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I was such a fool to believe that it was merely called a lettuce wrap and not Larb Gai.  For years now I have been this idiotic – for shame!  Though often times considered a Thai dish its origins more accurately bring it from Laos where it is the national dish; a meat salad, if you will.  Most importantly, it is delicious!

After looking over your recipe, your first step is to go directly to your favorite Asian grocer – mine is the Shuang Hur Oriental Market, on Nicollet.  The store is huge, wonderful and ridiculously affordable.  They even have live fish, lobster and oysters in the back of the store.  If you are choosing to make chicken larb gai, and not a red meat variant, you MAY have to go to a different store to pick up some chicken, because when I was there I only saw smoked chicken.  There was whole chicken available as well ( I think…) but I was not in the mood to dismember an entire bird.  Once you’ve gathered all of your ingredients, you are ready to rock n roll!

When you get home, make sure to dig out the rice cooker that is buried in your cupboard.  I know you only use it a handful of times…unless you don’t.  You should have purchased sticky rice at Shuang Hur (5# for $5).  If you didn’t, go back and buy some, seriously.  Long grain rice just won’t work with this since it gives off a completely different experience.  In your rice cooker, drop in 1 cup of rice for each 1 1/2 cup of water, and let the cooker cook the rice – it’s only job.  If you don’t have this space hogging device, a regular sauce pan will suffice.

Whether you bought an entire bird, or just chicken breasts, you really need to cut it up in to sizable pieces in order to properly grind the meat in your food processor, or meat grinder – whichever you prefer.  Another option is to buy already ground chicken; though this idea did not particularly excite me so I stuck with the breasts, because I’m like that (!!!).

For some reason, the prospect of raw meat touching my food processor icked me out.   Regardless, I did it.

Just a few pulses allows you to get the above results.  It is not over-processed and it is not as mealy as ground meat – a nice balance.  After disinfecting your work area, toss the meat in a pan to cook with a couple of tablespoon of water.  It will not take long to cook the chicken all of the way through since it is so exposed to the heat source.  In that two minute time period though, you should be breaking up the clumps in to smaller pieces, ensuring they aren’t cooking in a large clump.

When cooked all of the way through, pour the meat in to a bowl and add the following ingredients:

  • 1/2 teaspoon hot chili powder,
  • 4 teaspoons fish sauce,
  • 5 teaspoons lime juice,
  • 1/4 cup slivered red onions,
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, and
  • 2 tablespoons sliced scallions and mix thoroughly.

You are practically ready to eat!  Just slice up some seedless cucumbers, take your fully cooked sticky rice out of the rice cooker, wash some lettuce and get your mint out!

You can make little chicken wraps with the lettuce, add the cukes and mint, or merely use your fingers to grab some sticky rice and then the chicken larb.  This dish has so many wonderful flavors that work splendidly together, that you will have an umami explosion in your mouth!

If you have any leftover cooked rice, heat it up in a sauce pan with some coconut milk – voila, dessert!

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NEWS FLASH:  IT’S COLD OUTSIDE.

You shouldn’t go outside, for anything.  You should see if you can telecommute to work and then also sell your employer on the idea that you are helping keep the office germ and flu-free.  To circumvent the tundra and give the finger to Mother Nature/Father Winter you should stay snuggled up at home and make tomato soup.  Don’t even go  to the grocery store – you have everything you need (I think…) in your pantry and refrigerator.   This isn’t nasty canned tomato soup, it is spicy tomato and blue cheese soup.  Don’t like blue cheese?  You will.

I love making soups, especially since I have been adamant making my own chicken, turkey and shrimp stock this year.  It’s easy, practically free, contains no sodium (in the stock) and is far tastier than anything Swanson will sell you.  Even the AARP knows of my old lady tendencies since they routinely send me information about joining.

Aside from my love of homemade stocks, soups and old people, I love easy recipes, which this is.  So easy in fact that Amateur Gourmet and Michael Symon do not even expect you to have fresh tomatoes, but canned!  Tomatoes, onions, garlic, hot sauce, dried spices, salt, and chicken stock – oh my!  See what I mean when I say you have all of these things in your pantry!?  OK, you may not have blue cheese nor heavy cream, unless you are me, since I pretty much insist of keeping both in the house.  But just go get them.  If you don’t (think you) like blue cheese (Tracy, I’m looking at you), just buy the super market kind, the one in the plastic container by the gorgonzola.

