Whole hearted

Posted by Cameron on 08.02.09 8:59 AM

(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*We were caught unawares, but isn’t that how it always happens? It seemed an innocent enough Sunday cruise through the Marin Farmers Market, looking for the coming week’s dinners. With a Marin Sun Farms chicken and some Devil’s Gulch pork chops already safely tucked away, we drifted into the Santa Rosa Seafood tent and were suddenly entranced.

Odysseus could hardly have been more enraptured by the Sirens than we were enchanted by the beautiful, sleek, glossy-eyed fishies staring out from their beds of crushed ice. Sorting out which finny critters had been caught locally took some shouting between the guys working the floor and the fishwives (well, hell… what else are you going to call them?) gutting customers’ orders, but eventually we learned that the bright red, medium-sized rosefish had been hauled out of the water near Monterey. Not only were these guys beautiful, they were also just the right size for one of the few Thai dishes that I can claim as my own: whole fried fish.

Now, this is no batter-dipped chip buddy — it’s an entirely different kettle of… er… fish. A typical batter crisps up while leaving the fish underneath tender. But to cook a whole fish Thai style, you cut a series of deep slashes in its flanks, dust it with tapioca starch and drop it — fins and all — into hot oil for an extended bath: 20 minutes or more. This treatment drives the water out of most of the meat, turning it into a delicious, chewy, crunchy treat that comes off the skeleton in bits that are perfect for dipping in tamarind-based hot sauce. I’ll leave it up to you whether to let your guests in on the secret treats: The fins and tail (and in some cases the exposed bones) become as crunchy as potato chips, and there are plenty of succulent bits to be had in and around the head.

But our story isn’t quite done yet. We were within a hair of being able to make this our One Local Summer dinner for the week, but the sauce recipe calls for tamarind — not exactly a Bay Area native. Fortunately, I roll with the McGuyver of the Kitchen, who suggested that (local) pluots combined with lime juice would bring the necessary tang and body to our dipping sauce.

(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*

Crispy Fried Fish with Chili-Tamarind Sauce
- adapted from a recipe by Kasma Loha-unchit

A 1-1/2# firm, white-fleshed fish (such as snapper or perch), scaled and cleaned
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
8 cloves garlic, minced
4 fresh red jalapeño or Fresno peppers, minced*
2 shallots, minced
1-inch section fresh peeled fresh ginger, minced fine
1 T minced cilantro roots (or stems)
10 white peppercorns
2 to 3 cups peanut oil (for frying)
3 to 4 T tapioca starch
2 to 3 T Thai fish sauce
1/2 cup thick tamarind puree
1 T palm sugar, or more to taste
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves
A few sprigs of cilantro or Thai basil for garnish
2 to 4 Thai bird chiles, sliced thin, for garnish

Check to see that all the scales have been removed from your fish, and that the innards/guts are removed. Using a sharp knife, cut 3 to 5 deep gashes (depending on the size of the fish) in each side of the fish. The cuts should be at a 45-degree angle to the midline of the fish, with the top of each cut closer to the head and the bottom closer to the tail. Rinse the fish, drain, and pat dry. Rub evenly with a thin coating of salt and white pepper. If the fish has been refrigerated, let sit out up to an hour to warm to room temperature before frying.

Mix the garlic, peppers, shallots, ginger, and cilantro roots/stems. Using a large, heavy mortar and pestle, pulverize the peppecorns. Then add the minced aromatics, stir to mix well, and pound to a smooth paste.

Heat the oil in a wok over high heat until a bit of tapioca starch (or other test tidbit) dropped in the oil begins to bubble almost immediately. Coat the fish with a very thin layer of tapioca starch, and slip it into the oil. Fry the fish, turning it and ladling oil over it as necessary, until it is browned and crispy on both sides from head to tail (about 10 minutes on each side). Manage the flame to keep the oil bubbling vigorously, but not frantically, so that the fish can crisp thoroughly without burning. Remove the fish from the oil and cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before placing on a serving platter.

Pour off the oil from the wok, except for two tablespoons. Add the pounded chili mixture and sauté over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add fish sauce, tamarind, and palm sugar until the spicy, sour, sweet, and salty flavors are equally balanced. The sauce should be the consistency of a thick salsa — thin with water if it becomes too dry. Cook a minute to blend the flavor, then stir in the basil and cook just enough to wilt.

Spread half the sauce evenly over the fish and the other half along sides of the platter. Garnish with cilantro or Thai basil sprigs and the sliced chiles.

* Note: Do not seed the chilies unless you wish the sauce to be mild. For a medium-hot dish, remove the seeds from half the chilies.


Farmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s recipe:One Local Summer 2009
Santa Rosa Seafood, Santa Rosa: Rosefish (Monterey-caught)
Hunter Orchards
, Grenada: Garlic
Xiong Farm, Fresno: Thai bird chiles, Fresno chiles, ginger
Dirty Girl Produce, Santa Cruz: Shallots
Kashiwase Farms, Winton: Pluots
Paradez Farms, Exeter: Limes
…and our own homegrown Thai basil and cilantro

locavore, One Local Summer, recipes, Thai
3 Comments »

 

A race to Thai

Posted by Anita on 04.22.08 5:01 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**At this very moment, I’m on my way to Oakland for the last session in my third series of advanced classes with Thai cooking expert Kasma Loha-unchit, the award-winning author of It Rains Fishes and Dancing Shrimp. Since it takes a year or more to complete the prerequisite classes — and chances are good you’ve heard me rave about Kasma before — I won’t torture you with the details of the truly delicious food we’re making …although you’re welcome to peek at the photos on Flickr, or check out my last class recap of Series B.

But… if you’re interested in starting down your own path to culinary liberation (and really, who doesn’t want to be able to cook better Thai food at home than you can buy at any restaurant outside of Thailand?) you’re finally in luck. Kasma’s just this morning opened up three new Beginning Thai Cooking series for fall 2008:

September - Mondays, Sept. 8, 15, 22 & 29
- Tuesdays, Sept. 9, 16, 23 & 30
October – Mondays, Oct. 6, 13, 20 & 27

(There’s also a single Intermediate series and a single Advanced set, but I’m presuming that anyone who’s met the prerequisites for these has already gotten word of them.)

Each 4-session series costs $175, which includes 16 hours of hands-on instruction and full meals. More details about the classes — including menus — can be found on Kasma’s site, Thai Food and Travel.

But do hurry: The beginning classes, especially, fill up faster than you can say “bpoo pad pritkai dâm pkap kreuang tehd” (or even “Black-Peppered Crab with Roasted Spices”… ) Send a request to hold your space to kasma[at]earthlink[dot]net, and be sure to send along second- and third-choice dates to avoid disappointment.

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

classes, East Bay, Thai
8 Comments »

 

Learn curry (but hurry!)

Posted by Anita on 09.19.07 11:58 AM

(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reservedBack in May, I talked about the Thai cooking classes offered by Kasma Loha-unchit in her Oakland home, and mentioned that “Kasma’s classes, especially the beginning series, are perennially booked”. But if you get a wiggle on, you might be able to score a place in her 2008 classes, which were announced today.

Seven sets of the four-class Beginning series, which costs $170, will be offered next spring:

March: Mondays, March 3, 10, 17 & 24
Tuesdays, March 4, 11, 18 & 25
Wednesdays, March 5, 12, 19 & 26

April: Mondays, March 31 & April 7, 14 & 21

May: Tuesdays, May 6, 13, 20 & 27
Thursdays May 8, 15, 22 & 29

June: Mondays, June 2, 9, 16 & 23

There’s more information, including menus, online at Kasma’s site, although the 2008 dates are not yet listed. You can send a request to hold your space to kasma[at]earthlink[dot]net; Kasma’s husband Michael recommends that you send along second- and third-choice series the first time around, as classes really do fill up quickly.

Good luck!

(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved

classes, East Bay, Thai
4 Comments »

 

Cooking with Kasma

Posted by Anita on 05.31.07 2:04 PM

(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reservedI teased you last week with a glimpse into my Tuesday-night classes with Thai cooking maven Kasma Loha-unchit. This most-recent set of classes was the fourth 4-week series I’ve attended; I started with the beginning series nearly 10 years ago, followed up with the intermediate course a few years later, and then — after travelling with Kasma through central and northern Thailand in January 2006 — picked up again with the advanced series last spring.

In the beginning series, you master popular curries, simple stir-fries, spicy soups and salads, and authentic (ketchup-free!) pad thai noodles. Even if you think you know a lot about Thai food, you’re sure to learn a lot: You’ll taste-test multiple brands of coconut milk, learn about the best places to buy ingredients, hear the lowdown on the top brands, and get plenty of practice balancing sweet, salty, sour, and hot flavors under Kasma’s watchful eye.

Intermediate classes move on to more labor-intensive preparations, and a larger assortment of ingredients. By the time you reach this level, you’ll have a thorough understanding of flavors and techniques — pounding curry pastes, balancing flavors, frying ingredients in coconut cream — that will put you in good stead for the advanced courses. A total of six advanced series walk students through regional specialties, intricate preparations, and adventurous foodstuffs. Many students work their way through the entire curriculum and then start again — it’s just that much fun to cook alongside other students who are experienced and passionate about Thai food.

