Friday, October 16, 2009

The Experiment

SO in case you haven't guessed, Nicole and I are friends. What, you mean you had no idea?? Well if there is one thing we have in common, it's food (and not the other thousand things we have in common too).

Rewind a little bit: about a week ago, someone I work for gave me two bunches of bananas. They had a ton of bananas because they run a bicycling vacation company -Carolina Tailwinds, if you must know- and bananas are a great recovery food for cycling. Weeell... the catch is that they apparently don't eat bananas unless they are on the green side. And they had a few days before running a new tour, so no guests would eat them either. Guess who ended up with 11 bananas? That's right: me. Guess who had a blog post not too long ago for banana bread? That's right: Nicole.

Let the choir sing.

I ended up making three batches of banana bread, two loaves each. I also ended up forgetting to pick up chocolate chips while I was at the store, and it made me think: why not do a chocolate banana bread? I have decent cocoa powder. What could possible go wrong???

Well, there are variables. First of all, what would the addition of 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of cocoa powder do to the dry/wet ingredient ratio? What would bittersweet chocolate do to the sweet/bitter ratio? First problem solved: I had an extra banana. Second problem solved: the banana was very sweet, due to it's near rotten ripeness. And the first batch of banana bread, which was done according to the recipe, was very sweet so I wasn't too worried. The only thing left was to try it.

This line can't say anything other than: I tried it.

It wasn't bad. Not bad at all, if I do say so myself. But it was definitely... off. Somehow. I'm not even sure how to describe it. The chocolate flavor was not a developed flavor at all. It was just... there. The banana still came through wonderfully, but it was like the classy flavor who wished the trashy cousin wasn't at the party, even though he was invited. Maybe it's just a revolt of the mind: banana bread should be banana bread and trying to make it anything else is a violation of principle and years of establishment.

Whatever the case may be, it definitely works if you can imagine you're eating a banana split drizzled in chocolate syrup. It really does taste like that. In bread form. Which is just weird.

If you have no interest in the chocolate, you should at least try making the following regular recipe. I don't have a lot of experience with banana bread, but I can tell you that this version is extremely delicious. It's moist but not too dense, and really shines a spotlight on the banana flavor.

Banana Bread

4 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup whole milk (or sour cream, if you prefer)
2 1/2 cups flour
Optional: 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (if you want to try the chocolate nanner bread)
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3 overripe bananas, mashed coursely so there are still small chunks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 8" loaf pans for baking and set aside.

Using the paddle attachment in a stand mixer, or a hand mixer if that's all you have (like me!), beat butter and sugars together until creamy.

Beat in egg and milk or sour cream until incorporated. Add dry ingredients and beat until just incorporated. Do not over beat. (Don't worry; the batter is supposed to be dryish.)

Add banana and beat until just incorporated. Again, don't over beat!

Divide evenly between pans and bake until tester comes clean, about 35-40 minutes. Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then remove from pan and try your best not to cut into it until it is sufficiently cool. Wait five minutes, at least, if you can possibly handle it. I get to about seven before I have to have a piece. =P

*In case you're wondering, the chocolate loaves are shiny because I put a towel over the pans while they were cooling. Yeah... BAD idea. The steam created settles back on the top, making it sticky to the touch. Not very fun if you're a finger eater, like me, and don't want to use a fork. I'll have to figure out some other way to keep naughty kitties from nibbling when I turn my back.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mourning the Loss of my Bucheron

or, I am a culinary genius.

Julia Child, move over.

Tonight, my husband and I were trying to figure out what to do with leftover linguine noodles from the linguine carbonara recipe found here. I'd accidentally made the whole box, not realizing that the rest of the ingredients were for a smaller portion, hence the "deux" part. We wanted to eat them and not waste them. We're on a "diet" of sorts. Did we have olive oil and Parmesan cheese? Yes and no. Did we have tomato sauce? Yes, actually we do. But I was not content with just a can of tomato sauce poured over linguine noodles. Bo-ring.

So what did I find? A carton of heavy cream that was two seconds away from getting wasted. An onion. Garlic. Butter. Oh, I think I can work with this...

So I set to work sauteing the onion and garlic in a little bit of butter. I stirred in the tomato sauce, warmed it up, added dried Italian seasonings and then drizzled in the cream, stirring. I spooned the sauce over our linguine noodles and served our dinner.

