Archive for the ‘recipes’ Category

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Thoughts on Baby Food or Pea & Mint Crostini?

June 6, 2008

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I think we can all agree that food resembling baby food is generally unappetizing. Take, for example, jarred mashed peas. Greenish gray, strained yet lumpy, smelling vegetal and yet not fresh… baby food peas are, well… gross.

That is why this recipe is such a conundrum.

Yes: The fresh, vibrant, and delicious mixture atop that golden, crunchy crostini is, in fact, mashed peas. But this is no baby food (although our baby did devour it).

It is a delightful romp through an English garden in spring. It is a refreshing taste of green with a hint of mint that draws your mouth into a smile. It is all other kinds of food haiku that I can’t quite put into words.

Those meddlesome peas turn out to be absolutely delicious when shelled and mashed fresh out of their pods. Then my husband enhances them even further by adding a kick of a mint and a hint of lemon. Next, he adds an amazing crunch by spreading them over a piece of golden french bread, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil. And finally, he make the whole thing dazzling by adding the peppery bite — and visual flair — of a watercress salad.

It’s true: I’ll never look at baby food the same way again.

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And now, the husband’s take…

I had the pleasure to be in Chicago a few weeks ago. The negative was that I was alone — no Jack and no wife. The positive was that I was in Chicago — and I was hungry. So, I had to eat. As a result, I had the good fortune to escape one afternoon to Avec in the West Loop.

I had some inspiring food while I was there. Avec’s food focuses on the Mediterranean regions of France, Spain and Italy. Most of the menu is designed to be shared communally, with small and big plates — all of it served in a hip little wood box of a room. Visually, it reminded me a lot of New York’s Momofoku, complete with its three-man kitchen serving at the bar.

Now, we don’t do restaurant reviews here… so the question is: Why am I going on about this place? Well, I like to give credit. This dish was inspired by my meal at Avec.

I wanted something simple and light to go with a heavy and spicy dish I’d ordered. The waiter insisted that I try Avec’s pea crostini. Now, I’m a new father. I’ve served my son a good amount of pea purée in recent months and I’ve had some exposure to mashed peas from a container. And let’s just say… I wish I was a better father and had spent more time preparing homemade vegetables for my son. So, I was hesitant to go along with the waiter’s suggestion.

But I’m glad I did.

The recipe here is a quick one. Once the water is boiling, this dish can be on the table in 15 minutes. You can even boil the peas in advance and refrigerate them for a couple days. Just don’t blend them before you’re ready; even with the lemon juice’s acidity, pureed peas will turn an unappetizing brown by the next morning.

The only slightly unusual ingredient here is ricotta salata. This cheese is made from the same curd of ricotta, but it is pressed and dried. It has a relatively neutral flavor, is shockingly white and has a texture similar to feta, but without the gamey quality of sheep or goat’s cheese. I can find ricotta salata at high-end grocers like Whole Foods or at independent cheese mongers. In the end, the cheese adds very little in flavor because the mint, lemon and peas dominate. But its shocking white was a great aesthetic choice, so I used it. I think it makes very little difference; so, substitute away!

Click here for recipe.

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Pea & Mint Crostini

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Ingredients:
1 cup shelled peas
2 radishes
1 bunch watercress
1 lemon (zest & juice)
5 medium leaves of mint
Ricotta salata
Baguette
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Directions:
1. Salt water until it tastes of sea water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the peas and cook for 6 minutes. The peas should be soft in the mouth — overcooking is not a negative. Strain the peas and shock in an ice bath to stop cooking.

2. Slice the bread into thin discs, brush lightly with olive oil, lightly salt, and toast.

3. Combine the lemon juice, zest, peas and mint and then blitz with stick blender. The texture should be paste-like, similar to baby food. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Spread the puree on toast, then garnish with leaves of watercress, slices of radish and grated ricotta salata.

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Eat ‘em up: Pickled grapes

May 21, 2008

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I think pickling may be the next big thing.

Yes, you heard it here first. Granted, I have never accurately called a trend. Molecular gastronomy still sounds to me like an uncomfortable side effect of eating too many beans. I like farmer’s markets because they’re outside, not because I know the ingredients are locally sourced. And I’m pretty much still scratching my head about who this Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana person is…

And yet, I think I my husband may be onto something with his newfound craze for pickling. After all, pickling is an important part of some other food cultures (think: Korea). Why not ours? Maybe pickling is ripe for the same kind of fanfare BBQ receives in this country. You know: People traveling around in Airstream trailers with their secret pickling recipes, folks lining up at tents in the summertime tasting pickle after pickle, huge trophies lining the mantle of a man with a handlebar mustache and large gut.

No?

