Birthday Dinner Party- Part 3, Leftovers

The morning after my amazing birthday dinner party, I woke up with a slight hangover and trudged over to the kitchen.  Although my friends helped me wash the dishes, there was still a lot of cleaning up that needed to be done.  I looked around at the aftermath of the party and smiled – empty bottles of wine and champagne, birthday cards and gifts on the floor by the fireplace, the guitar casually resting on my couch, half empty champagne flutes in random places around the living room, the aluminum cylinder planter that was severely bent out of shape from using it as a drum during an impromptu jam session, and lots of dirty footprints on the kitchen tiles from the heavy foot traffic.  It was a raging party!

I was hungry, but my stomach had too much rich food and alcohol the night before, so I was craving comfort food.  Something Asian, something that would hit the spot.  I looked inside the fridge to see what I could eat.  There were 4 pork legs left over from the pig feast, and I remembered back to the numerous times that I visited Ruen Pair in Thai Town in the middle of the night for Khao Kha Moo.  It’s my favorite dish there, and it always hits the spot.  I got inspired and motivated to make it that day. 

Khao Kha Moo, stewed pork leg over rice, is a popular street food in Thailand.  It’s usually made with a fresh hunk of pork shank, but I figured that these roasted piglet legs would do just fine.  I crushed garlic cloves and Szechuan peppercorns in my granite mortar into a paste. 

I placed the pork legs into my beloved Le Creuset dutch oven and added water, black soy sauce, thin soy sauce, brown sugar,  Shaoxing rice wine and the garlic paste. 

In addition, I threw in some cinnamon sticks, star anise, black peppercorns and Chinese Five spice powder.  After bringing it to a boil, I lowered the heat to a gentle simmer and let it braise on the stovetop for a few hours.  The lovely smell of Thai pork stew filled my kitchen and permeated into the hallways.

After a few hours I opened the cover of my dutch oven to find this delightful surprise- rich, dark reduced sauce and tender meat that was starting to fall off the bones.  I stared at this pot in amazement and started drooling out of the corners of my mouth.  The skin and meat fell apart effortlessly, and I didn’t even have to use a knife to cut them for the dish. 

I bought a packet of pickled mustard greens from a market in Thai Town, and quickly boiled them in chicken stock.  I assembled the pork with these mustard greens over steamed jasmine rice, sprinkled fresh cilantro and stew jus over the dish, and served it with a green chili vinegar sauce.  I think it only took me 5 minutes to devour the whole thing.  It was delicious, and it really hit the spot.  Ever since Ruen Pair went under new management, the Khao Kha Moo hasn’t been as good there.  Thus, I can now confidently say that my Khao Kha Moo kicks Ruen Pair’s ass. 

I also had a ton of Mission figs left over from the feast.  I bought a whole carton, thinking that I would use it all in the seared foie gras dish, but I only used a half.  Figs are delicate fruits that go bad very quickly once they’re ripe, so I decided to make a fig compote that would keep in the fridge for weeks. 

I threw in these fresh Mission figs into my pot with a little bit of water, some left over red wine from the party, and a whole lot of port wine. 

I added some cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, a squeeze of organic honey, and let it simmer in the pot for a while until the figs started to become soft and mushy. 

That evening, and for many evenings after that,  I enjoyed this luscious and dark port wine-fig compote over vanilla bean ice cream.  The dark and rich syrup was amazing with the vanilla flavors.  I’ve tried the compote with yogurt, pastries, seared duck breast and mascarpone cheese, but my favorite combination is vanilla ice cream. 

Left overs get a bad rap, but depending on what you do with them, they’re not so bad.  In fact, they can be amazing if you take the time to love them and nurture them.  All it takes is understanding how to cook them in a way that best represents their potential.  What’s sitting in your fridge right now, waiting to be transformed into something wonderful? 

Random trivia:  Did you know that khao kha moo was one of Samak Sundaravej’s favorite foods?  He was a famous celebrity chef and food critic in Thailand who became Thai’s Prime Minister in early 2008.  He even had his own cooking show called Tasting, Ranting that was a huge hit in Thailand.  Sadly, his term only lasted 9 months, after he was ousted due to controversial political and legal activities. Even more sadly, he just passed away a few months ago.  RIP.

