Green Curry With Seafood: An Old Dairy Free Favorite Gets a Facelift

Green Curry With Seafood

Green Curry With Seafood

How can something be subtle and powerful at the same time?  That is the question I’ve been asking myself as I have been working with this wonderful purple basil that I’ve bought at the Union Square Greenmarket a couple times lately.  On this occasion, I decided to make it a part of my green curry with seafood.  Would it be able to stand up to Thai Kitchen Green Curry Paste and Thai Kitchen Organic Coconut Milk and make its presence felt?

Oh yeah.  I decided to include the basil in two ways, and it definitely made a difference.  I took half the leaves and tore them roughly and put them into the curry as it cooked.  Then I used the other half as a garnish when I plated the curry.  Just that much was enough to make me say, “mmmm, what is that new flavor?” And of course it was the basil.

The other thing I do differently with my curry has to do with the broth/sauce.  I begin by sauteing first the scallops and then the shrimps in the pan with a little olive oil or margarine.  The seafood leaves behind a wonderful essence which then becomes the base for the sauce.  Later, after I have cooked the onions and pepper in the essence and added the curry paste, I will add the coconut milk.  But when I have added the rest of the vegetables, there won’t be enough liquid to cook and cover all the veggies.  I could add more coconut milk, but my solution is to add chicken broth – just enough to mostly cover the vegetables.  The resulting curry broth is almost like a soup base, rich but light, dancing with the combined flavors of seafood essence, chicken broth, coconut milk and oh yes, basil.

I love this way of making green curry – in fact, now that I have done it this way a few times, I can’t imagine doing it any other way!

Green Curry with Seafood
(makes 6 servings)

1 pound, uncooked scallops
1 pound, uncooked large shrimps
1-2 tbsp. olive oil or margarine
1 medium to large yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, cut into large pieces
1 medium to large zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
8 crimini mushrooms, brushed off, caps removed and quartered
6 to 8 white eggplants, roughly peeled and cut into quarters
2 dozen purple basil leaves
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
½ – 1 cup, chicken broth
2 tbsp. green curry paste

I know that there is a considerable amount of preparation for a dish like this.  But after getting all these lovely vegetables fresh from the green market, I had to use them!  This is where a willing spouse or energetic youngster comes in handy.  In my case, I had the former close by – my wife always asks me how she can help, and usually I tell her to relax, but this time I took her up on her offer.  And she did a great job of slicing and peeling and chopping!

Vegetables Prepared

Vegetables Prepared

Beautiful, right?  Before I proceed, I should say just a thing or two about these white eggplants.  I love eggplants, and one of the things I love is how many different shapes and colors and sizes they come in!  So I try to take the opportunity to buy some of the different ones, and use them in dishes (after all, eggplants are really good for you).  But, if all you have available are the monster aubergine eggplants where you are, use those.  Chop them into 1-inch squares and go for it.

OK.  So as I said earlier, start with the seafood.  Take your shrimps out of their shelves – I even like to remove the tails, but if you like the tails on, then leave them on.  Put a large skillet on over a medium heat.  Add the olive oil or margarine, and when that is hot, you’re ready to begin.  Sprinkle some salt and pepper over both sides of your scallops and add them to the pan.  Cook them on each side for about 3 minutes – 4 minutes if you like a little extra crust on your scallops.  Put them aside on a plate.

Salt and pepper the shrimps, and add them to the pan (if your pan is looking a little dry, feel free to add another drop or two of olive oil).  Cook them on each side for 2-3 minutes, until they turn tannish and curl up into little shrimp curls.  Put those aside as well.

Now add your onions and cook them in the essence for a couple of minutes.  Add the red pepper and cook for another minute or two.  Add the curry paste and stir to make sure all the vegetables are covered with it.  Cook, stirring, for another minute or two.

Now add the coconut milk and stir to get it well mixed with the curry paste and vegetables.  Add the zucchini, mushroom and eggplant, and here is where the chicken broth comes in.  Add just enough of the broth to bring the level of the liquid up so it nearly covers all the vegetables.  Turn up the heat to get the liquid bubbling, and then turn the heat down and cover with a lid.  Let it cook for about 5 minutes.

