Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Am Now a Meatloaf Lover

I went to my parents' on Sunday to finish up my taxes (and play Dance Dance Revolution with my sister). "So what's for lunch?" Mom said, "Meatloaf." Imagine a full balloon's air being released while it flies around the room. There aren't many things I don't like to eat, but I hate meatloaf. "Mom, I would do anything for love, but I won't eat that." It's the consistency and the ketchup and the blandness, and yuck. According to Wikipedia, meatloaf is one of the most popular dishes in the country, and I think, "God, we have such bad taste." Well, I take it back. I take it all back. My mom, inspired by a segment on NPR (can't remember which), improvised a new take on the Depression-era dish. Apparently, it helps to think of meatloaf as one giant Italian meatball. So this was meaty and packed with flavor. No ketchup necessary.

The Best Meatloaf Ever: 1/2 medium onion, chopped 1 or 2 cloves garlic, chopped or minced 1 red pepper, chopped 1/2 pound ground hamburger 1/2 pound Italian sausage (Craig, here's the key to why you love my mom's spaghetti and why you'll love this meatloaf) 1 egg 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs salt and pepper to taste 1 teaspoon oregano 1/4 cup tomato sauce with Italian seasoning (basil, parsley and oregano) Italian loaf parmasan cheese slices Saute the onion, garlic and red pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg and then throw in the sauteed vegetables, meat, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and oregano. With your hands mix it all up. Form a log (gross) with the meat, sort of like how you would with meatballs. Pour the sauce on top of the log and sprinkle with parmasan cheese. Bake for 1 hour.

My mom improvised this open-faced sandwich. So buy your Italian loaf and throw it in the oven with the meatloaf for a few minutes. Slice the bread hot-dog-style (long ways). Place meatloaf on bread and adorn with parmasan cheese slices. Consider yourself converted.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cockles and Mussels, Alive, Alive-O

It's safe to say that mussels are not typical Nebraska fare (seems obvious enough), but aside from that I would guess that most people I know haven't even tried them. I told my parents I cooked using mussels for the first time and they both said "eww." But it's all a part of my New Year's resolution to cook dishes that aren't Italian. This one is French(ish). In fact, the first time I tried mussels was in Paris at a restaurant in the Latin Quarter. They came simply dressed, in a bucket and probably cooked in wine and maybe garlic. That's it. (Dario's in Omaha has some fantastic mussels also served in a bucket but with tomatoes and thyme--simplicity is key here). Maybe because mussels are a tad tricky to prepare, they don't need all that extra work while you cook them. Just a theory. I was actually a little bit freaked out to cook with mussels, thinking that the little guys were still alive up until going into the pot with boiling and steaming wine. To prepare mussels you have to toss them in a bowl of cool water so that they'll spit out the sand and salt still inside the shell while they "breathe." So there I was staring into this bowl of bivalves while they cracked open their shells and little air bubbles popped up. I was enthralled up until the point at which I had to touch them. After they soak in the water for 30 minutes, you have to clean their shells. At first glance I thought, "eh, mine look pretty clean. I don't need to scrub them." Not true. There's a kind of slime on the outside of the shells that needs to be scrubbed off before you eat them. And some of my mussels were clenching little pieces of vegetation that I had to pull off or snip off with kitchen shears. I was, to put it mildly, totally freaked out. These things are alive. And even worse, some of them weren't alive and were hanging open and going bad by the second. I carefully spooned them shell by shell into a strainer under running water, meanwhile discarding the dead ones. I eventually got the hang of it, wasn't that freaked out and ended up very proud for doing it all by myself. The entire experience of cooking the mussels was full of "woah" moments. Woah, they breathe. Woah, some are dead. Woah, this isn't so bad. But the biggest woah moment happened when I cooked (brutally killed) them. The recipe said to bring 3/4 of a cup of white wine to a boil. Three-quarters of a cup was supposed to do it for two pounds of mussels. Really? I doubted the recipe. I had already cooked one thing from this cookbook that turned out so bad it practically inspired a gag reflex. But Fran and Joanne were right. I tossed my shells into the simmering wine, put the lid on the pot and opened it six or seven minutes later to discover, miracle of miracles, perfectly cooked mussels and enough leftover stock to add substance to my soup. And then I caught a dish towel on fire. Our stove has gas burners, which is supposed to be really great for cooking (hypothetically). It's just not the best idea to be doing three things at once on the stovetop near the open flame. Good thing I caught the fire before it grew too big because we do not have a fire extinguisher. But Megan's cute, Christmas tree dish towel is now ruined.
The soup turned out fantastic, simple and savory. I replaced saffron with turmeric because there was no way I was going to spend $12 for a "pinch" of the fragrant spice. Sorry. I don't love myself that much.
Cream of Mussel Soup: inspired from The French Market by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde 2 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 cup onion, chopped 2 garlic cloves, chopped 1/3 cup flour 2 cups fish stock (yeah, yeah I used chicken) 1/3 cup cream 1 teaspoon turmeric 3/4 cup white wine 2 pounds mussels, cleaned and brushed (the recipe actually called for 4 pounds) salt and pepper to taste parsley to garnish Heat olive oil in a stock pot on medium heat. Saute onions for several minutes, add garlic and saute for another minute being careful not to burn garlic. Toss in the flour and stir to coat vegetables. Add stock, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Stir until the mixture is free of clumps of flour. Add in the cream and turmeric. Let simmer for 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a different pot, bring the wine to a boil/simmer. Add the cleaned mussels and put a lid on the simmering pot. Let simmer for 6 or 7 minutes. Remove lid, mussels should be open. Toss out any mussels that are still closed. Let mussels set for a few minutes until they are cool enough to touch. Then remove the meat from the shell and add to the cream mixture. (You can actually leave the mussels in the shells and take them out while you eat.) Add the wine to the soup. Stir and let simmer for several minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with parsley.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Holy Name Fish Fry

