30 April 2012

Carrot and white bean soup

carrot and white bean soup with cilantro and sambal oelek

This is one of those standard meals at our house, one that's super easy and delicious and not really notable...until you start eating it. Why would I need to take pictures of carrot and white bean soup? We make carrot and white bean soup over and over! It's totally normal! AND YET. Both John and I started eating and couldn't stop, and I was super excited to see what we had a good three servings left over to freeze for later.

What made this so good? Well, I think one element was definitely the great farmer's market carrots. These sweet spring babies are a far cry from anything you'd find languishing in the grocery store produce department. What else? I had soaked and boiled the beans from dry a week or so ago, and had thrown them in the freezer for applications exactly like this one. I used a good farmer's market onion. I made vegetable broth from scratch. I deglazed the pan with dry vermouth. And I ate my serving with a bunch of greek yogurt, sambal oelek, and chopped cilantro stirred in, although John had his plain. Anything else?

carrot and white bean soup with cilantro and sambal oelek

Carrot and white bean soup.

butter/olive oil
an onion
a couple cloves garlic
two stalks celery
six big carrots
salt, pepper, oregano, marjoram, red pepper flake
dry vermouth
about 2 cups cooked white beans
3 cups veg or bean broth
an immersion blender
garnish: plain yogurt, cilantro, sambal oelek/other hot pepper sauce

If you don't have homemade broth, put some on to cook first. Just fill a pan with a selection of vegetable odds and ends, cover with water, bring to a boil, and let simmer for about fifteen minutes while you're doing the actual soup prep. Drain out the veg before you use the broth in your soup. Easy.

Start by chopping up your onion and garlic and softening them in olive oil or butter over medium heat. I used a big chunk of butter and just a little oil to raise the smoke point. While those are softening, finely dice a couple ribs of celery. Add them to the pan as you finish chopping. Then scrub all your carrots under the faucet, trim them, and dice them up. Add those to the pot as well. Season with salt, pepper, oregano, marjoram and red pepper flake to your taste. You may want to overseason a bit since the white beans will provide one big neutral palette later.

Stir everything up and let cook for a good five minutes. Then add maybe half a cup of dry vermouth, stir, and deglaze any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Bring this mixture up to a simmer before you add the beans and broth.

Since I had precooked beans frozen in a block of broth, I just tossed the entire thing into the pot and let it melt. If you're using canned white beans, drain them before adding them, and just use all vegetable broth. I poured maybe two or three cups of my hot, freshly made veg broth over the top of the bean block to speed up this process (and to have enough liquid to make soup, of course). Bring the entire shebang to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, and let cook for maybe five to ten minutes, or until everything is cooked through and the ratio of liquids to solids is appropriate to your tastes.

carrot and white bean soup with cilantro and sambal oelek

Now take the pot off the heat, give it a minute or two to cool, and puree it with an immersion blender. You can, of course, eat your soup unblended if you prefer; we just like thick pureed soups, and the beans give this one an excellent smooth texture.

At this point you can put the pan back on the heat to reduce and thicken a bit more, or you can just go ahead and eat it.

carrot and white bean soup with cilantro and sambal oelek

The finished product is super-carroty, with thickness and protein from the beans--a full meal in a bowl. It's great by itself with just a little sprinkle of pepper or chopped green onions. However, I think it's even better with a big spoonful of plain yogurt, a handful of chopped cilantro leaves, and spice to taste. I used a small spoonful of sambal oelek; you can use whatever you want.

Eat by itself, or with a hunk of sourdough, green salad, or tasty sandwich of your choice. Yay, soup!

27 April 2012

How to make paneer

So, cheesemaking. It's much easier than you think, and the results are well worth the whole ten minutes of active time they take.

Since Indian is one of the top cuisines we want to learn to cook, I decided to make paneer. Along with queso fresco, paneer is one of the simplest cheeses you can make. Fresh, uncured cheeses like these just take a little stovetop action and a little draining, and you're set. Or actually the cheese is set. Or both.

Cheesecloth was my main challenge, as I couldn't find it in any of the smaller downtown grocery stores I usually shop at. So I asked around and confirmed that cheesecloth is generally available as part of the spread of cooking equipment in a standard grocery store. It's kind of sad that I had to do that, though. Why isn't everybody just making cheese and in possession of packages of cheesecloth on a regular basis? I guess I will be now, though.


half gallon whole milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
salt to taste
large heavy pan
kitchen twine
cutting boards & weight

Deposit your milk in your pan and put it over medium heat. Heat slowly so as not to scorch, stirring occasionally, until the milk just barely comes to the boil. Then turn off the heat and pour in your lemon juice. Stir to mix. Your milk will start separating, coagulating into curds floating in whey. Congratulations! You have produced cheese!

