Wednesday, May 31, 2006

15 minute meal

Work was hectic and annoying today. I was feeling blue because of that, so I really didn't want to make too much of an effort when it came to dinner. It's for days like these that this project came alive - the days I can still cook something delicious when it is the last thing I want to do.

CL's Toast chapter contains a multitude of simple and easy dinners!

67. Devilled Shrimps - *Toast*

The recipe for these shrimps on toast comes as a variation of a Claudia Roden recipe. It is such an easy peasy recipe, and reading it I knew it would be -- I even timed myself with my oven timer.

The method is simple enough that can be recreated by anyone without precise measurements. A garlic clove is chopped and fried in some butter and oil. Then, a few spices are added (ginger, salt, cumin and paprika) along with some peeled, thawed shrimp. The shrimp heats in this yummy sauce for only about three minutes.

Then some chopped corriander (or parsley in my version) is stirred through, and the shrimp is served on some toast with a couple of lemon wedges. I had lime, so that is what I used.

Now I'll do a classic Ina Garten (Barefoot Snot-essa) - 'how easy was that?' - errrrrrrr! I promise to not quote her again. But it really was that easy. 15 minutes from start to finish -- beat that Rachael Ray... Ha! Now you could tell I was in bitch-mode today!

Anyway these were really fantastic and I urge each and every one of you to make these very very soon. No need to send me presents in appreciation - thank-you cards suit me just fine. ;)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

5/8 tbsp whole corriander

Thai food is interesting in that even what one perceives as being an entirely veggie meal still is not, technically, due to the appearance of flavorings such as fish sauce and shrimp paste. I remember that when I made the Thai stir-fry, I loved most of the flavors, apart from the resonance of the fish sauce. I can't abide by anything fishy; that should be evident from the lack of fish recipes I have actually attempted so far, so I was glad to see an entirely veggie Thai dish in, you guessed it, CL's Thai chapter.

65. Thai Chickpea Curry - *Thai*
66. DIY: Make your own coconut milk - *Thai*

The Thai chapter is new domain for me; it is actually a short chapter, but with lots of yummy looking dishes, so I don't know why in almost two months I'm finally getting to it now, but there you are.

This recipe, a variation of a dish in Vatcharin Bhumichitr's Thai Vegetarian Cooking, contains chickpeas and potatoes, but also a spice mix not usually associated with Thai cooking, Madras curry powder. I didn't have this curry powder; of course I have seen it countless times in
Patel Brothers or Kalustyan's, but never actually purchased it. I found a couple of recipes for making the curry powder online and decided that should be sufficient.

Madras curry powder is not a spice in itself, you see, it's a mixture -- for white folk like me that need a combo of a bunch of spices most people would have in their cupboard anyway. (I read online that Indian people tend to just mix different spices together anyway.) The recipe I decided on is Helen Lawson's (no relation to the lovely NL, at least I don't think) from her book How to Make Good Curries. The anal editor inside of me is begging to correct that title; make good curries?? Well it's not Helen's fault; the book was published in 1970, so maybe grammar was not a priority then, LOL.

Check out the cover; am I the only one totally scared by that curry dish??

Here's a breakdown of the Madras curry powder recipe, written by me, and quartered - (I didn't want to end up with 3 oz. of the stuff - I just needed a tablespoon for the CL recipe!) I have also copied the entire recipe below for those interested.

Now you will see why I needed a 5/8 tbsp of whole corriander seeds. So 5/8 is close to 1/2, and a half of a tablespoon of whole corriander should be close to maybe a 1/2 teaspoon ground. Well, not the most accurate measuring, but a little more or less corriander certainly won't ruin the dish. Here's my curry powder creation:

Like most curries, this one is quite simple. First I fried some garlic, ginger and black pepper in a bit of vegetable oil. To this I added the chopped waxy potato and the curry powder.

Once the potatoes were well coated, I added coconut milk and chickpeas. (I should save you all the suspense and tell you I did not actually make the milk myself --- come on, I made mayo the other day -- who do you think I am, Martha Stewart??!!)

The curry was allowed to come to a boil and simmer until the potatoes were just tender.

When this happened, I added some soy sauce and chopped tomatoes, and then I seasoned the dish with salt and sugar. Once the dish cooked some more, I sprinkled the curry with chopped parsley, and it was ready to eat!

To go with this curry I of course needed jasmine rice - but to jazz it up a bit I boiled the rice as per usual and this time with some kaffir lime leaves to infuse the flavor of the rice. Methinks kaffir lime leaves quite apropos for a Thai meal, no?

The finished meal was delicious!!! The curry was just the perfect flavor. I was worried the soy sauce would have made it too salty, but it did its job in cutting through the richness of the coconut milk. The potatoes and chickpeas were cooked to perfection, and it didn't feel at all like I was depriving myself by not including one ounce of meat. Well done, Tom!

