Saturday, August 28, 2010

Thai Red Curry with Chicken and Vegetables - by Jess

A couple years ago James and I travelled around Thailand for a month. We literally ate ourselves silly! Every morning we’d announce that we were only eating fruit for the day. By noon we’d already be stuffing our faces with spicy shrimp salad or curried noodles. So much for fruit! But at night we just couldn’t stay away from the curries. This is my take on a basic red curry. This dish is completely versatile. Make the sauce and then you can add whatever you want to it: Chicken, Beef, Shrimp, Duck, Vegetables, you name it. And make it as spicy as you like – there is no law about the degree of heat, only yourself to please.

Treat the recipe as just a guideline and then tweak it to make it your own.

1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
2 Heaping Tablespoons Thai Red Curry Paste
1 ½ Cans Coconut Milk
½ Cup Water
6 Lime Leaves (available at Asian Markets – you can buy them fresh and freeze them so stock up– if you can’t find them don’t worry too much but if you can find them they add a really nice, authentic lime flavor to the curry)
1 Tablespoon Palm Sugar (Again – available at Asian markets – if you can’t find replace with regular or brown sugar)
1-2 Tablespoons Thai Fish Sauce - Asian Markets again. This really is essential. Fish Sauce is to Thai cooking as Soy Sauce is to Chinese. It’s used in the same way as well – as a salting agent – but you cannot use soy sauce in this recipe! They are completely different. If you have never used fish sauce – BEWARE – it smells horrible!!! But don’t let the smell put you off! You use it in such small quantities that it never tastes like it smells. My husband HATES the smell of fish sauce and yet it is an essential ingredient in many of his favorite dishes.)

This part of the recipe is where you can really make it your own: Add the meat you want and the vegetables you like. But here are just a few things that work.  I always do finish off the recipe with the baby spinach and the basil, no matter what else I put in. The spinach adds beautiful color and the basil is an essential last flavoring for the curry.

Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts – 4, sliced or cubed into bite-size pieces
Red Pepper – ½ -1, diced
Butternut Squash – 1 cup diced
Zucchini – I, diced
Plum Tomatoes – 1-2, cut in quarters, lengthwise and seeded
Baby Spinach – 2 large handfuls
Basil – 1 large handful, torn into pieces
Basmati Rice for Serving

To make the curry sauce:

Heat the oil in a large saucepot over medium heat.  Add the curry paste and stir with a wooden spoon. You want the curry paste to become nice and fragrant (you should feel it in your nose!). Open the coconut milk and once you have heated the curry paste for at least one minute scoop out the heavy, creamy part of the coconut milk that sits at the top of the can and add it to the pot.  Let it cook along with the curry paste for another minute before adding the rest of the milk to the pan. Add the lime leaves and water and bring to a simmer. Allow the sauce to gently simmer for at least 5-10 minutes so that the flavors of the lime leaves infuse the curry. Finish the sauce with the sugar and fish sauce and taste for seasoning.

Close your eyes when you taste the sauce and see if you can taste the 3 essential flavors of a good Thai Curry: Spicy, Salty & Sweet. If you feel like you need more of anything do not be afraid to play around. Add more curry paste (Spicy), Fish Sauce  (Salty) or Sugar (Sweet – be careful here though – you don’t want it to taste like dessert!). Or – if it is too spicy (no such thing!!) for you then thin it out with a bit more coconut milk and water but you may then need more salty and sweet as well to make up for the extra liquid. Also, keep in mind that once you add the chicken and vegetables to the recipe it won’t taste quite so spicy so you can always adjust the seasoning right at the end.

For the Chicken and Vegetables:

Sauté the chicken in a frying pan until almost cooked through. If you make this recipe with beef or shrimp you can allow them to just cook in the curry sauce. However, for some reason unknown to me, the chicken causes the coconut milk to separate so cook it separately first then add it to the sauce.
While the chicken is cooking begin adding your vegetables to the sauce in the order in which they need to cook. For example, the butternut squash needs at least 10 minutes more cooking time than the other vegetables so add them first. One of the main characteristics of Thai food is FRESH, FRESH – so don’t overcook your vegetables! You want the red pepper and zucchini to still be crunchy and not soggy mush when you serve the curry. Lastly, add the tomatoes – they don’t need much time at all and then add the chicken and just finish it off in the sauce. Immediately before serving add the spinach and basil and stir just to make them wilt.  Check again for seasoning: Spicy, Salty and Sweet. Serve the curry with plenty of basmati rice for sopping up the delicious sauce.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Crazy Strawberry Dessert by Jess

Strawberry Pazzo (Crazy Strawberries) is a great Italian dessert and literally takes 5 minutes. The hardest part is cutting the strawberries  - whew! Your friends won’t know what they’re eating and will be amazed when you tell them. (Strawberries in vinegar????). Serve it after Linguine Frutti di Mare and fall into a blissful food (and wine) coma. Heaven.

