Monday, December 15, 2008

Dessert in 2 minutes

Not sure if this qualifies as a "recipe," but here goes. It's a whole bunch more complicated than a platter of figs, anyway (seeing as how that involves all of setting one ingredient down on one utensil).

Cut some ripe pear into bite-size pieces. Drizzle honey over it, crumble a few walnuts on top, and ta da! You can also add some plain yogurt for a creamier version. To make it look fancier, you could cut the fruit in thin, even slices and put it on a plate instead of in a bowl, omitting the yogurt. When I'm pearless, tart apples work pretty well too.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thai Shrimp Stock

When I cook prawns, I often peel away their legs and shells when they are raw, to make them easier to eat. I usually boil them up into a little stock, to make two meals. Today I hit jackpot, which I thought I would share: add a couple of kaffir lime leaves, and some fish sauce, and you have the perfect base for all sorts of thai soups. This was my recipe:

Makes just under 2 cups' worth

shell and legs of 12 prawns
2 cups water
2 kaffir lime leaves shredded into small pieces
1 small carrot roughly diced
1 small stick celery roughly diced
1 clove garlic sliced
1/2 small onion chopped
nam pla fish sauce

sweat the vegetables in oil (i used coconut oil to make it more thai) for about 10 minutes. add the lime leaves and garlic and cook for 5 more minutes. add the water and a few splashes of fish sauce. bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 minutes to 45 minutes (not too long, i hear fish stock goes bad if overcooked).

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sweet Potato Fries for Snobs

1. Take one big sweet potato per head. Peel, half across and cut into chunks that vaguely resemble big fries.
2. Mix with a glug of olive oil, a tablespoon or two of balsamico, some coarse salt, a dash of cayenne and a dash of cumin.
3. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. You want them to get tender but golden and caramelized on the outside, even slightly charred at the edges. Depending on your oven, they might need a final 30 second blast under the broiler.
4. Eat, with tomato chutney (or ketchup if you are a little less of a snob) and arugula salad on the side.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

ceviche/cebiche/seviche/etc.

It is hard to spell the name of this dish wrong. Virtually anything you can think of upon hearing the word will turn out to be the way it is spelled in some part of the world. The good thing is that it is even harder for the dish itself to go wrong.

You need three things, if you ask me: very fresh fish, citrus juice of some kind, and cilantro. The exact details don't matter.

To make this, just cube or slice the fish, put it in a glass container and cover it with the citrus juice. You probably want the fish to fit somewhat snuggly in the container. Put a lid on it (plastic wrap will do as well), and let it sit in the fridge. How long? It depends on your taste and the size of the chunks. I'd say between 30min and 1h. After that, just sprinkle chopped cilantro on top, and serve with boiled potatoes (or yucca) and fresh corn. You can also serve it with green plantain chips. Or serve it in a martini glass with chunks of avocados, if you want to play it fancy. The possibilities are endless.

For the record, here's my favorite way of making ceviche: I use whatever firm-flesh fish fits my budget at my favorite fish market (even tilapia works fine, though when my wallet can handle it I opt for red snapper), and I mix in some thinly sliced red onions and 1/4 of a teaspoon or so of diced habanero peppers, handled with utmost care. I marinate that with a combination of lime, lemon, orange and grapefruit juices. Before serving, I mix in some tiny cubes of bell peppers of different colors, and tons of chopped cilantro.

PS: No salt, no pepper. Believe me.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Grilled Eggplants with Pesto

This is one of the simplest, and most delicious, things I've eaten recently. I also like this dish because it is an eggplant dish that doesn't involve it drinking up gallons of oil. Use your initiative to build it into a full meal, or enjoy as a snack.

Ingredients: eggplant, pesto.

1. Cut eggplant into 1/2 inch slices lengthways.
2. Grill until soft. Ideally, on an unoiled cast iron grill pan (like a skillet, but with ridges) to get those smokey black lines. Otherwise, under a broiler would do. No need to use any oil here.
3. Smear pesto on generously.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

fall happiness:



squash!


apples!



pretty leaves!

And, not to forget: soup!


butternut squash soup with warm spices and crispy onions

I happened to have a roasted butternut squash sitting in the fridge that I had stuck into the oven this weekend, when baking something else. I highly recommend you do that, it's really a no-brainer. I imagine acorn squash would work just as well and in a pinch canned butternut squash might do, too, if you think roasting your own is too much effort (but it really isn't).

For roasting, I just halved the butternut squash, scooped out the seeds and baked it, cut side down on a piece of aluminium foil on a baking sheet (to minimize clean up) until a fork slid in easily. 45 minutes maybe, but that obviously depends on the size and your oven. I then scooped out the flesh and stored it in a tupperware container.

Once you have the roasted squash, the soup takes literally 10 minute to prepare. The crispy onions were a stroke of genius. You can omit them, but you would be terribly, terribly mistaken.

flesh of 1 scooped out roasted butternut squash
1 Tbsp of butter
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
about 2 Tbsp of your favorite thai curry paste (how much exactly will depend on the curry paste you use and how spicy you like your soup--I used green, though red would probably be even better, at least colorwise)
1/2 can of coconut milk (I had some leftover in the freezer)


Heat butter in a large pot and saute until translucent, about 2 minutes. Throw in the garlic, the butternut squash, the coconut milk and 1 cup of water. Add the curry paste. If you want to be on the safe side, add 1 Tbsp first and then adjust later. Let it cook and bubble for a little bit, then blend until smooth.

Add more water until you like the consistency. Then add salt and more curry paste, to taste. Maybe a little lemon juice?

Serve, topping with the onions. I didn't have any cilantro on hand but imagine it would go well.


crispy onion topping

1 onion thinly sliced
1 Tbsp of butter
handful of raw cashew nuts

While the soup is bubbling, heat the butter in a small pan until very hot. Add onions and let the fry, stirring occasionally. You want them to get very brown, almost burned on the edges. Just before they are ready, throw in the handful of cashews. Swirl them around and let them get a little toasted but watch closely because the little suckers like to burn when you are not watching. Sprinkle with a little salt to taste.

Serves 3.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

does anyone want any garam masala or turmeric?

i happen to have more than i could use in the next decade, so if anyone wants some, i'd be happy to spread the wealth around a little...just let me know.

quickie pasta salad

Make a vinaigrette by whisking together:
-1 shallot, finely minced
-small bit of dijon mustard
-glug of good-quality (i.e., sweet and tart, not sour) balsamic vinegar
-glug of extra-virgin olive oil
-a tablespoon of chopped herbs (I used thyme, sage, and rosemary)
-good salt and freshly ground pepper

Adjust the vinaigrette to taste. If you have a not-so-sweet balsamic, you could add a small bit of honey if you like. If you have a super-sweet one, relatively more mustard or a dribble of red wine vinegar will balance the sweetness. You can keep this in the fridge for a few days, and really it gets better as the flavors meld together.

Cook some smallish pasta, such as orzo, and combine it with some of the vinaigrette, plenty of crumbled feta cheese, and halved cherry tomatoes. Adjust the proportions by taste—you should be able to just taste the herbs and the shallots, and it should be pleasantly tangy&sweet&salty. Eat right away or pack for lunch.

(Other things that I didn't have on hand but that I suspect might go well here: chopped kalamata olives, small broccoli florets slightly steamed, chopped roasted red peppers, etc.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pickles and preserves

Time for another ridiculously out of season post. My papaya tree has been giving me more papayas, and the neighbors have more oranges and lemons than they know what to do with. Another neighbor gave me a bunch of jars and some basic preserving advice, and the results were pretty good.

Orange/Lemon Marmalade

Ingredients/equipment:
All the oranges and lemons you've got
A few bags of sugar
An old cotton T-shirt, or some cheesecloth
Some string
A really gigantic pot
A bunch of clean, dry jars

Procedure:
Wash the oranges and lemons, chop them in half, and juice them. Dump the juice into the pot, but set aside the seeds and pith. Chop the orange and lemon rinds, and dump them into the pot too. Wrap the seeds and pith in a chopped-out piece of the cotton T-shirt, or a square of cheesecloth, tie it shut with the string, and dump it into the pot. This will let you get all the nice pectin out of the seeds, but will prevent you from having to chomp down on them later on. Leave the end of the string hanging out of the pot for easy removal. Cover everything with water (just barely) put the lid on the pot, and simmer until the rinds are soft. (Set aside a few hours for this step.) Remove from heat, take the seeds out, and add sugar until the volume of the concoction has doubled, then stir until the sugar is dissolved. Don't be impatient, or you'll end up with grainy marmalade! Once the sugar has dissolved completely, put the pot back on the heat, bring it to a boil, and boil for five minutes, or until a small quantity dropped onto a plate sets in 1-2 seconds. Pour into jars while hot, and let cool for a couple of hours. Screw tops onto jars, and voila! You have a huge amount of marmalade!

Hot Papaya Pickle

Ingredients/materials:
2 large papayas
3-6 tablespoons salt
100g mustard seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2tsp asafoetida (fenuigreek) powder
A couple of hot chili peppers, chopped however you please
A whole bunch of vinegar (I used white, but I think apple cider would work nicely)
The gigantic pot, once all the marmalade is washed off
More clean jars

Peel and dice papayas. Put them in a mixing bowl with the salt, stir, and leave for an hour or two, until shriveled. Discard the juice; dump the papayas into the pot. Add the spices and chili peppers, and cover the whole mixture with vinegar, leaving about an inch of extra vinegar at the top. Boil for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, pour into jars, and voila! Papaya pickle!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

despair and carmelized onions

despair, because of imminent starvation. that's in fact a common theme to my dinner cooking. imminent starvation and the search of instant gratification. here is what I made a few weeks ago when my vegetable drawer was sad and empty and I had patience for only as long as it takes the pot of pasta to boil. it was really delicious and it made highly excellent lunch leftovers.


