Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred - part four

Continuing on from Part three.

Here's how it works.
"list a hundred interesting foods and:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results."

Since this is a cooking blog, I'll add 5) italicize the items you've cooked.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

76. Baijiu - I had never heard of this, but, when I saw the picture at the Wikipedia entry I discovered I've recently been treated to a few glasses. Surprisingly smooth drinking considering how strong it is.
77. Hostess Fruit Pie - Feh. Anyone who grew up in the mid-Atlantic states knows Tastycake is miles better.
78. Snail - Like the frog legs it's traditionally prepared drowned in garlic. What's the point?
79. Lapsang souchong - One of my favorite teas. America's Test Kitchen has a really cool recipe where you quickly infuse smoke flavor into meat by putting a tray full of this smoked tea into the oven with it. I want to try it once the weather cools down a bit.
80. Bellini - I had a couple different versions at the Mango Brunch last month.
81. Tom yum - Geez, they may as well have just said "Thai food". Does any Thai restaurant not have tom yum? It's surprisingly easy to make, too.
82. Eggs Benedict - On the other hand. Eggs benedict is a pain in the butt to make. No wonder it always costs so much.
83. Pocky - I prefer Yan Yan, where you dip the cookie sticks in the still liquid chocolatey goop.
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. - Some day.
85. Kobe beef - I've had the American equivalent, but I don't eat enough steak to really appreciate the difference.
86. Hare - I've seen rabbit on menus but never hare. It's probably more common in the U.K.
87. Goulash - Easier to make than you think.
88. Flowers - As far as I can tell, petals sprinkled into salad are mostly just for color. You need extracts to concentrate the flavor if you really want to taste them.
89. Horse - Anyone who's tried it want to say what it was like in the comments? I'm curious if it's worth seeking out.
90. Criollo chocolate - I'm pretty sure the top end chocolate makers like Ghirardelli use some in their mix but I don't think I've had the straight stuff.
91. Spam - When you've grown up with scrapple, Spam seems downright classy. My mom used to make a killer Spam fried rice but I can't get it to come out the same. It probably helps to be twelve.
92. Soft shell crab - Great stuff for freaking out your sister. Also best when you're twelve.
93. Rose harissa - Plain harissa sure, but not this extra-fancy version.
94. Catfish - Another gimme for Americans that's probably much harder to find in the U.K.
95. Mole poblano - Unlike some of the other concoctions on this list, this is legitimately difficult to make. You've got to wonder how so complicated a staple ingredient was developed.
96. Bagel and lox - I've put lox on bagles, but I've never made either although I understand lox is easier to make than you'd expect.
97. Lobster Thermidor - I almost always have my lobster simply boiled and served with butter and lemon. I don't have it often so when I do I usually just want a lobster.
98. Polenta - I've never quite managed to get the nice crispy crust I want when I fry it. I don't know how it manages to stick to teflon.
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee - I used to work in a kitchen store that sold little packs of Blue Mountain with just enough to make a couple cups. I didn't have a very good coffee maker at the time and I think I ruined it when I tried it. Or maybe I'm just not a discerning coffee drinker. Quite possibly both.
100. Snake - Haven't had the chance.

Since I've gone through the list bit by bit I've had a chance to go shopping and pick up some black truffles. These are summer truffles so it's the $20 little bottle not the $55 one. But they fit the entry. I haven't done anything fancy with them yet, but I did try the simple recipe suggested on the bottle: a slice of homey crusty bread, drizzled with olive oil and topped with slices of basil, tomato and truffle. I've just baked some suitable bread this morning, I've got plenty of basil from my garden and Whole Foods had a sale on heirloom tomatoes when I visited Friday so I think I'm well prepared to let the truffle strut its stuff. I made one slice with and one without the truffle so I could compare and contrast. What I found was that the truffle didn't jump out in front. Instead, it was an suffusing earthy richness that undergirded the sharpness of the basil and brightness of the tomato. Now that I've done a little research I see that the summer truffle is much more subtle than the winter variety and that's why it didn't step forward. I suppose I should be a bit less parsimonious with it.

That brings my totals to 72 eaten, 25 cooked or cooked with and three I'm not interested in. Looking over comments of the hundreds of folks who have gone over the list it looks like 72 is respectable. I'm more interested in added to my cooking list though and since I added that aspect myself I guess I'm the benchmark

Saturday, August 30, 2008

CSA - South Indian Shrimp Curry

I checked my curry leaves today and while they were much faded from their prime, there was a still a little life left in them. That means one more South Indian curry before they get the toss. I do wish ? Farms would supply their more esoteric herbs in smaller batches; I can't imagine I'm the only one having trouble using them all up.

I didn't change the recipe from how I found it on Epicurious (from the latest issue of Gourmet it says there) other than compensating for the weak curry leaves so I'll ask you to click over for the specifics. Here I'll just illustrate the process and discuss the results. To do that I'm trying a new format: a picture post.

The recipe starts with frying up the aromatics: curry leaves, chilies (and plenty of 'em), garlic and ginger.

