Thursday, May 31, 2012

Weekend Foodtrip: Austin, Part Two

The Setting: A day of thunder.

The Soundtrack: See above.

Steaming up the Oven: Nada...but who knows what the day will bring?

The Scenario: Food-trippin' in Austin, continued....

When the sun rose on day two, Hoosband was still full from dinner.

I, however, shot out of bed with an intense desire--nay, a mission--for more donuts.

Howdy Donuts, though quite good, would not suffice today.

I wanted something different, something...weird--after all, it was Austin.

Again I turned to the net.

Typing "crazy donuts austin tx" into my browser, I came up with several options.

One of them was right on the money.

Gourdough's is a specialty donut shop operating out of a shiny converted Airstream in one of Austin's food-truck shantytowns on South 1st Street. Most of their creations are more like meals (or desserts...which for me are often one in the same) than mere nuts of dough.

Hoosband and I split the Flying Pig, a hefty donut supporting a generous drizzle of melted maple icing and a mountain of crispy, paper-thin bacon;

And the Funky Monkey, which sends cream cheese icing, brown sugar, and chunks of grilled bananas on a first-class flight to Heaven in your mouth.

I was up for a round-two featuring the Sailor Jerry (rum-cake inspired) and the Mother Clucker (with fried chicken and honey butter), but this time the Voice of Reason won out.

It's not an easy job being the VOR, but if Hoosband didn't do it, we would both weigh 400 pounds.

Thus, we loaded ourselves back into the car to do a little sightseeing.

After checking out the state capitol, doing a little shopping at the Whole Foods Market flagship store, and hitting the trails at Zilker one last time, we trekked back to Tacodeli to give their lunch tacos a try.

While the Papadulce (sweet potatoes, grilled corn, caramelized onions, toasted pumpkin seeds) was both beautiful and tasty, if I were told I could never again experience the Mojo Fish Taco (grilled tilapia, garlic sauce, homemade guac, and pico), I would probably cry.

Additional recommendations? El Popeye for breakfast (scrambled organic eggs, perfectly blanched spinach, queso fresco), locally made chocolate-chip cookies for dessert, and the vibrantly spicy, baby-green Salsa Dona on pretty much anything.

Hoosband's picks: anything and everything involving meat on corn tortillas, especially the Akaushi Picadillo (Texas Wagyu, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, tomato, cheese, jalapeno...).

Sufficiently fueled for the road, we set out once again for Dallas, plotting our next trip to Austin the whole way home.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Weekend Foodtrip: Austin, Part One

The Setting: Back in Dallas after an amazing weekend in Austin.

The Soundtrack: A smattering of Blake Shelton and Willie Nelson.

On the Stovetop: Milk, cream, and sugar, simmering in a saucepan. Yumminess coming your way soon!

The Scenario: Austin packing list: an open mind and an empty stomach....

Complimentary Texas waffles and coffee at the Georgetown La Quinta invigorated us as we scanned the Internet for an Austin breakfast-taco joint to kick off our weekend eat-a-thon.

"Based on name alone," Hoosband began, "would you rather go to Tacodeli or Juan in a Million?"

"Hmmm...," I tapped my fingertips together rhythmically as I considered the possibilities. "I'm gonna need descriptions."

After reading Tacodeli reviews with blurbs along the lines of "dog-friendly" and "totally Austin," we exchanged consensus-asserting glances. We had a winner.

Every contender will have reviews that say "best (insert food-item here) EVER!"; it's the seemingly trivial blurbs that truly set the best places apart.

As we made our way through town toward 1500 Spyglass, a relatively nondescript sign caught my attention.

"Donuts!" I exclaimed.

"We're on the way to get tacos," the Voice of Reason replied from the driver's seat.

But reason was no match for the tickle of sugar-drenched, fried dough on our tongues.

Three minutes and some pocket change later, we were snacking on rich blueberry-cake and cinnamon-buttermilk donuts, a small jalapeno kolache, and a couple of deliciously yeasty donut holes from Howdy Donuts.