I didn't grow up Catholic. I walked 20-some years through this world without realizing what kind of parties these folks can put on--in church. I'll be the first to admit that Protestants are a bit notorious for being on the stuffy side. Religious differences aside, I think we can all appreciate a good fish fry. Holy Name in Benson hosts a Lenten fest. The people in the above photograph are all tailgating in the parking lot of the church. Let me repeat that: tailgating at church. Serving any sort of alcohol at church comes as a completely new concept to me. My dad used to be a pastor of an evangelical free church in a small town in Nebraska (this was when I was very young), and my parents absolutely did not drink even a sip of any alcoholic substance at any point during this season of their lives. People would have talked, they said. I'll make a point right here to note that I now attend a Protestant church in which this is not at all the case. But still, beer in church is kind of a new thing for me. But it's something I am more than willing to embrace.
See these people below. They are all hauling coolers of beer, chatting it up while waiting to get their food. Here we are in the Holy Name cafeteria. This man is passing out free beer. At church. Granted it was Busch Light, but hey, it's free . Soda, on the other hand, 50 cents.
Holy Name's fish fries are pretty notorious for bringing in probably thousands of people to raise money for the church's grade school. It is insane. The line last week wasn't too bad--we only had to wait 15 minutes. I'm thinking that was because Lent hadn't even started yet. But everyone and their mom is there, including both major mayoral candidates. Former mayor Hal Daub was walking around with his wife picking up people's trash. Smooth.
While not the healthiest meal I'll ever eat, HN can fry up some good catfish. And as you can see, they don't skimp. I love the Catholics.
It was Cordell's first fish fry too. He liked the coleslaw the best. (Gosh I love this kid, is he not the most adorable?) We left the church reeking to high heaven of deep fat fried food. Wearing a dry-clean-only jacket was a horrible idea. The grease was in the hair, on my skin, my scarf ... I had to wash everything. And I'll be back next week.
Holy Name is on 45th and Fontenelle Boulevard. The fish fry starts at 5 p.m. and goes until 8 or 9. Meals cost $9, soda and ice cream cost 50 cents each, and beer (like I said) is free. The proceeds benefit the church's grade school.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chickpea Salad

I have this problem with wasting food. I overbuy at the grocer and then can't finish the tub of sort-of-expensive ricotta cheese, marscapone or mozarella before they are consumed by a furry, green animal (at least someone's eating it). In fact, I have a tub of cottage cheese and a tub of sour cream in the fridge that I am afraid to even touch. I push them further and further into the hard-to-reach recesses of the fridge. I feel really bad about this. It's such a waste of money and resources. Monday night was probably the worst because I discovered with one whiff that the chicken that I had procrastinated on making into something delicious had taken on an odor that threatened to curdle milk inside its carton. Because of my laziness, I had to throw away five, once good, chicken breasts. Do yourself a favor and wrap chicken separately when you freeze it. So I did what I always do and improvised. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, in the process I discovered a jar of mold-encrusted roasted red peppers back next to a frozen bottle of Coca-Cola. I'm pretty sure I bought that jar of peppers last summer. I'm sorry, this is what happens when you are single. You have to eat leftovers for weeks. You do also get to enjoy cookies for weeks too. Seems like a fair trade. Instead I made a chickpea salad on toast, with Laughing Cow Swiss Cheese (not to be confused with Mad Cow). This cheese is really fantastic. I think my eighth-grade French teacher Mr. Srb introduced it to me. But I rediscovered it via Weight Watchers a couple years ago.
Chickpea Salad: (inspired by/copied from Smitten Kitchen) 1 15-ounces can garbanzo or chickpeas
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/4 cup onion (I used green onions, she used purple)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice (use the zest if you've got a whole lemon--I did not, it could go bad)
dash parsley (dried or fresh)
salt and pepper to taste