Then go in the spices: coriander, cumin, turmeric, mustard seeds, salt and pepper. The recipe said to turn the heat down and wait for the seeds to pop, but mustard seeds don't pop at medium heat so leave the heat up.

Next the onion, cooked until it's softened and soaked up the spices.

Then goes in tomato and coconut. My tomato was not very juicy and my coconut was dried so I ended up adding water now and again to keep the sauce saucy. I probably added a full cup by the time it was done.

Maybe that was a mistake as the flavors are not nearly as intense as I expected. (In the picture at Epicurious it looks like they didn't add water. But they don't seem to have peeled the shrimp either so it's designed for a beauty shot not for flavor and if you've read my review of Abokado you know how I feel about that.) There's a bit of heat and the warmth of the spices, but the main flavors are the tomato, the coconut, shrimp and, if you get a good bite of one, curry leaf each individual and not really tied together into a synergistic whole. After taking the pot off the heat, I added a second stem of curry leaves, crushed and lightly fried in oil to release their flavors; I'm glad that effort paid off, but all of those great aromas from the first couple steps of the cooking process are just background players, not strong enough to successfully unify the dish. Still and all, it's tasty if not fabulous. And, if you've got some peeling and chopping help in the kitchen, a cinch to make.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred - part three

Continuing on from Part 2.

Here's how it works.
"list a hundred interesting foods and:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results."

Since this is a cooking blog, I'll add 5) italicize the items you've cooked.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

51. Prickly pear - In candy form from a cheezy gift shop in an Indian reservation museum.
52. Umeboshi - I have a bad habit of purchasing unrecognizable items in untranslated packaging in Asian groceries.
53. Abalone - and pointing to the untranslated specials board in Asian restaurants and saying "I'll have that!"
54. Paneer - with palak preferably.
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal - I worked at McDonalds in my youth. Haven't been in in at least a couple decades, though.
56. Spaetzle - This always looks fun to make. I'll have to try it.
57. Dirty gin martini - I'm not much for mixed drinks.
58. Beer above 8% ABV - Generally called barley wine if I'm thinking of the same stuff. My preferred drink at the bar I mentioned earlier.
59. Poutine - All really-bad-for-you food should taste this good.
60. Carob chips - Remember when carob was suddenly everywhere as a substitute for chocolate? Was it actually more healthy? Probably. Eating a chocolate chip cookie must be worse for you than suspiciously eying and then not eating a carob chip cookie.
61. S’mores - I'll eat marshmallows in s'mores and in hot chocolate, but that's it. At least for mass-produced marshmallows. I should try the confectioner's version some time.
62. Sweetbreads - At Union restaurant in Seattle during my recent trip there. I'd cook with them if I could find any to buy.
63. Kaolin - Wikipedia says Kaolin is a a rock that can be used in "a specially formulated spray applied to fruits, vegetables, and other vegetation to repel or deter insect damage." That sounds like it might be used in organic farming. I might have eaten some.
64. Currywurst - A German fast food. I haven't had the opportunity.
65. Durian - This I've had plenty of opportunities for. The Asian groceries I shopped at when I lived in Boston and San Diego carried frozen durians. But even the aspects of durian that are supposed to be non-repulsive have never sounded particularly good to me. Also, I understand frozen is not a patch on the fresh stuff and if you're going to try such a thing you really should try it at its best. I'm not going to seek it out, but if you're having some and you offer, I wouldn't say no.
66. Frogs’ legs - They taste like garlic when you cover them in a garlic sauce. Deep fried, they taste like batter. I'd like to find some simply prepared so I can taste frog at some point.
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake - I think funnel cake is my favorite of the four, but I feel so urbane nibbling on beignets and sipping cafe au lait on a Sunday morning.
68. Haggis - Not a fine example of it, though, I'm sure. I liked it better slathered with vegemite.
69. Fried plantain - I use butter and a little bit of sugar to get flavor and the caramelized edges you get at the Cuban restaurants, but I'm pretty sure I'm cheating.
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette - I haven't had the opportunity terribly often as I've never spent much time in the regions where chitterlings are served and those regions are also places where you'll find good barbecue so I had better things to do.
71. Gazpacho - I've looked into recipes a few times intending to make gazpacho sorbet but I haven't followed through yet.
72. Caviar and blini - Not the really good stuff, though.
73. Louche absinthe - When you think about those romantic poets lounging about so sophisticatedly sipping absinthe keep in mind that it tastes like candy.
74. Gjetost, or brunost - Another obscure cheese with no particular reason to given to seek it out.
75. Roadkill - Is game by car really any different than game killed any other way? Is it nicely tenderized by the impact?

To be continued...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tahu goreng - fried tofu in peanut sauce

This is one of my favorite Javanese recipes. It's quick and easy to make and has a great distinctively Indonesian flavor.

