Bachelor Chow: Thai Catfish Curry-ish

It should have been easy. Shesimmers’ recipe for fish in red curry had only a few ingredients, cooks in a few minutes. I’d bought a catfish filet and a small eggplant while running errands at lunch.

I was pretty sure I had coconut milk in the pantry, and leftover red curry paste in a plastic tub in the fridge. Nope, neither. How’d that happen?

Continue reading

Zyliss Herb Mill

Guacamole: It’s that easy

I’m not going to say that “Guacamole is like sex, even when it’s bad, it’s good.” Because it isn’t.  There’s lots of bad guac… but it’s pretty simple overall to make a pretty good guacamole, whether you like it smooth, or full of crunchy bits, rich, spicy…

I like mine pretty simple.  Smooth, spicy, with lots of lime and cilantro. 

For each 1 avocado
juice of 1/2 lime
pinch of salt (more if you’re using it on burgers, tacos, etc. but less if eating it with salted chips)
several sprigs of cilantro
1 chipotle chile in adobo

  1. With a large knife, make a cut from the top to the bottom, going all the way around the pit. Separate the two halves and scoop out the flesh with a large spoon. Removing the pit is a slippery job, I’m not going to recommend any method that could result in loss of fingers.
  2. Mince the chile finely
  3. Mince the cilantro finely
  4. Mix everything together, mashing it until smooth as you like it.

No onion or garlic (they’re in the adobo sauce). No bell pepper (does nothing but add crunch: that’s what the chips are for), no sour cream (you get all your richness from a good avocado). No tomato (add salsa to what you’re eating, separately).

What do you do with the rest of the can of chipotle chiles?  Spread each chile with some adobo on a sheet of waxed or parchment paper, then roll it up and stick it in a freezer bag in the freezer.  They mince pretty well even when frozen.

I mince my cilantro and other sturdy herbs such as oregano in this Zyliss herb mill.  I wouldn’t dare use it for basil.

Zyliss Herb Mill

Sorry, no pics of the finished product — it’s two days old, and pretty green (lime and cilantro each help in their own way), but it’s not that pretty anymore.

Tiger Cry Beef

Tiger Cry Beef – from “Simple Thai Food” by Leela Punyaratabandhu

Last week, a beautiful new cookbook arrived, authored by fellow Chicago-area cook Leela Punyaratabandhu. You may know her better as “SheSimmers” – a blog on home Thai cooking. The day I received it, I made a batch of Panang (Phanaeng) Curry, which I didn’t photograph, and last night a batch of Tiger Cry Beef. There’s no doubt in my mind that this book is a winner. Continue reading


Carrots are divine… it’s magic!

(if you don’t get the headline, you were brought up deprived.  see here)

Last night several of the LTHForum folks got together for our fourth Iron Chef Pot Luck.  No judging, no winners, just an opportunity to be creative and have a nice dinner party.  I had a friend of mine pick the secret theme ingredient, and so battle carrot was on!  Our rules are that the ingredient is announced at 11PM the night before, and you can only shop for that item — everything else has to come from your pantry.

We ended up with two cocktails: a carrot bloody mary, and I made a ginger ale, carrot and orange juice bourbon punch-like drink. Since I didn’t do anything special to the drink other than scale it up, I’ll just link to the original I found from Joy the Baker. Very light and refreshing.
carrot cocktail

Savory dishes included a carrot and pineapple salad (nearly a dessert), my carrot chawanmushi with carrot kimchi (recipe below), Sue’s carrot and bacon corn muffins, carrots and chicken wings on rice, and a carrot soup that unfortunately ended up on the floor of a car on the way over, and a carrot chicken salad that got left home or it would have been piped into little cream puffs.  This is the first battle we’ve had with culinary casualties.