Well, like I said, I don’t actually have an eye for trends. But I do have a mouth for tasting… and my husband’s pickled grapes are going down the hatch. They’re sweet and aromatic — just open the jar and the divine aroma of cinnamon and clove wafts up to seduce you. But they’re also sour and complex — your mouth can’t help but pucker a touch at the healthy dose of vinegar all good pickles require. And then, finally, they’re grapes. Sweet, firm, purple gems of fruit that maintain that great texture amid all the whiz-bang of the pickling juices.

Yup, pickles are the next big thing. Well, in my mouth, at least.
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And now, the husband’s take…

So, yes, pickled grapes. It’s not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when discussing pickling. Other things that might come first? Well, pickled pickles (duh), pickled watermelon rind, pickled ginger, pickled zucchini, pickled onions… even the truly brave act of fermenting cabbage like the Koreans, Germans, Austrians, and Alsatians do to make kimchi and sauerkraut.

I think, then, that the pickled grape may be a hard sell. Yet, I will encourage, cajole, and perhaps even threaten.

I first came across pickled grapes at Farrah Olivia, a restaurant in Alexandria, VA. They were served as a garnish. The idea was pretty incredible: They were a combination of sweet and sour that caught you off guard. At the restaurant, the grapes were served as a small bunch still attached to the stems, and you had little idea of the intense flavor you were about to receive. Being inspired, I decided to work on my own recipe featuring a bit more spice and tang by altering a recipe I’ve used to pickle beets — yes, I admit to a growing obsession with pickling.

The result is a pickled grape with a sneaky spike of clove, cinnamon and allspice, along with the familiar and delicious sour and sweet of a traditional pickle. The grapes also happen to be the perfect pair for beer and cheese. Served along with semi-hard cheeses with plenty of salt and with a good beer, they work as an excellent palette cleanser. Three tasty treats together on one plate? Happiness for me!

Other than its deliciousness and its sublime pairing with beer and cheese, there is another argument in the pickled grape’s favor: simplicity. If you are not a person experienced with pickling, this is a good starter recipe. It’s quick, needs no knife, and requires only a little bit of patience and space in the refrigerator. In the end, this is a lot of benefit for little work. I use the free time it allows me to indulge my other obsessions… or threaten others to try the grapes.

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Braised pork shoulder… It’s magically delicious!

May 12, 2008

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Ah, the pig.

That regal creature that Homer Simpson once referred to as a “wonderful, magical animal.” Indeed, I believe the pig may be magical: After all, a little bit of pig seems to make everything a lot more delicious. (And, never having had unicorn, I can only assume the pig is far tastier.)

My husband has long been under the spell of the swine, and has lately become a little more obsessed. Take, for example, the menu he prepared last week when we had family in town:

Monday: Braised pork belly. Tuesday: Braised pork shoulder. Wednesday: Barbecued pork ribs. If he had prepared pig trotters on Thursday, I was going to start ransacking the house looking for the pig carcass he was obviously hiding.

Not that I’m complaining. Doctors may not agree, but I believe a steady diet of pig leads to healthy — or at least, happy — living. And that is why we’re sharing with you Tuesday’s masterpiece: Braised pork shoulder.

Yes, the husband has not only blessedly turned his attention to that wonderful, magical animal… he has also dedicated himself to studying perhaps the most delicious art of food preparation: braising. Braising, that most perfect of techniques for concocting tender, delectable, melt-in-your-mouth meat. And pig, that meat most amenable to the BBQ chef’s mantra of “low and slow.”

The result of combining these two divine things? Heavenly, tender, succulent pork shoulder and a lovingly reduced sauce that will transport your taste buds to nirvana. I’m not exaggerating. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself.

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And now, the husband speaks…

I do love some pig. I’ve made more than a few pork dishes in the past week, but how’s that my fault? I mean, I didn’t make the pig that delicious.

But while this dish does demonstrate the magic of pig, it also is an example of the greatest technique I learned in culinary school — sauce making. There is perhaps nothing more French than the act of making sauce, and you have to give those cheese-eaters credit: Uninteresting morsels of food can be turned into something really special with the right sauce. In this dish, the sauce is made by reducing the cooking liquid to a near-glaze until it it is rich, delicious, and enhances the flavor of the meat.

What’s more, this dish also works with a newer obsession of mine: beer. I have to admit, I spend an inordinate amount of time at Rick’s Wine and Gourmet here in Alexandria, Va. I’ve even become friends with my local beermonger and fellow blogger, Nick. The store and Nick have been my cheerful suppliers as I continue to plow along. But this post is about demonstrating the glorious potential of beer, not about the high likelihood of seeing me in my little beer shop around the corner.

