Tuesday, 27 December 2011

SmartCooks Holiday Vegetarian Pad Thai

January 2012

A new year, a new life, lots of changes.  All good so far but the year is young.  The house glitter is all put away and the main floor is back in its austere winter clean state,  

To start the year in style, I chanced upon a recipe over the holiday season in a Martha Stewart magazine (sadly, 'tis true).  

I'd been looking for an authentic Thai vegetarian version of Pad Thai.  After watching a number of videos on YouTube, I realize there is a real art to making superb Pad Thai.  Most use shrimp and some spices not easily acquired here in Canada.   

I continued looking and found a vegetarian version with ingredients I could easily gather.  There's a good vegetarian version video on Planet Green with Emeril Green who also regularly features Emeril Lagasse (Emeril is quite the popular name!)

There seems to be only two rules to making Pad Thai:
-- One, have a hot wok and add ingredients in fast.  What that means is a lot of preparation before starting... measuring, chopping, organizing dishes etc.  It's worth it as prep into the wok is fast.  
-- Two, get the noodles done just right.  It will take a lot of experience to learn a) when they're done and b) the correct art of stir frying rice noodles to perfection.  

But I figured I had to start somewhere so I gave it a whirl.  The recipe I liked was done by Emeril Lagasse, who was featured in the Martha Stewart magazine and also a guest on the Food Network when Emeril Green did a show called Planet Vegetarian.  There's a video link on Emeril Lagasse's Facebook page.  Give it a try... 


6 ounces rice noodles (or Pad Thai noodles, really anything works)
2 T plus 1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable broth (I had a batch frozen and used that, low-sodium versions also exist)
3 T plus 1 tsp Asian fish sauce (I used low-sodium soy sauce instead and cut back a bit)
2 T rice vinegar
1 T chili-garlic sauce (which I own thanks to KSP and Food Basics or use Sriracha) 
1 T sesame oil
1 tsp tamarind paste 
1/3 cup peanut oil
2 large eggs, beaten with a pinch of sale
12 ounces shitake mushrooms
3/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
1 cup cubed firm tofu (about 6 ounces)
4 cloves of fresh garlic, chopped
1 jalapeño, minced
5 scallions (use both white and green parts), 3 cut in 1/2-inch pieces, 2 chopped
1 package enoki mushrooms
1/2 cup Mung bean sprouts (optional) 
1/3 cup salted roasted peanuts, chopped, plus a few for garnish
Serving suggestions:  lime wedges, and Sriracha sauce or other Thai hot chill sauce 


Place noodles in a medium bowl with hot water.  Soak for about 30 minutes, until tender, drain and set aside.

Whisk brown sugar, vegetable broth, fish/soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili garlic sauce (or Sriracha), sesame oil and tamarind paste in a small bowl.  

Heat a skillet over medium heat.  When hot, add 1 T of peanut oil, eggs and tilt the skillet to make a thin, even coating of egg.  Cook egg until just set, about 45 seconds, invert eggs onto a cutting board, cut in 1/2 inch strips and set aside.

Add another Tablespoon of peanut oil to skillet and turn to high heat.  Add mushrooms, 1/2 tsp of pepper flakes, and salt.  Stir fry until mushrooms are golden brown.

Add another Tablespoon of peanut oil and add the tofu, another 1/2 tsp of pepper flakes and salt to taste.  Stir fry until tofu is golden brown on all sides.

Add garlic, jalapeño, chopped scallion and 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes and stir fry until lightly browned, about 1 minute.  Add bean sprouts if using.   

Add the noodles and cook, tossing, until lightly coated with the garlic mixture, about 1 minute.  Add the soy sauce (or fish sauce) and large scallion pieces and cook until heated through, tossing to combine.  

Stir in the cooked egg, 1 cup of the enoki mushrooms and 1/3 cup peanuts and toss until hot.  

Divide among plate and top with the remaining enoki mushrooms and scallions.

Serve with lime wedges and Sriracha sauce.  