(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reservedThe real joy of learning to cook Thai with Kasma is that she makes Thai cooking accessible without dumbing it down. I hope you won’t think I’m immodest when I say that — even after just the basic courses — I could make Thai food better than what we find at local restaurants. The setup of Kasma’s classes allows for plenty of hands-on work, and lots of time to talk, taste, and learn. Each session starts with a snack while Kasma explains the four to six dishes of the day. Students team up for prep, then gather round as each dish is completed. When the cooking is done, you sit down with Kasma and her charming husband Michael to enjoy the feast you’ve prepared. I promise: You won’t leave hungry.

Kasma also sells specialized tools and hard-to-find items to her students. Years ago, when I first took the beginning series, her dining-room table was one of the few places to find Thai coffee filters and decent papaya graters. Her offerings have blossomed into a veritable general store of favorite brands and equipment, a useful one-stop-shop when stocking your Asian pantry. Students can also buy from a dwindling stock of Kasma’s award-winning (but out-of-print) cookbooks — Dancing Shrimp and It Rains Fishes — at their original retail price … a big savings over the $40-plus prices you’ll see on Amazon for used copies.

And speaking of bargains: You won’t find a better deal on cooking classes anywhere. Each four-class series costs $160 — just $40 per class, less than you’d probably spend for dinner at your favorite Thai restaurant. Kasma’s house is located close to Oakland’s MacArthur BART station (a quick bus ride or a leisurely half-hour stroll gets you the rest of the way there), making it easy for visitors and bridge-averse City-dwellers to attend. If you live outside the Bay Area, you’re not completely out of luck: Kasma offers week-long intensive sessions each summer for a stunning price: $550. You spend five full days covering territory similar to the beginning and intermediate series, or an assortment of advanced recipes in the later intensives.

Now that I have you salivating, let me disappoint you: You’ll have to be patient. All of Kasma’s classes, especially the beginning series, are perennially booked — and the mention she got in this month’s San Francisco Magazine (alongside Shuna Lydon and June Taylor, among others) will only make matters worse. To finagle a spot, join Kasma’s announcement-only Yahoo group, and be the first to hear about next spring’s offerings.

(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved
The Art of Thai Cooking
near Piedmont and Grand Avenues
Oakland, CA
510 655-8900
thaifoodandtravel.com

classes, cookbooks, cooking, East Bay, Thai
8 Comments »

 

The social whirl

Posted by Anita on 05.24.07 10:13 PM

(c)2007 AEC *all rights reserved*Sometimes, we just don’t post because we’re not eating anything interesting, and there’s just nothing to talk about. But I can assure you, that has NOT been the case these last couple of weeks. We’ve been eating our way around the bay, scheduled to the breaking point: Out of the last 11 evenings, we’ve had nine social engagements. No wonder I’m exhausted!

Our little foodie death march all started back on Tuesday the 15th, with my second of four sessions in Kasma Loha-unchit’s Thai cooking classes. I’ll post a complete wrap up at the end of the series, but suffice to say that if you’re looking to learn more about Thai cooking, look no further.

Then that Wednesday, we met up with DPaul and Sean to say farewell to our mutual friend Matt (who’s taking a sabbatical from San Francisco for a while) over a sangria-soaked supper at Piqueo’s, Bernal Heights’ new Peruvian cevicheria and small-plates joint. Although the impossibly long menu was nearly entirely different from our first visit a month or so ago, we enjoyed almost everything we’ve tried there so far.

Thursday of the same week found us stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge approach, on our way to The Blue Door at Berkeley Rep. A car-snarl from hell — more than an hour from SoMa to the Bridge, thanks — meant we missed our Downtown reservations by more than an hour (we called!) and our consolation snack at North Beach Pizza was grim in every way possible. Truly, we were expecting mediocre but fast, and ended up with slow and barely edible.

Saturday we hit the Ferry Building market in the morning, running into Tea at the Rancho Gordo stand. Farmer Steve’s sure the popular boy these days, with dozens of folks stopping by to congratulate him on his much-publicized (and bilingual!) defense against Carlo Petrini’s ill-mannered slagging of the FPFM’s farmers and customers alike. Everyone must’ve bought a bag or three of beans as they stopped by to say “Good on yeh!” to Mr. Sando — many varieties were already sold out by the time we strolled up.

That same afternoon, we hosted two sets of friends and their 2-year-olds for a summer supper of bacon-cheeseburgers, mac salad, and red cabbage slaw, with complete strawberry crisp for dessert. The junior guests had as much fun as their mommies and daddies: Little Toby rocked out on guitar with Cameron, and Miss Martha endeared herself to everyone with sweet hugs and adorable curiosity.