Now that you have your cheese, you need to drain it. To do this, line a sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth and pour the curds and whey through it. Do this over another large pot if you want to use the whey for some other application.

I recommend using a bigger piece of cheesecloth than you think you need. Mine was just barely big enough to wrap around the finished ball of paneer. This meant that tying it up was a little difficult, and also that the cheese inside didn't turn out round; instead, the extra pressure of taut cheesecloth on each side made it prone to cracking in half. Avoid this if you can.

Next, pick up the edges of the cheesecloth and gather them at the top to contain your paneer. Run the ball of paneer under cold tap water, squeezing gently to work out all the remnants of lemon juice. Then tie the bundle up with kitchen twine, making a loop at the top. Hang the finished package over your kitchen faucet (or somewhere else appropriate) and let it drain for an hour or so.

After your paneer is drained, you need to press it. If you've ever pressed tofu, you know exactly what to do here. Remove your cheesecloth, slightly flatten the paneer into a reasonable patty, put it between two cutting boards, and weigh it down with a bowl of water or your choice of other weight. It's probably a good idea to put a towel or something under one end of the bottom cutting board, so the liquid you press out can run off. Give it at least an hour or so to compress.

Your paneer is now ready for whatever application you desire.

What do you make with paneer? Indian food is the obvious answer. I used this batch to make butter paneer masala from Manjula's recipe. While this tasted great, the cheese was a bit too crumbly to deep-fry with real success. In the future, I may go for a more thoroughly formed paneer. An actual tofu press lined with muslin or cheesecloth would not be a bad idea, for instance. I don't make my own tofu, so I don't have one (yet), but maybe you do! It isn't a single-purpose tool after all!

In conclusion, you just made cheese! Congratulations! Don't you feel accomplished?

25 April 2012

Huevos rancheros

huevos rancheros

Making huevos rancheros at home is something of an endeavor. On the surface the process seems pretty simple--we all know how to make a sauce, warm up tortillas, and fry eggs--but the nature of the ingredients means that timing and order is more important than it may seem. Mise en place is actually necessary to ensure that you're eating your eggs as close to hot off the pan as possible.

Huevos rancheros

Game plan:
- Make sauce
- Prep all garnish & add-ons
- Warm tortillas
- Stage everything
- Fry eggs
- Final assembly

For ranchero sauce, chop up an onion, a couple cloves of garlic, and a hot pepper (or more) of your preference. Soften these in a little olive oil in a saute pan or saucepan. Chop up some green and red pepper and throw them in too if you so desire. Season with cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper, and let cook on medium, stirring occasionally, until everything is wilted into a lovely mix of aromatic vegetables. Add tomato puree (or whatever form of tomatoes you have around), stir, and bring to a simmer. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reduces to your preferred thickness. I like to make ranchero sauce fairly thick, so there are no issues with wateriness on the plate. Sounds good?

When you reach this point, put your pan on the lowest heat and let simmer very slowly while you make everything else. The sauce can keep warm on the back burner for a good half-hour; just add a trickle of water if too much liquid burns off.

While your sauce simmers, prepare everything else but the eggs. This means two main things: garnish and tortillas. (John wanted refried beans too, so we warmed those up, but I think they're unnecessary for a plate of good huevos.)

ranchero sauce and refried beans

What garnish do you want on your huevos? Cilantro, green onion, avocado, tomato, lime wedges? Chop these up and put them in easily accessible piles. Keep the avocado for last, since it will turn brown if left in contact with air for very long. You can also add a squirt of lemon or lime juice to the sliced avocado; this will slow the oxidation, but only a little. I think submerging cut avocado in your choice of salsa works better--it's acidic, precludes contact with oxygen, and you're going to put both on your huevos anyway, right?

Next: tortillas. We warm our corn tortillas directly over the gas burner, flipping roughly every 30 seconds, so they toast and char just a touch. If you aren't into putting food directly on a gas flame, you can warm them on both sides in a frying pan--preferably the one you're planning to use to fry your eggs, so it will be hot and ready. If you aren't using a frying pan for your tortillas, put your presumptive egg pan on another burner and heat it on medium-high while you're singeing the tortillas. You want it ready to use as soon as your tortillas are done. This is obviously one of those things that's much easier if you cook on a restaurant flattop, right?