Aside #19: Community Supported Agriculture Winter Baskets Update

December 2011

Community Supported Agriculture baskets.  

The baskets continue to roll on in, although sporadically.  Poor old Bryson's Farms  my CSA of choice as they deliver year-round, had a terrible December.  I deliberated cancelling until next summer and will make that decision before the next basket in two weeks.

It's a two-person basket I get every two weeks.  The content varies and isn't signalled in advance nor can I choose what I want... but it tends to have a variety of organic, farm freshly picked (greenhouse in some cases) produce, with selections of swiss chard, lettuce, mustard greens, parsnips, daikon radish, peppers, potatoes, garlic, red onion, portobello mushrooms and heirloom carrots.... all delicious.

Two-person baskets are as small as they will home deliver.  I find it a challenge to cook, bake, consume or freeze properly within a two-week period when it's primarily me who consumes the produce.  I sneak the odd vegey or salad past the Husband but it's rare.... he catches on fast.

But my veggie woes are nothing compared to those of Bryson's.  In law November, I put one basket on hold ie., wait a week, as I was over-veggied.  Their data system can't seem to cope with that and I got lost in limbo for about a month before the next delivery.  I noticed a snarky-ish note on their website saying they want only regular clients and will stop deliveries if there are too many starts and stops of delivery.  Oh well... strike 1 for flexibility in an otherwise flawless model.

Part of the reason I may have been lost in data limbo was also due to a series of negative CBC TV stories that ran in early December (around the 10th I think) focussing on pesticide residue on 'organic' produce.  The story was general and the main point seemed to be that no matter how 'organic' the claims, there is so much pesticide residue in our soil and nature that it is impossible to be truly 'organic'.  Fair point.  But CBC of course picked a farm to focus on and chose Bryson's as its case in point.  They had to scurry about with Statements and explanations of the science... and I'm sure with much angst and consternation.  

Then, just at Christmas, there was a series of crashes on Quebec roads, the most serious of which claimed a man and a his son.  The man, it turned out, was a driver for Bryson's home delivery.  There's nothing on the website acknowledging this employee but the papers were explicit.  Anyway... not a good month for them.  Hope 2012 is better.

Back to the basket.  It was a welcome delivery on a snowy day this week and Husband and I struggled through shovelling a LOT of heavy, wet snow, with a snow blower not working and neighbours away.  Why we don't contract out our shovelling is a mystery to me... it would relieve a lot of stress.  

Ahh.... well... back to cooking.


Aside #18: SmartCooks Book!

December 2011 

SmartCooks here introducing SmartCooks Book! December 2011 edition, version 1,  prototype for learning purposes only and limited distribution to family, friends and foodies.  

SmartCooks Book is the project the kept me very occupied in December, hence the hiatus from writing the SmartCooks blog. I did it for two reasons:

The first was to learn how to use my new, nifty, hefty price-taggy, zippy, all-features, mucho bells 'n whistles, 15" MacBook Pro.  

Me being me, I picked the hardest project possible to attempt as a first venture on the new laptop.  It took a couple of trips to Mr. Apple's genii bar to figure out some of the features of iPhoto and converting documents to PDFs for printing etc.

But, I persevered, thanks to a few blue bills (joke), and good friends with wise advice on Mac products.  I fumbled and lurched my way through design, photo selection and layout, even braving the pre-Christmas frenzy at the Rideau Centre (shudder) for additional Apple assistance. 

I eventually settled on 24 favourite recipes in the Appetizer, Breads/Soups, Sides/Salads/Bento Bests and Meats and Mains categories.  Sample page at left.  

A few of you commented that I did NOT include Desserts -- Nope, I don't tend to bake 'em.... never have, never will.  I leave that category to those of you more skilled. 

The second reason for creating SmartCooks Book was driven by a desire to give something more personal as gifts to mark the season this year. Given that I have time at my disposal this fall for the first time in many years, I have been able to think and plan and eventually came up with the idea of combining family/friend photos with family/friend recipes, laid out in a 40-page coil-ring book. The design I settled on focussed on recipes (some from the blog) and a half a dozen pages where family photos could be inserted and then changed.  

