Farm to Mouth Duck Laab – Thai Minced Duck Salad

It was Maple Sunday, and after nearly 20 years of living in Maine I’ve never experienced it. Found out there was a farm in Skowhegan called Tessiers Farm, so I decided to take my son. Oh boy! I should have known better, he hates livestock. Always had since he was a baby. He never like petting zoos, any kind of farm animal. He just hates the smell. He pinched hi nose the whole time while I was trying to convince him how cute the cows were. Needless to say, that was a short lived visit. I managed to sneak into the little shop they had (my son waited outside the whole time because he couldn’t stand the smell — yeesh! I have a city boy on my hands I think). I bought a nice duck and a nice chicken. I love locally raised poultry. It’s just so fresh and tastes so much better. I love that the chickens don’t look like they’re super mutated beasts. Commercially raised chickens look like giants and have so much fat. We bid a quick adieu to the cows and then he told me never to bring him again. So that was a Maple Sunday fail. Next time I’ll bring my daughter. At least I left with some wonderful meat.

The duck was beautiful. I decided I was going to confit the thighs and wings. I’ve never done that so it’ll be interesting. As for the breasts, my first thought was “laab.” Laab is a dish from Northeastern Thailand heavily influenced by Thailand’s northern neighbor Laos. It’s often made with pork or chicken, but duck’s a nice treat. Laab always has minced meat, shallots, lots of herbs like mint, culantro and cilantro, lots of spice, fish sauce, lime juice and “khao khur” which is essential. Khao khur is a fragrant rice powder. Raw rice is toasted with generally lemongrass, kafir lime leaves, galangal and dried chili pepper. It is then pounded into a powder (not too fine) using a mortar and pestle. This powder brings a well rounded flavor to the dish as well as texture. You can’t make laab without it.

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I broke down the duck and reserved everything but the breasts for confit. I carefully removed the skin from the duck breast which was very little. I rendered the duck skin so I could use the duck fat to later cook the duck meat. IMG_6825.JPG

I minced the duck breast with an awesome cleaver from Thailand. You want a pretty fine mince. I prefer mincing meat for laab by hand and not use a meat grinder. I think the texture is much better, a little rougher providing more texture to the dish.

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Beautifully colored duck breast being minced.
I then heated the rendered duck fat with some dried chili peppers, and added the minced duck breast. I cooked it completely through, about 6-7  minutes. Usually, the meat for laab is just cooked in a pot with minimal water, but I thought the duck fat would provide an awesome flavor.

I prepped the other ingredients – shallots, shredded kafir lime leaves, mint leaves, khao khur, fresh chili, chili powder and added it to the cooked duck. I used thin soy sauce and lots of lime juice to flavor.

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I mixed everything gently with my hands. The flavors should be bursting with spice and tartness from the lime juice. This tasted amazing. The duck breast is so lean. Wonderful clean flavor with no gaminess at all. I will definitely be making this more often. It tasted even better knowing the duck was locally raised. Eat local and buy local whenever possible. I appreciate it so much more now.

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Always enjoy laab with lettuce or cabbage for wrapping.

Pepperoni Pizza Pastry

I saw a video for this as I was trying to figure out what to make for lunch for the kiddos. Super easy and quick and a total crowd pizza.

I had a package of puff pastry dough that was in dire need of being used, Italian herb seasoning, a half full jar of tomato sauce, shredded cheese, pepperoni and butter. Yep, that’s all you need.

Flatten out the puff pastry. Spoon a layer of sauce. Line the pepperoni and scatter the cheese. Make diagonal cuts along each side and fold the pieces into each other like a weave. Brush the puff pastry with melted butter and sprinkle some Italian herb seasoning. Bake in a oven preheated at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden.

The kids will love it.