(If you want to use flour tortillas, it's probably best to put them in a foil packet and stick them in a low oven or toaster oven for ten minutes. Start them while the sauce is reducing instead of afterward.)

When your tortillas are warm, put them on plates and stick them in a very low oven to keep warm. I think it's best to use plates, so you can just whip them out of the oven and deposit the eggs on them as soon as they are ready. Plus, a hot plate will make for a hotter & therefore superior finished product. You could keep the tortillas warm in a foil packet if necessary, though.

Now it is time to fry eggs. You must work quickly from this point on if you want a plate of hot huevos, so have all your eggs, butter, a little water (I use the teapot), the pan lid, potholders, and a spatula, as well as your finished sauce with ladle, garnish, and tortilla-topped plates ready to grab. You should also preferably have coffee or your choice of beverage already served, and forks, knives, trivets, etc. already on the table.

Melt a whack of butter in your hot egg pan; crack in your eggs. Give them about thirty seconds to begin to set. Then pour in about a teaspoon of water (don't measure; who cares?), give the pan a little shake to let the instantly sizzling water get under the eggs' edges, and IMMEDIATELY slap on the pan lid. If the pan was overly hot--i.e. your eggs' edges started browning--turn the heat down as well. The steam trapped in the pan will cook the top of the eggs in about a minute, depending on how you like your eggs and how hot your burners get.

When your eggs are done, it's time for immediate assembly. Put on a potholder and grab a hot plate out of the oven. Pour a couple spoonfuls of sauce over the tortillas, top with egg(s), add a little more sauce, and sprinkle on garnish. Serve instantly, preferably on a towel or heatproof trivet, and make sure to warm people about the hot plates. Repeat with the rest of your plates. Do NOT try to apportion all the plates before you serve--do them one at a time and get them to the table ASAP. Tell people to start immediately, whether or not you're still at the stove.

Now eat your plate of hot and perfect huevos in good health and good conscience.

23 April 2012

Salatka is delicious

Cottage cheese is one of those foods people either love or hate--and most people seem to hate it. I, on the other hand, am firmly in the love camp. Why not? It's practically an instant breakfast straight out of the fridge. Of course, sometimes you want something just a touch more complete. In this spirit, I present salatka.

"Salatka" is just the Polish word for "salad." It's not a typical salad based on greens or vegetables, however. Instead, salatka is based on cottage cheese. You heard me.

My friend Ursula taught me (plus a good half of our peer group) to make salatka during college, as part of a huge occasion dinner with pierogies and nalesniki. I can't say I make a whole lot of pierogies or nalesniki from scratch at this point in time--great though they were--but I do eat salatka.

To make salatka, you tangify cottage cheese with sour cream or another cultured dairy product, mix it with a smattering of chopped radishes or other vegetables, add salt and pepper, and spread the resulting business on hot rye toast or crackers. I suppose you can also just eat a bowl of it, but the toast contrast is so satisfying that I rarely eat it any other way.

The result is simple yet savory and filling--my ideal breakfast or quick lunch. It's also a perfect way to eat the first new radishes poking their heads up in the garden.


cottage cheese
sour cream/plain yogurt/labneh/etc.
green onion/chives
salt, pepper
hot rye toast

This is the easiest stuff ever, and can take pretty much any herb or crispy raw vegetable you want to throw at it. Parsley, finely chopped cucumber, dill--whatever.

Mix a large spoonful or two of cottage cheese with a smaller spoonful of sour cream or yogurt. Finely chop a couple radishes and add them to the mix. If you want an oniony kick, finely chop some green onions or chives and add them to the mix as well. I used chives. Ursula would definitely say that adding green onion is heresy--but it's such delicious heresy. Salt and pepper to taste; I prefer a tiny pinch of salt and plenty of pepper.

Spread the resulting mixture over pieces of hot rye toast. Other kinds of bread are acceptable; cucumber or large radish slices would also be an interesting idea.

Voila! Practically instant savory breakfast is served!

20 April 2012

First fruits

strawberry plants with new strawberries

Look what's growing in our backyard! Tiny strawberries!

I find the use of strawberries as landscaping in California pretty strange, but I'm definitely fine with the actual berries. I know you're all shocked to hear it.

baby plums on the tree

Baby plums! The tree is covered with them. I didn't realize they were this far along until a few fell into the main garden bed. Now I am getting all excited about the future harvest.

strawberry plants with new strawberries

This is just about all the strawberries we're going to get, so I'm sure we'll eat them as soon as we pick them. The plums are a different story. What should I do with all of them? Jam is probable, and I wouldn't be surprised if a cake emerged from the kitchen at least once this June, but otherwise, I'm not sure. What else should I plan to make?

