Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Nalla Sappaadu has MOVED!

Nalla Sappaadu has moved!

It is now The Real Potato.

Please follow me to my new home at

and update your bookmarks accordingly.

See you over there!

The Real Potato

Thanks, all, for your blog naming suggestions! There were some fabulous ones (No Pappadums came close) but I think I'm going with something from a little further back in my personal history:

The Real Potato.

When we were in high school, my friend Kara had a dream in which she was in a grocery store where all of the food was plastic, except for one real potato. The potato had a sign pointing to it that said "The Real Potato."

For years we've been kicking ideas back and forth about doing something with that name. I think, in addition to being easy to remember and spell, it conveys something about what I'm trying to do with this blog.

I know that it's a little much, sometimes, to be simmering dal for an hour and a half or spending an afternoon kneading dough or breading zucchini, although often I find the process as rewarding as the meal. But what I'm trying to do is to make real food-- Slow Food, if you will-- in the middle of a sea of plastic food.

I work full time, as does Joe, and we live paycheck to paycheck. We're not the sort of foodies you see profiled in the New York Times, sitting in their Upper East Side co-ops arguing over whose olive oil is best. I don't think that's what real food is about. It's about finding things that are fresh and local and authentic, however you choose to define that, and putting love into what you make. It's about getting recipes from your grandmother, and your friends' grandmothers from around the world. It's about paying attention to your food-- how it tastes, where it came from, and what goes into it. It doesn't have to cost a fortune or take forever.

I've eaten plastic food my whole life-- I'm a working-class American. But I don't think that being working class means you have to settle for plastic (or high fructose corn syrup and red #5). And while more and more of our food comes from fewer and fewer sources, food-related problems like food allergies, diabetes, irritable bowel and celiac disease are on the rise. More people are being forced to look beyond processed food-in-a-box and find new ways to eat. That's what this blog is about. I've been looking for better, tastier and less harmful ways to eat for a while now. I'm looking for the Real Potato. I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Monday, July 9, 2007


Name this blog!

I used a gift certificate from work to pick up two food-related books this weekend: The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz, and The Indian Grocery Store Demystified by Linda Bladholm. Haven't cooked anything from the Mexican book yet, but it seems, in my limited understanding, like a reasonably comprehensive guide to Mexico City cooking. Should be fun. The Bladholm book...

OK, here's the thing about the Bladholm book. The introductory material is fairly Orientalist.
Here's an example of what I mean:

You pull open the door and a string of brass bells jangle, ushering you into
another land. The heady aromas of cardamom, black pepper, perfumed
incense, and rose-scented sweets fill the air. You are surrounded by
exotic provisions with colorful wrappers and labels. The strains of a
sitar resonate from a far corner. There is the rustle of a saree...
And so on and so forth. This is worthless at best and racist at worst. However, the explanations of various spices, their origins, uses and alternate names, are incredibly useful, as are the sections on cooking instruments and produce that are hard to find in the US. I'll at least stop confusing kalonji with black cumin!

If you're going to be in Philadelphia this weekend (and I am not), the White Dog Foundation is sponsoring a local food event at Yard's Brewery:

Yards Kick Off Event:

All Local Ingredient Cheese Steaks
(Pastured Beef and Veg.) * Hand Crafted Ales * Live Music * Dunk Local Food
Leaders in Dunk Tank

Sunday, July 15th 2:00pm - 6:30pm

2439 Amber Street, Philadelphia, PA. Located in the
Kensington neighborhood of Philly. The brewery entrance is on Martha Street
close to Hagert St.

There will be a dunk tank at the event in which Local Food
Leaders (including Judy Wicks) from Fair Food, Farm to City, Reading Terminal
Market, The Book & The Cook and The Food Trust will be submerged — that is,
provided you can hit the target.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Name This Blog!

Things are picking up around here. You lovely readers are starting to appear, and I'm having a great time writing about food. I've got some big ideas and I want to do some cool things with this blog.


While I love "Nalla Sappaadu," it's maybe not the greatest blog name. Non-Tamil-speaking readers can't remember it, and thanks to the magic of transliteration nobody can spell it. I hate to do it, but I think I need a new name, one that's easy to remember and would make a good domain name. I'll probably migrate to a nicer blogging site at some point too, but I need a name first.

So, dear readers, I need your help: what's a catchy, witty, easily spelled and remembered name for this blog? The winner gets... um... the people's ovation and fame forever! And possibly dinner, if you're anywhere near Philly.

Kheema, moong dal and chapatis

Back to the book! I made three recipes from the Jaffrey cookbook for dinner last night: kheema, a spiced ground beef dish; moong dal, a classic North Indian lentil recipe; and chapatis, a simple bread which I've done a few times before. Jaffrey recommends this combination, and I can see why-- the flavors mingled really well together. Also, they're both simple and good for leftovers, so we're pretty much set for next week's lunches now.

The dal has to simmer for an hour and a half, the kheema has to simmer for an hour, and the chapati dough has to rise for at least 30 minutes, so I made the dishes in that order.

The dal recipe is actually incredibly easy. I've made some fairly complicated dals in my time. When I first went on a gluten-free diet after being misdiagnosed with celiac disease, I was totally broke and didn't know what was safe to eat, and pretty much survived the first month on dal and rice. It's nutritionally fantastic and very versatile, but it can be an intricate pain to make. Not so much this dal. Anyone with a pot, a pan and an hour and a half can pretty much do this one with their eyes closed.

Get yourself some moong dal. The lentils should be split open, dark green on the outside and light yellow on the inside. Put 10 oz. in a pot with two pints of water, and boil. Clean the scum off the top with a strainer. Throw in a few cloves of garlic, some ginger (no need to chop), turmeric, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and chopped cilantro or parsley if you have it (I didn't). Turn down the heat, cover but leave a little vent open, and leave it for an hour and a half, stirring every ten minutes or so. Try to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. I was sure, initially, that this would run out of moisture, but it didn't. About ten minutes before it's done, throw in one lemon's worth of juice and some salt. Then, right before service, melt ghee in a pan-- about 3 tbsp-- and put in a pinch of asafetida and an equal amount of whole cumin seeds. When the asafetida starts to snap-crackle-pop, pour the whole thing into the dal. Sprinkle with a handful of fried onions and serve immediately, with a lemon wedge on the side.

While that's simmering: kheema. I halved the recipe, because two pounds of ground beef is too much for two people. This has both warm spices and a bit of heat. First, you need to fry some onion half-rings, because both this recipe and the dal are finished with them. Just put them in hot oil and keep stirring until they get nice and brown. You don't want them to burn. Make sure you start taking them out of the pan just before they are done, because these little suckers are slippery and you don't want them burning while you're still struggling to get them out of the pan.

Keep the oil from the onions. Throw in two bay leaves, a cinnamon stick and six cloves. Once the leaves change color, throw in a finely chopped onion, three cloves chopped garlic and a spoonful of chopped ginger (I admit it, I used the emergency ginger jar). Keep those going until things are just barely starting to brown, then add your classic North Indian spice mix-- ground cumin, coriander seeds and turmeric. Mix and fry. Then add a tablespoon of plain yogurt and stir that in very quickly. Give that a minute, then put in one chopped tomato. Fresh would be great, but I was out so I used canned chopped tomato, which actually works beautifully and even gives a slightly more consistent texture. Next time I use fresh, I think I'll run it through the food processor!

Give that a few minutes, then add the meat, chop it all up with your flipper, mix well with the sauce and let it start to brown. Then add your warm spices: mace, nutmeg, cayenne and salt, plus a few ounces of water. Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat, and simmer for an hour, stirring every ten minutes or so. If you are not making chapatis, what you can do at this point is go zone out in front of Law & Order, and get up at every commercial break to go and stir your pots. (I know, it's an awful show, but I'm addicted. You never know what character actor will show up-- Aasif Mandvi was on last night! Aasif-- if you're reading-- call me!) About halfway through the simmering, put the fried onions in (reserving some to top the dal) and stir. That's it.

Now for the chapatis. I was worried about having enough time, so I had Joe do most of the kheema prep while I kneaded chapati dough. I needn't have worried-- I had time to spare, as it turned out. Chapatis are the easiest Indian bread I've tried-- spelt flour and water in about equal parts, knead for 8 minutes, let rise for half an hour. Knead again, divide into 8 balls. Roll each ball into about a 5-6 inch circle, flouring all the while. To cook, put the chapatis, one at a time, on your very hot tava or cast iron pan. Once they solidify and start to get brown, grab with tongs and hold over an open flame until they puff. Brush with a bit of butter, and repeat with the next chapati. These ones came out fluffier than previous chapatis-- we had some excellent puffing action this time.

All this should be served with rice, by the way. We still had some of this rice left over, so we tossed it in the microwave and it went perfectly.

So: rice, kheema, dal with a lemon wedge and fried onions, chapatis, Wild Goose IPA. Both the kheema and dal had a kick to them, more so than a lot of the food I've made from the Jaffrey book so far. Joe and I found our sinuses clearing by the end of the meal, but it wasn't so hot that the flavors were disguised. We were amazed at how well the flavors complemented each other.

I wasn't sure I'd like this dal. When I was growing up, most of the veggies we ate were of the frozen-microwaved variety or the slimy-okra variety, and I didn't like them one bit. My stepbrothers still tease me about the time I gagged over a bowl of peas. It's only recently, under the tutelage of a former-vegetarian husband and Indian vegetable-eating friends, that I've started learning to like my vegetables. (My friend Gagan's mom's okra blew my mind.) But I'm still a bit leery about anything green and savory. So when I was cooking these lentils, and they were very green with lots of brown liquid, and they smelled sort of pea-like, I was worried. But once I added the spiced ghee, I started to relax. And by the time it got to my plate, I was thrilled. The vegetable-ness of the lentils is balanced with the richness of the ghee, the heat from the spices, the tang of the lemon juice and the sweetness of the fried onions. The lemon juice, in particular, really made the flavors from the spices bright and vivid. There's a lot going on in this deceptively simple dish, and I have to say that I am now looking forward to eating this particular vegetable. I hope you're reading this, Mom!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee

Last week, the New York Times ran a great article on how to make cold-brewed iced coffee. Unfortunately, that article is now for sale at $4.95 as a "TimesSelect" article, and I still haven't convinced myself to subscribe to, so I'm afraid the link won't be much help. But I'm going to tell you how to make this stuff, so screw the Times and its for-profit archive.