(c)2007 AEC *all rights reserved*Monday night, an impromptu get-together chez nous. Tea was in town for the week, so we invited her, plus DPaul and Sean (are they sick of us yet?) — and their sweetie-pie girl Reese — over for dinner. We snacked on pencil-thin asparagus dipped in homemade aioli while we tried out yet another recipe for grilled pizza. I’m still not convinced we’ve found a keeper in the pizza department, but the season’s first peach cobbler proved a hit all around. And when we saw Tea later in the week, she declared that the chopped salad we served with the pizza had earned a slot on the menu of foods she expects to find in heaven. (Flattery like that will get you invited back!)

Tuesday was Thai cooking class again, and Wednesday another dinner to-do: Cameron’s cousins and their 2-year-old (we’re toddler magnets!) were in town from Houston, on their way to Yosemite for the long weekend. Little Camden gobbled a Prather Ranch hot dog while the grownups feasted on tri-tip grilled up Santa Maria style (rubbed with an equal mixture of salt, pepper, and garlic powder moistened with oil), sliced thin and served with guacamole on Rancho Gordo tortillas, with a side of beans a la charra. And yes, another quickie dessert: Pear-rosemary crumble, and vanilla ice cream.

(c)2007 AEC *all rights reserved*Tonight we met up with a gaggle of cool food bloggers from SF, the East Bay and beyond for dinner at Berkeley’s stalwart O Chame. We loved every appetizer we shared — especially the seared ahi cubes and their lovely horseradish drizzle, the grilled shiitake mushrooms with fresh asparagus, and the snackalicious green-onion pancake blocks. Our soba and udon bowls were so-so (flavorful broth, but overdone noodles) but scoops of balsamic vinegar caramel ice cream were hauntingly good… and rapidly gone.

A short stroll down 4th Street led us to Cody’s Books, where we listened to the charming Clotilde speak about her progression from software developer to food blogger to published cookbook author. She gave us all a chuckle when she spoke of the oddness of being a Frenchwoman writing an English-language food blog — to the consternation of some of her compatriots, she confessed — and her passion for ‘dangerous’ recipes like souffles and gougeres, where a cook never knows whether she’s destined for dinner or disaster. (Clotilde’s signing books Saturday afternoon in San Francisco, in case you’d like to meet her and get a copy of her lovely new book.)

Tomorrow? Ugh. I’m more than a little bit sick of cooking, and yet I don’t think I could bear the pressure of going out somewhere new, or even someplace fancy. So… we have reservations at Range, our delightful standby, where they know us just well enough that we can all relax, but not so well that we have to be social. I’m liking that idea a lot. I wouldn’t have missed a single night of the last 2 weeks, but I am sure glad that it’s done.

I’m half hoping that the bounty of the farmers market on Saturday snaps me out of my apathy, but I won’t be surprised (or even too sad) to find that I’ve burned out on planning, prepping, and putting food on the table… at least for a while. We’ve got a freezer full of incredible leftovers from the last six weeks of new-kitchen cooking frenzy, so it’s not like we’ll go hungry.

As we slow down a bit, I’m aiming to do a better job posting here on a more-regular basis. I’ve got a backlog — five posts’ worth and counting — of recipes, photos and stories that should last through a week of diminished cooking capacity. In the meantime, I’ll tide you over with a recipe for an simple (but apparently impressive) salad that’s quick enough for everyday, but with a just enough company-class touches for a weeknight dinner party on the fly. You can vary the vinegar, the cheese, the herbs, and even the olives to complement your main course.

Heavenly Chopped Salad
(adapted from Food & Wine, September 2006)

2 T mild vinegar (such as cider, champagne or sherry)
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 small shallot, chopped fine
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
—–
2 cups chopped lettuce or baby greens
4-5 small Belgian endive (preferably red) halved, cored and coarsely chopped
1 English or Japanese cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
2T to 1/4 cup coarsely chopped chives (or other herbs, as you prefer)
3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved (or other olives)
1/2 pound feta (or bleu) cheese, crumbled

Whisk the vinegar, lemon juice, and shallot in a medium bowl. Whisk in the oil until emulsified, and season the dressing with salt and pepper.

