Homemade Chicken Pad Thai

I have this problem where I pretty much always want to be on vacation.  Not just at home with time off, but I want to be in a foreign country walking around and trying all the foods.

But that’s probably true for everyone, right?

I’ve been lucky enough to visit my fair share of countries.   Since we’ve been togetherJesse and I have made it a point to go on a trip once a year. We went to China, Peru and Thailand/Cambodia (along with Mexico and Guatemala, do those count if we were visiting family?).  Our 4th year together is looking to be a vacation-less one, since there’s a major expense coming up next year: wedding.

In both Peru and Thailand, we took cooking classes, which has become one of my favorite things to do on vacation.

In Thailand, there are tons of cooking classes.  We went with the Thai Farm Cooking School in Chiang Mai, because some friends (they have an awesome travel blog!) we met while hiking to Machu Picchu had done it and recommended it.

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It was definitely worth it.  Now that it’s been about 7 months since our vacation, Jesse and I had an itch to make some of the recipes in the cookbook we were given.   So we hit up a local Asian market that I learned about at my new job (yay for supporting small business!), gathered all our ingredients and made this:

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Isn’t pad thai everyone’s favorite?  It’s also pretty easy to make too!  We added chicken to it to make it more of a complete meal, but you can also omit the chicken (or the tofu) if you’d like.

Here’s what you’ll need to serve 2 or 3…

Chicken Pad Thai

80g rice noodles
2 tbsp oil (vegetable or canola)
1/2 cup sliced tofu (optional)
1 piece of chicken breast, sliced
2 shallots, chopped
1 egg
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 cup of mung bean sprouts
2 tsp tamarind paste (or white vinegar)
1 1/2 tsp brown sugar (or palm sugar if you have it)
1 tbsp fish sauce
1/3 cup water
1 tsp molasses
Pinch of chili powder (or a squirt of sriracha)
Salt to taste

1 tbsp green onion (green part only)
Chopped peanuts and lime for serving

Soak noodles in warm water for 30 minutes until soft.  In the meantime, prepare your sauce.  In a bowl combine water, fish sauce, brown sugar, tamarind paste and molasses.   (Note: Here I found a tamarind paste that was basically the whole tamarind, so I had to blend it but in Thailand I used a paste that dissolved.  If you blend, just be sure there are no tamarind seeds in there).  Set aside sauce.

pad thai ingredients

Heat oil in a wok (or large pan if you don’t have a wok like me), until it starts to smoke.  Add chicken, shallots and tofu.  Toss until chicken is cooked and tofu is crispy.  Move the chicken, shallots and tofu to one side of the pan.  On the other side of the pan, scramble the egg.  Once scrambled, toss them all together and add the noodles, carrots, bean sprouts and sauce.  Mix until the noodles are cooked and all is well combined.  Try a noodle and see if you think it needs salt.  Salt as needed.

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Serve with chopped peanuts and a wedge of lime.

Jesse and I devoured this yesterday.  I’m almost a little bit embarrassed to tell you how much we ate.  Ok not really.  We doubled this and ate about 3/4 of it.  Enough said.

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We also discovered that we seriously want a wok.  We made it in a dutch oven pot, which was fine but I think it would have turned out better (texture wise) in a wok.   But it still turned out great.

Since we bought a ton of basic ingredients we’ll likely be making tons of Thai recipes this week.  I can’t complain about that.

What foreign food do you want to learn how to make?

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The Time We Cooked Alpaca and Ate Guinea Pig in Peru

After the Inca Trail, we decided to take it easy the remainder of the trip.  Before we left, I booked a cooking class in Cusco with Erick from Marcelo Batata (one of the best restaurants in Cusco).  I was looking forward to it the whole trip, because obviously I love food.

The class was small it was just me, Jesse and a woman from the US who worked for a travel agency in Lima.  The class was awesome.  We learned about all the different native plants, grains, fruits and vegetables, and fun facts like how Peru has about 3,800 different varieties of potato.

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Can you guess what these are?

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Dehydrated potatoes! Crazy right?

Throughout the whole class (which went from 1pm-7pm) we were given small little amuse bouche.

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The first was a mahi mahi ceviche, which was divine.

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Then there was a smoked octopus olive bite,

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And some delicious bruschetta-like goodie with pork ragu and scrambled egg.  All the amuse bouche were what we would call “New Peruvian,” modern twists on traditional dishes.   It was seriously some of the most amazing food I’ve eaten.  The flavor combos were out of this world.  There were a bunch more (probably 3 or 4 more) but I won’t bore you with that.

