Monday, February 25, 2013

Hangover Helper: Thai Chicken Curry

The headache, that piercing tunnel vision, the crippling pain that punctuates a night of bacchanalian revelry -- yes, I had a hangover. I love to drink, but as I've gotten older, my hangovers have only gotten more annoying and long lasting.

My friend Tana and I had gone out the night before with our friend Matt, and we really ripped it up. We'd made it to our respective homes safely, albeit a little worse for wear. After convalescing at home all day, I craved something to soothe my tortured tummy. I flipped through my latest issues of Bon Appetit for a little inspiration, and then I finally saw the recipe for Thai Chicken Curry: the jackpot. Loaded with vegetables, juicy chicken, and potatoes, this was just what I needed. I decided to ask Tana to join in on the delicious healing powers of curry as well.

This recipe was insanely easy. It only uses one pot, and the only time consuming part was prepping the vegetables and simmering the curry. I substituted sweet potatoes for the Yukon Golds, both for nutrition and flavor. I also swapped chicken breasts for the chicken thighs because I couldn't find boneless skinless ones at Tana's supermarket. If you want to do the same, I'd suggest simmering the curry without the meat first for about 10 minutes to give it a head start, then throwing in the chicken breast. No one likes a dry breast.

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 4-ounce can or jar yellow curry paste
3/4 pound carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes (about 3), peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 13.5-ounce or 15-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
Chopped fresh basil and cilantro

Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add curry paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add carrots, onion, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add potatoes, chicken, coconut milk, and 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Divide curry among bowls and top with herbs.

As a garnish, I used cilantro, just roughly torn, and sliced almonds for a bit of crunch. Served up with some toasted and buttered garlic naan on the side, this was exactly what our hungover bellies needed. This would be super crazy good with some brown rice or quinoa too!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Early Valentine's Day Dinner @ Prune

First of all, Happy New Year! I know I've been neglecting all of your minds and bellies, but the past couple of months have just been a whirlwind of work and progress. I've taken on another job making candy with a wonderful candy company and I've gotten a promotion at my bakery. Not to mention, writing for a kick ass local online magazine.

But, I know I need to get back to the place that started it all. So, over the next few weeks, I will slowly (but surely), be revamping the site. There will be new recipes, recipe testing, and new reviews on places I love. I only ask you this: comment! Even if it's just to say hello, or even if it's just to rant. I'd love to hear it.

Usually I'm pretty blasé about Valentine's Day, but this was especially exciting for two reasons: I was FINALLY going to Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton's critically lauded restaurant, but, more importantly, I went with Mr.K.

Mr. K and I are basically those folks in movies who take their slow ass time figuring out what everyone else knows: hey, "you guys are perfect for each other...stop being silly". After years of will-they-or-won't-they type tension, the gears clicked, and now we're happy. I know I'm Cliff Note-ing this story for you, but this blog is about food.

We didn't go to Prune on Valentine's Day proper, because I have to work on that same night. Believe me when I say, I DO NOT LIKE DINING OUT ON VALENTINE'S DAY. The menu is usually not at its best, the meal feels rushed, the servers are stressed because the place is crowded; it's just not a good move. Monday ended up being a great choice.

When we walked into Prune, what really struck me about it was its size. It's incredibly tiny; a nook of a restaurant. There were marble topped tables, comfy wooden chairs, and the dining room radiated with a brightness that made me feel like it was the middle of a warm afternoon.

It didn't take me long to figure out what to order, because I've been dreaming about most of this meal ever since I first read about Gabrielle in an article written by Anthony Bourdain. Basically, everything on the menu is influenced by things she grew up eating and certain time periods in her life. Food, working as memoir. It's a selfish way to develop your menu, and I really admired her for that.

The first things placed on our table were two glasses of Cava (to toast our V-Day dinner) and a metal wine bucket of pappdums, the crunchy Indian cracker. Each sheet was crisp and subtly spiced. It was really easy to get lost in munching away, but I made sure to keep myself from getting over-zealous.

