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Bluestem's Torchie with Oyster Mushrooms, Braised Chicken and Tomatoes




If I have ever before complained of exhaustion, let me hereby call myself a weakling and a wimp, for I have not known exhaustion until now.


The move is done, it is over, thank heavens, and nothing got broken and we're still in one piece and all of our stuff is here, here in our glorious new apartment that I was scared I might have ended up overestimating, but now I can happily proclaim that, if anything, I underestimated just how big and light-filled and gorgeous it is.

The past few days have been a blur of boxes and crumpled newspaper and endless loads of laundry and dishwashing and happy sighs (we have a linen closet! a whole closet just for linens!) and frustrated looks ("really? You really had to bring that damn Rothko poster to the new apartment?"). The few times we've been able to stop and smell the roses have been at dinner, when we've taken our meal out to the balcony and sat at a little weathered table and chairs, eating in silence, watching the airplanes take off.


We've still got a long way to go, but we've found a home, dearest readers, and I am just abuzz with the glory of it all.

That pasta thing up there is the first thing I cooked in the new kitchen, after a week straight of take-out and a burning desire to get my fingers dirty with something other than packing tape. It was fine, nothing special really, and a little too complicated for such a plain, weeknight dish, but I got to use my new stove (which is actually really old - I'll show you pictures sometime) and go to the grocery store, where I promptly fell in love, both with the store and the nice people who work there (the checkout lady popped two white peaches into my bag after I paid).

The dinner might have been forgettable, but our first few nights in our new place, together, will stay with me for a long time. I'm just so happy.

Torchie with Oyster Mushrooms, Braised Chicken and Tomatoes
Serves 4

2 chicken drumsticks and 2 thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
8 ounces oyster mushrooms, cleaned and coarsely chopped
1 10-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes (and juices), crushed by hand
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup chicken stock or water
1 pound torchio, campanelle or other torch or bell-shaped pasta
Grated pecorino Sardo, for garnish
Chopped fresh oregano, for garnish.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pat chicken dry with paper towels, season liberally with salt and pepper, and set aside. Place a Dutch oven over medium heat and add olive oil. When oil shimmers, add chicken and brown well on both sides.

2. Remove chicken from pan and set aside. Add garlic and allow to brown slightly (15 to 30 seconds) then add carrots, onion and mushrooms. Sauté until onions are lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Add tomatoes, bay leaf and chicken stock. Bring back to a simmer and nestle chicken leg quarters into tomato sauce, spooning some sauce on top. Cover and transfer to oven to braise until chicken pulls easily away from bone, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

4. Transfer chicken to a plate and allow to cool; keep tomato sauce warm. Meanwhile bring 6 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil. Pick cooled chicken meat from bone and return to tomato sauce.

5. Cook torchio in salted boiling water until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain well and add to chicken mixture. Serve garnished with grated pecorino Sardo and fresh oregano.

Nick Malgieri's Supernatural Brownies


Nineteen boxes are packed, seven paintings are bubble-wrapped, and it still looks like I've got at least four more days of work ahead of me. In the meantime, is there anything worse than going to bed in a room with bare walls and boxes lining the bedside? I put a few things back on my bedroom walls and shoved some boxes out to the living room, making the middle-of-the-night bathroom run somewhat of a dangerous slalom exercise, but at least I don't wake up in the morning to a room resembling a mental health ward.

Speaking of mental health, I have some advice for the change-averse and move-phobic. First of all, on your last weekend in Manhattan, make some friends have you over for an unexpectedly raucous dinner party, where you find yourself belting out Tom Petty lyrics at the top of your lungs along with seven other inebriated souls at two o'clock in the morning, convincing you that this dinner party is by far the best dinner party you've ever been to, which then, instead of leading you to wallow in self-pity about the fact that you will no longer be able to walk home from dinner parties such as this one, leads you to start brainstorming ways in which your Queens apartment can be soundproofed for the next drunken singalong.

Second of all, invite a group of single men and your boyfriend over for a "clean-out-the-fridge barbecue" in which all the frozen beef and half-empty bottles of ketchup and mustard are turned into juicy, drippy burgers and the conversation degenerates so quickly that before you know it, you've been dispatched out of your own backyard into your living room, where you find yourself a secretly contented packer as the boys stay up late talking about slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails. Oh, and picking up chicks, natch.

