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Friday, February 11, 2011

...Or Am I Losing My Mind?

Michael had a business dinner a couple of nights ago, which left me alone to conjur madness in the kitchen.  I reserve my true culinary insanity for when I'm alone, cooking only for me. Solo night usually involves fish or shellfish combined with enormous amounts of spice and heat.  Call me crazy, but when I dine alone, nothing is left  at the door. I bring it.  Big time.

I had a fews days to plan and imagine what my dream dinner  would be. I have a lovely soft spot in my heart for bouillabaisse, but even a well made bouillabaisse lacks the punch I crave when I can have anything I want. It had to be asian.  Period.

 I stopped by Charlie's Seafood and picked up a meshed bag of New Zealand green-lipped mussels.  While they cozied over crushed ice on the passenger seat of my P.T.Cruiser, I made my way to YuYu Asian Supermarket for inspiration.  I was told it was an off day at the market, but even an off day at any asian market is like dropping acid at Disney World on a hot summer day. (not that I would know)

I stepped into YuYu, grabbed a cart, and made my way down the sparse vegetable aisle, scooping a few small round Thai eggplants into a plastic bag and dropping them in my basket along with  two slim stalks of lemongrass.  I veered toward the refrigerator section and loaded up on bird chilis, red peppers, white beech mushrooms, and enoki mushrooms.  The mushrooms were beautiful. Even without a plan, I had to have them.

After picking up a bag of mung bean thick noodles, Korean chili paste, and dried shrimp chips, I headed to the aromatic seafood section.  The seafood, thankfully, was well iced.  Blue crabs were gone. They had plenty of tuna chunks soaking in murky water.  Nope.  I spotted jumbo whole head-on shrimp.  Really?  In Lexington?  Sold.  As a nod to Audrey Hepburn in a scene from Breakfast At Tiffany's, I had my basket draped in the crook of my arm while I attempted to manuever the huge shrimp onto long tongs to bag.  I felt like an idot.  Fish-out-of-water, so to speak.  I managed to wrestle four shrimp into a flimsy plastic bag without spilling my basket or my dignity.

Home again, home again, jiggity jig.

I immediately grabbed my favoritte Thai cookbook that Michael gave me years ago, The Food Of Thailand a journey for food lovers.

Soup? Stir fry?  Salad?  The world was my oyster mussel.

Adapting a recipe for Phat Wun Sen, Hot and Sour Noodles with Prawns, I leaped off the culinary cliff into insanity.

Mise en place.  I prepped the vegetables by splitting 4 tiny Thai eggplants, pulling apart the stem-bound mushrooms, thinly slicing 3 bird chilis, slicing 4 garlic cloves, mincing 2 shallots, and slicing 1 red bell pepper.  After setting them aside, I cleaned the mussels, rinsed the shrimp, and sliced thawed calamari (from my freezer) into rings.

I got a large skillet screaming hot, drizzed it with oil, and sautted the peppers, shallots, garlic, and eggplant until they softened without color.  To create an aromatic flavorful steam bath for the seafood, I added baby bok choy, scallions, birds chilis, bruised lemongrass stems, red curry paste, fresh lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, and stock.  When the stock base came to a boil, I dropped the mussels into the pot and covered them to steam open.  That gave me a moment to bring a small pot of water to the boil before pouring it over the mung bean noodles to soak and soften.  As the mussels started to open, I tossed in the shrimp and calamari to cook for 2 minutes.
When the mussels were at attention and the shrimp were perfectly pink, I added  the translucent softened mung bean noodles and tossed everything together until well combined. I slid the hot and sour noodle concoction from the skillet into a large pasta bowl and topped it with fresh cilantro, sliced bird chilis, sliced lemongrass rings, mushrooms, and petite baby bok choy leaves.  Fresh lime juice finished it off.

I drink Tobasco from the bottle and it doesn't bother me. I like heat.  A lot of heat. My noodle, mussel, and shrimp concoction was in a class by itself.  It almost self-combusted.  It was fiery hot.  Lip numbing hot.  And fabulous!  I didn't cut the noodles, as suggested, so they dangled and weaved their way throughout the dish adding small calm ribbon bites.  The mussels were squirty plump, helping tame the heat with their juices along with fresh squeezed lime.  Bits of crunchy fire came from  bird chilis that fell around the plate, hidden  and forgotten until eaten.  The shrimp, unpeeled and huge, were sweet and tender.  Peeling was messy, forcing me to eat with my fingers like a ravenous pig. I didn't even mind their beady black eyes staring back at me as I devoured them.  I was in heaven.

With my plate almost clean, I took a short break and a shot of tequila before sucking the heads of the shrimp. Yep.  If food could taste like color, the insides of the shrimp heads tasted gray, like salty gray cream cheese.  Tasty!
I lost my mind in the madness.

Sated and spent.

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