Friday, May 30, 2008

Rabbit Stew

There were some pretty strong reactions when I told my friends that I was going to make rabbit stew. One friend called me a "rabbit murderer." My response? "The rabbit is already dead, I just happened to buy him from the market!" However, I do understand why people get a little bit upset over rabbit. After all, they're cute and cuddly mammals. It's not like a chicken...nasty little peckerhead. However, I don't make a distinction between animal proteins. To me, an animal has died so I can eat. Their sacrifice demands my respect no matter how ugly or cute the beastie might've been. I feel like Hawkeye and Chingachgook from Last of the Mohicans. If you understand this, you get an automatic pass into the Budget College Cook pantheon of fame.

Kind of a funny story how I found myself buying a rabbit. Since I'd recently finished my final year of college, I considered going out to a fancy dinner. However, I didn't exactly have the money but still wanted to celebrate. I settled on buying some sort of protein that I had previously avoided due to its prohibitive cost. The other contestants were duck breasts, Kobe beef and squab but rabbit won. And it certainly wasn't cheap...around $10.50/lb. Having purchased the rabbit, I wasn't really sure what to do with it so I had to do lots of research. Stews seemed pretty easy and most books said that a rabbit is actually pretty easy to cut up...just follow the natural lines of the meat and the rest basically takes care of itself. I've made two videos. WARNING--NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH. AVOID-AVOID-AVOID IF YOU DON'T LIKE REMEMBERING THAT MEAT COMES FROM ANIMALS!



I hope you found the videos interesting. I know I do so I thought I'd share what I find to be a fascinating subject.

This recipe comes from The River Cottage Meat Book. As I haven't really had the time to fully explore this book, I hesitate to enthusiastically recommend it but what I've read so far has been a call to arms regarding factory raised meat. The author really creates a strong, logical argument for abstention from mass-produced meat while simultaneously building a case for naturally, lovingly raised meat. I've met a few vegetarians who turned veg because of factory farming practices. However, taking a stand against factory farms doesn't necessarily mean that you need to stop eating meat...just stop eating factory farmed and start eating family farmed! At the very least, if you're in a bookstore and see this book, pick it up and read the first 10-15 pages. Remember what Socrates said: "The unexamined life is not worth living."

Oh yah, let me also make a confession...I had assumed that because I bought the rabbit at the fancy, expensive butcher that the bunny had previously led a pampered existence. WRONG! When I got home and did some research, it was a rabbit factory farm. The lesson? Don't be afraid to ask the hard question while at the butcher.

INGREDIENTS (Quantities have been slightly altered)

1 rabbit (mine was around 3 pounds)
4 ounces of bacon (Try to find bacon made from naturally raised pigs...not as difficult as it sounds.)
olive oil
1 large onion, thickly sliced
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1.5 inch lengths
4 celery stalks cut into 1.5 inch lengths
2 bay leaves
a sprig of thyme, if handy (the recipe's wording, not mine)
2 cups of hard cider (the cookbook is English and I have no idea what English hard cider is like...I ended up buying an artisinal French hard cider which was fermented completely dry...I don't recommend this...get something with some leftover residual sugar)
1 teaspoon honey
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan. Gently fry the bacon until it is lightly browned and the fat runs. Transfer the pieces of meat to a flameproof casserole but leave the frying pan on the heat. Brown the rabbit pieces in the bacon fat, in batches, transferring them to the casserole as they are done. Finally, sweat the onion in the same pan but do not allow it to color. Add the carrots, celery, bay leaves and thyme to the casserole. (I kinda avoided this whole casserole business. I cooked the bacon and transferred it to a bowl...browned the rabbit in the bacon fat and transferred the browned pieces to a plate. Sweated the onion in the bacon fat and moved the onions to another bowl. He just wants you to have, from bottom up, bacon, rabbit, onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves and you get there is your own business!)

Push everything around so it is fairly tightly packed, then pour over the cider. Add a little water if necessary to cover the meat. Add the honey and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook at a very low, tremulous simmer for 1.25 hours or until the rabbit is completely tender. You can also cook this in a 250F oven with a lid on the pot. (I used the oven.)

Serve with plenty of the juice ladled over, with mashed potatoes.

Time-30 minutes of prep work, browning. 1.25 hours of cooking.