Thirdly, have your boyfriend recoil in horror at the world's largest millipede, positioned conveniently in the corner of your bedroom and over your shoulder, then have him chase the millipede with a rolled-up Sunday Styles section around your room (that your boyfriend is 6 foot 5 and the room is 10 by 11 and littered with boxes only adds to the tragicomedy) until the millipede ends up on the end of the newspaper roll along with dust bunnies you didn't know you had, leaving you so disgusted that you think the movers can't come soon enough.

At this point, you'll be champing at the bit, I promise.


In other news, I thought you might like to know that we finished all the coarse-ground cornmeal in the cupboards this weekend - it was exactly enough to make a nicely creamy mound of polenta alongside some ratatouille and a broiled chicken breast for our last Sunday lunch in Chelsea. Throwing out that crinkled plastic bag was immensely satisfying. Not as satisfying, though, as finishing the last corner of Parmigiano (grated into the zucchini risotto at dinner yesterday) and definitely not nearly as satisfying as using up all the butter, eggs and brown sugar in a pan of brownies tonight.

Mmmmm. Brownies. Mmmmm-yessss.

Well, wait a minute. I don't mean to be an ingrate - after all, I've got fresh brownie smell wafting through my apartment - but these exalted brownies are cakier than I was hoping for and frankly, need. After all, moving week requires something darker and fudgier, something practically clay-like. No? Wouldn't you agree? There's a time for cakey brownies and a time for fudgy ones, and this just happens to be one of those fudgy times.


(Fourthly, consider how nice it will be, once you live in Queens, to be able to run upstairs to your friends' apartment and make them eat the other half of the brownie pan in return for a cuddle with their baby. Maybe moving ain't so bad after all.)

Supernatural Brownies
Yields 15 large or 24 small brownies

2 sticks (16 tablespoons) butter, more for pan and parchment paper
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark brown sugar, such as muscovado
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/2  cup chopped walnuts or  3/4 cup whole walnuts, optional 

1. Butter a 13-by-9-inch baking pan and line with buttered parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In top of a double boiler set over barely simmering water, or on low power in a microwave, melt butter and chocolate together. Cool slightly. In a large bowl or mixer, whisk eggs. Whisk in salt, sugars and vanilla.

2. Whisk in chocolate mixture. Fold in flour just until combined. If using chopped walnuts, stir them in. Pour batter into prepared pan. If using whole walnuts, arrange on top of batter. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until shiny and beginning to crack on top. Cool in pan on rack.

Housecleaning, or Three Recipes


Okay, we're going to veer a little bit off-course today. Because 1. I have to empty my pantry; 2. We signed the lease two days ago and had to fork over a pile of money, so big a pile that I wouldn't be able to buy groceries for new recipes over the next 10 days even if I wanted to; and 3. My CSA is keeping me so flush with vegetables that if I don't cook them every night, I'll be knee-deep in slop.

Besides, didn't someone mention wanting to see the fruits of my type-A labor? Ask and ye shall receive, people.

First up, we have a dish that freed me of a quarter-bag of Pennsylvania Dutch Egg Noodles that I bought when Ben was wracked with some kind of flu (the flu I like to call E. coli but that the E.R. doctor insisted was just a bug. Without having done a culture. While hitting on me as my boyfriend lay defenseless on the cot between us. Thanks a lot, doc.) and that had been sitting in my pantry for at least a year.

You take a small onion (or a quarter of a Vidalia onion), dice it up, and fry it gently in a pan with olive oil until softened and translucent. Then you add three small zucchini that you've diced largely. Turn up the heat a bit so that the zucchini start taking on color and the onion sizzles and it all smells delightful. Start boiling your well-salted pasta water in the meantime. When the zucchini have colored quite well all over, add a handful of torn basil leaves and a handful of torn mint leaves along with a good pinch of salt. Flipping it all together with a spatula, cook the zucchini mixture until it's fragrant. Dump the egg noodles into the boiling water (a few handfuls were enough for two plates). Pull out a bottle of balsamic vinegar, add a spoonful to the zucchini mixture and cook it down, stirring all the while. There shouldn't be any liquid left in the pan. Drain the pasta and add the noodles to the pan of zucchini (adding some pasta water if necessary). Toss them together, grate a substantial amount of Parmigiano on top and eat while piping hot.