Combine the remaining ingredients together in a large bowl. Add half of the dressing, season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss. Add the remaining dressing (or less, to taste) toss again, and serve.

serves 6

Bernal, cookbooks, cooking, East Bay, entertaining, other blogs, restaurants, Thai
3 Comments »

 

Shining in the shadows

Posted by Anita on 11.06.06 7:26 AM

singha (c)2006 AECThais revere the lotus as a symbol of Buddhism: It’s a beautiful, symmetrical flower that thrives in the dankest, most polluted cesspools. So perhaps it’s apt to find Lotus of Siam — one of the most celebrated Thai restaurants outside of Thailand — in a sketchy area on the edge of downtown Las Vegas. Specifically, it’s smack in the middle of a dimly lit, semi-derelict shopping center with the Stratosphere tower looming in the distance. This outdoor mall full of businesses with an illegitimate air features a parking lot that looks quite like a great place to get mugged. That said, it also looks like a great place for ethnic food finds, with a Jalisco-style diner that serves only birria — try saying “birriraria” right on the first try — sporting a goat-head logo, plus a Korean bar-cafe and a plenty of other places lacking any sort of English signage.

Once inside the door, it’s hard to miss the wall covered with accolades, but the parking-lot experience prepares you for the rest of what you see: A slightly run-down but brightly lit space without a smidgen of pretense. A large buffet steam table takes up the center of the room (it’s used at lunchtime, weekdays only) and Formica-topped tables are set with paper placemats and restaurant-supply cutlery. This isn’t a bad thing, in my opinion… in fact, it probably served to raise my expectations. If so many foodies think this place is amazing, I figured, they’re obviously not being misled by any fancy-pants décor.

If you’ve come looking for pad thai or green chicken curry, you won’t be disappointed — all the familiar favorites are present and accounted for. There’s also a selection of what could charitably be called oddball dishes, things like shrimp tempura, fried wontons and chop suey that left me a bit worried that I’d mistakenly stumbled into one of those terrible Seattle “Thai” restaurants — the ones where they bring you chopsticks and ask “how many stars?” to gauge your chile tolerance. My nervousness was put to rest by the middle section of the menu — a collection of specialties from Isaan province, and another page of Thai dishes that I have rarely, if ever, seen on American Thai menus… things like sour sausage, crispy catfish salad, and choo-chee freshwater prawns.

Mom’s not as much of a fire-eater as I am, so I picked through the likely suspects, looking for dishes that would give us a good sample of styles without blowing our heads off. We started with a pair of stuffed chicken wings, a classic appetizer where deboned wings are restuffed with pork, mushroom shreds, and plenty of spices, then rolled in panko and deep-fried. Ours turned out to be mysteriously dry despite plenty of stuffing, but the accompanying sweet-sour sauce helped a bit.

Next up, a generous portion of chicken larb, served with a few slices of cucumber and a wedge of white cabbage. The sparseness of the presentation belied the execution: A perfect balance of sour-salty-hot.

Last, we split a bowl of kao soi, a northern curry-noodle dish I’d first enjoyed — and fallen in love with — during our January Thailand trip with Kasma. Although I’ve made kao soi at home a couple of times since then, I haven’t managed to salve my cravings. Luckily, Vegas is closer than Chiang Mai… and Lotus of Siam’s drier version of kao soi — garnished with fried noodles, pickled vegetable, red shallots, and lime wedges — may be the favorite of any I’ve tried. The noodles were firm but supple, the sauce perfectly balanced between sweet and hot, the tender beef pieces adding a salty-meaty contrast every few bites.

If you’ve spent any time at all reading online food boards, you’ve almost certainly stumbled across someone (or some-twenty) raving about Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas. They throw out phrases like “the best Thai restaurant in the country” and “there’s simply nothing else like it anywhere”, and wax rhapsodic about the stunning flavors.

But this collection of over-the-top raves is really doing the place a disservice. It’s a creditable Thai restaurant, and they certainly serve some of the best Thai food I’ve had since San Francisco’s Thep Phanom took its nosedive into mediocrity. Every dish we tried was tasty and properly balanced, the service was attentive and welcoming, and the menu’s impressive in its diversity. And, of course, there’s an undeniable pleasure of finding such a gem amid the underbelly of Old Vegas seediness.

But unless you’ve spent your life eating ketchup-y pad thai, Lotus of Siam is not going to change the way you think about Thai food. But that’s not the point, nor should it be. If you go expecting a palate-altering experience at a trek-worthy temple of gastronomy, you’ll certainly come away disappointed. Go, instead, hungry for a well-made, casual dinner in an atmosphere that couldn’t be less “Vegas” if it tried.

Lotus of Siam
953 E. Sahara Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89104
702.735.3033

restaurants, Thai, travel, Vegas
3 Comments »

 

Sin City shopping

Posted by Anita on 10.28.06 7:19 PM

bread (c)2006 AECMom and I were killing time after dropping Dad off for an appointment this morning, so we stopped by the local branch of Sunflower Farmers Market. Despite the name, it’s really a supermarket, albeit one with a heavy emphasis on produce. You’ll also find a nice selection of Harris Ranch meats, bulk foods, and — if you need assistance in the supplements department — a cranky vegan to lecture you about how meat clogs your colon. (Seriously, though… 99% of the folks who work there are sweet and lovely.) The produce is nicer than what you’d find at the national megamarts in town, but if you’re a regular shopper at real farmers’ markets or even Whole Foods, you may be a bit underwhelmed. Still, it’s nice to walk into a store where the bulk of foods on offer are grown, not manufactured, and you have to go out of your way to find food in a package.

