Friday, September 17, 2010

Chicken, Fava Beans and Other Odds and Ends

Over the past few weeks, I've noticed how other food bloggers seem to have at least one entry re-capping their summers. They take a break from food for a day, and share images of sailboats, hammocks and laughing children, a little postcard to themselves and us, to help make the transition into a busy fall schedule less painful. 

But now that it's September, mid September, doing that would be a little like putting on a pair of white pants and drinking a beer at ten in the morning.

So, instead, I would like to look back at all the god awful things I made (and some pretty good things) that didn't make it into this blog. Because while I love to cook, and think I'm not all that bad at it, there are times when Chris looks at me, very tenderly, and says, "you're not going to write about this one are you?" And then lovingly eats what I've put forth. There are also other meals, splendid meals, that I was either too tired and uninspired to write about, didn't photograph well, or both.

Thank you for reading, thank you for your wonderful comments. They help keep me going when the shortcakes dry out, the greens get over cooked and the chicken would rather fling itself out the window than be subject to my Canon Power Shot camera.

No matter how many kitchen disasters you may have, keep cooking because I sure do!

The above photo is of a meal that was quite successful. I marinated the chicken in plain yogurt, paprika, salt and garlic and broiled it until just cooked through. The potato salad was made with cilantro, red onion, celery, lemon juice, dijon mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper. These are so easy to make, and leftovers the next day, superb.

This was probably one of the worst pork chops ever cooked. It was tough and rubbery and what I had hoped would be a sauce, was instead a garlic oil spill. The peas were gently boiled and tossed with butter and chopped mint. I think they were trying to push the pork chop off the plate. The lighting is just unfortunate.

Here's an example of a meal that was almost good. My mother passed on a wonderful recipe for brick pressed chicken which I proceeded to screw up. I couldn't get the chicken done in the middle, the sauce was greasy, and although the skin looks crispy, that's in fact an optical illusion. The fava bean spread on the other hand was wonderful and came from, In the Green Kitchen with Alice Waters and the recipe is from the wonderful David Tanis. 

This was a last minute, I was so hungry I could only growl kind of meal. The zucchini pancakes were from Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking which is a wonderful book with great recipes, but these were a little bland and gummy (I'm sure this was mostly my fault). I have no memory of making mashed potatoes, and I broiled the red peppers in our toaster oven until the skin blackened, and then peeled the skin off before serving. 

Cabbage and potatoes in mustard sauce from Short-Cut Vegan by Lorna Sass is delicious and I'm not sure why I didn't write about it. You chop one cup of leeks, saute in 1tbs. olive oil, add 1 1/2 cups water and stir in 1tbs. dijon mustard (I use about 4tbs.), 2 tsp. vegetable stock powder, and salt. Bring to a boil, then add 3/4 lb. red potatoes cut into 1-inch pieces and boil for 5 minutes. Meanwhile cut 1 head of cabbage into small wedges (remove the core) and add to the potatoes with 1/3 cup water if dry (I also threw in some sliced carrots). Cook until potatoes and cabbage are tender. Add more mustard if needed and pepper to taste. 

This was also delicious and something I threw together last minute with some white rice. Saute a few cloves of garlic in a little olive oil and butter until fragrant, then add sliced mushrooms, sliced zucchini and or squash with a dash of white wine and one or two chopped tomatoes and cook until vegetables are just tender. Season with salt and pepper and some chopped basil, cook a minute longer and serve.

Omelettes are one of the easiest meals ever but I totally overcooked this one. It's hard to regulate the heat in my electric skillet (I know, excuses, excuses) and cooking delicate things like eggs is almost impossible (I will keep trying). Inside is grated gruyere cheese, with chopped chives on top, a lovely combination. A little salad and a glass of wine and you've got dinner.

These shortcakes were HORRIBLE! I won't share where they're from and will instead pledge to find a better recipe and post that. These were dry, flavorless hockey pucks which the strawberries and whipped cream even had a hard time saving. And recently I made a gingerbread cake in my rice cooker (which has a cake setting) that took one and a half hours to bake, tasted like salt licorice, and was both dry and gummy at the same time. I didn't even bother taking a photo. I think I'll stick to my toaster oven when it comes to baking.

And to end, a quote from Beckett :

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Padma Lakshmi's Yellow Velvet Lentil Soup with Cumin and Dried Plums

There has been a lot of hate in the air lately, especially in New York City. 

Intolerance, violence, and protests of a harsh nature, combined with record breaking heat waves have made this a difficult and tense August to say the least. Especially in lower Manhattan, and I think everyone is happy to return to a fall routine and give their air conditioners a rest.

