Archive for August 2007

Thai Green Curry with Braised Chicken

August 28, 2007 | Chuck
Thai Green Curry

This past Sunday, Hungry Bear and I had friends over for Sunday Nite Dinner. We wanted to make a simple, one-pot cooking dish. Hungry Bear suggested one of her favorite meals, Thai green curry with chicken. It's been awhile since we made green curry, so it sounded good.

Over the years, we have experimented with various green curry recipes, but we haven't been completely satisfied with any of them, particularly the green curry paste. This time around, we tried a curry recipe by Kasma Loha-unchit, who teaches Thai cooking classes in the Bay Area. We used Kasma's recipe for the green curry paste and followed most of the directions from her easy green curry with pork recipe.

Obviously, we substituted chicken for the pork, but we also made a few other changes to the recipe. The modifications were...

  1. Increased the amount of meat - we used 2 lbs of skinless chicken thighs with bones, instead of 1 lb. Our friends are big carnivores, so this step is always necessary.
  2. Added chicken stock - the stock is used for two reasons. First, it lightens up the coconut milk curry. But more importantly, the stock is used to braise the chicken thighs. I'm a big fan of braised meat, especially when the meat falls off the bone. We followed Kasma's directions to prepare the coconut milk and paste mixture, then added the chicken thighs and enough stock to almost cover the chicken (approximately 1 cup).
  3. Increased the cooking/braising time - we simmered the chicken in the coconut, curry paste and chicken stock for approximately an hour, until the chicken meat almost fell off the bone.
  4. Added more ingredients - we also added straw mushrooms, bamboo shoots and sweet petite peas. The extra ingredients were added to the pot with the eggplant.

The end result was delicious green curry with braised chicken server over jasmine rice. Everyone had at least two servings! We were extremely happy with the curry paste recipe and our green curry tasted very authentic. The braised chicken was fork tender and is much superior to the pieces of chicken used in most recipes. The cooking time is longer to braise the chicken thighs, but it's definitely worth the wait. We did save some time by not having to cut pieces of chicken.

For dessert, Hungry Bear and I made thick and chewy chocolate chunk cookies and had our friends make their own ice cream sandwiches with vanilla and chocolate ice cream. It was quite decadent. I felt like a glutton, but I loved every bite of my ice cream sammy. I plan on writing a follow-up post to discuss the dessert in the full detail it deserves.

Dinner was excellent and it was fun hanging out with our friends. Next time, to make the curry more flavorful, we will marinate the chicken thighs in some green curry paste and a little fish sauce. Additionally, I want to brown the chicken prior to adding it to the braising liquid. I can almost taste it now, and can't wait to make green curry with braised chicken again!

SNDsters: Jane, Mark, Howie, Hungry Bear, Chuck

[tags]thai, green, curry, braised, chicken, eggplant, curry paste, chilies, spicy, authentic[/tags]

Spaghetti Bolognese

August 22, 2007 | Chuck
Bolognese Sauce

For the last few months, I've had a major craving for bolognese sauce. It all started during a trip to Geneva this past June. Hungry Bear had a conference in Geneva and I tagged along to keep her company. One evening, we walked down the street from our hotel, which was near the Pal-Expo, looking for a place to eat. We stumbled upon a nondescript Italian place that was part of small hotel. Since we were very hungry, we decided to give it a try.

Hungry Bear ordered spaghetti bolognese and I ordered penne puttanesca. I wasn't expecting much from the meal since it was a random hotel restaurant. My puttanesca was good, but Hungry Bear's bolognese was excellent. I should have known better, because I'm not a puttanesca type of person. I have a low tart/sour tolerance, so sauces with olives and capers aren't my cup of tea. Lucky for me, Hungry Bear likes dishes with tartness and we switched plates half way though dinner.