18 April 2012

Eggs Jeannette with sugar snap pea and radish salad

eggs Jeannette with sugar snap pea and radish salad

We've been watching Jacques Pepin's newest PBS show for the past few months, getting more and more excited about making all the delicious things.

Jacques Pepin is far more worth watching than practically any other chef currently on the air. He is very clearly invested in not just cooking, but teaching people how to cook. His food is simple and changes with what he has on hand, and he lets his audience know that that's fine. In fact, that's one of his signature lines. The whole message is that food and cooking should not be this overly hyped, worrisome, and fetishized thing, with methods requiring such terms as "best" and "perfect," but a normal, joyful activity you do every day with your family. Damn straight.

So for dinner I made Eggs Jeannette. These are more or less a variation on deviled eggs: hard-boiled eggs stuffed with a yolk-based mixture. However, the comparison fades when you whack all the stuffed eggs into a pan of hot oil and sear them off until the filling has turned brown. You finish by enveloping the eggs in a rich dijon and egg yolk vinaigrette.

I made these pretty much as-is from the show tie-in cookbook, Essential Pepin. The main thing I changed was to use yogurt instead of milk to thin and enrich the filling (see the aforementioned problem with milk dying a swift and glorious death in our refrigerator).

Jacques Pepin's Eggs Jeannette

Eggs Jeannette

4 eggs
plain yogurt or milk
a couple garlic cloves
salt, pepper
dijon mustard
red wine vinegar
olive oil
chives or parsley for garnish

Start by hard-boiling four eggs. We thought this was plenty for the two of us as a main course; you can clearly make more if you want to. It's also fine to boil the eggs a day or two in advance. They're just hard-boiled eggs. What's the worst that could happen?

Everyone has their own method of hard-boiling eggs. Mine goes like this: put your eggs in an adequate saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring the whole business to a boil. When the water boils, reduce the heat to a fast simmer (lid on) and start timing. Cook for eight minutes before immediately removing the pan from the heat. Pour out the hot water and run the entire pan under cold water--outside as well as inside--to stop any residual heat conduction and entirely halt the cooking process. Then fill the pan--eggs still inside--2/3 with cold water, add a couple handfuls of ice cubes, and let the eggs cool. This produces perfectly done hard-boiled eggs, with a beautifully set white and a yolk with a bare dimple of dampness at the center, every time.

To assemble the eggs, cut each one in half and gently remove the hardened yolks, being careful not to rip the whites. Mix the yolks with chopped parsley, finely minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste, as well as a tablespoon or two of yogurt or milk. You can totally play this by ear with no problem. If you want to chop and add other vegetables to the yolk mix, that's obviously a good idea--I might try finely chopped mushrooms or spinach in the future.

Fill each egg half with a spoonful of yolk mixture, leveled off so it's flush with the white, and set aside. You should have a couple spoonfuls of yolk mixture left over. Using a fork, mix this with a spoonful of dijon mustard, another spoonful of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, a little water, and about 1/4 cup olive oil to make a creamy egg-based vinaigrette.

Heat a frying pan on medium-high and swiftly sear your eggs in a little oil, flat side down, until the yolk mixture has just turned golden brown around the edges. This should take maybe two minutes, depending on your stove. Deposit eggs on plates, add a generous amount of dressing--a traditional French chef would "nap" the eggs by serving them cut side down and totally covering them with sauce--and garnish as desired. Voila!

Obviously, a dish of eggs with an egg-based vinaigrette requires a highly contrasting fresh vegetable of some kind. I had some of the first sugar snap peas of the year plus a bunch of radishes. Clearly it was time for a raw pea and radish salad.

sugar snap pea and radish salad

Sugar snap pea and radish salad

sugar snap peas
lemon zest and juice
red wine vinegar
salt, pepper
olive oil

Wash your peas and radishes. The proportion here is up to you; I used about two or three times the volume of peas as radishes.

To prep the peas, snap the stem ends and pull them down across the shorter side of the pod to string. This lets you avoid any stringy fibrous business in your teeth later on. Then cut the pea pods into two or three reasonably sized pieces. Top and tail your radishes and cut them into the thinnest possible slices. If you want to add any other vegetables, go ahead and wash and chop them too. Put all your vegetables into a reasonably sized bowl.