Rabbit- $33.00
Bacon- $2.00
Cider- $8.50
Veggies- $2.00
Total- $45.50..I'm going to get 6 meals out of the $7.58 per serving...pretty expensive, by my standards.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Split Pea Soup with Smoked Ham Hocks

I love soup and I love pork so this is a no-brainer recipe. It's also ridiculously easy. Chop stuff, shovel it into a pot and let it cook. It's not much more complicated than that. For those of you who don't know what a ham hock is, a hock is the lower part of a pig's hind legs. Think above the foot but below the lower end of the meaty part. So a ham hock is that cut of meat which has also been smoked. It's a pretty tough piece of meat filled with gristle, bone, connective tissue and some meat so you would never want to quick cook ham hocks. They need a nice, long stewing to transform the meat into something palatable. Beans and ham hocks are classic as are ham hocks and greens. In the south, they commonly throw in a smoked ham hock when they're cooking collards and things like that. In that same vein, I also like ham hocks with braised cabbage.

This is my recipe and, as I mentioned before, it's pretty basic. There are lots of ways to jazz it up so get creative!


3 cups of green split peas picked over, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 stick of unsalted butter
2 carrots peeled and cut into 1/4 inch thick coins
2 onions peeled and cut into a large dice
2 stalks of celery cut into half inch pieces
2 cloves of peeled garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper (optional; it doesn't add much heat but a nice roundness of flavor)
12 cups of water
3 pounds of ham hocks (I have the butcher cut them lengthwise)

Heat the oil and butter until the butter melts. Add the carrots, onions, celery and garlic to the pot. Season with a teaspoon of salt and a few generous grinds of pepper. Cook over medium heat until the onions are translucent and soft. Add the drained split peas and cayenne pepper. Stir well and cook for a few minutes. Add the water and ham hocks. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat until the soup is just simmering. Make sure you stir the soup every now and then so the peas don't stick and burn.

After about .45-1 hour of cooking, I usually remove the hocks and place them into a bowl. Leave the peas in the pot to continue cooking. I like the meat to have a bit of texture so I try not to cook it to the point of being completely soft. When cool enough to handle, I peel the skin off the hocks and discard. I then remove the meat and break it up into bite size pieces. Set aside. I usually freeze the leftover ham hock bones because there's still quite a bit of flavor in them.

After around 1.5 hours, the veggies and peas should be completely soft. I turn the heat off and wait for 15 minutes. I then blend the soup with an immersion blender or with a regular blender. Use some care as the soup will still be very warm. Taste the soup for seasoning. Undersalting isn't a bad idea because the ham hocks will add a nice hit of saltiness. When the soup is blended, stir in the ham hock meat and you're done!

Feel free to have fun with the seasoning. Maybe go Indian? I mean, I make Indian lentils all the time and lentils aren't too far from split green peas so I think it would be delicious.

As for garnishes: croutons, freshly minced herbs, olive oil, pumpkin seed oil, tangy yogurt, sauteed carrots, onion or celery, shucked, blanched green peas...ummm, this is right off the top of my head. I'm sure you can think of a few for yourselves!

Time- About 10 minutes of prep, 1.5 hours of cooking...most of it unattended, passive cooking.

Food Cost-
Peas- $1.35
Veggies- $1.50
Ham Hocks- $12.00 (Somewhat expensive, I know...gotta hate the upscale butcher's prices)
Total-$14.85...18 cups of soup. Say, 2 cups per serving? $1.65 per serving


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bay to Breakers 2008

SOOOOOOO much fun. For those of you who don't know, Bay to Breakers is an annual, 7.5 mile race which started waaaaay back in 1912. Participants fall into two distinct groups: Racers and everyone else. The racers are as you might expect...lithe, swift Kenyans and the like. The rest of the participants come in all shapes and sizes. It's basically an excuse to wear a costume (or none at all! waaaaay too many naked men) and drink. Essentially, it's a city wide party with 60,000 people.

There are always lots of interesting costumes. I liked the group of Imperial Stormtroopers, complete with a TIE-Fighter Pilot. There's also a group of people who wear fish hats and pretend like they're salmon swimming upstream...they go against the flow of traffic. A bold move. In addition, there are tons of floats and lining the streets are house parties, DJ's spinning music, clusters of friends who hang out and drink (at 7AM!) and a motley assortment of other activities. Anyhow, just watch this'll give you some idea of what's going on:

I can't wait for next year!