After talking about native foods of Peru, we got to try a bunch of them!

IMG_6651We tried a passionfruit (a different variety from what we’re used to), a pepino (my favorite, it tasted like a combination of cucumber and cantaloupe), lucuma (super tasty! I brought lucuma jam home!), cherimoya, mango, aguaymanto (Jesse’s favorite, they look like little tomatoes but are sweet and a little tart) and grapes.

After sampling the fruits, we got to the kitchen…

IMG_6657We were preparing two dishes: Causa and Alpaca Saltado

Causa is a traditional Peruvian dish, served cold.  It involves potatoes mashed with aji cream sauce, avocado, black olives, spicy mayonnaise, shredded chicken and hard boiled egg all layered into a wonderful masterpiece.

Here was my causa:

IMG_6668I’m definitely going to try to make this again, because it was delightful and pretty easy!  After we sat down to enjoy our causa, we had a lesson on Pisco along with pisco tasting and cocktail-making.

IMG_6676With out cocktails in hand, we were ready to make alpaca saltado.  So before I tell you about that, I should tell you that Lomo Saltado is pretty much the most common Peruvian dish you can find.  If you go to any Peruvian restaurant, they’re almost guaranteed to have lomo saltado.  It’s a beef stir fry dish (influenced by the large number of Chinese immigrants), it’s served with fried potatoes and rice.

Traditionally, it’s made with beef (lomo=beef), but in this class we made it with alpaca meat.  Honestly, the alpaca meat pretty much tasted like beef.  But back to the cooking… We were ready to go!

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So the chef explained that the reason Lomo Saltado is called such is that Peruvians saw Chinese immigrants flipping beef in their pans and the verb saltar in Spanish means to jump, and thus jumping beef… lomo saltado. Ta-da!

But what that meant for us is that the whole time, we had to flip the veggies and meat around in the pan.  So I started in deep concentration….

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But pretty soon, half my alpaca and vegetables were on the floor…

IMG_6701But oh well, it still turned out great!  It’s a surprisingly easy dish to make.  The only part we didn’t get a photo of is the flambe part!  You pour some pisco in the pan and light it on fire!  That was super fun.

IMG_6713After assembling our dishes, we sat down for dinner.  I was so full from all the appetizers that I didn’t finish the dish, but it was great.  Despite fullness, there’s always room for dessert, right? So the chef brought over a platter of chocolate treats for us to try.

Amazing. Amazing. Amazing.  (But blurry photo womp) Peruvians have a big sweet tooth so we got along well.

The cooking class was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.  It was a lot of fun, and totally worth it.

The next day was our last day in Cusco.  We knew what we HAD to have for lunch: cuy (aka Guinea Pig).  Cuy is another one of those traditional Peruvian things that we just had to try.  So that morning we went to the coca museum, and while I was chatting with the museum attendant (one of the perks of knowing the language), I asked her where we should try cuy.  She recommended a place, which was great because 1. it wasn’t full of tourists and 2. it was cheaper.

There we also got our first taste (of many) of chicha, a local homemade corn beer.  At this place they mixed it with strawberry puree.  It was delicious…

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and also enormous.  So with our delicious beverages (we also got a local beer, Cusqueña) we ordered one portion of cuy, not really knowing what to expect.  But this is what arrived at the table:

IMG_1707Claws, face, teeth and all.  Yup.

IMG_1708I think we sat there for a few minutes sort of unsure what to do with it.  The skin was really tough and there was really little meat on the whole thing.  The little paws and teeth were really off-putting.  IMG_1709We picked at it for a bit and decided that cuy wasn’t really for us.  The meat didn’t taste bad, it was a bit rubbery, but not bad.  I think we both decided that we don’t need to eat it again.  But we tried it so mission accomplished!

We spent the next few hours wandering and sitting in the Plaza de Armas people watching.  Then we headed to the airport for our final destination in Peru: Arequipa!

Coming up… the time we went to a monastery where nuns never leave, and then saw some condors and vicuñas…

Ok so tell me what you think…. are you totally grossed out? Would you try cuy (guinea pig)?

 

Previous Peru Posts:

The Time We Hiked Through the Andes to Machu Picchu

Back from Peru

Hello from Peru

Brie Tomato Basil Grilled Cheese Sandwich and My Top 5 Tips for the Perfect Grilled Cheese

So remember when I finished the Paleo Challenge, I learned I needed to eat actual meals instead of snacks for dinner?