Next, make your dressing. I just mixed up a standard red wine vinaigrette with fresh lemon juice and zest. So. Start by peeling a strip or two of zest off a quarter of a lemon and cutting it into thin julienne. Then, in a small bowl or measuring cup, mix the lemon's juice and its zest, a teaspoon of red wine vinegar, several good grinds of salt and pepper, and a handful of chopped chives. Add about 1/4 cup of olive oil in a thin stream while mixing the whole business with your fork. Taste and correct any seasonings.

sugar snap pea and radish salad

Toss your vegetables with as much dressing as you like, and serve.

While we just ate our salad as-is, it would be really great on a bed of greens. In fact, everything in this meal would be great on a bed of greens. Spinach, arugula, or a mesclun mix would all be good combinations.

Note the multiple vinaigrettes in one meal. This may seem ridiculous on first glance, but we didn't think so. In fact, since the two dressings were so different--one heavy, mustardy, and eggy, and the other light and lemony--they actually balanced each other out pretty well. Of course, the massive amount of fresh raw vegetables didn't hurt either.

16 April 2012

Spring garden: homemade starter pots

toilet paper tube seed starter pots

I don't know about you, but I'm usually at a loss as to where to start new vegetable seedlings every year. In theory, I should have a plentiful collection of little plastic nursery pots; in reality, I have about three or four, and they're currently occupied with baby spider plants. I'm not really the type to go out and buy a couple flats of little pots, especially as I would have to find somewhere to store them after everything went in the ground. I knew it was possible to make DIY starter pots out of newspaper--gardening catalogs sell wooden forms for just this purpose. But I didn't really want to spend money to make my own pots either. The internet to the rescue!

My father-in-law had let me know about a newspaper pot how-to a few months back. The only real problem with this is that we don't usually have any newspaper in the house. I could go collect the local free papers (and I still might), but those have lots of colored ink to watch out for. Besides, I'm lazy. So I poked around some more until I found Minnesota Locavore's toilet paper roll pots. Now there is an idea I can get behind. Why not eliminate the paper-rolling entirely?

To make these starter pots, you need a bunch of empty toilet paper rolls and a pair of scissors that work ok on cardboard. That's it. You could even get away without the scissors if you were so inclined. That would be annoying, though, so I don't recommend it.

toilet paper tube seed starter pots

To make the pots, start by cutting all your toilet paper rolls in half.

Cut four equally spaced 3/4-inch snips around the perimeter of one half of a piece of tube. I found it easiest to flatten the tube, make one cut through both layers in the middle, and then cut along the folds at each side. You have now created four flaps of cardboard.

Reshape the tube (if needed) and bend each flap toward the middle. Overlap them so they form a pinwheel shape and hold themselves closed. You may need to crease the flaps downward for further security; play around and see what works best for you.

toilet paper tube seed starter pots

Repeat this for all the rest of your pieces of tube. Voila! Homemade seed starter pots!

Now you can fill them with potting soil, add seeds, water them, and release them into the wild--in my case, that's the kitchen windowsill. When your seedlings have grown enough to transplant, just pop the entire pot in the ground. The paper will disintegrate as the plant grows.

toilet paper tube seed starter pots

Clearly, toilet paper roll pots have a few limitations. First, you obviously need to have a lot of toilet paper or paper towel rolls lying around. If you're only starting to collect now--at the most crucial time to get seeds started and in the ground--the delay could be problematic. Pot size could also be an issue for larger seedlings. I don't think I would want to start zucchini or winter squash, for instance, in one of these tiny little dudes. You could make the pots deeper by simply not cutting the roll in half before you create the bottom closure, but again, this means you have fewer supplies and therefore fewer pots.

I think using a combination of methods would probably be the best solution here. Make as many toilet paper roll pots as you can, and use them to start seeds that you need to get in the ground ASAP. Then grab a bunch of newspapers and use standard 16-oz cans to make bigger pots, which you can use for those plants that need a month or so to grow before transplanting outside. This way the earlier spring plants won't have a chance to outgrow their little pots before you get them into the garden, and the warmer-weather plants will have a chance to grow a bit and get strong before you submit them to the harsh gales of the outdoors.

toilet paper tube seed starter pots

Of course, I personally planted all my initial seeds in the toilet roll pots because of the aforementioned lack of newspaper. That's ok, though! We live in CA, where there is definitely never any danger of frost in April, and the harvest doesn't end until early November, if then. We have plenty of time.

