Category Archives: Food

Food

my first bun bo hue

Today in Denver it snowed a few inches and the high temperature was 28. So it’s perfect weather for some hot beef stew. For the first time in my life, I made Bun Bo Hue (or at least my imitation). If you don’t know, it’s a Vietnamese dish from Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. (Note: I’m spelling this the Anglicized way, because for some reason my blog site converts some Vietnamese characters to question marks. Here’s how it’s really spelled, in Vietnamese.)

I don’t have much experience making Vietnamese food, and I couldn’t get many of the ingredients in time to make a more authentic version, but I had a secret weapon that made all the difference.

Here is the secret ingredient. At this summer’s Dragon Boat Festival there was a little stand selling Vietnamese spice pastes, and so I bought this one. Combining that with a beef roast, bone broth, beef bouillon, and sliced white onion in the Instant Pot under pressure for a couple hours did the trick.

For garnishes, I had lime slices, cilantro, sliced red bell pepper, sambal oelek, green onions, and snow peas. I couldn’t find any bean sprouts since most supermarkets do not carry them any more due to contamination problems (E. coli, I think), and I didn’t have time to go to the Asian supermarket. So I thought snow peas would be close enough – crunchy and green. It worked.

It tasted even better than it looked.

I would definitely buy the spice paste again, if I ever see it. They were test marketing it in the US to see if enough people would buy it to make it worthwhile to put into supermarkets. And I have no idea how that went. But I sure enjoyed it, and have a bunch of delicious leftovers.

The end.

mile high composting and voting

Since this past spring, I’ve been working to arrange composting at my condominium complex. And this week it starts to pay off.

Denver Compost Collective is an organization that collects food waste from apartment dwellers and takes it to their large scale composting facility. Then they give the resulting “black gold” to a local urban farm/food charity. The city has been encouraging composting the past few years, but if you don’t have a big garden, it’s tough to do. So this group fills that gap.

Here is me with my new bucket. I’ll fill it up throughout the week with food scraps (no meat or dairy) and then put it in my building’s parking garage for DCC to pick up Monday morning. They weigh each bucket, dump it into a bigger container on their truck, rinse the bucket out, and put it back in the garage.

In other news, I voted today. The ballot and issues were so easy this time I decided to do it while enjoying some quasi-legal recreational drugs. It’s great to live in Denver.

Saturday, maybe Casa Bonita. Seriously.

muffin tin omelets

When I have time, some weekends I make muffin tin omelets, also sometimes called no-crust quiche. It makes it easy for me to have a high protein, low carb breakfast throughout the week. In the past, I’ve used a fairly shallow muffin tin. But that makes muffin tin omelets that aren’t quite enough to satisfy me, while eating two of them is too much food for breakfast. So I decided I needed a larger size muffin tin. Last time I visited my parents, I learned Mom had a spare! So I took it home with me.

Like my old one, the new tin holds 6 muffins, but each one is much deeper. Today, I finally had time to make some muffin tin omelets again. If you’ve never made these, you should try it sometime. You can find a ton of recipes online, so I’m not going to give you all the details, but here is the general idea.

I usually grease the muffin tin with coconut oil, since I don’t ever have shortening (or lard). Supposedly it’s better for you than vegetable oil or butter.

Today, the things I put in were:

  • some leftover BBQ brisket, chopped
  • one red bell pepper, chopped and sauteed in the fat from the brisket
  • one roma tomato I got from the farmer’s market two weeks ago and realized I better use before it’s too late
  • cheddar/jack cheese blend
  • 9 eggs – so each omelet is 1.5 eggs
  • some milk – don’t ask me how much, I don’t measure stuff, that’s not how I cook
  • salt, black pepper, umami pepper

What, you don’t know about umami pepper? I found this thing on a “if we can’t sell it, we’re just going to throw it out” rack at Safeway a couple years ago and it was the most wonderful discovery.

Then I baked it until it looked good to me. That turned out to be 30 minutes at 350 degrees. And here is the result:

muffin tin omelets

They sure look good, but I already ate lunch, so I’ll save these for later.

I had a bit of trouble getting them out of the muffin tin, maybe I need to coat the pan with something greasier next time. Or cook them inside of muffin cups.

looking for recipes?

I decided to add a new category to my blog, and that is “Recipe”. So I went back and labeled all the recipes I’ve posted here over the past decades. That means I can now list them all in once place, right here:

Todd’s Instant Pot pork green chile, attempt #1

Like a lot of people in Colorado, I like green chile. Denver is a 9 hour drive from Hatch, New Mexico, but we’re close enough to be in the orbit of Hatch chiles. So when I got an Instant Pot for Christmas, I decided to try to use it to make pork green chile.