2 Pints Strawberries, hulled and halved, quartered if really large
3 Tablespoons Good Quality Balsamic Vinegar
1 ½ Tablespoons Sugar
Vanilla Ice Cream

Put your strawberries in a bowl and pour over the vinegar and sugar. Mix well and allow to sit and macerate in the fridge for at least 10-15 minutes and no more than 30 minutes.  Spoon over Vanilla Ice Cream and serve.

Linguine Frutti di Mare (Seafood Pasta) by Jess

Before we moved to Italy I liked pasta. But being based in Tuscany for 2 years, I came to LOVE pasta. For the Italians pasta is an essential part of their day like water (or wine).  Without any exaggeration, an Italian will not go one day without having had pasta for lunch or dinner. And who can blame them?  It is filling, inexpensive, healthy and completely satisfying – if made correctly.

I have mentioned this in my earlier blog but it can not be said enough. If an Italian saw how the majority of Americans eat pasta (Boil pasta, put on plate and pour sauce - usually out of a jar - on top) they would DIE. That’s like putting ketchup on a doughnut – it’s just WRONG.

The pasta and the sauce (always homemade) have to be “married” together in the pan before you can serve it – it’s like the golden rule of making pasta that, for some reason, never made it’s way to American kitchens – but I am here to save the day!

And as for sauces, there are so many easy ones to make that if you keep reading this blog (whoever you are) I promise you will never have to buy another bottle of Ragu again.

My first pasta recipe (Pasta Pomodoro) was very simple and modest. Linguine al Fruitti di Mare is anything but modest.  It is luxurious – but very easy. It’s the perfect dish if you are having people over for dinner and want to impress them – without breaking the bank and without spending 4 hours in the kitchen. It’s a one-dish dinner that only needs to be accompanied by a mixed greens salad and some nice bread. Followed by Strawberry Pezzo (Crazy Strawberries) – a 5 minute dessert – and your guests will be clawing their way back to your table very soon! (So only invite people you really like – leave your co-workers to suffer Ragu in their own kitchens)

So good luck ! Mamma Mia!

2 ½ -3 lbs mixed seafood, (mussels, clams, shrimp, calamari) – depending on your budget. 2 ½ lbs is enough but you can add more.
Buying fresh calamari in Europe is very easy but you may have to ask your fishmonger to order some or buy it frozen. I am NOT talking about breaded calamari for frying!!!! I am talking about squid (that’s what calamari means in Italian) – they are long white (or purple, if they have not yet been cleaned) tubes that you slice into rings or stuff whole. The tentacles are equally delicious and should be eaten - not thrown away. You have probably eaten them fried so take that disgusted look off your face! If worse comes to worse and you can’t find the calamari (my favorite bit) then just replace it with extra mussels and shrimp.

1/4 Cup Olive Oil
½ Cup (4 oz.) White Wine
1 ½ lb ripe cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes
1 lb. linguine
6 garlic cloves, sliced
A pinch of dried chili flakes
¼ cup chopped parsley
Salt & Pepper
Good Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil (optional)

Scrub and de-beard the mussels. (This means pulling off any hairy little bit that is along the flat side of the mussel.) Scrub the clams. If you want to be “European” then leave the shells on the shrimp (heads too, if you want to be “really European).)  This adds flavor to the sauce and keeps the shrimp moist. Plus, it makes less work for you in the kitchen (but a little more work for your guests while eating). Thoroughly clean and thinly slice your calamari into rings.

Put your clams and mussels in a saucepan with the wine. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for 3-4 minutes until they all open. Discard any shells that have not opened.  Put the mussels and clams aside and pour the liquid in the pan through a fine sieve and reserve.

Cut your tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds. Discard the seeds. If they are really big cherry tomatoes then cut the halves into quarters.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. (Add the salt once the water has boiled as water boils faster without salt in it.)

