Monthly Archives: March 2012

Finding the Curry-age

I’ve always been super intimidated by Indian cooking.  Before visiting the country, it was hard to get a real grasp on kormas versus koftas, and dosas and dal. Something about the foreign charm of ghee and cardamom kept my kitchen rather bland and the Indian restaurant well patronized.

Hello, gorgeous.

In attempts to discover something outside of my standard tikka masala,  I’d time my visits to the lunch hour so as to sample the buffet.  The real deal clincher was the continual output of fresh naan bread, washed down with pitchers of mango lassi.  Needless to say, my lack of self-discipline quickly confirmed a ticket on the fast train to uncomfortably full. Not to mention the fast train to porcelain heaven.

Subsequently, with my mother at my side, we staged a personal intervention and put a ban on ever again going all-you-can-eat.  It was just toooo delicious.  When we found ourselves in the restaurant alongside buffet buccaneers, we simply had to breathe deeply and look the other way.  Our fate was sealed, and we calmly ordered controlled portions from the menu.

This seemed to perplex the curious Indian servers, as whatever we ordered often times was included on the buffet.  Before putting in our order, the slew of waiters standing at attention would one-by-one try their hand at defying the laws of surface tension.  They’d miraculously fit one extra drop in our water glasses and reiterate, “Madam, the buffet?” Yes sir, we’re crazy (as well as pathetic).  Can I have a “100-calorie pack” for dessert?

Since returning from my trip to India, I’ve been trying to muster up the courage to recreate the deliciousness that was each meal.  The other day, I caught a whiff of the spice blend I smuggled home while cleaning the cupboards. Okay, I lie.  While cramming things in, it fell on my head.  Either way, things were set in motion.

On our next to last eve in India, we were lucky enough to share a kitchen with Shivani. I was a little reluctant after realizing she was the wife of one particular shop owner.  This guy had sent me on a mission for small bills, then upped his price and refused to bargain as soon as I was cash in hand.  Regardless, she was the only cooking class in town and had many rave reviews. 

Cooking with Shivani

We were greeted at her home where she had a table set up and layered with ingredients.  First on the agenda was chai while we discussed our menu for the day. We learned to make many things, but most importantly, Shivani made Indian food approachable.  I took what I learned, added a subtle twist, and finally achieved masala enlightenment.  Here’s a run-down of the basics. 

Tofu Paneer/Chicken and Lentil Masala

Serves 4

Every Indian “gravy” starts with a base of browned butter and caramelized onions.

3 Tbsp butter

hot spices: 7 black peppercorns, 5 whole cloves, 1 black cardamom pod (lightly crushed), 1 tsp whole black cumin seeds

1 large onion, diced

I had always been under the impression that most Indian foods began with ghee.  This isn’t necessarily the case.  Shivani started her gravies (referring to the saucy base of any “wet” curry) with plain ol’ butter.  Basically, you just start out by melting the butter in a medium-hot pan.  Pay close attention, and when the butter begins to get the golden tone, toss in your “hot” spices.  Wait just a minute until they pop.  Next, add your onion.  Shivani liked to start with red onion, but for my dish I used yellow and it worked just fine.  Once the onion is in the pan, turn down the heat a bit and allow to gradually brown.

Golden goodness

To avoid a case of Dehli Belly, simmer until the butter separates from the curry. 

3 Tbsp ginger/garlic paste (I was at a loss for equipment to make a proper paste and just used finely minced)

2 Tbsp garam masala (Indian spice blend)

1/2 tsp salt (unless included in your garam masala blend)

1 can diced tomatoes

3/4 C water

When the onions have come to a nice even brown, turn the heat back up to medium-high and toss in the ginger/garlic paste.  Saute quickly.  Next, add garam masala, salt, tomatoes, water and bring to a simmer.  Allow the mixture to simmer until you can see little bubbles start to form across the surface.  Around the ring of the bubbles and at the edge of the curry, you should see a clear liquid starting to separate from the gravy base.  This is the butter.  Once this happens, your bowels are safe and you’re ready to move on.

Starting to separate

It’s gravy, baby. 

1/4 C plain yogurt

2 tsp lemon juice

1 C green lentils, cooked

1 lb. tofu or chicken (I seasoned with tandoori spices and seared)

When you’ve made it this far, pat yourself on the back and crank up the sitar.  You’re almost there.  All that remains is just stirring in the final ingredients and heating the dish through.  I promised to veer away from chicken, so I’m going to recommend adding in tofu as a stand-in for paneer.  While I’m not exactly sure what it is that separates the two, it worked just fine.  If your sauce seems a bit dry, feel free to add more water at this point and just allow to simmer to thicken.

Voila!

