Shrimp and Pineapple Curry with Coconut Rice

Josh and I have been thinking about Thai food for a while. Neither of us have ever eaten at a Thai restaurant - even though we are more or less surrounded by them. Even though I've gotten numerous recommendations for numerous restaurants. Even though one of the best in town is literally around the corner from our office. The truth is, I've been a little scared.

I assumed that Thai = too spicy. Don't get me wrong - I'm a Texas girl and I can get down with some spicy. Nevertheless, I've been more than hesitant to go out and spend money on a meal I may not enjoy.

Anyway, last night I initiated our typical dinner debate, which tends to go something like this:

Me: What's for dinner?
Josh: I don't know.
Me: Well, what are you in the mood for?
Josh: I don't know.
Me: What about (insert any number of dishes in my repertoire, ranging from ribs to salad, grilled salmon to chili, ham to buffalo wings)
Josh: Any of that would be fine.

Then I get frustrated and start flipping through cookbooks for inspiration. From a roommate somewhere along the way I inherited a great book called The Cook's Companion (Lorraine Turner), which I don't utilize as much as should, considering that last night's dinner was outstanding.
It was also the perfect starter/introductory Thai dish, which means I'm now very excited to try that little place around the corner from our office.

I served the coconut curried shrimp and pineapple over a bed of coconut-vanilla rice, remembering mid-preparation a post I read on How Sweet It Is. I did not follow Jessica's recipe exactly; I used salt, omitted the red pepper and used less coconut flakes, but I must say: wow. I thought I had lost Josh on the rice when he wandered into the kitchen and after he expressed surprise at finding me cooking rice (I never do), I told him we were having coconut-vanilla rice. As always, he kindly acknowledged my strange creation, but I could smell his uncertainty from a mile away. Of course he was a good sport, loading it up on his plate before taking a taste, but found that he did enjoy it quite a bit.

A note about Thai fish sauce - I had to search the Asian Market (I love living in a melting pot) to find it. It smells funny and when I opened the bottle it hissed, steamed and fizzed like a bottle of soda before it exploded all over my hands and kitchen counter. Not pleasant. What gives? Anybody have experience with the stuff?

For the shimp and pineapple curry, you will need (from The Cook's Companion):

2 cups coconut milk
Half of one fresh pineapple, skinned, cored and chopped (I found that this was too much for my taste - next time I'll reduce it to a quarter)
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbs red curry paste
2 tbs Thai fish sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
Handful cilantro, chopped finely
Salt and pepper to taste

Add coconut milk, pineapple, curry paste, fish sauce and sugar to a pan. Heat over medium heat until almost boiling. Add cilantro and shrimp and cook over low heat until shrimp is cooked, about 4 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over coconut rice (recipe follows).

For the coconut rice, you will need (adapted slightly from How Sweet It Is:

1 cup white rice (jasmine would work well also)
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 - 1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Contents of 1/2 a vanilla bean + pod for simmering
1/4 cup finely shredded coconut
Salt to taste

Combine water, milk, vanilla extract, coconut, vanilla "caviar" and vanilla bean pod in a saucepan and add rice. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until rice has absorbed liquid, about 15-20 minutes. Remove vanilla bean pods and salt to taste.

White Sangria

I like a good red wine, but I enjoy it more in the winter. Summer calls for light, refreshing, cold, fruity cocktails, perfect for bringing to the backyard porch swing and rocking gently while your boyfriend absentmindedly strums his guitar.

At least that's what I had in mind for this sangria. The aforementioned scenario never actually happened, but I'm hopeful that it still could. In any event - man, this was easy.

You will need:

Medium-dry white wine (I used a blend of Pinot Grigio and Chablis)
Dry or brut sparkling wine/Champagne
12 ounces white grape or white grape-peach juice
2 whole peaches, sliced into wedges
2 whole limes, sliced into rounds
Handful green grapes to your liking, sliced in half lengthwise
Handful sliced frozen strawberries
Fresh mint leaves (optional)

In a pitcher or beverage server, pour equal parts wine and grape juice, filling the pitcher 3/4 full.

Add all fruit aside from strawberries and stir. Allow the mixture to refrigerate for at least an hour, but up to 4. When ready to serve, add strawberries and mint if using to pitcher, and top pitcher with champagne. Stir gently.

Serve without ice, making sure all glasses are served with some of the cold fruit from the pitcher!

Pork Francese for One

Today's guest post comes from my dad. As is the case with the rest of my family, he has an appreciation for good food, and while I haven't tried it myself, I'm sure this variation of the classic Chicken Francese is as delicious as he claims.


Just because you have no choice but to eat solo is no reason not to eat like Un Re (A King). Like many of you, your significant other may not be able to join you for every meal. My sweetheart Marjorie works 3 nights a week, but you'll never catch this paesano eating out of a can.