The article explains that cold-brewed iced coffee is way better than the usual stuff- it's less bitter, and its flavors are more complex. I'm a big iced coffee fan, but I'd never heard of this before, so I was intrigued. One of Joe's coworkers also swears by cold brewing, so we decided to give it a try.

Iced coffee is usually made in one of two ways:

(a) you brew a pot of coffee, let it cool and pour it over ice; or

(b) you make a few shots of espresso, dilute them with cold water, and pour it over ice.

If you are fortunate, your local coffee shop will have some simple syrup on hand for sweetening-- otherwise, you'll find yourself sucking unmelted sugar crystals through your straw, which is not (everybody say it with me now!) good eats.

Cold brewing, however, is done thusly:

Get yourself a big glass jar-- a Mason jar would be perfect. Fill it with 4 cups water and 3/4 cup of medium-course ground coffee. (We got ours at La Colombe, a well-loved local roaster.) Cover it and let it sit on your kitchen counter overnight (at least 12 hours).

Strain it twice-- use a really fine strainer if you can. The Times recipe recommends "a coffee filter, a fine-mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth." We didn't have any cheesecloth, so we tried a paper coffee filter, but it broke pretty quickly. Joe (who did the actual work on this one) used our fine-mesh strainer, but found that the coffee still had a lot of sediment. Fortunately, I have a very resourceful husband. He took the top from our super-neato coffee maker, which has a very fine mesh filter, and filtered the coffee through it into a thermos.

This makes a coffee concentrate-- you dilute it to drink it, unless you're way more hardcore than we are. The Times recipe calls for a one-to-one ratio of water to concentrate, but we found that a two-to-one ratio of coffee to water was about right.

Joe also made some simple syrup-- great for iced coffee and also for cocktails. This is really easy-- get yourself equal parts sugar and water. Put the water in a pot to boil. While it's heating up, start stirring the sugar into it in small parts until it dissolves. Bring it just to a boil. You'll know it's ready because it'll be cloudy, and then suddenly start to clear up-- that means it's done. Put it in a squeeze bottle and use it for everything.

So: the finished product. Add your water to taste. You can drink this black even if you're not normally into black coffee-- it really isn't bitter. I still prefer mine with half-and-half and simple syrup. The result was a surprisingly flavorful coffee. We both used to think it was sort of silly how people would talk about a coffee as having 'chocolate notes' or some such wine-like descriptors, but now I kind of get it. This is good stuff.

Joe's coworker also recommended making ice cubes with this stuff, so that you can ice your coffee without it getting all diluted at the end.

Another yummy option is to add sweetened condensed milk for what my corner coffee shop (which is wonderful, by the way) calls a Thai iced coffee. They charge four bucks for it there, and this is way, way cheaper in addition to being really delicious.

Milk is $3.50 a gallon and rising-- that's way too expensive AND unrealistically cheap.

A quick tidbit: This article rightly condemns the fact that milk prices are soaring. It argues that this is the case because corn meal (cow feed, in other words) is rising in price due to the diversion of corn to the newly subsidized ethanol industry.

The article is absolutely correct in its argument that ethanol production is in fact not environmentally friendly. However, I would clarify that the overproduction of corn is so high in the US that it's not a matter of shortages; in fact, the push toward ethanol production is profitable because it allows agribusiness to grow the same amount of corn without the downward push on prices that is an inevitable result of overproduction. We produce too much corn; massive agribusiness producers receive huge subsidies from the federal government (subsidies originally intended to protect small farmers from the vagaries of the market); prices have to be kept artificially high in order to protect profits. Producers have for decades dumped billions of tons of grain (mostly wheat and corn) into the ocean in order to keep prices high-- an unforgivable crime in a world in which people still starve to death. But shipping free grain to, say, the Sudan wouldn't inflate prices; creating a new fuel industry that puts the grain glut to use does.

Furthermore, the article is right that ethanol production doesn't do a damn thing about global warming. Its carbon emissions are slightly lower than those of gasoline, but such massive quantities of fossil fuels are used in the production of the corn that the net lessening of emissions is negligible. (Agriculture produces more carbon emissions than any other US industry.) The only claim to 'sustainability' ethanol has is that it is a renewable energy source, unlike oil.

In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan's eye-opening tour through food production in the US, Pollan demolishes these claims-- and points out that the milk we drink, like other industrial food, is artificially cheap. Paying a dollar for a gallon of milk-- or even $3.50-- doesn't reflect the true cost to our health, our economy and the environment involved in the production of that milk.

So the next time you see a slick ad for BP or Shell telling you how very environmentally responsible and kind-hearted and lovable energy companies are-- don't buy it. And consider getting your milk from your local farmstand, where the cows might just eat grass, like their bodies are built to do. It'll be better for you, and the way prices are going this summer, it might just be cheaper.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Quick Chicken Molé Tacos

I wasn't going to blog this dish-- it's just too damn easy-- but then, maybe that's what you're looking for. This is a staple in our house; it's pretty much what I make when I don't feel like cooking. It is neither authentic nor Slow Food, but it is quick and tasty, and gluten-free as well. My friend Lynn was over last night, and we needed some ballast before going out for martinis, so this is what I made.

1 lb boneless chicken filets
Trader Joe's Red Molé Sauce
Shredded cheddar cheese (told you it wasn't authentic!)
Sour cream
Corn tortillas

Chop some chicken into 1-inch cubes. I used chicken filets from Trader Joe's-- a boneless cut is easiest. Heat a small amount of oil in your cast iron pan, just enough to cover the bottom. Throw in the chicken and let it start to brown. When it's not totally raw anymore, add a few generous spoonfuls of molé and stir to coat the chicken. (I'm looking forward to learning to make my own molé, but TJ's will do for now; you can also get good ones in the Goya aisle at your local grocery or Latin American foods store, but they won't be gluten free like TJ's is.) Cook, stirring periodically, until the chicken is cooked through.

Meanwhile, if you have a gas stove, you can make your tortillas tasty. Put a tortilla directly on the burner and put the flame on medium. Use tongs to flip it once it gets just a little charred. Try not to let it catch on fire. Do this until all of your tortillas are toasted and just a bit crispy.

(If you don't have a gas stove, put your tortillas on a plate, cover with a moist paper towel and microwave for about 30 seconds.)

Assemble tacos and top with sour cream and cheese. Tomatoes, lettuce, or guacamole are also good; if you want to be a little more authentic about it, top with chopped cilantro and raw onions. Serve hot, with cold beer.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Zucchini Parmesan

We're big on Italian-American comfort food at our house. Joe grew up in a traditional Italian-American family in New Jersey, and I'm from Pittsburgh, so this is familiar territory for us. (My standard is the version they make at Minutello's in Shadyside.) We picked up some fresh, in-season zucchini at the Fair Food Farmstand and decided to forgo the traditional Fourth of July grill-fest.

Zucchini parm is a relatively simple dish, but there are a few stages involved in its making, so it can be a little time-consuming.

First: get yourself some good, fresh zucchini. Ideally, it'll be from your backyard, but if you're like us and don't have a backyard, the local farmer's market will do. Three or four small ones will be plenty.

Next: Slice it lengthwise, as thin as you can get it. We used a mandoline to do the slicing, which makes things much easier. Make an egg wash in a bowl: two eggs, a splash of water, and some salt and pepper. Then spread some bread crumbs out on a plate-- you can use boxed, but we just threw some leftover bread into the food processor for a minute. Dip the zucchini slices in egg and bread them, then fry them in about 1/4 inch of oil until they are nice and brown.

It's helpful to have two people for this stage-- one breading and one frying. If you're slicing as thin as you can, you'll have a lot of slices to fry!

As you finish frying the slices, let them cool for a few minutes, then put a layer of zukes at the bottom of a casserole pan. Cover the layer with marinara sauce. (Yes, we used a jar-- the organic stuff from Trader Joe's is perfectly fine if you don't have the time to Martha Stewart some from scratch.) You can add a bit of cheese at this point-- parmesan is good; we used Idiazabal. Add another layer of zucchini, top with another layer of sauce. Repeat until you're out of zucchini. Top with sauce and mozzarella cheese.

Put the casserole in a 350-degree oven. It won't need long-- 20 minutes at most, but keep an eye on it. You just want to heat it through and brown the cheese.

Slice and serve hot with a glass of red wine. Good stuff-- tasty, soul-satisfying, and great for vegetarians.

Asian Spiced Tuna Steaks with a Black Bean and Red Wine Butter Sauce

Joe: We bought some nice tuna steaks at the Reading Terminal Market and I decided to try something new. This recipe is a variation of a recipe from Ming Tsai. He uses fermented beans and serves the steaks on a bed of potato salad. I used regular black beans and did a presentation where I layed strips of tuna steak on deep fried potato slices.

First I cut a potato very thinly. I fried the slices in some canola oil until they were nice and brown. Drain and set aside.

I ground three tablespoons of peppercorns (assorted if you have them), a tablespoon each of black cumin, cumin and coriander seeds and a teaspoon of chili powder in a mortar and pestle. Salt the tuna, and then coat in the spice mixture and set aside.

Slice one shallot and some ginger. Heat a small pot or saucier over med to med high heat. Add the shallots, ginger, a half cup of red wine of your choosing, a quarter cup of black beans, salt and pepper. You want to reduce the wine completely. After the wine is about gone, pour in a quarter cup of cream. When the cream comes to a boil remove from the heat to a blender. Blend on high. Add 3/4 pound of cold butter in one inch slices until the sauce is smooth. You can keep this warm in a double boiler.

Put a small amount of canola oil in a pan and get the pan very hot. Saute the steaks until the spices turn brown. You are looking for a nice crust and medium rare inside.