You'll need:
1 pound medium to extra firm tofu. (You can get a lot of different textures from fried tofu depending on the firmness you start with and how long you fry it. I like mine a bit dried out and chewy but I think I'm in the minority. You definitely don't want the airy store bought pre-fried tofu. That's a different ingredient entirely and is good for different sorts of recipes.)
1/2 cup oil for shallow frying
1 large handful bean sprouts
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/2 green hot chili, sliced (something small and very hot is typical for Java)
1 teaspoon sugar
4 Tablespoons sweet soy sauce (a.k.a. kecap manis)
2 Tablespoons water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
2 scallions, sliced thin
3 Tablespoons crispy fried onions

Those crispy fried onions are a traditional Javanese condiment that's pretty similar to a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish condiment that goes with chopped liver. I think that's fried in schmaltz instead of peanut oil. If my mom's reads this, maybe she'll clarify in the comments.

You'll need:
1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 large pinch of salt
1/2 cup oil for shallow frying

1. Toss the onion with the salt and spread on a paper towel over a draining rack. Let sit for five minutes.

2. Meanwhile, Heat the oil in a medium pan (cast iron preferably) until the surface shimmers and a test piece of onion sizzles but doesn't burn. Turn heat to medium.

3. Roll up the paper towel and squeeze gently to get a bit more water out of the onions and to get some of the salt to stick to the paper towel.

4. Add the onion to the pan in a single layer. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onions are a golden brown.

5. Remove onions to a new paper towel spread over the rack. Let sit for 15 minutes. They'll darken a little and get crispier.

6. Save the oil for deep frying the tofu.

OK, now back to the main recipe.

1. Start some rice cooking. Short grain and kind of sticky would be appropriate. Sushi rice is a fair approximation if you don't rinse it.

2. Cut the tofu into inch-thick slices. Pat dry and maybe squeeze out some of the moisture. Heat oil the same way as for the onions and fry at least until light brown on both sides. I prefer to go a little longer, but it's up to you. Remove to a paper towel on a draining rack and set aside.

3. Put a medium pot of water on the boil.

4. In a mortar, crush the garlic, chili and sugar until enough juice has been released to dissolve the sugar. Add the soy sauce, water, lemon juice and peanut butter and stir until fairly smooth.

5. When the water has boiled add the bean sprouts. Wait until the water has returned to a boil, no more than 30 seconds. You just want a quick blanch. Remove bean sprouts.

6. Cut the tofu into cubes. Or don't if you don't want to.

7. For each serving, put the rice in a bowl, then the tofu, cover with the bean sprouts, spoon over the sauce and garnish with the scallions and onions. You can serve hot or at room temperature, but remember that room temperature in Java is around 85 degrees.

(both recipes are adapted from The Indonesian Kitchen by Copeland Marks and Mintari Soeharjo)

In each bite you can get soft rice, chewy tofu, crunchy bean sprouts and scallions and the crisp onions. The tofu gains a savory flavor from the frying, the sauce is sweet and earthy, the onions salty and the Anyway, there's an enormous amount going on for such a simple dish. And if you don't care about that, it's just really tasty.

It occurs to me that this dish has kid-friendly flavors and is pretty easy to pack (rice, tofu and vegetables in one bowl, sauce in another and a small bag of onions). I'll bet it makes a mighty impressive elementary school lunch. (It probably makes an impressive work lunch too, but my coworkers have long ceased inquiring about all but the most aromatic of what I've brought in.) If any mothers want to try it, do please report back on how it goes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

CSA - Tastes like soap

Really fancy soap, sure, but still not what I was hoping for. I'm talking about my latest sherbet here and looking at the ingredients I really shouldn't be surprised: avocado, lemon, honey, lavender and thyme. But avocado ice cream isn't all that unusual (as unusual ice creams go) and it's usually paired with lemon. Honey--avocado honey from a previous CSA delivery--is a natural addition. It's where I started getting creative with the flavorings that things went wrong. I'm not going to say lavender and thyme were bad ideas; both go well with the other flavors involved here and straight out of the blender the sherbet base had a lovely rich, sweet and slowly blooming herbal mix of flavors. The problem only came after churning; the low temperatures damped all the flavors down except the lavender. That actually seems to have intensified into a nasty astringent long-lingering chemical tang. So, a teaspoon of lavender extract is way too much. So noted.

On the other hand, the texture is as smooth and creamy as you might ask for, albeit recognizably with the particular smoothness of avocado, the color is lovely (you'll have to trust me on that one. My phone-camera's white balance can't capture the reality of its pale green) and, like I said before, the flavors work if I can get the balance right. I'm going to try this again when some avocados show up in the CSA and I'll give a proper recipe then.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

No need for no knead

It's once again time to bake some bread and I was planning on giving my standard no-knead recipe another try despite its reliably good-but-not-great results. But before I started I fell into rumination--why am I using this recipe? am I really that afraid of kneading? Well, yes I am. I've been traumatized by too many awful results any time I try to work with yeast whether baking or brewing. On the other hand, I do own a mixer with a bread hook so maybe there's another way.

As I see it, there are three benefits from the no-knead recipe. Most obviously, the lack of kneading means you can't get that part wrong. Second, the long rest lets the dough's flavor develop some complexity. And third, baking in an enclosed vessel contains steam and gives the bread a lovely crisp crust.