Here the beer is part of the braising liquid. The pork shoulder is browned and then slowly cooked in combination with Belgian strong ale and chicken stock. Along with their higher alcohol content, Belgian strong ales are known for their intense flavors that I feel pair naturally with pork. Here, I used a dark or golden variety of this style that exhibits fruit, citrus rind and spice; it reminds me of the classic pairings of pork with apples and cinnamon. The sauce that is rendered from the cooking liquid has a sweetness and a nice acidity — and I’m fairly confident would make my fingers delicious enough to eat.

Finally, this recipe is an homage to Daniel Boulud. While we were living NYC, my wife and I went to his flagship restaurant, Daniel, in midtown. For both my wife and I that experience was incredibly memorable not only for the amazing meal, but for the hospitality heaped upon us by the staff. After finding out I was a culinary student, the chef did those little extras that made us feel lavished upon. Beyond a clear demonstration of what it means to receive multiple Michelin stars and four stars from The New York Times, it showed us a sense of generosity that we’ll try to show to others.

This recipe was inspired by his recent book Braise. He has a recipe for pork shoulder with hazel nuts and Jerusalem artichokes (AKA sunchokes). While I liked the original version, I changed it to include more American flavors such as bourbon and pecans, gave up white wine for my heartier ale and swapped the very earthy Jerusalem artichokes with the milder new potatoes. The recipes do vary in grades from there, but I’d like to think this version is… I won’t say better, just more pleasing to a pair of people.

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Click here to download the recipe.

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It hurts so good: Toothachingly sweet Uneven Pavement ice cream

June 11, 2007

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Ice cream just got a little more dangerous.

We already know that it’s hazardous for your waist line, and that it can result in some wicked brain freeze headaches. Now, it’s after your teeth.

No, I don’t mean that ice cream causes cavities. (I’m sure that it does that, too.) I mean that the ice cream that my husband has just concocted is so sweet that it will literally make your teeth ache.

“What is this treacherous ice cream,” you ask, “and, um, where can I get some?” Right here, friends. Its name is “Uneven Pavement,” and it is a sweeter and, dare I say, more sophisticated cousin to Rocky Road.

First, it calls upon that underutilized nut of nuts — the cashew — in its sweet and creamy base. Second, it harnesses chunks of carmelized toffee goodness to assault your taste buds. Finally, in its coup de grace, it seduces you with homemade marshamallow fluff laced throughout.

Resistance is futile. Your teeth may not thank you. Your waist line may not thank you. Your frozen sinuses may not thank you. But you’ll be grateful nonetheless.

And the ice cream replies, “Your welcome. Sucker.”

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Backgrounder…
Sometimes you just want to be a kid again. I think that is really the lesson of Vermont’s hippie-capitalists and ice cream moguls Ben & Jerry. And when it comes to ice cream flavors, pretty much the sky is the limit — fans of the original Iron Chef will remember Iron Chef Japanese Masaharu Morimoto’s squid ink ice cream as proof of this rule.

I’ve become even more daring in my ice cream-making, trying to find new ways to bring complexity. I’ve done chips. I’ve done nuts. I’ve done fruit. But after hearing my wife wax poetic about her craving for a childhood favorite, Rocky Road, I decided I would try marshmallows.

No, I wasn’t willing to settle for store-bought little marshmallows. I wanted veins of precious white marshmallow fluff running through the heart of my ice cream. I wanted the taster to discover strands of marshmallow sticking to the roof of her mouth. And I wouldn’t settle for the jarred fluff. No, sir. I looked up the recipe for making my own.

The result was a riff on my wife’s memories. By replacing the traditional walnuts with delicious cashews and chocolate with toffee, we developed a tooth-achingly sweet flavor called, “Uneven Pavement.” It’s rich, nutty, sweet and delicious. Place it on a cone and you’ll get the urge to be bike riding through the neighborhood again.

Before I go, there are a few tricks when it comes to the marshmallow fluff. I used a pasteurized egg white. Since it doesn’t get heated, I would recommend doing that. You can find them in the dairy section or just buy pasteurized eggs and separate.

Next, even if you don’t make your own fluff, the key is to add the marshmallow after you’ve churned the ice cream and have given it a chance to set up. I tried adding it early in my initial batches, and the marshmallow just integrated into the ice cream. It was tasty, but not the effect I was going for. So, wait as long as possible before you add the marshmallow.

Finally, I didn’t know how to make fluff before I started this recipe. I like to make sure I credit other recipes when I use them. I simply paired down a recipe I saw elsewhere. You can find the original version here.

Click here to download the recipe for Uneven Pavement.

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Uneven Pavement Ice Cream
Cashew Ice Cream
Ingredients:
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup salted, roasted cashews (crushed/chopped)
1/2 cup salted, roasted cashews (whole or halves)
2 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt

Toffee chips
Ingredients:

1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp. corn syrup
1 tbsp. water
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Marshmallow fluff
Ingredients:
1 egg white (or equivalent egg substitute)
2/3 cup corn syrup
2/3 cup confectioner sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt

Directions:
Making the base of the ice cream
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and the egg yolks. Set this aside. Preferably over a double boiler, combine cream, milk, chopped cashews and salt. Whisk regularly until the temperature reaches 140F.