To serve, cut the steaks on a bias. Arange the potato slices on the plate and put a slice of tuna on each potato. Drizzle sauce on the tuna and on the plate.

Sarah: This was a tasty dish, and beautifully presented. I think the spice crust was a bit much-- it tended to overwhelm the tuna. This probably would work better with a thicker tuna steak-- ours was only about an inch thick, which makes it hard to get a nice sear and still be rare inside, and I think that a higher ratio of tuna to spices would balance the flavors better. Amazing sauce, though!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Serious spices at Chung King Garden

Strictly speaking, this is a cooking blog, and as such should not contain restaurant reviews. But why impose arbitrary limits? This is a blog about good food, and learning about cuisines that are new to me and possibly to you, and believe me, this restaurant delivered on both counts.

Chung King Garden is in Philadelphia's Chinatown, a few convenient steps away from Market East Station. When we lived in New York, Joe and I loved to explore Chinatown on the weekends, but when I was diagnosed with a wheat allergy we stopped going, with heavy hearts. Now that I know it was a misdiagnosis, I'm thrilled to be able to eat my way through Philly's Chinatown.

This particular spot comes highly recommended by my friend Lynn, who grew up in Taiwan and loves spicy food. Chung King is known for super-spicy, authentic Szechuan cuisine. She suggested we try out Chung King and get lots of different dishes, and if you know me you know I'm not about to turn down an offer like that. So Lynn, my friend Joel, and my husband Joe and I met up last night and started ordering.

The menu is long and involved, with sections for dry-panned meats, water-boiled items, soups, etc. There's also a page at the very back with "American Chinese Food," which is clearly for the tourists. I don't know how Chung King's General Tso Chicken rates, and I don't care. This is Chinese food far above and beyond what corner takeout joints deliver.

Joel is a vegetarian, so we ordered a mix of meat and veggie dishes. Lots of the vegetable dishes here do contain meat, but when Lynn asked in Chinese, the servers were happy to leave it out.

Ma Po Tofu: I've had this dish in its gloopy American form, and wasn't impressed, but this was divine. Cubes of creamy, silky tofu came in a light but fiery orange sauce, with dry spices sprinkled liberally on top-- black pepper and anise, definitely, and I think possibly cloves as well. They left the pork out, and I'm curious what that would be like, but the dish certainly didn't suffer.

Quick Fried Lamb: Visually, this looks the most like what Americans expect: a meat stir-fried with vegetables and served with rice. The lamb was sliced thin and surprisingly tender for having been quickly stir-fried. There were fried pieces of garlic and ginger as well as bamboo, and some seriously tasty wood-ear mushrooms. The heat was slow but intense. (Joe had the leftovers for lunch today and says that it got even hotter overnight.)

Bok Choy with Mushrooms: A non-spicy dish. This was very simple, just bok choy, mushrooms, and a basic white sauce, but the ingredients were fresh and the mushrooms had a savory, deeply satisfying flavor.

Loofah: Yes, like the sponge. This dish wasn't on the menu, but apparently it's a special fairly often, and Lynn asked for it. This is the outer part of the live sponge, stir-fried in a light white sauce. It has the color and texture of a honeydew melon, but the taste is more savory and green-vegetable-like. Lynn, who's had it before, said it wasn't the best example she'd had-- it gets slightly bitter if it's not very fresh. We all ate and enjoyed it anyway, though.

Chicken with Spicy Peppers: This is the dish I'm still craving today, even though my body is punishing me for eating so much of it. I've never had such a flavorful, addictive variation on popcorn chicken! The dish is simply tiny breaded chunks of chicken meat and pieces of dried red chilies, apparently fried quickly at very high heat. There's no sauce, and there doesn't need to be-- you just pick out golden brown bits of fried chicken from their hiding places among the peppers. It's very hot, and absolutely impossible to stop eating, even when you are very full.

We washed everything down with $2 Tsingtao-- I'm not normally much for lagers, but this had a pleasant fruity quality and really matched the spicy food.

Oh, and the bill? $63, for four of us, alcohol included. Can't beat that. The service was on the slow side, but they were friendly and helpful. It's a clean, pretty, roomy restaurant, and we spotted a karaoke room in the back. And it didn't hurt to have such excellent company!

I'm definitely looking forward to going back and experimenting-- there are lots of creative soups (tomato and scrambled egg soup? I'm in!) and after a couple of Tsingtaos you might even talk me into trying some organ meats. Maybe. Either way, I need more of that spicy chicken, just as soon as my system recovers!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Prawns, Kerala Style, and Rice with Whole Spices.

This was by far the fastest, easiest recipe I've made from the Jaffrey cookbook, and it was one of the most flavorful. This, my friends, is a winner.

We got a pound of small tiger shrimp at the Reading Terminal Market, along with some absolutely bursting ripe tomatoes from Livengood Farms. I can't believe how juicy and flavorful those tomatoes were.

OK. Chop two tomatoes and put then in the blender with half a cup of dried coconut, three cloves of chopped garlic and just a bit of ginger. I ended up also putting a chopped onion in there, because I neglected to tell Joe not to grab it. Didn't seem to have any negative effect, though!

Fry a finely chopped onion. When it starts to brown and get soft, add the paste from the blender, three tbsp of tamarind paste (my new favorite ingredient), half a cup of water, ground coriander, turmeric, cayenne pepper and salt. Mix, bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes.

Then throw your (peeled, deveined) shrimp into the liquid and bring to a boil again. Keep stirring until they're cooked. You're done. Simple.

As for the rice: Our foodie friend Nagesh made this for a party last week. (I hope he won't mind my giving away his culinary secrets here.) I may have missed an ingredient or two, but it was quite simple: five cloves, five cardamom pods, and a generous pinch of black cumin into the water just before turning on the rice cooker. Lots of flavor, minimum effort.

This was delicious! The shrimp were done perfectly, and the sauce was sweet and coconut-y. I thought the bitter edge of the black cumin was a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the sauce. It was a light meal-- we probably should have made some bread as well. Next time-- and believe me, there will be several next times for this dish.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Chicken in Light Sauce and Pooris

This is one of the simpler and quicker chicken recipes in the Jaffrey book, and it turned out very tasty. We used good free-range chicken from Godshall’s Poultry in the Reading Market, which has a better flavor and more natural texture than the hormone-pumped Perdue version. We used the breasts and legs for this dish.

First up: three tbsp of yogurt, one of tomato puree, and a cup of water, mixed well with a fork. I used Greek yogurt, which is absolutely terrible for you and incredibly delicious. Seriously, the texture is like ice cream. Next, ginger and garlic in the blender with a splash of water. No onions in this dish—I’ll have to remember that next time we run out of onions. The problem here was that the amount of garlic and ginger was so small that even the mini-blender was too big-- everything just flew to the sides. We ended up grinding it with the mortar and pestle, which worked perfectly well.

Brown the chicken in a small amount of oil in the bottom of a stockpot. I was careful to cook it a bit more thoroughly, since last time I found myself with underdone chicken. Set aside. Throw in your spices—a cinnamon stick, two dried red chilies, cardamom pods, cloves, and two bay leaves. Fry for just a few seconds, then add the ginger-garlic paste and turmeric. Fry for a minute, then put the chicken back in. Add the yogurt mixture, a tbsp of lemon juice, salt and pepper and mix.

Jaffrey says to bring to a boil and then lower heat, cover and simmer. I still don't really trust her on the whole boiling-yogurt business, especially when I can't whisk it because of the big chicken pieces. I brought it almost to boiling and then simmered it for 25 minutes.

While that’s simmering, roll out your pooris. These ones contained actual wheat flour—no more gluten-free stuff, woohoo! We've been finding that it's best not to make them too big and thin-- slightly thicker and maybe 4 inches wide is really all you need. The density allows the poori to sink into the oil for a second before it puffs up and floats, and you get a better puff. Our puffing went well, but they came out a bit too crispy. Joe’s getting really into perfecting the pooris.

We finished the pooris just as the chicken was getting done—go us. We served the chicken in a bowl with pooris, and it was damn tasty. The chicken was dark and flavorful enough to really complement the sauce, instead of just acting as a sauce conveyance device. It was quite filling and satisfying, especially paired with a Yard’s Philadelphia Pale Ale. And since it’s doable in half an hour and doesn’t require any onion chopping, I think this might become a work-night staple dish in our household!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Joe's Spaghetti and Meatballs, with WHEAT!

To celebrate Sarah's return to the wheat world I made a classic that has always been one of her comfort foods. Like most of our cooking, we find using fresh ingredients is the way to go. So, after work I stopped by DiBruno's and picked up some freshly made spaghetti and a nice loaf of fresh ciabatta bread.

For the meatballs:

1 lb ground beef
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 to 3/4 cups of bread crumbs
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste.

While preparing the meatballs heat a quart or so of red sauce of your choosing. I used to always make my sauce from scratch but in recent years there have been a number of jarred sauces come out that are quite good and preservative free. Last night I used Newman's Own Basil Marinara. Heat to a simmer over medium heat then reduce heat to low.

Finely chop the garlic or put through a garlic press. Add to the meat in a large bowl. Add half of the breadcrumbs and one egg. For the bread crumbs I cut up chunks of the ciabatta bread and put it in a 200-degree oven for a half hour or so. Then I put it in a mini cuisinart and pulsed it until I had bread crumbs. If you have the time, leave the bread out overnight. Mix well. (I find the only way to properly mix the meat is by hand.) Add the other egg and mix again. Then add breadcrumbs until the meat is solid and any slipperiness of the eggs is gone. You have to do this by feel, as the amount of bread crumbs necessary will vary depending on the moisture in the meat, the humidity that day, etc. Add salt and pepper.

Heat olive oil in a cast iron pan. Roll the meat into balls. The size is a personal preference. I usually get about 12-14 balls out of a pound of meat. Place meatballs in pan at least a half an inch apart. Brown on all sides. This will not cook them through. When browned add to the sauce that is simmering. They should be cooked through in 20-30 minutes.

About five minutes before the balls were done I cut up bread into four flat pieces about four inches wide. I put two cloves of garlic in a press and put them in a small bowl. I added a few tablespoons of olive oil and mixed it well. Then, I spread the bread with the garlic and olive oil and I put it under the broiler until crispy and brown.