All you have to do is sauté the garlic and onions in olive oil, then toss the rest in and let it simmer.  If you are particular about creating a smooth tomato soup,  you can use your immersion blender or food processor to blend.  Because our food processor leaks everywhere and I forgot we had a smoothie maker in a cupboard too high up (i’m short), it was determined that chunky tomato soup would be delicious – and it was.

soup and bacon sautéed brussel sprouts

MAYBE, since you are telecommuting, you could make a beautiful boule to accompany your spicy blue cheese tomato soup and even turn it into the adult version of grilled cheese and tomato soup?!?

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We are hosting Thanksgiving this year.  I/we have never hosted Thanksgiving before.  After the initial freak-out of “omfgwearehostingThanksgiving” I reminded myself that it will be fine, we had after all, hosted a homemade pizza party for 30 people last fall.  Because of this, my fear lied in the fact that it is Thanksgiving, a holiday rich in tradition, but not the company nor number of guests.  Eight people, the number we are hosting, is nothing to be concerned about since as usual, I will prepare too much food.  However, I WAS concerned about the turkey.  I called the Birchwood Cafe to see if I could still order a bird from Wild Acres and they put me on a wait list.  But what was I supposed to do until I find out if I get one or not!?  I took to the Minnesota Grown website, hosted by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, typed in my area code and the product I was interested in (poultry, natch).  I was lucky enough to stumble upon the family owned and run farm of HighView Pastures and with a $10 deposit I was able to secure a locally raised, free-range turkey.

I made that call last Monday and got to pick up our bird today in Farmington.  It is rare when I leave the 554XX or even 551XX zip codes, so to make the drive to the country is a bit of a haul for me.  But I was excited! – In the country, by myself, blaring lady GaGa, and despite driving behind really slow UPS trucks, I knew that this turkey farm was going to be fabu – and it was.

This isn’t the mailbox to the farm.  This is a mailbox a few farms away.  I missed it and had to turn around.

However, THIS is the front-yard of the farm and those oblong white guys…err ladies are TURKEYS.  There were turkey hens running around as well as a few Tom Turkeys.

Roaming all around were not just turkey hens and Tom Turkeys, but chickens and geese as well!  They didn’t care that I, a human, at three times their height, was roaming around their territory.  Nor did they seem to care that I drove a large car called a Corolla that could easily squish them.  They just wandered about “cluck, cluck, clucking” away and “gob, gob gobbling” as they walked.  They seemed so at peace.  I wonder if they were curious as to where half of their friends went?  Their other turkey friends who just disappeared yesterday and never came back?  Do birds have the mental capacity to think such thoughts?

Here is one of their brothers…or sisters.  Plucked, decapitated, and vacuum sealed.  The she-farmer thankfully gave me a bag to carry Turkey in.  I would have felt like an inconsiderate slob waltzing amongst the poultry outside, displaying their dead friend like some sick freak.

On the bright side of eating meat – this is where it’s at.  The bird was raised on a lovely farm, able to walk around freely, and had food made available to it as they wished.  Lastly the farmers, unlike Evil Poultry Corporation, did not inject their turkeys with saline thus making them appear and feel more plump and ultimately deceiving the customer.  Better yet, our turkey was ALIVE until just yesterday.  Up until yesterday, I’m sure it lived a happy life, or as happy a life turkeys expect to live.

In following the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for an old-fashioned stuffed turkey (apologies if you can’t view it as you may need to login), I separated the skin from the meat on the breasts, legs, and back with my gloved hand, though I did not remove the skin.  After separating it, I rubbed the meat with Kosher salt and wrapped the bird back up in plastic wrap since it should be salted and wrapped tightly for 24-48 hours.  In essence, I violated the bird, with salt, then mummified it and finished the job by putting it back in the cold, dark refrigerator.

There s/he is!  Alive yesterday.  Dead today.  In my refrigerator until Thursday.

