Monday, April 26, 2010

Surprise! More Thai: Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup

I thought I was over the Thai food kick. I really did. And then what happens? Mom comes to town. One of the favorite things my mom and I like to do when she visits is to take in a cooking demonstration at The Culinary Institute of America's Greystone campus in St. Helena. This past weekend, lo and behold, their demonstration happened to feature Thai Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup. Ironically, a noodle soup is the one thing I have failed to feature on this blog of all the recipes I fell in love with when in Thailand - I have a fantastic recipe that I had actually wanted to share, but just never got around to it.

CIA to the rescue, problem solved.

The demonstration was conducted by CIA Chef Harold Imbrunetti, who was a lot of fun and took vast liberties to the written recipe that was handed out (man after my own heart). But not to worry - I took good notes, and the recipe below is true to what Chef Imbrunetti actually made. It's dee-lish, and very true to the noodle soups I ate while in Thailand.

You can adjust the heat to suit your tastes; keep in mind that the Thai bird chilies are extremely hot. He used two in the dish for the demo, and it was delightfully spicy (too spicy for some of the attendees - wimps!). So start with one chili and add more if you're a fan of the heat. You can also substitute any other kind of chili (jalepenos, serranos, etc.) if you can't find the Thai variety. Happy slurping!

Thai Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup
The Culinary Institute of America

Yield: 8 servings

  • 1 pound shrimp (30-35 count), peeled, deveined, butterflied (retain shells)
  • 4 ounces vermicelli (rice noodles)
  • 4 quarts unsalted chicken stock
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thin (use a microplane for thin, even slices)
  • 1x1-inch piece of galangal root, cut into coins and smashed
  • 1 stalk fresh lemongrass, split in half and cut into 2-inch lengths and bruised
  • 1/3 cup nam pla (fish sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon Sambal Oelek (chili paste)
  • 2 limes, juice and zest
  • 1-2 Thai bird chilies, sliced thin
  • 1 15-ounce can straw mushrooms, drained, rinsed and halved
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, minced (plus extra sprigs for garnish)
For this recipe, you'll need two different pots: an 8-quart stock pot and a smaller soup pot. Place 3 quarts of the chicken stock into the large pot; bring to a simmer. At the same time, place the remaining 1 quart of chicken stock in the smaller pot and also bring to a simmer. To the smaller pot, add the shrimp shells, lemongrass and galangal; simmer for 15 minutes. To the large pot, add the sliced garlic, chili paste and mushrooms.

After both pots have simmered for 15 minutes, transfer the contents of the small pot to the large pot through a mesh strainer, removing the shrimp shells, lemongrass and galangal. Add the vermicelli; let the noodles cook for five minutes or until cooked. Remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients (shrimp, fish sauce, lime zest/juice, cilantro); it will only take about a minute for the shrimp to cook.

Portion into bowls and garnish with fresh sprigs of cilantro.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Branching Out: Discovering Suisun Valley Wine Country

Believe it or not, Napa Valley is not "all that." Oh, I know it's great - I love living here, it's beautiful, the wines are spectacular - but honestly, sometimes the business of wine, the very thing that has made this little dot on a map so darn important in the scheme of things, gets oh-so-wearisome. The ever-increasing amount of gilded castles (aka, wineries), each one bigger and more elaborate than the last; the choked two-lane highways full of seasonal tourons that suddenly can't remember how to drive or use a turn signal; or worse yet - the groups of folks hell-bent on drinking for effect and therefore hire the biggest limo/stretch Hummer/party bus imaginable and proceed to crawl from winery to winery to the annoyance of well... just about everybody. Jaded? Perhaps.

So - a quandary: I'm a girl that loves wine and enjoys going wine tasting, but I don't get out and visit the world-renown wineries in my neighborhood as often as you might think, for the very reasons mentioned above. So where to go? Sonoma Valley? Sure - been there done that love it; Russian River - same. Healdsburg, San Luis Obispo, Sierra Foothills, Santa Barbara... of course. But what about something close to home? Somewhere chill and beautiful and fun where pretense doesn't matter and the wines are good. I think I've stumbled on a solution.... a mere 15 minutes from home: Suisun Valley!