I added the pound of fresh pasta to about 5 quarts of salted water. Fresh pasta only needs about 3 minutes to cook. It was wonderful. I have forgotten how pasta made with gluten has a slightly bread-like quality and is very springy compared to the gluten free variety. There are some very good gluten-free pastas out there but nothing equals fresh pasta. Also, real pasta is more filling than gluten-free pasta. I had forgotten this and got very full quickly.

Drain pasta, put meatballs in a bowl and serve. I topped mine with some Spanish cheese with a soft parmesan quality.

By the noises coming out of Sarah, it was a successful meal.

[Sarah's note: Yes. Yes, it was.]

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Staff of Life

Hi all,

I've been doing some traveling and working some weird hours, so it's been a bad week for cooking. However, I spent five hours at my allergist's office today and found out that I now have the all-clear to eat as much wheat as I please! After two years (to the day, as of yesterday) of scrutinizing labels, buying $6 loaves of bread, and pretending not to mind sitting in the corner with a Luna Bar while everyone else eats something delicious, my ordeal is over.

Of course, it only happened in the first place because of incompetence on the part of my doctor's office in New York, but that's a long story. Just go see "Sicko" when it comes out, or read this, and you'll have the gist of it. Health care in the US is a criminally twisted system, and going without wheat for two years, even with all the trouble that entails, is small gluten-free potatoes compared to what cancer patients and pregnant women go through on a regular basis. In this system, if you live to complain about your health care, you're doing all right. And that, my friends, is why I'm a socialist.

As far as this blog is concerned, though, the menu is about to expand! I'll post some good stuff this week. Promise.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tenderloin Filet Mignon and Fingerling Potatoes with Bearnaise Sauce

Another amazing dinner from my husband Joe, who has gone during the course of our relationship from a vegetarian to a steak connoisseur. This was amazing, largely because the quality of the meat and the potatoes, both from Trader Joe's, was excellent. I can't get over how flavorful fingerling potatoes are, especially when fried shallots are involved. Here's Joe's recipe:

Tenderloin Filet Mignon and Fingerling Potatoes with Bearnaise Sauce

Two 2 inch thick Filets
Salt and Pepper
1/2 Shallot
Half pound Fingerling Potatoes

Bearnaise Sauce:

2 Egg Yolks
Juice of one lemon
One stick of butter
1/2 Shallot
One shot of bourbon

Allow filets to come to room temperature as you prepare the ingredients.

Slice the fingerlings on the bias in about half inch thick slices while you boil a pot of water. Boil them until a fork slides in easily but with some resistance. Drain. Set aside. Chop a half shallot finely for the sauce and slice the the other half in thin half moons for the potatoes.

Generously salt the steaks. Heat a cast iron pan on high until it is very hot. At the same time heat another pan on med high and put a generous amount of veg oil (canola) in the pan to get nice and hot for the potatoes. Lightly coat the filets with a bit of oil. I just poured oil on my hands and gave them a little massage. To achieve a nice crust you want to use as little oil as possible.

Put the potatoes in the pan with the oil. Brown on each side and add the shallots toward the end. You want them to cook and crisp a bit but not burn. Place in a 200-degree oven to keep warm until time to serve.

At the same time put the steaks in the cast iron pan, which by now should be smoking slightly. Cook four minutes per side and remove to let the juices settle. The goal is a dark crispy crust on the outside and medium rare on the inside. It worked perfectly last night.

While the steaks settle make the Bearnaise sauce. Bring a small amount of water to a light boil in the pot you boiled the potatoes in. Put a stainless steel bowl over the pan as a double boiler. Put the two yolks in with a pinch of salt and whisk constantly over the heat. Remove from the heat from time to time. You don't want the eggs to cook and solidify. Whisk until they start to turn a light yellow. Add the lemon juice and whisk until the sauce is about doubled in size. Add the butter cut into 7 or 8 pieces. You want to keep the butter cold until it's time to add it to the sauce. Add little by little. The sauce should get very thick. Add the shallots and whisk some more (30 seconds or so). Add the bourbon (classically it should be white wine but I like this little variation). Turn off the heat.

Serve with Bearnaise sauce poured over the steak or in a side bowl for dipping. Garnish with chopped chives for presentation. We had none last night so we just poured the sauce on the steaks and a little dab on the side to dip the potatoes in.

We had this with a nice Argentinian Malbec from the Chairman's Selection (a great program by the PA state stores that makes high-quality wines affordable and accessible). A great meal overall if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Eating Beyond Sichuan

I'm back from Chicago and ready to cook tonight! In the meantime, read this: a call for real Chinese food in the US, from the Zagats, whose job I would love to have. From yesterday's New York Times. I'm not sure what sous-vide cooking is, since unlike the Zagats I am not a rich gourmet, but the few tastes of un-Americanized Chinese food I've had in the obscure corners of New York's Chinatown make me wholeheartedly support this call.

Eating Beyond Sichuan
Published: June 15, 2007

TWENTY years ago, American perceptions of Asian food could be summed up in one word: “Chinese.” Since then, we have developed appetites for Korean, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese fare. Yet while the quality of the restaurants that serve these cuisines, particularly Japanese, has soared in America, Chinese restaurants have stalled. For American diners, the Chinese restaurant experience is the same tired routine — unimaginative dishes served amid dated, pseudo-imperial décor — that we’ve known for years.

Chinese food in its native land is vastly superior to what’s available here. Where are the great versions of bird’s nest soup from Shandong, or Zhejiang’s beggar’s chicken, or braised Anhui-style pigeon or the crisp eel specialties of Jiangsu? Or what about the tea-flavored dishes from Hangzhou, the cult-inspiring hairy crabs of Shanghai or the fabled honeyed ham from Yunnan? Or the Fujianese soup that is so rich and sought after that it is poetically called “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall,” meaning it is so good that a Buddhist monk would be compelled to break his vegetarian vows to sample it?

Like so many other aspects of Chinese life, the culinary scene in China is thriving. As capitalism has gained ground there, restaurants have become a place for people to spend their newfound disposable incomes. Cooking methods passed down within families over the centuries have become more widely known as chefs brought the traditions to paying customers. Today, there are a number of regional cuisines known in China as the Eight Great Traditions (Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan and Zhejiang cuisines). Unless you’ve visited China, they most likely have never reached your lips.

That’s because the lackluster Cantonese, Hunan and Sichuan restaurants in this country do not resemble those you can find in China. There is a historic explanation for the abysmal state of Chinese cuisine in the United States. Without access to key ingredients from their homeland, Chinese immigrants working on the Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860s improvised dishes like chow mein and chop suey that nobody back in their native land would have recognized. To please the naïve palates of 19th-century Americans, immigrant chefs used sweet, rich sauces to coat the food — a radical departure from the spicy, chili-based dishes served back home.
But today, getting ingredients is no longer an issue. Instead, the principal obstacle to improving Chinese fare here is the difficulty of getting visas for skilled workers since 9/11. Michael Tong, head of the Shun Lee restaurant group in New York, has said that opening a major Chinese restaurant in America is next to impossible because it can take years to get a team of chefs from China. Chinese restaurateur Alan Yau planned to open his first New York City restaurant last year but was derailed because he was unable to get visas for his chefs.

If Henry Kissinger could practice “Ping-Pong diplomacy,” perhaps Condoleezza Rice could try her hand at “dumpling diplomacy”? China and the United States should work together on a culinary visa program that makes it easier for Chinese chefs to come here. With more chefs who are schooled in China’s dynamic new restaurant scene, we would see a transformation of the way Chinese food is served in this country.

Imagine, if you will, what it would be like to discover for the first time Memphis-style barbecue, New York deli food, soul food and Creole, Tex-Mex, Southwestern, California and Hawaiian cuisines all at once. Eating food prepared by an influx of Chinese chefs would be like opening up a culinary time capsule.

When authentic Chinese cuisines reach our shores, we can expect a revolution in ingredients and styles that will change the way we prepare food for years to come. Look how quickly our taste for offal, sous-vide cooking and tasting menus have grown. We have a much more ambitious dining culture today than we did 150 years ago.

So, we welcome Chinese chefs to share their authentic cuisines with us. American palates, unlike those of previous generations, are ready for the real stuff.

Nina Zagat and Tim Zagat are the co-founders of the Zagat restaurant survey.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Chana Dal with Lamb

This is the first real dal recipe I've done from the Jaffrey cookbook. It's kind of an unusual one, because it contains lamb, and also you don't let the lentils fall apart-- they stay whole and a bit al dente.

I know I say this a lot, but... this was easy but time-consuming! My Indian foodie friend Nagesh thinks that some of Jaffrey's recipes are needlessly complicated, which is interesting. It's certainly true that it's hard to make a Jaffrey recipe without dirtying half the dishes and pans in your kitchen.

First, you fry four onions' worth of onion half-rings, till they're brown and sweet. Don't burn them. Also, don't hover over the pot so much that your eyes start stinging and you have to call your husband over to help you scoop out the onions because you can't see. Not that such a thing would ever happen to me. Set aside.

Next, put your lamb chunks (we got some nice local lamb stew meat from the Fair Food Farmstand) into the hot onion oil and brown them on high heat. Set aside.

Meanwhile, you will have blended your Indian mirepoix (onions, ginger, garlic) into a fine paste in the mini-food processor. Dump this into the oil and fry for close to ten minutes, until it starts to cook off a bit. Then add your turmeric, coriander and cumin. Give it a minute, then stir in a tablespoon of tomato puree (I used paste). Next, the warm spices: mace, nutmeg, cinnamon and ground cloves. I hadn't used mace before-- it has a strong flavor and goes well in the warm-spice mix. Give that about five minutes, then add 4 oz chana dal, the lamb, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and a cup of water. Stir well, bring to a boil, and simmer for an hour, pausing your movie every ten minutes to stir.

Before service, stir in a few tablespoons of lemon juice. I served this with rice and topped it with the fried onions and chopped coriander, which made for a nice presentation.

