“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”
With all the preparation that goes into these meals, I often liken myself to Clarissa Dalloway – the ever gracious hostess, so wrapped up and engrossed with the details of meal planning that I almost feel beside myself. There is always a lot of cleaning involved, and then there is the bit about inviting the right mix of people to dine. In addition, there’s some reading (menus and recipes, of course) and grocery shopping to be done. And finally, a walk down College Ave. to the corner flower stand for a fresh bouquet of daffodils which will add to the warmth and ambiance. All this anticipation for a sweet, intimate family dinner. Bringing friends together to create those rare happy moments that some people can only dream about. It’s what Clarissa lived for – it’s what I thrive to do.
And at the pinnacle, once all the preparation is done and all the friends seated together, I can’t help but introspect a little, and reflect on life and those invisible threads that have brought the diverse crowd together. Everyone brings to the table a bit of history, a bit of drama, a bit of flavor – some that clash, others that compliment, but over all, always aligning like corresponding puzzle pieces. There is plenty of laughter – enough to induce stomach pains; then there’s chatter – bantering and joking and telling the stories that make up our lives; and smiles, those private and guarded ones that curl up on your lips when you witness the beauty of the child you conceived or rather, the beauty of the scene unfolding before you. Or perhaps, you smile with your eyes and someone catches it, sharing that connection, together musing on the pleasantries and each other. Such is how I ideally would like to spend my summer days and nights…Pad Thai
Kari and I decided last week that we wanted a Thai dinner for this week’s Tuesday Night Dinner. And Pad Thai is the quintessential Thai dish with its tangy and savory tamarind/fish sauce, the fragrant chives and scallions, the sweet shrimp and textured tofu, loads of crunchy nuts and the freshness from the lime juice. I have never made Pad Thai, but I am proud to say that my first attempt was fairly successful. To get started, I read Chez Pim’s Pad Thai for Beginners, and that certainly cleared up a lot of things. I then compared it to Alton Brown’s recipe then Martha’s. Let me just applaud Chez Pim for her incredible entry. Absolutely amazing despite a lack of recipe. Just keep in mind that this is cooking (not baking), the basic ingredients serve as the skeleton and you have to fill in from there. I didn’t really have a recipe, but my basic ingredients are listed below, followed by a set of general instructions. Just make sure to taste test as you go. I served Pad Thai with eggrolls as you will see in the pictures below (above).
Pad Thai Noodles:
Packaged Dried Rice Stick
Fresh Firm Tofu
For the Pad Thai Sauce:
In a small pot, stir together 4 tbs Tamarind Soup Base, 1/2 cup (about) fish sauce, and 1/3 cup sugar. Heat to dissolve. Test taste, adjust, add more as needed until you obtain the desired result. I ended up using something like a cup of fish sauce and probably just as much sugar. The paprika or chili powder should be added last. Chez Pim described it very eloquently when she wrote that you want to first feel the savory, followed by the tangy/sour, and then just a sweet after taste, ending with just a tickle of spicy. That’s exactly how I felt when I was making the sauce. And the best part is you can jar it up when it cools to room temp and stick it in the fridge for whenever you want to make Pad Thai.
Pad Thai Preparation:
Soak the dried rice sticks in warm water for at least 15 minutes before cooking. All veggies should be rinsed under cold water. All the greens need to be chopped into pinky length. Garlic should be mined. Fresh firm tofu comes in brick-sized chunks. For 4 people, I would use half a brick. Simply cut into long rectangles the approximate size of your pinky. After de-shelling and cleaning the shrimp, allow to dry and then season with a little salt and pepper. If you like, pour a little Pad Thai sauce over the shrimp and allow to marinate for a few minutes before cooking.
Pad Thai Here We Go:
1 Heat a wok on high heat until it smokes. Add enough oil to coat the bottom, and then some.
2 Throw in the tofu and fry until all edges are golden yellow and crispy. Remove from heat and allow to cool on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil.
3 In the same wok, add more oil (if necessary) and the garlic. Stir-fry. Add the noodles and trim if necessary because the noodles can be quite long. Add a few tablespoons of Pad Thai Sauce and constantly keep the wok moving. If it looks like it is too dry, add a few tablespoons of water. If it gets too light in color, add a bit more sauce. Keep this fast as the noodles will become too starchy and rubbery later on.
4 Crack an egg or two into the noodles, allowing the eggs to settle a bit before stirring it up in the wok. I used 4 eggs for 4 people.
5 Add the raw shrimp and continue to keep the work moving. Shrimp cooks very quickly, and you will know its done when the color is a vibrant red.
6 Throw in a handful of bean sprouts (or more if you like), a few sticks of chopped green onion, a bit of the chives. As needed, add more sauce and continue to stir.
7 Return the tofu to the wok to reheat. Again, add more sauce and/or a bit of water to keep it all going. Test taste as you go. If it needs more savory, then on the side make a little bowl of diluted fish sauce (water + fish sauce) and dump it in. Your kitchen is going to reek but at least you know the pad thai is going to be delicious!
8 Remove from heat and transfer to serving dish. Garnish with more freshly chopped chives and scallions. Sprinkle crushed peanuts on top and place several wedges of lime on the side.
Sticky Rice and Mango
And it wouldn’t be a Thai meal without Sticky Rice and Mango! And please, don’t be intimidated. It wasn’t difficult at all. The best resource for this would be Thai Food Tonight. There is a great demo video with instructions. And while you are digging into the noodles, you can have the rice cooker going, occasionally getting up to stir together the coconut milk or what not. This recipe serves 5 people.
Sweet Sticky Rice with Mangos:
2 Cups of Sweet Rice
1 Cup of Sugar
½ Can (13.5 Fl. oz.) Coconut Milk
2 Ripe Mangos
Toasted Sesame seeds for garnish, optional
Cream Sauce Topping:
½ Can (13.5 Fl. oz.) Coconut Milk
1 Tablespoon of Sugar
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp Cornstarch
For the cream sauce topping, mix all ingredients in a saucepan and stir until dissolved and well incorporated. I find that this recipe yields too much sauce, so it is okay to cut back. This is also just an approximate, so again I suggest just test tasting as you go.
Place rice in rice cooker pot, rinse until water is no longer murky. Drain but allow for half a centimeter of water to cover the rice surface. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt and give swirl. Cook like you would normal rice. It should be slightly drier than you are use to. This is a-okay because once the bell dings and the cooker switches to “Warm,” pour the pre-prepped mixture of coconut milk and sugar over the top of the warm rice and fold in. I found this resulted in an overly mushy rice grain, so I would add a little at a time and allow it to fully incorporate before adding more. This recipe overshot it, I think, so go easy with the coconut milk. Continue to keep the pot on the “Warm” setting. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature or serve warm, sprinkling sesame seeds on top of the rice and coupling the rice with sliced mangoes and the cream sauce topping.
Thanks for joining me on this week’s Tuesday Night Dinner. I had a fabulous time with Piggies, Judy and someoneiknow. It transformed my semi-stressed day at work into something wonderful! And who knows what next week(and subsequent dinners) will bring? Oh, I know! Piggy and I have been invited to dinner Thursday night, and we have decided to make a fresh berry tart to bring over. This is going to be very exciting, so details will be posted, no doubt. Also, next Tuesday night is the Ici Staff Party, and we will be dining at Dona Tomas. Incredible, no? “What is this terror? what is this ecstasy? What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement?”
Until soon fair readers and happy cooking!