The bolognese sauce was thick and meaty without much tomato tanginess. It was fantastic! Since this meal, I've been obsessed with bolognese sauce. A couple of weeks ago, Hungry Bear made spaghetti bolognese to satisfy my craving for this meat sauce. She made it based on a recipe by Michael Chiarello -- veal, pork and porcini bolognese. It was absolutely delicious! She doubled the recipe and we had three meals of it. But, I was sad the bolognese didn't last longer.

After looking at the pictures above, my craving for the sauce has been re-ignited. I think I'll try a more classic recipe next time, perhaps this ragu bolognese recipe from Mario Batali. If you are looking for a leaner sauce, check out Chiarello's chicken bolognese recipe.

I love this simple meat sauce, and even more so, I enjoy saying... boh-loh-NYEH-zeh!

[tags]spaghetti, bolognese, recipe, meat sauce, italian, pasta[/tags]

Baked Hot Chocolate

August 20, 2007 | Chuck
Baked Hot Chocolate

On our last visit to the Scharffen Berger factory, we picked up a cookbook by the founders of Scharffen Berger, The Essence of Chocolate - Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate. The recipes in the book are arranged by chocolate intensity and are contributed by the founders and chefs including Michael Chiarello, Elizabeth Falkner, Thomas Keller and Jacques Pepin.

In addition to sweet and savory recipes, there's also a brief history of Scharffen Berger and the chocolate making process. A few recipes that immediately caught my eye were chocolate pudding cakes, chocolate chocolate cupcakes, cakey brownies, chocolate chunk cheesecake and chili-marinated flank steak (with cocoa powder).

The first dessert I made from the cookbook was baked hot chocolate contributed by Heidi Friedlander, which she developed for Moxie, a popular Cleveland restaurant. I chose this recipe because it was simple to make with only four ingredients and the description in the book made me crave it.

"Baked hot chocolate is almost like having three desserts in one -- the top layer has just a hint of crispness, the center has the texture of warm chocolate pudding, and the bottom layer is just a shade thicker than the thickest hot chocolate you can imagine."

Continue Reading and Get the Recipe »

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Factory Tour

August 19, 2007 | Chuck
Scharffen Berger Chocolate Factory

Scharffen Berger is a small batch, artisan chocolate manufacturer located in Berkeley, CA. As a chocolate maker, they execute every step in the manufacturing process from sourcing the cacao beans to molding the bars. I love the taste of Scharffen Berger chocolate, which is dark, rich and fruity.

Besides its superior quality, I really like Scharffen Berger because it is a small operation and is made locally in the Bay Area. I was disappointed that Hershey bought them out in 2005. My fear was the artisan manufacturing processes would be replaced by cheaper methods to produce more chocolate. I'm glad to say from a chocolate making perspective, nothing has changed at Scharffen Berger and it's still my favorite chocolate brand.

One of my favorite activities with out of town guests is to take them on the Scharffen Berger Factory Tour. It's a great outing, especially if your guests are chocoholics. Last month, I took my chocolate loving parents on the tour. The factory is just a small brick building, which means the tour takes less than an hour to complete. Most of the time is spent learning about the cacao tree and chocolate making process. The best part is the free samples.

You can kill half a day at Scharffen Berger between the tour, shopping for chocolate and eating at Cafe Cacao. The cafe is adjacent to the factory and serves both savory dishes (some with chocolate) and dessert. The Scharffen Berger factory is definitely worth a visit if you love chocolate!

Location & Hours:
Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker - Tour Reservations
914 Heinz Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94710
Monday - Saturday: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Sunday: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
(510) 981-4066
Map It

[tags]scharffen berger, chocolate, dark, berkeley, cacao, artisan, cafe, factory[/tags]

Vietnamese Banh Cuon

August 12, 2007 | Chuck
Vietnamese Banh Cuon

Vietnamese banh cuon are soft rice-flour crepes typically filled with pork and mushrooms. The crepes are traditionally served for breakfast/brunch but we enjoy it any time we can. Hungry Bear and I made banh cuon this past Lunar New Year, and they were a big hit with our friends. If you skip the cha lua (Vietnamese ham) and put a lot of herbs and vegetables on banh cuon, it can be a light and refreshing dish.

