Tag Archives: Recipe testing

Indian Food Cooking Binge

While waiting to hear about a consulting gig, I embarked on a cooking spree. I love eating Indian food, but I’ve never been very successful at making it. Recently, I pulled several recipes from BBC Good Food and tackled making them. By way of comparison, I decided that this time, I’d photograph my results alongside of what the picture in the magazine looked like.
The entire plate of food looked like the above. It made a great lunch on Day One and was an even better set of leftovers when I came home from a long day today. Unfortunately, as delicious of a lunch as it would make to bring to work, I can’t really recommend it. While not super spicy, it does have those strong aromas that make reheating it in a microwave in an office environment a bit touchy in some companies. Still, that just means more for you to eat at home.
I’ve posted the recipe names below the photos, so that they can be located on the BBC Good Food website. While the dishes didn’t turn out picture-perfect, nothing was complicated to make. The chopping of the vegetables and the careful stirring to make sure that everything was incorporated was great therapy and very calming in the chaos of my job search. There was also the added virtue of getting extra veggies into my diet and, for a while, my apartment smelled wonderful.
Coconut Dhal
(like regular dhal but a luxury version, rich, sweet, and creamy)
Mango Chicken with Spiced Pilau [this photo and the next]
(flavorful rice and sweet-spicy chicken)
Cauliflower & Potato Curry
(super veg recipe, great as a side dish)
Buon appetito!

Cool Shrimp and Avocado Salad for a Hot Day

Apologies for being a bit out of touch blog-wise. I’ve actually been trying to juggle being out of town twice in the last few weeks, coping with job loss, and dealing with being overloaded in general. It hasn’t all been bad, though. I managed to squeeze in a hands-on cooking class on fish at Astor Center during all that chaos.
One of the beneficiaries of this last activity, was my friend who hosted me at the beach over Easter weekend. I recreated one of the dishes that we made in the class: Shrimp and Avocado Salad in Citrus Vinaigrette. I think that I enjoyed it even better the second time around. This is the perfect hot summer recipe and has been a great, light lunch for me this week as the temperatures around here have climbed into numbers that we’re not supposed to see around these parts until July.
 The purpose of this recipe was to demonstrate peeling, cleaning, and cooking shrimp. Having made these since I was young enough to reach the stove, I didn’t need the practice, but I enjoyed the results of the dish at the end. I did learn, however, how to segment fruit, something I’ve never been taught. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be, but it was messier than I’d expected.

For those fortunate enough to have one, the shrimp could be prepared on skewers on the grill, which would make a wonderful, and slightly different presentation. A glass of a chilled light white wine would make a refreshing accompaniment to the combination of ripe creamy avocados and warm meaty shrimp served in crisp cool lettuce leaves covered with a tangy dressing.

Buon appetito!

Biscuit Binge

Yes, those are actually icicles stuck on my window

Sorry to my Queen’s English-speaking friends, but, no, this does not mean that I have spent the last few days making batches of cookies, as we call them, having adopted the Dutch word for the sweet round treat. Instead, I’m talking about the three, yes three, sets that I made of yummy, soft pillowy-inside, crisp-outside round dollops of heaven that are made to be spread with butter and jam or dunked in gravy. I found a recipe at Thibeault’s Table that just looked too good not to try.  I mean, when you have this outside of your window when you get up for work on Friday, there hardly seems to be a better use of a winter day.

Biscuits made with whole milk and butter
For the record, I actually had to show up at work on Friday when this snowy mess was all taking place. This just made me more determined to continue on the comfort-food cooking quest that has taken over my inspiration for the blog for the past few months. I really think that we need to look into getting a new groundhog for next year, as this is getting a bit ridiculous. We might even have another storm next week. Is spring really around the corner?

Biscuits made with buttermilk and butter
The Kitchn should also take credit for this burst of baking fury. They’ve been posting about biscuits recently. Although I’ve put together lots of bready-type things, cakes, pies, and cookies, I’ve never really tackled the perfect biscuit recipe. I’m not really sure why, as I love them, and we didn’t get to have them when I was growing up. They reminded my mother of a period in her life when they didn’t have much to eat and she had to have them for lots of her meals.  I think that biscuits are also one of those things that seem difficult to make but aren’t really hard to do. They sort of have a mythical aura and drive fear into the hearts of many an experienced baker that they might end up tough, flat and rock-hard.

Biscuits made with buttermilk and butter with cheddar cheese and chives 
One trick to avoid that dire fate is to mix the liquid into the dry ingredients very gently and quickly so as not to handle it too much. In fact, if you listen carefully, you can even hear the baking powder react to the buttermilk. Then, slide the tray into the pre-heated oven, per the directions, and wait a few short minutes, just enough time to make the coffee and scramble the eggs, until the warm hug of a freshly-spliced-open biscuit reaches your plate.
Slathered with locally-made berry jam
So, with a little bit more effort than it takes to thwack a cardboard tube on the kitchen counter, you can make these yourself and have the awesome experience of pulling apart the steamy hot insides just begging to be smothered in whatever toppings you see fit. I tried several versions of this recipe, and can say that basically they are all good. I think I prefer the buttermilk and butter option for plain biscuits, which made them tall and fluffy.

