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Saturday, February 28, 2009

I Feel Like Khao Pad Kra Prao Gai Tonight

As I was getting the chicken for tonight's festivities in the meat department of the local Wal-Mart, I broke into the 'Chicken Tonight' dance and song. It was a flash back, I can't remember the last time I saw a jar of the stuff let alone one of those annoying commercials. Then again, not watching much TV, maybe I would miss the commercials anyway.

Em's face registered a horror like nothing I've ever seen. If I'd pulled down my pants and taken a dump on the floor, she wouldn't have been more mortified.

I don't know if she's entirely over the pain. I asked her how come she asks me to do silly walks a la Monty Python on the way into Wal-Mart but flapping my arms and jerking my head like a chicken was more humiliation than a kid can bear. She told me nobody would understand why I was dancing like a chicken, in the apparent misapprehension that the Chicken Tonight dance is incredibly obscure and the Ministry of Silly Walks is universally familiar.

Even when I disabused her of this notion, she sulked. When I asked why she was so aggravated, she snarled, 'Because I have you for a father.'

I made fried chicken, mashed potatoes and peas for the girls. I knew they wouldn't go Thai with me. And actually, this dish was a maiden voyage for me, and the first time I used a couple of these ingredients. The preserved radishes, not that big a question since I only used 1/3 cup in the dish, which was enormous. The fresh Thai basil, though, I've never had that before and after chewing on couple leaves of it, I wasn't sure how I'd like it in the dish.

The dish was inspired by this one. My friend Julie sent me this one awhile ago and I've been meaning to make it.

But I took some liberties, both with quantities and ingredients. Less chicken, and I added mushrooms, the preserved radishes, eggs, a whole chopped onion for the beginning and whatnot.

I also used brown basmati rice, not having any jasmine rice on hand. And poha. This wasn't on purpose. I cooked the rice with a ratio of 5 cups water to two cups brown rice, steamed it for fifty minutes and it had liquid sitting on top. I canted the lid and cooked it another fifteen minutes but it was still sticky and wet.

I needed it cool and dry for the stir fry. So I stirred in two cups of poha, a flattened/rolled rice that cooks lightning fast. I let the poha suck up the excess moisture and put the rice, spread thinly, in a dish outside to cool.

Thai Basil Chicken Stir Fry / Khao Pad Kra Prao Gai
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 red onion, chopped finely
8 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped*
4 Thai chili peppers chopped finely
1 chicken breast, diced
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup oyster sauce
1 tablespoon palm sugar
4 cups cooked brown basmati rice
2 cups poha
1/3 cup preserved sweetened Thai radish bits
8 oz. sliced baby portobellos
3 eggs
About two julienned bell peppers**
2 cups fresh Thai basil leaves
1 cup green onion tops, chopped
cucumber, lemon, cilantro broccoli, and alfalfa sprouts to garnish
Heat the oil and add the onion, stirring continuously until it is browned and translucent. Add smashed/chopped garlic & peppers, then the chicken. Keep things moving, until the chicken is mostly cooked, about three minutes (this is in my electric wok on 400ºF, so very high heat). Add fish sauce, oyster sauce and palm sugar, incorporate, then add the rice/poha mixtureand stir until the rice has broken up and absorbed the sauce. Add radish bits and mushrooms, stir until incorporated, add three eggs. Stir until eggs are no longer identifiable as individual ingredients, adding a splash of fish sauce if necessary to keep a trace of moisture at the bottom of the wok. Incorporate bell peppers and basil leaves, turn off heat. Serve topped with cilantro and alfalfa sprouts with cucumber, broccoli and a half lemon or lime on the side.

The cucumber and alfalfa sprouts are particularly important. This dish packs a touch of heat and the cool of a bite of cucumber does a lot to cleanse the palate. And the sprouts mixed with a bite of the rice and whatnot is really a nice contrast.

I love the Thai basil, I'll be cooking with it again, and making this dish again, for sure. Those Thai chillies are potent, I worried that four would be too much but everything was in balance. I had used a couple of these to garnish my Pad Thai the other day, and I bit off half of one out of curiosity. I'm a friend of the peppers, but oh-my-gawd that was intense. Well, of course it was, they were the only source of heat in this dish and just four little peppers gave a noticeable capsicum heat.

I'm sure the leftovers won't be quite as good because in the reheating process, you'll necessarily wilt the basil. But I still bet these are going to be some kick-ass lunches.

As far as the fried chicken dinner part for the girls, I just dredged boneless, skinless breasts in flour seasoned with salt, pepper and a bit of Hungarian paprika. The latter is mainly a color ingredient, there's not enough of it to taste in the final result. Fried in peanut oil.

