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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Banh & Me

If you can believe it, we seem to have a difficult time figuring out what to have for lunch on the weekend. The weekdays are generally covered since I cook Sunday thru Wednesday, but after a Friday and/or Saturday night out, or even order-in sushi or Thai, Saturday and Sunday can get a little dicey.

A few months ago (maybe even a year ago), this new little Vietnamese sandwich shop opened up across the street, a shop previously hosting a ‘gourmet kitchen’ where one could buy or make meals using fresh, top-of-the-line ingredients. It was obviously a place I’d never been to, but given the economy and the location I wasn’t surprised it practically became a sandwich shop overnight.

Needless to say, Bon Bon quickly became my go-to for weekend lunch. The sandwiches were big enough to share, and only 4 bucks each! Plus, they serve bubble tea, which I previously traveled all the way up to Western & Addison to get. And if you’re into it, they have a ton of Vietnamese candy to try. Of course, I’ve already frequented the place a couple of times this year, and I posted a quick snippet in the  ‘Chicago Food’ section, which is a new piece I added a few weeks ago to document all of our ventures out of my kitchen ;), so check it out.

Given the ridiculously low price of Bon Bon’s sandwiches, not to mention the fact that I could literally walk to it in my PJ’s if I wanted to (yes, I do still have them on often at noon on the weekends), I never really intended to recreate their ‘bread n’ butter’ banh mi sandwiches, especially my favorite minced pork version. But as usual, there are always a slew of recipes I absolutely can’t resist in Bon Appetit, and last month a pork meatball banh mi was one of them.

It seems I am an avid fan of the meatball, no? Although the latest version was Moroccan, I also made a Mexican meatball stew a few weeks ago that was excellent, but it was too similar to the lovely ancho pork and hominy stew I posted about late last year and therefore didn’t warrant real estate here. These meatballs you see right now? Golly gee willikers, I cannot even describe to you how stupendous they are; a perfect blend of salty, spicy, sweet, so perfect I could have skewered them and eaten them all alone if I hadn’t already pre-tasted the equally perfect pickled carrot/daikon mixture and spiced mayo that would accompany them, sandwich-style.

When you put them all together, encase them in a soft but slightly toasted French baguette, it is nothing short of delightful. And if you don’t have a Vietnamese sandwich shop across the street from you, the only reason you’ll miss it is for the bubble tea.

Pork Meatball Banh Mi
Adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2010; makes 4

printable version

ingredients
hot chili mayo
2/3 c mayo
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 T sriracha

meatballs
1 lb ground pork
1/4 c finely chopped cilantro
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 T fish sauce
1.5 T sriracha
1 T sugar
2 t cornstarch
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1 t coarse kosher salt

Sandwiches
2 c coarsely grated carrots
2 c coarsely grated peeled daikon (the shredder on the food processor works like a charm here)
1/4 c unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 c sugar
1 t coarse kosher salt
1 T Asian sesame oil
4 6-inch-long baguettes (likely cut from 1 long baguette)
4 large fresh cilantro sprigs

instructions

hot chili mayo: Stir all ingredients in small bowl. Season with salt. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

meatballs: Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Gently mix all ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Sandwiches:
Toss first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

Heat sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add meatballs. Sauté until brown and cooked through, turning meatballs often and lowering heat if browning too quickly, about 15 minutes. If doing in batches, keep warm in 300 F oven.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300 F. Cut each baguette or baguette piece horizontally in half. Pull out enough bread from each bread half to leave 1/2-inch-thick shell. Toast bread for 5 minutes. Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell. Fill each with 1/4 of meatballs. Drain pickled vegetables; place atop meatballs. Press on baguette tops. Garnish with cilantro.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

I love to travel. So much so that I surprised people a few months back on a Facebook quiz by saying, even above cooking, that it’s my favorite thing to do. That quiz was not fabricated; similarly to good meals, I find myself thinking about our next vacation as soon as the current one is over. Last year (yes, it was sooooo 2009) we ‘took it easy’ and spent a week in Antigua, soaking up as many rays as the Caribbean sun would allow, scratching mosquito bites that only I seemed to get, and drinking more Merlot than I, quite frankly, cared to drink in a lifetime – but when it’s ‘free’ you gots to drink what they give you! Plus, for Merlot, it was good.

We took a long weekend trip to Napa as well, at which time I fell in love with the place and have made it my life’s goal to own a B&B there. And the year before Antigua, we were in Spain. I smuggled chorizo, ate kangaroo, and shopped in an outdoor grocery market that was so big, and so awesome, that I couldn’t have even dreamed it up. Strangely enough, it was in Spain that I was summoned by Morocco.

