Saturday, October 23, 2004

Grocery grabbin'

Today Kitchen Monkey and I went to the southern reaches of Sarasota to get groceries from an Asian market. While we were in the neighborhood--if you could call it that--we also went to Geier's, a German butcher/grocery, and an Italian grocery whose name escapes me. I believe it was called Casa Italia.

At any rate, on our first stop we browsed the cramped aisles of the Asian grocery at length. When I say cramped, I mean that when you come to an aisle with someone else in it, you pick another aisle. Still, this didn't keep us from getting a fair amount of strange and necessary supplies, including potato starch--for the negimaki recipe in this month's Saveur--mae ploy sweet chili sauce, udon, edamame, some prawn chips, and a spicy indian puffed rice snack. The suppin' simian came out of there with a wok, some daikon, fish cakes, and lots more. Maybe next time I'll just have to get the Cheer Up brand sardine flavored broad beans. Maybe.

At Geier's I got a smoked pork tenderloin, some coarse mustard in a really neat jar, some caraway cheddar and a loaf of Bavarian rye. The cheese is a little too intense on the caraway, but it is pleasant in small doses. Part of me thinks it might make a good omelette if I used it sparingly enough. Speaking of omelettes, thats where a portion of that tenderloin is headed for sure. Think very lean, very smoky ham.

I didn't come away from the Italian grocery with anything--except the knowledge that Marcella Hazan's son teaches cooking there, and she's doing a signing there in December. Monkey got some jamon serrano, manchego and wine. I might have to come back and get some carnaroli rice to make risotto with. I've only made it with arborio and I'm curious to see if there's a difference.

Speaking of risotto, I had a very rich, perhaps overdone, bowl of risotto last night. After seeing Iris Dement at the Palladium in St. Pete, Renee and I had dinner at Cafe Alma. To give you an idea of the atmosphere and staff, there was a kafka book sitting on the hostess stand, and directions to the bathroom involved "make a left at the dj booth." The decor of brick and wood was dimly lit and comfortable, despite the pounding house music. The menu, as you can see on their website, is filled with a variety of exotic, some would say disparate, elements. I was skeptical of this, as I oftentimes am of laundrylists of ingredients.

The food was good, but cluttered. The pumpkin sage ravioli was sweet and the flavor clear, but the fact that it was topped with blue crab, crispy pancetta and brown butter made things a little confusing. The combination of crab and pancetta was good, but the bacon and butter made things a little slick. All of the ingredients used in our dishes were very good on their own, but they sort of stumbled over each other when put together. The porchini risotto was very earthy, but gritty, I suspect from some residual dirt in the mushrooms. Topping it with an excessive amount of gorgonzola, balsamic reduction and a piece of duck confit was a little much. The duck was excellent, but there was so much going on in that bowl that I couldn't really concentrate, and after having a few tastes of each component, I was too full to really enjoy anything. Would I go back? Maybe. The quality of the ingredients is there, but they just need to have a little restraint in using them.

Thursday, October 21, 2004


Plenty spices at the farmers market. I picked up some hot paprika, which I think I'll use for deviled eggs this weekend. I never really deviate too much from my regular deviled egg recipe--mustard, mayo, thyme, salt, and pepper. It would appear that there are others who aren't satisfied with regular old deviled eggs.


There are lots of kirby cucumbers at the markets now, and so, pickles. I hadn't made a batch in about a year. I'm not as happy with this batch, I guess because I deviated from the regular recipe by forgetting to include a few things (dill and garlic). Next time will be better. I did pickle some carrots too, and those I quite like. They held a lot of their crunch and carrot taste, but took on a lot of the pickling flavor. I think the next time I go to the red barn it will be with an eye for things to pickle. That sounds kind of suspect, doesn't it?

It appears I'm not the only food blogger who's pickling this week. Through them, I found this. Friggin' internet.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Tomatuhs and potatuhs and them lil' shrimps I like

I now have a garden. More to follow.

Pad Thai

Renee bought me a big bag of tamarinds at the Red Barn last week. "Because I know you wouldn't by them for yourself," she said. Read: "I want pad thai." Well, thats ok, because I want pad thai too. Most of the time in fact.