Apologies for the restaurant presentation of the rice. A Thai restaurant my friend, Elana, and I frequent serves its rice in a sort of pyramid shape. But, I haven't gone as far as purchasing pyramid-shaped molds for this exercise. :)

Madras Curry Powder
Recipe from How To Make Good Curries by Helen Lawson
© 1970

2 1/2 tablespoon whole corriander seeds
2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried cumin, ground
2 teaspoon ground tumeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground allspice
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground black bepper
1/2 tablespoon dry mustard (such as Coleman's)
1/8 teaspoon saffron (use sparingly)

Grind the corriander seeds, (sieve if any large husks remain). Blend all of the ingredient together and store in an airtight jar. This recipe makes 3 ounces of curry powder.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

It's easy being green...

Meat is a big thing for my family. So much so that we can't wait for the thermometer to climb high enough to have an excuse for an outdoor barbecue. This weekend we didn't need any excuses; the weather was beee-yoo-tiful, and it's Memorial Day, the barbecue holiday of the year and the unofficial start of summer. Time to take out my white pants and sandals!

Since the BBQ would be full of meat, I thought I'd turn to the Grills and Pasta chapters for some lovely veggie and BBQ-friendly recipes.

62. Green Sauce (Salsa Verde) - *Grills*
63. Lentil and Vinaigrette Salad - *Grills*
64. French Bean and Avocado Salad - *Pasta*

The first two recipes could be made in advance, but not too far in advance, so I got started on them while I was still home. The title for this post is an appropriate one, and it's funny because I didn't plan for my menu to be so 'green', it just turned out that way.

The sauce was quite simple to make. It is basically a mixture of chopped gherkins, mustard, chopped shallots, and garlic, with some chopped herbs (I chose mint and parsley) forked through.

To this the oil and vinegar is added. The consistency of the salsa is up to the cook, and my mother-in-law tends to blend all the ingredients to make a loose sauce for fish. Since I was going to use the salsa as an accompaniment to meat, I decided to chunkify it and use less oil.

The lentil salad was just as easy to prepare. I pounded some garlic with olive oil to a paste, and to this I added mustard, vinegar, chopped shallots and a tin of lentils. Tom says you could opt to use just-cooked lentils, but it wasn't mandatory so I didn't bother. To the mixture, I added some chopped parsley, and that was all there was to the salad! I had a quick taste-test before I put it in the fridge and I must say YUM-O!

I prepared the avocado salad when I got to my sister's since avocados tend to oxidize fairly quickly. All that there was to it was blanching some green beans (couldn't find French, but who's counting?) in boiling water for a couple of minutes and then draining them. Once cool the beans were added to some torn up lettuce leaves and slices of avocado. I dressed the salad with lime juice and a dash of olive oil and salt.

Everything turned out be just so delicious. I was hesitant about serving lentils as a salad, especially since lentils are not a big thing to Russians. In fact, my family was examining the salad while the meat was grilling trying to figure out if there was even a Russian word for 'lentils'. Turns out there is, but I don't remember it now! The lentils were actually the first to go, and the salsa verde and salad plates were licked clean. They were all perfect accompaniments to the grilled chicken, filet mignon, and pork chops and sausages we had. Yes, they like their meat! I for one was really happy with all my contributions since I'm not the biggest meat eater - at least I didn't go hungry, quite the opposite.

A couple of views of my plate:

My brother-in-law's specialty is his grilled meats (that's chicken with salsa verde) and grilled sweet potato.

Another view of the recipes - this one is with the avocado/green bean salad at the bottom.

Lovely outdoor meal, thanks to Cupboard Love and some enthusiastic barbecuing men!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Seriously? Seriously?!!!

Ok, well let me set the record straight. I always have frozen peas in the freezer, ALWAYS. So explain to me on the one night when I need them the most, they miraculously disappear from my freezer! I was set to make yet another lovely recipe from the Risotto chapter, and then I was faced with my sans-pea deep freeze.

61. Pea and Prawn Risotto - *Risotto*

From the title of the recipe above you could see my dilemma. How on earth am I going to make a pea and prawn risotto without the peas?! Well I'm lucky that Tom points out that this risotto recipe is his cupboard standby, and he says that other things could be used instead of his cupboard standby, peas - namely, broad beans (fava beans). I didn't have frozen fava beans either, but they sure look a lot like lima beans, and that I had... so pea and lima bean risotto it was.

Making the risotto is pretty basic so I didn't take step by step pics as I usually do.

I sweated some leeks and garlic in some olive oil for a few minutes. To this I added thawed cooked shrimp (prawns) and frozen lima beans. I then added arborio rice and tomato pureƩ. I mixed the rice into the other recipes so it would be nice and coated and then I raised the heat and added some white wine to bubble away and evaporate. Once that happened, I lowered the heat and added a third of the stock (vegetable) at a time until the rice was perfectly cooked.