Toss all this crap in a bowl and mash it up a bit.
I deviated from the perscribed recipe by adding some capers that have been sitting in the fridge at least as long as the ill-fated red peppers had been. But capers are stored/preserved in vinegar, so they won't go bad. I'm not sure this was a good addition to the salad. Also, as you can see in the above photo, I put some roasted tomatoes on the toast in place of the red peppers. Not a good idea. The canned roasted tomatoes are tough and chewy. I remove them and all was well again.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Google Search

This posting will have no recipe and no (real) mention of food, so if that's what you're looking for stop reading and come back tomorrow. I got home pretty late last night (around midnight!)--for a weeknight. That meant I had to skip a shower this morning if I wanted seven hours of sleep. So yeah, no photos of the chickpea salad I made the other night. But I'd like to take a moment to share something with you all that I find incredibly amusing about my blog. I embedded a stat counter on my site so I could see how many people visited, where they live, how they got here, how many children they have, what kind of car they own, what they eat for breakfast (just kidding). Before you freak out, don't worry, I don't know who you are. Unless you're Craig because you're the only person I know in Decatur, Ga., and Maria because you're the only person I know in Evanston, Ind. and I know they both read my blog regularly. Other than that, you're all anonymous. Mostly, the stat counter gives me an unecessary ego boost whenever someone visits. It's pretty great, except those days when no one visits ... If you'll take a glance to the right of this posting you'll see a little box with numbers in it. On this date it should hover around 3000. This is not an impressive number for those of you unfamiliar with normal Web traffic. (Oh and you can't embed this into your facebook profile, in case you were wondering.) OK, I'm getting to the point. The thing that amuses me is seeing what people search on Google that leads to my Web site. Some of it is pretty normal. I've gotten a lot of cranberry-tangerine muffins and amaretto biscottis. I also get a lot of "food eaten in (Japan, Costa Rica, Honduras, etc)" which makes sense considering the title of my blog is Food Eaten. But then I get a lot of great searches having to do with mistakes I've made in cooking. I'm guessing all the "what happens when I forget to add the salt/baking soda/flour to cookies" searches went to this post. Here's the quick answer: no salt=no flavor, no baking soda=rock hard cookies, no flour=runny cookies that melt and drip off the cookie sheet and start a sugar fire. Once once someone searched "shortbread mishap." I wonder what happened to them? I doubt it's similar to what I did, but I'd love to know. Someone searched "I made a chef boyardee pepperoni pizza from the box and they now give you less sauce and pepperoni." I'm afraid I was no help there. But there are a few standouts. My first strange google search was "food eaten on gossip girl." I am unable to answer that query, but I do wonder why someone felt a need to know what food they ate on an episode of that show. Did they get in an argument at work and were settling it with the google search? Maybe they wanted to eat at one of the restaurants featured in the show. In for runner-up would be "left chili on the stove all night is it still good." I'm a little embarrassed that someone found my site using that search, but if I'm being honest it sounds like something I would do. But my favorite all-time search, not likely to be replaced, is "most food eaten in mcdonalds." It's not so much the subject of the search that I love so much as that the searcher was from Sarah Palin's hometown, Wasilla, Alaska. This happened right after the election, in fact, right after Palin's turkey publicity stunt. I got such a kick out of the fact that surely Tree and Track Palin had had a disagreement about the most popular menu item at McDonalds and decided to do some investigative journalism to discover the answer. They probably don't know about Wikipedia.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Snow Day Treat

Now that I'm long out of high school, days on which it snows something like a mountain of snow are no longer exciting. That is, until last Friday, when it snowed, oh I'd say about 10 inches between 9 a.m. and noon. The HR person at work sent out an email that we would be able to leave work at 3:30 p.m. (whoopie) and that they were ordering pizza. So they didn't want us to drive in the snow, but the Valentino's delivery guy ... no big deal. We were actually excused from work around 2:30, though it did take me an hour to get home. But I spent the rest of Friday vegging out with a book and watching chick flicks. It was more fantastic than a barbecue in July ... well, maybe not. But I love how illness and weather conditions are always the perfect excuses to not do anything. Oh and I baked some winter-appropriate gingersnaps.

