Thursday, August 30, 2007

Indian Food Tips and Tricks

After many, many attempts at various Indian food recipes, I think I can finally pinpoint most of the things that went wrong on those many occasions when dishes came out boring or bad. With a little help from Molly over at Orangette, I not only made this amazing chana masala, but I figured out some tips and tricks to Indian cooking putting all of my past experiences together.

  1. Gather an Indian spice collection You will need many things in your cupboard -- garam marsala, turmeric, ginger, cloves, cardamon, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, anise, and good quality chili powders of varying intensity.
  2. You'll need most of these spices in their ground and whole form so stock up on both.
  3. When using the whole seed spices, gently toasting them in a pan to bring out the lovely oils and aromas before grinding them.
  4. If a recipe calls for yogurt, use real Greek strained yogurt and not the regular stuff. Now that my Publix has Fage I can finally see what all the fuss is about.
  5. Although some bloggers say Indian food can be quick, be patient with your sauces. Letting things simmer and tasting them periodically is really what separates a dish that is bland to one that explodes in your mouth. Add what you think it needs, which does not always mean more salt.
  6. A mortar and pestle is the traditional way to grind your spices after they've toasted, but a coffee grinder or spice grinder will work well too. (I advise caution when grinding cloves in a coffee grinder -- I broke mine in a failed attempt.)
Go over to Orangette and try to make your own chana masala. This recipe is so simple that I've made it 3 or so times since stumbling across it. Molly says to stir in yogurt or just leave it as it is. I think the yogurt really brings it all together. Let it set before serving, the flavors are even better the next day.

Friday, August 24, 2007


I've been having some troubles with my hand-eye coordination lately. Today I spilled a hot cup of peach flavored black tea with cream and sugar all over my desktop keyboard. Not a week ago I spilled a cup of hot water all over my laptop keyboard. The laptop survived, the keyboard is dead.

There's no place for clumsiness in the kitchen, you might wind up with 9 fingers. I have all my fingers but I sure have made some huge messes the past couple weeks. I knocked a jar of black sesame seeds from the cabinet on the floor -- wasting all but 10% of the jar. Before that I knocked over a small, hot saucepan where I was cooking garlic and onion. Thankfully I didn't burn the linoleum but I had to start over and chop more onions. I also had a spill with my giant jar of dry roasted almonds which are too expensive to be throwing on the floor.

I guess I need to be more careful.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Everyone else was doing it...

Every week I look forward to reading the Week. Not only does it recap all the important news from the previous week in a witty and concise way, it also includes a food section with wine reviews and recipes taken from various sources. A couple weeks ago they featured this wonderful Pavlova recipe. It really is no secret that Pavlova crafting has started to infiltrate the food blog world so I was very familiar and was just waiting for the right occasion to make it. Since its so incredibly massive once put together, I waited until we could have dinner with the neighbors to take a stab at the behemoth.

Despite the looks of it, there really isn't much work involved. Mine came out nearly perfect on the first try so give it a shot if you find yourself with loads of fresh berries lying around. There are a lot of things that can be altered with this recipe. Different flavors can be added to the meringue, different flavors added to the cream, or add all sorts of different fruits, nuts, or chocolate. I'm excited to make it again sometime after I finish all of the leftovers.

Pavlova with Vanilla Cream and Macerated Berries
taken from the LA Times/ The Week

1 pint blackberries
1 pint blueberries
1 pint raspberries
1 pint strawberries
sugar to taste
1 tblsp balsamic vinegar
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 tblsp vanilla

8 egg whites
pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups sugar (try not to think about all the sugar)
4 tblsp cornstarch
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract

This is super easy if you have a stand mixer, otherwise be prepared for a bicep workout. Separate the eggs and beat the whites in a glass or metal bowl with salt until you get soft peaks. Slowly add the sugar and cornstarch while you continue mixing. Add the vinegar and vanilla last and mix more until you have a nice sticky consistency. Stiff peaks.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment and pile the fluff in a nice pile that is higher on the sides than in the middle. I had very little success on this part. Next time I'm going to try to use the ring of a spring form pan so I get a better shape. Any other ideas that would make this step easier would be greatly appreciated.

Bake the Pavlova at 300 for 1.5 hours. When time is up, turn the oven off and prop open the oven door to let it cool until room temperature. Maybe if you live in a nice well air conditioned home or reside in a town where temperatures don't exceed 100 degrees you can keep this meringue from flopping. It will probably crack and flop but it will still look pretty when you put the rest of it together.

Wash and prepare the berries. In a large bowl add sugar and vinegar to berries and let stand for 10-15 minutes stirring occasionally. While the berries do their thing, whip the cream with the vanilla until its nice and fluffy.

Assemble by piling the meringue high with cream and then top with the berries. Serves many.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

No cooking required

The temperature is still rising which means, at least for me, no desire to eat or cook. It is really too hot to do anything. When P tries to give me a hug I have to say, "sorry, it is too hot for hugs."