Tear your basil leaves roughly in half.  Take the lid off the pan and add half the basil leaves.  Stir them in and let it cook for a minute or two (if the zucchini is still too al dente, you can let the curry cook for even longer – just don’t cook it so long that the vegetables get mushy).  The last step is to add the seafood back to the pot, give it a good stir, let it heat the seafood for a minute or two, and you’re done!

Of course, you can eat this dish over rice or noodles.  But we like to eat it all by itself, almost like a thick soup.  Oh, that broth is to die for.  Hope you like it as much as we do!

Posted in coconut milk, Cooking, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, Recipes, Thai food | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Café Prague: Dairy Free Czech Food in New York City

Cafe Prague

Cafe Prague

Not long ago, early on a Sunday evening, Therese and I were walking down 19th Street in Manhattan.  We had just been to see a late afternoon showing of the new foodies film, the 100 Foot Journey (which is quite excellent, by the way) at the Broadway and 19th Street AMC Theater.  We were heading west, intending to do some grocery shopping at the 23rd Street Chelsea Trader Joe’s.  But we were feeling hungry as well, and just as we were both feeling that by the time we grocery shopped and got home and cooked, we would be eating too late, we looked across the street and saw Cafe Prague.  Talk about serindipity!

You see, our next trip, which begins at the end of this week, is to Prague, the Czech Republic’s capital and largest city.  We could not pass up the chance to maybe sample some of the food that we will be eating when we travel in just a few a days!

And this cafe is totally charming!  It looks almost like a little cafeteria, with a long counter with many glass cases from which you can choose sandwiches and lots of other things, and a couple rows of tables that look like they would be perfect to share with strangers if the cafe was crowded.

Another thing that immediately captured my imagination was the way the walls are covered with posters and illustrations of the sights we will be visiting when we are in Prague, like the Prague Castle and its St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica and the Old Royal Palace.  And of course there were the lights reflecting on the Vltava River, which bisects Prague much the way that the Danube runs right through the middle of Budapest.

OK, so Prague Cafe has the atmosphere.  But what about the food.  We went towards the section of the menu that is all old Czech favorites, and we asked the friendly lady behind the counter if any of them were dairy free, or could be prepared that way.  She seemed stumped for a moment, and Therese said to me, “Crap, it’s gonna be hard to find you food in Prague!”  But then the counter lady thought, and she started listing a handful of dishes that would work for me.

The one dish that threw me was pork loin, dumplings and sauerkraut.  Therese’s grandfather made us a pork loin stewed in sauerkraut for a lunch one time, and it was so simple but so satisfying, and seeing that listed on Prague Cafe’s menu, I started thinking, “wow, I bet that would be good.”  Our friend the counter lady said she suspected there was butter in the sauerkraut, and my reaction was, “no way! why would you put butter in sauerkraut?”

But whaddaya know?  She was right.  Butter in the sauerkraut.  No worries, though.  I had a good plan B.  Chicken with sauteed vegetables and rice and beans.  That doesn’t necessarily sound Czech.  But trust me, it was good – filling, simple, but very satisfying.

Chicken with Sauteed Vegetables and Rice and Beans

Chicken with Sauteed Vegetables and Rice and Beans

What this meal earth-shattering?  No.  But will I be thrilled if I find a dozen lunches and dinners in Prague as good as this?  Absolutely.  Our visit to Cafe Prague only served to further excite me for our coming trip!  And I look forward to sharing our fun and great food experiences with you!

Posted in Chicken, Countries, Czech Republic, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, New York City, NYC Restaurants, Prague, Restaurants, United States | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Café d’Alsace: Where It All Started

Cafe d'Alsace

Cafe d’Alsace

I will begin this post by taking all the mystery out of it.  First of all, the answer to the question that I, and I presume all of you who are similarly dairy allergic, ask, is yes, there are dishes at Cafe d’Alsace that are dairy free.  Of course, if there weren’t why would I be eating there, but bear with me.