14 April 2012

Dal makhani and homemade naan

dal makhani

We've been wanting to get better at cooking Indian food for ages. In fact, we want to get better at cooking practically every cuisine I can think of--Thai definitely comes to mind, as does Cambodian, Japanese, and Ethiopian--but Indian is at the top of the list. It's one of the most comforting and homey cuisines ever, it's predominantly vegetarian, and the ingredients are mostly cheap and easy to find in stores. We should clearly be able to make lots of Indian food at home instead of relying on restaurants (awesome as our local Indian food is).

So what's at the top of the list? Dal. Specifically, dal makhani.

Dal is a bean or lentil-based soup that nearly all of India seems to make and eat. It gets a big splash of its flavor from the last-minute addition of a "chonk," or spiced oil. The term "chonk" comes from the sound the oil makes when it hits the dal. Needless to say, if you are a word dork like me, this is super exciting.

I decided to follow this recipe from Manjula's Kitchen--clearly one of the best possible Indian foodblogs out there. Manjula is great! It's like cooking with my grandma, except that neither of my grandmas knew how to cook Indian food (and in one case practically didn't know how to cook at all--so different from the typical grandma image). But we can talk about my grandma's pumpkin chiffon pie and other traditional mid-American cooking some other time. Right now it's time for plenty of pulses.

I did a couple things differently from the recipe. For one thing, I realized midway through chopping up a green bell pepper that "green pepper" actually meant "green chile"; it's a good thing I had a jalapeƱo in the fridge. I'll probably go for a serrano in the future. Other than that, I used split mung dal instead of whole. I also didn't have any mango powder (for some reason this is not that easy to find in all the Asian grocery stores downtown--who knew?), and I had ground cumin instead of whole seeds. And we don't have a pressure cooker for the moment, so I boiled my dal and kidney beans for a longer time in an ordinary pot. But for the most part, I followed the instructions as closely as possible with what I had on hand. We can experiment later, right? You know--once I have some idea what I'm doing with Indian food.

dal makhani

Dal does not photograph well. It definitely falls into "looks a mess; is delicious" territory. But hey--who cares? It tastes exceptional, and that's the most important criterion.

You can clearly eat dal by itself, with another Indian curry or salad, or with a bunch of rice. I had a quart of yogurt and a bag of flour, so I decided to make naan. If you've never had naan, it's a traditional grilled flatbread with yogurt in the dough. I've been following this very loose recipe for years.

homemade naan bread

Naan is much easier and more forgiving than you might expect. Just mix up the ingredients, knead them swiftly in the bowl, roll out the dough, and throw each piece in a nonstick pan to cook. I find that white flour makes the most tender, bouncy naan, but you can sub in some wheat flour for part of the white. I wouldn't do all whole wheat unless you have access to some pastry flour.

I divided my dough into two to make fairly large naan, but I think we'll go for three or four smaller naan breads in the future. That way they'll fit into my pan much more easily.

homemade naan bread

Timing was a minor challenge at the end of cooking, as both the chonk and the naan needed to be on quite high heat and under close scrutiny simultaneously. The chonk was the biggest challenge, since hot oil with quickly cooked spices can obviously present some safety issues. If you're learning how to make either naan or dal for the first time, I'd recommend making them individually, or working with another person.

However! This was not a big issue for us. The naan and dal both turned out perfectly. We ate it all in very short order.

Do you guys have a favorite site for learning to cook a specific cuisine?

13 April 2012

A selection of sandwiches

Homemade sourdough (thanks to Veronica) with dijon mustard, parsley, green and red pepper, mushrooms, red onion, and gouda, baked in the toaster oven.

Tempeh marinated in soy sauce, olive oil, barbecue sauce components (molasses, lemon slices, ketchup, dijon, etc), garlic, ginger, and lots of hot sauce and sriracha, then seared and layered with plenty of lettuce, tomato, and red onion on toasted sunflower & flaxseed bread.

Grilled mozzarella and mushrooms with dijon on whole wheat, with a tiny baby clementine.

Yes, I do have three partial loaves of bread at home right now. Why do you ask?

10 April 2012

Asparagus and spinach quiche

asparagus and spinach quiche

We definitely had eggs on the brain for spring fertility festival weekend. Not hard-boiled and dyed eggs, though--cracked, beaten, seasoned, mixed with cream, and poured in a tart shell. For extra spring fertility goodness, I stuffed in all the new asparagus and spinach in the crisper. That's right; I made quiche.