We’ve already elected Hollywood actors as California governor and President of the United States.  It may not be too far in the future that one of our famous celebrity chefs becomes our nation’s next leader.  Bobby Flay?  Paula Deen? Todd English?

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Thai New Years

This past weekend celebrated Thai New Years or ‘Songkran’, also known as the Water Festival.  The wonderful thing about living in Los Angeles is that we can experience so many different cultural festivities like this.  The festival took place on Sunday in Thai Town, which is in Hollywood.  They blocked off a good portion of Hollywood Boulevard and lined it up with food stalls, karaoke stages, business and market booths, a beauty pageant event and a Muay Thai kickboxing ring.  There weren’t as many food stalls as the previous festivals that I’ve been to, but it was still fun to soak up the festive energy.

Thai Town

Thai Town

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Although this is a religious and sacred holiday, it has become known as the festival in which people throw or spray water at each other.  The throwing of water originated as a symbol for cleansing and renewal, but it has gained a reputation of becoming the biggest water fight party because it falls on the hottest month of the year in Thailand.  Not so in LA, though it was a bright and hot day on this particular Sunday.

People will usually go to a wat (Buddhist monastery) to pay their respects to monks.  I’ve been to Songkran at the large Wat Thai temple in North Hollywood before, and it’s a vibrant and lively festival.  On Hollywood Boulevard, there’s a different type of crowd representing Thai Town:

Festival entertainment

Festival entertainment

At Wat Thai, the temple grounds are usually teeming with hundreds of monks wearing their bright saffron orange and yellow garb.  In contrast, I only saw a few monks on Hollywood Boulevard, standing out against a background of dirty asphalt, iron fences and faded buildings.

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The smell of chicken, pork and beef satay roasting on the charcoal barbecue grills emanated throughout the streets. I love that dense smokey aroma of barbecued meat and fat unique to charcoal grilling.  It makes me salivate.

chicken satay on the grill

chicken satay on the grill

We shared a chicken satay stick, sausage, and grilled pork salad.  The grilled pork salad was garnished with red onions, fresh cilantro, scallions and a tangy chili sauce that was so delicious.

Street food

Street food

After watching people get their asses kicked in Muay Thai kickboxing, we worked up an appetite for more Thai food.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai

We went to a restaurant called Ruen Pair on Hollywood Boulevard that boasts comfort Thai food.  It’s a quaint little restaurant in a mini mall that is always packed with local Thai residents. The young coconut juice with fresh coconut shavings and grass jelly drink were both sweet and refreshing.

coconut and grass jelly drinks

coconut and grass jelly drinks

We got the combination egg noodle soup, stir fried morning glory and stewed pork leg.

Combo egg noodle soup

Combo egg noodle soup

The egg noodle soup had char-siu BBQ pork, duck, fish cake and fish balls.  It was pretty average; the kind you can expect to get at most Chinese restaurants.

The morning glory, sautéed with fresh garlic and soybean sauce, was absolutely heavenly.  I just love when the simplest of dishes hits the spot and makes my taste buds happy.  Morning glory, also known as on choy, is a hollow leafy vegetable that maintains a crunchy texture at the root when cooked just right.

Morning glory

Morning glory

The best dish of the day that just blew me away was the stewed pork leg, or Khao Kha Moo.  These fatty pork legs are stewed for hours so that the meat falls off the bones and the skin turns into a soft gelatinous mass of rich collagen that melts in your mouth and makes your skin glow the next day.

Stewed fatty pork leg with pickled cabbage

Stewed fatty pork leg with pickled cabbage

The sharp citrus accents and sour vinegar kick from the pickled mustard greens went extremely well with the intensity of the pork leg.  It really amazes me when I get to eat foods that are paired so perfectly like this.  The rice was infused with pork essence, and every bite of this dish was an intense mingling of wonderful flavors.  Lucky me, I got to take home the leftovers and have round 2 for lunch the next day.  Stewed pork leg from Ruen Pair, are you the love of my life?  Even better news is that Ruen Pair is open until 4 am.  It’s the perfect digs for those late night post-clubbing cravings. 

Ruen Pair

5257 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 466-0153

Random trivia: Did you know that the meat from the left leg of a pig is supposed to be more tender than the right?  Most pigs are right-leg dominant and scratch themselves with their right leg, so the right leg meat is more muscular and tough.  That is, unless it’s a left legged southpaw pig…