Saturday, February 11, 2012

tropical shrimp curry

My last post was almost a year ago. One of these days I should talk about climbing and a lecture my wife gave me. Someday. I won't apologize, I'll just share a new recipe.

At work yesterday, I was talking Top Chef to one of my coworkers and spouting off about my dinner before we watched the latest episode. Another teacher listened intently and asked, "Recipe?"

She knew full well that's not how I operate in the kitchen most of the time. Seeing as she's a busy mom with two really cool kids that probably don't afford her much time to experiment in the kitchen, I'll do my best to figure out quantities.

First, the ingredients. Most of these ingredients are quickly purchased at an international market that also sells seafood. The curry mixture I bought at H-Mart is from Pakistan, and it's far more complex than the simple curry powder you'll find at the neighborhood supermarket. It has about 10 different spices in it, and the box cost about as much as a small jar of McCormick curry powder. I've had it for six months, and I can be liberal with it because it came in a box, not a shot glass.

The rest:
1-2 lbs. of shrimp
1 can of coconut milk
1 ripe mango, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
3 or 20 cloves of garlic, minced
~1 tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled & minced
1 tbsp. of curry powder
salt & pepper to taste
Sriracha red pepper sauce (optional)

Heat up some cooking oil over medium heat in a wide saute pan. Cook onions, garlic, & ginger together until the onions soften up. Add curry powder; give it a stir for 30 seconds or so. Add coconut milk.

Stir until well-mixed. When coconut milk is warmed, add red peppers & the mango. Stir to incorporate and cover for 1-2 minutes. Remove lid, stir again, and add shrimp.

Cover back up, and cook until shrimp are pink. Mix well, and serve over rice. Serve with Sriracha pepper sauce on the side if you want to add more heat without changing the flavor.

It really is that easy. Most of the effort in this recipe is in the prep work (or mise en place, as the cheftestants call it). Top to bottom, this recipe takes 30-45 minutes to prep, most of which can be trimmed depending on your skill with cleaning shrimp. Buying them pre-cleaned would easily cut this in half.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

eggplant parmigiana, deconstructed

Top Chef often has deconstructed dishes that are plated for elimination challenges. I've never really tried to deconstruct anything before. The basic premise is taking a classic and reimagining it. It should taste pretty close to the original, but it shouldn't look the same. Tom Colicchio explains in a blog post at BravoTV better than me.

Which brings me to my creation of eggplant parmigiana. It's fairly simple to make, but it does take a bit of time to, bowl as it were. My initial thought was to make eggplant parm in the style of French onion soup. Problem being we don't have one of those fancy broilers that restaurants use to melt the cheese over the crouton on top. Enter the butane torch!

This dish has four main components, each one fairly simple to pull off. Be warned: this will make a mess, and leave you with a dish full of pots & pans. It's worth it though.

First, the eggplant. Skin & cube one eggplant. Cook in sauce pot with 2 cups of a sweeter white wine and enough vegetable stock to cover most of the eggplant. Smash 3 cloves (or so) of garlic, and add Italian herbs to taste. Cook covered until eggplant is soft. If you have an immersion blender, use it to puree. If not, puree in batches in a standard blender. Make sure that the blender is no more than half full, and you have some way to vent the steam. I've read that removing the center insert and covering with a dishtowel is a good way to keep your kitchen clean and prevent a steam-build up.

Next, the sauce. Sweat 1/2 of a diced onion in olive oil. Skin & dice one Chinese eggplant (long & skinny, looks like a zucchini). Add to pot with a large can of pureed tomatoes. Cook sauce for about 20 minutes. Use immersion blender again to smooth out the sauce.

When making eggplant parmigiana normally, you bread the eggplant and brown it in the frying pan. I'm not sure if this does a whole lot, but in keeping with the spirit of deconstruction, toast approximately 1/4 cup of bread crumbs. It's more of a garnish than anything. Set aside.