Right across the intersection from Sunflower, hidden in the back of a little industrial park, the amusingly named Great Buns Bakery specializes in fresh-baked breads. I should warn you that there’s nothing artisanal about this place; it’s a large-scale operation, with all the baking done on site in a thoroughly charm-free industrial bakery. One of the employees told us that they supply bread to “90% of the restaurants” in the area, and there certainly were dozens of pallets of rolls and loaves stacked up right on the retail floor, tagged with the names of local shops and eateries. But ‘big’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘bad’: The breads I’ve tried all taste great — the ciabatta in particular – and the prices are competitive. We picked up a loaf of day-old bread for $0.99 today, and it tastes just fine. I’ll just ignore the fact that all the staff wear aprons that say “Keep your hands off my Great Buns”.

[[Update 3/21/07: Just got word from Mom that Great Buns was destroyed in a fire last night: Fire Guts Las Vegas Bakery]]

We still had a few hours to fill, so we consulted the yellow pages and plotted a course to North Las Vegas. Past the end of The Strip, the area near Las Vegas Boulevard and Cheyenne Avenue feels a bit like the wrong side of the tracks, but it’s actually a vibrant shopping area.

We first stopped in to the aptly named Thai Market and spent a good half-hour browsing the aisles of its small storefront. The woman working the cash register noticed Mom’s bewidered look, and made a point of telling her to please let her know if she needed any help. The selection was good, but not great: a nice assortment of packaged goods, a few housewares, and a tiny produce cooler. (When we got home, we realized that there’s a larger Thai market in Downtown, pretty close to Lotus of Siam… I sense a Thai field trip coming up.)

Next up was Super Mercado del Pueblo, a little slice of Mexico right on the fringes of Sin City. The market’s strip mall — which reminded me much more of semi-urban Mexico than the shops of Mexican-American neighborhoods in California — also houses a self-serve car wash, a beauty parlor, and a shoe outlet (3 pairs for $20!). As you walk in the door, there’s a portrait studio, a jewelery shop, and an insurance agent …and, of course, slot machines… it’s still Vegas, after all. The market itself is clean, busy, brightly lit, and friendly; at least three employees greeted us during our brief browse, offering help. The meat counter advertises Harris Ranch meats, with a seemingly endless selection of mostly Latino-style cuts; nearby, a well-stocked dairy counter has all of your queso-related needs covered. The large, comprehensive produce section’s offerings looked a little chewed-on, but you can’t beat the prices: $1 for 15 limes, anyone? They make a village’s worth of tortillas every day on site, too… many of the 24-packs were still warm — mmm! Two walls were covered with cellophane bags of every kind of dried chile, herb, and nut imaginable.

We passed at least three more Safeway-sized Latino grocery stores on our way back to pick up Dad. Definitely plenty of opportunities for a mercado prowl in the future.

Sunflower Farmers Market
3365 E. Tropicana Avenue (at Pecos)
Las Vegas, NV 89121
702.777.0650

Great Buns
3270 E. Tropicana Avenue (at Pecos)
Las Vegas, NV 89121
702.898.0311

Thai Market
3297 Las Vegas Blvd. North (near Cheyenne)
Las Vegas, NV 89115
702.643.8080

Super Mercado del Pueblo
2987 N. Las Vegas Blvd. (near Pecos)
North Las Vegas, NV 89030
702.649.7780

family, Mexican, shopping, Thai, travel, Vegas
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Five things to eat…

Posted by Anita on 09.13.06 8:13 AM

Foodblogger's Guide to the GlobeOver at The Traveler’s Lunchbox, Melissa posed a challenge to her fellow food-bloggers: List the five things everyone should eat before they die.

Erin tagged us to participate back at the end of August, and we’ve been bickering about it ever since. Does it mean five natural foodstuffs? Five prepared dishes? Five culinary experiences? Five meals? Being a rather ecumenical gal, I’m inclined to interpret the question in the broadest terms; Cameron’s being a little more dogmatic, and — hey, no value judgement here — is not surprisingly having a very hard time coming up with his answers. I, on the other hand, am having a terrible time limiting myself to just five. Argh.

But, after a couple weeks of pensive nail-biting, I think I can safely say that you, my foodie friends, should go forth and eat the following five items. But don’t go dying on me any time soon, ok?

