Friday, April 25, 2008

Eating With Your Hands

You know, an old friend of mine used to refer to eating with your hands as "eating with your God given utensils." As I sit here eating my sausage and rice sans fork, I can't disagree. There is something so SENSUAL and IMMEDIATE about eating with your hands.

Cauliflower Dum

Given that I am trying to eat less meat, Indian vegetarian cuisine seems to be a treasure trove of boldly flavored replacement meals. To those of you who eat lots of Indian buffet, this recipe will seem somewhat familiar. It's tomato-ey, a bit yellow from the turmeric, and onion-y with a nice amount of ginger and chili spice. All in all, a nice, EASY way to introduce yourself to Indian cooking. One piece of advice: If you don't like cauliflower, don't make this recipe.

I also committed the ultimate sin when it comes to cooking from a recipe: I did not carefully read the recipe before I started. Yes, it led to problems halfway through but, happily, I was able to salvage a tasty result.

Oh, and I love how the authors make a comparison between the cooking technique used in this dish and the "oop" style of cooking from the Mekong region of SE Asia. I mean, it made sense to me because in one of their other cookbooks, they talk about "oop" cooking so I was already familiar with it. However, for the newbie, I could see them just reading that and saying to themselves, "Ahh, yes. The "oop" technique. Of course."

Let us begin.Not shown: garam masala or oil.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the cauliflower, this is one medium size cauliflower. Peel off the green stuff around the bottom and trim off the tough stem.Cut it in half vertically and use your hands to break it up into golf ball sized mini-florets. Set aside.

1 teaspoon of minced garlic or garlic paste. 2 teaspoons of minced ginger or ginger paste:1 cup of grated onion:

1 tablespoon of freshly ground coriander seed:
1 cup of diced tomato. Recipe calls for diced but I only had access to whole, canned tomatoes so I just processed those until they were in the appropriate size/shape:
1 teaspoon of cumin, 2 bay leaves:
Not shown, 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne, 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon garam masala.
Green chiles, I used two jalapenos. Just cut off the stems and quarter them lengthwise.

Start by browning the cauliflower florets. Hot pan, oil, add cauliflower...turn to brown as much of the surface area as you can. It will probably sputter and spit oil at you so watch out. When the cauliflower is browned, set it aside:
To the hot pan, add the cumin and bay leaf. Cook until the cumin browns. If your pan was hot, like mine, this won't take long at all...maybe 15 seconds. Add the grated onion and cook until the onion is light brown.

Toss in the tomatoes, salt, ground coriander, garam masala, cayenne and turmeric. Stir and cook. The recipe says "until you see the oil rise." I never saw any oil so maybe I screwed up somewhere. Toss in the green chile and cook for a few minutes. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. It'll be sort of a thick, soupy stew. Season with salt. Toss in the browned cauliflower and stir well. Really slather the spice paste over cauliflower.

This dish is traditionally sealed with a strip of dough to lock in all the steam and help with the cooking. Creating a tight seal between lid and pot is the goal so just place a piece of tin foil over the pan and plop the lid on top. I do this alot whenever I'm braising something and want to limit the amount of evaporation. Pop it into the oven for 20 minutes or so. Garnish with cilantro. Or not, if that is your preference.

Time- 20 minutes of active time. If even that...really not much to do. Browning the cauliflower takes patience.

Cost-Pathetic. I mean, the cauliflower is the most expensive component and it cost $1.99. No more than $3.50 for this recipe and if it costs you more, you need to shop better.

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Garam Masala

As I understand it, "masala" is Hindi for spices and "garam" means heating so "garam masala" is simply heating (or hot) spices. The heating doesn't mean that it is fiery, chili hot but that the spices have been toasted (or heated) before they are ground. Another possible interpretation of the translation is that, in India, the spices, specifically the black pepper and cinnamon, are thought of as spices which heat the body.

Anyhow, here is a recipe. As the authors point out, there are as many recipes for garam masala as there are cooks in India. While the spices generally stay the same, proportions vary from cook to cook. Here is one such formula:

1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/4 cup coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon seeds from green cardamom pods
one 1-inch piece cinnamon
Toast the spices individually. Each spice will toast at its own rate so, to achieve a maximum of flavor, do them separately. Just heat in a dry pan over medium heat under aromatic. Grind in a spice grinder.

BTW, I love both the cookbook and the authors who wrote this recipe. In fact, I love all of their cookbooks. Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid, I thee! Jesus, I can't believe I just wrote that. Anyhow, they've recently released a new cookbook and it just came in the mail...I can't wait to start exploring it!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How to Peel a Fava Bean

Some of you may have noticed fava beans showing up in your local grocery stores. Because they are kind of funky and a bit intimidating, I thought I'd put together an instructional blog-post. It's actually kind of weird that I'm putting this together because I'm not the biggest fan of fava beans in their fresh, natural state. However, they ARE a major component in doubanjiang, my favorite Chinese hot bean paste. You'll find versions made with soybeans but those are inferior. *rubs fabric...Polyester, no good.* Inside joke.

