Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shrimp Curry and a Love Affair

Summer is here. I have a lovely black phoebe which visits the bush outside the window of my home office. I love this little bird. He's bold as brass, and doesn't seem to give a rip if I'm outside working in my garden. He's on a mission, and nothing as crass as a human would stop him. He reminds me how simple life can be - aim for the berries. Eat. Perform feather maintenance. Is there a problem?
Summer is here and I've gotten a "new"/used camera body (yeah!! A Canon 40D!), and a "new" lens - a fast 17-55. Yeah, I know - still no macro lens. It will have to wait for now. But the pull towards creativity has gotten stronger, and my ancient Rebel was beginning to feel about the same as using dial-up.

Summer is here, and I'm using my oven less, my stovetop and grill more. Cherries are in the markets, and so are kaffir lime leaves - my latest culinary love. I'm putting them in dishes which could use a note of citrus, and these days I seem to want that note more and more - in my food and soon in a lovely drink recipe. (Stay tuned). My favorite Asian grocery store sells them in those styrofoam trays covered with plastic. I bring them home and freeze them.

Of course, I don't travel to the supermarket with only one item on the list. And I never come home with only the items on my list. I mean, what fun would that be, without room for serendipity? No. I cruise the aisles and wait for inspiration. This past week it came in the form of shrimp. Decent sized shrimp, raw, peeled and deveined and at an insanely reasonable price. How does $4.99/lb. sound? That's what I thought. Me too. Which is why I went for the bag of baby bok choy and some scallions. I had shitakes at home.

I found a couple of recipes on Epicurious for Thai curries that used seafood and kaffir lime leaves. I read them and then went into the kitchen and got to work. What follows is an adjusted recipe, as best as I can remember my own adjustments. I've never felt compelled to follow a recipe, and those of you who follow my blog certainly don't seem to have those constraints either.

Curry Sauce
  • 1 13.5- to 14.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 12 whole green cardamom pods, crushed
  • 3 fresh kaffir lime leaves (3 double leaves)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 5 green onions, finely chopped, dark green parts separated from white and pale green parts
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro, divided
  • 2 tablespoons (packed) brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons green Thai curry paste - or more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc nam)
  • 10 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 small bok choy, sliced lengthwise and then sliced across.

For curry sauce:
Combine all ingredients except shrimp in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, whisking to blend. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat. Cover and let sauce stand at room temperature 10 minutes for flavors to blend. Strain. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm before serving.)

In a separate pan, saute the bok choy over high heat with a little oil for 2 minutes or so. Add to curry sauce and let it sit in the sauce while the flavors are blending.

Heat before serving and drop shrimp in, allowing them to cook until pink - 3-5 minutes, depending upon size.

Serve over steamed rice. I added cilantro to the rice after it had steamed but was still hot.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Presto Pesto!... and a giveaway...

June Gloom mornings followed by summery afternoons. My garden is happy! I spent my weekend picking the dead leaves and flowers off the geraniums, moving a potted plant so that my heirloom tomato would get more light, organizing my emails and generally doing nothing. There are times when I need to do nothing, but I so rarely feel that I can afford to do nothing. I have succumbed to modern life, as much as I have tried to dodge that bullet. I counsel my patients to stop, slow down, take time out to breathe, remember that the world will not stop if they don't do everything. Well, this weekend I finally took my own advice. I think by doing this, I have managed to dodge whatever it was that was trying to take over my lungs.

I read Katie's terrific post over at Thyme For Cooking about laying out a garden. I could have used her sage advice when I lived in New Mexico and had room and lots of sun for a big veggie garden. Now I must grow everything in pots - flowers, herbs, veggies. We have a gopher infestation in this neighborhood that has me worried. My house is on a hillside which is now riddled with the little beasts, and if we don't do something about it soon, I think I might wind up in my neighbor's living room. But I digress......... Anyway, for those of you with room for a garden, I highly recommend her post. For those of you with little room or little sun, or both (like me), container gardening will yield wonderful results too.

My dad was an incredible gardener. He used to grow the best tomatoes on earth. I may have posted my memories of coming home from school and going straight to the garden to pick a ripe tomato, inhaling it's sun-warmed earthy scent while biting into it and letting the juices run down my chin. I don't know how many tomato plants he used to grow, but I do know that it was always more than we could eat. Which, of course, meant tomato sauce. And tomato sauce meant pasta. When I was a kid, pasta meant spaghetti - or "pisghetti" as we used to call it. To this day I can still see my brother as he sucked a strand of pisghetti into his mouth, the end flailing around and splashing tomato sauce all over his face, shirt and the table while both of us laughed.

