Indochina

green papaya saladwine with dinner

Another month, another meeting of the Bellingham Supper Club. Our theme was Indochina, which allowed for dishes from Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia, with Thailand being an allowable deviation. We had a great selection of white wines of varying sweetness or spiciness, beer, and lots and lots of good food.

snow peas

While we sipped glasses of Grüner Veltliner, Jenise stir-fried some fresh snow peas with sake and we picked them up with toothpicks to nibble on while we talked.

green papaya salad

Our first sit-down course was Roger’s green papaya salad. Very simple and refreshing, with just a hint of heat.

dipping sauce

spring roll toppings

spring rolls and coconut pancakes

Linda and Mike brought spring rolls. There were little coconut pancakes, which Linda claimed hadn’t come out properly, and fried spring rolls cut into sections. These we rolled up in lettuce leaves with herbs and vegetables and dipped into a fresh-tasting dressing of lime juice, garlic, chiles, vinegar, sugar and fish sauce. I particularly loved the texture and taste of the pancakes with the herbs and dressing – I hope to try these myself someday.

satay

Roger made a grilled chicken satay with yet another dipping sauce…

shrimp grapefruit salad

…and Georgiann made a creamy, lightly curry-scented shrimp and grapefruit salad, served in the grapefruit rinds.

dumplings

Jenise threw together some meat-filled dumplings, which were liberally garnished with hot chile peppers. I think it was at this point I went and got a bottle of Tsingtao to wash the food down.

ribs and curry

The last savory course was a lemongrass beef curry from Jenise, and pork ribs cooked in fish sauce and bitter caramel, from us (more about those below), with a bowl of rice.

pandan ice cream

And for dessert, a cup of coffee and a scoop of pandan ice cream.

pandan infusion

This was very successful, I thought, but pandan (the leaf from a type of screwpine – we buy it at Uwajimaya and keep it in the freezer) is an unusual flavor – floral, but also very toasty flavored. We’ve tasted it in drinking water, Indonesian curries use it to flavor broths, and it’s used in sweets of all sorts. Jon made the ice cream, looking up various recipes online and adjusting. It’s noteworthy that every single recipe he found was based on David Lebovitz’s basic vanilla ice cream, which is about as good as ice cream gets.

mixing the custard

into the ice cream maker

The recipe he ended up following was from Use Real Butter, with a few adjustments. He used twice as many pandan leaves, and chopped them up for a more intense infusion instead of knotting them. He didn’t use pandan extract at all, but added two drops of green food coloring to enhance the appearance. The color ended up looking just like classic mint ice cream. The flavor, though, was reminiscent of green tea, particularly the kind with roasted rice in it. And the texture was perfect, smooth and creamy. A little of this goes a long way, but a small portion made a perfect dessert after all the different flavors of the meal.

grilling pork ribs

Then there were our ribs, which were made right out of Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. We’ve made these before, but had used the broiler for the first round of cooking instead of the grill. This time Jon braved the elements and cooked them properly over charcoal.

grillin' in the rain

It was a nasty wet day. But the ribs smelled absolutely incredible on the grill. Warning – don’t attempt this before lunch.

putting ribs on to braise

After grilling the ribs go into a pot with their remaining marinade, more fish sauce, and a lot of bittersweet Vietnamese caramel sauce, which we had made earlier that morning.

feesh sossadding the caramel

braising the ribs

They simmer for an hour, until the meat is falling off the bone. The bitter char and smoke flavors from the grill blend with the bitterness of the caramel sauce, creating a rich deep flavor. So good.

Another successful Supper Club!

last week's grilling

building the fire

Before our current spate of wet, blustery weather descended upon us, we had some really nice days. We made the most of them by grilling.

shrimp skewers

mint julep

couscous

One day we did shrimp. Jon did them his favorite way, grilled with a bit of sugar and tossed with warm lemon-garlic butter over the coals. We had some leftover asparagus from the previous day’s cooking class, so I warmed it up and stirred it into instant couscous, which made a perfect bed for the shrimp in its buttery sauce. Mint juleps accompanied this dinner. It felt like summer.

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lamb riblets

grilling lamb riblets

We consider ourselves very lucky to finally have a local grocery store that actually carries lamb. Usually, each new store that opens up includes lamb in their meat case, just to make themselves look interesting, but as soon as the novelty wears off they drop it, except for the occasional leg at Easter. Boo. We did once get some lamb from a farm near my parents’ place, but it was closer to mutton and very badly butchered, to the point that the cuts were unrecognizable and hard to deal with.

But to our delight, Haggen (our favorite grocery store, apart from the co-op) has actually continued to have lamb in their case – we can always get leg and ground lamb, can often get loin chops, and every once in a while there is a package of riblets – what’s left after the breast meat is cut away. They’re dirt cheap, so we snatch them up and stuff them in the freezer until we have enough for a meal.

dinner

What to do with them? Continue reading

lessons learned

starting the grill

Usually on the Fourth of July, we have company: neighbors who come and watch the show with us from our deck, so we can all keep an eye on our houses and make sure nothing burns down. This year it was just the two of us, which was fine…except that we decided to experiment with dinner instead of making something tried-and-true. Don’t get me wrong, we had some good food – but we did learn a few things, both positive and negative. Dinner was slow-barbecued beef back ribs, red coleslaw with orange and buttermilk, cornbread, and ice cream to follow. Sounds good, no?

cabbage

1. I like red cabbage coleslaw, but I do not like coleslaw made with orange juice and buttermilk. Why did I think I would? At least I didn’t put in the hazelnuts the recipe called for.

2. I have an oral allergy to raw hazelnuts. I think. It’s hard to think logically when your mouth is itching (I had tried one to see if it went with the coleslaw – it didn’t). Continue reading

glazed gingery ribs

star anise, ginger, scallions, chile flakes

I have no idea where this recipe came from. I think it was a library book, maybe something general like “Asian Cooking” by somebody-or-other. I don’t think the original recipe called for star anise or chile pepper – I think J thought that up himself. But, you know, we just have no record of it. The recipe is written in our little home recipe binder and has been there for years, and every time we make it we’re impressed anew with how easy and delicious it is.

It’s a great dish to make for company because it’s so hands-off: you combine the ingredients with water and let it simmer, then boil off the liquid. Stir occasionally and cook some rice and veg to go with it. That’s it! The only downside is being able to start it early enough, since it takes a long time to boil down – not really a weeknight meal unless someone in your house gets off work well before 5.

cutting pork ribs Continue reading

Kansas City barbecue

Jack Stack barbeque

The west coast has barbecue. Really, it does exist! I can’t claim to be a qualified BBQ connoisseur, but there are at least two good places to get real barbecued ribs and brisket within fifty miles of our house: one is the Skagit River Brewery, which does its own barbecue out back of the restaurant – I walk through the wonderful woodsmoke scent of it every morning. They do a very untraditional peach-jalapeño sauce that somehow works fantastically, and I’ve probably ordered their brisket sandwich at least two dozen times. Then there’s the Depot Smokehouse in Everett, which has got to be the best kept secret in Western Washington – it’s always mostly empty when we go and the food is just fantastic. Try the chili. And the pulled pork. Heck, try everything, you’ll like it.

Otherwise, I admit, the pickings are pretty slim. We were going to try a place in Burlington called Double Barrel BBQ, but it burned down the week we were going to go there. Most of the Seattle joints don’t get real good reviews – I liked that the OK Corral had collards on the menu but I didn’t care for the big jug of Kool-Aid that was the only beverage available. So you can see why we like visiting Kansas City! Continue reading