I got my filling inspiration from this crustless quiche from Dana's Food For Thought. I knew I'd have to use a crust, though, since my tin has a removable bottom. Clearly, we couldn't have raw custard running all over the oven, so I looked around and came up with this quick quiche crust recipe.

I thrifted our tart tin a couple months ago, but for some reason we hadn't used it until now. In all seriousness, I have kind of a kitchenware thrifting obsession, which does not fit in very well at all with our otherwise minimal aesthetic. (Ok, there are also a million books, but still.) I try to stay realistic and only buy what we actually need. But this was a real excellent French tart tin with the matching bottom actually still in it! Super exciting. Tarts! Pastries! Quiche!

Our tin isn't a standard size--the diameter is about 8 inches--but that didn't affect the finished product much at all. I just poured my extra eggs and vegetables into a highly buttered muffin tin and baked a couple of tiny extra quiches to freeze.

asparagus and spinach quiche

Asparagus and spinach quiche

piecrust of your choice (to fit standard tin or pie pan)
4 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
parmesan cheese
salt, pepper
fresh parsley
2/3 bunch of asparagus
olive oil/butter
a shallot
2 cloves garlic
a little red onion
a couple big handfuls of fresh spinach

Start by making your crust, so it's all ready for your filling later. I followed the aforementioned crust recipe just about to the letter, including not blind baking it in advance. This was the only problem with our finished product--underdone crust in the middle. You can avoid this pretty easily. Just whip up your crust recipe of choice, press it into your tart tin or pie pan, prick it all over with a fork, maybe weight it down with a handful of dried beans, and bake it for about five to eight minutes at 400F/200C. You can let this bake while you prep the vegetables and eggs, and set it aside (removing the pie weights) until you're ready to use it. This way your crust will cook through and your oven will be all preheated for the actual quiche baking later.

For the egg mixture, crack four eggs into a mixing bowl and beat them with a fork. When they're relatively smooth and amalgamated, add in half a cup of cream, a cloud of grated parmesan, salt and pepper to taste, and a handful of chopped parsley, and mix again. You can use other dairy besides heavy cream if you prefer; I just happened to have some lying around and needed to use it up. However, it's worth noting that a higher fat content will produce a more custardy and less just eggy quiche filling.

Set the egg mixture aside while you prep the vegetables. I used one wide saute pan to do two separate veg preps. First, fill your pan with about an inch of water and put it on high heat. While you're waiting, wash and trim your asparagus. When the water boils, add the asparagus to the pan and blanch for about a minute and a half to two minutes. Then immediately take out the asparagus, shock it in cold water to stop the cooking, and set it aside.

Dump the water out of your pan, put it back on medium heat, and add a little butter or olive oil. Add a finely chopped shallot, a couple cloves of garlic, and maybe some red onion if you have it lying around. (I'd been trying to use up half a red onion for days, so I just threw it in.) Let these soften together while you wash, destem, and chop up your spinach. Then add the spinach to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until it's entirely wilted. This should take maybe two minutes.

asparagus and spinach quiche

All your quiche components are ready--now it's time to combine and bake. Start by spreading your spinach and onion mixture into the crust. Pour your eggs over it, making sure to distribute evenly. Fill to just below the top of the crust, leaving maybe 1/4 inch of clearance so you won't have to worry about overflow later. Then take your asparagus spears and arrange them across the top of the quiche. If you want to make a pattern or whatever, go nuts; I just tried to pack mine in densely for plenty of asparagus goodness. Finish with a thin layer of grated cheese. If you have leftover vegetables and egg, go ahead and make some little extra quiches in a muffin tin or what have you.

Put your quiche on a cookie sheet and bake at 400F/200C for about 25 to 30 minutes, rotating halfway through cooking if necessary. Little quiches will take less time, so keep an eye on them.

asparagus and spinach quiche

When your quiche puffs up and turns an even golden brown on top, take it out and check it for doneness. You can just do the standard cake trick and test the center with a toothpick; if the toothpick comes out clean, your quiche is done. Another way to check is to give the tin a quick shake and see if it jiggles liquidly or just stays still and set. Both methods work pretty well for me.

Let your quiche cool for five minutes or so before you take it out of the tin (assuming you have a tin that allows this) and slice it.

asparagus and spinach quiche

I find that quiche more or less stands alone, but it's always good with a big green salad and a glass of white wine. If you're doing quiche for breakfast, you can always have lots of coffee or tea with it. Or you can have some cut fruit: strawberries, melon, or mango would be my top choices.