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large sauté pan and add the garlic and chili flakes. Allow garlic to cook until fragrant and sizzling but not golden, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and simmer 5 minutes. Add the cooking liquid from the mussels and clams. Bring to a boil and then allow to cook until sauce has thickened a bit into a sauce-like consistency.  Don’t let it cook off too much though or you won’t have enough lovely sauce to coat the pasta in.

Add your linguine to the boiling water and cook one minute less than it recommends on the box. Use your timer!!!! Otherwise you will forget and have overcooked pasta!

Add the shrimp and calamari to the sauce and cook 2-3 minutes until they are cooked through. Don’t overcook them – calamari, especially, will become tough and rubbery if you overcook it. Add the mussels, clams and parsley and heat through.

Lastly: the important step – I explained this with my last pasta recipe but will do it again – you need to add the pasta to the sauce – not the other way around! Add the pasta to the saucepan and toss over medium heat, incorporating the pasta and the sauce and allowing the starch of the pasta to soak up the lovely sauce and the TWO  (pasta and sauce) to become ONE (Linguine al Fruitti di Mare!).
While doing this taste the pasta for seasoning. The water from the mussels and clams will have added a natural saltiness but if you think it needs salt and pepper then add some while tossing – pasta is like every other food out there – it can be seasoned! If you want, drizzle lightly with a nice extra-virgin olive oil.
Tip your pasta on to a large serving platter. 

My last tip is this:  Pasta that has fish or seafood in it is NEVER served with parmesan cheese in Italy – it’s a cardinal sin.  Think about it – cheese and fish? Kinda gross. But, I will not be in your dining room, telling you how to live your lives and how to eat your food so do what you want – God will be your judge (HA! Just kidding!). 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Reasons Why I Have not Made the Bistro Burger Yet- by Morgan

1.  I am lazy.
2.  My PMH and toddler will not eat it so being that I am lazy already and that it entails making 2 dinners on a week night when all I want to do is put on yoga pants, put a nipple on the Magnum bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and curl up on the couch, I have put it off.

3.  I like to give you, Jessica, a hard time about not blogging enough and then eat my own words...instead of the burger that I should have made.
4.  Watching the Barefoot Contessa last night was all the culinary-ness I could handle.
5.  Instead of making burgers...I made long distance phone calls.
6.  Because you are in France and if you give me a hard time about not making your recipes in a timely manner via email- I can delete it and pretend that it never happened.

So Once again- I will promise to make the burgers tonight.  I promise- like more so than the time I promised that I would go to dads and Skype you.  More than the time I promised that I was going to take your advice and not drink wine on the weeknights.  Like a real promise.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Blue Cheese Stuffed Bistro Burgers with Balsamic Onions – by Jess

Personally I agree with the French and think that a fried egg makes both a burger and a pizza better (A pizza?????? Did she just say pizza???...........I did.) But my sister was obviously not impressed. However, I do encourage her to try it again – she’s probably a bit more adventurous now than she was when she was 16.

But I won’t pressure her into it just yet and instead I have come up with an idea of how to “bistro her burger” by stuffing it with blue cheese and serving it with sweet caramelized balsamic red onion rings. It’s delicious on its own with a salad on the side but if you need the bun and condiments I recommend a lightly toasted bun, buttered and served with mayonnaise in lieu of ketchup, which overpowers the already delicious flavors here.  I live in Roquefort les Pins, France so naturally my blue cheese of choice is Roquefort (it’s also my favorite) but you can use an American, English or Danish variety if you want.

1 ½ lbs lean ground beef
3 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard
½ teaspoon Salt
¼ Cup Minced Parsley
¼ Cup Minced Red Onion
8 shakes of Worcestershire Sauce
10 drops of Tabasco
Several Grinds of the Pepper Mill
4-8 Tablespoons of Roquefort or other Blue Cheese
2 Red Onions – each one cut horizontally into 4 sections of rings
Good Quality Balsamic Vinegar
4 Burger Buns (optional) lightly toasted and buttered
Mayonnaise (optional)

Put the beef, Dijon, salt, parsley, minced onion, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and Pepper in a bowl. With your hands smoosh all the ingredients together until just evenly combined – do not overwork the meat - when it’s mixed, Stop! (I know it’s fun but make mud pies with your kids instead – don’t overwork the meat!).

