Sunday, July 19, 2009

that kind of day

we have been extremely busy lately.

between running from good friend's

to good friend's to family members'


between trips to germany

and impossible ridiculous

work schedules (like, um, once

not leaving until after

4 in the morning).

between late nights spent

not at home and a ton of home

time spent in the kitchen baking

for said birthdays,

we've been busy.

busy is good.

but one of my favorite things

of the whole entire week

comes on saturday and sunday,

when i can enjoy a cup of coffee

in bed, watching the

food network


or reruns of 90210

until i am ready to face the day.

we did that this morning.

and it had been way too long.

like - the middle of june long.

after a trip to the farmer's

market, we decided not to mess

around, not to waste time

deciding what to do - following

a maybe somewhat indecisive

saturday that started with me

working, ended with us at a

great wine bar, but certainly

hosted a cranky, tired,

not wanting to go anywhere

me, in between -

and we settled on a picnic.


i love to cook all of my own


graham crackers and


ravioli and pizza,

plus most other things

you throw my way.

but sometimes it is so

nice to make the decision

to just not cook. to go

to a market and read their

offerings and say,

i'll have number 8 -

clearly larry's sandwich -

and can we please have

a pint of those mini

stuffed peppers on the side?

it's a treat to take the small

wedge of cheese that you

splurged on at the farmer's

market and decide to turn

it into nothing and just enjoy

it piece by piece on the blanket

that used to be on your bed

when you were little.

and it's such a relief to just

grab a carton of lemonade,

(because doesn't that seem like

what you should drink on a picnic?)

instead of setting to work

squeezing your own lemons.

so that's what we did.

for two hours - maybe less,

because i was

reminded that i grow

rather bored in the sun,

even in the most beautiful of

weather and even with good

books around. plus,

my arms were hot.

but all of that,

made me feel refreshed

and ready to come home and

make dinner, something

i seem to have little interest

in lately.

i've been wanting

to remake a rice noodle salad

that i made months ago for jenn's

birthday (back when the camera

was out of commission), and

today i decided was the perfect

hot summer day.

after the park,

we went grocery shopping

and then i went to the fourth

store in a week,

in search of daikon for the

pickled carrots and daikon.

because, yes, i love rice noodle

salads now, but i think the

reason i was initially enamored

with the dish was because

of the

pickled carrots and daikon.

i'm a sucker for anything pickled,

but i think in this case,

when the cooking method has the

ability to excite me about an

ingredient that i'm typically

meh about (carrots), it's a winner.

i use a tinkered-with recipe from

the little saigon cookbook,

my vietnamese standby.

you can slice the root vegetables

into 1/4-inch sticks, but i

love cutting them using this

julienne peeler

that has never let me down.

it turns them into spaghetti-thin slivers

and when i combine

them later

with the rice noodles,

i can spin them around

on my fork in a tangle.

it's a good idea to make these

at least a couple hours ahead

to let the flavor really permeate

the vegetables. as soon as they

are marinating,

i make the universal

vietnamese mixture that can

serve as a

dressing or

dipping sauce,

nuoc cham,

because it tastes better

when the

fish sauce

lime juice



and other flavorings have

melded together.

thin rice noodles are like

angel hair, except i think,

more forgiving with their

flexibility. literally. plus, i usually prepare

them a while in advance, because

as long as they're played with

every now and again, they

keep very well in a strainer in

your sink.

and as for the cabbage - i don't

think it is a must. the greens

succeed in making the dish seem

more like a main meal, an entree salad,

not just noodles tossed with veggies

for an appetizer, but it's nice

without them, too.

to make a good rice noodle

salad, there are

a bunch of steps, for sure,

but most

can be done ahead

so that when it's time

to eat, all you have to do

is cook whatever you've

chosen to put on top

(i like, tofu, shrimp and squid)

and create.

shrimp are easy, just

peel, season and sear.

but i'm partial to the addition

of squid. i like that when

halved and scored,

they create a shape

unbeknownst to their


the breaded and fried rings.

and i love that they're tender

and fresh, without

competing with the noodles

or pickled veggies.

if the veggies are pickled

(a day or a week ahead),

the dressing/dipping sauce

is whisked together

and the noodles have been

cooked (again a couple

hours ahead), the cabbage

chopped, washed and dried,

all you have to do is assemble.

and yes, i realize i just said this

above, but when i reread, i realized

how true it was and how important

this may turn out to be - once you

see the recipes below.

this makes it perfect for

a dinner party,

or just a really nice

on a day when you're tired

from staying out in the sun,

you haven't finished

that book you've been

reading for weeks and

really, you're still

not in the mood for

heavy duty, heat up

the kitchen cooking.

but, most importantly,

you're too busy trying to pretend

that you're still hanging out

on a blanket in the middle

of a lazy sunday to actually

make dinner.

that's what kind of meal this is.