Penne with Carmelized Onions

1/2 pack of penne
3 large onions
3 cloves of garlic
couple of needles of a rosemary sprig
3 generous tbsp of creme fraiche
1 tbsp of butter and a glug of olive oil
freshly grated parmesan, lots of it
salt and freshly ground pepper

Boil the pasta and while you're waiting for first the water and then the pasta to boil, slice the onions thinly, and chop the garlic cloves and the rosemary needles.

Heat the olive oil and the butter in a pan, throw in the onions and the finely chopped rosemary needles. Cook at medium heat stirring around frequently, so they don't get burned but beautifully brown and carmelized. After about 10 minutes throw in the the garlic and salt and some ground pepper, stir around a minute or two. If you are getting impatient because the onions are brown but not soft and you want to eat, turn up the heat and add half a cup of pasta water and let it cook until the water is evaporated. (that's what I usually do, because I have very little patience when I am hungry).

Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Taste the onions for salt, pepper and stir in the creme fraiche. Stir into the pasta. If it's not creamy enough for your liking, add another tablespoon of creme fraiche. I almost certainly would do. Eat with lots of parmesan.

This serves two hungry people or one with leftovers for lunch. No need to say that the recipe doubles beautifully.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

tomato lime soup

In the interest of more quick and easy recipes: here's one for soup from "Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home" that I have been using lately.

ingredients:

3 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons cumin
1 tablespoon veggie oil
6 cups tomato juice
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
juice from a large lime
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

instructions:

(1) saute the garlic and cumin in oil for a minute
(2) add the other ingredients
(3) simmer for several minutes

There are lots of ways to dress this up if you have the extra time and ingredients:

(4) add some Tabasco sauce
(5) spoon the soup over crushed tortilla chips
(6) grate cheese on top
(7) add more fresh cilantro on top
(8) chill and top with cubes of fresh avocado

But I think those are all superogatory. Three cheers for Moosewood!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

recipe roundup

here are some recipes that i've tried and really liked over the past six months or so. i can't take any credit for them, but they're great recipes, really delicious, and i thought i should share...

  • channa (from Orangette): best when served with lots of fresh lemon juice and cilantro on top, and yogurt *on the side*
  • cardamom lassi (from Saveur): i make this with non-fat yogurt, a little water (to thin it out), a nice amount of ground cardamom, and simple syrup. you don't even need to dirty a blender—just put it all in a glass, insert a whisk, and vigorously twirl the whisk by rubbing your hands together. i'm sure this would also be swell with kefir (i've just discovered kefir, and am absolutely mad about it). it's very refreshing on hot summer days, which, it seems, are over for this year...
  • slow-roasted tiny tomatoes (from Smitten Kitchen): food bloggers have a tendency to rave about their creations, but really, this is fantastic, every bit as good as it's said to be. it turned boring grape tomatoes into flavorful, succulent little blobs. i suggest tossing the tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and an herb in a bowl prior to putting them on the cookie sheet (so that they get evenly coated with the oil). they're best right out of the oven, although they will keep in the fridge under oil. i'd eat them plain, or toss them on pasta, or spear them with a little piece of cheese, or put them on pizza.
  • roasted butternut squash strudel (from Epicurious): this is time-consuming, but a very yummy, impressive-looking wintery main dish. i rolled it in filo dough into a big log, but in the future, to save time and avoid a big mess, i will probably roll it in frozen puff pastry from TJ's. (and yes, i am "A Cook from Massachusetts"...)
  • pumpkin muffins (from Gourmet): this recipe makes perfect muffins. what more can i say? (be sure to use just 1 c. of pumpkin purée, not the whole can, and be sure to sprinkle the tops with sugar before baking—it results in a better texture on top.)
  • chewy ginger cookies (from Martha Stewart): follow the recipe exactly—it's a little fussy, with all the chilling, but just do it—and you'll get the perfect ginger cookie. i love these, and eat way, way too many when they're around. i happen to prefer them without the chocolate chips, but i realize there's room for rational disagreement here.
there—i've shared some secrets with you! and by secrets i mean a few recipes that have produced glowing oohs and ahs and mmms (especially, i must say, the ginger cookies). but see? it's not me at all, it's just having the right recipe.

i encourage others to post favorite recipes as well...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Frozen Papaya/Lemon Parfait

I know this is out of season, but I've just discovered a great way of using the papayas that grow in my backyard. I'm posting it here before I forget it. Who knows; it could be useful to the MIT community in the future.

Ingredients
1 Ripe Papaya
Milk
Honey
Cinnamon
250 ml Heavy Cream
1 Lemon
1 pint Fresh Berries

Procedure
Peel the papaya and puree it in the blender. Add milk until you've got something with the consistency of a thick smoothie, and add honey and cinnamon until you like the taste. Put the whole thing in the freezer until it's mostly frozen (I find this takes an hour and a half to two hours), then run it through the blender again and stick it back in the freezer.

Zest the lemon and squeeze out a tablespoon of its juice. Whip the cream together with the juice and the zest until it's good and whipped. Layer with berries and frozen papaya mixture in a clear glass. Serve immediately, or stick in the freezer for later use.

Delicious on a hot spring day (she says, as all her MIT friends don their sweaters and trot briskly through the autumn leaves).

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Braised potatoes


Sometime ago I discovered Molly Stevens' All about braising, a lovely companion to our then new dutch oven. And while I went through it quite thoroughly, looking for more and more ways of having things cook in a pot for over two hours at low heat, I somehow missed what could be the One Way of making potatoes.

The idea is so simple. Just find some thin-skinned new potatoes. Wash thoroughly, place in dutch oven and add water (or broth, though do that at your own risk) and some wine to cover half of the potatoes. Add salt and pepper, some herbs, some fat, and some bruised garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a gentle simmer, and cook, covered, for about 40 minutes (Molly Stevens says says 20, but that has never worked for me), turning once with a spoon midway through. Remove lid, bring heat to medium-high, and let the liquid evaporate, shaking the pot a few times to let the braised garlic coat the potatoes.

The original recipe has bay leaves for the herbs and olive oil for the fat. I like combining thyme and rosemary, and combining butter and olive oil. But that's me. Sage and duck-fat might work wonderfully for all I know.

(Disclaimer: The potatoes in the picture were never braised. The dutch oven was busy with a lamb shoulder, so we baked them.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

An announcement, and a recipe

Exciting news: I've enjoyed posting recipes here so much that I decided to start my very own food blog: http://tastememories.typepad.com/ I'm still finding my feet (and my photographs are pretty awful), but I'm having a lot of fun doing so. I'd love it if you'd stop by. Oh, and guest posters would be wonderful - let me know if you're interested! I'm doing recipes of all kinds, provided they're original or at least significant adaptations of an existing recipe.

Of course, I'll still be contributing here, especially when I have a recipe for something vegetarian and lunchable. Here, as proof, is a recipe for an edamame, avocado, cilantro and lime soup that I made recently. (If you visit my blog and scroll down, you'll find an extremely unattractive picture of it. But I swear, it really is good).

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, roughly chopped (I used red onions)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cumin
6 cups vegetable stock
1lb frozen, shucked edamame
1 punnet silken tofu
2 limes
1 avocado, de-stoned
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
½ cup sour cream

Method:

Add the olive oil to a large pan over medium-high heat.

Add the onions, the salt and the cumin, and sauté the mixture for a few minutes, until the onions are soft and beginning to caramelize.

Then, add the vegetable stock and bring it to a boil.

Add the edamame, and boil for about 10 minutes or until soft.

Next, puree the soup in a blender, together with the remaining ingredients (you may need to do this in batches).

Adjust the soup for seasoning and acidity. You can also add a little more liquid if you like.

This serves six, generously. By the way, I actually prefer to serve this soup cold, but it’s nice warm too. Either way, you might want to swirl a little more sour cream into it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Seasoning oil in Indian cuisine

Inspired by Elisa's incredibly delicious last post, I thought I would share a trick I've picked up about cooking Indian food: seasoning the oil you fry with.

You let some oil get really hot (a high burning point is essential). Then you add some whole spice, like mustard seeds or cumin seeds. Then you cover the pot, and wait for the pops. The moment the popping stops, remove the lid, and then begin the dish you would cook with the oil.

This technique requires a bit of bravery, as it's easy to get scared that you'll be burning the spices, but the pops are your guide to success. It frees up a whole new range of flavours to cook with. A toastier, smokier cumin, for example. The taste you get from mustard seeds is wholly unique. A salad of grated carrot, dressed with oil seasoned with mustard seeds, and maybe a little salt and lemon juice, is a tremendous simple dish.

Here is a recipe for eggplant and tomatoes that makes use of this technique.

4 thin, purple Japanese eggplant (sold in Shalimar at Central Sq.)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 cups chopped tomato fresh or canned
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger
1/2 - 1 teaspoon of salt (to taste)
Spice mixture:
2 teaspoons coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
water as necessary

1. Chop the eggplant into 1/4 inch rounds and cook through. Frying, grilling or roasting would all be fine, depending on how you want to trade richness against health. If you fry, do so until lightly golden.

