Tom Kha Soup!

Ingredients

2 T diced ginger
4 stalks lemongrass, husked and thinly sliced
15 oz chicken stock
1 can (about 15 oz) coconut milk
16 crimini mushrooms, halved from head to stem
½ onion, sliced into thin wedges
4 Thai chili peppers, seeded and sliced into rings
¼ head of broccoli, lightly steamed and cut into small florets
1 large carrot, lightly roasted and cut on the diagonal into ¼ inch pieces
1 cup frozen green beans or steamed fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 T soy sauce
1 T lime juice

Everybody loves Thai food.  It’s warm, slightly spicy, slightly sweet, and has deep, deep flavors we don’t usually get in American cuisine. 

When I get a craving but don’t want to spend money on a restaurant meal, I make this soup.

I use equal parts chicken stock and coconut milk as my base.  (My blessings on anurbancottage.blogspot.com* for giving me the idea about splitting your base between milk and stock; before I’d simply used coconut milk and couldn’t figure out what was lacking.  It was stock.)  For about four servings, use the whole can of coconut milk and the equivalent (about 14 oz) in stock. 

First, throw some fresh minced ginger (or diced or sliced, if you like big bites of the sharp stuff) into a large, heavy pot over medium heat. If you feel like spending a dollar an ounce on lemongrass, put some slices of that in, too.  (I usually don’t, but this is slightly better when you splurge on it.)  Let these gain fragrance for a minute or two, stirring once or twice, and then pour in your stock. Start it off around medium heat, then one it starts to almost bubble, simmer.  Use this time to prepare your other veggies.  When your veggies are done, your stock is probably warm enough to proceed.  

In my Tom Ka, I need mushrooms (I prefer crimini), onions, and some sort of pepper, bell or otherwise, plus cilantro for topping.  That’s about it.  The other veggies I throw in, if any, will depend on what I have in my fridge.  Last time I used leftover steamed broccoli, roasted carrots, and frozen green beans.  I had Thai chilies on hand, so I used that instead of bell pepper.  Thai chili is hot, so don’t think you can throw in a handful of the tiny, pointy pods and call it a day.  They’re hotter than jalapenos, not as hot as habaneros.  I use about two per four-person recipe, and I meticulously scrape out the seeds before slicing them veeery thin and simmering them with the ginger and lemongrass. I throw the chilis in after the broth but before everything else.  This helps mellow and dissipate their flavor.

I like to halve my mushrooms, use thin, separated sections of onion, thinly slice my carrots on the diagonal, and cut the broccoli into manageable, bite-sized florets.  Frozen green beans are already a pretty awesome size.

After your stock has simmered for a while, when your veggies are prepped, go ahead and add in the coconut milk.  Make sure you stir the can up from the bottom so the top isn’t all clotted creaminess and the bottom is all water.  Mix the milk and the stock together well.  Here’s where you get to experiment with your favorite Thai flavors.  If you have Thai basil, mince that and throw it in.  I expect a certain saltiness with my Asian foods (yay Americanized palates, I suppose), so I add in a hefty couple of dashes (more like a pour, really) of soy sauce.  Lime is also exquisite in Tom Ka, so try simmering some minced Kaffir lime leaves.  I just use lime juice from a bottle, about three or four capfuls to a four-person serving.  Once the broth is exactly to your liking, add in your veggies.

For those who have never had Tom Kha, or would rather follow a strict recipe, here goes:

After your stock and milk are mixed, mince a couple of Thai basil leaves and a couple of Kaffir lime leaves and add to the pot.  This is optional because these ingredients are expensive and sometimes hard to find.

Pour in 1 T of soy sauce
Add 1 T lime juice
Add your veggies and simmer over medium heat for about five to ten minutes.
Top each bowl with five to six cilantro leaves, roughly torn. 

I’ve heard this soup is good for people with colds or sore throats, probably because of the chicken stock, bounty of vegetables, and avoidance of dairy.  But I make it because it’s good for me as a person.  I feel happy when I eat this soup. 

 

What are some of your “happy foods”? Do you have a different ingredient or technique for your Tom Kha recipe?

 

Serving size: 1/4 of recipe
Calories: 242
Carbs: 14 g
Fat: 16 g
Protein: 9 g
Sodium: 623 mg
Fiber: 2 g
Sugars: 7 g

To veganize:
Use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. 