Desserts were Sue’s carrot bread pudding with whiskey cream cheese sauce (awesome!), carrot-shaped eclairs with roasted carrot ice cream filling, and carrot cake.
carrot bread pudding

It’s always fun to challenge ourselves to find a dish that features the ingredient, and is still novel and exciting.  I’d never made chawanmushi, and I think I’ve only eaten it once. What I got was a nice light custard with flavors of carrot, shiitake and shrimp, with a bright, spicy pickled carrot. So I present to you…

Recipe: Carrot Chawanmushi with Shrimp and Shiitake, and Quick Carrot Kimchi

For the Kimchi:

(makes about 2-3 cups / 750ml kimchi)

3 medium carrots, peeled
2 baby persian cucumbers, or about 1/4 medium cucumber, julienned (about 3/4 cup / 150ml)
3 scallions, green part only
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 inch (2.5cm) ginger, chopped fine
2 Tbs (30ml) gochujang (Korean red pepper bean paste)
1 serrano chile, halved, seeds removed, cut into fine half-rings
1 Tbs (15ml) kosher salt
1 Tbs (15ml) sugar
1 cup (250ml) rice vinegar

  1. Using a vegetable peeler, cut the carrots into ribbons about 1/4 to 1/2″ wide (average 1cm), 3-4″ (7-10cm) long, for about two cups (450ml)
  2. Toss all vegetables together in a shallow container
    vegetables for kimchi
  3. Whisk together vinegar, salt, sugar and gochujang
  4. Mix well, and allow to stand for at least six hours
    dressed kimchi
  5. Note: a vacuum-sealer container was used, but there’s no proof that this had any effect



(makes 12 servings)

8 dried shiitake mushrooms
18 medium shrimp, shell-on
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/3″ (1cm) cubes
ice water
8 large eggs
1 2/3 C (400ml) stock (I used Momofuku’s ramen broth)
1 2/3 C (400ml) carrot juice
2 Tbs (30ml) soy sauce
2 Tbs (30ml) mirin
12 6.5oz/200ml ramekins
3 steamer baskets

  1. In a bowl, pour boiling water over mushrooms and allow to steep for 30 minutes
  2. Drain mushrooms, remove stems, and cut into 1/3″ (1cm) dice. Distribute into the ramekins
  3. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water (about 1Tbs /15ml to 2 quarts) to a boil
  4. Blanch the carrot cubes until just barely tender, about 4 minutes
    blanching carrots
  5. With a slotted spoon or spider, remove the carrot cubes to the bowl of ice water
  6. Bring the pot back to a boil and add the shrimp until just opaque, about 2 minutes
  7. With a slotted spoon or spider, remove the shrimp to the ice water
  8. Drain, separate the shrimp from the carrots, and peel the shrimp
  9. Cut the shrimp into about 4 pieces each
  10. Bring a separate large pot with at least 1 quart of water to a boil, that will fit your steamer baskets
  11. Distribute the shrimp and carrots into each ramekin (about six pieces of shrimp per)
    fillings for chawanmushi
  12. Mix together carrot juice, and stock.
  13. Add soy and mirin to taste, about 2 Tbs/30ml each. It should be saltier than you’d like, because eggs have to go in yet
  14. Whisk the eggs into the stock/juice mixture. I used a blender, then skimmed off the foam on the top.
  15. Carefully pour mixture into each of 12 ramekins
    assembled chawanmushi ready for steaming
  16. Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and place in steamer baskets
  17. Steam over gently boiling water for 25-35 minutes, until just set.
    steamer baskets
  18. Serve with a garnish of the kimchi
grilling mishaki

And the Oscar goes to.. Somali grilled ground meat skewers

For a friend’s Oscar viewing party, everyone brings something at least loosely tied to a movie.  Italian food from American Hustle or Wolf of Wall Street was popular, with a pizza roll, and chicken picante. We also had blackberry buckle (12 Years a Slave), cheesecake (I don’t remember what that was for), flavored popcorn (Nebraska), and my wife’s reproduction of Milk Bar’s Crack Pie.