The green chiles I got were a gift from a friend who bought a bushel and did all the prep work (thanks, KY!) so I just have a pile of quart-size Ziploc baggies of green chiles ready to use. This batch is a bit on the spicy side, I found, hotter than Anaheims. Maybe they’re Big Jims. I don’t honestly know.

Full green chiles, roasted and prepped

My experience wasn’t perfect, and during the process, I realized a fundamental truth I’d never thought much about. Colorado-style green chile sauce that you’d use to put on a burrito or eggs is a lot spicier than Colorado-style green chile that you eat like soup with tortillas. My original goal was to make the former, but I ended up with the latter. Next time I’ll do it differently, I think. Here goes with the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 to 3 pounds of pork shoulder, diced
  • 1 quart bag of prepped green chiles
  • 6 tomatillos
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp Mexican oregano (a totally different plant than European oregano)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground dried New Mexico chile
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 32 ounce (weight) chicken broth, plus 2 more cups of broth
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • corn starch

De-husk, wash, and cut up the tomatillos, garlic, and onion. Blend them together in a blender.

This is about the right amount of onion, tomatillo, and pork to use.

Dice the pork and dice the green chiles (separately).

Set the Instant Pot for Sauté, add 1 TB of oil, and brown the pork.

Add the blended stuff, the green chiles, the chicken broth, the tomatoes, and the spices. Seal the IP and set for pressure cook High for 75 minutes. Yes, 75 minutes. You want the pork to be so soft it melts in your mouth. When it’s done, let the steam do the “natural release” for another 30 minutes.

First look after opening the Instant Pot lid
Before thickening

Switch the Instant Pot back to Sauté. Make a slurry of corn starch and water, and slowly add enough, stirring into the soup to thicken it up.

Once it seems thick enough, serve it up with warm flour tortillas.

You can also use this to smother burritos and eggs, but my taste buds say it’s not spicy enough for that.

Green chile turns a plain bean burrito into a yummy meal

Todd’s cranberry ginger relish recipe

Todd’s Cranberry Ginger Relish Recipe

This started as a recipe I found online and made for Thanksgiving sometime around 2000, and I’ve made it several times since then, slightly simplifying and improving it along the way. It’s fresh, vegan, gluten-free, and tasty. It requires no cooking, unlike Martha Stewart’s similar recipe.

Ingredients

Cranberries

Buy one 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries. Here’s the kind I’ve used most often:

Note that if you can’t find fresh cranberries, in a pinch you can make this using two small cans of whole berry cranberry sauce instead. Just dump the cranberries into a colander and rinse off all the gelatin and sauce and stuff, so you only have the berries left.

Apple

You just need one apple. It’s best to use a sweet variety, because the sweetness of the apple is going to help cut the tartness of the cranberries.

Ginger Root

You need one medium size ginger root, as fresh as possible. It should be about the size of three of your fingers, like this:

Sugar and Water

Regular table sugar. You’ll only need a tablespoon or two, depending on your preference of how sweet you want the relish. The sweeter the apple, the less sugar you need. And some tap water.

Preparation

First, rinse the cranberries and discard any bad ones.

Peel and rinse the ginger; if you don’t know the trick about how to peel ginger easily, watch this video.  Cut the ginger up into one inch chunks.

Rinse, peel, and core the apple. Then cut it into one inch chunks.

Put the ginger, cranberries, apple, one tablespoon of sugar, and a half cup of water into your food processor. Pulse it all to chop everything up to the consistency of relish, because this is relish! If it’s not blending nicely, add a little more water. Be careful not to blend it too much or it will become more of a sauce than a relish.

Once it looks nice, taste it. If it’s too tart for your tastes, add a little more sugar and blend it all together very briefly. Then taste again, and add more sugar if needed. (If you screw up and add too much sugar by accident, add a tiny bit of lemon juice to bring it back to the tart side. Nobody will know.)

When it gets to be not too tart but not too sweet, you’re done. Pour it into a bowl and let it sit in the fridge for an hour or more (overnight is fine), for the flavors to blend together. Stir before serving.

If you have more than you need, spoon some of it into a plastic container to freeze. Freezing and thawing doesn’t really hurt the consistency, I know from experience.

Todd’s makeshift mocha latte recipe

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe. Well, actually, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. But it’s time for a recipe.

I like coffee. And I occasionally like chocolate. But I prefer good coffee and dark chocolate. Also, I don’t have an espresso machine at home, so I can’t make a real mocha latte. But with a little experimentation I’ve found a way to make a coffee+chocolate drink at home that’s just as good as a mocha latte.