That third is entirely ancillary to the not-kneading bit and can be done with any recipe if you don't mind one big freeform loaf. It's not really much of an innovation to jump from the traditional French cloche to the dutch oven more common in American non-baking kitchens. My dutch oven has plastic handles that can't take the heat so I use a clay cooker. I don't know how much of my not-great results that's responsible for so I'm going to deal with that later and concern myself with the kneading today.

The traditional way to develop flavors in dough is to mix a portion of the recipe's flour with all of its water and the yeast and let it sit for 8 hours or more. In it's simplest form it's called a sponge. Saturday mixed 1 1/2 cups of bread flour, 1/4 cup of rye flour, 2 1/2 teaspoons of yeast and 1 1/4 cups water and let it sit for a while.

The next morning, I added another 1 1/2 cups of bread flour, 1/4 cup of rye and 1 Tablespoon of kosher salt. Then I attached the dough hook and let it go at it on a medium-low speed. My judgment of these matters is suspect at best but the dough seemed too wet and sticky so I added a Tablespoon of flour and then another. And a few extra minutes of machine kneading to compensate for the pauses while I fretfully peered and poked into the mixing bowl attempting to judge appropriate moisture content.

And it turns out I judged correctly, as after I scraped the dough out of the bowl and onto a floured cutting board it formed a tight elastic ball with no trouble. About a quarter cup of dough stuck to the bowl. I'm saving that to put into the next batch of bread for some extra flavor.

There's a lot of yeast in there so it took only a half hour to double in size. I punched it down, rerolled it, turned on the oven to preheat, and let it sit for a second half hour to reinflate.

After that I followed the standard no-knead baking method. I dumped the dough into the pre-heated clay cooker--and please note that it didn't stick or wilt on contact as my doughs often do--turned the heat down from 500 to 425 degrees, closed the cooker, gave it a half hour in the oven, removed the lid and finished with another half hour.

Here's the result:

I'm not sure it got quite up to 210 degrees inside as I don't trust my thermometer at the top end of its scale, but the top was beginning to burn so it was coming out anyway. Those are sesame seeds I sprinkled on top, but the dough wasn't sticky enough for them to stay there long.

And here's it sliced open:

The crumb's pretty dense but there are uneven bubbles, some quite large; that's good. Fairly thick crisp crust; not as good as the no-knead recipe gave, but not bad. An intense flavor with both the rye and the aging giving a bit of sourness. And it's got a substantial firm chew without toughness. Overall, a darn good loaf of bread. I think I've found my new standard method.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

In search of a better quiche crust - part four

In previous installments of this series (I didn't think of giving it a title until now so just click on 'quiche' in the tag list if you want to know more) I first disparaged the idea of a crust on a quiche as it's always soggy on the bottom and dried out on the edges and while my crustless quiche was tasty, something was missing; then I took up Sara Moulton's idea of a savory cracker-crumb crust but didn't care for the aggressive flavor of the crackers or the enormous amounts of butter required; next I lined the bottom of the pan with bread crumbs. They melded into the bottom of the quiche instead of forming a proper crust, but they showed potential.

In considering my next attempt, I gave the standard quiche recipe some thought. Most recipes layer the bottom of the crust with shredded cheese before adding the rest of the fillings. I suppose the idea is to form a fatty layer insulating the pastry crust from soaking up the liquid in the quiche, but I've never seen it actually work. For my crumb crust, what would happen if I mixed the cheese in and then blind baked it?

Only one way to find out. I used generous amounts of bread crumbs--a mixture of panko and homemade-- added just one tablespoon of melted butter and mixed in the 3/4 cup of Emmentaler Swiss cheese I was going to use in the quiche anyway.

After 10 minutes at 350 degrees, the crust looked like this:

Pretty promising, although I should have broken up the long strands of cheese to get more even distribution. But the proof is whether it will retain its integrity after the quiche is cooked.

My recipe this time was four eggs mixed with 1/2 cup cream and 3/4 cup milk along with another quarter cup of liquid from my fillings.

Those fillings are a couple handfuls of large shrimp, quickly blanched to just barely cook through (since they'll be spending another half hour in the oven); a bunch of chives from my garden, a giganto clove of garlic, one large scallion and maybe two cups of baby spinach. All the vegetables got a sauté in olive oil and butter and a bit of a wilt with a splash of sauvignon blanc (he says as if he has more than one bottle of white wine in the house at any particular time).

The fillings go on top of the cooled crust and are topped with a grating of Parmigiano Reggiano,

then the egg mixture, and in to the over for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.

Resulting in this:

After letting it cool off for ten minutes, I cut a piece. Here's the bottom:

Looks pretty good. As for the texture...let's take a bite...well, I wasn't expecting that. Somehow I've managed to turn the breadcrumbs back into bread. It's like the quiche is sitting on a light fluffy slice of white bread. Weird. There are some chewy bits where there was an unusual concentration of cheese, too. I can't say that it's bad, but it's not what I was aiming at.

As for the quiche itself, I went a bit light on the salt, but it has a nice light texture, a tasty blend of herbal flavors and a good balance of flavors with the shrimp. Not too shabby.

I'll have to give the crust some more thought, though.

If you'd like another interesting crust option take a look at Kat's polenta crust here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred - Part two

Continuing on from Part 1 here.

