Homemade Pizza and Pasta Party

Last Friday we gathered at Chow’s place to cook dinner. The menu: homemade pizzas and pasta. The pizzas were a variety of gourmet types based on the menu of Roberta’s Pizza in Brooklyn, which Chow had tried on a recent visit. The pasta was a homemade chorizo and butternut squash ravioli. And to top it off, I made kaffir lime cheesecake.

Friends gather around the large island in the kitchen, helping to prepare ingredients and eat appetizers. The ravioli are already prepared and drying and we were waiting for the oven to preheat for the pizzas.

Every time I cook at a friend’s house, it is a bit of a logistics ordeal. In this case, I needed my KitchenAid mixer so I could roll out the pasta. I was also bringing a case of Oregon beer.

The beer in question is from Rogue, an independent brewer. The most interest beer of the evening: Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale. Had a distinct smokiness with a subtle sweetness on the tail end of the flavor.

For the pasta, I made homemade fresh (not dried) chorizo. I bought pork belly and ground it, adding paprika, garlic, and chili powder.

Browned the sausage in a pan, drained it on paper towels to remove the considerable grease, and then blended it with a butternut squash puree made from locally produced organic squash.

Make the pasta from scratch using Thomas Keller’s “Seven Yolk Pasta” with semolina flour. This is the best way to mix pasta dough, using your hands.

Using a creative technique I picked up watching Season 10 of Top Chef, I layered sage leaves between two sheets of pasta dough and then pressed them several more times. Then flattens the leaves, making the pasta pretty and adding some sage flavor.

Completed ravioli. I cut them relatively small so they didn’t have a lot of filling. In hindsight, I would have added more butternut squash and less chorizo as the sausage overpowered the squash flavor. A few more sage leaves would have been nice, too.

After boiling the ravioli, we fried them in a pan with browned butter and sage leaves. Became a bit more crispy than intended but were tasty all the same.

While I made the pizza dough (with Type 00 flour, a finer texture than regular all-purpose flour), I let Chow coordinate the toppings for each pie.

Half mushroom and pepperoni and half Jerusalem artichoke and pesto.

Salame!

Sliced Brussels sprouts, Boursin cheese, and locally produced pastrami.

Tomato, fresh buffalo mozzarella, and rocket.

For dessert, I once again made the kaffir lime cheesecake that was such a hit on New Year’s Day. It begins by steeping the lime leaves in heavy cream.

The crust is made of graham crackers, toasted pecans, sugar, and butter.

The main ingredients are cream cheese, eggs, the infused cream, kaffir lime zest, and a little lime juice. The juice comes from a regular lime as the kaffir lime juice is much to acidic.

The ingredients are blended together until smooth and light. Truth be told, I add two or three drops of green food coloring just to augment the color. The leaves alone give it only the most pale of greens.

Tap several times to release air bubbles and then cook in a water bath for 40-45 minutes. The key to a cheesecake with a smooth top (no cracks) is to turn the oven off when the edges are set but the center is still very shaky. Then let it complete cooking in the closed (but turned off) oven for another hour. This lets it cool down gradually and prevents the cracks.

The finished product has a mixture of sour cream, kaffir lime zest, and sugar poured over the top. I garnished with a chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves. This worked okay the first time but this time the leaves were a bit tough. I need to choose the smaller, more tender leaves and cut them more finely. The taste of the cake was good, though, and won rave reviews.

Most importantly, we had friends gathered together and shared good food, good wine, and good company. After all, that’s what makes the best meals, right? The company with which they are shared.

Let Them Eat Cake

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Not only is “Let them eat cake” the phrase commonly misattributed to Marie Antoinette, it is also the name of a cute patisserie and dessert bar on Sukhumvit Soi 20 in Bangkok.

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Dessert shops are plentiful in the City of Angels but most western style desserts are rarely worth the calories they contain. Let Them Eat Cake proves to be a delicious exception.

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Located in one of the “community lifestyle malls” – smaller, open air shopping centers that have sprung up across Bangkok like mushrooms after the rain – Let Them Eat Cake is charmingly decorated but a little small. Waits can get long at key times so come early or be prepared to wait.

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I am sorry to say that I don’t remember the names of each of the desserts we tried. I do know that this is a chocolate St. Honoré, an elegant combination of puff pastry, creme filling, and caramel.

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A tart of some sort with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Don’t know if I ever tried this or just took a picture!

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A tarte au citron – lemon tarte. Was tasty but I found the crust a bit tough.

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I don’t remember what this pink, rose-shaped dessert was. A gelatine and with something inside, I think.

