Monday, September 27, 2010

Project Food Blog voting is open! And a Giveaway!!!

To show you how much I love you all, I could box up hugs, or I could tell you about my awesome giveaway!  CSN stores is sponsoring a giveaway for a $35 gift certificate that you can spend on whatever your little heart desires.  Maybe you need something spruce up your home like dining chairs or a cute new kitchen rug.  Personally, I have had my eye on some of the items from their cookware site, in particular these silicone baking mats and these kitchen scales.  

So how do you enter?  There are a total of 4 ways you can get a entry, and they are so simple: 

1.) Whether you are a new reader or a loyal follower, tell me what your favorite post is on The Cilantropist.  If you need to jog your memory, just browse through my monthly archives over in the sidebar, or check out my new recipe index

2.) Follow me on Twitter!  As my friends will tell you, I am Chatty Cathy.  

3.) Get another entry by tweeting about my giveaway: "I entered the CSN giveaway from @TheCilantropist! Check it out!

4.) Follow my blog through a reader, also on the sidebar.  I love love love my followers and my commenters, and visit their blogs often. 

Please leave a separate comment for each entry, and if you already do one of the things mentioned above (ie. subscribe to my blog or follow on twitter), please leave a comment mentioning it.  Just so that we are clear on who can enter, this giveaway is open to anyone in the US or Canada.  This giveaway is open to bloggers and home cooks alike, just be sure to include your email address in the comment section (email is confidential) so I can contact the winner.  Giveaway is open through Thursday, September, 30th, at 9pm PST, and a winner will be chosen at random.  

Did you see my post yesterday where I made authentic Tom Yum Goong?  Don't speak Thai?  Well then, I made Hot and Sour soup, and it was glorious.  I also may have made my own Roasted Chili Paste (Nam Prik Pao) from scratch.  Some people say this means I am hardcore.  Maybe I am... Or maybe I am just in search of authenticity.  Either way be sure to check out my full post on Foodbuzz, and if you like it, vote for me in the second round of Project Food Blog here!  I am so excited to be participating in Project Food Blog and I appreciate your support.  Thanks for reading! 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tom Yum Goong with Homemade Nam Prik Pao

Tom Yum Goong with homemade Nam Prik Pao... Otherwise known as Hot and Sour Soup with Prawns, and homemade Roasted Chile Paste.  This soup is a classic of Thai cuisine, and for me, is warming to the body and the soul.  Tom Yum embraces the traditional flavors of sour and spicy, with an added saltiness and a fragrance of fresh herbs that I love. 

I was inspired to make Tom Yum when my friend Steve gave me fresh lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves from his parent's garden.  I was excited because I had never used kaffir lime leaves before, although I knew they were essential for Thai cooking.  Since Steve has a strong Asian heritage, we discussed how I could use these ingredients in the most authentic way, and decided that Tom Yum was the perfect dish.         

Once I started looking through Tom Yum recipes, I quickly realized that although the soup itself is simple, the ingredients and different components are complex.  I decided I needed to do a little research (remember, I am scientist, this is my specialty).  I searched the internet and checked out some books on Thai cuisine from the library, and discovered that if I really wanted my soup to be authentic and have the best taste, I needed to make my own Roasted Chile Paste.

Roasted Chile Paste, or Nam Prik Pao, is what gives Tom Yum its characteristic 'hot' flavor.  Prik means chile, and Nam Prik together means chile sauce; when the chiles are prepared by the traditional Thai method of dry roasting (Pao, or pow), the condiment is called Nam Prik Pao.  Dry roasting involves cooking the chiles in a hot skillet or wok without any liquid or oil.  This causes them to become browned, just shy of burnt, and produces a deep smoky flavor.  The chiles used to make Nam Prik Pao vary from mild varieties such as Anaheim, to very spicy varieties such as De Arbol or Japones.  To make the chile paste, the roasted chiles are ground to a powder, and added to oil along with fine bits of fried garlic and shallots, as well as fish oil, shrimp paste, and tamarind.    

I was able to find everything that I needed to make the soup as well as the chile sauce, with the exception of tamarind paste.  Tamarind is the edible fruit from the seed pod of the tamarind tree.  Basically, the seeds are encased by a fleshy pulp that has a taste that is often sour but sometimes sweet, and as such, tamarind is another classic Thai ingredient used to impart sour flavoring.  You can buy tamarind paste pre-made, or you can purchase compressed blocks of wet tamarind and make your own paste by combining the tamarind with water (I used 12 ounces of block tamarind with 2 cups of water) and working the pulp with your hands to produce a paste.     

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Zesty Greens with Black Mission Figs, Parmesan, and Pine Nuts

It's salad time again!  Today I want to share my second recipe in this series as Artisan Ambassador for the new Fresh Express artisan salad blends, and to start telling you a few things that I have really enjoyed about these lettuces. (And to hint at a recipe contest with a prize!  See below!)