It’s really a mix of two things – strong coffee and strong chocolate.

Chocolate

In whatever mug you’re going to drink it from, mix about 3/4 cup of half-and-half with 2 tablespoons of Trader Joe’s Sipping Chocolate powder. Microwave this for 30 seconds, and stir. You don’t want it getting too hot, of course, but it needs to be hot enough so the half-and-half dissolves the chocolate. If you need to nuke it longer, go for it.

Coffee

While the sipping chocolate cools, make one Aeropress full of coffee concentrate, using whatever your favorite beans are. Every Aeropress user has a slightly different technique. Did you know there’s an annual competition to see who can make the best coffee from an Aeropress? There is. The technique I use came from one of the winners of that contest.

I use the inverted Aeropress method with roughly 17g freshly ground coffee and 190 F tap water. I stir for 10 seconds, then let it steep for another 60 seconds. I prefer Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans, and use a metal mesh instead of the paper filters that come with the Aeropress.

If you’ve never used an Aeropress, you should get one. It makes better coffee than any other method except a pro-grade espresso machine, and cleans up easily. The coffee that comes out of it is stronger than most coffee, so most people dilute it with 25% to 50% hot water. But for this recipe, we’re not going to dilute it at all.

After the 60 seconds is up, press the coffee concentrate out into your mug with the cocoa concentrate. Now stir them together, and enjoy.

The richness of the half-and-half (instead of milk) and the concentrated coffee flavor make this drink not taste like the sickly sweet mochas you find at some coffee shops.

 

FOONG Coffee & Bar

If you’re a friend or a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably noticed I have a thing about coffee. Well, on my previous trip to Bangkok, I discovered a really cool little coffee shop by total accident. I wrote about that back in November 2015. The place is called FOONG Coffee & Bar.

After that visit, I wrote this:IMG_0772

I knew I was in the right place when I walked in and the first thing I saw was this, a cold drip maker. Sadly, they didn’t make any cold brew coffee that day, so I had another cappuccino and a Banoffee dessert.

 

Next to seeing the new Star Wars movie, the second highest priority thing for me to do in Bangkok was to return to FOONG, hopefully to get some cold drip coffee. This time, I inquired in advance via Facebook. The owners were very kind and basically said, “For you, we will make a special batch.” So we agreed on what day I would visit, so they could make all the preparations. It takes several hours to make cold drip coffee correctly. And if their cold brew was anywhere near as good as their cappuccino, I knew it would be worth it.

So on Saturday January 2, Beth and I caught the Orange Flag Express Boat from the Central Pier at Sathorn near our hotel north to the Phra Arthit pier, which is next to FOONG. When we first got there, the door was locked and nobody was inside, so we went to the little restaurant next door and had some curry lunch. While we were eating, the owners arrived and opened up the store. By the time we finished lunch, several customers had already found their way in.

We grabbed a table and I chatted with one of the owners a little. She knew who I was without having to ask. So I said that of course I’ll have some cold drip coffee. Beth had iced chocolate. Off and on over the next couple hours, I talked to both the owners. They’re a couple who own and run the coffee shop. I never thought to ask their names, but the man is the main barista and knows a lot about coffee, while the woman is the chef and apparently deals with all the food. They had a third guy helping out who wasn’t there the first time I visited.

After a few sips of my iced coffee – “iced coffee” in the American sense of the term, not the way the Indians or Kiwis use it – I realized I should get a photo. They serve it in a wide but short glass, with one big chunk of ice.

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It was good, not surprisingly, though I don’t think I liked the coffee blend as much as some for this. It was a blend of beans from Thailand and from Rwanda, and tasted very much like dark chocolate. But it didn’t have the fruitiness that I like so much in cold brew coffee. Still, I’d have it again.

I didn’t want another coffee drink, so for my second drink I ordered tea. They had a few small glass jars of teas, and I picked the one that smelled best to me. Then they prepared it in a glass siphon. I’d seen people make coffee in these, but never tea. The tea came out really good, and I used it to help wash down a huge piece of chocolate cookie cheese cake.

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When it was about time to go, I found that they had bottled up some of the cold drip coffee for me, for taking home. It’s in these glass flasks, so I took one, which is enough for two smallish portions.

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That prompted me to make some ice in our hotel room fridge, using mineral water. And so a couple days later I enjoyed some iced coffee while writing this blog!