Nothing says winter like molasses. Here's the batter, mid-drip: And voila. Perfectly soft, chewy and fat-free gingersnaps basking in the sun. Yes that's right, I said fat free. I used David Lebovitz's recipe which substitutes the butter with applesauce and uses egg whites only. So healthy one would think I am preparing for spring break in Panama City, Fla., not true. I'll be spending three days in St. Louis in March, hoping it doesn't rain. Almost as good, right?

Nonfat Gingersnaps: 1 cup brown sugar 1/4 cup applesauce 1/3 cup molasses 2 large egg whites at room temp (if you're conserving, use your yolks for hollandaise or aioli) 2 1/4 cup flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (you should have seen me grinding these fresh with a pepper mill, the only cloves I could find were whole in a container of mulling spices) 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (fortunately we have two pepper mills) 1/4 teaspoon salt In a mixing bowl, add brown sugar, applesauce and molasses and mix with mixer until its mixed (3-5 minutes). Add egg yolks to mixture and mix again for 3-5 minutes. Sift together flour, baking soda and spices (all the rest of the ingredients). Add to sugar/molasses mixture and blend until batter has uniform consistency. Chill in fridge while you stare out the window at the freshly fallen snow. Remove batter from fridge. In a separate, smaller bowl toss in about 1/2 a cup of granulated sugar and a sprinkling of cinnamon. With a spoon and washed hands, roll a large teaspoon of batter in the cinnamon-sugar. Throw it on a baking tray. The oven should have already been pre-heated to 350 degrees (you shoud have known this through blog osmosis--I am in such an obnoxious mood today). Bake those cookies for 13 minutes. Let cool and stuff your face--they are fat free.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Saga Continues: The Quest for Green Curry

I know this photo may not seem like much, but it was at this table that I ate some of the best meals of my life. And saw a little girl pee her pants whilst sitting on said table. Why do I remember these things? This is the table I sat at and ordered Thai green curry from Lek. Oh it was so good. Sweet, savory, spicy, all in one dish. And now I have been on a two-and-a-half year quest to find green curry as good as Lek's. To no avail. But I've checked out some good Thai restaurants in the meantime. I've already raved about the vegetables present in Lek's curry, and subsequently tried to copy it. The resulting curry was probably the closest I've come, except that it was too spicy too eat, but too tasty not to. Deadly combination, I'm telling you. Every time I go out for Thai I always get green curry. And it's never quite right. Bangkok & Cuisine (19th and Farnam) and Thai Spice (108th and Maple) serve it with bamboo, which I actually like, but it's not Lek's. I never saw bamboo in green curry. That's not to say it doesn't exist, I just never saw it. I should just give up, but I can't. I've tasted perfection, and I want it back. But even though I've been disappointed in my quest for green curry, that doesn't mean you all shouldn't go out and enjoy Thai food. And here's why: everyone in my family likes it (except maybe for Grandma who we're not sure about). I was looked to again to choose a dining venue for dinner on Saturday with Dad, Emily and Grandma. Dad had a hankering for Chinese, but Emily hates Chinese. Thai was an obvious choice because after my birthday dinner, we knew that there was at least one thing on the menu that Emily would like (Phad Thai). Em and I went out to pick Grandma up. We stole her away from a nice filet mignon that actually looked pretty good (a rarity at her place of residence, which serves cafeteria food every single day). So we deprived her of that fat, juicy steak and replaced it with food we're pretty sure she didn't care for. Apparently Grandma doesn't like rice--at all. Who knew? And for her we had to go with the absolutey-not-spicy-in-any-way route. Her choice: Chicken Satay. It's really an appetizer, but Gma's not a big eater. For the dish, the chicken comes skewered on a bamboo stick. It usually has a savory yellow marinade on it. You slather the skewers in this savory and sweat peanut sauce. It also comes with a sweet, pickled cucumber relish. She claimed she liked the meal, but she kept looking around and saying, "Does your mom like this kind of food?" We think she may have been looking for an ally. Emily, as you know, ordered Phad Thai. This is usually a safe dish for someone who approaches Oriental food with trepidation. However, this is not a safe dish for someone with a peanut alergy. Phad Thai is sort of like fried rice, but noodles. It comes with egg. Tofu, chicken or shrimp all complement it really well. For some reason the sauce in the U.S. is orange, another thing I never saw in Thailand where the sauce is brown. But, whatever, it still tastes good. Phad Thai is topped with peanuts, bean sprouts and cilantro, is served with a lime wedge and shouldn't be spicy. The whole dish comes together well with the sweet/savory combo that the Thais seem to have down. Dad ordered beef in black pepper sauce. I think it's safe to say that he loved it, and he'll be going back of his own accord (Mom, be prepared). Reasons why he liked it: 1) beef, it was meaty, thus manly; and 2) spicy, it was hot, thus manly. My dad is the sort who likes medium salsa, so this dish suited him perfectly. His dish was hot, but not so hot he couldn't eat it. I would argue Thai Pepper (on 128th and Q) has perfected the art of medium spicy: it's hot while you're eating it, but your mouth doesn't continue to burn once you're finished. These are the pickiest eaters in the entire Seyler clan, and they have been successfully converted to liking a (somewhat) exotic type of cuisine. Well, maybe not Grandma, but she'll have something to talk about at Walnut Grove, distracting everybody from their health issues for a moment.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Brownies to Replace Presence of Boyfriend on V-day

