Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Try This at Home

Last weekend while visiting wine country with some of the Kellogg girls, I was exposed to the magic that is truffle salt.

I have, historically, struggled a bit with the truffle. Like blue cheese, it can occasionally (but not reliably) trigger a migraine for me. It only takes a couple of migraines before I am wary of an ingredient, and I had been avoiding truffles, truffle oil, etc. for some time.

Then, last weekend at Williamson Wines, I was served a tiny bite of cheese with a pinch of truffle salt on it to pair with my pinot noir and, well, things changed.

I got over the fear of a migraine. This stuff is just too good.

The result of this exposure was that I immediately purchased and have spent the better part of my cooking efforts this week experimenting with ways to use my $24 pot of black gold.

Here's a rundown for you.

Experiment 1: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese
My friend Emilie, who was part of last weekend's wine country festivities, is directly responsible for this because she works on this brand at Kraft. And I'm nothing if not a suggestible consumer.

The verdict: Three of five stars. Good fundamental idea, but salty. Really salty. I was gulping multiple glasses of water about an hour after this. But this would be an awesome pairing if I ever had actual truffles. Or if I ever buy some truffle oil...I bet you could sub part of the butter in the mix recipe for the oil. Yum. I may have to go buy truffle oil. Or make mac & cheese from scratch...Nah. I never have been a fan of processed foods, except for the blue box. I love it.

Experiment 2: Bread and Butter
I had read about this use for truffle salt online: just take some toasted baguette, spread a little butter on top, sprinkle with truffle salt, and voila.

The verdict: Three stars. Not bad, if you are desperate for a reason to use your truffle salt. I mean, this is good, and better than just plain old butter and sea salt, but it's not taking home any awards for creativity. And how often, really, am I eating just plain bread and butter. Not that often.

Experiment 3: Bread and Cream Cheese
I admit, I was on a bit of a carb binge and after Experiment 2 was a relative nonstarter, I decided to up the ante with a little cream cheese rather than butter.

The verdict: Not bad at all. In fact, surprisingly good. Somehow this was less salty and more truffle-y than the bread-butter combo. Three and a half stars.

Experiment 4: Salmon
I used the truffle salt in place of regular salt in seasoning a piece of salmon to be baked in a foil packet. After rubbing a bit of truffle salt all over the fish, I dotted it with a teaspoon of butter in little bits and sealed it in a foil packet. It baked at 400 for about 15 minutes.

The verdict: No stars assigned. Unfortunately, I overshot the baking time by about 5 minutes, so my salmon came out of the foil packet practically as if it had come out of a can. Don't get me wrong, I ate it, even though I couldn't help hearing that Fancy Feast "ding, ding" chime in my head as I did. The truffle scent was still around but that was about it. I can't fault the truffle salt for my cooking error, though. We'll have to take a mulligan on this one.

Experiment 5: Mashed Potatoes
Alongside the salmon, I served mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus (prepared using normal salt - it did seem a bit excessive - garish, really - to use truffle salt on all three meal components). The mashed potatoes couldn't have been easier to make: I boiled two smallish yukon golds, with their skins on. I then smashed them up with my pastry blender (potentially the only kitchen gadget I don't own is a masher because I never make mashed potatoes), added a little nonfat yogurt (about a tablespoon) and a teaspoon or so of butter, smashed 'em up some more, and seasoned them with truffle salt. This could not have been easier.

The verdict: Six of five stars. I ate the entire bowl. It is worth noting that I never eat mashed potatoes. Not even at Thanksgiving (although I know how we're making them next year!) This combo had the heady truffle aroma as well as the earthy flavor. Holy crap, these were amazing.

Experiment 6: Asparagus & Parmesan Frittata
Coming off the previous night's potato success, I felt good about my chances with eggs. After all, scrambled eggs and truffle salt are rumored to be like peanut butter and jelly. I wanted to incorporate a vegetable into my eggs, and given the options in my fridge, asparagus seemed the most likely to pair nicely with the truffles. So I made a frittata for one, using this rough plan:

Chop up some asparagus on the diagonal (I used 6 fat spears because I wanted a lot of vegetable in my eggs), blanch these for a minute or two in boiling water, rinse under cool water to stop the cooking, and blot dry. In a medium bowl, combine two whole eggs and one egg white, along with 1/4 cup of grated parmesan and 1/4 teaspoon of truffle salt. Add the blanched asparagus and toss to coat. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons of olive oil in a 7" frying pan. When hot, turn the heat to medium low and dump in the egg mixture. Don't touch the pan or anything in it for 10 minutes. When 10 minutes has elapsed, move the frying pan to your preheated 350 degree oven. Bake until the top of the frittata is set, about 5-10 minutes. Loosen the bottom of the frittata with a spatula and invert onto a plate. Dinner is served.