For this salad, I used the Wild Rocket Zest artisanal blend, which includes arugula, spinach, and tatsoi.  Never heard of tatsoi?  Neither had I.  (Turns out my 'greens IQ' was not as high as I thought!)  Tatsoi is an Asian green varietal also known as spoon mustard or spinach mustard.  It has beautiful dark green spoon-shaped leaves that you can see in the photo above.  Because of its lovely aesthetic, this green is commonly grown as edible landscaping, otherwise known as ornamental lettuce.     

I wanted to mix this peppery blend with something a little sweet and a little savory, so I used some beautiful California Black Mission figs and paired them with shaved parmesan and pine nuts.  In the fall, I just adore figs, and I try my best not to become obsessed with them (like I did with peaches this summer), although I make no promises.  Because what's not to love?  Mission figs have a plump, and almost voluptuous shape, and a deep purple color that adds great color to salads and other dishes.  I also love them for their soft and grainy texture and subtle sweetness.  

For the dressing, I went with a simple Sherry vinaigrette with a little garlic for some extra flavor.  The sweeter sherry vinegar balanced really well with the arugula and the italian flavors of the pine nuts and parmesan.  Since there aren't a lot of dominant flavors in this salad, the thing that really took it over the top was this lettuce blend; the flavor kicks up a party in your mouth and has just the right amount of spicy arugula mixed with other greens to be interesting.     

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Birthday Layer Cake

So before I tell you about this luscious chocolate layer cake, I just want to mention that today marks opening day for voting in Project Food Blog 2010!  Don't have any clue what I am talking about?  You can find some info here, and also see my profile by clicking on the cute little widget with my cute little picture that is over on the sidebar (or here).  In a nutshell, 2,000+ bloggers will compete in a series of challenges to determine who is the next food blog star.  Oh yeah, and that person will win $10,000.  A minor detail of course.  Since I am participating (and fiercely competitive), I would love your support and your votes!  I really hope you enjoyed reading my first entry and you can vote for me using this link, just click the heart!  Also, on the voting page you can share my entry on Facebook or Twitter.  Isn't technology these days wonderful?    

And now, without further ado... On to the birthday festivities!  

I am a little late in posting this cake, since I made it August for my good friends Jenn and Jill.  They both have birthdays within weeks of each other, although Jill is a Leo and Jenn is a Virgo.  (I am sure you were dying to know that.)  I thought about having a separate birthday celebration for each of them, but then it seemed like too much to take on, even for me, especially considering I was making a second layer cake that same weekend.  So, to properly celebrate both their birthdays, I decided I would make them a spectacular cake that was just to their liking. 

I already had a good idea about the kinds of flavors that were their favorites, but to be absolutely sure, I asked them in advance while we chatting online what kind of cake they would like.  This is what they said:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pickled Watermelon Rind

This month I saw all my lovely blogger friends who are Daring Cooks producing cute little jars of apple and peach butter as part of this month's challenge focused on food preservation.  I have to say, this is definitely one month when I wished to be part of Daring Cooks since I love pickling and making preserves!  Even though I am not a member of this adventurous group, I do make my share of challenging and unique recipes, and I thought I would springboard off their challenge and share my latest pickling experience with you and ask for some suggestions.    

I found this recipe for pickled watermelon rind in Think Like a Chef by Tom Colicchio and I was drawn to it like a magnet.  (Don't ask why because I have no idea.  Maybe it had something to do with my hesitation to throw away all that pretty green rind.  Or, maybe I just like any recipe with the word pickle.)  The recipe seemed simple enough, and I thought it would be an interesting condiment to use with a summer fish dish or possibly in a relish. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Easy Everyday Salad

Hi friends!  I am excited to start sharing a series of posts dedicated to my favorite leafy vegetables: salad greens!  The wonderful folks over at Fresh Express have asked me to be a part of their Fresh Express Artisan Ambassador program as they launch their new line of artisan lettuce blends.  Myself and three other bloggers will be sharing recipes for healthy and delicious salads, as well as hosting a little recipe contest, and even helping you learn new things about lettuce along the way.  In addition to that, I will be growing four different types of lettuces that are featured in the Fresh Express artisan blends  to demonstrate that the lettuce they chose is truly that is in-season.  Are you ready to get started?  

I am planning to showcase this lovely lettuce with recipes ranging from simple to sophisticated, and today I will start by sharing my most simple and favorite weekday salad.  For this salad, I used the Sierra Crisp Herb blend, which contains sierra green leaf lettuce, red butter lettuce, parsley, and even cilantro!  Is it any wonder that I loved it? 

This salad is so easy to make and soooo fresh and healthy that I eat some variation of it at least once (if not twice) every week.  It is like my own little not-so-dirty secret and the ace in my pocket that helps keep me in skinny jeans even though I can't resist cookies and ice cream.  

Basically, I start with beautiful greens, and add whatever vegetables or fruits I have on hand.  In most cases I love to use the combination of ripe tomatoes, carrots and avocado, because they are so colorful and taste great together.  Other times, I might use celery for its crunch, or strawberries or raspberries for their sweetness.  Always, I use something creamy or rich such as the avocado or maybe feta, blue cheese, or egg.  As a bonus, adding cheese, egg, nuts, or chicken also ups the ante by giving you a solid dose of protein with your veggies.  I think a really important part of making salads appetizing, instead of something "green" to be tolerated, is including things like cheese that make you want to eat them.