This was delicious! It had a nice kick-- definitely the spiciest recipe I've made yet, which isn't saying much, but still. Tasty. The lamb was very tender, and the dal had this al dente not-quite-crunch to them that was very pleasant. The sweetness of the onions was a nice counterpoint to the heat and the richness of the lamb.

I'm packing some of this for my trip this weekend, and I have a feeling it's going to get very happy in the fridge!

-Next time, I think I can drain off some of the oil before putting in the mirepoix. It was a little oily.
-Good lamb really makes a difference. We were surprised at how meat-heavy this dish was- we actually used only half the amount of meat called for in the recipe, because that's what we had on hand, and it was still very meat-centric.
-Be careful when frying onions! I need some goggles or something. Except that if I actually wore goggles around onions, Joe would never, ever let me live it down!

Joe's Chuck Roast

So we bought this great big chuck roast from Livengood Produce's farmstand in the Reading Terminal Market. Livengood is one of the sustainably farmed, nature-based "grass farms" Michael Pollan discusses in his wonderful book The Omnivore's Dilemma. Their cows are raised eating actual grass and clover in a real pasture. They are treated humanely and killed humanely (to the extent that such a thing is possible), and the family who runs the farmstand sells only what is in season on their farm right now. They usually have a small cooler with whatever meat they have right now, and it is uniformly excellent. You know how sometimes, with commercial meats, the fat on the side tastes kind of gristly and awful? The fat on this meat tastes like... beef. And grass. And the meat is incredibly flavorful-- after you have a few of these, it's hard to go back to the nasty factory stuff. If you're in Philly, you need to check them out. The cute guy at the farmstand says they're having a customer appreciation day the last weekend in July-- who knows, if all works out, maybe we'll get CarShare for the day and head out there to check it out!

And now, the food. I had a really long day on Monday, so my wonderful husband did the cooking. He actually used to do almost all of the cooking before I started getting serious about learning, and he said he particularly enjoyed doing this roast.

Since we've stocked our spice cabinet with all manner of delicious seeds and powders, Joe decided to do a rub with some Indian spices, get the outside nice and seared, and keep it rare inside. It was delicious; we served it with fried potatoes, but I think it'll make excellent sandwiches. Here's his recipe:

Chuck Roast

2 Cloves of Garlic
Black Caraway Seeds (1Tbsp)
Cumin Seeds (3Tbsp)
Teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper
Fennel Seeds (2 Tbsp)

I didn't measure the seeds. I just put what I though would be enough to cover the roast. I put approximates in parentheses.

Put in cuisinart for five minutes or until well ground.

Generously salt the roast. Wait 5 minutes. Pour rub out on foil or in a bowl and cover roast with an even layer of the rub. Cover as much surface area as possible.

(Credit to Alton) Put roast in a 250 degree oven until the internal temp reaches 125-128 degrees. Remove from oven and cover with foil. Crank up the oven to 500 degrees. After the oven comes to temperature, put the roast back in and bring the internal temperature to 135-140 degrees. Remove from oven. Let rest for at least 20 minutes. Roast should have a nice crust and be medium rare inside. The time period will vary depending on the size of the roast. Ours took a total of and hour and twenty minutes.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pork chops cooked with whole spices and tamarind juice; Maya's Potatoes with Yogurt

It's a lazy Sunday in Fishtown, Mythbusters is on the tube, and the weather is cooling off. Time for some nice Amish pork chops and potatoes. I was raised on meat and potatoes; this is just a more interesting variation.

First of all, you have to get good pork chops. We get ours at L. Halteman Amish Foods in the Reading Terminal Market. The preparation is really easy-- time-consuming, because of all the simmering, but not difficult. (Which is actually a common theme in the dishes I'm making.) You heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of your stockpot, and brown the pork chops. Jaffrey says to do this in two batches, but I was halving her recipe-- she called for 8 pork chops, and there are only two of us. Still, I had trouble fitting all four pork chops until they cooked down and shrank a bit. Brown them, take them out, put them on a plate for a minute. Put in two whole garlic cloves, a cinnamon stick, a couple of dried red peppers, and some cloves, peppercorns and cardamom pods. Fry for a few seconds and then add a bit of salt and a cup of water. (You have hot oil going here, so I'd really recommend shielding yourself with the pot lid while you do this.) Re-introduce the pork chops and simmer for half an hour, turning occasionally. Things will be smelling really good right about now. When the half hour is over, time for the remaining ingredients. Jaffrey doesn't tell you to do this, but I took out the pork chops for a minute while I whisked in the tamarind paste, sugar and salt-- it just seemed like a real pain to mix otherwise. Reintroduced the pork chops and simmered for another half hour, turning occasionally.

Now for the potatoes. I didn't start them until I had the pork chops simmering, which was a bit of a miscalculation-- the chops were done well before the potatoes. Best to start these at the same time. I made these potatoes back at the beginning of this blog, and they were quite tasty. But between then and now, I've made a few spice-buying trips, so I had things like dried chillies, fenugreek, caraway seeds, and fennel, which were missing before. I also decided to do the variation with yogurt. (Jaffrey has you prepare Maya's Potatoes and then adds a paragraph about adding the yogurt.) You fry your potatoes till they're nice and golden brown, then drain the oil. If you're me, you'll lose control of the heavy cast iron pan and end up dumping some potatoes into the sink and almost burning your hand. If you're not me, you may be able to avoid this.

Next, fry your spices. Now, technically, you're supposed to make this mixture in the stockpot, then introduce the potatoes from the frying pan and simmer in the stockpot. However, my stockpot was busy simmering pork chops, so I had to be creative. I made the spice/tomato mixture in a small saucepan-- fried the spices, then added the onion/garlic paste from the blender (no ginger this time) plus turmeric, fried that for five minutes, added tomatoes and sugar, and fried that for five minutes. The mixture smelled absolutely incredible. I added it back into the frying pan and coated the potatoes. I added in a pint of water, then remembered that I was supposed to be halving the recipe and that it should be half a pint. Yeah, I'm not too bright. I compensated by cooking this uncovered for longer than called for, then covering. This gets about 20 minutes of simmering, all told.

When that's done, turn off the heat and let the potatoes cool for a few minutes. Jaffrey says to mix in the yogurt and heat on low heat, not enough to boil it (that would curdle the yogurt) but enough to heat it through. I found that the cast iron pan retained enough heat that merely folding in the yogurt and waiting for a minute was enough to heat the whole thing through.

Served with Flying Fish HopFish Ale. The pork chops had a nice flavor, but were a little dried out. Spooning the pot juices over the chops helped, but I'd shorten the cooking time next time.

As for the potatoes-- holy shit, you guys. We both ate too much because we couldn't keep away from these potatoes. I can't tell you how much of a difference having the right spices made. We could taste the fenugreek and caraway seeds. It had this wonderful toasty, complex flavor that wasn't there before. So nice. Oh my.

Notes for next time:
-Don't cook the pork chops for the full half hour each time. Not necessary.
-Remember, Sarah: cast iron pans are heavy.
-Spiciness! One of my continuing critiques throughout these posts is that whatever I make "could have been spicier." I'm thinking that Jaffrey, in writing an Indian cookbook for Brits, decided to be really conservative with the hot spices. She usually gives a range-- one to three chili peppers, to taste (optional). And when she does, I use three-- and it's still not that spicy. Screw that. Next time she tells me one to three, I'm adding four.

To be clear: I'm a recovering spice wimp. I grew up eating food with no spices whatsoever-- maybe some garlic salt if we were feeling really adventurous. When I went to college and started hanging out with Indians, my friend Deepa used to make her kebabs especially mild just for me, and I'd still be sweating and tearing up while I ate them. I've evolved since then, and I love spicy food, although I'm not a hot-sauce daredevil like my stepbrother AJ. In the last year or so, I've been deliberately trying to train my palate to tolerate hotter spices-- I plan to visit India in the next few years and I don't want to die! So: spice levels are going to rise. Be prepared.

I'm leaving on Thursday for the Socialism 2007 conference, and the food at the hotel is not allergy-friendly, so I'll be making several dishes this week to pack and take with me to Chicago. There's a big grass-fed chuck roast from Livengood Farms waiting for me, and some Fair Food Farmstand lamb stew meat that's going into a chana dal recipe. Mushroom dal is also on the agenda. Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Chicken with Tomato Sauce and Butter (aka Butter Chicken) and Chapatis

Hello again! Joe and I have had rough stomachs for a few days, so we haven't been doing much cooking. But I've been enjoying this experiment so much that I actually got a little twitchy after not cooking for a few days! I'm really finding it relaxing to cook-- I put on my apron and my music and just get into my "zone," you know? And I'm really becoming much more confident in the kitchen. I read a new recipe, in the New York Times or whatever, and I think "that would be easy." I'm more competent every week-- and it's such a gratifying skill to learn!

Anyway. On to dinner. I made this dish-- Butter Chicken, Chicken Makhni, or in Jaffrey's case, Chicken with Tomato Sauce and Butter, it seems to be pretty much the same dish wherever you go. This dish was popularized by a restaurant in Delhi called the Moti Mahal, which seems to be mentioned in just about every article about Indian food as it appears on non-Indian tables. Apparently the Moti Mahal introduced this dish in the eighties, and pretty much immediately went from being a no-name hole in the wall to being a famous, tourist-destination hole in the wall. That's exactly the sort of restaurant I seek out in New York City, so the Moti Mahal is definitely first on my list of things to do when I get to Delhi (whenever that will be). (On that note: if you're in New York, check out Fresh Dumpling in Chinatown, Kabob King in Jackson Heights, Jorge's in Ridgewood and Tacqueria la Fonda in Morningside Heights.)

This dish takes a while, but it's pretty simple. Indian mirepoix (onions, ginger, garlic) goes into the blender, along with lots of whole spices. There are several spices in the mix that are normally cooked whole and taken out-- bay leaves, red peppers, cinnamon sticks-- that are crumbled and put in the blender in this dish. Whole cloves, peppercorns and cardamom pods also go in. Blend all that into a paste.