The verdict: Four stars. Not as truffle-y as I'd have liked but any more salt and this would have been like drinking from the Dead Sea.

The bottom line: For God's sake, make yourself some truffle-salted mashed potatoes. Stat!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Vacation Rental Kitchen Challenge

What is this? A blog post from vacation? Yes!

happy hour spread by the pool

Because even a crappily appointed vacation rental kitchen (but otherwise lovely rental home) can't keep me from a delicious homemade meal.

And since it's cold and crappy out today, I can take time away from the pool to write about it. A win-win. Sort of.

I generally love reading magazines (I may have mentioned this before) but I am not a fan of People, Star, USWeekly, etc. Instead my subscription list is more along the lines of: Vogue, Vanity Fair, Elle Decor, House Beautiful, Food & Wine, and Bon Appetit. Oh, and The Economist, but that's like the magazine equivalent of eating a giant bowl of Fiber One cereal.

It is common knowledge among the readers of House Beautiful magazine that their longtime food editor Ina Garten has decided to spread her fresh-food-with-lots-of-butter-and-olive-oil gospel elsewhere and Tyler Florence has taken her place. Don't get me wrong. I'm a fan of Ina's, but I do think she's a bit heavy-handed with the fats. I also feel she was reusing a lot of her already-published recipes for her HB articles and because I own several of her cookbooks, it was obvious and rather disappointing. On the other hand, I don't own any Tyler Florence cookbooks, so each month I'm presented with a new (to me, at least) recipe.

This month was no exception, and as I sat by the pool over the weekend reading from my stack of glossies, I ran across a Tyler recipe which looked absolutely delicious. And surprisingly do-able in our ill-equipped kitchen. It's not on the HB site yet but I'm sure it will be next month. In the meantime, here it is, with my notes and modifications.

Yes, you can make delicious food in a vacation rental kitchen. Also, note the silverware in this shot. That's my (grandmother's) pattern! Makes me want to polish it all to get it nice and shiny like it is here.

Pan-Roasted Alaskan Salmon and Morels with Spring Pea Risotto and Early Mint
Serves 4


Sea salt and pepper
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • Yeah, right. I love using grapeseed oil at home for high heat sauteing and searing, but we were not buying another bottle of oil here on vacay. We used olive oil and just dealt with the smoke. It was fine.
1 pound wild Alaskan salmon fillet, skin removed, cut into four portions, bones removed
  • The only salmon at the "good" grocery store here in the desert was farmed so instead we got fresh-never-frozen halibut which was quite good, if leaner and milder in flavor than salmon would have been.
1/4 pound whole fresh morel mushrooms, soaked in cool water to remove any grit
  • Again, fresh morels were not exactly available so we - and by "we" I mean "Mom" - forked over $15 for HALF an ounce of dried morels, which we reconstituted in about 3/4 cup of boiling water. She's taking the rest of the bag of morels back to Chicago with her.

4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 cups organic chicken stock
  • For this, we just used Swanson Natural Goodness broth which is low sodium and tastes ok. I would avoid the prepackaged organic chicken stock/broth by Pacific, Kitchen Basics, or any other brand on the shelf. In my experience the organic brands taste rather bad. Whole Foods brand is ok. The most important thing is to get the low sodium stuff.
1 cup frozen baby peas
  • Next time I'd add two cups to the recipe, more on that later.
My new camera takes much better pictures than the old one.
Hooray for improvements in technology.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 cup uncooked arborio rice
1/4 dry white wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • I only used one tablespoon since we had a full cup of cheese (!) in this
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • I bought this pre-grated at the deli - please do not get that Kraft shaker stuff!! - since I was unsure if we had a grater back at the house and didn't think to check before we left. Turns out there are three graters. Odd.
3 tablespoons fresh baby mint leaves
  • I don't know about "baby" mint but we bought regular mint - seemed fine.

Before we begin, a note: I think it is so very odd that Tyler has you begin with the fish and not the risotto. I read the recipe and thought that was crazy since the risotto takes twice as long as the fish. So, if you make this, I'd skip step 2 and go right to step 3 and then once you've added the second cup of broth to the risotto, get going on the fish. That's what I did and the timing was perfect.