It... wasn't bad. Not bad at all. BUT, it was very sweet. Sweet tomatoes. Sweet cream. Sweet onions. I actually looked forward the the pitiful frozen peas and corn I had warming on the stove, if not for anything except to eat something that would tone down the sweet burning in the back of my throat. It wasn't until my bowl was empty that a brilliant idea popped into my head.

A few weeks ago, Nicole introduced me to one of her favorite cheeses, Bucheron. I can't even think how to describe it, except that it's creamy on the outside and crumbly in the middle, rich, and goes exceedingly well with Pink Lady apples. I especially liked how the cheese toned down the sweetness of the apple as I ate the two together. (I'm getting visions of Ratatouille here.)

So I took out the last morsel of cheese I had left, forked off a piece and swiped it through the sauce. Oh, heavens to Betsy, yes. I was sure it would work. Sure enough, after I had reheated the sauce and melted every last bit I had into it, I tasted.

I am a culinary genius. Thank goodness I have more linguine noodles that need eating. But now my bucheron is gone and when my sauce is gone, I shall cry.

Rose Sauce with Bucheron

A can of tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes pureed.
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
pat of butter
dried Italian seasoning,
---or fresh herbs, primarily basil and oregano, and some parsley

Saute onion and garlic in butter, until onions are opaque and soft.
Stir in tomato sauce and heat thoroughly.
Add seasonings and stir.
Drizzle in cream, stirring, until incorporated.
**If you have not had bucheron before, make sure you try it before making this sauce to get an idea of what it's like.
Add small amounts of bucheron, stirring until melted. I'd start with about half a spoonful, then taste test. Add more, then taste test. You'll know when it gets the right balance of tomato and cream sweetness and bucheron creaminess. I used probably a good spoonful before it was just right.
Season lightly with pepper. Serve over pasta noodles.

Please forgive the horrendous pictures!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Saying Hello to Say Goodbye

But not forever! Anyone who's been checking this will see it has been ages since my last post. Well, my husband and I have been trying to buy our first house! Turns out just finding a house is a very time-consuming and energy-burning process. As much as I love to cook, I'm not like *certain* friends of mine, one of which will pack her entire house in four days and still spend time on a decent meal (and write a post about it). I did do allspice ribs the other day that I would love to share with you in the future... But mostly it has been bread, tabbouleh, chopped veggie salad, and other things of like convenient, noncooking nature. One day we even tortured our poor bodies with chips, salsa and sour cream, a mashed avocado with lime and sea salt, and Vernor's soda for dinner because we had worked so hard and felt like it!

However! In an effort not to disappoint, there is one recipe I made recently because it is so convenient, healthy and delicious: Crockpot Taco Soup. My intention in making it is to have leftovers that taste great, but my husband loves this dish so well that he always eats two portions; therefore, it lasts a lot less than it should! =)

I will get back on the ball as soon as my priorities allow! I can multitask well enough on a less focused level, but when it comes to big things, my focus tends to get directed to that and away from other things. Being so new to this kind of cooking, hopefully next time in the future I will feel more confident and be more knowledgeable about recipes that it won't seem so time- and energy-consuming to continue this level of cooking no matter what is going on. Until then, there's Taco Soup!

1 can each:
kidney beans
black beans
pinto beans
diced tomatoes
tomatoes with green chilis

1 lb ground beef, browned
1 med onion, diced

2 packages of Ranch dressing powder
1 package taco seasoning

2 cups water

In a crockpot, throw in onions and browned meat. Add all the cans with their juices except the corn. Drain the corn, then add it. I like to stir in my Ranch and taco seasonings here because the water will bring the level up almost the edge, making it difficult to stir, but you can do it the other way around if you like. Turn the heat up to high and let cook for at least one hour. The longer the better. I think mine cooked for three to three and a half.

Do whatever you like afterwards. My husband likes to add cheddar cheese. We both put a dallop of sour cream on top. One day, we put the last crumbs from our bag of chips over top. It was yummy!

