A Thai Dish That Ties One On

I had Thai food for the first time when I was 16 years old and it took me almost 10 years to realize that drunken noodles were not relegated to Typhoon! in Portland, OR. I’m happy to say that it only took me two additional years to realize that I could easily replicate the dish at home.

I decided to experiment with drunken noodles when I saw Thai basil in the produce section of the grocery store. Since I didn’t have a recipe with me (or an iPhone), I went to the Asian food aisle and used the process of elimination to select a jar of roasted red chili paste to flavor the sauce.

The sauce I made was a pretty close approximation of the restaurant dish, even without the noodles. It wasn’t perfect, but this stir fry will definitely satisfy my cravings for drunken noodles until I make it back to Typhoon!

Drunken Stir Fry
Serves 3-4
¼ cup roasted red chili paste
¼ cup fish sauce
2 Tbs. soy sauce
2 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. water
Sriracha sauce to taste
peanut oil
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1 Tbs. minced ginger
1 pkg. extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed
1 red bell pepper, sliced
½ yellow onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced thin
1 green onion, sliced
Thai basil, stemmed and whole
cilantro, chopped
lime wedges

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a small bowl. Add a the Sriracha sauce one small squirt at a time until the sauce is as spicy as you like it.

Heat a wok or heavy skillet over high heat until it smokes. Pour in enough peanut oil to coat the sides of the wok, about 2 Tbs. Add the garlic and ginger to the oil and stir until brown, less than 1 minute. Remove the garlic and ginger from the oil and set aside.

Add the tofu to the wok and let stand over high heat until browned on one side, about 5 minutes. Stir and repeat until browned on all sides. Remove tofu and set aside.

Add the onion and red pepper to the wok and stir until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Return the garlic, ginger, and tofu to the wok. Stir in the carrot, green onion, and Thai basil. Turn off the heat, pour in the sauce, and stir to coat. Serve with rice or stir-fried noodles. Garnish with cilantro and lime.


Mushroom Ragout with Polenta and Spinach (of Course)

This dish actually was not a ploy to make a dent in my 2½-pound bag of spinach, but that was a pleasant result. This mushroom ragout was just an initial embrace of cold-weather food. The earthiness of the mushrooms and polenta give an added warmth to an already hot dish, making it the perfect dinner to serve in a drafty old bungalow. If you’re a well-equipped cook, this is probably a pantry meal for you, which is an added bonus.

You can serve the ragout over pretty much anything—rice, beans, toasted baguette—but I loved it with polenta. Use coarse-ground yellow cornmeal and follow the package directions. Be sure to stir in plenty of butter and Parmesan at the end to make it nice and creamy.

Mushroom Ragout
Serves 2
olive oil
½ yellow onion, diced
½ pound fresh mushrooms, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of dried rosemary
1 Tbs. tomato paste
¾ cup vegetable stock
1 Tbs. butter
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
handful of chopped parsley

Heat about 1 Tbs. of oil in a skillet. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 10 minutes. Remove the onion and set aside. Add some more oil to the pan and the mushrooms. Saute until they release their juices. Return the onion to the pan along with the garlic and rosemary. Continue cooking until the mushrooms and garlic begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and turn heat to high. Add the stock, bring to a boil, return heat to low, and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Before serving, stir butter, vinegar, and parsley into the sauce.

How to Eat 2½ Pounds of Spinach in a Week

When Glenn and I moved out of my brother’s and into our own house, we joined Costco so we could stock up on basics like toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, flour, and rice. Now that we have a lifetime supply of these items, we’re not sure what to do with our membership. Last week I wandered into the produce section and nonchalantly tossed a 2½-pound bag of baby spinach into my cart. I didn’t realize the size of my mistake until I tried to put the giant bag into my fridge. So I consulted some old friends and came up with about 17 million ways to eat spinach.

Option 1: Toss a salad. Perhaps the most obvious solution to the spinach problem, but eating a salad for every meal until kingdom come doesn’t have to be as tedious as it sounds. You can peruse Bittman’s list of 101 Simple Salads for the Season to get a few ideas or, to get ideas for this season, pick up a copy of Bittman’s Kitchen Express.

Option 2: Saute it. Many winter dishes taste fabulous with a pile of sauteed spinach on the side, on top, or mixed in. We happened to have a pot of dal in the fridge, which was perfectly complemented by a few handfuls of sauteed spinach. We also ate the sauteed stuff piled on top of mushroom ragu and polenta, but I’ll talk more about that later.