To plate the concoction, fill bowl halfway with eggplant puree. Stripe the sauce across the top. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the sauce. Finally, top with shredded parmesan cheese. Use the butane torch to melt & brown the cheese on top.

Voila! Eggplant parmigiana, deconstructed. For those of you that care, yes, this is a vegetarian dish. I don't imagine that trying to make it vegan would be possible. I doubt there's a synthetic plant-based version of parmesan cheese that is believable.

Monday, February 14, 2011

creativity en la cocina

Learning what flavors play well together when cooking is an ongoing process. Cooking is a less precise art than baking, and that's precisely why I like it. It gets my creativity wandering. I taste new things and want to put my own spin on them. Which brings us to tonight's edition of culinary theatre.

On tonight's menu sweet potato gnocchi with lobster, apple, & goat cheese sauce. For the gnocchi, get an Italian mother, great aunt, or grandmother to teach you. I truly don't have a recipe. I'm sure there's exact "quantities" for the ingredients, but that's not how I learned. I'm still never sure if they're going to turn out right, but somehow they do.

For the sauce's ingredients:
1/2 stick of butter
2 shallots, sliced thin
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small apple, diced (choose a sweet variety)
1/2 cup heavy cream
3.5 ounce package of goat cheese
1 tsp. basil (substitute fresh if you're lucky enough to have it)
dash of cinnamon
3 lobster tails, cooked & chopped coarsely

Start by melting the butter over medium-high heat. When it's melted, add the basil & cinnamon. Once combined, add shallots, garlic, & apples.

Saute until softened and some of the liquid starts to release from the apples. Lower heat to medium to avoid burning the butter. Add cream to pan. Stir to combine.

When cream is warm, break goat cheese into chunks and stir into sauce. Once smooth, add lobster meat. Lower heat to simmer. Serve over gnocchi.

Yes, it is as good as it sounds.

Monday, September 13, 2010

a brit on the american ideal

I was struck by an excerpt from Tony Blair's new book, A Journey: My Political Life.

Americans can be all that the rest of the world sometimes accuses them of: brash, loud, insular, obsessive and heavy-handed. But America is great for a reason. It is looked up to, despite all the criticism, for a reason. There is a nobility in the American character that has been developed over the centuries, derived in part, no doubt, from the frontier spirit, from the waves of migration that form the stock, from the circumstances of independence, from the Civil War, from a myriad of historical facts and coincidences. But it is there.

That nobility isn't about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. That ideal is about values, freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work. But it is most of all that in striving for and protecting that ideal, you as an individual take second place to the interests of the nation as a whole. It is what makes the country determined to overcome its challenges. It is what makes its soldiers give their lives in sacrifice. It is what brings every variety of American, from the lowest to the highest, to their feet when "The Star-Spangled Banner is played. Of course the ideal is not always met--that is obvious. But it is always striven for.

Never before have I read such an accurate assessment of America. To have it written by a foreigner shows incredible insight, perhaps only attainable by an outsider. It has intrigued me enough to read his book. If only it had come out during the summer when I had a bit more free time!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

summer squash soup

As is usually the case when I improvise a pot of soup, I can never remember how to make it again. In an effort to prevent that, here goes my first edition of summer squash soup. I'm liable to forget I posted this next year when yellow squash and zucchini are back in season, but then I just get to be creative again!

2 zucchini
3 yellow squash
1 Granny Smith apple
Juice from 1 lemon
1/4 stick of dynamite...I mean butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
~1 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
Honey to taste

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add lemon juice, garlic & shallots. Turn heat up, & sauté until the butter begins to brown.

While this is happening on the heat, peel, core, & rough chop the apple. Peel & rough chop the zucchini & squash. The ratio of squash to zucchini should be about 1:1. Ensure this at the store, I guess. Toss all in the pot with vegetable stock. Add enough water to just cover the contents.

When the liquid begins to boil, turn down the heat & cover. Cook until the squash is soft.