Well I’m trying to get better at that.  I’ve been trying to incorporate more salads into my dinners, like the Roasted Beet Asparagus and Arugula salad in my last post.   But today and yesterday were long days.  I’ve been stressed and I’ve had a headache since I woke up today.

To remedy all that, I did two things:

1. Went to the Good Will

Thrift shops in Orange County aren’t as cheap in the song, nor are they as cheap as they were in Central NY.  But I still managed a few good finds.

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A tart pan for $2.50, a lovely oval shaped plate for $4.99 (over-priced in my opinion) and a cake plate for $2.50.  I also managed to find a rotating cake stand that will be great for frosting cakes.

2.  Grilled Cheese

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Let’s be more specific.  Brie Tomato Basil Grilled Cheese.

Now don’t get me wrong, traditional caprese with mozzarella is lovely, but seriously.  This sandwich is out of this world.

Last week someone asked me for tips on a good grilled cheese.  Obviously it’s all a questions of taste but here are…

My Top 5 Tips for Making the Perfect Grilled Cheese

1. Good Bread.  If your bread sucks, your grilled cheese will too.  Don’t you dare you sliced white bread.  Invest in some good bread.  I used Trader Joe’s Italian Bread.  Tasty enough.  Orange County is seriously lacking in good bread bakeries.

2. Make sure there’s cheese on both sides of the bread.  If you’re putting something other than just cheese, you need to make sure the cheese is on both sides.  The cheese is the binding agent.  If you don’t have it on both sides, it’ll all fall apart.

3.  Use Real Butter.  If you’re going to make a grilled cheese, now’s not the time to be healthy by avoiding butter.  No.  You’re choosing to make grilled cheese.  If you wanted a healthy meal, you’d make a salad.  Use butter.  It makes your bread golden, toasty and delicious.  Don’t skimp.

4. Mustard.  Unless you’re making a grilled cheese sandwich with some sort of jam, mustard almost always makes a grilled cheese taste better.  Cheese and mustard just go together.  I’m not talking about yellow mustard.  I’m talking tasty dijon-style mustard or the kind with the wonderful mustard seeds in it.  If you hate mustard, you can ignore this comment.  But if you like mustard, trust me.  Give it a try.

5. Low and slow.  Don’t turn the flame on high! Heat your pan to medium/low.  It might take a few minutes for it to get golden and for the cheese to melt, but that’s way better than a burnt piece of bread with hard cheese in the middle.  Be patient.  It’ll be tastier.

That’s pretty much there is to it.  Oh and if you use sliced Kraft American Cheese or Velveeta… You’re dead to me

Brie Tomato Basil Grilled Cheese

2 slices of amazingly tasty bread of your choice
a big pat of butter
1-2 oz brie, sliced (keep the rind! it’s tasty!)
3-4 tomato slices
1-2 basil leaves, chopped

Spread each slice of bread with butter on one side.  On the other side, layer cheese tomatoes and basil.  I try not to use too much cheese because brie is pretty strong, so I put half the cheese on one side and the bread and the other half on the opposite half of the other piece (does that make any sense?  See the pic below)

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Heat pan to medium/low heat.  Place sandwich, butter side down on pan.  Cook about 3 minutes per side or until golden all around and cheese in the center has melted.

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Serve with a bowl of soup and enjoy!  I had it with a bowl of Trader Joe’s Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato soup.  Tastiest soup from a box ever.  I promise!

Added bonus: This month is National Grilled Cheese Month.  I have no idea who decided that but I support, and so should you.  Eat Grilled Cheese Today!

P.S. Dunking is encouraged.

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Roasting a Goat. For Real.

Sometimes I think I like the process of cooking/baking more than I like the eating part at the end.  Don’t get me wrong, I love eating (who doesn’t, right?), but I often find myself in situations where I’m trying to figure out how to make the most elaborate thing possible.

This weekend’s cooking extravaganza was a prime example of this.

I’ll be honest.  I didn’t really make this.  I made the marinade and the side dishes.  The real work was from these two guys:

(Why yes that is my boyfriend wielding a knife like a butcher bad ass.)

So I can’t really take credit for roasting the goat, but I’ll take credit for the marinade: lemon zest, lemon juice, rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, cilantro, mint, salt (lots of it), pepper, onions and lots and lots of garlic.

