Archive for December, 2009

THAI PEANUT SAUCE

Thai Peanut Sauce

For me, peanut sauce served as a definitive gateway flavor into what would be come a lifelong addiction to Thai cuisine. Having grown up on a steady diet of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, it wasn’t until I first tasted the peanut sauce that accompanied my Mom’s chicken satay from the Thai spot in our mall food court that I came to realize that peanut butter could be used in savory dishes as well. To my young developing palate, peanut sauce was at once exotic and familiar.  Salty, sweet and rich with warm Thai spices, the run-of-the-mill skewered chicken soon became a vehicle for what I really wanted: the sauce.

I’ve made many versions of peanut sauce over the years and have come to recognize this rendition as my go-to, all-purpose recipe.  Used as a dip, tossed with rice noodles or as a condiment for jasmine rice, I’m sure you’ll find this sauce has many amazing applications.  While some recipes include everything from soy sauce and grated ginger to garlic and chili sauce, this particular version gets it’s nuance and depth from aromatic Thai curry paste.  Along with a few other simple yet flavorful ingredients, it’s the paste that takes this sauce to the next level and lend it that authentic taste.  It goes without saying that a fresh, homemade curry paste will render an exceptionally fragrant final sauce, but if you’re strapped for time, store-bought red curry paste from a jar makes a perfectly suitable alternative.

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TOFFEE CHEESECAKE WITH CARAMEL SAUCE

Toffee Cheesecake

Anybody who knows me will tell you that I’m not the biggest fan of chocolate desserts.  With the exception of a few, very special sweets in our family recipe book, I vastly prefer those confections featuring toffee, nuts, or citrus.  So, when it came time to decide what dessert to have with our Christmas dinner this year, my family came to a bit of brick wall.  Having already eaten pumpkin and pecan pie during Thanksgiving, we were all in the mood for something a little different this time around.  With ideas like an apple galette and bread pudding being thrown around, each option seemed to fall flat the second it was introduced  — keeping with tradition, we were a bit indecisive.  It wasn’t until my sister insisted upon a dessert that included caramel in some form or another that my Mom suddenly remembered a recipe from an old Bon Appétite that she used to make years ago for special occasions — Toffee Cheesecake.

I don’t think I need to tell you how good this cheesecake really is.  I mean, caramel sauce? Whipped cream? Skor bar!?  What’s not to like?  The one thing I can say is that this is an extremely rich dessert of which a little goes a long way.  Next time you have a special occasion on the horizon, consider making this decadent dessert which will easily feed 10-12 guests.

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CRAB RANGOON

Crab Rangoon

To be completely honest, I didn’t even realize these crispy bites were referred to as crab rangoon until recently.  Growing up, these crab and cream cheese filled wontons were known as crab cheese puffs at my family’s favorite Chinese take-out spot.  I’m pretty sure those guys were skimping on the crab because all I can remember is chomping down into a warm glob of scallion-flecked cream cheese.  Don’t get me wrong, dipped into hot Chinese mustard and highlighter-red sweet and sour sauce, I wasn’t complaining.  Today, wiser and bit more sophisticated, I need that crab.

It’s dungeness crab season here in the Bay Area, and while there might be better dishes out there that highlight the sweet, succulent flesh of these delicious creatures, crab rangoon seems like a perfectly festive nibble to serve as an hors d’oeuvre at any last minute holiday parties.  My version features a bunch of thinly sliced green onions, Worcestershire sauce for added savory depth and just a bit of grated ginger and lemon juice to cut through the richness of the cream cheese.

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CHILE-BRAISED PORK TACOS

Chile-Braised Pork Tacos

If you’re wondering why I’m posting another pork taco recipe, try to understand that this is the type of food that I crave.  Comforting, flavorful food that fills the belly and is easy on the pocketbook.  Anyone who’s read my blog knows by now that I love Mexican food, so instead of  waxing poetic about the various influences that have colored my fondness for all fare south-of-the-border, let me explain what makes cooking dishes like this so appealing.

For me, a bowl of chile-braised pork sitting in my refrigerator represents a week’s worth of filling meals and tasty snacks to come.  A  3-pound piece of pork shoulder will make somewhere close to twenty tacos.  That’s ten servings coming from a piece of meat that costs somewhere around $11. 00 – $12.00 dollars.  Not a bad deal if you ask me.  Strapped for time on the weeknights?  Make this recipe your “Sunday braise” and reap the benefits of succulent homemade pork for the entire week.  It might take a bit of time and planning to prepare the chile paste, but if you do any kind of Mexican cooking at home, odds are you already have everything you need in your pantry.

If you’re adverse to heat, its important to know that the dried chiles in this recipe render a dish that is by no means spicy, but rather earthy and complex — subtly perfumed with spices like clove, allspice and oregano.  Still, as delicious as this may be, even I can tire of tacos. Fortunately, this recipe makes for an outstanding all-purpose Mexican pork.  It’s just as delicious in a burrito, rolled up with beans, sour cream, salsa and guac, or in a cheesy quesadilla. I’ve even had it alongside eggs or topped on tortilla chips like mini tostadas. Next time I’ll be throwing it in a soft roll and serving it as a torta.

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SAUSAGE AND LENTIL STEW

Sausage and Lentil Stew

Let’s be honest — this dish isn’t going to be winning any beauty pageants anytime soon.  With it’s reddish-brown color scheme and thick, chili-like texture, this isn’t the type of recipe that turns many heads on Foodgawker or Tastespotting.  So, like a friend who’s just set you up on a blind date with an aesthetically challenged individual, I implore you to move past its humble appearance and try to get to know the soul of this comforting dish.

For me, this is cold weather fare at its best.  A warm, stick-to-your-ribs type meal that’s like a hug from a loved one.  Creamy lentils and sausages combine to produce a dish that is both high in protein and rich in savory flavor.  The best part? It’s cheap and simple to make.  In fact, you probably already have everything to make it your kitchen.  All you really need is a handful of lentils, a few sausages from the fridge, a leftover glass of wine, and you can have a filling and satisfying meal at a moment’s notice.  This is hearty food that reheats well and makes great leftovers.

If looks don’t matter, you might have found your new soul mate.

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