I made Mishaki, Somali grilled ground meat skewers, for Captain Phillips, adapted from a few websites, and Shidni, a tomato-tamarind-date chutney to dip them in. Captain Phillips didn’t win any awards, but this dish is a winner.  Mildly spicy grilled meats, with a zippy sauce. The weather in Chicago had warmed enough that standing outside to turn the skewers wasn’t going to result in frostbite, and they’d cook adequately with the cover closed.  I’d grill them with the cover open in warmer months.

Are they authentic Somali recipes?  Probably about as much as any Hollywood depiction.  But they were delicious.

Recipe: Mishaki – Somali Grilled Ground Meat Skewers

1.5 lb (650-700g) ground beef (80% lean) – would probably be great with lamb or chicken too
1 small onion, grated
2 small cloves of garlic, grated on microplane
1 tsp (5ml) berbere seasoning
1/2 tsp (2.5ml) cumin
1/2 tsp (2.5ml) coriander
1 tbs (15ml) potato flour or cornstarch
2 serrano chilies, grated
1/4 (60ml) cup finely chopped cilantro
1 tbs (15ml) olive oil
3/4 tsp (4ml) salt

  1. Combine all ingredients but the meat and mix well
  2. Mix the meat into the mixture thoroughly, and allow to sit for an hour (now would be a good time to make the Shidni, below)
    meat mixture
  3. Make sure grill is clean and oiled.
  4. Light charcoal or gas grill, if gas, heat on high.
  5. Form into 24 small, chubby sausage-shaped pieces, put three on each of eight bamboo skewers
  6. Turn gas down to medium, or move charcoal to one side, and grill for four minutes on each side. Turn carefully, because they’re fragile.
    grilling mishaki
    see the fun of grilling in winter in Chiberia
  7. Serve with Shidni — I was packing these up to take to the party, never got a picture of serving them over shredded lettuce with the sauce in the middle.


Recipe: Shidni – Somali Tamarind-Date-Tomato Chutney

2 Tbs (30ml) tamarind paste
1/2 of a 14oz/400g can whole tomatoes (I used San Marzano Cherry Tomatoes), drained
4-6 hot chiles, stems removed (I used a mix of green serranos and red thai)
1/4 cup (120ml) diced dates
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp (5ml) Berbere spice mix
1/2 tsp (2.5ml) salt
4 tbs (15ml) olive oil, divided

  1. Combine all ingredients except oil in blender, blend until smooth
  2. Heat a small saucepan on medium.
  3. Add 1 tbs oil to pan and add blended (blent?) mixture
  4. Stir constantly for three to five minutes, until thickened and slightly darkened.
  5. Add about 3tbs olive oil to make it a little more liquid (not part of the original recipe, but the sauce was otherwise too thick, more of a spread than a dip)

Makes about 3/4 cup sauce

A Tale of Two Carbonaras

So I’ve had something labeled as carbonara twice this week (don’t tell my cardiologist). Both tasty, neither really carbonara.

The first was at a Marriott in the Washington DC suburbs, that was a big pile of creamy goo: way too much cream, way too much sauce in general.  Crisp bacon crumbles appeared to have been stirred into an alfredo-like sauce, as opposed to being the source for the richness of the dish.  It had peas, which I kind of like (yay, I ate a vegetable!) even if it isn’t traditional.  But having a huge amount of cheese-and-cream sauce, rather than an eggy coating on the noodles, is just wrong. Delicious.  But no, it’s wrong.  Very very wrong. (I made up for it the next night by introducing several people to the authentic Chinese joy that is eating at Joe’s Noodle House in Rockville)

Meanwhile, I’d bought a spaghetti squash the last time I went shopping, hoping to find another vegetable that Sue’s willing to eat, save a few carbs etc.  A couple days later, TheKitchn blog posted a recipe for a baked spaghetti squash carbonara.  Even though I could see it’s not traditional, it sounded like a nice meal.  So the night after I got back from the business trip, I microwaved a split, cleaned-out spaghetti squash, mixed it with eggs, ricotta, parmesan, salt, pepper, onions cooked with pancetta (the recipe called for standard bacon), and added a couple things I thought would be good: a little fresh sage picked from the garden (yes it’s winter in Chicago, but I can usually find a few decent leaves even here in Chiberia), and a pinch of fresh-ground nutmeg. Both go well with squash, and just added enough to enhance, not become the main flavor.

