Tangled Branches: Satiated

riveting tales of how we sustain ourselves

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Thai Basil and Nongkran Daks

The spouse got an email this week from a business acquaintance who told him that she had just seen our favorite local Thai restaurant on the Food Network. We didn't think much more about it, and then we went there for lunch today. Oh my! The place was packed. I was afraid they'd be too busy and rushed, but the food had the same fresh and fabulous taste as always.

Congrats to Nong! We liked your Pad Thai best even before it was famous!

Check it out for yourself:

Thai Basil Chantilly
Nong's Pad Thai recipe @ The Food Network site
Loudoun Extra article

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posted by Entangled at 2:27 PM 0 comments

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Everything Old is New Again

Did you ever re-read something from an old book and find yourself startled that it sounds like something you thought was a new idea? I'm talking specifically about bread here, and in particular about the Jim Lahey/Mark Bittman No-Knead Bread phenomenon.

On Twitter this morning, I saw a Tweet by Margaret Roach that Laurie Colwin's book Home Cooking contains an essay on home-baked bread, with a favorite recipe. I've written before how much I enjoyed Laurie Colwin's writing in Gourmet magazine years ago, and I have copies of both Home Cooking and More Home Cooking - collections of those columns. Soooooo, I went right to the bookshelf and picked up Home Cooking and found Bread in the index. I don't remember reading this particular essay before, which is odd because I thought I savored every one. But maybe not so odd after all, because I've been baking bread for many years and consider myself pretty competent. Perhaps I didn't pay much attention to this column because I thought yeah, yeah, I know all about baking bread....

The first part of the essay is Colwin's usual blend of gentle humor, anecdote, and wisdom and it brought back cozy memories of looking forward her column every month. But when I got to the end and read her recipe, I was shocked at how similar it was to the ultra-famous Lahey/Bittman recipe. It relies on the same long, slow period of rising, and the proportions of ingredients are almost the same. Consider this summary of the two recipes side-by-side (scroll down if you don't see the table - there's a bug somewhere in my CSS):



1/2 tsp. yeast

1/4 tsp. yeast

3 3/4 cups flour total (mixed white, whole wheat, coarse whole wheat)

3 cups flour

1 1/2 cups water or milk or mixture

1 5/8 or 1 1/2 cups water depending on version

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. salt, although this has been increased by almost everybody


don't knead

roll dough in flour; let rise a long time

let rise a long time in mixing bowl

punch down, let rise again a shorter time

shape in a ball, cover with bran, let rise a shorter time

bake at 450F for 30 minutes, lower heat to 425F and bake another 20 minutes

bake at 450F covered for 30 minutes and uncovered for 15 minutes

For the record, Colwin credits her inspiration as a recipe called "Bloomer Loaf" from English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David.

This post was doubly-inspired by Twitter because I've recently been making the Lahey/Bittman No-Knead bread using sourdough starter. Now, I started with a dried sourdough culture from sourdo.com, but Robin Wedewer is growing her own sourdough culture from grapes. I am humbled.

I've already spent more time than I intended to on this, so more about my sourdough experiments later. With pictures?


posted by Entangled at 11:34 AM 0 comments

Thursday, November 27, 2008

It Weighs How Much?!?

I brought the paper in this morning and said to the spouse - there's about 5 pounds of advertising there. But Indygardener actually weighed her local Black Friday ads and well...inquiring minds and all that....

3 pounds 7.2 ounces.

That's a bit inaccurate, however, as we received 10 copies of one ad.

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it today!


posted by Entangled at 11:16 AM 2 comments

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Flavor of Beets and Chard

With the onset of colder weather we've noticed a major change in the chard in the garden. It now tastes good. I planted chard for the first time this spring and we kinda sorta liked it, just as long as it was a relatively minor ingredient and heavily flavored with something acidic or spicy. It was the earthy taste, the same one present in beets, that put us off. But now...now that earthiness has faded into the background and it just has a sweet leafy flavor. I could almost imagine eating it in a salad.

So it's probably something to do with the weather (or decrease in sunlight?), but why? Well, I'm not there yet, but I've learned the reason for the earthy taste. A chemical known as geosmin is to blame. It's also partly responsible for stinky municipal water. But it is uncertain whether the geosmin inherently belongs to beets/chard, or if it comes from microbes in the soil.

Folk wisdom tells us that many vegetables taste better when harvested in cooler weather and increased sweetness is almost always mentioned, but so far I've been unable to find any scientific studies to back this up. So perhaps the plants are producing/storing more sugar and that masks the taste of other flavor compounds? Or if the earthy flavor is due to microbial activity in the soil, perhaps that activity decreases in colder weather? Or both?