The mashed potatoes were just golden potatoes, boiled with the skin on (minus untasty looking things I cut out), mashed with a splash of milk and part of a stick of the real butter I had left over from Mo's birthday cake frosting.I left them slightly lumpy, which Em objected to. I like them to have a little texture, she likes them to be a potato pudding.

Oh, and the taters had a bit of salt & pepper in them, and I do mean a bit. No, they weren't gray and they weren't packing heat. Something like fifteen years ago me and the artist formerly known as Frau Lobster hosted our first Xmas dinner, and I accidentally dumped a bunch of black pepper in the mashed potatoes. I figured in five pounds of potatoes, it wouldn't be that noticeable.

It was. But I hadn't even tasted them myself when my brother asked, 'Can I have some pepper for my mashed potatoes?' And as I started to hunt for the pepper mill, everyone else just fell out.

I'll never live it down... Em even asked me, as she came to the table, 'The cap didn't fall off the pepper, did it?'

*Ideally, a mortar and pestle are used to make a pulp of the garlic and peppers. I don't have one, so I did my best with a knife.

**I had red, orange and yellow because there was a sale that made them as cheap as the green ones; the dish won't be quite as colorful with the green ones, but I don't recommend spending extra money just for colors

I Made a Mess!

According to my Mom, my Dad has a singular ability to dirty every pot and pan in the house to create one little side dish.

I guess maybe I inherited that gene, except I make multiple dishes. Still, this is my counter after loading the dishwasher in the aftermath of cooking fried chicken, mashed potatoes, peas and a Thai stir fry...

Bearable Lightness

I juiced a lemon, then added ice and diet cola.

It stayed separated so long. Even as I drank it. I eventually got down to almost pure lemon juice and it barely mixed when I refilled with diet cola.

I wonder if 'regular' cola would sink below the lemon juice. Or if it would mix really well if I put the heavier lemon juice in after the cola...

∏ Party + We're Getting the Band Back Together!

I used to work for a guy who'd been in a progressive rock band that was mainly notable for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Pavlov's Dog got a huge advance, if I have the story straight, the biggest advance a debut album had ever gotten at that time for just signing, some $600,000 back in 1974 or so.

And besides being stoned out of their minds and basically a bunch of kids, they had a manager who was a former union organizer who had served time for fraud (and I think may have also been a disbarred attorney). I think Rich said he got $80 a week for awhile, but as far as the big advance went, nobody really knew.

I tracked down the LP Rich played on (under the stage name Sigfried Carver), and they had all the elements of a successful prog rock band. Rich played violin, and I thought, well, Kansas made good money off that sound about five years later. The vocalist sounded a lot like Geddy Lee, if you maybe put Geddy's nuts in a vice or had him breathing helium.

That first album, Pampered Menial was the only one with the full band. The manager had managed to pit one stoned kid against another for personal gain so effectively that by the second (and final) album, Pavlov's Dog was a trio. I've tried a few times over the years to find a CD reissue of the LP I'd borrowed a few years back, but naturally there is none. The band members apparently can't agree on enough to even successfully sew the label for royalties due when the album was released in Australia, outside the terms of their contract, and went platinum there. Getting clean rights for a CD release, you might as well look for an honest politician from Chicago.

Which is not what I started to post about. I went to my friend's pie party with the girls. But I had my guitar in the trunk. My amp, Real Book and whatnot, too. I'm way rusty, maybe getting the axe out on a monthly basis the past couple years. I love to play, but life happens. I feel the worse for it for owning my dream guitar, a handmade archtop built just for me by my Uncle Kenny who has forgotten more about working miracles with wood than I'm likely to know about anything.

Anyway, the pie party is always great. Melissa even made a couple of quiches for anyone who wanted supper, apparently to keep the entrees in line with the theme. I had three kinds of pie in addition to two quiches, all of which were exquisite. Love the shrimp quiche and the Butterfinger pie, particularly.

Anyway, then we hauled equipment to the basement for a good old fashioned jam session. Sort of. I worried about leaving Mo upstairs, though there were plenty of people around who knew her and the worst offenses she was generally committing where to bite pieces off of toys. Well, she ate some crayons but it's not the first time.

We lost our bass player after one and a half tunes because there was a dirty diaper to attend to. And I found out how much I've lost in the way of repertoire.

Never mind the jazz stuff, my band mates didn't know much of that stuff to begin with. Most of what we tried to do was rock & roll, but while I remember the opening riff for a variety of tunes from Smoke on the Water to Crazy Train, I don't think there's a single one I actually remember through. I came close on Purple Haze and Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love.'

For perspective, back in high school when I got into jazz, it was partly because rock & roll had ceased to offer enough challenge. Van Halen released 1984 and two weeks later I had it down, all the tunes including the guitar solos. And it was their magnum opus, by far their most sophisticated album (it still is, IMHO), and I remember thinking, Eddie, I worship you. Is this all there is??