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Season salmon (or, in our case, halibut) fillets with sea salt and pepper. In a large saute pan, heat grapeseed (ahem, olive) oil over high heat until shimmering. Sear the salmon for two to three minutes on just one side. 

Searing the halibut. I was surprised that the fish actually formed a brown crust on the bottom - exactly what I was looking for. I think the trick here is to blot the fish as dry as possible with paper towels before seasoning.

Add the morels, thyme, and lemon juice. Place pan in the oven and cook 10 minutes, or until the salmon is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.

I was not confident that the frying pan could go in a hot oven, given its flimsy plastic handle and thin nonstick coating. Once the fish was seared, I transferred it to a baking pan that I knew could handle the oven's heat added the other ingredients as directed.
P.S. This is just one of the many reasons it's worth it to invest in a good stainless steel skillet.
Unless you are buying pots and pans for a vacation rental, of course.
3. In a large pot,

(Ok, I don't know why Tyler has you using a large pot for this. A large pot is crazy. A two-quart pot is fine; all you have is a quart of broth and a cup of peas to heat. Maybe Tyler has BIG peas...)

add the chicken stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat (or high heat, if your stove is normal rather than professional). Reduce the heat and add the peas and cook for one or two minutes until bright in color. With a strainer, remove the peas from the stock and keep the stock at a simmer. (Covering it on a back burner on low, so it doesn't evaporate, is a good idea.)

Lacking an actual strainer, the slotted spoon made somewhat tedious work of the pea straining task.
   In a blender, puree half the peas until smooth and set aside.

This blender makes it easy to "visualize whirled peas." Ha ha ha.
Yes, I did read that on a bumper sticker once. Yes, I am nerdily excited to type it here.

I had to add some broth to the peas to get them to blend nicely. I then put them in the same container as the cooked, strained peas since they are all getting added to the risotto at the same time. Fewer dishes to clean!

4. In a large, deep pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallot and cook, stirring for one minute. Add the rice and cook, stirring for three to five minutes until the rice has darkened slightly and has a nutty aroma. Stir in the white wine. 

5. Gradually add the reserved stock, one cup at a time, stirring frequently until all the liquid has been absorbed before adding more stock.

As you can see, my straining job was imperfect and a few errant peas remained in the broth.
In a slight variation from the recipe directions, I recommend starting the risotto with one cup of broth at a time but after 2-3 cups are added and the risotto is thickening, add broth by the half cupful rather than the cupful for the last couple of batches.

I strained the morel-infused water and added it to the stock. Please note the iodized salt in the background - the horror! Next time I will bring my own kosher salt. It's hard to get a pinch of this fine-grained stuff, and it really does have a different (not good) flavor.
Stir until smooth. Fold in both the pureed and whole peas, butter, and cheese. Season with salt and pepper and stir well until blended.
Honestly, adding a cup of parmesan to anything makes it taste amazing. I was a little disappointed at this stage that my risotto wasn't as green as Tyler's was in the magazine photo. Next time I think I'll double the peas and reduce the parmesan to 3/4 cup.
6. Serve the risotto topped with the salmon fillet and morels and garnished with the mint leaves. Serve immediately.  

Mom also sauteed up some spinach and made a nice green salad, because we like to eat our veggies.

Love this "action shot" of mom's hand and the tongs. That lady moves quickly!

Then I got a little fancy with the plating. During which, I absolutely forgot to put the mint on. Oh well.

There were no leftovers after everyone went back for seconds. I'd call that a vacation rental kitchen success!


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ode to A Green Monster

I love Oscar the Grouch. Always have. Even as a young child, I found him so much more compelling than, say, Big Bird, whose naivete bothered me even as a three year old. Big Bird was, and is, a big yellow idiot. Grover wasn't so bad, mostly because he seemed to understand that he was doomed to screw things up constantly. I appreciated his self awareness in spite of his incompetence. And I liked Mr. Snuffleupagus, because he also seemed to realize that Big Bird was a moron. (Were we the only two? I suspect so.) But Oscar, oh Oscar. You had me at SCRAM! You're witty and charming, and your pet is a worm named Slimy. Slimy is, I am convinced, one of the most underrated characters on Sesame Street. Not least because he was clearly not slimy; he was obviously made of something like felt. Oscar, you slay me.

If Oscar the Grouch cooked Indian food, his favorite dish would be one of the things I cooked tonight: Broccoli with Indian Spices and Asafetida.