Where? Exactly.

Most of us pass right on by the Suisun Valley as we whiz from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe on the I-80 corridor. You know all those strip malls in Fairfield and Cordelia Junction? Well, just to the north, not even five minutes from the bustling freeway is a swath of bucolic farmland dotted with wineries. A stunning little departure from the suburban mayhem on its fringes.

I had reason to be in Fairfield recently (and not just for my monthly trek to Costco) - and figured it was high time to explore something new. With dad and hubby in tow, we set out to see this part of California's Wine Country for ourselves. We had a few places mapped out, thanks to, and had the afternoon to roam.

We got ourselves to the right place, started down the main drag, and pulled in to the first winery we saw. The only reason we saw it, and quite frankly the only reason we pulled in, was that it had balloons tied to the front fence post. Balloons! Festivity! We're in!

Where we found ourselves was Winterhawk Winery, and we wound up spending all of our time that day right there. We never left. Didn't manage to make it to another single tasting room, because as luck would have it, we had happened upon Suisun Valley's biggest weekly party. And not a limo in sight.... ahhh.

At any rate, every Saturday of the year, rain or shine, Winterhawk turns their covered crush pad into an open air tasting room overlooking their estate vineyards where they not only pour their wares, but have live music and crank out hand-made pizzas in a portable pizza oven imported from Italy. And the cost? A whopping five bucks. Your five spot covers not only the tasting of their entire flight of wines (I think there was about ten that we tried that day), but also gives you one full glass of the wine of your choice and all the pizza you can eat. And get this - the day we were there, it was "Ladies Day" so I got the full monty for half price - $2.50! People dance, people eat, people drink, people linger. It's a local crowd, the wines are decent, the music good, and the vibe is utterly and completely laid back. This is the dress code:

See what I mean? Napa Valley this is not - and we were digging it.

Alas, other obligations took us on our way and we left Suisun Valley without discovering more. But that just means I have plenty of reasons to go back. I'm eager to go in the summer when the farm trails are bursting with fresh produce - the farm stands are far more prolific than the wineries, and as much as I love wine, I REALLY love farm fresh produce.

It only took me close to a decade to go visit Napa's neighboring valley to the east; I guarantee it won't be that long before I go back.

So who's with me?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Going for the Greens: Lao Watercress Salad

When I was in Laos, I didn't eat too many fresh vegetables. Loads of cooked veg, but not much with that crisp and crunch of veggies when they're fresh and raw. It was mostly out of concern for getting sick from the water they were grown with or washed with. I didn't shy away from fresh vegetables completely - to the astonishment of my very sick co-travelers - but tucking into a big, fresh salad, as is my nearly daily tradition, didn't really ever happen.

Except for once.

In Luang Prabang, we went to eat at the acclaimed L'Elephant Restaurant. With every assurance that the water source was safe for foreign tummies, I ecstatically ordered a beautiful watercress salad. Heaven.

So, naturally, I became a fan of said watercress. I've always liked it, but something about having fresh, green, tender watercress in Laos after endless days of curried, stir-fried and boiled vegetables was a revelation. The recipe I've included here isn't the same salad I had at L'Elephant (rather, it's a recipe from one of my souvenir cookbooks), but it's stellar. The warm dressing is what sets it apart - it uses a hard-boiled egg yolk which acts as a thickener/binder; the heat slightly wilts the greens and herbs - and the result is dee-lish.

Luang Prabang Salad
Ant Egg Soup, Natacha Du Pont De Bie

This is a delicious salad which is served all over Laos but particularly in Luang Prabang Province. The dressing is cooked in a wok for a few seconds then poured over the salad.
  • 1 crisp lettuce, such as cos (cos = Romain; I had to look it up)
  • 1 large bunch watercress, the wilder the better
  • 1 bunch mint leaves, stalks removed
  • 1 small handful of coriander (cilantro) leaves
  • 1 small handful dill
  • 2 spring onions, roughly chopped
  • 4 small fragrant tomatoes, cut into eighths
  • 6 rounds of cucumber, cut in half
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, whites only, sliced
  • 1 small handful of chopped roasted peanuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 spring onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 hard-boiled egg yolk
  • a little sugar
  • the juice of one lime
Assemble the salad ingredients on a plate to your own design.