Option 3: Use an actual recipe. I was surprised by how many recipes I had saved that featured spinach. Believe it or not, we didn’t have enough spinach left to try this soup from the Pioneer Woman, but we did make a tapas dish from Smitten Kitchen. However, Glenn and I thought that since it had a protein, a vegetable, and a starch, Espinicas con Garbanzos was a well-balanced dinner and we ate it as such.

Option 4: Variations on a theme. I learned several years ago how to make spanikopita from a college friend with a Greek family. It makes an impressive party dish, but is really too much trouble for a weeknight dinner for two. Rather than buttering (and inevitably tearing) countless sheets of phyllo, I served the spinach, onion, and feta over whole-wheat pasta. It was both delicious and simple.

Spanikopita Spaghetti
Serves 2
½ lbs. whole-wheat pasta, cooked al dente
4 Tbs. butter
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
4 cups baby spinach
¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled
grated Parmesan cheese
lemon wedges

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the onion. Turn heat to low and cover. Cook about 30 minutes or until onion is caramelized.

When the onion is brown and caramelized, add the garlic and saute 1 minute. Add the spinach, stirring until the leaves are wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add ¼ tsp. nutmeg if you want to be really Greek.

Scoop half the noodles onto each plate, top each with half the spinach mixture, half the feta, and some grated Parmesan. Serve with a lemon wedge.

Roasted Winter Vegetable Baklava

I have been living in denial of the season change and wholeheartedly avoiding all fall activities. My sweaters remain sequestered in the basement, but I dug this recipe out of the archives in spite of the fact that it contains the word winter in the title.

I cannot believe that I haven’t posted this recipe before. I also can’t believe that it hasn’t appeared on Smitten Kitchen or The Pioneer Woman or some other big-time site. It originally appeared in Gourmet, a magazine that I know for a fact those authors subscribed to. So, what is their problem?

Perhaps they thought it was too dry, which is what Glenn and I thought the first time we made it and, probably, why I didn’t blog about it. It was, apparently, so dry that Glenn and I had a serious debate about whether or not it could be served to company. After proposing several solutions (ranging from creating an accompanying yogurt sauce to steaming the vegetables), we agreed on a few simple alterations.

The altered (perfected?) recipe is below. To sum up the changes: we used more vegetables, sliced everything thinner, and added broth to the cooked veggies. Perhaps the best addition was the accompanying salad: spinach, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette, which was a tart, refreshing side.

Roasted Winter Vegetable Baklava
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup bread crumbs
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 sweet potato, peeled, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 medium fennel bulbs, halved and sliced lengthwise 1/2 inch thick
3 parsnips, sliced diagonally 1/4 inch thick
4 carrots, sliced diagonally 1/4 inch thick
1 large onion, halved and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 cup broth
1 package dill, chopped
fennel fronds, chopped
1 stick butter, melted
half a package of large phyllo sheets

Process the walnuts and breadcrumbs in a food processor until finely chopped.

Preheat oven to 425 with racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven.

In a large bowl, toss all vegetables with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Divide between two four-sided sheet pans and roast for 35 minutes, stirring vegetables and switching positions halfway through.

Pour 1/2 cup of broth over each pan of vegetables. Combine in a large bowl and set aside.

Have ready a 9 by 13 baking dish, melted butter, phyllo dough, walnut mixture, and a basting brush. If you’ve worked with phyllo before, you know the drill. Unroll the dough from the package. Brush the top sheet of dough with butter and carefully peel it up and place it perpendicular to the dish on one side, allowing the dough to hang over the edge. Brush the next sheet with butter and place it on the other side of the pan. Sprinkle some of the walnut mixture over the entire dish. Make another layer of dough using two sheets of phyllo and sprinkle with walnut mixture. Repeat a third time. If the dough is hanging over the edge of the pan, fold it inside.

Dump the vegetable mixture into the phyllo-lined baking dish. Brush another sheet of phyllo with butter, fold it in half and place it over the vegetables. Repeat until the top of the dish is covered. Sprinkle the remaining walnut mixture over the top of the dish.

Bake at 425 until the phyllo is golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.

Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, in spite of, not because of, the food. As a kid, I loved dressing up and sitting down to a meal with all 40 members of my extended family. I loved drinking sparkling grape juice and eating Uncle Dale’s cinnamon bread. However, most of my green bean casserole usually wound up on my older brother’s plate. Of course, I’m older and wiser now and I actually enjoy eating root vegetables, so the Thanksgiving meal has captured my attention.

While I have mastered the art of stuffing and given up on green bean casserole altogether, I haven’t given much thought to pumpkin pie, the real star of the Thanksgiving meal. That is, until I acquired a pie pumpkin from my sister-in-law last week. After baking it whole and pureeing the flesh, I had just enough pumpkin for a pie.

