Jasmine Rice

Friday, August 23, 2013

My favorite method to cook jasmine rice is using Kasma's Loha-unchit steaming method. Once you learn the method, it is easy and cooks in just 25 minutes. The recipe is available on her site.

Note: The amount of water that you need depends on the type of bowl you use for steaming. So the first time you follow this method, you have to guess how much water to use. Your rice will be too soggy if there is too much boiling water and too dry there is too little boiling water. Adjust the water level next time accordingly. For my bowl, I find that covering the rice with boiling water up to three-quarters of an inch above the rice line is way too much; I cover the rice with 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch of boiling water. If you only make a small amount of rice (0.75 cups = 1 rice cooker cups), then the water level should be even closer to the top of the rice since there is much less volume (e.g. cover by 1/4 inch or so). It is best to try this method a few times for yourself to figure out the best water level before making it for company; after that you'll easily be able to make perfect rice.

Surprisingly, jasmine rice was only discovered around 1950. More information on the history of jasmine rice is available here: part 1 part 2.

So far I've been using the Golden Phoenix brand jasmine rice.

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Thai Spicy Basil Chicken (Gai Pad Kaprao)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Recipe: "Spicy Basil Chicken" by Kasma Loha-unchit
Rating: A keeper! I love this dish.
Status: Made a few times.

I recently completed Kasma Loha-unchit's Beginning-Intermediate Weeklong Thai cooking course. It was amazing and so much fun! Kasma taught us tons of information about Thai cooking and by the end of the week I was feeling comfortable with many common Thai ingredients that were once unknown to me.

One of my favorite dishes was Spicy Basil Chicken. I rarely eat chicken because I often find it bland--I was surprised at how flavorful Kasma's chicken dish is. I couldn't stop eating it. The holy basil (also called "hot basil" in Thai markets) is my favorite part. I had never eaten it before this class, and I was surprised that it has a very different flavor from regular basil. It is spicy and not sweet (Kasma has more information here) and it combines really well with the highly flavored chicken. There are both green and purple versions of holy basil. A picture of green holy basil is above; its leaves are slightly hairy and it has serrated edges. Do try to seek it out if you can find it--you're more likely to find it at Southeast Asian grocery stores or Southeast Asian farmer's market booths (if you are unable to find any, it is possible to substitute Thai basil). It should keep for a week if you wrap it in a paper towel to absorb moisture and store it in a closed container or closed plastic bag. Do not wash the leaves; Kasma says that plants with hairy leaves from tropical places tend to wilt if they get wet.

Best of all, this dish is really quick to make--so quick that Kasma and her husband Michael say that they often make it for their weeknight dinner. Plucking the holy basil leaves off the stems seems to be the task that takes me the longest, so be sure to budget time for this or enlist others to help. Kasma's jasmine rice recipe only takes 25 minutes to cook; if you prepare the ingredients ahead of time and start cooking the spicy basil chicken dish when you begin steaming the rice, both dishes should be ready at about the same time.

The recipe is available on Kasma Loha-unchit's site.

Ingredient notes:
  • The dish should have lots of basil, so you should use all the leaves from an entire bunch of holy basil in this dish.
  • It uses black soy sauce from Thailand; Chinese black soy sauce is different because it tends to be sweeter. I used one of the brands which Kasma recommends, which is pictured to the left.
  • By "shallots", she means Asian shallots, which are small shallots the size of a pearl onion. If you can't find Asian shallots, then you can substitute 1 regular European shallot.
  • Kaffir lime leaves are composed of two connected leaves (some people call this a "double leaf"). Kasma counts each lobe as 1 leaf--so when she says "2 small kaffir lime leaves", she means either one double leaf or two lobes. Kaffir lime leaves differ in size, even from the same plant, so the quantity should be estimated (e.g. one large lobe can be substituted for the two small lobes).
  • I prefer to use ground chicken (1 lbs, preferably made from ground chicken thighs) in this recipe because it melds with the flavors well; otherwise use finely minced chicken, since smaller pieces have greater the surface area to coat with the flavors of the aromatic herbs and sauces. The grocery store accidentally sold me ground turkey once, so I've made the variation of this dish using it, but I don't like it because I don't like the taste of turkey and in my opinion, it doesn't seem to pair as well with the holy basil.
  • Healthy Boy fish sauce is less salty than other brands, so you may need to add some extra fish sauce if you use this brand. Season to taste.
  • I use just 1 Thai bird chili for William since he is sensitive to spice, and he still found it spicy. I made this for my family with 5 Thai bird chilies--the first time this was too mild for them since the chilis weren't very spice but the second time I made this the chili were very hot and 5 chilis was too much heat. I have also tried using a Serrano chili; I prefer the Thai bird chili because it has a stronger and more persistent heat. The Serrano chili was too mild.
Serving suggestions:

