Great Balls of Fire

I am on a huge Indian kick lately. You wouldn’t know it from what you’ve seen posted around these parts lately, but I’m dead serious. Those of you living in the Bay Area already know this – there are a plethora of Indian eateries around these parts. Because of that, I’ve decided that Indian food is my new favorite take-out staple.

Sorry, Thai food, but I’m giving you the boot for a while. Maybe forever. It’s just that no one seems to make my yum woonsen salad like Thai Lagoon did, and it didn’t hurt that they were exactly 6 doors away from our house.

We ordered take-out from the neighborhood Indian joint the first weekend we lived here, and I was immediately sold. I ordered a HUGE “combo meal” the weekend Chris was in Singapore, and while sopping up my chana masala with garlic naan, I happily watched Something Borrowed (laugh it up) and almost drank an entire bottle of New Zealand Pinot by my lonesome. It was amazing (the food and the wine, that is. the movie served its purpose, which meant I was able to choose the movie for a change, because no one was home!!).

I’m sure we’ve had takeout from the same spot at least a handful of other times too. Despite their unwelcoming demeanor when I walk in to pick up my order, I always graciously take my food, somehow deciding that they’re allowed to have shoddy service so long as my food rocks, because in the end, we all win.

I decided I must learn to make chana masala, the tomato-y chickpea dish that I get almost every time I get Indian food, and as a result I surfed the Internets to figure out where I might find such a recipe, and for that matter, a good Indian cookbook. After Googling and Amazon-ing for a while, I finally decided on Madhur Jaffrey’s “An Invitation to Indian Cooking“, and although I’ve yet to cook from it, I am slowly perusing through it, waiting for the right moment to finally give that chana masala a try, and the other recipes I’ve bookmarked so far.

Today though, I’m sharing a recipe from another Indian chef I admittedly adore watching, Aarti Sequiera on the Food Network. She won “The Next Food Network Star” a while back (actually, the last season we watched it), and I was rooting for her all the way. Sure, part of it was because she wrote a food blog (and ironically just posted a recipe for chana masala), but the other part was because I really wanted an Indian cooking show to watch. Plus, I can only take so much of Giada’s boobs (or her large head, for that matter), and the other shows on that channel (other than Iron Chef, duh) are pretty lame. But! I did just learn that Michael Chiarello (of Napa’s Bottega) is going to be on The Next Iron Chef, and you best believe that will be DVR’d with a quickness.

So yeah, on to sharing. We had some friends in town this past weekend, and since they were coming in right around suppertime on Thursday night I’d volunteered to make dinner. My requirements were that the dish had to be straightforward, void of constant tending-to, manageable on a weeknight (night before prep a plus), and easy enough to make for 5 people without dirtying up every dish in the house. A homemade curry was a no brainer, and I remembered a recipe Aarti made the other day where she added an Italian twist (meatballs) to a curry dish – perfect!

The meatballs were easy peasy to throw together, and they probably benefit from being refrigerated overnight anyway, so that they can adhere together a little better. Plus, it saved me some time the night I made it since step 1 was already complete. The Serrano chiles were super spicy and perfect with the creamy coconut curry. The recipe below is essentially a doubled version of hers, which is meant to serve 8, but either our guests were starving or it was that damn good, because there was 1 serving left by the time it was all said and done.

The added bonus? You’ll probably have some leftover sauce when all the meatballs have been eaten, and I just know it’ll go with just about anything you toss into it. Better yet, a spoon would probably work just fine.

Meatball Curry
Adapted from Food Network’s Aarti Sequeira; serves 6-8

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes

printable version

ingredients
meatballs
2 lbs ground beef
2 serrano chiles, minced (I seeded one of them)
4 t fresh ginger, minced
4 T fresh cilantro, minced
Kosher salt

curry
5 T coconut oil or canola oil
1 t brown mustard seeds
8 small shallots, thinly sliced
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 (2-inch piece) ginger, peeled and minced
4 t g coriander
2 t g cumin
1 t cayenne pepper
4 medium tomatoes, medium dice
2 cans light coconut milk
Kosher salt
3 T fresh cilantro, minced
juice of 1 lime

1 1/2 c uncooked jasmine or basmati rice

instructions
for the meatballs: In a large bowl, mix the ground beef, chile, ginger, cilantro and 2 teaspoons of salt together using your hands until just combined. (Don’t mix any more than this or you’ll end up with tough meatballs!) Roll the meatballs into 32 similarly-shaped balls, placing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in the fridge when they’re all rolled until ready for use.

for the curry: In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the coconut oil until nearly smoking. Add the mustard seeds, covering the pan with a lid so you don’t get popping seeds all over you. When the spluttering subsides, add the shallots, garlic and ginger and cook until golden brown. Then add the ground coriander, cumin and cayenne pepper. Stir, and cook 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook until they soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to boil. Turn down to a simmer and add the meatballs. Simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.