It's fresh and sweet and has just enough of that sixth sense deliciousness from the cooked-down vinegar and funky cheese.

Next, we have tomatoes filled with rice - an Italian classic that I am utterly obsessed with and don't eat nearly enough of. You take four large tomatoes (these are the first non-greenhouse ones I've found at the market this year, from my favorite New Jersey ladies in Union Square, and they are fantastic), cut the tops off and scoop out the insides, which you then chop up and reserve (along with all the liquid and seeds). Dice a small onion, or another quarter of the Vidalia onion you used for the dish above, and saute it gently in olive oil. After it has softened, add 1/3 cup of arborio rice to the pan and stir that around for a few minutes. Chop the tomato pulp and add all of it, plus 1/3 cup of water, to the onion and rice, fold in a few torn basil or oregano leaves and a good sprinkling of salt, lower the heat and simmer the rice, covered, for 10 minutes. Heat your oven to 350 degrees, spoon the par-cooked rice into the tomatoes, put them in a small, oiled baking dish, top them a few breadcrumbs and a drizzle of olive oil, and bake for an hour and 15 minutes. The tomatoes will shrivel a bit and become incredibly fragrant and sweet. Let them cool for a bit before eating.

The rice is hot and sludgy and delectable and the tomatoes are sweet and caramelized. To gild the lily, you could slice up potatoes and put them around the base of the tomatoes before putting them in the oven, as the Italians do (who else can combine rice and potatoes with such success?) - they get all oil-slicked and tangy from the tomato juices - but even without the potatoes, this is one of my favorite meals.

And then, because I realize it was a little cruel to tell you about "my" crostata and then not deliver the recipe, here you go:

Mix together 150 grams of sugar with 150 grams of softened butter. To this add 2 eggs, the grated peel of a lemon, 200 grams of flour (depending, you might need up to 50 grams more) and half a packet of this leavening (Amazon calls it yeast, but it's not, it's more like baking powder). Knead this together until well combined, then let it rest on a board for a bit while you preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Pat 3/4 of the dough out in a tart pan or a buttered spring-form pan and cover the dough with jam of your choice (we sometimes thin the jam with a glug of brandy over low heat before spreading it on the dough). Top the jam with the remaining dough rolled into strips and woven, lattice-style. Bake until golden-brown and the jam is bubbling, 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature before eating.


As for these beauties? They're what I've been eating when I haven't been staring at my pantry with glassy eyes. They came as a delightful surprise from the kind and generous folks at ChefShop. They're Lapin cherries and are the biggest, plumpest, juiciest cherries I ever did eat. So good, in fact, that I can't bear to do anything with them but pop them in my mouth, one by one. I'd love to cook with them, make a pie or a clafoutis or even just roast them and serve them over cornmeal cake (using up the rest of my cornmeal, polenta and grits, somehow), but these cherries are too good for all of that. If you can get your hands on some of these, do.

I'm off, friends, to scavenge boxes now. I'll be packing this weekend, with a beer in one hand and a handful of cherries in the other, and apparently eating a whole lot of corn-based gruel. Enjoy the weekend and the recipes and I'll see you all next week!

Maggie Barrett's Crostata


Now that our move is imminent, that little monster inside me has reared its head, a little monster that spends its days reminding me to get rid of that old trash can Before We Move and to sell the dingy bike on the back patio Before We Move and to use up the almost-full bag of flax seeds Before We Move and to call every utility company I've ever known Before We Move and to start collecting boxes off the streets Before We Move. This little monster keeps me up at night and has Ben shooting me sideways looks ("what was I thinking? Don't we still have two whole weeks?").

It's just, I suppose, that I find moving to be such a disconcerting event, full of potholes where depression lurks, and never, ever predictable.

So I do my best to manage things, to keep myself afloat with tasks and errands and to-do lists. That way I can't, even for a moment, stop and contemplate that sickening feeling when you turn around in your living room just before the movers come and realize that your entire life can be summed up by a stack of boxes, a quilt-wrapped sofa (that you don't even like, for crying out loud, but after the move bleeds you dry, who's going to have money to buy a new one?), and a few dust bunnies. Even worse than that is the sensation you have after the movers have gone and you're alone in the new place and you don't yet know that the doors swing out, not in, so you stub your toe and it hurts, and the light falls on the parquet differently than it did in the old place and it's so quiet that you can hear people on the street seven floors below as they walk their dog and suddenly you're wracked with sobs because that place that you just left, that place that was mouse-ridden and dark and leaky and loud (so, so loud)? That place was home. And this place most definitely isn't.

