Pok Pok at home

3Q3A8728

I recently acquired the Pok Pok cookbook by Andy Ricker, and have been incredibly excited about cooking from it, since Pok Pok is one of my favorite places to eat anywhere. Some friends of our felt the same way, so we got together a week or two ago and made a few things. I warmed up the weekend before by cooking dinner for some other friends, making the mushroom salad, a cucumber som tam, and an incredibly rich and spicy green curry with little eggplants and shrimp. Everything turned out remarkably well, so we had high hopes for our follow-up dinner.

3Q3A8727

There was a fair amount of prep involved, including several shopping trips to Asian markets. Linda made a bunch of sauces and condiments in advance, ready for cooking. I only made one sauce, but showed up with a big tub of fragrant duck stock I’d made that morning. We mixed up our first batch of cocktails and got to work. Continue reading

Advertisements

road trip chapter 1: Portland

bridge shadows

We just got back from our yearly summer road trip to California, and it was a doozy! We decided to tack on a couple of extra days at the beginning of our trip and do some serious eating and drinking in Portland before heading down the coast.

sausage sammich

Our first stop when we arrived in town was Hopworks. It wasn’t quite as much fun as the last time we were here – they didn’t have any seasonal IPAs and there wasn’t a major soccer game on – but they still beat most brewpubs we’ve been to for amazing beer and food. Jon got the sausage sandwich with mustard and kraut and a side salad.

veggie burger

I decided to spring for a veggie burger. I usually avoid these (I may have eaten too many Gardenburgers in the ’90s) but this was a really good one – mostly black beans, topped with lots of tomato and avocado and peppers and cheese. I also got blue cheese dressing on my salad, which at HUB means big chunks of Rogue Blue. It’s so good I may have hurt myself.

Whiskey Soda Lounge

All that lunch filled us up for quite a while, so we approached dinner with caution. Fortunately the place we like to stay in Portland is right down the street from Pok Pok and its companion hangout, the Whiskey Soda Lounge. We started out at the lounge with cocktails and a couple of plates of Thai-style drinking food. We each tried cocktails made with Pok Pok’s signature drinking vinegars, and they were good.

honey vinegar cocktail

Mine was the “Hunny,” made with tequila, grapefruit juice, lime and honey vinegar. Jon was impressed by the “Stone Fence” which had apple cider, applejack, apple vinegar, and bitters. Amazing new flavors in all of these.

pork riblets

We had a hard time picking food to go with our drinks, but we settled on pork riblets. These were sweet and nicely grilled, but oddly came with a large wedge of raw cabbage, as well as some whole raw Thai chiles, sliced fresh ginger and a handful of peanuts. We weren’t sure what the protocol here was so I just tore the cabbage apart with my fingers and we alternated bites of everything (except the chiles – a little of those goes a loooong way).

corn fritters

After that we ordered one of the specials: fritters of leftover grilled corn (which was on the Pok Pok dinner menu that week) with chiles and spices. Sweet, smoky, crunchy, hot and fabulous, with a side of cucumbers and green chiles in vinegar. This was almost dinner in itself. But we still had to go over to Pok Pok afterwards.

Pok Pok

Much to our surprise, we got a table immediately (I had actually been hoping there would be the usual hour-long wait so we could walk around the neighborhood a bit). The outdoor dining spaces have been gussied up a little since we first started coming here, but it’s still casual and rustic.

dinner at Pok Pok

We only got two dishes this time, since we were full of corn fritters: a flank steak salad and a wonderful dish of smoky grilled eggplants covered with dried shrimp, shallots and chopped boiled egg, served with plenty of sticky rice. I would love to make this at home, it was fantastic.

food paparazzo

The next morning, after a run to work up our appetites again, we headed to Tasty & Sons for an early lunch. This was every bit as good as I’d heard, plus we had the fun of watching a photojournalist take glamour shots of the food just down the bar from us.

brunch cocktails

Since we were on vacation, we got cocktails: a raspberry-Lillet-sparkling wine concoction for me, and a gin rickey for Jon.

polenta and egg

We ordered two dishes, which were brought out separately as they were prepared – probably a good thing, since we each might not have shared nicely otherwise. Our first dish was polenta with loads of cheese, sausage ragu, and a runny egg. It was like the best cheesy grits ever.

couscous, eggs and harissa

The other dish was couscous with “North African sausage”, roasted cauliflower, another runny egg, harissa, and (to our surprise) lots of dried cherries and apricots. Not as gooey as the other dish, but incredible. I only regret not being able to try everything on the menu – we’ll just have to wait until we come back to Portland.

Laurelwood Brewpub

That afternoon we walked on the esplanade, poked around shops, and had a beer at the Laurelwood Brewery (we love their Workhorse IPA but don’t often get to try their other beers), but didn’t feel the need to eat anything for a while – we were saving ourselves for Grüner.