Of course, Eddie was listening to Alan Holdsworth and Holdsworth was listening to jazz. And I met Karl, and Karl was listening to Coltrane, Miles, Wes, etc.

I've always felt like a bit of a poseur as a jazz guitarist because there are elements of the art that I struggle with even when I'm practicing like crazy. Things pros have tried to work with me on and I just don't get it.

But humbling to find that I'm so out of practice I'm a poseur even when we're talking about China Grove.

I even ended up on bass for awhile. Which in some respects was comforting. It's been twenty-one years since I played bass. The simplicity side is appealing and comforting, but the bass is really the engine and time keeper in rock, blues, and jazz, much more than the drums. Everybody always thinks its the drummer who keeps the time, and he has a role but that role is mainly as color. And my sense of time is one of my big weaknesses.

I did have fun, though. And I came home tired in a way I haven't been in awhile. I haven't sucked this hard at a jam session since I was fourteen, but I used muscles both mental and physical that were glad to be sore. As were my fingertips.

Oh, by the way, this 'band' was never together, so there was no getting back together. I just remember when I worked for Nadler, Rich would get at least one call a year from one of his former bandmates in Pavlov's Dog, Mike Saffron usually I think. 'We're getting the band back together,' they'd say. And he'd always respond, 'Not with me, you're not.'

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pad Thai

My friend Julie sent me a link to this site, and while I've been focused on the Indian thing a lot the past few weeks, it had been nagging at me.

I actually have the stuff to make the chicken fried rice recipe she mentioned, and I'll probably make that this weekend, but tonight I made the Pad Thai. Except I took major liberties with the recipe on that site.

Googling my way around I discovered there are about a million ways to make Pad Thai. Here's mine (or my first anyway).

The Asian market I went to told me I didn't need the garlic chives it called for. Which reminded me of the Indian market where I was told fresh curry leaves were not worth the trouble. But this guy had a lot of good stuff on the shelves. Included at least 50 versions of fish sauce from all over the orient.

Had fertilized duck eggs, too, which he assured me are absolutely rife with cholesterol. Said it as if this were a selling point. I told him, I know Americans (I'm not one of them) who'll toss an egg if they crack it in the pan and see a spot of blood in the yolk. He told me Balut, which I gather is big with Filipinos (and possibly other Asian nationalities) is a delicacy. You steam or boil the egg, there's the white, the yellow and the duck.

First, the sauce:

Putt Thai Sauce
1 cup fish sauce (I used a Thai fish sauce recommended by the market owner)
1 cup tamarind concentrate
4 tablespoons brown sugar (recipe really calls for 3 tablespoons of palm sugar, which I forgot to buy)

For the Pad Thai:

Pad Thai
1/4 cup peanut oil
4 dried chillies
1 lb. diced chicken marinated in the putt thai sauce
2 tablespoons crushed garlic
1 cup diced turnip (the recipe called for 'preserved turmip,' but I only had fresh)
1 cup diced onion
3 oz. dried shrimp
14 oz. diced tofu
1/2 cup chicken broth
3 eggs
1/2 cup Putt Thai sauce
1 lb. rice stick noodles (dried, soaked 30 minutes to soften in water)
1/4 cup crushed peanuts
8 oz. bean sprouts
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup chopped chives
green onions, cucumber and lime to garnish
Get the oil hot and add the four dried chillies. When they start to darken, add turnips and onions, keep it moving until the onion turns translucent. Add chicken, stir continuously while keeping wok really hot. Add dried shrimp, cook another minute or two, add tofu. Add noodles and 1/2 cup chicken broth and stir for one minute. Add eggs, stir another minute until all is incorporated. Add peanuts, Putt Thai, and bean sprouts, stir another minute or two, add chives and red pepper, stir another minute or so.

Serve with green onions, cucumber and lime.

A note on how I treated the chicken: since I made the sauce immediately before the Pad Thai itself, I had sauce that was relatively hot. I used this to marinate my chicken to reduce cooking time by bringing the overall temperature of the chicken up while I did my other prep work. I added the chicken earlier than the guy on the cooking show added the shrimp because undercooked shrimp is all well and good, but I don't take chances with undercooked poultry.

Fried Chicken

Appeasement gets you nowhere, I know.

But when I found out I was going to have the girls an extra night, a night I was going to make Pad Thai for dinner (and no, my kids won't eat that with me) I decided to make fried chicken.

Thing is, this is before I pulled into the Asian Food Market and Em cried out that I needed to just cook 'something American' for crying out loud. So I wasn't appeasing the teenaged tyrant, I had already decided Pad Thai for me and fried chicken for them.

