Thai Lamb Larb

all-the-fixings-2You may know larb (pronounced “lawb”) from seeing it on the menu of your local Thai restaurant, but it actually originated in Laos, Thailand’s neighbour to the north-east. It has become a staple dish of Thai street food.

Larb is a salad, but not a regular vegetable salad. It is best described as a meat salad. Typically made with  minced pork, chicken or beef, it is seasoned with fish sauce, chili flakes, lime juice and toasted rice to give it a crunchy texture. It is finished with green onions and an assortment of herbs (cilantro, mint and thai basil) to give it a verdant freshness and bring it all together.

Larb, wrapped in a lettuce leaf, (because anytime I can wrap something in a leaf and call it dinner, I am exceedingly happy), with a spoonful of sticky Thai rice, is a magical flavour bomb. Salty, spicy, sour, sweet and crunchy, it hits all the right notes.1-wrap-72-dpi    I decided to make it with ground lamb. While not totally authentic, my version is still quite delicious. I think it would also be great with ground turkey or chicken, for a lighter version.

No discussion of larb is complete without chatting about toasted rice. Browned ground rice adds a crunchy bite and a toasted fragrance. Leela over at shesimmers says, “ Whenever a Thai recipe calls for toasted rice powder, even just a smidgen of it, don’t be tempted to leave it out… This insignificant-looking (ingredient) is what differentiates a vaguely Thai-inspired dish from what a Thai mother serves her family somewhere in Thailand as we speak.”

Toasted rice powder is available at many Asian markets as well as on-line, but it is simple to make at home. Start with about 1/2 cup uncooked Thai rice and toast it in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until light brown and fragrant. (It will smell like you just made popcorn!) Let the rice cool and coarsely grind a few tablespoons at a time in a spice grinder. You only need 1-2 Tablespoons of the ground rice for their recipe. Just store the remainder in an airtight container in the pantry. toasting-rice Once the toasted rice is done, this dinner comes together in about 30 minutes, if you follow this timetable.

Start with making a quickle. (That’s short for a quick pickle!) Julienne some cucumber and carrots and thinly slice some purple onion. Let them hang out in a vinegar/salt/sugar mixture for about 20 minutes, then drain and discard the pickling liquid. The pickled vegetables add a perfect sour note that contrasts beautifully with the rich lamb meat. making-a-quicklePut some Thai rice on to cook. While a rice cooker turns out perfect rice everytime, I have always resisted getting one because I don’t want another kitchen appliance. The reason rice made in a rice cooker always turns out light and fluffy is that it has a mechanism to release steam, which forces out additional moisture that normally gets trapped in a pot resulting in wet rice. Here is my fool-proof method for cooking rice.

I wrap the pot lid in a kitchen towel. The towel mimics the steam release mechanism by absorbing all the excess steam and leaves you with perfectly cooked rice. lid-for-rice-1lid-for-rice-2lid-for-rice-3While the rice is cooking and the vegetables are pickling, cook the lamb. I find a potato masher is the perfect tool for breaking the meat up.

Once the lamb is cooked through, take it off the heat and stir in the toasted rice powder. Start with 1 teaspoon fish sauce, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1 Tablespoon lime juice and 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Stir well and taste. Add more of whatever you think it needs. You want a balance of sweet, spicy, sour and salty. Stir in some sliced green onions.

Let everyone assemble their own wraps. Chopped peanuts add extra crunch. 2-wraps

Click here to print recipe for Thai-Lamb-Larb.

 

Butternut Squash and Tomato Soup with Coconut Bacon

bowl-72-dpiIf the combination of butternut squash and tomato sounds a bit strange, you’re not alone. It seemed like an odd pairing to me as well, when I read about it on bonappetit.com. But when I considered the elements more carefully, it made perfect sense. Butternut squash on it’s own makes quite a sweet soup, which I always enjoy for the first few spoonfuls,. But then it becomes cloying and not terribly nuanced. It always reminds me of baby food. But give the squash a shot of acid, in the form of a tomato and we’re talking a whole different ballgame of flavour. Rich and complex, each spoonful offers a fresh perspective.

The most difficult part of making this soup is cutting the butternut squash in half. Even when I use my 12 inch chef’s blade, my knife always gets stuck halfway through the squash. Then I lift the whole thing in the air and fling it back down on the cutting board, praying that the force will split the squash and I will escape unbloodied. It usually works.

Once you get the squash cut in half, scoop out the seeds, give it a slick of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Place each half facedown on a parchment lined baking sheet. Tuck a peeled clove of garlic under each half and roast in a hot oven for about 45 minutes, until soft.

Now comes the fun part. No need to scoop the flesh out of the shell. It just peels right off in one piece. It reminded me of when I was little and I’d watch my mom peel apples with a paring knife. She’d get all the peel off in one long coil. I thought she was magic! peeling-the-skin-off-is-funOnce the squash is cooked, sauté some onions, jalapeño and ginger until soft. Add the squash, canned tomatoes and some liquid (water, chicken or vegetable broth) and let the whole lot simmer for about 20 minutes. An immersion blender makes quick work of pureeing.dicing-onionsOk, let’s get to the coconut bacon! Which is’t really bacon at all, just coconut flakes tarted up with some liquid smoke, tamari sauce, maple syrup and brown sugar. The whole lot gets baked until brown and crispy.coconut-bacon-contains-no-actual-baconCoconut bacon is the genius idea of Molly over at mynameisyeh. It is crunchy, a little bit smoky, salty and sweet. It is the perfect garnish for this soup and any leftover is fantastic in salad. I must admit , I’m a little bit addicted to it. soup-for-3f

Click here to print recipe for Butternut-Squash-Tomato-Soup-with-Coconut-Bacon.

