Sunday, April 11, 2021

 

Pad Thai Noodles

 

I’ve been slow on getting recipes onto my blog during the Covid pandemic, since I’ve been cooking virtually every day at the family restaurant, Donderos’ Kitchen here in Athens. Casual cooking for family and friends, as well as teaching cooking, which often lead to blog posts, have been off for over a year. But I’ll try to get back into the habit, especially now that the hits on the blog have increased appreciably. I’ll start back up with a family favorite, pad thai noodles.

 

Pad Thai noodles,, without shrimp
Pad Thai noodles, non-shrimp version
This exciting concoction of rice noodles fried sweet and sour with shrimp, tofu, pork (I sometimes substitute chicken), bean sprouts and toasted peanuts, is thought by some Westerners to be a Thai national dish. In fact, pad thai, meaning fried in the Thai manner, is street vendor food that is whipped up fresh and served for lunch or snack. And it is only forty or fifty years old and not part of traditional Thai cuisine. My wife, Christina, grew up in Bangkok, and did not even see this dish until she was an adult. Because pad thai is typically a light meal in itself, it, like most noodle dishes, is not usually included in a Thai dinner.

 


The recipe serves six.

 1/2 pound Thai dry flat rice noodles, 1/8-inch wide

2 eggs, beaten

12 fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined, tail shells left on (optional, increasing the meat if not using)

1/2 pound raw chicken breast or pork, thinly sliced

1/2 of a (1-pound) cake of tofu, firm style, in 1/2-inch cubes

3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 scallions, including most of the green part, diagonally sliced 1/2 inch long

5 tablespoons peanuts (dry roasted), crushed or chopped slightly

2 cups fresh bean sprouts, rinsed

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves

4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

4 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (available in Asian groceries)

4 tablespoons palm or brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground red toasted pepper or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne plus 1/4 teaspoon paprika

3-4 tablespoons vegetable oil (not olive oil)

1 red chili pepper, seeds removed, shredded or 1/2 teaspoon roasted Thai pepper flakes)

Lime wedges plus several sprigs of cilantro (coriander) leaves for garnish

 

Break noodles into 4-inch lengths. Soak in warm water at least 20 minutes, until softened. Drain. Beat eggs in a small bowl. Prepare the other ingredients from shrimp through cilantro leaves and set out in separate piles on a platter before cooking. Mix lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and toasted red pepper, or cayenne plus paprika, in a small bowl.

 

Heat oil in a wok or large frying pan and gently stir-fry the garlic until pale golden. Add chicken or pork and increase heat and stir-fry until color is almost changed. Add shrimp, if used, and continue to stir-fry just until shrimp turn bright pink. Add the tofu. Stir and fry 15 seconds. Add lime juice mixture, stirring briefly to dissolve.

 

Add drained noodles and stir through the mixture 20-30 seconds (the noodles should start to become tender). Push noodles to one side in the wok. Add a little oil to the emptied part of the pan, and pour in beaten eggs. As they set, gently scramble them, keeping them separate from the noodles. Place most of the bean sprouts and scallions plus half the peanuts and chopped cilantro on the noodles. Stir these and the scrambled eggs throughout the noodles. Taste a noodle, and add fish sauce or salt if needed.

 

Serve immediately on a large plate or platter, sprinkling on the remaining bean sprouts, peanuts, scallions, chopped cilantro leaf, and red pepper or pepper flakes. Garnish with lime wedges plus several sprigs of cilantro. Diners should squeeze a little lime juice on their noodles.

Monday, January 11, 2021

 

Fruitcake Bars – A Relatively Easy Family Favorite Treat

 

Here, after the holidays, as we eat the last of this season’s fruitcake bars, I realized I should get the recipe onto the blog so that family, and others who might be interested, can access it. I didn’t want to risk misplacing it, as happened for several years with our Lekerli recipe (see my blog post of December 6, 2020).

Although fruitcake is, or at least was, very common around the holidays, and I loved it, it was complex and tedious to make, wrap, and cure over weeks with rum or brandy or bourbon. Worse yet, it wasn’t very well liked by many people, such that it suffered from the joke about there being only one actual loaf of fruitcake in the world and it kept being re-gifted and passed around.

Many years ago on short notice just before Christmas I was asked to make a holiday food item for my wife’s church choir pot-luck brunch. Traditional fruitcake was out of the question because of the time needed to make and age it. The choir event was the next day. I worked with what we had in the kitchen and threw together a heavy, fruit and nut-packed batter and baked it in a sheet cake pan. I cut the cake into bars, sprinkled them with bourbon and arranged them on a platter, and off they went to church. The approach used several of the tricks of making classical fruitcake that I had learned from my mother as well as numerous shortcuts. Finally, and subversively, I used liquor in it for a church that then still frowned on drinking. The bars were a hit. Ever since, and with a few modifications to the recipe, my wife or I have made our Fruitcake Bars almost every year. There are extended family members and several friends who wait eagerly for this annual Christmas treat. 

In a pan on the stove, heat together to moisten the fruit, then set aside:
1 1/2 cups golden (“sultana”) raisins
1 1/2 cups black raisins (Monukka, Muscat or “large green” if available)
1/2 cup bourbon or rum
 
In a large bowl cream together by hand:
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
 
Beat in:
2 eggs
 
Add and mix in well:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (fresh grated is best)
 
Add and mix in well, using a wooden spoon:
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped or broken pecans
1/2 cup candied cherries, cut up
1/2 cup candied pineapple pieces
1/2 cup candied citron
1/2 cup candied orange rind
1/2 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup pitted prunes, coarsely chopped
The prepared raisins
 
Grease a 9x13 inch pan or 2 8-inch square pans. With wet hands, press the dough into the pan(s). Bang the pan(s) on a hard surface several times to force out bubbles.
 
Heat oven to 315 degrees and place a pan containing boiling water on the lower shelf. Bake the fruitcake for about 45 minutes, or until the center springs back when you push on it with your finger.
 
Cool cake in the pan overnight with a clean towel covering it. With a sharp knife, cut cake into 1-inch squares or 1/2 by 1 1/2 inch rectangles.
 
Store in tightly covered tins lined with bourbon or rum-soaked paper towels. Place more soaked paper towels between layers of bars and on top. Store at room temperature. After a few days, sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons bourbon or rum, and repeat this several days apart until towel stays slightly moist. The fruitcake bars keep well for weeks.
 

Note, if avoiding the use of liquor to wrap the bars (that in the raisins will have cooked off during baking), store the container with the bars in the refrigerator.