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.

Chicken Korma, Maya's Potatoes, Parathas

Hello again! I went on another flat-out cooking binge last night-- three recipes straight from Madhur Jaffrey. This was the most successful effort yet!

I'd initially intended to make just Chicken Korma for Anthony and Gagan, but Gagan had to bail, and then Amy came and she's a vegetarian, so I decided to do the potatoes. This was a wise move on my part- they were delicious and I think this recipe might become a standby.

The recipe actually calls for lamb or beef in the korma, but I had neither. Having done it, I see now that a very flavorful meat like lamb would really shine in this dark, rich sauce. But chicken wasn't half bad.

I did the parathas first. The recipe calls for whole wheat flour, so once again I used spelt flour. I was very happy with it, but I've had white-flour parathas that were amazing, so I'd like to try these with white gluten-free flour sometime. Parathas are like chapatis but with a few crucial differences. There's a bit of vegetable oil and some salt in the dough-- you knead it for 10 minutes or so and let it rise for half an hour, just like chapatis. You split the dough into 8 balls and roll it out into 5-inch circles, just like chapatis. Then-- here's where the magic happens-- you brush it with melted butter or ghee (we're out of ghee, so it was butter this time). Fold it in half and brush that with butter, then fold it in half again and roll it out flat until it's really, really thin. Brush your smoking-hot cast-iron pan (or, if you're more Indian than I am, your tava) with butter and throw a paratha in there. Let it get bubbly and turn it over, until it's nice and bubbly and brown in spots. Do this with all of your parathas, then wrap them in foil and throw them in a warm oven ten minutes before dinner.

I'm absolutely shocked that my initial experiments with Indian breads are going so well. I thought there would be lots of failures before I got anything edible. I have a feeling that this is the sort of recipe that's easy to do passably, but very difficult to perfect.

I started on the potatoes next. The dish, Maya's Potatoes, is named after Madhur Jaffrey's sister-in-law, according to the cookbook. Well, Maya, if you're reading this out there in Delhi, this post is dedicated to you. Those potatoes rocked.

To make these potatoes, you start by making the fried potatoes that Joe and I always make when we have steak or some other good piece of meat. Peel your potatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch to 1-inch chunks. Boil them, if you are so inclined (it can't hurt). While they're boiling, grind your spices. Both the korma and potato recipes called for onions and garlic (and in the case of the potatoes, ginger) to be ground to a smooth paste in the food processor, so you can do that ahead of time too. Get your mise en place together before things get chaotic. (And before your guests come, if possible, so you don't get distracted while measuring.)

Get your cast iron pan nice and hot. (Yes, I'm a cast-iron junkie.) Get about 1/4 inch of vegetable oil, maybe even more, hot in there. Throw in the potatoes, make sure every chunk is touching the pan, and then WALK AWAY. Don't stir them, don't touch them. Sprinkle them with salt and then let the cast iron work its magic. When they get nice and golden brown to brown on the bottom, turn them over and leave them alone. Once the potatoes are good and brown, take them out with a slotted spoon and set them aside.

Now for the sauce. Drain out most of the oil, but leave a few tablespoons. Add the asafetida, mustard seeds (careful, they pop!), bay leaf and dried red chilies. (The recipe also called for fenugreek, fennel seeds and onion seeds, but we didn't have any. Clearly, it's time for a field trip to Edison.) Fry that for a bit. Add your onion-garlic-ginger mixture, mix well and fry for five minutes. Then add your tomatoes-- you can put fresh ones in the blender, but we were out so we used crushed ones from a can, along with water, salt and sugar. Fry a minute. Then add the potatoes, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn the potatoes and simmer for 10 more minutes. By this time, the water will have cooked off and you will have nice tender potatoes coated with tomato mixture.

I was making the korma simultaneously with the potatoes, but I failed to calculate the cooking time, and realized that, though the potatoes were done, the korma would be another 45 minutes. Which meant it was Amy the vegetarian's lucky day-- first course was potatoes and parathas, served with (of course) Yard's Saison. By the time I got to the table people were exclaiming, and when I tasted it I was happy too. Easy and seriously yummy. I plan to make this regularly!

As for the korma... well, first I made the rice. I threw a cinnamon stick into the rice cooker, which made the whole thing aromatic. The first step in the korma is to make fried onions for the topping-- just cut them into thin half-rings, as though you're making fajitas, and fry them in oil. Be careful not to burn them. Ours were in a bit too long, but still tasty. Then remove them with a slotted spoon, and add the chicken (chopped into 1-inch pieces). Brown it but don't worry about cooking it through. Remove to a plate, and let the pan juices and oil cool for a while.