Here's how it works.
"list a hundred interesting foods and:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results."

Since this is a cooking blog, I'll add 5) italicize the items you've cooked.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper - In passing while cooking with it. I'm not stupid.
27. Dulce de leche - I've been thinking of making a dulce de leche ice cream that incorporates it as part of the dairy base instead of just a flavoring. I need to read up a bit more to see if it would actually work.
28. Oysters - You'd think they'd at least specify raw oysters. A bit of a gimme otherwise.
29. Baklava - I'm not actually a fan of flaky pastry but soak it in enough honey and I'm sold.
30. Bagna cauda - I haven't actually made a fully traditional version, but I did make this.
31. Wasabi peas - I once bought a bag of these at a farmer's market run by Mennonites. I choose to believe that they were hand wasabied in the traditional Mennonote manner.
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl - I've had clam chowder and I've had bread bowls, but I don't think I've had one in the other.
33. Salted lassi - ack! Never again!
34. Sauerkraut - I should put this on my to-make list. It's a pretty interesting process.
35. Root beer float - There was a bar in San Diego I used to go to that did Guinness floats. I never did get around to trying it. That's going on my to do list.
36. Cognac with a fat cigar - Nothing against the cognac but I can't see ruining it with cigar smoke.
37. Clotted cream tea - Alice's Teacup in New York does a great cream tea. Theine does one here, but I don't really care for Kyra's mini-scones. Cute in concept, but they're a bit dry for my tastes.
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O - Can't say I see much point, really.
39. Gumbo - My own recipe and complimented by cajuns I might add.
40. Oxtail - Odd I haven't gotten around to cooking with oxtails.
41. Curried goat - If you've got goat meat, currying really is the thing to do.
42. Whole insects - It was a prank not a meal, but I guess it still counts.
43. Phaal - I don't think I've ever seen it on offer and I don't think I'd bother with it if I did. Eating hot dishes just to say you've survived them seems a bit immature.
44. Goat’s milk - I mentioned the lactose problems earlier. I don't drink a lot of milk in general.
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more - I'm not sure. I've had some really great whisky but it was at a friend's house and I didn't inquire about the price.
46. Fugu - According to Anthony Bordain, it's a very mild fish. Nothing really to it but the near-death thrill and I get plenty of that driving around Miami.
47. Chicken tikka masala - This is that British invention. I don't recall seeing available at American Indian restaurants nor during my visit to India.
48. Eel - and plenty of it. I've never seen it for sale to cook with, though.
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut - I don't see what the fuss is about these sugar bombs. I'm a Dunkin' Donuts man, myself. Butternut specifically when I can get it.
50. Sea urchin - I'm counting uni. I'm not sure I've had anything other than the roe.

and continued here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

CSA - Garlicky tomato curry

I've still got plenty of curry leaves left and since they don't dry terribly well I've got to keep using them up. Today's recipe is a garlicky tomato curry, South Indian style I think, that I found here.

It's pretty straightforward and the author, Amma, calls it a basic recipe you can use to experiment with, adjusting spices and herbs to get different flavors. That makes sense to me, but until I make a trip out to an Indian grocery (probably Indo American on south 84th) I'm can't stray too far. So I'm going to post the original recipe with some annotations for what I did differently.

Garlicky Tomato Curry Recipe

Source: Amma
Prep & Cooking: 25 mts
Serves: 4-5
Cuisine: Andhra (southeast Indian)


1/2 kg fresh tomatoes, finely chopped
2 large onions, finely chopped (I neglected to restock during my last shopping trip and only had one large onion and some scraps. Still it seemed like plenty.)
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
10-12 fresh curry leaves (plus some extra for the garnish. For those I picked the softer, smaller leaves from the tips of the stems.
10-12 garlic cloves, slightly crushed (you read that right)
pinch of turmeric pwd
1 tsp red chilli pwd (I used extra as my cayenne is old and weak)
1/2 tsp coriander pwd
salt to taste (a couple teaspoons of kosher salt worked well for me)
1 tbsp grated jaggery (jaggery is a big block of unrefined cane sugar. Turbinado is a fine substitution.)
2 tbsp coriander leaves (that's cilantro, of course. I used a bit more to boost the herbal flavors.)
1 tbsp oil

1 Heat oil in a vessel. (A medium pot will hold everything, but the onions will fry up better with the larger surface area of a dutch oven.) Add the mustard seeds and let them pop. Add the crushed garlic and curry leaves and toss them for 8-10 seconds.
2 Add the onions and fry till translucent. Add the chilli pwd, turmeric pwd, coriander pwd and salt. Combine well.
3 Add the chopped tomatoes and cook on medium heat uncovered for 4-5 mts. Reduce heat and cook covered for another 5 mts.
4 Add a glass of water (a cup?), jaggery, adjust salt and cook covered till you get the desired gravy consistency. (I did five minutes covered and then another five minutes uncovered.)
5 Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve with hot chapatis, rice, pongal, khichidi or dosas.