1. street food in Thailand, preferably breakfast at the Damnoen Saduak floating market. I recommend kanom krok, soup noodles, thai coffee, and a mango, but feel free to sample whatever’s being made by the ladies with woks in their wooden boats. We spent 3 weeks in central and northern Thailand this past January, eating street food every day. And while we did have some nice meals in restaurants, it’s the noodle-shop nosh and street-stall snacks that still haunt me.

2. heritage pork in Britain. Your choice: a pork & stilton sandwich at Borough Market, or roast middlewhite at St. John. Or both, hey… don’t let me stop you. Even the best pig I’ve eaten stateside is a pale, pasty shadow of the succulent swine they’ve got over in Blighty. Despite the weakness of the dollar and the superstrength of the pound, it’s a taste-memory that’s worth the cost of airfare.

3. tacos from a taco truck, preferably carnitas at the El Asadero taco bus on South Rainier in Seattle. This was the year I got over my fear of street food. I shudder to think of all the amazing food I missed. I’m not particularly squeamish or germ-phobic, but I am a total wimp when it comes to busting out of my cultural comfort zone. For some reason, having mastered the the taco truck experience over the last couple of years made it easier to go outside the boundaries and let 2006 become the Year of Eating Dangerously for this former fussy eater. So far this year, I’ve eaten sushi at 6am in Tokyo (prepared by chefs with whom I shared absolutely no common language), all kinds of crazy nutty wacky stuff in Thailand, escamole in Mexico, and a host of other oddities… and the year’s not yet over.

4. a meal made entirely from peak-season farmer’s market finds. Although I’ve always been dedicated to the idea of seasonal and farm-direct cooking, this summer was the first time we could honestly say that 100% of the ingredients for certain meals — including staples like oils and salts — came from the market. The cynical me is surprised that it really makes such a difference, but the nutty-crunchy side of me realizes this is one of them-there culinary no-brainers.

5. the tasting menu at The French Laundry. A quick glance at other blogger’s contributions to this meme shows I’m not alone on this one. But really… it’s one of the few high-end dining experiences that’s objectively worth every penny that you pay for it. This meal will genuinely change the way you think about dining out and — if you’re particularly introspective — about cooking as well. My photos certainly don’t do it justice, nor do any of the (admittedly plentiful and generally well-written) first-hand accounts you’ve read online. Clear your morning schedule, put the phone on speed-dial, and pray for an opening: I promise you won’t regret it.

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Oh, I almost forgot to pick the next five other bloggers — which is getting really hard, as it seems like nearly everyone‘s already taken a crack. So, tag… you’re it!

  1. Sean at Hedonia
  2. Lucy at Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook
  3. Cheryl at Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockylit
  4. Matthew at Roots & Grubs
  5. Mary at Jalapeño Girl

breakfast, cooking, farmers markets, meat, Mexican, other blogs, restaurants, Thai, travel
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Soup of the Fortnight: Thai

Posted by Anita on 01.30.06 4:01 PM

thai yellow curry noodles (c)2006 AECWe ate a lot of soup in thailand… many were noodle soups, as one-dish meals, and we also had soup just about every night with dinner. Some of them were the hottest dishes of the evening!

Chiang Mai-Style Curry Noodles (Kao Soi) is actually more like a brothy noodle dish than an actual soup, but I loved them so much on the trip that I feel compelled to include a recipe.

kao soi (c)2006 AECUpdate:I finally managed to scare up all the ingredients I needed to make Kao Soi! I pounded the curry paste this morning (and have the bright-yellow turmeric-stained digits to prove it).

Update again: The kao soi turned out a bit too thick. It was nice, but it definitely didn’t qualify as a soup, or even “soup noodles”, so I thinned it with about 1 cup of chicken broth before refrigerating the leftovers.

At breakfast this morning, it was just like I wanted it.

cooking, recipes, Soup o' the Fortnight, Thai, travel
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Cruisin’ for Asian

Posted by Anita on 01.25.06 5:15 PM

kanom krok pans & thai stoves (c)2006 AECCameron was otherwise occupied yesterday, so I decided to head over to the East Bay and check out a couple of Thai stores in Berkeley. I wasn’t shopping for anything in particular yet, but I wanted to get a sense of what each store had, as I ramp back up to cooking Thai more often. Specifically, I wanted to know if I would be able to find Thai produce like young peppercorns, wild pepper leaves (bai chapoo), holy basil, pea eggplants and such.

Totally bypassing the theme of the afternoon, I started off the day with a stop at House of Chicken and Waffles (444 Embarcadero West, Oakland). I’d go into more detail here, but that’s a topic for another post. (Do you see my nefarious plan for blog domination taking shape? I knew you would.) Anyway, it’s probably a good thing that I was stuffed, or else I would have spent half the afternoon stopping at the taco trucks I passed along the way.