Verdict?  Not spaghetti carbonara.  Too quiche-like, and the squash loses its noodle-like texture in the 45-minute bake.  Nice flavors of egg, cheese and bacon, salty and not too rich. It’s make a great brunch dish. I only made a 3/4-size batch (my squash was smaller and I scaled everything else down), but it still was more than twice what Sue and I could eat for dinner.  It was really good cold for lunch today too.

Get the recipe from theKitchn, and add a little fresh sage and nutmeg.





Everything is Awesome: Props for my props!


Everything is Awesome!

A quick note comment I made on a post at theKitchn blog is listed as #2 on their post today, “Why Didn’t We Think Of That? 18 Genius Kitchen Organizing Tips From Our Readers

What is it?  Use of Duplo™ Lego™ bricks for stacking baking sheets for a party.  They’re dishwasher safe and weren’t doing anything else after my kids got too big for the simple Duplo stuff.  There’s still about 16-20 of these little squares in my kitchen cabinet for space-limited times such as parties.  Need to make several trays of chicken wings, taquitos, etc.?  Just stack two on each corner, and put another tray on top. Lather, rinse repeat.

I’d show a real-life use, but I’m 600 miles from my kitchen right now.

Duplo™ and Lego™ are trademarks of the Lego Group. There is no financial relationship between this blog and The Lego Group, except that I’ve spent probably a couple thou on sets for my sons, cousins, nieces and nephews over the years (and the Mindstorms for myself).

Filling the Fridge – Sweet and Sour (Extra: Soy-Pickled Shiitakes)

As we continue our exploration of the dark reaches of the fridge and what you need to stock a brand new one, let’s look at the sweet and the sour.  A lot of sour (vinegar) is in my spice/pantry cabinet, but that’ll come later. I’m still avoiding spicy, although a few of the items on today’s list cross that line.

Oh yeah — the previous creamy and fatty dressings post probably should have included Butter as Essential.  I have Margarine too, but that’s a bonus. It’s mainly there for when my kosher-keeping daughter-in-law is around, and there’s a dish that calls for butter with a meat-based meal.

Some of the sweet things below are dessert or breakfast, some are more savory. Asian spicy food seems to be complemented by sweet flavors. Some are homemade.



  • Maple Syrup. Grade B if you can get it — it’s now going to be called Grade A Dark (rolls eyes). Here’s one that shouldn’t have an ingredient list.  It’s just maple syrup. Currently what I have is a jug from Costco, but I’ve been very happy with a Vermont producer called Jacques Couture, at
  • Pickles – Klaussen kosher or garlic dills.  Usually we just get the whole pickles, since we can slice them, but you can’t put sliced ones back together again. Sometimes there are hamburger dill chips, but I’m not a fan.
  • Relish. I’m a big fan of Vienna/Chipico’s radioactive-green stuff, don’t care as much about the darker-green variety, although there’s a bottle of that too.
  • Hoisin Sauce – Perhaps this should have been in the salt/umami list, but I consider its sweet to be more powerful (it’s used at least as much as an Asian ketchup as Sriracha is)
  • Jelly/Jam – We’re not big jam eaters, and certainly not with peanut butter, but you’ve got to have some. Right now it’s Smuckers’  Strawberry, and a Fig Jam we bought for cheese (a Port Jelly also held a position of prominence for this purpose while it lasted)


