Category Archives: pantry

My Favorite Rice Noodle Brands for PAD THAI and other noodle dishes

Our favorite place to eat was Thai Orchid for thier Pad Thai

Pad Thai

 The noodles you use when making Pad Thai (or Pho, or any other Asian dish) is a very important recipe ingredient, just as pasta is when making some glorious Italian dish. Here are some of my favorites and between them, you should be able to find one in your region. You can also order online (but unless you buy in bulk it is a more expensive route). These rice noodles are no more expensive (and in lots of cases cheaper) than domestic brands so you will not have to feel guilty about buying them!

Roland Pad Thai Noodle Brand

Roland Pad Thai Noodle Brand – These noodles cost anywhere from $2.49 to $3.49

 This brand imported by the Roland Company is a product of Thailand. This company is a great place to find lots of really wonderful food products from around the world.

Rice Noodles

Rice Noodles  – These noodles are Erawan Brand and this company has a huge variety of noodles that are fun to experiment with. They are great value at $2.49

I can get these noodles from a supermarket that is pretty close to me. They come in S,M or L and this refers to the width. Sometimes I like the thin variety in soups and the widest (L) works great for Pad Thai, but it really is a matter of taste and your mood.

The large style from the Erawan Brand Noodle

The large style from the Erawan Brand Noodle

The packaging is exactly the same when it comes to all of these noodle brands but each width is a different color. So, if you put this item on your shopping list and like me, send your man out to the store (no real attention span when it comes to grocery shopping), make sure to note the color of the package or this simple task will become a nightmare.

Pork Pad Thai

Pork Pad Thai

Most of the packages say to prep the noodles by soaking in warm water but I find that this isn’t enough to get the texture I’m looking for. I don’t like soggy noodles by any means but the soaking method can leave the noodles hard on the inside and sort of gummy on the outside. My method is to plunge them into boiling water and let them cook until just al dente (have a toothsome bite) and then rinse in colander with lots of cold water. I can then toss them into my pan for Pad Thai or into a cooked soup. They warm up very quickly. You will have to experiment a little, depending on the brand (then it’s a good idea to write  what worked for you).

Main ingredients for Pad thai

Some of the key ingredients for Pad Thai (scallions, beansprouts, carrots, limes and of course, rice noodles

 Also, don’t limit yourself to Pad Thai and Pho. I use rice noodles for lots of other dishes that have a tenuous at best, Asian twist (which might only be soy sauce or sriracha sauce). It is lighter than pasta and for those Gluten Free people out there it is just the ticket.

This is the medium width from the brand Asian Best distributed by EastLand Corp

This is the medium width from the brand Asian Best distributed by EastLand Corp

I hope this has taken a little of the mystery out of buying rice noodles, but if in doubt, buy a brand with Thailand’s most revered animal on the package: the elephant.

Stir-fried beef with rice noodles

Stir-fried beef with rice noodles

  Once you try noodles from a country where it is a diet stable, you will never buy domestic noodles again!

Rice Noodles

Three Elephants Brand Rice Noodles

My Concorde Bottle Opener (And I’m Talking From Air France!)

Have you ever taken a bar of soap from a hotel or a teaspoon or fork from your favorite restaurant? I know this is a hard question, but I’m only asking because there seems to be another part to the  commandment “thou shalt not steal” and that is: “thou shalt not steal, unless of course it is a souvenir”and then it seems to be a socially acceptable crime.

My bottle opener from an Air France Concord plane!

My bottle opener from an Air France Concorde plane!

I want to say that we all have done it  but that’s mostly because it makes me feel better about certain liberties I have taken. I will admit to having a glass or two in my kitchen which “remind” me of certain bars I loved, and if you find yourself in need of shampoo there are probably a few little bottles in my cabinet to choose from (not to mention a mini sewing kit and shower caps!)

jg

The nose is great for juice cans…

Yes, stealing is stealing, but in my defense I have never taken a bathrobe or actual crockery, or this killer bottle opener for that matter! In fact, the things that I have acquired that are more substantial thefts were picked up at flea markets and thrift stores by my ever-scouring husband. These things were taken by more serious souvenir shoppers.

jyg

…while the tail expertly opens bottles!