Gruner

Until this trip I hadn’t heard of Grüner at all, but thanks to the magic of Chowhound we made a last-minute decision to have dinner there and managed to snare a reservation. It’s alpine German food, wonderfully seasonal and well-executed. Unfortunately I took really crappy photographs, but it’s still worth showing them to you – sorry about the blur.

cocktails

We started with cocktails, of course. I tried the “Austrian Monk,” which was an unlikely-sounding combo of yellow Chartreuse, gin, celery and lemon. The celery turned out to be a major player here – maybe an extract? I really liked it. Jon got the Albatros which was a bit more fruity than I cared for but it was fun.

cured salmon

Along with our drink order we asked for a plate of the cured salmon with horseradish cream and frisee with herbs. Nothing could have gone better with the celery flavor of my cocktail, it was perfect.

pretzel

When the bread plate came it turned out to be a perfectly fresh pretzel with lots of salt. Probably the best pretzel I’ve ever eaten.

spring saladkilling the salad

The salad we ordered was recommended by our waiter as being a perfect early summer creation: butter lettuce, radishes, strawberries, walnuts and chevre. It was brought to our table by a trembling server who seemed terrified that the whole concoction would go toppling off the plate, but it was great fun to whack the whole thing in half. And it was incredible to eat – the strawberries were perfectly, absolutely ripe, and the flavors of the fruit, cheese and nuts all worked together.

trout with grebiche

Finally we moved on to entrees. I got the golden trout, very simply prepared and served with asparagus, young potatoes, and a sauce grebiche. I thought it was lovely, but I ended up feeling rather covetous of Jon’s dinner…

chicken and spatzle

…which was this fantastic Riesling-sauced chicken with morels and favas and quark spaetzle on the side. Damn, this was good. I mean, really good. Wow.

the wine

The wine we had with dinner was a very fresh, crisp, low-alcohol Riesling. Its faint apple flavor made a nice counterpoint to both our dishes.

the bill

The bill was brought tucked into a strange-looking German novel. I don’t know why.

Salt & Strawstrawberry balsamic pepper ice cream

After dinner we drove back to our lodgings, parked the car, then wandered back down Division to the ice cream cart we’d seen set up on the corner, called Salt & Straw. It had been a warm day, and even at 9:30 pm there was a line stretching down the sidewalk. Jon got a scoop of salt ice cream with a caramel ripple, and I had a cone of strawberry-balsamic-black pepper, with enormous swathes of strawberry jam running through it. It made an exciting end to our Portland visit.

Next: down the coast to California!

Rachawadee

Rachawadee Cafe

I wrote a review for this week’s Cascadia Weekly about our local Thai place, Rachawadee Cafe, so I thought I’d post a few extra pictures I took that didn’t run with the article.

cooking with fire

Pretty much my favorite thing about coming here is watching the wok station in action. It’s a clever setup, with a hose that’s used to rinse out the woks after each stirfry, and drainage down the back, so the woks never need to be moved from their burners. Food frequently gets airborne, plus there are shooting flames all around. I love it.

What we ordered on our most recent visit:

fried tofu

Fried tofu. I love this stuff, I order it everywhere. I appreciated that this version wasn’t cooked to the point of having very sharp edges – you can hurt yourself on fried tofu, believe me.

larb gai

Larb gai made with ground chicken. This was very tasty and an incredible vehicle for chile heat. I needed to alternate bites of it with the fried tofu.

Phad Ba Mee

Our favorite noodle dish, Phad ba mee. I love how smoky and savory this is. Our usual takeout order is one of these and one super-spicy eggplant with beef. And plenty of rice.

stirfry!

And, as always, it’s fun to watch your food getting cooked.

Thai chicken

chicken basil stirfry

I’ve made this Thai chicken stirfry three times so far, and I still can’t believe how easy and wonderful it is. The base recipe is from Alford and Duguid’s Hot Sour Salty Sweet: chop a pound of chicken (I like boneless thigh meat) into small pieces, and mince five cloves of garlic and a couple of serrano or bird chiles. Heat peanut oil in a wok and toss in the garlic and chile, then add the chicken. Stirfry until not quite cooked through, then add a tablespoon of fish sauce, a bit of soy, a bit of sugar, and cook it all together until the chicken is done. Add a big handful of Thai basil leaves and turn off the heat so they wilt but don’t overcook. Add a lot of freshly ground black pepper. The flavors are much bigger and more exciting than you’d think from the small amount of seasoning, but definitely don’t skimp on the garlic!