Our spoils were tasty indeed, but spoil our appetite for tacos they did not.

The line at Tacodeli was hunger-renewing, and the menu drool-inspiring.

We devoured our rave-worthy breakfast tacos from an outdoor picnic table around the corner with the rest of the dog/baby-toting circuit and vowed to come back for lunch tacos the next day.

To burn off a bit of our three-course breakfast and take in some local scenery, we next set out for Zilker Park.

With the sun shining and the baby in the stroller, we hit the trails--along with what appeared to be the entire population of Austin.

Despite the prevalence of donut shops and taco-spots, Austin is actually a very fit and active city.

With botanical gardens, expansive dog-friendly green space, lake trails, canoe rentals, and swimming holes with water that doesn't look like it might birth an evil swamp creature, all a chew-toy's throw from downtown, it's no wonder the park is such a popular place.

After working up a sweat and expending a great many calories, we headed to a bar to cool down and replace them.

South Congress, aka SoCo (or what Hoosband dubbed "the hipster part of town"), is home to many eclectic shops, bars, and dining establishments, as well as a couple of Austin's modernly iconic congregations of food trucks (or "food-truck shantytowns" in Hoosband-speak). It was here in hipster village that we stumbled into Doc's, a sports bar with a capacious patio and welcoming red umbrellas branded with the logo of "the national beer of Texas," San Antonio's Lonestar lager.

Naturally we tried the Lonestar (cheap and refreshing)...along with Doc's Julio Margarita (Don Julio Blanco, Grand Marnier, and freshly squeezed lime juice on the rocks), a pint of Thirsty Planet Thirsty Goat Amber (a flavorful local Austin brew), and spicy fried pickles.

But Hoosband and I agreed the standouts were the Doc's Sundown, Doc's frozen margarita with a mini-bottle of Sol (Cheesy? Yes. Gimmicky? Sure. Do I want another one right now? Most definitely);

The dinosaur-egg-sized fried jalapenos, stuffed with shredded chicken, white rice, and three cheeses;

And the Michelada del Sur, a magnificent combination of Dos Equis, tomato, lime juice, and spices.

Oia just munched on mango puffs, but she was an excellent sport.

Once we were filled to the brim with food and drink, it was time to get washed up for dinner.

The Salt Lick is an institution--some might say the gold standard--in Texas barbecue. Hoosband, a born-Texan, had been professing its glories as long as I'd known him, telling me, whenever the subject turned to 'cue, that someday we would have to go to Driftwood, to the majestic Salt Lick, to experience brisket, sausage, and ribs the way the gods dream of them.

So we did.

And so did several-hundred-more hungry BBQ fans.

It was graduation day at UT Austin (one of the largest schools in the nation), and it seems Longhorns and their families like to celebrate at the Salt Lick.

Fortunately, the Salt Lick's BYOB policy meant we were armed with a cooler of cold drinks for the wait. And with the live band, lemonade stand, outdoor canopies, rustic landscaping, and congenial crowd, it felt more like we were at must-be-at event than waiting to be seated for dinner.

When our buzzer finally lit up, we followed the smell of a carnivore's pit-smoked dream to the giant screened-in porch where we would dine family style on all-we-could-eat brisket, sausage, pork ribs, potato salad, slaw, and beans--with the requisite pickles, onions, and white bread, of course.

I won't swear that it was the best brisket I've ever had, but the Salt Lick did leave me licking my fingers. Next time I will forgo the family-style fare and focus on the smoked turkey and beef a veggie plate (I usually detest coleslaw and potato salad, but the Salt Lick does it right: no mayo, so good!). And cobbler is a must: half peach, half blackberry, a la mode.

When the check was paid and our chairs pushed in, we waddled our way back to the car and contemplated what delicacies the next day would hold....

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sky-High Milk Chocolate Bark

The Setting: A beautiful Dallas day in need of doughnuts. Then again, what day isn't?

The Soundtrack: Lovely little snores from my precious munchkin.

Steaming up the Oven: Tennessee Tea-Cakes for WITK's online bake sale. Hope they're as tasty when they get to their bidder as they smell in my kitchen right now!

