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Posts Tagged ‘recipes’

I think my love affair with Indian food started in college. My friends and I ate it about once a week, most commonly in the form of a Sunday morning buffet at our favorite restaurant following a late night out. We still laugh about how we would wait outside for the doors to open, and once at our table would order saag paneer in addition to the many all-you-can eat dishes on offer.

I had always wondered about how to recreate the complex flavors of Indian cuisine at home. In one of our few attempts many years ago, this involved grinding MANY different spices with a mortar and pestle. But when I recently took an Indian cooking class with my mom, I discovered another magic ingredient: ghee, or clarified butter. Our instructor had a large jar on hand and kept adding bright yellow scoops to seemingly all the dishes he was teaching us to make, resulting in an incredibly rich and creamy texture.

In our third (and most ambitious) night of world cooking, two of the three recipes called for the use of ghee as the cooking fat. Unfortunately, even a special trip to a market on Devon Avenue didn’t turn up the jarred version. I could have made my own by simmering unsalted butter until the moisture evaporates and the milk solids settle to the bottom, then spooning off the cooked butter…but I chickened out. The dishes were already complex enough without attempting a new technique, so I used the recommended substitution of vegetable oil. Next time!

All of last night’s recipes came from Julie Sahni’s “Classic Indian Cooking.” This is a really well-written cookbook, and I especially like how Sahni provides ideas for accompaniments for each dish. Using these suggestions, we prepared masala jheengari (shrimp laced with mild spices) served with gobhi sabzi (glazed cauliflower with ginger) and hari chutney ka pullao (mint pilaf).

Sahni notes that masala jheengari is the most widely eaten shellfish dish in India, and I can see why. The shrimp are first heated through in turmeric-spiced water, and the cooking liquid then forms the base of the sumptuous sauce consisting of onions, cumin, ground coriander, paprika, yogurt, salt, green chilies, and ground roasted white poppy seeds (I couldn’t find these at the store, so substituted sesame). After reducing to a thick gravy, the shrimp are added back in along with a swirl of heavy cream and some chopped fresh cilantro. The mouth-watering intensity of the finished entree was perfectly complemented by the more subtle flavors of the stir-fried cauliflower and rice studded with potatoes and infused with a mint and coconut puree.

Our Indian meal. Tip: When making basmati rice, factor an additional 30 minutes into your prep time to allow the grains to soak.

All in all (and despite a false start with the shrimp sauce in which I burned the onions and had to start over!), preparing this meal gave me more confidence with cooking Indian food, and I’m looking forward to creating some of our traditional take-out items at home (some favorites: butter chicken, samosas, malai kofta, and my old friend saag paneer!).

Because these recipes yielded a lot of food, we’ll be enjoying the leftovers tonight…but check back soon for our next international meal!

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I love Middle Eastern food, but I have to admit my attempts to cook it at home haven’t extended too far beyond falafel! Last night, we branched out to a main dish and dessert from two different cookbooks.

Up first, we prepared mihshi malfuf (cabbage rolls), a dish native to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The recipe comes from “Middle Eastern Home Cooking” by Tess Mallos, a beautiful cookbook with full-color photographs of each dish. We opted for the vegetarian filling, a mixture of fried scallions, rice, chickpeas, parsley, tomatoes and olive oil seasoned with allspice, salt, and pepper. The stuffed rolls are drizzled with a garlicky mint sauce, then simmered in water for 45 minutes to allow the rice to cook. Served with yogurt and warm pita bread, the finished product was quite tasty, but the flavors didn’t have the “wow” factor necessary to justify the intensive prep and cooking time, not to mention the 30 minutes the rolls had to rest before eating! Maybe we’ll try the meat filling if we make this meal again?

For dessert, we had burnt honey ice cream from Greg and Lucy Malouf’s “Artichoke to Za’atar: Modern Middle Eastern Food.” We were intrigued by the technique of caramelizing honey to the point that it becomes slightly bitter, then adding it to a custard base and letting the ice cream machine work its magic. The result was very rich, with an intriguing flavor that we weren’t sure about at first, but turned out to be very “more-ish” (my mom’s term for when you can’t stop eating something). The ice cream is pictured here topped with almonds and lingonberries (I know, not Middle Eastern at all! But a nice tart antidote to the richness).

Off to the grocery store…what country will we be visiting tonight?

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Every household has its go-to recipes. In mine, it’s a rare week that goes by without seeing a burrito or a bowl of pasta on the table. While we love these tried and true meals, J and I have decided to challenge ourselves to try a new recipe each day for 7 days. It would be easy to scan the internet for ideas, but we plan to search exclusively within our wonderful but underused collection of cookbooks. With so many different cuisines to explore, we’re going to try a different one each day!