As for the “it” of this post’s title, I am referring to the romance I have been carrying on for these several years with my lovely wife Therese.  You see, it was at Cafe d’Alsace that we met for our first date.  It was Restaurant Week in NY back then, a twice annual period when many of the city’s great restaurants offer fixed price meals so that folks on a budget can for that time afford an exceptional meal.  We had a very nice dinner that night at which we got to know each other a bit, and as they say, the rest is – well, not history, but more like a grand adventure.  Which goes on to this day.

But getting back to the food.  It is great when entering a restaurant to discover that there are a whole range of dishes on their menu that are dairy free.  But let me tell you, Cafe d’Alsace only has to have one such dish to make me smile to the outer extent of my face: choucroute garnie.  A friend of mine introduced me to this dish years back, and I will always remember him, and love him, for it.  It’s pretty simple: sauerkraut, potatoes and pork products.  With an emphasis on the latter, as the song goes.

When I was there most recently with Therese, for another Restaurant Week dinner, I actually did venture a tiny bit outside my comfort zone.  I saw on the menu that they also offer a duck choucroute, and my mind filled with wonder imagining what it might be like to put sauerkraut and duck (another thing I love to eat) together.

Duck Choucroute

Duck Choucroute

The dish came in a rustic cast iron pan set on a cutting board.  It was garnished with a large sprig of rosemary, hinting at how the dish was prepared.  There were three duck preparations: a duck confit leg, a duck breast, and a plump duck sausage.  Each one was more rich and satisfying then the next.  But I have to say, the star of this dish is the sauerkraut.  It is so soft and sweet and many-layered in its flavor.  If someone told me that all I could eat for the rest of my life was sauerkraut, I would be happy, but only if my meals were prepared with this recipe.  I’m sure there are juniper berries involved, and some other choice spices.

So now you see, I have two things I can reliably order at Cafe d’Alsace.  But there may come a day when I grow bored with their sauerkraut perfection and explore the menu further.  I bet there are other things I could eat there.  As for drinking, exploring their wine and beer lists is a worthwhile endeavor.  This is one of the few restaurants where you can find the amazing Schlenkerla Rauchbier, for example.  Schlenkerla is a beer that, yes my friends, tastes like bacon.  So of course it goes smashingly with choucroute garnie.  This I know from experience.  They also have great Alsacian wines, like our favorite, the Gewurztraminer, a white wine with enough backbone and complexity to go toe to toe with choucroute garnie.

If you are already tired of hearing about my sauerkraut, I will tell you that Therese also had an extraordinary dish – duck (breast and confit) with potatoes and a duck jus that was sweetened with a bit of raspberry.

Therese's Duck Entree

Therese’s Duck Entree

For dessert, as usual there was sorbet for the dairy allergic diner.  But do not feel sorry for me.

Raspberry and Passion Fruit Sorbet

Raspberry and Passion Fruit Sorbet

First of all, they very wisely added some berries and a dollop of raspberry sauce, which made the sorbet more exciting.  Second, with such an extraordinary meal already having taken place, I didn’t mind a bit of anti-climax.

Posted in Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, New York, New York City, NYC Restaurants, Restaurants, United States | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Coconut 5-Layer Cake: More Dairy Free Fun with My Wilton Pans

Coconut 5-Layer Cake

Coconut 5-Layer Cake

Therese had a craving for coconut cake one day, and I thought, why not?  I’ve never made that before.  It would be fun.  We had a recipe on hand that she had saved last winter.  Unfortunately, it was for Coconut Chiffon Bundt Cake.  Hmmm.  We don’t own a bundt pan.  But we do have something that’s a lot more fun (bundt cake is so 1950s!) – our Wilton 5 Layer Cake Pan Set.  And thus it became a Coconut 5-Layer Cake.

Did I adapt the recipe for the 5-layer cake?  Actually, not much.  The recipe was already dairy free, by virtue of the fact that it used coconut milk (yay!).  I toasted my own coconut (back to that in a minute) and put some of it in the icing, as well as sprinkling it over the top of the cake.  I only used about 85% of the cake batter – I used the leftover batter to make pancakes a couple days later (which came out wonderful, by the way).  And I didn’t need to bake those thin layers for 45 minutes – 15-20 minutes was plenty.  Otherwise, I pretty much did everything the same as in the original recipe.