Note: Boil eggs, make slits and add to the cooked tomato-onion mixture before adding the water. (This is a great way to overcook some eggs so instead I poached eggs in the sauce for the last five minutes of cooking. That's a little longer than you usually want to poach an egg, but I didn't want a loose yolk running all over the place. I got an equivalent of a mollet boiled egg which is just about right.) You can even add drumsticks for added flavor. (I thought drumsticks were vegetables, but upon researching I've found that they're fruit. There's a good picture and some information here.)

I stopped cooking after the tomatoes fell apart but the onions were still firm. I tried some and while the flavor was great--tomato and warm spices up front followed by a big hit of garlic and herbs--the chunky texture really didn't seem right. I could have kept cooking until the onions collapsed, but you'd think the author would mention if you were supposed to do that. Instead I removed the eggs and tossed it into the blender. The results are a smooth sauce that you'd swear has a cream enrichment and I think it improved the flavors too by distributing the garlic and herbs so it all melds together. I returned the eggs, a good many vegetable bits that stuck to the eggs while they poached and a bit more garnish and I had a pretty presentable, hearty and very tasty dish. Really easy and pretty quick, too.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

CSA - Avocado salmon sushi

Next up out of last week's CSA share are the avocados which are finally ripe enough to use. This first recipe doesn't use a whole lot of it, but it's been a really long time since I've made sushi at home and it's good to keep up the skills.

This was something of a spur of the moment idea though and I don't keep sushi-grade fish just lying around the house. I do have some not-too-bad salmon, though, so I decided to use that. There are a couple of choices if you're going to use lesser fish for sushi: either you can sear it, and if my salmon had skin that's the way I would have gone, or you can chop it up into a paste like you find in spicy tuna rolls.

My woefully understocked pantry is missing Japanese-style mayonnaise too so a real spicy roll wasn't going to happen. Instead, after mashing up my salmon (and removing the darker-colored nasty-tasting line of flesh that runs down the middle. I thought it was called a bloodline, but looking up the term didn't turn up information on it so I must have been wrong.) I added a couple dashes of powdered wasabi, a dash of powdered ginger, a dash of white pepper, a couple teaspoons of soy sauce and a teaspoon of sesame oil. I mixed that all up and set it aside in the refrigerator to let the flavors of the powders bloom a bit.

Next up is the rice. Sushi rice should stick together because of the stuff it's mixed with, not due to starch so you need to rinse it thoroughly before cooking it. Cover the rice with water and stir until the water is cloudy with starch, pour it out and repeat until the water runs clear. I went through four rinses and my rice still turned out sticky so just do the best you can. Cook the rice in your usual way, adding in a chunk of kombu if you've got any. When the rice is done add 1/8 cup of rice wine vinegar and a Tablespoon of mirin (a little less of sugar will do) per cup of uncooked rice. Mix thoroughly and spread it out on a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet to cool. Personally I like my rice a little warm, but some people get it down to air-conditioned-room temperature. It's up to you. That's the basics. I understand it takes years to really master making sushi rice so there are plenty of subtleties I'm not even aware of much less capable of explaining.

Then comes the fillings. I sliced up half an avocado (and used no more than half of that) and slivered a scallion to go with my salmon paste. Cucumber would have been good too. Some people go for red or yellow pepper, carrots or zucchini but not me. I would have added some sesame seeds, though, if I had thought of it earlier.

Now for assembly. Take a sheet of nori and lay it out shiny side down. If you've got a bamboo sushi mat, well then you know all this so I'm going to assume you don't. I put the nori down on a cutting board, but I think that's why it lost its crunch so fast. A sheet of plastic wrap in between should help with that and with rolling later. Wet your hands and drop a lump of rice into the middle of the nori. Spread it out without pressing it down. You want a thin layer with the green of the nori visible through and an inch left bare at one end. You'll use less than you'll expect.

Then lay out the fillings at the end opposite the bare strip. This time you'll need to use a little more than you'll expect. Wet a finger and run it along the remaining exposed nori so it will stick and seal up the roll when you're done.

Once everything is laid out and ready, it's time to roll. If you used plastic wrap, grasp the edges and flip the filling-laden end of the nori over. I didn't so instead I slipped my chef's knife underneath and used that as a long spatula. If you've got an offset spatula for icing cakes, that should be ideal.

Pull the overturned section of the roll towards you to tighten it up. Not too vigorously or the nori will split, but firm enough so it holds its shape.

Finish by rolling the resulting cylinder over the rest of the rice and the exposed nori. Lay the roll seam side down and press a little to get a good seal.

Using your sharpest knife slice the roll in half, place the halves side by side and cut them in thirds.

Stand them up and if you're like me, you've got some mediocre sushi. Sushi at its best is all about balance and technique elevating simple ingredients and preparation. That's why it takes years of training. It's not really the sort of thing that's going to give exquisite results to the amateur home cook. Still, it's fun and a change of pace so worth a try now and again.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Attempting improvements

As I mentioned in my last post, at the end of last May when I first got ahold some curry leaves I made two Malaysian dishes with them. One, stir fried shrimp with curry leaves turned out very nicely. The other, fried chicken with curry leaves, less so. A month later I kept the distinctive cooking technique but changed quite a bit else to create a wonderfully successful Thai-spiced fried chicken with basil leaves. Since then my original post has risen to #4 in the Google rankings for "curry leaf recipes" so I've been wanting to fix up fried-chicken-with-curry-leaves to match the quality of the basil version so I can give my visitors what they've come for. Today I tried. And failed.