Once it's cooled down, stir in the onion/garlic paste and turn the burner back on. Fry for ten minutes and then add coriander seeds, cumin and turmeric. Fry, then add tomatoes and the warm spices: mace (we substituted allspice), cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Fry that for 5 minutes. Then add water, salt, cayenne and black pepper, then the chicken. Simmer for half an hour.

Either before you start or during this simmering period, put 10 pecans and 1/4 cup blanched almonds into the blender with some water. (You can blanch almonds by boiling them in water for a few minutes until the water is brown.) Blend to a smooth paste. Once the half hour is up, stir this into the pan with 2 tbsp yogurt or sour cream (we used yogurt). Interestingly, I had no problems with the yogurt curdling this time around. You can simmer this for up to half an hour; however, if you're using chicken, it'll be tender enough well before half an hour is up. I was able to serve this after simmering for ten minutes. I just spooned it onto the rice and served with the rest of the parathas. It was GOOD. Seriously. I'm bringing Gagan some leftovers tonight to get the opinion of someone with an Indian palate, and I'll be curious to hear what he says, but just subjectively-- it was GOOD. Even our vegetarian had to try the sauce.

So: yeah, this was definitely a success. Main lesson: read the recipe carefully and calculate your cooking time before you start.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Indian Mangoes

Indian mangoes are being imported into the US for the first time in 18 years.

I love a good mango, but these are being built up as the Best. Fruit. Ever. I'd like to find out for myself.

They haven't reached the Reading Terminal Market yet, as far as I can tell, and Gagan didn't see any in Edison last weekend either. Anybody have a hot tip on where to find them? I have salt, pepper, lemons and chat masala ready to go...

Nargisi Kofta with Chapatis

This is fancy food: beef kofta (meatballs) with a hard-boiled egg on the inside, in a tomato gravy, served with rice and chapatis. (I know, you're not supposed to serve both, but I'm obsessed with starches.)

It wasn't entirely successful-- good, but not as spectacular as I'd hoped. The chapatis were great-- easy and tasty-- but two things to improve on the kofta. First, the yogurt sauce separated, which is often a problem for me; second, the meat separated, exposing the egg, which I suspect could have been avoided if I'd used more meat. So it wasn't as pretty as I'd hoped it would be, but it was damn tasty.

I started the chapatis first, since the dough had to rise. It's easy to see why this is such a staple food-- it's just flour and water. Luckily, I am able to tolerate reasonable amounts of spelt, so instead of whole wheat flour, I used spelt flour, which behaved pretty much the same. Knead the dough, let it rise for half an hour or so, knead again, then separate into small balls and roll then out. I was surprised at how well the dough stayed together-- I guess I'm used to crumbly, sticky gluten-free flour, but this stuff was really easy to work with. Roll 'em nice and thin. I don't have a tava, but I do have an awesome all-purpose cast iron pan. I got it nice and hot, and did about 30 seconds on each side. The dough cooked quickly and was easy to pick up with tongs. Once it starts bubbling and puffing, throw it on an open flame (you need a gas stove for this) and let the steam puff out of it. This part is fun. The whole thing was simple and easy. We brushed them with butter, wrapped them in foil, and threw them in a warm oven ten minutes before we sat down to dinner. Tasty! I'm going to make these all the time.

The nargisi kofta: Jaffrey says that "nargis" is the narcissus flower, and these are named for the yellow and white of the egg, visible when you cut the kofta open.

First, a word about spices: you can buy just about anything you want at the supermarket or Whole Foods, pre-ground and in a clear bottle or a spice rack to sit on your wall. Do not do this. Pre-grinding and exposure to light both rob your spices of their flavor. Buy whole spices and grind them yourself when possible, and keep everything in a nice dark (and dry) cabinet! We have a marble mortar and pestle and use them quite regularly. It takes very little time to grind them, and you can taste the difference.

So I ground lots of things-- allspice, coriander seeds, cumin-- and assembled everything in little glass dishes, in the stages in which I would be adding them. This is called a mise en place, although I'm sure I am butchering the French. It means setting everything up and having it ready to go ahead of time, so you're not desperately grinding coriander or chopping tomatoes at the last second. I learned this from Alton Brown-- Alton, you're my culinary hero.

OK. So you mince the meat nice and fine in the Cuisinart, mix in the spices and two tbsp yogurt, and wrap this mixture around the eggs so you have four nice oval meatwads. Put some oil in your pan and throw in two bay leaves, a dried chili pepper, and the cardamom pods I will buy as soon as I find them. Then put in your meatwads-- er, kofta-- and brown them as evenly as you can. When I do this again, I plan to make a little more of the meat mixture than I need, and keep a little reserved on the side, so that if the meat on the kofta starts to separate I can repair as needed.