*I substituted a can of chili beans for the kidney beans. I can't buy kidney beans that aren't packed in high fructose corn syrup. Yuck.
*I also use frozen corn versus a can of corn. Not a big fan of canned corn, although I like creamed corn well enough.
*I use ground turkey instead of ground beef as well. Still very delicious!
*I'm sure if you aren't in hurry, it would also taste good with some roasted garlic and maybe a fresh herb. Seeing as how this is only the second time I've made this, I haven't tried either yet. I have it in mind to.

I guess that's it. Please be patient with me! I'm hoping to be back in about four weeks. If I do any more quickies worth posting, I will try to save some time and energy. (Yes, yes, I know, it's just a blog. But me being the writer that I am, I can't post it without it being it's best! This little post has already taken me 35 minutes and there aren't even any pictures! Sad, I know.) Anyway, in the meantime, take care, y'all!!!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tasty Tasty Confusion

Last night was our sweet three-year wedding anniversary. Despite being on an extremely tight spending commitment, we decided to celebrate by going to Village Tavern, a restaurant that is considered to be one of the nicer restaurants in Winston-Salem. They were kind enough to send us an email offering a free appetizer or dessert for our anniversary, and we thought, "Why not?" It felt more special than say, El Dorado, 4 Sisters, or Cha Da Thai, our other favorite restaurants.

Without going into detail (I'll do an actual blog on the conundrum that is Village Tavern later), this restaurant is a little confused, I think. And this confusion is represented best by the spinach salad I ate last night for dinner.

I believe that salad had to have been a college freshman salad, stuck in it's first year and not sure what it wanted to be: "Do I want to be a spring salad or a winter one? Do I want to be flamboyant or toned down? How about I try both and see which I like better!" And so it was dressed in a creamy poppyseed dressing out of which jumped apple cider vinegar notes like bright green stripes on a gray wool jacket. It was then accessorized with all kinds of stripes, spots, and nun's clothing possible. Thinly sliced green apples, delicious little cranberries, and tight grape tomotoes gave it the youth, vitality and vigor that befits a bed of spinach. This combination said, "I'm an art major and I love being up to my elbows in paint and clay!" But the goat cheese, bacon and spiced pecans told a different story: "I like math. It's neat and orderly." And you're left wondering, "So, which is it?"

To be fair, I totally understand creativity and I admire a leap of faith. Cranberries and goat cheese, green apples and bacon, it's all good. Not everything can be the center of the show; you do need your supporting actors. But the pivotal point, the thing that changed everything, was the spiced pecans. You're shoveling away and thinking about how cranberries, apples, and tiny tomatoes toned down with goat cheese and bacon makes you feel like you're frolicking in a meadow of sunshine and blooming flowers and all of a sudden, BAM! Suddenly you're transported in front of a roaring fire while sixteen inches of snow is falling outside the dark window. Where did that come from??? The crunchy pecan spiced with sugar and cinnamon is wonderful but you can't help but chew with your eyebrows drawn together... "Was I only dreaming of spring?" And just in case you think I'm nitpicking one small thing, the salad was served with a moist and delicious, but confusing, spiced muffin. What does that say???

And yet, for all my moo-ing, I have to tell the whole truth...

I inhaled that salad. I shoveled, I grunted, I mumbled how good it was around folded spinach leaves. I said, "Hello, spring!" while spearing the fruit into a greedy forkful and anticipating late night porch sittings, growing herbs and trips into the mountains. I said, "Winter, I won't forget you!" while gathering pecans, goat cheese, and bacon and reliving those moments of winter I love most, huddling under blankets, sipping a hot drink and reading a good book while the elements raged outside. After all, what is spring without winter? What is winter without spring? Life is a cycle, everything is connected, and I'm more than willing to let a salad go on an adventure to discover itself. How could I not? I've had my own college freshman phases.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I've Got Sole

This isn't really related to the kinds of posts I normally do, but I thought I'd throw this out there anyway. I love puns. I love wit. And I'm in the process of trying to develop my own t-shirt graphics. So as my husband and I were brainstorming for ideas with which to make a chef section, I came up with "I've Got Sole," which I obviously turned around and used for the name of my blog. Well, today I finally finished the shirt!

For your viewing enjoyment...