I hesitate to admit publically that I had never been to Berkeley Bowl (2020 Oregon Street, Berkeley), but I suppose I am among friends. I feel pretty safe in saying that this would have to be the best outpost that I’ve ever encountered for hard-to-find produce, including a wide variety of asian vegetables and ‘exotic’ citrus. Impressive bulk-foods section and competitive prices on everyday groceries, too. I wish I lived closer so I could bypass Whole Paycheck. Serious points off for the zoolike atmosphere and parking-as-combat — and remember, I was here on a Monday afternoon. God help you if you go on a weekend.

Next stop was Tuk-Tuk Thai and Asian Market (1581 University Avenue, Berkeley). They’ve got a pretty decent selection of thai foodstuffs in a clean, well-lighted store that won’t scare farangs. The size of a small supermarket, this place has nearly all of the ingredients you’ll need for a thai feast, mostly at prices that are competitive with Erawan and other local southeast-asian markets. (I found many things for less in the International Drive stores below, but you would have to make multiple stops in order to get everything you needed.) They have a small assortment of thai housewares, including special pans for kanom krok, and thai woodstoves!

There’s even a small boutique of hilltribe textiles at the front of the store, and a real tuk-tuk in the middle of the place, looking cleaner than you ever saw one in Bangkok. My first impression wasn’t all that good: the hot-food counter looked pretty sad when I was there (lunchtime on a Monday) — it’s pretty nervy calling it a food court! — and the produce section was abysmally empty and overpriced. You’ll need to stop by Berkeley Bowl on your way home: bird chiles and kaffir lime leaves are twice the price at Tuk-Tuk, and other, more exotic items are non-existent. Still, for packaged dry goods like noodles, curry pastes, and coconut milk, they’ve got you covered.

A couple of blocks further down University, I reacquainted myself with Erawan Trading Market (1463 University Ave). Their tiny storefront about the size of a walk-in closet stocking an amazing array of thai groceries, magazines, and videos. My motto here is: “If you don’t see it, ask” — This isn’t the sort of place that carries 25 bottles of each brand, so you might have overlooked it. Their produce selection wasn’t as good as I remembered it being 3 or 4 years ago, but the folks working there were just as friendly and sweet as ever. I think the free parking at the motel next door is a new addition. The only thing I saw here that I didn’t find elsewhere was Thai cardamom.

Deciding I had some more time to kill, I surfed over to Kasma Loha-unchit’s List of East Bay Markets with Thai Ingredients. I’m probably going to come in to work late on Friday and hit the Old Oakland Farmers’ Market, so I deliberately bypassed the Chinatown listings in favor of those under East Oakland.

First stop was Sun Hop Fat Supermarket (501 East 12th Street, Oakland). Recently relocated to the other end of its block, the new store is a warren of formerly-separate stores. One houses a pretty good selection of produce; another is the dry-goods section; the last is the butcher shop and fishmarket. Oddly enough, it was in the latter that I found the day’s best prices on coconut milk, both Mae Ploy and Chaokoh.

Next was Sontepheap Market (1400 International Blvd., Oakland), which Kasma lists as a 2-star market (excellent). I wasn’t all that impressed — their produce looked especially sad — but maybe I didn’t know what I was missing. They did have a fun little housewares section.

Two tiny shops further down International were a little more interesting. Lao Market (1619 International Blvd.) had a nice selection of produce, including wild pepper leaves and pea eggplants (no wing beans, alas). May Kong (1613 International Blvd.) is just 2 doors down, and seemed to have pretty good prices on dry goods, and stocked my favorite kind of Tianjin preserved vegetable, in the ceramic crock.

Closer to home: Today on my lunch hour I went to Battambang Market (339 Eddy Street, San Francisco) in the Tenderloin, where I got to see a shooting down the block. Three ambulances, eight cop cars, and a few dozen homeless/gawkers. Oh, and fresh turmeric, and cilantro with the roots on, too. I used to shop here for the things I couldn’t find at mainstream markets, and it (along with 99 Ranch in Daly City) will probably still be my go-to market for most things. I was sad to see that the formerly-decent market around the corner, variously known as Angkor Premiere Market or Tenderloin New Market (225 Leavenworth Street) has gone way downhill.

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Updated 4/07: A few dozen people a week wind up on this page when searching for Kanom Krok recipes. If that’s ywhat brings you here, my teacher Kasma Loha-unchit features a Kanom Krok recipe on her excellent site, Thai Food and Travel.

East Bay, shopping, Thai
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