Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Drifting East

I've been in the mood for all things Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Persian, and Indian lately. Today my body decided it needed protein, so I made red lentil dal inspired by Mark Bittman, but I made changes. That's what I do.

I like my Indian food with toasty spices, even if it's not the preferred method for cooking a particular dish.

Onion and Spice Mixture
2 tsp butter
1 tbsp whole mustard seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 whole cloves
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 large spring onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
8 ounces red lentils
fresh cilantro for garnish
chopped tomato for garnish

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and stir in spices. Heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add onions and garlic and saute, stirring occasionally, until onions are caramelized, about 10 minutes. Remove half of mixture from pan and reserve.

Add lentils to the saucepan and cover with about 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes, adding more water if dal becomes too thick.

When ready to serve, stir in reserved onion and spice mixture, butter and salt to taste. Garnish with fresh cilantro and chopped tomato.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Summer Persian Cucumbers

Today's stressful and heartbreaking visit to Haymarket to not find cilantro--I had to be consoled.

Gorgeous, fresh, Persian cucumbers. $1.00 got me 15. 15 restaurant-or-higher-quality ones.

I've had Persian cucumbers before. I've had them in every season but summer. Big mistake. I've had summer cucumbers before. Straight from Mrs. B's garden. But not Persian ones.

These have changed my idea of what a cucumber can be. And I already liked every breed of cucumber I've ever had.

I ate four plain.

I have decided I need them in everything. So here's my first odd-esque usage of them. I know it's been done before. This came out of my head, but now that I've already published this post, I seem that my idea is not very original. Whatever.

East Meets West Persian Cucumber Guacamole

3 Persian cucumbers, diced
1 avocado, diced
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 serrano pepper, finely diced
sea salt to taste

Combine all ingredients and devour immediately. I guess you could wait for the flavors to meld, but we're talking guacamole.

Cilantro at the Bat

It seemed there was no cilantro in Boston all week. Not even slimy, rotting, maybe I can salvage 3 or 4 leaves?, undersized bunches. The theme continued last night as I rolled into Whole Foods at 8:30 or so, desperation making me willing to pay an assumed $3.99 for a small quantity. There wasn't any in the store. Not even in the proverbial back. I checked every day this week.

The cilantro I had been growing on my windowsill died. So did a subsequent seeding. And then a subsequent planting of whole plants with roots.

Usually when I can't find an ingredient I adapt. But my very specific and inflexible plans for the fresh tomatillos included in this week's CSA delivery required it.

It wasn't in any supermercados, mercados, or bodegas; it wasn't in Chinatown or in Super 88; It wasn't in Shalimar. Not in Shaw's, Stah Mahkit, or Stop and Shop. Not in Harvest, not in Whole Foods. I was starting to think that I should query the cooks/artists at India Quality. Or ask at Ana's Taqueria.

I knew it had to be somewhere. I even checked the USDA Herb Report this morning to verify that it existed somewhere in the greater Boston area. (Yes, I am that nuts.) So it was definitely being traded across the harbor. Since it's Friday, after physical therapy, I went to Haymarket, the liquidator of what's unsold at the market at week's end to see. Nobody had it. Not one vendor. The herb guy wasn't even there. The other vendors that usually offer herbs were selling sad-looking bunches of rosemary, thyme, and parsley, and okay-looking basil. I started to suspect that the heat had done herbs in for the week.

I was still without cilantro. I shuffled back to Whole Foods for my fifth visit this week. For some reason, the whole walk was punctuated by my thinking, "There is no joy in Mudville. There is no cilantro in Boston."

Today they had it--organic! in large bunches!--for $1.69, a pleasant surprise. I realize that Californians are probably laughing at the price that I think was a steal, but produce is much more expensive on the East Coast, and produce in Boston is more expensive than produce in New York City. Not generally, just is. Local produce too, conventional and organic, industrially farmed and not. (Interestingly enough, the wholesale markets in both cities are owned by the same company, but obviously Boston is a smaller market that is more difficult to access by air, land, sea, and rail than New York, not that it's an excuse for a TWENTY TO FOUR HUNDRED PERCENT difference in prices at the retail level, since wholesale prices aren't that different between the two, but I digress.)

So yeah, I got my cilantro.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Roasted New Potato Salad with Meyer Lemon Rosemary Vinaigrette

So usually I come up with recipes after craving something and viewing 30 recipes online and in print before coming up with something that's a variation on a riff of a combination of elements of anything I saw that mildly interested me.

My small CSA share has included two pounds of new potatoes--red skinned and Yukon gold--every week for the past three weeks and the farmer has informed us shareholders that we should expect to see potatoes just about every week from now until the end of the share distributions in November. Except I only eat potatoes about once a month, if that. I have made a small number of dishes with them so far because I do like potatoes, I just can't eat that many. But since I can expect many, many more, I have started to panic a bit as to how to use them all. These potatoes are delicious and thin-skinned and tiny--each one is just an inch or two in diameter. They're adorable and tempting and they taste incredible. But what could I do with about four pounds of potatoes that I had left after giving some away to a friend?