The Scenario: Chocoholic? Keep a bag of this addictive candy stashed in the cupboard for all of your late-night/early-morning/midday snacking needs.

I first conceived of this chocolate bark after scarfing down some scraps of re-hardened chocolate and wayward honey-roasted peanuts I'd saved from the aftermath of my foray into Homemade GooGoo Cluster-making.

Emptying the bag-o-scraps into my mouth with a little tap and shake to make sure every last salty-sweet morsel made it down the shoot, I thought, how could I take this choco-peanut frenzy to the next level?

To play up the saltiness, pretzels seemed a good and logical conclusion.

But on the sweeter side, I craved a little more complexity....

I craved the crispy caramelized crunch of the one and only Biscoff cookie.

Storming the aisles of every supermarket in the greater South Bend area, I scanned the shelves for my must-have item to no avail.

Unwilling to concede defeat, I turned my sights to the Internet.

There I found a bounty of Biscoff goodness to fulfill my chocolate-covered dreams.

I only needed a quarter-package or so to turn my recipe into reality, but the unit-cost of a solitary package was a wee bit high.

Hoosband, wise numbers-man and Biscoff fan that he is, insisted I go for the much, much larger multi-pack instead, as it would simply be the rational and economical thing to do.

Not one to argue with solid logic (or tasty cookies), I now posses enough Biscoff cookies to satisfy a fully-booked international flight from liftoff to touchdown.

You won't see a lot of the cookies in my cooking this summer, but watch out for back-to-school: Fall is officially Biscoff season.

Sky-High Milk Chocolate Bark
Why Sky-High? The working title of this recipe was Salty Dog Chocolate Bark (because it was savory-sweet and I liked the sound of it). Testing the recipe, however, I realized all of the add-ins were snacks frequently served to riders of the friendly skies, so I changed the name to reflect this new revelation. The bark is visually taller and texturally airier than most, both of which work with the name as well. Also...I'm not advocating the use of any questionably legal substances...but I imagine a batch of this bark would satisfy even the most raging cases of the munchies--that is, of course, when it is not inducing them.

12 oz milk chocolate chips, divided
1/2 cup coarsely chopped honey-roasted peanuts, divided
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pretzels, including any stray crumbs and/or salt
1/4 cup coarsely chopped Biscoff cookies, including any stray crumbs

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place 5 oz of the chocolate in a microwave-safe dish and microwave for 30-second intervals, stirring for at least 20 seconds between each, until the chocolate is melted.

Spread the melted chocolate out on the parchment to a thickness of about 1/8 inch.

Evenly sprinkle the melted chocolate with 1/4 cup of the peanuts and all of the pretzel and cookie pieces.

Press gently on the toppings with your hands just to help them stick into the chocolate.

Melt the remaining 7 oz of chocolate the same way as before. Heavily drizzle the chocolate back and forth over the entire surface of your bark so that it will be easier to spread out without dragging the toppings along for the ride.

Gently spread out the chocolate over the top and sides so that all the toppings are sealed in.

Evenly sprinkle the remaining peanuts over the top and place in the fridge or freezer just till set (if your kitchen is cool and dry, it will set at room temperature; it will just take longer).

Once completely set, break into pieces and enjoy!

Bark may be stored in a sealed plastic bag or airtight container for up to one week.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Taste of Music City: Anderson Design Group

© 2012 Anderson Design Group, Inc. Used by permission.

The Setting: A small but comfy Dallas apartment, our home for the next six weeks.

The Soundtrack: The...are you ready for this?...DISHWASHER! Yes, we are getting spoiled this summer.

Steaming up the Oven: Nada...but we're trying out a local burger joint tonight, which should be tasty.

The Scenario: I mentioned in my last post that when I passed through Nashville last week I popped into the Anderson Design Group Studio Store, the brick-and-mortar extension of one the items on my favorites list. They gave me one of their 2012 "A Taste of Music City" calendars, and in exchange, I am telling the world--well, as many folks as I can--about my stalker-like obsession with their incredible, vintage-inspired designs.