Several Sundays ago, Hungry Bear and I hosted Sunday Nite Dinner (SND) and decided banh cuon would be the main attraction. We had nine people coming to SND, so we decided to make two other Vietnamese dishes for dinner. Otherwise, we would have been rolling banh cuon all day. The menu was...

Goi Bap Cai Ga (Spicy Cabbage and Chicken Salad)
Cabbage, red onion, carrots, Thai chilies and chicken with a lemon vinaigrette

~

Banh Cuon (Rice Crepe Rolls)
Pork or Shrimp, garlic, wood ear mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms
with fresh greens, mint, basil and nuoc cham (dipping sauce)

~

Canh Chua Ca (Sour Fish Soup)
Tamarind, pineapple, tomatoes, taro stem, bean sprouts
and sea bass with jasmine rice

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Apple-Strawberry Crisp a La Mode
Granny Smith and McIntosh apples with organic strawberries

The first course was goi ga, a light and simple cabbage and chicken salad. Most Vietnamese restaurants serve goi ga but the ingredients aren't the freshest and it's usually drowned in fish sauce. Since it's such a simple salad, fresh ingredients and a light vinaigrette are essential. Most importantly, a must have ingredient is rau ram (Vietnamese mint), which can be found at a good Asian grocery store. Instead of boiling a chicken ourselves, we took a short cut and bought a roast chicken (thanks Brennan and Deb!) from the market to save prep time.

The second dish, and star of the evening, was the banh cuon. The filling is extremely easy to make since it's just stir fried pork, garlic, onions and mushrooms with a little fish sauce. The hard part to banh cuon is making the rice crepe. You can buy steamed sheets of banh cuon at Vietnamese stores but they tend to be on the greasy side for me. Instead, we make our own rice-flour crepes using a packaged banh cuon mix that requires just water and a good non-stick skillet. Once you master making the crepes, it's easy but time consuming to produce banh cuon. We ended up making thirty nine crepes at two minutes per crepe.

The third course was canh chua ca, which is a very traditional Vietnamese soup. The picture in the site header above is a bowl of canh chua ca that Hungry Bear and I had in Geneva, Switzerland. The tamarind and pineapple provide a sweet and sour flavor and the bac ha (taro stem) and bean sprouts add a crunchy texture. Most canh chua ca recipes call for catfish but I'm not a big fan of it. Any flaky white fish will do, but my parents recommend grouper, and we chose sea bass because it was on sale.

Dessert was clearly not Vietnamese. We wanted to make a relatively light dessert with fruit, and we had recently purchased organic strawberries. So we took an apple-raspberry crisp recipe and substituted strawberries for the raspberries. My oven temp seems to be out of whack because the crisp baked much faster than expected. The crisp was a little over baked with the apples a little mushier and the crisp browner than planned, but it still tasted good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I know Brennan really enjoyed it, since he had three or four servings.

In the end, it was very hectic preparing food for eleven people in a kitchen with no counter space. But the food turned out great, and everyone loved the banh cuon once again. As always, it was nice hanging out and sharing a good meal with new and old friends.

Note: I provided recipe links for the Vietnamese dishes, although we didn't use them. We made the dishes mainly by memory and used tips from my mom. However, I tried to find recipes that were close as possible in preparation and ingredients. I would recommend Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen as a good Vietnamese cookbook.

Likewise, for the apple-raspberry crisp recipe, I used a Cook's Illustrated recipe but the site requires a subscription to view. The Food Network recipe is close, just don't use the butter or liquor in the filling and add lemon zest.

SNDsters: Ed, Julie, Deb, Brennan, Howie, Garry, Karen, Mark, Jane, Hungry Bear, Chuck

[tags]vietnamese, banh cuon, apple crisp, canh chua ca, bac ha, taro stem, goi ga, chicken salad, tamarind, crepe[/tags]