Tuesday, March 23, 2010

ohn no kauk swey - i am officially burmese and i have the meal to prove it

Ohn No Kauk Swey (burmese chicken curry) - 117Among my many tasks to accomplish while visiting my family, one of the most important one was to learn about Burmese food. My mother and her entire side of the family are actually from Burma (and still, to the grandchildren's dismay, speak it purposely in front of us). And as any good Asian grandmother (her name is Mama, by the way) would be able to do, she cooks up some mean Burmese meals. Mama is famous for making this chicken curry dish (Ohn No Kauk Swey- spelling is all hers, so don't blame me) on every special occasion (and by special occasion, I mean when I or any other relative comes to visit). So instead of having it prepared for me on my arrival like usual, I asked her to restrain herself and allow me to help her. She complied, and we were both very excited to teach me her Asian cooking ways.

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Our morning started with Mama preparing all the ingredients while I sat down behind the kitchen counter, pen and paper in hand. Although this recipe is quite long and time consuming, apparently Mama has had so much practice with this that my hand could barely copy all the information down as she whizzed through it. So please, bare with me, as I'm sure a lot of the measurements and calculations are off a bit.

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The preparations in the beginning probably took the most time. Four pounds of chicken had to be cut and cubed, three onions had to be sliced and chopped, and then there was the mysterious red paste. Background information: I know nothing about preparing curries, or anything Asian (besides basic rice) for that matter. Mixing different spices into a tiny cup, and then adding tap water, sounded odd to me at first. (Remember, I do live in New York; hence my primarily focused Italian food background.)

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I feel I do have to warn you that these following pot pictures are immensely unappetizing. Once preparation had finished, we added the sliced onions, followed by the chopped onions, and then topped off with the "red paste" mixture. Now the burnt yellow mixture turned a bloody red color (mmm, delicious). And to make this whole recipe even more foreign to me, Mama added something called "chicken broth powder". Who knew they sold such a thing? (Especially in such large quantities; she had a Costco sized tin full of this stuff.)

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Ahh, finally a shade of color I recognize- raw chicken! The entire four pounds was dumped in, only to be quickly mixed with the funky ingredients, causing the newly unappetizing color.

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Amidst all these foreign ingredients, Mama whips out a Gram Flour (also called Besan). It's strange that I have never heard of this particular flour. Being that I'm such an avid baker, I liked to think that I knew everything about all flours. Apparently not! This bag of "flour" essentially is ground chickpeas, and is used to naturally thicken up the curry. So in a bowl went a few tablespoons of the gram flour along with a cup or so water. An immersion blender was used to mix the frothy yellow mixture smooth.

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Once the gram flour sauce was thoroughly mixed, it was added to the increasing amount of liquid in the giant pot. To make the pot even fuller, Mama added 2 cans of coconut milk (She claims this brand is the best brand of coconut milk. Good luck to me finding this where I live) along with 4 cans full of water. Alas, a color I recognize! This huge pot full of Mama's delicious sauce is to be left simmering for the remainder of the time. And now, finally, the accompanying sides (something I was capable of doing alone)!

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Mama buys these fresh Chinese noodles (once again, according to her, these are the best). Some of the noodles are fried for a crispy topping to the curry, while the rest gets boiled regularly.

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I can still remember when I was a little kid how much I loved these noodles. Guess what- things haven't changed, and I still love these fricken noodles. To prepare them, they're basically boiled in a large pot of water (something I'm familiar with, as I boil pasta on a regular basis). And yes, Mama is using chopsticks to mix around the noodles. You can take the girl outta Asia, but you can take the Asia outta the girl!

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Here is where my assistance was better used- Chopping. Each type of topping was orderly chopped and placed in their own individual bowl. Here is the coriander along with the chopped red onions and scallions.

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Freshly picked lemons (from Mama's garden) were segmented, and eggs were hard boiled and sliced.

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Fried chopped onions were readied, and the numerous bowls of extremely hot chilis were set out (obviously no where near me).

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And your table should somewhat resemble this conglomerate of ingredients.

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I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out how this dish is assembled. Each bowl is filled with noodles and spread around the table. Each person must then wait patiently for their desired toppings to be passed around for assemblage. And finally, Mama makes her way around the seemingly never-ending table to pour the curry part over it all. (Apparently I got the short end of the stick and had to wait quite a while, hence the photo of the Burmese dish minus the curry.)

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Finally- time to dig in. The warm light brown hues of the curry meld into the entire dish to make it look extremely homey and delicious. I'm the type of person to mix and mash all ingredients together; but that's just my personal preference.

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Fork or spoon? I'll never figure it out. While both utensils are placed at every table setting, I have found I'm the odd one out. My grandparents stick to using both at the same time, while my cousins choose one or the other. I typically use a fork in the beginning to get all the chunky stuff, and finish off the dish with my spoon.

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Then finally, just as you're beginning to finish your plate and think you can eat not one more bite, Mama sneakily appears behind you and plots a huge wad of noodles onto your plate. "Eat more," she chants. Then suddenly your stomach miraculously stretches and you convince yourself, "you know what, I guess I will have a second plate." I mean, there's no harm in eating really good food anyways (Especially since I probably won't have this dish until the next time I visit).