For the past few weeks it has been too hot too cook and I've been making a lot of salads, or simple meals out of rotisserie chickens, some fresh bread and sliced tomatoes or greens sauteed with garlic and olive oil. It is all I've been able to manage. But this Labor Day weekend has brought with it a hint of fall and a craving for soup. And a desire to, well, labor over a meal again.

But what kind of soup?

Soups, like the cuisines they come from, are all good for different needs. There are rich, decadent soups like creamy clam chowder when you want to indulge, celebration soups like delicate homemade tortellini, nourishing soups like chicken noodle and miso, everyday soups like barley and lentil, ramen for winter nights, and sweet and sour for a pick-me-up, and then there are stews, cold soups, fruit soups, purees and the list goes on.

But what to eat when you're in need of some spiritual healing? Maybe you had to work all summer? Your vacation was too brief? Or you had too much time off and are worried about getting back to work? Or maybe you're still looking for a job? Or politics have got you down and it seems like the world grows more divided by the minute.

In times like this, I am drawn to Indian and Middle Eastern Flavors. I want something, cleansing but full of healing spices, meatless, but rich and satisfying, and a soup that is easy to make and tastes even better the day after.

During my last visit to my parents house, I went through the many boxes of my things that used to be the contents of my old apartment and threw half of it out, books, old shampoo bottles, birthday cards, shoes,  yellowed curtains, broken ceramics and all the little odds and ends that once meant something, but now, I no longer cling to. The one box I couldn't wait to open though was my cookbook box. When I packed it two and a half years ago, I thought it would be opened within six months, my books perched on a shelf in our new kitchen. But months went by and they waited patiently until a couple of weeks ago when I stuck a pair of scissors into the packing tape and sliced it open. 

I don't think I ever imagined I'd be cooking in my bathroom, but my cookbooks don't seem to mind and I'm so happy to have these old friends on my shelves again, even if it's not over a four range gas top stove. One cookbook I've barely used and am looking forward to exploring is Tangy, Tart, Hot and Sweet by Padma Lakshmi. Yesterday I made her Yellow Velvet Lentil Soup with Cumin and Dried Plums and it was just what I was craving. Cleansing, spicy, soothing and a perfect way to transition out of the final weeks of flip flops and shorts, into sweaters and boots. Along with a loaf of sprouted bread and her chili honey butter it made a perfect lunch. If I were to make this for dinner, I might add a side of steamed greens like swiss chard, kale or spinach, with some sliced garlic, salt and olive oil for added flavor.

Here's to a spring in your step and a peaceful fall.

Yellow Velvet Lentil Soup with Cumin and Dried Plums
3 cups orange (masoor) lentils, washed well with warm water and drained
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. salt
2 tbs. olive oil (I used coconut oil)
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1 1/2 tbs. minced ginger
2 1/2 tbs. shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
3 plum tomatoes, quartered
2 tsp. curry powder
juice of one lemon
10 dried plums, pitted, chopped to bits (I used prunes and I think golden raisins would be nice too)
1 cup freshly chopped cilantro leaves

Fill a deep stew pot with the lentils, bay leaf, salt, and enough water to cover the ingredients by 1 inch. Simmer on very low heat for 1 hour. (I covered the pot and stirred every now and then adding water as needed). 

Heat the oil in a skillet and add the cumin seeds. After 2 minutes, add the shallots and ginger, and cook until the shallots are glassy. Add the coconut and stir until the coconut is golden brown. Add all the tomatoes and curry powder, and saute on medium heat for about five minutes until the tomatoes start to wilt and lose their shape. (I had to add a few tbs. of water and cover in order to get the tomatoes to break down). When the mixture forms a cohesive paste, add it to the lentils, stirring over low heat until nicely combined. Remove the bay leaf. With an immersion blender, pulverize the lentils so that the whole mixture is roughly blended but not totally liquified.

Remove the soup from the heat and add the lemon juice, chopped plums, and cilantro. Stir and serve hot. Serves 8.

if you want to make this all in one pot like I did, you can cook the shallots, spices and tomatoes in your soup pot first, and then set this paste aside while you cook the lentils. no need to clean out the pot in between steps either.

Chili Honey Butter
8 tbs. unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 tbs. honey
1 tsp. cayenne
pinch of salt

Combine all the ingredients until smooth and well blended. Store in a container in the fridge.

Rice Cooker Greens
To make greens in your rice cooker, slice a few cloves of garlic and throw them in, give a little splash of olive oil, toss a few handfuls of washed greens in, chopped if you like, add a pinch of salt, a few tbs. of water, close and cook until wilted, stirring once. My cooker has a steamer setting which I use but you could turn it to any setting.