I haven’t explored very much of Bangkok, really – just a few isolated pockets around the city. So for all I know there are a dozen really good coffee shops comparable to FOONG. Or maybe there are none, and The Force drew me here. Either way, of the six or eight coffee shops I have visited so far in Bangkok, FOONG is the best, with great service, a nice ambiance, and really good coffee and food.

our day at cooking school in Bangkok

Today was our first special experience in Bangkok. We took a Thai cooking class at a local cooking school not far from our hotel. The class started with a trip to the Bang Rak fresh market, and then we went to the cooking school for the rest of the day to make and eat several dishes. We had tom yum goong, pad thai, phanaeng curry with chicken, green curry with chicken, and mango with sticky rice. I had prepared a couple of those dishes in the past, but never made my own curry paste from scratch. And my one attempt at tom yum goong in Broomfield was mostly a bust. Today’s class was from about 8:40am to 1:30pm, and left everyone full and happy. Here’s the whole story…


Since we started planning our trip to Southeast Asia, one thing high on my own priority list has been food. I’ve been trying new foods and learning as much as I can on a limited schedule and budget. I knew I wanted to take a cooking class in Thailand and in India, and maybe one in Cambodia. So the day after we arrived in Bangkok, I started looking into classes.

I settled on Silom Thai Cooking School. It’s near the hotel where we’re staying, the Pas Cher Hôtel de Bangkok. And it gets really good reviews online, plus their website made the whole thing sound like great fun. A half day class is 1000 baht. That’s a huge amount of money in a city where an hour long massage is 200, and a plate of pad thai is 40. But it was worth it. Especially once I found that the school is air conditioned and that in addition to our instructor there were two other helpers doing all the legwork in the kitchen — cleaning up after each dish we made, prepping the next thing, etc. The class is taught in English. Ironically, Beth and I were the only native English speakers in the group. The instructor was Thai, one student was Japanese, and the other six were all from Taiwan.

The meeting point for the start of the class was inside one of the BTS Sky Train stations. That’s Bangkok’s elevated light rail system, separate from their bus system, their bus rapid transit system, their subway system, and their river express boats. Yes, they have a lot of modes of public transit here, and that doesn’t count automobile taxis, motorcycle taxis, and tuktuks.

Anyhow, getting to the meeting point was the hardest part of the whole class. We went to the BTS station near our hotel, bought our tickets, and then went to the platform. But because we were traveling in rush hour, all the trains inbound to the city center were already packed. We (and hundreds of other commuters) had to let the first two trains go past because they couldn’t squeeze any more people on board. Finally, we got on the third train, went only two stops, and then got off at the station where we were to meet the group. Of course Murphy’s Law states that if you get on a jam packed train on the right side, the station where you get off will have the platform on the left. But Beth and I muscled our way to the door, got off the train, and soon found the meeting point.

As other students arrived, we introduced ourselves and had some idle chit chat. Once the main instructor arrived, she said that because of the number of students we would be splitting into two groups. So they read off names for the first group, which included us, and we all went with a different instructor, named Nam.

Guess what the first step of the tour was? Nam handed out pre-paid BTS tickets, and we got right back on a train headed the other direction, went two stops, and got off at the same station where we started! In fact, we soon learned, both the market and the cooking school are very near our hotel. If we’d known all that, we could’ve just walked to the market to meet up with the group in about five or ten minutes and saved about an hour of commuting hassle and two train fares. Oh well.

We proceeded into the narrow alleys of the fresh market as a group. At the first stop, we got shopping baskets for everyone in the group, and then went to the coconut seller. We saw the coconut shredding machines, and learned about the two types of coconut “meat” — one that’s pure white and one that’s speckled grey because it contains some of the skin (not the shell). Nam said we could also buy coconut milk and coconut cream here, but that we would be making our own from scratch instead.

Then we continued to the seafood shop, where she taught us how to tell fresh shrimp from shrimp that are too old. They have shrimp from the river and shrimp from the sea there. But we didn’t actually buy any of them, because her helpers had already been to the market earlier to buy enough for all the dishes we needed. I didn’t realize it at the time, but they were cleaning and shelling them for us back at the cooking school.

Next up, we bought herbs and vegetables. I’m not sure I remember everything we got, but I know we picked up lemon grass, finger ginger, galangal, cilantro, something she called Thai cilantro but which I think is the thing we usually call culantro, pandanas leaves, kaffir limes, kaffir lime leaves, baby garlic, coriander roots, green onions, chives, little eggplants (they looked like tomatillos to me, and are very different than aubergines, the big purple eggplant we see in the US usually), sweet basil, tamarind paste, long beans, and both green and red chiles. We learned there are two types of tamarind, a sweet and a sour; the sweet is sold with the skin on to differentiate it from the sour which is sold without the skin. We got to sample and smell all the herbs, which made me smile.

