Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Singapore Chili Crab (my New Years Resolution)

That is one beautiful 420 gram Chili Crab
From brick and mortar, family restaurants to hawker food plazas and chicken satay carts, my trip to Asia spoiled the hell out of me. The Singapore Chili Crab? Fucking amazing.

The whole crab is simmered in this amazing, sweet chili sauce and served alongside steaming white rice and fresh lime slices. Diving in hands-first, the shell easily breaks apart to unlock thick, juicy pieces of crab meat. Once the crab is completely dismantled (it's gonna look like you haven't eaten in days), continue your adventure by shoving spoonful upon spoonful of rice-chili sauce-crab bits goodness.

Thanks Asia…now I have a craving for Chili Crab and DC has ZERO Chili Crab places. I need my fix (like all things addicting, the crab is weighed in grams...). So now I'm determined to re-create this famous Singaporean dish.

Three days ago, I decided to make this my New Year's Resolution - to cook something completely out of my element.

Two days ago, I realized this is going to be a pain in the ass.

1) You can't buy the sauce, you have to make it.  Variations range from including eggs to corn starch to ketchup. (I have zero patience for measuring)

2) And where am I going to find mud crabs? (Chesapeake Blue rule this region)

3) A lot of the recipes say to clean the innards of the crab first…. (There's absolutely no way I'm ripping open a live crab) 

...You can negate on a resolution if you didn't make it on New Year's, right?

But I'm going to stick with it. Fueled with coffee and a full-nights sleep (wouldn't that be a perfect storm), I'm going to try and perfect the sauce. One recipe says you can boil the crab for two minutes before cleaning the insides (saving me from my conscious and PETA). 

So there's one of my New Year's Resolutions, 6 days early.

But there's no way in hell I'm going to cook a trial run on the third date. And I wouldn't recommend doing it either. Maybe the eighth - bonne chance.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Swedish Glögg Recipe

Like the U.S., the December holiday season in the Nordic region provides a warm welcoming of festivities, parities and general happiness. Without the indulgence of Thanksgiving and the availability of sunlight, November is a depressing month in Sweden (and most Swedes seem to use this time to flee south).

No idea why I bought a Swedish cookbook...
So as you can imagine, for the Ikea-loving, quiet and introverted Swedish culture goes, December is the winter month for letting loose (I'm told all hell breaks loose in the summer). Candles and Christmas lights line the snowy streets. Pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) is consumed in mass quantities. And to say that glögg is their poison of choice would be an understatement.

"I was warned by some fellow Swedes at the beginning of December that, by the time January rolled around, I would be sick of Glögg. And I am. This past week, I had Glögg at work, Glögg for St. Lucia, Glögg for our Holiday Party, Glögg for our Holiday party dinner, and Glögg during a small Christmas party. I think my brain is swimming in Glögg..."
- Me, 12/16/2007, from an old blog post of when I lived in Stockholm

Glögg is essentially mulled wine. It's gløgg in Norwegian and Danish. Glögg in Swedish and Icelandic. Glögi in Estonian and Finnish. But all you need to know are these three things:
  • It contains wine.
  • It contains liquor.
  • It's served warm.
And like the whiskey-cider that we're used to here in the States, the warmth of the drink provides a false sense of sobriety security (you get drunk hella quick).

So here's my glögg recipe - graciously given to me by a Swede while I was living overseas. As she reminded me, making glögg isn't an exact science, so don't worry if you need to make a few substitutions.

