Bitten by Bittman’s Blog

I like food blogs.  I like writing one and I certainly love reading other people’s food blogs.  One of my favorite is “Bitten“, written by Mark Bittman of the New York Times.  He’s kind of a no-nonsense cook, doesn’t worry about incredibly fancy preparation but instead focuses on health and flavor.

Here are three recipes I found in his blog recently and prepared at home.  Click on pictures for a larger version.

The first was for a Curried Cauliflower Flatbread.  Quite easy to make, this unleavened bread cooks in a skillet (perfect chance to test out that recently restored and reseasoned cast iron skillet!) and makes a very tasty appetizer.  It does look a little plain when finished – some roasted peppers, hummus, a sauce or something would perk up the color – but it is tasty!

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The second dish was an unusual pairing of lentils and rhubarb in an Indian Spiced Lentil and Rhubarb Stew.  Yes, rhubarb in a savory dish.  Sadly, I may have overcooked this as the lentils were a mushy mess.  My bad as I was on a conference call while finishing it.  And I think using chicken stock instead of water would have made the flavor more robust.  Interesting concept, but I’m not sold on it yet.

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Finally, for dessert I made a Chocolate Semolina Pudding from a recipe in Bittman’s new book, “Food Matters”.  Ostensibly somewhere between a pudding and a cake, my version turned out kind of dry, maybe because the whole milk yogurt here in Thailand has a different consistency from that in the US.  The texture was good, though: semolina flour gives it a little “toothier” consistency.  Will have to play around with this and see what I can make of it.

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Happy May Day to everyone!

Quick – panic and blow this pandemic out of proportion!!!

Sundstrom_fyll_face_mask You know, I like a good scare story as much as the next guy, but the headlines in the news today are unconscionable:

“US deaths likely from swine flu”
“CDC predicts US fatalities”
“Swine flu claims first US victim”

People: turn off your cable TV, please.  Each year, an average of 36,000 Americans die from influenza.  For more than a dozen weeks in the winter of 2007-8 the rate of influenza infection was at epidemic proportions.  And yet we don’t see these banner headlines each Autumn.

Let’s get a sense of perspective here.  Yes, the CDC is being cautious.  That’s their job.  Dr. Richard Besser, acting head of the CDC, pointed out in an interview on the Today show that he does not believe the flu has become more dangerous and that even with the seasonal flu, there are some people who are more susceptible to it.  But that note of caution, reason and common sense got drowned out by the drumbeats of sensationalism.

 

Things I don’t understand

Some days when I have a few minutes, I browse the Xanga Blogrings to which I’m subscribed. These groups, which are meant to allow people with similar interests to more easily connect and find each others’ blogs, include things like “Bloggers Born Between 1965 and 1979”, “Foreign Films Buffs” and “I’m Addicted to NPR”.

What I don’t understand – what absolutely baffles me – is why some people who have subscribed to these blogrings would have Friends Lock enabled. This prevents someone who isn’t already their “friend” from seeing their site.

What’s the purpose of subscribing to the Blogring if you aren’t interested in connecting with other people with similar interests?

I don’t get it…

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Tawn and I had lunch at S&P Restaurant Sunday.  I enjoyed the traditional hot season treat, khao chae.  This is a dish of rice served in jasmine-scented iced water along with a plate of seasonal treats: shredded dried pork, shrimp paste balls, a poblano chili stuffed with a pork mixture and wrapped in thin slices of scrambled egg, and other nice things.  This “palace cuisine” is only served during the hottest months of the year and is a real treat.

Upscale Issan

Kum Poon Friday evening I tagged along with Tawn as he met some of his university classmates for dinner.  This group all studied abroad and are very “worldly” in terms of being willing to try new things and broaden their tastes in music, food, art, and the like.

That said, we returned to our Thai roots for dinner, choosing a restaurant at Central World Plaza called Kum Poon, which features upscale Issan cuisine.

Issan is the northeastern region of Thailand, adjacent to Laos and Cambodia.  Poorer than the rest of the country, Issan is viewed by other Thais much in the same way that the southern United States is viewed by other Americans. 

While people from Issan are sometimes stereotyped as being lazy or backwards, the truth is that many aspects of Thai culture, including food and music, trace their roots to this region.  Not all, of course, but many.