Monday, May 19, 2008

2 Week Hiatus

Yes, yes, I am going to Alaska for the next two weeks. However, I am going to use Blogger's post scheduling option to auto-post some content...thank's Blogger! And speaking of Blogger, I met a guy who works for Google and, more specifically, Blogger! He's a computer programmer and boy, did I let him know just how much I hate Blogger's photo uploading. I think he appreciated the feedback but couldn't really tell.

Anyhow, breakfast today:Tartine Bakery. Morning bun with cinnamon-orange sugar and coffee. Delicious bun. Really, really good but the place is just so damn crowded. I don't know if I'll ever go back. Maybe if I'm already in the neighborhood but I won't make a special trip. BTW, if the name of the bakery sounds familiar, it's because I've made brownies from the Tartine Cookbook.

Lunch:Rosamunde Sausage Grill. Longtime readers will know that I go ga-ga for sausage. I love ground meat in tube form and the Rosamunde Sausage Grill does nothing but create excellent sausages. There have something like 10 varieties ranging from The Hungarian (smoked pork) Duck and Fig, Chicken and Cherry, Smoked Chicken with Habanero and Tequila, Bratwurst, etc. You get the drift. It's a small store-front with a grill, cashier and a stainless steel counter with 6 stools. If the stools are occupied (a definite possibility given the Grill's popularity), you can wait next door at the Toronado and they'll call you when your sausage is done. This isn't fast food. From order to eating, it's probably a 10 minute wait but it's soooo worth it. I had the Hungarian...redolent of paprika and garlic, it was flavorful and juicy. Some grilled onions on top and I was a happy man. If I lived closer to the Rosamunde Sausage Grill, I would eat there 5 times a week.

Finally, a random video of my neighbor's dog. Sam loves to jump and bite low-hanging leaves. Just take a look!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Heat Wave

Day two of the heat wave. I decided that I had to get out of the apartment and go somewhere with air conditioning. My first thought was a movie theater but I've already seen Iron Man and there was nothing else I wanted to see. Iron Man is, btw, quite good. Iron Man was, along with The Mighty Thor, my favorite Marvel superhero so I might be slightly biased but the movie is well reviewed. Anyhow, no movie for the heat wave so I decided on a museum. Get some culture and all that. Seeing as how I live 10 minutes away from the DeYoung museum, the choice of venue was obvious. It was a pretty good day. Sensationally beautiful, if hellaciously hot. The DeYoung is in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Anyhow, some pictures and video for my loyal readers.

BTW, I still hate eating outside. I gave it a try with my breakfast...sit in the 9:00 AM sun enjoying a scone and coffee but all I could think about was how damned hot it was. I don't understand how people can eat underneath a blistering sun...imo, it's too distracting.

Took some time to make a panorama. It's pretty big so click it, save it and zoom in a few should be able to get some nice detail. It really IS a beautiful area.
Click me for a panorama

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Lamb Curry

This recipe might look a bit intimidating given its length but I encourage you to give it a try. It really is quite easy once you get past some of the chopping and prep work. Also, this curry was very well received by George & Carrie, my chief taste-testers, so that might give you the extra bit of incentive you need to tackle this recipe.

This recipe is from The Soul Of A New Cuisine: A Discovery Of The Foods And Flavors Of Africa which I've never cooked from. The author, Marcus Samuelsson, runs a couple of very well known NYC restaurants. When you hear the name Samuelsson, you might imagine a Swede and, in this case, you're half right. Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, orphaned at the age of 3 and moved to Sweden shortly thereafter. His adopted Swedish parents raised him in a typically Scandinavian skating and all of that. He returned to Ethiopia when he was 28 years old and wrote this cookbook as a tribute to his native continent. In doing research, he discovered that relatively little had been written about African cuisine and he took it upon himself to change that. The fruit of his labor is a really neat book which is enlightening from an ethnographic perspective. I like to read books which focus on how people relate to food and this book sates my curiosity. It also satisfies my hunger so let's get to the recipe!

Keep in mind that my pictures reflect a double batch.


For the spiced butter:
1 pound unsalted butter
1/2 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
One 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
8 basil leaves

Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over low heat, stirring frequently. As foam rises to the top, skim and discard it. Continue cooking, without letting the butter brown, until no more foam appears. Add the rest of the ingredients and continue cooking for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from the heat, let stand for the spices to settle. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve before using.

