my work mates doesn't eat pork or beef, so i switched out the ground pork for chicken. HOWEVER, did you read the ingredients for the spring rolls and did you notice that to make 12 spring rolls on 8"square wrappers using only 2 tbs of the crab and shrimp filling that i was told to prep 8 pounds, total, of seafood? let me repeat that, 8 FREAKIN' POUNDS OF SEAFOOD TOTAL. k'yeah, i was a little flummoxed, but saveur had never let me down before and i certainly trusted they wouldn't let me down now.
i think what they meant to put down was 1/4 pound of crab, 1/4 pound of shrimp. instead, i went out and got the 8 pounds it told me to and i now have over 7 pounds of egg roll filling in my fridge.

don't get me wrong, these suckers came out really well. however, i do have quite the leftover spread to deal with. hell, even brandon liked the things and that's a big deal.

i have all this filling in my fridge and all i can think of is some sort of amazing hot pot or instead of shrimp toasts it could be seafood toasts and... ARGH! i can't let this stuff go bad (i'm sure you have some idea of how expensive 8 pounds of shellfish is), so i'm gonna cook this and send my grocery bill to saveur...
just kidding...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I'm BACK... Like you care... tee hee

yeah, i've been gone for quite awhile. i know, but i'm back with a vengeance. i've been feeling a little under the weather -- mostly emotionally, but i won't bore you with all that bullshit -- but cooking up a storm still. it's funny when you get inundated with life in ways you'd forgotten. i suppose there are these moments when i look up and realize i live in the middle of the country, far away from my family and some of my best friends, missing a life that i thought i was leaving for the betterment of me and my chilly-bs only to discover that, perhaps, i need to do more soul searching than i would like to find out what it is i REALLY want out of my time on earth. i know what you're thinking "um, thanks, but what about food?" let me wax rhapsodic for a minute, if ya don't mind, and i'll get to the grub, because there's a point to all of this. really.

for me, as you've discovered, food has a sort of mystical, magical artistic pull that helps me lose myself for awhile in its wonder. i can go all over the world through my cooking and disappear for hours in my mind by just putting together an elaborate, well thought out meal that will transport others when they taste it. that's one of the beauties of cooking for me. the way it can create a whole environment, mood, totally sensual experience from one bite (good or bad, right?). i've traveled all through asia these last weeks, because i've been devoting myself to japanese home cooking and asian fare with a vengeance. my sons have been kind enough to roll with it and let me indulge that part of myself in the kitchen, but my writing is suffering because of my flibbertigibbetness and that just won't do. i must get myself back in front of my blank screen or blank piece of paper and write some of this stuff out of me -- it's funny, because it's just bubbling inside of me like a wild geyser of creativity and is bouncing off the walls of my mind, so you'd think i'd be writing all the time, wouldn't you? it's not writer's block that has me frozen, it's the distinct LACK of writer's block, the shear volume of shit in my mind that needs to get down on the page that has me intimidated and freaked. and, so, i cook. a lot. tons and as often as i can get myself into the kitchen. k'yeah. if i could sell some of this shit, i'd be making a nice little bit of side dough (no pun intended, people).

and, so, food, cooking, creating in the kitchen has been all consuming in a way i hadn't know i was capable of doing. oh, sure, i made a commitment to cook out of one cookbook a night and now i've even upped the stakes by choosing one cookbook to focus on exclusively for one month -- we're on that killer Japanese home-cooking book i told you guys about before, LET'S COOK JAPANESE! and it's been AWESOME! -- but there's something about this getting in the kitchen and making things happen that has taken me over in a way that sorta baffles me. NOT cooking makes me antsy. going to restaurants is SO not what i like to do anymore and i enjoy going out to eat, hang, just enjoy life beyond my four walls. so, am i becoming a weird recluse? a cat lady without the cats? are cats next? will i be found under a mound of cookbooks, holding a wooden spoon and mumbling "bouillabaisse? bouillabaisse?" i don't know. i only know that there's a comfort for me these days as i chop, season, marinate then cook. a kind of release that overtakes me and makes me feel everything might just be all right.

i don't have any recipes today. oh, i will, maybe even later, but for now this is just my return to the world of the blog and a sharing of what cooking has become for me -- a sense of self and self-preservation. who knew testing whether my oil is hot enough by watching oils float up from a submerged chopstick could calm me down enough to make me feel like i can face the day?