  • Sundae fixin’s – Hersey’s syrup, maraschino cherries (need to find me some real ones in Maraschino liqueur), homemade chocolate and caramel sauces
  • More pickled things – These are all homemade: Preserved lemons for Morroccan, pickled mustard seeds as a sandwich spread (Momofuku recipe), soy-pickled shiitakes (also Momofuku), Cathy’s sauerkraut. Sour veggies brighten a sandwich or meat, have something like this around. Pickle relish, and various spicy things (soon, I tell you, I’ll list the spicy stuff) fit this bill.
  •  Barbecue Sauce – Right now there’s a bottle of Lum Taylor’s I picked up when a shop was closing, and Sweet Baby Ray’s (my wife’s favorite). Don’t use while grilling, use it on the side if needed, or on a turkey sandwich.
  • Tamarind Chutney – Mainly for samosas and similar Indian snacks, and especially for my Indian Seven Layer Dip, which I’ll have to make again soon and post here.  Other chutneys and such will be mentioned when I get to Spicy.


  • Duck Sauce and Sweet Chile Sauce – can probably get by with packets from takeout
  • Dark Sweet Soy / Kecap Manis – Essential to make dishes such as Pad Se-Ew (Thai wide fresh rice noodles with beef and broccoli), but I don’t make that often
  • Tomato Jam, Vidalia Onion Jam: The former homemade, the latter from a farmer’s market
  • Tare – Essentially Japanese BBQ sauce. The brand I have is kind of weak on flavor, but to make Momofuku’s version takes most of a day. Useful for homemade ramen.
  • Tonkatsu Sauce – Basically a thick, sweet worcestershire, for Japanese pork cutlets.  We don’t make that as often as we used to, maybe we need to

Sweet might be addictive, but sour really wakes up your mouth. Pickled items should be around just about every meal, especially as garnishes or appetizers. You wouldn’t think of a charcuterie plate without cornichons, or nachos without pickled jalapeño rings. Momofuku’s soy-pickled shiitakes are something really special, especially as they were developed as something to do with the dried, rehydrated mushrooms that had been used to develop broth. They’re sweet, sour, and umami. I keep meaning to puree them into a ketchup-like sauce. They’re great on sandwiches, ramen, salads, or just grab a couple slices with a fork.

Recipe: Soy-Pickled Shiitake Mushrooms

4 cups dried shiitake mushrooms – get these at an Asian grocer or you’ll need a home loan
1 cup sugar
1 cup soy sauce (it says light, but I don’t stock light, and it works fine with regular)
1 cup sherry vinegar (I’m not sure if it would be significantly different with wine vinegar; I’ve found the best prices for this at World Market)
3-4 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced lengthwise
2 cups of soaking liquid (see below)

Soak the mushrooms in very hot (just-boiled) water for about a half-hour (you may need something to weigh them down to keep them in the liquid). They won’t be as soft as fresh ones, but they’ll expand beyond this in the steps below. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon, then strain the liquid through a fine strainer to make sure there is no dirt or grit. Keep 2 cups of the liquid. Tear any stems off the mushrooms and throw them away. Using a poultry shears or knife, cut into 1/4″ slices.

In a medium saucepan, place the sugar, soaking liquid, soy and vinegar and bring to a simmer to dissolve the sugar.  When it’s dissolved, add the ginger slices and mushrooms.  Simmer gently for about a half-hour, then allow to cool. You can discard the ginger, but I don’t see any reason to do so.

The recipe says it makes about a quart, I got three pints out of this. Pack into containers and cover with the pickling liquid, which is pretty good on its own as a salad dressing.

Creamy Garlic Dressing

Bonus post for today. Since I’m talking about salad dressings, here’s a recipe of what to make with those condiments.

Most of the time, I’ll make my own dressing: most often just a simple vinaigrette. This is one of my favorites, modeled after Dave’s Italian Kitchen in Evanston, and it’s a pretty good match after some experiments. You have to let this sit, as the garlic blooms over time.

You can definitely get away with light sour cream. I haven’t tried it with greek yogurt but it would probably still be pretty good.

1/2 Cup Sour Cream, can use about 3 parts sour cream to 1 part mayo if you like it a little tangier
3 or more cloves garlic, grated on a microplane
1 tsp lemon juice and some grated rind
large pinch salt
large pinch white pepper
Thin to desired consistency with buttermilk

Mix together and let sit for at least an hour before serving.

