vanilla bean shortbread sandwich cookies with strawberry lemonade curd

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I’m in a funny time in my life right now. For example, on Wednesday, I ran out of vanilla extract, but I really didn’t have any money to replace it. But I did happen to have about five vanilla beans in my cupboards. So I used those. It was like using a real Windsor chair for firewood.

I used them in coffee cake, a chocolate chip skillet cookie, and these shortbread. They’re very chic, of course, because they use a whole vanilla bean, but you can just substitute a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, and they will still make you very happy.  If you’ve never bought vanilla beans, or have decided they’re ridiculously expensive, don’t lose hope before checking out Beanilla. They have the best prices around, and have a huge selection, which I’m sure they can tell you all about.  I personally don’t know the difference between the flavors of the Madagascar, Mexican, Tahitian, or Tongan beans, but I’m pretty sure they do.

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a classic revised: the big red barn

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big-red-barn-bookMy mom sent us this book a couple of years ago, and for some reason it was the only board book that made the journey here to Utah and didn’t wind up in storage. Needless to say, it is now a favorite. I love it because it uses Margaret Wise Brown’s lilting style, very similar to her book Goodnight Moon, which has been a favorite of all my kids. Another reason I love it is that it has been newly illustrated (well, newly, as in twenty years ago) by the wonderful Felicia Bond, who illustrated the favorite If You Give a Mouse a Cookie books.

I interviewed my son about why he likes the books today.  Sorry some of the pictures’ exposure is a bit off.  My son didn’t want to put on his shoes before going outside, and then when I asked him to stand in the shade, he told me his feet were too cold.  It’s a miracle I got the shots I did.

Anyway, this is how that conversation went:

me: What is the book about?
ckr: Barns, barns, barns.

me: What else is about?
ckr: Animals, animals, animals.

me: What is you favorite part?
ckr: When the animals say, (He makes a breathed in hiccupy sound)

me: Oh yeah?
ckr: Yeah

me: Which animals make that sound?
ckr: The roosters.

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me: Hm. What other animal do you like?

healthy and easy pad thai

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Yes, my friends. That’s what good Pad Thai is: pure happiness.

When my friend Julie and I were in England a couple of summers ago, we discovered how important it was to make reservations at restaurants on Saturday nights.  Unfortunately, we learned a little too late.  After we had sat in the Loch Fyne in Henley-on-Thames for about an hour, we realized getting a table might just take until the next morning.  We left and wandered in the drizzle to a nearby Thai restaurant.   Looking back on that night, I realize the Pad Thai we ordered was not that great, but since we were so hungry, and so tired, it tasted like food from the gods.

The very first time I ate Pad Thai was when Shannon made it for me.  She followed the recipe in America’s Test Kitchen’s The New Best Recipe.  Although I have never bought it on the streets in Bangkok, from what I understand, it’s pretty close.  It isn’t like some of the reddish, greasy versions of pad thai you find in American restaurants (or English restaurants, apparently), it’s lighter, tangier, and in my opinion, perfectly wonderful.

However, since I can easily down the full recipe by myself in one day, I decided it would be better to make with whole grain noodles instead of the traditional rice stick which is made from white rice.  I also cut back on the sugar by replacing it with Agave nectar.

The way I make this is a mixture of what I learned from that book, how I saw Shannon make it, and how I have adapted it myself over the years. I hope you enjoy making it.

The ingredients I list can be hard to find, but some of them are really crucial to the taste.  Since that is the case, I’ll give you links to some of the products for those of you who don’t have a nice Asian store to buy them.

fish sauce (If you’re kosher or vegetarian, though, go ahead and use soy sauce)

chili sauce This Huy Fong Sriracha is available all over the place, but if you can’t find it, you can order it, or just use a pinch of cayenne pepper. (But Connie, you can just leave it out altogether, the Pad Thai will still be great!)

tamarind Tamarind is the trickiest ingredient here, but it’s really essential. The recipe just won’t taste right without it. And usually it’s pretty hard to find (Thank goodness for amazon!).

The only other real option for substituting tamarind is tamarind paste. It will make your noodles darker, but it tastes okay. Here is a link for it, though it looks like amazon isn’t selling it right now. This was the brand I used when I lived in Colorado, though, and I found it at Whole Foods.

brown rice pasta

something quick and light.

fennel-salad

Instead of apologizing for not posting in ages, I am going to just pretend like I’ve been here all along.

I took the picture of this salad with a this new light I bought. I was having a big issue with the lack of light in my new apartment, but then Kamran over at TheSophisticatedGourmet mentioned these lights he had heard were all the rage for food photography, so I clicked over to amazon that night and bought it. I am pretty happy with it, though I think I might need two of them.

Before I forget, I am really excited about teaching a cooking class at Thanksgiving Point this spring. If any of you will be in Utah in the middle of May, then be sure to sign up for it. I am teaching a series of classes right now called “Entertain Your Family: Fun and Easy Ways to Impress the Ones You Love Most.” On May 20th, I will teach a class on how to throw a panini party for your own family, with recipes and ideas on how to make it really fun. It’s for people who have old kids, young kids, or no kids, so if you can make it, please come!

Click here to sign up!

Also, if you live in Utah, and would like to have me teach a class somewhere, please let me know in the comments section.