Saturday, September 29, 2012

Verdant Victuals - Thai Green Curry (Gaeng Kiaw Wan)

No foray into Southeastern Asian cuisine would be complete without Thai Green Curry or, as it's known in Thailand, Gaeng Kiaw Wan. (Sweet Green Curry)  True, I tend to be a bit of a hot head when it comes to the spiciness of my food, and as a result I am usually more drawn to Thai Red Curry (Gaeng Phet), but I find Green Curry to be quite refreshing on occasion.

Green curry, unlike it's tawny and vermillion siblings (being both Yellow and Red curry pastes) is made with fresh green bird's eye chiles, instead of dried red ones.  This gives it a "fresh" flavor more befitting it's verdant countenance.  Green curry is considered to be a "sweet" curry, so I suggested that you remove the seeds and membranes from the chiles before giving them a serious pounding with your pestle.  If you REALLY want it to be hot, go ahead and leave them, just realize that you will loose some of the subtle nuances of the paste due to the increased heat.  (everything in balance)

Speaking of Pestles....  I highly recommend forgoing the use of a food processor in lieu of the more traditional mortar & pestle.  Food processors simply chop things up while a mortar and pestle grinds, smashes and crushes, releasing more flavor and yielding a far superior result.  Sadly, sometimes technology is a hindrance.

One a final note, I do not fry my Green Curry Paste (as I do with the Red) so I toast the Coriander Seed and Cumin Seed ahead of time.

Go forth and make awesome curry!

Thai Green Curry

(Gaeng Kiaw Wan)

15 fresh Green Bird's Eye Chiles
1 TB Coriander Seed, toasted
1 tsp Cumin Seed, toasted
5 White Peppercorns
1 tsp Kosher Salt (or Sea Salt)
1 bunch of Green Onions, chopped
1 bulb of Thai Garlic
2 TB freshly grated Galangal
1 stalk Lemongrass, sliced thin
1 tsp Kaffir Lime Zest
3 TB chopped Coriander (Cilantro) Stems

1 tsp Shrimp Paste

Cut the tops off the chiles and roll the chiles between your fingers and the membranes and seeds should fall out.

Place the Coriander Seed and Cumin Seed in a small skillet and toast them over low heat, until fragrant.

Toss them into your Mortar with the White Peppercorns and Kosher Salt; allow to cool.

Meanwhile, chop the Green Onion, peel the Garlic, grate the Galangal, slice the Lemongrass, zest the Kaffir Lime and chop the Coriander (Cilantro) Stems.

OK, you are now ready to proceed... but don't forget to place a towel under your Granite Mortar and Pestle to protect your counter tops.

Crush and grind the Coriander/Cumin/Salt into a fine powder, then remove from the mortar to a small bowl and set aside.

Place Lemongrass and Galangal in the mortar and pulverize it.

Once it is crushed well, add the Garlic cloves and grind and crush everything together.

Add the Chiles and pulverize them.

Add Green Onion, Lime Zest and Coriander Stems; continue beating, crushing and grinding to a fine paste.

Once you have achieved a nice paste (a little rustic looking is OK) mix in the ground Coriander/Cumin/Peppercorn/Salt mixture

Now work in the Shrimp Paste.

Spoon into a small bowl and wrap with Plastic wrap....

or store in a jar with a well sealing lid,

and store in your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Next up.....  Curried Chicken and Thai Eggplant.  YUM!


Monday, September 24, 2012

Hopped Up Potatoes, Literally - Hop Fries

I think it's safe to say that Oregon has a fairly rich and diverse beer drinking culture.  But then again, Oregon has A LOT of breweries....  121 as a matter of fact (according to a 2010 report by the American Brewer's Association)  Hilariously enough even though this boils down to 1 brewery for every 31,600 people, Oregon is only number 2 in the list.  Rounding out the top 5 are Montana at #3 (Love me some Moose Drool from Big Sky in my Chili), Colorado at #4 (which surprises me since the Brew College is there), and Maine at #5.  So who is number one?  It's Vermont that boasts the highest amount of breweries per capita.  Of course, you must realize that the entire population of the Vermont is about 625,000 people.  With 21 breweries, that means there is 1 brewery for every 29,800 people (roughly).   This also means that Oregon is giving Vermont a run for it's money at being the brew capital of the US.   If you figure in Washington and it's additional 123 breweries (Washington is #8 on the list), that the Great NorthWet, as we so lovingly refer to it, is the land of Beer and Beans (Coffee Beans, that is).