No, not because it tastes like trash. Because the colors and textures and the smell of one key ingredient make me think that Oscar would really be into this. Actually, it's more than that. If Oscar himself were a food, he would be this. It actually looks a bit like him.

I was a smidge worried this dish would taste like trash as I was subbing sometimes smelly broccoli for the much milder, sweeter cauliflower called for in the original recipe. But with a fridge full of produce and a looming vacation, I had to deal with what was on hand. There will be no trips to Whole Foods this week. So broccoli it was.

The asafetida was originally what had me thinking about Oscar the Grouch. The fragrance of this stuff is really hard to characterize. I wouldn't say it smells good. You do not want to get a big noseful of this stuff. It's no garam masala. Evidently James Beard once likened the scent of asafetida to fresh truffles. I personally feel it smells like Funyuns. I hate Funyuns.

One thing that's not in question about asafetida is that it smells. A lot. This is what has earned it such fantastic monikers as "devil's dung" and "stinking gum." The container my ground asafetida came in was clearly not airtight, so after a trip to the Container Store to, well, contain the smell, I felt ready to start cooking. Here's the recipe I used, adapted from Madhur Jaffrey.

Broccoli with Indian Spices and Asafetida

1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
generous pinch of ground asafetida
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 medium-small onion, peeled and cut into very thin rings
1 serrano pepper, stemmed and finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Put the oil in a large frying pan (I used my saute pan) and heat over medium-high. When shimmering, add the asafetida, then a second later, add the cumin seeds. Stir for 10 seconds or so and then add the onion. Saute until beginning to brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add the broccoli and green chili, then turn the heat down to medium, tossing and stirring. Add the ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and salt, and continue to toss and stir until evenly distributed, about a minute. Add the water and lemon juice and bring to a simmer. Then cover, turn the heat to low, and cook for about 5 minutes until the broccoli is just tender but not overcooked.

In the end, it looks like this:

And on the plate, it looks like this:

It's pretty good. Saucy, savory, with a delicate spiciness. I'd make it again. Oscar would definitely approve. I am sure he'd give it two thumbs down.

However, broccoli does not a dinner make, so I've got another recipe to share with you. This one courtesy of the farm box, which has provided me with more mangoes. I am slowly coming around to the idea of mangoes. I am not sure where or when but at some point earlier in life I decided I didn't like them. To be honest, I think I got them confused with papaya. Ripe papaya smells to me like the worst dirty baby diapers. Gag. Somehow, I think I lumped the mango into this unfortunate tropical fruit club.

I'm so sorry, mango. I had you all wrong. Can you ever forgive me?

The mangoes in the fruit basket on my counter have started exuding the most intoxicating scent the past few days. Which means I really need to use them. I found this fantastic recipe on Epicurious and co-opted the rice portion. I should preface this by saying I cooked this in my rice cooker. I love my rice cooker. I am terrible at making rice on the stove and my little Sanyo is a godsend.

This is not an attractive recipe. It's not supposed to be the star of the meal. That's ok. It's still tasty. It would really be very delicious with the yogurt marinated chicken suggested in the Epi recipe (but again, I had no chicken at home and I am not allowed to buy groceries this week. T minus 3 days to vacation, people!

Kate's Herbed Rice with Mango
adapted from Epicurious

1 mango, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 handful fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup brown jasmine rice

Prepare the mango and set aside in a medium bowl. Combine the parsley, cilantro, garlic cloves, cumin, salt, and cayenne pepper in a food processor and puree. Scrape down the sides, add the olive oil, and process until combined. Add the rice to the rice cooker along with the specified amount of water in the rice cooker instructions. Stir in the herb mixture. Cook until done. (Alternatively, if you do this on the stove, you can cook the rice with 1.5 cups of water and the herb mixture for about 45 minutes. But you should check that time - as previously cautioned, I am no good at making rice on the stove.)

Once the rice is cooked, combine it with the mango and toss to distribute the mango and rice evenly amongst each other. The end result is slightly spicy and slightly sweet. Really delicious.

Again, not much to look at, but really very tasty.

With a belly full of stinky broccoli and sweet mango, clean sheets on my bed, and a new book on my night table, I think it's time to bid adieu to the weekend. Good night! (Or, channeling Oscar: Have a rotten night! Now go away!)

Friday, March 04, 2011

Cracking Up

This morning I got up at the crack of dawn. Actually, it was the pre-crack of dawn, if we're being specific about it.

This is because most of my team sits in New York and they had scheduled a training session - one that, based on the subject line, seemed incredibly crucial to my job as it covers 95% of what I do all day at work.