Chicken is pretty much Mo's favorite protein. And Em likes it too. The Pad Thai recipe that inspired me called for shrimp, but shrimp, while adored by both my daughters, are pricey. I did get a small packet of dried shrimp at the Asian market for the dish, but it was in hopes of a hint of shrimp flavor.

So I got some boneless/skinless breasts and figured I'd make some of it into Pad Thai and some of it into...fried chicken.

Heat the oil, dredge the chicken in flour seasoned with some salt and pepper, fry it 'till it looks about like this. I made most of the chicken this way, and the girls ate it all. I cubed maybe a pound of it for the Pad Thai.

Swinging High & Flying

Me and Mo went to the park while we waited for Sissy's play practice to be over.

Mo hit the swings. She thinks hanging on is overrated, big-time, I can tell. Despite my begging her to please hold on.

Launched a few. Very few. Lobster Fleet is down to four flyable rockets, one of which is Floyd who requires a NOTAM call to the FAA 24 hours in advance.

And one of which is the Inscrutable Hulk who is borderline on grounded for repairs after a hard landing for his top half at SMP last time out.

His top half is still pretty straight, though who knows how long it will be if I fly him on D12 motors like this. He just barely, and I mean barely, got his 'chute open in time.

The weather was so incredible, I just couldn't not go fly. Granted, I'm working off existing motor stocks, so I kind of feel I have to make every flight count. I have a ton of half built/half repaired rockets in the garage but until I'm back to working 40 hours, no way I'm buying motors. I accumulated a few in the fall, when Hobby Lobby was running their 40% off internet coupon, I'd pick up a pack of D's or E's on the way home from work once a week or so.

Believe in Spring from Chixulub on Vimeo.

Mo (and the friend we ran into at the park) had fun with the sidewalk chalk. The friend also had a great time pushing the launch button. This boy was so excited, I swear I thought he was going to explode. Which, aside from all the artistic fun I have with my rockets, I suppose is part of why I'm into the hobby. I'll pull in this park and hear kids shouting to each other, 'Rocket man is here!'

To the rest of the world, I'm a total nerd. It doesn't get much geekier than rockets. But these kids look at me like I'm Zeus. And I think I value the kids opinion more highly than the 'rest of the world.'

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Naan Plussed

Sorry for that title. It was that or 'Naan-naan naan-naan-naan naan naan-naan-naan-naan-naan naan...' — a bad Journey reference and I didn't think it would play.

I made me some Naan bread this evening. Along with yet another curry, though this time minus the coriander since I'm out and forgot about that last time I was shopping.

I found a bunch of recipes online, but didn't quite follow any of them to the letter. Here's a good video on how to make it.

However, like so many recipes on the 'net, it's metric. 200 grams of flour? I don't do metric: it's a part of the international conspiracy to pretend soccer is football. Socialism doesn't look good on paper, and '200 grams' is not a real measurement.

Fortunately, you don't have to be that precise. It's just a flat bread.

3 cups flour
1 tablespoon yeast rehydrated in 2 tablespoons warm water
2 tablespoons brown sugar (or demerara or honey or whatever: I bet you could get away with plain white sugar if you want)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tablespoon salt
4 or 5 tablespoons plain yogurt
4 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons oil

I added part of the brown sugar to the yeast while it was rehydrating to act as a fluffer for the yeast. Okay, maybe that's an unwholesome image.

Knead the crap out of the stuff. There's very little liquid, and in fact I ended up adding that fifth tablespoon of yogurt to get everything to incorporate at all.

Heat your oven to 475º F (yes F, I also do not believe in Celsius) while the dough rises for 45 minutes or so.

Now this was roughly a double batch of the version in the video I linked above, but cutting it into eight equal pieces lead to some pitifully small naan. I doubled a few of the portions back together and still had smaller naan than what I've bought.

Cooking time wise, I thought it was supposed to take 10 to 15 minutes but the smallish ones were done in six and the larger ones in barely ten. The second ones also finished under the broiler so both sides got a browned a bit. Basically, I just cancelled and turned the broiler on high in the last two and a half minutes. Looking back at the video, she actually uses a much lower temperature, 275ºF. Others I saw online said 475 and even 500. The 275º was so low I assumed it was that damn metric system again.

I also made Purple Sticky rice to go with the curry. I don't present a recipe as such because it's a variety, not a recipe. It's an extremely dark, extremely fragrant and delicious whole rice. It really is this color, all I did was boil five cups of water, put two cups of purple sticky in and cover, 50 minutes later you're ready to dish it up. Which times out pretty easily with the Naan, start it rising and then cook your rice. While the Naan is in the oven, you can start heating the oil for the curry, the ingredients of which were prepped in the meantime so you're ready to rock & roll.