2. Once the liquid reaches temperature, it is time to temper the egg/sugar mixture. Slowly add about half of your hot cream mixture to the eggs and sugar, while whisking vigorously. Next, add the tempered egg mixture back to the original milk and cream and continue to whisk. Heat until the liquid coats the back of a spoon evenly or reaches 165F. Remove from heat, add the vanilla and immediately transfer to a container to cool down. Either cover and refrigerate overnight (preferred) or place in the freezer for 2 to 3 hours until very cool.

Making the toffee:
3. Line a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat. Next, in a small pot or saucier, melt the butter over medium high heat. Once the butter has stopped frothing, add sugar, corn syrup and water. Gently stir using a wooden spoon or heat resistant silicon spatula until the mixture reaches 300F. This is the “hard crack” stage and is typified by very small bubbles and a lava-like consistency. At this point, it is very dangerous if it spills on you, so be careful. Once it has reached this temperature, which should not take long given the small amount of liquids, quickly add the vanilla, stir in, and then pour out onto your lined sheet pan. Gently smooth the surface and then set aside to cool for 15 min. Once cool, break into pieces you feel is suitable for ice cream.

Churning the ice cream:
4. Following your ice cream maker’s instructions, churn the ice cream while adding the whole cashews and toffee pieces as soon as possible. Once completed, place in a covered container to set up in the freezer.

Making marshmallow veins:
5. In a large bowl or in a stand mixer, whisk together all the ingredients. The mix should come together quickly and resemble something similar to marshmallow fluff. After the ice cream has set in the freezer for approximately an hour — it should be firmer but not stiff — gently fold in as much of the marshmallow mix is you desire. Return to freezer and let harden for at least another 3 hours. Once the ice cream is finally set, enjoy!

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All good berries go to heaven — others go into blackberry ice cream

May 28, 2007

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As a lover of berries, I wholeheartedly endorse eating them as God and nature intended: straight off the bush… or out of your grocer’s green quart container. And I’m a true believer: I regularly gorge myself on whole cartons of berries — and cherries, now in season! — minutes after they enter my house.

Blueberry-purple tongue? No problem. Strawberry seeds in my teeth? Who cares? Cherry juice stains on my blouse? My drycleaner loves ‘em.

But, sadly, sometimes a berry-buying frenzy can result in berry casualties. That’s right: You see all those gorgeous gems stacked into sparkling pyramids in the produce department, and you can’t help yourself… you overbuy. Some berries get shoved to the back of the fridge, forgotten. Perhaps some go uneaten when you leave town for a few days. Or perhaps some were just slightly too ripe when purchased. In any case, sometimes berries go past their prime — and, shockingly, sadly, are no longer fit to consume unadulterated.

That’s where my husband’s ice cream machine comes in.

Ice cream is the perfect resting place for berries otherwise destined for the boneyard. Softened by time and ready to relinquish their luscious juices, overripe berries partner perfectly with a little cream, sugar and cold freezer air. Sure, they’re no longer as sweet or sunkissed as they once were. Yes, they have undesireable blemishes and their skin gives a little too easily. But none of these things matter when they come into contact with blissfully sweet cream.

Yes, friends, you can ressurect those past-their-prime berries. Don’t toss them into the garbage… toss them into ice cream, man.

Click here to download the recipe for Blackberry Ice Cream.

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Backgrounder…
With Memorial Day now here, we can officially (in a non-official capacity since June 21 still has that whole cosmological argument) say that summer is here. From a kitchen standpoint, this is awesome. Let’s be honest — as cooks, there are two great benefits:

First, the kitchen can be closed. Things are fresh. You can create a lot of delicious dishes with just a knife and a bowl. Furthermore, you can cook outdoors — bringing in those incalculable benefits of charring and burning things over flames.

Second, everything is in season. Most fruits tend to be fresh and local for a brief period. The number and colors of ingredients explode. Pretty much everything tastes better for the next 20 or so weeks until the last of the apples start to make their way off the trees.

This recipe is an homage to one of those ingredients that is starting its brief but vibrant trip into freshness — the blackberry. While I’d recommend you eat as many of these while you can, this is a great use for those that you start to see go wrong before you can get them out fresh. Also, feel free to substitute the frozen variety.

Finally, I feel the best part of this recipe is that it is a combination of flavors I really enjoy. It is sweet, tart, tangy and smooth. It has a refreshing character that makes it great for an evening summer meal — and there are a number of those ahead.