Another guest post from Maria over in Indiana. Do these brownies not look scrumptious? I've been waiting since August to make these brownies (well, to be honest, I've been waiting two years). As an undergrad, my lacrosse team (and Lainey's!) were going to do a bake sale. I asked my grandmother for some recipes. Unfortunately, they didn't arrive in the mail on time (she doesn't understand how email works). One of the recipes was for mint brownies. I lost the recipe and didn't find itagain until this August when I moved.
The recipe calls for either mint chocolate chips or peppermint extract. For some reason I thought she said mint extract. I was so confused; I couldn't find it in any grocery. I asked around and someone said it's usually available around the holidays. I searched and searched come November and December. Nada! I forgot about the recipe until my neighbor and good friend Melanie and I began baking together weekly. We were talking about our love of the mint and chocolate combination, and I mentioned the brownie recipe. Melanie suggested peppermint extract. I was hesitant, so I read the recipe again. Yep, sure enough, Grandma said peppermint extract. (By the way, there is such a thing as mint extract. I may have to order some online.)
Melanie and I made the brownies Thursday afternoon (our weekly baking time). We doubled the recipe so we could each have lots of minty, chocolatey goodness. They turned out to be amazing. These are quite possibly the best brownies I have ever tasted. For those of you who know me, you know my obsession with the boxed triple chunk brownie mix. These are even better. Note: Don't eat two brownies and drink a glass of milk before running for 40 minutes. You WILL feel sick to your stomach. Brownies are best consumed post-run.
Grandma's Chocolate Mint Brownies

1/2 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 eggs
2/3 cups butter
1 2/3 cup mint chocolate chips or semi-sweet chips with 2 drops of peppermint extract
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix sugar, flour, cocoa, vanilla, baking powder and eggs. In a small saucepan, melt on low to medium-low heat (keep stirring) butter and 1 cup of chocolate chips. Add butter/chocolate mixture to the other ingredients and stir. Add 2/3 cups chips and chopped nuts. Grease a 13x9x2 pan (or a 9x9 for thicker brownies). Pour in brownie mix and bake for 30 minutes (you want the center to be just set).

For other recipes by Maria see: soup, squash, muffins, risotto and chicken.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