If you'd like have a look at the rest of the website, or if you'd like this on a shirt (I've got one for you lady-killers, too), go here. I don't have a chef section yet, so I've Got Sole is with the funny shirts. Hope you like it!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mussel Madness

I have a confession. The only reason that we ever put a mussel into our mouth was because it's one of the lesser taboo foods, like whole fish or pork skins. It's one of those foods that many Americans eat, but most wrinkle their noses at and say, "Ew. No, I would never eat that." We were indulging in a particularly adventurous phase, eating sea urchin sushi and soft shell crab for the first time, when we decided to try a seafood risotto dish containing fish, clams, scallops, shrimp, and of course, mussels.

We didn't love them at first bite. The risotto was served in a tomato sauce that just didn't do it for me with all the seafood. But we decided to be as objective as possible, and when we learned that mussels were cheap at Sea Products, Inc., we decided to give them another go -on our own terms. I'd come across a recipe that Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet magazine, thought was w
orth putting on her webpage, so we gave it a shot. How can you go wrong with a recipe from the ultimate foodie???

Turns out... Mussels are wonderful! The bigger ones, especially, were rich and buttery. The white wine added life and essence to every briny bite. I'd been right to buy a pound and a half: we consumed every last morsel, licking our fingers, and then looked forlornly into our empty bowls. Luckily, we'd thought to buy a crusty baguette with which to mop up the delicious wine and butter sauce laced with teasing hints of our long-gone bivalves.

I have to say, the best part is how inexpensive they are to make. Sea Products, Inc. makes it a habit to sell wine at more affordable prices, so I paid 10 bucks for a bottle of Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc. Butter and onions are something I always have on hand, and a bottle of wine will last through at least four separate mussel-making occasions. At least. Especially for us, because we don't drink alcohol. And mussels are a scant $3.00 a lb, plenty for two people. So for the better part of a week, I can feed us both for about $5 to $6 a night.

Not that I would eat mussels every night of the week. They're good but not that good. I'm just sayin'.

Storytime! Once upon a time, I bought mussels for the first time. Unfortunately, it didn't even occur to me that they were alive. I took them home, slid them into the fridge still wrapped in their plastic and paper, and didn't touch again until the next day. Needless to say, most of them suffocated. Some of them were barely holding on, but I ran them under water to try to revive them. They closed up in relief -then opened again as they relaxed in death. What could I do? I called my friend/chef's-heart-twin-separated-from-me-at-birth and invited her to the funeral.

Mussels in Wine and Butter
(as adapted from Ruth Reichl's recipe, found here)

1 to 1 1/2 lbs mussels, clean and debearded

2 shallots, chopped
1 small clove garlic, diced
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup white wine

Remove mussels from fridge and check each one to mak
e sure they are closed. If they aren't, tap them generously. If they close, set them aside to be cooked. If they don't close, throw them away.

Melt butter over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and saute until golden. We did this in the bottom of a pot, instead of a pan or skillet that you would have to transfer the ingredients from.

Add the wine and cook for one minute. Add the mussels to the pot and cover with a lid. After about five minutes, lift the lid and begin removing the mussels that have opened. I say do this at five minutes because mussels should not really cook longer than six, and it will take you a minute to remove the ones that have opened. After six minutes, throw away any mussels that have not opened.

Divide the mussels into bowls, dish onions and wine sauce over top, and ENJOY!

*Notes!! Because mussels are such interesting creatures...
-You can only cook mussels that are alive. That's the way it go
es, so find your local seafood market if you have one.
-While in your fridge, they may open to try to catch their breath. They are only dead if they don't close again when disturbed.
-DO NOT run your mussels under water to try to revive them or see if they'll close! Inhaling fresh water will kill them. I had about eight of them die in my fingers before I learned what was happening...
-Last, but not least! After you buy them, take them home immediately and remove them from whatever they're packaged in. Put them into a bowl with an inch of cold water in the bottom, ice cubes on top if you have any, and covered in a wet towel. (I've read so many different ways to keep mussels that I basically combined all of t
hem. Can't go wrong now, can I?) They should keep for about two days after purchase, but I would eat them as soon as possible. I don't even shop for mine until the day I'm ready to make them.

Oh yes, you know you want to try it. You'll be so glad you did.

See, even Jackie wanted a piece of the action! She didn't care that they had long been devoured by those big mammals she lives with.

Tom Kha, He's a Funny Fellha

"I hate people who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them."
-The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde.