We started with the Radishes with Kosher Salt and Sweet Butter and the Roasted Marrow Bones with Grey Salt and Parsley Salad. The radishes were a childhood snack, and the marrow bones were a dish that her parents would serve for dinner; simple food memories dictated to table.

Mr.K ate his like this: he took a sliver of butter upon his knife, dipped it in the salt, then smeared it on his radish. Seemed pretty efficient to me, so I followed suit.

I have never eaten radishes this way before, and I will never eat them any other way again. Cold, crisp, spicy radishes, tempered by the sweet, creamy butter, everything elevated by the salt....perfection. Simple.

The three hulking marrow bones were served with a parsley salad slicked with vinaigrette, and sprinkled with shallots, capers, and slices of cornichons (little gherkin pickles). A bucket filled with grilled crusty bread was set alongside.

Tiny spoons speared the surface of each bone's marrow, and we used them to spread our bread spears with the meaty marrow. Then, a sprinkle of grey sea salt, and a bit of salad. Unbelievable. Bitter. Salty. Crunchy. Sweet. Sour. Mouths, awakened.

We didn't have to ask for more bread.

I'd been steering the course of this dinner, so Mr.K encouraged me to order the rest of our meal. I chose for myself: the Crispy Duck with Cabbage. For him, the special: Braised Rabbit Legs with a Vinegar Sauce and Cornichons.

My duck was delicious. Crispy and savory skin; the meat dark and rich, with an almost mineral edge. This kitchen knew their way around a duck. But, let me talk to you about that cabbage.

When I see cabbage on a menu, it's usually St.Patricks Day, and it's usually boiled ad infinitum. I know cabbage in a different way, though. My mom would cook it by steaming it a bit, then sautéing it with olive oil, garlic, and tons of kosher salt and pepper. It was so sweet, tender, and fresh. I could tell that this probably used a lot more butter, but, my God, I took a bite of that cabbage and it felt like I was 8 years old and waiting for a second helping. The juices and fat running from my duck were an added plus.

Mr.K politely shared some of his rabbit with me, but after I tried it, I was surprised that he could even be that nice. The meat was falling off the bone, lazily draping itself in that buttery broth laced with vinegar tang. Our sweet server deftly placed more bread on our table before we could say a word; she knew what was coming. She knew we were tired of being nice to our food. Sometimes you have to put the knife and fork down and use the utensils that lie on the ends of your arms.

Gleefully, we used our hands to gnaw our respective dishes' bones to the quick, then made short work of sopping up the gravies with our bread. Soon, my face and hands were shiny, slicked in delicious fat. Embarrassing? Yes. Satisfying? Yes.

After cleaning ourselves up, we braced ourselves for dessert. The two older ladies sitting next to us had ordered the Breton Butter Cake and the Chocolate Walnut Tart with Salted Caramel. They looked so good, I ordered them for us too. Mr.K took a tawny port with his, I chose to go digestif-less.

"Whenever someone orders the Breton, we always place this alongside," said our server, placing our desserts before us. A tiny glass of Muscat appeared beside my plate. I cut a piece of my cake, ate it, then sipped at the wine.

The cake was a study in dichotomy. The top was flaky, like a croissant or puff pastry, its layers shattering into brown butter shards. But, the inside was dense and sweet, balanced with salt. How could this even happen? How could what looked to be a regularslice of cake taste like this?

Mr.K's dessert was great too, not as transcendent as mine, but still delicious. A tart shell, lined thinly in dark chocolate ganache, crowned with salted caramel tossed walnuts, and teased with few flakes of Maldon sea salt.

None of these dishes were particularly flashy in any way. Yes, they were presented nicely on their plates, but there were no fancy squirt bottle sauces or instructions on how to eat it. The food made its own statement, and shouldn't that speak volumes? Prune's menu mirrored the evolution of mine and Mr.K's relationship. As we grew closer and grew older, all the complexity we'd established led us to a simple conclusion: love. And that is what really made us full.