To make low-sodium:
Use low-sodium soy sauce, or omit it altogether.  Using balsamic vinegar with molasses should help give it a kick without making it bitter.  Try about a teaspoon of each and add either to taste from there.

*Find his full recipe here!
http://anurbancottage.blogspot.com/2011/11/tom-ka-soup.html

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Leftover Rice, Leftover Beans Part II: Cheesy Rice and Carrot Omelet

Breakfast: cheesy rice and carrot omelet.

Ingredients

½ cup pre-cooked rice
2 T butter, divided
1 T flour
½ cup milk
½ cup sharp cheddar cheese
Pinch of garlic powder
1 t Dijon, or to taste
2 eggs
Salt and pepper, optional

Leftover rice was the only pre-made option sitting in the fridge when I went to find breakfast the other morning.  And I felt like having an eating-leftovers kind of morning: these feed me quickly, but still require some kind of creative finagling to bring my ingredients into a meal.  One of my favorite ways to do a leftovers-breakfast is with an omelet or egg bake.  (The three or four days after Thanksgiving I layered all my favorite feast foods into a ramekin and poured some whisked eggs and milk on top.  Baked at 350 for half an hour or so: eggy, flavorful, nostalgic bliss. Add mustard if you like.)   This morning, however, half an hour of wait time wasn’t going to cut it.  I can be a hungry woman.

So an omelet it was.  The faster an omelet cooks, the more tender it will be (unlike in an egg bake where fast cooking=raw or chewy egg).  I like a good bit of cheese in my omelets, and thought a good casserole-like flavor to the rice would add interest to the fleecy white grains.  Cheese sauce has a rounder flavor and creamier texture than straight-up melted cheese does, so I whisked up a roux using 1 T butter and 1 T flour, poured in about ½ cup milk, grated my ½ cup sharp cheddar and stirred until it all became that gorgeous tangerine orange that’s better than a sunrise.  This reminded me that I had a leftover carrot stick in the fridge, too, so I grated that up on the side.  To the cheese sauce I added a bit of garlic powder and Dijon mustard for depth.  When this was all stirred up and tasty, I folded in my ½ cup leftover rice.  This can sit over low heat while you make your omelet.

Notes on cheese sauce:

Whisk the roux for longer than you normally do.  Courtesy of Bon Appetit magazine, I’ve taken to whisking my roux until the flour and butter are not only combined but toasted, which only takes a few minutes.  The roux will fluff up and become bubbly and light instead of lying like depressed marbles on the bottom of the pan.

I like to leave my jug of milk out at room temperature while I’m working, or pour out the amount I need and let it sit so when I add the milk the sauce doesn’t go from cooking to cold.

Now egg time.  Alton Brown has a divine piece on the Food Network Magazine you can find here:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes-and-cooking/alton-browns-guide-to-eggs/index.html

It’s about how to cook any egg perfectly, with specific instructions and methods that have become my new favorites.

I find his omelet-making to be helpful and interesting, but also dirtying more dishes than I like.  Here’s what I do using him as inspiration.

  1. Whisk the eggs with a fork for a very short period of time.  As Mr. Brown points out, the more air you have in your eggs the longer the omelet will take to cook.
  2. Heat the pan for a while over medium to medium-high heat; add a pretty pat of butter, about 1 T; when the butter froths, pour in the eggs.
  3. Let the eggs sit in the pan for a half-minute to a minute.  I like to see the slightest bit of a “set” along the outer edges of the pan before touching them.  Then move your spatula back and forth across the pan like you’re making waves, not splashes, in the eggs, ensuring to scrape the bottom and sides evenly.*
  4. Once the curds start to materialize, stop making waves.  Use your spatula to lift up the edges of the egg with one hand and with the other hand, tilt the pan so any loose egg dribbles toward the newly open pan space.  Do this all along the edges until no more raw egg can move freely.  I get a little rambunctious with this move to the point of digging in my spatula from the edge to the middle of the pan; your omelet should remain intact with no cracks, and this way your omelet won’t stick to the pan when you try to fold it.  Using a high heat from the very beginning helps with this move.  If you add salt and pepper to your eggs, here’s where you should do it.  Cooks should season every layer of a dish for maximum flavor, but I don’t tend to like pepper, and I try to not add salt unless the food really needs it, so I skipped this.
  5. Add in your ingredients.  Some people add them down the middle, some people prefer one-sided ingredient layering, but I just go for it.  Here I poured my cheesy rice casserole mix over the whole dang thing, leaving an inch around the edges, and sprinkled my grated carrot over top.
  6. Wait until your omelet hits the plate to fold it…or do it right in the pan.  I haven’t been able to find a difference in technique that makes a real difference in the food.  Personally, I get impatient to fold, so I do it in the pan, and I use the half-fold over the tri-fold.  That may be due to the giant mass of fillings I tend to put in my omelets.  I don’t think a tri-fold could hold all the cheesy, vegetal goodness I stuff into my breakfasts.  To make the fold, ease your spatula deeply into the omelet, about halfway, then bring the spatula up and over the other half. Boom.  Omelet folded.  Shuffle it onto your plate.