The session was at 9:30am. On the East Coast. For those of you who are not good at math, that's 6:30am for me. That's earlier than I get up most days, unless I'm trying to catch a flight. Not cool. Not cool at all.

I decided the only way to get over my bitterness at being totally inconsequential to the decision to schedule this meeting was to treat myself. I hauled myself out of bed at 5:50am (oh, how it hurts) and stumbled down the hill to Peet's coffee to order a LARGE cafe au lait. If they had a VAT size, I would have ordered that. The brisk walk back up the hill helped wake me up and I then dialed into the WebEx, put my phone on speaker, and got to making myself some breakfast.

My super smart friend Leslie told me something really interesting the other day: the reason you feel hungover is not because of the alcohol, per se, but because the alcohol in your system prevents you from sleeping normally, so you actually wake up incredibly sleep deprived. Which is why if you can "sleep it off," you tend to feel so much better, not that I have any personal experience in this area, Mom and Dad. Ahem.

Anyway, it logically follows that if you are sleep deprived, you feel a bit hungover, even if you didn't have a drop of alcohol the night before. Witness my morning.

Thus, hangover food was required. My dear friend Meredith texted the other day asking about migas, so I had them on the brain. Migas is this incredibly delicious Tex-Mex breakfast involving, in essence, eggs scrambled with salsa and tortillas. There are all kinds of ways to gussy them up, but those are the basics.

Here's my own migas recipe. Please, please keep in mind that everything in here is approximate and if you decide to make these, you should really adjust everything to your own taste. Play around with this, it's hard to mess it up.

Kate's Migas for One
(Can be easily doubled, tripled, or even duodectupled to meet the needs of your crowd, should you have a crowd demanding breakfast)

Seriously, this couldn't be easier.

Essential Ingredients:
2-3 eggs
1 - 4 tablespoons salsa (Any salsa you like is fine, the fresher, the better. I really like to make migas with green chile-tomatillo salsa)
1 corn tortilla, torn into 1-inch-ish pieces (precision not required) or a handful of tortilla chips (crunched up) - Note, do not use flour tortillas for this part

Optional Ingredients:
~ 1/4 cup finely diced red or green bell pepper
~ 1 tablespoon finely diced onion or shallot
Half a jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed (or keep them if you want it HOT), finely minced

Accompaniments, For Serving (all optional):
Flour or corn tortillas
More salsa
Sour cream
Finely shredded cheddar or jack cheese
Whatever else you want

Saute any "optional" ingredients you are using in a bit of olive or canola oil until they are softened but not browned. Set aside to cool for a bit.

In the meantime, crack your eggs in a bowl and whisk with a fork to blend. Add salsa, salt and pepper. I recommend using about 1/4 cup of salsa for every 2-3 eggs. There aren't precise measurements here, you just have to go with it. Add the slightly cooled veggies and stir to blend. (You can also add a quarter cup of drained, rinsed canned black beans at this point if you want to.) Add the torn up tortillas and stir to coat all the bits. Let this mixture sit for 15 minutes or so, 30 minutes if you are using hard tortilla chips instead of soft corn tortillas.

Torn up tortilla example in front of the egg mixture. Sorry to provide pics so late in the process but it only occurred to me midway through the process to write about this. I blame the brain fog resulting from the early wake-up.

Then you just scramble this mixture like you would normal scrambled eggs. Once they are done to your liking, that's it!

Voila! (What's the Spanish for "voila?") Migas!

I topped mine with a little cilantro (which I also mixed into the eggs) and some yogurt in lieu of sour cream which is a tasty trick taught to me by a darling 2-year old. Try it!

You can scale this up or down as needed, I have made it with two dozen eggs before for a brunch party. Anything goes, so just find the combo of ingredients you like. It is a great way to use up those broken tortilla chips in the bottom of the bag. 

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Two and a Half

In a nod to the utter horror that is Charlie Sheen, this post is not about Two and a Half Men (a show that, in my opinon, used to be funny before the "half man" hit puberty, but I digress). No. This is about Two and a Half Indian dishes.

I'll explain.

I have been on an Indian food bonanza lately not least because my allergist, charming man that he is, put me on a yeast-free diet in an attempt to figure out if I have allergies to anything in the Kingdom Fungi (which includes yeasts, fungi, and molds). This eliminates a surprising list of foods - not just your typical yeasted favorites like bread and crackers, but also vinegars, wine, beer, liquor, cheese, and mushrooms (duh, fungi). And a lot of other things. A LOT of other things. It's something of a challenge to find interesting things to eat with such restrictions. Indian cuisine is proving a godsend in this regard.