So. This is a fava bean. Actually, this is the outer pod.Split it open and you'll see the individual beans. I suppose the pod could be edible but I'm not brave enough to try...just the beans for me:
See how nature has created a cozy little home for the beans? They've even got their own fuzzy padding!

Pluck out a bean:Did you think you were done? Not yet! The beans have their own skin which must be peeled! Some cookbooks blanch the beans before peeling the skin but in the French Laundry cookbook, TK tells us that gases can get trapped underneath the skin and cause discoloration. So, peel the beans before you blanch them.

The finished treat!Yes, slightly tedious but it's mindless enough so that you can do this while watching tv. So, what to do? I am definitely not the right person to ask but there are plenty of resources for online recipes.

In addition, I finally perfected crispy chicken skin. The technique? I first dried the chicken thighs with a paper towel and then left them to dry, skin side up, in a fridge. The fridge helps evaporate even more moisture from the skin...probably did this for about an hour. Then, a HOT cast iron pan and patience. I let them brown, skin side down for probably 8-10 minutes.I then flipped the thighs, scattered some thyme and chunked zucchini among the chicken and finished cooking it in a HOT oven. Around 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Yes, the zucchini was HELLA overcooked. Finished product:
Just look at that skin. Perfectly crispy, salty, delicious chicken skin. Soooooooo good. Ignore the zucchini. Blech. Dipping sauce for the chicken was meyer lemon juice, honey, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.

Lastly, I've run out!!! This stuff is amazing. Blis maple might think it's plain maple syrup but this is AGED IN BOURBON BARRELS!!!! Yes, you can taste the difference. Someone send me more!!!! See ya!

Saturday, April 19, 2008


(Sorry if this post is poorly written and rife with errors...I'll proof it later.)
I don't know why I made this. I mean, it wasn't bad...the previous comment shouldn't be interpreted negatively, I only meant to express that I wasn't sure what possessed me to make lasagna. After all, it is pretty far from my usual fare of noodle soup and heavily spiced stewed meat dishes. To prove my point, I've currently got a pot of pork braising in a guajillo chile based sauce. Coincidence? I think not. (BTW, the braised meat in chile sauce is loosely based off of this recipe.)

Anyhow, here we go. This is going to be a loooooong post. These recipes are pulled straight from New Best Recipe, All-New always, this is my go-to cookbook when I want to cook "round-eye" food. If you don't know what that means, don't sweat it.

First up, a vegetable lasagna. I'm using kale, chard and spinach:
The greens picked off of the stems. I'm only use the leafy parts, no stems. If you don't feel ambitious, just use spinach. This is about 20 ounces of leafy greens:
Not shown here but bring a pot of well-salted water to boil. Drop in the greens, a couple handfuls at a time, and cook until wilted. For greens like spinach, this should only take 5 seconds. For heartier greens like kale, this might take longer. Drain the wilted greens and then wrap them in a kitchen towel. Wring the greens of excess water. Set aside until needed.

Mince the shallots...1 cup. Mince 4 garlic cloves:
Melt 5 tablespoons of butter and cook until the foaming subsides. Add the shallots/garlic. I goofed up. I stupidly added the shallots and butter at the same time. Cook until the shallots have softened:Put the heat on low. Add 1/4 cup of flour. Cook for 1.5 minutes and stir constantly. Whisk in 3.5 cups of whole milk and bring to a simmer. I did it 1 cup at a time. You'll notice that the mixture definitely thickens. Don't let it burn/stick to the bottom of the pot. Add 2 bay leaves, .75 teaspoons of grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes on low heat. To finish, whisk in an ounce of grated Parmesan. Remove the bay leaves and set the bechamel aside.

Blend up 8 ounces of cottage cheese and an egg. Set aside.

Take 1 box of no-boil lasagna noodles and place in a dish. Cover with hot tap water. Drain the noodles and place on a plate. If your box is anything like mine, you'll have 15 noodles but this recipe only calls for 12. Don't sweat it:Time to build the lasagna. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Take a 9x13 dish and butter the bottom and sides. Spread .5 cup of bechamel on the bottom of the pan, (mine is green because I added a bit of basil puree that we had in the kitchen.):At this point, mix the wilted greens into the remaining bechamel. Be sure to break up the greens so that there aren't any large clumps.

Layer 3 noodles on top of the bechamel:Add 1 cup of the bechamel/greens mixture and spread over the noodles.Spread 2 ounces of grated Parmesan on the greens. Add 3 more noodles.Spread with another cup of the bechamel/greens. Add 1 cup of shredded fontina. Then three more noodles. The above picture is just as I was adding the next layer of noodles. Spread with another cup of bechamel/greens and the cottage cheese/egg mixture.Add 3 more noodles, the remaining greens/bechamel and a final cup of shredded fontina cheese.

