Thursday, October 4, 2012

DinnerLove: Kitchen Sink Curry

I ate my first curry before I was 10 years old, at Virginia Plainfield's Restaurant in Portland, Oregon. The table was loaded with condiment tins and plates of Naan. Naan is just one example of the wide variety of flatbreads that are present in the Indian Culinary culture.

Along with flatbreads, many examples of curry are found throughout Southeastern Asian. The people of this region have been adding curry spices to their food for centuries. British colonization and industry in India is credited with spreading this wonderful culinary tradition to the west, including the Caribbean in conjunction with the sugar trade. Even today, the British love their "take-away Curry"!

Americans are familiar with the somewhat ho-hum "curry powder" widely available on most grocery store shelves. American recipes for Curried Chicken, Curried Pork, Vegetable Curry, etc., usually call for a distressingly small amount of this blend of eastern spices. A teaspoon or two is a common recipe amount. In my opinion, you may as well just leave it out if you're going to drop a teaspoon of curry powder into a dish with a yield of 4'll never taste it! Convert any recipe with this meager amount of curry from teaspoon to tablespoon!!
Most common yellow curries contain varying mixtures of ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, red pepper and mustard. This is a great start, but in order to dial up the flavor of your curry, think about adding fresh ginger, fresh garlic, fresh chopped cilantro, citrus zest- specifically lime and lemon- and coconut milk. You can even add a tablespoon or two of garden-variety peanut butter or chopped peanuts to achieve a more Thai-style flavor. The possibilities are just endless; the key is to add layer after layer of flavor until you get the result you're looking for. Curries are multi-dimensional and although hundreds of recipes are available, you should take what you like, along with what you may have on hand, and tinker with it until you're satisfied.
I tend to make what I call "Kitchen Sink Curry". In other words, I take anything I have in the fridge or pantry, chop it, add it to the pot and serve the result over rice. Here is today's curry:

1/2 bag frozen cauliflower
1/2 head of left-over cabbage, sliced
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 russet potato, cubed
1 c. frozen peas
1 box frozen spinach, liquid squeezed out
3 large cloves fresh garlic, minced
1/4 c. bottled lime juice
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 TBSP red pepper flakes
1 TBSP lemon pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Water to cover

Steamed rice
Squeeze the liquid out of the spinach with a clean towel

Caramelize the cauliflower and cabbage,  add the onion and continue to saute. Add the potato, spices, juice and water. Cover and allow to cook on low for about 30 minutes. Add the spinach, peas, garlic and salt and pepper. Cook on low uncovered for 30-60 minutes. Serve over rice.

You may have noticed that most of my ingredients were frozen, powdered or bottled. That's not how I like to cook normally, but that's what I had on hand, so that's what I used. Fresh ingredients are always best, but that's the beauty of curries- they can make any bog standard food shine! Look in your pantry, see what jumps out at you, and make your own Kitchen Sink Curry! Have fun!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

DinnerLove: Lentil & Pepperoni Stew

 In Oregon in the 1970's, my mother eagerly explored the many menu possibilities of the new "back-to-the-land" movement. My sister and I enjoyed Welsh Rarebit, made with local Tillamook cheddar and a touch of Portland's emerging microbeer. We dined on salmon with local fresh dill and potatoes. My mother would scour our woods for sweet woodruff to mix into a light punch that she kept in the refrigerator. While searching for the sweet woodruff, she'd stop by the Oregon Grape bushes at the bottom of our property and pick a bucket-full to make into jam and syrup. There were plastic bags of oats and other grains which she baked into granola.  There was always a tin of trail mix with carob drops and every so often we'd go and pick concord grapes from a friend's farm. We had a cherry tree, an apple tree and a plum tree that lined the driveway, and she'd make the most wonderful preserves from the plums, each glass jam jar covered with a layer of paraffin to seal it against the air.
Galium odoratum, Sweet Woodruff

Along with these wonderful food products, there were newspapers and magazines that were loaded with new and innovative recipes (for the time).  My mother had a subscription to Sunset Magazine, and the Oregonian was delivered every day. Among the piles of recipes she collected, was a little snip of paper taped to a 3x5 index card that was titled: Lentil Stew.
I don't even remember when she started serving this wonderful concoction. I do remember that we always had rustic, heavy, full-grain hearth bread slathered with butter to accompany the stew.  I also remember that there was always enough left over for breakfast the next day. It's a wonderful, healthy, soulful dish that will warm you on cold and warm days alike. Here is my version of the recipe (which is nearly identical except it includes more onions and garlic).

