Sunday, January 14, 2018

Roasted Winter Squash with Toasted Coconut Gremolata

Sometimes it hits me that I read a lot of cookbooks. I love reading cookbooks. And cooking from them. Mostly I love learning new things ranging from the big ideas and amazing flavors to the tiniest details of cooking techniques. As I read my review copy of Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes by Alison Roman, this fact that I read a lot about food became apparent because these vibrant, flavor-packed recipes brought to mind other similar dishes from other books. For instance, I knew the Blistered Green Beans with Creamy Tahini and Fresh Hot Sauce would be great because I’d previously tried the Roasted Green Beans with Tahini and Sesame-Seed Dressing from Brown Sugar Kitchen. The Grilled Corn Salad with Fresh Cheese and Corn Nuts took me back to the Corn, Green Beans, and Parmsesan Salad with corn nuts from Tartine All Day and the summer salad with corn nuts from Curate. Burrata with Tangerines, Shallots, and Watercress reminded me of how well citrus goes with burrata which I learned from trying the Blood Orange, Burrata, and Freekeh Salad from the book Citrus. Inevitably, food brings back memories, and flavors that pair well are seen together again and again. I’ve been eating smoked trout more often as of late, so the Smoked Trout with Mustard and Apples salad made with mustard seeds and frilly mustard green leaves looked delicious. And, the Skillet Chicken with Crushed Olives and Sumac looked like a fantastic result from not too much effort. The first dish I tried presented a new and different idea I’d never seen before. Toasted coconut chips became a central element in a gremolata for sprinkling over roasted winter squash. Turns out, I have added coconut chips to a winter squash salad before, but that was part of a very different dish and had nothing to do with a gremolata. 

Here, winter squash was sliced and roasted after being tossed with melted coconut oil. I used acorn squash, but delicate is shown in the book. For the gremolata, unsweetened coconut chips were toasted in a dry pan and left to cool. Chopped chives and cilantro leaves that I was able to harvest from my herb garden were added to a bowl with lemon zest, Aleppo pepper, and salt. The coconut chips were added and tossed to combine. This gremolata was sprinkled over the roasted squash pieces before serving. 

Winter squash and coconut go great together, and sweet potato wedges would be a delicious alternative as well. The lemon and Aleppo pepper added nice punch to the mix of flavors. It’s fun for me to connect the dots of ingredients and pairings that I encounter from book to book to book, and mostly it’s a lot of fun to eat what ends up on the plate. 

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Friday, January 5, 2018

Pineapple Shrimp Fried Rice

Maybe I’ve been watching too many documentaries lately, but I was intrigued that the introduction to Night + Market: Delicious Thai Food to Facilitate Drinking and Fun-Having Amongst Friends started with a Werner Herzog reference regarding the difference between objective truth and ecstatic truth. The filmmaker defines objective truth as a record of facts while poetic, ecstatic truth is reached through “fabrication and imagination and stylization.” Kris Yenbamroong, the author of the book of which I received a review copy and founder of the LA restaurants, explains that his cooking is the ecstatic truth of Thai food. The recipes are definitely Thai in origin, but they are translated with his preferences. They don’t necessarily fit a strict definition of traditional Thai cuisine. You’ll find classics like Pad Thai and several variations of Larb, but the particular way they’re presented here are the author’s own style. The other intriguing aspect of these dishes is that they are intended to be paired with alcohol. There are no hard and fast rules, just lots of tips for which dishes to serve together as a meal and ideas for drinks to go with them including several wine suggestions. But mostly, the book encourages the cook to try these recipes and discover your own favorite ways to serve them for family and friends. One dish I can’t wait to try and that I will alter slightly is the Jungle Curry Clams. Jungle curries are hotter and more intensely flavored than others that include coconut milk. And, typically they’re made with water fowl, fish, or pork. Here, clams are used along with ground pork which I would skip or replace with chicken. The Hot and Sour Soups all sound great with lemongrass, galangal, and lime leaves. The Banana Blossom Salad is something I’ve wanted to try for ages but have never located banana blossoms to use. Throughout the book, there are practical substitution hints, and here endive is mentioned as a good alternative to banana blossoms. With all the suggestions for various ways to serve each dish, the condiments and the included recipes for those condiments, and the encouragement to find out how you prefer to enjoy each recipe, this book inspires creative freedom with this food. 

Fried rice is one of my all-time favorite things, and I had to try the Pineapple Shrimp Fried Rice. For all the fried rice recipes, a homemade Stir-Fry Sauce is recommended. It’s a simple sauce that’s sweet and savory with oyster sauce and sugar. I took a short cut when I found a bottled Stir-Fry Sauce that’s made with those same ingredients. The other condiment to make in advance for this is the Prik Nam Pla which is a mixture of fish sauce, lime juice, minced bird’s eye chiles, and minced garlic. And, of course, you want to have all the ingredients chopped and ready before you start heating the wok. With hot oil in a very hot wok, you start with onion and garlic before briefly cooking the shrimp. Next, egg is added and scrambled into the onion and garlic. Then, leftover jasmine rice is added with the stir-fry sauce, and you cook while tossing everything together until the rice is dry and browned from the wok if you like. Off the heat, pineapple chunks and toasted cashews were added with sliced green onions and ground white pepper. In the book, this fried rice is shown being served in a hollowed-out pineapple, but I went for a simpler presentation on a platter. The Prik Nam Pla was served on the side to add to each plate as desired. 

I was already a fan of fruity and spicy things mixed with seafood, so this fried rice was a winner for me. There are some distinct flavors here with the sweet-savory stir-fry sauce and white pepper, but my favorite element was the Prik Nam Pla that I generously spooned on top. There’s so much more I want to try from this book, and I love that it not only gives license to but encourages a bit of a break from complete authenticity. 

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