Puree the mixture. I love my immersion blender for soups such as this, but a regular blender or food processor would do the job just as well. Just be careful because the soup is, well, boiling hot. When it is to your desired consistency, return to saucepot & add minced ginger. Cook for about 5 more minutes over low heat. Taste & add honey a bit at a time. The soup is supposed to be a bit sour. The honey really helps cut that, but the ginger brings it together.

Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream if desired. I stared at my spice rack for some herbs to add to it to give it some more complexity, but I drew a blank. I'm certainly open to suggestions, if for no other reason than to try making it again!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

metro hate?

Hating on Metro is en vogue of late. Don't believe me? Check here. Or here. Or up-to-the-minute here.

Rather than pour a tall glass of Haterade, I've got a brief story of anti-hate. Last night, we went to meet with our wedding photographer to see our pictures and talk about a wedding album. As we left his place, I thought to myself, "I really should use the bathroom before we leave," but I suppressed the urge for some reason and walked out the door. Before we got to the station, it became apparent that was a bad idea.

A little known fact of some stations is that there are restrooms, however poorly marked. All you have to do is ask a station manager. As I scurried off the train at the Pentagon to find the manager, I saw he was helping a passenger asking about the Pentagon Memorial. As I did a Detrol dance, the woman standing next to him told me she was a Metro employee and nicely asked if I needed any help.

Now, I'm not sure if her answer about why I couldn't use the restroom was true, but since she wasn't on duty and not in uniform, I'm inclined to believe her: No public restrooms at the Pentagon station because of security concerns since 9/11. She could've ignored me since she wasn't at work. She could've been rude because tourons wear on her nerves when she's at work. She could've pretended to not speak English, but that would've only worked if she looked like she spoke another language.

But she was none of those things, and politely squashed my hopes of relief before I got home. For that, I thank her.

Yes, I made it, but just barely.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


It began as most mornings would at home. Waking up to a water-powered alarm, really. We needed an alarm clock, so we bought one. Is one that runs on water that weird?

Dragging ourselves out of bed was harder than usual this morning. Perhaps it's the dearth of rest we've gotten on this trip, traversing La Ville de Lumières. I should have been more excited to visit the mystical boulders of Fontainebleau. For those of you who do not climb, a quick lesson. One, bouldering is climbing boulders without a rope to get on the top of them. There are often many ways to get to the top, some more difficult than others. Yes, it is quite a workout, and no, I do not wear gloves. Two, Font is revered as the largest and most developed climbing area in the world. People have been climbing on these sandstone boulders since the late 19th century.

Flashback to last night. Much to our chagrin, we discovered that the Chateau of Fontainebleau is closed on Tuesdays. Yes, folks, it is Tuesday. Visiting the chateau was supposed to be the counterbalance to the climbing and the alternative to Versailles. Why we never noticed that essential bit of knowledge before 23:00, I'll never know. After much discussion, we decided to go for it anyway. The gardens were open, and the transportation was little more than a train...then a bus...then a bike rental...and some unmarked forest trails on rickety mountain bikes.

No, this isn't turning into a Deliverance story. We saw no albino children and heard no banjo music. The trip there was expedited by our trusty two-wheeled steeds. The walks from the train station to town to the forest alone would have been close to 50 minutes one way. With the bus and bikes, it only took us twenty.

[Disclaimer, because of aforementioned poorly marked forest roads and limited directions from the Bleausards I contacted online prior to our excursion, the discovery of said boulders took closer to an hour. The weather was nice, and the sky only threatened to rain.]

While I explored a very small area of a vast bouldering playground, my better half dug deeper into The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and occasionally snapped my picture. The weather turned out glorious in the woods, and despite our utter lack of French language expertise, we were able to purchase sandwiches at the boulangerie in town, rent bikes, and find our way back to our apartment in the Latin Quartier.

