4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the category “Cooking”

The Best Garlic Noodles (by Nathan)

We are hiking the Camino de Santiago, enjoy this recipe while we walk our butts off.

Thai has a special place in Carmen and my kitchen.  The food is spicy, sour and sweet; these are flavors that we just can’t get enough of.  Last year I took a four week Thai cooking course and this was one of my favorite recipes.  The instructor was Kasma Loha-unchit who teaches more courses and dishes than you will ever have time to fully take.  I like this one because it was easy enough for me to make on a weeknight, but with flavors that made me excited to have leftovers for several days afterwards.

Finished garlic noodles

Inspired by Kasma Loha-unchit
Serves 5-6 as main course (8-10 with additional dishes)

For Noodles:
1 lb package thin Chinese noodles (fresh chow mein from Chinese market)
1-1/2 heads garlic – chopped fine
1/4 cup peanut (or coconut oil, other high-heat oils may be substituted, for a loss in flavor)
1/4 cup Tianjin preserved vegetables – chopped fine
1/2 cup roasted and unsalted peanuts – chopped
2-3 Tbs. fish sauce (Golden Boy or brand without preservatives)
2-3 tsp. sugar to taste
Lime juice of 1/2 to 1 lime to taste

Fresh vegetables to be mixed in:
4 cups bean sprouts- washed and drained
8 green unions- slice finely and separate white and green parts
5-6 Thai chilies or 1-2 fresno peppers – chopped fine
1 small bunch of cilantro – chopped; reserve 2-3 stems with leaves for garnish
1/2 of large remain lettuce heart – chop into bite-sized portions

For the toppings:
12-16 oz. Charsiew BBQ pork – chop in thin slices
Ground roasted dried chilies
Finely sliced rounds of serrano peppers in 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1 tsp. fish sauce and 1 tsp. sugar
Chopped peanuts
Chopped Thai chilies or fresno peppers in fish sauce

Chopped and assembled vegetables

Sliced charsiew

This dish really cannot be successful without fish sauce.  The aroma and salty savory qualities from fish sauce really bring out the flavors of the garlic noodles.  Charsiew is very common in the Bay Area and can be found at most Chinese grocery stores.  In hangs in big dripping slabs that have been roasted and glazed in a red sweet sauce.  A highly flavorful roasted chicken or tofu could be used.  The Tianjin vegetables are a very salty and pungent cabbage stored in a clay pot.  We had been using these for Sichuan cuisine and found them in SF Chinatown.  You may need more fish sauce if you choose to omit these.  Fresno peppers are a red jalapeño.  I sometimes substitute fresh baby spinach for the romaine.

Garlic frying in peanut oil

Golden garlic goodness

1) One hour ahead.  Bring a pot of heavily salted water to boil and cook the noodles until soft, but not mushy.  When cooked remove noodles from pot, drain and set into extra-large bowl.  In a steel wok or cast-iron skillet heat the oil until almost smoking.  Add the garlic and stir until almost fully golden.  In the last 30 seconds add the white parts of the green onion.  Pour the garlic, oil and onion remnants into a heat-proof bowl and set aside.

Mix in garlic into cooked noodles

2) 45 minutes ahead.  Mix garlic, oil, Tianjin vegetables, peanuts, chili peppers, green onions and bean sprouts into noodles.  Douse the noodles with about 1 Tbs. of fish sauce and 2 tsp. of sugar and toss again thoroughly.  Taste it, the noodles need to be salty enough to taste the garlic and sweet enough deliver the spicy peppers.  Add more fish sauce and squeeze in 1/2 of a lime, toss again.  Continue to alternate tasting and adding fish sauce, sugar and lime until the balanced.  Let sit for a couple minutes, toss and taste again.

Fine tune flavors with fish sauce, sugar and lime

3) 15 minutes ahead.  Fold in the romaine lettuce and cilantro. Lay the charsiew over the top.  Place a few sprigs of cilantro around the edges.

Vinegar, fish sauce, sugar and chilies to be added to taste be each diner

4) Serve.  I typically eat these noodles tepid or just slightly warm.  Place a heaping mound of noodles on a plate.  Pick out a few pieces of barbecued pork to lay over them.  Sprinkle with additional peanuts and ground chili peppers.  Additional fish sauce or vinegar with chilies can also be added to bring out an immediate freshness to the dish.  Serve second, thirds and walk away stuffed.


A Dinner Party to Honor the Bay Area (by Nathan)

When we lived in Berkeley we cooked a lot of food.  We had friends that also cooked quite a bit.  It was natural for us to want to cook for each other, and thus the beginnings of frequent feasts.  One Saturday afternoon Nalat, Brenda, Carmen and I embarked on a long and strenuous hike in the Berkeley hills.  We did not expect to be so hungry, but after hours of no food we wanted to cook something.  That night we made a feast of fresh sushi, sashimi salad and onigiri.  Rubbing our bellies and sipping on sake we decided to begin the regular dinner party.

