Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Green papaya salad

The hardest part of making green papaya salad is finding a green papaya. Once you have that figured out, it comes together pretty easily. This is the perfect antidote to the holidays--all I want now in the wake of rich foods are tangy, spicy things to eat. I first saw Nee make this when I went to Winston-Salem with Phil's family at Thanksgiving--she's from Thailand and made this later in the evening after the traditional turkey dinner was over. She has some real Thai chilies that she uses and the version she makes is sublime. I went home with papaya salad on my mind and made an approximation of it to serve with grilled flank steak. The cool sour-spiciness of the salad is incredible with beef, but it is usually eaten by itself as a snack, so don't let that get in the way. Nee told me you can make this with cucumber instead of green papaya if you want, so I tried a version with shredded carrots and cucumbers that came out pretty awesome as well.First of all--green papaya! They look like lumpy footballs. You can find them in the asian grocery stores pretty easily. While you're there, get some thai chiles. Tiny, hot asian peppers of any kind will probably work--get about 3-4 depending on how much you like the spice.Peel up a clove of garlic...And mash it with the hot peppers. If you have a really big mortar and pestle, this is the time to use it. I only have a wee baby size one, so I had to use a bowl.Now peel your green papaya and cut it in half.Looks kind of neat inside! The seeds are like little pearls. Scoop them out.Now it's time to shred the papaya into the bowl with the chilies and garlic. When I watched Nee do this it was really cool--she kind of held it up with one hand and used a mini machete while striking at an angle to create shreds. My chef's knife isn't quite the right shape but I tried it anyway. Or you can try slicing with a mandoline to create the shreds. Once you have a bowlful of green papaya shreds, add in the juice from 1 lime. Nee just tosses in the lime halves and mashes it up, but I juiced it in then mixed because I don't have that huge mortar and pestle.Fish sauce adds that essential tang! I used about two tablespoons--it is definitely an ingredient that is subject to taste.Get it all mixed up well together.Meanwhile, if you want to serve it as a main dish, grill a flank steak to utter perfection (seriously, doesn't this look awesome?). Slice it up and serve on a bed of the shredded papaya salad.Hot, spicy, sour, tangy...

Christmas eve

In Italy the Feast of the Seven Fishes occurs on Christmas Eve--you try to serve 7 different types of fish for dinner. In fact, as my mom notes, many Italian feast holidays traditionally feature fish the day before as an abstemious gesture before a celebration. We only managed three fishes this year. One was a tuna-olive tapenade-ish thing for appetizer that I'm going to try to recreate soon because it was delicious. Then we made New Orleans BBQ shrimp which were fantastic. Clearly, sausage are not fish, but Phil and I were driving out of Atlanta to Wisconsin by way of the Cajun Meat Company in Marietta, so it seemed essential to pick up some boudin. Boudin is a rice-stuffed sausage that hails from the same corner of Louisiana as my dad's family. Pops did point out that the stuff I brought from Georgia wasn't quite like they make it down there, but I was like "hey old man, you live in Wisconsin and there ain't nobody making no boudin up there at all, so count your blessings that you got any." And something more traditional--my mother made baccalà, which is salted cod. When you buy baccalà, it's a rock-hard slab of hard, salted fish that you need to soak for a couple days to reconstitute and desalinize. Then she fries it in a light breading and it's perfectly salty and delicious with lemon. I would have eaten it for breakfast the next day, I love it so much.

Sugared cranberries

How about a holiday season palate-cleanser? Something sweet and tart to get us to 2010. I could see a couple of these little jeweled cranberries dropped in a glass of champagne for New Year's Eve or set out at a cocktail party for nibbles. I've seen these made on a bunch of other food blogs this holiday season so I tried making them a couple times. Easy, delicious and unusual--just be aware you need to start them the day before so give yourself enough time. Wash two cups of fresh cranberries and pick out any spoiled ones. Make a simple syrup by bringing two cups of sugar to a simmer in two cups of water. Let it cool off for a few minutes then pour it over two cups of cleaned cranberries. You want it to be slightly cooled so it doesn't cook or pop your cranberries. Mix it up gently, cover and put it in the fridge overnight so the berries can soak up all the sugar syrup. The next day, drain them off...And roll them in white granulated sugar. I used about 1/2 cup at a time so it didn't get wet and clumpy. You want each berry to get fully dusted on the surface.Let them set for about 2 hours to dry.Give them a second roll in sugar and then let rest again for 1 more hour.They should be crunchy and hard to the touch on the outside. Put them in a festive bowl and enjoy!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Eggnog martini

Oh, this is just amazing. And a seriously easy way to make holiday guests extremely happy they came over to your house. Eggnog martinis! You need good vodka, amaretto, eggnog and a shaker with some ice. That's it!The shaker is brand new, so this was the inaugural martini--it was a "happy end of your first semester of law school" present from Phil. Very sweet.Per drink, pour in 1 ounce vodka...Then one ounce amaretto...And eggnog. You can do equal parts or just to taste, depending on how much you love eggnog. I think I used a little more because I like it and you only get it once a year. And then shake. Shake! Shake like you have never shooken before. Shake it like you make money shaking things. Shake it like you can do the Single Ladies dance. Shake it so it drives your dogs crazy.But let them sniff it afterwards so they know what all the fun was about. Dogs like to know things. And it's the holiday season after all.Pour into chilled glasses. These are actually highball glasses from when Brian and Erin got married (by the way, a little sprinkle of cinnamon on top is very nice).Maybe I'll get some proper martini glasses to go with my shaker once I've finished my first year of law school? Halfway there!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tortilla soup

New cooking ideas sort of fell by the wayside while I finished up the semester, but now I'm back! With tortilla soup and/or vengance. This is really good and spicy but the heat is tempered by mellow toppings like crumbled queso fresco and cubes of buttery avocado. I had a really lousy cold last week and this was the perfect soup to revive me--like a super amped up chicken soup. When I lived in Milwaukee I would always order the sopa Azteca from Cempazuchi on Brady Street. What I ended up making here was kind of a cross between that and the version in the fantastic Alice Waters book, The Art of Simple Food . Hey, since we're in the holiday season, that's another amazing one that would make a fantastic gift. And this soup is the perfect festive meal! All red and green.Start by simmering half a chicken breast (including skin and bone) in 1 quart of chicken stock until cooked through--should take about 25 minutes. While that is going on, prepare some crispy tortilla strips for the topping: slice 4 corn tortillas into more-or-less even strips... Fry them on both sides until cripsy in vegetable oil over medium high heat. You'll probably need to do this in batches. Set them aside to drain on paper towels until it's time to eat.Now chop up one small onion, plus any mild green chile of your choosing (I think I used an Anaheim chile), and 2 cloves of garlic.Sauté together in a soup pot in 2 tablespoons olive oil until soft but not too browned (about 5 minutes).By now your chicken is probably done cooking. Remove it from the hot stock and let it cool off. You'll thank me for that later.Now chop up a dried red chile--I used an ancho chile but a chipotle chile would add more smokey goodness. You can de-seed it to de-spice it a bit (probably a good idea).Pour the hot stock that you used to cook the chicken breast into your pot with the sautéed onion and pepper.Then add in your chopped dried chile...And some tomato. I used 5 canned, whole peeled tomatoes from a big can, plus about half the juice. I mashed them up a little bit in the pot.Brought it all to a boil, then turned down to a simmer. After 20 minutes, I puréed it with my immersion blender. You can leave it chunky if you prefer, but I like it smooth. Besides, there will be lots of toppings and chicken and stuff going in it to provide textural contrast, so I think it's best to go ahead and purée. Let it cook over low heat for another 10 minutes while you get the chicken ready. Take that now-cooled chicken breast (see? no fun if it's too hot to touch!) and pull it apart into shreds. Add the shredded chicken into the soup.Now it's toppings time!You can put all kinds of good stuff on top. Some other ideas would be crispy julienned radishes or jicama, or pickled jalapenos. This time I used crumbled queso fresco (cotija would be good here too)...Cilantro...Perfect, fresh avocado slices...And of course the tortilla strips. It's called tortilla soup after all. Juice half a lime into the soup, then ladle it into bowls and spread your toppings over all. Serve with extra lime wedges.