Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Roasted Eggplant in Coconut Curry Sauce

This dish is aromatic and light with some warmth, but definitely not hot.  I found it to be real comfort food. There are three parts: the coconut milk infusion, the curry paste and the roasted eggplant. You can serve this family style, on a platter, or on individual plates.

I didn't have the kaffir lime leaves called for in the original recipe and substituted lime but if you can get your hands on them, they are wonderful. The kaffir lime has sort of a double leaf and in recipes each half is generally considered to be one leaf. You can find them frozen or dried. I have read that if you use dried, double the quantity called for in the recipe.

Lemongrass. Left: prepared and ready to use
Lemongrass. Native to the Philippines, it is used widely used in cooking as an herb or tea. It has a highly aromatic citrus taste. It's pretty easy to find these days in some grocery stores and farmers markets and definitely in Asian markets. It freezes very well. To prepare, remove the tough outer leaves. Cut off about 1/3" at the root end. Cut off any of the top that doesn't give a little when you stick a fingernail into it. Remove a few layers of the tough outer leaves. From that point, there should be about 3-4 inches of stalk to use. Bash the remaining stalk with a meat tenderizer (or something similar) with gusto until it breaks down, then prepare as called for in your recipe. You'll want a sharp knife for mincing the bashed up stalks. Even with the tough bits removed, they're quite fibrous and the smaller you mince them, the better they will break down when you make the curry paste.

If you are freezing it, slice thinly (before bashing) and store in small plastic bags from which you have removed all possible air. I store mine in a 'snack sized' zip-close bags and just break off a chunk - it will defrost quickly - then seal the bag again. I  write the amount (number of stalks) of lemongrass on the plastic bag so that I can figure out what volume to remove when a recipe calls for a number of stalks. Fresh is best and freezing any aromatic will lessen its intensity, so use a little more if you're using frozen.

Coconut milk can generally be found in regular and 'light' versions. I can't remember the last time I used full-fat coconut milk in a savory dish. The 'light' versions have about 60% less fat and using it does not seem to negatively affect the dishes I've cooked.

This dish calls for Japanese or Italian eggplant. Long and generally about 2" or less in diameter. Make sure you don't slice them any less then 1/3" (and up to 1/2 inch) thick. They should be soft after roasting but if they're too thin, they'll break down.

The amount of sauce will be generous. After you serve, set some on the table to pass around. It's good. Since it is not over hot, this works as a side dish to spicier/hotter dishes or as an accompaniment to grilled meat, poultry or fish. I ate mine with some grilled, sliced marinated tofu.


Friday, September 23, 2011

A Simple Soup of Sorrel, Leeks and Potato

Food bloggers photography dilemma: how do you photograph a VERY tasty soup that has the unfortunate hue of an army surplus tent? I think the color was due mostly to the color of my vegetable broth which rendered the soup not-so-green. So, before the beauty shot, why not dot the top with olive oil and float a perfectly formed quenelle of greek yogurt?

...that immediately sank to the bottom of the bowl. Oh, well.

Classically, a quenelle is a combination of fish combined with a white sauce, forced through a sieve, formed into the quenelle shape and poached. Now the use is broader, often just referring to the shape - basically a teardrop, where one of the two sides has a bit of a corner. So, I made this beautiful quenelle of greek yogurt and it sank. I should've swirled it in instead. Okay, I've moved on.
Leeks cooking with butter and a little stock.
This soup is dead easy. Except for the butter, salt and pepper, it takes four ingredients, all of which can be swapped out for others. If you have a small russet potato, a leek (or an onion, or shallots) and vegetable stock (or chicken stock, or even water) plus one other vegetable that is soup-appropriate, you can make this soup, or its cousin. If you're missing the "one other vegetable" and have another potato, you've got soup. Sure, you can tuck basil leaves into the blender with your roasted tomatoes when you purée it, or spike carrots with some harissa, but you can also just celebrate the taste of the ingredients, seasoned with just enough salt and pepper.
Sorrel leaves - pinch off the stem below the leaves.
Sorrel is a perennial used as an herb, cooking or salad green. Last week, Lynn and I used it with other herbs to stuff under the skin of a roasted chicken and it worked marvelously. I couldn't decide whether to use it in a sauce or make a soup - and decided on the latter. When I first tasted it raw, I thought, "Oh, okay another chard-ish, kale-ish cooking green." and then it tasted a little puckery (sour -like I had a mild lemon candy in my mouth - without the lemon taste or sweetness) and things got interesting. I really wanted to know what it tasted like without a lot of other competing flavors so I kept it simple: leek cooked in butter, vegetable stock, a small potato and sorrel, purréed after cooking.

