Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Vietnamese Chicken Curry

My Christmas very nice, if a little short. My boyfriend and I drove to North Carolina to see our families on Friday morning. I was able to have dinner with his family that night and he had lunch with my family on Sunday afternoon before we drove back to DC. We both had to be back at work on Monday.

The reports on the truffles have all come back positive! I'm so glad that everyone liked them.

Back in DC, it took me a couple of days to rest and get back into the swing of things. Last night, my roommates and I ordered pizza. I hadn't had Pizza Hut in ages. It was a nice change to not have to cook.

Tonight, though, I wanted something homemade. You would think that spending the entire weekend eating Vietnamese food would have made me crave something different, but the only thing that I wanted when I got home this evening was chicken curry.

The recipe that I used is an amalgam of my mother's recipe and one that I got from Mai Pham's The Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table:
3 tbs curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 lbs chicken thighs
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 tbs chopped shallots (I used half an onion)
2 tsp minced garlic (I usually double this)
2 tsp ground chili paste or dried chili peppers or chopped Thai bird chilies
3 tbs fish sauce (I usually add more fish sauce at the very end before I turn off the heat, but I like things salty)
1 tbs sugar
2 lemongrass stalks, cut into 3 in. pieces
1 in. piece of ginger cut into 3 slices
1 kaffir lime leaf (optional if you can find it)
1 1/2 cup chicken stock
1 carrot, peeled cut into 1/4 in. slices
1 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk or cows milk
1 onion cut into thin wedges
1 medium sweet potato, peeled, cut into 1 in. cubes
1 medium potato, peeled cut into 1 in. cubes
2 scallions chopped
1 tbs chopped cilantro

A word on the ingredients: Most of these ingredients are pretty cheap if you have an Asian market close by. You can find most of them at the local supermarket. You only need the Asian markets for a good curry powder (I prefer Three Golden Bells brand), the coconut milk (though I'm starting to see this in the international aisle of my local market), and the lemongrass (which I'm also seeing more often at Giant Food). If you can find some lemongrass at the market with a little bit of its rootbase attached, you can actually grow your own plant from the stalk. Just put it in a jar of water and place the jar in a sunny window. Replace the water every 3 days or so and in about 1 month, you'll start to see roots. You can then plant it in a container and have lemongrass in the house. I actually found kaffir lime leaves at the Whole Foods. I just bought a packet and froze what I didn't use for later.

Back to the recipe: It's quite a list of stuff, but I put everything together and finished the cooking in 1 hour. First, I mixed 2 tbs of curry powder and 1/2 tsp salt in a medium bowl and placed the chicken in to marinate for about 30 minutes, which gave me enough time to get the other stuff ready.

Then I got started prepping the vegetables. I chopped the onion and garlic, cut the lemongrass and sliced the ginger. Then I bruised lemongrass and ginger using the flat side of my knife.

Then I peeled and chopped the carrots, sweet potato and regular potato. After that, it was a matter of putting everything together in the pot. First, I sauteed the shallots (onion) and garlic with the chili paste and 1 tbs curry powder. When I started to smell the mixture, I added the chicken and cooked it 3-4 minutes on each side.

Next, I added the fish sauce, sugar, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, ginger and chicken stock. I brought all of this to a boil and turned down the heat. Then I added the carrots, sweet potato and regular potato and cooked those for 10 minutes.

I then added the coconut milk and onion wedges and cooked everything for a further 15 minutes. When the chicken was cooked through and the vegetables were tender, I turned off the heat and threw in the scallions and cilantro.

To serve this dish, I have used a couple of different things: rice, rice noodles or French bread. Depending on what I have on hand and what I'm craving at the moment. Tonight, I didn't really want to put a lot of effort into things so I served it over plain rice.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


On a totally unrelated note, I was able to see the new baby panda bear at the Washington National Zoo, Tai Shan. Oh my God, he is so cute! So. Cute. I now understand what the fuss is all about.

Tickets to see the panda have been selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay because the demand for the pre-order tickets was so high. Recently, the zoo started to issue some same-day tickets to those who were willing to wake up early and wait in line. A friend did this for me as a present and I was able to go in and see Tai Shan.