I don't know why I don't make it more often. I guess it requires about an hour of prepping various things, such as:
Tamarinds: Most recipes I've seen assume that there's no way you'll be able to find fresh tamarind pods. Not so. When I started making pad thai, in Key West, I was lucky enough to have a tamarind tree in the yard. I made the dish a few times in the summer, as that's when they're ripe. Now, I get them from the flea market and they seem to be just as good, and its much easier than climbing that giant tree, only to find that most of the pods I've picked have already been inhabited by bugs. I think I only found one buggy pod in the dozen or so I picked over last night. For those not familiar, a tamarind pod is somewhat similar in shape to a very large bean pod, a fava maybe. The shell is mahogany or sometimes silvery brown, and very brittle. It's easily removed, revealing a dark, sticky interior with the consistincy of a ripe date. The taste is somewhat like a very tart apricot. The pods usually house three or four very pretty seeds, about the size and color of pennies. Once shelled, the pods go into a small pot of boiling water. I believe I boiled them for about 10 minutes. Once the flesh was starting to fall apart, I passed them through a seive, then boiled the flesh some more. I did this a few times until I'd loosed most of the meat from the seeds. This left me with a slightly pulpy 3/4 cup of tamarind liquid, which I should add, can also be turned into a beverage when sweetened when made in larger quantities. Hmm, thats something to try at home. To this liquid I added fish sauce (Three Crabs brand), chile flakes, rice vinegar, sugar and vegetable oil. This completes the sauce for the noodles.

Noodles: The rice sticks(I used a one pound package, doubling the recipe I was following) seem to behave best when they're soaked in hot water, rather than being boiled like traditional pasta. A 20-25 minute soak in hot tap water makes them pliable, but not gluey like boiling sometimes does.

Shrimp: About a pound of shrimp, 31-35s is what I had last night I believe, works for a pound of noodles, I find. Some folks are squeamish about the vein or "poop shoot," as it is called with much affection, but I usually don't bother de-veining them. The p&d shrimp at the supermarket were about the same price as what I was going to buy anyway, so I sprang for those. While most were shelled, they weren't actually de-veined. Rather, they just had little slits cut down their backs, making them look as if they'd been deveined. Oh well, joke's on the shoot-haters I guess.

Aromatics, vegetables and herbs: A couple shallots and garlic cloves, minced; a few scallions, chopped on a sharp bias; a good handful of cilantro, some mung bean sprouts.

Eggs: four eggs, beaten with a pinch of salt.

Once everything is prepped, the actual cooking time is rather short. Fry the shrimp in a few tablespoons of nearly smoking oil, set them aside, then saute the shallot and garlic, scrable the eggs with that, toss in the soaked and drained noodles, then the sauce, toss on high heat for a few minutes until the noodles are fully cooked, add the shrimp, sprouts, some unsalted peanuts, the cilantro and scallions. Serve with some lime wedges.

Now, I have a 12" nonstick pan, and it always proves impossible to keep everyting in there. I've come to accept the fact that there will be bits of scrambled egg on the stovetop, peanuts and sprouts on the floor, and at least one rogue shrimp. In fact, I've started to look for and expect that now. Most of it stays in the pan however, and it always comes out quite good.

I'm curious to hear about other people's pad thai recipes. The one I work with was published in Cook's Illustrated a few years ago. I've strayed a little bit by increasing the quantity of it, but I find that their recipe for the 'sauce' works very well. They too assume that tamarind pods are out of reach to the average shopper, and suggest tamarind paste or concentrate. I've made it with paste that someone brought back from Colombia for me. It worked very well, I think it was packed with some sugar though, so it was hard to mederate the sweetness. Also, I've seen recipes that leave the tamarind out all together and say to use ketchup. Strange as it sounds, I can see how that might work to some small degree--the fruit and the vinegar--to copy the taste of tamarind. I'm curious what most restaurants use. I know that after making pad thai at home, I'm not happy with what I'm served in most Thai places. It's either too greasy, too sweet, or the noodles are too gummy.
I still have plenty of tamarinds left, so I guess I'll just keep on making it at home.