The result was a dozen different versions of SmartCooks Book.  It became both a Christmas gift and a Holiday Wishes card that I'm sure elicited both groans and chuckles.  

SmartCooks Book is a prototype and not for commercial purposes.  The photos were found on-line and credited where I could.  To undertake the real thing would involve all the niceties of photograph and copyright accreditation.  SmartCooks Book would be a serious undertaking after I retire, if I ever do.

I certainly enjoyed learning how to create it, from scanning family photos into the computer to learning how to output the project as a PDF onto a USB key for printing.  It kept me more than busy evenings when Husband was travelling and gave me an opportunity to pull together the best of the recipes I've been trying over the past few months -- Healthy, Holesome, Happy.   

Enjoy.  Wishing Happy HolIdays to all and all the best in 2012!


Friday, 9 December 2011

SmartCooks interpretation of Grandma Parkins Nuts 'n Bolts recipe

December 2011

SmartCooks here.

Time flies...

A little hiatus ... work intruded on my blogging life (!), my new top-end (yahoo) MacPro turned out a nifty project that kept me captive for weeks (more on that in the coming days), and life has gone on fast forward to get ready for the 'Week That Will Be'. 

Re holidays, I say Bring 'em on!  I'm ready.  I have lists, an Excel Planning Schedule and a Calendar of what needs to happen day to day.  Those of you who know me well won't be surprised...  Our gorgeous (small) Christmas tree is lit up indoors (a cat has already tried to climb it), the lights outside are merrily twinkling on the 50th B-day surprise tree, gifts are either already bought or in production, and every-one and -thing is booked to make the festive season well... hectic ... but a planned hectic-ness. 

Appetizers.  Munchy food.  Not the highest calorie festive snack but not the lowest either.  I'm talking about the 'Parkins Family' version of Nuts 'n Bolts, passed on down from grandmother to mother to sons to daughters-in-law.  There are dozens upon dozens of versions of Nuts 'n Bolts out there in recipe-land.  American sites tend to favour using Bugles, or small Ritz Bites crackers and Wheat, Corn or Rice Chex but the more enlightened websites suggest going with the 'Canadian' version and using Cheerios and Shreddies for a better flavour.  ('O Canada'! I say)  

The variations in recipes are endless in terms of the salt/low salt and lower calorie ideas: salted/unsalted peanuts, salted/unsalted butter or margarine or vegetable oil.  Condiment choices are equally confusing i.e., Accent powder, garlic and onion powder (not salt), paprika or not, etc.  Innovate.... Finally, there are endless cute ways to package them up (e.g., baskets, boxes, Martha Stewart bags (!), etc) and present as hostess gifts, holiday presents or enjoying at home.

Making Nuts 'n bolts can be pitched as a couple and/or kids participatory event.  Husband and I buy all the ingredients and I set him up with his own set in one corner of the kitchen to make a batch while I do a second batch in another corner.  This is maybe a tad stressful for him at the outset but we eventually get into the swing of it and make 4-6 batches a year and then package them snugly in freezer-friendly containers and thereby avoid temptation to eat them all before the Big Week.  

So, here is Grandma Parkins version, with my interpretation of salt/no salt etc

Ingredients for 1 Batch
1 cup Cheerios
1 cup Shreddies
1 cup salted peanuts
1 cup pretzel sticks

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp onion salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1 T Worcestershire sauce


Melt butter and stir in seasonings in one bowl.  Mix cereals, peanuts and pretzels and pour seasoned butter over the mixture.  Coat evenly by stirring.  Pour into a roasting pan or pan with sides and spread out.  I suggest no more than 2 batches in oven at a time. 

Bake at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes and then stir.  Continue to bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Cool.  Package.  If made in advance of holiday festivities, freeze and dole out judiciously. 

Bet you can't eat just one handful!