cauliflower tots

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Cauliflower is becoming my favorite vegetable. It is so versatile to cook with, and its health benefits are undeniable. It is low in fat and carbs. There are different ways to serve it. Puréed, it becomes a low-cal substitute for mashed potatoes. Grated, it takes on the texture of rice or couscous as a vegetable–and vegetarian–side dish. Here’s yet another way to serve it: cauliflower “tots.” When my kids were little, their favorite vegetable finger food was Tater Tots. These tots are so tasty it’s a surprise to realize that cauliflower is the main ingredient. I found that the addition of the Chinese celery, cilantro, and scallion added a wonderful herbal flavor to the tots. If you haven’t got Chinese celery, chop up some celery instead. It will add a nice crunch to the tots.

Cauliflower Tots

Prep time: 10 minutes
Baking time: 18 minutes
Servings: 18-20 tots

2 cups grated cauliflower, florets only, discard stem
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup chopped Chinese celery, stems only, discard leaves
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped scallion
3 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 cup grated white cheese (e.g. Cheddar, Mozzarella)
1 cup panko breadcrumbs or 1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400˚F/200˚C. Spray a baking tray with olive oil. Set aside.

Pulse the cauliflower florets 5-6 times in the food processor. Transfer to an oven-proof bowl and microwave on high power 2 1/2 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, beat the egg. Add the cooked cauliflower, Chinese celery stems, cilantro, scallion, garlic, cheese, and panko. Add salt and pepper to taste. I added a teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon white pepper. Mix well.

Scoop a tablespoonful of the cauliflower mixture into your hands and shape it into a fat oval. Place on the prepared baking tray. Bake 16-18 minutes or until browned, turning once during baking.

Cook’s Note: I found that the cauliflower tots stuck to the baking tray. My solution is to add more oil to the tray, but I remember when I did this to the black bean veggie burgers, it didn’t solve the problem entirely. The next time I make these I am going to fry them on the stove top in a skillet sprayed with cooking oil over medium to medium-high heat. This way I can turn them more frequently thus preventing sticking, and control the heat better.

Cook’s Note(added December 2, 2013): The cauliflower mixture should hold together when shaped. If it is too dry, add one large egg white.

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ciao, cucina

IMG_0443 Headed for the junk pile is our old Caloric. We’ve had this Caloric range since we moved to Thailand in 1989. I roasted 19 turkeys in that oven–the first year we spent Christmas in Australia so I didn’t do a turkey. Over the years, the oven thermostat broke and the electronic ignition for the burners gave up. But the oven kept on going until two weeks ago when my pound cake failed to bake.

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It’s very hard to replace an American gas stove in Thailand so we went with an Italian brand called Tecnogas. It’s just as wide but not as tall or as deep as the Caloric, so the kitchen actually seems bigger. An added bonus is I can finally get into the cupboard to the left of the stove, so now I have more storage space!

asian vegetable paella

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This recipe is based on the Catalan Vegetable Paella in the Essential New York Times Cookbook. I made some changes to it in my quest to substitute local ingredients wherever possible. Instead of zucchini, I used winter melon or wax gourd in the paella. Its flesh can stand up to steaming with the rice so that it still has a firmness to it even when it is cooked. Winter melon turns translucent when it is cooked, by the way, and like zucchini, it is bland and takes on the flavors of whatever it is cooked with. Using sushi rice, a short grain rice that is slightly sticky when cooked, is comparable to arborio, and a lot cheaper in this part of the world. This paella turned out to be quite delicious! I went back for seconds, and even my husband did not once complain about the absence of meat.

Asian Vegetable Paella

prep time: 15 minutes
cook time: 55 minutes
servings: 4

1/4 cup rice bran oil
1 small green chile pepper, finely minced, optional
1 large Bermuda onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 medium orange bell pepper, cored, seeded, thinly sliced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
4 large cloves garlic, pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons Spanish paprika
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded, and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 medium winter melon (wax gourd), peeled seeded, and cut into 1″ pieces
1 1/4 cups sushi rice
2 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken broth (I used 1/2 vegetable bouillon to 2 cups water)
Cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot with a tight fitting lid, such as a Dutch oven. Add the chile pepper, if using; onion, bell peppers, and reduce the heat to medium –low to cook for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the onion is lightly browned.

Add the garlic, paprika, thyme, and tomatoes. Season generously with salt and pepper. Cover the pot and simmer 5 minutes.

Add the winter melon and simmer 10 minutes.

Stir in the rice and broth and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the rice is tender.

Cook’s Note: Resist the temptation to check the rice during this period! Test the rice after 20 minutes. If some of the grains taste hard, stir the pot, then let the paella cook for 5 more minutes.