In conclusion, yay quiche! We're definitely going to be eating a lot more of this in the near future, spring fertility festival nonwithstanding.

05 April 2012

Rice cakes with mixed vegetable cream cheese: the anti-bagel

rice cake with vegetable cream cheese homemade schmear

Does anyone else ever have cravings for rice cakes? No? Just me?

Lately we've had a couple weeks in which we were fussy and tired and hungry and didn't want anything at our house, so we went out. We ordered takeout. We went out again. And of course when you do this for more than one or two meals per week you are going to start to feel just awful. I certainly did. So we called an unofficial moratorium on going out to eat and started making an effort to cook and eat more at home. Good so far.

Today I wanted to go to the bagel shop. But why go to the bagel shop when you have half a block of cream cheese, all the vegetables you can eat, and a package of long thin crackery rice cakes at home?

No, rice cakes are not really anything like bagels. They do provide a nice crispy poppy salty base on which to pile a massive amount of cream cheese and vegetables, though.

chopped chard and mixed veg

I chopped up chard, parsley, red onion, red bell pepper, and mushrooms. I mixed them with a whack of cream cheese and a spoonful of yogurt to thin everything down just a touch. Salt; pepper. I spread my homemade schmear onto my rice cakes, threw a little bit of extra parsley and pepper on top, grabbed a banana and a glass of water, and sat down for lunch.

I feel much better.

03 April 2012

Creamy radish greens soup

creamy radish greens soup

No one seems to know it, but radish greens are definitely edible. I let some radishes bolt over the winter, mostly so I could see if they'd actually produce seeds early enough to let me pull the plants and still give something else enough time to grow in their spot. They're finally starting to develop some buds--but in the meantime, they've also produced a massive amount of radish greens. Might as well eat them, right?

Like dandelions and escarole, radish greens get more bitter as they grow. This means that if you have monster radish greens--I certainly do--it's important to address that bitterness, so you don't end up with an inedible finished product.

radish greens

I decided to try combining my radish greens with chard and spinach in a soup. I used bean broth (and a few stray cooked beans) to give the soup some depth, and brightened it up with some lemon juice and zest. Dairy is clearly a good addition, adding creaminess while balancing out the bitter bite of the greens.

The finished soup was fairly thin--almost thin enough to pour into a glass and drink off. It's possible to cook off some of the moisture to thicken the soup, but I wouldn't try this with greens; extended boiling will turn them a sludgy olive color. If you want a thicker soup, you could add some cooked white beans along with your broth, cook a diced potato in the broth before you add the greens, or just stir in a couple spoonfuls of cornstarch slurry at the end.

Since I was just making soup for me, this recipe makes one large or two small servings.

creamy radish greens soup

Creamy radish greens soup

olive oil or butter
bean or vegetable broth
roughly equal amounts of radish greens, chard, and spinach
salt, pepper
plain yogurt or other creamy device of your choice
lemon juice & zest

Soften a chopped shallot and a couple cloves of crushed and minced garlic in olive oil. When they're just beginning to turn golden, add about a cup of bean or vegetable broth. I used frozen bean broth, as usual, so I had to give it an extra few minutes to defrost in the pan. In any case, bring your broth to a boil.

While you're waiting, wash, destem, and roughly chop your greens. I used about six or seven large radish leaves, one huge chard leaf (minus its stem), and two small spinach plants. When the broth is boiling, add your radish greens and chard to the pot. Season with a little salt and pepper, stir it up, and let cook for three to four minutes, or until the greens have just wilted. Add the spinach, stir again, and cook for another minute or two.

When all the greens are wilted, take your pan off the heat. Give your soup a minute to cool down before pureeing it with an immersion blender. Then add a little drizzle of olive oil and a big spoonful of plain yogurt (or crumbled goat cheese, cream cheese, actual cream--whatever you want to use) and puree again.

The immersion blender isn't going to get your soup perfectly smooth, but that's ok. I found that it created a nice suspension of tiny green flecks in a opaque green broth. If you want a smoother soup, process your soup in an actual blender.

creamy radish greens soup

Once your soup is pureed, add a big squeeze of fresh lemon juice and do a final taste check. Add a little more salt or pepper if you need to. Then ladle your soup into a bowl, top with some extra yogurt, pepper, and finely chopped lemon zest, and have at it.

I'd definitely eat this with a bunch of flatbread or garlicky pita chips baked in the toaster oven. This time I just made some rye toast, which was also a good plan. It definitely made a great scraper for the bits of greens stuck to the side of the bowl.