To the cooked rice I added some butter (but not too much!) and let it sit covered for about three minutes. And then the risotto was ready to serve!

And it was scrummy!!! But what else do you expect from me, the ultimate risotto whore! It doesn't take many grains to stir my soul!! Which reminds me of a hilarious cartoon I saw around on the Net on Valentine's Day...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Escapism Via Pub Food

It's not that I don't love the life I have here. It's just that sometimes, I like to escape to the time that Rafa and I lived in Liverpool. We were younger, we used to go out a lot, we were in complete denial how poor we were! LOL.

The place we used to visit in the city center quite often was Wetherspoon. The Brits reading this will no doubt wince -- I know, it's not exactly the classiest, fanciest food, but it was our place! I never quite felt like I fit in with the scousers. I was often given strange looks as soon as I started talking, and they were probably thinking, 'what is a bloody yank doing heya?' Well Wetherspoon seemed to be the only place where I blended in, was one of 'them'.

So tonight I decided to reprise one of my favorite meals from our place, southern-fried chicken wrap! I dived right into CL's Junk Food chapter to help me out.

59. Chicken in a Bun - *Junk Food*
60. DIY: Make your own mayonnaise - *Junk Food*

Firstly, yay!!!! I made my own mayonnaise. I know I've been a total lazyass when it came to Tom's DIY recipes, but I knew I wouldn't be able to argue my way out of this one. Yes, I was scared, and yes, I was intimidated, but I wanted to make this mayonnaise!

Therefore, that is where I started.

Tom's mayo recipe is basically an egg yolk whisked with some mustard and lemon juice (or vinegar) and then olive oil is slowly added to the right consistency. Tom says it is easiest to do this in a food processor with one those tube thingamijigies, but my crappy $9.99 food processor doesn't have one of those, so I did it by hand. It was kind of challenging to whisk and pour at the same time - kinda wished I was ambidextrous at this point. But it worked out great - if slightly yellow! I seasoned it with a little bit of salt and that was my first mayo done!

I covered the bowl with clingfilm and put the mayo into the fridge so it chilled a bit while I cooked the chicken.

Tom's chicken recipe was basically marinaded chicken that was then dipped into egg and then into polenta. He indicated grilling would be a good option, but since I wasn't sure how my grill/broil works when it comes to longer recipes such as this one, I opted to fry the chicken, which he said was fine as well, but would take longer.

I marinaded the chicken for about an hour and a half in lemon juice, black pepper, and chopped garlic. Then I fried the chicken in some butter and olive oil till golden on both sides.

The recipe involved making this variation of a sort of chicken schnitzel and serving it in a bun with mayo and lettuce. Since I was recreating my favorite dish from Liverpool, I decided to put it all in a wrap. And here is how it looked...

I served the wrap with potato chips and leftover salad from last night, and oh my, did it taste good!!! I mean not just good, really flippin' good! The chicken was lovely and crunchy - it is true that the polenta gives the chicken a nice color, but it also provides a great crust that keeps the chicken lovely and moist! The mayo was perfect with it; and I'm so happy I made it to go with this recipe! As simple as this dish sounds, please make it yourself to see how fantastic it is!

Being cheeky...

Last night's dinner did not go exactly as planned. I really should have learned by now that if I have it in mind to make something for dinner days in advance, I should actually do the shopping days in advance.

Well, I wanted to have a sort of mezze-style dinner involving lamb burgers, pita, hummus - the works, inspired by CL's Junk Food chapter. The end result was still a sort of mezze-style, but without the works - but nevertheless wonderfully delicious.

57. A Quick Hummus - *Junk Food*
58. Fattoush - *Larder Salads*

(Edit: I never mentioned why I didn't make a meat dish for dinner last night... it was because I couldn't find ground lamb anywhere. I did an hour's walk and went to 5 or 6 stores and nothing! Whatdya gotta do around here to get some friggin' lamb???!!!!)

The cheeky portion of the evening is solely on my part. In the Pita and Fillings part of the Junk Food chapter, Tom indicates that a quick hummus would be a perfect filling for pita, among other things. Well, I found the quickest way to make hummus --- to buy it!

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, here are the facts:

Tom says:

Some shop-bought hummus is fine, but it is so easy to make that it is worth doing your own. I have a mild beef with supermarkets for making it with vegetable oil rather than olive oil. I think the latter gives it a better flavor. I sometimes find commercial hummus a bit smooth, too.