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Blackberry Ice Cream
Ingredients:
1 quart blackberries
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
Juice of 1 lime

3 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt

Directions:
1. Add the yolks and sugar to a medium-size bowl. Whisk together and then set aside.

2. Using a double boiler — or, less ideally, a medium-size pot — over medium-low heat, add the milk, cream, blackberries and salt. Regularly whisk the mixture, heating until the temperature reaches approximately 145F. The mixture should begin to turn purple.

3. Once the cream mixture has reached the desired temperature, slowly add about half of the mixture to the eggs and sugar while whisking vigorously. This will prevent the eggs from curdling. Once the eggs and cream have been thoroughly integrated, pour back the egg mix into the remaining cream.

4. Whisk constantly and slowly as the mix rises in temperature. Once the temperature has reached 165-170F — or when the mix evenly coats the back of a spoon — remove from heat and add the lime juice and vanilla. Whisk them in completely and move to a new container to cool. The mix can be placed in the freezer for 2 to 3 hours or, preferably, into the refrigerator overnight.

5. Churn according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. After churning, place in freezer to firm up. I recommend placing a seal of plastic wrap tight against the ice cream after making it to prevent a skin from forming on the ice cream’s surface. Serve once firm enough. Enjoy!

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Chicken Curry 2.0: The sequel worth waiting for…

May 18, 2007

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Oftentimes when you’re waiting — probably impatiently — for some or other event to unfold, that wiseacre to your left will intone the stale adage, “Good things come to those who wait.”

Phooey.

It doesn’t help that it’s sometimes true. Take this curry, for example. I had become accustomed to working all day and coming home to find my house filled with the pleasant aromas of the dinner I was about to throw down my gullet. And, as if by magic, by the time I had settled in, said meal was sitting on the table, ready to eat. Not anymore.

Now that I am enjoying my maternity leave and caring for my son at home, I find that I am tortured by the process of my husband preparing dinner. Especially this curry. Instead of tucking into meals mere moments after walking in and being seduced by their aromas, I am now made to wait — impatiently — as the dish is built and lovingly prepared. Oh, the smells. Oh, the torture.

This meal includes a spate of marinating (which, thankfully doesn’t give off tempting odors), then grilling (which does), then roasting spices (which really, really does), and then building a gravy (yes, even more smells).

By the time this curry is ready to serve, yours truly is truly frantic. So, the only disadvantage to this dish is that when it’s ready, you — and any guests subjected to its preparation — may be too tempted to woof it down in ravenous delight, rather than savoring its subtle flavors.

Unfortunately, I myself find this to be true. That’s why I always determine to have two helpings: One to eat, and one to enjoy. I suggest you do the same.

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Click here to download the recipe for Chicken Curry.

Backgrounder…
I admit it. I’m obsessed. If you’ve had dinner with me in the past five years and got me talking about cooking, I’ve more than likely said something like, “There is something about Indian food… I just want to know what restaurants know that makes theirs so much better than mine.”

Another clear sign of an obsession: I wake up in the middle of the night craving good Indian food. To give you an idea how bad it is, this is the second version of this recipe we’ve posted. We did the earlier post, “Chicken Curry and Mind Control” on the same topic. Yet, I wanted to keep working on it.

Furthermore, I have a very small cookbook collection, 15 or so books. Of those, there are two books that deal just with Indian food. I’ve purused these books with a religious zealotry, only to discover that there is something lost between those pages and my results. Indeed, I’ve been compelled to look through the recipes of other Indian cookbooks trying to divine some secret I’ve missed.

In essence, I want culinary satisfaction now. I don’t want discussion about the things I missed, spices I don’t have, or rationalities in the cuisine. I want amazing curry. End of discussion.

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The first breakthrough came last fall when we went to California to visit my wife’s paternal grandparents. They are fascinating people who love to eat. So when her grandfather offered to teach me his curry recipe, I was more than happy to learn. His recipe is actually a Malaysian-style curry, which he learned after he and his wife fled China during the Cultural Revolution. Focusing on coconut milk and good curry powder, the recipe is amazingly good and it’s reflected primarily in the earlier post.

And yet… there was something missing. The flavor was not developed the way I wanted. There was a lack of depth. There wasn’t that wake-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-to-start-cooking feeling that I wanted in my recipe.

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The next breakthrough came not long after Jack was born. Both my wife and I were craving Indian food, but commiserating that there was no place nearby with great takeout. I drove out of my way to try a new place rumored to be good, but during the long car ride it clicked — the tandoor. For those who don’t know, a tandoor is a round oven in which food is cooked over charcoal and intense heat. The result gives Indian cuisine a signature flavor. I don’t have a tandoor (though you can add it to my list of things I want for my next kitchen), but I do have something that has intense heat — my grill.