The farm trip was delightful for a variety of reasons and I’m so glad that we were able to get such a happy turkey for Thanksgiving – something to be truly thankful for.

______

HighView Pasture sells s many other products such as eggs, pork, and beef.  Seriously, check them out!

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As previously mentioned, I went to The Affair where I attended a chai demo given by cookbook author, chef, biologist and native Indian Raghavan Iyer.  After realizing that we have this book at home written by Iyer, I paged through until I found a recipe that contained all (or almost all) of the ingredients we already had at home and came upon chicken with potatoes.  I did end up going to the store to grab some ingredients for the spicy garam masaala, and in so doing, forgot the turmeric, and couldn’t locate unsweetened coconut (had sweetened at home though) nor dried Thai chillies and stupidly thought that dried chipotles would suffice.  For the most part they did, but the smokiness was nothing if not lame and the spiciness was somewhat lacking.

Since I am trying this new thing where I carefully read through a recipe before delving in, I noted that I desperately needed to make the spicy garam masaala before doing anything else.  In his demo and book Iyer explains the importance of using fresh spices because one spice has not one flavor, but six.  SIX guys!  It’s like this:

  • Flavor 1: whole seed
  • Flavor 2: ground whole seed
  • Flavor 3: Whole seed dry roasted
  • Flavor 4: Whole seed dry roasted and then ground
  • Flavor 5: Whole seed fried in hot oil (or clarified butter) 10-20 seconds until it has a nutty aroma
  • Flavor 6: Whole seed fried in hot oil (or clarified butter) 10-20 seconds until it has a nutty aroma, then removed from the oil and ground.

Had I not known the above, I would have been a complete slackass and used already ground spices, mixed them together and Called. It. A. Day.  Learning this spice secret is great; greater even than learning The Secret.  To create the spicy garam marsaala then, I used whole spices.  The freshness of them is unclear since I bought them from a grocer who has held them for who knows how long.  However, because I roasted the seeds myself, it has to help…right?

Whoa! It's my banner!

After I roasted the seeds a couple of minutes and let them cool, I took out a reserve coffee grinder (at the time we only had two – I mean this to infer that we now have three) and threw everything pictured above, plus the chipotles and ground it.  No more than a minute later I had a chipotle version of spicy garam marsaala.

Iyer says that this is only good for about a month in a container before it begins to smell and taste rancid.  I assume that the freezer could prevent this from happening as fast?  Regardless that is where mine no resides and I’ll just guess that it is OK for three months (and I just pulled that number out of the air since it lies between 32 days and forever).

I have now spent about a whole ten minutes prepping this part of the dinner (a component of which I only need 1 teaspoon).  Realistically, this was no more complicated than the recipe for the chicken with potatoes, or any recipe really (with the exception of this one).

I wedged the potatoes into eight pieces each and let them simmer in the skillet while I worked the coconut mixture; consisting of coconut, garlic, oil, coriander, and chilies (though truthfully I just used jalapeños).

When the coconut began to brown, I pulled the skillet from the heat, scraped the mixture into the food processor with the specified 1/2 cup of water and let it run a few minutes until it could not be processed anymore.  The seeds are not going to break down in a large processor like mine (11 Cup) and that is perfectly fine.

I started working on the chicken; cutting it up and pan frying it until golden brown.  At this point, everything came together; chicken, the potatoes you probably forgot about, the coconut mixture, spicy garam masaala, the tomatoes, salt, and turmeric.

When the chicken is cooked through, garnish with cilantro and perhaps make some rice!

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So Jim Lahey (YES! THIS Jim Lahey) has a new that came out called My Bread, or rather, my bread.  Because of this, his book reviewed with a recipe in Gourmet’s last issue in November.  The title of the recipe is called Pizza Patate and includes the necessary pizza dough recipe as well.  When I first considered making this I was falsely under the impression that it would be much like a potato knish, or even sort of close to gözleme.  However, after using my brain and eyes to read through the recipe a week thereafter, I came to realize it was nothing more than a potato topped pizza recipe.  It was also not a baked potato pizza a la Pizza Luce which I love love love.  On the other hand, it was because it was none of these things that I became intrigued and made a serous commitment to make Pizza Patate.