My case:

Shop-bought hummus, in Israel and Brooklyn, is not fine, it's fantastic! In fact, most homes in Israel never bother to make their own because the quality of the bought-product is exceptional. During all the time I have spent in Israel the only occasion in which I have had homemade hummus was in restaurants, and I honestly couldn't tell the difference between that and the shop brand. Now, I have to make the distinction here that not all shop-bought hummus is the same. I have had really really bad hummus in Liverpool. I'm sure that there are better brands in the UK, but this particular one came in a can and was the most appalling specimen of ground chickpeas I have ever seen. And it was bought in a Middle Eastern store, no less.

Also, the fabulous brand found everywhere in Israel and in many cities in the U.S., Sabra, make their hummus with olive oil. And for those conscious of their hummus being too smooth, I give you Exhibit A.

Chunky style!

So that is my cheekiness - if I really thought that hummus around my parts was horrible, I would certainly put my crappy $9.99 mini food processor to work.

Hummus is just one of the fillings for a typical mezze/pita night. As I said before, pita is really meant to be robust, because you should see how Israelis stuff those suckers at sandwich shops. Being in Israel is all about appreciating the numerous salads and fillings one puts into pita. It doesn't stop at falafel. Like my dad, Israelis are big on pickled items. They are known as hamutzim. You haven't tasted heaven until you bite into a pita, warmed by the sun, that is filled with yummy and tangy delights. When I was at university, there was an American studying in my group. He didn't speak a word of Hebrew. So, you would expect my surprise when standing behind him at one of these pita stalls. His turns comes to order, the man behind the counter has an open pita ready, and then this American guy starts telling the 'stuffer' in Hebrew all the things he wants in the pita -- hummus, hatzilim (eggplant), hamutzim, etc. Food, ladies and gents, is universal!

One of the big things most families have at dinner and social gatherings is the 'Israeli salad'. I have seen it in Turkish restaurants as 'Shepherd's Salad', as well. For my family, it has always been tomatoes and cucumbers (Israeli, natch!) chopped finely, with some onion, also chopped small, a sprinkling of lemon juice and olive oil, and finally, salt and pepper. We eat this as a side for the main dishes or we eat it with the main dishes in a pita.

Tom includes a variation of the Israeli salad I have grown up with, Fattoush. Fattoush is basically the same thing, but with torn up toasted flatbread inside. I love fattoush, and especially how the bread soaks up all the juices. Mmmmmm.

So I had the hummus and I was about to make the fattoush. But what else?? I had to think fast of a suitable and substantial meal for the two of us. It is not so easy to promise meat to a carnivorous glutton, such as hubby, and then to take that away. I had it in mind to make something full of protein, so I could fool him to thinking he would be just as full as if he were eating meat. And I didn't have to go too far, culturally speaking. I went to my Israeli fave, shakshuka.

You will remember that I made
Tom's Chakchouka a few weeks ago. The one that I know and love is definitely eggs, mostly tomatoes, and sometimes peppers. His was definitely peppers, mostly eggs, and sometimes tomatoes. You will recall I didn't like his too much, because I am not a fan of peppers, roasted or cooked in any way. I much prefer them fresh. So I made a version, closer to the one I was familiar with, courtesy of my friend, Julie, from

Now that dinner was sorted, I could start the cooking. (And you're all thinking, 'finally!') I started on the fattoush first because the shakshuka would need to be eaten straight away. So, I deseeded tomatoes and a cucumber, and chopped both into small pieces. I got the rest of the ingredients together by chopping up a red pepper, some parsley, a garlic clove, and a red onion. (I should note here that Tom includes cauliflower, radishes, and chickpeas in the ingredient list, but indicates that each family should add and take away as each chooses, so I thought to keep it simple and leave these out.) Separately, I toasted two pita halves in a low oven, cut them up, and added them to some olive oil and lemon juice.

I put the veggies all together, and then added the pita shards, along with some salt, pepper, dried mint, and sumac sprinkled on top. Yummy fattoush!

With the salad done, I started on the shakshuka. Basically all I did was brown some onions and chopped pepper in some olive oil. To this I added some passata and let it bubble away with added chopped parsley, zaatar, salt, and a pinch of chilli flakes.

I broke three eggs into the mixture and covered the pan to let the eggs cook for a few minutes. I was quite impressed by how the eggs sort of floated on top, a la poached eggs. It looked beautiful!

It was at this point that I was drooling like mad, as was very very hungry, so I set the table -- hummus, pita, fattoush, and shakshuka.

I instantly scooped up the egg surrounding by the lovely tomatoey sauce, and stuffed it into my pita. I put some fattoush on the side for stuffing later.

This was delicious! It was not what I planned, but it turned out to be a lovely meal. The pita pocket is the perfect vehicle for a pungent salad like fattoush and the wonderful and warm shakshuka. I am pleased as punch that I had some leftover fattoush to stuff another pita with this morning, and that will be my lunch! I could imagine making this fattoush for many meals this summer - it's perfect BBQ fare. B'tea-von!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Our pizzeria...