Hoo hoo hee hee. Just typing all that made me a little dizzy.

So, as I was saying, I try to manage things, prepare myself, feel as much the captain of my own ship as is humanly possible and that includes an attempt to use up all the things in my kitchen cupboards. Because is there anything more annoying than being confronted with a half-bag of all-purpose flour when you're packing up and there are boxes filled with pots and dishes and forks, and then one box half-filled with a jar of honey, some cans of tuna and that packet of Italian cake leavening that you can't seem to throw away and that has now lived in exactly four different apartments in this city? Your frugality keeps you from throwing the flour out, but the practical you refuses to pay people to schlep half-empty bags of baking goods to an outer borough. No sir.

You therefore spend the weeks before you move strategizing on how to use up all the pantry goods before that fateful date. That this might add to your hysteria seems an afterthought. After all, you are being efficient and clever. And those are the hallmarks of a successful mover, are they not?

Last night, I used up my all-purpose flour, the remaining half-jar of homemade ginger-orange marmalade given to me as a gift, and the rest of my homemade butter to make crostata, using Maggie Barrett's recipe printed in The New York Times last fall. (The marmalade only covered a quarter of the tart, so I used some cherry jam for the rest.) Maggie learned her crostata in Tuscany, while I've been making a different, Marchigianian version since the beginning of time, taught to me at age six or seven by Carla, the daughter of a neighbor in my grandfather's village and the resident crostata expert, and recreated approximately 900 times since then.

Maggie's version is too salty and a little too refined for my tastes. Crostata is, after all, the humblest and most rustic of desserts. Simply a soft dough covered in homemade jam and a lattice top (or, in this case, an approximation of streusel, since the dough was too soft to roll out last night) and baked until golden and fragrant, it should be light enough to be eaten for breakfast and humble enough to nibble with a cup of tea in the afternoon.

This version was a little too heavy for my taste, but I'll be totally honest now: that doesn't matter a whit. Not today. Not when I'm feeling triumphant about my ever-emptying pantry and Ben has crostata to keep him quiet when I come home with yet another thing we absolutely have to do Before We Move. Which reminds me, does anyone have a recipe that will use up half a bag of flax seeds, some rye flour, five tablespoons of cornmeal and a half a bottle of cane syrup?

Serves 8

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough
1 teaspoon salt (this is too much, I'd use half a teaspoon at most)
2 teaspoons baking powder
14 ounces apricot, raspberry or other jam

1. Beat together butter and sugar until well-combined. Mix in the egg, egg yolk, vanilla and lemon zest, then add the flour, salt and the baking powder. Mix at medium speed just until the mixture begins to clump. Press the dough into a ball by hand, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

2. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow to warm slightly. Press teh dough into the botto and sides of a removable bottom tart pan, patting it until smooth and firm. Fill the crust with jam, spreading it evenly.

3. On a lightly floured surface, roll or pat out the remaining dough. Cut the dough into narrow strips and place them in a lattice pattern on the crostata, or break off pieces of the flattened dough to scatter haphazardly on the crostata.

4. Bake until the pastry is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes before serving. Serve at room temperature.

Deborah Madison's Pan-Glazed Tofu with Orange Juice and Warm Spices


In the last 62 hours, I have eaten:

1. Six bags of mini pretzels on four different flights.

2. Half a Subway sandwich whilst watching my cousin prepare for her wedding.

3. My very first Quiznos sub, which I hope and pray will be my very last Quiznos sub, at the Denver airport.

4. One steak dinner at the aforementioned wedding, while fielding far too many questions about my marital plans. (When your only female cousin gets married, prepare yourself for the hot seat, apparently).

5. Half of the world's most delicious blueberry scone at Brick and Bell Cafe in La Jolla. (Seriously, World's Most Delicious Scone Ever. I need that recipe. Need need need. And the other half of that scone, too.)

6. A bowlful of week-old cherries at 1:00 am this morning, standing up in the dark kitchen with eyes half-closed in exhaustion.