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With baskets full of produce, the students make our way to the cooking school building

Then we headed back to the cooking school, where we put our stuff away, got aprons, drank some cold water, and washed up.

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Here I am hamming it up with our instructor Nam (photo by Beth)

The first dish we made was tom yum goong, which is the Thai hot and sour soup with shrimp that you see at every Thai restaurant in the US. I’ve made it before by carefully following a recipe, and it took hours, plus some herbs that are hard to find in Broomfield, kaffir lime leaves vexing me to no end. But this recipe was actually quite fast to cook. Prepping the ingredients takes a while, but making the soup just takes a few minutes, not hours. And the result tasted a lot better than the big pot I made years ago.

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Ingredients for tom yum goong (Thai hot and sour soup), including chives, Thai cilantro, kaffir lime leaves, tomato, birds eye chiles, mushrooms, galangal, lemongrass, fish sauce, palm sugar, and lime juice

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These individual burners really crank out the BTUs. Like Luke Skywalker said, “We’re going in, we’re going in full throttle.”

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The end result = pretty decent soup

Mine was a bit spicy. I put two red birds eye chiles in, plus chili paste, and then it was garnished with more red birds eye chile at the end. The student from Japan could barely choke hers down, even though she only used a half a chile compared to the two I used. I guess she’s not used to spicy food.

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Todd and Beth, happy to be sweating over our blazing burners

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Instructor Nam blurrily shows how to add the liquid into the sticky rice to go with mango for dessert

Once we finished our soup, and I finished sweating because of my soup, it was time to prep ingredients for the second dish, pad thai with shrimp. The helpers prepped all the shrimp, which was awesome. So all we had to do was cut up some chives and tofu. We made the dish with fresh noodles, so there was no need to pre-soak them for a long time; just five minutes in cold water before cooking. The result looked good and tasted fine, but it could’ve been better. I added extra peanuts and ground red chile on top at the end, but I think it needed more fish sauce, frankly. Still, it was filling, especially since we ate it around 10:30.

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Some of the ingredients for pad thai

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My first pad thai

Next, it was time to make phanaeng curry with chicken. This one didn’t take too much work, either. It was just chicken and long beans and the curry. I wasn’t too impressed with this one. My curry separated into oil and the sauce. I felt like I must have done something wrong, but the instructor said that at home you should just make this without the oil. The coconut cream provides the fat to cook everything in. We just used oil because we were sticking with the school’s official recipe, but that’s not how she makes it. It tasted fine, but didn’t look nice, so I didn’t bother taking a photo to share with you.

Moving right along, we then started on green curry. This one took a bit longer because it was our chance to make curry paste from scratch. In short, the students all chopped up the stuff in this photo into tiny pieces, while one student toasted some of the dry seeds you see on the left — coriander seeds, black peppercorns, and cumin seeds. Then Nam showed us how to grind everything together using this big mortar and pestle. She said you can use a food processor at home, but we’re doing it the old fashioned way for class. She pounded the dry ingredients, then added some of the fresh ingredients, and then let each student have a hand at grinding, one by one. In the end, we had a big pile of green curry paste.

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Ingredients for green curry paste

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Instructor Nam demonstrates how to grind the spices into curry paste (photo by Beth)

The paste went into the pan with soybean oil, eggplant, shredded carrot, kaffir lime leaves, sweet basil, shredded finger ginger, and chicken. And then as you are stir flying this stuff, you add the coconut cream and then coconut milk. This one came out better than the previous curry. Here’s a photo of how mine looked, with some rice.

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With all the ingredients in the pan, it’s time to start the fire

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My first green curry from scratch — just don’t eat the kaffir lime leaves

The final course was mango with sticky rice. It was delicious, and I’m including a photo. But the students really didn’t have anything to do with this. The instructor’s helpers prepped the mangoes, steamed the rice, fried the mung beans, etc. Note: It may look like there’s some sauce on this plate under the mango and rice, but that’s just where the plate has a different color. Several of us students made the mistake of thinking the plate design was actually some sort of cream, but it’s just an optical illusion.

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Mango and sticky rice

And then class was over. We each got a little recipe book to take home. The Japanese student got a special one in Japanese to go with her copy in English. Strangely, the six Taiwanese students didn’t get any special book. I guess they figure if you speak Chinese you can read English just fine, but Japanese people can’t? It doesn’t make sense to me, but whatever. We all cleaned up, paid our 1000 baht, and said our farewells.

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I guess this is a list of places their past students have come from. I noticed Denver was on the list. (photo by Beth)

Once we got back to the hotel, Beth and I both needed a nap. It’s hard work cooking and eating all day!