The potluck would be alternated between three apartments on a rotating theme chosen by one of the chefs.  For almost two years we would have a party every two to three weeks.  The themes ranged all types of cuisines, cooking methods and styles.  We cooked Chinese, Thai, Japanese (not sushi), French, Indian and we insisted on something stuffed, fermented, barbecued, lucky, vegan or using squash.  Some meals required drink pairings, another, a jug from Preston winery as the highlight, a few dinners featured homebrewed beer made by Brenda and Drew.  We even had a dinner inspired by the four elements: earth, wind, fire and water.  Each dinner was a highlight to our week, a highlight to our month and an experience bringing us closer as friends.

Our dinner party feast

So, when we returned to Berkeley for a few days, there was one thing on all of our minds: when is the dinner party? And more essentially, what would be the theme? Carmen and I chose the theme “Missing the Bay Area.”  The idea was to cook something that we could not live without from the Bay Area.  The general theme among all of us was the freshness of the ingredients.  The produce available here is unparalleled, farm to table is actually possible; I walked from talking to North Bay farmers at the market to the Brenda’s kitchen knowing exactly where my vegetables came from.

Battered squash blossoms over tomatoes and avocados

Humbolt Fog, honey and almonds

Highlighting the freshness of the ingredients, I made stuffed squash blossoms over early girl tomatoes and avocado.  I also picked up a slice of Humbolt Fog cheese that we smothered in sliced almonds and honey.  Carmen contributeda lemon, almond tea cake based on one from Tartine Bakery.

Rancho Gordo beans

Fig, raspberry and chocolate tart

Rancho Gordo beans are delicious, Brenda stewed a handful of ingredients together into a salty savory concoction deserving of seconds and thirds.  She also made a David Lebovits inspired fig and raspberry tart with Tcho chocolate drizzled over the top.

Nalat’s chapino

Oysters on the half shell

The abundance of seafood in San Francisco is amazing.  Nalat recreated a chapino that she loves from the North Beach neighborhood with mussels and crab legs.  We cracked open a few oysters and topped them with a mignonette.

Fig, prosciutto and arugula pizza

Drew put together a fig, prosciutto and arugula pizza and shared some of his hoarded Siduri wine.

We ate, we drank, and then we had a little more.  As always, the meal was a feast of delightful cuisines and treats.  We slept overly full, but dreamt hungrily of our next dinner party.

Summer Satisfaction With Mexican Shrimp Cocktail (by Nathan)

Summer is here! Well, for us, summer has been ongoing for the last seven months.  As the heat rises there is one food that I find essential.  I find all sorts of excuses to eat it because it is my most favorite meal in the world, but this dish is particularly refreshing and perfect for a hot summer day.  My favorite food is coctel de camarón, a Mexican shrimp cocktail packed with vegetables and shrimp and a cold broth that I can eat by the gallons at all hours of the day.

Summer Satisfaction in a bowl

This dish is perfect because it pulls together all of the wonderful qualities of every great meal.  The shrimp broth provides an underlying savory and salty flavor that is made sour and fresh with lime juice.  Jalapeños provide a spicy kick and the ketchup a touch of sweetness and a pink color to the broth.  Together these flavors combine with a trilogy of textures with crunchy vegetables, creamy avocado and crisp tostadas.  Simply put, it is perfection for the mouth.

My love for this dish began in April of 1992. My family traveled to Durango, Mexico to visit my stepdad’s family.  It was so hot there that I remember much of the daytime was spent alternating between tamarindo paletas (tamarind popsicles) and shrimp cocktail.  We would find pushcart vendors on the street and the four of us would enjoy huge, cold goblets full of the stuff to escape the roasting sun. Most recently I was inspired to prepare this dish for friends on a stiflingly hot day in New York. Taylor and Andrew let us use their Brooklyn apartment for a shrimp cocktail feast.  We supplemented the cocktail with my much loved guacamole, aguachile shrimp ceviche and an epic game of Settlers of Catan for a fun evening.  Good luck Andrew when you make this for your family in Australia this week!

I should note that there are many ways to enjoy coctel de camarón.  My little brother bites into heaping mounds that are precariously laid on the crackers.  My eldest brother and sister-in-law add extra hot sauce and spoonfuls of additional peppers, my step-dad more salt and my mom several extra limes.  Whatever the style, we ultimately all sit laughing together and enjoying our favorite meal.  Some families have a roast around the holidays, but every Christmas Eve you will find me consuming bowls and bowls of this delicious soup.  There are restaurants that make it, but they shortcut and it will never turn out as good as I am going to share with you.

I love this stuff.  Share it with family, friends or hoard it all to yourself.  This dish is something to be enjoyed, savored and prized. ¡Buen provecho!