So here are the photos:

Hectic Holidays Finale

Wow, I can't believe that we're done with truffles. After a few days respite, I have to say that truffles are relatively easy to make and were rather cost effective as far as gifts go. This in no way means that they're not time consuming, however. My friend and I started well before Thanksgiving researching books, testing recipes and finding a cheap supplier of high quality chocolate (the best prices are available on the Internet, hands down). We used the bittersweet Valrhona chocolate and got a good deal from Chocosphere. Also, starting in December, we met at least twice a week (sometimes 3 times a week) until this past weekend to make enough truffles for both of us to give to those on our Christmas lists, which was around 300 truffles. We also got a lot of support from our boyfriends who were requisitioned into bringing us more supplies and being our guinea pigs for new flavor combinations.

Here is my take on the whole adventure:

After scanning through several books and magazines, my friend and I settled on 2 different recipes, one coming from Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate by Alice Medrich and the other from The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl.

The first recipe called for:
1 lb. chocolate (55 - 75% cocoa), chopped into small pieces
10 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup espresso or water
Dutch-processed cocoa powder

The process for this recipe was listed in my post from Dec. 12.

The second recipe called for:
11 oz. chocolate (55-75% cocoa), chopped into small pieces
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
Dutch-processed cocoa powder

In this recipe, you bring the cream to a boil and pour it on top of 8 oz. of the chocolate to melt it. Then you set the mixture at room temperature until it become solid enough to hold a shape. Then you spoon the mixture into a pastry bag and squeeze out truffle-sized balls of chocolate to freeze, thus producing mostly round truffles. The chocolate was then put into the freezer for 15 minutes. Lastly, melt the remaining 3 oz. of chocolate in a bowl in the skillet of barely simmering water and dipped the chocolate into it to form a hard shell.

We had to sidestep some of this recipe for time and equipment issues. First, we decided to put the melted chocolate and cream mixture into the refrigerator to cut down on time. Second, I didn't have a pastry bag (I should, I know, but time and money and time), so my friend and I shaped the chocolate with spoons. If I make this recipe again, I would get it even colder and use my hands to shape the truffles. With the other recipe we used an ice water bath to keep our hands cold enough to handle the chocolate without it melting. I think that this approach would work with this recipe too. Or I could just buy a pastry bag, but I'm stubborn like that.

I have to say that I do prefer the recipe from Bittersweet to the Gourmet one. It's by far the easiest and the most easily adaptable. Also, as far as taste goes, there's something in the first recipe that just hits the right notes. Chocolate and espresso are a great combination. (Not that I'll be eating truffles for a while, though. There is such a thing as too much chocolate.)

In the end, we ended up making truffles dusted with cocoa powder, cocoa powder and chili powder, crushed macademia nuts, crushed pecans and shaved white chocolate. We also made some batches with a half macademia nut on top, ones with drizzled white chocolate and ones with a hard chocolate coating. We did try the strawberry jam balls dipped in chocolate but they weren't stable enough (the jam spilt out when it started to melt) and my friend thought that jam tasted was too strong.

After we finished all of the chocolates, my friend and I boxed them. We made around 40 boxes between the two of us. We then wrapped them in paper and ribbon.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Hectic Holidays Part IV: Holiday Party

For me, the holiday season always evokes a mad scramble to get things done. It just doesn't feel like the holidays until you're running around getting the last of your presents, baking cookies for several parties, and trying to clean your house. This past weekend was busy but really fun. Between getting ready for parties and finishing the truffles, it really started to feel like Christmas. (Am I crazy?)

On Friday, I had planned to surprise my boyfriend by having his family come up to DC to celebrate his birthday. His family loved the idea and we were able to surprise my boyfriend not once but twice. First, we met his parents at the Barnes & Noble in Georgetown and went out to dinner with them. Then, his siblings arrived around 1 AM. They were due in DC at 6 or 7 PM but were late because of car trouble.