I attached the slicer t the food processor and sliced about four medium sized potatoes.  Everything was going well until a potato got stuck and it being 8:30am, I figured that using a knife would be the most effective way to push it down through the spout.  Which it was.  Until the handle of the knife got stuck on the slicer, I had a 7″ chef’s knife wobbling around, and the slicer stem broke.  (Don’t worry, I jumped away for safety rather than do anything effective like turn the food processor off.  Safety first though.)  Being safe and sound, I continued on by placing the taters in a bowl with a generous helping of kosher salt and filling it with water until all the spuds were covered.  I left them in the refrigerator longer than anticipated, but it was not detrimental (Friday morning to Sunday night).

Sunday morning I deviated from my normal pizza dough to use Lahey’s recipe (which is only slightly different from his No-Knead recipe).  After getting the dough close to ready, I emptied the potato bowl of its water and pressed any remaining water out with a dry towel.  Then in went to the thinly sliced onion (which I sliced by hand kthx?), some olive oil, as well as pepper.  Because the potatoes were soaking in Kosher salt for two and a half days, adding salt was wholly unnecessary.  Then I spread these guys across the dough which was already stretched across the pizza stone which had been preheating n the oven for a good half hour.  But something was inherently wrong, and it wasn’t just the lack of rosemary…

It was the lack of bacon.  After more consideration, it was also the lack of cheese.  In essence, I created not pizza patate, but rather, a breakfasty potato pizza, which according to Babelfish (which had steered me wrong so many times before in my seven years of German language learning), looks like this in Italian: pizza della prima colazione della patata.

Pizza della prima colazione della patat pretty much tasted like a giant-sized hash brown, but the delicious kind that was made with love and not with over processed potatoes from Denny’s.  However, now that my replacement slicer stem has arrived in the mail, I may safely slice some potatoes and try pizza patate again, but more accurately.

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In Russian pelmeni looks like this: пельмени.

Visually it looks like this:

DSCN1768

The word itself may be completely bizarro, but as you can see, пельмени is nothing more than a dumpling.  The same type of dumplings that you have eaten many times at your Norwegian grandmothers house, or Swedish, or German, or Chinese (but not the delicious looking soup dumplings).

The contents of the dumplings are really basic: 1 part ground beef to 1 part ground pork and then spiced however you like!  I diced up about three cloves of garlic, poured in some Worcestershire sauce, some red pepper flakes, salt and pepper then mixed it all together by hand until everything was well incorporated.  After which, I placed it back in the refrigerator, covered to work on the pelmeni dough.

In our St. Petersburg cooking class, Chef Tsvetkov Oleg divided the tasks for the pelmeni making by sex: the men did all of the tasks pertaining to meat and mostly dough, whereas we women performed all of the vegetable prep work (for the solyanka).  We took a number of breaks throughout our class where Chef encouraged us to take shot after shot of vodka, which we did.  So when we returned to the kitchen to work with sharp knives I think I moved slower, not only from the alcohol, but because I was really mesmerized by the way in which Chef was making dumpling dough.  He took approximately three cups of all-purpose (I assume) flour, added a pinch of salt for flavor and then eyeballed an amount of oil, vegetable or olive perhaps.  He then just kneaded it in a plastic container until it became dough.

I wanted to take the same idea and use it at home.  Unfortunately, I was overcome by a simple noodle recipe (though I used All Purpose Flour instead) involving four eggs, went with it, and then ran it through my pasta machine to flatten the dough out to long sheets.

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Oddly, this cookie cutter did not suffice.  I had to use a drinking glass to cut out the dough and then at times a knife to cut it away and in to rounds.  This occurred – I believe – not due to the dough recipe, but due to the fact that I ran the dough through the pasta roller too many times, the dough got pretty tough (as evidenced later when I ate the meal).  Curses!  So beware…

DSCN1751

The rounds weren’t much larger than 2.5″ across.

DSCN1752

To seal the pelmeni, I did nothing more than use the tines of a fork; no water, egg wash or other goop to glue it together.   The super great thing about pelmeni is that it keeps so well in the freezer.  I made up a huge batch of these one afternoon, just in order to have on a rainy/snowy/lazy day, put them on a cookie sheet in a single layer, froze them and then bagged them up before I again threw them in the freezer, just like the Siberians.