This is simple, fast and delizioso!
7 - 8 ounces thin boneless pork chop or pork cutlet
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 egg
1/4 cup flour (or just enough to coat both sides)
1/4 cup of chicken broth (if you don't have canned broth, you can substitute a chicken bouillon cube or powder, just reduce the amount of salt on the meat and egg)
4 - 5 ounces dry white wine
2 tablespoons lemon juice (preferably fresh, though bottled could substitute)
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 tablespoon parsley (dried will substitute just fine)
Lemon slices

If meat is not 1/4-inch thick, use a pounder. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (see note of caution regarding salt above).

Break egg into a shallow bowl, season with salt and pepper (again see note of caution regarding salt above) and beat until well blended. Spread flour on waxed paper. Mix together the broth, wine, and lemon juice in a measuring cup.

Heat the oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat until sizzling. Dip the pork in the flour, then the egg, and add to the pan in a single layer. If you have excess egg, add that to the hot oil and butter, creating a mini fried egg. Cook 3 minutes per side, until golden brown. Adjust the heat so the butter doesn't burn. Transfer the pork (and cooked egg) to a plate and put aside. Add the broth mixture (broth, wine, lemon juice) to the pan, raise the heat, and heat until slightly thickened (a minute or two). Stir in the parsley. Return the pork to the pan and turn once or twice in the sauce. Serve with lemon slices on top.

Alyssa's 8th Birthday

I've been itching to entertain. Since Josh and I had yet to throw a party at our place, when conversations about Alyssa's birthday started coming up, my mind started racing. We quickly decided that we would go all-out, to simultaneously satisfy my entertaining itch, and to give her an 8th birthday to remember. Or hopefully remember. Try as I might, I can remember my 7th and 10th birthdays, but 8 and 9 are for some reason lost forever. Good thing we're in the age of the digital camera!

Alyssa made up her mind while I decorated Andrea's birthday cake back in April that she wanted a heart-shaped, pink strawberry cake for her birthday, much like the one we made for her last year...

...which was monstrous. Rich, crazy decadent, and tipping the scales at 10 pounds of sweet birthday evil. Or goodness, depending on the circumference of your waist.

So we designed the whole party around the cake. I did my best to channel my inner Amy Atlas, found leftover Valentine's decorations at various dollar stores (I was surprised but giddy to find them in June), created a dessert table, and did the place up in pink, red and white.

I'm pretty proud to say I did this all, baking, decorating. It's nice to remind myself from time to time that my degree in Event Management didn't go completely to waste. Josh told me "I don't want you to stress about this." So I started everything on Tuesday, and listed out what to do and when to do it throughout the rest of the week.

I'm a chronic list maker. They make me feel in-control.

The heart/pink/red theme was also carried over into some of the food:

 533 pink and white marshmallows, counted by hand...the winner took them all home (thank God)

Pink Party Punch (Simply Raspberry lemonade, Sprite and frozen raspberries)

                                                         Muddy Buddies with red M&Ms

Candied pecans

Strawberry Whoppers

Chocolate covered strawberries

 White sangria...for the grownups only, of course

 Cookies, dyed with red food coloring and decorated with royal icing

Maui onion dip

 And of course, the birthday cake!

The turnout was great. We came up with some great games, Josh surprised me with a hidden talent:

And everyone enjoyed themselves - especially the birthday girl!

Happy birthday, Alyssa! I hope it was everything you wanted and more than you expected.

Homemade BBQ Sauce

 My dad managed to weasel this recipe out of a woman he was doing business with in Johnson City, Tennessee, long before Tennessee was on my radar. He took to making it in giant batches, bottling it up in Mason jars to keep for an entire summer. Summers full of magical spare ribs and grilled chicken followed, all treated to a good Texas-sized dousing of the sweet, tangy sauce. I crave it by the spoonful (but I refrain).

For some reason it had long intimidated me, so I never gave it a shot. In fact, though I had begged my dad for the recipe, it sat in my email inbox for almost 2 years before I decided to just go for it. On what better occasion than Memorial Day, when I had 8 hungry people to feed?

Here's the original recipe, scanned (thanks Dad!), plus some possible substitutions. 

If you don't have: Kitchen Bouquet
Substitute: Additional Worcestershire sauce or  equal amount of Liquid Smoke

If you don't have: Molasses
Substitute: 1/3 cup honey plus 1/3 cup brown sugar

The "vinegar" is pretty generic. My dad uses red wine vinegar, I used apple cider.

Then, just as it says, mix and refrigerate. Go ahead...dump it all in a bowl.

Taste and adjust to your liking. I know for a fact that I splashed in extra Worcestershire, garlic powder and honey, so make it your own!

Store as you see fit. As I said, my dad cans his in Mason jars, but I just repurposed the empty ketchup bottle.