Take the sliced garlic, spring onion and fish sauce and place them in a hot wok with a drop of oil. Cook for 10 seconds, stirring constantly, then add the cooked egg yolk and meld it in until it disappears into the sauce. Add a pinch of sugar and the lime juice and it's ready. Pour over the salad and top with chopped peanuts. Serve immediately or it will wilt.

Seeing Green: Lao Raw Green Bean Salad

As I wrote in the previous post, I didn't get to eat too many fresh veggies in Laos. So I was intrigued by this raw green bean salad in one of my souvenir Laos cookbooks. The description by the cookbook author says it all, so I'll just quote: "This is an excellent dish for summer. Make it for lunch as a side dish, pack it into a picnic basket, or just eat it as a light snack." I've made it as a side dish to a Lao meal a couple of times now, and I'm hooked. So fair warning: if you invite me to a potluck this summer, this is what I'll be bringing!

Raw Green Bean Salad
Ant Egg Soup, Natacha Du Pont De Bie
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 birds-eye chili
  • 1 heaped teaspoon rough salt
  • 1 level dessertspoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted peanuts
  • 1 pound raw green beans or long beans, topped and tailed, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 3 flavorful medium tomatoes, quartered, or 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • juice of one lime (or more, to taste)
Pound the garlic, chilies, salt and sugar in a pestle and mortar until they are a rough paste. Add the peanuts and pound to break them up (not too fine). Add the bean pieces and fish sauce and pound them until they are bruised so the flavors infuse. Add the tomatoes and pound a few more times. Squeeze on the lime and serve immediately.

Eggplant Red Curry

As mentioned (many times... sorry), I ate a lot of cooked vegetables in Laos as opposed to fresh. But don't you cry for me - I love cooked vegetables (when done right). And in Laos, the sheer variety of vegetable dishes and the ways in which they were prepared never left me lacking or feeling bored with my options. I especially ate a lot of eggplant. In Laos, eggplant comes in dozens of varieties - small, round and green; long thin and variegated; deep, dark and classic aubergine. My favorite take is a simple eggplant red curry, a dish so good that even my eggplant-hating, curry-despising husband will eat with gusto (who IS that man?).

I cobbled together my own semi-homemade recipe to approximate what I ate while in Laos; the ingredients can certainly be tweaked to suit your own tastes. But it's simple, it's tasty, and I can almost guarantee that if you didn't like eggplant before, this dish just might make you a convert. Worth a shot, right?

Eggplant Red Curry
  • 1 large eggplant (or several of the smaller varieties), cubed
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2+ tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 15-ounce can coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons red curry paste (more or less depending on how much heat/flavor you like - I like a lot!)
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, finely shredded (chiffonade)
  • Kosher salt
Start by placing the cubed eggplant in a colander and salting (salting will leach out the bitterness). Let sit to drain for a minimum of 30 minutes but up to an hour. In the meantime, combine the coconut milk and red curry paste; stir to blend well.

Place the sesame oil and minced garlic in a large skillet or wok. Slowly bring up the temperature to medium/medium-high, cooking until the garlic is soft and aromatic (be careful it doesn't burn). Add the eggplant; saute for 2-3 minutes until eggplant is lightly browned on all sides. Add the coconut milk/curry mixture, bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the eggplant is soft and the curry has reduced by about a quarter. Add the basil chiffonade at the very end; serve immediately. Great with sticky rice!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

This is a Stick-Up: Thai-Style Satay

I don't think you can talk about Thai food without mentioning the ubiquitous satay. Grilled meat on a stick, the most popular being steak, shrimp or chicken. It's entry-level Thai food; every Thai restaurant here in the states has it on the menu, and I dare say it's many a soul's easy introduction to Thai cuisine. And the restaurants aren't misrepresenting the simple dish - it's hugely popular and widely available in Thailand too.

Ironically, despite its prevalence, I don't recall eating it a single time while I was actually in Thailand. What? Can that be?

True or not, when I got home, I had a hankering for satay. Or maybe it was more a hankering for the peanut sauce to dip it in (just give me a spoon and stand back!). Whatever the case, I have my own Thai-inspired version that I just love, and has become a huge hit among my friends who have tried it.