2. On a medium hot flame, get a tablespoon of oil real hot in a frying pan. Add the mustard seeds and fennel seeds, and cover the pan with a lid. Wait until the popping stops, and then remove the lid.

3. add the ginger and garlic, and stir fry until the garlic is golden brown.

4. add the spice mixture, fry for about ten seconds, and then add the tomatoes. Cook for five minutes until the tomatoes turn a little orange and start to fall apart.

5. Add the eggplant to the mixture to heat through. Add water at any time if the mixture is getting dry.

Monday, July 21, 2008

saag paneer

this is a very yummy version using fresh spinach. it's delicious. the cooking takes only about 15 minutes, but the prep takes about 45—you must get all the ingredients ready beforehand. i like to combine all the ingredients that will be added at the same step in one bowl, so when the moment comes i can dump them in and move on quickly. if you don't have all of these spices, i suggest you go to harvest, the co-op in central square. there you can buy spices in bulk, which is great: if you don't cook indian food very often, a quarter's worth of cumin seeds will probably do you just fine. (if you can't tell everything apart by sniffing, though, make sure to label the little bags.)

adapted from this excellent (though overly rich, i think) recipe. serves four.

heat 1-2 tbsp. of peanut oil over medium-high heat, and fry the cubed paneer until it is a light golden color on a couple of sides. drain on a paper towel. (this is optional—the paneer is also tasty unfried.)

in a big pan, heat 1 tbsp. of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. add 1 onion, chopped in a medium dice, and cook a few minutes until it is soft and golden. then add, all at once:

1 cinnamon stick
3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
3 bay leaves
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1 hot green pepper, de-seeded and minced
1 tomato, chopped

cook for 2-3 minutes. fish out all of the cloves, cardamom pods, and bay leaves (because it is no fun to find yourself chewing on a bitter clove down the line). then add 3 bunches of spinach, de-stemmed and washed thoroughly, turning frequently to let the spinach cook down. when all the spinach has wilted and turned a bright green, add these spices:

1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. garam masala
tiny pinch ground cardamon
tiny pinch ground clove
1 tsp. salt (or less or more, if you like)
a couple of grinds of black pepper

mix well and cook everything for another 3 minutes over medium heat. then add:

2 tsp. tomato paste
1/3 cup half-and-half (richer version) OR 1 cup whole-milk plain yogurt (lighter version)

mix well, turn heat down, and simmer gently for another 5 minutes or so. before serving, mix in the paneer and sprinkle a generous amount of freshly chopped cilantro on top.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Carrottes rappées

Fancy French name; simple yummy salad.

Serves 1; multiply accordingly.

2-3 medium carrots, grated with a medium-large grater*
several walnuts, chopped
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. olive oil
good salt and coarse pepper

Combine the first two ingredients in a bowl. Mix together the last three ingredients in another bowl, pour on top of ingredients in first bowl, and mix together.

*If you grate them too finely, they become too juicy and lose their nice firm texture.

Voilà!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

procrastinator cookies

a quick cookie which makes for excellent paper-writing breaks. it's glutenfree, too.

chocolate peanut butter cookies
(courtesy of Epicurious)

1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup light brown sugar (or normal, or mixture of normal and brown...no need for fanciness: these are peanut butter cookies after all)
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips

mix the first five ingredients together in a bowl. add chocolate chips. form cookies using a tablespoon and your hands and drop them on a baking sheet.

bake at 350 F until puffed up and golden. about 10 minutes. don't overbake, an overbaked cookie is a sad cookie. enjoy!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Orange wacky cake,

or what to do when you have a bunch of citrus fruit and no more eggs.


1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
100g butter
2 Clementine oranges

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the dry ingredients in a loaf pan, add a teaspoon of Clementine zest, and mix thoroughly. Melt the butter and juice the Clementines into a liquid measuring cup. Add water to the clementines until you have 1 cup of liquid. (If you have more Clementines instead of a bunch of grapefruit, you can just make 1 cup of juice.) Dump the butter and the orange juice mixture into the dry ingredients and stir just enough to mix. Pop the whole thing into the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until a fork comes out of the center with just a few crumbs on it.

If you have more Clementines, I bet you could top this with a delicious glaze made of Clementine juice plus confectioner's sugar, mixed in the right proportions to generate a thin paste. Unfortunately, I just have grapefruit. Anybody have grapefruit recipes?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lemon sponge cake with lemon curd

My neighbor brought me a basket of citrus fruit from her garden, and this was what I did to use up some of the lemons, along with most of the eggs in my fridge.


lemon curd
5 eggs
juice of 3-5 lemons, plus a big helping of their zest
3/4 cup sugar
100 g butter, cut into cubes

You'll need to set up a steam double boiler for this recipe. Luckily, making a steam double boiler is nowhere near as complicated as it sounds. The end result you're shooting for is basically a saucepan with a mixing bowl inside it. The diameter of the mixing bowl should be greater than the diameter of the saucepan, so that the bowl sits on the saucepan's rim. Between the saucepan and the mixing bowl will be a layer of boiling water, not quite deep enough to touch the mixing bowl's bottom. Inside the mixing bowl will be lemon curd.

So, now that you've got this picture fixed in your mind, take the saucepan, and put some water in it (not quite enough water to touch the mixing bowl's bottom). Put the water on the stove to boil. While it boils, combine all the ingredients in the mixing bowl. When the water boils, put the bowl on top of the saucepan. Stir the lemon curd constantly until it thickens. (I find that after 15-20 minutes, it changes suddenly from a liquid to a sort of pudding thing). Take the lemon curd off the heat and let cool.


lemon sponge cake

1 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Sift together the flour and the baking soda. Combine the eggs, sugar, and lemon juice in a separate bowl, and beat until huge and fluffy (you're looking for this mixture to triple in size). Fold in flour, and bake at 425 degrees Farenheit for 15 minutes.


Serve with tea and cucumber sandwiches.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

3 minute gazpacho

The perfect way of using up half an avocado. Simple and divine.

Ingredients:
2 large vine-ripened tomatoes
1/2 English hothouse cucumber, peeled
1/2 avocado
handful mint (or basil, or maybe even cilantro)
sea salt
red wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil

Method:
Grate the tomato and cucumber into a bowl. (By the way, grating rather than dicing tomato as a topping for bruschetta is a trick that I learned from the wonderful cookbook 'Moro.' I highly recommend both the technique, and the book.)
Chop the avocado and mint, and add it in.
Season the mixture to taste with (about) a pinch of salt, (about) a teaspoon of the oil, and (about) a tablespoon of the vinegar.
Add a little bit of water if you want a soupier mixture.

A satisfying meal for one.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Philosopher's Lunchbox: Edition #5

I should be writing my second year paper now; hence this post.

Lentil and Chorizo Stew

Ingredients
4 little chorizo sausages (the cooking kind, not the slicing kind), sliced into hefty chunks
1 large shallot
pinch red pepper flakes
pinch Spanish paprika
1 can tomatoes
1/2 pound green lentils
pinch sea salt
2 bay leaves
32 fluid oz chicken stock
2 large chard leaves, rinsed and sliced (I used rainbow chard, but I'm sure swiss or ruby or even spinach would be fine here)
a few sprigs parsley
freshly ground black pepper

Optional saffron yoghurt garnish:
a small pinch saffron threads
1 tbsp boiling water
2 tbsp greek yoghurt (I used Fage 0% fat)
pinch sea salt

Method
Pop the sausage into a heavy, broad soup pot, and saute over high heat until nicely browned.
Add the shallot; reduce the heat and saute until softened.
Add the red pepper flakes and paprika, and saute for another minute.
Add the tomatoes, lentils, bay leaves, salt and chicken stock.
Bring to a boil and let the mixture bubble away, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes (or until the lentils are soft but retain their integrity).
Meanwhile, make the yoghurt (if you want), by steeping the saffron threads in the boiling water for a few minutes. Then add the saffron water to the yoghurt, along with a pinch of salt.
Taste the stew and yoghurt for seasoning, and add the chard to the soup pot to soften for a minute.
Serve the stew with a small dollop of the saffron yoghurt, some minced parsley, and a good grind of black pepper.

Serves 4.

Substitutions: I think vegetarian sausage would work well in this, too, as long as it had a robust, assertive flavour. Vegetable stock would also be fine in place of the chicken.
Some garlic (added alongside the red pepper flakes and paprika) could be nice with this too, although I tend to think that garlic is somewhat overused in soups and stews.

A nice intellectual song



(Nothing in this post should be construed as denigration of Foster's Lager, a fine bibulation for all you Bruces.)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Philosopher's Lunchbox: edition #4

I made this on a whim, and suggest you follow suit.

Smoked salmon, fennel, avocado and tangelo salad

Ingredients:
a few strips smoked salmon
a few slices of fennel bulb, diced
a few fennel fronds, finely chopped
1 tangelo, halved and 1 half segmented
1/2 avocado, sliced
freshly ground black pepper

dressing:
zest from the tangelo
juice from reserved 1/2 tangelo
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt

Method:
Assemble the salmon, fennel, tangelo and avocado segments prettily on a plate.
Now mix up the dressing until thick (mustard is an emulsifier); taste and adjust the seasoning; drizzle it over the top of the salad.
Top with fennel fronds and a liberal amount of black pepper.

