Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Early Valentine

Since I love to go out to eat so much, I am always looking for excuses to do so. And Valentine's Day would seem like an easy one. However, in my mind, there are a million reasons why it's not a good idea to go out to a restaurant on Valentine's Day...

Reasons not to go out to eat on Valentine's Day:

1. crowded and loud (despite attempts to create a romantic atmosphere)
2. long wait times (even though you had a reservation)
3. Valentine's Day "specials" (the kitchen makes special new untested dishes on one of the busiest nights of the year)
4. overpriced prix fixe menus (less choice, more money)
5. grumpy servers (I know because I was one)
6. rushed service ("turn" and burn")

That said, my sweetie and I decided to go out on the Tuesday before the big day. We had a lovely meal, complete with a 1/2 off bottle of wine (thank you, Tuesday) at what I consider downtown Novato's nicest "special occassion" place, Kitchen. Our server was helpful, (but kept out of our hair), the food was quite good, and I really enjoyed the Pinot from Monterey County. The highlight of my meal was a radicchio salad with fried artichoke hearts and manchego cheese. (I think I might try making that sometime...) And afterwards, my Valentine and I walked home, hand and hand. Have a Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Look Mom, we made Sushi!

I know it may seem like the recipes I try always come out great, that's not necessarily always true. I promise to put some stories of failed attempts and photos of burnt cookies or something soon, but not on this post. That's because this past Saturday we (myself, LoPo and CK) attempted a sushi making party and it was a huge success!

Above: LoPo prepares to roll out while CK works on some nigiri.
I guess it did help that CK's Mom made the sushi rice and CK also brought along enough gorgeous sushi fish to feed an army, from her sushi chef relative (thanks, again!). But what we did with it was amazing! We also loaded up on supplies (nori, sesame seeds, potsticker wrappers, rice vinegar, rooster sauce, etc) at my favorite little Asian market (appropriately named, "Asian Market"). With all the approriate ingredients and tools (a sharp knife is a must), making sushi was actually pretty easy and super fun.

When Sparky and Mo got home from their day skiing, we had a beautiful spread of sushi rolls, nigiri, sashimi and even homemade potstickers. We were all really impressed when we sat down and admired our work. And it tasted awesome, too.

Yes, we made all that sushi!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Summer Rolls in Winter Time

As a part of this "trying to eat healthier" thing that I've been trying out for a few weeks, I decided to finally try to make my most favorite healthy asian dish...the Summer Roll. It has always seemed a little daunting (which is why I bought the rice paper wraps 2 years ago and still hadn't touched them), but it actually wasn't as hard as you'd think. I admit the first roll looked and looked quite hideous, but after a few tries, they were looking pretty darn good if I dont say so myself. There are lots of versions of these little gems - Vietnamese, Thai, etc., but here's the s.d.m. version:

The quantities in this recipe are approximate. Do a little experimentation, but this should make 6-8 rolls (enough for 3-4 people as a main course or 6-8 as an appetizer)

6-8 rice paper wrappers
2 oz dried rice vermicelli
8 small lettuce leaves
1 medium to large carrot, sliced into thin matchsticks
1 small cucumber, sliced into thin matchsticks
1/2 red pepper, sliced into thin matchsticks
1/2 Haas avocado, sliced into thin pieces
4-6 oz. baked thai style tofu (shrimp would be good, too)
6-8 sprigs cilantro
8-10 mint leaves
Dipping sauces (recipes below)

  • Cook rice noodles according to instructions. Set aside to cool.
  • Slice and prepare all ingredients and lay out on a large clean surface.
  • Fill a large shallow dish or pan with warm water. Dip each rice paper round in water for 15-20 seconds. ** Wrapper will not feel completely pliable. Let it rest for 30 seconds before filling it and it will become soft**
  • Place rice paper wrapper on clean surface, such as cutting board or a clean lint-free kitchen cloth.
  • The amount of ingredients in each roll will depend on how mnay items you have and how much of each you'd like. Start with a lettuce leaf and experiment a little with combinations, but a general rule of thumb is approximately 1/4 cup cooked noodles,5-10 strips each of carrots, cucumber and red bell pepper, 2 slices avocado, 2 slices tofu (or shrimp), 2 mint leaves and 1 sprig cilantro.
  • The rolling part takes a little practice, but this is what I found to work best: place ingredients in center of wrapper, laying horizontally. Bring bottom of wrapper up to cover filling, fold sides in, then tightly roll to top. Again, it takes practice and I ended up peeling the wrapper off of my first 2 because they were so ugly!
  • Slice each roll into 2 or 4 pieces and enjoy with your favorite dipping sauce. Yum!

Saucy Sauces

I love sauces and condiments. And these days it's easy to find yummy Asian-style prepared dipping sauces, but if you want to try your hand at making your own (and have a few asian ingredients on hand), here are a couple of good recipes:

Peanut Sauce
1/2 cup natural-style creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 small garlic clove, mashed to a paste
1 teaspoon Sriracha chile-garlic paste (what i like to call "rooster sauce")
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
1/4 cup warm water

Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Stir until well combined, adding more water to thin the sauce if necessary.

Easy Chili Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)
In Vietnamese cuisine, no meal is considered complete without this sauce which is used as freely as salt and pepper. If you are vegetarian or if, like me, vietnamese fish sauce just isn't your favorite, you can substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce.

1 small fresh chile pepper or 1 teaspoon Sriracha paste (here's the rooster again)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
3 teaspoons sugar
1 fresh lime
2 tablespoons fish sauce (nuoc mam - available at Asian markets and many supermarkets) OR soy sauce
3 tablespoons water

Mix all ingredients well.