I have no idea what actually prompted our foray into Tom Kha, the Thai coconut soup that disappears so fast. It could be because of that one day we came across a crab coconut soup that was so similar. Or it could be because of Cha Da Thai, around the corner, where I tasted Tom Kha for the first time out of a hot pot and have been hooked ever since. Whatever the reason, Steve and I seasoned our wok for the sole purpose of getting it ready to make Tom Kha.

Because we were so new to Asian cooking in general, Tom Kha was our learning curve. Boy, did we have some trouble! The first time we used no stock, only coconut milk. We used packaged (but real) crab, button mushrooms, and an oily red curry paste. It was a start but I wouldn't even call it Tom Kha in any sense of the word. Plus, the amount of curry paste it called for gave us the runs the next day. (I'm sorry, is that TMI?)

Several months later, we thought it would brilliant to try to make it for eleven people during the family vacation. Following the advice of the woman at the local Asian market, we used dashi instead of seafood stock. Big mistake. We'd finally been able to locate straw mushrooms but not lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves or galangal. We tried lime juice and regular ginger as substitutes, but as you can imagine, the entire flavor was off. Needless to say, Steve and I were embarrassed. Frustrated, we set the idea aside.

After getting our feet wet at our local Asian market, Asia Grocery, we decided to try again. I mean, who can really stay away from fragrant coconut milk riddled with earthy mushrooms and sweet little tomatoes? Knowing we could get the ingredients we really wanted encouraged us to push forward! The result was highly satisfactory.

For the Tom Kha, we purchased half a pound of raw shrimp at Sea Products, Inc. (If you use shrimp, the soup is called Tom Kha Goong. If you use chicken, it's called Tom Kha Gai. Just a little trivia for ya!) We got our shrimp ready for cooking by picking off their legs, cutting and peeling their shell back and removing the vein. It was the first time we peeled and deveined shrimp, and it really is just as easy as I made it sound.

We then combined two cans of coconut milk with 16 oz of seafood stock and some fish sauce (or nam pla, in Thai). We also put in slices of galangal and the peels of a zested lime, a suggestion from the guy at Asia Grocery after he told me he didn't have kaffir lime leaves. Steve then squirted in the juice of half a lime and stirred in some white sugar.

After letting them heat up and simmer for a few minutes together, we used a strainer made specifically for the wok and strained out the galangal and lime peels (nobody wants to eat those). We then threw in a can of straw mushrooms and twelved roma tomatoes. (You should know I like to make up words. In other words, I cut the roma tomatoes into 12 pieces.) Just before we considered the soup finished, we slid our shrimp in and boy, do those babies cook up fast! We then served the soup with fresh cilantro on top.

The soup was amazing! It was by far the closest we've come to the delicious soup they serve in Thai restaurants. The shrimp absorbed the lime juice so that when you bit in, a citrusy hint of the sea peeked through the creamy coconut. The mushrooms, though canned, still grounded the soup with an earthiness. The tomatoes added sweetness. And our bowls were empty in about five minutes. (In case you're wondering, that's cold Jasmine tea.)

As good as it was, it still needs work. We refuse to stop here, at "good enough." Too many people are happy with good enough. If we serve this for anyone else, we want them to leave with the memory forever imprinted on their minds. I don't want people to say, "Well, that was fun." No, I want them to say, "Yes! We're eating at Steve and Kirsten's!" So next time, I would like to use grape or cherry tomatoes. I would like to use palm sugar instead of white. I will definitely add my coconut soup, stock and fish sauce together the night before and let it sit. Our leftovers the next day were so much more complex and integrated. And we need to work on balancing the coconut milk/stock ratio. And, of course, I want to remember my lemongrass!

You might notice a couple of things:
1) We used very little measurements. Thai cooking is difficult to put into measurements. There are different variations and strengths in certain things like coconut milk and fish sauce. To tweak our recipe, we're going to increase our seafood stock in order to cut down on the thickness of the coconut milk. This could backfire if we use a different, and therefore thinner, brand of coconut milk. Fish sauce is something you should taste test. Start small and work your way up. You'll know when you get that sweetsalty goodness you're looking for in the background.
2) No curry. Tom kha is a lot like many other popular dishes; there are different variations. Some people use shiitake mushrooms instead of straw. Some people add scallions. Some people use brown sugar instead of white, or no sugar at all. I even saw a tom kha drink at the Asia Grocery that contained coriander in it's ingredients. For our part, Steve and I like to leave the curry out.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Asia Grocery, We Heart You

We've lived in Winston-Salem for three years now, roughly. Being the explorers we are, we drove around the city when we first moved here, taking stock of everything it offered. It was during the first year that I visited Asia Grocery for what would be the only time for a long time.