1/2 cup Spiced Butter (or 1 stick unsalted butter)
2 medium red onions, sliced
two 3-inch pieces ginger, peeled and grated
6 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Thai chiles, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped (if you can't find these, just substitute...say, 4 seeded and de-ribbed serrano chiles)
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons ground coriander
4 cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 teaspoon powdered saffron (I omitted the saffron...BUDGET college cook and all)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 2-inch cubes (i used lamb neck...cheaper and more flavorful...)
6 tomatoes, chopped, or 3 cups chopped canned tomatoes
1 cup coconut milk (I used light coconut milk...I figured with the butter and lamb fat, the dish would be rich enough)
4 cups water
3 large Yukon Gold potatoes (1.5 pounds total), peeled and cut in half
2 cups 2-inch pieces okra
1 cup plain yogurt

(Man. Some little bastard just threw an empty Gatorade bottle through the open, front windows of my apartment. Ughh. Stupid disrespectful bastard kid.)

Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Stir in the onions, ginger, garlic and chiles and saute until the onions are transluscent, about 10 minutes. Add the paprika, coriander, cardamom, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, saffron, turmeric and peppercorns and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the lamb and tomatoes, bring to a simmer, and simmer, uncovered, fro 5 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and 2 cups of the water and bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 1.5 hours. (At this point, I added salt.)

Add the remaining 2 cups of water and simmer, uncovered for 40 minutes. (I didn't understand this part. Why not just add all four cups of water at the same time? Does this make sense to anyone?) Add the potatoes, cover, and simmer until the meat is tender, about 40 minutes longer. (I tasted for salt and adjusted accordingly.)

Add the okra and cook for 10 minutes, or until tender. Remove from heat, remove the bay leaves, and stir in the yogurt. (I actually took my yogurt and blended it up with a bit of the hot cooking liquid. I find that when I add yogurt directly to a hot pot of food, I get these little yogurt pebbles...It looks kinda gross. So, to avoid this problem, I take some hot cooking liquid and temper the yogurt with it. The easy way is to just blend it in a blender....maybe a 2:1 ratio of yogurt to hot liquid.)

Re-taste for seasoning.


Pretty good recipe although there was a self-inflicted problem. The choice of lamb has fantastic flavor, texture and is very affordable but the amount of marbling in the meat means that there is quite a bit of fat released during cooking. I chose to skim off some of the fat. Normally, this isn't a problem but there is no way to segregate the spiced butter from the lamb fat so, by removing lamb fat, I also removed some spiced butter. This is unfortunate because the spiced butter has such a neat flavor. Next time, I might use a leaner cut of lamb...maybe well trimmed lamb shoulder? Something to keep an eye on but if you use the leg of lamb, as the recipe requests, you should be all right.

This recipe does nothing but encourage me to use this book sometime in the near future.

Time- 40 minutes of prep. This includes making the spiced butter. Actual cooking time is a few hours but it's just inactive simmering. No real work.

Cost- (For my double batch)
Lamb- 4 lb. at $2.99/lb= $12.00
Butter- $2.00 (Not really sure...George bought the butter)
Tomatoes- $3.00
Coconut Milk- $0.89
Potatoes- $2.75
Incidentals- $3.00
Total-$26.64--Double batch serves 12-16 so $2.18-$1.66 per serving.


More Random Stuff

San Francisco is in the middle of a heat wave. It is oppressively hot and I hate it. However, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade! Or, in this case, elderflower soda! An old math professor of mine swears by a gin & tonic with a splash of elderflower syrup and ever since he mentioned this, I've been looking for an excuse/reason to buy some elderflower syrup. Anyhow, elderflower syrup is a pretty common thing in Germany/Austria and one of the most common uses is as an ingredient in homemade soda. Just take soda water (or regular) and mix it with some syrup. My syrup recommends a 5:1 ratio of water:syrup. So what's it taste like? Hard to describe...honeyed peaches, apricots, something floral, maybe a little chamomile. All in all, it tastes VERY familiar even though I've never had it before. I've got a big old bottle in my refrigerator and a couple more ideas. Chocolate truffles, anyone?

The above rectangles are Chinese radish cakes. When I say cake, they're savory, not sweet. They're a pretty common item in dum sum joints and, to me, they're total comfort food. You buy them in thick blocks, cut them into individual serving sizes and cook them. I prefer to cut them thick so you get a nice crust which serves as a pleasing contrast to the creamy interior. Flavored with dried shrimp and, if you're lucky, a bit of Chinese sausage, I love these things.

