Taught two back to back classes at the Cookbook Company today – this morning we made cookies, and this afternoon, grazing (it has been a grazing sort of weekend) – spanikopita, Vietnamese rice paper rolls, mini toad-in-the-hole, pork satay with peanut sauce, candied pecans, Romesco dip, flax crackers, balsamic mushroom crostini with Asiago, goat cheese gratin, curried mango-coconut chicken in wonton cups, and nut, seed and honey clusters. We finished at dinnertime, and I went straight over to my mum’s with Mike, Willem, my sisters and their kids, to polish off the leftovers from their party last night.
The highlight of the evening was mid-meal; we were all lounging around the table, muching on leftovers, and I decided to go down the basement to check on W, who was playing foosball. I walk across the dining room, through the kitchen, and as I reach the top of the stairs hear a chorus of everyone’s voices, all yelling:
JULIE!! YOUR BACK IS ON FIRE!!!
See what you do when someone tells you your back is on fire, someplace you can’t see, nor reach, and you can’t get your hoodie undone. It never occurred to me that ‘stop drop and roll’ might be something that I’d ever have to actually do. All I could think was that my Mom’s cold tile floor looked really insufficient at putting out fires, and there was no giant cartoon barrel of water around for me to dunk myself into.
But as all these pistons were misfiring, my sisters both lunged at me, one of them smothering the flames with her arm, singeing her own sweater. High drama here, folks. Turns out as I was leaning against the buffet, my back got a little too close to my Mom’s giant silver candlabra. How relieved was I that 1) the flames licking up from my hood didn’t catch my ponytail on fire, and 2) someone actually noticed before I went down the basement by myself! Had I been engulfed in flames, I might have been shrinkwrapped in my Spanx. I didn’t expect a dinner drama with suspense and pyrotechnics.
Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls
Stuff these with anything you like – thinly sliced red pepper, pea pods, lettuce, crabmeat, blanched asparagus, bean sprouts, chives, jicama, mango, shreds of leftover cooked chicken or pork in place of the shrimp, or leave out the meat altogether for vegetarian rolls. All the measurements are approximate – you just need enough to stuff.
15 small-medium rice paper wrappers
100 g (3 1/2 oz) thin rice vermicelli noodles (about a handful)
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
15 cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
Half cucumber, peeled if necessary and cut into thin sticks
Small handful fresh cilantro, mint or thai basil leaves, torn up or left whole
1/4 cup chopped peanuts (optional)
To prepare the filling, place noodles in a bowl of boiling water and let stand for about 3 minutes (or as package directs) to soften. Drain well and place in a medium bowl. Add carrot and rice vinegar and toss to combine. Cut the shrimp lengthwise in half.
To assemble the rolls, fill a shallow dish (I use a pie plate) with hot water and lay a clean tea towel over your work surface. Soak one rice paper round at a time in the water for about 10 seconds, until it’s pliable, and lay it on the tea towel. Pat the surface with the edges of the towel to absorb any excess water. Place two shrimp halves (cut side up so you can see the pink through the wrapper), a stick of cucumber and some noodles down the middle of the round. Sprinkle with cilantro and peanuts. Fold over one long side to cover, then fold up both ends. Roll the whole thing up as tightly as you can without tearing the wrapper.
Use more or less broth to make this sauce as thick or thin as you like. If you like coconut flavor in your peanut sauce, add a teaspoon of coconut extract instead of coconut milk, which is high in saturated fat.
1/4-1/2 cup light or regular peanut butter
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar or honey
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar or lime juice
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. sesame oil (optional)
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. curry paste (optional)
Combine all the ingredients in a blender or jar and whiz or shake until smooth. Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve it. Makes about a cup.