Divide the mixture in half and then divide each half into 4 equal parts. Make thin patties with the first 4 parts and with your thumb make a little indent on the inside of the patty. Add 1-2 tablespoons of blue cheese to each patty in the area you have just patted down with your thumb. Divide the remaining half of meat into 4 parts and make another 4 patties. Top the blue cheese with the remaining patties. Mold the two patties together in your hand like you are making crab cakes, sealing the edges so the cheese doesn’t completely leak out. (It will leak a little, oozing out of the burger and looking absolutely delicious but you don’t want to loose too much of it.)

Grill your burgers (or use a grill pan inside) for about 4-5 minutes on each side for medium well to well-done burgers or less if you want them more rare.

Meanwhile, lightly oil a sauté pan and, keeping your onion rings whole, caramelize the onions over a medium heat. Don’t cook them too fast – you need the onion to slowly release its natural sugars and become golden and caramelized. When the onions are done on both sides add several swigs of balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan. The acid of the vinegar will boil off, leaving a sweet glaze on the onions. Top each burger with 2 whole rings and serve with a mixed greens salad on the side.

Enjoy! Mamma Mia!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Can You Bistro My Burger? by Morgan

When Jessie was in college she took a semester in Paris.  Like always her good grades and determination paid off.  In the mean time I was a pink haired sophomore in Vermont whose bad grades were not paying off.  In an effort to get my head in the books our father promised that if I could make the honor roll he would send me to Paris to see her.  I am easily bribed.  Three months later along with our crazy grandma V and cousin Jamers I was on a plane to France.  The trip was amazing, and the food....unlike anything I had ever had before.  Close to the end of our stay I was actually craving some American cuisine- looking back I am ashamed.  At a cafe on cobblestone streets I ordered a burger and my mouth watered for a familiar taste.  When my burger came out it had a fried egg on top of it.  My home sick stomach churned.
So my wonderful over achieving sister, my challenge for you in the last month of summer is to bistro my burger.  Can you give me a recipe for a burger that is a bit more exciting than ground beef and American cheese?  Can you french it up-without topping it with an egg?
Mamma Mia!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Al Dente- By Morgan

What better excuse for dropping my toddler with the rents for a few hours than to go to the farmers market to get fresh ingredients for Jessie's Pasta Pomodora! 
While strolling through  the out door market I pretended that I too was in France.  France has hippies right? Because the Rutland, VT  Farmers Market sure does!  My nose was filled with the fresh smells of dirt, veggies, patchouli.  I sipped wine at the eager Vermont winery booths- yes that's right we make our own wine.  I purchased 2 bottles of rose, a giant bulb of garlic, fresh tomatoes, goat cheese,and a  a tear producing giant yellow onion.  I ran into a few of my more cultured friends and left feeling good about contributing to the local economy and having a few hours to myself!  I was eager to go home and start my sauce. 
Pretty Much Hubby was working on our roof with his friend- so I enticed them with smells of onion, and garlic wafting through the kitchen window.  I opened a bottle of rose- and skipped Frank Sinatra for a marathon of Top Chef.  I diced and chopped and stirred.  I cried when the onion did what it's pungent smell promised to do.  Monster Pants slept through my whole cooking experience. 
At 5:00pm I called in the troops to try out my new pasta recipe. 
Pretty Much Hubby- squinted, searching for the meat...disappointingly he asked me if he was going to like it.  I promised him that he would and swore that the green bits (basil) were not in fact a vegetable.  Sorry Jessie but I had forgotten to get real Parmesan so Kraft it was...I said I was sorry! 
The pasta was delicious- even Little Man thought so.  PMH did a good job giving it a try although he did say that it needed meat- I promised him that I would add shrimp next time.  PMH's friend- convinced he is allergic to garlic ate half a loaf of Italian bread.  I was the only one who touched the fresh mozzarella with basil and a balsamic reduction.  I told my men that I felt sorry for their taste buds for not giving them the opportunity to try some real...delicious (if I do say so myself) food. 
My first attempt at Frenching (this time Italianing) Forestdale had mixed reviews.  I am not giving up though.  Vermont has too many wonderful home grown goodies to waste them on simple dishes for people with simple palates.  And so I continue to cook for my matter how much they think I am torturing them!  Mamma Mia!

I did have a few questions for chef Jessie though:
1.  Is there any way to make cutting onions less painful?
2.  Where can I get a cute apron?