All in all, Let Them Eat Cake offered better, more authentic French style pastries than a lot of shops here in Bangkok. I look forward to my next visit and I promise to take more careful notes – and to sample a wider variety of desserts!

 

An Instagram Couple of Days

My first week of unemployment has been a busy one, filled with all sorts of events. In addition to following up on some additional job leads, I have accepted a freelance project with a former vendor that will give me a few weeks’ worth of work, and I am also providing pro bono organizational development consultation for a friend’s family company. Who knew unemployment could keep you so busy?

Recently, I’ve been playing around with Instagram, a smart phone application that allows you to polish your pictures, applying interesting filters and effects. While I still carry my Lumix LX3 most places, there are times when carrying a bag and a camera is a hassle so I rely on my iPhone. It hasn’t nearly the capability of my regular camera, but in many situations (especially with the help of Instagram) it does a passable enough job. Here are some of the photos I’ve snapped:

Near the office of our condo complex is a small pool with koi fish. It has a resident turtle who likes to sun himself on one particular rock. He was a bit jumpy as I approached to snap this picture so I had to move slowly and be patient.

Over the past week, we have had very humid air which has resulted in some spectacular sunsets. This one was taken while driving north from the Lad Phrao area to attend an evening performance of “Mulan Jr.” by a bilingual primary and secondary school owned by a friend’s family. This picture captures the common sight of power and telephone lines which blight our view.

Warmer temperatures after our very brief (and not very cool) cool season has led to an explosion of blossoms on the trees. Lasting a few short days, these pink blossoms are very pretty but a terrible mess to sweep up once they fall.

The humid weather has also produced some nice sunrises, although because of where our condo unit is situated, we can’t see them this time of year. One morning I was out on an errand to a convenience store to pick up some milk for coffee, and caught this sight of the sun rising over one of our wealthier neighbor’s Italian style home. Ostentatious, isn’t it? I wonder what the rest of the house looks like.

I have been cooking a bit, although not taking many pictures. I roasted some butternut squash from a friend’s organic farm to make a nice soup and also the filling for some ravioli. The squash had a lovely orange color and a sweet taste once roasted.

While crossing Sukhumvit Road, one of the main arteries in Bangkok, I caught this picture of a quarter of Bangkok Metropolitan Authority workers riding on top of a city truck. A warm day, I guess this was the best way to catch a breeze and stay cool!

Green Shoots

Just hung up on my final conference call, the last thing I had to do for my job. That’s it, after more than thirteen years with the company, it is over. It is hard not to be a bit sad. There’s a lot I’ve invested in this company and definitely feel like many of the projects and people are my own children. Anyhow, it has come to an end and it is time to move on.

On another note, here’s a nice picture taken just after a heavy rain of some of the Hawaiian Currant tomatoes growing on my balcony. There are about three dozen fruit on the plant. Of the two plants that are currently flowering, this one is the more productive. Another few weeks and they should be ripe – I hope!

Pancakes with Ice Cream?

It must be a cultural thing. Saturday morning Tawn and I went to a local branch of the Australian chain The Coffee Club for breakfast. Since I had been really good all week, working out and eating well, I decided to treat myself with an order of pancakes. Now, I will admit that pancakes are not the healthiest breakfast out there. But I was not expecting this:

The stack of pancakes was topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some whipped cream. Add to that the syrup and it was a plate full of adult-onset diabetes as the way to start my day. Yikes!

I must say, though, that I like the little circle they cut in the top pancake of the stake, to better hold the scoop of ice cream. Thoughtful.

Trying for Some Perspective on the Gun Control Debate

Half a world away, I have read, watched, and listened to the debate over gun control in the United States, dismayed by the rhetoric and disturbed at how two hyperbole-fueled extremes frame the discussion. That distance, I hope, has made it easier for me to step back and consider the subject.

As an attempt to add my two cents’ worth to the public discourse, I would like to share some conclusions I have reached. I do not expect everyone to agree with me and I welcome constructive comments. Just a forewarning: comments that are not constructive, that rely on name-calling or otherwise do not contribute to a civil discussion, will not be entertained.

Many of my friends and family members are gun owners and people who enjoy guns recreationally. While my first-hand gun experience ended with BB guns in late primary school, I recognize the appeal of guns and do not think that guns are inherently bad.  

Our Rights

I think we need to look at this discussion through the lens of “gun safety.” Our individual right to bear arms must be balanced with the right of all people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

The Second Amendment clearly states that people have a right to bear arms. Our courts have already confirmed several abridgments to those rights, though, for example limiting the types of weapons you can own (no nuclear or chemical arms – too many innocent bystanders harmed when you use them to protect your life or property).