My version is semi-homemade, using bottled yellow curry paste rather than making it from scratch (but if you're a purist and have oodles of time, knock yourself out and make your own yellow curry paste, recipe here). I also just buy prepared peanut sauce (again, for those who really want to go to all of the work to make it yourself, recipe here). But the commercial products will work just fine, and the end result is scrumptious! Just marinate your preferred meat item in the ingredients I list below, grill and enjoy.

Thai Satay Marinade
(Makes enough to marinate 1 pound of chicken, beef or shrimp)
  • 1 15-ounce can coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons yellow curry paste (more or less, depending on your own taste... I like a lot!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, finely minced
  • Salt, to taste
Combine the coconut milk and curry paste, whisk until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Pour over strips of chicken breast or steak; refrigerate for 1+ hour. Thread the meat onto bamboo skewers and grill. Serve with your favorite brand of peanut sauce for dipping.

Nothing Fishy Here: Lao-Style Whole Grilled Talapia

For being a land-locked country, Laos cuisine is chock full of fish. The rivers - in particular, the Mekong - are a huge source of food. Fish abounds in every market, every restaurant, and every street corner grill. As I was cruising down the Mekong River over the course of three lazy days, often the only other signs of civilization for hours on end were the fishermen in slender, low-slung boats, hand casting their nets.

So naturally, I ate my fill of fish. My favorite, which I have now attempted to replicate several times at home (successfully, I think!), is whole grilled talapia, aromatically seasoned by stuffing the cleaned fish with fistfuls of herbs and spices. I get the beautiful whole fish locally at... you guessed it... 99 Ranch Market, the Asian superstore that I mention here often. (Word of warning however: avoid 99 Ranch - especially the spectacular fish counter - the day before Chinese New Year. I learned the hard way.)

The trick is grilling the talapia without the whole fish just falling apart. I wish I had some tips for how to do that - I don't, really. You could use a fish basket gadget thingy, but dammit... it's just fish over a fire. I like being a purist. I wish I wish I had the set-up that they do in Laos; they sandwich the fish between two sturdy bamboo sticks that are bound tightly enough on each end to hold the fish in place. The ends of the sticks are propped on blocks so that the fish, belly-side down, spans the flame (see picture, above). It's like a perfect little spit, enabling even grilling and turning, without the filling spilling out or the fish falling apart. But alas - I have a regular ol' charcoal Weber... I simply take my chances and cook the fish on their sides. Only one fiasco so far.

At any rate - the ingredients I use to stuff the fish are the same that I had from a street-side vendor just outside of Luang Prabang: lemongrass, garlic, galangal, ginger, rau ram (Vietnamese coriander- cilantro is an acceptable substitute), basil, a sprinkling of salt and a few slivers of the extremely hot Thai birds-eye chilies. I simply pack the cavity of the fish until it's fairly bursting and then secure it closed with a bamboo skewer. I coat the entire thing with a liberal brush of olive oil to keep it from sticking on the grill (my own addition - certainly not a Lao tradition), and score the skin to save it from splitting from the heat. Once grilled, I finish it off with a squeeze of fresh citrus - lemon or lime.

How long do I grill the fish? Over what sort of heat? I have no idea. I just let the coals get nice and white-hot, let the fish cook on one side until it has firmed up enough to turn, and then pull it from the heat when the flesh is firm to the touch and the skin is crispy and golden. Nothing to it.

You can do it, right? No? Jeez... just come over then - I'll happily make it for you!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

My Tastebuds Are Still in Asia: Green Papaya Salad

So my recent trip to Southeast Asia? I came back with lots more than great pixels. I've always always been a fan of Thai/Vietnamese food, but visiting the region has taken my love of Southeast Asian cuisine to a new level. I returned home with several cookbooks in tow, and seem to spend every weekend trying out something new. I've thrown a couple of Thai/Lao dinner parties, subjecting my friends to my current obsession as well (so far, no complaints).