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Sweet Peas Take Me Away

Seriously, I know every winter I complain about the cold, but it’s really just too much. I’m so over it. All I want to do is start getting my hands dirty in the garden and start planting. I needed a nice respite from the winter doldrums so I was searching for photos of flowers to brighten up my day and serve as a little inspiration. I never knew what sweet peas were until last year when I read an article in Martha Stewart’s Living about a woman who grew sweet peas. I instantly fell in love. They really are so sweet, delicate and have such a romantic smell.

I grew my first few plants last summer. Some I grew from seeds, which didn’t really yield as many pretty flowers. I also bought some seedlings at the local farmer’s market that produced beautiful flowers way into late September. I’m going to try to make sweet peas my focal flower this year if the warm weather ever arrives.

Here are some arrangements using the sweet peas from last summer (2016):

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Phosure I Need This in My Life

The closest Vietnamese restaurant is an hour away. Thanh Thanh 2 on Forest Ave. is by far my favorite. It’s nothing fancy, but their pho hits the spot. I never leave this place unsatisfied.

Sometimes, I just really crave pho – a Vietnamese soup noodle bowl. It’s such a comfort food. So simple yet complex at the same time. Recently, my family decided to get a side of cow from a local farmer. Well, it was our first time getting beef this way, I never realized how much beef we were getting for a side and quickly had to change it to a 1/4 because we really had no room to store a whole side. Now we know and will plan better next time. Well, one of the cuts we got was brisket. Light bulb went off — brisket, I need to make pho. Lots of googling happened. I kind of had an idea, but not really. Lucky for me there was a show on the Food Network that had a Vietnamese lady talking about making pho. I had all the ingredients at restaurant. The key to the ultimate bowl of pho is the broth. There’s really nothing in a bowl of pho – so simple, noodles and beef and herbs, but the broth is so complex.

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Picked up some beef bones at the supermarket. I boiled water in a giant pot and added the bones. I let that cook for an 1hr.

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While that was going on I roasted some ginger and onions to bring out some more flavor at 400 degrees for 1hr as well. Gave a nice char to the ginger and garlic.

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I then toasted the aromatics — cinnamon, star anise, cloves, cardamom, coriander, fennel until fragrant. The kitchen had such a wonderful aroma so comforting. I place the toasted aromatics into a cheesecloth bag.

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After the hour I added the bag with toasted aromatics and the charred ginger and onions into the stock pot. I also added a handful of rock sugar. The rock sugar gives any stock a more subtle beef flavor than regular granulated sugar. I also added some thin soy sauce. ( I don’t own a bottle of fish sauce, I swear. Sacrilege!!! Yes, I’m Thai and I don’t use fish sauce. That’ll take another long post to explain. Next time.)

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I then added the brisket and forgot about the whole thing for 5 hours. It was such a long wait, and the whole kitchen smelled so sublime. I couldn’t wait to slurp down some noodles.

I cooked some rice noodles. Sliced some onions super thin. Took the brisket out and sliced it super thin. Strained some broth. Added cilantro, scallions and Thai basil. I spritz some lime and I slurped away. It was pretty darn good especially after 6 hours of waiting. The brisket was amazing and super tender. You could totally tell it was a locally raised steer. All the flavors were so subtle you would have no idea so many ingredients went into making the pho broth. It’s worth the tackle if you have time.

Though it turned out great. I’m still no expert in pho. Phosure I’m pretty far from it, but if I get another order of beef with some locally raised brisket I’ll definitely tackle pho again, but I think I’ll keep visiting the experts at Thanh Thanh 2 – so much quicker to drive that hour.

 

 

Cabin Fever Cookies

I’m BORED!!!! Yet again the bored monster strikes. It’s been a rough week as the whole house has been hit by the flu and the last snowstorm has kept us basically home bound. My daughter had enough of puzzles, legos and coloring. She even had enough of television. All she wanted to do was go somewhere which wasn’t an option since non of us were 100%. We finally compromised on making cookies. I always keep around the ingredients for chocolate cookies in the pantry just in case.