And She Made Pasta Again

I had all these plans. I was going to make this chickpea salad sandwich for dinner. But there were no chickpeas. Then I was going to improvise with cannellini beans. But there were no red-roasted tomatoes. Do you ever have those days where you're hungry for dinner before lunch? I was ready to snarf down a five-course meal by the time I left work and made my way to my hour-and-fifteen-minute yoga class, which put dinnertime at well past 7 p.m. That's, like, completely unaccectable for me and scads of retirees the world round. So all through yoga when I went to my "Zen place," there were amaretto biscottis, vegetarian lasagnas, homemade ravoilis and hummus dip with salty, salty pita chips looming on a buffet before me. At home I knew there was some already-cooked pork sausage in the freezer, that jar of artichoke hearts, and there are always cans of tomatoes (except today, because I've eaten them all). I came up with this variation on the Easy and Tasty Tomato Sauce. I'll call it Vegetable Vodka Cream Sauce. I'm go ahead and laud myself for using up some of the cream from the yesterday's Indian dish that would otherwise be going bad. And while I'm at it, for using up last summer's leftover vodka that has been collecting dust in the cupboards. Oh, and some questionable tomato paste that had been sitting opened in the fridge. Perhaps the best part about pasta is its ability to rend all leftover items useful. It turned out ridiculous salty, which I would say is a good thing. I think this sauce could only be improved upon with more veggies, particularly of the squash variety (i.e. zucchini, yellow squash and eggplant). Oh I can't wait for it to really be spring. Now I'm going to go make my grocery list. Vegetable Vodka Cream Sauce: 1/2 pound ground pork sausage 2 tablespoons of olive oil 1 garlic clove, minced or chopped dash of red pepper flakes 1 tablespoon tomato paste 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes 2 ounces vodka 1/4 cup cream 1/2 cup (or so) artichoke hearts, coarsely chopped salt to taste 1 cup small pasta (penne, macaroni, shells) 1 tablespoon-ish dry basil 1 tablespoon-ish dry parsley parmasan cheese Brown the pork sausage. Remove from skillet and set aside. This recipe is for about two people, so adjust portions as needed. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet on medium heat. Saute garlic and red pepper flakes until garlic turns a darker yellow. Add tomato paste and toast for a minute or two on medium heat. Toss in the can of tomatoes, vodka and cream. Bring to a boil and let simmer. While it simmers add in the artichoke hearts, any other vegetables of your choice and the cooked pork sausage. Let simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, until the alcohol cooks off. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Toss in a couple handfuls of pasta. Cook according to directions. Drain the water. Add the pasta to the simmering sauce. (Carefully) taste here. Add salt if needed. Turn off the heat and sprinkle with basil and parsley. Let sit for a minute or two so the sauce can thicken. Serve sprinkled with parmasan cheese.

Monday, February 9, 2009

In Praise of Slumdog

I went to India about 10 years ago with a group from church. Not a very likely trip for a 16-year-old. When I came back, everyone asked me how it was and all I could say was "good." I'm sure some of you may understand how difficult it is to sum up an experience that is so overwhelming and (as it turns out) lifechanging. Over Christmas I saw Slumdog Millionaire (twice actually), and could tell my parents and friends, "Yes, that is exactly what Bombay is like." It is absolutley that crowded, that dirty, that colorful, and if movies could smell I'm sure this one would be that smelly. And I don't necessarily mean this in a bad way. India is a country of extremes: the most people you've ever seen, the brightest colors possible and the food has more flavor than you could imagine existing in one bite. My palette had never experienced anything like what India presented. Our group had a cook who would make us breakfast and dinner everyday and would purify our water. Curry, coriander, cumin, marjoram, all these were completely new to me. I had never eaten lentils, eggplant, mutton, chai tea, nan bread ... is it lunchtime yet? Everything so savory with a bit of a kick (and sometimes quite a kick). I haven't even been able to recreate the plain black tea served there from the "chaiwallas" on the trains--and I bought some loose leaf tea while I was there. I wish I could show you some of my photos, but that was in the days prior to digital cameras and I had an unfortunate haircut. I'm clearly on some sort of India kick this week, what with the chutney. I even did yoga right before making this dish. The best part about this meal is that the best is yet to come. The leftovers are going to be ever better than straight out of the pan. Even though the above photo doesn't show it, this is one of the best dishes I've made (especially in recent months). Indian Spiced Chicken with Cous Cous: 2 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, chopped 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced (I used 1 teaspoon powdered ginger) 1/2 (or so)tablespoon cumin 1/2 (or so) tablespoon coriander 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (I didn't have this, skipped it and it was more than fine) 1/2 teaspoon paprika 1 teaspoon salt pinch cayenne pepper 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes 1/4 cup cream 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1 1/2 cups water 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into strips Heat oil in medium skillet on medium heat, add onion and saute until translucent, add garlic and ginger. Continue sauteing for about a minute, do not let the garlic burn. Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika and salt. Stir to coat onion and garlic with spices. Add tomatoes and cayenne pepper. (Here you can add some frozen spinach to give some more color and texture. Be sure that it is defrosted and completely drained of excess water.) Carefully taste sauce to see if you need to add more seasonings. Add cream and water and bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Cover pan and simmer for five minutes. Add chicken strips to the stew, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Allow sauce to stand for a few minutes before serving so that it will thicken. While the chicken is cooking, bring 1 1/2 cups of lightly salted water to a boil. Add one cup of cous cous to boiling water. Immediately turn off heat. Let cous cous sit for five minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve with chicken stew.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Raspberry Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies (Gluten Free)