A perfect lunch for one.

P.S. I have a feeling a few oily black olives might be a nice addition too.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Dissertation Writer's Breakfast

Ingredients:

1. Frosted Flakes, 1-1/2 cups














2. White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky, 2 cups

















3. Cool Whip, 1/2 cup


















4. Leftover Easter eggs (raw), 6-12


















5. Crack, 1/2 Tbsp.











Preparation:


Combine ingredients in bowl.

Ricotta Stuffed Mushrooms and Peaches

Hello from Oz! One of the things I really like about Oz, aside from the weather and the flying monkeys, is the Greek deli down the street from my house that sells fresh ricotta for $5.99 a kilo. Here are two ricotta recipes I put together back in February, back when peaches were in season. They're not so great side by side, but you can serve the first one for dinner and the second one for dessert.

If you don't feel like baking these things, I've also had good results cooking them on the stovetop in a wok with a cover.

Disclaimer: I tend to measure with my eyeballs, so I'm not entirely sure I've got all the measures and cooking times right. If your common cooking sense conflicts with either recipe, I would suggest listening to your common sense.


ricotta stuffed mushrooms

25-30 crimini mushrooms
1 ear corn
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 large red bell pepper, (capsicum) diced
1 bunch fresh coriander, chopped (oregano and basil also work well)
250 g ricotta
2 tablespoons olive oil

Wash mushrooms, set caps aside, and dice stems. Un-silk corn and chop kernels off cob. Saute mushroom stems and corn in butter for 15 minutes, adding diced capsicum after 10 minutes. Place mushroom stem mixture in mixing bowl; add coriander and ricotta; mix well. Stuff mushroom caps with ricotta mixture and arrange on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and bake at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until mushrooms are cooked through.


ricotta stuffed peaches

4-5 peaches
150 g ricotta
a handful of crushed walnuts (pecans or pistachios would also be good)
2 tbsp finely chopped mint (better yet, blend it in a blender)
1-4 tbsp honey

Halve peaches and remove pits. In mixing bowl, mix ricotta, walnuts, mint, and honey to taste. (This is one of those things that will taste good raw if it's going to taste good cooked.) Stuff peaches with ricotta mixture and arrange on a cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes. Be sure to put some water in the bottom of the cookie sheet to prevent the peaches from dessicating.

POLENTA

Prologue: I saw some POLENTA at the store and asked myself, 'WTF is that'? Turns out it's some kind of once-digested corn meal. 'Once-digested corn meal,' I continued to myself, 'sounds remarkable'. Intrigued, I elected to cook something with this magical POLENTA. I went hence to EPICURIOUS.COM, a internet posting wall devoted to puns and recipes. What follows is a minor variation on the recipe found there. I recommend the recipe to those who want Italian sumptuousness without those heavy carbs. Am I right, ladies?!?!

Recipe:

2 pounds precooked polenta (in a tube), cut into 4 (1/2-inch-thick) rounds

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
1/2 pound mixed sliced fresh wild mushrooms
1/2 cup dry red wine (substitute: port you stole from your roommates)
1 1/2 cups bottled marinara sauce (I used an arrabiata, which worked well)

Preheat broiler.

Broil polenta rounds on a lightly oiled large heavy baking sheet 3 to 4 inches from heat until lightly browned in spots, about 9 minutes. Turn rounds over and sprinkle with cheese, then broil until polenta is golden in spots and cheese is melted, about 8 minutes more.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over high heat until it shimmers, then cook sausage, breaking up lumps, until just cooked through, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Heat remaining tablespoon oil in skillet over medium heat until it shimmers, then cook mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add wine and boil, scraping up any brown bits, until reduced by about half, about 2 minutes. Stir in sausage and tomato sauce and simmer, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Season with salt.

Serve ragout spooned over polenta.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

puy lentils and frilly fennel fronds

say the title of this post five times very quickly—did you say 'frennel' or 'fonds'?? i like fennel because you get a vegetable and an herb all in one, and they're both quite tasty. the fronds are also good in salads (make a citrus vinaigrette with them), and, i'm told, make an excellent bed for roasting fish.

serves 2+

1 cup french puy lentils (the small dark green ones)
1 fennel bulb, diced
1 sweet onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
fennel fronds, chopped
some goat cheese, crumbled
some cherry tomatoes, halved
a small squeeze of lemon

cook the lentils in boiling water, without any salt, until they are done (but not overdone—they should retain their shape and still have some bite to them); then rinse them in cold water and drain. while the lentils are cooking, sauté the onion, fennel and carrot in a glug of olive oil over moderate heat until they are softened. when they're softened, add the garlic and a good pinch of salt and sauté a minute or two more. combine the lentils and the vegetables, and add the goat cheese (not too much), fennel fronds, and tomatoes. mix everything together so that the goat cheese can get things creamy. a bit of lemon adds extra zing.

this is best eaten right away, as the onion flavor takes over if left in the fridge overnight. (onions can be quite aggressive in that way.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fried Rice*

Ingredients:
1 egg
2 slices of bacon, diced
1/4 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 tablespoon minced ginger
1/4 bunch scallions
2 cups day old rice
1/4 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon chopped cilantro 
salt and pepper
canola oil for cooking

(1) Saute whisked egg in hot oil, transfer to paper towel.
(2) Cook bacon, then add garlic, ginger, scallions and stir fry till softened.
(3) Add rice, soy sauce, and egg, and stir, breaking up egg.
(4) Add cilantro and season.

*This recipe is Ming Tsai's.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

a simple salad

this requires very little work, which makes it perfect for paper-writing season.

1 cucumber, seeded and diced
2 tomatoes, chopped
a handful of mint leaves, chopped
a healthy chunk of feta, crumbled

mix everything together. i think it's great just as it is, but if you like, you can add a dribble of olive oil, a little black pepper, a squeeze of lemon, or even a bit of orzo to make it more of a meal.

Monday, April 28, 2008

rainy day

hmpf. what can you do but make soup?

tomato chickpea orzo soup

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 leek, sliced (optional)
2 sprigs of celery, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 14 oz can of chickpeas, drained
1/2 tsp dried thyme
4 cups vegetable broth
1 large handful of fresh parsley, chopped
salt, pepper

1/2 pack of orzo pasta (about one cup)

Pour the olive oil into your soup pot and heat over medium high heat. Add the onion and saute until it softens, stirring, ca 5 min.

Throw in the leek, the celery, garlic and thyme. Saute for a few minutes until the vegetables soften a little and you can smell the garlic.

Add the diced tomatoes, the chickpeas and the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and lower the temperature and let the soup simmer for about 10-15 min.

Meanwhile cook the orzo in a separate sauce pan. Drain when it's al dente.

Using an immersion blender, blend the soup, though not too much--you want some chunky pieces and some chickpeas remaining. Throw in the orzo, the chopped parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Eat with yoghurt on top.

Serves 3.

Monday, April 14, 2008

spring! lentils!

I usually associate lentils with more wintery dishes but this is spring-like and crunchy and easy and makes sublime leftovers. i put it on a plate with a soft boiled egg and some baguette and it made friends with them immediately.

spring-like lentil salad

1 cup French lentils
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp dried thyme
3 cups of water

1/2 red onion, finely diced
1/2 cucumber, peeled, deseeded (half lenghtwise and scoop out the seeds) and finely diced
1 bunch of radishes, diced
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1 handful of parsley, chopped
some crumbled goat cheese
a handful of toasted sunflower seeds

dressing:
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar (or balsamico)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
salt, freshly ground pepper


Put the lentils in a sauce pan together with the water, the thyme and the crushed garlic cloves. Bring to a boil and then let it simmer for about 30 min or until the lentils are tender. Don't add salt to the water, as (so the legend goes) it will make the lentils tough.

When the lentils are done, fish out the garlic, drain them and let them cool off for a little while. Ideally, you don't want them to be much warmer than room temperature.

Mix together the ingredients for the dressing, adding salt and lots of freshly ground pepper.

Mix the lentils, chopped vegetables, parsley and dressing together. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if required. And maybe another Tbsp of vinegar? Sprinkle with the sunflower seeds and the goat cheese.

Eat. Serves 3.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lightning-fast pappardelle

For a dish thrown together in 15 minutes, this was surprisingly good (and attractive, too). Be sure not to overcook anything.

Serves 2

1 package lemon & black pepper pappardelle from Trader Joe's
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 bag baby spinach
6-8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
olive oil
good salt

Heat water for the pasta. Slice the garlic, place it in a pan along with a glug of olive oil, and heat it on low until the garlic starts to sizzle faintly. As soon as it does, turn the heat off and let the garlic cool down in the oil for a few minutes. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and take off any long stems on the spinach.

When the pasta water is boiling, add the pappardelle. When the pappardelle is about halfway cooked, add the cherry tomatoes to the garlic, along with a pinch of salt, and turn the heat on low again. When the pappardelle is done (but still al dente), scoop it out of the water and into the other pan, along with the spinach. Continue to cook everything over low heat, mixing and turning, until the spinach is just wilted (this takes about a minute). If you like, you can serve it with a bit more salt, a grind of pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil on top.

If my brother hadn't stolen my digital camera (by losing his, saying he needed mine for a trip, and then never returning it), I'd have a lovely photo to share. The bright colors of this dish are pretty.

