Thursday, May 27, 2010

Somewhere, on a time-traveling island...........

.......this blogger consoles herself over the end of her favorite long-running tv show with a bottle of sixty year old 'MacCutcheon whisky.'


Once upon a time, back in 2005, a group of my friends convinced me to start watching a tv show. I hated it at first. There were too many characters to keep track of, plus flashbacks, relationships, jungle monsters and polar bears. I complained week after week. Until, that is, I found myself loving our weekly get-togethers (at which dinner and good post-show conversation were always a main feature) centered around the show, and loving the show for its many 'Oh-my-God-did-you-just-see-that??' moments. Finally, I was just plain hooked.

Now it's 2010 and my group of friends, like our weekly LOST nights, have scattered and changed. And as all good things must, LOST itself came to an end this week. While I may no longer have a crew of rowdy 20-somethings with which to watch my favorite television show (toasting with a raised can of beer every time Jin said something in Korean, the smoke monster appeared onscreen, or Michael screamed for 'WAAAAAAALLLLLT!!!!'), I do have my trusty and beloved husband. He has watched every single episode of this show right by my side (I believe it should have been in our wedding vows....'Will you love, honor and cherish her....and will you watch six seasons of her favorite sci-fi island soap opera with her with minimal complaint and without asking silly questions like what exactly the smoke monster is or why the hell the bald wheelchair guy can walk and the Southern guy has to nickname everyone?'), and I could think of no better way to close this chapter of my life than with one final LOST dinner night.

And an excellent dinner it was! We had mahi mahi tacos in honor of the late Jin Kwon, fisherman of The Island (and close runner-up for my favorite LOSTie*) with roasted tomato salsa, creamy avocado slices and shredded cabbage. We had a delicious sliced mango salad in honor of the seemingly neverending supply of mangoes provided by The Island, lightly dressed with a pinch of sugar, salt, and fresh mint. And finally, we had brown sugar shortbread 'fish biscuit' cookies, branded with the DHARMA logo, for dessert.

(* dude, I'm a Hurley girl for life.)

We had a great time watching the series finale. I'm not what you'd call a 'tv person' under normal circumstances; in fact, we cancelled our cable over a year ago, and the only television show I've bothered to keep up with regularly is LOST. In many ways, it's the end of an era. But in many other ways, it's just a tv show, and it's just as well that it came to an end when it did. The finale answered some of my questions about The Island, left many unanswered forever (no, really, what IS the smoke monster, dammit??), made us laugh (Mike) as well as cry (okay, me).

In order to truly look & feel the part of a crazed LOST fan, I wore my sweet 'WWJLD?' shirt. Please disregard the jammies and obvious bedhead.

Want to make your own fish biscuits, in tribute to the best show about a pair of feuding brothers, a time-traveling island, a handful of polar bears and about a thousand love triangles?? Well, now you can, brothah! These cookies are a twist on classic shortbread featuring brown sugar and a crisp, ever so slightly salty finish. They're as addictive as a Virgin Mary statue full of heroin, so beware--ours disappeared inside of two days!

DHARMA Initiative 'Fish Biscuits' (aka Brown Sugar Shortbread Cookies)

1 cup flour
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, sliced and chilled
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300°, and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a food processor, pulse the flour, butter, sugar and salt until dough barely begins to come together like damp island sand!

Turn out mixture onto a work surface and gather into a smooth, compact ball. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 7-by-9-inch rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick. Using a sharp knife, slice fish shapes out of shortbread dough. Set fish shapes on parchment-lined cookie sheet; I got about 16 but your mileage may vary depending on the size of your fish biscuits. Using a pointy instrument (I found a wooden chopstick to be perfect here), carve the word 'DHARMA' into each cookie.

Refrigerate the tray of cookies for 20 minutes. Remove from refrigerator and bake at 300° until light golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, remove from tray and enjoy. Namaste (.......and good luck)! :)

Goodbye, LOST! We'll miss you!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Vietnamese Duck Noodle Soup, from Bon Appétit magazine, May 2010

'It's so pretty, Napa cabbage. So ruffly and drapey.'

I held a few of the loose, ruffled leaves against the leg of my jeans and sighed, considering them.

'....I think if I was going to make a dress out of any vegetable at all, it would be Napa cabbage.'