  • 1 liter of a hard liquor mixture (Brandy + Whiskey + Southern Comfort, Rum + Whiskey + Southern Comfort) - the world is your oyster.
  • 3 liters of red wine (an inexpensive wine is fine and Target sells a great "vintage" box wine that seems to be the perfect size)
  • Christmasy Spices - Cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and whole cloves
  • Fruit Zest - The peel of an orange and perhaps a few lemon peels
  • Raisins and blanched almonds (you'll want a few of each in the cup when you serve it)
  • Sugar to dissolve into the pot if its too strong

Create the Glögg Extract (1 week prior)
  1. Combine the hard liquor, Christmasy spices and fruit zests into a large sealable container
    1. If you're OCD, you can wrap the spices in cheese cloth for easy removal before serving
  2. Store in a dark cool place for one week

Glögg (Day Of)
  1. Combine the red wine and glögg extract (spices included) in a large pot
  2. Heat up the mixture (but don't boil it because you'll start to kill the alcohol)
  3. Serve
    1. The lazy way - Ladle around the spices when serving, toss in a few raisins and almonds
    2. The OCD way - Wrap all of the spices in a cheese cloth, throw in all of the raisins and almonds while you're heating up the mixture. Ladle the glögg, making sure to scoop up some of the raisins and almonds
Expert tips:
  • Soak the raisins a day or two ahead of time to make them really alcohol-fueled
  • Serve with Pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) or Æbleskiver (Danish dessert, like our doughnut holes, but sweeter and much better)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cooking Lessons from a Street Vendor in Thailand

On a humid afternoon in November, I found myself slowly wandering through the outdoor food markets of downtown Chiang Mai, Thailand. A cornucopia of vibrant and enticing food stalls and souvenir stands littered the pathways as vendors competed for my business.

My stomach and brain have never had such a conflict...

Stomach: "Wow that sushi looks amazing"

Brain: "It's 10 THB ($0.33 USD) a piece. How long has it been sitting there? It's a 1,000 degrees outside. Don't be an idiot."

Stomach: "Oh! Tiny little quail eggs?!?!"

Brain: "Come on... Those look raw... RAW EGGS IN A FOOD STALL? Really, I mean REALLY?!?"

Stomach: "Mmmmmm fried shrimp...grilled squid... Oooooh Pad Thai..."

Brain: "Fine. Deal."

The shrimp and the squid were good; however, it was the Pad Thai that sealed the deal.

An inconspicuous food stand within a small market in northern Thailand ruined Pad Thai for me for a long, long time - it was some of the best Pad Thai that I've ever had.

40 THB ($1.31 USD) ruined my chances of finding comparable Pad Thai in DC.

Now to be fair, the mere allure and excitement of my surrounding environment certainly heighten my sensations and most likely, automatically enhanced the positive memories. So for "scientific purposes" (was this really the best Pad Thai ever?), I had to, you know, go back again...two days later.

But why this vendor? Why him among all of the other food stalls?

Bright vibrant colors and fresh looking ingredients

Colorful blue bowls with rich purple onions, bright orange shrimp. Fresh juicy limes. Freshly cut chives. Seeing those colorful  ingredients was the foreplay of this dance and my mind was building together the meal before it was ever even made.

Color matters. It's not a deal breaker but rich vibrant colors are only going to help you - a rich sensory display to get her mouth watering.


Prep then cook

The cook wasn't chopping then sautéing then slicing then searching for spices, it was all in front of him, ready to go. So prep first. Lay it all out. The actual cooking part requires timing and (probably some concentration), food prep doesn't. So prep first and make her your sous chef.


Interactive cooking

Three aisles down, there were bowls upon bowls of Pad Thai. Sitting there, steaming hot, waiting to be purchased and eaten. I was certainly hungry so why didn't I just choose those pre-made dishes?

The Pad-Thai-to-ruin-all-other-Pad-Thai was made right in front of me...in like 3 minutes. It's awesome to see a cook in action. Sautéing a heap of onions, wilting the rice noodles. Egg cooking separately.  A handful of chives, a scoop of dried shrimp, and a splash of sauce. It was art. 3-minute, 40-THB art.

Do the same when you have her over for dinner. In this reader poll, most dates wanted to see the person cooking the dinner. They don't want it to be 100% complete when the door is open. There's no build up. Have some appetizers ready and pour two glasses of wine. If she offers to be your sous chef, great. Otherwise, I'm sure she'll have no problem having wine and eating cheese and fresh bread as she watches a guy cook for her.