Walking distance from the Parthenon, Anderson Design Group's small, in-studio shop is a must-stop for any die-hard Nashvillian or visiting sightseer looking for a souvenir with higher standards than your standard shot glass.

Of course, you don't have to be in, or even into, Nashville to appreciate their work.

Their collections (all available online) include Art and Soul of America, featuring nostalgic Americana, from iconic cities to beloved national parks and landmarks;

© 2012 Anderson Design Group, Inc. Used by permission.

Cicada Invasion, featuring humorous prints and "survival gear" commemorating last year's surfacing of the cicadas;

© 2012 Anderson Design Group, Inc. Used by permission.

Vintage Ad Follies, featuring fictional vendors of yesteryear; and more.

© 2012 Anderson Design Group, Inc. Used by permission.

But if you would like a little taste of Music City, the Spirit of Nashville collection will certainly get your tummy rumbling.

© 2012 Anderson Design Group, Inc. Used by permission.

I sometimes joke with Hoosband that wherever we land someday, I'd like to have a house with a huge "Nashville" room, just so I can line its walls with all my favorite prints--I think he knows I'm not really kidding.

For now, however, I can hang my new "Taste of Music City" calendar in my next few temporary destinations and have a little taste of home to tide me over.

Each month's art in this food-themed calendar showcases one of Nashville's unique culinary treasures.

© 2012 Anderson Design Group, Inc. Used by permission.

Restaurants and local artisans featured include The Wine Shoppe at Green Hills, Olive and Sinclair Chocolates, The Pancake Pantry, Arnold's Country Kitchen, The Peanut Shop, Bobbie's Dairy Dip, Hog Heaven, The Cupcake Collection, The Loveless Cafe, Mas Tacos Por Favor, Swett's, Fido, and (one of my all-time favorites!) Fox's Donut Den.

© 2012 Anderson Design Group, Inc. Used by permission.

Now, I know it seems a little strange to get all hyped up about a calendar in the middle of May, but this one contains 13 11-by-14-inch ready-to-frame prints for only $24.99 (most of the full-sized prints go for $39 a piece).

And yes, I did say 13, not 12; January 2013 comes along for the yummy ride. Of course, you could count the cover art, and then you'd be up to 14.

The calendar also comes with recipe cards from eight of the featured artisans and establishments, including an apple crumb pie from the legendary Loveless Cafe.

© 2012 Anderson Design Group, Inc. Used by permission.

I'd call that a deal, but I'd love to know what you think.

Which collection do you dig the most?

If you are into the Anderson Design Group prints as much as I am, let me know, and perhaps a giveaway will be in the future.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Here and There and Everywhere

The Setting: An unfamiliar apartment so generously littered with baby paraphernalia that it already feels like home.

The Soundtrack: Appropriately enough, GCB on Hulu.

On the Stovetop: Rabbit, Pork, and Ginger Sausage with Kale.

The Scenario: Phase one of summer relocating is underway: BeingTSI is currently coming to you from Dallas!

We intended to depart from Indiana at 10 a.m., immediately following Hoosband's last final. So, naturally, we hit the road a little after two.

The car ride was long, and at intervals loud, as Oia proclaimed her feelings about her car seat.

But soon enough we approached the friendly, night-lit silhouette of a familiar skyline and were welcomed to Nashville by warm smiles and open arms eager to take the little one off our hands for hours at a time.

The stop in Tennessee was brief, but long enough to see a few faces, feast on falafel and lamb gyro from Mediterranean Cuisine in Brentwood, catch a good show by the Brown Brothers Band at Mickey Roos in Franklin, and stop in for a three-dollar Yazoo draft at Sam's in the Village.

I also had the long-awaited pleasure of popping into the Anderson Design Group Studio Store by the Parthenon to pick up a "Taste of Music City" calendar and check out the shop--if you read the Music City in the Midwest post, then you've seen a couple of their charming vintage-inspired prints--so cute!

But all too soon it was time to hit the road again.