Rest now for the weary. I soaked in some climbing history, climbed on some sloping sandstone, and had a marvelous day in the woods with my wife. I believe I owe her a ballet show or a back rub. I'm sure I'll wind up doing both in the very near future. If I wind up in France again in coming years, I will be sure to arrange a meeting with a Bleausard guide so the journey there is a little bit easier.

Monday, July 12, 2010


This is my first trip overseas. The trials and tribulations of going it alone for the first time have been minor at best. I have the knowledge of my better half's travel experiences to build upon. Stay in a hotel? Crazy talk. Apparently, eating out three meals per day for a week or more really wears on your nerves. Unfamiliar foods can induce culture shock. I've loved most of the meals we've had and merely liked the rest. More on that when I return.

Where to stay if not in a hotel? Rent an apartment, of course. It's brilliant. Where else can you get out of the tourist bubble and learn the ins and outs of shopping at the market? How else would I learn that you have to weigh your produce at the grocery store before going to the cashier? Actually, I think someone may have told me that tip in the past; however, it took me being in line and trying to pick up social cues before the memory was triggered.

Our first nights here, I made some pasta from the bottega with sauteed vegetables from the fruit stand and chicken from the boucherie. It wasn't too different from what we often make at home. Aside from the lack of spices and herbs, it was no different really. Homemade Italian food in France? Oui. Our French diet has been expectedly devoid of les légumes. This allowed us to indulge at lunchtime and not feel like our sang was turning into beurre.

Enough of the French-English mishmash. Time for tonight's recipe. I want to recreate this at home, but it may be a little more difficult. Tonight, I made what I'll call a Virginia cheese steak...minus the cheese, and pork instead of steak. Yeah, I need to work on the name. Suggestions welcome.

1/2 lb. center cut pork chop, cut into strips across grain
1 Granny Smith apple, cut into half circle slices
2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 onion, julienned
1/2 zucchini, julienned
olive oil
1 baguette
Salt & pepper to taste.

1. Heat oil in pan. Saute onions & garlic until they begin to brown.
2. Add zucchini. Cook until they begin to soften.
3. Lay apple slices between everything in pan. Flip when browned.
4. Add pork. Stir until done.
5. Layer individual ingredients into baguette so that each bite will have every flavor. Bon appetit!

Fresh ingredients are clutch. A good recipe is only as good as the ingredients that go into it. I made this for less than ten euros. It served two. The key to recreating this sandwich at home will be locating a proper bakery that makes a good baguette. I fear that may be the hardest part. I know that adding to this recipe will be the easy part. Cinnamon or a dash of cayenne might make this just perfect. A soft cheese such as brie or gouda might also be a nice accompaniment.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

impressionism at its finest

I went searching back through my blog archives to see if I'd posted anything about my last trip to a room filled with Impressionist masters. It wasn't in the lifetime of this blog, though it may have been on my slightly more regular Myspace postings that have since been deleted. I think I saved them somewhere at home. Is it weird to backdate a post by over 3 years?

Let's flashback, if I can, to my trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. I last went there in 2006. It is an impressive museum, and my visit was one of the first times I can remember being truly lost in exploring a museum. The collection of Monet alone was enough to render me speechless. Imagine if you will stepping into a room with 20 paintings, totaling in value more than all but the Forbes listed could ever afford.

Fast forward to today. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France. What formerly was a train station now houses a superb collection of art. And, yes, there are a few Impressionist period masterpieces there.

Walking among the greats now, especially Monet, is more exciting because of our recent day trip to Giverny in the French countryside. Monet was a Parisian by birth, but when he began to paint, he fell in love with the small town of Giverny in the Normandy region. We walked among the Japanese water gardens where his water lilies bloomed. We stood underneath the willow trees where he dappled his brush to depict the blue waters. We strolled across the bridge that appeared in some of his most famous pieces as well.

So, in honor of his not-quite-sharp style of painting, I shot about half of my photos in almost focus. I can't wait to see how they turn out on my computer. I'm thinking I'll be compiling mixed media videos with the shots that turned out the best. Of course, the best of the photos will find their way elsewhere.