So many changes

My, my, how times have changed. It’s been a few years since I’ve written for Susan Eats the World, and I think it’s time to resurrect this blog because 1) I miss writing about food, 2) I have lots of food adventures to document, and 3) this blog is hella fun!

A few things that happened since my last post 3 years ago:

  • I worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers in the Bakken.
  • I got surgery to remove a cancerous tumor.
  • I made friends with a Mexican family who owned the best taco truck ever.
  • I fell in love with a beautiful man.
  • I got pregnant and moved into an old Tudor house in Omaha that is pretty and NOT haunted.
  • I discovered pregnancy discrimination is a real thing and the fight for gender equality is far from over.
  • I gave birth to a boy who everyone always says is “so chill” in a surprised tone.
  • I joined a bacon club and published a feature on it.
  • I attended a food writers conference in Iowa City.
  • I ate lots and lots of great food in Omaha and discovered this little Midwestern city has a lot of diversity and some great restaurants. There’s a decent sized Thai community here, and we just celebrated Songkran (Thai new year).
  • I gained weight.

That last one has been a struggle. With more time at home with a baby, I find myself cooking a lot more. To me, food is life. I love to cook food, I love to eat it, smell it, taste it, feel it, knead dough with my hands, blow a spoonful of hot soup, mix spices, grill steaks, dip lobster in lemon and butter, get a bountiful supply of veggies at my farmers market, visit the Thai grocery store and make curry and tom yum…

Speaking of good Thai food, I made Thai chicken noodle soup this week, called “gua theywa” in Thai.

We had a tornado warning earlier this week. My baby and I sat under a desk under the basement and waited it out. We heard tornado sirens and wind outside. After all was clear, we went back upstair and upon seeing how gray and cool it was out, I decided it was the perfect time for a big, warm bowl of chicken soup.

I pulled out our dutch oven, filled it almost all the way with water, a large tablespoon full of Better than Boullion, 3 rib bones out of a gallon sized zip lock I keep in the freezer, drizzles of soy sauce and fish sauce, sliced fresh ginger, 3 smashed garlic cloves and 2 onions, chopped. I let that boil while I pulled a family sized package of chicken legs and defrosted it in the microwave. Once the chicken legs were defrosted enough to pull apart from each other, I placed them in the dutch oven and boiled for 15 minutes, then left it on low for about an hour. Makes the whole house smell soooo good, and it’s so easy to make.

When it was closer to suppertime, I prepared some rice noodles (boiled them separately, then rinsed with cold water), chopped up some fresh green onion, cilantro, and lime wedges.

Next, I pulled out a few chicken legs from the pot and chopped up the meat.

chicken2
Chopping chicken on the veggie side.

I pulled out my soup bowl and fill half of it with rice noodles, pour my onion-y broth over it, a handful of chopped chicken, cilantro, squeeze of lime, squirt of sriracha, and voila!

soup2
Homemade Thai chicken noodle soup.

One of my favorite soups of all time. The Thai grocery store by my house sells fried garlic in huge containers, so of course I keep that in the pantry handy to sprinkle over this soup. Why not? It adds texture and flavor, mmm!

Finally off the ILC!

The very first thing I did when I arrived home from the ILC (Island of Limited Cuisine) was sit at my mother’s kitchen counter and devour all of her home Thai cooking.

Thai food that Thai people eat at home is different from Thai food that is served in Thai restaurants in America. It’s not that what’s served in the restaurants isn’t authentic–there is such thing as pad thai and tom yum soup in Thailand and those are great dishes. It’s just that the standard Thai restaurant in the U.S. is typically lacking some fundamental Thai plates.

For example, some food my mom whipped up (please excuse the spelling–not sure how they translate some of these in English so I just wrote them phonetically):

Soam Thaam
A spicy, shredded papaya salad. Usually served with a side of pork rinds. (You read correctly. Pork rinds. I thought that was just my mom being weird but I recently found out that it’s actually a part of her culture!)

Nam Pick
A heavily spicy dipping sauce.

Pla Doak
A certain kind of catfish caught in Bangkok. It’s usually fried and served with Nam Pick and sticky rice. This catfish has some pretty distinctive looking whiskers. The meat is soft and white.

Pickled stuff
There is always a bunch of pickled stuff in Thai and Chinese cuisine, like pickled fish, or cucumbers, or anything really, but how often do you ever see that on a menu? More Americanized dished like crab rangoon and orange chicken usually dominate.