(Here is another guest post. This one is from my mom's Super Bowl Party.) Our super bowl party was unique in that the guests’ combined food allergies included nuts and wheat, plus then we have a few vegetarians thrown into the mix. Wishing to expand beyond popcorn and rice krispie treats, we adapted the following recipe to make it gluten free. How can you go wrong with chocolate, cream cheese, lemon and raspberries?
It looks as if everyone is pretty happy with the offerings of the night. My mom has mentioned before how tricky it is to prepare food for her church small group with such unique dietary, er, restrictions. For example, we've got the gluten-free folks who can't eat all variety of wheat items and the vegetarians who don't eat meat. That cuts out, oh, about half the food pyramid, maybe more. (Not that my mom has ever complained about it, but just think about it, that's a lot). It seems as if these sorts of diets are becoming easier to work with of late. It's pretty normal to have vegetarians around (at least for me if not my dad) and I see a lot of gluten-free stuff at the grocer (not all of which is good). My parents have discovered some trully wretched gluten-free crackers that they served once with cheese. Even I wouldn't eat them.
But as you can see in the above photo, those gluten-free brownies look killer. My mom replaced wheat flour in the recipe with rice flour. I'd think you could do this for a lot of baked goods. Maybe not homemade bread, but cookies for sure. Good thing everybody can handle chocolate. I have no other knowledge about cooking anything gluten-free. I hardly know what it is. But here's a blog that might have better insight.
You can see in the above photo where I get my messiness from. Note: my mom is way way way cleaner than I am. I'll learn someday I suppose.
Raspberry Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies:
3/4 stick butter 2 1/2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate coarsely chopped 1 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped 3/4 cup flour ( we substituted rice flour) 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 1/4 cups sugar 2 teaspoons vanilla 2 eggs Cream cheese swirl: 8 ounces cream cheese slightly softened and cut into chunks 1/3 cup sugar 2 tablespoons butter, melted 1 egg 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest 1/3 teaspoon vanilla 1/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9 inch square baking pan. In a medium bowl, microwave the butter and chocolates for 1 minute. Stir well. Continue microwaving at 50 percent power, stirring at 30 second intervals until nearly melted. Let the residual heat finish the job. Stir the sugar and vanilla into the chocolate mixture. Beat in the eggs and mix until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the flour and pour 2/3 of the mixture into baking pan, saving the remainder for the topping. Process or mix the cream cheese, sugar, butter, egg, lemon zest and vanilla until well blended and smooth. Drop the cream cheese mixture by tablespoons over the batter. Evenly drop the raspberry preserves by teaspoons over the cream cheese. Spoon the remaining chocolate batter into 4 or 5 pools over the top. Swirl with a knife. Bake for 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. It was delicious and disappeared before halftime.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Squash Chutney

I made something last night that sort of stank up the entire apartment. Megs and I were vegging on the couch, having a laugh riot about the Daily Show. I took a whiff. I think potent would be a good word. I don't know that it necessarily smelled bad. Megan described it as Easter eggs, which makes sense because there was a whole lot of vinegar going on.
Alright, so what is chutney and why did I decide to spend three hours making it? When I think chutney, I think India (though I do not recall having anything similar to it while there). It does typically have Indian spices and ingredients (i.e. mango chutney flavored sometimes with cumin/coriander/etc). There's a lot of room for variation, which makes me excited to give it another go. In briefer terms, I'd call it the Indian version of salsa.
When I saw the recipe on a blog, I realized it would be a good way for me to use up the rest of my squash. And I actually had all of the ingredients necessary to make it, except that I used balsamic vinegar instead of white wine. (Thus the crazy black color of the sauce.)
Unfortunately, this hors d'ouevre is not about instant gratification. The chutney will be sitting in my fridge for a couple weeks while the vinegar ferments. I'll give you an update in March, but so far it looks delicious even if it doesn't smell so. Squash Chutney: 1/2 butternut squash
4 medium cooking apples (OK, all I had were Galas, whatever)
1/2 large onion
1 1/2 cups raisins (red or white, currants or sultanas)
2 cups combination of brown and white sugar (the recipe I followed used more white than brown, I just happend to measure out more brown than white, I'll let you know in a couple weeks if that was a bad thing)
2 cups vinegar (using different vinegars will lend a different flavor, I predict that balsamic will be very overpowering of the rest of the spices, I think the choice would depend on what other ingredients were in the chutney and what vinegar you had on hand, probably don't use whatever you've got under your kitchen sink, unless it's a last resort)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon coriander
1/2 tablespoon sage
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Peel and finely chop squash, apples and onion. This may take a while, so turn on some music. I recommend cooking to Jamie Cullum or the new Andrew Bird.
Toss the fruit and vegetables into a big ol' pot. Pour in your vinegar, sugar, herbs and spices. Bring it all to a boil then reduce to a simmer. It may appear that you don't have enough liquid to boil and properly cook everything. Don't worry, the fruit and vegs will cook down almost immediately. So simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring periodically. Warning: Do not stick your nose straight above the pot, the vinegar will burn. It's done when the sauce is thickened about to the consistency of molasses.
Matt Wright served this with a baguette and soft cheese, and it makes me want to eat it through the computer screen. Variations will be the best part of this dish. Tomatoes, mangos, apparently coconut is popular, citrus, I nearly added garlic to this one. And then there's the herbs and spices. I think a citrus chutney would be good with some jalapeno. I mused for a moment about putting in some mushrooms but decided against it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Miso Soup