Let me summarize that for you because it can be confusing:
1. Butter the pan.
2. 1/2 cup of bechamel.
3. 3 noodles.
4. Stir greens into bechamel. Add 1 cup of bechamel, spread over noodles. Add 1 cup of shredded Parmesan.
5. 3 noodles.
7. 1 cup of bechamel, spread over noodles. 1 cup of shredded fontina.
8. 3 noodles.
9. 1 cup of bechamel and cottage cheese mixture.
10. 3 more noodles.
11. Remaining 1 cup of bechamel, 1 cup of fontina.

Take a sheet of aluminum foil and spray one side with cooking spray. Cover the lasagna and place in the oven for 20 minutes or until the lasagna is bubbling away. After that, broil the lasagna so the top browns (this took 2 minutes) and this is what you should have:
Meat Lasagna:

Made much the same way as the veggie lasagna, I will first make the constituent parts before I assemble the final product.

Meaty Tomato Sauce:Finely chop a medium onion:Mince (or grate) 6 cloves of garlic:

Heat pot, add olive oil. Sweat the are just looking for the onion to soften a bit:Add in the garlic and cook for a few minutes.

Add 1 pound of ground meat. Recipe calls for equal parts ground beef, ground veal and ground pork but I used a 50/50 mix of ground beef and ground pork. Break the meat up into bits. Add salt and pepper to taste.At this point, add a quarter cup of heavy cream:Cook until the liquid from the cream has cooked off:Take a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes and drain off the liquid...I drank the ghetto V-8:Add the diced tomatoes to the pot along with 28 ounces of pureed tomatoes:Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning...go aggressive...the tomato sauce is a major taste component of the lasagna so you don't want something bland. The cookbookbook says that the sauce can be made a few days ahead. It's also pretty good as a spaghetti sauce. After all, it is sorta derived from a classic Bolognese recipe. I had a snack of freshly cooked rice topped with the tomato sauce and shredded cheese. Surprisingly delicious.

What's lasagna without the ricotta cheese mixture? Mix 15 ounces of ricotta with 1 cup of grated Parmesan. Chop up basil leaves so you have 1/2 cup and mix that in....season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in one large, beaten egg. Set aside.

Shred 1 pound of whole-milk mozzarella cheese. The recipe specially warns against using low-fat mozzarella.
As seen above, soak and drain one box of no-boil lasagna noodles.
Butter a 13x9 baking pan. Add 1/4 cup of the tomato sauce.
Add 3 noodles:Add three tablespoons of the ricotta mixture on each noodle. That's a total of 9 tablespoons per lasagna layer. Smoosh the ricotta and try to spread it. Add a cup of shredded mozzarella:Add 1.5 cups of meat sauce on top of the shredded cheese:
Add 3 noodles and repeat the ricotta, mozz and sauce layer twice more. Final layer will be noodles, remaining sauce, 1 cup of mozz and as much Parmesan as you want. Recipe calls for 1/4 cup, I used more than that.As before, spray a sheet of aluminum foil with cooking spray and cover. Cook in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove foil and cook for another 25 minutes. If the top isn't brown enough, you can broil it. Here is what you end up with:Here's the Cliff's Notes version:
1. Butter 13x9 pan.
2. Add 1/4 cup of tomato sauce.
3. Add 3 noodles.
4. 9 tablespoons of ricotta mixture, 3 tablespoons per noodle. Smoosh and spread.
5. 1 cup of shredded mozzarella.
6. 1.5 cups of tomato sauce over the mozzarella.
7. Repeat steps 3-6 twice.
8. 3 more noodles.
9. Spread remaining sauce over the noodles. 1 cup of mozzarella. Parmesan.


Making lasagna isn't rocket science. Use the above recipe as a basic blueprint.

Time- Alot. This was not an easy project, especially when I made both lasagnas on the same day. Probably close to 2.5 hours of active work. I really, REALLY need to invent and perfect my cooking robot. A mechanical Thomas Keller...this is my dream.

Food Cost:
Veggie Lasagna-
Greens- $5.67
Shallots- $1.50
Whole Milk- $1.79
Parmesan ($9.99/lb)-$2.00
Noodles- $2.69
Fontina- $2.50
8 oz. Cottage Cheese- $1.50
Aluminum Pan- $1.94
Incidentals- $0.75
Total-$20.34. Serves 6, comfortably so $3.39 per serving.

Meat Lasagna-
1 pound of meat- $1.75
28 oz Pureed Tomatoes- $2.58
28 oz Diced Tomatoes- $1.69
15 oz of Ricotta- $2.49
Parmesan ($9.99/lb)- $2.50
Basil- $1.99
Noodles- $2.69
Mozzarella- $3.99
Aluminum Pan- $1.94
Incidentals- $1.00
Total- $22.62/6= $3.77 per serving.

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