vietnamese rice noodle salad

adapted from the little saigon cookbook

i've never really felt very good about my rice noodle making skills until i learned how ann le cooks them. instead of pouring hot water over them and letting the threads soak, she submerges them into boiling hot water for two minutes. they are perfect every time. as for the shallots and garlic - i usually do not agree with anything that involves a ton of oil, but these sweet, slightly crunchy rings justify the quick fry. the tangy, clean salad wouldn't be the same without them. oh, and speaking of crunch, i like to top this salad with chopped cashews, or as is customary, chopped peanuts. here, however, i completely forgot about them until a few hours later. i know this may seem like a lot of steps - but it's really not (i did it all after 5pm) and a lot can be done the day before.

pickled carrots and daikon

le pickles her vegetables with a chopped thai bird chile, which i only did the first time i made these. although i like spicy, it was almost too much for everyone. maybe i would try a jalapeno? i've also increased the proportions of all other ingredients and changed a few things around, like adding the garlic to the brine mixture. just so you know, whenever i pickle, i worry that i don't have enough liquid, but somehow, it always works out. use leftovers on sandwiches, as a garnish, with dumplings or just eat them strand by strand.

1 1/2 cups seasoned rice vinegar

3/4 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons sugar

4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

3 medium carrots, peeled

3/4 - 1 pound daikon, peeled

in a saucepan, bring the first 5 ingredients to a boil; reduce heat and let simmer 5 minutes. remove from heat and let cool at least 20 minutes.

meanwhile, use mandoline peeler, mandoline or sharp knife to cut the carrots and daikon into small pieces. place carrots and daikon in bowl or jar, mixing with your hand to combine. pour vinegar mixture over vegetables, stirring until wilted and submerged. let sit at room temperature several hours or until cool; cover and chill.

they can keep in the fridge for 3 weeks.

nuoc cham

for this all-purpose dipping sauce, i've combined my favorite aspects from two of le's recipes (one for nuoc cham and the other for nuoc cham gung, or with ginger). this sauce may seem unfamiliar as you're putting it together, but i have a feeling that once you see the finished result, you'll recognize the mixture.

4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons, peeled and finely chopped ginger

1/4 cup fish sauce

2/3 cup water

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

couple drops sriracha, or your favorite hot sauce

in small bowl, whisk together all ingredients until the sugar is dissolved. let stand at room temperature for several hours. serve, or cover and chill.

fried shallots and garlic

it rarely happens, but by the time i got to this part of the dish, i ran out of garlic. so, i only used shallots. it's up to you whether you would rather use one or the other, or a combination of the two. i use the smallest skillet i have (i think it's 6-inches), coat the bottom of it with oil and go from there.

olive oil

2 small shallots, peeled thinly sliced


3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

coat bottom of the smallest skillet you have with olive oil. warm over medium heat until hot and shimmering. add one piece to test - it should bubble. add remaining shallots or garlic in batches, trying not to overcrowd the pan. when rounds become golden brown and fragrant, remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel lined-plate to drain. (i find it's a good idea to take them out of the oil just before they're the color you would like them to be - this way, when they darken more, they won't burn.)

rice noodle salad with broiled squid

1/2 pound tubes of cleaned squid

1 package thin rice noodles

1 head napa cabbage (about 2 pounds)

12 large basil leaves

3 scallions, thinly sliced

nuoc cham

pickled carrots and daikon

fried garlic and shallots

1/4 cup chooped cashews or peanuts

using paper towels, dry squid completely. following the seam, use a sharp knife to open the squid into a flat triangular shape; dry inside of squid completely. using sharp knife, score a crosshatch pattern into the squid, making sure not to cut all the way through. (this can be done a couple hours a head of time - place in single layer on baking sheet and store in the fridge).

in large saucepot, bring water to a rolling boil; turn off the pot and add the noodles. let sit 2 minutes, swishing occasionally, or until tender. drain and immediately rinse with cold water, using your fingers to separate.

when ready to eat:

peel outer layers from cabbage; slice cabbage. wash to release grit; dry completely. tear 10 basil leaves and add to cabbage with 2/3 sliced scallions. add 3 tablespoons nuoc cham, tossing to coat and adding more dressing if necessary.

divide cabbage among plates; top with rice noodles, pickled vegetables and fried shallots and garlic. tear remaining basil leaves and add to plate. (you could also add sliced cucumber, bean sprouts and other herbs at this point.)

season the squid with kosher salt. i broiled them: heat broiler. place scored side-up on greased baking sheet; brush with olive oil. broil 2 minutes, flip. brush with olive oil, sprinkle with remaining scallion and kosher salt. broil 1 minute more, or until tender, making sure not to overcook. you could also grill the squid (1 minute on each side) or saute it quickly. place squid on top of salad.

top with chopped cashews or peanuts.

serve with remaining dipping sauce on the side.


Larry said...

Dork Whore is an awesome book. I can't believe how Brooke slogs through those historical biographies one after another.

brooke said...

funny, funny man. and, condescending, too?