Kao Paht (Thai Fried Rice)

Ingredients to Kao Paht with tofu (Thai Fried Rice)

My dad, in many ways, was ahead of the times.  In the 80s, he was a stay-at-home father to his three children and a devoted husband to his career-oriented Filipina wife.  Perhaps, more importantly for this blog, though, he foresaw a wave of exotic food before many.  In the early 90s, he discovered Thai restaurants at a time when most people in Long Beach still thought Chinese and Japanese food was exotic.  Unfortunately–perhaps, fortunately?–it was too expensive for him to go to Thai restaurants as much as he would like particularly with children whose ravenous appetites already burned a hole in his pocket when they ate at home.

One day, he saw an ad for a Thai cooking class taught by a Yupa Holzner.  If I recall, she was originally from Thailand and had somehow immigrated to the U.S. where she married a German-American whose habitual love of German chocolate cake had consequently added more pounds to her waist than she liked to think about.  She taught a three- or four-day class that included, among other things, Tom Yum and Tom Kha soup, Paht Thai, Kao Paht, Sate, Yum Nam Tok Easan (spicy beef salad), spring rolls, and culminated with a Thai Roasted Turkey.  Yupa Holzner taught my father how to fish, so to speak.

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Technique: Peeling Tomatoes

Tomatoes on the vine

Peeling your own tomatoes is an excellent way to improve the freshness of a recipe, control your salt intake, and avoid consuming unwanted chemicals found in some cans.  If you live in a place like California, you can probably get excellent tomatoes year round.  Where I currently live in New York, as is the case in other places that reach below freezing, this may not be the best use of my time during the cold winter months.

Many recipes call for cans of diced or peeled tomatoes.  I usually substitute about the same amount in weight as compared to the size of the can.  When I first read about this technique in a Mexican cookbook years ago, I thought, “God, that sounds like a lot of work and time.”  It really isn’t.  Before you start cleaning and chopping your vegetables, put out a pot of water to boil, and before you know it, your tomatoes are ready to be thrown in.  It really doesn’t add much time to your overall preparation, and in my opinion, the benefits outweigh the time, especially when your tomatoes are fresh.

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Saluggi’s

Saluggi's front door

There is some debate as to where and when pizza originated.  Many of those debates will include New York City with varying levels of importance.  Regardless, it’s undeniable that New York City has some of the best pizzerias around.  If you ask some friends who have been to or know New York where to get a good slice of pizza, Artichoke or Grimaldi’s will probably be somewhere toward the top of their list.  There are so many great pizzerias in New York, it’s easy to go with what’s well known and famous. However, I’m going to ask that you try something off the beaten path that will leave you wondering how such deliciousness had been absent from your life.

The inside of Saluggi's decked out with Halloween decorations

Saluggi’s has an unassuming storefront in Tribeca.  When you walk in, you will probably find that they aren’t super full.  You may worry for a moment that this crazy west-coast-born blogger has no idea what he is talking about.  This place is not that packed–certainly not like those famous places all of your friends kept telling you to try–how could it be so good?  You just have to trust me.

Saluggi’s serves appetizers, sandwiches, salads, and pastas, but what they are most famous for is their brick-oven pizzas and calzones.  They make their own fresh mozzarella cheese that they use generously on every pizza.  After eating their fresh mozzarella you will probably wonder how to make fresh mozzarella to make up for the poor substitutes you find elsewhere.  They even make a vegan pizza with daiya vegan cheese, red sauce, and basil.  Their toppings have been nothing but fresh and each pie seems to be made with tender love and care.  The pizza crust is perfectly toasted and crunches ever so slightly with each bite.  To top it off, they are reasonably priced with large pizzas (8 filling slices) ranging from $19-25.  They also sell small pizzas and pizzas by the slice if your heart so desires, but I find it difficult to resist ordering the large every time I go. Continue reading

Adobo

Trays of Filipino food from a party at my mother's home. Pork adobo is in the foreground and chicken adobo is in the background with bell peppers.

Adobo is a common and popular Filipino dish.  “Adobo “refers to a way of preparing a dish in soy sauce and vinegar, usually meat (chicken, pork, frog legs, it’s only limited by the imagination!).  In my household growing up, pork was the meat of choice; however, outside of my family, most people I have come across prefer or are at least more familiar with its chicken variety.

Adobo is the first Filipino dish I learned how to make.  As a sophmore in undergrad, fresh out of the dorms and away from the dining halls at UC Santa Cruz, I wanted to be able to eat the food I had grown up with.  That was difficult in a town with no Filipino restaurants.  So, I had to learn how to make it.  My father had me shadow him during the summer in between my freshman and sophomore year.   My father made the best chicken adobo in the family.  He learned from his mother-in-law, my lola (grandmother in Tagalog), who immigrated from the Philippines to the United States in the early 1980s.

My lola loved my father’s adobo.  She always thought it was better than her own.  She would ask him, “How do you make your adobo so good, Kano?” (Kano is short for Amerikano and was my family’s endearing way of referring to my father, the American guy).

He would always respond, “I don’t know; you taught me.”

At our many house parties that filled my parent’s home in Long Beach, my father often contributed with at least 10 lb worth of chicken adobo.  Since my father passed away more than a year and a half ago, I have taken over the role of chicken adobo maker for my large extended family whenever I am at home.  It’s an honor to carry on his tradition of adobo preparation for my closest relatives and loved ones. Continue reading