The Recipe Box

recipes and life.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Improvisation
I was visiting my sister last week, and for the first time in my life, I wished I had one of those traveling cases for my knives. I bet they make you check those at the airport. Anyway, my sister really doesn't cook, and she doesn't have a lot of cooking accoutrements or ingredients on-hand, as evidenced by the following exchanges as I was attemping to make peanut sauce for chicken satay:

"Do you have a food processor?"

"What's that?"

And-

"Where do you keep the sugar?"

"I don't have any sugar. Is that weird? It's not that I'm out of sugar. It's just that I've never had sugar."

So, right, my sister doesn't really cook all that often.

I went to the grocery store and randomly shopped for some stuff, which may have been unwise, as that assumed there were a few basic items already in the kitchen. But it all turned out fine.

Meal 1: Mexican Pizza
This was in no way authentically Mexican, although my sister's friend, who's family is from Mexico claimed it was authentic as anything her family has ever made.

Anyway, I made it thusly:

Browned 1 lb ground beef.
Added some minced garlic, a 4oz can of diced green chiles, and whatever spices I could find (turns out, that was salt and pepper and onion powder).
Spread one can of fat-free refried beans on a boboli crust.
Added the ground beef.
Added shredded cheddar cheese (monterey jack would have been better)
Added two diced tomatoes
Added slices of red onion
Added 4 oz can of sliced black olives

Baked at 450 for about 15 minutes.
Added chopped avocado.
Served with sour cream.

Tales of the chicken satay, grilled vegetables, and chicken tacos in the next post...

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Chicken and Wild Rice Stew
This didn't start out as a stew, but it definitely resembles more stew than soup, so that's what I'm going with.

I made Rachel Ray's Garlic roast chicken with rosemary and lemon a couple of nights ago (only I didn't have any rosemary, so I think I just sprinkled some italian seasoning over the whole thing instead) and it was good, but not good enough for me to want to eat it again, and I had a lot of leftovers.

Also, I'm going out of town for a week, and I didn't want to leave the almost week-old homeade chicken stock or wilty vegetables from last week's CSA basket languishing in my refrigerator.

My first thought was minestrone soup, but then I looked at some recipes and realized I was missing tomatoes, which seemed to be a key ingredient. Also, I didn't have the right kind of pasta. I was much too lazy to go to the store, and also, that would sort of defeat the purpose of cleaning out my refrigerator. So, I just winged it.

My vegetables were:

1 straggly shallot
6 cloves of sprouting garlic
1 red onion
2 small soggy eggplants (one purple, one white)
1 bunch of wilted celery
6 small shriveled russet potatoes
3 teeny carrots
1 bunch of basil

I chopped everything up salted the diced eggplant and let it sit a few minutes. Meanwhile, I sauted the shallot, onion, and garlic in a little olive oil. I added some salt and pepper, then all the vegetables other than the basil. I added a little italian seasoning to the whole thing and then added my leftover chicken stock (maybe 4 cups).

Then, I cut up what was left of my chicken, and added that, along with everything else left from that recipe (juice, garlic, onions, etc.). I then added maybe a half a cup of dry white wine. I also added two cups of wild rice. I let it all simmer for a little too long actually. Probably an hour and a half. I bet it would have been fine after an hour. Then, I sprinkled the basil over the whole thing and gave it a good stir.

And believe it or not, it's pretty tasty!

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The how-to Indian food cookbooks did not reveal the hidden tricks I needed to make food that actually tastes good. However, I finally got a lesson from some Indian friends from Sunday. They know tricks the books don't tell you about.

For instance:

-Use spices that your relatives send you from India.

-Barring that, use spices from the Indian grocery, not the regular grocery store.

-Don't bother with all those spice mixes the cookbooks tell you to make. Just buy your spices and pastes pre-mixed from the grocery.

These tips have made me realize that I was doomed before. No wonder my food didn't taste the same as the restaurants.

Some other things I learned:

-Cook your spices with water before adding the main ingredients. However, only add a small amount of water. Once the oil and water has separated, the spices have been cooked and you can add other things.

-The secret ingredient? Ketchup. No really.

-Cumin and coriander are always added together. In fact, you may as well store them mixed together in equal portions.

-Simmer covered and if you need to add liquid, try covering the pan with a plate and adding water to the plate to add moisture. If you need to add water to the pan, make sure it's hot (cold water will bring down the cooking temperature), and add as little as possible.

Some time-saving ideas:

A lot of dishes use tomato puree and chopped onions. To save lots of time, Puree several pounds of tomatoes ahead of time (chop, simmer, then puree) and cook several chopped onions until translucent ahead of time. Then use the premade stuff for a time savings of about 20 minutes per dish.