This past Friday night I ditched Rafa to spend an evening with my sister. Most of the times that I leave him during dinnertime, Rafa usually gets takeout - a pie of pizza from our favorite pizzeria, Trio. He called me Friday night that Trio wasn't picking up its line, and we joked that how dare they go on vacation and not tell us!

Yesterday, we walked by Trio and saw the gate down and no note - we thought the worst, they went out of business! The blood drained from my face - no, really! We love Trio - it is the best pizza in our neighborhood, dare I say all of New York. They just renovated, how could they go out of business?

Then, tonight, while blog-surfing (there are a lot of NYC foodies out there!) I came across a pizza site with a link to the following story. A Range Rover crashed into Trio, pinning a worker there, and that's why the gate was down. I couldn't believe how foolish I was caring about the pizzeria closing. Someone got severly hurt and was in the hospital all the while I was worried that I would have to find a pizza fix somewhere else.

I dare not think what would have happened if the accident occurred only hours later, right around the time Rafa would have been there to pick up his pizza pie. I dare not think about that...

Anyway, this is not really foodie-related. But I have opened up my life to all of you, and you could see the many colors of my home, Avenue U. This is another part of the story, albeit a sad one.

Magical Culinary Tour: 'Ani Hozer Habayta'

If you're wondering where on earth the next Magical Culinary Tour has taken me and you, I'll save you the suspense. The above phrase, 'Ani Hozer Habayta' is the title of a very popular Israeli song from many years ago. It means, 'I'm returning home.' One of those nostalgic, tug-at-your-heartstrings, love-my-country type of songs. Israelis are extremely patriotic; so much so that they will bitch about Israel when they live there, but if they ever emigrate or go work in another country, they will miss their country so much it will tear them up inside. I don't know what it is about Israel - if I did I could tell you the reason I feel the same pang every time I remember my childhood and summers there.

Not many people know, but I was born in Israel. A true Sabra - the plant that has thorns on the outside, like a cactus, but is sweet on the inside. I was there from age 0 to 6 - and in that short time my entire being was cemented. I am lucky enough that many Israelis moved to Brooklyn and thus set up Israeli grocery stores - or rather, the foundation of a happy Israeli family - the 'makolet'.

A makolet is so many things in one tiny space - essentially it means 'grocery store'. I have lived most of my life in Brooklyn, and just plain grocery stores still have not moved me to emotion like the memories I have of Israeli makolets.

They are old-fashioned, horribly disorganized. As soon as you come in you smelled zaatar and cumin, marinading olives in vats; the makolets were dark inside, because the sun outside was so strong, coming into the makolet would be a welcome relief. I remember walking to one in the middle of the day. The sun was the hottest in the middle of the day, especially in the summer months. There wouldn't be a soul around me, and all I would hear would be the sound of my flip-flops scraping across the cement. Brave men and women would go out at this time of day. I seem to remember little kids like me making these trips, for one or two items to bring back home for lunch or dinner that night. They were usually short walks, often just downstairs as many makolets were inside small apartment buildings. The best part of the makolet for me was the fridge there. Strange as it seems, I will never forget the memory of walking into a cool and dark store, going to the back, opening up a fridge and getting out a bag of milk or chocolate milk. I've always thought dairy products in bags were the coolest things in the world - and the one thing I miss most in the world is lying back and drinking a bag of Shoko - Israel's chocolate milk, the best chocolate milk in the world, in my opinion. The fridges and freezers in those stores were old - they were the type that the handle had to be pushed down to open, not like the ones here that open like a door or that would slide.

I needed some ingredients to make some CL recipes, so I knew that today would be the perfect day to make the trip down. All I needed to do was follow Avenue U and a few minutes later I reached the Israeli neighborhood with its many stores. This one is my favorite.
Holon, if you're curious, is a small-ish town near Tel Aviv, though Israel is so tiny most cities are described as small-ish towns close to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or Haifa!

There is another 'Holon' store also not too far from this one - I'm not sure if it is the same owner but they essentially have the same products and most importantly, the good pita!

Now, is there good pita and bad pita?? The answer: Yes! If I had a true addiction to pita, and my thighs thank me that I don't, then I don't think I could live anywhere in the world except for Brooklyn and Israel. Brooklyn is the only place, outside of Israel natch, that has the most authentic pita in the world. It is meaty, it is soft, it is bread! It is not the thin pathetic packaged pita breads that supermarkets sell. In case you're wondering, yes, I'm a true pita snob.

Holon and the stores surrounding it have the pita. I don't know how it's possible that it tastes exactly like the pita in Israel and is baked in Brooklyn, but there ya have it. Deliveries come in every morning except for Saturdays when these stores are closed. The only mornings I'm free are Sundays, so between 10 and 11am, as was the case today, I would make the trip to get the freshest pita around.