Brown the chicken in the bottom of the stockpot. (You're supposed to use breasts and legs, but we used tenderloins from Trader Joe's, chopped into cubes.) Take out and set aside. Put the blender paste in and fry for 5 minutes. Add a pound of chopped/crushed tomatoes (we used canned organic tomatoes), half a cup of water and a teaspoon of salt. Boil, cover, simmer for half an hour, stirring periodically. Then add the chicken, simmer and stir periodically for another half an hour.

In the meantime, make your chapatis. I rolled them thinner than before, and they puffed up beautifully when Joe put them over the flame. He brushed them with butter (a bit too much, I think, given the buttery nature of the chicken dish) and kept them in foil.

When the second half hour of simmering is over, take 4 tablespoons of butter, cut into pats, take the pot off the heat and stir in the butter until it's melted. This changes the color of the sauce from red to orange, which is cool. Serve over rice, with chapatis. I had it with a Flying Fish Belgian Dubbel, 'cause that's just how I roll.

This was very tasty and very rich. Jaffrey has you put the spices whole into the blender, but I think next time I'll grind them with the mortar and pestle before I put them in. They didn't really break up in the blender, and we spent a lot of time trying not to bite into whole peppercorns. I probably could have gone heavier on the red chillies, as well. That, and not so much butter on the chapatis. But definitely a success.

So full...

Next up: masoor dal with assorted local mushrooms. Yum!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Two excellent articles

Two excellent articles on food and allergy-related subjects from Orion Magazine:

A Place-Based Malady
How we help create our allergic landscape
by Gregg Mitman
Published in the
May/June 2007 issue of Orion magazine
The scream of chainsaws gnawing through full-grown oak trees abruptly announced summer’s arrival in 1987 in the leafy enclave of Lake Forest on the Lake Michigan shore north of Chicago. Most residents of the exclusive historic neighborhood treasured the trees that shaded their mansions, but Laurence Tureaud wasn’t like most residents. Tureaud, known to Americans as Mr. T, star of the 1980s hit TV show The A-Team and Rocky’s nemesis in Rocky III, had moved to his seven-acre estate the previous fall, when the hundreds of oaks and other native plantings lay dormant. That spring, as the trees came into bloom, the six-foot-tall, 220-pound, well-muscled actor suffered terribly. Pity the fool, or in this case the tree, that tangled with Mr. T. Saying that allergies to tree pollen provoked him, the man who wore gold chains to remind him of his slave ancestors took action. With a chainsaw in hand and the help of hired workers, Mr. T cleared the property of more than seventy trees, many of which had been planted in the early twentieth century under the direction of famed landscape architect Jens Jensen.


The Tortilla Cycle
by Rebecca Allen
Published in the
May/June 2007 issue of Orion magazine
Rosa can, and does, make tortillas in the dark. The ancient generator needs a new belt and a prayer and can’t always be counted on to power the light bulbs of Unión Victoria, the Guatemalan village where I live with Rosa and her two young daughters. Rosa’s husband works in Florida. In his absence Rosa carries on, feeding her pigs, hauling firewood, planting crops, and making three meals a day. In the midst of all this, she insisted on teaching me to make tortillas.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Chicken with Sliced Lemon and Fried Onions; Pooris; leftover Potato Patties

This wasn't one of my most successful meals to date, but it was still damn delicious.

This particular chicken recipe jumped out at me when I was flipping through the cookbook last night, trying to decide what to make. It sounded so good, I couldn't wait to get home and make it. And after the last wildly successful round of pooris, I was looking forward to more.

I made the poori dough first thing when I got home from work. It needs at least an hour and a half to rise. I figured dinner would take about an hour, so I had half an hour to chill before starting to cook in earnest. Joe and I were both getting hungry, so I broke out the two leftover aloo-ki-tikiya from the other night. We browned them in the cast iron pan and got a nice crust-- they did, however, turn bright yellow, which tells you just how much turmeric I've been using in that pan lately. Seriously, turmeric is powerful stuff. My cuticles have been yellow since I started this blog! And even my Tide Pen, the most amazing stain remover known to humanity, isn't removing the yellow stain from the sauce I spilled on my knee tonight. I got myself a nice laminated apron with extremely cute cherries on it to cook in; guess I'd better start wearing it when I eat!

Anyway. The potato patties held together much better after having the benefit of a couple of days in the fridge. We split a Flying Fish Belgian Dubbel with them and it was an excellent snack.

And when we finished... time to start cooking. I got the chicken from Godshall's Poultry in the Reading Terminal Market-- I went for the naturally fed free-range chicken, and had them cut it into piece when I bought it. I have to say, the quality was high. You have to skin it; apparently Indian cuisine, at least as interpreted by Jaffrey, who's from Delhi-- isn't big on chicken skin.

Onions, garlic and ginger go into the blender with a bit of water. We've been calling this "Indian mirepoix"-- mirepoix (yes, we had to look up the spelling) being the mixture of onions, carrots and celery that forms the base of so much French cooking. It seems like most of the North Indian recipes in this cookbook use onions, garlic and ginger as a mirepoix. It's a wonderfully flavorful base, and I'm violently allergic to celery so I like this one much better.

Next: fry some onions in oil the bottom of a stockpot, and get them good and brown and crispy. Mine came out perfectly, I was very proud. Take them out and put them on a paper towel. Next, the chicken pieces-- I had to do mine in two stages to give them room to move around. What you want to do here is brown them without totally cooking them through, because they'll be simmering for half an hour later. Jaffrey says to do this quickly over high heat. In the end, though, my chicken was a bit underdone, so next time I think I'll take a bit more time browning the chicken.

Remove the chicken and put on a plate with a paper towel. Now for the fun part: the sauce. First, take your mirepoix and fry it for ten minutes or so, till it's nice and golden brown and your eyes no longer fill with onion tears just from looking into the pot. Then add the next classic spice blend, another one that is becoming routine for me: coriander, cumin and turmeric, with the coriander/cumin ratio about 2:1. Fry that. Then two tbsp of yogurt go in, one spoonful at a time. I added the spoonfuls and then whisked quickly-- it's not in the recipe, but it seems to do the trick when it comes to keeping yogurt from curdling over the heat. (Thanks, Joe.) Then a tablespoon of tomato puree (I actually used paste), whisked in the same way. Then your warm spices: cinnamon, ground cloves, cayenne and salt, plus 3/4 of a pint of water. Mix it, bring it to a boil, lower the heat, pop on a lid and go chill for ten minutes.

Next problem: I did not spend this ten-minute period chilling, as I should have. No, I thought it would be a good idea to plan ahead and roll out my pooris ahead of time, so that after I got the chicken simmering we could just fry them up and be done. I rolled out my pooris nice and thin, laid them on (spelt) floured parchment paper, and then went back to the main dish-- I added the chicken and lemon slices, a tablespoon of sugar and some pepper, mixed it, and put it on to simmer.

Joe really likes to fry the pooris, and I'm kind of a wimp about large quantities of boiling oil, so I like to let this be his job. (He also gets to chop the onions, so I owe him.) He got the oil nice and smoking hot, just like Jaffrey says, but had a hell of a time getting the pooris to puff up. Last time it was like magic-- this time, not so much. They kept coming out flat and hard. We speculated about what might be different this time-- and all we came up with was that last time, I was rolling the pooris out while Joe immediately fried them. Maybe they were drying out in the intervening ten minutes? Joe took a rolled-out poori, balled up the dough, and re-rolled it, and it puffed better than anything had so far. I took the few remaining ones and did the same. They still weren't beautiful like last time, but they did start to puff.

Fortunately, poori duds still taste really good. We ate them with the chicken, which had cooked down to a nice, thick, lemony sauce. The chicken was a bit underdone-- not enough to cause alarm, but next time I'll let it simmer longer. Still, it was really tender and flavorful, and I was glad I'd gotten the good stuff. And that sauce? Holy shit, you guys. That sauce was really good. We served it with rice and "poori chips" and Belgian Dubbel, and it was satisfying and tasty.

Lessons for next time:
-buy good chicken that actually grew up eating normal chicken food;
-don't let Madhur rush you on the browning;
-simmer for more like 25 or 30 minutes;
-don't roll out your poori dough until you're ready to drop it into the hot oil;
-don't spill anything that contains turmeric onto your favorite tan pants.


Sunday, June 3, 2007

Prawn Pullao

This dish is basically Indian jambalaya, and it's at least as tasty as the Cajun kind. This was one of the more simple, straightforward dishes I've made from the Jaffrey book.

Instead of just throwing the spices into a pan for this one, you mix them together in a teacup- a chopped green chili, turmeric, garam masala, chopped fresh coriander, lemon juice, salt and water. Heat some oil and fry the mixture for two or three minutes. (When I read the recipe, I questioned this step-- did Madhur just tell me to throw water into hot oil? But it's actually a pretty thick paste and it behaved just fine.) Next, take your peeled, deveined shrimp and cook them for about four minutes, turning them a bit to get them all coated in the spice paste. Once they're ready, set aside in a covered dish. Put 9 oz water in the pan and keep it on low heat, mixing and scraping up the spices. It won't really cook down into anything, but you're going to use this spice- and shrimp-flavored water to cook the rice.

In a pot, heat some oil and fry sliced onions until they start to turn brown. (This step is where the oil started really popping for me. I got a small burn from a particularly bad pop. Fortunately, I remembered the rule Joe taught me-- for oil burns, do NOT put your hand in water! Wipe it off with a dry cloth.)

Once the onions are looking good, add in the rice, followed by 3/4 pint of water, the flavored water from the pan, and a bit of salt. Mix, bring to a boil, and then turn the heat as low as you can, cover, and walk away for 25 minutes. I actually really like it when I get to simmer things for a long period like this-- I can clean the kitchen so I don't have to do it later, make bread or a side dish, or have a drink with my dinner guests.

When you open the pot, the rice should be nice and fluffy and smelling deeeee-licious. Put in your shrimp, fold them into the rice so they're mixed in, fluff, cover, give it another five minutes. Serve in bowls.