I'll tell you what I did and what I think went wrong. Maybe you can figure out a better way.

oil for deep frying
2 chicken thighs, boned, skinned and cut into largish bite-sized pieces OR 1 chicken thigh and an equal amount of tofu (I wrote in the original post that tofu might work well in the dish so I tested that, too)
2 large stems curry leaves
1 small onion, chopped into largish bite-sized pieces
1 small green pepper, chopped into largish bite-sized pieces
1 bird's eye or similar hot pepper, sliced (and seeded if you're a wimp)

1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon corn starch

1/2 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar
80 ml chicken broth
20 ml rice wine
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
juice of 1/4 lemon

1. Combine marinade ingredients, add chicken and tofu, marinate in refrigerator for one hour.
2. Heat oil for deep frying in a wok. Add chicken and tofu in batches without draining marinade. Deep fry until golden brown. Don't worry about under-cooking as they'll be going back into the pan for a significant amount of time.
3. Drain all but 2 Tablespoons of oil (or heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a wok at high heat if you used an actual deep fryer).
4. Add onion, peppers and small handful of curry leaves. Stir fry until onion and pepper begin to soften and become translucent.
5. Add chicken and glaze. Stir fry until almost, but not quite dry.
6. Add remaining curry leaves, toss and immediately remove from pan and serve over rice.

To tell the truth, I forgot the hot pepper until the dish was just about ready so I ended up chopping up a jalapeno real quick, removing the dish from the wok, quickly stir frying the pepper, returning the rest of the ingredients and cooking a bit longer to blend the flavors. I ended up cooking a bit too long and the sauce dried up entirely with the soy sauce caramelizing onto the solid bits. Which doesn't taste so good.

But even before that, I gave it a try when it was at the proper level of doneness and looked like this:

At that point the strong lemon-soy flavor predominated, the curry leaf was completely lost, and the tofu was just blah. In the Thai-flavor version the aromatic fish sauce, basil and lime all worked together to make a wonderfully fragrant dish. This is OK, but OK isn't what I was aiming at. I should definitely leave out the lemon, but then it's just soy vs. curry leaves and the curry leaves will lose. I'll have to give this some more thought. Or give up. One or the other.

The Omnivore's Hundred - part one

This post will be a bit out of the ordinary for me. I came across this meme over at the Very Good Taste blog which I was referred to by a non-food blog I read. VGT is not a cooking blog, like this one, it's an eating blog which is a rather different beast. Still, I like the idea and this blog can get a bit procedural so something about myself but still on-topic might be a good change of pace.

Here's how it works.
"list a hundred interesting foods and:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results."

Since this is a cooking blog, I'll add 5) italicize the items you've cooked.

I've discovered that a list of 100 entries, if you comment on every one, is really really long. I'm going to split this into four and post it over the course of a week to make it a bit less tedious. I'd, of course, welcome comments or links to your own Hundred, or e-mails telling me to quit it with the self-indulgent nonsense and get back to the recipes.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison - a standout at the otherwise poor experience I had at the last Coral Gables Wine and Food Festival. I've been convinced that I managed to inerrantly pick the worst and skip the best on offer. Next year I'm going to deliberately go against my instincts and compare the results.
2. Nettle tea - why when there's plenty of real tea about?
3. Huevos rancheros - I did live in San Diego after all.
4. Steak tartare - I'd say it isn't all it's cracked up to be, but I don't think anyone's actually cracking it up.
5. Crocodile - actually alligator, but close enough. I'd like to cook with it, but I've only found frozen meat imported from Louisiana farms. I should be able to find it fresh and locally produced in South Florida, right?
6. Black pudding - both Irish and Columbian varieties. Neither terribly impressive, but I wasn't in either Ireland or Columbia at the time.
7. Cheese fondue - I've made rarebit; that's pretty close.
8. Carp - I don't think it's ever occurred to me that carp is edible. Have any of you tried it? Is it worth seeking out?
9. Borscht - I find that I have nothing interesting to say about borscht.
10. Baba ghanoush - waste of a perfectly good eggplant if you ask me.
11. Calamari - VGT is a British blog; maybe it's more exotic over there.
12. Pho - The key to a good pho is the broth. It's complicated to get right and many places don't bother.
13. PB&J sandwich - I've never understood how this has become a staple as I've always found the flavors of fruit jelly and peanut butter unpleasantly clashing and the texture combination a bit nauseating. I guess that's just me.
14. Aloo gobi - I don't remember having this specifically, but I've had plenty of Indian meals. I must have ordered this at some point.
15. Hot dog from a street cart - To my regret. I've heard this called a New York delicacy but never by New Yorkers. Those in the know prefer Papaya King's dogs.
16. Epoisses - lactose intolerance has stunted my exploration of interesting cheeses but I really ought to make more of an effort now that I've got lactase pills.
17. Black truffle - I few shavings here and there, but not enough to really count, I'd say.
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes - Several at the Mango Festival. They weren't great.
19. Steamed pork buns - My mom used to make these when my parents were going through a serious Chinese food cooking stage. I'll have to ask if she remembers what recipe she used as I'd like to make my own roast pork.
20. Pistachio ice cream - I'm not a particular fan of pistachios in any form.
21. Heirloom tomatoes - Are the tomatoes we got in the CSA heirlooms? I know I picked up plenty when I shopped at the Union Square Farmer's Market in New York. I don't think heirloom is so much worth seeking out as home- or small-farm-grown and vine-ripened is. If you grew heirloom varieties industrially they'd be just as unpleasant as supermarket tomatoes.
22. Fresh wild berries - When I was growing up my house was on the edge of our patch of suburbia. The neighbor's backyard faced an open field and their fence was overgrown with wild blackberry bushes. I still remember what a bad idea a blackberry chocolate milkshake was.
23. Foie gras - A bit here and there but, like truffles, I haven't done enough fine dining to have a dish that really made it count.
24. Rice and beans - I haven't made it the Cuban way but it variations on the there were my staple in my grad student days.
25. Brawn, or head cheese - I really must try it again now that I've developed my taste to the point where I think I really must try it again.

