Awesomely Overwhelming

Moving to a new city is so surreal. For starters, it’s an incredibly ginormous amount of work. You have to register your car (or just buy a new one and get your stuff in the mail!), change your address (which took 2 months to successfully complete, thanks to the Chicago post office), find all the nearby necessities, watch your husband near ’bout reach full panic mode when setting up the surround sound (that we need! we need!), sell and purchase furniture, deal with ‘craigslist crazies’, find a new home for the litter boxes, figure out the neighbors’ schedules so you know when they’re going to play their techno and when you get to play yours (well, not techno, but real music), and by now you probably get the point:

Moving is not something I hope to do again any time soon.

On top of the general logistics that are thankfully nearing an end, you get some fun things too – especially here in San Francisco, where fun seems somewhat contagious; if you don’t believe me, take a gander at the happenings of this past weekend. You get a brand new food culture: new restaurants to try, new delivery options (Indian! Mexican! Japanese! Burmese!), new farmers’ markets, and new seasonal produce. It’s awesomely overwhelming. But in a totally good way.

Last week, I realized that I am having a really hard time with the latter though; I can’t for the life of me adjust to the multitude of fresh produce, the differences in timing of say, the availability of ramps (I missed them this year – damnation!) or avocado (all year compared to never in the Midwest) or cherries (now! – I don’t have to wait until July/August!). I can’t figure it all out, at least not yet. But that’s probably because I’ve been buried under a box or two, or refinishing a desk, or putting the mattress I was conceived on out front for the Salvation Army pickup (too much?).

Either way, I am definitely thankful for the cheat-sheets. Luckily for me, a fellow Chicagoan to SF transplant and culinary school classmate moved out here about 6 months before me, and she’s found a handy guide to Bay Area produce that I plan to procure soon. And while the ones pictured here aren’t, I am excited about buying fresh peas, and berries, and avocado, and next April, those damn ramps I so sadly missed out on because I was busy doing, you know, other things.

But now, now I’m ready for the produce. I’m ready for the good food, the grilling out and having a drink on the back deck, the (hopefully soon) lazy Saturday that just begs for a trip out to an oil store or a new cheese shop (of which there are many), and the Sundays that are meant for bike rides through our neighbor, Golden Gate Park, or along the ocean, or maybe even just down the street for coffee.

Pea & Bacon Risotto
adapted from Food & Wine, May 2011; serves 6

Risotto, I have missed you. It’s been a while, but for some reason I had the urge to stand at the counter and stir, stir, stir. This is probably one of the best risottos I’ve had: the salty bacon, the squishy peas, and the rich cheesy, buttery finish – it deserves the time it takes, and even more.

time commitment: 50 minutes

printable version

ingredients
6 oz lean bacon, diced
2 c frozen baby peas, thawed
2 T olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 c carnaroli rice (arborio works fine, too)
1/2 c dry white wine
7 c simmering chicken broth
1 T unsalted butter
1/2 c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 T fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper

instructions
In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, 6 minutes. Drain the bacon on paper towels; reserve 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, puree half of the peas with 1/2 cup of water. Heat the chicken broth in a large saucepan and keep at a low simmer.

In the same Dutch oven, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until the rice is evenly coated with the oil. Add the wine and simmer until almost evaporated, 3 minutes.

Add chicken broth, 1/2 cup at a time, to the rice mixture and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the broth has been absorbed. Add more stock to cover the rice. Continue cooking and stirring, adding more broth as it is absorbed, until the rice is al dente and suspended in a creamy sauce, ~25 minutes. Add the pea puree, the remaining peas and the bacon and cook, stirring, until hot. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the butter, reserved bacon fat, cheese and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

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.