My husband, who knows me well enough by now to know that this isn't even remotely crazy talk coming from me, wisely held his tongue and kept slicing shallots and chopping mint. He's a smart man. It is very pretty though, Napa cabbage, although when it comes to uses I recommend eating over eveningwear. And what better way could there be to eat it than sliced into delicate ribbons and swimming in spicy broth and tender noodles, a few golden shreds of duck meat, diced tomatoes, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs decorating the surface?

This recipe for Vietnamese duck noodle soup (also known as bun vit mang), from the May issue of Bon Appétit magazine, is built on a solid foundation of flavors: first of all, duck. Yum. I think it's only fair to tell you that you might, in the absence of duck, be able to build a perfectly respectable soup on, say, chicken. But it's going to be missing that inherently wonderful, rich, ducky quality. Don't cheat yourself. It's a little difficult to find at our usual supermarkets (at least it is in our Phoenix suburb, your mileage may vary if you're in a more duck-loving corner of the world?), but we can always, always find duck legs at our local Asian specialty supermarket, so look around.

The second fundamental building block in this complex soup is a large quantity of good, fresh ginger. Ginger is one of those rare food items (really, it's a short list) that I always claimed not to like, having tasted funky, limp pinkish pickled ginger slices too many times at too many cheap sushi joints and declaring it to 'taste like window cleaner.' I don't remember when I changed my mind, but I do know that it was fresh ginger that cracked that particular prejudice wide open. Fresh ginger is a juicy, tongue-prickling wonder, a staple around the Orange & Salt kitchen whenever we're cooking anything remotely Asian in flavor. It's also basically a superfood that is reported to do just about everything from curing indigestion, nausea, and cold & flu symptoms to lowering levels of 'bad' cholesterol so eat your ginger--but stay away from the pickled, cheap-sushi-joint stuff! It really does taste like window cleaner.

Finally, I would say the balance of flavor in this wonderful soup is made up by all those fantastic garnishes, piled on in traditional Vietnamese mix-and-match style, to suit the individual taste. It's a lineup of the usual suspects of Southeast Asian cuisine: fish sauce, hot chilis, mint, cilantro, bright & zingy lime juice, etc, and all the tangy-hot-spicy-sweet helps to liven up the rich, fatty soup base incredibly.

I couldn't resist including this photo, since we tried a new brand of fish sauce this time around, and I think the smiling, lipstick-wearing, thumbs-up baby fish sauce spokesmodel is hilarious. 'Heeyyy, try my fish sauce!' :)

What you will start with: a full to the brim bowl of juicy, spicy, crunchy, ducky goodness............

........and what you will end with: a very clean bowl. A happy, warm belly. And an overpowering urge to make this soup again, in the very near future.

Vietnamese Duck Soup (from Bon Appétit, May 2010)

6 servings



6 duck leg-thigh pieces
16 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 large onion, peeled, halved
6 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons (or more) fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)*
1 tablespoon sugar


1 6.75-ounce package rice vermicelli
3 cups sliced shallots (about 10 large)
2 1/4 pounds plum tomatoes, chopped
3 8-ounce cans sliced bamboo shoots, drained
6 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
Hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
Lime wedges

Heat heavy large pot over high heat. Sprinkle duck with salt and pepper. Add to pot; sauté until deep brown, about 6 minutes per side. Add broth, onion, ginger, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, and sugar; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered until duck is very tender, adjusting heat to maintain simmer, 45 to 60 minutes.

Using tongs, transfer duck to rimmed baking sheet. Cool 30 minutes. Skin and bone duck. Coarsely shred duck meat. Strain broth into large bowl; discard solids. Spoon fat from top of broth into small bowl; reserve. Return broth and duck to same pot. Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill soup uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Cover and chill duck fat.

Cook rice vermicelli in large saucepan of boiling water until just tender, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again. Cut noodles in half to shorten.
Melt 2 tablespoons reserved duck fat in same saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sauté 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and bamboo shoots. Cook until juices thicken, about 7 minutes longer. Add tomato mixture to soup. Simmer until flavors blend, 5 to 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and more fish sauce if desired.

Divide noodles, cabbage, and herbs among 6 large bowls. Ladle in soup. Serve, passing hot sauce and lime wedges.