Cooking Giada de Laurentiis’s Naked Spring Rolls

While my attempts to make Giada de Laurentiis’ Thai Curry might not have netted the best results, I will say that I had much more success her recipe for Naked Spring Rolls which were both part of the same Thai-themed episode of her Food Network show. It also happened to be a super simple and delicious recipe to put together.

The sauce in the recipe was really easy to put together and doesn’t need much in the way of commentary. I will say that it was tangy and delicious thanks to the combination of lime juice and fish sauce. To augment the dish, though, I also decided to make some sriracha mayonnaise. For this I just squeezed about two teaspoons of the hot sauce into the remaining homemade mayo I had in the fridge after making Banging’ BLTs and Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad which was about a 1/4 of a cup. The only change I made in the recipe was swapping out agave (which I didn’t have on hand) for honey.

With the condiments created, I got to work on the actual spring rolls. As with every other kind of meat, I started out with whole, partially frozen pieces, cut them up and ran them through the meat grinder. Since I was already getting the grinder out, I figured I’d try running the carrot and shallot through there too. It worked pretty well, but there was an intense, tear-jerking blast as the shallot went through. All that went into one big bowl with the other ingredients which got wrapped in plastic and sat for the required 20 minutes.

After that point, I looked at the mixture and realized it was not going to stay together in the oven. So, I grabbed the two ends from our latest loaf of wheat bread, rubbed chunks between my hands to create tiny crumbs and mixed it all together with my hands. I got 15 of the spring rolls out of this and put the foil-wrapped pan under the broiler.

I served these with lettuce leaves, though they’re not super necessary. I dug how this meal came together, but my wife loved it, saying it was one of her top five favorite things I’ve cooked. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but I am a big fan of this dish. It worked really well for us as it was, but could also make for a great party food (if made smaller) or a delicious sandwich. In fact, my only complaint was that the thinner sauce didn’t stick to anything which bummed me out because it was so delicious. If this was a sandwich, though, you could pour that sauce right into the bread to infuse that flavor! Dang, that idea’s so good it makes me want to start a food truck (not that it would take that much cajoling to do that anyway).

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Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Thai Curry

Food Network has really changed over the years. It used to be packed with people making interesting foods and teaching us how. Now, even though they act like that’s still the main focus on shows like Next Food Network Star (which should probably be retitled The Next Food Network Game Show Host), you’ve got to search around more to see cooks telling you how to cook interesting and amazing food. While flipping around a few weekends back, we happened to stumble upon one of those wonderful times. That’s where I got the recipe for Giada De Laurentiis’s Thai Curry and figured I’d give it a shot.

I do want to say a few things right off the bat. I had trouble finding yellow curry paste at my grocery store. I bought curry sauce and just kind of eyed it. I couldn’t find a simple conversion chart for curry paste to curry sauce, so I basically poured in a little under 1/4 of a cup after giving it a taste. I think that’s the key to making sure you’ve got the right.

I will also note that shrimp can be a bit expensive. I dropped about $12 on deveined, deshelled ones, just to give you an idea of what you’re dealing with. It’s not a bank-breaker, but definitely something to take into account when planning out your meals.

I also completely dropped the chili, swapped out unfindable Thai lime leaves for actual lime juice and throwing the limes in (I realize I should have zested them) and skipped the step where you fry the noodles in canola oil which not only made this dish a bit healthier and cooled down the kitchen on a hot day but also took out a fairly involved step. Aside from those alterations, though, I followed the recipe as written.

Especially without the fried noodle portion, this is a super easy soup to put together. Open a few cans, pour a few things in a pot or Dutch oven and get those veggies in once it’s simmering. Let it sit for 30 minutes, then throw in the noodles and shrimp and let cook. That’s pretty simple.

And the results were pretty good, but I think some of my changes weren’t for the best. The dish lacked heat, which is a key element in Thai cooking. This wound up being good for my kid, because she’s not a fan of the hotness, but made the dish a bit bland. It also could have used more salt. Whenever I’m eating Asian food, I tend to skip the regular salt and go with soy sauce because it feels more in line with the flavors. Adding that to my bowl and then the larger dish when I put it away in the fridge definitely helped.