Luckily this weekend some of my family is getting together at their traditional mountain escape. I feel like I should bring something savory in addition to the sweet cake I made. Hopefully something that uses 4 pounds of potatoes.

I didn't want anything too heavy or anything incorporating mayonnaise or eggs because of the several hour car ride without a cooler.

Also, I can't get enough of the Meyer lemons I bought this week. They're incredible in everything. I even ate one as if it were an orange. Actually, that's a lie: I ate the skin too.

Roasted New Potato Salad with Meyer Lemon Rosemary Vinaigrette

Roasted Potatoes
4 pounds mixed new potatoes, 1"-2" diameter, washed, larger ones halved or quartered according to your liking
3 tbsp unfiltered extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 spring onion, finely chopped
3 stalks baby celery, finely diced

Toss the potatoes with olive oil and salt in a roasting pan until coated, place in a 400 degree oven, stirring every 15-20 minutes until potatoes have crispy, golden edges and are tender on the inside. Let cool to room temperature. Toss with onion and celery.

Meyer Lemon Rosemary Vinaigrette
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1/4 tsp coarse kosher salt
zest of 1/2 Meyer lemon
juice of 1/2 Meyer lemon
(if you're using regular lemons, add about 1/2 tsp sugar)
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp prepared dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil

Whisk together all ingredients in a large nonreactive bowl.

Pour roasted potato mixture into bowl with vinaigrette and toss to coat. Let stand at least 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in your refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

You'd think this would serve about 12 people, but you'd be wrong--it's much less, because people will actually eat this potato salad and ask for seconds.

A Delectable Deviation

Okay, so I thought that I would only include healthy things on this site, but the cake I made today calls for an exception.

One of the most delicious desserts of summer is simply fresh blueberries (or any fresh berries or even grapes) with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of brown sugar. This can be improved by adding a little bit of lemon zest, or by sticking the whole thing under your broiler until crispy like she did.

But I'm going to visit family over the weekend and feel like I should bring something that is portable and that requires no on-the-spot preparation once I arrive at my destination. Fresh berries are generally highly perishable and too delicate for distant, nonprofessional, unrefrigerated transport. A cake is the perfect solution for such a problem. They keep well.

The remains of sour cream in my refrigerator have been begging to be used, but after many desserts of blueberries, sour cream, and brown sugar and a stint with a burrito last night, it needed to be gone from my refrigerator or face the trash can.

So I've found plenty of recipes for sour cream cakes, usually coffee cakes, some even including blueberries. I've found lots of recipes for lemon cakes, some also including blueberries. I haven't yet found one for fresh lemon, blueberry, and sour cream (maybe the acid from the lemon juice would curdle the sour cream? most recipes used lemon extract or zest). I was largely disappointed with what I found. What follows is an amalgamation of several somewhat promising recipes plus my creative adaptations and measurements resulting from a zero-hour unexpected paucity of ingredients.

I generally prefer cooking to baking because it's very correctable if anything goes wrong. You can always make adjustments. Baking is not only less flexible, but is more intimidating. Once you've thrown whatever you're baking in the oven, there's no turning back. Chemical reactions are taking place at every step and you could be doomed at any point. Measurements should be as close to exact as possible. Despite receiving excellent grades in the laboratory component of organic chemistry and having an uncanny ability to eyeball things to the microgram (really, the lab director would stare at me in disbelief week after week), baking has eluded me. No matter how much research I do, I can never figure out what goes wrong and I'm always afraid to change quantities of anything except sugar.

Well, I don't have a scale in my kitchen right now. It's in storage. But I realized that American home bakers using the imperial measuring system are kind of, well, always messing around with vital quantities. So I went for it. Who knows if I'll be able to replicate this again. It can't not be delicious to try.

The outside temperature today was 90 degrees with 65% humidity.

Meyer Lemon and Blueberry Sour Cream Cake

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
juice of 1 Meyer lemon (about 3 tbsp)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I used Arrowhead Mills organic unbleached white flour)
1 tbsp baking powder (I used Clabber Girl)
1/4 tsp salt (I used Morton coarse Kosher salt. I know, too big. It's all I had.)
1 1/4 cups fresh blueberries
pinch of flour
zest of 1 Meyer lemon

Grease and flour a 9" x 13" baking pan. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next ingredient. Add sour cream, vanilla extract, and lemon juice and mix until combined.
Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder with a fork. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until smooth, being careful not to overmix. Gently shake blueberries with a pinch of flour to coat (this keeps them from sinking to the bottom of your cake). Fold blueberries and lemon zest into cake batter. Pour batter into baking pan. Bake at 350F for 35-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

I used a 9" x 9" baking pan and a standard loaf pan filled to about 1" deep so I could test what this would taste like before I embarrassed myself by bringing an experimental cake somewhere. I shouldn't have worried. This is one of the best cakes I have ever had. It's really good. Like, opening up a store in SoHo that only sells this cake and charging $11 a slice for it wouldn't be unreasonable good. Transcendental.