But oh, what a luxurious creamy fluffy batter it was!  Folding the whipped egg whites into it was lots of fun.

Folding Egg Whites into Cake Batter

Folding Egg Whites into Cake Batter

The resulting cake layers had the most wonderful light golden brown coloring.

Cake Layers Straight from the Oven

Cake Layers Straight from the Oven

OK, now back to that coconut.  I started with Let’s Do Organic Shredded, Unsweetened Coconut.  I suppose you could buy toasted coconut, but I wanted to toast my own.  And what did I find out?  It’s a little tricky.  Just like with pine nuts, if you wait until you see the coconut darkening, it is already burnt.  You have to go by the smell (my wife is great at this) – put a thin layer of coconut in a small skillet over the lowest heat possible, and stir for a couple of minutes.  When the coconut starts to give off a smell and feels a bit warmed, it is toasted.  It may still look white, i.e., not yet toasted, but when you transfer it to a bowl, you will see that, eureka! it has in fact turned the loveliest shade of light brown.

Coconut Toasted By Hand

Coconut Toasted By Hand

When the cake was completely cooled, I assembled it by spreading just a bit of the icing on each of the internal layers, and most of the icing over the top.  Then I took what icing was left – a few tablespoons – and drizzled it down the sides.  Lastly, I sprinkled the toasted coconut over the top.  When I sliced the cake, I sprinkled some extra coconut over the side of the slice.  That gave the cake plenty of coconut flavor!

Slice of Coconut Cake with Sprinkled Toasted Coconut

Slice of Coconut Cake with Sprinkled Toasted Coconut

Posted in Baking, Cake, coconut milk, Dairy Free, Dessert, Food, Recipes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Zucchini Quiche Muffins: Thanks, Gluten-Free Homemaker!

Zucchni Quiche Muffins

Zucchini Quiche Muffins

Among the groups I follow on Facebook is that of the Gluten-Free Homemaker.  As you know, I don’t restrict myself to eating dairy free.  I am open to trying all kinds of allergy free combinations, and even have been known to eat (and bake) vegan from time to time.  I have seen a number of entries on the Gluten-Free Homemaker page lately that really made me say, “wow, that looks good!  I have to try that!”  The first such recipe that I actually got around to trying was this one for Zucchini Quiche Muffins.

I will not print the recipe here – if this intrigues you half as much as it did me, I certainly encourage you to go to Linda Etherton‘s fine website and see what kind of magic she is conjuring up there.  But I am happy to tell you about my experience with this recipe, which was fun and came out a little different than I expected it to.

So the whole thing started with zucchini in one corner, and eggs in the other.  As in, 6 whole eggs cracked into a bowl and whisked -

And two large zucchini grated with a box grater to make about 2 cups worth (it took about 1-1/2 zucchinis) -

Oops, I am going a little out of order.  I believe the first thing that I actually did was chop bacon into thin strips and then render it down until it was nice and crisp.

I’m glad I remembered bacon, because I have two comments to make about the bacon.  First, for putting in a preparation such as this, I am happy to cook the bacon until it is quite crisp (usually I am a only-crispy-around-the-edges bacon lover), because I know that it will get soaked with the wet ingredients and end up being a bit crispy and a bit chewy in the final product.  Second, I cheated on the amount of bacon – I used what I had in the refrigerator, which was about half of what the recipe called for – and I paid for it with the muffins. Those bites with a bit of bacon in them were great, while the bites without bacon were a little too much egg and zucchini, i.e., kinda boring.

So yes, getting back to the preperation.  Render the bacon, whisk the eggs, grate the zucchini.  Add all the ingredients to the bowl with the eggs in it (including almond flour, one of my favorite ingredients at the moment – I put it in some blueberry muffins the other day and it made them extra tasty).

All the Ingredients Ready to Be Mixed

All the Ingredients Ready to Be Mixed

Mix the ingredients together, and transfer them to a well-oiled muffin pan (hmmm, I went a little nuts with the oiling part – I use Pam Cooking Spray and this one was a bit hard to control).

Muffins Ready for the Oven

Muffins Ready for the Oven

While my quiche muffins baked in the oven, I worked on my main course for my light lunch – chicken strips.  Nothing fancy: I just sliced up four boneless, skinless chicken thighs and dusted them on both sides with salt and pepper.