All through my childhood and well into my adult years, the Henry Weinhard's Brewery in NW Portland has been pumping out Boar's Head Red, Henry's Dark Lager, Henry's Ale and of course, Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve.  Sadly, the original brewery closed, but all was not lost... For countless (OK, there are 121) "Micro Brewers" have taken the place of Portland's longest running brewery.  Enter the world of craft brewing and you will find.... Widmer Brother's, Coalition, Laurelwood, Bridgeport, Ft. George, Boneyard, Dechutes, Lompoc, Ninkasi, Rogue, Upright, Alameda, Hair of the Dog, Amnesia, Bend Brewing, Double Mountain, Cascade Lakes, Hopworks, and Full Sail (which brews not only their own varieties, but Session and Henry Weinhard's since the closing of the Portland brewery).

With easy access to so many difference styles of beer, a strange phenomenon has formed.  Sort of a sub-culture within the craft brewing culture.... The Hop Head.  I suppose it was inevitable since several varieties were developed here at Oregon State University, such as Cascade, Willamette, Liberty, Santiam and Mt. Hood.  Yes, things are really hoppin at OSU...  hardee har har

Hops, Hops and more Hops....  Don't get me wrong, I like Hops in my beer.  The Alpha acids help to preserve it, and that makes me extremely happy, but there is a surge in the crafting of Ales to please the Hop Heads... Thus IPA (India Pale Ale) which tends to be fairly hoppy already, since it had to travel from England all the way to India and was in desperate need of the preserving power of hops, has given way to the style known as NWPA (NorthWest Pale Ale).  These NWPAs are usually extremely hopped versions of IPA and as a result, are REALLY bitter.  This is the drawback to preserving the beer with alpha acids, the bitterness they create.  The more bitter the beer, the longer it will last.

This actually brings me to the topic of Hops themselves, for they are the essence of beer all rolled into a small green flower bud.  Hops are responsible for preservation, flavor and aroma in beer.  Most beers contain at least 2 different hops, for those that preserve and/or add flavor do not necessarily scent the beer as well.    My favorite aroma hop is Saaz but it does not contain enough alpha acids to preserve or bitter the beer.  One must turn to the higher Alpha content in Centennial, Magnum or really kick it up and go with Chinook to properly preserve/bitter the beer.

But enough about Hops as they pertain to beer.  This post is actually about other things you can do with hops.  Yes, you can eat them as well, just like any other herb.  I would suggest consuming the lower Alpha hops such as the afore mentioned Saaz or maybe Hallertauer or Tettnanger.

One of my favorite hopped up dishes is very easy to make.  I was first exposed to the concept during the 2011 Fruit Beer Festival held at Burnside Brewing.... Hop Fries!

Hop Fries

Frozen Shoestring fries (I avoid making fries from scratch, it requires a double frying... too much work)
Oil for Deep Frying
2 hop flowers, finely minced (a little goes a long way)
Kosher Salt (or Smoked Salt)

Prepare a pan by laying down paper towels and place a cooling rack over them.

Heat the oil to 375 F degrees.

Drop the shoestrings and fry according to package directions.

Finely mince the hop flowers.

Remove the fries from the hot oil and drain on a rack.

Season the fries with Kosher Salt. (though I chose Salish Alder Smoked Salt this time)

Sprinkle the finely minced hops over the fries...

Toss briefly and serve hot.

Super easy and super delicious!

Time to think outside the beer bottle.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gadgets We Take For Granite - Seasoning a Granite Mortar & Pestle

I won't lie, I am totally addicted to a new show after only 1 episode...  Revolution.  

For those who did not seen the premier on Monday, the show is based on the premise that all electricity goes out and doesn't come back on.  At first that doesn't seem like such a big deal.  After all, there are black outs and brown outs and various other interruptions in the grid every now and then.  Heck, I spent most of the winters of my childhood without power due to the east wind and ice storms.  Sure, no TV or lights seems pretty prosaic, just grab a portable radio and a flashlight, right?  Nope, when I say "all the electricity" goes out, I mean ALL the electricity goes out.  This means no batteries and no generators....  And it isn't ever going to come back on.

Electricity has become such a part of our lives that we don't really pause to think about it.   If the electricity quits flowing, there are no cars (Internal combustion requires an electric spark) and even if your car was running, you would not be able to fill the gas tank, because the gas pumps run on electricity and even if the gas pumps could be rigged for manual pumps, the gasoline would eventually run out because the refinery runs on electricity.