Graceland billboards, BBQ, and Beale Street tempted us along the way, but we had a baby asleep and a schedule to keep.

Roadwork in Little Rock kept us from an exploratory dinner in Arkansas, but a personal pan pizza and wings delivered to our hotel room just before bedtime sustained us till morning.

Before we had the wee one, the last leg of the trip might have included a stop at Crater of Diamonds State Park (as seen on 18 Kids and Counting), but, bundle-of-joy in tow, we just couldn't see that welcome-to-Texas sign quickly enough.

Even the shortest road trip with three people can seem like an eternity when one of the three tends to suffer sporadic bouts of bawling.

We were, however, quite blessed. Oia slept peacefully most of the way, we made it to our new apartment safely (as did the boxes of baby stuff we shipped), and we popped into Taco Cabana in time for frozen-margarita happy hour and a dinner of brisket tacos and flautas.

It may not have been haute cuisine, but so far Dallas tastes good.

We're still getting settled down here, so please pardon the tortoiselike trickle of posts. I promise it will pick up soon!

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Deep-Fried Bananas: A Dessert from the Mekong

The Setting: An apartment in need of a good cleaning, a bit of last-minute packing, and some mouths to help eat all the ice-cream that remains in our freezer!

The Soundtrack: The Lion King.

Steaming up the Oven: Nothing now, but the promise of chipotle-gazed shrimp is on the horizon.

The Scenario: As Hoosband and I prepare to depart for Dallas and then Fairfax this summer, the journey down the Mekong with Hot Sour Salty Sweet comes to an end, like any good meal, with dessert.

It's been a pretty ridiculous month or two.

Oia turned nine-months old in April (which I'm still trying to wrap my head around), so she is busy discovering her world, increasing her hand-and-knee mph, and becoming increasingly harder to keep up with--I know, it's just the beginning.

Work on the cookbook has been keeping Hoosband and I well-padded, well beyond winter.

Preparing for three moves (and many long car rides) this summer has had us packing, cleaning, organizing, and agonizing.

And Hot Sour Salty Sweet has been indulging our adventurous sides in the kitchen and on the blog.

Like any worthy adventure, the journey down the Mekong with Alford and Duguid has had its ups and its downs: Vietnamese Chicken Salad will be a new staple in our household; homemade rice noodles will not.

However, the very best adventures always end on a high note, or at least a redemptive one, and I'm pleased to report the conclusion to our culinary journey through Southeast Asia is both.

Not only did I manage to actually track down every ingredient in the recipe and successfully execute the instructions--yes mom (and Hoosband, and teachers throughout the years), it's possible--but the resulting crispy puffs of deep-fried deliciousness were, well, delicious.

I am a lifelong connoisseur of both bananas and all-things fried, but these Thai treasures were surprisingly scrumptious, even to me. I think it's the roasted sesame seeds in the batter that send this dessert from "hey, not bad" to "betcha can't eat just three."

Try the recipe for yourself and let me know what you think--I'd love your feedback.

And if you like what you've seen here, remember to check out Hot Sour Salty Sweet for more of Alford and Duguid's mouthwatering memories from the Mekong.

I know I'll be planning my return trip soon!

The following recipes are reprinted with permission from Artisan Books; my notes are in red.

Fried Bananas (gluay khaek--Thailand)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rice flour, or more if needed
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 T sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup water or canned or fresh coconut milk I used the kind in the carton from Silk.
1 T Dry-Roasted Sesame Seeds (page 308 see below) (optional)
4 to 5 firm ripe bananas I had just enough batter for 4 large bananas
Peanut oil for deep-frying

In a large bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add the water or coconut milk little by little, stirring until a smooth batter forms. The batter should be a smooth paste, not watery; add a little extra rice flour if it seems thin. Stir in the sesame seeds, if using. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Peel the bananas. Cut crosswise in half, then slice each lengthwise into 3 slices.