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The restaurant is very pleasant with subdued lighting, two large artificial trees, and bamboo poles lining the walls.  The effect of the spot lights filtering through the leaves is one of eating outdoors in the moonlight.  Service is reasonably attentive and very friendly.

Issan cooking is often classified into a few main categories:

The first category has two types of salad, tam and yumTam means “to pound” and the salad is made by putting the ingredients in a large mortar and pounding them with a wooden pestle.  Most common is the som tam, a salad of shredded green papaya that is pounded with other ingredients  Yum means “to mix”, so the ingredients are just mixed in a large bowl.  Certain seasonings regularly appear in these salads: lime juice, fish sauce, tiny dried shrimps, palm sugar, chilies, and sometimes tamarind paste.

The second category is laab (sometimes written “larb”), a dish made of cooked ground meat (often pork) that has shallots, ground toasted rice, lime juice and fish sauce.

The third category is yang – grilled meats.  These are often served with sticky rice, khao nieaw, a highly glutinous form of rice that can seem a little undercooked to someone who has never tried it before.

Okay, now that you’ve had your introduction to Issan food, let’s take a look at the many dishes we enjoyed.  My new “gorilla” tripod came in handy.

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For starters, Issan food comes with plenty of fresh greens as condiments.  You eat these both for the textural contrast with the dishes, as well as for the cooling aspect against the sometimes fierce chilies.  Cabbage, green beans and basil are standards along with some other greens you may not have ever tried.

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Laab Gai Yang – Mixed two categories of Issan cuisine, this laab dish is made with gai yang – grilled chicken – resulting in two great tastes in a single dish.  Notice the little specs: this is the ground, toasted rice.  Adding a nutty flavor and a little crunch, uncooked rice is toasted in a pan and then ground before being added to the dish.

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Gai Yang Khao Nieaw Tod – Grilled chicken served with deep-fried sticky rice balls.  I’m not certain that deep-fried sticky rice is traditional or not – I think it may be a bit of an improvisation on the chef’s part – but these are so tasty.  The chicken is moist and smoky.

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Som Tam Kai Kem – A typical tam (pounded salad) made with shredded green papaya (tastes tart like a Granny Smith apple but not so sweet), tomatoes, and salty boiled eggs.  The eggs are interesting because they are soaked in a brine for about a month before being boiled.  Some dried shrimp are added for texture.

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Laab Plaa Duke – This laab style dish, usually made with ground pork, is instead made from grilled, shredded catfish.  It has lots of shallots and mint in it and, as you can see from the chilies, has a bit of heat, too.

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Laab Hed – For you almost vegetarians, this laab is made with a variety of mushroom types and lots of shallots.  The only thing keeping it from being vegetarian is the fish sauce, which adds the saltiness to almost every dish.

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Tam Mamuang – Instead of being made with green papaya, this version of tam is made with green mango, which has a slightly more astringent flavor and a crisper crunch.  Fresh shrimp are added along with the dried shrimp for more of a “sea” flavor.

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Yum Woon Sen with Sai Grawk IssanYum style salad with cellophane noodles, mushrooms and sai grawk issan – Issan style pork sausage.

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Kor Moo Yang – Grilled pork neck, thinly sliced and served with a spicy dipping sauce.  This can be a tough cut but when cooked properly, the connective tissue melts away, making the meat even more flavorful.

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Tam Sua – This tam is mixed with a type of mildly fermented rice noodles called kanom jiin.  When eaten cold by themselves, you can taste a slight tanginess to the noodles.

As you can see, we ate quite a bit of food for just five of us.  Even at a “upscale” restaurant like this one, the prices were still very reasonable.  We walked out having only spent about US$10 per person.

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Left to right: Ko, Fluck, Pat and Tawn in front of the restaurant.

For dessert, we stopped by iBerry for some ice cream and brownies.  Hardly authentically Thai but tasty nonetheless!

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Have I whetted your appetite yet?

Socially Just Advertising

Here is an advertisement from Banco Provincia in Argentina that features a prejudiced old man and a transgendered woman.  The bank’s tag line: “Your life changes when there is a bank disposed to change.”  Initially, I was doubtful, but concluded that there may not even be an ounce of cynical manipulation.  Watch the ad and see what you think.

One interesting note: the man uses the female formal form addressing her.