I don't know what made us forget but we didn't go back for two years. Interest in culinary art and gourmet food laid buried under interest in recovery food for endurance mountain bike training: brown rice and beans, steamed veggies, tons of eggs and fish as the only meat. Taste-wise, it was a boring, barren time for us and we didn't even know it.

Then one week last summer, we watched a marathon of Top Chef. My husband's passionate nature took over and he decided that he not only wanted to eat better, he wanted to learn to cook well. We quickly discovered that it was something we loved to do together and where we previously wondered if there were any hobbies we could share, we now knew cooking would be it.

It was six months before we turned to Asian cooking, particularly Thai. Before we married, Steve had never really been exposed to Thai, my father's signature style. I'd spent many a happy high school day eating spring rolls, phad thai, and the many editions of fried rice that my dad experimented with, searching for authenticity. I'd watched him lovingly oil the wok and massage it like the hard-working tool it was.

Then one day, Steve and I tried a new restaurant, Sushi Thai. Being fans of sushi, we stopped in and were blown away, not just by the quality of sushi but by the quality of the Thai food. It was phenomenal, and light bulbs lit up everywhere. We decided we simply must learn how to make this delicious food!

Cooking authentic Asian food requires authentic Asian ingredients. Yes, you absolutely may substitute lime zest for kaffir lime leaves, ginger for galangal, and ketchup for tamarind -if you're okay with an American knockoff. But if you want to feel like you're sitting on the floor of your Korean friend's home, trying to appear innocent as you tell her grandma that you're there to study while poised over a coffee table laden with noodles, kimchee, and dumplings with chopsticks in your greedy fingers...

You will need an Asian market.

When we realized this, we remembered that we had one! We armed ourselves with a tom kha recipe and sought out our local Asian market, the aptly named Asia Grocery. When we walked inside, it was as if we were two kids discovering a candy store for the first time. *Gasp!* "They have rice noodles! We can make real Pad Thai!" *Gasp!* "They have a whole tea section! Mmm, smell the Jasmine!" *Gasp!* "Look at all the soy sauce and rice vinegar! Look at all the snacks! Look at all the funny drinks! Look at all the dishes!"

We spent a good hour walking the six tiny aisles, peering into hand-labeled cardboard boxes full of Thai coffee and dehydrated jellyfish, checking out crammed shelves full of canned cooked duck eggs and rice pudding drinks, and peering into freezers full of whole fish and yellow pickled daikon that came with a saccharin warning.

The best part about Asia Grocery was their comparable prices. Our tin of Jasmine Tea was 3.49. It's loose-leaf and definitely better than any of the kinds you can get at an American supermarket. It smells wonderful and accompanies our Asian dishes so well. I can buy a multi-pack for 4.99 and have enough soba noodles for 12 servings. Soy sauce, rice vinegar, more kinds of rice than you can shake a stick at -all these things were either cheaper or the same price as Walmart. So where I previously bought cans of beans and tubes of ground turkey meat when we needed to be "economical," I can now buy rice noodles, hoisin and oyster sauce and stir-fry a tasty meal every night of the week.

(On an ironic note, we later found out that the Asian demographic that shops there complains because the prices are higher than Asian markets in surrounding cities.)

My only complaint was that they didn't have mirin. They had a mirin-style seasoning sauce that we ended up buying, but in the end I found mirin at Harris Teeter, of all places. Apparently, you are quite lucky if you can track down some of that stuff.

Here is where I would like to impress something very important upon you, if I'm able. Many an aspiring cook would love to make a stir-fry like they serve at a favorite hole-in-the-wall Chinese takeout, but is afraid to seek out the necessary ingredients at a local Asian market because of the foreign-ness of the store. The labels are often symbols with a smattering of English words. The organization may not make sense, or may even be haphazard, as our market is. You may be afraid to ask questions because of a possible language barrier.