Imagine....  No wrist watches, no beard trimmers, no computers, and no cell phones.  Heck, no regular phones or telegraphs either, since they run on low voltage current.  (kind of like Gilligan's Island)

If you are in the country and on well water, your pump is not working....  I don't think there are any city municipal water systems that rely solely on gravity, so city dwellers have no water.

Now, this is not totally fatalistic.  It's also part of the reason that I am addicted to the show already, for I am curious to see where they are going to take the story line.  It's set 15 years after the "power goes out" and yet, no one seems to have figured out how to re-harness steam power. Where are the Steam-Punks when you need em?

The industrial revolution started on steam power.  Electricity is not necessary to creating steam, just a lot of greenhouse gas causing coal and wood.  But, even steam produced by coal, could be an issue since it will now have to be mined by hand.  But, as I said, I am curious about WHY this was not brought up in the very first episode. (I am also puzzled by the fact that the "bad guys" have resorted to black powder rifles.... You don't need electricity to refill empty bullet casings... I'm just sayin)

Anyway, this started me thinking about how many kitchen gadgets we take for granted?  I'm not even talking about the major appliances like Dishwashers, Refrigerators, Hot Water Heaters, Stoves and Ovens.  What about all the small appliances?  How many of these conveniences do you have in your kitchen....?  Stand Mixer, Hand Held Mixer, Food Processor, Blender, Deep Fryer, George Foreman Grill, Waffle Iron, Electric Griddle, Bread Machine, Salad Shooter, Submersion Blender, Coffee Maker, Coffee Grinder, Toaster, Inside the Egg Shell Egg Scrambler?

I know I would weep bitterly over the loss of Kitchen Aid and my Blender.  Though I guess without a freezer there wouldn't be much ice for me to make margaritas.  Hmmmm. Well, I guess I would only miss my Kitchen Aid Mixer.  :(   Luckily, one of my favorite kitchen "appliances", that I could never live without, is not electric.  My Granite Mortar & Pestle.

I met my first Granite Mortar & Pestle via Jamie Oliver back in the late 90's during his Naked Chef days....  Mine is 8 inches across, 5 1/2 inches high, holds 3 cups and weighs a whopping 16 pounds.  I think Jamie's was even bigger.  (No, I do not have Mortar and Pestle envy, 8 inches gets the job done)  ;)
It is truly an indispensable part of my kitchen.  It crushes, it grinds, it mashes, it smashes, it blends, it purees, and it mixes.  In fact, the only thing it doesn't do, is make Julienne Fries.

But best of all, in the event of a break in, I can always use it as a weapon.  I have a loaded mortar and pestle and I am not afraid to use it.  Bring it!

All kidding aside, I don't think any kitchen should be without one.  Though I must admit that I am a little bias. I am sort of a Mortar and Pestle freak.  All shapes, sizes and materials; from wood, ceramic and brass to marble, cast iron and lava rock.  There is a mortar and pestle designed for every job. (I usually use the granite for curry pastes) But if you only have one... Go with the granite.  It's non-porous and doesn't absorb odors like other materials can.  Granted, oil will be absorbed on some level and it WILL develop a patina over time. 

So if you purchase a Granite Mortar & Pestle, you will need to season it before first use, just like you would a Molcajete, though it's not nearly as involved.   Granite, being much tougher than lava rock, is not nearly as prone to graveling and sanding your food. So first, wash the Mortar and Pestle in warm water with a stiff brush, and allow it to air dry.

It will take about 3-6 hours (it's not nearly as porous as a Molcajete). Incidentally, I always place a towel under my Mortar and Pestle, it's heavy and rough on the bottom (it was hand carved), so I am protecting the finish on the granite counter.

Meanwhile, you can assemble your ingredients.

1 cup Jasmine Rice
1 stalk of Lemongrass
1 tsp Coriander Seed
1 tsp Cumin seed
1 tsp Kosher Salt
1 Garlic Bulb

OK, Just like the Molcajete, you are going to place 1/4 cup of Jasmine Rice in the Mortar..... then crush and grind it into rice flour, or at least rice meal.

The first 1/4 cup will turn grey with dust left over from carving; go ahead and dump it in the garbage.

Grind the remaining 3/4 cup rice in 1/4 cup increments...

You will notice that the rice remains white after grinding the last 1/4 cup.