The past few nights I have made three recipes which I have liked-slash-loved. One of the recipes I changed so much from the original, I'm not sure it's fair to call it Indian cuisine any longer, but it's still pretty darn tasty.

The lineup:
Liked: Blackeyed Peas with Butternut Squash (At Home with Madhur Jaffrey)
LOVED: Cauliflower with Potatoes aka Aloo Gobi (Epicurious)
Hacked but Still Loved (how can you not love your own kid?): Yogurt Sauce with Walnuts and Cilantro (Madhur Jaffrey Indian Cooking)

I am beginning to realize that a lot of the recipes in Indian cooking start the same way:
  1. Heat oil in a pan until shimmering
  2. Add whole spices, saute for a minute
  3. Add aromatics (usually an onion, garlic, ginger and sometimes a hot pepper) and saute until browned
  4. Add ground spices, saute for a minute
Knowing this, new recipes are starting to make more sense the first time I read them, as the process is always so similar. It's comforting, actually. I am beginning to feel like I can make anything in these books. Except maybe naan. Not quite there yet.

For the Blackeyed Peas recipe, I cannot emphasize enough how thrilled I was to take down one of the butternut squashes I got from the farm box a few months ago. It was a little on the small side, so I supplemented it with some butternut squash I had chopped and frozen from the '09 deluge of butternut. Truth be told, the frozen stuff had suffered some freezer burn and didn't taste as awesome as the fresh stuff. I think if it had, this recipe would have been outstanding.

There was one other thing I did which I think held this back from being amazing (instead of just tasty, as it was). The recipe requires soaking the blackeyed peas overnight, which I didn't do. I cheated.

Cheater, cheater, legume eater.
I know I paid the price for these substitutions in flavor, and that's a price I'm willing to pay given an acceptable end result. It's really asking a lot of me to plan dinner 24-hours in advance. I like to cook according to mood.

With those two subs, this recipe proceeds pretty much as all the others do. Again, it's published in a book rather than online, so I'm just going to give you the highlights.

Sizzle some cumin and fennel seeds in hot oil in a big pot. Add chopped onion, minced garlic, ginger, and jalapeno. I acutally used a serrano because for some reason the jalapenos at Whole Foods were gargantuan. Add a little tomato puree, handmade per Madhur Jaffrey's instructions that basically involve cutting a tomato in half and grating it on a cheese grater. Incidentally, this works great and whenever I need just a little tomato puree (1/2 cup or less) I am not opening a can ever again because all the rest of it just goes to waste. At the same time as the squash, add cayenne, salt, and butternut squash, diced. Simmer for 10ish minutes and add the canned, drained black eyed peas. Simmer another 10 minutes or so. And you produce this:

It's pretty good. The squash brings a little unexpected but not unwelcome sweetness to the dish. And the fennel seeds give it some meatiness, almost like there's sausage in here. It's really intriguing. I wish I hadn't removed the seeds and the ribs from my serrano as I would have liked a little more heat, but it was still good enough to eat for dinner and then lunch the next day.

So that was a good start for the week.

Tonight I branched out further, thanks to an unexpected farm box delivery yesterday that I thought I'd cancelled. My refrigerator is now busting at the seams with vegetables. I'm not kidding. I kind of wish I had a bunch of pet rabbits. Ok, not really, pet rabbits are totally gross. But that's how jammed full of produce my fridge is. In addition to full crisper drawers, the entire middle shelf is stacked 6 inches deep with veggies, apples, and citrus. Ah, winter.

One of the organic gifts bestown upon me this week was a head of cauliflower, which I actually love. It's so homey and hearty. Typically I like to roast mine with capers, a Martha Stewart recipe from the first cookbook I ever bought (but conveniently repeated in a 2006 magazine and therefore linked here). Sadly, capers are cured in vinegar and therefore outlawed on this yeast-free fiasco.

I was browsing Madhur's two books last night (well, the two that I own - she has written quite a few more)and ran across a recipe for Cauliflower with Potatoes. Madhur likes to use its full name so she has subtitled this recipe phool gobi aur aloo ki bhaji but when I was looking at other recipes for this online, I got clued in on its nickname: aloo gobi. Yes, I think I'll type that going forward.