Legitimate limits are placed on our constitutional rights routinely. My First Amendment right to freedom of expression is tempered when the safety of the larger public is affected. I cannot incite a crowd to violence. I cannot expose state secrets. I cannot shout “fire” in a crowded movie theater. 

The safety of the general public is a compelling reason to place some restrictions on our constitutional freedoms and I think this can be done in a way to balances those competing interests without unduly infringing gun owners’ rights.

Of the proposed Congressional actions, there are three I would like to see enacted:

  • Require criminal background checks for all gun sales, including those by private sellers that currently are exempt.
  • Increase criminal penalties for so-called “straw purchasers,” people who pass the required background check to buy a gun on behalf of someone else.
  • Fund research by public health agencies into deaths and injuries caused by firearms.

The Effectiveness of Legislation

Some members of the gun-rights lobby make the claim that criminals do not follow laws, therefore any gun safety legislation we pass will harm only law-abiding citizens. This seems to imply that we should not bother setting any laws about anything, because criminals will break those laws.

The setting of speed limits and the passing of laws requiring seatbelt use do not ensure that nobody speeds and everybody wears a seatbelt. These laws have resulted in a reduction of deaths and injuries and provide a basis with which to prosecute those who break the law.

Universal background checks would work in much the same way. They will not prevent all gun violence – the Newtown shooting, for example, might still have happened. Currently, it is estimated that between thirty and forty percent of gun sales happen with no background check. (These would be private sales, gun show sales, etc.) Universal background checks will place an additional barrier in the way of people with criminal records or a history of mental instability, making it more difficult to get a weapon with which they can do great harm.

Conducting background checks on private gun sales and increasing criminal penalties for “straw purchasers” could help stem the flow of guns into the criminal underworld by closing potential loopholes. Many people purchase guns for personal protection. Making it more difficult for people who should not have guns, to obtain them, should help increase everyone’s safety.

Having a right to bear arms does not inherently give you the right to privacy when you purchase a weapon. Universal background checks would go a long way to ensuring that the people who purchase guns are law-abiding. 

The Need for More Information

On the issue of funding research, there is much we do not know about the causes and effects of gun violence. Congress (at the urging of the National Rifle Association) has routinely cut funding to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health when the results of studies they undertook demonstrated a need for gun legislation.

In fact, despite more than four million gun-related deaths and injuries in the United States over the last four decades, the NIH has awarded only three research grants on the subject. Compare that to diphtheria, which has caused only 1,337 deaths in those four decades but for which there has been more than 50 NIH-funded studies. Even influenza, which regularly kills fewer people each year than gun violence, receives much more research funding.

Effective legislation can increase public safety and it needs to be based on empirical evidence. Some things we should better understand, as outlined in a recent Atlantic Cities blog post, include whether magazine limits actually work, who should be excluded from owning a gun, and whether there is a relationship between levels of gun ownership and levels of crime.

What We Should Not Do

Among the proposed legislative actions that I do not think we need to take are reinstating the assault weapons ban. While I do not see a need for anyone to own an assault weapon, that’s the purview of an individual gun owner or collector. So long as he or she is law-abiding and undergoes a background check, it does not matter to me what kind of gun is purchased.

Without a doubt, this debate will continue. It is fueled by loud voices and, especially in the case of the National Rifle Association, a lot of money. However, I think it behooves each of us to try to move beyond the hyperbole, gather facts, consider our own values, and then add our voice to the discussion – especially by letting our legislators know what we think.

Well, that is my opinion on the matter. I welcome your comments and remind you that only constructive comments will be entertained. The First Amendment does not prevent me from squelching name-calling and uncivil discourse!

Katsu at J Curry

There is a small Japanese curry stand located on the basement level of the UBC II Building at the mouth of Soi Sukhumvit 33. Outdoors, directly across from the entrance to the Londoner Pub, the J Curry shop is impossible to see when you pass by on the street level. Nonetheless, its excellent homemade curry is worth seeking out.

Made from ground spices, apples, and other fresh ingredients, the curry is tangy and sweet and loaded with antioxidants and vitamins. Combined with your favorite vegetables, some protein (I love their breaded lean pork cutlet, or katsu), a scoop of Japanese rice, and a small portion of pickles, the curry makes for a healthy and satisfying lunch. How they manage to stay in business with such lack of visibility is a mystery, but I’m glad they do!