Right after you add the meatballs, start the rice. Add rice and 3 c water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 15-20 minutes, until rice is cooked through. Remove from heat and set aside.

To finish the curry, add the cilantro and lime juice. Shake the pan gently to mix them in, and then taste for seasoning. Serve over rice.

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Adventures in Suburbia

Last week, Chris and I retreated to Bay Area Suburbia for a few days. A friend of mine recently moved from the city to the ‘burbs, and when she went out of town for a while, the four cats left behind were in need of a little (okay, a lot of) attention.

Needless to say, we were eager to cheat on our cats and hang out with hers, and the fact that our commute was cut in half for the final part of last week didn’t hurt either.

Of course, cat/housesitting meant that we had to actually get into the house, which proved to be another story; for whatever reason, my key decided to all of a sudden cease to work. Needless to say, had someone been watching us they would have been more than entertained. First, we’d both managed to go to Whole Foods without our wallets, at which point I’d left Chris there to head back and grab mine. At this point, my key wouldn’t work, and so I proceeded back to WF, sans wallet, to pick Chris up so he could make sure I wasn’t completely useless. Though I would have loved to have been wrong, we were most certainly locked out. Thirty minutes later, I’d already left a frantic voicemail, tried the door ten thousand times, and finally, we saw a screen that looked loose. Chris shimmied up the fence, I hoisted his ass into the air, and minutes later (it would have been seconds had a cat not been standing at the window threatening to jump out all the while), we were in.

Still starving, we made our third trip to WF to find our long lost basket of goodies. We grabbed a garage door opener that time. So, if you ever need to break in to your house, or someone else’s, let us know; we can do it in 30 minutes flat ;).

I’d also fooled myself into thinking that biking to work would be fun. You know, like old times when I did it back in Chicago. Mind you, Chicago is f-l-a-t. And while Redwood City isn’t San Francisco in the way of hilliness, it ain’t flat. Needless to say, I finally purchased a much-needed bike rack, some calories got burned, and by Friday I was thankful for the spare car in the garage. Luckily, driving stick is like riding a bike, at least in terms of remembering how to do it, certainly not in difficulty getting through rolling hills.

All things considered, it ended up feeling like a mini-vacation, simply because we were away from the city for a couple of days and instead in a quiet house with plenty of space, a better view, and twice the number of cats. Also, I had a whole new kitchen to cook in, and along with that, plenty of cookbooks to peruse. Of course, now I’ve added a few more things to my wishlist, but I’m ok with that.

One of said wishlist items is Ross Dobson’s Market Vegetarian. It’s no Yottam Ottolenghi cookbook, but it sure has loads of ideas and relatively straightforward recipes. I had my mind set on the cover recipe, and even though I don’t think I’ve eaten eggplant since the Iron Chef challenge (almost 1 year ago!), I was ready to give the ol’ aubergine another go.

So with that, the theme of last week was persistence: persistence gets you in the house (finally), it gets your groceries after three trips to Whole Foods, it gets you to and from work despite the 7 miles of ever-so-gradual hills each way, and it gets you to change your mind about eggplant.

Eggplant, Tomato, & Red Lentil Curry
Adapted from Market Vegetarian; serves 4

printable version

ingredients
3 T evoo
1 large eggplant, cut into 16 pieces
1 red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T finely chopped fresh ginger
8 oz heirloom cherry tomatoes
1 t ground cumin
1 t curry powder
1/2 t chili powder
1 T tomato paste
2/3 c red lentils
1 handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
cooked basmati rice, to serve (optional)

instructions
heat 2 T oil in a skillet over high heat. when oil is hot, add the eggplant to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes. the eggplant will absorb the oil, but eventually start to seep out as the eggplant browns. once this happens, remove from skillet and set aside.

add 1 T oil, onions, garlic, and ginger to skillet and cook for 5 minutes. add the cherry tomatoes and cook for 1 minute, just until they soften. fish out tomatoes from the skillet and add to plate of eggplant.

add cumin and curry powder to pan and cook for a couple of minutes until fragrant. add chili powder and tomato paste, 2 cups of water, and lentils and simmer over med-lo heat for 15-20 minutes, until lentils are al dente. stir in eggplant and tomatoes and cook to warm through; add cilantro. spoon over basmati rice, if using.

Otto-who? Otto-what?

Over a year ago, I had this crazy idea of going vegetarian. Okay, I’m not telling the truth here. I had the idea of going pescatarian, and only for a month – it was not to be a permanent change. It seemed doable, and this is coming from someone who tends to really like meat. I fought my way through it, even tossing away a lovely piece of pork that I mistakenly ordered, thinking it was a dish full of wheat berries and ramps (don’t ask how I screwed up there….). I didn’t order beef pho the first time I went to a place that served it, and at a tapas restaurant, I chewed on cheese and peppers, drank lots of wine, and tossed back mussels like it was my job.

All in all, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Would I ever give up meat completely? I seriously doubt it. For one, I couldn’t imagine a visit to the South without barbeque (not the fake stuff). And two, I love the smell of cheeseburgers on the grill. Also, bacon is pretty awesome.

But sometimes, I do manage to go a few days without eating meat, and I can honestly say that I usually don’t even notice it. I’d even go further to say that, sometimes, eating vegetarian is a lot healthier, as long as you watch the cheese and carbs.

It seems that every time I talk about vegetarian food, I feel the need to insure you people that I do not intend to eat this way full-time. I’m not sure why? Maybe because I know many of you enjoy the meaty posts, and I assure you they are here to stay.

But the other day, I discovered lentils. Don’t ask me why I’ve never cooked them before; I have no intelligent answer. A friend of mine let me borrow a cookbook of hers that is all-vegetarian, and while I didn’t expect this to be the case, I have a lot of the pages marked and as a result, wonder if I should just buy the dang thing myself.

Yottam Ottolenghi’s Plenty is that book. And of course, I’ve cooked a slew of things (no, I haven’t written about them all) from Heidi Swanson’s new book too, which also happens to be vegetarian. What I’ve realized is this: as long as flavor is brought to the dish, I don’t miss the meat. But the second you make something bland and boring, I may as well be eating tofu from the container. Or tempeh, which is still gross to me.

Ottolenghi seems to know what’s up on that front. His secret? He’s not vegetarian. Of course, some people seem to have a problem with that, but for me, it’s a match made in heaven. He knows that meat tastes good, and he knows that many vegetarian dishes lack flavor. The result? He makes his recipes scream with flavor, belting out ingredients like mustard seeds and curry powder, fenugreek and pomegranate molasses – and it works.

Also! he made me fall madly in love with lentils, an ingredient I’ve never really taken an interest in before. So yeah, maybe I just realized that I’m probably never giving this cookbook back to my friend (shhhhh!), and maybe as long as I locate vegetarian recipes that are actually locked and loaded with flavor I’ll be able to eat somewhat like a ‘flexitarian’, or whatever it’s called. But at the end of the day, I’m sticking to my beliefs – and that’s that meat is meant for me to eat, and I was meant to eat meat.

Spiced Red Lentils with Cucumber Yogurt
adapted from Plenty; serves 4 as a light dinner 

time commitment: 1 hour, about half of which is active

printable version

notice the piece of naan tucked alongside this dish. I didn’t make it this time, but you can. Or you can just buy some :). also, one of these spices is possibly tricky to find: fenugreek. It’s nice, if you have it, but don’t sweat it if you don’t.

ingredients
1 c split red lentils
1 1/2 c water
half a regular bunch of cilantro
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
1 1-2″ piece of fresh ginger, peeled
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 green chile
1 1/2 t black mustard seeds
4 T sunflower oil
1 1/2 t g coriander
1 t g cumin
1/2 t g turmeric
1/4 t sweet paprika
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 t sugar
1/4 t fenugreek (if you can find it)
1 small container of Greek yogurt
1/2 of a cucumber, finely diced
1 1/2 T olive oil
3 T butter
1 1/2 T fresh lime juice
salt and pepper

instructions
wash the lentils under cold water and pour into a bowl with the water. let soak for 30 minutes. get the rest of your ingredients ready and chopped.

meanwhile, cut the cilantro bunch halfway between the top and bottom. give the leaf top a rough chop and set aside. add the bottom stalky part to a food processor along with the onion, ginger, garlic and chili. pulse a few times until ingredients are broken up, but not pasty.

grab a heavy pot (Dutch oven time!) and turn on medium heat. add the mustard seeds and when they start to pop, add the chopped mixture and the sunflower oil. cook on low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. add the coriander through the paprika, and continue cooking/stirring for five minutes. the mixture may appear very dark, which is just fine.

add the lentils and their soaking water, tomatoes, sugar, and fenugreek, as well as a little salt. cover and simmer for 30 minutes, or until lentils are cooked. you’ll probably want to check on them occasionally, as mine were about 5 minutes overdone since I abandoned the kitchen for too long…

meanwhile, make the  yogurt by whisking the yogurt, cucumber, and olive oil together. add salt and pepper to taste.

once the lentils are cooked, stir in the butter, lime juice, and most of the cilantro leaves. season with salt/pepper if needed. divide into 4 dishes, topping each with a large dollop of yogurt and cilantro leaves to garnish.

The Phuket List

So, have you heard? I figure if I’ve heard, then the rest of the more civilized inhabitants of the earth most certainly have: Saturday is a big day for the planet.

Did you know that? Yes, Saturday marks three weeks of living in San Francisco, which is not-so-monumental-but-still-cool. But what I mean to point out is this: the world is coming to an end on Saturday. For realz. Or at least the beginning of the end will occur; whatever you call it.

I haven’t gotten too excited about it, but since I have this awesome drive to and from work everyday I’ve gotten back into my podcast listening, so now I’m more “in the know”, you know. It’s interesting to see how folks respond to these assertions, how some of us are totally nonchalant while others are totally hardcore. This morning I was listening to “Uhh yeah dude” (UYD), which I highly recommend, and rather than making a “bucket list”, they proposed something a little bit different in light of future events: a “fuck-it list”. Because if the world really is coming to an end soon, we may as well say screw it (or “phuket”, to be P.C.) and go balls to the wall.

Are you still with me?

If you are, I thought I’d share my Phuket List with you. It’s short, because I’ve got shit to do, you see.

  1. Survive a concert of “This Will Destroy You!!” at the Independent with Chris. Check. This is the first of a bazillion shows he’s going to drag me to since this venue is a block from home. Thankfully, I’ll like 90% of them; this fell into the other 10%, minus 3 songs.
  2. Eat chicken tartare at Ippuku in Berkeley. Check (see picture here!). Because if I’m not getting taken up into the sky on Saturday (let’s face it, my chances are slim to none) I may as well start eating all the stuff that could potentially kill me, right?! (also, it tasted awesome. not like salmonella at all. but if you don’t hear from me next week, send a search party for the Wetzels.)
  3. Find a way to get from work to home in 1 hour flat. My morning commute is 1 hour flat, but I can’t seem to get home in less than 1 hour and 10 minutes. I have another shortcut to try out, so this is a work in progress. Plus, it might not matter anyway, right?
  4. Bike through Golden Gate Park. Although, if a major earthquake is happening on Saturday, being on a bike probably isn’t the best idea I’ve come up with this week. Maybe I’ll wait until Sunday and see if I’m still around :).
  5. Make a killer ragù. This is on the list for Friday. I think I can get this squared away lickety split.
  6. Oh, and make something that tastes like real Indian food. Check. I could eat this tomato-based curry dish a thousand more times. Despite it being loaded with onions, which isn’t great for say, dates or being romantic, it’s a lovely weeknight dish.

I think that’s a decent amount of stuff, right? I mean, I could put skydiving or bungee jumping on my list, or going to Italy again, but I’m a little low on time here. I’ll have to remember that for next time one of these big predictions surfaces. If there is a next time, that is. We’ll see what happens, and if this is really the end of the world, as we know it. But right now, I feel fine.  

Dhaba Chicken Curry
adapted from Food & Wine, March 2011; serves 4

time commitment: 40 minutes, 25 of which is active

printable version

I don’t make a lot of Indian food at home, but this is one that will certainly get made again. It’s easy, it’s relatively quick, and it is so. damn. good. Make sure your spices are fresh for maximum flavor, and definitely use the cilantro garnish rather than the scallions you see pictured here. I didn’t have any cilantro and wanted to pretty it up, but the scallions were a bit much with all the other oniony goodness the dish had going on already.

ingredients
3 onions, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves
One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/4 c canola oil
1 T ground coriander
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/4 t cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of ground cardamom
1/4 t turmeric
1 c tomato sauce
Four medium-sized boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and fresh-ground pepper
1 c water
2 T chopped cilantro
1 c uncooked basmati rice

instructions
In a food processor, chop the onions. Add the garlic and ginger and process until they are finely chopped (and almost watery).

In a medium, enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the canola oil. Add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom and cook over low heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the onion mixture and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add the turmeric and tomato sauce and simmer over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook rice according to package instructions. Keep warm.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and add them to the casserole. Coat the chicken with the sauce. Add the water, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, turning a few times, until the chicken is white throughout, about 10 minutes. Season the chicken curry with salt. Transfer the cooked rice, chicken and sauce to a serving bowl. Garnish with the cilantro and serve.

Something like this

For whatever reason, it has become abundantly clear to me, this week, that summer is LONG gone, fall is about to wear out its welcome, and winter is fast-approaching.

Maybe in your part of the world you’re sitting out in the still-warmish sun, wearing your flippies, and still enjoying the leaves falling, changing colors. Maybe you’re wearing your jacket (the one you can barely call a jacket because it’s so damn thin), but the gloves are still packed away, and maybe you’re trying to squeeze in another grill-fest or make another batch of iced tea. Maybe your scarf is just an accessory, rather than a neccessity.

If that’s you, please shush yourself. I’m quick to report that I’d be extremely jealous, and if you were in front of me bragging about your gorgeous weather, I’d contemplate punching you in the groin, and if you were on Facebook I’d highly consider de-friending you. I’m that jealous, people. It’s weeks like this that I wonder why I don’t live back in the south, or in California, or New Mexico, or freakin’ Jamaica.

Have I told you I can be a bit dramatic? It’s not really that cold…and to be perfectly honest, what troubles me most about this weather is the fact that I’ll soon have to start wearing socks every day, and every night I go to sleep. I hate socks. I like to expose my wonky toes to the world, donning sandals and flats, and even flippies although those were put away a month ago, thank you.

Yesterday, I reached into the depths of a closet and out came one of my gramma’s handmade quilts. And even though I hated the fact that I was cold enough to need it, once I wrapped myself up in it, I sorta had a change of heart. I was warm, and I was home, and in a matter of moments I’d be gobbling up a bowl full of this soup.

This soup, I tell you. When you have flavors of curry and coconut and lime at your tongue, you realize the weather outside doesn’t matter much.  You realize that one of the many inherited blankets you have in your possession is oh so comforting, and even though the sandals are no more, the gloves much needed, and the snow not far away, it doesn’ t quite matter as long as you come home – to something like this.

Coconut Red Curry ‘Hot Pot’ w/ Braised Chicken & Mushrooms
adapted from Cooking Light, October 2010; serves 4 as main, 6 as first course

time commitment: less than 1 hour; 30 minutes active time

a traditional hot pot is an ultra hot bowl of broth where the meat is generally thinly sliced and cooked tableside in the pot. the meat here, as well as the ‘shrooms, is braised prior to serving, but the Thai flavors are still present, still tasty.

printable version

ingredients
2  14 oz cans  fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
2 stalks chopped peeled fresh lemongrass
5  (1/4-inch) slices fresh ginger
2 Thai chiles
1 1/2  T  red curry paste
1  (4-ounce) package presliced exotic mushroom blend (such as shiitake, cremini, and oyster)
8  oz  skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1  (13.5-ounce) can light coconut milk
1  T  Thai fish sauce
2  t  brown sugar
1/3  c  thinly diagonally cut green onions
3  T  fresh lime juice
6  T  coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, divided
5  oz  uncooked wide rice noodles

instructions
Bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; stir in lemongrass, ginger, and chiles. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 30 minutes. Strain through a sieve over a bowl; discard solids. Return broth to pan; add curry paste, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; cook 2 minutes or until tender. Stir in chicken; cook 3 minutes or until chicken is done. Add coconut milk, stirring well to combine. Stir in fish sauce and sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; stir in onions, juice, and 1/4 cup cilantro.

Cook noodles according to package directions; drain (if your noodles are like mine and the package writing is in another language, this won’t help… rice noodles are generally soaked in water for 30 minutes, then cooked in boiling water for 3-4 minutes; cook noodles right before serving, and not in advance). Add noodles to coconut milk mixture. Ladle 1 cup soup into each of 4-6 bowls; sprinkle evenly with remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro.

Captain’s Corner

There was this store in my hometown, a store-slash-pseudo-restaurant, that was frequented by us highschoolers looking for afternoon cigarettes and the others who were going for an after-school hot dog. At some point, the Captain’s Corner turned into a regular hangout, a place of comfort where friends mingled, where we found older kids to buy us smokes, and where we people-watched till the joint closed for the day and we were forced to loiter elsewhere, which was usually behind “the mall”.

The word comfort emits a different connotation for me today, and in most cases, has something to do with food. And why shouldn’t it?

 

As a kid getting home from school, I had the swingset and a backyard with a grapevine-woven fence; today, it’s a balcony with a grill and a glass of wine. In high school, it was the Captain’s Corner or a drive up and down Vernon Avenue, with anything from Pearl Jam to Biggie Smalls blaring out of the busted speakers and vibrating the windows. Now, it’s an outdoor BYOB for Happy Hour or the tunes Hubs spins on his fancy record player while I whip up something for dinner. And in college, there was certainly alcohol and pizza, but comfort meant a trip home for fresh laundry and quiet time with the family. While I’d still love to have mom do my laundry, I instead find comfort in those carefully prepared, overly luscious dinners – the ones you eat slowly, bite by bite, because they just feel like home, childhood, and all those things you want to last forever.

This is one of those meals.

Country Captain, a dish I’d never heard of until exactly 1 month ago, is the ultimate comfort dish. Though it’s Indian at heart, it’s more commonly lauded as a Southern dish, which either means I’m a fake Southerner or that it’s made in a Southern area other than North Carolina (supposedly Savannah, mainly). Plus, when you have Aunt Faye and her chicken pastry and fried chicken – do you really need anything else? I rest my case, if there was one against me…

So this country captain business – it is really somethin’. And while the cauliflower was almost enough to make me toss this recipe aside, my curiousity and love of all the other ingredients won me over. Fortunately, I not only tolerated, but I thoroughly enjoyed the cauliflower. They are perfectly crunchy, buried in the absolute best smelling made-from-scratch curry powder and crushed tomato sauce you ever did smell, and not only do those little peas in your freezer add some color, they’re juicy in a way, and they pop between your teeth. Dried cherries, as odd as it may seem, are crucial, as they rehydrate and become chewy blips of sweetness.

If you need one more reason to make this, other than all the goodness listed above and the fact that this only dirties one pot, and that it freezes like a dream (I have one serving left), how does finishing this off with a healthy slap of peanut butter sound? I’ll stop here, and I’m heading straight for the freezer…

What’s your favorite comfort food?

Country Captain with Cauliflower and Peas
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2010; serves 6

printable version

ingredients
spice mixture
1 1/2 t coriander or coriander seeds
1 t fennel seeds
1 t cumin or cumin seeds
1/2 t whole black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
1/4 t cardamom seeds (from 3 whole green cardamom pods)
1 1/2-inch piece cinnamon stick
1/2 t turmeric
1/4 t cayenne pepper

chicken
5 T peanut oil, divided
1 small head of cauliflower, trimmed, cut into 1-inch florets (about 4 cups)
Kosher salt
2 lbs skinless boneless chicken thighs, trimmed, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
1 bunch green onions, dark green and white parts chopped separately
1 T finely grated peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 c reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes with added puree
1/3 c dried Bing cherries, finely chopped
1 T smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 c frozen petite peas (9 to 10 ounces; do not thaw)
1/3 c coconut shavings (or unsweetened shredded coconut), lightly toasted

instructions
spice mixture
Place coriander, fennel seeds, cumin, black peppercorns, cloves, cardamom seeds, and cinnamon stick in small dry skillet (or, to save dishwork, in the bottom of the heavy large pot, below). Stir over medium heat until fragrant and slightly darker in color, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat; cool. Finely grind spices in spice mill or in mortar with pestle. Transfer to small bowl; add turmeric and cayenne.

chicken
Heat 3 T oil in heavy large deep pot over medium-high heat. Add cauliflower florets; sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and sauté until beginning to soften and brown in spots, 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl.

Add remaining 2 T oil and half of chicken to same pot; sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and sauté until chicken is light brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer chicken to large bowl. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Add white parts of green onions, finely grated ginger, and minced garlic to same pot; reduce heat to medium and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground spice mixture; stir 15 seconds. Stir in 1 1/2 cups chicken broth and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Add crushed tomatoes; reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Stir in dried cherries and peanut butter; return chicken and any accumulated juices to pot. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add sautéed cauliflower to pot; cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through and cauliflower is tender, about 10 minutes longer. Season with coarse salt and pepper.

Add frozen peas to stew and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. Ladle stew into bowls. Sprinkle each serving with green onion tops and toasted coconut shavings and serve.

Ain’t No Thang but a Chicken Wing

Most of America is looking forward to this Sunday for one reason or another. Cooking sites, beer brands, restaurants, t-shirt companies, and even The Who are set to capitalize on the event, which is undoubtedly the most watched TV-broadcast in America.

And while I do enjoy a good NFL match (especially since our ACC favorite has given us little reason to follow NCAA games), I clearly have an ulterior motive when it comes to the Super Bowl. That motive, friends, is food. Did you have to ask?

February 7, 2010 is probably the only day of this year in which I will eat two heaping handfuls of chicken wings without a care in the world, as Jennifer will be whipping up some of her now-famous black pepper chicken wings and I’ll be making the ones you see here. It’s also the time of the year when Mark & Heather bring a couple of Tombstone pizzas (if his own new TV doesn’t sell us out), when Brook & Katherine bring that awesome buffalo chicken dip (yes, Katherine, I loooooove that stuff!), and when Hubs really works it in the kitchen by making either a huge vat of chili or this year, a ginormous Boston Butt, slow roasted and pulled into little shoestrings, sopped up with bbq sauce and washed down with beer. Oh, the choices.

In short, Super Bowl = Food Extravaganza.

Well, the exception to that would be Super Bowl XLI, when Devin Hester returned the kickoff punt for the Bears. The Bears didn’t quite win that game, but we sure did. The place where we watched the game that year decided to go balls to the wall and award a lump sum of money IF Hester returned the kick (since he was notorious for returning them, it was definitely possible, and this bar was clearly stupid) to anyone who signed up. Our winnings? 800 buckaroos, baby!  In that instance, Super Bowl = cha-ching!!

Bets & football sqaures aside, what about you? What are you doing for the big game?

need some easy recipes for Sunday? Check these out – they are quick, easy, cheap, and super versatile. You could even leave the fancy stuff behind and just lather them in hot sauce, if you please. Just make sure you prepare enough; you don’t want to miss the game (or the food) by making a grocery run.

Ginger-Honey Chicken Wings
From Food & Wine, February 2010; serves 2-4

printable version

ingredients
2 T all-purpose flour
1 t salt
1 t g Sichuan peppercorn
1/4 t five-spice powder
2 lbs chicken wingettes & drumettes
2 1/2 T red hot sauce (Franks)
2 T unsalted butter, melted
1/2 T soy sauce
2 T honey
2 T fresh ginger, minced
2 T scallions, chopped finely

instructions
Preheat oven to 500 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with oil or cooking spray.

In a bowl, mix flour, salt, peppercorn, and five-spice. Add chicken to bowl and toss to coat. Spread chicken on the baking sheet in a single layer and spray with oil. Roast chicken for 45 minutes, turning once or twice, until browned and crispy.

In a bowl, toss chicken with remaining ingredients; serve.

Mango-Curry Chicken Wings
From Food & Wine, February 2010; serves 2-4

printable version

ingredients
2 T all-purpose flour
1 t salt
2 T hot Madras curry powder
2 lbs chicken wingettes & drumettes
2 1/2 T red hot sauce (Franks)
2 T unsalted butter, melted
2 T Major Grey mango chutney
chopped pistachios, for garnish

instructions
Preheat oven to 500 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with oil or cooking spray.

In a bowl, mix flour, salt, and curry powder. Add chicken to bowl and toss to coat. Spread chicken on the baking sheet in a single layer and spray with oil. Roast chicken for 45 minutes, turning once or twice, until browned and crispy.

In a bowl, toss chicken with remaining ingredients except pistachio; top plated wings with pistachio and serve.

Not diggin’ wings? try some other party grub:
Ham & Cheddar Pretzel Bites
Edamame Ravioli n’ Sesame Soy Dipping Sauce
Strawberry Pizza