To help beat the heat, I decided that dinner should be something cool, something which required minimal cooking. I decided on lettuce wraps but instead of doing them in my usual Vietnamese style, I was inspired by a lamb sausage. The local store has some lamb sausages flavored with Middle Eastern spices so that's where I started. I ended up with bulgur pilaf with minced jalapeno, red onion, cilantro, olives and a few capers. I made a dressing from fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice, olive oil, honey, cinnamon and ground coriander seed. Grilled lamb sausage on top. Just grab some lettuce, spoon in some pilaf and a piece of lamb. It turned out sensationally well...sweet and sour from the vinaigrette, spicy from the jalapeno, salty from the olives and capers...some nice char on the lamb sausage, I really couldn't ask for anything more.

edit: some sort of moisture-laden condiment would've been nice...maybe something yogurt based? something to consider for next time...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sri Lankan White Curry

Yet another South-Asian vegetable dish. This one is a keeper not only because it's crazy delicious but because it involves a flavor which I don't normally associate with coconut milk curries. The secret ingredient? A bit of fish! The recipe calls for Maldive fish which is "small dried chunks of tuna that are crumbled or shredded and added to many dishes." The authors of the cookbook state that this product can be found in Sri Lankan grocery stores. Terrific, if you have access to a Sri Lankan grocer. Thankfully, they include a substitute, bonito, which is MUCH more widely available. Bonito is a Japanese food ingredient and it is the dried, shredded flesh of a fish in the tuna (or mackerel, I can't seem to find a definitive answer) family. It releases a wonderfully smoky aroma when added to whatever you are cooking and is a basic building block of dashi, the staple Japanese stock. Bonito can be found in any well-stocked Asian grocer or Japanese grocer. Go find's really great stuff.

Anyhow, this dish is GREAT. Phenomenally cheap, REALLY, REALLY delicious and super easy to cook, it is something I encourage ALL of you to try. A definite A++++++ for this recipe. And, click this if you don't know anything about Sri Lanka. C'mon, click least do it so you can figure out where Sri Lanka is on a map!

Oh, and yes, I do realize that "white curry" is somewhat inaccurate...the dish, as you might have noticed has a definite jaundiced hue. "White curry" in Sri Lankan cuisine refers to the presence of coconut milk. There is your fun fact for the day.


1 pound waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes (Waxy potatoes refer to the white-skinned or red skinned potatoes...Russet baking potatoes would NOT be good.)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (maybe an equal amount of curry powder if you can't find fenugreek)
1 teaspoon Maldive fish or substitute bonito flakes, finely ground (I used my spice grinder to pulverize the well.)
1/3 cup chopped shallots
2 green chiles, thinly sliced
8-10 curry leaves (no real substitute, omit if you can't find them)
1 teaspoon salt (I used considerably more)
1.5 cups water
1/2 cup canned or fresh coconut milk
1 teaspoon lime juice (use more if you like lime...I added extra because I liked the extra bit of zip)

In a large pot, combine the potatoes, turmeric, fenugreek seeds, Maldive fish or bonito, chopped shallots, chiles, curry leaves and salt. Pour in the water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender. (Took me about 20 minutes)

Stir in the coconut milk, bring back to a gentle boil. Remove from heat, stir in lime juice. Serve.

See how easy that was? Just dump a bunch of stuff into a pot and cook it. Pretty much dummy proof.

Time- 10 minutes of prep, 25 minutes of inactive cooking time.

Food cost- Too cheap to cost out. The most expensive thing in this recipe might be the $0.89 can of coconut milk.

LOLCat...another classic...there are tons of derivatives based on ceiling cat:

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Nepalese Asparagus Stir-Fry

More South-Asian vegetable goodness. As I type this, I am also watching season 2 of "The Office." The dynamic between Dwight and Jim is priceless. Anyhow, I've got alot of work ahead of me so I better get right to this. Not much to say about this recipe. Pretty simple stir-fry but it is quite tasty. From Mangoes & Curry Leaves Culinary Travels Through The Great Subcontinent.


3/4 pounds of asparagus
1 teaspoon mashed or minced ginger
2 teaspoons mashed or minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons of oil
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (Might be hard to find, I'd say that it's okay to leave it out but the dish won't taste quite as exotic. maybe substitute a few pinches of curry powder)
1 cup thinly sliced onion
1/4 teaspoon turmeric (might be hard to find)
1/2 cup water

Rinse and drain asparagus. Remove the bottoms if they are dried out. (Ever have fibrous, woody asparagus? I break off the bottoms...I just sorta bend the asparagus until the bottoms naturally break. I figure there'll be an organic break point between the tender part and the tough part. The possibility exists that you might lose some good asparagus but better that than woody, inedible asparagus that you have to spit out.)