RECIPE FOR COCTEL DE CAMARÓN (Mexican Shrimp Cocktail)
Serves 6-8 bowls

Coctel de camarón ready to eat

For the shrimp and broth:
1lb shrimp (16ct/lb) – shelled, tails removed and deveined
1/4 onion, onion skin, and root end – kept whole
3 cloves garlic – smashed, skins left on
2 Tbs salt

For the cocktail solids:
2 large cucumbers – peeled, sliced lengthwise and sliced into 1/4 inch cubes
1-3/4 onions, red and white – finely diced
3 medium tomatoes
1/2 bunch cilantro – finely diced
1/2 celery stalk, minced
1/2 jalepeños or seranos – finely diced

For the broth:
Fruit sweetened ketchup – ¼ cup + several Tbs
Sea salt – several tsp
Lime juice – 6-10 limes

For the garnish
1 large avocado – halved and sliced into thin half-moons
1-1/2 jalepeños or seranos – finely diced
2 limes – halved and sliced into 6 wedges
Saltine Crackers
Tostada shells or tortilla chips

Vegetables for shrimp cocktail

1) Six hours ahead.  Boil 3 quarts salted water in a large pot.  Meanwhile, de-shell, remove tails and devein all the shrimp.  Rinse and set aside.  Quarter an onion and toss into the pot  ¼ and the skins and the ends that usually end up in the compost.  Add the smashed garlic and boil for five minutes.  Grab a stopwatch and a spider strainer and drop in the shrimp.  At 60 seconds taste a shrimp by biting it in half and looking at it.  Pull them out at roughly 75 seconds or 85% cooked.  The shrimp will continue to cook in the bowl, add a few ice cubes and stir.

Remove the boiled onion, skins and garlic from shrimp and discard; pour liquid into broth pot.  Wrap shrimp bowl in plastic and store in refrigerator.  Top the pot with the shrimp broth and move into refrigerator.  If you are pushed on time, the broth may be cooled in the freezer over a couple hours or placed in the sink with cold water and a few pounds of ice.

Notes on shrimp: Gauge the boiling time based on size of shrimp, jumbo shrimp may need to be sliced lengthwise to equalize cooking time. The rubberiness of overcooked shrimp really comes out in the fresh soup, don’t do it.

Boiled shrimp with onions and garlic, strain and cool rapidly.

2) One hour ahead.  Chop vegetables and add to a large bowl.  Halve and squeeze at least 6 limes into a small bowl.   If you are using the little key limes plan on 12.  Use more if you have dry limes.

Remove pot of cooled broth from the refrigerator and place set 2 cups of the broth aside (this is in case you mess up).  Toss in all the vegetables, some of the jalapeños, ¾ of the lime juice and a few tablespoons of ketchup. Stir to combine with a ladle. Look at color and taste.

Now is the time for iteration; we have three flavors to work with: salty, sweet and sour.  The broth is going to taste a little bland at first, but gradually the favors start to come together.  The iteration is necessary because we do not want to over-salt, over-sweeten or over-lime the cocktail.  Add more salt and the flavors of the broth with start to become more prominent.  Squeeze another half a lime or two and taste again as we bring out the brightness of the fresh vegetables.  The ketchup will bring about a nice balance to the broth, but if too much is added then it is difficult to fix.

Repeat the iteration, tasting and observing the color.  The addition of ketchup will transform the broth from murky translucency to a light pink (see picture).  Red broth means you have too much ketchup, add the reserve broth and re-iterate.  The lime, unfortunately takes a few minutes to meld with all the flavors, if you think you have too much lime, wait ten minutes and try again.  Add more jalapeños to give it some kick.

When the broth has flavors that make your mouth want to explode, then it’s almost ready.  Return it to the fridge to let the flavors mingle for 20-30 minutes.

Chopped vegetables, ready to add to broth

3) Fifteen minutes ahead. Assemble the garnish of jalapeño, avocado, limes, crackers and tostada shells on a plate accessible to everyone. Squeeze lime over the avocado to keep it from browning.

Remove the cocktail from the fridge and taste again.  Add another lime and maybe some salt. Taste again and doctor to perfection.

Iteration of salt, lime and ketchup with breaks to eat guacamole

4) Serve in large glass goblets if you have them. Place a few slices of avocado on the top.  Squeeze a fresh lime wedge and eat.  From this point consumption becomes the style of the hungry eater, and in my house there always seems to be plenty.

Finished bowl of coctel de camarón

5) The day after.  You will likely end up with too much broth.  Chop up more onion, cucumber, tomato, cilantro and jalapeño and you can stretch it into a few more bowls.

Notes on additional and substitutions:  Oftentimes octopus is added, but I find that it adds a whole other texture that takes away from all the vegetables.  Lemon has a whole different flavor, don’t use it.  Other chefs use clam juice as a shortcut, this is not necessary because you will have an excellent broth from cooking the shrimp.

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