IMG_2341With the June Cookbook Challenge chugging along, we’ve been turning our attention to some of the impulse buys in our collection.  One of these, simply titled “Thai,” indicates on its cover that it comes from “The Essentials Collection.”  Inside, we’ve found some easily followed recipes that cover a wide range of recognizable Thai dishes from spring rolls to green curry. 

Essential?  Maybe not.  But definitely helpful.

For the challenge, we decided to tackle two dishes from this cookbook simultaneously: a Thai fish curry and a pineapple and cucumber salad.  We figured the sweet, refreshing salad would offset the heat of the curry.  As it turns out, the salad features chili sauce prominently and the curry wasn’t all that hot to begin with, but we were still happy to have the combination side by side on our plates.

To make the salad, we peeled and quartered one cucumber, then scooped out the seeds and chopped the quarters into 1/2-inch pieces.  We then proceeded to cheat a bit, going for a can of cut pineapple in lieu of the small fresh pineapple that the recipe called for.  Combining the cucumber and the pineapple, we added one thinly sliced red onion and one bunch of chopped arugula leaves.

Cucumber and Pineapple SaladThe dressing for the salad combined some classic Thai flavors: three tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, one teaspoon of sugar, one teaspoon of sambal oelek (chili sauce) and two tablespoons of chopped fresh mint (more of those living organic herbs from Shenandoah Growers).  We whisked the all together and tossed them with the salad for a flavor that was at once salty, sweet, spicy and soothing.

The fish curry was a bit more complicated, beginning with the shopping for the recipe.  The ingredient list calls for 1 3/4 cups of coconut cream, so I found myself torn between coconut milk (a pretty standard ingredient in Thai curries) and Coco Lopez-brand coconut cream (for making pina coladas).  I bought one of each to be safe, only to find that the directions for the recipe refer to the ingredient in question as coconut cream and coconut milk interchangeably.  Frustrated, I set aside the sugary drink mixer and broke out the coconut milk.

We coarsely chopped four shallots and threw them in a blender with two inches’ worth of finely sliced fresh ginger, two inches’ worth of chopped lemongrass, three seeded and chopped red Thai chiles, one tablespoon ground almonds, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Adding six tablespoons of the coconut milk, we blended the mixture until it made a slightly lumpy paste.

Thai Fish CurryAfter bringing the mixture to a boil in a large saucepan and cooking it thoroughly for four minutes, we added the remaining coconut milk and brought everything back up to a boil.  We laid in four orange roughy filets and allowed them to simmer for roughly 8-10 minutes, flipping them halfway through the cooking.  At that point it was just a matter of plating and serving the fish and the salad side by side.

Despite the coconut milk hiccup, we definitely found the recipes in this book to easily followed and tasty.  Considering how many of our cookbooks focus on aspects of Asian cooking, it’s a safe bet we’ll be doing away with a few of them.  This one might just make the cut.

FarfalleOne of the best things about our cookbook challenge has been the opportunity it provides for us to visit with some of the oldies-but-goodies in our collection.  You know how it goes – with each new option, the old standbys fade further and further into the background.  It’s not because of anything they did or didn’t do; sometimes that’s just the way it is.

For us, Giuliano Hazan’s “The Classic Pasta Cookbook” is one of those faithful friends.  Some of our first cooking experiences together while we were dating were taken from this book, which belonged to a friend: a basic pomodoro, a spicy all’arrabbiata, a rich carbonara.  It had served us so well that I gave a copy to Elizabeth for Christmas one year, and I even reached out to the author to ask him to sign it.  But changing cooking habits (we rarely make pasta anymore) and an influx of new cookbooks with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients have relegated Hazan to the bookshelf. 

Filet Post CuringWhen we started the challenge, this was one of the books that we were most looking forward to revisiting.  It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that we would hold onto it, but what dish would we make to test it (and ourselves)?  Elizabeth was flipping through the book when she lit upon farfalle al salmone affumicato.  The handy translation informed us it was “Bow Tie Pasta with Smoked Salmon and Roasted Bell Peppers,” and we knew we had a winner.

Besides…it gave us another opportunity to fire up the Big Green Egg!

Once we had the salmon smoked it was just a matter of making the recipe – details after the jump. (more…)

Ramps after cleaning and trimmingOn a recent trip to the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market, we were thrilled to see that one of the vendors was offering ramps.  Ever since we picked up a copy of the recently re-issued “Think Like a Chef” by Tom Colicchio, I have been waiting for spring to roll around to try them.  In the book, Colicchio describes ramps as “wild leeks, harvested only in the spring, and I prefer them for the reason I prefer wild varieties of almost everything: they taste liike the cultivated variety, only more so.”  These cousins of the onion combine the best notes of onion and garlic flavors and aromas, and we felt like we just had to give them a try. 

So we shelled out the $5 asking price for a small bunch of lightly purpled stems with broad, flat leaves and we took them home, eager to put them to use as a component in one of Chef Tom’s “trilogies” – combinations of three ingredients whose flavors, textures and seasonality make them natural partners.  In the case of ramps, Colicchio pairs them with asparagus and morels, two more harbingers of spring whose earthy, woodsy flavors go well together.  For our dinner, we decided to use some red snapper filets in a dish that sautees the fish in a beurre fondue with a ragout made from the trilogy.

But I cannot tell a lie – we weren’t about to drop $15-$20 on a small carton of fresh morels.  We used reconstituted dried morels, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  The flavor was there, and the fact that the recipe had us cooking the morels until soft meant that their initial texture was irrelevant.

Details on prep, including what the hell beurre fondue is, after the jump. (more…)

When it comes to baked goods, there are some general assumptions out there. Assumption #78: When I say “muffin” you think “sweet.”

 

Not in this case. On one particularly rainy Sunday afternoon, I felt a yearning for some warm, scented goodness baking in my kitchen. Although at first I thumbed my cookbooks for something heavy on cinnamon, I ultimately chose a savory muffin from Melissa Murphy’s The Sweet Melissa Baking Book. I already  had some experience with Murphy’s recipes and was eager to expand my knowledge.

 

Melissa Murphy, of the Brooklyn Patisseries and baking book provides a 4-for-one bargain recipe for savory muffins. Starting with a baseline of a basic savory muffin recipe and then provides four options to spice it up, so to speak:

 

Goat cheese, olive, and thyme muffins

Caramelized onion, sage and cheddar muffins

Bosc pear, blue cheese, and walnut muffins

Sun-dried tomatoes, feta, and oregano muffins

 

I chose the third option as it contains three of my favorite ingredients. Plus, it was a perfect accompaniment to the refresco soup Mike brought home from the DuPont farmer’s market.

 

So a note on the instructions below – does anyone else find themselves awkwardly discovering specific directions after you are 75% complete with all other steps? In this case, it was realizing that the milk and cream were supposed to be room temperature. Whoops. Mine were fresh from the fridge and as cool as white marble. In past debacles, I’ve discovered that batter must refrigerate for at least two hours. This is Exhibit Q of why baking in a hurry benefits no one. In the end, this was resolved by patience and some quality time with my DVR while I waited for the liquid to warm up.

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