Thai fruit
Thai people are so skinny, and it’s probably because after dinner they eat fruit instead of sweets and they also consider bread a rarely consumed “cun-nom” (dessert). While they have bananas and tangerines just like we do, usually they eat a bunch of tropical fruit most of us have never even heard of, like mangosteen, durian, rambutan, lychee, etc. These fruit are pretty much never offered in Thai restaurants around the U.S., probably for the best. Importing those fruits would probably make our eco-footprint even heavier and bring in a bunch of fruit bugs. (Although I have seen frozen durian at Asian supermarkets.)

Anyway, I am not complaining by any means. I love my creamy crab rangoon and a good dose of orange chicken! I’m just noting the difference between the Thai food my mother cooks at home and the Thai food served in restaurants in Chicago. It’s fascinating!

Thai pineapple red curry

My friend Jane provided me the ingredients to cook for our good bye get together for our friend Michael, who will be working in the woods for the next four month. Crazy guy! She was too busy so I took reins of the kitchen.

Her ingredients:

  • One can of Pineapple chunks
  • Minced garlic
  • Chopped onions (maybe two?)
  • Mushrooms (a bag of ’em)
  • Broccoli (two heads)
  • String beans (three handfuls)
  • Bell pepper (we just used one)
  • Two diced potatoes
  • chopped cilantro
  • Thai Kitchen brand of red curry paste
  • Two cans of coconut milk
  • soy sauce
  • fish sauce
  • oil

My instructions:

  1. If you’re cooking in a group, like I did, have everyone cut, mince, chop, etc. All the prep work. Start boiling those potato chunks.
  2. In a hot wok, oil first. Then throw in garlic and onions. Stir for awhile. Pour in the a little juice only from the can of pineapple. Add mushrooms, cilantro, string beans, and bell pepper. Add squirts of fish and soy sauce. Add broccoli. Stir everything very well. Should look like a giant pot of stir fry.
  3. Add two cans of coconut milk and the rest of the pineapple juice. Stir well.
  4. Add two tablespoons of red curry paste and be sure to mix it well into the coconut milk. The milk should be turning a dark orange.
  5. Add the pineapple chunks. Stir.
  6. Change the heat to medium-low.
  7. Whenever the potatoes are done boiling (hopefully salted while be boiled…), drain the water and add those in, too. I find that the smaller the chunks are, the tastier.
  8. Taste test the dish and if it needs more flavor, maybe add a little more curry paste or fish sauce.

Serve with rice.

Side note: my friend likes jalapenos diced and thrown in it too, but I find it an unpleasant hot surprise when I bit into a bit of jalapeno.

Thai food Mother’s day feast + recipe

Instead of spending mother’s day with my own (Thai) mother, who resides in suburban Chicago, I decided to spend it with the Angel family at their home in the upper Rattlesnake neighborhood in Missoula.

The Angel family consists of Ray the father, Amy the mother, Kelsey the 21 year old daughter known for her candor, Sam the high school senior son (who recently broke the world record for the longest tennis match), and Kengo, their eccentric high school Japanese exchange student of the past school year.

Kelsey, to whom I am very close with, had the idea of making me her mother’s mother’s day present. I was quite flattered. Me? A present? I know I’m fun and all but I didn’t think I could be someone’s present! Like most compliments I took it to heart and let it get to my head.

Which I shouldn’t have, because it wasn’t as though the present was for me to sit by her mother and be cute. No. It was for my cooking! I always find it weird when people thinking cooking is a skill because for me it is just an essential part of living. Like showering. Anyway, Kelsey wanted me to surprise her mother with a home cooked Thai meal. Restaurants were very busy on mother’s day and a more intimate meal at home sounded ideal. She said her father could purchase all of the ingredients if I could do all the cooking.

I adore this family. They all love each other very much and from an outsider’s point of view they seem very close knit. I didn’t have anything else to do on mother’s day so I thought sure, why not. Plus, I love cooking!

Our Sunday began with Ray and Kelsey picking me up from my house and the three of us went grocery shopping at 2 in the afternoon. First we went to the Good Food Store. We picked up two pounds of chicken and a bunch of vegetables and pad thai sauce from their Asian aisle. They were out of limes so we went to the Orange Street Food Farm for limes and I came across frozen Pollock fish fillets, which looked good.