While the majority of the dishes I've been making are Lao-based, the line is pretty blurry since the whole region shares and borrows flavors and ingredients. So sure - there's some Thai, Vietnamese, Burmese and Chinese influence.... it doesn't really matter; it's all scrumptious, fresh and oh-so-healthy. My kind of eats. I'll be sharing some of my favorites here on this blog all week long.

This first recipe is found throughout Thailand and Laos, with not too much variation. It's one of my favorites found state-side as well: Green Papaya Salad (my chosen local version being from The Slanted Door or Out The Door in San Francisco). It's called Som Tum in Thailand (or Som Tum Rama if you add dried shrimp) - "som" meaning sour and "tom" refering to the pounding sound of the pestle used to crush ingredients. It's known as Goi Du Du in Vietnam, and Tam Mak Hoong in Laos. Whatever you call it, I call it good.

In Laos especially, the dish is served really spicy - and I mean REALLY spicy. I love me some heat, but I must admit that I had to ask for mine to be prepared "a la gringo" with maybe a 1/4 of the amount of fiery birds-eye chilies than would be used normally (each salad over there is prepared individually in a deep stone mortar and pestle, so accommodating my request wasn't difficult... just laughable!).

Green papaya is just that - unripe papaya that has extremely different characteristics from the sweet, ripened fruit. It's sour and tangy, and has almost a vegetable quality to it - making it ideal for chopping up and adding to soups or curries, or in this case, shredded or julienned as a crunchy base for a salad. It also makes a great meat tenderizer when pulverized or juiced; its acidity/sourness go to work on the protein fibers in meat like nobody's business.

At any rate - the salad. It's ridiculously simple. You might have to search for the main ingredient, the green papaya, but any well-stocked Asian market should carry it (I'm lucky enough to live close enough to a couple of 99 Ranch Markets). Other than that, the remainder of the ingredients are easily found and the preparation is a piece of cake.

The recipe I've included is from my favorite souvenir of my trip, a book called Ant Egg Soup, a gift given to me by my traveling companion and roommate (thanks Patty!). It's a basic recipe, but I've tweaked it a couple of different ways, depending on my mood. I've added both dried and fresh shrimp, or fried tofu cubes - all tasty ways to add protein while maintaining the integrity of the dish. You could also add grilled strips of steak - I ate it that way in Laos and loved it, of course.

Green Papaya Salad
Ant Egg Soup, Natacha Du Pont De Bie

The dish should be juicy and taste hot, sour, salty and sweet, with a hint of the piscine. It is also divine with raw turnip which tastes extremely like green papaya once mixed with the other ingredients.
  • 1/2 green papaya, skinned and shredded into matchstick-thin strips
  • 2-6 birds-eye chilies
  • 4 small cloves garlic, peeled
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 lime, cut into eighths, rind on
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
Take a green, unripe papaya and peel it with a vegetable peeler. Use a mandolin or food processor to shred into strips. To a mortar and pestle, add the chilies, garlic and salt; pound roughly so the chili is still in large pieces (not a paste). Add the papaya and pound gently, using a spoon to turn the ingredients in on themselves. Add the lime pieces and fish sauce. Pound gently. Add the tomato and serve. Add more fish sauce or lime to taste.

I'm Stuck on Sticky Rice

I loved sticky rice well before I ever stepped foot in Thailand or Laos. My husband has a good friend who owns a tiny, funky Thai restaurant in one of the, a-hem, "grittier" neighborhoods of Oakland called the Old Weang Ping Village. The restaurant has a devoted cult following. Patrons generally have to call ahead to announce their arrival in order to get past the security cameras at the iron-gated and dead-bolted entrance. But once inside, you are immediately transported to Thailand - not only in the restaurant's kitschy decor, but Pat and his wife, Jook's, incredible hospitality and phenomenal Northern Thai-style food.

When my dear husband introduced me to Pat and Jook and their gem of a restaurant more than a decade ago, he also introduced me to what would become one of my biggest culinary obsessions: sticky rice. The first time I had sticky rice at the Weang Ping, and still, every time subsequently, I stuff myself silly as though I there might not ever be another grain of sticky rice in my future. To say that I like it is a complete understatement.