Mix the ginger, garlic and ground coriander together.
Heat a wok or skillet on med-high. Add oil and, if using, the fenugreek seeds. Add the onion and cook until softened and a little brown. (This took me a good 8 minutes....if your onions are starting to burn but aren't yet soft, just turn the heat down!) Add the garlic/ginger/coriander paste and stir to distribute. Add the asparagus, turmeric and salt. Briefly stir-fry to mix everything together. Add 1/4 cup of water and bring to a boil. (Recipe called for 1/2 cup but I found that excessive.) Cover the pot and cook for 2-3 minutes. (Recipe says 2-3 minutes. 2 minutes was a bit much...I would cook for a minute, taste a piece of asparagus and go from there. Cooking time will, of course, depend on the thickness of the asparagus...mine were quite thin.)

Remove the lid, taste for seasoning and eat!

Time-10 minutes from start to finish.

Food cost-
Asparagus- $3.29
Incidentals- $0.50
Total- $3.79

LOLCat-This one is a classic in the world of LOLCats.

Cucumber Raita

Standard issue yogurt condiment here. I like eating it plain although it's nice with spicy food. Something about the yogurt helps cool down spicy food. This recipe is from Mangoes & Curry Leaves Culinary Travels Through The Great Subcontinent.


1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 of a peeled English cucumber (1 cup chopped)
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup coriander leaves or 2 tablespoons mint leaves
Black Pepper

Line a sieve with cheesecloth. Place sieve over a bowl and place the yogurt into the cloth-lined sieve. (I guess you could skip this step but it's cool to see the yogurt's transformation.) Let it drain for 30 minutes.

Finely dice the cucumber. Sprinkle the cucumber with salt, toss and let it sit for 20 minutes.

Transfer the drained yogurt to a bowl and whisk it with a fork. Add the water and whisk until smooth. Add the cucumber but not the juice. Stir the cucumbers into the yogurt. Taste for salt.

Just before serving, cut the mint and add it to the yogurt. Stir it all together and serve.

Time- 30 minutes, much of it inactive.

Cost- Cheap. Very cheap. Not going to cost it out.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Recipe Formatting

Earlier today, I was on the telephone with my little brother James. He is only somewhat experienced in the kitchen so I trust him to give me the "Average Joe's" feedback regarding my blog and its recipes. We were discussing the new blog format: picture widget--introduction--ingredient list--directions--closing comments. One of his criticisms, a long, meandering descriptive recipe, has been addressed by the new format but he still had something to say regarding the ingredients list. He would like to see something, maybe an asterisk, next to hard to find ingredients. He makes a good point: It is horribly demoralizing to find a recipe and make a shopping list which includes an obscure ingredient but be unable to find/purchase the ingredient. I have been there and, for that very reason, usually go shopping with shopping lists for three or four dishes. If I can't find the special ingredient necessary for dish #1, I shop for dish #2. By providing an asterisk next to a hard to find ingredient, my readers can quickly scan an ingredient list and figure out if the recipe is cookable given their specific situation. I guess I would have to use common sense to determine what is "hard-to-find."

However, the issue of hard-to-find would be negated if I didn't cook such exotic food. One of the main reasons I write this blog is because I am trying to get people (read: fat Americans) out of McDonald's and back into the kitchen. I figure if my readers see a normal guy, such as myself, cooking good food on a regular basis, it might provide the impetus they need to give it a try for themselves. If there is anything I can do to make the transition from fast food restaurant to home cooked meal a little bit easier, I am all for it. The problem, as I mentioned before, is that I like to cook and eat exotically spiced food. How many of you already have ground turmeric, kalonji, ajowain and fenugreek seeds in your pantry? I fear that most of the things I cook are literally foreign to the majority of my readers which puts me in a quandry: Do I start cooking turkey sandwiches and spaghetti to make the recipes friendlier or do I continue on my current path? The clear answer, at least to me, is to cook the food I love to eat and hope others see the light.