After cooking, the puckery, slightly acidic finish in the taste of the raw sorrel goes away and it has a mild flavor that I don't think I can accurately describe or liken to something else - but it was very good.
The diced potato pieces should be completely tender, but should not break apart when you poke a fork into them.
You can make this without the potato and add previously cooked pasta, beans or other grain at the end. You can forego the purée-ing and keep it a little chunky - just chop up the greens as you would chard so that they are spoon up-able after cooking.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Spicy Chickpeas: a Riff on Chana Masala

I dip in and out of Indian cooking and I can claim no expertise but I love the little I've learned about it. I absolutely love what happens when you combine spices and together they become a whole (taste and aroma) yet maintain an individual presence. While I've found good commercial blends, combining from scratch when you have the time - especially with whole spices - is so much better. The -several- recipes I referenced as a base for this dish were titled "Chana Masala". "Chana" (or chole) are chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and "masala" is a term used in Indian cooking -- there are many regions and types so I feel okay generalizing -- referring to a mixture of spices, often dry roasted, or a spice paste.
Draft 2 - with some cooking notes. More changes were made.
including leaving out the last addition of fried mustard seeds
at the end as I really didn't think it added enough
to go to the trouble.
I've seen references to Chana Masala in the regional cuisines of Punjab, Gujarat and Rajasthani. Most refer to the dish being fairly dry (not goopy or soupy) and being served with a fried bread ("bhatoora"). The dish is easily eaten out of hand with bhatoora. In my take on this it isn't completely dry, but far short of soupy.

Also, poblano chiles. Yeah, I used poblanos and they're definitely not used in Indian cooking. I really liked the idea of the slightly smoky flavor of roasted poblano in this dish and I have several in my refrigerator right now. One of my favorite vendors at the SF Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is Catalán Family Farm and they have some of the most beautiful chiles this time of year, as well as a bounty of heirloom tomatoes and other vegetables.

One thing I didn't have on hand that I saw in all my references was amchoor (or amchur) powder - a powder made from dried, green mangoes. I've had green mango salads in Thai restaurants and there's a slight sour-sweet taste that I'm guessing is enhanced in the dried version. Without amchoor powder, I substituted lime - adding the zest of 2 limes to the dish while it was cooking and the juice (about 3 tablespoons) at the very end of cooking, when the pan was off the heat. I don't know how comparable the flavor is, but I was happy with how the limes worked with the dish. A little sweet, a little sour and a slight hint of acid was a great contrast to the aromatic, smokey, spicy and medium heat of this dish.
When the mustard seeds start popping, be ready with the onions, otherwise the mustard seeds will jump out of the pan.
This dish is great as a side or as an entree. I ate it again tonight as a side with some left over roast chicken from Friday's dinner.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Friday Dinner: It's a "Goat Hill Pizza" Night!

What are you supposed to do when you have a slightly traumatic yet ultimately successful experience making noodles? I mean seriously, how do you get flour on your back? Well, you get back in the pool and make pizza dough.

Lynn, my culinary confederate, has a favorite combination of dishes: the "Special Combination" pizza, a chef's salad with blue cheese dressing and a side of garlic bread from Goat Hill Pizza, in San Francisco. We can practically smell the pizza at Goat Hill's Potrero Hill store from her back deck, but we decided on a DIY version. Homemade dough, homemade sauce and toppings plus the chef's salad and garlic bread. Have I ever mentioned that Friday night dinners are the once-weekly "Olly-olly oxen free!" of my weeks' meals?
 The dough recipe I used specified that it would make a 14" diameter round pizza. The volume was perfect for a thin-crust pizza on a rimmed baking sheet about 12" x 17". It's also very easy to make and shape - this coming from a dough-a-phobic so you can take that to the bank.