This insight has changed everything. I started to realize that many dishes in Indian restaurants are not the one-pot cooking I presented in a previous post, but are two separate dishes — a protein and a gravy. They require separate construction and then unification.

Since changing my mindset, there has been a startling improvement. First, I focused on making the chicken delicious. And it is. The chicken is so good that I have a tough time not eating it before I’ve added to the gravy. Speaking of the gravy: It’s full of flavor and the complexity that I find so wonderful about curry. I also added new elements — cashews and golden raisins — to enhance the tropical flavors of the coconut milk. When these flavors blend, I feel they unite to become one of the most pleasing dishes I’ve posted here on the blog.

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Unfortunately, this new approach means a serious stretching of the prep time. But, I want satisfaction, and sometimes I’m willing to go to the extra mile for it. The recipe has lots of ingredients, lots of steps, but it is so fundamentally satisfying that I have a tough time complaining while I’m cooking.

Finally, some notes on the recipe. I used chicken thighs. I prefer them because you can cook the heck out of them with little damage and I feel they have more flavor. If you have only breast meat, feel free to substitute. I would recommend Greek yogurt if you can get it. I think tangier yogurts, such as Greek yogurt, add more zing to the recipe versus the common stuff. I use serrano peppers because I like their flavor better for this sort of dish, but feel free to substitute jalapeños if you can’t find them. Lastly, I tend to use a white wine that has more of a fruity flavor profile. I think it adds another depth that enhances the sweetness in the coconut milk.

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Chicken Curry
Yield: 4-6 servings
Ingredients:
Yogurt marinade:
1 1/2 to 2 lbs . chicken thighs (boneless & skinless)
1/2 large onion (diced)
1 1/2 cups yogurt
1 tbsp. curry powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garam masala
3 cloves garlic (sliced)

1 tbsp. fresh ginger (minced)
1 serrano pepper (diced)

Gravy:
14 oz. can coconut milk
1 large onion (diced)
2 serrano peppers (diced)
1 cup cashews
5 cloves garlic
1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
1/2 cup white wine
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro

Spice Mix:
1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Extras:
4 bamboo skewers
rice

Directions:
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the yogurt marinade. Cut the thigh pieces into three to four larger than bite-sized pieces. Add the chicken to the bowl and stir until all pieces are covered in the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour to overnight. At this point, I place my bamboo skewers in water to soak to prevent burning on the grill later.

2. Light the grill and heat to medium high, if gas-powered. Remove the chicken from the bowl and skewer. Oil the grates with vegetable oil or oil spray and then add the chicken to the grill. Cook for about 5 minutes and then flip and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from the grill and let rest while preparing the gravy.

3. Mix together the spice mix in a small dish.

4. In a large pot over medium high heat, add the butter and let it froth and bubble. Once it has stopped, add the olive oil and let heat for about 30 seconds. Add the spice mix and stir for 30 seconds. Turn down the heat to medium. Add the onions and ginger and then salt liberally. Cook for about 6 minutes stir or until the onions begin to soften. Add the cashews, peppers and garlic and cook for another 6 minutes.

5. Time to build up the gravy. Add the wine and stir, clearing the bottom of the pan of any baked-on bits (a.k.a. fond). Continue to cook for 4 minutes or until the wine has mostly reduced. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken, raisins and cilantro and cover. At this point, I typically start my rice and let it cook while I let the dish finish off simmering together. Otherwise, cover and cook for about 15 minutes. Serve hot over rice. Enjoy.

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They’re dynamite, Napoleon: Gosh-darned chicken quesadillas

May 14, 2007

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It’s that time of year, and he’s been at the grill again. As far as I can tell, there has been only one instance when the husband inadvertantly left that gas-powered fire hazard on — and he beat me to the chore of turning it off, glaring at me menacingly as he did so. (Is it wrong to be a nag about an item that can burn your house down? I think not.)

You might think, then, that I would discourage firing up the barbie for an item like chicken quesadillas, which can be safely made indoors and without the risk of sirens. Well, think again.

These quesadillas rock because of the sooty flames licking their crisp skins. They rock because of the sear marks on the juicy chicken inside. They rock because they are crunchy and fresh and… well, grilled.

As you know, I am a huge fan of eating and of my husband’s cooking. Plus, I love any items that are chock-full of fresh ingredients — here, it’s salsa and avocado. (Yes, please!) Therefore, I yield to the siren song of these delicious chicken quesadillas and throw caution to the wind. When the husband volunteers to make these chicken quesadillas, I turn on the grill.

(And, of course, make sure it’s turned off again, too.)

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Click here to download the recipe for Chicken Quesadillas.