This was really tasty and satisfying. I'd actually like to make this again when we visit our family in Florida-- I think they'd love it, and you can get really fantastic fresh Gulf shrimp down there. It had a kick to it, but next time I'll make it a little bit hotter and serve it with raita (cooling yogurt sauce). Goes very, very well with a summery beer-- I had a Flying Fish IPA, Joe had their Extra Pale Ale, and we were both happy.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Lamb Chops in Yogurt with Whole Spices; Potato Patties (aloo-ki-tikiya)

For once, I actually made a lamb dish with lamb! Very exciting. And my dear husband Joe made a trip to the Indian grocery store, so we filled in a few of the gaps in our spice cabinet. (International Foods at 42nd and Walnut-- check them out!) I finally have cardamom pods and fenugreek seeds! Woo! And let me tell you, cardamom pods? They're magical. They smell wonderful and they add so much flavor to a simmering sauce... I'm actually a little annoyed with myself for making so many recipes with crappy-ass cardamom powder instead of the real deal. Sigh. No matter-- I have lots of pods now!

The lamb had to simmer for an hour, so while Joe was out returning our car, I started chopping. This was a deceptively simple dish. Here's what you do: Mix 4 tbsp yogurt with water and set aside. Brown your lamb chops in the pan. Set aside. Fry the spices-- a cinnamon stick, a red pepper, cloves, peppercorns, and a bay leaf. (We also got some decent dried red peppers-- the old ones from the grocery store in Queens just weren't giving off much flavor. These, on the other hand...) Put in your chopped ginger and garlic. (My ginger got moldy, so I had to break out the emergency jar. Yes, that's right, I keep an emergency jar of ginger in my fridge. What are you laughing at?) Fry for a minute, then throw in your chopped green coriander. Let it wilt for a bit, then put the lamb chops back in. Pour the watered-down yogurt into the pan, add salt, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and cover. Check it every ten minutes, stir a bit, whatever it seems to need.

That's pretty much it. This was nice and low-maintenance. The lamb came out really tender and moist and just a hair above medium rare. I realized just now, while writing this, that in halving the recipe, I got a bit confused and added too much water to the yogurt, which may be why the sauce was really thin. I didn't treat it like a sauce, more like a poaching liquid, and that worked out well.

Then there were the potatoes. Madhur Jaffrey recommends boiling the potatoes whole two hours before dinner, then chopping and mashing them about half an hour before showtime. But I had to work late tonight, and Joe had to run to South Philly to pick up a package from UPS, so our potatoes got chopped, boiled and mashed in quick succession. They sat for maybe twenty minutes while I dealt with their filling.

The filling: this is a recipe that requires some advance planning. You have to soak 3 tbsp of urad dal for 24 hours. The problem with such recipes is that I'm a total slacker, and if it's been a rough day and I have cramps and I worked late, I'm liable to put off the dinner I'd planned and order takeout. Which is what happened yesterday and the day before. So by the time I got around to making this dish, my dal had been soaking in a glass of water on the counter for three days. There was a funky, bubbly skin of lentil starch that had formed at the surface of the water, and the whole thing smelled like it might have fermented just a bit. But they looked fine and the texture was right, so I decided to give it a shot. (Very unusual-- I'm normally a bit of a paranoid freak when it comes to food safety. I've had some bad experiences.)

Turned out the urad dal was just fine. I put a few fenugreek seeds in hot oil-- those smell great too, by the way. Then I added chopped onions and a pinch of cayenne pepper-- the recipe calls for green chilies, but we didn't have any. You're supposed to let the onions get just a bit brown at the edges, then put in the coriander. I cooked everything at the correct heat, etc., and put the coriander in just as the onions got brown at the edges, but I found that by the time I'd reached for the coriander the onions were close to burning. I had to turn the heat down very quickly to save them. I was using the cast iron pan, which I suspect conducts heat better than the average frying pan. So dear readers, if I have convinced you to use cast iron (which, I admit, is one of the secret goals of this blog), keep that in mind. OK, so you fry all that for just a little bit, then put the (drained! not wet anymore!) dal in the pan and keep stirring for five minutes or so. Madhur says it'll all turn into one big lump in the pan, but that didn't happen-- I suspect she used a smaller pan than I did.

While you're doing that, your potatoes are resting. Wake them up and bring them over to a cutting board or other useful surface. Divide them into balls-- Madhur Jaffrey calls for 12, I halved the recipe and did 6. Now take a ball and flatten it in your palm. Take a spoonful of the dal mixture and put it right in the center, then gently, gently form the potatoes into a ball with the dal at the center. Then flatten it out (again, gently) so that you have a nice little potato pancake with a spicy dal center.

Meanwhile, put just a bit of oil in your cast iron pan, which you cleaned out after making the dal. Once it's hot, put the patties in. Make sure to leave them some room. I had six patties, but ended up only making four because I didn't have time to do two panfuls. (Pansful?)

Once the patties are in the oil, LEAVE THEM ALONE. 8-10 minutes. Just let 'em sit, with the heat on medium low. My potatoes were a bit less thick than I'd like, probably because we made them at the last minute, and I was concerned that things were so liquid-y that a crust wouldn't form. Silly me, I should have trusted in the amazing crust-forming abilities of my cast iron pan. The crust was lovely and golden brown. Once that forms, it's time for a flip-- a fish spatula (flat, slotted metal) is ideal, just be eeeever so careful when you turn them over. These have a tendency to break if you're not really gentle.

There it is, that's your dinner. Plate and serve. We had this with a Flying Fish Belgian-Style Dubbel, which I think went particularly well with the potatoes. The potatoes had a nice little kick from the cayenne, and the combination of crunchy crust, smooth inside potato and spicy, slightly crunchy dal was delicious and fun to eat. It went well with the lamb, too-- I still can't believe how tender that lamb was! We got it at Trader Joe's-- I'm always happy with their lamb chops.

Things to consider for next time:
1. When halving the recipe, halve the freakin' recipe. If you accidentally use twice as much water as you need, your sauce will be too thin. Duh.
2. Real spices make a real difference. As does freshness.
3. If Madhur says to do something ahead of time, she probably has her reasons. I saved the two patties I didn't cook tonight-- I'm going to make them this weekend and see how their time in the fridge changes their behavior in the pan. Purely for scientific inquiry, of course, it has nothing to do with the way they melt in your mouth... mmm... aloo ki-tikiya...

If attempting to describe a tasty meal turns you into Homer Simpson, that's a good sign, right?

There had been talk of grilled mangoes (Mexican, we still haven't landed Indian mangoes) and ice cream for dessert, but we ate late and then Joe fell asleep on the couch, so I think we'll have to save that for tomorrow.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A word about beef broth

I posted last night about my experience making the delicious-smelling (and -tasting) Sweet Rice recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's "An Invitation to Indian Cooking," my textbook.

When I made it, the recipe called for beef broth or stock. We didn't have any on hand, and I had no way of transporting my carless self to Trader Joe's and back quickly. Instead, I went to our corner market (like a bodega, minus the Dominican coconut cookies and beer). I bought two cans of College Inn beef broth, made right in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA.

Here's what was in them:

Beef broth, less than 1% of the following: monosodium glutamate, hydrolyzed corn protein, hydrolyzed soy protein, hydrolyzed whey protein (milk) and wheat bran protein, natural flavor, onion poweder, hydrolyzed wheat protein, autolyzed yeast extract, caramel color, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil, thiamine hydrochloride, salt, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate. Contains: soy, milk, wheat.

Now then: why isn't that list two words long? You know what I want to find when I open a can of beef broth? Beef broth! Maybe, maybe, if you want to get fancy, toss an onion in there, some salt, maybe a bay leaf. What is all that shit doing in my beef broth?

Furthermore: thanks to the Food Labeling Act of 2006, possibly the only worthwhile thing George W. Bush has ever done, foods produced in the United States must clearly state whether they contain any of the top eight food allergens: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, etc.), fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy. This product, ostensibly made of the cooked, lightly seasoned blood and rendered fat of a cow, contains soy, milk and wheat. Why? Why would you take a perfectly allergen-free food and put it out of the reach of millions of potential consumers? (I'll write another post, at some point, about why I think food allergies are on the rise.) What flavor or textural qualities do wheat, corn and soy bring to beef broth?

The thing is, they don't contribute to the taste of beef broth, and I suspect their contribution to its texture is marginal. Perhaps they contribute to its shelf life. It's probably the thiamine hydrochloride (which sounds to my thoroughly unscientific ear like an acid) that keeps anything in the broth from reacting with the metal of the can. So what do they add? My guess is profits for Del Monte Foods, maker of College Inn and one of the top ten polluters of the Pittsburgh area. Wheat, soy and particularly corn are overproduced in the US, and the agribusiness producers which grow most of these crops are always on the lookout for ways to use them in their manufacturing businesses in order to sell crops and keep prices up. That is why it's really, really hard to eat in the United States without consuming a whole lot of high fructose corn syrup. (For a much fuller and better explanation, check out The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan and Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health by Marion Nestle.)

So here's my question: what does it take to eat a diet composed of real food? I mean, things that are recognizable as having come from plants and animals (and fungi, which aren't real plants)? There was a great piece in the New York Times (I'm trying to find it, but without luck-- anybody?) that talked about trying to eat "things your great-grandmother would have recognized as food." I'm willing to broaden that to things that somebody's great-grandmother would have recognized, since I seriously doubt that my dear, wonderful late great-grandmother Dandeen would have been up for a nice fish curry, but the point stands.

We live in a society in which things are increasingly processed to death. We rob food of all of its foodlike qualities, and then we "fortify" our Coke and Oreos with vitamins so that we can pretend it's healthy. But here's the thing: a century or two ago, nobody knew about vitamins. We're finding out new things about food all the time-- one year it's "good cholesterol," the next year it's omega-3 fatty acids, etc. What do we not know about? What's in a potato that we're not putting into our fortified imitation potato flakes? There is more to a potato than is dream'd of in your philosophy, General Mills...