I made a very straightforward tomato sauce with nothing but tomatoes, onion, garlic olive oil, salt and a little pepper. We topped the pizza with sauce, mozzarella, Romano cheese, mushrooms, green pepper, olives, white onion, basil, sweet Italian sausage and salami - but we forgot the garlic (don't you forget it if you make it, okay?). As delicious as it was, we won't forget the garlic the next time. I also forgot to bring the chickpeas for the salad, but you should be more vigilant and make sure you don't forget it, eh?
I went a little crazy with the cornmeal, but it made for a nice picture.
    • Pizza Dough
    • Simple Tomato Sauce
    • Assembling and Cooking the "Special Combination" Pan Pizza

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cooking the American Saveur's Peking Duck Tacos

My friend over at The American Saveur asked me to test drive a recipe a couple of weeks ago and (a) I didn't screw it up; and (b) it is an absolutely delicious dish. 

Red cabbage, sautéed with some of the rendered duck fat is lightly pickled with rice wine vinegar. On top of a handmade tortilla, the cabbage forms the bed for duck breast which has been marinated in five spice powder, salt, white pepper and then pan seared along with some whole star anise and cinnamon. This is dressed with a hoisin-lime sauce and garnished with scallions, cilantro and finally, a sprinkling of duck skin chicharrones. So. Freaking. Good.

If you'd like the recipe and instructions, high-tail it over to her site and take a look at (and drool over) her Peking Duck Tacos. Don't just drool - make them!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Snack Time: Spiced Roasted Chickpeas

Snack? Salad topping? Soup or hummus garnish? They all work. This is the best method I've found to roast them without a lot of oil and still be very crispy. This batch of two cups calls for just 1 teaspoon of olive oil. The spices are up to you but I recommend that you go easy on the salt. Taste after seasoning. If you're too conservative, you can always add more after second pass in the oven. Just make sure you season them while they're still hot. Because the size of the chickpeas will vary, there may be a few that brown 'more aggressively' (the polite way to say, you might get a couple that look burned) than the rest - just pick them out. I found about 5 in this batch. Keep an eye on them during the last 5 minutes, after they've been seasoned.

How you choose to season isn't limited to any particular spices. Just be careful of things that might easily burn, like herbs. The next batch I make are going to be seasoned with chipotle powder. Or maybe barbecue. Salt and vinegar?


Monday, September 5, 2011

Friday Dinner: Meatballs With Mushroom Gravy and Homemade Noodles

Friday night, Lynn (my culinary confederate) and I prepared dinner. She was responsible for the meatballs, the mushroom gravy and I prep'd the mushrooms, made the green beans, the salad and vinaigrette and the pasta.

I'll tell you right now, I am not going to share my preparation method for the pasta. MY method included starting with the pasta rollers on the highest (closest together, instead of widest) setting and wondering far too long why the pasta was lacy and broke apart as well as the internal stress of thinking "Aw, crap! I hope Lynn has dried pasta or rice, 'cause I'm f'king up these noodles big time! Dinner is ruined!".

Bad things happens to me when I am making something that requires flour with volumes larger than 1/2 cup.  First, even before I take the flour out of the cupboard I'm covered in it, and second, my brain stops working. Once I took the dough out of the food processor, I made every mistake possible and practically dislocated my shoulders before I figured out my problem with the pasta machine was that I had it on the wrong setting to start with. I mean, I know that you're supposed to start on the lowest (furthest apart) setting, but with a non-functioning brain and all, it took a long time for it to sink in.

That being said, everything about this dinner (even the noodles) was delicious. Lynn did a fantastic job on the meatballs and mushroom gravy, and the salad and beans (green, haricots jaunes and romano) were good, too. Our dinner conversation consisted of those happy sounds you make when something is so good, you don't have words. The recipes are after the jump, below. As for the pasta preparation, Lidia's (Bastianich) method will steer you in the right direction.

Recipe: Meatballs with Mushroom Gravy and Homemade Pappardelle