One package of grocery-store sliced pepperoni or whatever kind you like (turkey pepperoni works well, but you'll need to add some oil to the pot)
3 cups lentils or a 1 pound store bag (any kind you like)
2 TBSP paprika
1 TBSP cumin
1 white or yellow onion, diced
3 carrots chopped fine
2-3 bay leaves
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or run through a microplane
2-3 quarts water or stock (chicken, pork or beef work well equally)
1 cup dry vermouth, brandy, vodka, white or red wine, or 1 can of beer (again, whatever you have on hand and like...the trick is to get some alcohol into the mix)
The juice of one lemon or the equivalent bottled amount (if you can't get lemon, don't worry, it just punches up the flavor without adding additional salt.)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, dump the entire package of pepperoni and allow the fat to render out, on medium for about 20-30 minutes. Add the lentils and stir to coat them in the fat. Add the onions, garlic and carrot. Stir and allow the vegetables to caramelize (add a little olive oil if you see that the mixture is drying out). At this point, add the wet ingredients, including the lemon, and bring to a boil.  Drop in your bay leaves. Cover and simmer for 1-2 hours. This stew will be more soup-like the first day, and thereafter will tighten up to be more stew-like.

This dish also freezes well and is very budget-friendly. Don't just save it for a cold or rainy day. It's wonderful served in a wide pasta dish with a drizzle of EVOO and some grilled flat bread or bruschetta on the hottest summer day!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

SnackLove: Pumpkin Spiced Whoopie Pies with Maple Buttercream Filling. Yum.


3 c. AP flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
3 c. granulated white sugar
2 sticks butter
1 15 oz can pumpkin puree
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

Combine dry ingredients, whisk to incorporate. Beat butter and add sugar. Add eggs, continue to beat for a minute to combine. Add pumpkin and vanilla. Mix gently. Add dry ingredients, stir gently together. Chill in fridge for 1-3 hours. Use ice-cream scoop to scoop onto parchment lined pans. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes depending on your oven.

Maple Buttercream filling:
2 sticks room temp butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup real maple syrup- Grade B has more flavor for cooking/baking uses, but Grade A was all I had! You could also use extract, but I like to buy from my local farms.
Beat all together until mixed and continue to beat until light and fluffy.

Pick cookies that match and spread about 1/4 cup of filling onto the bottom of one. Then top it with it's mate and enjoy! Happy Harvest, everyone!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Boil, Boil, Toil and Trouble

Stocks are the foundational component of Classical French cooking. They are used to build sauces, soups and stews. Prepared properly, they are rich and unctuous, full of many layers of flavors that come from multiple items, gathered together and cooked in a particular way that extracts and showcases all the best aspects of each ingredient. When stock is chilled, it develops a gelatinous quality that is the result of the marrow and connective tissue found in the bones. When reduced, stocks take on a thick, syrupy consistency that is delightful, and impossible to achieve using quick or instant products found on grocery store shelves.

Sometime confused for broth, stocks take time and trouble. Typically, they need to simmer overnight and sometimes for 24 hours, depending on the desired result. When I am cooking at home, I choose chilly days and nights to make stocks because the oven and stove tend to heat up my old Victorian kitchen. Then, I can freeze my stocks for when I need them during the long, hot summer.

Stocks are composed of animal bones, (usually beef, chicken or fish); mirepoix- which is a French term for the combination of carrot, celery and onion-; tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme and rosemary. Although I was trained in the classical manner at a traditional Culinary School, I like to veer off the conventional path and throw in a head of garlic, a little white wine, and whatever herbs are lurking in my garden. I also tend to leave the skins on my vegetables. My Chef Instructors would shudder at this, but I like the extra color and vitamins this deviation gives me.

The first component is animal bones. The stock I am making today is beef. I was lucky enough to stumble on a wonderful, small, local market that carries a wide variety of proteins. Increasingly, in mainstream markets it is tough and sometimes ridiculously expensive to find plain old bones. Not at Desantis Meat Market & Deli in Barneveld, NY! A bag of 3 hefty leg bones cost around $4.00, and was promptly dropped into my basket and carted home with me. (I also found that Desantis was a source for lovely rabbit...but that's a post for another day.)

Drop your bones and mirepoix into a nice, roomy roasting pan. Drizzle it all with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil, and roast at 400-450 F degrees, depending on the speed of your oven. Bottom line, it's got to be screaming hot.

Roast the ingredients for roughly 30 minutes, or until they are brown and the carmelization of sugars occurs. Remove the pan, and slather the bones with tomato paste. Classically, this step is called "painting the bones". You don't have to use a paintbrush or any brush-like tool. I didn't happen to have one, so I used the back of a wooden mixing spoon. Once this is done, return the pan to the oven. Allow more carmelization to develop, removing the pan and it's contents when the paste and vegetables are brown to dark brown. Don't allow it to shift to the burned'll only have to start over.

Remove the pan's contents into a big stock pot, add water and your desired herbs and set on low to simmer. Place the roasting pan on the stove and set on medium until the remaining oil started to sizzle. Pour water, wine or broth into the pan and scrape the brown bits off the bottom. These bits are called fond, and the process is called deglazing. It is an important step since it removes all of the "stuck-on goodness" and gets it into your don't want to leave any flavor behind!

Simmer on LOW for at least 12 hours. You can also simmer overnight, if you think your dog won't stick it's nose into the pot and help himself. Strain and store in plastic bags or containers for several days in the fridge, or in the freezer for several months. Use in anything from spaghetti sauce and stew to vegetable beef soup or goat cheese risotto. Have fun and do it your way...just do it!

Sunday, June 24, 2012