After shopping, we went to the Angel house and no one was home except Sam. Kengo had gone shopping with Amy to distract her so she wouldn’t come home while dinner was being prepared.

Ray asked what I would be making and I had a sketched idea in my head. His request was big portions and enough for leftovers so his wife could take some for lunch this week. I came up with this list:

  • Fried pollack fish fillets with lime, cilantro, garlic.
  • Vegetable fried rice
  • Pad thai with diced baked tofu from the Good Food Store
  • Fried tofu
  • Peanut sauce to dip the tofu in
  • Panang curry with chicken and broccoli
  • Tom yum soup
  • Plain, white, jasmine rice

Somehow I managed to cook this all in two hours, aiming to be done by 5:30 that evening. Looking back, I realize I was so concentrated and in the work zone, barking orders at Kelsey to chop things and such, that I didn’t even stop to pee.

Amy and Kengo came home from shopping in the midst of Kelsey and I cooking. Amy wasn’t too surprised. Apparently, no one had been surrepititious enough about getting her out of the house. “Wanna go for a walk at two?” “Wanna play tennis at two?” Wanna go shopping at two?” I think the person that broke it for her unintentional was Kengo. Apparently while they were shopping, Amy offered to pick up food for him for dinner, but he insisted that she didn’t. Kengo never turns down food.

Finally, I finished. Kengo hates cilantro. He cried out in pain the Japanese word for cilantro every time I threw it in a dish. Somehow he reminded me of the Dragonball Z dude. Maybe it’s his haircut. Maybe it’s just because he’s Japanese and funny.

We sat around the kitchen table and ate and had a merry time! I felt like I made the Pollack fish a bit too salty and the peanut sauce a bit too spicy, but no one seemed to notice. Or if they did, they were polite about it. Ray claimed it was in his top five favorite meals of all time. Very nice of him.

Okay, so I usually don’t go by recipes and just like to throw things in. This can be disastorous sometimes, but I feel the best way to learn is to be willing to mess up sometimes. I don’t usually like recipes because I hate measuring things and I’d rather just go by what looks right, but this can be particularly frustrating to people that ask me how to make something. “Uhh, just put in some coconut milk, some fish sauce, some curry paste, some vegetables.” But people always wanna know how much? How long? Annoying questions.

This is the best I can come up with for the Pad Thai “recipe” I used when cooking for the Angel family.

Ingredients:

  • One package of wide rice noodles
  • One jar of pad thai sauce, Thai Kitchen brand found in the Asian aisle of the good food store
  • Green onions
  • Yellow or red onions
  • Eggs
  • Chopped peanuts
  • Cilantro
  • Baked tofu from the Good Food Store’s deli department
  • Vegetable or canola or peanut oil
  • Red Bell Pepper
  • Bean sprouts
  • Garlic
  • Fish sauce
  • lime

Instructions:

  1. Boil the rice noodles. Drain (using a colinder) when soft. Then pour cold water over the noodle to cool them and to make sure they don’t all stick together.
  2. While the noodles are boiling, chop all onions, cilantro and bell pepper. Dice the tofu. Crush the peanuts. Mince the garlic. This is all prep work that I made Kelsey do.
  3. Get a good, big, non-stick skillet or wok on the stove. Keep the heat on high. Drizzle oil in the pan.
  4. Throw in garlic, onions, bell pepper, and on a corner of the pan cook an egg or two. Drizzle fish sauce over this.
  5. Once everything looks cooked enough to eat, throw in two handfuls of rice noodles and Pad Thai sauce. Stir. Add bean sprouts. Squeeze limes.
  6. Serve wiith crushed peanuts and mince baked tofu on top. A side wedge of lime and a garnish of cilanto and you’re set

I repeated this process maybe four times to go through all the rice noodles and have a big serving size plate to serve 6 people plus have left overs.

Thai cuisine has a unique flavor because in a typical dish a combination of salty, sweet, spicy, and sour are usually present. Most likely, for saltiness, soy and/or fish sauce, for sweetness (which is not used as much) a little sugar perhaps, for spiciness obviously some sort of hot peppers (crushed red pepper flakes work), and for sourness usually lime is squeeze over. Once you have a base for it, it’s really not as difficult as it looks to cook Thai food. It’s actually pretty fun once you get the hang of it!