In the end, it wasn't Madhur's recipe that I followed, although her ingredients are identical to the ingredients in the recipe I used. I was browsing Smitten Kitchen and found this Epicurious version of aloo gobi some time back, and it seemed far easier than Madhur's recipe which requires you both boil the potatoes and soak the cauliflower for 30 minutes. (Check out Smitten Kitchen when you have some time and are in a position to drop drool on whatever surface is in front of you. I'm not exaggerating when I say I kind of want to be this lady. I am making those goldfish crackers from today's post as soon as I can eat cheese again.)

Indian Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes
Gourmet, February 2004

Yield: Makes 4 side-dish servings
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

1 (1 3/4-lb) head cauliflower, cut into 3/4-inch-wide florets
1 1/4 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced fresh jalapeño, including seeds
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup water

 Accompaniment: lemon wedges

Put oven rack in upper third of oven and place a shallow baking pan on rack. Preheat oven to 475°F.

(Off to the races, and already I'm not following the directions. Absolutely forgot to preheat the baking pan. It didn't matter. I roasted the cauliflower and potatoes for an extra 5 minutes and it was fine.)
Toss cauliflower and potatoes together in a bowl with 3 tablespoons oil, cumin seeds, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread in hot baking pan and roast, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is tender and browned in spots and potatoes are just tender, about 20 minutes.

While vegetables are roasting, cook onion, garlic, jalapeño, and ginger in remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until very soft and beginning to turn golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Stir in water, scraping up any brown bits from bottom of skillet, then stir in roasted vegetables. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes.

Yeah, that's it. Pretty easy. This reminds me of the fourth grade.

Bear with me here.

When I was in fourth grade, we got a new student in our class. This was BIG NEWS, as most of us had been in class together since kindergarten or even nursery school. Not only were we getting a new student, but she was French. As in, moving directly to our little boring suburb from FRANCE. And she didn't speak much English. Needless to say, we were all more than a little bit fascinated. A couple of months after Raphaele showed up, I remember us asking her what her favorite food was. I think we expected her to say crepes with Nutella or mousse au chocolat (actually, that's what I would have said then) or possibly the brie and baguettes that we'd snacked on in our after-school French class. No.

I will never forget this conversation because her answer was potatoes.

Potatoes? You mean french fries?
No. Potatoes.

I obviously thought she was off her rocker. What 9 year old's favorite food is potatoes? What person of any age's favorite food is potatoes?? I was not just concerned for my new friend Raphaele, I was also profoundly concerned about France as a nation, a place where potatoes could be a favorite food. Next thing you know, I'd be discovering that those pricey Louis Vuitton bags are notleather. Oh, wait...

Well. Logo bags aside, Raphaele was evidently wise beyond her years. I spent many, many years being bored by potatoes. Mashed potatoes: boring. Baked potatoes: boring except for the toppings. But mostly boring. Fries: boring except for the dipping sauce.

But first those delicious scalloped potatoes last weekend and now this Aloo gobi and I'm hooked. Potatoes, I bow to you. And, coincidentally as I type this, the fine people on America's Test Kitchen are making aligot, which is what happens when the French get a hold of potatoes and are sans mandoline but have some fromage. How could I have ever doubted them? Naive young Kate! Again, as soon as I can eat cheese again...

Anyway. Here was tonight's dinner:

It looks a little sad on its own, don't you think? I mean, this doesn't really look like dinner.

So I added a fried egg (upper left), largely because I was too lazy to poach one. That's better.
You are probably wondering what that other thing is in the picture. That's the hacked half-Indian recipe, Yogurt Sauce with Cilantro and Walnuts, served over some Bhutanese red rice. I highly recommend picking up some of this rice if you can find it in your market. Whole Foods carries it here in the Bay Area. You cook it just like brown rice but it tastes about a thousand times better and more interesting. It's nutty and flavorful and aromatic. It's almost flavorful enough to eat plain, it's that good. In fact, the other day, I did eat it plain, wiht just a little grind of sea salt. Really, this stuff is great.

The Aloo gobi was a bit spicy so I decided to make a yogurt sauce accompaniment to eat over my leftover rice as a cooling counterpoint to my spicy veggies. I flipped through Madhur Jaffrey Indian Cooking (because it is not just a cookbook, it's also a picture book) and found a recipe that had at least a few of the ingredients I had on hand. That said, this had other ingredients I totally omitted, such as jalapeno and scallion. I subbed the cayenne and garlic for those. Close enough. Here's my version, which I think is delicious nontheless.