This is best served with rice, preferably Thai jasmine rice. The recipe serves 4 with rice and can be topped with a fried egg for a one dish meal, or it can be part of a multi-dish meal for many people. William likes to wrap bits of basil chicken and rice with little gem lettuce leaves though I prefer eating the spicy basil chicken with just jasmine rice since I think the flavor was muted by the lettuce.

This recipe is also great topped with fried basil (as shown in the top picture, which one that I took at Kasma's class); the fried basil was a last minute addition, since we had some leftover from another dish.

To make fried holy basil: Make sure that your basil is very dry (do not wash); any water on the leaves will cause the hot oil to violently splatter. Pick leaves and flowers off them stems until you have about 2 cupfuls. Discard stems; both the leaves and flowers can be eaten. Heat several inches of oil to about 350 F in a large pot with several inches of space for the oil to bubble up and increase in volume. Place a few handfuls of the basil leaves and flowers into the oil (since they are light you can drop them into the oil from several inches above) and quickly remove your hands (and yourself) away from the oil; the moisture inside the basil leaves will cause the oil to immediately bubble up and possibly splatter. As soon as the bubbling subsides (it should take only a few seconds) remove the leaves from the oil with a slotted spoon or spider (the quicker that you remove the basil, the more vibrant green it will be). Fried holy basil has a tendency to be oily, so I like to spread it out on a plate lined with paper towels, rather than a drying rack so that the towels absorb some of the oil. The basil will be very crispy, dark green (tending towards a dull green or brown if it is cooked too long or at too high a temperature), and have a faint basil taste.

Recipe: "Wok-Tossed Salmon with Chillies and Thai Basil" from "Dancing Shrimp" by Kasma Loch-Unchit
Rating: Wonderful
Status: Made twice.

The salmon version of this dish, called "Wok-Tossed Salmon with Chillies and Thai Basil", is also wonderful.

The dish cooks very quickly--so quickly that I suggest preparing all the ingredients beforehand and then waiting until your rice is only 5 to 8 minutes from being done to begin cooking this recipe. The salmon should be cooked only briefly so that the insides are still slightly translucent. Take the dish off the heat as soon as the outside of the fish pieces has turned opaque; the residual heat will continue to cook the fish.

For this dish, even if you are using Healthy Boy fish sauce (which is less salty than other fish sauces), start with 2 Tbsp of fish sauce and only add more if necessary. The salmon doesn't absorb the fish sauce as much, so this dish needs a smaller amount of fish sauce than the basil chicken dish.

Salmon and Potatoes In a Jar

Monday, August 19, 2013

Recipe: "Salmon and Potatoes in a Jar" from "Around my French Table" by Dorie Greenspan
Rating: Wonderful! This recipe will appeal to people that like gravlax.
Status: Made once.

This recipe for "Salmon and Potatoes in a Jar" is a keeper! It is quick to assemble, and once it has cured overnight and marinated for several hours, it is ready to eat anytime in the next three days. It is conveniently packaged in pretty jars, so it would be easy to bring if you are invited to dinner.

The first jar is filled with salmon which has been is lightly cured with salt and sugar, and tastes similar to gravlax. The second is filled with potato salad. The ingredients in both jars are marinated with olive oil, carrots, red onions, and spices. The potato jar also has some vinegar in it (I used white wine vinegar); it is just a few tablespoons but somehow the red onions seem to soak up the vinegar and become slightly pickled and especially tasty.