There! Perfect omelet.  Also, cheesy rice for awesomeness and carrot for texture, color, and health.  The Dijon really stepped up its game in this dish; do use it if you have it.

The omelet was overall a soft, fragile egg wrap stuffed with great flavor and a fun texture.  The rice was fluffy and warm, the carrot crunchy without being hard.  I’ll make it again next time I have leftover rice.

What are your favorite omelet ingredients?

Is there a dish that uses leftovers with which you’ve had particular success?

*Alton Brown’s method involves a few other steps and a few differences in egg-moving technique from what I do.  The move I quite honestly don’t understand is when he says to hold the spatula in place while moving the pan around in order to stir the eggs.  How do you move your wrist that way?  What’s the benefit of that versus standard spatula-moving?  Anybody have any ideas?

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Leftover Rice, Leftover Beans Part I: Stuffed Baguette Sandwich

Dinner tonight was a sandwich.

But this was no casual, depthless, deli-counter affair.  This was a grinder, hoagie, hero, and sub of Dagwood Bumstead proportions, one that belongs in the “dinner to serve guests” recipe box, one that will have you prepping for a sandwich like never before, with the result of a homemade sandwich like you’ve never experienced.  But you should experience it.  This sandwich has layers of flavor, with zest, sweetness, and a vegetal savor.  It’s also vegetarian, and could easily be vegan with a few tweaks.  Give yourself the hour to make this, from scratch, from start to finish, and you will have your reward many times over.

IMG_1329

One completed serving of this sandwich in all its glory.

Ingredients

For the baguette (1 loaf):
1 ¼ cup warm water
1 T. yeast
1 T. sugar
½ t salt
1 ½ T oil (I used canola)
3 cups flour

For the aioli:
½ cup mayonnaise
2 ½ T minced garlic
2  ½ T lemon juice

For the black bean paste:
1 cup cooked black beans
1 T olive oil
¼ cup water
1 heaping T cumin
1 heaping T garlic powder
1 heaping T paprika
dash of salt

2 red bell peppers
2 T butter
½ medium yellow onion, sliced

4 large romaine lettuce leaves
1 cup shredded carrots
1 tomato, sliced

I’d suggest starting off this recipe with leftover or canned black beans.  Otherwise, start your beans early enough in the day to have this sandwich for lunch or dinner.  I usually just simmer one pot for a couple of hours instead of going through the soak-simmer-rinse-simmer business.

If you have yeast at home, begin with this recipe from Keep Home Simple:

http://keephomesimple.blogspot.com/2010/05/quick-french-bread.html

I used half the recipe to make a single loaf, and I baked my bread for only about 25 minutes for a softer, squishier center.  The crust was still crisp, but not sharp or brittle, but feel free to bake the baguette longer if you like a firmer texture to your bread core.  One loaf will make three or four hefty sandwiches.

IMG_1302

This is my loaf fresh from the oven.

After your bread is in the oven (or your packaged baguette is sitting in your cupboard), start on the lemon-garlic aioli.  Technically, an aioli is a sauce of garlic, lemon juice, egg yolk, and oil, but I skipped the yolk and oil in favor of a mayonnaise base.  For one baguette I used about ½ cup of mayo with two heaping tablespoons each of minced garlic and lemon juice.  Whisk these up together in a small bowl and let the sauce sit for the duration of the rest of your preparations to let the flavors blend togetherand mature properly.