Yes, Morocco. Literally a hop, skip, and a jump across the Mediterranean Sea via the south of Spain lies beautiful, colorful, Morocco. Ever so slightly, I was reminded of its’ proximity to Sevilla, a city we’d considered touring during our visit. I thought about how easily we could hop on over to Morocco for a day or two, ending our trip back into Spain with a relaxing day at a beach along the Costa del Sol. Then I remembered Barcelona and Hubs’ insistence on not ‘city-hopping’ but instead taking in the sights at a relaxing pace – and I knew Morocco and all that Spanish sunshine would have to wait.

So, in the meantime, we have cold, we have snow, we have cloudy skies, and we have meatballs. Meatballs haphazardly studded with onions, garlic, and the next best thing you can add besides a trip to Morocco itself – all of its’ amazing spices & herbs – cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cilantro, parsley. I tell you, those Moroccans – they know a thing or two about spices. There’s the fresh, almost floral hint of ginger, the sweet warmth of cinnamon, and the turmeric and saffron – in small quantities – help to round off the spice profile but also color the dish a beautiful golden, amber shade. And then you’ve got the bitterness of spinach, the acidic tomatoes, and the golden raisins working together in a totally harmonious way so that every bite is true perfection.

You may not actually be there, but if you eat this (and add the b’stilla from last week to your weekly menu), you may soon find yourself searching Expedia for the next trip, just like me.

Moroccan Beef Meatball Tagine
Adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2010; serves 6

‘tagine’ has double meaning: in some cases, it’s the oddly-shaped clay cooking vessel with a triangular lid, made to keep condensation on the bottom of the dish. Here, it’s an actual Moroccan stew, which is commonly called a ‘tagine’. I prefer the stew with a nutty, firm grain like barley or farro – they are great in the stew, adding a nice texture. if you’d prefer though, go all-Moroccan and use couscous.

printable recipe

ingredients

meatballs
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1/3 c coarsely grated onion
1/3 c panko breadcrumbs
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
1 lg egg, beaten to blend
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 t turmeric
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t coarse kosher salt
1/4 t ground ginger

stew
1 c pearled barley (or other grain, like farro)
1 T olive oil
3 1/2 c chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cinnamon stick
1 t turmeric
1/8 t saffron threads, crumbled
2 c beef broth
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
1/4 c golden raisins
2 c 1/2-inch-thick carrot slices (cut on diagonal)
1 zucchini, peeled and sliced diagnoally (optional, if you have it)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus additional for garnish
1 5-ounce package baby spinach leaves
cilantro and lemons, for garnish, optional

instructions
For meatballs:
Line large rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Gently mix all ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands and 2 tablespoonfuls for each, roll meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs. Arrange meatballs on sheet.

For stew:
Bring barley and 3 cups of water to boil and reduce to simmer. Cover and cook about 1 hour or until tender. Keep warm.

Heat oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium heat. Add onions; sauté about 15 minutes. Add garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, and saffron; stir 2 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes with juice, and raisins.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bring stew to simmer. Stir in carrots and zucchini. Carefully add meatballs to stew; gently press into liquid to submerge. Sprinkle 1/4 cup cilantro over. Cover pot; place in oven. Bake until meatballs are cooked through and carrots are tender, about 35 minutes. Sprinkle spinach over stew. Cover and bake until spinach wilts, about 5 minutes longer. Gently stir to mix in spinach, being careful not to break meatballs. Remove cinnamon stick. Season tagine with salt and pepper. Spoon couscous into bowls; top with tagine. Garnish with cilantro and lemons.

A Marriage of the Minds = Music + Meatballs

Pearl Jam set


We are getting ready to head out to Napa for a 4 day weekend. Tomorrow will center around finishing up some things at work amidst a day full of seeing patients and talking about genetic testing, grabbing some last minute goods at the shops such as new sunglasses (we haven’t seen too much sun here in Chicago so they haven’t been a necessity yet as they probably/hopefully will be for Napa) and picking tunes for the drives up and down highways 29 and 128. Then packing. Packing sucks. I dread it immensely and without fail will forget something. Luckily I haven’t forgotten PJ’s in a long time, but that’s about due.


One of Chris’ responsibilities, which he would consider it more of a leisurely activity than a chore, is picking out our music. A chore is something like taking out the trash, holding the mail, cleaning the litter box – all things he is very skilled and adept at completing. We’ll be driving around a decent amount (unless I can talk him into a hot air balloon ride which is practically out of the question giving his relentless fear of heights, or perhaps a bike trip. That might happen. Keep your fingers crossed for me), and since we’ll be in the car, we absolutely can NOT enjoy the silence and quietly breathe in the fresh open air of the valleys and wineries beyond, perhaps the ocean. We can NOT enjoy each others voices, at least we can NOT enjoy our voices unless we are screaming above some new music such as the Decemberists or some old music such as Pearl Jam’s Ten Collectors’ Edition. Not that I’m complaining. I love music. Just not quite as much as he does. But on the same token, he doesn’t love cooking, reading about food, and eating food quite as much as I do. So we meet in the middle. And it works. It works quite well.


more Pearl Jam set


Let me use tonight’s experience as my example. Following a full work day for the both of us, I was looking forward to a glass of Pinot and a fettucine & meatball recipe I’d pulled out of my recipe stack. He was looking forward to coming home and slowly perusing his new Pearl Jam vinyl, which is a collectors’ version of their first album, Ten. Now, PJ is one of my absolute favorite bands. Hands down. Next to the Chili Peppers. I too have been looking forward to this purchase. I’m sure he has tracked the shipping since it left Amazon. It arrived today. He took his lunch break to begin the process. Once he arrived home, he was saddened by my inability to meet his excitement – which wasn’t because I was truly not excited, but because I was right smack in the middle of browning meatballs in my favorite Dutch oven. Meatballs that were being stubborn and sticking because I didn’t dump enough oil into the pot. He decided to start the first side of the vinyl and enjoy the music, and he’d wait until I had a “break” from cooking to share the other goodies with me. How nice of him – he IS a doll. Most of the time 🙂

So, he sat and listened. And I browned meatballs. Every now and then, he’d point out some differences in the new-and-improved album. I’d agree. And I’d return to browning. By this point I was making the sofrito (onions, peppers, garlic, tomatoes – similar to the French mirepoix). He’d meandered over to the kitchen with some of the goodies. Which meant he was getting antsy and wanting to share his new treasure. I had a break and had just turned the heat to low to let the sauce slowly simmer its way to a thick aromatic consistency. And I can prepare pasta with my eyes closed, so I was practically finished.


sticky balls


So together, we delved (he re-delved) into this work of art. If you are a Pearl Jam fan, you should consider this purchase. What is cooler than a re-release of one of the best albums, if not THE BEST album, of the early 90’s?! A re-make two years in the making, packaged in a cloth-bound vinyl shaped box with CD’s, vinyls, memorabilia, concert posters, and a cassette tape of Vedder’s first audition to be a part of this wonderful band. Can’t get much better.


sauce making


And as if the Pearl Jam box o’ wonders wasn’t good enough, we still hadn’t eaten dinner! oh my! So I did have to get back to the stove and finish the meal. It was definitely a recipe worth being on my waitlist. Full of flavor. Smoky. Spicy. Meaty. Yummy. And similar to the PJ album, it was a reinvention of an old standby, spaghetti and meatballs. This time with fuller flavor but with all the old charm. If you can’t stomach the small fortune the PJ remake costs, this meal will for sure fit the bill. I think the most expensive ingredient was the ham – but if you buy extra you’ll have some yummy samiches for a later day.


smoky meatballs in serrano ham sauce


Smoky Meatballs in Serrano Ham Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine; serves 4


ingredients
 
  • 1 (1 1/2-ounce) slice white bread
  • 1 pound 92% lean ground beef
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 ounces serrano ham, finely chopped
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1 (28-ounce) can no-salt-added whole peeled tomatoes, undrained and chopped
  • 4 cups hot cooked fettuccine (about 8 ounces uncooked pasta)
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely shredded aged Manchego cheese
  • Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)

instructions

 

1. Place bread in a food processor; pulse 12 times or until coarse crumbs measure 1/2 cup. Combine breadcrumbs, beef, and next 7 ingredients (through egg) in a bowl. Using wet hands, shape mixture into 20 (about 2 tablespoons each) meatballs. Set aside.

 

2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add ham to pan, and cook for 3 minutes or until well browned, stirring frequently. Transfer to a large bowl. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add meatballs; cook for 5 minutes or until browned, turning often. Add meatballs to ham in bowl. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic to pan; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring often. Add sherry; cook for 3 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add tomatoes and meatball mixture; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened. Remove from heat, and keep warm.

 

3. Place 1 cup pasta in each of 4 shallow bowls; top each serving with 5 meatballs, 3/4 cup sauce, and 1 tablespoon shredded Manchego cheese. Garnish with additional parsley, if desired.

all mixed up