Restoring my Cast Iron Skillet

Somewhere along the way of moving to Thailand, my trusty cast iron skillet turned rusty.  That is a shame, because I really like cooking with it.  However, I adapted to not having it in my repertoire of pots and pans.  Recently, though, I’ve been thinking that there’s no point in letting it return to the elements.  With my induction stove, I really should be using quality pans like this one.

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P1160343 This weekend, after reading up about cast iron restoration methods on the internet, I set aside some time Saturday morning to rescue my pan from oxidation oblivion. 

The process proved surprisingly simple.  Had I known how simple it was, I wouldn’t have waited so long.

Tools needed: gloves, metal scouring pad, coarse salt, vegetable oil, warm oven.

I started with the metal scouring pad and scoured the surface of the pan to remove most of the rust particles.  This only took a few minutes and would have been even easier if I had also used some sandpaper.

After wiping the particles into the trash, I heated the pan for a few minutes with two tablespoons of vegetable oil.  I then added enough coarse salt to make a paste, scouring with the metal pad to remove more of the rust and to scour down to a smooth surface.

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Next step was to wipe the pan with paper towels until the towels no longer stained brown.  This took a lot of paper towels, but eventually they came out clean.  I did one last wipe with a damp paper towel to make sure no salt residue was in the pan, then popped it into the oven for just a few minutes.

Below: Tawn captures the look of extreme concentration on my face while I scour.

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After a few minutes drying in the oven, I added another tablespoon of oil and, using paper towels, spread it in a thin, even film all over the surface and sides of the pan.

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I then returned the pan to the oven (at about 300 F) upside down and let it bake for an hour, until the oil “set” on the pan.  From here on out, it is no soapy water to clean this pan.  Wipe it out with paper towels, use a little salt if scouring is needed, and then apply another thin film of oil.  Over time, it will become a strongly seasoned pan that should be nearly as nonstick as anything at the store.

How’s that for a handy weekend?

 

Riding Around

Most Sunday mornings I go out for a ride.  There are exceptions – especially during rainy season – but I really enjoy the opportunity to explore other areas of the city and, when possible, leave the concrete jungle altogether in search of the real one.

Sometimes I’m joined by someone else.  Markus and I used to ride regularly.  Then his travel schedule for work got busy.  Then he and Tam packed up and moved to Germany.  Since then, Stuart and I have ridden several times.  Sadly he and Piyawat are packing up for Phuket.  My biking partners keep leaving!  Maybe I’m pushing them too hard?

In any case, one thing that strikes me when I get outside the main part of the city is how much wildlife there is.  Not just the mangy soi dogs that nip at my heels (I’m thinking I should buy some pepper spray) and not just the cows, water buffalo, horses and pigs I see in some of the small family farms.  I’m talking real wildlife, especially birds.  This could be an Audobon Member’s paradise.

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Above, some males have a little squabble.

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It is pretty difficult, even with a 10x optical zoom, to get very close.  The birds notice when I stop at the road sdie and shyly move away.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, there is a 4-km stretch of road out near the airport that is popular with cyclists.  It was built as part of a very ambitious plan to connect the eastern suburbs with the city.  It is three lanes in each direction with wide shoulders.  The problem is, it just peters out and never actually goes anywhere.

So the road is closed to all except local traffic and since it is an agricultural area still, there isn’t much of that.  This makes it the perfect place to ride.

Well, last Sunday I did some exploring to the north and west of the road, riding through some neighborhoods, running into several dead ends, until I managed to come across another section of the road that I didn’t know existed.

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In the distance, this stretch of the road connects to a frontage road along the Outer Ring Expressway.  The cars you see are doing driver training, using the closed road to practice driving.

The funny thing about this stretch is, unlike the stretch to the east that successfully bridges two khlongs (canals), we can see where the funds ran out on this one:

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The road rises up an embankment and then stops short, with not much in the way of barriers!  If you continued directly ahead about 1 km, you would connect with the stretch of road that I regularly ride.

Here’s a map showing the two segments.  It was taken before construction on the westernmost segment was complete.  Oops – I guess it still isn’t complete, huh?

New Road

On the way back today, I explored a new route and discovered that Thanon On Nut (On Nut Road), which connects to Sukhumvit at the end of the Skytrain line, actually goes all the way out to the new airport.  Some 16 kms!

Riding back along this road, I spotted another bird:


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What an interesting contrast of modernity and tradition, huh?