During my discussion with James, I pointed out that missing an ingredient shouldn't necessarily prevent someone from executing a recipe because there are usually substitutes. This is where his advice was really, REALLY appreciated. I sometimes forget that I have a great deal more experience cooking than do most of my readers so James used this example: A cooking newbie comes to my blog and finds a recipe for Thai red curry. The newb can't find coconut milk and figures, "How important could it be? I'll leave it out." The result? Inedible disaster. The point is that I can't depend on my readers to figure out for themselves what ingredient is replaceable or omit-able.

In light of James' request, I will start asterisk-ing strange ingredients and, if possible, providing what I think is an acceptable substitute.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Man, nothing gets me more excited than going to the grocery store and finding something which is both delicious and inexpensive. Lamb neck, at $2.99/lb, is one of those things. Lamb neck, you say? Well, it's exactly what you think it is...the neck of a lamb. It's not quite the throat-y part but more towards the base of the neck. Now, now...don't get grossed's really, really succulent/flavorful when properly cooked. In addition, I figure I'm doing my duty as a carnivore by cooking an overlooked cut of meat...respecting the animal and all that. Anyhow, I see some sort of lamb stew/braise in the immediate future and I now have an excuse to spend some quality time with my cookbook collection in search of a recipe!

Dinner tonight was a lamb burger. I went into the kitchen, saw a plethora of hamburger buns, a wealth of mint and immediately thought of lamb burgers. Because I've been on a real Indian kick, I thought that using typically Indian spices and condiments would be fun. I made the spicy mint chutney with shallots, green chile, mint and a bit of lime juice to help it blend. Yogurt sauce was just drained yogurt, lemon juice and minced mint. The lamb patty contained grated shallots, garam masala, yogurt, mint and salt. Pickled carrots were simple...rice wine vinegar, carrots, sugar and water. Toasted bun, of course.

All in all, an easy dinner. George and Carrie really enjoyed the burgers and so did I! If anything, I thought the lamb flavor was too subtle for the aggressive flavors I paired with it. Beef might've been better although George vigorously disagrees. coma.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Grilled Tofu with Chinese Sausage and Black Beans

I cooked this a while ago but have never gotten around to posting about it. Poor neglected recipe...not that there was anything wrong with it! It turned out surprisingly well given my previously lackluster experiences with the cookbook from whence the recipe came (Braise: A Journey Through International Cuisine). What a word, whence. Anyhow, this recipe is a fun one even if just to make the grilled tofu. I was very, VERY surprised at how visually appealing it was. A technique which I will definitely use again. This is an insanely easy recipe and if you are a cooking newbie, give this one a try. Hard to screw up.

Cookbook pet peeve here...bad recipe testing. For instance, the first ingredient is Szechuan peppercorns. The first step of the recipe is to toast and grind the far, so good. However, it never tells you when to add them to the dish! Am I supposed to toast the peppercorns as a strictly mechanical exercise? L'etude de Cuisine? Because the authors want my kitchen to smell of peppercorns? C'mon! As a consumer, I have paid good money for the book...put a little more effort into it! I just realized, it's not even bad recipe testing, it's bad editing! Reading the recipe should've been sufficient to notice the error!

1 teaspoon of Szechuan Peppercorns.
1 pound of firm or medium firm tofu
1/2 pound ground beef (Given my experience, I urge you to buy lean ground beef...if you buy the fattier stuff, the beef fat and fatty sausages make for an overly oily dish)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 1-inch piece fresh, peeled, grated gingerroot
1/4 cup fermented black bean paste (Pretty common product, not too unusual)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon packed dark brown sugar
1 bunch scallions
3 Chinese sausage links cut into 1/2 inch slices

Preheat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.

Toast the peppercorns, let them cool and then grind them.

Heat a grill pan. Grill tofu. This will take some time. I grilled it until I got a nice charred crosshatch. I cut the tofu into large chunk.

Heat a small, ovenproof pot. Add oil (just a touch). Add ground beef, garlic and ginger. (At this point, I also added the peppercorns.) Cook until the meat is browned. Add the bean paste, soy sauce, sugar and a cup of water. Stir. Add the tofu, stir well and bring to a simmer. Scatter the sausage and scallions over the tofu. Add a bit of water, if you need. Add seasoning...shouldn't need much. When the pot is at a simmer, cover it and move it to the oven. Or, I guess you could finish it on the stovetop but at a super low heat.

Recipe calls for a 1.5-2 hour braise. I did 1.5 and was perfectly happy. Serve with PLENTY of rice.

