Saturday, April 28, 2012

Rice Noodle Salad

I get out with some girlfriends pretty regularly and we recently went to a Vietnamese restaurant in Seattle called Tamarind Tree. I have been there several times before and my husband and I take our kids out for Vietnamese pretty regularly. I love the fresh versus cooked contrasts that Vietnamese seems to frequently feature. The fresh basil and cilantro with roasted peanuts. The sliced cucumbers and grilled meat. The Rice Noodle Salad bowl with its hot grilled meat and fresh lettuce.

One of the ladies in our group is Vietnamese and Tamarind Tree is her favorite spot so we asked her to order and she picked some things I had never tried. And to be honest, I am not sure I ever would have ordered them on my own. She described it as something that one might make at home (an easy home-cooked Vietnamese meal) which I will have to investigate and report back here. A soup with pineapple, bean sprouts, fresh tomato and seafood. As an accompaniment she ordered a braised fish pot, which sounds potentially redundant but trust me (or my friend actually), she knew what she was doing. It was an amazing combination.

At home the primary Vietnamese dish I make is a rice noodle bowl. It is a flexible dish and has so many things going for it. It is pretty healthy with a pile of lettuce in the bottom, cucumbers, carrots, some rice noodles and grilled meat, spring rolls and/or meatballs with a flavorful sauce poured over the top. It would be easy to turn it into a vegetarian dish by adding some fried tofu or using vegetarian spring rolls. If you need the sauce to be vegetarian, substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce. It is also great with kids as they can make their own bowls putting in the veggies they are wiling to eat. My son ate two big bowls of this last night.

Rice Noodle Salad
Serves 4


1.5 lb flank steak
3 T vegetable oil
2 lemongrass stalks, outer leaves removed and chopped
5 T garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 T fish sauce
2 tsp brown sugar


1 cup water
3 T fish sauce (or soy sauce, if you want vegetarian)
4 T lime juice
3 T sugar
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

noodles and vegetables:

8 ounces rice noodles
1/2 head of lettuce, shredded and washed
2 carrots, washed, peeled and grated
1 cucumber, cut lengthwise and sliced (peeled if it has that waxy exterior)
small handful of cilantro, washed
small handful of basil, washed and julienned


1/2 pound shrimp
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper

Place the flank steak in a low flat dish. Put the vegetable oil, lemongrass, garlic, fish sauce and brown sugar in a food processor and puree until it forms a paste. Rub it into the flank steak and set aside. Let it sit for an hour if you have the time.

In a bowl, mix the water, fish sauce (or soy sauce), lime juice, red pepper flakes, sugar and garlic until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

Cook the noodles, drain, rinse with cold water and set aside. If they are really long you can cut them up with some scissors.

Heat a grill to medium high heat. Grill the steak until it is charred on the outside and lightly pink on the interior. Let sit for ten minutes and then slice thinly.

Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and when it starts to shimmer, add the shrimp and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until it starts to brown and then transfer to a bowl.

Put it together:

Place a handful of lettuce in the bottom of a bowl, pile rice noodles on top, add a handful of cucumbers and carrots. Place some meat and shrimp on top and sprinkle with basil and cilantro. Spoon some of the sauce over the top and serve.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Potato Gratin with White Cheddar Cheese

We have been having some sunny days here in Seattle which is always cause for celebration. No, it doesn't really rain all year round. Yes, it really does rain a lot. Yes, you do get used to it. I love the rain but the grey sky does get hard after a while so a bit of spring sunshine is always welcome.

In celebration of the sunny weather we marinated and grilled flank steak, served with sour cream parsley sauce. For sides we had grilled romaine salad and potato gratin. Grilled flank steak and potato gratin go well together but gratin is a stand up dish that can be served by itself with a simple green salad to make a satisfying (vegetarian) meal.

I was looking for a quick weeknight gratin and found it in Gourmet's cookbook but despite the impressive variety of cheese in my fridge, there was no Gruyere. In the interest of getting my kids to eat it, I went with a simple white cheddar from Beechers instead of something more exotic and the results were great. I cooked this gratin first on the stove and then in a 400 degree oven which speeds up the cooking time. Instead of transferring the contents to a buttered dish, I cooked the whole thing in a cast iron skillet. Less things to clean plus I love my cast iron skillet(s).

Potato Gratin with White Cheddar Cheese
Serves 4 - 6

3 russett potatoes (between 1.5 and 2 pounds total)
1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
2 1/2 cups of half and half
3/4 cups grated white cheddar
salt and pepper
1 T butter

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the potatoes and slice them as thinly as you can (or you can use a mandoline).

Grease your skillet with the 1 T of butter and leave the remaining butter in the pan. Put the pan over medium heat and let the butter melt and begin to bubble. Add one layer of potatoes and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Repeat until all the potatoes are in the pan.

Sprinkle the freshly ground nutmeg over the potatoes. Pour 2 cups of 1/2 & 1/2 over the potatoes. The liquid should come up to just below the height of the top layer of potatoes. If needed, add the additional 1/2 cup of milk to bring it up to the right level.

Turn the heat up on the stove and bring the dish to a boil. Sprinkle the cheese on top, transfer the dish to the oven and cook for 30 - 40 minutes until the top is golden brown and the potatoes are soft.

Serving Suggestion:
Add a green salad for a simple vegetarian meal.
Add a salad and grilled flank steak for you meat lovers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pizza Bianca - Smoked Mozzarella, Fontina, Parmiagano Reggiano and Garlic Confit with Arugula

I was eating pizza with my husband, son and father-in-law about a year and a half ago when I realized that I was witnessing a competitive eating event. All three of them were devouring pizza at an impressive rate while simultaneously eyeing the remaining slices. I could tell they were gauging when the others might finish their current slice, even my then four year old boy. I was not involved in this competition, merely acting as a spectator. I like pizza but it wouldn't even make it into my top twenty favorite foods. 

When we make pizza at home we let everyone make their own, which reduces the competitive nature of dinner. Lately I have been replicating a pizza I had at Marjorie, a great little restaurant in Capitol Hill.

The pizza has garlic confit, smoked mozzarella, fontina and Parmigiano-Reggiano. After it comes out of the oven I pile arugula on top. I love fresh and cooked things in the same bite and this pizza delivers that contrast. 

For the dough I used the Barefoot Contessa's recipe after enjoying pizza night at a friend's house who had used Ina's recipe. It is a great pizza and Ina has an alternative white pizza with Arugula that I am planning to try as well.

On my second iteration of using Ina's pizza dough recipe, I replaced a small amount of the all-purpose flour for semolina flour which gave it a grainy texture. I liked it but my husband preferred the original so depending on your preference you may sub in 1/2 to 1 cup of semolina flour for all-purpose in Ina's recipe.

Pizza Bianca - Smoked Mozzarella, Fontina, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Garlic Confit with Arugula
Serves 1

1 ball of dough from Ina Garten's recipe (she has you split the dough into 6 balls at the end)
2 cloves garlic confit (optional excessiveness)
scant 1/4 cup grated smoked mozzarella
1/4 cup grated fontina
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 1/2 cups arugula

Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees.

Wash the arugula and spin it dry. Break off any thick stems and discard. Set aside.
Roll out your dough on a baking sheet or cookie tray to less than 1/4 inch thick.
If you are using the garlic confit, mash it up and spread it over the rolled out dough. Then sprinkle the fontina, Parmigiano-Reggiano and smoked mozzarella evenly over the pizza. 

Put the pizza in the oven until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown and the crust is crisp.

Remove from the oven, cut into 4 slices and transfer to a plate. Pile the arugula on top and serve.