In the meantime, blend onions, garlic and ginger to a fine paste in the food processor. Take your kofta out and set aside, and add this mixture to the pan to simmer. Now, here's where I made another mistake. The recipe didn't say anything about draining the oil (in fact, it said not to), but it seems like the oil really has to be drained. Otherwise, this mixture gets really oily. The thing is that everything you're putting into the pan-- onions, tomatoes, etc-- sweats. When you cook them, all the water stored inside the veggies comes out into the pan. And oil and water don't mix, so how can you expect your sauce not to separate? This, I'm going to do differently next time.

Anyway. Simmer all that for ten minutes, then start spooning yogurt into it. Hopefully, if your mixture isn't oily like mine, your yogurt will be nice and creamy and not curdle. Once you've added 6 tablespoons of yogurt, put in your tomatoes, paprika, salt and water, bring to a boil, and simmer for ten more minutes. Then add the kofta and let the whole thing simmer for half an hours so the meat is cooked through, turning a few times. The juices will also be draining from the meat as it cooks, which means the meat will shrink. If your kofta aren't meaty enough, the meat will retract until you can see the egg, and your kofta might fall apart. Mine didn't quite fall apart, fortunately, but clearly more meat was needed.

Once that's done, serve with rice, chapati, whatever you've got. Because the sauce had separated, we attempted a rescue operation once we had removed the kofta-- Joe added some cream to the sauce and whisked the whole thing very energetically for a while. This helped, but it separated quickly.

It did, however, taste DELICIOUS. This is a really, really rich dish (it's usually served for weddings or other special occastions, according to Madhur Jaffrey) and neither of us could finish more than one. I tried to eat a second but got waaaay too full. The chili pepper and cayenne gave it just a little kick-- it wasn't at all hot on first taste, but a little heat did build up as we ate. And the spice mixture in the meat was really flavorful and delicious. I really want to make this again now that I understand the process a little better!

So, next thing to master: yogurt sauces that don't separate.

Next up: I'm making chicken korma (it's supposed to be lamb, but I don't have any lamb!) for Gagan and Anthony tomorrow night! And if I'm feeling ambitious, I might try my hand at parathas this weekend. I will also be doing my trademark guacamole for a party (possibly two parties) this weekend, so I'll post that recipe too!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Chicken Parmesan with gluten-free bread crumbs

Joe got home before me tonight, so he was on dinner duty. It's been a long Monday, so he went for Italian-American comfort food-- chicken parm.

You know how to make this, right? Dip your chicken in egg, roll it in bread crumbs, brown it in a skillet, put it in a baking dish, pour tomato sauce over it, slice some mozzarella on top, stick it in the oven. Serve with pasta (I like quinoa-corn pasta). Not that hard.

The challenging bit, if you're wheat-free, is the breading. When I lived in New York, I bought gluten-free bread crumbs in the baking section at the Union Square Whole Foods. Unfortunately, none of the Whole Foodses (?) here carry that brand, the name of which escapes me. If you're looking for GF bread crumb options, two ideas:

-Philly Whole Foods stores DO carry a brand called Southern Homestyle Tortilla Crumbs. They're GF and tasty, but they do have a very distinct corn flavor. Great for breading fish or pork chops, but they don't blend into Italian dishes the way ordinary bread crumbs do.

-To make your own GF bread crumbs: Get yourself a loaf of GF bread. The best and most neutrally flavored you can find. Whole Foods' Gluten-Free Bakehouse makes a good sandwich loaf. Food For Life loaves are decent, but the fruit-juice-sweetened ones have a sweet flavor that's almost grape-y. Trader Joe's GF English muffins aren't bad-- they crumble too easily to be practical for sandwiches, but are great for making bread crumbs.

Crumble your bread into your food processor. Give it a few pulses until it's reduced down to crumbs. Spread them out on the bottom of a metal pan (with sides, please) and pop them into the oven for ten minutes or so. This isn't an exact science, so keep an eye on them. When they're nice and toasty, use them however you please.

They don't keep for long, so don't make more than you think you'll use in a day or two.

UPDATE: According to Joe, Food For Life bread does NOT work well for this. He recommends letting the bread go a bit stale before doing this.

Mahi-Mahi in Yogurt, Lemon Rice, and Salad

This meal was quite successful, at least if our satisfied grunts were any indication.