On Russian Dinner Night, as we were starting to eat our solyanka, I pulled out a large pot to boil water in.  I now realize how lovely it would have been to put some chicken broth in as well.  Luckily I still have a gallon bag full of pelmeni in the freezer to try that idea out on.

DSCN1754

I boiled them for about 15-20 minutes – because there is frozen, raw meat inside, It is necessary to ensure it’s actually cooked through.  After pulling the dumplings out, I poured a bt of live oil on them as well as some salt and pepper.  After a quick stir, they were served!  Because the soup was so hearty, we needed only a few dumplings to satisfy our need for savory before we had dessert…

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What people don’t realize about Russia, is that Russians eat much more than borsch and potatoes.  If you happen to go to Russia, nothing screams tourist quite like a giddy foreigner ordering borsch.  Anyone with an interest in beet soup can imagine how to make it as it doesn’t require a lot of imagination.  Fortunately, this is not a post about the betaine-rich root vegetable, but rather a dynamic soup called solyanka.

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This is a picture of the solyanka that we made in our Russian cooking class while visiting St. Petersburg this past summer.  I know you think it looks like a hodge podge of random leftovers found in your refrigerator thrown together in a pot and called soup.  However, that is often a description suited for Midwestern hot dishes.  Solyanka contains layers of flavors that are unearthed on every bite.  It is hearty enough to serve as a main meal (lunch) but is adequette to serve as a first course. Solyanka can be made in three different ways: vegetarian, meat or fish based, all of which are savory and hit the head on the umami factor.  However, I decided to make this version beef based, just as we were taught on our trip by Chef Tsvetkov Oleg.

DSCN1070-2

an intimidating character

I mostly followed this recipe and then tweaked it according to my memory of what we ate in the motherland, as well as what could be surmised from the first photo of this post.  In order to ensure the best possible solyanka,  I drove all over th city gathering ingredients.  My first stop was Kowalski’s to take advantage of their fresh olive bar – much to my delight they also had gherkins!  A little over $9 later, I was heading toward my favorite neighborhood butcher, Everett’s where I ordered a fresh-cut sirloin steak (~ 1#) and a hot polish sausage (I know that everyone in South Minneapolis is all about Clancey’s, but we closer to East Lake than…a lake.  Moreover, the guys at Everett’s are top-notch AND they smoke some killer jerky).  Eleven dollars later, I was out of there and on my way home to start making soup.

I cubed the sirloin in to pieces measuring no more than 1/4″ on each side and threw them in the pot with about eight cups of water.  Because I bought more steak than the recipe required, I compensated by adding an extra two cups of water.  As the beef and water became broth, I fried up some bacon, threw that in the pot, as well as sliced the Polish and threw that in as well.  With all of the meat accounted for, I moved on to the vegetables.

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I cut up an onion and the pickles and sautéed them in the same pan as the one I cooked the bacon in, leaving just enough grease to cook these veggies.  When the onions started to become translucent, I added a generous amount of tomato paste and continued to sautée all of it for a few minutes before dumping the entire contents of th pan in to the pot with the water (now broth) and meat.  I felt as though something was still lacking.  There were so many delicious flavors and textures roaming around in the pot, but I  wanted something more substantial.  With that I cubed up two or three medium sized Yukon potatoes and threw them in the pot as well.  After which, I added four bay leaves (ZOMG I know!  It’s so many!!!) and let the soup cook itself on low heat until it was time to serve.  In the meantime I got to bask in the homey aroma emitting from the large pot on the stove.  Thirty or so minutes before serving, I added fresh olives to the pot and let it finish cooking.

DSCN1767

I garnished the soup with some fresh sprigs of dill, a generous squeeze of a lemon wedge (as well as the wedge itself) and a dollop of sour cream.  This soup has it all: a savory base with the meat, sour with the lemon, gherkins and olives,  rich and creamy with the sour cream and a hint of fresh with the dill sprigs.  With the complexities contained in this soup, I don’t understand why borsch is solyanka’s constant rival.  Who says there is no diversity in Russian food?

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