Backgrounder…
So, OK, not the most original recipe. But this is one that I’ve used a number of times in recent weeks with excellent success. You can serve these quesadillas as a meal or an appetizer. And let’s be honest: It’s starting to get hot out and it’s grilling season… So “Knock it off Napoleon, and make yourself a dang Ques-a-dilla!” (For those who have used their lives more efficiently than I have, that quote is from Napoleon Dynamite, a movie that I’ve grown to appreciate.)

Now that I’ve convinced you to make yourself a quesadilla, here are the keys to it. First, keep everything fresh. I know the temptation in life is to take that jar of salsa from New York City and mix it in, but it’s not worth it. Everything is coming into season now and you’ll be able to taste it in every bite.

Second, the wet rub is king in this recipe. In the last post I talked about a dry rub on the ribs. (I love dry rubs, too.) But this is a dish you want to turn out on the fly, like when you are exhausted by a 2-month-old and don’t want to order out for the third night in a row. So the wet rub — here very spicy — gives you a lot of kick, without taking hours to create flavors.

Finally, the grill is magic. Even my gas-powered grill can make all the difference in flavors. You can toast the quesadillas or broil them for likely the same level of doneness, but the grill marks and flavors brought on by sitting on those grates will make you crave this dish. If you can, grill. You will be rewarded.

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Chicken Quesadilla
Yield: 24 servings if hors doerves, 6 for main course
Time: 40 min

Ingredients:
1 dozen 4-inch flour tortillas
2 large chicken breasts (about 1 lb.)
2 cups cheddar, Monterey jack or similar cheese
1 avocado (diced)

Wet Rub:
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. fresh cilantro (chopped)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. red pepper flake
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder
juice of 1 lime

Salsa:
1 medium onion (diced)
1 pint cherry tomatoes (diced)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro (chopped)
2 jalapeños (finely diced)
4 cloves garlic (minced)
1 lime (juice)
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
1. This recipe uses direct heat while cooking over a grill. If using a gas grill, set to medium high heat. If using charcoal, over the coals will work.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the wet rub. Pat dry the chicken breasts and dredge them through the rub. Both sides should be well coated.

3. Place the chicken on the grill and cook for 4 to 5 min per side with the grill lid on or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165-170F. Remove from the heat and let rest for at least 5 min, preferably longer. Once cooled, cut the breasts into half-inch or smaller cubes. Do not turn off the grill or snuff the flames once cooking is complete. You will be returning to the grill later.

4. While the chicken is grilling, mix together the salsa in a large bowl. Be careful with the jalapenos — if you are not inclined to spicy food, modify. Take a third of the salsa and set aside to serve along with the finished product. Add the diced avocado and cubed chicken to the remaining two-thirds of the salsa. At this point, if you are preparing for a party, you can stop. Simply cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. It’s important that you press the plastic wrap down against the mix, to prevent the avocado from oxidizing and turning brown, as apples do.

6. If your tortillas are refrigerated, remove from fridge and allow to warm to room temperature or until easily pliable. Once ready, take about two tablespoons of your chicken mix, and place it on one side of the tortilla. Add a healthy pinch of cheese and then fold the tortilla over in half. If necessary, press along the seam to keep the tortilla closed.

7. Time for the finishing touches. Place the filled tortillas on the grill. Toast them on both sides for about 2 min per side or until the tortilla becomes crisp and the edges begin to darken. Once cooked, remove from heat and let rest for at 2 minutes to allow the cheese to solidify slightly. Slice in half and serve with the remaining salsa, plus other condiments of choice such as guacamole and sour cream.

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A sweet Easter breakfast: Meyer Lemon and Ricotta Pancakes

April 7, 2007

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My husband is a pancake maniac.

This is not really a “problem” per se, but his obsession is starting to affect me. I used to be a salty, eggs-and-bacon kind of breakfast gal. I loved omeletes, eggs benedict, home fries and loads of breakfast meats. Now, though, I find myself craving his delicious and varied pancake offerings… Good old fashioned Aunt Jemima pancakes (a household staple), spicy orange ricotta pancakes, and now zesty and sweet Meyer Lemon and Ricotta Pancakes.

This issue reached its zenith when I was big and pregnant and banned from eating sweets. I could eat as much savory breakfast as I craved… Problem was, I wanted pancakes. So, truth be told, I ate some. But in keeping with the doctor’s orders, I ate them without syrup. That’s right: Plain old pancakes, nothing doing. Just their sweet, pancake-y selves.

Now, despite the fact that I am at last permitted to drown my pancakes in syrup, I find that I’m a pancake purist. I don’t need no stinkin’ syrup. Especially not for these Meyer Lemon and Ricotta Pancakes. They are sweet, citrus-y and delicious. The pancake itself is thick and hearty — not a wimpy, thin flapjack. When you fork through its fragrant, light exterior you might even catch a waft of lemony goodness. And the ricotta in the recipe adds a depth of flavor and richness that will make a pancake lover swoon.