My first home-cooked meal in a week tonight, then? Plain rice, steamed zucchini, and tofu. I glazed the tofu with an easy, little sauce of orange juice and spices, which was nice, though not as good as this one. We ate in relieved and silent exhaustion and made a vow never to fly to California for less than three days again.

And if we do, we're bringing snacks. Vegetables and snacks.

Pan-Glazed Tofu with Orange Juice and Warm Spices

Serves 2

1 one-pound package firm or extra-firm tofu
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Cayenne pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Minced parsley or cilantro for garnish

1. Cut tofu widthwise into eight 1/2-inch-thick slices. Blot tofu dry between layers of paper towels. Combine juice, stock, sugar, spices and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet until shimmering. Add tofu and cook over medium heat until golden brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Turn, and cook about 5 minutes more.

3. Add orange juice mixture to pan and simmer, turning tofu once, until liquid reduces to a thick syrup, about 2 minutes. Transfer tofu to platter, and scrape pan glaze over tofu. Garnish and serve immediately.

I Heart New York

I love this city, I hate this city, I love this city, I hate this city. The city loves me, the city loves me not, the city loves me, the city loves me not.

How many other New Yorkers find themselves on this merry-go-round of affection and frustration? Does it happen to you daily, monthly, just on Mondays, or maybe when the weather's taken a turn for the worse? Perhaps a rat crossed your path last night, or this morning the subway stalled in the tunnel for the fifth time this week, or maybe the deli around the corner gave you food poisoning and you just can't take it anymore?

It didn't used to be this way. My first year in New York, I spent every day in a febrile state of joy: discovering the thrill of black-and-white movies in the afternoon at Film Forum, having Bloody Mary's for dinner at the Tile Bar, shaking Bill Clinton's handsome hand (have you seen them up close? those are some good-looking hands) at a book party, walking over the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset with goose-pimpled skin at the sight of a still-glorious Lower Manhattan, taking the bus all around town just so I could see each neighborhood all the way through, hearing the laconic subway conductor announce Times Square as the "crawwwss-roads of the world" on the way to work and seeing all my fellow passengers break out in a smile.

These moments and others made me feel like I'd won the lottery. I lived at the center of the world. I belonged here. I loved it.

After all, I'd dreamt of moving to New York since I was a kid - dinner at the Rainbow Room with my grandparents at the age of four (we had duck, I can still remember it), watching Henry V at the Paris Theatre the winter before I turned 13, seeing my father marvel at the kosher Indian vegetarian menu in Curry Hill, a Thanksgiving in college spent on the couch of a friend's cousin (he had a sunken living room, polished hardwood floors and a set of dreamy casement windows, lucky man) when we weren't criss-crossing the city in trains or walking through Central Park, feeling like characters in a Woody Allen movie - these moments all whetted my appetite for a life in The City.

And then the shock and horror of September 11th changed everything. For months, the sight of people falling from buildings was burned in my mind, funerals with bagpipes left me weeping on sidewalks, and I couldn't see an airplane overhead without my heart sinking in a sickening panic. Being here made me fiercely proud. But being here also made me enraged with grief. I read these obsessively. I couldn't stop worrying. I imagined my own death.

The wonders of the city couldn't reach me anymore, not when my neighbors, my New Yorkers, my people, were still being collected from a burning pile of steel and jet fuel and hatred. They could have been me, I could have been them. This thought was all-encompassing. It sometimes still is.

Another thought comes up, though: would the shiny, new excitement have simply started to fade anyway? Would the noise and the expense and the vermin eventually have become less easy to ignore? Was my love for this city like other forms of mad passion, eventually lessening and growing cold? Somewhere along the way, I got priced out of this city and a part of me is secretly relieved. I could use a break, I know it. But another part of me is terrified. I can't imagine life, a happy one (an accidental 8 months spent in Park Slope in '05 was nothing short of a disaster), outside of Manhattan. This is where I thought I'd always belong.

But that, dear readers, is exactly where I'm heading. In a few weeks, we're moving to Queens. It's official: on August 1st, we'll be living in Forest Hills, with more square feet than I can currently fathom, a balcony and trees out front, a kitchen with four whole walls and dear friends right upstairs (thank God). I'll only be 15 minutes away, but when I go to sleep at night, I won't need earplugs anymore.