But you can do it! Research your ingredients! If you need kecap manis, then make sure you know what it is! It will give you a clue where to find it (with other soy sauces) and you won't be clueless if asked a question. (I was asked, "Do you want tamarind for soup bases or concentrated tamarind?" I gave the guy a blank stare.)

It also helps to determine to find the ingredients yourself. Walk up and down each aisle, taking stock of what they have and where they keep it. Noodles, tea, rice, soy sauce and rice wine are all pretty familiar things to Americans. Find them and then check out what's inbetween. I say helps, though, because even after a dozen trips, I still have trouble finding things. When you walk in, make sure to say hello to the person running the store, and I guarantee, after looking for yourself, if you have any questions, they will be happy to show you where things are. And you may need to ask. I can't get lemongrass unless I ask for it.

There you have it! The Eastern culinary culture is a strange, exciting, tasty world and I encourage you to explore it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sea Products, Inc!

Blabbing about all things food is our overall purpose in writing this blog. Mainly I think that's gonna happen two ways:

1) We're gonna blab about all the wonderful places we visit that sell or serve delicious food (as well as any horrible places that sell or serve horrendous food).

2) We're gonna blab about all the awesome recipes and techniques that we try in our own kitchen (as well as any hilarious mishaps).

That said, today it is my pleasure to introduce... bum bum BUMMMM

Sea Products, Inc!

Yes, it is a terribly unimaginative name but I like it. It makes me think- products of the sea. Not products of some chemical plant, then packaged as "guacamole." Not products of a mechanical separator, then packaged as "hot dogs." Or worse, "chicken." Just pure, unadulterated, natural food pulled right out of the ocean and sold to you the way God made it.

Sea Products, Inc. is charmingly tucked away behind a strip of stores that include a hair salon and a clothing store named Snob Consignment. The owner is a passionate deep-sea fisherman and established it in the early '80's. It's been there ever since.

Unless you have a weird imagination, the market looked like what anyone would imagine it to look like. It was decorated like a ship and displayed it's wares on ice. I can't say whether the prices were great or not, as this is the first fresh market I've been to in ten years, but they certainly seemed better than their frozen counterparts at Walmart. I'd pay 10.95 for a pound of fresh swordfish, yeah buddy. Clams for $4.00 a dozen? Gimme two! But the best were the mussels: $3.00 a pound. Cleaned and debearded, just remember to put them in a bowl (I killed our first pound by leaving them to suffocate in their plastic. Dumb, Kirsten!).

We looked around and then settled on two Thai shrimp cakes ($2.50 each), and two crab-stuffed mushroom caps ($1.50 each). We agreed that I would come again the next day for shrimp and mussels (the mussels weren't due in until the next day). The Thai shrimp cakes were a little of a let down; there were no bold flavors that Thai food is known for. They could have been any other kind of shrimp cake. However, the mushroom caps were excellent. Baked with a little oil drizzled on top, they were clean tasting with fresh crab meat and balanced seasoning. The mushrooms were just the right size and generously filled. They were definitely worth getting again.

And that was our first foray into the wonderful world of fresh seafood! I would encourage you to look up your own local seafood market. Depending on where you are, the prices may be comparable and I can't impress this on you enough: fresh seafood made within a day of purchase is way better than eating it anywhere else, unless they got their fish that day as well. Most things are not difficult to cook and with a little practice -and a few online tutorials- you can be a confident cook!

Next time, another unimaginatively named local market: Asia Grocery!


What can I say? We love food. We love good food. There is a complexity about food, not just in flavor but within the very idea of it. First, there is the joy of creativity, the draw to explore, experiment and learn. There is an anticipation that energizes the preparation and makes the reward fulfilling. And after you've indulged in the act of creation, there is still another dimension: the satisfaction that comes with enjoying what you have created.

Let's be honest. Art feeds the eyes. Music feeds the ears. But there is an intimacy in the satisfaction that comes with eating a great dish that can't be compared. The nose is tickled. The tongue is pampered. People are knit together by the sharing of food. If forced to choose, I would rather sit back with a full belly and tingling tongue, reflecting on the interaction between my tongue and the things on my fork, than gaze at a hundred paintings or listen to the most potent song.

My grandfather would say, "You don't love food. You love people. You enjoy food. You like food. But you don't love food."

I see the beginning of a philosophical journey.