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

One last Moosewood recipe before I get round to returning the book to my vegetarian blogging friends Dave and Katharine (www.holdthemeat.blogspot.com). This is one of the best. I love recipes like this, where there are different flavours in each bite.

2 tablespoons olive oli
4 cups egpland
4 pressed garlic cloves
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup orzo
2 tsps capers
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup minced red bell peppers
2/3 pitted chopped mixed olives
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

grated feta cheese

(1) heat oven to 450. lightly oil a 9 x 12 inch baking pan.
(2) Mix olive oil, eggplant, garlic and salt in the pan. Bake until edges of eggplant begin to brown, 20 -30 minutes.
(3) mix together the eggplant with all the other ingredients in a large bowl.
(4) cook orzo in salted water, and then mix with the vegetable mix.

Friday, April 4, 2008

lazy tarte (and a million variations)


This was an improvised Easter brunch dish, inspired by finding frozen puff pastry that is made with butter at Trader Joe's. If you make it, make sure that your puff pastry is all-butter too--there really is no point in eating butterless puff pastry. This is particularly nice with a salad on the side. As for toppings, the possibilities are endless, though I would keep it simple: carmelized onions, roasted butternut squash, sauted courgette, whatever is in season/fridge. You can also add a handful of fresh, chopped herbs to the ricotta mixture.

lazy tarte

1 sheet of puffpastry (I highly recommend the TJ frozen one)
1 cup of ricotta
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 egg
10 stalks of green asparagus, woody ends chopped off
a handful of cherry tomatoes, cut in halves
1/2 cup of crumbled fresh goat cheese, or feta

If the puffpastry is frozen, let it become unfrozen. Roll it out so it fits more or less your baking sheet (9 x 13 in seems a reasonable size). For those of you who like mathematical precision: 1/8 inch is the thickness you are aiming for. Prick it with a fork all over.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Combine the ricotta, the egg and the garlic. Salt to taste and add lots of freshly ground pepper. Spread the cheese mixture over the puff pastry base, leaving some room at the edge. Arrange the asparagus and the cherry tomatoes (cut side up) on the filling. Sprinkle with goat cheese.

Bake for about 30 min until the pastry edge is golden and the filling is set.

Eat, still warm and with a salad on the side. Serves 4-x with leftovers for x lunches.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Almost no-Knead Bread


Last night, D and I hosted a most enjoyable dinner party. The company was terrific, and the menu was as follows:

Appetizer: homemade flaky pastry rounds topped with membrillo (Spanish quince paste) and melted Camembert.

Main: sundried tomato and harissa paella (a slight modification of Elisa’s recipe – it was so good; thanks, Elisa!); arugula, blood orange, chevré and pine nut salad; homemade bread (see above).

Dessert: raspberry sachertorte (a dense and rich Viennese chocolate cake soaked in raspberry – rather than the traditional apricot – syrup, and coated with a shiny dark chocolate glaze).

I was quite pleased with how most of it turned out. But the highlight for me, by far, was the bread. I’ve never attempted to make bread at home before. I think I was worried that it would be a lot of effort for a mediocre result, since it is hard to make good bread in an ordinary oven. But, honestly, this was some of the best bread I’ve ever tasted. The crust was crackly but light, the crumb pleasantly chewy yet delicate, and the flavour was complex and tangy. Topped merely with some good unsalted butter, a slice of this bread was an absolute treat.

But this was no ordinary bread recipe. Ever since Mark Bittman published Jim Lahey’s recipe for no-knead bread in the NYT in November 2006, home cooks have been raving about Lahey’s invention of a “a truly minimalist breadmaking technique that allows people to make excellent bread at home with very little effort.” (Full article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/08mini.html?_r=1&oref=slogin)

The idea is to take some ordinary flour, a tiny amount of instant (also known as rapid rise yeast) and some water. The dough is left to hang about for 18 hours, to get the gluten going (thus taking the place of a traditional kneading). Then the dough is shaped, and left to rise for another 2 hours. After that, you bake it in a dutch oven, so that steam will help a good crust develop (also, my understanding is that the dough would be too wet to shape, so the dutch oven prevents the dough from spreading out all over the place).

Apparently, though, this recipe produced a bread with a fantastic crust and crumb, but not quite enough flavour. A recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated promised to improve matters by introducing vinegar and light ale into the batter. Also, so as to improve the bread’s shape, this recipe calls for a decrease in the amount of liquid in the dough, and compensates for this by introducing a tiny bit of kneading (you knead the dough 10 – 15 times before the second rising). Whatever the case, it’s still incredibly easy to do, and the results are better than this clumsy, novice baker ever would have thought possible.

Since I made zero modifications, I will simply give you the link to the recipe http://www.cooksillustrated.com/recipe.asp?recipeids=4748&bdc=56976#topOfPage, together with an entreaty to try this if you love good bread but didn’t think you could make a good loaf at home.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

(Almost) Rotten cantaloupe granita

A couple of weeks ago I was looking at cantaloupes in the store. I had never before bought cantaloupes (really), so I went for it and bought two.

Of course, yesterday afternoon I realized I had completely forgotten about the cantaloupes. There they were, hiding somewhere between our plants. The smell was there: eat me or I'll die. Or maybe: eat me, I'm almost dead.

I cut one up, ate some, got bored and put the rest back in the fridge, all nicely cut up and properly tupperwared. (K. opted for bread and mushrooms to get her daily amount of fruit.) I was proud of myself, for rescuing at least one of them. But I had no idea what to do with the other one: cutting it up would surely mean having it morph into some strange thing in the fridge instead. I thought of cryonics and the urban legend surrounding the late Walt Disney and looked at the freezer instead. But the thought of defrosted cantaloupe made me want to cry.

Fortunately, I have a nice blender, courtesy of my former roommates. Plus, again to my friends' credit, I have a fantastic bottle of grappa di nebbiolo (one of the most wonderful grappas I've ever tried). And there was room in the freezer. So I put the other canteloupe in the blender with some sugar (about 1/4 cup), a splash of grappa (anything more than a splash and I'd end up in the bottom of the Charles with cement shoes, I know), the juice of half a lemon, and a couple of ice cubes (optional, I'd say).

The whole thing has been in the freezer for a while in a plastic container. We just shaved some off the top and put it in a bowl after dinner. The result is icy and yet creamy (probably because of the alcohol). It hits you with a punch of fresh fruit, followed by a hint of grappa that leaves your mouth tingly (a true two-part taste experience). It's pretty good, if I may say so. But I blame it on the (almost?) rotten fruit.

(The inspiration came from a post by David Lebovitz. I adapted a recipe from Gourmet, August 2005, that didn't seem right to me.)




Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Thai-style scallops-in-a-packet

Like the recipe below, this is from "Moosewood Restaurant New Classics", a predominantly veggie book which is just super. Feeling poor, I made it with Tilapia. It goes perfectly with the vegetables below.

Serves 4; preparation 35 mins; baking 20 mins

1/4 cup veg oil
1/2 cup lime juice
1 to 2 tsp chinese chili paste
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups thinl sliced zuchhini / yellow squash
2 cups peeled & thinly sliced carrots
1 1/2 lbs sea scallops or tilapia
2 cups thinly sliced red bell peppers
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 cup mung bean sprouts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 450. For each fillet, fold a 12 x 24 inch sheet of aluminum foil in half to make a double thick 12 inch square. If you can find banana skins, this would be even better for the packets.
2. Mix together oil, lime juice, chili paste, brown sugar and salt.
3. Place 1/4 of the zucchini and carrots in the center of each foil square and drizzle a little sauce.
4. Lay 1/4 of the scallops / tilapia, top with bell peppers, and pour remaining sauce over.
5. Mix together herbs and sprinkle half of it over the packets, and reserve the rest.
6. Fold each foil square into an airtight packet, crimp the edges shut, and place on an unoiled baking sheet with sides to catch any drips.
7. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the scallops are opaque and tender. Careful opening the packets, as steam will be released.
8. Serve with the rest of the herbs, and serve mung sprouts on top if you like. ( I don't.)

Asian greens & spring vegetables

This is a smashing side dish to serve with the fish parcels above

Serves 4 to 6. Total time: about 20 mins.

6 oz snow peas or asparagus spears
4 cups sliced bok choi or 6 cups rinsed spinach leaves
1 cup carrot matchsticks
1/2 cup daikon matchsticks
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
lemon wedges

dressing

3 tbsp dark sesame oil
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp sugar
2 tsp grated ginger root
1/3 cup scallions, sliced on the diagonal

1. Blanch the peas for 1 to 2 minutes (or aspargus for 7 inutes)
2. Blanch the bok choi for 2 to 3 minutes (or spinach for 1)
3. Mix the bok choi with half the dressing, and carrots and daikon with the other half.
4. Lay carrots / daikon on top of the bok choi, garnish with the scallions and sesame seeds, and serve with lemon wedges.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Vegetarian Paella

Alex's mother recently gave me goulash paste and fresh, fragrant sweet paprika from Hungary. These are wonderful in this dish, but you can make it with regular tomato paste and any old sweet paprika and it will still be very good. This is a modification of the paella recipe that Mark Bittman published last year in the NYT. I have reduced the quantity—just look to his recipe if you want to make more. This recipe does require that you have a pan with a metal handle, because you have to put it in the oven and a wooden or plastic handle will not handle the heat well (sorry, I couldn't resist). If you're making the amount I suggest below, a big frying pan works well; if you're making more, then you'll need a deeper pan. It makes a beautiful, hearty and homey vegetarian main dish. You could vary the filling—the plain tomato version is quite good, and I've tried it with chickpeas, zucchini, even asparagus—but this is a great, traditionally Hungarian combination.