From my awesome grandmother, Mama. (Measurements may be off. She herself had never measured things accurately.)

curry recipe:
1. Cut 4 pounds of chicken breast into little cubes.
2. In a small bowl, sprinkle some salt, 1 tablespoon ground ginger, 1 tablespoon ground garlic, 1/2 teaspoon tumeric, 2 tablespoons paprika. Add barely just enough water to make that into a paste.
3. Get 3 onions. Put 2 onions in the food processor to finely chop them. Chop the 3rd onion into slices.
4. Put the onion slices in a large pot and brown them in oil. Add 1 teaspoon tumeric. Stir until brown.
5. Add the chopped onion. Then add the red paste mixture.
6. Add a few tablespoons of chicken broth powder. Then add the cubed chicken breast.
7. Mix everything together. Add oil or water, if needed. Cover pot and check again in 10 minutes.
8. In a bowl, add 3 heaping tablespoons of Gram flour and 1+1/2 cup water. Blend with a hand mixer. Add the blended mixture to the pot, and if needed, add some more water.
9. Add 2 cans of coconut milk to the pot, along with 4 can-fulls of water.
10. Boil for 15 minutes or so. Taste to see if it needs more time.

preparing side dishes:
1. Boil 1 bag of fresh Chinese noodles, and fry another bag of noodles until they're very crispy.
2. Chop 1 red onion along with a few stocks of scallions and put in a bowl.
3. Chop a bunch of coriander and put in a bowl.
4. Boil 6 or so eggs, slice them, and put in a bowl.
5. Get a few lemons, chop them into segments, and put in a bowl.
6. Gather necessary spices (chopped fried onion, various chilis, soy sauce, fish sauce, etc.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

taro in coconut milk - going against my rules has never tasted so good

taro in coconut milk - 21Okay- by now you should know that I hate this. I hate repeating recipes, especially reposting them here. I have thus far, not replicated a recipe exactly and then posted it as new entry (recall my numerous cookie and blondie adventures; well each time, the recipe or process has changed- so suck on that). Back to my bitching... I am against it. I think it's just stupid and a waste of time. This is not to say that I don't bake the same cookie recipe all the time while not posting them online (because I obviously do- to satisfy my picky eater on a weekly basis). With all that said, guess what I'm doing here- I am replicating a recipe- exactly.

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The only way I can justify my actions is that I love love this dish. I've never made it myself completely, and I really only get it eat it when at my mother's or grandmother's house.

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Being that I eat this dish once a year (if that), this deserves to have two posts here. In all it's simplistic glory, it embodies my childhood in a nutshell. The thought of it right now is making my mouth water. I can't even begin to fathom what life would be without such a recipe.

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Speaking of recipe, can this even be classified as one? All it is basically is peeled taro that gets boiled until tender, then mixed with coconut milk and onion. For such a peculiar concept, how could it taste so delicious and perfectly melded? No fucking idea but just take my word for it.

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So how could a recipe with just three ingredients get me so utterly wild? That too is unexplainable. But what really should be explained here is why I've never bothered to recreate it at my house; you know, being so simple and three ingredients and all.

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The answer is a combination of reasons. First, two out of those three ingredients are hard to come by. Taro is not so easily accessible here in New York (nor is the price appeasing to my eye). I honestly wouldn't even know where to go about obtaining this root vegetable, as I've never seen it in any grocery store I typically go to. The second ingredient is coconut milk, which through thorough examination I could possibly find. I know for sure it would hard as hell to find the specific brand Mama swears by, but hopefully others would do.

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With all that said, I'm sure it's valid as to why I have deprived myself of this delicious dish. But thinking about it now, I guess it won't be such a bad idea to attempt to recreate this back at home. I mean, afterall, I am obsessed with this.


Recipe found here.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

flourless chocolate cake - no cake for the birthday girl

flourless chocolate cake - 28After spending a few days with my family in California, I realized how much I've matured. Although I'll probably always remain slightly immature and silly (maybe more than just slightly), at least I can understand the importance of family and bonding time. Throughout our little "bonding moments", multiple stories had been exposed of my cooking/baking experiences. It must had been so strange for them to hear me baking huge layered cakes and cooking penne alla vodka. Among these food stories was the decadent flourless chocolate cake, which particularly excited one of my cousins.

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Apparently she had been thinking of making this cake for her friend's birthday the following week. Goodie roo! Now that I am the baking expert (or so I'd like to think), I offered my assistance in this project.

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While we gathered the ingredients in the grocery store, the thought hit us that if this were a cake to be given away, we would have no chance to eat it for ourselves. Destructed by the thought of not being able to taste the deliciousness ourselves, we opted to instead bake this cake for ourselves (selfish much?).

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Moving along, the process went fairly smoothly. I had my two younger cousins following my every order while I watched over them carefully. The chocolate got properly melted and the egg whites were gently whipped. Once the two bowls were folded together (by the delicate hands of yours truly, of course), we poured it into our baking dish.

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While I prepared the plating and slicing of the cake, my aunty whipped up a bowl of raspberry sauce to drizzle over. From what I recall it was frozen raspberries and sugar cooked over the stove.

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Basically everything came out perfectly flawless. I couldn't have been more happy that we decided to make this cake for ourselves, rather than for some little girl's birthday.


Recipe found here.