This is my favorite thing to open a cold beer with: a stainless steel bottle opener shaped like the Concorde from Air France. This was most certainly used on this now retired plane and was just too good a memento to be left on board. Besides, anyone who paid that much for an airline ticket should be given one as a gift (at least that is how the person who lifted this probably justified slipping it into his pocket or bag before exiting!)

No matter what the story of how it got from the Concorde to my kitchen I must say when I use it to open a beer, it always makes me smile.

“SALT LOVE”

I thought I would celebrate my 600th post (I know, right!) with a confession. What I want to talk about is an ingredient that people are told to shun left and right – not me however: I love salt!

Sea-salt flakes (Maldon & freshly ground black pepper

Salt (Maldon flakes)

Most people are horrified when I take a pinch of salt and promptly put it into my mouth.  My reason for ignoring their admonishment is simple: I feel that if I crave salt then my body must literally be crying out for it – I can’t ignore a cry for help!

Fine grain Celtic Sea salt

Fine grain Celtic Sea salt

If I were to play the word-association game and I was given the world “salt!”, what would be the first image that came blasting to the forefront of my mind? Let’s try it shall we: “Tess” (you would say), “What?” (I would reply), “SALT” (you would shout) to which I would shout back, “my Grandmother ” and “Saxa Salt” All very explainable (read on!) and I must admit that this “Jung psychology” may have worked on me in that I thought I would have come up with something a little more evolved considering I think so highly of this glorious and restorative seasoning and medicine.

Maldon salt

Maldon salt – If I could only have one salt; this would be it!

Going to my grandmother’s house was a frequent outing when I was growing up. All eight of us would pile (literally) into our mini (Mini Cooper in the United States – plain old “Mini” were I come from!) and travel the six miles to her farmhouse which was located about a 1/2 mile off the main road . It is funny to think now how short the distance was as my memory is of it being a miserably long journey. Now I realize this was probably due to the fact that I was squashed in the backseat and every second felt like an hour!

Mini Minor

MINI-MINOR! (used to fit 8, but now that’s illegal!)

Okay, I could digress as I have a great urge to talk about my grandmother and her house, but let’s leave that for the book shall we and stick to the salt association game. Her kitchen table always has two things on it, whether there was a meal going on or not: a cut glass sugar bowl (“with three stubby glass legs”, which my sister June pointed out to me when I talked to her about her memories of salt last night on the phone!), full of white sugar which always has a few lumps in it due to using the same spoon to scoop the sugar as to stir the tea, and, a little-cut glass salt dish also full to the brim, which also invariably harbored  little lumps of hardened salt crystals. I distinctly remember  my father and my uncles sitting down to dinner on Sundays and use their knives to scoop out an ungodly mound of salt onto the tip and store it on the edge of their plate where it was used to conveniently dip each fork-full of food before eating it.
A little something to stop peoepel from gnawing on the table leg while I was having fun in the kitchen..

There is nothing like several pinches of salt with a hot boiled potato

The other word that sprang to mind was “Saxa” (pictured below as I remember it in the 1970’s). Saxa salt was first sold in 1907 and is still on grocery shelves today. It always sat in the middle of our table at dinner time (breakfast and tea time too no doubt) and by the time this large plastic container of salt was used up, the yellow and white label would become faded due to frequent handling! The salt spout was large and every one of us was an expert at tipping it over quickly towards our plate and not pouring until we each had  a tiny white pyramid and we did this before ever tasting our food. I had no idea that this was insulting to our mother by presuming she had not seasoned the dish correctly. She was never offended as she knew only too well that there was always a penchant for a little more salt no matter how much of it she saw fit to use!