For the real Dave’s experience, the salad should have shaved carrots, shredded mozzarella, and pepperoncini.

Note: I previously posted this recipe at

Filling the Fridge – Dressings and Mustards

OK part 2 of the “what would you run out and buy if you had an empty fridge to fill?” exercise.

This time, let’s concentrate on fatty condiments, and mustards. I’ve got an aversion to plain old yellow mustard, can’t stand it on sausages, burgers, etc., but it’s fine as an ingredient. I used to think I despised mayo too, but it turns out what I really hated was miracle whip. Even so, I’m not ever going to be seen putting mayo directly on a sandwich unless it’s mixed with other things… and often, I’m happier with the “other things” without the mayo (chipotle, wasabi, roasted garlic…).

So what’s in my fridge today?


  • Hellman’s Mayo. If you’re south of the Mason-Dixon line, Duke’s is your choice, I’m sure.
  • Dijon-style mustard. Mild, smooth, perfect for sauces and vinaigrettes.
  • Dusseldorf/ballpark mustard. Best for sausages, a little spicier than ordinary or dijon mustard.
  • Yellow mustard.  I may use this in a slaw or BBQ rub, but it’s just not for my hot dogs.
  • Sour Cream. Probably my all-time favorite condiment, but right now I’m out (trying to lose weight). Berries to Potatoes, it’s fantastic stuff. It’ll probably be on my tombstone as what killed me.
  • Tahini. I don’t use it all that often, but there’s no substitute when making middle-eastern foods. I swear half the items in Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” use it. I’ve got a jar of Chinese Sesame Paste too, which is pretty close but a little toastier.  I could probably skip that and just use Tahini with some Sesame Oil (which isn’t in the fridge).
  • Plain Greek Yogurt. Like I said with soy sauce, the fewer ingredients, the better. I also have a big tub of Fage Fruyo Vanilla from Costco, but that’s food not condiments.


  • Thousand Island Dressing. Yeah, could make it myself, but for a Reuben sandwich, gotta have it. (Thanks, Cathy, for the homemade sauerkraut)
  • Blue Cheese Dressing. Again, could make it myself, but it makes a good semi-healthy snack as a dip with with raw veggies.
  • Walnut Oil. Some kind of fancy oil should be on your list, for special occasion salads.
  • Chili Oil. If you use commercial, probably doesn’t need refrigeration. I use Gary Wiviott’s recipe with garlic in it, so in the fridge it goes to try to keep the botulism out.
  • Deli (Horseradish) Mustard. Less-used now that I’m stocked in Dusseldorf again.
  • Chinese Mustard. Or keep a few extra packets from carryout, it’s probably not necessary to have a whole jar.
  • Japanese “Kewpie” Mayo. Nice for Japanese-style spicy mayo, some salad dressings. Sweeter and sourer than American mayos.


  • French Dressing. Every once in a while you don’t want to make your own salad dressing, and this is what you want. It’s got an orange glow and it’s sweet and just right. Guilty pleasure.
  • Argan Oil.  I think I’ve used this twice.
  • Submarine Sandwich Oil and Vinegar Dressing. I think I bought this for a party.
  • Nam Prik Pao. Essential to make Thai Tom Yam soup, good for a chicken salad too.  I think I’d like to either have this or Rick Bayless’ Chipotle Paste around at all times but it seems extravagant to have both and the Chili Oil.
  • Honey Mustard. Not sure why I bought this when I have honey and dijon around (1:1).
  • Horseradish Sauce. For when I want to replicate that Arby’s experience with real meat.
  • Prepared Horseradish. I buy a new jar every Passover for the gefilte fish (which I can’t stand). I’ve got a couple recipes which use this.
  • Truffle Oil. I can’t remember what I bought it for… probably needs to be thrown out.
  • Miracle Whip. I think son #2 left this when he moved back from his college apartment.
  • Submarine Sandwich Dressing (oil and vinegar). I probably bought this for a party, I’m certain it’s past its expiration date.