I used the traditional recipes from the Joy of Cooking for the crust and filling, but I think what made the pie taste so great was the spices. Last Christmas, I received a variety of Penzey’s Spices from Glenn’s grandma. You could really taste the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg in the finished pie. It was a rich, creamy, and not too sweet.

Joy says that custard pies spoil after two days, so I better go grab my fork and head to the fridge for the leftovers!

Pumpkin Puree:
In the fall, you should be able to buy a pie pumpkin at your regular grocery store or at the farmers’ market. Most books say to buy a three-pound squash to get two cups of puree (enough for one pie). My pumpkin was almost two pounds and yielded exactly two cups of puree.

Use a sharp knife to cut a few slits (air vents) in the top of the pumpkin so that it doesn’t explode.
Place the pumpkin on a four-sided baking sheet.
Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to 1 and 1/4 hours. Test tenderness with a fork. When the flesh is easily pierced, remove from oven.
Cut in half from stem to blossom and let cool.
Remove seeds and skin.
Puree in a food processor until smooth.

Pie Crust (One Nine-Inch Crust):
I am a firm believer that you should always make your pie crust from scratch. From-scratch crusts are not difficult to make and are almost always better than their store-bought counterparts. This recipe uses a food processor, which makes it almost fool-proof, but it’s important to freeze the fats so that they don’t melt in the processor.

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup shortening, cut into pieces and frozen
4 Tbs. butter, cut into pieces and frozen
8 tsp. water, ice cold

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the shortening and butter. Pulse in short bursts until the fat is cut into small pieces and well-incorporated into the flour. The mixture should look grainy at this point. It’s better to under-process than over-process.

Drizzle 4 tsp. of water (half) over the flour mixture. Pulse 2-3 times. Remove lid, squeeze mixture between your fingers. If it holds together, remove it from the processor. If not, add the remaining 4 tsp. of water and process in short bursts.

Using your hands, form the dough into a ball and place on a floured work surface. Roll into a large circle. Use a pastry scraper or other flat object to scrape off counter, drape over rolling pin, and transfer to a 9-inch pie pan.

Cover the crust with aluminum foil and fill with rice, beans, or pie weights. Bake on the lower rack of the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove foil and weights. Bake uncovered for 5 minutes. Brush with a beaten egg yolk and bake 5 minutes more. Remove from oven.

Pumpkin Pie Filling:
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups pumpkin puree
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt.

Whisk all ingredients together in a large bowl. Let stand at room temperature until the crust is ready to be filled. (To bring my filling to room temperature, I placed it on the stove while the crust baked in the oven.) Pour mixture into the still-hot, prebaked and glazed pie crust. Bake at 375 for 35-45 minutes. When it’s time to remove the pie, the filling will be set on the outside, but should be pretty wobbly in the center. It will continue to set as it cools on the counter. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Back to Basics

After packing up our kitchen in June, driving across five states, spending a four-month stint in my brother’s guest room, jaunting up to Lake Michigan, down to the Atlantic, and back to the Great Plains, our food processor is finally at home in its very own cabinet.

We drove 4,700 miles this summer and ate two dozen meals on the road. All of these burgers and subs and chicken nuggets were contrasted with smoked ribs and boiled shrimp and all the other wonderful things our families made to celebrate our travels. Now that we’re in our own home, we feel full.

It makes sense that, once we were settled in our own kitchen, we would seek inspiration in our vegetable crisper. A stir fry is always an easy way to pull together a meal using the items you have on hand, which is exactly what we did.

While Glenn peeled and minced ginger and julienned carrots and broccoli stems, I whipped up a simple sauce with smashed garlic cloves, soy sauce, sesame oil, white pepper, and a little beer (just to thin it out). We stir fried the ginger and vegetables in peanut oil, tossed them with the sauce, and dumped them over a little white rice. Voila! A truly home-made meal!

Smith Street Diner (Greensboro NC)

When Glenn and I moved to Greensboro, we wasted no time finding our favorite greasy spoon. Smith Street Diner’s meat/starch/carb breakfast combos and bottomless cups of coffee were our Sunday morning savior after many a long Saturday night. We raved about it so much that friends would insist that we take them to “the giant biscuit place” when they visited.

Smith Street Diner is a popular breakfast joint located in downtown Greensboro on Battleground Avenue. The diner serves oversized biscuits, omelets, bowls of oatmeal, and other typical breakfast fare. Their home-cooked comfort food is well worth the wait.

Smith Street Diner
438 Battleground Avenue
Greensboro NC 27401
(336) 379-8666
Tuesday — Saturday, 6:30 a.m. — 8:00 p.m.
Monday & Sunday, 6:30 a.m. — 2:30 p.m.