I’m not joking.  It really was a whole goat.  40 pounds. That means a whole lot of marinade is needed and a whole lot of people to eat it, the latter is not really an issue.

So Jesse built a contraption, because I can’t think of another way to describe it, to roast the goat on.

Clearly he’s the handy one in the relationship… Unfortunately upon picking up the goat early on Saturday morning, we found the goat was too big for the roasting contraption. Oops.

Plan B.  Roast the goat in pieces.  Not an ideal situation.  I really wanted it to be an entire goat, because honestly, that sounds more exciting (and maybe intimidating?).  But this worked too.

Now friends, the trick to roasting a goat is low flame and patience, because it takes hours.  It took about 4 hours to make, and I imagine if we had done the whole thing in one piece it would have taken far longer.  In the meantime, there were snacks and drinks and music.

What does great with a goat?
Here was my menu:

-Roasted Goat
-Goat Kabobs with Goat Meat, Onion, Red Peppers and Pineapple.  Brushed with oil and grilled (FYI These were AMAZING)
-Spinach-Strawberry Salad with Red Onions, Candied Pecans and Balsamic Vinaigrette
-Jeweled Rice: Cinnamon and Cardamom Spiced Rice with Dried Fruit and Nuts
-Bread and Tortillas
-Dessert: Fresh Watermelon, Passion Fruit Cream Pie (recipe coming soon!), and Lemon Cream Pie

All sorts of tasty.

(Oh yeah, that’s totally my boyfriend slicing a goat leg like a boss)

So let’s be honest.  Roasting a goat is a little ridiculous and probably not something you’re going to do on your average weekend, but for the food enthusiast, I would say it’s worth it.  At the very least, it’s fun to sit around with your friends as a goat roasts behind you, like a super elaborate BBQ… with a goat leg on it…

Or maybe just so that when people ask you what you did this weekend you can say “I roasted an entire goat.”

You decide 🙂

How to Cook the Perfect Plantains

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you might start to think I have an obsessive personality.

For example: You know about my Beyonce obsessionProtein pancake obsession.  Then there’s lemon curd as of recent.  Go ahead, google “Foodologie Obsessed.”  Tons of results.

But I promise, I’m pretty normal.  I don’t obsess over anything nearly as often as I say I do.  The reality is that I tend to exaggerate.  I get it from my mom.  We both do it.  It’s ridiculous.

At the risk of sounding like I’m exaggerating yet again, I’m about to tell you the absolute BEST way to cook a plantain.  Using this method, you will get the most deliciously sweet, tender, amazing, fantastic, every-other-adjective-that-describes-simply-delicious plantain in the world.

Best of all.  It’s super easy.  All you need are plantains and canola oil.

So here’s how to make Plantains Beyond Perfection.

First you need to start with super, super ripe plantains.  Yes, they’ll look like they’re about to go bad.

But really that’s when they taste best.  While the skin is still on, roll the plantains using the heel of your hand to soften out any tough areas.

In the meantime, put some oil in a pan on medium/low heat.  A few tablespoons will do.  Basically you want enough to just barely coat the bottom of the pan.

Arrange the plantains in the pan, they can be touching or not.

Grab a fork and poke the plantains with a fork so you get little holes all around it.  Don’t be shy, poke away.  You do it virtually on facebook, now you get to do it for real.  Once you’ve poked the plantains all over, turn the heat down to low.  I mean really low, as low as your stove can go (Ludacris style?).  Shake the pan so they don’t stick, then cover them.

After about 5 minutes, give them another shake.  They’ll start to sort of inflate from the steam.

At this point, you can start to gently turn them.  The more tender (aka tastier), the harder they are to turn.  Two forks or tongs make it easier.  Once you’ve rotated them, cover them again.  Every so often shake the pan to keep them from sticking too much, but for the most part you can forget about them.  If they are looking too dry either your heat is too high or they need more oil.  Adjust accordingly.

This whole process takes about half an hour, but trust me, you won’t regret it.  If you use this slow cooking method, you will get the most delicious plantains you’ve ever had in your life.

I never promised they would be pretty.

They are decidedly “not cute,” another one of my overused terms.  But they’re definitely worth the time for the taste.

I can guarantee you’ll be obsessed with them too.  Even more so if you eat them with refried black beans.  Black beans and plantains.  Best combination on the planet.  Truth.  I’m not even exaggerating.