IMG_1318

These are all of the beautiful veggies you’ll be putting on your sandwich!

Next, stick two red peppers into your convection oven (or full-sized if you don’t have a convection oven or have other things to roast at the same time).  I quartered each pepper and laid the pieces out dry onto a baking sheet at 400 Fahrenheit.  Flip these once every ten minutes or so to get the peel and flesh equally charred.  You should keep these in the oven for half an hour, which is perfect if you’re waiting on the bread to bake.

Now it’s time to start your black bean paste.  Take out a medium pot and plop in a cup of cooked beans.  Add to this a tablespoon of olive oil and a generous splash of water.  Heat the burner to medium.  As the mixture heats, mash the beans with your stirring spoon.  No need to get all the lumps out; the composite texture of mashed and chunky beans will add interest to the paste.  Once this is satisfactorily smashed, add in a heaping tablespoon each of cumin, garlic powder, and paprika.  Throw in a dash of salt, too, then adjust to taste (I usually like a stronger spice to my cooking, so I use about two tablespoons per ingredient in this step).

While this is heating—and are you checking your bread and flipping your peppers?—sizzle two tablespoons of butter in a medium pot over medium-high heat.  Once the butter is frothing, throw in your onion slices.  Cook just until slightly softened and fragrant.  Too firm and the onions will overpower your other ingredients, and too soft and they’ll get lost.  Take them out of the pot and let them drain on a paper towel once they’re done.

Finally, wash your lettuce leaves and grate your carrots, about four large leaves and a four handfuls of shredded carrots per sandwich.  Slice up a tomato while you’re at it.  (You can roast the tomato if you want a sweeter taste, but I left mine raw for a stronger vegetal flavor and texture variation.)  Go ahead and take the peppers out of the oven at this point, and carefully slice them into 1/8th of an inch slivers.

To assemble your sandwich, start with the baguette on a cutting board.  Cut the heel off each end of the baguette.  Dip these in the aioli and smile hungrily to yourself while noshing on more carbs than you’d like to think you eat in a week.  Conversely, save the ends of the bread for, I don’t know, stuffing or croutons or self-control.  Slide your knife almost all the way through the middle of the loaf to make a substantial opening, like in a Subway sandwich.  Spread the aioli on the bottom of the bread, and slather the bean dip on the opposite side.  Now layer the peppers and onions onto the aioli side, and top with lettuce.  Pack your carrots over the beans and use the tomato slices to hold the shreds in place.  Finally, quick like a ninja bring the two sides of bread and their various toppings to meet each other, and slap your completed sandwich down on your cutting board to make sure it doesn’t slowly fall apart.  Then cut the baguette into four- or five-inch slices depending on how long your loaf is.  The goal is four equal sandwich sections. If something does fall off, either slip it back in or eat it dipped in more aioli.  No shame.  Serve the sections by themselves on a plate, standing proud and large, or with a nice piece of fruit on the side of each plate.

IMG_1325

Layers.

This is a bit of ajob for one sandwich, but if you use an entire baguette’s worth you will get at least three or four servings out of it.  If you have guests or kids, I’d imagine that making two baguettes and 6-8 servings wouldn’t be too much.  All in all, this is about how much work I’d put into a regular night of dinner making, and having an excellent homemade sandwich for dinner that’s all veggies and beans and an exciting sauce is so far up my alley the time is seriously worth it.

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Serving size: 1sandwich (1/4 baguette)

Calories: 717
Carbs: 97 g
Fat: 31 g
Protein: 39 g

Easy ways to cut down on calories:

1. Scoop out the middle of the baguette before assembling the sandwich (again, save leftover bread for croutons or stuffing or breadcrumbs).
2. Grill the onions or sauté them in a tiny bit of canola oil instead of butter—or roast in the same pan as the peppers!
3. Leave off or skimp on the aioli, although no strictness of calorie counting is worth avoiding this sauce altogether.

To veganize:

  1. Skip the aioli or use your favorite vegan mayo as a base instead.  You could also use a white bean base and add the oil, lemon and garlic as the recipe calls for.
  2. Grill or sauté your onions in oil, not butter.
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