Now the fun part.....
Toss in the Lemongrass, Coriander, Cumin, Salt and Garlic.

Crush this into a paste and leave it to sit in the mortar for 12 hours....  mmmmm The Scent of Thai food!

Remove the paste, rinse with warm water and allow it to dry.

Even though Granite is not very porous, it will still hold onto soap flavors; so, just like cast iron, use only Hot water and a brush... NO SOAP.

And there you go, nice and clean with a lovely seasoning...

Now, it the power ever decides to "go out and not come back on" you are totally ready.  Now if I could just figure out how to rig my Kitchen Aid to run on steam power.......


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Put the Rice In the Coconut and Eat It All Up - Nasi Lemak (Coconut Rice)

OK, "technically" this is not a Thai dish.  Well, it is, but it isn't.  Coconut rice, in Thailand, is usually sweetened and served as a dessert.  This is really Malaysia's national dish; incorporating Jasmine Rice (a native of Thailand) cooked in Coconut Milk with Cinnamon, Lemongrass, Coriander seed and Pandan; baring a strong resemblance to Nasi Uduk from Indonesia.

I think it would be safe to state that everyone reading this knows what Jasmine Rice is, as well as Coconut Milk, Cinnamon and Coriander.  You probably have them in your pantry right now.  And while Lemongrass is more than likely not a staple of the western culinary pantry, it's usually available in the mega-marts.  But I can hear a lot of people out there scratching their heads and saying, "What the heck is Pandan?"

Pandan is a leaf, or rather a frond, harvested from a palm like plant in southern Asia.  It's used in Asian cuisine in the same way we Westerners use Vanilla... Pretty much in just about everything and especially in desserts. It doesn't taste like vanilla though.  To me, it more or less tastes the way Jasmine Rice smells, with a little verdant grass and toasted nuttiness thrown in for good measure.  Most importantly, the flavor pairs well with Coconut; which is most fortuitous since coconut tends to play a prominent roll in Southern Asian cuisine.

And, as Jennifer Yu at Use Real Butter can attest too, it makes pretty darned tasty ice cream as well.

Sadly, I must report that the Mega-Mart is not going to be stocking this in their freezer section.  You will have to find your Pandan in the freezer at an Asian Market, though there are "Extracts" available as well.  Personally, I think the extracts are a little more convenient, but I won't use them due to their Yellow 5 and Blue 1 content.   If you have no such reservations with artificial food dyes, then by all means, replace the Pandan leaf in this recipe with a few drops of extract (trust me, a little goes a loooooooooooooong way)

Nasi Lemak

(Malaysian Coconut Rice)

1 Pandan Leaf, tied in knots
1 stem Lemongrass, bruised
414ml (14 oz) (1 3/4 cups) Coconut Milk (Basically, 1 can)
295ml (10 oz) (1 1/4 cups) Water
1/2 tsp ground Coriander
1 Cinnamon Stick
Kosher Salt
385g (13.5 oz) (1 7/8 cups) Jasmine Rice
Coconut Oil
Sweet Onion, thinly sliced.

First you need to thaw your Pandan leaves, at least enough to separate 1 leaf from the bunch.

Tie it in several knots (this will ensure that it is easier to retrieve later and not stick to the bottom of the pan)

Peel and trim the Lemongrass stalk, then bruise it by smashing it with the flat of your knife (like you would garlic)

Combine Coconut Milk, Water, Coriander, Cinnamon, Lemongrass, Pandan and a pinch of Salt in a medium saucepan and place it over a medium flame.

Meanwhile, rinse the Jasmine Rice until the water runs clear.

When the water is boiling, add the rice and stir to prevent sticking and bring back to a boil.

Cover and reduce heat to the lowest possible setting and simmer the rice for 12-15 minutes.

In the meantime, heat some coconut oil in a skillet over medium flame.

Thinly slice some Sweet Onions (or Shallot).

When the oil is hot, fry the sliced onions until they are golden brown.

Drain on a paper towel and set aside.

After 15 minutes, you can remove the Lemongrass, Cinnamon Stick and Pandan from the rice.

Cover and continue to cook an additional 3-5 minutes.

Fluff with a fork.

You can either serve in 1 large bowl or dish up individual portions; either way, sprinkle the top with the fried onions and serve.

Mmmmmmmm...  Fluffy, yet creamy in texture....  Exotically scented and absolutely delicious!  I would even hazard to say that this just might be better than risotto.  And I LOVE risotto.

Maa Gin Khaao!!