Place a heavy pot or stable large wok over high heat. Add oil to a depth of about 1 1/2 inches (in the deepest part of the wok) and heat until the oil just starts to smoke. I personally do not recommend letting the oil smoke, but it should start to sort of shimmer and almost ripple. To test for temperature, add a blob of batter to the oil: It should sink and then rise back up immediately, without turning black. If it blackens quickly, the oil is too hot and you should reduce the heat to medium-high. If it doesn't rise back up to the surface, the oil is not yet hot enough; wait another minute or two before testing again. Place a paper towel-lined plate by your cooking surface. I like to place a cooling rack on top of a paper towel-lined baking sheet.

When the oil is at the right temperature, place a banana piece in the batter and turn to coat it, then slip it in the hot oil. Repeat with a second piece of banana. If the banana is very ripe and a little soft, the pieces may break up into two smaller pieces; don't worry, it doesn't matter. Most of mine broke; they were no less delicious. Deep-fry, turning them over halfway through cooking, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes, depending on the size of your pot. Remove with a slotted spoon, pausing to allow excess oil to drain off, and place on the paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining bananas. Transfer the cooked bananas to a plate and cover or place in a 150 degree F oven to keep warm. Serve hot. I couldn't resist sifting a little powdered sugar over the tops of the fried bananas, not that it is at all necessary. Also, while they are best served hot, I found them equally as addictive at room temperature and even straight out of the fridge the next morning with a hot cup of coffee.

Makes 24 to 30 pieces; serves 4 to 8, depending on the size of your bananas.

Note: Vietnamese restaurants often serve a colonial fusion version of this, called bananes flambees. Long slices of banana are pressed flat, dipped in batter, and fried. Just before they go to the table, they're dusted with sugar and then a liqueur or high-alcohol rum is poured over and set alight. The bananas arrive glowing with quiet blue flames.

Excerpted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books). Copyright 2000.

Dry-Roasted Sesame Seeds
Like peanuts, these contain a lot of oil, so they can burn very quickly. Place a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add about 1/2 cup sesame seeds (or whatever quantity you wish to roast). Use a wooden spoon to stir them continuously and keep them from burning. Once they are golden and aromatic, lower the heat slightly and continue to stir and turn until they are a rich golden brown. Transfer to a bowl and stir several times as they cool to help the steam escape. When they are completely cool and dry, store in a sealed glass container in a cool place.

If you want to crush or grind roasted sesame seeds, use a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. The Japanese mortar known as a suribachi has ridges inside its bowl, ideal for grinding sesame seeds.

Excerpted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books). Copyright 2000.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

More from the Mekong: Homemade Rice Noodles with Greens and Gravy

The Setting: An overcast day spent inside an apartment littered with toys.

The Soundtrack: GCB on Hulu.

Steaming up the Slow-Cooker: Chipotle Pork.

The Scenario: A new batch of successes (and better-luck-next-times) from Hot Sour Salty Sweet.

Guaytio ladna, or "Our Favorite Noodles with Greens and Gravy" was the dish I knew I HAD to make when I first flipped through the pages of Alford and Duguid's Hot Sour Salty Sweet.

I adore Thai noodle dishes, so when I found one with a name that sounded like it could have been plucked from the pages of a soul-food cookbook, you know I had to keep reading.

Brimming with bok choi and pork and served with an accompaniment of Chile-Vinegar Sauce, it just kept sounding better and better.

The ingredients were easy enough to source...all except for the pesky dao jiao, a Thai fermented soybean paste, which evaded me.

I debated omitting it completely but after much deliberation decided to swap in some organic red miso, a fermented soybean paste of the Japanese persuasion.

I figured they're both fermented soybean different could they really be?

Of course, if similar logic were applied to ketchup and salsa or an extra-dry, extra oak-y Chardonnay and a sweet, sparkling Moscato d'Asti, I'm sure recipes could be ruined in the wake of such presumptions...but let's just assume the miso was a good substitution.

Since the authors insisted the dish was best with fresh noodles and included a recipe for Fresh Noodle Sheets, I excitedly strapped on my noodle-maker hat and went to town on some homemade rice noodles.

The fresh-noodle-sheet process is a football field's throw from the fettuccine- or ravioli-making I have done in the past. With a runny, almost translucent batter poured into a hot, nonstick skillet, the method is actually more akin to crepe-making.