Here are some of the other things good makolets are known for:

Huge vats of olives and other pickled items.

They love their olives and pickles! Mmmmm!

And their dried fruit and spices!

Israel is big on dairy - most breakfasts consist of cut cucumbers and tomatoes spread out, and plates of cottage cheese, cheeses, spreads... breakfast al fresco.

I ended up buying some goodies - things for some of the recipes I will be making, and things also for nostalgia's sake.

The big bottle at the back is Petel. Petel literally means 'raspberry' but is the generic term referring to all these syrupy cordials, no matter the flavor, though raspberry is everyone's favorite, including mine. A few drops into a glass and then topped up with cold water, still or fizzy, mmmmmm! Bamba is dangerous! Yummy puff-snack flavored with peanut butter. This is what kids take on school trips along with pita filled inside with chocolate spread -- better than nutella! And speaking of pita - I wasn't joking about how fresh it is. Check out the steam still inside the bag - it was baked just this morning. The huge bag of zaatar was only $3. I smelled it all the way home!

So that was more of less my culinary adventure. Its purpose really was to get some ingredients for tomorrow's dinner, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that I miss home and this, in a way, is getting it back.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Whole Lotta Tears...

We had some time this afternoon for a quick lunch so I thought I'd return to CL's Soup chapter for a warming and simple soup.

56. Busker's Onion Soup - *Soup*

The title above doesn't necessarily imply the reaction to the taste of the soup, but rather the process of making it. There were a load of onions, and a load of tears.

Tom's variation of french onion soup is broadly speaking a veggie version of onion soup. He notes that most french onion soups actually are made in a 'slowly simmered beef broth' and writes that even some veggie dishes, like the soup, in French restaurants seem to still have a hint of meat products in them. I could definitely relate. I am not a vegetarian, but am not particularly excited with various meat products. So when I went to Paris in my early 20's, I was hugely disappointed by the food. I'm probably the only person to say this in the world, but the food in Paris sucked! LOL. Now I imagine all of you throwing your baguettes at me! All I wanted was some friggin' quiche! And what did I get?! Some friggin' quiche with friggin' ham in it! I mean, could the French possibly make anything without ham??? Ok, that was the past.

I actually don't mind beef or beef stock at all, but Tom points out that a gorgeous copper-colored stock could be made from the skins of onions and garlic. I was intrigued! So I chucked by Knorr beef stock cubes to the side and went for the onion skin stock variation! (At this point I should note that I totally don't get the title Tom chose for his recipe - I checked Brit slang dictionaries and buskers are people that perform music on the street for money -- erm, what does that have to do with soup?! Ok never mind.)

So, as I wrote, the soup was really composed of two parts. The onions and garlic that are sweated down, and the onion skin stock.

For the recipe, since I halved it, I had to chop up four onions, but that was a heck of a lot of onions. I was crying halfway through... and Rafa was doing the dishes next to me.

Me: Mother f-er, mother f-er!!!

Rafa: You crying like a baby??

Me: Fucking hurts; they hurt, they hurt!!! Ahhhhhh!

Ok, so I got over it and continued on. I also chopped up some garlic and added it to a pan with melted butter and oil, along with the onions. Some salt was sprinkled on top of the onions and garlic, and the lid was put on so that they could sweat for about a half an hour.

In a separate pot I added the onion and garlic skins to about a liter of water with a bay leaf.

I let this simmer away while the onions and garlic were cooking. I had to admit I looked at the 'busked' stock a bit suspiciously as I could not in my wildest dreams imagine the clear liquid becoming the color of a penny - hmmmn, we'll just see about that Tom.

After the onions and garlic were softened substantially, I turned up the heat and added some white wine to bubble away for a few minutes. Then, I strained the stock, and got this glorious creation! Sorry I doubted you, Tom.

I added the stock to the onions and garlic and let this bubble away for another half hour or so. Towards the end of cooking, I made some parmesan toasts, which were basically grated poorman'sgrana on some baguette slices and put under the broiler in my oven.

So the verdict: We didn't love it. I really tried to pinpoint exactly what it needed, but it just tasted like it needed something more. I think the more would probably be some salt - it tasted very oniony, yes, but still bland. Perhaps the more authentic version of using beef stock would have worked better. Who knows? Even though Rafa didn't like it too much, he still managed to finish his bowl and mine - and he's eating the leftovers tomorrow. He actually said, 'this would really be good with beef pieces in here'. LOL. He is the ultimate carnivore!

Well it's not the end of the world. Loads more soup recipes to try, and even one that is 'boozy'. Should be interesting. ;)

Desperate times.... for desperate measures. In a fit of unbelievable hunger this morning I knew that I needed to eat breakfast - and fast! I was horrified to find no eggs in the house -- nooooooooooo! But leftovers saved me as I concocted a fabulous sandwich - Israeli cheese (bought the other day after feeling the pang of nostalgia) and Tom's Punjab salad. I have to say, a lovely combination indeed!