Congratulations!  You’ve just made your first Indian curry.  Truly just a matter of getting your hands on the spices, once you’ve done that, you’re good to go.  Now on to perfecting the naan

Special thank you to Tak Shivani for sharing her culinary secrets.  If you’ll be in the Pushkar vicinity, I highly recommend her course.

Shivani’s Sanjha Chula Flavours

www.pushkarcookingart.com

takshivani@yahoo.com

+91-9414656185

Pushkar, Rajasthan

India

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The Green Bean Chronicles

Phases. They come and go.  The “Save the Shrews” phase.  The Jazzercise phase.  And then there was the phase when wearing parachutes on our legs really seemed like a good idea.  Whatever it is, we all go through them.

Check out those jazz hands!

When reflecting on myself, I’ve had quite a number. There was a phase when all I really wanted when I got home from school was bacon.  And chocolate milk.  Obviously this was before Weight Watchers graced us with their presence and cholesterol content was really of  no matter.  

As far as appearance, I totally rocked out with L.A. Lights.  Yes, I owned a scrunchie (or two) and I also went through one summer when I only wore white t-shirts. Let’s count our lucky stars I never encountered a sprinkler with a mind of its own in that stage. By far the most prominent phase as far as wardrobe is concerned, however, is what my family likes to dub the “green bean” stage.

In the heyday of Gap Kids, that chain manufactured one wicked sweat suit.  A nice heavy weight, cozy to the touch, they just couldn’t be beat.  Far too young to be affected by the stigma of donning a sweat suit in the middle of the day, I was taking full advantage.

At the time, the majority of my class was wearing suits of a more windproof  nature (warm-up suits, if you will). On the playground, I watched as they got picked off one by one for going the wrong way up the slide or playing too rough on the monkey bars.  Warm-up suits seemed only to be produced in a variety of intensely neon patterns, and this quality gave them quite the inability to go unnoticed. I was forging my own path, and chose to keep a low profile in earth tones.

Additionally, I had developed an intense fear of the color red.  Still coming into my own with the pale skin/fire-haired combo, all I knew was that red, and anything sitting close on the color wheel, just didn’t work.  Playing it safe, I nestled my wardrobe safely into the confines of red’s complement.  Green was the color of choice, and I lived dangerously through variations like sea-foam and teal.  I kept it comfortable for the year. I wore sweats exclusively, and in only the finest emerald tones.

Note the camouflage effect

All of this brings me to my latest creation.  Around Thanksgiving, I was set loose on a quest for green beans. It was difficult, but I managed to come up with four of the most ancient looking cans from only the most obscure location. Three were consumed in the feast, and one I stashed safely in my cupboard. Finding myself inside on a rainy evening, not wanting to make a trip to the store, I decided the time had come. I was ready to make use of the treasure.  After assessing the stocks, I also took notice of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom. An idea occurred to me.

The essentials

By this time, you’ve probably noticed that, when left to my own devices, I frequently cook with chicken, and I usually prefer one pot.  We’ll attribute this last tendency to a deep-seeded hatred for dish washing, sowed carefully over the last 20 years.  I promise next time to mix it up.  In the meantime, a recipe was stewing, and I went for it.  Now, I know some of you may turn up your nose.  For a variety of reasons.  Most prominent being the likeness of my creation to a bowl of slop.  Well, I happen to like slop, and what oh-so-tasty slop it is!!

Slop-o-licious!

I’m going to take a moment to also recognize my inability to do this up properly.  I’ll reiterate…it was RAINING, and I didn’t have cheddar cheese  in the house, nor anything useful for breading and frying onions.  This all could lead to a greater gain (quite literally AND figuratively!) and I was working with what I had.  The suggestions are included with the recipe.

Here’s the deal.  If you came of age anywhere in the vicinity of the U.S. of A., or happen to have ever visited an American holiday gathering, you’ve probably come into contact with green bean casserole.  An old stand-by, you either love it or you hate it.  After living in close vicinity to a friend who joined Costco solely for the purchasing power of flats of Campbell’s soup and jumbo-sized tins of french fried onions, I developed a yearning for it.  The recipe that follows turns the casserole into somewhat of a sorry excuse for a balanced meal.  It met my criteria!

Chicken Green Bean Casserole

Serves 4

2 Tbsp oil

2 chicken breasts, diced

4 Tbsp flour

1/2 tsp paprika

salt and pepper, to taste

———————-

1 onion, diced

6 button mushrooms, sliced

2 cans green beans

1 can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup

4 Tbsp worcestershire sauce (Ottogi pulls through with this one)

8 shakes Tabasco

cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)

fried onions, to garnish (optional)

1. Season chicken with salt, pepper, and paprika.  Dredge in a dish or put flour in a paper bag to toss with chicken until lightly coated.

2.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add chicken to pan and cook just until browned.  Remove from pan and set aside.

3.  Add onions to hot skillet and saute about 4 minutes until starting to brown.  Add mushrooms, and saute another 2 minutes.  When mushrooms are softened, add green beans and mix just to heat.