When I made this dish, I cut my salmon into thick-cut sashimi sized pieces, about 3/8 to 1/4 inch thick, which is thinner than the recipe indicates; I think this was the perfect size. I used both red French fingerling potatoes (red skinned potatoes with creamy, firm, and waxy flesh) and Russian banana fingerling potatoes (a waxy golden skinned small potato with a banana-like shape). I loved the creamy texture of the red French fingerlings, but the Russian banana fingerlings were too dry and crumbly for this dish. So next time I will use only the red fingerling potatoes, or perhaps I'll keep experimenting with other varieties. Since this recipe requires nearly a quart (4 cups) of olive oil to cover the ingredients, you should reserve your best olive oil for other dishes and buy a quart of cheap extra virgin olive oil. Don't be scared by the quantity of olive oil; even though a lot of olive oil is used, most of the oil is for marinating; the ingredients don't soak up a lot of oil.

Serve this dish with some bread. It can be served directly from the jars; set out clean serving forks to remove the ingredients. One caveat is that since the ingredients are marinated in oil, they tend to leave a puddle of oil on one's plate, so each diner should be given a clean dining plate just for this dish. It would be messy at a pot luck where the guests are only given one plate since the oil will probably run into all of the other food on the plate.

I like to rip off pieces of the bread and dip it in the olive oil that has accumulated on my plate and also make tartines (open-faced sandwiches): a few slices of salmon, topped with pickled red onions and carrots on top of a slice of fresh bread. This would be also nice with a vinegary or lemony side salad (go easy on the oil).

The salmon, potatoes, carrots, and onions can be can also be made into a salad (this a great way to use up leftovers). To drain the ingredients and reserve the oil, put a colander in a bowl that is a little smaller than the colander. Place the contents of the jars into the colander and let drain until most of the oil has dripped through. Pick out as many herbs and spices as you can. The rest of the salad can be assembled at the table. Toss the drained ingredients with some torn lettuce (a nice crispy lettuce such as butter lettuce or little gem lettuce is nice). The ingredients should have enough oil adhering to them to lightly coat the lettuce, but if not, mix in a little of the reserved oil. Season with salt (and optionally pepper or any other herbs or seasoning you think would be nice). Squeeze a little lemon juice over the salad or sprinkle some vinegar and mix it in. Taste the salad. The salad should have a nice acidic tang and taste good; if not, keep adding the acidic ingredient bit by bit until you like the taste. Most salad dressings use a ratio of 1 part acid to 3 parts oil, but the ratio will differ depending on the acidity of your ingredients (e.g. lemons can differ in acidity). This salad is especially nice with some crumbles of a salty and creamy blue cheese, such Bleu d'Auvergne.

The recipe is available at: Michael Ruhlman's blog.

Food Safety:

Use only very fresh high quality salmon, preferably sashimi/sushi quality, since the raw salmon is only lightly cured (see here for more information about what types of salmon can be eaten raw and also this wikipedia article on raw fish). I used sushi salmon (from Super Mira Market in San Francisco) to ensure that it was safe to eat raw because it has been commercially deep frozen to remove any parasites (home freezers are not cold enough), very fresh, and had a great texture. If you can't find sushi salmon, then you could consider using farmed salmon but don't use wild salmon. Since wild salmon swims in fresh water, it can pick up parasites and should only be eaten fully cooked. The diet of farmed salmon is controlled, so it is less likely to have parasites.

The jars can be stored for up to three days in the refrigerator. After that the contents and the oil should be discarded because it is only safe to eat oil that has been flavored with fresh herbs for up to three days if it is stored in the refrigerator because of the risk of botulism. You can use the oil from the jars in other dishes (for cooking, salad dressings, or drizzling) for up to three days but after that the oil should be discarded for the same reason.

Sailing in Seattle - Far Niente

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The best and most exciting excursion that my family took in Seattle this August was a private sunset sailing cruise on Far Niente. Captain Derek and his wife Judi are so warm and welcoming that they make you feel as if you are visiting the home of good friends. My mother, sister, and I loved sitting on the deck and enjoying tapas and wine while savoring the views of the Seattle skyline, neighboring islands, and the sunset, while my dad learned about sailing from Captain Derek.

If you have the chance to visit Seattle, I highly recommend Far Niente (see https://gosailseattle.com/ for more information). The night was perfect and unforgettable.

Snails, Ducks, and Canoes in Seattle

Mount Rainier

Country Fair

Monday, August 12, 2013

Clark County Fair in Washington state.

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