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Archive for March 12th, 2011

I’m a little obsessed with spicy food, and by spicy I mean the hurts-so-good stuff that actually makes you sweat. Jarred jalapenos, fresh chilies and Tabasco sauce are all staples in my kitchen, and when I’m ordering at an Indian or Chinese restaurant I usually ask for “extra spicy.” Sometimes I regret it but as they say, no pain, no gain.

Back when I lived in Los Angeles the Vietnamese Steak Salad was my favorite go-to spicy dish and no one did it better than Daisy Mint, a cute little Viet café in my ‘hood of Pasadena, California. I spent weeks trying to recreate the dressing, which is the perfect combination of tangy and spicy and freshness. After a few kitchen disasters and more than my fair share of disappointment I think I finally nailed it!

You can find ingredients like fish sauce, rice wine vinegar and Asian chili sauce at most oriental markets (like Asia Market in Dublin). If you’re not a hot head like me, you can use less chili to suit your taste. And it should be noted that you can cook your steak to your preference as well; I prefer mine on the rare side of medium-rare – as you can tell from the photos – which I think works great for this salad. I have to agree with Elephant Castle’s chef Jack Duffy: Irish beef is so high-quality, I’d happily eat it blue!

Spicy Vietnamese Steak Salad

Serves 3-4, depending on hunger level!

Steak/Marinade

1 lb flank steak (or skirt steak – ask your butcher)

80 ml of low-sodium soy sauce

63 ml of rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon hot (not sweet!) Asian chili sauce

Salad

1 large head of crisp lettuce (like iceberg or romaine), torn into bite-sized pieces

2 tomatoes, sliced

3 spring onions or ½ red onion, sliced thinly

Small handful fresh mint leaves, chopped

Big handful fresh coriander, chopped

Dressing:

80 ml fresh lime juice

Small handful fresh coriander leaves, chopped

2 Tbsp dark brown sugar

1 Tbsp soy sauce, low sodium

1 Tbsp water

1 Tbsp Asian fish sauce, bottled

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 red chili pepper, seeded and minced (you can leave seeds for more spice)

Directions

Preheat grill or broiler.

Prepare marinade by mixing together the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and chili sauce. Place in a plastic container with the flank steak and let marinate for at least one hour.

Dressing: Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar or bowl; mix well. Set aside. Place steak on a grill rack or broiler pan coated with vegetable oil spray. Cook 3-4 minutes on each side for medium rare or longer until desired degree of doneness. Cover with foil and let stand 5 minutes. Cut steak diagonally across the grain into thin slices. Cut each slice into 2-inch pieces.

Prepare salad mixture (lettuce, tomatoes green onion, coriander and mint leaves). Combine salad mixture, steak and dressing in a large bowl, tossing to coat.

Enjoy!

Clare Kleinedler is a freelance journalist and writes about her transition from LA to Ireland in her blog, An American in Ireland.

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On Idiotic Movies

All right. I should have known better. I freely admit this: one does not go into a movie like Hall Pass expecting an empowering, feminist narrative. The fact that the title implies treating grown men like schoolboys – providing them with a ‘hall pass’ to excuse a temporary absence from marriage the same way one might be excused from class – is a dead giveaway.

But see it I did. So. Oh. Dear. Lord.

It’s not that it’s graphic – it is, but that’s not an inherent problem with movies. It’s not that it isn’t genuinely funny in places – it is, though sometimes the humour is of the ‘did they really just say/do/show that?’ It’s that it’s an inherently conservative movie which comes out wholeheartedly in support of marriage and monogamy while all the time having its characters resist all that goes with that. Sure, there’s something to be said for the idea of wanting what you can’t have – and for something becoming unappealing all of a sudden when a barrier is lifted. It doesn’t mean that the notion can or should serve as the entire basis for characterisation and plot.

The idea of two middle-aged men facing up to the reality of being able to hit on the kind of women they spend so much of their time ogling, and having that fail or be somewhat unsatisfying, lends itself to all kinds of comic potential. But a realisation on the part of Rick (Owen Wilson) that he doesn’t want to sleep with the girl he’s been chasing rings false. There’s more of a sense that despite permissions granted, marriage is marriage and that’s that. Which would be a fair enough point to make if we ever got a sense that Rick and his wife Maggie (Jenna Fischer) actually loved each other. A revelation at the end suggests there are some fairly obvious topics they haven’t even discussed during their years of marriage, and throughout the movie the occasional reference to the other never suggests anything binding them together apart from habit and familiarity. If this is real love, you can keep it.

I don’t mind schmaltzy. It’s idiot schmaltz that bothers me. I don’t mind movies turning out to be something different than expected – a love story hidden behind a wacky gross-out comedy – but it needs to work. I don’t mind a movie which suggests that actually women might ‘let’ husbands get away with certain behaviours because it gives them the opportunity to do the same. I don’t even – all right, I do mind that terrible conversation where the men congratulate themselves for making all their wives’ dreams (house, kitchen, children) come true, because there’s not nearly enough subtlety in the movie for this to be viewed ironically. I don’t mind rooting for two-dimensional characters – just as long as the film remembers that it’s dealing with stereotypes whose behaviour may be idiotic but should always make some kind of sense in context.

I don’t mind characters doing idiotic things – it’s characters who simply are idiots that bother me. The film knows the idiotic things are going on – that’s where the audience laughs. But the moments where it asks or expects sympathy or empathy towards the characters – where it asks you to root for them – that’s where it gets frustrating.

It’s not that I expect thought-provoking, moving storylines every time I go to the cinema. But I do expect even the most idiotic of films to have some sort of internal logic.

I know. I know. I should have known better.

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