My parents are currently vacationing in France, so in their honor (or, let’s be honest, out of jealousy), we decided to start our world tour last night with a meal from France. For a muggy summer evening, we thought a light meal would be perfect, and we found what we were looking for in a recipe for la salade de roquette, asperges, et Parmesan de Ladurée from Patricia Wells’ “The Paris Cookbook.”

In the recipe introduction, Wells notes that she sampled this salad during a day at Ladurée, the famous French pastry shop (coincidentally known for inventing the modern macaron!). The fairly simple preparation of arugula tossed in a red wine vinaigrette and topped with asparagus, shaved Parmesan cheese, and a poached egg yielded fantastic flavor. Served with a baguette and a glass of rosé, la belle France set the bar high for our first day! Stay tuned for tonight’s recipe…

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As my sister and I were out of town last weekend (see “Scenes from L.A.”), our family’s Mother’s Day was a bit belated this year. Happily, we have a flexbile mom who was happy to postpone the celebration! Also happily, these kinds of special events provide an excuse to go all out on a decadent meal.

While I enjoy the adventure of planning a menu, it’s also fun to experiment with ones that have been planned for you. Epicurious.com allows you to search for menus (as well as individual recipes) from past issues of Bon Appetit and Gourmet based on an event, time of year, or specific ingredient. I didn’t find quite what I was looking for in their Mother’s Day files, but under Seasonal ideas I came across “Springtime Country Menu,” which sounded just right.

So, in honor of my mom, my sister, J, and I made the following on Sunday:

  • Crispy Bruschetta with Goat Cheese, Tomatoes and Mint
  • Radicchio, Grapefruit and Spinach Salad
  • Farfalle with Asparagus, Roasted Shallots and Blue Cheese
  • Lemon-Pistachio Tart
  • My dad brought the wine – as suggested, we had Côtes du Rhône (white during appetizers and a red with the meal).

    Photo by Bon Appetit. Ours didn't look quite as pretty, but tasted great!

    A few recipe notes:

    ~Bruschetta: The unexpected mint flavor was a nice change from the more conventional choice of basil. Rubbing the garlic on the warm toast made the kitchen fabulously fragrant!

    ~Salad: Interesting combination of ingredients. I would recommend leaving out the fennel seeds if you are not a fan of licorice.

    ~Pasta: Perfect for blue cheese lovers! Make sure to use a creamy blue so the pasta doesn’t end up dry. We combined a couple different types recommended by the friendly cheese counter guy at Whole Foods, and we’ll certainly be buying the buttermilk blue again (great flavor and price).

    ~Tart: The crust puffs up a lot, so next time I’ll try weighing it down with pie weights or beans while cooking. The lemon custard is amazing – we had a little left over which made for a wonderful breakfast spread!

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    A while back, my sister introduced me to notakeout.com, a site which provides daily dinner menus focused on simple preparation of fresh ingredients. When these menus pop up in my email box, I often flag them as something I might try one day. But a recent recipe for quinoa jumped out at me as something to try right away, as it’s one of those ingredients I’ve been working on incorporating into our repertoire.

    Quinoa and Black Beans on a Big Green Salad, by No Take Out

    If I tell people I’m cooking quinoa, they commonly reply, “What is it?” And I’ll admit that my best response has been, “Um, a grain that’s really good for you?”  A little research reveals that I was half right. Contrary to popular belief, quinoa is not actually a grain, but rather the seed of a plant that’s a relative of beets and spinach. It is, however, very nutritious: packed full of protein, fiber, and iron…to name a few. Cooking with it can take a little practice – for example, it must be rinsed thoroughly to remove its powdery residue, and there are several colorations to choose from.  But once you get the hang of it, it has a lovely nutty flavor (especially when toasted in a dry skillet before cooking) and is a great choice if you’re looking for healthy carbs.