I also learned this morning that the red and yellow colors of beets/chard are due to a somewhat rare class of compounds known as betalains. Somewhat rare because they are only known to occur in a handful of plant species. There are up to 28 different betalains responsible for the various flamboyant colors of 'Bright Lights' chard. And those lovely colors would be reason enough to grow it even if it does sometimes taste of geosmin.


posted by Entangled at 9:43 AM 2 comments

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Potatoes, Kale, and Chard

The kale in the garden is sweet and delicious after our recent cold weather, so I picked a batch on Sunday afternoon and cooked it Tuesday evening. Indian recipes are the default method for cooking vegetables here, but I don't see too many (any?) published recipes for kale in Indian cookbooks. But I reasoned that the flavor could stand in for any cabbage-y type thing in a basic recipe for sauteed mixed vegetables, so I created the following based on Gobi-Aloo-Saag (Cauliflower-Potato-Spinach) from Quick Vegetarian Curries by Mridula Baljekar. Quick is a relative term - most Americans wouldn't think of these dishes as quick. And there's more than just curries here - a quick glance through and I find Pakoras, Rice, Bread, Raitas, and Desserts. Anyhow, here's what I made:

Boil 1 lb. potatoes; drain, peel and chop into approx 3/4 inch cubes.
Remove and discard large midribs from 6 to 8 oz. kale (I left the small ones in), and chop the leaves coarsely (about 1 to 2 inch pieces).
Remove leaf stalks/midribs from about 8 medium-large leaves of chard. Slice the stems thinly crosswise and chop the leaves coarsely.
Slice vertically one medium onion. Mince 3 cloves of garlic.

Heat 3 tablespoons peanut oil in a large deep saute pan. Add 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add 2 dried red chiles and 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric. Stir once and add sliced onions. When the onion begins to brown, add 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon ground red chile (or to taste), and minced garlic.
Stir a few times, and add kale, chard and chard stems. You may have to do this in stages because all the leaves may not fit in the pan before they're wilted. Once you have all the kale and chard in the pan, and they've wilted down a bit, add about 1/2 cup canned chopped tomatoes, the potatoes, about 1/2 teaspoon salt, and about 1/2 cup water. Cover and simmer until kale is cooked through.
Now, the original recipe called for 5 fluid ounces of single cream to be added at this point. I didn't have any (half and half, or table cream), but did have some Mexican crema in the fridge. So I added a few spoonsful of crema, thinned with water to a flowing consistency. Add 1/2 teaspoon garam masala (I used Penzey's Punjabi Masala), and just about a teaspoon of butter. Stir and cook until the cream/crema is heated through and the butter is melted. Taste for salt. The original recipe called for 1 teaspoon salt, but I usually start with half the amount and add more at the end if the dish tastes flat. (Also, the crema was quite salty.)

That's it. This amount was enough to serve 2 people as a main dish with ample leftovers.

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posted by Entangled at 3:52 PM 1 comments

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Madhur Jaffrey Does It Again: Lentil Soup

You know how lentil soup can be kind of heavy and stodgy? What would you say to one that isn't? Madhur Jaffrey makes a lentil and shrimp soup inspired by a Filipino dish of mung beans and shrimp - she's written it up in her excellent book, Madhur Jaffrey's Cookbook. I changed it a bit to suit the ingredients I had on hand.

I've been trying to keep the fridge and pantry lightly stocked lately - the fridge failure made me realize that it's not all that efficient to store large quantities of perishable food. Too many things are wasted because they're second or third choice, and I leave them in storage until they go bad.

I had some chicken wing tips in the freezer, cut off and saved the last time I broiled chicken wings. There's no requirement that you must make a huge batch of chicken broth - you can make a very small one with just a few pieces of chicken leftovers, a small amount of water and a few seasonings.

And there was some fresh salsa leftover from the previous night.

Half a bunch of cilantro (store-bought, sad to say).

And about a third of a bag of lentils in the pantry.

I always have onions, garlic, limes, and olive oil on hand.

The only thing I needed to buy was shrimp.

My adaptation from Madhur Jaffrey's Cookbook, Lentil Soup with a Flavor of the Philippines, p. 219:

Chop 1 medium-large onion finely. Heat a spoonful or so of olive oil in a large saucepan (I used my 3.5-quart "everything" pan). Cook the onion until it starts to brown. Add 3/4 cup sorted and rinsed lentils, and 4 cups chicken broth. Cook 20 minutes and taste for salt, add if needed. Continue to cook until lentils are cooked through.