Serves 2 generously

1 c. arborio rice
2 c. water (or 1 c. water and 1 c. stock)
1 tomato, cut into wedges
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, diced
1 vegetarian sausage (try Boca's Italian ones), chopped
1 tsp. sweet paprika (the fresher the better)
1/4 tsp. hot pepper (I like aleppo pepper), optional
pinch saffron (again, the fresher the better)
1 tbsp. tomato paste or goulash paste
salt and fresh black pepper
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. olive oil
fresh parsley, optional (but pretty)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees, and heat the water and/or stock. In a bowl, drizzle the tomato wedges with the olive oil, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper. Toss to coat. In an all-metal pan, sauté onion, green pepper and sausage with the vegetable oil over medium-high heat, until they are softened and lightly browned (about 7-10 minutes). Add garlic, spices and paste, and sauté one more minute. Add rice and cook 1-2 minutes more, while mixing and stirring. Add liquid, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a little pepper; stir to combine and bring to a boil. When it is just starting to boil, turn off the heat and arrange the tomato wedges on top in an attractive circle. Drizzle the tomato juices at the bottom of the bowl over the top. Grind a little extra pepper over the top of the tomatoes, and carefully place the pan in the oven. After 20 minutes, check it: if the rice is not yet done, cook it a few more minutes (if the rice is not yet done, but is dry, add a little more liquid). Remember to use a thick oven mitt: the pan will be very hot! When it's done—that is, when the rice and vegetables are fully cooked and enough liquid has cooked off to make it a nice texture—return it to the oven, turn off the heat, and let it sit there for 10-15 minutes. Cool for a few minutes, sprinkle with parsley if you're using it, and serve right away.

It takes about 20 minutes of active cooking and 30-40 minutes of roasting and cooling.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My parents' rice

My mother and my father both have very particular ways in which they make fluffy rice. The results, while both fluffy, are quite different from one another. My mother says that her method is Persian in origin, and my father says that his is Vietnamese. I will have to take their word for it...they, not I, lived in those places. My mother's method yields soft, separated grains, the kind of rice you find in India and (not surprisingly) goes extremely well with Indian food. My father's method yields grains that aren't exactly separated, but aren't sticky or heavy either. His rice is very dry and light--you've probably never had rice with this texture. (I haven't aside from his.) Both of these recipes work best with long grain white rice. If you have a different sort of rice, I would suggest my mother's method, although the result won't be the same.

I've written detailed instructions here, but once you get the hang of it both recipes are quick and easy--you can make them in about 30 minutes, while you cook whatever it is you're going to have with the rice. Basically, they involve boiling, draining and steaming.

My mother's rice


Heat plenty of water in a pot. Make sure you have enough water to let the rice swim freely around. While it is heating, rinse the rice: in a bowl, add cold water, let sit, stir, drain, and repeat. When the water is boiling, add the rice, bring back to a boil, and then turn the heat down so that the rice is just simmering. Let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until the grains are *almost* done (they should have just a little bite left to them). Turn off the heat and drain the rice in a colander. Add a little butter to the bottom of the pot, put the rice back in the pot, mix in a little bit of salt (and a pinch of saffron, if you want), cover the pot completely with a clean kitchen cloth, and return it to the stove. Turn the heat on very, very, very low and let it steam for about five minutes without lifting the cloth. At that point, fluff it with a fork and see what it's like. If it's not quite dry enough, steam it for a few more minutes. If you want a golden crust on the bottom—a Persian, not an Indian feature—heat it on medium-low heat for a few minutes more, and make sure you have put a nice little bit of butter in the bottom.

My father's rice

This requires precision, just like baking: the directions are not hard, but they must be followed exactly. Heat plenty of water and rinse the rice, as before. Make sure you rinse the rice very thoroughly (maybe 3 or 4 times). Add the rice to the boiling water and boil for exactly 2 minutes. Drain and return the rice to the pot. Add new cold water until the grains of rice form "islands": some grains of rice should stick out above the surface of the water, forming little islands, but no grains should be fully out of the water. Imagine arctic waters with lots of little chunks of ice floating on it, and you'll get the picture. (Whew, now you're done with the crucial step!) Turn the heat up until the rice comes to a boil again, about 1-2 minutes. Then turn the heat down to very low, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid (you don't want any air escaping), and leave it alone for about twenty to thirty minutes. It's done when the rice is dry, soft and fluffy.

Easy raita

I like Indian curries best when accompanied by fluffy rice and raita. Here is a recipe for the latter, to go with the recipe for a basic curry that I posted a while back. I don't know whether this is how Indian cooks would make it, but it's an incredibly simple way to make a delicious raita that will do the trick every time. This makes enough for two people.

1 small container plain yogurt, or around 1 cup
1/2 medium cucumber
1 tbs. water
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground cumin
fresh cilantro, chopped

Optional additions: ground coriander, black mustard seeds, chopped fresh mint

Peel the cucumber, cut it in half lengthwise, and scoop the seeds out with a small spoon. Dice the cucumber: cut the two pieces into long strips, line the strips up, and cut them crosswise to make small even pieces. In a bowl, combine the yogurt, salt and cumin. Add enough water to achieve a desirable consistency (it shouldn't be too gloppy or too runny - with non-fat yogurt, that usually means about 1 tbs.). Add the diced cucumber, mix well, and sprinkle with cilantro.

That's it! Now that was five minutes well spent.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Leftover risotto, anyone?

There's one thing I'm not willing to compromise on: leftover risotto. Don't get me wrong: I don't like throwing away food. But really, what could be worse than a bowl of reheated risotto?

OK, maybe I'm exaggerating. I can think of a few things worse than that. But really, when you think of what that gooey thing in a tupperware in your fridge used to be, it feels like blasphemy to reheat it and eat it as if it were actually any good. I'd rather eat a sandwich, or just bread with butter, or even cereal with cold milk. (Somehow, I can't think of few things more depressing than having cereal with milk for dinner. But that's just me.)

So, what do you do with leftover risotto? For a while, I would just make sure there wasn't such a thing. This means I was constantly terrified of making too much risotto, unless I knew someone would volunteer to eat and eat until the end. (I won't name names.)

Until we finally thought of The Obvious.

Risotto balls

What you need:
-Leftover risotto. (Basil risotto is our favorite for this.)
-Bread crumbs.
-Goat cheese. (Please, no matter what you do: don't leave it out.)
-Grapeseed oil. (Or any other oil you have that withstands high temperatures and doesn't have a strong flavor.)

What you will do:

-Make little balls of risotto with your hands.
-Stick a piece of goat cheese in the middle, and reshape.
-Cover the risotto balls with bread crumbs using your favorite method.
-Fry in very hot oil until golden.
-Eat immediately, preferably with finely chopped tomatoes that you've left to marinate with some garlic, balsamic, olive oil and a little bit of orange peel. And of course, some sea salt and black pepper. But I didn't need to tell you that.





Saturday, February 9, 2008

emergency-pea-soup.

I make this when I come home absolutely, completely starving and I absolutely cannot bear the thought of waiting more than 15 minutes for dinner. It's instant gratification.

emergency pea soup.
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
2 medium potatoes (e.g. russett), peeled and diced (the smaller you dice them the faster you get to eat)
1 pack of frozen peas
5 cups vegetable stock
pat of butter or 2 Tbsp olive oil
salt, pepper

Heat the butter or oil in a big pot on medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute for a minute or two until it turns translucent and starts to smell good. Throw in garlic, celery and stir around for a minute or so.

Add potatoes and pour over the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and let simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes, which is just about enough for a quick shower.

Back in the kitchen turn the heat up and throw in the bag of peas. Bring back to boil and simmer for another 4 minutes or until the peas are cooked through.

Get out your immersion blender and blend happily away until the soup is smooth. Taste: Some pepper. More salt? Maybe a squeeze of lemon?

Eat, preferably with a blob of yoghurt.

Serves 2 extremely hungry people or 1 with generous left-overs.




Note: The soup is easily fancy-fied by topping it with some chopped parsley and maybe some dry-roasted pine nuts or sunflower seeds. Or, if you have an open bottle of white wine sitting in your fridge, you can replace half a cup of the vegetable stock with it.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Challah

Some cooks approach even simple bread
with fear and trembling, despair and dread.
Indeed, such fear's surprisingly widespread --

yet utterly unjustified;
for of all baking, bread provides
the most reward for least demand -- so I'd

argue, anyway. This recipe
is near-effortless, dear addressee:
it comes with the guarantee

of years of Friday morning kneads,
and nine times out of ten succeeds
no matter how the baker proceeds.

I learnt it ultimately from George Greenstein,
but my mother made it part of my routine.


Challah (for novices and experts, but addressed to the novices).

1 cup warm water
2 packages active dry yeast
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
4 cups flour, plus a little more for dusting the kneading surface and your hands
2 teaspoons salt
plus
1 egg and 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash
cornmeal for dusting the baking sheet
and
(optional) sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or anything else you like for topping the bread

Unusual materials:
8-inch springform pan (only if you plan to make a Rabbi's challah)
pastry brush (for applying the egg wash)

In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and stir to dissolve. (The water should be about 110 degreed Fahrenheit -- warm enough to help your rise, but not hot enough to kill the yeast.) Add egg, egg yolks, oil, sugar, flour, and salt; stir until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.

