Archive for November, 2009


Green Chile Mac & Cheese

Mac and cheese recipes are a dime a dozen on the net.  If you have a food blog and are even remotely tolerant of dairy, odds are you’ve posted a favorite recipe or unique rendition.  From bacon and blue cheese to truffles and lobster, there are countless offerings out there that claim to offer the ultimate mac and cheese experience. Whether it’s topped with breadcrumbs and baked in the oven or fresh from the stove top, oozing with a gooey melted cheese sauce, I’ve never met a version I haven’t liked.  That being said, in my mind one version stands out among the rest as a truly extraordinary and distinctive twist on the original: green chile mac and cheese.

I first had green chile mac and cheese on a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona for Spring Training with my Dad where we dined at chef Robert McGrath’s flagship, Roaring Fork restaurant.  After amazing, back-to-back dinners we decided to buy the cookbook and attempt to replicate his signature riff on the comfort classic.  Needless to say, the results were a near perfect match.  Simple to prepare, this dish gets it’s deep, smoky flavor from the addition of a puree of roasted poblano chiles.  Add in some heavy cream, a confetti of red bell pepper, sweet corn kernels and a healthy dose of piquant pepper jack cheese and you have a mac and cheese dish worthy of a little excitement.

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Barbecued Pork Buns

Before I even knew what dim sum was, I was a fan of the pork bun.  Each week, after visiting clients near Clement Street in San Francisco, my Dad would arrive home with a bright pink box, packed tightly with a half a dozen of these delicious stuffed buns.  Salty, sweet and intensely savory, these hand-held delights quickly became a favorite snack of mine growing up; pop one in the microwave for about a minute, and I was ready to go.

These days, I treat pork buns with a bit more reverence, carefully wrapping them in foil before placing them in a warm toaster-oven so as not to disturb their delicate, fluffy texture.  As with most of the food I love, I’m a bit fanatical when it comes to finding the best specimen available, and living in the Bay Area, there are plenty of options to choose from.  That being said, there is something especially gratifying about baking and eating your own.  The best part? Using all-natural pork and skipping the red dye #40.

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Panang Beef Curry

Ah, the good ol’ days: when spending 30 bucks on Thai takeout was just your typical Wednesday night. Now, income-less, Thai food along with Chinese and pizza seems like quite the luxury. These days I’m making my own Thai food, and to be honest, not missing a thing.  At home, I make Thai food the way I like it.  Very spicy, fairly salty and just a little sweet. Such is the beauty of having curry pastes sitting in your freezer ready at your disposal.  What seems like an exotic and esoteric cuisine on the surface is actually fairly simple to prepare at home.

I like to think of panang as a great beginner curry for those that are new to Thai cuisine.  Reminiscent of everybody’s favorite peanut dipping sauce which accompanies the ubiquitous satay, panang is at once both bright and aromatic while at the same time, rich and comforting.

I’m lucky enough to live in San Francisco where I can find pretty much anything I need at any of the many Asian markets.  However, if you love Thai food and can’t find a store that stocks such items as palm sugar, lime leaves, or good Thai coconut milk, check out for everything you need (and then some).

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Panang Curry Paste

Maybe I watched too many episodes of The Naked Chef when I was younger, but in my mind, there are few kitchen activities more satisfying than giving a handful of aromatic herbs and spices a good pounding in a large, heavy mortar. Handmade pesto is great and whole-toasted spices don’t last a second in the bowl of a nice granite model, but for me, it’s in the act of making Thai curry paste that Iget the most out of one of my simplest kitchen tools.

Making curry paste the authentic way is a tactile and fragrant experience. In fact, things oftentimes get so aromatic that Lauren practically has to lock herself in our bedroom to avoid the pungent odor of toasted shrimp paste – an essential component of true Thai curry. Here I’ve included a recipe for a paste to create one of my all-time favorite curries: panang. Citrus notes dominate due to the heavy use of lime zest, lime leaves, coriander seeds and lemongrass.

While some of the key ingredients might be hard to track down and the overall process requires a fair amount of prep, as Victor Sodsook points out in his cookbook, True Thai: The Modern Art of Thai Cooking, curry pastes are “like money in the bank.” An hour of hard work will pay off with intense, complex flavor in future dishes. Couple this with the fact that many pastes last weeks in the refrigerator and several months in the freezer, and you have a culinary resource that lends completed dishes a taste that will seem like it’s taken hours to build.

Check back tomorrow for recipe that puts this amazing paste to good use; Panang Beef Curry.

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Sloppy Joes

I didn’t eat many sloppy joes growing up. Maybe my parents ate one too many soggy renditions during their own childhood, but for whatever reason this was an item that was rarely seen on the dinner menu at my house.  It turns out that my lack of experience with these saucy, loose meat burgers puts me in a minority among friends who all recount fond memories of eating them on a near weekly basis. For me, sloppy joes have always represented your typical lunch counter fodder: a half simmering pot of reddish-brown mystery meat smashed between a sodden, dissolve-on-contact bun. For them, Mom cracking open a can of Manwich stood out as a true suppertime treat in a lineup of otherwise dismal home-cooked fare.

It wasn’t until I came across a recipe for this iconic American sandwich in a recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine that I decided to give sloppy joes another look.  As usual, it looked as though the editors had found a few ways to rid the dish of it’s usual shortcomings and breath new life into an old favorite.  So, with a pound of ground beef sitting in the freezer and few extra homemade buns lying around from my fried chicken sandwiches, I set out to see what I’d been missing all these years.

The results were nothing short of spectacular.  Robust and beefy with a pleasant brightness coming from the addition of tomato puree, these joes were unlike anything I’d tasted in the past.  Gone was the typical grainy, greasy texture, replaced with a consistency that was pleasantly thick, yet saucy enough to blend seamlessly with the tender, pillow-soft bun.

Now to convince my parents to give them a shot.

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