This is the first time I’ve ever cooked shrimp in what I consider my modern cooking timeframe. My mom taught me how to devein and shell them a long, long time ago, but I decided to cut that step out and just go with ones that had already been cleaned. Towards the end of the cooking process I realized I didn’t know what cooked shrimp was supposed to look like, so I brought one out to my wife, showed it to her and got the thumbs up. They turned out nice, plump and flavorful. I don’t generally cook shellfish, but this positive experience definitely gave me more confidence to do so in the future.

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 2

Closet Cooking has become one of my major go-to sites when it comes to online recipe resources. I’ve made so many different meals based on author Kevin Lynch’s site that I’m thinking about picking up one or many of his cookbooks. Here’s a few of the recipes I’ve attempted and what I thought about them. For a similar Closet Cooking Recipe Roundup post, click here!

Taco Stuffed Shells

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I’ve been a stuffed shells fan for years, but never really thought about separating that delivery system for fillings from the Italian ingredients I’m used to. I was pretty excited to give this new version of an old classic a shot and it turned out really well. But, I did discover that my mouth and brain kept getting confused BECAUSE I’m so used to these kinds of shells being stuffed with Mexican flavors instead of Italian ones. It was a strange experience because that almost never happens. My brain just couldn’t get past the shape and the presentation the first time around. Maybe I’ll be more ready for it next time, though.

Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup

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Lynch’s Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup is actually very similar to the Thai Chicken Soup I’ve made several times from The Ultimate Soup Bible. I’m becoming a huge fan of Thai flavors and figured this one was different enough to try. The major differences are that you cook the chicken in the boiling soup, add in sweet potato (I used by box grater to shred it up good), there’s more curry paste and I used less lime.  This actually combined for a similar, but different enough dish to add to the collection. Sometimes if I eat too much of the version from the Bible, my stomach gets a little topsy turvy, but that wasn’t the case with this one.

Cauliflower Pepperoni Pizza Casserole

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I’ve had this particular recipe saved in my Pocket for quite a while and finally gave it a shot last week. There’s a version on the site that uses pasta instead of cauliflower, but I was trying to go for a healthier version. The only ingredient change I made came about because I forgot to buy black olives, but otherwise, I put this together pretty much by the book and thought it was a great little dish that combined the greatness of cheese and pepperoni with cauliflower, which I assume is healthy. Plus, it’s super easy to put together. Next time I’d like to make it with homemade sauce and maybe a better pepperoni to see if that makes it even better.

Cooking Thai Chicken Soup

As I’m slowly discovering, I’m a big fan of Thai food or at least the combination of lime, chicken and coconut that I’ve been experiencing in the recipes I’ve tried. One such recipe was found in The Ultimate Soup Bible called Thai Chicken Soup (page 304). This one was so good that we’ve had it twice in a fairly short period of time which almost never happens.

The recipe calls for creamed coconut or coconut cream, but I couldn’t find those and went with a 13.5 oz can of coconut milk. I also skipped out on the cilantro and red chilies because those aren’t flavors we’re real keen on. Otherwise, though, this went along pretty smoothly. After cooking a chopped up garlic clove in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven, I cut up two chicken breasts into cubes and cooked them1/4 teaspoon of chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric.

While the chicken cooks for three or four minutes, I mixed 3.5 cups of warmed chicken stock with the can of coconut milk. When the chicken was done, I added the stock/milk mixture and then stirred in two tablespoons of smooth peanut butter, the juice of a large lemon and a few ounces of thin egg noodles. You cover that and then simmer for 15 minutes.

At that time, I toasted some sweetened coconut flakes that we had in the pantry. The recipe calls for unsweetened, but this seemed to work out pretty well, though you do need to make sure they don’t burn which can happen pretty quickly. After the 15 minutes are up, you throw in some cut up green onions and parsley — dried or fresh, whatever you have on hand — and then cook for another five minutes. To serve, I simply sprinkled the soup with the cooked (almost candied, really) coconut. This is such a nice, sweet and sour soup with a nice little crunch thanks to the coconut.

