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Monday, November 23, 2009

Vietnam & Thai in West Virginia!

After our happy Railfan couple left the Elkhorn Inn on Saturday morning, Dan & I had a "foodie" weekend! My box of wonderful fresh produce arrived from www.TastePadThai.com (2 gorgeous green mangoes, fresh lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, & thai chilies, among other things!), & I cracked open Mai Pham's wonderful Vietnam cookbook & cooked for Chef Dan! www.TastePadThai.com sent us a special slicer as a gift with my order, and with it Dan (yes, I let him help!) was able to easily make the perfect julienne strips of crisp, green mango for my Green Mango Salad! Tossed with a spicy sauce, and topped with thin strips of marinated, grilled beef, Asian Basil, flat leaf parsley, and chopped peanuts, we managed to recreate a dish we'd had in Saigon last year and loved- right here in West Virginia! I also made us Thai Tom Yum Gai soup- with coconut milk, galangal, lemongrass & Thai peppers, sliced, fresh mushrooms & shrimp- a soup I've LOVED for years, but haven't had since I lived in NYC. It's Such an easy soup to make, but you can't make it without the special fresh herbs & spices... and the smell of it is literally intoxicating! With our Vietnamese-Tahi dinner we drank Ginseng Wine from Summerville, West Virginia's Kirkwood Winery http://www.kirkwood-wine.com/ It's So much like the Vietnamese snake wine that we both love, that we even use it to top up our souvenir bottle of snake-&-scorpion wine! I think Kirkwood's ginseng wine is truly my favorite wine now- it has a totally unique taste with a very slight bitterness that I LOVE... & it reminds me of our time in Vietnam...
Today we continued our culinary weekend & figured out how to make the Ultimate Condiment: the Vietnamese Chili-Lemongrass Salt we'd fallen in Total love with at the Dakbla Restaurant in KonTum, Vietnam! We browned finely chopped lemongrass & Thai chilies in chili oil in a cast iron skillet & tossed it with coarse kosher salt- making THE best condiment in the world! Gimmee a bowl of rice & some of that chili salt & I'm a happy camper! Looking back, I see how important food- really Good food!- has been to me throughout my life: I remember almost everything I've done in terms of what I ate, who I was with when I ate it, and what we were talking about while we ate! For me, this chili-lemongrass salt literally & physically brings back our wonderful honeymoon last year, especially the cooking classes Dan & did in Saigon & HoiAn, and the magic days we spent "trekking" (and eating & drinking...) through the Central Highlands with our guide/friend Huynh www.vietnamhighlands.com If you're interested in having a truly wonderful experience seeing & experiencing the REAL Central Highlands of Vietnam, Huynh is the person to see... (See my blog posts after April 2008 for photos of our time in Vietnam, as well as Korea & Japan). Yes, I put on 25 lbs. eating & drinking my way across Asia w/Chef Dan, & came waddling back with 2 chins, & have been on a diet ever since, but it was worth it! :-)
Tonight, after we topped the last of the green mango salad w/grilled chicken, Dan made us luscious Vietnamese Fried Bananas, and while he dusted his (appropriately) with confectioner's sugar, I sprinkled mine with that divine chili-lemongrass salt! I've always loved the sweet fruit/spicy combination, and the hot banana fritters with their gooey-sweet, molten centers were so yummy with just a bit of "zing" from the chili salt! :-) I tried the chili-salt on crisp slices of cucumber, too, and it was almost as good as on the green mango! (Reminded me of an amazingly juicy, sweet mango doused with chili sauce I got from a Latino food cart on W. 23rd Street in NYC in 10/2001...) I then put up a jar of Vietnamese Pickled Chilies with Garlic (and some lemongrass, just for kicks), so we'll have them to enjoy for awhile, too...
It's now Winter, & getting cold; leaf-peeping is behind us, & it's getting dark earlier and earlier... and yes, I may have SAD, but I find all this Incredibly depressing! So I decided Dan & I needed something fun to do to occupy us thru the slow, cold, winter... and cooking the authentic Vietnamese, Korean, & Japanese foods we love seemed to be a cool thing to do! But with only WalMart & Food City within an hour of us, what's a "foodie" girl to do?! So while Dan was hunting w/his buds in Virginia, I trolled the internet night after night for Asian cookbooks, recipes, and exotic food sources, and came up with some GREAT finds: www.TastepadThai.com, especially for their fresh herbs & produce (as well as pantry items, & the cayenne pepper stick-on heating pads that I haven't seen since I lived in Germany & which are Great for muscle & arthritis pain); www.hirts.com for seeds to grow things like lemongrass, red perilla, and green shiso for Vietnamese "table salad"; www.pacificrimgourmet.com and www.VeryAsia.com for my "sushi kit", dried exotic mushrooms, & all sort of cool spices and condiments; www.amazon.com (especially for (used) books & cookbooks); www.bestkimchi.com who will actually FedEx Korean BBQ, Kimchi, & scallion pancakes from NYC; and even good ol' www.eBay.com, where I found a Hawaiian supplier of Japanese foods! In addition to stocking our Asian Pantry, I treated myself to a batch of winter reading material: Korean, Vietnamese, & Japanese histories, fiction, and cookbooks- & now we're cookin'- literally! (I just hope I don't put on 40 lbs. in the process!)
Speaking of things "foodie": We've just added a fab gourmet sea salt sampler to the Elkhorn Inn's Gift Shop: samples of 16 different sea salts, just like Chef Dan presents to guests dining at the Elkhorn Inn- and it's only $19.99! (This is the Elkhorn Inn's corporate gift this year, too, and our supply is limited, so please order early if you need holiday delivery). Please check out the Elkhorn Inn's Gift Shop for a great selection of unique, fun and AFFORDABLE gifts for the holidays- including hand-crafted coal gifts and ornaments, quilts, books, stained glass, jewelry, and gourmet jams, jellies, and relishes, that are all made by real people, right here in WV and VA! We have new embroidered logo spa robes, shirts, & caps, too- and we can include them (or any of our other gift shop items) with gift certificates for stays at the Inn & Chef Dan Dinners! Have fun shopping for the holidays- and let us know what you think! :-)

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