Taste and correct the seasoning. Garnish with minced cilantro. Serve hot directly from the pan.

fried cauliflower rice with chinese sausage and seasoned shiitake mushrooms

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Today I walked-jogged 18 laps around the jogging track; that’s 6k! So, not wanting to spoil the good feeling, I made a healthy fried rice for dinner. I used grated cauliflower instead of rice for a low carb option. Since I married an unreformed meat lover, I put slivers of Chinese sausage in it, but they can easily be left out to make this a vegetarian dish. The seasoned mushrooms are meaty and so full of flavor they really make this dish satisfying, I think.

Fried Cauliflower Rice with Chinese Sausage and Seasoned Shiitake Mushrooms

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Servings: 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side dish

1 small head cauliflower, florets only, discard stem (yield: 2 1/2 cups grated)
8 large fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut into slices
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon dark thick soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 large Chinese sausage or 2 small, cut into 2” sticks
1/2 onion, sliced
4 large cloves garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
2 tablespoons oil

Cut all the florets into even pieces and put them in the workbowl of the food processor. Pulse 6-7 times until the cauliflower is the texture of couscous.  Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet. When it is hot, add the sliced mushrooms, soy sauces, and sugar. Cook until the sauces are absorbed. Remove to a bowl and set aside. Clean out the skillet.

Heat another tablespoon oil in the skillet. Cook the Chinese sausage until crisp. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

To the oil remaining in the skillet, add the onion and cook until it is wilted, then add the garlic. Cook until just fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the cauliflower rice. Cook until it softens and turns brown, about 5-6 minutes. Add the reserved mushrooms and the Chinese sausage. Mix well.

yum khai dao, a thai fried egg salad

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I love the delicious irony that I live in Thailand but I find Thai recipes via the internet. This one is from Food 52. A yum (pronounced with the same vowel sound as in but) is a warm cooked salad, this one featuring two fried eggs. It is sour, salty, sweet and should have been spicy but I left out the chilies because I can’t eat anything spicy. I forgot the onion in this picture. This recipe calls for palm sugar, which is sold in small round cakes at Asian markets. If palm sugar is not available, substitute brown sugar.

You’ll need:
2 large eggs, room temperature
Oil
1/4 cup coarsely chopped Chinese celery, with stems and leaves
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, with stems and leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons palm sugar syrup (recipe to follow)
1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 medium onion cut on the grain
2 large cloves garlic, sliced
2 fresh Thai chilies, thinly sliced (remove seeds if less heat is desired), optional
4 leaves romaine lettuce (also called cos), chopped

1. Fry the eggs. In a medium saucepan, fill the bottom with vegetable oil to about 1/4 inch level. Heat the oil until it is smoking. While the oil is heating, crack each egg open into a small bowl. When the oil begins to smoke, turn the heat down to medium at once. Carefully pour the egg as close as possible to the oil. It will crackle and swell. Pour in the second egg. When the edges turn brown, in about 45 seconds, use a slotted spoon to flip the eggs. The eggs will cook quickly, about 45 seconds, but go by appearance as to how soft or hard you want the egg yolks. Drain them on paper toweling and pat the top dry with another sheet.

Cook’s Note: Make sure the bowl is absolutely dry before you crack the egg open in it, because you are going to pour the egg into the hot oil and any water in the bowl will boil up when it comes in contact with the hot oil.

2. Make the salad dressing. Drain off the oil. Heat the pan over medium heat. Add the syrup, lime juice, fish sauce, garlic, onions, and chilies, if using. Heat just 15 seconds then remove from heat.

3. Assemble the salad. Slice the cooked eggs into quarters and return to the pot. If the egg yolks are runny, fine, if not, don’t worry. Add the cilantro and Chinese celery. Mix thoroughly.

4. Serve. On a plate, spread the chopped lettuce. Spoon the egg mixture on top and eat the yum khai dao with hot rice.

Palm Sugar Syrup
1 palm sugar cake (substitute 1/4 cup brown sugar)
5 tablespoons water

Coarsely chop the palm sugar cake. Put it in a small pot with the water. Heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and let it cool before using. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

home made yogurt

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I know I’m home when I take up my old routines! I still haven’t completely unpacked our boxes from New York but I made yogurt. I used to make yogurt all the time in Bangkok because I could never find a decent plain yogurt here. That is, yogurt that is unsweetened. Having plain yogurt on hand is great because with a bit of honey and fruit it’s breakfast or dessert. I can also use it to make smoothies, salad dressings, and as a substitute for expensive sour cream in cakes. Sometimes I would strain it with coffee filters to make Greek style yogurt. So yogurt is an essential part of my kitchen. Also essential to the success of yogurt making is that the yogurt starter must contain active cultures. And you will need a candy thermometer because temperature is the key to setting yogurt.