 Oh, what the heck, it is the weekend, after all. I’ll have one of the other batch, too!
Kitchen Witch Tip:

As you can see from the photos below, I also experimented with the way I incorporated the butter into the dry mixture. I found the method using the box grater to be too messy and fiddly for my tastes, preferring the tried-and-true cube-butter option that I’ve used since I first learned how to cook. In either case the trick is to have very cold (or frozen in the grating method) butter.
Using the box grater method grating frozen butter into small pieces for mixing into the flour
Using the cube method cutting the cold butter into small pieces for mixing into the flour

Buon appetito!

Crêpes for Pancake Day

It’s been a crazy-busy weekend in the foodie department with Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year’s coming so close together. Not to make it more complicated, but I’d like to add another culinary celebration to the mix: Pancake Day. Today is Shrove Tuesday or, more familiarly Pancake Day, in many parts of the world that observe the season of Lent.
Originally intended as a way to cook up all the rich fatty things that were forbidden during the annual pre-Easter season of penance, making crêpes (or pancakes in the UK), was a way to use up these items in preparation for fasting from them. I really think that we in the U.S. need to adopt this holiday as well. When I lived in Europe, it also provided a great excuse to get together a group of friends for an enjoyable and delicious meal. [I did see that iHOP is having a day with this same name, but as it is a week out from today, that sort of defeats the point of the observance.]
I had tried to make Julia Child’s recipe for these a while back, with mixed results, as I posted previously. For Christmas this year, my sister gave me another book of hers, by which she swears: The Way to Cook. I’ve been reading this, but haven’t yet prepared anything from it. The two recipes one for sweet and one for regularcrêpes seemed like a good way to dive right in.

Unlike my earlier attempt, this time things seemed to work out a bit better. I don’t know if it was that I had more confidence in the method, or if the batter came together better or if maybe my technique is actually improving. The sweet batch seemed a bit thicker than the savory one, which was easier to work with. Maybe it was because the pan I was using to cook them it is seasoned a bit more, having been used a few times.

I think these came out looking pretty close to how professionally made ones appear. It is possible to buy them ready-made from a store, but I had a supreme sense of accomplishment in being able to create these for myself. My mother used to make them from scratch and rarely had a flop. She always said that the first one never really turns out well and then would go on to churn out one perfect example after another. I’m not quite there yet.
Another one of her tips was to make them in advance of needing to use them and to stack them on a plate, separated by waxed paper. Then, they can be covered in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator or sealed up with plastic wrap and then covered by aluminum foil and put in the freezer. They need to be brought up to room temperature and gently re-heated on each side before being filled and eaten.
Just to make sure that the end result would taste as good as it looked, I decided to have a “test sample” right as I pulled them out of the pan. The more traditional British way (and also the way that I ate them once late at night in France) is to sprinkle them with sugar and to drizzle lemon juice on them. Roll them up, and start munching away on a sweet-tart treat. They tasted pretty good to me.
For the official Pancake Day feast, I went a bit more traditional with the flavorings. One of my favorite combinations involves eggs and cheese (I used Comté.). For the third filling, I usually go with either mushrooms or ham.This time, I chose the latter as it was what I had in the fridge.

Of course, as it is the day before the fasting starts for Lent, having dessert didn’t seem too terribly indulgent. Fortunately, I just happened to have a jar of Nutella in my cabinet, for emergencies, you understand. I sliced up some pears, very thinly, slathered some hazelnut-chocolate spread on a warm crêpe, and enjoyed some gooey, sweet wonderfulness. I think that this tradition should definitely be a keeper.
Buon appetito!