Time- 5 minute prep. 1.5-2 hour cooking time. Much of it is unsupervised.

Food cost
Ground Beef- $0.75
Tofu- $0.80
Chinese Sausages-$1.25 (Working from memory here)
Black Bean Paste- $0.75
Total-$4.05, Will serve 4 with rice and a veggie side dish/$1.00 per serving.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Spiced Grated Carrots, Kerala Style

Grated carrots. Who knew they could be good? While I really enjoyed the flavor of this recipe, my execution sucked. I let the yogurt overcook and it sort of turned into a weird dairy curd. Oops, my bad. Mangoes & Curry Leaves Culinary Travels Through The Great Subcontinent even warned me that this could happen. Anyhow, my lust for Indian vegetable recipes continues. And so does my lust for a nice Irish lass. Rawr!

2 tablespoons of oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 cup of minced onion
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon grated or minced ginger
2 green chiles, seeded and cut up
10 curry leaves (exactly 10...I will hunt you down if you disobey my decree)
1.5 cups of grated carrots
1/2 cup of yogurt (recipe says "preferably full-fat")

Heat oil (medium-high heat) in a heavy skillet or wok. Add the mustard seeds and cover until they pop. (You'll be able to hear them popping, trust me.) Add the onion and turmeric and stir-fry for a few minutes. Add the ginger, chiles and currry leaves and stir-fry until the onions are soft. Add the carrots and salt. Cook until the carrots are very soft. (Or, I guess you could just cook them until the carrots are done to your liking. I'm not a tyrant...really, I'm not.)

Turn heat to very low. Add the yogurt and stir the yogurt into the carrots. (You just want to heat the yogurt.) "Do not allow it to boil." I didn't. But it still separated on me. I guess the secret is to not use any heat at all? I dunno.

Time-10 minutes for prep, 10 for cooking.

Food cost. Again, I'm not going to cost this out but, rest assured, it's cheap. Do you see any ingredients that might be expensive? I thought not.


Katchhi Village Potato Curry

This is the first post which will utilize the new picture widget. I think it is terrific. Food porn addicts get to look at the pictures without getting bogged down with the details. People who want to read the actual recipe can read the post and discover the details. I REALLY, REALLY like it. Uploading with Flickr's photo uploader is also a joy...much better and FASTER than Blogger's crap uploading. Lemme know how you like the new photo thingy. That's the BCC. Also trying to improve his readers' experiences. What a guy, what a guy (and he's still single!)

So this is, obviously, another Indian vegetable post. It is from Mangoes & Curry Leaves Culinary Travels Through The Great Subcontinent which I have cooked from before. It keeps its status as a great book to cook from. In fact, I've made it my goal to cook every vegetable recipe in the book...I'm about halfway through and it has been a mostly delicious experience.

Anyhow, here we go. I guess I will also use a more traditional cookbook format for recipes.

2 tablespoons of oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic or garlic paste..(.oops...just realized I made a boo-boo in the above picture...pretty sure it says tablespoon...and it also includes bad)
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 cup of sliced shallots
1 cup of chopped tomatoes (I used canned, diced tomatoes)
2 green chiles seeded and chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 cup of water

Heat oil in a large pot, toss in half of the garlic and cook until fragrant. Don't burn the garlic. If you do, you've failed and should start over. Add the potatoes and shallots. I cooked this until the shallots softened and went limp. Toss in the tomatoes, green chiles and give it a good stir.

Add the spice blend and the rest of the garlic. Stir well. Add the water and PLENTY of salt. Bring to a boil, cover and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are cooked through. After 10 minutes, give it a good stir to make sure nothing is sticking...if it is, add a bot of water.

Fresh sliced shallots
Fried green chiles

I opted for none of the above. Instead, I ate the starchy potato curry with rice. Starch and starch. Got a problem with that? Then you'll probably also have a problem with the fact that ate the starchy potato curry with starchy rice AND starchy lentils. 'Cause I'm tough like that.

Time-20 for prep, ~25 for the cooking.

Food cost. Not going to bother with this one...I mean, potatoes? Shallots? Some tomatoes? Cheap, cheap and cheap. It's got to be well under a buck per serving.

Wow. This new format is EASY. SUPER DUPER EASY. And fast. However, it seems like alot of the obsessive details which I used to add have been lost. Hmmm. I dunno.

Here's your LOLCat prize.