Look!  These are more tomatoes from my plants! 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Labor Day Party, and Thomas Keller's Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Can I tell you about the heaven that was my Labor Day?  The So Cal sun was shining in a beautiful, cloudless sky, and I got to entertain six wonderful friends and cook a full meal for them, including mouth-watering buttermilk fried chicken, fresh side dishes, and made-from-scratch dark chocolate ice cream and salted butter caramel ice cream for dessert.  We caught up on our lives, laughed like crazy, and everyone left with full stomachs.  If this isn't heaven, then I don't know what is!      

I should tell you, the inception for this Labor Day party originally came from Thomas Keller's famous buttermilk fried chicken recipe.  As I was paging through Ad Hoc at Home, the images of this golden fried comfort food snuggled down deep in my brain and refused to budge; I figured resistance was futile (can you ever say no to fried chicken?), and decided to use it as an excuse to have a party.

Since the fried chicken was going to be the star of the show, I wanted to use light, in-season vegetables for side dishes.  I started out with watermelon tossed with lime, followed by a quick and easy vinegar coleslaw which I accidentally oversalted but everyone still loved.  I was especially excited to use sweet, green heirloom tomatoes and my own tomatoes (Yes! They survived!) to throw together a quick caprese salad.  And finally, a summer party isn't a party without corn on the cob!     

Monday, September 6, 2010

Dense, Dark Chocolate Ice Cream

Mmmm... chocolate.  Lots and lots of dark chocolate + cream + sugar = sinful.  

And be sure to take notice of this picture: Oh yes, in case you thought your eyes were deceiving you, I did make this ice cream in an ice cream maker.  My ice cream maker.  I know, I know, I said I would not purchase an ice cream maker.  I lamented the cost, the lack of space in my kitchen, and most importantly, how dangerous it could be to have an appliance that makes ice cream.  But lo and behold, when thrifting last month with my mom, I came across a brand new Cuisinart Automatic Ice Cream Maker, for the steal-of-a-deal price of only $10.  I immediately decided I liked living dangerously and so I snatched it up.     

Once I got the ice cream maker home, I did a little happy dance, and then made some standard vanilla ice cream using the recipe provided by Cuisinart.  (Being a scientist, it's hard to fight the urge to go with a standard 'protocol' the first time you use something new.)  The ice cream turned out alright as far as flavor goes, but I was just tickled pink with how awesome the ice cream maker was.  I mean, I had done the work before to make homemade ice cream by hand, and I would do it again because it tastes so phenomenal; but, having a machine that will churn it for me makes the entire experience just that much better and quicker.   

I think 'quicker' is the operative word, especially considering that I churned out not only one, but two, batches of ice cream for my Labor Day party this past weekend.  The first one was absolutely-to-die-for Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream from David Lebovitz (I would highly recommend that you give this recipe a try), and for the second, I got a little more adventurous and came up with my own recipe for Dark Chocolate Ice Cream.  

Friday, September 3, 2010

French Potato Salad with Herbs, and So Cal Summer Salad round-up

So remember allllll the way back in June when I said I would feature healthy salads regularly throughout the summer?  That little thing called So Cal Summer Salads that I very ambitiously promised I would keep up with?  Can you remember that far back?  Personally, I am having trouble remembering, partly because June seems so distant now that it is officially September, but it also may be that my mind has become suspiciously clouded with desserts, and summer fruits, and cakes...trying to see the light of leafy greens and vegetables through all that sugary haze has been nothing less than fun-filled delicious journey, of which I don't regret a single bite.  This summer, whether it has been sweet or savory, crunchy or creamy, I can definitely say I have eaten well.  

As September dawns and fall approaches, I can't really say that I anticipate radically changing any of my eating philosophies.  Oh sure, I could tell you I might try eating more healthy, or chowing on more apples and less ice cream (We all know this is a lost cause at this point.  How about less apples and more ice cream?).  But the truth is, I like eating and cooking and baking loads of different things, and the thought of focusing specifically on one thing or another doesn't sit well with me.  Where am I going with this?  

Well, with the launch of Project Food Blog from Foodbuzz (which I am SUPER excited about btw), I have taken a little bit of a timeout to ponder a big question...what is really going on here at The Cilantropist?  I mean, what am I doing here on this little webspace I like to call home?  The analytical side of my brain has been feverishly trying to fit myself into some sort of food-blogger mold, so that I can stick a shiny new label on this blog so everyone knows exactly what they are getting.  This feels much like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and thats not comfortable for anyone.   In contrast, the creative (and hungry) side of my brain seems say, "What's all this hooplah about?  We're having fun with this whole cooking and writing thing aren't we?  And we feel inspired!  And even better, we are eating... really eating...So lets just keep it up!"  Being a scientist, the analytical part of my brain usually wins out, but I think here I need to cave to creativity; because honestly, here on this site I am just sharing my adventures in eating well, feeding those I love, and living the good life.  And isn't that enough?