So, I learned how to make a dish called kadahi paneer. I think kadahi means "vessel", so basically it's like paneer stir fry. My cookbooks told me to make my own paneer, but my friend uses store-bought. When I tried to recreate the dish at home later, I used both, to see which I liked better. I think I like the taste of my homemade a little better, but the texture of the store bought works well in the dish. I think if I make mine in advance and refrigerate it, it might get a little firmer and not be so crumbly.

Also, we added potatoes to make the dish more full, but my friend said that she normally wouldn't add potatoes to this. I also added potatoes when I made it at home, because well, when is a potato addition bad? Well, the problem was that there's not a lot of liquid to cook the potatoes. If I add potatoes next time I cook it, I'll probably boil them first and then toss them in.

My biggest problem in recreating this later was that there was no measuring. It was all just tossed in. I've tried to list measurements here, but basically, it was just toss and try, so go with what you feel.

Anyway.

kadahi paneer

1 tbl fenugreek leaves
(known as methi in the Indian grocery; you probably won't find this in the regular grocery store, and it can't be switched with fenugreek seeds, well, because you know, different parts of the plant and all. I actually couldn't find any methi at the Indian grocery, mostly because I didn't remember it was called "methi" and this helpful shopper guy asked if he could help me, but had no idea what "fenugreek" was. Online, I see that they might be called "kasuri methi", but I think as long as you go with "methi", you'll be good.)

She had me heat the leaves in a dry pan until they were brittle and then set them aside.

1 tbl oil
(an Indian cookbook I have says never to use olive oil in Indian cooking because it doesn't get hot enough, but my friend uses olive oil, so use your own best judgement, I guess)
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 thai chiles, chopped
1 onion, chopped
(if you do the onion in advance, as described above, you can add the onion after cooking the garlic and chiles, which will take about 5 minutes; if you don't do the onion in advance, add them now and you'll have to cook about 15 minutes, until the onion is translucent)
1-2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
(you can buy this in the Indian grocery; you can also make it, like I tried to do the other day, but it will be more minced than paste-like. When I made it, I just combined equal parts ginger and garlic in the food processor)

Stir over med-high heat until cooked (time depends on whether you added onion at this step or not; about 5 minutes without the onion, about 15 with it). Then add:

3 tbl minced cilantro
ground seeds from 8 green cardamon pods
(she cracked open green cardamon pods and empied the black seeds into a grinder and ground them like pepper into the dish; you could also probably use ground cardamon; I actually just threw the black seeds into the dish. heh)
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp red chili powder

Then add just enough water to simmer, maybe 1/4 cup. Cook the spices until the oil and water start to separate (maybe 3-5 minutes?). This is one of the crucial steps. You have to cook the spices. Also, don't add too much water.

If you didn't add the onion before, because you precooked it, add it now.

Add about 3/4 cup of tomato puree.
As noted above, my friend cooks it up beforehand and then purees it in the food processor. When I made it, I cut up a couple of tomatoes and simmered them while I was cooking the rest, then I added it all into the pan without the food processor step. It worked out, except that the skins separated a little. You could also use canned tomato puree, I would think.

Add:
1/2 tsp powdered coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garam masala

(She keeps her coriander and cumin combined in a jar; she uses store bought garam masala, although my cookbooks had me making the garam masala myself)

Also add maybe an 1/8 cup of ketchup. No really.

If you're adding potatoes, cube them and add them now. Then add a teeny bit of water to simmer them in. However, having done this, I can tell you that it easily takes a half hour, probably 45 minutes to get even the teeniest potato cubes soft in this way. Either skip the potatoes or add boiled ones.

Cube a container of paneer, or, if you've thought ahead, cube your own (see below). Add to the mix. Do this after the potatoes are soft, if you're including potatoes. Then powder up the fenugreek leaves you heated up way back when and sprinkle that over the top.

And that's it! My friend said she would serve it with Naan, but I made some basmati rice and had it with that.

Paneer
This is so easy. Seriously.

Heat 4 cups of whole milk in a sturdy pot. Once it reaches the boiling point, stir with a wooden spoon as you add lemon juice or vinegar. I added the juice of 1 1/2 lemons. Keep stirring as the curds and whey separate. You'll basically end up with chunky milk in a yellowish water. If it doesn't seem chunky enough, add a little more juice. Stir for a couple of minutes until is seems like it's not chunking up anymore (sounds appetizing, yes?).

Then pour into a colander lined with cheesecloth. Let that sit for a few minutes and then gather up the ends of the cheesecloth and sort of wring out the liquid. The cheese will form a little ball. You can make it a little more pancake-like. Put that on a plate and cover with another plate. Put something heavy on top of the second plate (like a pot full of water or a bunch of unopened cans). Leave the cheese until the rest of the liquid is squeezed out. I've read that you can leave it for several hours, but I've also read that really, 15 minutes is all you need. If you want to make it a bit firmer, refrigerate it for a while. You've just made cheese!