SAXA SALT (the way it looked in the 1970’s)

There was no knowledge of salt being bad for certain people pron to certain health conditions so it was used freely and often. It rescued many a bland dinner and the majority of the time was the only seasoning on hand. At that time and for a long time later I had no idea how many different kinds of salts there were in the world. I grew up loving a common fine-grained table salt, so you can imagine how excited I was to discover how huge the world of salt really was.

Salt on my counter top at the moment (it changes frequently as i run out and as I discover more!)

Salt on my counter top at the moment (it changes frequently as i run out and as I discover more!)

My love for salt has not diminished even with the new-found knowledge of how it can be a downright killer if overused. I am more taken with the fact that you can also die if you don’t get enough of it. I love the whole history of salt and the hundreds of ways it is harvested, stored and used, (I had better not go down that road or this post will never end!). I just cannot imagine the culinary world without it! Have you ever tasted something that was near perfect but no matter how you seasoned it, the taste was still not right…that is not until you added a few grains of the perfect salt and then WOW – something amazing happened and all was right with the world again!

Some of the salt selcection in Kalustyan's in New York city

Some of the salt selection in Kalustyan’s in New York city

The Crappy Kitchen may have only one counter-top from which to cook from, but that hasn’t stopped me from filling it up with dishes of salt for liberal abuse. Right now I have the following varieties: Maldon Sea Salt flakes (always), fine ground Celtic Sea Salt ( I used this for mixing into my mashed potatoes, my scones and sprinkling on homemade popcorn), Sicilian Rock Salt (you might know that I’m in love with most things Italian), Gueronde’s Grey Course Salt (having anything French in the kitchen is imperative), and Dulse Seaweed Salt from Maine (procured from my favorite place to buy condiments in NYC, Kalustyan’s). Because they are within easy reach, I tend to use them all and doing this has helped me to discover how to take best advantage of each of their unique qualities.

two salt that i picked up that day in NYC!

Two salt that I picked up that day in NYC!

I used to think that salt just tasted like “salt” but now I see that what part of the world it comes from, and how it is harvested and stored really plays a big part in how it tastes and how it compliments our food.  Growing up only knowing Saxa Salt closed so many flavor doors I never knew existed. That of course is not to say that Saxa Salt does not have a place in my kitchen or in my heart but nowadays it is loved in the company of other great salts.

the piece de resistance

The piece de resistance is salt clinging to the egg topper! (just for June x)

Maldon is a great finishing salt and brings out the brightness and flavors of a cooked dish while something like the Dulse Seaweed Salt is great for seasoning meat for strong dishes like stews and long-cooked braises. This might all seem way too complicated but I assure you, if you knew me you would know that it doesn’t take an expert to figure all of this stuff out. The only requirement is that you have to like spending a little part of your day hanging out in the kitchen making something pleasing for you to eat everyday.

There is nothing better on Fish and Chips that a heavy-handed doucing of salt!

There is nothing better on Fish and Chips that a heavy-handed dousing of salt! (lunch at the Saltee Chipper in Wexford, Ireland)

If you only have the ubiquitous variety of ground salt from your childhood or from the generic section of your supermarket I suggest you break free and try at least two others, and I guarantee your food will become happier for it. If I had to suggest two, it would be Maldon Sea-salt flakes or Fleur de Sel and Fine Ground Celtic or Italian Sea Salt.

Crispy Lemon Fried Smelts

The only dressing this little fried fish cried out for was some flaky finishing salt

Find your salt love!

Glorious Honey Sticks!

I can’t believe I want to write about these little novelty straws full of honey – but I simply have to!

I first spotted these vials of sweet yellow honey sticking upright in jars at my local Health food shop. You know how shops put sweets at the checkout luring you to buy something while you wait your turn? Apparently this marketing strategy has not been lost on the lady who also advises me on which tincture of  this or that I should buy for my immune system or which probiotic is essential for my general well-being.