When all my noodle sheets were poured and set and oiled and stacked, I beamed like a parent whose kid just scored the winning goal to wrap up a championship season. When I sliced them into strips and separated the individual noodles, a chest of ice or cooler of Gatorade could have been ceremoniously sloshed over my head in victory.

But you know what they say, you shouldn't go counting your trophies before they're cast.

Perhaps I made the noodles too thin, or perhaps it was a no-no to make them ahead and stash them in the fridge for a day.

I'm not sure the "why" of what happened next, but as I rinsed off my well-oiled noodles in a colander under running water, the beautiful ribbons of rice noodles broke up into jagged, white shards.

After stir-frying, the shards puffed and clumped and became somewhat reminiscent of spaetzle, only gluier.

The noodle clumps weren't entirely unpleasant, but next time I think I'll stick with store-bought.

This dish deserves it.

The following recipes are reprinted with permission from Artisan Books; my notes are in red. Please excuse the was not a good photo day in casa de Crumm.

Our Favorite Noodles with Greens and Gravy (guaytio ladna--Thailand)

2 pounds fresh rice noodles or Fresh Noodle Sheets (page 121 see below) (or substitute 1 pound wide dried rice noodles)
1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil
2 to 3 T minced garlic
Scant 1/2 pound boneless pork butt or shoulder, thinly sliced across the grain into 1- by 1/2-inch pieces (or substitute lean beef or boneless chicken.sliced similarly)
1 tsp sugar
1 pound bok choi, Shanghai bok choi, or other cabbage-family greens, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wise spears and well washed (3 to 4 cups loosely packed)
1 T fermented soybean paste (dao jiao), mashed until smooth I used red miso instead...I don't know if the authors would sanction this, but it tasted great to me!
1 T soy sauce
1 1/2 T Thai fish sauce
1 1/2 T rice or cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups mild chicken, beef, or pork broth or water
1 T cornstarch, dissolved in 3 T water
Generous grinding of white or black pepper
Accompaniment: 1/2 cup Chile-Vinegar Sauce (recipe follows)

If using fresh noodles or noodle sheets, rinse under warm running water. This may have been my issue. I sliced, then rinsed. Avoid my blunders--rinse first! Stack the sheets, if using, slice into 3/4-inch-wide noodles, and separate gently with your fingers; set aside.

If using dried rice noodles, soak in warm water for 15 minutes to soften, then drain and set aside. Place all the other ingredients by your stovetop. Have a platter and 3 or 4 dinner plates (one per guest) nearby.

Heat a large wok over high heat. Pour in 1 1/2 T of the oil and swirl to coat the wok. When very hot, toss in approximately half the noodles and stir-fry gently for about 2 minutes, pressing them against the hot pan, then turn out onto the platter and repeat with the remaining noodles, using only 1 T oil. Divide the noodles among the four dinner plates.

Wipe out the wok, then place back over high heat. Add the remaining 1 1/2 T oil and, when it is hot, toss in the garlic. Stir-fry briefly until starting to turn golden, about 20 seconds, then add the pork slices and a generous pinch of the sugar. Stir-fry for about 1 minute, or until all the meat has changed color. Toss in the sliced greens and stir-fry, pressing the vegetables against the hot sides of the wok, until they turn bright green, about 1 1/2 minutes or more (depending on the size of your wok).

Add the soybean paste, soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar, and the remaining scant tsp sugar and stir-fry to mix, then add the broth or water and the cornstarch mixture. Stir to mix, then cover for 30 seconds to a minute, until the liquid comes to a boil. Remove the cover and simmer, stirring carefully from time to time, for another 2 minutes, or until the liquid has thickened a little and the greens are tender.

Use your spatula or a ladle to distribute the meat, greens, and gravy over the noodles. Grind pepper over generously and serve hot, with a bowl or cruet of the chile-vinegar sauce.

Serves 3 to 4.