Starting 2010 with Vegetarian Pot Pie

No need to tell most of you just how cold it is outside. Normally, we do get a bit of a freeze here in the city at some point during the winter months, but this is a pretty long stretch of unending Arctic air for us. We’ve also seen more snow than in recent years.
The frigid weather has had a direct impact on my motivation to do pretty much anything. Unfortunately, this also includes things like heading out of my apartment to do food shopping. In support of the merchants who stand outside at their tables at the Greenmarket in all sorts of temperatures hot and cold, I pulled myself off of the sofa yesterday, and made the trip down to Union Square.
That was, however, after having binged on a combination of Food Network shows. These are the guilty pleasures I will not be giving up in 2010. I made it through “Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger,” “Tyler’s Ultimate,” and “Ask Aida.” By the end of it, I was thoroughly inspired to get some goodies with which to cook up some great weekend meals.
Like many folks, I’ve put together some new goals for 2010. This year, I didn’t publish them on the blog. [Getting over my laziness really has to be one of the things I accomplish this year.] One of them is to try to be better about eating vegetables. I know that they are good for me, but sometimes I just can’t get to them.
The truth is, I didn’t like many of them growing up. We also didn’t get to eat them fresh or in season, at least not until I was almost pre-teen, and then the range was still limited. I also get bored with the same old thing. I can binge on asparagus in the springtime, as the season is so short, and I can get excited about late summer tomatoes, which are so flavorful and unlike the stuff in the stores now. This time of year, however, is a sea of endless, pale root vegetables.
So, when Aida pulled together her Vegetarian Pot Pie, I paid attention. Really, how bad can something be that is rich and creamy topped with puff pastry? Chicken pot pie is one of those recipes I’ve made a few times, and which was a special treat growing up, but isn’t something that I have on the annual rotation. I’m not sure why, as it freezes well, and, in the right container, would be a good thing to bring for lunch.*
Fortunately, the ingredients were mostly available at the Greenmarket, so it made me feel very good, and a little bit virtuous, that I did make it out of the apartment and downtown. The few things that I couldn’t find, I managed to pick up at the stores in my neighborhood. As you can see from the photos, the dish was everything it promised: warm, gooey, comforting. I didn’t miss the chicken at all.**
Most of the work is in chopping up everything
(try to keep all the veggies about the same size to help them cook uniformly)
Double, double toil & trouble… wait, wrong thing
(yes, my sister, you can omit the peas)
In the oven. Please heed the tip about putting this on a lined baking sheet.
The finished result. Golden and bubbling.
On the plate. Sorry the lighting isn’t better, but it was really good.
Kitchen Witch Tips:
*Although the recipe calls for this to be made in an 8×8″ pan, I might make it in a larger one next time to increase the puff pastry-to-veggies ratio. Alternatively, this could easily be made in individual dishes. The cooking time might be different in that case.
**If you wanted to turn this into a traditional Chicken Pot Pie, poach chicken parts or buy a cooked chicken. Shred the meat (if cooking yourself, save the liquid to add to the veggies). Add chicken stock instead of mushroom stock at that point in the recipe. Put the chicken into the veggies at the end, when adding the herbs. Top with the puff pastry and bake as before.
Buon appetito!

Egg-in-a-Hole Grilled Cheese

On Friday, while the rest of America (and maybe some of the rest of the world) was trying to figure out how to concoct the perfect sandwich from the previous day’s Thanksgiving leftovers, I was trying to find something that would appeal to my cold-starved body. There was no turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, or veggies to reheat. Most of all, there was also no extra slice of pie to eat for breakfast.

A few weeks ago, I had seen Aida Mollenkamp on The Food Network doing a show all about eggs. One dish she made was basically a twist on a bacon, egg, and cheese on a roll, the deli hangover staple. My brain decided that this Egg in a Hole Grilled Cheese was just the kind of food that my body was ready to tackle after several days of chicken soup and cold medicine.
I was surprised to see how many shops were closed in my neighborhood the day after Turkey Day. It was very quiet. Among the places that were open was the Italian deli. Knowing that I had eggs and butter in the fridge, as I was supposed to have made a pie to take to Thanksgiving dinner, I just needed to pick up bread, ham, and cheese.

I guess I sort of cheated a little bit to suit my own tastes, but this recipe is flexible like that. I used a Comté cheese instead of regular Swiss. They are cousins, so the flavor is similar. The deli had proscuitto cotto, which I used instead of Canadian bacon. I think that you could also substitute sliced ham and get the same effect. Bacon would make this sandwich too greasy and regular proscuitto would be too dry, but there are many various that you could do.
The honey mustard I used was Honeycup – also very good for Southern ham biscuits. It has a nice sharp-sweet tang with a bit of a bite, especially if you slather it on the bread the way that I do. I used a farm bread which worked well, but has as its downfall that you end up with lots of bread in the filling-to-bread ratio. I recommend using something more square-shaped.
Once you end up adding the cheese and ham and topping the egg side with the mustard side, you end up with something like this in the pan. Although not in the recipe, I realized that I needed to add more butter to the pan after I flipped the entire sandwich so that there would be some fat to cook the second side of the bread. Instead of adding the butter to the pan, which would make it turn brown instantly due to the now very hot pan, I buttered the non-mustard side of the bread after I placed that slice on top of the egg bread and before I flipped it to toast in the pan. This seems to work very well.

After a few minutes more, my lunch was ready. A softly cooked egg surrounded by gooey cheese and smoky ham all wrapped up in buttery, crunchy toast. I added a small side salad dressed with a simple vinaigrette to round out the meal. I wish I could eat more mid-day repasts like this, although not with the cold that my body is still fighting.
Buon appetito!