Chicken Cut Into Strips

Chicken Cut Into Strips

Then I cooked these in a dry non-stick skillet – my much beloved Scanpan Fry Pan.  You don’t need any oil – the chicken will not stick, and as the fat on the thighs cooks down, that will give you a little schmaltz to add some flavor.

Chicken Cooked in Nonstick Scanpan

Chicken Cooked in Nonstick Scanpan

After the thigh strips have cooked on each side for about 3 minutes and you’re are sure they are thoroughly cooked (thicker pieces might take a little longer), transfer them to a plate with a paper towel to drain.

When the muffins were ready -

Quiche Muffins Straight from the Oven

Quiche Muffins Straight from the Oven

I transferred them to a cooling rack, and once they had cooled a bit, I put them together with my chicken strips for a very satisfying lunch.

Zucchini Quiche Muffins and Chicken Strips Lunch

Zucchini Quiche Muffins and Chicken Strips Lunch

I enjoyed the zucchini quiche muffins, but they were a bit eggy and could’ve used a little more flavor (my fault for not adding the proper amount of bacon).  When I ate the leftovers, I spread some Tofutti Cream Cheese on the top and that made them more enjoyable.

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Sur La Table Vietnamese Cooking 101 Class: Pho and So On

Sur la Table Vietnamese Cooking 101 Class

Sur la Table Vietnamese Cooking 101 Class

I have been a part-time sales associate at Sur la Table‘s Hells Kitchen/Columbus Circle store for nearly three years, but it was only a couple of weeks ago that I finally took my first cooking class there!  The previous manager thought that if all the sales associates took a cooking class, it would enable us to better sell the classes to customers, and so he asked that we all sign up for a class.  With a trip to Vietnam coming up for me in the next 6 months, the Vietnamese Cooking 101 class held the most appeal for me, and that therefore was the one for which I signed up.

I was fortunate that this class was being taught by Chef Lisa Lucatorto.  All the chefs who teach classes at Sur la Table are great, but Lisa, with her cheerful attitude, makes me think that no matter what your level of kitchen expertise, you would have fun in one of her classes.  Another of my colleagues, Jay, was also taking the class, so we teamed up at one of the stations in the front of the classroom.

True to its 101/beginner status, the class taught us some of the basics of Vietnamese cuisine: the Summer Roll, the Banh Mi sandwich and the Pho soup.  There was also a crepe made with coconut milk that I will come back to in a minute.

We started off with the summer roll.  With 4 of us at our station – besides me and Jay, there was a father-and-son team named Flip and John – we each took on one of the tasks.  I made the dipping sauce, while the other three prepared the vegetables that would be the stuffing for the rolls.

Once we had all the fillings and the sauce ready, Chef Lisa showed us how to prepare the rice paper covering for the summer rolls.  Before you wet a sheet of paper, it is dry and brittle.  As you wet it in a large bowl of water, it becomes very soft and sticky.  When the slimy-stickiness abates, then it is ready to be laid out on the table, filled with vegetables, and rolled up into a summer roll.

I will cut to the chase and tell you that I did not do this very well.  Both my rolls were lumpy and too soft and a challenge to eat.  The fillings were nice, but honestly I would’ve loved a couple of steamed prawns in there for contrast in texture/flavor.  The sauce, for me, was the real star – made with mung bean paste, this is something I will definitely try making at home.

Next came the curious crepe.  Curious because the recipe just seemed a bit lacking.  In Chef Lisa’s defense, the menu is dictated to her by Sur la Table’s corporate offices in Seattle.  The ingredients for the crepe itself were just rice flour, salt, sugar, turmeric, coconut milk and water.  To me, it needed an egg or something.  Every one struggled with this one.

John went first at our table, but when he had trouble getting his crepe out of the pan, I stepped in and scooped that first crepe onto a plate.  If you’ve made crepes, you know that the first one you make is usually a mistake, and this one was definitely that way – overly oily, with an undercooked texture.  But since I took it from the pan, that one became mine, and I gobbled it up.  The other three guys soldiered on, making more crepes with a little more success than that first one.  But nobody I don’t think found this offering terribly satisfying.  Oh well.  There was more food to come.