You’ll need

1 x 140g carton plain yogurt with active cultures, for example Dutchie
200 ml whole milk
200 ml 0% milk

In a kettle, boil enough water to sterilize 5 canning jars. Pour the boiled water in the jars and let it stand 5 minutes. Pour out the water and set aside the clean jars.

In a large pot heat the two kinds of milk over medium high heat. Put the candy thermometer in the pot.

Cook’s Note: Some yogurt makers say that yogurt made with only 0% milk won’t set. But I’ve found that it does;  it’s just more watery. Yogurt actually sets better with whole milk. So I make a large batch combining both the whole and 0% milk to fill 4 1/2 Kerr canning jars.

When the temperature of the milk reaches 150˚F, you’ll notice there are tiny bubbles all around the rim of the pot. Turn off the heat. Let the milk cool to 120˚F. Add the entire carton of yogurt and stir well. Ladle the milk mixture into the clean jars.

Place the jars in a draft free area, like the oven, to set. The yogurt will set in 5 hours. Screw on the lids and refrigerate at once.

Cook’s Note: You’ll know the yogurt has set because, when you tilt the jar, the milk mixture has thickened so it doesn’t move or shake. When it is cold, eat! But remember to save 1/2 cup of yogurt as starter for the next batch.

As Ina Garten would say, “How easy is that?”

from my kitchen window

Typhoon Haiyan missed us. It’s been sunny and HOT here. Of course, as soon as the kitchen light snapped on this evening, Roti, the backdoor neighbors’ little white dog barked for his treat. He’s the cutest little beggar, so after his little performance I obliged him with a dog cookie. Khun Yupha who goes walking after dinner with her sister, saw a huge python just lying across their path in the soi.  She immediately scooped up Roti. She thinks it got her other dog last summer. It’s hard to imagine that even in the city of Bangkok, we have all manner of reptiles: pythons, cobras, and water monitor lizards. It’s still a jungle out there. It’s still eat or be eaten. And that reminds me that the true force of nature is lurking in the quiet sois and waterways deep inside the city.

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I’m glad Gigi the Mutt is safe inside our yard. She did so enjoy crunching these bones up afterwards! Andy  had requested Chinese barbecued spare ribs with sesame noodles this evening,  so to cut the heat in the kitchen, I made the ribs in the Sharp Healslo convection oven. It doesn’t generate as much heat as the range oven. I like these sesame noodles, especially when I can add my favorite veggies. This time, I used baby mustard greens and winter melon. I also recommend asparagus, sugar snap peas, and snow pea pods.

home made poh pia

Poh Pia is sometimes called the Chinese tortilla. It is a thin wheat pancake made of just flour and water,  that is filled with meat, vegetables, and sauce. The fillings make the poh pia outstanding; the pancake is merely the holder. These fillings vary regionally as well as from family to family. Usually, we buy the pancakes, because it’s easier than making them. But I was wrong. Making them from scratch is not only delicious, it’s fun to play with your food! Our friend Arun and his wife Ann invited us to share their family meal and taught me how to make these delicious unassuming pancakes. Two of them are rolled out together with a little oil in between to make a double pancake. After you fry up a double pancake, you peel them apart and you have two pancakes again!

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grated cauliflower with lime and cilantro and roasted banana

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I saw this recipe on Skinnytaste and it reminded me of a rice dish I had made in New York. It was tart and had the lovely flavor of cilantro. It also had plantains on it. Plantains have such an evocative name in Thai: kluay ngah chang or elephant tusk banana. But I could not find any plantains. So what I used instead was roast banana. The Thais roast a banana called  kluay numwa, a  short stubby banana that is very firm and not very sweet. It was the perfect accompaniment for this dish, a cross between a salad and a veggie side dish. In texture grated cauliflower is like couscous; it is slightly sweet, tart, salty, and has the added flavor of cilantro and banana. A note about the roast banana: I bought 5 skewers at Seri Market for Baht 30 which is less than US$1.00. I used three skewers of banana, and snacked on two!

To make it you’ll need:

1 medium head of cauliflower
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
5 large cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 1/2 to 2 limes
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper
1 cup roast banana

Remove the cauliflower florets from the stem. Put half the florets in a food processor and pulse 5-7 times until the cauliflower is the texture of couscous or rice. Remove and repeat with the remainder of the cauliflower.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. When it is hot add the garlic. When it becomes fragrant (about 30 seconds) add the grated cauliflower all at once. Cook stirring until the cauliflower begins to cook, about 5-6 minutes. It’s okay if it turns brown. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

Add the juice of 1 1/2 limes and the cilantro and toss. Taste and add more lime juice if desired. Top with the roast banana and serve at once.