I had Japanese for lunch, dinner and drinks on Friday. It may have been a bit much for one day I suppose, but I am a person who lived in Thailand and ate rice every single day for two months straight. I would not recommend it. Inspired by the cold and 101 Cookbooks, soup just sounded so good. It's funny how many times I've cooked recipes from the 101 Cookbooks blog because I think her style of cooking is very different from mine. She's a vegetarian (big difference) and does more down-home dishes than I do, but maybe we're more alike than I think. That or her food looks just so delish in the photos. I used up the remainder of my tofu from Jane's Health Market. Last week was the first time I had ever cooked with the spungy/squishy protein. I enjoy eating it, which is more than I can say for a lot of people. Can you imagine me trying to serve that to my dad--or even my mom? They would scoff. It is kind of a weird thing. It is pretty versatile. My old roomate put tofu in spaghetti with marinara once, it was pretty good. I stopped by Midwest Oriental Foods to get soba noodles and miso paste. I don't think I found the right kind of paste. I ended up with a packet of powdered substance (sort of pasty) with dried up bits of tofu and seaweed. What I made was probably the Japanese equivalent to American college students inventing dishes to go with ramen noodles. In Japan, they improvise with miso soup and soba noodles. I think I may have digressed here back when I tried to make Thai green curry, but if anyone in the Omaha-area is interested, there are a grip of Oriental and specialty food stores on 84th Street between Center and L. Aki used to fly in fresh sushi-grade fish the first Saturday of the month. Though they stopped doing it about a year ago, they do have the only (frozen) sushi-grade fish in town. And (I'm not supposed to tell you this) but when the local sushi joints run out of fish, in a pinch, they call Aki. Near Midwest Oriental, there is an Indian Grocery which then connects to a Mediterranean grocer. The Mediterannean place stocks the weirder ingredients--like don't go there for feta cheese. We often forget that Turkish, Lebanese and Moroccan foods count as Mediterranean. And I finally found a Thai food market on South 24th last week, too. These places are everywhere, you just have to dig a little. Check here for 101 Cookbooks' recipe for Miso Soup.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Would Have Been Better With Shrimp

I suppose it makes sense that when you are uninspired, everything you make is also uninspired. I made an attempt to rally myself last Tuesday. I feigned excitement when I saw a photo of a delicious pasta dish. It could have been so good. I'll blame the health food market I stopped by on my way home that doesn't stock shrimp. So what we're in landlocked Nebraska? This is America, and I want my semi-exotic seafood priced at $5 a pound. I'm being sarcastic. But this dish would have been a lot better with shrimp (versus tofu). Vegetarian Pasta: handful spaghetti 2 tablespoons butter 1/2 cup onion, chopped 1 garlic clove, chopped 1/2 butternut squash, diced 1/3 cup cremini mushrooms, chopped (because mushrooms go in everything) 1 cup chicken/vegetable stock 1 cup dry white wine or marsala 1 teaspoon dried rosemary 1 cup tofu, chopped (or 1 pound already-cooked shrimp) 1/4 cup cream (to thicken) salt and pepper to taste parmsan cheese (to salvage) Start out by bringing a pot of salted water to boil. Cook spaghetti according to directions. Penne pasta would also work well with this dish. Melt butter in sauce pan on medium high heat. Saute onions for a couple minutes. Then throw in the garlic, squash and mushrooms and continue to saute for several more minutes, until the onion in translucent. Add the stock and the rosemary, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add the wine. Simmer until squash is nearly cooked through. Add the tofu/shrimp while still on simmer. While stirring, add cream slowly until sauce thickens a bit. Add salt and pepper to taste.