Even in this little shop there can sometimes be a wait while people get engrossed in pumping anyone who will listen to them about their ailments and what can be done about them! This results in my kids, who are invariably by my side, having time to get fixated on something and then start begging for it (in the nicest possible begging voice I might add).

I give in when I’m in the mood and it is the Honey Stick that wins out over all else every time. I never saw the appeal or the harm in indulging them so I have been buying them the various varieties on offer at the counter for a number of years now.

kjyg

This company not only sell pure clover honey sticks but also lemon honey sticks, agave nectar sticks, cinnamon honey stick, even chai honey sticks!

A couple of weeks ago however I found a whole box of them, tucked away on a shelf I don’t usually have the patience to throughly investigate. I was actually looking for a jar of local honey for my new-found passion for chamomile tea when I spotted them.

They were lined in a neat row in a box and it surprised me. I don’t know why since the owner has probably been breaking up boxes and selling them individually for years! I felt like I had found a treasure and I couldn’t wait to show them to my kids. It is a silly thing really, but I never felt right about buying a whole bunch of them up at the counter, whereas buying a box of them seemed sensible.

kjyg

20 honey sticks for $4.95 (dessert for 3 weeks!)

I have to say that I am now in love with honey sticks. They are great to take the edge off a sweet tooth moment, and I pack them as “dessert” in the school lunch boxes. It is a very small treat ( not more than a baby teaspoonful and 15 calories) but my sweet innocent children think I am giving them special treatment.

I asked them why they liked honey from a plastic straw so much and the answer is simple if you are a child, “they are sweet and gooey and are fun to eat” There you have it, although I’ve now began to pop one or two in my bag, and anywhere I have chamomile tea and there is only sugar on offer, that little honey stick comes in handy! Yes I know I am sounding like some nerdy lady who carries absolutely every emergency in her bag but I swear I am not. I wish I were as there is no moment more triumphant than pulling something out of your purse when someone is in dire need. Have you every wanted a band-aid, a pencil (not a pen!), a cough drop or even a Q-tip and wished that nerdy woman was around to give it to you?

jhv

The box is also sweet

Now at least I have honey sticks – how many of you can say that!

Creamy Roasted Poblano – Great Garnish to Add Cooling Heat and Zing To Your Food

A poblano is a wonderful pepper from Mexico. It has a smoky heat that ranges from mild to bordering on quite hot, and they are particularly versatile when charred.

They are usually green, although they do ripen to red on the vine. Bear in mind the red version is hotter. I always want to char them before adding them to recipes and they can be added to almost anything you like; soups, stews, fajita, frittata and on and on…
jyg

Creamy Roasted Poblano peppers

I cooked some of these lovely peppers the other day to mix with rice, but when I tasted one after they had been roasted and chopped, I found they were on the hot side. Seeing as I had to serve rice to all sorts of finicky palates I decided to add sour cream to it and let people use it if they wanted to add a little heat to their rice, fish or meat. Sour cream has the magical effect of cooling down spicy foods and so it was an easy but handy fix.

Two peppers make quite a bit, so we used it up over the next several days in sandwiches, tortilla wraps and as a topping for omelets.

Roast a couple and see for yourself!

__________________________________________

You will need:

2 large poblano peppers, washed and dried

1/4 to 1/3 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

Method:

1 – Turn oven grill to high and place oven rack on second to top rung. Place peppers on baking sheet and place on rack. Turn peppers when they blacken until all sides have been charred. You will need to check and turn every few minutes (so no leaving the kitchen !)

grill poblano

Grill poblano peppers

2 – Remove charred peppers to a brown paper bag or plastic bag and seal or turn down as the case may be. Place on a plate (the bag might seep a little as the peppers cool) and allow to cool.

seed, de-vein adn dice

Seed, de-vein and dice

3 – When they are cool enough to handle, place on a chopping board and remove the outer skin with your hands. Then remove the seeds and thick inside ribs. Do not rinse as you go or you will wash away flavorful oils. Lay flat on the board and dice. Place in a bowl and mix in the sour cream or yogurt. Start with 1/4 cup but add more if you want a lighter and creamier consistency.

great on rice

Great on rice, fish, meat, in sandwiches, omelets, roasted vegetables, and anything else that needs a little creamy heat.