When I looked at the shape of this pasta and knew that it wanted something other than tomato sauce. It wanted a sauce with some body. Winter was over, so the idea of a heavier meat sauce was definitely out. Pesto was the only thing that made sense to me at the time, and since basil was making it's appearance in every market and nursery in town, and parsley is growing in abundance in a container in my front yard, this was a no-brainer. The recipe that follows contains approximate amounts, as measuring isn't really my strong suit. I'm entering this into Presto Pasta Nights, this week hosted by Daphne at More Than Words. Thanks to Ruth at Once Upon a Feast for keeping this event organized!Be sure to read the bottom of this post and enter the pasta giveaway! Garofalo has generously offered to send samples to one lucky winner.


1 head of garlic, roasted whole in the oven
1 C pine nuts
2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 cups grated Pecorino Romano
6 C (packed) basil leaves - you may use a variety of basil
2 1/2C flat leaf parsley
1 1/2 TBS chopped anchovies
6 TBS olive oil

Peel the garlic and place the cloves in a food processor until finely chopped, then add nuts, cheeses, anchovies, a large handful of herbs, and 1 teaspoon pepper and process until chopped. Add remaining herbs one handful at a time, pulsing after each addition, until finely chopped. With motor running, add oil and blend until incorporated.

Pesto can be stored in the freezer, so making a large quantity at once makes it easy to have presto pasta!

Pasta give away:

It seems that pasta brings back memories of childhood to everyone. What is your favorite childhood memory of pasta? It can be either eating it or your nonna's sauce filling the house with it's rich aroma. Send it to me at toni AT missionvalleyacu DOT com by June 25th. I will pick a winner at random and Garofalo Pasta will send you some samples.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Black Chicken - A Chinese Medicine Meal

OK, let me start by telling you that I haven't a clue what makes it black. But if you have access to an Asian supermarket, you just might be able to score one of these chickens. I found mine in the freezer section. It was small and, yes, when it thawed out, it was black. I'm guessing it's the kind of bird, and perhaps something about the food it lived on. I mean, flamingos turn pink because of their food, right? Maybe these chickens turn black because of theirs. I don't want to know. All I know is that because it's black, it's considered a tonic for the kidneys in Chinese medicine. So why not, I asked myself? I hadn't been paying much attention to my kidneys lately - maybe it was time to give them a boost.

But when I saw this baby in the freezer, I decided to try and replicate an idea I had been exposed to a number of years ago when I was still teaching at the Oriental medical college here in San Diego. I had a student from Vietnam, and she invited a few of us over for dinner one night. She made a black chicken and put some Chinese herbs in it. This is not unusual, actually, in Chinese cooking. There's a dim sum place here in town where you can order a soup made with Chinese herbs. They don't use the more........shall we say "earthy"? ones in their cuisine. The use some flavorful ones that add depth as well as medicinal value. The dinner that night many years ago was delicious, and, as an added benefit, it was also designed to leave us all healthier than when we walked in. What follows is my tale, rather than a specific recipe. For those of you adventurous enough to attempt this, don't be surprised when you discover that it's actually quite delicious.

I made my pilgrimage to the Vietnamese supermarket last week where I scored this chicken and some kaffir lime leaves. Around the corner from the grocery store is the Chinese herb store where I send my braver patients. I stopped off and got some goji berries as well as some longan. Many of you might be familiar with goji berries - they have become quite fashionable in Whole Foods market. They are marketed as Himalayan goji berries and sold either separately or in trail mix. In Chinese medicine they are considered a blood tonic, as well as benefiting the lungs as well as the kidneys. They are bright red and beautiful, and I remember as a student, we used to go into the herb pharmacy at school and grab handfuls of them to munch on. If anyone's interested, they are known as Lycium barbarum L., or Fructus Lycii.

The longan is a fruit I became familiar with when I went to Vietnam a few years ago. We were in a boat on the Mekong Delta, motoring through the narrow passageways between pads of thick jungle. Periodically we would spy a young girl on a bicycle pedaling along a pathway which ran parallel to the water. She would smile at us when we waved to her. And then we rounded a corner and motoring in the opposite direction was this boat, loaded with longan fruit.I became fairly addicted to these "dragon eyes" as they are commonly called. They are sweet and not unlike a fresh lychee. Longan (Arillus Euphoriae Longanae) is used in Chinese medicine as a blood tonic as well, and is often used for insomnia, especially in people who can't "let it go".

So armed with my chicken, my Chinese herbs and my lime leaves, I set off to make something for dinner. Even though kaffir lime leaves are usually used in Thai cuisine, I decided that I didn't want to be constrained by ethnicity, but merely by my imagination. I have no memory of what ingredients other than black chicken Dong Phuong put in her dish that night, but it didn't matter. I was constructing something from what was fresh and available. I chose my herbs based on color, flavor, and the fact that women, in Chinese medical thinking, are advised to nourish their blood regularly.