So these are the questions I'm trying to figure out. How can we human beings start eating like human beings again? How do we get food to the people instead of dumping grain at the bottom of the ocean to keep prices up? How do we grow what we need instead of just lacing everything we eat with high fructose corn syrup? How do we reclaim the homemade flavors we learned from our grandparents (if we're lucky)? How do we treat food as a way to connect across cultures, to bring friends and families together, to polish our skills and nourish our bodies and our planet?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Beef Roganjosh, Sweet Rice, and Pooris

All from the Jaffrey cookbook, which is turning out to be an excellent textbook. First of all, I should mention that this dish is really supposed to be made with lamb, but we didn't have any. Madhur Jaffrey says that stew beef is an acceptable substitute, and lucky for me, there it was in our freezer. So: beef roganjosh.

This is not a weeknight dish. (I made it on Memorial Day.) After you do about 45 minutes of cooking, it has to simmer over a low flame for an hour, so make sure you have lots of time for this one!

I made the poori dough first. This dough has to be made ahead of time, more so than chapatis or parathas—it has to rise for 1 1/2 to 3 hours. You can also store it in the fridge for 24 hours, which seems like the thing to do if it’s a weeknight. The dough is like paratha dough, except that it’s half whole wheat (spelt, in this case) and half white flour (gluten free, for me). I was a little worried about how the GF flour would perform—I was using Bob's Red Mill instead of Mr. Ritt’s, and sometimes it doesn’t behave as well. But I have no complaints here. It kneaded and rolled just as normally as I'd hoped. Set that aside and got started on the roganjosh.

For once, I didn’t use my cast iron pan—I was saving it for frying pooris. I just used a regular nonstick skillet. You get the oil hot, fry your first round of spices (cloves, peppercorns and a chili), and brown the meat. When the meat comes out, set it aside and fry your onions in the oil. In another pan, roast chopped blanched almonds, coconut, coriander seeds and whole cumin seeds until they all turn a nice toasty brown. Into the mini-blender: garlic and ginger, turmeric, water, and the roasted spice mixture. Get it good and smooth, and put it back into the pan with the onions. Fry for a spell, then put in your tomatoes and water, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes or so. Then you can put in the meat, along with some salt, turn down the heat, pop a lid on top and make your other dishes. Just check it every so often.

Next: sweet rice! This dish smells SO GOOD while it’s cooking. Like Christmas. Mmm. You put some oil in your pot and throw in some whole cloves and peppercorns. They will pop in your face, so stand back. Then put in your sliced onions and let them get light brown and a little bit crispy on the edges. Next, add your rice and warm spices (allspice subbing for mace, nutmeg and cinnamon) and keep stirring it dry so it doesn't stick to the pan. Then add your beef broth and put a lid on it for 15 minutes. After that, stir in the brown sugar and give it another 20. Start checking toward the end to make sure it doesn't burn. Make sure to smell it when you check it, because it's wonderful. If you have children, have them smell it so they'll have good memories when they grow up. It smells THAT good.

Finally, pooris! I’ve had good luck with my Indian breads so far, but I was sure these would be harder. We heated a few inches of oil in the cast iron pan, and while that got good and smoking I started rolling out the pooris. When I separated the dough into 14 balls, as Jaffrey instructs, they were so tiny that I was sure I'd made a mistake. I flattened them into itty little cookie shapes and started rolling them. I got them really thin. Joe put one into the oil, and POOF: a poori! The first few were too crispy, but once we got the timing right (about five seconds) they were perfect. We got them done just as everything else was ready to eat, because I am awesome.

Joe and I sat down to eat, and we were very, very happy. The roganjosh and rice went well together, and both were very warm and satisfying. This would be a good winter dish. And the pooris—man, those things are addictive. This was definitely the most flavorful bread I’ve tried so far. SO GOOD!

I’d invited Gagan to come over and tell me what his Indian palate thought, and he couldn’t make it at dinner time, but he showed up a little while after we'd finished and I made him a plate, with the two pooris I'd managed to stop myself from eating. He liked it! His criticisms: it could have been hotter (next time I'll leave the pepper in during simmering) and the sauce could be thicker. But he thought everything tasted delicious, and was very nice about hiding his surprise! I consider that success...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Grilled steak and new potatoes cooked in their jackets; dessert waffles

It’s summer! We broke out the grill last night. Joe grilled a couple of ribeyes to medium rare while I made these potatoes from the Jaffrey cookbook. These were easy and good, if a bit salty, and we have lots of new potatoes left, so I expect to be making these a few more times in the near future.

Jaffrey says that new potatoes in India tend to be really tiny, less than an inch in diameter. I’ve seen potatoes that tiny at my favorite farmstand at the Reading Market, so I’m going to have to try it with those, but last night I had the standard American new potatoes. We diced them for this recipe. (Don’t peel them, though—that’s where all the nutrients lie!)

In the mini-blender: chopped fresh ginger, turmeric and water.

Incidentally, did you know that turmeric turns bright red if you spray it with an ammonia-based cleaner? I discovered this while cleaning the kitchen this morning. Neat.

Now for the phrase that pops up in every single post on this blog so far: Get your cast iron pan nice and hot. Heat some vegetable oil and toast whole cumin seeds until they change color. Then add the ginger paste and fry for a minute. Add the potatoes and fry them for 5 minutes. Jaffrey says to keep scraping the bottom of the pan during this stage, and trust me, she is not kidding. That ginger really wants to stick, and it probably wants to burn, so you have to use some elbow grease while you’re stirring and scraping. I had Joe stir for a few minutes just to rest my arms. Once it’s been 5 minutes, add the chopped coriander, lower the heat and give it another 5 minutes, scraping all the while.

Then add your magical potion of salt, garam masala, ground coriander seeds, lemon juice, water and cayenne pepper. Cover, put the heat on low and simmer. Jaffrey says 25 minutes, but my potatoes were tender and ready to go at 20.

We served these potatoes as a side with our steaks and drank the last of the Yard’s Saison. They were really tasty, but I thought they were too salty—next time I won’t add as much salt as she recommends. Maybe dicing the potatoes allows them to absorb the salt more easily than if it was on their unbroken skins?

(Things to buy on payday: lamb, spelt flour, whole cardamom pods, fenugreek, tamarind paste, fennel seeds, black onion seeds, and BEER.)

After dinner, as we were relaxing, digesting and watching the Henry Rollins show on IFC, Joe had a brainstorm and raced into the kitchen to make these dessert waffles. (You see why I married this man?)

Gluten-Free Dessert Waffles

2 cups gluten-free flour (I recommend the mix from Mr. Ritt’s GF Bakery in South Philly)
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp GF baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ¾ cups milk
6 tbsp vegetable oil
2 eggs
Chocolate chips to taste
Chocolate ice cream

Mix well until smooth. Fold in chocolate chips. Let sit for 5 minutes and pour ½ cup of batter onto heated waffle maker. When cooked, serve with two scoops of chocolate ice cream. Garnish with chocolate sauce, powdered sugar, berries, or whatever else turns you on. I recommend splitting this among two or more people; it’s really rich.

Next up: beef roganjosh (I didn't have lamb), sweet rice and pooris.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Mushroom Polenta, and Leftover Breakfast Mushroom Polenta

Joe invented this riff on the Moosewood Cookbook's plain polenta recipe last night for a party. Then I got a migraine and we ended up not making it to the party, so now we have a ton of polenta to doctor up for brunch today. The recipes, courtesy of Joe:

Joe's Mushroom Polenta

5c water
1 1/2 c cornmeal (we used roasted cornmeal, which has a distinct, delicious flavor)
4 shiitake mushrooms, sliced thin
1 tbsp black truffle oil
1 ripe, fresh tomato, peeled and diced
1/2 c aged gouda, shredded
1 tsbp parmesan, shredded
olive oil to taste

Boil 4 cups water. While it's boiling, mix 1 cup of water with the cornmeal. Mix until it forms a batter. When the water boils, spoon the batter into the boiling water. Whisk until smooth.

Lower heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes, gently stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on this-- it likes to bubble over.

Turn off heat and add the mix-ins-- mushrooms, gouda and some olive oil. Stir in. Taste, and add salt and olive oil as needed.

In a separate bowl, mix diced tomato, truffle oil, parmesan, salt and pepper.

Serve in a bowl, topped with tomato mixture. This should be enough for several people, 4-6 maybe? This made a bowl big enough to bring to a party, at any rate.

And if you have leftovers...

Breakfast Polenta

Leftover polenta
Leftover tomato mixture

Get your cast iron pan nice and hot, and fry the bacon in it. Remove bacon to drain on a paper towel.

Polenta should be easily slice-able. Fry in the bacon fat. Serve with bacon and top with either tomato mixture or dark honey (we used buckwheat honey).

Saturday, May 26, 2007


I made guacamole this afternoon for a picnic our friends Wayne and Jen threw in New Jersey. It's always a hit at parties, and it's actually really easy. You just get the best, ripest avocadoes you can find, mash them up with a potato masher, and mix in chopped garlic (a few cloves, depending on your taste), onions or shallots (optional-- I usually don't bother) and cilantro (as much as you like-- also optional). Then add a generous amount of salt and lime juice—just keep tasting it till it seems right to you. Don't be shy about the salt, the avocadoes really suck it in. It's really all about good quality ingredients. Also, if you can, make it a bit ahead of time and let it sit (covered, with the plastic touching it) so the flavors can blend together.

By the way, do you know the best way to pit and slice an avocado? I learned this from Alton Brown. First, get yourself a ripe avocado. If you make a fist and feel the flesh underneath your thumb, that's about how the avocado should feel when you squeeze it (gently). Use a large chef's knife. Slice down the middle of the top of the avocado until you reach the pit. Then bring your knife around in a circle until you've cut the whole thing in half around the pit. Grab each side in one hand and twist, and it'll come right apart (if it's ripe). To remove the pit, take your knife and hack it with a bit of force into the middle of the pit. Twist the knife and the pit will come off, then pinch the knife and push down on the pit to remove it from the knife blade. To remove the flesh from the skin, score the flesh into cubes-- just carve a grid into the avocado flesh with your knife. Remove any brown spots with your knife. Then use a spoon to scoop the cubes right into your bowl.

Serve with tortilla chips.