The third course was a Banh Mi sandwich.  I grew excited seeing the fixings for this hybrid Vietnamese-French concoction on our station.  Therese and I make these all the time, especially when we go to see the Met Opera’s Live in HD movies.  Also, we have had amazing Banh Mi’s at Banh Mi Zon in the East Village.  How would this class Banh Mi stand up to other ones I have had?

Making this Banh Mi was pretty simple.  All we had to do was chop up some vegetables.  The pork and pickled carrot/daikon had been made ahead of time for us.  Then we simply assembled the sandwiches and chopped them in half – we each got to eat just half.

I missed the crunchiness of the toasted bread I am used to having with my Banh Mi’s.  This bread was room temperature and didn’t provide enough contrast to the vegetables.  The pork was nice, but there is often pate and other meats on Banh Mi so this one seemed under-filled to me.  On a grading scale, I would give this one a C+ or B-.

The final course was the Pho, the typical Vietnamese noodle soup.  The broth had been prepared ahead of time for us – all we had to do was get it simmering, and slice our beef paper-thin.  And there was once again mint and cilantro to remove from its stems.  Once we got the beef simmering in the broth, it was time to take a break.

When we came back from the break, the beef was ready, and we assembled our soups.  First, you put a bunch of rice noodles in the bottom of your bowl.  Then, you poured over some broth and pieces of beef.  Then you added your vegetables and sauce.  Honestly, by this point I was already pretty full (I blame that on that doughy crepe!), but I made myself a bowl and tasted some of it.

My Bowl of Pho

My Bowl of Pho

I enjoyed my first cooking class.  While in one sense I could say that the menu was a little too basic for me (I would’ve loved to have toasted the baguette for the Banh Mi, for example), in another sense there were still a number of challenges.  And just as I had imagined, Chef Lisa and her assistants made the whole experience lots of fun.

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Cherry Rhubarb Almond Crisp: A Second Crack at Dairy Free Crisp

Cherry Rhubarb Almond Crisp

Cherry Rhubarb Almond Crisp

I don’t know about wherever you are, but here in the northeast, it has been an exceptional year for cherries.  Early in the season, when the cherries were still going for upwards of 9 dollars a pound, we held off.  But once the price dropped to a reasonable rate, we bought some, and wow! these were good cherries.  We like to eat them one at a time, keeping a little bowl close at hand to spit the pits into.  But we had so many good ones that I thought it would be good to use them in a baked dish.  And since rhubarb was also plentiful and reasonably priced, I decided to couple that with the cherries in a cherry rhubarb almond crisp.

As far as the recipe goes (i.e., ratio of ingredients and such), this dish is pretty much identical to the Apple Rhubarb Almond Crisp recipe I posted several weeks back.  The only difference is that this has cherries rather than apple.  I will say that if, like us, you own one of these one-at-a-time cherry pitters, it does take some time to get 3 cups of cherries ready.  We own the Zyliss Cherry Pitter, but Oxo and other brands make a similar gadget that pokes the pit out and keeps the cherry mostly intact.  I know that in this day and age we want to be able to do everything in a few seconds – and certainly there are models on the market that pit several cherries at once – but for me, I think the one-at-a-time method is the best.  You don’t want to accidentally leave a pit in your crisp anywhere – somebody could break a tooth!  Therese did the pitting for us in this case, and she reported to me that it was a bit tedious.  But she was happy to eat the crisp, so it all evened out.

So here is a bit of a photo array showing you the steps.  As I write, cherries are starting to go up in price, signaling that the end of the cherry season is coming soon.  But if you haven’t enjoyed this summer’s cherries yet, I encourage you to go out and get yourself a pound or two and munch away.  Pit them beforehand, or just pop them in your mouth one at a time.

Or here’s an idea: the next time you are going to the movies, instead of going for the expensive salty pop corn, bring a big bag of cherries, with a second bag for the pits.  Then in the dark, while you enjoy your summer blockbuster of things blowing up and the world being saved, munch on your cherries.  Just be careful to spit the pits into the bag, not onto the floor!

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