4. Pour all remaining ingredients into the pan and stir to mix evenly.  Heat for 2-3 minutes over medium, then lower heat and cook uncovered, stirring frequently, for another 3-5 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

5. (Optional) Top each serving with shredded cheddar and garnish with fried onions.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: South by Far East(SXFE) Lineup Announced

Music.  It makes the world go round.  It’s the voice of a culture that echoes for generations.  It can encapsulate a moment in a way we could only dream of articulating.  Subtle riffs to make our worries go away, and heavy timpani to get us fired up.  For me, music is as primal as food and water.  

Like cooking, music draws from a myriad of sources for inspiration.  It is an avenue for the voices of suppression, and it is a lion rejoicing in a victory.  Anything can inspire, be it a python satchel or the writing on the wall. For me, more often than not, I find my inspiration in a bass line.  Whether the music guides me to the dish, or the dish dictates the music, the two are symbiotic.

Currently suffering through a dry spell as far as live music is concerned, I’ve had to get creative to fill the void. Whether I’m crooning to the Stones between bites of Shepard’s pie or it’s meatballs with a side of Sinatra, it helps alleviate the pain.  Nothing quite beats a session at Red Rocks under the stars, but it proves distracting.

My day gig entails hours of mandated presence in front of a dimly lit computer screen.  At times this leads to an existential crisis, and at others it leaves me to sift through the lineup of yet another musical event from which I’ll be excluded.  In recent times, this means I’ve been perusing the endless list of performers at Austin, Texas’ annual South by South West(SXSW) Festival. 

I’ve never been to Austin and I’ve never been to Texas.  For a while, I only knew Texans as a breed that would descend upon the slopes of Colorado in springtime like locusts.  Donning ten gallon hats, ski poles tucked towards the sky, and emitting a broken record of “Yips” and “Yee-haws” while careening at high speeds down the mountain, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them.  

I’ve come to learn a good bit about the city of Austin, and my curiosity has been sparked.  It’s the birthplace of my one true love, Whole Foods (an amazing gourmet/organic food market), and a city slogan is “Keep Austin Weird.” It supposedly has a thriving music scene, and a laid-back ambiance to rival that of Boulder.   Also lying in close proximity to our neighbors to the South, I can only assume the city has a healthy presence of Tex-Mex culinary delights. 

The lineup

With all this, I was left inspired, still in Korea, and with cans of black beans and sweet corn at my disposal.  What I came up with is a taco/fajita filling of sorts.  It struck all the right chords when paired with a flour tortilla and some streaming Grace Potter. 

The dish is given a Korean flair by the addition of Korean chiles, fire roasted over a tiny apartment hot-plate.  Not to worry, the propane essence dissipates in the finished dish and they add just the right amount of kick.  If you can stand it, I think this dish was even better the next day, but either way it’s an easy one-pot meal. 

"Fire" roasted

South by Far East(SXFE) Chicken

Serves 4-6

Tex-Mex vibes

5 large green chiles, sliced lengthwise and deveined

1 Tbsp olive oil

3 chicken breasts, sliced in half lengthwise

1 large onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 bell pepper, diced

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp chile powder

1 can diced tomatoes

3/4 can black beans

1/2 can sweet corn

1 chicken bouillon cube, dissolved in 1 C. water

salt and pepper, to taste

tortillas or nacho chips, to serve

1.  To roast the chiles, I like to first cut off the stem and slice down the center to devein.  I find this method easier than leaving all the cleaning to the end.  Next, over a medium-high flame on a gas range, roast the chiles skin-side down until the skins have become almost entirely black.  Remove the chile from the flame and transfer immediately to a paper or plastic bag.  Twist the bag closed to allow the steam to loosen the skins.  When the chiles have cooled, easily scrape off the charred skins with your fingers.  Dice the chiles and set aside.

Flavor bass

2. Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper, then transfer to the hot pan.  Brown the chicken and set aside. 

3.  Lower the heat and saute onion and garlic until beginning to turn golden, about 4-5 minutes. Add bell pepper and diced chiles, saute another 2-3 minutes.   

A nice golden color

4.  Add spices to onion mixture, and stir to mix.  Next, return the chicken to the pan and add all remaining ingredients.  Allow the mixture to come to a boil, then cover and simmer about 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  Remove the chicken, shred, and return to mixture.  Simmer uncovered another 5 minutes to allow to thicken. 

5.  Serve with flour tortillas or nacho chips.  Tip: Instead of heating my tortillas in the microwave, I like to throw them on the stove over the open flame for a more authentic flavor.  Heat for a few seconds, and when the tortilla begins to bubble, flip and repeat.  Serve immediately. 

Buen provecho

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Underage Cake-ing

It was a day that would forever change the course of history.