Lightly flour a large, clean, smooth working surface (if you don't have marble or a silicone mat, use a large cutting board, very smooth table mat, or unusually clean kitchen counter) and turn the dough out onto it. If the dough is too soft and sticky to work with, add more flour 1/4 cup at a time, but this should be a last resort -- 4 cups is plenty, and more will start to make the bread too tough. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic and the gluten is well-developed -- perhaps ten minutes if it's your first time kneading and you haven't got the hang of it, but usually no more than three or four. You can tell you're done if the dough springs back when you poke it and the indent disappears.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, turn to coat, and cover until the dough is tripled in volume, about 2 1/2 hours. (But you don't have to take my word for it. Time of rising will vary -- by a LOT -- from kitchen to kitchen and from occasion to occasion, so don't rely on the clock. And of course it'll be much shorter if you're using Rapid-Rise yeast, which there's no special reason not to do as it doesn't make any discernible difference in the final product that I can tell.) This is a fully aged, or ready, dough.

Punch down the dough, cut it in half, cover it (tight covering is great but it'll do fine even loosely covered), and let it rise for 15 more minutes. Punch it down again. Now it's time for braiding!

Some people (e.g., my mom) can do these elaborate beautiful braids with six-parts that look really impressive. If you can do that, great. But I can't, and if this is your first time making challah you probably won't want to try. You might as well just go with one of the classic shapes for challah: a traditional three-strand braid, a circle (for Rosh HaShanah especially), or a Rabbi's challah.

To shape a three-strand braided challah:
Take one of the two lumps of dough out of the bowl and roll it into a long rope. Tear the rope in three as evenly as possible, then join the three little ropes at one end. Move one of the extreme ropes into the center; then the other; then the other, etc., until there's just enough left of each rope to join them together at the other end. Then do that. Place the braided challah on a cornmeal-dusted baking sheet.

Another option is to place the braided challah into a cornmeal-dusted loaf tin -- it should fit in one of various standard sizes -- and place the tin on the baking sheet. The ultimate size and shape of your challah is much more under your control if you take this path, but your challah will look squarish, and it may be difficult to remove it from the pan.

To shape a circle challah:
Take one of the two lumps of dough out of the bowl and roll it into a long rope. Wind the rope around from the center outwards in a spiral. Place the challah on a cornmeal-dusted baking sheet.

To shape a Rabbi's challah:
Dust a springform pan eight inches in diameter with cornmeal. Take one of the two lumps of dough out of the bowl. Tear off a hunk about a third of the size of the whole and place it in the middle of the springform pan. Tear off smaller hunks and surround the central hunk of dough with them. Place the pan on a baking sheet.

Of course, there are two lumps, and the recipe makes two challahs, but both should fit on one baking sheet. I tend to braid one and make another as a Rabbi's challah. If you don't want two challahs, you can refrigerate or freeze the dough, but not for very long, so it makes more sense to make both and just freeze a part of the finished product.

Whew. Now beat the last egg with the teaspoon of water to make the egg wash. Brush the breads with the egg wash, taking care to cover them completely and not to let excess egg wash drip into their crevices.

Place the challahs in a warm, draft-free area (a pre-warmed oven or turned-off top oven with a bottom oven on is ideal, and the dough will rise much faster in such circumstances), cover them with a clean dishtowel or anything that will cover them completely without getting stuck, and allow them to rise until doubled in size -- maybe 45 minutes to an hour. At some point during this second rising, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. When they're through rising, brush the challahs with egg wash a second time, then apply sesame or poppy seeds if using.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 35 minutes. The bread is done when it has a rich mahogany color (it won't have this if you didn't use egg wash) and sounds hollow when you tap it lightly. If there's a white line visible between the cracks, put the bread back in for a few more minutes. Let the bread cool on a wire rack before cutting.

Enjoy!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Molten Milk Chocolate and Sticky Apricot Tart

I have a bit of an aversion to pastry. I don't much like regular shortcrust, so I rarely bother to make it at home. But I got some adorable tartelette tins for Christmas, so I decided to have another try.

I'm glad I did. Such a lip-smacking combination. Crisp, biscuity, chocolatey pastry; sticky, brandied apricots; and molten milk chocolate. I took the pastry recipe from the well-known food blog, chocolateandzucchini.com, and was very happy with the results. The rest is my own invention.


Ingredients
for the pastry:
1 1/4 cup plain flour
3 tbsp cocoa powder
6 tbsp butter
3/8th cup sugar
splash milk

for the apricots:
6 oz dried apricots (not too dry, mind. Some squishiness is good here.)
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 orange, zested and squeezed
3 fluid oz brandy

for the molten chocolate:
6oz high quality milk chocolate (I used valrhona)
2 tbsp vegetable shortening

Other equipment: 6 tartelette tins with removable bottoms

Method
Preheat oven to 430F.

For the pastry:
In a food processor, combine the flour, cocoa powder and sugar.
Add the butter, cut up in small pieces.
Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
Add a small splash of milk and mix again; it should still look quite sandy.
Divide the dough among the tartelette tins, and press firmly into the base and sides. It may help to dust your hands with cocoa powder in order to handle the dough without it sticking.
Prick the base of the tart shells with a fork (this prevents them from puffing up too much in the oven).
Place the tins on a cookie sheet (for ease of handling), and put them into the oven. They should take about 15 minutes to cook, but keep an eye on them.

Meanwhile...

For the apricots:
First, make some flavoured sugar. Split the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds.
Combine the vanilla seeds, orange zest and sugar. Mix well.
(You'll only need half of it, but making a smaller batch doesn't work well given the ingredients. And it lasts forever in the pantry.)
Now, place the apricots, half the sugar, the orange juice and the brandy in a medium saucepan over highish heat.
Boil for about 10 minutes (keeping a close eye on it, and adding more liquid if necessary), until the cooking liquid is sticky and reduced.
It's probably a good idea to taste one of the apricots to make sure the flavours are to your liking (the sweetness of dried apricots varies considerably). You can adjust it by adding more sugar or more orange juice (for greater acidity), if necessary.

For the molten chocolate:
microwave the chocolate and shortening together until melted. Mix well.

To assemble:
Remove the tart shells from the tins, by placing the tartelette tin over a can, and slipping the ring down it. The bottom of the tartelette tin should be fairly easy to remove after this.
Take a slightly cooled tart shell. Fill with several brandied apricots, and then drizzle the molten chocolate over the top and around the sides, until the tart shell is full. Let it firm up slightly, and then serve it with a flourish.

Tips:
- One of my tart shells leaked, and the molten chocolate ran out the bottom. I salvaged it by filling it with chocolate-covered cocoa nibs, which I had on hand. I liked this variation, although it didn't look quite as nice.
- To reheat the tarts (if you want to make them ahead of time), pop them in the microwave for about 30 seconds. This will leave the center firm, but the edges molten. Yummy!
- Try other (fresh or dry) fruits in place of the apricots. Pears (fresh or dried), prunes and cherries (fresh, dried or bottled) all have a wonderful affinity with chocolate, and would respond well to the same treatment given to the apricots here.

Poor Student's Caviar

I never knew why aubergine dip was called 'poor man's caviar' until recently. Apparently, it's not because aubergines are supposed to taste like caviar (they don't), but rather because their seeds bear a faint resemblance to fish roe. I owe that tidbit (together with the knowledge that one can indeed prepare a meal in 30 minutes when one relies almost exclusively upon pre-packaged ingredients) to Rachael Ray. Ahem.

Here is my version of said dish. I don't much care for fish roe, but I do love this.

Ingredients
4 baby aubergines
1 head garlic
sea salt
EVOO
1 handful fresh mint, chopped
1/2 lemon, squeezed

Method
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Cut the aubergines in half, lengthwise.
Place the aubergines and the head of garlic (don't separate the cloves) in a baking tray.
Drizzle the aubergines and garlic with olive oil and sea salt, to taste.
Bake for 40 minutes or so, until the aubergines and garlic are squishy.
Scrape out the aubergine's flesh into a bowl.
Squeeze out each garlic clove's innards into the same bowl.
Add the mint and the lemon juice.
Mash up with a fork, and gobble greedily.

Options
Think of the preceding as a blueprint. I love this simple version, but you can also:
- blend it in a food processor, for a smoother texture. (Although I prefer it chunky.)
- add some roasted tomatoes or red peppers.. yummy.
- try a different herb, like basil or oregano or flat-leaf parsley.
- try adding spices; like cumin, coriander, allspice, cardamon, red pepper flakes...
- add some balsamic vinegar to the aubergines before baking, to give it a more caramelized flavour.
- add some Greek yoghurt for a creamier texture.
- add a drizzle of tahini to turn it into a quick version of baby ghanoush.
- omit the garlic; incur my wrath.

I like this on its own (just eaten with a spoon), but it would also be delicious with (say) pita bread or olive oil crackers. Perhaps even over pasta. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Use lots of labels!

There have been lots of recipes posted that sound delicious, and I can't wait to try them. This is just a reminder to use labels generously: eventually, they will be the primary way of finding recipes.

For consistency, let's just say that "almost vegetarian" means that a recipe can easily be made vegetarian by making a substitution or omission or two.