Stay tuned for more nostalgia-inspired meals this weekend!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tikka With a Side of Masala

I adore Indian food but I find the task of cooking it quite daunting. Funnily enough, the actual recipes are not that difficult at all, it's just that Indian food implies a sort of curry feast and I've realized a long time ago that my downfall is producing a lunch or dinner with many dishes. But it seems almost inevitable when cooking Indian because I think to myself, 'oh a curry would be great with some rice, and that would be great with some naan and some veggie thing, etc.' I loved cooking for my friend and sister and Rafa a few weeks ago, but I did feel like I was a chicken running around without its head. So instead of abandoning the Indian chapter altogether, I thought I'd make it simple because it was just me and Rafa, and thankfully, he wouldn't be home until 8pm at the earliest!

53. (Sort of) Chicken Tikka - *Indian*
54. Want your tikka with masala? - *Indian*
55. ...and something from the Punjab - *Larder Salads*

So, I decided the main course would be chicken tikka masala, with a side of Indian-inspired salad.

Tom includes a recipe for tikka and a recipe for masala, because essentially, they are two different things. Many people, myself included, often order chicken tikka masala, but chicken tikka can stand on its own, and thus is prepared apart form the masala sauce that goes on top of it.

The chicken needed at least a day's marinading so I got on with that on Tuesday night. The marinade basically consisted of some hot smoked paprika (I used mostly sweet smoked paprika and a smidgeon of the hot because the picante I bought in Spain is BITCHIN' HOT!), cumin, ground corriander, and chopped ginger and garlic.

To this mixture I added some full-fat yogurt and light olive oil. I had to make a trip to the Russian supermarket for the yogurt - you could always count on them to have things in full-fat! Actually, the store is quite interesting in that Russians are big on importing goods from all over the place - they have a whole aisle of jams and preserves from various Eastern European countries. This is where I found greek yogurt closest to me, and they also have a selection of cheeses from all over the world. Since the store is only about a ten-minute walk from my apartment, it is a good alternative to posh, fancy Manhattan grocery store.

Ok, now back to the marinade. I rubbed the chicken breasts in salt and pepper and then sprinkled on some lemon juice. I then added the yogurt marinade, and it was ready to rest in the fridge for about a day.

So, as soon as I got home this evening, I thought it would be a good idea to start with the masala portion of the meal. I had full confidence that the sauce could be made in advance, and I was happy to find that I was right. The sauce was so simple -- I sweated some garlic and onions in some butter for a few minutes with some salt. To this I added some passata, and continued to cook on a low flame for a few more minutes. I finally stirred through some heavy (double) cream and full-fat yogurt, and then added the garam masala. The last step was just to add some corriander leaves (I decided on parsley as detest corriander!) but I thought that could wait until everything was more or less ready.

I popped the lid on the masala and got on with the salad. Tom's salad is inspired by Madhur Jaffery. It is basically a greek salad (hence the reason it is in the Larder Salads chapter) but instead of oregano and black olives and feta, the salad is flavored with Indian spices, and paneer is added at the end. Now, Tom says that buffalo milk mozzarella or feta would be a good substitute since paneer is crumbly like feta and similar in taste to the mozzarella. I really didn't want to use the substitutions because paneer is attainable. However, I couldn't make a trip to Jackson Heights again, so I had to make do using feta, as it was what I had in the house. I bought the rest of the ingredients right before making the salad --- what lovely colors they were!

The salad was first prepared by cutting some ripe tomatoes from top to bottom and deseeding them. They were chopped roughly and added to a sliced red onion. I got on with the dressing, that was chopped ginger and garlic mixed with ground cumin and black pepper. Some lemon juice was added to the other ingredients, and that was the dressing done.

I decided that I would add the dressing at the last moment, so as not to have a soaked salad.

Rafa had called that he was on his way home, so I wanted to get started on the chicken tikka. I took the chicken breasts out of their marinade and grilled/seared them on both sides on a hot grill.

grilling chicken with masala in the background -- with parsley added

Then, I transferred the chicken onto a roasting tray and put them in my oven at its hightest setting (but not the Broil setting! -- Ilana learning from experience!) for just a few minutes. Since the breasts were boneless and skinless, I knew they needed less time than Tom stipulates -- his breasts (tee hee) had the skin on.

I let the chicken rest for a bit....

And sliced them up and added them to the masala.

While all this was going on I also had cooked up some coconut rice, courtesy of Bill Granger, from Delicous Australia March 2006. It was my first time making coconut rice but I thought it would mesh well with the tikka masala.... and I was right!