I don't quite know what to think. I'm excited and I'm scared. Will I still belong to the city? Will it still belong to me? I've got new neighborhoods to explore: Flushing's Chinatown and the Queens Botanical Garden, the eateries of Jackson Heights and what I hear is quite a nice museum. But what I really hope to find is some of the inner peace that has eluded me in the past few years. I don't know if Queens is where I'll find it. But what I know for sure is that I'm getting a new adventure. And maybe that's all I need.

Dawna Nolan's Mango and Shrimp Salad


The wall of heat has arrived. Like a thick syrup, it's encircling the city. On days like this, what always surprises me is how strongly I seem to suffer from weather amnesia. It's been 98 degrees before - many times before, even - but when I first feel that wretched miasma of heat and filth, it's a shock to my system. And after I've gotten used to the sweltering sun, I wrack my brain to try to remember what winter feels like, but I'm not able to summon it. Because it's so hot right now that walking outside is an extreme sport and the existence of another time or place is like an impossibility.

Food in its simplest forms feels unthinkably frivolous when it's like this. I wake up and can barely muster the interest in a cup of tea. Lunch rolls around and I have to force myself to eat a piece of tofu and some greens. This is strange behavior for someone who can set a watch to her stomach growls, but the heat takes it all out of me.

And yet.

In a last-ditch effort to save myself from eating cereal with (cool, blessedly cool) milk for dinner, I plucked this Thai-style salad from the pile. The gravitation towards Southeast Asia couldn't have been much of a surprise - I don't know where you'd find more experts on hot-weather food. I wasn't lucky enough to get my hands on any of the Indian mangoes that finally came our way earlier this summer, but I substituted them with a few of those smooth, yellow-greenish, Haitian mangoes and promised myself that when I finally get around to going on that vacation in India I've been meaning to take for the past six years, I'll eat all the mangoes I can get.

(Was anybody else so lucky as to try an Alphonso or Banganpalli or Kesar when they were being allowed into the country? Those names alone! I'm bewitched.)

In any case, Haitian mangoes diced up and dressed with a fiery, sweet-sour dressing, then punctuated with salt-frosted peanuts, cooling leaves of mint, the appealing crunch of bean sprouts, and bright, tender shrimp is quite the hot-weather meal. You'll barely break a sweat preparing it and, more importantly, will feel entirely refreshed as you eat it. (And if you've got leftovers, roll them up in leaves of butter lettuce the next day for lunch. I won't be so lucky.)

Fridge-cold and hot-sour-salty-sweet - this salad was relief and pleasure in one.

Mango and Shrimp Salad
Serves 4

4 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from about 2 to 3 large limes)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 to 4 seeded and minced Thai chiles (or 1 to 3 serranos), to taste

1. In a small saucepan, combine the fish sauce, sugar and honey. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar and honey dissolve and the mixture is syrupy, about 1 minute.

2. In a blender or food processor, combine the sweetened fish sauce syrup, lime juice, garlic and chiles, and blend for about 30 seconds to a minute. Set aside. Makes two-thirds cup.

Mango salad and assembly
1 pound (medium to large) raw shrimp
5 to 6 large firm mangoes (about 8 ounces each), peeled, pitted and cut into medium dice
1 cup bean sprouts
2 tablespoons minced shallot (about 2 large)
About 1/2 cup stemmed cilantro, plus more for garnish
About 1/2 cup small mint leaves (if leaves are large, tear them in half), plus more for garnish
2/3 cup dressing, divided, or to taste
4 teaspoons chopped peanuts (unsalted) for garnish
Lime wedges

1. Peel and devein the shrimp under cold, running water. Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and add the shrimp. Poach the shrimp until just cooked (they will be pink and firm, and opaque throughout), about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Drain the shrimp; place them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain the shrimp again; set aside in the refrigerator.

2. In a large bowl, combine the mangoes, sprouts, shallot, cilantro and mint and set aside.

3. Mix about one-half cup of the dressing, or to taste, with the reserved mango mixture. Mound the mango mixture on four chilled plates. Toss the shrimp with the remaining dressing to coat. Divide the shrimp evenly on top of each salad and sprinkle about 1 teaspoon peanuts on top of each plate. Garnish with sprigs of mint and cilantro. Add lime wedges to each plate.