My main dish was from the Madhur Jaffrey cookbook-- Codfish Steaks in Yogurt. Instead of codfish (meh, it's OK) I used mahi-mahi, which is a nice, steaky fish that's flavorful enough to hold its own in a strongly flavored sauce. I got it, along with my other ingredients, at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. If you're in the Philly area, I can't recommend the RTM highly enough-- you can find a huge array of delicious, fresh, local and sustainably farmed foods. I spend much less time and money at supermarkets after discovering the RTM!

Enough plugging. On to the food. I made the lemon rice first, since it's a dish that usually benefits from having a little time for the ingredients to sit together and (as Emeril says) get happy. It's also quite easy, so best to get it out of the way. I made this for our wedding reception, and a very discriminating Indian friend complimented it! She suggested cooking it longer and with a bit more salt, so I tried to do that, though I think the rice probably should have been softer.

Before starting the lemon rice, I cut the mahi into chunks and rubbed it with turmeric and salt. (My fingertips are still yellow!) After that, simple: you dice some onions (that's Joe's job) and garlic and put them in the blender with cayenne pepper, salt, sugar, black pepper and a pint of yogurt. (I'm a big fan of Pequea Valley Dairy's grass-fed yogurts from Lancaster County.) Saute the fish, but don't cook them through, and set aside. Then sweat some onions in the pan with two cinnamon sticks and some cardamom (the recipe called for pods, but I was pod-less so I just sprinkled the ground stuff). Once that's nice and golden and smelling delicious, throw in the sauce and simmer for ten minutes. Then put the fish in, covering it with the sauce, and cover it so the fish has time to cook through and soak in the sauce. Jaffrey's instructions look long and involved, but that's only because she is precise and detailed in her instructions, to make things nice and clear for vellaikarangal like me! It's really not that difficult.

Finally, a simple salad. I sliced shiitakes and fried them in olive oil with some chopped garlic, then added a splash of leftover champagne and let it reduce. Then I enlisted Joe, because I was busy making fish, and he whisked up a salad dressing of blood orange juice (thank you, Trader Joe's!), olive oil and the last of the champagne, and tossed it with fresh local greens, some sliced gouda, and the mushrooms.

We ate this with cold glasses of Yard's Saison, a summery Belgian-style ale made right in our neighborhood.

The lemon rice recipe. I got this from my friend Tina, who says she got it from a cookbook. This is great for parties.

Lemon rice

1 cup basmati or other long grain white rice
1 2/3-2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons ghee or sesame oil
1/2 cup cashew bits or halves
1/2 tablespoon split urad dal
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped coriander
1/4 cup shredded coconut for garnishing (optional)

Bring water to boil in a heavy nonstick saucepan. Stir in the rice, salt, and 1/2 tablespoon ghee or oil. Cover with a tight fitting lid. Reduce the heat to very low and gently simmer without stirring for 20-25 minutes or until rice is fluffy and the water fully absorbed. Set aside, still covered.

Heat remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons of ghee or oil in a small saucepan over moderately low heat until it's hot. Drop in cashews and stir-fry until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and pour them over the rice. Cover the rice again.

Raise the heat under the saucepan slightly, toss in the urad dal and the mustard seeds and fry until the mustard seeds turn gray and sputter and the dal turns reddish-brown.

Pour the fried spices into the cooked rice and sprinkle with the turmeric, lemon juice and coriander. Gently fold until well mixed.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Hello, dear reader! You probably know me, or at least my spottily-updated political blog, You've Got Red On You.

Well, this is a record of my efforts to learn how to cook. I've been cooking for a while, and have been meaning to start recording my efforts in an attempt to learn from them and find good recipes easily. My husband Joe is a gloriously talented cook who's been feeding me, shaping my palate and teaching me his secrets for nine years now. I'm a decent cook, an Alton Brown fan and an unrepentant foodie. I love to entertain and to feed my friends, and will jump on any excuse for a party. I also have allergies to wheat, iceberg lettuce, celery, various berries and raw veggies, and a few other things, so I make lots of gluten-free goodies. I get excited about learning cuisines like Indian (particularly South Indian), Mexican and Puerto Rican, which tend to be naturally wheat-free.

I'm also learning Tamil and am beginning a serious push to really, truly learn Indian cooking. The title of this blog, Nalla Sappaadu (நல்ல சாப்பாடு), means "Good Food," and I intend to live up to it. I have a copy of Madhur Jaffrey's tasty, informative and beautifully written "An Invitation to Indian Cooking," and you, dear readers, will get to watch me cook my way through as much of it as possible, along with other delicious goodies from various corners of the world. I'll try to take pictures when I can!