The next day, his family was able to help me prepare some 300 eggrolls. We made about 100 vegan eggrolls and 200 meat-filled eggrolls. I worked off of an old recipe of my mom's and substituted tofu for the ground meat for the vegan ones. At one point, I had one of my roommates and four of my boyfriend's family helping to roll while I worked 2 cast iron skillets to cook them. Meanwhile, another roommate was making macaroni and cheese while the rest of the roommates were cleaning the house and getting last minute supplies.

As 2 PM rolled around (the designated start time of the party), we found ourselves in the unusual position of being finished with our preparations. We are usually scrambling to finish things, whether it be decorating the house or finishing the food preparation. The extra hands helped out quite a bit.

We finished all of the eggrolls and put them out on the table.

The party was a potluck and people brought more food throughout the course of the afternoon. Our dining room table was groaning under the weight of all the great food that our friends had brought. We also had a separate space for all of the desserts.

We had a good crowd of people and a steady stream of food. Things didn't clear out until 7 or 7:30 PM and my boyfriend's family helped us to clean the house. (I really felt bad about that but was too tired to protest.)

Sunday was spent in a final burst of truffle making mania, which I'll write about later.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Hectic Holidays Part III: Truffle Mania

Tonight was a frenzy of pecan shelling and truffle making. My boyfriend had brought me some pecans when he went home to visit his family this past Thanksgiving. My friend and I thought that they would be a nice adornment for some of the truffles. We wanted to put whole pecans on top of square truffles...That is until we tried to shell pecans. Now I can understand why shelled nuts are so expensive - it's really hard to shell them and keep them intact. So we went with plan b, rolling the truffles in chopped pecans. I actually didn't like the pecans as much as the macademia nuts. The macademias were a little more flavorful. We made another batch of truffles and have two left to make. We also froze jam balls in preparation for dipping them in melted chocolate on Sunday.

Meanwhile, at the house, my roommate was on a baking roll. When I got back to the house at 10 PM, she had made peanut butter blossoms, lemon cookies, and was starting to roll out her sugar cookies. We have 3 Christmas-y cookie cutters, a snowman, a Christmas tree and a star. I helped her decorate the cookies with sprinkles (green and red which we had left over from last year).

Tomorrow night we will make the filling for the eggrolls (300 meat-filled and 100 vegan) and possibly another batch of the peanut butter blossoms. I'm really glad tomorrow is Friday.

Hectic Holidays Part II

Last night was just full-on busy. We are having a holiday party on Saturday and have been invited to various parties this week. We had to stagger our cooking schedule in order to attend the parties and make food for our own. So last night one of my roommates and I went to the store and bought the supplies for the our event on Saturday.

First, a few words about our local grocery store: We live near a Giant Grocery. We used to call it Ghetto Giant because it never had anything in stock and the produce was always bad or going bad. In the last couple of years, however, with competition from the local organic mega store, the Giant was forced to improve to compete in the neighborhood. It now boasts organic offerings, a few gourmet supplies, a very cheap fish counter and good prices. These improvements have attracted more clients. Our neighborhood is also quickly gentrifying with more and more people moving in every month. While the Giant has really improved in what it offers, it lacks the staff required to meet the demands of its customers. There are lines snaking through the aisles in the evenings every day of the week.

What should have been a quick run to the store to get supplies ended up being an hour and a half in the store, most of it waiting in line. But we did get what we needed.

Then it was time to get started on the food. My roommate, getting into the Christmas spirit, wanted to make cookies. I think her list included: sugar cookies, rum balls, pumpkin bars, peanut butter blossoms, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, ginger snaps and possible lemon bars. I, on the other hand, was making two cakes for an event of which I'll speak about in a later post.

As I mentioned before, I love my house and my housemates. When we got home from the store, intent on starting our different projects and thinking that dinner would consist of sandwiches or cookies, one of my other housemates was making dinner. She was busy with exams but took the time out to make a wonderful Mexican meal of lime and cilantro chicken, black beans, guacamole and salsa.

After sitting down to a civilized dinner with the rest of the house, my roommate and I continued on our mad baking spree. We called it quits at 12:30, having made 2 cakes, pumpkin bars, rum balls, and the dough for the sugar cookies. Tonight, I am making more truffles and finishing off the batches that made over the weekend. My roommate will be making more cookies. On top of this, we still have to make 400 egg rolls, macaroni and cheese and a pasta salad for our party on Saturday.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Last Night's Dinner

I love my house! Seriously, the house itself is spacious and comfortable and my roommates are great people.