My husband suggests that you make these Meyer Lemon and Ricotta Pancakes for Easter breakfast. Good advice, of course. But frankly these ‘cakes are delicious any time and for any occassion… with or without syrup.

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Backgrounder…

While Easter morning could never compare with Christmas, I likely have almost as many fond childhood memories of it. Easter morning typically began with hunting the eggs made the day before, then a small gift, and finally brunch with my brother and mother. Typically, brunch was pancakes. It was those sort of family moments that began my love affair with pancakes at an early age. I love pancakes. They may be the perfect breakfast.

And these Meyer Lemon Ricotta Pancakes are certainly perfect for tomorrow morning. Here in DC at least, it has suddenly turned frigid and our beautiful flowering trees have been covered with snow. At times like these, a reminder of warmer weather is great. Meyer lemons provide that sense of season and a sweetness that is delicious — whether it’s sunshine or snow.

The technique here is very simple. Like other quick breads (e.g. cupcakes or muffins), it’s about the wet and dry ingredients. Combine the wet and dry ingredients separately and then mix them together right before cooking. Be careful not to overstir, as you are going for a light pancake. Making a smooth batter will result in thick, heavy, gluten-filled pancakes that will stick to your ribs and the pit of your stomach. So, be delicate.

Finally, two admissions. First, I have an obsession with meyer lemons. I’ve used them more than any single ingredient on this blog. In fact, I’ve gone so far as to try and convince everyone I know who lives in a subtropical area to plant a tree for me. There is something about their sweetness, fragrance and flavor that has made them an absolute favorite of mine. I’m not ashamed… I just think it was time to admit that my passion for this little fruit is a borderline obsession.

Second, for long-time readers of the blog, you might recognize this recipe as a variation on another pancake recipe I posted last fall — Orange Ricotta Pancakes. That recipe is fantastic as well, but with its spices it speaks more to fall and winter flavors. But if that sounds more up your alley, try that recipe as well!

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Then we ate a little lamb… and tried to catch some zzs.

April 5, 2007

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There’s no need to count sheep with a newborn in your house. When I have a few moments to catch some zzs, I don’t need a winding down ritual… My eyes snap shut and I’m sawing wood within seconds. (And let me just say, the expression “sleeping like a baby” is a gross mischaracterization of newborn sleep patterns.)

So I’m not counting sheep… but that hasn’t stopped me from eating one. Er, sort of. A lamb is a sheep, right? (I’m too tired to look it up, so just go with me on this riff.) The point is: In between infrequent naps, I’ve been chowing on some lamb.

Generally speaking, I prefer my lamb in kabob or gyro form. But my husband, of course, has conspired once again to widen my horizons. His lamb is succulent and delectable, and while flavorful, it isn’t buried in the spices that sometimes mask the lamb flavor in gyros or kabob dishes. And in this case, that’s a good thing. The lamb sustains its unique character, but takes on subtle seasoning from my husband’s yogurt marinade and a wonderful, smokey char from the grill.

And now, at last, I can welcome my husband’s experimental cooking once again. That’s right: Many of the ol’ pregnancy dietary restrictions have been lifted! I’m back on sweets again. So, as much as I know you’ll enjoy this lamb dish, I think our dear readers should clamor for more sweets. Am I right? I’m right, aren’t I?

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A thank you from us in the form of a little sunshine: Fresh pineapple sorbet.

March 26, 2007

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First, let us begin by thanking you all for the wonderful comments last week. They were warm little rays of sunshine in the middle of the night as we began to adjust to the hours young Jack is keeping.

Second, the wife is doing great. She’s up and likely too mobile and too active for her own good. It was only after a dirty look I gave her and a remark about stitches that she slowed down. However, because she is a human vending machine, on demand at all hours, she is a bit fatigued and I wanted to keep up with demand for both baby photos and delicious food.

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Finally, since I’m a solo act again, I bring you a simple dessert that has turned out to be one of my favorites, Fresh Pineapple Sorbet. I’ve been on a tropical flavors kick over the past month, and this is perhaps one of the finest results. In addition to being refreshing, there is something pure in its flavor, texture and sweetness. It’s great as a palette cleanser, paired with other desserts such as coconut cheesecake, or as a stand alone.

In closing, the recipe includes rum. Unless you have an issue with serving alcohol, I would recommend its inclusion. Besides adding flavor, the alcohol reduces the sorbet’s freezing point. This allows the sorbet to maintain its smoothness after being frozen to harden. It will keep it easy to scoop, even after a few weeks in the freezer.

Once again, thanks for your congratulations. I’m glad to be back in the kitchen. Watching what my wife was served in the hospital was rather appalling, and made me itch to be home!

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