A few years back, I arrived home for my yearly visit.   The Mountain Standard to Eastern Standard time change kindly put my flight in around midnight. My parents’ smiles gleamed as I exited the airport tram, and I was quickly escorted home to devour the contents of a fully stocked fridge.  After eating cold pizza and finishing off the mashed potatoes, I put my fork down to rest.  I’d about had enough when my Dad perked up with excitement.  He could have just as soon suggested we go down to the barnyard and feed the pigs before I would have seen this one coming.

In my youth, my mother had spearheaded a movement which isolated my grandmother and I.  Cast off to a corner with our double chocolate cupcakes and our triple fudge sundaes, she would incessantly state the need to maintain a balanced diet. So what if chocolate was the axis of our diets?

My father on the other hand was a different story.  Always watching his cholesterol, he seemed to stick to his guns when it came to by-passing dessert.  All the way through his third helping of frozen yogurt, he would stick to his guns. His idea of a balanced diet was doubling the quantity to even out the losses of fat-free.

With one parent touting everything in moderation and the other sneaking sugar-free snack cakes, you may understand why I had resigned myself to lonely late-night sessions with a tube of uncooked cookie dough.  Just me, the moonlight, and a peaceful lack of judgement.

With this is mind, you can imagine my surprise when my father looked towards my mother and she unveiled the next course.  It was then that I first laid eyes on it.  The seductive bundt-cake curves, the rich and glistening texture.  There it stood.  The Kahlua Cake. 

Before this moment, cakes had been reserved for birthdays and extra-special celebrations. This baby was a game changer. All of a sudden, every occasion was an excuse!  Daughter home from college? Kahlua cake.  Housewarming for the neighbors? Kahlua cake.  Lawn mower started on the first try?  Kahlua cake. This cake throws all morals out the window. 

Last week we were all graced with the addition of one extra day in the month of February.  Besides the opportunity this provides to procrastinate your taxes a little bit longer, a leap year also means an actual birthday for one of my closest friends.  Seeing as her official day only comes around once every 4 years, we thought she deserved the best.  I decided to recreate the Kahlua cake for the occasion, Korean style. 

The original recipe starts with German chocolate cake mix and instant chocolate pudding, so this was going to be a bit of a challenge.  Match the lack of ingredients with the rarity of a bundt pan, and I was shaking in my boots.  What had I done?  How could I make anything to hold a candle to the one and only?  I talked myself off the ledge, tightened my apron and reached for my whisk. This was going to happen.

GMB: Genetically Modified Batter

Everything starts with a chocolate cake.  I did some research and found a promising recipe.  The one I chose relies on beating margarine with the sugar to begin rather than the more traditional butter.  Knowing the amount of additives that go into the gooey yellow stuff,  I was a little reluctant.  On second thought,  it might work.  Nobody likes to gamble on a dry finished product.  Surely in this day and age scientists have perfected the compounds necessary to ensure a moist outcome.  A little creepy, but I decided to embrace it.

I also knew that a pecan topping was indispensable.  I sought some out at Home Plus and sprinkled them in the bottom of the 8-inch pan before filling it with batter.  We were looking good. 

An ample sprinkling

The final piece of the puzzle was the finishing glaze.  Butter, sugar and Kahlua [soju] are simmered together and poured right over top of that sucker.  As I’ve always said, butter makes it better.  Match that butter with a bit of Kahlua and I’ll just  let your imagination run wild. 

Oozing appeal

Normally, 7th birthdays are reserved for Barbie dolls and princess-themed parties.  While tiaras are age-appropriate across the board, this cake might only be warmly received by one with their 7th birthday falling on a leap-year.  Since I know you’re toying with the idea,  you might as well just go ahead and black list this cake from your niece’s party.  Showing up with a booze soaked masterpiece might not fly with Auntie Miranda (even though Uncle Lenny would be singing your praises).  Just sayin, because if your impression’s anything like mine, you’ll be digging for excuses.

Happy 7th!

The Next Best Kahlua Cake

Recipe adapted from Best Moist Chocolate Cake from allrecipes.com

1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup margarine

3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons white sugar

1 egg

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup milk

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

—————-

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 stick butter

1/8 cup water

1/4 cup Kahlua [soju]

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour an 8- inch cake pan. Sprinkle pecans on bottom of pan. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk, mixing just until incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  4. While the cake bakes, prepare the topping.  Boil butter, sugar and water in a sauce pan for about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in Kahlua.  While cake is still hot, pour mixture over the top and allow to absorb.  Try to resist about 20 minutes, then enjoy.

Note: I have found that this cake freezes extremely well.  It works great to freeze the whole cake, or if you’re a chocoholic like me, divide it up into sections, wrap in waxed paper and foil, then freeze.  Each time your craving strikes just zap a piece (or two) in the microwave for about 30 seconds.

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