I'd also like to give a shoutout to my local Whole Foods for randomly having fresh Meyer lemons in their store in July. I don't live anywhere near California. I am convinced that the Meyer lemon is what elevated this cake to incredible status because while I love lemons, I don't even really like lemon cake and I usually avoid consuming or baking anything of the general category of lemon flavored baked goods. This recipe also incorporated two of my favorite Whole Foods finds:
1. The fabulously priced (at $5.99) two pound container of blueberries. You hear that?! Two pounds! They last all week! They're delicious and nutritious! I buy at least 1 box of these every week and when I don't find them, I get panicky. I've never found a bad berry in one of these huge boxes (the pint containers are another story). And you could probably get me to pay $7.99 or even $8.99 if you were to offer the same size container but organic, you hear me?
2. Arrowhead Mills flour, all varieties. It comes in small bags so it doesn't get stale at the relatively slow rate I use flour. It's also delicious and very consistent from one bag to the next.

No, Whole Foods didn't pay me to say any of this. I wish they would. And by that, I mean, I wish I could be an ingredient/product hunter/evaluator for them, which would pretty much be my ideal job. They wouldn't even have to pay me that much.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Burrito Delight

I've had a craving for burritos for a while. And by a while, I mean I haven't had a burrito since approximately January 2009.

I know that what I have been craving is an Americanized version of a burrito and may not necessarily even be good. But I'm not going to pay $12.00 for something of the same description at a buffet-line style takeout place. Given the choice between eating out and cooking, I choose cooking unless my craving is for something I am unwilling to make at home, e.g., sushi for its difficult and expensive to source graded fish. Besides, I wanted something delicious.

Today's CSA pickup included spring onions, cilantro, and summer squash, among other things.

Lazy American Veggie Burrito

Squash and Onion Saute
1 tbsp canola oil
1 large spring onion, white and green parts, separated and chopped, divided
1 medium yellow summer squash, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into 1/4" pieces
2 shakes adobo powder (I didn't claim authenticity)

Heat oil in pan over medium heat. Add white parts of onion and saute until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add squash and green parts. Cook, stirring infrequently until squash is cooked through and onions are golden brown. The squash and onions should be somewhat caramelized.

"Re fried" Beans
1 tbsp canola oil
1/2 cup chopped green onion, white and green parts
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 can (I know, I know) light red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 cup water (if necessary)

In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until edges are golden brown (you want the pan to be a little too hot for this part), about 5 minutes. Lower heat to medium and add corn. Saute for a few minutes more until onions become translucent. Add beans, cilantro, cumin, chili powder, and coriander and stir to combine. Heat, stirring occasionally and mashing the beans somewhat with the back of your cooking utensil. The beans will stick to the bottom of the pot, let this happen for a few minutes before stirring and letting it happen again. Continue this way for about 15 minutes, adding water if bean mixture on bottom of pot does not release by stirring contents.

Gringo Salsa
1/4 cup chopped spring onion
1 serrano pepper, stemmed
2 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/4 bunch cilantro
1 clove garlic
juice of 1 lime
salt to taste

Pulse all ingredients together in a food processor until desired consistenct is reached.

Optional Garnishes
sour cream (full fat: don't ruin a perfectly delicious meal)
green parts of spring onion, thinly sliced
lime juice

Spread sour cream and salsa on a whole wheat 8" flour tortilla that's been heated over a gas flame for about 15 seconds per side. Add sauteed squash and onions and beans. Garnish with cilantro, green onions, and lime juice, wrap, and enjoy.

Serves 4.

This recipe is vegetarian if your tortillas are made without lard and vegan if you omit the sour cream.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer Slaw with Peanut Dressing

A food processor is worth its weight in dirty dishes for chopping great numbers of things up. Last week it was too hot to cook, and consuming anything warmer than room temperature seemed wholly unappetizing.

I've been feeling too delicate to go to the grocery store; I can't lift the weight of a basket with food in it and I am finding it difficult and painful to maneuver the cart with one hand. Whatever, I don't mind trying. The problem is other people in the grocery store. They bump into me and my shoulder and I black out from pain. I still stand after these encounters, but I'd rather avoid them. I've tried going to the store at "off" times of day, but there isn't really an "off" time at my nearest store. (Well located, developers, well located.) Sadly, whatever psychologist the architect and client consulted to maximize customer spending influenced them to choose a very, very awkward layout. So I consulted my refrigerator/pantry for dinner.

Summer Slaw

1/2 medium head cabbage, shredded
2 medium carrots, shredded
3 radishes, shredded
1/4 large red onion, shredded
1 atauflo mango, shredded
1/2 serrano pepper, shredded (why not?)
1/4 cup peanuts, roughly chopped

Peanut Dressing
juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
3 drops toasted sesame oil

Whisk together all dressing ingredients and pour over the shredded mango and vegetables. Toss to distribute and let stand in refrigerator for 15 minutes. Top with chopped peanuts just before serving.

This would probably be even more delicious garnished with cilantro or Thai basil or toasted sesame seeds (or all three).

Those with peanut allergies can substitute cashew butter and cashews.

Serves 2 as an entree, 4 as a side