Meanwhile shell, devein, and slice lengthwise 1/4 lb. medium size shrimp. Chop 3 cloves garlic finely. Heat a few spoonsful of olive oil in a frying pan. Add the chopped garlic and stir it around for a few seconds until it smells good and is starting to brown. Add the sliced shrimp and stir until just cooked through. Remove shrimp to a plate (leaving the oil and as much garlic as possible in the pan). Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add leftover salsa to the frying pan. If I didn't have leftover salsa, I'd use about a cup of chopped tomatoes and chiles (Ro-tel would be good). Cook and stir until the liquid is reduced somewhat and add the whole contents of the frying pan to the lentils in the saucepan. Reserve one half shrimp as a garnish for each serving and add the rest of them to the saucepan. Cut one very thin slice of lime for each serving. Chop or tear apart some cilantro leaves and sprinkle them on top of the soup. Taste - you may want to add salt, lime juice or pepper.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Top each with a slice of lime and place a piece of shrimp on top of the lime.

The tomatoes, garlic, chiles and lime really brighten up the flavor of the lentils. I'm defintely making this again.

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posted by Entangled at 11:00 AM 1 comments

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Central Virginia Weekend

Could Central Virginia become the next big foodie destination? Last weekend the NY Times did "36 Hours in ..." and the city was Charlottesville. (There are a few mistakes in that article, and I'll note them at the end of this post.) But the farther you get from Charlottesville, the harder it is to find anything good to eat. Harder, but not impossible, and there are some surprisingly good things if you know where to look. Last weekend, freed from the garden chores by the freeze of the previous week, we visited a couple of favorite places and added two new ones.

San Marcos Restaurant, Orange
I began writing this review almost a year ago, and I'm very sorry I didn't post it sooner. This is a wonderful restaurant, although maybe a bit more wonderful when it first opened. Everything is still prepared with care and attention, but some of the better dishes aren't always available now (Sopes) and the rice has changed from a beautiful pale green cilantro-scented creation to the more usual orangy tomato-chicken broth based stuff. But it's still the best Mexican restaurant in the area. If it was in Charlottesville or northern Virginia it would be hugely popular, but in Orange it's an uphill struggle against the local tastes. Following is what I wrote on November 2, 2007:

Should you ever find yourself in Orange Virginia around mealtime, I enthusiastically recommend that you try San Marcos Mexican Restaurant. We've been watching the construction progress of this place for months now, and last weekend the "Now Open" sign appeared. Last night we stopped in and were very impressed.

It's located in a new small retail space on the south side of Orange on Rt. 15. The decor is "nice storefront", but clean and bright - no sequinned sombreros.

That's as far as I got with it. Since then, we've eaten there almost weekly. We love the Tacos al Pastor (pork with pineapple), the Red Enchiladas (red mole sauce - delicious), the Tortilla Soup (thick and creamy with cheese), the Sopes (lunch only and not always available). We really enjoyed some of the specials, but haven't seen them lately - tamales in banana leaves and posole are two that come to mind. Tortas (sandwiches) look good on the menu, but we've only tried one so far - the Cuban version - and it was tasty.

Full disclosure: I also posted a review on Google, and seconded an opinion on Yahoo!. I have no financial interest in this business, but I fervently hope they stay open because it's one of best places to eat in between Tangled Branches North and Tangled Branches South. The spouse and I can't keep them in business all by ourselves, but we try.

Higginbotham Beef and Bottle Shop, Orange
Grass-fed beef (frozen) and a nice selection of wine with a few beers on the side. What more could you want? We haven't tried too many different things here - mostly ground beef and steaks - but we've been happy with everything. The sirloin steak was particularly good.

Retreat Farm and Village Depot Store, Rapidan
We just found out about this place, and haven't actually tasted anything we bought, but we were impressed with the selection. We bought a boneless leg of lamb, some ground lamb, a dozen eggs AND BLACK TWIG APPLES! One of my very favorite apples and not always easy to find. These weren't quite ripe yet, but I trust they'll be good in cooking. I'll post an update after we've eaten some of our purchases.

Dr. Ho's Humble Pie, North Garden
Sounds like a holdout from the 1970s, but this place makes very good pizza. Sunday was our first visit, but won't be our last. We tried the Don Juan - wild mushrooms, roasted Roma tomatoes, and three cheeses. It was loaded, but the crust held. We deliberately didn't finish it so we could try the Apple Humble Crumble, or was it Humble Apple Crumble, or...well it was good whatever they called it. An entire gratin dish of apple crisp with oatmeal, nuts, cinnamon, and big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Way too much for two people who had just eaten pizza, but we finished it anyway.

Corrections to the NY Times article mentioned above:
In item 7, Country Roads, you have to drive south (not north) on Rt. 20 (towards Scottsville) if you want to see The Waltons locale.

In "If You Go", 200 South Street Inn is an expensive dump. We stayed there a couple of years ago and were flabbergasted at the moldy decrepit room we were given. Light fixtures broken, furniture broken (literally - splintered wood with missing pieces), dangerously uneven floor, and furthermore right next to the railroad tracks, which is OK as long as no trains go by. We should have demanded our money back, but we really needed a place to stay. It's true that it's very difficult to get a room anywhere in town if there's a big event on at the university.

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posted by Entangled at 3:48 PM 0 comments