 

Brown Butter Salted Caramel Crunch Cake

cake-sliceswhole-cake-2Last week was my birthday and I made my own cake. Some people think that having to bake your own birthday cake is quite sad, but I’m not one of them. When you bake your own cake, you get exactly what you want. I gave quite a bit of thought about what to bake. (Way more thought than is probably healthy, I’ll admit).

As an early birthday present to myself I ordered Bobbette and Belle’s new cookbook. I read through it and stuck post it notes on over half  half the pages. The photography is gorgeous and there are so many recipes that inspired me. It is a very well written book with lots of tips and techniques. While some of the recipes are not for rookie bakers, the instructions they give are very thorough.
bb_book_fullsizeAs soon as I saw their Salted Caramel Toffee Cake, I knew I found my intended. Three layers of  classic vanilla cake filled with homemade salted caramel buttercream, toffee pieces and a caramel drizzle. 

This was my starting point, but I made a few changes. here’s how my cake came together.

 

I started with their recipe for a classic vanilla cake but I browned the butter first. cake-ingredientsBrown butter adds a layer of toasty, nutty deliciousness. Making it couldn’t be simpler. Butter is composed of butterfat, milk protein and water. When you brown butter, you are essentially toasting the milk protein. As you heat the butter, and it begins to bubble and sputter away, the water evaporates and the hot butterfat begins to cook the milk solids, turning them from creamy yellow to a splendid speckled brown colour and your whole kitchen smells like toasted hazelnuts. It’s insanely gorgeous!

It is best to brown the butter in a light coloured pot, so that you can easily monitor the browning process. Note that only the milk solids will turn brown. the butterfat stays clear. As soon as you reach the perfect brown colour, pour the butter out of the hot pot to let it cool completely.white potbrowned butterYou will need to chill the brown butter and let it harden before you can cream it with the sugar.creaming-brown-butter-and-sugarDivide the batter evenly into 3 pans and bake.cake-batter-goes-into-pansNext I decided to alternate layers of brown butter vanilla cake with layers of almond meringue. I thought the textural difference of pillowy soft cake layers would be fantastic with chewy crunchy meringue. soft-peaks-for-almond-meringuepiping-meringueA salted caramel buttercream would be the perfect glue to hold all these layers together.buttercream-one-cube-at-a-timebuttercream-2Admittedly, there are a lot of components to prepare for this cake. Don’t try to do it all in one day. Make the components on day one and assemble on day 2. I have included detailed instructions on how to make all the parts, in the recipe below.

Click here to print recipe for Brown-Butter-Salted-Caramel-Crunch-Cake

Light the candles and make a wish!make-a-wish

 

 

 

Autumn Grain Bowl

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Leaf peepers everywhere are bummed out that the fall foliage was delayed this year. I’m still walking around without socks, which makes me very happy, because I hate socks. (But I do love a great pair of black tights. They smooth everything out and make me feel so sleek.)

While I have yet to pull out my heavy sweaters, I know that fall is officially here because the pumpkin spice haters are out in full force and my Trader Joe’s annual pumpkin spice flyer arrived in the mail.

I’m going to pass on pumpkin spice and ease my way into fall with an autumn grain bowl. grain-bowls-for-4
While everyone is roasting their broccoli and brussels sprouts, I’m bucking the trend and going raw. I love raw broccoli when the florets are chopped into tiny pieces and the stems are stripped of their woody bark, and the tender core is thinly sliced.  chopping-broccoliusing-mandoline-for-broccoli-stemsShredded brussels sprouts, pickled red onions, cucumbers, radishes and mint round out the crunch party.veggies-all-choppedThe dressing for this grain bowl packs an umami punch, thanks to anchovy paste!derssing-ingredientsI like to dress the vegetables at least 30 minutes before eating to give the salad a chance to marinate and soften up a bit. My grain of choice is farro, but it would be delicious with brown rice, barley, wheat berries or quinoa, if you must! I served the farro on the side and let everyone fill their own bowl. A shaving of Parmesan to top the bowl is an excellent idea.ready-for-dressing

Click here to print recipe for Autumn-Grain-Bowl.

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Dukkah Crusted Salmon

2-platesThis week, I’m not sure if I’m more excited about the Toronto Blue Jays or this salmon recipe. But, let’s put aside baseball and talk about Dukkah Crusted Salmon. Dukkah is a mid-east nut and spice mixture, chockfull of crunchy hazelnuts, pistachios and sesame seeds, scented with cumin, coriander and nigella seeds. dukkah-ingredientsA food processor makes quick work of the nuts and spices. dukkahI have waxed poetic about dukkah in this space before. (Grilled Flatbread with Dukkah, Roasted Asparagus with Dukkah). It is such a versatile mixture. My version of dukkah crusted salmon was inspired by Donna Hay’s recipe. To use the dukkah alone as a crust would be too heavy and overpowering. Donna suggests lightening up the coating by mixing in some puffed amaranth cereal. Too lazy to go to the store to hunt down puffed amaranth, I decided that Rice Krispies would be an excellent substitute.ready-for-crusting-1coating-fish-in-dukkah The fragrant crunchy coating yields way to meltingly tender rich salmon. Guys, this is my new favourite way to eat salmon.

Click here to print recipe for Dukkah-Crusted-Salmon.

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Go Jays Go!!