Kate's Yogurt Sauce with Cilantro and Walnuts

Makes about 3/4 cup

1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
1 ounce walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped
1/2 small garlic clove, minced
pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper

Mix everything. Add a little water to get a saucy consistency. I like to eat it over rice, but you could also dip pita or naan in it. The end.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Indian Recipe #2

I decided the other day that the "rule" for my 2011 ambition of learning to cook Indian food was that I had to cook at least one Indian recipe each month. Luckily, I've been on a real streak lately and have already gotten March out of the way! So check back soon for that post.

January - Chana Masala
February - Timatar Murghi (Chicken with Tomatoes and Garam Masala)
March -  You'll have to wait to find out. (So mean!)

After the successful Chana Masala, it felt like time to branch out and try cooking some meat, something I'm generally not that confident about. I am oddly phobic about serving not-fully-cooked meat. Especially chicken. I'm really good at overcooking chicken.

But back to making something with meat. Like any American lover of Indian cuisine, I had a hankering for Chicken Tikka Masala, because let's be honest, it's delicious. So very delicious. I found a recipe in Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking that sounded like it might be similar, without the dairy. We had a potluck dinner planned with friends the next night, and since my wonderful friends are so willing to be experimented on, Timatar Murghi it was.

I'm discovering that a lot of the Indian recipes I'm cooking tend to move fairly quickly once you get them started. Prep-as-you-go (or, how-I-normally-cook) is not really an option unless you want to burn things, which I know because I have. Prepping in advance, or if you want to get French about it, mise en place, is critical.  I'm so glad I bought these little bowls ten years ago - if you want to feel like a professional chef (and by the way, those people have their own sous chefs), I highly recommend you pick up a set, get your mise together, and then pretend like you didn't just do all that chopping and prepping and go to town as a good chef would. Orange Crocs optional.

I don't want to reprint the recipe for Timatar Murghi here since it came out of a book, so I'll just tell you the steps.

I heated some canola oil in my big Le Creuset pot. Once it was shimmering, I added these spices:

Bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, green cardamom pods.
Nothing too crazy.
Already, this is starting to smell wonderful, after a minute of cooking the spices in the oil.
Then, the aromatics got added: onions, garlic, and ginger.

A lot of garlic. 
Because I was making 1.5x the recipe to feed the potluck crew, this took 3 giant yellow onions. I cried lots of big, salty tears chopping those suckers up. And you would not believe how much minced ginger you can get out of a one inch piece of ginger root. It honestly seemed like half a cup. Between that and the garlic, I was a little worried about how pungent this would be.

They cooked down into this spice-and-onion deliciousness.

But damn if it didn't smell incredible. Once the onions were done, it was time to add the tomatoes, chicken, salt, and cayenne.
It looked like this:

After 20 minutes of simmering, it smelled so aromatic and amazing I had to take a peek under the lid.

Good things are happening in there.
And that's it. To finish it, you throw in a little garam masala, cook it for another five minutes, and done. If you are a fast chopper, you can get this whole thing on the table in 45 minutes, start to finish. The rice cooks in the cooker beforehand or while you're cooking this. And let me tell you, this is one hell of a lot better than one of those "thirty minute meals." I wanted to cook some of the liquid out as it seemed really soupy, so I let it boil for a few more minutes than I was supposed to until the sauce thickened up a bit. I burned the bottom of the pot a bit but it didn't seem to affect the flavor of the finished dish at all. Hooray.

Steam rising clouds the view of the yum.
I was a little worried that this extra cooking would make the chicken tough, but as it turns out, the chicken was perfectly fork-tender. I attribute this to buying organic chicken at $9/lb. (Gasp. Back of hand to forehead!)

We served the Chicken with Tomatoes and Garam Masala over brown rice (so very thankful I have a rice cooker) and alongside some yogurt and whole wheat naan and garlic naan.

At the potluck, Rayleen also made Beer Can Chicken, and Britta contributed one of her signature salads, where she pretty much just pulls whatever's on hand out of her fridge and somehow creates these amazingly delicious combinations of flavors. This one had spinach and feta and egg and I don't even know what else but it was awesome. But it was Rayleen who stole the show with the Scalloped Potatoes she made from this Tyler Florence recipe. I am ruminating on when I can make these potatoes again. Outstanding.

Here are a few highlights.

Fresh herbs in a Bud Light can. A sight you obviously see every day.

These are the scalloped potatoes, about to come out of the oven.
I can't even describe how good they are.
That cheesy crust is basically to die for.
You should make them. Immediately.
Voila! Le poulet!