Gnocchi with Tomato & Basil Sauce

Ingredients:

1 pound package gnocchi
6 large plum tomatoes
1 large handful fresh basil
4 large cloves garlic
8 ounces fresh mozzarella
olive oil
salt

(1) Start water boiling for gnocchi
(2) Smash garlic and cook on very low heat in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil (do not let the garlic turn brown)
(3) Chop tomatoes, gently squeeze out excess juice, add to garlic
(4) Cook tomatoes and garlic on low heat till the tomatoes are mushy and easily smashed (about the time it takes for the water to boil), then smash them
(5) Add about 1 teaspoon kosher salt to tomatoes
(6) Add gnocchi to boiling water
(7) Chop basil, add to tomatoes
(8) Chop mozzarella into 1-2 inch pieces
(9) Scoop floating gnocchi out of the pot and into the tomato sauce (carrying some starchy water into the sauce may be desirable)
(10) Stir gnocchi, then strategically place mozzarella pieces on top
(11) Cover and keep on low heat till the mozzarella begins to melt (about 2 minutes)
(12) Turn off heat and let stand, covered, for 5-10 minutes, letting the starch do its thing with the tomatoes
(13) Serve in warm bowls

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Roasted Cauliflower

Ingredients:

1 head of fresh cauliflower
1 head of garlic
olive oil
salt & pepper

(1) Cut cauliflower into small florets, roughly the same size (about 2 inches), rinse and drain
(2) Peel and smash almost a head's worth of garlic cloves
(3) Combine cauliflower and garlic and coat generously with olive oil
(4) Roast in a very hot oven till golden brown (about 45-60 minutes at about 425 degrees), stirring occasionally so that the florets brown evenly
(5) While hot, season generously with salt and pepper
(6) Serve hot or cold

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lunch burritos

Cooking for one, as I do most of the time here in Cambridge, I often eat the same thing several days in a row. That's because things like a wedge of cheese, a package of tortillas, and a bunch of fresh herbs will last one person many meals, and I try not to waste too much food. Luckily, I don't mind this: when I find a good combination, it usually takes me quite a while to get sick of it.

Burritos are an easy, healthy and yummy lunch staple for me. I bring a package of the hand-made whole wheat ones from Trader Joe's to the department, keep it in our fridge, and then bring in fillings every day. The tortillas are best when warmed up slightly. Here are some of my favorite fillings:

1. Hummus and grated carrot (very simple, but surprisingly good)
2. Diced avocado, lemon juice, black beans, sweet corn and cilantro*
3. (2) with diced tomatoes
4. (2) or (3) with some sort of rice mixture (combine rice with cilantro and lime, or cook with onions, garlic and tomato for spanish rice, etc.)

I usually add lettuce to the fillings above, but I'm a big salad-in-sandwiches fan. Plain lettuce or a mixture of salad greens adds great freshness and crunch, which I love. You could add a little hot sauce or salsa to (2)-(4), or even a little yogurt or cheese, but they're not necessary.

*I also like this on its own, as a salad. Combine one avocado, about 2/3 can of black beans, about the same amount of sweet white corn (fresh in summer, frozen in winter), the juice of one lemon, and a sprinkle of cilantro. Or even leave out the cilantro, if you don't have any on hand. Mmm. Methinks the tartness of the lemon and the sweetness of the corn and avocado go very well together.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tofu with Sa Cha Sauce (沙茶豆腐)

A recent experiment that vegetarianizes a common Taiwanese dish.

Basics
Ingredients
3 spoons sa cha sauce
2 spoons soy sauce
sesame oil as needed
2 blocks firm tofu
1 bulb onion
1/2 bunch nine-storied pagoda basil

Method
0. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
1. Dry tofu and cut into thin slices.
2. Cut onion in half. Slice. Set aside.
3. Mix sa cha sauce with soy sauce in a bowl.
4. Lightly coat a glass baking dish with sesame oil on the bottom. Place slices of tofu in the dish. Evenly pour (3) on top. If more than one layer is needed, then put a little more sesame oil, place more tofu on top, sauce, repeat.
5. Place (4) in the oven until the slices of tofu seem reasonably firm on the outside. 15 min?
6. Heat up a wok. Apply a tiny amount of sesame oil. Add (2).
7. When onions are slightly softened, take out (5) from the oven and add to the wok. Make sure you add the sesame oil-sauce liquid also.
8. Stir-fry (7) with nine-storied pagoda basil for a short amount of time. Serve.

Variations
Ingredients
The original version uses thin-sliced lamb instead of tofu. Other thin-sliced meat would work also.

Instead of nine-storied pagoda basil, you can use thai basil. Maybe basil or even cilantro would work also. You might also be able to do without it.

Substituting sa cha sauce is a bit harder. It is not that difficult to find in Asian markets. However, if you do not have it on hand, then perhaps a mix of fermented bean paste, fried shallots and fish sauce would serve as a substitute?

Consider adding a bit of sugar and rice wine to the sa cha and soy sauce mixture.

Method
The point of putting tofu with the sauce in the oven is to marinate and at the same time also firm it up a bit so that they retains the shape when your stir-fry them. An equally okay way is to marinate the tofu ahead of time and directly stir-fry in a wok.

Clean-up
When you are done eating, there will probably be some sesame oil-sauce liquid at the bottom of the plate. This would complement some plain noodles quite well for next day's lunch!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

smoky red pepper tomato stew

This was designed to use up the big bag of red peppers for a dollar that jumped into my shopping bag at haymarket and demanded to be eaten as soon as possible. For all you who do not like to eat dead bodies, just leave out the bacon.

1 streak of bacon (optional, alternatively a glug of olive oil)
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
1 rib of celery, chopped
4 small or 2 normal sized red peppers
1 28 oz can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes (muir glen)
1 pinch of cayenne
1/2 tsp oregano
1 can of chickpeas
1 handful of chopped parsley

Cut the peppers in halfs, put them on a baking sheet and then under the broiler until their skin starts to blacken. this should take about 10 minutes but it's better to keep an eye on them as you don't really know what kind of things are flammable until you put them under a broiler. Once black spots start to appear on their skin, take them out, leave for a minute or two to cool and then chop them in little strips.

Meanwhile, if using, chop the bacon in little pieces and put them in a large pan or wok on medium heat. (Alternatively just heat the olive oil in the pan.) When they start frying, add the onion and garlic and celery and saute for a few minutes on medium high heat until the onion starts to brown and everything starts smelling very, very good.

Throw in the peppers and tip in the tomatoes and the drained chickpeas, salt to taste and add the oregano and the cayenne. Simmer for about 10 min. Check for salt and or pepper and top with the chopped parsley.

I ate this topped with some crumbled feta and a fried egg as I believe very strongly that (almost) everything tastes better when you put an egg on top.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Philosopher’s Lunchbox: Edition #3

Not much preamble this time, but this is really good (and very quick if you’ve got some leftover cooked squash or pumpkin on hand).

Quick Squash 'Pizza'

Ingredients:
1 pita bread / tortilla
1 cup (or so) cooked squash or pumpkin*
1 handful chopped mint
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt
1 pomegranate, or 1 handful dried cranberries
A couple of tablespoons of gorgonzola, crumbled
Optional: pine nuts

* I suspect canned pumpkin puree would also work in this, although I haven’t tried it.

Method
Preheat oven to 400.
Lay out the pita or tortilla on a cookie sheet or similar.
Combine the squash, mint and olive oil, and salt to taste.
Spread the squash mixture over the ‘pizza’ base.
Sprinkle on the pine nuts, if using.
Sprinkle on the pomegranate seeds or cranberries, along with the cheese.
Bake for 10 minutes or so, until the cheese is a bit melted and the ‘pizza’ is warm.
Cut into wedges, and apply to face.

I also like this with rosemary (instead of the mint) and feta cheese (in place of the gorgonzola), which is how I originally made it back in Australia.

Happy lunching!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Savory Egg Custard (Chawanmushi)

This is something I ate quite frequently as a kid, and continue to enjoy immensely. I think it is good for a snack, an appetizer, quick breakfast, or served along side rice (make it saltier in that case). At the core, chawanmushi is incredibly simple, as the three-ingredient list shows, but it can be made more complex also.

Basics
Ingredients
3 eggs
water
soy sauce

Method
(1) Beat eggs in a bowl thoroughly but gently. Try to minimize the bubbles.
(2) Add water and soy sauce. In terms of volume, I guess a 6:1:1 ratio of egg:water:soy sauce sounds reasonable to me, but adjust for your preferred taste and texture. Mix.
(3) Cover the bowl with a plate and place it in a microwave for 3~4 minutes.
(4) Serve while hot.

Variations
Ingredients
Instead of water, you can use stock or mushroom-rehydration liquid. You can also add other things to the egg mixture, such as mushroom, fishcake, seafood, bamboo, cooked chicken cubes, udon... I also like a bit of pepper and adding a drop of cooking oil to the mixture to give a surface sheen.

Method
To achieve a better texture, you should really use a rice cooker / steamer hybrid. [An Example]

You can also put it in Asian-ish tea cups instead for individual servings, or a bigger ceramic container for bigger portions. Google-image 'chawanmushi' for pictures.

Clean-up
The will be pieces of egginess stuck to the bowl. Rather than trying to scrub them out by brute force, it is easier to get rid of them by leaving the bowl in hot water so that they soften and come off easily.