I’ve adapted the recipe by throwing in green beans or other veg, which was good but diluted the seasoning on the chicken – I think I prefer cooking a vegetable separately with its own flavors. I’ve also tried substituting a mix of cilantro and fresh mint for the Thai basil, which is a suggestion we got from Cook’s Illustrated. The original recipe actually calls for holy basil, but I can’t get that around here – someday I’ll try it. I imagine regular European basil would work, too, in a pinch. The stirfry should be served with plenty of rice to soak up the fish sauce-y juices.

cucumber salad

When I made the chicken again earlier this week I threw together this cucumber salad to go alongside. I glanced at two recipes but didn’t quite follow either; I put a spoonful of sugar in a bowl along with a splash of rice vinegar, a splash of Chinese black vinegar, and a drizzle of homemade chili oil, then stirred it all up and added diced, seeded cucumber and a handful of fresh chopped cilantro. We had to restrain ourselves from eating the whole bowlful so there would be leftovers.

nam pla prik

bird chiles

Some friends recently gifted us with a bag of fresh Thai bird chiles. They’re amazingly hot! We can only manage about two in a stir-fry (and even that gives everyone in the kitchen a sneezing fit), so it didn’t look like we’d make it through the bag before they started to spoil, which would have been a terrible shame. One afternoon when I was spending some time in the kitchen I threw together a batch of nam pla prik to use some of them up.

nam pla prik

Easiest recipe in the world, as long as you wear rubber gloves. Take about half a cup of stemmed bird chiles and finely chop them. Scrape them, seeds and all, into a clean jar. Pour fish sauce over to cover. Keep in the fridge indefinitely, adding more chiles or fish sauce as necessary to keep the sauce going. Use as a condiment for anything that needs a little extra salt or spice.

I just ate a lot of this dribbled over steamed broccoli with a squeeze of lime. More than a little heat, especially if you get the seeds, but so very good.

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!

Portland roundup (long)

view from the train

We got out of town last week and took the train down to Portland for a little vacation, just in time for a massive heat wave. Despite broken-down buses (one overheated and died on the Burnside Bridge – fun!), blisters, short tempers and heat exhaustion, we managed to have a great time and eat quite a lot of food. Also, it was an excellent weekend for sitting in the shade drinking beer, so we made sure to do plenty of that. We started at the Hedge House.

Hedge House

Hedge House

And we had to go to Pok Pok, of course. We have occasionally considered eating here every single night we spend in Portland. One of these trips…

Pok Pok

Pok Pok

Pok Pok

Continue reading

lemongrass rice and grilled beef

lemongrass

There was fresh lemongrass at the farmer’s market again! This time I used it to flavor a batch of rice cooked with coconut milk and daun salam (recipe from Cradle of Flavor, very easy). I just tied the lemongrass into knots, combined it with washed basmati rice, a handful of dried daun salam (Indian bay) leaves, coconut milk, salt and water, brought it all to a boil and steamed it for 15 minutes, then let it sit while we did other things. Just before we ate I fished out all the aromatics and fluffed up the rice – it was dry, sweet and a little chewy. J thought it smelled a bit like Froot Loops, which I can’t say is a real recommendation, but there you go. It was tasty.

knotted lemongrass
making rice

To go with the rice, J made some grilled beef skewers Continue reading

chicken with lemongrass and lime leaf

chicken curry

It may not look like it from the picture, but this was really good (taking appetizing pictures of stewed chicken can be mighty tricky).

The library recently acquired a copy of the book 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. I checked it out, we made two recipes out of it and promptly bought our own copy. It’s a great book, written in a humorous, comfortable tone and full of a huge selection of curries from all over India. I knew I had to have it when I had counted something like 15 different recipes for okra.

Last weekend at the farmer’s market we were thrilled to find fresh lemongrass at the Hedlin farmstand. This was exciting enough that we searched our cookbooks looking for something that would really show off the flavor, and we landed on this lemongrass-lime leaf chicken curry from the new book. J made it while I was at work, and let me tell you – the house smelled really good when I got home. He also took all these pictures, since I wasn’t around – so yeah, I’m really just the reporter on this one.

chicken curry

First he marinated whole boneless chicken thighs in ginger, garlic and salt. Continue reading

weekend in Portland: day one

Pok Pok

We amused ourselves this weekend by taking the train down to Portland. It’s a great way to go: the train goes right along the coast, so the scenery is wonderful. You don’t have to deal with I-5 traffic, and Portland has a very good public transportation system and is very walkable. And the food scene there is just amazing. We spent three days and barely scratched the surface.

lunch on the train

The train has a bistro car, but we usually prefer to bring a lunch along. For this trip, J made sandwiches out of a baguette and some ham, with brie and fresh basil. We had leftovers of a truly splendid bottle of wine, a Sones petite syrah from the central coast of California, so we brought that along as well. The train was so full that it was a little awkward to eat – we felt like we should have brought enough for everyone. Ah, well.

Hedge House

Our first stop in Portland, after dropping off our bags at our guesthouse, was the Hedge House, one of the Old Lompoc Brewery pubs. We just got beer and salads, but it was just what we needed to wind down. More on the Hedge House later… Continue reading