It's been so cold lately and I've been craving these rich, hearty, wintry dishes. I came home last night and really wanted to have, as I said to one of my roommates, something cake-y and spicy and warm to eat with vanilla ice cream on top. He presented me with a warm gingerbread that was a perfect match for the vanilla ice cream and my wintry mood.

What else did we have for dinner? I had purchased a wonderful rockfish from the an Asian market. I steamed it and served it with a ginger scallion sauce with rice topped with a soy and lime sauce. I also found a great deal on spinach this week at the market and made a Guyanan recipe of spinach sauteed with garlic, onions, scallions and chili peppers.

But the star of the show was my roommate's gingerbread.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Hectic Holidays Part I

Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of the year. I really enjoy preparing for the holiday, finding the perfect tree and gifts for friends and loved ones, decorating and wrapping presents. Every since I was a child, I have enjoyed the sense of anticipation that comes with Christmas.

For the last few years, however, I have become increasingly tired of the commercial push that starts well before Thanksgiving these days to buy Christmas presents. I have also found myself less patient with the crowds at the malls. Initially, I started to do more of my shopping online and through catelogues or picking up gifts for people whenever I traveled out of the country. This year, I thought I would do something different: I wanted to handmake my presents.

At first, I wasn't sure what I wanted to make. I figured that, since I do like to cook, I would probably end up making something edible. Then a friend of mine called and asked if I wanted to try to make truffles with her. After our first batch, we decided that truffles would be our Christmas presents this year.

We found a great deal online for over 6 lbs. of Valrhona and started our truffle making in earnest on Thursday of last week. We started out melting 1 lb. of chocolate with 10 tablespoons of butter. I placed the chocolate and butter in a bowl and put that in the middle of a skillet with some barely simmering water. Melting chocolate is really quite mesmerizing.

Next, we mixed together 1/2 cup espresso and 2 large egg yolks. We then mixed this into the chocolate.

We strained the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve and set in a 9x13 in. baking tray lined with parchment paper and placed the tray in the freezer for 1 hour.

While the chocolate mixture was hardening, my friend and I played around with mixtures of nuts, spices and cocoa powder with which we wanted to coat the chocolates. We ended up deciding on 2 different finishes for that batch of truffles, a mixture of chili powder and cocoa powder for 2/3 of them and a coating of crushed macademia nuts for the rest.

We made over 100 truffles over the weekend (about 3 batches of the above recipe) and have about half of the chocolate left. The plan over the course of the week is to make truffles out of the rest in various shapes and sizes and with different types of decoration and finishes. We're also going to experiment with jam-filled chocolate covered truffles. I will keep you updated on the progress/frustration of this venture. By the end, I predict that we'll be experts at making truffles. Whether or not we'll be so tired of chocolate that we won't ever want to work with it again is another story.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Well, we've finally started the food blog for the Immorality of Today's Youth cooking show. Considering the speed at which we produce shows, I think that the blog will be a much better way for us to keep in touch and exhibit what we are doing.

The show is based on this crazy idea that we all had, being young, 20-something professionals living in the city with a lot of free time on our hands. We all live in this wonderful house with an amazing kitchen that has enabled us to cook these elaborate meals. So far, we've created 2 shows, one on Middle Eastern food and the other on canning tomatoes. There have been a few problems getting these shows together and finishing the episodes but we look forward to doing some more soon.

To give you an idea of what a typical dinner for us is like, I have posted some pictures for a weeknight dinner from last week.

I love food from many different regions, though I do find myself gravitating towards French, Italian and Asian cuisines. Tonight, I was feeling the need for a vaguely Italian meal.

First, on the menu was spaghetti with a tomato, butter and onion sauce and a roasted chicken with lemon both adapted from Marcella Hazan.

I don't feel right without having at least one vegetable on the table, so I made steamed broccoli with a butter and lemon sauce.

And someone requested chocolate chip cookies, these came from a recipe straight off the back of the Toll House Chocolate Chips bag. There's no use in messing with a good thing.