Continued here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

CSA - Kerala Pork Curry

Next up from the CSA line-up is curry leaves.

A couple months ago, my first search for Indian recipes using curry leaves that didn't also use a whole bunch of Indian ingredients I don't know how to find in Miami didn't turn anything up so I ended up making Malaysian dishes instead. I don't recall exactly how I searched, but I may have limited myself to recipes using the proteins I had on hand: shrimp and chicken.

This time around I had a pound of pork butt taking up room in my freezer. Searching on pork dishes with curry leaves was rather more fruitful. Three looked particularly promising. This is the one that looked doable on a weeknight and had a couple pages of positive reviews.


1 pound Pork butt, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1 Tablespoon cayenne powder
1/2 Tablespoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 Tablespoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon clove powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1 inch cube ginger, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic pods, finely chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 stem (10 -15) curry leaves
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
salt to taste
2 Tablespoons oil for frying

1. Toss pork with a couple dashes of turmeric (not the 1/2 teaspoon listed above) and a generous pinch of salt. Heat 1 Tablespoon of oil in a dutch oven over high temperature. Brown pork in batches for five to six minutes each (with a turn in the middle). Remove pork from the pot and set aside.

(The original recipe called for cooking the pork in a pressure cooker. Not only is that not something everyone has around in American kitchens, it's also one more item to wash and it squandered all of the extra flavor browning gives the meat and leaves in the pot for the vegetables to pick up. So browning's the way to go even if you do have a pressure cooker.)

2. Mix cayenne, black pepper, coriander, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and cumin. If you have any of those in whole form and you've got a spice grinder and you feel like bothering, that's probably a better way to go. See the original recipe (which I cut in half) for whole spice amounts.

3. Add or subtract fat from the dutch oven to get 2 Tablespoons. Set it over high heat until the oil starts to shimmer and add ginger, garlic and onions. Sauté until onion is a medium golden brown. (There's a bit of turmeric left in the pot so the onions will turn light gold almost immediately.)

4. Turn heat to low and add spice mixture. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes stirring occasionally and keeping a eye on the pot and a nose on the air for signs of burning.

5. Stir in tomatoes and a pinch of salt. Turn the heat up to medium and cook four to five more minutes until the tomatoes break down and, so the original author claims, the spices start to express oil. I didn't see that myself.

6. Return pork to pot and add vinegar, soy sauce and chicken stock. Stir to coat pork, put on the lid and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

7. Check your curry leaves for aroma. If they aren't fragrent rough them up a bit. Remove lid and stir into pot.

8. Cook for 5 to 10 more minutes until the sauce thickens into a thick gravy.

9. Garnish with cilantro or some more curry leaves and serve with basmati rice, roti or, in a pinch, tortillas.

With the ochre color from the tomatoes and spices the dish isn't much to look at, but it's got a lot of great flavor. What exactly that flavor is I'm having a hard time describing. All of those spices, the tomato and the onion have blended together into a whole that you can't break back down into it individual components. The dish is surprisingly not very aromatic unless you put a forkful right up to your nose. That's probably because I used a lot of aging prepared powders instead of grinding my own spices to order. Or possibly because I've been smelling it for the last hour as I cooked. I should go for a walk and come back in ten minutes. Each bite starts with a bright hit of tomato and sweet spice. That fades into mellower clove and coriander along with pork or starch if that was in the mix. There's a lingering warmth from the pepper and breathing in through your nose brings the herbal scent of curry leaves up from the back of your tongue. Huh, guess I could break it down after all.

One minor nitpick in an otherwise very pleasant (and not terribly hard or time consuming) dish is that the pork kind of gets in the way of the other flavors in the dish. I'm sure it's an important component but it's a shame to be savoring the sauce and have it fade away leaving a mouthful of relatively dull pork to chew. I suppose you could slow cook the pork in the sauce to better meld the flavors, but that would be a different recipe and not, I think, a south Indian technique.