Even though we first tried this soup a while ago, it stuck around in my mind and seemed like a good choice to try again now that it’s getting cold out. The second time around I used limes, because that’s what I had on hand, and didn’t include the toasted coconut because I must have used up what little we had in the pantry when I made it the first time. I wish I would have remembered my one complaint from the first time I made the soup, though: there’s not enough of it! Next time I bust out the Thai Chicken Soup, I think I’m going to double it.

MacGyvering Thai-Style Lentil, Coconut & Green Bean Soup

Do you have a blindspot when it comes to a certain aspect of cooking? I do and it comes in the form of the slow cooker. For some reason, my mind always forgets to remind me that I need to actually get those dinners ready until there’s not enough time. With ingredients ready to go bad in the next few days and a need for a dish, I took to my trust copy of The Ultimate Soup Bible and did a little digging.

After looking up a few soups by ingredient, I realized I had most of what I’d need to follow the recipe for Thai-Style Lentil & Coconut Soup (p. 123), plus a bag of green beans, so I got to work. I had to make a few changes for this one. First off, I didn’t have sunflower oil, red onions, a Thai chili, lemongrass or cilantro so I swapped out for peanut oil, a yellow onion and shallot and omitted the rest.

I cooked two chopped onions, two cloves of garlic and the cleaned and broken-up green beans in some peanut oil for five minutes before adding 7 ounces of lentils (I had regular, not red), a teaspoon of coriander that I warmed and ground myself as well as a teaspoon of paprika. Then the can of coconut milk went in followed by 3 3/4 cups of water. I brought that to a boil and then simmered for 45 minutes. When that was done I added the juice from a lime and some sliced scallions. And thus a soup was born!

I’m sure the recipe as written has a much greater depth of flavor thanks to the additional heat from the chili (which I probably would have skipped anyway) and the lemongrass, but I thought this worked out pretty well for a quickly MacGyvered meal. For an extra bit of protein and saltiness, I put some lightly salted roasted peanuts on top of mine which helped round things out.

Cooking Good Housekeeping’s Thai Chicken & Noodles

A recent issue of Good Housekeeping had a feature where they ran down a series of slow cooker recipes based on cuts of meat that did better being cooked slow and low. One whole section was about chicken thighs, a protein I usually skip over for reasons I can’t quite remember. I read part of the article, though, and it talked about how flavorful they can be, so I figured I’d give them a shot in the form of Thai Chicken & Noodles.

I was drawn to this recipe because it reminded me of Smitten Kitchen’s Cold Rice Noodles With Peanut-Lime Chicken with its peanut, lime and chicken flavors. While this recipe takes some time to get together, it’s pretty hands-off and easy to make. You’ve got to marinate the chicken over night, but then you throw it into the slow cooker with everything else — including coconut milk! — and let it cook for five hours or so. As good as the dish wound up tasting on its own, you’ve definitely got to have some peanuts and limes on hand. They bring the whole thing together. This wound up being a great night-of recipe, but also served us well in leftovers for a few days after that. Can’t ask for much more than that!

Cooking Ballpark & Sweet Thai Wings

I’ve mentioned a few times here on MATK that I have a mysterious subscription to Good Housekeeping. The magazine just started appearing in our mailbox one month and keeps on coming. I’ve asked a few people if they hooked me up with it and everyone said no, so either someone’s playing a not-particularly-inspired prank on me or there was some kind of mix-up somewhere. Whenever it comes, I glance at the TOC which usually doesn’t have much in the way of interest for me, and then move on to the food section, tearing out any interesting looking recipes and putting them in my Big Blue Binder. One such page that I saw and immediately got excited about was a piece called Wings of Desire which showcases six different recipes for wing sauces: Sweet ‘N’ Sticky Thai, Bourbon BBQ, Hot Caribbean, Fiery Buffalo, Ballpark and Sesame Teriyaki.

A while back, I decided to give a few of these a try. Sweet ‘N’ Sticky Thai and Ballpark sounded particularly interesting, so I gave them a shot. As you can see by clicking through those links and looking, neither of these sauce recipes are particularly complicated. The Thai one just involves lime, sweet Thai chili sauce (which I’d never had before) and fish sauce (I skipped the french-fried onions because I thought I had some in the pantry, but didn’t) while the Ballpark sauce is just Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, honey (I skipped the cayenne) and some chopped up roasted peanuts as a topping.