This time of year I like food that requires little to no stove or oven time. It also has to be summer food. There are loads of butternut squash in my grocery store tempting me, but I just can't do gourds in the summer -- it is beyond wrong. Thankfully there are also an abundance of cherry tomatoes. Unfortunately I can't find a decent tomato in a 15 mile radius but there are always 'halfway-decent' Romas and 'not-as-sweet-as-they-could-be' cherry tomatoes. Buy them in bulk. Snack on them. Throw them in a food processor to make a pasta sauce. Add them to your salad. Skewer them alongside fresh mozzarella and basil for a caprese salad on a stick. The possibilities are endless.

This 'recipe' (if you can even call it that) is a real no-brainer. Get some wooden or metal skewers and stick the aforementioned ingredients on them. Drizzle a little good quality olive oil over top and maybe a grind of black pepper and you're set. I took it one step further and made an arugula pesto to dip these skewers in. No stove required, just a food processor.

Arugula Pesto
makes: enough

bunch of arugula, 10-12 oz I'd estimate
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 clove of garlic
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup olive oil
salt to taste

In a food processor add the garlic clove first and some salt. Maybe its just my processor but I think the garlic gets a better grind and incorporates best when you add it first. Add the arugula in bunches. Next add the pine nuts and cheese and start to drizzle in the oil until you get a nice consistency.

I have to admit this was the first pesto I've ever made. I just never got around to it in the past and bought the bottled stuff for convenience. In retrospect, it takes about 5 minutes to throw this together and it is 100 times better than anything that comes from a bottle. So make your own and with the leftovers.... put it on a homemade pizza.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A Summer Treat

Summer is arguably the best time of year for cooking. There are so many wonderful fruits and vegetables in season that can add immeasurable flavors to even the simplest dish. On the flip-side, the summer heat tends to curb the appetite so we have to take all the wonderful ingredients available and make dishes that are light and refreshing. I'm spoiled with wonderful fruits for breakfast each morning but here in Florida I still haven't found a tasty tomato or a sweet ear of corn. I'm used to buying summer veggies from the side of the road back in Virginia, but here all we have are grocery stores.

If the heat is getting to you, try this wonderful summer dish from Gourmet magazine. It has all those things we're looking for -- light, fresh, simple, and made tastier with the freshest ingredients you can get.

Summer Garden Tortellini
adapted from Gourmet Aug 2007

8 oz dried tortellini (I used cheese filled but feel free to experiment)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 oz prosciutto, chopped
2 C frozen corn (use fresh if you can find it)
1/2 stick unsalted butter
3 Roma tomatoes
1 big handful of chopped basil

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the tortellini as the package describes. In a skillet, sauté the garlic in the butter (substitute olive oil if you like) until fragrant then add the corn and prosciutto. I like my prosciutto a bit crunchy so cook until the corn is thawed or the ham crisps up -- whichever you like. Pour the corn mixture into a large bowl and add the chopped tomatoes. Drain the tortellini completely and return it back to the pan. A lot of recipes recommend reserving pasta water but I just don't like to do that. Instead I prefer to toss the pasta back into the original pot and douse it with some olive oil before I add it to the sauce or in this case the corn and tomatoes. Stir in the basil at the end and serve. This works well served hot or cold. The saltiness of the ham and the sweetness of the corn and tomatoes work so well together.

I'm really loving adding corn to different things lately. You'll see more of this later. Try this great summer pasta dish. Its a nice change from sauce laden pasta dishes we normally have in the Winter and Fall.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Super Natural Figs

So much time has passed. So many food experiences. I'll try to catch up...

I got another year older. The blog turned 1 year old. I've been hovering over new cookbooks and making something new everyday. Most recently I've been exploring Heidi Swanson's cookbook. It is one of those cookbooks that you actually read like you would read any other book instead of dirtying the pages with ingredients. Its full of information on natural ingredients, how to stock a healthy pantry, and healthier alternatives to what we are normally used to. I've tried a couple recipes so far and everything seems rather quick and easy to put together. The fig spread alone is reason enough to buy this book.

I'm so excited about this spread that I'm considering taking up a canning hobby. Heidi suggests canning it but it can just as easily be stored in an air tight container kept in the fridge for a week. This would make a great gift in the canned form. I used the first figs of the season and I want to make more of this soon before they're all gone.

Fig Spread with Black Pepper and Sesame Seeds
as seen in Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking

1-1.5 lb black mission figs, stemmed (I would imagine any type would be just as good)
1/4 C fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 C clover honey
fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
1/4 C sesame seeds

Macerate the roughly chopped figs in the lemon juice and honey for 10 or so minutes. Add some pepper to taste and you can always add more later. Toss the mixture in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until you bring it to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer until the consistency is that of jam and the figs and melted down yet still slightly chunky. Add the sesame seeds at the end and more black pepper if you think it needs it. If it seems a little thin, it will firm up as it cools and refrigerates. Let it cool down and serve it on a nice slice of toasted brioche or whatever else you like. You may find it easier to wake up in the morning if you know this spread is waiting for you. Heaven.