Note: For a vegetarian option, substitute 1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste) for the fish sauce and use about 1/2 pound pressed tofu instead of pork. After frying the garlic, sear the tofu slices by pressing them against the hot sides of the wok for about 2 minutes, then proceed with recipe as above.

Excerpted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books). Copyright 2000.

Chile-Vinegar Sauce (nam som--Thailand)
It sounds strange, but this sauce was an awesome addition. It adds a cooling layer of sweet and sour to really round out the flavors of the noodle dish--don't skip it!

1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 to 3 T sugar
1/2 mild chile (such as Cubanelle, Hungarian wax, or banana chile), sliced into rings I used 1 whole Anaheim

Put the vinegar in a small bowl and stir in the sugar until it is completely dissolved. Add the chile rings. Serve with a small spoon so guests can spoon a little onto their noodles.

Stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator, this will keep for 4 to 5 days.

Makes about 1/2 cup sauce. Or about 1 cup if you use 1 whole huge chile.

Excerpted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books). Copyright 2000.

Fresh Noodle Sheets
Definitely try this recipe if you are feeling adventurous. I will make another attempt at this at some point, but if you have luck with it before I do, please come back and share your success stories!

1 cup rice flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup tapioca flour or potato starch
2 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup vegetable oil (see note)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, starches, and water. If necessary, strain through a sieve to get out any lumps. Let the batter stand for 30 minutes to 2 hours, covered. It will be very liquid, like a very thin crepe batter.

Place a heavy well-seasoned or nonstick 8-inch skillet with a tight-fitting lid over medium-low heat. Place a baking sheet beside the stove and spread about 2 tablespoons of oil on it, which you will use to coat the noodle sheets as they cool. Lightly oil a large plate and set it nearby.

After the skillet has heated for 5 minutes, drop a few drops of oil into it and rub the entire surface of the pan with a paper towel to distribute it evenly and remove any excess. Stir or whisk the batter well and, using a ladle or measuring cup, pour about 1/4 cup of batter into the pan and swirl it around to coat the surface. Immediately cover with the lid and cook for 1 minute. (Steam will build up and cook the top surface while the bottom surface is cooked by the heat of the pan.) Lift the lid (do not let any water from the underside of the lid drip onto the rice sheet): The rice sheet should look shiny, with small bubbles; if it is still pasty and sticky, wipe the underside of the lid, replace it, cook for another 20 to 30 seconds, and then check again. When the rice sheet is no longer sticky on top, lift it out of the pan with a wooden spatula and place, top side down, on the oiled baking sheet.

Dry off the underside of the lid, whisk the batter well, and make the next sheet (you don't need to oil the pan each time, just for every second or third sheet--or not at all if your skillet is nonstick). When the cooked rice sheet has cooled slightly, flip it over to coat the other side well with oil, then transfer to the large plate; until the sheets are cool, they are sticky and may, even with the oil, stick together. Cook the remaining batter in the same way, remembering to stir or whisk the batter well before you lift out each ladleful. Once you get the temperature and procedure under control, you may want to speed up your production by using two pans in tandem. Make sure to keep the baking sheet well oiled; you will probably have to add more oil at the halfway mark. I added more oil frequently throughout the process.

Makes 8 to 10 fresh rice noodle sheets, 7 to 8 inches across. Mine made mch more, but my pan is on the small side, and I may have also made the sheets too thin by using too little batter in each sheet.

Note: The oil you use to coat the noodles right after they're made is rinsed off before they are used in a dish, so don't be dismayed by the amount of oil called for.

Troubleshooting: Like crepes, Fresh Noodle Sheets take a while to master. Use the first one or two as test samples and adjust the pan temperature and batter thickness and quantity as necessary.

If the batter is immediately sticking to the pan rather then swirling around when you pour it in, lower the temperature slightly. If there is still a problem, add a little more water to make the batter more liquid.

Once the sheets have cooled, store on the plate wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator. They will harden a little, but will soften again when sliced and stir-fried or heated in broth.

Excerpted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books). Copyright 2000.


Stay tuned for dessert from the Mekong when the journey continues!

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.