The flavors were amazing together. I can't believe how well the tikka masala turned out. Creamy, warm, flavorful, probably better than any tikka masala I had eaten at an Indian restaurant. I think the difference was the richness and deepness of the sauce, and the fact that the chicken breasts were cooked to perfection. Perfectly moist and not dry, as some restaurant versions tend to be. My other bad experiences have been getting cheap cuts from the chicken - I am a chicken breast lover through and through.

The salad turned out really well too! I added the dressing to the salad shortly before eating and then some chopped mint leaves. I had completely forgotten about the feta cheese, and only realized it when I was already digging in at the table. I'm not sure it really needed it, as the chicken and rice were already so full of flavor, the crunchy and sharp tomatoes and onions did the trick in cutting through that richness. Part of me thinks the feta would have been too overwhelming, so if any of you were to make this salad to go with some curry, I'd suggest to use the milder paneer.

I did add the feta after dinner (there was lots of salad left since Rafa didn't feel like having any) and put in the fridge for leftovers.

The whole time I was cooking I was thinking how proud I was of myself for chilling out and taking my time with things. I find that when I am a nervous cook, the food doesn't always taste as it should be. Tonight's meal exceeded expectations. The only thing missing was that I couldn't be arsed to warm up some naan, as it would have been delightful to continue eating the sauce long after the chicken was gone. Oh well, there's always next time. These recipes are truly keepers!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I you JDM!

This post has nothing to do with food or with Tom N-D... Instead it has to do with the eye candy that is Jeffrey Dean Morgan!

(Grey's Anatomy PLOT SPOILER)

Jeffrey Dean Morgan started making appearances on Grey's Anatomy only a few months ago, and now, I'm sad to say, is not coming back... his character, Denny Duquette, has died! Waaaaaah! Last night was the season finale of the show, and through the most powerful scenes in television ever (in my honest opinion), I completely fell in love with Denny/JDM!

Let me explain, I'm not usually a giggly teenager type when it comes to actors - those days of hanging posters of Jordan Knight from New Kids on the Block in my room are over - but there's just something about Denny!

Maybe it was the vulnerable guy that JDM played in GA, or maybe it's just the way he showed an unrelenting love for Izzie, who knows? Or maybe it is his adorable dimples!!!! But I have to say, I am affected! JDM goes top of my list -- and you know what list that is! The famous-person-I-would-hook-up-with-if-I-ever-met-said-famous-person-in-real-life list! Yes, he has moved above Clive Owen and Ewan McGregor!

Now thank you for taking the time out and reading my hormonal love-fest! This is the only blog I have (bats her eyelashes) so it may occassionally have nothing to do with Tom N-D or cooking!

Now, back to the food!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mood Food

After a few days of not posting or cooking out of Cupboard Love, I knew I needed to get back on track. I ditched the gym today (Tuesday seems to be more like a gym day to me...) so I knew that dinner shouldn't have been too naughty. In the last few days I've eaten Mexican, Chinese, a huge bowl of pasta, and a greasy meal equipped with super duper french fries at the diner. So I needed some good mood food! Tom points to a dish in his Soup chapter which seemed to be perfect for tonight's healthy eating.

51. A simple bean soup, the Italian way - *Soup*
52. Crostini - *Toast*

But, I can't go all virtuous without a bit of naughtiness, which is why I also wanted to make crostini. Tom notes that crostini is a perfect side to a big bowl of soup.

The soup was indeed incredibly simple, as its title notes. All it involved was some sweating of onions, carrots, and garlic in a little bit of olive oil. (I omitted celery - blech!)

Once they had released their juices, I added some tomato paste, a little bit of white wine vinegar, the beans of choice (cannellini) with their 'liquor', and some fresh thyme and rosemary leaves. I topped up the mixture with water -- Tom says that this is more of a stew than soup, but I felt like having a nice and light soup so added more water. It was brought to a boil and let to simmer for about a half an hour.

While the soup was simmering away, I cut up a stale baguette into thin slices and drizzled with our green and lovely EVOO. I sprinkled the slices with salt, and put it in a low oven while the soup was cooking.

the Jackson-Pollocked slices of bread - ready for the oven

I then seasoned the soup to taste, and it was time to serve it up! Tom suggested a few additions to the soup as variations. I've decided to not include them as recipes since they were serving suggestions. Instead of choosing to drizzle the soup with rosemary oil or pesto, I just grated some poorman's grana and sprinkled some on my soup.

The soup was fantastic!! Somehow the soup was even a bit on the creamy side - I guess it was the beans and their 'liquor' that did it! The flavors were mellow and deep at the same time. The crostini was just perfect with the soup -- gorgeous and crunchy with the resonance of the olive oil it baked in. Mmmmmmm.

A bowl-full of goodness! That's what I call 'mood food'!