I let her do everything by herself, except for the actual oven part. This finally appeased her. My go to chocolate chip cookie recipe is Tollhouse’s. I’ve tried so many, but Tollhouse’s is always the crowd favorite. Straightforward and simple. I had to tweak it a smidgen because I did not want to have to break out the mixer and then have to wash it. I melted the butter completely and had my daughter just mix all the ingredients together. There was no creaming of any butter and sugar, and no chilling of the dough.

The cookies baked at 375 degrees for 9 minutes only. My husband always complains I over bake and makes me take out anything I bake much sooner. The extra gooey the cookie or brownie the better. The cookies turned out great. Wonderful texture with nice flavor. From now on if I’m ever in a rush to make cookies I think I’ll just make it this way with melted butter – all I had to wash was 1 bowl and 1 mixing spoon. Plus, it’s super kid-friendly. The cookies were a nice respite from the cabin fever blues even if just for a minute.

Ingredients: Adapted from Tollhouse cookie recipe

2 and 1/4 cup all purpose flour

3/4 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp. vanilla

2 sticks butter completely melted

1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chip cookies

Steps:

1.) Preheat oven 375 degrees

2.) Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl

3.) Mix vigorously until all ingredients combine

4.) Scoop onto parchment paper lined baking sheet

5.) Bake 9 minutes

Enjoy with a tall glass of milk and hopefully with some relief from the bored monster.

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Just out of the oven chocolate chipΒ  cookies can lift all spirits instantly.

It’s Never Too Cold for a Beach Day

There is a lot of beauty in Maine. The skies are especially blue on a sunny and clear day. When we think of a beach day it’s a sunny and blistering hot summer day not 40s in March. However, it’s never too cold for a beach day. The beach is quite beautiful during the winter. You can really enjoy the view without all those half naked bodies and umb rellas all around. One of my favorite beaches in Maine is Popham Beach State Park.

It’s very family friendly,Β  lots of sand, great tidal pools and when it’s low tide there is an awesome island to visit (don’t get caught when the tide comes in though, which happened to us on this visit – soooooo cold). The kids love the sea shells and there are always sand dollars. The water is always frigid no matter what time of year you visit. Beware of the seagulls They are absolute monsters and super ballsy with no fear of humans.

If you’ve never visited Popham, you must and if you’ve never visited a beach during the winter you’re missing out. It’s such a fun family adventure. It’s a great way to experience Maine’s natural beauty.

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Popham Beach State Park – No Filter Needed
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Sand Dollar

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Dress warm with Waterproof boots

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The island during low tide.
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Top of the island. Great view.

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Cat Tails and Flowers

I’ve never really liked cats. I’ve always loved dogs, but I became a cat magnet a few years ago. These cats simply just started showing up at the restaurant which is a long complicated story and needs multiple posts to cover. Spay and neuter your animals please!!! Least to say it’s kind of an awkward look – cats and an Asian restaurant. Don’t worry, none ever became tomorrow’s special. Between my family and employees we’ve welcomed several into our homes and most found homes through the local Humane Society.

I have 2 wonderful cats (Lola, our Maine coon cat recently passed away) – Pepsi and Jasmine. Pepsi, named by my daughter, (we don’t really allow soda so I assume she chose Pepsi for that reason). Pepsi was the very first cat I caught with my bare hands behind the restaurant. Jasmine was adopted from the Humane Society as I was bringing in some more kittens I had just caught.

These 2 love to check out my flower arrangements and photo bomb as well as my rescue pup Maggie Moo. I can write posts and posts about these 3 characters.

Here are some old photos I found from last summer.

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Miss Pepsi and Peonies from my father’s garden.

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Miss Jasmine and Miss Maggie Moo

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Below is the flower arrangement the cuties were checking out. It’s one of my favorites. Peonies and willow from my father’s garden. He has a green thumb and a knack for peonies. I can’t wait until June for peony season. The container is an old coal hod I found at an antique place in Augusta. One year I had it spray painted yellow, but then I thought this sky blue would be pretty. The pink of the peony really work with this blue. The chest was a gift from my brother in law and is a perfect platform form my flowers. I use it a lot you’ll notice.

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