So how to cook this odd assortment of ingredients? Well, you start with onion and garlic, of course - the way I start almost everything I cook. Then I added the (cut up) chicken. Oh - I should warn you - these chickens come whole. I mean, WHOLE. No gizzards (oddly), but with head and feet attached. It was a bit of a shock at first, but by then the chicken had thawed out and I was committed. (Thank you, Terry B over at Blue Kitchen, for getting me to sharpen my knives each and every time I use them! I couldn't have done this with even a slightly dull knife!) When the chicken pieces have been slightly seared on the outside, add some chicken stock, the lime leaves and reduce the flame. Cover and simmer while you pour yourself a glass of wine, fire up some rice, and boil some water to pour over some dried shitake mushrooms. You could use fresh ones if you wish, but they are much more expensive. I get the giant bags of dried shitakes from Costco, and they work just fine. When the rice starts cooking, add the goji and longan. When the shitakes are soft, you may cut them up some more, or just add them as is. (Costco's come pre-sliced.)

Knowing me, I probably threw some fresh or dried culinary herbs in there, but I honestly couldn't tell you what I used. I do remember throwing some fresh thyme into the rice. And I can tell you that this dish more than met my expectations. The sweetness of the longan and goji played nicely off the citrus undertones of the lime leaves.

And I slept like a baby that night.

I'm submitting this post to Weekend Herb blogging, for the first time in many, many months. In fact, it's been so long since I participated in this event, that I just discovered that the mantle has been passed to Haalo at Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once. This week it's being hosted by Katie from Eat This. I want to add a personal note of thanks to Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen for all the work she did to create and sustain this event.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Pillow at the end of the day

I don't belong to a gym. I find treadmills about as interesting as a box of rocks. You can walk or run for 20 minutes or more and the scenery never changes. Why would I want to do that? Boring!

I have patients who come to me wanting to lose weight, and they are listening for advice on their diets: eat this. Don't eat that. I disappoint them. I tell them to stop focusing as much on what they eat and start focusing on how much they move. I tell them that the biggest cause of their weight problem is petroleum. They look at me as if I was nuts, until I explain that to get into a $35,000 car and move it 6 blocks to buy a $3 loaf of bread is nuts. Europeans understand this principle, as gas there has been expensive for many, many years. Americans love the gym with the valet parking.

But when you think back to when you were a kid, your mom probably had to drag you inside in the evening to eat dinner. You were outside playing, and didn't really feel like stopping to eat. At least, that's the way it was for me. As adults, though, we don't think about playing as much as we think about exercising, and when we think about exercising, we get depressed. So I tell my patients not to use the word "exercise", and replace it, instead, with the word "play". I tell them to find something they love to do which gets them moving - something that might be called "play". They usually like that idea. Furthermore, for the ones who actually DO it, they find that they can eat more of what they like and still watch the pounds come off.

In my neighborhood, I'm known as "the walker". I walk to the grocery store carrying my cotton bags. On the way back, I use them as weights - lifting and lowering them as I walk. I'm getting my aerobic exercise and working out with weights at the same time. And as a side benefit, I'm getting fresh air and getting to know all the stores in the neighborhood. I'm also a crazy gardener. I chop away at weeds with my hoe and crawl under bushes to pull them out. I haul bags of mulch and carry off piles of clippings. At the end of the day I'm physically exhausted and happy. I'm also ready for some food - and sometimes even some dessert.

Since I don't eat many sweets, I look for desserts that aren't over-the-top with sugar. I was cleaning up the kitchen a couple of weeks ago and came across a Food and Wine magazine from March of 1998. Perfect excuse to sit down and read for a bit! And then I came across an article on a family of chefs from Gascony. The youngest family member is Anne Daguin who, with her husband bought a bakery in Saint-Remy-de-Provence called Le Petit Duc. Anne apparently gets her inspiration from old cookbooks and manuscripts. She found this puffy tea pastry from the recipe book of Marie Gachet, whose father was Vincent Van Gogh's friend and physician. I found myself unable to stop eating them!

Marie Gachet's Pillow

3/4 C all purpose flour
3/4 C marscapone (about 6 oz.)
2-3 TBS raw brown sugar

1. In a medium bowl, stir the flour into the marscapone. Turn the dough onto a work surface and knead just until it is smooth. Pat the dough into a 6" square, transfer to a plate, cover and refrigerate until cold: 30 minutes to 1 hr.

2. Preheat the oven to 450. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 15 by 12 inch rectangle. Wrap the dough around a rolling pin and unroll onto a large baking sheet. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the sugar is carmelized in places. Cut the pastry in half crosswise and then into wedges. Serve hot from the oven.

Kitchen Notes

First of all, there is no way that this will roll out to the stated size. I just rolled it out as much as I could. Also, I didn't have raw sugar and so used turbinado - trust me, you won't be disappointed with anything that's granular and brown. But you'd better have gone for a hike or planted a tree that day, because you won't be able to stop eating these!
For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture.