Archive for the ‘Cooking’ category

Top 10 Signs You’re Seriously Into Indian Cooking

August 14, 2012
  1. You can’t remember the English names for common ingredients
  2. No matter what someone asks you how to cook, 80% of the time your instructions begin with “Heat up a Tbsp of oil and add jeera. When they begin to sizzle…”
  3. You stop measuring ingredients when making roti.
  4. You say belan instead of rolling pin, tava instead of skillet.
  5. You no longer keep your pressure cooker in the back of the cupboard.
  6. You perfect that palm-to-palm flipping motion to knock excess flour off of your roti.
  7. You know what regions your sabzi’s come from, and you start cooking sabzi’s from places other than Punjab.
  8. The only time you say the word curry, it’s followed by “leaves.”
  9. You keep your seven most common spices in a masala dabba.
  10. In your mind, a complete meal consists of daal, a sabzi, and rice or bread.
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Feral Kittens

October 31, 2010

My brother rescued some feral kittens two weeks ago. Beth and I were fortunately visiting for my Dad’s 58th birthday just 2 days after they were rescued, so we got to meet them.

The kitties hid inside the space under the dishwasher for some of their first 48 hours indoors. Apparently new kittens hiding inside a dishwasher is common enough that numerous people have posted questions about such a situation online.

My dad constructed a kitty scooping device using a candy cane lawn decoration, but it was not very successful.  I think leaving the kitties alone with the room quiet and a source of food, water and litter outside the dishwasher is the best approach.  They’ll want to come out eventually–and so they did; From the dishwasher they migrated to the under-space of the refrigerator. Here they’ve been blocked from getting back in there again, but they still liked hiding next to the fridge. They climbed around back there for a while, alternating which kitten was on top. I couldn’t tell whether they found it preferable to be on the bottom (and therefore protected by a feline shield), or on top and more mobile. After a while, I moved them to an alternate safe space—a pet taxi with food and water plates and a towel to lay on. They seemed to realize it was a preferable haven compared to the canyon next to the refrigerator. Here they are munching on some chicken in there:

I’m amazed that wild kittens can know how to use a litter box the first time they see one. They understood what it was for right away. After a meal, we put the orange tabby in the litter box, and he scratched around then stood up on two legs to relieve himself—a bizarre technique. I wish I’d captured it on video, although perhaps you will be glad that I didn’t. He’s quite good at standing. The calico cat liked to hide behind the litter box when she wasn’t in the pet taxi, as Kanye is pointing out here:

 

After all the offering of fingers to kitties, we made some mushroom/asparagus risotto. Kanye was not invited:

End of story.

Tricolor Bean Harvest

July 27, 2010

Our bush beans have ripened:

We planted a mix of three colors: green, yellow and purple. I’d never had purple beans before.

The purple color makes them easier to find among the leaves.

Despite appearances, they taste the same as green beans, are green inside, and, in fact, turn completely green when cooked. However, compared with the green beans (which I also love),  they seem to continue to taste quite optimally good even if they are picked a bit later than their earliest day of ripeness. I had read this about them, and now I concur. I declare the purple beans a winner; I will certainly grow them again.

We steamed these and ate them with no additional adornment. None seemed necessary.

Twice Baked Guaco-potatoes

July 20, 2010

Last week I had bought a sack of potatoes to make twice baked potatoes. When I got home, I realized I had an avocado as well. I thought, hey, guacopotatoes would be delicious and nutritious. So I made some. I liked them; Beth liked them too, but she preferred the non-guac ones.

Ingredients:

  • 3 baking potatoes
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 tsp minced roasted garlic
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup Monterrey Jack cheese
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • salt & pepper to taste

Procedure: Bake the potatoes. Allow to cool long enough to handle safely. Halve the potatoes. Scoop out the insides with a melon-baller or spoon. Mix the potato innards with the sour cream, cheeses,  avocado, roasted garlic, and salt & pepper.  Mash together with a potato masher or large fork. If you like, you can reserve some of the cheese for topping. Spoon the mixture back into the potatoes and put them under the broiler for a few minutes until you get some nice brown spots tops. I really liked the roasted garlic with the avocado in these.

Arancini di riso

May 10, 2010

A couple days ago I came home and surveyed the fridge and pantry. There was not a whole lot there, as it was almost time to go grocery shopping, but I didn’t feel like cooking one of our lazy day frozen pizzas. However, I realized I had everything I needed to make risotto alla milanese. I love it when I can cook something with a fancy sounding name using stuff that’s left around; it’s just saffron risotto. Mario Batali’s recipe is a pretty good one, and this is not a bad recipe to start with if you’ve never made risotto before. To get the most color and flavor out of your saffron, crush the threads before using, and soak them in hot water for 20-30 minutes before adding to the recipe. The uncrushed threads look nice in the finished dish, but I think they are a waste of the spice. Before I started crushing the threads and pre-soaking, I was always disappointed with the overall color and flavor of my saffron cooking.

Today, we had some risotto left. So I made arancini di riso. (I admit this was part of my original plan all along). The name means “little oranges of rice,” and that is kind of what they look like. These are breaded, fried balls of risotto, stuffed with gooey, melty mozzarella. I didn’t feel like getting out all the stuff to deep fry, so I made baked arancini, and they were almost as good as the fried ones.

The method: take two cups chilled, leftover risotto. Mix in two beaten eggs. Roll the mixture into ping pong ball sized balls, and press a 1/2 inch cube of mozarella into the center of each one, sealing up the risotto around the cheese.  Roll each ball in some seasoned bread crumbs, then place on a cookie sheet in the fridge to chill and firm up while the oven preheats to 425ºF. Lightly drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 25 minutes. Serve with marinara sauce for dipping.

Chocolate Madeleines

March 2, 2010

I used to read so many books. Then I went to grad school.

Recently I got back into reading more, and it’s been great. I just finished Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, which was hilarious, and Guns, Germs and Steel, which was really interesting. Lest anyone believe that I only read books with titles of the form “A, B and C,”  I’m currently reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I’m enjoying it a lot. I tried to read it once a few years ago when I was in grad school and Beth was in Africa, (the book is about life in the Congo).  She and all her friends were reading it at the time, but I had a hard time getting into it. Now I think it’s great though. Funny how that happens with books. Ulysses seemed impossible to me on my first attempt, but I tried again a few years later and burned through half of it in just a few weeks.

Anyway, what do all these books have to do with the chocolate cookies? Well, a couple weeks ago, at the beginning of my return to reading, I thought, “Hey, I’ve always wanted to read À la recherche du temps perdu. So, I got a copy of volume one from the libary. The last time it had been checked out, they were still using stamps on cards that stuck into a pouch inside the cover: 1984. I took Vol. 1 home, and made some madeleines, which are one of my favorite cookies, (and which are a major element of one of the most famous episodes in the book). I read a few pages and ate some madeleines. I thought the first few pages were really good. But a couple days later I concluded that I’d never finish the book in my present circumstances.  Most of my reading takes place on my commuter bus ride, and Proust’s masterpiece is far too dense for bus ride reading.

The cookies however were delicious. My favorite recipe is this one, but I usually use 1 Tbsp orange flower water instead of the lemon zest and juice to flavor them. The orange blossom tastes outstanding in combination with the chocolate variation of the cookies. I recommend it highly. You can get orange flower water at asian or middle easter grocery stores, where it may be called ma zaher.

The funniest thing about orange flower water though, is that it causes the madeleines to have a similar effect on me to the one they had on Proust’s narrator. We had this diaper and rash ointment, A+D Ointment,  in the house when I was very young, and I never knew why it smelled the way it did. Turns out it was scented with orange flower water. So, opening the bottle of water always transports me back to my infant, rash having years.  It took me a while to get over that association before I could enjoy foods that used the stuff. If you too have used that diaper ointment, you may have a hard time with re-appreciating the orange blossom smell, but give it time, and if you aren’t familiar with A+D ointment, forget I said anything.

Homemade Pita

February 2, 2010

If you’ve never eaten soft, warm pita straight from the oven, frankly I feel bad for you. So, this post will chronicle the results of some experiments I’ve done in home pita baking.

Like many breads, freshly baked pita is so delicious and so different from the room temperature, dry feeling, store bought, plastic-bagged version. On top of the delicious end-product, I enjoy watching the pitas magically puff up while they bake. Have you ever wondered how that pocket gets into the pita?

Well, when they come out of the oven, pitas can be almost spherical, and are filled with a pocket of air. The loaves collapse as they cool, leaving the stuffable pocket in the finished loaf. You can see the puffage in my low-tech time-lapse movie:

These events actually spanned a period of five minutes.

If you want to make pitas from scratch, I highly recommend reading this post by Farmgirl from 2005. Her recipe makes delicious pita, and I’ve achieved a successful puff rate of  at least 70-80% with her recipe. I don’t think I can improve on her recipe at all, without doing Cooks-Illustrated-style experiments involving 50-100 batches.

But a few weeks ago, I got to thinking, “Hmmm, you know, pizza dough is made from almost identical ingredients in almost identical proportions to that pita dough. I wonder if I could make pita from pre-made store-bought pizza dough?” If this worked, it would mean that I could bake fresh pita after work, and still eat at a reasonable hour.

Rising and kneading time account for most of the delay when making any yeast bread. Generally freshly baked bread proves to be totally worth the wait. But sometimes, I don’t have the foresight to know what I want for dinner tomorrow. I think to myself at lunch time that I’d like pita and falafel for dinner. Such was the case one day last week. So I executed my pita-from-pizza-dough experiment. The result: a total success!

I began with some refrigerated, Hannaford-brand whole wheat pizza dough (Hannaford is our regional grocery chain):

I opened the package, divided the dough into 8 parts, covered them with a damp tea towel, and allowed them to warm up to room temperature:Preheat your oven to 500°F. With well floured hands and a well floured board and rolling pin, roll each ball into a 3/16″ (5mm) thick circle. Perfect circles are not important. Uniform and appropriate thickness are important.

Thick, corrugated cardboard or some higher quality hardware store paint stirrers have about the right thickness to make good depth gauges. Just place the sticks on the edges of your board and roll the rolling pin on top of them. When the pita is as thick as the stirring sticks, it will be uniformly the proper thickness. Now that I’m thinking about it, I bet a National Geographic magazine might make a good depth gauge, too. Here are the rolled out proto-pitæ:

Place the dough disks on a piece of aluminum foil. If you have a pizza peel, it will be handy for getting the pitas into the oven. If not, no big deal. The pitas go into the oven sitting on only the foil. No cookie sheets. No baking stones. Just the foil on the oven rack. The bottoms of the pitas harden too quickly on a stone or baking sheet, inhibiting the puffage. Bake the discs, two to four at a time, for 5-7 minutes. You want the insides to be fully baked, but the outsides to still be soft with just a little golden brown coloring.

After the pitas come out, place them into a paper grocery bag, and roll the bag shut, or wrap them in foil. This will keep the loaves soft as they cool.

As you can see, everything worked fine out with the whole wheat dough. However, I repeated the experiment with white-flour pizza dough from Trader Joe’s. Not surprisingly, the white-flour loaves puffed up much higher. Also, I found the first batch of pitas to be a little small. So, I’d recommend dividing the package of dough into only six parts (for a 20 oz package of dough).


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