For the wings themselves, I did not follow the method in the given recipe, but instead broiled them on high in two batches. Basically I got all the wings spread out on foil-covered baking sheets, then put one in the oven to broil for five minutes or so. When they started getting cooked, I took that tray out, put the other one in and flipped over the partially cooked ones. I just repeated that until they were cooked on all sides. Once the wings are cooked, you just toss them in the sauce, plate and serve. I was actually pretty surprised at how easy wings were to put together when I first made them years ago. It’s so easy and you can really customize your sauces to your liking.

One other little thing I want to add that’s kind of cool is that my wife and I actually have perfectly complimentary wing preferences. While we might differ on what kind of sauce we like, we each like the opposite kind of wing. I’m a fan of the ones that look like tiny drumsticks while she’s more into the other kind. It winds up working out perfectly because wings almost always come in pairs. What I’m saying is that we’re made for each other.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Cold Rice Noodles With Peanut-Lime Chicken

I’m not kidding when I say that Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Cold Rice Noodles With Peanut-Lime Chicken is the best thing I’ve made in a long time. I was immediately drawn to the dish when I first saw her post it, but didn’t get around to actually making it until last night. That’s right, while most of these posts are about dishes I made the previous week, I loved this one so much that I had to move some things around so I could write about it today.

The only changes I made to the recipe was that I omitted the chilies from the dipping sauce and went with chicken breasts instead of thighs because that’s what we prefer. That’s it. I went exactly according to detail for the rest of it. Since there are so many different components to this dish, I decided to work on it throughout the day. I had some time around 2PM, so I hopped in the kitchen and put together the two sauces. For the peanut one, this was a simple matter of pouring the correct amounts of fish oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, peanut butter and lime juice in a blender along with some ginger. Hit a button and you wind up with a wonderful salty, citrucy peanut buttery sauce that I want to put on everything from sandwiches to ice cream.

The dipping sauce was even easier, especially because I didn’t include the chilies which would have required a bit of chopping. This was just a combination of brown sugar, fish oil, lime juice and garlic all whisked together. For the lime juice, I had bought a bunch of limes for mojitos and just decided to use them here. I found that you get about a tablespoon per lime half and used the juicer seen in the photo just to make sure I wasn’t going too crazy or coming up too short. I put both sauces in the fridge for later.

Some time later in the afternoon, I trimmed the fat from the chicken breasts and chopped them up. I realized after I did this that the recipe calls for just putting the chicken on the grill or in the broiler and then chopping later, but I like doing it this way because it gets the marinade on the maximum amount of chicken. I put the pieces in a baking dish and then mixed the marinade like the recipes says, covered that and put it in the fridge.

When it got to be my usual dinner making time of 5PM, I was really set. All I had to do at that point was broil the chicken, pick and chop mint, basil and chives from our herb garden and cut them up, then cut up the cucumber and carrots and prepare the rice noodles. The kind I got said to just cover the noodles in boiling water, so I filled my hot pot, let it get all the way to boiling and then covered the package’s contents with the steaming water in a Dutch oven. Ten minutes later, I drained the noodles and sprayed them down with cool water. For the chicken, I covered a baking sheet with foil, then spooned the chicken pieces onto it and broiled for about four minutes. At that point, I pulled the pan out, flipped the meat and put it back in for 4 or 5 minutes to finish off.

And that’s it, really. You set all the components out kind of like a taco bar so your diners can add whatever they want in whatever amounts they like. This is the kind of meal you see judges go crazy about on something like Chopped because it’s just so amazingly layered. The chicken is perfectly limey and peanuty, you’ve got the saltyness and sweetness of the dipping sauces and marinades playing off of each other. Then there’s the subtle flavor and crunch of the carrots and cukes. All of that is wonder and then you get a bit of the basil or mint in there and you’re in a whole different plane of awesomeness. I can not recommend a recipe more highly than I do this one. Everyone should make it because everyone needs these flavors dancing on their tongues.