    So tonight, we tried Quinoa and Black Beans with a green salad (click here for complete menu). I was somewhat skeptical about the combination of spices used to flavor the quinoa (oregano and cinnamon?), but they somehow combined beautifully, the salad dressing with red wine vinegar and shallots was deliciously tangy, and the touch of cumin accenting the avocado relish was just right. One slight change we made was to roast the red pepper and add it at the end rather than saute it, as J and I both prefer the texture and slightly smoky flavor of roasted peppers. My only other recommendation is to add a touch more salt than the recipe calls for. Other than that, it’s great as is, and we’re looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

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    Not Your Average Taco

    There are many reasons I love living a few minutes away from my Aunt Lisa, one being that she is an incredible chef who sources the best possible ingredients and often passes them on to us! Lately she has been supplying us with fresh fish (we’re talking sashimi-grade here, people!), and this afternoon I picked up some flounder and the fixin’s for fish tacos. The resulting dinner could not have been simpler or more delicious:

    ◊ First item on the plate: crunchy corn tostadas

    ◊ Next layer: guacamole (I kept it really simple, just mashed avocados with lime juice, Tabasco, and a dash of seasoning salt)

    ◊ Next, a sprinkle of finely diced red onion

    ◊ Now, the star of the show: flounder (or other firm-fleshed white fish). In this case, the fish had been cooked off the night before, so I gently reheated it in garlic-infused olive oil to add flavor, let it rest, then flaked it with a fork and topped with lime juice.

    ◊ Finally, add a splash of salsa (something with a smoky flavor, like chipotle, works well)

    ◊ Serve with a side of Mexican rice, and you have a meal that even a husband who claims he doesn’t like white fish will love.

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    Tonight’s menu? Spaghetti. On the side, my husband (hereafter known as J) prepared some delicious zucchini sauteed with onions, and mushrooms cooked with Worcestershire sauce and garlic. Now that I’ve practically licked the plate clean, I’ve got SAUCE on my mind…

    J and I are blessed to have inherited two equally tasty, yet very different tomato sauce recipes from our mothers. His mom’s sauce features intense tomato flavor and a decadent dose of parmesan, while my mom’s relies heavily on such unexpected flavors as carrot and celery. Whether either matriarch will be willing to release her recipe into the blogosphere remains to be seen! In the meantime, here are a few saucy thoughts:

    At home

    If you have some tomatoes (fresh or canned) and onions on hand, you can pretty much make yourself some sauce that’s better than anything that comes out of a jar. Throw those two things into a pan with your favorite seasonings and you’re good to go. But if you have some extra time, try dressing up your sauce with one of these recipes (while the first two are recipes for a complete dish, in either case the sauce could stand alone):

    Athenian Orzo, from Eating Well

    This has been a go-to dinner party recipe for me for years (especially after my friend Steven started requesting it!). The herbs in the tomato sauce combine nicely with the tang of the feta and capers and the sweetness of the shrimp. Best of all, it only takes about 30 minutes of active cooking time. Not too shabby! Click here for recipe.

    Grilled Eggplant and Zucchini Rolls, from Passionate Vegetarian

    Early in our relationship, J told me to pick any recipe for him to prepare for dinner on my birthday, and this is what I chose. The sauce is flavored with basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and bay, and though it calls for lentils it really doesn’t need them. Grilling the vegetables and then stuffing them with spinach and dilled feta cream is so labor-intensive that we only attempt the recipe on special occasions, but every time we’re glad we did. Unfortunately the sauce recipe doesn’t seem to be online, but if you like the sound of the rest of the meal (click here), you can use your own favorite sauce in its place…or, buy the cookbook (authored by Crescent Dragonwagon)!

    Pasta Puttanesca, from The Silver Palate Cookbook

    And finally, an old favorite from a classic cookbook. J and I love how such a simple recipe delivers such complex flavors. With olives and anchovies, it’s definitely zesty! The authors suggest serving it to “food-loving friends and pouring an earthy red wine.” Many of you probably have this cookbook on your shelf, but if not, click here.

    At the store

    Of course, if you have to get dinner on the table ASAP, you might not have time to make your own sauce. As with frozen pizza (see post from 4/21), we are bombarded by options for jarred tomato sauce…and, like frozen pizza, most are not so great. I find that a lot of jarred sauce is way too sweet, and if you look at the ingredients many do have quite a bit of sugar.

    I think the best of the bunch is probably Classico, with Florentine Spinach & Cheese ranking as my household’s favorite flavor.

    For a special treat, though, nothing beats Cucina Bella Suprema Sauce. Discovered by my sister at a specialty food store in Michigan, it’s a combination of marinara and alfredo – VERY rich and possibly addictive. It’s probably best that we haven’t found it locally, because this isn’t an everyday sauce. But you better believe we buy it every time we visit Mich.

    And in case you were wondering if I put the wrong title on this post…

    Good catch, but it was intentional! As a Sopranos fan, it’s an homage to Tony and friends, who eat pasta in seemingly every episode and call the sauce “gravy.”

    Looking forward to hearing YOUR favorite ingredients, recipes, and dishes involving tomato sauce!

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