Chipotle Peppers and Why They Are A Great Addition To Your Pantry!

If you have never used chipotle peppers or don’t know what they are, now is the time for your next culinary lesson.

                                        A can of Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
                                (with lime juice and oil makes a great marinade)

A chipotle pepper is a jalapeno pepper that had been smoked. This gives the heat a whole different flavor which goes so well with countless dishes. It is usually marinated in a thick sauce called Adobo. Adobo is originally a spanish marinade and the vinegar along with spices such as oregano and paprika were used to preserve food. When Latin American countries got hold of this recipe they used it more for infusing stronger flavors to foods.

Chipotle Peppers

Smoked jalapeno are now sold widely in most supermarkets in cans with adobo sauce, (or specialty foods shops. I even found it in Ireland, at 74 Johns St. in Kilkenny City, Shortis Wong’s – to be exact!). Usually I don’t use the whole can at once but if you put what is left into a lidded glass container it lasts for several weeks in your refrigerator. There are many times I have invented uses for this item just because I had to use them up (throwing food away is a crime, or a sin if you really want to feel guilty about it!)

                                          This is what it looks like out of the can.

I have used this ingredient in lots of recipes (which you can find by typing Chipotle in the search box to the right of my blog), but I typically use it to enhance the flavor of meat such as chicken, firm fish, and pork. I chop the jalapeno and add a little of the adobo sauce and mix it into my marinades. It is great with chicken fajita and long cooked meat dishes such as stews and hearty soups. I know for a fact that I don’t do as much with this smoky delicacy to give it the credit it deserves. Hmmmm, possibly need to go to Philippines this year for a chipotle cooking lesson!

smoky chicken thanks to chipotle peppers in adobo sauce!

smoky chicken thanks to chipotle peppers in adobo sauce!

 

“Worth its Salt”

I have been enjoying spending time in my crappy kitchen lately, and have discovered that being away from it for so long this year (nearly 7 months between Ireland and Italy – lots of past posts to read if you are interested!) turned out not to be the big relief I thought it would be.

Salt

There is a definite “dingy-ness” about my galley-style cooking area, which is why I have always referred to it as “crappy”. I still think this is the case, and my missing this kitchen had nothing to do with the still-not-patched holes in the ceiling (made to accommodate a grand plumbing job in the upstairs bathrooms) or the fake-brick wall (definitely blog worthy), or for that matter, the unsightly and tacky country-style stained-glass door right above the sink, (I could go on). I still hate all of those things, and with the passing of time they have never faded into the background but rather have become more pronounced.

Bandana Pottery Ceramic Box

What I missed terribly, and now have a new-found appreciation for, are my tools. When I say tools I am including everything my hands touch in the process of making and eating food. What I want to wax on about is one of the containers that holds my beloved salt. I love salt more than any other condiment. Actually the word “condiment” undermines this ancient flavor-maker. It has a long and lustrous history dating back to the great Roman Empire, where it was so valued soldiers were sometimes paid in salt.

Maldon salt

So the container that I choose to house my delicious Maldon sea-salt flakes had to be worthy, you know, “worth its salt”.  I chose a piece of wood-fired pottery made in North Carolina by my friends Michael Hunt and Naomi Dalglish, known together as Bandana Pottery,

Naomi is fond of birds

It sits on my counter-top at arm’s length in the company of many other boxes and little bowls holding, among other things, two other types of salt to satisfy my addiction.  The purpose of these lovely objects is not only to serve a useful function, but to give me pleasure.

j

I am happiest in the kitchen, and, if I follow William Morris’s advice and surround myself with objects that I ” know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”, I am more apt to be inspired to cook food to match.