Sticky rice is often served in Northern Thailand alongside a meal (elsewhere in the country, you see it mainly only as a dessert with fresh mango). In Laos, however, sticky rice is a staple. It is served at every meal; most Lao people have it for breakfast dipped in spicy chili paste, and as an accompaniment to every other soup, curry and grilled dish eaten throughout the day. In fact, in the poor country of Laos, oftentimes sticky rice is the only thing a person might eat all day long (yes - malnutrition is rampant). But while there, I was in heaven. I ate sticky rice like a local - meaning at every opportunity and damn near at every meal.

Needless to say, I came home with a sticky rice steamer contraption and a serving basket in tow. I am now able to feed my sticky rice obsession on a whim.

A couple things to note if you want to venture down the sticky rice-making road:
  • Sticky rice requires a short-grained "sweet" rice variety; it's got a high level of starch, resulting in the fabulous sticky quality that makes it so unique.
  • You have to soak the sweet rice ahead of time - I usually give mine a good 24-hour soak to soften it up and allow it to absorb a good amount of water.
  • You have to steam the rice to achieve the sticky texture. Some people claim you can make it stove top or in a rice cooker, but I have never had good success with either of those methods. The cone-shaped steamer thingy exists for a reason.
Other than that, there's really no recipe - you just steam it and eat it. Serve it up in a bamboo basket, eat it with your fingers, and use it to scoop up food on your plate or sop up sauce from a curry (like us Westerners use bread). And although I enjoy it plain, all by itself, my husband is a fan of having his sticky rice with "all the sauces." When we're at the Weang Ping, he'll have Pat bring out every sauce that exists in the kitchen so that he can use it for dipping. We've kind of narrowed it down to three different sauces that we eat with our sticky rice at home, however: peanut sauce, garlic/chili sauce (both of which I generally just purchase commercially rather than make from scratch), and my favorite, a verdant lime/cilantro sauce that just bursts with fresh flavor. The sauce is amazing not only with the sticky rice, but as a great topping for grilled meats.

So even if you don't make the sticky rice (foolish...), I encourage you to give this cilantro sauce a try. Spread it atop a grilled chicken breast or a juicy steak - delish.

Lime/Cilantro Sauce
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed (optional)
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves and stems
  • The juice of 1 fresh-squeezed lime
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Throw all ingredients in a food processor, blend until combined.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Happy Easter!

What is Easter without little girls in pink outfits? What is Easter without hunting for colorful pastel eggs in the garden - you know, the plastic ones packed with sugary goodness?

What is Easter without brunch?

In our family, no gathering is complete without a feast, and Easter is no exception. This year, we actually gathered a week early on a glorious sunny day to welcome Spring and toast all that goes with it: a nephew's departure for a far corner of the world, the arrival of the clan's latest addition (a boy! welcome Preston Michael!), nieces in their frilly finest, and, of course, food - a great spread put on by my brother and sister-in-law.

Despite the fresh-baked sticky buns and the gorgeous bone-in ham, the centerpiece of brunch was arguably my brother-in-law's scrambled eggs. Of course there are eggs involved in any Easter brunch (that's required, isn't it? I'm sure that's what Jesus would want, right?), but Greg is the only guy I know who'll whip up three dozen, confident that they'll all get eaten. And we are not that big of a family.

But there's just something about his eggs - mm, mm, good. When pressed for a recipe, he can't exactly be pinned down. Like all good home cooks, he just does what feels natural when making the eggs. No stinkin' measuring cups; nothing in writing. Pure instinct. But we do know that there is heavy cream involved, some blending of ingredients in the actual blender (consistency is key - a whisk won't cut it), long cooking times over low heat, some fresh herbs.... and butter. Oodles and oodles of clarified butter he painstakingly makes himself. Julia would be proud.

At any rate, my annual rites of Spring - eating too many Cadbury chocolate eggs (damn them!), secretly enjoying those neon-colored Peeps, falling temptation to the Reese's peanut butter eggs at the check-out stand, and yes, inhaling a healthy serving of butter-laden scrambled eggs - are behind me now. Phew!

So happy Easter to the rest of you; I think I'll resurrect my New Years resolution for healthy eating and start afresh this weekend. Unless, of course, the Easter Bunny has a few more of those pretty pastel seasonal peanut M&Ms that need a home...

Of course he does.